Between the Musty Pages of the Storybook We Call Home

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Disclaimer: I do not own Inception or the characters

Warnings: M/M pairing, highschool AU, stereotypes, bullying

Rating: T

Pairing: Arthur/Eames

Notes: So a lot of people have been commenting on the fact that I've been writing a lot of dark and sad fics, so here's a happier one for the holiday season :)

Also, two important points: One: I officially have an editor for my stories, but I didn't have time to get this story edited before I lost internet for a few weeks, so no yelling at me or my editor for this one! :P Two: From Dec 11 - Dec 26 I will have limited access to internet. Know that I love you all dearly for your reviews, and I will respond to every review and private message as soon as possible; it might just take me a little while. And Three (because who said I could count?): If you want to read a full update on my life, why I'll be without internet, my addiction to Skyrim, etc, feel free to check out my post on DeviantART (link on my FFnet profile)

Summary: Arthur, a bullied bookworm, and Eames, a bully jock, could not be more different. Yet they find solace in one another and the most unlikely shared love of storybooks. Arthur/Eames

Arthur liked the library. It was the one place on school property he knew, without a doubt, that he wouldn't have to watch his back. That didn't mean Arthur wasn't naturally inclined to give every library visitor a brief glance to ensure they were harmless anyway, but he was as calm as his cautious nature would allow him. The jocks and cheerleaders that made his life hell in and between classes never bothered to venture into the school library, too busy finding someone else to complete their homework. And when, by some ill-fate one of them did tread into Arthur's library, the librarian was much more protective of him than Arthur's apathetic teachers.

Arthur shelved books during his lunch and free period to keep himself off the school playground and out of sight. He wasn't generally the type of person to run away from a fight, but fighting back had only gotten him shunned further with a bloody nose and a twisted wrist. The trouble was that he couldn't understand their interest in him, or the insults they threw at him. There was nothing wrong with being pale – Arthur seemed to burn and never tan, so he avoided the sun. There was nothing wrong with enjoying your own company. And if they were jealous of his intelligence they could more easily remedy that by studying themselves than wasting their time picking on Arthur. In the end the easiest thing seemed to be just to ignore them and not give them many opportunities to start a fight.

Despite hating himself some days for hiding, for forcing himself to stay in the library, Arthur really didn't mind it. The head librarian was as nice as his mom, fretting over him and bringing an extra cookie in her lunch just for Arthur each Monday after she baked on the weekend. The library was sizable for a high school and quiet, and the musty smell of books comfortingly reminded Arthur of his home before they had moved. He had had so many books lining his walls in his old home that his room smelled familiar and old in a good way. Arthur had brought many of these books with him when they moved to a new town for his dad's new job, but they hadn't been sitting out long enough to combat the overpowering smell of new paint.

He also managed to make some trustworthy friends in the library as people came and went. He met Ariadne when she brought a book to the returns desk nearly in tears, her hands cradling the torn book like an injured baby bird. "I'm so sorry," she had said, "I tried to fix it but Jacob-"

Arthur knew Jacob, the second string quarterback, and his mysterious hatred of books quite well, so he said "It's okay" and gave her a small smile as he gingerly took the book from her hand. Even though the book's spine was beyond help they managed to get the pages taped up properly. They bonded over their hatred of bullies and their heartbreak over broken books and, even though they didn't share a free period, Ariadne began visiting Arthur each day to talk during their lunch period.

Yusuf was another friend he had made in the library. They shared Chemistry and Math class but always ended up sitting on opposite sides of the room. They were both quiet and reserved so they never ended up talking until they ran into one another in the library, searching for the same books for their Chemistry experiments. Since then he and Yusuf had become partners for just about every group project in their shared classes, and research buddies even if it was solo work. Despite avoiding the topic of bullying often, they discovered over their many conversations that they shared quite a few experiences. And even though Ariadne and Yusuf began dating around Christmas, Arthur never felt left out or neglected.

