Title: A Whole New World
Pairing: Arthur/Eames (side Cobb/Saito)
Rating: Hard PG13 to light R
Summary: In which Cobb decides two babysitters are better than one, Saito proves that money can buy happiness, and Eames is excellent with children. Oh, and Arthur's a fucking Disney princess.
Author's Note: First of all, a MASSIVE FUCKING THANK YOU to elrhiarhodan, who let me send this to her bit by bit and assured me that I was not, in fact, crazy. Or not any crazier than usual, anyway. Also, this happened because I was browsing around on inception_kink and found several prompts casting Arthur as various Disney princesses. And then, because I'm irresponsible like that, I lost them. PLEASE LINK ME IF YOU SEE THEM, as I believe I filled, uh, all of them, and I'd like to post this/thank people for providing such a hilarious idea/etc.
And now for a brief discussion about gender identity, because Sensitivity Is Important.
Okay, I recognize that I proooobably don't need to do this, but I always try to err on the side of caution with these things, because I'd rather look ridiculous than inadvertently ruin someone's day. So: in this story, Arthur is a cisgendered male who has dreams in which he is cast in the roles of various Disney princesses. He's still male in the dreams, but he is dressed in the clothing associated with said princesses. He finds this mildly horrifying, partially because it has never crossed his mind to put on big puffy dresses before, and partially because he is certainly not a fucking princess.
What this is NOT meant to suggest is that Arthur is horrifed by people whose gender identities are different than his own, and it's certainly not to say that *I*, the author, feel that way. If there's anything in this fic--or this forward, for that matter--that could be construed as offensive, for the love of god tell me, and I will change it. This is just good clean fun, and good clean fun is neither good nor clean when it's accidentally assaulting people's identities. Okay? Okay.
And now, without further ado...
The whole thing is Saito's fault.
Arthur isn't in the habit of watching Disney movies in his everyday life, after all. When he does have time to settle down with a film--which is never--he tends to go for the classics, or at very least something independent, usually with subtitles. He doesn't feel that he's missing much.
Arthur also isn't in the habit of spend time with children, because he's not very good with them. It's not for lack of trying--he's not one of those people who hates kids or anything--he just doesn't quite get them. They're too small and they harp on things for far too long and it's impossible to have a reasoned argument with them, and it's a rare one who understands sarcasm. Generally speaking, he tries to avoid them, and they try to do the same to him.
But one day Cobb comes up to him and twists his wedding ring on his finger and says a number of uncomfortable things about "moving on," and "being young men together," and "someone needs to be there for the kids," and Arthur's panic kind of shuts down his listening abilities. When he realizes Cobb is talking about going out with Saito and not, in fact, seducing Arthur into quiet married life, he is so relieved that he agrees to babysit immediately and doesn't ask anything else about it.
It's a bit of a shock, then, when Arthur shows up for the first night and Eames opens Cobb's door.
"What," says Arthur. Eames smirks at him.
"Cobb's a little nervous about leaving them alone with you," he says. "You're not exactly known for your maternal instinct, darling."
"And you are?" Arthur demands, gripping the doorframe. He could turn around right now, he remembers. He has a car waiting right in the driveway to pull him away from the disaster this is surely about to become. He can leave anytime he wants.
Eames raises an eyebrow at him, surprised. "I'm excellent with children."
As if to prove this point, James runs into the room and flings himself around Eames' leg. "Uncle Eames," he wails, "Phillipa stole my Zhu Zhu an' called me a stupidhead!"
See, this is precisely why Arthur doesn't spend time with kids. What, exactly, is a Zhu-Zhu? Why on earth does it matter if one's been stolen? And what kind of an insult is 'stupidhead' anyway?
Also, James is crying. There is a small, strange part of Arthur that kind of wants to panic until that stops.
Eames gives Arthur a highly amused look that says "I see right through you, you know," and bends down to meet James' eyes. "And what did you say to Phillipa to make her so angry, hmm?"
James stops crying at once. "Nuffink," he mutters, with shifty eyes. Eames grins at him.
"Is that so? Nothing at all?" James nods and Eames pokes him gently in the stomach. "I know we've talked about tells, poppet. Try again."
"I didn't say nuffink to Phillipa," James repeats, but in a clearer voice and meeting Eames' eye. "It was un-pro-avocadoed." Eames pats him on the head, his smile a mile wide.
