Work Header

Carol of the Bells

Work Text:

Arthur is reaching for the good silverware in the uppermost cabinet of his kitchen, balancing on a rather rickety stepladder, when a very loud sound bursts from the direction of his pants pocket and startles him so much he slips and nearly brains himself on his kitchen counter.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me

Twelve drummers drumming

Eleven pipers piping

Ten lords a-leaping

Nine ladies dancing

Eight maids a-milking

Seven swans a-swimming

Six geese a-laying

Five golden rings

Four calling birds

Three french hens

Two turtle doves, and

A partridge in a pear tree

Arthur stares at his phone uncomprehendingly, waiting for some sort of understanding to dawn on him that never does. It isn’t until the tune ends, goes silent for some seconds, and starts back up again that he realizes, oh, right, someone is calling him, and upon reflection there is only ever one person with the means and motive—

“Eames,” he accuses, “did you change my ringtone? To a Christmas carol?”

“Why, yes I did!” Eames, frustratingly, sounds delighted. “I thought I might encourage you to be a little more festive! You know, spreading good cheer and all that. Do you like it?”

“Well, it almost gave me a concussion, but other than that, I suppose it’s alright.” Arthur, being reminded of the precarity of his current position, takes care to descend the stepladder and reunite himself with solid ground before continuing the conversation. “What’s going on?”

“A concussion? Do be more careful, darling,” Eames says, as if he’s entirely innocent of all possible wrongdoing, the cheeky bastard. He’s lucky Arthur likes him. “I called to tell you that Ariadne and I’ll be coming over tomorrow to decorate. She says she’s bringing the tinsel and lights, and to threaten you with bodily harm if the tree isn’t up yet.”

The tree was indeed up and sitting in the corner of the living room, merrily shedding its nettles all over Arthur’s nice carpet. This thing is the most high-maintenance being Arthur has ever had to care for in his life, and that includes his ex-boyfriends. The things he does for Cobb’s children.

Arthur truly is the best uncle.

“We’ll be over around noon. I’m bringing the ornaments!”

Arthur prayed, futilely, that Eames’s taste in Christmas tree ornaments was less visually offensive than his taste in clothes. And, oh god, his ugly Christmas sweaters.

“I’ll have the living room cleared for decoration by then.”

“Wonderful. See you tomorrow, Arthur!”

“See you then.” Arthur was about to hang up when his eye caught the date on his phone. He raised the device back to his ear.

“Eames, you do know that the Twelve Days of Christmas start on Christmas, right?”

There is a pause on the other end of the line.

“You mustn’t get caught up in the details, darling, it ruins all the fun!”

Arthur can’t hold back his amusement.

“I’ll see you at noon, then, Mr. Eames.”

“It’s a date,” promises the voice on the other end, and Arthur can just hear the suggestive wink that accompanies it.

Goodnight, Eames.”

“Sweet dreams, Arthur!”

Arthur rolls his eyes but hangs up with a fond smile.

As promised, Eames and Ariadne arrive around noon, each hauling so many boxes of Christmas decorations into his home that Arthur is sure there’s no way they can use it all.

By the time they’re halfway through Ariadne’s stash, Arthur’s living room is absolutely overflowing with festive cheer. Ariadne had appropriated Arthur’s help in decorating the walls, lights were strung around the windows, fake candles dotted every flat surface but the floor and ceiling, and Arthur can’t tell whether that nice pine smell is coming from his tree or a surprisingly pleasant air freshener.

Ariadne had brought with her a speaker for her phone and her holiday playlist, which has been an enjoyable accompaniment to their work. As Arthur is grabbing some more tinsel, the song changes from Jingle Bell Rock to Deck the Halls.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly

Fa la la la la, la la la la

'Tis the season to be jolly

Fa la la la la, la la la la

Don we now our gay apparel

Fa la la la la, la la la la

Troll the ancient Yuletide carol

Fa la la la la, la la la la

“Finally!” Ariadne exclaims. “We’ve been decking the halls for three hours now, it’s about time.”

She gets back to work determining the exact position that the dancing Santa needs to occupy on Arthur’s end table.

