Eames has been working with Arthur and Ariadne for half a year when it happens. They're in a basement in Paris, preparing for a run-of-the-mill extraction, something easy while Ariadne is finishing up her studies. She has her hand on Arthur's bare forearm, enthusiastically showing him something particularly neat about her models - and knowing her, it will be neat- and Eames is blinded by the sudden urge to rip her arm off.
She is not supposed to touch Arthur. Arthur is his, nobody touches him.
Eames gets up and leaves the room, carefully not looking at his teammates. He gets outside in the grey autumn morning, finds a cigarette in a pocket, light it, already working on logistics.
He needs to leave.
He shouldn't have to already, he has gone much longer before, in the army he could stretch it to half a year without having to...
Without having to let the bloody wolf out.
He takes a drag of his smoke, contemplating.
There are forests here in France he could use, of course, but the full moon is soon and the safest thing would be to take a short trip home. He knows the land there, he knows which places to avoid, he has no idea about the territories here in France, he could royally piss off some strange alpha without even meaning to and that's always a fast way to trouble.
Going home is the logical choice. Eames just bloody don't want to. There's a reason, plenty of them actually, why he left the bunch of tossers in the first place, always running around in their bloody forests, talking about pack and about the rest of the world like they were bloody cattle.
Let them keep their forests and their pack, Eames had said, he had the rest of the world and that was more of enough for him.
They will have a field day when he comes crawling back home.
"Eames, I didn't see you leave, is everything all right?"
Ariadne. Clever, little Ariadne, with more curiosity than sense. Not fair, a part of him thinks, but the blood-thirst is still just beneath the surface and not the least inclined to be fair.
"Yeah, sweetheart, I'm all right, just had to get some air."
"Through a filter, I see."
"Guilty as charged. You and Arthur coming up with something good?" He leans away from the wall and turns towards her, has to stuff his hands in his pockets to hide the trembling. Ariadne stands there, looking lovely as ever, one of the sweetest and most talented people he knows, full of life and integrity, and all he wants this moment is to knock her into the wall and claw her eyes out for even looking at Arthur.
Ariadne doesn't notice anything, Eames is good at hiding what needs to be hidden. She gives him the highlights of her and Arthur's brainstorming, and then Arthur joins them and they all go out to lunch and within ten minutes Eames has to leave, claiming a headache, of all things, because he is five seconds away from dragging Arthur to the floor and doing unspeakable things to him, preferably over Ariadne's dead body.
Screw taking a plane to bloody England. Eames needs a forest and bloody moonlight and he needs it fast.
Eames leaves straight afterwards. Stops only at a hardware store and at a pet store, which luckily have what he needs. He makes the necessary phone calls from the road, one to Arthur, saying that he's feeling worse and won't be coming in for the next couple of days. One to a cousin who is one of the few members of Eames' family to avoid the blasted curse and the only one he still talks to. Caitlyn has no idea about the French alpha's territories, but she knows someone who does, and that's good enough for Eames. She wishes him good luck as she hangs up. A couple of phone calls later and he has a heading.
He arrives at his destination a couple of hours later. Stepping out of his car, he can smell that it's a good place. No other traces of wolf, only a few traces of human. Eames feels a calm settle around him. He will let the wolf out and then it will stop contaminating his waking hours and everything will be all right again. He gets his backpack from the trunk and starts the hike into the wood.
He stays away from the man-made trails, follows a deer trail for a while, then abandons that too. The trees are close together, with lots of under brush. It's a wild forest, old and unkempt, he can hardly believe it's not wolf-country, but his source was certain. Something about local superstition and then Eames had begged off the details. He was going to spend the night there, after all.
It is getting darker and moonrise is getting closer. He can feel it like a current running under his skin, the constant restlessness that he always carries around with him shifting into a sharp focus. He can't wait much longer and besides, his backpack is getting heavier. Finally he finds a suitable place; a giant oak has been knocked over in some storm or other and has taken a handful of smaller trees with it, creating a small clearing. Eames rests for a bit and drinks some water from his pack, eats a sandwich. Then he gets to work.
When the moonlight finds him, he stands naked and shackled with solid steel chains to the trunk of the fallen tree, a sturdy dog muzzle tied around his face. It doesn't fit him properly, not yet, but it will. Soon.
Once, when he was fifteen and had just finished his latest growth spurt, Eames had gotten into a fight with his cousin Dorothy, or rather, she had gotten into a fight with him, when she wouldn't accept that Eames wouldn't mate with her and be her Beta. Awake, he would have had plenty of good, logical reasons why having sex with your twenty years older cousin and starting a family where she had the final say in everything was a spectacularly bad idea, but as a wolf it just boiled down to, sorry sister, girl-parts not sexy, boy-parts sexy, capice? And well, then the fighting had started.
It had taken his family's physician, who had a lifetime's experience in wolves and all the stupid shit they got into, two months before Eames could get out of bed and limp to the toilet, with assistance.
Lying in the cold pre-dawn on the damp ground of some wretched French forest, unable to move because the stupid wolf has first tried to take the tree apart to free itself and when that didn't work, it tried to take itself apart and that seems to have worked somewhat better, except, not, and he is alone, achingly alone, and hurting bloody everywhere, Eames thinks, I'm going to die here. I'm going to die here and Arthur will never know. Arthur will think he just fucked off, walked out on the job, he will be furious, but he won't be worried and he won't find him.
Then Mal appears, ducking out from the under-brush into his clearing, graceful and calm, his private angel of death. Eames sighs and accepts, because even if it means he won't see Arthur again, at least it will stop hurting.
Mal crouches down in front of him and says something in French that Eames doesn't get and starts taking the muzzle off his face. He tries to say her name, he wants to tell her that it's all right, he wants to go, he's glad that it's her who has come to get him, but he can't seem to get much further than her name and she frowns at at him and says, ne pas mal, je ne suis pas mauvais, and then she says something else, but Eames has passed out and doesn't hear it.
He comes to briefly when she is cleaning and bandaging his wounds, his med-kit from his pack lying next to him. She has covered him with the thick blanket he also brought with him, but he is still shivering. She is singing under her breath as she works, something familiar, a lullaby or something, and yet foreign in her husky voice and French words. She notice that he is looking at her and smiles to him, makes him drink some of his water. Then he passes out again.
The next time he wakes the sun is shining in that stubborn autumn way, where it's trying to trick you into thinking that summer's not really over yet. It must be past midday. Eames is fully dressed now and alone. There's a crumbled sandwich wrapper next to his pack, but otherwise everything has been packed neatly away again, the med-kit, the chains, the muzzle. He still aches, but he thinks he can get up now.
He stands gingerly, leaning against the tree trunk. There's deep claw-marks in the wood from where the wolf went berserk and the ground is covered in large splinters. Eames looks at his hands, carefully bandaged, and shakes his head. Stupid wolf. He bends down to pick up his pack and the sandwich-wrapping, putting it in his pocket. He's feeling more clear-headed now and well. Ghosts don't eat. At least not sandwiches.
He turns his back on the clearing and starts the trek back to civilization.
ne pas mal, je ne suis pas mauvais - I'm not bad, I'm not evil
Eames returns to his rented apartment - yet another sign of how long they have had their base here; he'd gotten sick of the endless hotel rooms he usually lives in when working. He has also started cooking again and has a favourite supermarket and a membership to a gym and a car that isn't a rental and sometimes he catches himself looking around at his very nice two bedroom place with an honest-to-god balcony and communal rooftop garden and reaching for his totem because it all still feels so strange.
(Arthur still lives in hotel rooms, changing hotel every week like a clockwork, checking in under a new name every time, but then, Arthur is a paranoid little fucker, which Eames kindly refrains from teasing him about. Much.)
Eames doesn’t need his totem right now. The soreness in his body and the fact that he stinks are enough to erase all doubt about reality. He badly wants a shower, but at the moment he can’t cope with having to cover up all the bandages and stitches and whatnot. Besides, he is ravenous, like always after having let the wolf out.
He’s halfway through a casserole of hastily improvised chili con carne when he stops eating, fork halfway to his mouth and stares at his still-bandaged hands.
His hands, that have no problem using the cutlery, when a couple of hours earlier he barely had the fine motor control to get the car keys into the lock and start the ignition.
Eames gets to his feet and walks to the bathroom, already tearing at the bandages. He’s not really sure what he expects to see, but when he stands naked in front of his full height mirror, all the carefully applied bandages and plasters littering the floor, well, it isn’t this.
His torso, where the wolf had clawed at the chains tied there (yet another good reason not to just simply collar himself; the wolf would rather tear its own head off than wear one, literally) are covered in scars, not the eight hour old wounds that should have been there, scars that look to be years old; they have lost the angry red colour of freshly healed wounds and have faded to shiny lines, slightly paler than the surrounding skin. The muzzle has protected his face from the worst, but the rest of his body had been covered in minor cuts and bruises from where the wolf had thrashed around. They’re all gone now, leaving behind only a slight ache when he stretches experimentally, like if he had been doing something physically taxing last week and not last night. Even the couple of nails he had torn off have grown back and that should have taken months.
The wolf makes him heal faster than others, but not this fast.
This is the work of that woman, Eames thinks. The witch.
The next morning when Eames enters their basement, it is to find Ariadne alone, bent over her models. A deep surge of relief runs trough him at the sight of her - no blood-lust, just the usual warm feeling he gets when he’s around her, like a favourite sister, if he had ever had a favourite sister. He hadn’t expected to like her as much as he does, back when the three of them had formed their permanent partnership, but besides being ridiculously talented, she is also easy to be around; a good counterweight to him and Arthur. And she has a ruthless streak that Eames can’t help but admire. He would have been very sorry indeed if he had to leave the team because of the wolf and its stupid shit. He could always go back to Mombasa, he supposes, or continue that grand tour of Europe he never got to finish. Or something else entirely; he’s good at just following his feet and getting the best out of wherever he ends up. The thing is, he actually likes it here, likes having an apartment that feels lived in, likes the city, likes how ridiculesly successful they are and how well they work together, and well. Then there’s Arthur.
But it worked. It’s over, at least for the next three months or so, until the wolf starts knocking on the inside of his skull again. He won’t have to leave, not yet anyway.
Then he actually looks at Ariadne and frowns. There’s something about the way she holds herself, the set of her shoulders that clearly says that she’s bothered about something and trying to hide it. He walks over and sets the coffee he brought her down next to her models, bumps her shoulder in a friendly manner. Ariadne likes these little moment of casual physical contact he has found; it grounds her.
”Good morning, love, don’t you usually have study group right now?” As nosy as Ariadne is toward everybody else if she suspects trouble, Eames has learned that the direct approach is rarely successful when it comes to herself.
”Eames! I didn’t hear you come in, thank God you’re back! Are you all right?”
”Yeah, thanks, I slept it off. Not that I’m not happy to see you too, but it’s hardly been a day and a half.”
”I know, but Arthur’s been insufferable.”
”Oh dear, do tell.”
”He’s just been doing that thing where he thinks he has to be all serious, but doesn’t really want to be, and I get that, this job isn’t exactly Fischer-fucked, this job is our bitch, so he really doesn’t have be all, you know, well…” She makes a frowny face and yeah, Eames knows. Does he ever.