"Much better," he says. "Now, let's make a bet. I bet that if you go apologize to your sister for whatever you didn't say, she won't give you back your toy. You bet that I'm wrong."
James gives him a considering look. "What do I get if I win?"
"This," Eames says, pulling a poker chip out of his pocket. It's black and and gold, and one of the L's is missing from the word "Bellagio." Arthur has to try harder than he feels he should not to smile.
James stares at it appraisingly for a moment. Then he sticks out his hand and says "Deal."
They shake solemnly and Eames stands back up, ruffling the kid's hair. "See?" he says to Arthur, who scowls.
James notices him then. He glances up at him, smiles, says "Hello, Uncle Arthur," very politely, and then gives Eames a high-five and runs off again. Arthur finds himself oddly put out.
"Corrupting children now, I see," Arthur snaps. "How quaint."
Eames raises his eyebrows. "You've clearly never spent much time with any," he drawls. "They're nasty little things all on their own. Terribly clever. I'm just teaching him the rules."
"I've never known you to be one to argue with the rules, darling," Eames says, and that's so ridiculous that Arthur thinks he may just have to turn bright red and scream about it when Cobb walks out of his bedroom door.
"Oh, Arthur, hi," he says. "Didn't know you'd gotten here. How was the drive?"
"Why," Arthur says, jerking a thumb at Eames, "is he here?"
Cobb gives him the concerned squinty-look. "To watch the kids," he says slowly, like Arthur's a moron.
"Then why am I here?" Arthur demands.
"To watch Eames," Cobb says, his eyes still narrowed. "I thought we talked about this."
Arthur casts his mind back. Now that thinks about it, he does remember Eames' name coming up somewhere between "The thing is, Arthur, neither of us wants to be old and filled with regret," and the sad version of the squinty face. And, in fact, when he really focuses, he can recall a light dancing in Cobb's eyes that suggests he knew exactly what he was making Arthur think, and enjoying the hell out of it.
Cobb, Arthur reflects darkly, is sneaky little bitch.
"Well, I didn't hear you," Arthur snaps, trying to ignore the way Eames is shaking with silent laughter next to him. "Can't Saito get you professional childcare?"
Cobb sighs. "They've been through a lot, Arthur. Losing Mal, and then me, and then to have me dating--I thought it would be better for them to be with someone they know, at least for the first few times."
"But why both of us?"
"You're terrible with kids," Cobb reminds him, "and Eames is just terrible. I don't really trust either of you here alone."
"And you have no problem with this?" Arthur asks Eames, who is leaning against the wall now, flipping an entirely different poker chip than the one he'd offered to James across his knuckles.
"None whatsoever, darling," he says, and winks. "Unless, of course, you're finally going to admit that you find me too devastatingly attractive to work with, in which case I'd like to retire somewhere more private."
It's at that point that Saito walks through the open door, looks between Arthur and Eames, and says "I am more than willing to provide compensation for your services. What kind of plane do you prefer?"
Eames bursts out laughing, Saito reaches for his checkbook, and Cobb somehow manages to produce a squint that is both foreboding and besotted.
"I hate all of you," Arthur hisses, and stalks into the living room to find Phillipa.
They watch Beauty and the Beast. It's a really terrible movie, but the kids seem to like it and Eames makes quietly snide comments throughout, low enough that only Arthur can hear them, so it's not entirely intolerable.
During the dancing scene, Eames lets Phillipa stand on his feet and whirls her around to the music. Arthur is most certainly not charmed.
James falls asleep during the last few minutes, so Arthur is put in charge of reading Phillipa a story while Eames gets him into bed. He is wary of her, but when he sits down on the edge of her bed she reaches under the mattress and hands him a battered copy of The Witches.
Arthur smiles at it, even though she's really probably too young to be reading this kind of story. "This is a good book."
Phillipa grins shyly at him. "It's my favorite," she confides. "Daddy says I shouldn't read it because it's too scary, but I think he's wrong."
"I won't tell him," Arthur vows. "Where do you want me to start?"
She wrinkles her nose and looks, for a second, very much like her mother. "The beginning," she says, like Arthur is an idiot. "Where else would you start?"
Arthur finds, quite to his surprise, that he really kind of likes her.
He reads until she's out cold on the pillow, and then pulls the blanket up over her and flips the light out. When he turns to the hallway Eames is leaning against wall, a strange expression on his face.
