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Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.

- Virginia Woolf

 


“Eames.”

The voice throws him for a minute, because it’s one he hasn’t heard in more than a year now, timid but with a determination behind it that helps him place the caller.

“Ariadne,” he answers, tucking the phone under his ear and wondering how she got this number, or from whom. “This is a surprise.”

“Have you heard about Fischer?”

The name comes as a surprise, although it perhaps shouldn’t; there are few things tying the two of them together, and Fischer is one of them. When he doesn’t answer immediately, Ariadne speaks up again.

“You should turn on the news.”

He’s in Australia at the moment, which makes the story easy to locate once he switches on the television. “…the scion of the family behind one of the biggest energy corporations in the world fell into a coma on Friday, and was discovered in his Los Angeles penthouse by a member of his household staff. Doctors remain unsure about the cause, although a spokesperson for the company has assured the media that drugs were not a factor. Fischer remains in the care of…

“Was it us?” Ariadne asks, interrupting the flow of words from the reporter. “Did we do this?”

Doubtful, Eames thinks. Still, there are other factors to consider. “I’ll call you back,” he tells Ariadne.

He leaves the television on while he works, checking message boards and tracking the story across several of the more reputable world news sites. At around half-past seven, he finishes reading one of the most recent articles just in time for the reporter’s voice on the news to filter through. “…are unsure whether there is a connection between the two cases. Rothchild, a Boston native, has been airlifted from Miami back to the care of her primary physician at…

Eames stills for a moment, and then does another search, skimming headlines with a grim sense of foreboding. Marion Rothchild, heiress and head of the Rothchild Foundation, who six months ago had announced out of the blue her decision to sponsor medical research instead of the arts. Eames still remembers the cold tube of the IV in his arm and the thin blanket he’d had over his lap when Marion had stooped down beside his wheelchair in the pediatric ward and kissed Eames’ bald forehead, calling him a very brave little girl.

He doesn’t waste any more time. Two cases, both in the United States, and there’s a young blonde woman on the television now promising that the FBI will do everything in its power to discover the truth behind the cases of Ms. Rothchild and Mr. Fischer.

He checks the area code of his last received call, and sure enough it has a U.S. country code attached.

“Get out of the states,” he says when Ariadne picks up. “Get back to Paris, or go home to Canada. You should be fine so long as you’re not in the country.”

“It was us, wasn’t it?” Ariadne sounds young, still, but not afraid. Quiet and certain, like she’d known even before she’d picked up the phone to call Eames. Women’s intuition.

“Yes,” Eames replies. “It was us.”

 

-

 

The FBI team heading up the investigation are members of the Behavioral Analysis Unit, which Eames takes to mean that the government believes the comas are the work of a malicious individual rather than from natural causes. Natural causes being, say, the aftereffects of an experimental dreamsharing technique, rather than an overdose on sleeping pills.

He keeps his ear to the ground and hears just enough to know that others involved on the inception teams are already following up on the criminal leads, chasing rumors through the dreamsharing community. The point on the Rothchild job, Silvashko, is doing a better job of tracking down that information than Eames can, so he turns his attention elsewhere.

There’s only one team member that the Fischer and Rothchild jobs had in common, which means only one person who could theoretically tie the two cases together.

Whatever the FBI knows, Eames wants to know it, too.

 

-

 

Bugging the FBI team members’ vehicles is almost laughably easy. With as much technology as the common automobile holds these days, tapping into the GPS systems and planting microphones takes no more than a handful of minutes, done safely out of sight of surveillance cameras.

The only flaw in his plan comes with Dr. Spencer Reid, who takes public transportation every day and has, so far as Eames can tell, never learned how to drive. According to the files Silvashko had sent along, he’d been busy with graduate studies by the time he was old enough and the parent who’d been granted custody lived out of state, so Eames supposes that’s understandable.

Luckily for Eames, Dr. Reid’s flat is not equipped with state-of-the-art security, and it’s a simple enough matter to break in while his FBI team is away in Boston interviewing family members and employees, and plant a bug inside his entertainment center.

It’s not quite the bachelor pad Eames had been expecting, even for an FBI agent. Everything is in its proper place, neat and tidy, with the exception of the books that are everywhere, stacked from floor to ceiling on shelves and tables, wherever there’s room. There are two bedrooms, both furnished, which makes Eames both quick and cautious in his investigation. Being surprised by a roommate returning home won’t do at all.

The first bedroom has a closet filled with suits, neatly organized in garment bags overhanging a generous collection of men’s dress shoes. Reid’s room, obviously. The closet in the other room is nearly empty, but the drawers are filled with sweater vests and short-sleeved dress shirts, rumpled khaki pants and cardigans. The tie selection looks to have been chosen from a 1970’s department store catalogue. A student, perhaps, or an older professor, subletting the room. It’s a common practice in the D.C. area, and Reid’s name is the only one on the lease.

There’s a Leon Kossoff on the wall in the hallway, which Eames recognizes from a web search he did years ago after coming perilously close to losing an argument with Arthur on the subject of modern British painters. It looks like an original, which puts the roommate either in a well-placed position or a higher pay grade.

The biggest surprise is the Glock taped to the ceiling of one of the cupboards in the kitchen. It’s a standard-issue FBI firearm, but the hammer is cocked, and Eames suspects that if he took the time to look, he’d find a round in the chamber. Not standard FBI practice, and certainly not for a secondary weapon. Presumably Reid has his primary firearm with him in Boston.

Eames gets out clean and returns to the corporate apartment he’s renting weekly near Quantico. There’s nothing new from Silvashko, but Eames hadn’t really expected anything. Yusuf has checked in with an all-clear on the international front; with both incidents in the U.S., Interpol hasn’t made any inquiries. It’s still in the hands of the FBI.

Eames checks the police reports in Boston, and settles in to wait.

 

-

 

The lives of FBI agents are just as terrifically boring as Eames suspected they would be. Apart from a few juicy personal phone calls and one horrifying instance of full-blast country karaoke, Eames gets absolutely nothing from his first day of surveillance. The second day is much the same, although with the added bonus of a phone call between two of the agents in which Eames learns that they have no leads and no suspects, as yet.

The third day is when it gets interesting.

“Garcia?” Reid’s voice asks, cutting off a generic cell phone ringtone. The roommate hasn’t come home yet, so far as Eames knows; if he has, he’s been quiet about it.

“I’m in my apartment,” Reid says, sounding confused. Then, “No,” drawn out slowly, wary. “What’s this about?” A pause, followed by, “I’ll meet you there in half an hour?” There’s the sound of a door closing, after which Reid’s voice becomes too muffled to decipher.

It could be nothing, but Eames has fuck-all else to go on. He loops back to the first cell phone ring and raises the volume, filtering out the background noise to pick up the other side of the conversation.

Where are you?” A woman’s voice, tinged with urgency. Then Reid’s reply, followed by, “Reid honey, is anyone there with you?

Bugger, Eames thinks. He has a bad feeling even before the woman continues, “I need you to come in. I’m sending a team out to sweep your apartment now, I think you’ve been B-U-G-ed.

Eames takes off his headphones and taps his pen against the wooden desk. After a moment, he does a quick search through the BAU files on his hard drive. Penelope Garcia, Technical Analyst. Apparently FBI tech support extends beyond the office for this team.

It’s only a matter of time before they search the other agents’ homes, if they aren’t already. Eames can always hope he’ll get lucky and no one will think of checking vehicles, but he doesn’t have enough information yet to withdraw completely.

He waits until the agents have left Reid’s flat, gives them half an hour to report the all-clear, and slips in to plant another bug.

 

-

 

Phone chatter gets very interesting after that. None of the agents know who bugged Reid’s flat, and whether it was an internal action taken by the Bureau or one performed by an outside source. Supervisory Special Agent Hotchner is on the phone with someone for every minute of his commute, asking questions and demanding answers with the air of someone who knows how to work the system and will use that information as ruthlessly as he has to in order to get what he wants.

It’s gratifying that they seem to believe it’s an isolated incident, but the hubbub over the bug is distracting from the case. Eames is going to have to switch to another plan shortly if he hopes to get anywhere.

Three days later, the technical analyst catches on again and a team shows up to sweep for bugs. They find the first one. Not the second.

Reid makes a phone call not long after he gets home, from the debatable safety of his living room. There’s no voice on the other end, just an automated message that goes straight to voicemail.

“Hi, it’s me,” Reid says. “I think I might need you.”

Eames is trying to pull favors to have the line hacked and traced when he gets a call himself, this time from Kinkaide. He hasn’t worked with the man in years, not since their failed attempt at an extraction via inception.

“We have a problem,” Kinkaide says, without any preliminaries. “They found Proserpina Christakos.”

 

-

 

This unsub will not inject himself into the investigation,” Hotchner had told the police chief in Galveston. “Whoever we’re looking for doesn’t want us to see him.

Eames was willing to grant that assumption the benefit of the doubt, but then he wasn’t the unsub. The day after Proserpina Christakos was found comatose in her summer home, a Dr. Geoffrey Black was on the red-eye flight to Texas.

“I appreciate your interest in the case,” Agent Hotchner told him, “but this is an ongoing investigation. Any information we may have is not ready to be shared with the public.”

“Of course,” Eames demurs. “I was merely offering my expertise.”

“Thank you, but right now I’m afraid we can’t accept that offer.” It’s a polite but firm dismissal, and clearly Hotchner intends it to carry enough authority to put Dr. Black right back onto a plane out of Galveston.

Instead, Eames hangs around looking hopeful and academic until he catches someone else’s eye.

It doesn’t take long; he’s chosen his props well, and he’d guessed that either Morgan or Reid would be drawn in by the neatly-printed Dream Therapy for Coma Patients on the cover of the book in his hands.

He gets Reid, who approaches sideways, like a crab, before settling on the bench beside him just inside the busy waiting room of the police station. “Dream therapy,” he says, indicating the title of Eames’ book. “That’s a pretty experimental field.”

“It’s a young science, but growing,” Eames agrees easily. “Dr. Geoffrey Black,” he says, offering his hand. “I heard about the cases on the news and thought I might be of help.”

“I wasn’t aware dream therapy had even been tested on coma patients,” Reid says, studying him. He reminds Eames a bit of a frog, with his wide mouth and prominent bones. There are bruises smudged beneath his eyes that Eames has seen before on work-obsessed, insomniac point men, that tell of nights spent reading poetry and absorbing information.

“There’s been one case study,” Eames answers. “It’s difficult, of course, without the lucid interludes of discussion and discovery one normally has with patients, but many believe that some good can be done by studying the subconscious.”

“You mean dreamsharing technology,” Reid says, and Eames has to hide his surprise. He’d debated whether or not to push them in this direction, but with Christakos now on the list of victims, he hadn’t seen another choice. There was nothing to link Christakos to Fischer and Rothchild; no behavioral changes, no sudden suspect decisions. Because the inception hadn’t worked.

The only thing linking all three victims, so far as Eames knew, was inception. And Eames himself.

He hadn’t expected Reid to catch on so quickly, however. “You’re familiar with the field?” Eames asks.

There’s a flicker of something in Reid’s expression, there and gone before Eames can pin it down, and in its absence a keen interest that Eames can read like his own reflection in a mirror. It occurs to him suddenly how very dangerous it is to be playing this game with an FBI profiler who may well be as good as he is.

“I’ve read some of the theoretical work,” Reid answers. “As I understand, the prospect of dreamsharing therapy hasn’t yet become a reality.”

“Ah, but the possibilities available to us if it does,” Eames enthuses, letting some of Dr. Black’s passion glimmer in his eyes. “Child psychologists already use the medium of fiction, asking their patients to tell stories and act out events with toy dolls. Imagine if we could reach the patients directly in their dreams, test their reactions to people and places, discover hidden truths. Amnesia patients could be helped to unlock doors within their own minds.”

“And coma patients could be shown the way back to consciousness,” Reid finishes for him. “Is that why you’re here, Doctor?”

“This is the perfect opportunity for a field test,” Eames confirms. “If you had someone on-hand, someone familiar with the relevant theories and techniques….”

“Dreamsharing technology, even in its current state, is restricted and overseen by the U.S. military,” Reid says. “How did you think you were going to facilitate a field test?”

Eames lets his expression go blank, bewildered. “You’re the FBI.”

Reid is still suspicious, Eames can tell, but he has no reason on the surface to distrust Eames’ alias, so after a few more minutes of small talk, Eames is shuttled off to another officer willing to take down his – fictional – information and send him away. It’s not what he’d hoped for, but it’s better than nothing. With any luck, the FBI will be able to turn over stones that Eames’ own resources can’t reach. He needs to find out who’s targeting inception marks, and why.

He needs to find out soon, before anyone can tie them all to him.

 

-

 

Eames is lurking a block away from Christakos’ summer house when a black sedan with rental plates pulls up just outside of the police blockade, parking rather brazenly in front of two marked cruisers with lights flashing. Eames doesn’t recognize the car, but he does recognize the silhouette and body language of the man who gets out, flashing some sort of falsified identification at the officers guarding the perimeter and ducking confidently under the crime scene tape.

Eames turns and makes his way back to his own car, careful not to angle himself in a way that reveals his face until he’s back in his own vehicle, safe behind tinted windows.

“Fuck.” He dials Kinkaide because Silvashko doesn’t know about Christakos, and Eames would prefer to keep it that way. The fewer people who can connect him to this, the better.

“We have a problem,” he says when Kinkaide picks up. “There’s another team.”

 

-

 

“Arthur’s in Belmopan,” Ariadne says when Eames calls her.

“Arthur was in Belmopan yesterday,” Eames corrects. “Apparently something came up and he left late last night for Los Angeles.”

With the time difference and the red-tape of American customs, even for an ex-military agent with Arthur’s credentials, that makes it likely that he’d only taken one connecting flight. Taking the time to cover his tracks is apparently not as critical as unearthing whatever it is the FBI has found.

There’s some risk in disappearing from sight so quickly when Dr. Black would have been expected to keep trying, to hang about asking questions and posing theories, but with another dreamsharing team in the mix, Eames can’t take the chance of being spotted. He’s already in the airport, booked on the first flight back to D.C. as Dr. Black.

“There’s more,” Ariadne says. “I got in touch with Cobb, he says that while the BAU is handling the coma patient cases, there’s more going on. One of the agents has access to information about extraction teams, and it’s being leaked to other agencies. That’s not part of the official investigation. Probably because dreamsharing technology isn’t public knowledge yet, even for the FBI.” She sounds impressed, undoubtedly delighted that a Canadian citizen has one up on an important branch of American law enforcement.

“You got in touch with…” Eames cuts off the question. Of course Ariadne had gotten in touch with Cobb. She’d been able to track down Eames within a day of the story breaking. “Have you contacted all of us?”

“Not Saito,” she says, for which Eames is profoundly grateful. “And not Arthur. All I knew was that he was in Belmopan, I couldn’t get a number.”

“Yes, he does tend to make it difficult,” Eames agrees. He wonders if Cobb really thought through what he was doing, introducing Ariadne to their little underworld. In his reflective moments, he fully believes she and Arthur will be ruling them all by the new year.

“So what do we do now?” Ariadne asks.

“Let me handle this for now, all right?” Eames replies, already formulating plans. “I have a team of sorts already. It should be a simple extraction, and then we’ll know everything they do.”

“You’re going to extract from the FBI?” Ariadne’s tone is mixed parts horrified and thrilled. Eames can already imagine her setting her sights higher.

“Only one of them. We can use this,” Eames tells her. “If Arthur’s here, he’s after the same thing we are. He’s ex-military; he has government contacts, and his intelligence is bound to be better than ours. All we have to do is wait to see which member of the team he focuses on. That’s our man.”

“Why don’t you just work together?”

Eames smiles briefly. “You haven’t spent nearly enough time around Arthur and I if you have to ask that question.”

Besides which, he doesn’t like the idea of anyone from the dreamsharing community knowing something he doesn’t. If the FBI connects all three victims to him, which they no doubt will, Arthur may decide to cut his losses and take Eames out directly before he can lead them to everyone else.

It’s what Eames would do.

 

-

 

There’s a black sedan with tinted windows and rental plates parked a block from Reid’s flat, so Eames assumes Arthur has chosen his target for the night. He doesn’t make a move yet; Arthur could be doing the same thing Eames is, watching everyone in turn and narrowing down his suspect list. It’s too early to tell.

He thinks he may have made a mistake when his bug picks up the sounds of an altercation around midnight after Reid returns home, scuffling and the thump of a body hitting something with force.

Fucking hell, Arthur’s already made a move, he thinks, checking his gun in haste and preparing to force his way in if necessary, if it’ll give him access to the information Reid has before Arthur can steal it and disappear. He’s in the process of jerking off his headphones when he hears Reid speak, breathless but still unmistakably, “Yes.

Eames pauses. Setting his gun back down on the desk, he adjusts the background noise filter and turns up the volume.

“Oh, oh.” Reid’s voice, high and breathy, and Eames is cracking a grin even before he hears familiar wet slapping sounds, distorted by the ambient noise filter but still recognizable. Eames has done enough surveillance in his day to be able to identify the sounds of someone receiving excellent head.

Awkward, evasive Dr. Reid is apparently getting lucky.

Eames listens for another few seconds to confirm, and then takes off his headphones and turns his attention elsewhere. He’s not above a little voyeurism, but he’s not sordid enough to eavesdrop on someone’s private party just for the hell of it.

He wonders if Arthur is getting an earful, as well. The idea of buttoned-down, put-together Arthur squirming in the confines of his rental car listening to someone else getting off is enough to make Eames’ night.

He hopes Arthur brought tissues on his stakeout.

 

-

 

The next night, Arthur’s sedan returns to park two blocks from Reid’s flat. And again the night after that. That’s all the proof Eames needs.

The following afternoon, while Eames is still putting the final touches on his extraction plan, he receives an alert message in his inbox. Arthur has booked a flight out of the country. He’s leaving that night.

There’s only one reason for Arthur to be laying down an escape route. Eames has to do the job on Reid today, or Arthur’s going to get in ahead of him and fuck the whole thing to hell.

Eames prefers his plans for sedation and extraction to be clean, elegant, leaving the mark with no trace of suspicion. If you’re made after the job, it’s just as bad as being made before it. The end result will be the same, once the mark knows you’ve been in their mind.

If pressed, however, Eames knows how to default to a backup plan. A home invasion and mugging isn’t an unusual crime, and Reid’s security is negligible. There will be enough trauma from the event to cover up any hints of unease that might linger from the dream.

He makes his move the next day, breaking in just before Reid typically returns from Quantico and waiting just inside the front door. If he times it right, he can have Reid unconscious and unaware before he ever gets a glimpse of Eames’ face.

What he hadn’t counted on was Reid having all the grace of a newborn colt, and being on the phone besides. “I told you, it’s fine,” Eames hears, muffled through the front door. The lock clicks, the handle twists. Reid’s voice grows louder and clearer as he pushes the door open. “Garcia’s checking my apartment again tomorrow, it could be nothing. It could be the Bureau, this kind of thing happens sometimes when agents…”

Eames is a breath away from catching Reid in a sleeper hold when the strap of Reid’s messenger bag catches on the door handle and he gets caught, twisted up in his own luggage. He tries to lift the strap free, misses, bangs his elbow into the door, trips over his own feet, and overbalances enough that the weight of the bag yanks the door handle backwards, revealing Eames lying in wait behind it. Reid’s eyes go wide, surprise followed almost immediately by understanding.

“Dr. Black,” he says, still holding the phone open. “I didn’t expect to see you again. You’re looking very well for someone who died in his eighties, by the way. Your colleagues at Stanford send their condolences.”

Well, it’s not as if Eames had expected that alias to hold water for long, anyway. He tilts his head sideways, pushing the door shut behind Reid when he complies with the wordless instructions. Eames holds his free hand out for the phone.

“You don’t have to do this,” Reid says, almost in a rush. “Whatever you want…”

The click of Reid’s jaw snapping shut is almost as loud as Eames’ safety going off.

“Spencer?” Eames hears through the open phone line. A deep male voice, tinny and tense. “Spencer?

Reid lowers the phone slowly and clicks it off.

“Good boy,” Eames approves. “Now turn around slowly, please.”

Reid goes tense. Eames imagines he’s spent enough time in hostage situations to know what that usually means. “They know you’re here,” Reid says, still trying to be reasonable. “There’s someone coming for me already, they’ll be here any minute. You can still end this.”

“Turn around,” Eames says again.

When Reid does, every movement of his body tight and afraid, Eames clocks him neatly across the back of his head with the butt of his gun.

 

-

 

He doesn’t have much time. The authorities have no doubt been alerted, and Reid has seen his face, which is going to make working in this country hell unless Eames actually abducts him, which is a logistical nightmare and almost worse than ending up on the FBI’s most wanted list.

He drags Reid’s body into the first bedroom and dumps it across the bed, cracking open the PASIV case and readying the lines. Response times vary by city and Reid will undoubtedly be called in as a priority, but it still takes time to make calls and dispatch vehicles. He should have three minutes in the real world, and Reid won’t be militarized. There shouldn’t be any problems.

He’s just slid the needle into one of Reid’s prominent blue veins when he hears footsteps thundering up the stairs. Too soon, far too soon.

Eames steps into the hallway and levels his gun just as Arthur kicks in the front door.

Arthur’s expression goes slack with surprise and recognition, but he doesn’t waste time. “Where is he?”

“He made a call, someone’s already on the way,” Eames answers. “If we do this together, it will be faster.”

Where is he?” Arthur repeats, biting out the words.

“In the bedroom,” Eames says, gesturing with one elbow. Neither of them have lowered their guns. Eames supposes it’s only self-preservation, getting into a standoff with Arthur. “Where’s the rest of your team?”

“There is no team,” Arthur says. “It’s only me.”

That’s unexpected, but then Arthur did drop everything on a job in Belize to get here and he has nearly as much to hide as Eames does where Fischer is concerned, so perhaps Eames shouldn’t be surprised that he’s working this one solo.

“In that case, shall I go down alone while you stand guard?” He’ll have to lower his gun to roll up his sleeve, but they’re running out of time. Waiting for the FBI to break down the door is just as dangerous as giving Arthur a clear shot. “Three minutes, full disclosure…”

“There is no team, Eames,” Arthur repeats. “There is no job. He’s not a mark.

Eames pauses.

Arthur’s jaw is tight. “Profile the room, Eames,” he says, which is an odd choice of words coming from Arthur, but Eames supposes it must be what comes to mind, standing in Reid’s flat…

Reid’s flat.

Two bedrooms. One of them filled with suit jackets and designer ties, and Eames has spent enough time watching the BAU now to know that Reid dresses like someone’s academically-inclined grandfather. A Glock much like the one currently in Arthur’s hand, taped to the top of a cupboard, in carrying condition one. An original Kossoff on the wall, which Eames knows is exactly Arthur’s taste.

Eames lowers his gun. “You’re not here about Fischer,” he says cautiously.

“No,” Arthur says, moving past him into the bedroom – Arthur’s bedroom – now that they’re no longer holding each other at gunpoint. “I’m here because someone bugged my fucking apartment.”

Eames follows him in, waiting in the doorway while Arthur crouches down beside the bed to check Reid’s vitals.

“Did you give him anything?” Arthur asks, with unexpected urgency. “Sedatives? Narcotics?”

“Nothing. A mild concussion, possibly. You arrived before I could put him under.” Eames checks his watch. “Speaking of, should we be worried about the company on the way?”

“No one’s coming,” Arthur answers shortly. “I’m the only one who knows you’re here.”

“And vice versa, it seems,” Eames comments. “I didn’t know you kept a place in D.C.”

“You’re not supposed to. That’s the point.” Arthur glances over at him. “You have a team?”

“No one in the city.” It’s the truth, and less revealing than anything else he might have said. “I take it your flight back to Belize was scheduled because you’d determined the surveillance wasn’t a threat?”

“So I’d thought,” Arthur replies darkly.

“Perhaps that was a premature conclusion,” Eames allows.

Arthur shoots him a glare and doesn’t deign to respond.

Eames isn’t such a bastard that he doesn’t understand he’s probably blown Arthur’s cover in this city, and that Arthur may have to burn an alias because of it. “Can I help?”

“No,” Arthur says, shrugging his suit jacket off and rolling up his sleeves. “I’ll take care of it.”

 

-

 

“You don’t see a conflict of interest, sharing a flat with an FBI agent? A profiler, at that?”

Arthur ignores him, packing up Eames’ PASIV with practiced proficiency. This lasts until he stands up and tries to leave the room, only to find Eames still in the doorway, blocking his path.

“He knows what I do,” Arthur says finally, recognizing that Eames is not about to be moved without persuasion. “There’s no conflict.”

“What you used to do, or what you do now?” Eames inquires, because everyone has heard Arthur’s background story: ex-military black ops, possible CIA connections, one of the first pioneers of the United States dreamshare program. Most of it is almost certainly fabricated or at least exaggerated, but there’s enough of a paper trail beneath the bluster to give it credence.

