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"THE THRILLING ADVENTURES OF PAISLEY MAN AND SUIT LAD", CHRONICLED IN THE WONDER BOY DIGEST, VOLUME 12

 


art by chibifukurou

 

Issue 3: Paisley Man and Suit Lad versus the City of Carnivorous Cacophony!

There was no sin quite like the sin found in the crevices of Dreamopolis. Flourishing, turgid, malcontent, it spread like salt in ocean beds, like a whisper through an endless cavern. It was the city of superheroes; their names and symbols cluttered the night sky, beacons of power and the advent of science. It was also the city of supervillains, dastardly miscreants who lurked behind every signpost, poisoned every piece of good cheer. Into this morass of moral decay walked Paisley Man, once the golden hero known as the Forger of Justice, but since fallen from grace after a disastrous schism with the famous Alliance! From grace but not from victory! Accompanied by his stalwart companion Suit Lad, Paisley Man set his piercing gaze upon the Dreamopolis skyline, and with his muscled chest and manly physique, vowed to make the streets of Dreamopolis safe for ordinary citizens again! "I swear," he began...

 

"I swear this city just gets stranger and stranger," Eames said, staring out through the sheets of glass onto the electric streets. "You ever wonder if we should just pack our bags and leave?"

Arthur looked up from where he was ironing their costumes. His movements were quick and bird-like, his expression genially blank. "And where would we go? What other city would be so accepting of superheroes with tarnished reputations like ours?" The iron hissed over Eames' paisley tights. "The Sun City? La Soldad? They've got Alliance influence all over them. Our options are rather limited, I think."

"I knew I shouldn't have crossed Robert," Eames said ruefully.

"You thought he made for a poor leader of the Alliance, a legacy because of his father rather than any skill of his own," Arthur said. "You were right."

"Of course I was right," Eames replied. "Doesn't mean I should have said it. It got the entire Alliance up in arms and branding me a traitor." He turned around and smiled at Arthur, a half-watt smile compared to the brilliance that had been the Forger of Justice's trademark toothy grin. "Leaving the Alliance with my tail between my legs did net me one good thing though. It got me you."

Arthur said nothing, but he finished ironing their costumes and then laid them out on the table. "I'm sure Mr. Saito will have another mission for us tonight," he finally said. "We should be prepared."

"Yes, we are running low on groceries and lint removers," Eames agreed, and there was bitterness underneath his mild tone at being reduced to these circumstances, to being the pet superheroes of a multi-billionaire, running at his beck and call. It was true that Mr. Saito was as good a patron as anybody could ask for, but after being in the Alliance for so long, Eames' pride was still wounded by needing a patron at all. He was a superhero. He was the one who was supposed to do the heroing.

They had their penthouse overlooking Martyr Square, though most of it was empty. Eames' room remained Spartan and Arthur's even more so. They had their fridge and kitchen stocked with new supplies every Monday, but Eames' shapeshifting superpowers quickened his metabolism and made him hungry all the time; he figured Mr. Saito and his researchers had overlooked this, and he didn't want to be the one to tell them. You make your own way in the world, he thought, and then looked at Arthur, who would no doubt agree.

They waited for Mr. Saito's call and it came at half past nine. Arthur picked up.

"Hello," he said calmly, and Eames could hear Mr. Saito or one of his assistants on the other end. "Mm-hmm," Arthur replied. "Yes, yes, we understand. The League of Four, yes. We'll take care of it immediately. Fax all the details over." He hung up.

"The League of Four?" Eames asked, stretching out over a couch. "I've heard of them, I think."

"Deviants even among supervillains," Arthur said, as he pulled out his ubiquitous grey notebook and started flipping through the tabs. There were days when Eames thought the secret of life itself was contained in Arthur's notebook. "Mr. Saito says they've moved into Dreamopolis from La Soldad. He wants us to flush them out. Their leader is a villain named Corn on the Cobb..."

"Wait, what?" Eames said.

"I don't make up these names," Arthur said, rolling his eyes. "Corn on the Cobb is their leader. He's said to have a fearsome superpower, though no one knows what it is. His lieutenant is his wife Lady Malheureuse, and the other three members are Poison Man, and the Architect." He snapped his notebook shut. "We'll deal with them separately, picking off Poison Man and The Architect before we move in on the couple."

Eames heard the fax machine come to life. "Do we even really need that intel," he asked, "considering you know everything anyway?"

Arthur smiled brilliantly. "There's no such thing as being over-prepared."

"Watch it, you're becoming a caricature of yourself," Eames replied and started getting ready. "Grappling hook?" Arthur handed it over. "Aerodynamically styled paisley boots?" Arthur was ready with them before Eames even finished the sentence. "Umbrella in case it rains?"

