“I have a proposition for you,” Ariadne says. Arthur takes a measured sip of his coffee and sets it down on the saucer carefully.
“You’re looking well,” he says. She’s flushed, pink-cheeked from the wind and little wisps of hair tangled in her face. She heaves a sigh and slides into his booth, across the overstuffed bench in the darkened corner of a coffeehouse. She tucks herself into him and leans her head on his shoulder.
“You made me fly to Poland,” she complains. Arthur slides his plate over to her and she eats half his panini in three bites.
“You said I could pick the meeting place,” he says mildly. Ariadne sighs heavily and lights a cigarette, little puffs in the blue part of the flame.
“Do you have any idea what the architecture in Poland is like?” she complains.
“Yes,” Arthur says pointedly, and takes the cigarette from her dangling fingers, drops it in his discarded coffee cup.
“Yeah okay the Renaissance stuff isn’t so bad. Can we talk about my proposition.” Arthur tenses, which for him manifests itself as a very slight twitch in his eyebrow.
“If this is about, uh, the kiss...”
“Yes,” Ariadne says seriously, “I need you to make sweet sweet love to me.”
Arthur smiles despite himself. “Okay fine, I deserved that.”
Ariadne clutches at his sleeve. “Arthur, please. Let me have your babies.” Arthur laughs, and kisses her cheek, chastely.
“What’s your proposition?”
“A job,” she says, grinning back at him, “would you like to serve the government of Great Britain?”
Arthur’s smile drops. “No. Is that all?” Ariadne blinks.
“What? But I didn’t even tell you about it.”
“No need,” Arthur says crisply, and starts to pack up his laptop. “I never do jobs for recognized governments.”
“Wha--recognized? Wait--” Ariadne clutches at his arm harder. “Miles set it up, and-”
“It’s fine for you,” Arthur says crisply, mentally organizing his to do list. “I’m wanted for federal crimes in fifty six countries, some of which have extensive extradition policies.”
“For my current alias.”
Ariadne fumbles at her shoulderbag with one hand, the other still clenched in Arthur’s jacket sleeve. “This is a grant of immunity valid for every country with a recognized territorial claim for Antarctica.”
“Antarctica?” Ariadne ignores him, withdrawing another folder.
“And this is a grant of immunity for every country alleging they have a claim for Antarctica. Do you know how many countries that is?”
“Yes,” Arthur says, and Ariadne stops short.
“Of course you do. Arthur-- I’m not ready to do it on my own. You know that.”
“You’re a natural,” Arthur says, only half paying attention. He clicks through a mental count of the countries with a sizable population in Antarctica.
“I want you to finish training me.” Arthur finishes his mental calculations.
“Let go of my sleeve,” he says, “it’s bespoke.”
Ariadne beams. “Let me get the files, hold on--Miles set it up, he’s going to monitor the drugs for us, mix the batches. I’m architect, you’re on point. Oh! Cobb says we may need a forger but Miles is arguing against it.”
Arthur frowns heavily. “Cobb? You took another job with Cobb?”
“Yeah I think Miles is trying to ease him back into legal work. Plus he says he hasn’t seen Mal since he told her she’s a shadow of his real wife and she stabbed him to death and cast him into Limbo.”
“Nevermind. You’re in, huh? Yay!” Arthur narrows his eyes at her.
“Hm.” he says shortly.
“It’s going to be fine,” Ariadne assures him, “I swear, I hear one little train sound and I’ll kick him out of the dream myself.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Arthur says, “and get your stuff. I need more information and I don’t like the security of this location.”
Ariadne perches on the edge of the motel bedspread and clicks through the pay-per-view menu. “Wanna watch porn?”
“No.” Arthur is leaning against the headboard, his sleeves rolled to the elbows. He flicks through a packet of dense text, frowning.
“Can I watch porn?”
“No.” Arthur presses his knuckles between his eyes and rearranges the files and papers in neat lines on the bed. He taps his fingers against his knee.
“Can I have a the Polish equivalent of a quarter for the Magic Fingers?”
“Zloty--and no. Okay, explain the job to me, everything you heard, were told, know, and think about everyone and everything.”
“You just spent two hours reading the files!”
“Yes,” Arthur says patiently, “and now I want to hear it from you.”
Ariadne sighs. “Okay. The United Kingdom has a research outpost located in a small Northwestern slice of Antarctica. A Doctor Jillis from an adjacent Russian outpost shows up at the British base seeking asylum and claiming Dr. Jergenson, an English scientist, was passing confidential information to the Russians.”
“What confidential information could possibly pose a national security threat?”
Ariadne frowns. “I was told that ‘confidential means need to know, miss’,” she finishes in a mocking British accent.
“I didn’t ask what you were told.”
Ariadne reaches out to touch the glossy photos on the bed, dossiers on every person working at the base. “I think it’s more of an egg-on-their-face kind of situation. That’s the sense I got, anyway.”
“Makes sense,” Arthur says. “There are teams that work solely with governments but they would charge more than we’re getting paid. Keep going.”
“Okay. So they get this report from Jillis and kind of dismiss it, because like, what is being passed on to the Russians anyway, their observations on the mating habits of polar bears?”
“Polar bears inhabit the Northern hemisphere,” Arthur corrects. Ariadne swats at him.
“But then Jillis disappears--probably eaten by a very lost very confused polar bear--and Jergenson gets on the next flight home where he promptly disappears. The Russians are attempting to avoid an international incident by claiming it was the work of a rogue scientist hoping to sell the information to the highest bidder, not for the Russian army. Cue everyone wanting to know what the fuck is going in Antarctica.”
“No, actually the Russian representative Miles met with said exactly that, ‘what the fuck is going on in Antarctica’.” Ariadne affects a Russian accent with the last phrase, and Arthur suppresses another smile.
“Okay look,” Ariadne says, “real talk. You helped me build the second level of the inception job. I may be ready to build on my own, but I don’t know enough about the... profession. Cobb wants you as a pointman, but--”
“You need me as your pointman, yes.” Arthur says, and rolls his sleeves back down with quick precise movements.
“Oh thank you,” Ariadne says, relieved. “Okay so... I have the tickets--” Ariadne pats her pockets frantically.
“Here.” Arthur holds them up between two fingers.
“You’re so teaching me that,” Ariadne says gleefully.
Arthur rises from the bed in a fluid movement, smoothing the creases in his pants. He flexes his ankles until they crack, and then his wrists. “I think Eames would be a better instructor in that regard.”
Ariadne looks distinctly guilty. “Ah. How did you know?”
Arthur beckons at her. “I know everything. Do my cuffs.”
“Arthur,” Ariadne whines, and fusses with his cufflinks.
“You mentioned a need for a forger, then tried to backtrack by saying there might not be one. Miles and Cobb are never unsure of what team they’re trying to put together. Plus you mentioned immunity for a great many countries--including Great Britain.”
“You knew Eames has been wanting to get back into England?”
Arthur’s smile widens. “Not until just now. But I’d suspected. Not many Brits living in Mombasa by choice.”
“Sneaky,” Ariadne says cheerfully. “I like it.”
“Mm,” Arthur says, shrugging his jacket on. Ariadne adjusts his lapels, and Arthur tilts his neck back so she can slip a tie under his collar and knot it quickly, her tongue between her teeth in concentration.
“Are we traveling separately?”
Arthur inspects her work in the dingy motel mirror. “No. Perks of a legal job. This is subpar.” He undoes the knot and redoes it himself, settling the tie firmly against his throat. “We can even sit next to each other on the plane.”
“Oh goody,” Ariadne says drily. “I bet flight attendants love you.”
“As a matter of fact they do,” Arthur says smugly.
“Yeah okay.” Ariadne deepens her voice and tilts her chin back haughtily, “this packet of pretzels does not meet my exacting standards. Please commit seppuku before I do it for you.”
“Ritual harakiri can be very difficult to execute properly,” Arthur says.
“Oh fuck off,” Ariadne says.
“Excuse me,” Arthur says to the flight attendant in fluent Polish, and smiles in a way that makes him seem almost ten years younger, showcases his dimples. “Can I have an extra packet of pretzels?”
The flight attendant, a fiftyish woman with greying hair, smiles hesitantly at him. “Oh we’re not supposed to--”
Arthur ducks his head so a few curls of his hair tumble into his face. “I understand ma’am.”
“Oh hell,” she says, and brushes his hair back in a motherly fashion. “I won’t tell if you won’t.”
“Oh fuck off,” Ariadne says, and Arthur hides his grin in a copy of the in flight magazine.
“Are you doing your assigned reading?”
“Yes,” Ariadne groans, and hits herself in the forehead with a thick academic journal. “Who wrote this?”
“Mal did,” Arthur says, and peruses an article about a diver recovering from the bends. Ariadne goes still beside him. “Dream theory is important,” he continues, “especially for the people who will be utilizing it at its most complicated.”
“The architects,” Ariadne says thoughtfully.
“You’re literally building and holding every aspect of the dream for the entirety of the job, on multiple levels. You can do it without the theory--and you have--but with the theory you can do more.”
Arthur tosses the magazine aside and turns to face her more directly. “Have you ever dreamed of flying?”
“Yeah,” Ariadne says, “hasn’t everyone?”
She doesn’t quite get it. Arthur presses harder. “Have you ever had an impossible dream?”
“Once I made out with Brad Pitt.” Arthur makes an impatient noise.
“Impossible as in defies the laws of physics.”
“Oh,” Ariadne breathes, “impossible dreams. That’s possible? Miles said it wasn’t.”
“It is,” Arthur says, “I’ve seen it.” He taps the cover of the journal. “She could do it. I think Cobb did too.” He doesn’t say that Cobb probably can’t do it anymore. He thinks Ariadne knows more about Dom and Mal than he does, these days.
Ariadne looks at him consideringly. “How good of an architect are you?”
Arthur relaxes back in his chair. “Not near as good as you.”
“You can build. You half built the second level of that other job.” Arthur taps his fingers on the armrest.
“I’m a problem solver,” he says finally. “Researcher, planner. Muscle.”
“Eames thinks you don’t have the imagination for it.”
“Eames is liar and a thief,” Arthur snaps, and then takes a breath. “The way I think--it’s ill suited for an architect.” They sit quietly for a minute.
“Took a lot out of you to admit that, huh?” Arthur blinks at her. Ariadne rolls a shoulder casually. “No I understand. Admitting fallacy is difficult for everyone.”
“Excuse me,” Arthur says, “I am quite--fallic--do your reading.” Ariadne links her arm through Arthur’s and digs her chin into his bicep until he winces.
“Australia kind of freaks me out,” Ariadne says, and huddles into her light cardigan, even though the breeze is hot enough to make Arthur’s spine prickle with sweat after only a few minutes.
Arthur undoes the button on his suit jacket with a mental sigh. “We’re not even leaving the airport.”
“Yeah well. I watch the Discovery Channel. Animal Planet is pretty much the same in French as it is in English--I know what horrors dwell on this continent.”
Arthur beckons her over to an alcove, tugs her back against his front and links his arms around her waist. He ducks his head and presses a kiss to the nape of her neck. She shivers a little, and then tenses, annoyed.
“I’m beginning to think you do have a thing for me,” Ariadne says. Arthur smiles into her skin, and leans back just a little to whisper in her ear. In front of them, big glass windows stretch from the floor to the ceiling, and planes move slow on the asphalt, men in reflective vests shuttering to and fro.
“Do you know the myth of Thesus?” he asks into the curve of her ear. Ariadne snorts.
“It’s only the first thing I ever googled,” she says. “And my English professors go into raptures over it when they see my name on the rollcall.”
“Tell it to me,” Arthur says, and out of the corner of his eye he can catch a reflection of what’s behind them, in a darkened patch of glass. Ariadne tracks him, follows his eyes and he feels the little catch of her breath when she realizes what he’s doing.
“Do I need these skills for legal jobs?”
“It’s an important skillset. For any job.” Ariadne opens her mouth to make a smartass comment and then pauses.
“Blending into militarized minds,” she says slowly. Arthur lets out a pleased noise, and she beams. She taps her fingers on his wrist, staring sightlessly out onto the runways.
“The myth,” Arthur prompts.
“Thesus was cast into the labyrinth in Crete, as a sacrifice to the Minotaur due to surrender terms between Athens and King Minos. Ariadne was the daughter of Minos, and she was in charge of the labyrinth, the sacrifices. She gave Thesus a sword so he could kill the Minotaur, and afterwards they were married. Until he left her and she committed suicide.”
Arthur clucks his tongue. Behind them, three security personnel walk by, batons swinging against their legs and murmuring to each other. They watch them in the reflection, Arthur nudging Ariadne sharply to keep her from holding her breath. “You left out the most important part,” he says once the guards have turned a corner.
“I’m named for a woman who routinely sacrificed young men and women and then couldn’t take it when her loser husband ran off while she slept.”
“And unto Thesus she gifted a ball of fine thread,” Arthur says, “and said she: ‘take one end of this silken string and I will hold the other; it will lead you again to me.’ And no cunningly contrived a mizmaze was never seen in this world, before nor since. There can be nothing so intricate as the Labyrinth of Crete, and thus when Thesus slew the monster he took with him the Princess Ariadne, who learned him his way through the dark.”
“If you tell me you speak Etruscan I will knee you in the junk,” Ariadne announces, and turns to face him. Arthur tugs her closer by her belt loops, knocks her off balance so she falls against him, hands on his waistcoat.
“Think better,” he says, and she slings an arm around his neck with a faux coy flutter of her eyelashes.
“Thread,” she says, and then more consideringly, “thread.”
“Too literal,” Arthur hints.
“Map,” Ariadne guesses, and then, “no, a way back, a trail.”
“Breadcrumbs,” Arthur confirms.
“Like the air ducts, from the Fischer job.”
“No, that’s a shortcut--those are crucial in case of extenuating circumstances, like we had, but I’m talking about a trail.” Arthur waits, lets her think for a few moments. He watches their plane roll up to the gate.
“Like the Penrose stairs. Little tricks in case you need to lose someone in a hurry?”
“Mm, sort of. The Penrose stairs were mine so they’re a little... inelegant. It’s unique to the situation, and then to the architect. One time we were doing a job in a cruise setting, and Mal made only one way through the maze of the rooms. She used different patterns of the emergency exit lights to mark the right way.”
Ariadne grins at him, pleased, but her look is a little distracted--she’s already started to build in her mind. Arthur waits for another rotation of security to go by, and then another two minutes until the teenaged boy two rows away from them is pulled aside for a randomly selected patdown.
“We’re up,” he says, and Ariadne jerks, pulled back into the moment. They shuffle onto the plane, and Arthur hefts their duffel bags into the overhead compartments.
“You want the middle seat?” Ariadne offers, and Arthur shakes his head.
“Aisle,” he says, “better mobility.” A teenage girl is already slouched into the window seat, a hood pulled over brightly dyed hair and oversized headphones hanging from her neck.
“Excuse me,” a woman says from the aisle, “would you mind switching seats with me so I can sit with my daughter?”
“No,” Arthur says, “I’m not going to do that.” He opens the inflight magazine and pages back to the sudoku. The woman sputters a little, outraged, but Arthur ignores her, slips his fingers into a pocket and starts filling out the little boxes with quick, certain strokes of a cheap black pen. “Maze,” he says to Ariadne without looking up, “fifteen minutes to solve, one page maximum.”
