It starts when the man Arthur has been silently observing —okay, fine, lusting after— through his window for close to a month now, writes with a dry-erase marker on his window:
I have been watching you watch me. I am flattered. –E
Which should have been really creepy, but all Arthur does is to grin at the message like an idiot when he comes home from work to see it, erase it and replies with:
I was watching the waiter. –A
To which E replies the next day with:
Tosh. The café’s staffs are all women. I triple-checked. ;) –E
When Arthur looks up from the message, tampering his grin down, E winks at him, mug raised in a greeting. Arthur tries to scowl but it doesn’t work so he settles for picking up his own mug of coffee and sipping it, eyes still locked onto E’s.
E starts a game one week after the first message. He writes:
If you can guess my name, I’ll buy you tea. –E
Arthur raises an eyebrow when he sees the message. E is looking at him, grinning like a Cheshire cat, fucking challenging him and right now, it doesn’t even matter that he doesn’t drink tea. Arthur narrows his eyes and picks up the blue marker pen he now keeps on the table next to the window.
The next day, E answers Arthur’s Edward with:
Too common, not even close. –E
Arthur writes Eliot Elvin Elvis Emmett Eric Ernest Ewan when he comes home and thinks that one of them should be right. E answers with a smiley and the try harder, pet.
Arthur tries to feel disappointed about not getting it right but ends up staring at the word pet and feeling tingles in his stomach.
Arthur takes his challenges very seriously, which is the only reason why he is staring at E from his window on a Saturday morning with A World of Baby Names he borrowed from Mal in his lap, trying to decide if E could be an Edgerton.
Edgerton is an Old English name. It bears the meaning of “successful spear thrower”. Arthur lets his eyes linger over E’s well-built body and yes, E looks like an Edgerton to him.
“Edgerton,” Arthur tries. “Edger. Ed.”
Hmm. Something is decidedly off.
“Edmund?” Arthur muses to himself. “You don’t look like an Edmund.”
He crosses both names off the book and flips a page, brows furrowing when he sees Edred and Edson.
In reply to you mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling Arthur replies with Ebenezer after he contemplates taking a picture of it, because darling. No one has ever called him darling.
E’s reply is a gigantic :D.
Arthur writes So it’s correct? Your name is Ebenezer? the next morning and tries not to laugh (or blush) when he looks out of his window and E is laughing, eyes trained in Arthur’s direction.
He is grinning even as he scalds his tongue on his coffee when he sees E’s reply:
No, but I reckon I wouldn’t have minded. -E
Ethan? Do I look like an Ethan to you, pet? Also, what else do you do in your spare time other than trying to guess the names of handsome strangers? –E
Arthur snorts when he sees the message and replies with:
I don’t remember guessing names of handsome strangers in my free time. I’m quite sure I would have been aware of such a hobby. Elijah? –A
You wound me, darling, you do. Also, no. –E
E is pouting when Arthur looks up from the message. He raises his coffee cup in a greeting to E before grabbing his marker pen and writing:
I write and I go to the shooting range to work off steam. I enjoy shooting shit. Ean? –A
He wonders for a moment if he should rub his reply off because how is telling someone you are sinfully attracted to that you know how to use a gun and will not hesitate to shoot their balls off if they offend you ever a good idea?
He is proven wrong, though when E replies the next day:
Ah, you must let me accompany you to the shooting range someday. I find men who are good with guns dangerously sexy. –E
E is staring straight at him. Even at this distance, Arthur can see that E’s eyes are dark and heated and it makes him consider briefly if he should just march over to the train station, rip off E’s clothes and ride his cock right there, screw the audiences.
E’s lips twitch slightly as though he knows what Arthur is thinking. Arthur flushes up and looks down hastily away from E’s gaze. He scribbles down a stupid reply and flees before he does what he really wants and gets locked up for public indecency.
Are you ready to give up yet, darling? E asks him.
Arthur scowls at the smiling E.
No, Eugene, I am not ready to give up. And it’s not like you can guess my name. –A
To which, E —of course he does, since Arthur’s life is just a serious of embarrassing stories threaded together to make people cringe and laugh— guesses:
You are definitely an Arthur. You look like an Arthur to me. –E
Arthur doesn’t confirm or deny, but he is pretty sure E knows he’s right, what with all the smirking and the winking.
Say, darling, what is it you do for a living? And no, it's not Eden. –E
Eiden? I'm an accountant. –A
Ah, good with numbers, then? Not Eiden, not any variation of that name, too. –E
Eli? I'm decent with numbers, yes. –A
You must be downplaying your strengths. I shudder to think that you are anything except perfect in everything. Also, you must help me sort out my books sometime. Math was never my strong subject. Not Eli. And don't try with double Ls. –E
Arthur stares at that last message. There's something off about it that tugs at his heartstrings. He can't really put a finger to it, but it's there.
