verklingen (verklingen) wrote in oven_pouch,
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verklingen
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INIGO FIC! YESSS

FINALLY.

Title: It Starts Like This
Author: verklingen
Word Count: ~6300 words -- WHAT.
Summary: No, he wants to say, his brain rejecting how the words 'love' and 'River' could exist in the same sentence. He winces, and says, "Yes."


It starts like this:

Lex and River were in charge of looking after Miguelito for the day. River, however, was in the zone with his newest piece so Lex decided to bring the boy to the park.

Now, Lex has always been astoundingly brilliant at Potions. He can tell the distinct temperature of a potion by the way it simmered, can tell effectivity by its smell. The problem with being astute at Potions, however, is that outside of a laboratory, it doesn't leave one with much of a skill set. This is relevant, because despite knowing every magical property known to every magical plant, Lex never learned what the muggle plant poison ivy was. So, it didn't occur to him to avoid the curling tendrils as he ran after the little boy on the way to the swings.

It was only later, upon the sudden bloom of rashes on his arm that alarm bells rang in Lex's head. It itched like nothing else, burning with irritating pain, and it helped none when the little boy laughed at his misfortune. Apparently (and now even Inigo knows this) poison ivy was common sense.

These things, Inigo knows, because his son told him.

The person most peeved about the situation, however, was River, who was told nothing of the actual events as they took place earlier that afternoon. He didn't know why the little munchkin was laughing and why Lex seemed to be keeping a ridiculous secret. It niggled and wriggled and squirmed unbearably at him, not knowing why Lex had come home with a constellation of rashes on his arm: an elegant E seared on him, angry and red. And River knew it was irrational and illogical, but the first thought in his head (after 'Who the hell is E?') was 'Fuck you, Eames.' (Completely forgetting that his middle name was Ethan, the idiot.)

This, Inigo knows from River.

Beyond that, Inigo knows only bits -- there was bickering, angry sex, more bickering -- but most importantly: one evening, Lex showed up at Inigo's doorstep, wearing a scowl, and he said, "River broke our sink."

Inigo finds this weird, because River's broken countless things before, and there wasn't anything special with any of their sinks. None of them were imported, and surely, had something monumental happened on any of their sinks, Lex would have told him.

That was two weeks ago, and there seemed to have been no sex whatsoever, most especially none of the angry make-up kind, and now Inigo was worried if he would ever reclaim his guest room from Lex. What was more worrisome was that he was getting used to having Lex live with him again (waking up to actual food as breakfast and coming home to baked goodies were long-missed treats), and so was his son, and he knew that it would be shit to have to readjust if Lex stayed longer.

"I'll get you a plumber," he offers to River, but the Russian, from under the sink, makes a face that Inigo now privately calls his FML face. (And it's the most ridiculous thing, that River is actually jealous of Eames. Proof: All Lex had to say was "I bet Eames could fix that" to successfully incept River into fixing the thing himself.) "Well, you have to take him back within the next week or I'm keeping him." It should've been a threat, but by now, Inigo's not so convinced he doesn't mean it.

"Well, I do miss the bacon," River grumbles wistfully.

"You couldn't just call it 'shagging' like the rest of us do, could you?" Inigo says, as he pats the other man on the back. "Well, whatever floats your artist boat." He leaves, just as the other man goes back to working on the bathroom fixture.

~

River leaves messages on Inigo's home phone. Most of them, unsurprisingly, are for Lex. They are ridiculous and mundane, and go something like this:

"I'm almost done with the sink," (tinkering in the background) "I swear it'll be in one piece."

"You realize it's ludicrous to be mad at me over this?" (Lex yells, "It really isn't," in response, and Inigo pats him on the shoulder sympathetically.)

"Good morning. This is River's Art calling to say I wish River would work on me instead of that bloody sink. Of course, it's not really me that River would rather be working on, you know. He'd really rather be working on -- " (Inigo deletes the message at this point, as his impressionable son is within earshot of the machine).

"Yeah, cafe from across the street? I'll take the English breakfast, extra potatoes and bacon. If you give me heaps of that, I'll make sure its equivalent in currency will make its way into your tip. Bring it up to the starving artist working on the sink, yeah?"

"Fuckfuckingbuggeringfuckingarseholeshitshitbloodysoddingtwatjesusfuckingchrist -- I HATE THIS FUCKING SINK."

