"Make War, Not Love"

At the end of this story, Arthur backs Eames into a bathroom wall and kisses him, hard.

He gets his hand around Eames' neck, his fingers clutching hair to keep his grip. Like if he doesn't, Eames will leave and slip into a taxi and he'll never see him again, not his tweed suits or his wide-split grin or his old coverless copy of Catcher in the Rye tucked into his pocket like it's not worth a thing, that beautiful, incredible copy.

It's understandable. Eames has left before. Plenty of times.

They've been playing this game for years.


match one


Arthur - 0

Eames - 0

The bar is a smashed-up joint on the outskirts of Vegas, with broken cupboards and dusty bottles speaking of abandonment, and were it not for Arthur and the bartender, a four foot seven stump of a man sporting a thinning Mohawk to match the torn up Sex Pistols tee, the place would be empty enough to count. Police years ago boarded up the windows, tagging the door with a warrant condemning the small 600 by 600 box of moldy wood, and on the owner's more law-abiding nights, both warnings were respected—and for good reason, Arthur thinks as he eye the walls, orange wallpaper stained with brown somethings that turn his stomach.

How much asbestos can I absorb in an hour?

He nearly gets out his phone to ask but he knows whining won't get him out of here any faster. He can still hear Cobb's voice in his head, saying: "You never know when we could need him. He's supposed to be good."

'Good'. Good, maybe, but there are plenty of those. He can name five capable of pulling this job off in the time it takes to blink, and he already called one. He would even take an average one if he needed to—at least the average ones are hungry for work. They don't leave a man waiting for an hour only to stumble in—


Arthur turns as the door creaks open. A man slides in, closing the door again with a kick. He looks round, eyes stopping on Arthur, and smirks. "Hello," he says, and there's a British lilt to his voice and Arthur's confirmed. That's him—Eames. The tip-offs all clear. The accent. On the shorter side but with enough muscle to be a solid hitter in the field. Short brown hair, bit of a beard attempted and failed, gray eyes—

Handsome. More than Arthur thought. Not that it matters.

Eames asks, when it's clear that Arthur isn't going to speak, "Am I late?"

And Arthur says, "Very."

"So sorry then." But the smirk's still firing away. He strides over to the stool beside Arthur, head turned to call out to the bartender, "You have brandy?"

"Fresh out," Mohawk barks, before disappearing out the back.

Eames frowns, but sits down anyway. "What a shame. Well now." He adjusts himself in his seat, before looking at Arthur, "I'm Eames."

He holds out a hand to shake and after a moment, Arthur takes it. Harsh, calloused skin and a strong clamp of a grip—the mark of a practiced man.

He tries not to think about it.


"Well, then, Arthur—" Eames says it slowly, tasting it "—let's do this, shall we?" His eyes light up as much as they can, grey but dull as an overcast sky, and Arthur clears his throat to cover as he realizes he's staring. Right. That. He sits up straight, pulls a folder from the stool behind him—

"You're just the professional type, aren't you?"

And he stops, Eames' comment throwing him off. "Excuse me?"

"Good suit. Stiff upper lip. You'd fit in well back at home. Almost makes coming here for nothing right by me to know I'm in such good, professional hands."

"I wouldn't say for nothing, Mr. Eames—"

"—Oh, I would. You're not nearly angry enough about my tardiness. And a professional would be." He twists his head to the shelves, licking his lips, and stands. "Of course, I would settle for a good drink. Interested?"

He tosses the last question over his shoulder, as he moves around to the other side of the counter, and Arthur frowns.

"No thanks. I'm fine."

"Come now, Arthur. Just a sip of . . ." he pulls a bottle off the shelf, sniffing the lip "this. The label's worn but I think it's brandy, no thanks to the help."

"I'll pass."

There's an eye roll, barely hidden, but Eames pulls only one glass out from under the counter. "Suit yourself. Go on then," he says, pouring to fill quarter way then dropping the bottle between them, "tell me how I'm not hired."

