Disclaimer: Not mine
"If I love you, what business is that of yours?" – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
"Sometimes the perfect person for you is that whom you least expected to be." – Unknown
There's a school of thought which says that men are out of touch with their emotions, that they don't know how to express feelings. Arthur would agree, to some extent, with the second, but he knows women who aren't good at that either. But as for being out of touch... That isn't a problem he's ever had. Arthur is very self-aware, sometimes he thinks that's why he has absolutely no skill for forgery. Most people can at least change their hair or eye color – they might not be able to keep it up but almost everyone can make it happen. That's not true forgery, of course, which is a particularly rare skill, but the point remains. Arthur is good with details and facts, at picking up on things, and this is a talent that extends to the occasions when he's feeling introspective.
Of course, that could also be due to living with a twin sister who insisted on double majoring in psychology and history, then practicing what she learned in psych on him. He's still nursing a bit of a grudge against Aubrey for trying to diagnose him with various psychological disorders over their four years of college. Reading her textbooks in order to refute her theories probably had an adverse effect on him.
But however it happened, the point is that Arthur knows himself, and he doesn't believe in living in denial. He is brutally honest with himself, because the work he's done since getting out of school – first for the military, then for the CIA, and finally working in mind crime with Dom Cobb – requires a lot of convincing lies. So when he first meets SAS Lieutenant Patrick Eames, when he himself is a Corporal in the Marine Corps, Arthur doesn't deny that he finds the other man attractive. He doesn't show it, obviously, because while the Brits may not have to worry about their sexuality in the military, Arthur doesn't much like the idea of being on the bad side of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
This does not mean that he has to dislike Eames (though sometimes he wants to strangle him); there's something about nearly dying in the middle of the fucking desert with a man that leaves a connection, even if the two of you had spent all the time when you weren't trying to avoid death exchanging snarky comments. It's refreshing to find someone besides his sisters who can keep up with him in that area, he has to admit. But that's all.
They meet again when Eames is MI6, Arthur is CIA, and they're both working Project Somnacin. "Well, well, Corporal Casey. Lovely to see you again," Eames says ironically, leaning against Arthur's desk. Arthur looks up and blinks at the man's outfit.
"Jesus. No wonder they put you in a uniform."
"I'm wearing a perfectly serviceable outfit."
"Your jacket is green, your shirt is salmon, and don't get me started on the tie," Arthur says severely.
"Ah, but you see," Eames tells him with the air of a professor instructing a student who is just a little slow, "people remember the clothes and not the face that goes with them. It's a tried-and-true strategy."
Arthur considers this, then shakes his head. "Sounds like an excuse to wear the craziest things you can get away with." But he gets points for a good defense. Not that Arthur will tell him so.
Once the higher-ups realize that they know each other, Arthur finds himself paired with Eames for runs more often than not. It's a mystery to everyone how they spend all their time seemingly at each other's throats, and yet work so seamlessly together. Arthur assumes it's because they've worked together on a real-world battlefield, and doesn't even really think about it until the day Eames is ripped apart before his eyes in the dreamscape, and it feels like he's the one being torn to pieces.
How do you react when you realize you've fallen in love with your partner, a man who barely even knows you outside of work, who you barely know outside of work, and who doesn't even seem to like you very much? Well, Arthur's not sure how most people would deal with it, but he buys a bottle of vodka and proceeds to get spectacularly drunk. He regrets this the next morning when he has the hangover from hell, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.
After that, though, he's... Well, he's surprisingly fine. He never lies to himself but he is quite skilled at hiding things from everyone else. And strangely enough, the way he feels about Eames doesn't change anything, except that maybe he's even more determined to watch the other man's six – no, not in that way, except that, yeah he does, when the job isn't the focus – but no one, not even Eames himself, notices.
So it's fine. It's really fine. And after a while, it's just another piece of his life. He has two sisters, a degree in cryptology, a fondness for bad sci-fi films, and he's in love with Eames. These are simple facts that describe him, but it's not like he has to talk about it. He's considered telling Eames, sure, but... Love isn't blinding, at least not for Arthur, and he knows Eames. The man takes everything seriously except for relationships, and Arthur would be setting himself up for heartbreak if he ever says anything. Not to mention he's not entirely sure if Eames even likes him as a friend, or if he just considers them coworkers. So he keeps it to himself, internalizes it like everything else, and it just becomes part of who he is. And that's all right.