Arthur hesitates, then sidesteps Eames to get through the door. This time Eames lets him go, because handling Arthur is always something that’s best done with one step forward and two steps back. There’s also the fact that Eames can easily block him again on the way back, this time putting himself between Arthur and Reid, which is an even better strategic position.

Arthur turns on the tap in the kitchen and runs a glassful of water through the filter on the faucet. “Do you really believe,” Eames asks behind him, “that any cover story you’ve fed him will stand up to scrutiny at close quarters if he gets curious? That he won’t start tracking your comings and goings, wondering why an ex-military agent is called on so urgently to travel abroad?”

Arthur remains still for a long moment. Then he turns around and faces Eames squarely. “I’m not ex-military,” he says finally.

Eames rejects the correction with an impatient gesture. “Whatever…”

“I’m not ex-anything.”

Eames falls silent. There are a great many ways that statement could be interpreted, but he instinctively knows already which one Arthur means. He’d heard the rumors about Arthur still having ties, about being dirty rather than divorced, but he hadn’t given them credibility. Now he wonders how far they were off the mark.

Arthur isn’t dirty, though. Arthur is noble, whatever his criminal actions, and loyal to a fault.

“How long,” Eames asks, “have you been spying on all of us?”

Arthur doesn’t flinch. “Since the beginning,” he says. “Since it started. There were undercover agents in the field from every country with a dreamshare program as soon as the technology leaked. Don’t think I’m the only one.”

Eames grits his teeth. When he gets his temper under control, he can still tell that his tone is too calm to be anything but a threat. “I’d rather not leave a trail of bodies behind me in this country, Arthur. How much do they know?”

“Only what’s relevant,” Arthur replies, as if that makes it any less of a knife in the back. “My job is to monitor and report back, not give the details of every job and everyone involved.”

“You could, though,” Eames counters, cold with the knowledge that it’s the truth. Arthur’s network spreads farther and wider than anyone else has ever managed; it’s one of many reasons why he’s the best. If it ever came to it, Arthur could hand them all over on a platter with enough rope to hang them all, and with plenty to spare.

Arthur, at least, doesn’t try to deny it.

“I could kill you for telling me this,” Eames tells him. “I should. It’s the smartest thing to do.”

“You could,” Arthur agrees. “But you won’t.”

There’s a rustling noise from the bedroom. Arthur doesn’t take his eyes off Eames, but he moves away from the counter with clear intent, and Eames has to either force the issue or step aside and let him pass.

He stays in the hallway for another moment, just breathing. Fucking Arthur. It might sting less if some part of Eames hadn’t already suspected he was being double-crossed.

When he finally walks back into the bedroom, Reid is just stirring. Eames sees his eyes flutter and then focus, taking in Eames standing by the doorway.

“Hey, it’s all right,” Arthur says, crouched down beside the bed again. “Spencer. You’re okay.”

Eames watches the quicksilver dart of Reid’s eyes as he maps out Eames’ position relative to his own, and then Arthur, the gun on Arthur’s hip, and his own line of sight, in that order. Eames holds up his hands, showing that he’s unarmed before Reid decides he can get to Arthur’s Glock and take the shot. The FBI trains shoot-to-kill, and Eames would rather not be a casualty.

Arthur sees the same danger and turns his body slightly sideways, just enough to discourage any attempt at drawing his firearm. “Spencer, this is Eames,” he says, before Eames has a chance to interject another alias. “Eames, Dr. Spencer Reid.”

“Sorry about before,” Eames says mildly, still watching Reid’s eyes and his hands for any sudden movements while keeping his own posture open and unthreatening. “There was a slight misunderstanding.”

“Misunderstanding,” Reid echoes, pushing himself upright on the bed and turning away the water Arthur tries to offer. “You broke into my apartment and knocked me out with a gun by accident?”

“He thought you were my mark,” Arthur says tightly, retreating slightly from Reid’s side and incidentally putting himself in a position where he has a clear view of both of them. Eames doesn’t believe for a moment that it’s an accident, or that any of them is anywhere close to having their guard down.

Reid looks Eames over, sharp intelligence in his eyes that isn’t hidden by the wince when he presses one hand to his head. “I wondered if it was you, when you showed up in Galveston. I’ve read your file, you fit the description. The only thing that didn’t fit the profile was you injecting yourself into the investigation. When you disappeared, I was almost expecting another victim.”

Eames throws a hard look at Arthur. “My file,” he echoes.

Arthur holds up both hands. “I use code names in my reports.”

“It wasn’t difficult to figure out, once I had some basic information,” Reid says absently. “The dates and locations all matched up, although it would presumably be more of a challenge for anyone who only had the official reports to go on.”

“So much for your code names,” Eames tells Arthur. His right eyelid is beginning to twitch.

“Like I said, not everyone would have had the ancillary information necessary to make the connection. I haven’t even brought up the theory that it’s related to dreamsharing yet, I wanted to do more research first. It’s only a viable theory if there’s something else connecting the crimes.”

No one else knows yet, Eames thinks. Arthur catches Eames’ eye and shakes his head slowly, correctly interpreting Eames’ expression. “If you kill him, I will bury you,” he warns. “You’re not even a suspect for this yet.”

“That being said, the risk you’ve taken in coming here is significant for someone with nothing to hide,” Reid continues, blithely overconfident about Arthur’s ability to keep Eames from putting another hole in his head. “You must have been following the investigation closely even before…ah.” He cuts off, eyes squeezing tightly closed and pressing his hand gingerly to the back of his skull.

“Do you want a painkiller?” Eames asks, not remorseful in the least but willing to at least make the offer.

“No,” Arthur and Reid say together, and there’s a beat of silence before Reid adds, “Thank you.” He pries his eyes open carefully and says, “I’m fine. I don’t need to go to a hospital.”

Eames snorts. Arthur’s eyes do the compulsive twitch he can never quite stop when he so obviously desperately wants to roll them. “Of course you’re not going to the hospital,” he says. “It’s a concussion.”

Reid smiles at Arthur, although Eames doesn’t get the joke, and says, “I’ve missed you.”

 

-

 

“Brief me,” Arthur orders, sliding a coffee mug onto the table and taking the third chair. “Everything you know.”

“I want assurances first,” Eames says, toying with the handle of his own mug. None of the mugs in the cupboard match, but they’re all arranged in the same direction, handles facing back and left. Eames wonders which of them is OCD.

He turns his attention to Reid now and asks, “How much of what’s said here gets back to your friends in the Bureau?”

“I trust them,” Reid says. He’s painfully honest for someone who’s seen the kinds of things he must have seen, working for his particular division. Eames keeps catching himself trying to spot the con behind the big-eyed baby deer act. If there is one, Reid hasn’t slipped up long enough to show it yet.

“I don’t,” Eames says, and over the objections he can already tell Arthur is about to raise, adds, “You’re not the only person to suspect dreamsharing as a common element. Someone on your team has been funneling information into other channels.”

Reid frowns. “They wouldn’t…”

“Prentiss,” Arthur says, cutting him off. “She used to be Interpol. Black market dreamshare technology is their jurisdiction. They’re the only ones watching closely on an international level.”

“She’s proven herself before,” Reid says stubbornly. “She wouldn’t go behind our backs.”

“She wouldn’t have to,” Eames points out mildly. “There’s nothing to stop her from reporting to both departments, possibly even with your team leader’s knowledge.” When Reid looks taken aback, Eames raises an eyebrow. “You don’t see any conflict of interest here either, I take it?”

“Technically, the existence of dreamsharing technology hasn’t been acknowledged by any world government,” Reid replies quickly. “Extraction, while immoral, can’t be considered illegal so long as there are no laws restricting its employment.”

“You’re prevaricating,” Eames says.

“It’s not Emily.”

“I’ve learned that Arthur is very rarely wrong, unless he chooses to be,” Eames says evenly, holding Reid’s gaze. “In this case, the only reason I could see that happening is if he were protecting someone, most likely you. If it isn’t you, then I would start with her.”

Reid shuts his mouth. He doesn’t look happy, but he nods.

Arthur takes that as his cue that they’re all cooperating for the time being. “You said there would be something connecting the victims. Fischer and Rothchild were both inception jobs, which is the first place I’d look. But there have only ever been two known inceptions, and you can’t keep that kind of thing quiet.”

Reid frowns again. “You think the unsub ran out of targets, so he had to change his victimology in order to keep satisfying his urge to harm?”

“No,” Eames says, before Arthur can respond. “Christakos was an inception job as well.” He clears his throat when Arthur pins him with a look. “Two years ago. The attempt failed, which is why you never heard about it. People rarely brag about their failures.”

“You were on the team,” Arthur infers.

“Which is another thing tying the victims together, if we’re keeping track,” Eames says, keeping his tone deliberately light. “I worked all of those jobs, and I’m the only team member they have in common.”

Reid’s attention sharpens and focuses, but Arthur brushes the information aside with a gesture. “Not surprising. Inception requires a strong personal connection with the subject, and there are only three forgers worth working with in the world. I’d have found it stranger if one of those teams hadn’t used a forger.”

“So it’s someone who knows the dreamsharing community well enough to track the failures as well as the successes,” Reid surmises. His fingers twitch and jerk briefly in another gesture Eames recognizes from working with Arthur, that of the eternal need for a writing implement when receiving new information.

“Unless it’s someone on the teams themselves,” Arthur says. “But the only overlap on all three jobs is Eames.”

“There could also be a connection between the employers,” Eames points out. “Anyone willing to hire a team for an inception is in an influential position. You don’t get to that level without having some skeletons in the closet.”

“There are also contractors,” Arthur adds. “Teams who hire out for sedatives, or an outside party who assembles the team.”

“Guys,” Reid says suddenly, “I really need to get to my team.”

Arthur gestures, an offhand go that signals Reid bolting from the table in his haste. “Keep Eames out of it,” Arthur says. “Use my name as a source if you have to, they already know enough about me to buy it.”

“I’ll call you from the office,” Reid promises, just before the door slams behind him.

Eames stares across the table at Arthur, trying to determine where to even begin with the conversation they’re about to have. “Do we even know what’s happening to these people?” he asks finally.

“Yes,” Arthur answers. “They’re in Limbo.”

 

-

 

They talk around the issue until there’s nothing left to do but confront it.

“You realize that if one word of your allegiance gets out, you’ll be dead within days.” Eames has dealt with enough spies – and seen them dealt with by others, which is always worse – to know that Arthur’s unflinchingly put his life into Eames’ hands. It’s a staggering demonstration of trust, and not one Eames would return.

“It doesn’t matter,” Arthur answers. “If we don’t find whoever’s targeting marks, all of us are going down anyway.”

Eames rolls his mug between his hands on the wooden table, back and forth. “How long have you been sharing living space with an FBI agent?”

“A few years,” Arthur answers. “We met when he worked a case at Langley. It’s a convenient arrangement; I have to keep up enough places as it is. I don’t consult for his team. We don’t work together.”

“Until now,” Eames corrects.

On cue, Arthur’s cell rings. He glances at the caller ID, at Eames, and finally opens the line. “Arthur.”

“Hi, it’s me,” Eames hears through the speaker, followed by something rapid and complicated that Eames can’t parse and which makes Arthur frown.

“Hang on, I’m putting you on speaker, it’ll be faster,” Arthur says, apparently giving up on getting a word in and just hitting the button mid-sentence.

“- looking at the victimology, trying to predict a pattern. If you’re right about the reason these victims were selected, then we might be able to learn something by figuring out why they were chosen before anyone else. If Christakos wasn’t even the victim of a successful inception, she wouldn’t have been a high-profile target. There had to be another reason the unsub chose her: accessibility, knowledge, another common link.”

“Does he ever stop to breathe?” Eames asks quietly. Arthur glares at him.

“Is that Arthur?” a man asks in the background, and Arthur’s glare redirects at his cell phone speaker, turning sour.

“Morgan’s here, we’re putting together a timeline,” Reid continues, seemingly unbothered by the fact that neither Arthur nor Eames have offered up any information yet. “I need to know the dates of when the inceptions were performed on Fischer and Rothchild, as well as a list of any other potential victims that you can think of. Have there been any other successful inceptions?”

Eames shares a look with Arthur. “Those are the only ones I know of,” Eames admits. “There were rumors about Douglas Kennington, but never anything substantial.”

“Cobb said he’d done it once before,” Arthur says slowly. “He never told me who. It had to have been someone on his research team, before he went on the run.”

Mal. Eames is surprised into silence. He’d heard the story from Ariadne, not long after the whole inception fiasco, but Arthur had disappeared immediately after the Fischer job the way he always did, handling payment and covering their tracks from a safe distance. Eames hadn’t realized that Cobb had never told him.

“Already dead,” he says briefly, ignoring the sudden weight of Arthur’s gaze on his face. He’ll have to tell Arthur at some point now, he knows, but if he has any choice in the matter he’ll put it off as long as possible. “That one’s irrelevant. There may have been a woman in Switzerland, but I don’t have a name.”

“He’s kept within federal bounds, there must be a reason,” Reid muses. “Christakos spent three-quarters of the year in Greece; the unsub may have struck when he did because it was when she was available.”

“You think this guy won’t leave the country,” Morgan – he of the terrible karaoke – says in the background.

“I think it’s more likely that this is where he’s comfortable,” Reid says. “Any time serial crimes are spread across jurisdictional lines, it makes the evidence more difficult to process. Sometimes neighboring districts or states aren’t even aware that there are other ongoing investigations into similar cases. Fischer traveled regularly, it would have been easy to target him while he was in transit. Instead he was found in his own bed, inside a well-armed security system. Christakos was only in Texas for two days before she was scheduled to leave on a cruise; that’s pretty exact timing.”

“It may be more to do with your legal system,” Eames puts in. “If I were given a choice between pulling off a risky crime here or in, say, Indonesia…”

“Here,” Arthur agrees. “They can’t prosecute. You said it yourself, earlier: There are no laws yet against crimes that have taken place inside someone’s mind.”

“That’s true of everywhere, though,” Reid says.

“True,” Eames allows. “But in a lot of other countries, they simply wouldn’t care.”

“Stick to the U.S.,” Arthur advises. “I’ll see if I can come up with any more names.”

“Start with failures,” Reid says. “Christakos was the most recent victim; it may be that the unsub has reached his limitations as far as getting access to victims and that’s why he’s moved on to subjects who weren’t actually incepted.”

Eames raises an eyebrow. “That’s a longer list. The idea has been around for years, and extractors love the prospect of a challenge. It’s a competitive field.”

Arthur remains silent. When Eames looks at him, questioning, he finally speaks.

“Candice Forsythe,” he says. “Four months ago. Sixteen years old, she lives with her parents in Philadelphia. The job failed, but word still got around afterward.”

“Why didn’t it succeed?” Eames asks, intrigued. It has to have been Arthur’s job, and he can’t imagine Arthur failing at anything.

“Because I didn’t let it,” Arthur says shortly.

Eames shakes his head. The idea of Arthur intentionally sabotaging his own job is even harder to believe than the idea of him failing. “You can’t tell me you’ve grown a conscience now, after all…”

“She was sixteen, Eames,” Arthur says sharply. He takes a deep breath and returns his attention to the silent, waiting phone. “Check on her first. I’ll call you with a list once I have more.”

Eames supposes Reid must be used to Arthur hanging up on him, if they’ve been roommates for this long. He waits while Arthur takes another moment, before they meet each other’s eyes.

“I could use your help on this,” Arthur says.

Eames has a dozen sarcastic responses he could make to that, but he’s well aware that right now he’s still the prime suspect. He’s also uncomfortably aware of how much trust Arthur has put in him to keep this from going any further.

“I’ll call Ariadne,” he says finally. “Three will be able to work faster than two.”

 

-

 

Eames is ending a call to Bhaktapur when he registers that the tone of Arthur’s voice has changed, softer around the edges than the clipped professional tone he uses on the job.

“I’ll ask him,” Arthur says, and his gaze flicks briefly to Eames. “Either way, I’ll see you in half an hour.”

“The roommate?” Eames asks when Arthur hangs up.

“They’re having trouble with the profile. Reid’s the only one who knows even the basics of dreamsharing, and he’s never been under. They’re getting bogged down in the technical side.”

“And they’ve asked for a consultant,” Eames surmises.

“Two, actually.” Arthur gives him another veiled, measuring look. “Would you consider…”

“No,” Eames says flatly. “You must be joking. Would I like to waltz directly into the FBI, attend a meeting with a team of profilers, at least one of whom is connected to Interpol, and reveal myself as the prime suspect of their investigation?”

“They won’t know who you are.”

“The illustrious Dr. Reid had me pegged after one conversation from a codename in a file. How long do you think it will take the rest of them, once we start discussing the details of my colorful criminal past?”

“That’s different,” Arthur says, rubbing at one eye like he has the beginnings of a headache. “That’s Spencer.”

“No,” Eames says again.

Arthur eyes him for a long, considering moment. “You’ll have access to an official FBI visitor’s pass for several hours,” he says. “And I’ll let you borrow my consultant’s badge while we’re inside.”

Arthur has always been skilled at baiting a hook. Eames blows out a breath. “Fine,” he agrees finally. “But we don’t use your bloody codenames.”

 

-

 

“Hey pretty boy, your guests are here.”

Eames turns at the sound of the voice, but he’s obviously not the one the words are intended for. Line of sight grants that distinction to Reid, who nearly trips over his feet on his way down the stairs to meet them.

The agent who’d spoken pushes off his desk and moves casually to intercept, holding out his hand. “Arthur. It’s been a while.”

“Morgan,” Arthur returns, looking less than pleased by their welcoming committee. Eames files that away for future consideration and shakes Morgan’s hand with a much friendlier expression than Arthur had offered.

“And you must be our other expert,” Morgan says, sizing Eames up with the air of a man used to calculating exactly where he ranks on the totem pole in any given company, and rarely coming up short.

Agent Hotchner, alerted to their presence either by Morgan’s announcement or Reid hovering close by, is the next in line to greet them. “Dr. Black. I didn’t expect we’d be seeing you again. Especially not so soon.”

“Yes, well, I hardly expected to be here myself. Let’s get this show underway, shall we?”

Hotchner gives him another of the standard FBI handshakes and gestures for Eames to precede him up the stairs toward the row of glass-walled offices. Arthur, Eames notes, isn’t treated to the same display of polite professionalism, merely a nod of Hotchner’s head and a brief, “Arthur.”

“Agent Hotchner.” Arthur hasn’t thawed in the slightest. If anything, Eames thinks he may have gone chillier. Eames would rather like to know exactly where Arthur stands with the FBI, to have this sparkling rapport.

There’s a woman waiting for them at the top of the stairs, and she at least looks perfectly well aware of the stilted awkwardness in the room, smirking lopsidedly at Arthur as they approach.

“Still wearing the suits,” she says. She has a strong face, and a strong voice to match it; an intimidating woman, not one who would be easily mistaken for fragile. “Hello, Arthur.”

“Hello, Emily,” Arthur says in turn, which is all Eames needs to know.

“Ah, Interpol,” he says, offering his hand when she turns her attention to him. “Charmed. I trust we’re all playing nicely for the purposes of this investigation.”

“I see someone’s wasted no time telling stories,” she says, her eyes cutting briefly to Arthur, but there’s no rancor in it, only a vague sense of weariness. She’s been tested before, Eames thinks, and he remembers Reid’s quick defense when Arthur had named Prentiss as their most likely information leak.

“And yet here I am,” he replies, because she deserves that much at least, and she won’t be getting an inch of leeway from Arthur. “So I think so long as we stay on our best behavior, there should be no difficulties.”

“That’s why we’re all here,” Hotchner says, smoothly taking the conversational reins and guiding them into a conference room. “Everyone, this is Dr. Black, he’ll be consulting with us today about the possibility of this case being linked to experimental dreamsharing technology. Dr. Black, this is…”

“Agents Derek Morgan, Emily Prentiss, Spencer Reid, and David Rossi,” Eames finishes for him, inclining his head to the older man with heavy Italian features lurking in the corner and doing a piss-poor job of looking like he isn’t giving the interlopers a thorough evaluation. “Yes, I have read the files.”

The silence that falls after his interruption is broken by Reid clearing his throat. “It’s Dr. Reid, actually,” he says, with amusement in his eyes that suggests this is his idea of a joke. “That should be in my file, as well.”

A blonde woman steps forward, steel in her voice when she addresses him. “I’m Jennifer Jareau, liaison for the department. Any communication you have with outside sources about the nature or details of this investigation will go through me.”

Normally, Eames’ first defense would be to disarm through flirtation, but the wedding ring and the no-nonsense pantsuit are against him. This isn’t a woman who wants to be flirted with on the job. “A pleasure,” he says instead, mild enough not to ruffle any more feathers than his presence here already has.

“And you all know Arthur,” Hotchner says. “Let’s get started. The three victims we know…”

“Is that him?” someone asks, and Eames lets his chair drift around to take in the doorway and the woman standing in it, staring at him. She’s the opposite of everything else in this office; bright, loud, unapologetic. Her gaze carries something like awe.

“Dr. Black,” he says, offering a somewhat sincere smile. “And you might be...?”

“Oh, and he’s British,” she breathes, stepping forward neatly to offer him her hand. “Penelope Garcia. Technological goddess and defender of the helpless, which you may have learned when I caught your attempts at bugging young Dr. Reid’s apartment. Both times.”

“I am fairly rebuked,” Eames answers, smiling now in earnest. “Although you only get credit for two out of three.”

He would appreciate her look of surprise more if it weren’t eclipsed by Arthur swinging around his chair, halfway between shock and fury. “My apartment is still bugged?” he demands. “Since when?”

“A week ago. Three days before Christakos.”

Most of his attention is on Arthur, but he can still see Reid doing the mental math, see his eyes widen and his cheeks color as he realizes.

“Don’t worry,” Eames assures him, tipping Reid a wink. “Your secrets are safe with me.”

“Focus,” Hotchner orders, reclaiming everyone’s attention. Garcia slips into a seat just as the lights go out and someone starts a slide show. “We have three victims in three different states. All were attacked inside their homes, all are now in – we believe – artificially-induced comas.”

“We have reason to believe he’s drawn to these particular targets because they’ve already been victimized once before,” Morgan says. “The previous invasion could have left them vulnerable in some way that the unsub could exploit.”

“Unlikely,” Eames interjects. He tips his head back, playing casual in this roomful of agents who are all watching him like he’s a sheep wandered into the wolf’s den. “I presume we’re talking about sub-security. Fischer and Rothchild may have been militarized by the same person, but Christakos was years ago. Sub-security was anything but common, and she had no need of requiring it.”

“That doesn’t mean certain doors weren’t opened,” Morgan says. “People can sense when something’s wrong. Maybe they sought out a support group. Maybe they talked to someone. Maybe they started digging around on the internet.”

“Whatever the method, the unsub found a way to link them to these previous crimes.” Hotchner’s voice is calm, even. On the surface, he and Arthur could be of a type, but there’s a steady gravity in Hotchner that Arthur has always been a touch too hot-tempered to master. Eames wonders if it’s their similarities or differences that create the distance between them.

“We believe he’s preferentially targeting victims who have had ideas successfully implanted in them,” Jareau says, with a hesitation in both her voice and body language that signifies she hasn’t come to terms yet with the full ramifications of that concept. “His secondary targets are those who have been violated, but who failed for some reason to recognize the idea being planted.”

“If we look at this as rape, his real interest doesn’t lie with the victim. It lies with whether or not the victim has brought a child to term.” Rossi turns to Eames. “Isn’t that right, Doctor?”

Eames shrugs one shoulder. “An oversimplification, but essentially correct. Are you suggesting, then, that the real target is the ideas themselves?”

“Is that even possible?” Garcia, from the corner, her eyes still as wide as they’d been before this briefing began.

Eames makes a noise of polite disagreement. “Possible, but bloody difficult. If the idea’s fully assimilated, it won’t exist independently. There should be no way of separating it from other thoughts.”

“Unless the unsub already knew which ideas had been planted,” Reid muses.

“There are easier ways,” Arthur says, finally speaking up. “If we’re talking about someone within the dreamsharing community, there are a lot of easier ways. Most of them involve guns.” Garcia’s eyes widen further; Eames watches Prentiss’ posture change, responding to the idea of a threat even though she undoubtedly doesn’t realize she’s doing it. “Even if this person doesn’t want casualties, it’s faster to go after the team who did the inception. It only takes one extraction.”

“Most of us are militarized,” Eames points out, for the sake of playing devil’s advocate.

Arthur just gives him a look. “So was Fischer.”

“Ah, yes,” Eames says, unable to help himself. “Nice that we know that now.”

Arthur swings around in his chair, clearly about to rise to Eames’ bait, but he doesn’t get the chance to retaliate – undoubtedly by throwing some other piece of their shared history back in Eames’ face in turn – before Hotchner diplomatically intervenes.

