Title: A Puppy With A Closet Full of Dunhill
Characters/Pairings: Arthur/Eames, Ariadne, Dom, Mal, and (eventually) Yusuf and Saito, plus a few blink and you'll miss 'em Glee cameos.
Spoilers/Warnings: No and no.
Summary: It turned out that Glee Club wasn’t so much a club as it was three people who were surgically attached to their iPods and wanted Barbra Streisand’s diva notes to make sweet, sweet love to their ears. Which was fine, because that was pretty much exactly who Ariadne was, too. Glee!AU.
Disclaimer: Inception is absolutely not mine, nor is anything you recognize from it. The same applies to Glee, and to all of the songs and Broadway shows mentioned and quoted in this story.
Notes: This is sharaith's holiday gift! Though it also classifies as a High School!AU, I suppose, so those of you who asked for one of those-- consider this a super special bonus gift? Or something? And you guys, I have to say: they are not all going to be this long! Or, if they are, I will probably die.
Ariadne met Arthur in her U.S. History class. Or-- she didn’t meet him, exactly. She became aware of him. This happened because he raised his hand during the third week of school and gave a detailed and painstakingly accurate description of the Battle of Gettsyburg, including a brief summary of the military strategies of the period and a few choice criticisms of Pickett’s Charge.
For a moment there was total silence. Then the giggling started, and someone muttered, “Freak.” Arthur simply sat with his back ramrod straight, his eyes never once leaving Ms. Pierce, who looked slightly stunned by this sudden proof that someone at McKinley High was actually possessed of basic knowledge outside of the ABCs.
Ariadne met Arthur when she was walking to her car that afternoon, trying not to cry. She wasn’t exactly watching where she was going, and she rounded the corner of the building and basically ran right into the guy, which didn’t improve her day.
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry,” she said, trying to wipe her eyes surreptitiously.
“That’s okay,” he said. He wasn’t even looking at her, which for a second made her think that he just kind of hated her for no reason at all which, frankly, wouldn’t have been a huge shock at that point. But then she realized that he was scanning the parking lot incessantly, presumably keeping an eye out for people who wanted to do to his impeccably crisp shirt and tie ensemble what they’d just done to her favorite gray cardigan.
“You’re lucky it was grape,” he said suddenly, apparently having decided that this particular patch of asphalt was safe for the moment. “Cherry’s the hardest to get out. Grape isn’t so bad. Make sure you wash it with cold water a couple of times before you do anything else and you should be okay.”
“Um, thanks,” she said. “So, the slushies-- that happens a lot?”
He laughed. It sounded three parts bitter and one part genuinely amused, like her naivete was really good for a giggle. Awesome.
“It’s a near-daily occurrence for those of us at the bottom of the social heap,” he said. “You’ll get used to it. You’ll learn to carry a stain-remover pen and a change of clothes, for starters. And wear lots of layers. You’ve got the right idea there, actually. Although I can’t say I love the neckerchief.”
So that was it. That was how she met Arthur. He was That Oddly Helpful Asshole From U.S. History, and he probably would’ve stayed That Oddly Helpful Asshole From U.S. History if it wasn’t for A Little Night Music.
Ariadne was walking down the hall when she heard it. It was 3:17 on a Thursday, and she’d stayed after school to get extra help with her Pre-Calculus homework, which had essentially put the world’s blandest cherry on top of her mind-numbing day. So there she was, walking down a deserted hall, wondering idly if there was peach yogurt in the fridge at home, and it was at the exact moment when she had decided that there wasn’t peach but possibly there was raspberry that she heard the opening notes of “Send In The Clowns.”
“Isn’t it rich?” Someone asked. “Are we a pair? Me here at last on the ground, you in mid-air.”
It was possibly the most beautiful thing she’d ever heard. It was a throaty voice, an alto, with a soaring sob behind the higher notes which sort of made her want to forego smiling (it being an overwhelmingly superficial pursuit) or maybe profess her love to someone with a terminal illness. It made her want twenty years of thoughtless romance and missed connections under her belt just so she could be worthy of that song, that voice.
Which was why when she took nine steps forward to the door of the choir room and peered in she should have been stunned by the fact that the girl who was standing at the piano, her mouth shaping, “Isn’t it rich? Isn’t it queer, losing my timing this late in my career?” certainly wasn’t older than seventeen.
Only Ariadne wasn’t really surprised at all. She didn’t actually have room for much emotion that wasn’t, oh my god excuse me while I gape helplessly, was the thing, and the gaping didn’t actually stop when the last hoarse notes of, “There ought to be clowns-- well, maybe next year” faded away.
“Hello,” said a bemused voice, which turned out to belong to a smiling, floppy-haired guy who was sitting behind the piano.
“Um,” Ariadne said.
“This is Ariadne,” Arthur said, which was the moment when she actually noticed he was there. “She’s a new student. She transferred a month ago.”
“Yes,” Ariadne agreed. “I did.”
“So,” the floppy-haired guy began, but it was then that the woman-- girl, Ariadne tried to correct herself, but it wouldn’t really take-- spoke.