Arthur shifts, but the alterations in his speech are few enough that he's able to answer easily, "Well, I'll admit we had to go another way on this—"

"—cheaper way?"

He pauses before saying, "A way with less of an . . . 'interesting' history."

Eames shrugs. "You say that like it's a dirty word. 'Interesting' is the price of imagination."

"Well, we've got enough of 'interesting'."

"Ah, yes." Eames leans forward on the table, propping himself up with his elbows. He swills the drink in front of Arthur's nose, close enough that too much of a tilt could spill right on him, and the little wink Eames gives is answer enough when Arthur wonders if it's on purpose. "Mrs. Cobb," he murmurs, still spinning the glass but eyes on Arthur, watching for a twitch, a flicker.

Arthur does nothing.

"I've heard," he continues. Still swilling. Still watching. "Sad story, really; give my condolences to the poor dear. Awful way to go out—or not; don't really know what she's up to, other than-"

Arthur stops the glass. Their fingers brush, just for a second, as he yanks it away and smacks it on the counter. "She's fine," he says, and his voice is steady enough he could almost believe it, "but we're talking about you. You're too risky for this specific operation. However, Cobb felt it was important to keep up the appointment, for any future jobs that may come our way."

Eames takes this in—or seems to. His eyes are impossible to judge, clouds that could either break, rain, or stay the same. A hint of amusement crinkles the corners though, just as his hand shoots out to reach for the glass. Arthur shoves it down the counter, and it slides over the edge and shatters, pieces scattering across the floor.

They stare at it for a second, before Eames pulls out another glass. "You're paying for that, I assume."

Arthur blinks. Frowns, eyebrows furrowing as he pushes himself up with both hands. "You're the one who pulled out the brandy."

"But I didn't get to drink that one, did I? Not to mention I don't have a job to pay for it."

"Yeah, and you're never getting one at this rate."

"Sure, darling, sure."

"Don't call me that."

"Of course, love." He pours himself another, brandy tinkling in the glass. "Go on, now. Ask me all about me."

He looks serious—as serious as Eames seems to get—and Arthur settles back. He pulls out the folder again, opening it up to reveal his notes: Times New Roman, point 12, numbered and bulleted for sub-questions. Eames nearly chokes on his drink. "Fuck me—" he wipes his mouth "—you really are a professional."

Arthur ignores it; shoots right for: "You married?"


"Any children or other close family at all?"

". . . Now, Arthur, this is sounding suspiciously more like a date than an interview."

He smirks, flashing a wide set of white teeth, but whatever power it could have had is lost now. Arthur stares him down, mind already moving to the next item on the list but choosing to explain:

"It's not an interview, per se. Consider it small talk."

"Is this how you conduct small talk?"

"Well, I am a professional."

"I'd hate to be your neighbor." He takes another sip, eyeing Arthur over the brim before smacking his lips and asking, "Now, small talk. So, this is just a friendly meeting of two peers, then?"

"I think 'friendly' is a very relative word."

"Of course," says Eames, the sarcasm lost on him. "So, how friendly, precisely, are we getting?"

". . . I don't understand."

"Well, can I ask you things?" He puts the glass down and leans in closer, elbows resting on the counter, and the smell of alcohol burns in Arthur's nose as Eames continues, "For example: are you married?"


"Seeing anyone?"


"Why's that?"

Why? "Why aren't you?"

"Oh, I do, normally. You've caught me at a bit of an odd time."

Eames is still smirking, but the answer seems honest. Enough that Arthur answers, albeit with choice words, "It complicates an already very complicated situation, in my opinion."

Eames watches him, those (damned obnoxious) eyes still nothing but grey, but eventually he draws back, saying, "Not really a fan of 'interesting', are you?"

"Some would say our careers are interesting enough."

"One thing I've learned? Things are rarely interesting enough."

And those eyes are still watching him in a distinct flirtatious way so Arthur quickly says, "We should get back to the questions."

Eames snorts in his drink. "I thought we were just talking."

"I need to know how good you are. Or is that a problem, for some reason?"

"No. I didn't say that."