“So the unsub has picked difficult targets,” Hotchner summarizes. “We need to find out why. Why go after the victims and not those who committed the crimes?”

“It’s not vengeance,” Morgan says. “This isn’t a vendetta.”

“And yet the victims are the ones being punished,” Prentiss points out. “This unsub is targeting them for a reason. Maybe he sees them as weak, for not being able to withstand the mental pressure of the initial attack.”

“That doesn’t explain Christakos,” Rossi says. “If that attempt failed, she should have been this unsub’s hero.”

“I think we have to ask whether it’s a punishment at all,” Reid speaks up, leaning forward intently. “He’s not killing them, he’s sending them into Limbo, a place that’s really only been defined by those who are familiar with the risks of dreamsharing. How we profile the unsub depends on what we think his goal is in sending the victims into Limbo.”

“You said it’s a risk,” Prentiss offers. “Could it be an act of bitterness? If the unsub is someone who’s been in Limbo before, maybe this is his idea of justice. Forcing others into a fate they were spared when he wasn’t.”

“I can track coma patients, see if anyone’s woken up unexpectedly shortly before the date of the first attack,” Garcia offers.

“It’s a long shot, but it will give us somewhere to start,” Hotchner says. “In the meantime, we can cross-reference known dreamshare users against the times and locations of the attacks. The unsub had to know about these victims somehow. If the teams that committed these acts had someone in common, that’s our most likely suspect.”

Eames clears his throat. “I can save you some time on that one, I’m afraid. The only person on all three teams was me.”

“And Eames isn’t the leak,” Arthur says, unexpectedly belligerent and practically daring Hotchner to say something. Eames would appreciate the support if he thought it was in any way meant for his benefit.

“Do you have an alibi for any of the attacks?” Hotchner asks, as calmly as if he’s inquiring after Eames’ breakfast.

“That depends,” Eames replies, scratching the stubble on his jaw. “Would Agent Reid like me to give a detailed description of the events happening in his flat on the night they got Christakos, or will you take it as read that I was a bit busy working surveillance on all of you, hoping it would lead me to the same place?”

“I think we can take it on faith,” Hotchner says. “For now. But surveillance can be done remotely. It’s not proof that you weren’t in Texas at the time of the attack.”

“Could it be a job gone wrong?” Reid asks, quickly enough that Eames has to suspect a diversion. It’s not a terrible idea, though. Eames looks automatically to Arthur, whose ear is always closer to the ground than Eames’ is.

“It would be a risky one,” Arthur allows. “To end up accidentally sending someone to Limbo, you’d have to go deep enough…” He trails off, and Eames knows immediately what he’s thinking, because he’s just had the same thought.

“You’d have to have the right sedatives,” Eames confirms. “You’d have to have a chemist.”

“And chemists don’t work in the field. They’re not on the teams,” Arthur finishes. He looks at Eames. “Yusuf, every time?”

“Every bloody time,” Eames agrees.

“You’re saying these drugs were specially formulated?” Morgan asks. “Someone developed a sedative specifically to do this?”

“No,” Eames corrects. “But someone did have access to compounds similar to the ones used on three-level inception jobs, likely from the same source. If we can get samples from all three of the victims, we might even be able to find a match in a laboratory.” He purses his lips and meets Arthur’s gaze again. “I think it’s time we paid our friend a visit.”

Arthur hesitates. “I can’t go to Mombasa,” he says after a beat.

Eames frowns. “Cobol Engineering? Still? You-know-who hasn’t cleared that up?”

“You don’t just ‘clear up’ a price on someone’s head,” Arthur says, annoyed. “The issue isn’t whether I’m still legally blacklisted, it’s whether a hit team is going to shoot first and find out if I’m worth anything later.”

“I’ll go,” Reid speaks up suddenly, and Eames isn’t bothered by the fact that he’s staring at Reid only because Arthur is doing the same thing. “I can use vacation time, it can be an unofficial visit.”

“If we’re inquiring after dreamsharing compounds, it’s going to be a bit more involved than asking whether it was the one in the blue bottle or the one in the red bottle,” Eames tells him.

“I hold a doctorate in chemistry,” Reid says with a crooked half-smile. “I think I can understand the basics.”

Eames realizes that Arthur is both trying to look imploringly at Hotchner to shut down this line of discussion and attempting to look like he’s doing nothing of the sort. Unfortunately for him, Hotchner is either unable to read Arthur or simply doesn’t care.

“It’s our best lead so far,” Rossi says, with a tone of finality that suggests he’s used to having the last word in these debates.

Reid apparently thinks the same thing, because he twists around in his seat and looks up hopefully. “Hotch? Can I borrow the jet?”

 

-

 

Getting off the ground involves a long string of advice and admonitions from Reid’s teammates about flying to Kenya. Jareau gives Reid clean drinking water protocols, Hotchner sets a schedule for checking in with the team, and Prentiss writes lists of embassy contacts Reid can get in touch with if needed. Dr. Reid’s credentials and expertise apparently don’t exempt him from being considered the baby of the team. He accepts the fussing with a combination of longsuffering patience and bewilderment, as if he too can’t understand why anyone should think they have to feed him statistics on anything, but he’ll allow it because they mean well.

Eames, by contrast, gets Morgan.

“If anything happens to him, anything at all, I will hunt you down.” Morgan’s demeanor hasn’t changed an iota from the briefing, still relaxed and friendly, which is assuredly meant to be just as alarming as his threat.

“Noted,” Eames replies, just as friendly, and sets about extracting Reid from the well-meaning circle of his team.

“Your boyfriend is intimidating when he chooses to be,” he comments as he steers Reid away from Rossi, who seems to be working through a list of recommended vaccinations Americans should have before traveling to Africa.

“You have no idea,” Reid replies obliquely, and thankfully lets Eames manhandle him out the doors to the landing strip where Arthur is waiting to see them off.

Reid comes to a halt by the stairs and raises his eyebrows. Eames is expecting another list of warnings and safety protocols, as is Reid by the way he’s braced expectantly, but Arthur just says, “Keep an eye on Eames.”

“Oh, certainly,” Eames says. “It’s not as if I’ve lived there for years or anything.”

“That’s what worries me,” Arthur says, but he cracks a faint smile when he says it. “I’ll call you on the plane.”

 

-

 

The BAU’s private jet is spacious, comfortable, and well-equipped. “So this where all of those American tax dollars are directed,” Eames comments as they settle in for departure.

“It’s more time-effective than taking a bus or a train,” Reid answers, already pulling files out of his bag. “The hours that would be lost to travel aren’t worth the cost in human lives, especially in cases like this one where the unsub spreads out his attacks through multiple large geographic areas.”

“You fly a lot, then,” Eames gathers. “Your teammates seem worried about you going off to Kenya.”

“I think they’re jealous,” Reid answers absently. “We don’t get to travel a lot outside of work.”

He quite obviously devotes himself to reading after that, working through a stack of folders organized and itemized in a way that’s very familiar after as many jobs as Eames has done with Arthur. Eames takes the hint and leaves him to it, using the time to review what he knows about the person who might be pulling the strings behind the rash of suspiciously-linked comas.

Arthur calls before they’ve taken off, even before the customary warning reminding Eames to turn off his cell phone. “News so fast?” Eames inquires, glancing out the window reflexively.

“Nothing yet. Garcia and I are going through Interpol watch lists in a few minutes.”

“Ah. Pity, I’d thought you might give me something to do on the flight.”

“Reid has all of the files?” Arthur sounds amused, like this is not an unexpected circumstance. Then he asks, “How fast is he turning the pages?”

Eames looks blankly at Reid, then checks his watch covertly. “Every eight seconds or so. Why?”

“He’s not actually reading. He’s probably just forestalling conversation so he has time to think. Take whatever you want; he’ll reclaim it if he really wants it.”

“Cheers,” Eames says dryly. “Why did you ring, then?”

Arthur’s tone sobers abruptly, a marked change after the joking a moment ago. “Don’t let him into Yusuf’s dream den. Not at all if you can help it, but definitely not alone.”

“I presume there’s some mysterious reason behind this,” Eames replies, glancing again at Reid, who appears completely absorbed in his reading material.

“Just trust me on this. Keep him away from there.”

“I’ll do my best,” Eames says, and ends the call.

He studies Reid as the captain drones on about departure and safety, watching the small crease in Reid’s brow and the way his eyes don’t track across the pages in front of him.

“How long?” he asks.

Reid frowns without looking up. “I’m sorry?”

“You and Arthur,” Eames clarifies.

“Oh.” Reid looks up belatedly, clearly gathering his thoughts from somewhere else. He doesn’t sound surprised, and there’s no flush in his cheeks when he answers. “Five years. Roughly. Technically,” he clears his throat, “four years, nine months, and eleven days. Or twenty-one days, depending on where you count from.” He smiles quickly. “We had a bet on when you’d figure it out.”

Eames is honestly surprised it had taken him this long. He blames the cloak of untouchable mystery Arthur keeps wrapped around him at all times to appear aloof and detached. It doesn’t fit well with the man in front of him and a flat full of secondhand paperbacks.

He can see it now, though. Living in other people’s bodies as often as he does, Eames has gained enough insight to be able to see physical attractiveness in nearly everyone, the appeal of a certain hand, a wrist, the definition in someone’s shoulders. It’s not even that difficult to imagine Arthur and Reid together, kissing slowly against a wall, long fingers entwined and eyes closed.

If Arthur were here, he’d be able to recognize the look on Eames’ face, and likely Eames would be in danger of experiencing a minor but incredibly effective amount of pain right now. Luckily Reid can’t read him as well, or perhaps he’s just unaware of himself, unused to being considered a sexual object. His expression when he looks back at Eames is mildly baffled, but not suspicious in the least.

“Who won?” Eames asks, diverting Reid’s attention from the things Eames may have been envisioning.

“I did,” Reid answers promptly. “Arthur thought you already knew.”

Eames blinks. “But you didn’t,” he surmises.

“On two different occasions I responded to Arthur with non-verbal cues which you could have interpreted as evidence of a physical relationship. The fact that you didn’t recognize either one of them means you weren’t looking for confirmation or even open yet to the possibility.” Explanation given, Reid returns his attention to one of Arthur’s neatly-prepared files.

Eames isn’t quite ready to let it go yet. His professional curiosity has been piqued. “But Arthur assumed I already knew.”

Reid looks up again. “He thinks very highly of your skills as a profiler. You had the opportunity to watch us interact in private, as well as access to shared living space and surveillance tapes.”

Arthur, Eames thinks suddenly. Arthur’s sedan parked outside the flat, and Reid’s voice in his headphones saying, oh, and yes, yes.

He rubs the bridge of his nose. Then he considers the rest of Reid’s statement and echoes skeptically, “He thinks very highly of my skills.” He can’t imagine Arthur allowing him the barest hint of a compliment even if he were threatened with torture.

Reid’s mouth quirks upwards. “I didn’t think I was ever going to meet you,” he says. “If you hadn’t gotten involved with the case and broken into our apartment, I likely never would have.”

Contrary to what some people might think, Eames can be patient. He waits. Unfortunately, Reid appears to be equally adept at playing this game, and he’s the one with information Eames wants rather than the other way around.

“Why might that be?” Eames asks at last.

Reid peeks up at him from behind the cover of his file, and finally lowers it, revealing the same shifting smile playing around his mouth. “Because he told me once that if the team ever found out what you could do as a profiler, we’d never let you go, and he couldn’t afford to lose you as a colleague.”

Eames is caught uncharacteristically speechless. After a moment of half-grinning at him, Reid disappears into his files again, leaving Eames blinking in his wake.

After a moment, he gets hold of himself again and recalls Reid’s attention by the simple expedient of kicking Reid’s foot. It’s a tactic that has always worked on Arthur in the past, with varying degrees of what could be termed success, and Reid is no different. He jerks up, startled, and Eames smiles.

“Are you going to be reading those the whole time?” he asks. “Because this is an awfully long flight.”

“I’ll be finished with everything in approximately fifty-five minutes,” Reid estimates after a quick glance at the stack of files. Then he appears to remember his manners and asks, “Would you like some to start with?”

Eames dismisses the idea with a brief gesture. There has never been anything in Arthur’s files that Eames hasn’t learned more thoroughly and more entertainingly from Arthur himself. “I was thinking more of another way to pass the time.”

“Do you play chess?” Reid asks, suddenly lighting up. With a mind like his, Eames imagines there aren’t many people still around willing to play against him. Eames isn’t inclined to even make the attempt.

“How would you feel about a friendly hand of poker?” he counters, pulling a deck of cards from the inside pocket of his coat and flipping the chipped token that also resides there into his other hand.

Reid smiles.

 

-

 

Reid is not only a bastard card counter with a devastating knowledge of higher mathematics and a memory that makes cleaning Eames out child’s play, he’s also a bastard card counter who blatantly cheats.

“Someone,” Eames says, using sleight of hand to reverse the top two cards before he deals, undoing whatever Reid had managed to arrange when he cut the deck, “has spent time handling cards.”

“I grew up in Vegas,” Reid answers, reaching out to sweep up his hand. In the process, Eames is almost certain he conceals a switch between one of the cards in his hand and the top card on the deck, but it’s too fast to catch. Reid looks up, catching Eames’ close watch on his alarmingly nimble hands, and adds, “I also do magic tricks.”

Knowing Reid is using every tool at his disposal, Eames doesn’t feel the slightest bit guilty about sliding the sixth card out from behind his palm and weighing his current hand slightly further in his favor. “Interest in the fantastic,” he observes. “This must be something of a dream for you. I saw the shelves of science fiction novels in your hall,” he expands, when Reid looks at him again, curious. “Surrounded by brutality, it must be a pleasant form of escapism.”

“Most of those are Arthur’s,” Reid responds, asking for two cards and almost certainly getting three. “He uses them to formulate new theories on how to manipulate dreamscapes, says it challenges him to think in more flexible ways.” Reid tosses in a few of the paper clips they’re using as betting tokens. “I was wondering when we’d get to this part.”

Eames raises his eyebrows. “And which part would that be?” He has two aces and two queens. By Eames’ deal, Reid ought to have a pair of eights at most. Somehow, by the number of paperclips making their way into the pot, Eames doesn’t think that’s the case.

Reid’s lips twitch again, the almost-smile that flickers whenever he thinks of something he finds amusing. “The profiling. Traditionally it happens within the first few minutes after introduction. The inherent rivalry between two individuals who share a specific skill set manifests in displays of knowledge to prove superiority. Particularly when one or both parties is an alpha male.”

“Now who’s profiling?” Eames returns mildly.

“I work with an entire team of alpha males and females; it’s not hard to identify defining characteristics after reasonable exposure.”

Eames has seen enough of the group dynamics on Reid’s team to guess that he’s the only non-alpha in the group, with the possible exception of Jareau. It’s interesting that he’s paired off with Arthur, who is intensely independent but also a loyal follower to a fault when he finds a natural leader.

Eames raises. “I don’t profile,” he says. “Not the way you think of it, at any rate. I observe a target to analyze the best ways under their defenses, their strengths and vulnerabilities, but what you and I do with that information is entirely different.”

“Not so different,” Reid replies. “From what Arthur’s said, most of the plans you come up with are based on a profound understanding of your subject’s psyche. The only real difference is that you start with a known subject and expand into postulation based on your observations, while our goal is to pinpoint identifiable characteristics in order to gradually narrow down a suspect pool.”

Eames toys with his cards, considering where to go with this conversation. Curiosity wins out. “How is it, living with Arthur?”

“It’s kind of like having a cat?” Reid says, tone lilting up on the last syllable to make it a question, inviting Eames to share his hypothesis. “He comes and goes as he pleases, and is only willing to accept expressions of affection on his own terms.”

“He doesn’t like to be petted,” Eames interprets. Reid meets his gaze openly when he looks up from his cards, frank and unembarrassed. Eames thinks of how careful Reid is to avoid physical contact whenever possible, how his teammates are so used to his personal space bubble that they move around him without having to consciously think about it. “Something you have in common,” he suggests.

Reid’s eyebrows raise pointedly. “Profiling,” he says.

Eames lays his cards on the table. “Observation.”

 

-

 

“How much do you know about Yusuf?” Eames asks as they step off the plane into the dry Mombasa heat.

“I think any reports I may have heard are biased,” Reid answers, squinting before digging around in his jacket pockets for a pair of sunglasses.

He’s probably right. Arthur neither forgives nor forgets betrayal, and Yusuf had rather impressively stabbed them all in the back the first time they’d worked together. Eames can argue for either side, point out that they’re all criminals and it’s every man for himself, that the blame should really rest more on Cobb for declaring himself leader and ordering the secret kept in the first place, but none of that would matter to Arthur. Arthur is loyal, and he mistrusts anyone who lacks that same trait.

They catch a taxi to Yusuf’s shop, bells tinkling to announce their arrival when they walk through the door. Yasmeen winds around Reid’s ankles, ignoring Eames as usual, and Reid catches himself on the doorframe just in time for his thumb to get pinched in the closing door.

“Not a cat person?” Eames inquires.

“Not really an animal person,” Reid answers, shaking out his hand. He looks up then, at the same trace of movement that’s caught Eames’ eye.

“My friend,” Yusuf greets him, discreetly leaving out names and speaking in English, no doubt for Reid’s benefit since he sticks out clearly as non-native. “What brings you to my humble shop today?”

“Yusuf,” Eames returns cheerfully. Yusuf’s smile is bright and contagious. “This is Dr. Spencer Reid, he’s a new friend. An American friend.” That should be enough for Yusuf to understand that Reid’s loyalty does not by any means belong to Eames.

“Ah, a new friend. Welcome, then. Are you here for business, or is this a social call?”

“It’s actually neither. We’re here about dreamsharing compounds that might allow a person to descend three or more levels in a dream. Maybe even all the way to Limbo.” Reid somehow manages to keep from sounding antagonistic, but the FBI has trained interrogation tactics into him too well. Yusuf glances knowingly from Reid to Eames.

“An American friend,” he echoes, and then seems to come to a decision and takes his customary seat behind the counter, Yasmeen jumping up onto the ledge behind him. “Tell me what you want to know.”

“Has anyone bought these compounds recently, say within the past six weeks? He wouldn’t have been forthcoming about what he needed them for, but he would have been adamant that they could do the job he had planned. He would likely have used a false name and paid in cash to avoid detection.”

Yusuf looks at Eames skeptically. Eames just shrugs.

“Dreamsharing is not something that officially exists outside of private government projects,” Yusuf tells Reid. “How many customers do you think I have who use their real names and legally-obtained credit cards?”

“You must know most of those involved, though,” Reid says. “This is someone acting outside of traditional channels. He wouldn’t have had a team or an actual job, just a need for the sedatives.”

“He would also have needed an intravenous device,” Yusuf replies. “Without that, my compounds are useless.”

Reid pauses, visibly taking that in. “How many are out there?”

“Dozens,” Eames answers. “The technology can be replicated, for the right price. We’re well past the days of government theft being the only option.”

“We already knew he was involved in the dreamsharing community.” Reid turns back to Yusuf. “Would it be possible for a layman or someone with only a basic understanding of chemistry to create a compound capable of sending someone to Limbo?”

“What’s all this about?” Yusuf asks, directing the question to Eames rather than Reid.

Eames unwraps a single-serve toothpick and sticks it into his mouth, looking briefly back at Yusuf. “Fischer. Someone got to him after we did.”

Yusuf appears appropriately alarmed, which is at least one reassurance. Eames hadn’t really suspected Yusuf of being capable of going out into the field away from his dreamers for frequent trips to the States to put people in comas, but seeing his reaction is still a relief. Yusuf is a terrible actor.

“It appears someone is targeting former subjects who have undergone a procedure known as inception,” Reid explains, causing Yusuf to cast another cornered look at Eames. “We need to know if any similar jobs were planned recently.”

“I often deal with an intermediary,” Yusuf defends. “Not all extractors become involved in obtaining the compounds. Sometimes it’s point men, or even the architects with particular specifications. There are times I don’t even deal with teams at all.”

“Could you give us a list?” Reid presses. “Anyone who’s been through within the past six weeks. Anyone with specific needs.”

“I told you no one uses their real names here,” Yusuf says.

“That’s all right,” Eames interjects. “I’ll send whatever you have on to Arthur, he’ll know more names than either of us.”

Because somewhere, Eames thinks grimly, the United States government is keeping records of that same information. It isn’t a particularly cheering notion.

“Are you aware of any other sources for similar compounds?” Reid asks Yusuf. “Someone who may have had access to your lab or your research? Possibly a rival wanting to prove his superiority?”

Yusuf shakes his head, but not completely in denial. “The sciences are a competitive field. There will always be others looking for a way in.” He studies Reid. “Do you know what it’s like? Dreaming?”

“No,” Reid says, too quickly even for Yusuf to have missed his knee-jerk discomfort. He recovers well, and almost fast enough to throw off the impression of something having been very wrong for a moment. “I’d like to take a look at your lab, though, if I could. I’d be interested to see how your research allows you to tailor sedatives to fit the needs of individual experiments.”

Reid is clearly in earnest, wide-eyed and keen as only a lab geek can be at the prospect of chemicals and beakers. He must have been serious about the doctorate.

Yusuf looks once more at Eames, and then nods. “By all means,” he invites. “Right this way.”

 

-

 

When Eames’ mobile rings he steps outside to take the call, leaving Reid and Yusuf neck-deep in discussion of enzymes and hypnotics.

“Any news?”

“Not yet,” Arthur answers shortly. “How are things going there?”

“No bloody idea,” Eames answers truthfully. “I never knew how good we had it, only having one chemist in the room at a time, until there were two. I haven’t asked them to translate yet for the layman.”

“You might want to get started,” Arthur says, with a tight edge to his voice that brings Eames immediately to attention. “I just got a call from Saito.”

“Fischer?” Eames guesses.

“He wants this taken care of. Quietly. He’s making it perfectly clear that if it isn’t, he has no problem eliminating the evidence that anything involving Proclus Global and Robert Fischer ever happened.”

Eames whistles through his teeth before another thought occurs to him. “He could have had us all bumped off months ago. I’m honestly surprised he hasn’t tried.”

Arthur snorts. “You think I go into a job like that one without insurance? It’s in his best interests to keep us all alive, and I’ve made sure he’s very aware of that.”

Eames thinks of Mal, of Cobb driven out of his own country on the word of a dead woman, and wonders when exactly Arthur had picked up that particular trick. “He’s reconsidering?”

“Not yet, but Fischer’s inception is exposure he can’t afford. And if he’s getting nervous, there are other clients out there who will be too. Ones who are less savvy when it comes to handling their business arrangements.”

Ones with whom Arthur does not already have precautionary measures in place, Eames surmises. This is Arthur’s way of warning him to watch his back. “I’ll keep an eye out,” he says. “Black is a new alias; no one will be looking for me in Mombasa right away.”

“Yusuf,” Arthur reminds him, which is a valid point. They won’t be the only ones connecting the dots, and Yusuf has been stationary for at least a decade.

“We can be out by tomorrow,” Eames hazards. “I’ll ring back once I’ve talked to the others.”

He ends the call and walks back inside, only to find Yusuf’s lab empty. There’s no one in the front of the shop, either. Yasmeen stares at him from the windowsill, tail flicking watchfully back and forth. The heavy, archaic ring of keys is missing from its hook behind the counter.

“Bugger,” Eames mutters, and heads for the door that leads down to Yusuf’s den of dreamers.

He’s too late and he knows it; whatever Arthur had feared would happen has already occurred, and all Eames can do now is try to limit the damage.

Reid’s face is white in the stark light of the room and his nostrils are flared, lips pressed together in a thin, unhappy line. Eames takes in the rest of the room at a glance: fifteen men of varying ages, most of them older, all slumbering peacefully under Yusuf’s ministrations. The caretaker in the corner watches them all with ancient, knowing eyes. Everything exactly as it should be.

It’s almost commonplace to Eames, now, but he knows how this will look to Reid. He’s been here with enough people in the past to know the reaction of pity, horror and nausea that usually follow, even from people in the business. He thinks Yusuf delights in it, secretly, in playing the mad scientist with his dark basement full of secrets. Anyone Yusuf works with has seen this room, and knows exactly who they’re dealing with when they bring him onto their teams.

Eames moves slowly closer, alert. Reid’s body doesn’t suggest the threat of violence, but his tone when he speaks is harsh and accusing.

“How can you do this?” he demands, turning bright, hard eyes on Yusuf. “How can you even look at this? Do you have any idea what you’ve done? These people are sick, they need help, and you’re enabling them. You’re no better than any other chemist dealing heroin or methamphetamine. These people have an addiction, and instead of getting them help, you’re feeding their habit. You’re killing them. You’re destroying these people’s lives, how can you stand there and…?”

“Let’s take a walk,” Eames suggests quietly, taking Reid by the elbow and turning him away. Reid is shaking under his hand, tiny tremors running through his arm, although Eames can’t tell whether it’s from shock or anger. He falls silent and lets Eames lead him outside into the dry Kenyan heat, but Eames can tell by the way the muscles remain coiled tight that he isn’t finished yet.

