Arthur goes on a practice run with the team the next day, which goes smoothly enough. He's exhausted, is starting to feel it eating at his reflexes the way it always does, but no one else seems to notice it, and he pulls off his part well enough. They're congratulating themselves in the atrium of the house Ariadne's built when Edith Piaf starts to play.
"Ready to go, princess?" Eames asks, and just like that, everything is a fucking disaster.
The thing is, Arthur knows better than to reach for his gun. He knows that it's not Eames' fault that his subconscious has been hijacked by children's movies, the same way he knows it's not Eames' fault that he keeps feeling the phantom sensation of a calloused thumb rubbing across his knuckles. But it's that word, isn't it, taunting him--and he's wanted guns in his dreams for days and now he has one again, and it's so easy to raise the Glock and center it on Eames' chest.
"Don't fucking call me that," Arthur snarls, and fires.
He has just enough time to see Eames' face collapse in shock before the kick. When he opens his eyes, Eames is already awake, sweating and swearing and ripping the IV out of his arm.
"Bloody fucking hell, Arthur," he snaps, and then he stands up and stalks out of the
room before anyone can say anything else. Arthur…well, Arthur has never felt like so much of an asshole in his life.
"Well," Ariadne says, "that was violent."
"And awkward," Yusuf adds, rubbing the back of his neck. "Let's not forget about awkward."
"I don't think we should be letting our personal lives in the way of our jobs," Cobb says, giving Arthur a stern look. He's met with glares from the rest of the room. "What? What Saito and I have is special."
"I think I'm going to need to take the day," Arthur says faintly. Cobb squints at him but then nods, waving an expansive hand.
"I will give you the day," he says, like he's some kind of magnanimous overlord instead of really obnoxious. Saito is rubbing off on him. "So long as you're still at my house in time for my evening, of course. Saito and I are--"
"Don't tell me," Arthur says. "Flying to the moon? Meeting the grand duchess for tea? Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro to see whether or not it's a worthwhile investment?"
"We're going to the movies," Cobb says, blinking at him, and Arthur thinks maybe he actually is losing his mind until Saito sticks his head in from his office around the corner.
"I bought the multiplex specially for the occasion," he says, and Arthur hits the door.
He spends the afternoon in a bookstore, because the idea of taking a nap is frankly terrifying and he doesn't know what else to do with himself. The sales-girls give him strange looks, which is always a good indication that he's not sleeping enough--a man in a three-piece suit without gigantic circles under his eyes is attractive and suave, but a man in a three-piece suit with gigantic circles under his eyes is probably a serial killer. He ignores them and browses around, trying not to think about Eames or princesses or Cobb in a turban.
He ends up in the children's section and then, mystifyingly, on the street with a brown paper bag in his hand. He goes to Cobb's house.
Things between Eames and Arthur are…tense. Eames cooks dinner, slamming pots and cabinet doors and pointedly ignoring Arthur's offers to help, and Arthur ends up spending 45 minutes trying to keep James from drawing on the wall with permanent marker.
He fails at that in the end, but figures Cobb can deal with it on his own.
They watch Snow White, and Arthur doesn't even bother worrying about it. He's too tired to put up a fight and feels too guilty to appeal to Eames and recognizes that it's stupid to be afraid of Disney films, so he just sits quietly and takes it. Eames won't even sit on the same couch with him, let alone provide the sarcastic running commentary that has made these movies bearable for the last three nights, and Arthur has a raging headache when they turn it off.
Phillipa holds his hand on the way to her bedroom, though. That helps a little.
They finish the last chapter of The Witches quickly, and then Phillipa protests that she's not tired and shouldn't have to go to sleep. Arthur smiles at her, and pulls the brown bag out of his pocket.
"Actually," he says, "I got you a present."
"It's not my birthday," Phillipa replies, squinting at him--she's Cobb's kid after all, Arthur thinks, and tries not to smile. "Did you get James a present too?"
"Ah," Arthur says. "No, I didn't. I probably should have, huh?"
"I won't tell," Phillipa promises. "What is it?"