“Do you enjoy music, Ariadne?” She asked.
“Yeah,” Ariadne said. “Yeah, I do, and that-- that was gorgeous, that was seriously amazing, that pretty much blew my mind.”
The woman smiled with broad and sudden joy and said, “My name’s Mallorie, but you may call me Mal. Everyone else certainly does. Welcome to Glee Club.”
It didn’t occur to Ariadne until months later that no one had actually bothered to ask if she could sing.
It turned out that Glee Club wasn’t so much a club as it was three people who were surgically attached to their iPods and wanted Barbra Streisand’s diva notes to make sweet, sweet love to their ears. Which was fine, because that was pretty much exactly who Ariadne was, too. Mal’s dad, Miles (who was also the school’s French teacher, as it turned out) was supposedly the advisor, but his responsibilities essentially seemed to entail dropping by the choir room every so often and saying things like, “Of course you want to do a fully-staged number from ‘Cabaret,’ you’re all insane,” and then spending some time at the piano with Dom (whose floppy hair Ariadne forgave pretty much immediately when she realized that he was an insanely gifted composer), coaxing new harmonies from old classics.
Ariadne spent a month in the choir room after school, sprawled in a folding chair-- or, at least as often, on the floor with her back against the piano-- and scribbling melodies into a battered notebook. Mal sang snatches of Chicago and Carousel and South Pacific and spun lazily across the linoleum floor, propping her chin on Dom’s shoulder and leaning over the back of Ariadne’s chair to bring newly penned notes to life.
And Arthur, well. Arthur spent a lot of time sitting. At first Ariadne thought he was just randomly choosing to avoid the guys from the football team in an environment with excellent acoustics, but then one day about two weeks in Mal said, “I need someone on harmony Dom my love,” and Dom said, “hang on, I just have to finish this--” for twenty minutes until Mal, exasperated, said, “Come on Arthur, we don’t need him anyway, the bastard,” and glided into “Here Comes The Sun.”
Ariadne was pleasantly surprised by the whole thing, and was definitely not thinking, in any way, about the fact that between the button-down shirts and the technically masterful tenor Arthur was sort of incredibly attractive. He was also incredibly gay, she was pretty sure, which was just kind of annoying. But during her time spent with Glee Club she’d discovered that it was really hard to stay annoyed with Arthur for any length of time. He was like a puppy. A puppy with a temper, a better-than-passing knowledge of kung fu, and a closet full of Dunhill, sure. But a puppy.
“You know,” Cobb said after Mal had coaxed Ariadne into a few bars of “la la la”s to close out the song, “we could actually be pretty good. Has that occurred to anyone recently?”
“We need a few more people,” Mal said. “But yes, I rather think we could.”
Dom and Mal were terrifying like that. In the space of thirty seconds, they could decide to end world hunger, or abolish the entire concept of jellyfish, or ban Bon Jovi from the radio. In the end, it was probably a good thing they decided to focus their insane levels of visionary ridiculousness on Glee Club.
“I mean, there’s always Eames,” Dom said.
“Yes,” Mal breathed, her smile unfurling. “Of course. We should have done it sooner, really, why in the world has it taken us this long?”
“Yeah, well, you know,” Dom said, “I mean, it could get a little awkward, what with--”
“Choose your next words wisely, Dom,” Arthur said, “or they are seriously going to be your last. I’m pretty sure my mom’s second cousin is in the mafia, he talks like he is, and I am honest-to-God going to have you whacked if you--”
“I’m just saying, I’ll understand if you’re still harboring a little resentment about that thing at Felicia Montgomery’s Halloween party. We’ll all understand,” Dom said, wearing a grin that Ariadne could not possibly describing as anything but shit-eating.
“Oh my God,” Arthur said, “I hope the mob guys break your fingers.”
“Don’t worry,” Mal said to Dom, curling her hand around his hip, “I’ll protect you.”
“Is it worrying that I’m genuinely comforted right now?” Dom said.
“I’ll call him,” Mal said, and got out her Blackberry.
“So,” Ariadne said that evening as she and Arthur walked toward his car, “who’s Eames, exactly?”
Since they’d discovered that they lived seven point two minutes apart (Arthur had timed it), Ariadne had been hitching a ride home in Arthur’s dented, 1998 Ford Taurus (Mal called it well-loved; Arthur called it an embarrassment). Over the course of those seventeen rides home, Ariadne had learned the following about Arthur: he lived with his mom and four younger siblings, he hated the color yellow, he owned a truly remarkable number of Beatles records (and an actual record player with which to listen to them), he was allergic to cats, he wanted to go to NYU, and he could play the guitar. Now, she wanted to know who Eames was.
“He’s British,” Arthur said as if that explained everything and actually it kind of did, because now Ariadne knew that whoever he was, his accent was probably going to make her wish she’d done something inadvisable with him at Felicia Montgomery’s Halloween party. Damn.
The rest of the drive was spent in silence. Arthur, his hands white-knuckled on the wheel, was presumably considering how much money it would take to hire his might-be-mafia relatives. Ariadne was considering Colin Firth.
