The first time Dom Cobb introduces Eames to his new protégé--a sleek looking, unflinchingly violent young man named Arthur--this happens:
Eames walks in and if it wasn’t for the migrating salmon on his tie, he might even look professional.
It’s about as close as Dom’s ever seen Eames get to professional outside of a dream so he’s actually reluctantly impressed with the forger, but he can’t say the same for Arthur.
He’s actually almost afraid to look behind him. Dom remembers what Arthur did to that kid chemist who forgot to replace his tie clip after he went to the bathroom before a meeting with a client.
Dom catches his wife’s eye and they share a look. Yeah, she remembers too.
Arthur stands up from behind his desk, hands clasped behind his back, and casts a dispassionate eye over the new addition to their team. He doesn’t look hostile, but you never can be sure with Arthur. Dom hasn’t had him for more than a month, but he can already tell that this kid’s a killer and if he hadn’t already charmed the pants off of Mal, Dom might have even kept him regardless of what she thought. He’s that good.
The blank once-over is a bit disconcerting. Mostly because Dom has no idea what that look means and he learnt not so long ago over margaritas and ill-advised “girl-talk” with Mal to never ever ask.
Dom, wisely, keeps this in mind and decides to stay quiet on the subject.
“Arthur, this is Eames our new forger” he says. “Eames, this is Arthur our point-man.”
Arthur nods politely, and shakes his hand. They meet eyes and hold for a moment before Arthur breaks away from the exchange and turns to look at Dom.
“You’re kidding right? This guy obviously hasn’t seen the inside of a PASIV for years. How do we even know he’s still capable of working in dreams?” Arthur questions plainly, looking a Dom like he’s the idiot.
Dom very nearly has a heart-attack and it’s only Mal’s quicksilver laugh and her bony fingers digging sharply into Arthur’s upper arm where the forger can’t see that saves the day.
“Oh you’re so funny Arthur, dear. He knows who you are of course Eames. Our Arthur does like to joke.” She smiles gamely and Eames raises an eyebrow, looking far too amused for comfort.
Arthur, to his credit, doesn’t even wince (Dom knows her nails bite like a blood-hound). In fact, he only purses his lips and looks vaguely annoyed at Mal.
“I do know who Mr Eames is.” Arthur agrees and for a minute Mal looks relieved and Dom allows himself to relax.
Then Arthur opens his mouth again.
“That is precisely why I’m questioning the decision to bring him in. He’s betrayed teams in the past and patterns like that usually hold. Not to mention he’s a known art thief and conman wanted in the majority of Eastern Europe. ” Arthur continues and Dom wants to bang his head against solid steel until this whole exchange becomes a bad dream. They need Eames for this job and Arthur is not being the drawcard Dom counted on him being.
“Even if he can do the job,” Arthur allows and Eames’ eyebrow ticks up further at the brazen doubt in his voice, “he can never be trusted.”
Before Dom can have a stroke, Mal steps in and smiles serenely at Arthur. “All valid concerns Arthur, but when we’re working with Mr Eames they are invalid.”
Arthur frowns. “My concerns are never invalid.” He says and Dom sees Eames grin openly, cocking his head at Arthur like he’s observing a particularly interesting logic puzzle. It’s strange he hasn’t said anything yet, now that Dom thinks about it. Eames usually dominates any conversation he’s a part of without exception. He’s letting Arthur talk though and to an extractor, to Dom, that is very interesting.
“Never the less, Eames is a trusted associate and has worked with us many times before. His work is exceptional and I have the utmost faith in him and his abilities.” Mal says, smiling at Eames warmly, who nods back, but keeps his eyes riveted on Arthur’s face.
Arthur does not look pleased and slants a look at Dom that clearly says that he does not approve of this turn of events. Dom forces himself to straighten and steps forward to join his wife.
“Mal’s right Arthur. You’ll just have to trust us on this one.” Dom says firmly, like he actually has a leg to stand on when it comes to ordering Arthur around. From the disbelieving look on Arthur’s face, he’s having problems with the idea too. “We need Eames for this job and your intelligence aside, he’s never done us wrong before and I trust him enough to do the job he’s been given.”
Dom nods at Eames who’s looking more intrigued and less distant by the minute. He’s also smoking, which Dom probably shouldn’t allow near his pregnant wife, but honestly, the air’s too thick with tension to move and Dom’s fine where he is- immobile and not drawing any of Arthur’s silent ire.
Things devolve from there into a three-way stare off that Dom doesn’t survive for long. Not a surprise. Then it’s just Arthur and Mal, glaring at each other, waiting for the other one to back down. Arthur has the advantage of being a scary motherfucker who kills people (for fun, Dom presumes), but Mal has the advantage of being a mother. Staring down children and Cobb’s alike is practically in the job description and Dom’s actually seen her order Pippa into the bathroom, make her brush her teeth and change her clothes for bed—all without uttering a word or moving her eyes from the back of Pippa’s head.
In the end it’s close, but Mal’s had too much practice to be bested—even by someone as talented and homicidal as Arthur. Arthur looks away, but far from backing down, his eyes find a new target.
“Fine.” He concedes and doesn’t sound happy about it. His eyes don’t leave Eames and Eames lips lift into the barest hint of a smirk.
He still hasn’t said anything. Which is strange and more than a little worrying.
Arthur steps forward until he’s right in Eames’ space and stares him down. Eames, for his part, looks part amused, part disbelieving, and part intrigued. Never a good combination on him.
“I don’t trust you.” Arthur says, right to his face.
“Obviously.” Eames says.
“I’ll be watching you.” Arthur says.
“I have no doubt darling.” Eames says, dropping his eyes to give Arthur a blatant once over. Arthur bristles and stands ramrod straight. “I look forward to it.”
“Just be on your game.” Arthur hisses and turns on his heel to leave.
When he walks out, Eames is watching him go, a curious look in his eye and a small smile playing at his lips.
“How intriguing.” Eames murmurs, rubbing his bottom lip absent-mindedly. He looks over at Dom who is all set to apologise for Arthur: plead insanity, overtiredness, a death in the family, get on his knees if that’s what it takes to make Eames not walk, when the man laughs and shakes his head. He looks alive.
Cobb blinks, bewildered and for some god forsaken reason, Mal smiles like she knows a secret.
“Be careful with him, Mr Eames.” Mal says smoothly and to Dom it sounds more like a threat than a warning. Which makes absolutely no sense.
Eames smiles roguishly and he winks at her, swinging his jacket over his shoulder and walking off in the direction Arthur exited. “Where’s the fun in that darling?”
They’re at each other’s throats the whole job, Arthur and Eames, and every step of the planning process is like chewing broken glass. The job, however, is far and away the smoothest and most ingenious job they’ve ever pulled, owed primarily to Arthur and Eames’ seamless teamwork and joint tactical knowledge.
Dom really doesn’t understand how that works. At all.
Unfortunately, nothing’s really changed since.