"It's a book," Arthur tells her, handing it over. She pulls back the paper to reveal the copy of The Westing Game. "You're probably too young to read it on your own--you're probably too young to read it at all, actually, but I bought it anyway. I think you'll like it."
"What's it about?" Phillipa asks, grinning at him. Arthur grins back.
"Well, murder," he admits, "and mystery, and money."
"Let's start it right now," Phillipa demands gleefully, settling back against her pillows. Arthur starts at the beginning.
They're through three chapters when Phillipa starts yawning, and Arthur closes the book. "I think it's bedtime."
"That sounds fair," Phillipa agrees--his phrase, which makes Arthur smirk a little. And then, as he's shifting to stand up, she says "Hey, Uncle Arthur?"
"Are you and Uncle Eames in a fight?"
He stares at her. She doesn't look scared like kids are supposed to when they ask that question, just inquisitive and far too bright for her age. He considers lying to her, but then he thinks about being a kid himself, and always being able to tell when adults did that.
"Yeah," he says, "we kind of are."
"Why?" she asks.
"For a lot of reasons," Arthur tells her, smoothing down her comforter. "But mostly because I'm being a stupidhead."
"You said that word was immature and pemantic," Phillipa reminds him gravely.
"Pedantic," he corrects, smiling slightly. "And I was right. But sometimes immature and pedantic words are the only way to describe something. You'll see when you're older."
"I hate when people say that to me," Phillipa complains. Arthur grins properly at her, because her furious little expression is compelling and adorable.
"I used to, too," he admits. "Sorry. You shouldn't worry about me and Eames, though--it's just a little fight."
"You should say you're sorry," she advises, yawning again. "He's more fun when he's happy."
"Definitely true," Arthur agrees. "But I can't go talk to him until you go to sleep."
"Fine," she sighs. He musses her hair, laughing when she slaps his hand away.
"Goodnight, Uncle Arthur," she says when he reaches the door. "I love you."
Arthur freezes. He grips the doorframe until his knuckles are white and feels his throat constrict almost painfully, but swallows and swallows again until he knows his voice will be clear.
"Love you too," he says, and flicks her light off.
Eames isn't in the living room when Arthur gets in there, but the front door is open, like an invitation. Arthur goes out to the stoop and finds Eames sitting on it, smoking a cigarette contemplatively. He glances up at Arthur and doesn't, you know, spit at him, so that's probably something.
"So," he says, "I hear you're a stupidhead."
"No," Arthur says, sitting next to him, "I'm a fucking asshole, actually, but I didn't think that was appropriate to say to a six year old."
Eames snorts. "Good instincts." He takes a drag of the cigarette and doesn't look at Arthur, but the corner of his mouth is twitching. "You get better at this every day."
"Thanks," Arthur says. And then: "Eames."
Eames looks at him then, really looks at him, their eyes meeting in the darkness. He's hurt, Arthur realizes. He'd known that before but he can see it now, and he wonders what it's like to be Eames, to be able to read what people are thinking all the time. Arthur thinks he would go crazy.
"I'm sorry," he says. Eames looks startled to hear him say that, which makes sense, because Arthur is pretty startled himself. "It--this morning--I was out of line. Unprofessional."
"Don't do that," Eames commands.
"Nothing about this is professional," Eames tells him, stubbing out his cigarette and lighting another. "We don't have to talk about it, Arthur, but let's not pretend it's something it isn't. Give me a little credit."
"Fair enough," Arthur says. And then, on impulse, he adds, "It wasn't about last night, though."
Eames laughs. "Of course it wasn't."
"No," Arthur protests. "I'm--look, I'm having some trouble in my…private life. And I'm pissed off about it and exhausted and you touched a nerve and I snapped. It was a dickish thing to do, Eames, but I'm not the kind of guy who shoots someone for expressing interest in me, okay?"
Eames is quiet for a minute, giving Arthur a probing look. Arthur wants to look away but a stupidly spot-on British voice in his head says Be strong, darling, so he holds his gaze. After a minute, Eames nods and looks away again, and Arthur releases a breath he hadn't known he'd be holding.
