"You should know, I'm back in the business," said Dom Cobb.
He paced the kitchen, anxiously running a hand over his forehead. "I know what you're thinking, and you're right, I've made mistakes in the past. Big mistakes. But after I shot and killed the projection of my dead wife that was haunting me, I worked through some of my issues. Since I performed inception, I--"
"I thought that forger, Eames, achieved inception," Mikael interrupted. Over the phone, his accented voice was tinny and nasal. He pronounced ‘Eames' the same way Arthur did, which was to say, incorrectly.
Puzzled, Dom replied, "No, no, I was the extractor during that job. Who told you--? You know what, it's not important. I performed inception," he repeated for emphasis.
From the other end of the line came a heavy pause.
"Did you say the projection of your dead wife?" Mikael asked finally.
"The important part of that speech," said Dom, "was that I, the world's most skilled extractor, am back."
It had been a year since Saito wiped Dom's slate clean. In the beginning, he'd worried all he would feel was the gaping hole Mal had left in their lives, that numbness he'd been carrying around ever since he'd seen her jump, but it had been shockingly easy to fall back into the routine of being a dad.
His children had made that easy. He loved how much James and Philippa took after Mal, the way they looked when they said things like, "Daddy, please stop crying," even the way they woke him at six in the morning so they could watch cartoons before school.
But it had been a long year, too -- full of day camps and school lunches and tears over mommy never coming back, and Dom was meant for greater things.
Earlier that day, Dom had dogeared a page in Awaken the Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny! with the quote: ‘It is your decisions, and not your conditions, that determine your destiny.'
Powerful words, he had thought. Then he had picked up the phone.
Mikael was a free agent: his job was to find teams looking to take on another person. Years ago, before Dom had convinced him to come to the other side, Arthur had played the yenta, matching all freelance dreamsharers to rich clients like Tevye to Lasar Wolf (Arthur's words, not his).
Personally, Dom preferred the old fashioned method of vetting all his colleagues himself, but he was just an architect with a point man, and a lot of Arthur's old networks had dried up over the past few years.
"I'll see what I can do," Mikael promised, "but, to be truthful, even if you hadn't taken a break, you weren't known for your good luck before."
"Remind them of inception," said Dom.
"Yes, inception," Mikael said sceptically.
"Eames was working for me," Dom reminded him as Mikael hung up.
"I should've had Saito sign a contract," he said to Arthur later that evening.
The kids had finished their spaghetti in under ten minutes and had raced off to the rec room to watch something on ABC Family -- something with the words ‘animal kingdom' and ‘space attack' in the title -- and every now and then he could hear their pealing laughter echo down the hall. James had left half his plate on the table and floor; a big glob of sauce was dangerously close to Arthur's elbow, threatening whatever outrageously expensive brand he was obsessed with today. (Dom was wearing Land's End.)
When Arthur looked at him in askance, Dom explained, "To prove he hired me for inception."
"Yeah, that sounds like the sort of sloppy, careless thing Saito would do," Arthur observed. He slowly twirled pasta around his fork. "Why do you need proof?"
Even thinking about it was making him angry. "The next time you talk to Eames--"
"What? I don't talk to Eames," Arthur interjected, shoulders hunching. "It's not like I call him every night and text him ten times a day. Why are you asking? How dare you!"
Just the other morning Dom had overheard Arthur speaking to Eames on the phone, quietly laughing -- no, giggling -- over something. He'd been able to make out Eames' pretentious accent when Arthur had turned at the sound of the door opening.
"Forget I asked," Dom replied, more than a little disgusted.
"I'm going to check on the kids," Arthur said, and then he practically fled the room.
After cleaning up, Dom sat down in his study and wrote out a list of his other accomplishments:
PhD in Dream Architecture from Columbia
Returned from limbo (twice)
Survived five assassination attempts
Successfully convinced Arthur to seduce an interpol agent
But none of those were as impressive as inception.
"Darn it," he muttered under his breath, massaging his now-throbbing temples. Screw Eames, and screw anyone who believed him.
He didn't need inception, he told himself; he was the best extractor in dreamsharing before it, and he was still the best now. Still, though, it bothered him that Mikael had been so quick to believe Eames -- and equally hurtful was the notion that Eames had jumped to take credit for Dom's work. He and Eames weren't exactly friends, but he'd never had any reason to distrust him before. It had always been Arthur who had urged Dom to be more cautious.
Well, now he knew why. Maybe this was a side of Eames only Arthur had known about.
Mikael called back three days later.
Without a job, time in Dom’s life moved slowly. After the kids had been dropped off at pre-school and errands had been run, there was little to do but read up on the latest trends in architecture, keep his yard immaculate, and pursue his hobbies of amateur astronomy and writing terse letters to newspapers.
Meanwhile, Arthur did... whatever Arthur did when he wasn’t around. Dom knew he was biding his time, waiting for Dom to get back into dreamsharing. But he also knew the reason Arthur and Eames had started talking again was because Eames had called months ago asking Arthur to team up with him and Arthur had said no -- Arthur wanted to work with him specifically.
When Dom saw Mikael’s name on the caller ID, his heart leapt into his throat. He quickly bookmarked the page of the book he was reading (Bauhaus 1919-1933) and cleared away some of pieces of jigsaw puzzle scattered over the table.
"Hi, Mikael, great to hear from you," he answered, shuffling through a stack of magazines looking for a notepad. He dug a ballpoint pen out of his pocket, hoping it still worked.
"I asked around," Mikael said, "and no one's looking for an extractor with your... reputation... right now."
He finally found a notebook wedged in between two of Arthur's issues of Details. "I don't want to be an extractor. I'm an architect. Surely there are teams looking for an architect of my reputation, as you put it?"
On the other side of the line was soft clicking, like typing. Finally, Mikael said, "If you truly want to come back, Roshan put the word out for a standard blackmail--"
"Blackmail," Dom repeated, disappointed. He hadn't performed blackmail jobs since he was new to dreamsharing and had been desperate for quick cash. "That's a little beneath me, don't you think?"
Mikael clucked his tongue irritatedly. "I like you, Cobb. You're upfront about what you want. Your payments are always on time. You don't call me ‘Arthur' like most of these other fuckers. So I'll be honest with you: people have stepped up since you've been gone. You'd have to be the next Ariadne to get jobs like the ones you were doing before."
The pen fell from his hand. "What?" Dom asked.
"You'd have to be the next Ari--"
"Ariadne, I heard you," Dom cut in, reeling. He’d thought she’d gone back to grad school -- had she been in dreasharing this whole time? Why hadn't Arthur told him about this? "You know Ariadne?"
"Everyone knows Ariadne. She's a new living legend in the dreamsharing world. Came out of nowhere. Her landscapes are--"
"Phenomenal," Dom finished, remembering the way Paris had folded in on itself.
Inwardly, however, an ugly monster reared its head. Ariadne had been his architect. She'd been an over-achieving grad student before he'd introduced her to dreaming; without him, she was nothing.
"She was my protege," he bit out. “I taught her everything she knows."
"You need to stop taking credit for other people's work, Cobb. It's not helping your image."
"I think you'll find I have a stellar image," Dom said heatedly. "I'm very professional."
"Didn't you say you killed your wife?"
“Her projection," corrected Dom. “"Technically, she killed herself."
"Who was that?" Arthur asked when Dom went looking for the kids.
He was lying on the floor with limbs akimbo, as if he’d lost a fight. Philippa was making a toy dinosaur walk across his narrow chest, and next to him on the floor was James, drawing in a paperback that was definitely not a colouring book: one of Mal's old battered copies of Balzac.
Dom toed his side. “What happened to you?"
“I’m a prisoner of the dinosaur queen," Arthur said, perfectly serious. “Who were you arguing with just now?"
