Characters: Arthur, Mal, Philippa, Miles, Eames, Dom, OCs
Contents include: Canonical character death, religious imagery, language, graphic sexual situations
Author's note: Never mind that I made her beta it, this is kind of a graduation present for callowyn inspired by this conversation with my roommate (Further proof that just knowing Cally will enable you to inject angst into anything). Congratulations, hon: you made it out alive (which is more than I can say for many of your thesis characters).
Summary: Regardless of which calendar Arthur uses, Mal has been dead for thirty-four days now.
The sun has set and now it's Monday, the Twenty Fifth of Kislev, first night of Hanukkah in the year 5769. Winter twilight does not linger and it is Sunday, December Twenty First, the Solstice and the longest night in the Year of Their Lord, 2008. Regardless of which calendar Arthur uses, Mal has been dead for thirty-four days now.
Once he'd left the military, Arthur, who'd never been terribly observant in the first place, had quit keeping track of the Jewish calendar at all. But then he began doing freelance work with Mal, and she had lectured him about the importance of traditions and rituals to help ground himself in the real world. After the second year that Mal needed to remind him to fast on Yom Kippur, slapping his hands away from the bacon she invariably cooked (she'd been lovely, yes, but cruel in her own way), Arthur had made a tradition of his own. The first night of Hanukkah, he would give Mal a small gift.
The first year it had been a pewter menorah from Ethiopia. The second year, a mezuzah he carved himself out of boxwood. Now the menorah stands in the window of the Cobb's house, two candles lit, and the mezuzah still guards the front door, as impotent to keep evil spirits away as Arthur had been to convince Mal that this house was really and truly her home.
This gathering was Deborah's idea. Arthur's sister hadn't known Mal terribly well, but Sophie won't be able to return to Los Angeles and her grandchildren until after the New Year, and Deborah had declared the children needed a woman in their lives. "You can play Uncle Arthur all you want, but those kids lost their mother forever,” she'd said. “Besides, it's an excuse to spoil them and make that house a little less empty for awhile." Miles had sided with Deborah, the traitor; now he's sitting on the couch, holding James while failing to keep his grandson from getting gelt all over his face, shirt, and surroundings. On the floor, Arthur's niece and nephew keep singing the damn song while Deborah teaches Pippa the rules.
I have a little dreidel,
I made it out of clay
When it's dry and ready,
then dreidel I shall play.
This year, Arthur had made Mal a dreidel. It isn't made of clay. He'd carved it from cocobolo wood and inlaid the letters in silver by hand. Arthur's good with his hands and he likes the feeling of creating something in the real world, something that won't collapse. The dreidel is solid and lovely and perfectly balanced as he rolls it in his palm, the other cradling a tumbler of scotch while he leans on the threshold, just outside of the celebrations. No one in the room except for Miles knows it, but Arthur has a red eye flight in a few hours, the first leg of a long journey that will reunite him with Dom. After that, well...
"Uncle Arthur wants to play, doesn't he?" says Deborah, and Arthur flinches, torn between annoyance at her dragging him into this and relief that she'd interrupted his train of thought.
He's about to shake his head when Pippa looks up and says, "Come on, Uncle Arthur."
Arthur smiles — he's about to abandon her without a word, there's no way he can deny Phillipa anything right now — finishes the scotch and leaves the glass on the sideboard, then settles down next to Phillipa. "Your dreidel looks just like the floor," she says, her eyebrows knitting together just the same way Mal's always had.
The dreidel in his hand does in fact have almost the same finish as the Cobb's floor, exactly the effect he'd been trying for. Arthur pauses for a moment, the scotch maybe getting to his head just a little, before he offers the toy to Phillipa. "You're right. Seeing as it matches, I think you should keep it."
Phillipa eyes dart between the tiny work of art in his hand and the fluorescent pink piece of plastic that Deborah had given her, clutching it tighter. But Phillipa is her mother's daughter, and fuck, it might almost be better for Dom that he isn't around, because she puts down her preferred pink top and accepts Arthur's gift with a formal inclination of the head. "Thank you, Uncle Arthur. We can both use this one."
In the weeks since their mother died and their father fled, Pippa's been veering between needy child — barely more than a toddler, really — and this odd, funhouse mirror image of her mother. Arthur gives her a smile he thinks is sincere and cups his hand around the back of her neck, running his thumb up and down along her spine. It's something Dom always did to himself when stressed, and at the touch Pippa's needless poise eases away and she settles closer to Uncle Arthur — Uncle Arthur, who's going to abandon her too in just a few short hours.
For almost an hour, he watches Pippa add to the pot, take half the pot, all of it, or do nothing at all. Jael, Ben, and Deborah do the same, shin, gimel, hei, and nuun showing up about as randomly as expected. But every time Arthur spins the top, it swirls, wobbles, then drops, the silver shin, shtel arayn, telling him to give another piece of gelt to the pot.