They don't say anything for a long time, and then Eames hands his cigarette to Arthur and says, "In the interest of self-preservation--are you planning on shooting me if I continue to refer to you as 'darling'?"
"No," Arthur says, laughing and taking the smoke. "I probably should, but no."
"Love?" Eames presses, smiling now. Arthur shakes his head and pulls in a drag, exhaling long and low.
"All other pet names will earn you only the normal irritation," he says. Eames' smile turns into a smirk.
"They don't irritate you, pet," he says, like a test.
"No," Arthur admits, "no, they don't," and Eames is so stunned that they are pushed into silence again. Arthur kind of smiles at the ground, and hands the cigarette back.
When Eames' fingers brush his, he doesn't pull away.
Arthur is a on a cold slab of marble, staring up at the sky, and wearing another fucking dress. He is also restrained from the waist down.
"Brilliant," he says, "that's just brilliant."
He sits up to the extent that he can, and is met with a cry of irritation for his troubles. Glancing around, he spots the source of the sound--Ariadne, Yusef, Cobb and Saito are gathered around him, looking put out. Also, he remembers all of them being distinctly taller.
"There are supposed to be seven of you," says Arthur.
"Well, you were supposed to eat the apple and be asleep," Cobb snarls. "But you were all 'no, I know what happens to people who eat fruit in Disney movies,' and fucked up our fucking plan, didn't you? You stupid fuck."
He pulls the angry squint, and Arthur edges back, a little frightened. "Jesus," he says, "what's with you?"
"He's grumpy," Ariadne says cheerfully.
"I can see that."
"No," Ariadne says, "Grumpy. The dwarf. I'm Happy! Yusuf is Sleepy."
"Of course," Arthur sighs. He turns to Saito. "Do I even want to know which one you are?"
"No," Saito says smugly. "But I will tell you anyway. I am Sexy."
Arthur blinks at him. "That's not even one of the fucking choices!"
Saito shrugs. "It is now. I bought the rights."
"I want you to know," Arthur says, laying back down in despair, "that I hate everything forever. Why am I chained to this thing?"
A shadow looms over him suddenly, blocking out the sun. He can't tell who it is but he has a pretty fucking good guess, which is only confirmed when an accented voice says "So I can do this, darling."
Eames kisses him, pushing his mouth open, and Arthur is pretty sure Disney kisses are supposed to avoid tongue, but he can't manage to muster a complaint. His arms slide up and around Eames' neck of their own accord, and Eames is wearing body armor, and this is the most ridiculous thing that has ever happened to him--
--until Eames breaks the kiss, rips the chains off of him in one smooth movement, and picks him up in a fucking bridal carry.
"No," Arthur says, "no, absolutely not, I am not an actual fucking princess, Eames. We're not going to--to ride off into the sunset together or anything. Put me down. Put me down right now."
"It's true love!" Ariadne squeals. "Don't fight it!"
"It's giving me a headache," Cobb complains.
"I'm going to go test my latest sedative," Yusuf informs them, yawning. "Wake me in fourteen hours."
"This has reminded me," Saito says, "that I am too sexy for this shirt." And then, because fate is cruel and Arthur is its hapless plaything, he takes it off.
"On second thought," says Arthur, "you may continue to carry me if you remove me from here."
Eames smiles at him. "I knew you'd say that," he says.
And then, suddenly, inexplicably, it's just Arthur and Eames and a white horse, sitting on a hill. The sun is setting, and they're in normal clothes again, no dress, no armor, just them.
The horse whinnies.
"Oh my god," Arthur says, "we really did ride off into the sunset, didn't we?"
Eames gives him a terrifyingly honest smile. "Of course we did, darling. When have we ever been heading towards anything else?"
"This is going to kill me," Arthur whimpers when he jerks back to wakefulness. The fact that he half-expects to hear Eames offering him some kind of reassuring response really only confirms that point.
They don't watch a movie the next night, because Arthur feels like his insides are trying to escape via his eyes and he can't take it anymore. He suggests taking the kids to the playground up the street instead, and Eames agrees, shooting him a worried look.
