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Tit for Tat

By fowl68

Action / Romance

Chapter 1

Disclaimer: I don't own anything!

Author's Note: Loved Inception since the beginning, but I never had enough of an idea in my head to really flesh it out. I'm not sure if I've got the characterization down, but let me know if I don't. Kudos to anyone who recognizes the movie reference.


What do we ask of friendship except to be taken for what we pretend to be - and without having to pretend.

~Robert Brault


Arthur is the younger brother.

Eames was the only one who knew about the dog tags hidden beneath the neatly pressed shirts and suit jackets. Or rather, he was the only person who knew that they were not Arthur's. Not the real Arthur's. Eames was the only one to have seen the photo that is constantly folded and refolded and kept inside of Arthur's pillowcase while he slept.

The photo was slightly fuzzy and yellowed, the two boys' faces were clear. They're very nearly identical, save for the eyes and the way they wore their hair. One kept it cut short, bangs falling messily into his green eyes, and the other's curls were longer, brushing his chin and making coffee brown eyes seem a little smaller. They're both grinning wide, dimples and all, and their arms are around each other's shoulders, paintball guns in hand.

One had a streak of yellow across one cheek, the other had blue in the dark curls and they were wearing coveralls splattered with paint. They're standing among haystacks in front of a lake and they have the wonderfully exhausted look that boys tended to have after a day of play.

(Eames calls them boys, but in truth, they're really young men, seventeen years old, if the date scrawled on the back of the photo is to be believed. They just look so young.)

"He was my twin. Older by three minutes." Arthur had said one night. They had been lying low after a job gone a little sideways and, of course, the first flight out had gone to horridly humid Florida and even Arthur had forgone his suits in favor of relief from the humidity that made their clothes stick to them even indoors. Arthur had been sitting with his back against the air conditioning vent, white tank top making him look much closer to his twenty-six years.

Eames, who'd been sitting by the rotating fan that they had on high, had glanced over to Arthur. He hadn't known that the point man had noticed the way Eames had been quietly studying the dog tags hanging around his neck.

"We were in Iraq about five years ago when a bomb…well. These are his."

"Was that when the higher-ups recruited you?" Eames remembered the day that the Army had brought in the boy—no, young man—with hollow eyes and a sharp tongue.


It wasn't until a year later, when Eames got close enough to actually read the name on the dog tags, that he realized that something was off. The name read Arthur James Reynolds. It wouldn't have been so off if Arthur hadn't mentioned that the dog tags were his twin brother's.

"Why'd you take your brother's name?" Any idea of tact that Eames might have had was gone one night over celebratory drinks down at the local Irish pub.

If Eames weren't such a master of reading Arthur, he wouldn't have noted the loss of control. As it was, he saw the sudden tightness in the shoulders beneath the white dress shirt, saw the way that his colleague's hands were suddenly gripping the glass full of whiskey so tightly that Eames half-feared it would shatter. Arthur certainly had the strength for it, whatever one might infer from the lean frame.

"Eames, on this subject, I'm telling you to drop it. Right now." His voice was serious and soft. Arthur at his most dangerous.

Eames simply leaned back languidly, one elbow on the counter. In any other circumstance, if Arthur had warned him off like that, Eames would have backed off. But something about this made Eames need to know the answer. "No." He said simply.

Were one to ask Eames exactly how and when Arthur snatched him by the collar of his shirt and out into the alley beside the bar, Eames wouldn't be able to tell you.

Something in him said that he should've expected the reaction he got after that warning, but he was too accustomed Arthur's incredible self-control.

Arthur's brown eyes were narrow and his knuckles digging into Eames' collarbone where his fist was clenched in Eames' shirt collar. "You're pushing this. Why?"

"Survivor's guilt, darling?" Eames asked, feeling slightly suicidal. "You were with your brother that day, weren't you?"

Eames has seen the scars mottled against Arthur's side. They're burnt red and brown, marring the paleness of the surrounding area.

"Is that why?" Eames continued. "You wanted to keep your brother alive?"

"Stop psychoanalyzing me." Arthur snapped. "I'm not a mark."

"Then tell me."

Arthur seemed to consider it. "Tit for tat, Mr. Eames. Tell me about the wire transfers to a civilian bank account under the name of Sherallyn Evans in Edinburgh."

Eames repressed a flinch, but only just. He shouldn't be surprised that Arthur had managed to dig that up. The man knew how to get information. He'd forgotten, momentarily, just how ruthless Arthur could be when he got defensive.

"Fine. Consider it dropped." Arthur released him and began striding out of the alley. Before he reached the main street, Eames called, "What's your real name, Arthur?"

"Tit for tat!" Arthur's voice floated over his shoulder.

The man knew how to bargain.


Eames tried. He really did. He put his contacts and technological skills to use, trying to track down traces of an Arthur James Reynolds. There were several, which didn't surprise him. Even if his Arthur—the one who liked his coffee Columbian with two sugars and milk, never cream—had been the only one, he would have put out several false trails.

There were two in California, one in Mississippi, another three in France, six in Italy and two in England. And those were just the more promising looking ones.

It took seven months for Eames to give in. He watched from across the room as Arthur searched his pockets, most likely for a pen—those, he was terrible about misplacing—and instead pulled out a small green Post-It. Eames watched him read it, saw the brow furrow momentarily in confusion before it cleared in understanding.

"So who was Eames?" Arthur asked that night when it was just the two of them in the small, abandoned factory that they were using as a home base.