He also met Dom and Mal in the library, though he had been wary of them at first. They looked like a stereotypical power couple, inseparable by just about any human force, and they were both beautiful enough to make you question the fairness of the world. Arthur met Mal first when she came in asking about the program the library had set up where high school students could volunteer and get paired with elementary school children to teach them to read. Arthur was honestly a little dumbfounded when she asked, wondering how she had even heard of the program. But she seemed genuine and, when Arthur watched warily from a distance the first Monday the elementary school children arrived and met with their partners, she was amazing with children.

Mal was like a natural-born mother and when she eventually dragged her boyfriend, Dom, to the library to take part in the reading program, Arthur couldn't help but see them as a parental duo. Once the three of them got talking one Monday afternoon after the elementary children had left, Arthur quickly realized he had accidentally acquired two honorary parents. They were both supportive and almost too protective of Arthur. And even though they were not at school every day of the week since they were both doing a co-op during their last year of high school, Arthur felt a little safer walking down the halls just knowing them.

The library was Arthur's safe haven. It was where he spent time with his friends and studied when not at home. It was where he waited on nights when the weather was too bad for him to bike home and his parents worked late. And it was the only place outside of the safety of his own home, his own room, where Arthur allowed himself to fully indulge in his love of storybooks.

Arthur loved storybooks. He loved how they could whisk him away to another world filled with problems different and yet comfortingly similar to his own, but where he knew how to solve them, how to find a happy ending. He loved becoming attached to the characters; cheering for the good guys and cursing the villains. He loved trying to find solutions to the book's story; the problems of the characters always seemed so much easier to solve when it was written out in ink on paper. He loved the weight of the books in his hands and the feel of the paper on his fingers as he turned the pages delicately.

It was Mrs. Warren, the librarian, who proposed the idea to Arthur after finding him tucked away in a private corner of the library with a storybook in his lap one too many times. Every Monday the library had the elementary school children over to spend an hour with their reading buddies; it was easy to organize since the elementary school was across the street from the high school. But the librarian had explained that every other day of the week when children's parents worked late there weren't really any programs to keep the kids entertained.

That was how Arthur began reading storybooks to the elementary school children who came to the library every Friday while they waited the extra hour after classes for their parents to pick them up. Even though Arthur had been really nervous at first, not exactly comfortable around children and fearful of sharing something so precious to him with strangers, he came to love his Friday afternoons. The children who came over to listen to him all enjoyed storybooks as well; they weren't forced to take part in the optional after-school activity. This meant that each time Arthur looked up from his storybook he was met with a sea of big, wide eyes, and each time he tried to use different voices he got gasps and cheers in response.

Arthur found that he enjoyed reading his stories aloud and sharing them with others just as passionate about storybooks as him more than reading alone, even though he still enjoyed both activities. When Arthur was in the library, he was happy. Despite moving to a new town where he didn't know anyone, and despite the bullying, life wasn't too bad.

That was, of course, until Eames showed up one morning in the library; the teen either shared a free period with Arthur or was skipping class that day. Eames was the star quarterback of the school's football team and the teen looked the part. He was tanned from the many hours of football practice on the back fields. He had dirty blond hair that fell into blue eyes that could make you freeze in place if they cared enough to look your way. Eames wasn't much taller than Arthur but he was extremely muscular and powerful; Arthur had experienced the strength of those muscles first hand.

From what Arthur knew, Eames didn't get the best grades in school; though Arthur couldn't honestly say whether it was stupidity or simply a lack of motivation on the teen's end. Eames seemed friendly with a good sense of humour around his friends, and indifferent to the rest of the school populace. If you ever got on his bad side though, you could basically plan on a visit to the nurse's office. Everyone talked about him graduating next year and getting a scholarship to play football and Arthur hated the fact that Eames had just as much chance of getting into an Ivy League school as Arthur just because he knew how to kick a ball.

When Eames first walked into the library Arthur thought the football teen was lost. It seemed like an accurate assumption based on the way Eames shuffled along the aisles slowly, staring at the signs posted to look at the different subjects. But then Eames seemed to find what he wanted and disappeared down an aisle quickly, his pace much more confident as Arthur watched him disappear into Arthur's precious stacks. Arthur, remembering all of the books he had been forced to repair after Eames's friends got their hands on them, quickly followed. In most situations Arthur would walk the other way after being given the opportunity to avoid Eames, but the library was his haven and he was going to defend it.

