So, I'm only a million years late with the fic you bought in the help_syria auction, but I did manage to finish up the Arthur-centric Cabin Pressure fic you requested. (True story: I have been writing it since your winning bid came in, and the file name on my computer has been "arthurrific.") Anyway, once I pieced together what I wanted to do with Arthur in the story, I got it down and sent it off to the trusty kate_lear for betaing and Britpicking.
It picks up right where Counter, Original, Spare, Strange left off, and features Arthur, Carolyn, Jimmy, Douglas, Martin, David, Gordon, and a few OCs (I can't decide who's my favorite: Mimsy or Big George). Also, yes, the name of Mimsy's brother is a Wodehouse joke, and Mimsy's name comes from the Lewis Carroll poem. I hope you enjoy it!
Mum had that look on her face, the one that meant that she had bad news but couldn't work out how to tell him. Arthur thought back to his Understanding People course (well, actually, he thought back to the notes he'd taken in purple glitter pen (well, truly and actually, he thought back to the stars he'd drawn next to the typed text on the handout they'd been given)) and tried to remember if the course had said bad news was like a plaster because you should tell it straight out, all at once, like ripping a plaster off, or if bad news was like a plaster because you should tell it in little not-so-bad bits, like peeling a plaster away from a bloody scrape with careful, gentle tugs. He definitely remembered the plaster bit. He'd had a plaster on at the time, a sparkly mermaid one, that wrapped round his littlest finger twice.
"What is it, Mum?" he asked, putting on the voice of that doctor from Casualty, the one who always seemed to be in charge and calm even when people being brought in were bleeding from crowbars jammed into their legs; he'd know the plaster rule for sure.
Mum cradled the phone against her chest for a moment and then hung it up. She smiled at him, but not like she was happy (he'd have to get her an apple later) and said, "Nothing, dear heart. We'll speak tomorrow."
He hadn't been dear heart since at least fifteen birthdays ago. He gave Mum a squeeze and was surprised when she squeezed back. "Sleep well, birthday boy."
Arthur made the coffee in the morning (good practice for making it on Gertie) and set out Mum's favourite mug and then the blue one he'd painted with four gold stripes, like he was Captain Arthur Shappey, capable of landing a plane on one engine or even none, geese be damned. Extremely professional. Befitting someone who'd just turned thirty-one.
He fit his little finger between the bottom two stripes and waited. Mum appeared, wearing the pink-and-green fluffy dressing gown he'd found for her at that nice outdoor market. "Are you ill, Mum?" he asked, because she usually said something about not wanting to be caught dead in such a hideous garment. "Oh, did Jimmy leave?"
Mum's eyebrows went up so fast she looked like that alien on the telly. Spork. No, Spock. "How did you - no, never mind. Arthur, we need to speak about that deeply unpleasant conversation I had to have last night." She eyed the coffee like it was going to be her reward for getting through this, and Arthur considered he might very well have to become a greengrocer just to keep Mum in apples, at the rate she was going. "Your father has suddenly realised that you are his only heir, and is demanding that you prove yourself capable of earning a paycheque, which he believes will somehow fit you to look after his piles of cash after he's kicked the bucket, though given that he will be dead, it's rather confounding that he's still so desirous of knowing you will hoard it like a constipated dragon."
Just like that, Arthur could see a dragon, pacing around, sometimes slipping on shifting piles of gold coins, looking quite unhappy because it couldn't go to the loo. But it probably wouldn't have fit anyway.
"Arthur," Mum said, quite sharply. "Did you get any of that?"
"No," he said hopefully; maybe she would get out the puppets and act it out, as she had when she'd taught him about fire safety.
"Perhaps Douglas will have better luck," she said, and poured all of her coffee down her throat in one go.
"Wow," he said, wondering how long she'd practised that.
When Arthur walked into Gertie's cockpit to take the morning orders, Skip and Douglas were talking about their guests at his birthday party.
"'Amanda,'" Douglas said. "Meaning 'she must be loved.'"