"Lex, this is Eames," (the atrocious British accent makes Lex wince out of the corner of Inigo's eye) "I'm forging River. Come over and ravish me."

It's that last one that's most telling of the desperation that's taken over River. And it's how Lex refuses to budge or even touch his own mobile when River's name flashes on it that tells of how grave River's sin is. Inigo knows it's not the sink they're fighting about anymore, but despite all prodding, Lex refuses to let him in on the details.

"Aren't we past the age where I have to scheme and trick you into telling me things?" Inigo sighs over their dinner.

"I hadn't realized we'd grown older."

"I have a son."

At this, the young boy grins at Lex. Lex gives him a warm smile back. (This exchange, in turn, warms Inigo's heart, but this is irrelevant to the matter at hand.) Lex then picks up the conversation. "You said this wouldn't change things."

"I lied."

"What did River do?"

The two of them stop, and the boy looks at Lex, his young gray eyes bright with curiosity, wide as saucers.

"Something horrible," Lex answers. "Something incorrigible and presently unforgiveable and plain idiotic, that if I were to tell you, you would judge him and never forgive him, which will be a problem, because you have to put up with him until I die."

Miguelito chews his food thoughtfully. "So we still love him?" he asks, after a while, and to this, Lex nods.

"Yes." Then, he meets eyes with Inigo and mouths, "Until I die."

~

There's a necklace that Lex always wears nowadays. It's a single strand of silver, thin, and it hangs around Lex's neck and falls deep into his shirt. Inigo remembers when Lex had first gotten it -- it was that weekend when he and River left to holiday in Spain (and he'd opted out because he owned Spain, it was hardly interesting to him); River had come back a handsome bronzen man, and Lex had come back with a silver necklace. Inigo hadn't even asked then why that was. He already knew that Lex was pissed for not being able to tan properly, so the necklace had probably been a gift to appease him. It seemed to have worked as they both came home happy, so beyond that, Inigo hadn't paid it any more attention; he never even bothered to find out what the pendant was.

Now that he's seeing it on Lex, still, years after that holiday, he knows that he's on to something. He doesn't know if this has anything to do with what he now calls The Sink Suck Thing, but he's determined to find out.

He opens his conversation with Lex with, "You never told me how Spain was, mi amor," which is clearly Roommate Speak for What's with the necklace?

"It was fine. I showed you pictures." I don't want to talk about it.

"But the stories? None?" I want to talk about it.

A sigh. I don't want to talk about it NOW.

So Inigo drops it. Inasmuch as he is curious beyond the word could encompass, he respects his best mate's need for space. He doesn't bother hiding his disappointment, though, and Lex picks up on this just as easily.

"Lasagna?" Peace offering. Take it or leave it, Lex says, already heading to the kitchen to check if they have sufficient ingredients; Inigo's sure they do, as Lex does an amazing job of keeping their fridge stocked with (shockingly) healthy food.

When the smell of marinara wafts from the kitchen, Inigo's disappointment dissipates and he eagerly takes the bait. "Can there also be soft-bake chocolate chip cookies?" he asks, as he makes his way into the kitchen.

~

It's on a Thursday that Inigo finally breaks.

He's already tucked in his son, and is watching RocknRolla with Lex in the living room when he realizes that the following day is a Friday, Lex's third consecutive one there. River's week would be up by the next day, ending and rendering null and void his right to redeem Lex from Inigo's possession. It seems like months since Lex first crashed into Inigo's home, setting up the guest room and promising three nights, tops. Constantly ordering takeaway for dinner already felt like a lifetime ago, and Inigo finds that he doesn't even remember the number to their favorite pizza place anymore, not really.

I'm enjoying this, Inigo thinks, and is only slightly guilty of how selfish that thought is.

"Do you know, the first time we watched Inception, I fell asleep part-way into it?" Lex says, his 'we' pertaining to him and River. He's completely oblivious to the inner monologue Inigo is having. "I didn't even notice Eames the second time we saw it, because really, Arthur."

"Suits, guns, zero gravity," Inigo supplies, nodding. Arthur was Inigo's favorite character.

"Then we had to watch it again, because I had apparently missed the bamf running around all over the place, and then boom, hullo Eames." Lex sighs, and he absentmindedly touches his fingers to his chest as he leans forward, a gesture that Inigo has inferred is to keep his pendant in place, even beneath the fabric of his shirt.