"What?" Arthur barks, feeling his cheeks flush. Eames shakes his head but doesn't make any kind of comment, and they watch bad cable television in companionable enough silence until Cobb comes home.
"Yellow suits you, darling," Eames says. "You should wear it more often."
Arthur blinks, and glances down.
"Oh my god," he says faintly. Then: "Oh my fucking god."
He's wearing a dress. And not just any dress--not, he thinks hysterically, that a different dress would make the whole thing any better--but a bright fucking yellow dress. It puffs out around him like a marshmallow. It has frills on it.
"Eames," Arthur says, "what the fuck is going on?"
Then he actually gets a good look at Eames, who is approximately a foot taller than usual, twice as broad in the shoulders, and covered in fur. "Oh god," Arthur says.
"Don't be frightened, love," Eames says, his accent completely unaltered. "You're only dreaming."
"I am going to kill you," Arthur hisses, stepping forward. The dress rustles around him, and he wants to fucking scream. "Wake me the fuck up, Eames, I didn't give you permission to put me under, this isn't funny--"
"Oh no, pet," Eames coos. He waves a hand expansively; it's massive. And furry. "This is your dream; no PASIV, no Somnasive, just you. It's hardly my fault that you've cast us in these roles, though you may feel free to attempt to kill me if it would make you feel better."
Arthur thinks as hard as he can about the precise weight and heft of a Glock, but what appears in his hand is a feather duster.
"Hello!" it says, in Yusuf's voice. "I have a new cleaning compound I'd like you to help me test, I think it will really help eliminate the aftertaste of the silver polish."
Arthur emits something that is not a girlish scream of terror because he says it's not and stumbles out of the room. There are a number of doors coming off of the long hallway and he has to pick up his dress to run faster and find one that is far enough away.
"That cut does fantastic things for your arse, love," Eames calls behind him. Arthur picks up his pace.
He ducks into a door at the end of the hall, leans against it, closes his eyes, and sinks down to the ground. His first natural dream in years and it's this? That's not fair, there should be rules against it, he should be allowed to have--normal--
He feels the weight of something settle on his knee over the layers of fabric, and opens his eyes. There is a small, chipped cup sitting there, giving him as stern a look as a fucking cup can possibly give and looking oddly familiar. Its handle, upon close inspection, appears to be a gold-plated Mobius strip.
"Oh, no," says Arthur.
"You're too hard on him," Ariadne chides, bouncing on his leg. "He can't help that he's all huge and furry, that's just the way you made him."
"It's less the fact that he's furry," Arthur groans, "and more the fact that he's Eames."
Ariadne considers this. "Kinky," she decides at length.
"I will smash you," Arthur informs her. "Don't think that I won't smash you."
Ariadne pouts--how the fuck can a cup pout?--and then another familiar voice cuts in.
"Don't mind him, Ariadne. He's just cranky because his latent sexual desires aren't to his liking."
"Cobb?" Arthur demands. The little clock squints at him.
"I'm allowed to talk about latent sexual desires now," he says, "because I'm getting laid again."
"I didn't need to know--oh god, please tell me he's not--"
A candelabra wanders into the room. "Be our guest," it says, in Saito's dry, humorless voice, "provided you do not damage the castle in any way. It was a considerable investment."
Arthur jerks awake in a cold sweat at four in the morning, casts his totem twelve times, and makes a pot of very strong coffee. He is definitely not going back to sleep after that.
The next day, Cobb and Saito decide to go to the opera.
Arthur protests that he can't be expected to babysit every night, and Cobb rolls his eyes.
"I told you yesterday," he says. "New relationship, things starting up, we might need you all week--and you know how I've longed for someone, Arthur, someone to settle down with and--"
"Okay, okay, fine," Arthur says, shuddering. Cobb gives him the victory squint. "Is Eames coming?"
"Of course," Cobb says. "Get used to it."
Arthur shows up fifteen minutes late because he's tired and misses the highway turnoff, and the first thing he does when he walks through the door is apologize. Eames raises his eyebrows and Cobb scowls, but Saito just waves an imperial hand.
"They will not start without us," he says. "I purchased the opera house this afternoon. It seemed…neater."
Cobb bats his eyelashes nauseatingly.
"You know," Arthur says, "some people just get flowers," and he's mildly gratified by the laugh this draws from Eames as Cobb and Saito walk out the door.