"The only one we have is the one with the duckies," Arthur said.

"Are they very menacing and awe-inspiring duckies?"

Arthur studied the umbrella. "They're pink and the little ones are trailing after their mama."

"Oh, just hand it over," Eames said. "With any luck, we can burn it to a crisp and bill Mr. Saito for a new one."

"Hurt the pink duckies?" Arthur asked in a disapproving tone of voice.

"What the hell kind of former supervillain are you anyway?" Eames replied as he bent over and zipped himself up for a night out on the town.

 

Issue 4: Paisley Man and Suit Lad versus the Mist of Meaningful Might!

Down they went, into the Disreputable Docks! The mist of midnight hung over every pore in their skin and even the low beam from Paisley Man's flashlight seemed to encourage the darkness rather than banish it. "Are you sure we're in the right place?" Paisley Man asked, and faithful Suit Lad said, "I'm certain of it." The bond between the two heroes was unbreakable! And so they went on, past the skeletons of ships long put to sleep, past crates that contained substances from far off lands, past the late night dock workers and the thick haze of smoke from their cigarettes, past all of this, until they arrived at...

 

"Would you like a marshmallow?" Poison Man asked, looking up from his little bonfire at the end of the pier. "I'm afraid I accidentally bought the jumbo bag at the grocery store and then the cashiers wouldn't let me return it."

 

"Marshmallows!" bellowed Paisley Man in outrage. "You dare speak of marshmallows!"

 

"No thanks," said Eames. "I'm allergic. They give me a rash all over my body and you can't believe how much the price of talcum powder has gone up in this city after the Great Itch of 99. I mean, really--"

Arthur cleared his throat.

"Ah, yes," Eames said. "I'm here to drive you out of Dreamopolis, Poison Man. There is no room for you and your League of Four, not here."

"Why? We have done nothing wrong," Poison Man said. "We've only just arrived. We're fresh off the boat, as it were."

"You may not have committed any crimes in Dreamopolis," Arthur interrupted, "but in La Soldad, you stole the priceless Jewel of Yemeya, kidnapped three CEOs of high-ranking energy companies, and also ruined Princess Georgina's birthday party with some very inappropriate balloon animals. Your reputation precedes you."

"So we are to be judged guilty based on past mistakes," Poison Man said sadly. "In that case, I've heard some very interesting stories about you too, Suit Lad, and your involvement in a particularly well known bank heist." He smiled and then stuffed a marshmallow in his mouth. He chewed it slowly and swallowed before speaking again. "I hear you're reformed but one never knows for sure." He said to Eames, "Do you ever worry, Paisley Man? That your sidekick will long for what you can't give him?"

"This is nonsense," said Arthur. "Leave town, by your own volition or by ours."

"Do you see this mist?" Poison Man gestured at the air. "It's a special mist. My own creation. I've spent many years developing an immunity to it. It's quite fast-acting though. Just standing in it for a minute will have it enter your bloodstream." He looked at his watch. "Will you look at that? I should be going."

Eames grabbed his arm and yanked him upright. "What do the chemicals do?" he demanded. "What have you done to us?" Arthur was very still, but in that way that Eames knew meant worry rather than calmness. He shook Poison Man. "Tell us."

"I don't know. I have so many variations based from the same compound, I hardly remember which bottle it was I grabbed," Poison Man said cheerfully. "This could be the sex pollen mist. It could be the one that makes you crave cheeseburgers. It could be the one that'll make you think you're a bumblebee. Or," he added, "it could be the one that induces mutant baby pregnancies."

"Well, that's all right," Eames said. "We're--"

"Even in men," Poison Man finished.

Eames' mouth flapped in disbelief, and Poison Man used that opportunity to wriggle out of his grasp and disappear in a puff of black smoke. Eames whirled around to face Arthur. "I'm not--" he sputtered, "I'm not having a baby! Arthur, make it stop!"

"Do you even hear what's coming out of your mouth?" Arthur snapped. "Poison Man is clearly playing with us. You're not... you're not pregnant, Jesus fucking Christ."

Eames put his hands over his stomach. "Do you feel a craving for cheeseburgers though?"

"Not particularly," said Arthur. "Do you think you're a bumblebee?"

"No," Eames admitted. "Do you have an uncontrollable desire to fuck me into the wall?"

"....no," said Arthur, and then he coughed into his glove.

 

Issue 5: Paisley Man and Suit Lad versus the Sign of Sapient Significance!