It was on the tip of his tongue to tell Arthur what Eames had done to him. But since the Fischer job Arthur and Eames had become closer, and Dom, for the first time in years, didn't know what his reaction would be. Arthur had broken up with guys more suited for him than Eames for worse reasons than ‘he's a potentially evil criminal mastermind living on another continent and trying to ruin my role model’s life,' but this thing they had -- this new thing where they were suddenly, secretly in love instead of being flirtatious frenemies -- made Dom uneasy. He didn’t like feeling this way about Arthur of all people.
Taking a seat beside James and prying the marker from his fingers, he asked, as casually as he could, “Why didn’t you tell me Ariadne was still in dreamsharing?"
Abruptly, Arthur braced himself on his elbows, knocking Pippa’s velociraptor to the floor. “Kids, can me and your dad talk for a minute?"
Philippa’s face turned serious, but she led James out of the room.
“Ariadne’s dead," Arthur told Dom as soon as they were alone.
Shock slammed into Dom’s chest. "You’re sure about that?" he asked, even as he saw from Arthur’s face it was true.
“The news came in a few weeks ago," Arthur replied, expression shuttered. "Siobhan told Yusuf, who told Jeffries, who told me. Job gone wrong. I liked Ariadne, she was cool."
'She's a new living legend.'
"She was certainly something," Dom agreed. “You should’ve told me sooner."
Arthur gave Dom an incredulous shrug that managed to take in the room around them.
“What could you have done, Dom?"
That stung. “Mikael’s lining a job up for me as we speak," he retorted.
A spark of excitement flashed in Arthur’s eyes. “You’re looking for work?"
The conflicting storm of bitterness and sadness in Dom’s chest was replaced with the warm glow of pride. Even the news of Ariadne’s death couldn’t diminish it.
"I'm going back," he announced.
Mikael may have been an agent, but Dom was an extractor, and he'd known his competition.
There was a wide range of extractors within dreamsharing, of course, but Dom had always worked to keep an eye on those approaching his level of expertise. By which he meant Arthur had kept an eye on them and had reported back regularly, because Dom was a very busy man.
A year later, he still remembered the top three names on that list: Barnabas, Ekundayo, and Cheryl.
Earlier, he'd made Arthur fork over his moleskine with his contacts, and he went through it now looking for a mention of one of them. Near the beginning of the book was
wife Mallorie (see next pg)
always buys the same 4 self-help books from every airport
In the margins, in blue, Arthur had scribbled something that looked like, I something something crazy something feel bad.
When he flipped to the page with Mal's name, he found Arthur had drawn a little skull beside her entry with a speech bubble that said RIP. The rest of her entry read, husband Dom, 2 kids, shy, obsessive, layered dreams, tea - milk with four sugars. Dom's heart clenched.
Some of the names in the moleskine had been blacked out with a marker, including one whole page where the 'Eames' was still faintly visible, having been written in red ink instead of black; there was a little frowny face drawn on one corner. Dom and Mal's phone numbers and email addresses were blacked out. Ariadne's first name was still visible on her entry, but he'd hidden her last name and the notes he'd made on her. A little skull was drawn on her page, too, but with two question marks beside it. Without knowing what other names were hidden, it was hard to determine whether these were people Arthur was trying to protect or if they were ones he didn't think he'd work with again.
The first of the names he was looking for he found roughly five pages in, Barnabas, but the rest of his entry was blacked out; Dom had never met him, but he had a reputation for being violent and unforgiving, though clever. A few pages later he found Ekundayo's number. Arthur's notes on her, written in his tiny, precise handwriting, were v good, needs an extra week for run-throughs, won't do jobs on/with kids and oddly, carrots.
"Ekundayo, it's Dom Cobb," he greeted when she picked up.
"Oh, hello, Cobb." She didn't sound happy to hear from him. "How are you?"
"Well, to be perfectly honest, I'm not doing that great," Dom replied, pleased at the opening. He braced one leg against his desk and slowly spun his chair toward the window. "You see, I'm looking for some work, and I haven't had much success."
When that got no response, he continued, "I think I know the reason why. I've talked to Mikael, but he doesn't believe that I performed inception. I'm sure you can imagine how incredibly frus--"
Ekundayo broke in. "I think you're mistaken. Eames did inception."
It was like being dunked in cold water: Dom's entire body went rigid, his hands curling into fists. "I don't know who told you that," he seethed quietly, "but it's a lie. I was the extractor on that job."
"Are you taking the piss?" she scoffed. "Everyone knows Eames was trying to accomplish inception for years. Are you expecting me to believe you tried it once and pulled it off?"
“Maybe I was working on inception in secret," Dom replied somewhat helplessly.
"Even if you weren't a liar, I'm sorry, Cobb, but I wouldn't work with you anyway," said Ekundayo. "Not after what happened last time."
"We got out alive, didn't we?" he countered. "And now you have a great story to tell new recruits."
"I lost an ear!"
“And I deeply regret that," Dom said insincerely.
“Did you ever think," Ekundayo hissed, “that maybe you can’t get a job because you’re a fuckwad?"
“No, I can’t get a job because of Eames," Dom shouted.
It hadn't been Eames who'd spent close to two years feeling like his heart had been torn out of his chest. It hadn't been Eames who'd felt the dream crashing around him. It hadn't been Eames in limbo, saying goodbye to the person he'd loved. Eames' job had been easy.
"Are you okay?" Arthur asked as Dom passed him coming out of his study. He was on the phone. Probably with Eames, Dom fumed.
"Everyone thinks I'm a psychopath," he snapped.
"Can't imagine why," he heard Arthur mutter as he stormed outside, grabbing his copy of The Alchemist off the shelf on his way.
He thought he heard a snooty British laugh follow him.
A week later, the last name in Arthur's moleskine laughed, "Someone would have to be crazy to work with you."
"Crazy like a fox," Dom retorted, and then he realised that probably wasn't helping his case.
When that extractor hung up, Dom angrily tossed both the moleskine and his cellphone into the passenger seat of his car. The notebook hit the door and bounced to the floor with a satisfying smack.
When he made it into the house, he caught sight of Arthur sitting on the couch, his feet resting on the coffee table next to a big pile of books (Roald Dahl, Dr Seuss, and Laura Ingalls Wilder -- the kids'; The Power of Positive Thinking -- Dom's) and a mean-looking stuffed owl. On the TV was some local access cooking show.
"Where's the babysitter?" Dom wondered.
"I sent her home," Arthur replied. "No need for the both of us to be here."
"Don't you have an apartment?" Dom asked, irked. He set his grocery bag on the kitchen island and started emptying his pockets, placing his car keys and cell phone next to a bowl of apples.
"My place is lonely," Arthur said in that frank way he had that often filled Dom with a mix of pity and embarrassment.
Turning away, Dom said, "What do you want for supper?"
"The kids and I had PB and J." Out of the corner of his eye, Arthur began flipping through channels. "They're next door. Apparently your neighbors put in a pool."
Dom frowned. He hoped Arthur hadn't let them go swimming right after eating.
"I would've stayed with them, but the mom called me a hot uncle and it got weird."
"How terrible for you," Dom said sarcastically. He jabbed a finger in the direction of the neighbour's house. "Go watch them."
"I'm going to tell her that you're my sugar daddy," Arthur complained, heading for the back door.
"That'll be really hard to explain if Eames ever comes to visit," Dom called.
The door closed on Arthur's shocked face.
Dom turned the TV off and put the groceries away. When that was done, he wiped down the kitchen island and picked up a few toys off the floor. The house was quiet.
He glanced at his cell phone. His fingers twitched.
Less than ten minutes later, he was scooping up his phone, intent on trying to make Mikael see reason once more. But as soon as he touched it, the phone began ringing. Underneath the number it said ‘Unknown name.’
Dom studied that number, frowning. It could've been an extractor calling for an architect. It could've been yet another reporter wanting to do a story on Mal's suicide. It could've been the babysitter's mom, angry that Arthur had told her to go home. But somehow this didn't feel like any of those things.
When he answered it, it was a man's voice: cold, with a slight accent, perhaps Northern European -- and completely unfamiliar to him: "Good afternoon, Mr Cobb."
"Hello," Dom replied cautiously, suddenly wishing he hadn't sent Arthur away. "Who's calling?"