They watch Cinderella. It somehow manages to be worse than Beauty and the Beast was, but Eames rewrites the songs with dirty lyrics and sings them under his breath, and Phillipa asks to sit in his lap.
When the movie wraps up Eames bribes James into bed and Arthur reads to Phillipa from The Witches again. At her urging he attempts to do voices for each of the characters, which leaves her clutching her stomach from laughter.
"Uncle Eames does better voices," she decides, "but you're much funnier, Uncle Arthur."
After serious consideration, Arthur decides gloating to Eames about that would be ridiculous.
When he turns off her bedroom light and leaves, he half expects Eames to be waiting outside for him again. Instead he's sitting in the living room, setting up Cobb's chessboard.
Arthur raises an eyebrow, and Eames shrugs.
"Television seemed dreadfully dull," he offers, when Arthur fails to sit down. "I thought you might like this better."
"This isn't…you're not going to make me play strip chess, are you?"
"Only if you want to, love," Eames says, winking at him. "Only if you want to."
Eames turns out to be excellent at chess, if not quite as excellent as Arthur. They play a two hour game, in which Arthur accuses Eames of cheating five times and considering punching him in the face only once. When he knocks over Eames' last strategically placed bishop and says "Checkmate," Eames grins at him.
"There is something refreshing in playing out a losing hand every now and again," is what he says, which makes Arthur give him a questioning look. "Oh, I knew you'd beat me, love. There wasn't any doubt in my mind."
"If you're trying to diminish my sense of victory, it's not working," Arthur tells him. Eames laughs.
"Wouldn't dream of it," Eames says, winking. "Tomorrow we play poker, though. Fair is fair."
"Fine," Arthur sighs. "But you have to wear a t-shirt."
Eames' eyebrows shoot up into his hairline, but he recovers quickly. "Well, well. If that's how you like me, far be it for me to object."
Arthur blanches. "No, ugh, I didn't mean--so you can't stuff cards up your sleeves, Eames."
"Whatever you say, darling," Eames replies, grinning gleefully. "Is it the sight of my bare arms that excites you, by the by, or--"
"Stop it," Arthur commands. "Stop it right now."
"Spoilsport," Eames says lightly, but desists. They spend a few minutes talking about the latest job--the mark owns a strip club and Eames has some very amusing stories about his behind-the-scenes exploits--and then the door opens.
"I think I will buy an island," Saito is saying, "so that there might be one part of the globe where no one but us may experience the delights of the flesh."
"Oh, Saito," Cobb answers, "you say the sweetest things."
"Let's be young men together," Saito hisses, and damn the acoustics in Cobb's house, because Arthur really, really didn't need to hear Cobb's little breathless moan.
"That is absolutely vile," Eames mutters, his face twisted in distaste. Arthur looks at him in surprise.
"It is, right? I'm not crazy for finding the whole thing--"
"Disgusting and creepy? Of course not, darling, I want to gag whenever I see them." Eames shrugs, and reaches to put the chessboard away. "But Cobb seems happier, and who am I to say? Perhaps he enjoys disgusting and creepy."
"I think we're past the point of perhaps," Arthur says, wincing, as a distinctive "hnng" noise drifts down the hall. Eames snorts.
"That seems likely," he agrees. "Do you want to be the one to remind them that we're here, or shall I?"
"You, you, for the love of god you," Arthur says hurriedly. Eames favors him with a delighted smile, as though Arthur has given him some kind of fabulous present.
"Oi!" he calls out. "It's generally considered scandalous to get off in front of the help!"
There is an awkward pause, in which Arthur feels the strange urge to break down laughing at the entirely too self-satisfied expression on Eames' face. Then they hear the door of Cobb's bedroom closing and Saito enters the room, alone. He is still wearing his opera finest, but all the buttons of his shirt are undone, and his hair is everywhere. Even from a distance, his lips look bruised. There are hickeys--hickeys!--all over his neck.
Eames leans forward and, his tone flush with mock-horror, whispers, "Be strong, darling," in Arthur's ear.
Containing his laughter may be the hardest thing Arthur has ever done.
"My apologies," Saito says, sounding as imperial as ever. "You are, of course, dismissed."
Arthur wants to say a lot of things to that, but he knows if he opens his mouth he will fall into hysterics, so he just grabs his suit jacket and hits the door, Eames hot on his heels. They make it all the way to Arthur's car before they both crack the fuck up, leaning heavily on the hood.