"It's a jolly good thing we had Mr. Saito's men to detox us before anything bad could happen!" Paisley Man said later that week as they followed the trail for The Architect. "Imagine what could have happened to us." His strong face grimaced with bravery, and ever loyal Suit Lad nodded his agreement. The evil machinations of Poison Man had allowed that villain to escape, and now neither hero knew where he had gone. The best recourse right now was to move onto another member of the League of Four. They would deal with the nefarious Poison Man later! "Oh yes," Paisley Man cried, shaking his noble fist, "he will taste our wrath and the hammer of vengeance! This is no sissy love story! It is..."

 

It was always a love story, and in this Eames learned how to be afraid.

The first time he met Arthur, the Alliance had sent him to hunt Arthur down. Arthur, also known as the Midnight Runner, dealt in information theft, in the trafficking of secrets. Several of the Alliance's higher ups had been personally embarrassed by the Midnight Runner, and so they sent Eames to track him to his office in the lower end of The Sun City, nestled between the bookies and the pimps. There was no particular reason why Eames should have stayed his hand. It wasn't as if he had never met a sympathetic villain before, tear-streaked with a story about dead parents and a dog. However, Arthur had been something in of itself, mild-mannered and elegant, with a mind like a clockmaker's wet dream. Not to mention the way he had worn his suit with the sleeves pushed back as he typed code into his computer. He had barely glanced up when Eames entered, only offered him Darjeeling tea and started talking about ukiyo-e art and fine bourbon.

And Eames, who was a superhero among superheroes but had always felt, written in his bones from the day his mother left him on the steps of the orphanage, that he was somehow not like the others, had looked at Arthur and felt a clear incandescent longing.

So he had returned to the Alliance with his own blood on his face and a tear in his cape, and he had told them that the Midnight Runner was dead. After which he did not see Arthur again, but he wrote to him, whole pages of letters that Arthur, surprisingly enough, responded to. So began their bizarre pen pal relationship, and on the day when Eames was branded an Alliance traitor and forced to flee the city that had been his home, Arthur had shown up in a stolen car to drive him away.

Looking at Arthur, he saw all the component parts. Part enigma, part think tank, part companion, part saviour. It had never been his idea for Arthur to be his sidekick, but rather Arthur had suggested it. "You have the personality," he'd said, "and I do better out of the spotlight."

While Eames thought, You are the only reason why I am alive.

He held his tongue though. He'd lived in an Alliance compound long enough to have seen multiple superhero/sidekick breakups, and that was the last thing he ever wanted. For Arthur to look at him in pity and discomfort, for Arthur to leave, for Eames to be in Dreamopolis, the dark city, all alone, with his cuppa tea cooling on the counter and his words ringing out in the emptiness of the penthouse, but Arthur nowhere near to hear them.

If it means settling for half a dream, then half a dream it is, Eames thought. It's more than what most people can ask for, and even heroes have their Solomon dilemmas. He used to aim higher, once, but back then he also had Alliance equipment and the ability to fly.

 

Issue 6: Paisley Man and Suit Lad versus the Test of Tantalizing Taste!

"It is a right shame that the Poison Man should have eluded our grasp!" Paisley Man said with a thrust of his chest, exposing his sculpted physique. "He will have run straight into the arms of his masters, though. We'll get him soon enough if we follow the trail towards the masterminds of the League." He strode across the tiled floor of their headquarters while Suit Lad watched him carefully. "By that, I mean Corn on the Cobb! The vile, dastardly Corn on the Cobb! I say we go for that fiend first! When we nip him in the bud, the rest of the League will surely collapse!"

 

It was almost worth remarking how easy it was to track down the leader of the League of Four. Arthur had his connections, and after searching a few databases he found Corn on the Cobb's legal name and address, information which was quickly disseminated into directions that led them to one of Dreamopolis' rare suburbs. There were only about four areas on the outskirts of the city that could be charitably given that distinction, but Rosewood Heights was one of them, and Eames and Arthur pulled up in front of a surprisingly quaint-looking house where two children were playing on the front lawn.

There was a woman sitting on the porch with a book. When she saw who had arrived, she stood up smoothly and said, "James, Phillipa, time to go inside." The children went to her obediently and she took their hands.

"Lady Malheureuse," Arthur said quietly.

"I believe so," Eames replied and felt discomfited because this had not been what he had expected. None of the records had indicated children. Missions involving children were always the most difficult, the most prolonged, the most likely to end in disaster.

"Well, no use just standing here gawking," muttered Arthur and he took the first step towards the house Lady Malheureuse and the children had disappeared into. Testing the doorknob, he found it unlocked, and so with a brief exchange of glances, the two of them entered.

It was quiet inside, shadowy, and yet an obviously lived-in home with toys and tissues strewn across the floor. A pair of rubber boots stood to Eames' left, a basket of old newspapers to the right. If he'd ever let himself dream of a home growing up in the orphanage, it might have looked like this one. He moved towards the kitchen grimly, following the only source of fluorescent light filtering through the hallways.