”-And you weren’t there to give him an excuse to loosen up and then he just gets worse and starts to micromanage everything and it drives me crazy.”
She takes a deep breath and is clearly about to go off again and Eames quickly puts a finger on her mouth.
”Sweetheart, where is dear Arthur? My sense of self-preservation forbids me to gossip about him without knowing for sure that him and his gun isn't standing right behind me.” Eames says and removes his finger.
”Oh, don’t worry, he’s off doing reconnaissance at the bank, won’t be back for at least half an hour,” she says and Eames draws a theatrical hand over his brow in relief.
”You mustn’t let Arthur get to you, my dear, that way lies madness. He doesn’t mean anything by it; if he truly meant it, well, you would know.” Eames says and pats her head. Her hair is very soft, he strokes it gently and she sighs.
”I know, I know, it’s just… Yesterday was so lousy.” Eames gives the ’go-on’-eyebrows.
”It’s stupid. Just boy-trouble.” Ariadne says and looks away.
”Oh, but Ariadne, boy trouble is the best kind of trouble. Is it the one from you class, with the big, dreamy eyes, the French one? Jacques?”
”Yes, stupid Jacques and his stupid, brown eyes and his stupid girlfriend,” Ariadne says and her voice breaks.
”Oh, sweetie, I’m so sorry.” Eames says and draws her in for a hug, because Ariadne is still very young and she clearly needs it.
Of course, that’s when Arthur returns. His face is his default expression of blank professionalism at the sight of Ariadne in Eames lap, but he looks away quickly. However, Eames is too preoccupied to think about that, because when he sees Arthur, it’s like the day before yesterday all over again, like Eames hasn’t spend a night under the full moon in order to rid himself of these urges.
The wolf still wants Arthur.
Ariadne doesn’t bolt away from him guiltily, thankfully, she’s too cool-headed for that and besides Eames has found, it takes more than Arthur looking faintly disapproving to make her feel guilty (Maybe not in the beginning when she still was green and Arthur still appeared all-knowing, but that sure wore off soon enough).
Eames himself is too stunned to react, washed away by the onslaught of raw emotions. Want. Which isn’t new, but oh, the intensity of it. The hunger. Eames feels dizzy. He has a sudden vision of sweeping everything off Ariadne’s work table and pinning Arthur there, holding him down, going for his throat, biting and marking and owning and in his vision Arthur lets him, bares his neck in submission, allows Eames access and from there, the mating is an afterthought, because the real claiming is already done. Arthur, though, would still need to be showed that Eames makes good of his promises, he would need it rough and fast and thorough, but Eames wouldn’t make it hurt unnecessarily, because Arthur would be his and Eames would take care of him, wouldn’t let anything hurt him.
But he would leave marks and he would leave small aches, so every time when Arthur moved and whenever he looked at himself he would know, know that he was Eames’, that it would be Eames’ bed he would return to at night and Eames’ side he would stand next to during the day, facing off against the world. And it would be glorious.
Ariadne turns and stares at Eames. He’s suddenly very conscious about the fact that she’s still in his lap.
“You have got to be kidding me,” she says.
After that, the rest of the day is a bust.
Eames concentration is utter shot, he can’t look Arthur in the face and Ariadne clearly wants to drag him aside and interrogate him, so she’s not exactly getting much done either.
Arthur is incorporating his latest intel from the bank into their overall timetable, frowning at his papers and clearly debating with himself whether or not he ought to yell at them to get their shit together. In the end, he doesn’t say anything, for which Eames is grateful, just gets up around lunchtime and announces that he’s going to get something to eat.
The minute Arthur’s out the door, Ariadne is at his side. He looks at her with a pained sigh.
“Must we, sweetie? There‘s really nothing to talk about.” She frowns at him.
“Yes, we must and don‘t try to deny it, the minute Arthur stepped through that door, it was ‘wham bam, instant boner‘. So start talking, Mr. Eames.”
He covers his face with his hands. “You have been waiting to say that all day, haven‘t you, you wicked girl.” Removing his hands, he glares at her. ”I'm not denying anything, but Ariadne, this is really not anything you can fix. This is just me, being stupid, and in time, it will go away.”
Ariadne just stares at him, as if he is incredibly stupid, yes, but not for the reasons he's just stated.
“Eames, let me ask you something, for how long have you felt like this?” He looks away.
“Well. I've always known that Arthur is good-looking and intelligent and that we work damn well together and I've always known that if I were to hit that, he‘d rip me to pieces. So I put that thought away, you know? But we kept doing jobs together and he kept impressing me and now he‘s just always here and…”
“And you can‘t pinpoint exactly were it happened, but by now it feels like you've always felt this way…” Ariadne finishes for him, looking down at her hands.
“Oh, sweetheart, do I need to go and break that awful Jacques-boy‘s kneecaps for you? ” Eames says. “I will, you know, just say the word.” She glares at him.
“We’re not talking about me, Eames. My point is, if this has already lasted for that long, what makes you think it will just go away on it’s own? ”
Eames doesn't have an answer to that.
“This is not your forge.” Ariadne says, looking at the drawings on his desk. Point made, she lets him off the hook. For now.
“No, it's just a woman I met recently. It's for practice.”
It’s a drawing of the witch, the only thing he has managed to do today. He’d been trying to tease details out of his memory, mostly to convince himself that really, it hadn’t been Mal. Leaving that clearing, he had been sure, but later, when he found out about what she’d done to him, he’d started doubting his conviction. If she could heal him like that, she clearly was more than an ordinary woman, and then, who could say what she could or could not be?
But she isn’t Mal. The woman in the drawing is smaller than Mal had been and dressed like a hunter, in brown and green colours, warm and sturdy work-clothes. Her hands had been rough, used to manual labour. She hadn’t even smelled like Mal, no perfume, just a hint of sweat. She hadn’t been filthy, but she’d clearly been working on something else when she’d found Eames.
He had been delirious and a dark-haired French woman had turned into Mal. Not surprising, really, but still worthy of a freak-out.The fact that there was a witch in the woods and if things didn't changed, Eames would have to go back to her, yeah, that was worthy of a little freak-out, too.
“She looks vaguely scary,” Ariadne says. “I mean, she's smiling, but it‘s a smile that says, I know all your secrets.”
“It's an Arthur-smile,” Eames says, mostly joking, but realizing, it’s true.
After giving Ariadne the watered-down version of his urges towards Arthur and starting to believe it himself, because that's how good lies are told, it’s like a slap in the face when Arthur returns with take-out (because Arthur believes in effectiveness the way some people believe in the second coming of Christ or alien abduction, and a team running low on blood-sugar is anything but).
This time however, Eames is prepared for the onslaught of emotions and he can stuff the hole poisonous mess deep down, down where the wolf lives. This time he has not problem standing up and walking over to Arthur and Ariadne and joining them with the food.
Really, it's all Cobb's fault, Eames muses as he practically inhales his food. He was the natural Alpha, Arthur was his. Then Cobb left, retired to be with his sprog and Arthur just… floundered. Eames knows that’s not how Arthur thinks about it, he’ll say he was just taken some well-deserved time off, relaxing a bit before figuring out what to do next, but Eames knows better. Arthur thrives when he’s needed, when there’s puzzles to break, when there’s work. But while it isn't true that Arthur has no imagination, he does need someone to point him in the right direction and say ’go!’ And Arthur will go. He will go, and nothing will stand in his wake. It used to be Cobb. Now it’s Eames. And the wolf loves it. Eames listen to Arthur and Ariadne discussing their levels, the familiar sound of their voices washing over him. He sighs to himself and stabs angrily at his food.
He will finish the job, then he’ll leave. But he’ll do it properly, no slinking away in the night this time, he’ll claim wanderlust and thank them for their partnership and shake hands as he goes. He knows he could take Ariadne with him - for all her dream savvy she is still a young girl who hasn't seen the world yet, it would be easy. But he won't poach her; Arthur needs her. He might not know it or like it, but after all the time on the run with Cobb, Arthur craves stability. It’s one of the reasons why he agreed on their partnership, he needs it and Eames won't take it away for selfish reasons. He’ll be alone, but he’s been alone before. He’ll cope.
Arthur stands and starts collecting their empty plates.
"I'd like us to do a dry run of the levels before you go back to your classes, Ariadne. Are you ready, Mr. Eames?”
"For you, Arthur, always,” Eames says with a grin he doesn't feel.
Arthur deems their levels ready and since there isn’t a hole left that they can poke in their plan that they haven’t made a contingency plan for, all they have to do now is wait for Saito’s call. Ariadne leaves to study, Arthur leaves with the PASSIV and his notes to do who the fuck knows what; whatever it is he does in his downtime. Half a year of working close together and the all clues and hints Eames has are: sometimes Arthur goes to the Louvre (from a throwaway comment about how if the tourists kept brining their toddlers, Arthur would not be responsible for the consequences.) and that it took him three months to find the perfect tailor (he had been fucking glowing that morning, Ariadne had asked him if he had gotten laid.) It's sad, how little Eames knows about Arthur’s life, but he draws the line at actual stalking and Arthur himself is not in the habit of divulging the information freely.
Eames goes to the gym and then plays tourist for the rest of the day.
He’s at the top of L'Arc de Triumph, the old one; it’s one of his favourite places in Paris and he’s trying to enjoying the last of the evening sun and how it paints the city golden. He’s failing utterly. He’ll be gone in a week’s time and he can’t get the sour taste of regret out of his mouth. The damn wolf. It is always ruining everything for him. Eames has always chosen not to be bitter about it, always accepted what he could not change, but this time, it’s so damn hard.
He wants to get plastered and just not think for a while.
Arthur would kill him.
He calls Yusuf instead.
He’s not even five minutes into the phone call when he starts regretting that he didn’t just get drunk.
“Yusuf, I swear to god, if the next words you say are either ‘mating cycle’ or ‘in heat’ I am coming to Mombasa to kill you, kill you dead and when I’m done with you, I’ll burn down your shop down to the ground, salt the earth and piss in the ashes.”
“Eames, mate, I‘m sorry, but all the symptoms fit. And please, don‘t come to Mombasa. I have trouble enough with the local packs without adding a pack-less, pheromones-ridden alpha to the mix. If it is as bad as you say, they will be able to smell you the minute you step off the plane and then all hell will be loose.”
Eames groans and thumps the back of his head against the wall he’s leaning up against.
“This is a nightmare, Yusuf. I've never experienced anything like it. It frightens me, I hate it when I‘m not in completely in control of the wolf.” The words spills out of him, but he doesn't try to stop them. If anyone will get it, it‘s Yusuf.
“Eames, you tosser.” Yusuf sounds both fond and exasperated. “Someday I‘ll tie you to a chair and incept you into getting it: you can‘t control the wolf. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you can learn to live with it. ”
“Thank you, that was exactly the kind of advise I needed. Try to sound a bit more like a self-help book, will you?” Eames sighs and runs his free hand through his hair. “Look, I just don‘t get it, I've know Arthur for years and we've worked this close together for half a year. Why now?”
“How often do you change?” Yusuf asks, sounding suspicious.
