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Janus.

In Roman mythology, Janus is the god of gates, doors, doorways, beginnings, endings, and time. He was frequently used to symbolize change and transitions such as the progression of past to future, of one condition to another, of one vision to another, the growing up of young people, and of one universe to another.


Eames is four years old, and his mother is leaving him.

Not that she’s going far. Nor is she going for very long, only “a few hours, darling, and I’ll be right back, I promise”. And she’s left him before, so he’s used to it. He likes the nanny, anyway, so it’s not all bad. She lets him stay up past his bedtime sometimes, and eat ice-cream for breakfast. He has fun. And she’s nice, and pretty, like a princess (a fairy tale princess, not a real one. Eames has met real princesses, and he has to say he was less than impressed. Although they did have pretty dresses, and sparkly jewellery). Eames likes pretty things. It’s why he’s hiding in his mother’s closet (which is a whole room, really, full of dresses and shoes and coats and skirts and every imaginable kind of women’s clothing) watching her get ready to leave.

She looks lovely. At four, Eames is young enough to still think his mother the prettiest woman in the world, but even if he weren’t biased, he would still probably be right. She is young, still, and blonde, with dark brown eyes and flawless pale skin. He doesn’t know this now, but he’ll know later how rare she is, all natural still.

She’s still deciding what to wear. Eames supposes they are going to a ball, because in his mind, that’s what you do when you dress up this way. His father is getting impatient, tapping his watch and poking his head through the door, muttering about how they’re going to be late, but his mother just laughs him off. They’ll get there with plenty of time to spare, she assures him.



She eventually decides on a blue dress, long and sweeping and shiny, edged in lace. It’s an older one, but still beautiful. She slides it on over her slip, zips it up under her arm. She sweeps her hair up into a French roll, and it’s so natural and easy, like she just knows instinctively how to be beautiful. A few touches of make-up, except on her lips, painted a bright red (the barest hint, just enough to enhance, and this is something Eames learns – the value of a few hints of perfectly placed blush, a light trace of lipstick, subtle touches with an overt centrepiece, to draw attention and conceal at the same time), and diamond drops in her ears (a gift from his father) and she is complete. She collects a shawl and clutch, and sweeps out the door. She leaves the light on, careless as always, and he can hear her laughter as she disappears down the hallway. Far away, he hears the slam of the front door.

He creeps out of the closet. He’s always liked to hide in there – it’s huge and dark and nobody will find him for hours if he places himself right. But right now he’s more interested in what his mother has left on her dressing table.

Careless in this aspect as well (although of course Eames doesn’t think of her in these terms, not now, not yet), his mother has left make-up spilling across the table, lipsticks and blush and mascara scattered all over. And he doesn’t know the names for these things, not yet, but he will learn them, and for now he knows where they go and what they do.

He also knows what to do with the dresses, discarded across the bed and floor, and the shoes, piled in the centre of the bed. The maid will pick them up before his parents return in the morning, but for now they remain in easy reach.

They are huge in Eames’ mind, endless amounts of soft and beautiful fabric, high arching heels, leather and silk and satin and lace. But still he crawls inside one, a dark green ball gown, sleeveless, with a huge flaring skirt.

It’s dark inside, and it’s comforting. The fabric is soft, and Eames touches it, carefully, fascinated. He wants to know everything about how these clothes work, clothes infinitely more fascinating than anything he is allowed to wear.

So he crawls up further, inside the bodice of the dress. He barely fits, and he has to wiggle and squeeze until his head pops out of the top part of the dress. He slides his arms through the correct holes, and stretches out. And the dress is miles too big for him, but he still likes it. It feels right, being in here.

He falls asleep and wakes, in the morning, still curled inside the dress, warm and sleepy, just in time to hear the maid apologising, and for his mother to forgive her, still laughing, but tired now. And then he hears his father approach, enter the room. He doesn’t say anything, just sniffs once, and leaves again.

His mother carries him to bed, still clutching the dress.

*

When Eames is seven, he has a friend called Charlotte. She is tiny, small for her age, delicate. Blonde with green eyes. She takes dance lessons at the ballet school near their London home, where Eames and his parents spend winter and Christmas. For his parents, his mother especially, it’s an excuse to go to hundreds of parties, but for Eames it’s his favourite time of year, the three months he gets to be in the city, and sneak out and watch the dancers. It’s how he meets Charlotte, actually.

Eames is hanging around the school, peering in through the window and watching a group of little girls clutch at a bar on the wall, each girl focussing intently on her feet, her arms, face scrunched up tight in concentration. All except one girl, a tiny blonde who is easily the best in the class. She is staring straight ahead, with the exception of a few subtle glances at herself in the mirror. She is very graceful. He looks at her, and he wants to be her.

He probably would have met her eventually anyway, because if she dances at this school chances are she lives in the area. But as it is, as she’s the only one whose paying attention, it’s that little girl who sees him through the window, who points and yells and says “There’s a boy looking at us!”

The girls all scream, and the teacher hurriedly tries to calm them, shepherd them back into formation. But they won’t go, and then their parents begin to arrive, and the teacher lets them go with a sigh. And Eames stands there, and watches, and wonders why, when that girl called him ‘boy’ it didn’t quite seem to fit.

