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a nightingale serenading the infinite

Chapter Text

Eames knows the nature of secrets, how they loom in the back of one's mind, how they whisper and croon, how they can mock and turn and change. There are places locked away in his head he never wants anyone to see, much less Arthur.

He'd bet Arthur already knows, though.

o0o

What they have isn't conventional. It's much more fun.

o0o

Five years after the Fischer job, seven years after they met, Arthur settles into the chair across from Eames at his usual cafe and says, "Routines can get you killed."

Eames toasts him with his lemonade and drains it down.

o0o

(Arthur had a brother once. Back before he was Arthur, he had a brother. His brother loved to dress fancy, to pretend he was someone else, someone important, someone powerful. Someone who'd leave a mark on the world.

Arthur had a brother once.)

o0o

"Our flight leaves tonight," Arthur says.

Eames puts some of Arthur's cash on the table and follows him out the door.

o0o

He doesn't know where they're going, what they'll do once they arrive, or why. Nor does he care. Arthur has a reason for everything, and it all makes perfect sense once it's clear.

Arthur is quiet on the plane. He stares out the window, a scrap of paper clutched in his fist.

Eames only catches sight of the scrap once; it's a sketch, of a much younger Arthur and another dark-haired little boy.

They're both grinning wide enough to light up the world.

o0o

They land just after midnight and the airport is quiet. They have only carry-ons, so they immediately catch a cab. The hotel is nice enough, with only one bed.

Arthur says only what is necessary and goes straight to sleep. Eames stays up, watching him. He's not worried, not yet. Soon, though. If Arthur doesn't explain soon, then Eames will worry.

o0o

In the morning, Arthur says, "Come with me, Mr. Eames."

Eames follows him.

o0o

(Arthur had a brother once, back when his name was Aidan and all he cared about was getting through junior high without broken bones and black eyes.

Aidan's brother was Noah, and he loved to sketch and he loved to paint. Aidan loved math and science, and he dragged Noah to self-defense classes.

Their father said Aidan had the brain and Noah the imagination, and then he slapped Noah across the face. When Aidan forced himself between them, their father shoved him into the wall.)

o0o

The sun is bright in Savannah's sky and Eames doesn't know their destination, but Arthur is trudging along looking all proper and sharp in his suit. He's not even sweating.

Eames thinks about making a comment, but Arthur's shoulders are set and there's no humor in his face. Eames has spotted two guns and three knives hidden away on Arthur's body, which means there are half a dozen other weapons somewhere.

Arthur leads Eames to a cemetery. He hesitates at the entrance, glances quickly at Eames, and then strides through.

o0o

The headstone says simply, Noah and two dates.

Arthur says quietly, "I've missed you."

Eames says nothing at all.

o0o

(Arthur had a brother once. He had a twin who loved to laugh, who was seven minutes younger and ten times louder, who dreamed that one day they would change the world.

Aidan couldn't even attend his brother's funeral. He was in the hospital with a broken leg, a shattered collarbone, and a severe concussion that still lingered days after The Event.

Aidan visited his brother's grave just after the stone was set. Once. He then left town and became someone else.

Arthur came back just after he left the army. His father was never found, and will never desecrate the cemetery where Noah rests.)

o0o

They fly out that night. Arthur doesn't speak at all. Eames tucks him into the window-seat and cradles Arthur's hand in his. Arthur falls asleep against him and Eames rests his chin on Arthur's head.

Once they're back home, Eames gently pulls Arthur behind him until they're at Eames' apartment. He steers Arthur to the bed, strips him, and tucks him in again. He moves to leave, but Arthur pulls him down and curls into him.

Arthur doesn't cry, but Eames wishes he would.

o0o

(In another world, Neal Caffrey takes Peter Burke to a grave the day his anklet comes off. He tells Peter about a little boy who had a brother once.)

Chapter Text

The day Neal’s anklet comes off and he’s a free man, he tells Peter that there’s something he should know.

 

“We have to go to Savannah,” he says quietly, one hand clutching Peter’s sleeve and the other splayed across his hat.

 

Peter makes the arrangements, kisses El, and walks slightly in front of Neal.

 

As far as he knows, Neal has never been to Georgia. 

 

As far as he knows.

 

o0o

 

Neal is quiet on the plane. Peter knows he has plans; he’ll either go to work for the Bureau, still as a consultant, or he’ll help El with her company, or he’ll strike out on his own, hopefully on the right side of the law.

 

Peter is certain, though, that if Neal returns to crime, he wouldn’t be able to catch him again.

 

o0o

 

“Where to?” Peter asks as they walk out of the airport. 

 

Neal looks up at the sky, running a hand through his hair. He takes a deep breath, holds it for a moment, and exhales through his mouth. “I’m not,” he says and pauses. “I didn’t,” he starts over, and then chuckles bitterly. Peter can almost hear tears in the sound.