“Front and back?”
Arthur snorts. “You wish.” The woman makes one last disgusted noise and moves back to her seat. Arthur finishes the sudoku and turns the page to start the crossword.
“That was awesome,” the teenager says gleefully.
Dom is waiting for them at the gate. “Arthur.” Arthur straightens his shoulders even further and steps very slightly away from Ariadne.
“Mr. Cobb,” he says stiffly. Dom stills, and then straightens his tie.
“Come on, there’s a car to take us to the military airbase. One last stretch to the British research center on Antarctica.” He turns and starts walking away, and Arthur takes a few seconds to catalog the differences in his posture, his stride.
Ariadne hangs back at Arthur’s elbow. “You okay?”
“He looks happy,” Arthur says. Ariadne’s face softens. She offers him her hand.
“Come on, sensei,” she says, and Arthur loops his arm through hers with a deep breath.
Dom gets in the front passenger seat and twists around to hand Arthur a clipboard. “Confidentially agreements.”
Arthur skims them quickly and signs in an unreadable scrawl. He exchanges the clipboard for another stack of manila folders.
“Hey!” Ariadne squawks. “You said you gave me all the information you had.”
“No,” Arthur says absently, already flicking through the data, “he gave you enough to keep me interested.”
“Cheater,” Ariadne says, but leans over Arthur’s shoulder. He moves so she can read with him, and Dom raises an eyebrow.
Arthur hands her the stack of files and fixes Dom with a placid look. “I want to know who the chemist is. And I want to vet him.”
“You don’t trust my vetting?”
“I am your vetting,” Arthur says pointedly.
“The chemist is Miles,” Ariadne says, confused.
“Miles always has an assistant,” Arthur tells her, “usually a student of his, usually very loyal.”
“A PhD candidate, he arrived yesterday.” Dom admits, “Graduate students are generally very loyal to the person who edits their thesis. But I think we can trust Miles.”
“I trust Miles just fine,” Arthur says, and Dom winces a little.
“Okay,” he says finally, and turns back to face out the windshield. Ariadne digs out Arthur’s little notebook and passes it to him. He flashes her a quick smile and they drive the rest of the way in silence.
On the transport plane Arthur tugs Ariadne to a section away from Cobb and makes a beckoning motion. “Let me see the last maze you did.”
Ariadne digs a crumpled bit of legal pad paper out of her pocket and smoothes it out on her knee. “Fifteen minutes.” Arthur stares at it for seven straight minutes, and then solves it in one motion, a slow but deliberate movement of a stub of a pencil, in the exact center of the lines, two minutes until he reaches the end.
Ariadne sighs. “Nine minutes.” Arthur tucks the pencil away.
“No that was good. You used a trick you used in an earlier one, I didn’t have to work it out again.”
“Still,” Ariadne says, “six minutes short.” She goes to take the paper back and Arthur moves it out of her reach.
“I want to solve it twice more and then average the times,” he says and she stares at him. “It’s the only way to achieve an accurate estimate of your maze.”
“But you already solved it!”
Arthur looks at her very seriously. “I can delete the information and look at it with a clean slate. It’s why I used pencil.” Ariadne gapes at him, and Arthur holds the look for several seconds before allowing a smile to break across his face. Ariadne socks him on the bicep.
“You shit, I totally believed you!” Arthur waits a moment, then leans in close to her.
“Why isn’t Miles teaching you all this stuff? Why come to me?” Ariadne grins at him.
“Ariadne.” She frowns.
“Setting aside the fact that Dom hasn’t built anything on a paying job since you saw him and the fact that him building anything before that ended in an actual literal trainwreck--and ignoring the fact that Miles is so traumatized by Mal that all he does is lecture me about safety and give me constant psychiatric evaluations--” she shrugs. “I like you, Arthur.” Arthur considers her.
“Okay,” he says. She blinks at him.
“That’s it? Okay?” Arthur pulls a folded index card out of his pocket and rips it neatly in half.
“Three and five minutes, respectively.” Ariadne heaves a sigh and takes the two pieces of paper, already biting at a thumbnail. Arthur watches her as she turns the index card back and forth, thinking. “Miles is a little protective, huh?”
“Oh my god,” Ariadne says, “trust in your totem, Ariadne, do you think you’re dreaming, Ariadne?, what does this blotty painting look like, Ariadne?, step away from the window, Ariadne. It’s driving me nuts.” Arthur lets her work in silence for a minute.
“Make the shape of the maze look like punctuation marks.”
“What?” Ariadne stares at him. Arthur pulls out his notebook and starts reviewing his notes, checking them against the files.
“Ampersand, semi-colon, asterisk. I’ll let you choose.” Arthur makes a small note. “Let your imagination carry you away.”
“You’re psychotic,” Ariadne grumbles.
“Arthur,” Miles greets, and shakes his hand enthusiastically. “Can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for my grandchildren.”
“My pleasure,” Arthur says formally, and extends his hand again to the young clean-cut man standing next to Miles, in an ill-fitting suit and a mismatched tie. “Arthur,” he says.
“Theo,” the man introduces, and then looks at Ariadne and melts visibly. “Um hi,” he stutters, and flushes violently, pale freckled skin going scarlet. “Theo,” he squeaks again. “I’m sharing a room with Mr. Cobb.”
“Ariadne,” Ariadne introduces herself, smiling, and brushes her hair back out of her face.
“And he had no joy of her, for ere that, Artemis slew her in seagirt Dia,” Theo quotes. Ariadne stares at him.
“Yeah, cheers,” Eames says from behind them, “And on that note.” He comes fully into the little conference room and accepts a polite hug from Ariadne. “Hello duck.” He nods at Arthur. “Darling.”
Arthur allows himself a smile, the slightest upward twitch of his lips. “Mr. Eames.”
“I admit to a certain sense of relief at seeing you on this job,” Eames says, “it’s unsettling.”
“I’m always unsettled upon seeing you, Mr. Eames,” Arthur says, and Eames laughs.
“A rookie, an old timer, a newbie and a bit of a nutter,” Eames says, “you’re like a breath of fresh, unrelentingly competent air.”
“Please,” Miles says, “sit.” Arthur settles himself into one of the chairs around the oval table and arranges his notebook in the perfect position to take comfortable, completely private notes. Ariadne takes the seat to his left and Eames slouches over to his right.
“Lovely suit,” Eames whispers, “new tie? I like it.”
“Thank you,” Arthur says politely, “your shoes make me want to gouge out my own eyes.”
“Crocs are all the rage now, pet.” Arthur pulls a pained face, and Eames kicks his chair below the table, playful.
Miles clears his throat pointedly. “Theo and I will be acting as chemist, Dominic as extractor, Miss Ariadne as the architect. Then we’ve got Arthur on point and Eames as a forger. Dom?”
Dom opens his own notes. “We have one mark, a Dr. Curtland. First we’ll review the preliminary questioning, done without the use of the PASIV, individually and then as a group. Afterwards we’ll decide how to proceed on the dreamscape.”
“The mark is a geologist that was named as one of the agents working with Dr. Jergenson,” Miles says. “We want to know how much he knew about what was going on and what information he passed on.” He pauses, and looks up from his file. “I believe Arthur and Mr. Eames are fluent in Russian?” Arthur nods, and sees Eames do the same out of the corner of his eye.
“Are we supposed to believe this guy is the only one who might have known what was going on?” Eames asks.
“We’re supposed to believe he’s the one we’re being paid to investigate,” Dom says. Arthur frowns.
“We can’t guarantee results under these conditions,” he says crisply, “it’s a setup for failure.”
Eames nods again. “I don’t much fancy the ire of two nations while completely within their custody. Not a lot of escape routes off this piece of ice.”
“They signed those documents,” Miles assures them. “You and Arthur are ‘in the clear,’ as they say.”
“Oh goody,” Eames drawls, “I’m so sure no one in those fine upstanding governments would ever think of a doublecross.”
“Well you’re here now,” Dom says impatiently, “let’s focus on the job.”
“A familiar strain,” Arthur snipes, and Dom narrows his eyes.
“No sedatives in the mix this time,” Ariadne rushes to interrupt before Dom can escalate the brewing argument.
“Sedative?” Theo blurts out, “Why would you do that?”
Eames points at him. “What a fantastic inquiry.”
“Yes,” Arthur says, “Mr. Cobb, won’t you please tell Theo and Miles why you would put a sedative in the mix.”
“Dom,” Miles says sharply, and pulls him aside, talking in harsh whispers. Theo leans close to them, straining to overhear, and Ariadne pinches Arthur in the ribs.
“Stop that,” he says. Ariadne pinches him again, harder.
“Stop what? All I’m getting is fabric, Jesus. Try eating once in a while.”
“I have to say,” Eames comments, leaning into Arthur very close, “this is the cattiest I’ve ever seen you. Very becoming, by the way, you should wear the hat more often.”
“Eat me, Mr. Eames,” Arthur snaps. He’s annoyed at himself, annoyed at Dom and pissed about the job. Stupid, to believe he wouldn’t get screwed over, stupid to let a lingering fondness for Ariadne colour his decisions.
Eames leers at him. “Mayhaps if you had a wash first, pet. I dislike the tang of aeroplane.”
“God,” Ariadne says, “you two are like Beatrice and Benedick.” Arthur and Eames break off their own glaring contest to team up on Ariadne. “Oh fuck off,” she says, “Shakespearean romantic comedy trumps Athenian slut princess.”
“That analogy is puzzling,” Eames says, and then abruptly redirects his attention onto Arthur. “How are you finding the information on our good doctors?”
“Intricate,” Arthur says, and smiles. Eames matches him, body tilted, eyes bright.
“There can be nothing so intricate as the Labyrinth of Crete,” Eames says softly. Arthur feels his smile widen.
“Okay,” Miles says, clapping his hands together. “We’ve got lots of time to prepare content and strategy, and it’s been quite the long day. Why don’t we reconvene for lunch tomorrow.”
Eames snorts, his poker chip playing through his fingers, and Arthur heaves a large mental sigh. Ariadne grabs his arm as he goes to stand.
“I moved your stuff into my room,” she says, and Arthur blinks.
‘What? Why?” Ariadne tugs him down a hallway, impatient.
“Well Dom is with Theo, Miles has his own room, and Eames is also looking for a roommate...” Arthur takes a quick halfstep to catch up with Ariadne.
“I could have carried my own bag,” he says, and she grins.
“I’ve got a PASIV,” she says, “to practice building, and now that you’re here--” Arthur catches her on the wrist and pulls her back.
“Never go under on your own,” he says urgently. “You know that.”
Ariadne makes a dismissive motion with her free hand. “It’s fine, I do it all the time.”
“Not anymore,” Arthur says firmly and then tightens his grip when she moves to argue. “Ah--no exceptions. At least someone monitoring you.”
“Fine,” Ariadne says, and gestures at a door down the hall. “That’s us, come on. You want top or bottom bunk?” She passes him a card key and he slips it into an inner pocket.
“Top,” he says, and assesses the room quickly. A little desk pressed against one wall, bunkbeds against the other, two rickety looking chairs arranged awkwardly around the desk. He shucks his jacket and rolls up his sleeves, drops his cufflinks on the desk. Ariadne watches him for a minute and then beams.
“I’m seriously good at putting in the needle,” she says, tossing her cardigan aside sloppily. Arthur smoothes his jacket and lays it carefully on the top bunk. “You won’t even feel it,” Ariadne promises. She tugs out the silver briefcase from beneath the desk and starts setting up the equipment.
Arthur pulls the chairs to the center of the room and sits, offers his forearm to Ariadne. “What are you going to show me first?”
She tears open an alcohol wipe and starts inspecting his inner elbow. “Miles is adamant I not try any of the scenarios I’ve thought up so far, so I’ve just been messing around.”
Arthur watches the needle go in with casual indifference, then pulls Ariadne’s chair closer by hooking his feet around the front legs. He hooks her up neatly and efficiently. “Let’s do an hour in the dream to start.”
“Yes,” Arthur says, and closes his eyes.
He opens them on a tundra, the wind throwing up sheets of snow into his face and the fur lining of his parka hood brushing against his skin. He closes his eyes briefly and reopens them with wraparound sunglasses shielding against the sun and a coat that fits him better.
“Is that Armani,” Ariadne says disbelievingly. “Did you just dream yourself into an Armani parka.” Hers is pink and fluffy, a marshmallow jacket with a blindingly fuchsia lining. Her sunglasses are tinted yellow and have tiny hearts on the frame.
“Please,” Arthur says, “let me help you.” Ariadne rolls her eyes at him.
“Come on,” she says, “the good stuff is over here.” Arthur follows her down a roughly dug tunnel, and tugs his sunglasses off. Ariadne shakes her hood off and gestures at the three branching tunnels in front of them. “After you.”
“The winter line has a fine collection of women outerwear,” Arthur says, and picks the tunnel to his right. It twists and winds, and all he can hear is the sharp whistle of the wind and rattling of small rocks shifting. Every so often he catches movement out of the corner of his eye, and after fifteen minutes he finds he’s dreamed his Glock into a hip holster.
Half an hour after that, and he’s checking around the corners before moving around them, gun in hand. He’d turned around ten minutes earlier and Ariadne had been gone. Arthur turns another corner, gun raised, and finds a dead end.
“Fuck,” he mutters, and starts to make his way back to the last fork in the tunnel.
“Arthur?” a female voice says from his right, and he spins, gun up before he recognizes Araidne’s voice. He lowers his weapon.
“We almost done?” he asks. “This is fantastic, by the way.”
“I’m glad you like it,” she says in a strange voice, her face hidden by her hood, and then her skull splits in half, into two sides of a sidewise mandible. Arthur manages to get a single shot off before she bites him in half.
He comes awake shouting, his trigger finger still jerking, and falls out of the chair, the IV ripped from his skin. In front of him Ariadne takes a sudden breath and opens her eyes. Arthur can feel his heart hammering in his chest.
“Did you like it?” Ariadne asks, and Arthur shoves himself to his feet, stumbles to his bag and fits his palm around his gun. He takes a deep breath. “Arthur?”
Arthur takes another breath. “That was... amazing.” Ariadne beams. “I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive you, but that was incredible.”
“It’s all about atmosphere,” Ariadne says, “I took a horror movie film studies course two semesters ago.”
“I’m not ready to analyze yet,” Arthur tells her, “I’m still in the ‘hate Ariadne for sticking you in a shitty 80s slasher flick’ phase of this evening.”
“Hello it’s a classic and set in Antarctica,” she says, and digs in her bag for sweats and a soft tanktop. “Bathroom’s in the hall. You gonna be over this when I get back?”
“Yes,” Arthur says, “I’ll be onto the next phase.”
Ariadne brandishes her toothbrush expressively. “Plan revenge on Ariadne?”
“Exactly.” Arthur watches her leave, and then organizes his things, reviews his notes, casually jots down a few ideas.
“Bathroom’s free,” Ariadne says, returning, and sighs. “I wish we had a tv. Eames has a tv, you know.”
“Mm,” Arthur says. “Bathroom?”
