"This," Arthur says, blinking asleep, "is the weirdest fucking thing we've ever done. "
They're in the middle of a forest--well, no. That's not really right, is it? To be accurate: they are in the middle of a drawing of a forest, and everything is cartoonish and garish and too bright, and Arthur is feeling…yellow.
He's also hearing everything. He starts to reach up and touch his own ears and rapidly decides better of it.
"This was your idea originally," Cobb reminds him, straightening his tiny red shirt. "I wanted to turn this job down. Fuck, I'm never going to be able to read this story to my kids again."
"Disney is a very important client," Saito says, waving a wing. "It was in all of our best interest to take this job."
"It was in your best interest to take this job," Yusuf sighs sullenly below them. "I wanted to test some new chemicals. Thanks for noticin' me."
"Oooh, look," Ariadne pipes up, clapping her rounded little pink hands delightedly, "it's happening already! That's so interesting, I knew we'd take on aspects of their personalities."
"Speaking of personalities," Arthur says, "where the hell is Eames?"
As if on cue, something large, orange and striped bounds out of the clearing. Arthur narrows his eyes as it comes into focus, and then Eames is on him, tackling him to the ground.
"The wonderful thing about Tiggers, darling," he murmurs, "is that Tiggers are wonderful things."
And that's when it really hits him--they're actually in Winnie the Pooh.
It hadn't seemed like a stupid idea, not at first.
Disney had approached them with a proposition: after years of fighting with the Milne family, they wanted official control of the copyright on Winnie the Pooh. It wouldn't be hard, certainly not harder than the Fischer inception job--just pop into an 84 year old woman's subconscious and convince her she didn't want the rights anymore. Small potatoes.
"We'll build the world," Arthur had said, "and then we'll just--blow some shit up. Make it gruesome. She won't want anything to do with it when she wakes up."
"Oh, darling," Eames had sighed, "your lack of imagination really does begin to grate. Haven't we discussed positive impulses over negative?"
Cobb had lifted his head from the file he was flipping through, nodding. "He has a point, Arthur."
"I don't know how we're expected to give her positive impulses about a legal battle that's eaten up 20 years of her life," Arthur snapped, and Eames had just laughed, condescending and cool.
"Arthur, Arthur," he'd said, "do try to keep up. We don't need to make her feel good about Disney, we need to make her feel good about Pooh."
"Barring the fact that that's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard come out of your mouth, and it has some pretty steep competition--explain."
Eames' plan was simple enough. They'd go in sedated--one level, to avoid having too much trouble with projections--as the various characters, with the world built in Disney's animation style. Then they'd spend a week acting out the roles they'd picked, allowing the mark to fall into the role of Christopher Robin. The idealistic nature of the setting would rekindle the sense of wonder she'd felt as a child, and so it would be easy to slip in the idea that all children needed to grow up with this world in their lives.
"And how the hell," Arthur had snapped, when he was done, "are all of us supposed to maintain characters? Last I checked, you're the only forger here."
"Oh, pet," Eames had said, ignoring Arthur's stern look at the name, "that's the beauty of it. The mind only allows what it thinks should fit--only sees what it wants to see. So if we build a world in the cartoon style of the Hundred Acre Wood--"
"--her subconscious will cast each of us in the roles we most clearly fit," Arthur finished, blinking. "Mr. Eames. I am--"
"Spare me the condescension," Eames had said, rolling his eyes. "I already know I'm a genius."
"Don't flatter yourself," Arthur had growled. But he had admitted, if only to himself, that it was a pretty good plan.
Little had he known.
They find Saito's house first, because it's in a tree directly above them. Saito flies up and Eames bounces after him, cackling down at the rest of them as they climb the peg-ladder into the room.
"This is…smaller than I am used to," Saito admits, glancing around. "But as I have been cast as the symbol of wisdom and intelligence, I suppose I will take it."
"Have you ever actually seen Winnie the Pooh?" Ariadne asks. "Because, you know, it's more that Owl just thinks that he's--mmmph."
Arthur smiles serenely and does not remove his hand (paw?) from Ariadne's mouth. She bites him, but she's tiny and pink and has no teeth, so it's not particularly painful. "I think what we need to do here is get our bearings."
"Agreed," Cobb says, nodding his ridiculous teddy bear head. "We should all have…homes nearby, so let's hunt those out and meet back here in an hour?"
"Homes?" Yusuf asks morosely. "I think I'm supposed to live in a stick hovel. A stick hovel. And it falls down, if I'm remembering correctly. What about when we find the houses? What then?
"Then we find you some pot, I think," Eames says, patting him on the back. "I hate to say it, mate, but you're kind of downer like this."
"I can't help it!" Yusuf wails, at the same time Ariadne says "I don't think there's pot here, Eames."
"Oh, honestly," Eames replies, "like this whole thing isn't just a metaphor for a ridiculous drug trip. Of course there is pot. Rabbit here probably grows it in his garden."
"No I don't," Arthur growls, "and don't call me Rabbit."
Eames leans too close, his stupid striped face somehow managing to leer. "Terribly sorry," he purrs, "I know you prefer 'darling,' but needs must and all that."
"Oh for fuck's sake," Arthur snaps, walking over to the ladder. He climbs down without another word, and is more than a little put out when Eames jumps off the balcony without a care in the world, landing on his tail and springing forward again.
"What the hell are you doing?" he demands, when Eames lands in front of him. Eames grins, lazy, like the fucking cat he apparently is.
"Why, Arthur," he says, "I'm following you home."
As it turns out, Arthur does grow pot in his garden.
"This is--unacceptable," he says, staring at it in bemusement. "This is a children's story."
"It is my opinion that a story worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then," Eames murmurs, fingering the leaves of the plant. Arthur blinks at him.
"That's C.S. Lewis," he says.
"Very good, darling."
Arthur casts around for something to say other than But that means you must have actually read something at some point in your life, and decides on "It's probably wrong to quote Lewis here."
"Well," Eames says, laughing, "remind me to work in some Milne the next time we wander into Narnia, hmm?"
Arthur is surprised to find himself fighting a small smile, which he ignores in order to check over the rest of the garden. There's lettuce and snap peas and--oh, and--
"Stop bouncing, Eames," he says, quietly, reverently, when he feels the ground start to shake slightly. "You might disturb them."
"The carrots," Arthur breathes. They're everywhere, tufted tops sticking out of the earth like little flags of glory, and Arthur's not even sure how he knows they're carrots, but he does, he really does. They're--they're beautiful.
"Arthur," comes a distant voice. "Arthur, snap out of it."
"Shhhh," Arthur says. He feels a weight on his shoulders, but he can't look away. So…many…carrots…
"Darling!" Eames snaps, and someone is shaking him, and Arthur jumps about a foot in the air. When he settles Eames' hands are on his shoulders, and he is staring with something approaching fear.
"W-what happened?" Arthur asks, and he's going to go ahead and blame the little stutter on this stupid rabbit body. Eames tries to smirk, but it falls kind of short.
"You, uh," Eames pauses, as though he's considering how best to say it, "you went into raptures over carrots?"
"Carrots," Arthur says, starting to turn his head, but Eames puts a firm paw against his cheek.
"No," he says. "Look at me. Don't say the c-word."
"What," Arthur asks, disoriented, "cunt?"
"No! Carr--Christ, Arthur," Eames snaps. "Get a hold of yourself."
"Right," Arthur says faintly. "Right, sorry. I'm--it's okay. See? Carrots. Carrots. Carrots. I'm fine."
Eames gives him a considering look and then nods and releases him. The place where his paw had been feels almost cold without the pressure of him, and Arthur's fur is sticking up wrong, leaving a mark.