Eames turned out to be not only British, but also sarcastic, gorgeous, and exceedingly fond of the color yellow. He was also ridiculously versatile, sliding neatly from “Being Alive” into “Bad Romance” without even blinking. He and Mal had clearly known each other for a while (maybe, Ariadne theorized, there was a secret club of stupidly good-looking Europeans at this school) and they spent a good half hour gushing about Frank Sinatra and showering each other with compliments. Arthur spent that half hour sitting rigid in his folding chair, holding his guitar. He’d never actually brought his guitar to school before, and Ariadne was sort of excited about hearing him play, except for the part where he never actually touched the strings, just held the instrument out in front of him like some kind of shield.
At the end of two hours Eames said, “Well of course I’d love to join your club, provided no one objects.”
He looked straight at Arthur when he said it, and there was a moment when the room, Ariadne is almost positive, held its breath.
“Why would anyone object,” Arthur said in a voice that Ariadne would, if pressed, classify as dead.
“Right,” Eames said. “Fine. Excellent. I think I know of one other person who might be interested, as it happens. Shall I sound him out?”
“Absolutely,” Mal said, and they all maybe fled the room a little bit, partially because zombie-Arthur was terrifying and partially because zombie-Arthur was viscerally nobody else’s business.
Ariadne waited in the hallway, skimming absentmindedly through her notebook and trying not to wonder about what that thing at Felicia Montgomery’s Halloween party had actually entailed. Well. She didn’t try all that hard, true, but whatever.
“Okay, on the one hand I can see how you might regret that,” Ariadne said as they pulled out of the parking lot, thinking of the bright blue socks she’d glimpsed peeking out from beneath the cuffs of Eames’ jeans, “but on the other hand, in what universe could you possibly regret that. I mean, have you actually seen his shoulders? Scratch that, have you actually seen his mouth?”
“Okay,” Arthur said, staring straight ahead, “this is going to be one of those things we never speak of again.”
“Okay,” Ariadne said. “Does that mean I get to try and make out with him? Because seriously--”
“No,” Arthur blurted out, and then, “I mean. Um. Yes? Do whatever you want to? Why would I care?”
“Wow,” Ariadne said, “so you’re totally screwed, I guess.”
The one other person Eames knew of turned out to be a kid called Yusuf, who had a steady, deep voice and an alarming dedication to what he called the fine art of the mash-up. He walked through the door saying something cheerful about Katy Perry and George Thorogood, and by the end of the day Dom had learned how to play “I Kissed A Girl” on the piano. Arthur made a lot of disgusted faces which were clearly directed at the mere thought of Katy Perry, but then at some point Eames told him he was being a bit of a wet blanket, really, in a ridiculously flirty way and Arthur got creepy dead eyes and didn’t say anything for the next hour except to tell Eames he was out of tune five times (four out of five it was sort of completely untrue).
“Seriously?” Ariadne said as they all dispersed. “Seriously, what the hell.”
“We are never speaking of this, we agreed.” Arthur said. “Stop talking unless you want to walk home.”
“Okay, but--” Ariadne said.
“He’s an asshole with a lack of tact no sense of personal space. Gosh, how about this weather?” Arthur said.
“This weather sucks,” Ariadne said, absolutely not in any way pouting. “It won’t tell me anything.”
“Take that, theater freaks!” An extremely tall and frankly really frightening football player said a week later, and the next thing Ariadne knew there was something very cold dripping down her nose and behind her ears and oh goodie, it was one of those mornings. Next to her, Arthur was blinking rapidly and trying to look intimidating whilst bright green slushie slid down the front of his shirt.
“Fuck off,” he said, which was succinct but also sort of unfortunately timed, since just then a gob of green ice plopped pathetically out of his hair.
The football player and his (presumably football-playing) friend evidently thought that was pretty damn funny, since they sauntered away down the hall roaring with laughter.
“You’re an insult to the legacy of Julie Andrews,” one of them shouted over his shoulder as they went.
“Dude, what?” The other said.
“Never mind,” the first said just as Eames rounded the corner, took in the scene, and decided it was time for him to defend someone’s honor.
“You bastards, what--!” Eames shouted at their retreating backs, except that Arthur rolled his eyes and said, “Oh please, shut up,” and towed him away with a firm grip on his wrist. Ariadne followed at a speedy clip, blinking a lot in an attempt to keep slushie out of her eyes and thinking that, really, she wouldn’t have minded having her honor defended by someone who was both dashing and British.
They ended up in the empty choir room, crowded around the sink. Arthur produced a washcloth from somewhere which Eames promptly appropriated, and Arthur rolled his eyes.
“Going to play nurse now?”
“Well, if you ask nicely maybe,” Eames said without any of the usual leering, and set to work, starting with Arthur’s hairline.
“What is this, lime? Is this new?” Ariadne asked as she scrubbed delicately at her own eyelids.
“Not that new I don’t think,” Arthur said. “Nash got me with it after English last week.”
“Twice in two weeks? Seems excessive,” Eames said. He’s being irrationally gentle with the washcloth, really, Ariadne thought. Arthur isn’t going to break or anything.