"Really? Wow! What does 'Arthur' mean?" he asked, forgetting that he'd come to warn them of what Dad was up to.
"'He must serve the coffee.'"
"Douglas!" Skip said, so Arthur was certain there was more to his name than coffee. He fetched it anyway, because the two of them had to fly Gertie all the way to Belgium and they couldn't do it without his best. It was a shame that there was no leftover birthday cake to offer them.
"I don't - why would he - it's not fair!"
Arthur wondered for a moment how Skip was reading his mind, then decided it didn't matter since Skip had said everything he was feeling anyway. Dad wasn't allowed to just mess up his life like this, was he? He turned his unhappy face toward Mum.
"Pet," Mum said, "I'd love to tell him to just sod off, but we're going to need the money sooner rather than later. This is not a money-making business."
Arthur just couldn't understand that. Wouldn't everyone secretly rather fly in Gertie than in some big anonymous jet that got swapped out every week? Gertie had stories to tell!
"Carolyn," Douglas said, sounding more than ever like a magic voice on the radio, "Gordon's planning leaves something to be desired. Arthur's . . . unique skillset has fitted him for his current role and his current role only. How is he to find a job grand enough to please his father?"
Mum closed her eyes. "Gordon says there are plenty of jobs in Australia."
"Absolutely not, Carolyn!" Skip said, only he'd said it at the same time as Douglas, so they both stopped and looked at each other with rather hilarious expressions on their faces, and Arthur wished Mum had her eyes open to see them.
"So he's not to live with you, either?" Douglas asked. "Complete independence is the ticket, eh? What a rotter."
"I am not disagreeing with anything you're saying," Mum said, sounding really tired.
"Tell Gorgon - I beg your pardon, Gordon, that Arthur, wishing to be truly independent, would not be able to afford the airfare to the land of madmen and crocodiles, or even a railway ticket to whatever hellhole the fiend is currently inhabiting, and so must content himself with finding a flat in this area."
Mum smiled. "That's rather good. I think that will work."
Skip cleared his throat. "I could . . . Arthur, would you like to work as a man with a van? Our - my friend Wallace has been borrowing my van for removals work, and he could probably use some help."
"That's lovely of you, Martin, but you said yourself that you could barely live on what you made with your van."
"Only, only Arthur wouldn't have to fit van jobs around our schedule here, would he? If his father's point is to get him away from you?" Skip asked, and all three of them looked really sad at that, and Arthur wanted to beat Dad up for making his three favourite people look so glum. Maybe with one of those extra-large Toblerones, and then he could eat the weapon and Dad wouldn't be able to do anything to prove it had ever happened.
"Here are your keys," Douglas suddenly said. "Your keys to your own car, I mean, Arthur. Martin's van is on its last strip of tyre-rubber, and you'll need reliable transportation . . ." he trailed off like he couldn't remember what to say next.
Mum at least was smiling. "This will be a good day for spotting aerial pigs, I suspect," she said, taking the keys and pressing them into his hand; he was going to have to find just the right keychain to make them feel like his own again, because Douglas's bank logo was far too stodgy. "Martin, though we both appreciate your offer, I'm not sure a job so very independent is the right fit for Arthur."
Skip smiled his watery smile, the one nobody had seen since he'd moved in with David, and asked, "Arthur, what are you going to do?"
He couldn't just leave them all looking so worried. "I'm sure I'll think of something," he said heartily, wondering where the world's largest Toblerone might be and how he could lure Dad there.
"Water, miss?" Arthur asked, because even though she looked like she really needed a whole new tongue, all he was allowed to offer was water.
She nodded frantically, waving her hand in front of her mouth. There was a mound of something very spicy-looking on her plate.
"Here," he said, and filled all the glasses on the table, and she downed all of them in a row and sucked on the ice.
"Thanks," she said, looking up at him with tears still streaming down her cheeks. "You're a really good pourer."
It was true, he was; he'd learnt to balance on Gertie, and pouring was even easier when you weren't on an aeroplane. Plus he had excellent coordination from practicing his apple-tossing. "Thank you," he said, giving her another round of water, and she started giggling and put her hand over the third and fourth glasses.
