A new dancer joins the company.
“Fuck I’m so sorry I’m late - my plane was delayed and - well, no, okay that’s a lie, but do you have any idea how hard it is to navigate London for the first time completely on your own, because it’s a awful I’m telling you-“
The door slams behind her and the girl who has just stormed their warm up session collapses messily to the floor. She immediately starts working at the laces on her Doc Martins, apparently trying to unbutton her coat and unravel herself from 3 scarves at the same time.
Arthur pauses mid-Arabesque. He’s nearly finished, but Dom is still flicking through his notes and the pianist has not progressed beyond trundling up and down a few chromatic scales, so they’re not going to be moving onto anything major anytime soon. He frowns at the newcomer slightly and goes over to snatch up his water bottle so he can assess her properly.
The girl can’t be much older than 20 or so, her face round and youthful with flushed cheeks and wind-ruffled dark hair. She strips herself free of the coat and the woollen scarves at last and kicks her Docs off, swapping them for pointes. Arthur can feel his eyebrows raising, can hear the quiet, horrified whispers of the understudies standing in the corner and, yeah, this should be interesting.
“Ariadne, so glad you’re here,” Dom says suddenly with surprising warmth- having apparently just only noticed her and ‘Ariadne’, really?
Ariadne grins toothily, and tugs her hair back from her face with an elastic band.
“As if I’d deprive you one more day of my presence Dom,” she says sarcastically, and she’s Canadian, Arthur thinks with a small sense of triumph, placing the slightly softer vowels and lilting articulation-
And Dom’s smiling. Actually smiling.
Arthur instantly wants to know everything.
“Can I do a quick warm-up? I’m dying to stretch my legs after that plane trip-“
“Sure,” says Dom, Dom who can apparently do easy-going smiles and dancers arriving late to practice sure no problem, “we were just getting started.”
Ariadne nods, smile still as a cheery as ever, and moves into the middle of the floor, rising up onto her pointes.
Arthur eyes Ariadne’s relative curves and short stature, an unusual find in an industry of twig thin arms and protruding collarbones. He catches the thought and feels horribly like a bitchy 14 year old. Arthur gulps back another swig of water to hide his sudden embarrassment at the comment no-one heard, feeling his ears burn in shame.
Ariadne stays completely still for a long moment, eyes closed, the smile not having quite faded from her wide mouth. And yes, she may look unassuming, with her choppy dark hair, dressed in a faded purple leotard under a too-big jumper with elbow patches but-
But there’s something about the way the entire room has retreated into a silence so complete it’s painful that makes the hairs on the back of Arthur’s neck stand on end.
And then the pianist starts to play.
And Ariadne starts to dance.
Arthur, along with the rest of the dance company, realises pretty quickly that this is no ordinary warm-up.
There is no order, no obvious routine, no strict classical pattern of developing moves. The girl moves as though she’s made of air; grace and elegance exuding from every limb like perfume - light and heady, side stepping and leaping, rising and falling, incorporating a complex mash of gymnastics, modern dance and ballet that really shouldn’t work, should have everyone in the room who has been trained professionally their entire adult lives clawing at their eyeballs but it just doesn’t-
Everyone is completely enthralled.
She lands each gliding jump with such perfect precision Arthur wants to cry, and as the music swells, so does the routine, the leaps becoming more ambitious, the turns tighter and more frequent, and it’s finally dawning on Arthur that there is no routine at all, and that this is pure, raw inspiration-
Arthur hears the side-entrance door click shut.
It’s Eames. Eames in sweatpants and a soft-looking hoodie, so of course Arthur’s fucking stomach bottoms out, even though he knows it’s ridiculous, even though Eames is insufferable-
But then Eames spots Ariadne and is suddenly grinning in delighted surprise. He takes a step towards her, pauses briefly, and then comes in with the music, stepping up behind her and lifting her into a lift without warning, just at the right moment. Ariadne goes with it easily, relaxing into Eames’ sure hold at once and it’s clear they’ve done this before, danced together before and know each other so intimately that Ariadne playfully cuffs the back of Eames’ head as she comes down, throwing him a grin before spinning away-
The company stands around the edge of the room, jaws practically on the floor, and Arthur can’t even feel jealous, can’t even despair at the fact he’s never danced with anyone like this before- probably never will, because it’s so mind-blowing beautiful, there is no room for feeling anything else than awe.
The music is ending, climbing to its climax and Eames spins Ariadne one last time before stepping back, panting heavily, grinning like a fool, and watching her with such unabashed affection Arthur feels vaguely ill. Ariadne doesn’t look twice at him, instead spinning elegantly into a fouette, a move that took Arthur the best part of two years to master, and yet she makes look so impossibly easy- spinning, and spinning and spinning and-
Fuck how is she still going?
The music has ended but Ariadne keeps turning and Dom barks out a laugh, clapping his hands, the other dancers are turning to each other, eyes as wide as saucers, because how, this has to got to be a record-
Until Ariadne lands, sways momentarily, and stays standing, face flushed and eyes bright.
The applause is instantaneous. Arthur can’t help but join in.
Eames, who has tugged off his hoodie to reveal a tight black vest and broad, tanned shoulders that Arthur really doesn’t give a flying fuck about, pulls her into a fierce hug at once, laughing and saying, “Bloody hell I missed you.”
Ariadne beams at him.
“You’re the only man for me Eames, you know that, I couldn’t possibly dance with anyone else for such an important role.” Her imitation of Eames’ accent is so atrocious Arthur actually snorts; Eames yanks her ear in protest.
“Still gay?” Ariadne queries out of the blue, screwing her nose up hopefully.
“Oh yes, very much so,” Eames replies lightly, and Arthur’s heart thuds to a panicked halt when Eames’ eyes flick upwards in what might be his direction but that’s obviously not the case because Eames doesn’t even-
“Still dating hideously unattractive men who don’t deserve you?” Eames says easily.
She scoffs, pushing him back with a grin, “In part. And they are not unattractive - I just happen to like a specific sort of thing that isn’t your sort of thing.”
Eames gives a dramatic sigh of exasperation, and Arthur thinks he’s trying to look disapproving but is failing miserably because he’s still smiling far too much.
“I see you finally conquered those bloody fouettes then? Siobhan must be beside herself.”
“Conquered?” Ariadne says, single eyebrow raised, “I think you mean mastered, or did you not just witness the spectacle that was 31 of those in a row? You condescending gobshite.”
And Arthur decides that even if she didn’t dance like every fantasy he’s ever had- he and Ariadne will get along just fine purely on the basis she calls Eames a ‘gobshite’.
It’s the following day, during the first meeting of the principles for Dom’s reworking of Swan Lake, that Arthur realises, unsurprisingly, that Ariadne is to join the leading cast.
He arrives a few minutes early but she and Eames are already there.
Ariadne, perched on the top of the piano, greets him with a vague wave and a smile. Eames, flat on his back, vest plastered to his skin after a hard morning’s training groans slightly and doesn’t move.
“Jesus Eames, I can smell you from here. Is it really too much effort to take a shower?”
“Kindly fuck off Arthur dear,” Eames says pleasantly, eyes still closed.
Ariadne’s grin widens and she hops off the piano.
“Arthur, I’ve admired your dancing for years, and if Eames’ reports are anything to go by I’m sure we’ll get along just fine. Ariadne Jones, pleasure to meet you,” and she holds out her hand, eyes searching his face.
“Reports?” Arthur asks mildly, and tries to ignore the fact that a faint blush of colour has appeared in Eames’ cheeks that wasn’t there a second ago.
“I’m guessing they cast you as Siegfried then. You give off a very Princely aura.”
Eames snorts from his position on the floor.
“Your skills of deduction are truly astounding Ariadne –“ Ariadne cuts him off with a not-so-gentle kick to the ribs.
“Yes, yes they did,” Arthur says, trying to hide his smile. He realises he no longer feels jealous of whatever history Eames and Ariadne obviously have. It feels less like he’s being cut out and more like they’re including him in on the joke, inviting him to join in.
“Well, I guess we’ll be dancing together plenty then, future-husband-oh-wondrous-one,” Ariadne winks at him, and curtsies neatly. Arthur had already assumed she’d be cast as Odette, no one else in the company had a hope of competing with her.
“Oh god,” Eames groans, pulling himself to his feet and fixing Ariadne with a frown, “please don’t make Arthur your next conquest you awful flirt. I can’t bear another Nutcracker fiasco.”
Ariadne laughs out loud, and yanks off her jumper to throw it at him.
“’Cause you’re so much better?”
Eames sighs and gives her a deeply unimpressed look. Arthur assumes Ariadne’s referring to the fact Eames himself has a bit of a track record when it comes to sleeping with other dancers.
Arthur tends to try and forget that particular aspect of Eames’ character. That and the fact that chorus gossip is constantly rife with who might be his dancer of choice in this production.
“At least I didn’t turn up late to Opening night because I was too busy shagging-“ Eames counters, grin wry.
“Fuck off, that was one time and Roberta was Italian I mean can you really blame me?”
Ariadne cuts off, shooting Arthur an apologetic smile, “no offense of course Arthur, you also have perfectly worthy abs, and a gorgeous face. In fact, Eames, remind me again why you -“
“Have no fear Arthur,” Eames cuts in abruptly, his voice strangely strangled, “I shall defend you from this insatiable minx.”
Ariadne squawks, indignant, and Arthur laughs a little awkwardly, because if he wasn’t mistaken (and Arthur rarely was) Eames was embarrassed right now.
“Thank you for the offer, but I doubt I’ll need defending,” he says as easily as he can, “for a start, Dom would kill us all, and secondly, as lovely as you are Ariadne, I’m afraid you are definitely not my type.” He lets the emphasis land on the word with a pointed significance.
Ariadne stares down at her chest proudly for a moment.
“I like him - this one can stay,” she announces, as though Arthur had been waiting for her approval, before sneaking Eames a pointed side-long grin.
Eames is staring at Arthur, eyes narrowed calculatingly.
“Assalam alaikum bitches,” Yusuf says as he saunters through the double swing doors opposite them, effectively breaking whatever complicated triangle Arthur had found himself in.
“Alaikum assalam Yusuf,” Arthur replies automatically, silently grateful for the interruption.
Yusuf is one of those dancers everyone knows, but rarely talks about. He’s a solid performer, technically accurate and a damn good actor, and there’s an underlying, barley restrained sense of power behind each and every one of his characters. He’s also a clinically sarcastic cynic, but he always gets on well with the director. Arthur was pleased when he saw that Dom had cast him as Rothbart. He suits the role to a tee.
If, for nothing else, Yusuf could be an evil bastard at the best of times.
“Hello, hello- and what have we here?” Yusuf says in what Arthur he imagines he thinks is a sly, confident, sexy kinda voice. It falls pretty flat.
“Ariadne,” says Ariadne cheerily, the seduction attempt completely passing her by, “lovely to meet you Yusuf - I’ve heard you’re not as much as a fuckwit as people seem to think you are.” She sticks out her hand again in greeting.
Yusuf frowns a little, but accepts the handshake anyway. Arthur ducks his head to hide his grin.
“And now!” Eames says loudly, appearing behind the piano, and he plays a loud C chord with a flourish, “warm up improvisation, class! And a one, a two, and a one, two, three-”
And that’s how Arthur ends up trying not to suffocate laughing as Ariadne and Yusuf flounce bizarrely across the floor in a sort of waltz. To the tune of chopsticks.
“Good god I leave you lot alone for 5 minutes-“ Dom says from the doorway, exasperation warring with amusement on his face. Arthur grins at him unapologetically. Happiness looks good on Dom. It’s early days in this production; the stress hasn’t had time to set in.
Ariadne does several slow-motion pique turns as Eames slows the pace down impossibly. It looks ridiculous but from the years Arthur’s spent doing the same thing in front of a mirror it’s actually pretty impressive technically. Her arms are perfectly poised, her spine a graceful arch.
Arthur can’t really help himself.
He steps over to her, bowing graciously and offers a hand. At the piano Eames picks up at once and starts playing - something Tchaikovsky, Arthur had no idea he could play so well - and Ariadne melts into it at once.
“I know you, I walked with you once upon a dream,” she starts singing slightly off-key under her breath. Arthur laughs.
“I knew I recognised it.”
“Well of course you do - everyone’s seen Sleeping Beauty,” Ariadne rolls her eyes dramatically. Twinkling under the practice room lights, Arthur notices she has several coloured studs in each earlobe. Piercings of any kind is an ultimate no-no in the stiff-lipped, traditional world of Professional Ballet, but then, just as Eames suits his hideously tacky tattoos, so does Ariadne her earrings.
They are both a bit different like that.
“Now come on,” Ariadne demands playfully after they’ve waltzed around for a while, “let’s see some proper lifts Mister, I know you’ve got more in you than this-“
Arthur has never been one to resist a challenge. Especially when it’s at something he really can do. And rather well, according to the press.
He places his hands firmly on Ariadne’s hips, and as she leaps upwards Arthur uses the momentum to swoop her up into the air, high above his head.
His arms burn after no real warm-up, and his back protests a little at the sudden onslaught after months of solo dancing, but he manages. The most important thing, after all, is to make whoever you’re carrying look as though they’re as light as air.
Yusuf wolf whistles, and Eames plays a pretentious series of final dramatic chords.
Dom actually claps. Arthur lowers Ariadne back down, and she drops a kiss on his cheek as she goes. He’s glad she’s dancing opposite him.
“Well, you certainly look good together,” Dom says thoughtfully, “and that’s half the battle won in a production like this-“
“Yeah about that,” Eames interrupts, leaning up against the piano and flicking casually through Dom’s choreography notes, “I’ve got a couple of questions about the way you’re planning on playing this - only from what I’ve gleaned from the summary you emailed of course, but all the same.”
“Yes?” says Dom warily. Ariadne goes over to her gym bag and pulls out her pointes and a bottle of water which she lobs over at Arthur. Arthur accepts it gratefully- even from a 10 minute mess-around he’d managed to build up a sweat. He’d have to get used to lifting over the next month or so.
“Well,” Eames starts, “if I’m perfectly honest I’m not really sure what you’re getting at. This is a reworking of Swan Lake right? A modern take?”
Dom nods. “Of sorts.”
“Be that as it may, dare I ask why on earth you’ve got Odile, aka me, as The Gay Temptation being personified as this dark, evil cackly thing while Little Miss Het over there gets the big tutu and all the flowers?”
“Oi!” says Ariadne and throws her shoe at Eames’ head, “I object to being labelled as a heterosexual!”
“It’s an interpretation,” Dom says tightly, and he’s got that look on his face as though he’s suddenly coming down with a migraine. “It doesn’t represent the political affiliations of the company- Arthur you understand-“
“Actually, he’s got a point,” Arthur admits, “the last time Swan Lake was redone was by Bourne, and we all know how huge that was. People might be a bit put off when after all that it’s straight back to the gay character being the baddy.”
“Exactly,” says Eames, and Arthur steadfastly does not make eye contact. Eames’ rise to fame was mainly thanks to playing Siegfried in Bourne’s American tour, and Eames’ ego is big enough as it is without needing to know that Arthur had seen him in the production multiple times (seven times actually, if you were counting, not that Arthur is).
“Fantastic job Dom,” Yusuf says delightedly, “you have succeeded in writing a ballet that offends everyone, well done.”
“Maybe if we pretend it’s based in like the 60s? Then we could play it off as being the biased perspective of the time,” Ariadne says thoughtfully, using Eames’ bicep as a balance as she rolls her ankles to warm up, despite the fact there’s a perfectly useable barre 5 feet away.
“Or maybe Siegfried and Odile could get together in the end and have passionate metaphorical butt sex and Odette be revealed as a heinous bitch-“ Yusuf offers.
“How the fuck would you translate anal sex into ballet?”
“Come, come now Arthur, stranger things have happened-“
“Guys,” Dom protests; he looks pained.
“OR,” Ariadne interjects, “how about Siegfried and Rothbart get it on? And Odette and Odile were just distractions? I can 100% guarantee that that would not be anticipated by whats-his-face at the Guardian-“
“I’d be up for that,” Yusuf concedes, squinting over at Arthur. Arthur questions his life choices.
“Or better still, Dom-“ Ariadne starts up again.
“Except,” Eames says suddenly looking down at Dom’s notes, his voice oddly quiet, “It’s not Dom’s decision to make, really.”
Dom’s face has gone carefully blank.
“You didn’t write it?” Ariadne breathes, sounding faintly horrified.
“Mal did,” Eames murmurs in a soft tone that still speaks of months of grief even after two years.
Arthur stiffens. No-one mentions Mal. That’s the rule. Even the juniors, barely out of high school, know better than to bring her up in rehearsal, even in casual discussion. It doesn’t matter that she was one of the best ballet dancers to grace the stage in the 21st century, doesn’t matter that she had been impossibly beautiful, graceful and poised in every thing she did, doesn’t matter that she was the very definition of elegant, each turn immaculate, limbs carved from white marble - that she had been perfect.
She was Dom’s wife, and she had died, so no-one mentioned her.
A heavy, sudden silence pervaded the room.
Eames lifts up a crumpled sheet of paper, ripped and torn at the edges. Even from this distance, Arthur recognises the fluid French calligraphy of Mal’s handwriting. She had been the one who had spotted him after all, trained him, praised his progress and teasingly admonished his mistakes. Arthur’s throat closes up painfully. It’s better, but after all this time, it still hurts.
Eames starts to read, carefully, slowly and Arthur hangs on to every word. Imagining Mal saying them instead, her lilting accent and quirked smile rounding off each vowel, lazily merging words like a song.
“Verre Cassé- a modern take on Swan Lake.”
“Siegfried is young, impressionable, lost in a world he’s not ready for and entirely led by his heart. He only has to see Odette once, as young and naive as him, to fall in love with her. She’s lost in a different way, kept at home by her father- too possessive and cruel to care that his daughter is fading away. But the spark ignited by her meeting with Siegfried is impossible not to hide. She’s alive, for the first time in a long time, and Rothbart can’t stand it.”
“So he sets his son, Odile, dark, amused by his sister’s infatuations and entirely under his father’s control, to meet with Siegfried in a chance encounter. Siegfried is entranced, drawn by the element of a rebellion, the chance to be with a man. He falls for Odile too, meets with them both separately, the decision gradually tearing him apart until one night, Odette sees them together through the window.”
“And she breaks. Like fragile spun glass.”
“She dies, throwing herself into the ocean and Siegfried is devastated, the guilt enough for him to follow her. Odile is left conflicted. He may have been cruel, may have manipulated Siegfried’s feelings for him, with his charm and allure- but he never truly means to hurt anyone, not his sister, not the young man who fell for him.”
“Rothbart is the true antagonist. He’s the one who wanted to break his daughter’s spirit, force her to mindlessly submissive, stamp out the fire and life in her- even his son is nothing more than a player in his game. He laughs at her tears, enjoys her misery, and smiles even as his Odile finally, overcome by guilt and grief, kills him.”
There is silence for a long time. Eames sits down heavily on the piano stool, looking vaguely stunned and fuck, Arthur can sympathise.
It’s deep. The whole concept, the story, the emotion- it’s all more than anything Arthur has ever heard of being translated into a ballet.
“She cast you all,” Dom says in a hoarse voice, and Arthur can’t meet his eye, “she cast you all two years ago. That’s why I didn’t run auditions. She said you were all perfect, even if you didn’t know it yet.”
Ariadne makes a muffled sound somewhere between a sob and a groan.
“She never got round to finishing writing it, so I’ve made some modifications. It’s still a work in process to be honest, but I had to slightly lie to the company about that to get the funding,” he gives them all a grim smile.
“I know it’s a bit out there, but it was never meant to be a traditional production. She’d been talking about it for months up until-“
Dom’s voice dries up suddenly, and Arthur puts a hand on his shoulder because he can’t think of a single thing to say.
Dom clears his throat, “But at it’s core it will always be Swan Lake. It was her favourite after all.”
His voice breaks slightly on the last word and Arthur’s chest tightens.
“It’s going to be bloody fantastic,” Eames says gently, offering Dom a smile. “I always told her she should be writing her own stuff - always one for imagination was Mal.”
“How did she even know I existed?” Ariadne asks, an awe-stricken expression on her face, “I was barely 19 two years ago!”