He found Eames at the very back of the library in the section for storybooks with a fair sized bay window overlooking the front entrance of the school. It was Arthur's favourite spot in the library, which gave him more courage as he stepped closer to Eames. "What are you doing here?" he questioned harshly as he snapped a storybook from Eames's hands.

"I came here to get a book to read," Eames turned those piercing blue eyes on Arthur slowly, and Arthur struggled to keep himself from taking a nervous step back, remembering the teen's anger.

"Bullshit," he accused, hugging the book to his chest. "I don't know why you do it, but I refuse to let you destroy any more books!"

Now Eames turned his full body to face Arthur, and Arthur did take one regretful step backwards for more distance in case he needed to run. "I have never ruined any of these books," Eames growled, voice gravelly and low. Arthur felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise like they would if he was facing a bear in the woods by his house.

"Well your friends certainly have," Arthur argued, knowing this for a fact.

"I'm not their bloody mother, pet," Eames snapped, taking a step closer to Arthur and outstretching his hand. "Now give me the book. I won't fucking damage anything." When Arthur shook his head and held the book closer Eames narrowed his eyes. Arthur watched as Eames plucked another storybook off the shelf beside him and lunged forward, snatching that away as well. "Okay now you're really starting to piss me off. Can't a guy read a fucking book when he's having a bad day?"

"Aw," Arthur pretended to coo, "Perfect Eames getting bored with his perfect life? How tragic." He knew he wasn't helping things, but there was so much bitterness welling up inside him after all the bullying he had put up with, Arthur couldn't seem to stop.

Eames's face was getting a little red and Arthur couldn't tell if it was embarrassment, anger, or some dangerous mix between. Eames took another menacing step towards Arthur and opened his mouth to say something, but then Arthur watched in confusion as Eames appeared to reel himself back in. The teen took a deep breath and then glanced away, finally freeing Arthur from being pinned in place by those eyes. "Look, can we not do this now?"

Arthur felt his whole body tense at the sheer arrogance of the other teen. "Oh, I'm sorry," he drawled, "I didn't know you were allowed to just call this sort of thing off because you're having a shitty day." He gripped the books in his grasp a little tighter, knowing that if he threw a punch at Eames he'd receive something far more painful in return. "Silly of me not to think you'd be a great guy and accept my request for a rain check those times you were beating me into a wall."

"You don't know me!" Eames whispered viciously. "Don't you dare act like you know me! You don't know anything about anyone! You're just a social outcast!"

Arthur suddenly found himself crowded up against one of the tall stacks of books, Eames's body pressing against his back to pin Arthur's front to the bookshelf. One of Arthur's arms was still cradling the two saved books to his chest, his arm digging into the metal framework of the shelf with a biting sharpness that was also cutting across Arthur's left cheekbone. Arthur's right arm had been grabbed harshly by Eames and twisted around behind his back, causing the muscles to burn and the bones to ache as the teen gripped his arm far too tightly. "You don't know me either," he whispered weakly, fighting the tears beading on his eyelashes at the pain.

Eames pressed a little closer for just a moment, pulling Arthur's arm back until he thought it might dislocate. Arthur bit his lip in determination but heard a pathetic little sob break in the back of his throat. Then, as quickly as Eames appeared in Arthur's personal space, he was gone again. Arthur stumbled away from the metal shelves and brought his wounded arm around to cradle it close to his body, supporting it with the books in his other arm. His right arm hurt so badly he was almost mindless to the deep grooves that had been dug into his cheek and other arm from the shelf.

When he looked around he saw that Eames was still standing beside him and Arthur quickly realized how secluded they were between the stacks of books at the back of the library. Eames was watching Arthur with a dazed sort of look, like he was already thinking about something other than the teen he had just injured. The quarterback looked like he wanted to do more damage but wasn't moving, and Arthur was too scared to run. But then those blue eyes were on him again, holding Arthur's own brown eyes with a power no teen should possess. "I won't touch your precious books, Arthur," Eames promised, sounding tired now. "Just leave me alone."

