Disclaimer: OK, twenty-year-old journalism major. No, it's not mine.
It happens to Jules first, when her new supervisor – Dreamscape was shut down five months after Arthur left, and Alex was reassigned away from the main HQ – finally gets sick of having this one stubborn agent who won't work with a partner. Jules tells herself that Brent Williams has enough on his plate – he just lost three agents in a job out of the Middle East. So she doesn't make any smart-mouth comments when she's told that she's being placed with someone.
"We've got an Australian agent coming in, more encouragement to be cooperative," Williams says, a twist to his mouth.
"Oh, I'm sure Hasling loves that."
"He wants to kill someone over it, but there's nothing to be done. You're working with this guy for the foreseeable future, and God help me, Hartford, if you intentionally fuck this up..."
"Yeah, yeah, Brent, you'll string me up by my intestines or something equally lovely. Don't you ever get sick of this spiel?"
"Not with you, you've been a grumpy bitch the whole time I've known you. You miss your cousin that much?"
It's a stupid question, so stupid it really doesn't deserve an answer, so Jules doesn't provide one, unless a cool stare counts. They stare at each other for a few minutes, then Brent rolls his eyes. "Whatever. Anyway, the guy should be here in a few – "
"Are you talking about me?" Jules turns at the sound of the new voice, surprised she didn't hear the door open, and actually stops dead for a moment. Then she gives Brent a skeptical look that clearly says, Are you really putting me with Pretty Boy here? But she offers the new guy a polite smile, holding out her hand. "Jules Hartford, nice to meet you."
"Aidan Turner. Charmed." Blue eyes several shades brighter than Jules' own eye her carefully, and she returns the sharp look with one of her own. The categorization of 'Pretty Boy' is summarily dismissed – no mere piece of eye candy has eyes like that. She imagines he must use his looks to disarm people, and hates how it so nearly worked on her. But still, she is grudgingly impressed. Arthur – who, to his frustration, can also be labeled as a pretty boy – should have taught her better. She thought he had taught her better. This guy is good.
Brent sends them off a few minutes later, and Jules suggests they hit the commissary. If nothing else, they can have coffee and a chance to talk. She's a bit surprised when the cold look in Aidan's eyes doesn't fade in the slightest, even when he's acting perfectly cheerful. Worse, she's stunned by how intriguing she finds that, which cannot be a good idea in the slightest.
She's right, of course. It doesn't help that she's always had a secret weakness for accents like Aidan's, and well... Yeah. She does not sleep with him, although she thinks about it. She is a professional, after all, and they are partners. If this was temporary, well, maybe she would sleep with him then. But she has to work with him every day, has to trust that he will have her back in the field as she has his. Sex will just complicate that.
And in all honesty, it's not even that. It's that Aidan has flashes of humanity under the Ice King exterior. He's got moments when he forgets to be cold and will actually smile for real, his eyes warming for once, and when he does... It made her stop in her tracks the first time. She could fall in love with that smile. So, as much as she enjoys seeing it, she is glad it doesn't appear often. Because she does not need to fall in love.
Or so she tells herself. Then there's a case that doesn't go quite as well as usual, and Aidan gets shot. It's not serious, but it's enough to have him in the hospital, enough to leave her shaking and sick in a bathroom stall. And fuck it all, apparently she's at least half in love with him after all. Still, she can handle this, as long as she keeps it to herself. It shouldn't be too hard – Jules was in drama club in high school, she's aces at undercover work. She is a very good actress; why can't she keep this under wraps?
No matter what, she's still not going to sleep with him. Jules Hartford doesn't do half-measures. They just make everything worse. Don't they?
For Arthur, it actually starts with a familiar face. He and Cobb are in London, for a meeting scheduled with some forger – he's not sure how he feels about that, since he's used to working with just Cobb but he's also extremely curious about forging. That's when he sees Ashley Stafford. He and Jules had spent a year working with DESI's British counterparts, which is how he knows the dark-haired scientist.
Still, he doesn't draw attention to himself – he's a criminal now, after all. But she sees him, green eyes sharp as ever, he notes, and falls into step beside him. "I hear you're on the wrong side of the law now," she teases, a wry grin lighting up her face.
"Jules tell you why?"
"Yeah, it sucks. I take it you heard about..."