“You can call me Ashdown, and I want to offer you a job."
Ashdown wasn’t one of the names in Arthur’s moleskine. “Do you need an extraction, Mr Ashdown?" Dom asked, wondering if this was a client someone had given his name to. It wasn’t normal to receive calls from clients out of the blue.
“This job’s rather unusual, I’m afraid," Ashdown answered. "It has come to my attention that you're currently having a conflict with a mutual friend of ours. Mr Eames, I believe you know him as."
Dom’s heart pounded. "How did you know about that?" he demanded, images of bugs and cameras flashing through his mind.
"You've been telling anyone who will listen that Mr Eames has been taking credit for your work."
Both relieved and pissed off -- Mikael, Dom thought, or maybe it was Ekundayo; she'd always been jealous of him -- he began, furiously, "I don't know how you got my number, Mr Ashdown, but I don't--"
"I would listen to my proposal, if I were you."
Dom's voice dropped. "Are you threatening me?"
"Of course not. If you’ll let me explain... A long time ago, Mr Eames humiliated me. He nearly ruined my life. Now I'm in a position to do the same to him, and I need your help."
Dom's stomach did a somersault. "I don't kill people."
It was a matter of pride rather than morality, by now. Dom liked knowing that he -- and therefore, Arthur -- were among the few in their industry who didn't resort to murder and blackmail to finish jobs; he was the best because he was the smartest and the most skilled, not because he was infamous. Not even Saito could convince him to kill Eames. Probably.
"I'm talking about humiliating him, not exterminating him," Ashdown explained in a tone that suggested Dom was an idiot. "Publicly, so everyone in dreamsharing knows about it."
Everyone. Dom's heart speed up. It would be so satisfying...
"Sorry," he managed, shaking his head clear out the fantasy, "but you'll have to find someone else. This isn't how I do things.
"I'm a good person," Dom said to himself as he disconnected the call.
But he saved the number, just in case.
The right thing to do, of course, would be to tell Eames.
Certainly, Dom may have taken issue with some things Eames had done recently (like take credit for the hardest thing he'd ever done and render him unemployable), but Dom was a fair man. After all, wasn't it Brian Tracy who had said, ‘The act of taking the first step is what separates the winners from the losers'? Dom would take that first step.
But first, Dom would have to get Eames' number, since Arthur had, for unknown reasons, blacked it out in his moleskine.
Yet asking Arthur for it seemed wrong. If Arthur knew someone had wanted to use Dom to get revenge, Dom would have to explain why. And when it came down to it, he wasn't sure that, after everything that had happened, Arthur wouldn't think he'd done it on purpose. Or worse, that he wouldn’t want to run off to help Eames.
Even a year ago, Dom would've said Arthur would never have left him for someone else, especially not some smarmy British asshole, but things had changed since the Fischer job. Everything, it seemed, had changed.
And in the end, Arthur was better off with Dom. He was keeping this a secret to protect Arthur, he told himself as he slowly turned the handle of the guest room door, where, in the attached bathroom, Arthur was showering off the chlorine from the pool.
The sound of running water was loud enough to hide the snick of the door easing shut behind him. Unsurprisingly, Arthur had left his clothes folded neatly on the bed: brown trousers, green and blue checked shirt, grey cardigan. Even his underwear (tiny black shorts, and really, who was he planning on showing those to?) was folded and on top of the pile.
Beside that stack were his keys, wallet, and, just as Dom had predicted, his iPhone.
Dom glanced at the bathroom door before scooping it up and keying in the password he’d seen Arthur enter so many times before. He clicked on the address book-- and frowned.
Every entry on Arthur’s contacts list was someone from pop culture. Among them were a Bruce Wayne, a Moby, and even a Homer Simpson; the only names that seemed to be real were the ones for take out restaurants and ‘Mom.’ Arthur's foolproof way of encrypting his private data must've been to change the names to ones only he got the reference to, in case someone without his best interests at heart went looking through his phone. He made a mental note to bring it up later, because thank God it was just Dom and not some random crazy person going through Arthur's things.
There wasn't an entry for Eames, which gave him pause until he went down a few more names and found a 'Han Solo.'
"Ugh," he couldn't help but mutter, forwarding the number and email address to his own mobile.
He found his number under 'Voldemort.' Arthur was such an ungrateful little shit.
The shower cut off, and Dom carefully placed the phone back where he'd found it.
Outside, he called Eames from the back porch, watching wet-haired James and Pippa picking dandelions and throwing them at each other, still in their bathing suits. It rang for two minutes with no answer. It didn't go to voicemail.
Sneaking a glance over his shoulder to make sure Arthur was still inside, he texted, It's Arthur, call me back, to the same number. He thought about it a moment and added, asshole.
A handful of seconds later, the phone rang. 'Han Solo'. Dom tried really, really hard not to roll his eyes.
"Arthur?" Eames demanded as soon as Dom connected. "You changed your number? What's wrong?"
Dom was used to Eames' bored, slightly condescending drawl; even in the most dire of situations, Eames had never raised his voice. Hearing him rushed and worried now was enough to make Dom stumble, forgetting the speech he'd had planned.
"Arthur's fine, everything's fine. It's me, Dom Cobb. I wanted to talk to you. It's important."
There was a heavy silence in which all he could hear was Eames' breathing and, behind him, the kids giggling.
"Well, get on with it," Eames said finally, his voice dripping with disdain.
"Listen, Eames," Dom began, "I know I'm not your favourite person in the world right now--"
He was interrupted with a snort and, "Of course you are. I adore calls in the middle of the night from former colleagues who once tried to scramble my brains."
Dom didn’t like his tone. Why did Eames hate him, when he was the one who'd tried to ruin Dom's career? "You know what? I was going to be nice, but now I’ve changed my mind. I want to know why people seem believe you're the one who did the Fischer inception."
"Okay," said Eames, "first of all, you really shouldn't say that on an open line. Second, it was a team exercise, if I remember correctly."
The pit of anger in Dom's belly started to claw up his throat. "But I was the extractor," he hissed.
"But, if you recall, it was my plan we chose to go with," Eames replied. "Listen, Billy no-mates, if you're thinking I've been going round blathering on about how I single-handedly pulled off inception, you're wrong. All I did was choose not to correct other people's assumptions. I can't help it if our colleagues see me as clever and you as someone who needs a few screws tightened."
"You bastard," Dom seethed, louder than he meant to.
Worried, he glanced over at James and Philippa, but they were too engrossed in their game to pay attention to him. He quietly slid further around the house. The last thing he wanted was for them to listen to him yell at someone over the phone; there was too much of a chance they remembered what the days were like leading up to his fleeing the country.
"And another thing. I'm certain Arthur didn't happily hand over my private mobile number to you."
"Why not?" Dom said, furious. "He'll do whatever I tell him to."
The line went quiet again, and Dom had a funny feeling he had said something he shouldn't have.
"I'm going to steal him away from you."
Dom laughed. “What?"
There came the sound of rustling fabric, like Eames was shifting to be closer to the phone. When he spoke again, his voice was like gravel: "I'm going to steal Arthur away from you. I'm going to take him out from under you so you can't ever sabotage him again."
"Bring it on, Limey," said Dom.
It hit him, later, that he'd never gotten around to telling Eames someone was recruiting dreamsharers to betray him.
He thought about calling him back, but a voice in his head stopped him. Let Eames handle his own problems, it said. Eames wasn’t his responsibility. Maybe this would teach him a lesson.
Days later, Arthur and Dom were watching TV when Arthur’s phone rang.
"I'm afraid Mr Cobb doesn't do extractions anymore," Arthur was saying when Dom tuned into the conversation. He glanced at Dom and rolled his eyes like they were in on the same joke. But all Dom could do was stare as Arthur continued: "For a job of this description, you might want to get in touch with Mr Eames. That's right, E - A - M - E - S. Eames.
"He's the best extractor in the business," Arthur added.
The phone rang only twice before Ashdown picked up.
"I'm in," Dom said.