“This other night not included, I’ve only let it out once since we sat up base here, when I spent a weekend in Denmark, there was this beautiful wild forest-”
“Are you suicidal?! That’s just plain unhealthy, mate. You should be changing once a month, at least. You’re lucky this hasn’t happened sooner.”
“Yeah, yeah, I'm an idiot, I get it, what else can you tell me?”
“Well, then there‘s biology, plain and simple. At you age, you should have had your own pack and a bunch of pups running around and don‘t blame the wolf for wanting that. It can‘t help it wants a bloody mate. Don’t hate me for being the messenger, but what‘s so bad about courting Arthur anyway? He would make an excellent Beta, even without the fur and well, ovaries.”
Eames feels as if someone just dunked him in ice-water. Yusuf's words echoes through him, leaves him shaken. What so bad about courting Arthur? It’s the thought he hasn’t allowed himself to think, for once he started consider it…
“Yusuf, he doesn't know. He doesn't know about the bloody wolf, and you know the wolf, you know damn well that it doesn't just want to mate. It wants to own. I could hurt hum, I could hurt him so very badly. I can‘t let that happen.”
“So leave, if the thought of actually being happy is so repulsive to you.” Yusuf says, sounding tired.
“You don't understand, you're a loner, you don't even want a pack. I really don't want to leave them, this is the closest to a real pack I've ever been.” To his disgust, Eames feels his throat starting to close off, a burning pressure building behind his eyes. He’s not actually going to cry about this. “Look Yusuf, I got to go, I'll call you about the next batch of Somniac, Arthur had some ideas about the sedative… We'll talk later, okay?” He hangs up before Yusuf can answer.
Eames breathes deep, fighting back the tears, taking in the city before him. It’s so beautiful and somewhere down there, Arthur and Ariadne are expecting to see him again and that just makes it even more beautiful. Leaving will hurt like a bitch, like cutting off a piece of himself, but he has to. If he stays it will only be a question of time before he caves to the wolf. He won't let it take Arthur, he won't.
He runs a hand over his face and then he notices that there’s been left a voice-mail while he was talking to Yusuf. He plays it, his movements on automatic. It’s Arthur‘s voice:
“Saito just called. We move in tomorrow, Mr. Eames.”
There’s something unnerving about working, if not exactly legally, than at least without the usual subterfuge in order to get access to their mark.
The three of them meet in front of the bank the next morning and walk in through the front door.
They shake hands with the manager and the CEO, who has made an appearance specially for the occasion.
They all sit down in a showy meeting room with comfortable leather chairs and spend half an hour having coffee and croissants, making small talk while they wait for their mark to show up. Ariadne is asked how her studies are going, how she likes Paris, and what her thoughts are on her career after graduation. Arthur discusses subcon security with the manager, subtly securing them their next job when he manages to freak out the poor man, who doesn’t have it. Eames and the CEO discover that their parents practically were neighbours, some fifty years ago (or rather, the CEO discovers this, Eames already knew and decides to break out this bit of information to remove the last of the man's doubt. The man himself has never set foot in that part of England, Eames knows, otherwise he wouldn't have risked it - had the man actually known Eames‘ family it would have had a bit of the opposite effect).
Saito’s name is mentioned in reverent tones, how grateful they are that he could recommend them the best of the best to deal with this unfortunate situation, how they really can’t afford the scandal and negative response from the stock market if the story is leaked.
It's all very nice. It's also deeply creepy.
They watch from a small adjourning room (with lots of screens showing not only this room, but also the CCTV of the rest of the bank and Arthur has to tell Eames, that no, he may not use this opportunity to research an actual heist. Not in as many words, but with a very pointed elbow in the ribs) as she is led into the meeting room they left a few minutes ago.
“She doesn’t look like someone who'd steal at all.” Ariadne says as their mark comes into view on the screen.
“They rarely do, poppet,” Eames says, “That would kind of defeat the purpose.”
“I know, smart-ass, I just mean.. She looks nice. I expected some kind of… well, bimbo.”
Her name is Susan Allister, a 43-old CEO of a daughter company of the bank, wife, mother. Thief.
Before turning her over to the police, the bank wants to know whereto the millions have disappeared, how, and why.
And what else she might have taken.
She doesn’t know they’re on to her. She thinks she has a meeting where she and her bosses will discuss business strategies and where the high gentlemen will feel her out for a promotion.
That last part was Arthur’s idea, to have her in a positive mode.
They watch as the three of them sit down and exchange pleasantries.
Their mark may be many things, but a bimbo is not one of them. She is dressed immaculately in a very nice, feminine suit, her hair put up in a professional-looking bun. Her make-up is subtle and flattering. Underneath the respectable exterior Eames can sense the steel, though, in the directness of her gaze that takes everything in, in her straight posture, in her charm as she talks to the men. Eames knows steel like that; steel like that knows what it wants, and doesn't care if people won’t give it freely.
The manager and the CEO are playing their roles perfectly; they aren’t betraying neither their nervousness nor their antipathy. They share genuine smiles with her as they drink their coffee and even their body language responds well to her.
It’s first when Susan Allister slumps forward in her seat, unconscious, that their smiles drops. The CEO stands and looks down at her with a frown as the manager quickly clears the coffee cups away, careful only to touch the handle of Mrs. Allister’s cup.
Eames wakes up because Arthur is yelling. He tenses and is ready to go and do… something unspecified violent, because Arthur is distressed and that is not okay. Then Eames realizes from the tone of Arthur’s voice (he can't actually see Arthur, he's not even in the same room, but his voice carries very, very well) that he won’t have to; Arthur isn’t frantic and panicked, Arthur is furious and getting between Arthur and the source of his rage would neither be helpful or appreciated.
Eames also realizes that he is busy cuddling Ariadne.
In fact, he is holding her so tight that he’s probably hurting her, and he is nuzzling her throat, muttering nonsense into her skin.
Her skin, that is covered in blood.
“Eames, Eames, I'm okay, it was just a dream, it wasn’t real, you can let go of me, Eames, I can’t breath.
Eames lets go of her. He’s shaking.
He wants to ask her what the fuck happened, he doesn’t remember shit about being under, but he can’t, his mouth is filled with blood, it’s not Ariadne’s own blood she’s covered in, it’s his, and instead of speaking, he starts coughing and convulsing. And.
And he spits out teeth. His upper canines, to be exact. The convulsions takes him again, and this time he recognizes them for what they are: the wolf, under his skin, pawning to get out.
It’s impossible. It’s broad daylight, it’s not even full moon yet. He arches off the leather chair, he can’t hold in the pain, and falls to the floor screaming as he spasms. He can feel it moving under his skin, literally, he can see the claws bulge up under the skin of his hands, trying to get out. Distantly he can hear Ariadne yell for Arthur to get back here, now, but the panic takes him again, closing in on him, and he tries to fight it, he can’t let the wolf out here, he will kill them all, he will hurt Arthur and Ariadne.
He fights it and as always, he fails.
It’s like being under water. Everything is slow and quiet and strangely calm.
It's like drowning. His vision is going dark around the edges, he start disassociating - the writhering mess on the floor is not him, he is watching from the outside, dispassionately.
But Ariadne is still there. She isn’t running away like she ought to and that’s… bad. The thought feels far away, it doesn't really concern him any more.
She doesn't even scream when the claws finally burst through his hands, she just sits there and stares, mouth open and eyes wide. She seems too stunned to be frightened.
”Eames, ” she says, a note of hysteria in her voice, ”Eames, what should I do? Tell me what to do!”
”Run, Ariadne. Run.” Her fear slams him back inside his body, but the words are so hard to get out, his jaws won’t work the way he want them to, they want to open wide and howl and bite and hunt and Eames is losing himself in all the wolf’s passion, it’s different now, he’s wide awake this time, hasn’t checked out yet like he usually does when the full moon rises in the sky and lets the wolf out.
”No, Eames, I’m not leaving you, tell me what to do!” Ariadne is getting frantic now, as the skin on his arms starts to contort and rip and fur appears trough the wounds, dark fur wet with his blood.
He is still conscious, the small part of him that’s still looking at all this from the outside notes, that has never happened before. He’s glad it’s not usually like this, it’s all very painful and unpleasant. Why is it happening, that small part is wondering, there’s no bloody moon. That’s the midday sun, right there, making a beautiful square of light on the floor at the other side of the room, so why the fuck is this happening?
The sun. That is right there.
”Ariadne,” Eames rasps, ”the sun, get me to the sun.” He reaches out to that square of light and as he does so, his hand ripples and spasms further, it’s no longer a hand, it’s a great paw with long claws, shiny with blood. Ariadne grips it without hesitations and starts dragging him across the room.
This time, when Eames wakes up, he’s lying in the sunlight. His head is pillowed in Ariadne’s lap. She’s stroking his hair and he feels unexpectedly peaceful.
”Hey Eames. Welcome back.” She is smiling, but there’s still dried blood on her throat and shirt and her hands are trembling slightly.
His mouth is stuffed with cotton balls that have been soaking up the blood. He pulls them out gingerly, staring wonderingly at his human hands. It doesn’t hurt as much as he expected. He still has the rest of his teeth or rather, he still has all of his teeth. His new canines are larger and sharper than he remembers.
”Arthur didn’t see.” Ariadne says. ”He was busy yelling at them about Mrs. Allister’s crazy subcon security. He thinks you had a minor seizure and bit your tongue. I won’t tell him if you don’t want me to.”
They don’t make another attempt at Mrs. Allister’s secrets that day. Eames needs rest and Arthur needs information about 'who had the nerve to booby trapped her head with tactical nukes and not tell me about it.'
Ariadne follows Eames home under the guise that he shouldn’t be left unsupervised after his 'seizure'. She is quiet in the car, withdrawn even, not her usual mode when she’s on the verge of discover something new, but then, what she just saw isn’t the kind of cooperate dirt they usually extract or even the perfectly ordinary kind of snooping she usually has a nose for. Eames is surprised he haven’t seen her check her totem yet; he would, if he had been the one to see claws coming out of his friend's hand in broad daylight.
He can’t tell what she needs right now, if she is scared or angry or just exhausted and that worries him; he usually can.
”You all right, sweetheart?” Eames asks when they’re in his apartment and the door is locked behind them. He wants to give her a hug, or at least pat her on the arm or something, but for once he doesn’t, it probably wouldn’t be the right thing to do if she really is scared of him right now.
”No, not really. ”Ariadne is looking at the ground, her hair is hiding her face and her voice is quiet. ”I really, really need a shower.” Her voice is still all wrong and Eames can’t take it any more.
”Ariadne, please tell me what’s wrong? Are you scared of me now? Please, please don’t be, I’m still me, yeah? Still the same bloke as always, you know me.” He is on his knees in front of her and he can’t help but reach out and touch her face, stroking her hair, arranging it behind her ears. She finally lifts her head and looks him in the face.
”I am scared Eames, but… Not of you, okay? It’s just. You’re the one who’s always figuring out how we do everything, you’re not supposed to be so helpless. It made me feel so helpless too. And I thought you were going to die, and it was real, it all really happened and there was nothing I could do.” He hugs her now, holds her while she calms down.