“She saw you in the Nutcracker,” Dom says, “I went with her. She said- ‘now there’s a dancer to watch’- and made sure she got your name.”
“So what you’re saying,” Yusuf says magnanimously, brow scrunched in thought, “is that while Eames isn’t actually portraying an evil personification of homosexuality and all that because Odile is just human with levels and shit, the character played by the Muslim dude is still ultimately evil?”
“Yes Yusuf,” Arthur deadpans, “that’s exactly what Mal was getting at.”
Eames snorts and Dom laughs, and it’s so strange, so odd to be talking about her after all this time. Arthur feels as though a crushing weight he hadn’t even realised was there has been lifted off his chest.
“What?” Yusuf argues indignantly, “You’ve got to look at the facts. I’m playing the only baddy in a completely white, Western, Christian, Capitalist ballet and I’m-“
“Objection,” Ariadne pipes up, “I’ll eat my tutu if Arthur isn’t Jewish.”
“Really Arthur?” Eames says looking oddly thrilled.
Arthur groans, feeling his cheeks heat and rubs a hand over his face. “Please can we not discuss this - I am the worst Jew in existence; my grandparents are so ashamed.”
"I bet they are,” Eames says, voice smoky and dark and never mind his habit of his face flushing embarrassingly easily; Arthur feels hot all over.
“OKAY,” Cobb says much louder than necessary, “Now that we’ve ironed out this isn’t actually a homophonic, Islamaphobic or racist production - rehearsals? Can we?”
The rest of the day is remarkably uneventful for a first day’s production. Cobb walks them through the core structure of the ballet as it’s written so far, the transition from Acts to Scenes to the interval to the second half, highlighting as he goes dances and pas de deuxs of particular significance. Arthur dances most with Ariadne, which he is flattered to see she seems to be rather pleased about, but it’s the dance with Eames at the beginning of the second half half he’s most concerned about. It’s a long piece, with the most complicated choreography score he’s ever seen, but he tries not to look too intimidated because Eames appears to take it in his stride.
Late afternoon Dom calls in the rest of the company, the juniors and chorus who will be part of Ariadne and Eames’ entourage, or part of the dances that take place in the city centre. Siegfried’s mother is a lovely Russian dancer named Petrova, who Arthur has had the pleasure with working with before when he did his tour with the Bolshoi Ballet. She wraps him in a tight embrace when she comes in, and kisses his forehead.
Dom then hauls the set designer, Chris, out from where he’s already fiddling with his team backstage, to give a rough outline of the artistic feel of the production. It’s gritty and dark, and when Chris shows the cast some of the concept art for the stage design, sweeping dark angles and irregular shards of mirror in the back wall that will reflect the dancers back out to the audience, Arthur can’t help but be impressed. A dirty council estate fringing with an old money neighbourhood would not be the most automatic assumption for the setting of a modern Swan Lake, but it works. There’s a fission of excitement that runs through the assembled cast that Arthur knows only too well; it’s going to be an epic performance when it’s done, something that everyone will be proud to have worked on and be a part of.
By early evening, Dom dismisses the chorus with the light-hearted threat that anyone failing to make the 8am training the following morning will be cut from the production, no excuses, and then turns to the principals.
“I’m going to work you hard, I won’t lie,” he says, carefully, “probably harder than you’ve ever been worked before. I’ll expect a lot from you, and likewise you can expect a lot from me. This is a two-way street, but just so you know, I’ll be giving it everything I’ve got. This - this performance means a lot to me. I’ve got to do it right.” Dom looks earnest, but his eyes are a little too bright, mouth in a hard line, and they all know what he’s not saying.
Arthur can’t think of a single comforting, supportive thing to say in response but then Ariadne steps in. She lays a hand on Dom’s forearm and gives him a small smile.
“Don’t worry Dom, we’ve got this.”
And that’s that really. They’ve got to ‘got this’. For Dom, for Mal.
Arthur finally has to dance with Eames.
They fall into the demanding routine of rehearsals easily enough. Ariadne is truly gifted, that much is very clear, and Arthur enjoys dancing with her. She’s anxious to make sure she’s doing things right, cautious and polite at first with Arthur in a way she isn’t with Eames, but as soon as the music starts the formalities melt away and she dances with him like they’ve been in the same company for years.
When Arthur isn’t practicing with Ariadne in the first cycle of rehearsing, he’s discussing the finer elements of the choreography with Dom over salads in the opera house canteen, taking Petrova on long, aimless walks around Westminster at her request so that she can ‘get a feel for the city’, or else arguing with Yusuf during Pilates classes over dance films (Arthur: “There’s no competition, Step Up has defined a generation-“, Yusuf: “I think you’re woefully overlooking George Samson’s performance in StreetDance 3D”, Arthur: “You have got to be fucking kidding me-“).
In fact, Arthur is generally far more sociable with the company than he would be normally. He’s done 3 productions with the Royal Ballet since his contract began, but he has never clicked with a cast like this one. Plus, if the production takes off like it’s very clear Dom is hoping for, they could be spending the better part of 18 months together, following the first run and then potential tour. It only makes sense to build relations now. That, and the fact that by spending his time with other people, Arthur manages to mostly avoid the presence of one person in particular.
Avoiding talking to said-person though doesn’t mean he can’t watch.
Arthur chews the inside of his mouth and leans against the balcony window overlooking the main practice hall. Eames is rehearsing with Yusuf, one of their final dances, a dramatic and forceful piece, with plenty of tight turns and neo-classical leaps
Male pas de deux hadn’t been all that common until Bourne’s Swan Lake, but since that had taken off, they were everywhere. And Arthur could see why. Compared to the classical male/female pairing, two men dancing created a very different dynamic- there was a power struggle of sorts, a manly, testosterone fuelled energy on stage, with less caution and grace, but no less finesse. Traditional ballet centred attention on the female dancer; the audience watched the man, he focused on the woman- the audience’s gaze directed towards the fluttering tutus and pale pink pointes.
Yusuf and Eames however, are not directing attention anywhere. They’re both commanding dancers, powerful and expressive, similar in size and strength, working around each other as opposed to together.
Arthur knows that in their own right they command equal attention, their movements equally bold and striking.
Knowing this objectively of course, doesn’t stop him from being unable to take his eyes off Eames.
Arthur doesn’t know what it is exactly, can’t put it into words, but Eames is captivating. He’s broad for a dancer, wide in the shoulders and across the back, but that does nothing to hinder his poise or flexibility. He moves as though the music is coming from within him, as though the crescendos and diminuendos are physically restraining him, egging him into stupidly-fucking-high stag leaps, angry and bitter and betrayed, before hauling him back, forcing him into a slow arabesque penché that’s so controlled Arthur wants to cry.
Eames’ dancing abilities are unfortunately not the only thing that has Arthur staring at him far more than he’d like. Spending 10 hour days with Eames in tight vests, revealing curls of dark ink etched into solid muscle is bad enough, but it’s the other things Eames does too, that Arthur hadn’t really picked up on until they’d started a production together. The way he fiercely remains in character right up until the final echo of the last chord rings out, and then sends Ariadne a sly grin, the way he brings them all coffee and donuts on Fridays, even though they have training 9am the following morning because celebrating of the weekend is in ‘the principle of the thing’, the way he holds Arthur’s gaze, long and lingering when Arthur’s dripping sweat having finished his solo, the way he gives him a small smile and says, “Exquisite darling,” in a way that makes Arthur shudder and want to punch something but also want to kiss Eames senseless.
“Idiot,” Arthur mutters, under his breath, and he’s not sure if he’s talking to Eames or himself.
“What was that?” Ariadne appears at his side, chomping on a banana. Arthur starts, recovers.
“Just thinking Eames is going to kill himself unless he starts landing that stag properly.”
Ariadne watches Eames jump, winces. “Yeah, it’s pretty suicidal isn’t it? His poor ankles, Christ, I don’t envy his masseuse.”
Arthur very much does envy Eames’ masseuse, but he’s not about to voice that particular thought.
“Have you worked on your pas de deux yet?” Ariadne queries.
“With Eames? No, we start rehearsals tomorrow.”
“Have you spoken to him about it? Ran things through with how you’re gonna play it?”
Arthur raises an eyebrow. “Did you and I have a pre-rehearsal discussion? I figured we’d work it out as we went along, seems to work for everyone else.”
Ariadne gives him a knowing smile that’s almost condescending.
“Well, you haven’t worked one-on-one with Eames before. He’s… I guess you could say he’s pretty into the character side of things. Y’know he was an actor before he got into ballet?”
“And a gymnast,” Arthur says, turning back to the window as the music thrumming through the glass reaches its climax; Yusuf drags Eames around by his arm in the most violent part of their dance and sends him sprawling to the floor. Eames goes with it but lands awkwardly, hard on his ass, and winces, before laughing at himself.
Eames throws his head back when he properly laughs. It’s slightly sickening.
Ariadne sighs next to him. “God he’s an idiot,” she says fondly.
It’s pushing 8 o’clock and Arthur has just finished a painfully long set with Petrova. They were working on the opening scene, supposedly an energetic start; but after 7 hours training that day already they had both found it difficult to muster up.
Arthur’s in the men’s changing rooms, having taken a blissfully long shower and now in the process of getting dressed again. He’s slung on some light-weight joggers but pulled the legs up to his knees so he can get 10 minutes in the ice bucket before he tries to put on shoes.
As always, the ice is bitingly painful and instantly soothing at the same time and Arthur swallows his gasp when he puts both feet in. His left ankle twinges ever so slightly, a faint echo of an injury three years ago, and he decides to work on that side in particular when he does his evening yoga. It would suck to have to-
“FUCK,” Arthur shouts, flinching violently away from the freezing coldness that has suddenly appeared at the base of his neck, and is now slipping down his spine under his shirt. “Jesus Christ, what the hell-“
Arthur turns, swiping desperately at the base of his back to get the ice cube out of his shirt only to be met by Eames, who is clearly trying very hard not to laugh.
“Thought you could do with cooling off a bit,” he says, eyes wide in false innocence.
Eames is never innocent.
Arthur doesn't think Eames has ever been innocent.
He flips him off as he finally gets the ice cube out of his shirt. It’s considerably smaller now and dripping wet, but he throws it hard at Eames’ face anyway.
“Not funny,” he grits out, “I thought no-one else was in here.”
Eames laughs, throwing and catching the shrinking ice cube in one hand and not even bothering to try and look contrite.
“Footsteps as light as a feather I have you know,” he says sagely, and then promptly steps over the bench to drop down on the one opposite Arthur.
Arthur eyes him warily. “Can I help you?”
Eames sighs, leans back on the lockers and spreads his legs indecently. He’s got sweat patches under both arms as well as between his pecs and his hair is stuck up everywhere.
Arthur thinks it’s getting to be slightly ridiculous how much he still finds Eames attractive.
“I’m afraid no matter how discrete you think you’ve been, I can’t help but notice you’ve been avoiding me. Quite successfully too I might add.”
Arthur concentrates on massaging his calves down to the tops of his ankles. “I don’t know what you’re talking about-“
“Come, come now Arthur, let’s not be deliberately dense.” Eames sounds oddly impatient. Arthur flushes.
“I have a busy schedule Mr. Eames,” he says, meeting Eames’ gaze with a hard stare of his own, “I apologize if appalling puns and ill-advised attempts at flirtation are not part of it.”
Eames smiles, apparently completely unfazed by this.
“Understood,” he says simply, “I can’t help but think however, a complete lack of communication will be somewhat detrimental to our performance. We’ve got a hell of a job on our hands here, and I’m sure that regardless of your intense feelings of dislike towards me, you can put them aside for the sake of professionalism, hmm?”
Arthur bristles despite himself. On the one hand, he’s intensely relieved that Eames clearly hasn’t a clue about Arthur’s true feelings, but for Eames to question Arthur’s professionalism, what he prides himself on the most, is another question entirely.
“If you’re suggesting that I’m going to compromise-“ Arthur starts but Eames leans over to put a hand on his shoulder, effectively cutting him off.
He meets Arthur’s gaze, and his eyes are kind and shockingly, shockingly blue. They never quite seem to stay the same colour day in day out. “I’m kidding mate. I know we’re going to be just fantastic, we’re both just too good,” and then he winks, which just kills the whole mood entirely.
“Anyway, glad we’ve cleared the air on that front,” he says cheerily. “I do dislike dwelling on un-pleasantries. Now, I’ve got to ask you, how are you planning on playing Siegfried in our section?”
Arthur has barely recovered from the shoulder clap, but he takes a deep breath and reins back his irritation.
“As I have with Ariadne - naïve, young, easily led and misled.”
Eames hums, tilts his head to survey Arthur with an interested look.
“Just like that? Don’t you think that’s a little… generic?”
Arthur can feel himself getting annoyed again. God, what is it about Eames that pisses him off so quickly-
“Because I was wondering if it might be an idea to incorporate another element- genuine intrigue and interest on Siegfried’s part in terms of Odile’s flirtation, alongside guilt for betraying Odette? I know it’s a hellvua lot to convey but feel like we should make a point to emphasize the complications of homoerotic dimension of this, it’s part of what makes the production unique.”
It’s… not a terrible idea.
“So, Siegfried isn’t led so much as wanting to explore for himself.”
Eames snaps his fingers, “Exactly.”
Arthur nods, “he’s more curious and wary with Odile than Odette, but only at first. Then his curiosity gets the better of him, and then the rest of it is self-generated.”
Eames grins, teeth horribly crooked like the stereotype Brit he is.
“If it doesn’t work with the choreography we’ll ask Dom to change it - but I think we’re onto something here love.”
Arthur ignores the pet name in favour of getting out his moleskin from his coat pocket and scribbling their points down.
“So with Odette I’m being led, seduced in very much a classical sense even if her intentions are good, which fits with what I’ve been working on with Ariadne-“
“But with me, you practically end up being the seductor.” Eames’ is grinning filthily.
Arthur feels his cheeks pink despite himself. “Restrain yourself Mr. Eames.”
“Not at all, I think this could work nicely. Traditionally, you’d expect the male dancer to frame the female form, or in our case, for Odile to frame Siegfried in trying to seduce him. Obviously as we’ve said a subversion of that would be interesting, but maybe we shouldn’t completely tip it on its head. I think more of an equal power balance, by the end of Act. Odile was told to ensnare Siegfried and ruin his relationship with Odette on Rothbart’s command, but in reality he ends up falling for him a little himself. Then that adds further justification to Odile’s backlash against his father, because he’s not only lost a sister, but someone approaching a lover too.”
Arthur writes it all down in his shorthand scrawl because irritating as he may be, Eames’ out-loud wonderings are gold.
He smiles down at the page. He hasn’t felt this confident about the characterization behind a pas de deux in a long time. This could really work; could really add a different dynamic to the production, if Odile was actually a little bit in love too.
“You really should do that more often Arthur,” Eames muses across from him.
“Smile. Those dimples of yours suit you very well.”
“Oh fuck off,” Arthur says, and lets himself laugh at last.
The thing with Eames is-
Well, if Arthur’s going to be honest with himself there’s a great many ‘things concerned with Eames.’
The most pressing of which being the fact that Arthur has been harbouring an intense, inexplicable crush on the man ever since he joined the company.
Arthur had heard about Eames before of course (who hadn’t) had admired his technique and stage presence, had researched him and been quietly impressed by the slew of awards Eames had to his name, but all of that had been beside the point really when Eames had half-jogged into the Royal Ballet reception on his first day nearly a year ago, reading glasses perched on his nose as he squinted at a crumpled email print out and then, spotting Arthur and his expression relaxing into a smile so beautiful it hurt to look at, he’d asked “I’m ever so sorry love, but you don’t think you could possibly direct me to Studio 2?”
And Arthur had thought “oh fuck”.
And he’d been pretty much thinking it on a loop ever since.
Because Eames is everything Arthur never knew he wanted, larger than life, deathly sharp, ridiculously talented, and not to mention hot as fuck. The only problem of course was that Eames only seemed interested in flirting unabashedly as opposed to actually doing anything about it. In the beginning Arthur was flattered when Eames spent nearly an hour changing in the evening so he could finish when Arthur did and then walk with him out of the building, making a point to hold open every door on the way. But when he asked for Arthur’s number in a casually professional way which Arthur fell head over heels giving to him, and then proceeded to send Arthur hourly texts for a week or so, a combination of appalling innuendos and terrible puns and making a point of taking all and any opportunities to turn anything Arthur says into something dirty, following it up with a ridiculous winky face that should have be horribly corny but irritatingly just had the effect of making Arthur rather warm under his non-existent collar - Arthur came to a realization.
This wasn’t Eames intentionally flirting with him. This wasn’t even Eames having picked up on Arthur’s interest and mocking him for it; this was just Eames, through and through. Complimenting everyone he meets, throwing pet names around like he’s completely unaware of the affect he’s having, starting to strip on the way to the changing rooms because he likes walking through the cool hallways shirtless-
Fuck it. Arthur doesn’t like to think about it all too much, because he’s pretty sure if someone compiled a list of All Things Eames, from drinking from a water bottle to tying his fucking pointes, Arthur would have a hard time finding something he hadn’t at one point found attractive.
Arthur’s far gone by this point. He’s well aware of that but also sort of resigned to it.
Because at the end of it all he’s a fucking professional and Eames or no-Eames, Arthur is never going to sacrifice his career (his pride) over sentiment. He’s worked too hard. So he shoves down the attraction, the desperate, childish desire that sometimes rears its head for Eames’ attention and smile to be directed at Arthur alone; he doesn’t allow himself to be alone with Eames if he can help it lest he fuck up and he doesn’t breathe a word about it all. To anyone.
Arthur had known that working with Eames full time in a tight-knit group of principals for Swan Lake was going to be hard. Except Siegfried was a lead role, a lead role in a production that the whole of London would hear about, and so like fuck was Eames being involved too going to put Arthur off.
So far, it had been manageable. Arthur had kept distance but not in too obvious a way, but then again, they hadn’t rehearsed just the two of them yet.
Later that night when he’s curled up on the sofa and trying desperately hard to focus on The Great British Bake Off and not the memory of Eames’ huge, capable hand tightening on his shoulder and eyes as blue as – like hell if Arthur knows, they’re bluer than anything he has ever seen – he remembers abruptly that their first rehearsal together is the next day.
Arthur lets out a small groan, and face plants into the sofa cushion.
On the television, Ian is saying, “I wrote in my journal ‘this could be a pivotal moment in my life’. Then I thought ‘whoa, whoa, that’s too big, don’t think about it like that.’ It’s just another weekend in the tent, I’ve got three things to cook, what’s there to worry about? Quite a lot actually but never mind.”
Arthur wishes that the biggest problem in his life right now was timing biscotti and sweetend bread baps.
“Fuck OFF Ian,” he says, and turns off the television with a vicious stab at the remote.
In the dark silence of his living room, Arthur realizes how ridiculous this all is.
It’s just Eames.
And yeah, history of Arthur’s terrible crush aside, what’s honestly the worst thing that could happen?
Arthur has a rehearsal with Ariadne the following morning and is infinitely grateful for it. He’s getting used to dancing with her now, mirroring her movements, timing their jumps without having to count their steps, letting himself switch off from the technicalities and loosing himself in the character. Siegfried is experiencing love for the first time, and he wants to spend every breathing second with Odette. The choreography translates this into Arthur and Ariande being practically chest to chest the entire time, and Dom pushes Arthur to get closer and closer until when he drops Ariadne into a dip, he’s leaning over her to such an extreme degree that when they make eye contact Ariadne waggles an eyebrow and they both crack up.
Yusuf is dancing his scene with Ariadne next, and he rolls his eyes at the two of them as he comes into the studio.
“Thought we’d inject some comedy into the greatest dramatic ballet tragedy of our time did we?”
Ariadne pouts and gets all up in Arthur’s face with fluttering lushes and pursed lips to make him laugh again.
“God give me strength”, Dom says to the vaulted ceiling, and waves Arthur away with a hand. “Arthur, go see how the minions are doing with the birthday scene, you’re distracting Ariadne.”
“Yeah Arthur,” Ariadne says, straight-faced in a millisecond, her arms crossed. “God, can’t you see some of us are trying to work?”
Arthur starts to splutter his protests but Yusuf pats him on a shoulder, “don’t even try and argue with her mate, it’s a lost cause. Believe me.”
Ariadne smiles angelically.
