“No – no. Just leave the stuff on my desk, I’ll deal with it after the weekend.”
Ariadne sighed on the other end of the phone. “You know Mr. Fischer isn’t going to like that.”
Arthur had a great list of things that were bothering him at that moment – the old injury to his knee from his high school track days: the fact that the neighbour’s beagle kept shitting on their front lawn; the worrying lurch in his car’s engine when it started up every morning – Mr. Fischer wasn’t anywhere on his list. At least, not yet; but he could be rather quickly.
“It’s not that urgent. But...but maybe I’ll grab it after the party tomorrow.” Better to be safe than jobless, Arthur figured.
“Oh, god,” Ariadne groaned, “I forgot about the party...I haven’t even bought a decent dress.”
“Go home,” Arthur instructed. “It’s late, get some sleep.”
“Is it an open bar again this year? I’m going to get so drunk.”
Arthur laughed, “Goodnight Ariadne.”
“’night, Arthur. See you tomorrow.”
“Right; see you.” Arthur hung up the phone and flopped back on the bed with a sigh. If there was one thing he didn’t want to do with his weekend, it was attend the Fischer & Browning Christmas party. Mr. Fischer didn’t even really like Christmas – or anything, for that matter – he only agreed to put on the party every year to soften his image with his underlings so that the staff turnover wasn’t brutally high. Mostly, it was Mr. Browning’s influence; particularly when it came to making the party family-friendly, providing games and little gifts for staff members’ children. It couldn’t have been that great a hardship for Fischer’s pocket book – there were only four children involved, besides Charlie – but Fischer always made out like the Christmas party was an unbearable strain on the company coffers.
“Now, there’s a long face.” Eames’ head appeared suddenly, upside down in Arthur’s line of vision, startling him. He hadn’t even heard Eames come out of the bathroom, and he probably would have sat up and knocked their heads together if Eames hadn’t been quick enough to pin his shoulders to the bed. “Penny for your thoughts, Arthur?”
Arthur relaxed, and Eames released his grip so that he could sit up. “It’s nothing. Just the Christmas party tomorrow.”
“Oh yes.” Eames crawled onto the bed, draping himself over Arthur’s shoulders. He was still wet from the shower and Arthur shifted happily back into his warmth. “Always a lovely affair. Remember the year Nash got fired?”
“Don’t remind me.” Arthur still had nightmares about it. To be honest, Nash had deserved it – he’d completely blown what should have been a slam-dunk case; and that hadn’t been the first where he’d made critical, and stupid, mistakes – but the firing itself had been...brutal, to say the least.
“Not to worry.” Eames pressed a kiss to the space underneath Arthur’s ear, “we’ll go and have some of those lovely, expensive hors d'oeuvres –“
Arthur snorted, “don’t kid yourself, they’re dirt-cheap.”
“But delicious,” Eames countered, this time punctuating the kiss with a soft bite. “We’ll have a few drinks and scarper off before anyone gets sloshed and starts dancing on tabletops.”
“I’m holding you to that.”
Eames hummed thoughtfully, letting go of Arthur and flopping back onto the bed. “I know what would cheer you up.”
“What?” Arthur looked back over his shoulder, and Eames gestured to himself, stretched out on the bed, wearing only a damp towel and a smile. “Seriously?”
Eames’ smile never wavered. “Are you saying I’m wrong?”
Arthur laughed, climbing across the bed and straddling Eames’ thighs, curling the fingers of one hand into the tight-wrapped edge of the towel. The muscles of Eames’ stomach jumped under the touch. “Not exactly wrong...”
Eames stretched up for a kiss, and Arthur gave him one; then a another, deeper this time, tasting the soft mint of toothpaste caught on Eames’ tongue. He used his free hand to trap one of Eames’ hands up above his head against the pillow, while Eames palmed Arthur’s ass through his sweats with the other.
Arthur froze; panic spooling tight every muscle in his body. Charlie stood in the doorway, rubbing his face, looking groggy and confused in his Spiderman PJs, dark hair sticking up in all directions. Eames turned his attention towards their son without missing a beat.
“Just a little wrestling, Charlie-boy. What’s the matter?”
Arthur dug his knees into Eames’ sides, mouthing wrestling? as Eames’ attention flickered briefly back to him. Eames didn’t look the least bit apologetic about his completely unsubtle little lie.
“I had a bad dream,” Charlie answered, his eyes bight and painfully sad.
“Poor thing,” Eames cooed. “You know who’s really good at chasing away bad dreams? Papa.”
Arthur gave him a dirty look, but Eames only looked pointedly down at his – now very loose – towel; and okay, Arthur would give him an out this time.