”There was nothing you could have done except for what you did do, Ariadne. And you saved my hide, got me to the sunlight, stopped the transformation.”
”Transformation," Ariadne half-laughs, half-sobs. ”What the fuck was that, Eames?” He pulls away, just enough that he can look at her. Takes a deep breath. What he’s about to do say he has never told anyone before, not somebody who wasn’t already in the know.
”It runs in my family, sweetheart. Some families has funny ears or nose hairs, my family has… a lot funnier ears and a lot more hair, okay?” He runs an hand over his mouth, trying to gather his thought. ”It happens every full moon, if we want it to, but it runs a lot deeper than that. It’s nothing like the movies. It’s pack. It’s all about being at the top of the hierarchy, about power. The actual transformation is just the physical side of it, the pack is… the pack is in the mind. ”
”Eames. What are you talking about?”
”Werewolves, sweetheart. I’m talking about werewolves.”
They expected so much of me. I was bred under the full moon, while my parents were wolves. I was born as a cub, a wolf baby. That’s supposed to be a good sign. There are no baby pictures of me, you know, I was a wolf for the first year of my life. Kids can endure that, if I did it today it would probably kill me. We can only change under the full moon, but we can choose not to, stay indoors and stay human. Likewise, as a kid I could just… not change back. I don’t think I could do that today, I haven’t tried. I don’t want to.
Then when I was almost two, I changed for the first time. I don’t know why it hadn’t happened earlier.
I couldn’t talk at all, not even baby-blabber. I couldn’t walk. People scared me, I remember. I didn’t understand them at all. The smells were different, smaller, duller, I just wanted to have my fur back, my paws, my ears, my tail, my pack. My cousins and my brothers and sisters, my playmates, I knew it was them, some of their smell remained, but I didn’t know them any more. Clothing was so strange, I didn’t want it. I was a wild child.
It was my aunt, Lillian who taught me everything. She took me in as her own and started to train me, as you train a dog, with sweets as reward. Got me to wear clothing, to use the toilet like a normal person. It was so hard. Talking was hard. I just wanted to go back to the world I understood, were my pack were. She didn’t let me change back for a whole year, not until she was sure I wouldn’t just run away or something. I don’t remember much of it, I just remember being miserable. And then I when I started to get control over my human body, I remember that too. I started to discover my own mind, It was like waking up. But it was still so very hard.
It turned out all right, though. I started school a year later than the other kids my age, but the teacher didn’t think I was a retard or something. Lillian taught me about the world outside the pack, she let me have playmates who wasn’t wolves. She loved me and she raised me right. She had kids on her own, but they were all being raised elsewhere. This is common among wolves, to avoid inbreeding.
Then when I was ten, my parents wanted me back. They had been fostering Aunt Lillian’s daughters, and the youngest, Caitlyn, she hadn’t changed at all. She was twelve at the time. If she had the wolf in her, it would have come out by then. It happens sometimes, that someone who has wolf parents don’t get the wolf themselves. It not something you speak of.
I don’t know what they told my aunt, but they scared her. She gave me back to them, but they wouldn’t give her back Caitlyn.
I found her. I had promised Aunt Lillian that I would. I won’t bore you with the details, but it wasn’t pretty. I started protecting her, even when I was only ten, my wolf was strong, they respected that. I was afraid of loosing myself in the wolf again, in the pack, but I did everything I could to gain power so I could keep taking care of her. Caitlyn was my best friend, still is.
Things went to shit though when I was fifteen and they found out that I don’t fancy the girls. I wasn’t going to mate, I wasn’t going to be making pups.
Caitlin and I ran away, went back to her mum. But I was grown then and her mum had a pack of her own. Lillian still loved me, but I couldn’t stay there, there can’t be two Alphas in a pack. She helped me find a good school and a place to live and I haven’t been back since. I haven’t had problems with the wolf part of me since, really, I haven’t experienced anything like what happened today, never. It’s not supposed to happen. We change under the full moon and only under the full moon. I don’t understand it and it scares me, Ariadne, it scares me too.
”You don’t remember what happened while we were under, do you?” They are sitting close together on the couch, Ariadne’s hands are getting warm in his.
”No, I don’t. Not a thing.” Eames’ voice is hoarse from talking so much, but Ariadne seems better, more calmer now, so he doesn’t mind at all.
”She made us the moment the dream started. I don’t know how, but we never even got a chance with our plans, she just took complete control immediately. She started to interrogate us, she had us all in a meat-packing factory. Her projections zoomed in on me from the start, she knew I was the weak link, that you and Arthur wouldn’t break unless she hurt me. She told us as much. I was terrified.”
Eames suddenly remember the way he had been clutching her when he woke up in the meeting room in the bank and he gets an ugly feeling.
”She hurt you,” he says with certainty, ”and there was nothing we could do.”
”You freaked,” Ariadne says, which isn’t an answer, but Eames isn’t going to ask for details until she is ready to give them. ”I mean, you both did, but Arthur did it much more quietly. He tried to talk me through it. She hadn’t gagged you, she let you watch and talk to me. She was so damn clever about it all, she knew it would work. You yelled for me to make it night, you asked me to give you a full moon. I did.”
”How did I see it?” Eames asks. It’s like hearing about some drunken escapades forgotten the next morning, but without any of the fun parts. Eames is very much horrified, but he also wants to know, desperately.
”There was a big window in the roof, we could all see the moon. Mrs. Allister lost her cool then, yelling at the projections to kill me, but they never got the chance. You just threw your head back and howled and then the doors banged open and a whole bunch of wolves barged in and started to attack Mrs. Allister and her projections. They tore them to pieces. She did manage to kill me, though, so I don’t know what happened after that. But I think that’s why you started changing when you woke up, because you saw the moon in the dream.”
There’s someone in Eames bedroom. He can’t see who, he is lying with his back to the door, holding Ariadne, like he did when they fell asleep talking, a couple of hours ago.
Eames hasn’t moved yet, hasn’t changed his breathing. There’s a gun in the locked drawer of his bedside table, but he’s not going to risk it yet, not with Ariadne here, still asleep and vulnerable.
Time stretches, Eames lying there unmoving, the intruder just standing in the doorway, maybe pointing a gun at him, maybe just looking. The person isn’t reacting as Eames would have expected - breaking into his apartment is no joke, you don’t do it by accident and then don’t have a plan. A hitman would have shot him even before he woke up. A common burglar wouldn’t even have gotten through the front door. There’s anger running through him - someone is invading his home, coming into his territory while he’s the most vulnerable. Whoever it is, they are asking for it.
Finally, the intruder walks further into the room. Eames’ muscles clench unconsciously, ready for fight. When the person is close enough, standing at the side of the bed, close enough that Eames can make out that the intruder is looking at Ariadne and how dare he, Eames makes a soft, sleepy sound as if he’s just about to wake up and when the intruder turns his head to look at him, Eames throws the contents of the glass of water he always has on his bedside table in his face and launches himself at the intruder.
From there, it’s not a fight, it’s a take-down.
Eames is strong and fast and anger makes him stronger and faster. He has the person pinned under him before his brain can catch up with what his hands, his nose, his cock are telling him, and by then, it’s too late.
Arthur is writhering under him, trying to get up and Eames pushes him down again without effort, one hand on the back of his neck, one hand covering his mouth.
“Quiet, we do not want to wake up Ariadne, do we now.” Eames barely recognizes his own voice, it’s deeper and rougher than normal.
Eames grabs Arthur by the scruff of the neck and half drags him, half carries him into the living room, where he unceremoniously dumps him on the floor.
Eames walks around Arthur slowly, and when he makes a move to get up, Eames puts a foot on his back, between the shoulder-blades, and pushes him down again.
”Stay. Down. You do not get to break into my home. You do not get to walk into my bedroom while I’m sleeping. You stay down.”
Eames’ cock is achingly hard, hidden behind his tight underwear and loose pyjamas pants, but it’s not about sex, not yet. It’s about power. It’s about teaching Arthur who’s on top in this game.
”I hope you realize how lucky you are that you are not dead yet,” Eames says, crouching down in front of Arthur’s face. Arthur tries to lift his head to look at him and Eames puts a hand on his head and pushes it down to the floor.
”I said, stay down. How many times do I have to tell you? I could have killed you before I even woke properly, you better do as you’re told. ”
Arthur is trying to speak, his face mashed down into the hardboard floor and Eames can’t make out what he’s trying to say. He doesn’t care either. He lifts Arthur’s head by his wet hair and looks at him. Arthur’s eyes are wide and confused, but not scared, not yet.
”Be quiet. When I care about what you have to say for yourself, I will tell you. Until that you don’t say a word.”
Eames lets go of Arthur’s hair and gets up, continue his pacing and Arthur kicks at his legs, like Eames halfway hoped he would. He lets himself fall, on top of Arthur, knocks the breath out of him and grabs his wrists, forces his arms behind his back an up towards his shoulders, not using nearly all of his force, but enough that it has to hurt like a bitch.
”You are on my territory, Arthur. You came here uninvited. You asked for this.” Eames hisses into his ears and twists his arms even further. Arthur lets out a little whimper that goes straight to Eames’ cock.
Eames shifts his grip on Arthur’s wrists so he’s holding them both with one hand and grips Arthur’s hair again and lift his head up.
”Look at us, Arthur.” He whispers straight in his ear and twist Arthur’s head so he looks at their reflection in Eames’ wide-screen. ”What does it look like? Does it look like you’re in control here?”
Arthur is quiet, his breathing gasping and loud in the quiet room.
”Does it? Answer me.”
Arthur doesn’t answer, but Eames can feel his body going slack under him, he can feel his surrender. He noses his neck and is about to bite down, make the claim, when the dark room is flooded with light and Ariadne asks from the doorway,
”What on Earth are you doing?”
Ariadne is staring at them, at him, and she might have been telling the truth earlier, when she said she wasn’t afraid of him, but standing there in one of Eames’ big t-shirts, hugging herself, her eyes wide and scared, she clearly is now.
That’s when it hits him, like a blow to the head, out of nothing.
It’s more than ten years ago, but for a moment Eames is back in the forest, surrounded by wolves, his cousin in front of him, and she wants things from him that he can’t, won’t give to her and she is bigger than him, stronger and older than him and if he doesn’t want to give it freely, she is going to take it and then she going to make sure that he never, ever tries to deny her again.
Eames remembers the fear, remember realizing that none of these wolves, his family are going to do a thing to help him, they are just going to stand there and stop him from running. He remember the anger, thinking she is not going to get me, the shame afterwards when she did.
He feels sick. He rolls off Arthur, Arthur who lies so still, in fear or in surrender, Eames can’t tell any more. He flies.
He’s been in the bathroom long enough to throw up, wash his face and mouth and then just sit on the floor when Ariadne knocks on the door and tentatively opens the door.
“I should have left the moment I realized what it wanted to do to him.” Eames says, not looking at her.
“It?” Ariadne enters the room, closes the door after her, then the lid on the toilet and sits down.
“You do realize how schizophrenic that sounds, right?”