"You asshole," Arthur gasps, "oh my god, I had it under control until 'Be strong,'--"
"I had to retaliate," Eames chuckles, "for the face you made when you saw him. Honestly, darling, it was all I could do not to--"
He quiets all of a sudden, and when Arthur looks up to figure out why, he realizes they are much, much too close. His laughter dies in his throat as he stares up at Eames, feeling like nothing so much as a deer caught in the headlights.
Neither of them moves for a second. Then Eames draws a ragged breath--
"Right," Arthur says, taking a quick step back, "I'll see you tomorrow."
Arthur is standing in the middle of a garden, wearing an evening gown and one glass slipper and holding a pumpkin in his left hand. He is surrounded by mice, who are squeaking up at him.
Resignedly, he bends down to listen to what they're saying. There are two of them at the forefront of the crowd who bear more than passing resemblances to Ariadne and Yusuf. They are wearing little t-shirts, and the Ariadne one is holding a tiny to-scale model of the Eiffel Tower.
"Alright," Arthur sighs, "what is it," and that's when they burst into song.
"Arthurella, Arthurella, night and day it's Arthurella--"
"Jesus Christ," Arthur snaps, "you have got to be fucking kidding me."
"Afraid not," Cobb says. Arthur stands and turns around, and there he is, with fairy wings and a wand. "Don't look at me like that, Arthur, this is your mind, not mine."
"I am going to murder you," Arthur says faintly. "All of you, in cold blood, as soon as I wake up."
"That's no way to treat your fairy godmother," Cobb chides. "Also, I saw that you let your carriage turn back into a pumpkin. Irresponsible of you. I took the liberty of calling Prince Charming for you, though; he'll be along in a minute."
"That's," Arthur says, "that's not even how the story goes, what--"
"Hold on a second," Cobb says, cocking his head. Then his smile turns smug. "The tooth fairy says my island's ready, gotta go."
He vanishes with a pop. Arthur stares after him for a minute, blinking in horror, and then he tilts his head to the heavens and screams "WHY THE FUCK IS SAITO THE TOOTH FAIRY?"
"I think because he handles all the money, love," Eames says, pulling up alongside him on a white horse. "Then again, I certainly wouldn't presume to ascribe meaning to your subconscious. I think you dropped something."
He tosses Arthur the glass slipper, which Arthur catches reflexively. Eames smirks at him.
"Now put it on," he says, "and prove to everyone that you're my true love."
Arthur gapes at him for a moment. Then he turns, stalks furiously to the nearest tree, and bashes the fucking shoe against it with as much force as he can muster. It doesn't break, so Arthur brings it down again and again, harder and harder and as hard as he fucking can and then Eames is at his ear, holding him by the hips, whispering "Be strong, darling"--
"Fuck. Everything." Arthur snarls, staring up at the ceiling of his bedroom, and reaches for his totem.
Arthur really, really doesn't want to babysit the next night, partially because he's having some decidedly conflicted feelings about Eames and partially because he's fucking exhausted. He mentions the latter to Cobb, who makes his sad face.
"Arthur," he says, and Arthur holds up a hand.
"I'd rather skip the manipulation, thanks all the same," he says. "I just figured I'd try."
"Saito rented out three restaurants," Cobbs sighs happily. "We're going to have appetizers at the first, entrees at the second, and dessert at the third. And then we're going to visit his lake."
"His favorite lake," Arthur clarifies. Cobb looks at him blankly.
"No," he says, "his lake."
As frustrated as he is with the man, the gagging pantomime Eames does behind Cobb's back is the best part of Arthur's morning.
They watch Aladdin that night; it fills Arthur with the kind of arcane terror he'd thought was reserved specifically for the idea of spending his life in limbo. Eames makes popcorn, which Phillipa spills all over the place and Arthur has to talk James out of eating off of the ground, and both kids are asleep on the couch by the time the closing credits roll around.
"I'll take this one," Eames says, pointing to James. "Philly likes you better."
"She hates it when you call her that," Arthur replies absently. Then what he's said actually processes, and Arthur tries to look stern but ends up grinning instead. "And don't be ridiculous."
Eames just shrugs and busies himself with hefting James up into his arms. He makes a quiet whimpering noise at being moved, but Eames says "Shut it, sprog," in a soothing voice and walks away, presumably to drop him into his bed.