The next few years are something of a blur, with Project Somnacin ending abruptly – which also means that the British contingent leaves, Eames vanishing from Arthur's life probably for good this time – and then Mal killing herself. Arthur goes on the run with Cobb mostly out of a sense of guilt; he was the handler for this pair of civilian researchers, he should have seen they were going too deep and stopped them. It's too late for Mal, but he can try to stop Cobb from self-destructing.
He's so focused on that, especially when Mal starts showing up and sabotaging jobs, that he almost doesn't react when they need a forger and Cobb finds Eames. Eames, who has apparently gone as rogue as they have, for reasons he won't share. Cobb refuses to work with Eames unless the other man has a totem, and dutifully, Eames produces a red poker chip. Arthur knows that isn't his totem, knows because he's seen Eames lighting cigarettes in-dream with a silver lighter that he never uses in reality, preferring the cheap plastic ones instead. But he's not about to tell Cobb, especially when not even Eames is aware that Arthur knows.
Arthur keeps tabs on Eames after this. It's not that he's ever going to show up on Eames' doorstep, declare undying love, and hope for the best, it's just... He loves Eames, even if Eames will never know, and the other man seems to have gained a real talent for taking risks. Arthur doesn't like that, so he keeps an eye on the Brit. This is how he knows that Eames is in Mombasa when Cobb says they need him for the inception job, but Arthur does not want Eames here. This is going to go wrong, he knows it, and... He doesn't want Eames caught up in it.
But he can't dissuade Cobb, so here Eames is again, and it's not quite as fine as it usually is, not when they're in Fischer's head, getting shot at. And Arthur forgets for a minute that it's a dream, shouting at Eames, "Are you all right?" with his heart in his mouth.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm OK." Relief washes over Arthur, short-lived because Saito's hit, but... And then, of course, once they get to the warehouse, Cobb drops the bombshell that dying here is every bit as threatening as real death, because limbo...
There's a moment where Arthur considers breaking his pattern, considers grabbing Eames, pulling him aside and telling him the truth. But then Cobb tosses him a mask, and the moment passes. It would be a bad idea anyway. Still, in the hotel, Arthur gives in just a little, dropping to the ground and hooking up Eames' IV. He needs to, just for a second, he needs some kind of contact because right now his "I'm fine" mindset is feeling a bit off. This could really be it, and he needs some assurance that so far, they're still OK.
"Security's gonna run you down hard."
"And I will lead them on a merry chase."
"Just be back before the kick."
"Go to sleep, Mr. Eames."
Arthur can't believe it when he opens his eyes on the plane and Cobb is stirring, along with Saito. He really didn't think it would work. Ariadne is relieved, and Arthur shoots Cobb a grin, shaking his head. He doesn't let himself look at Eames until then, because he saw the flash of suspicion in the forger's eyes earlier, when Arthur had hooked up the other man's IV. But the quick glance he does allow himself lets them share a moment of incredulity, and he knows Eames is still riding the adrenaline high just like he is.
Holy shit, they did it. And it has to be that thrill that has him accepting Eames' offer of a drink. Everyone else is gone; Cobb left with Miles, Saito vanished, and Ariadne and Yusuf headed off together to seek out L.A.'s tourist attractions. So it's just him and Eames, and the two of them needing to be around someone who knows what's happened. So Arthur decides, why the hell not?
In the bar they talk about what happened, Arthur asking how they managed after the first kick. "I was a little worried you guys would get stuck with an avalanche," he admits.
"No, no," Eames says, shaking his head. "Just the security. Took them out while Saito had Fischer and Cobb took Ariadne by a different path."
"What, solo?" Arthur jokes. "Look who's James Bond." The beer is relaxing him, making his voice more teasing than caustic, something Eames clearly does not fail to notice, but instead of commenting, he just responds in kind.
"Well, there are worse people to be compared to than the likes of Connery and Moore," he says lightly. "And how about you? I thought I saw we were in a lift before the second-level kick went through."
"Yeah, well, I had to drop us without gravity, setting the C4 up under the elevator worked."
"Well, well, I'm impressed," Eames says with a smirk, tossing Arthur's words from the planning stages of the job back at him. Arthur shakes his head.
"So am I, Mr. Eames," he says, and he means it.