Eames doesn’t know what to say to that. Or rather, he doesn’t know ho to begin explaining how alien it can feel when the wolf makes it’s presence known in his waking hours, how easy it is to think about ’me’ and ’it’, how hard it would be to accept that…
“I did that. You’re right, it was me. I did that to Arthur.” Eames says, and he did, he really did, and he can’t remember ever having been so ashamed in his life. He starts feeling sick again, a sudden sweat starting all over his body. Ariadne says something to him, but she sounds far away, compared to the noise in his head. He did that. Not the wolf. It was him that was minutes away from sexually assaulting one of his best friends.
“…Arthur will be fine,” Ariadne is saying, “Especially if you go talk to him, now. You kind of do owe him an explanation. Come to think about it, I kind of want an explana-”
“I almost raped him, Ariadne.” Eames says. She stares at him, mouth hanging open. “I could have hurt him. I would have, if you haven‘t interrupted.”
“Don‘t be ridicules, Eames. Of course you wouldn't.” Ariadne says, frowning at him.
“Shut up about the wolf! You wouldn't have hurt Arthur, because Arthur wouldn't let you. If he really thought you were going to do something like that, he would have stopped you. He isn't weak, you know.” Ariadne says angrily and gets up, hands at her sides.
“Go talk to him, then! Better get it over with before you get any more stupid ideas. Besides, I need to pee. Up!”
Ariadne shuts the bathroom door behind him and Eames is left in the hallway, floundering.
He doesn't know how to do this.
It seems inevitable that their partnership is over; attacking your friends like that for no good reason tend to have that effect. If he had left like he should, he could have come back, eventually, when the wolf had calmed down. Now Eames can't see how Arthur could ever trust him again, even if he told him the truth. Which he doesn't want to. It's different than with Ariadne; he didn't have a choice then, she'd already seen his botched transformation. He does have a choice with Arthur, sort of: Tell him the truth, hope he forgives him. Or don't tell him about the wolf, tell him that Eames attacked him on purpose - and hope Arthur doesn't kill him before he leaves.
Put like that, it isn't much of a choice.
But to tell the truth or not, it all depends on whether Arthur will even give him a chance to talk to him.
Arthur is on the balcony, smoking. Eames can't recall when he last saw Arthur smoke; he quit ages ago.
He hasn't seen him yet. Eames looks at his posture and can't read a thing. But that's not unusual with Arthur, Eames realizes. Besides the obvious, the simple stuff, like 'I need something to eat' or 'I need Eames to stop doing that, that whistling is annoying' or 'in a moment, I'm going to shoot out that guy's kneecaps and don't tell me he didn't have it coming', Eames seldom has a clue what Arthur wants. He wants stability, yes, but what is his long-term plan with sticking around with them here in Paris, living in his hotel room, ready to leave at a moment's notice? Opposed to Eames, Arthur hasn't put down roots here. Maybe he doesn't trust them yet, doesn't trust the stability of their situation. After the cluster-fuck that was Arthur's last long-term partnership, Eames can't blame him.
It's unlikely that he will ever trust them now.
"Are you all right?" Eames asks him. He wants to know, desperately, if he hurt Arthur. Arthur turns slowly to look at him. If he's startled by Eames presence, he hides it well.
"Yes. My arms are sore, but I've had worse. You're stronger than I thought."
"I am so, so sorry, Arthur." Eames says in a rush. "I did something unforgivable and I don't know how to make it up to you."
Arthur frowns at him. "What are you talking about, Eames? You did what you had to do."
Eames gapes at him.
"You thought there was a burglar or maybe even an assassin in your bedroom and you took him down."
Eames gapes some more.
"Maybe you overreacted a bit, but considering that you had someone in you bed you wanted to protect..."
Eames closes his mouth with an almost audible click of teeth and keeps staring at Arthur. His face is smooth and relaxed, the kind of face Arthur uses when talking to a mark, reassuring them that, no, really, everything is quite all right.
Eames is suddenly angry again, though this time he does a far better job at repressing it, hiding it.
Arthur has decided that they aren't going to talk about it. They are going to pretend nothing happened. Probably in order to preserve status quo; who knows Arthur's reasons.
Arthur meets Eames incredulous glance calmly and keeps on smoking, flickering bits of ashes over Eames' balcony.
Eames looks away and runs a hand over his face. A part of him wants to laugh hysterically. Arthur is a bigger piece of work than he thought, if he can just pretend something like that didn't just happen. If he's fine with pretending.
"Why did you even come here?" Eames asks him. This still mystifies him.
"I found out who did her subcon security and wanted to tell you." Arthur pauses, takes a drag of his smoke.
"It was Mal."
TRIGGER WARNING: threats of rape. This is the part of the dream Ariadne mentioned earlier, where she's used against Arthur and Eames because they wouldn't talk. Eames saves her with his subcon wolves.
In Arthur's dream they're back in the meat-packing factory. It's vast and abandoned, but hasn't been so for very long – there's faded blood on the tile floor and the smell of death in the air, almost sending the wolf into a frenzy. Eames clenches his teeth and turns to Arthur, who is looking at the double doors expectantly, calm as ever. Eames draws his strength from that calm.
He doesn't remember their first time here, so he when Arthur lets it play he watches in fascination. The two of them stand on the side and watches as himself, Arthur and Ariadne is dragged in by Mrs. Allister's goons and tied up and left on the floor. They're all deeply unconscious, or at least it seems so.
”You played possum?” Eames asks.
”Yes, or we would be watching this from the moment I woke up. I still don't know exactly what she did to take control over the dream, but I figured my time would be better spent getting more background information on her first. I can always just ask her, later.” Arthur smiles and it's not a nice smile. “Let's take a walk. Nothing's going to happen for a while anyway.”
They step away from the Arthur's projections of themselves and the goons and walks around in the hall.
”Her mistake was assuming that because she could take control of the dream, she must have been the dreamer. Which, as you know, was me. So when she brought us here, she left this place in my mind. All of it. And this place is not something she constructed; it's a memory.” Arthur finds a metal staircase in the corner of the hall and from there they enter a small, cluttered office.
”That's how I could find this here.” Arthur says and hands something to Eames from the desk. It's a picture frame, two little girls, one blond and one dark-haired smiling to Eames from behind a layer of dust.
“I have seen this picture before,” Arthur says, “Miles has a copy in his office.”
Eames turns the frame in his hands and opens it, takes the picture out. Susan et Mallorie, 1987 it reads on the back in a spidery handwriting.
“They didn't go to the same university or any other kind of school, they never lived in the same city, they never worked together. That's why I didn't catch it. But if we where to walk out of this building and down to the local village, we would find two houses next to each other and in one of them Mal's grandparents lived and in the other Susan Allister's parents and herself.”
While Arthur has been talking, Eames has been sitting at the rickety chair at the desk and let the dream speak to him, too, let the emotions buried in it wash over him. But he doesn't have to go deep; just looking out of the dusty windows overlooking the factory hall, down at the meat hooks and the dried blood on the floor is more than enough.
“She may have made a friend here that she kept in contact for so long that one day shared dreams with her, but this is not a happy memory. Something bad happened here, something worse than killing pigs. Susan feared this place for more than that.” Eames tells Arthur as he opens his eyes again. Arthur is about to answer, but down on the floor a sudden movement catches his attention.
“Show-time,” he says and walks to the door and the staircase. Eames follows him.
Eames is surprised to see that when Susan Allister finally shows up for her grand entrée, it is in the same business suit she had worn to the meeting in the bank. He'd halfway expected her to fall for the cliché and dress up for the occasion in a dominatrix outfit or something equally ridicules. But even her hair and make-up are the same - modest and flattering.
Maybe this is the costume, Eames muses – and she clearly didn't need to change it to feel more powerful. That is useful information and he stores it away for later
”I've shown you how I found the new information on her,” Arthur says besides him, in a bored voice. ”Let's go.”
Eames looks at him in surprise. Arthur's face is carefully blank.
”No, I want to know what happened, it will be useful later; I already know more about her psychology than all our research has told me.”
Arthur nods resigned and they goes back to watching.
Susan Allister is standing in front of her three captives, looking down on them, and around her, the dream is changing.
The meat-packing factory, or slaughter hall, Eames isn't sure, is waking up, coming to life. The assembly line of meat hooks is moving, great bodies of meat rolling in and her goons are now clad in old-fashioned work clothes, sprayed with blood. The noise is deafening, of the machinery around them and from outside, the screaming of animals. The smells are nauseating.
Mrs. Allister is still looking down at her captives, her arms crossed and with a finger on her lips, a theatrical thinking positure that should be laughable, but really isn't.
"Start with the girl," she says. "Those two aren't going to talk."
At her command, two of the goons grab hold of Ariadne and drags her over to the nearest meat-hooks. While one of them holds her in place, the other works some buttons on a panel nearby and the hooks lowers. A sinking feeling starts in Eames stomach and he feels his hands and teeth clench. Ariadne did say that they had hurt her, but he hadn't allowed himself to start wondering about how.
I should have thought of this, Eames thinks. I should have seen it coming.
He knows that there were nothing Arthur and himself could have done to keep Ariadne out of the dream business once Cobb had her hooked, but at this moment, he wished they had anyway even if it had meant alienating her from them.
On the floor, dream-Eames and dream-Arthur seems to be thinking the same thing. As the goon checks that Ariadne's hands are still tied securely and fits a meat-hook into the binding, the horror on their faces are obvious. Dream-Arthur is struggling with getting his mask in place, dream-Eames isn't even trying. He is furious. So is Eames himself. Ariadne looks resigned, but not scared. Eames feels a surge of pride of her that only incinerate his anger - she shouldn't have to be brave like this, this shouldn't happen to her.
On Mrs. Allister's signal, the goon controlling the buttons lifts the meat-hook and Ariadne towards ceiling. It has to hurt like a bitch; it puts all of her weight in her wrists, but she doesn't make a sound. They don't raise her very much, only a few inches above the ground.
"We need something heavy to tie her feet to." Mrs. Allister says. "Fetch a couple of pigs, there's a good boy." The goons obeys her and soon there's two half pigs lying under Ariadne's raised feet.
Mrs. Allister turns to Eames and Arthur.
"I'm sure you can imagine what my boys are about to do to your little friend. If you don't want them to do that, well. You better tell me some pretty tales."
Ariadne kicks after the goons, but it's no use. They tie each of her feet to a side of meat - it's quite fresh, a part of Eames notes, just killed, bled and cut up, probably still warm - with as much space between as possible.
"Well, boys?" Susan Allister says to Arthur and Eames on the floor. She taking something out of a pocket in her jacket. "What's it going to be? You better start talking, or things are going to be even more unpleasant for her." She shows them the object, waves it around in an almost cheerful manner. It's an ordinary kitchen scissor, large and perfect for cutting up clothes
Eames feels as like he's about to be sick. He tries not to look at Ariadne hanging there spread-eagle, forces himself to look at Susan Allister, because he can't help Ariadne right now - or rather, he already did, apparently, but he can at least learn something about Susan Allister from all this.
Mrs. Allister 's still completely in control, of herself, of the situation. She shows no doubt, no remorse about what she's about to do, only a clinical detachment. She doesn't avoid looking at Ariadne, but she takes no pleasure in it either. It's just a means to an end - she needs to break Arthur and Eames and if the answer is raping a young girl in the most humiliating way she can think of, that's what's she's going to do.