"Delightful old man that lived three doors down when I was growing up. Used to tell the most interesting stories."

"I'm sure." Eames watched as Arthur deliberately pulled out a lighter—really, the man was prepared for everything. A Boy Scout as a child, perhaps?—and burned the Post-It. "…Cameron."


"My name was Cameron."

"Like the actress?" Arthur glared and Eames couldn't help but chuckle. "I'm sorry, darling, but really, it's the only other person I've ever heard who is named that."

"My mother thought she was having different sex twins. No one thought to tell her that there were two boys in the crib when they asked her for the names."

"I don't feel nearly as bad now."

Arthur snorted. "Yeah, at least Allen is a boy's name."

"If it makes you feel any better, you don't look anything like a Cameron."

One of Arthur's slim eyebrows arched. "Oh really? And what does a Cameron look like, exactly?"

"Like a boy who's rather confused."

Arthur gave a short, startled laugh. "And Allen Reed sounds like he should be sitting in the corner of the library doing trigonometry homework."



The first time Eames saw the photo had been on a flight with Arthur back to the States. More specifically, Arizona.

Arthur, never one to fidget, had been unfolding and refolding this piece of paper along its creases for the last half hour of the flight. Eames' curiosity finally won out and he leaned over to see what it was.

He was startled to see a photograph. It wasn't what he'd been expecting.

"Your brother?" Eames asked, studying it.

"Yes. A year before we went into the Marines."

"You mean before the stick got stuck up your ass?" Eames asked casually.

"Your sarcasm is always appreciated, Mr. Eames." Arthur retorted, folding the photo and placing it in his inside jacket pocket.

Eames never asked why that particular flight had had Arthur fidgeting. It was years later that he remembered seeing the date on the newspaper proclaiming it to be October twenty-fourth—a mere month before Eames' birthday—and he clicked it together.

Six years to the day Arthur James Reynolds was killed in Iraq.

Arthur met Mal before he met Cobb.

Mal had linked arms with Eames as they walked through Marseille, the salt of the ocean tingeing the air. "I've met someone."


She had pushed his shoulder playfully. "Not like that, Eames."

He'd laughed. "Of course not. I doubt any man would be able to tame you enough to marry you." Mallorie Rousseau was a fiercely independent woman; as lovely as she was daring. "So who is this someone?"

"He is supposed to be quite skilled, or so his military records say."

"Anyone can fake records, darling."

"Then it won't hurt to have lunch with him."

When Eames saw who was waiting for them at the small seaside café, he'd burst out laughing. Mal and Arthur had both stared at him like he'd grown a second head. Eames only grinned at Mal. "You have excellent taste, my dear."

Arthur learned French in high school.

"You're joking?"

"I'm absolutely not." Arthur said. He was sitting on the sofa in Mal's apartment, her feet in his lap and Eames in a cozy armchair, all nursing a glass of wine.

"You learned French for a girl? She must have been something special."

Arthur smiled. "She seemed like it then."

"How old were you?" Mal asked.

"I must've been…fourteen, maybe fifteen. I'd just transferred to a new school—again," Military brat, Eames' mind supplied and he noted the singular nouns. Arthur was very good at hiding the fact that he was not an only child. "And then this girl walked by, looking like an angel in a sundress."

Mal laughed. "All first loves feel like that."

Eames smirked, settling more comfortably into his chair. "Where did the French come in?"

"She was one of those popular kids and she needed a French tutor, or so I was told."

"You learned it to get close to her? Not even to impress her? I hope you got that girl."

"I did. We were together for three months."

"A lifetime in 'igh school." Mal said. "What about you, Eames? Who was your first love?"

Eames glanced at Arthur. Had it been anyone but Mal, he wouldn't have answered. "Her name was Sherrallyn. We were…seventeen."

"Did you see paradise by the dashboard light?" Arthur asked and Eames was surprised at the reference. Arthur had never struck him as a man who would like Meatloaf.

"I did, actually." Eames glanced over to Mal. "And you?"

"Eames, you've known for eight years." Mal laughed. "Do I seem like the type to fall in love?"

"It'll happen eventually." He told her.

"I doubt it, but if it does, I promise, you two will be the first to know."

Arthur's loyalty has its hierarchy. Eames was third on the list until Mal's death.

"Mr. Reynolds, where are you?"

Arthur wondered if it was a bad thing that he had no trouble understanding Eames through his slur, even over the phone. "Stateside. And let me guess, you're outside a bar at a payphone, hoping for a ride home."

"You know me too well." There was a broken sound. "She's gone, Arthur."

Arthur sighed and massaged the bridge of nose. He'd been trying very hard not to think about it, which was a very difficult sound when Dom was gone and the Phillipa and James were always asking after maman and when was daddy coming home? Arthur had to pick up Mal's parents tomorrow at the airport.

"…I know, Eames."

"World seems very grey without 'er."

"That's because you're in England, Eames. It's always grey there." Arthur was trying hard to keep a tight grip on his emotions because, after all, he'd loved Mal too. Even this house, warm and filled with both Dom and Mal's little touches, felt cold and bleached of color. Arthur was suddenly fiercely wishing to see one of Eames' hideous shirts if only to see something other than washed out memories.

Eames' laugh was a bitter sound. "Come with me, Arthur. I know a place wit' color. Very warm there."

"No. I have to go after Dom. He's gone to hide out in Santiago."

"Not very colorful this time of year."

"That'll change."

Eames was quiet for a minute. Finally he said, "Good luck, Arthur."

The dial tone seemed to echo in the too quiet house.

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