“So how is this going to work?" Dom asked.
It had been a week since Dom had accepted the job, but this was the first time either of them had discussed details.
“What do you mean?" Ashdown replied over the phone, while Dom opened the fridge and looked around for something edible; it looked like someone -- or two little somethings -- had eaten all the sandwich meat. “Make up two names, tell them you’ve been hired by one to extract from the other."
Dom shook his head, even though Ashdown couldn’t see it. “That’s not good enough. Arthur will notice the alias has recently been created before we’ve even left the airport. We’ll have to do this as transparently as possible."
Despite knowing what Ashdown’s reaction was going to be, he suggested, “We need to use your name and a person with whom you have a previous connection. It’s the only way."
There was a long, sullen silence before Ashdown replied, “You can’t use this name. But I have another one with a long history attached to it. What, dare I ask, are you planning on doing with this?"
“We’ll use you as the mark, not the client," Dom replied.
From there, they came up with a job: Ashdown, as Alex Ross, would be the target of their client, a mid-level banker Ashdown had worked with using Ross’ name. The banker, Alistair MacDonald, would be paying them to get a list of items in Ross’ safety deposit box.
It was easy. It was believable. It was something both Arthur and Eames would find suitable as a job for getting back in the game. And Eames--
He was doing this for Eames. The man needed to learn some humility. Hubris would get you killed in their world.
"What did Eames do to you?" Dom asked.
Ashdown sighed. "We did a job together," he said, though he sounded reluctant. "The kind that would be the pinnacle of my career. He took the credit, the money, and my PASIV, which he then sold for millions."
Something about that didn't sit right with Dom. While Eames was known around dreamsharing for being a scary bastard, he had never heard of him betraying any of his teammates. If anything, Eames had a reputation for only doing the most difficult jobs. He was intimidatingly competent and wildly imaginative, and not to mention highly skilled; that was why Dom had wanted to work with him to begin with, and it had been why he'd trusted him with inception.
But beneath Dom's suspicion was a boiling, blinding rage: How dare Eames think he could get away with stealing the credit again? From him?
As if he could read Dom's thoughts, Ashdown added, "I thought you might understand."
'I can't help it if our colleagues see me as clever and you as someone who needs a few screws tightened.'
"I do. I understand completely," Dom said, hatred burning all the mistrust out of his gut. "But we have one problem: Eames isn't going to work with me."
"I don't think you're using all the tools at your disposal," Ashdown drawled.
Dom glanced through the glass door to where Arthur was on the back porch, bent at the waist and helping Philippa tie her shoes. His pants looked like they would need to be peeled off.
Arthur's ass saves the day again, Dom thought.
That night, after the kids had gone to bed, Dom poured Arthur and himself two very large tumblers of whisky in his study. "I have a job," he called, setting the bottle back in his cabinet.
His back was turned to Arthur, but he could picture the pleased look on his face.
"As soon as possible. Tomorrow can you start looking for child care for the kids?" He handed a tumbler to Arthur and took a seat in an empty armchair. "I also want you to call Eames and tell him I want him on this job. I need him to be the extactor."
Arthur visibly hesitated. "I don't think Eames will work with you again," he said after a pause, gaze focused on his whisky.
To most people, Arthur always sounded blunt or even rude, but after years of working together Dom knew the difference between Arthur not pulling any punches and Arthur trying to make something terrible sound nice. This was the latter. Dom guessed Eames' original phrasing had been much more unkind; Eames, unlike Arthur, had always expressed himself very colourfully. The first time Dom had talked to him post-inception, Eames had said he'd had "an intellect rivalled only by garden tools."
"The last conversation we had wasn't very pleasant," Dom admitted. "We talked about--" You. "--Ariadne."
"Eames and Ariadne were really good friends," Arthur explained.
That was surprising; Dom couldn't recall if Eames and Ariadne had ever spoken to each other while they'd been doing the Fischer job.
"I bet he'd do it if you asked," Dom said.
"Oh," said Arthur. The tips of his ears went red, but his face was otherwise normal: a line between his brows, the corners of his mouth drawn tight. "I don't know about that."
Dom pushed the landline across the desk, in Arthur's direction. "The last time you saw him was the Fischer job, wasn't it?"
"Six weeks, four days ago," Arthur murmured, drumming his fingers on the desk. "Um, New York."
Dom didn't remember that at all, but apparently the memory of it was enough to drive Arthur into making a decision. "Okay," he replied, standing, "but I'm doing this in private."
"Don't let the kids overhear you," Dom said, and Arthur looked startled and embarrassed all at once.
"It's a business call," Arthur insisted. He pulled out his own cell phone and began keying in a number by heart. "A business call between two professional colleagues. What, do you think that I just sit around thinking about Eames' big hands and sexy accent and piercing grey eyes and, not that I've ever wondered, probably huge di-- oh, hi, Eames."
"I can tell you have the foundations of a very strong friendship," Dom said, and Arthur batted a hand at him in irritation before leaving the room.
Nearly two hours later, Arthur reappeared. Dom, in his bathrobe and slippers, was in the middle of Conan when Arthur collapsed on the couch beside him.
"Eames is in," he said casually.
Relief swept through Dom. "Brilliant," he replied, struggling to keep his face neutral, "I was concerned you wouldn't be able to persuade him with your... friendship."
"You've been really sarcastic lately," Arthur observed, frowning.
Hoping to distract him, Dom punched him playfully in the shoulder. "I learned from the best," he said, and Arthur smiled back, eyes crinkling.
They met in London. Despite that it was nearly May, it was overcast and dreary, making the city seem greyer and dirtier. The flat they rented in East London was above a Vietnamese restaurant, and everything smelled faintly of anise. Arthur never seemed to dress for the weather and had been wearing long sleeves even in LA, but Dom had to buy a heavier jacket and several bulky sweaters from Marks and Spencer.
When Eames arrived, he was wearing a dark button-down tucked into a pair of cords that were obviously only being held up by his suspenders. A pocketwatch -- a typical accessory for Eames, who, as far as Dom knew, only ever checked the time on his cell phone -- was tucked into his right pocket. Dom was used to seeing Eames with a short combover and a week's worth of stubble, but now he had long hair brushed back off his face and a short but impressive beard.
"You look like a gay lumberjack," said Dom. Now that Arthur had cut his hair short, Eames was the one with the most hair gel in the room. Why couldn’t Arthur be into nice, wholesome, Ryan Gosling types?
Eames' forehead creased at that. Arthur chortled.
"Arthur likes it," Eames replied, and Dom rolled his eyes at Arthur's indignant gasp.
Next to the copy of The Secret Dom had bought when they’d changed planes at JFK, the PASIV was open on what was meant to be the dining room table. Dom hadn't touched it in a year. It had been dusty when he'd dragged it out of the attic, and heavier than he'd remembered. Arthur had been doing routine maintenance on it since, making irritated noises at Dom’s lack of care.
“Do I get a room of my own to work in," asked Eames, “or is this Paris all over again? At least Yusuf isn’t round this time to snore."
Arthur stood. “It’s over here. I’ll show you."
With them out of the way, Dom started gathering his things. A small notepad and a ballpoint pen went in his breast pocket; he hid his shoulder holster under a jacket. He checked to make sure his keys and cell phone were in his pocket.
"Hey, Dom," Arthur called from behind him, his open moleskine in his hands, "by the way, I haven’t found any connection between Ross and MacDonald. You’re sure this is the correct national insurance number?"
Nodding, Dom replied, "It is, and that's fine. I'm doing this as a favour for an old friend. Just get what you can, and I’ll handle the rest."
Arthur finally seemed to suddenly notice something was different. “Where are you going?"
“I’m meeting my client."
“Don’t you want us to come with you?" Arthur asked, brow furrowed.
“No, you have too much work to do," he lied with a shake of his head.
"But... Eames is the extractor," said Arthur.
“Thanks for reminding me," Dom said sardonically.
