When they had first adopted Charlie – four months old, pink and terribly fragile-looking – Eames had not considered himself a man that was easily enamoured with children. He'd anticipated that his strengths in the whole process of raising Charlie would come to bear once Charlie was well past the whole infant stage, and possibly the toddler stage as well. Not that Eames hadn't wanted Charlie, because he had; he had just never expected himself to be a particularly good father.
As such, no one was more surprised than Eames himself when he returned to work – he'd been working for Yusuf at the bar, then; the longest stretch of time that he had actually held down the same job, and only then because Yusuf understood how to put up with him and when to call him on his utter bullocks – and found himself missing Charlie like an amputated limb, a deep, indefinable ache of longing. He had waited about a week for the sensation to ebb, but it hadn't; and after Yusuf commented on Eames' newfound habit of carrying bags of lemons as if they were babies, the decision had more or less been made for him.
The very next morning, he had looked across the breakfast table at Arthur and said – with his cup of tea against his lips, just in case he needed to make a strategic retreat, "I think I'd like to stay home with Charlie."
The only regret Eames had was that no one had informed him how absolutely loony the ladies in the "Mommy and me" classes were; or how dangerously competitive private school mothers could be.
“Michael’s grade point average has already gone up, and he’s only been seeing his tutor for three months.”
“Really? I’m having an awful time finding a tutor that will work around William’s schedule – you know, with the cub scouts on Monday nights, and tennis on Tuesday and Thursday, Piano on Wednesday and Saturday...”
“You do know they don’t even keep grades in Kindergarten, right?”
A half dozen pairs of eyes turned instantaneously in Eames’ direction, like rifles in a firing squad. It was a testament to Eames’ stiff upper lip that he didn’t immediately crumble.
“Well,” this from the leader of the pack – Eames had become an expert identifier – curly, bleached-blonde hair and the best push-up bra the money can buy. She probably made the best brownies for the school bake sale, and fie on anyone who dared to try and recreate the recipe. “It’s all about preparing them, you understand.”
“For first grade.”
This earned him a chorus of head-bobs and an exchange of looks like yes, at last, he understands. Sometimes, Eames felt like he was living in The Twilight Zone; or a very odd series of dreams. Thankfully, the bell rang at last, and children spilled from the school, a wave of uniform jackets and brightly coloured backpacks. Within moments, Eames had spotted the dark, curly top of Charlie’s head barrelling towards him through the crowd.
Eames scooped Charlie up, backpack and all, and swung him around, just to hear him laugh.
“Charlie-boy! Good day?”
“Yeah,” Charlie nodded enthusiastically, automatically taking Eames’ hand when Eames set him back on solid ground. “We did painting in art class today, and played kickball...”
“Not at the same time, I hope.”
Charlie laughed, “Why would we do that?”
“It would make an awful mess. We should probably try it sometime when your papa’s not at home.”
They got a few, slightly contemptuous looks as Eames steered Charlie out of the crowd and down the sidewalk; they pricked at Eames like needles on the back of his neck, but he did his best to ignore them.
“Do I really have to eat the broccoli?” Charlie bellied up to the island counter on one of the stools, leaning across the picture he was drawing to eye the cutting board suspiciously. He’d voiced no objection to the pan of chicken and potatoes Eames had put in the oven, but anything green got his hackles up immediately.
“Watch yourself, sprog,” Eames warned, “this knife is sharp. And what’s the rule?”
“One bite,” Charlie muttered, sounding utterly betrayed as he sat back and picked up his crayon again. “But what if I don’t like it?”
“Well, then it’s only one bite.”
Charlie didn’t look much like he appreciated the gesture. Luckily, the sound of the front door opening, and Arthur’s familiar footfalls were distraction enough that Eames didn’t have to bring up the time Charlie had agreed to try spinach salad at Mal and Dom’s and had ended up loving it. Charlie scrambled off his stool and barrelled out into the hall, shouting “Papa!” and leaving Eames laughing over his cutting board. He was scooping broccoli by the handful into a pot of boiling water when Arthur came into the kitchen, his suit jacket abandoned, tie already loosened, and Charlie in a piggyback.
There was something about Arthur – work-rumpled, tired around the eyes, but still smiling, with Charlie’s cheek pressed against his ear – that did things to Eames’ heart; made it clench and run too fast, made Eames want to stop the world for a while, just so he could hold them that way.
“Touchdown!” Arthur mock-cheered, planting Charlie’s backside on the edge of the counter. Once Charlie had released his grip on Arthur’s shoulders, he sidled over to Eames for a kiss. “Hello, Eames.”
“Welcome home, darling.” Eames gave him two kisses, just for good measure. “How was your day?”
“The usual nightmare,” Arthur sighed, obvious hard lines creasing his lovely forehead. Eames did his best to kiss them away. “Something smells delicious.”
And, of course, Eames could hardly be expected to pass up an opportunity like that. “We’re having broccoli,” he grinned proudly as Charlie wailed in dismay.
“I think he’s asleep.”
Eames paused mid-sentence, closed up How I Became a Pirate and set it on the arm of the sofa. Charlie had most definitely nodded off, his head pillowed on Eames’ arm.
“I’ll take him to bed,” Arthur offered, getting up carefully. Charlie mumbled something when Arthur picked him up, winding his fingers in Arthur’s well-worn band shirt, pressing his chin tight into Arthur’s shoulder, but he didn’t wake. Eames watched Arthur carry Charlie down the hall, and then got up to put the book away, turn out the lamp. It was dark as he walked towards the bedroom, moving carefully across the hardwood floor; he had just stepped over the threshold into his and Arthur’s bedroom when Arthur came up behind him, arms sliding around Eames’ waist.
