Hello! This was done for a prompt on the kink meme that asked for Arthur and Eames being uncles to Cobb's children. ...This is what came out. It's one long chapter because that's how it's supposed to be read.
Disclaimer: I do not own Inception!
He's sitting in the waiting room with his heart in his throat and it isn't even his wife in the hospital. It's just that this kind of waiting has always made him nervous; he was the same way waiting for his acceptance letters and the results of his mother's blood tests. He hates it. He fights down the urge to smooth his hair back again, since he has already made sure it is perfect at least three times. He rubs his neck, trying to get rid of some of the tension.
"Mr. DeLacey?" says the receptionist in a cold, professional voice, and he thinks God, don't these people realize what they're doing? "You can go up now. Room 506."
"Thank you," he says mechanically, and stands. He straightens his suit as if he hadn't spent the past five hours in a plastic chair alternately trying or not to sleep. He heads for the elevator. He is the only one inside it, so he studies himself in the mirrored wall without shame. He looks awful. He presses the button for floor five, which says Maternity.
Enough time passes in the elevator that he has convinced himself that something has gone wrong. Mal has been in labor for too long, the baby came too soon, someone is hurt, someone is sick. He wonders if the very professional receptionist would look sad if that were the case. He shudders as he steps out onto the tiled floor. People are moving around everywhere, though the lights are dimmed. A clock on the wall reads 3:45.
"Do you need help?" asks a nurse at the desk in front of him. Arthur swallows and shakes his head. He follows the signs away from her, putting one foot in front of the other. He remembers how happy they all were when Mal said she was pregnant. He remembers Professor Miles throwing a party, the tales about baby Dom's ridiculous stunts. For months Dom's dreams were full of laughing children until even Mal was good-naturedly sick of it.
He asks himself again why the baby had to come three weeks early.
The white hallway gives way to a beige one and Arthur lifts his gaze from the carpet. The figure leaning on the wall ahead is familiar and Arthur clears his throat. "Cobb," he says, and he feels even worse when his voice breaks over that small sound.
"Hey," says the man, and he looks even more exhausted than Arthur. But his eyes…his eyes are smiling. "Hey. Arthur, it's okay." He is suddenly there, his hands on Arthur's shoulders, and his face breaks into a grin. "They're both going to be fine, so stop looking so gloomy. Hey," and he gives the younger man a slight shake. "I'm a father!"
A flood of relief breaks over him and he feels a little light-headed as he lets himself smile back. "That's so great! Congratulations!" He puts a hand over Cobb's for a second before pulling away. "Mal?" he asks.
"She's sleeping. Do you want to meet my daughter?"
"A girl, huh?" asks Arthur, and he follows Cobb back past the nursing station toward the neonatal unit. "She's going to be so spoiled." It's the only thing his sleep-deprived brain can come up with, but Cobb's not even really listening. It's been a long night.
"Her name is Philippa," says Cobb with pride, and he stops walking. They've arrived at a large window looking into the premature ward. Behind the glass there are little rows of incubators, each with a tiny infant inside. Nurses and attendants stride up and down the rows, adorned with masks and gloves. Cobb puts his finger against the window to indicate the one which holds his daughter. Arthur feels another stab of fear.
"She's… she's so little," he chokes out, and hates himself. He sneaks a glance at Cobb's face but finds only peace there.
"She'll grow." Cobb allows his eyes to close for a minute, then he's back to studying Arthur in that way of his. "I know you're worried, but the doctor says she's got a good chance. There aren't any infections, and her lungs actually look good for how early she is."
"Okay." Arthur wants to believe him, so he does, but the relief that lasted him down the corridors is dropping away and he feels empty again. He bids Cobb farewell and takes a taxi back to his apartment. It takes him two more hours to get to sleep and he feels like crying.
Ten weeks later he is holding a baby in his arms and he is almost sick with joy. He keeps tracing her hands with his finger, keeps trying to memorize her pale blue eyes and her smile.
"How does it feel to be an uncle?" Cobb asks him, leaning over the back of the couch, and Mal takes Philippa so Arthur, laughing, can dry his eyes.
"How was I supposed to know she wasn't your kid?" asks Eames, though he doesn't sound that interested in the conversation. He keeps rearranging the papers on his desk into messier piles, as if he keeps giving up halfway through.
"I'm not blonde," explains Arthur, irritated. He turns his back on the forger, the newest member of their team, and goes to his own desk, which is spotless. He picks up a glass paperweight and puts it down again in a different corner. The two of them are alone in the classroom and it is getting dark, the gray November light bleaching the color from the afternoon.
"Yes, but your wife could be, couldn't she?" drawls Eames. He sticks his hands into his jacket pockets and sighs the sigh of one who has been working for too long. Arthur, privately, can sympathize. It doesn't make him hate the man any less.
"I'm not married." His own jacket still smells clean, like the baby, and he puts his face in the folds when Eames isn't looking. When he peers over the collar he notices a pink teddy bear on a desk by the window and makes a note to take it with him when he leaves. Cobb needed to be more organized…
Eames looks slightly more engaged as he processes this last comment, giving Arthur a considering look that he really doesn't like. "You have a girlfriend?" asks the older man, eyebrow quirked.
"I'm going now," says Arthur, and he grabs his pile of take-home folders. "Close the blinds when you leave, and don't forget to tell Miles that we'll be using this space tomorrow, too."
Arthur shuts the door behind him.