“Three doors down on the right.” Ariadne flops on the bed, her legs hanging off sideways. Arthur slaps her lightly on the ankle as he passes.
The bathroom is dimly lit, with a dusty mirror and stall doors that creak. Arthur has seen much worse. He splashes water on his face, runs his fingers through his hair until it’s falling loose in his eyes. He slicks it down with water to keep it out of his face while he brushes his teeth. The door squeaks open behind him.
“Kipping with the fair Ariadne?” Eames sticks his head fully under the faucet, then shakes his hair like a dog, water flying everywhere. Arthur calmly rips a paper towel off the roll, the cheap brown kind that are spectacularly nonabsorbent, and pointedly wipes at the droplets of water on his tie.
“Would you rather share a room with me?”
Eames takes the paper towel from Arthur’s fingers and roughly drags it through his own hair. “I would even let you take the top bunk.” He tosses the wad of damp paper into the trash. “Please tell me you don’t sleep in those suits of yours.”
Arthur gives Eames a calm, pointed look, lingering especially on Eames’ bermuda shorts, patterned with tiny tropical drinks, and his mismatched socks. “I do not,” he says simply. Eames grins at him, playful.
“You’re more than welcome to use my television--there’s no sofa but the beds are quite comfortable.”
Arthur feels his hair start to slip into his face again. Impatient, he reaches to smooth it back again. Eames beats him to it, big palms moving carefully over his scalp. “There you are, then,” he says, “although you really should let your hair down once in a while. It suits you.” The tips of his fingers brush the curve of Arthur’s hair and Arthur licks moisture back into his tongue. He steps away.
“Goodnight, Mr. Eames.” Eames smiles at him, but not his usual roguish grin; it’s a little softer, more amused.
Arthur wakes Ariadne at six. Ariadne gets out of bed at seven, by which time Arthur has showered, dressed and managed to fill two chipped mugs with shockingly terrible instant coffee. He passes one to her when she comes back from the bathroom and she folds herself into a cross legged perch on one of the chairs.
“This is awful,” she says, but takes another sip. Arthur adjusts the PASIV.
“Are you going to get dressed?”
Ariadne chugs the rest of her coffee and pulls a face. “Nah, pajamas will be fine until the meeting. You wanna do the creature tunnels again?”
“No,” Arthur says, kneeling in front of her to hook her up to the PASIV, “it’s pretty obvious you should be teaching me about building, so we’re going to do an exercise that will actually be useful to you.”
“Game on,” Ariadne says cheerfully, “I will snatch those pebbles right out of your hand.”
“I look forward to it,” Arthur says, and slips the line into his arm.
Arthur builds in long lines, metal and chrome and glass, streamlined buildings that use sparseness as a decorating technique. Everything is sleekly modern, even the gun range he erects in Ariadne’s mind, the long tables of hardware, the tinted windows to let in the light and keep out the glare, dark paper targets with bright yellow circles on pulleys that move like a whisper. His only concession are three framed paintings in a level row across the back wall.
Ariadne peers at them. “These look vaguely familiar.”
“They’re French,” Arthur says, walking over to the table and examining the arsenal laid out. “Nineteenth century realist.”
“I guess you’re not the type to enjoy Picasso,” Ariadne says, and wanders over to his side. “Woah.”
Arthur reaches to his shoulder holster and draws his own gun. “I like to know what I’m looking at. Come here.” He leads her to an empty card table. “Sit.” He lays the gun down on the table.
Ariadne reaches for it and he slaps her hands away. “Ow,” she says petulantly, “touchy.”
“This is a Glock 17,” he says. “It’s the most widely used law enforcement pistol in the world. Standard magazine carries seventeen cartridges, nine millimeter. Twenty-two ounces unloaded, thirty one ounces when loaded; six and a half inch line of sight. Trigger pull five and a half pounds. Performs exceptionally well under a variety of field conditions and torture tests.”
Ariadne stares at him. “I have no idea what any of that means.” Arthur smiles, and sits across from her.
“That’s fine,” he says, “you’ll pick it up. What’s the first rule of gun safety?”
“Never point a gun at someone unless you intend to shoot them,” Ariadne says promptly.
“Good. The other rules?”
A furrow appears between Ariadne’s eyes. “Never put your finger on the trigger unless you intend to shoot someone in the next five seconds. Always assume the gun is loaded; understand the operation of the weapon before attempting to use it.”
Arthur hums. “Never shoot at hard surfaces unless you know how the ammo is going to react. Never shoot underwater. Always check to see what’s behind your target.”
“Okay,” Ariadne says, looking nervous. Arthur gives her a reassuring smile.
“Gun safety is all about common sense and good habits,” he says. “it’ll take practice, that’s all.” He field strips the Glock in quick easy movements and lays out the pieces. Then he slots everything back together, the whole operation taking less than ten seconds.
“That was hot,” Ariadne says, but she’s watching closely, sharp eyed. Arthur grins.
“Watch,” he says. “One: remove the magazine and check the chamber. Point in a safe direction and use your finger to check for a round. Two, press the trigger and pull the slide back a quarter of an inch...”
Two hours later Ariadne can fumble her way through disassembling and assembling the gun to Arthur’s satisfaction. “Good enough for now,” he says.
“Do I get to shoot it now?” Ariadne asks, cracking her wrists.
“No,” Arthur says, and props his foot up on the table. He pulls up his pantleg and reveals a smaller gun in an ankle holster. “You’re going to take this. It’s a Kel-Tec P11, semi automatic, locked-breech double barrel. It’s easy to clean, the recoil is minimal and the safety is built into the trigger. It’s also been modified to make the trigger pull less heavy.”
Ariadne takes it from him with a sigh. “I’m about to take this apart and put it together and clean it until my fingers bleed, aren’t I.”
“Yes,” Arthur says cheerfully, and opens his notebook. A few seconds later he turns the page to find it’s been turned into a copy of a Guns and Ammo magazine. “Stop that,” he says absently. Ariadne glares at him.
“No, you are a gun toting NRA psycho and you should act as such.” Arthur skims a few pages.
“This is factually inaccurate,” he announces, and Ariadne throws the bore brush at him. He waits another fifteen minutes before he closes his eyes briefly and makes ear and eye protection appear on Ariadne. She reassembles the gun in less than a minute, bouncing in her seat.
Ariadne is sweeping the casings when she stops and turns to Arthur. “Hey, why can’t I just dream that I know how to use this stuff?”
Arthur examines her latest target. “Well, for one, you’re going to practice in real life as well, and for another--you can dream ability in theory, but can you hold it?”
“Can you hold the build, the lie you’re feeding the mark, the illusion you know whatever it is you’re trying to do, and then figure out an outcome that makes sense on your limited knowledge of the subject while projections are trying their level best to kill you?”
“I guess not,” Ariadne says, but she’s still frowning.
“Generally it’s considered too much hassle to implement,” Arthur says as the first strains of music break through the dream, “but if anyone can do it you can.” Ariadne beams at him, and then offers him the pistol.
“Here.” Arthur takes it, and then presses her lightly against the wall, tugs her shirt up around her hips.
“Hey,” she squeaks, but Arthur bats her hands away. He slips a sturdy belt through the loops of her jeans, buckles it firmly. Ariadne traces a finger across the holes punched in the leather, her nail scratching lightly. From the table behind him he picks up a clip, fits the pistol into it and secures everything to the belt.
“It’s yours,” he says, and Ariadne’s face lights up.
“Really?” she asks hopefully, and draws it from her belt.
“In dreams, anyway,” Arthur says, and tilts his head up to look at the ceiling as the music grows louder and louder. “We’ll work up to the real thing.”
Ariadne presses the little barrel against the underside of his chin. “You’re a good friend, Arthur.”
Friends, Arthur thinks, and barely has time to smile before she blows his brains out across the wall.
Theo takes one look at Ariadne in a worn-thin hoodie and jeans with holes ripped in the back of the thighs and manages to choke on his own spit and drop his slide-clicker into the coffeepot simultaneously.
“Ah!” he yelps, and dumps the coffee out into the sink. He looks at the clicker mournfully. Eames snickers from where he’s leaning on the doorframe.
“Good afternoon,” Miles says cheerfully, “are we ready?”
Ariadne tosses Arthur a sandwich. “Turkey and cheese okay?”
Eames makes a sad noise. “None for me?” Ariadne sticks her tongue out at him.
“Get your own.”
“Thank you,” Arthur says to Ariadne.
“Where the fuck is the coffee,” Dom asks, holding up the empty pot. Arthur turns his head to hide his smile and meets Eames’ eye by accident. Eames grins wider and winks at him. Arthur schools the smile from his expression and scowls back.
“Come now,” Miles says from the conference table, “gather round.” Theo dries the clicker on his own shirt and shakes it a little. He sighs.
“Sorry,” he mutters, and Miles sighs.
“No matter, Mr. Tilas, we’ll change the slides manually.” He taps a button on his laptop and the projector hums, throwing up a picture of a plain looking man in a white coat, brown eyes and ash-coloured hair, going grey around the temples. Ariadne waves a bag of chips at Arthur enthusiastically, and Arthur sits next to her, takes the bag. Salt and vinegar, he reads, and sets it aside to eat his sandwich.
“I’ll trade you,” Eames whispers from his other side, where he’s sitting far closer than he needs to be. His breath brushes Arthur’s neck. “Honey barbeque?”
“Dr. Nikhail Jillis, biologist and Russian national,” Dom says loudly, and glares at them. Arthur feels his hackles rise. He meets Dom’s eyes defiantly and makes the chip trade with Eames without looking away.
“Pleasure doing business with you, darling,” Eames murmurs, and drags his index finger around Arthur’s wrist before leaning away. A vein in Dom’s forehead throbs in a way that is extremely satisfying. Arthur moves his leg to the side quickly and Ariadne’s foot connects with his chair instead of his shins. She yelps.
“Anyway,” Dom continues, twitching a little, “six weeks ago, he shows up at the door to this outpost claiming someone at the Russian research center was receiving results of confidential research being conducted by the British.” Theo taps a button on the laptop and another man’s picture appears, thinner with pronounced lines around droopy eyes, dishwater blonde hair grown too long around his face . “Two days later Jillis goes missing and this man, Dr. Edmund Jergenson, flees the base and eludes authorities in Australia.”
“Jergenson and Jillis were roommates at Oxford,” Miles picks up smoothly, “but Jergenson had denied Jillis’ claim that the Russians were receiving information.”
Theo clicks to the next slide. Two pictures appear. A blonde-haired blue-eyed woman looking to be in her early forties with thick black framed glasses hiding most of her face, and a fiftyish man with thinning grey hair and a few extra pounds.
“Doctors Lily Dunne and Dennis Curtland, respectively.” Miles pauses to glance over his notes. “The British government would be much obliged if we’d figure out who is passing what to whom and how they managed it.”
Eames, who is lounging on the table with his head propped on a hand, slightly raises two fingers. “What kind of national secrets are we talking about, here?” Couldn’t help but notice Jillis’ actual report was redacted past the point of being useful.”
“Information has been withheld in order to assess how successfully we complete the operation,” Dom says. Arthur swallows the bite of sandwich he’d been chewing and steals a chip out of Ariadne’s hand.
“Biological warfare,” he says, and crunches the chip neatly. He can feel everyone’s eyes zero in on him, and he keeps his expression disinterested, takes another bite of turkey and cheese. Eames’ arm is pressed against his, and he can feel the other man shake a little with laughter. Dom twitches more noticeably.
“You live up to your reputation,” Miles says.
“How do you know that?” Dom asks, frowning even harder. “Not even you could get your hands on those unedited documents.”
“Both Jillis and Jergenson obtained their doctorates in similar biological fields around the same time,” Arthur says after swallowing. “I found their theses online.” He takes another bite.
Dom’s jaw flexes. “And?” he bites out. Arthur chews placidly.
“And,” he says after a few seconds, “both of them conducted intensive studies on how extreme temperatures affect the spread of viruses, in particular the spread of viruses in the human body. After a few short post-doctoral articles published in Russian and English academic journals, they both accept posts in Antarctica and stop publishing altogether.”
“Because they were doing unpublishable work,” Ariadne says, eyes widening in realization.
“I am ever impressed by you,” Eames says, and the real admiration in his voice makes the hairs on the back of Arthur’s neck prickle.
“Then you can imagine how badly the British government wants to know about the Russians’ knowledge of germ warfare.” Miles adjusts his reading glasses. “And why they agreed to convince all those other nations to sign those nice papers for you.”
Ariadne makes a movement like she was going to rise and then stops. “But--if there are entire teams that work for governments, and they want it so bad...”
“Why us,” Arthur says coldly, sandwich lying forgotten in front of him. “Why go through all of that trouble instead of going to a completely legal team.” Eames doesn’t go tense beside him, instead he goes lax, lounging in his chair, and Arthur doesn’t know how he knows but he just knows that means Eames is on a hair-trigger, completely poised for action.
“You’re not thinking of burning us, are you Miles? Because we might not make it off this continent but I’m sure Arthur and I could make you and your little assistant very uncomfortable before they put us down.” Eames slouches a little further in his seat, and Arthur sees his hand move into his pocket under the table, and the edge of a pocketholster slipping out of his jacket.
Arthur presses the tip of his shoe against Eames’ calf. He bares his teeth at Cobb and Miles in a dangerous facsimile of a smile. “He’s not wrong.”
Miles raises his hands in a placating gesture. “Now, now, you’re getting the wrong idea.” Dom makes an impatient noise.
“Miles pioneered the use of dreamshare for reliable extraction of information without leaving lasting damage on the marks, and the three of us are the only known team to have successfully completed inception.” Dom closes his files with a snap. “Are you finished? Can we focus on the job now?”
Arthur’s vision goes a little shaky with rage. His muscles are coiled so tightly he can feel minute trembles running through his body. “So if I wanted out I could walk.”
Dom blinks at him. “What?”
“I could walk out,” Arthur repeats, “right now.”
“What the fuck is your issue,” Dom snaps, and Arthur’s lip curls in a snarl.
“Seen Mal lately?” Arthur knows Dom is going to lunge for him before he does it, and that’s how he manages to launch himself out of the chair and slide across the table before Dom can get in a suckerpunch. Arthur twists, rocking with the elbow Dom throws at him, and takes it as a glancing blow across the ribs instead of getting the breath knocked out of him. He clocks Dom once in the sternum to slow him down and then hits him twice in the kidneys to drop him.
“Arthur--” Ariadne is shouting, and Arthur stops, watches Dom rolls on his back and gasp for breath. Arthur feels himself being bodily lifted up and away, and then pressed face first into the wall, a warm body pressed against his back.
“Alright darling,” Eames breathes into his ear, “that’s enough, now.” Arthur presses his forehead against the cool plaster and resists the urge to smash the back of his head into Eames’ nose, dig the heel of his shoe into Eames’ instep. Instead he breathes, chest heaving, and blinks away the burning in his eyes. He presses his palms against the wall and flexes his fingers.
“I’m fine,” he says stiffly. Eames drags his hands down Arthur’s flank, down to Arthur’s hip and up again across his ribs, over and over.
“Easy,” he says, and Arthur feels himself sway. He takes another deep breath, and when he exhales he makes all the tension run out of him. He straightens his shoulders and smoothes the creases in his waistcoat.