Arthur is beginning to understand why the entire company seems to be so enamoured with her.
“Sometimes you remind me so much of Eames,” he tells her, and it’s meant to be disdainful, it really is-
“Coming from you Arthur, that is hardly an insult,” Ariadne fires back, and she’s smiling a little in a way that makes Arthur panic slightly, so he resorts to rolling his eyes at her so hard it hurts.
“Dom, since when did we allow children into Royal Ballet productions?” he says primly, and Ariadne looks betrayed. Yusuf whistles.
“Low blow Arthur Levine, a truly low blow.”
“At least I’m not ancient,” Ariadne grumbles, but Arthur musses her hair when she walks past him to the piano and he sees her smile.
“Arthur, the minions,” Dom prompts, and Arthur really hopes the chorus never catch on to that nickname, but he goes anyway.
The prospect of dancing with Eames has been at the back of Arthur’s mind all day, but the closer 3pm gets, the more and more nervous he feels.
It’s ridiculous, he knows it is, Arthur doesn’t get nervous- he gets adrenaline rushes before performances, but they always improve his dancing. They don’t make his palms sweat and his mouth dry up.
At lunch, when he spots Eames flirting shamelessly with one of the chorus girls, he spills the cous-cous he had been eating rather viciously all over his lap. Eames himself doesn’t make him feel this on edge, doesn’t make him this anxious, but the prospect of dancing with Eames is another thing altogether.
Arthur is different when he dances, he knows that. He’s more open, more expressive, and acting has never been his strong suit so he can’t feign these feelings, he has to source them from his own experiences, bring them to the forefront of his mind and let them takeover every other thought in his head.
When he dances in tragedies he’s remembering Mal’s funeral in painfully vivid detail, right down to the overflowing bouquets of purple fuschias because Mal always had hated lilies; when he’s going for joy he’s returning to that feeling of pure elation of the final curtain call of his first major performance, the overwhelming, blissful realisation that ‘I’m right where I should be’.
That was all fine. But to dance being in love. With a man.
The thing is, Arthur’s not sure he’s ever really been in love. Aside from a high school fling that had ended horribly in the guy’s gun-toting, Republican-loving father walking in on them, and a couple of dates with someone back in his first professional company, Arthur hasn’t even really dated anyone seriously. And so he doesn’t know where the fuck he’s going to draw the emotion and feeling for dancing being in love with Eames from, other than from the hideous crush he’s been harbouring for the man for nearly a year.
Ariadne notices of course. They’re leaving the canteen after lunch and Arthur’s barely said a word, hands shoved in his hoodie pocket, and she grabs his arm, pulls him back to let the others go ahead.
“Hey, you feeling alright?”
Arthur swallows. “Of course - why wouldn’t I be?”
She eyes him. “No offense, but you’ve gone kinda green. Are you going to puke?”
Arthur laughs and it’s a strangled sort of sound. “No, no puking don’t worry.”
Ariadne lets out a sigh of exaggerated relief. “Thank god because I see vomit and I’m just gone, I am straight out of there otherwise I’ll be at it too. I’m utterly useless.”
Arthur grins and thinks he’s gotten away with it, moves to start walking down the corridor when Ariadne shoves an arm round his waist and squeezes tightly in a one-armed hug.
“You’re both amazing dancers but together you’re going to be incredible. Call it prodigy’s intuition,” she whispers, and Arthur’s chest aches because thank god for Ariadne.
Half an hour later however, when Eames lays hands on him and they’re barely two inches apart (and he smells insanely good fuck what cologne does Eames use because someday Arthur’s going to have to find that out because he wants to roll around it till the end of time) Arthur can’t remember a single thing Ariadne said to him.
In fact, at this point he can barely remember his own name, Christ.
“Again!” Dom yells from his perch on top of the speaker system, “Arthur, I’m sorry but you’re all over the place today. God, we’re barely 3 minutes into the choreography.”
They’re starting from the end of the sequence, when at this point Siegfried is mostly won over and it’s Odile’s turn to start to fall in love. It’s less challenging than the start of the scene, and Dom had argued it was partly to give them a rest from the morning’s rehearsals.
Though Arthur would rather be sprinting suicides and angling for the biggest leaps of his career if it meant he didn’t have to do this, with Eames, right now.
Arthur inwardly flinches at Dom’s criticism and stares down at the floor to avoid Eames eyes (they’re so many colours today how can you have green and blue and grey eyes all at the same time how is that possible and more importantly how is it fair.)
“You alright?” Eames says, too quiet for Dom to hear. This is the second time today someone has asked Arthur if he’s alright; it’s mortifying.
But fuck this is harder than he’d thought it would be.
“Just a sec Dom,” Eames calls, and steers Arthur towards the other side of the studio with a broad hand on his back.
“I get the feeling it’s the acting you’re struggling with, and I don’t blame you,” Eames’ voice is kind and that just makes it all the worse, Arthur is a professional goddamn it, “I’d kill for your tour jêtes, I really would, but you’re not so hot on the whole story telling- I get it. Just try and forget about you, about ‘Arthur’ if you can yeah? I know you’re not my biggest fan but try and forget about me and fall for Odile, that’s how you’re playing Siegfried at this point right?”
It’s simultaneously the most modest, self-deprecating, well-meaning and fucking painful thing Eames has ever said. Arthur looks up and Eames is smiling gently at him which makes it infinitely worse. Worser than worse.
“Eames, I have been dancing since I was 6. I think I’m able to grasp the concept of distancing myself from reality for the sake of the story.”
Eames laughs, easily, like this whole conversation isn’t a fucking blueprint for Arthur’s worst nightmare. “Oh believe me, I’m well aware of that. But remember what we talked about with the whole Siegfried being more into it than he realised, even gaining the upper hand? We’ve really gotta lay that all out in this scene. You’ve got to dance like you’re in love with me, with Odile.”
Arthur is feels on the edge of hysteria; not sure whether to burst out laughing or sobbing, but manages to channel it into a raised eyebrow.
Eames’s lips quirk into a smile. “Just a thought, that’s all.”
Except, what comes out of Eames’ mouth on a daily basis is 60% bullshit bravado and 40% genuine genius, and after Dom’s third bit of critique in under 5 minutes Arthur figures he’s got nothing to lose.
He meets Eames gaze and dances like he’s in love with him.
He shuts out everything else, Dom’s fucking shouting and the reflections all around them and even the music dulls to a muffled melody and he lets every tiny thing he’s pushed to the back of his brain about Eames flood his mind. Every smile across a crowded room, every jibe accompanied with a sly smirk, every brush of shoulders passing in doorways; all of it. Arthur loses himself in the dreams he’s been having about Eames for months, where Eames is fresh out of practice and slick with sweat and bodily lifts Arthur against the lockers in the changing rooms to kiss him, where Eames refuses to dance with anyone other than Arthur after their performance, where Eames drops kisses on Arthur’s forehead and heartfelt compliments as freely as he does with Ariadne.
Eames is fucking gorgeous and Arthur, Siegfried, wants him before he even knows he does.
It plays out exactly like Eames said it would- Arthur doesn’t let Siegfried yield to Odile, instead they fight for equal space, circling each other like wild animals, Arthur melting into Eames’ touch just as often as Eames’ drops the seduction and sinks to his knees, dark eyes on Arthur moving around him, seemingly forgetting the game Odile is supposed to be playing.
When the music mellows, as their ‘night’ comes to an end, the choreography softens, slows. It’s less of a conflict, of seeking each other out and learning the other, and more of the ballet Arthur grew up with- demure waltzes and lingering gazes and Christ- this is simultaneously his worst nightmare and best daydream. Arthur cups the side of Eames’ face and strokes a thumb across his cheek and when Eames’ eyes flutter Arthur swears he’s going to die because Eames doesn’t even falter, just turns his head just so and presses his lips to Arthur’s bare wrist, eyes still locked with Arthur’s-
Just fuck it all because at the back of Arthur’s head all logic and reason is screaming that this is by the worst idea he’s ever had, because there’s no coming back from this.
“I’m liking this vibe but tone it down on the affection front- this is a PG production after all guys,” Dom calls from the sidelines and Arthur feels himself blush harder than he ever has in his life and Eames does that thing where he throws his head back and laughs and god Arthur is so so gone.
To an outsider, it might look as though Eames was forcing himself on Arthur. As though Arthur was content to be alone and resented the situation changing.
But as far away as she was, Ariadne was no outsider, and she could see Arthur’s shoulders loosening, his lips curling into a smile on more than one occasion, as he ate an entire lunch for the first time since Ariadne had known him.
Ariadne considers herself to be a woman of contrasts. She’s a ballet dancer whose preferred form of footwear are her battered plum-coloured Doc Martins for god’s sake, but that’s far from the only thing. Her favourite Starbucks is a Salted Caramel Mocha Frappuccino, but she takes her tea black. Frequently, she has so much trouble deciding which scarf to wear she wraps several round her neck and takes one in her bag for a change of scenery later. Ask her to choose her favourite place in the world, and she’d be torn between the plane tree-lined avenues of Paris in fall, and a sticky-tabled booth at her local Denny’s in Halifax.
Such a willingness to appreciate stark opposites, is partly why she finds it difficult to answer the chorus girls’ most frequent question-
“Who’s your favourite, Arthur or Eames?”
Because they’re exactly that, complete opposites. Eames is rolling eyes and flirtatious winks where Arthur is tight-lipped smiles and brow furrowed in concentration. Eames is expansive, expressive in his movements, broad shoulders and even broader grin taking up all available space, whereas Arthur is lithe and controlled, perfectly poised and matching the choreography to a tee. Eames Ariadne has known since she was 17 and a terrified understudy on a West End production of Midsummer Night’s Dream and Eames was the charming Oberon who took her under his fairy wing; Arthur, Ariadne has known for 2 months.
She’s fond of them both, hugely so, and appreciates and admires their different approaches to their art in equal measure. And she absolutely cannot choose a favourite.
“Oh c’mon, Ariadne, you spend hours with them every day- you must have a slight preference one way or another,” Posy insists, for the 4th time that week.
“No comment, eat your salad.”
“I know who my favourite is,” Margot says wistfully, twirling a strand of her long blonde hair around her finger and staring over Ariadne’s shoulder. Ariadne doesn’t need to turn around to know that Eames is currently at the buffet; regardless of the tattoos and world-renowned fame, Ariadne suspects that despite half of the company being British, Eames’ accent was enough to sway most of them. That and his sly smiles and intense gaze that make everyone, man or woman, flush a little.
“But you see, I think Eames is the obvious choice,” pipes up Sergei, “Arthur’s quiet mysteriousness is much more appealing personally. Well, that and his ass because seriously-“
“GUYS,” Ariadne interrupts, “I’m trying to eat here. Would you mind not mentally undressing my fellow principals over lunch?”
“It hardly requires much mental imagination when they spend their time in skin-tight leggings,” Margot mutters, and Posy cuffs the back of her head.
“Rude. Do you enjoy being objectified because you wear tights to work? I think not, I was asking Ariadne a serious question about her preferred working style-“
“Oh sure,” Ariadne scoffs, “that’s exactly what you were getting at.”
“I’m being serious!” Posy protests, “We’re the ones stuck as lowly chorus dancers with no hope of ever working with the principals! We have to get our intel from dancers who degrade themselves to spend time with us.”
Ariadne sniggers into her orange juice, and eyes the three of them. Up until last year, she had been exactly where they were, a ‘lowly chorus dancer’, and she prides herself that she’s not too high on her horse to have forgotten that. There’s a table near the window that seems to have been claimed by the more experienced dancers with bigger roles, but Ariadne doesn’t like the idea of obeying a hierarchy system if she’s honest.
Posy looks at her imploringly.
“Fine,” Ariadne says with a sigh, “you each get one question. Then do you think we can move off this topic?”
Posy looks thrilled, but it’s Sergei who chips in first.
“Is, or has Arthur ever been, an underwear model?”
Ariadne snorts. “Pass. I don’t know, but I can ask.”
“Is Eames currently seeing anyone in the company?” Margot still hasn’t looked away from the fixed point over Ariadne’s shoulder. It’s well known that Eames has a reputation for ending up seeing at least one member of the cast per production, and speculation as to who the lucky person might be is a constant topic of conversation in the dressing rooms.
Ariadne grins, leaning into her line of sight to get her attention. “Not that I’m aware of. Yet.”
“What’s the worst thing about working with them?” Posy prompts, leaning her elbows on the table.
Ariadne chews her lip for a second while she thinks about it. She doesn’t like going behind others backs, doesn’t want to fuel the gossip that Posy is so obviously vying for, but she does want to answer honestly.
“Eames is overly enthusiastic I guess. He picks me up at unexpected times, or tries to dance with me in public. One time we were leaving an after party in Paris and I was wearing these ridiculous heels that were murder on my feet, and he firemen lifted me all the way to the Metro.” Ariadne smiles a little at the memory. “Arthur… Arthur is always correct, always matching the choreography perfectly, which I suppose limits the amount of spontaneous flair you bring to a dance. He is amazingly accurate and precise though, but if ever messes something up he can be a real tight-ass about it-“
“Oh he’s certainly that,” Sergei purrs and Ariande sighs. She’s lost them.
“I’m struggling to see how either of those are flaws,” Posy grumbles, but she seems content enough to give Ariadne her blueberry yoghurt as compensation for her honesty.
Munching her way through her granola yoghurt, Ariadne realises that neither of them are flaws. And that’s probably something that does unite Arthur and Eames; when it comes to dancing, they’re both pretty much flawless.
“Arthur, are you, or have you ever been, an underwear model?” Ariadne asks that afternoon.
Arthur’s drinking from his water bottle and chokes inelegantly. Eames roars with laughter.
“Excuse me?” Arthur splutters.
“Sorry, I know it’s a bit of creepy question, but enquiring minds in the chorus want to know.”
“And can you really blame them,” Eames says cheerily, thwapping Arthur on the arse with his towel as he passes. The dark look Arthur sends Eames is impressive, but Ariadne can see the smile curling at the edge of his mouth.
“Who wants to know exactly?” he asks.
“Sergei. The Ukrainian?”
“I know the one” Eames pipes up, “pretty sure he has a massive crush on you darling.”
Arthur doesn’t rise to the pet-name. Ariadne thinks he must be getting used to them.
“I can tell him to fuck off if you like,” Ariadne offers, “it is a pretty invasive question.”
Arthur chews his lip. “Well, actually, he’s not exactly wrong,” and he flushes a little. “I might have done a bit of modelling in my late teens, but it wasn’t for underwear. I err- kind of appeared in a couple of swimwear catalogues.”
Ariadne gawps, but she’s fairly sure she doesn’t look as shocked as Eames.
“You’re kidding,” she breathes, and Arthur shakes his head, looking faintly amused.
Yusuf sticks his head round the piano from where he’d been stretching. “Eames, hand me my phone. I’m not going to believe this until I see photographic evidence- Google images, or it didn’t happen.”
“Fuck no,” Arthur says, lunging for the iPhone on top of piano.
“Fuck yes,” Eames says, and gets there first, snatching it up and holding it high above Arthur’s head.
“To me!” Ariadne shouts, and catches the phone soaring through the air with the tips of her fingers.
“You can’t throw an iPhone,” Yusuf hollers, indignant, and it descends from there.
When Dom walks in 5 minutes later, Eames is holding the iPhone again but Arthur has him in a headlock, and Ariadne is sitting in the middle of Yusuf’s back to try and stop him from getting up.
“One coffee,” Dom mutters to the ceiling, “I went to get one coffee.”
“Ariadne started it!” Eames gasps, and Arthur lets him go, shoving him away hard.
“I did not!”
“I’m loathed to tell you this Ariadne, but I think you’ll find you absolutely did,” says Yusuf, as sombrely as he can given that Ariadne’s knee is currently at the back of his neck pressing his head into the floor.
“I hate you all,” Arthur says, his hair everywhere, cheeks flushed. Eames side-steps him and gives his hair another quick ruffle as he does so, and Arthur looks like he’s trying very, very hard to be angry.
He doesn’t manage it. And when Arthur gallantly gives Ariadne a hand to her feet off Yusuf’s back, he’s smiling in a way that tells her he doesn’t hate them at all.
Next day at lunch Ariadne is on her own. Posy, Margot and Sergei are all in extra chorus rehearsals for Siegfried’s birthday scene after Dom threw a hissy fit at them all the day before, so she’s enjoying a quiet gossip free lunch for once.
The buffet hall is still buzzing, dancers coming and going in various states of undress and costume, sipping water from two litre bottles of water, casually stretching on table benches as they chat with other members of the company. It’s a nice atmosphere, inclusive and busy, and Ariadne is content to lean back against the wall and people-watch as she munches on her sandwich, putting her feet up on the bench opposite.
From here, she has a prime view out of both windows. One looking out over the grey London rooftop skyline, the other an internal window running along the lower half of the wall, overlooking the central practice studio.
At first glance, Ariadne assumes the studio is empty, till she spots a figure on the far side of the room.
Arthur is sitting cross-legged, back against the floor to ceiling mirror, head tucked under the barre. He’s in his practice leggings with his hoodie up, headphones in, presumably listening to the performance score, because Arthur is a stickler for extra practice like that. He’s got the next fortnights schedule laid out in front of him and is frowning at it, apparently underlining and circling certain sections with a pen he keeps chewing on the end of.
He looks tense, anxious, even though their brief 40-minute lunchtime is a scared time of relaxation and switching off for once in a while.
Arthur doesn’t do switching off though.
It’s an endearing sight, and Ariadne pulls out her phone to take a few photos, adding black and white filters to make Arthur look moodier than he’s already pulling off. Arthur’s many fans on Instagram will love her for this.
As she watches though, the door on the far wall opens, and Eames comes in backwards. He turns into view and Ariadne sees his arms are full of food; salad boxes and a tray of fruit smoothies and about 4 packets of chocolate digestive biscuits. He spots Arthur straight away and goes over to him, dropping a bag of vegetable crisps into Arthur’s line of sight.
Arthur jolts in surprise, yanks out his headphones and glares up at Eames, lips moving. Ariadne has no idea what he’s saying from behind 2 sheets of double-glazing, but if the way Eames throws his head back in a laugh and Arthur bites his lip, clearly trying to hold back a smile is anything to go by, she would guess it was something that anyone else would find cutting and cruel.
It’s Eames though, so he promptly drops to the floor, scattering the food all over Arthur’s papers, which makes Arthur scowl all over again.
Eames then reaches up to flip Arthur’s hoodie off his head, and musses up his hair, smiling fondly when Arthur tries to duck away. Arthur gestures to the food, clearly protesting about the impromptu picnic that Eames has decided they’re having, but Eames ignores him, pressing a Caesar salad into Arthur’s hand, and a kiwi smoothie, apparently as deaf as Ariadne to whatever Arthur is complaining about.
Eventually, Arthur rolls his eyes in a way that clearly says he gives up, and slumps back against the mirror with his salad. Eames happily dips his digestives in his horribly pink smoothie and starts talking, hands gesturing and face expressive.
To an outsider, it might look as though Eames was forcing himself on Arthur. As though Arthur was content to be alone and resented the situation changing.
But as far away as she was, Ariadne was no outsider, and she could see Arthur’s shoulders loosening, his lips curling into a smile on more than one occasion, as he ate an entire lunch for the first time since Ariadne had known him.
Ariadne watches them a little more carefully after that, how Arthur is with Eames, how Eames acts around Arthur.
It’s oddly fascinating. They’re so different, such complete opposites- they should clash at every turn, should be in a constant battle with each other, should be making the principle rehearsals feel tense and unpleasant.
But that’s exactly what doesn’t happen.
Eames teases and jibes at Arthur and Arthur neatly and coolly shuts him down, and they jostle and rub shoulders more often than is necessary and Arthur is almost constantly ducking his head to hide his grin at Eames’ appalling jokes, and they’re both debating the merits of the Bolshoi versus the Royal Ballet over lunch, Arthur gesticulating wildly, food flying everywhere, Eames watching him with a fond expression, the two of them completely ignoring the outside world as though it’s just the two of them.
And when they dance.