Arthur gathers up the rest of the tinsel and heads over to Eames, who’s actually made some great progress with the tree.

The ornaments are—well, they are tacky, a lot of them, and Arthur does wince while he takes in the many Santas in Hawaiian shirts lounging in various poses and the paisley-printed reindeer— is that one supposed to be Rudolf?— but some of them are very normal and, indeed, beautiful. Eames has little snowflakes and stockings and presents and candy canes, all placed artfully, rather than haphazardly, around the tree, and the lights are woven not just around but also within the branches, making it look almost like it’s glowing from the inside.

Arthur hands Eames the tinsel, as he is clearly the expert. “Great work, Eames. It’s beautiful.”

“Why thank you, darling.” Eames takes the garland with a wink and sets to work winding it tastefully around the tree.

Arthur never thought he’d see the day he could relate “Eames” and “tasteful” in the same sentence. It’s a true Christmas miracle.

As Eames finishes tucking in the tinsel, he notes “Now all that’s missing is the angel on top.”

And Arthur actually remembers seeing a Christmas tree angel somewhere in his attic, years ago, that should fit on top of this eight-foot colorfully bedazzled behemoth.

“Actually, I’ve got something that might work, let me just take a look and see if I can—”

“No need for all that,” Eames interrupts him with a smirk and a wave of his hand. Arthur narrows his eyes in suspicion. “We’ll just find a ladder and put you on top of the tree.”

Arthur freezes in sheer bewilderment, and then groans. “That was truly terrible, Eames. Quite possibly the worst pick-up line I have ever heard. Where did you get that?” Arthur gripes as he starts off for the attic once more.

“It’s all original, darling!” Eames calls with a laugh as Arthur turns a corner and out of sight.

Arthur collapses on his couch with a sigh, exhausted from a hard day’s work. It had taken them two more hours to finish decorating the main floor of Arthur’s house, and even longer to set up all the lights and decorations outside. Arthur’s muscles were going to be practically immovable tomorrow. He is not looking forward to the morning.

After Ariadne had left about half an hour ago, proclaiming her need for food and then sleep, Eames had stayed behind to help Arthur move all of his furniture back to its rightful place and clean up loose bits of tinsel and other bits of decorations that had fallen the floor. Once the last of the cleaning was done, Arthur had thanked Eames before ending up where he was now— stationary, on the couch, with no plans to move for at least another hour, maybe not until tomorrow morning, listening to the radio play soft, soothing melodies. When he took a second to listen, Arthur realized he recognized the tune.

Silent night, holy night

All is calm, all is bright

Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child

Holy infant so tender and mild

Sleep in heavenly peace

Sleep in heavenly peace

He doesn’t realize he’s humming to himself until Eames plops down next to him on the couch, startling him into wakefulness, and offers, “ Silent Night , hmm?” along with a mug of hot chocolate. Arthur nods and accepts the mug gratefully, the heat warming his cold-numbed fingers. He hadn’t even noticed Eames making some. He takes a sip, tentatively. It is delicious. Arthur voices his appreciation with a polite sound of approval.

“You are a man of many talents, Mr. Eames.”

“I knew one day you’d come around to my brilliance,” Eames says, affecting arrogance, but Arthur can see the way Eames lights up with a smile out of the corner of his eye.

They sit in silence but for the radio still playing hymns and Christmas songs, drinking their hot chocolate companionably. When Arthur has drained his mug, the lull of the music and the warmth of Eames’s body next to his seem to sink him down into sleep, and the last thing he remembers is nodding off onto Eames’s shoulder, feeling more comfortable than he has in a long time.

When Arthur wakes up, Eames is gone, but there’s a blanket over him keeping him warm and a note on the table signed “Sleep well, darling ❤️.”

 Arthur has been thinking about it. Arthur has been thinking about it really hard for the past hour, and he still can’t fathom why it’s somehow absolutely necessary that Eames goes Christmas shopping with him. Doesn’t the man have his own work schedule?

“Come on, darling, we only have a few hours before the shops close!”

