Word count: 4,171
Warnings: language, underage, age difference (16/32), mentions of non-con
Summary: AU. Eames is a burned out university professor who goes to the park for lunch to get away from the chaos of his life. There he meets 16-year-old Arthur and begins to befriend him for his ability to have an intelligent conversation with him. When he discovers the boy is homeless, he decides to take care of him, but things with Arthur get more complicated than he could ever expect.
For the next five days, Arthur was bedridden.
He battled a fever and a terrible cough when he was awake, but he slept ninety percent of the time. On that fifth day, his cough lessened in its ferocity, and his fever stayed low-grade, and he seemed a bit more present.
On the sixth day, Eames came home to find that Arthur wasn't even in bed.
"Arthur?" he called out.
Arthur wandered out of Eames's office, arms folded around himself, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, still ashen faced but looking otherwise much better. "H—hey," he said awkwardly. "I was wondering where you'd gone."
Eames held up a bag of McDonald's and offered Arthur a smile and received one in return.
They sat together at the coffee table, eating in silence. It was only when breakfast was finished that one of them spoke.
It was Arthur.
"You're good at forgery."
It came a bit out of left field, and Eames just found himself staring for a long second. "Pardon?" he asked.
Arthur looked up at him. "You're good at forgery," he repeated, "at least good enough to convince the university staff that hired you."
Eames remained silent, just watching Arthur, waiting for him to continue.
Arthur didn't disappoint. "Your degree. It's a forgery, isn't it?"
"What makes you think that?" Eames asked lightly, a smirk playing on his lips.
Arthur pressed his fingertips together and explained, "Well… I've had to forge a lot of things to get by, and to be honest I was pretty much fooled… except you keep it hidden in your desk rather than hanging it on your wall. It's so no one can find the subtle little mistakes, right? I've had to look at it several times before I spotted them."
Eames sat back. "Well, you caught me. I was only short a couple of classes, mind you, but no—technically I didn't graduate."
"Then why be a teacher?"
Eames shrugged. "I enjoyed the classroom setting. I loved the learning process, the passion for knowledge."
"So… why didn't you graduate?"
"I'm a bit surprised that wasn't your first question, but the truth is my mum got sick and I had to take care of her. I ended up failing some of my courses, and I couldn't afford to go back."
"Oh…" Arthur mumbled, pulling a knee up to his chest and wrapping his hands around it. "Did she get better?"
"She did. I couldn't tell her that I failed though. She was so proud of me for getting into the university in the first place, and she was still fragile, so… well, I faked it. I always had the intention of going back, but I never really had the chance. Time slipped away from me."
"…but… you wanted to be an actor."
"Sometimes we don't always get what we want. When I was young, I'd wanted desperately for that, yes. School was a backup plan, in case I didn't make it, and because no one in my family had ever made it into a university. I tried the acting thing, and it didn't work out… and I think… I think it's because I wanted it for all the wrong reasons. I acted because I wanted to feel something. I wanted to be someone… because I was so numb on the inside and starved for attention. It's quite pathetic that it took me so long to realize."
"We all have our problems," Arthur said. "So, you realized it now?"
"I have… and I suppose that's why I should apologize."
"Apologize?" Arthur asked, looking at him as though he were a lunatic. "For what?"
"I used you," Eames said softly. "I used you to quell my loneliness."
"Oh," Arthur said, eyes drifting off to the side, his awkwardness returning. "Well… no big deal… it's not like I haven't been used before. At least you were nice to me about it."
"That doesn't make it all right. Arthur… I know you don't realize it, but the way you've been mistreated your entire life is… wrong."
"I know that," Arthur replied, blinking. "Well, I mean—in the sense I know it's wrong by societal standards, but the fact of the matter is that… well, I've lived this way my whole life. This is how it's supposed to be."
"No it isn't."
"Yeah, well… what do you know," Arthur mumbled, and there was absolutely no bite to it. "I was never meant for this world, Eames… No one's ever wanted me or needed me for any real reason. I'm smart but not smart enough; I'm stealthy but not stealthy enough. My future is already laid out before me. I mean, come on, let's face it. I'm going to continue being a whore because I can't get good work, and eventually I'll turn to drugs because I'm dead inside, and then I'll die. No one will miss me."