And it doesn't have to be said -- Lex misses River, but he won't come home, not until River is done being an asshole about whatever it is their fight started from, and Inigo decides that the least he could do for his bestfriend right now is to set River right and fucking end this on his own if he has to.

He apparates over to Lex's and River's flat, drags River by the leg out from under the sink (River first thinks he's Lex so he doesn't put up a fight), then casts a Reducto at the fixture.

River goes white, screams a very manly scream, then scrambles to the marble remains, going through the rubble and running his pottymouth all over Inigo's moron impulses.

Inigo, being a Seeker, catches the glint of silver in the rubble before River does. River plucks it from the ruins and holds it to the light for inspection, and the world literally halts because Jesus fucking Christ, it's a ring.

And all his neurons start firing at the same time, blood pounding in his head. Everything is so blindingly clear: Lex's anger, his stubborness to come home, River's grimace at the thought of having someone else come in to fix the sink. How both he and River used Eames as a distraction to keep what was in the sink a secret, why magic was not involved in the dismantling of the thing in the first place.

The looks on their faces and their fucking smiles after that weekend in Spain -- the lack of stories that came after.

Lex's fucking secret pendant and 'until I die'.

River polishes off the ring in his fingers and slips it on. It's only then that Inigo notices the tan line on River's ring finger, how the ring slips perfectly over it. As he wonders how he's missed it all this time, a glamour activates and the silver disappears from sight, blending with his skin. River casts a Reparo on the sink, and all shattered pieces of marble come together seamlessly, as though Inigo's outburst had never happened.

"Thanks, mate," River says, all toothy grins and happy eyes and Inigo stifles the impulse to Reducto his face. River appears to breathe a sigh of relief, but it is cut short by the realization of what Inigo had just seen. "Oh," he says, "fuck."

The impulse to Reducto his entire person nearly takes over Inigo, because (1) fuck does not even begin to explain anything (2) you married my best friend and never told me (3) what the hell does that mean? and (4) you fucking MARRIED my bestfriend and NEVER TOLD ME, YOU MOTHERFUCKER.

Inigo wanted badly to commit violence upon things, upon people, and he was certain that if he did anything to River, Lex would surely never forgive him (he's laughing bitterly at this in his head), so he wills himself to step away, Apparates back to his flat, and tells Lex that the sink is now fine and so is the thing lodged in there. Then he locks himself up in his room. If he cries out of anger and shock and the pain, nobody ever has to know. (Not that he does, because he doesn't cry, hasn't cried since he was a child by definition of the law and the time he found out he was a father clearly doesn't count.)

In the morning, he sets up breakfast for both him and his son: cereals with milk. To his surprise, Miguelito doesn't seem to be upset about losing Lex at all. He kisses Inigo on the cheek as always and takes his place at the table without any questions. This angers Inigo more than anything, that he's the alone in being betrayed and played, and since the passing hours since the revelation last night had done nothing but to aggravate his deadly cocktail of emotions, he adjusts the wards to keep Lex out.

Two can play that game, pendejo.

~

Inigo's mobile rings, and he glances at it warily. He had rejected all three of Lex's call attempts in the past hour, but that was no guarantee that he could keep it up. At this point, he is only ninety-two percent certain that Lex had no reason to keep his -- his (Christ, Inigo can't even get himself to say the word in his head) -- marriage with River a secret.

'Belieber' flashes on his screen, so he answers the call. "Ola, Chim," he greets, trying to sound chipper but manages to sound neutral instead.

"Lex says he can't get into your flat. Even his key won't work."

"That's generally what my wards are programmed to do. You should know, you have the same."

"Yes, well, they think you're being held hostage. Call them to say you're not dead, at least. River said -- "

"Could you not mention him right now?" Inigo says, on impulse. "Or ever?"

Chim takes a moment, then says, "I'll be right over."

Inigo assures himself that there's no way Lex would tell Chim but not him, but a voice from the back of his head tells him that Lex apparently doesn't tell him things and Inigo is so close to losing it again. When Chim Apparates straight into his living room, he doesn't even skip a beat. "Has he told you?"

"Told me what?"

"What happened in Spain."

It's the eyebrows, with Chim, that cannot tell a lie. They dip a fraction of an inch, and it's all Inigo needs to know if Chim is lying to him or not.

He's clueless, absolutely perfectly clueless, and it's all Inigo can do not to breathe a sigh of relief, or to jump for joy, or to kiss Chim, because at least he isn't alone in this, it's not just him who's been left out of the loop. It's everyone, he realizes, and pretends it doesn't make him feel better. It doesn't.