“Three times in two weeks,” Arthur corrected as Eames began to dab at his cheekbones. “That guy from the basketball team-- I forget his name, it’s not like we spend a lot of time in conversation or anything-- dumped a grape one over my head in the parking lot two days ago. He doesn’t believe in diversifying his flavor profile, apparently.”
“Jesus,” Eames said, pausing to wring out the washcloth. Arthur leaned forward abruptly and said, “I don’t need you for this you know. I can take care of it myself. I don’t know what’s given you the idea that you’re my babysitter--”
“No one gave me that idea, Arthur, I don’t have that idea,” Eames said, prodding at Arthur’s chest. “Lean back over the sink, honestly--”
“Why are you doing this?” Arthur said, remaining stubbornly upright. Ariadne closed her eyes and tried to think beige thoughts in an attempt to fade into the wall. For all the attention she was being paid it might’ve been working, actually, which was kind of exciting. The local papers would be all over it, she was sure: Girl Gets Slushied, Discovers Super Powers! The most exciting thing that’d happened in Lima, Ohio for decades, probably.
“Well maybe I’m your friend,” Eames said, throwing one hand up in the air and flinging water everywhere, not to mention yanking Ariadne away from planning her costume (definitely no spandex-- there was a line in the sand and it was right at spandex).
“Oh, are you?” Arthur asked. “I must’ve missed that.”
“I think you did, yes,” Eames said with a sigh, and handed over the washcloth. “Here. Don’t forget to get under your collar or it’ll be uncomfortably sticky lately.”
“I’m well aware,” Arthur said.
“I know you are,” Eames said, and left.
The next day Ariadne got to practice earlier than usual (it had become “practice” now that they were going to compete in something, somewhere, at some point) and ambushed Eames when he walked in the door.
“So,” she said, “did you by any chance woo Arthur through a series of carefully planned and perfectly executed excursions to modern art museums and Italian restaurants, dump him on Felicia Montgomery’s front lawn last Halloween, and then kill his puppy?”
“That’s going to require some explanation,” Eames said, slinging his book bag into the corner.
“I’m just trying to figure out what incredibly awful thing you did, that’s all,” Ariadne said cheerfully.
“I didn’t,” Eames said and then stopped, his mouth twisting to one side. Ariadne saw his grimace and raised him a seriously disbelieving eyebrow. Eames sighed and scrubbed a hand through his hair.
“Honestly, I didn’t do anything,” he said, sounding more tired than anything else. Ariadne frowned and opened her mouth to ask if he was secretly a CIA assassin and publicly insulting Arthur’s intelligence, sexual prowess, and mother at a Halloween party had all been part of his cover, but Mal breezed into the room just then with her smile already working overtime and Ariadne had to follow her over to the piano to talk about pretty much anything at all, so.
When Arthur walked through the door ten minutes later he was a) ten minutes late, and b) slinking. Ariadne had always thought slinking was the kind of word that only applied to stealthy jungle cats, but into the room Arthur slunk. Ariadne shot a glance at Eames and found that he was staring at Arthur in a way that suggested the slinking had all been for nought. Or, well. That was assuming the goal of the slinking had been to go unnoticed. If, on the other hand, the goal of the slinking had been to put a look in Eames’ eyes that suggested he would like nothing so much as to get Arthur in a broom closet and have his wicked way with him, the slinking had been an unparalleled success.
(Ariadne suspected that hadn’t been the point, but Arthur was a sneaky bastard, so there was always the possibility.)
“Hello darling,” Eames said, giving Arthur a ridiculously blatant once over.
“Hello Eames,” Arthur said, “please try not to sound like you’re a rogue in an awful period drama.”
“Is that your way of asking me not to call you ‘darling?’” Eames asked. “Now I’ll have to come up with something else, you realize. Would you prefer ‘pet?’”
“Frankly I’d prefer it if we didn’t speak at all,” Arthur said, a flush high on his cheekbones that Ariadne really didn’t think could be chalked up to annoyance, “but I’m guessing that’s off the table.”
“Always so cruel,” Eames said with a sigh. “What in the world did I ever do to you, pet?”
“Do I look like I’m kidding?” Arthur demanded.
“So!” Dom said. “Song selections.”
There was a silence in which Arthur and Eames glared at each other and everyone else waited for them to stop. Everyone, that was, except Yusuf. He was busy winding up his earbuds and humming what sounded a lot like Journey.
“I’m feeling conflicted here,” Ariadne managed when it became clear that no one else was going to say anything, “because you seem like an excellent musician, but your taste is awful.”
“Part of my charm,” Yusuf explained very seriously. “You just haven’t examined your true feelings about my love of Britney Spears.”
“No, I have,” Ariadne said, “but then I threw up in my mouth a little, so I had to stop.”
Arthur, who had ducked his head and was studying the linoleum, huffed out a laugh. Eames stared intently at a point around Arthur’s left elbow.
“What are we selecting songs for, exactly?” Yusuf asked, apparently unfazed by the renewed silence. “Not that I’m trying to push, you understand, but it does seem like it could be important at some point.”
