There was a beautiful man in an equally beautiful vintage suit sitting on their sofa when they finally got back to their apartment. They'd been on the move for over thirty seven hours after the last job had gone sideways, and Eames was more than ready to shoot first and ask questions after a good night's sleep, but Arthur caught him by surprise by disarming him before the gun had even made it completely out of his shoulder holster.
With a heavy sigh, Arthur lifted the hand not currently pinching the nerves in Eames's wrist and waved it in the trespasser's general direction.
"Eames, this is my brother…"
The pause, and the microscopic head tilt that followed it, were telling. Arthur was waiting for his brother to introduce himself so he'd know which name the man was currently using. Obviously this fraternal apple had not fallen far from the family tree.
"Neal. Neal Caffrey," the stranger supplied with a gracious head head tilt of his own. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Eames. I've heard...absolutely nothing about you from my baby brother, which makes me wonder what else he's been hiding. From the looks of things, you've been living together for well over a year now, and yet he hasn't mentioned you even once."
Arthur released his grip on Eames's wrist and transferred the pinch to the bridge of his own nose.
"I changed my mind," he muttered. "Shoot him."
Eames was too delighted by the opportunities he could see opening up before him to even consider complying.
In very short order, Eames shooed Arthur off towards the bedroom to unpack their bags while he whisked Neal into the kitchen to get better acquainted over a pot of tea. To Eames's mingled delight and dismay, Neal proved remarkably adept at verbal fencing. The few questions he had the chance to ask were either brushed aside, subverted or tossed back so elegantly that Eames couldn't call the man out on it without seeming rude.
The kettle had barely had the chance to boil before Arthur joined them in the kitchen, sweater and tie disappeared and shirt cuffs rolled up to just below his elbows. He'd also exchanged his brogues for the burgundy leather slippers Eames had brought back from Italy last spring.
Eames was reassured by the sight of Arthur's unsocked feet. Arthur hated going into a fight without adequate foot protection; he'd broken three toes kicking someone in the face with his bare foot on one occasion; spent an hour pulling shards of glass out of his soles on another. An Arthur who willingly removed prime arse-kicking footwear was an Arthur who was confident he wasn't about to end up in a fight. Most of the last of the tension remaining in Eames's shoulders slid away, and he shared a conspiratorial grin with Neal.
"You called Arthur your baby brother, and now I can't stop picturing him as the most adorable moppet ever. Was he as stubborn as he is now? Do you have pictures? Was he-?"
"Fifty-five minutes, Eames," Arthur interjected with a long-suffering sigh. "Neal's not even an hour older than me, which hardly makes me the ‘baby' brother you're imagining."
As he spoke, he spooned coffee grounds into a battered French press and snatched the kettle up before Eames could grab it. He poured out enough for a couple of cups and then placed it down next to the teapot, knowing from previous experience that Eames wouldn't appreciate interference in his tea-making ritual, not even something as simple as pouring the water into the pot.
"Arthur!" Eames sounded gleefully scandalised. "I can't believe you never told me you were a twin. Isn't that like denying half your soul?" He ignored the ‘you idiot' expression on Arthur's face and turned back to Neal, quickly arranging the teapot, two mugs and two spoons on the table before adding a squeezable plastic bear half-filled with honey, and half a dozen small plastic pots that Arthur automatically glared at in disgust.
"Long-life milk," Eames explained cheerfully to Neal. "Arthur hates it, but we're away so often that whatever's in the fridge has almost certainly gone off by the time we get back, and neither of us ever remember to pick up a bottle on the way home, so…" He shrugged as he squeezed a generous measure of honey into his mug, then picked up one of the plastic pots, shook it and peeled off the lid, upending it over his mug before reaching for another. "My mum'd kill me if she ever found out, but Arthur lets me get away with keeping a box of them stashed in a kitchen cupboard."
They each doctored their drinks and sipped in appreciative silence, and Arthur took a moment to really study his brother. He looked nervous, worried but happy, and much more relaxed than he'd been the last time he'd visited.
"So, what's got you worked up enough to slip your ankle monitor and finally use that key I gave you three years ago? Trouble with the feds?"
Arthur didn't look at Eames. He didn't need to; he knew the combination of ‘ankle monitor' and ‘feds' would have questions piling up behind his plump lips and curiosity lighting a fire behind his eyes. Arthur kept his gaze fixed firmly on Neal, who, inexplicably, blushed just the tiniest amount. Only his swift reflexes prevented Arthur's jaw from dropping, and he almost missed Neal's mumbled "Fed."