Eames has been shooting him worried looks all day, actually. It makes Arthur feel oddly better about everything, even the fact that Saito had presented Cobb with a fucking vibrating dildo in the office that afternoon.
("This is unprofessional," Arthur had said.
"You are unprofessional," Saito had replied, "and, additionally, so is your mother," and really there'd been nothing Arthur could say to that. )
He pushes Phillipa on the swings while Eames chases James all over the place, grabbing him and throwing him up in air when he thinks the kid has gotten too cocky. Arthur pauses in pushing for a second to watch them, and he's too tired to control the stupid smile on his face, too far beyond the point of no return for it to matter. When he looks down, Phillipa is grinning at him.
"You said sorry," she says, a glint of victory in her eyes.
"Well, you give excellent advice," Arthur returns, and resumes pushing.
He and Eames have to carry them back home. Phillipa drools on Arthur's shoulder a little and Eames makes a face that suggests James has farted on him, and neither of them says anything when a woman passing by gives them a look that says, loudly and waving flags about it, "You two are adorable." The kids go to bed easy and Arthur finds himself in the living room, drinking Cobb's beer and playing Scrabble.
"I was lead to believe that you were a bad speller," Arthur deadpans, looking at their perfectly matched board. "Apparently, that was a lie."
"It's a fabrication more than a lie, really," Eames says, shrugging. "If people see you trying to pass bad forgeries, they're more likely to miss the good ones."
"You're a study in misdirection," Arthur informs him. Eames smiles.
"Not always," he says, and Arthur tries not to notice that the word he's spelled across the board is 'adulation.'
Arthur's in a bed, and Eames is sitting over him, wearing a pair of jeans and one of his hideous paisley shirts. They've clearly just kissed--Eames' lips are still parted and a little damp from it--and Arthur is achingly, achingly hard.
"Oh, thank god," he says, "it's just a sex dream this time."
Eames gives him a sad smile, runs a thumb across his cheek. "Sorry, darling," he murmurs, "not exactly."
Arthur glances in the direction Eames is looking; there are brambles pushing in through the windows, and they extend as far as the eye can see. And he's in a castle, he realizes hazily, with vaunted ceilings but covered in dust, like everyone's been asleep for a hundred years.
"That's not fair," Arthur says. "We didn't even watch Sleeping Beauty."
"You know better than anyone how persistent the subconscious can be," Eames says, shrugging. "It makes its own rules."
"But why are we--" Arthur glances down at himself to make sure his upcoming point is true, and then continues, reassured, "in normal clothing? And where's the peanut gallery?"
"Maybe you've realized this isn't really about that," Eames says. "Maybe you've realized that this about you and me, and the rest is yet another of your many attempts to distract from that fact."
"Or," Arthur says, because he does not see any harm in presenting an alternate hypothesis, "maybe I'm really committed to living a life that doesn't contain any references to Disney movies."
Eames laughs. "Don't be silly, darling," he says. "No matter what you do, you'll always be the fairest of them all."
Arthur opens his eyes and discovers he's only been asleep for twenty minutes. He's so tired that he wants to fucking cry, but he can't drift off again, no matter how hard he tries.
He goes to work the next morning in jeans and a sweatshirt, with his hair a mess. There are…comments.
"Laundry day?" Yusuf asks, biting down on a laugh. Arthur flips him the middle finger and goes back to perusing his file, even though his eyes are crossing and the words in it are blurring together.
Ariadne's next, but at she's at least a little kinder about it.
"I have off-days too, Arthur," she says comfortingly. "Just last week I forgot to get a cup of coffee before I went under, and I got trapped in my own Penrose roller coaster."
"Why," Arthur says, "were you building roller coasters in the dreamscape?"
She gives him an unimpressed look. "For personal growth," she informs him, and wanders off.
At lunch, Saito comes out of his office and looks Arthur up and down. "I would be happy to send someone to get you a suit," he says. "There is an acceptable shop just around the corner."
"I'm fine," Arthur says.
"Your attire is making me uncomfortable," Saito informs him sternly, and Arthur is so far gone that he can't even think up a cutting reply. Thankfully, that's when Eames comes over, sits down on Arthur's desk, and glares.
