Arthur Kingston sat on the window-bench that looked out over the courtyard of his apartment building. He had a bottle of beer in one hand and a cellphone in the other. His tie was loosened and the top button of his yellow and cream shirt was undone. He rested the hand holding his beer on his drawn up knee. "I'm going to take them, Eames. I really am. He hasn't even called to see if they're here. I'd be surprised if he even knew they were gone at this point."
"I thought he was leaving the business. Handed over his supplies and all."
Arthur barked out a bitter laugh.
"Like that is it?" The Englishman on the other end of the phone sounded resigned. "You're at your flat?"
"Yes and the niblets are in the guest bedroom." A knock on the door interrupted the conversation. Arthur looked through the peephole. "Don't hang up." He opened the door.
Dominic Cobb glared at him from the other side of the doorway. "Are you going to let me in?"
"That depends how long you've been awake."
"I drove over here. I'm fine."
"James had a skinned knee and was crying when I got to the house. Pippa called me. Want to explain why you couldn't be bothered to call me to come take them before you nodded out in the fucking back room of the house?"
Cobb pushed into the living room of the apartment. Arthur allowed the manhandling. He didn't want to wake up the kids. "Who are you to come into my house and take my children?"
"I'm your cousin-in-law." Arthur let his face fall into his usual working mask. It was cold. "I'm their emergency contact at school. And you know what? If Pippa calls me, I'm coming over. I don't give a damn what you say about it."
"They're my children!"
"Act like it! They're my family too."
"You shouldn't have taken them out of the house without telling me." He snarled the words like a feral coyote. Arthur had the nasty urge to put him down with a bullet to the back of the head.
"How long did you spend staring at Mal's top?"
Dom stepped forward until they were nose to nose. It wasn't his best move. Nose to nose meant he could be dead in ten seconds. Arthur restrained himself. He stared into Cobb's eyes until the other man stepped back, shoulders slumping. "It took me a long time to find your note."
"It was on the front table. Where I always leave it. Which you'd know, if you'd bother to think about it. How often do you leave them alone when you're dreaming?"
"I only went under for ten minutes."
"Jesus, Cobb. That wasn't the question."
"Only a couple times a week. Phillipa is old enough to take care of them for fifteen minutes."
"She called me because you wouldn't wake up. It takes me thirty minutes to get to your house from my apartment. You slept through me cleaning James up, packing up both kids, and leaving you a note. You slept through me kicking you in the shins and slapping you in the face. The fucking house could have burned down and you would have stayed asleep. Try again, genius."
"Only an hour. Jesus, Arthur, I need to sleep."
"You want to go under, you get the kids a sitter for an hour. It's easy. Or you call me."
Arthur watched as Cobb paced up and down the room. He was hunched over and his eyes were squinting shut in irritation. He didn't like being called on his bullshit at the best of times. When he was completely in the wrong, he did his damnedest to push it back on whoever had accused him. Arthur was wise to those tricks. He wasn't playing anymore. "You can't just take them. I thought, when they were gone, I thought I hadn't woken up yet," the older man admitted. He sighed. "It won't happen again. Now where are they?"
"Asleep. In the guest room. You know, where they always sleep when they come to visit?"
"Don't, Arthur. Just don't." Cobb held up a hand, palm out. He didn't pull it back as if he were going to throw a punch, but Arthur could read the tightness in his shoulders. He was still pissed. "I need to see them."
"Do not wake them up. It took me an hour to get them to sleep. I'll bring them home in the morning. You'll have a good eight hours to yourself."
Cobb stood in the doorway of the guest room. The light from the full-moon nightlight cast an eerie glow over the sleeping faces. Their skin was smooth and waxy, like a doll or a corpse. Cobb's hands shook as he stood there. He aborted a move toward them that looked like he was contemplating a snack and grab. He stepped forward instead and pressed a soft kiss to each child's forehead. They didn't stir. Much subdued, Cobb let himself out of the apartment without a backward glance.
Arthur shot the locks behind him. "Did you hear most of that?" he asked.
"I have tape of it all. I'll be there by the end of the week with ideas. You start researching. I'll talk to Yusef about getting your medical records forged properly. Wouldn't due to accuse Dom of being a junkie when you've your own track-marks." Arthur huffed out a laugh.