"You're going to have a baby brother," Arthur says again, and he lifts Philippa off the floor and into his lap so she can sit awkwardly with him in his Spartan living room. "Your dad and your maman are at the hospital to get him."
"What will he be like?" asks the two-year-old warily, because her father has told her to stop saying she doesn't want a brother. "Maman says too little to play."
"For a while, he will be, but he'll get bigger. Think about all the fun things you can teach him." Arthur is distracted by the girl's plastic cup, which is leaving a water spot on his coffee table. He tries to shift her to the side so he can grab it but she resists him stubbornly.
"I don' wanna be nice to him," she says, and her bottom lip starts to stick out ominously. "Maman and Daddy are my maman and daddy. If he's stupid can we gib him back?"
"Don't say 'stupid'," chides Arthur, and he bounces her on his knee.
When, after another hour of reassurance Philippa refuses to be mollified, Arthur puts her to bed, unhappy, in his room, taking the couch for himself. It is only seven o'clock but he is already weary, so he doesn't turn on the TV. Instead, he pillows his head on his arm and watches his cell phone on the table. It stays quiet for minutes and then longer. Briefly, he thinks about calling Eames, but the man is in Russia on business and Arthur doesn't want to interrupt. It's not even like they're friends or anything…
He falls asleep by nine and doesn't wake to the text at ten-thirty. Thinking of you, the wether here sucks, call me somtime.
"No, I do not like picnics," Arthur says flatly, and continues to remove his suit jacket. He tries to fold it somewhat satisfactorily but soon gives up, dropping it as gently as he can on the checkered blanket. It is hot out and he is sweating and just then he hates Cobb, who had work but didn't think anyone else would.
"Of course you do," says Eames kindly, even though ninety percent of his words today seem to be patronizing and nothing but. He pops open a can (not beer, Arthur is glad to see), and takes a swig before turning back to his task of unwrapping peanut-butter sandwiches. "You just haven't been on the right one yet."
"This isn't the right one." He wishes he'd gone without the tie. "Philippa! Lunchtime!"
"Jelly, right?" confirms Eames much too cheerfully as the three-year-old returns from the park's sandbox. He hands her a triangle of sandwich. "Eat up, pet."
"Kay!" She eats like her father does, with gusto, but tucks a napkin down her shirt like her mother. The white paper practically glows in the summer sunlight and matches Philippa's new sneakers. Through a mouthful of food, Philippa asks "Why do you call me pet, Uncle Eames? I'm not a kitty."
"Chew and swallow," says Arthur, who has propped the baby up against his shoulder and is now feeding him from the plastic bottle. James is warm in his arms and Arthur suddenly wishes he could be like Eames and wear a T-shirt every day. He shifts his grip and watches the milk disappear.
"It's a term of endearment," explains Eames, picking a dandelion by the blanket's edge and putting it behind Philippa's ear. He grins at her blank look. "It means I like you. Like when your mum calls you cherie."
"Oh, okay," says Philippa, and then she swallows. "Like when you call Uncle Arthur darling."
Eames shoots a lazy look over her head to his coworker and hesitates. "Yeah, like that," he finally admits.
Arthur frowns and lowers the empty bottle. "We're just friends," he mutters, but he isn't sure to whom. Philippa is busy with the basket, looking for a cookie. Eames is trying to get her to eat another quarter of her sandwich. Sighing, Arthur turns James over on his shoulder and pats his back.
He supposes this isn't so bad.
"Evening, darling," say Eames, who is standing on the front steps and is soaking wet. He doesn't ask to come in, just looks at Arthur's face and sort of shrugs. He is paler in the darkness than he should be.
"Eames," says Arthur, because he isn't sure what else to say. He takes a step back and, slowly, the forger steps into the foyer. "You're wet. Let me get you a towel."
"Thanks," says Eames, who stands there, still, until the point man returns with one. He takes it from Arthur's hands and belatedly presses it to his face. He pauses there until the water dripping down his back from his hair causes him too much discomfort, and then he moves. "Rough night," he says, halfheartedly rubbing himself dry.
"Yes," says Arthur, who thinks Eames has been drinking. It isn't that he blames the man; it's more that he is jealous. He lets Eames follow him down the print-adorned hallway and into the kitchen, where he resumes his seat at Cobb's table. Eames leans against the counter awkwardly and shoves a hand into his pocket. Arthur does not need to look to know what he is doing, because he has been rolling his die all night.
"This," says Eames, because Eames has never been very good at not talking. "This is just… Did you go to the funeral?"
"Yes, I did."
"How was he?"
"How do you think?" Arthur is angry and he is frustrated, but mostly he is sad. He wants Eames to go away and he wants him to come closer. He touches his totem again but does not throw it.
"I'm sorry," says the forger.
"For what? None of this is your fault." Arthur leans his chin on his hand and watches rain sluice down the black windowpanes.
"You're angry with me. I should have been there."
Arthur does not say you should have because he is not petty. He twists a saltshaker absently and says nothing.
"Darling," says Eames.
"Arthur," he amends.
But from the direction of the bedroom they can suddenly hear Philippa crying. Arthur stands and goes to her, leaving Eames alone in the kitchen with his thoughts.
"I brought presents," explains Eames, as if this is all it takes to make things better. Behind Arthur, in the den, Philippa and James seem to think that it does. They cheer and call "Uncle Eames, Uncle Eames!" and run up to stand by Arthur's legs, eyes sparkling. Arthur frowns and tries to close the door, but Eames has his foot in the way.