“What’s going on now?" Eames called. He appeared in the doorway between the lounge and the rest of the flat, expression stormy. “If Arthur has a problem with you, the architect, going to see our client alone, without me, the extractor--"
“Eames," Arthur interrupted, “it’s okay. Cobb needs this."
Eames held Arthur’s gaze for a long, hard moment, and Dom had a sinking feeling this job was going to be awkward for him. “Fine," he said finally, and walked away.
Relieved, Dom began, “Thanks--"
“Don’t think this means I’m okay with this," Arthur snapped. “You’d better not be planning on doing something crazy."
“When have I ever done anything crazy?" Dom asked.
Ashdown was a tall, portly man with the kind of body that spoke of being a former athlete. He had a blond, thinning hair and cool brown eyes. His suit was grey, with a camel-coloured shirt and a navy tie; the outline of a key was on his breast pocket, the kind of skeleton key that would fit nicely in a brass roll top desk, the same desk which was against the east wall.
He shook Dom’s hand enthusiastically. “Pleasure to meet you, Mr Cobb."
“Just Cobb’s fine," Dom replied.
He led Dom to a second desk, this time with a glossy, flat top. “I had some ideas about how we can get the information we desire," he said, taking a seat.
“Oh?" Dom asked.
"You’ll run the ‘job’ as normal. Once Mr Eames is under, you'll plug me in, and I'll--"
Dom held up a hand. "Sorry, but no tourists. I've made that mistake before."
"I'll go in," Ashdown continued calmly, as if Dom hadn't spoken, "and extract the information I need from him."
"The information you need to humiliate him," he clarified.
Ashdown smiled. "Of course, what else could I have meant?"
He wanted inception.
It hit Dom like a sack of bricks: the entire job was a ruse to get inception.
As far as he was concerned, Ashdown could have it. He didn’t care if everyone in the business knew how to do it, although he doubted anyone else was skilled enough to pull it off successfully, so long as he got the credit for being the one who perfected the technique.
Yet this didn’t make Dom feel any less double-crossed, much like he’d felt when Saito had revealed why he’d let them attempt extraction on him. He tried to keep his face blank even as annoyance rippled through him.
“That doesn’t seem wise," he said slowly. “Eames’ mind won’t be easy to break into."
“Pardon me, Cobb, but I’m also an extractor. I can deal with a militarised mind."
But he wasn’t one of the top extractors. He wasn’t even in the top ten; there was no Ashdown in Arthur’s book. “What if you fail to get the information you need?" Dom asked.
Ashdown’s smile slid off his face. “Then you’ll have a problem, won’t you?"
Dom’s annoyance faded. The voice inside his head he’d been trying to squelch, the one that kept saying ‘this is a terrible idea,’ rose up again, this time even louder. It made his stomach churn and his palms sweat. He wasn’t used to this feeling; normally, he felt confident in the jobs he’d chosen, even the ones that ended badly. Even the Saito job had felt right -- and he had gotten home because of it, so he really hadn’t been wrong.
That foreboding feeling continued through until their next meeting, when Dom went to report on what the plan was shaping up to so far. It was going slowly, even more slowly than the Fischer job -- which had taken three months to plan from start to finish -- because Arthur kept hounding Dom for more information.
“I found something," Arthur announced. He was sitting in front of two open notebook computers, one of which seemed to be running a scanning program; he was annoyingly clicking a pen every few seconds. “MacDonald made a ten thousand euro payout to Ross five years ago. It went through an account in San Marino under MacDonald’s wife’s maiden name."
There was something in Arthur’s voice. “You’re not happy about this," Dom deduced.
“Well, no," Arthur replied. A line formed between his brows. “I don’t get why Ross would wait five years to rob him."
“Maybe he didn’t need what was in the box until now," Dom said.
Arthur looked exasperated. "Maybe, but--"
An uncomfortable feeling settled in Dom's chest. "Why do you need to know?" he demanded. "Just trust me."
One of the best things about Arthur was he didn't ask too many questions. Truthfully, Dom had been hoping Arthur and Eames would be too busy doing the hanky-panky to notice what was going on around them, but that didn’t seem to be happening, either because they were too professional or because they were idiots.
But for a long moment, Arthur just looked at him, his dark eyes inscrutable.
“Okay," he said finally.
Once Dom was at Ashdown’s headquarters, however, he found himself saying, “My team’s having some issues putting your alias and the ‘client’ together. Perhaps if you gave us more information about yourself..."
“Just tell them to do it," Ashdown snapped. “Don’t you have control over your team?"
“Of course I do," Dom retorted.
They gazed at each other testily for a few moments until Ashdown suddenly took off his heavy sterling watch and massaged his wrist. “Old injury," he explained. “It aches when it’s humid out."
“My knee does the same thing," Dom said in empathy. He’d once twisted his knee jumping out of a two-story window while trying to escape a group of hired thugs after a mark had managed to figure out which team had extracted very sensitive information from him.
“Listen, I know this isn’t the way all teams do things, my team is very thorough," Dom explained a bit kindly. “It’s why I’m the best. Unfortunately, it means we need to ensure our plan is air-tight."
“I don’t want to spend more time on this than--"
Suddenly, Ashdown leapt up from his seat and ran to the window. His elbow knocked over the desk lamp, sending papers and books flying. A paperweight dropped down onto Dom’s foot, painfully.
“If that ball comes within an inch of my car, I’ll skin you alive," Ashdown bellowed out the open window. It was safe to assume the sleek, silver Ascari Dom had noticed coming in was his.
Dom bent and began collecting what had fallen off the desk. Among the knick knacks fallen was Ashdown’s watch, which had hit the floor and bounced a few inches away, face down. From this angle, Dom could make out a set of initials: JHB.
Under his breath, Ashdown was muttering something in what sounded like Dutch, still sounding outraged; Dom distinctly remembered the words ’stom kind’ from a job he’d once done in Amsterdam.
“Bloody brats," Ashdown said to him as Dom set the papers and other objects back down on the desk, including the watch, which he placed face up. His face was flushed with anger. “You don’t let your kids run through the streets like animals, do you?"
“No," said Dom, “thankfully, they’re too young for that."
When Ashdown leaned forward to tidy up his desk, the key in his pocket was directly in Dom’s line of sight.
“Cheers for this," Ashdown said. He sat his lamp up straight.
“Yeah," Dom said thoughtfully, “no problem."
Dom wanted to believe there was a reasonable explanation for Ashdown to be wearing a watch with initials that didn’t match any of the names he’d given him, but given that he’d obviously concocted his own plot to steal inception from Eames (Eames and not Dom), there was little possibility of this being the case. If he wasn’t Ashdown or Alex Ross, then who was he?
He had learned from the Cobol job just how dangerous clients could be. What he needed now was leverage, in case the the plan failed. He didn’t want to find himself staring down the barrel of a gun any time soon.
The kids were still kicking their football around the road when, the next day, Dom approached Ashdown’s hideout again.
“Hey, kid," Dom called the teenager nearest him. “I’ll give you a hundred pounds to kick your ball as hard as you can against that mean old man’s car, in fifteen minutes."
“Yeah, why not," said the boy.
Dom handed him fifty quid and reminded him, “The rest of it’s yours after you do it."
Once inside, Dom told Ashdown, “We’re thinking two levels. On the first, we make the suggestion of his safety deposit box. In the second, we recreate the bank vault."
Ashdown thumbed his lip pensively. “But there will actually be three levels, because I’ll put Eames under once more."
“That’s the part we need to discuss," replied Dom. “If we keep Arthur distracted, you and I could probably take Eames and knock him out."
“I’m militarised, so I’m sure Arthur will be very busy," Ashdown replied.
Irked, Dom asked, “When were you going to mention this to me? That could’ve ruined our whole plan!"
Outside, there was a loud clang followed by, “Run, run!": the sound of a football hitting a very expensive car. Within seconds a car alarm began blaring.
Dom and Ashdown looked at each other. Then Ashdown jumped up and flew out the door, practically foaming at the mouth.