“I’m fine,” he says again, and moves to step away. Eames blocks him with his body, and Arthur can feel the press of Eames’ gun against his side.
“Hold on,” he murmurs, and adjusts Arthur’s collar. Arthur closes his eyes and presses his knuckles to his temple. He opens his eyes to see Eames looking back at him, inscrutable. He smoothes Arthur’s collar one last time. “There you are.” he says, and steps back.
Miles is talking lowly with Dom, who’s propped up in a chair, and Theo is three shades lighter than he usually is, with his head between his knees and Ariadne patting his back awkwardly. Dom looks up and Arthur stares back at him. His fingers flex against his leg. Dom’s mouth flattens into a tight line.
“Can you give us a minute?” Theo half staggers out of the room, leaning on Miles’ shoulder, and Ariadne socks Arthur on the shoulder as she passes.
“Don’t kill him,” she snaps, and Arthur glares at her. Theo catches his look and half-faints, Ariadne scrambling to support him. “We are so talking about this later,” she hisses.
Eames doesn’t move from where he’s got his back propped against the wall, and taps a pack of cigarettes against the palm of one hand. Arthur raises an eyebrow at him. “No smoking inside.”
“Leave, Eames,” Dom says tightly. Eames ignores him, slips a single cigarette from the package and tucks it behind Arthur’s ear. Arthur stands very still, allowing Eames to touch him, and doesn’t look away until Eames has ducked out the door, his shoes scuffing down the hall.
“Dom,” he says evenly.
“It’s not like you to be unprofessional,” Dom says, and he sounds as conciliatory as he’s capable of sounding.
“No,” Arthur says, matching his tone, “that’s more your style.” Dom’s jaw clenches again.
“Godammit Arthur, you’re going to have to get over me not telling you about the sedative,” Dom snaps. “I’m the one who fell into Limbo.”
“You threw yourself into Limbo,” Arthur says, “again.”
“Because you didn’t do your job and you got Saito killed--”
“As I recall, neither the giant fucking train or your fucking wife killing the mark had anything to do with me,” Arthur snarls. Dom shoves himself to his feet, wincing, and gets right in Arthur’s face, shoving at his shoulders.
“Don’t talk about Mal like that, Arthur, Jesus. What the hell is wrong with--”
Arthur grabs Dom by the lapels and turns. He slams Dom against the wall. “How could you think I wouldn’t follow you,” he says. Dom’s eyes go wide, and Arthur feels his fingers go slack around Dom’s collar. He makes himself take a step back.
“Arthur,” Dom says, and makes a jerking movement forward, like he’d gone to move towards Arthur and then stopped himself. “My kids, Arthur.”
Arthur doesn’t look at Dom. Mal’s kids, he thinks with a pang. “I would have gone under with you,” he says carefully, “even if I had known.” Dom stares at him
“I should have told you,” Dom says, just as carefully, “and I’m sorry.” He sounds sincere, but Arthur bites his lip, uncertain. “I am sorry, Arthur.”
“Okay,” Arthur says. He pulls the cigarette from behind his ear and plays it between his fingers. When he shifts his weight to the side he feels an unfamiliar pull in his trouser pocket. It turns out to be a lighter, one of the cheap plastic ones from gas stations and twenty four hour convenience stores, see-through neon green. He hadn’t felt Eames slip it into his pocket, not even a little.
“We should,” he fumbles, “we should have a drink. After the job.” The lines around Dom’s eyes ease.
“Yeah,” he says, “and you should--come see the kids.” He smiles, tentatively, and Arthur matches him.
“I will,” he says, and taps the lighter against his leg. “I’m surprised to see you take a job so far away from them.
Dom’s lips twist in a little smile. “Marie insisted they summer with her. It may have come up that being accused of killing their mother, fleeing the country and then using high placed business and political connections to finagle my way back in might reflect poorly in a joint custody suit.”
“Ah.” Arthur says. He shifts his weight a little. “I could,” Arthur trails off, his voice rising in a half question.
“No,” Dom says, “theyre pretty fond of their grandmother. Thanks though.” He checks his watch. “Meet again in four hours? I think Theo might have to lie down for a while.” Arthur shrugs.
“He’ll get over it,” he says, and then changes tracks neatly, “Ariadne and I already have some ideas for extraction.”
“Okay,” Dom says, “good.” He stops, looking awkward, and then sighs. “Okay,” he says again, and leaves, pausing just long enough to clasp Arthur on the shoulder. Arthur nods at him, and walks the opposite way down the hallway outside.
Eames is waiting outside Arthur’s room. “Good talk?”
“Yes,” Arthur says. Eames gestures at him.
“Your tie is askew,” he says. “It’s throwing my lifeview out of whack, seeing you less than entirely put together.”
“Are you going to fix it for me?” Arthur asks, and Eames laughs.
“Is it my birthday?” Arthur straightens his tie, adjusts the pin. Eames pouts. “Ruin my fun.”
“Meeting again in four hours,” Arthur says. Eames nods, and when he brushes up close to Arthur on his way by Arthur stands his ground. He darts his hand into Eames’ pocket to leave the cigarette behind and Eames turns to grin at him, still walking away.
“I felt that,” he says, and Arthur shrugs.
“I’ll do better next time,” he says, and Eames grins harder.
“I look forward to it.”
Ariadne is sitting cross legged on Arthur’s bed, glaring at him. Arthur loosens his tie, and then unknots it entirely. He leaves the top buttons done up.
“You’re not getting out of this,” Ariadne says.
Arthur pulls two wrapped antiseptic wipes from the package on the desk. “Would you like to shoot my rifle?”
“Is that a euphemism?”
Arthur offers her one of the wipes. “It is not.” Ariadne glares at him, and then hops down and snatches the packet from his fingers.
“It’s like you’re trying to make me vote Republican,” she complains.
Arthur seats himself and swabs his own skin, slips the needle into a vein. He leans back in the chair and closes his eyes. “Cyclic rate is six-hundred and twenty five rounds per minute.”
“Go to sleep, Rambo,” Ariadne says, and Arthur does.
When Ariadne finds him she’s already got on her protection, and Arthur hands her the rifle.
“This is a Belgian assault rifle. It has a gas operated, rotating bolt action and a standard magazine capacity of thirty rounds. Completely ambidextrous, foldable stock and 2-setting cheek piece.”
“Your apologies are weird,” Ariadne says.
“The situation has been resolved,” Arthur says, and then hesitates. “I-it was unprofessional of me.” Ariadne shrugs.
“It’s fine. Hey! Can you modify this into a bazooka?” Arthur stares at her.
“You’re very violent.”
Ariadne props the stock on her shoulder in a way that is going to cause unnecessary bruising. Arthur refrains from telling her that’s a good way to shoot everything except what she’s aiming for, because he is actually attempting to apologize. “That is not a no,” Ariadne says.
“It can be fitted with an underbarrel grenade launcher,” he allows, and lets her tug him along to the table where the aforementioned launcher is sitting.
Jergenson is a quiet man, slumped in on himself, knuckles knotted from early onset arthritis. When he speaks it’s in a low murmur, rough jagged syllables dragged out his throat. By contrast, Curtland is nervous energy, his leg jumping up and down, fingers tapping, and outbursts of how preposterous the accusations against him are. Arthur lets his gaze drift from the monitor showing the footage down to the transcript of the interview, frowning.
“None of this is useful,” he announces.
“Speak for yourself,” Eames says, chewing on a toothpick.
“None of this is useful to anyone except Eames,” Arthur corrects, “and maybe not even him--not if he doesn’t have to forge Jergenson.”
Miles frowns at him. “We don’t know if he will have to take on the appearance of Dr. Jergenson.”
“Yes,” Arthur says, “exactly.”
“Arthur and I have been working on a few scenarios,” Ariadne interrupts quickly. She draws out a sheaf of paper, neatly typed outlines of the possible dreams they’d discussed, and passes them out.
“I like this one,” Dom says, tapping the page. Ariadne peers over his shoulder.
“Rambo,” she says approvingly.
“Stage a kidnapping by the Russians,” Arthur says over her, “let Curtland break himself out and be ‘rescued’ by the British.”
“Question,” Eames says, and gestures at the monitor where the paused video shows Curtland being questioned by a security guard. "How do we know he’d tell the truth to his rescuers? If he was working for the Russians he wouldn’t want to incriminate himself.”
Arthur shrugs. “As you so often point out, I’m hardly the imaginative one. Feel free to come up with alternatives.”
“It could work,” Dom says quickly, “if we build in a confidante.”
“Jergenson,” Ariadne guesses. “The co-conspirator.” Arthur pages through his notes.
“No,” Arthur says, finding the right information. “Lily Dunne.”
Dom nods. “Curtland’s pysch evals show a heightened sense of entitlement, anger towards his male peers--”
Arthur finishes for him, “and a note that Dr. Lily Dunne lodged an informal complaint against him for inappropriate conduct in the workplace. She reported hostile behaviour towards male colleagues who worked closely with her, repeated attempts to embark on a romantic relationship with her, and gifts from a secret admirer she suspected was Curtland.”
“He’s an unattractive tosser with a crush on a girl who won’t give him the time of day, so he spends his time hating his more popular colleagues,” Eames sums up.
“So we give him that.” Dom flips a page over and starts sketching something out. “Dennis Curtland wants to be Rambo. He’ll want it so bad he’ll believe it.”
Arthur starts writing a to do list. “Eames will need all the footage of Lily Dunne.”
“Gotta get the girl,” Eames says cheerfully, and then his face falls. “I’m going to have to kiss him.”
“Don’t be afraid to dream bigger,” Arthur says, completely straight-faced. Ariadne chokes off a giggle. Eames glares.
“Okay,” Dom says, “any other ideas?”
“Guilt,” Ariadne says immediately. “In his statement he couldn’t stop talking about how it wasn’t his fault, he didn’t do anything wrong, it’s all a mistake. He might be trying to convince himself.”
“He’s a spy,” Miles says, “or at the very least has betrayed at least one country. Can we trust anything he’ll tell us?”
Eames plays his poker chip over the backs of his fingers. “Depends on who he’s telling it to.”
Arthur frowns. “I haven’t found anyone in his past he might trust enough to confess everything to. I think Lily Dunne is the best angle we’ve got.”
“Catharsis,” Ariadne says slowly. “If guilt is weighing on him, he might feel like Lily can absolve him.”
Arthur taps his pen on the table. “We don’t know a lot about LIiy Dunne.”
“Forging her is useless if she knew what was going on,” Eames says “I won’t be able to fake those details.” They sit in silence for a few moments, Arthur’s pen still tapping away.
“It’s the best we’ve got,” Dom says finally. “What do we know about Lily Dunne?”
“Lily Dunne is also a biologist,” Arthur says, “Curtland, however, is a geologist. No good intel one way or the other on Dunne knowing or not knowing about whatever it is that may or may not have been going on.”
“Curtland is a geologist?” Eames repeats. “So he’s less likely to know about whatever germs they’re cooking up.”
“Geologist,” Arthur confirms, “he won’t know as much about biological weapons--we could do an outbreak scenario, scare him into confessing anything he might know.”
“I don’t like that,” Dom says, “it would inevitably be complicated to fabricate a scare like that to convince a scientist and have it be realistic enough to scare him. Let’s go with Rambo. Ariadne, sketch out what you’ve got so far.”
Arthur watches Ariadne build an interrogation room around them, cement blocks that smell like damp and mold, a table made of thin metal that rattles on uneven legs. The light flickers on the end of a frayed cord and sways back and forth. They’re in his mind, and Ariadne is practicing building carefully enough that his projections won’t notice. Arthur heaves a sigh.
“You’ve seen far too many movies,” he tells her. Ariadne glares at him.
“You haven’t seen enough,” she grumbles. Arthur turns to raise a disbelieving eyebrow at her.
“What is that even for,” he asks, pointing at an oversized bucket in the corner.
“That’s not really how it works,” Arthur says automatically, and then clears his throat as Ariadne gives him a look. “Anyway. This is going to have be reworked but we can talk about that later.” He surveys the room with an air of distinct disdain. “Can you make this less... Man in the Iron Mask?”
Ariadne builds them a warehouse, but a clean one, with large windows that let in plenty of sun and the strong scent of air freshener. “What’s up?”
“Dom is going to suggest we do the training exercises in your mind,” Arthur says, “tell me why.”
Ariadne slumps behind a desk, leg jumping on the floor. “Because... I’m the newest at dreamshare?”
“Yes,” Arthur says, “but that’s not the answer.” Ariadne bites her lip.
“Right because, Theo would be the newest... because I’m the architect?”
“No,” Arthur says, and leans against the wall. Ariadne gives a little frustrated sigh.
“Ah--because your minds are more suspicious,” Ariadne says, her face lighting up, “your projections find the intrusions faster because you’re professionals.”
“Because we’re militarized,” Arthur corrects.
“Oh,” Ariadne says, frustrated, “should have thought of that first.”
“Dom is going to suggest doing the training exercises in your mind,” Arthur repeats.
“Okay,” Ariadne agrees.
“We’re going to militarize your mind before then,” Arthur says, and then steps aside so his projection in the rafters has a clear shot to Ariadne’s head.
Ariadne is glaring at him when he wakes from the dream, rubbing at the faint phantom pain in her temple. “You’re an asshole.”
“We’re going into your mind,” Arthur says, smiling very slightly. “You go under first, and try to find me. Got it?”
“I am going to shoot you so many times,” Ariadne says, leaning back and closing her eyes. Arthur checks the needle in her arm and adjusts the PASIV.
“I look forward to it,” he says, and watches her fall asleep. He props his feet up and watches the clock for five minutes before putting himself under.
He opens his eyes on a beach, the sun shining down and throwing glare off the sand. Arthur shields his eyes, and looks up and down the coast. The waves are lapping gently, and the water is unbelievably clear. Arthur takes a deep breath of salt-tinged air and tilts his head into the breeze.
There’s a smattering of giggles behind him, and he turns to see Philippa and James playing in the wet sand, James’ hair curling against his neck, Philippa polishing shells with the hem of her dress. Arthur goes very, very still. Sand shifts into his shoe and gets into his sock, gritty against his skin.
“Found you!” Ariadne says, bouncing up. “Jesus, is this where you’ve been the whole time?”
“What are they doing here,” Arthur bites out, still staring. Ariadne turns to see what he’s staring at and startles back.
“Oh I--I didn’t know they were here.”
“When did you even see them,” Arthur says, fighting to keep his voice even.
Ariadne bites her lip, looking nervously at Arthur’s right hand, and he suddenly realizes that he’s pulled his piece, the grip familiar and comfortable in his palm.
“In Dom’s mind,” she says quietly. “I--I wasn’t really thinking when I built this, but I dream about his mind, sometimes. And Mal.You didn’t see it, Arthur, he locked her in this basement and tried to trap her in these, these repeated memories.”
“You shouldn’t let your subconscious build from memory,” Arthur says, eerily calm. Ariadne is looking at him like he’s a ticking time bomb. “It’s not good for the stability of the dream.”
“Okay,” Ariadne says, carefully sliding towards him. “Dom said that too.”