“What makes you think we need more than a few hours to pick out presents for Cobb’s kids?” Arthur asked, completely lost. Eames is currently pulling him by the arm from shop to shop, seemingly intent on visiting every single one in the entire mall.

Eames stops abruptly and stares at him, shaken. “It’s Christmas, Arthur! We are Christmas shopping! Don’t tell me you only ever visit two or three stores?”

Arthur, despite himself, feels a little abashed. “Well…”

Eames groans in sympathetic despair. “Oh, Arthur. That is tragic. But don’t you worry: this year, you are going to see everything! Prepare to be infused with the holiday spirit!”

Arthur paled, uncertain, and was whisked away by a much more enthusiastic Eames as a mostly unwilling participant in a holiday shopping spree. Overhead, the mall speakers played the holiday classics, and Arthur’s abduction was accompanied by the jolly notes of Jingle Bells.

Dashing through the snow

In a one-horse open sleigh

O’er the fields we go

Laughing all the way.

Bells on bob-tail ring

Making spirits bright

What fun it is to ride and sing

A sleighing song tonight.

Needless to say, when Eames, and by extension Arthur, were finished for the night, Philippa and James were on track to receiving the most presents any child has ever gotten in one sitting. Arthur is definitely #BestUncle2k18.

They head back to Arthur’s house to wrap the presents. It’s a lot of work, but Arthur is quite proud of how his half turned out, all immaculately wrapped gifts with color-coordinated ribbons and elegant handwriting on the little tags indicating who the gift is for and from. Smiling with satisfaction at the finished product, Arthur looks over to Eames’s side.

Surprisingly, Eames seems to be just as good at wrapping presents. His gifts are neat and pretty; Arthur doesn’t know if he decided to have mercy on the children’s eyeballs or if he simply couldn’t find gaudy enough wrapping paper in time, but whatever he used, while colorful, was for the most part subdued and suitably Christmas themed. Arthur is just about to voice his approval over Eames’s work when he catches sight of the man himself.

The presents may look neat and tidy, but Eames himself is absolutely covered in ribbons, wrapping paper, and loose bits of tape. Ribbons of all colors are interwoven through his fingers, wrapping and tissue paper are stuck with tape to his elbows, knees, and thighs, and another strip of adhesive is stuck to his eyelid, keeping his left eye from closing all the way, though he hardly seems to notice. He looks absolutely ridiculous.

Arthur bursts out laughing.

“What? What’s wrong?” Eames asks, genuinely perplexed, before he seems to notice the state of his person and catches on, chuckling alongside Arthur’s vocal amusement.

“Does this happen every time you do this?” Arthur asks once he can draw in enough breath between his laughter.

“Of course not, darling,” Eames replies, confidence exuding through his tone, “It’s my special gift to you! You may unwrap me at your leisure.”

Arthur can only laugh harder. Eames beams at him.

As Arthur’s mirth finally starts to die down again, the doorbell rings. Not expecting anybody until tomorrow, Arthur, wondering who it could be, gets up to answer the door, Eames following close behind with curiosity. Arthur opens the door, and before he can so much as ask who it is he hears:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come

Let earth receive her King

Let every heart prepare Him room

And Heaven and nature sing

And Heaven and nature sing

And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing

Arthur takes a second to register that there’s a small group of carolers singing on his doorstep. Eames, standing behind him, is visibly delighted by these unexpected guests. Arthur’s never had carolers in his neighborhood—are they new? Do they usually go caroling before Christmas Day? Are they just practicing?—but Eames doesn’t seem to be surprised, and is instead merrily singing along to Joy to the World.

The carolers are pretty good, especially accompanied by Eames’s deep voice. Arthur wonders if he’s always been such a good singer. Soon enough—too soon, quite possibly— the song comes to an end. Arthur wishes the singers a merry Christmas and watches them depart from his doorstep, of to give the gift of caroling to his neighbor.

He turns around to head back inside, only to see Eames there, still covered head to toe in gift wrapping detritus. Arthur realizes that the carolers must have seen him— there’s no way you can miss it. And nobody batted an eyelash. Those men and women are true professionals.