There was a man sitting at the kitchen table. Lady Malheureuse and the children were nowhere in sight. "Corn on the Cobb," Eames said. "We don't want to make this any more difficult than it is. We assure you we will find your children decent homes once you are behind bars."

Corn on the Cobb narrowed his eyes. "Are you Paisley Man?"

"Who else would I be?" Eames asked.

"You're not wearing any paisley. That seems disingenuous to me."

Eames bristled. Forget his previous claims; there would be no mercy extended to this miscreant. "This cape is clearly paisley of the finest caliber, true to its Indian and Persian origins."

"The squiggly bits aren't quite the right shape, in my opinion," said Corn on the Cobb. "It's not true paisley."

Arthur coughed. "I beg to differ. Although it is true that the patterns on Paisley Man's cape are less tear-shaped than what might be considered traditional, they are in fact imitative of an ancient mango-shaped paisley known as mankolam in Tamil. You will observe--" His hand moved to Eames' cape, stroking it.

"Oh for god's sake," Eames said, and punched Corn on the Cobb.

"Wait!" said Corn on the Cobb, after he had reeled backwards from the blow. He raised his hands in surrender just as Eames prepared to change into a large, vicious animal to bite him. "I'd rather not settle this by violence if we can avoid it. I've left my old life behind. I've sworn vows of peace."

"That doesn't erase your past," Arthur said, though his voice was less harsh than it could have been. Eames stopped mid-transformation and looked at him, and then at Corn on the Cobb.

"What do you propose we do?" he asked finally.

"I will give you a test. If you can pass the test, I will come with you peacefully, no resistance," Corn on the Cobb said. He tapped his head. "Don't be surprised. I specialize in powers of the mind."

"What does that mean?" Eames asked. The thought of taking in Corn on the Cobb so easily was appealing.

"I'm very cerebral, you know," Corn on the Cobb said huffily, at the same time Arthur said, "We'll do your test."

"Excellent," Corn on the Cobb said. "I've been expecting the two of you, so I'm prepared." He walked over to the sink and pulled out a box from underneath. He opened the box and spread its contents on the bare kitchen table: several men's shirts, trousers, tuxedo jackets, ties, pairs of differently coloured socks. "The test is simple," Corn on the Cobb said. "You must create a matching outfit from this arrangement."

"Isn't the concept of 'matching' subjective?" Eames asked.

"When I said powers of the mind, maybe I also forgot to mention that I can burn holes into your head with my eyes," Corn on the Cobb replied. He gestured towards the clothes helpfully.

"This will be easy," Arthur said.

"Ah ah," said Corn on the Cobb. "Paisley Man alone must go through the test. You are not allowed to help him."

"Oh shit, we're doomed," Arthur said.

But Eames strode forward and sifted through the collection of clothes on the table. He didn't look at Arthur, though he could sense Arthur's sudden discomfort, and all right, that was sort of irritating because Eames had a perfectly good sense of style. His Forger of Justice costume had been a tasteful suit of complimentary blue and orange and fuchsia. There was no reason for Arthur to doubt him, Eames thought, as he selected a handful of items and presented them to Corn on the Cobb.

"This is..." Corn on the Cobb examined the selection. "This is actually a very good choice. An elegant pairing of black and grey with a hint of pale violet for charm. I'm surprised. I didn't think you would actually pass."

"So you'll come with us freely?" Eames asked.

"I didn't think you would actually pass," Corn on the Cobb repeated and began shooting lasers with his eyes.

 


Issue 7: Paisley Man and Suit Lad versus the Lady of Legislative Luridness!

But a lifetime of vice and poorly chosen villain names proved to be Corn on the Cobb's downfall, for he was no match against the combined efforts of dashing Paisley Man and loyal Suit Lad! They struggled heroically against Corn on the Cobb's malevolent laser beams until finally they mastered him and delivered him unto the hands of Mr. Saito! "Our first victory," Paisley Man said with satisfaction, "and our last, for now with the leader down, the League is fallen! We have done good work here, my dear friend!" And Suit Lad looked upon him with a visage of pure admiration and said...

 

"The window!"

They both whirled around to find Lady Malheureuse hovering outside their penthouse window. Eames changed into an ostrich and stepped forward to block her way to Arthur while Arthur did the same for him. They ended up stamping over each other's feet. Lady Malheureuse stared at them chillingly while they disentangled. She spread her arms and the window shattered into many small pieces, letting in the night air and the force of her fury.

"If you think my husband was the leader of the League, then you were mistaken," she said. "And now, as punishment for taking him from me, you will suffer the full wrath of my superpower."