The little blonde girl comes outside alone. Eames knows he probably should have run off by now, but he hasn’t, and so she comes up to him, and boldly and without preamble, asks him “What are you doing here?”

And she looks tough, despite the typically delicate features (like she might hit him if he lies, Eames thinks) and so he says “I want to learn how to dance.”

The girl looks at him funny. “Only girls learn to dance,” she tells him.

“Why?” Eames asks her, honestly puzzled. He doesn’t see at all why that should be the case. And then, because he thinks he should, and because it’s the only way he knows to express what he is feeling, he says, “What if I am a girl?”

“Because,” the girl says, and then, doubtfully, “I suppose you could be,” and then, “I’m Charlotte, by the way.”

“Jamie,” he tells her, although really, it’s James – that’s what his father calls him, what he insists everyone else calls him too, although they (especially the nanny and the servants) usually don’t listen when his father (also called James) isn’t around.

“That’s a girl’s name, I guess,” she says, still looking doubtful, but maybe more convinced. And then, as if it doesn’t matter anyway, “Well, Jamie,” she says, with that authority in her voice that Eames will come to know so well, “seeing as you’re already here, you can walk me home.”

He doesn’t ask her where her parents are, because it doesn’t occur to him. Of course she would walk herself home – he would have to, if he could go here. And so he walks her back to her apartment, barely three blocks away. He leaves her in the lobby, but before he goes she tells him, “You know, I like you. We should be friends.”

Eames hesitates, because he hasn’t really had friends before. He doesn’t really know how that should go. But then she says, “I’ll teach you how to dance,” and that’s all he really wants at the moment, really, and so he says yes.

*

So she teaches him how to dance (at least until he has to leave to go to school, back to one of their many other homes). But he and Charlotte still keep in touch. His parents think it’s adorable that he has a friend, and they discuss quietly (and his mother teases him openly) about his first apparent crush. And Eames supposes he does like Charlotte – she’s nice and pretty and fun to hang out with – but he doesn’t think it’s a crush, not really. He knows other boys at his school, has seen how they act around (mostly) girls that they like, and it isn’t at all the same as how he is around Charlotte. But he doesn’t really know how to say otherwise, and so he just stays quiet. Charlotte comes to stay in the summer, or he goes to visit her, and they stay friends. Mostly he visits her, now. It’s better that way.

Eames doesn’t know what’s going on, but he knows it isn’t good. Around him his parents act normally, but they don’t act the same around each other anymore. And he hears them, sometimes, after they think he’s asleep, whispering heatedly in their room, in the hallways, all over the house. They get louder and louder and louder every time, until they’re screaming at each other, and there are slamming doors and loud noises and usually the sound of a car driving away. Then his mother will creep upstairs, and check in on him, and he’ll pretend to be asleep. So she’ll go away, although he doesn’t really see how she can believe him to be alright. And then, in the morning, his mother will suggest that maybe he should visit Charlotte that day, and so he does.

And then, one day, he goes over to Charlotte’s house, and she has another friend over. Another girl, and they are playing dress up.

They’ve got hold of some of Charlotte’s mother’s make-up and jewellery, and some of her old shoes and gowns. The shoes and gowns are Charlotte’s now, Eames knows, and she is allowed to play with them, because he’s seen them in her closet before (although Charlotte’s never brought them out with him around). But the make-up and the jewellery look new and expensive, and now, with all the bad things going on in his house, Eames instinctively shies away from causing trouble.

Charlotte and her friend (who, she tells him, is called Rosie) don’t seem to care, though. They are having fun, trying on the dresses and shoes and jewellery, playing with the make-up, trying on different colours and seeing how it looks. And Eames wants nothing more than to join them. So he does, and they dress him up too, and it’s fun, exploring the clothes and trying things out and pretending to be someone else, a movie star or a princess or a ballet dancer. A girl. Somebody who is not him.



This becomes a habit, that summer (and a summer in the city is odd enough, and should have been enough of a clue to stay away from home, despite the fighting). His parents will fight, his father will leave, his mother will check on him, and then, in the morning, suggest he go to Charlotte’s house. And he does, and Rosie is usually there too, and they play make-believe. He tries on every dress, every shoe, all the jewellery. And Charlotte and Rosie love it – it’s much more interesting than dressing up themselves, in the clothes they wear every day, and could wear whenever they wanted (and probably will, when they grow up and fit into them). They try everything, and when he looks in the mirror, he likes what he sees. This is part of how he should look, he knows. But the bigger part is the comfort of pretending, of escaping from his everyday life. At Charlotte’s house, nothing bad happens.

And then his father comes over one day to pick Eames up. He’s earlier than he should be, and Eames hasn’t had a chance to change into his clothes yet (because he knows that he’ll get in trouble if his parents, especially his father, see him like this, and so he usually changes back before they can see. Charlotte’s mum thinks it’s adorable). And he sees Eames, in the green dress with lipstick all over his mouth, and his mouth goes tight, and he goes dead quiet, and he stands there, quiet and still and furious, as Eames changes back into his clothes. And then he leaves, and Eames follows, quietly, and they drive back home in complete silence. And then Eames is sent to his room, and downstairs, there is more yelling. Eames doesn’t know what he has done wrong.

