So, Arthur and Eames.
Q: How did the two of you meet without killing each other and then maintain a state of mutually-assured destruction without actually escalating long enough to get together?
There's a lot of answers, one of which is "who says we didn't escalate?" The answer to that particular answer, in a sort of chain of Q&A, is "we absolutely did, and that's why Eames has a crooked left pinky and why Arthur always checks for flat knives over kidneys". The rest of the answers can be categorized as follows:
A1: "You did not meet in the circus, Arthur," Ariadne says.
"Prove it," Arthur says without heat, buried behind boxes and boxes of paperwork - dentist's files, it looks like.
"Are those x-rays?" Ariadne asks, momentarily derailed. "Because I doubt Dr. Feinstein is going to be too worried about, oh, disembodied teeth in his dream. I'm pretty sure he's been exposed to enough dental work to last him a lifetime."
Arthur snaps his file folder shut. "Yes, they're x-rays, and chances are he went through that early terror-of-dentists period and decided to overcome it by becoming what he feared most."
"Like Batman," she says. "Awesome."
"But with more drills," he says. "Should I tell you about Eames and the tiger again? Or the one where I was the most kickass tightrope walker ever?"
"Funambulist," she says, and he chucks a pen at her absently.
"Of course we didn't," Eames says over a box of ordered-in Chinese, "that's ridiculous. She believed you?"
"For about five minutes, I think," Arthur says. "Then she started questioning your ability as a large cat tamer." He jabs at a square of stir-fried tofu.
"I'm very good with a whip," Eames says, and flicks one of his chopsticks as if it actually is one.
"Bullshit," Arthur says. "You'd probably tie yourself up in it."
"Is that an offer?" Eames says, and he smiles, wide and hungry.
"It's an offer when you help me get through the ten boxes of dental records I have left," Arthur says, and Eames sighs, melodramatic as always.
"The sacrifices I make," he says.
"But so worth it," Arthur replies.
A2: "Eames told me they met in a helicopter over the Hudson," Yusuf says to Ariadne.
"No shit," she says, unimpressed. "Was it a mafia hit gone wrong? Just, you know, keep piling on the kitsch."
"It was a top secret deal," he says, leaning in and jabbing at the air with a micropipette. The tip falls off and he swears. "Eames was working for the government at the time - you know, top -" and he makes a gesture that is presumably meant to indicate top as in top of the Empire State Building top "-secret."
"Were there Russians involved?" Ariadne says. She's more horrified than curious at this point, and she's asking more to find out exactly how much bull Eames managed to sell Yusuf before Yusuf stopped asking than to gain any actual enlightenment. "Did Eames offer you a bridge while he was at it?"
"Ha ha," Yusuf says drily. He actually says it, syllables short and staccato. "Apparently it was an exchange of weapon plans in microdots on a contract," he says. "Eames put a lot of work into the story - it would be cruel to poke holes in it, no? Not very funny if he isn't laughing."
It's still pretty fucking funny, if only slightly more realistic. "How did Arthur end up in Eames' commandeered helicopter then?" Ariadne asks, pressing.
"He couldn't fly it," Yusuf admits. "That's probably the most true part of the whole story."
"Oh my god," Ariadne says, "so he just grabbed the most attractive man in the penthouse and said 'Hello, darling, hope you can fly a helicopter', didn't he?"
"Pretty much," Yusuf says. He sticks a new tip on the micropipette. Something begins to smoke behind him.
"Yusuf," Ariadne says, and something in her tone probably indicates I hope none of your chemicals are likely to blow up, because he turns around.
"Ah," he says. "Yes. Was there anything else before I -" and he gestures at the beaker.
"No, thank you," Ariadne says, and flees. From across the warehouse she hears a muffled bang.
"Everyone's okay!" Yusuf calls as glass tinkles.
"You still can't fly a fucking helicopter," Arthur says. He's still up to his eyes in paperwork but Eames is managing to insinuate himself into the remaining space around his desk - and his table, and his filing cabinets, and his boxes - with the ability of a boa constrictor.
"I can damn well try," Eames says, gripping Arthur's shoulder. His hand is solid and warm, and Arthur leans into it a little. Eames obligingly drops his other hand on Arthur's back and rubs, knuckles pressing.
"You can massage a helicopter if you like," Arthur says.
"Ah, do I get your rotors spinning?" Eames parries.
"If you weren't so good at this I would hit you with a box," Arthur says, and presses back into Eames' hands.
"You love me," Eames says, and Arthur doesn't deny it.
"I love your hands," he says, "the rest of you can come along too, it isn't so bad after all."
"Hah," Eames says. "You so do."
He pauses to dig his thumbs into a knot under Arthur's shoulderblade, and Arthur barely keeps from making a sound like, oh, a cat in pain.
"Out of curiosity," Eames asks, "what did you tell Cobb?"
Arthur bolts upright like Frankenstein's monster electrified.
"Shit," he says.
A3: "All right, gather around, friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears," Cobb says.
"Fuck," says Arthur, "shut up, shut up, shut up, shut the fuck up!"