This is not the first time she's gotten her hands dirty, Eames thinks bitterly. It can't be. We have misjudged her completely.
And it's Ariadne that paid the price for their error.
"Well, boys?" Mrs. Allister asks
Neither dream-Arthur or dream-Eames speaks. Neither of them looks like they can speak.
Mrs. Allister shakes her head in mock disappointment and throws the scissors to her goons.
On of them catches it and starts cutting up Ariadne's jeans, starting at the ankle and working his way up her leg.
This is the action that unfreezes dream-Eames and dream-Arthur. Eames bares his teeth in anger and starts struggling against his bonds. Arthur starts yelling.
”Ariadne! It isn't real, you're not even really here, we'll be out soon, it isn't real!”
”That may be,” Mrs. Allister say, ”but pain is in the mind, is it not?”
Ariadne makes the first sound since they raised her from the floor, a small whimper that goes straight to Eames' heart. Her hands are an alarming shade of red, much, much darker than her arms under her bound wrists. She's lost the indifferent expression; she's clearly in pain. The goon starts cutting up the other leg of her jeans.
"That was my first clue," Arthur says to Eames. He tries to sound casual and fails. "Pain is in the mind. Mal used to say the same thing. It got me thinking." Arthur is clutching something in is hand so hard his knuckles are turning white; his gun.
"Arthur, I know you want to shoot us out of here and end this, but please wait." Eames says. "I need to know."
"Nothing happened, you saved her. Should happen right about... now."
Dream-Eames gives up trying to free himself from his bounds by brute force and instead yells to Ariadne:
"Ariadne, make it night! I can get us out of here, but I need a full moon, give me the moon!"
Ariadne does. It's like hitting a switch, one moment daylight streams down from the dusty skylights, the next moment it's utter darkness. Then the clouds clear and on the floor, Mrs. Allister, Arthur and Eames are bathed in moonlight. Projection-Eames throws his head back and howls, a chilling wolf-howl that shouldn't be made from a human mouth. Eames himself backs away from the moonlight, further into the shadows of the slaughter-hall and is carefully not to look at the moon itself. But he can see how the projection of himself is changing already and he is fascinated, can't look away from the his own convulsing body. So he doesn't see where the wolves come from, but suddenly they're here, larger than ordinary wolves, stronger, faster. Werewolves. They come running in a great wave, starts tearing at the goons without hesitation, it's a bloodbath, the most beautiful thing Eames has ever seen. He wants to howl himself, run into the fray, join them.
"Huh. I didn't notice that the first time." Arthur says besides him. Eames had completely forgotten about him, so transfixed by the great pack of wolves. He croaks out a sound, meant as a question.
"The seizure you had started already in the dream. I didn't realize."
The next moment they are awake in Eames' living room; the dream is over.
"How did she do it? As you said, you were the dreamer." Eames asks Arthur. They are sitting in his kitchen, both with cups of tea. It has only been a couple of minutes of real time, but Eames is drained.
"Mrs. Allister? No idea. I do plan to find out, though, starting with Miles and Cobb." Arthur looks away, as always a little uncomfortable mentioning Cobb. Eames isn't sure why, has long ago stopped trying to apply logic to the connection between Cobb and Arthur, and since the Fischer job and coming to Paris even more so – Arthur's obvious fierce loyalty to the man leaves Eames furiously envious and the long silences between the two former partners, only broken when Arthur calls Cobb, never the other way around, well, that just leaves him plain furious and all in all the whole mess is better left alone.
"No, I mean Ariadne. How did she do it, the moon-thing?"
"I guess we have to ask her. But you know Ariadne - the best thing you can do is not tell her where the limits are and them watch her shatter them behind her.
Eames and Arthur share a smile over that, and for the first time since before entering the bank yesterday, Eames feels relaxed. Just the two of them, sharing tea and smiles in his kitchen.
Arthur stands, puts his cup in the sink.
”I'm beat. I can't wait to tearing into Susan Allister, but I need at least five hours of sleep - how about we take half the day off and meet up for lunch?”
It dawns on Eames that Arthur is about to leave. Go back to his hotel room. Sleep where Eames can't know if he is safe.
This is not acceptable. He needs his pack close, they're his.
"Stay here, Arthur." He has to clear his throat to get the words out, hurries to add: "You can take the couch, it's really late. Or, you know. Really early."
Arthur studies his face, Eames has no clue what he finds.
"I'll even make breakfast. Best bacon you'll ever taste." He grins, tries to make light of the situation.
It must be the right thing to do, because Arthur smiles and says, "Okay. Bacon. Sure."
Eames doesn't mean to wake up Ariadne when he returns to his bed, but he does and then there's whispered conversation and maybe tears and Eames can't seem to let go of her, holding her like it's the end of the world, because while she'd been brave in that dream, he'd been scared shitless and okay, he knows she was scared too, but that doesn't mean that she wasn't also incredible brave, which he tells her and then there's more tears and all in all it gets very, very late before they sleep.
Still, in the morning the sun finds Eames bright and wide awake and in in dire need of coffee and exercise, because that's just how he reacts sometime. He gets up, carefully not to wake Ariadne and goes for a run. When he gets back and has had a shower it's a bit more like a civilized time to get up, so he fixes two cups of coffee, black with sugar for Ariadne, milk for Arthur and leaves them with his sleeping team-mates. (Ariadne is on her side, curled in on herself, mumbling in her sleep, Arthur is hidden deep under the covers, the only thing visible is a bit of his hair and his toes. Eames resist the urge to tickle. He is not actually suicidal) Then he makes breakfast.
Ariadne emerges first, clutching her cup of coffee like a lifeline. She sits at the table, mumbling a good morning at Eames, who smiles and waves with the spatula and returns his attention to the scrambled eggs and the bacon.
Arthur comes into the kitchen when Ariadne is halfway through her first helping of eggs and sausages (and bitching about how Eames can eat four times as much as her and how is he not fat already?) and Eames has to hide his smile as he directs Arthur to the bathroom- he's is in his undershirt, hair sticking everywhichway and a part of Eames can't help but think, I could get used to this. Having him here. Having both of them here.
He is torn from his reverie by a snort from Ariadne.
“Could you be a bit more obvious?” She whispers and Eames feels compelled to throw a bit of toast at her head and if Arthur wants to know what they laughed at while he was in the shower, well, Eames has no idea how to save that one.
Arthur returns from his shower, looking vastly less zombie-like and while he eats, he brings Ariadne up to date regarding Susan Allister and her friendship with Mal.
All without even hinting at what had happened to Ariadne in that dream and Eames is sharply reminded about their fight last night (no, not fight, Eames' attack on him and oh boy, does that memory put a damper on Eames' morning cheer) and Arthur's unwillingness to talk about it. And while Eames can more or less handle Arthur behaving like that in relation to himself, it makes his stomach ache with worry and a good deal of anger if Arthur is starting that shit with Ariadne and her ordeal.
He can't interpret Arthur, so he watches Ariadne sharply for her reaction. But she seems to take it as Arthur's awkward attempt at being polite, gentle, even, so Eames lets it pass.
“So, I know I'm a bit late realizing this, but I was a bit... preoccupied.” Ariadne days and in her hesitation Eames hears: the extraction blowing up in our faces, nearly getting dream-raped, finding out my team-mate is a werewolf, said team-mate starting a fight in his own living-room with my other team-mate... and yeah, what the actual fuck happened to the last twenty-four hours? Some kind of curse?
“But we have missed our window, right?" Ariadne continues, "For getting away with this without Allister knowing that she's been caught, I mean if she's been locked inside a bank vault the whole night or whatever they did to her after we left, she knows, right? And what about her family? Do they know where she is?” And okay, Eames hadn't exactly thought much about that, either.
“I kind of bought us some more time there,” Arthur says, concentrating on his food. “After you left I went back and double checked that there wasn't any tape of us. I also OD'ed her on the sedative. She's in the hospital, comatose.”
Eames is the first to pick his jaw up from the table.
“I'm assuming that when you say 'comatose', you mean the kind of coma that people actually wake up from again, yeah? And sometime in the near future too, for the sake of this blasted job?” Eames asks, but it's mostly for forms sake. Arthur is not actually crazy. Or, god forbid it, unprofessional.
“I called Yusuf first, asked him about the dosage,” Arthur answers, “She'll be waking up in...” He looks at his wristwatch. “forty-eight hours and thirty-seven minutes. She'll be REM-sleeping twenty-four hours before that. That's our new window.”
“I kind of want to yell at you for being impulsive and taking an unnecessary risk,” Ariadne says, “but I know you're anything but and I can't think of anything else you could've done, so I won't. But you do realize how fucked we are if she doesn't wake up again, right?”
“Honestly? I could care less. Not after what she did to you. She deserves it. And worse.” Arthur says, looking her straight in the face. His eyes are hard and Eames realizes (a bit late maybe, but as usual, Arthur is a hard one to read), that he isn't the only one who has come to care about Ariadne.
“I liked it better when we didn't talk about it.” Ariadne says in a dead voice and gets up. “I need some air. That's girl-speak for 'give me ten minutes alone'.” She leaves the apartment, going for the rooftop garden, Eames guesses.
“I shouldn't have said that. I'm sorry.” Arthur says, looking down at the table.
“It's not your fault. Or rather, it's both of ours. We should have taught her better.” Eames says and rest his head in his hands. They really, really should. And Cobb and Yusuf and god, Saito and Miles, they are all going to kill them when they hear about this.
“We need to militarise her.” Arthur already has a pen in his hand, making lists. “And we need a new plan.”
Arthur has his laptop open and is showing Eames pictures of Susan Allister's husband and their kids and Eames is trying to listen and doing this thing where it doesn't sound like starting a row when he's critiquing Arthur's ideas – it's something they're both working on, after orders from Ariadne and it's hard.
“About militarising Ariadne - I'm not saying you're wrong, but it'll take time we don't have and it might not be enough. We've had the training, she tore through us anyway.”
“The wolf thing you did worked.” Arthur states matter-of-factly.
“I'd rather not do that again. The side affects...” God, the side effects. Forgetting everything in the dream. Starting to change without a real moon. The wolf's feeling bleeding into him when they should have been dormant.
The wolf normally affects him the strongest around the full moon, but last night's attack on Arthur happened anyway and Eames is starting to figure out why. Even now, he has trouble keeping his hands from reaching out to touch Arthur's newly washed, silky-looking hair.
“You mean that the seizure happened because of that?” Arthur asks.
“I'm not sure. But I'd rather not take the chance.”
Ariadne comes back then, looking much more composed and Eames is grateful. Both for her sake and for her stopping Arthur from theorizing more about the wolf-thing.
“So, I've thought about it. You guys want revenge, right?” They hadn't talked about it as such, but Arthur and Eames can't help but look guiltily at each other.
“And probably something nasty too, like forging her family and hurting them in front of her.” Ariadne says, throwing a dirty look at Arthur and his laptop, still open on the Allisters' family pictures.