“You found me fast,” Arthur says, and his finger slips into the trigger guard, “it was a good run. But you still got one thing wrong.”
“I have seen it,” Arthur says, and presses the gun to the soft underside of his jaw. “I helped him build it.”
He’s out of the room before Ariadne wakes up, and ends up in the kitchenette, splashing water from the tap on his face and nursing the beginnings of a migraine.
“Ah,” Eames says from behind him. “I’ve been looking for you.”
Arthur rips a paper towel from the roll and dries his face and wrists. “Were you really?”
“No,” Eames admits, “I was looking for a ham and swiss. But I do have to talk to you about your monopoly on the PASIV. I need to start working on the forge.”
“That’s fine,” Arthur says, and wipes a hand over his face. “I wanted to ask you about helping me with Ariadne anyway. You can start tomorrow morning and use it until the meeting.”
“Sounds fair.” Eames says with his head in the refrigerator. “Ah ha, here it is.” He emerges triumphant, waving a package wrapped in white butcher’s paper. Arthur continues to frown at the sink basin. “I’ve got some beer in my room if you want a break from college girlspeak and ironic hairbands.”
Arthur’s headache knocks up a notch. “Yes,” he says, and Eames’ eyes go wide.
“Yes,” Arthur says again, impatient. “Let’s go.”
“This is terrible,” Arthur says, slurring very slightly, and drains the last of the beer in a cheap tin can.
“It is British,” Eames says. “Be grateful it’s not curried.” Arthur smiles at the ceiling, feeling warm all over. He’s lying on the bed in Eames’ room, where Eames had lifted the mattresses off the frame and pushed them together against one wall. Eames is sitting up, propped against the wall with his legs stretched out.
“I’m drinking English beer,” he says sadly. “my life.”
“I like you better when you’re drunk,” Eames says thoughtfully. Arthur crushes the beercan between his palms and tosses it in a random direction.
“I like you better when I’m drunk,” Arthur says very seriously, and Eames snorts.
“An old line,” he says, and then “bugger. That was the last of the beer.”
“Mm,” Arthur says, and lets his head loll against mattress.
“Are you falling asleep,” Eames asks, and he sounds amused.
“Stop talking,” Arthur orders, and wiggles back against the duvet. He sighs, and enjoys the sensation of his headache slowly fading.
“I do like you drunk,” Eames murmurs, and very slowly slides his fingers into Arthur’s hair. His nails scratch lightly on Arthur’s scalp, and after a few minutes his hands curl around Arthur’s shoulders and he tries to ease Arthur into his lap.
“No, Mr. Eames,” Arthur says without opening his eyes.
“Can’t blame me for trying,” Eames says.
When Arthur wakes up Eames is still sitting up, chin on his chest as he dozes, and his fingers are knotted in the tangles of Arthur’s hair.
“So,” Ariadne says when Arthur tries to slip back in the room for a fresh change of clothes and his toothbrush and instead mostly staggers through the door and knocks over the trashcan. “I’m thinking we should deal with this by never talking about it again.”
“Yes please,” Arthur says a little pathetically. He knew there was a reason he liked Ariadne.
“So,” Ariadne says again, and waggles her eyebrows. “where’d you sleep last night?”
“I take it back,” Arthur says, “I don’t like you at all.”
“You never said you liked me,” Ariadne says, hands on her hips.
“I did so,” Arthur says, rubbing at his eyes. “just now in my head--where the fuck is the coffee.”
“You can have coffee if you tell me where you slept last night.”
“Eames and I discussed shared usage of the PASIV device,” Arthur says with great dignity, and escapes to the bathroom. When he comes back Ariadne has a steaming mug of black-bitter coffee waiting, and he mostly abandons his plans of revenge.
There are two ways of militarizing the mind,” Arthur says from where’s he’s lounging on a couch.
“That’s a dorm room couch,” Ariadne says, “I’m not sure you should sitting on that.”
“Imaginary suit,” Arthur says. “I’m sure it can handle imaginary gonorrhea.”
“Right. Two ways of of militarizing?”
“Remember your horror movie tunnels? That’s the easiest way, go into another mind and repeatedly build nightmares until the mind is traumatized enough to develop paranoia, until the mind is actively on guard against any kind of intrusion.”
“Is... that what we’re going to do,” Ariadne asks, hesitant. The other students in the lounge, her projections, have turned to stare at Arthur, their expressions growing hostile.
“No. It can lead to unstable building, trouble distinguishing dreams from reality, fugue states and bouts of amnesia. “
“It doesn’t work?”
“No,” Arthur says, “it does. But the other way is better--takes longer, but it’s more flexible.” He smiles at her. “Your mind is too creative to lock down like a prison.”
“Is that how you militarized your mind? The trauma way?”
“Yeah,” Arthur says, “but that’s before we knew about the possible side effects. And my mind is just fine.”
“Yeah,” Ariadne says, “there is nothing about you that is hypervigilant, paranoid or delusional.”
Arthur frowns at her. “I’m not delusional.”
“Yeah, and all you and Eames did was discuss PASIV sharing.” The students have gone back to studying thick textbooks, and Arthur stands.
“Do you want to do this or not.”
Ariadne raises her hands appeasingly. “Yeah, fine, tell me the second way.”
“You have to train your mind to recognize intrusions, and then train your projections to respond efficiently and effectively.”
“Are you going to hide again?”
“No,” Arthur says, and leans against the wall. “look at your projections.”
Ariadne twists in her chair to look at the next table over, a group of young students bent over thick tomes of chemistry. “They’re studying?”
“Your subconscious will always tell you more than you think,” Arthur tells her. “you’ll always know, on some level, if there’s someone else in your mind. It’s just a matter of honing that knowledge into action.”
“They’re nervous,” Ariadne realizes aloud. The students are tapping their pencils, rapidfire against the tabletops, and darting their eyes from side to side.
“And they weren’t doing that when we came in,” Ariadne says, “so... they can’t be reacting to you, because you came in with me.”
“One of these things is not like the others,” Arthur says blandly, and Ariadne whirls to examine the room. She picks out a dark haired boy slouched into an overstuffed chair, playing with the television remote and watching a rerun of an eighties sitcom.
“Him,” she says, “he’s not acting nervous, or twitchy.”
Eames sheds the forgery like a snake sloughing its skin, stepping out of it and cracking his neck. “Well done you.”
“Now make your projections kill him,” Arthur says.
Eames straightens in indignation. “Hey!”
“And me,” Arthur amends.
Ariadne closes her eyes, her fists clenching by her sides in concentration. A minute passes, and then another. Eames waves a pack of cards in the air.
“Fancy a game?” Arthur waits another minute, watching Ariadne carefully. When nothing happens he turns back to Eames.
Ten minutes later and Arthur has strong-armed Eames into a game of Egyptian War, mostly because it’s a game random enough that even though he’s sure Eames is cheating his ass off, it still won’t end.
“Should we help her?” Eames asks, frowning as he plays out a king. “How many cards is this?”
“Three,” Arthur says, and smiles as he wins all eight cards. “And no, the point is for her to do it herself.”
“She’s taking forever,” Eames grumbles, and loses another three cards plus an ace to Arthur.
“You’re just mad you haven’t figured out how to cheat effectively at this game.” Arthur says smugly, and slaps the pile two seconds ahead of Eames, packing the entire pile into his deck.
“Doesn’t make sense,” Eames grumbles. “Where did you learn this, is this an American college thing.”
“I didn’t go to college,” Arthur says. Eames straightens.
“Really?” he asks, and looks crestfallen.
Arthur looks up from the card pile. “Disappointing?”
Eames plays out another card, not even looking. “Extremely. I was imagining young Arthur, unsure, in only two piece suits, virginal--”
“Discovering your sexuality with the older, more experienced fraternity members...” Eames trails off.
Arthur snorts. “Sorry to disappoint.”
“You really didn’t go to college?”
Arthur takes advantage of Eames’ blatant disregard for the game to collect the discard pile again, even though he hasn’t played a winning card in almost three turns. “No, I didn’t go to college. I went to army. You?”
“Same,” Eames says, and tugs his shirt down so Arthur can see one of the swirling designs that wrap around his pectoral muscles. “I used to have an army tattoo here.” He taps a solid black line of ink.
Arthur follows Eames’ finger with his eyes. “You covered it up.”
“Wouldn’t do for someone to be able to trace me back that far,” Eames says.
“I didn’t know you were in the army,” Arthur offers. “Not for certain, anyway.”
Eames’ eyes crinkle around the edges. “Then I was very successful indeed.” To Arthur’s right, one of Ariadne’s projections makes a vaguely threatening gesture with a mechanical pencil. “Are you sure we can’t hurry this along?”
“Yeah,” Arthur says with a sigh, “okay.” He turns to Ariadne, who’s still got her eyes clenched shut, brow furrowed. “You got any ideas?”
Eames clears his throat. “Ariadne--your work generally reminds me of the Millenium Building in London.”
Arthur wakes up still laughing, Eames glaring at him. Ariadne sits up a few seconds later. “Did it work?”
“I’m not sure,” Arthur says, still grinning. “Last thing I remember is Eames being beaten by scientific calculators.”
Eames rubs at his head. “You were laughing so hard you didn’t see two of them come up behind you and drop the television on your head.”
“Shh,” Arthur says, “I’m committing your death to memory.”
“Think of me often, do you?”
“Yes,” Arthur says blandly, “when I get upset I think of all the times I’ve killed you or seen you die and it calms me.”
“Hi,” Ariadne’s interrupts, “remember me, the point of this entire exercise?”
“It was a good first effort,” Arthur tells her, leaning back again. His lips twitch again, and he fights back a smile. “Let’s try it again.”
“Arthur and Eames will do a fake abduction,” Dom says, back in the conference room. “posing as Russian agents. Perform a constructed interrogation scene, rough Curtland up a little, and knock him out. Then we put him under, and go into the scenario Ariadne has put together.”
Ariadne clears her throat. “He’ll wake up in a replica of the room he was questioned in, so he’ll think he’s waking up from being kicked around by the Russians. At this point Eames will come in as Lily Dunne, and play the damsel in distress. Arthur keeps up his part as the villain, and when he comes in he’ll let Curtland get the drop on him.”
Dom flips through the outline of the scenario. “After their escape you’re dropping them into a maze.”
“Right,” Ariadne says.
“We’ll have to run through it a few times beforehand. Are you sure it’s long enough that Eames will have time to get the information out of Curtland?”
“It’s infinitely long,” Ariadne says, “there’s only one way through and there’s no way he’ll be able to find it without knowing the trick. Once he spills Eames can lead him safely through and be ‘rescued’ by Dom.”
“Whatever he doesn’t want to tell his girlfriend he’ll spill to his rescuer,” Eames says.
“We’re going to want to test out the maze most of all,” Arthur says crisply. “If Eames can’t find his way through the whole scenario falls apart.”
“Thank you, Arthur,” Eames says, “your confidence in me is inspiring as ever.”
“Just telling it like it is, Mr. Eames.”
“We have three opportunities to get information,” Dom says. “First during the interrogation, then to Eames and finally to me.”
Ariadne raises her hand. “What if he lies to everyone?”
“Let’s add a fourth,” Arthur says, “a catch all. The whole dream, people will be asking him about elephants. He’ll be thinking about elephants. At the very end, Dom tells him he has to write a statement--his subconscious will automatically fill the file with the truth.”
“Why can’t we just do that first?” Theo asks.
“Because we need all that build up to ensure what goes into that file is the truth,” Dom says. “Continuous questioning will make his mind fixate on what he actually knows.”
“Let’s break for dinner,” Miles says, “we’re making excellent progress.”
“Hooray,” Eames says drily, “flash frozen macaroni and tomato paste.”
Ariadne leans close to him as they file out, “Eames--I have Cup of Noodles. Come to our room after.”
“You’re a lifesaver,” he whispers back. “I’ll be there.” He winks at Arthur, and Arthur stares impassively back.
“You can have Oriental flavor,” he says. “Ariadne likes Beef and Chicken is for me.”
“Oriental’s my favourite,” Eames says seriously, and is rewarded for his utter blatant lie by the faintest twitch at the corners of Arthur’s mouth.
The first thing Eames does upon arrival in their room is swing himself up onto Arthur’s bed without using the little rickety ladder. “I wish I had a coin,” he says, “so I could bounce it off this mattress and let its spring speak for how anal you are about making the bed.”
“I wish Ariadne was in the bathroom,” Arthur replies, “so I could eat ramen noodles in front of you and then kick you out--oh, wait.”
Eames reaches into a pocket and retrieves a handkerchief, which he waves obnoxiously down into Arthur’s face. “Take mercy on us, love.”
Arthur bats at him good-naturedly from his seat on Ariadne’s bed. “That’s not even white.” He kicks off his shoes. “Ariadne will be back soon, and she won’t let anyone else touch her instant noodles.”
Eames drops the handkerchief on Arthur’s face. “Come up here, it’s weird talking to you on different levels.”
Arthur steps up on Ariadne’s mattress, arms wrapped around the metal bar framing the top bunk. “I often feel we’re talking on different levels, Mr. Eames.”
“Ha bloody ha,” Eames says, and grabs Arthur by the waistcoat, trying to haul him over the frame onto the bed. Arthur struggles a little, for fun rather than in seriousness, and lets Eames drag him until he’s lying next to him on the skinny mattress. He’s touching Eames all the way down his side, their ankle bones knocking against each other painfully.
“Your handkerchief,” Arthur says, and tries to hand over the little square of cloth. Eames takes it from him and then hands it right back.
“No, that’s yours,” he says, and when Arthur takes it back there’s a battered cigarette tucked into one of the folds.
“Doesn’t do me any good without a way to light it,” Arthur says, spinning it between two fingers. Eames frowns.
“What do you mean, you have--” Eames fumbles in his trouser pocket, and comes out with the little green lighter. He turns to face Arthur on the bed, and their faces are very close together. Arthur starts to wiggle backwards, but the look on Eames’ face stops him. He looks at Arthur with something close to wonder.
“I didn’t even feel you slip that in my pocket,” he says.
Arthur slips the cigarette into Eames’s mouth, his fingers brushing against dry lips. Eames lights it without looking away from Arthur, and exhales the first drag without filtering it through his lungs first, inhaling the smoke and blowing it right back out, where it slides in the gap between Arthur’s lips, his mouth slightly slack. Arthur lets it roll around his tongue and blows it back out in little puffs. Eames leans into him.
“Not very many people can pick my pocket,” he says very softly.
“Is that so,” Arthur murmurs, and his hand falls onto Eames’ chest, pressed above where Eames had told him his first tattoo had been inked into his skin.
“Hey guys,” Ariadne says, her hair damp from her shower, and Arthur throws himself backwards so violently he tips right over the railing and bruises his ribs on the edge of a chair on his way down.
When Arthur enters the conference room with the PASIV the next morning Eames jumps up and pulls out his chair for him. Arthur stops short, stares at him, and then pointedly turns to where Theo is sitting.
“Move,” he says flatly, and Theo scrambles out of the chair so fast he nearly faceplants onto the table. Arthur takes his seat calmly, and slides the briefcase across the table to Dom.
“There you are, then,” he hears Eames say brightly, “don’t worry about him.”
