Eames is and has always been a fan of Halloween – the Americans have gone and bastardized it and made it acceptable for children, but the English, he’s pleased to attest, have kept it in the spirit that Beezlebub and company had intended. The sight of so much fake blood, and gore, and poorly-applied white make-up warms Eames’ heart almost as much as egged houses and toilet-papered trees.
(Arthur, of course, resents the whole business.)
The best thing, however, about Halloween has nothing to do with Halloween itself, but rather the day that follows.
Eames is driving – in the aimless way that he has, trying to cut off as many people as he can without doing any serious damage to his car (or, he supposes, injuring anybody too badly) – when he checks his watch, smiles demonically, and makes a call.
Arthur is curled up under an afghan with a cup of tea and Le Chef d’oeuvre inconnu when the phone rings. He absently reaches to his right, and then to his left, and eventually manages to get his hand on the receiver (located, naturally, on the coffee table directly in front of him) without looking up from his book.
Later, he will wonder (as he does every year) why he wasn’t prepared. The answer to this question – which Arthur, bless him, will never realize – is that he is simply an exceptionally absent-minded person.
“Hello?” he says, still reading.
“JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE ALL THE WAAAAAAAY,” Eames howls, clearly revelling in his utter lack of musical ability, and Arthur snaps his book closed, expression stony.
“I will cut you,” he hisses.
“Oh, darling,” Eames replies cheerfully. “You can’t possibly. You’re in your shop, reading something that is probably phenomenally boring, wearing something that is probably phenomenally hideous, and – well, let’s face it, there’s probably an afghan involved –”
“Balzac is not boring,” Arthur snips. “Wait, now you’re just trying to distract me –”
“I find it very intriguing, Arthur dearest, that you have chosen to defend not my impugning of your abysmal sartorial choices, but instead the honour of a man you have never even met.”
“I was busy with the Romantics,” Arthur replies, pained. “They seemed so fascinating at the time.”
“I’m swinging by in a bit with tinsel and evergreen boughs and candy canes,” he says beatifically. “We can decorate your store as befits the holiday season.”
“Seriously,” Arthur says. “I will murder you with the power of mind.”
“JINGLE BELLS, BATMAN SMELLS, ROBIN LAID AN EGG –” Eames belts out, if Arthur hangs up the phone rather more violently than is strictly necessary, nobody needs to be any the wiser.
Arthur loathes Christmas.
He loathes it. He has pontificated on the blasphemous nature of the crass commercialization of the holiday to Eames so many times that Eames has completely lost count, and could probably replicate the diatribe verbatim if he had to (it doesn’t really ever change). Everything, it seems, about Christmas in the twentieth, and now twenty-first centuries, is offensive to him. The lights, the displays in shop windows, the special desserts, the carols (“Christmas hymns,” he has been known to say stiffly, “are perfectly acceptable, but these – popular songs – hardly qualify – no, Eames, that was not an invitation to start singing –”), the decorations – he loathes all of it. (“Because you’ve got an absolutely giant stick up your arse,” Eames has been known to tell him. “And unfortunately, I don’t actually mean my cock – ow –”)
Eames, unsurprisingly, feels rather differently about the matter, and not only because Arthur feels so vehemently opposed to all things Christmas except church services. (Though even he will admit to being largely motivated, in this as in everything, by Arthur’s exquisite irritability.)
“Just – Christmas,” he has said to Arthur on many occasions. “Eggnog! Gingerbread houses! Well, I’ve never actually managed to make mine look like a house, since I always eat too much of it first, but still – Christmas trees! Specials on the telly! Those seasonal Starbucks coffee cups they start giving out that are red instead of whatever colour they usually are –”
“Eames,” Arthur usually replies wearily, “you don’t even like coffee –”
“But Arthur,” Eames tells him seriously. “They’re red,” and that is, as far as he’s concerned, an infallible argument.
Arthur deeply resents London in December, and the fact that the holiday spirit has utterly engulfed the month of November as well is almost too much for him to bear, which Eames considers a better Christmas present than anything anybody could possibly purchase for him.
When he stumbles into Arthur’s shop a few hours later, burdened down by the enormous weight of more Christmas decorations than either Arthur or the store can probably bear, he has a shit-eating grin plastered on his face even before the tingling of the bell and his “HONEY, I’M HOME” have drawn Arthur out of his back room.
The look on his face when he pokes his head tentatively around the doorframe and sees Eames is so deeply, deeply horrified that Eames can’t help but let out a happy little sigh at the sight of it.