"Enough, or I'll float out of here!"
"That sounds fun," he said, imagining her in a happy bobbing canoe on blue, blue water.
"But if I float away without paying for my lunch, I won't ever be able to come back here," she said. "Even if the food is too spicy."
"The bread's not spicy. And they do some things with yoghurt -" They weren't quite up to Fizzy Yoghurt, but they were still pretty good.
"Arthur!" Ramesh said, pointing out three tables waiting for water.
"That's a nice name," she said when he turned back to her. "Literary. I've got a name out of a poem too."
He didn't think he could guess what it was, since she was already getting up to go. "Bye," he said to the girl, who waved cheerfully at him as she collected her pink raincoat, a nice match for her pink wellies. He wondered if she was flying off somewhere rainy, because the sun was shining brightly outside.
"No, Hayley, I do not want to speak with Gordon," Mum said, sounding frustrated even though Jimmy had done a fry-up of the size she liked best (extra-large). "All I am saying is that Arthur has quit MJN, found himself a job in which I have no part, and is now paying me rent; that should be enough to satisfy your husband."
Arthur knew somehow Dad would know that Mum had handed him a five-pound note, taken it back, and said, "Right, that's this month's rent, paid on time and in full. Excellent." He scowled down at his mushrooms and tomatoes. What was Dad accomplishing, other than making everyone unhappy? He certainly didn't feel fitter for inheriting pots of money now that he poured water for people on the ground rather than in the air.
Jimmy shook his head and took him outside to walk in the garden, where they'd had his party only a few weeks earlier, to stay out of Mum's way. It didn't help - Mum appeared at the door and said, "He's sending you a ticket to Sydney, and you have to get on the plane unless you've got a place of your own within a month." She buried her face in Jimmy's chest and Arthur squeezed them both.
"One of our friends has a lovely flat that he wants to sublet while he's studying in Japan," David said. "He'd probably not ask much for it, if you can feed all of his fish."
Arthur, wondering what Japanese fish said, looked up from spreading strawberry jam on his toast to catch Skip's eye. Skip whispered bloop-bloop, which answered that question.
"It's not far from here, actually, so at least you'd know two of your neighbours," David continued, taking a sip of his tea. David, Arthur thought, was a very nice man; Skip deserved someone who looked at him the way he looked at Gertie. "Shall I set something up?"
That sounded very proper and grown-up and just what Dad was after, so Arthur nodded solemnly and made bloop-bloop faces at his toast when Skip kissed David.
Eustace Claude's flat was full of fish. If Mr. Birling had replaced each of his hundred-pound notes with a fish, that still wouldn't explain how many fish there actually were in the flat. If they'd actually been able to fill Gertie with otters, that still wouldn't come close to the number of fish in the flat. Eustace Claude clearly loved fish, and Arthur was disposed to love Eustace Claude for providing him with a lease that Douglas had faxed to Dad along with a payslip from the restaurant, and Dad hadn't responded at all. (Skip worried that that was because the fax hadn't gone through, but Douglas had said to put a sock in it (whatever it was and why it needed socks).)
Arthur danced around the flat in his pyjamas, feeding all of the fish - today he was doing them from smallest to largest. The little fishes looked pleased with their morning meal, and the biggest one - Big George - seemed to be trying to communicate with the large painted fish hanging over the sofa (that had fish-shaped throw pillows), requesting him to speed Arthur up. But Big George was just going to have to be patient, because he'd been in a mood all week, and Arthur wasn't going to have Eustace Claude return to find his pet totally spoilt.
When he finished with the fish, he sat down on the sofa with his cereal, eager to see what would be spelt out in his Bear Alphabites, cocoa-flavoured because most bears were brown. PINK said the first spoonful. FLAT said the next. The rest were jumbles of letters, except for one - Big George was clearly exerting his power - that said BLOOP.