“Do you think?” Eames asked, dragging his gaze away from the top of Arthur’s head, where it had wandered. He got impressively close to flippant.
“Well,” Yusuf said, “perhaps, anyway. It’s best to be prepared, don’t you think?”
“Probably,” Eames said.
Arthur rolled his eyes and said, “Wow, you’re both so hilarious, obviously you would all get along just fine without me and by the way, here are a few options.”
The manila folder Arthur produced from his backpack turned out to be full of entry forms, rules, and assorted fine print about five different competitions, all of which he thought they stood a chance of winning.
“The Sheets ‘n’ Things Show Choir Extravaganza? That’s exists?” Ariadne asked.
“You are definitely exposing the fact that you were not born in Lima right now,” Yusuf said.
“Wow, how embarrassing,” Ariadne said.
In the end they set their sights on Ohio’s Inter-Scholastic Sectionals competition, partially because it seemed like the most dignified of the options, partially because it meant going on to regionals if they won, and partially because everyone was not-so-secretly hoping to land some kind of extra credit.
“So now we actually do have to select songs,” Dom said the next day, looking slightly annoyed that he would not be spending the afternoon composing soaring piano compositions that stopped in the middle because he’d been distracted by a book about the history of the Russian monarchy, or the weather, or Mal (usually it was Mal).
“Don’t pout,” Mal said, “it’s unbecoming.”
“I cannot believe you just used the word ‘unbecoming’ in an entirely earnest fashion and got away with it,” Eames said. “And I thought I was charming.”
“You certainly did,” Arthur said. “Or do, rather.”
“Oh come on, you just said ‘rather,’” Eames said. “Stop trying to be British.”
“Anything but that, please, dear God,” Arthur said.
“But you’d get the accent! And the accent’s dead sexy, right?” Ariadne asked, because, hello, fun.
“We’re not friends,” Arthur said, glaring at Ariadne and refusing to look anywhere else at all.
“Don’t worry,” Eames said, grinning at her. “We are!”
“What about Romeo and Juliet?” Yusuf asked, leaning forward in his folding chair.
“What about them?” Arthur demanded, spluttering just slightly.
“The Dire Straits song,” Yusuf said with the kind of patience which indicated he’d dealt with just this sort of thing before. “Not your tortured romantic history with my best friend, whatever it may be.”
“You don’t-- he didn’t--” Arthur said, and then blinked and closed his mouth firmly.
“He hasn’t told me a thing,” Yusuf said, “and I am only refraining from demanding answers because oh yes, that’s right, I have better things to do.”
“Obviously,” Arthur said a beat later than he should have.
“Don’t lie,” Ariadne said in an undertone when they took a mid-way break (having decided on “Romeo and Juliet” and “I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)” as good places to start), “you’re totally dying to know.”
“Well yeah,” Yusuf said.
“Bowling, seriously?” Ariadne said that evening because, well. Bowling?
“Look, living in a small town isn’t all bad, okay? But sometimes you have to take your entertainment where you can get it. So yes. Seriously: bowling.”
“I haven’t bowled since my sixth birthday party,” Ariadne said, squinting down the lane and hauling her arm back.
There was a pause as she let fly and the bowling ball went flying into the lane immediately to their right.
“It shows,” Arthur said.
“Okay,” Ariadne said, “shut up, I hate you, now teach me how to do this before my competitive streak takes over and I commit homicide in a Lima, Ohio bowling alley.”
Two hours and an impressive number of gutter balls later, it had become clear that bowling was, perhaps, not Ariadne’s forte.
“It’s become clear that bowling is, perhaps, not your forte,” Arthur said. Ariadne leveled her best glare at him. She’d been practicing. And possibly watching Mal for pointers.
“You do get that I know kung fu, right?” Arthur asked.
Ariadne kept glaring.
“Tell you what,” Arthur said, “I’ll buy dinner. Do you like spaghetti?”
“So let me get this straight,” Ariadne said. “They’re just...not allowed to stop bringing you breadsticks?”
“I’ve heard it’s written in their company manifesto,” Arthur said. “But to be honest, I have a hard time believing that a place called Breadstix actually has a manifesto.”
“Believe it buddy,” the waitress said, snapping her gum. “We have to recite the five basic principles at the beginning of every shift.”
“And they are?” Arthur asked, sounding honest-to-god curious. Ariadne grinned.
“Don’t test me,” the waitress said, flipping her hair over her shoulder. “I will totally end you.”
“Okay, I know kung fu!” Arthur said. “So what is it with everybody threatening me tonight?”
“Please don’t start some kind of pitched battle in the middle of Lima’s finest Italian eatery,” Ariadne said. “And, um, two plates of spaghetti please?”
“Yeah, whatever,” the waitress said, but she did scribble something down on her notepad so that was probably a good sign.
“I know kung fu,” Arthur repeated to himself sullenly. “I mean seriously, when you learn an actual martial art, you kind of assume it will make you more threatening.”
“I’m terrified of you, personally,” Ariadne said.
“People who know kung fu should not end up with crushed ice and artificial flavoring dripping down their designer pants,” Arthur said.
“I’m pretty sure no one should?” She said. “But, you know. People suck.”