"I, uh," says Arthur. "If we could never mention that again--"
"Done," Eames says too quickly, which is how Arthur knows it must have really freaked him out. The ridiculous warm feeling in his stomach is, obviously, something gone wrong with his stuffing.
"Do you want to--do you want to go find your place?" Arthur says, to cover this. "I'll be fine here."
"I am not leaving you alone with what is apparently rabbit crack," Eames says sternly. "Come on."
Eames' place does not actually turn out to be much better. It's in a tree, for one thing, which means that Arthur has to climb up yet another wooden ladder. It was hard enough at Saito's place, but this one is in considerably greater disrepair, and Arthur has gigantic fucking feet.
Eames, of course, just takes a running jump and bounds in through a window, and is lounging in a chair, smirking, when Arthur gets to the top.
"I hate you," Arthur says, glancing around. "Also, it's kind of shocking how well this place matches your utter lack of color-coordination ability."
Eames' smirk continues for a second and then slips; his gaze is focused out the window.
"Eames?" Arthur says, following his gaze. "Eames, what's--oh god."
There is, on the ground below, a trampoline. They hadn't seen it coming in because they'd walked the other way, but it's definitely there, massive and ominous, clearly broadcasting some kind of arcane signal to Eames' hypersensitive brain. His eyes are fixed on it like he's never going to look away.
"Ooookay," Arthur hazards, "let's just try to be--"
Eames lets out a cartoonish kind of growl and launches himself out the window so fast that Arthur can't even think about grabbing him.
"Goddamn it," Arthur sighs. He climbs back down the ladder with his still gigantic feet and walks around, clambering up onto the edge of the trampoline carefully. This is when he discovers that Eames is…singing.
"The wonderful thing about Tiggers,
is that Tiggers are wonderful things!
Their tops are made out rubber,
Their bottoms are made out springs,
They're bouncy, flouncy, trouncy, pouncy,
fun fun fun fun FUN!
But the most wonderful thing about Tiggers is I'm the only one
Iiiiiiiii'm the only one!"
"Jesus Christ," Arthur mutters, "this cannot be my life."
Eames sees him then, waves to him from the air. "Darling," he calls, "I'm the only one!"
"You've made that very clear," Arthur sighs. "But stop, please, we've got to get back."
"That," Eames says, sounding confused for a second. Then, to Arthur's horror, his face goes blank, and he starts the song again. Remembering the carrot incident, Arthur decides to take action. He watches Eames bounce for a second, getting his timing right, and then throws himself across the distance between them. They crash together and tumble onto the ground, rolling over each other a few times before they stop, Arthur pinning Eames to the ground.
"I was bouncing," Eames pouts.
"Eames," Arthur says. "You are not actually Tigger."
"Of course I--oh Christ," Eames breathes, life coming back into his eyes. "Oh fucking hell--"
"Yeah," Arthur says. "Yeah, it's pretty weird."
Eames looks up at him and Arthur suddenly realizes how close they are. Eames' breath is hot against his oversensitive, twitching nose, and he can hear his heartbeat, twice as fast as it should be. He rolls off at once, shaking himself off, and Eames stands up slowly next to him.
Arthur keeps an eye on him. When he turns unconsciously towards the trampoline again, Arthur grabs his hand and yanks on it, pulling him back in the direction they came from. "Come on," he says, putting his weight into it, "Eames, come on," and eventually Eames lets himself be pulled along.
Arthur holds his hand until he doesn't feel any resistance, and then a minute longer, just to be on the safe side.
When they get back to Saito's, Arthur is relieved to discover he and Eames aren't the only ones having impulse control issues.
"Well I do declare, this is a turn of events!" Saito cries, flapping his wings pompously. "Perhaps we should turn to the advice of my Great Uncle--what is happening to me?"
"It's h-h-happening to all of us," Ariadne stutters nervously. Then she realizes she's stuttering and puts her hands over her mouth. "F-f-fuck."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Cobb says shiftily. "I'm not having any issues at all."
"Really," Arthur says.
"What's that on your face, mate?" Eames asks pointedly. "And on your paw, there? Looks sticky, golden, a bit like ho--"
"Don't say it," Cobb moans. "Oh, god, I went through four pots of it, Ariadne had to come and get me."
"My house fell down," Yusuf mutters glumly. "Again. But oh well."
"We did find you some weed," Eames says, his tone false-bright.
"Oooh, really?" Yusuf asks, cheering slightly. Then his face falls again. "Oh, it's probably not good weed. Thanks for noticin' me, though."
"I told you we should have spent more time in the practice runs," Arthur hisses at Cobb.
"It wouldn't have done any good," Cobb sighs. "Without the mark casting us, none of this behavior would have--oh fuck me, is my stuffing coming out again?"
"Allow me," Saito says graciously. He hops over and bats at Cobb's backside with a massive wing, forcing the stuffing back inside, and cinches the whole thing closed with a talon, tucking the seams together and pulling at the loose thread with his beak. "There you are, set to rights again."
"Um," Cobb says, blushing bright red to match his shirt, "thank you?"
"K-k-k-kinky," Ariadne says, and then jumps up and down in frustration. This sets Eames off bouncing again, which Arthur is only able to stop by forcibly gripping his shoulders and yanking him down. He doesn't let go, because Eames is likely to get out of control.
Doesn't let go, that is, until he notices that Eames' tail has wrapped itself around his waist.
"Oh for fuck's sake," Arthur snaps, stepping away and attempting to disentangle himself. Eames glares at him.
"Don't even start," he growls, "this is hardly any weirder than the thing with the carrots--"
"Carrots," Arthur hears himself say, already turning to go back and check on them. Eames' tail tightens around him.
"No," he says shakily. "No, darling, stop. Let's not go through all that again."
"Right," Arthur says, blinking himself out of it. "Right, sorry."
"Okay," Cobb says. "Well, let's look at it this way. We have to stay in character to an extent, at least when the mark is around. Based on the structure of this dream, she should be enjoying an experience not unlike her own childhood, except for the fact that she's a boy named Christopher Robin. She'll come play with us when she feels like it, and at least this way it won't be hard to maintain the charade. It's not necessarily a bad thing."
Eames shakes his head furiously. "You didn't see Arthur around the--" he looks back at Arthur as though he is considering covering his ears, and is clearly dissuaded from the idea by the sheer size of the damn things. "Uh, around the…vegetation," he continues. "This--there's no controlling it."
"You were just as bad with the--" Arthur starts furiously, but Eames' tail tightens again, almost unconsciously, so he bites back the word 'trampoline.'
"Eames," Ariadne says suddenly. "Hey, Eames. Can you still f-f-forge?"
"Of course I can," Eames says at once. There is a moment of silence, and then he blinks, stunned, looking down at himself. He screws up his face and closes his eyes and still nothing happens, and when he looks out at them again there is an unspeakable panic on his face.
Luckily, that's the moment when a young, lilting voice calls out "Pooh Bear! Pooh Bear! Where are you?"
"Christopher Robin," Cobb breathes, and hurls himself down the ladder.
"There you are," their mark says, picking Cobb up and spinning him around. "Silly old bear."
There is an expression of unholy glee on Cobb's face. Arthur wants to find it funny but discovers that he, too, is drawn to the boy, wants to please him, can't fight it at all.
"Eames," he says, with the last shred of control he's got left.
"I feel it too, love," Eames says, and they walk forward to meet their afternoon, Eames' tail looped round Arthur's arm.
The hours with Christopher Robin--with the mark, Arthur reminds himself furiously, with the mark--pass in a haze. When the kid finally leaves just after dark, Cobb has to be restrained from following and Arthur can hardly remember the afternoon at all.