When Arthur didn't move Eames gripped his non-injured shoulder and shoved him away slightly, back towards the main part of the library. Scared and in pain, Arthur recovered from his stumble after the push and then rushed away from the football star. He felt embarrassed and furious at Eames getting the best of him even though he knew the other teen had a strength advantage. As Arthur returned back to the safety of the open part of the library, a few oblivious students studying at the available tables, Arthur tried to get himself under control. He didn't want a bunch of strangers seeing him crying and wondering what the hell was wrong with him.

He sat down at the check-out desk to watch over it until Mrs. Warren got back; she had asked Arthur to watch over the library for her while she went to check in on her daughter at the elementary school across the street. Apparently she had received a call about her daughter getting a nose bleed. Arthur was planning on telling Mrs. Warren about Eames as soon as she returned, both about the bullying and about Eames being back there in case any books showed up damaged. But as time passed while Arthur helped a few students sign out books his resolve crumbled; he didn't like to rat on his bullies because he knew he'd get beaten up more if any of the adults tried to intervene.

The line of students needing assistance ended and Arthur found himself staring at the books he had stolen from Eames while he waited for the librarian. He realized that they were two of his favourite childhood stories; books his mother had read to him when he was small, and then Arthur read to himself when he was having a bad day. Arthur brushed his fingers over the books, feeling the leather bindings fondly. Then he bit his lip, remembering what Eames had said to him. Maybe the other teen really was just having a bad day, though that didn't make Arthur's arm ache any less.

Eventually Arthur pushed himself away from the desk, the two books held in his left arm which wasn't throbbing quite as badly. If Eames really was having a bad day, Arthur didn't want to be feeling bad for the bully, didn't want to be the originator of the fight. But if Eames had been lying, at least Arthur would have proof that Eames was damaging the books for when Mrs. Warren returned to the library. He made his way back through the stacks towards the back of the library, internally wondering if he was doing the right thing.

As he approached Arthur could see that Eames was seated in the bay window, his knees up against his chest and his back to Arthur's approach. Arthur skimmed his gaze over the books as he passed but saw no damage, as promised. He cleared his throat when he got close enough, terrified of what Eames would do to him if Arthur startled him. Eames whipped his head around quickly at the noise, focusing on Arthur, and Arthur felt his breath catch in his throat. Eames's eyes were puffy and red and the afternoon sun outside lit up the tearstains across the teen's cheeks. Arthur had never seen Eames cry before, not even when the quarterback broke his arm during a game last year. "I-"

Eames was standing in a flash, appearing to tower over Arthur even though they were almost the same height. "If you ever tell anyone you saw me like this, I'll break your nose," Eames threatened darkly. It shouldn't have had as much of an effect since Eames was crying, but the redness of his eyes turned his eyes sharper; Eames was now as dangerous as a wounded, cornered animal.

Arthur by all rights should have been terrified. But he wasn't. Maybe it was because he recognized that fearful look in the bully's eyes, a fear Arthur could relate to. It was true that Eames was sometimes the cause of that fear, but Arthur's mind also reminded him that Eames's friends were always worse, always seeking him out rather than fighting only when prodded like Eames. In that moment, against his better nature, Arthur rolled his eyes. "You've already broken my nose."

Eames growled in the back of his throat but then fell silent. That was when Arthur knew something was really wrong with the other teen. But even though he was curious, he didn't care quite enough to ask. "What do you want, Arthur?" Eames asked, sounding exhausted.

Arthur could only stare at Eames for a minute, a little shell shocked after hearing the normally confident teen's voice wobble as he fought down more tears. Really not knowing what else to do, Arthur held the two books out to Eames in offering. "I brought these back to you so you can read them like you wanted to."

"Not worried I'll tear them to shreds?" Eames mocked. Arthur felt a little uncomfortable when he noticed Eames's gaze flicker from the two books to Arthur's injured right arm still tucked against his chest.

Arthur shrugged, ignoring the pinch of pain at the movement. "I'll kick your ass if you do," he insisted with false bravado.

Eames's snort sounded like a sob and Arthur watched as Eames's face went red. He allowed Eames to lift the two books carefully from his grasp. Awkward couldn't begin to describe how he was feeling in that moment. "Why?" was all Eames said, holding the books up to indicate what he was talking about.