"You're not saying much of anything, technically."

"I'm wounded, Arthur. Really." And there's a hand on his chest and everything and Arthur very nearly gets up, right then and there. He doesn't have the patience for this, and Arthur is patient. Arthur's held bawling babies for hours until they finally quit caring; Arthur's sat through lesson upon lesson that taught him nothing he didn't already know from reading the textbook ahead of the class. Arthur's trained in the military for a call to arms he never thought would come and he still hasn't actually abided by.

Leaving, though, would be losing. He's not sure when he started playing but he feels certain in that, so he grips the table tight instead and grits, "Just tell me something. Anything."


"Anything you want that I can take back to Cobb."

Eames nods. Downs the rest of his glass as his face straightens up, wiping the smirk clear. Like looking at a different man, Arthur thinks, older and more dignified, as Eames begins:

"I once made a man believe I was his own twin brother."

Arthur's eyebrows shoot up before he can stop them.

"They'd never parted," Eames continues, "not in their entire lives. Were co-partners in their company. Best man at each other's weddings. And I stepped right into the tune of a dance no one but them should know, and stole out the info from under him."

It's impressive. It really is. And he has to ask, "How'd you do that?"

"It's simple doing. Just acting really. The beauty of even a natural dream, Arthur, is that we can be anyone we want. We just usually don't. We're selfish creatures. We want to believe the world revolves around us. Forging's just about knowing it doesn't." He smiles. "Don't get me wrong though. I like me. Worked very, very hard on me. But being yourself, all the time, same reactions, same old behaviors. It gets boring. I take a person and I do the very best I can to be them; to follow them down to the smallest of things. And, for a while, I am them. It's quite the pleasure. Very . . . interesting."

He fills a glass again, but this time passes it to Arthur, ignoring the grunt of refusal. "You ever get bored of being you, Arthur?"

Arthur eyes the glass. Takes it, but shoots Eames a look (I'm not drinking it; just keeping it from you). "No," he says.

Eames laughs. "Just no? I'm insulted. Laid down my soul for you."

"Didn't have to."

". . . No, I guess I didn't."

"So don't complain."

"I guess I'm not. So. Satisfied?"

Arthur downs the glass in a few gulps, very much aware of the delight that jumps across Eames' face as he does so. "Yeah," he says when he's done. "I'll call you if Cobb wants you."

"Couldn't I call you?"

"Goodbye, Mr. Eames" is all he says.

He leaves, and doesn't look back.

(+1 Arthur)


At the end of this story, Arthur backs Eames into a bathroom wall and kisses him, hard.

Eames always thought it would end this way.


match two


Arthur - 1

Eames - 0

Eames isn't expecting a call on the Samsung, so he can't be blamed if he's missed three by the time he gets in from the bar. No one has this number yet. This number exists for the pleasure of knowing no one has this number yet. He's on self-mandated leave. He should have weeks, if not a month, before he's bored enough that he's forced to give it out. He shouldn't have three missed calls. It shouldn't be shaking in the drawer.

But when he flips it open, falling back on cool, cotton sheets that don't chafe at his skin (finally, he thinks. Not like the last hotel—that was a travesty to linen everywhere) and he hears an even cooler voice say, "Good to know you're capable of answering, Mr. Eames", he has to smile.

"Well, hello, Arthur. Or is this the stick up your ass talking? You sound so alike."

"Cobb has a job for you. Of course, if you don't want it—"

"—No, I do. I have to respect a man who can get a hold of me even when I'm avoiding calls. Tell me the details, please."

"It's basic extraction. Close to home—"

"—your home."


"Your home. To be specific."

He hears a groan. "Fine. Yes. My home."

"I meanwhile have to travel across the globe." Eames chews his lip. Pulls out his totem from his pocket and flips it in the air. But he can't not ask.

"How's the Mrs. Cobb?"

"Mr. Eames—"

And Arthur's tone is enough that it could come over the line from California to Berlin and bite him if it wanted to so Eames stops him in a low tone with: "—Just a question, Arthur."

