1. Arthur joined the army because he couldn't afford go to college. His father had worked at a manufacturing plant in Buffalo for ten years until the company went under and there just plain wasn't enough money. Besides, there were three of them to pay for and the brightest was his little sister Rachel. Arthur was smart, yes, but his academic success was due to relentless hard work - he wasn't quite sharp enough to earn a scholarship and his failure made him go white, wondering what kind of future he was going to have with nothing but a high school diploma to back him. He didn't want to end up like his dad, a broken man living on a street full of empty houses and the army would pay for his education if he enlisted. It was a no-brainer.
2. When he broke the news, his mother was worried at her baby going off to get shot at, but Arthur's father was so proud that Arthur thought his heart might burst. Arthur goes home in suits now instead of uniforms and he gives his parents money and he tells them he still does government work, now the kind he can't talk about. It means his father still wears that puffed-up look. Arthur couldn't bear to take that look away from him.
3. Arthur is to this day detail-oriented and diligent, but neither imaginative nor intuitive. He reads a lot, and makes the effort to understand what he reads - but it's always effort. He admired Dom because Dom was quicker than he, but still understood the importance of the slog. In contrast, Arthur resented Eames from the very first time he sauntered in, all effortless brilliance. In ten minutes flat Eames had demolished the plan Arthur had spent two hours devising, and put it back together only better. And then he smirked at Arthur and called him darling. It was all Arthur could do not to garrote him with his own ugly tie.
4. After Arthur met Eames for the first time and went, seething, to his own room, it was Mal who found him sulking. "You impressed him you know," Mal said quietly. "If that is what's worrying you."
"How could I possibly have impressed him?" Arthur said at once, not realizing until the words were out just how much hurt and frustration lay beneath them. As he heard himself he winced.
Mal touched his face gently. "Oh, Arthur, mon petit," she said, and where pet names from Eames were infuriating, pet names from Mal were as soothing as the touch of her cool fingers on the nape of his neck. "How is it you do not see how very special you are?"
5. Arthur loved Mal so much. He loved Dom, too. He was a little in love with both of them and definitely with the two of them together, their perfect, desperate love for one another something to be envied and hoped for. He knew that they would be bound together for the rest of their lives and he wondered if he'd ever feel that close to another human being. It wasn't until after Mal was gone that Arthur realized how traumatic it was to let someone in like that, to become so completely fused with another human being and then lose them. Dom kissed every part of Mal, loved her body and her soul. One's smashed to smithereens on the concrete and who knows what happened to the other, but Arthur dreams about the loss sometimes, not his own, but Dom's. He wakes in a cold sweat.
6. Arthur doesn't have natural dreams very often - it's a hazard of the job. He doesn't dream recreationally, either. He doesn't even day dream very often. He never had much imagination, Eames has that right, but since Mal he has felt the need to keep a very strong grasp on reality at all times.
7. Eames sees right through him, and Arthur knows it. Eames sees past the suit to the boy whose education happened in spits and starts, the boy who tries so hard all the time because he's afraid that deep down he just isn't as smart as he used to think he was. The boy in whose mouth words like specificity simply do not belong. Eames is a fraud and can see plain as day that Arthur is, too.
8. It therefore doesn't make sense when Arthur finally realizes that Eames is trying to flirt with him. What motivates him? Is it idleness? The thrill of a challenge? Eames sleeps with just about everyone, from what Arthur can tell. And whenever he's on the phone with his latest romance he's always a little bit different from the man Arthur works with. Not just his voice- his entire body language seems to shift. Arthur wonders if any of them know the Eames he knows. Then he wonders if he knows Eames at all.
9. Eames can think what he likes. Arthur isn't closed off, he's not incapable of feeling just because he doesn't take stupid chances. Arthur has parents and a brother and sister who love him, and for whom he would do anything. He has a best friend to whom he is intensely loyal. He has tried to find a relationship which worked for him, but been largely frustrated in this by the demands of his work. His reluctance to get involved with Eames is because he can't possibly give his heart into the keeping of a man who may not even be a real person. He spends his life calculating risks and Eames is the worst one he could take.
10. His risk-aversion is probably a natural trait, though his years in the army probably honed that. He never did go to college in the end. Joining the Special Forces seemed like the greater challenge. He doesn't regret it. The Special Forces led him to Project Somnacin, led him to Mal and Dom, led him indirectly to this amazing world he lives in now. He can quietly ensure that his parents' mortgage payments never fall into arrears. He can buy clothes he never even dreamed of when he was growing up, wearing Wal-Mart jeans and knock-off Nikes.