Eames has never really known what to make of Arthur. He's the guy you want beside you in a combat situation, cool as ice and quick on his feet, but beyond that... The verbal sparring is fun some days, and downright aggravating on others. He's never entirely sure if Arthur is kidding or trying to be nasty, because his tone of voice really doesn't change. The man is damn near impossible to read, and since Eames has made a career out of reading people, that's frustrating.
He's never been comfortable around people who never seem to relax, who seem to care about nothing but work. His father was that sort of workaholic, and Eames clashes with that personality type almost as a matter of principle. But Eames also knows how not to waste resources, and Arthur is a resource. He's also drifting just now, cut loose from Cobb. Eames works as an extractor himself when he's not forging, and while he hasn't had a permanent point man until now... Even if he and Arthur don't get along that well, they've always been amazing together in terms of work, so it's a good idea.
So he offers Arthur the job. And honestly, expects a refusal. But Arthur gives him one surprised look, pushing his hair out of his eyes – and it's weird seeing Arthur loosened up a bit by alcohol, with his hair coming loose, weird and somehow nice – and then nods. "All right. Worth a shot." And Eames is furious with him suddenly for sounding so dismissive.
"I'm sure it will be terribly dull, after working with a man like Cobb. After all, he seems to love throwing everything into chaos with the psycho Mal in his head, you must never have been bored," Eames says caustically. Arthur frowns at him.
"What set you off? Seriously, Eames, I'd like to work with you again."
He sounds like he means it, a surprise in itself, and Eames lets up on him. This is Arthur, after all; if he wasn't condescending he'd probably be dying. Actually, even then he'd probably find a way to make one last comment. "All right," he concedes.
Surprise seems to be the new normal in his latest working partnership, because Arthur seems bound and determined to shatter every perception Eames has ever had of him. He's never seen the man out of uniform – because it's clear to him, at least, that Arthur's suits are as much a uniform as his actual one was – and has actually wondered, from time to time, if Arthur has any other clothes. They set up shop in Mombasa, since Eames already lives there and Arthur doesn't live anywhere, and Eames offers to help the other man find a small flat.
Arthur agrees, and meets Eames at the same casino where Cobb found him. Eames isn't sure where Arthur went from L.A. before coming here, he said something about visiting his sisters, but the real shock is not that Arthur actually has family. Most people do, after all. It's that he shows up in Mombasa wearing khakis and a red T-shirt. Eames stares at him for a minute, completely poleaxed. "So you can be a normal person," he says finally. Arthur rolls his eyes.
"It's Kenya. I'm not risking heatstroke just to help you keep your clearly skewed impressions intact."
"Well, that makes sense, but are you sure the lack of sartorial excellence won't kill you faster than the heatstroke would?"
Arthur actually laughs. "Death by suit? Now that would be embarrassing; I wouldn't give you the satisfaction of seeing it."
"Wow, maybe you're human after all."
"So glad you've noticed."
It sounds as snarky as their other interactions, but the difference is that they're both smiling.
That becomes the theme with their exchanges. They're as sharp-tongued as ever – Arthur still comments on Eames' taste in clothing and Eames tells Arthur that he's a stick-in-the-mud, Arthur laments Eames' spelling and Eames pushes Arthur's chair forward when he's got it tipped back. But there's no malice, in fact it all starts to be overlaid with a sense of fond exasperation.
One incident in particular sticks out to Eames. They're at a bar in Dallas after performing extraction on a local oil man, and they're both a little tipsy. Eames looks at Arthur, who is leaning on the bar with his hair falling into his eyes, and says, "Careful there, you're about to lose your stick-in-the-mud credibility, darling."
Arthur slants him a look, them smirks wickedly. He says nothing, simply gets off his stool and heads off, and Eames frowns, watching his progress as he – No. No way. There's no... Except he is. They've come across this bar on karaoke night, and Arthur is getting on stage. Eames pulls a silver lighter from his pocket and thumbs the switch. No flame. All right, so this is a reality, but Eames is not sure it's his reality. Because in his reality Arthur Casey would never get on stage and sing – Bad Romance? Lady GaGa? Really?
Arthur is surprisingly good, which Eames thinks is rather beside the point of karaoke – isn't karaoke meant for people drunk off their ass to make idiots of themselves with off-key screeching? – but he can't really make himself care about points. The song is not endearing, it borders on being filthy at some points and isn't to Eames' taste overall, but Arthur is endearing while singing it. He's clearly having a hell of a time up there, especially with the French bits that roll off his tongue like some kind of candy. His eyes are sparkling and he's got a wide grin on his face, and Eames can't help but grin himself.