Eames wanted to cry at that, but instead he asked, "If you were never meant for this world then why the bloody hell were you brought into it?"
Arthur looked up at him, blank faced. "I was another of my mom's many mistakes. Don't you see? Don't give me that 'everything happens for a reason, everyone has a purpose' bullshit. Some people are here for no reason other than making other people feel better about themselves for not being them."
Eames sighed and carded a hand through Arthur's hair. He could tell by the dotting of sweat along his forehead that he was still running a small fever. "All right… I won't feed you any of that… but may I say something?" Arthur nodded. "You are… sixteen years old, correct? Sixteen and full of piss and vinegar and trouble. You've barely begun to even live, so how the fuck are you supposed to know what your purpose is just yet? Maybe you have one and maybe you don't, but you can't be sure right now."
"What makes you think that?" Arthur retaliated, looking a bit surprised to find Eames not immediately lapping up everything he fed him.
"Because no one knows their purpose when they're sixteen whether you grew up on the streets or grew up in a posh suburb, and I believe that you know that. No one knows what their future holds. If my sixteen year old self was sitting here at this moment, I guarantee he would tell you that he was going to be a famous actor all around the world, and he would be as stubborn and trouble-seeking as you are. He would also know absolutely nothing about himself, would be entirely too terrified to even face it, and never trust anyone to tell him differently."
Arthur stared at him flatly, and Eames chuckled. "He would look at me a lot like you're looking at me now. Are you aware how much older you look with that little wrinkle between your eyebrows?"
Arthur's eyes turned towards the floor for a long moment, and that little wrinkle didn't disappear. "I really don't understand you. You're this… complete pushover who I took advantage of, and then suddenly you turn into this angry motherfucker who never wants to see me again, and then… well, fuck, I don't know who you are."
"I'm still figuring it out myself," Eames said with a shrug, "and I'm thirty-two bloody years old. That's why I'm telling you not to give up on yourself just yet."
Arthur stood up, arms folding around himself, and started pacing, looking gradually more and more uncomfortable. Eames wasn't sure what he'd said to make him so upset, wasn't sure if maybe Arthur's thoughts had drifted to more unsettling things on their own.
"You're so full of it," Arthur said, voice strained. "I just… I don't get it. I don't get you. You're a fucking contradiction, you know? You like me, and then you hate my guts—you tell me you can't and won't help me ever again, and then you drag me back to your apartment and nurse me back to health… and for what? I'm just going to go back on the streets again. I'm just going to go right back to what I was doing. Why are you bothering? Why are you wasting your time?"
Eames took hold of Arthur's shirt tail to get him to stop moving. "Arthur," he said frankly, "I've never thought you were a waste of time."
"I am," Arthur said. "I'm a big waste of time. I mean—fuck, look at what I've done to you. I've made you agonize and worry and suffer… You really shouldn't bother with me, Eames… I'm just a damaged item. You were right about me, okay? I was a big mistake."
"I never said you were a mistake," Eames clarified. "Darling—"
Arthur pulled himself free and paced again, albeit more slowly. "I'm just going to keep using you. Don't you realize that? Don't you see what you're doing to yourself—Oh! Oh, I see, I get it. You're trying to hurt yourself. You're trying to fuck yourself over because you're full of self-loathing. I understand now. You're just as fucked up as you've ever been, and you want me to take me down with you so you won't be alone."
Eames raised an eyebrow, and Arthur stilled, falling silent when he didn't get a response.
"Aren't you going to try to deny it?" Arthur asked, confused.
"I don't think you were talking about me, love," Eames replied.
Opened his mouth and closed it.
"I wasn't—I wasn't talking about me—"
"Trying to hurt yourself? Fuck yourself over? Take someone down with you so you don't have to it alone?" Eames said quietly. "That sounds like you, Arthur."
"No, it doesn't!" Arthur denied, eyes flashing.