“It’s wrong,” Reid says finally, shaking his head and staring out across the busy street, not looking at Eames. “Those people in there are sick, they’re addicts. How can you stand seeing them in there like that?”

“We’re all addicted, mate,” Eames tells him. “All of us. Even Arthur.”

Reid shakes his head again, not speaking. It’s not a denial.

“There’s only one reason to work in dreamsharing,” Eames says. “And that’s because once you get that first taste, you can’t stop yourself from coming back for more. Nothing else is ever enough again. We can dress it up all we like, get ourselves a valid career choice and a paycheck out of the deal, but there’s only one thing anyone really wants. It’s always about the dreaming. Always.”

They stand in silence for a moment before Reid breaks it.

“Astronaut Pete Conrad once said he fully expected that NASA would send him back to the moon as they did John Glenn. And that if they didn’t do otherwise, then he would have to do it himself.”

“’I don’t know what you could say about a day in which you have seen four beautiful sunsets,’” Eames quotes in turn.

“John Glenn,” Reid says, slanting a look at him.

“It’s as apt an analogy as any,” Eames says. “Once you’ve experienced the truly amazing, it’s difficult to accept a life filled with nothing outside of the mundane.”

“It’s still wrong,” Reid says eventually. “What’s happening in there. You’re still living your lives. Those people, they aren’t even experiencing the world anymore.”

“They’re living the way they choose,” Eames replies, shrugging slightly. “Who are you or I to decide that for them?”

Reid doesn’t answer. Eames can see his hand working at something inside his trouser pocket, twitching in a repetitive motion.

“It’s difficult not to let our own experiences color the way we see things,” Eames says. “I do know.” When Reid looks sharply at him, he smiles faintly and says, “When I said we were all addicts, I wasn’t making myself an exception, after all.”

Reid looks down, and when he pulls his hand from his pocket there’s a gold medallion in it. “Did Arthur tell you?”

“He didn’t need to,” Eames answers. “I’ve been addicted to more than dreaming, I can recognize the signs.”

His first guess would normally have been alcoholism. Reid has surely seen enough, in his line of work, to be forgiven for hitting the bottle. Eames would be surprised if it didn’t drive most of his colleagues to the solace of false comfort. Reid’s quick refusal of narcotics, however, coupled with Arthur’s urgent interrogation when he’d thought Eames might have put Reid under with a sedative, points in another direction.

“I was clean when I met Arthur,” Reid answers. “It’s been more than five years. But I still… Sometimes, I still…”

“I know,” Eames tells him. He’d let it drop, but curiosity gets the better of him, as always. “Is that why you’ve never dreamed?”

Reid nods. “Arthur offered, once, but it’s too much like… I know it’s not the same, but.”

Eames understands. He understands all too well. “Shall we take a brief respite?” he suggests. “Yusuf won’t mind if we slip off for a bit of lunch.”

Reid nods, awkward and grateful. “I don’t know that I’d want to spend any more time dreaming, anyway,” he admits. “I dream about babies and circles, and people I can’t save. My subconscious scares me more than a lot of other things.”

“The upside to structured dreaming is that, by and large, you choose the framework. It’s not as haphazard as a normal dream. There are fewer unpleasant surprises.” He can’t say there are none. He still remembers too clearly finding Robert Fischer dead on the floor of a hospital and Mal’s eyes staring up at the ceiling from a few feet away.

“In dreams they live the way they choose,” Reid says slowly, as if tasting the words in his mouth. “It’s their choice.”

Eames raises his eyebrows. “You’ve lost me, I’m afraid.”

Reid doesn’t even look at him, already turning blindly back to the door, which jangles loudly when he jerks it open. “I have to call the team,” he says without pausing. “I think I know why he’s doing this.”

 

-

 

“Goddess of the satellites and fount of all knowledge here, who may I say is calling?”

“Garcia, I need to talk to Morgan,” Reid replies, sounding not at all taken aback by the unusual greeting.

“Right away, boy wonder. Your yummy man’s here too, I’ll get him,” she adds, and Eames has to put a hand over his mouth because they’re using a video link, and if Arthur sees the grin on Eames’ face at Arthur being called Reid’s ‘yummy man,’ Eames won’t live to see another sunrise.

“What is it?” Arthur asks, sliding into a view a second later.

“Can you get Morgan?” Reid asks, and Arthur’s expression changes rapidly from serious to scowling. It’s not a terribly obvious change, perhaps, but the intensity certainly increases. Eames is suddenly not as concerned about being first on Arthur’s mental hit list.

“What have you got?” asks Morgan a second later, leaning toward the screen and incidentally over Arthur’s shoulder. Eames, knowing from experience the radius of Arthur’s personal bubble to the precise inch, watches in mesmerized delight as Arthur’s entire body goes rigid and his expression turns blank, half-hidden by the considerable bulge of Morgan’s bicep as he leans forward on the desk.

“I think we’ve been looking at this wrong. We’ve been profiling someone involved in dreamsharing, but without taking into account the changes in outlook that might entail. What if the unsub doesn’t see the coma patients as victims, but instead believes he’s setting them free?”

“You’re saying these aren’t attacks,” Morgan deduces.

“Not the way we’ve been thinking of them,” Reid agrees. “Dreaming isn’t a punishment, it’s a release into another life, directly into the mind. For someone warped by experiences in dreamsharing, it could be seen almost as a gift.”

“And he’s targeting victims of inception, not extraction,” Morgan finishes. “Not the people who’ve had something stolen from them, but the people who have been altered against their free will.”

“What have you got?” Hotchner appears behind Arthur, frowning as seems to be his default expression and materializing directly in Arthur’s blind spot, which Eames could have warned him is never a good move for anyone’s health.

“I think we’re dealing with an angel of mercy,” Reid says. “This unsub believes he’s setting these people free of the lives they’ve had stolen from them. He’s giving them the only thing he can.”

“A lifetime of dreams.” It’s Rossi’s voice, and the man himself appears a second later in the camera frame. Onscreen, Arthur twitches slightly.

“We’re most likely looking for a victim. Someone who has either been incepted or had an inception attempted on him. Someone who believes he’s been incepted and robbed of his free will.” Reid’s voice is confident, gaining speed and strength the more he speaks.

“He can’t find peace in his own dreams, so he’s made it his mission to grant that peace to others,” Rossi says.

“We need to go back to the list of failed inception attempts. The unsub is most likely someone on that list. Good work,” Hotchner finishes, and leans over Arthur to cut their connection before Arthur can say anything about this development. The last thing Eames sees before the screen goes dark is the thinly-veiled murder in Arthur’s eyes.

“Arthur doesn’t get along with anyone on your team, does he?” Eames asks.

“Not really,” Reid answers absently. Then, “I need to talk to Yusuf again. I have an idea.”

 

-

 

“There are too many potential victims,” Reid concludes an hour later, digging into the plate of kuku na nazi in front of him with the appetite of a man who’s forgotten to eat twice in a row already. “Even cross-checking Yusuf’s list of customers against Arthur’s suspected inception attempts, the suspect pool is too extensive. We need to find a way to narrow it down.”

“You have enough for a credible head-start,” Eames allows. “Operating only in America, access to the necessary tools and technology, inside knowledge of the rumor mill. Ours is not a large community.”

“That will take time, though,” Reid replies. “Convincing any member of an exclusive group to turn on the others takes both time and the right leverage. Organized crime circles could be considered less tightly-knit because there’s already a baseline lack of trust, but each member of the group also has more to lose.”

There’s also the fact that the man they’re looking for could be using any number of aliases, including some that even Arthur won’t know. Even if they do ferret out his identity, they’ll still be a step behind in tracking him. It’s why Eames had slipped outside of Arthur’s information net when he’d come to D.C. Arthur hadn’t known beforehand that he had anyone to look out for.

That thought gives him pause. “If you could determine the next likely target – victimology, I believe you called it – there’s a chance we could raise flags on the movements of your list of suspects.”

“Statistically, there’s not enough data to present one individual as a more or less likely target at this point,” Reid tells him, sounding matter-of-fact rather than disheartened by that fact. “He’s working reverse chronologically, but we’ve hypothesized that it’s only because his preferential victim pool has dried up. From here he could branch out to any rumored victim of an inception attempt, unless a better target presents itself.” He stops, chapatti halfway to his mouth and dripping sauce.

Eames knows that look. “You’re about to suggest we offer your unsub a more tempting reward,” he hazards.

“Just because we don’t have a victim of a successful inception doesn’t mean we can’t create one,” Reid says, confirming Eames’ guess. “How long would it take for a rumor of that type to circulate with any degree of significance?”

“Days,” Eames says. “Word of success gets around more quickly than failure.”

“How long would you need?” Reid asks, his speech picking up speed the way it seems to whenever he has the bit between his teeth. “To assemble a team and complete an assignment?”

Eames studies him shrewdly. “That depends,” he allows. “On the target, mostly. Their accessibility, my familiarity with their schedule and habits, and the idea in question to be planted. If you’re suggesting actually going through with a job, the answer is months.”

“You wouldn’t have to complete the inception,” Reid says, which means he’s taking this exactly where Eames has suspected it’s going. “All you’d have to do is make it look good, and then circulate the rumors that it was successful.”

“I take it you have a target in mind.”

“You already mistook me for a mark once. Your surveillance on my apartment would hold up to scrutiny, and you’ve had a reasonable window of opportunity since the time we left the U.S.”

“I think…” Eames begins cautiously, but Reid’s fingers are already flying over the keys of his federal-issue laptop.

“Love line, open for all requests, we do charge international rates,” Garcia answers a few seconds later. “What can I do for you?”

“Garcia, how long would it take for you to set up a watch list for everyone under all known aliases based on our current suspect list?”

“Less time than it takes for you to ask that question,” Garcia answers with a smile, and Eames can recognize cocky confidence easily, but he can also tell when the person in question has the capability to back up their claims. Garcia does not appear to be a woman to take lightly.

“What’s your plan?” Hotchner asks, appearing in the frame with Arthur a half-step behind him. They very nearly look like siblings, although in that analogy Arthur is the younger gay son with all the trust fund money and appreciation for fine tailoring. Hotchner dresses well, but his suit still screams federal agent over international criminal.

“Victimology gives us a profile of how the unsub will choose his next target. I’ve already attracted attention, and I’m currently outside my jurisdiction.”

“If we can float the story, there’s a good chance you’ll prove more interesting to the unsub than anyone else on the list of potential victims,” Hotchner concludes. “It’s not an insignificant risk.”

“I cohabitate with an espionage professional,” Reid says, the corner of his mouth crooked up fondly. “There’s less risk than there would be for nearly anyone else.”

Arthur’s focus is on Eames rather than Reid, and Eames can see the question lurking there behind the hard glitter of his eyes: Did you put him up to this?

He clears his throat and says, mostly for Arthur’s benefit, “I’m not sure it’s the best idea, but if we did decide on deception as an option, I don’t doubt we could protect Agent Reid from any consequences.”

“Do it,” Hotchner orders. “Give Garcia some time to set up red flags, and then get back to the States. I want you as close to home as possible. We already know the unsub will most likely strike once you’re on American soil.”

In the background, Arthur turns on his heel and walks offscreen. Eames thinks he might be the only one who notices.

 

-

 

It’s not his place to say something by any means, but Eames likes to keep the gears working as smoothly as possible, and if Arthur’s worked himself into a proper strop it won’t be easy on any of them. He broaches the subject with Reid as delicately as possible, suggesting that consideration of his colleagues’ reactions to Reid putting himself directly in harm’s way might not go amiss.

“What?” Reid frowns at him, still half-distracted by the file open in front of him, which is so like Arthur that Eames has to repress a smile while Reid blinks. “Oh. No, they understand. Morgan will call demanding to take my place and offering a variety of reasons I should embark on another course of action, but Hotch has already given the green light, so it won’t be more than a token protest. The rest of them will follow his example.”

“I was actually thinking of Arthur.” Eames raises his eyebrows. “I’m certainly not an expert on your relationship, but I imagine he’s not pleased at having his domestic partner putting himself in front of a bullet.”

Reid looks almost comically perplexed. “Arthur is the only person who doesn’t treat me like I’m too young and irresponsible for this job,” he says. “He’s always supported my decisions.”

“Be that as it may,” Eames demurs, “I shouldn’t imagine he’s thrilled about you putting yourself in danger.”

“I hunt serial killers for a living,” Reid replies, with a touch of wry humor that helps Eames to understand something of what he and Arthur must have first seen in each other. “I get held hostage on a regular basis. I probably have the team record for near-death experiences. I think any objections Arthur has to my job would have been raised by now.”

Technically, this is all true, but Eames thinks Reid is rather missing the point. Arthur might be fine – to a point – with Reid finding himself on the wrong end of a gun, threatened by rapists and murderers and mobsters, but Limbo is a very different danger. Arthur himself handles attempts on his life on a semi-regular basis, but even he balks at the idea of an eternity spent lost wandering within his own subconscious, and with good reason.

Reid is still studying him, while Eames considers other arguments and dismisses them. “Why do you think Arthur would mind?” Reid asks finally, breaking Eames’ internal struggle.

Eames purses his lips. “What do you know about Dominic and Mallorie Cobb?” It’s the simplest question, with the most telling answer.

“Everything in their files,” Reid responds promptly. “But…”

To his credit, he stops there, and actually appears to recognize the greater ramifications of that question. Eames leaves his mobile on the table, with Arthur’s number already on the display, and goes for a short walk.

When he returns, he finds Morgan on the other end of the satellite connection on the laptop, putting forth every predicted protest while Reid calmly and implacably knocks each one down in turn. Arthur is lurking in the background, arms crossed over his chest but looking slightly more relaxed, and when he sees Eames wander into view, he tilts his head to the side and steps out of the camera shot.

Eames’ mobile rings a moment later.

“You’re going to need a team,” Arthur says. “I can’t touch this one, it’s too dangerous for both of us.”

Both of us, Eames infers, means Arthur and Reid. Eames had almost expected Arthur to be on the next flight out to meet them, the instincts of the world’s best point man unable to let him sit idly by, but it’s the right decision. If anyone else in the business finds out about Arthur’s connection to Reid, it’s only a matter of time before that knowledge becomes a death sentence.

“I’ll call Ariadne,” Eames says. “With Yusuf already here, that makes enough for a respectable team. On the small side, but not enough to arouse suspicion.”

“I don’t trust Yusuf,” Arthur says, scowling.

“Objection noted and overruled,” Eames replies easily. “Don’t worry, there’s no danger while Reid is overseas. We won’t even need to put him under.”

“Stay with him,” Arthur says, less a request than a direct command, and it’s only the tight edge to his voice that keeps Eames from replying with something sarcastic. “Don’t leave him alone in a room, for any reason. I don’t care that there haven’t been any attacks outside the U.S. He’s not going to be the first.”

“I shall remain by his side night and day,” Eames promises, and can’t help adding a bit of a lascivious note to his voice for levity. “Lucky thing you’re not the jealous type.”

Don’t seduce him,” Arthur says, somehow managing to sound both threatening and resigned.

“Why, Arthur,” Eames replies, “I’m flattered that you think I could.”

He can practically hear Arthur grimace. “He has a thing for intelligent, well-educated street thugs.”

Suddenly the dynamic between Arthur and Reid’s teammate Morgan makes much more sense. Eames finds himself seeing Dr. Reid in an entirely new light.

“You know, I do believe that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever called me,” Eames muses.

“Fuck off,” Arthur replies succinctly.

Eames is still chuckling when he hangs up and calls Ariadne.

 

-

 

Eames is circumspect about how he’s come to be involved on the cooperative side of an FBI investigation, only saying that he and Arthur had made contact and offered their services, but it doesn’t take long for the cat to be let out of the bag.

Specifically, it’s Garcia on the screen of their borrowed Bureau laptop, when Reid calls with a question for Arthur about the most effective places to spread gossip about successful jobs so that they can get the ball rolling as quickly as possible.

“Sugar dimples,” Garcia calls over her shoulder, her grin huge and brightly-painted on the small screen. “Get your perky ass in here.”

Garcia, Eames notes, has somehow been granted immunity to Arthur’s prickly relationship with the rest of Reid’s team, because even after a declaration like that, Arthur doesn’t appear scowling up a storm cloud and wielding the full effect of the chilly, aloof Arthurian cold shoulder. Instead, he slips sideways into view with his head ducked, aforementioned dimples in rare display, and it even looks like…

“Are you blushing?” Garcia demands, sounding delighted. “Good sir, I didn’t think you ever would.”

“I didn’t think he could,” Ariadne puts in, leaning closer to the laptop as Arthur does the compulsive twitch of desperately wanting to roll his eyes and hastily composes himself.

“I’ll bet he does in bed, when you whisper wicked things to him,” Garcia suggests.

“No,” Reid answers, distracted, and Eames doesn’t know if that’s a direct answer to the question or merely him shutting down the entire line of discussion so that he can get back to work, but either way, it would be difficult for anyone listening to infer that Reid didn’t know the answer.

Ariadne’s eyes go slowly wide, and she looks to Eames for confirmation. Eames leaves his expression neutral and pretends not to notice, but that in itself is enough of a giveaway. Ariadne shifts from surprised to thoughtful with frightening alacrity, the gears behind her eyes whirring into high speed.

She lets it rest until they’re out buying a few things from the market, letting themselves be seen and spreading the first few seeds of credibility to their cover story. “So,” she says. “Arthur.”

Eames chooses not to respond. He’s not sure yet where she’s going with this, and it’s dangerous to jump ahead in a conversation that could also be an interrogation. It usually points the questioner directly at what you don’t wish them to see.

“I suppose that explains his government contacts,” she continues, which is in fact treacherously close to the very thing Eames had been hoping to steer her away from. Ariadne’s thoughts on Arthur being gay and having a lover in the American Bureau of Investigation are, at the end of the day, relatively harmless. Anything she uncovers on Arthur’s allegiance to his country is decidedly less so.

“I could make an off-color comment about having an inside man,” Eames says, to hopefully divert her away from riskier topics.

Ariadne’s nose wrinkles. “Please don’t,” she requests, and Ariadne’s not a prude by any means, so it only makes Eames chuckle when her brain catches up with her mouth. He can tell the exact second she actually pictures it by the way her gaze goes slightly unfocused. “He has very pretty eyes,” she says a moment later, her mouth pursed into a thoughtful moue.

“He has a very pretty brain,” Eames returns, because he suspects that’s what caught Arthur’s attention first, although he could be wrong.

If Arthur is a bolt-action sniper rifle, Reid is the tactical scope. Eames finds he’s very glad, in that moment, that their combined efficacy hasn’t put him in the crosshairs.

Because Ariadne is altogether too much like Eames in some ways, he can see when her reflective look begins to turn shrewd and considering. Ariadne is deeply, overwhelmingly curious about people. She wants to know what makes them tick, what skeletons are in their closet, what surprises lurk beneath the surface. It’s why she won’t stay an architect for long. The best ones never do.

“He won’t go under,” Eames tells her, because he feels it might be necessary before the wheels in her head spin any further. “You won’t catch him the way you did Cobb.”

She favors him with a distinctly unimpressed look. “We do this for a living,” she reminds him.

Eames has to admit, under other circumstances – nearly any other circumstances – he’d be just as curious to find out about the man Arthur lived with when he wasn’t abroad. But he knows why Reid avoids sedation. He’s seen the medallion Reid carries in his pocket, and it’s very like the one Eames keeps with him at all times, both in dreams and out of them.

“Not this one,” he says simply.

He can see the new questions popping up in her eyes, but she doesn’t press him. Instead she says, “What do we know about him?” and Eames settles into the ironic but entertaining business of profiling.

 

-

 

They need a full day, erring on the side of caution, to hole themselves up in Reid’s hotel room for the mock-inception. A full night, in this case, because it’s easier to excuse oversleeping than it is taking an 8-hour nap in the middle of the day, and even if this isn’t a real job, Eames is nothing if not scrupulously professional.

They’ve been putting it off, because once they pull the job on Reid he should be flying home, and they’re not ready for that yet.

“Okay, I can set up a network that traces arrivals on all commercial flights, trains, buses, and even boats, but I’m literally getting hundreds of hits each day,” Garcia says via satellite link, the feathered end of her pen darting around the screen for emphasis. It matches the fascinator in her hair. Sort of. If you squint. “I’ve cross-referenced all the names you and Arthur gave me with records for public transport into the victim’s cities of residence going back a week before each of the attacks, but that gives me, like, several hundred for Miami and Los Angeles, with no overlaps on known aliases, and zip for Texas. You guys really get around.”

“Have Arthur take a look at which names got hits in each city,” Reid advises. “He might be able to eliminate some of the names as being there for legitimate business reasons.”

“I wouldn’t,” Eames puts in mildly. “As something of a multi-tasker myself, I can assure you that it’s not impossible to pull two jobs at once in the same location.”

“He’s right,” Ariadne says. “One of them might have been a crime of opportunity. I’d want an alibi, if it were me.”

“All in favor, but then you’re going to have to give me something else to narrow down the search criteria,” Garcia says. “D.C. gets as much air traffic as Miami, and more when it comes to buses and trains. If I have to text you every time I get a hit to tell you another possible unsub has arrived in the city, you’re never going to sleep.”

“Is there a way to tell which modes of transportation are more likely than others?” Ariadne asks.

“It would depend on where he’s using as a home base, and we don’t know that yet,” Reid answers. “Our most likely candidates are air travel and private vehicle, since those would give him the easiest access to smaller cities.”

“He’s traveling with a very expensive and valuable piece of equipment,” Eames reminds them. “Not to mention a dangerous one if it’s discovered in his possession by someone who can recognize it for what it is.”

Reid turns to Eames, frowning slightly. “On most public transit there’s no security for checking the contents of passengers’ luggage, but you work internationally. How do you get a dreamsharing device through airport security?”

“I’d ship mine ahead through a personal security service,” Eames answers, “but that’s for when you have the luxury of time. I don’t know how Arthur does it.”

“I carry a gun,” Arthur replies, and when Eames looks back at the laptop, Arthur is standing off to one side behind Garcia, leaning against one of her many desks.

“Hello,” Reid says, apparently startled out of his usual one-track approach to problem solving.

“Hey,” Arthur answers, smiling slightly.

“Is the gun in case airport security tries to check your luggage?” Reid asks, and while Eames wouldn’t put it past Arthur to do just that, the tone of Reid’s voice suggests it can’t possibly be anything other than a joke.

“No. The gun is so that TSA tracks the case. The best option is to have it locked inside the safe on the plane, but if you want to avoid the hassle, having a firearm serves the same purpose. TSA may misplace a lot of luggage, but they won’t lose a case with a gun in it.”

“You’d still have to declare the contents of the case,” Eames points out.

“Film canisters. Old ones, valuable enough to justify the extra security, and unable to be exposed to x-rays. The case has to be searched by hand, and a PASIV that’s been stripped down to essentials doesn’t look like what it really is.”

“So you pick up the cannulae and whatever else you need at your destination point,” Ariadne extrapolates. When Arthur nods, she frowns. “And no one asks why you have a gun?”

Arthur shakes his head. “My job is information. I have three different PI licenses under different aliases, and weapons permits to go with each of them.”

“It would be more of a hassle internationally, but if you fly domestic there would be no problem,” Reid muses. A second later he looks up, the same thought clearly having occurred to him as the one ringing in Eames’ brain. “That could be why he’s sticking to the U.S. Garcia, can you get TSA information on all weapons traveling on domestic flights into the D.C. area?”

“Can do, but that’s still a lot of names, my love,” Garcia warns. “We’re in America, land of the easy-to-obtain legal handgun.”

“Cross it against the list of known aliases for suspected dreamshare workers. Christakos was only in the country for a short time before she was attacked, which means that depending on the unsub’s original location, a private vehicle wouldn’t have afforded him the time he needed to both arrive and plan for the job. A domestic flight would have been simpler, which means he’s most likely staying mobile.”

“Done and done,” Garcia reports, her fingers flying over the keys. “I have alerts set up on all airports in the greater D.C. area.”

Ariadne frowns. “We still don’t know if any of this is certain. He could be shipping his case the way Eames does, or he could be in New York or Boston, close enough to take a train to D.C. in just a few hours. Tightening the net means he could slip right through it.”

“It’s the most likely scenario,” Reid replies, matter-of-fact.

“We still can’t rely on it,” she persists.

“We don’t,” Arthur says. His mouth is set in a determined line. “It’s just a precaution. I’ll take care of everything else.”

Reid opens his mouth to reply, but the door in Garcia’s office swings open and Hotchner steps halfway through. “We’ve got another victim. Clarence Garrendon, 54, CEO of a manufacturing company in Atlanta.”

“He’s not on the list of potential targets,” Garcia says, sounding upset by that news almost more than by their increased body count.