When Arthur comes back to his seat next to Eames, he orders a shot from the bartender, tosses it back, and slams the glass on the counter. "Stick-in-the-mud, Mr. Eames?" he says with a challenge lighting his eyes.
"I stand corrected, and am quite impressed."
"Now who's condescending?" But there's a laugh in Arthur's voice when he says it.
Arthur can be like this, Eames finds out. He has a wicked sense of humor and can talk for hours about almost anything Eames brings up, he's not stiff and too professional after all. Eames isn't sure what always made Arthur so composed all the time before, but he doesn't really miss it. He likes this Arthur, who doesn't always bother to gel his hair and actually wears jeans occasionally, who can curse the air blue in eight languages even though he's only fluent in two and passable in a third. He's managed to pick up the foul language of five more, and since Eames is also rather good at picking up swear words, it's entertaining to listen to Arthur on a rant. Especially when he's also got a few drinks in him, because then his perfect nondescript voice gives way to a Southern drawl that does strange things to Eames' head.
All of this combines with the fact that Eames has always known how attractive Arthur was to make him admit that he likes the other man, that lately he's caught himself wondering what it would be like to cajole Arthur into bed and peel off his waistcoats and suit trousers – or his leather jacket and jeans, depending on the day and the country – and see if it's only temper that makes the younger man swear in many tongues. It's a bit of a problem, but it's not the first time Eames has wanted to shag a coworker. He tells himself it won't be the last, though working with Arthur all the time naturally makes it all a bit more intense.
It's not until Jakarta, until the two of them get separated and Eames doesn't see Arthur for two days, that he realizes it's more than that. Eames paces the floor of their safe house, biting his knuckle and trying not to remember all the times he's seen Arthur die in dreams, because those memories feel just a bit too real right now. And when Arthur does show up, he collapses onto one of the beds almost immediately, pale with dark shadows under his eyes and a hastily done-up bandage on his shoulder. Eames pulls a blanket over the unconscious point man, and it hits him in a rush, that somehow he's totally gone on Arthur, and he's in a shitload of trouble.
"You want us to what?" Arthur says, readjusting his hold on his cell phone.
"I would like you and your lover-boy to come to London and help this lot with that subconscious security thing. Ryan and Becker say the SAS gets it now as a matter of course, and of course you helped me out, but the rest of the civilian team haven't got a clue. Lester got it, but Claudia's not high up enough in the Home Office for it," Ashley says, voice tinny on the other end, several thousand miles away from Arthur's hotel room in Kyoto.
"Eames is not my lover-boy," Arthur grumbles, though he knows he's not terribly convincing.
"Not for lack of wanting it on your part," Ashley observes, reading him as easily as if she were in the room and not in London. "You could tell him, you know. I mean, he's been working with you a year now, he wouldn't do that if he didn't like you."
"How much are you offering?"
She names a price, then says, "Arthur, don't change the subject. Look, I know you – "
"I'll talk to Eames about the job, Ashley, and I'll call you back." Arthur hangs up, shaking his head. The thing about older sisters is that they're always trying to fix things for you. Arthur doesn't need them to be fixed.
But now that Ashley's brought him up, Arthur can't turn his thoughts from Eames. The fact is that Arthur originally fell in love with someone he didn't really know. He fell in love with a competent partner, with a charming grin, the faint scent of soap and cigarettes, that damned accent, and the rare hint of the man behind the mask, but now he's really starting to know Eames and he can't deny that it makes things more difficult. Because now he knows that Eames can't sing to save his life, but enjoys following along with classic rock music, not even caring that he's tone-deaf. He knows that Eames can cook ridiculously complicated dishes but at the same time can't make toast without charcoaling it.
And Eames knows Arthur now, there's no doubt about that. Arthur has enjoyed throwing the forger off-balance at every turn, wearing jeans or not using gel, the karaoke incident in Dallas. It's fun to see Eames puzzling over something else Arthur has done that doesn't fit into the point man persona that was all Eames had to work with before. Because that's not who Arthur really is, even though he himself had almost forgotten it.
But then, Eames is not who he pretends to be either. He's brilliant and if he decides to actually be loyal to you then you've got someone to watch your back for life. Arthur suspects that this is why Eames is loyal to so few people; because when he gives loyalty he goes all the way with it, and there are few people who would repay him in kind. He plays the backstabbing bastard because it's safer.
