PG, 2014 words
café!AU. In which Arthur and Eames are uni students, and Eames works at the uni coffee shop.
a/n: pointless sappy sap. this is café!AU and uni!AU, and pretty much every cliché ever. happy new year, guys. ♥
Eames meets Arthur for the first time on a Monday evening.
Winters in New York are always bitterly cold, and that, combined with the 10cm of snow and pouring rain outside, means Eames is fairly certain that the university café he works at won't be getting much business today.
"Why are we even both on shift?" Ariadne complains from beside him. "It's not like we have anything to do."
"At least we're getting paid," Eames says. "You should just work on your Sudoku book."
She gets out the massive collection of Sudoku problems she'd been carrying around lately, and Eames follows suit, reaching into his own bag for the papers he still needs to proofread. As much as he loves his other job as a first year English TA, paper-marking isn't the most exciting activity. He's lucky Yusuf wouldn't care that they're doing other things during work hours, he knows, and he's just spreading everything out behind the counter when the bells attached to the front door suddenly jingle.
The man who walks in is dripping water all over the linoleum floors. He's carrying a briefcase in one hand and a broken umbrella in the other, and his three-piece suit is soaked through with rain. Tendrils of his previously slicked back hair has escaped the confines of his hair gel, and as Eames watches, another curl comes loose.
He looks up, catches Eames' eye, and gives a small smile. "A green tea latte please."
There's a dimple resting high in his left cheek, and Eames thinks he falls a little in love.
He finds out his name is Arthur, he's a business grad student who's almost done with school, and he just went for a job interview that didn't actually end up happening because of the weather.
Eames would like to say he learns all of this information by holding a charming little conversation with Arthur as he gets Arthur's drink ready, but in reality, it's more like Ariadne who's holding the conversation while Eames tries not to stare too much.
There's a small lull in the conversation, and Ariadne shoots him an odd look when Eames doesn't say anything.
"Could you point me to the washroom?" Arthur says after a moment, having taken off his suit jacket and hung it on a chair to dry.
"Sure, it's just right there to the left."
Ariadne waits until Arthur's disappeared and the little IN USE sign flicks on before impatiently turning to Eames. "Right. What's wrong with you today?"
"What?" Eames says vaguely. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about Arthur! He's lovely! Why didn't you introduce yourself?"
"Oh." It only occurs to Eames now that he'd barely said a word the whole time. "Well. I was just. Distracted. Making his drink, that is."
"Oh, my god," Ariadne says suddenly, staring at him with wide, shining eyes. "Oh my god. You like him, don't you?"
"What? No, I-"
"I'm right, aren't I? I must be," she continues before Eames can form a coherent response. "You're not shy around new people, and you're good at talking, but you're always like this when you have a crush - you go mute." She claps her hands together, and the glee in her voice is quite frankly alarming.
There's probably no point trying to hide it from her, but that doesn't meant Eames has to be happy about how quickly she figured it out. "Keep your voice down," he hisses at her, just as he hears the washroom door unlock.
Arthur walks back out a second later, and instead of sitting down at the table where he'd placed his suit jacket and briefcase, he walks right up to the counter instead.
"Is that mine?" he asks Eames.
"What?" Eames says intelligently, before he realizes he's still clutching the drink he's made in his hands. "Uh, yes, I'm sorry - this is yours."
Ariadne snickers a little beside him, and Eames is going to kill her later.
"I didn't catch your name earlier," Arthur says, still talking to him.
"I'm Eames," Eames chokes out. "And uh, enjoy your drink!"
"Thanks," Arthur says wryly, and his lips curve a little as he walks back to his table.
Eames hangs onto the counter with sweaty palms and wonders what's wrong with him.
Unfortunately, Ariadne is right.
Eames does have a set behavior pattern. Normally, people like him just fine. He's loud and cheerful and extroverted, and growing up, he's never had any problems making friends. But it's become apparent in the last few years that when it actually matters, when he meets someone he actually likes, Eames stops talking.
It's not that he's shy or goes "mute", as Ariadne puts it. It's more like, he thinks of something witty he would normally say, and instead of just saying it, he ends up repeating it in his head over and over again like an actor learning his lines, analyzing every little word to make sure he isn't going to inadvertently say something dumb. By the time he's satisfied that what he would've said is dumb-proof, the moment would have passed, and Eames wouldn't have said anything at all.
It's a terrible disease, and Eames has no idea how to go about curing it.
Arthur comes by every day for the rest of the week.
The suit may have been a one-time thing, but Arthur still walks around in dress shirts and dark wash jeans that look practically ironed.
Eames spends a lot of time quietly dying behind the counter, while Ariadne gives him subtle - and not-so-subtle - jabs in the ribs.