"That mess Hartman caused? 27 survivors out of several hundred personnel? Yeah, I know. And I heard... Daniel..." He'd liked Daniel, an ex-SAS officer with a dry sense of humor, often cool and distant. Except where Ashley was concerned; they'd been a hell of a couple, he remembers now, so much so that the thought of Ashley without Daniel is somehow wrong.
"He's not dead." The words are so matter-of-fact, but so contrary to what he'd heard that he just stares at her. She laughs tiredly at his expression. "I found out... The full story's complicated, but basically he... The new director confirmed it for me, he's been tossed into some kind of top-secret shit and reprogrammed, apparently."
"Like brainwashing?" It can be done, but it's usually not something even the shadowy parts of government like, what the hell?
"Yeah. Actually, I told Jules to ask, but I guess I can do it myself now. If I find him... When I find him, think you could use your dreamscape skills to help reverse it?"
"Ash, I'm not sure..."
"Neither am I, but it can't make things worse, can it?" Arthur can think of all kinds of things to say – there's Mal, if nothing else – but he never gets the chance, not when a young woman with pixie-cut blonde hair and a young man with unkempt dark hair and a rather... noticeable hat call Ashley's name. She flashes Arthur one quick smile and a pleading look, then walks away.
"Fuck," Arthur says to himself. Because he won't turn her down. He knows that already. Ashley's an old friend. And Daniel is his friend too – not to mention the man once saved Arthur's life, and the point man never did repay that debt. So... Cursing seems an appropriate response.
Then he gets to the warehouse where Cobb and this new guy are waiting. Arthur actually stops dead, trying to makes sense of the newcomer's clothes. Did he steal that coat from a dead man or something? Who the hell wears that kind of shit anymore? Pushing the thoughts aside, he steps forward, holding out a hand.
Cobb opens his mouth to perform introductions, but the forger – at least Arthur assumes this is the forger, or else Cobb has a lot of explaining to do – beats him to it, shaking Arthur's hand and running his thumb lightly across Arthur's knuckles. What the...?
"Hello, darling, I'm Eames," he says, with a British accent and a wicked grin. Arthur moves back, raising one eyebrow coolly.
"My name is Arthur, Mr. Eames. I would appreciate if you used it." He retreats into icy professionalism to hide the jolt that Eames' smile and the brush of his thumb cause. Cursing seems an even more appropriate response now than it did fifteen minutes ago. Fucking hell. Yeah, that about covers it.
They do the job in three weeks, and Arthur finds that Eames has no concept of personal space. The point man also finds that apparently, Eames' inability to grasp this very basic idea has an adverse effect on his own concentration. Arthur decides that really, this just won't do. He needs to stay focused; if he misses something they could all end up on the run or dead, after all. He simply can't do that with an abrasive, cocky, should-not-be-attractive-but-is forger hanging over him all the time.
However, because he is a professional, he ignores this until after the job is over. And then, when he is packing up his workspace and Eames comes to hang over him again, well... Three weeks is a long time to hold back, and Arthur is only human. Since Eames kisses him back, that in fact Eames is the one who tears Arthur's shirt off his back – though Arthur would have been happy to rip that monstrosity the forger is wearing to shreds instead, and not just out of a lust-fueled urgency – Arthur will always go on record as saying that it wasn't a bad idea for him to have pushed Eames up against a wall.
Or, well, for a while he'll say it was a good idea. He'll say it for over a year, in fact, every time Jules raises an eyebrow or the one time when Alex is there too and chokes on her coffee. He will say it until the day he realizes just how fucking out of control this has gotten, and then he'll change his mind abruptly.
Because Arthur Hartford doesn't do relationships. He never has. He has friends and he has people he fucks. These two things almost never cross – they only really did once, with Ashley and a memorable two months where he discovered that yes, he really is gay, not bi, and while sex with a woman is interesting, it's not what he's looking for – and he does not consider having occasional sex with a sometimes co-worker crossing those lines. Except... Except somehow, they end up doing more than just have sex. There is verbal warfare during jobs that is somewhere between truly hostile and openly flirting, they occasionally have a real conversation instead of just falling into bed, they... There have been a few mornings when they're both still there, and those are the best times, Arthur finds, they actually talk to each other and almost connect, for lack of a better term.