“Well, I'm the one she targeted and I say that's a no-go. We get our revenge by doing our job, getting the dirt on her and letting the bank turn her over to the police or whatever they have in mind. They will make sure she gets what she deserves and it won't be our hands that get dirty. Please. Everything else would be too risky, we need to keep living and working here in Paris and we have a reputation to maintain.” Ariadne takes a deep breath. “And I still have my exams. I haven't got time for torture.”
“So what do you suggest?” Arthur asks.
“Okay, I haven't gotten that far, just... No torture, okay?”
“You have too many ethics, sweetheart.” Enjoy them while they last, Eames wants to add, but he doesn't. “It's what I like about you. Now, I may have an idea. As you said, Arthur, she made a mistake when she took us to that slaughter-hall. She showed her hand. There's something about that place that frightens her, she has history there. I say we find it and use it against her.”
“Well, that means road-trip then.” Arthur says.
“Lovely,” Eames says. “I'll just pack my things, then.”
And then it's a punch in the guts when Arthur says, “You don't have to. I'm going on my own.”
“He doesn't trust me any more,” Eames says. Arthur has left and Eames and Ariadne are on their way to Miles' office. Ariadne has to ask some question about her upcoming exam and Eames has by Arthur been instructed to find out everything Miles knows about Susan Allister. “Not that we where ever BFF , but... I should have gone with him. Something could happen; he should have backup.”
“First of all, you're too old to say BFF.” Ariadne says, “Secondly, haven't we had this discussion before? Arthur is a big boy and a scary motherfucker when he wants to be; he can take care of himself. And it's probably nothing, maybe he just needs some space. The last couple of days have been pretty... intense.”
“That they have, my darling.”
They reach Miles' small office and while Ariadne chatter away and Miles listens with a fond expression, Eames immediately spots Miles' copy of the picture of the two small girls Arthur had shown him in the dream. It has a place of honour among the family photos Miles keeps in his office. It says something about the man, Eames thinks, that he hasn't chosen to hide all these memories away. There's pictures of Mal and Dom's wedding, what must be Miles own wedding, photos of Mal holding her newborn babies, of James and Phillipa's birthday parties, with both their parents and grandparents beaming and so happy looking. There's even a picture of a fresh grave, covered in vibrant flowers. The most recent picture, judging by the kid's age is of Dom and the kids on a roller coaster ride in some amusement park. They look happy and Dom looks, well, sane. He's lost that intense air, that feeling of desperation just beneath the surface. Fatherhood looks good on him.
“I know it's very late for this, but is it still possible to change groups for the exam?” Ariadne is asking Miles. “Or change from a group project to a single-man project?” She's smiling, but Eames' guess is that she's talking about Jaques the Jackass.
“No, I'm afraid it's too late for that, Ariadne,” Miles says. “Try to look at it as a chance to prepare for how it can be in the industry – sometimes you just have to be professional and get the best result, despite...”
“Working with jerkfaces? Bloody amateurs? Or my personal favorite, egoistic maniacs?” Eames suggests from his place at the door. He's leaning against the door-frame, letting Ariadne doing the talking. She has a better relationship with Miles; no reason not to let her use it.
“I was going to say 'personality clashes', but that too, I guess.” Miles says, looking like he's trying not to smile. “Speaking of personality clashes, Mr. Eames, how are your partnership with Arthur going?” And that is so Miles. It wasn't for nothing he had shaped the best extractors in the business. He's always seen much more than he should and age has, if possible, just made him even sharper.
"Great, actually. Ariadne doesn't even have to play first grade teacher. Much."
“Do you know if he has accepted Dom's invitation yet?” Miles asks him. “James and Phillipa asks after him every time I talk to them, ever since I let it slips that their uncle Arthur works in the same city as me now.”
Eames looks at Ariadne in confusion, but she just keeps on talking, she clearly isn't sharing Eames' feeling of having just had a bucket of ice-water dumped on him. Still thinks he trusts me, Ariadne?
“No, I think he's still thinking about it,” she says. “We're still in the middle of a job, not the best time to plan a vacation.”
“Speaking of our job...” Eames says. They'd planned a more subtle approach, something along the lines of Ariadne saying: 'Oh, what a cute picture! Is that Mal as a child? Who's her friend?' (which, yeah, Miles would have seen through the words had left her mouth, damn him), but Eames is suddenly eager to get out of here and having some choice words with Ariadne – is Arthur leaving? Why didn't he tell him.
“Miles, we were wondering if you could help us.” Ariadne says. “We need information about a woman called Susan Allister and we believe you know her.”
“Yes, I do know her.” Miles says, looking away. “Please take a seat, both of you, and Mr. Eames, please close and lock the door. This will take some time and it's not for the ears of everybody.”
They go under that very evening.
Eames openes his eyes and looks around the slaughterhouse. He is alone. He shifts.
It doesn't hurt, but the feeling of his bones changing under his skin is disturbingly similar to when he lets the wolf out. Eames has wondered if this is the reason he is so much better than all the rest of the so-called forgers in the business. Generally it comes in the category of 'things I try not to think too much about.'
He doesn't need the mirrors, not really. They are a helpful trick, if he doesn't know the new body very well.
He knows Mal very, very well, mind, movement, moods and mannerism, from years of working with her, from Dom's crazy dreams, from Miles' stories, from the way the dreaming has her absence as a black hole in the middle of a galaxy.
Miles words echoed in his mind. Mallorie always had a habit about rescuing strays. She used to come home with baby birds, kittens, frogs. One day she brought home Susan.
He chooses a young Mal, the elegant teenager Miles had shown him a picture of, in a white sun-dress and a large, elegant straw-hat, at the top of her Audrey Hepburn phase (because Mal was Mal and there had never been anything awkward about her teenage years).
The slaughter-hall matches Mal's outfit now. There's nothing grim about it; it's a ruin reclaimed by nature, hazy morning light streaming through the broken skylight, grass and small trees growing between the broken tiles, swallows nesting in the roof's rusty structure. Eames looks down and there's a picnic blanket and a basket, straight out of another of Miles' photos.
He looks up. Arthur is standing on the balcony, in front of the door to the office, watching him.
“How do I look?” Eames asks. His voice is young, the trace of French stronger than when Mal had been an adult.
“Perfect,” Arthur says. “I'm going now, she should be here shortly.”
“Good luck, Arthur,” Eames says, “go find us that safe.” He blows Arthur a kiss and twirls in his dress, just because he can.
When he stops and opens his eyes again, Susan Allister is standing a few meters away, looking at him. She's still the stern businesswoman Eames has met topside, but this is his dream now and he wants her to dream with him. He laughs, one of Mal's pearly laughs that had been like water in the desert and runs to her, smiles to her, engulfs her. In his arms Susan Allister becomes a child again, a bit younger than Mal, every inch the Susan Miles had shown him and Ariadne.
...and after that, my parents-in-law welcomed her as one of their own. Susan had that effect on you. She never asked for anything outright, but you found yourself wanting to give it to her anyway, be it a new pair of shoes or your love. She was this delicate, quiet child, and when she finally spoke, you felt like an honour had been bestowed on you.
They have a picnic in the middle of the old slaughter-hall, two young girls, the birds singing above their heads, the sun shining on them, warming them. Eames keeps them in that undefinable dream-time, where you know time as passed and that you have talked about important things, but you're not quite sure how long you have talked and what about exactly. It's a neat trick. Not surprisingly and very fittingly, one of Mal's.
When their cake is eaten and their drinks are gone, Eames slowly lifts the hazy from Susan Allister's mind, let her realize that something here is very, very wrong. It doesn't take long before she starts frowning and her body returns to it's adult state.
“Mallorie,” she says, “you shouldn't be here.”
“You are not happy to see me?” Eames says, taking Susan Allister's hands.
“Yes, but...” She looks around, taking in their surroundings for the first time. “This place isn't real. It's not like this.”
“Then what's it like?” Eames asks, brazing for the impact he knows his words will have.
Susan pales and sits there, frozen. Then a small whimper escapes her, and suddenly the whole place is engulfed in flames. The sudden wave of heat makes his dress flare and his hair stand up. His straw-hat takes flight and disappears in the flames.
“Like this.” Susan says, a whisper Eames barely hears over the roar of the flames. Their picnic-blanket is untouched by the fire, but all around them the hall is burning and collapsing with unnatural speed. This is not just dream-logic; Eames can smell the gasoline in the hot air.
“It wasn't your fault.” Eames says, still holding Susan's hands, touching her cheek, making sure he has her attention. “The fire was to give your and your mother the insurance money. But he wanted to die, his business was failing, he couldn't faze the bankruptcy.”
“No, it... It was my fault. I started the fire too early, he didn't get out...”
“Susan, listen to me. Your father was already dead when the fire reached him. The coroner knew this, but Dr. St. Pierre was your father's friend, remember? He covered it up to protect your mother from the truth: your father was suicidal and forced you to help him.”
Susan Allister is crying now. “No, he... He told me how we where going to spend the money from the insurance company! We were going to visit you! We were going on a holiday, like a real family! He was going to be there!”
“Sweetheart, he wanted to. He wanted it so much.” Eames tells her, stroking her hair. “But he couldn't. He was sick. He had no right to ask you to help him in the first place; you were only twelve, you were just a child. It wasn't you fault. Please believe me, it was not your fault. Your father wanted to die.”
Eames repeats this over again and again while Susan Allister's violent sobs turns into silent crying which turns into him just holding her, rocking her gently. Around them, the fire slowly diminish, leaving behind embers and smoke. Eames looks up and Arthur is standing there, half hidden behind a column, covered in sooth and looking slightly singed. He hold out a manilla folder and gives Eames a thumbs-up: he's gotten it. Then he holds out three fingers to signal how long time left in the dream. Then he shoots himself in the head. The 'clack' of the silencer and the sound of his body hitting the ground is hidden by the collapse of half the hall. Eames still can't help but wince.
“Susan,” Eames says, getting up and pulling Susan Allister up with him, “We need to get out of here. It's not safe.” Susan has stopped crying and is just looking shell-shocked. She lets him guide her out of the remains of the slaughter-hall without protest.
Outside it's a clear, starry night, courtesy of dream-handwaving. Eames freezes for a moment, before he realizes that's it's a new moon he can see and that there isn't any danger.
He turns to Susan Allister, he's going to make sure she's gotten the message, that she's going to wake up knowing what he told her is true, not because of the job; the job is over, he has successfully distracted her enough for Arthur to get to her secrets. Not because he pities her, not after what she did to Ariadne. But because he needs to take her teeth. He needs to remove her anger, her hurt. Only that way will she stop inflicting herself on the world in the way she has done so far, getting innocents caught in the crossfire. And because she was Mal's friend, once upon a time, because Miles still cares about her. If she continues this way, one day her children is going to be hurt, maybe not as drastically as her own father hurt her, but getting jailed for fraud and stealing company funds is still hurting your children. They don't deserve that.
But Eames never gets the chance. The dream is shifting again, it's not him doing it, it's not Susan Allister, because she isn't there anymore. Eames is alone, himself again, standing in the middle of a clearing in a thick forest.
He knows this place. The ground is still torn up and covered in splinters from when the wolf went berserk, behind him is the fallen tree he had tied himself. In front of him stands the witch.