Arthur frowns when he turns to his window only to see that there is no reply from E. The word Eldred, written in his own spiky handwriting is still there. There is, however, no word from E.
Arthur’s frown deepens.
He spends the rest of Friday morning staring out the window, wondering if Eldred is actually E’s name and watching for E to appear in the café next to the train station but gives up when it seems like E isn’t going to show up and fuck, he’s going to be late for his meeting and if Dom has to send Nash in his place, he will never hear the end of it.
He takes the time, however, to write, down under Eldred:
Specificity, E, or I will start calling you Eldred. –A
E doesn’t reply the next morning.
Arthur spends the whole morning fretting about it and peeking out of his window looking for E, which is absolutely stupid because it’s not as if they were in a relationship or anything and if E decides that he wants tea from some other café or if he wants to catch a train from somewhere else or if he wants a change of scenery, he doesn’t need Arthur’s approval.
He calls Ariadne, who says, “Shit, Arthur, you’re supposed to tell me when cutesy things like that happen to you!” and “Is he cute? No, wait, I bet he is. I bet he’s gorgeous. You wouldn’t be so interested otherwise.” and “What if he has something against the name? What if his father was named Eldred and just passed away?” and suffice to say, she is not much of a help.
Arthur doesn’t write anything on the window that day, even though he wants to. He figures it’s probably for the best, seeing as how he would undoubtedly write stupid things like I miss you or don’t disappear like that or please come back. Which are, you know, stupid and very teenage-y. He’s not about to revert back to his awkward 15 year old self because of E. He’s not.
His window is still empty the next day.
Arthur considers going over to the café next to train station. Someone there is bound to know why E hasn’t been coming in, or at the very least E’s real name, which Arthur can use to track the man down.
He chokes on his coffee when he makes sense out of his thoughts.
His subconscious is helping him plan stalking E.
He doesn’t even know E.
He spends the day finishing a presentation that isn’t due in two months, cleans his whole house (he wipes the offending window thrice) and writes an email to his mother but at the end of the day, he still wants to go over to gather intel on E.
He’s gone absolutely psychotic. There is no other explanation for that.
(There is, actually.
The thing is, when Arthur loves, he loves with all his heart. He lurches into it and he clings onto it for his life. And if he gets bruised and cut along the way, he just grins and bears it because he can take a lot of pain for love and because he’s never known how to give up.
But that is irrelevant because Arthur isn’t in love with E. Arthur doesn’t even know him.)
He calls Mal because Mal knows how to be realistic about things and she always knows what to say to help. Sure, she doesn’t normally bother sugarcoating her words, but he thinks he needs it right now, when he’s pretty much planning to stalk a man whose name he doesn’t even know.
“You have to stop, Arthur,” Mal tells him, voice gentle and soothing and Arthur thinks yes, this is what I want to hear and I know, but I can’t at the same time. “This cannot be healthy. You have to stop before you decide that you are in love with him.”
Arthur listens to Mal because she’s right and he’s always listened to her and she’s never led him off course before. He listens to her because she was right about George and about Richard and about Desmond, and if he'd just listened to her then, he wouldn't have wound up heartbroken.
He picks up the marker pen from beside the window when he hangs up the phone and tosses it into the bin.
He lets the curtains down.
Arthur has not moved to open the curtains for three days. In fact, he’s even decided to move his bookshelf right in front of the window. He is making serious progress in trying to get over his obsession with E. He’s going to make more progress as time goes by and eventually when Ariadne asks him about his window romance, Arthur is going to snort and tell her that he was being stupid.
And if he occasionally (very occasionally and not every time he sees a marker pen or tea or anything like that) misses E —which is moronic, by the way, because how can he miss someone he doesn’t know?—, well, he chalks it down to the fact that he’s never had many friends.
It is about a week after Arthur stopped talking to E when E starts leaving him coffee on his doorstep.
The first cup bears a message:
Are you ignoring me, pet? D: Don’t ignore me. And please let your curtains up again. The view from the café has significantly worsened since you covered your windows up. –E
Arthur stares at the paper cup of the coffee from the café opposite his house dumbly.
What Arthur wants to do is this: he wants to run to the café outside the train station and he wants to sit there until E comes the next morning and he wants to kiss E so hard it would bruise the both of them and then he wants to take E home and do dirty, dirty things with him.