And he finds that somewhere, somewhere in between all of this, he's gone and fallen in love with Eames. The worst part of it is, he has no idea how this happened. Oh no, wait, there's something even worse. There is no way, absolutely no way, that Eames feels the same way about him. It sounds like some kind of bad joke, Arthur reflects the day he finally works this little fact out, as he steadily makes his way through a bottle of vodka.
Dom finds him passed out on the floor of his apartment, and it is a mark of how consumed the extractor is by the fact that a vicious projection Mal has started showing up on jobs that he doesn't ask Arthur why. He misses Jules more than ever that day, fighting off a hangover while Dom doesn't even think to question why always-collected Arthur is such a mess. Even Eames would ask – Arthur is reasonably certain Eames is fond of him, in his careless way, and the forger is an extremely perceptive, annoyingly curious individual even if he doesn't care at all. But with Dom it's Mal and getting home and while Arthur gets that, sometimes he wishes the guy who was one of his best friends for a while could spare one moment for sympathy or even just to ask a question.
But he keeps having sex with Eames. Because even though Arthur's never been a fan of half-measures, it's something. Right?
It can't continue, of course. Arthur and Jules don't talk about it, to each other or anyone, and it's the first time they've kept something this important from each other. But they are both trying what is almost the same balancing act, and no one can keep something like this up. Not even the famously stubborn Hartford cousins, as Alex once called them. They slip, eventually, and everything changes yet again.
Jules and Aidan go to Sydney because Aidan has to report to his boss – his father, actually, who is the director of TWA (Torchwood Australia, but they use the initials so as not to be labeled with the 'mavericks' of Torchwood Cardiff, which is the only active branch left of Britain's Torchwood). Aidan is a legacy agent, much like Jules and Arthur, or the Mayfair twins they helped train.
And as it turns out, Matthew Turner is a grade-A bastard, and he completely explains his son's cold mask. Jules can imagine this guy drilling icy composure into his son from birth, and it's not a pleasant image. And Aidan... God, he's worse than usual, every bit of humanity drained away during the interview with Director Turner, and she can't fucking stand it. So once they've left, walked half of the five blocks to their parking place, she throws caution to the winds and shoves him against the side of a building.
"Hartford, what – " He's cut off by her mouth on his, a hard kiss that's almost angry, because she'd been trying not to do this. And deep down, she expects him to shove her off and give her a politely puzzled frown, but then he's kissing her back, and his hands are at her waist... Suddenly she's the one against the wall, and his lips have left her mouth and are trailing down her neck, with her hand fisted in his hair.
She manages to think vaguely that it's a good thing they're in what is basically a back alley, but still...
Which is why she pulls back, and they go to the car, and drive back to their hotel. Privacy is something one wants at certain times, after all.
Guadalajara is hotter than Arthur likes – he was born in Philadelphia and then he lived in D.C. until running off with Cobb, so Mexico is not exactly to his tastes. But there's a job here, and they're working with Eames again. It has occurred to Arthur, in the times between the jobs with Eames, that he really is just torturing himself by playing fuck buddies with the man he's fallen hopelessly in love with, but what else can he do? There's a voice in the back of his mind – sometimes it sounds like Jules, other times like Alex – lecturing him for being so stupid, but he's gotten very good at tuning it out.
There is one thing he actually does like about Mexico. That would be the tequila. Eames agrees, and they get completely smashed. They're not so drunk that they can't manage sex, though; Arthur wonders vaguely if they could manage to be alone without fucking under any circumstances, period. Maybe they can't – he is, as it will turn out, going to spend the next two years making damn sure he doesn't find out – but alcohol does have its effects. Because for some reason, and it has to be the tequila because that's the only thing that's different from all the other times, he doesn't bite his tongue. In Arthur's defense, he thinks Eames is asleep when he whispers "I love you" into the darkness, but a second later he feels the body next to him tense up. He freezes, waiting for the rejection, for... He's not even sure what, but there is nothing.
But the next morning, he wakes up alone. Arthur doesn't really remember the rest of that day, but he must have gone to the airport and bought a ticket to D.C., and gotten drunk somewhere in there, since he wakes up the next morning in Jules' guest room with a killer hangover. It's odd, he didn't have a hangover from the night with Eames, but he has one from his way of coping with the fact that he has royally fucked up this time.