Despite their best efforts at research, neither Eames nor Arthur had uncovered Lady Malheureuse's particular ability. It was clearly a fact that she kept under wraps, and Eames prepared himself for anything. Fireballs, insects, mind control, super strength. He had seen many a devastating ability during his time with the Alliance. If they had been able to bring in Corn on the Cobb with his destructive eye beams, then he felt certain that they were well-equipped to handle whatever Lady Malheureuse could unleash on them.

"Since the two of you seem so devoted to each other, then your joy shall be your curse!" Lady Malheureuse said as the winds picked up and the skies started rumbling. "Bound together in the past, bound together in the present, bound together in the future, with no hope of separation! Do you know what it is to be a lover? You do now!"

Her voice was grim and terrible, and despite everything Eames felt transfixed, his fascination freezing him in stasis. He changed from an ostrich to a bird of flight with the thought of launching himself at the villain when she boomed:

"I hereby pronounce you married in the state of Connecticut!"

 

Issue 8: Paisley Man and Suit Lad versus the Intermittent Instance of Inner Intellectualism!

For such was the dread Lady Malheureuse's superpower! The power of legal matrimony! When Paisley Man and Suit Lad looked upon the registrar in horror, they were suffused with insurmountable shock. For the moment the villain had uttered her pronouncement, their names had appeared as groom and groom under the state law of Connecticut! "Oh, that bureaucracy should betray us so!" Paisley Man moaned, while stalwart Suit Lad promised to have it stricken from the books immediately. But our dynamic duo soon realized this was not possible, for the marriage was binding. Divorce papers crumpled to ash in their hands! Lawyers refused to answer their phone calls! The wicked lady had had her way with them!

 

"It's obviously not true," Arthur said. "No matter what it says on paper, we know that we are not married."

"There's always that," Eames said miserably, though he tried to smile for Arthur's sake. Smile and play as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, as if superheroes married their handsome, beloved sidekicks every day. Of course Arthur wouldn't understand why Eames felt so twisted in his gut. Of course Arthur would have no inkling as to why every time Eames looked at him now, his hands felt sweaty and cold.

"I don't want you to think that this means you're bound to me," Eames said, attempting levity while he twisted the napkin in his hands. "Go and party with as many supermodels as you like. I won't mind."

"When have I ever partied with supermodels?" Arthur asked. "When have I ever had the time? I'm always here with you."

Eames sucked in a sharp breath. So he was a burden on Arthur. "Well, you don't have to be," he said, perhaps more coolly than he would have liked. "You can have your own life, Arthur. I never forced you into this one."

Arthur looked off into the distance. It was impossible to tell how he felt. "I sent a letter once, to a man who spared my life," he said. "I didn't know then it would lead to this."

"To marriage?"

"To any of it," Arthur said, and Eames thought of the letter he had found lying on the table the other day. Arthur must have been distracted, because it was obviously not a letter Eames was meant to see, but Eames had read it anyway, first without knowing what it was, and then because he couldn't stop. The letter had been from one of Arthur's former allies, a minor villain named the Nashinator, who wrote of a heist that he was planning. I can use a man of your skills, the Nashinator had written. Come on. Leave that tacky washed up hero. He doesn't deserve you. Be the baddest of the bad like you used to be.

When Eames looked at Arthur, he didn't see the baddest of the bad. He saw skill, precision, snappy suits with the occasional stylish fedora, and a sly sense of humour that could have Eames gasping for laughter. There was nothing bad about Arthur at all, he thought. Unless you counted Arthur's cooking. But even that had its uses. Arthur's bread, for example, could be fashioned into very effective blunt weapons.

That night, he caught a glimpse of Arthur on his way out of the bathroom. Arthur's bare shoulders were smooth and perfect, with a small scar running in between them that was a memento from a long ago fight against the Bogeyman.

Eames thought of that scar as he lay in bed that night, his cock in his hand.

"Eames!" Arthur shouted, bursting into the room.

"Yes?" Eames asked.

Arthur looked at Eames on the bed, naked, clearly getting ready for some quality alone time. "Never mind, I'll tell you later," Arthur said, backpedaling quickly. "That's a lot of cock to be married to."

Eames stared.

Arthur looked horrified. "I meant to say something different."

"Like... what?"

Arthur was demonstrably grasping at straws. "I meant to say, there's a lot of livestock I would not rather be married to," he said. "Consider that a compliment. Good night, Mr. Eames. We'll handle the League of Four in the morning." He shut the door behind him with a click. Eames made a face of confusion.

 

Issue 9: Paisley Man and Suit Lad versus the Maze of Maddening Monstrosity, Part 1!