“Wow, thanks,” Arthur said. The corner of his mouth lifted up, though. “‘People suck,’ that’s really enlightening. I’m going to bring that up in my psychology class, that’s--”
“Wow, shut up,” Ariadne said. “Oh, I know, let’s talk about Eames!”
“Definitely your turn to shut up now,” Arthur said.
“Nope, I don’t think so,” Ariadne said. “Feels a lot more like it’s my turn to push forward mercilessly until you spill the beans.”
“You are reading the situation terribly then,” Arthur said.
“So, okay, how about this: maybe you are deathly allergic to charming, handsome, intelligent, witty, and chivalrous British men. Arthur, I am so sorry. That is seriously tragic.”
“I’m allergic to loudmouthed, cocky, over-the-top teenaged guys,” Arthur said. “It’s the bane of my existence.”
“Your heart totally wasn’t in that,” Ariadne said. “Admit it.”
“This is an invasion of my personal privacy,” Arthur said. “I can’t believe I’m paying for my own interrogation dinner.”
“And now you’re dodging the question,” Ariadne said. “Come on. What did he do? I am genuinely curious. Besides, if whatever it was is that awful, I should not even be speaking to him. I’m on your side, I am not going to make nice with the guy that broke your heart. Assuming that’s what he did.”
Arthur didn’t say anything.
“He’s honestly so terrible that it’s, like, classified information?” Ariadne asked, her stomach churning uncomfortably. “Give me some sense of scale, here.”
“He’s not terrible,” Arthur said finally. “He’s just annoying. He didn’t do anything at all.”
“That does not make any sense whatsoever,” Ariadne said, but Arthur had spoken so quietly that it felt wrong to push and anyway, the spaghetti had arrived.
“So when are you going to start asking questions?” Eames asked a week and a half later. They were leaving Lima Lanes, their own shoes firmly secure on their feet.
“What?” Ariadne said in her best, ‘I am sweet and innocent’ tone. In this particular case, her best wasn’t very good.
“You seem like a charming young lady,” Eames said cheerfully, “and we’ve known each other for a while now. I’d even like to call us friends. But you don’t seem to enjoy bowling, and you clearly don’t do it because you’re good at it--”
“Hey!” Ariadne said, but the point wasn’t really worth arguing.
“So obviously,” Eames continued smoothly, “I’m here because you have bubbly questions about me and Arthur swimming around in your brain.”
“...So?” Ariadne said.
“There’s really nothing to tell,” Eames said, which was so obviously a lie that Ariadne was pretty much ready to give in to a total giggle fit except--
“Hey, you two!” A familiar voice called out from behind them.
“Oh excellent,” Eames said, “one of those lovely gentlemen from school.”
“I cannot believe I’m about to get beat up in the parking lot behind a bowling alley,” Ariadne said as the footsteps behind them grew closer. “Lamest after-school special ever.”
“It’ll be fine,” Eames said in an undertone.
“Hey, James Bond,” the kid said, yanking on Eames’ shoulder. Eames turned around and Ariadne followed with a slow pivot, seriously pissed off at how badly her knees were shaking.
“You do understand that you’re being complimentary right now, don’t you?” Eames asked, dropping his book bag to the asphalt.
“Shut up David Beckham,” the boy said.
“You’re just naming British people now,” Eames said, casually shifting his weight to his back foot. “Also, I’m pretty sure that last month you begged me to show up to your party and ‘make it cool, dude.’”
“That was before you joined the dork parade.”
“If there was an actual dork parade I can assure you I would march,” Eames said. “I can further assure you that I enjoy both Star Trek and Harry Potter. But I’m guessing we’re not talking about an actual parade--”
“Shut up,” the kid growled. “And does that shirt have flowers on it?”
“Respect the shirt,” Eames said, which was when Mr. I Play Football And Am Also Terrifying took a swing at his head. Eames ducked, and the guy advanced in a way that was pretty much textbook menacing.
Ariadne did not scream, although it was possible she squeaked, just briefly. Then she darted forward and stamped on his toes.
“Ow, fuck,” he said and reached out to shove her except Eames had gotten in the way somehow and this was not going to be at all good, was it?
“Did you seriously just try to hit a girl?” Arthur asked from the curb. He was emerging from his car, shedding his backpack on the way and rolling up the sleeves on his insanely expensive jacket.
“Ooh, you must’ve flashed the Nerd Signal while we weren’t looking,” the guy sneered at Eames and honestly, Ariadne was thinking underneath the ever present oh shit oh shit oh shit hum, he could really use some remedial “witty banter” lessons.
“That really cuts to the quick,” Eames said. “Look, are you going to hit me, or...?”
“Yep,” the guy said and punched him in the face.
“You are such an asshole,” Arthur said, furious, and Ariadne blinked and then yeah, Arthur had definitely just come down on that guy’s kneecap with his fist, hard, and Eames had kicked him in the shins which seemed pretty effective, and then she was being shoved into Arthur’s car and they were peeling out of the parking lot.
“What happened to kung fu?” Ariadne asked shakily.