Cobb calls him the next day from Vienna, wanting to know where the fuck he's got off to. "I'll be back in a few days," he tells the extractor.
"I want you back today!"
"Fuck off, Dom." He hangs up. Right now, he can't deal with Cobb, with the mess he can't pull his almost-former friend out of. Almost because Cobb's not Dom anymore, losing Mal and his kids in one fell swoop broke him and Projection Mal is only making it worse. But whatever Cobb is to him, whatever Dom was to him in the old days, he can't face it now. He can't help keep Cobb's broken pieces together when he feels like he might fall apart completely.
"You want to talk about it?" Jules asks.
"Do you want to talk about the fact that your partner keeps a change of clothes here?" he snaps, not in the mood for sympathy.
"That's really none of your damn business."
"And this isn't yours."
Jules glares at him, and he glares right back. They both know he's picking a fight so she won't give him sympathy, because he can't stay calm if she tries to comfort him, but...
The fight is long, and nasty. No one can fight like family, especially when you're as close as Jules and Arthur have always been. Old wounds, stupid things they just never mentioned, are thrown in each other's faces, and after a certain point, real objects are thrown as well. Finally, Arthur says, "Fuck this," and storms out, catching a plane to Vienna after all.
Two weeks later, he and Cobb are in Budapest when he gets an e-mail. Fine, I won't pry anymore, but this is not an apology because I'm not sorry for giving a damn.
Arthur sends this reply: I don't want to talk about it. Not now, not ever. But I'll handle it better next time.
They don't talk about it. There's nothing to say. For the next two years, whenever they could use Eames, Arthur quickly gets Cobb thinking of someone else, implying that he knows Eames has other things he's doing. Which is plausible because he actually does know what Eames is up to. He keeps tabs on the other man, though he's not sure why. Eames usually is not doing something that would prevent him from working with Cobb and Arthur. But Arthur is not willing to work with Eames, not yet.
It's only after the complete mess that the Cobol job was, only when Saito is offering to give Cobb exactly what he needs if the extractor can put together a team to do the impossible, that Arthur relents. He thinks they should walk away from this, but he knows that Cobb can't. He needs his family back, which isn't wrong. And Arthur will be there, because how can he not be? He's been at Cobb's side this long, he's not turning away now. He probably should have a long time ago, but he didn't then so he isn't now.
"Eames? He's in Mombasa."
Under other circumstances, Jules would be there to pick Arthur up from LAX, or at least to meet him so they can hop another plane to D.C. together, but working a top-secret job somewhere in Eastern Europe sort of puts a wrench in that sort of plan. He could still go to D.C., he knows he's welcome, but it would just be him and Aidan. Arthur's never been close to Jules' lover – the fact that he threatened the Aussie with several deaths (and thanks to dreams, he wasn't exaggerating) if he hurt Jules probably has something to do with it.
Which is why he ends up grabbing his bag from the luggage carousel and glancing around aimlessly. Cobb and Miles are probably already on the road, not that he blames them. Yusuf, he remembers, had said something that morning about getting the chance to be a proper tourist, and sure enough, he's browsing a gift shop. Saito's vanished, and Ariadne seems to be catching up with an old schoolmate – the girl in question is wearing a tank top with the same high school logo as the t-shirt he remembered Ariadne wearing a few times. They're talking a mile a minute, so he just offers her a slight wave as he walks by, getting a quick smile in return. As for Eames –
"Looking for something, pet?" Arthur manages not to jump at the sound of the forger's voice in his ear, warm breath tickling his skin. But he spins around, fixing the other man with a death glare.
"No. What do you want, Mr. Eames?"
"Touchy, are we?"
"Why don't you and I have a few drinks? You need to relax, and I feel like celebrating."
"I don't think that's a good idea." Arthur's voice is cold.
"You didn't used to have that stick shoved quite so far up your lovely arse," Eames says, rocking back on his heels. Clearly, the level of venom in Arthur's voice surprises him; the point man wonders why even as he fires back.
"Maybe I don't want to celebrate with a man who's perfected the fucking vanishing act," he snarls, surprising even himself that time with how harsh his tone is. But it's like Guadalajara's memory is pushing the words out, and he finally can't stop himself.