Besides, he's not entirely silent, no. He and Arthur always greet each other hello and goodbye, and on most days, there are small exchanges in the middle as well. There would usually be a few other customers as well, and Ariadne would take it upon herself to leave Eames and Arthur alone while she takes orders. It's true that Eames might be a bit quiet, but he knows how to ask questions, and Arthur seems happy enough telling Eames about his day or talking about the job position he's applying for.
When he tells her this, Ariadne just rolls her eyes at him and calls him hopeless.
Eames supposes he kind of is.
The next week, Ariadne gets a cold.
Which means that when Arthur comes by again, Eames has to try and behave like normal human being on his own.
By some miracle, he manages to unclog his throat enough to actually start a proper conversation. He thinks it's partly because his brain's had some time to adjust to the daily exposure of Arthur, and also because some part of him realizes that this is probably going to be his only chance to talk to Arthur alone.
"How was your weekend?" he manages with a small smile as he hands Arthur his usual drink.
Arthur looks surprised at the question, but then he suddenly dimples. "It was good. I mostly stayed home, but I got a lot of work done. How about you?"
"Yeah, me too, I have a term paper coming up," Eames says, relaxing a little. This was just small talk - he could do this.
"So, Ariadne tells me you're an English major," Arthur says, taking a sip of his latte.
"I'm in my last year," Eames explains. "I'm hoping to teach English abroad or something next year."
"Oh, I know someone who did that last year. Do you know where you want to teach?" Arthur asks, leaning in a little. His dark eyes are warm and focused only on Eames, and after that, Eames finds that it's really not that hard to keep talking after all.
An hour goes by quickly. Arthur finishes his drink, and Eames excuses himself for a second, escaping to the back. When he comes back, he has a small hot chocolate in his hands.
"On the house," he says, sliding it over the counter. Arthur gives him a certain look, and Eames wonders for a second if he'd been too presumptuous, somehow - and god, who knows, maybe Arthur's allergic to hot chocolate or something and Eames' mortally offended him by offering him some. He panics, wondering if he should snatch the drink back, but then Arthur is reaching for the cup. His fingers are warm when they brush against Eames'.
"Thank you. I should get going, but I'll take this with me," he says, smiling, and Eames feels his heartbeat trip over itself.
He watches Arthur pull on his dove-grey coat and knit scarf, and manages to give him a small wave as he heads to the door.
As Arthur pulls it open though, he pauses. "Eames. I'll just leave that cup with you, shall I?" he says, gesturing to the now-empty paper cup he'd sipped his latte from, the one that's still sitting in front of Eames on the counter.
"What?" Eames asks blankly. He doesn't get it. Of course Arthur would leave his used cup behind - why wouldn't he? He opens his mouth to ask, but he doesn't know how to phrase the question, and by the time he's figured it out, Arthur's already left.
He doesn't have time to think about it, because a couple chooses that moment to walk in, both of them still shivering from the cold. Eames hurries to take their order and get their drinks to them, directing the girl to the washroom when she asks.
It's not until later, when he's closing up for the night and discarding all the used cups that he sees something he didn't notice earlier.
Scrawled on the paper cup Arthur had been using is a ten digit number and three words.
Call me. :) -A
Eames kisses Arthur for the first time on a Saturday evening.
It takes him a week after Arthur leaves his number to actually call. That's seven days of Arthur not coming in to the café every evening (later, he will tell Eames it was because he wanted Eames to decide for himself, that he didn't want to make things awkward if it turned out Eames hadn't been interested after all), seven days of not exchanging stutter-y pleasantries or hearing about how Arthur's day went as he makes Arthur's latte. That's long enough for Eames to recognize the clench in his stomach whenever a customer-that-isn't-Arthur walks in as disappointment.
They go to a small but cozy Italian restaurant just off campus for their first date, and they share chocolate cake afterward. Arthur fights him for the last forkful (Eames put up a good fight but lets him have it in the end), and later, Eames walks Arthur back to his res even though it's freezing outside.
Arthur gives him a sly smile and asks if he wants to go up for a drink, and Eames knows what that means, but he shakes his head no, because that's not what he wants - or rather, that's not just what he wants. He wants to take Arthur out for dinner again, and go to the movies, maybe even introduce him to his friends, and he doesn't want Arthur to get the wrong idea.
"I'll call you tomorrow," he says instead, and leans over to press a chaste kiss to Arthur's left cheek. But then (and Eames will never know if it was an accident or if Arthur did it on purpose) Arthur turns his head to the right at just the right moment, and their lips meet instead.
Eames freezes for a second, but then Arthur huffs a small laugh against his mouth, warm and amused, and there's nothing Eames can do but kiss him back.
It's a messy kiss. They don't know how to fit together yet, Arthur's hands are icicles around his neck, and Eames' left foot has possibly lost feeling from the cold, but Arthur tastes like coffee and sugar and dreams against his tongue, and Eames thinks to himself that this is the happiest he's been in a long time.