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Ariadne was sitting on his desk and looking at him cockeyed. "Eames, please, please tell me that you didn't kill one of your enemies and bring their brain in a bowl as a gift for Arthur."

"What, you think Arthur wouldn't appreciate a gift like that?" Eames huffed in mock offense.

"No, I'm actually afraid he'd appreciate it a little too much." Ariadne poked at the plastic wrap on top of the bowl. The firm but gooey substance inside gave just a bit under her finger. "No, but seriously, what is this?"

"Plum pudding, and stop that. It's for Arthur."

Ariadne rolled her eyes. "You two need to get a kitchen."

Eames tried not to let Ariadne see him wince. The kitchen was actually one of the last places he and Arthur had fucked, before Arthur just stopped returning calls from his private line. And not long after that, he stopped giving Arthur calls to return. He remembered it well. Arthur had had the lines from a potholder imprinted in his arse for quite a while afterward, and Eames had kissed the lines and called Arthur his lovely little casserole.

"I promise I'll make you mince pies for New Year's.” Eames said to Ariadne. “I just wanted to give Arthur something to take home. Remember how he said he wasn't doing anything for Christmas? Poor thing's just going to be sitting in front of the TV watching the Home Shopping Network hosts read children’s stories."

Ariadne snorted. "You're making him sound like Tiny Tim. I'm sure he has a cassette player or a VCR, at least. Maybe a deck of cards he can play Solitaire with."

"Do not get smart with me, young lady." Eames waggled a finger.

"I would never do that, Eames." Ariadne moved a little painted figurine down a walkway on the model she was building.

"I just feel like I should give him something more than...pudding," It was Eames's turn to poke at the top of the pudding mound.

"Hypocrite," Ariadne muttered. "I saw that."

"I could give him two plum puddings."

"Extravagant," she said. "He could wear them on his chest and enter a bikini contest."

"They are food, Ariadne. Food. Perfectly edible." Eames paced around the table, shaking a little residual snow off his boot.

"You know, playing with these little guys always reminds me of Candyland," Ariadne mused. "I miss that game sometimes. Gloppy and Queen Frostine and...I don't even remember."

"Candyland?"

"Yeah, it's a game. There are no guns and no opportunities to make dubious moral choices in it, so I guess you wouldn't know it."

"You know, Ariadne, you've broken my heart so many times that by now it's more break than heart."

"But Candyland....Candyland is a magical place...."

"A land made of candy?"

"Pretty much. A wintry dreamworld where the trees are gumdrops and the bushes are peanut brittle and you can paddle a taffy canoe with a lollipop. Oh, Candyland." Ariadne looked ruefully at the little metal man who was ascending a spiral staircase to a turret.

"Sounds a bit repulsive." Eames pulled up Google and typed in CANDYLAND anyway.

"You were probably one of those kids who were too cool for fun, weren't you."

"Mhmmmm." Eames sounded a little distracted. "Duke of Swirl? This is actually kind of clever."

"Yeah, but. Why are you so interested in Candyland? Eames?" Ariadne asked suspiciously, peering over his shoulder.

Eames slammed the laptop shut like a kid who'd been caught looking at porn.

"Because I think I may have an idea."

*

All the hope Eames had of winning Arthur back with a Christmas wonderland went all wobbly the next time Arthur strode into the office. He was fuming; if he were a cartoon there would be three little wavy lines coming from the top of his head, or smoke bursting out of his ears.

“I can’t wait for this stupid season to be over,” he said, and threw an armful of files onto the table with a hard crack. “I’m tired of Christmas songs that rockstars recorded in five minutes while lying in their beds, I’m tired of red and green, I’m tired of the fucking minty smelling air. What the fuck are you looking at?” he snapped at Eames. “I don’t want your pity.”

Eames let out a whistle and looked back at his paperwork.

“The air does not really smell minty,” Ariadne said. “And look, someone came here to see you!” Ariadne scooped up her cat Millicent from where she was sleeping in a donut bed under Ariadne’s desk. Millicent was wearing a Santa hat and white boots, and Eames had no idea what kind of hypnosis Ariadne used to get a cat to do anything, but he wondered if it would be worth trying on Arthur.