As soon as he heard Ashdown barreling down the stairs, Dom scrambled for the brass roll top desk, jabbing his lockpicking tool into the keyhole. This was nothing he hadn’t done before in a dream, and exactly like during one of his extractions, the lock easily clicked open. Inside were half a dozen passports, a number of unmarked folders, and a laptop computer. Passport nationalities marked Ashdown -- or whatever his real name was -- as South African, Canadian, British, Finnish, and Swiss, but there was only one for the Netherlands.
It was that passport Dom flipped open first.
Inside was the name Joost Herman Barnabas.
“I’ve made a huge mistake," said Dom.
When he got back to the flat at Mile End, he found Arthur and Eames waiting for him. Neither looked happy, and the tension in the room was so thick he could’ve sliced it with a butter knife. It was as if the universe had decided Dom didn’t already have enough problems right now; seeing them looking at him with such judgment after he just learned his client was one of the three people in the world almost as good as he was, and not a run-of-the-mill though vengeful extractor, did not put him in a good mood.
“What’s going on?" he asked tersely, taking in Arthur’s stony expression and the way Eames was flipping his totem across his knuckles.
"Arthur tells me you've betrayed us." Eames' grin was sharp enough to cut. "Again."
"That's not what I said," protested Arthur, scowling. He looked uncomfortable. "I said I had some... issues... with this job--"
"He said the job's a scam."
"Stop misrepresenting what I said!"
"I can't believe you'd accuse me of lying to you," Dom protested.
Both Arthur and Eames gave him incredulous looks. Even to his own ears, it sounded unconvincing. A year ago, he would've been able to pull this off; a year ago, Arthur never would’ve questioned him.
All the energy left him at once, like the air being let out of a balloon. Resigned to the fact he was going to have to come clean, he admitted, “You’re right. I’ve been keeping something back from you."
“I knew it," crowed Eames, while Arthur looked horribly disappointed in him.
“I was approached by an old acquaintance of Eames’. He claimed Eames had once stolen from him--"
“Vicious slander," Eames interrupted. “The only thing I’ve ever stolen is Arthur’s heart."
“Oh my God," Arthur said.
“--and had taken credit for his work," Dom finally managed to get out. “Just as he did to me."
Eames threw his hands in the air. “I told you, I didn’t claim inception as my own."
“Didn’t we all do inception?" Arthur asked.
Dom ignored their lies. “I’ve since discovered that I have also been misled, and we may be walking into some kind of trap. It’s okay," Dom continued placatingly, as Arthur and Eames stared at him. “I’m handling it. Everything will be fine. Just pack your things, we need to--"
"No!" Arthur exclaimed, jumping to his feet.
Both Dom and Eames gaped. Even Arthur looked surprised at his own outburst.
"You didn't learn anything from the Fischer job, did you?" Arthur asked.
"I said I was sorry," Dom protested.
Arthur frowned. "No, you didn't."
"Well, I thought about it," said Dom.
"I never thought I could hate someone as much as I hate you," Eames said.
“How could you do this?" Arthur demanded to Dom. He sounded almost sad. “How could you do this again?"
“Because-- because of him," Dom finally exploded. He jabbed a finger at Eames, who at least had the decency not to look shocked. “You stole my masterpiece, you made me look like I’ve had a psychotic breakdown, and now you’re trying to take Arthur away from me, too! I know what you’re doing, with your schemes and your plots."
Eames looked annoyed. He scratched at one bearded cheek. "In the immortal words of Tyrion Lannister, schemes and plots are the same thing."
"Is that a person?" Dom asked, angry and bewildered.
“Eames, how many times do I gotta tell you nobody wants to hear about your dumb fantasy books?" Arthur interrupted loudly. To Dom, he said, “This cryptic bullshit’s getting us nowhere. So whatever you’ve been doing was about Eames?"
But Dom was still so mad he was shaking. “I’m a has-been, Arthur. I can’t get a job because I’ve been gone for a year and everyone thinks Eames did the Fischer inception. For some insane reason, it’s so much easier for them to believe some big, bad forger did it than the greatest extractor dreamsharing’s ever seen. I had to use you as bait to get this job off the ground!"
Arthur's brow furrowed. "The bait for who."
Eames suddenly began studying the ceiling with interest.
“Ashdown -- Barnabas, whatever his name is -- needed Eames, and the only way I could get Eames was through you."
Half a dozen emotions flickered across Arthur’s face, but rather than settling on one of the two predictable ones -- betrayal over Dom using him, or delight in having evidence Eames was in love with him rather than stupid innuendos being thrown in his direction (Dom really didn’t understand that relationship) -- he asked, “Barnabas? Like the extractor?"
“No," Dom snapped, “the man who hired me for revenge coincidentally has the same last name as a well-known extractor. Of course I mean him!"
“Shit," Eames said. He cupped a hand over his mouth. “Shit, shit."
“This isn’t good," Arthur said.
Defensively, Dom replied, “I didn’t know he was Barnabas when he contacted me. How could I have? You had his info blacked out in your book."
“The reason I had his name crossed out was because he’s evil," Arthur roared.
“Oh," said Dom. “That makes sense."
“What does he want?"
“Inception," Dom said grimly.
“You stupid git," Eames growled. When he lowered his hand from his mouth, he looked as if he was trying to stop from punching Dom in the face. "He's not after inception."
“Eames," Arthur said, sounding alarmed, “what did you do?"
Eames’ expression was grim. “This isn’t about inception. He wants Ariadne."
“Ariadne’s been wanting a PASIV of her own for a while," Eames explained. He looked tired, the lines in his face more pronounced than they were a year ago, and Dom, who had truly never thought about it before, realised Eames was probably about his age. “We were working a job with Barnabas in Australia when Ariadne saw an opportunity to steal his, against my advice, might I add. I think she wanted to test herself, see if she could get away with it. Unfortunately, a skilled thief she is not, so it was rather obvious she was the one who did it. Even more unfortunate, Barnabas is rather mad. So when he began threatening, her she asked me for help."
“And you, what, put out the word that she’d died?" Arthur asked. He adjusted his position on the couch so his and Eames’ knees touched.
“Darling, do you know how difficult it is to fake someone’s death?" Eames huffed. “It’s loads of paperwork. Really, you should be patting me on the back for that."
Unlike the two of them, Dom paced the tiny space between the lounge and the kitchen, unable to keep still. “Why didn’t Barnabas come after you directly?" he asked.
Eames smiled thinly. “The only person who ever knows how to find me is Arthur."
Ignoring the way Arthur’s ears flushed, Dom pointed out, “But it didn’t work. He knows she’s alive."
“He got in contact with me a few weeks ago," Eames said, nodding. “Since then Ariadne and I have been in negotiations with him to return the PASIV and get out of the situation with our heads intact."
“You mean you were extorting him," Dom corrected, and Arthur frowned at the both of them.
“I mean we were to exchange the PASIV for her safety," Eames said irritably. “But we'd already ruined his name in dreamshare for betraying us, and Barnabas has put out hits on people for less. Furthermore, after Saito’s payout last year it’s hardly like I need the money. Her life is more important than a few extra zeroes in my account -- a sentiment which I’m sure you would never understand."
“That doesn’t hurt my feelings at all, so the joke’s on you," said Dom.
“So now what?" Arthur asked. “What do we do?"
“We do nothing," Dom pointed out, surprised. “You and I get out of here and leave Eames to settle this. We shouldn’t have gotten involved to begin with."
Eames looked at Dom sourly. “Yes, I can see how this was all a terrible misunderstanding on your part. Don’t worry, sweetheart," he told Arthur, “I never expected help from the great Dom Cobb. He’s right, you should go before you get drawn into this any more than you already are."
“No way," Arthur exclaimed.
Eames’ head snapped up.
Witnessing his earlier fears confirmed -- that Arthur would one day choose Eames over him -- made Dom want to flip the table over. He sucked in a deep, resentful breath.
“You can stay, but I’m going to go pack my things," he announced, not bothering to hide his bitterness. “You all can go to--"
“Five weeks ago you were telling me I should have called you when Ariadne was in trouble, and now you want to just walk away," Arthur cut in furiously. “Did you even care about her at all?"