"What happened in Spain," Chim begins, looking worried, "that has you setting up wards against Lex and River?" He almost looks like he doesn't want to know, the way Chim is looking at him, and he suddenly feels offended.

He waits what feels like an appropriate amount of time to pass before he speaks. "They devastated my villa," he lies for them, and Inigo thinks he should be sainted just for this.

Chim scrutinizes him for a moment, and Inigo wants to cave but doesn't. It's not his secret to tell, after all, not this time. After a while, Chim sighs and says, "Assuming 'villa' isn't code for any organ vital to your normal functions, isn't this going a little overboard?"

"The amount of devastation, you cannot possibly fathom." Inigo realizes this is truth. "And also, Lex has abandoned me for River, leaving me with cereals and takeaway." More truth.

"Yes, he's a cruel man," Chim nods sympathetically, just before his phone buzzes. "Speak of the devil," he says, as he hands over his phone to Inigo, but he turns it down. "When you're ready, then?" Chim motions to leave.

"Cheers," Inigo says, and it's Chim's Disapparition that punctuates his farewell.

Hours later, he picks up his son, and they reheat leftovers for dinner. He tells himself that it's ridiculous to read into this, to think that all he's ever going to get from Lex are leftovers of his time and whatever else of what he gives River. He thinks it anyway. Beside him, Miguelito asks, "Mami and River are okay again?" and he nods and smiles, praying his son doesn't ask if they're okay, because he really doesn't want to lie to him. He doesn't, thank God, and they watch TV after dinner, falling back into their pre-Lex-invasion routine.

It isn't that difficult after all, readjusting to how things were before the chaos that happened in the past few weeks.

Inigo wishes he weren't lying to himself with that.

~

He watches them more closely, River and Lex, trying to see what he didn't see before. He's devastated to find things, and it's shocking, the plurality of it: like how Lex's hand flexes when he walks down a street alone, because there's nobody holding his hand, or the way he stares at a door for a split second too long, expecting someone to open it for him; like River scratching his thigh on the spot where Lex pats him whenever they sit next to each other, or how he now uses an e-cig, because Lex has been asking him to quit (and years ago, when they were teenagers at Durm, Lex had asked him to quit but he'd just laughed it off, saying maybe if we were married, I'd make the change, and damn him, he actually did marry Lex, that asshole). They were endless, and they were everywhere, these little changes, shifts so masterfully subtly done that nobody ever noticed it happening.

It's an intimacy that simply wasn't there one moment and was there the next -- or maybe it was always there. At this point, Inigo's not really sure, and it bothers him. He hates that he can't pin down when Lex had started to actually cook potatoes and bacon (he was sure Lex had never even gone anywhere near a stove until they reached New York), when Lex learned how to drive properly, or even carry a mobile phone. And one would think that Inigo'd known these things immediately, but these were so minor, so bloody trivial at the time that nobody thought to point them out, and when Lex's pocket began vibrating and he'd brought out his phone for the first time in front of Inigo, all he'd said was, "Welcome to the new world, amor."

He hates it, hates that he's been completely blindsided by it. Lex and River had been on the way there for longer than he'd ever cared to notice, and it's that fact which he hates most of all: he hadn't cared enough to notice. He's so mad at himself that it's all he can do not to tear out his hair or yell expletives at passers-by who give him judging looks, or tear River limb from limb (just because).

The days drag on as he does this, as he observes them. He doesn't talk to them beyond the civil 'Ola,' 'Si,' 'No,' and he still lets Miguelito stay over with them. No good to drag the innocent boy into the fray, after all. But the thing about the boy is that he's more perceptive than he lets on, and Inigo knows it'll only be a matter of time before he asks the question.

"Mami broke our sink, didn't he?" his son says, as he colors in his drawing of a dinosaur, a tyrannosaurus in a tuxedo, sitting inside an aeroplane.

He wishes he'd had more time to fix things and be able to evade the question indefinitely, but he finds that he can't always get what he wants.

He doesn't want to say yes, but he doesn't want to lie either. He shrugs instead, and says, "I'm not really sure if he broke it or he just pointed out its state." Again, with the unexpected truths he tells.

"So we still love him and River?" He looks up from his work and bores holes into Inigo's soul.

No, he wants to say, his brain rejecting how the words 'love' and 'River' could exist in the same sentence. He winces, and says, "Yes."