He turns on his heel and walks away. If he doesn't, Arthur knows what he'll say next. I told you I loved you, and you couldn't even grant me the fucking courtesy of rejecting me to my face! And now you want to go have drinks? The words are spinning in his head, loud enough to drown all other thought, and he wants to shout them in Eames' smug face. But his pride won't allow that, so he makes his escape instead.
Or he tries to. He gets further than he expected before he is yanked into what he assumes is some kind of service corridor. Eames pushes him up against the wall and Arthur is swallowing his fury, along with other feelings he wishes weren't there. Apparently time has not cured this ill. Damn it.
"What the fuck is your problem?" Eames demands.
"You," Arthur all but spits the word out, dark eyes blazing. He's had it. "You are my problem. Goddamn it, you've made it abundantly clear that this is all just a game to you. So go find someone else to play with. Leave me be."
"Arthur, what...?" Eames is puzzled now, and Arthur could laugh if he wasn't so pissed off. For a man who is extremely good at reading people, Eames is apparently clueless with regards to Arthur.
"Guadalajara. April '08. Finding myself alone was a pretty good indication as to where you stand. I'd have appreciated a little more courtesy on your part, but the point was very clear." He wants his voice to be even, calm, but it comes out horribly bitter. But, on balance, the suddenly pained expression on Eames' face is worth losing his cool a little. And if this is the only chance he has to get it all off his chest...
"What?" he accuses, meeting the other man's confused gray eyes. "Now you feel bad about it? You asked, Eames, if you don't want an answer don't ask the fucking question. I get that all you wanted was a fuck buddy, and I'm so sorry to mess that up for you, but I – " can't keep doing this to myself " – don't feel like playing games anymore." Sarcasm is a defense he's used since his teen years, usually to great effect. It seems to be missing the mark slightly, however. Eames' expression has gone unreadable, and Arthur really doesn't know why.
"I thought you weren't – I thought you didn't mean it." That voice Arthur knows so well, that he would probably dream about if Somnacin hadn't stopped his natural dreams years ago, is rough, as unlike Eames' usually smooth, joking tone as it is possible to be.
"You... what? I am not in the habit of saying shit that I don't mean. I told you I loved you; does that sound like something I'd be idiotic enough to lie about?"
"We'd been drinking and it was still afterglow," Eames pointed out, voice still raw. "I panicked. I didn't want to hear you take it back once you regretted it in the morning." Arthur can't ignore the pain in Eames' voice, and suddenly he's questioning his understanding of the situation. But he needs things to be clear.
"I didn't plan on taking it back. So, if you had known that, what would have happened?" The question is a challenge, which might not be the best method, but there it is.
Eames pauses, swallowing hard. "I wouldn't have left. Not then, and not at all until I had to." Arthur's uncertainty – does Eames mean what he thinks he means – must show on his face, because Eames almost laughs. "I suppose it's my turn to say I love you," he says wryly, "though I had hoped you'd work that out on your own, darling."
"And how was I supposed to – " Arthur's condescending tone is meant teasingly this time; the rather foolish smile on his face ought to make that clear. But Eames doesn't let him finish, instead taking Arthur by surprise when he kisses him, hard. The surprise only lasts a second, though, and then Arthur is giving as good as he gets, for a kiss that lasts as long as the need for oxygen will allow. As far as he's concerned, it's still over too soon. When they finally do break apart, Eames rests his forehead on Arthur's, so they're still almost maddeningly close.
"We probably shouldn't be doing this here," Arthur says after a moment. Eames' lips quirk into a slight smile.
"My offer of drinks is still open, though making use of a hotel room mini-bar seems like a better idea than a pub just now."
Arthur laughs; he can't help it. "Sounds like a good plan from here."
Cardiff in September isn't that different from D.C., Arthur notes with some satisfaction. Chillier, yes, but not uncomfortably so. He and Eames are sitting at a coffeeshop's outdoor table, ostensibly doing recon for their latest job but really just enjoying each other's company. Of course, since it's Eames, who can't behave himself, the Brit's foot is slowly making its way up Arthur's leg. He can't quite bring himself to mind.