"I honestly have no fucking clue why," Arthur admitted, not meeting Eames's searching gaze. "You certainly don't deserve it," he informed his shoes, feeling the heavy weight of Eames's eyes on the top of his head. "But I know how much those books comforted me when I was having a shitty day. So just..." he huffed angrily at himself, frustrated that he was so embarrassed and that he was even being this nice to one of his bullies. "Whatever. Don't mention it."

"I won't," Eames grumbled, though his voice sounded soft.

Arthur laughed bitterly. "I'm sure you won't. God forbid any of your friends know you actually talked to a social outcast like me," he reused Eames's previous words. Eames looked like he wanted to say something but Arthur just shook his head and turned away, heading back to the check-out desk to do his job. He really needed a distraction right now, something stable and familiar.

Mrs. Warren returned a short time later, the nose bleed crisis averted and her daughter back in class. Arthur didn't mention anything to the librarian and skilfully hid the way he couldn't hold as much weight with his right arm. He knew it wasn't severely injured and mentioning it wouldn't be productive. Ariadne and Yusuf met him in the library for lunch and even though Arthur could tell them everything that had happened – finally get some revenge – he didn't. And when Eames snuck his way over to the check-out desk and disappeared from the library with both storybooks carefully tucked under one arm, Arthur politely looked the other way.

After that things didn't really change much, except for the fact that Eames never beat him up anymore. The other football players beat him up, and the cheerleaders still hissed some surprisingly imaginative things at him in the halls, and Eames never put in an effort to stop this. But Eames had slipped into the background and stopped taking part in his torture. Arthur really wasn't sure whether to be grateful or not. But in general it was the norm for Arthur's life since moving, so he wasn't going to say much about it.


Arthur wasn't sure how Eames heard about it. It's not like there were posters up in the halls or announcements about it. But one Friday about two weeks after Arthur had found Eames crying in the back of the library, Eames showed up to Arthur's storybook reading. Arthur was only a few pages into the book and when he glanced up to gauge everyone's reactions, he stuttered to a stop. Eames had somehow managed to sneak in without making any noise and sit down near the back next to a girl named Emily who had an odd but endearing habit of tying ribbons onto everything. Arthur's gaze met Eames's and Arthur didn't realize how long he sat there, frozen, until one of the kids asked "what next?"

Eames raised an expectant eyebrow across the sea of elementary school children and Arthur dropped his gaze back to his book quickly, blushing furiously. He didn't know how Eames had found out about this, or why he was here. Had the bully decided to start torturing Arthur where he knew Arthur felt most comfortable? Was this going to become the school's new joke of the week at Arthur's expense? A million thoughts and fears spun around his mind but a little boy named Ian tugged at his pant leg and Arthur forced himself to begin reading again.

As he fell back into the role of storyteller, helping the dashing knight save the damsel in distress from the dragon rather than worrying about bullies and reputations, Arthur felt himself relaxing and smiling. When he finished the story and Mrs. Warren began shepherding the children into a line to take them to the main entrance of the school to meet their parents, Arthur found himself alone with Eames. Both of them were still seated on the carpet, cross legged and facing each other. Arthur closed the book slowly and tried not to laugh when he saw Emily had tied about three small coloured ribbons into bows on each finger of Eames's left hand where she had been able to reach.

Arthur wanted to say something but didn't know what to say. He remained seated as he watched Eames slowly pick himself off the carpet, their eyes still locked. "That was always one of my favourite stories as a kid," Eames admitted quietly, sending Arthur the tiniest smile before leaving the library.

Things changed after that.

Eames came to the library every Friday for Arthur's storytelling. He even began arriving early to come up and ask Arthur what story he was going to read that week while the children filed in and found their preferred patch of carpet. Eames also made a few requests which, as the weeks passed by, Arthur felt more and more inclined to acknowledge. He liked the way Eames's smile grew brighter when the teen saw one of his requested books in Arthur's hands.