Deb's eyes go a little wide after the sixth spin. "It's just not your night, I guess."
Arthur's remaining calm — his die is in his left pocket, under Pippa's head. There's just no way for him to check it without causing some awkward questions. He turns his head to look back at Miles, but the old man's disappeared, apparently having taken James off to be cleaned up and probably put to bed.
Within ten turns, Arthur's bankrupt. Pippa offers him a loan and he hugs her but says no. "I'm not having much luck anyway, sweetie — it's better off in your hands." He gives her a kiss and then retreats to the kitchen, where he can roll his die. Maybe it was too much to hope this was a dream, a sign; that he'd fallen into Limbo and Mal was trying, in her own way, to pull him out without risking falling down herself. It was a dreidel — half-top, half-die —
But no, this is reality. There are tears running down his face but it’s all real. He washes up, pours himself another tumbler of scotch, then another, and hides in the kitchen until the game finishes and he hears Deborah and Miles giving hints about bedtimes.
Arthur's legs are a little unsteady as he walks to the living room; Deborah gives him a dirty look, Miles a concerned one. Arthur's able to hide a stumble as an intentional drop to one knee so that he can hug Pippa goodbye properly. He holds her a little too tight, but with the way her fingertips clutch at his jacket, she's holding a little tighter than normal too. When he pulls away her eyes are lowered and her lips are twisted to one side. For a moment Arthur's terrified that somehow she can read him as well as her mother always could, that Philippa's figured out that he's about to leave her too. But then she holds up her hand and offers him the wooden dreidel back. "It's very pretty, but I like the pink one. And I don't think you'd like the pink one," says Philippa.
She's right, and Arthur can't really do anything but slip the gift back in his pocket. Pippa gives him another kiss on the cheek. "Shalom, Uncle Arthur," she says, not quite getting the pronunciation right, but she gives it a good try.
Deborah berates him in hushed tones the entire drive back to his house, her own kids falling asleep almost as soon as they pull onto the highway. "I know Mal was your friend, but I swear, Philippa's dealing with this better than you are. You're supposed to be strong for her, Arthur — not the other way around."
Arthur slumps his forehead against the cool, non-judgmental glass of the window. 'I know," he whispers.
"Sleep it off — but you have to promise me you'll be better tomorrow," says Deb, pulling into Arthur's driveway. Arthur nods, fumbles with the belt and manages to get it off — it's a good thing he'd packed this morning — when Deborah grabs his arm. "I love you, Arthur, but I'm your big sister and I know you. You weren't even this bad when Dad passed." She sighs. "If you need some help — I know the Army messed with your head and you don't like shrinks, but you could just talk to Paul over coffee once, get some of this out. I think it would help." Paul, her husband's brother, the therapist Arthur met only once, at the wedding.
Arthur lays his hand over Deb's and pulls her into a hug. "I love you too," he tells her he pulls away. "And I'm gonna try to be better tomorrow, I promise."
She gives him one last, sad, resigned smile as he steps out of the car. "Are you gonna be able to get your key in the lock?" she asks, raising one eyebrow.
And this is better. He can play little brother, one last time. That's how he wants to say goodbye this time. Arthur pulls his keys out of his pocket, tosses them in the air, spins around on one foot, and catches the keys just as he makes it all the way back around. "I'll be okay, Deb."
She laughs. "Mom and Dad really should have let you keep up those dance classes. You're wasted as a security consultant." Arthur shuts the door and she lowers the window. "Be good," is the last thing she tells him, and he waves goodbye.
Deborah drives off and Arthur watches her go before he stumbles to his front door and manages to unlock it on the third try. He goes to the kitchen, drinks down three glasses of water, strips haphazardly on his way to the bedroom — he loves his bed, he's going to miss his bed — and collapses onto the mattress. Before he lets himself pass out, he sets the alarm for two am and calls the taxi company to confirm his pick up time.
Four hours later, Arthur's on a flight to Heathrow.
It has a lovely body, with legs so short and thin.
When it gets all tired, it drops and then I win!
Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, with leg so short and thin.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, it drops and then I win!
It's Christmas Eve, December 24, 2008, the fourth day of Hanukkah and Arthur is sitting on Eames' couch while Eames rustles through some cabinets . They're in Eames' studio apartment in Dresden, the one that looks like it hasn't been renovated since the bombings, but Eames owns the whole building, so it's actually more secure than most of Saddam Hussein's bunkers. This floor, the third, is the only one that's actually habitable, or so Eames claims—hence the warmer than normal greeting, the lack of sarcasm, and Eames' apparent assumption that their on-again-off-again thing is on again, at least for tonight. Normally Arthur would balk at the presumption, but Mal's been dead for thirty-seven days (thirty-eight? It's so hard to keep track when traveling), and he hasn't slept since that nap right before he got on the plane, and Eames is, if nothing else, familiar.