"You've been self-destructing ever since your mother left. You blame yourself for it, don't you?"
"That's not true!" Arthur cried, trembling. "I don't care about her or that she left—I was just trying to find her to—to—"
"To ask her why?" Eames answered for him.
Arthur's shoulders sagged, and his eyes welled with tears he refused to cry. "What do you know?" he spat again.
Eames stood, not letting Arthur wound him with a single sharp word. "I've had a lot of time to think about this," he told him, settling his hands on Arthur's shoulders. "I know that's why you've been doing all of this… why you don't care what happens to you. You want to believe that no one cares about you. I want to know why that is."
"I don't… care about myself…" Arthur said. "Why should anyone else?... but I'm not—I'm not trying to self-destruct or anything, I mean. I'm not. You—You're the one who's doing that, not me. I'm fine."
"Arthur," Eames said again, gentle, thumbs rubbing circles on his collar bone. "It's okay… It's okay to be afraid. To be hurt… but what your mother did wasn't your fault, and you can't blame yourself for that… It's okay to want someone to be there for you, and it's okay to let them care about you. I care about you, Arthur, I do, and that's not going to change."
Arthur stared up at him, lower lip trembling. "N—no you don't… No, no, I don't want you to!"
"I know," Eames replied, squeezing his shoulders just a little. "You don't want to legitimize yourself because that makes everything that happened to you real."
"Nothing happened to me!" Arthur shrieked, feebly trying to escape Eames's grip. He still hadn't gotten his strength back, and Eames had a feeling his fever was on the rise. "I told you—I'm fine—I'm not—I'm not as messed up as you think I am! I'm in control of the situation! I do what I want to do, and no one can hurt me!"
The room fell silent save for Arthur's heavy wheezing. Eames stayed where he was, hands on Arthur's shoulders, looking down at those dark eyes lined with tears.
Arthur blinked, one tear sliding down his cheek.
"Arthur," Eames said softly. "It's okay. I'm here. I'm not going anywhere, love."
Arthur blinked again, two more tears, one on each cheek slipping free. "It's not okay…" he said, voice wobbling. "…Why?... Why did she leave me?"
Eames pulled him into his arms, rocking him gently as Arthur sobbed quietly into his chest. He petted Arthur's hair and cooed sweet nothings at him, providing as much comfort as he could.
Arthur quieted and looked up at Eames, hopeless, scared. "E—Eames…" he choked, sniffing. "W… was I raped…?"
Eames's heart broke, and he asked, "Were you?"
Arthur's face screwed up. "I was… He… That guy, he…" he said and fell into another fit of sobs, loud and ugly.
Eames ended up having to carry him back to bed, tucking him in and stroking his arm until he cried himself to sleep.
It was horrible and sad, but… well…
At least it was progress.
Arthur was bedridden for a couple more days.
Eames watched over him when he could, but he was asleep most of the time anyway.
Eames himself had been sleeping on the couch. He awoke with a start when he felt a hand on his chest, but it was only Arthur, and he didn't appear to be trying anything. In fact… something was… different.
It only took a moment before Eames realized it was his eyes. They were swollen and wet like he'd never stopped crying, and…
They were honey brown.
The darkness in them was gone.
It was like looking at a different person.
"Arthur?" Eames questioned, not sure if he was dreaming or not.
"I just thought that I would say goodbye," Arthur said, and he looked and sounded older. Eames also noticed at that moment that he'd taken one of Eames's duffel bags out of the closet and had it slouched over his shoulder, probably full of the clothes Eames had bought him and maybe a couple of his books.
"Goodbye?" Eames asked, sitting up on his elbows. "Where are you going?"
Arthur looked away for a moment. "I… don't really know… Maybe a shelter or something. Maybe just… I don't know, someone who can help me. The private investigator found some of my family members a couple of towns over. If I can make a little money, maybe I can get him to give me their address or phone number, and they can… I don't know, take me in or something. I just need some help."
"Someone to help you find your mum?"
Arthur shook his head, a solemn half-smile forming on his lips. "I already found her. She died two years ago. She's buried in a cemetery not far from here, but her grave isn't marked, so I can't visit it."