"Fuck," he spits, "fucking fuck, how the fuck are we supposed to perform inception this way?"
"What," Eames says, "you mean you find the all-encompassing worship distracting too?"
Arthur wants to tear out all his hair, except that it's fur now and there's a lot of it and he doesn't really know where to begin. He settles for yanking on his own ears instead, which is surprisingly satisfying as expressions of frustration go. Eames is bouncing furiously next to him, and Saito keeps flexing his wings, and Ariadne is trembling and Cobb's stuffing is everywhere.
Yusuf is sitting on the ground, chewing idly at some grass. "Hey," he says, when Arthur glares at him, "nothing's disappointing when you always expect the worst."
"We have to get out of here," Cobb says. "This is obviously not going to work, we're just going to have to cut and run."
"Can't," Yusuf sighs, "sedated. Limbo."
"Plus, how the bloody fuck would we even kill ourselves?" Eames asks. "Cobb's got stuffing coming loose every other minute and he hasn't even got the sniffles. Bullets wouldn't do any good, can't drown without real lungs--"
"Could you s-s-stop talking about d-d-death?" Ariadne asks. "I know it's s-s-stupid but you're f-f-freaking me out."
"Sorry, Ari," Eames says, shamefaced. Ariadne's tiny pink body is shaking all over, and despite the expression of pure fury on her face, it's obvious she can't overcome her instinctive terror. Arthur is considering the most tactful way to comfort her when Yusuf stands and beckons her with a shake of his head. She runs to him, hiding under his front leg, clinging to him.
"This f-fucking sucks," she manages. Yusuf sighs, and she quickly adds, "Uh, no, n-not you, the rest of it," and he looks the happiest he's looked all day.
"Huh," Eames says under his breath after a minute. "Even I never called that one."
"Called?" Arthur says, in an equally discreet undertone. "What the hell do you--"
"Look closer, darling," Eames murmurs. Arthur peers in the darkness and realizes that Yusuf is nudging Ariadne playfully with the top of his head, and she is giggling quietly.
"Huh," Arthur says.
"Cobb and Saito too," says Eames, pressing a little too close, "in case you missed that."
"Well I'm not blind," Arthur mutters, turning to glare at him. Eames is offering him a tentative smile.
"Aren't you?" he asks. Arthur swallows.
"We have to discuss the issue of housing," Cobb says, jerking Arthur back to attention. "I--I can't be left alone in my place. There's…there's just so much of it, the honey, I can't help myself."
"My house is sticks," Yusuf mutters. "Sticks on the ground."
"I--" Ariadne pauses, makes a terribly embarrassed face, and continues in a whisper, "I think I'm afraid of the d-d-dark."
"Well, Eames can't go anywhere near that trampoline by himself," Arthur points out, ignoring he way Eames whines quietly behind with the use of the word.
"And Arthur can't be trusted with his garden," Eames adds. "We should probably pair up."
"Y-y-you can stay with me," Ariadne says to Yusuf, who actually manages something like a smile at that.
"Mr. Cobb," Saito says, waving a magnanimous hand, "there is plenty of room for you in my treehouse."
"That leaves you guys," Cobb says, squinting at Arthur and Eames. "Think you can make it through the night without killing each other?"
Ariadne snorts, which Arthur tries very hard to ignore. "I think we'll manage," he says dryly, and Cobb nods and heads off with Saito. Ariadne climbs onto Yusuf's back and waves as he carries her off.
Which, of course, leaves Arthur and Eames standing in the middle of the Hundred Acre Woods, staring at each other.
"So, uh," Eames says, laughing a little nervously, "your place or mine?"
"Mine, I think," Arthur decides. "So long as we keep the windows covered I'll be okay, but at yours there's no way to avoid seeing that--"
"Please don't," Eames interrupts, making a pained face. "Please don't say it."
"Sorry," Arthur murmurs, and is surprised to discover that he actually is sorry. "Let's just go, yeah? Don't let me anywhere near the garden when we get there, it should be fine. "
Eames ends up having to frog-march Arthur through the door, Arthur clawing at him and trying to break free all the while, but he calms once there's a door between him and the tempting carrots. There is a brief moment of tension where they try to decide who's going to take the couch, but then Arthur sees the tightness somehow visible on Eames' stuffed face and offers up the bed.
He's tired enough that the couch isn't even uncomfortable, and he's asleep in minutes. He wakes a few hours later to the sound of springs creaking.
"Fucking bouncing," he mutters, and gets up, stalking over to the door. He throws it open fully prepared to read Eames the riot act, but then he actually sees what's going on.
Eames is bouncing on the bed, balancing himself on his tail. His paws are balled to fists and he's got such a massive frown on his face that for a second Arthur thinks he somehow switched bodies with Cobb, and his eyes are closed. He's making small, pained noises.
"Eames," Arthur says quietly. Eames flails and crashed onto the bed, breathing heavily.
"Jesus fucking Christ," he spits, "don't scare me like that."
"Sorry," Arthur says, and that's the second time he's apologized to Eames tonight--the apocalypse must be nigh. "Sorry, but you--I heard the springs--"
"Shit," Eames says, "I didn't think about that. I'll try to be quieter, alright? You can go back to sleep."
"Okay," Arthur agrees. He makes to go, but something about the look in Eames' eyes stops him, forces him to turn back around. "Hey. Are you alright?"
"I--" Eames says. Then he sighs and laughs, a tired, quiet thing. "No, not particularly, darling."
"Ah," Arthur says. He moves over and sits down on the edge of the bed, tentatively. "What's wrong?"
There is a long moment of silence. Then Eames says, "I've never been in a dream where I couldn't shift before."
"Oh," Arthur says, completely at a loss.
"I didn't think that could happen," Eames says, "and I thought maybe I just needed to try harder, so I've been in here, trying--"
"What," Arthur interrupts, horrified, "this whole time?"
"Yeah," Eames mutters. "And I couldn't do it and I started thinking about--I mean, how would I know if this was limbo, except that it was different from every other dream, and it's not like I have a bloody totem down here and I can't kill myself and this has never happened before, and I was going to go for a walk but I didn't trust myself not to go to that sodding trampoline and then the bed creaked and I realized that I could just, you know, bounce on that and I couldn't get the thought out of my head and--"
His breathing is coming fast and heavy and his hands are balled to fists again, and Arthur realizes suddenly that what's happening to Eames is something like a panic attack. And it's probably just that he's soft and fuzzy, that there's some part of his current body that's been hardwired for comfort, but Arthur doesn't think about it--he just closes the space between them and wraps his arms around Eames' body, pulls him in.
"You're not in limbo," Arthur says. "Limbo is probably more pleasant than this."
Eames laughs against his neck. "You could be a projection--how the hell would I even--"
"But you remember how you got here," Arthur reminds him. "You remember reality. I know this impulse control thing is…uh…"
"Bloody fucking bizarre?"
"Yeah," Arthur sighs, "yeah, that. But, look, we're going to get out of here, okay?"
"I fucking hate this," Eames mutters. His paws are fisted in the fur on Arthur's back, and Arthur is very surprised by how much he doesn't want to let go. He finds himself stroking along Eames' spine, running his palm across Eames' tail until it uncoils.
He is certainly not petting Eames, he thinks to himself, admittedly not all that convincingly. He is simply…sustaining a muscle movement in the vicinity of Eames' body. And Eames is very fuzzy, so it's not like he could miss touching him a little. It's an accident. A very pointed…accident.
"Lay down," Arthur hears himself say. "Just--I'll stay, so you'll know it's real."
"I'm not a child," Eames snaps, though he makes no move to pull his head away from where it's buried in Arthur's neck.
"Fine," Arthur sighs, "then you'll stay, so I'll know it's real."