"They'll be glad to see you. James asked me five times today if Uncle Eames was here. It seems they regard you as a special treat who only comes around when Uncle Arthur has them." Arthur's brows rose, even though the gesture was wasted.
Eames chuckled. "I've not been to the Cobbs' since Mal's unfortunate madness. I do on occasion frequent your apartment. I do believe they think we're married."
"And they believe we're married because?"
"I might have told Pip a story. She wanted a story with her knight in shining pinstripes. I made it a love story."
"With you cast as the handsome prince in need of rescuing?"
"It flows so nicely in French."
Arthur's breath caught. "Cobb doesn't speak in French to them anymore. He yelled at Pippa when she used it last week."
"Arthur," Eames' voice was soft, like a stalking tiger. Arthur shivered. A premonition of danger always accompanied that tone of voice. "Have you been playing Mary Poppins to the niblets since the Fisher job?"
Arthur didn't say anything. He didn't want to lie, but he also didn't want Eames to know the full story.
"Yes, I rather believe you have. With the full support of Miles and Marnie."
"My Uncle Al as well. It's not as if I haven't been working."
"Oh no, but Arthur doesn't run point for Cobb anymore. Rumor mill states that you'll only work out of the country if it's two weeks or less. How bad is he?"
Arthur took a deep breath. "I've found him under most afternoons. I found him a nanny though, so that's not a huge problem. She used to do dreamshare, but she's allergic to the Somnacin now, poor thing. She won't say a word."
"And you can't have her stay all the time?"
"She's got a family of her own. The children are older, but she knew Mal as well. She makes sure the niblets get to their therapist appointments."
Eames was quiet. "Arthur, I think we're going to need a lawyer. A good one. And we'll need to be married. Get rings."
"What? Wait. Married?" Arthur stared at the Klimt on the wall. It was a reproduction that Eames had given him as a graduation present. His first real world kill in the criminal market. He bit his lip in a way he wouldn't dare if they were in the same room. Eames knew far too many of his tells.
"Yes, love, married. It will make the judge more willing to entertain the suit. And if the children already believe it, best to make it a reality. I'll create the documents, you place the appropriate records with the courthouse in Canada. Vancouver sounds like a lovely wedding site."
"We could do it for real."
Eames went silent for a heartbeat, then two. "Get the rings. I'll call Ariadne and Yusef to act as our witnesses, we'll get blind drunk and pretend that we've had a lovely honeymoon in Vegas."
Arthur laughed. "Where you won money cheating at cards, and I played craps to launder the money from the last job."
"Exactly. See how easily it all falls into place? There's enough of my things at your apartment to make it seem that I merely travel most of the year for business."
"I've been doing freelance research for Saito. I have enough clean money to put down on a small house in the same neighborhood. I don't want to completely uproot them."
"No. We're moving to Paris."
"That's a long way."
"Their grandparents are there. Much of your family is there. Mine's an hour away. And we have Ari, who will make a wonderful aunt and babysitter."
"And they'll be able to speak French without their father pretending that they never knew Mal."
"There is that as well. I'll ask Saito about a lawyer."
"No. He and Cobb are close. He can't know about this until I know which way he'll jump." They listened to each other breathe for a long moment. "I'm really doing this aren't I?" Arthur said. His voice sounded soft and unsure to his own ears.
"Just me. Don't shoot!" Eames called as he opened the door of Arthur's condo. He hadn't seen the other man's car, but that meant nothing. He could well have ditched it. It wasn't the sort of thing either of them would bother to mention. He did a quick circuit around the place. The guest room closet was half-full of children's clothes and toys. The bed was neatly made. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe sat on the side table with a lion headed bookmark. It made him smirk. Trust Arthur to coordinate his bookmarks with his books.
"Hello, Arthur," he answered his phone. If it wasn't the point man, the person on the other end would either hang up, shit their pants, or speak quickly. If it was Arthur, on the other hand, it was only right to acknowledge his omniscience – illusion or not.
"If you aren't in my apartment, be careful, there's an intruder. I expect you'll take care of it. If you are in my apartment, massage the marinating meat in the fridge and open a bottle of red."
Eames laughed. "Yes, dear."
"I refuse to live on take-out when I'm not on a job, so sue me. You'll like it. I'll be home in about an hour."
"Kiss-kiss." Eames hung up on the spluttering on the other end of the phone. He set his bags in the main bedroom. He checked the nightstand drawers. He was charmed to discover that his favorite gun was on his side along with spare clips.
He puttered in the kitchen: cutting vegetables for the salad, stirring the marinade, opening the wine, and setting the kettle to warming on the stove. He retired to the living room to poke through the truly impressive collection of 1930's records. His hand went to his knife as the lock clicked open. "Hello, Burgler."
"Ah, the happy homemaker returns."
Arthur was carrying a canvas tote of groceries. He shot Eames his favorite "you don't amuse me" glare. Eames simply smiled back at him.
"Look at you. A few months in California and you're a hippy."
"Don't give me that bullshit or you don't get any of the Guiness that's downstairs in the car."
"Why don't I put those away for you?" Eames gathered the groceries. "And you can just toddle back to the car for the beer. It's been a dreadfully long flight."
"I take exception to toddle, but I'll mark it down as being long-flight related. You want to crash before dinner?"
"Go get the beer, Darling."
Arthur rolled his eyes. He darted in for a quick peck before he went down to the car. Eames stared after him. A slow smile slid across his face. He put away the groceries in all the wrong places, so he'd be able to watch Arthur fuss. Then, he collapsed onto the couch. Arthur shouldered his way into the apartment. He was on the phone. "Yes, Nancy, I understand that, but my lover just came back from overseas and I am going to spend the evening with him. Tell Dom that unless he has cock-sucking skills I don't know about, he loses." Eames took the beer. He widened his eyes in question and held up a bottle. Arthur nodded frantically. "Tell me the bottom line. Do you think he's capable of watching them tonight, or do I need to come pick them up." Arthur grimaced. "Tell Phillippa to call me if he goes to sleep with the silver box. She knows that's how Daddy dreams."
"Darling?" Eames prompted when the phone was turned off. Arthur finished half of his beer in one long pull. "That bad, is it?"
"Shut up and move over. I'm going to kiss you, then we will cuddle right there until you fall asleep from jetlag. Then, I am going to do some surviellence on the Cobbs to make sure he doesn't do anything stupid tonight."
"One mustn't expect miracles."
"Okay. Okay. To make sure that Cobb doesn't do anything to endanger the nibblets."
"Better. Specificity you know."
"Idiot," Arthur muttered into Eames' throat as he curled around him. Eames obligingly wrapped his arms around the younger man and rested his beer bottle in the small of his back. Arthur yelped. "What was that for?"
"Do you truly think that I'll let you go to Cobb's alone tonight? We're in this together, Arthur."
"But you just got in. You don't need to come. I'll probably wait until Pippa calls me anyway."
"We'll check in at their bedtime and make sure they've been put to bed. First, you'll finish dinner, yes?"
"God, fine. Demanding bastard."
"Never forget, Darling. I'm going to make it part of our wedding vows."
"That I'm a demanding bastard and you love me for it." Arthur laughed, which was, of course, the point. Eames stroked over Arthur's overly-gelled hair. "Your hair's down to your shoulders now, yes?"
"Yes. Why? Think I should cut it until after the battle?"
"No, I just plan to use it as a hand-hold to keep you from disembowling the niblets' father."
Arthur bit Eames' shoulder. "If I go after him, he'll deserve everything he gets. Fucker raised me. Means I've got the right to kill him if I want."
"That is a very perverse idea of family you've there."
"I also reserve the right to smother you if you don't shut up and cuddle. I know you know how to do this."
Eames took a long swallow of beer. Arthur smelled of gel and garlic and cordite; like home.
"Uncle Eames!" Phillipa ran across the room to throw herself at her favorite "uncle." Arthur smiled at the sight. Dom rolled his eyes.
"You really think it's a good idea to expose them to him. Again? I haven't seen him here since, Christ, since the funeral."
"The kids adore him. And I finally convinced him that you weren't going to throw him out."
"I should. Corrupted you."
"I'd like to point out that it was my cousin who introduced me to the steamy side of dream-share." Arthur crossed his arms.
Dom narrowed his eyes. He knew that posture. And he also know that if Arthur didn't want to talk about whatever was causing it, he wouldn't have crossed his arms. "Spit it out."
"I want joint custody on file with the state."
"What?" The older man scowled. "They're my kids."
"And I'm the emergency contact. I can pick them up from school. I have signed papers so that I can occasionally watch them. But I want joint custody in case something happens."
"Is this because I still," Dom was suddenly aware of the kids. "Because of how I dream?"
"Yes." Arthur hesitated. "And no. You and Mal took me in when you were young and stupid. I want to be able to take care of Pip and Jamie if anything happens to you. I don't want to have to fight with Uncle Mike and Aunt Clara about it. They disapprove of my lifestyle."
Dom raised his brows. "The business side or the personal side? I'm not exactly thrilled that you seem to have permanently joined up with him. Of all people, Arthur."
"You're the one who introduced us."
"I never thought you'd actually like each other. I figured professionally you'd work well together, but the extra-curricular attention came out of left field." Dom sat down on the couch. The kids' toys were scattered throughout the living room. Eames seemed to have wrapped both of the kids into a story. "And I thought he didn't like kids."
"He had a daughter once. You caught him at a bad time."
Dom blanched at that. "Do I want to know what happened to her?"
"Fever, I believe. The mother was Kenyan. It's why he spends so much time in Mombassa."
"He's still with her? I thought you were heading toward exclusive?" Arthur was still his kid, damn it. He and Mal had fostered him when his parents ended up in matching hospital gowns and beds. If Eames were playing with his heart, Dom would beat him. Attempt to beat him? At the very least threaten him.
"No, they're just friends. Not with benefits either."
"And you believe him?"
"Of course not. I stalked them."
Dom shook his head. Of course he had. Arthur would always think of stalking first and asking after he had the facts. "Joint custody. Meaning that you could take them for weekends or a trip?"
"And take them to the doctor and dentist if I need to. Call the school if there's an emergency or I get word that Nash is still alive and gunning for you."
"Ah, Saito says he's truly out of the way." Dom grimaced.
"I'll believe it when I never see him again." Arthur's lips turned down in a sour frown. "You're okay with the idea? I'll get my lawyer to draw up some papers and start the process with the courts if you are."
Dom's brows wrinkled. "And if I'm not?"
The young man that he'd fostered simply raised a brow.
"Right. Go ahead. I'd rather you were able to take care of them than having to wait for Miles to fly in from Paris."
"Great." Arthur smiled. Something sharp twisted in Dom's chest. He hadn't seen that expression since before Mal's depression. Christ, was he that blind? Arthur had been mourning the loss of Mal as much as he had and he'd done nothing to try to ease it. Nothing to secure his right to a family.
Dom put a hand on Arthur's wrist. "I never did thank you for being my link to them."
"Still, I should have at least said thank you. So, thank you for taking care of Phillipa and James the way you did." He grimaced. "And thank you for finding a good nanny. And their therapist. And the cook."
"You're welcome. And there was no way I'd let you three starve." Arthur gave him a quick ambush hug before drifting over to listen to the story that Eames was spinning for the kids. Dom closed his eyes. How many years had it been since Arthur had bothered to reach out to him? To treat him like family and not a job?
"Do we actually have to sit in front of a judge to get these papers filed?" Dom whined. Arthur scowled at him.
"It's faster than a court case. We just meet the judge in chambers and sign some papers. Maybe he asks us some questions." Arthur glanced down at the papers. "She asks us some questions. Anna Nguyen. Room 315."
"And Eames is okay with the kids all day?"
"It's only a couple of hours. He's taking them to the playground. They'll be nice and worn out by the time we get them home."
Dom sighed. He followed Arthur to the judge's chambers. Her clerk looked over the papers. "Looks like you have everything you need. I'll buzz the judge." They settled in the small waiting room. Arthur turned his phone to vibrate and Dom followed suit. "The judge will see you now." The clerk handed the papers back to Arthur as they entered the room.
"Your honor," Arthur greeted.
"We have a joint custody agreement here which needs approval. Dom's wife, my cousin, died two years ago. I've been the kids emergency contact, but we wanted to make things a little more formal."
Judge Nguyen frowned at them. She was a petite woman with dark hair and eyes. She took the file of papers. "Sit down, gentlemen. Now, you're not married?"
Arthur shook his head. "Dom is my cousin-in-law. His wife was my cousin. They fostered me when I was younger. I'm hoping to be able to do the same with the kids if something happens tomorrow. Right now I don't have the authority to take them to the doctor or even take them on an out of state trip."
Nguyen focussed her attention on Dom. He sat up. "And you are in agreement?"
Dom nodded. "Yes."
She raised a brow. "You understand that this is a legally binding agreement. You will need to work out a schedule for the children. And you will both need to provide adequate housing for them, should the need arise."
"I already have the second bedroom in my apartment set up for them. It will work for a few more years, which will give me time to find a three bedroom place."
"Not four? There's a nice place just down the road from Nancy's."
"The bungalow? Out of my comfort zone."
"I thought you'd taken the consulting contract with Saito?"
"I have, but I'm not going to buy Domingo's old place because I don't know if he's left any surprises behind."
"So, you have housing," the judge interrupted. "And you both understand the need for consistent schooling?"
She reviewed the papers. "Everything seems to be in order." She signed the papers. "There will be home visits by children's services, but according to this agreement the children will remain at their current home unless there's an emergency?"
"Correct. Staying with me will only be in case of emergencies or if Dom needs to travel for work," Arthur agreed.
She nodded. "I'll have my clerk file these."
"Thank you." They shook her hand. Arthur checked his phone. The door of her chambers closed as Arthur dialed. He reached in to Dom's pocket and took out his phone. "Call Nancy."
Dom dialed the nanny. "I don't know why I'm calling, but Arthur said to dial," he told her.
"Here, talk to Jamie." Arthur traded phones. "Nancy? I need you to meet my partner at the Emergency Room. He has the kids and James managed to fall off the monkey bars and bust his wrist."
"I'll be there as soon as possible. Joey! Get your shoes on, we're meeting Jamie at the emergency room!" she yelled to her son. "You just get his father there. He's sober?"
"Yes. Thanks. I'll make sure there's a bottle of wine for you tomorrow."
"Don't worry. I finally get to meet your boyfriend." She hung up on him.
"Really?" Dom said into the phone. "I don't know about green," he added. He scowled at Arthur. He mouthed "green cast?"
"Oh, Lord." Arthur snagged the phone. "Hey, Jamie."
"Uncle Arthur!" he exclaimed. "Uncle Eames says that I can get any color I want for my cast."
"Well, you want to make sure it's something we can write on or how will we decorate it?"
James seemed to consider that. "Maybe yellow? Uncle Eames wrapped my wrist up all tight, but it still hurts."
"They do. They'll get you some paracetamol at the hospital. Here's Daddy." He handed the phone back to Dom. "Maybe yellow?" he offered. Dom's eyes narrowed into a squint. Arthur smiled sweetly at him. He dialed Phillipa's phone.
"Uncle Arthur, Jamie fell down and broke his wrist." She sounded worried.
"Miss Nancy will meet you at the hospital. I need you to do something for me, make sure that Uncle Eames doesn't talk Jamie into something that's too bright. He tried to get one of mine done as a candy cane last time."
She giggled. "Is he why you had a black and white cast?"
"He said it would match my suit. It was better than looking like a candy-cane." Arthur tossed his bag into the back seat. Dom strapped into his seat.
"Okay. I'll watch them," Phillipa promised. "I have to put on my seatbelt now."
"We'll see you soon, sweetie."
Eames was on the line before Arthur could hang up. "I'm on the way to the hospital you so helpfully programmed into my phone. I assume you'll meet us there?"
"Yes. Nancy will probably make it before we do."
"I'll look for her. Is she the lass with blue hair in the picture on your wall?"
"That's the one."
"Thanks." Eames would panic later and Arthur listened to the tone for half a minute before turning on the car.
"I'll see you soon, Jimmy," Dom said. "I love you." He hung up. "One day. I swear, Arthur."
Arthur snorted. "And how many broken bones did I have as a kid?"
"Don't fucking remind me. If you convince James that running into fights is the only way to be brave I will have to lock you up in the attic." Dom looked at him for a long moment. "Eames is the one who convinced you to have a black and white cast?"
"I was distracted. The nurse looked familiar and I was trying to figure out if I was actually awake or not." Arthur wrinkled his nose. "By the time I realized that I was loopy on morphine, he'd convinced them that I needed black and white to coordinate with my suit. He then proceded to detail it with a silver paint pen."
Dom shook his head. "Interlocking impossible triangles. I was surprised you'd stayed still long enough for him to do it."