“C’mon Charlie,” Arthur sighed, climbing off the bed and shepherding Charlie back out into the hall. “Back to bed, okay?”
He got Charlie across the hall, tucked into his own bed, nightlight adjusted before he asked, “What did you dream about?”
Charlie huddled down, pulling the blankets up to his chin. “I was on a beach.”
“I thought you liked the beach.” They had gone with Mal, Dom and the kids over the summer at least a half-dozen times. Charlie wasn’t the strongest swimmer, yet, but he always seemed to have a good time.
“ I do.” Charlie turned over and Arthur handed him his slightly tattered bear – a beloved gift that had travelled all the way across the ocean from Eames’ mother when they had first adopted Charlie. Charlie hugged it tight to his chest. “But I was all alone on the beach an’ I couldn’t find you or Daddy anywhere.”
Arthur brushed Charlie’s hair back and pressed a kiss to his temple. “You know Daddy and I would never leave you alone anywhere, right?”
“Yeah, I know.” Arthur couldn’t help but be relieved that Charlie didn’t hesitate with his answer. “G’night, Papa.”
Eames was still in bed when Arthur went back across the hallway, still in his towel – there was only one small problem: He was asleep.
“Please tell me you’re not wearing that.”
“What?” Eames looked down at himself guilelessly – pink and orange paisley shirt, tan dress pants, and worn loafers. Arthur wanted to cry.
“You look like a...hipster college professor.”
Eames’ grin only broadened. “At least I look well-educated, then.” He stepped forward and started fussing with Arthur’s tie, ignoring all of Arthur’s protests that it was just fine, thank you.
“Do I have to wear the tie?” Charlie piped up, holding up the smart blue clip-on that Arthur had bought him like it was a dead fish. “Daddy isn’t wearing a tie.”
Arthur looked down at his son’s dismayed face, then up at Eames’ smug grin. “I’m surrounded by heathens,” he sighed; but at least Charlie’s shirt matched his pants. “Alright, you don’t have to wear the tie.”
The more important thing was getting them all to the party on time, which they did – though just barely. They were the last to arrive, which made Arthur feel like he had a target on his back. Luckily, Mr. Fischer was in the midst of a conversation with Mr. Browning, and didn’t notice their arrival. The minute they got through the door, Charlie ran off to find James, Eames headed for the bar to get himself and Arthur each a much-needed drink, and Arthur took a moment to steel himself and pray that someone would quickly get drunk and provide some kind of distraction.
It became obvious after about an hour that the party was going to be much the same as it had been the year before. Alcohol flowed probably a little too freely; Mr. Fischer and his son, Robert, who had just become a junior partner six month earlier on Browning’s insistence, were never within fifty feet of one another; and Mal got a few drinks in her and proceeded to school absolutely everyone on the intricacies of criminal law.
Just when Arthur thought that they might actually slide by without anyone getting fired, he heard Browning utter a word that Arthur had never wanted to hear again in the whole of his life – “Wrestling.”
It would have been fine if only he had heard it; and nothing too terrible if only Eames had heard it; but Charlie was standing right there with half a sugar cookie stuffed into his mouth, and the first thing he said around the crumbs was, “I saw Daddy and Papa wrestling last night.”
Briefly, Arthur contemplated putting a cocktail toothpick through his eyeball as Browning and – oh sweet Jesus, Mr. Fischer – looked down at Charlie with twin expressions of blank incredulity. And then Ariadne, because she was probably drunk, bent down, looked Charlie right in the eye, and asked, “Who was winning?”
“Papa was,” Charlie answered, blissfully unaware. Fortunately for everyone – particularly Arthur, who could feel himself bordering on an aneurysm – Eames was there to scoop Charlie up before he could be goaded into saying anything more, jiggling him so that he laughed.
“Yes sir, Charlie-boy, your papa is a real winner, and don’t you forget it.”
It was to Arthur’s great relief that they escaped the party shortly thereafter, on the excuse that Charlie needed to go to bed, which he did.
“I am going to die,” Arthur told Eames, later as he was undressing for bed. “Actually, no. Worse; I’m going to be fired.”
“Don’t be like that,” Eames laughed, wrapping his arms around Arthur from behind, rubbing a whiskered cheek against Arthur’s shoulder. “Browning finds him absolutely charming; he told me so himself. And anyway, I’m pretty sure Saito had a bet running on you – there was some money definitely changing hands as we left. Poor Ariadne looked upset.”
“Assholes,” Arthur grumbled – not so much Saito, but Ariadne had bet against him? That was low. See if he ever brought her coffee again.
“Now,” Eames purred in Arthur’s ear, “why don’t you show me some of your wrestling moves?”