Work was good - Ramesh had lunch with him, and Arthur got to try three different types of bread and four different yoghurts - but a bit boring, really. There were no angry bassoonists or songs to sing, and he missed Mum and Skip and Douglas. He missed having his family around, because Big George looked determinedly unimpressed with his apple-tossing sessions even though he set a new record every night.
He got to the flat and pulled Eustace Claude's keys - on a fishy keychain, of course - from his pocket before he heard the sound of the telly coming through the door. He hadn't left it on, surely?
He opened the door to see the pink-wellied poem-girl curled up in one corner of the sofa, clutching the black fish-shaped throw pillow to her chest as she watched Finding Nemo. She gasped when she saw him and scrambled to sit up.
"Hello," he said cautiously, because Ramesh had told him about certain spices that made you think you were seeing things that weren't there, and it was entirely possible that he was imagining the poem-girl. No, there were her pink wellies, lying flat under the coffee table.
"Hello," she said with equal caution. "Why do you look so familiar? Wait," she said, so he didn't start to act out pouring a glass of water, "don't tell me." She pulled on her wellies and brightened. "You're the pourer! Arthur!" She frowned and stood. "What are you doing in my brother's flat?"
"I live here. For now."
"Oh," she said, reaching out for the fish pillow again. "So Eustace did sublet the place after all." She bit her lip, which made it hard to understand what she said next. "Would you mind terribly if I stayed on the sofa for a few nights?"
"Because the floor is lava?" Arthur asked once he deciphered what she'd said, keenly interested in whatever game would keep her on the sofa for so many hours straight.
"It could be," she said.
"Of course. Your brother's house is your house."
"That's true, too," she said. "Big George will vouch for me."
Mum said something about putting a good face on it - Arthur wondered if that was the same it that had needed the sock - and told him she'd invited the crew round to his flat for a housewarming party.
"When?" he asked excitedly. Having so many people in the flat would certainly make it warm.
"Tomorrow, dear heart," Mum said, then going so silent that Arthur jiggled his phone in case something had gone wrong. "Arthur, you are alright, aren't you? You're not missing your room here too much?"
"Course I miss it!" he said. "When I come back, I think I'd like to have a fish."
"Shall I bring you one tomorrow, as your housewarming gift?" Mum asked.
"Big George might not like that," Arthur said dubiously, considering. Big George was currently in the middle of another sulk.
"You just leave Big George to me," Mum said, dark promise in her words like she was a panto villain, and Arthur just hoped she remembered to bring the puppets.
"Oh, hello!" Mimsy said as she came into the parlour, and Douglas, who had been explaining why his homemade fairy cakes were the best housewarming gift in the flat at the current moment, stopped talking and simply held out the platter of iced cakes. Arthur suspected that he was dazzled by the pink wellies.
"Everybody, this is Mimsy. Mimsy, this is Mum, and Jimmy, and Douglas, and Skip, and David."
"Mimsy?" David asked, still holding the flight-simulator game Skip had worked on. "Like in the poem?"
"Yes!" Mimsy said, beaming at him. "Just like! My mum's got a bit of the poet in her."
"No, keep it clean," said Skip suddenly, but he seemed to be talking to Douglas, who frowned at Skip but asked, "What does it mean?"
"Me," Mimsy said slowly and carefully, shooting a look at Arthur like she wasn't sure how much Douglas could understand. Arthur decided he'd take Douglas aside later and explain it to him. And maybe Skip could take him aside to explain why David had got a bit red.
Skip laughed, suddenly, and said, "Well, I think it's a lovely name, and it suits you. Could you give us the grand tour?"
"Course!" Mimsy chirped, and all the men fell into line behind her, so Arthur started to follow, but Mum grabbed his arm and got him on the sofa.
"Arthur," she said, "what is this nonsense? Who is that girl? And are all these godforsaken fish hers?"
"Ah, no!" he said, understanding why she'd been making that face. "The fish aren't Mimsy's at all!"
"And that is an unutterable relief to me, truly. But whose fish are they, and why is she here?"