I apologize in advance if chapter 11 shows up twice, I seem to have trouble posting it correctly :(
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The witch smiles to him, that Arthur-smile, the smile of a person who knows everything there is to know about you. It's not a malicious smile, just very, very foreboding.
I've been looking for you, she says. I've got so much to show you. Eames can't tell if she's speaking English or French; he just know he understands her. That is not a good sign. That means this woman is no amateur when it comes to working the dreaming.
Then the clouds part behind her, bathe them both in moonlight, and it's not the thin, new moon from moments before, it's a full, yellow moon, so large it fills half the sky, stretching across almost the whole horizon.
Run with me, brother, she says as she starts to shimmer before him, not the painful, bloody seizure of a transformation he himself goes through, but a graceful full-body shrug, like casting off a veil, and there she stands, a brown, female wolf, fur shiny and well-kept. She's smaller than him (she would be, her human body was smaller than him too and the amount of mass doesn't change), but she looks strong and healthy, radiating confidence. As alfa as he has ever seen one, but not like- she doesn't look like the kind of alfa who'd use her power to bite and bark and dominate just for the sake of doing so. She wouldn't need unnecessary violence to keep control of her pack and she is calm in this knowledge. The grip of the deep, visceral fear that had ripped through Eames like lightning when he saw that moon lessens somewhat. Whatever happens next, this alfa will protect him.
The pull of the moon is unrelenting, irresistible, a deep tug inside him, inside his bones. The pain is starting, as usual, his skin feels too tight, his bones grind against each other, changing shape, his muscles spasms, he falls to the ground. His senses are heightening, between the waves of pain, growing and lessening like the tide, the cool night air brings him all the smells of the forest, the damp earth, the fear of small animals hiding in the underbrush, he can hear them running away, hiding from the smell of predator. He can smell the blood from his skin splitting, he can taste it from his teeth being pushed out by larger, sharper teeth and that's when he starts screaming.
Then there is a rough, wet tongue licking the blood of his face. It doesn't have to hurt, the wolf witch says. I saw you change your skin earlier. It's as easy as that, if you would only stop fighting it, stop fear it. Let go. You are safe here.
She lies down beside him and continue to lick his face, the warmth from her body and her smell slowly calming him. It will happen, no matter what, Eames thinks (and then realizes that he can think again), no matter what I do, the result will be the same. I can't fight it.
So stop fight it. You used to do this with ease, remember? When you where a child, before they taught you fear. Before they made you hate it.
He remembers, suddenly. The large, lush garden of Aunt Lillian's country home, bathed in moonlight, Aunt Lillian in her wolf body, howling in delight as he leaped as a wolf-pup and landed as a toddler, had rolled around in a somersault and then been a wolf again, already running to greet her, yipping and jumping up against her, licking her face.
The pain is gone. He stands up on his four legs, shrugs out of the clothes he doesn't need any more. He's sure on his feet, he can feel the strength running through him, he can hear everything, he can smell all the little stories the forest has to offer, a deer was here, a squirrel there, and the big ones too, the ones about fear and death, about mating and birth. He throws his head back and howls, telling the forest that this night a new story is being told.
Come run with me, sister. This night is ours.
In the dream, it's nearly morning. The sky is pink and there's dew in the grass under him. Eames lies on his back, looking at the sky, at the faint stars. There's blood on his hands and face and he's at peace. The witch lies besides him, sprinkled in blood and with leaves in her hair, her head on his shoulders, as if they were lovers, having just shared a night of passion. It is not that far from the truth. She's talking to him, telling him things she has dreamed.
Your family is not done with you, she says. Some will hurt you, some will need you. You already know which is which.
Yes, he says. He does.
Don't forget this night. Things will be bad and you'll only be strong enough if you are whole.
I never got the chance to thank you for healing me, Eames tells her, I don't know how you did it, but you saved my life.
You're welcome, but it wasn't me. It was your wolf.
Arthur is shaking him, slapping his face. Eames grabs his hand, asks, “How long?"
“Two minutes,” Arthur says. He has that shut-down blank look that he sometimes gets when the plan is falling apart and shit is hitting the fan. Outwardly nothing looks amiss with him, but Eames can smell his stress.
“We're three minutes behind schedule, you where unresponsive. What happened?” Ariadne says from her position next Susan Allister's hospital bed where she's packing away the tubes from the Passive, quickly removing all trace that they where ever here. Like Eames and Arthur she's dressed in scrubs and looks, frankly, adorable.
“Later, we need to move. Arthur?” Shit, Eames thinks, only two minutes. She must have taken me as deep as the bloody Mariana Trench.
“Arthur needs his hand back.” Arthur says, raising his eyebrows at Eames.
Eames stares at him, uncomprehending. Arthur tugs at his wrist, still caught in Eames' hand.
Eames does not want to let go. Arthur's skin is warm and soft under Eames' fingers and he remembers, suddenly, painfully sharp, what Arthur feels like under him, the hardness of his straining muscles as he fought against Eames' hold, an eternity ago back on the floor in Eames' living room, his smell, the smell is here now, his smell is all over the room, Eames is drowning in it. Arthur is standing so close, it would be so easy, to pull him closer, to-
He needs to get out of here.
He lets go of Arthur's wrist.
Arthur doesn't say anything, just grabs the Passive and stuffing it into an innocent looking backpack. He and Eames moves quickly out of the room, Ariadne right behind them. But they're barely out the door when they hear Susan Allister her cough and mumble. Eames raises his eyebrows at Arthur, who raises his hand for 'wait'.
“How are you feeling, Mrs. Allister?“ Ariadne's voice is professional and kind and Eames is so proud of her.
“Can I... Can I have a glass of water.” Susan Allister asks, her voice sounding groggy from sleep. There's a sound of water being poured and Susan Allister's thanks.
“Let me just get your doctor and tell him that you're awake, he'll answer your questions.” Susan Allister thanks her again and Ariadne leaves her with a 'I hope you feel better soon.'
Then she joins them in the hallway. She's biting her lip and frowning a little.
“Let's get out of here,” Arthur says, putting a hand on her back and steering her away.
They walk down the hallway, leaving this part of the hospital and Arthur is still touching Ariadne, hand on the small of her back guiding her. Coming from Arthur that's as good as a full-body hug and this time it's not about wanting to tear Ariadne apart and much more about Eames wanting to push Arthur against a wall and reminding him about who he belongs to, that Eames does not share, remind him with his teeth in the thin skin of Arthur's neck, with his hands around his wrists, with his thigh between his legs, crushing against him and holding Arthur just on the edge between pain and pleasure and Arthur would melt against him, allow Eames to do all these things, would want more...
No, he wouldn't, Eames tells himself, Arthur would never want that. Arthur values his freedom above all else. Do that and get a broken wrist and a black eye for your trouble. Oh, and an end to their partnership slash budding friendship.
I could make him want it, another part of Eames whispers. It would be easy. Everybody can be broken.
Eames takes a deep breath, holds it, lets it out slowly. Stops his feet from taking that last step that will bring him into Arthur's personal space. Stops his hands from reaching out.
“Change of plans, ” Eames says, “let's split up. Ariadne, go get ready for your exam, you've wasted enough time on this cluster-fuck. Arthur, I'll meet you at the bank in an hour. It's safer if we get out via separate routes.”
Arthur nods his accept and disappears around a corner. Eames exhales and does not put his fist through a wall. Ariadne stares at him.
“Eames, you need to find a solution for this,” she says, “Arthur is not stupid. He knows something is up with you.”
Eames stares at her, a wave of nausea rolling over him.
“Has he said anything, what- what has he told you?” If he suspects anything, he will ask me about it or worse, try to find out for himself. He is Arthur. He hates secrets, he does not like being lied to, being kept in the dark. After Cobb, that's about the worst you can do to him. And you are not Cobb. Arthur will not accept secrets from you.
“This isn't really the time or the place, don't you think? We'll talk later, after my exam.” Ariadne says and then she too disappears around a corner.
Behind the blind panic Eames wants to laugh at himself. He is about to disappear into the night without explanation or goodbye, running from the wolf and thus ruining all chances of friendship between him and Arthur and yet Arthur's opinion about him still matters so much.
I am so, so sorry about the long delay. Next chapter will be posted in two weeks, 8/7/12.
Chapter 12: Chapter 11, extended ending
So, I'm an idiot, who has realized that chapter 11 isn't actually done yet. So this is the extended ending of that chapter. The real chapter 12 will be posted tomorrow.
Sorry for the confusion this will cause :(
Eames exits the hospital through the parking basement without being accosted (the hospital is run by a business partner of a business partner of Saito and Eames still marvel at the difference before and after they got a all-knowing, all-powerful Sugar Daddy). It's only been half an hour since they got here and started the job. Quickly in, quickly out, the way a good job is supposed to be, they way most of their job goes these days. They are a damn good team.
By now Arthur will be on his way back to his hotel by a wildly convoluted route trough the city and then he will methodically scrub down his room before checking out. Not that he has said as much, but Eames knows him. He knows how Arthur takes his coffee, he knows what he looks like in the morning, sleepy and soft, he knows what Arthur is capable of, what they are capable of together (everything, his mind tells him, everything).
The job is over now, or will be in an hour or so when he and Arthur have given the bank the information they need to bring Susan Allister to her knees. Whether the suits will make it an official matter or work something out with her behind closed doors, Eames doesn't know and he finds that he doesn't care one bit. He knows Arthur will advice them to avoid collateral damage, meaning destroying her family, and that's all they can do. It's out of their hands.
Eames is free to go now, leave Paris and Arthur and Ariadne, just like he'd planned, forced on the run yet again by the wolf and his own inability to control it.
Eames does not want to leave. Arthur would be beyond angry; it'll be the end. Next time they'll meet it would be as strangers at best, enemies at worst. Arthur has his own convoluted set of morals and above all else is loyalty. If Eames leaves, there is no coming back.
Before going under in Susan Allister's hospital room, it hung over him like a death sentence, but the peace he'd felt upon waking up in the cool dawn in the dream-forest, feeling whole and strong and content – it's still there and maybe Eames can allow himself to hope.
He's so calm now, it's strange. The panic, the horror of this job, the stress of planning, it's all behind him now. Despite the little episode in the hospital hallway, he feels like he can handle things again, surely he can stay for Ariadne's exam and then he'll break the news to Arthur and her – somehow. But Arthur will be leaving for the states anyway, and if he encourage Ariadne to start looking for a real job – then maybe this won't seem so sudden. It will seem like the natural conclusion of their partnership.
Their pack. His pack.
They are not his. They're not. He has no claim over them. Half a year of shared dreams, of late night brain storming, of the euphoria of a plan coming together, of the job well done. Of shared meals, of forging a friendship with Ariadne, teaching her, seeing her brilliance unfolding, growing – of Arthur slowly letting his guard down, of his dry jokes that never cease to surprise Eames...
No. It was fun while it lasted, but. He has no claim.
They could be, the wolf in his mind whispers and he clamps down on it violently. Remembers being surrounded by silent wolves in the forest a lifetime ago, Dorothy standing above him.
He won't do that to Arthur. Or Ariadne, god forbid.
Put like that, it's an easy choice.
He has to leave Paris.