Ariadne hasn’t seen many of their rehearsals, having always been in training with Yusuf for their pas de deux or else working with the chorus. Late one Friday afternoon though, she and Margot have an hour to kill and they find themselves sitting by the interior window in the buffet hall, overlooking the main studio. A few other chorus dancers are already there, playing on their phones and chatting over diet cokes. It’s only when the studio door opens and Arthur and Eames come in, Arthur shoving Eames away for saying something presumably offensive, and Eames grinning like the cat that got the cream, that the watching crowd goes quiet.
Ariadne realises they’re sitting here so that they can watch the two principles dance.
Not that she blames them.
Ariadne has always admired Eames as a dancer. Always thought he was the perfect male soloist- commanding and direct and impressive in his strength and physique.
Arthur is nothing like Eames. He’s always dressed in dark tights, fitted black t-shirts, and he’s much slimmer than Eames, both in the shoulders and the waist. But he’s just as captivating. Wrists delicate and immaculately turned, the line of his neck flowing seamlessly down along his spine as he moves. He’s stunning, almost beautiful, but then he launches into a papillon with such power, back arched, head thrown back, reaching a stupidly ridiculous height, that Ariadne’s reminded every time that he’s just as much a male soloist as Eames.
They’re already warmed up, so they launch into the inner workings of their complex choreography pretty much straight away. From what Ariadne has picked up from rehearsals, Arthur and Eames have decided to work in some subtler elements than the typical ‘bewitched and seduced’ scenario. Arthur has to be hesitant at first, skirting around the edge and turning away when Eames comes close, trying to drag him into the dance. But then, gradually, as Siegfried’s curiously gets the better of him, Arthur begins to join in, not so much dancing with Eames as mirroring him, within touching distance but never quite close enough.
Eames’ jumps get bigger then, higher and faster and more impressive, as Odile tries harder and harder to impress Siegfried. And then, just as they’re reaching the climax of the music that Ariadne can hear faintly through the window, Arthur, Siegfried, Ariadne isn’t sure who it is at this point, visibly succumbs.
Eames hauls Arthur across his body, muscles straining, and Arthur spins into his arms, pressed against his front. Arthur raises a hand to caress Eames’ cheek- Eames leaning into the touch, briefly- before Arthur drags the hand down his chest and pushes off, pin wheeling away across the floor.
Ariadne feels her stomach flip.
“Holy fuck,” Margot whispers next to her, and god, can Ariadne sympathise.
The music swells, thrumming behind the glass, and they dance faster, harder, less poised and less refined because they’re getting lost in it, just as the growing crowd watching at the window are, dancing closer and closer together it’s a wonder they aren’t falling over each other.
As the final chord rings out, Arthur runs at Eames and Eames lifts him like he weighs nothing at all, arms not even trembling, and Arthur melts into it like his spine has turned to liquid, before Eames slowly, slowly lowers him to the floor.
The watching crowd breaks into spontaneous applause, and Ariadne joins in, even if Arthur an Eames can’t hear.
Arthur’s lying on his back on the floor, chest heaving with exertion, and Eames leans over, hands on his knees, evidently trying to catch his breath. Eames says something to Arthur and Arthur laughs, unashamedly, and it’s such a far cry from the bitten-back grins and stifled sniggers that Ariadne aches.
Eames offers Arthur a hand and hauls him to his feet. They pause when Arthur’s standing up, inches from each other, eyes holding-
“Kiss! Kiss god damnit!” Margot calls, slamming a fist on the window, and a few people around them laugh.
They don’t kiss, but Eames’ doesn’t stop looking at Arthur the whole time they’re collecting their gear, and Arthur doesn’t stop smiling.
Ariadne thinks that maybe they’re not that different after all.
Being a ballet dancer is hard. So they decide to get drunk.
Sorry for the slowish update - will be midweek for the next one!
It’s been a long week. Arthur’s entire body is aching, and Ariadne hasn’t stopped complaining about her pointes not fitting her since Wednesday. It’s clear they’re reaching desperate measures when she point-blank refuses to walk to the canteen for lunch unless Eames gives her a piggy-back.
Eames groans. “I would pet I really would, but Arthur fucked up my back earlier during a particularly energetic-“
“I’m not sure I want to hear the end of that sentence,” Yusuf says, and offers his back to Ariadne instead.
Ariadne hops up, and proceeds to fluff Yusuf’s hair as they make their way down the corridor. “Your hair is amazing Yusuf,” she says, slightly in awe.
“You know, if your feet are hurting that badly you should probably move onto another pair of pointes,” Arthur tells her.
“But I’m on number 127 and that’s my lucky number,” Ariadne wheedles.
“I don’t know, I’ve always found that the 69s serve me well,” Eames says, throwing Arthur a ridiculous wink, and for fuck’s sake, that’s not even an innuendo, that’s just lazy-
“He’s not kidding, he writes the number on the sole of the shoe. Mal used to do that too,” Dom hands out schedules to them all as they walk.
Arthur’s realised that throughout this production Mal’s name tends to come up every few days or so, usually in light-hearted, general conversation, ‘Oh Mal loved that restaurant,’ ‘Mal always wanted to visit Prague’. It seems to be Dom’s way of dealing.
“I’ve lost count,” Yusuf says sagely, “I find looking back detracts from the now.”
“Is that- is that a quote from The Incredibles?” Ariadne asks.
Yusuf shifts her on his back. “It might be.”
“I’ll bet your one of those wise and philosophical drunks,” Eames tells him, “coming out with your few words of wisdom only when you’re absolutely smashed.”
“That’d still be more words of wisdom than you mate.”
“I’d be interested to see what you’re all like drunk actually,” Ariadne pipes up.
“You my dear, are most definitely of the overly apologetic nature.” Eames says, “but it is a horrifying realisation that I don’t already know that because I haven’t actually seen you drunk before.”
“Then we should go out tonight then!” Ariadne cries, “On London town! Eames you promised me you’d take me anyway-“
“Of course he did,” Arthur sighs.
“Now don’t be such a downer love,” Eames thwaps him over the head with his papers, “I’ll bet you’ve seen nothing of London’s nightlife either yet and you’ve been here for years.”
“I’d be up for a night out,” Yusuf says cheerily, “Dom?”
Dom looks up from frowning at his diary. Arthur tries to send him silent signals, begging him to say no-
“I’m not sure, I’d have to hire a nanny-“
Eames slaps him on the back. “Excellent! Glad to hear it Dominick. Meet on the door at 7 everyone?”
And so that’s how, an afternoon’s rehearsal and far too many pints of larger plus several Jägerbombs on a mostly empty stomach later, Arthur finds himself wandering through Soho in the biting cold with the rest of the principals for the Royal Ballet, all of whom are completely and horribly smashed.
“Fuck this was an awful idea,” he mutters, as he lurches into a wall, and Yusuf laughs at him like he’s the funniest thing he’s seen all year.
Ariadne and Eames are at the back, singing a horrible rendition of Champs Elysees for no explicable reason, and Dom is, bizarrely, dancing along. In the back of his head, Arthur knows he should be mortified, but he really can’t bring himself to feel it right now.
“Arthur forgive me for saying so but I think you’re quite wrong, this was a fantastic idea,” Yusuf says.
Eames abruptly appears at Arthur’s shoulder, leaning all the fuck over him.
“See? What did I say? Yusuf’s blind pissed and eloquent to a fault.” Eames only stumbles a little bit over ‘eloquent.’
Arthur pretends he isn’t leaning back against Eames and soaking up his warmth. “Your breath smells foul,” he tells him, but he’s fairly sure he doesn’t mean to say it as fondly as he does.
“And I got you right as well,” Eames crows, oblivious, “you’re less prickly when you’re drunk pet, s’nice. Also,” he grins and jabs Arthur’s cheek with a gloved hand, “dimples.”
“I’m fairly sure you could write odes to Arthur’s dimples the amount you harp on about them,” Yusuf says primly, and Eames lunges at him, mumbling something under his breath that sounds a lot like ‘shut the fuck up’ and pulling him into a headlock.
Arthur sniggers, staggers round a lamppost and very nearly falls flat on his face when Ariadne attacks him from behind, wrapping her arms round his middle.
“Arthurrrr,” she whines, and god it’s like she’s de-aged a decade. It should be annoying, but it’s mostly adorable, especially when Arthur twists round and sees that Ariadne’s nose has gone bright pink in the cold.
“What’s up sasquatch?”
Ariadne’s brow crumples in confusion.
“A sasquatch? It’s another name for bigfoot, I think. And you’re pretty tiny, so I guess I thought … irony. Or something like that.”
“Only you Arthur,” she says fondly, and tries to pat him on the head but doesn’t quite manage it, “only you would be an ironic drunk.”
Arthur chuckles. “There are worse things to be I guess. At least I’m not a-“
“OOOOHH SAY YOU CAN SEEEE, BY THE DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT, WHAT SO PROOOUDDDLY-“ Dom hollers at the top of his voice, skipping past them.
“-loud drunk,” he finishes.
“Is - is that, the American National Anthem?” Ariadne looks slightly afraid.
“Yeah,” Arthur says with a sigh, “let’s hope no Sunday Times reviewers live around Soho.”
“I’m pretty sure they don’t,” Eames says cheerily, Yusuf still in a headlock under one arm. “And we’re streets away from Kensington.”
“Ah. That’s good then. We’re safe,” Arthur tells Ariadne, who has managed to tuck herself mostly under his peacoat.
“S’fucking cold,” she says petulantly, when he raises an eyebrow at her.
“Is it?” Arthur thinks he’s probably drunk too much to notice at this point. “Here,” he says, and he strips his coat off and gives it to her.
It’s stupidly long on her, very nearly trailing on the floor, but Ariadne looks thrilled. “Thanks Arthur!” and she beams at him, before skipping off down the road after Dom, singing something that ominously sounds like the chorus of ‘O Canada.’
“Christ,” Arthur says, smiling like an idiot. They should have done this much sooner.
Eames is abruptly all over him again, ridiculously long arms and lips far too close to Arthur’s face when he’s as far gone and inebriated as this.
“That was very gallant of you Arthur, sacrificing your coat like that,” he grumbles into Arthur’s ear, and Arthur shudders lightly.
“My mother raised me well. Unlike yours, it would seem.”
Eames throws his head back and roars with laughter. God, he’s so attractive when he does that, Arthur thinks internally-
Eames looks at him sharply, suddenly very sober, “what was that love?” he says quietly.
- or maybe not so internally.
Fortunately, it’s at that precise moment that Ariadne decides she’s had enough.
“GUYS ARTHUR GAVE ME HIS COAT, WHICH WAS REALLY NICE OF HIM OKAY, LIKE REALLY NICE, BUT I’M STILL FUCKING FREEZING SO CAN WE PLEASE GO SOMEWHERE WITH FUCKING CENTRAL HEATING JESUS CHRIST.”
“Ah,” Eames says, “I’ll admit I did guess Ariadne’s drunken behaviour incorrectly- it would seem she’s less of the overly apologetic-“
“Fucking shIT WHY ARE THERE SO MANY LAMPOSTS ON THIS FUCKING STREET?-”
“-and more of the blasphemous type.”
“WHOSE HOUSE ARE WE NEAREST?” Dom yells to the street at large.
“Good god could you all be any bloody louder?” Yusuf says in despair.
“Cleen- Cleveland- Cleveland Street!” Ariadne calls, triumphant, having squinted at a road sign on the corner.
“WAIT A SECOND-“ Dom shouts.
Arthur freezes. “Oh fuck-“
“I KNOW THAT NAME-“
“ARTHUR!” Dom roars, delightedly, and Arthur drops his face into his hands, “ARTHUR LIVES NEAR HERE!”
“Drew the short straw there didn’t you,” Eames mutters, and Arthur can hear his smile goddammit.
They’re a 10-minute walk from Arthur’s apartment, but it takes them at least half an hour to get to his block, and then it’s a nightmare getting up the stairs.
Yusuf ends up giving Ariadne a piggy back again and Arthur makes sure to walk behind them because he’s positive this is going to end in a horrible head injury.
When they get to his door, Arthur pauses, and looks behind him at his colleagues; Ariadne all giggly and swinging on Yusuf’s arm, Yusuf seemingly admiring the architecture of the stairwell, Dom shhing them all so loudly he’s actually being the loudest one there- and Eames, who is quietly humming to himself and apparently walking through his choreography for his third scene, if Arthur recognises the footwork correctly.
Arthur sighs, rests his head against the door briefly.
“No point delaying the inevitable love,” Eames calls cheerily, and Arthur laughs, shoving the key in the lock and opening the door.
Arthur likes his apartment. It’s neat and compact and well-located just around the corner from Warren Street tube station. He’d invested in it with his savings as soon as he’d found at he’d been contracted with the Royal Ballet, and he’s very glad he did.
Once they’ve all stripped off their coats and shoes in the hall and been introduced to Archibald, Arthur’s eternally grumpy and overweight tabby cat, who he’d inherited from the person who lived here before when Archibald simply refused to leave, they end up lounging all over Arthur’s living room.
Yusuf sprawls on the sofa surveying them all like some Roman god, Dom leans against the bookcase, fighting to keep his head up, and Ariadne rolls about on the fluffy white rug in the middle of the floor.
Eames slaps his hands together and says, “well I don’t know about you lot but I’m famished,” and promptly starts pulling pots and pans out of kitchen cupboards.
“I’m not sure drunk cooking is a good idea.”
“Arthur, darling Arthur, you’re lovely, you really are, but you do lack imagination.”
“Arthur has plenty of imagination I have you know,” Dom pipes up, pointing at Eames accusingly with a wavering arm, “he got 9.7 for his artistic score at the WBC.”
Arthur feels very flattered. “I didn’t know you remembered that Dom.”
Ariadne rolls onto her back on the carpet, starts moving her arms and legs as though she’s making a snow angel.
“You were 17,” Dom continues, and Arthur’s very very pleased that Dom seems to no longer need to shout, “none of my protégées had ever got that high a score before- of course I remember.”
“Yet still,” Eames says lightly, and he somehow seems to have found Arthur’s eggs and be in the process of separating them with casual ease.
“Drunk cooking is a fire hazard- that’s my only concern.” Arthur thinks his sober-self would be impressed with how in control and responsible he sounds at the minute.
“It’s already too hot in here anyway,” Eames says, wiggling his eyebrows pointedly at Arthur, and god, he’s truly vile.
“Just- don’t burn down my kitchen. That coffee machine is new.”
“Will do pet,” Eames says cheerily, and leans over the counter to lightly poke Arthur’s face with the whisk. Arthur’s too slow to react and gets egg white on his nose.
“I’d say you two should get a fucking room,” Ariadne drawls from her position on the floor, “but we’re all kinda already in it aren’t we?”
Arthur leaps on her and Ariadne screeches so loudly Arthur’s going to have to buy his neighbours a bottle of wine again.
They roll around on the rug, the tackle turning mostly into a tickle fest, with Yusuf shouting instruction to Ariadne from his recline on the sofa, and Dom laughing at them so hard that Arthur’s concerned he’s going to give himself a heart attack.
Eventually, Yusuf clearly gets tired of the equal stakes and rolls off the sofa onto Arthur. Arthur doesn’t stand a chance, and within a minute he’s lying on his front, panting hard, squashed into the carpet with Ariadne laid flat on top of him, and Yusuf on top of her.
“Oh my god you’re crushing me,” Arthur wheezes.
“Can I say something really serious to you guys?” Ariadne sounds only slightly less winded than Arthur, sandwiched between them as she is.
“By all means,” Yusuf offers magnanimously.
“You guys are my best friends,” she says tearfully, “like, honestly. You’re my besties.”
“Oh, that’s great news,” Arthur manages.
“Wait, am I your best friend too?” Dom says, sounding horrifyingly teary too.
“Well, no, not really, “ Ariadne starts, “but you can join the group hug-“
When Dom flings himself on top of Yusuf all three of them groan, and Arthur tries not to laugh because he’s fairly sure under this pressure his ribs will break.
“I need to remember this,” Ariadne wheezes, and manages to weasel her arm out in front of them, holding her phone. “Say cheeeeeese.”
Arthur says cheese despite himself.
“Speaking of cheese,” Eames says cheerily from the kitchenette, “dinner anyone?”
Eames has made soufflé. With minted green beans and roasted sweet potato.
Ariadne, Yusuf and Dom steal the barstools, so Arthur leans against the counter, brushing shoulders with Eames to eat.
The soufflé is sublime.
“Is this salmon?” Ariadne sounds thrilled.
“You made salmon soufflé?” Dom sounds sceptical.
“Ah, and butterscotch instant whip for afters? My favourite,” says Yusuf, as though this is a daily occurrence for him, “Arthur do you have any Sauvignon Blanc?”
Arthur does, and pours everyone a generous glass because they’re all already smashed so at this point it really can’t do much harm.
“I didn’t even know I had salmon in the fridge,” Arthur admits, and Eames taps his own nose, grinning.
“And this is just my drunken whip-up. Allow me to cook you a proper meal someday Arthur and then I’ll really impress you,” Eames says, and Arthur absolutely does not blush.
And then, he’s not quite sure what makes him say it, but it’s probably a combination of the way Eames is smiling at him with that soft look in his eyes and the way Arthur’s bloodstream consists mostly of alcohol at this point, he says- “you already impress me every day already. Even if it’s just in rehearsals.”
Eames looks taken aback, and then grins. Ariadne, the fucker, awws.
“The only time you’ve impressed me Eames was in Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Yusuf says snootily, “but that was 3 years ago now so I think you might have lost your touch.”
“Hey!” Eames protests, “I thought you’d be a sage drunk, not a mean one.”
Yusuf shrugs. “I speak the truth without the inhibitions of polite social etiquette.”
“You were really really amazing in that performance though,” says Ariadne, “and mega nice. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“Not half as amazing as you were in the Nutcracker though,” Eames counters, “although I imagine your NDA is enough a reminder of that already?” Ariadne swats his arm fondly.
“If we’re talking favourite performances- Arthur in Don Quixote.” Dom says, as though he’s announcing a winning hand at poker.
Arthur had been 21 when he’d done Don Quixote, it had been his first key solo role and had escalated him to worldwide fame. It had also been the performance that had left him limping with a fucked up ankle, but he knows better than to talk about injuries and accidents when Dom is in the room. “Only because you choreographed it,” he says to Dom.
“Oh god yeah, your pas de deux in that fucking blew me away,” Ariadne breathes, and Arthur shifts, unused to such direct praise.
“True, true, Arthur gets the award for best performance, I’m happy to admit defeat in the face of such gallant opposition.” Yusuf concedes, and pours himself more wine.
Arthur laughs. “You’re all drunk. And ridiculous. It wasn’t the best performance-“
“Better than Baryshnikov,” Eames says lightly and Arthur turns to stare at him.
You don’t drop in a comparison with Baryshnikov lightly.
Eames shrugs, as if to say ‘it’s true’ and takes a sip of wine, smiling.
Arthur knocks back his own wine for lack of knowing what else to do. There a million and one things he wants to say to Eames in that moment, that Eames must know that he has been flawless and stunning in everything that he’s done, that he dances in a way that makes Arthur’s heart pound and hands tingle, that he’s the best dancer of their generation without question, that his Swan Lake remains the most glorious piece of ballet that Arthur has ever witnessed, that Arthur, as good as he knows he is, is really nothing more than a pale shade in comparison-
“Though,” says Ariadne, scrubbing her eyes sleepily, “all this being said, Mal in Sleeping Beauty was incredible. I remember watching it when I was 15 and thinking ‘fuck I want to be her.’ She was so beautiful.”
There’s a tense silence, and Arthur glances at Dom. Dom is swirling the wine in his glass, eyes far away. They all abruptly seem to be quite sober.
It’s fine to mention Mal’s name, Arthur is aware of that now, but talking about her final performance, her final role, the role of the accident- well that’s another thing entirely.
“That she was,” Dom says simply, but he’s smiling.
Ariadne, belatedly, seems to realise her mistake and clamps a hand over her mouth, eyes dramatically wide. Yusuf sighs and pats her on the shoulder.
“I’ll get the minor home,” he says wearily, and pulls Ariadne to her feet.
“I’m so sorry Dom,” Ariadne squeaks, as Yusuf wraps his scarf around her, and Dom waves a hand vaguely in her direction.
“No worries. She’d have appreciated the compliment. Always was one for being praised was Mal.”
“And rightly so,” says Eames smoothly, “would you like more soufflé before you go?”