*

When Eames is twelve, something snaps. Or breaks, he supposes, because a snap is loud, sudden, makes everyone flinch. This is more like the final parting of two threads, who have been gradually and inevitably separating from each other, and now have finally split.

It’s just after he’s come home again for the summer, after another year at boarding school. An eventful year, although not one he plans on telling his parents about. Ever. He plans on telling Charlotte, though, as soon as he sees her. She won’t be back for another week yet, having gone via Majorca with her parents and Rosie, but when she is he plans to tell her everything. About the boy in his English class, who lived in his dorm, and who gave him his first real kiss. About how he likes dark hair on pale skin, he’s decided, and how he especially likes this boy. About how he hopes they’ll see each other again, next year.

And then he arrives at their house, Chauffeur driven from the train station (not unusual, not really, but even if it were Eames wouldn’t have noticed, too wrapped up in creating a story for Charlotte) just in time to see the front door close, quietly (and this is odd enough, because Eames can’t remember the last time he heard a door close without slamming) behind his father. He’s carrying a few bags, and a few of the staff are carrying others. There’s a taxi (and how pedestrian, how out of the ordinary, for his father to have a taxi), and as Eames watches the staff and his father load the bags into the boot and the backseat of the taxi. And then, just like that, his father gets in the front seat, and the taxi drives away.

Eames watches him go, for a minute. Thinks maybe I should follow him. And then, he gets out of the car, and crosses the road to the house. The staff will get his things, he knows, because they always do. He uses his key to get in the front door (because his father locked it before he left, of course he did, he was always angry and paranoid about those sorts of things, always worried their things would get stolen, as if the security system weren’t enough, as if the staff couldn’t take whatever they wanted (although they never, ever did)), and the whole time, the staff, the servants as his father always insisted on calling them, the hired help watching him go. And Eames, because he is twelve and thus entitled to behave as such once in a while (although less often than he really wants to), slams the door as hard as he can, and it shudders in its frame, the stained glass shivering and the walls and floor around it shaking. And then he storms upstairs, and his mother comes out of the sitting room to watch him go, and she doesn’t even try to say anything.

And Eames doesn’t know why he’s so angry, not really. Doesn’t know why he’s so upset. Because he hated his father, he really did. He was awful, and he had no idea how to be a parent, made no effort to even try and understand his son, and Eames has been angry at him for a long time, and he should probably be feeling relief, nothing more than relief, because he’s finally gone, and maybe this will mean an end to the cold anger and the silence around him, and the furious fights and yelling he hears, still, in the middle of the night. Maybe life will be better now. Financially, at least, Eames knows not a lot will change. His mother is wealthy in her own right, always has been, and her side of the family have always supported her no matter what. Eames might spend more time moving around, splitting his time between twice the usual amount of homes, all depending on the custody arrangements (Eames knows his father won’t really want to see him, but he might want to spite his mother or keep up appearances – Eames is his only son, after all), but other than that, his life will stay much the same. He never saw all that much of his father to begin with. But still. He was his father, and this isn’t supposed to happen, and mostly Eames is angry at himself (and blaming himself) because he should have known better than to expect any different, really. And that was something his father always said to him you should have known better, James and yes, Eames thinks, he really should have.

He spends a lot of time in his room that week, coming out only to eat or to shower (the first more than the second) or to occasionally sneak off, to anywhere – the park, the nearby shops, anywhere that isn’t this house. Because it’s still too quiet, nothing moving, no voices louder than a whisper. His mother has apparently retreated to her room with orders not to be disturbed, not unless her lawyer calls or she’s gone more than eight hours without food or tea. And her lawyer has called, and Eames has listened to every word, covering the mouthpiece and breathing as quietly as possible through the kitchen extension phone. And the staff know what he’s doing, obviously, but they don’t say a word. They don’t say anything, at least not around him, although he knows they must talk about it amongst themselves. It’s the biggest and newest and most exciting thing to happen in this house in years.

It takes less than three days for them to draw up the divorce papers. And then they go, off to France, apparently, which is where his father has run off to. Paris. And how ironic, that he should run off to the supposed city of love. Eames decides, then, that he hates Paris. And he hates his father, and he knows he should blame his parents, but it’s so much easier to blame Paris. Paris can’t fight back. And so he goes on, developing an intense hate for a city he’s only ever been to twice, but a city that nevertheless has stolen his father away. And then, four days again after that, the same day that Charlotte comes back (and he remembers, vaguely, being so excited to tell her something, but it hardly seems important, now), he finds something else to blame.

His name is Lisle, and he is Eames’ mother’s divorce attorney. Eames hates him on sight, because he looks like a wanker, all smooth suits and slicked back hair and a very serious expression on his face. And then he hates him some more, when he realises that this man is in love with his mother.