“That just means the unsub knows something about Garrendon that we don’t. And right now, he’s looking for a new target.”

“We’re on our way,” Reid says, and shuts down the laptop. Eames checks his watch. Slightly early, perhaps, but if Reid turned in early in order to catch an early flight, their timetable isn’t entirely out of the bounds of credibility.

“Time for our sleepover,” he says, grabbing the spare pillows from the rack in the closet and tossing one to Ariadne. He texts Yusuf with the room number and asks him to bring curry as well. None of them will be going anywhere now until morning.

They have an inception to perform.

 

-

 

Eames’ mobile rings around midnight, when everyone else is asleep. Ariadne is on the bed, because Reid is a gentleman, and Reid is as well, because Ariadne had responded to his stuttered insistence on taking the sofa by saying, “It’s you or Eames, and you’re gay.”

“Technically the appropriate label is bisexual,” Reid had corrected, but Ariadne had refused to be beaten on a technicality. Eames has the sofa.

Yusuf is in the armchair, plugged into a PASIV to test a compound while he has experienced dreamers around to keep an eye on him when he wakes. Ariadne is face-down on her stomach, breathing deeply and evenly. Reid is curled up on his side in the foetal position, taking up far less room than he ought to be for someone of his height. He’s twitching with the restless energy of a dream, something Eames hasn’t seen in a long time. He steps outside onto the balcony to keep from waking them.

“It’s me,” Arthur says unnecessarily when Eames picks up. “Garcia has her network set up, but don’t start the rumors about the job until you’re back here. I don’t want this guy already watching you when you land.”

“Already ahead of you,” Eames assures him. If nothing else, being seen leaving from a private jet with the man he’s meant to have incepted is pure folly. They’re taking a risk by flying back together, but it’s not worth the alternative of putting Reid into the air without any backup. Too many things could go wrong between Mombasa and the District of Columbia.

“I’m tracking down some information on Garrendon. If it wasn’t a job either of us knew about, chances are only a few people have that intel. It could narrow down our list.”

“Tell me if you come up dry, I can make a few calls.” Sometimes it pays to travel in different circles. Eames has contacts in Africa that Arthur has probably never heard of, even with all of his networking. “Although not until after we land, most probably, I don’t know what the rule is regarding mobiles on private government airplanes… Bugger,” he says suddenly.

“What is it?” Arthur’s voice is alert, ready to combat the problem at hand. Except that the problem is, Eames has just realized:

“I’ve got to spend another transatlantic flight on that jet with your boyfriend. That’s nearly nineteen hours in the air, and he’s already figured out most of my card tricks. With no files to distract him this time around, either.”

“He can entertain himself, you know. He’s a grown man. Take him past a bookstore on the way out; he’ll probably start learning Bantu Swahili.” Arthur sounds both amused and fond. Probably, Eames reflects, because he’s not going to be the one on the airplane.

“Nineteen hours is a long time to do nothing but read. On top of which, this little adventure put us in a hotel room with Ariadne for the evening, and she had quite a few stories to tell. I imagine he’s going to have some questions for me tomorrow about our lifestyle and history.”

There’s a pause, silence alleviated by the sound of muted traffic. Eames imagines Arthur is probably outside pretending to have a smoke, or something else very chic and solitary that Reid’s teammates will disapprove of. “You’re sworn to secrecy,” Arthur says finally.

Eames raises an eyebrow. “You don’t secretly slip him vodka tonics when you’ve had a long day.”

Arthur snorts. “No.” There’s another pause, and Eames is just about to give in and wheedle when Arthur says, “Puzzles.”

“Puzzles,” Eames echoes. “What, like crosswords? Sudoku?”

There’s wry amusement in Arthur’s voice when he answers. “No. Nothing like that. No spatial awareness puzzles, no word challenges, nothing with numbers. He has a PhD in mathematics and an eidetic memory, anything you could get hold of will be child’s play to him.”

“Chemistry proofs, then? Should I get Yusuf to come up with a few problem sets?”

“No. Keep it simple. The dumber, the better. Understand, you’re one of the smartest people I know – forget that I said that, by the way – and next to him, you look like an idiot. We all do. Intellectually, you can’t beat him.”

Eames catches the distinction immediately. “Intellectually.”

“He can solve Smullyan’s knights, knaves, and normals problems without breaking a sweat, but he can’t figure out how to use chopsticks,” Arthur tells him. “Think outside the box.”

“You sound as though you speak from experience,” Eames says.

“He was shot a few years ago and grounded from air travel. Thirty-eight hours to St. Maries, Idaho.”

“What did you do?”

“Do you remember those Chinese finger traps we used to play with as kids?”

Eames blinks. “Surely it can’t have been that easy.”

“Like I said,” Arthur says, with the hint of a smirk in his voice. “Keep it simple.”

 

-

 

Eames is dressed in the pilot’s uniform when they disembark in Virginia, complete with aviator shades. That and the hat should serve as cover enough if anyone bothers to hack in and check the security tapes.

Yusuf is still in Mombasa attending to his dream den, and Ariadne has scheduled a visit home to Alberta. She’ll be close enough to reach if they need her, but out of FBI jurisdiction if this goes more poorly than they all hope. There’s a plane ticket in Eames’ name booked in business class to Hanoi. To anyone in the business who checks up on them, it will look like the standard team split-and-scatter that follows any job.

“How soon will the story reach the unsub?” Hotchner asks as soon as they’re in the conference room. Arthur is leaning against the wall near the whiteboard, watching and waiting with half-hooded eyes. The rest of the BAU team members are still down on the floor, assuring themselves that Eames hasn’t damaged Reid in any way and jockeying for souvenirs.

“We’ll know when it breaks,” Eames says, shrugging. “News like this doesn’t travel quietly. And there are those who already have a vested interest in this investigation.”

“Give me names, and I’ll have Garcia put surveillance on them. If we can track the rumors, we might have a chance of finding the unsub.”

Arthur straightens slightly, but doesn’t interject. Eames lets his swiveling chair turn slightly to the left, keeping Arthur in his periphery while leaving most of his attention on Agent Hotchner. “That won’t be necessary. Arthur and I are more than capable.”

“With all due respect,” Hotchner says, “that’s not your call to make.”

“With all due respect,” Eames returns in the same tone, “you have a leak.”

If that’s news to Hotchner, he doesn’t let it show. There’s not even a flinch, just a pause before he answers, “If that’s true, it will be dealt with. I can assure you that everyone on my team is trustworthy. I would stake my life on their reputations and their actions.”

“As reassuring as that may be, it isn’t just your life at risk. I have my own team involved in this case, and I won’t put them in danger because you have an intelligence problem.”

“No details about this case have been released to an outside source,” Hotchner says. “If they were…”

“Hotch,” a woman’s voice interrupts from behind them. Eames lets his chair drift again, until he has both Hotchner and the newly-arrived Agent Jareau in his field of vision. He trusts Arthur to have his back.

“What is it, JJ?” Hotchner’s tone is still perfectly even, betraying nothing of their suspended dispute.

Jareau’s expression shows that she knows already, regardless. “That’s not strictly true,” she says, reticence in her tone but not in her words. “We’re not the only ones working this investigation. The local police still consider these crimes to be active cases.”

“And cops talk,” Arthur says. “If you’re sharing information with multiple departments, it might as well be public. Anyone could have access to it.”

“This is a federal investigation now, it’s crossed state lines,” Hotchner says, addressing Jareau.

“Yes sir, but local and state police at each crime scene are still copied on case files.”

“There’s your leak,” Eames says, swiveling enough to raise an eyebrow at Arthur.

“Have we stated that all information pertaining to this case is to be kept confidential?” Hotchner asks.

“No sir,” Jareau answers. “There was no reason to. The unsub didn’t profile as narcissistic and wasn’t seeking media attention, we had no reason to give a gag order to the departments.”

“Do it now,” Hotchner orders. “And don’t tell them about Reid.”

“Yes sir,” Jareau replies, withdrawing to return to her own office. She doesn’t have as good a poker face as Hotchner; there’s unhappiness etched into the lines of her face. Eames would be willing to bet she’s kicking herself for this.

“The distribution of information will be taken care of,” Hotchner says, turning back to Eames. “I’d like you to reconsider giving us that list of names.”

“How many other oversights have slipped below the radar on this one?” Eames asks. “You’ll forgive me if I’d rather not take the chance.”

“You could have mentioned that you suspected a leak when you first came to us,” Hotchner counters evenly. “This could have been taken care of days ago, before anything else was shared with local authorities.”

“It was being handled,” Arthur says before Eames can respond.

“Meaning you talked to Reid,” Hotchner infers. He pauses before saying, “I don’t need to remind you that the lines of communication on a case like this one…”

“What Spencer tells me about an open BAU case is your problem to deal with,” Arthur says, cutting him off. “What I tell Spencer is none of your business.”

There’s a moment of silent tension, Arthur and Hotchner staring each other down. Hotchner is the one to break it, but it’s maneuvering to avoid a stalemate rather than capitulation. “Let’s just concentrate on seeing that we catch the unsub before he finds another victim.”

 

-

 

“We have a network of alerts in place, but there’s always a chance that the unsub might slip through. We don’t know how he’s traveling or where he’ll be coming from.”

Hotchner has the full attention of everyone at the briefing, positioned at the head of the table and not-so-subtly redirecting control from Arthur, who has taken a seat at the opposite end of the table. After instinctively heading toward Arthur when he first entered the room, Reid had paused and taken a seat in the middle of the table. The lines, Eames thinks, are being drawn.

“Our hope is that the unsub will take the bait and go for Reid even if he’s already found another target,” Morgan says, taking the conversational reins from Hotchner without so much as a hiccup. “This kind of unsub is mission-based; he won’t be able to continue once a more desirable victim has been presented.”

“Dr. Black has compiled a list for us of the most likely scenarios the unsub will use in order to gain access to his potential victims,” Prentiss continues smoothly. It’s a neat trick, Eames has to give them credit for that; the constant shifting means that not only does the team present itself as a single entity, but the attention of those listening is constantly changing along with each new speaker, freeing up the others to observe and take notes.

“I’ve arranged the list in order of most to least likely based on Reid’s daily schedule,” Garcia pipes up helpfully. “The times he’d be considered most vulnerable are when he’s at home or at an appointment, or commuting.”

Eames raises his eyebrows at the title of the list Jareau puts up on the projector screen. “WWJBD?”

“What Would James Bond Do,” Garcia says, her eyes just a little wide, speech quick and edging toward breathless. “It seemed appropriate.”

Eames fights a smile and loses. Arthur catches his eye and shakes his head. Eames just slouches back in his chair and lets his shirt stretch across his chest a little tighter, one arm curled up to show off his bicep. Intriguingly, not only does this net him Garcia’s rapt attention, he gets a sideways look from Reid as well.

Arthur looks as though if Hotchner wasn’t in the room persisting in having the FBI version of a pissing contest, he’d be throwing a pen at Eames right now.

“We’ve set Reid up as the next likely candidate for the unsub to target,” Jareau resumes, clearing her throat. “With any luck, he’ll trip one of the alerts and we’ll detain him at the airport upon arrival.”

“In case he doesn’t, however, we will have other measures in place. One of us will be with Reid at all times.” Hotchner’s gaze drifts around the table to each of his team members. Notably, he doesn’t seem to be including Arthur or Eames in that plan. “This unsub needs to get his victims alone, isolated. If we don’t let him separate Reid from the pack, he won’t be able to attack.”

“How will we draw him out if we never give him a clear shot?” Reid asks, brow furrowed.

“The plan is to make him think that your home is where you’re most vulnerable,” Rossi answers. “An apartment is secluded, private. We want him to take the bait on our terms, on our turf. By eliminating all other options, we’ll direct him toward the one we have the most control over.”

“Agents will be staying in your apartment around the clock,” Hotchner tells Reid. “We’ll have three teams of two agents each, rotating in every eight hours.”

“No.”

Reid has his mouth open to respond; he closes it and twists around at the sound of Arthur’s voice.

Hotchner, by his posture, has been expecting this confrontation. “Arthur, while I appreciate that you may not prefer the invasion of your privacy, this situation calls for more security than you can provide alone.”

“If you want to make our apartment the most likely location for an attack, having FBI agents traipsing in and out at regular intervals isn’t going to do it,” Arthur says. “And it adds six additional people to the list of people who know about the plan.”

“I hope you’re not suggesting a federal agent would betray his assignment,” Hotchner says evenly.

“There’s a lot of money in this business, mate,” Eames says, interrupting casually to break the tension. “You’d be surprised at what goes for a standard bribe, and there’s always leverage. You can’t tell me there’s no possibility an agent wouldn’t look the other way if he thought his family was in danger.”

Hotchner slowly tears his attention away from Arthur to look at Eames. “What are you suggesting as an alternative?”

“Arthur and I can handle the flat. You and your agents do the rest.”

Arthur looks like he wants to contest even that arrangement, but he can’t, really. Arthur needs to stay out of sight where Reid’s concerned if they don’t want knowledge of their relationship to go public, which in Arthur and Eames’ line of work would be a prelude to suicide for one or both of them. Eames shouldn’t be seen in the area now either, which means either they leave the city or lie low. Given those options, Arthur will go with the choice that gives him the most control.

“Fine.” Hotchner’s tone says clearly it’s the only concession he’s willing to make. “The rest of us will work in shifts, running surveillance and following leads until this guy either shows his face or gets caught.”

Briefing over, the team filters out, side discussions already cropping up about contingency plans and schedules. Hotchner doesn’t move from the table, so Eames doesn’t either, even when Arthur gives him a brief, searching look before following Prentiss out the door.

Hotchner waits until it’s quiet before addressing Eames.

“I need to know that every member of this team is protected. Do you think Arthur can be trusted to keep Reid safe without federal backup?”

“I think that if you have to ask me that question,” Eames replies, “you don’t have any idea what Arthur really does for a living.”

 

-

 

“You can have my bedroom,” Arthur says, pushing the door open for Eames as if he doesn’t know Eames has already searched this flat in order to plant surveillance. “Bathroom’s down the hall, linen closet inside the door.”

“Do you ever actually use this room?” Eames asks, unashamedly poking through the drawers to see whether anything garners a reaction. If he’s going to be here for a while, he may as well snoop, and it’s easier with Arthur’s assistance – complicit or not – than without.

“Not to sleep in,” Arthur answers. “Help yourself to anything in the kitchen if you get hungry.”

“I’ve seen what you consider palatable foodstuffs,” Eames replies. “I should probably make a grocery list for one of your FBI pals lest we all starve to death before our mysterious friend shows up.”

“Just don’t expect either of us to cook it,” Arthur says, and disappears back across the hall, leaving Eames to settle in.

He has the luxury of time now to search the room, and indulges his curiosity, checking the drawer in the bedside table and the trunk at the foot of the bed. Everything is incredibly tidy, which makes sense considering Arthur’s history – he had to have been through at least basic military training at some point – and colorful, as filled with texture and detail as the designs in Arthur’s dreams. Even the wallpaper has thin, delicate ridges raised along the edges of the pattern.

There are a few things, however, which don’t fit. There’s a book on cryptography and another on combinatory logic in the drawer beside the bed, neither of which Eames can make heads nor tails of at first glance. There’s a nightlight plugged in behind the bedside table and another right by the door, and Eames knows Arthur only sleeps in the dark so that his eyes will adjust faster if he needs to run or fight.

And there’s a hair, too long and too light to be Arthur’s, trapped between one of the pillows and the fitted sheet. So. Reid sleeps in here, at least some of the time, or at the very least spends time here. The time he spends in this room is most likely not with Arthur, judging by the lack of condoms and lubricant in all of the obvious places. Since Arthur had no reason to lie, Eames assumes he doesn’t know, which means Reid probably only sleeps in here while Arthur is away.

A knock on the door heralds Reid’s return from the Bureau, accompanied, Eames sees as he steps into the hall, by Agent Morgan. Eames would have a word with Arthur about how his body language and physical position in the space are signaling that he considers Morgan a rival and possible threat, but he suspects both of them already know that tidbit and there’s no point in hiding it.

“I’d like to take a look around before I leave, just to be sure,” Morgan is saying when Eames joins them, his stance just as assertive as Arthur’s, with another stone or more of muscle behind it. “There’s no harm in being careful.”

For a moment Eames thinks Arthur is going to refuse, possibly leading to either a brawl or pistols at dawn, but he’s quickly reminded that Reid also reads body language and behavior for a living, and has likely been juggling this particular volatile combination for some time now.

“I’d actually like both of you to look at something, if you have time. We determined that the most likely point of entry after the front door would be the bathroom window, but I think…”

Reid continues talking all the way down the hall, light chatter that forces both men to pay attention to him without leaving room for either to conclude he’s taking a side. Eames leaves them to it, not particularly fussed about whatever imagined risk Reid has invented to keep Arthur and Morgan from each other’s throats.

Eventually they reemerge, and Morgan lingers by the front door, gaze searching Reid’s. “You know, I could stay here tonight,” he says. “I can crash on the couch, it wouldn’t be a problem.”

“I think we’ll be fine here,” Reid says before Arthur can answer, almost-smiling reassurance.

“If you’re sure,” Morgan says. He glances at Eames in a way that’s both evaluating and warning.

“I am,” Reid says. “Thank you.”

With Morgan safely out the door for the night, Eames purses his lips and looks to Reid. “If I could come up with a reason why, I’d say he doesn’t like me.”

“You’re connected to me,” Arthur says, sliding the deadbolt securely home.

“Most con men profile as psychopaths, he probably just doesn’t trust you.” Reid is as matter-of-fact in this as in anything, quick to share knowledge regardless of the implications.

Arthur, at least, recognizes the social faux-pas as such, but he just shakes his head. “Eames isn’t a psychopath.”

“I wasn’t suggesting that he was, merely that there’s a behavioral pattern prevalent in…” Reid appears to belatedly recognize that neither of them are interested in pursuing the conversational lead and cuts himself off. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry.” Arthur flickers a smile, brief but genuine, and inclines his head toward the bedrooms. “You have any work to get done tonight?”

“No, I think…” It’s almost comical, the way Reid abruptly realizes that having Eames in their space means a disruption in what is presumably their traditional routine. Eames can sympathize; he’d be looking forward to sex after a week apart as well. “I, ah.” Reid recovers more or less smoothly, although his subtlety leaves something to be desired. “I think maybe a shower first. The plane ride was pretty…long.”

Arthur nods and Reid disappears down the hallway, collecting towels and doing an altogether terrible job at feigning nonchalance.

Arthur looks sideways at Eames’ not very well-hidden grin and shakes his head slowly. “Don’t.”

“I wasn’t going to say a word,” Eames lies. “I suppose you’re going to shower as well? Conserve water and all that? Preserve the environment?”

“If you didn’t want to hear us, you shouldn’t have bugged our apartment,” Arthur returns, which is fair enough, Eames supposes.

Levity is all well and good, but they do have business to take care of before they part ways, so Eames sobers. Glancing once down the hall, he determines that Reid is out of earshot before speaking. “I can take first watch tonight if you like.”

Arthur shakes his head. “You two must be jetlagged all to hell. Get some sleep, I’ll stay up tonight.”

Eames agrees because it’s both logical and accurate. He’s only now beginning to feel the sticky-dry throb of too long spent awake without a respite, but he knows as soon as he lies down and closes his eyes he’ll be out cold. He wonders if Reid will be asleep before Arthur even makes it into that shower.

“Wake me if you need anything,” Eames says.

“Sleep well,” Arthur tells him, and eight minutes later Eames is dead to the world.

 

-

 

Eames’ mobile vibrates just after one in the morning, waking him from a sound, dreamless sleep. He’d let it go, but there are only a handful of people in the world who have this number, and none of them are particularly keen on leaving messages.

“Tell me you didn’t.”

Silvashko, he registers. “You’ll have to be a bit more specific.”

“Are you in Mombasa?”

Ah, he thinks. The rumor mill has been doing its job, then. “Not anymore.”

She curses. “You pulled a job on an American federal agent? Do you have any idea how much heat this could bring?”

“No more than we were already under,” he answers, rolling over and scrubbing at his eyes, starting to wake up. The air outside the sheets is cold against his skin; Arthur keeps the flat cooler at night.

“I hope you’re right about that,” she says. “You know there are undercover spies in our circles. If one of them gets wind of this, you’re fucked.”

It’s an ironic warning, considering, but Eames can’t dwell on that. It’s time for the second part of the plan. “He went to Mombasa to investigate a chemist. Tell me that’s not getting too close to home.”

She’s silent for a moment. “You could have just killed him.”

“And brought the entirety of the FBI down on our heads?”

“So now you know what they know?”

“Better than that.” He smiles, knowing she’ll hear it in his voice. “Let’s just say that what they did know, they’ve decided they don’t know anymore.”

He hears her sharp intake of breath. “Jesus, Eames.”

“Tell the others,” he says. “Steer clear and keep your noses clean, and the FBI won’t so much as glance in our direction.”

“You think the idea you planted can accomplish that?”

“Certain of it.” He lets accomplishment seep into his voice, the knowledge of a job well done. Even freshly-woken from a dead sleep, some things are automatic.

“I’ll tell them. You’re taking one hell of a risk here.”

“I have it under control,” he assures her.

“I hope you’re right.” The line goes dead; Silvashko, like Arthur, is never one to hang around making small talk when there’s work to be done.

Eames sits up, letting the cool air awaken his senses completely, and then rolls out of bed. His discarded pants are on the floor by the bed; he slides them on for modesty’s sake and goes across the hall.

He taps twice on the door, lightly, before cracking it open. Reid is sound asleep on the bed, curled up in the foetal position with one gangly arm hanging off the side. Arthur is stretched out behind him on his side, eyes glittering in the light from the small lamp by the bed. There’s a Glock resting casually on the pillow beneath his hand, pointed toward the door. If Eames hadn’t known before about Reid, the way Arthur’s body curves toward him like a strung bow would be telling enough.

He holds up his phone and waggles it slightly, free hand signaling. Contact made. Message communicated. All clear.

Arthur nods, sliding out of bed quietly without disturbing Reid. Eames goes to the kitchen, where Arthur joins him a moment later, flicking on the stove light for illumination.

“Silvashko,” Eames tells him. “Word is getting around that an agent of the American government was recently on holiday in Kenya.”

“You told her?” Arthur is already coiled, ready to spring. The soft cotton pants and t-shirt he’s wearing as pajamas could double as sparring clothes, which Eames doesn’t think is an accident. They might be officially on alert now, but Arthur has been ready since the minute their plane touched down in America.

“She’ll pass the word along. This won’t stay quiet for long.”

“I’ll tell Garcia. Silvashko will tell your old team first, and from there it will cross over to the other inception teams.”

“And from there to everyone else,” Eames agrees. “I can chart out the names for you, if you like.”

“I know all of your teams,” Arthur says, smiling slightly. “I can do it. Go back to bed.”

“I’m awake now,” Eames points out.

“You’ve only been asleep since ten. Get at least three more hours or you’ll be useless tomorrow when I actually need you.”

“You should have been a doctor,” Eames tells him. “You have such a charming way with people.”

“So I’ve been told,” Arthur replies, the smile in earnest now. Combined with the tousled, product-free hair falling in waves around his face and the soft cotton tee, he looks all of twenty. Eames hopes Reid’s team never sees him like this, or Arthur will never get anywhere with them again.

He has his hand on the doorknob to the bedroom when he hears whimpering from across the hall. His hand twitches automatically to his side for a gun he’s not wearing, but before he can retrieve it from the night stand in the next room, Arthur appears at his side and lightly touches his arm.

“I’ve got it,” he says quietly, with no trace of tension or panic in his voice.

Eames relaxes, glancing toward the cracked bedroom door. “Nightmare?”

“Probably.” Arthur doesn’t elaborate, and he doesn’t need to. Eames has enough monsters in his head to remember what nightmares used to be like, back before the sedatives washed them out of his mind. He can only imagine what Reid sees every time he closes his eyes.

Arthur slips into the bedroom, crouching down beside the bed, and Eames turns back to his own room. Arthur’s right; he should sleep while he can. There won’t be time for it soon enough.

 

-

 

Agent Jareau shows up in the morning to escort Reid to Quantico, which Eames can only assume is the FBI’s tactful way of recognizing that where Arthur is concerned, Morgan can’t avoid pissing contests, Prentiss can’t stop herself from making observations and inquiries, and Arthur and Hotchner both need to have their own territorial lines clearly drawn. Besides Rossi, who Eames suspects doesn’t really give a damn what anyone thinks, Jareau is the most neutral choice.

“Hey, JJ,” Reid says, ducking back into the hallway. “Let me grab my bag.”

“Good morning,” Arthur greets her, opening the door the rest of the way to usher Jareau inside. “Thanks for coming by.”

“Of course,” she says, and while it’s politely covert, Eames still catches her glancing around once she’s inside. Interesting. However close Reid’s team may be on the job, it appears that spending time at each other’s homes is uncommon.