"Fed. Singular. One fed." Neal paused, then winced slightly. "Well, one fed and his wife." He paused again, and then added, as if compelled, "And their dog."
Arthur pushed his coffee cup out of the way and leaned forward to bounce his head off the tabletop once, twice, three times.
Neal nodded slowly.
"Federal Agent Peter Burke, who spent years chasing you while you taunted him; who caught you, twice, and put you in jail before letting you negotiate your way out and into a position as his pet conman on a very short leash."
Neal kept nodding.
Arthur lifted his head from the table and glared at his brother.
"You put the moves on the fed that adopted you out of the pound and now, what, did things go wrong? Did he react badly? Do you need help getting out of the country? Are you being named as the third party in the divorce papers?"
Neal's expression shifted from embarassed to annoyed and then back to embarrassed again.
"Ok, firstly, nothing happened until Elizabeth cornered me and told me the sexual tension was driving her crazy; that Peter would never make the first move because he was too damn honorable and worried about coercing me into a relationship. Said something about the power dynamics being unbalanced."
This time, Arthur's jaw did drop. He ignored Eames's badly muffled snort. Neal ignored them both, eyes unfocused as he relived the conversation.
"She said she'd had it out with Peter earlier; told him she already loved me almost as much as he did, and that he was blind if he didn't see I was equally gone. Said she'd known before they were even married, and she was sick of watching and wondering, waiting."
"You got permission from the missus to bed her fed?" Eames asked, slightly in awe.
"She said...she wasn't sure if she was ready to share me with Peter, but she was okay with sharing Peter with me while she figured it out. But eventually she did...figure it out. And now we're a thing, officially. A...triad? But discreetly, at least until the ankle monitor comes off; maybe till Peter retires. So…" Neal faded off into silence and just watched Arthur mentally sort and file, cross-reference and tabulate the information; watched him draw the only conclusion he could draw.
Eames felt like he had courtside seats at Wimbledon, watching the conversational ball being lobbed back and forth. The only things missing were the champagne and strawberries. And the random celebrities. He took another sip of tea and watched as Arthur's expression morphed into one of- Was that horror? He'd never seen Arthur look horrified before. He took another sip of tea; this was better than Wimbledon.
"No." Arthur shook his head to underline his non-specific refusal.
"Artie," Neal whined, which sounded ridiculous coming from someone so well put together and otherwise adult, and Eames learned something new about the twins' relationship: Neal was older, but Arthur was the decision-maker of the two.
"No. No, no, and...hell, no."
"Please?" Neal brought out puppy-dog eyes that Eames made a mental note to practice the next time he was under, because they had him wanting Arthur to agree without even knowing what was on the table. But obviously Arthur was made of stronger stuff than he, or he'd built up an immunity.
"I'm not telling Frank that you've hooked up with the fed he offered to kill for you, Neal. Sorry, the fed and his wife. You should've asked Sarah; you know she's better at breaking bad news to him. And, hell, Marvin's going have to be told before he finds out or he'll go for the pig, you know he will."
In the corner of Arthur's eye, Eames's face froze and then scrambled through a whole mess of partial expressions almost too fast for Arthur to decode, before settling into a combination somewhere between stunned, amused, and woefully resigned.
He knew, Arthur realised. He'd recognised the names, totally anonymous unless they were used in conjunction the way Arthur just had in front of someone who already knew how they fitted together. Twenty seconds, three names - four if you counted the pig, and Arthur was definitely inclined to count the pig; it was an important pig - and Eames knew more about Arthur than anyone outside of their deadly little family.
Neal started to say something and Arthur cut him off with a wave of his hand, turning the heat of his gaze onto Eames, who sat back in his chair and cradled his tea with an insufferably smug smirk.
Eames nodded. "I know."
"How long've you-?"
"Just now, Arthur, honestly. Believe me, if I'd known earlier, I might've had second thoughts about wanting to nail your fine arse to the desk. I wouldn't've changed my mind, I don't think, but I might have given the potential consequences a little bit more consideration beforehand."
"Arthur, what does he-?"
"Was it the pig?" Arthur asked, barely even noticing he'd cut his brother off again, he was so focused on matching up the clues he'd inadvertently dropped into their conversation with the rapidly shifting chain of expressions he'd seen on Eames's face.
Eames beamed at him proudly. " It was, indeed, the pig."
"Arthur, what are you-? Wait, the pig? Does Eames know...about the family? Are they safe? Do we need to-?"