"There are no questions, Mr. Eames. Not about Mal, not about Cobb. It's just a job."

So stay the hell out goes unsaid, but Eames hears it anyway, in the clipped words and the sudden shift in the phone away from Arthur's breathing, like there's something he doesn't want Eames to hear.

"I'm sorry." It's not much, but Eames means it, surprisingly. He only knows legends of Mal Cobb but though every hero falls, she doesn't deserve her madness. Cobb doesn't deserve to be dragged down with her.

And Arthur . . .

Arthur's earned the responsibility, maybe, of taking care of them all (stories about Mal rarely go without him, Samwise to her Frodo in this doomed quest for the real world, and Eames listens more closely now to these parts when they're told, always hoping for a snatch of something new). But that doesn't mean he deserves it either.

Arthur may be the one he's sorry for most of all.

". . . It's fine."

It's not. Still unsaid, but still heard, and Eames switches topics. "The job?"

There's the slightest hesitation, another little shift, and they're back in business. "It's simple. Old politician family. Wife just wants to know if her husband's cheating on her."


"Not quite that big."

"Damn. I've always wanted to be inside the head of a Kennedy."

"I hear they've got a janitor cousin in Belgium."

Eames laughs. Maybe a bit louder than the joke really merits but there's a joy in discovering sarcasm from Arthur that isn't targeted at him that amplifies everything.

He can be clever and not mean.

It's important to know.

"I could manage that, I think," he says, testing this new Arthur.

"On your own time."

"No, of course, later. I'll set out tomorrow, how's that?"

". . . It doesn't have to be that soon." And Arthur sounds so very legitimately flustered (as flustered as Arthur gets—or Eames thinks he gets. We barely know each other, he tries to remember) that how could Eames ever change his mind now?

"It's not like I've got anything better to do," he says, "I'll see you soon."

". . . All right. Fine. Goodbye, Mr. Eames."

"Goodbye, Arthur. I look forward to you picking me up at LAX."

"That's not—"

Eames cuts him off and powers down the phone. It's not much, but it's an in, and he's not going to let Arthur weasel his way out of it. He can see it, even across the ocean, a tiny little hole in the Great Wall of Arthur.

It's a little depressing that his cannons can only do this much, but he'll take it. He hasn't had this much fun in ages.

And we barely even know each other yet.

(+1 Eames)


At the end of this story, Arthur backs Eames into a bathroom wall and kisses him, hard.

Eames always thought it would end this way.

Arthur always thought it could—it was just a matter of whether or not he chose to allow it.


matches three through ten


Arthur - 1

Eames - 1

Arthur does drive to LAX. He'd never hear the end of it it if he didn't.

He doesn't bring a sign or any of that nonsense though. He doesn't even wait at the gate. He sits in the cab outside and figures that if Eames isn't smart enough to realize Arthur doesn't have time to waste in an airport—

"What? No coffee, even?" Eames says with a pout (Well, hello to you too, Arthur thinks), but he scoots in to the cab anyway. He throws his bag in between their legs, and shuts the door.

Arthur nods to the driver. And he's still miffed about the poor show of an introduction but all he says is "Should have bought some then."

(+1 Arthur)

"Cobb, Mr. Eames—"

"—Just Eames, actually."

Arthur just moves right along with it with "Mr. Eames, Dom Cobb", before disappearing into Cobb's house, and Eames can't help but be disappointed. He'll find him later though—the house is one where an excuse of exploration can't rightly be filed away. It's classy, big, and Eames has to wonder what inspires a clearly family sort of man like Cobb with a clearly family sort of house to have ever gotten into the crime business in the first place.

Not that Cobb doesn't live up to his reputation. Even with his eyes miles away from this room (and Eames would be lying if he said he wasn't trying to follow them, as he wonders where living ghosts wander during the day), Cobb's handshake is firm, confident.

"It's good to meet you, Eames" he says. "I'll admit though, I always pictured you a little differently."

". . . Really."

A tiny girl pokes out from behind Cobb's legs and says, "Uncle Arthur said you were a midget."