“Oh fuck,” Ariadne says, “it was genuinely amazing Eames but I should be in bed. I have a 9am rehearsal tomorrow.”
“Make that 10am,” Dom groans, hauling himself to his feet, “I can feel the hangover already- how is that possible?”
Arthur calls everyone a cab, despite Ariadne’s insistence that actually I’m perfectly sober now Arthur, I can take the fucking tube, which Arthur absolutely does not listen to because not half an hour before Ariadne was attempting to make snow angels on a rug, so clearly has no say in the matter- and before he’s aware of what’s happening, Arthur is standing in an empty apartment.
Or rather, nearly empty.
Eames is at the sink, washing dishes. At some point, he turned the radio on the window sill on, and Etta James is crooning softly into the sudden quiet.
Arthur swallows, throat suddenly very dry.
“I’ll be off in a jiffy, just finishing clearing up,” Eames says, smiling at Arthur easily over his shoulder as though he’s sensing Arthur’s uncertainty.
“Oh sure, after cooking soufflé for us at all at 1 am it’s totally fair that you do all the washing as well,” Arthur counters, and grabs a tea towel.
“You didn’t exactly invite me to use your kitchen,” Eames points out.
Arthur flicks the towel at him. “Well consider this an advance invitation for you to come and impose soufflé on me any time you like.”
Eames pauses, laughs to himself, then dries his hands on his trousers.
He turns round and before Arthur can do or say anything about it, he’s put his hands on Arthur’s waist and pulled him into a slow waltz around the kitchen.
It takes Arthur all of 3 seconds to stop panicking and just go with it.
“You can’t say things such blatant things Arthur and expect me to resist dancing with you.”
No one says his name quiet the way Eames does, Arthur thinks. As though it’s a precious word, as though Eames is savouring it when he says it.
“You dance with me every day,” Arthur says quietly, “this is hardly a novelty.”
“Not like this I don’t,” Eames whispers back, his breath light on Arthur’s neck and Arthur shivers minutely before Eames is abruptly dipping Arthur almost to the floor.
Arthur yelps, mostly out of surprise because he’s fairly sure he’s never been dipped in his life. When Eames pulls him back up he’s grinning from ear to ear.
“What the fuck was that for?”
“The expression on your face mostly,” Eames says, honestly, lips quirked, “also because I’m a gallant, chivalrous knight at heart and I dip all my conquests.”
Arthur steps on Eames’ foot, hard.
Eames to his credit, doesn’t even flinch.
“You’re a terrible dancer darling,” he says, and they’re barely waltzing now, more just swaying.
“What happened to ‘better than Baryshnikov’?” Arthur asks innocently, and Eames throws his head back and laughs and laughs.
God, Arthur thinks, I’ve fallen for him.
Arthur's sister comes to stay, and Eames isn't as oblivious as he seems.
Super huge thanks for all the support on this! Most of the comments come into my inbox at crazy times in the morning because of time difference but they are honestly the nicest way to start my day. Hope you enjoy this chapter and don't hate on me for imposing OCs (my headcanon is that a perfectly organised Arthur comes from a huge, sprawling family).
Next part is where the h/c really kicks off *double thumbs up*
About halfway through production, when the trees along the Thames are starting to lose their leaves, and it’s cool enough that Ariadne has upped her scarf count to 4, Arthur’s sister comes to visit.
Rebecca is en route to a global conference on neuroscience in Berlin, but her plane stops in the UK anyway, so she builds an extra night into her trip to stay with Arthur.
Arthur meets her at Green Park station in his lunch break, and he doesn’t realise quite how much he’s missed her until she’s swanning through the ticket barrier with her suitcase in hand, red duffel coat over one arm as though she’s lived in London all her life. He watches her catch sight of him, eyes scanning the moving crowd, her beautiful face splitting into an enormous grin when she spots him.
She jogs the last couple of steps and pulls him into an enormous hug. Arthur squeezes her back tightly, and absolutely does not get choked up about it all.
The thing is, Arthur’s family live in Virginia, which isn’t exactly the home of American ballet - but even when Arthur was based in New York he barely saw them. After his tour of Europe and since finally settling with the Royal Ballet, he hasn’t had chance to go home beside a brief trip at Christmas last year, and although Arthur isn’t a sentimental sort of person, he does miss them.
Rebecca especially, who by all accounts, being closest to him in age as well as being a fucking Neuroscientist, should have absolutely nothing in common with him. Arthur’s mother always insists vehemently that family doesn’t have favourites (which is complete lie because they all know she loves Hanne best) but Arthur isn’t so worried about offending people. Rebecca has openly been his favourite since he was 8 and she was 9 and she laid into Cady Richards, a boy who bullied Arthur for dancing in the school yard, with her little fists so hard that he cried.
They pull back from each other, and Arthur tries to surreptitiously wipe his eyes with the back of his hand.
You’ve lost weight again, Rebecca tells him, attempting to frown and failing miserably at it.
Arthur grins, rolls his eyes and gestures out of the station.
They walk along through Green Park, past Buckingham Palace and into St. James’ without Arthur really realising where they’re going. He’s taken Rebecca’s suitcase, so she’s doing all the talking, recounting in disgusting detail how gross the inflight meal had been, complaining about their mother’s meltdown over her missing Thanksgiving, getting Arthur up to speed on Jacob’s progress at kindergarten, gushing over how big Miriam’s getting, and how none of them can even pretend to agree on a baby’s name, and God, Arthur’s missed her.
She is decidedly unimpressed with Buckingham Palace, (it’s a bit small isn’t it?), but geeks out on Arthur ridiculously when Big Ben comes into view (I see a new profile picture opportunityyy). Arthur takes the photos and then takes some more when Rebecca geeks out even more over the London Eye.
You’re such a tourist it’s painful, he tells her.
So your Facebook cover photo isn’t currently you outside the Kremlin? She fires back, and god, Arthur’s missed her.
When they’re walking along the Thames back in vaguely the direction of the Royal Opera House, Rebecca turns her attention to him.
So, rehearsals going well? When are you performing again? I might drag out my stay in Europe to come and watch if I can.
They’re good - it’s an interesting take on the original. Very different. Our opening night is December 15th. Then it’s 23 performances until January 8th.
Rebecca sighs, frustrated. Yeah I’m not going to make it. I’ll illegally stream it online though.
Arthur elbows her in the ribs, That’s my income your pirating there.
And what income might that be?
Arthur gives her a sour look. His chosen profession has always been a minor point of family drama. It’s all too well known their father doesn’t approve of his only son gallivanting around the world as a a professional ballet dancer, and would have much preferred Arthur taking over the accounting business. Arthur is used to being a disappointment at this stage, but it still stings.
Rebecca drops a kiss on his temple. You know I don’t mean it.
We can’t all be filthy rich medical researchers. He protests.
Rebecca laughs, light and breezy. And I can’t help having taken all the brains in the family. It’s really a burden if I’m honest; makes people around me feel inferior. Ask Jonathan.
Rebecca’s been dating Jonathan for nearly four years now. Under normal circumstances, Arthur would say it’s too early to tell, but he’s seen the way Jonathan looks at his sister. Hanne and Miriam have placed bets on whether he’ll propose before the baby’s born.
How is Jonathan? He asks.
Rebecca sighs, Fine. Working too many shifts that he’s not complaining about, being far too agreeable with me having to jet off to Germany. I don’t know to live with people that cause such little drama Arthur, it’s not how we were raised.
Arthur grins, brushes a leaf away that had fallen into Rebecca’s dark curls.
And how about you? Rebecca presses, have you met anyone in the company? It’s been a while you’ve been single now- not that there’s anything wrong with that of course.
Arthur huffs a laugh. Rebecca knows better than to mention Arthur’s last attempt at dating directly. He’s about to shake his head, about to lie again - when he thinks better of it.
Or rather, he thinks about drunken lazy smiles, and warm hands around his waist, and Etta James crooning on a crackling radio.
This is his sister. One of his best friends. If he can’t talk to her about it, he can’t talk to anyone.
Well, he starts, there is this one guy-
They’re not strictly supposed to bring guests into the practice studios, but Rebecca has a knack for looking like she’s supposed to be somewhere, and the receptionists barely glance up when Arthur comes in the doors, so it’s not exactly difficult.
Arthur draws the line when Rebecca pulls out her phone to take a selfie though. He puts a hand warningly on her arm.
What, is this illegal? She asks, eyes bright, mouth quirked.
Almost definitely. I could be pulled from the performance.
Rebecca laughs. As if they could afford to lose you, and she smiles at him, halfway between fond and proud.
Arthur knows that despite all of them having taken ballet until they were 11, none of his sisters really understand why he does what he does and how fucking good he is at it. If anyone did though, Rebecca would be the closest.
It’s partly why she’s his favourite.
It’s a full company rehearsal scheduled for that afternoon, Siegfried’s birthday sequence, and it’s a chorographical nightmare. The central studio is a hive of activity, and Arthur is definitely late, so he tries to slip in at the back -
“Arthur! Glad to see your deigning us with your presence at last! Don’t worry, it’s not like you’re the main lead or anything!” Dom yells from the front, and every dancer in the room turns to stare at Arthur.
So much for that.
“Apologies,” Arthur calls, half-heartedly, “won’t happen again.” Next to him, Rebecca waves cheerily at Dom.
“And who might this beautiful thing be?” Eames purrs, and he’s sidled up to them without Arthur even noticing, eyeing Rebecca unashamedly.
Arthur sighs. “Eames, this is my sister Rebecca. She’s stopping over the night in London.”
“Really?” Eames says, eyebrows raised, “well, what an absolute pleasure.” He takes Rebecca’s hand and kisses the back of it with a flourish. “It’s charming to meet you.”
Rebecca laughs, and lifts her hand up to lightly slap Eames’ cheek. Arthur’s astonished and a little bit jealous at how completely unfazed she seems by him. Arthur battles a constant state of ‘being fazed by Eames’, and yet his sister shrugs off his charm and sly smile like it’s nothing.
“Arthur you never told me you had such delightful relatives.” Eames admonishes him, winking at Rebecca.
“I never told you about my relatives full stop,” Arthur mutters, and he gestures to Rebecca that they should go over to the nearest wall.
“So how do you like London Rebecca?” Eames says, ignoring him, as Rebecca sits herself down neatly on her suitcase. There’s no way she caught that.
“Rebecca’s deaf Eames,” he says simply, casually, the way he always does, as though it’s barely worth commenting on, “she can lip-read pretty well, but she won’t have got that.”
To his credit Eames looks surprised for all of a fraction of a second, before he’s catching Rebecca’s attention and trying again. “Enjoying London Rebecca?”
He doesn’t speak differently as such - there’s nothing Arthur hates more than people who try for the ‘slow and loud’ approach as though its going to make a fucking difference - but Arthur can tell he’s working on enunciating, rounding his lips around the words more than he would. It’s unexpectedly thoughtful of him.
Rebecca holds up her hand, tilts it from side to side and pulls a face. Arthur laughs and Eames looks scandalised.
“Clearly Arthur hasn’t been taking you to the right places. I’d be only too happy to give you a tour, love,” Eames insists, and Rebecca smiles at that, the same dimples that Arthur has been cursed with his entire life appearing in her cheeks.
“PRINCIPALS,” Dom hollers from his elevated position on the piano stool. “We’re already running over by 15 minutes - could you please keep your social lives out of the studio?”
“Yes sir absolutely sir,” Eames mutters under his breath, and Arthur sniggers as they both hurriedly get into position.
The rehearsal goes well. It feels odd to have a family member watching him, and Arthur consciously tries to tighten each turn, hold his neck up even higher, let his hands loosen as though they’re extensions from his spine as opposed to limbs in their own right. He knows he doesn’t need to prove anything, least of all to Rebecca, but he feels somehow he needs to justify his work here, his art.
It’s nearly half past seven when Dom finally calls time, and the company is a sweating mess. Eames has spent most of his time dancing near Arthur, but not quite with - supposedly tantalizingly out of reach. Ariadne has escaped most of the workload, flitting around at the back peaking through imaginary windows.
“Good job everyone,” Dom says, pleased, “Sergie you need to work on those à la seconds- you should be aiming for at least 20 by the time we get to the end of that bar, and Petrova your fouettés are pretty much perfect, you just need to get that landing straight. Eames-“
Eames looks up, eyebrows raised. As far as Arthur knows Eames hasn’t gotten a single bit of direct criticism since the first week.
Dom sighs. “You know you’re good, we all know you’re good as you’re so kind as to frequently remind us, but you’re getting distracted - too caught up with what Arthur’s doing when you should be focusing on yourself.”
Arthur flushes at that. He’d noticed that Eames had missed more than a couple of his cues; he hadn’t known it had been because of him.
“Arthur,” Dom turns to him, “that was perfect. Genuinely never seen you dance better, keep it up.”
Arthur nods and tries not to make it too obvious how much he warms under the praise. He has always been one for positive reinforcement from directors. Eames comes up to him and slaps him on the back as the chorus starts to disperse.
“Cracking show Arthur, absolutely spiffing.”
Arthur shrugs him off, grinning, “oh fuck off. You’re just jealous because you finally got a bit of critique.”
Eames nods, abruptly switching his expression to something so mournful and downcast that Arthur almost gets whiplash. “Alas, even the mighty must have off days.”
Arthur scoffs. “Just make sure you’re not off for tomorrow then. Meeting here at 9am, right?”
“It’s a date,” Eames says, back to grinning quick as a flash, just as Rebecca comes over.
Arthur you were amazing, she signs, positively beaming at him. So beautiful, god, you’ve somehow gotten even better than last time.
Arthur flushes, not sure what to do with such direct admiration, but then Rebecca gives Eames a sideways glance and signs again.
This is him isn’t it? The one you were talking about.
Don’t, Arthur warns, but Rebecca is shaking her head, unperturbed.
You like him don’t you? It’s pretty obvious Arthur I won’t lie.
“You’re such an idiot,” Arthur mutters, aware that Eames is still standing at his elbow.
“Did she enjoy the rehearsal?” Eames asks politely.
“Of course. She thinks your battement en rond was sloppy, but apart from that-“
Rebecca laughs and Eames clutches his chest, wounded.
“Rebecca you’re as cruel as your brother,” he tells her, enunciating his words perfectly just like before.
Rebecca nods, shrugs.
“It runs in the family,” Arthur says filling in for her.
“Is this your sister Arthur?” Ariadne pipes up, suddenly on Arthur’s other side. “God, I should’ve guessed - she looks just like you.”
They run through introductions again, and then Dom comes over to demand to know who the plebeian watching his rehearsal is, and in the end Rebecca is so thoroughly charmed by all of them Arthur has a hard time pulling her away, and they’re very nearly late for their dinner reservation.
It’s only later, when they’re back at Arthur’s apartment and fighting over the duvet because Arthur doesn’t have a spare bed and can’t face sleeping on the couch that she turns to him, hair everywhere and eyes teasing.
I was right wasn’t I? Eames is the guy you were talking about. She doesn’t fingerspell Eames, just signs the word for handsome, biting on her lower lip as an apparent reference to Eames’ crooked teeth as she does so. It’s both adorably accurate and completely infuriating.
I can’t believe I missed you. Arthur signs back, scowling and lying back on his pillow.
But you like him though yes?
Obviously. There’s no point denying it at this stage.
You picked a good one Arthur. He’s gorgeous. And just think, those tattoos, Mama will be thrilled.
Arthur groans - their mother will be anything but thrilled - and he thwaps Rebecca over the head with his spare pillow, and Rebecca laughs and laughs.
Arthur’s about to get the light, when she grabs his arm.
You’re serious about him aren’t you? And god, Arthur forgot how fucking persistent she could be.
He gives up, nods. I am, I’m just fairly sure he isn’t.
Rebecca gives a long steady look, but nods, kisses his forehead and rolls over.
Arthur’s fairly sure that the conversation’s ended, but the next morning when he’s saying goodbye at Convent Garden at a hideously early hour, and definitely not missing his sister already, Rebecca pulls back from their hug and eyes him seriously.
You should tell him. Eames. How you feel about him.
Arthur rolls his eyes, but Rebecca pinches him.
You should. Arthur, I might be deaf but I’m not blind. And if the way he was looking at you is anything to go by, I’d say he’s just as into you as you are into him.
Arthur stalls, heart skipping a beat. “He was just- he was just keeping track of his cues-“
It’s Rebecca’s turn to roll her eyes, exasperated. Another thing that’s in the Levine family bloodline apparently.
Arthur, he barely looked away, she signs, smiling at him fondly.
“Leaving us so soon Rebecca?” comes a voice from behind them and how the fuck does Eames know when to turn up at the worst opportunity-
“Jesus Eames, why the fuck are you here?” Arthur starts, spinning around and probably sounding a little more violent than he means to.
Eames gestures around them, bemused. “I’m getting the tube to work. Same as you do. Every morning, unless it’s escaped your notice.”
“Will you be back soon? I didn’t get to take you on that tour,” Eames is saying to Rebecca, and she smiles, signing for Arthur’s benefit and indicating to Eames.
“Hopefully, she’s not sure how it’ll fit around work,” Arthur fills in automatically, just like he has done since they were kids.
“Well please do, I hadn’t even got around to quizzing you about what Arthur was like as a child, and that’s something I’d like to know about dearly-“
“Right! Goodbyes are over,“ Arthur interrupts, even as Rebecca laughs, charmed, and kisses Arthur on the cheek in one last goodbye. Arthur had hoped after her show yesterday that she’d be immune to Eames’ ways, but apparently, no one is.
It’s been lovely to meet you, look after my brother for me, she signs to Eames as she starts walking backwards towards the lifts, grinning, and Arthur is about to voice an edited version of her goodbye when Eames-
Eames fucking signs back.
Pleasure to meet you too. I’ll try my best.
Rebecca stares, apparently as shocked as Arthur, and throws Arthur a pointedly significant look as the elevator doors close.
As soon as she’s out of sight, Arthur rounds on Eames.
“You can sign?”
“A little,” Eames admits, making his way through the crowds with an ease that speaks of a born and bred Londoner, “my old gramps, god rest his soul, was mostly deaf towards the end. It was a useful skill. The American version is similar enough to the British.”
“Didn’t you think that might have been pertinent information?” Arthur asks, backpedalling with a horrid sense of dread, trying to think what he’d signed in front of Eames, what Rebecca had signed-
Eames looks confused. “Not really no? It didn’t seem relevant, not when your sister could lip read so well.” He smiles at Arthur, “she’s lovely by the way, Rebecca, I can absolutely see how you two are related. Do you have other siblings?”
Arthur still feels faintly nauseous, but if Eames is happy to change to the conversation he’s more than prepared to move them on.
“Uh, yeah, three sisters in total.”
Eames whistles lowly. “Crikey, so you’re the extolled son?”
“As a gay professional ballet dancer it’s fair to say I have exceeded and surpassed the expectations of my traditionally Jewish parents,” Arthur deadpans, and Eames laughs.
Arthur hates the spike of satisfaction he gets every time when he makes Eames laugh. It’s like he’s back in grade school.
“I love them, but I’m glad I don’t live with them anymore,” which is the truth, and a fair one he thinks. “What about you? Siblings?”
Eames expression shifts, the laughter disappearing instantly.
“No. I’m unfortunately the sole heir of the Eames name, much to my father’s disgust I’d imagine.”
Eames smiles without humour. “Well, we haven’t spoken since I was 17 so I wouldn’t know. It’s quite possible that they don’t even know I ended up dancing.”
Arthur is so staggered by this he actually stumbles over a crack in the sidewalk.
“They don’t know about your career? About your success? Jesus Eames you’re internationally renowned! Your face was in fucking Times Square for weeks-“
Eames shudders delicately, “I always did think that photo was dreadfully unflattering.”
“How could your family not want to know?” Arthur can’t compute this. He knows he’s probably pushing his luck but he can’t understand, doesn’t want to understand how Eames, the most talented performer of his generation, an inspiration to every aspiring male dancer the world over, isn’t praised by everyone in his life.
“They never did care for the theatre,” Eames says with a shrug.
Arthur gapes. “Fuck them Eames Christ, I know they’re your family but fuck them. They should be proud, they should be boring their friends shitless with how amazing you are, they should be fucking buying all your performance tickets to make sure it’s a sell-out, they should-“
Eames pulls Arthur to one side of the sidewalk out of the way of the flow of pedestrians. He looks amused and that just makes Arthur even more mad.