Thinking of how it must have looked to them, Arthur perfectly put together and Eames, some kind of crazed-looking tape-and-tissue-paper-covered Krampus looming behind him, cheerily singing along to Joy to the World, Arthur couldn’t stop himself from descending deep into another bout of laughter.

Eames has to physically carry Arthur away from the threshold. Somehow, he doesn’t look like he minds.

Finally, it is Christmas Day. Mal, Dom, and the kids are already there; they had arrived with the kids yesterday and spent a lovely Christmas Eve with Arthur. Ariadne arrives around noon, bringing with her a bottle of wine, an ample supply of hugs, and a truckload of presents for James and Philippa. Arthur has to acknowledge that if he is Best Uncle, Ariadne is definitely Best Aunt, and she certainly isn’t shirking her title.

Yusuf gets there next with the eggnog. After last year, everyone knew not to start on it until after dinner. Arthur wisely stashes it in a corner of the fridge until alternative sleeping arrangements can be made for all who wish to partake.

Yusuf’s presents, of which there are almost as much as Ariadne’s, are placed under the tree with the others. It’s getting quite crowded under there. Arthur’s getting worried that his tree will suffocate under the weight of its bounty.

Eames arrives shortly after Yusuf, in the absolute ugliest—Christmas?—sweater that Arthur has ever seen. It is somehow simultaneously neon and pastel, printed with paisley, Hawaiian flowers, and plaid, and decorated with fuzzy ornaments and little bells that jingle every time Eames moves. Arthur can’t stand to look at it for more than two seconds at a time, but James and Philippa seem to adore it. Arthur, much as he may love them, will never understand the minds of his godchildren.

Saito arrives last, fashionably—on time, actually. The party starts at two, and he’s here at one fifty-five. How did he do that? Did he orchestrate everyone arriving early, even Eames, so he could be fashionably late without actually being late? Arthur stares at Saito in bewilderment as he moves past Arthur into his home, but Arthur soon gives up on ever actually solving that mystery.

The hours pass merrily and comfortably. The adults relax in the living room while James and Philippa are finally given permission to open their many presents. James actually starts crying from sheer happiness halfway through his haul. Philippa is visibly calculating the most efficient way to use her freely gained resources to achieve world domination, and Saito is observing her with blatant approval.

No one except for the man himself notices that Yusuf has taped a picture of Saito’s face onto the head of the angel decorating the top of the tree, and it stays there the whole night. After dinner it was decided that Yusuf would be sleeping on Arthur’s couch, and he was then allowed to make a dent in his eggnog. Currently, he and Mal seem to be competing at who can drink the most yet still appear more sober. Mal is definitely winning.

Eames spends the night seated next to Arthur on the couch, a comfortable weight at his side. Arthur has to admit, he’s very pleased with Eames’s presence there, hideous sweater and all. Maybe someday Arthur will actually get up the nerve to ask Eames out.

Maybe after he’s had some eggnog.

Just as he’s finished that thought, Eames is holding something flat and card-shaped out to him. Arthur look questioningly from the probably-a-card, to Eames’s face, to back again.

“It is for you, darling,” Eames says, with clear fondness in his eyes. Arthur has always melted a little when Eames looks at him like that. “Open it,” Eames encourages.

Arthur opens the envelope, revealing the very festive-looking card inside. Indeed, he opens the card, and it’s one of those singing ones, because it starts cheerily belting out:

We wish you a merry Christmas,

We wish you a merry Christmas,

We wish you a merry Christmas

And a happy New Year.

Good tidings we bring

To you and your kin;

We wish you a merry Christmas

And a happy New Year!

Given that it’s a small chip in a cheap card, it stops after just that much of We Wish You a Merry Christmas, but Arthur’s not paying attention to that. No, he’s spotted something much more important. At the bottom of the card, written in Eames’s loopy handwriting below the standard “Have a Merry Christmas!” is, “Would you like to go to dinner with me sometime, darling?”

Arthur meets Eames’s eyes, his gaze filled with nervousness and hope as he observes Arthur’s reaction. Arthur doesn’t even need to think about it.

“Yes,” Arthur says, as he grabs Eames by the most hideous sweater Arthur’s ever seen and pulls him in for a kiss.