“I’d offer you some coffee, but Spencer already drank the first pot,” Arthur says, gesturing to the empty carafe on the kitchen counter.

“He does that to us, too,” Jareau replies, smiling. “I think his blood must have been replaced by caffeine by this point.”

“That would make me an effective deterrent against cannibals,” Reid says, returning to join them with a messenger bag slung over one shoulder. “Did you know that caffeine acts as a natural pesticide, killing many insects that try to consume it? Its psychoactive properties cause it to act as a paralytic, shutting down the central nervous system and blocking messages from the brain.”

“If I ever turn to cannibalism, I’ll remember to eat Hotch instead,” Jareau promises.

“Actually, you’d be better off with Morgan. Age and fat content in lean muscle are both used to determine the quality of meat for human consumption by a system of measurement known as marbling. Morgan would be considered more in his prime based on body mass index and chronological age.”

“Does it ever bother you that he’s clearly thought about these things?” Eames inquires.

“Not while you’re here,” Arthur answers, deadpan. “You have better marbling statistics.”

Reid looks like he doesn’t entirely get the joke, or even realize that there’s a joke being had. Jareau smiles with fond familiarity and gestures to the front door. “Ready to go, Spence?”

Once the door shuts behind them, Eames turns an amused look on Arthur. “You let him leave the house in polka dots?”

“You’re wearing a mustard yellow shirt with a Barrymore collar,” Arthur counters. “Your latitude for passing judgment is limited.”

“Don’t pretend to be such a sartorialist, I know all about your passionate and terrible love of paisley,” Eames replies. “Ah, actually, your relationship makes more sense now. How many ties does he own in vegetable motif?”

“Fuck off,” Arthur says pleasantly.

Eames wants to attack the man-bag Reid carries with him so desperately that it almost hurts, but he’s seen both Ariadne and Arthur toting around the bloody things, and even he has to admit – although privately, and never out loud – that they do seem to come in handy. Arthur never gets caught out in the rain hunched over an enormous stack of file folders until his arms ache.

In any case, Arthur has moved on to business. “Garcia is sending us the travel alerts as they come in,” he says, angling his laptop so that Eames can see the steadily-growing list of new arrivals. “They’re not detaining anyone for fear of scaring off the guy we’re after, but if we suspect anyone, we can give them the go-ahead to contact airport security.”

“This federal agent business does have its perks,” Eames notes, coming over to look down the list. None of the names jump out at him, so he turns his attention to the smaller list of names running down the side of the screen. “What’s this?”

“Passenger manifests for everyone leaving Atlanta.”

Eames gives Arthur a brief disbelieving look. “They can’t believe whomever is responsible decided to simply hang around until a new target presented itself.”

“That’s why that list is off to the side,” Arthur answers. “The only reason it might come in handy is if we see a name we recognize or flag known aliases of the same person leaving Atlanta and arriving in D.C.”

“It’s all gloriously complicated, isn’t it?” Eames reaches for his coffee cup, realizes that it’s (still) empty, and aborts the movement. “So what are we going to do, besides sit around here all day watching names pop up on a screen?”

Arthur’s smile has teeth. “I have some ideas.”

 

-

 

A window pops up on Arthur’s laptop just before noon.

“Is that one of the FBI’s alerts?” Eames asks, leaning closer to look.

“Not exactly,” Arthur answers. “That’s Garcia trying to hack into my webcam.”

Eames raises his eyebrows. “Why go to all the trouble instead of just calling you?”

“Because she can,” Arthur replies, right before a familiar face appears on the screen.

Mon cher, tell me you’re not doing what I think you’re doing, because that’s something you’re not supposed to be doing.”

“That was quick,” Eames comments under his breath.

“I must not be doing it, then,” Arthur says, shrinking the size of the webcam image to continue working on the other side of the screen.

“You don’t have clearance to access the files you’re trying to download. And before you ask, I know it’s you because I’m a genius, and I also put an additional firewall around that information as soon as we narrowed down our suspect list.”

“It was a very nice firewall,” Arthur tells her.

Yes it was, thank you, and while I’m impressed that you got through it as cleanly as you did, I’m not exactly surprised because I know what you do for a living, and that’s how I know it’s you instead of a possible unsub. Which is why I am calling you, because you are not allowed access to that database and I can’t let you in there.”

“You’d have to be able to stop me,” Arthur replies, fingers flying over the keys.

“Even someone as good as you leaves breadcrumbs behind, and as good as you are, you and I both know that you’re nowhere as good as me. So I’m telling you now, stop trying to access the files or I’ll hack in and scramble your hard drive until there’s nothing bigger than a byte left intact.”

“No no no,” Eames interjects, as Arthur starts to trace the wrong directory.

“Stop backseat hacking,” Arthur grits out, but he switches directories within the same breath.

“Look, dimples, I know why you want that information, but there’s a reason it’s classified. If there was anything in there that would help, I would hand it over to you myself.”

“Your tracking alert list is comprised of all the names and aliases I gave you, and not a single one that I don’t know. I know you have more names; I’m not the only active out there.”

“Which is why I cannot allow you to access that information,” Garcia insists. She might look like someone easily taken advantage of, Eames thinks, but there’s no questioning her determination now. “I’m tracking the other names, I’ll let you know if anything comes up, but I can’t compromise another agent for you.”

“Then give me the names, Garcia,” Arthur says, not even glancing away from the stream of information on his screen. “We can do this the easy way. If our job here is to flag potential suspects, then I need full disclosure.”

“I appreciate that, but we both know what you can do with information, and if we give you the names we know, you and I both know you’ll be able to track down the agents who provided the information. I can’t be responsible for that. I know you’re a good guy, but if something happens and you get captured…”

“Then let’s hope that doesn’t happen,” Arthur says.

“I know you’re good, sugar, but I’m better.” Garcia’s hands are as much of a blur as Arthur’s, her fingernails clacking loudly on the keys. “You cannot hack me.”

“That’s why I’m not trying,” Arthur replies. “Eames,” he says, without looking away from the screen. Eames reaches out and takes hold of the USB drive connected to Arthur’s laptop, fingers braced carefully around the plastic cover.

“You’re going through Kevin’s system?” Garcia says. “Oh, you are not playing fair.”

“They’re using Spencer as bait, Garcia,” Arthur bites out. “Do you really want to fight about fair?”

“Touché, my prince, but I promise you we are doing everything we can to keep him safe. Now, I’m willing to forget this little incident ever happened, but you have to admit defeat. Get out of our network or I’ll turn your computer into Swiss cheese. The smelly, moldy, toxic kind.”

“Sorry,” Arthur says, “you’re going to have to stop me.”

“You know I can and I will,” Garcia warns. “You’re no match for me.”

“I know,” Arthur says. “That’s why I needed a head start.”

“I will find you.”

“You have ten seconds,” Arthur tells her as the download starts.

“Arthur, I’m begging you, leave those files…”

“Now,” Arthur snaps, and Eames yanks the USB drive free from the laptop a split second before Arthur’s screen goes black, a white skull and crossbones laughing at him from the center of the display. Arthur shuts the laptop, sets it on the floor, and smashes it into pieces with one of the solid wooden chairs set around the table.

“Was that really necessary?” Eames asks mildly, opening the smaller laptop on the table and booting up.

“No, but it would have been useless anyway, and this way it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Garcia’s thorough, but if she didn’t wipe everything, someone could theoretically reconstruct some of the information. What have we got?”

Eames plugs in the USB drive as soon as the computer is fully booted up, which takes a while. It’s ancient in terms of technology, a remnant of the turn of the century, with no internal modem. No one will be able to reach them through it unless they come into physical contact with the machine itself.

On cue, Arthur’s and Eames’ mobiles and the house phone all start ringing simultaneously.

“Oh, she is angry,” Eames comments, digging his phone out of his pocket and sliding it across the table.

“She’ll get over it,” Arthur says absently. “Is that…? Wait. Stop there.”

Eames obliges, and a moment later they’re both looking at full dossiers of every member of the Fischer team. There’s a familiar name and address printed beneath the slightly-dated photograph of Eames in Luxembourg. It’s not one that Eames ever uses while engaging in criminal activities.

“It seems,” Eames says slowly, “that not every government agent believes in code names.”

Arthur curses. “They’ve got Ariadne, too. And Cobb.”

“The good news is, they don’t know about you,” Eames points out. “Otherwise they wouldn’t have bothered digging this far.”

“I’ll take care of it,” Arthur says quietly. “Give me until this is over, and I’ll make it disappear.”

“I think perhaps,” Eames suggests carefully, “it would be better if I did this one.”

Arthur glances at him, evaluating. “I can get you into Quantico,” he offers.

“No need, love,” Eames replies, smiling. “I have a visitor’s pass.”

 

-

 

“Arthur, why did Hotch just warn me off of ‘untrustworthy elements’?” Reid asks when he calls in the afternoon. “And why did I get the feeling he was talking about you?” Arthur had glanced at the caller ID and set the phone on speaker, so Eames can hear Reid’s already high voice distorted into tinny treble by the mobile connection.

“Maybe he thinks I’m a bad influence,” Arthur suggests, tapping the keyboard lightly once as he sorts another file from their treasure trove into a subfolder.

“He already thought you were a bad influence,” Reid answers ingenuously. “In fact I’m pretty sure he’s thought that since we started dating.”

Arthur’s lips twitch upward, seemingly involuntarily. “Is there a reason you called?”

“Hotch said he was trying to get hold of you, but you weren’t picking up,” Reid replies. “He asked if I could check in and make sure everything was okay at the apartment.”

Arthur sits back, abandoning the open dossier on the screen. “Let me guess,” he says. “He’s moving to intercept right now.”

“What?” There’s a pause, presumably during which Reid looks around to discover that Hotchner is in fact on the move, because the next thing they hear is, “Hang on, I think…” and a muffled conversation involving a man’s low voice. “Arthur, hang on one minute,” Reid says finally, and a moment later there’s another voice on the line.

“Arthur.”

“Agent Hotchner,” Arthur says, tipping his chair back and catching the edge of the table to keep himself upright, bouncing there on two chair legs. “What a surprise.”

“Garcia already told me what happened, and while I’d thought better of you, that’s not why I’m calling.” Hotchner’s voice is brisk, all business. “Reid has been requested for a consult downtown. I’m letting you know as a courtesy. Precautionary security measures have already been taken. He’ll never be out of sight, and it should be over within a few hours, but he’ll be returning later than originally expected.”

“No,” Arthur says, flat. “Have someone else do it.”

“No one else has the qualifications for or the familiarity with this particular case. It’s a local consult, taking place inside the police station. I assure you, every care will be taken for his safety.”

“Where?” Arthur asks, dropping back to the floor with a thump and starting to reach for the computer before seeming to remember that it has no internet connection. “I can meet you there.”

“I don’t think that’s wise. If he’s already being watched, you coming into the open might scare him away from the apartment and cause him to behave unpredictably. Our best chance is still luring him to you.”

Arthur doesn’t argue. He won’t, Eames knows. Agent Hotchner has just called check and mate.

“He’ll be traveling on the Metro to eliminate the possibility of a carjacking. JJ will be with him, they’ll keep to public places, in high-traffic areas.”

Arthur looks like he’d rather bite his own tongue in half than say it, but he forces out, “I want Morgan with him.”

“Morgan’s going ahead with Prentiss to scout out the station, they’ll rendezvous with him there. I promise you, every precaution has been taken. We don’t take this lightly any more than you do.”

Arthur closes his eyes briefly. “Call me when he’s on the way back,” he orders, and hangs up the phone. They sit in silence for a moment, and then Arthur finally says, “Fucking fuck.”

“I can go,” Eames offers neutrally.

“No. They’re right. Fuck.” Arthur tilts his chair back, only to slam it back down into the ground a moment later. “I hate not being out there.”

“That’s why you’re a point,” Eames says. “Lucky for us you’re not entirely useless here. Let’s finish these files so we might actually know who the hell we’re looking for, shall we?”

“Goddamn it,” Arthur says, but he pulls up the next file.

 

-

 

They’re nearly finished playing connect-the-dots the next time Arthur’s mobile rings. Eames knows more than a handful of the people listed in the FBI’s dreamshare database, and between the two of them he and Arthur have been able to track down mutual acquaintances from other teams. Slowly but steadily, they’re closing in.

“I realize it’s not up to me, but this profiling business seems a bit ridiculous,” Eames says as Arthur checks the caller ID on his mobile. “They’re automatically ruling out something like thirty-four percent of the working community because they’ve decided our man is probably Caucasian?”

“However they do it, it generally works,” Arthur says. He flips the phone open and clicks speaker.

“Arthur.” Hotchner’s voice filters through before Arthur even offers a greeting. “We’ve lost track of Reid. Morgan and Prentiss are on their way to the scene, and Dave is on his way to you. This unsub requires privacy; if he does have Reid, there’s a good chance he’ll be returning to your location.”

Arthur is already out of his chair, kicking it clear and grabbing his jacket from the back as it falls, swinging it over his shoulders to hide the gun holster at his side. Eames takes this as a sign that they are not likely to be sitting tight.

“Where was he taken?”

“At the Metro station, on one of the trains. We don’t know for sure that he’s been taken, only that he and JJ were separated.”

“Which station?” Arthur checks his Glock before grabbing his keys, circling back to pause by the table where his phone sits.

“Arthur, I know it’s hard, but the best thing you can do for him is to stay where you…”

Arthur hangs up and punches in another number.

“There’s very little chance he’ll pick up,” Eames warns, although Arthur surely has to know that. The FBI must have already tried.

“I’m not calling Spencer,” Arthur answers shortly.

The phone takes seven rings to connect, all of which Arthur spends with his jaw clenched and one eye on the door until the telltale click that means someone’s picked up.

“Where are they going, Garcia?” Arthur demands, without waiting for a greeting.

Whatever ill-will Garcia had been harboring for them, it seems to have vanished along with Reid. Her voice is high and anxious when she speaks. “Oh God, I just heard, I’m so…”

Where, Garcia?”

“They lost him at Rosslyn Metro station, it’s on the blue and orange lines. JJ said there was an announcement on their train that the train was out of service, and when they exited into the station, there was an altercation between a purse-snatcher and an elderly woman. JJ stepped in, the perp got away, when she turned around the train and Reid were gone.” She says it all in one breath, a rapid-fire stream of information. When she pauses, her tone changes instantly. “Do you think…?”

“If he’s on the train, where would it go?” Eames asks, leaning forward.

“James Bond, great minds do think alike, because I’ve got a list of areas regularly used for maintenance. The most likely place is at the end of the line, trains only run roughly every thirty minutes so there would be time before…”

“Which station, Garcia?” Arthur demands.

“New Carrolton, on the orange line.”

Arthur snaps the phone shut and it disappears into his jacket. “I take it we’re not lying in wait,” Eames inquires.

“If he’s being brought here, police and FBI will be in place before the PASIV is set up, and they’ll be able to handle it. If he’s still on the train, there’s a good chance he’ll already be under by the time anyone arrives.”

Meaning, Eames infers, that no one with knowledge of sedatives and PASIV devices will be on site to offer aid. If it’s not too late already.

“Shall we, then?” he asks. Arthur throws him an unreadable look – Eames suspects Arthur hadn’t been planning on asking him to come along, much less having him volunteer – but nods shortly.

Eames takes his gun from the guest bedroom and slides it into the holster under his jacket on their way out the door. Just in case. He doesn’t know what condition Reid is in, whether their man is still on the scene, or how the FBI is handling things, but it seems wise to be prepared.

There are a number of reasons Arthur might end up needing backup.

 

-

 

Arthur tries to reach Reid twice on the way to the station, each call going through to voicemail. Eames takes over after that because Arthur’s also driving, not precisely within the strictest legal limits, and they’re likely to end up plowing into a lorry unless he has both hands on the wheel.

Hi, you’ve reached Dr. Spencer Reid of the FBI, please leave a message.

Beep.

“There, over there,” Eames says, pointing to the traffic jam of patrol cars and black SUVs parked in front of the station.

The truly useful thing about human behavior is that by and large, if one looks as if one belongs, one can go unquestioned nearly anywhere. Arthur barrels through the blockade of police cars and uniformed officers without the slightest hesitation, and between the suit and the look on his face, the officers wisely determine that he’s allowed to pass. Eames follows behind him, keeping his mouth shut and smoothing his expression into something becoming of an FBI agent hot on a case, which is surely who they’re assumed to be.

There’s a train parked beyond the station platform, further down the rails. Prentiss is standing outside one of the cars, and the doors are open. “No sign of the unsub,” she tells them, and if she knows they aren’t meant to be here, she doesn’t bat an eye. “We think he ditched the train and left either via bus or a stolen vehicle, they’re checking the surveillance cameras now.” Her face changes, pulling down at the corners of her eyes and mouth. “Arthur…”

Eames doesn’t need to hear the end of that sentence to know what’s inside the train car. Apparently Arthur doesn’t, either.

They move past Prentiss into the train car, which is empty save for two people.

Morgan doesn’t look up when they enter. “We were so close,” he says. “Police were in the station less than two minutes after the train pulled in. We were right behind this guy, and he had to have known it. He’d never have left this behind otherwise.”

‘This’ is a PASIV, sprawled open on the floor of the car with tubing and swabs trailing out of the case, discarded sanitary wrappers and vials littering the area around it. It speaks of haste, sloppiness, desperation. It doesn’t really matter, though, because the primary goal has been accomplished.

Reid’s face looks younger in sleep, the dark circles under his eyes even more prominent. He hadn’t gone down without a fight, judging by the blood in his hair and the unholstered handgun lying a few feet away. One of his arms is flung carelessly over his chest; the other lies palm upward, fingers curled loosely above the line trailing from his wrist.

Arthur starts stripping off his jacket.

“What are you doing?” Morgan asks, although if he doesn’t know, he’s an idiot.

“You know the odds,” Eames says quietly to Arthur. Cobb’s little adventure with Saito and Ariadne had been a miracle, and nothing like it has ever happened since. Some part of the credit for it happening at all is probably owed to Mal, who made the same journey and never really returned.

“He might not be in Limbo,” Arthur says, unbuttoning one cuff and rolling up his sleeve. “There’s a chance I can bring him back.”

“Not a very good one,” Eames points out.

“You know why Yusuf tests his compounds on multiple dreamers. All of us have different reactions; our brains don’t respond to sedation in the same way.” Arthur jerks his chin at Reid’s sleeping face, kneeling by the PASIV to prep a new line. “Tell me Yusuf wouldn’t have run a hundred different experiments first, if Spencer were on one of his teams.”

It’s a fair argument; they don’t know how Reid would respond to the usual sedative compounds, and his mind does process information more quickly. The counterarguments, of course, are that genius doesn’t necessitate a drastic aberration in brain chemistry, and that this isn’t a traditional compound.

“At least let us run this to the lab first.” Prentiss is with them now, standing near the doorway with a look of hope on her face. She needs to believe Arthur can bring back her teammate, Eames thinks. She’ll help him, or at least she won’t stand in his way. Not as long as she thinks there’s a chance. “There could be anything in that IV, it’s not safe.”

“Do you know how long a second is in Limbo?” Arthur asks, looking up at her.

Morgan pulls his jacket off. “Then I’m doing this with you. Show me what to do.”

“No.” Arthur doesn’t look up from his preparations this time, stripping the plastic wrapper off a fresh needle.

Morgan’s voice increases in both volume and intensity. “If you think for one minute that I don’t care about him as much as you do…”

“You’ve never been under, you have no idea what it’s like,” Arthur cuts him off, not unkindly. “His own mind is holding him prisoner. This is a hostage situation, and you’re not armed.”

Morgan stares him down, but Eames has seen Arthur face down worse men. “What do you need us to do?” he asks finally.

“Don’t disrupt the lines or remove any of the sedative vials,” Eames answers, coming to a decision and reaching for a third cannula. “Don’t touch the timer. Don’t attempt to move any of us if you can help it.”

Arthur’s staring at him. “Eames.”

Eames preps his line with quick, practiced efficiency. “You can hardly call me unarmed,” he points out.

Arthur doesn’t move. “You don’t have to do this.”

“An inexperienced dreamer under the influence of an untested sedative, trapped in a dream without a construct; anything could be down there,” Eames tells him. “Call it professional curiosity. When am I likely to get this opportunity again?”

Arthur holds his eyes. Eames doesn’t flinch.

“I’d never have called you self-sacrificing,” Arthur says eventually. “Quite the opposite, in fact. I want the real reason.”

“How many cameras will have actually caught our man’s face?” Eames asks. “How many people are there, at this moment, able to identify the person responsible for steadily destroying both my reputation and my livelihood?”

Arthur looks down, almost involuntarily, at Reid’s face. “I can bring him back,” he says.

“You have the best chance,” Eames agrees. “I’m tipping the odds.”

Arthur is correct; ordinarily, Eames wouldn’t risk this for a million pounds of untraceable gold bullion. Without Reid, however, they’re back where they started and possibly even further behind, and Arthur could be as much of a liability as an asset. Eames has known too many grieving loved ones who would do anything to join the source of their bereavement. It’s easy to lose yourself in Limbo.

“All right,” Arthur says finally, easing himself down onto the floor of the train car. “Morgan, when I tell you to, push down on the depressor in the center of the device. After that, all you have to do is wait for us to wake up.”

“How long do we wait?” Morgan asks. He glances back at Reid, eyes lingering on his face. Reid’s eyelids are twitching rapidly; he’s dreaming.

Arthur looks over at Eames to make sure he’s ready before nodding to Morgan. “As long as it takes.”

 

-

 

Eames is in a desert. It’s a perfectly normal desert, filled with sand and rocks and plants. The sun is shining.

He doesn’t know where he is.

He’s dreaming.

It never takes long for Eames to trace the origin of a dream, or to remember where he is and why he’s there. Who he’s supposed to be. It takes even less time to confirm, flexing his fingers into a manicured set of glossy red nails or a withered hand spidered with creases. It’s one of the things that makes him so good at what he does in dreams; he can be in place playing a role before the mark has time to do more than blink.

Limbo. It’s different than he’d thought, different than Ariadne had described. More structured, more cohesive. He wonders if that’s a testament to the amount of time Reid has spent here, or to his state of mind. He’s saner than Cobb was, during the Fischer job. Perhaps that makes a difference.

Eames looks up over the empty expanse of sand and sees, instantly, the proof that he’s dreaming. More proof than he could have imagined.

The skyline is changing, fluctuating constantly. Buildings rise, fall, rise again higher than before. It looks like an architect sketching out ideas and then erasing the parts that don’t work, filling in the blank spots with new attempts. It’s happening all around him; when Eames turns in a slow circle, the horizon shifts along every inch of skyline.

A cactus erupts out of the ground ten feet away and shoots toward the sky, unnaturally fast. Eames stumbles back and catches himself against a tree that he doesn’t remember seeing before. A path is cleared in a wide arc a few meters away, the ground smoothing out and the grass giving way to the sides.

It’s as good a start as any. Eames follows the path.

He finds Arthur sitting on a sun-baked rock, staring at the horizon. He’s dressed in what Arthur traditionally considers work clothes: an open-collared shirt, fitted trousers, sleeves rolled up and hair pushed back to keep it clear of his eyes. The fabric of his clothing looks old, more worn and faded than anything in Arthur’s standard arsenal.

“Enjoying the show?” Eames asks.

“We need to move,” Arthur says without looking at him. “Now.”

“What do you…?” Eames begins, but he’s interrupted by the eruption of more trees, and then the ground shakes hard enough to drop them both into the dirt, rock pushing up and splitting the ground not far away.

“Now,” Arthur repeats, and he seems to know where he’s going, so Eames follows, trailing him through the labyrinth of roads and neighborhoods that spring up at every turn.

“I presume you have an explanation,” Eames shouts over the roar of automobiles suddenly rushing down the streets.

“We’re in Vegas,” Arthur says, pulling Eames to the side as a casino sprouts up out of the ground where he’d been standing a moment ago. “It’s his hometown, the place he knows the best. He’s recreating it.”

“Mind just a bit fuzzy on the details, is that it?” Eames asks, dodging a tenement.

Arthur throws him a dark look. “His mind isn’t fuzzy about anything. He knows everything about this place, Eames. He knows the evolution of every native species and the chemical makeup of the soil. He knows which rocks are here, in what order, through every layer.”

“Yes, yes,” Eames says impatiently. Reid is intelligent and undoubtedly well-read, they’ve been over that much. Arthur slows to a halt and Eames looks around at the adobe walls. He doesn’t see Reid yet, but he trusts Arthur’s knowledge when it comes to knowing Reid’s mind. “This is our destination?”

“There are automobiles on the roads already, we must be in the twentieth century,” Arthur says. “This is an old Mormon settlement, it’s still standing today. We should be safe here. Vegas is relatively young and constantly reinventing itself; there aren’t many historical landmarks.”

