It's another office. It's another job.
Drums. Tambourines. And Sometimes, I go out by myself, and I look across the water....
Arthur watches, smirking, as Ariadne carefully takes half a dozen steps away from her models - and starts doing a version of the jitterbug. She kicks off her shoes, laughs as she waves her arms around. She's no Ginger Rogers but she can move, and it only takes him a moment to decide to get up and grab her hand.
And he's spinning her around, they're stepping in time, and they're laughing up a storm, and even Yusuf has been lured out of his makeshift laboratory by Ariadne's enthusiasm.
Arthur grabs Ariadne again and - "Whoop!" she shouts - as he dips her, her hair brushing the floor before she kicks one leg up and out and she's standing upright next to him. The song fades away and they look at each other, grinning widely.
Eames chooses that moment to walk in.
And before it can all get awkward Ariadne's dropping Arthur's hand like it's a hot potato, and she's running to Eames, laughing and saying "Kweh," and it's Arthur's turn to sigh and turn away.
"I would definitely peg you for the protagonist of the Chocobo games," Eames says. "Small, and excitable, and gets things done. Even though you aren't wearing any standard chocobo colors."
"At least the chocobo kicks ass, Eames. Never forget that it kicks the shit out of the bad guys."
"Mostly kicks. Sometimes it does head-butts. Here is your coffee, chickie. I didn't know you could dance."
"That was mostly Arthur," Ariadne says.
And Arthur shrugs and smiles at Eames.
"If it was those terrible cover versions...."
"It was the one that stuck in your head last time," Yusuf says, grinning.
"Oh my god, which one," Eames deadpans. "I've got a list."
And that's a line, that's such a line, and Arthur hums a few bars of "Make 'em Laugh" and then Eames is smacking himself in the face, and fleeing all the way into Yusuf's lab.
"Smooth, Arthur," Ariadne says, and offers him her hand, and he gives her a high-five as Yusuf cracks up.
Arthur snickers and looks at the curtains surrounding the lab, still flapping in Eames's wake, and a plan begins to form in his mind.
That same evening:
William McKinley High School.
Arthur wishes he had gone to a place like it, actually. He'd gone to a private school and there had been uniforms and strict schedules and no coed dorms, and he thinks he missed out on something essential. Lockers and posters lining the walls, the girls with the straitlaced wardrobes and the wacky accessories, the boys in their letter jackets and their sneakers.
The thought that he would have been on the receiving end of a slushie attack has crossed his mind a couple of times, and with good reason. He'd been quite the bookish, quiet kid at school, and he'd only fit in because most of his peers had been the same.
[He'd only had one minor disciplinary mishap, and it had been of the sneaker kind. Both the bookish folk and the sporty ones had loved him for showing up in his pressed shirt and neat blazer - and the battered white sneakers with the little holes in the instep.
He's pretty sure he's still got those sneakers somewhere in the world.]
He hums snatches of this and that cover version as he walks through the corridors. He's wearing one of his favorite t-shirts, the one with the stormtroopers on it, and - yes, of course, he can wear those ratty old sneakers here. He looks down, and the usual criss-cross lacing in white changes to a black-and-white double helix.
"Oh but it's cold outsiiiide," Arthur sings, and then he's off and doing a soft-shoe down the corridors, and the music starts up with a blare of horns.
Right on cue, someone steps around the corridor and Arthur doesn't even bother to tense up or draw a weapon. He's been expecting this - or rather, Arthur's been expecting him.
The real Eames may excoriate Glee all he wants, but this version of Eames doesn't even make a comment about the setting, and he's just chuckling and tapping his toes as he finishes off his slushie. Muted paisley print on his shirt, blue and gray on white, black pinstripes. A nice pair of jeans that actually fit him. As Arthur passes him, the projection falls easily into his rhythm, and they soft-shoe on silent feet together.
And this is Arthur's dream, so he waves his hands and the corridor slow-fades into the auditorium. They're on stage, and the music stops and the lights come on.
There's another Eames sitting in the audience. This one looks more like the man himself, with the combover and the ill-fitting corduroy.
Arthur snaps his fingers and they're suddenly dropped into "Bad Romance" for no good reason - and he sighs and rips open his shirt - and off comes the rest of his outfit, for good measure.
Well, he's actually not wearing a Lady Gaga-esque outfit underneath; Arthur's a dreamer, not insane. But he is wearing a white t-shirt and a beat-up black leather jacket; he's wearing a nice pair of skinny jeans, and his sneakers are now black. A black necktie, knotted very loosely.
And the projection he came dancing in with is dressed the same, sans the tie, and Arthur's mouth goes dry. The projection fills out the shirt till it's almost bursting at the seams, the cotton stretched so thin the inked lines of his tattoos are just about visible. The jacket hangs so naturally off his shoulders that he might have been wearing it all his life.
When the projection moves, a flash of bright blue peeks out of the waistband of his jeans.
Arthur watches, pleased, as the other Eames's eyes widen.
And Gaga never choreographed a routine like this - Arthur dances with the projection onstage, a dance that is also half a duel. He throws a punch and the projection dodges, ducks, tries to kick Arthur's feet out from underneath him, and Arthur leaps into as much of a jete as he can manage in his denims.
The kick comes as Arthur and the projection leap toward each other, hands out, and even he can't tell if they're going to hit each other, or fall into each other's arms.
Arthur opens his eyes slowly and doesn't move, smirking as he remembers the dream and how at the last instant he caught the projection's hand, warm and huge around his.
The PASIV breathes to itself, mournful as always, and laid over it is the even breathing of one Stuart Eames.
Arthur moves carefully, pulls out the needle and checks the lead into the device for any problems, coils the tubing up and tucks it neatly away. Presses a bandage over the tiny wound in his vein. He has to pull the sleeves on his coat and his jacket up carefully to do so.
He's just in time because as he finishes, Eames stirs and his eyelids flutter as he wakes.
His eyes move rapidly over the warehouse - and when they land on Arthur, his eyes widen again, exactly as they had in the dream.
Because Arthur only needs to drop his long, all-concealing trench coat - and he's wearing the t-shirt-and-leather-jacket outfit from the dream. He'd taken the time to change - and cover - after they'd finished up their work for the day, after he had finished setting up for the dream.
Of course he knew that Eames would follow him in - hence the choreography, hence the songs [and all of them original, Arthur notes with an internal chuckle, no whacking around with remixes or cover versions this time], hence making him walk the labyrinth of the dream before getting to the auditorium, hence this.
Eames opens his mouth to speak - and Arthur simply tilts his head at him, gives him a secretive little smile. And he gets to his feet, hands out and open, and he backs away, slowly, step by step.
Just when he gets to the door he laughs and he says, "I may be guilty of a salting-the-earth incident."
The expressions crossing Eames's face are worth recording; he moves rapidly from confused to "what the hell" to "AUGH" to "I'm still dreaming!"
So that's when Arthur drops his bombshell: "But, unlike Coach Sylvester, I would never do anything like that to you, Eames. Believe me."
And one more step is all it takes before Arthur's turning and is on his way out of the warehouse, snagging his bag and his keys on the way.
He's almost out to the car, he's almost put the trench coat back on, when he hears the footsteps behind him.
Arthur stops, and smiles.