"I'm not stupid either," Eames mutters, but he sounds slightly mollified. He pulls away, stretching out across the bed. Arthur keeps a hand on his back until his breathing evens out and then curls up himself, on the other side of the bed, wondering why his hand feels chilled and bereft without the weight of Eames underneath it.
Before he can think about that too much, Eames' tail moves, wraps itself around Arthur's wrist of its own accord. Arthur would protest, but after all that he really doesn't want to wake Eames up again, so he just allows it, letting his hand rest against the soft fur.
He falls asleep to the sound of Eames breathing, quiet and even, in the darkness.
"Well, w-w-well," someone says, "this is interesting."
"Fuck off, Ariadne," Arthur groans, burying his head in his pillow. "Still tired. Not now."
"F-far be it from me to disturb this c-c-cozy picture," Ariadne returns, sounding far too fucking amused for the ungodly hour of the morning it must be, "but Cobb sent me to g-get you."
"Five more minutes," Arthur demands sleepily, his eyes still closed.
"Okay, darling," someone mumbles, in a rasping, sleep-heavy voice. "'S fine."
Something runs lightly across his spine, and Arthur realizes that his pillow is decidedly furrier than usual at the same time he hears that rasping voice say "…wait, Arthur?"
Arthur's eyes slam open. He is in bed, and just--wound around Eames, completely undeniable. His face is pressed into Eames' shoulder and one of his ridiculous feet is in between Eames' legs, and he's got a paw resting on the curve of Eames' neck, and Eames' tail is rubbing his back.
"Fuck!" Arthur cries, scrambling away, at the same time Eames says "Bugger!" and does exactly the same thing. They fall off opposite sides of the bed and then peek over the edge, glaring at each other.
Ariadne is still rolling on the floor in hysterics when they leave ten minutes later. Arthur has to throw her over his shoulder and carry her to the damn meeting, pointedly ignoring the way she pounds on his back, laughing like nothing's ever been funnier, for over half of the walk.
"So, impulse control," Cobb says, "let's assess."
"I'm still s-s-stuttering," Ariadne admits, "but the terror's gone d-down a little."
"I find that I can control the urge to--" Saito pauses, considering the phrasing, "ah, preen, I suppose, if I consider what I am going to say before I say it."
"Still sad," Yusuf sighs. Ariadne goes over to him and puts a tiny pink hand on his front leg, and he kind of smiles. "Less, though."
"My tumbly is rumbly," Cobb says ruefully, rubbing it, "but if I don't think about it too much it's not so bad."
"I still want to bounce," Eames admits, and he is right next to Arthur, how had he gotten there? They'd pointedly positioned themselves across the room from one another, not making eye contact. How the fuck had they ended up rubbing arms?
"But you've got enough control that you're stopping yourself," Arthur points out, trying to keep things normal. Eames gives him a startled look that says the proximity is a surprise to him too.
"And you?" Cobb prompts Arthur. "How's it going with the carrots?"
"Fine," Arthur says honestly. "I mean, I want to--to go to them, as weird as that sounds, but I walked by the garden of my own power this morning."
"Almost of your own power," Eames says under his breath. Arthur elbows him, and then…entirely fails to move his elbow away.
The truth is, he's having an entirely different kind of impulse control problem. All of a sudden, he wants to be touching Eames all the time. It's not that he's not used to little…frissons of that, every now and again, the way his blood runs cold and then startlingly, frighteningly hot when Eames smirks at him sometimes. He's written it off, ignored it, tried not to think about it--but this isn't like that at all.
It's not even sexual. Arthur can't imagine having a sexual thought in this body, which is for all intents and purposes sexless, lacking the necessary equipment. It's--it's that Eames had put a hand on Arthur's back and pushed him past the garden gate this morning, Ariadne howling on his shoulder, and when he'd pulled away Arthur had felt bereft, unmoored.
He can tell Eames is feeling it too, when they amble down to the river Christopher Robin had told them to meet him at. Eames walks too close to him and then seems to notice it, correcting himself, veering further away--and then he's drawn back, inextricable, bumping shoulders with Arthur between bounces.
Arthur fucking hates this place.
He hates it more when Christopher Robin--who is an 84 year old woman inside, Arthur knows that, he knows that, but it's nearly impossible to remember--feeds them toast crusts that are surprisingly massive, covered in jam. The kid leads them through the forest and they follow him, drawn to him, like he's the Pied fucking Piper, like he's got them hypnotized.
Eames can't hold his accent together, and every couple of minutes he visibly realizes it, and that panic flashes across his face before his eyes go glazed and pleasant again. The part of Arthur that's still Arthur wants to kill something, but the rest of him wants to grab Eames and hold on until they wake the fuck up.
Christopher Robin deposits them at the river again and runs off, yelling something about being back later, and then they're all looking at everything but each other, embarrassed.
"A-Arthur," Ariadne says at last, "did you--were you clinging to Christopher Robin's leg, back there?"
"Shut up," Arthur snaps furiously, stalking off. He had been, but Ariadne had refused to let go of his shirt for almost ten minutes, so he doesn't really find her calling him out on his moment of weakness fair.
He's standing at the edge of the water, staring at his distorted, incorrect reflection, when Cobb joins him.
"She didn't mean anything by it," he says.
"I know that," Arthur sighs. "I just--this is really fucking weird, Dom. You know Eames thinks we're in limbo?"
"Did he say that?" Cobb asks sharply, moving like he's going to go find Eames and ask. Arthur puts a hand on his shoulder to stop him.
"Don't," he says. "Trust me, don't. It's just--he can't forge, and it's freaking him out."
"That makes sense," Cobb says. Then he turns and peers at Arthur, his eyes narrowed. "Do you think we're in limbo?"
"I don't know what to think," Arthur sighs, kicking a pebble into the water. "I mean, I remember how I got here, but I don't--I could see how Eames would think that. This is…pretty surreal. "
"Limbo is nothing like this," Cobb says firmly. "You've got more control and fewer memories--you don't realize you should be worried about where you are until you've been there for years and years. It's like looking at the world through water--you know there's something you should be seeing, but you can't see it, and you don't really care. This self-awareness is something else entirely."
"Whatever it is," Arthur says, "something's very wrong here."
"Yeah," Cobb sighs, "yeah, I know."
They glance back at the rest of the team--Ariadne sitting on Yusuf's head, Saito circling in the air, flying just out of Eames' laughing, bouncing reach.
"Do you think we should tell them?" Cobb asks, turning back to Arthur. And Arthur can't tear his eyes away from Eames, from the way he lands a bounce and the smile falls off his face for half a second, the way he shudders and then jumps again, shaking off the nervous energy in the air.
"I don't think we have to," Arthur says. "I think they already know."
They decide to make the best of it, because they don't have a lot of choice.
Arthur goes up to Saito's perch and roots around in the bookshelves, pushing past huge volumes of bird-watching titles to find what's underneath. He comes back to the riverbank with a copy of The War of The Worlds tucked under one arm, and the soft, fond look Eames gives him is entirely worth the trial it is trying to read the damned thing.
Ariadne has been trying and failing to fuck with the dreamscape architecture, so she starts building models with river clay to entertain herself. Yusuf sits next to her, and every few minutes she startles a laugh out of him by streaking mud across his cheek, over his eye.
Cobb plays idly in the water for a minute and then lies--very badly--about needing to get some air.
"We're outside," Ariadne points out. Cobb just shakes his head and runs off, and Saito follows behind him, airborne and with a slight grin showing on his beak.
"Darling," Eames says a few minutes later, flopping down next to Arthur in the grass, "must you be so boring?"