Arthur’s face softened. “Aww, Millicent.” He walked over and scratched Millicent behind the ears. “Did some mean person put a stupid hat on you?”

“No, but some mean person is scratching me behind the ears,” Eames said in a high-pitched ventriloquist dummy voice.

Arthur glanced coolly at him, then went back to playing with the cat.

Eames wondered if maybe he should just give up. It was possible--no, probable--that Arthur just didn’t give a fuck anymore. That it had only been about sex. And then what kind of fool would he look like?

The worst kind of fool. A fool with a ridiculous amount of Christmas decorations.

*

"You really think he's going to go for this." Ariadne scooped up a handful of shredded coconut from the ground and touched her tongue to it gingerly. "You know Arthur. He's...Arthur."

"Yes, I am vaguely aware of the phenomenon called Arthur." Eames stood still and concentrated for a moment, and green filaments began to be pulled seemingly from a rip in the air; they wove together quickly into the base of a Christmas tree, then the middle, and then tapered into a pointed top, which a twinkling gold star came to rest upon.

"Eames. You're doing that with your hands again."

"That what? Oh." Eames lowered his hands to his sides sheepishly. He had never quite gotten over feeling like a wizard.

"Ariadne, could you go and taste that tree for me?"

Ariadne broke off a piece of the candy glass and abruptly spit it out onto the coconut-snow. "Ugh. It tastes like that ribbon candy that you get as a gift and everyone's too polite to say that it tastes like an air freshener."

Eames kicked the snow in frustration. "I'm not a chef. I told you we should have hired a chef."

"You know it's going to taste how Arthur expects it to taste. Don't worry about it."

"What if Arthur thinks it tastes like an air freshener?"

"Then Arthur can suck my dick. I'm tired and I want to go home and watch the Mr. Hankey Christmas Special."

Eames sighed. "Allright. Just help me build the Gingerbread House of Stairs?"

Ariadne yanked a giant peppermint off the tree and winged it at Eames's head. "You did not say anything about a Gingerbread House of Stairs. I hate you and I'm going home and you can figure it out yourself."

"But--I thought it went without saying that we would do some sort of nod to Escher. Maybe with Christmas elves in place of the wentelteefje crawling up and down the stairs?

"Here, let me spell it out for you." Ariadne mentally pulled a clutch of candycanes off the trees. They floated down onto the snow and rearranged themselves into the word NO.

"You're a wizard, Ariadne," Eames said, wide-eyed.

"You're the king of Candyland." Ariadne picked up one of the candy canes and touched the tip to her breast like Cleopatra with the asp. Eames gasped in horror.

"You're not even waiting for the kick?"

"I told you. So tired."

Ariadne drove the candy cane through her heart, and Eames could now say that he'd seen someone die of peppermint.

*

Ariadne looked exhausted when she came in the morning of Christmas eve. But Eames was all prepared to make amends; he handed her a cup of her favorite shade-grown free range coffee (complete with a shot of whiskey) and a green-and-red dyed corn muffin which she eyed with less festive glee than suspicion, and--most generous of all--her very own plum pudding, with an "A" in currants on the top.

"Thanks?" she said, gulping down the coffee. "No, really thank you. I always try to be a more adventurous eater."

"Plum pudding is not an adventure." Eames looked at her crossly.

"Tell plum pudding I'm sorry for insulting it."

Eames leaned his ear close to the bowl. "It forgives you. This time."

"So how was Mr. Hickey?"

"Mr. Hankey," Ariadne corrected. "Erm, we, uh, it was..."

"Sex is a perfectly fine alternative to television," said Eames. "You don't have to be ashamed."

"Well, Gita's going back to India for a month on Tuesday, so, you know..."

"Of course. If I knew what Mr. Hankey was, I'd probably choose sex over that too."

"I don't know about that, Eames. It's a talking, singing piece of Christmas poop."

"Okay, you're right. That's far better than sex."