“Hello, darling,” he says cheerfully once he has deposited (read: dropped in a heap) his weaponry on the floor, and spreads his arms wide. “Happy Christmas!”
Arthur looks constipated. “Eames,” he says. “It is the first of November.”
“Oh, I know,” Eames tells him gleefully.
“Nobody is even selling Christmas trees yet,” Arthur says, eyeing the long pine boughs currently covering the floor of his shop suspiciously.
Eames waves a dismissive hand in his direction. “Oh, Arthur,” he says, sighing deeply. “How you doubt the extent of my woodsmanship!”
Arthur blinks. “I’m fairly certain that’s not a word.”
“Psh,” Eames huffs. “I went to the forest and cut some bloody trees down, Arthur, it doesn’t exactly take a brain surgeon. Though I could, of course, perform brain surgery if I so chose, and brilliantly, I might add,” he does indeed add when Arthur’s eyebrows shoot nearly all the way up to his hairline. “Oh, come on, even you can’t complain about the scent of freshly cut pine.”
“I can, and I do,” Arthur mutters.
“Of course you can,” Eames tells him soothingly. “That’s not going to stop me from putting them up, but natter away all you’d like while I do it. There’s a love.”
Arthur’s eyes narrow.
“I just won’t be able to hear you,” Eames tells him brightly as he fishes out the boom box from below the decorations and fumbles around with a tape for a moment before pushing it closed and pressing play. Anybody but Arthur would mock him endlessly for his continued attachment to cassette tapes, since it’s now the year two-thousand-and-something and not, in fact, the eighties, but Eames is fairly certain that Arthur has never laid his eyes on a CD, or – heaven forbid – an iPod.
There’s something distinctly unsettling about hearing Freddie Mercury performing “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” with such blatant vocal sexualisation, but the look on Arthur’s face more than makes up for it, Eames thinks.
“You know this means war,” he tells him grimly, and Eames just smiles more broadly.
“Move aside, would you?” he asks. “I’ve got to find somewhere to hang this tinsel.”
“I will destroy you,” Arthur replies without moving. “I will be ruthless.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything less, darling,” Eames tells him, and manages to get the tinsel pinned to the wall above his head when he leans in to kiss him right on the dimple. He’s not sure which is better, really: the bright pink blush that spreads across Arthur’s cheeks when he pulls away or the murderous expression that follows when he sees what Eames has done with the tinsel (rather sloppily, it must be said).
Eames decides that it’s probably a draw.
Arthur starts small. Eames is perfectly aware that he’s only lulling him into a false sense of security. When he shows up at his shop the next morning, all of the decorations he spent the previous day hanging up all over the place (haphazardly, so as to aggravate Arthur’s sense of order – and quite successfully, too) have vanished. Eames just smiles and whistles “Feliz Navidad” to himself (well, as loudly as possible) while setting up the tackiest little Christmas village he could find all over the front counter. It’s electronic, and little figurines of skaters rotate around the plastic tree, lights blinking cheerfully. There is rather a lot of cotton snow involved, and the register winds up the target of an especially bad blizzard.
Arthur ignores him resolutely, so Eames just whistles more loudly.
The next morning, the little village has been deposited rather violently on the front stoop of Eames’ apartment building. The pieces have been individually destroyed, and most of the little figurines beheaded.
“So it begins,” Eames intones, and then snickers to himself before cheerfully hopping over the refuse.
By the first week of December, even Eames would, hypothetically, be willing to admit that things have begun to get rather out of control.
(Yesterday morning, for instance, Arthur woke up to a set of enormous, inflatable lawn ornaments filling his store and back room so thoroughly that he had to stab them with a pair of old, worn scissors in order to get to the door.
“I am going to kill him,” he told the ornament of Santa as he irritably wrestled with it and attempted to get his dull scissors to puncture the slippery polyester surface of its stomach. “I am going to suffocate him in the night.”)
Things become Serious, however, when Eames gives his plants a good talking-to and their appearance remains exactly the same.
“What have you done,” he hisses at Arthur, cell phone pressed against his ear as he stares down at his not-especially-lustrous plants, horrified.
“I taught them about great tyrants through history,” Arthur tells him beatifically. “And all of the successful revolutions that followed.”
“You are a cold bastard, for an angel,” Eames says, impressed in spite of himself.
“So you keep telling me, Mr. Eames,” Arthur replies, clearly far too pleased with himself, and hangs up.