"I'm not boring," Arthur says, turning a page. "I'm comfortable." The book has turned out to be kind of interesting, despite the fact that it's not something he'd normally pick up.
Also, he feels a strange sense of tension ease slightly now that Eames is within arm's reach. He's not going to think about that too hard.
"I've never read that one," Eames admits, needling Arthur in the ribs with his tail. Arthur swats at him half-heartedly. "You never struck me as the science fiction type, you know."
"I'm not," Arthur sighs, "but it was this or bird guides written by Saito's Great Great Great Uncle."
"Well, H.G Wells and Milne were friends," Eames says, surprising Arthur. "Or contemporaries, at least. Makes sense that it would be lying about."
"And you say I'm boring," Arthur laughs. "Since when are you such a bookworm?"
"I am a man of hidden depths," Eames says easily, stretching his striped arms up above his head. "Go on, then."
"Go on what?"
"Read some," Eames says, like Arthur is not particularly quick of study. "I hate to impose, pet, but if I bounce any more I'll fall down, and I'd rather not just lay here contemplating our situation."
Arthur considers this. Then: "Perhaps I am a man of exceptional moods," he recites, picking up where he'd left off. Eames makes a small, pleased noise and closes his eyes.
"I do not know how far my experience is common," Arthur continues. "At times I suffer from the strangest sense of detachment from myself and the world about me; I seem to watch it all from the outside, from somewhere inconceivably remote, out of time, out of space, out of the stress and tragedy of it all."
"It's like he knows you," Eames murmurs.
"No it's not," Arthur says, feeling a flare of irritation. He thumbs the book closed. "Acting detached and being detached aren't the same thing."
"Could have fooled me," Eames says, rolling up on one side and looking at Arthur. His eyes are sharp, questioning, like this is some kind of test. That only irritates Arthur more.
"No I couldn't have," Arthur snaps, "because you spend all your goddamn time trying to see through--"
"AIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE," someone screams, sounding pained.
Then, in a considerably more commanding voice, someone else cries, "RUN, YOU FOOLS, RUN!"
Arthur and Eames jump to their feet and look up for the source of the sound. Saito has Cobb held between his talons and is flying furiously away from what looks like a giant swarm of…
"Oh my god," says Arthur, rooted to the spot, "are those bees?"
"The water," Eames says, running to Yusuf and Ariadne. He picks Ariadne up and flings her into the river and then pushes Yusuf towards it, trusting him to tumble the rest of the way down himself. "Arthur!" he yells, "come on!"
Arthur is trained for combat. He is not known for freezing in difficult situations. He can drop people without gravity.
But fuck, he really doesn't like bees.
"Must you make everything so bloody difficult?" Eames yells, and tackles him over the edge of riverbank.
The water is clearer than it should be--that's the first thing Arthur notices. It's cartoon water, bright blue and completely transparent, no flecks of dirt or algae floating around. Which would be great, except for the fact that it gives him a perfectly clear view of the angry swarm waiting above the surface, poking at it with their stingers every couple of seconds.
The second thing Arthur notices is that he doesn't actually feel the pressing need to breathe.
He looks up. The rest of them have obviously realized this already, because their mouths are open in wide grins. Eames offers him a mocking half salute and then his hand, which Arthur takes, swimming alongside him. They have to go a fair ways before the bees give up, and when they pop out of the water they're waterlogged and bloated and unspeakably relieved.
"You're afraid of bees," Eames says, slow, like Arthur has just revealed the obvious solution to puzzle he's been working out for years.
"I thought I was detached from stress and tragedy," Arthur replies, but he's smiling, can't really help but smile. Eames grins back at him, his fur dripping in his eyes, and it feels like the most natural thing in the world to reach out and push it away.
"Darling," Eames says, stunned. Arthur's smile gets a little wider.
"Maybe you don't know me as well as you think," he says quietly.
"As adorable as this is," Ariadne cuts in, "and it's p-p-pretty adorable, I think we should try to f-f-find Cobb and Saito."
"Probably back there with the bees," Yusuf sighs, two seconds before Cobb falls out of the sky and lands on his head.
"Ooof," Yusuf manages, as Cobb rolls off. "Thank for that."
"Sorry," Cobb says. He's covered in little red welts and completely shamefaced as Saito glides to a landing next to him.
"What the hell was that about?" Arthur demands. Cobb's expression of shame only deepens.
"Uh," he says. "There was--this beehive. And I thought, you know, that I could get the ho…the stuff out of it."
"I tried to stop him," Saito says virtuously. "Unfortunately, I underestimated my wingspan, and--"
"Oh my god, stop," Arthur says, as Eames goes into paroxysms of silent laughter. "I can figure it out, thanks."
"You g-g-guys are idiots," Ariande says sternly, curled up next to Yusuf, who is complaining of a sprained back under his breath. They start arguing about whose fault it was, and Arthur's half listening when he sees a flash of orange out of the corner of his eye.
He turns. Eames is a ways off, heading towards the forest, beckoning for Arthur to follow.
Because this place is terrible and unyielding and probably hell, Arthur can't even think about resisting. He's at Eames' side before he has time to give the rest of the team a hastily invented excuse, and when Eames again offers his hand, Arthur takes it.
"What are we doing?" he asks, trying to ignore how good it feels, just to be touching him.
"We're having some fun," Eames says firmly. And then, without letting go of Arthur's hand, he leans back on his tail and rockets himself up into the air, dragging Arthur with him.
"What the hell?" Arthur cries. Eames grins at him in midair.
"You're a rabbit," he says. "Rabbits hop. Come on."
Arthur isn't sure why he follows, why he lets Eames lead him through the forest, touching the ground as rarely as possible. He doesn't know why he follows, but he does know that it feels good, languid and loose limbed, like flying. And he's laughing, almost choking on it, Eames pulling him higher than the damn trees and the sound of their hysterics echoing--
--until they reach the top of a hill and stop, breathing hard, staring at each other.
"You know," Eames pants, "it's not fair."
"What's not?" Arthur asks, doubling over to catch his breath. After a minute he feels a paw under his chin, lifting his face up.
"The thing is, darling," Eames says, "you're not particularly friendly most of the time. Seems wrong that I should get your defenses down enough to kiss you the one time the idea doesn't appeal."
"What," Arthur says, grinning, "you mean you don't find me attractive like this? Eames, I'm hurt."
Eames laughs. "Rest assured it's the only time I don't find you attractive," he says, and his voice is light but honest too, so honest it makes Arthur's head spin a little.
He decides at once that the proper response to this is to throw himself at Eames, knocking them both into a barrel roll down the hill. Eames is laughing next to him and Arthur hasn't done this since he was a kid, so he closes his eyes and enjoys it, relishes it.
When they reach the bottom, Arthur is confident in the knowledge that both their heads are spinning, which was of course the goal. Eames wobbles when he tries to stand, still laughing, and falls back against grass next to Arthur. Arthur feels something shift and realizes his ears have flopped onto the top of Eames' head of their own accord; he sighs, not entirely unhappily, and doesn't bother trying to move them.
They stay like that until the sky starts to darken, quiet and pleased, just barely touching. Then:
"What do you think we do now?" Eames asks, sounding like he regrets breaking their moment.
Arthur considers this. "Well," he says at length, "there's always that pot."
Eames gives Arthur a mildly impressed look when he picks the choicest buds from the plant, a look that shifts into mild amazement when he de-seeds it and functions a makeshift grinder out of two rocks. When Arthur rips a page out of one of the cookbooks from the kitchen and rolls a joint in ten seconds flat, however, Eames' mouth drops open in frank astonishment.
"Who are you?" he demands. Arthur laughs.