It's strange, really, to be working with Eames when he is an extractor/forger, not just a forger. Because while he does use forges to extract, he doesn't always. When he doesn't it's even more fascinating to watch, the way he becomes somebody's best friend, encouraging them to spill their secrets. He does that as someone else too, sometimes, but Arthur finds it more interesting when he does it as himself. He prefers Eames to be Eames all the time anyway. There's a small part of him that hates every forge he sees the other man put on, because as long as that person is there, Eames is not.
Except that he is. Eames told him that one night when they'd been drinking, and Arthur had asked how he could let himself go so much to become someone else. Eames had shaken his head, looking uncharacteristically somber.
"It's not about letting yourself go," he'd said, frowning. "It's about putting on a mask, convincing everyone else you are someone else while still making damn sure you don't start to believe it yourself. I knew some other forgers who couldn't do it, and they went round the twist, couldn't cope."
Arthur remembers the look in Eames' eyes then, how they went from clear gray to almost black with what were clearly unpleasant memories. He hadn't asked anymore, understanding enough about nightmares, about watching people slip into dream-madness – Mal had been his friend and Cobb just his coworker, something no one seemed to remember anymore, including Cobb – to leave it alone.
He knows so much more now, but it doesn't change a thing. In fact, it makes him even more sure he's right. Because Eames is his friend now, the person he's closest to besides his sisters. And admitting that he's in love with Eames would ruin that. It's much smarter to say nothing, because what they have is good. It's good, and Arthur's actually happier than he's been in a long time, working with someone he can actually trust – because he could never really trust Cobb, not with shade-Mal always lingering. He doesn't see any need to ruin it by complicating matters. He's all right with caring more about Eames than Eames cares about him, because Eames does care to some extent, and that means they can have a friendship and a partnership that works. Messing that up would be stupid, and while he's not depressed over not being able to have more than friendship, he suspects that destroying what they have now would take a toll on him.
Shaking the thoughts off, Arthur crosses the hall to Eames' door and knocks. The Brit answers and moves aside to let Arthur in, raising an eyebrow. "Thought we were both down for the night," he says, tiredness lacing his words. He's in boxers and a wife-beater, but then Arthur is in his pajamas as well, cotton slacks and an undershirt.
"Yeah, well, just got a call from my sister Ashley. I told you about her, she – "
"Is English because her mum was, lives in London and works on some top-secret project for the Home Office, yes, Arthur, you've told me before. What did Ashley want that I need to know about?"
"Apparently her boss wants the civilians on the team to get anti-extraction training. She wants to know if we're up for the job."
"How's it pay?" Eames asks, covering a yawn with one hand.
Arthur names the sum Ashley had told him, and Eames purses his lips. "Not bad. I'd usually want more if we're to be working for the bloody government – "
"Technically it's your government."
"Which makes it worse. But this is your sister, right? So, all right, let's do it."
"Eames, if you don't want to I can handle it. I mean, I can't really tell Ash no, but you're not obligated..."
"Hush, Arthur," Eames says, giving him a look. "We're both going. Besides, it gives me an excuse to meet one of your sisters. How can I pass that up?"
They arrive at Heathrow and have only just gotten through the customs line when Arthur feels someone plow into him. The smell of oranges tells him it's Ashley – she's used that shampoo since she was fifteen – and his arms come up to wrap around her automatically. "Hey, Ash," he says when he moves her back a little so he can look at her. Ashley's not tiny, but she's shorter than Arthur and Aubrey, even though she's the oldest.
"My God, Arthur, are you wearing jeans? You never wear jeans when you're working!" Ashley moves back and glances at Eames. "Hi, I'm Ashley Stafford, and you must be Eames. Is this your influence?"
Eames smirks, shaking Ashley's offered hand. "Not intentionally, Dr. Stafford," he says brightly, "but I can only hope I had something to do with it."
"Oh no, are you two going to gang up on me for this entire job?" Arthur mutters. A quiet laugh behind him makes him turn to smile at Jenny, Ashley's girlfriend and the PR rep for their so-secret program.
"Don't worry, Arthur, I'm on your side," she says with an amused smile.
"Oi, you live with me, don't forget that, Jen!"
Eames slants an amused look Arthur's way as they follow the cheerfully bickering women out of the airport. Arthur tries not to think about how much Jenny and Ashley actually sound like him and Eames.
