The Cobbs have pulled Arthur in for another extraction job. It’s decently steady work, if a little stingy on the government dime.
“Our Forger –”
“—Eames,” Arthur says, like it’s been pulled out of him, and Cobb looks at him through the corner of his eye.
“We’re acquainted,” Eames says smoothly, and puts his hand out for Arthur to shake. “Lovely to see you again, darling.”
Arthur purses his lips into what might be a compressed smile or a compressed grimace. “Pleasure, Mr. Eames.”
Cobb looks like he wants to comment, but Mal’s hand on his arm seems to stop him.
“All right then,” Cobb says, and turns back to the paper-covered wall behind him. “The Neeson job.”
Eames discreetly corners Arthur after Cobb dismisses them. As discreetly as Eames does anything, anyway.
“Why Arthur,” he drawls, “whatever has driven you to this sordid life of crime?”
Arthur considers half a dozen answers before he turns around. “Boredom,” he says finally, and Eames’ laughter follows him out of the room.
“Mum missed you at Christmas dinner last year.”
Arthur double-checks the sight on his gun. “Didn’t you send her birthday gift a week late?”
“I had a little trouble tracking it down,” Eames says, very smug and very sweet, and Arthur sets the gun down very slowly so he won’t kill him.
“Eames. That isn’t an actual Rodchenko hanging in my mother’s living room, is it?”
“Darling, don’t you think she would have noticed?”
Arthur, torn between defending his mother’s credentials and fully believing that Eames is, indeed, that reckless, only sniffs – but not before making a mental note to check next time he goes home.
Arthur’s mother used to work at a museum, handling everything from Baroque into the Rococo. She spends a lot of time away, sometimes overseas, to check on exhibits, to offer a second opinion on the provenance or legitimacy of a piece, or to beg, borrow – and steal, she used to joke – pieces to show. Most of the time Arthur doesn’t care much – he has to stay with his aunt when his mother’s away, but Arthur has everyone convinced he’s a thoroughly sensible boy – and his mother spoils him, bringing back foreign sweets he likes, and expensive reproductions.
Except, of course, when instead of bringing back Jaffa cakes or a scale-sized Rodin bust, she brings back a fiancée.
Arthur considers himself a mature, evenly-keeled person. He’s never had a father, so this isn’t the first man his mother has gotten serious with, or the first she’s brought home. Possibly the first one she brought across an ocean, however, and certainly the first to give her a ring – a gold rococo thing that dwarves her finger, an antique of some worth, ] ugly as sin. This is the first man who’s ever threatened to turn his life upside-down. Arthur won’t say he hates him on sight, but his feelings aren’t pleasant, either.
Eames takes his father’s engagement in stride. They were never terribly close, after mum died – Eames was shipped back off to school post-haste while dear old dad fell into the bottle for a bit – and quite frankly the old sod getting married doesn’t really change Eames’ life, does it? He continues on at school, he still gets his monthly allowance; everything continues unabated.
He has to skip out for the wedding.
Even though both the bride and groom are in their forties, they’re not quite in their dotage, so there’s some celebration expected. A little bit of spectacle, for Jessica’s first wedding, even though Theodore is only the baronet of east dog’s breakfast in who-gives-a-damn.
He thought – well, he thought Arthur was younger, at the very least. He supposes he wasn’t paying enough attention.
They’re not brothers – not in any sense of the word. Not blood brothers, not half-brothers, barely even stepbrothers. Their parents might be married, but Arthur and Eames only saw each other a few times a year. They’ve got no siblings in common, no other relatives. They’ve barely even lived in the same house.
When Arthur jacks in --
All of a sudden he’s – younger, yes. Hair shorter, but looser, flopping around a bit. He’s wearing jeans, the button-downs and sweater vests he’d favored in high school, before suits were a viable option – before Arthur saw the value in a suit, really. He’s almost… slighter, too. All-around younger, he thinks, and after a moment he realizes where he is – back home, his house, his childhood home--
There are a few details that are wrong, he realizes after a while. Why he’s thrown so far off. Or not… wrong, just older – the house, ten years ago, maybe fifteen. No Rodchenko on the living room wall, kitchen appliances out of date. It’s a trip down memory lane, for whatever the reason, and Arthur tiptoes around the downstairs of the house, expecting to see a projection of his mother scribbling away at the kitchen table, or one of Theo puttering around in his office, or Eames digging around in the pantry yelling about crisps.
Finally he peeks into the extra room, the one that was sort of Eames's, the one Eames at least always stayed in when he lived at home for the summer.
What really sinks in is that Eames – younger, god, was Eames ever that young? Of course he was, of course, Arthur was there for it.
“Eames? What’s going on?”
Christ. Even his voice sounds different.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Eames whispers, “I promise.”
Oh. Arthur thinks. Oh. My God, all this time – he thinks it’s a dream, for a moment, wildly, irrationally. Of course it is, he invaded Eames’ dream, this is Eames’ dream, not his own.
He thinks – he’s always thought that he was Eames’s kid brother, an annoyance, something to be looked after, even now, even as fucking capable as Arthur’s shown himself to be. Eames’ calling him darling, and kicking over his chair, and – and pulling fucking pigtails, Arthur sees now. Ten years worth of fucking pigtails.
"Oh my god," slips out, unbidden, "Eames--" which is... wrong, he was never Eames back then, and Eames only blinks and vanishes.
“Shit,” Arthur sighs. It’s a great way to kill an afterglow, but there’s nothing for it. He sits up and flips himself off the bed, gritting his teeth against the way shock travels up his spine.
Eames is blinking at him, owl-eyed, when he wakes up.
“It was you.”
“You bastard,” Arthur says, and it’s a little frustrating that Eames barely winces. “You beautiful bastard,” he repeats, and kisses the wrinkle that appears between Eames’ eyebrows. “You’d have to be stupid to realize I wouldn’t want you, that I don't feel the same.”