"Piss off," he growls. Saito raises his eyebrows.
"I could buy your life and feed it to one of my prized Amazonian monkeys, you know," he says. "It would be easy."
"Fine," Eames returns, rolling his eyes. "Respectfully, and with full awareness of Your Majesty's endless empire of wealth, kindly piss right off."
"Hmph," Saito sniffs, but he goes back to his office.
"Thanks," Arthur says. His mouth feels like it's been stuffed with cotton balls.
"Anytime," Eames replies easily. "I gather those personal problems aren't improving, hmm?"
"Not particularly," Arthur admits. Eames gives him a gentle smile, and Arthur's head swims, because nothing makes sense anymore. Unwillingly, he lets out a small, whimpering kind of sound.
"You should know that I find you ravishing as ever in casual wear," Eames informs him. "However, I feel obligated to ask if you want me to take you home."
"Why would I want you to take me home?"
Eames winces, and then he puts the pad of his thumb against the bottom of one of the dark circles under Arthur's eyes. "Arthur, darling," he says quietly, "you look wretched."
Arthur would fight against the touch, but really it's the best thing that's happened to him all day, and it's not like Eames ever stops doing this stuff. "I can't possibly look as bad as I feel," he says, which is more than he means to give away, but oh well.
Eames sighs. "Thus the argument for me taking you home."
It's at that point that Cobb shows up. "Arthur can't go home," he says. "I need you two to spend the night at my place. Saito is taking me for a romantic weekend in Bali, and my father won't be in to watch the kids until tomorrow morning."
"Who goes for a romantic weekend in Bali?" Arthur asks, at the same time Eames says "You can't possibly be serious."
"Of course I'm serious," Cobb says, squinting. "Why wouldn't I be serious?"
"Look at him," Eames hisses. "A strong wind could blow him down!"
"He's fine," Cobb says dismissively. Then he actually looks at Arthur, and his squint goes a little deeper. "Okay, fine, he looks like shit, but that's why there are two of you. You can just, I don't know, set him up to die in the living room somewhere."
"I am," Arthur says faintly, "actually right here."
"Yes, darling," Eames says soothingly, "and normally I'd never presume to talk as if you weren't, but you're not exactly in a state to fight your own battles right now."
"We can go to Cobb's," Arthur says. "Cobb's can't make it worse. Nothing can make it worse. There is no worse. I am, officially, at worst."
"Excellent," Cobb says, even as Eames frowns at Arthur in a way that suggests that he is thinking of taking him to hospital. "I'm off for the day, then. I have underwear to shop for."
"Just so you know," Arthur says, because he has one last spark of life in him and he intends to use it, "this has been the most ridiculous week of my life, and the most obscenely over the top favor anyone has ever asked of me, and I hope all the underwear you buy gives you both crabs. Nuclear crabs, with half-lives and everything. Crabs for the rest of your life."
"NOW WHO IS BEING UNPROFESSIONAL IN THE OFFICE," Saito screams from around the corner, like he's been lurking in wait, ready to pounce on his moment.
"Hrblsghf," says Arthur, giving it up, and lets his head drop heavily onto Eames' knee.
He does not let Eames take him home, but he does let Eames give him a ride to Cobb's house, because he thinks there's a very real chance he might crash if he tries to drive there himself. Eames keeps the volume on the radio almost all the way down, carefully avoids all the potholes, and doesn't speak unless spoken to. In fact, he generally behaves exactly the way Arthur wants everyone to behave when he's got a headache.
"How do you do that," Arthur asks, apropos of nothing, when they're two minutes from the turnoff.
Even Eames' voice is quiet. "Do what, darling?"
"Get shit right about me." Arthur shouldn't have said that, but he turns his head wearily to look out the window and keeps going just the same. "Just, all the time. Really stupid shit. You're so annoying, but you're right about me all the time. How do you do that?"
Eames' laughter is soft, surprised. "I didn't know I was doing it," he says. "I just--I don't know. Try not to get it wrong, I suppose."
"Irritating," says Arthur, who is apparently past the point of constructing complete sentences now. How wonderful.