Ariadne checked her watch. "Where the hell is Arthur? So much for Old Faithful."

"Oh, he still spews plenty of hot steam, don't worry about that." Eames glanced nervously toward the door. He hoped Arthur hadn't just decided that today's "rehearsal" wasn't necessary and rolled over and gone back to sleep. Granted, that was probably what he would've done. But Eames had spent almost two hours on Skype with Cobb trying to design a paradoxical gingerbread house. Which meant that he had to spend two hours talking to Cobb. Arthur sort of owed it to him to make that sacrifice worthwhile.

Eames was watching Ariadne play snake on her phone and wishing he'd brought enough whiskey for himself. Then finally the door to the suite creaked open and Arthur, covered in a matted layer of snow, his hair dusted with ice crystals.

"I almost flipped over on the L.I.E. This had better be important, you dicks," Arthur shivered. Arthur had the most intimidating little shiver Eames had ever heard.

"Coffee?" Eames lifted Ariadne's cup and offered it to him.

"Thank you so much for offering me someone else's coffee." He hung his coat up on the hook, stomped the snow off his boots and came down the hall with much the same posture as an angry bear woken from hibernation. Eames wasn't sure whether he should run or play dead. It all depended which kind of bear Arthur was.

Ariadne snickered. Eames glared at her out of the corner of his eye.

"So I guess we should probably get started with this, then,?" said Eames. "Ariadne had a late-night rum- and-truffle-fueled epiphany. She realized that it wouldn't be inconceivable that a lab would have a laundry chutes to the basement, and so she put a chute in Harmon's lab that was big enough for a person to slide down..."

"And the more practice the better, right? The more practice with the architecture, I mean.." Eames winced. Ariadne still had a lot to learn about telling a successful lie.

"I was sort of enjoying being at home practicing not dying." Arthur hovered menacingly at Eames's shoulder before he took his seat.

"Well, you look quite rosy. You should wear earmuffs, though. Ears are always the first to fall off."

Arthur gave him one of those "whatever falls off first, it's going to be something of yours" looks. Eames just smiled back at him as mildly as a stuffed lamb.

It was Ariadne's turn to set up the PASIV, and she hooked them all in. The next thing Eames knew, he was calf-deep in coconut flakes, and powdered sugar was falling in his hair. Note to self, he thought. Having your hair full of sugar is not as wonderful as it might sound.

Through the haze of the edible (if nutritionally empty) blizzard, Eames could make out the figures of Arthur and Ariadne. Arthur was moving at a fast clip, and Ariadne seemed to be trying to catch up with him.

Eames couldn't resist reaching down and plucking a chocolate toadstool off the ground. He popped it into his mouth and shook the snow out of the white fur on his cuff.

He trailed Arthur and Ariadne to the Gingerbread House of Stairs. He was quite proud of his work (alright, he admitted grudgingly, Cobb helped too); stairs twisting and turning at paradoxical angles, multiple planes of gravity. Arthur and Ariadne were silent, staring up at the dizzying contortions. Then, when Eames stepped up behind them, he heard a rustling of light little feet, and then a row of them came through the door.

The bloody elves.

Eames, without thinking, put his hand on the butt of his gun. Christmas elves had always given him the willies.

Ahem, one of them coughed.

Then they burst into song.

Silent night!
Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright!
Round yon virgin, mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleeeep in heavenly peeeace
Sleeeep in heavenly...


He tried to look at Arthur’s face. Arthur seemed to be smiling, laughing even, although he refused to look back at Eames. Ariadne pointed something out to him, and he looked up at it, then back at her with wide eyes.

Then a huge crack interrupted the dulcet singing of the slightly unsettling choir. The elves ran for cover as one of the staircases came crashing down, shattering the staircases beneath it. Eames grabbed Arthur and Ariadne by their collars and they ran as far away from the Gingerbread House of Stairs as they could before the entire thing collapsed. When it hit the ground, it made a crack in the earth. The crack opened wide, sucking snow and chocolate mushrooms and taffy ferns mercilessly into it.