Which, of course, leaves Arthur staring at Phillipa, wondering what the hell he's supposed to do now. Eames had made it look like it was nothing and it's not like they're not both used to moving sleeping people around, but these are kids, not marks. Arthur doesn't know if there's some special way you're supposed to do it, some trick that keeps them from waking up--
"Lift with your legs," Eames says quietly, kindly, from the living room door. "And try not to jostle her too much; she probably won't wake even if you do but she might whine a little. Careful that her head doesn't hit your shoulder too hard--she won't like that. Go on."
Arthur bends down, lifts with his legs, and picks Phillipa up. She squirms a little but Arthur rubs his hand on her back in small circles, which makes Eames nod approvingly.
"You're a natural," he says.
"You're a liar," Arthur returns, keeping his voice low. Then, because he really can't see any reason not to, he adds "Thanks, though."
Eames just smirks and turns away as Arthur carries Phillipa to her bedroom, pulls back her covers, and tucks her in. She stirs once, crinkling up her face, and Arthur is struck again by how much she looks like Mal. It must kill Cobb, he realizes, even as he feels a quiet, grieved pang of his own.
"Goodnight, Phillipa," he murmurs as he flicks out the light. She smiles in her sleep, and Arthur experiences something he's going to call "gratification," because he doesn't know a better word for it.
He's smiling when he goes back into the living room; Eames is sitting at the kitchen table. He's removed all of the chairs but the one left for Arthur, and he's got a pack of cards in one hand, a massive bag of M&M's in the other, and a stupidly predatory grin on his face.
He is also, Arthur notes, wearing a t-shirt.
"I knew it was too much to hope you were kidding about the poker," Arthur says, because As it turns out, the sight of your bare arms does excite me seems more than a little insane.
"I never kid about poker," Eames chides. "Do try to keep up."
Sighing, Arthur slides into the chair. "Nervous eater?"
"Hmm?" Eames asks. Arthur gestures to the M&Ms, and he laughs. "Oh, those. No, they're for betting."
"I was of the impression that you did that with money," Arthur says dryly. Eames reaches across the table and tweaks his nose, which Arthur should really shoot him for, but doesn't.
"You're very quick, darling," he says. "But I thought this would be better."
"Well, for one thing, it's probably bad form to really gamble where the children could see," Eames tells him, which makes Arthur snort. "For another, I'd clean you out. But mostly it's that playing for actual stakes against someone as neurotic as you is boring. Your tells would be absurdly easy to spot."
"I am not neurotic," Arthur says. Eames winks at him.
"Of course you're not, love. Now take some chocolate, will you?"
Eames deals them a game of five card draw. Arthur has, of course, played poker before, but there's something mildly unnerving about the way Eames shuffles and slides the cards across the table. He looks--well, he looks like a card sharp.
Arthur swallows hard, because there's no reason that should be sexy.
They play a number of rounds, joking back and forth, getting into the swing of it; Arthur steals a handful of Eames' M&M's and eats them while Eames lectures him teasingly about ethics. And then, for no particularly reason at all, Arthur gets crap cards and decides to test a theory. "Raise," he says.
Eames raises his eyebrows. "Raise."
"Raise," Arthur says again, and Eames gives him a smile.
"Darling," he says, his voice condescending but not unkind, "you are a bloody terrible poker player."
"I might not be," Arthur protests, raising an eyebrow. "I might just be that good."
"There is no 'might' in gambling," Eames tells him, tapping his cards against the table. "It's a skill, like anything else."
"And now you're going to list off my tells, I imagine," Arthur says, rolling his eyes. Eames fixes him with a look that is suddenly more serious than Arthur is prepared to handle.
"No," he says, "I'm not."
"Oh?" Arthur asks. Eames puts his cards down and leans across the table a little, meeting his stare.
"Any idiot can spot someone's eye twitching when their cards are bad," he says. "And the high rollers, the ones who really bother about it, have trained themselves out of that kind of thing anyway. No, the trick is to be able to look at someone, really look at them, and see what they're keeping hidden away in that perfectly coiffed head of theirs."
They're not talking about poker anymore, and Arthur is beginning to feel very much like he's out of his depth. It's not a feeling he's used to; he doesn't particularly enjoy it.
"You're not a mind reader, Eames," he says, because maybe if he says it, it will be true.
"Aren't I?" ask Eames, and there's a dangerous edge to his voice now. "Tell me, darling, how often do you think you look at me?"