It's at the end of the job when Ashley pulls him aside. "Arthur, you really should say something to him about this, from what I've seen it won't be taken badly."
Arthur sighs, glaring at her, but the concern in his sister's bright green eyes makes it hard to stay angry with her. "Ash, I appreciate it, but I – "
"I just want you to be happy, Artie, really. And I don't think you are. You're in love with him, and to be honest, I think you might have a shot if you say something."
"Don't call me Artie, and Ashley... Look. Maybe you're right, but you don't know Eames well enough to be sure, and I'd rather not risk it. I like how things are. They could be better, but there's no reason to chance screwing up something good when you don't know how it will turn out."
"And this is why you like that loaded die of yours," Ashley says, but she leaves it at that. Arthur should be more relieved and less upset about that than he is.
Eames gets his first clue that this is not a safe house when he sees a light in one of the upstairs rooms. "Arthur, what is this place, really?" It's not like they need a proper safe house, exactly; it's just better if they don't check into any hotels for a few weeks. The house is in Savannah, Georgia, which is enough to raise Eames' suspicions. Arthur grew up in Savannah.
"I grew up here," Arthur says, not quite looking at him. "Shit, Aubrey's home, I wasn't expecting that," he mutters as he fishes a key from his pocket, opening the door.
"Ah, don't you think it's a bit risky to be here?"
"No, not when Barton is going to be looking for us in Australia, not the southern United States."
Eames can't really argue with that, and he's distracted anyway when a woman comes running down the stairs. Ashley looked a lot like Arthur – he's seen pictures and knows that all three of the Casey-Stafford siblings closely resemble their father – but Aubrey... If Arthur had been born female, they'd probably be identical twins. Even the way she moves is similar to Arthur, though she doesn't have the same edge of danger to her.
Unlike Arthur, Aubrey still has her accent, though it's faded. Eames remembers that she teaches history courses at one of the various universities in Philadelphia, and so that's probably why her words are carefully pronounced and the drawl is not as strong as he might have expected. "Arthur, what are you... Is everything all right?" she asks, dark eyes sharp as she takes them in.
"Yeah, Aub, it's fine."
"All right then." Aubrey looks over at Eames then, and her smile is very... odd, somehow. "You must be Eames, yeah?"
"That would be me. Pleasure to meet you," Eames says, not entirely sure how to act for once. Because this Aubrey is looking at him in the strangest way, and he can't quite figure out why.
"What are you doing in Savannah, isn't it the middle of the semester?" Arthur asks.
"Spring break, I came down to work on my new novel. Speaking of, I should get back to that. Nice seeing you, boys," she says, before turning and heading back up the stairs.
"Is she always like that?" Eames asks.
"No, but she's in writing mode just now," Arthur explains. "She's weird when she's working on a novel, she can't really pull out of that headspace enough for proper human interaction."
"Oh, so she's like you when you're researching?" Eames quips. Arthur smacks him over the head, but grins as he does it.
"If you want to say so, sure, why not?"
They're there for three days and barely see Aubrey during that time. Music drifts down from the third floor bedroom where she's set up shop, and sometimes you can hear her pacing the floor, but it's almost like it's just him and Arthur in the house. It's a whole different level of... Well, Eames isn't sure what to call this. There's little things all over the house that tell stories, about Arthur and his sisters and their late father, and Eames realizes what a gesture of trust it is, for Arthur to bring him here. To have him in the Casey home, and be willing to explain the stories behind the photographs on the wall, or completely random things like the faded ink-stamped ghosts on the living room door. ("Aubrey and I were trying to decorate for Halloween and all we had was the ink-stamper. We were four at the time, it made sense.")
Eames almost wishes he wouldn't, because the stories – and seeing how Arthur is when he talks about them, soft and fond and almost losing his sharp edges – are only making him fall that much more in love. But in the end, the desire to know more is stronger than what's left of his sense of self-preservation and he asks a near-constant stream of questions. He waits for Arthur to finally stop answering, but he never does, and the forger wonders how he earned this level of trust from the other man.
Eames goes down to the kitchen on the fourth morning feeling distinctly out-of-sorts. Bouts of amnesia are all too common among dreamers, but that doesn't mean he hates it any less when it happens. He's planning on making a large cup of coffee – he doesn't even bother with tea when he's not in his flat or in England, as it's almost never good enough – but finds the coffeemaker already full. He spins around to see Aubrey in the corner of the shadowed kitchen; it's not quite six AM, so it's still pretty dark out.