Dom stared at him in incoherent rage. The tension in the room grew--
His cell phone rang.
“It’s Barnabas," he said, stumped.
“Act natural," Arthur instructed. “Try to sound sane."
Dom squinted at him. The phone was still ringing in his hand. “What are you talking about?"
“I said sane," said Arthur.
When Dom answered, Barnabas opened with, “Mr Cobb, did you take something which doesn’t belong to you?"
Covering the microphone with his palm, Dom murmured to them, “I guess he noticed I stole his laptop and replaced all the documents he had locked in his desk with empty manilla envelopes."
Eames pinched the bridge of his nose. “Do you not understand this is real life?"
“You know I took them, or else you wouldn’t be calling," Dom replied to Barnabas, turning away from Eames’ nasty expression and Arthur’s drawn face. “I think you know why, too."
“You’ve surprised me. The Dom Cobb I remember hearing about in dreamsharing was never known for protecting his friends, but I suppose people change after they’ve fallen a few pegs. You need them more now than you ever did before."
Dom was offended. “Quit psychoanalysing me and get to the point. What do you want?"
“I want my PASIV and my computer. I also want that girl punished. If it’s not done in a week, I’ll kill everyone you care about. Starting with your children and finishing with your fancy little point man."
“Hey," Arthur cried.
Dom’s stomach lurched with horror and guilt. “Don’t you ever threaten my children."
“I’ve been patient," Barnabas replied icily. “I could’ve had Ariadne and Eames killed at any time, but I negotiated with them for as long as I could out of the kindness of my heart. But I’m tired of waiting. You’re not the only extractor with powerful friends, Cobb."
“I’d suggest we erase our identities and disappear completely," Eames said once Dom had disconnected the call, “though that didn’t work so well last time when I tried it with Ariadne. Barnabas is, sadly, in addition to being very evil, also rather clever."
“We couldn’t do that anyway," Arthur pointed out. “Cobb’s kids, my parents, your parents..."
“I hate to alarm you, but Barnabas knows where we’re staying," Dom said with urgency.
A stream of very creative curse words -- many of which Dom had never heard before in his life -- came from Eames’ mouth as he jumped to his feet. For a moment, Dom thought he was going to attack him, but instead he said, to Arthur, “I have a place in Marseille."
“I know it," Arthur replied shortly. He was already packing up the PASIV.
Eames busied himself wiping their fingerprints from every available surface; so as not to appear useless, Dom began throwing their handwritten notes and print-outs into the fireplace. Twenty minutes later, they were out the door.
But when Dom and Arthur arrived in Marseille, Eames wasn’t there.
“Traitor," Dom exclaimed.
“Oh, for the love of God," Arthur said.
The flat was a little too run-down to be anything but a safe house. It had pale blue walls, plastic faux-wood furniture, a TV with an antenna propped up on a wheeled cabinet, and a couch that had seen better days; the kitchen was empty except for a kettle and a box of Yorkshire tea. There was one tiny bedroom tucked away off to the side. The front windows, framed in yellow curtains, looked out onto the street, giving them full view of the brasserie on the corner and a series of shops all boasting ‘solde’ in big, red letters.
Inside, it was hot and humid, and Dom adjusted the collar of his shirt as a trickle of sweat dripped down the back of his neck.
Eames didn’t show up on the first day, nor the second.
On the third day, in the middle of doing something on his computer, Arthur went terribly still, as if a thought had struck him. He glanced at Dom and asked, tentatively, "Do you think Eames is okay?"
Sitting around waiting for Eames was making Dom ill-tempered; he was too afraid to call and see if Philippa and James were safe in case Barnabas was waiting for him to lead him home. Something about how young and scared Arthur looked in that moment made him snap, "Maybe Barnabas caught up with him. It would give us one less thing to worry about."
Arthur opened his mouth to say something but seemed unable to string together a response.
Outside in the hallway, there was a muffled sound. Dom put a finger to his lips, slowly standing. When the door creaked open, he quickly drew his gun; out of the corner of his eye, Arthur did the same.
“It’s me," called a familiar voice, and the door opened.
Relieved to see it was just -- finally -- Eames, Dom tucked his gun back in the waistband of his pants. Eames frantically looked around the room until he found Arthur. His face went slack with relief, just for an instant; Dom had a sinking feeling he didn’t expect them to be there. Then he was back to his normal, jovial self.
Ariadne pushed in from behind him. “I don’t understand how it’s any safer here than in Riga--" When she saw Dom, she froze. “What’s going on?"
Dom hadn’t seen her since they’d parted at LAX, a year ago. Her hair was shorter, but she looked otherwise the same, from her brightly-patterned scarf down to her purple Converses. A heavy-looking backpack was slung over her shoulder, and she was carrying a black, bulky case with a handle: a PASIV, though different in size and shape to Dom’s.
"This is your idea of ‘keeping a low profile?'" Ariadne demanded to Eames, her tiny face scrunched in anger. The last time Dom had seen her look like that had been after Mal's projection had stabbed her in the gut.
“We kind of got ourselves involved," Dom explained.
“Yes," Arthur said dryly, “we."
“I’m afraid to ask how," said Ariadne. She dropped her backpack to the floor and handed the PASIV over to Eames, who immediately passed it to Arthur. “Weren’t you retired?"
"Barnabas said he'd kill me and my family," Dom replied grimly.
Dom waited for a response. When none came, he squinted at Ariadne until she said, "Oh. Oh no?"
“Don’t forget, he said he’d kill me too," Arthur reminded him.
“No!" Ariadne cried.
While Arthur took his toolkit from his suitcase and fell upon Barnabas’ PASIV like a kid on Christmas morning, Eames made tea, adding in spoonfuls of condensed milk he’d been storing in the cupboard for God knew how long. With Ariadne curled up on the couch and Arthur up to his elbows in electronic equipment, it was almost like Paris all over again. And like in Paris, Dom’s mind was whirling nonstop, had been since Barnabas had threatened Philippa and James.
“You have a plan, right?" Ariadne asked him eventually. “Please tell me you have a plan."
“Of course I have a plan," Dom sniffed.
“Really," said Eames, and even Arthur glanced up.
Dom threw an arm over the back of his chair. “We’re going to blackmail Barnabas."
It had been a long, long time since Dom had blackmailed someone. Collecting information in case of a problem was one thing; using it was another. It was something he would have normally avoided, both for professional (no one wanted an extractor with a reputation for extorting his clients and marks) and personal reasons (Be the change, Dom often reminded himself). Back when he’d been new to the businesses, he’d made the mistake of threatening a particularly difficult client, and it had taken him months to get out from under it.
But these were extraordinary circumstances. Barnabas had threatened his children.
“He told me his name was Ashdown, and he was adamant we not use it," Dom told them. He steepled his fingers. “I think there’s a reason he didn’t want Arthur looking into that name."
Arthur carefully copied that down in his moleskine. “The other name he gave you was Alex Ross?"
“And the first name for Barnabas is Joost," Dom said, nodding. “Joost Herman, from the Netherlands."
“Couldn’t he have simply made the identity of Ashdown up on the spot?" Eames asked. “What makes you think he has anything tied to this name?"
“I don’t think he would’ve taken the risk I’d look him up before committing to the job."
“But you didn’t look him up," Arthur said gruffly. He clicked the end of his pen half a dozen times before a look from Eames stopped him.
“Well, no," Dom admitted.
“We’re going to blackmail they guy who threatened to bury me alive if I didn’t give him back his PASIV," Ariadne interrupted. Her brow knitted. “Doesn’t that seem too easy? Besides, we already looked into him and didn’t find anything worth blackmailing him for."
“You didn’t have Arthur," replied Dom, at the same time Eames said, “If anyone can find something on him, it’s Arthur."
Looking torn between embarrassed and flattered, Arthur began, “Thanks, gu--"
“We could’ve had Arthur," Ariadne pointed out, looking irritated. “I wanted Arthur."