"Hey," he says, striking one of the matches he'd found in a drawer while Eames went to get the rest of the team, "I grew up a scrawny Jewish kid from Brooklyn. You think I didn't smoke pot in college?"
"I don't know you at all," Eames laments, as Arthur lights the joint and takes two puffs. "Where's the stick in the mud we all know and love, hmm?"
"He's getting high," Arthur says, exhaling his second hit and passing the joint. "Try back later."
"When I met Arthur there was a bong in his room," Cobb says gleefully, as Eames pulls in two long drags and passes it over to Ariadne. "A big one, of many colors."
"You're having me on," Eames says.
"He had long hair too," Cobb sighs happily. "He was a delinquent."
"Shut up," Arthur says easily, laying back against the grass. Ariadne erupts coughing, waving her little pink hands, and Arthur gestures Cobb toward her. "You were trying to buy from me, if I'm remembering correctly."
"I never said I wasn't also a delinquent," Cobb replies, leaning over to pat Ariadne on the back and take the joint from her. "Just, you know, that you were one."
"Tell me more about your debauched college years, darling," Eames murmurs, flopping onto his stomach next to Arthur. "I am delighted and terrified."
"After we're done with the joint, maybe," Arthur agrees. "If you don't bogart."
"I can't believe you know the word bogart," Eames cries in betrayed tones. "All this time all I needed to do to cull your favor was take you to Amsterdam, Arthur, this is not on."
"So we're admitting to the f-favor culling attempts now?" Ariadne asks, having gotten her breathing under control. "Because really--"
"Silence," Eames commands imperiously. "We are smoking here."
It doesn't take them long to kill the first joint, and they have to stop halfway through the second because the stuff is really strong.
"Might not be strong," Yusuf muses, sounding happier than he has in days. "Might be our body chemistry. Different, you know. Stuffing. Things."
Ariadne giggles. "Stuffing," she says.
"You guys are such lightweights," Arthur laughs, staring up at the sky. The stars are everywhere.
"Not everyone was a pothead in college," Eames says gleefully. "Not like you, you filthy, filthy pothead."
"Ahahaha," says Saito, "I am now imagining a person with a pot instead of a head."
"I thought that was what Arthur was like when I met him," Eames agrees amiably. "Only not a pot. A file. A filehead."
"Not your best constructed argument there, Mr. Eames," Arthur murmurs. His voice sounds slow to his own ears and he's so happy, for no reason he can fathom. He knew there'd been a reason he'd loved this damn drug.
"You like my arguments," Eames replies, giving him a secretive half-smile. Arthur wants to respond in kind but his stomach growls audibly, stopping him.
"Rumbly tumbly!" Cobb cries, and falls over laughing.
"Munchies," Arthur observes. "Hmm."
"Darling," Eames says solemnly, "wait here. I will get you a carrot."
"I can eat them?" Arthur demands breathlessly as Eames laughs and stands, winding his way unsteadily to the carrot patch. Arthur is flush with unholy glee until he sees Eames bend down and fist one of the fanned green tops, at which point panic sets in.
"No, no, Eames, wait," he cries, aware that this is ridiculous but unable to stop himself. "You can't--don't hurt it--"
"Calm down," Eames says, yanking one up. Arthur makes a pained noise. "They're only carrots."
"He doesn't mean that," Arthur coos to the carrot in Eames' hand, touching it lovingly as he returns. "Oh, god, I am out of control."
"Arthur's rubbing Eames' c-c-carrot!" Ariadne crows, and then rolls into a little ball, cackling. Yusuf stirs at this and leans forward, batting at her experimentally with one leg and then catching her with the other one. She giggles gleefully and he rolls her to Cobb, all of them laughing riotously.
"I don't know if I can make myself eat it," Arthur admits, laying back down. Eames sits next to him, holding the carrot by its top. It's so orange. If Eames waved it in front of his face, Arthur thinks he would be hypnotized.
His stomach rumbles again, and Eames laughs.
"Here," he says, holding it to Arthur's mouth. "It's not sent--semt--senti--fuck, that word is hard to say right now."
"Sentient," Arthur breathes.
"It doesn't have feelings," Eames says gently. He prods Arthur's growling stomach with his tail. "Go on, take a bite."
Hesitatingly, Arthur does. It crunches wonderfully and the taste is explosive, agonizingly, paralyzingly good. He lets out a sound that he's never released in his life, something between a moan and a growl, and Eames smiles down at him, his eyes crinkling up at the corners. Arthur takes another massive bite, and makes the sound again.
"This is bordering on pornographic," Saito comments.
"B-b-bordering?" Ariadne asks, unrolling from her ball.
"We're going to have to do this again when we wake up," Eames comments in a low voice, putting the leafy remains to the side as Arthur reaches the end of the carrot. He's encouraged by Eames' use of the word when, even if Arthur is privately starting to think it might be an if.
"I don't even like carrots," Arthur tells him, and then realizes the carrots could have heard that. "I didn't mean it!" he adds frantically. "I was only kidding."
"You're mad," Eames says, but fondly.
"Can I have another one?" Arthur asks, realizing on some level that they are actually his carrots, and he does not actually have to ask. Eames nods, grinning.
"Only one more," he says, but he lets Arthur eat seven before he flops back onto the ground, resuming his previous position.
"I want the rest of the other joint," Arthur decides, feeling more sober now that there's food in him. "Who has the other joint?"
Cobb tosses it over and Arthur sparks it, smoking on his back and passing it to Eames. It makes a few rounds before they're done, and then Arthur is feeling languid, loose, and blazed out of his mind.
"So," Eames says eventually, "bees."
"Bzzzzz," Arthur murmurs. "Bzzzz bzzzz."
"And you called Ari a lightweight," Eames laughs. Arthur opens his eyes to glare half-heartedly at him.
"You're high too," he protests. "You laughed at my ears for like--for like ten minutes."
"Your ears are hilarious," Eames says, looking like he wants to laugh again. "No, no, wait. Bees."
"Bzzz," says Arthur.
"No deja vu!" Cobb calls. "Team rule!"
"You're afraid of bees," Eames says. His tail has managed to wind itself around Arthur's waist somehow, and it twitches with amusement.
"Yes," Arthur agrees. "Fuckers."
"Why?" Eames demands.
"I have my reasons."
"But you're all--" Eames frowns, like he's looking for the right word. "Like, uh. Like a big scary bastard."
Arthur laughs. "Is that what I am?"
"Well not you," Eames sighs, "not pothead fuzzy friendly Arthur, but work Arthur. You can't be afraid of bees."
"And yet," Arthur laughs, prodding him. Eames swats at him, but pleasantly.
"I am going to tease you about this," he informs Arthur solemnly.
"Then you are going to feel very guilty," Arthur returns, staring fixedly at the tree above him. The branches are swaying ever so slightly. If Arthur could move, he'd climb up and sit in them.
"Whyyyyy," Eames whines, his tail twitching again. "Were you a bee in a former life? Did you have a traumatic bee incident as a child?"
"Does anaphylactic shock count as a traumatic incident?" Arthur wonders aloud.
Eames' tail tightens around him almost uncomfortably for a second. "What?"
"Allergic," Arthur says. "To bees. Since I was little. Fuckers."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Eames demands. Arthur feels his forehead crease.
"It never seemed important?" he hazards. Eames glares at him and flip over, somehow managing to avoid dislodging his tail.
"Cobb," he says, "no more beehives ever. Never again. Not ever."
Squinting, Cobb gestures to his welt-riddled face, as if to say No shit, Sherlock.
"Why do you even care?" Yusuf calls, looking up from where Ariadne is cheerfully braiding his mane. "What's it to you?"
"Uh," Eames says, looking caught. "Uh, nothing." And then, as if to prove this point, he yanks on one of Arthur's ears.