“Thank you Mr. Eames,” Theo says faintly.
Arthur ignores Dom’s raised eyebrow and Ariadne’s pointed smirk in favour of finding a vein and arranging the cannula. “Ariadne is going to show us the room and the maze for today.” Through his peripheral vision he can see Theo leaning across the table, adjusting the drip.
Arthur blinks, and opens his eyes to find himself in an exact replica of one of the bare supply rooms he and Ariadne had picked out earlier, plain concrete blocks and harsh lighting, a single chair the only furnishing.
“Good,” Dom says. “lead the way.” Ariadne takes them through the doorway into a hallway, and halfway down the corridor stops to gesture at a square panel in the wall.
“Laundry chute,” she says gleefully, hauling it open and throwing herself inside. Her whoop echoes back to them as she slides down to the level below.
“You sure you should be seeing this much?” Eames asks Dom. “No offense, mate. You can understand my concerns.”
Arthur bites back an automatic defense of Cobb. He presses his hand to the wall instead and thinks of the last time he saw Mal, really saw her. They’d built a skyscraper, all steel and chrome and long sheets of glass, and Mal used that little bit of impossible she had always done so well to make the stars burn supernova bright around them, the black of the night sky wrapped around them like velvet and Mal glowing white-golden under a full moon.
“It’s under control,” Dom says. “but there’s no need for extra people to see the maze--just means high chances of our own subconsciousness leaking through. I’ll go outside and check on the rendezvous point where I’m going to appear as the rescuer, practice driving the route a few times.”
“I’m supposed to be chasing you through the maze,” Arthur reminds Eames, and he nods, affecting the visage of Lily Dunne in a pantsuit and disappearing down the laundry chute.
“I really haven’t seen her,” Dom says, and Arthur remembers all the other times Dom told him it was fine, that he could handle it.
“I believe you,” Arthur says, and it’s not until he’s sliding down the laundry chute himself that he realizes he meant it.
The maze is dark, dirty grey ice and cold rock carved into thin scrabbly tunnels that are too short to stand up properly in. Eames, as the only one to have never seen them before, takes the lead, and wanders around for a good hour before admitting Curtland would be lost for exactly as long as they want him to be. It takes another half hour for him to admit defeat.
“Alright,” he says, “I give up. What’s the trick?” Ariadne beams, completely chuffed, and waits until the next fork, three separate entrances to other tunnels branching out.
“Look,” she says, and pulls Eames over to crouch down by the right side of the rightmost tunnel. “see, there?”
Eames squints at the rock, where a faint white-bluish glow can be seen where the curve of the tunnel meets the ground. “The moss? But I was checking that. All the tunnels have got different kinds and you’re not following the same colour.”
Ariadne shakes her head impatiently. “It’s a pattern, blue green yellow orange. No matter which you start with, if you stick with the pattern it will steer you through to the end.”
“Inspired,” Eames compliments, “breadcrumbs.”
“String,” Ariadne corrects, and Arthur grins from where he’s looking at the moss in the middle tunnel.
“Very metaphorical of you,” Eames says.
“On many levels,” Arthur says. “now repeat the pattern.”
“Blue green yellow orange,” Eames says without hesitation. “I’m not altogether inexperienced at this, you know. Some of us went to college.” Arthur manages to make his snort incredibly disbelieving. “And by some of us I mean Ariadne.”
“You didn’t go to college?” Ariadne asks Arthur.
“No,” Eames says mournfully and then suddenly brightens, Lily Dunne sliding off him in little ripples.
“Oh shit,” Arthur says preemptively.
“You didn’t experiment,” Eames says rapturously, “oh Arthur, tell me you’re a virgin.” Then, in remarkably good foresight, Eames takes off down the right hand tunnel.
“Excuse me,” Arthur says to Ariadne, and picks the left tunnel, sprinting hard and pulling up a mental blueprint of the maze.
He finds the split-second look of surprise on Eames’ face as he rounds a corner and is greeted with the sight of Arthur launching himself into a full body tackle one of the most satisfying moments of his professional career.
“You would have the whole thing bloody memorized,” Eames grunts, and Arthur positions himself so they come down with his elbow in Eames’ gut. “Ah,” Eames gasps, wheezing for breath, “it was only--a joke--” He twists, grabbing at Arthur’s tie to pull him off, and Arthur presses his knee just below the buckle of Eames’ belt. Eames goes completely motionless.
“What’s that, Mr. Eames?”
“I was just commenting on your obvious wealth of sexual experience,” Eames says without missing a beat, and then winces as Arthur shifts his weight. “Be gentle with me, darling.”
“Do you really think,” Arthur drawls, and presses his knee down, just the slightest bit of pressure until Eames’ breath catches and his hips twitch. “that you should be calling me darling right now?”
Eames drops his hands to Arthur’s waist, dipping low and his thumbs digging into the points of Arthur’s hipbones. “In all honesty, I think now is the absolute perfect time to be calling you darling.”
Arthur’s tie has come loose, and the end dangles in Eames face as Arthur all but straddles him, one leg pressed against the cold floor and the other hitched up, his knee still flush with Eames’ crotch. Eames bites at the tie, makes imprints from his teeth in the pattern and tugs at it until the fabric pills.
“That is Christian Dior,” Arthur says.
“My apologies,” Eames says, leaning back, and Arthur looks at the damp grooves in his tie. Eames reaches up with one hand and makes a fist around the tie, sliding down to the end before letting go and starting again at the top, sliding down and letting go, over and over.
Arthur watches his tie disappear and reappear in Eames’ fist. “I guess I can forgive it,” he breathes, biting his bottom lip just to see Eames stare at his mouth. “Just this once.”
Eames tugs very gently at his tie, and Arthur slowly lets himself be pulled down. “That’s very magnanimous of you, darling,” he says, and they’re so close now that if Arthur licked his lips his tongue would drag across Eames’ mouth.
“It is,” Arthur allows, and then they wake up.
“Don’t take this the wrong way,” Eames says to Theo as they stretch and sit up, “but I have this almost overwhelming urge to punch you right in your face.”
Eames is standing in front of a wall covered in mirrors, each panel at a slightly different angle. He’s wearing Lily Dunne, but the set of her shoulders looks ill-fitted, and she’s frowning.
“Your forge isn’t ready,” Arthur says, and Eames turns to face him, still frowning with Lily Dunne’s mouth.
“It’ll be ready,” he says in Lily’s voice, stiffly.
Arthur surveys him critically. “Are you certain?” Eames shakes himself, regaining his own face, and glares openly.
“I am very good at my job,” he snaps. “your usual brand of condescending commentary isn’t necessary.”
Arthur blinks. “I know you’re good at your job.”
Eames, who’s in the process of drawing himself up, scowling, stops short. “You do?”
“Yes,” Arthur says briskly, “obviously. I wouldn’t work with you otherwise.”
Eames visibly recovers. “Well yes, obviously.”
“I can pull footage off security cameras, airport surveillance and CCTV archives,” Arthur says, “have it cut together for you.”
Eames blinks at him. “I--that would be nice.”
“I’ll have it for you by tomorrow,” Arthur says.
“The forge will be perfect by the end of the day,” Eames promises. Arthur nods briskly.
“Good. I want to practice the interrogation scene.”
“We can wing it, can’t we?”
“I dislike winging it,” Arthur says, and Eames grins.
“Let me hear your Russian,” Arthur says, ignoring him. “I want to match our dialects.”
“You’re overthinking this entire thing, darling,” Eames says.
Arthur glares. “Don’t call me darling.”
“I’m hoping it will trigger a physical and emotional response,” Eames says, “get you on top of me again.”
“I’m not Pavlov’s dog,” Arthur says, offended.
“You can’t blame me for trying,” Eames says in Russian.
“Passable enough,” Arthur responds in kind. “You can do English with a Russian accent?”
“Yes,” Eames says, affecting the accent, “what’re we going to do to rough him up?” He drops the paneled wall of mirrors and erects a sloppy copy of Ariadne’s interrogation room.
“Nothing too extreme,” Arthur murmurs, thinking. “no lasting physical damage.”
“Scare, not injure,” Eames says.
“Yes,” Arthur says. “what should I wear,” he wonders aloud. No designer brands, he thinks. Better to do a regular suit that doesn’t fit him quite right, button down shirt with sweat marks and a stained tie. Less put together point man, more government issue thug.
“We’ll do the complete rundown Monday,” he says, satisfied.
“Ssh,” Eames says, “I’m dressing you with my eyes.” Arthur sighs heavily, and tugs his pistol from its holster.
“I’ll leave you to it, Mr. Eames.”
“Wait,” Eames says, “I’m about done. I’ll pick it up again when you’ve got that footage for me.”
Arthur shrugs. “Suit yourself.”
Eames steps up close to Arthur and wraps his fingers around Arthur’s wrist, tugging the barrel of the gun until it rests below his breastbone. “Want to kick me out?”
“Why Mr. Eames,” Arthur says, “that’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever said to me.”
“Arthur!” Miles says, and Arthur sighs. He hasn’t once managed to brush his teeth without being interrupted. He wonders if Ariadne would mind if he started brushing his teeth in the room and only venturing out when he needed to spit.
“Yes,” he says politely.
“We need to test the compound,” Miles says, “Theo has done some amazing things--we’ve managed to reduce the number of projections that appear in the dreams.”
Arthur suddenly becomes much more interested in the conversation. He can think of about a million jobs that would have gone easier had they not been racing against being overwhelmed by hordes of projections. “Even militarized minds?”
“Theoretically,” Miles says, which is one of Arthur’s least favourite words.
“Yes,” he says with a sigh, “fine, I’ll test it out for you.”
“Brilliant,” Miles says cheerfully, “you’ll play the mark and Mr. Eames has agreed to come in and be the part of the extractor.
“Fantastic,” Arthur says sourly.
Arthur dreams himself a shoestore. Handstitched, expensive leather shoes, all in the same simple design. He walks up and down the aisles, looking at the pairs of shoes lined up on the shelves, all identical. It smells very heavily of leather, and Arthur takes a breath so deep his ribcage creaks.
“Hey,” Ariadne says from behind him. “I went to get more coffee and Theo asked me to come down and find you. What’s going on?”
Arthur reaches out and touches the stitching on one pair of shoes, dragging his nails over the thread and across smooth unblemished leather. “Testing a new compound,” he says. He supposes it’s working, because there aren’t any other customers--or employees. He and Ariadne walk down the aisle and stop. At the end of the next aisle Eames is leaning towards one of the shelves, sniffing deeply. He looks up at them and grins.
“My, it’s just like a party down here,” he says, and Ariadne grabs Arthur hard by the arm and drags him aside.
“What is he doing here,” she shrieks in a whisper. Arthur stares at her.
“Are you crazy,” Ariadne hisses over him, “that’s not a rhetorical crazy by the way, are you actually insane? You have a shade of Eames running around your subconscious?”
“What?” Arthur yelps.
“Do you want to end up like Dom,” Ariadne says, “are you waiting for a train, Arthur!?”
Arthur grits his teeth. “Eames,” he says “is also testing the new compound.” Ariadne takes a step back.
“Oh,” she says. “My bad.”
“Hullo,” Eames says cheerfully.
“I’m going to go kill myself now,” Arthur says, glaring at the world in general.
“I’ll join you,” Eames says, and does.
Arthur wakes up to Eames’ snickers and Ariadne’s apologetic looks. “It worked,” he reported, “no projections sighted, but no one was building anything.”
“Again,” Miles says, and Arthur falls asleep.
Arthur is lying on his back in a meadow. “No,” he says, “I refuse.” A daffodil brushes against his cheek.
“I’ll keep the nature away,” Eame says, and offers him a hand. Arthur lets Eames pull him to his feet.
“I know you of old, Benedick,” Arthur says, and Eames laughs, tugging him along.
“Dreaming does make you literary,” he says. “do you have a special fondness for the Bard?”
“Moreso than Dostrovsky,” Arthur says darkly. Arthur has killed several people with axes, and you don’t see him crying in Siberian prisons about it. “Aren’t you supposed to be building?”
“I am,” Eames says, and points up. Arthur looks up. The stars are moving, spinning in spirals and weaving in intricate patterns. Eames sits in the grass. “Smoke?”
Arthur watches the constellation Orion form and fade again, the bull Taurus run across the sky, chasing Cassiopeia’s chair. “Yes,” he says, and sits next to Eames. Eames lights his own cigarette with a flick of his thumb, but when Arthur reaches for the lighter he pulls back.
“Indulge me, won’t you?” he says, and Arthur rolls the cigarette around in his mouth.
“I suppose,” Arthur agrees, because the grass is dewy enough to make his skin feel cool through the fabric of his suit, and the starlight is casting dappled shadows across the meandering rows of wildflowers. Eames leans so the glowing tip of his cigarette touches the end of Arthur’s, and inhales so the flare lights Arthur’s cigarette. Arthur blows his first lungful of smoke into Eames face, and Eames pulls away, grinning.
“You are delightfully contrary,” he says, lying back in the grass. Arthur settles down next to him and takes another drag. It’s quiet enough he can hear the soft hissing flare of the paper as it burns, and the ash blows off in the breeze, dancing like snowflakes.
“You deserve this state,” Arthur says, stretching against the ground, “nor would I love at a lower rate.”
Eames laughs lowly, a rumbling chuckle that makes something uncurl in Arthur’s chest. “Are you trying to romance me with a poem about giving up virginity?”
“It’s now or never,” Arthur says, closing his eyes. The stars shine through his eyelids, whirling pinpricks of light.
And then three commandos in full camouflage burst into the clearing and snap their necks.
“Good enough,” Miles says.
“Had we but world enough, and time,” Eames says, and Arthur smiles all the way back to his room.
Arthur plays his part, running through the maze and ensuring that he knows it inside out, and then shadowing Eames as he picks his way through to the end, fifty feet from the base, where Dom is waiting in an all terrain vehicle. They take off, swerving away, and Arthur loops back around to meet back with Ariadne.
“It’ll do,” Arthur says, satisfied. “Although I think Dom should switch to a truck.”
“We should wire Eames,” Ariadne says thoughtfully. “wearing earpieces fits for you and Dom, so if we can hear whatever they’re saying we’ll know exactly when Curtland gives up what he knows.”
Arthur nods. “We’ll wire them both, we can put a mic on Curtland before he wakes up. gps, too. Have you thought about a shortcut?
Ariadne frowns. “The design isn’t really conducive to a shortcut--I could add another layer underneath, a tunnel that cuts straight through and then put hatches in the floor of the main tunnels.”
“But?” Arthur prompts.
“But if the dream becomes unstable, the second level could collapse in and wreck the whole plan.”
“Think of something else,” Arthur says simply. Ariadne socks him in the shoulder.
“That is not helpful.”
“It’s not my job to be helpful,” Arthur says. “It’s my job to be effective.”
“I could add a few more tunnels,” Ariadne says, “that run straight through, more or less.”
“Do it,” Arthur says, and there’s a very faint rumble beneath their feet as the stone shifts. Arthur watches the distance for Dom’s truck, the cold chapping his face, and is lost in his own thoughts until the rumble grows into more of a roar.
“I think I tried to build too many,” Ariadne says, biting her lip, “it feels--it feels like it’s giving way.”