“And I didn’t want anyone else involved," Eames said, a bit coolly.
“Meaning you didn’t want Arthur to see how much Barnabas intimidated you," she concluded.
“Oh, yes, most definitely," said Eames, and Arthur snorted.
That night, Dom gave Ariadne the couch, and he slept on the floor using the spare bedsheets. Arthur and Eames took the bedroom, though how they were both going to fit on that bed were beyond him; the past two nights Dom had slept in it he had barely fit, and he may have been the size of two Arthurs but he definitely wasn’t as big as two Eameses.
Ariadne’s eyebrows shot up when they disappeared into the bedroom together, and Dom murmured, "They're friends now."
"I don't think they're friends," she replied emphatically.
Later, when they’d turned off the lights, Dom whispered, “Ariadne?"
Her voice was muffled by a pillow. “Yeah?" she answered, and the springs on the couch squeaked as if she was rolling over.
“What have you been up to lately other than stealing PASIVs?" he asked, only half-joking.
He couldn’t see her face, but he could imagine the angry tilt of her chin. “He wasn’t using it responsibly," she said defensively. “I wasn’t going to keep it; I was just going to hold onto it until he learned his lesson."
That didn’t make much sense to him, but then again he’d just created an elaborate revenge plot to get back at someone for taking credit for his ideas.
He rolled onto his back, trying to get comfortable. The room was just light enough for him to notice the giant water stain on the ceiling.
“Why didn’t you tell people I trained you?"
It was like someone else had spoken with his voice. He’d thought about that question -- thought about it a lot -- but he hadn’t planned on asking her.
“Because you didn’t. I have a Masters in Architecture," she pointed out, as if he’d forgotten, “and Arthur taught me how to build in dreams. You took me under one time and I got stabbed by Mal, who was your shade, by the way, and then we had one job together where you put me in a situation where I could’ve gotten my brains scrambled."
“Well, of course it sounds bad when you say it like that," said Dom.
“A few weeks after the Fischer job, I got a call from another extractor. Arthur had recommended me. So I took the job, and it was really, really different from the job we did together.
“Before the whole Tom Sawyer thing, I was working a lot with this really cool extractor named Danielle," she continued excitedly. “I don’t know if you’ve heard of her--" Dom hadn’t. “--she’s pretty new. But she has a lot of amazing ideas. Hopefully, when Eames brings me back to life, I can go back to working with her team."
She peeked over the couch to look at him, and Dom couldn’t help but grin at her enthusiasm. It was refreshing to have someone around who wasn’t angry with him.
“I’m back in architecture, so I guess we’re competition now," he said.
“Oh, Cobb," Ariadne replied with a condescending smile, “trust me, you’re not my competition."
It took Arthur four days, but he pulled it off. While Ariadne, Eames, and Dom were sharing a brunch of baguette and fresh fruit, Arthur stumbled into the flat, tossing his satchel in the direction of the bedroom. His sleeves were rolled up to his elbows and his hair was mussed; he looked like he hadn’t slept in a while.
Matter-of-fact, he announced, “I got it. Johan Ashdown, also known as Joost Barnabas and Alex Ross, has a price on his head. He bailed in the middle of a job with a South American logging company. The name he was using was Jens Petersson, but it’s definitely him.
“I got the names and contact numbers of everyone he worked with on that job," he added. “Every one of them."
“Well done," Eames exclaimed. He clapped Arthur on the shoulder.
“So now what?" Ariadne asked around a mouthful of bread.
“Now we blackmail him," said Dom.
He pulled his cell phone from his breast pocket, but Eames grabbed his wrist, stopping him.
“We’ll handle this," he said with a dangerous smirk that left no room for negotiation. “Why don’t you do some sight-seeing?"
Incredulous, Dom looked at the rest of the team. Arthur was staring at his shoes, and Ariadne’s gaze was flickering between Dom and Eames over a mug of tea.
“Alright," Dom seethed, standing. Rage churned inside him; he couldn’t even look Eames in the eye. “Call me when it’s done."
Marseille’s port was crowded and dotted with rubbish, marring the otherwise beautiful view of the ocean. The air smelled like a mix of gasoline and sea salt; there were more seagulls about than people. Dom walked along the oceanfront, wishing he’d remembered his sunglasses. He was angry (and hot) enough that at one point he stripped off his jacket and left it on the street to rot. It was immediately attacked by a flock of seagulls looking for food.
He fumed. It wasn’t his fault Ariadne had stolen Barnabas’ PASIV and Eames had helped her. He was the least guilty out of all of them. After all, it wasn’t as if he had gone to Barnabas asking for a chance to get revenge on Eames; he was as much a victim of Barnabas’ fury as they were.
In the end, all he’d been trying to do was humble Eames, to remind him that having an ego could do more harm than good in their line of work.
’All I did was choose not to correct other people's assumptions. I can't help it if our colleagues see me as clever and you as someone who needs a few screws tightened.’
If anything, he was the good guy in this scenario.
If Mal was there, he thought hotly--
He crushed that thought on the spot. Mal wasn’t there, and it was no use dwelling on what might have been; Arthur might have accused him of not learning anything from the Fischer job, but he, with Ariadne’s help, had come away from the job with the knowledge of what could happen if he failed to move on.
He’d never actually thanked Ariadne for that.
Dom sat on a bench for a while, watching the tourists and feeling his skin go pink. When the dinner crowd started coming out, he headed back to the flat. As he approached the building, he spotted Arthur sitting at one of the crowded cafes sipping a cappuccino, his face partially obscured by the umbrella; if he hadn’t known it, Dom never would’ve guessed he was from California.
Dom slipped into the empty seat across from him. Arthur didn’t look surprised to see him, and greeted him with, “We took care of it. Eames and Ariadne are leaving to take the PASIV to a mutually agreed-upon location. They told Barnabas that if anything happens I’m going to send everything I have on him to every assassin and mercenary in my book."
“That’s a lot of hit men," Dom agreed.
Arthur tapped his fingers against his cup. “I’m going to leave with Eames."
“Did you two finally--?" Dom bumped his fists together, raising his eyebrows suggestively.
Arthur looked baffled. “What’re you doing? Is that--? No-- I-- we-- I mean, yeah, that’s the point of us going off together, I guess, but what I’m trying to say is I’m not coming back as your point man."
It was like a stab to the gut. Dom rocked back in his seat, stunned.
“I don’t think you should be in dreamsharing anymore," Arthur added, looking uncomfortable. “I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt on the whole Fischer inception thing, because you wanted to get back to your family so bad. But what you tried to do to Eames was pretty awful."
Dom ran a hand through his hair anxiously. “I was trying to teach him a lesson," he protested.
“I think the only lesson he learned was not to have anything to do with you ever again." Arthur looked down at his coffee and back up. “I don’t think I can trust you anymore, either."
“I’m the only extractor you’ve ever worked with," Dom snapped, confused and sick. He slammed a fist on the table loud enough for the couple next to them to look over. “What can you possibly do without me?"
“Yeah, this is really not making me regret my decision," said Arthur.
He stood, pulling a bag out from under the table. He tucked five euros under the ash tray. “I’ll come visit the kids soon."
“But--" Dom called.
But Arthur stepped into a crowd of pedestrians and vanished.
As Dom headed back up the stairs to the flat, a funny feeling prickled at the back of his mind. A pit of worry in his stomach, he took the steps two at a time until he reached the third floor apartment, shoving past an old couple heading up the stairwell. The wife yelled at him in French.
It was unlocked. When he made it inside, neither Eames nor Ariadne were anywhere in sight. The flat had been emptied; all the was left was Dom’s carry-on in the middle of the floor, zipped shut, and obvious places where the furniture had been. The windows were open, and kids outside laughed loudly at something he couldn’t see.
His PASIV was gone, too.
’He wasn’t using it responsibly,’ Ariadne had said. ’I was just going to hold onto it until he learned his lesson.’
“I probably should’ve seen this coming," Dom said to himself.
He zipped up his bag and began the long trek back to LA, alone.