"When… when did you learn that?"
Arthur shrugged. "Sometime between when I left and got mugged."
Arthur shook his head, silencing him, sitting down on the coffee table. "I… I wanted to say I was sorry for everything I've done to you. I know you think you used me and all that, but… but I'm the one who used you. In the end, you really were just trying to help me, and I took advantage of your kindness. I'm a bastard in every sense of the word.
"But… you should know that—the things I've said to you about how I trust you… that's true. I'd even go so far as to say that I… that…" he hesitated, cheeks flushing surprisingly innocently. "That I might love you a little bit… if I'm capable of it, I mean… I don't even know how to love someone.
"Anyway…" he stood up. "I hope you don't mind if I take this bag and stuff. I just kind of need it right now, and—and I'll bring it back to you someday. When I can. When I'm better."
Eames stood too, taking Arthur's frail shoulders in his hands again, heart aching. "You have helped me learn to accept myself, you know. For the first time in my life, I'm starting to like who I am—who I really am," he told Arthur. "You may have had a very unorthodox method, but you've helped me, and I love you very much for that. That's why I can't let you walk out that door without being absolutely sure you'll be all right."
Arthur smiled at him. "I will be all right. I'm not going to whore myself out anymore. I'll just have to find some other way to get by… I don't… I don't want to hate myself anymore. I don't want to blame myself. I will never get the answers to why my mother left me, but I can't keep telling myself that it's my fault and that no one is going to give a shit if I die or not… because… you care. I don't know why, but you do."
Eames lifted a hand and pushed it through Arthur's bangs, marveling at the way his eyelashes fluttered a little. "You're just a kid," Eames said. "A smart, wonderful kid. You're going to be okay."
"If I start to slip up, all I have to do is think of you," Arthur said. "That… that look on your face when you found me. The way you were so nice to me. The way you saw me when no one else did and tried to help me even with detriment to your own well-being. You didn't have to do that."
"You're my friend," Eames shrugged.
"Maybe someday, I could be more than your friend," Arthur said. "Not now, obviously… but someday? It's possible? I'm not asking you to wait for me or anything—"
"Maybe someday," Eames answered, mostly just out of kindness. There was a little part of him that wanted it too, but… well, he couldn't listen to that side of him right now. "Let me get you a cab to wherever you need to go."
"I can't afford—"
Eames dug out his wallet and gave Arthur the three-hundred dollars he had there. "I know it's not much, but it should help you start to get where you need to go. Find your family. Live your life. Be happy. I want you to be happy, Arthur."
"I can't accept this."
"Take it," Eames said, folding Arthur's fingers around it. "I don't want you getting money by less legitimate means."
"I won't," Arthur said, pouting a little, but then he broke into a tiny grin, dimpling one cheek. "Thank you. Eames."
"My pleasure, darling."
Arthur pushed himself up on his tiptoes and kissed Eames, innocent and sweet, as if it was his very first kiss, and Eames kissed him back with the same state of mind.
"I'll bring this stuff back," Arthur assured him, touching the side of his face. "You stay gold there, okay Ponyboy?"
"Are you taking my copy of The Outsiders?" Eames asked, ruffling his hair.
"I'll bring it back."
Eames called him a taxi, and entirely too soon, Arthur was gone out of his life.
Eames never said goodbye.
Arthur sent him a letter or two for the first few months, but those dropped off, and for the next three years Eames didn't hear from him again. A couple of missed calls once in a while might have been him, but Eames never could be sure.
He had taken up jogging in the mornings to stay in some sort of shape and had started wearing glasses to help his worsening eye sight, but he still thought he looked pretty good considering he was in his mid-thirties. He'd had a couple of boyfriends by then (but was currently single), was officially out of the closet to pretty much everyone (not that he was making it obvious; his private life was his own business after all), and he'd switched to teaching night classes on Tuesdays only so that he could act in the local community theater. Sure, he wasn't a famous actor with a shelf full of Oscars or anything, but he was happier than he'd ever been.