He doesn’t think she returns his feelings. Not yet, anyway. She is polite and attentive and courteous, but Eames knows what his mother looks like when she is in love (because he still remembers, despite how long ago it was, how his parents used to look when they were in love) and this is not it. But she could grow to love this man, because despite his appearance, he is actually wonderful. This man could replace his father.

And his mother seems to realise that, on some level. The first time he comes over, she is a mess. She looks, well, she looks like a woman whose marriage is falling apart. But the next day, when he comes back, she has cleaned herself up, put on make-up and done her hair, and put on a nice dress. A sober dress, dove-grey and proper enough, but, like all her clothes, perfectly fitted to her shape. She looks beautiful. And she also looks (almost) happy. Like she could be happy, anyway. And Eames wants that, more than anything, and aside from the fact that this man is facilitating his parents’ divorce, he seems nice enough. Eames could live with him, he thinks. And when this man, Lisle, sees his mother dressed up properly (something he must have seen before, having been her lawyer for a while, although then she would have been married, and off limits), the look on his face changes, and he goes from already clearly besotted (partially feelings from before that he’d repressed, and partially protective feelings towards this poor, distraught, broken hearted woman) to a look that Eames, although he can’t quite place it at the time, will come to recognise later as lust. Because his mother looks good, now, now that she’s cleaned up and dressed herself properly. And all Eames can think about was that time when he was nine, that summer when he dressed in Charlotte’s mother’s clothes, and he wonders if anyone would look at him like that, if he wore that dove-grey dress, with the pearls and the pale stockings and the dark grey heels, the subtle touches of make-up, meant to enhance and not smother. The sort of subtle outfit that broadcasts interest, but at the same time makes very clear not yet, not yet, just wait and be patient. Eames sees the power in her clothes and appearance, the value of what exactly your clothes say about you, about the power of that dress, those heels, to say exactly what she wants them to say, to at the same time draw this man in and tell him to wait. And he wants someone to look at him like that, like he’s the only girl in the world and they can’t take their eyes off him. And then he takes off, down the road to Charlotte’s house.

Charlotte meets him at the door, opening it for him before he even has the chance to knock. She’s obviously been watching out the window, probably since yesterday. Everyone will know what’s going on by now, or at least everyone who matters. Her family’s staff would have come down early to open up the house, and they would have inevitably talked to those from Eames’ house. So she probably knows everything. She might even know more than Eames.



Eames is aware he probably looks fairly awful. He hasn’t really been sleeping, too busy eavesdropping and worrying or trying to forget about what’s happening. He hasn’t been showering as much as he should have been, and he’s been eating more than he should. He played rugby during the year, but he hasn’t been doing anything over summer (he long ago gave up on the dance lessons Charlotte gave him, far too embarrassed about being the only boy who knew (and liked) ballet). But he wasn’t aware he looked awful enough for Charlotte to pull him inside, pull him into a hug, and whisper fiercely “are you alright?”

And he wasn’t aware that he wasn’t, not really. He’d thought that he could handle it, but apparently not, and for the first time since he was very little, Eames cries in front of someone else. He buries his face in her neck, wraps his arms tightly around her torso, and just sobs.

Charlotte just takes it in stride. She bundles him up the stairs, keeping his face out of sight, and into her room. She shuts the door and locks it, and pulls the curtains shut. She has two very good reasons for this – it’s sunny, very bright, and the darkness is far more soothing (and far less embarrassing, because she can’t see him crying) and, while it’s not like Eames is royalty, his parents are interesting enough for their divorce to warrant some media attention, and the reporters have been harassing them all lately. She does all this never letting go of Eames, and Eames has always known she was amazing, really. And then they sit down on the floor, leaning against the bed, and she waits while he cries himself out. She doesn’t say a word.

It’s Eames who speaks first, in the end, and he says “I kissed a boy this year.”

*

Eames spends most of that summer at Charlotte’s house. This is, of course, no different than almost any other summer. Although this time around, there is no teasing. No mockery over how he has a crush on Charlotte, about how they are in love and how his mother thinks it’s adorable. His mother is too busy wrapped up in divorce proceedings and avoiding reporters, and she’s happy enough to leave him to his own devices. It’s one less thing she has to worry about. And Eames doesn’t want to get in her way, not really, just like he didn’t want to cause trouble every time his parents screamed at each other over the years. So he goes to Charlotte’s place, and she gives him all the attention he isn’t getting at home.

They spend hours talking. Eames tells her everything, from the boy from school to Lisle to the divorce, anything he can think of. He’ll talk himself hoarse, and then they’ll sleep, or drink more tea, or eat, or take a walk. They dance, a bit, and Eames is surprised by both how rusty he’s become, how unfit and inflexible, and by how much he enjoys it, still. Charlotte still attends classes at the same place down the road, and she’s getting really good. She could probably dance professionally, if she wanted. Eames is nowhere near as good, and probably never will be – his body is wrong for it, or it will be, once he gains all the muscle he’s likely to gain, being his father’s son (at least in body). But it’s fun, anyway. And more than that, while he’s dancing, while he’s at Charlotte’s place, he feels like himself, properly, for the first time in a long, long time. He feels like he can be himself, and like he can work out who that actually is. That he loves rugby, that dark haired boys really do it for him, that dancing is fun, and that Charlotte looks beautiful in her tutu’s. That he is jealous of her, being able to do and wear what she wants, just a little bit. And that also his mother might have been right, just slightly – he is in love with Charlotte, just a little bit. And he thinks she might be in love with him, too. He hopes so.