"Didn't mean to scare you," she says, eying him over the rim of her mug. It's a mug Eames remembers seeing on a forced trip to the Tower of London when they were finally allowed loose in the gift shop, bearing the portraits of Henry VIII's Queens. But then, history professor who writes historical novels, according to Arthur, so he's not surprised.
"You didn't, really, but I'm surprised to see you down here," he says as he collects a mug of his own – neon orange, he's not sure whose it was before but Arthur winced dramatically when he first used it and so it's Eames' for the duration of this visit. "I have to confess, I was starting to think there was no one up there, just a radio that turned on and off on its own."
"Cute. I spend my semesters doing nothing but write comments on students' essays, and much as I love my job, when I get time to write I take it."
"Even at the expense of spending time with your twin?" Eames asks, curious. He knows from what Arthur's told him how close the siblings are, and he saw it firsthand with Arthur and Ashley. But Aubrey shrugs, resting her chin on one hand and giving him that same odd look she'd given him when they were introduced.
"Arthur expects me to lock myself up if I'm writing, the nice thing about being twins is how well we understand each other. Why do you care about that?"
Shit. "Arthur's my friend, I know he's close to you and to Ashley, it just seemed odd."
"He's in love with you, you know."
At least, Eames notes with the small part of his mind not gone utterly blank with shock, she waited until he wasn't drinking to say that. "I... I'm sorry, what?" he finally manages to ask in a strangled voice.
"Ashley tried to get him to tell you after you two did that job for her, but he wouldn't listen. I favor a more direct approach. He's been gone on you for... Oh God, I don't even remember now, it was before either of you went rogue."
"Wh- Why didn't he say anything?" Eames asks, because Aubrey seems to know everything about this anyway, and how is that fair? Arthur's in love with him and he didn't know, but this woman who has nothing to do with it – except she's Arthur's sister so in some way she does, but still – can tell him all about it so matter-of-factly.
"You'd have to ask him that. I imagine he didn't want to chance it not going well, and him ending up with his heart broken. I really hope that's not what's going to happen, Mr. Eames." He's an internationally wanted criminal, and she's a university professor, but somehow that doesn't stop Eames from feeling very nervous for a moment there.
He doesn't ask Arthur until several hours later, the two of them smoking on the back porch. "We can probably go in a few days," Arthur says, and Eames doesn't miss the quiet regret in Arthur's voice, or the slight hint of a drawl that's been creeping back into his voice over the past few days.
Eames could say something in response to Arthur's comment, but he doesn't. For a moment he says nothing at all, but then he decides to just do it already. "Your sister says you're in love with me."
Arthur turns to look at him full-on, his face that composed mask Eames once thought was his natural expression, and now he can't stand it. He prefers Arthur with the constant hint of a smirk on his face, eyes glinting with a dry humor. "Does she?" Arthur asks. "Well, I guess I shouldn't be surprised, Aubrey always was the more hands-on sister in her meddling."
"Is she right?"
"Well, yes, she wouldn't be meddling with a lie, that would just be stupid," Arthur says, and he;s not looking at Eames now, but rather at his own hand, fingers splayed against the dark wood of the porch railing.
Eames can't find words for a moment, but what he finally asks is, "Why didn't you say anything?" He can hear the frustration and the hurt in his own voice, but doesn't bother to hide it. Arthur is looking at him again, and he looks completely bewildered. But at least it's the real Arthur, not that damned point man mask again.
"Why would I say anything? Then you would know." Eames' jaw drops, and Arthur must decide that the reaction warrants more explanation, so he says, "We're friends, and it's good. I like us being friends. Why would I want to chance ruining that?"
Eames stares at him for a minute longer, before crossing the distance between them in two strides and crushing his mouth to Arthur's. The other man doesn't respond at first, freezing in shock, but then he's kissing Eames back, one hand gripping Eames' shoulder and the other on his neck. Eames, for his part, curves his hands around Arthur's hips, and doesn't let go even when he pulls back. Arthur is staring at him, eyes wide and dark, a cautious hope easily visible there.
"I love you madly, darling," Eames says with all the honesty he can muster, "but you're an idiot."
"Maybe I am, but it got us here, didn't it?" Arthur says, pulling Eames in for another kiss. And Eames can't argue with that, really.
"And think not you can Direct the course of love, For love, If it finds you worthy, Directs your course." – Kahlil Gibran