Which is part of the reason Arthur jumps up when Eames returns to the couch and drops a box of Leonidas bon bons, what appears to be the alcoholic contents of at least six hotel minibars, and Arthur's dreidel onto the table. "Where'd you get that?" he shouts.
Eames stops him with a hand. "Oh hush, darling, it was in the pocket of your coat. And you're off your game if you’re letting me take your coat for you, which means you're sorely in need of creature comforts." Eames begins doling out the bon-bons and tiny bottles of alcohol. "Besides, it's Christmas Eve, you're my guest, and I didn't even put up any mistletoe for you. So we'll indulge in your traditions instead."
Eames picks up the dreidel and rolls it in his hand, getting a feel for it, then spins it a few times to ensure it's properly weighted — in general, neither of them gamble honestly, save with each other. "It's really quite lovely. Your work, I assume?" Arthur nods, settling back onto the couch, Eames warm and smiling at his side. "You have a signature style," says Eames, and Arthur's spine stiffens just a bit, waiting for the customary jibe about obsessive compulsive behaviors. Instead Eames pats Arthur's thigh and says, "I like it. Guest spins first."
To Arthur's initial relief, the top drops on hei that first spin, and Arthur claims an ounce of Gray Goose from the pot. But then it starts happening again. The game keeps going and going, because while Eames takes turns claiming the whole pot, or half or it, or throwing his winnings in, or doing nothing at all, Arthur rolls hei, halb, half, every time. Eames discreetly checks his totem; Arthur blatantly checks his own. Then, rather than playing or talking about it, they just start eating the sweets and drinking the booze and pulling each other's clothes off before making their way to Eames' bed.
The mattress is too soft for Arthur's taste, but Eames' body is firm and the sex is slow and sloppy, if a little awkward. Arthur's trying to be rough, wrapping his legs around Eames’ hips and pulling Eames deeper into his ass on every thrust, but Eames is forcing him to accept that it's going be tender, caresses up and down his body and only breaking their kisses for a few moments while he comes. Then Eames gives Arthur one of those fantastic blowjobs like only Eames ever can, where Arthur loses track of time and his mind and everything else in the world except for Eames' hands and mouth on his body.
They've had enough to drink that Arthur doesn't need to put up any token resistance to Eames’ customary insistence on cuddling afterwards. Eames' skin is warm and marked with scars and tattoos; his heart beats slow and regular under Arthur's ear. Eames lives enough life for any other three people in the world, and in his arms, not feeling quite so alone, Arthur finally gets some proper sleep.
The sleep is so refreshing that Arthur manages to wake up and leave before either the sun or Eames rises.
My dreidel's always playful. It loves to dance and spin.
A happy game of dreidel, come play now let's begin.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, it loves to dance and spin.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel. Come play now let's begin.
It's almost December 30th, 2008; Hanukkah ended at sundown, and Cobb's hooked up to a PASIV when Arthur finally walks into the shack on the outskirts of Hrodna, Belarus, where Cobb has been hiding for the last three weeks. Arthur dumps his bags in the living room before he hooks his foot under Cobb's chair and tips the damn thing over.
Arthur's face is red and he's breathing heavily and he knows it, but he doesn't care. "What the fuck do you think you're doing?"
Cobb's hasn't been doing much else besides dreaming since he got here, judging by the smell of him and how groggy he is as he comes out of the dream. "Arthur, how'd you get here so fast—?"
Arthur stops him with a slap across the face. "I'm two days late, asshole. I caught a tail in Poland and I had to detour through Ukraine. What the fuck are you doing, going down alone?" Is Cobb trying to get himself stuck in Limbo, to put Arthur through the last hellish six months all over again?
Even worse, Mal had talked Arthur into agreeing to be the kids' guardian in the event she and Dom and her parents all died. It hadn't seemed possible at the time, but now— ‘Hi kids, this is Uncle Eames, always check your pockets after he gives you a hug.' He certainly can't rely on Eames for help — or any of the other career criminals he counts as his closest personal friends. And Mal, with her traditions — sure, Philippa would probably be able to let him know about the personal family ones, but what about those weird little things that goyim just assume everyone knows? Arthur only remembers the version of Jingle Bells where the next line is 'Batman smells'! Is he supposed to raise the kids Catholic? Is a gay Jew even allowed to raise kids Catholic? How is he supposed to handle this on his own?
"Look at this place!" Arthur yells instead. Cobb blinks at him. It's a safehouse they've used before, mostly due to the lack of extradition treaties, but it's poorly built even by 1970s Soviet standards. "What if the fucking furnace exploded? In Soviet construction, building collapses you, asshole!"