What Arthur does is this: he leaves the paper cup untouched on his doorstep, texts Mal (If the coffee was a test, let it be known that I’ve passed it.) and makes his own cup of coffee. He does not feel strange stirrings in his heart nor does he rush outside to bring the cup of coffee in when Mal replies his text.
Darling, you are driving me utterly insane here. –E
Arthur ignores that.
Open the curtains, pet. I’ll even tell you my name, how’s that? –E
Arthur ignores that too.
I miss you, Arthur. –E
It was hard, but he does ignore it.
Every cup of coffee so far has been perfect — a dollop of milk, no sugar. Arthur’s never had coffee in the café outside the train station so there’s no reason that E would know his preference for coffee. It should scare him somewhat that E appears to know stuff about him, but what Arthur is feeling right now is definitely not fear. Quite the opposite, actually.
Arthur thinks maybe Mal’s got it wrong. So, yeah, maybe E might end up breaking his heart and he might end up crying to Mal about it forever and force her to eat tubs of ice cream with him, but so what? That's the way love is supposed to be like, isn't it? You are supposed to fall headfirst into it and enjoy it while it lasts, enjoy it even if you don't know if it's going to last. You're supposed to put all your chips into that one game and bask in the adrenaline even if you know that the odds are again you because, after all, victory is the sweetest when it comes the least expected, isn't it?
He sips on his perfect coffee and stares at the window. He doesn't open it, but he makes a plan.
Arthur jolts awake from where he has dozed off on the swing in his porch when he hears the telltale sound of footsteps coming up the porch. He thinks to himself, briefly, that he still has a chance to back out, that he could still pretend to sleep and probably get away with it and really, really, that would be the ideal solution because seriously, what the hell is he doing?
"Hello," he says, instead.
E doesn't jump. He doesn't even falter. "Hullo, Arthur," he says, smile easy and warm, and it's not fair that Arthur can't even balance this whole thing out by catching E off his guard. "You never left any of my coffees untouched. I'm assuming that they were to your liking?"
Arthur doesn't say a thing. He doesn't really know what to say.
"I couldn't really put a finger on what your preference for coffee would be like," E is saying. "You come off as the sort of person who would drink black coffee, but you surprise me most of the time. I thought to take a chance."
Arthur did not think this through. He doesn't really know what he was thinking. How the hell did he think that this would be a good idea? And E. E is completely not what Arthur thought that he would be. E is more well-built and broader than he seems from across the cafe and it is so incredibly stupid how turned on Arthur is by that.
Shit. This was a bad idea.
"Shit," Arthur says, because he's never been particularly good at filtering his thoughts, "this is a bad idea."
E just fucking grins at him, unperturbed. "I can't be that bad."
"Shit, I didn't mean it like that," Arthur says quickly, and he's thinking stupid stupid stupid, "I'm sorry."
"No hard feelings," E says, still smiling softly.
Arthur stares at him, lost.
"I'm waiting for you to ask," E says after a moment's silence.
"My name, pet," E says with a laugh. "I can tell you are having internal monologues and surely you don't want to keep addressing me as E in them."
Arthur freezes in midst of thinking of the best way to bury himself alive and hopes that E is not a mind-reader. "Oh."
"That's still not a question," E prods.
E is pushier in person than he is when he was still hidden behind messages on his window and coffee cups and Arthur isn't sure how he's supposed to process that information. E could be a completely different person here, in person. Maybe he isn't the person Arthur's made him out to be.
"Maybe," Arthur says slowly, still trying to find his words, "maybe I don't want to know."
E's grin falters for a bit but he picks himself up quickly. "You know what, pet? You are different from what I expected," he says softly. "Not a good sort of different." Arthur winces. "But not a bad sort of different too. Just…different. I don't know what to make of it yet, but I'm willing to give it a shot over coffee?"
Arthur gapes at him and wonders again if E reads minds.
"Don't look so shocked," E says, chuckling, "Your thoughts are pretty much written all over your face." He holds out the coffee cup to Arthur. "Well?"
Arthur thinks about heartache and sitting on Mal's couch, head in her lap, telling her about his horrible mess of a romantic life. He thinks about messily eating chocolate ice cream and feeling terrible for weeks. He thinks about waking up alone in the morning and feeling like his whole life is a conspiracy.
Then he thinks about marker pens and silly messages on his windows. He thinks about smiling as he thinks about E before he sleeps and anticipating his reply when he wakes up. He thinks about perfect cups of coffees and that gorgeous smile twisting on E's lips.
"Arthur Moss," he says, reaching out a hand. "And you are?"