“Going to bed already?”
The brush of lips on the back of Eames’ neck sent a rush of warmth down his spine. “Well, there’s nothing good on the telly...”
“I have some reading to do – for the case.”
“I don’t mind.”
About twenty minutes later, Eames was dozing with his forehead against Arthur’s hip and his arm over Arthur’s thighs, while Arthur thumbed his way through what looked like a good lifetime of legal precedent. The glow of the bedside lamp was too much to truly sleep by, and the longer Eames lay awake, the more his mind began to gnaw at him.
“Did you know that some of Charlie’s classmates have tutors?” he said, at last.
Arthur’s finger paused where it was skimming along lines of ridiculously tiny print. “For what – their ABC’s?”
“Buggered if I know,” Eames was forced to admit. “And they did a damn good job making me feel like an idiot over that.”
“Are you kidding me? If Charlie needed a tutor in kindergarten, then you’d be allowed to feel like an idiot,” Arthur huffed irritably. “I’d seriously question your qualifications as a parent.”
“But you don’t, do you?”
There was a very long moment of silence; then Arthur closed up his textbook and put it and his papers on the bedside table.
“Eames – do you really need me to tell you that I think you’re a good dad?”
Eames sat up, trying not to look as sheepish as he felt, straightening the blankets and putting a hand through his hair. “Well, it couldn’t hurt. I mean, honestly, I’m not one to doubt my own abilities, but I also have to admit I’m lacking in certain areas.”
Arthur took off his reading glasses and put those aside, too; which was a shame – Eames was rather fond of how young and studious he looked in them. “Such as?”
“Maths,” Eames offered. “Spelling...”
Besides which, he’d done absolutely horribly on his GCSEs – so much so, it hardly bore thinking about. All-in-all it was probably for the best that Charlie couldn’t actually inherit any of his intelligence, or lack thereof.
Arthur sighed, long and hard, as if Eames were the most trying man on the face of the earth – which he very likely was. “That doesn’t matter, Eames. Do you know what matters?”
“Clearly not,” Eames laughed nervously.
“Well, I hate to sound obvious, but you love him.”
Eames couldn’t help but snort in amusement, “That’s terribly cliché, darling.”
“But true,” Arthur countered. “When he’s thirty-five years old, he’s not going to remember how you taught him pi to fifteen decimal places or how to spell Mombasa –“
“I don’t even know where that is,” Eames interrupted.
Arthur rolled his eyes, turning underneath the blankets and straddling Eames’ thighs, heavy and warm. “What he’s going to remember is how you played sixty-million hours of Wii bowling with him without complaining; how you made him try broccoli and he discovered he actually kind of liked it; and how you read How I Became a Pirate and did all the voices.”
Eames grinned, mostly despite himself. “I am good at voices.”
“Yeah,” Arthur agreed, looking slightly smug, now and leaning in close. “You really are.”
The first kiss was gentle, just mouth against mouth; not all that different from the kisses they often exchanged in the morning, as Eames passed Arthur his mug of coffee on his way out the door. Arthur put more of himself into the second one – tilted his head slightly, coaxed Eames’ mouth open. He put one hand on Eames’ shoulder, the other on his cheek, thumb rubbing along the line of his jaw, and smiled when Eames chased his mouth as he drew back for air.
If someone had told Eames, ten years ago, that he would want this – not just Arthur, warm and familiar, licking deep into his mouth, sliding fingers under the waistband of too-worn sleeping pants; but the house, the PTA meetings, the little boy sleeping across the hall – he would have laughed right in their face, would have assumed they were joking. But now, wanting anything else seemed like the real joke. He had really been such an utter twat in his youth that it was almost entirely unforgivable; except that it had led him to this, sliding into Arthur’s, easy and welcome, while he kissed the spot behind Arthur’s ear where he always missed a tiny patch of whiskers when he was shaving. Arthur pushed back into it, using weight and gravity to get Eames in to the very last inch, and made a broken sound, like he couldn’t believe how good it was.
Eames could definitely sympathize.
“God,” he groaned, shoulders shaking, belly tight already, hands shaking until he gripped Arthur’s hips to steady them. “Arthur – fuck...”
“Shh...” Arthur mumbled against his mouth, the sound trembling out of him as he worked his hips up and down. Every time he dropped, when Eames was as far inside him as he could possibly go, his eyes would close, and his mouth – kissed red and slick – would fall open in a little ‘o’ of utter bliss. “That’s good, Eames, so good...just put your hand...”
All Eames had to do was get a warm, sweat-softened palm around Arthur’s cock, let him move into it once, twice, and then he was coming, trembling and tight, so that Eames had no real choice but to follow immediately after.
Once they were cleaned up, settled back in, Eames stretched up over Arthur and turned out the bedside lamp. Arthur wrapped himself around Eames and buried his face in Eames’ neck, as loose-limbed and content as a housecat in the sun. Eames perched his chin on the top of Arthur’s head and fell asleep between one breath and the next.
Six-thirty in the morning, Eames passed Arthur his travel mug and his briefcase, leaned forward and stole a kiss while Arthur’s hands were full, before quickly straightening his tie.
“Have a good day.”
Arthur, still slightly groggy, smiled. “Yeah, you too.”
Eames stood in the doorway, watched the car pull out of the driveway, join the throng of cars heading out towards the freeway; then he wandered back into the sunny kitchen, to finish his cup of tea and sneak a glance at the paper before he woke up Charlie.
According to the forecast, it was going to be a beautiful day.