"It's all the time," Eames says quietly. "It's all the bloody time, Arthur, you don't even know that you're doing it, but you're never in a room with me without knowing exactly where I am, are you? It doesn't matter if we're on a job or training or at the fucking grocery, you're always checking, and you tense up when I'm too far and you call around asking what jobs I'm on--I hear about that, you know. You track me, don't you, like a hand you don't want to lose, and just because you don't let yourself notice doesn't mean I don't."
"I," Arthur says. "I don't--"
"You do," Eames spits. "You do, darling, you really do, you keep raising your bet and raising your bet and one of these days you're going to have to call."
"Or what?" Arthur asks, before he can stop himself.
Eames' hand moves before Arthur even sees it, grabbing Arthur's wrist. He runs his thumb too hard across Arthur's knuckles and holds him there, staring at him, looking as serious as Arthur has ever seen him and then some.
He says, "Or I'm going to."
Arthur can't breathe. He hates this house, suddenly, this house and these cards and this stupid poker metaphor and Eames, and when Cobb and Saito breeze in a second later, he all but runs for the door.
Eames is standing in front of him, wearing billowing white robes, sandals even uglier than the ones he tends to break out in the summer, and a large purple turban. This is a dream Arthur can get behind.
"You look ridiculous," he says gleefully. Eames favors him with a pitying smile.
"Oh, love," he says, "you haven't looked at yourself yet, have you?"
Arthur glances down and then emits a horrified kind of choking noise. He is clothed in oddly pointed yellow shoes and a pair of sheer turquoise capri pants.
Shoes and see-through capri pants, and that's it.
"Seriously," Arthur says, "what the everloving fuck is wrong with me?"
Eames smirks at him. "Repressed--"
"Shut up," Arthur says. "Just, for the love of god, just shut up."
"That's no way to talk to your future husband," Cobb says, stepping out from behind a pillar. Arthur stares at him, agog--he's about four feet tall, round like a cantaloupe, and wearing a turban as big as he is. It's maybe the funniest thing Arthur has ever seen.
"This mental image almost makes everything worth it," Arthur tells him. "Almost. Also, I'm not marrying Eames."
"Of course you're not," Cobb agrees. "You're marrying Prince Ali."
"Who is Eames," Arthur says, "so no, I don't think that I will."
There is a growl by his leg. He looks down to see a tiger next to him, and really there's no reason a tiger should be able to resemble Ariadne but that seems to be the case anyway. "What," he says, "you're going to bite me if I don't?"
Ariadne snaps her jaw, and Arthur has his mouth open around a nice comforting rant when he remember that pain is in the mind, and there's no kick to wake him up. He settles for glaring at her instead.
"Look," he says to the room at large, "it's not that I don't get what's happening here, but I haven't gotten any proper sleep in days, so if you all could just--"
"Sultan," Saito's voice calls, then he steps into the room with his stupid walking stick and his stupid beard and Arthur is going to be sick. "I would remind you that I was meant to be looking for the diamond in your rough nearly twenty minutes ago."
"Coming, Jafar!" Cobb titters. Arthur looks desperately around the room and settles for the lesser of four evils.
"Get me out of here," he hisses.
"Gladly, Princess," Eames says, and smiles.
Then they're on the stupid carpet flying over some body of water and there are frogs singing, frogs, fucking frogs, and there really is something wrong with Arthur, he'll have to remember to get a CAT scan in the morning. But for now there's no reason not to lean against Eames, is there, and look around.
"It's nice up here," he says. Eames laughs.
"It's a whole new world," he agrees, and then, to Arthur's amused horror, he starts singing the damned song. "A whole new world, a shifting whatever the next bloody line is, a dazzling something something--"
"Oh my god, Eames," Arthur says, laughing. He lifts a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose with but Eames grabs it, runs his thumb across his knuckles like before. He uses his other hand to lift Arthur's face up, and when he speaks it is low and fierce, nearly furious.
"Darling," he says, "don't you dare close your eyes," and Arthur feels his heartbeat pick up in his chest. He leans in, because why fucking not, because everything's all to hell anyway and he's losing his mind and Eames' lips are so, so close--
"I'd just like everyone to know," Yusuf's voice pipes up from below them, "that there is a no-fucking policy on this carpet that I enforce very strictly, and I will throw you into the river if you get handsy."
Arthur wakes up screaming.