*

"Everyone alright?" Eames asked after he'd gasped awake. He was a bit sad. Arthur hadn't even gotten to see him forging Santa Claus.

"Fine," said Arthur and Ariadne, pulling the cannulas out of their arms.

"Well, we tried," Eames sighed. "There was a tree and everything, and I was Santa Claus..."

"And you were there, and you were there, and you were there," said Ariadne.

"Do not give me ideas," Eames said with a glint in his eye. “So Arthur, how’s your Christmas spirit?”

“Destructive, apparently,” Arthur said softly. “I mean, I didn’t want to tell you, because you obviously put all that work into it, but I don’t think I’m ever going to get into the Christmas spirit as much as you want me to, Eames.”

"Don't be so pess--"

"Eames." Arthur said, a wry smile forming on his face. "I'm Jewish."

"You--oh, God." Eames slapped himself in the forehead. "But your last name means Christmas tree!"

"Your last name means 'uncle'," Arthur said. "Should I start buying you World's Greatest Uncle sweatshirts?"

"That's it, I'm taking the Internet away from you,"

He looked up my last name, Eames thought. It was probably in the process of looking up my extensive criminal record, but still. Sort of sweet.

"Ariadne, did you know about this?" Eames asked.

"I just assumed you knew. You're the one blowing him," she said casually.

"What!" Eames practically squeaked. "Just because I am interested in Arthur's well being does not mean that I'm blowing him. That’s--you're not suppose to say that in front of him!"

Arthur just looked a bit mortified.

"Well, ah." Eames stood up, imagining the last shreds of his dignity entering the Witness Protection Program and flying to a small town with a single gas station. "Shall we call it a day? And, ah, happy Hanukkah, dear Arthur. Arthur Christmas Tree. I'll, uh--"

Ariadne darted off to use the bathroom, and he was alone with Arthur. Excellent timing.

"So that's it?" Arthur said quietly. "You're just going to let me drive home by myself and listen to 52nd Street in the car as I try not to skid across the median strip? You're not going to offer to let me stay with you until the roads clear up even though you live right down the street? OK. I understand." Arthur grabbed his briefcase and coat and opened the door.

"Are you upset? I really didn't know, I'm sorry--"

"No, I'm not upset about that. I mean, it would've been nice if you'd maybe asked me instead of assuming, but no. It's not that."

Eames followed close behind. "It's something."

Arthur opened his mouth, but nothing came out at first. To see Arthur visibly rattled was rare and usually only related to stressful work conditions. Eames, he dealt with as effortlessly as a ticket-taker on the subway.

"It's just--this whole Christmas thing? It's like everything else with you. You'll do something big in front of everyone and it looks like you're desperate for my attention, or at least to get in my pants, and then I don't respond the way you want me to, and I look like the asshole. But then, when we're alone, you act like you don't care what I want. I mean, we were sleeping together for three weeks, and you never asked me anything about myself, or told me anything about yourself, and all you ever wanted to do was fuck--"

Arthur closed the door behind him, and Eames opened it again.

"Arthur, I thought that was what you wanted."

“Eames, I’ve made an effort to learn about you since we first met. Why do you think your favorite biscuits just magically appear in every cupboard everywhere we work?”

Now it was Eames who was at a loss for words.

“But--I thought that’s because it’s your job to know what everyone wants. Personnel management and all that.”

Arthur braced himself on the doorframe to put distance between himself and Eames.

“If that’s what you think, then you don’t know me at all.”

"Here. I have an idea." Eames closed the distance between them and put steadying hands on Arthur's shoulders. He looked into Arthur's eyes, which were shiny and dull with tiredness and most of all extraordinarily lovely. “Why don’t you tell me what you want? No tricks, no ambiguity. Just be honest. And I promise I’ll do the same.”

Arthur grimaced a bit. “You and honesty...”

“Being dishonest here doesn’t benefit me at all,” Eames said, and smiled wanly. “Look where being dishonest got me.”

“So if you were to be honest,” Arthur said, stepping closer to Eames, “what would you say?”