 

“Neal,” he says softly.   In all the years he’s known Neal, the kid has never grasped for words like this. He’s really starting to worry, and wants to herd Neal back onto a plane and go home. Surely Elizabeth would know what to do.

 

Neal smiles at him, his bright, misdirection smile, and Peter’s worry goes up a notch. “Let’s rent a car,” Neal suggests, like Peter can’t tell Neal’s trying to con him.

 

But this is Neal’s show. He wants Peter to know something three years of chasing him and four years of working with him haven’t already told him. 

 

Something from before Neal Caffrey. Peter still doesn’t know his birth name, his life before he took the white collar crime world by storm. 

 

“Okay, Neal,” Peter says. “Let’s go get a car.”

 

o0o

 

(Neal had a brother once. Back before he was Neal, he had a brother. His brother was serious and looked out for him, dragged him to self-defense classes, aced math and science with ease, and promised him that they’d make something of themselves, would change the world.


Neal had a brother once.)

 

o0o

 

Neal only speaks to tell Peter directions, right up ahead or left at the next light. Peter hums along to the radio and pretends not to notice Neal fiddling with his hands, crumpling his hat, and swallowing back tears.

 

They finally stop at a cemetery. Peter’s not surprised.

 

o0o

 

Neal leads the way, hat clutched in his fingers. Peter follows silently, wishing he could just pull Neal close and hold him tight.

 

Mid-way into the cemetery, Neal stops at a headstone. It says simply Aidan and two dates. Peter closes his eyes in pain for Neal, because the boy buried here was only fifteen when he died.

 

Neal murmurs, “I missed you,” and sinks to his knees, scooping at the grass and dirt. Peter thinks about stopping him for merely a moment and then decides to wait.

 

o0o

 

(Neal had a brother once, back when he was Noah. Noah used to tell Aidan his plans for the future, broad in scope and completely unrealistic. Aidan would laugh with him and then bring the scale down, to something simple and elegant, something doable.

 

Their father said Aidan had the brain and Noah the imagination, and then he slapped Noah across the face. When Aidan forced himself between them, their father shoved him into the wall.)

 

o0o

 

Neal finally gestures to Peter to join him on the ground, cradling an old tin box in his dirtied hands. His hat has been discarded onto the grass next to the grave. 

 

With the care he usually gives to paintings, Neal opens the box and pulls out a scrap of paper. He looks at it for a long moment, ignoring the tears on his face, and then offers it to Peter.

 

Peter is equally as careful as he takes it from Neal and examines it—a sketch of a much younger Neal and another dark-haired little boy.

They’re both grinning wide enough to light up the world.

 

“My brother,” Neal says. He buries his face in his hands and can’t hold back the sobs.

 

o0o

 

Peter had made reservations at a hotel, so he gently leads Neal back to the car, bundles him into the passenger seat, and takes him to their room.

 

Neal keeps holding the sketch, looking at it and then away. Peter wishes he would talk, would finally let go of whatever demons he’s kept hidden for the past twenty years.

 

But Neal stays silent until Peter has tucked him into bed and gone to call El. Then he says, “My twin was smarter than me. Better at everything ‘cept drawing.”

 

Peter settles next to him, hanging up the phone at the first ring. Neal doesn’t look at him. 

 

“We had plans—only a few more months, and we’d be gone. We’d be the best criminals ever. He’d…” Neal swallowed, reaching up to slap away the few tears. “That fucker would never hurt us again.”

 

“Neal…” Peter says quietly, but Neal characteristically ignores him.

 

“I can’t remember that night, Aidan’s last,” Neal tells him. It sounds like a guilt-ridden confession. “I read the police reports later, when I came back. But I can’t remember.”

 

o0o

 

(Noah had just finished telling a joke about lawyers and the Great Wall when his father barreled in, already angry about something. Noah had no chance at all and decided to simply endure.

 

But Aidan was suddenly there, and he told Noah to run, and Noah refused.

 

Noah survived their father’s wrath. He spent two weeks in the hospital and was unable to attend his brother’s funeral, but he survived.

 

Noah visited his brother’s grave once before he left, reinvented himself, and determined to take the world by storm. 

 

Five years after he left, Neal returned to Savannah, located his father, and punished him for Aidan’s death. The body was never found, and will never desecrate the cemetery where Aidan rests.)

 

o0o

 

In the morning, Peter and Neal catch a flight home to New York. Neal goes to work with El and is hired by an on-case basis with the Bureau.

 

Peter digs into Neal’s past, now that he has a place, a name, and a date. He never tells Neal, but he knows that Neal knows. Neal gave his permission when he took Peter to visit a lonely grave.

 

The sketch is framed and put in a place of honor on the Burke mantle, and sometimes Neal stands staring at it. Peter will watch him, but Neal never mentions Savannah or Aidan again.

 

o0o

 

(In another world, Arthur takes Eames to a grave that reads Noah. Over the next few years, he shares pieces of information about a boy who had a brother once, and Eames listens.)