"You're not getting back into my good graces so easily," Arthur remarks, leaning on the wood hard enough that Eames grimaces. He can take it.
"No, Uncle Arthur," cries Philippa, and she wraps her fingers in the back of his shirt.
"No, Uncle Arthur," choruses James, who puts his hand in his mouth and stares up with puppy eyes.
"Come on, what do you say?" Eames pleads laughingly. "It's Christmas, isn't it? You can afford some good cheer, darling." He pushes back on the door. "I have a present for you, too."
"Come on, Uncle Arthur!" James starts to tug on Arthur's pants. Slowly, Arthur's lips twitch into a grudging smile.
"I suppose, what with it being Christmas." He steps back and Eames finally comes inside, shaking snow off his ridiculous orange hat. "You make sure to hang that up somewhere," Arthur says, resigned, as the children squeal and caper back to their game in the den. "Cobb will have my throat if there's water on his hardwood floors." He chuckles. "He's gotten so domestic."
"Right, right," says Eames, and he puts the hat and his coat in the closet next to Arthur's. He tries to smack Arthur with one of his wet gloves, but the point man is wise to his tricks and steps away. "So where is he, anyway?"
"Gift-shopping." They go into the kitchen where Arthur was apparently trying to cook before Eames arrived. There is a box of rice on the sideboard and a chicken sitting on the counter by the sink. Arthur leaves Eames at the table and returns to the oven, rolling up his sleeves along the way.
"That's leaving it a bit late, don't you think? It being the twenty-first?" Eames comes up behind Arthur and wraps his arms around the man's waist, letting his chin rest on the Arthur's shoulder. Arthur smells like soap and the barest hint of expensive cologne. Eames considers nipping his neck before Arthur smacks him.
"A bit late, yes," the point man says, and pops a cranberry into his mouth, his lips puckering at how sour it is. Eames wants to kiss those lips. He almost gets the chance, but James runs in holding a DVD case.
"Movie, Uncle Eames!" he shouts and pulls the man away from Arthur, not noticing or not caring – he's only three – just how close the two men are. "Nemo!"
"Okay, all right!" Eames laughs, bidding Arthur a fond and surreptitious farewell with a quick pat to his bottom. "This is that fish movie that your dad got sick of the last time I was here, isn't it?"
"Uh-huh! But I like Nemo."
"Let's go put it in then." Eames takes the boy's hand and they leave the kitchen. "Later, darling!" he calls over his shoulder. "Don't set the house on fire."
"Eames," scoffs Arthur, because he can cook just fine, thank you. He shakes his head, turns back to the stove, and tries to remember where Cobb keeps his measuring cup.
"Are you gay?"
The question catches him off-guard and Arthur can't answer immediately. He pauses, instead, in buttoning up James's coat and turns to look at the boy's sister. A million questions are flitting through his brain: Who told you that word? Does it matter? Are you old enough to hear this? What about James? The one he settles on is "Why do you think so?"
Philippa shifts uncomfortably where she's standing by the fridge and lifts up a hand to play with her hair. It's a nervous habit she seems to be developing and Arthur wonders if she gets it from him. He resists the urge to runs his fingers through his own slick locks.
"Teacher says that when two men like each other, they're gay," she finally says, shrugging one shoulder. "You like Uncle Eames, right?" She is abnormally serious for a nine-year-old.
"Well, yes," says Arthur, because it is the truth and he can still feel Eames's breath on his neck from last night.
"Isn't that bad?" she asks, looking even more nervous, like she thinks she is saying something wrong but isn't really sure.
"What's bad?" asks James, looking from the one to the other, his blue eyes wide. "It's okay if they love each other, r'member Phil? Daddy said so."
"Okay," she says, but she doesn't really look convinced. Arthur doesn't know how to address this, how Cobb would want him to. He wishes Eames was there with him instead of on a flight to Brazil. Eames would know what to say.
"Let's go to the park," he decides, and finishes buttoning James up. He stands and takes the boy's hand but Philippa slips out of his reach and opens the front door, running out onto the driveway and past Arthur's trendy little hybrid. She stays ahead of him, despite his scolding, all the way to the playground.
"Are you going to get married?" James asks him that night, climbing up to sit next to him on the sofa. "To Uncle Eames, I mean." He is holding a stuffed dog, his favorite companion when his sister decides not to play with him. She is in the kitchen doing her homework, multiplication problems, at the table. Arthur knows she is listening; he takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly.
"I don't know," he says, because the thought has only rarely crossed his mind. The way they live, it just has never seemed practical. He has some vague notion that the children think he is a lawyer and Eames an actor or something simple like that, and he doesn't know how to tell them what a bad idea it is. "Uncle Eames and I are pretty busy. I don't think we'd have time."
"Daddy says there's always time when you love someone," James says guilelessly, just smiling. "He says he and Mom were always going on adventures, but they still got married."
From the kitchen, there is the sound of a chair scraping back and a textbook falling shut. "Stop talking about Maman," cries Philippa. "You didn't even know her!" Arthur wonders, bewildered, if this has anything to do with her previous question. Then he hears Philippa's little footsteps echo off the stairwell as she runs upstairs, followed by the sound of a door slamming. Arthur starts up from the couch, his hand firmly around James's wrist. "Philippa!" he shouts, because whether or not nine is a difficult age, she shouldn't be slamming doors.