“This isn’t a joke Eames, I’m serious-“
“I know you are pet and that’s what makes it all the more endearing.” Eames’ smile is crooked and placating and Arthur wants to kiss it the fuck away.
“I appreciate your unexpected show of loyalty but don’t worry. I have long grown used to that side of my life. I make up for it by having a wonderful time with you sorry lot.”
“I’m proud to even know you.” Arthur says, before he can stop himself.
Eames looks shocked, but Arthur imagines he looks more so. He desperately thinks how he can possibly turn that into an insult or a joke, but suddenly, Arthur is being pressed against the flower stand and Eames’ hands are on his waist and his lips are by Arthur’s ear and the fuck.
“You do a wonderful job at pretending you don’t care most of the time Arthur darling, but I’m afraid I’d have to concur with your sister. When you say such kind things it is ‘pretty obvious’.”
And then Eames presses his lips to the corner of Arthur’s jaw in the lightest caress of a kiss and pulls away, stepping back into the moving crowd and disappearing from view in a second without meeting Arthur’s eye.
Rebecca had signed - You like him don’t you? It’s pretty obvious Arthur I won’t lie.
And Eames had seen.
It takes nearly quarter of an hour for Arthur to pull himself together enough to leave the safe spot by the flowers.
Eames doesn’t make eye contact with Arthur for the rest of the day despite sharing three rehearsal slots, and at lunchtime he sits on the opposite side of the canteen with some of his chorus fan girls who are practically all over him in a similar way to how Eames was all over Arthur just this fucking morning and yeah, Arthur’s a bit fucking pissed about it all.
It only gets worse when Arthur has to watch Eames do his final solo after killing Rothbart in the afternoon and watches Eames pull off some of the best fucking dancing of his career which means he’s aroused as well as pissed.
And then in Arthur’s final rehearsal of the day he’s so off and distracted and caught up in thinking about Eames’ hands on his hips and that near-kiss that he dances appallingly.
There’s no other word for it. Petrova goes oddly quiet after their pas de deux and doesn’t look at him and Dom pinches the bridge of his nose and looks pained and says, “it’s like we’re in the first week again,” and Arthur feels sick to his core.
Eames has fucked him up so much he’s fucking with his dancing.
So Arthur does something he hasn’t done since he was rejected from NYCB aged 20 and had retreated to his hotel room, numb and horror giving way to burning fury that could only be channelled into dancing lest he actually murder someone. When the final rehearsal of the day is over and everyone is going home he finds an empty studio and plugs his iPod into the music system, cranks up the volume so loud the mirrors tremble with it and dances like no one is watching because no one fucking is.
He doesn’t think about what he’s doing, doesn’t follow any set choreography, just loses himself in the beat and the lyrics and the music roaring inside him, burning under his skin. He throws himself into leaps without fucking caring about his posture or landing, jumps higher than he ever would normally because he’s running on more adrenalin than he thought possible and there’s no thought in his head apart from the screaming ache of his muscles and the floor beneath his feet and the sweat slicking his back and he barely breathes because there’s no time for that shit, just like when he practiced so hard and for so long as a teenager he passed out on more than one occasion, and there’s no air in his lungs anyway –
There’s no fucking air, Christ, and it’s not Arthur fault, he was just doing what he’s always done, he didn’t ask to be fucked over, he didn’t ask for Eames to come in and fuck him up, he was doing just fine, and god, if his chest could just loosen up he’d be doing a fuck of a lot better -
Suddenly there’s a hand on his back, rubbing steady circles through his shirt and Arthur realises he’s braced against the mirrored wall, staring at the floor and he doesn’t remember how he got here but there’s a voice by his ear saying, “breathe love, alright? Shh, just keeping breathing, nice and slow,” and he swears his heart fucking stutters because he knows that voice except Arthur’s seeing stars and feels like he’s dying so he doesn’t exactly have a choice and does as he’s told.
The hand doesn’t stop and Arthur gasps and heaves and realises he’s coming down from the most fucking intense panic attack he’s had in years and Eames saw the whole thing.
Eames ducks his head a little to Arthur’s level so he can look at him and his eyes are soft and wide with worry and he doesn’t have a clue, doesn’t have any idea what he does to Arthur-
“Hey, you’re doing just fine, alright mate? Can I do anything to help?”
Arthur laughs but he still doesn’t have enough air so it just sounds like a hoarse sob.
And then he reaches out and pulls Eames up by the shoulder and shoves him bodily into the mirror and kisses him.
His entire body is on fire, but it’s completely different from the usual burning ache of over-used muscles and painful stretch - arousal is thrumming through his veins and his heart is still pounding against his ribs and Arthur doesn’t want to do anything else but stay here and kiss Eames for infinity.
Then Eames pulls away, his lips slick and swollen already and fuck-
“Woah, hey, Arthur - are you sure you want to do this? At least catch your breath-” he still sounds concerned but it’s kind of marred by the fact he’s clearly breathless as well.
Arthur has no idea where he left his dignity but he doesn’t care- he feels drunk, drunk on Eames and the music that’s still roaring through the room and drunk on the fact that for some reason he gets the sense that this is his final chance to fucking do something about this.
So he holds Eames’ gaze and licks his lips (and doesn’t miss the way Eames’ eyes dart downwards at the movement okay, Arthur knows what he’s fucking doing) and then rolls his hips hard into Eames’, sinuous and fluid like only dancers fucking are and takes ridiculous satisfaction in the way Eames’ breath stutters and eyes widen -
Abruptly, their positions are reversed and it’s like every dirty manhandling daydream Arthur has ever has because his back is pressed against the cold mirror and Eames is everywhere, heat radiating off him and Arthur can smell fresh sweat, and that fucking aftershave and something like strawberry shampoo that is so out of place and so undeniably Eames, and oh god, this is so unprofessional, Dom will kill them, in broad daylight in front of the entire company, but Arthur really can’t bring himself to care because Eames’ eyes are dark and laughing, and he’s biting his lower lip like he’s fucking daring him.
Eames’ hands run down Arthur’s arms, leaving goose bumps in their wake and then he locks Arthur’s wrists together in one hand and brings them up, brushing his lips to Arthur’s knuckles as they pass his mouth before pressing their hands above Arthur’s head on the glass.
Arthur can barely breathe it’s so hot, can’t speak, can’t think- and then Eames leans in, presses kisses into the underside of his jaw just by his ear, breath hot on Arthur’s skin, and fuck is that teeth? When their mouths finally meet, properly this time- Arthur really isn’t sure who leans in the last couple of inches, doesn’t think it matters either way- it’s less like a first time and more the continuation of something.
Arthur melts into the kiss, letting Eames shove him back against the mirror, the glass cold on his flushed skin, letting Eames take what he wants, everything he wants-
(Fuck what people might say about Arthur being a robot when it comes to emotional shit because he isn’t dead-)
Arthur can’t stop the small, pained noises that escape the back of his throat, and he has a conscious mind to feel embarrassed about it before Eames pulls back for a second, breath gone shallow, eyes wide, and says-
“Jesus fucking Christ what are you doing to me,” and Arthur feels warm all over in a different kind of way, because their making out like desperate teenagers but Eames’ tone is unmistakeably fond.
But then Eames shoves a hand up underneath Arthur’s vest and drags his fingernails down his spine and Arthur arches helplessly into the touch. Eames swears under his breath and they’re kissing again -
Arthur has no idea how long they’re kissing for, but by the time they pull away he knows that running his hands through Eames’ hair has his hips twitching forward; he knows that when Eames tugs Arthur’s earlobe with his teeth Arthur feels like he’s going to pass the fuck out; he knows that nothing has felt more right in a long time than this, kissing Eames under the dimmed lights of the practice studio, broad, lightly tanned hands on his hips keeping him in place.
While Arthur catches his breath, Eames presses light kisses across his clavicle which absolutely should not be as hot as Arthur as finding it, and maybe that’s what does it, that and the fond smile curling at the corners of Eames’ mouth, maybe that’s what makes Arthur say it-
“Would you – would you be interested in coming back to my place,” he murmurs, still faintly breathless and not wanting to speak any louder for fear of disturbing whatever tentative feeling is blooming in his chest. It’s not a question, but it’s also not a plea- though it fucking well sounds like one.
As long as Eames keeps touching him, keeps holding him, Arthur really can’t bring himself to care.
Eames pauses, takes a breath, and then brushes his lips chastely on the underside of Arthur’s jaw. Again. He’s clearly got a thing for jaws. Arthur is not complaining, except the kiss is hesitant, too gentle and almost …apologetic.
Arthur dislikes feeling off-kilter so he fights back the haze of arousal that’s currently marring thought processes.
“And by that,” he continues, “I mean, ‘come back to mine for metaphorical coffee that inevitably leads to sex’.”
Eames pulls back. His expression is oddly conflicted, a mixture of frustration, regret and- was it pity?
“Not you,” he says quietly, almost to himself.
Arthur realises the music has stopped.
“What,” he says, without inflection.
Eames sighs heavily, running a tired hand across his face and it suddenly feels like he’s much older and wiser than Arthur which isn’t fair, because Arthur is 24 for fuck’s sake and Eames has, what, 2 years on him? He steps back, away from Arthur and rubs a hand behind his neck, not making eye contact.
“I’m not sure this a brilliant idea pet.”
Arthur blinks, tries not to let the hurt show on his face. “Right.”
“Not that I’m sure you wouldn’t be fabulous in the sack mate,” Eames leers half-heartedly at him and Arthur feels faintly ill, “but it’s not as though Siegfried and Odile ever actually get together is it? It would completely mess up the chemistry of the whole performance- unresolved sexual tension and the lark.”
“Right,” Arthur says blankly again, “The chemistry.”
Arthur has loved Eames for nearly half a year, loved him more than anyone he’s ever known, and he got his 7 minutes of heaven before it was over.
He steps around Eames and makes for his duffel in the corner, because really, there’s nothing else to be said.
“Don’t take this the wrong way Arthur-“ Eames calls after him but Arthur cuts him off, spinning round to face him and fuck Eames for being so goddamned attractive-
“Don’t bother. I understand completely, there’s no need to make excuses about the production to cover for your evident disgust in me, I’m getting the message loud and clear thanks very much. Whatever it is you look for in those dancers you fuck I’m clearly not making the cut.” Eames looks gratifyingly shocked, and Arthur turns again and snatches up his practice bag.
“What? No, c’mon Arthur, I’m not making excuses-“
Arthur kicks the door shut behind him so it slams on his way out.
The morning after the night before was never going to be a pleasant one.
Thanks so much for the comments again folks, and for putting up with that evil cliffhanger! No cliffhanger today, but plenty of gratuitous H/C because that's my trademark and signature fic feature.
That night Arthur barely sleeps. He tosses and turns and hates himself and runs through all the possible reasons he apparently isn’t good enough for Eames, by the end of which he’s reached the fact that his pas de chat isn’t quite as high as Yusuf’s, and then hates himself all over again for being so fucking ridiculous. By 2am he gives up and drags a reluctant Archibald, hissing and meowing, into bed with him to watch Darcey Bussell highlights on YouTube. He ends up watching her final performance of Song of Earth, and after tearing up unashamedly at her curtain call he finally falls asleep.
4 hours later, still half-asleep, he’s sloping into the changing room. A few other chorus members are already there, chatting over breakfast bars and between yawns. One of them laughs, and Arthur inexplicably wants to punch a wall.
Of course, this is when he sees Eames, leaning against Arthur’s locker, tattooed arms folded across his chest, chewing his lower lip. As soon as he notices Arthur he pushes himself off, looking almost guilty.
Good, Arthur thinks viciously.
Arthur pushes past him, opens his locker and starts shoving his leggings and pointes onto the bench until it’s painfully apparent that he isn’t going to acknowledge Eames’ presence if he doesn’t have to.
“Look, about what happened last night mate-“ Eames says, and he’s going for light-hearted, casual, as though Eames accidently stood on Arthur’s toe as opposed to crushed his fucking heart.
Arthur schools his expression into something completely neutral.
“I don’t think we need to discuss it,” he says blithely.
“I just think you caught the wrong end of the stick love-“
Arthur flinches at the endearment. “Yes, I am all too aware of that Mr. Eames. I took your flirting and stares and that moment by the flower stand and the fact you fucking kissed me back to actually mean you wanted in my bed and last night you made pretty damn clear that I was wrong about that. It’s fine.” He slams his locker door (Arthur seems to be gaining a habit for slamming doors) and turns to face Eames.
Eames is rubbing the back of his neck again. His eyes drift down Arthur’s body and back up again. He smiles a little ruefully.
“Apologies pet, but can you really blame me? You’re the one with the gorgeous arse wandering around in tights all day.”
Arthur very nearly throws his arms in the air.
“Then what is it then?! Jesus Eames, what’s wrong with me? You’re single, I’m single, you kissed me, you’ve fucking flirted with me for the past 6 months like we were back in high school, it’s well known you sleep with at least one co-star per production so why not me? I’m sure you’re aware that I think you’re hot, okay, I’m fucking shit at being subtle, and if that sentiment wasn’t mutual then maybe I’d-“
“It is,” Eames says, and he’s frowning at a point just over Arthur’s shoulder, he can’t even make eye contact and that hurts more than it should. “Mutual, that is. But no. I’d rather we didn’t, if it’s all the same to you.”
Arthur stares at Eames and is acutely aware beyond the furious buzzing in his ears that the entire changing room has gone silent. “Fuck this,” he says angrily and walks out.
45 minutes of warm up class later, Arthur feels no less tense but is on stage with Ariadne anyway. They’ve got twenty minutes to kill before their first full run-though of Act 1 and Ariadne had suggested they go over the tricky sequence at the end of their first scene. The choreography is tight, the sudden shift of pace between simultaneous backward tour jêtes seamlessly into a chambré press lift would have been jarring if it hadn’t mirrored the orchestra perfectly, and Arthur knows Ariadne is worried about nailing it.
The fact that there are reporters and photographers milling around in the balcony, writing a pre-emptive piece on the show, doesn’t help matters.
Arthur doesn’t like the press. The paparazzi had hounded him for weeks after his fall in Don Quixote; upcoming star in brutal accident made a great headline. It wasn’t a good memory.
In Arthur’s arms at the start of the sequence, Ariadne pauses and squints up at him.
“Christ Arthur, are you sure you’re warmed up? You’re practically vibrating.”
Arthur takes a deep breath, tries to relax his posture, to force smiling lips and grey-blue eyes out of his head.
“I’m fine Ariadne, just didn’t get much sleep last night.”
Ariadne looks surprisingly sympathetic. “I still get nerves too you know-,“ she says, with a world weariness that really doesn’t suit a girl who has only been dancing professionally for 4 years, “and I know what with the press being here and coming up to a full dress rehearsal-“
“It’s not nerves!” he splutters.
Ariadne gives him a searching look that quite clearly says she doesn’t believe him. Arthur holds eye contact, thinking it would be a hell of a lot easier to bluff his way through this if they weren’t currently bodily pressed together.
“Is it something to do with the domestic you and Eames had in the changing room this morning? Because Sergei mentioned-“
Arthur winces, “Jesus I really don’t want to talk about chorus gossip now. Can’t we just do the run-through?”
But Ariadne is undeterred, and she squeezes the hand on his shoulder in a comforting gesture.
“We could jump to the ponche section if you like?” she tries, “I could do with working on that spin anyway.”
She’s trying to help, she really is, and objectively he appreciates her concern. Subjectively, however, is another matter. Because he’s angry for fuck’s sake, angry and upset at having been spurned like some lovesick teenager, angry that he didn’t get a decent night’s rest, and angry as well as more than a little ashamed that he’s so off today that even Ariadne is picking up on it.
Fuck Eames. Seriously.
Arthur’s not having a dumbed down rehearsal just because of fucking Eames.
“It’s fine,” he says, a little bitingly, and motions to the pianist before Ariadne can have a chance to bring it up again.
And those, of course, are picture-book-perfect famous last words.
Their jetes are perfectly in sync, but going into the chambre press Arthur suddenly catches sight of Eames in the shadow of the wings, Eames in grey tights and a black vest, tattoos curling across his biceps, Eames flicking through the weeks schedule with a small crease of concentration between his eyes, chewing on his lower lip, and he isn’t even aware of Arthur looking at him, isn’t even trying to fuck Arthur up, so why does Arthur’s chest ache so much every goddamn time, swelling up inside of him until it’s a lump in his throat, burning behind his eyes-
As Ariadne soars into the lift and Arthur’s heart breaks, time slows, and he feels the precise second his left ankle catches, pain shooting up his calf, and then abruptly gives, sending them both tumbling to the floor.
Arthur’s arms are too full of Ariadne to put out his hands to break his fall, and his head cracks against the stage as he hits the ground, pain whiplashing through his entire body.
He hears a scream, then shouting. The music stops and the stage lights come up and the brightness sends him reeling all over again. Commotion descends on them. He blinks dumbly and tries to focus on the curtains above his head.
“Shit,” he whimpers, trying to force himself up onto his elbows, ribs aching where the breath was knocked out of him-
“GET THE FUCKING PRESS OUT,” someone roars, and is that Eames? Arthur doesn’t know, his ears are ringing-
Ariadne is next to him on the floor, curling up on herself, face screwed up and pale with pain and Arthur feels cold with horror and instant guilt because fuck, she’s injured, she has to be, he’s ended her performance, they’re three weeks away and it’s over, maybe even her career and fuck how old did Eames say she was? 21? She trusted him and he dropped her–
“Ari,” he wheezes desperately, “Ari are you okay? Ariadne I’m so sorry-,”
He tries to move towards her, but then someone’s holding him back, pushing his shoulder back down to the floor-
Eames (fucking Eames) is suddenly there, leaning over him, his beautiful face so terrified that Arthur almost forgets about last night, almost wants to ask him what’s wrong-
“Bloody hell Arthur she’s fine, you took most of the fucking fall, just- just don’t move alright? Your neck might - Jesus, okay, it’s fine, medics are on their way okay, you’re going to be okay-”
“Fuck,” Arthur says, and goddammnit his eyes are burning in a way that’s got nothing to do with the agony spider-webbing across his skull, vision going blurry in a way that makes him panic even more, “fuck, not you. Just go away.”
Then there’s cool, trembling fingertips on his cheek and Eames saying, “Oh Arthur-,“ and no, no Arthur cannot deal with this. Not now, probably not ever.
His head is throbbing violently and there’s a warning twinge in his ankle that Arthur is absolutely not going to think about, but he weakly shoves Eames away anyway, elbows himself to his knees and then sways to his feet, even as the stage spins wildly. He feels like he’s seconds away from vomiting.
There’s a flash out in the darkness of the auditorium; the press haven’t left.
The look on Eames’ face is murderous, and it would be funny, almost, except -
Except Ariadne is still on the floor, Yusuf and one of their first aid team kneeling next to her, and she’s still curled on her side looking so much younger than she is, so much more vulnerable, and she trusted Arthur, she’d looked up to him, and he’d let her fall-
He takes a stumbling step closer and hears Eames behind him, hears him say, “Christ Arthur, sit down before you fall down-” feels Eames reaching an arm around his waist.
Arthur spins round and pushes Eames away hard enough to make him stumble back a few paces, his legs are shaking and he can fucking hear the blood pounding in his ears, and it’s all too much, it’s overwhelming enough as it is with the walls swaying and his peripheral going dark and all these fucking feelings, and if Eames touches him now, if Eames holds him now, he can’t- he won’t-
“Please, please, just stop pretending you care and fucking leave me alone.”
Eames physically flinches as though Arthur’s slapped him and Arthur feels a rush of vindication right before the dark and hazy edges to his vision take over, and he’s aware of falling to the ground. Again.
What comes after that is a series of blurry, jarring snippets of consciousness. Arthur’s aware of pain, of a light shining in his eye, of Dom’s voice, high and panicky, then more shouting, strong arms lifting him onto a stretcher, stiff foam around his neck, a vehicle in motion beneath him-
When he wakes up, he knows instantly he’s in a hospital bed, surrounded by stiff sheets, sporadic beeps and shushing sounds. Arthur’s entire body aches, but his head is the worst. It feels like he has an exceptionally bad hangover, combined with the sensation of someone having taken a sledgehammer to the back of his skull. Repeatedly.