Really, now?

(+1 Arthur)

Eames takes the desk across from Arthur, a cup in one hand and an empty tray that he trashes in the other, and Arthur waits a whole minute before asking:

"Where's my coffee?"

Eames takes a sip, pointing a finger at himself, and Arthur says, "Yeah, you. Where is it?"

"Oh, did you want some too, Arthur? Should have gone and bought some then, shouldn't you have?"

(+1 Eames)

"Here," Arthur says, like the act of dropping the folder doesn't produce a thunk on the desk, doesn't make Eames' pencils jump in the air a bit.

"Are you working on an encyclopedia or our mark?"

"Old political family. Lots of information."

Eames tries to sift through it but finds he can't. Too many pages, too many words. "When did you find time to put this together?"

"Last night. It only took a few hours."

And Arthur walks away, like it's nothing. Fuck me, he thinks flipping through the pages again. And Eames isn't sure whether he's swearing or asking, because though he might have made fun the first time they met, the skill evident in this does more things to him than he thought were possible.

(+1 Arthur)


Arthur puts the tray down. Watches Eames count.

"Two refreshments," Eames corrects himself. "Good thing I already had coffee this morning."

Cobb gives him a look but oh, it's worth it.

(+1 Arthur)

Eames has a machine gun.

Arthur has a pistol.

So he's still not sure how Arthur's the one who nearly annihilates the projections headed their way when the 'easy' job goes sour but he does and he thinks again, Fuck me, and it's definitely more interrogative then exclamatory this time (to go back to primary school).

(+1 Arthur)

They survive, so of course Eames asks:

"One drink, Arthur. To celebrate a job well done."

I'd really rather not, Arthur thinks. But he looks at Cobb's house, tall and majestic and curtains drawn up on every window (Mal closes them, always; tells him that if she keeps the house from changing she'll start to see the imperfections, the little things no one can completely capture, and she'll have proof at last). He thinks of his apartment, blank and bare.

. . . Really.

But he sighs and says, "Fine."

(+1 Eames)

"Does he remind you of anyone, love?"

"Don't call me that."

"Five beers in, I call everyone 'love', Arthur. Don't be so offended, just look."

Arthur does. The bar's swimming with kids in too tight clothes and business men in slackened ties and rolled up sleeves but Eames can see his eyes sift through the crowd and find what's got him admittedly too close (Arthur's cologne is going to muck up his sense of smell for days) and too happy. Ratty hair, beady eyes, come on, you know it.

"Nash," Arthur says.

Yes. "I think it is actually him."

"Didn't realize you knew him."

"Worked my first job with Nash, actually."

"Congrats on living to tell the tale."

"Didn't think he tended bar. Not sure if I should drink anymore."

"That'd be smart. You're already pissed off."

. . . Pissed off?

It takes a second for Arthur to realize Eames is staring at him, and another to realize what he said wrong. He doesn't have time to correct himself before Eames cracks up, face flushed. "Pissed, love," he says when he stops howling long enough to breathe, "We say 'pissed', though I appreciate the effort."

I, in fact, love it.

"Mocking isn't effort," Arthur says around the edges of his glass, as he takes another sip of scotch. He grimaces though—it sounds weak, even to him, though Eames doesn't blame the poor kid, pissed out of his mind on scotch.

He still laughs though, because a flustered Arthur is just as beautiful as he imagined. "So that's what it was?" he asks, egging it on. "Mocking."

". . . Yes," Arthur says, trying to sell it. "You and your . . . slang. Yeah," he adds, quickly regretting it. "Oh, God, I am too drunk for this."

"It was our slang first."

"You can't prove that."

"With piss first used in the 1600s to refer to urine and thus could have been used since then to describe alcohol of inferior quality, why yes, I can."

Arthur blinks. And blinks. And there's a smile, just the tiniest little quirk of a smile that reveals laugh lines and dimples Eames didn't even know existed, and Eames wriggles an eyebrow because it's either that or nail Arthur on the countertop, right then and there.

"You . . . hold your drink well," Arthur says with a laugh.