"What's going to happen now?" gasps James, not even bothering to pull away though he is scared of Arthur's face. "Are you mad?"
Arthur doesn't answer, just starts toward the stairs dragging James behind him. He has forgotten his grip on the boy. As they pass the threshold to the kitchen there is the sound of a key turning in the lock and Arthur turns his head to see Cobb coming in with an armful of groceries.
"Hey guys," he begins, but his smile falters when he sees Arthur's face. "What? What is it?" He places a plastic bag full of cereal on the counter and shuts the door with his foot.
"Philippa's being bad," whispers James, and Arthur lets him go, sighing.
"She's upstairs," says the point man. He walks to the closet and pulls out his jacket. "Sorry, but I have to go."
"Uh, sure. Call me later?" Cobb suggests, picking James up. "You look stressed. Try not to overdo it, Arthur."
Cobb watches him until he reaches his car and then goes upstairs.
Arthur gets drunk and goes to the gun range. It's not the most responsible thing he's ever done, no, but right now he needs to relax. He's not even that intoxicated, so he shrugs off his conscience and takes aim again at the paper man standing downrange. He's using his Glock, one of the actually registered weapons he owns, and he shoots to kill.
One bullet goes through the target's head, clipping where the left eyebrow would be. Why are you freaking out Arthur?
Another bullet goes through the target's shoulder, and Arthur imagines the collarbone snapping into shards and puncturing the heart. Is it something she said, or something you did? What happened?
Arthur stares down the barrel for a clean shot. I want to marry Eames. The bullet goes wide and impacts the wall, twenty feet away from where it should be.
"I'm sorry," says Philippa, looking up from her phone long enough to catch Arthur's eye. When she is sure she has his attention, she drops hers back to the screen.
"For what?" Arthur asks quietly, shifting a little on the couch. He moves the icepack from his forehead to his cheek and tries not to throw up from the pain in his head. "You know I've already forgiven you for the softball." Cobb should be proud of her, he thinks blearily. She's got quite the arm.
"I know, but it's not for that." There is no sound in the darkness of the living room except the click of Philippa's phone keyboard as she texts. She is always texting now. Arthur supposes it must have something to do with almost being a teenager.
"Oh?" asks Arthur, because it's the only word he can manage just then. He closes his eyes and lets out a shaky breath.
"Today's your anniversary, right?" She looks at him over her electronics, shy. "Dad says you and Uncle Eames had your first date today."
"Mm," Arthur agrees. They'd been going to go out for dinner that night, somewhere romantic with candlelight and flowers. That was before Arthur's head injury. He doesn't blame her, really, he just wishes the aspirin would kick in. "Don't worry about it," he says. "We'll go out tomorrow."
"Oh, okay." She still looks unhappy, or maybe that's just the low light. "Hey, Uncle Arthur?"
Arthur reminds himself to inhale through the throbbing. "Yes, pet?"
She smiles. "Um, how did you know you were in love with Uncle Eames?"
"Ahaha…" Arthur thinks back so many years and says "It was probably because I no longer wanted to strangle him."
"No, for real!" Philippa cries, like she doesn't believe it. Cobb has been sheltering these children.
"Well, hon, it wasn't a sudden thing." He moves the icepack back to his forehead and turns a little so he is on his back. "We started off hating each other. After a while, all his annoying little comments started to become amusing." He blinks. "Don't tell him I told you this."
"Right." She gets this well enough. This is girl time. "But how did you, like, know you wanted to, to…"
To what? Arthur wonders in horror, and Eames must be rubbing off on him because all she says is "Kiss him." He suddenly has a suspicion that there is a boy involved in this conversation.
"Is there someone you like?" he asks sleepily. The drugs have started to take effect. He carefully feels the goose-egg on his temple and is relieved that it doesn't flare with pain like it had.
"No, no!" she cries, blushing. "This is for a, a science project. For, uh, biology." The phone is discarded on the carpet beside her and he is glad he got her away.
"Well, I can give you some advice," Arthur starts, but what advice Philippa never learns because that is when the baseball comes through the window. It is amazing to watch the glass bow in and shatter, the ball rip away the red curtain as it plunges through the den to thud against the wall. Philippa gasps.
"Sorry!" cries James a split second later, running up to the window with Eames and his father just after him. "Are you guys okay? I really didn't mean to, really I didn't!"
"I'm okay," says Philippa, almost in shock as Cobb hurries inside through the back door. "Uncle Arthur?"
The burst of light and noise hasn't done Arthur any favors. In fact, it seems to have gone directly to his brain, along with a massive slug of agony. He curls up on the sofa, his hands on his face.
"Darling!" calls Eames, and he comes inside, too, hurrying to the couch. He doesn't touch his partner but kneels by Arthur's face and shields him from the sunlight.
This is how Arthur spends his seventh anniversary on the floor of Dominic Cobb's downstairs bathroom puking, Eames patting his back and occasionally telling the 'funny' story about that one time they got drunk in Saigon.
"So what do you really do, Uncle Arthur?" James asks, turning back from the ferry window. He has apparently gotten tired of the view of gray water and is now seeking other entertainment. When Arthur is slow to answer, the boy sighs and sticks his hands into his pockets. He comes around to the other side of the table so he can look directly at the man and lowers his voice conspiratorially. "Because you and I both know you aren't a lawyer."