Eames cleared his throat. For a moment he was worried, genuinely worried, that he wouldn’t be able to say it. But somehow, God, somehow it managed to leap the hurdles of his inhibitions.

"I'm sorry, I've been very, very bad at being in love with you," Eames said, and touched his nose to Arthur's.

"I'm sorry too," Arthur said softly. "I was too hard on you. You do try."

"I'm an arse."

"You made me an edible paradoxical house," Arthur said, smiling. "You're not a complete monster."

And just as their lips touched, they heard a muffled slow-clap, and Ariadne, wrapped up in gloves and earmuffs and bulky coat, was standing behind them.

"You guys think you could give me a ride to the airport? I told Gita I'd try to swing by before she left."

When they were all bundled into Eames's car, willing the heat to come on with all sorts of spells and wishful thinking, Eames flicked on the radio. It was hard to find a station that wasn't playing Christmas music. He flipped through all the stations--instrumental, country, pop.

"Oh hey, stop, stop, it's Adam Sandler's Hanukkah song!" Ariadne said.

"God, I fucking hate this song," Arthur groaned. "I refuse to claim the man who made ‘Little Nicky’ as part of my cultural heritage."

"We don't have to listen to the radio," Eames said. He turned to look at Arthur. Arthur, who he'd just kissed, almost. Oh wow. Wow. Eames's cheeks and the back of his neck tingled, and it wasn't from the heater turning on.

"I don't mind," Arthur said casually. "You can listen to your Jesus songs. As long as," he glanced back at Eames with a mischievous smile on his face, "we get to celebrate what I want tonight."

"Oh, yes, sir," Eames said.

"That grin! I see it!" Ariadne called from the back seat.

"That's fine, look at it all you want." He looked up into the mirror and turned the grin into a wide grimace for Ariadne's benefit. The radio started playing "Wonderful Christmastime" by the Beatles.

"How did the Beatles--the fucking Beatles--manage to write such a terrible Christmas song?" Ariadne looked like she'd swallowed detergent.

"I don't know," said Eames. "Same way Paul McCartney spent his entire post-Beatles career writing songs that wouldn't be worthy of a Teletubbies musical?"

Arthur was looking out the window at the sluggish cars on the highway and the snowflakes coming down. They were bigger now, the kind that didn't stick. "I don't know, I don't think it's that bad."

"Get the fuck out of this car," Ariadne said. "No, I mean it."

Eames looked at Arthur's hand, which had migrated to the seatrest in the middle. Tentatively, he reached over and patted it. "No, he's alright." He gave Arthur's fingers a little squeeze. "He's alright."

*

“Why didn’t I get peanut noodles? I should’ve gotten peanut noodles.” Eames reached over with his chopsticks to pinch a noodle off of Arthur’s plate. Arthur slapped his hand playfully.

“No way. Just because we, um, celebrated Hanukkah together doesn’t give you free reign to take my food.”

Ariadne munched a piece of shrimp toast. “So what did you guys do last night, anyway?”

“Ummm...” Eames began, unsure where to start.

“Well,” Arthur said brightly and leaned in like he was about to say something mischievous. “Eames put on a Santa hat and a red G-string and gave me a lap dance. And I put Hanukkah gelt down his underwear and poured Manischewitz wine all over his chest. And then I licked it off. Then--”

“Oh boy. Arthur, I had no idea you had such a filthy sense of humor.” She giggled nervously. “No, seriously, what did you do?”

“Lit the candles and had laktes--”

“Latkes,” said Arthur.

“Latkes, and decorated my Christmas tree, then watched some old movies about evil children on Turner Classic Movies. It was great. Five hours of pint-size sociopaths.”

Ariadne nodded. “You guys really know how to live it up.”

“You have no idea,” Arthur said wryly. His fingers crept over to Eames’s waistband; he pulled out the band of the red G-string he was still wearing and gave it a snap.

“Happy Hanukkah, Mr. Eames,” Arthur whispered.

“Happy Hanukkah, Arthur Tanenbaum.” Eames whispered back, kissing Arthur’s ear.

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la pellegrina

May 2012

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