Neal braced his hands on the table, preparing to stand, and Arthur wondered what Neal thought he could do once he was on his feet that he couldn't do sitting at the table. There were enough weapons, conventional and unconventional, in the kitchen that Eames and Arthur could kill each other a dozen times over before Neal finished pushing back his chair, but Arthur appreciated his brother's readiness to dive into whatever action Arthur called for. He really had missed his big brother, not that he'd ever call him that, or tell him that, in so many words; Neal didn't need his ego inflated any more than it already was.
"They're fine, Neal. We don't need to do anything right now, right, Eames?"
Eames plastered on his most innocent expression and smiled reassuringly at Neal, who responded by looking even more alarmed than before.
"Quit freaking him out, Eames. Neal, everyone's okay. We're just going to sit here and listen while Eames explains how he knows what he knows and who he knows that makes that knowing okay, okay?"
Arthur manfully resisted the urge to punch himself in the face as he listened to the mess of words falling out of his mouth. So, maybe he was a little more rattled than he'd been willing to let on about Eames finding out about him, about them. He glared at Eames and dared him to laugh.
Eames winked at him and started talking...about his childhood? O-kay.
"For the first ten years of my life, I grew up thinking my mum was my auntie and my auntie was my mum. Then my mum, who was really my auntie, died, supposedly from a heart attack, and my auntie, who was really my mum, sat me down and told me the truth. She worked for the government, did all sorts of dangerous stuff she couldn't tell me about without having to kill me, and my mum - auntie Rose - had been the only person she knew she could trust to take care of me, and now that she was dead, I needed to go undercover to stay safe."
He paused to take a sip of tea, then topped the cooling brew up from the pot and added another squirt of honey from the bear, stirring it absently for several seconds before continuing his tale.
"I was ten and suddenly I was living in the middle of one of the spy novels I used to read under the covers after bedtime. I barely had a moment to grieve for Rose before I was packed off to boarding school in Switzerland with nothing more than a new name, a couple of suitcases and three memorised phone numbers, for emergency use only. Two years after that, I was someone else, somewhere else. After that, I didn't stay anywhere for longer than a year, and my name changed with every move. I'd get the occasional postcard, a couple of short phone calls a year, and every now and then I'd be nudged awake in the middle of the night - I always, always had a single room - and she'd want to know how I was getting on in school, had I made friends, did anyone seem suspicious? I'd sit exams and be gone before we ever got the results, on to the next school, the next name. Holidays were spent either at school, with a carefully vetted friend and their family, or with one contact or another that she trusted to look out for me and keep me out of trouble. I learned a lot of odd skills from a lot of odd people." He grinned crookedly at Arthur and wiggled his eyebrows, then dove back into the story.
"I was eighteen when she turned up one day with a stack of certificates and a bottle of fifty year old single malt. She drank me under the table, a shot for each decent grade I'd earned over the years, and when I woke up with a hangover and a dead ferret instead of a tongue, she was still there, ready with her ‘patented' hangover cure that tasted worse than the bloody ferret."
Eames paused again to take another sip or two of tea, and Arthur wondered if it was to wash away the remembered taste. Neal sat beside him, still and silent, and equally curious, Arthur was sure, to know where Eames was going with this, but trusting enough to know that if Arthur was letting him ramble on without interruption, he was going to get to the point. Eventually.
Arthur had a terrible, horrible, no good feeling that he knew what Eames was leading up to, but oh, how he hoped he was wrong. And Arthur was absurdly willing to let Eames keep rambling, if only to keep that hope alive a little while longer.
"She offered to let me go. Said I was old enough now to choose my own name, my own life, make my own way. She'd pay for college or uni, whatever I needed to make it happen, upfront and without quibbling, but she wouldn't be able to visit me again without risking screwing up any sort of permanent thing I had going on." Eames shook his head. "Soppy cow. She should've known I'd never go for it; well, maybe she did at that. The alternative was a life of bouncing around being whoever and whatever I felt like on any given day, doing odd jobs for odder people using the oddest of skills I'd picked up over the years. Turns out there's a lot of jobs out there for people who can do a little bit of everything and fake the rest. Even after Mum officially retired, she still had all these contacts and favors owed and owing, and she kept her hand in. And then one day, she turns up with this weird-looking briefcase and a very odd tale to tell…"
Arthur's coffee was lukewarm now, but he swallowed the last mouthful anyway, just to give himself a moment to make sure he'd joined the dots correctly. The picture was painfully clear, but before he had a chance to say anything, Neal proved that he was equally adept at making connections.