Eames stopped bullying him entirely and, over time, even the others began to stop bullying Arthur as well. At first Eames's efforts had been rather indirect, acting specifically uninterested when some of the jocks or cheerleaders tried to start something, telling them that he was bored; it was almost equally amusing and pathetic how quickly they scurried away to find something else to do when Eames wasn't backing their actions up. And then eventually, when it was only a few specific people who refused to leave Arthur alone, Eames confronted them and directly told them to leave Arthur alone. Sometimes Arthur got annoyed with this, being treated like a weakling who couldn't take care of himself, but he had to admit that having Eames on his side resulted in fewer bruises.

Eames began talking with him in public, walking with him down the hall to their lockers at the end of lunch as they both dreaded ending their conversation about this story or that author. Arthur and Eames began doing group projects together in the classes they shared, and Arthur even made the effort to come watch Eames's games. Arthur had been expecting anything but a warm welcome so he was shocked when a few of Eames's close friends on the team had invited Arthur to join them for pizza after the game. Ariadne and Yusuf had been more than a little apprehensive when Eames first slipped into the library one lunch period to join them, but Eames had won them over as effectively as he had won Arthur.

Eames began telling Arthur about himself and, in return, Arthur began sharing more about himself. It started one morning when Arthur was seated in his favourite bay window with Eames seated beside him, both of them staring out through the glass watching the violent thunderstorm raging outside. At one point Arthur had thought to ask and Eames informed him that they shared a free period, which they had begun to take full advantage of. Since they had started growing closer Arthur had wanted to ask why Eames had been crying that one day, but he had never had the courage to ask; he barely understood what was developing between them, let alone what the rules and boundaries were.

Luckily, Eames seemed willing to start the conversation. As they sat there silently watching the lightning sear spider webs into the clouds, wasting their free period away comfortably in one another's presence, Eames cleared his throat. "I know I've had a pretty good life but I would never call it perfect." Arthur, surprised, looked over at his friend curiously but remained silent, not wanting to ruin this before it began.

Eames told Arthur about his perfect older brother, who had graduated early and gone to Harvard and could do pretty much whatever the hell he wanted and be brilliant at it. He told Arthur about living in that shadow, and how he felt like he was disappointing his parents even if they insisted he wasn't. He told Arthur that he didn't really enjoy football even though he was good at it, but it was his father's dream to be a famous football player so Eames pushed himself to achieve that dream for him. Eames whispered the next confession to him, even though they were definitely alone: he wanted to be an actor.

Arthur told Eames about his two younger sisters he feared would be embarrassed of him next year when they came into high school and found out how bullied Arthur was. He told Eames how he wanted to write books for children but worried he'd never be good enough, lucky enough, to get published and be successful. He told Eames that he was so quiet in social situations because he never knew what to say and that his imagination was just friendlier, simpler. Arthur confessed that he was jealous of Eames's confidence, but that he was trying to find his own confidence.

Arthur placed his hand on Eames's knee and Eames placed his hand over Arthur's, warming his skin. Their eyes met and held. Eames's eyes were still capable of stilling Arthur and holding his attention like nothing else, but now it was welcome because those blue eyes were expressive as well, and Arthur knew his brown eyes were in return. They shared a smile before pulling away, hearing the distant bell informing them that their free period was over for the day.

Eames began joining Arthur in his storytelling on Friday afternoons. Locked away in the safety of their shared safe haven, Arthur and Eames would sit side by side on the carpet facing the elementary school children. Their knees would brush but neither of them would even notice, because it was normal by that point. Arthur and Eames would split up the voices, playing off one another perfectly and grinning at each other when the children cheered at the end of each story enthusiastically. More than once after the children were gone and Arthur was putting the book away, Arthur would tell Eames that he should really consider following acting professionally.

"There's no way I'm good enough, darling," Eames would argue weakly, blushing. Arthur couldn't remember when the pet names had started, but they were commonplace now and Arthur would feel bereft without them.

Arthur would stop Eames with his eyes, always feeling a little giddy that he shared this power over Eames in return, and sometimes he'd brush his hand over Eames's shoulder or down his arm; just some sense of contact that always made them both feel closer, connected. "You're amazing already, Eames. And you'll only get better with practice."

And Eames would smile at him like he actually believed Arthur, like Arthur's words meant the world to him. And that would always make Arthur's heart race a little quicker.