And so the summer goes. They dance around each other, both literally and metaphorically. They spend all their time together. When Eames does go home, it’s quiet, for once. It’s probably the happiest Eames has been in a long time.

And then, about three weeks before they’re due to return to school, two things happen simultaneously. And Eames has always heard that things happen in threes, but in his experience they’ve always happened in pairs.

Firstly, at the beginning of August, his parents, tired of arguing over every inch of property, finally come to an agreement. They sign the divorce papers, and that’s it. It’s officially over. Eames will be spending Christmas with his father in Paris, summer with his mother, other breaks to be negotiated. Their shared assets will be split equally, with part of each going into a trust fund for Eames. The end.

The second thing is, after Eames discovers that the divorce is final, he runs over to Charlotte’s place to tell her. And Charlotte isn’t there, she’s just popped out to the shops to find something, and so Eames goes upstairs, intending to wait in her room.

Charlotte’s room is a mess. It always has been, and probably always will be. Her bed is made, of course, but only because the maid would have made it that morning. The covers are still rumpled, however, and it’s clear Charlotte has been lying on them. Her clothes are spread from closet to bed, discarded in an effort to find something to wear. And her wardrobe door is ajar, and, peeking out from what looks to be an old suitcase, is a swath of deep green fabric.

Eames hasn’t thought about it in years, not really. He hadn’t allowed himself to, not after that summer, not after how his father had reacted. But seeing it there (and it might not even be the same dress, but it’s still the same colour, the same fabric that he remembers) brings everything back in an abrupt and sudden rush. He remembers how good it had felt, and how right, even though that dress hadn’t fitted him properly, not like his mother’s dove-grey dress fits her. But he thinks it might fit him now, grown taller and a little wider. It might still be a little too long, but Charlotte’s mother is a tiny woman, so it shouldn’t be too bad. And so, before he can think too hard about it, Eames tugs the dress out of the suitcase (carefully, so as not to snag or ruin it). He strips quickly out of his clothes (first shutting the door) and then pulls the gown on over his head.

And he was right, it does fit him better now. The skirt is slightly too long, the sleeves a little too wide, but other than that it fits like a glove. And the colour looks just as good on him as he remembers, bringing out his eyes and the blonde in his hair. He tugs it a little to settle it, and then goes in search of some shoes.

The ones he finds are old and battered, missing beads and with scratches on the heels. But they match the dress, and they don’t pinch too badly. And they make him taller, tall enough that the dress is the right length. And he still looks a little like a boy in his mother’s old dress, because these clothes are still made for adults, but it’s good enough for now. Besides, wearing something so removed from what he would ever wear in real life makes it easier to pretend, to be both himself and someone else at the same time. And he doesn’t even think about it, not really.

And then he hears footsteps on the stairs. But he doesn’t falter or scramble to change, doesn’t try to hide what he’s been doing. He isn’t doing anything wrong, he knows instinctively. This is what girls do, how they dress sometimes. And then, at other times, he’ll wear pants. Wear a rugby uniform. That’s just how it is.
And then Charlotte comes in. She looks a little startled, for a minute, but more in a I’m surprised to see you here than in a what are you doing in that dress kind of a way. She falters for a minute, but then she gathers herself, eyeing him critically.

“Green really is your colour, isn’t it?” She says, and then “But we need to do something about your hair.”

*

Over the last three weeks of that summer, they try almost everything. They try all the old dresses, jewellery, and shoes. They try some of Charlotte’s mother’s newer things, and some of Charlotte’s things, so Eames can get a feel for what clothes are available for twelve year old girls. They try every conceivable combination of colours, with hundreds of different styles of make-up. And then, at Eames’ request, they try on her father’s things, both old and new. They don’t fit as well, and the things they find that do fit are older, and not nearly as nice or as well looked after. But it’s still a chance to experiment, to discover his own style. Eames spends just as much time at Charlotte’s as he did before the divorce papers came through, only this time he’s happier, completely happy, and having fun.

Eventually they have to go back to school, though. And they go to different schools, on nearly opposite sides of the country. Charlotte attends a school in London, close to her ballet school, while Eames attends one miles away. But it doesn’t make any difference, not really. Eames comes to London whenever he can, and they exchange mail constantly. Charlotte sends him all the fashion catalogues she can find. Eames becomes very popular at his school, on account of all the lingerie catalogues. Which is fine by him, and besides, no one needs to know (because he isn’t really ready to say anything, and they probably wouldn’t understand) that he enjoys both the models and the lingerie they wear.