"Oh we do, do we?" asks Arthur, not really looking up from his book. This trip was supposed to be for whale watching, but the weather had taken a turn for the worse while they were out in the bay, leaving the kids cooped up in the interior of the boat. Cobb had taken Philippa and Ariadne, who was visiting the area, to the front of the boat so they could talk about the bayside architecture as they sped inland. Eames was supposed to have taken James to observe the ferry captain, but the forger had discovered, brutally, that he tended to get seasick. He had complained bitterly to Arthur that he was getting old before taking an umbrella and going out to stand, miserable, on the deck.
"Yeah," says James, coming even closer. He isn't as bold as Eames, who would just push Arthur's book down, but he clearly wants attention. "You work with my dad, right? With the PASIV?"
Arthur's head snaps up. "James, that's ridicu-"
"No, no; it's okay!" says the boy, hurriedly waving his hand like he can brush away Arthur's fears. "Philippa and I have known for ages."
"It's not safe." Arthur has discarded his book and looks seriously at James. "Who else have you told?"
James's eyes are wide. "No one, honest!" He checks surreptitiously around him, examining the other ferry passengers as if they are spies. "Why's it so dangerous? Do you, like, mess with people's minds?"
"James…" Arthur puts his hand on the boy's shoulder. "One day, I promise, you will learn all about it. From your dad. I can't tell you anything, so stop fishing for information."
The boy pouts. "Fine." He goes to look back out the window. Arthur looks around at the other patrons then, but he had made sure that no one untoward would be on the boat before they boarded. Satisfied, he picks up his book again, keeping an eye on his 'nephew'.
"I bet it pays a lot." It's quiet, but Arthur glances over and sighs.
"I'm just saying." There are a few more minutes of silence. "How much does Armani cost?"
Arthur's lips quirk up and he turns a page. "More than you have right now."
"I know that. But someday I'll get to dress like you." He nods to himself. "Oh, hey, a puffin!"
Arthur almost laughs, but appreciation for a good suit is something he can understand.
The Boy is standing in the Cobbs' living room, wearing a tuxedo with a crimson waistcoat and sweating bullets. Cobb is very quietly giving him a rundown of every weapon he is capable of operating, which is a not inconsiderable number, and telling him just how effectively they can render a person insensible. Or dead. Philippa is in her room, putting on the finishing touches for her outfit.
"Get the camera," Arthur says to Eames, who is snickering at The Boy's terrified expression.
Eames pretends to wipe away a tear and turns a smirk on his partner. "You get the camera, love. You're closer."
"I'm busy," explains Arthur as if it is obvious. And it should be; he is preparing dinner, chopping up vegetables for the soup. He has really grown to love cooking over the years.
"You can put that down," insists Eames, but he walks the three feet to the kitchen table and picks up the camera. Expertly, he turns it on and adjusts the settings. It's a professional-level Nikon that Eames bought on a whim a few months back. "Smile," he chirps, pointing it at Arthur.
"Stop. Eames!" Arthur can't quite get a hand up in time to cover his face before the flash goes off and he glares at the forger. "You know I don't like it when you do that."
"Ahaha! You look like a murderous housewife, Arty," exclaims Eames, his eyes glittering.
"At least I don't look like a bum," Arthur sniffs, taking off his apron and wiping his hands. "You couldn't scare up anything more respectable to wear on prom night?" He raises an eyebrow at Eames's faded blue jeans, open plaid shirt, and paint-splattered undershirt.
"Lord, it isn't my prom," Eames scoffs. "It isn't like I'm going to be in the pictures. Besides, you know powder blue is the only tux I'd bear to be seen in."
"Heaven forbid," Arthur laughs, pretending to be dismayed. He comes over to kiss Eames on the jaw. "You're terrible."
"I know," says Eames, and he pulls the camera away from Arthur's secretly questing hands. "Ah, no, we aren't getting rid of the housewife photo."
"Eames!" Arthur makes a grab for it, but misses when Eames twists away from him. "Give that back." He takes a step away from the forger and gives him an assessing look. He checks that his sleeves are rolled up securely, then he goes over the table.
"Oh, Christ, Arthur!" Eames yelps, skidding away. He gives in to a burst of startled laughter before ducking under Arthur's arm and grabbing the point man around the middle, hauling him over his shoulder. With his other hand he puts the camera on the counter, pushing it away from the edge.
"Put me down," says Arthur, twisting in Eames's grip. "You'll cause a scene."
"You're the one who brought acrobatics into it. Besides, I like having your arse right here." Eames attempts to grope the man, smirking.
"That's enough!" calls a female voice, and the two of them freeze. "Uncle Arthur, Uncle Eames, stop horsing around." Philippa is standing in the kitchen doorway in a strapless red gown, her hair done up with ribbon and glitter. She is frowning. To The Boy she says, "It's all right, Eric; just ignore them. They're not all there."
"Since when does she get to talk to us like that?" Arthur mutters, but he has stopped struggling.
"She's a teenager, darling," Eames says. He walks over to the counter to grab the camera. "I guess it's go time, hm?"
"I guess so," says Arthur. It is only once they've passed out of the kitchen and into the living room that he flushes. "Godammit, put me down!"
"Okay, how do I get down from here?" Philippa is standing by the railing and looking down at the floor, quirking an eyebrow at her reflection. The childlike expression is at odds with her buttoned-down appearance and Arthur smiles. He remembers going through this with Ariadne.
"Just imagine the staircase lifting," he says, and it does, raising them away from the loop. "It's a paradox, Penrose steps."