"And you apparently don't. It's adorable, actually."

More fucking adorable than I can stand.

(+1 Eames)


At the end of this story, Arthur backs Eames into a bathroom wall and kisses him, hard.

Eames always thought it would end this way.

Arthur always thought it could. It was just a matter of whether or not he chose to allow it.

Really though, the only reason it doesn't happen sooner is that they're both such sore losers.


[Matches eleven through twenty are minor. Eames leads, much to Arthur's dismay.]


matches twenty-one and twenty-two


Arthur - 9

Eames - 11

Eames knows Arthur's staring not at his ass but what's tucked into the back pocket on top of his ass, but that doesn't stop him from giving it a quick shake anyway.

"You're reading Catcher in the Rye?" And it sounds so confused that Eames would have pegged him as drunk, if he didn't know better. Hadn't seen Arthur turn down the wine the mark himself ordered for their table (Eames doesn't think he's ever seen Cobb so nervous, seeing the owner of the restaurant, their mark, stake them out—and all for the pretty young thing temporarily serving as their architect).

"It looked interesting. Picked this copy up from my mother's house, actually."

Both are lies. Eames has read it twice, once at Eton and the second time during training, and still thinks Holden Caulfield's an obnoxious little twerp. And he actually owns this piece of shit. But it was the first book he could find in his rush out of London when Arthur called and it's actually out better than he could hope. Arthur's face is priceless (not quite as open as that night in the bar, probably never would be again without a few bottles of scotch in him, but close enough, so beautifully close enough).

"It looks old," Arthur says, and it's still in that frustrating-but-adorable "You read books, real books?" voice and Arthur still can't see him so he smirks. He pulls it out and turns around, handing it over.

"First edition, I think."

Arthur flips through the yellowed pages, and stops, just where Eames expected him to.

"It's signed."


". . . It's signed," Arthur repeats, his eyes gaping.

"You said that."

Eames snatches it back and folds it up, sticking it in his pocket again, and if there's an extra bounce in his step when he walks away it's because he's glad to be right (Arthur is a bookworm), not because the sound of Arthur's soul weeping provides a nice beat.

(+1 Eames)

Eames sniffs the coffee. Stirs it. Looks into it like there should be a bomb ticking at the bottom and Arthur nearly wrenches it out of his hand and takes a sip of it himself, just to prove it's not poison.

He says as much and Eames frowns.

He never drinks it, and Arthur's a little annoyed Eames would think he'd stoop so low as to mess with it just because Cobb made him buy coffee for everyone.

But mostly he's glad to take the win.

(+1 Arthur)


At the end of this story, Arthur backs Eames into a bathroom wall and kisses him, hard.


matches twenty-three and twenty-four


Arthur - 10

Eames - 12

"So where did Cobb go again?"

"With Mal."

"With Mal where?"

"You keep talking while we're getting shot at."

"Just making conversation, darling." The side window cracks with a bullet and Eames loads his gun a little faster. He fills it up and he leans out the window, lets loose on the Suburban's tires, blowing them out with a screech he tries to filter out.

He mostly succeeds. It's the fire, the smoke cut with moonlight from the clear Montana sky, that's really tricky, and as he gulps he thinks it's smile or die and so he shouts, "And I shall lead them on a merry chase! Look at that, Arthur," he says, voice lighter than he feels. "Just like a—"

"Speed bump."

"Wait, wh—"

(+1 Arthur)

"This isn't a dream, you know, Arthur. I can actually get hurt."

"You held on just fine," Arthur mumbles, ear on his cell phone as it goes through his voicemail. Junk. Junk.



"I'm just saying, yelling 'speed bump' two seconds before the speed bump is not a fucking warning."

"Arthur, I . . . Mal . . . Oh God, oh fuck . . ."


"I have to go," he says, and he does, shaking off Eames' grip when it comes for his arm.

(match forfeit. no points awarded)


At the end of this story, Arthur backs Eames into a bathroom wall and kisses him, hard.

He almost does it much sooner than that.