"Hey," Arthur says mildly, feeling too relaxed to bother getting worked up about that. "That's a bad touch."
"I know why Eames cares," Ariadne starts. "It's b-b-because--"
"Shut up right now!" Eames commands. He touches Arthur's ears again, and it takes Arthur a second to realize he is actually trying to cover them.
It's hilarious. Arthur starts to laugh.
"It's because Eames l-l-loooooves Arthur!" Ariadne cries.
"You are ridiculous," Eames says, his tail tightening its grip again in panic. Arthur notices that this is not an outright denial, but still cannot stop laughing. "We--we're not even the same species! The most wonderful thing about Tiggers is I'm the only one!"
"The only one for Arthur!" Cobb cries, and tumbles over again in hysterics. The look on Eames' face is priceless, and Arthur is having some serious trouble controlling his laughter, because Eames has pulled him too close now, is still trying to cover his ears.
"Bloody hell," Eames mutters, visibly embarrassed. Arthur stops laughing once he realizes Eames is actually bothered, and he'd like to talk about it, but he's really very high.
He sings the Tigger song under his breath instead, light and happy, and leans in to Eames' touch. When he finishes Eames isn't blushing anymore, just kind of looking down at him in surprise. Arthur smiles at him and nudges at his arm until Eames lifts it, lets Arthur curl up against him.
"Awwwwww," Ariadne coos, coming over to them.
"Go play pin the tail on Yusuf," Arthur suggests, grinning dangerously. She turns bright red and scurries away, and Arthur thinks he hears her mutter A-a-asshole under her breath.
"You're not going to, y'know, murder me?" Eames asks quietly, some minutes later.
"Not tonight," Arthur murmurs, and if he nuzzles Eames a little, he can always blame it on the weed and the ridiculous stuffed animal body.
The feeling of warmth spreading in his chest at the sight of Eames' slow smile, the one that starts small and then takes over his entire fucking face--well. That's probably not something he can blame on anything but himself.
"Arthur?" Eames says some time later, surprising Arthur by being awake. Everyone else is out cold in the grass, but as the temperature is always perfect here and they've yet to come across any viable threat other than the bees, Arthur's not particularly worried about it.
"Yeah?" he mumbles sleepily. Eames shifts slightly, adjusting Arthur subtly against him, and Arthur is just tired enough, just high enough, to let himself recognize how much he enjoys the sensation. He sighs, content.
"Are you," Eames starts, and pauses. Then, in a rush, he continues "Are you having trouble with--touching me?"
"What kind of trouble?" Arthur asks around a yawn.
"Wanting to," Eames says miserably. "All the time. Not that I don't want to touch you regularly, darling, I do, but this is--"
"Different," Arthur agrees. "Yeah, I'm having the same problem."
"Okay," Eames says, letting out a breath Arthur hadn't known he was fighting. "I'm glad it's not just me. I've been trying to fight it, but it's--surprisingly difficult."
"We could…not fight it," Arthur says slowly, after a long pause. "I mean, I don't--it's not terrible, you know. Being this way. Or--I mean, not being stuffed animals, that's a fucking bummer, but this part. Not so bad."
"No," Eames says quietly, "no, it's not, is it."
"Mmm," Arthur sighs, rubbing his cheek against Eames' chest flagrantly and shamelessly and not really awake enough to regret it.
"I can't believe I just heard you say the word 'bummer,'" Eames teases after a second. Arthur huffs out a faint laugh, but doesn't comment. "You really were a pothead in college, weren't you?"
"Soooo much weed," Arthur agrees. "So much. I went to a Burning Man my senior year."
"You did not," Eames says, laughing.
"I did," Arthur admits, smiling a little. "It was a good time."
"Why'd you give it up?" Eames asks. "Being a filthy hippy, I mean."
Arthur shrugs. "The military recruited me. It seemed silly, after dreamshare. Childish."
"Hmmm," Eames says. Then: "I went to Eton, you know."
"I do know," says Arthur. "I did your background check. I always kind of thought you'd forged their records, though."
"All perfectly legitimate, I'm afraid."
Arthur files this away for further consideration when he's less exhausted. "Did you like it?"
"Loathed it, actually," Eames sighs. "Terribly stuffy place, no sense of imagination at all. And no hippies anywhere, more's the pity."
Arthur kind of grins against Eames' chest. "If we get out of here," he says, "we're going to Bonnaroo."
"Oh, darling," Eames murmurs sadly. Arthur frowns, confused.
Eames sighs and rubs a hand along his back. "Arthur--you said if."
They develop a routine of sorts over the next four days. The mornings are spent with Christopher Robin, traipsing through the forest on strange adventures of his design that none of them remember properly when they're through. The afternoons are spent on strange adventures of their own, following whatever paths they feel like, and they get high at night.
No one comments on the tension they're all feeling, the growing sense of dread, until the sixth night.
They'd instructed the kid they'd hired to run the PASIV to wake Yusuf first, a real-time hour before the rest of them, to give him time to prepare and inject the mark with a secondary sedative. It was something they did often now, keeping the mark under after the dream was over--Yusuf had discovered a compound that could do it safely, and it spared the the chance of any awkward, job-killing interactions.
His kick was meant to come at sunset.
"There's st-st-still some light," Ariadne says tremulously, hopefully, starting at the sky. "If you squint--"
"No there's not," Yusuf sighs, drawing her close with his front leg. "It's not coming. The kick's not coming."
"Oh, god," Eames says. His arms wrap around Arthur from behind and he drops his head onto Arthur's shoulder, even as Arthur turns to bury his face in Eames' neck. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Cobb's back seam rip, stuffing pouring out, sees Saito shove it back in with a broad wing and then pull Cobb in with the same.
"We're never going to get out of here," Arthur whispers.
"Don't, love," Eames says, his voice cracking, "don't--"
"I want to throw up," Ariadne says--her voice is distant, filtered through a haze of horrified realization. "Oh, god, what the hell are we going to--"
"Do you," Cobb says suddenly, lifting his head from Saito's plumage, "do you guys hear something?"
Arthur listens hopefully, but it's not Edith Piaf he hears. Instead it's a--a clamoring, like a thousand feet stamping. He peers out into the darkness and sees what looks like a giant cloud of dust coming toward them.
"Eames," he says.
"I see it," Eames murmurs. "What do you think--"
"H-h-heffalumps," Ariadne stutters. "H-h-heffalumps and w-w-woozles."
"Don't be ridiculous--" Cobb starts.
"I'm n-not!" Ariadne cries. "We haven't seen any p-p-projections this whole t-time, don't you t-t-think they'd be in character too? H-h…those things are the v-villains of the Pooh stories."
The cloud is drawing closer. Arthur stares and sees that she's right--there must be a hundred of them, cartoonish, garish bastardizations of elephants and weasels. He tightens his grip on Eames.
"Well," Eames laughs, "at least they can't kill us. Nothing they do could--"
The crowd draws to a stop about 20 feet away, and Eames trails off, staring. As they watch a roaring fire comes to life in front of them, making the distorted faces that much more ghastly.
Arthur thinks about the flamibility of fabric and stuffing. He thinks, despite how hard he's trying not to, about limbo.
"Ah," Eames says, staring at the flames and swallowing hard, "admittedly, I did not think of that."
"What do we do now?" Ariadne hisses on Yusuf's back.
"Having--some--impulse--control--problems," Cobb manages. Arthur looks over at him in surprise and sees that he's doubled over, clawing at his throat.
"Now is not the time," he hisses. "Just give in, whatever it is, and then help us think of a way to get out of this!"
Cobb nods, rocks back on his heels, opens his mouth, and bellows "CHRISTOPHER ROBIN!"