"I'm sure," Eames replies, but when Arthur chances a glance over at him, he's grinning like it's the best goddamn day of his life. "Sorry, love."
"Don't be," Arthur says, and then they're pulling into the driveway.
Arthur's a panther.
"Well," he says, looking himself over in the reflection from the river, "this could be worse. At least I'm not a princess."
"You still are to me, darling," the giant bear says in Eames' voice. Arthur scowls at him.
"Eames," he says, "are you honestly Baloo right now?"
He shrugs. "You're Bagera," he says. "You don't seem to think that's so bizarre."
"I look pretty good as a panther," Arthur admits, glancing at his reflection again. "It's definitely better than the alternative, at least."
"Fair enough," Eames says, amused. They stare at each other. Then Eames says, "You want to go lie down in the sun somewhere?"
"Yeah," Arthur breathes, because he's a gigantic fucking cat, and that suddenly sounds like everything he's ever wanted out of his life. Eames smiles at him, and offers him a claw.
They end up on the top of a hill that looks oddly familiar with Arthur's head pillowed on Eames' gigantic furry belly, arguing the merits of prickly pears over paw-paws. Aside from the brief, terrible moment where Ariadne shows up in a loincloth and a leather bra and calls Eames Papa Bear, it's the best dream Arthur's had in years.
Arthur feels himself drift back to consciousness slowly. He's warm, he realizes, and his head is resting on something that feels more like a leg than a pillow, and he feels--content. Like a cat on a hill in the sun. Like he never wants to get up.
Someone with large, calloused thumbs is carding his fingers through Arthur's hair, is rubbing slow, gentle circles against Arthur's temples. He has his guesses as to who "someone" is.
"Mmmm," Arthur murmurs, because it feels good. The hand stills for a second, and Arthur says "I didn't say stop, Eames," and then there is soft laughter filtering down to him.
"My apologies," Eames says, resuming his previous activity. "Can you blame me for thinking you might try to take my hand off?"
"Nope," Arthur sighs. "I'd have it if I wanted it, you know."
"I don't doubt you for a second," Eames tells him, very serious, and Arthur snorts into his thigh.
"I fell asleep watching the movie, didn't I?"
"You did," Eames confirms. "Before James, even, and well before Phillipa. She brought you the blanket."
"I have a blanket?" Arthur asks. He opens his eyes and glances down, and has a moment of terrifying deja-vu in which he expects to see a puffy dress. It's just an afghan, though, worn and well loved. "Oh. I guess I do. Where are the kids?"
"I put them to bed hours ago, darling," Eames says. "It seemed silly to wake you."
"And then my head just ended up on your thigh of its own accord?" It's not that he really minds, but he can't just stop being Arthur because he's overtired and Eames' leg smells good.
Eames laughs. "You were here before I got up. I just…put you back."
"Mmm," Arthur sighs. "I guess that's alright, then."
"You seem tamer when you've just woken up," Eames says. "It's a side of you I'd like to get to know considerably better."
"That could be arranged," Arthur murmurs. He feels Eames' hand still in his hair for a brief second before the motion starts again.
"Could it, now." Arthur's not positive--he's not very good at this kind of thing--but he's pretty sure Eames is only trying to sound casual.
"Yeah," Arthur says. "It definitely could be."
"You do recognize what you're saying here," Eames says quickly. His voice is decidedly not casual anymore. "Because this is not a dream, Arthur, and if you shoot me for what I am about to do, I will actually die, and that would be very traumatic for the children."
"Not to mention for you," Arthur replies, rolling over to look up at him. "No, I know what I'm saying. It's enough. It's gotten ridiculous. This is the worst poker game ever and the stakes are ruining my life. I call."
"Thank fucking god," Eames breathes, and kisses him.
Arthur falls asleep that night in Cobb's bed, with the newly changed sheets crisp and cool underneath him and his head caught in the curve of Eames' shoulder. Eames' fingers are splayed across his back, and Eames' come is drying stickily against his chest, and his ass is throbbing in a pleasant echo of where Eames' fingers had been. He has never felt less like a princess.
He dreams, rather blissfully, of absolutely nothing at all.