The pointman and the forger, the loaded die and the poker chip - the stupid sentiment of taking a gamble on each other. Eames didn't seem like he'd be the kind to buy into those cliches, which is why Arthur let him in. Not into his life, but just into his bed, and unfortunately it seems like Eames has conflated the two.
Eames seems to want something more than what he can offer, something with feelings and baggage and so, what's your real name, you can tell me, I won't tell.
But Arthur has friends, and Arthur has people he fucks, and Arthur has people who fuck him over. And Eames is in the second category, without any hope of advancement to the first.
So this is how it ends.
They're both standing on the sticky floor of a motel room. The first button of Arthur's shirt is unbuttoned, and his lips are swollen from a kiss, and Eames has just said I love you. Arthur's response is to press his gun to Eames' temple.
The gun is steady, unwavering, and Arthur's completely sure that Eames will get the message this time. It's his ultimatum.
"Get out," Arthur murmurs. He doesn't bother to raise his voice, or to bare his teeth, or to push Eames away. Those would be unnecessary gestures, too operatic for him, and it would make the whole situation so tacky and overblown.
"I thought this would be different," Eames says, but the gun, a steady weight in Arthur's hand, tells him no.
So he doesn't take the gun away, doesn't tell him I'm sorry, it's okay, doesn't let Eames in. Because he isn't sorry, and it isn't okay, and he doesn't want Eames to love him.
He's only ever loved one person.
He only ever wants to love one person, and Eames isn't her.
Arthur realises he loves Mal on their third job together. The final act of the job needs more force and less precision, so Mal helps Arthur to take care of security as Cobb goes in to threaten the mark. Arthur has never seen Mal fight, and he stands ready to protect her if she falters.
She never does.
"Ready, darling?" she asks, looking fondly at him. He nods, and then her eyes are off him, and she's a blur of action. She's lovely in the carnage, steadying her gun, shooting with pinpoint precision. Wave after wave after wave of security guards drop in a spray of blood, or a spray of brain matter, and she doesn't flinch. She slams another magazine in, the movement so practiced it seems effortless.
That's the moment that a guard runs at them with a sword. They're both taken aback for a moment, but Mal motions to him to keep shooting, and there's a light in her eyes that he's never seen before. She's grinning as she pulls out her balisong knife, and he wishes he could look at her, admire her savage beauty - but he has to keep shooting.
Whatever she did, it's swift, and there's a spray of blood on her cheekbone as she picks her pistol up again. She's perfectly calm as she strides through the carnage, stalking her prey, her blood-red dress swishing around her. Its torn edges make her look like she's about to catch on fire, flames licking at her thighs. Arthur's the point man but he follows behind her. He can't bear to disrupt her hunt, and all Arthur wants to do is to twine his body with hers and burn.
Arthur remembers Mal like this even when she whispers that she knows he's not real, when he has to take care of her because Cobb has to go out and he's worried that she might kill herself. He holds her close to him - she's a pathetic shell of her former self - and plays pretend. Imagines her hand gripping a gun instead of clawing at his arm. Imagines she's whispering I love you instead of you're not real you're not real you'renotreal. Imagines that she isn't fading away.
Her funeral is on a cold and rainy day. He closes his eyes and tries to summon his imaginary Mal, burning and lovely and alive, and superimpose it over the body lying in the coffin.
But the world is so cold and dark that he can't imagine the fire, and he knows he can never love again.
Arthur realises he wants to fuck Saito when they meet for the second time. Saito looks like a man who can handle a gun, and Arthur's captivated by his body language - smooth movements, confident - and he's reminded of Mal but tries to push it back. Something deep inside him longs for Cobb to take the shot Saito is offering, to kill the man who fucked them over. He's almost disappointed when Cobb passes the gun back to Saito, but he doesn't show it.
It's so tempting, after Eames, to have someone who knows what he wants. Arthur wonders if that confidence will still be there when he's screwing Saito into the bed, punishing and brutal, or if Saito will come undone.
Saito doesn't want anything from Arthur. He tells Arthur that he's had a string of mistresses and a shrew of a wife, and he doesn't want love, just a good lay. When they're fucking, Saito looks at him with sharp eyes - like he's calculating how much the whole encounter is worth. He never lets his control lapse, and even when Arthur's thrusting into him, varying his rhythm and hitting his prostate in a way that made Eames cry out, Saito remains dispassionate. Even when Arthur's withholding his release, keeping Saito on the very edge without letting him come, Saito's instinctive reaction isn't to say please, Arthur, let me come, but to glance at the clock on the bedside table.
Even if this is what Arthur thought he wanted, an emotionless and brutal fuck with someone perfectly willing, he can't help but feel disappointed. There aren't any feelings or baggage, just the slide of sweat-slick skin on skin. Saito will never call him "darling", or say "I love you" - which is good, he doesn't want a repeat of Eames.
But Arthur can never break Saito's control. Even if he wants to love Saito, Saito would never react to him, burn for him, burn with him.
He comes to a realisation that night as he watches Saito put on his clothes and pad out of the hotel room. It's been a long time since sex left him feeling so empty and ungrounded.
His nameless, meaningless fucks, his solitary existence, his frozen memory of Mal - all of these just aren't enough anymore.
If he can't have Mal, he'll have to create her.
"You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling," Eames says, shifting the grenade launcher's weight in his hands.
The word "darling" is mocking and false. Eames drawls it out, curls his tongue around it, as if he wants Arthur to be hurt - says it like a lover would. He's been heckling Arthur all through this job, trying to get him to show some emotion, trying to get a reaction, even if it's negative. Saito is bleeding out behind them, his breath rasping in his chest, his lips flecked with blood.
He thinks of Ariadne, the best architect he's seen since Mal. He remembers the looks she gives him, when she thinks he isn't looking. Imagines tearing her clothes off, tearing her skin off, remaking her into someone he could love. He'll make firearms a familiar weight in her hands, teach her how to use the knife and the garrote, show her how it feels to kill, to fuck, to bleed. He'll fuck her up and never leave her the same, and he'll own her, every broken crazed shard of her, and they'll never be apart.
His lips curve in a smile.
He's in a hotel lobby next to Ariadne, and they're waiting for Cobb.
He thinks of the gun pressed to Eames' head, thinks of the blood bubbling from Saito's lips on the level above. Thinks of Ariadne's face, doe-eyed and pale. How soft, how delicate, how easily won.
He wonders what she'll be like after a year with him.
He has some time to kill, so he leans in for a chaste kiss, just to gauge her reaction.
Her lips part.
It’s worth a shot.