A crack splits across the ground three feet from where Arthur is standing with a boom so loud Arthur’s eardrums burst.
“It’s collapsing,” Arthur says, even though he can’t hear himself and he assumes Ariadne can’t hear him either. Ariadne is hunched over, her hands pressed over her ears. Arthur can feel blood trickling into the edges of his hair. He pulls her close to him, the ground still shaking, and they stumble to the edge of the crack.
Arthur peers over the edge. “Good enough,” he says to no one, and topples them both into the abyss.
Arthur comes awake with a start, the jolt of falling in his belly. Ariadne jerks upright next to him, rubbing at her ears.
“My bad,” she mutters, looking sheepish. “I’ll go back and hash out the final design.”
“Good,” Arthur says. “I’ll monitor. Two hours.” Ariadne lies back, and Arthur adjusts the dosage.
“What’s wrong with the design,” Dom asks, he and Eames pulling the cannulas from their wrists.
“What do you mean,” Arthur says, “Ariadne tried to add a few tunnels and the dream collapsed--isn’t that why you woke up?”
“No,” Eames says, “we woke up because we got fucking eaten by fucking polar bears.”
“They don’t even live in this hemisphere,” Dom says like he’s been personally wronged, rubbing at his chest.
“To be fair, I did tell her that,” Arthur says, and doesn’t bother trying to hide his pleased look.
“They were sadistic,” Eames says, and claps Arthur on the shoulder. “I’m a little proud of her myself.”
“Fuck you, Arthur,” Dom says, but he says it like he used too, when Arthur got up at five in the morning to grind coffee beans after a night of drinking, when Arthur and Mal snuck into his closet and threw away all his ties. “One of them splashed water in my chest cavity and used it to wash its paws.”
“It’s true,” Eames says cheerfully, “I saw it.”
“She’s a fast learner,” Arthur says. “How was everything going until then?”
“Perfect,” Dom reports. “We actually finished the scenario before we were eaten.”
“Forge is as good as it’s going to get.” Eames says. “which is perfect, in case you were wondering.”
“I was not,” Arthur says.
“We’re doing it tomorrow,” Dom says. “I’ll go tell Miles and Theo to get ready and we’ll call to have Curtland moved here.” He leaves, and Eames rolls his chair over to Arthur’s side. Arthur ignores him, tipping himself back so he can prop his feet on the table. They sit in silence for five straight minutes. Arthur uncrosses and recrosses his ankles.
Eames blows into Arthur’s ear, making him start violently. “Fancy a drink when she’s done?”
“We’re doing the extraction tomorrow,” Arthur says disapprovingly. He turns to a new page in his little notebook and draws the maze from memory, flips back to check it against the blueprints.
“Live a little,” Eames wheedles, and uses the hollow tube from a disassembled pen to blow a wad of scrunched up paper at the skin below Arthur’s ear.
“I understand that being professional is not your forte,” Arthur says testily, refusing to reach up and wipe the spitball away. “But some of us have a reputation to uphold.”
“Have a drink with me tomorrow,” Eames says.
“I thought you were out of beer,” Arthur says, and draws the maze again, rechecks it. His scale is still a little off.
“I lied.” Eames reaches over to flick the paper off Arthur’s neck, his nail dragging over his skin in a way that makes Arthur shudder a little, all the way down his spine.
“If you stop talking until then,” Arthur says, drawing the maze yet again. He checks it. The scale is even worse than the time before. Eames is shit for Arthur’s concentration.
“As a church mouse,” Eames promises, and promptly hooks his leg around Arthur’s chair, dragging Arthur closer. Arthur’s pen flies off the page, leaving a dark streak in its wake and tearing through to the sheet behind it.
“Godammit,” Arthur curses, and Eames just holds a finger up to his mouth. Arthur drives the heel of his shoe into Eames’ thigh, driving their chairs further apart. Eames extends his leg again, going for Arthur’s chair, and Arthur moves his calf to block him. He tries to kick Eames in the instep and connects with the table leg when Eames dodges. While his bruised toes are curling up, Eames manages to hook his shoe around the armrest of Arthur’s chair, and starts to pull him in again. Arthur kicks him behind the knee and Eames grunts, his leg buckling. He spins to the side to recover and Arthur pushes off the table, advancing. He ducks as Eames throws the rest of the pen at his face and catches Eames foot with his hands, pulling them up flush and half falling into Eames’ chair as they tussle.
“Oh my god,” Ariadne says, and they freeze, Eames still in the act of shoving paper down the back of Arthur’s shirt. “I’m finished,” she tells Arthur. “I’ll draw up the final blueprints in our room.” She leaves, throwing him a pointed look, and Arthur very slowly eases himself off Eames and back into his own chair. He twists, trying to get at the half a legal pad Eames had crammed down his back, but it’s slid down his spine to the point where his fingers just brush up against it, unable to get a grip.
“Come here,” Eames says gruffly, and Arthur turns obediently. Eames looks down the collar of Arthur’s shirt, his breath huffing warm on the top of Arthur’s spine. “Your clothes are too tailored to reach it from here,” he says.
“Hold on,” Arthur says, tugging his tie loose and unbuttoning his waistcoat. He pulls his button down out of his pants, untucking it completely. He wiggles a little, trying to get the paper to fall out the back.
“I’ll get it,” Eames says, and his palm presses to the small of Arthur’s back, right against Arthur’s bare skin. Arthur arches a little, just the barest curve, and Eames slides his hand up the knobs of Arthur’s spine, his fingers dipping into the spaces between. He pulls the wad of paper out, the sheets scratching Arthur’s skin on the way down. He can hear Eames drop them, the fluttering as they fall and rustling as they settle on the floor.
“Thank you,” he says, and Eames crowds against his back.
“You are fond of me, aren’t you darling?” Eames asks, and dips his head. His eyelashes flutter across the nape of Arthur’s neck, butterfly kisses around his collar.
“No more than reason,” Arthur says.
Eames leans his chin on Arthur’s shoulder, digging into the muscle. He tilts his head a little farther and sucks at the underside of Arthur’s jaw. Arthur shivers.
“Ask me again tomorrow,” he says.
Eames draws back, presses one last kiss to Arthur’s shoulder, wet lips through the fabric of his shirt. “I won’t ask forever.” He hands Arthur his waistcoat.
Arthur wraps his fingers in the fabric. “But you will ask tomorrow?”
“In friendly recompense,” Eames says, and Arthur laughs.
Arthur is wearing Dom’s suit when he raps on Eames’ door, the cuffs of the jacket rolled up sloppily and the button up shirt bunching around his shoulders. His hair is slicked back even more stringently than usually, and his pants are creased and unironed.
“Four in the bloody morning,” Eames rasps, swinging the door open and zeroing in on the steaming styrofoam cup in Arthur’s hands. “Coffee?”
Arthur shoves it at him. “I need one of your ties. None of Dom’s are ugly enough.”
“Have at it,” Eames says, gesturing to the suitcase lying open on the desk. Arthur rifles through it, grimacing. He pulls out one with light up bikini bottoms.
“I’m saving it for our first date,” Eames says. Arthur snorts, and picks out a particularly offensive pattern of purple and blue plaid. He heads over to the cracked mirror hanging on the back of the door.
“Always,” Eames says, and sits on the bed, tying his shoes. Arthur finishes knotting the tie and surveys his work.
“Too put together,” Eames says. “doesn’t fit your role.”
“I suppose,” Arthur says, feeling pained, and undoes it.
“Allow me,” Eames says, and Arthur turns.
“You are uniquely suited to this line of fashion,” he says, and Eames chuckles.
“Tilt your head back, there’s a love.” Arthur tips his head towards the ceiling, breathing shallowly. Eames knots the tie quickly, the fabric slapping through his fingers and stinging on Arthur’s skin. “All done,” he says.
Arthur can smell Eames wrapped around his neck, resting in the hollow of his throat. “Good,” he says, and hands Eames a black gas mask. “Let’s go.”
Eames wins the coin toss, so he gets to kick down the door after Arthur unscrews the hinges, shouting in Russian as Arthur storms the room behind him, lobbing a single gas canister at the ground. It begins to hiss immediately, fogging the room, and Curtland screams, sitting up straight in the bed. Arthur grabs him by the front of the shirt and hauls him out of bed, slams his head at a calculated angle into the edge of the frame, just enough to stun him a little.
“Cooperate if you want to live,” Eames shouts in Russian, and catches him by the left arm. Arthur grabs his right side and they drag him out into the hallway, shoving at him so he’s constantly off balance, knocking him into the walls and keeping up a constant barrage of angry Russian. They steer him quickly into a room and throw him across the table at the chair.
Curtland lands on the floor and vomits, retching violently and wiping at the tears and mucus streaming down his face. “Please,” he begs hoarsely. “I--I don’t know anything.”
Arthur rips off his gas mask and tosses it aside. “Don’t fucking lie to me,” he snarls. Eames throws his own gas mask into a corner and drags Curtland into the chair, shoving at him until he can sit up under his own strength. Then he punches him in the gut, and even though Arthur can tell he’s pulled it, Curtland goes down like a sack of potatoes, landing hard on the floor. Eames kicks the chair out of the way.
“Tell us what you know,” he snarls. Curtland curls on his side, panting.
“I--I don’t speak Russian,” he says, “please, please don’t kill me.”
Arthur kicks him very lightly in the ribs. “Liar, do you think we are stupid?.”
“I can’t understand you,” Curtland cries, pushing himself to his hands and knees. Arthur looks at Eames, who shrugs.
“I believe him, darling,” Eames says, using the Russian word dorogoy.
“I’m still not feeling Pavlovian,” Arthur says.
“Tell us what you know,” Eames says in English, switching to the Russian accent. “Maybe you only lose a few parts.”
“I don’t know anything,” Curtland replies, still on his hands and knees. Arthur puts the heel off his boot on Curtland’s ribs, where he’d kicked him before, and pushes him onto his back.
“I take teeth first,” he says in his own Russian-tinged English, “then toes. Fingers. I work way up to dick.”
“Sometimes he gets impatient,” Eames says, “skip straight to dick.”
Arthur smiles with all of his teeth. “Sometimes,” he says, and stares into Curtland’s eyes. Arthur fully intends to do all of what he just threatened, and maybe more, to finish the job, and he’ll sleep just fine after. Arthur always sleeps just fine, and he makes sure Curtland can see all of that in his face, without blinking, and he can see the instant Curtland breaks.
“It wasn’t me,” Curtland says in a rush, “it was just--the money, it was just too good, the money--I’ll return it.” Eames pulls him back into the chair.
“Where is Dr. Jillis?”
Curtland shakes his head. “Dead.” Arthur leans back against the wall, still staring at Curtland and blinking only when necessary. Eames takes over the questioning.
“You killed him.”
“No,” Curtland insists, “it was Jergenson. He wanted to cover it up, I had nothing to do with it. All I did was deliver the packages.”
“”I’m a geologist,” he says, “we go into the field to collect ice core samples, and I would leave the files and sample tubes at the sites.” His hands shake on the table. “I didn’t even know it was Jillis picking them up, I never saw him until he showed up at our base begging to be let in.” Curtland wipes at his face, his hands shaking. “I was helping you guys!”
“He’s ready,” Arthur says in Russian, and Eames nods. Arthur slips his hand into a pocket and pulls out a small black case. He flips it open and removes the syringe.
“No,” Curtland begs as Arthur walks towards him, “please I told you--” Arthur jabs it into the side of his neck and presses the plunger. Curtland drops in less than thirty seconds, and Arthur eases him back into the chair, takes his pulse.
“We’re good,” he says, “get his feet.” They carry him down the hall to a conference room, where Ariadne and Dom are already seated, Theo and Miles fluttering around them. Eames and Arthur toss Curtland into a chair and take their own seats, Theo and Miles hooking them up to the PASIV quickly.
“Ready?” Dom asks, and Arthur leans back and closes his eyes. He’s asleep before he can answer.
They wake in the same room, Curtland still slumped over. Ariadne and Cobb drag him out of the room, grunting with effort, and when Arthur turns around he’s faced with an exact replica of Lily Dunne, in blue slacks and a striped blouse, sensible black shoes.
“Come on,” Arthur says, and crouches next to a small briefcase on the floor. He can hear Eames undoing the buttons on her blouse, and he stands with the wire, slipping it around her the edge of her bra. “Don’t let him take off your shirt.”
Eames nods. “Make it look real,” she says, and Arthur smiles. He clips her on the outside edge of her eyesocket with the tips of his knuckles, a glancing blow designed for maximum colour and minimum injury. She stumbles back into the wall, flinching.
“I’m going to wreck you, Mr. Eames,” Arthur promises, and Eames drops the forgery around Lily’s face so he can smile with his own mouth.
“Promises,” he rasps in his own voice, and puts the forge back up before Arthur hits her in the face with an open handed slap, a red welt rising on her cheek almost immediately. Arthur yanks her back up, and pulls at her ponytail enough to muss it up.
“Good enough,” he says, and shoves a black hood over Eames’ face, stomps on the back of Eames’ calf and drags her down the hallway in a headlock. Ariadne is waiting outside the right room.
“He’s awake,” she reports.
Arthur nods. “Wired?”
“Belt buckle and top button of his shirt. We shifted him from pajamas into work clothes, but he shouldn’t question it too much.” Ariadne steps close to him and puts his earpiece in, fixing the coiled white cord to drop down his collar. She pulls his jacket open and leads the long thin piece of wire through his shirt sleeve, clips the small mic to his cuff. “Dom and I have them too, and we’ve already connected them to the mics on Eames and Curtland.”
“Good,” Arthur says, and waits until Ariadne steps out of view before slamming the door open and throwing Eames in ahead of him. Eames stumbles in so he falls against Curtland, who’d stood up at the bang of the door against the wall. He presses Lily Dunne’s breasts against Curtland’s chest and Arthur resists the urge to roll his eyes.
“Dennis,” Eames says in a high voice, the right mix of breathy terrified. “What’s happening, they dragged me from my bed--they got you too?”
Curtland pushes Eames behind him and does a decent job of glaring at Arthur. “Leave her alone.” Arthur picks up the baseball bat propped up in a corner and hits the tabletop with a full swing. Eames lets out a little scream at the noise, and Curtland flinches back.
Arthur uses the bat to point at Eames. “Maybe I start with her,” he says, thickening his Russian accent to frankly ridiculous levels. He steps forward and Curtland surges forward, trying to push him. Arthur uses the butt of the bat to hit Curtland in the sternum, knocking the wind out of him. On cue, Ariadne starts banging on the door. Eames falls to Curtland’s side, making distressed noises and pulling his head onto Lily’s lap. Eames looks up, Lily’s hair masking her face from Curtland, and throws Arthur a wink. “I’ll be back,” Arthur says menacingly, and feels a little pained at his terrible, terrible dialog.
He steps outside into the hallway and walks around the corner to where Dom and Ariadne are waiting. “Your dialog is seriously terrible,” Ariadne says and Arthur sighs.
“He tried to protect her,” Dom says. “he feels strongly about her, he’ll confide in her if Eames plays his cards right.”
“Her cards,” Ariadne says. “His cards? Forgery makes pronouns confusing.”