"Okay," Miguelito says, and he smiles, and goes back to coloring his dino. Inigo notices there's a tyrannosaurus in filthy clothes outside the plane, waving its little arms in despair. It was falling.

He knits his brows, and asks, "What's that?" pointing to the desperate creature, genuinely curious.

"It's River," the boy answers simply, "because he's filthy and Mami doesn't like it when you sit next to him when you're filthy."

Inigo beams proudly.

He puts it up on the fridge right after Miguelito finishes it.

~

The worst part of it is that Inigo understands why Lex kept it a secret. The thing with Lex is, he made sharing and keeping secrets such an intimate thing. It wasn't something he did with just about anyone, no matter how much he trusted them.

He vividly remembered an afternoon spent in Lex's chateau, and he had asked him then if he ever shared any of his secrets with the others. ("Some," had been the answer in reference to Chim, and "Less," referring to River. Inigo remembered doing a mental fistpump.) At this point, Lex had already trusted them with his life, they all did, but it would take years before Lex would begin sharing his secrets with the other two. And even now, ages later, Inigo had been the one person Lex told all his secrets to (Inigo kept all of them, of course. Thank God secrets had no tangible form, because Jesus Christ, Inigo would have had warehouses overflowing with them, tucked safely in different continents.)

"It's soul sex," Lex had said, "you don't just do it with anyone." Then, he added, "It isn't funny, asshole," because Inigo was already rolling all over the floor, clutching his stomach through fits and spasms of laughter. (Soul sex, seriously.) And Lex's face was perfectly stony, but the slight flare of his nostrils told Inigo that Lex would laugh any moment soon, too, although he said, "This is serious business."

So it was only natural that Lex would keep this secret from Inigo, because this was something between him and River.

Vaguely, it dawned on him that this was perhaps the most intimate thing Lex had ever done.

He understands why Lex did it. He understands that he's no longer the only person to keep Lex's secrets -- hasn't been, perhaps, for a few years now.

It doesn't save him from feeling the way he does, though.

~

Four weeks later, Inigo rings River's mobile. He picks up.

"Yeah?" His voice is barely audible from the background noise. Inigo hears Ianthe hollering things and Inigo wonders why Ianthe would be away with River and Lex.

"Lex hasn't picked up," he explains. "Can I talk to him?"

River makes an uncomfortable noise, and Inigo swears he hears someone say 'all bets in' in the background. "Uh."

Inigo fumes and he hisses. "You asshole -- "

"In my defense," River interjects, "He said he wouldn't mind staying behind!"

" -- and you believed him?!" Inigo puts down the phone and makes silent screaming faces, clenching his fists and waving them in the air in anger. (Silent tantrum, because his son is in the bath and it wouldn't do to set a bad example). River's voice is tinny as he explains things, but Inigo doesn't have it in him to listen. He breathes, picks up the phone again, and calmly asks, "Where are you?"

"Monte Carlo," River answers, and Inigo knows exactly which casino he's in.

He drops River, then speed-dials three. 'Belieber' picks up in a few rings.

"Can you babysit for a bit?"

"Hold on," Chim says, and Inigo hears him clicking away on his laptop. "Just gathering things. How long for?"

"Long enough to kick some sense into someone's arse," he answers, and Chim, surprisingly, laughs.

"Yeah, Lex's having a baking fit over that," says Chim, "are you sure you want to intervene? He's making those soft-bake goodies we love."

It's a sign of how often Lex and River bicker, that Chim no longer jumps in to save them. It doesn't stop Inigo from judging Chim and saying, "You're a selfish boor, and I'm getting your share of cookies as a reward." Inigo drops the call.

Chim floos in a few minutes later, and Inigo gets ready to Apparate after telling his son that he'll be back in a while.

"I only accept cookies as payment," Chim says, as he sets up his laptop in the living room.

"We only pay in crayon portraits," Inigo says, as he leaves. Chim's laugh rings in his ears as he Apparates out of his home.

River isn't difficult to find in Monte Carlo. (He isn't difficult to find anywhere, because despite being raised in a family of spies, one can't help one's height) Inigo finds him sitting at the poker table, his sister beside him. She's talking mundane things, about jetsetting, raising horses, doing a perfect job of distracting people at the table as they cheat the house down. Normally, he'd chat with her, catching up, because she's one of the cooler people in the universe and Inigo loves her for it, but he can't sacrifice his focus. He figures there will be time for that later.