He continues to see that boy, the dark haired one from the year before. The boy is hurt, at first, by Eames’ apparent interest in female lingerie models, until he decides that Eames must be bisexual, clearly interested in both the models and in him. Eames supposes that term will do for now. So he goes with it. He turns thirteen. Charlotte sends him a finely tailored suit, fitted perfectly to his measurements, and, tucked into the corners of the box, a red lacy slip and matching panties. Eames’ father flies up to take him out to dinner for his birthday, and Eames takes great delight in wearing the suit and, underneath it, the red knickers. He lets the dark haired boy (whose name is Connor, incidentally, Eames still remembers that) take the suit off him, later, as compensation for not being able to celebrate his birthday with him. Connor sees the panties, and he doesn’t even blink. His eyes go dark, though, and the next day Eames receives a box, ostensibly full of borrowed books but really packed with more underwear. Eames doesn’t ask where he got it, just wears it.

The year goes on. Summer comes around again. And Eames feels less like he’s living for the summers, now, not after this year has been so decent, but he still looks forward to going home, back to London, and seeing Charlotte.

That summer goes much the same as the last one. The only difference is now his mother is dating Lisle, and Lisle is spending all his time at their house. Eames puts up with him, makes an effort to get along with him, but, as soon as he can, escapes to Charlotte’s place, where they spend their days much as they did the previous summer – dressing up, dancing, talking. Charlotte buys him things under the guise of buying them for herself, and her mother, although slightly mystified by her daughter’s sudden extreme spending (and sudden interest in clothes that are slightly too big), goes along with it. And so Eames creates a wardrobe that fits him properly, although it stays at Charlotte’s house. It stays there all through the school year, too, although Eames does smuggle a few pieces back with him. Both Connor and Charlotte buy him more things, and he adds those to his collection. He decides he hates black, much prefers colour and patterns, and even if he has to wear black, or anything else plain, he always adds something to it. His teachers begin to get annoyed at his slight alterations to the uniform. But he isn’t really doing anything too wrong, or if he is it’s all relative, compared to some of the behaviour. Besides, he’s paying enough that he can get away with it.

And then he turns fourteen, and gets his first proper growth spurt. None of his clothes fit anymore. And it’s harder and harder to find clothes now – his body isn’t exactly that of a fourteen year old girl’s, and people (namely the school, and his father, who controls his finances) would notice and ask questions if he started ordering and wearing custom made girls clothes. Charlotte does what she can, but she can’t do everything. Connor buys him underwear, at least, but he hasn’t told him everything, and so he can’t do much, either. And the only viable solution anyone offers (anyone being Charlotte, because Connor would never offer this as a solution – he’s still sensitive about not being able to meet Eames’ parents properly) is for him to pretend he’s suddenly got a girlfriend, which would be problematic for two reasons. Firstly because there is really nowhere to meet girls out here in the middle of nowhere (except maybe teachers, and that would only make the situation worse), least of all appropriate girls (that is, rich, upper class ones), and second of all, buying them clothes and then apparently hoarding them until summer is extremely strange behaviour. So he wears his old things for a while, even though they don’t fit right, and he endures until summer. Charlotte says she has something to show him, anyway, although she won’t say what it is. So he waits, and again lives a little for the summertime.

And then he goes back to London, and his mother meets him at the door. This is odd enough on its own – since his father left and Lisle came into the picture (and moved in officially, halfway through the year), his mother has been spending most of her time on her own or with Lisle. And then she shows him her left hand, with the huge sparkling diamond (bigger than the one his father gave her, Eames remembers, but just as nice, just as classy), and gushes at him about her wedding plans. And he smiles, and is happy for her, and says all the right things, and then leaves his things in his room and goes, again, like always, to Charlotte’s house.

And she must have been watching out the door, again, because she opens it before he can even get through the gate, running out to meet him (and her mother must not be here, because she’s gone on this kick recently of turning Charlotte into a proper young lady, and she would never let Charlotte do anything like run outside, or open the door herself). And she practically throws herself at him, and then lets go, backing off until she’s just grasping his wrist, dragging him back inside. And up they go, up the familiar pathway to her room.

It looks different now. It’s tidier, and the decorations have shifted, from pre-teen girl to near fifteen year old. She’s got posters up, bands and pop-stars and actors, and all the drapery, the duvet cover, the couch cushions, are all purple. It looks good. It suits Charlotte, too, who has dyed her hair dark, nearly black, and is wearing mostly dark colours. Her mother must hate her, at the moment. She looks like every typical teenager ever, nothing at all like a young lady of means should. Eames loves it.

But her drastic sartorial choices are obviously not what she wants to show him, although the baggy style she’s sporting now would probably fit him well - the colours wouldn’t suit him at all, though. Instead, she pulls open her closet door, and pulls out that now familiar suitcase. The dresses in there long ago stopped fitting Eames properly, and they’ll fit him even less now that he’s grown, but when she opens it, most of those dresses are gone. Most of his other things, the clothes he and Charlotte and Connor have collected over the years, are gone too, except for a few of the baggier pieces which will still fit and still look good. Instead, what’s now packed into the suitcase is a series of boxes; the thin distinctive cardboard and clear plastic of high end department stores, but with the tags that indicate made to fit orders. They look like something he would wear, something he’d like, rather than the guesses Charlotte’s made or whatever they’ve been able to scrape together before. And they’re made to fit dresses, no less, and jeans and singlets and floaty girls clothes. Suits he has, the ones Charlotte’s bought him among them, but he’s never had anything like this. It must have cost a fortune. And she’s gone all out, this time, with full outfits and make-up and shoes and underwear.