"Wow, that is so cool, Arthur!" she cries, and then blushes. "Um, Uncle Arthur. So, what else can you do in the dream?" Her eyes are shining as he walks her down the staircase.
"Oh, you can do plenty," he says. "You just need to watch out for the projections. I told you earlier that they notice any changes and can get violent." He leads her down a hallway and outside to the office building's courtyard. To his dismay, Eames has taken over the space and turned it into a target course. He is busy instructing his nephew in how to wield an M16. "Oh, come on- James!"
"Yes?" They both turn to answer, and Arthur blushes slightly, letting the children – young adults – think that he was calling his nephew and not his lover.
"And Eames," he adds, and said lover smirks. He knows. "Eames, you can't teach a sixteen-year-old how to operate a rifle! He's not legal to shoot for two more years!"
"Does that mean he can teach me?" asks Philippa, and Arthur throws up his hands. He has never felt so out of control before (except his first night with Eames in the same bed, and how they'd-) and it's giving him a headache.
"Sure," crows Eames, and he gestures her over. "Sorry James, but I'd forgotten about the silly gun laws in your country." Behind him Arthur scoffs. James sighs and gets a look on his face that is incredibly reminiscent of Cobb when the man is pissed off. "But don't worry! Once you're of age, we'll give it a go. Just our bad luck that Mr. Killjoy here happened to show up."
"Can we please retain some semblance of morality, Mr. Eames?" Arthur beckons James to come stand with him out of firing range, but the boy just looks back sullenly and slides off in the other direction, mercifully still away from Philippa and her new weapon. Arthur refrains from making a catty comment because he is better than a teenage boy. But he wants to.
"Might want to get out of that skirt," Eames is telling the girl as he shows her how to take off the safety. "Certainly it flatters your legs - did Arthur make it for you? – but it'll be hell in a firefight."
"Oh, yeah," she stutters, blushing, and steps into a slim pair of slacks that she imagines. "Thanks for this, Uncle Eames."
Arthur considers that he is the only one on one-name basis and wonders if that is a good thing before scanning the office for angry projections. Philippa's subconscious seems to be fairly well-behaved; the men and women striding behind glass walls are glaring at them but not yet massing in anger.
"No problem," says the forger, and he cocks his gun, watching as she imitates him. "Now, here's how to aim…"
They spend the dream-night in a bar of Eames's creation. It's called the Devil Take Them, the name proclaimed by a surprisingly tasteful sign hung over the door. Arthur recognizes the bouncer to be a man named Ricardo. He had been the lookout for a job they'd pulled in Hawaii years ago. Eames has a good memory.
And it seems like nothing but memories will be hitting him tonight. The bar itself is from an opulently-appointed but terrible sushi joint that he and Eames used to frequent more than a decade ago, back when they were working out of the college and couldn't afford to eat fancy every night. The bartender slaps his drinks down the length of wood proudly, his back to a mirror from their first shared hotel room in Paris. The tables are all taken from a casino Arthur rescued Eames from after their mutual friend (and Eames's former lover) Seamus died. They'd later gone back and cheated the house out of just shy of a million Euros. The carpet is from the motel in Greece, the stage from a strip club in Atlanta. The lights display is lifted directly from the amazing indie concert he and Eames had attended in a tiny, tiny Amsterdam coffeehouse. It was where they shared their first kiss.
Taken altogether, the place reminds him of nothing he's ever seen. It's in the details that he can feel the pulse.
"Eames," he says, quiet. But the forger is busy amusing James with his buxom blonde disguise, giggling and making her breasts bounce obscenely. Arthur shakes his head and takes Philippa, who is also frowning, to the bar. "Gin and tonic," he tells the barkeep. "Phil, what for you? You can drink tonight. Technically, we're in France."
"Oh, uh, thanks," she says, suddenly insecure. She brushes her hair behind her ear. "I'll have a glass of Chablis."
"Coming right up," says the projection, and busies himself with his work. Philippa fiddles with the hem of her shirt and watches Arthur, who has turned his attention back to Eames. He gets a wink from the blonde for his trouble and he sighs.
"So… do you like him as a woman?" Philippa asks, curious. She has picked up her glass and is swirling the pale liquid inside it with an appreciation for fine wine that Arthur used to see in her mother.
"No," he says, picking up his own drink. "I like him best as himself." He raises his glass to his lips and considers tossing it back like he used to do after jobs, still strung out on adrenaline.
"But you're still not married?" Philippa asks, and he is probably reading too much into her tone, but he frowns and shakes his head.
"Nope," he says. "But we don't really need to be."
"I want to marry someone like you, Arthur," Philippa sighs, sipping her wine.
Arthur hesitates for just a moment and then knocks back his gin. He almost chokes on the gold ring that was sitting, protected in a little plastic bubble, at the bottom of his glass. When he recovers to hear Eames laughing, James worrying, and Philippa gasping, he thinks it wouldn't be such a bad kick: death by engagement.
It doesn't stop him from trying to strangle Eames.
"I can't breathe," Eames declares, trying to wrestle Arthur off of him. They are lying on a bed in a resort hotel near San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize. "You have got to stop," he wheezes.
"I think not," says Arthur, and runs his fingertips lightly down Eames's sides again, eliciting another curse-filled string of laughter and renewed escape attempts. "This is fun. Besides, you owe me from that one time in Illinois."