"The Architect!" Paisley Man said, shaking his burly fist. "If Corn on the Cobb is not the leader of the League, then it must be the Architect, that slippery, subtle sylph!" With that pronouncement, his desire to bring in the League of Four was fanned anew, and Suit Lad could only stare at the noble expression that overtook his companion's features. There was no hero so dedicated to justice, so devoted to fairness, as Paisley Man! Dreamopolis would sleep safer because of him, or his purpose was for naught! And so Paisley Man and Suit Lad began their final trek, following clues and leads to the lair of the nefarious mastermind, the Architect herself...

 

"So you know now," the Architect said, standing innocently with her hands stuffed into her capri pockets. "The brains behind the operation was never Cobb or Mal or even Yusuf, as capable as they are."

"It was always you," said Arthur. "But you're so young."

"I'm old enough to make some mischief," she said, and then she smiled. The shapes of buildings began to change around her, falling and rising.

Eames decided to waste no time. He changed into a cheetah and sprinted at her, but the Architect must have been possessed of a truly prodigious set of reflexes because a wall rose up and blocked him. "Yeah, it's not going to be so easy, sorry," he could hear her say, and so Eames changed into an elephant and crushed the wall. But the Architect was not behind it. She was nowhere to be found.

And all around them, the buildings had come together to form a labyrinth, a tangle of streets and alleyways that Eames did not recognize. He changed into a bird and flew upwards, hoping to get an aerial view, but as he rose, so did the buildings. The skyline pulled away further and further, and after flying up for fifteen minutes, Eames gave up and plummeted down. He shifted back into his human form as he hit the cement ground where Arthur was examining a pocket GPS.

"It's no use," he said. "She's put us in some alternate dimension, I think. We'll have to find our way out manually."

"If there is a way out," Eames replied without thinking.

Arthur's expression became pinched. "For our sake, I hope so."

"What, love, being trapped with me for all eternity inside a maze isn't appealing to you?" Eames jibed. "What happened to our wedding vows?"

"Death doing us part is slightly preferable to a lifetime of endless boredom," Arthur said. "I mean, there's really only so many times we can arm wrestle before we get tired of it. And break our arms."

"I think I could entertain us in other ways," Eames replied. Arthur gave him a quick glance, and maybe it was the stress of the situation, but Eames could have sworn that Arthur's cheeks were an uncharacteristic shade of pink.

"Anyway," Arthur said briskly, "let's see if we can ditch this joint." He arched his eyebrow at Eames. "Are you following me or what?"

"I thought I was the one in charge," Eames said, and was gifted with the sound of Arthur's laughter.

 

Issue 10: Paisley Man and Suit Lad versus the Maze of Maddening Monstrosity, Part 2!

Alas, our heroes' spirits could not remain buoyant for long! The loathsome labyrinth twisted and turned and twisted and turned. No matter how much our heroes tried, they could not make heads nor tails of it! The buildings seemed to grow larger, looming over their heads like birds of prey, their windows likes eyes glittering with malice! It was no longer clear how much time had passed, for walking through the maze felt like sinking deeper into a pit of feral quicksand, but after a while Suit Lad spoke and said...

 

"This path forks," Arthur remarked. "I think we should split up and each take one fork. Then we'll meet up again and see what we've discovered."

Eames looked down the mouth of one of the paths. Arthur had a point in that splitting up would be more efficient. And so far they hadn't come across anything that could be termed particularly dangerous, nothing that would require them staying together to confront it. And yet he was reluctant to leave Arthur behind and head off alone in this strange, gloomy labyrinth city. But Arthur seemed determined and so Eames said, "All right. We meet back here in an hour."

They stopped to coordinate their watches.

"If anything happens," Eames said, "scream. Forget pride. Just scream and scream loud enough so that I can hear it."

"You too," Arthur said dryly. He looked like he wanted to say more, but he settled for a clap to Eames' shoulder. "I'll be on the alert for your particular high-pitched mewlings."

"Yeah?" Eames said. "Well, I have news for you. Thousand Island dressing tastes like baby spit."

"How dare you!" said Arthur. He examined his watch and squared his shoulders, giving off the impression of utter confidence. And why shouldn't he be confident, Eames thought. Arthur always knew the right action for the right situation. "Goodbye, Eames. See you in an hour," he said.

Eames set off alone. Independence was familiar territory. Even when wrapped in the far-flung network of the Alliance, Eames had often worked on his own. It'd seemed better that way, without another person's opinion to consider, without another person dragging him down. It wasn't until he met Arthur that he realized that his aversion to working with others hadn't been a general sort of aversion; it was an aversion to working with the wrong sort of people.

He followed the path until it came to another fork. He turned left and walked that way for a while, but it reached a dead end in the shape of a granite wall. So Eames doubled back and took the right fork, which led him to the banks of a very quiet, very still lake. The waters were grey, and so was the overcast sky. A dead tree hooked over the placid surface. Arthur was standing by the tree, looking down at his watch and frowning.