Arthur stares at him, agape. He feels Eames' grip on his slacken briefly before it goes tight again, and then--to his extreme surprise--he sees the boy walking out of the clearing.
Only it's not the boy. It's their mark.
"Oh, go away," she says to the crowd, waving an irritated hand. "You're no fun at all."
The fire goes out at once. Shockingly, the sun comes out. The crowd vanishes as quickly as it had come.
"Okay," Arthur says slowly, "what the hell is going on?"
"Sorry, dear," she says, patting him on the head, "I know how you like your facts." Arthur wants to bristle at her touch but finds he can't--whatever strange control she'd had over him as Christopher Robin is clearly still partially in place. He glares at her instead, doesn't step away from Eames.
"Explain," Cobb demands. Their mark laughs, her hair white and loose in the sudden wind.
"You're all so funny," she says. "Alan was all for leaving you down here indefinitely, but I knew I liked the sound of you. I've had a lovely few days."
She peers at all of their slack faces and then sighs, clearly annoyed at having to be more detailed. "I've known you were coming for months. My grandson," she says, "is in the dreamsharing business."
"What?" Arthur demands. He'd done the damned research, he'd double and triple checked--
"Oh, don't be hard on yourself," the mark chides. "He's been presumed dead for almost fifteen years, poor thing. Got himself in quite a spot starting out, faking his death was just easier."
"Is it--" Arthur starts, yanking on his ears in frustration. "Is he anyone we know?"
"Know?" she laughs. "Why, honey, you hired him."
"The kid," Eames breathes. Arthur glances at him, confused. "The kid! The kid we hired to run the PASIV, I knew he looked older than 18--"
"He's very protective, poor dear," she sighs. "Taught me to dreamshare years ago. I've gotten rather good at it, as you may have noticed. He's a chemist, himself."
"Wait," Yusuf says. "You said Alan before. You don't mean Alan Alexander, do you?"
"It was Alan Alexander Milne when he was born," the mark sighs. "After my grandfather. He abandoned the surname when all the trouble started."
"He's a legend," Yusuf breathes. "I didn't think he was even real--every chemist knows his name. He's made some incredible leaps with chemically-based emotional control within dreamshare, if the rumors are true."
"Oh my god," Arthur says, piecing it all together. "Have we--have we spent the week as guinea pigs for a mad fucking scientist?"
"Language," the mark says sternly. "But yes, more or less. We couldn't very well let you run about down here planting ideas in my head, now could we?"
"But--but that's evil," Ariadne says, shock eliminating her stutter. The old woman laughs.
"No more evil than breaking into someone's mind," she says gently. "You'll all be perfectly fine when you wake up."
"We can't wake up!" Eames cries. "We're sedated, if we die down here we'll end up in limbo, we're trapped like this--"
"Oh, dear," she says, "don't be silly. Alan didn't sedate me. All I have to do is die, and the dream will collapse. You'll be home in no time at all."
As she says this, a gun materializes in her hand. "You have entertained me so," she says, beaming at them. "Thank you."
And then, without even a moment of hesitation, she pulls the trigger.
Arthur can't hold on to everyone at once, and everything is coming apart at the seams--the ground has split underneath his feet and the sky is screaming, a thousand different colors. Yusuf is gripping the back of Ariadne's shirt between his teeth in trying keep hold of her and Saito's got Cobb by an arm with his talons, and every part of Arthur is wrapped around every part of Eames, gripping stubbornly, refusing to let go.
It lasts far longer than it should, garish and horrifying. It makes Arthur's eyes burn so he closes them, tightening his fists against Eames' back, until everything is a bright, blinding white--
The first thing Arthur does when he wakes up is reach into his pocket to grasp his totem. His fingers close around it and he picks it up, feeling the reassuring weight of it, the grooves of the dots.
The second thing he does is look for Eames.
They're in the cottage they'd rented for this job, next door to the mark's summer home, and Eames is blinking awake in the chair across from him. He reaches into his pocket and then, immediately, looks for Arthur, the frantic worry fading from his face when their eyes meet.
Arthur smiles. Eames smiles back.
"Shit," Cobb gasps, "oh, thank fucking god," and then they're all ripping the IVs out of their arms and standing up, checking over their limbs to reassure themselves that they've still got them. The mark herself is gone, her grandson too--how they've managed that Arthur doesn't know, doesn't care to ask.
"My dick," Eames cries, grabbing it over his trousers. "Oh, thank Christ, oh god yes--"
And then, in a moment of completely uncontrolled glee, he pitches himself backwards to bounce his adulation and lands on the floor, hard.
The room goes silent.
"Fucking hell," Eames breathes after a second. Wordlessly, Arthur crosses the room and helps him up, and then the full hilarity of the situation hits him. He tries to stifle his laugh but can't, he really can't, and Eames only glares for half a second before he cracks a smile too.
And then they're all laughing, and it's great, it's a release--except that Arthur keeps going, can't figure out how to stop. There are tears streaming down his face and it wasn't even that funny but he's so relieved, and he's choking on it but he can't stop, he can't stop laughing, because he's not going to die in limbo, he's not going to be trapped in a cartoon hellhole forever--
"Oh, darling," he hears Eames say, and then he feels broad palms on his back, warm and solid. Even that--the feeling of hands instead of paws, warm through his shirt instead of through his fur--even that sets him off, and he gasps against Eames' shoulder, shuddering with it.
"Shhh," Eames murmurs. "You'll give yourself a hernia, love, calm down."
"I--" Arthur tries, but he can't get words out over the howling laughter, so he stops talking and concentrates on breathing. It takes a lot longer than he would like, and when he's finally got himself under control everyone has cleared out but Eames, who tilts his face up and stares at it.
"Hmm," he says.
"What?" Arthur demands, feeling himself edge towards hysteria again.
"It's just so nice to want to do this again," Eames murmurs, "now that I know that I can."
And then they're kissing, and Arthur is pushing Eames into the wall, and Eames is pulling Arthur's hair, ripping at his shirt, his pants. Arthur falls to the floor with Eames on top of him and writhes, biting at his neck, his throat, his fucking hands, while Eames seems to make it his personal mission to touch every part of Arthur he can with his tongue.
Eames has Arthur's cock in his mouth within six minutes. They've both come spectacularly all over the floor within ten.
"Hey," Arthur says the next night, curled against Eames in his hotel suite. It's weird that it should feel natural, to be this comfortable in their actual bodies--but then again, maybe not. "You know what? I almost miss your tail."
"My arse misses my tail," Eames groans. "I still can't believe I've tried to bounce three times--you'd think I'd sodding learn."
"I went to yank on my ears at Starbucks this morning," Arthur offers, a conciliatory gesture. "That was embarrassing."
Eames laughs delightedly and reaches out to tug lightly on one of Arthur's earlobes. "I thought that's what that was."
"At least neither of us is carrying around a speech impediment," Arthur yawns, thinking of Ariadne.
Eames shrugs. "It's already fading. She'll be fine by the end of the week."
"Mmm," Arthur agrees. He closes his eyes, and is feeling very close to drifting off when…
"Darling?" Eames asks, prodding him.
"Were you serious about Bonnaroo?"
Arthur levers himself upright, smiling down at Eames. "I bought the tickets this morning, actually," he admits. "I figured we could use the break."
Eames grins at him, a wide, full thing. His eyes are sparkling and he's got a hand resting against Arthur's jawline, and Arthur is suddenly, fiercely happy, in a way he can't begin to quantify. He kisses Eames and settles back down against him, turning the thing over in his mind.
Well, he decides in the end, even if we did end up with post-traumatic Pooh disorder, this is probably worth it.