"Your shirt is hideous," Inigo says to River when he taps him on the shoulder, mainly as a sign of courtesy, before landing one on his cheek hard. Ianthe gets up in time to avoid River as he falls, causing him to land on her stool.

"What the fuck!" she shrieks as the dealer at the table calls for security.

"You seem terribly prone to committing violence against me," River says, as he sits back up. "I'm all right," he says, as he waves off the bulky thugs in suits currently making their way to the table.

Ianthe seems pissed, but she recognizes Inigo, and it's a sign of how often this happens that she doesn't ask what this is about. She merely sighs, takes her purse, says. "I'll see you both when I see you," then kisses them both on the cheek and leaves.

When she's gone, River looks at him but doesn't say anything.

"You should be home," Inigo says, and he enunciates each word clearly, in the most pedantic tone he can manage.

"He left early. He could also be here," is what River says, and Inigo wants to hit him again, because Lex hates casinos, hates the smell of smoke and hates people bumping into him, so, no, he can't be here.

"You realize what today is, si?" Inigo says, and the blank look on River's face is more than enough of an answer. He closes his eyes, pinches the bridge of his nose and breathes, counting uno, dos, tres because how the fuck does this pendejo live, quatro, cinco --

"Fucking shit, you've got to be shitting me," River says, and Inigo doesn't even have to open his eyes to know that River's pale blue eyes are panicked and wide as saucers. "Holy fucking Jesus Christ -- " he takes out his phone and checks the calendar. Confirmation dawns on River and his breathing seems to stop.

Inigo finishes counting to ten, and opens his eyes. River is deathly pale, his mouth slightly agape, and Inigo wants nothing more than to laugh at his misfortune, bury him alive, then dance on his grave because what asshole forgets his own anniversary, but, as Lex is moping and waiting for this very same asshole to come home, he can't very well do any of those things. He instead repeats his earlier statement, "You should be home."

River, to his credit, doesn't even hesitate. He nods, and heads out to the closest safe point for Apparition.

Inigo heads home soon after.

The next day, he receives three jars of Lex's soft-bake cookies, personally delivered by River. It's a sign of Lex's prowess at potions that River doesn't have a bruise on his face.

"Thanks, mate," River says, and he grins sheepishly at Inigo.

Inigo wants to hit him, purely out of conditioned response. He nods instead.

"Ew," says Miguelito, as he comes into the living room, rubbing his eyes with the heel of his hand, "I knew something was stinking up our house."

River laughs, and counters, "So brush your teeth, morning breath midget."

Miguelito loses interest in River as soon as he sees the jars on the kitchen counter. "Goooooodies," he says, as he walks towards the counter and away from them. Inigo grins triumphantly at River.

River moves to leave then. At the door, he says, "He misses you," but Inigo already knows that. "Call him or something."

"Maybe later," Inigo says, meaning it.

"You better," River replies, mock threat implied.

"Go fuck yourself," Inigo says, the expletive escaping him before he's able to think about it. Conditioned response.

"Yeah, well," River makes a show of stretching out his back, "See, I don't really have to."

So Inigo slaps him across the face. Twice. "Get out," he says, dead serious, although inside him, a knot has loosened somewhere, and he realizes that he really can laugh about this now.

Later, when he closes the door, he lets the grin break free on his face.

~

Two weeks later, the chime of a bell echoes around the flat. Inigo's forehead creases in confusion.

"I'll get it!" His son's footsteps pound on the wooden floors as he races through the house to get to the main door. "Maaaaamiiii -- " he hollers, as loud as he can.

"I can hear you fine," Lex hollers back from the door.

Inigo laughs to himself. He'd forgotten about the wards. He makes a mental note to readjust them in a while.

Miguelito lets Lex in, and the man tuts as he sees the state the boy is in: shoelaces untied, shirt half-tucked and still-damp ebony hair awry. "You don't look ready to go at all," he says, as he bends down to tie the boy's laces.

"I can dress myself!" he says, and steps away from Lex's reach. He then bends down to tie his laces, muttering the rhyme as he does them. And the bunny jumps through the loop --

Lex straightens himself up and smiles at Inigo as he enters the living room.

"Big boy now," he mouths to Lex by way of explanation.

Lex nods, understanding, then he whispers, "Does he still kiss you, though?" Lex's eyes glint mischievously, like he knows.