He doesn’t open his eyes yet, knowing that it’ll do nothing to help the warring queasiness in his stomach, and focuses on what he can hear.
Someone’s fiddling with something at the foot of his bed, and a smooth, female voice he doesn’t recognise is saying-
“…but honestly, he’s ready to be discharged when he wakes up. Obviously he needs someone to keep an eye on him, but aside from monitoring there’s not a lot we can do for him now. He’ll need plenty of fluids, plenty of rest-“
“How long until he’s dancing again?” and that’s Dom’s voice, exhausted and hoarse and brutally practical. Arthur winces, not sure he wants to hear the answer to this.
“For fuck’s sake Dom, just be glad he didn’t break anything yeah?” and god, Arthur would recognise that voice anywhere, and why the fuck is Eames at his bedside? “It could’ve been a whole lot worse than a skull fracture, I don’t think we should be pushing our luck.”
“I know Eames, alright?” Dom says tightly, “No one is more relieved than me that he’s okay, Arthur is practically family to me, you know that, but we’ve got a performance to put on in 3 weeks and if we can’t-“
“You are aware that he could have bloody died, aren’t you?” Eames hisses back, and god, no, this isn’t what Arthur wants-
“Could’ve, should’ve, would’ve,” he mumbles, still not opening his eyes. “But here I am- alive and kicking.”
The room goes deathly silent for a beat, then there’s a light laugh and a gentle hand on his arm.
“Glad to hear it Mr. Levine, how are you feeling?”
“Pretty rough, I won’t lie.”
“Can you move your arms and legs for me?”
Arthur does, feeling a bit like a doped-up starfish, and then opens his eyes, slowly.
He is pleasantly pleased to see that someone’s dimmed the lights and closed the curtains of his room. The doctor is standing on his right, Dom and Eames on his left. Unless Arthur is mistaken, which doesn’t happen a lot, Eames is in the same practice gear as he had been when Arthur had fallen.
He makes eye contact with Dom first.
“Ariadne?” he asks, because fuck the performance and his career if he’s being honest.
Dom gives him a weak smile. “She’s fine. Bruised a few ribs and pulled her elbow, but she’s honestly fine. More worried about you. We all are. It was a fucking terrible fall Arthur.”
There’s a slight panic still lingering in his voice, and Arthur can only imagine what it must have been like for him to get the news that there had been a fall. That Arthur was unconscious. They had thought Mal was going to be okay too.
Except Arthur really is going to be okay. He breathes out slowly, closing his eyes briefly to let the relief wash over him.
“So you remember falling with Ariadne?” the doctor asks, and Arthur nods. “Some routine questions then; could you please tell me your name, the date, where you think you are and what you can remember of the fall?”
Arthur does so, even if he stumbles a bit about why he fell. No one here needs to know the last thing Arthur remembers seeing before the fall.
“You warmed up, right?” Dom looks on edge, more harried than usual.
Arthur is more than a little bit offended by that. “Of course I fucking did.”
“It just doesn’t really make sense, that’s not even your hardest sequence-“
“We all have our off days,” Eames says carefully, and he’s looking at Arthur in a strange way that does not make him feel any better.
Eames isn’t an idiot, as much as Arthur might routinely call him one. He will have connected the dots between their aborted make out session, the near fight in the changing room this morning and Arthur being off.
“All that aside,” the doctor interrupts and Arthur could kiss her, he really could, “you seem to be fully cognitively aware, which is fantastic news. It was the head injury we were most concerned about, considering you were out for some time. You have a hairline skull fracture but there’s not much we can do about that other than letting it heal on its own. The scans came back clear for internal bleeding or any damage to the brain, so you won’t need surgery, just some rest.”
“Some rest?” Arthur asks pointedly, and Eames snorts, mutters something that sounds like just as bad as each other.
The doctor gives a wry smile. “Minimum 3 days off intensive exercise for your concussion, and I’d say the pain from the fracture will fade in about a week. It won’t be healed in that time of course, but I imagine what I have to say on that matter won’t be taken into account anyway.”
“Unfortunately, no,” Eames says, but Dom looks tentatively optimistic.
Arthur slumps back into his pillows, not realising how tense he’d been.
“That’s doable, we can work around that,” he says to Dom, and Dom smiles tightly, nods a little.
“Yeah, I can have a look at the schedule, we should be okay,” Dom says, “I mean, there’s still the fallout from the press to deal with but – “
“Dom!” Eames interrupts, and it’s obvious from the murderous look he’s levelling at Dom that they’ve already discussed this, and Dom is going against said-discussion.
Arthur goes cold, remembering the lightbulb flashes in the auditorium. “Fuck, did they get photos?”
“They got a couple of the aftermath,” Dom admits, looking a little sheepish. “We managed to stop most publications, but the Metro were too quick. They said they’ll take it down online but it’s already gone to print for tomorrow’s edition.”
The Metro. So only the paper with over a million in circulation, the paper Arthur sees dozens of people reading on the tube every day.
Arthur closes his eyes. “I take it back, please someone knock me out again.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, it’s fine,” Eames says, with a fierce warning in his voice that’s clearly directed at Dom to dare contradict him, “no one fucking reads the Metro properly anyway.”
It’s the worst lie Arthur’s ever heard, and he laughs a little despite himself.
The doctor sighs and sits on the bed next to him and Arthur opens his eyes again. Up close Arthur can read her tag, which states her name as Dr. Streatfield. She holds up a small torch to look at Arthur’s pupils, and Arthur tries and fails to stop the light from making him dizzy as fuck.
“Well it was quite a knock, but you’ll certainly live,” she says cheerily - Arthur really does like this doctor - “I’d say you’re good to go when you feel like it Mr. Levine. As long as you’ve got someone to go home with and keep an eye on you for the next 24 hours or so that is.”
There’s a distinct pause.
Dom, father-of-two-to-get-back-to looks at Eames, and Eames, currently-living-alone-in-a-shitty-rented-apartment looks at Dom.
“Fuck,” says Arthur.
As much as Eames might be the last person that Arthur wants to be forced to share his apartment with for the night, he does admittedly have his uses.
Although he’s been told numerous times by multiple choreographers that he’s wiry, lithe, whatever-the-fuck they want to call it, Arthur is pretty much 100% muscle and sinew and that means he’s heavy. So when he stumbles in the stairwell of his apartment building he’s actually quietly grateful that Eames is there, solid wall of muscle that he is, to hold him up. Arthur is fairly sure he’d have crushed Dom if he’d been helping instead.
Grateful that his head isn’t making forceful contact with the ground again aside however, Arthur still has his principles to uphold, so he shoves Eames’ hold ungraciously off as soon as he’s upright.
It takes Arthur a couple of goes at getting the key in the lock but Eames sensibly doesn’t try to intervene.
The whoosh of air-conditioning going into the apartment is blissfully cool on his clammy skin, even as Arthur is aware of Eames shivering beside him, and he makes for the kitchen.
(Arthur tries not to think about the last time Eames was in his kitchen- Etta James and warm hands on his hips and too much wine and god-)
Archibald appears at his feet as soon as he enters the kitchen, rubbing up against his calves and meowing loudly.
“I know I know,” Arthur mutters, and he sweeps up the cat food bowl, pausing to lean briefly against the counter when his head spins warningly.
“Alright?” Eames ventures from behind him.
Arthur doesn’t deign that with a response. Dealing with Eames is much easier when he’s not having to face him. He empties the can of luxury cat food into Archibald’s bowl, and adds a handful of kibble. When he turns round though, the cat is wrapped between Eames’ legs purring furiously.
Traitor, Arthur thinks darkly, as Eames bends to scratch Archibald behind his ears.
“You know this really isn’t necessary,” Arthur says coolly, as he slams the cat bowl down, “you being here.”
“Doctors’ orders. You heard her,” Eames’s voice is strangely tight, “you shouldn’t be on your own. Also, I can’t help but feel I’m in part to blame. Our little tryst in the changing room probably didn’t help.”
Arthur scoffs to hide his panic, his head is starting to pound again, “oh please, don’t give yourself so much credit. And this is me we’re talking about - give me some strong painkillers and the day off and I’ll be fine.”
Eames glares at him, and it’s impressive how quickly his mood shifted. “Arthur you didn’t see yourself alright? When you fell you hit the stage hard, and you’ve got a fucking fractured skull to prove it and I know that I - that we – “
Eames must see something on Arthur’s face because he leaves that train of thought there.
“This isn’t something you can go at alone,” he finishes instead. “You’d be an idiot to try, though I wouldn’t put it past you.”
“I do everything alone, I always have,” he says tightly, even as he leans against the counter again, feeling even more light-headed.
“And has it ever occurred to you that that might be your problem?” Eames sounds frustrated now, and Archibald, halfway though his dinner, slinks away to escape the raised voices. “You never let anyone in without a fight, never let anyone get close-“
“Can you blame me? With my track record of being close to people?” Arthur laughs, trying for disdainful but his peripheral’s getting fucking hazy again and he’s holding onto the counter with a white-knuckled grip.
Eames face falls. “If this is about us-“
“God,” Arthur mutters, wiping a shaking hand across his face, “fuck I do not want to have this conversation again, Jesus. There is no ‘us’, you made that very clear-“
“You really don’t have a clue what you’re -“
“No,” Arthur says, shaking his head to try and get rid of dizziness- his thoughts are getting all jumbled up, he can’t think like this, “no, you had your chance. You had your chance and you didn’t take it. That’s fine, I get it okay? I do. I’m not going to go all spurned-lover on you if you opt for someone else. We can still work together, we can still- it’s not like - “
“Arthur, I think maybe you should sit - “
“You can’t keep your mouth shut for one second can you,” Arthur mumbles, just before his knees give way (he’s got to stop fucking doing this) and he crumples into blackness.
When he wakes he’s in his bed, lying on top of the covers. Eames is in the armchair in the corner of his room, silhouetted by the faint glow of street lights. He’s awake and looking outside the window, shadows playing across his face as cars pass in the street. Arthur’s copy of Ballet Shoes is open on his lap.
Arthur doesn’t even know where Eames found it, he hasn’t read it for years.
“You weren’t watching me sleep were you,” Arthur says, and his voice comes out in a croak, “because that’s fucking creepy.”
He scrubs a hand through his hair, looking tired and frustrated and unbearably, impossibly, handsome.
“No pet, I was watching you pass out, for the second time today I might add, and then I was watching you breathe while chatting to a truly lovely lady on 111 to make sure I didn’t need to call an ambulance. Again.”
He doesn’t say it in a condescending way but it hurts Arthur’s pride all the same.
“You could call Yusuf and ask him to take over if you like,” he says, “I wouldn’t want to be interfering in your social schedule.”
Eames snorts inelegantly, “yeah right. You know full well I’ve got no bloody social life outside of 13 hour rehearsals.”
“You seem to manage okay - I’m sure some of the chorus could keep you company.”
It’s a low blow, but it’s also true.
Eames doesn’t answer him, but Archibald hops onto the bed and peers down at Arthur for a long second, before curling up by his side. Arthur leans back, letting his eyes close again and sinking his fingers into the thick tufty fur.
Arthur feels shit, his family call, and he and Eames finally have a Chat.
So sorry for the typos that are inevitably littered through this - academia sucks and is keeping me very busy but I'll get a chance to proofread it again soon! Epilogue will be out next week :) I have enjoyed writing this so much, thank you again for the kind comments x
Arthur must fall asleep again after that, because when he wakes up for a second time the bedroom is dark and empty and the rug that lives on his armchair is draped over him.
His head is pounding faintly, but it’s a distant, dull sort of ache. The rest of his body feels like he’s wading through syrup, heavy limbs numb like he’s drunk.
It’s been a while since he’s been on medication as strong as this.
He swings his legs out of bed in what feels like slow-motion and hauls himself to his feet. His vision spins horribly, stomach heaving with sudden, acute nausea, and the next second he’s stumbling to the bathroom, stumbling into walls and doors on his way.
Arthur just reaches the toilet in time to empty the contents of his stomach of what pitiful food he still had in there. He feels abruptly awful, churning and sick to his soul let alone his stomach, and his head throbs with an intensity he’s worried he’s going to pass out. He gets a brief moment of peace, head resting on the cool porcelain of the toilet, before he’s retching again.
The bathroom door creaks behind him, and then there’s a warm hand on his back, a soft voice shhing him gently. Arthur screws his eyes shut tightly. This is all too reminiscent of last night.
And god, had it only been the night before?
“M’sorry,” he mumbles when he gets a chance to breathe, half-delirious, and the hand on his back lifts up to card gently through his hair, careful to avoid the back of his head. It feels ridiculously good, and he leans into the touch shamelessly.
“Nothing to be sorry about, can’t be helped,” Eames says quietly from where he’s sitting behind him, and Arthur can’t even bring himself to feel embarrassed.
He falls back against Eames’ warm chest, shivering, feeling cold and feverish all at the same time.
“Yeah actually,” he amends, “I’m not that sorry ‘cause you’re kind of a dick.”
Eames sighs quietly.
“Yeah. You’ve got a point there mate.”
“I’ve always got the point,” Arthur mutters, and lets his eyes close.
“Arthur Levine, our resident Point Man.”
“On point and in pointes. All points s’covered.”
Eames chuckles lightly; Arthur can feel the vibrations.
There’s a pause, and then, Arthur’s not sure what makes him say it, blame it on the drugs, the slight delirious tightrope between exhaustion and pain he’s currently balancing on-
“I don’t actually dislike you, y’know. I kinda wish I could, but I don’t.”
Eames stiffens behind him, and it feels strange, saying this to the man who is currently sitting with him on his bathroom floor at god knows what time practically holding back his hair, the man who rang an ambulance for him and was obviously invested enough to come and stay by his bedside until he regained consciousness. But Arthur’s not so concussed that he’s not aware that Eames also broke his heart barely 24 hours previously, led him on and then fucking cut him off at the last second, and Arthur knows he should still be upset by all accounts, should still be angry at Eames-
But it’s just all a bit too exhausting right now.
“I don’t think I even know how too,” he says quietly.
There’s a long pause, and he feels rather than hears Eames let a long, slow breath.
“I don’t dislike you either Arthur,” he murmurs, and it sounds like he’s going to say more, but he doesn’t.
Arthur smiles a little, despite himself.
“Though I can’t say I’m a huge fan when you’re reeking of vomit and weak as a new-born kitten.”
“Rude, but true. Think you’re going to be sick again pet?”
Arthur groans at the mention of it, but shakes his head.
“Alright then, back to bed.”
Eames helps him up and back to his bedroom and his hands don’t stray any further than absolutely necessary and Arthur hates that he hates that.
Eames thankfully stops short of actually pulling the covers over Arthur (Arthur feels like he has so little dignity left at this point, he’s got to make the most of the small things), so he climbs in, punching the pillow beneath his head into shape, and gingerly lying down on his side. He feels impossibly exhausted, like he’s run a marathon lit by strobe lighting, and now both his body and his head hate him for it.
Eames has been side-tracked by the photos on Arthur’s bedside chest of drawers, and is smiling at one that Arthur knows depicts him and his sisters on an ill-fated family holiday to Canada. Arthur was only about 7 at the time, the photo taken as they were playing on a lake-side beach in Ontario, all mid-laughing and screaming at how cold the water was.
It’s one of Arthur’s favourite photos from his childhood, and the only one he stole from the family albums to bring over to the UK.
He thinks of explaining the backstory behind the photo, how Tamara nearly ended up with frostbite when she decided to swim to the middle of the lake, how Miriam was sick the night before from eating too much maple taffy, how Rebecca point blank refused to join them on the canoe trip that day because she was in the middle of reading Helen Keller’s autobiography, how he’d made friends with a ginger-haired boy at the lakeside playground, thrilled to get away from his sisters -
But Eames’ smile has faded a little, eyes glazed over, and then he’s sitting down on the edge of the bed next to Arthur, elbows on his knees. He looks down at his hands.
“My brother Al once took me down to the beach when we went to visit family up in Scotland,” he says, and his voice is quiet and measured and the pounding in Arthur’s head lessens slightly now that he has something to focus on, “I was about the same age as you are there, I reckon. He’d get our old gramps to give him the keys to the Land Rover and drive me down to this place called Whistling Sands. Huge beach it was, nothing but sand as far as you could see, took you fucking forever to reach the sea. I used to try and sprint all the way into the waves but I’d always run out of breath before I got there.” Eames pauses, and it’s clear he’s not fully here, in Arthur’s apartment sitting on his bed in the middle of the night. There’s a part of him that’s right back on that beach in Scotland.
“Al was only 15 or so, but he could drive that Land Rover like he was born in it, and that summer he tried to teach me. I had to stand up to reach the bloody pedals, but I did it, because he told me to. Stalling every few seconds of course, constantly trying to steer towards the ocean because I wanted to see if the thing would float, but I got it eventually. It felt like flying, driving along that beach, all the windows open and Al turning up the radio up to full. I don’t think I felt that free again until I started dancing,” and he smiles, turning to glance sheepishly up at Arthur.
Arthur’s been mostly lulled to sleep by the sound of Eames’ voice but he forces himself to keep his eyes open, sensing this is something important.
“I never knew you had a brother,” he says, equally quietly, as though if he speaks too quietly he’ll break the spell they’re under, the bubble of quiet honesty between them.
“I’ve never mentioned him until now,” Eames brow furrows a little. “In fact, I haven’t spoken about him in years. I’m not sure where that came from.”
“He sounds amazing. I would have loved an older brother, god.”
Eames smiles knowingly, “I bet.”
“Where is he now?”
Then Eames’ expression shifts into something that Arthur isn’t alert enough to read. Eames shakes his head gently, “a story for another time, I think. Get some rest Arthur, I’ll be in the living room if you need me.”
“Are you sure?” Arthur asks, “I mean, I can talk about it now, if you want.” He undermines the credibility of that offer slightly by battling to speak around a huge yawn.
Eames smiles, eyes shining in the low glow of Arthur’s bedside lamp. “You’re a poppet, thank you. But don’t worry, I’ll see you in the morning.”
Arthur nods, reluctant to let Eames leave, but even more reluctant to resist the blanket of heavy sleep enveloping him.
He doesn’t remember Eames leaving, and he dreams of long empty beaches, with silhouetted figures always just out of reach.
Arthur wakes up mid-morning feeling pretty good, all things considered. He runs through everything he should remember and stretches a bit on the bed before he moves. He feels genuinely fine.
Slouching into the living room in search of his first coffee of the day however, it still manages to be a shock to see Eames curled up under the ancient afghan on his couch. Arthur is so used to living alone, to operating his daily morning routine with no one but Archibald for company and here is Eames, face is lax with sleep, lips parted and eyelashes long and dark against his cheeks in the warm glow of late morning light.
Arthur remembers the night before, being so sick, Eames sitting on his bed, murmuring stories about childhood holidays to Scotland until Arthur was dropping off to sleep. Eames being so kind and patient and non-judgemental; Eames admitting he was a dick; Eames carding fingers through his hair with a tenderness Arthur didn’t even know was possible.
Arthur throws a sofa cushion at him.
Eames startles fantastically well, and falls to the floor as he flails and thrashes at the pillow.
“Fuck you too this fine morning Arthur,” he grumbles from his position on the rug.
Arthur smiles a little. “Coffee?”
“Tea, please if that’s not too much bother.”
Eames struggles to his feet and takes a seat at the bar, afghan still wrapped around his shoulders.
The phone rings, piercingly loud through the quiet still of the morning, and Arthur starts, jumping, before composing himself to answer.
“Hello, this is Arthur speak- “
“Arthur oh my god I can’t believe you - your director got in touch with Mama and she’s been worried sick trying your mobile but it’s been dead and so of course Auntie Freida has been telling everyone that the oldest Levine boy died in London on stage and I was just trying to calm everyone down but it hasn’t been easy what with the time difference trying to work out when you’d be up and the fact you haven’t been answering your fucking phone-“
Arthur’s head aches with the onslaught and he holds the phone a little away from his ear. He’s going to fucking kill Dom. Eames raises an eyebrow, mouthing who is it?, and Arthur realises with a somewhat swooping sensation in his mid-drift that has nothing to do with nausea that under the afghan shawl Eames is shirtless, having evidently slept in boxer shorts and nothing else.