"I was just —"
Arthur pulls Cobb up to his feet. "I don't want to hear it. Go to the damn bathroom and get in the shower. If I'm feeling really nice, I'll remember to turn on the water heater before you figure out how the spigots work." Arthur looks down at Cobb's left hand as he pulls out the IV, noticing the pale band of skin where a wedding ring ought to be. The plain gold band is still sitting on Mal's vanity, next to her ring, in their bedroom in L.A. James and Phillipa will have those mementos of their parents, at least.
Arthur's not going to let that be all. "Dom!" He snaps his fingers in front of Cobb's face. Cobb’s eyes focus for long enough that Arthur feels comfortable turning him around and pushing him towards the bathroom. "Shower. Don't bother shaving —" he's shaking so bad he'd turn his face into mincemeat— "but you might want to brush your teeth." Cobb stumbles forward, slowly but surely, and because Arthur does love him, does need him to keep living, he flips the switch in the closet that turns on the hot water.
He still has to fetch Cobb out of the shower forty-five minutes later when there's no hot water left and Dom is still curled in the tub, blue-lipped and not really responsive. Arthur towels him off — at least not eating means he's light enough for Arthur to move around pretty easily. He throws a t-shirt and sweatpants onto Dom before dragging him to the only bed in the house.
Then Arthur reaches for a small brown bag that he'd swiped from Eames' apartment. It's not something they talk about often — it's not something most people know about, or should know about, and they certainly shouldn't have to use it — but it's something Eames, if anyone, would have on hand. Arthur pulls a full dose out of the vial, taps all the air out of the syringe, and cleans Dom's right bicep with an alcohol wipe.
He injects Dom with 15 ccs of Somcan and pulls the needle out as quickly as he can, because with that much Somnacin in his system suddenly neutralized by the competitive antagonist, the very first thing Dom's going to do is have a mild seizure. Arthur holds him down — Dom brought it on himself, he shouldn't be dreaming at all in this condition, much less alone — until Dom's limbs quit spasming.
When Dom's eyes pop open, his gaze is clear. He looks at Arthur. "Why?” he whispers. “Why did you bring me back here?"
Arthur hands Dom a granola bar and a glass of milk. "Because Phillipa and James still have a father. And they're going to get him back one day." Dom looks down and doesn't say anything.
Arthur grabs another vial out of the bag, and Dom raises an eyebrow. "I'm not a cold bastard," Arthur says.
After a moment's hesitation, Dom says, "You're not."
Arthur nods. He fills another syringe and cleans off Dom's other bicep with another alcohol wipe. "This is morphine. The good stuff. You'll be down for eight hours, no dreams, just sleep. Then, we'll talk."
Dom finishes the milk and sets the glass on the side table. "Okay."
"Go to sleep, Mr. Cobb," says Arthur, pressing down the plunger.
Later, after Arthur's put away groceries and shoveled some more coal into the furnace—after he's put Dom's things away in the closet and found Mal's top tucked into Dom's favorite jacket pocket; after he's eaten and showered himself—he makes up a bed on the sofa and turns on the small black-and-white television. The only channel it receives is playing a poorly dubbed version of It's a Wonderful Life, but in this part of Belarus, he's lucky that he's getting anything at all. Arthur lies down on his side and then shifts, because he has to pull that fucking dreidel out of his pocket. He looks at it for a second, then at Mal's top, which he's set on the coffee table in front of him.
Arthur's not an observant Jew; he doesn't pray. But he does think of Mal. He spins the dreidel one more time. Nuun, nisht, nothing. He spins the dreidel again, but a little too hard this time, so that it skitters off of the table and falls to the floor in the dark. Arthur shakes his head: he's being foolish. He turns off the television right as Violet gets arrested for pickpocketing. He falls asleep quickly and, as usual, does not dream.
In the morning he wakes up, uses the bathroom, then walks to the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee. His bare foot finds the dreidel first.
"Sonova—!" Arthur cuts himself off, not wanting to wake Cobb prematurely; he needs coffee before he can cope with himself, much less whatever version of Cobb will wake up this morning. He balances on his right leg and lifts up his left foot so that he can pull the dreidel off of it. Because he's a masochist, he checks.
The dreidel had once again landed nuun face up. Nothing.
He scoops Mal's top off of the coffee table and creeps into Dom's room. He sets both tops on the bed stand next to Dom's head. Dom doesn't stir and the house is silent.
Arthur goes to the kitchen and starts the coffee; the sound of percolating makes him jump. The house is empty, the field outside the window is empty, Dom's unconscious; there's nothing but Arthur and the sound of boiling water. Hanukkah is over and day after tomorrow it will be a New Year, 2009, and Mal will never see it, Mal will never see his gift; Arthur will never make her another one. The tradition is over. Mal has been dead forty two days and she's left Arthur here in Belarus with nothing.
Better to think of nothing at all.
This entry was originally posted at http://moragmacpherson.dreamwidth.org/87