"Oh," he said when he saw Eames. "Our paths must have converged."

"It seems so," Eames replied.

"I'm so glad to see you again," Arthur said, walking towards Eames. "I thought there could be a chance that we'd be split off forever, that the Architect would pull some cruel trick and we'd wander without each other for the rest of time." He leaned forward and pressed his hand against Eames' cheek. His eyes were warm and affectionate. "That would kill me, Paisley Man. That would."

Eames shook him off. "Paisley Man?"

"Do you need to be reminded of your own name?" Arthur asked, smiling.

Eames looked at Arthur, at his face, at his posture, at the crookedness of his smile. "You're not him," he said, and in that instant not-Arthur's face contorted into an expression of rage. He made to tackle Eames, snarling as he did so. Before contact, however, Eames whipped out his pistol and shot not-Arthur in the head, twice, leaving a bloody smear on the ground. Eames looked at it and felt sick to his stomach.

The body vanished. The sky started falling. It crumbled in bits and pieces, in flakes. And then Eames heard the shout. It came from nearby, and it was tight with pain. Eames didn't even have to think to know whose voice it was. He started running.

 

Issue 11: Paisley Man and Suit Lad versus the Maze of Maddening Monstrosity, Part 3!

He fell! He fell! He fell! Paisley Man reached the grove in time to see the Suit Lad holding onto the edge of a truly horrifying chasm in the ground. Suit Lad's hands were tight and red, and he looked up at Paisley Man with flashing eyes. "This cannot be!" Paisley Man cried as he rushed towards his friend, and his speed matched that of a diving hawk! But it was not enough. Before their hands could touch, the piece of ground Suit Lad clutched dissolved, and Suit Lad went plummeting into the abyss! "NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Paisley Man keened, a sound of grief torn from his throat...

 

Eames clutched the edge of the pit, staring down into the darkness. He couldn't see Arthur, couldn't hear him. To his horror, the pit began to close. The ground sealed the edges, filling in the empty spaces where Arthur had vanished. "Fuck!" Eames said. "You fucking animals, I'm going to hunt you down and I'm going to--"

"Yes?" asked the Architect, appearing behind him.

Eames turned into a bear and jumped at her, but the Architect blinked out of existence. She returned on the other side of the grove, at the outer edges of where the hole had been. Eames tried to tackle her again, but his anger made him clumsy, and the Architect changed positions one more time before saying, "He's not dead. He's not even hurt. A bit dazed, maybe, but that's all. This place isn't real enough for consequences. Not unless I say so."

"Give me one reason why I should believe you," Eames snarled. "Or I'll tear this entire fucking place down. Don't think that I won't."

"I'm sure you would," the Architect said. "I believe you'd send Dreamopolis crashing down just for him." She put her hands on her tiny hips. "So let's trade. I'll bring back your Suit Lad in one piece if you give me Corn on the Cobb and Lady Malheureuse back. And promise to leave them and the rest of my team alone."

Eames took a quick breath between his teeth, but he didn't even pretend to waste time considering it. "Done," he said. Mr. Saito wouldn't be happy, but that was hardly his first priority.

The Architect beamed. "Pleasure doing business with you." She snapped her fingers and the world began fading around them. "Oh, by the way, I have to disagree with Corn on the Cobb. I think that's a very nice and authentic paisley you have on you. I'll have to get the name of your stylist one day."

"Give me Arthur," Eames said, "and you can have anything you want."

"Love," she sighed. "Isn't it the best?"

 

Issue 12: Paisley Man and Suit Lad versus the Denouement of Delayed Desire!

Thus did Paisley Man and Suit Lad suffer a crushing defeat at the hands of the League of Four! Within a few hours after being released from the labyrinth, Paisley Man scaled the Tower of Taut Terror and freed Corn on the Cobb and Lady Malheureuse from Mr. Saito's bondage. His very soul quivered in outrage! But sometimes in a hero's life, one must bite down on steel and not chocolate, and so Paisley Man watched the pair of villains flee, knowing that he had saved Suit Lad to fight another day. And the Architect, demon though she was, kept her end of the bargain. Suit Lad woke in a park on the east side of Dreamopolis, untouched and unharmed, though his memory was patchy as to what had actually happened...

 

"I can't say I'm happy that you bargained with her," Arthur said. "I don't know what she did to me, but I would have gotten free. Eventually. And now we've lost two criminals and gained Mr. Saito's displeasure."

"He doesn't know it was me who freed Corn on the Cobb and Lady Malheureuse," Eames replied, pouring Arthur a generous portion of Mont Neige wine. "I made it seem like a regular prison break."