There is a laugh from behind him and Eames is raising an eyebrow at someone Arthur can't see, but he knows the sound of Jules' laughter. Sure enough, his cousin takes the table's vacant third seat, glancing between them with humor dancing in her blue eyes. "You know, Arthur, I never thought I'd see you let someone play footsies with you in public," she quips.
"Jules, fuck off," Arthur says evenly, but there's a smile tugging at his mouth, despite his best efforts to squelch it.
"Ah, pet, are you going to introduce me?" Eames asks, gray eyes flickering between Arthur and Jules. Arthur knows Eames probably sees the family resemblance, but he makes it clear anyway.
"Eames, this is my cousin, Jules Hartford. Jules – "
"Ah, so you're Eames," Jules cuts him off, bright gaze turning on Eames. "I've not heard nearly as much about you as I'd have liked, but it's very nice to meet you," she says, holding out a hand. At the forger's questioning look, she tilts her head toward Arthur and explains, "This one doesn't talk much about his personal life, it's really very depressing."
"Excuse me for not wanting to discuss my sex life with my cousin," Arthur mutters.
"I never asked about your sex life, not precisely," Jules says. "I can if you like."
"Uh, no, thank you."
Eames bursts out laughing. When they both give him identical glares, he only laughs harder. "Oh no, don't stop on my account," he chokes out. "This is quite entertaining, I ought to be paying admittance, really."
"I like you," Jules laughs while Arthur rolls his eyes. "And that is a very good thing, Mr. Eames."
"Oh?" Eames wants to know, leaning forward. "And why should it matter if you like me, Ms. Hartford?" he asks, copying her mode of address. Jules shrugs, leaning back in her chair.
"Because as long as you're in Arthur's life, I'll be in yours. That's just how it works," she explains.
"Jules, is this payback for Aidan?" Arthur wants to know.
"Considering you threatened him and I'm just having a polite conversation, no," she says, slanting her cousin an annoyed look. "I still don't get why you did that, by the way. I can watch out for myself."
"Not the point," Arthur informs her. "And speaking of points, what is the point of this?"
"Always the point man." Jules blinks, then shakes her head. "Wow, incredibly bad pun there, I do apologize to you both. Actually, this is just about my curiosity, and being friendly." She stops when her phone beeps, and she flips it open, frowning down at the screen. "Well, that figures. Harkness' people are chronically late; for once they're early. Must be Tosh Sato, or maybe Ianto. If it's Ianto, I'll say hi for you, Arthur." Picking up her to-go coffee cup, she stands, flashing them a smile.
"Well, this little chat's been fun, I'll see you around." With a wave she's gone, and Eames turns back to Arthur.
"Does that happen a lot?"
Arthur chuckles. "Not as much as I'd like. We grew up together; her dad got custody of us at about the same time, and then we were both Feds together until I ran off with Cobb."
"I still find it hard to believe you were a government agent, and I'm desperately curious as to why you won't tell me which agency. I don't suppose she would?"
"Jules still works there, so not likely. It really is of the 'if I tell you I'd have to kill you' variety of secrets, Sean."
Eames raises his eyebrows at the use of his first name, and Arthur just tilts his head, giving the other man an unreadable look. He'd dropped the name for a reason; mainly to emphasize that he is serious about this. Arthur doesn't know that he could be slapping a death sentence on Eames' head by telling him about DESI, but he does know Director Hasling well enough to be unwilling to risk it. The day that old man retires and his likely replacement Vance takes over will be a good day for lots of people, including Arthur. He thinks he might tell Eames more then.
"Well, I'd rather stay breathing," Eames says carelessly, "so I suppose I can drop it for the moment."
He doesn't ask any more about Jules either, though he probably wants to and it's certain within his rights to ask. But he doesn't, instead he lets Arthur decide to tell him. Which is probably why Arthur does, why he reveals the entire tale, or at least most of it. He's never really talked about it before, not even to Cobb and Mal who always commented on how the cousins worked so seamlessly together, but Eames just has to give him that patient look and he's spilling secrets.
Arthur knows why, though he's not good at saying it out loud. Guadalajara was a rarity in that regard, because it turns out he does need the alcohol to easily admit how he feels. But that's all right, because it doesn't need to be said. He knows that this is the kind of bond that lasts, the one that doesn't need articulation or questioning. It's a good thing to know.