His first class of the year was about to start, and he was already in the room, looking over his syllabus for any errors he might have missed even though it wouldn't really matter now that he'd already printed thirty copies. He didn't notice when the first student entered the room, didn't notice anything really until there was a loud thump on his desk.
Eames turned to see a duffel bag filled to the brim with books. The person beside it, well…
He was tall, possibly an inch taller than Eames, dark hair slicked back on his head to bring attention to the sharpness of his features and perfectly shaped bow lips. He was dressed in dark corduroy trousers and high-tops, with a red sweater over an angelic white collared shirt, and his hands were shoved in his pockets.
"You've grown into those lanky limbs of yours," Eames said, almost wistful, as if he couldn't quite believe that it was Arthur standing there.
"A couple of growth spurts and a healthy diet will do that to you," Arthur replied with a smirk, honey brown eyes just gleaming. Fuck, he sounded so grown up.
"What are you doing here?" Eames asked in wonder.
"Returning your stuff with some interest," Arthur said, pointing to the bag. "Also, class."
It took a long moment for Eames to register what he meant. "You're… in this class?"
Arthur snorted and extended his hand. "Arthur Drexler is me, yes. Nice to meet you, Mr. Eames."
Eames smirked and took the hand, shaking it firmly. "You're a college man then, are you?"
"Full ride scholarship," Arthur replied lightly. "Can we talk after class?"
Eames only then noticed the other students filing in.
It was weird to teach with Arthur watching him. If Eames didn't look at him directly, he'd see the same scrawny runt of a boy he was familiar with. Of course, he had a hard time not looking at him directly because damn if Arthur didn't look fantastic.
It was like he was an entirely different person. He was pretty sure Arthur was.
The class went well enough, despite Eames being the slightest bit distracted the entire time. He was charming and funny and the other students loved him. Arthur sat quietly in the back of the class, scribbling away notes in his notebook. No one knew or even suspected that he was once a homeless prostitute, and that was the first thing Arthur pointed out once the other students had cleared out.
"They have no idea," he chuckled, wandering casually towards Eames. "The faculty does though. I wrote about it in my essay that I sent in for my scholarships."
"That partially explains your full ride. How have you been, Arthur?"
"I've… been busy? I guess?" Arthur shrugged, hopping up onto Eames's desk, kicking his legs off of the side. "Yeah, I mean… the private investigator led me to my grandmother, and she took me in. She's strict as hell, wouldn't let me smoke, but she got my ass in gear. I completed four years of high school work in two and a half thanks to her tutelage."
"That's great, Arthur," Eames said, and he genuinely meant it.
"I've also, um… I've also been seeing a therapist?" he said unsurely, as if he was embarrassed to admit it. "It's really helped me a lot… but I don't really… I mean, I guess I just get defensive even now. Bad habits die hard and whatnot."
Eames smiled at him. "You're doing well then. That's bloody brilliant, Arthur, really."
Arthur looked out the window, his eyes still achieving that lonely distance they had tended to have in the past, but it faded away much more quickly than it used to. "How are you?" Arthur asked, turning those eyes on Eames.
"Fantastic," Eames told him. "I'm acting again, and I'm just… happy."
Arthur beamed, his whole face lighting up with the smile. "Awesome, Eames. That's great."
Silence lapsed between them for a long moment. Eames shuffled his feet, adjusted his briefcase.
"I missed you," Arthur said softly. "I'm sorry I didn't write. My grandma didn't trust I was writing to someone worthwhile. She was convinced that you were my drug dealer or pimp or something."
Eames laughed, clapping a hand on Arthur's shoulder. "Oh, darling… I've missed you too."
He didn't realize how much until that moment.
Arthur bit his bottom lip for a moment and hesitantly asked, "Do you think we could go get coffee or something sometime? I mean… I'm not trying to ask you out or anything—u-unless you want to, that is, um… I just… I'd like to talk to you."
"I'd like that," Eames said. "Perhaps that, or… perhaps we could share a sandwich in the park."
Arthur's eyes lit up. "That… I think I can manage."
OMG it's FINALLY done. Sorry it took so long. I've been so swamped. *faints*