“Safe,” Eames echoes. He feels as though he and Arthur have gotten onto divergent paths somehow.

“I’d rather not be impaled by a skyscraper, if it’s all the same to you,” Arthur returns acidly.

Understanding dawns slowly. Eames turns to look back at the main city, pushing farther out and higher up with each passing second.

“He’s not just trying to get it right,” Eames concludes.

“You or I would probably start with the familiar, work our way out from a landmark or a building.” Arthur’s voice is worryingly flat. “He doesn’t think like that. To comprehend the present, you have to understand the past.” Arthur turns to look at the adobe walls, and the rocks beyond. “He probably started in the Hadean and worked his way forward.”

Eames thinks of how long Reid has been down here, with the landscape evolving at this pace. The fort crumbles around them as he turns to join Arthur in watching the birth and growth of an American city, all in moments.

“He’s living through history,” Eames says, amazed by the scale of the attempt.

Arthur shakes his head. “No,” he says. “He’s building.”

 

-

 

The skyline shudders into stillness a few minutes later. Shortly after that, they start to see projections.

“He works quickly,” Eames mutters as they walk toward the city, surveying their immediate surroundings. They haven’t attracted too much attention yet, but there are one or two projections whose gazes have started to linger. It’s probably safer to stay on the move.

They’re heading past a bus stop when Arthur falls out of step and does a double-take. “Is that…?”

“Yes,” Eames answers shortly, picking up the pace. He’d rather not get caught staring with any of these projections. He’s seen two faces he recognizes thus far, both of them infamous convicted serial killers.

He’d wondered what sort of dream Reid would construct in Limbo. It seems the answer to that is a nightmare.

“Where would he be?” Eames asks, scanning the sparse crowds as casually as possible. “The place he grew up? His primary school?”

“Not school,” Arthur says firmly. “Probably not his old house, either. There’s a hospital he visits when he’s in Vegas, to see his mother.”

“Let’s head in that direction, then,” Eames advises. “And quickly. Do you know where it is?”

“I should be able to find it.” Arthur turns a corner, checking the street sign before they cross the intersection. “I remember the address, we should…”

Eames reacts to the sound before he even registers it as a gunshot, ducking into the shadow of a large trash barrel. Arthur’s hit the pavement and taken cover as well, crouching behind a newspaper stand. “Sniper,” Eames shouts, trying to work out where the shot had originated. There are too many buildings here; the echoes have thrown him off.

The sniper takes another shot, this one glancing off Arthur’s makeshift shield. East, Eames ascertains, most likely on the roof of the tallest building directly across the street. He’s got them pinned down, unless they try to make a break for one of the store fronts. They’re not going to make it without cover fire.

“Well well, look what we have here,” a man’s voice drawls, gravelly tenor with a hint of an accent; American Southern, or possibly Gulf Coast. Eames spins on his heel with one arm already raised to defend himself, but the projection’s attention is all on Arthur. He has yellowed, smiling teeth, and Eames would be deeply unsettled by the look in his eyes even without knowing that he’s most likely someone Reid has had arrested for heinous crimes.

Arthur’s hand has dropped to his hip, but he hasn’t been able to manufacture a sidearm. Eames doesn’t know if it’s Limbo, or a lack of concentration, or an unknowing attempt on Reid’s part to fight their influence on his landscape.

“You’re awfully pretty,” the man says, lifting his hand casually to show the glint of a knife blade, one that he turns over lazily, licking his teeth as he looks Arthur over from head to toe.

Eames has never had an issue with dreaming things into existence. He puts a bullet between the projection’s eyes and another into the stooped old woman lurking behind him for good measure.

“Move,” he orders, and Arthur obeys, dashing for the closest store as soon as Eames raps out cover fire. Eames backs up smoothly as soon as he hears the bells on the door jingle, firing steadily until he’s inside and dodging away from the glass windows.

There’s a greasy-haired teenager on the floor, his head twisted around too far to the left. “He came after me,” Arthur explains, catching the direction of Eames’ glance. “I don’t know why, I haven’t changed anything in the dream. We shouldn’t be attracting this much attention.”

“We’re inside the mind of a man who hunts serial killers for a living. His projections are the monsters he’s helped to put away. You’re a government agent, and his lover to boot. I’d have been surprised if they weren’t gunning for you.” There’s a back door that Arthur has already scouted, and no one else in the shop. They might be able to stay here, if the sniper doesn’t decide to try his luck at closer range.

“He knows you, too,” Arthur reminds him.

Eames shakes out his shoulders, turns around and smiles with the crisp, dangerous smile of a Japanese billionaire. “Not anymore.”

Saito’s one of the easiest skins to inhabit; Eames had forged him once for a job, a second commission after Fischer had gone well. He’s versatile; older but still fit, a businessman who could pass just as easily as a criminal or a district attorney.

“Fuck, that’s unnerving,” Arthur says, but his attention is already elsewhere a split-second later, cracking the back door to check their exits. He’s still unarmed, so Eames tosses him the gun in his hand. Arthur makes a face at the model – it’s Eames’ preferred weapon, not his – but accepts the offering without verbal complaint.

“We’re about to have company,” Eames warns, watching a heavyset, middle-aged couple linger outside the door, staring at them with greedy eyes.

“Street’s clear,” Arthur reports. “Go left, I’ll cover you. We need to…”

– flash –

A hardwood desk with a man sitting behind it;

– flash –

A woman sitting up in bed, hunched over a book;

– flash –

A gate swinging closed, bouncing open;

– flash – flash – flash –

They’re in a small square, surrounded by stone buildings and cultivated trees. It’s put them out in the open with no cover, but that doesn’t seem to matter, for the moment. There are a handful of projections walking nearby, and none of them are paying Arthur or Eames any mind.

Arthur looks shell-shocked, his fingers white-knuckled on the grip of his borrowed gun. “What the fuck was that?”

Eames takes a deep breath in through his nose. He’s experienced this before. Only once, because that had been enough, and since then he’d been sure to get the mark’s medical records from their point man as well as the records of whomever he’d been forging for the job.

He’d have expected Arthur to know the dangers involved here, however, and not to drag Eames down into a bloody death trap.

“How long,” he asks evenly, “has Reid been having seizures?”

Arthur freezes. Eames looks for guilt and doesn’t see it; doesn’t see understanding, or dismay, or even grim unapologetic determination.

“He hasn’t,” Arthur says, and Eames would almost believe him, except…

The flat in Washington. He’d knocked Reid out and dumped him on the bed, and right before Arthur had burst in there had been a moment when Eames had thought Reid was coming around. Had been sure of it, in fact. Only when they’d returned to the bedroom, Reid had still been unconscious.

And again, in Mombasa. He’d been awake, that time. Eames had known something was off, but Reid had shrugged him off, and Eames had mistaken it for a daydream.

“He’s had them at least twice since I’ve been here,” Eames states, because he’s sure of it now. “And he wasn’t surprised and knew how to cover them, so it’s not new.”

“I would have noticed,” Arthur says, knee-jerk automatic. A point of pride, as well as a statement of fact. He’s wrong about this one, though.

“Absence seizures, most likely,” Eames continues, inflexible. “He’s twitchy already, it wouldn’t be hard to hide. He’d probably have told you he was just thinking.”

“I’ve read his medical records,” Arthur says. “There’s no history.”

“I doubt he’s reported them,” Eames says. “It would be too easy to make the comparison to Nash.”

“He’s not a fucking schizophrenic,” Arthur spits, vehement. “I would know if he was having seizures.”

“Would you?” Eames asks quietly.

Arthur’s silent for a long moment. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Eames knows logically that this isn’t going anywhere good, but once he’s started noticing things and making connections, he can’t switch it off. “Separate bedrooms, for all that you sleep in the same bed. How long have you been living together? Yet you both keep distinct, separate rooms. It’s not about closet space, you have enough of that. It’s about maintaining your own personal space, keeping that distance.”

“Stop analyzing my relationship,” Arthur says flatly.

“You must keep secrets from him. You have to, it’s part of your job. How many does he keep from you? You both tell yourselves it’s to protect each other, but it’s reassuring to have that buffer, isn’t it? Your entire life together is one big undiagnosed intimacy issue.”

Stop.

“I know all about your charming bundle of neuroses, but what is it for him? History of abuse? Post-traumatic stress? Deep-seated abandonment issues? He can’t let you in because he doesn’t trust that you won’t leave him?”

Part of Eames wants to keep going, to rip Arthur apart and flay him open with observations on their careers, their schedules, their careful respect for each other’s privacy. He could even comment on the fucking coffee mugs if he wanted to, get into every detail and dark shadow.

He doesn’t, though. It would be pointless, and Arthur has been shaken enough. Not to mention, they have bigger problems at hand.

“We need to find him and get out of here,” Eames says. “If he seizes again, there’s a chance he’ll punch so many holes in our consciousness we won’t be able to remember how to wake up. We won’t even remember we’re dreaming. Our brains will be Swiss cheese.”

Arthur doesn’t speak for a long while, staring at him, breathing hard. His nostrils flare, skin white. Finally he says, “We’re in D.C. now. A few blocks from the Library of Congress.”

It’s as likely a place as any.”Lead the way,” Eames says.

They make the journey in silence.

 

-

 

The Library of Congress in Reid’s mind is brimming with books. There are floor-to-ceiling shelves, and the volumes aren’t blank with occasional snatches of text or jumbled nonsense the way books normally appear in dreams. These are printed word-for-word, every page covered in neatly-printed typeface.

“Eidetic memory,” Eames murmurs, slipping the book in his hand back onto the shelf.

Arthur is staring down the seemingly endless aisles, expression shuttered. “I don’t think I ever understood what that meant before,” he says. “Not like this.”

Eames sympathizes with what an unsettling experience it must be, trapped in the subconscious of a loved one, but right now he needs Arthur the way he would be on any other job, on task and on point. “You know him best,” he says, scanning the titles on the shelves to determine where in the Dewey Decimal System they currently are. Reid had said the science fiction books were Arthur’s, which leaves criminal psychology as the only other significant collection of books on a single topic kept in their flat, and presumably those are work-related. “Where would he be?”

“Classics,” Arthur guesses after a moment. “Poetry. If he’s in here, it’s to escape what’s outside, right?”

“That would be my intuition,” Eames agrees. “The eight hundreds, then. This way.”

They pass a doorway as they move through the stacks, immense and daunting. There are more books in the room on the other side, on the same shelves, but the wood is stained darker, and there are metal carts with sharp edges sitting out at the end of each shelf, filled with unshelved notebooks and manuscripts. The lights are off on the other side of the doorway, casting the room into ominous shadow.

Arthur, with the instincts of a dreamer suspicious of shadows and the unexpected, has his gun drawn. “What’s in there?”

Eames can’t be certain, but he knows in his gut what he would likely find in that room. “Everything he’s ever read is in this building,” he says. “I’m sure there’s quite a lot of reading in his line of work. Case files, reports, the writings of rapists, sadists, and murderers.” Eames glances back at the room they’re in, the clean lines of friendly wood grain shelves. “Would you want that mingled in with Euripides and Angelou?”

Arthur hasn’t looked away from the dark doorway. “How can they ask him to read that, knowing that he’ll never be able to forget it?”

“He chose it,” Eames reminds him. And while the room itself is forbidding, there are no gates barring the way, no padlocks to compartmentalize the evil of humanity from the good. There isn’t even a door. Eames moves on, trusting Arthur to follow. They have a job to do down here, and there’s a clock ticking.

When they find the poetry section, they see their first projection since coming inside. Arthur stops dead the second they turn the corner, and Eames is fully prepared to put a bullet between the woman’s eyes if she makes any sudden moves, but she just looks up from the book on her lap and smiles.

“Hello, Arthur,” she says.

She’s wearing a floral-print bathrobe over cotton pajamas, and her hair is clean but in disarray, worked into spiked blonde tufts. Eames is sure she’s not a projection he’s ever seen in Arthur’s mind before, but he doesn’t recognize her from the outside world, either. There’s something familiar about her face, though.

He looks at the shape of her mouth, the length of her limbs, and realizes who she must be just before Arthur says slowly, “Hello, Mrs. Reid.”

She makes a dismissive sound, impatient with the formality. “I’ve told you to call me Diana. Are you here for a book? There are so many, I hardly knew where to begin.”

Arthur doesn’t answer immediately, so Eames steps in for him. “No, Mrs. Reid. We’re actually here for your son. Is he here?”

Diana’s gaze refocuses on him with alarming sharpness. “I don’t know you. I’d remember. How do you know Spencer?”

“My apologies,” Eames says, extending his hand. “My name is Eames, I’m a friend of Arthur’s.”

She still looks suspicious, but slightly mollified once he plays the gallant and bows over the back of her hand. It’s a trick that’s charmed American housewives for decades, and she’s not an exception. “Spencer told me about you,” she says, which gives Eames a second of pause. It doesn’t seem to surprise Arthur, however, so Eames allows himself to unbend slightly, hand dropping away from the gun concealed by his side. “He writes to me every day,” Diana continues. “He told me you took him to Africa.”

“Kenya,” Eames acknowledges. It’s a long shot, but sometimes the simple tricks are the best. “Has he written to you today?”

Diana props her chin on her hand. “I always wanted him to see the world,” she says. “He doesn’t get out enough. He should be experiencing the world in person, not just from books. You travel,” she says, jerking her chin sharply at Arthur. “Why haven’t you taken him to Paris?”

The tips of Arthur’s ears turn pink, which is ammunition Eames will be using against him many times over if they make it out of here. “Mrs. Reid,” Eames says gently. “Could you tell us where your son is?”

“Washington,” she says promptly. “He works out there.”

Eames glances at Arthur, who says, “We’re in Washington, Diana.”

She pulls back into her robe, peering at both of them with keen intelligence. She reminds Eames of a captive raptor, a bird of prey perhaps caged but never tamed. “You’re trying to confuse me,” she accuses.

“We’re not, I promise,” Arthur says. “You must be here to visit him. Do you know where Spencer is now?”

She looks between them, brow furrowed. “He wrote to me about you,” she tells Eames. “I didn’t picture you like this.”

He’d almost forgotten that he’s still wearing Saito’s skin. “I’m a man of many disguises,” he prevaricates. “I looked different when I was with him.” He can’t drop the forgery now; he’s not sure of how she’d react, and he doesn’t want to risk setting off any alarms in Reid’s subconscious.

She ‘hmm’s at him, then frowns. “You’re working on a case with him,” she says. “You both are.”

“That’s right,” Arthur says, more gently than Eames would have anticipated from him. “That’s why we’re looking for him now.”

“Is Spencer in danger?” Diana asks, leaning forward in her chair. Her body language is all protective now, a mother bear looking out for her cub.

“Possibly,” Arthur answers. “That’s why we need to find him.”

Diana shakes her head. “I don’t like him out there, always around those bad people.” She looks hard at Arthur. “I don’t like you out there, either. Don’t think I can’t see that you’re wearing a gun. I don’t like that you and Spencer have those.”

“I know,” Arthur says quietly. “I’m sorry.”

She sits back in her chair again, considering them. “Pull up a chair and stay a while,” she tells them finally. “There’s plenty to read.”

“As much as we’d like to, I’m afraid we can’t,” Eames says. “We have to find your son.”

Something flits across Diana’s expression, something at once relieved and secretive. “He’s coming back here,” she says. “I’m sure of it. He visits. You should stay and wait for him.”

Eames catches Arthur out of the corner of his eye. He’s shaking his head slowly. “He won’t come back,” Arthur says. “Why do you want us to stay here?”

“You should stay,” Diana says, ignoring the question. “Here, sit down, I’ll read to you. Spencer always likes it when I read to him.”

Arthur hesitates, but then he crouches down beside Diana’s chair, putting himself closer to her eye level. “Where is he, Diana?”

She bites her lip and looks away, back to her book, to Eames, then back to Arthur. “He’s working on a case.”

“We know. We’re working on it with him,” Arthur says. “Tell me where he is.”

She averts her eyes, clearly at war with herself before shaking her head vigorously. “It’s too dangerous,” she says. “I’m sorry, it’s too dangerous out there.”

“Why are you sorry?” Arthur’s caught the same thing Eames has, the edge of slyness in her voice and posture. “Diana. Why are you sorry?”

“He wouldn’t want you to be out there,” Diana says decisively, and then she draws a loaded syringe out of the folds of her bathrobe and tries to stab it into Arthur’s neck.

Eames shouts a warning too late to do any good; Arthur’s already seen it and blocked the attack, but Diana has a wiry strength and Arthur is clearly trying to subdue her without hurting her, which puts him at the disadvantage. Eames has a handgun pointed at her heart, but with the two of them grappling he has a fifty-fifty chance at a clear shot.

Arthur twists, fighting the needle inch-by-inch away from his exposed throat, and the angle changes just enough. Arthur’s eyes go wide, looking at something out of sight, and he calls, “Eames,” just before Eames puts a bullet through the side of Diana’s floral-print bathrobe and into her chest.

She slumps, and Arthur lets her down gently but quickly, his eyes still on something out of Eames’ line of sight. Eames watches to make sure she’s really down and that the syringe is safely out of the way, and then he turns and sees where Arthur’s attention has gone.

There are projections in the shadow room.

“Go,” Arthur says, his voice tight. He has his gun in his hand again, backing away as the projections move closer, emerging slowly into the light. “Go, go!”

They run.

 

-

 

They lose the projections on the street, weaving between buildings until the coast seems clear before they take cover inside the Smithsonian castle to catch their breath and make a new plan.

“What a delightful woman,” Eames says, checking the number of bullets he has left and reloading while he has the chance. “Is she always like that? No wonder Reid is so fussy about personal space.”

“She’s a paranoid schizophrenic, she gets confused,” Arthur answers, tone flat. “She’s been institutionalized.”

Eames doesn’t need to hear what Arthur’s thinking after that. He already knows. “Reid’s afraid it’s in his genetics.”

Arthur shrugs one shoulder. “There’s no way to tell.”

“It usually manifests around his age,” Eames mentions neutrally.

“He knows.” Arthur rifles through the brochures and guides at the information desk, pulling out a map of tourist attractions. “We should plan our next move.”

Eames stays where he is for another moment. “I could apologize for earlier,” he offers.

“No you couldn’t,” Arthur says, one corner of his mouth turned slightly up. “Come help me, I don’t think about people the way you do. Does his mother being in the library tell us anything?”

Eames knows when to let a subject drop. “Probably several things.” He’s about to say more when he looks at the map in Arthur’s hands and a memory sparks. Mazes. Dreams.

“Eames,” Arthur says, sharp and alert. “What is it?”

“Washington was designed as a maze,” Eames says. “We’re in a dream that Reid constructed once he was already inside it. He knows he’s in a dream.”

“He built a labyrinth,” Arthur says, understanding dawning. “He knows enough about dreamsharing to know how the levels are designed. He’s created his own maze.”

With a subconscious full of sadistic, bloodthirsty projections, Eames might have done the same thing. “He’s using it to hide. He’ll be at the center of the maze, at the most defensible point. And what was the city designed to protect?”

“The capitol,” Arthur breathes. “He’s in the White House.”

“We’re not that far,” Eames notes, pulling the map across the desk. “Security will be tight, but if we come at it from…”

A window shatters, spilling glass across the floor. Arthur and Eames both have their sights trained on the jagged hole within a second, but no one comes through it. No one needs to.

“Fuck,” Arthur says, coughing as the smoke from the canister on the floor starts to seep into their lungs. “Which way?”

Eames directs them to one of the back exits, which is almost certainly where they’re expected to go, but it can’t be helped. They don’t have much time.

He’s not surprised when there are projections waiting for them outside. You don’t smoke someone out unless you intend to corner them.

Arthur gets the first three by virtue of being on point, and Eames clears his way as soon as he’s able, putting his back against Arthur’s and eliminating anything that moves. The majority of the projections don’t have guns, armed instead with knives, baseball bats, and other, less savory tools. It buys them the time they need, but the firefight is attracting attention, and they’re being hemmed in fast.

Eames loses a handful of seconds to reload, and he’s just slamming the new magazine into place – and wishing he’d gone for a submachine gun instead – when Arthur staggers back a pace, weight suddenly heavy against Eames’ back. He keeps firing, but Eames has seen too many times what can happen when adrenaline overwhelms the message the brain is attempting to send to the body, delivered via exquisite amounts of pain; mainly, ‘pay attention, you’ve been shot.’

“Arthur?” he calls over his shoulder, dropping another four projections and just barely swinging around to catch the one trying to crawl through the stair railing.

“I’m fine,” is the reply, but Arthur’s voice is tight and his weight has started to sag, just slightly, against Eames on the right side.

Eames curses, but all they can do at this point is keep shooting and hope that fucking sniper doesn’t come back. They need to get to a more defensible position, but until the smoke clears inside, there’s nowhere to go. This area is all open sidewalks and wide expanses of carefully-mowed grass. There’s no cover in sight.

Eames registers the presence of more smoke and a gust of air a second before Arthur yells. His warmth is suddenly gone from Eames’ side, jerked away, and when Eames twists around he sees Arthur being dragged back into the building by a man in a gas mask, his gun hand pinned against his chest.

Eames looks for a clear shot, but in the scant seconds it takes for him to aim and hope he doesn’t hit Arthur by accident, the projections out on the ground behind him have closed in. Two different people grab his arms, forcing the gun down, and when he kicks out and prepares to do some serious damage hand-to-hand, there are even more swarming in to immobilize him.

He doesn’t know, honestly, what will happen if they die down here. He’d been hoping not to find out.

There’s the sharp crack of a retort. Depending on how sadistic a projection he’s fallen prey to, Eames assumes he’s either lost Arthur or is about to watch him be tortured to death one bullet at a time, until he feels the weight holding down his left arm release him. Then the right, and then the two in front of him, and before he’s fully aware of what’s happening, every single projection around him is dead, staring up at the sky with glassy eyes.

Arthur’s still fighting, so Eames raises his gun without thinking and drops the bastard in the gas mask. Arthur falls with him, but wriggles free and gets to his feet a moment later, looking as dazed as Eames feels.

When Eames turns around, there’s a woman standing on the lawn.

“FBI,” she calls, holding up a badge in the hand that isn’t occupied with a gun. “Holster your weapons.”

Eames is loath to do anything of the kind, but for the moment they appear to be in the clear, and he’d rather take his chances talking his way out of this than being shot at close range. He slides the handgun back into its holster at his side and raises his hands away from his body, showing that he’s unarmed.

“Are you all right?” the woman asks, coming closer without completely lowering the gun in her hand.

“Yes, thank you,” Eames says, willing to play along for the moment.

“My name is Supervisory Special Agent Elle Greenaway, I’m with the FBI,” their rescuer tells them. She moves like a cat, all lithe grace and the smooth, efficient motions of agency training. She’s beautiful and clearly capable, and Eames has a moment of wondering if the FBI has dropped someone else in with them before he dismisses the thought. If Reid’s mother is in here with them, anyone could be. Reid dreaming up other FBI agents isn’t that far a leap.

Eames turns to look at Arthur and sees, for the first time, the blood staining his shirt. “Fuck,” he says, because that shape and that amount aren’t transfer from the lunatic who’d been holding him hostage. The way Arthur’s body is curved forward and the hand clamped against his side speak almost louder than the bloodstain.

“It’s not that bad,” Arthur says, but Greenaway is already at his side, easing Arthur down onto the floor and checking him over.

“I’m going to call an ambulance, I need you to stay with me,” she says. “Can you tell me what happened here?”

“Smoke canister through the front window, then they surprised us out here,” Eames answers.

Greenaway looks away from Arthur to give him a cool once-over. “What are your names?”

“I’m a government agent,” Arthur replies, which isn’t technically speaking an answer at all, but it seems to be all he’s willing to give.

“I’m not, obviously,” Eames says. “But we’re both working with the FBI. We’re looking for one of their agents, a Dr. Spencer Reid.”

Something in the woman’s expression flickers. “You know Reid?”

“Boyfriend,” Eames answers, inclining his head toward Arthur. If anything, that might buy them some goodwill. Greenaway still has her gun drawn, and her attitude is less than trusting.

Greenaway smiles, unexpectedly. “No kidding,” she says, more obviously looking Arthur over again. “Good for him.”

Arthur scowls at Eames, but the effect is somewhat diminished by the pain creasing the corners of his eyes and tightening his mouth. “We should move.”

“Stay put,” Greenaway orders. “I’ll call for help. We need to get you to a hospital.”

Arthur’s hand twitches slightly in the direction of his gun. Greenaway doesn’t appear to notice, but she’s a trained FBI agent. She will, if he tries to draw.

“Arthur,” Eames warns quietly.

Greenaway goes motionless. Then she stands up and moves away, pulling out her phone.

“We need to go,” Arthur says when Eames drops to one knee to check the wound for himself. Arthur’s right; it’s a clean shot straight through, and the bullet doesn’t appear to have damaged anything significant. If they get him bandaged up, the danger is manageable.