"She's Eustace's sister." He thought she'd asked something else, but he'd forgotten what. Perhaps he should have taken a Memory Tricks course instead of Understanding People.
"Good," Mum said, "and who is Eustace?"
"He owns the fish."
"If the next thing out of your mouth is that Eustace is bigger than a breadbox, Arthur, then I will ban you for life from Gertie."
"But he is . . . Eustace, who is of no particular size, owns this flat and had to go to Japan to see how fish say 'bloop' in Japanese, and so David said I could live here to keep the fish from getting lonely and hungry, and then Mimsy came because her flat was being abolished, and when she's here the floor is lava, and I didn't think wellies were made for lava as well as rain, but they are if they're pink. I think I might like a pair of pink wellies for my next housewarming present."
"I see," said Mum, "that I will have to talk to David." She got up and then turned back around. "So who is Big George?"
"He's been saying bloop to you since you walked in!" Arthur said, pointing him out and smiling when Mum eyed the fish suspiciously, like she had a feeling Big George was using the word in its naughtiest sense.
"Dad!" Arthur said, very nearly dropping the shopping, which consisted of a dozen eggs and some double-heavy cream and a packet of toothpicks (Mimsy was going to make something custardy, and Arthur was going to construct a model gaol to make her laugh). Because Dad was standing in front of the building, frowning down at his watch.
"Hello . . . son," Dad said, and it sounded like he'd swallowed several lemons, skin and all. "Got any room to put your old man up?"
Mimsy flung open the door just then and grabbed the carrier bag out of Arthur's arms. "Custard waits for no man, Arthur!"
"Who's that?" Dad asked, looking startled, which meant they were even.
Dad whistled. "Looks like you landed on your feet. I knew this would be the making of you! You're a man, now, proper!"
Arthur looked down at himself, wondering what Dad was seeing to make him say such niceish things.
"A likely-looking bird like that, you won't want your old man about," Dad said. "Bet your mother's mad enough to spit that you've done so well since escaping her clutches."
He didn't even want that giant Toblerone now. He wanted an apple to toss so that he could concentrate on that instead of all the things Dad was saying in his smug, gloaty voice.
Mimsy popped the door open again, and Arthur had never been gladder to see anyone with egg in her hair. "I'm sorry, there's an emergency situation, and I need Arthur right now," she said in Dad's general direction, grabbing him and hauling him into the flat.
He didn't think he had the energy to deal with any kind of emergency, so it was a relief that all she needed was an emergency hug that lasted, coincidentally, until his insides stopped feeling all wobbly.
Apple-tossing was even better when there was someone else to catch the apple and send it back. That world record would be destroyed any minute now, and Big George would be their witness.
"Arthur," Mimsy said, and her wellies squeaked against the kitchen floor as she shuffled to catch his latest toss.
"I - um, I wanted - good catch! - I wanted to ask you something."
Arthur had a feeling he was supposed to know why Mimsy was stuttering, but, really, the world record was only seven tosses away, and he couldn't take his eyes off the Braeburn sailing between them. They only had a few more days until Eustace Claude came back from Japan and then he didn't know what would happen except that the flat would no longer have a lava-floor, and anyway he wouldn't be allowed to live there anymore. If they didn't beat the world record by then, they mightn't get a chance later.
"Alright," he said, and then it hit him, what she wanted to ask, and he caught the apple and didn't toss it back. He hadn't thought a girl without an Alice band would fancy him - that was the only demographic in which he'd established what Douglas called "a track record of success."
He stepped close to Mimsy and dropped the apple so he could pull her into his arms and kiss her. He kissed her little nose and her eyelids and the part in her hair and then her mouth again, and when he moved to her cheek, she was smiling.
"Oh, Arthur, how did you know?" she asked.
"I did a course once, on Understanding People," he told her.
"Full marks," she said.
"I wonder if they do one on Understanding Fish," he said.
"I'll teach you," she said. "Bloop."
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.
This same entry also appears on Dreamwidth, at http://innie-darling.dreamwidth.org/447088.html.