To retaliate, Eames shows up at his door an hour later wearing a Santa hat and bearing a plate the most delicious, fresh-baked Christmas cookies he could find on short notice. He puts them down on the coffee table and settles back into his armchair in Arthur’s back room and watches as Arthur’s nose twitches at the cinnamon smell and as his eyes flick repeatedly up from his book and over to the plate.
Eames may or not make an exceptionally pornographic show of eating several in a row (he’s duty-bound to use the lips Satan gave him for nefarious purposes once in a while, he figures), and if the plate gets knocked to the floor when Arthur tackles him, well, he can always go back and get more.
In addition to being absent-minded, Arthur is – despite himself – also simply far too trusting, especially where Eames is involved. Which is how he winds up in Eames’ Bentley, driving not to a walk in the countryside followed by a pub dinner but instead through Oxford Street at peak shopping time.
He frantically pulls at the door handle, and then at the lock when the handle won’t open the door. Eames whistles some abomination of a Christmas jingle while he struggles, and finally says, “It’s child-proofed, darling. You can only get out when I let you.”
“Oh,” Arthur says. “Oh, that is harsh.”
“I know,” Eames replies, gleeful.
Arthur squeezes his eyes shut and pinches the bridge of his nose. The glaring, garish light of the absurd decorations hung above the street – Christmas lights in the form of large, lurid presents and candy canes and snowflakes and reindeer – cut merrily through his eyelids.
“If you attempt to make me get out of this car,” he grinds out, “I will not be responsible for my actions.”
“Of course, Arthur dearest,” Eames says mildly, which is when Arthur knows he’s in trouble.
Eames stumbled upon the shop the week before and laughed so manically when he saw the racks full of clothes that the other customers (there were only two) stared at him before edging their way past him and out the door. He was fairly certain that the proprietor was deaf (she was certainly elderly), because she didn’t look up from her magazine. Deaf, or blissfully unconcerned with the world’s troubles.
He pulls the door open for Arthur with a flourish, and Arthur glares up at him as he gets out of the car. Eames grabs his arm to keep him from running (it’s never happened yet, but you never know) and drags him through the door before he can protest. He goes pale once they’ve crossed the threshold, and Eames feels something that might be victory pumping through his veins.
Lucinda’s Second-Hand Thrift Boutique apparently specializes in selling the most heinously ugly, lumpy Christmas sweaters known to man, which Eames thinks explains the fact that there aren’t any other customers in the shop at the moment, and also the fact that Arthur seems to be physically restraining himself from flicking through each number on the rack directly in front of them.
If there’s one thing Eames can count on in this world – even, yes, above the fact that every cassette tape in his car will always, always end up being performed by Freddie Mercury – it’s that Arthur’s sartorial choices are deeply awful on every conceivable level. He probably even likes the smell of the place, the somewhat worrying mustiness, spiked with a sharp hint of mothball.
Eames reaches out and pulls the one closest to him out from the rest. There’s a bright green Christmas tree on the front that culminates in a long tassel that spreads out from the sweater’s hem. It is viciously ugly. Eames thinks his eyes might actually start watering if he keeps looking at it.
“How charming,” he manages, and sneaks a glance over at Arthur, who seems impressed by the tassel. Eames wonders, not for the first time, how Arthur is a being that exists.
“Quaint,” he says when he tugs out the next, which features a host of ice-skating brown bears dressed in winter gear appliquéd to the front.
“Now this is a real masterpiece,” he chokes out when he pulls out the next, which features a stuffed reindeer protruding from the front, and also honest-to-Satan ornaments dangling next to it. Arthur raises his eyebrows.
“Yeah,” Eames agrees, “that was a poor attempt.”
“I know what you’re trying to do, here,” Arthur says shrewdly. “Don’t think I don’t.”
“But darling,” Eames coos, draping himself all over Arthur in the way that Arthur pretends to hate but in fact loves. “They’re so very you.”
The fact that he gets Arthur out of the store wearing a sweater with large, strangely-coloured presents on the torso, and holly stitched around the cuffs, is something of which Eames will always be proud.
It almost makes up for the fact that, when he goes out to his Bentley the next morning, he can’t drive it anywhere because Arthur has let all of the air out of his tires. Almost, but not quite.
To get him back, Eames sprawls all over his armchair and fellates a candy cane. He thinks the ensuing sex is a win-win for everybody involved, but the fact that he wakes up to the unpleasant smell of his Christmas tree on fire the next day indicates that Arthur disagrees.