"This is the true story of how Arthur and Eames met," Cobb says. He clears his throat.
"Curse the day I thought you were a stodgy ass," Eames says, "cut the fucking theatre and get to the gossip."
"Once upon a time," Cobb says, "there was a boy named Arthur. He grew up in France."
"France?" Ariadne says. "No way."
"In a quiet provincial village," Cobb says. "He was a voracious reader and dreamed of adventure in -" he coughs "-the great wide somewhere."
"Wait," Yusuf says. "Waaaait."
"His father was an inventor," Cobb says. "One day his father went to an international conference and, on the way home, was set upon by wolves."
"Oh my fucking god," Ariadne says. "Oh my fucking god, Cobb."
"To escape the ferocious wolves, he took shelter in a ramshackle castle -" Cobb cuts himself off and looks down at Ariadne. "What are you doing with that letter opener," he says, "didn't you like my story? Philippa loved it."
"Philippa is six years old," Ariadne says, poking at his chest with the letter opener.
"I think our work here is done," Eames says, and exits stage left before he suffers the secondhand embarrassment of watching a grown man and father of two being chased around a warehouse by a student barely half his height. To be fair, Ariadne is scary as fuck. To be unfair, Cobb's been chased by more private contractors and government agencies than Eames can list on his fingers and toes.
"Ah," says Arthur, "a bad job well done."
Cobb escapes with minor clothing damage - he catches his shirt on the corner of one of Arthur's filing cabinets, spilling half the papers stacked on top to the floor, which is when Arthur decides to call it a day and head home before he actually kills Dom himself.
Eames arrives an hour later bearing banh mi and spring rolls. "My savior," Arthur says, and rolls off the couch, landing on the floor with an extremely undignified thump.
"I think, all things considered," Eames says, "I will never, ever annoy Ariadne again."
"Too late," Arthur says, pulling himself upright. "You exude annoyance. She'll be after you with the letter opener within a week."
"You really shouldn't have taught her to throw knives," Eames says, "you opened the door to a whole new universe of horrors."
"Think she'll ever figure it out?" Arthur says, squashing a baguette flat. A few strands of shredded radish escape and he picks them out of the carpet with his fingers.
"Not a hope," Eames says.
A4: This is how Arthur really meets Eames - they are on the subway, the New York subway, which has more rules than New York's most exclusive soirées. It actually starts a bit before that, when Arthur flings himself down the stairs at Union Square as the train chimes. "Stand clear of the closing doors," the cool computer voice says, and Arthur is one hundred percent about to miss his meeting as he clatters down the stairs.
The doors are actually clothing when somebody puts out an arm and, just like that, pushes them back, and Arthur has gotten stuck in subway doors before. Those things are pure fucking evil. He pushes through the doors and turns.
"Thanks," he says, and then actually forgets to breathe, because hello. (Enter Eames, of course.)
There's silence, and then Arthur realizes that the man is listening to music, and how did he not notice it before? Because his door-holder is wearing giant fucking headphones. (Because he got distracted by, oh, maybe it was the arms, or the mouth, or the hint of a smile, halfway between cocky and genuine.) Arthur mentally kicks himself a few times and moves across the crowded train to lean on the door.
He leans right on the sticker that says no leaning on the doors. It makes him feel just that little bit better until he looks up and accidentally catches the man's eyes and looks away as if he's been burnt.
Then he fucking does it again.
Which means that either he's staring or the man is, and hell, Arthur doesn't know which is more embarrassing. Maybe both. Maybe if he tries hard enough he can phase right through the door and out into the tunnel into a swift death by train and save himself the humiliation.
The third time it happens is, thank fuck, at Arthur's stop.
When the man gets out right along with Arthur, Arthur is so fucking pissed that he forgets about the meeting and says "Are you actually trying to kill me with awkward?" Then his brain catches up with his treacherous mouth and parts of his brain seem to kill themselves in self-defense.
"Not really," the man says, "you seem to be doing a damn good job of it yourself."
"Oh you fucking didn't," Arthur says, because the only parts of his brain that are dead seem to be the self-preservation bits.
"Look," the man says. "I'm Eames, and would you like to get a coffee and discuss it more?" And then he lays a hand on Arthur's shoulder.
That is how Arthur ends up breaking his pinky, and if later, when he's sitting in his meeting, he can't stop thinking about that half-smile, who's to call him out on it? After all, it's a very boring meeting. It isn't even his meeting - it's for Dom, it's for a job, and they need a mole, which is why he's holding his boring briefcase wearing his boring ill-cut suit sitting through this fucking stifling department meeting.
What happens next is that Dom says, "Based on your intel, Arthur, I think we need a forger for this job."
What happens next is, perhaps, history.
"What the fuck," Arthur says, "are you fucking kidding me," and Eames just waves with his left hand, splinted finger and all.
"I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship," Dom says.
"Remember when you broke my pinky?" Eames asks, licking his finger and picking up baguette crumbs.
"Remember when you stared at me on the subway?" Arthur says.
"It was mutual, darling," Eames says, and Arthur gives it to him. It was indeed mutual, as so many things are.