"You're very cruel," Inigo jabs at Lex with his finger. "See if I hold your hand when he stops kissing you," he hisses, "just see." There's no tension there, not anymore, and Inigo can't really tell when that went away.

"I'm ready!" Miguelito says, and he smiles at both men, proud of himself. His hair is still a mess and he's fully untucked his shirt, but his laces are perfectly done, and he's the single most adorable thing in the universe right now. Inigo thinks he could weep. (He wonders if fathers could use 'hormones' as an excuse; he doesn't think so.)

"Shall we, then?" Lex says, as he holds out his hand to the boy. (When his son takes it, Inigo can barely contain the explosion in his chest.)

He can't help himself. "Don't run into any poison plants, now," he says, and Miguelito snickers. Lex freezes in the doorway, and Inigo puts on his most innocent-looking face, in preparation for the death glare Lex is certain to throw at him.

There's a smile on his face, though, when Lex looks at him, and he even looks relieved, and Inigo's self-preservation instincts stir. A smiling Lex where a scowling one should be is infinitely more dangerous; his stomach gurgles in anxiety, but he tries not to give it away. (Lex must've heard it, though, because the relieved expression melts into something akin to fondness and alarm bells ring in Inigo's head).

Something's happening, he thinks, somewhere in the part of his brain that somehow isn't distracted by the growing panic. Pay attention.

Lex says, "I am telling you about Spain." With the way he narrows his eyes, he makes it seem and sound like a threat, "And I am not leaving out a single detail. You'll never hear the end of it, I swear. Every. Mind-blowing. Detail." He then turns back to Miguelito, and the two of them head out of the house, holding hands.

Inigo doesn't miss it; he knows what that means, and the anxiety drains from him almost as quickly as it came, something warm and familiar seeping back in instead. The biggest of smiles breaks on his lips, and he doesn't bother to hide it.

"I'm sure it's nothing I haven't heard before," he taunts at Lex's retreating back.

Lex raises him the finger, where his son can't see. "So many details!" he says, and it sounds so much like a threat.

Inigo can barely contain his glee.

~

And, months later, this is how it ends:

A few days ago, Lex appeared at Inigo's doorstep wearing one of those scowls he's privately taken to calling River Stinks looks, and he'd been camping out in Inigo's guest room since. Now and then, the phone rings, and it's River, calling for Lex (when has River ever called for anyone else these days?) and he doesn't grovel, not really, not like he did before. Inigo suspects this row is Lex's fault, but he doesn't voice the thought.

"Logic and reason point blame to him," Lex says haughtily as he dumps flour into the batter of whatever it is that he's baking.

"And I'm sure the facts do, as well," Inigo replies, enabling Lex. Because ultmately, that's what best mates are for.

There are no rashes this time, no animated stories from Miguelito of how this fight started, and something in Inigo suggests that there was perhaps no fight at all, and Lex had simply decided to camp out. Inigo wouldn't put it past him. He doesn't say this aloud either. (He also wonders if this episode'll make him have fits like the last time. It worries him a little, but not so much.)

Lex tells him more stories about Spain, and he pretends to call Chim, "What's that spell to turn off your ears again?" and he laughs, trying to duck out of the way as Lex throws a battered-up spatula at him.

And it sounds ridiculous, even in his head, but somehow it feels like this is where a chapter should end. Right here, in his kitchen, where he and Lex replay a scene that's been on too many times before, Lex feeding him lines he's had so many times he's practically had them memorized, and he can't quite explain it, but it feels like it just is.

Then, as always, River's voice comes in through the speaker phone. This time, though, he says, "Okay, we're not ready to have sprogs, I get it, please come home," and everything stills, even Lex.

"To be fair," he says, breaking the tense silence a few seconds later, "the things you fight about now are more substantial than they used to be."

And as Lex puts his tongue out at him, he thinks,Yep, beginning to laugh despite himself, definitely where a chapter ends, because this is where another starts.

"Well," Lex replies, as he goes back to his batter, "we had to up our game."

"If it means more cookies, then by all means," Inigo gestures at the batter, and understands Chim's resignation regarding River and Lex.

Miguelito comes into the kitchen at this point, fresh from his bath."What's sprogs?" he asks, distracting Lex with his most brilliant smile as he pilfers a spoonfull of batter from the bowl.

Lex pretends not to notice and smiles as he says, "Children. Munchkins, like you."

And, well, Inigo figures, this is where the next one starts.

It starts exactly like this.

~
end.


:D

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