Near the end of the school year things really changed. Arthur and Eames had just finished reading the children the last story for the year; this was the last week before exams so the elementary children wouldn't be coming back until the following autumn. Mrs. Warren shepherded the children out of the library as always and Arthur wandered back through the stacks to put the book away. Eames trailed along behind him silently, watching Arthur slot away the book lovingly. Then he pressed Arthur back against the bookshelf softly, wrapping his arms around Arthur's back to keep the metal from digging in, and kissed him gently.

Arthur didn't know what to do because he had never kissed someone before. All he knew was that he liked it and he never wanted Eames to stop. So he wiggled his arms free awkwardly and wrapped them around Eames's neck, pulling him closer. He couldn't describe how happy it made him, feeling Eames's beautiful lips smiling against his own. And then Eames deepened the kiss, pressing his body and lips a little closer to Arthur and leading him in the hesitant movements of a shy dance.

Eventually they pulled apart guilty when they heard Mrs. Warren step back into the library and call out for them, no doubt wondering if they had left already. They headed back to the main part of the library to say their goodbyes, thanking Mrs. Warren for the opportunity and promising to begin the program again in September. Then they grabbed their bags and Arthur was pleasantly surprised when Eames took his hand and led him over to the bike stands to collect their bikes. Arthur felt lovesick as they walked their bicycles to Eames's house a few blocks away from school, but he loved the way it made him feel like he was glowing each time Eames stole a look at him shyly on the sidewalk.

Arthur met Eames's family and Eames met Arthur's. Arthur's sisters adored Eames, hanging off him and chattering constantly when he was in the house. Eames's parents practically adopted Arthur into the family, insisting Eames invite him over to all of the special celebrations. When Arthur's family went on their annual weekend camping trip when school ended for the year, his parents suggested Arthur invite Eames along. When Eames's brother got married, Arthur was invited. He stood by Eames's side watching the beautiful ceremony, and watching Eames smile with real love and not a hint of bitterness as he watched his brother.

A few weeks into summer Arthur and Eames began planning, whispering ideas and plans to each other in the enveloping darkness as they lay curled up on one of their mattresses together. A few weeks after that they got in touch with Mrs. Warren and began to prepare.

On the first of July Eames was frantically setting up chairs while Arthur was fumbling through the pages in his hands, looking for any final mistakes he (and Eames, and his parents, and his sisters) had missed. Then the clock struck ten and the doors to the community centre in town opened, allowing children to drag their parents inside impatiently by the hand. The children – mostly elementary level but a few older kids as well – took the carpet while the parents took the chairs set up further back. Arthur's family was there, and so was Eames's family, though his brother was still on his honeymoon and hadn't been able to make it back in time. Mrs. Warren was in the back ushering people in through the doors, and even Arthur's friends and a few of Eames's closest friends were in the audience as well.

Arthur felt like he might throw up, nerves churning his stomach. Eames looked nervous as well, though his nervous energy was being converted into an inability to sit still. Eventually Eames noticed that Arthur looked paler than normal as the audience got themselves settled, and joined Arthur by the wall. He told Arthur that this was going to be fantastic, and that he was so proud of Arthur for having the courage to do this, and that this was just the start of something big. Then Eames kissed his cheek and Arthur felt like he could do just about anything.

They took centre stage together, their shoulders brushing familiarly. Arthur took a deep breath and, with a confidence that was part him and part the comforting presence of Eames beside him, he welcomed everyone in the loudest voice he had ever used. Everyone quieted and a few sent him encouraging, friendly smiles. He told everyone that he had written this story by himself and Eames had agreed to act out the story for everyone to watch while Arthur narrated. They received a welcoming applause and Arthur left Eames alone in centre stage to take the podium.

It was a huge success. Everyone laughed in the right places, cheering when Eames was the handsome knight and booing good-naturedly when Eames put on the ridiculous monocle he had found in his attic and played the sinister villain. Arthur didn't even mind when Eames swept him away from the podium at the end, holding him close as the princess finally reunited with her one true love. Arthur knew the rest of the story by heart after so many gruelling edits so he spoke them loudly for the audience as they began to cheer and clap, though they quickly fell into the background as Eames closed the scene with a long, languid kiss to Arthur's lips.