“Try them on,” she says.

So he does. But first he showers (because he came straight from school, and he smells like train and car and travel), and then Charlotte shows him how to shave (because he needs to now, although he leaves his legs, shaving only his underarms, because he’s going to wear men’s shorts at some point, and bare legs will rouse some suspicion), and then she shows him the perfume she bought. And he’s let his hair grow out a little, because that’s the fashion, so there’s plenty there for Charlotte to work with, to style into something amazing. So they work together, to style his hair and put on make-up, something neutral that will go with most of what Charlotte’s bought for him. And she has stockings, too, which more than make up for the lack of shaving. Plain stockings to make his legs look smooth. And the clothes she’s picked show some hints of her taste, but they’re closer to what Eames has seen in fashion catalogues, things he’s mentioned to Charlotte and some things he hasn’t. In the end, he’s wearing heels, stockings, a short skirt and fitted blazer, with a loose silk shirt underneath. His hair is swept back from his face. The scarf around his neck hides his Adam’s apple. He looks good.

And then he takes a few steps, and promptly falls over. Charlotte laughs at him, secure in her keds, her wardrobe full of flats. But he rights himself, eventually, and takes a few steps, slightly shaky but more confident now. He puts a little sway into his hips, like he’s seen his mother do, especially around Lisle, around his father, back in the day. And he knows he looks good, now. He looks how his mother looked, back in the kitchen that day, in her dove-grey dress. And he really does, actually, when he looks in the mirror. People have always said he looks like his father (although he has his mother’s colouring), but right now, in these clothes, with his hair and make-up done, and with the wide mouth he inherited from his mother, he really looks like her. His mother’s daughter. And then he sees Charlotte over his shoulder, standing behind him and pulling out a camera. And he knows it’s a bad idea, but he still turns around, spinning on his heels, to face Charlotte and her camera. And she laughs as he strikes a pose, and snaps away with her camera. And then they take some shots in some of his other outfits, and then in the old green dress (which, miraculously, still fits – just) just for old times sake. And then her film runs out, and she digs out an old Polaroid camera (which miraculously still works), and starts snapping away. Photographs of him, of her, of them both together.

And then, of course, Charlotte pulls out the final, crowning glory – a tight red party dress with matching heels and bag, and a choker of diamonds (or something similar, and that kills him a little, that he’ll always have to wear chokers or scarves or something if he wants to look biologically female) with matching earrings and bracelet. And then, of course, comes the real reason she dragged him over here, the real reason she spent all this money.

There’s a new club opening this weekend, and Charlotte wants to go. And from the way she talks she’s been planning this for a while – maybe not this club specifically, but the idea in general. She wants to go out, to go dancing and drinking. She wants him to go out in the clothes she bought him, and, she says, she wants to accompany him. On a real date. And she knows how he likes dark haired boys, and so she’s bought herself a suit, perfectly fitted, and after tomorrow, she says, she’ll have much shorter hair. It’ll be a bonus for her, too, because it’ll annoy her mother to no end. And when Eames points out that, of course, her mother won’t let her leave the house, that she’ll be grounded, that this’ll be the last straw, Charlotte pays him no mind. She’s set her mind on this (just like she sets her mind on everything she wants). She knows a guy (of course she does) who’ll do them fake IDs, as long as they can get him the pictures they want by tomorrow night. He’ll develop the film and everything, apparently. And Eames doesn’t ask, but he can see that Charlotte’s got this guy wrapped around her finger, that he’s probably doing this for free, or at least getting his rewards in a non-monetary manner. And again, he sees the power that her figure (even at this age) can bring her, and he wants that, wants to try it out. So he foolishly agrees, despite his reservations.

And then he takes off, so he can freak out a little. Both over the illegality, the dressing up, and the, well, the date. And she’d thrown that out there so casually, and Eames doesn’t know whether to believe her or not, but he’d like it to be a real date, actually. He’d like to go out with someone who knows him and likes him for who he is (and isn’t that all anyone ever wants, really).

So he goes back to Charlotte’s the next day, like he always does (and was always going to do). And she has the pictures, the IDs, and incredibly short hair (shorter than his, even). She looks quite boyish, although there’s still a hint of something else there, just like there is for him. And they try on the clothes, her suit and his dress, and he helps her with her look. And he’s worried, a little, that they still look too young, even though Charlotte told him that she waited this long so as they could look old enough, could pass (even just) for eighteen. He’s going to just have to trust her, in the end. And they do look like their photographs, at least, and the fakes are really good. And then Eames sees the way Charlotte is looking at him, all dressed up and made up and dolled up, and he thinks that maybe this could be a real date (hopefully, with luck). And so he looks back, a little, because she looks good in her suit, with the short hair – just as she looked good with long hair, in her skirts. But nothing else happens, not then. Not yet.