“Would you really prefer to shoot the one part of Reid’s subconscious that’s actually being helpful?” Eames inquires. Arthur looks about to respond, most likely in the affirmative, when he suddenly goes still.

His line of sight is over Eames’ shoulder. Eames turns slowly, already half-expecting the sight of Greenaway with her gun pointed directly at Arthur’s chest.

“What’s going on?” Eames asks.

“There’s an Arthur connected with shared dreaming crimes,” Greenaway says. Her gun doesn’t waver an inch. “He’s suspected of involvement on two inception jobs here in the U.S.”

“He’s an undercover agent,” Eames says carefully.

“One of them was a sixteen-year-old girl,” Greenaway continues. “Sixteen.

“I sabotaged that job,” Arthur says.

“You didn’t sabotage the other one,” Greenaway replies. “Robert Fischer is in a hospital because of you.”

She takes the safety off. Eames starts, raising his hands to remind her that they’re both currently unarmed. “Easy now. You can take us in, We’ll come quietly. This can all be sorted out down at the police station.”

“I don’t take people in anymore,” Greenaway says, and drops her finger to the trigger.

Eames moves fast, but Arthur is faster. He rolls once to the side to dodge Greenaway’s first bullet, and comes back up with his gun raised to drop her before she can get off a second round. Eames takes her twice in the chest on her way down for good measure.

They both stay where they are for a moment, breathing fast and staring at the dead woman on the ground. “So Dr. Reid has a vigilante projection in his head running around killing all of the criminals,” Eames surmises, kicking Greenaway’s gun away from her body out of habit even though there’s not a chance in hell she’s still alive. “And apparently some part of him is not particularly happy with you taking those last few jobs.”

“I’ll make sure to schedule relationship counseling,” Arthur grunts, dragging himself upright. “Motherfuck.

There’s more blood on Arthur’s shirt, seeping through the fabric and trickling through his fingers where they’re clamped over the wound. “Let’s get you to a first aid kit,” Eames says, offering Arthur a hand up off the floor.

Arthur’s listing to the left, but he seems coherent enough still. “You think there are more of them out there?” he asks, jerking his chin toward the back door.

“Probably,” Eames admits. “We did kill his mother.”

Arthur groans and takes a few seconds to just breathe, his eyes closed tight against the pain. “All right, fine,” he says finally. “Give me a fucking gun and let’s get out of here.”

 

-

 

They’re crossing through a park when Arthur slows to a halt. Eames glances around, checking for possible ambush, but Arthur’s posture isn’t one of alarm.

“Give me a minute,” he says, and changes direction, walking toward the tables of chess players under the shade trees. Eames follows, keeping generally alert and gradually focusing as Arthur’s target becomes clear.

The projection who’s caught Arthur’s attention is an older man, fairly relaxed but with intelligent eyes. He doesn’t look up at their approach, but Eames is sure he knows they’re coming. His demeanor is mild, unassuming, and there’s a certain humor around his mouth, the crow’s-eyes of laugh lines branching from the corners of his eyes.

“Hello, Gideon,” Arthur says, stopping just shy of the table. “Do you mind if we join you?”

“Arthur,” Gideon answers, gesturing to the bench on the other side of the picnic table. “Please, be my guest.”

Gideon has been playing alone, it seems; he’s a little more than halfway through a game, and white has a subtle advantage.

“Do you play?” Gideon asks, focusing on Eames.

“On occasion.” Eames takes in the board, studying the positions of the pieces. “Sicilian defense. You enjoy the challenge of the game, then.”

“Today.” Gideon smiles slightly, indicating the bench next to Arthur. “Please. Sit. Arthur only plays when he’s convinced it’s impolite to decline.”

Eames takes a seat as Gideon resets the board. Arthur watches Gideon’s face, searching his expression for something.

Gideon doesn’t miss the scrutiny. “If you’re looking for Spencer, he isn’t here.” He turns the board to offer white and first move to Eames. “But you already knew that.”

“I thought I knew where he’d be,” Arthur says. “Now I’m not so sure. But I think you know.”

“You thought he’d be at the center of the maze,” Gideon agrees. “But Spencer never thinks to defend himself above others. To him all life is precious, and worth saving. It’s why he still doesn’t win more than half the time.” Gideon chooses French defense this time, ceding Eames the center of the board. “He can’t play to sacrifice.”

“Where would he go?” Arthur asks. “If this is a chess game, where is he putting the pieces?”

“I’m disappointed in you, Arthur,” Gideon says. “You’ve been running from place to place without ever asking yourself the right questions. I thought you were smarter than this.”

“What are the right questions?” Arthur asks, with a hint of impatience. Gideon doesn’t answer; he puts a bishop out for Eames’ knight to capture, if he chooses to make the exchange.

There are only so many questions Gideon could be expecting. “Does he know he’s dreaming?” Eames guesses.

“That’s one,” Gideon allows.

“He has to know,” Arthur argues. “Look at all he’s built. You can’t create this much structure in Limbo without being consciously aware of where you are.”

“Limbo,” Gideon says. “From the Latin limbus, meaning ‘the edge’, or in most cases, the boundary of hell. It’s considered a temporary state, by most theologians.” Gideon looks up briefly from the board as Eames contemplates his next move. “Are you familiar with Zoroastrianism?”

“Hamistagan,” Arthur says by way of answer. “The neutral state of being for those in the afterlife who are neither good nor evil.” It sounds like something he must have heard from Reid; there’s a certain matter-of-fact recitation in the words that smacks of Reid’s conversational style.

Gideon captures one of Eames’ knights, leaving his queen in a spectacularly vulnerable position, and says, “Do you really believe that’s where you are?”

“We dropped…” Arthur begins, and then stops. Eames has stopped paying attention to the board for the moment, his full attention focused on the part of Reid’s subconscious that’s addressing them now, posing questions and provoking riddles.

“You don’t build this much in Limbo, this fast,” Eames considers. “He wasn’t lost at all. We’re in deep, but not that deep. Either he wasn’t given enough of the sedative, or…”

“Or he burned it up faster than a chemist who hadn’t met him would have anticipated,” Arthur finishes.

Babies and circles, Reid had said in Mombasa. That’s what Reid dreams about in his nightmares, the ones he can’t fight or stop. This dream isn’t out of Reid’s control at all.

Arthur looks back at Gideon. “So he is aware he’s dreaming.”

“You said it yourself,” Gideon says, spreading his hands to indicate the park surrounding them. “He built a maze.”

“He’s buying time,” Eames guesses. That’s why they build mazes, to hold off the projections. Reid is stalling them.

“What’s he trying to do down here?” Arthur asks.

“That’s another good question,” Gideon agrees. He captures Eames’ bishop and uses it to point at Arthur. “I’ve already given you the answer.”

“All lives are worth saving,” Arthur says slowly. “He’s solving the case.”

Gideon raises his hands. “You’ve had the answer all along. You’re emotionally involved; you haven’t stayed objective.”

“Solving the case is the kick,” Eames says. “That’s what he’s waiting for.”

And while Reid might consider everyone, including killers and psychopaths, worthy of saving, he also doesn’t include himself on that list. It’s not that he’s suicidal, more that his self-preservation instincts sometimes take a backseat to his urges toward martyrdom. Eames’ limited interactions with Morgan have already included hearing a diatribe about how difficult it is to keep Reid in bulletproof vests.

Reid won’t be hiding at the center of the maze. He knows there’s a chance someone else could be lost down here. He’s using the structure of the dream to keep other people safe.

“He’s at Quantico.” Eames is certain of it. It’s what he would do, if he were in this dream wearing Reid’s skin. They’ve been following a decoy. Reid has never, in any of the stories Eames has heard thus far, taken himself out of the line of fire when that action might put someone else at risk.

Arthur searches his eyes briefly and nods. He stands up, only to sway in place, gripping the edge of the table. His skin is ashen, and sweat has broken out at his hairline.

Gideon doesn’t show any sign of alarm. “Limbo is the afterlife,” he says simply. “Limbo is what happens when you die down here, isn’t that right?”

“Arthur,” Eames says, standing as well, hand hovering near Arthur’s elbow in case it’s needed.

“I’m fine,” Arthur insists. He straightens with obvious effort, and nods respectfully to Gideon. “Thank you.”

“Thank me when you wake up,” Gideon suggests.

 

-

 

They make it as far as the base before the projections get wise to them and start circling, menace in their body language and various weapons held casually in their hands.

“We’re about to get boxed in,” Eames murmurs, watching the shadows move gradually closer on either side of them.

“I know.” Arthur grits his teeth. “You can solve this,” he says. “You and Reid. You’re a better profiler than anyone else on his team.”

“Don’t be an idiot,” Eames says, a touch more sharply than he might have in other circumstances. Arthur is sweating in earnest now and breathing harshly, blood loss taking its toll.

“Can you forge me?” Arthur asks. “If you have to, can you do it?”

“I’ve worked with you for years,” Eames reminds him, annoyed by the unintentional insult. He can forge people he’s known for ten minutes. Arthur should be a bloody cakewalk.

“He’ll trust me,” Arthur says, his eyes sliding closed. Eames shifts closer, but Arthur moves away when he does, shaking his head. “We can’t both make it in there, and even if we did they’d just knock down the door. I can keep them off you for as long as you need to solve the case.”

“You’ll be lucky if you’re still conscious by then,” Eames opines, assessing the diameter of the bright red stain soaking the makeshift bandage around Arthur’s torso.

“Eames,” Arthur says flatly, capable and not open to objections. “Get him out of here.”

“I will,” Eames promises, just as they reach the main doors.

Arthur turns around and opens fire, opting for the element of surprise and wiping out a good third of the assembled projections before they even realize what’s happening. Eames takes the opportunity to run for cover and sprints to the elevator, shifting as he does. It’s Arthur’s long-fingered hands that push the buttons to the floor where the BAU resides, Arthur’s eyes in the reflection that looks back at him as the elevator doors slide closed. Outside, he can hear Arthur barricading the door and the muffled boom of a grenade.

It takes the entire walk to the office before the adrenaline settles, easing out of him into Arthur’s customary fluidity. He has to balance the urgency of the situation with the collected calm of someone who isn’t worried that one of their colleagues is slowly bleeding to death on the ground floor. He and Reid both need their wits about them for this.

Reid is in the conference room, writing on a whiteboard. The entire room is set up exactly as it had been in the waking world, filled with notes and observations, lists of dates and names and times. Everything Reid has read about the case is in this room, which means everything about the case, period. Everything exactly as it is outside of the dream.

“Hey, Spence,” Eames says in Arthur’s rough baritone, the vowels flattened and precisely American. “I thought I’d come check on you, see how it’s going.”

“I’ve narrowed it down to thirty-seven suspects given the parameters of time and opportunity,” Reid answers, finishing his list with a flourish. “To have arrived in D.C. so quickly after the rumors started, the unsub had to have either traveled by plane or already been here in the city.”

“Keeping an eye on the investigation?” Eames asks, coming up alongside Reid to study the board.

“That doesn’t fit the profile. More likely we were right about the possibility of a successful inception being too strong a temptation for him to resist. Which means that with the limitation of traveling along with a weapon to safeguard his device, he’s somewhere on this list.” Reid circles a passenger manifest, hanging next to the handwritten list of dreamsharing suspects.

“Can we rule out military?” Eames asks, skimming the manifest. “The majority of these appear to be on their way to a base in the area.”

“Angels of mercy often have medical backgrounds. We can eliminate all active military as not having the freedom to travel to the other cities, but we should leave anyone with a history as a medic.”

“We can eliminate these four.” Eames marks their names with black slashes, winnowing their suspect pool farther. “Eames has worked with them; they don’t fit the profile.” He studies Reid critically, gauging Arthur’s probable level of concern for Reid’s welfare. “When’s the last time you’ve eaten something?” he asks. “Can I get you a sandwich? Yogurt?”

“I’m not hungry,” Reid answers. He appears to be skimming the list of names again, but Eames can tell he’s looking for something, hunting for patterns or anomalies. “None of these names are on any of our watch lists. They’re not known aliases.”

“We could run background checks,” Eames suggests.

“That would take too much time. This unsub won’t have a record.” Reid slashes a line through one of the names, discarding it. “Jamie Timm and James Janacek are both aliases of the same man. Janacek was on a flight to Addis Ababa at the time of the attack on Christakos.”

“You’ve already cross-checked the other aliases,” Eames guesses.

“We’ve only been able to check known aliases, which means that one of the names on the passenger manifest is an alias belonging to one of the people on this list.” Reid draws a box around the suspect list, quick and uneven. His hand hovers for a moment, undecided, before he starts writing again. “Most dream workers are past government or military agents, which means they’ve been trained to use no more than three identities at any given time. If we eliminate all those with the maximum number of known aliases, there are twenty-three remaining. Almost all of those use aliases with certain similarities to help them maintain cover. Once…”

“If we find the connection between two names,” Eames finishes, cutting Reid off, “we’ll have our unsub.”

“Human beings are creatures of habit. There are probably clues in the alias that the unsub wasn’t even aware of when he chose it.” Reid attacks the list of names with the red marker, circling phonemes and writing out variants of each given name. “He’ll use the same alias to leave the city; it’s the only way to keep from breaking his cover. If we get the name to airport security before he arrives, he won’t be able to leave the city.”

There’s a low groan of metal from somewhere far below them, and a series of muffled bangs. The building rocks. Reid stops writing.

“I thought you might have been a projection,” he says without looking at Eames, “but that’s them downstairs, trying to get in. And you should have been at the capitol.”

“Spencer…” Eames says cautiously.

“You’re not Arthur,” Reid continues, ignoring him. “But you have the skill to imitate him. Which means you must be Eames.” He straightens up, expectant.

Eames lets the forgery dissolve, shrinking and broadening like Alice down the rabbit hole until he’s in his own skin. “How did you know?”

“You called me Spence, you jumped to a conclusion without hearing all of my reasoning, and you offered me yogurt.” Eames’ lack of understanding must show on his face, because Reid clarifies, “I’m lactose intolerant. You also used the word unsub to describe a suspect post-identification, which Arthur refuses to do. He says at that point the subject is by definition no longer unknown.”

Well, Eames thinks. He could have been slightly further off the mark. Possibly.

“Where’s Arthur?” Reid asks.

Downstairs, Eames thinks. Dying.

“Waiting for us to solve this,” Eames answers, evading. “What have you…?”

He stops. Reid has one name underlined, circled and connected via a broad arc to another name on another list. Charlie Mauldin. Chuck Monroe. There’s a short, scribbled list of names between them.

“What’s this?”

Reid’s attention returns to the board. “Charlie and Chuck are variations of Charles. Monroe is almost certainly a reference to Charles Schulz, and Mauldin is most likely Bill Mauldin, who drew cartoons featuring American soldiers during World War II. Schulz and Mauldin were contemporaries; Schulz is quoted as saying he considered Mauldin his hero. Based on that connection, I’ve created a list of variations on the name Charles, which is itself a variant of Carl, in combination with possible surnames based on the names of cartoonists and illustrators active during the second world war.”

“This one,” Eames says, pointing to the board. “I know him.”

“Milton Caniff was a cartoonist often credited as an influence on Schulz,” Reid says, following Eames’ finger to the name Charles Milton. “He published cartoons in military magazines throughout World War II. Taking into account the surname, there’s a high probability all three are aliases being used by the same person.”

“He’s Psy Ops,” Eames says. “Or he was. His unit was using the PASIV for counter-terrorism interrogations, testing the bounds of reprogramming on members of domestic terrorist cells; it was one of the few military dreamshare programs still active after the technology was leaked out of military control.”

“That could be an inciting incident,” Reid says. “Altering someone’s psyche without their consent could have had a profound effect on the unsub’s own moral center.”

There’s another blast from below, closer this time. Arthur doesn’t have much more room to retreat. They’re running out of time.

“They would have run field tests before they expanded,” Eames says. “Tested the effectiveness of psychological reprogramming on each other before they attempted to subvert an actual subject. His moral center may have had help in becoming unbalanced.”

“You said he was Psy Ops. Is he still active in the military?”

“No,” Eames answers. “He was discharged eighteen months ago on psychiatric recommendation.”

“That’s the stressor,” Reid says, so rapidly his words trip over each other. “How long ago was the program canceled?”

“Just over a month,” Eames says. “Right before…”

There’s a startlingly final rifle shot in the hallway just outside the door, and Eames just has time to think Arthur and No before Reid’s dream pushes them, up and out, fabric and structure collapsing and then falling away.

Eames opens his eyes.

“Charlie Mauldin. Chuck Monroe. Charles Milton. Tell TSA to flag those names and any passengers traveling under any variation of the name Charles, and screen their names through us before boarding.” Reid’s voice is hoarse and uneven, still sluggish from the drugs. Eames can hear Prentiss’ shoes clack on the train platform as she runs out of the car. He pushes himself up onto one elbow and looks down.

Arthur’s eyes open slowly. He blinks.

Eames lets out a breath, pulling the line from his wrist and patching up the puncture wound with efficiency. “That was rather closer than I’d have liked,” he says.

“You weren’t the one who got shot,” Arthur tells him, sitting up with the ginger economy of a man who has recently inhabited a body in considerably worse condition. “Twice.”

Morgan rests a hand on Arthur’s shoulder, supporting him without being obvious about it. “Thanks, for whatever you did down there,” he tells Arthur, offering his hand in truce. “You brought him back.”

“I brought myself back,” Reid says, frowning.

Arthur grumbles something about self-rescuing and people who endanger themselves in the first place. Eames just shakes his head and laughs.

 

-

 

“You’re off?”

Eames turns at the sound of Arthur’s voice, away from the bag he’s re-packing on the BAU conference table. “In a bit. Agent Hotchner is having someone send a car. They got him?”

“At the airport. You two were right about the names.” Arthur steps all the way into the conference room, leaning against one of the chairs. “They have him in custody now.”

“It’s almost a pity,” Eames remarks. “An argument could be made that his own government did this to him, turned him into what he is now. It’s not an especially satisfying conclusion to this business.”

“It’s not always black and white,” Arthur reminds him.

“Still. Is the man responsible for the crime if someone else has infiltrated his mind and changed the way he thinks?”

“We all make our own choices.” Arthur’s voice is hard, and entirely unforgiving. “We all have free will. So did he. Mind crimes might not be on the books yet, but putting four people into chemically-induced comas is fairly straightforward to prosecute.”

“Nearly five,” Eames comments, watching Arthur from the corner of his eye.

Arthur shrugs. “At least there won’t be more. It’s too bad there’s still no way to save the people he sent into Limbo.”

“Saito still on your back?” Eames asks with due caution. If he’s going to leave here with a billionaire’s target painted on his chest, he’d appreciate a warning. Saito is not a force to be taken lightly.

Arthur shakes his head. “I told him the FBI investigation was officially closed. And he really doesn’t want to cross me unless he feels he has to. As long as this stays quiet, we should be fine.” Arthur taps a finger against the table. “It would probably help if Fischer woke up, though.”

“Yusuf’s working on something.” Eames tucks the last of his belongings neatly into his bag and turns his full attention to Arthur. “You know he’s desperate to get hold of your Dr. Reid now. He can’t understand how a sedative that powerful didn’t drop us deeper than three levels.”

Arthur makes a face. “I knew it was going to happen eventually,” he says. “Just try not to help him too much.”

“I plan to stay well clear of here, thank you,” Eames informs him. There is, however, one small loose end to tidy up. Casually, and well aware of the surveillance cameras pointed at them from all angles, he adds, “Thankfully it’s all worked out for the best.”

“It has,” Arthur agrees neutrally. He pushes back from the table. “I need to go ask Agent Hotchner about pulling the security detail on our apartment. Ten minutes, and then he’s all yours.”

“Lovely,” Eames replies.

“Oh, and Eames,” Arthur says, sticking his head back inside the conference room doorway. “I’m having our place swept for bugs on Tuesday. If I find so much as a microchip that doesn’t belong there, I’m coming after you.”

“Promises, promises,” Eames says blithely. Arthur glares at him one more time, most likely simply for effect, and takes himself elsewhere.

Eames walks to the far end of the conference table and pauses, hefting his bag onto his shoulder. Then he palms the restricted access keycard Arthur has tucked under the table, on the seat of his chair, and heads out to take a stroll.

He has a lot to accomplish in ten minutes.

 

-

 

epilogue

 

Eames lets himself in once he reaches the front door. Picking the lock would be simple enough, but he doesn’t need to bother. Conveniently, courtesy of his last stay here and a quick visit to a locksmith, he’s in possession of a key.

He’d expected Arthur to be in residence, having tracked his passport coming back into the U.S. two days ago. What he hadn’t expected was to find Arthur on the sofa with Reid on top of him, both of them in a state Eames would categorize as disheveled, ranging toward compromising. From the angles of their arms trapped between them, someone’s hand is almost certainly down someone else’s pants.

Because this is Arthur, of course, his other hand has produced a gun from somewhere mysterious, which he currently has pointed at Eames. Reid isn’t quite as quick on the draw, but he’s half-rolled to the side at the sound of the door opening, freeing Arthur’s gun hand while simultaneously shielding Arthur’s body with his own.

Eames.

“Arthur,” Eames replies. “How lovely to see you. I was in the neighborhood, thought I’d drop by.”

“Get out before I shoot you,” Arthur says.

“I have a case,” Eames says. “I thought you might be interested.”

“We’re not,” Arthur says.

“What kind of case?” Reid asks. He starts to sit up, eyes bright with interest, and Arthur’s foot snakes around whipcrack-fast to keep him where he is.

Definitely a hand down someone’s pants.

“Three young women have recently sought psychiatric aid following an unknown emotional trauma. It seems all three of them remember being raped, in horrifyingly vivid detail, only the hospital says they never actually were. No marks on their bodies, it’s all in their minds.” Eames pauses to let that sink in. “One of them is convinced she’s going insane; she’s checked herself into a mental hospital. Are you interested now?”

“No,” Arthur says.

“Agent Reid is,” Eames points out.

“Do all three of the victims share any physical similarities?” Reid asks. “Are they from similar socio-economic backgrounds?”

“Auburn hair, all Caucasian, between twenty and twenty-five. All high-powered career women, recently graduated and bent on breaking the glass ceiling.”

“If victimology is consistent, that should make it easier to locate other victims. Sexual assault is one of the least reported crimes, and an assault that, according to the legal definition, might not even have occurred makes it even less likely that the victims would have come forward.”

“You’re serious,” Arthur addresses Eames, finally lowering the gun and putting the safety back on, although probably only because Reid is too close to accidentally blocking his shot.

“Don’t act as though you won’t enjoy it,” Eames tells him. “The three of us, back together again.”

“This is never going to become a threesome,” Arthur warns darkly.

Eames focuses his attention on Reid, because wherever curiosity comes into play, Reid is definitively the weak link. “If it is a crime committed in a dream, it’s almost without a doubt someone who’s gone rogue. A functioning team would never permit an act like this.”

“Too immoral?”

“Too sloppy,” Arthur answers for him. “A successful extraction never leaves traces; there should be no lingering memory. Whoever’s doing this wants these women to remember him. He probably knows there’s almost no chance of him being caught.”

“Admit it, you are interested,” Eames tells him.

“We’re not law enforcement officers,” Arthur reminds him. “Let the professionals handle it.”

“You can hardly claim there’s a branch of law enforcement equipped to handle this sort of case,” Eames points out. “Mind crimes don’t have their own division in the FBI.”

Yet, he thinks with a brief pang of regret. After what happened with Fischer and the other coma patients, it’s only a matter of time before that’s no longer the case.

Reid, ignoring their byplay, is already off and running. “We should make a list of men who have access to dreamsharing devices, who are either retired from the business or only work sporadically. The unsub’s focus will be on the hunt and the act of violation itself, he most likely won’t be holding down steady jobs.” Reid stops, frowning. “We’ll need a place to start. The Bureau’s database on known dreamshare workers was erased after the last case.” He eyes Eames with the air of someone waiting for a confession.

“I thought we weren’t going to talk about that,” Arthur says.

“How your relationship continues to function is a source of amazement to me,” Eames comments.

“Get out, Eames.” Arthur’s voice has more crack in it than might be expected from a man currently lying on his back with his trousers open. “We’ll call you once we’ve contacted the BAU.”

Eames mock-salutes him, because it never fails to make Arthur bristle and Eames is a man who appreciates the small things in life. “Call Agent Hotchner,” he advises. “See if we can get hold of that jet.”

“Out,” Arthur repeats, and Eames goes because he knows how far to push while Arthur still has a gun in his hand. Anyway, he still has a key. He’ll go for a cup of coffee and come back in five minutes.

Eames leaves whistling, and pulls out his phone to dial Ariadne. If she’s still in Alberta, she’ll probably be glad of the chance to get away from her relatives and back into the field. Yusuf might be amenable to a vacation, as well. And Eames already has the perfect thing – or the perfect person, rather –to bribe him out here with.

It’s time to put his team to work.

 

END