11. He likes to be well-dressed, some remnant of an idea that Clothes Maketh the Man. He likes the way they make him look like an adult, despite his baby face. He likes the gravitas they lend him. He likes the way they shorthand the fact that he is a man to be taken seriously. This does not mean that he has a suit fetish, despite Ariadne's teasing.
12. If not for Ariadne, Arthur would have murdered Eames halfway into the Fischer job. Ariadne needed lessons and that meant that he was with her while Dom dealt with Eames. Eames' customary banter had hardened slightly into something with a nastier edge and Arthur spent a good half of his time thinking, Don't you dare blow this job! But of course Eames wouldn't. Eames could breeze through it, winging half of what he had to do. It was Arthur who was only as good as his research, Arthur who was being pushed past endurance while Eames teased him relentlessly, utterly unaffected all the while.
13. He asked Ariadne on a date after the Inception job. Ariadne was a little young, but she was smart and pretty and she'd blushed a little after that kiss. Ariadne was the kind of person he could make something work with. Ariadne was someone he could trust. And if Eames' words of concern had made Arthur think that for a moment, just a moment, he was seeing something real - well. It still wasn't nearly enough to make that leap.
14. Arthur and Ariadne had a great deal to talk about, a great deal in common. They geeked out over architecture together. They both loved live music, and a sort of cultural exchange began - he took her to the opera, she took him to rock shows. They dined out and agreed that the food was excellent. She let him fold his clothes carefully before sex, and he let her leave hers lying on his floor. Arthur kept trying to work out why he wasn't happy and simply couldn't do it.
15. Arthur took a job in Moscow. He wouldn't let himself think that it was because he was bored. He had been told that Chmielewska, the Polish woman, was going to be the forger but when he got there he found Eames instead. His gut clenched.
Eames was trying to smile at him, but it didn't look quite right. "Darling! It's been too long. I hear that congratulations are in order?"
Arthur swallowed around the rock in his throat. "If you mean Ariadne, then yes, we're together."
"Wonderful!" Eames exclaimed. And for the rest of the job he was professional and distant, with only a tiny hint of the teasing he had always affected in the past. His façade was almost flawless, but Arthur could see through it and he'd never managed that before.
No one else seemed to notice.
16. Rachel's twenty-fifth birthday came along, and it seemed the thing to do to bring Ariadne to the party. It marked out just how serious he was, because it brought her into his real life. And Arthur desperately wanted it to be serious.
The family loved her of course, who wouldn't? Arthur's brother Tom in particular had a lot to say to her, but then they were both architects so that was to be expected. Rachel, always the emotionally intelligent on of the three of them, cornered him. "She's adorable," she said, inclining her head. "But you don't love her. So what is it?"
She's safe, Arthur thought, and hated himself for it at once.
17. Arthur broke things off with Ariadne, as kindly as he could. Two months later, Arthur visited Yusuf. He could have got the compounds he needed from almost anywhere, but he made an excuse and he went to Mombasa. Eames wasn't there.
18. Arthur shouldn't have missed him. Arthur didn't miss him. Arthur had other things to worry about, but instead he found himself dwelling on the fact that Eames had evidently dropped off the grid right after the Moscow job, that none of his contacts knew anything, that he couldn't get any word, any word at all. Eames was good enough to do this, mind. He was smart enough to leave methodical Arthur standing, but this time Arthur couldn't even hate him for it - he could only wish that he was smarter so that he could find him, find him and say... what?
19. It was at Dom's, that Arthur finally saw Eames again. Ariadne was there, with some grad student she'd met in tow. Saito had arranged it - the anniversary of inception, their greatest triumph. Arthur kept watching the door until Yusuf walked through it and at last, behind him there was Eames, thinner, less puffed up than usual, but unmistakable. Their eyes met and for the first time in too long, Arthur felt himself smile until his dimples showed.
20. "So," Arthur began. "You can probably see that things didn't work out between Ari and I."
Eames nodded. "And I'm sorry for it. Truly." He even seemed to mean it, but Arthur couldn't be sure, couldn't quite see the cracks today.
"I wonder if… That is to say…" Arthur couldn't get the words out.
Eames looked at him in a kind of wondering disbelief and Arthur felt something quiet, something shaped like oh there you are. "Oh, darling. Really?"
Arthur sighed. Time to roll the dice. "Have dinner with me and maybe we'll find out."