On Christmas Eve, Eames, as he always does, resorts to logic. It is a strategy that has never yet yielded results, but frankly he’s exhausted.
“I don’t see what all of the bother is about,” he huffs at Arthur as he watches him crumble stale bits of bread and toss them to the ducks waiting below the bridge. “It’s just presents. Everybody likes presents.”
“It’s crass and materialistic,” Arthur retorts primly. He’s wearing a pair of startlingly heinous earmuffs – and, Eames reflects, classifying anything Arthur wears as startlingly heinous is a significant statement indeed. Eames has been trying all afternoon to figure out what synthetic material they’re made of, because their unsettling shine is clearly not of the natural world. They look endlessly flammable, and he hopes sincerely that Arthur doesn’t ever accidentally ignite them while making tea. It is hardly outside of the realm of possibility.
“Oh, piffle,” Eames says, and Arthur raises his eyebrows. “Yes, I did just say piffle. It’s just an excuse to give people things you think they might like. Honestly, Arthur, does me giving you loads of daffy French books and getting smashed on spiked eggnog really undermine the sanctity of the holiday?”
“Yes,” Arthur says churlishly, but Eames thinks the hint of pink on his cheeks isn’t only from the cold.
When Arthur wakes up in the morning and pries himself out of his armchair he’s frankly quite surprised to find his shop utterly unmarred by decorations of any sort. There are no excruciating songs playing, no light-up reindeer in the corners. There is only Eames standing behind the counter, reading his old copy of The Hobbit and sipping from what must be a glass of eggnog.
All things considered, Arthur thinks, rubbing blearily at his eyes, things could have been much worse.
“G’morning,” he grunts, because being an angel does not by necessity make one a morning person. Eames looks up and him and his lips twitch.
“You are a vision,” he says drily, and Arthur attempts to flatten his hair before looking down at what he’s wearing. He is profoundly ashamed to see brightly coloured packages gazing back up at him.
“It’s comfortable,” he grouses, and stumbles back to the sink to make his tea.
They pass a largely uneventful morning reading (Eames still racing through The Hobbit for the nth time, Arthur immersed in La nausée). Eames doesn’t even whistle. At around noon, Arthur begins to grow suspicious.
“You’re up to something,” he says finally, snapping his book closed and narrowing his eyes.
“I’m startled it took you so long to notice,” Eames deadpans.
“What is it?” Arthur asks. “Don’t bother trying to lie. I always know.”
(This is objectively incorrect, but Arthur doesn’t have to know this.)
Eames carefully marks his place and closes his book.
“Arthur darling,” he says. “Telling you would ruin the surprise.”
Arthur growls and rolls his eyes, and stops short.
“You have violated my ceiling,” he splutters.
“I wouldn’t really go so far,” Eames says cheerfully, tilting his head back to take in the view. “Improved, maybe.”
Arthur gazes up for another moment. “Please,” he says wearily. “Tell me that isn’t mistletoe.”
“Oh, it most certainly is,” Eames replies gleefully. “Also, there’s a new shelf-full of Maupassant in the front room, but you can read later, after I’ve had my way with you.”
Arthur makes the face he often makes when he’s conflicted – the one that verges on constipation, rather like a more mild version of Dom’s ever-intensifying squint – until Eames raises his eyebrows and asks him whether or not he’s going to be ill, at which point he lets out a deeply put-upon sigh and reaches beneath his armchair and shoves Eames’ Christmas present across the coffee table to him, scowling blackly.
Eames face breaks into an incredibly stupid smile as he looks down at it and Arthur hates himself.
“Wrapped in newspaper and everything,” Eames says gleefully. “Oh, darling, you shouldn’t have.”
Arthur admits – to himself, if not to Eames – that the look on Eames’ face when he tears the paper away and sees the cover of the Best of Queen record makes up entirely for the corresponding loss of his own dignity.
“Oh, I am going to just molest you,” Eames crows, and proceeds to do just that.
When the Metatron appears in Arthur’s shop that night, the spectacle with which he is faced is extraordinary indeed.
He considers the angel and demon sprawled on the floor, utterly unconscious, and then the impressive spread of their clothes, which seems to span the entire room. There are three empty eggnog cartons scattered across the floor and a large, similarly empty, bottle of bourbon lying on its side on the coffee table. Arthur appears to be wearing a Santa hat.
The Metatron raises his eyebrows and leaves the Christmas card from the Heavenly Host propped against the cash register.
Sometimes, it’s best not to ask questions.