“I kind of panicked,” Arthur said. “And can I just say, my hand really fucking hurts. And you are lucky I was driving by, both of you.”
“I don’t need you to take care of me you know,” Eames said lightly from the backseat.
“Are you seriously making fun of me right now?” Arthur demanded. “Quit talking, you’ll probably make your nose worse.”
“My nose is fine,” Eames said, although the fact that everything he was saying was muffled through the tissue he was pressing up against his face seemed to belie the assertion just slightly.
“Also, what makes you think it was you I was taking care of? Ariadne was there too, you know,” Arthur said five minutes later-- five minutes too late-- and when Ariadne caught sight of Eames in the rearview mirror he was smiling.
“My son is extremely hard-working!” Beth Ann Spellman wailed. “He has been at this school for five years and is an invaluable contributor to the student body!”
“I think you must mean four years,” Principal Saito’s secretary politely said as she shifted through the filing cabinet. “Hold on, I’m just trying to find your son’s file--”
“She means five years,” Saito said, staring straight ahead. “Benjamin Anthony Spellman is repeating his senior year of high school. He is failing all of his classes except for Physical Education and, rather incongruously, Ceramics II.”
“Shaping clay gives me a creative outlet, okay?” Benjamin Spellman muttered, staring at the ground beneath his feet.
“See? He’s sensitive!” Ms. Spellman shrieked. Saito somehow gave the impression of grimacing and clapping his hands over his ears without actually doing it. Ariadne was kind of in awe. Beside her, Eames shot her a quick, sideways smile.
“He’s always been like that,” Arthur muttered from her left. “It’s scary but, you know. Really cool.”
“I want to know how you are going to punish these-- these miscreants for physically harming my darling boy!” Ms. Spellman said.
“I would appreciate it, Ms. Spellman, if you lowered voice by an octave. Ideally, by two,” Saito said. “Ms. Freed, I think you will find that Benjamin’s file has its own drawer.”
“It’s own...? Oh,” Saito’s secretary said and then, “Oh. Hmm.”
“The bottom drawer of my filing cabinet,” Saito said, still with a total lack of inflection, “is dedicated to the various misbehaviors, both major and minor, of a few outstanding offenders. Your son is one of them. His remaining at this school for a fifth year is, of course, necessary for his education but it did come as a real blow to everyone here to hold him back all the same. We were looking forward to inflicting him on the rest of the world.”
“I can sue you for that!” Ms. Spellman said. “That’s slander! I can sue you for that and I absolutely will!”
Saito arched one ridiculously impassive eyebrow. There was a pause. Ms. Spellman coughed and shifted slightly in her chair.
“Well, as we have no proof and as these three,” Saito gestured toward Eames, Arthur, and Ariadne, “have spotless academic and behavioral records, I’m afraid we will have to let them go with an apology for taking up their time. Ms. Spellman, I await what I am sure is your inevitable return to my office, at which time I presume we will be discussing which underclassman your son has shoved into whose locker.”
Ms. Spellman and her son, with various hmph-ings and well-I-nevers, made their way out the door.
“I do not want to hear of anything like this happening again, is that understood?” Saito said once they were gone.
“Never again, definitely not, you’ve got it--” Ariadne said.
Saito cleared his throat.
“Shutting up now,” Ariadne said.
“Wow, bruised knuckles,” Dom said that afternoon after the three of them had filed sheepishly into the choir room. “That’s very action hero, Arthur, I’m impressed.”
“Sometimes, I think it would be better if nobody talked at all,” Arthur said.
“You would be dreadfully bored without us,” Mal said from the piano, which she was perched atop in a way that should have been totally cheesy.
“Hmm, boredom,” Arthur said. “Sounds nice.”
“Come on,” Yusuf said, grinning. “We are very glad you are all alive and relatively unharmed, apart from your awesome action hero injuries, obviously. Now, shall we run through ‘Come Fly With Me?’”
Frank Sinatra, it had been decided, was a good way to showcase Arthur. It had been fairly simple to arrange group harmonies for the chorus, which left the verses free for solos.
“It’ll be awesome,” Ariadne had said, grinning. “Well dress you up in a suit-- hell, you’ll do that yourself!-- and comb your hair back, give you some lyrics about gliding, starry-eyed--”
“And the female judges will swoon at your feet,” Mal finished, triumphant.
“Yes, fine, whatever,” Arthur said.
“Bruised knuckles,” Dom repeated. “That’s very Sinatra, actually. Well done, Arthur, getting into character. Smart.”
“I am going to sing now,” Arthur said. “You can all nurse your crush on Frank Sinatra in the corner, okay?”
The thing was, if Ariadne hadn’t already had a crush on Frank Sinatra (which, full disclosure: it was a small one, but Guys and Dolls had pretty much won her over), listening to Arthur sing his stuff probably would’ve done the trick. He really did have a gorgeous voice: pure, and he soared around the high notes. He made everything sound infuriatingly, wonderfully effortless.
“Bravo,” Eames said once he had finished, “except that you didn’t look like you enjoyed it. At all.”
“Look, did it sound good?” Arthur asked, turning his back to collect the sheet music.