He turns his attention back to his sister, interrupting her tirade of family concern- “Miriam I am fine okay? I told Dom not to bother contacting you guys unless it was a real emergency and-“
“Seeing as you were apparently unconscious and in ICU I think that might count? Unless Dom the Director was lying?” Miriam says, the sarcasm palatable.
Arthur breathes out hard. “Yes, okay, so ICU was a thing for all of 10 minutes before they realised it was only a hairline skull fracture and -“
“A skull frack-chure? Did Uncle Arthur’s head get broked?” a voice chirps up in the background.
“Miriam am I on speakerphone?” Arthur asks coolly. Eames snorts with laughter, mid-rubbing sleep out of his eye.
“Well yes,” Miriam says defensively, “Mom wanted to hear how you were doing as well but she’s been busy making Jacob’s birthday cake, he’s 4 you know, in case you’d forgotten-“
“Hi Uncle Arthur hiiiiiiiii.”
“Hi Jacob,” Arthur says, trying for cheery, “Happy Birthday for tomorrow. Your card is in the post. Uncle Arthur’s not broken at all okay? I’m just fine. ”
“That’s not what Dom said when he called at 2 am this morning,” Miriam says primly, “but apparently you’ve gone home with some strange man, so I guess a serious head injury and neglecting to tell your family has its perks.”
“Miriam-“ Arthur protests, but then there’s a crackling like the phone is being picked up.
“Arthur, are you alright?”
Arthur has never been able to lie to his Mom.
He sighs. “I’m okay Mama, honestly.”
“What happened, bubbala?”
Arthur feels a notch in his chest give a little. His mother hasn’t called him that since he was about 14. She really must have been worried, and he abruptly feels infinitely more guilty than he had under Miriam’s tirade.
“I fell in rehearsal and hit my head coming down and an ambulance took me into hospital. I was out for a bit but they did all the scans and it’s just a minor fracture, I promise. I know it sounds bad but it could have been so much worse, and I’m honestly feeling fine. It’s just a mild concussion, so I’ll take the rest of the week off and be back to normal in no time.”
His mother hums disbelievingly down the phone.
“And you’re being looked after yes? Dominick said someone was with you - I don’t like to think of you being all alone in that strange city when you’re not well.”
Arthur is about to protest that this ‘strange city’ has been his home for nearly 2 years but he knows it’s not worth the effort at this point.
“Yes Mama, I’m home in my apartment and I’m with a friend,” Arthur steadfastly fiddles with the phone line and does not look up at Eames, Eames is a lot of things right now, but Arthur doesn’t know if ‘friend’ is a category he falls easily into, “he stayed for the night to look after me.”
She hums again, sounding more approving this time. “Okay, okay, I’m happy to hear this. I’ll let your father know, he does worry so and you being so far away doesn’t make him feel any better.”
“I know, I know Mama, I’m sorry you had to hear it through Dom and not me. I’ll call you soon, okay? Okay,” and he says his goodbyes, going through Miriam and Jacob and then the baby bump when Jacob insists and Tamara when she shouts from the hallway on the way to hockey practice and then, finally, he can put the phone down.
Eames yawns and tires to cover it, and Arthur starts up the coffee machine and turns on the kettle and neither of them say anything.
He’s a friend … he stayed for the night to look after me
Miriam is going to so read into that. Hell, his mother is going to read into that.
“Your family?” Eames asks, at length, which is a bit of a stupid question given that Arthur has no doubt he heard the entire conversation.
“Yeah,” Arthur says, still not turning round, “fucking Dom, I swear to god, we’ve been through this before and he knows not to call them. Any excuse to worry about something and my family are guaranteed to be all over it.”
Eames chuckles. “In a way it’s nice though, that they worry.”
“They don’t really get the whole ballet thing, but they’re not heartless,” Arthur leans up to the top shelf to reach two mugs, “all family’s worry.”
There’s a long pause. Arthur abruptly remembers the conversation coming out of the tube, how Eames hasn’t spoken to his family in years. How it’s quite possible that Eames’ family really doesn’t worry. Doesn’t care about him.
Arthur doesn’t want to feel bad, to feel guilty, but he does anyway and he’s about to apologise when Eames saves him-
“Feeling alright this morning? You look a bit less peaky.”
“Better,” Arthur offers, and then, because it really is only polite, “thanks for last night.”
Eames winces, “seriously you don’t have to thank me-“
“I do and I will,” Arthur protests. “It was embarrassing and disgusting and I didn’t need anyone there to hold my hair back - but I appreciated you being there anyway. So thanks.” He says it quickly, and keeps his back firmly to Eames, even though he can feel him watching him anyway.
“Not at all,” Eames says quietly, and Arthur thinks that that is that.
Only, when he turns back to Eames with two steaming mugs and passes the tea over to Eames, Eames’ fingers linger on Arthur’s around the porcelain, hesitantly, almost shyly-
Memories of cautious, smiling lips pressing kisses onto his collarbones assault him and Arthur jerks back, spilling his coffee onto the counter. His heart is racing and fuck, he can do this, he promised himself he could do this but-
“Please,” he says, fighting to keep his voice steady, “I’m not ready- I don’t think I can do that. The whole flirting thing. Not anymore.”
Eames makes a pained sound, and puts his tea down to drag a hand roughly over his face.
“Fuck,” he says, “fucking fuck I’m being such a bastard about this.”
“Yeah, just a bit,” Arthur says, feeling shaky and wiping down the counter for something to do with his hands.
“Christ, fuck- I- I wanted to do this properly but- bloody buggering-“
“Decided to break a new record of swears before breakfast instead?” Arthur is impressed with how casual he sounds. Because he absolutely does not feel casual.
“No,” Eames moans, “god, this isn’t going to work is it-“
Arthur goes cold. He doesn’t particularly want to do this again.
Eames must see something of what he’s thinking in his expression because suddenly he’s reaching out and grabbing Arthur’s free hand, “no, not like that. Shit, Arthur- let me explain.”
Arthur freezes, his entire body focused on the point of shocking warmth where Eames’ fingers are wrapped around his wrist. Eames’ eyes are earnest, imploring.
“I’ve fucked this up hideously darling, and I’m sorry for that I really I am.”
Arthur’s not sure he’s still breathing.
“The thing is- the thing is-,” and Eames seems to lose his momentum mid-sentence, and instead stares hard at where his fingers are touching Arthur’s skin. He rubs a thumb lightly over the delicate skin on the inside of Arthur’s arm, and Arthur shudders slightly.
“Last night,” Eames’ voice is suddenly quiet, “last night when I told you about Al. I genuinely haven’t said his name aloud in nearly a decade. He – he died when I was 14, drug overdose most likely, though the parents will go to their fucking graves rather than admit it,” he laughs, and it’s a cruel empty sound.
Arthur moves his arm out of Eames’ grip and then, fuck it all, intertwines his fingers with Eames’. This is Eames, open and honest and raw, and even if he doesn’t feel the way Arthur does, Eames still cares about him (I don’t dislike you either) and this is Eames sharing something that’s obviously painful to remember, so Arthur’s not about to be a dick and make this about him.
Eames tightens his fingers briefly in Arthur’s. Smiles up at him cautiously. “It’s okay now, really, I went through the whole not-dealing thing when I was in my late teens. That’s all over with.”
He pauses, chewing his lower lip in a way that Arthur makes a gallant effort to not be distracted by.
“Only the thing is,” and his voice is quiet, cautious, “the thing is I haven’t spoken about him at all, to anyone, until last night. I haven’t even thought to mention it to a single person in the company, and yet, as bone-tired and out of it as you were, I told you.”
He makes eye contact with Arthur and his gaze is piercing, eyes a gun-silver grey this morning in the half-light and it makes Arthur shiver.
“But I guess, the more pressing ‘thing’ really, from all this, not just that but every fucking other thing too, is that I’m more than a little bit in a love with you.”
Eames’ eyes dart down but he doesn’t let go of Arthur’s hand, and he’s sitting at Arthur’s breakfast bar, shirtless with the horrible afghan pooled around his waist and fucking unfairly beautiful, the rising sun gradually spilling through the blinds turning his skin golden, and love declarations were so not where Arthur thought this morning would be going.
“Eames, I-“ Arthur starts, his heart in his throat. “What?”
Eames laughs, but it's just this side of panicked and a far cry from anything Arthur has heard before.
“I know I know, kind of hard to believe when I’ve been such a prick to you.”
“Yeah, you really have,” Arthur says, sort of automatically, and Eames laughs again, more genuinely this time.
“Apologies it’s taken me so long to get round to it,” and he’s still not making eye contact, and his cheeks are flushed and holy fuck is Eames blushing?
“Only it’s not even particularly new to me. I thought you were the most fucking gorgeous and talented dancer I’d ever seen when I first saw you in that bloody Cinderella production in Chicago, and it only got worse when I actually started to work with you and realised you were just as horribly brilliant and stunning as I feared you were, as well as born and bred cynic and sarcastic twat and all the other things I fall for.”
“And then you were such a stickler, resisting all and any of my attempts at charming you, and then it all got a bit much and I lost track of what I was doing because you make me fuck up Arthur, in all the best ways but you do, and then we were in the studio that night-“
Arthur’s fingers clenches instinctively around Eames’, and Eames squeezes back.
“-and god, it broke my heart to turn you down, it was awful, the worst thing I’ve ever done, but I had to darling, because I’d rather not have you at all than turn whatever I feel about you into another bloody one-night stands, no matter how memorable it might have been. I couldn’t bear the thought of that, even though it clearly hurt you to say no.”
“And I’m sorry for that,” Eames says again, voice cracking and Arthur has never heard him speak with such honesty before, such genuine feeling, “I’m so fucking sorry for hurting you. I just- I just didn’t want to let myself get too close, I thought we could keep our distance, but then you had to go and crack your head open in front of me and that fucked that plan right up. But I understand if I’ve used up my chance, I understand if you never want to bloody speak to me again outside of rehearsals; just know that it was never, never because I didn’t want you.”
Eames runs his free hand through his hair and laughs shakily again.
“Just the opposite actually.”
“Christ,” Arthur breathes. “So you turned me down, because- because, what, you wanted to make an honest man out of me?”
Eames’ lip quirks into a smile. “If you put it like that.”
“And all that, ‘let’s not fuck up the chemistry between Seigfreid and Odile’ shit in the studio that night. That was all bullshit?”
“At its finest. I could barely keep my hands off you, I was sure you’d see through it.”
“You’re a better liar than you think you are. I thought I disgusted you.”
Eames mouth twists unhappily. “An unfortunate skillset I picked up as an actor,” and then he meets Arthur’s gaze sharply, “and you should know that you’re quite perfect. And that was the hottest make out session of my entire life.”
Arthur feels his cheeks pink at the memory, but pushes on.
“And you thought I just wanted a one-time thing?”
Eames nods, then looks confused. “Didn’t you?”
Arthur stares at him. “Fucking hell you’re more of an idiot than I thought,” he says, and then he’s hauling Eames across the counter to meet him halfway in a kiss. It’s just as good as it had been the first time (god Arthur forgot how good it had been), except Eames is more cautious, almost wary that Arthur’s about to pull away again, and Arthur is still fucking shaking thanks to all this feeling coursing through him. Fucking head injuries.
They pull away to catch their breath, and Arthur rounds the counter, pressing Eames up against the bar. Eames nervously and briefly meets Arthur’s gaze. It’s a weird look on him.
“You love me?” Arthur presses, lips curling in a smile. It’s a ridiculous idea, ridiculous to think and even more ridiculous to say aloud.
“Oh, fuck off,” Eames mutters, ducking his head.
Eames looks up at him (at last) and rolls his eyes. “Arthur, I’m arse over fucking tea-kettle for you, I don’t know how to make it any clearer without sacrificing what little dignity I have left-“
Arthur kisses him hard to shut him up.
Chapter 8: Epilogue
It's opening night.
Last part that I wrote in my mammoth writing session when I first churned this whole thing out, but probably not the last in this verse because I've enjoyed it so much! Shamelessly stole the idea for this from the final scene in Billy Elliot (great film).
Posting a day early because tomorrow is my birthday :)
Thank you again for all the kind comments - I love this bloody ship, and all the lovely people in this fandom.
On opening night in the dressing rooms, Arthur stumbles slightly on nothing at all and grimaces, a hand going to the back of his head.
Eames is by his side in a second and the raw panic on his face is priceless.
Arthur grins. “You’ve got to stop falling for the head injury gag Eames, it’s been nearly a month now, come on.”
Yusuf laughs, clapping Arthur from his make up chair.
“Oh Arthur, such a politically incorrect sense of humour. Never change.”
Eames gives them both a dark look. “It really isn’t funny Arthur, you didn’t see what I did – “
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry, I truly am. And I promise I won’t do it again,” and he leans up to kiss Eames’ freshly shaven cheek.
Eames scowls, and gives Arthur a look that says he knows exactly what he’s doing. Arthur shrugs, shameless. His new tactic of making Eames less cross with him is not something he's going to be giving up lightly.
“How the tables have turned!” Ariadne crows, already fully made up and looking stunningly beautiful in an angular sort of way, “I could get used to this new level of banter.”
Arthur gags. “I draw the line at banter.”
“All banter under the bridge,” says Yusuf, chuckling to himself.
“Arthur! In the chair now!” Melayna the chief make-up artist calls from the room next door, “c’mon mate I never used to have to kick you up the arse about this, curtains go up in less than an hour!”
“He never used to be in lurrrrve,” Ariadne says in a sing-song voice, and Arthur glares at her.
It’s as if he’s become everyone’s little brother instead of the second most experienced principle in the production, and they all seem to think it’s incredibly sweet that Arthur has won Eames’ sufficiently heart and put an end to his days of one-night-stands. Arthur’s reputation as a professional badass in this industry is in serious jeopardy.
“Arthur, go pretty yourself up now,” Yusuf says cheerily, and Arthur flips them all off, quite honestly, and goes to get his make-up done.
When Melayna’s finished, he looks anything but pretty. He looks unearthly – huge shadowing on his cheekbones and jawline throwing his entire face into a haughty, regal contrast. By the time he’s buttoned up in the dark green military-esque costume, he’s never been further from Arthur in his life.
“Wow,” Ari says appearing next to him as he goes through a final set of simple stretches, “you look fucking incredible Arthur. Eames is going to have kittens.”
Arthur scoffs. “It’s not like we haven’t had 3 full dress rehearsals or anything."
“Yeah, but they always pull out the extra stops for show night don’t they? Here, lemme take a photo.”
She does, and then instantly posts it to Twitter despite Arthur’s protests.
She captions it: Arthur back on his feet!! PTL because would be a lame opening show if he wasn’t
Arthur levels her with a dark look.
“Exploiting my injury and totally non-consensual press fame fallout for followers?”
She beams munificently. “I’m a social media attention whore, we both know this, let’s move on.”
Dom bustles in then, looking predictably harried, hair everywhere and clutching what Arthur thinks is their week 3 schedule; which hasn’t been relevant for about 2 months.
“The Guardian, the Times, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail are here guys, so please, please, don’t mess this up!” he announces to the dressing room at large.
“The Daily Mail?!” Eames says, in mock horror, “oh god, the honour, the privilege, the pressure-“
“Eames! Now is not the time to be - to be fucking Eames!” Dom is practically blue in the face; Arthur takes pity.
“It’s going to be fine Dom,” he says, taking Dom’s arm and steering him away from the slightly terrified looking group chorus girls nearest them, “everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing. We’ve got this.”
Dom is breathing hard through his nose, apparently counting to ten and then back down.
“We can’t mess this up Arthur, we really can’t.”
“I know,” Arthur says measuredly, “and that’s why we’re not going to. We’ll do you proud, Dom. We’ll do Mal proud.”
Arthur isn’t quite sure what makes him say it, and Dom’s eyes go wide, face pained, the way it always does when Mal comes up unexpectedly, but then his expression softens, and he pulls Arthur into a tight hug.
Arthur hugs him back, and for a moment, imagines he’s Mal.
“10-minute call!” someone shouts, and Dom springs back.
“Jesus Christ-“ and sprints off without so much as a good luck.
Arthur sighs, Dom was always going to be a wreck on opening night and there’s nothing anyone could do about that. He takes the short trip to the backstage wings, dodging a chorus girl having a minor panic attack on his way.
He sees Eames’ smile, broad, crooked, in the shadow before he sees the rest of him.
“You,” Arthur points an accusing finger at him, “are not on till Act 2. Bugger off why don’t you.”
Eames’ grin gets even wider. “Your Anglicisms are absolutely precious Arthur and I endeavour to completely convert you.”
But Arthur is distracted from a comeback because Eames is abruptly there, a hand in the small of Arthur’s back, bleeding warmth through his waistcoat, soothing a tension there Arthur hadn’t even been aware of.
“Nervous?” Eames breathes into his ear, and Arthur shudders delicately.
“You would be too if you were starting with a solo set on opening night of a production that could make or break every single person here. Including the director. Especially the director.”
“You are so loyal,” Eames says quietly.
Arthur bristles a little. “Not loyal- just-“, he doesn’t know how to put into words how he feels for Dom, for the cast- “I want to be enough for the people I care about.”
Eames’ drops a kiss onto Arthur’s cheek like he can’t help himself.
“Jesus, watch the make up,” Arthur mutters, even as he’s intertwining his fingers with Eames’ as he speaks.
“You’ll always be enough Arthur. And the most wonderful thing is you’ll be enough without even trying. The people you’re loyal to are loyal to you too.”
He says it so sincerely, as though he’s reading Gospel truth and there’s no shadow of a doubt or hesitation about it, and Arthur feels his chest tighten a little bit, recognising that this is what Eames honestly believes, that he loves Arthur this much.
“So loyal in fact," Eames continues, "that they’ll take a 6-hour flight to come and see opening night, Rebecca says hi by the way.”
Arthur whips round to look Eames in the eye so fast his neck cricks.
“You’re shitting me.”
Eames’ eyes are crinkling with his smile, “I’m not.”
“Come off it Eames there’s no way she would have-“
“See for yourself,” Eames offers, gesturing towards a gap in the curtains, “I promise you she’s here. Front row.”
Arthur feels like he’s all of 6 years old and at his first dance recital, but he peaks through the curtain and there, fucking there, looking goddamn resplendent in green silk is his big sister, beaming up at the person next to her who-
That’s his Mama. And his Dad. His mom and his dad. His parents have come all the way to London and it’s opening night and they’re sitting on the fucking front row.
“Oh my god,” Arthur says, and he’s shaking a little, because his parents support what he does really, behind all the slight lack of understanding, as long as he’s earning and happy they don’t mind, and he can tell they’re proud when they get sent his photo from newspapers and magazines by nosy relatives, but they’ve never seen anything he’s been in, not since his first major break, not since Don Quioxte, and fuck it’s like he is six years old again and his Dad is saying “maybe next time Arthur, I’m busy with work”, when Arthur asked if he could come to the end of year performance at dance class, and it’s his Mama saying “turning down an Ivy League offer my love, are you sure?” and her eyes are saying all along how unsure she is, how not happy she is with this, and suddenly none of that matters, because they’re here, they’re actually here-
“I told you didn’t I? The people you care about- they’re loyal to you too,” Eames says quietly from behind him.
“1 minute to curtain call,” comes a voice from deeper backstage, and outside in the audience the lights dim.
“You had to tell me this now?!” He turns to Eames, “seriously? A minute before I go on?”
But Eames is still smiling, solid and dependable and still everything he was before that made Arthur fall so very very in love with him, but also so much more.
“Yes, because I thought it’d be better than you catching sight of them mid-bloody-arabesque,” Eames reasons, and yeah, actually, that would have been a million times worse.
“You’ll be fabulous. I know you will be. And I’ll be right up there with you before you know it and we’ll fucking blow them away, we will.”
“Arthur! On stage in 5!”
Eames kisses him full on the lips, an edge of desperation colouring it and god, Arthur has routines, he has mental exercises for his nerves and procedures and habits that he does every fucking time and he hasn’t done a single one-
Except Eames is smiling at him like he’s the only thing that matters in the world.
“Just dance like no one’s watching darling.”
And Arthur lets go, sprints onto the stage and throws himself into the air in a stag leap, high, high, higher, the orchestra rising to a crescendo beneath him and the lights flooding above, bathing him in a pure white light, so bright he can’t even see the audience.
And he dances.