Contrary to Eames’ recollection, he and Arthur did not meet on a job.
They actually met three weeks earlier, helping to move the Cobbs into a new house because Mal was pregnant.
Arthur was dressed casually—jeans, sweater, and glasses, every inch the nerdy bookworm—carrying a box stuffed to bursting with thesis papers, and probably blended into the background from Eames’ perspective.
Eames, wearing a typically loud shirt, was lugging one end of a couch. He looked very rugged and manly, and utterly handsome.
“Oh!” Mal said, taking the box from Arthur. “Artie, dear, have you met Sean?”
“Hello,” Arthur said.
“Cheers…” Eames grunted. “No, the other way—turn it the other way. Clockwise.”
“What, my clockwise or your clockwise?” Cobb wheezed.
Arthur pointed. “Take the cushions off and lift the back end about a foot higher.”
“Bit like my last date,” Eames chortled breathlessly to himself.
And they did. And the couch fit. And they trudged their way into the living room without a backward glance, which Arthur considered par for the course where handsome men were concerned (he has much better luck with pretty girls, so it’s a good thing he’s bisexual).
“Is that everything?” Arthur asked Mal.
“Yes. Thank you so much.”
He smiled and hugged her. “Have fun unpacking. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
The second time they met was on a job, so Arthur was dressed professionally, polished up in a black Armani (one of the better suits he’d owned at the time, before he’d discovered the wonders of Gucci).
Dom gestured between them. “Arthur, you remember Sean Eames. He’ll be our forger for this run. Eames, this is Arthur Clarke, our point man.”
Sean Eames is, of course, not Eames’ real name. When he found out, Arthur felt very stupid and amateurish for having assumed it was (they were still working the mostly-legitimate side of extraction at the time, though, so it was a very nearly safe assumption to have made) and for not going by a pseudonym himself.
“Clarke, like the writer,” noted Eames.
“Yes,” Arthur replied, endlessly unamused by the tired comparison.
“I’m sure I would’ve remembered meeting you, darling,” Eames said with a charming smile, and kissed Arthur’s knuckles instead of shaking his hand. It figured the man would completely forget him and then try to be suave (that’s just Arthur’s luck with men, really).
Arthur arched an eyebrow. “I am not your darling, Mr. Eames, and despite certain uncharitable implications of the morality of our occupation, this is a business and should be treated accordingly.”
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, as they say,” Eames purred with a wink. “I find business and pleasure mix rather well for a forger.”
“Mixing business and pleasure gives rise to error, Mr. Eames,” Arthur reproached. “During an extraction, the margin of error is the difference between abysmal failure and drinking Dom Pérignon in a thousand dollar suit.”
“Only a thousand, sweetheart? We’ve got to introduce you to some more designer labels.”
Gritting his teeth, Arthur finally extricated his hand from Eames’ grip and marched back to his desk.
“He’s a precious little perfectionist, isn’t he?” Eames chuckled after him. “A fine quality in a point man.”
Dom grunted an affirmative.
“I have three potential targets for you, Mr. Eames,” Arthur said, ignoring the forger’s comments. He held out three files. “The brother, the wife, and the assistant. Any one of them should set the client enough at his ease to find out what happened before and during the kidnapping.”
Eames grinned and took the files. “Thanks ever so much, love.”
“Go do your job,” Arthur said firmly.
After the extraction was finished and various team members went about their separate business (and Arthur was given to understand that Eames had gone off to gamble away his cut in Monte Carlo), Arthur’s life settled back into neat regularity, exactly as he preferred it. Weekly call from his mother, biweekly call from Mal, letter from his nephew in crayon (they’d just gotten a new goldfish, and rather portentously named it Arthur), daily flirtation from the underage cashier at the convenience store on the corner…
Two months later, there was a knock at the door of his apartment.
People didn’t knock on Arthur’s door. Dom called ahead and met him elsewhere, Mal had a key (which she had forbidden Dom to use), and the landlord was the sort who left nasty little passive-aggressive notes if he needed something.
Arthur carefully marked his place in the book of poetry he’d been reading and set it down next to his coffee. Quite casually, he picked up the Glock that had also been waiting next to his coffee and held it behind his back as he went to answer the door.
Out in the hall, Eames started to say something about Monte Carlo, but broke off abruptly when he saw Arthur.
On a day off, in his own home, drinking coffee and reading Yeats, Arthur had naturally been wearing some comfortable flannels and an old tee-shirt. No suit, no contact lenses, no shined-up shoes or pomaded hair.
“How did you get this address, Mr. Eames?”
Eames looked quite shocked. “Artie!” he said accusingly.
“Only Mallorie calls me that,” Arthur said with a clear threat in his tone. “What do you want, Mr. Eames?”
Somewhat flustered, the other man pointed down the hall, toward the elevator. “Cobb wondered—Mal’s birthday—planning a surprise party, and…darling, have you always had this adorably rumpled side?”
“I am not your darling, Mr. Eames, and I don’t appreciate unexpected visitors. Tell Mr. Cobb to just use the phone next time. Is that all?”
After a moment, Eames slipped his hands into his pockets and grinned insolently. “Unless you fancy inviting me in, my dear.”
Arthur closed the door sharply and locked it.
“Is that a ‘no’ or a ‘let me slip into something less comfortable?’” Eames called through the door.
Upon further deliberation, Arthur drew the chain as well.