"I can't believe you still remember that," Eames gasps, finally managing to uncurl long enough to grab both of Arthur's hands in a vice-like grip. "You're worse than Saito with grudges. Bloody Nora…" He hauls his husband off of him. "That's enough."
There is a knock on the door. "Uncoo Arfur? "Uncoo Eames? Time to go!" The voice is that of Ariadne's two-year-old daughter, Felicity, who is already proving to be just as smart as her mom.
"Guys, the reception starts in half an hour," clarifies Ariadne herself. "Be ready, all right? Dom's cried enough today and we wouldn't want to bring on any more tears." She chuckles and Felicity joins in, though the baby surely doesn't know what for.
"Don't worry, we'll be there," Arthur answers, sitting up. He runs a hand back through his hair. "We should shower," he says, once Ariadne's footsteps have faded.
"You look fine, darling," Eames drawls, not moving. "Just put on your other suit and you'll be grand."
He does, and Eames is all over him with his sinful lips telling him he's good enough to eat. Arthur pushes him off, forces the retired forger into his own suit, and they lock up the room before descending to the seaside bar. Cobb has apparently started bawling again, for he is nowhere to be seen. Philippa and her new husband, however, are greeting guests by the other end of the patio. Arthur and Eames sign the guestbook and get in line.
She lights up when she sees them. "Uncle Arthur! Uncle Eames! I'm so glad you could make it to the reception. I thought you had something lined up in Moscow today?" She hugs Arthur lightly around the shoulders and kisses both his cheeks. Eames lifts her up and spins her around.
"No way we'd miss it," Eames tells her, setting her lightly on her feet. "Not in a million years."
"Damn straight," Philippa declares. She turns to her boy. "Will, these are James and Arthur Eames-DeLacey. They're friends of the family."
"A pleasure," he announces, and shakes their hands. He's a gentle sort of man and Eames immediately likes him. He wants to stay and talk more, but there are people waiting behind them. Arthur takes his arm.
"You two have a wonderful night," says the ex-point man. "Talk to you later, and congratulations!" He tugs Eames away through the crowd to where James is trying to set up the sound system with limited success. There he pauses.
"What's wrong, darling?" Eames puts his hand over Arthur's on his elbow and leans closer. "Arthur?"
He remembers holding her, just a few months old, wondering if she would live and rejoicing when she had. He thinks he can still feel the light touch of her tiny fingers wrapped around his. "Nothing," he manages. "I'm fine."
"Oh, darling…" Eames laughs a little but at the same time pulls him close. "There, now. Don't cry."
He cries out as the train station behind him explodes in a shower of red-hot shrapnel, and just manages to get behind an overturned car before it starts raining down on the pavement. Gritting his teeth, he brushes embers from his shoulders and checks his weapon. From the muffled sound of screaming that reaches him through the ringing in his ears, he's pretty sure his teammates didn't fare so well. He hates himself briefly but is glad that he is only the chemist, far enough away from the epicenter of the action that he can escape the inevitable damage.
Still, he touches the mike on his collar. "Graham?" he all but shouts. "Can you hear me?" There is no answer but static. "Fuck."
There is another, smaller, explosion and the sedan he's using as cover rocks dangerously. He decides it's time to get the hell out of Dodge. As quickly as he is able he staggers to his feet and makes a break for the deserted shops along the side of the street. He wonders, dazedly, as he runs, where all the tourists have gone. Were they warned off by the blast or before? Were there civilian casualties? He shudders.
It is then that the shadow stops him. He swallows and follows the long, dark slash up to its source, a man who is heavily armored and carrying a rocket launcher – a goddam rocket launcher – over his shoulder.
"James Cobb," declares the man, and he knows he is screwed.
"No," he says weakly, because there is really no sense in lying. Still, he can't shake his instincts and every one of them is telling him not to talk to this man. "No, I… I have nothing to do with this."
"So you don't know Natalie McFarlane," the man states calmly, his eyes glittering black. "The woman whose life you just ruined. My employer."
"No, I-" And James is not a coward, but he can't for the life of him raise his Glock. He's twenty-three but he has never killed anyone before, not in real life.
"We'll see about that," snarls the man, and then he falls backward, blood spouting from the new hole in his forehead. James can hardly breathe.
"Got 'im!" comes a triumphant yell, and James whips around, finally jerking his weapon up. There are two figures on the rooftop of the department store. He thinks one of them is… wearing a suit? "Darling, was that not the best shot? Hello, James!" The one with the sniper rifle waves.
"Are you sure you got all of them?" In the sudden quiet of the empty street, James can hear every word that passes between them.
"Course I'm sure. I may be going gray, but that doesn't mean I've gone terrible at my job. Besides, shouldn't we be worrying more about you? You've blood on your sleeve. You're slipping."
"Oh, be quiet, or we can start getting into how I had to pull you over that gap. Forgotten how to jump, have you?"
"No, I already told you there's that thing with my knee… It's not important. James," and the bulkier man is addressing him again. "We'll be down in a second. Just wait there, and," – he thinks the man smiles – "Put down the gun."
"Uncle Arthur? Uncle Eames?" He cocks his head.
"Yes, it's us," says Arthur, his voice fading a little as he moves back toward the roof-access stairs. "You should be glad we were here instead of in Paris like I wanted to be."
"I told you I could tell the future," comes Eames's voice; he has also disappeared from view. "I knew Berlin was a better vacation spot."
"You just wanted to go on that beer-tasting tour."