"I'm sure he suspects," Arthur said.

"Let him suspect," Eames declared, taking his seat on the other couch. "As long as he doesn't have any proof, he can't accuse us of anything."

Arthur bared his teeth. "It's fucking frustrating though, letting them slip out like that. And you said that we won't go after the League?"

"I said that," Eames agreed, "but there's no way I'm keeping that promise. Not after what they did to you."

"So a hero reneges on his word," Arthur said.

"As it turns out, when it comes to you, I'm not much of a hero at all." Eames took a deep swallow of his wine and tried to study Arthur's face for a reaction. Arthur returned his sentiment with a lovely but bland smile, and Eames' spirits sank.

"We could try for another divorce though," he offered.

"And have the papers mysteriously not go through again?" Arthur asked. "It almost seems not worth the effort. What a terrifyingly useful superpower, by the way. Do you think she can automatically give out parking tickets and subpoenas as well? Just shoot them into existence?"

"Just be thankful she's not in politics."

"Yet," Arthur said, and Eames shuddered at the thought. They sat in silence for a moment, nursing their drinks, and Eames took the opportunity to surreptitiously memorize the angle of Arthur's nose, the curve of his mouth, the plane of his cheeks, remembering that this was why he wanted to save Dreamopolis, for his own entirely selfish reasons. "You're staring at me," Arthur said, and Eames wondered what the point was of even denying it. Surely what he had done for Arthur was confession and execution enough. If Arthur didn't want to pursue it further, then that was his choice. Eames had made it very clear by now that the door was open.

"Why do you always stare at me?" Arthur asked. "I used to think it was because you were watching me for signs of relapse, trying to see if I'd go back to my old ways. Haven't I proven myself enough?"

"It's not that," Eames said.

"Then what?" Arthur asked, voice going slanted.

"I wonder why you follow me, is all," Eames said. "I used to be great. Now I'm Paisley Man. Even my umbrella is second rate."

"Not if your enemies were anatidaephobic," Arthur said. "Fear of ducks. Or fear of umbrellas. I don't think there's a scientific term for that yet, but there should be. Umbrellas are quite pointy, haven't you noticed, and when you open one, there's this sudden explosion of movement that I think could be considered frightening if you were--"

"Arthur," Eames said.

"--if you were prone to being scared of that sort of thing," Arthur continued, "and what is wrong with you, Eames, that you even ask why I follow you. Haven't you figured it out by now?"

"I'll let you in on a secret," Eames drawled, his pulse speeding up. "Superheroes aren't very intelligent. It's the spandex. It cuts off circulation to our brain."

"You always put yourself down. I hate it," Arthur said. "You're absolutely brilliant. And powerful. And amazing. And I am really shooting myself in the foot right now, but since you can't ever divorce me, I guess you're stuck with me for life." He knocked back the rest of his wine and avoided eye contact, while Eames felt a prickling sensation start from the tips of his fingers and spread outwards. It felt like happiness.

Arthur played with the stem of his wine glass before setting it down. "I'm going to kiss you now," he said, still not looking at Eames. "Change into a platypus or something if it's not to your liking. I'll get the hint." He crawled out of his chair and leaned over Eames, tangling his fingers into Eames' hair. Eames looked up at him and finally, finally Arthur looked back. Tension became surprise in his face. Surprise became want. Then Eames was grinning as Arthur lowered his head and their mouths met.

Eames did not change into a platypus.

 


Issue 13: Paisley Man and Suit Lad versus the Fortuitous Finagling of the Future!

"We cannot let the League of Four remain free for long!" Paisley Man said, pounding his chest with the gale force of his virtuous indignation. "We cannot let them spoil our honour like this! We must go after them, hie thee forth! We must search them down to the four corners of the globe and make them pay for what they have done to us and the good citizens of Dreamopolis!" His eyes glittered with the passion of his cause, and the wind blew through the open windows, tousling the locks of his hair. "We will begin the hunt anew! Are you with me, Suit Lad? Will you stand nobly by my side in this quest for justice?"

 

"I'll be at your side," Arthur said, turning over in the bed to kiss Eames' knuckles. Eames looked up at him unblinkingly. "You can doubt many things, your ability to parallel park among them, but you don't have to doubt that."

 



art by chibifukurou

 

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"Pickles!" Paisley Man shouted as he fought through the twisting, terrible morass. "The one thing we need to break free of this treachery is pickles! Where are my pickles?"

"There are none left!" Suit Lad cried, his normally unflappable expression giving away to panic. "But I have two cucumbers and some brine! Quick, we must pickle them before our enemies return!" But even as he spoke, the doors to the warehouse flung open. From beyond came the terrifying scrape of a sour, unearthly screech, and they knew then that they were at the point of no return...