"Holy shit, you're Victoria's kid?! Frank mentioned you vaguely a time or two, but I was sure he'd made you up to make us look bad in comparison, so we'd try harder. I can't believe you-" Neal abruptly cut himself off and just stared at Eames, and then at Arthur, a grin slowly growing until it threatened to split his face in two.
"Oh, Artie, this is perfect. We need to get in touch with Frank and have him call Victoria and Marvin down for a weekend; tell him we've got something they all need to hear. Then we can double-team them and they won't know who to be mad at first, me for getting involved with a federal agent and his wife, or you for despoiling golden boy, here. You know you're Victoria's favorite, she won't kill you, just make you wish she would for a little while. And Frank won't be able to go too overboard once he hears about the baby, and Marvin… We just need to make sure Frank makes Marvin leave the pig at home, yeah? ...Arthur?"
One half of Arthur's brain was listening to Neal make plans he knew he'd have to sort out later, and oh, god, a baby? Really? As though this mess wasn't complicated enough already without adding questionable paternity to the mix...
The other half of his brain was studying Eames and remembering what little he knew of Victoria's past, comparing dates and times that didn't quite match up unless Eames fudged a few things, and really, when had he ever not lied at least a little?
A couple of old, concussion-fuzzed memories swam into slightly better focus.
"Eames, please, tell me Ivan isn't...?"
Eames grinned wickedly, understanding exactly where Arthur was going with his questioning.
"I don't honestly know. It never seemed polite to ask, and Mum never said, but he took me under his wing the day he met me, and I know I can call on him if I ever need help. Remember Tblisi?"
Of course Arthur remembered Tblisi. The job had gone bad before they'd ever set foot in Georgia, not that anyone had bothered to tell them before they walked into a hostage situation and got caught up in someone else's petty political squabble. Eames had used Arthur's fourth burner phone to call in reinforcements while the armed goons were busy beating Arthur for not handing over phones two and three in their original sweep for all things telephonic.
Arthur had definitely been concussed there towards the end, but he knew he'd ended up shooting several of the bad guys and inadvertently winging one of the...less bad guys who'd temporarily been on their side. He hadn't remembered a face until nearly two days later, and then he'd sat bolt upright in bed, jostling Eames awake.
"I shot...someone I wasn't supposed to?" He'd avoided using Ivan's name because it seemed the thing to do, and his brain still wasn't firing on all cylinders. He hated getting concussed.
"You did, darling," Eames had agreed, tugging at him until he lay back down on the bed. "But I shouldn't worry about it; he didn't take it personally. It was only a flesh wound, after all, and you didn't mean it."
The whole incident had vanished into the deepest recesses of Arthur's brain, filed away as mostly inconsequential and unlikely to be useful. Until now. He really hated getting concussed; it quite clearly made him stupid.
He studied Eames, who was smiling the smile that said he was patiently waiting for Arthur to catch up with the plan, and Arthur realised he was almost certainly doomed to an eternity of Eames smiling that same smile.
"We're really going to do this?" Arthur asked, a final double-check to be sure they were on the same page. "Because, once they know, there's no backing out of it, no second thoughts, no take-backsies. Either one of us fucks this up, they're all going to want to skin us alive, even the pig."
Eames reached out and confiscated the mug that Arthur was absently fiddling with, before he could break the handle off yet another one. Steady as a rock and nerveless under fire on the job, Arthur was an absent fiddler at home with a track record of accidental damage to domestic items galore.
"I'm sure the pig will be merciful, darling, whatever happens. And yes, we are going to tell our strange family of misfits, misanthropes and miscreants that two of their spawn have fallen in with each other, come hell or high water. And then Mr Fancypants here can drop his own little bombshell and introduce his FBI...handler and their missus."
He turned and aimed a beatific smile at a suddenly trepidatious Neal.
"Just as soon as he tells his partners who their new in-laws are, isn't that right, Neal? You can't just drop Mr and Mrs FBI into a pool of CIA, MI6 and KGB alums without a bit of warning, after all, and you can't possibly have thought you could get away with turning up without them for our little reunion. That would hardly be fair on Arthur and I, now would it?"
Neal turned a gratifying shade of grey, and Eames sat back with a contented smile.
Another government branch was about to be grafted onto the family tree, and the fallout was sure to be loud, prone to violence, and ultimately hilarious. And nobody could get too mad once they learned about the baby on the way.
Except Marvin. And they always excepted Marvin. They always accepted Marvin too, and if they could do that, then a bit of FBI blood in the mix shouldn't be much of a problem at all.
The next few months - years - were going to be fun, Uncle Eames would make sure of it.