"That was just a plus. I also wanted to take you to the Pergamon. You know you want to see the Mshatta Façade… You and architecture, Arty. I'm more interested in painting…"
As they enter the stairwell, James loses their conversation. Are they really here? He carefully lowers his pistol and stands awkwardly, waiting, in the road. There is nothing but the sound of flames. No one else is… dying… No sirens yet. He takes a moment to thank God, or whoever is up there, for his family.
Slowly, James starts to relax.
He is sitting in the waiting room with his heart in his throat and it is not even his daughter in the hospital. It's just that this kind of waiting has always made him nervous; he was the same way waiting for Philippa's acceptance letters and the results of Eames's blood tests. He hates it. He fights down the urge to smooth his hair back again, since he has already made sure it is perfect at least three times. He rubs his neck, trying to get rid of some of the tension.
"Don't look so tense, love," murmurs Eames, whose head in currently pillowed on his shoulder. He yawns. "It's only been ninety-three minutes since we got here. You're going to get an ulcer."
Arthur lets slip the barest of smiles. "I know, I know." He gives up on his hair and starts to twist his wedding ring.
"Mr. and Ms., uh, I mean Mr. and Mr. Eames-DeLacey?" says the receptionist in an uncertain voice, and Eames murmurs God, don't these people know what they're doing? "You can go up now. Room 523."
"Thank you," Arthur sighs, and stands, pulling his husband up with him. He straightens his suit where it has wrinkled from sitting in a plastic chair and they head for the elevator. They join another group inside, a woman and her sister and a little boy chewing on a toy boat. Arthur surreptitiously studies himself in the mirrored wall until Eames chuckles and pinches his side.
"You look gorgeous, as always," he murmurs, and presses the button for floor five, which says Maternity.
It seems to take barely seconds to reach the ward; the others are going to a floor somewhere higher in the building. They step out of the elevator, Eames casually ruffling the tawny hair of the little boy while his mother smiles – he always could charm anyone – and into a hallway adorned with potted plants. People are moving around everywhere, talking cheerfully for the most part. Yellow sunlight streaks through the window and illuminates a clock on the wall. It is 3:45.
"Do you need help?" asks a nurse at the desk in front of them. Arthur absently takes Eames's hand and shakes his head. He leads his husband down the hallway, following the signs away from her. He remembers how happy he was to hear that Philippa was pregnant. He recalls a night like this twenty-nine years ago.
Eames squeezes his hand.
The white hallway gives way to a beige one and Arthur lifts his gaze from Eames's fingers twined in his. The figure leaning on the wall ahead is familiar and Arthur clears his throat. "William," he says, warmth coloring his voice.
"Hey," says the man, and he looks exhausted. But his eyes…his eyes are smiling. "Arthur and… James, right? Glad you could come." He extends his hand and Eames releases Arthur to shake it. William's face breaks into a grin. "Crazy day, huh? But hey, I'm a father!"
"That's fantastic," says Arthur. "Congratulations!" He thinks he can still see Philippa's white wedding veil as she walked down the aisle.
"Yeah, good for you," chimes in Eames, who is also grinning hugely. "We can always use more anklebiters!"
"James," chides Arthur, stepping on his foot while William isn't looking. "How's Philippa?" he asks.
"She's fine. Waiting for you, actually. You might want to go in and rescue her from Dominic." He steps up to the door and opens it. "Hey, the uncles are here. Think you could spare a few moments to let them meet their new grand-niece?"
"A girl, huh?" asks Eames as Cobb reluctantly leaves the room beaming. "I am going to spoil her so badly." He and Arthur step into the modestly-decorated room and go up to the bedside. Under a white fleece blanket, Philippa looks up at them, her arms full of a little pink bundle.
"Her name is Malorie," she says quietly, brushing a curl of dark fuzz from her daughter's brow.
"She's so little," Eames says. "I'm afraid to hold her."
"You're not afraid of anything, Uncle Eames," Philippa giggles. "Here." And she makes him sit in the bedside chair and hold out his arms for the baby, showing him how to do it right. Arthur is glad Malorie is strong enough to touch. So glad.
"Has your brother been by yet?" he inquires as Eames makes funny faces at the baby. He lets his calf brush Eames's out of sight below the edge of the bed.
"Not yet, but he said he'd come later this afternoon." She sounds weary, but everything about her is glowing. "That boy… always late."
"Right," chuckles Arthur.
They spend another ten minutes or so with the happy pair before taking their leave, not wanting to tire Philippa any further. All down the corridor Eames tells Arthur how they should have had children, little boys who would look like Arthur but actually be fun. Arthur smacks him, none too lightly, and says, deadpan, that men can't yet get pregnant. They send a bevy of nurses into a fit of giggles with this, and a tanned, middle-aged RN gives Arthur a slap on the behind. Eames is too busy cracking up to get possessive.
That night they are laying in bed together, the bedroom curtains open so they can gaze out over the modest hotel balcony to the city beyond. Arthur is still awake, but Eames has fallen asleep; at least, he has stopped sucking on Arthur's collarbone and/or talking. Arthur can feel his warm breath against his neck. Carefully, so as not to disturb the man, he reaches across to the bedside table and touches his red die, letting his fingertip push the die to its weighted side with ease. Then he smiles and turns over, shoving his husband to his own side of the bed and tucking his head up against his pillow.
It takes him only a few minutes to fall asleep and he feels content.
Reviews are awesome! :D