“It sounded incredibly good,” Eames said. “It was amazing. But did you not have any fun?”
“It’s what I’m good at,” Arthur said. “It doesn’t really matter if I like it.”
“No,” Eames said. “No, no, no. There is no one, anywhere, who can sound as good as you do whilst maintaining apathy. No. I refuse to believe it.”
Arthur shrugged. And blushed. And pressed the heel of his shoe against the floor in a way that somehow conveyed anxiety and grief and bliss. Arthur had crazy expressive shoes, Ariadne thought dazedly. She also thought: what the hell happened with you two?
“Well maybe I’d enjoy it more if you weren’t here,” Arthur said, and then visibly bit down on his lip.
“Maybe you would,” Eames agreed, and it was just another Arthur-and-Eames-are-dysfunctionally-in-l
In the end, Ariadne did the only thing she could think of, which was treat Arthur to the wonder of french fries dipped in a Dairy Queen milkshake and interrogate him under the fast food fluorescents. It turned out to be depressingly useless-- she began suspect him of some kind of hidden CIA background-- because all he did was stonewall her and then, just when she was getting kind of pissed off he’d pull out this sad little smile that was all about, “oh, I’m fine, I’m absolutely fine, I’m not heartbroken in any way whatsoever,” which was seriously unfair.
“Fine,” she said, finishing her burger and holding her hands up in the air. “Fine. I give up. Take me home?”
“Sure,” he said, smiling, and screw it, maybe she didn’t need to know.
They were stopped at a red light five minutes later, the streets around them nearly deserted, when it happened.
“Um. I just kind of freaked out?” Arthur offered, flushing slightly. “I mean. It was, you know. It was a corner of Felicia Montgomery’s living room. It was full of people, and noise, and did I mention the people? Drunk people. Drunk people that I hated. And, I don’t know, living room things--”
“Living room things?” Ariadne said.
“I swear, I could feel Felicia’s mom’s potted plant watching,” Arthur said, looking thoroughly miserable. “So I just. Kind of. Ran away?”
Ariadne stared. She considered saying, “Did you know that when you talk about him you basically lose your brain-to-mouth filter completely and just spout words?” but decided against it.
“He’s British,” Arthur hissed, unprompted, as if that explained everything. “He’s British, and incredibly good-looking, and did I mention British? And he can sing, and yes I have noticed his shoulders, thanks, and I had basically been pathetically pining over him for, like, two months, and then he tried to kiss me in a room full of obnoxious drunk people and I think I said something about having to walk my dog, or wash my car, or walk my car, I have no idea actually, and then I basically ran out the door and everyone thinks we snuck upstairs to have sex on Felicia’s parents’ bed, obviously, which is disgusting and also really unfair because if everyone is going to assume I had sex with a gorgeous British person I would like to have actually had that sex.”
Ariadne stared some more. Arthur refused to look her in the eye. The silence stretched for two and a half blocks, during which time it started to rain, Ariadne ate the last two french fries, they pulled into Ariadne’s driveway, and the radio told them about the great deals they could get at Hummel Auto Repair.
“Oh my God are you telling me you guys haven’t even kissed, what the hell, he so obviously wants to ravish you,” Ariadne said. “And also, Arthur, you don’t even have a dog!”
“I know,” Arthur said miserably, and face-planted into the steering wheel.
“I don’t want to do the song,” Arthur said the next day.
“What?” Dom said, looking up from the piano. Mal stopped do-re-mi-ing and glanced over, worry darkening her blue eyes.
“I don’t want to do the Frank Sinatra,” Arthur said. “You should give it to someone else. I don’t want it.”
“Alright, that’s it, everybody out,” Eames said. Ariadne exchanged glances with Yusuf and then followed Mal out the door. Dom brought up the rear of their little procession, and headed off down the hall with his sheet music. Mal followed him, and Yusuf started to wander in the direction of the library. He stopped when he realized he was alone.
“Ariadne?” He said, turning. She held a frantic finger up to her lips.
“I’ll be right there,” she hissed and made shooing motions. He rolled his eyes.
“You’re telling me all about it later,” he muttered, and she nodded and pressed herself against the wall just outside the door.
“You sound amazing,” Eames said. “You should do the song. Everybody will love it. I’m sorry about what I said about apathy. I’m sorry about whatever else I did, too.”
“Everybody will not love it-- never mind that, I’m not really interested in gaining any kind of high school notoriety anyway,” Arthur said.
“They will,” Eames said, after a moment of quiet. “And I’d offer to duet with you on it if I thought you’d say yes.”
“I thought you had told everybody we slept together, or told everybody I was a terrible kisser, or told everybody I was a coward and ran away. I don’t know. I don’t know what I thought,” Arthur said suddenly. “But it wasn’t complimentary.”
“I can sort of see that,” Eames said.
There was a pause. Ariadne held her breath.
“I didn’t tell anybody anything,” Eames said.
“I can sort of see that,” Arthur said.
“I’m going to kiss you now,” Eames said.
Ariadne chose that moment to give them some-- probably well-deserved-- privacy but, presumably, he did.