Arthur presses a finger to his earpiece. “Eames is competent enough. Now quiet, he’ll be making his move soon.”
“Her move,” Ariadne whispers, but falls silent under Arthur’s look.
“Who was that,” Eames says, his voice clear over the wire. “Dennis?
“I--Lily, I never meant for you to get caught up in all this,” Curtland says.
“They said you betrayed them---you were working for them?.”
“It’s not like that, Lily--look it’s not important now. Let’s focus on how we’re going to get out of here.
Ariadne makes a little huff of disappointment. “He didn’t take the bait.”
“We didn’t expect him to,” Arthur reminds her. “Not at first.”
“Let me see the gps monitor,” Dom says, and Ariadne digs it out of her knapsack.
“It’s working fine,” she says.
“Hush,” Arthur snaps.
“--left behind the bat, Eames is saying.
“Get behind me, there,” Curtland says. “I’Il hit him when he comes through the door.” Arthur sighs.
“You had to make it a baseball bat,” he complains and Ariadne shrugs at him.
“You’re up,” Dom says. Arthur checks his two guns, one in a shoulder holster and one on his hip, the grips coloured so we can tell the difference.
“Hey,” Ariadne says, “that’s not your gun.” Arthur does a double take.
“Yes it is,” he says unconvincingly.
“It is not,” Ariadne says, “you made me take apart that Glock for like a week.”
“Isn’t that a Beretta?” Dom asks, squinting. “Doesn’t Eames carry a Beretta?”
“Does he really,” Ariadne says, arching an eyebrow.
“I’m going to go now,” Arthur says, and remembers a time when he wasn’t the one being unprofessional on the job.
Arthur walks back down the hallway, dragging his heels so they can hear that he’s coming. He takes a deep breath, grits his teeth and pushes the door open, leading with his left hand. Curtland hits him solidly in the forearm, and Arthur feels the bone shatter.
“Arghhh,” he screams, only acting a little because fucking Ariadne and her fucking solid oak baseball bat. Arthur pushes himself across the room before Curtland can hit him again, grunting in pain.
“Come on,” he hears Eames shout, “Dennis, run!” Arthur catches himself on the wall with his good arm, taking deep breaths, and after a minute he feels a hand on his shoulder.
“Come on,” Dom says, and leads him back to where Ariadne is waiting with a first aid kit.
“Shouldn’t we kick you out?” Ariadne asks as Dom puts two flat pieces of plastic on either side of Arthur’s arm and starts to splint it. “When you wake up you can just go under again.”
Dom finishes securing the makeshift cast and rummages in the bag again, coming up with a sling. “Going in and out will just increase the odds of Curtland’s projections getting the drop on us,” Arthur says. “I’ll deal.”
“Next time I’ll make it a foam bat,” Ariadne promises, and Arthur grins at her.
“Position on Eames and Curtland?” he asks. Ariadne holds up the monitor, and Arthur squints at it, finding the two blinking dots quickly. In his ear he can Eames gently steering Curtland along the route.
“We’re making good time,” Dom says. “I’m going to go get in position. Ariadne?”
“I know the plan,” she says, settling down into a cross legged sit against the wall, the monitor propped up in her lap.
“You good?” Dom asks Arthur as they make their way quickly down the hallway.
“Yes,” Arthur says, and smoothly swings himself one handed into the laundry chute.
He lands in an industrial sized hamper, cushioned by sheets and towels, and takes half a second to breathe through the pain in his arm. The he hooks a leg over the edge of the hamper and half-falls onto the floor. He catches himself and pushes to his feet. “They’re in the maze, Ariadne says in his ear. Arthur jogs to the entrance of the maze, disguised as a manhole, and drops down into the familiar slate-grey tunnels of Ariadne’s maze. His breath huffs out in little puffs of white fog, dissipating into the dim otherworldly light of the maze.
Arthur starts walking, a quick loping stride, a little awkward because of his arm, in a sling and strapped to his chest. He keeps his own mental map running with his location in his head, following Ariadne’s soft directions.
“Stop,” Ariadne says, and Arthur pulls up. “They’re around the corner,” Ariadne says.
“Let me catch my breath,” Eames says, and Arthur inches a little closer, so he can hear them clearly outside the wire.
“Are you okay?” Curtland asks.
“I’m fine,” Eames says, “but I want to know what the hell is going on. Why did they kidnap us?”
“It’s not important, Lily, come on--” There’s a scuffling noise and Eames’ voice rises sharply in pitch.
“I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what you know.” Eames says. “This has something to do with Jillis and Jergenson, doesn’t it? Did you--did you kill them?”
“No!” Curtland says. “No--I. I was passing information to the Russians.”
“What?” Eames gasps.
“No-listen. Jergenson told me he was working for the government, and we were passing on fake information, some kind of sting operation, I don’t know. The Russians--they must have found out.”
“Found out what?”
“Let’s get going,” Curtland says.
“He needs another push,” Dom says in Arthurs ear. Arthur unsnaps the pistol on his hip, the grip painted bright red to mark the blank clip. He steps around the corner and starts advancing, firing three even shots before ducking around into another tunnel. Eames and Curtland shout, and he listens to them scrabble away.
“We miscalculated,” Arthur says into his cuff. “he likes her too much. He won’t tell her about anything that will make him look bad. He might even lie to make himself look better.”
“Plan C?” Ariadne asks. “Rush through to Dom’s part and the file.”
“Yes,” Arthur says.
“I’ll get ready,” Dom says.
“They’re running down blue tunnel six,” Ariadne says, “two rights and a middle from your location.” Arthur takes off at a run, digging a small electronic cannister from his pocket and twisting the top open to reveal a pin. He makes the last turn and yanks the pin out, tossing it down the tunnel where Curtland and Eames are making their way through the maze. The siren rings out seconds later, signaling Eames to cut straight through the maze and move on to phase three.
Arthur calculates the fastest route through the maze and takes off, hoping Eames will buy him enough time to get to the rendezvous point before Curtland. He explodes out of the exit, slipping on the ice, and Dom leans out of the driver’s side window of the truck, waving at him.
“Come on,” he shouts, and Arthur climbs the back, splaying himself out on his stomach on the canvas roof. Dom tosses up a tarp, and Arthur pulls it over him, grunting at his weight pressing against his arm. He twists under the tarp, hissing, and pulls a knife from his boot, cutting a careful slit in the canvas so he can see into the back of the truck.
“I’m good,” he shouts to Dom, and grips the metal railings. Dom revs the engine and after a few minutes screeches to a halt, Arthur gritting his teeth as he holds himself still with one hand and his feet braced awkwardly on the edges of the roof.
“Get in!” Dom shouts, and Arthur peers through the slit, seeing Eames and Curtland jump into the back.
“Who are you?” Eames shouts, and Dom starts his spiel about being an American agent working with MI6. Arthur pulls the tarp down off his head and pulls up the binoculars, keeping an eye out for hordes of angry projections.
“Shit,” Ariadne yelps, “I’m being chased by men in fatigues shouting in fake Russian about dicks. And they kind of look like Arthur..” Dom makes a choking noise and hides it with a coughing fit.
“Distract them for as long as you can and then kick yourself out,” Arthur orders in a low murmur. “Speed it up, Dom.” Arthur can feel the engine roar under him in response, and the wind whips freezing into his face. He watches the secondary building coming into view, larger and larger, and then something tugs his line of sight to the left. He squints, and then has to violently bite his own tongue to prevent cursing a blue streak in several languages.
“Hey,” Curtland says, interrupting Dom’s subtle threatening of charging him with treason. “Is that a polar bear?” The ground trembles a little, the dream starting to collapse as Curtland starts to think about how polar bears should be several thousand miles north, and Arthur rears up, coming down with his entire weight behind the knife.
He falls into the back of the truck, shouting a wordless warcry, and the dream abruptly stabilizes as Curtland becomes too busy worrying about the knife Arthur is waving in his face to think about the natural habitats of Arctic bears. He kicks out, catching Arthur in his broken arm, and Eames screams and flails and is generally useless. Arthur lunges at them again, ripping the canvas some more, and then Curtland catches him with a full swing of the baseball bat and Arthur lets the momentum and pain tumble him out of the truck.
He lands hard on the rocky ice, grunting, and rolls to a stop. “Finish the fucking job,” he rasps to Dom through broken ribs and what he’s reasonably sure is a punctured lung, and then grips his knife hard and slashes his femoral artery wide open.
“You,” he tells Ariadne when she wakes up, “and your fucking polar bears, Jesus Christ.”
Dom and Eames wake up less than five minutes later. “Got it,” Dom says, and Arthur and Eames drag an unconscious Curtland back to the security detail waiting for them in the cargo bay.
“Curtland was pretty sure he wasn’t working with the British government,” Eames tells him on the way back. “But he wanted the money bad enough to lie to himself about it. He also saw Jergenson coming back to his quarters holding a gun and bloody tarp the day Jillis disappeared.”
“Excellent,” Arthur says, “please try to be coherent in your report.”
“Your confidence inspires,” Eames says drily.
“Well now you’re just repeating yourself,” Arthur says, but he smiles, and Eames touches an index finger to Arthur’s dimple.
“Arthur!” Ariadne says, waving at him enthusiastically, and Eames starts away, coughing. “We kicked ass!” she says happily, and Arthur pulls away from her grip, watching Eames walk away.
“I have to write my report,” he says weakly.
“Do it tomorrow,” Ariadne says, “right now we’re getting totally drunk.”
“Where did you even get this much alcohol,” Arthur slurs, and then, “oh my god I’m drunk on the job.”
“Yes,” Ariadne says seriously, swaying a little, “and now you’re a real boy.” Arthur lets himself slide down the wall, leaning heavily on Ariadne, and they end up lying awkwardly on the floor, the dots of plaster on the ceiling swimming in Arthur’s vision.
“Mm,” he says, a little too tipsy to complain, and Ariadne wiggles closer to his side.
“You let me tie your tie,” Ariadne says, and Arthur has to take a minute to parse the sentence. “Pshi--sci--psychologically speaking, it means you trust me with your life. Because you bred--bared your throat to me.”
Arthur thinks about Eames’ calloused fingers in the hollow of his throat, his hands in Arthur’s hair, his knuckles against Arthur’s hips. Then he forgets what he was thinking about and has to go through the entire process again. “I like you,” he says finally.
“If I had an abortion,” Ariadne says, “I’d call you to pick me up.”
“That’s very confusing to me,” Arthur says, and Ariadne pillows her head on his shoulder.
“We are so drunk,” she says happily.
“That is factually accurate,” Arthur says, and falls asleep.
“So,” Ariadne says while Arthur frantically finishes his report and physically beats the printer into submission. “I’m putting together a team.”
Arthur picks up his report from the printer tray and paperclips it neatly. “Is that so.”
“I need a pointman,” she says. Arthur pauses. He hasn’t been associated with anyone since Cobb semi-retired, and has rejected the handful of offers he’s received without pause. He taps his fingernails on the table.
“Well,” he says. “I guess you might need a ride home from the abortion clinic someday.” Ariadne’s face lights up.
“That’s good,” she says, “since I already told Saito you were on board with a job in Berlin.”
“We’re starting next week and also he’s sending a private jet to pick us up on the aistrip outside. Tomorrow.”
Arthur stares at her. “I see.” She bites her lip, looking nervous, and he sighs. “You have the materials?” He stops, a sudden thought occuring to him in horrifying clarity. “Is Theo the chemist?”
“No,” Ariadne says, looking equally unnerved. “Saito wants Yusuf.”
“Okay,” Arthur says, and then feels guilty. “Not that there’s anything wrong with Theo.”
Ariadne pulls a face. “He kept quoting lines from different adaptations of the Minotaur myth at me. Eames started calling him Thesus.”
“His compound worked very well,” Arthur says fairly.
“Eames also said ‘you can’t find your Domysus without first dating your Thesus’.” Arthur clears his throat to avoid smiling and then stretches to avoid frowning. He hasn’t seem Eames once since they finished the job.
“I’m going to have to talk with him about holding out on information,” Arthur says, mainly to avoid thinking about Eames.
“No polar bears,” Ariadne promises, and hits Arthur in a hug that feels more like a tackle.
Arthur raps on Cobb’s door, and then tries the handle. It turns easily under his hand, and he enters. Cobb is packing his bag, folding shirts carefully.
“Back to the kids?” Arthur asks. Dom smiles.
“Yeah,” he says fondly. “You will come visit us, won’t you? You did promise.” Arthur grimaces internally. He’s terrible with children, and on previous visits elected to sit on the porch drinking Mal’s expensive wine and having long staring contests with the neighbour’s cat.
“Yeah,” he says though, because abortion friends aside Dom is the closest thing he’s got to family. He hopes the neighbour’s cat is still alive. “My report.”
Dom takes it. “Thanks. I heard you’re teaming up with Ariadne.”
“I was minus a partner,” he says.
“I always pictured you with a different partner,” Dom says, and winks. “How’s Eames?”
“Don’t ever wink at me again,” Arthur says.
“Is that all you have to say?”
Arthur considers him. “Don’t ever wink at anyone again.”
Saito’s plane arrives exactly on time.
“You sure you don’t want to hitch a ride with us?” Ariadne asks, and Dom shrugs.
“We’re going back to debrief with MI--some number, I don’t know.”
Ariadne sighs. “How about you, Eames?”
Arthur bites his lip, and turns his head away. He watches the stairs slowly descend down to the ground and walks on the plane without looking back. Ariadne joins him a few minutes later.
“You’re a moron,” she says, and puts headphones on. Arthur leans his head on the window and closes his eyes.
He dreams of sleeping, dozing off against Eames’ side and his breath warm against Eames’ thigh.
Eames finds him on a train to Berlin, Arthur sitting in a private compartment.
“It occurs to me that we could drag this affair own for a number of years, finally dying tragically alone because our timing never did work out,” he says, “but I thought it might be more fun if I just ignore your tragic lack of emotional communication. Fancy a shag?”
Arthur turns the page of the novel he was pretending to read without looking up. “Wasn’t that door locked?”
“I never did ask you that question,” Eames says, and Arthur’s fingers tighten around the binding of his book.
“No,” he says, voice carefully even, “you never did.”
Eames fidgets, fussing with his wristwatch. “I suppose I was a little concerned about your answer.” His voice is as careful as Arthur’s.
“Ariadne is putting together a team,” Arthur says.
“I know,” Eames says, “darling if you could just focus on something that isn’t work for five minutes--”
“I am,” Arthur interrupts, “rather fond of you.” Eames stares at him. His eyes crinkle around the edges.
“I have been feeling the urge to settle down,” he says, “professionally, that is.”
“I’ve been feeling urges too,” Arthur says solemnly.
A grin spreads across Eames’ face, slow and joyous, the sun breaking through stormy clouds. It’s the most gorgeous thing Arthur has ever seen. “Is that so?”
Arthur reaches over and locks the compartment door. He hopes vaguely that Ariadne was serious about not leaving the buffet in the dining cart until physically hauled out by security. “Altogether Pavlovian,” he says.
“Darling,” Eames says, “I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be buried in thy eyes--and moreover I will go with you to Berlin.”
“Fancy a shag?” Arthur asks, and licks his way into Eames’ smile.