And Eames worries, a bit, about how they’ll carry this off, but in the end, it turns out to be easier than they’d expected. Charlotte’s mother retires early, apparently just exhausted by her daughter and the world in general. The hardest part turns out to be getting ready, quietly, with as little light as possible. It takes Eames three tries to get his eyeliner right. And then, sneaking out, barefoot so as not to make a sound (Charlotte’s shoes probably wouldn’t be a problem, but Eames’ stilettoes most definitely would be), tiptoeing out the backdoor, creeping around, ducking under the windows and easing the side gate open, hoping it won’t creak. And then they’re free, although they stay so quiet until they’re a block away, heading towards the nearest main street. And it’s a little uncomfortable, walking this far dressed like this (Eames has a lot of respect for girls who go about like this regularly), and the stuffing Charlotte insisted he put into his bra (just a little, enough to give a hint of cleavage) keeps shifting around, just enough to be uncomfortable. But he looks good, he knows he does, and so does Charlotte.

The cab driver obviously thinks so too. He makes no effort to be subtle, pulling up beside them on the footpath. He looks them up and down, and he’s obviously interested (and he’s looking at Eames, too), and so they get in, and Charlotte tells him where they need to go.

It isn’t far. The streets are busy, packed with people, a lot of them apparently headed for this club. They’re all dressed up, and Eames thinks that maybe they’ll fit in just fine. The busy-ness probably helps, in the end, because the bouncer is far too busy trying to corral the crowds to even check their IDs beyond a brief glance, with which he seems satisfied. And so they get in. And Eames keeps expecting something to go wrong, because it usually always does, and if this were a movie (or maybe a music video, which seems more likely) they’d all wake up right about now, to discover that this was all a dream (a very elaborate dream, but a dream nevertheless). And Eames is pretty sure he’s thinking (and possibly talking) nonsense right about now, but sneaking the occasional mouthful from your mother’s (or Charlotte’s mother’s) liquor cabinet does not an experienced drinker make, and three glasses of whatever it is Charlotte’s decided she wants to force-feed (force-drink?) him is more than enough to get him tipsy. It’s also enough to remove many of his inhibitions (and most of his co-ordination), which is why, when Charlotte disappears (to the bathroom this time, and Eames would be interested to see how she’s going to work that one out, if he was less drunk) and a pair of hands appear on his hips, he doesn’t fight it. In fact, because it seems like a good idea at the time, Eames just grinds back into the body behind him, puts his hands over the mysterious hands (and they’re tanned, that’s all Eames can see from this angle, and male (and there’s other evidence for this person being male, and Eames can feel that pressed up against his lower back, which is a little awkward, really, but also kind of flattering)). And he’s having fun, dancing and drinking and grinding up against this anonymous body, someone he’ll probably never see again (and isn’t even really seeing now, partly due to drunken blindness, and partly because, well, he’s got his back to this guy), and then the guy starts sucking on his neck, nipping and biting and that’s going to leave a mark, but it feels good enough that Eames doesn’t care, and his anonymous dance partner’s hands are moving off his hips, and down his thighs, fingers dancing under the edge of his skirt, and if he gets any closer, if his hands get any further up, Eames is going to assume he’s going to get a very unpleasant surprise, and so he’s just about to grab his hands, maybe move them somewhere else, but still keep dancing, when Charlotte comes back.

“We need to leave,” she says. And she’s deepened her voice, a little, but she still sounds young, and that, coupled with her slender frame, leaves her with very little authority in this situation.

Eames feels his dance partner shift, and then, predictably, he says “Who’s this?” and “we were just dancing, chill out, just having a little bit of fun.” And now this really feels like a movie.

Eames pulls away, a little. Trusting in Charlotte’s judgment has in fact gotten him safely this far, and (aside from the fact he’s enjoying himself) he sees no reason not to trust her again. So he disentangles himself, apologizes, and then makes his way outside with Charlotte.

They make their way through the people milling about outside the door, still a large crowd even after several hours. And then they break free, finally, and Charlotte drags him down a nearby alley.

He thinks about making some sort of quip, a joke to lighten the suddenly serious atmosphere and get rid of that sombre expression on Charlotte’s face. But then she turns around, suddenly, and whatever it is, Eames doesn’t really want to be having this conversation in a dark alley to the soundtrack of the couple in the far corner, but it doesn’t look like he’s going to be given much choice.

As it turns out, though, Charlotte doesn’t want to talk.

Instead, she pushes him up against the wall, and Eames has just enough time to think I hope this doesn’t ruin the dress before Charlotte’s leg is between his thighs, her body pressed along his, and her mouth on his mouth.

Next

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
placideyes
Jan. 25th, 2011 07:15 pm (UTC)
I just, wow, this is amazing. I just wanted to say something before I moved on to the next chapter even if I'm not really saying anything at all.

<333

I love this so far.
leaper182
Feb. 28th, 2011 09:30 pm (UTC)
I just watched Inception, so this is my first fic in the fandom! Wheee.

Either way, it's interesting to think of Eames like this when he was younger. I'm definitely intrigued. :D
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )