"Arthur, Arthur, Arthur." Eames swung his office chair from side to side as though he were two not twenty-six.
Arthur's head popped up. "What?"
"Marry me, Arthur."
"Stop coming to work drunk, Mr. Eames." Arthur buried his head in the stack of financial paper he was researching.
"You wound me, dearest. You do."
"Don't you have a girlfriend to stalk?"
"You've done most of my stalking for me. Thank you." Eames used his most prim voice. Arthur snorted, but didn't look up. He was a dashing creature in a loose red sweatervest and well-tailored pants. "I must take you shopping."
Genuine curiosity. Arthur was nothing if not curious. "Because a good fabric westcoat will hide your weapon and your tits better."
Arthur's face went white and he sat up with a scowl. He glanced around the deserted office space. His scowl turned to a frown of confusion that put a little line between his eyes. "Do I have to kill you?"
Eames startled at that. "What do you mean? No, I don't care if you've got dangly bits." He waved a hand. "But anyway I think it'll help."
"You're the second person to guess without my saying something."
The forger blinked. "That's relatively disturbing." How could people not see the small curve at his hip or the occasionally delicate way he moved through the room when he forgot his role? He was well-practiced, yes, but not perfect.
Arthur offered a half smile. "People see what they think they see. If they're introduced to Arthur, I'm obviously male. It's not my fault that they don't look beyond that."
Eames cocked his head to the side. "You're not planning on surgery then, luv?" Interesting. He was sure that Arthur considered himself male.
He leaned forward. "Will you let me help you though?"
Arthur shrugged. "I suppose I'll have some time after this case is finished up."
"Have you found anything to suggest that he shouldn't have custody? Truly?"
"No. Not a thing. There is money leaking out and I'm not sure if it's going to a mistress or a drug dealer yet."
"Which I assume is why we've not gone under?"
"I have been inside the head of a junky. Haven't you?" Arthur lifted a brow.
Eames shuddered. "I've been inside a man on acid. Don't try it, darling. Ever."
"Acid? Mine was a meth addict. We should compare notes."
"Do the parental figures know about your adventures in addiction?"
Arthur blinked slowly. "That is a very disturbing thought. Mal is not my mother."
"So Dom's not your father then?"
"Dear God no." He shuddered. "You must buy me drinks to assauge the Gods you just offended. Go. Get me caffiene."
"As you wish." Eames swept him a bow and left the office; whistling.
"Arthur, marry me?" Eames looked up through his lashes.
"You really need to cut down on the drinking, Mr. Eames."
Mal laughed at him and at Arthur's ferocious frown. "Eames, petit, you know that he will not marry a ruffian." She looked him up and down. "Even one with such nice... proportions."
Arthur's face heated, as she'd hoped. Her petite Arthur was so easily embrassed when she was on painkillers. She brushed Arthur's hair out of her face and behind her ear. Arthur waved one of her broken wrists at her. "Stop that. Or just cut it off so it stays in place. Christ."
"If you touch a hair, I'll have to duel with you." Eames curled a protective hand around Arthur's head, pulling her close enough to hear his heartbeat. Mal smiled at the picture.
"When these casts come off, I will kill both of you slowly." Arthur didn't pull away though, so she must be feeling the pain again. "Now, give me my knife before I jam this cast into your balls."
"That is a disturbingly arousing statement."
"You are a maschocist, Mr. Eames." Arthur rubbed her cheek against his shirt. Mal couldn't tell if she were trying to get free or not.
"I suppose you do not want these Percocet with your meal? I will pour the wine then. And Eames will help you eat."
Arthur whined a little in her throat. "I can't take any more of them. I need to stay awake."
"No, Darling. Hush. I'll take watch. You can stand down."
Arthur shook her head. "My responsibility."
"Arthur." Eames sighed. "No, it isn't. You've already taken the beating for the rest of us. And they never figured out that you weren't just a student. And I've taken the liberty of ruining their reputations."
"What reputations? Just a bunch of idiot hired thugs. But I should have known there was something fishy with Cotilian."
"You told Dom not to trust him," Mal said. She shook her head. "He will learn to listen eventually."
Dom pushed into the room. "Eames, stop manhandling Arthur before he breaks you." He deposited two bags on the table. "Sushi for Arthur and Eames, actual cooked food for Mal and me." Eames carded through Arthur's hair. Dom frowned at them. "Arthur, take your pills or I'll crush them up in water and force you to drink them."
"God, you better not treat your children like that." Arthur's voice was muffled by Eames' chest.
"He'll take his pill like a good boy," Eames informed them. "After dinner." He stroked through Arthur's loose hair and Mal hid her smile behind a glass of wine.
"Come to the table, Arthur." Mal patted one of the folding chairs around the rickety card table. Three pieces of duct tape held down the torn top of the table. They had plastic glasses for the wine. She placed a purple sippy-cup at Arthur's place.
"Dead, Mal. You are dead. And before you die, I will destroy everything you hold dear, starting with your clothing and ending with getting your husband arrested." Arthur shook the sippy-cup. "And if this doesn't have any wine in it, I'll start by battering you with my casts no matter how much it hurts."
Mal laughed. "Of course it has wine." She pinched one dimpled cheek.
Eames choked on his laughter. Arthur glared at him. "You are not immune, Mr. Eames."
Eames held out a piece of fish between cheap bamboo chopsticks. Arthur's eyes narrowed. She took the bite almost daintily, catching the sticks for just a moment. Dom hastily looked away from the two and raised his brows at Mal. She smiled at him, then handed him his wine. "Don't think so much, mon couer."
They'd finished the majority of dinner when the door slammed open. Arthur whirled into action, swinging the metal folding chair into the first man's face. A kick leveled the second. Then, the action moved so swiftly that Mal couldn't tell exactly what was happening. Eventually, Arthur stood, panting against broken ribs. Wine splattered the four dead bodies. One had a chopstick shoved into his brain through his nose. It was frightening and not a little arousing to see that level of violence.
Glass, wine, and rice were scattered across the floor. Dom shut the door as well as he could against the shattered frame. A trickle of blood from a newly opened split lip dripped down Arthur's chin. She wiped at it with the side of her cast. Her eye was purpling as Mal watched. Hopefully, they would not have to return to the clinic. Someone would want to take Arthur away for her own safety.
"Oh, Arthur, you really must marry me." Eames' eyes shone with mischief.
"Just take out the trash, Mr. Eames. Then you can help me get the blood out of my hair."
Eames chuckled. "As you wish. Come along, Dominick. We'll let Mal evacuate us while we deal with these idiots."
When the men had left the room, Mal looked at Arthur. "Would you rather I assist you?"
"I'd rather not explain that to Dom. Eames figured it out anyway. He helps me fit in. Get the bags. I'll help you pack."
"Arthur? There is not a problem with Mr. Eames?"
"He's a forger."
As though that explained anything.
"Alright, luv, let's get you suited up for the shower." Eames had two plastic bags and a roll of First Aid tape in his hands. He'd not only managed to find them two rooms in a fairly nice hotel, but he'd garunteed that the clerk would protect them by implying that Arthur was being hidden away from an abusive father. It was stunning.
"I don't really look like a teenager, do I, Eames?"
"No, but you do look like you could be a college student, or just out on your own. Still young enough that your parents might be trying to control you and old enough that your professor and her husband might look after you."
"An advantage then." Eames was willing to explain what he saw most of the time. His hands were gentle as he taped bags over the casts. He very carefully unbuttoned her shirt and slid it off. "Thank goodness for French cuffs. I'll have to wear tee-shirts. Crap."
"Now, now. You can wear one of my shirts. Bigger in the arms and shoulders and Dom won't look too closely."
"And he'll think any wrapping he sees is my ribs anyhow."
"Right." His hands were broad, but he had perfect control. There was no hesitation in his movement. No clumsiness. "We'll get you some sweatshirts or something at the local charity shop and I'll cut out the wrists for you."
"Thanks." Arthur closed her eyes as a wave of pain came from lifting her arms to get her undershirt off. She swallowed hard.
"Do you need to throw up?"
She shook her head. "No, I'm fine."
"Liar." Somehow, he maneuvered them both into the bathroom. Arthur rested her head against the wall as he stripped off his own clothes. "Waste of a good show that was." He pulled gently on an arm to guide her.
"While I would like nothing better than to have life-affirming sex with you right now, I am in no shape for anything other than a shower and sleeping. Sorry."
"Raincheck, then." Eames' fingers felt good as he massaged the blood out of her hair. He was a perfect gentleman, unfortunately. She sighed into his shoulder as he dried her off. "Shall I wrap your ribs or let it go for the night?"
Eames wrapped her ribs. "I hate seeing you in pain, Arthur."
"That makes two of us." She grimaced. "Sorry. I don't mean to be flippant. That's very sweet."
He snorted. "Never mind. I'd be more surprised if you weren't snappish." He helped her under the covers. Then, he laid down next to her with a book in his hand. "You sleep and I'll keep watch. Want a pill?"
"No drugs if I can help it." Arthur just laid there for a moment. "Eames?"
"Let's go somewhere else. Need to ditch the Cobbs for awhile anyway. I won't be one hundred percent for a few weeks, but I'm flush. As long as you don't gamble it away."
"I'll make arrangements in the morning. Go to sleep, Mr. Arthur."
"Arthur, me mum's dead." Eames sounded shocked and young and lost. Arthur's heart clenched at the sound. Eames without a smile was just wrong.
"Are you in London? I can be there in four hours." His teammates – Billings and James - turned to stare at him. The extractor raised his brows. Arthur waved them off.
"Yes. Yes, I. Please?"
"Of course. How should I approach?"
"Da will hate you no matter what. You're American."
"No need to give anyone ammunition. Right. Give me an hour to make arrangements. I'll rent a car at the airport."
Eames' voice was stronger now. "No, I'll meet you there."
"Fine. Just hang on." Arthur hung up without saying anything else. It would give Eames something to bitch at him about. He dialed quickly and set to ordering tickets on his laptop. "Svetlana. Arthur. I'll pay your day rate for security and investigation. I'll leave a list and a virgin sacrifice."
Svetlana laughed. "Athur, such a pleasure to hear from you. Is my sacrifice as pretty as you are?"
Arthur looked over at Billings. The architect was scowling at him as though he'd guessed. "Well, he's about my hieght, but might get taller. He's got a shock of red hair that's got to be natural because there's no way he'd bother dying it. And he's got black frame glasses that magnify his pretty blue eyes. Interested?"
"How long and when?"
"Right now. Minimum of three days. If you're still where I think you are, it'll only take an hour to get here."
"Hmm. You know how to tempt a girl."
Arthur changed to Russian, knowing that he was the only one on the team that spoke it. "My friend needs support right now. I won't stay too long, but I have to go. I'll find someone else, if you're busy." He kept his voice calm and unthreatening.
"You worry too much, old friend," she chided. "Give me the coordinates and leave me a list and thumb-drive if I don't arrive before you have to leave."
"You are a wonderful and beautiful woman."
"And I wish I had stolen your virtue. Your little redhead will have to do." She hung up as soon as he gave her the coordinates.
"Something you want to tell me, Arthur?" The extractor, who was going by James for this run, had an arch and annoying tone of voice at the best of times. Right now, it was disapproving school teacher for the win.
"I have to take care of some business in London. Svetlana will be taking care of you for the three or four days it's going to take. Our time-table says we can't move for at least five weeks." He shrugged. "Svetlana's good at the research side. I'm paying her, not you. Don't worry."
"I am still the boss of this job. You should run any new hires through me first."
Billings snorted. "James, no offense, but I wouldn't be on this job if you were the one who'd pitched it. Artie needs four days, who cares?"
Arthur didn't flinch at the nickname, but he resolved to never let Billings and Eames meet. James' face crumpled into a snarl. "What is that supposed to mean?" he demanded.
"That you're an asshole and I only trust you when you've got a good point." Billings lifted his chin. "Is Svetlana a good point?"
"Svetlana doesn't go under," Arthur said slowly. "But if I were in a firefight, I'd like her at my back."
"So, she can provide top-side security and research. You'll introduce her I assume."
"She should be here within the hour."
Arthur turned back to his lists. He'd leave three lists. One for pressing concerns, one for background investigations, and one for niggling doubts. He trusted Svetlana to get started on whichever she chose. They thought differently, but it always worked out for the best when he let go of control. He organized a set of files onto a thumbdrive for her. "Yes," he answered the phone.
"Lovely, what's the flight number?"
"I'll meet you near baggage. Father's decided he simply must drive."
"I promise not to shoot him."
"Now, don't make promises you can't keep." Eames' voice dropped. "I hate to ask it, but..."
"I won't be threatening. Promise." Arthur didn't want to switch to French. Billings spoke it. He ran through languages. He finally settled on Russian again. "You speak this?"
"I'll come as the me only you and one other has ever guessed."
Eames sighed deeply. "Thank you, luv. That's what I wanted to ask."
"Keep calm and I'll be there shortly."
Duke D. Edmund Eames couldn't help himself. His son had called some American chit to attend him during his mother's funeral. He had to see her before anyone else in the family did. He stood a discrete distance away from his son, to let him greet her privately. Phillip was holding a sign that simply said "Darling" on it. He'd gotten a few laughs and a few propositions.
Then, one person approached with a twisted frown on his, no her face. There was a swell of breasts against her white shirt, and her waist trimmed in just a bit. She looked at the sign, then up at his son. She raised a brow. Phillip smirked at her and accepted the pinch to his arm with good grace. They tussled over her bags as they approached his location. "No, I am not a wilting flower. Besides, the polyester in that tie is scaring my suit."
"Hush, luv, you're a guest."
"Stop it. Stop being all gentlemanly. I'll have no idea who you are."
"Darling." His voice held a bit of warning.
"Don't try to convince me this is some British thing. It's just your old money showing through."
"I am carrying your bag." Phillip twisted the handle out of her hand and to the far side of his body with an elegant twirl. The woman grabbed at the strap of the laptop case she'd slung across her body. He laughed. "I know better than to touch the computer. I like having reproductive powers."
"See that you get in touch with that survival instinct a bit more often, Mr. Eames." There was genuine affection in her voice.
"Father, this is Arthur."
"Gwen Arthur," she introduced herself. "I'm sorry for your loss, Duke Eames."
"Just call me Edmund, Miss Arthur. You're here as my son's guest after all. Let me take your bag."
"Gwen or Arthur, then. I'll answer to either. No thank you, sir. I need to have access to my phone an address book."
"Something wrong?" Phillip put a hand in the small of her back. Gwen fixed a blank look onto her face.
"I need a skirt."
"Ah. I see. Do you think your tailor will be able to accommodate a request at this late of a date? If not, I can ask Mrs. Penniwell if she has a skirt you can borrow."
"I wouldn't want to put anyone out. I should rent a car."
"Get in the bloody car."
"Of course, Mr. Eames." Gwen's dark eyes danced with amusement and Phillip was hiding a smile. Ah, some sort of in-joke. That was good. She was a true friend then. Not some gold-digger.
"I'll drive. You kids take the back seat."
Gwen had her phone out and was dialing before they left the parking spot. "Harry. It's Arthur. I need a skirt by tomorrow for a funeral on Thursday. I've got my black crepe with the maroon lining with me. Or the black wool with the blue paisley you forced on me last year. I need a knee length skirt that I can move in. If you make it a pencil skirt, I'll take my business to Gregory." She listened for a moment. "Harry. If you can't do it, I'll simply have to buy something off the rack. Yes, I thought you'd see it my way. Heels? Why would I need heels?" Her voice was low, but bewildered.
Phillip took the phone. "Harry is it? I'll make sure she gets a feminine heel. Two inches at the most. Black leather. Pointed toe."
"I don't need heels!" Gwen hissed.
"Yes, make up as well. And if I have my way, I'll do her hair in 30's waves."
"You will do no such thing!"
Phillip put a finger over her mouth. "Quiet now, the adults are talking."
"I will end you."
"I was thinking smoky grey above her eyes and a berry stain for her lips. Yes, yes, that will do nicely. What time should we be there to pick up the skirt? Oh, that would be wonderful, if you've got the time." Phillip rattled off the address of the estate. "Thank you, Harry. We'll see you tomorrow." He hung up. "He's a nice fellow. Gayer than I thought men his age had a right to be."
"He was wearing a perfectly tailored pink suit the first time I saw him. I almost walked out of the shop, but he came highly recommended."
"And he's done some lovely work for you. I wondered who'd modified your trousers."
"Is there any sort of protocol I should know for the funeral? I haven't had a chance to do any research."
"Don't fret. It's an Anglican funeral with wake to follow. Mum's." Phillip's voice choked on the word. Gwen instantly reached for his hand. "Mum's viewing is today and tomorrow at the house. I've had you set up in the room across from mine. Lovely room. Done in shades of rose and purple."
"I don't want to be any bother. I can stay at a hotel. Rent a car."
Phillip put a finger over her lips. "Again, don't fret. Mrs. Penniwell will have something for you to do if you get decidedly nervous."
"I. Yes, of course." She fiddled with the strap of her bag. "I'm not good with people," she murmured. Edmund kept his eyes forward as opposed to locked on the mirror where they'd been. This was obvious something for Phillip's ears only.
"You do alright. You've done well with the happy couple."
"I haven't drowned them yet, you mean? There is that. It's just the being comforting thing. I'm more, um, protective than comforting. That's what I've always been told." She rested her forehead on his shoulder. "You'll tell me if I'm doing something wrong?"
"Always." Phillip brushed his fingers through her hair. "Washed the gel out on the way?"
"I had a few minutes before the flight. It's harder than it seems. I thought the ladies were going to lynch me for spending so much time in front of the dryer." She sat up. "Now, then, what needs to be done?"
"All the arrangements are made, luv." Phillip put an arm around her shoulders.
"I'm going to be utterly insane by tomorrow evening aren't I?"
"You say that as if you're sane right now."
Eames brushed his fingers against Arthur's hand and his fingers opened. It was so much easier to deal with Arthur's insecurity than to think about the fact that his mother – vibrant, powerful, obsessively competent – was nothing more than a dead body in a coffin. She was slowly decaying in a stupid box. And the flowers' scents were cloying and stuck in the back of his throat like gunpowder or vomit. No, focus, Arthur who was out of his depth and scared to death of failing, but still trying and still following Eames without blinking.
"What ever did I do to deserve you?"
"I'm sure I don't know, Mr. Eames." He looked strange like this. Softer, but no more approachable. He was automatically treating Eames as someone to protect and it was more of a relief than anything. No one was trying to give Eames fake smiles of sympathy. They all thought of him as the prodigal son. The "artist" living off Mother and Father's money and dabbling in this and that. I'm the best forger in the bloody world! he wanted to snap at them. Arthur leaned against him briefly, a touch of warmth on the cold of the summer's day. "And that's Mrs. Peniwell, right?"
Eames nodded. The straight-laced shoes and perfectly correct posture were missing. She was wearing slip on flats and her shoulders were bowed. He had no doubt that she'd be better tomorrow, when the guests started to arrive, but today it was simply family.
"Let me take my things to my room, then I'll see if she has a list."
"No, you'll rest. You've raveled."
Arthur scowled. "Thanks so much."
"We'll have a drink at least. Let your body adjust to the time difference." Eames escorted Arthur up to the rose room. The younger man looked around in interest. The colors were rose and purple, yes, but the patterns and textures were incredible. His fingers stroked down the outer layer of curtains on the bed.
"This is decadent."
"Isn't it rather?" Eames pulled the scotch out from behind the arm chair nearest to the window. He poured two fingers of it and handed it over before fixing his own.
"God, you always have the good booze." Arthur settled into one of the arm chairs. It set off his dark hair and suit to perfect advantage.
"You are wonderfully decorative, Darling." Eames sipped at the warming liquid. He half-closed his eyes as he sank into the other chair.
"I have no idea how to respond to that."
Eames snorted. "Hush. Drink. Relax."
"Right. Relax." Arthur looked at him with a scowl. "Because I'm so good at that."
Harry Wier smoothed down the grey suitcoat. He wasn't used to being on estates. But Arthur was one of his best and most unique customers. He was more than willing to help out. The butler raised a brow at the suit bag in his hand and the bag over his shoulder. "Miss Arthur's tailor, I assume?" His lips twitched. "Come in. I'll set you in a side room with drapes and a lock."
"That will do nicely. Thank you." The man nodded once, then stepped aside to let Harry pass. He didn't bother to disguise his appreciation of the fabrics on the floor or the silk of the wallpaper. They stopped just inside a small room. It had an overhead light and a small wooden footrest hiding under the chair.
"I'll ask Miss Arthur to join you." The man hesitated. He glanced over his shoulder at the main hallway. "Has she always been so," his voice trailed off. "Odd?" he finally added.
Harry chuckled. "Arthur defies convention on a daily basis. She's sweet under it all, but executive protection is often a man's realm."
The man's expression cleared. "A bodyguard, then? More used to bulletproof vests than waistcoats."
"Oh, the stories I could tell about adding kevlar to the insides of jackets," Harry agreed cheerfully.
The butler left him with a nod. Harry hung the hanger off of a shelf and divested himself of his sewing kit. He moved the footstool to the center of the room. He hummed to himself as he studied the artwork on the wall above the fireplace.
"No, Darling, I will not. It's not as though you've anything to hide from me. I want the rare pleasure of seeing you in something other than a suit."
"Piss off, Mr. Eames."
"Didn't we have a discussion about how you shouldn't use British slang? It doesn't suit."
Arthur rolled her eyes as she came into the room. "Hello, Harry." She caught Harry's hand in a firm shake. "Go away, Eames. I am capable of choosing my own clothes."
Harry and Eames both looked at her until she threw her hands up. "Phillip Eames, Harry Wier. He is the best thing to happen to bespoke suits in years and normally knows how to keep his mouth shut. Now, hand me the torture devices you convinced me to buy."
"Call me 'Eames'." The man's hand was firm.
"I'm sorry for you loss, Mr. Eames."
"Thank you. I suppose there is an upside to all of this. I've gotten to take Arthur shopping." Eames locked the door after handing Arthur a pair a sleek black pumps with a one and a half inch heel and a pointed toe, as promised. She held them as though they were poisonous.
"Will these do?"
Harry nodded. "Now, then, here's the skirt as it stands now. I want to see you in it with your heels to make sure the hem falls properly. You've not lost wieght again?"
"No." She grimaced. "I haven't changed wieght. I have too much invested in my suits to not maintain."
"Pants off, and shirt off. I've brought a skirt and a shirt to coordinate."
Eames helped her with her suitcoat and started unbuttoning her vest. "Eames, I can undress myself."
Harry tensed, waiting for the explosion or the violence that he assumed would come from that imperious order. Arthur's mouth was turned down, but she let him undo her vest and tie before taking over. Eames reached for her shirt, but got his fingers smacked. "My wrists are not broken right now."
Eames carefully lifted her chin and placed a chaste kiss on her nose. "Dearest Arthur, let me spoil you."
"Oh, God." She glared at Harry. "And you're going to encourage him. I can just tell."
"I've never seen you in love before. It's sweet." Harry smirked at her. She extended her middle finger. "Is that an American symbol, luv?"
Eames was making short work of her shirt and Arthur was doing her best not to make it too difficult on him. "Harry, I am not in love with Mr. Eames. We're just friends."
The blond laughed at that. "Bullshit that is. I'm the man Arthur is going to marry."
"I don't recall agreeing to that, Mr. Eames."
"You'll give in."
"Just give me the skirt." The skirt was almost perfect. Harry marked the few minor changes.
"You have stockings to wear?"
"You travel with stockings? Truly? Are they still used as a form of currency somewhere?"
"Hardly. I was awakened quite rudely at one AM by a distraught French woman. She was sobbing about having a run in her stockings and how her surprise would be simply ruined. I found the closest WalMart and cut some pantyhose for her. I haven't traveled without them since."
"You use a garter belt?" Harry blinked up from his place near her hem.
"I can put a knife and money into a garter belt. I can't do that with pantyhose." Her cheeks flamed. "And I swear, if anyone ever finds that out, I will kill you both slowly. Understood?"
"Of course, Arthur." Harry chuckled. "Tailor, barkeep, and priest. Not one of us tells secrets."
Eames dialed. "Arthur, I need a dress."
"For yourself?" the voice on the other end of the line was calm and measured.
"Where are you?"
"Georgia." And wasn't that the worst thing. He could barely understand the natives. The summer was stickily hot. He wanted nothing more than to escape to someplace more hospitable, like Antarctica.
"State or country?"
"In August? You're a maschocist."
"Corner of Peach Blossom and East Main Street. White house with red shutters and a rainbow flag. Tell the person who answers the door that you need to see Trudy and that you were given the recommendation by Jayne's friend."
"Thank you, Arthur."
"Don't thank me yet. I demand pictures."
"Only fair," Eames agreed. He hung up and went in search of the white house with red shutters. The house was perfectly trimmed, lovingly planted with a rainbow of flowers on the front bed, and had an actual white picket fence. Eames stepped up the neat path to knock on the door.
The woman who answered the door raised one elegant brow. "Hello, Handsome."
"Hello, sweetheart. I'm looking for Trudy. Jayne's friend sent me over."
She smiled widely. "You just come right on in then. She's in the parlor tryin' not to melt." She didn't introduce herself. He watched her saunter into the parlor in front of him on four inch heels without so much as a bobble in her ankle.
"You have the strongest ankles of anyone I've met," he informed her.
That got him a laugh. "Sweetheart, with that accent you can see more than my ankles any day." She winked and left them.
"So, you're a friend of Jayne's?"
"No, my friend is a friend of Jayne's. The exact message was tell Trudy that Jayne's friend sent you."
"Oh, *that* friend. How is my favorite little drag king anyway?"
Eames blinked. "Fine. So far as I know. So far resisting all my attempts at marriage."
Trudy's brows rose. "Sit down, sugar, and tell me what you need."
"I need a cream colored off the shoulder with an a-line skirt that at least reaches my knees. And I could probably do with a wig, though it's going to be murder in this heat."
"Take off that shirt and let me get a good look at your proportions. Do you have cover-up for the art?"
"No, I'll make it part of the look."
"In that case, I think I have something we can alter. And you can tell me stories about Artemis not getting married."
"Only if you've pictures to share."
Their eyes met. "Oh, I think I like you."
"Trudy is lovely. And she even gave me pictures as a bonus. If you're very kind to me, I won't show them to Mal."
Arthur snarled at the phone. "You are an evil, manipulative bastard. I don't know why I work with you at all."
"Just a little job, my sweet. Come join me in Paris. Oh, that's right, I'll meet you at the university, shall I?"
"No, Christ. Let me get a flight."
"Did the happy couple convince you to go back to California with them?"
Arthur rolled his eyes. "God no. I'm in Florence."
"An entire country filled with food and I'm not there to watch you debate whether or not to get an extra portion."
"Just for that, you're paying for something disgustingly decadent for dessert when I meet you." Arthur stared at the screen in front of him. "Would this little job be real world."
"Do I get to see you in drag?"
"Perish the thought. Not until you're ready to peel me out of it at an instant's notice."
"That could be arranged."
"And there's a ring on your finger that I placed there during our very nice little civil service somewhere."
"I'll just ask Trudy for pictures."
Eames put out his hand. Arthur looked at it as though it were poisonous. Eames wriggled his fingers. "Come, let's have a dance, luv."
Arthur's eyes darted around the room. It was empty. The stereo was still playing the romantic big band mix CD that Arthur had started that morning. He very carefully took the offered hand and let Eames sweep him into a quiet, slow dance. It wasn't a waltz, or a foxtrot, or anything that formal. Still, they moved well together, settling into a rhythm. Arthur's fingers tightened on Eames' upper arm for a few seconds as he realized that Eames was starting to lead him into a more difficult pattern.
"Relax. Listen to the music."
Arthur took a deep breath, then let his shoulders drop. He relaxed into the dance. Eames wouldn't let him fall or embarrass himself. "And what do you think? Is Dom over-reaching?"
"Definitely. Mal is mad to even let him try a triple level dream. It's hard enough to do two levels."
"Easy as pi," Arthur muttered.
Eames chuckled. "Doctor Who references are just going to remind me why I love you dearly."
"Be that as it may, Mr. Eames, do we have an exit plan?"
"I certainly do. I could easily be convinced to include you in it."
"And what would I have to do in order to convince you?" Eames spun him out and back again before answering.
"Just a kiss, luv."
Arthur chuckled. He kissed Eames' cheek. "There. A kiss."
Eames shook his head. "You and I will be on a beautiful beach watching the sunset that looks like watercolor. And I will carefully kiss you before the sun goes down and when we surface there will be stars in the sky."
"Such a romantic." Arthur followed the next steps without thinking. "Speaking of watercolors, my mother wants to meet you."
"It seems I spoke once too often about my new forger and she's jealous. Also, she wants to know about that Chagal you did for me."
Eames frown, obviously trying to think of the right question.
"My mother is Fred Arthur."
His eyes lit up. "Oh, Darling." His grin widened. "I would be honored."
He dipped Arthur, then reeled him in for a kiss. "Back to work, Mr. Eames."
Winifred "Fred" Arthur looked up from her latest oil. There was a paintbrush behind her left ear and her short-cropped hair was highlighted by the red paint she'd had on her hand when she ran through it. She didn't care though. All she cared about was the fact that Gwen had just poked hir head into the studio. She waved. "I'll be right out. Let me just pack these up."
"Right. I'll be making lunch. Is Dad coming home?"
"Not until dinner. He's got a one o'clock class."
"Poor bastard." Zie waved a hand behind hir. The door clicked shut and Fred could her voices and laughter drifting down the hallway. She covered the painting and dropped her brushes into the eco-friendly mineral spirits. She scubbed her hands clean and went to meet the man who'd finally caught Gwen's attention for more than a few minutes.
"Now, darling, you know you're not allowed to touch the sauce," a British voice chided. "Just hand me the wine and the spoon and get off to the pantry to find me the basil."
"Fresh basil on the windowsill. This is America. We have this weird stuff called sunlight."
"And yet, I've never seen you tan. It's a crime against nature."
"You're a pasty white ex-pat who lives in Africa on a regular basis." There was a pause. "And I'm cutting that shirt up for Mom to use as rags because it's giving me hives."
"I was assured this is the height of American fashion."
"In the seventies, maybe, if you were on something. You do this just to annoy me."
"You look so good when you're annoyed." There was a quick bang. "Now, now, luv, whatever will your mother think?"
Fred took that opening. "That my child has good aim and you have good reflexes." She eyed the tennis ball and the pan lid. "If you get tennis lint into the sauce, I'll take you over my knee."
Gwen stuck out hir tongue. "Mr. Phillip Eames, may I present Mrs. Fred Arthur."
"Charmed, dear lady." Eames bent over her hand. "No, Arthur, the wine does not need to be measured. Just give me the bottle."
"This is why I never can replicate your sauce."
"And what have you decided to make since you've taken over my kitchen?"
"Lasagna for tonight's dinner. I'm simply doctoring the suace a bit. Did I say you could touch the noodle dough? No? Sit down and be decorative."
"Mom, please close your eyes. You don't need to witness this." Gwen shook hir head and reached for the bronze candlestick her eldest had made.
"Not with Shannon's candlestick you don't. There's a golf club in the umbrella stand and a slugger on top of the shoe rack."
Gwen settled for glaring at her boyfriend. "Well, I can tell that I'm not needed here. You and Mom can talk while I go unpack."
"If you turn on your computer, I'll have to drag you out for dinner. If you're going to research, do it at the kitchen table."
Eames winced. "We've had this talk."
Gwen smirked at him. Xie wandered out of the kitchen to the guest room. There was a distinct possibility that they wouldn't see hir for at least an hour. Eames gave her a Fred a lopsided grin. "So, Mr. Eames."
"Just Eames, please."
"Gwen has the Chegal on her wall and I want to know what possessed you to make it."
"We saw it in the museum and he liked it. I made a copy for his birthday." Eames shrugged. "Simple as that."
"And your hir forger now." Fred poured half a glass of red wine into the handblown Spanish glasses Gwen sent her the year after she graduated. "I don't know if I approve of the relationship."
"That he's getting his forgeries from somewhere else?" Eames chuckled. "Dear lady, I could never replace you in his estimation. It's just that we tend to cross paths fairly often. We're the best at what we do and people are starting to recognize that."
"And what exactly is Gwen's specialty?"
"I think that's something you'd best ask him, isn't it?" Eames frowned at her. "You do know in a general sense what he does, yes?"
"Zie's a researcher for crooks. I don't know what that entails."
Gwen's boyfried paused. "Arthur is the best point in the business. That means he can do anything that the job needs. But he's the first in and last out."
Fred paused. "My child is in danger?"
Eames shifted from foot to foot. "You'd really best talk to Arthur. If everything goes to plan, there's no danger."
"And if it doesn't?" She leaned forward. He turned to fuss with the sauce.
"Then I take care of the problem," Gwen said from the doorway. Zie settled down at the kitchen table with a laptop and a pad of paper. "See, I'm being sociable."
Eames snorted. "You shouldn't lie to your mother so, Darling. You're going to ignore the both of us for the next hour."
"Ha. Ha. You'll find that Mr. Eames exaggerates." The computer came to life. "Oh, look, Mrs. Ferenzi still has open WiFi. I thought I fixed that." Then, Gwen was gone into the digital stream.
Fred rolled her eyes. "I have a feeling that my child is a bit miffed with you."
"Ah, you're the one he's pulled his turns of phrase from. Interesting. I'd thought it was a mentor."
Arthur poked Eames in the ribs. "Come on, time to get up and go running." He sat tailor style on the side of the bed. One hand holding up his head.
Eames groaned. "Bloody Hell, Darling."
"Up. Or my father will challenge you to hand to hand combat instead."
Eames chuckled. "I'll spar with him later in any case. It will be interesting to see what you learned from him and what you picked up elsewhere."
Arthur smiled. He was already dressed in shorts and a loose tee. "Go on. Up."
Eames sat up. He pulled Arthur in for a quick kiss. "How did you manage to get dressed without waking me?"
"I'm very good at what I do, Mr. Eames." Arthur offered an innocent smile. Eames chuckled at that.
Soon enough they were stretching on the front lawn. Arthur's father looked Eames up and down with raised brows. "Well, at lease this one has a cock."
Arthur scowled. "Neil had fully-functional equipment."
"And what was that idiot with the handbag dog's name?"
"Lewis was Shannon's not mine. Mine was Emily."
Eames snorted. "You've siblings I haven't met."
"Yes, my brothers, Shannon, Dana, and Kelly."
"Mr. Arthur, you are having me on."
"Nope." Jan Arthur's smile turned smug. "I had to deal with it, so do they."
"So, what's the excuse for Gwendolyn then?" Gwen sniped.
"Lyn is a fine nickname, Sweetie." Jan patted his daughter's arm gently. He didn't give a shit about gender politics. Gwen was his little girl, God damn it, and he was going to take care of her the way a father should. Even if she did care more weapons than he did and had more real-world fighting experience.
Gwen rolled her eyes. "Just stretch out. And don't try to make him faint. You'll just turn my stomach and I'll tell Mom."
Jan scowled. Eames laughed. "He gets that look from you then. I'd wondered."
"We're going to spar later," he threatened. Unfortunately, Eames looked interested rather than disturbed at that. Oh, that could not stand. It just could not. "So, has my dearest ever told you about her first girlfriend?"
Gwen buried her face in her hands. "I'm running. You two do whatever you want."
The Buenos Aires air was sticky. Eames lay down next to Arthur on the roof. He stole the cigarette from between his lips. "Jesus, it's hot. Why the bloody Hell did I let you talk me into this?"
"Me? This was your idea. Get away from the Cobbs you said. Go someplace interesting for once." Arthur took back the cigarette. "And there's a pack if you're desperate." He put a hand over his eyes. "The moon is lovely though."
Music wafted up from the club in the building across from them. "I'd suggest we dance, but it's been a long day."
"I don't salsa well anyway. You'd want Mal for a tango."
"I think I remember how to follow. You lead quite well."
Arthur snorted. "You don't have to butter me up. I know my failings." Eames stretched out an arm. Arthur rolled onto his side. His white shirt stuck to his skin. "Balthazar thinks I've got broken ribs. He's been very solicitous. It's disturbing."
"He's a nice guy. It could be so much worse."
"Is he straight or what? My research doesn't show anything."
"Huh. Mom was pretty sure that was my default setting at one point. She had worksheets and everything."
"Was that before or after she forged your way into an all-boys school?"
"It was the best school in the area. But after that. When I was a teenager. I think she was thrilled when I brought Emily home. She was a little less thrilled when she got pregnant, but that worked out for the worst." A little trail of smoke drifted out of Arthur's nose. He ground out the butt with a little frown of concentration. He let his head fall onto Eames' arm. "This is going to be a cluster-fuck," he murmured.
"Is there something you've neglected to tell me, dear-heart?"
"Hmm? Oh, no the job's fine. I meant us. If there really is an us beyond casual sex and a strangely intimate sharing of clothing."
"Oh, be assured, there will always be an us."
Arthur snorted. "You've always been more sure of that than I am."
"That's because I'm better with people and these funny things called emotions that most people have." Eames winced as two fingers poked into his side. "What would your mother say?"
"He's my favorite."
Eames laughed. He knocked out a fresh cigarette to share. Arthur accepted it with a soft smile that was just for him. "You do love me, don't you," Eames murmured.
"Don't put words in my mouth, Mr. Eames." Arthur leaned forward to share the smoke and a soft kiss. "But I do find myself more fond of you than I should be. I might even harbor certain affections that would make it difficult for me to kill you, should the need arise."
"Then I shall do my best to be sure that you never need kill me." Eames ran a hand through Arthur's hair. It was warm enough that the gel had lost its grip. "Though you probably will be the death of me."
Arthur turned into the touch like a cat. "Very likely. I'll probably push you out of a window and forget that we're in the real world."
"And I was thinking I'd likely walk in front of a bullet from an angry mobster, but your version is much more disturbing." Eames shivered theatrically. "Now, come over here and kiss me."
"Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit," Arthur muttered. He stared down at the pregnancy test and lit up another cigarette. He pulled it away from his lips, then ground it out against the bare cinderblock wall of the bathroom. He took a picture with his phone and texted it to Eames.
His phone rang a few seconds later. "Jesus, Arthur, are the breeders spawning again?"
Arthur snorted out a laugh. "No they're staying with two. Where are you?"
Eames got quiet. "Come to Mombasa. You know how to find me."
"I'll be there as soon as I can get a flight."
"Are you okay, Arthur?"
"No. I don't think I am."
"Then come home, Arthur."
Eames took another shot of scotch. "I really never thought that I'd be having this conversation with you."
"I never thought I'd ever have this discussion with anyone. Does that help any? But which of your girls did you imagine this with?" Arthur reached for the bottle, but Eames whisked it away and substituted a cup of coffee. "If this isn't laced, I have serious questions about the survival of your balls."
"Not until there's a decision."
"I need to research." Arthur's hand shook. Eames put an arm around him. He laid his head against him. "After I sleep."
"If you can sleep I'll be shocked."
"I have, ah, shit."
Eames grimaced. The effects of Somnacin on fetuses wasn't well-researched. No one wanted to risk it. Not to mention how pregnancy changed blood chemistry. "Let's watch Dr. Who and pretend we're not going to have make decisions."
"I am 100% behind that. What doctor?"
"Do you want kitsch or utter heartache?"
"Kitsch. Definitely kitsch. You have four?" Arthur slumped onto the couch and put his feet up on the coffee table.
"Who exactly do you think you're talking to?"
"The mad Englishman who asked me to make him a TARDIS in a dream once he realized I love paradoxes?"
Eames grinned over his shoulder. "And a lovely job you did of it. I've still not explored it all, have I?"
"Oh, you haven't even seen it recently. I keep it updated. The BBC likely thinks I'm a stalker or something with the amount of times I've hacked them. But I've never leaked anything, so I've never gotten a visit from the goon squad."
"Honestly, I think they just send David Tenant to pout at you for a few hours."
Eames put in the first disc and cuddle Arthur close. No matter what he might say, Arthur was a fan of cuddling. Within reason, at least. As long as Eames didn't cage him in or restrict his ability to draw a weapon, he tolerated it well enough.
"That's the problem." Arthur searched around for something to throw that wouldn't hurt or be hurt. Eames slapped a plate into his hand. Fine, it was his. He threw it against the wall. It was all that kept him from either breaking down or hitting his lover. He didn't want to know what that said about him. The plate bounced, undamaged onto the floor. Another plate was in his hand. The hail of plates bounced off the wall until Arthur sank to the floor, helpless with laugher.
"Corel, luv. If you can break those plates, I'll have to test you for steroids."
Arthur swatted him, but was laughing too hard to make it count.
"I'm not going to hurt you anymore. Where were we?"
"Do you actually want children?"
Arthur's hands fisted. "I don't know. I'm too old for this whole gender identity thing aren't I?"
"Is that the problem? No one need ever know. If anyone finds out, we can tell them that we got a surrogate."
"Dom's convinced I have a sister named Gwen. So Mal will allow that lie."
Eames stared at him.
"What?" Arthur scowled.
"Dominick Cobb is truly that dense? Do diamonds come out of his ass?"
Arthur snorted. "I've never asked, but yes, he really is that dense." He reached for the plate that had bounced back to him. It was completely unharmed, which was really unfair. "So, do you want kids?"
"This is more your decision than mine."
"Don't pull that shit, Eames. Do you want kids? Did you plan on kids? In this beautiful scenario you tried to concoct in your head about your future."
Eames was quiet. "Darling, I've never planned much beyond getting you to finally marry me. And I've always assumed that you considered yourself male."
Arthur shrugged. "I don't believe in the gender binary, but it seems like my body's forcing the issue."
"But in a greater scheme, beyond being a good cover, do you live as a woman?"
"Hell no." He paused for a long moment. "Except when I'm visiting home, but Mom doesn't believe in gender binary either. Dad does, but it'll take a shotgun to stop him treating me like his little princess, so that doesn't count." He thought hard. "Mal thinks of me as a woman. Dom's French isn't good enough to catch it though. With your family, but that falls under cover, I think." He spun the plate like a top and watched it spin until it settled on the floor. He repeated the action. "It's not that I think of myself as male, not really. I'm just me. I've never pursued changes." He gave Eames a crooked smile. "And I don't exactly find the sex repellant."
Eames laughed. He gathered up a few plates and set them within throwing reach. "Walk me through the options, Arthur."
Arthur rubbed his temples. "In no particular order: I carry the child to term and give it away; I carry the child to term and raise it as a single parent; I carry the child to term and we raise it as a married couple." He couldn't help but grimace. "I carry the child to term and we raise it a as a gay couple; I carry the child to term and you raise it; I terminate the pregnancy."
"Well, we're obviously not going to raise it as a married heterosexual couple, given your reaction to that. So, that's one done. What's the plan if you do carry to term?"
"I let people know I'm not available for jobs, I'm taking a sabbatical to clean out my system and do some research. I find a quiet place and give birth cursing your name and threatening to castrate you."
"A fine tradition. Even if we don't marry, I wouldn't leave you alone with it. I'm a very responsible man, I'll have you know."
"As your fine list of enemies can attest. You are responsible for hoodwinking..."
"Conning," Arthur continued over the interruption, "and forging your way into the bad graces of the Russian mafia and the Irish mob in Chicago. I always wanted to know what you did to them."
Eames stared for a moment. "Arthur, my sweet, dear Arthur, as lovely as you look in the afternoon sun, I think I shall abandon you and attempt to crack the password on your computer."
"Your file isn't on that computer. Besides, if you touch it without permission I'll cut your fingers off."
Eames' eyes narrowed. "If you were in a better mood, I'd risk that. Walk me through raising it without marrying me."
"After you finish pouting about the wedding we haven't had, I start to take research only jobs. Some of them might even be legal. Then, when I feel comfortable leaving it with a nanny, I start taking local therapy jobs. Then, dump it on you for a few weeks at a time to pursue more lucrative jobs on both sides of the line. Hell, I don't know, maybe we live together in sin with it." Arthur scrubbed both hands through his hair. "We let the breeders babysit occasionally, or drop it off with Mom. She'll spoil it thoroughly."
"And your father will start teaching it to fight."
"Exactly. And we'll raise up the best little con artist forger that ever walked the four corners of the earth."
"No thoughts of going straight?"
"I'd be thrown out of the family."
Eames snorted. "Which brings us back to the sticky question of what do you want? Do you actually want a child."
"I don't fucking know!" The plate bounced again. "I have no frame of reference for this."
"Shall I tell you a story?"
Arthur studied the Englishman for a long time. "Why aren't you freaking out?"
"One freakout at a time. It makes it easier."
"Alright. Tell me a story."
"Once upon a time, there was a childless couple. They were perfectly happy that way. They lived quietly most of the time, and traveled endlessly. Then, one day, they got pregnant. They'd never planned for it, but it didn't change things terribly. They still lived quietly, with travel that stayed a bit closer to home, but travel none the less. The child grew up loving travel and exotic places, but just as happy in the quiet little homes they maintained. Then, the child moved on and out and the couple went back to traveling endlessly." Eames' hand was warm and dry as it covered Arthur's fingers. The afternoon sun highlighted the small knicks and scars that covered his knuckles. His own hands were no different, scattered with scars from fights and weapons.
"I guess," Arthur said slowly, "I guess I want to keep it. I've got all the lines and the plans to live with it. And I haven't even researched where to go around here if I didn't plan on it. Eames, I... I'm fucking terrified."
Eames squeezed Arthur's hand gently.
"That's just it, Mom," Arthur said as he stalked through the streets of Mombasa. It was almost too dark out for him to be comfortable without a few more weapons than he had with him. "We're keeping it, but I don't know about the wedding thing." He found himself outside one of the less reputable bars and resisted the urge to pop in for a quick drink of something strong and cheap. He continued down the street. "Yes, I know that's what he wants. I've known him longer than you have."
The streetlight guttered. Arthur looked up, then down at the shadows. "Crap. Mom, I'm going to have to call you back. I'm about to get mugged. Love you." He hung up on her protests. A little violence was exactly what he needed. He counted four and removed one from the equation as soon as he saw the knife. He broke the man's hand and then crushed his throat. He realized he'd made a mistake as a blade slipped into his side. There'd been five originally, not four. He killed two more before the second stab caught him in the stomach. He registered two more stab wounds before the last man died.
Arthur slid down the lamppost, one hand pressed to the deepest of the wounds. "Fuck," he muttered as the street slipped sideways. He dug for his phone. Then, he heard familiar steps.
"No, no, I see him now. Don't worry, Fred. I'll take care of him. He'll call you as soon as he's able." Eames hung up the phone and knelt next to him. "Oh, dearheart," he murmured.
"Miscounted," Arthur breathed. "Mom?"
"Called me, a bit alarmed," Eames said. "Let's get you to surgery, shall we?"
Arthur nodded, eyes slipping shut. He didn't remember anything else until he woke up in the hospital.
The police officer was gentle as he led Arthur through the scene once more. Arthur paused, frowning. "I think that's the sequence. It's just that fights get so confusing."
"Five men died."
"But I didn't. I count that far. Five on one. Bastards." Arthur's words slurred as the pain medication took effect. Morphine, he supposed.
The officer frowned at him. "Five on one. They came after you for what?"
"Money?" Arthur shrugged. "I dunno. Maybe they wanted my phone. Maybe they wanted to hurt me because I'm young and in their territory. I didn't ask and they didn't bother to explain. Just came at me with a knife. I reacted. Are we done?"
Eames came into the room with a bouquet of cheerful local flowers and a stack of magazines. He kissed Arthur's temple. "Do you remember your name today, beautiful?"
"Shut up, you." Arthur batted at him. "But you can leave the flowers. They put me on what?"
"Morphine. That's why you're sounding like a three hour drunk."
Arthur frowned. "But is that safe?"
Eames' face crumpled into a woeful frown. "Oh, Darling. You don't remember do you? The doctor told you that we've lost the child. The stabbing sparked a miscarriage."
Arthur blinked away sudden tears. "Oh."
"You lost a child?" the officer lifted his head.
"Yes," Eames answered.
The man looked down at his paper. “I'm very sorry for your loss. I'll leave you now, but I may be back to speak with you again.”
“Of course.” Arthur waved an absent hand. His eyes were almost focussed. He'd forgotten what narcotics that weren't Somnicin felt like. Eames stroked a hand across his hair. Then, he closed the door after the police officer. Arthur looked up at him as he settled on the edge of the bed.
“You'll need bribe money.”
“Got it in my laptop bag.”
Eames nodded. He looked down at his hands. “Do you remember what the doctor's told you about the surgery?”
“I don't remember talking to the doctors.”
“You'll never be able to have children. The bleeding... the damage...” he paused. “They ended up performing a hysterectomy.” He quirked a smile. “I imagine they thought they were being kind.”
“Huh.” Arthur frowned. “No more periods?”
His best friend laughed at that. “That's the bright side.”
"And what story did you spin about my track marks?"
"That you were on hormone treatments that you stopped as soon as you realized that you were pregnant." Eames grimaced. "They didn't ask until after you were safely tucked into bed here. There just wasn't time." He ran a hand over Arthur's un-gelled hair. It felt good and Arthur turned into it like a cat asking for more. Eames slid down until they were lying next to each other. "I'm still holding out hope that you'll marry me."
Arthur snorted. "You always were an optimist." A single tear tracked down his cheek. "And I was just getting ready to name it."
The headline screamed: "Mother kills five attempting to protect unborn child." Arthur buried his face in Eames' shoulder.
"At least I won't have a trial. I paid for that much."
"True enough." Eames appreciated the closeness. Arthur wasn't feeling well, and thus more willing to cuddle. It had been a rough few weeks though. Their emotions finally seemed to be back on an even keel.
"You have a job in two weeks."
Eames grimaced. "I can cancel."
"No. You haven't worked in months. It's time to get back into the swing of things. I need to go home for a little while and see my mother before she drives me insane."
"More insane. You're already mad."
"That's because I have to deal with you on a regular basis." Arthur's voice was muffled. "I'll set up a flight home, if you can get me to the terminal."
"Make it for two. I'll make sure you're in your mother's home before I take off on my next adventure."
Arthur lifted his head. "You're sure? You don't have to."
That was a blatant lie. If he just saw Arthur off at the airport he'd never see him again. "Of course I'll come. I like your mother. Your father on the other hand."
"I think he likes you. You didn't faint when he sparred with you. And you can shoot as well as I do."
"And yet, he'd cheerfully kill me and have you help move the body."
"He's *still* my father."
"True." Eames squeezed Arthur's waist gently. The stitches weren't yet out and he didn't want to cause any more pain. "I'll ask him for your hand when we get into town."
"He'll hold that over me for years, Eames. Years! You can't!"
Eames kissed him. "Calm down, luv. You'll pull your stitches."
"Arthur, can you come to LA?" Dom's voice was raw.
"What's wrong?" Arthur forced himself through the last of the leg crunches on today's PT schedule. "Is it the kids?"
"It's Mal. She's, she's not well. I need help with her. Can you come?"
Arthur took a deep breath, then rolled to his feet. He was still out of shape. Damn it. He pressed a hand to his stomach. His father watched with knitted brows. "Is she in the hospital?"
"She's convinced two therapists that she's fine. But she's not. She's hiding radios. And she tried, she's trying to kill herself."
Arthur closed his eyes, a wave of premature grief surging through him. His father crossed the mats to put his arms around him. Arthur leaned into the embrace. "I'll come take care of the children for a little while. I'll see if I can get a lead from someone who won't tip off the cops. Okay?"
"Okay. I'll see you soon." Dom hung up. Arthur tucked his phone away.
"Sweetheart?" his father said.
"It's Mal. She's suicidal. I'm going to look after the kids and try to convince her to stop taunting therapists." He smiled up at his father. "Safe work."
"You can't pick up the kids yet."
"That's okay. Dom and Mal are still there. And I can get someone in to help with that if I need to. I need to pack." He grimaced. "Can you talk to Mom?"
"I'd rather you stayed here." His father sighed. The embrace around his shoulders tightened. "I worry about you, Gwen."
"No, you're still my child. I am still going to worry about you. Nothing you say will change that."
"I was going to say, call me 'Lyn', but whatever."
"Funny." His father smelled of sweat and books. Arthur's heart ached. He wanted to stay right here, safe.
But Mal needed him. He couldn't say no to that.
Mal ignored Arthur. He frowned at her, then stuck his tongue out at her back. He spread out the cards to play Memory with James. Phillipa had conked out for a nap as soon as he tucked her in, but James hadn't gone down. They played for about twenty minutes before James got bored. He didn't have the attention span of his sister. He was still too young. James considered his toys as Arthur cleaned up the game. He selected a toy car and started to play with it. Arthur bit back a groan as he pushed himself to his feet. He put a hand to his stomach.
Mal's head lifted from her book with narrowed eyes. "You are hurt?"
"I was mugged," Arthur hedged. "Got stabbed. I'll live."
She frowned. "Why are you here?"
He shrugged at her. "To see the kids. It's not like you've been fit company for an ant."
"You wound me, petite," she replied absently.
"And you haven't looked at the kids once while I've been here. Why?" He sat down at the table next to her and stole a bite from her cinnamon raisin toast. She batted at his hand automatically, but didn't say anything about it.
She studied him warily. She gently ran a hand down his front to rest over his heart. "You're *my* Arthur," she said in surprise.
"Well Eames is still campaigning to make sure that I'm *his* Arthur, but yes, of course I am."
"But if this is Dom's level, my projections should not be here."
Her eyes widened. "Oh, Arthur, have you been holding this level?"
Arthur eyed her warily. "We're awake, Mal."
"It make so much sense." Her eyes filled with tears. "Oh, ma petite chou-chou, I am so sorry we've let this go for so long. That Dom's madness has convinced you too."
"Mal?" She stroked his hair and shook her head.
"We will wake you." She kissed his forehead. "Now, go play with James and pretend you are not getting old."
"Mal!" She pushed him away gently. "Fine. I'm getting toast first. I'm assuming there's some left."
"I didn't notice. The groceries just appear, non?"
"What did you do, Dom?"
"We were dreaming in Limbo for a lifetime." Arthur scowled at him. Dom swallowed hard. "It was an experiment."
"Dreaming in Limbo is not an experiment. Dreaming in Limbo is stupidity. It's too hard to come back from. You were supposed to be working on stabilizing three level dreams. Wasn't that enough of a challenge?" Arthur leaned forward, hands fisted. "You have children, Dom. They are your first priority. And you did something that could have left them without parents!"
Dom cleared his throat. "We made arrangements for you and Eames to take them in."
"That is besides the point." Arthur took a deep breath, then a second. "Okay. Yelling at you has never done any good. And you seem to have your head too far up your ass to understand that kids need parents. So, let's try this again. You were experimenting with dreaming in Limbo. Where were you doing this experiment?"
"And where were the children?"
"Playing with their friends."
"And who was supervising you and Mal?"
Dom's eyes shot to the sides as he looked for which way to bolt when he answered. "No one."
"What is the standard procedure for experimental dreaming? Even on the wrong side of the tracks?" Arthur's dark eyes bored into him.
Guilt swam up. "To have a monitor."
"And where did you get your compounds? Did you test the batch before you went under?"
Dom shifted uncomfortably. "I got it from the university."
"The university. And did you write up this little experiment the way they like?"
"I wrote up a paper on the stability of the double level dream. Therapists don't do them yet. They still think they're impossible. Mal and I never published about the triple level dream."
Arthur rubbed his head. "I need a smoke."
"I thought you'd quit."
"I was working on three months when you turned stupid and drove me back to it!" he snapped. Arthur left him. Dom took a shaky breath. At least Arthur hadn't found out about the inception work. That would probably have earned him a quick trip to the desert and a bullet in the brain.
Eames leaned back in his chair. He considered the pointwoman. She was a well-endowed woman with short-cropped black hair and an enjoyment of silks and satins. Her lipstick was a deep berry color and she'd applied the same above her eyes. He registered how she sat and copied her unconsciously. She lifted her head. "Stop trying to memorize me, Eames." She rolled her eyes. "I'm not your mark."
"Oh, but you're lovely." He pouted at her. "And there are many men who'd go mad for you. I'll just tweak the forge a bit. Lighter hair, that sort of thing."
She turned back to her files. "Is Arthur alive?"
"At last report, yes. Why do you ask?"
"Because his sister got stabbed down in Mombai and I haven't heard from him."
"Mombasa," Eames corrected. "And he emailed me yesterday." To remind Eames to pre-order the next season of Dr. Who, but Lilian didn't need to know that.
"Does he have a job for you?" Her eyes narrowed. "If I have to fly out somewhere and beat him just because you drop what you're doing every time he bats his pretty little eyes, I will do so."
"Now, now, don't worry yourself. Arthur doesn't poach from other Points."
She pushed a donut towards him. "But he does threaten other Points if they don't take care of you. You do know about that right?"
Eames shook his head. "He's never seemed all that protective. Not of me. Of Mrs. Cobb, yes."
Lilian leaned back in her chair and put her completely non-sensible high heels up on the desk. They matched her eyes. "So, is he actually in a threesome with the Cobbs? Is he related to one of them? Inquiring minds want gossip."
"Do you want the good story or the truth?" Eames leaned forward and put a fist under his chin. "Mind you, the story is complete lies, but it's much more interesting. And he won't mind for a moment that you've passed it on to someone else."
"You clear your gossip with him?"
Eames snorted. "You've never seen his full gun colleciton, obviously."
She shivered. "You know, that sounds utterly terrifying. I'm going to assume it's part of the really good story and therefore a lie."
"Whatever keeps you sane, ducks." Eames grinned at her. "The story. Arthur, dear murderous love, met the Cobbs while he was still a young, aspiring student and became their assistant. Then, the Cobbs started walking on the wilder side, and took him to their bed. He's actually the father of their son, which is why the young one has dark eyes. If anything happens to the Cobbs, he gets the children. Anyway, Mrs. Cobb likes to occasionally have him dress up as a young woman. They go out clothes shopping together and act like sisters. They even pull unsuspecting young men into their clutches before letting them go at the end of the night."
Lilian laughed. "That is horrible. I love it. I think I'll keep it. And if he ever asks me why, I'm going to point directly to you."
"You do that." Eames smirked. "He's sweet on me, you know."
"You keep telling me that, but I've never seen it."
"No, Mal, I won't give you my gun. It's mine." Arthur crossed her arms over her chest. Mal tapped her foot.
"I suppose that you think I won't attempt to tickle you for it."
"You wouldn't dare."
She gave her a dark smile. "Oh, really."
Arthur handed over the squirt gun. "Fine. I was just going to squirt him a little bit."
Mal squirted Arthur in the face. "I find your lies amusing, petite." Arthur stuck her tongue out at her. She mopped her face off with the sleeve of her sweatshirt. "You have finished your run?"
"And your crunches?"
"Yes." Arthur rolled her eyes.
"Then I will assume that you are capable of protecting yourself from the projections. Of course, you are so used to us being in your mind that they have been quiet."
"Mal, spend some time with the kids today. Please?"
She shook her head. "I cannot allow myself to become confused as you have." She stroked through the hair that Arthur hadn't bothered the gel back. It curled around Arthur's ears, brushing her shoulders. "I will wake you," she promised. Poor Arthur. Protecting them for so long must have made it so hard to be alone that she had dreamt up an Eames for herself. She'd even slipped enough that she was injured. The newspapers aligned the attack with reports of an earthquake. It must have been what triggered the train on the last level. "I will cook. And Dom will clean up."
Arthur smiled at that. It was a genuine one that crinkled up her eyes. "Merci."
Mal had to work soon or Arthur might actually convince her that this was the real level. Oh, what guilt to ruin this fantasy life.
Dom's hand shook as he gripped the ticket. He bolted from the house and to the car. He had to get out of town before the police came for him. He couldn't let them hang him for Mal's murder. Arthur was looking after the kids. They'd be fine.
"He... he just bolted. I don't even..." Arthur collapsed onto the couch with a glass of wine. The kids had gone down fairly easily, but he expected nightmares tonight. Cora, Mal's mother, patted Arthur's shoulder.
"You are excellent with the children." Her English was forced.
"Oh, my apologies." Arthur switched to French. "I'm trying to decide between hunting your son-in-law down and shooting him in the back of the head or hunting him down and dragging him back to the states hogtied."
Cora laughed sharply. "I will support you in either action," she told him. "I have never liked Dominic."
Arthur saluted her with the glass. "A great show of judgement. He loves Mal though. It's the only reason I put up with him and his cluelessness."
Cora nodded. She poured herself a glass of wine. "Will you stay for the week? I need someone who can navigate the local lawyers."
"I have a power of attorney. I'll get you assigned as their guardian until their father returns to the country. I can't do more than that." He grimaced at her. "As much as I would like to. I'm in the will, but I don't have guardianship of them with Dom still alive."
She nodded again, once. "Then, you must drop him into the ocean." Her lips drew down at the corners. "And then, you will help me move them to France, where they should be. Near their family."
Arthur rubbed his eyes. "I'll get as much of the estate organized. And I'll start packing away Mal's things. It will make it easier on everyone."
"But you," she said. She kept her voice gentle. "You are allowed to mourn."
He shook his head. "I am better off staying busy. Thank you, though." He smiled at her. "Mal was my best friend." He lifted his wine. "She taught me about wine and good food." He sipped carefully at the red liquid. He'd lost his suitcoat at some point, and the shoulder of his shirt was still damp from the tears of one of the children. He checked his watch. "If you'll forgive me, I need to make a few phone calls."
"Of course." She caught his wrist as he passed. "Don't overwork yourself."
"I won't. Goodnight, Cora," he said quietly.
"What is it, love?" Eames tucked his phone between his ear and shoulder. The men he was playing poker with looked at him. The oldest one smirked at him. Eames winked.
"Mal's dead. Dom's run off. And I'm stuck in the house with two grieving children and a pissed off grandmother."
"Darling, your mother-in-law isn't that bad. She's my mum, ain't she?"
"I'm assuming that you are in the middle of a bunch of men who need to think I'm your girl, so I'm not going to ask any questions."
"That's a love."
"I am settling the estate and then going after Dom. I don't know if I'll be in contact."
"I'll be home, don't you worry. Just put the kids to bed."
Arthur sighed heavily. There were tears trapped in his voice. "Part of me just wants to take care of the kids and let Dom hang, but they need to know Daddy's not a murderer." Another sigh cleared the tears. "Do be careful, Mr. Eames."
"Love you too." Eames waited until the line closed to hang up. "Where was I then?"
"Losing your balls," the man on his left joked. "Is she pretty at least?"
"Lovely thing with dark hair. Got one hell of a left. Knocked down my pa once." That garnered him more laughter and a proper distraction. Back to getting his mark good and drunk.
Arthur twisted the gun out of Dom's hand and put it on the nightstand. "I will bring you back to life and kill you myself, if you pull that shit again," he snarled. Dom swallowed hard.
"Why the fuck did you run?"
"They were going to arrest me for murder."
The younger man stared at him, unimpressed. "And you really think that between me and Eames and an actual lawyer, not that slimy bastard you hired, we couldn't get you off?"
Dom winced. "I wasn't thinking."
"Clearly. Of course, now that you've run, all of our evidence is completely fucked. We'll need to figure out something else." Arthur tapped his foot. "First we get you cleaned up. You look like a fucking drunk. No one is going to hire your stupid ass."
"That's more profanity than I've heard out of you, ever."
"You have small children."
"I have been around you without them. Often."
Arthur rolled his eyes. "Get up. Shave. Take a fucking shower. I refuse to talk to you until you stop looking like a hobo." He pulled Dom to his feet and shoved him in the direction of the bathroom. "Now," he ordered.
Dom stumbled into the bathroom. He looked blearily at the mirror and assessed that Arthur was right. He did look like a bum. No one in their right mind would hire him. Arthur stood, arms crossed, glaring from the hall. His eyes weren't actually focussed on the door though, so Dom might have a chance if he went through the window.
"If you run away, I will hamstring you, then drag you back to LA in handcuffs and let them jail you. Then, I will make sure that you go into rehab and take your children with the willing help of your mother-in-law."
"Right. Shower and shave." Dom stripped off his shirt. "I'm just going to..." He reached for the door.
"Oh fuck no. You lost that right when you tried to eat a gun."
Dom nodded jerkily. Arthur hadn't killed him. That was a bright spot. A projection wouldn't have stopped him.
"Tell me not to kill Dom."
Eames carefully looked around the room. The rest of the team he was working with were all engrossed in looking busy until the extractor returned. "Why on earth would I do that?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. Did you want Pippa and Jamie? I'm pretty sure I can convince Cora to over-look the gender issues."
Arthur's voice was tight, but still had a trace of humor. He was too angry to actually commit to the humor, Eames assessed. New tactic. "I'm far too selfish. I just want you working with me again." He pouted as the comment deserved.
"Are you pouting? Just tell me to be, well, not good, exactly. Not murderous."
"It would be contra-indicated, luv. You went to save the idiot's life, not roll him into a sewer. Though, if you've changed your mind, I can meet you in Paris and buy you something disgustingly sweet and creamy."
There was a long pause on the other end of the phone. "You don't even know how tempting that sounds right now. But no, I need to watch calories for a few more weeks. Fucking metabolism isn't back to normal yet. I love Henry, don't get me wrong, but not enough to buy a new wardrobe."
Eames snickered. The blonde head of the chemist popped up with narrowed eyes. Leslie carefully put down a tube and crossed the room. She stopped two feet away. "Tell me that is Arthur."
"Yes?" Eames said.
Leslie grabbed the phone. "My God, Arthur, you have to save us from Ethan. He's decided on Limerick's formation." She listened for a long moment. "Oh, well, of course, that's my plan, but I haven't been able to talk him around to it." Another long moment and a look of enlightenment crossed the woman's plain features – making her breathtaking as opposed to solid and friendly. "You are perfect. No wonder your boyfriend is smitten. I mean, if I thought I had a chance, I'd make a play."
"I would drop you where you stand," Eames informed her.
"Really? I look like your ex-girlfriend. That is actually disturbing me. I assumed you went out with the hottest woman in your high school." Leslie listened. "Here harangue your boy while I go fix things." She handed back the phone. "Tell me Arthur's actually as good in bed as he seems?"
Eames smiled vacantly at her. "Away with you." He turned his attention back to the phone. "Ethan really does think the Limerick is the best."
"Ethan is an idiot and I've told him that several times. Leslie's going to just slip you all the right combo and let him think he's using Limerick. Weren't you supposed to be talking me down from murder?" Arthur was relaxed enough that he sounded like a pet-drugged cat.
Eames chuckled. "You sound as though you just finished a porn film."
"Is this where I say 'what are you wearing?'"
"Give me one minute to get to the privacy of the bathroom and we'll work through that topic."
There was a bang on the door in Arthur's hotel. "Jesus Christ. Fifteen fucking minutes and I have to make sure Dom's not killing himself. Again."
"Did you put him on 24 hour watch?"
"No, that was yesterday. Today he actually got to piss without my watching him. I need to sleep." Arthur groaned. "And do leg crunches first."
Eames huffed. "Go to sleep, Mr. Arthur. If Dom's still alive in the morning, deal with it then."
"Kiss-kiss, sweetheart." Arthur hung up. Still, Eames had gotten a sappy endearment from him. It was more than usual. The poor dear must be exhausted.
Eames coughed again; then sneezed. He blew his nose and crumpled up another tissue. He flopped down against his pillow. He hated colds. The buzzer on the front door rang. He was staying in Arthur's New York flat. It was a tiny space, but it still smelled of Arthur and had a collection of DVD's and books that made the stay worth the trouble. He clawed himself out of his nest and went to answer it.
The delivery man gave him a sympathetic smile. "You look rough, man. Your girl called in a delivery for you. Soup, crackers, juice, and some snacks for later." He handed him the bag.
"Thanks," Eames managed before being attacked by another coughing fit. The delivery driver waved as he left. Eames opened the bag. He felt unaccountably charmed by the idea that Arthur was feeding him. There was no one else who'd bother to call the grocers to bring him food. There was even a note on top: "Get some rest, Mr. Eames. - G.A."
He sipped at the matzo ball soup and turned on the television to rewatch Henry V.
Arthur took a moment to appreciate Eames whole and healthy before he spoke. "Dom's taking the Kobol job."
Eames' face was studiously blank. "And you need me on it?"
"Hell no. I want you as far away from it as possible."
"You came to Mombasa to tell me that?" Eames frowned.
Arthur shifted his weight unhappily. "No, I just, I can't have you involved." His eyes angled down away from the concerned face. "It's not safe to be connected with me right now."
"Arthur, luv, I am not letting you break up with me."
He jerked as though he'd been hit by that.
"That is what you were thinking?"
Arthur nodded. "If you're connected to me, this could rebound on you and I can't handle that right now."
Eames drew him into a hug. "I can look after myself. I am not giving up on you. For better or for worse. Our worse is just more dangerous than most." Arthur buried his nose in the scent of Eames – spicy after-shave mixed with the light flavor of his shampoo overlaying something sweet like brown sugar and bourbon. He squeezed tightly and Eames' arms tightened around him. It didn't hurt anymore, thank whoever was still listening to him.
"Be careful, Mr. Eames," he said. He pushed away from his lover gently. "I need to get back. If I leave him alone for too long, I'll have to bribe more judges." He traced a hand down Eames' cheek. "I do love you."
Eames' breath caught. Arthur kissed him lightly on the lips and left before Eames could convince him to stay. If he abandoned Dom, he'd feel guilty for the rest of his life.
Eames paced the floor of his house once more. The light was perfect for sketching. The DVD's were ready and waiting for viewing. The exercise bike in the corner was properly covered in discarded jackets and an afghan that he'd stolen from Fred Arthur last Christmas. But Arthur was maintaining radio silence, so the perfect house that he was convinced would one day hold his family was cold and wrong. He paced into the "guest" room which was meant for Arthur's office.
The leather couch had a ragged turquoise throw over the back and a throw pillow from a thrift shop in Boise that was shaped like a boot. The desk was clean-lined in an Art Deco fashion with a marble paperweight on the corner from a shop in Amsterdam. The small picture of Arthur's parents on the bookshelf and the double-stacked shelf of paperbacks behind it was evidence that Arthur had started to relax here. Eames gathered up the throw and settled it over himself so that he could catch a quick nap. A book poked him in the cheek as he laid down and he fished it out. It was a small black notebook of the sort that Arthur always carried. He opened it and found it full of sketches.
He grinned to himself. Arthur had captured many of the people he'd worked with over the years in the pictures. He'd even tucked in small comments around the sides. A pleasant hour passed before he slipped into sleep without realizing it.
He didn't dream.
Ariadne chewed at her lip. She and Arthur were alone in the warehouse. Dom was off recruiting someone for their job. "Arthur?" she said hesitantly. He looked up from his computer. He cocked his head to the side.
She shook her head. "This may sound strange, but, um, what pronoun do you prefer?"
Arthur blinked. "Dom. Dom and his fucking awful French." He shook his head. "Male pronouns, please. Dom is an idiot who never learned the difference between male and female endings."
"Right." That answer didn't feel right though, but she filed the information away and charged on. "Where is Dom?"
"He was in Kenya, but I'm fairly certain he's in India or Pakistan now." His lips turned into a bitter frown. "Don't ask me, I'm just the goddamn pointman. Why should I be involved in the details?" Arthur closed his eyes. "Sorry, Ari. I'll try not to take my mood out on you. I may strangle Dom when he comes back though."
She giggled at that. "Okay. So shouldn't I be working on a design or something?"
"Bored? You could go to class. In fact, I should probably talk to Miles to make sure Cora isn't lying to me." He closed his laptop and shoved it into his bag with a practiced motion. It wasn't until they were practically at Miles' office that she froze.
"Wait? You know Miles?"
Arthur laughed. "He's Dom's father-in-law."
"Incestuous business ties. Gotta love them."
Arthur seemed more relaxed now that the conversation had moved so dramatically from his gender preferences. Ari admitted to herself that there was good reason for that. It was still hard for someone to transition from male to female. She gave herself a stern lecture in her head about invading his privacy on the issue. Miles looked up with a smile. "Ariadne! Good to see you. Arthur." He shook Ari's hand, but pulled Arthur into a quick half-hug. "Go call Cora on my line," he ordered. He ushered Arthur to the desk and led Ari out of the room.
"Professor Miles." She glanced over her shoulder. "Is something wrong?"
"I am going to give you a warning, Ari," he said quietly. "Do not let this work placement control your life. Arthur is unique in his ability to bridge between dreams and reality. He will protect you as well as he is able and you will have a lovely letter of recommendation on letterhead which you can add to your applications for your first position. It seems glamorous. It will continue to seem glamorous until the day that you are sprinting down a dirty alley with nothing but your underclothes and adrenaline."
"Personal experience?" she inquired with false innocence.
Miles simply chuckled. "I loved my daughter very much. I don't wish to lose you to the same pressures that drove her to her death," he told her bluntly. "Dominick is driven. Don't let him drive you."
She nodded. "Thank you for the advice. Who's Cora?"
Miles shook his head. "That is a mystery you should be able to figure out on your own." They'd circled back to his office. Arthur was just hanging up as they stepped into the room. He looked less harried now.
"Cora's told me that she will support my petition to take custody of the children. What do you think?"
"I think that's something about which you should speak to your partner before you proceed."
Arthur made a face. "Thanks for the use of the long-distance. Ari, I'll walk you to your next class."
She allowed herself to be herded back to classes as she pondered. Cora knew Arthur well enough to know that he wanted children. Miles had warned her off of dream-sharing. Did that mean that Arthur was trying to warn her off without having to say something? She settled in her desk and took the notebook from Arthur. Several of her classmates gave her "how romantic" looks. She felt her cheeks pink. Arthur wasn't her type. He was male.
Arthur had his suitcoat off. Eames paused by the table as their eyes met. "Arthur," he said simply.
There were shades of meaning between their words. "You never called" and "I didn't want you here" hovered between them. "My files?"
"Have the blue tags on them." The system never changed. Forger was blue. Extractor was green. Architect was red. Chemist was yellow. Anyone who'd worked with Arthur more than once had that nailed down. Eames considered. Perhaps not. Many people would assume that the color coding was for the benefit of the function not the point. They'd be wrong. Eames gathered his blue folders and settled into the lounge chair.
"Did you steal these from a skip?"
"Worried about your clothes?" Arthur didn't look up from his file.
"Me? No. You however? What ever will your tailor say when you tell him you've ruined your best suit on cheap plastic?"
"Nothing because I know better than to tell him what I've done to his work. He sends his love and his desperate hope that you'll buy a suit from him."
Eames snorted. "I've already bought a linen and a dark suit. What more does he want?"
Arthur looked over his shoulder. "Eames, you got away after two suits. Do you know that he actually locked me in his shop and interrogated me over whether you look better in purple or burgundy? Four hours of looking at fabric samples. Shirts at the very least and maybe something blue? There was also discussion of yellow silk somethings, but I had shut down by that point and agreed to a paisley lining in the next coat I buy. You broke him. You fix him."
"Is that what that voice mail was about?"
"He also has really good scotch," Arthur admitted. "And he's fixated on the strange idea that you are a good influence on me."
Eames laughed at that. "I'll disabuse him of that soon enough. And I think a lovely set of deep rose and purple paisley inside a black jacket would do. You could turn back the cuffs for a bit of color."
"Bite me, Mr. Eames."
"Only if you ask nicely, Mr. Arthur."
"Are you two fighting already?" Dom grumbled. "Here, new coffeemaker as requested."
"Does it have a plug that actually works?"
"Wait. How long has Arthur been without a reliable source of coffee?" Eames asked.
"Week and a half."
"I'll just take my files along to the hotel then." Eames gathered his files. "A pleasure, as always, Arthur."
Arthur's eyes narrowed. "Do you have local currency?"
Eames checked his wallet. "Not a franc."
"God damn it, Cobb. This is why I'm supposed to be the one who picks up teammates," Arthur hissed.
Dom held the coffeemaker in front of himself. He smiled. "I'll just go set this up."
Arthur handed Eames half of the cash in his wallet. "For the love of all that is holy, tell me you actually packed clothes suitable for the season."
"Did Dom arrange a hotel for you?"
Dom coughed. "You're sharing with Arthur. As usual."
Arthur rubbed his forehead. He handed over a key-card. "Room 1425. Touch the minibar and I'll break every finger on your hand."
Ari watched Arthur and Eames from behind the safety of her drafting table. The Brit was throwing cards into a pile from across the room while Arthur attempted to hack into some database or other that he hadn't seen fit to explain. Arthur caught the card that was headed for his screen without looking up and threw it back. "Focus, Mr. Eames," he said primly.
Eames rolled his eyes. "There's not much I can do until I get on my flight and see them in person. Surveillance tapes are all well and good, but I need more."
"I hacked his psychologist's office. The file is there."
"Daddy issues. Boring reading." Eames flipped another card onto the pile. "Your issues are much more intriguing."
Arthur huffed at him. "Then go make coffee or pick up some fresh croissants from the bakery. Anything." They were conversing in French for her benefit, she assumed.
"Guys, I speak English," she said. "You don't need to stick to French."
Eames shrugged. "When in France speak French. Besides, my accent needs work."
"All your accents need work."
Eames dropped into a language she didn't understand. A hot flush of anger spilled across Arthur's cheeks at whatever he said. "Fine," Arthur replied in French. He carefully closed the computer. "Come under with me and we'll discuss things. If we go over an hour, kick us because we've fallen asleep," he told her.
"An hour? That's a full day!"
"Just about." Eames smirked. "We've a lot to discuss."
She waited for a whole twenty-six minutes before she couldn't take it anymore and decided to snoop in on their dream. The air was warm and the scent of grass and flowers filled the air. Bluegrass spread out before her under a brilliantly clear summer sky. Eames and Arthur were sitting at a picnic. Arthur was dressed in regency waistcoat with a blue cravat. A top-hat lay abandoned on the ground. Eames was wearing what appeared to be a gingham sun-dress over jeans. They were watching kids playing in the field and laughter filled the air.
"She's lovely," she heard Eames say. There was something wistful in his voice. "What have you named her?"
"Samantha. So she'll have choices." Arthur's voice was soft and sad.
"She looks a bit like my mum."
"I wish I could have met her. Then, I'd have a better handle on you."
Eames chuckled. "I wish you'd met her. You'd have gotten on like a house afire."
"Mommy issues, Mr. Eames?"
Eames' laughter was warm. "Shall we take our little eavesdropper on an adventure?"
Arthur made a show of checking a pocket-watch. "Where shall we take her?" He turned and waved at Ari. "This way, sweetheart." It turned out he was wearing modern trousers with the waistcoat. He put on his hat. "All of space and time." Eames pulled a long jacket over the dress. He put out a hand. Ari watched it warily. Arthur rolled his eyes. There was a grating sound and then a very familiar blue Police box appeared next to them. Eames shook his head.
"She's so untrusting. You just took my hand and ran with me."
"There were people shooting at us. She's in a field with children." Arthur held open the TARDIS door. "After you."