There was nothing drastic or dramatic to herald the end, but a gradual dissolution.
Ariadne cut her hair short and put auburn streaks in it when Eames suggested changing her look and identity. The paperwork he had crafted for her, complete with the bank accounts and paper trail that Arthur created, gave her three other full identities that she could use to get in and out of countries for jobs. "Nothing is going to be as difficult as an inception," Eames had told her with a grin, pulling her into his lap to steal a kiss. "That was quite a trial by fire."
"It's been almost a year of lying low," she said, looping her arms around his shoulders. "I think it's high time to put the feelers out for work."
Arthur came in behind her, sliding his hands down her sides to her hips. "Don't tell me you're bored," he drawled in amusement, brown eyes lighting up. "We've kept you quite busy."
"And you've also been pretty occupied with each other," Ariadne replied with a smile, tipping her head back so that he could kiss her as well.
It had been awkward for her at first, not sure how to manage the tangled feelings she had for both of them. Of course Eames had worked it out before she stumbled her way through telling him, and had only knelt in front of her to say "Follow your heart, darling. It can work if we want it to." She hadn't thought he would consider that at all, and had been just as surprised by Arthur's willingness to enter into a relationship with Eames as well as Ariadne. Before moving to Paris, she had come from a small town in Canada. Studying in Paris had made her feel so worldly, but that was nothing compared to the reality of living under aliases with two lovers.
"You say that like it's a bad thing," Eames teased, leaning forward to run his lips along her neck. "I think it's taken quite the imagination to test the limits of our bodies' flexibilities."
Ariadne snorted. "That came out awful."
"Sounded better in my head," he agreed, unperturbed in the slightest. "I don't always get everything right the first time."
"Admitting to failure?" Arthur taunted in mock horror, ruffling his hair fondly. "Never thought I would live to see the day."
"What an awful stick in the mud," Eames murmured. "What do we see in him again?"
"His tongue," Ariadne replied promptly. She gasped when Arthur tweaked her nipple through her shirt playfully. "Those beautiful eyes," she added, shifting her torso to give Arthur better access to her small breasts. "That lovely cock."
"Oh, yes," Eames rumbled, moving to shower her shoulder with kisses. One of his massive hands moved to her stomach, caressing her in rough circles, pulling up at her shirt. "I do enjoy that cock, whether in my mouth or my arse. Quite talented, our Arthur is."
Arthur huffed, but it was an amused sound. "As if you didn't enjoy your own."
"Didn't say that I didn't," Eames said, lifting his head from Ariadne's shoulder to smirk at Arthur. "I quite like how it feels inside Ariadne or you. But we were talking about your delicious cock, Arthur, not mine."
"All this talk of cock," Ariadne said, voice thick with desire, "yet none of it is in me."
"You naughty, naughty minx," Eames chuckled, shifting his hand so that his fingertips slipped beneath her jeans. He brushed them across coarse curls, but was too far away from the clit that had to be aching with need. "I do love you," he whispered into her ear before taking her earlobe between his lips.
"So show me," she said, pulling on her own shirt to take it off. "Both of you."
With both Arthur and Eames helping her, Ariadne was naked and stretched out on the couch in no time. Eames shucked off his clothing as if it was no more than an annoying afterthought, and bent down so that he could press his face to the juncture of her thighs. Ariadne tugged on his hip, pulling him into place as she gasped "Over here. I want..."
He straddled her head as he leaned down over her body, tongue dipping down to her slit. Arthur was slower with taking his own clothes off, and watched as Ariadne took Eames' cock into her mouth, sucking it greedily. It would take a bit for the both of them to get truly worked up, so that would give Arthur a moment to figure out how best he could fit into their bodies.
"You know what?" he said, licking his lips as he contemplated angles. "I want Ariadne on top of you, Eames. I want her riding your face while I fuck her from behind, and then I'm going to pull out and come over both of you."
Ariadne pulled back, Eames' cock falling from her mouth with an obscene popping sound. "Oh, I like the sound of that."
"You just like being eaten out," Eames teased with a grin, starting to move off of Ariadne.
"Like you don't like the idea of me sucking on your cock," she returned with a filthy grin.
Arthur grabbed her before she said anything else and kissed her, tongue sliding between her lips, his hand cupping a breast to tweak her nipples. Eames sighed playfully. "Such a pretty picture, the two of you," he murmured.
Eames stretched out on the couch, arms and legs reaching out, appearing more like a cat in the sun. Arthur helped Ariadne get into place over him, and then slid a finger into her as Eames took her clit into his lips. She moaned as she took Eames' cock back into her mouth, pressing her breasts into his abdomen. Eames splayed his legs wide and let his hands grasp her hips to keep her in place over his mouth. Once Arthur thought he got her slick enough, he put his hands over Eames' and slid his cock into Ariadne. She groaned in pleasure and had to let Eames' cock fall out of her mouth to press her face against his thigh and catch her breath. "Oh, God, that's good," she managed to say after a few slow strokes.
"And it'll get better," Arthur promised, quickening his pace. He laughed when Eames nipped her clit with his lips, not to be outdone just because his mouth was otherwise occupied.
It wasn't the first time they'd been in this configuration, and Arthur slipped into the rapid pace that Ariadne liked. He pushed into her, hard and fast, pressing her against Eames' mouth with every thrust. She wailed and nuzzled Eames' balls before taking his cock back into her mouth with a groan of pleasure. Her hands grasped his thighs tight, nails nearly digging into his skin as she tried to keep herself from grinding down into his face.
Just as he promised, when he was close to coming, Arthur pulled out and came over Ariadne's outer lips. Eames licked at her clit harder, then pushed her down slightly so that he could lick up the dribbling semen. She hissed and wailed, body tightening as she came. Arthur waited until she shivered, coming down from her high, then shifted her out of the way so that he could kneel beside the couch and take Eames' cock into his own mouth. He licked and sucked, fondling his balls and fingering his hole until Eames came with a hoarse shout.
Lying in a tangled heap of limbs, Ariadne gave a contented sigh. "Mmm. Perfect."
"Of course we are," Eames laughed.
"This is the best team I've ever worked with," Arthur said, moving to press a kiss to Ariadne's forehead and Eames' thigh. It was as close to I love you that he ever got with them, but they understood the sentiment just the same.
"I got a simple one for ya," Wells told Arthur, his voice like an oil slick over the phone. "A way to ease back into the game, so to speak."
Not rising to the bait, Arthur simply asked for details. Ferdinand Chenglary was a man in his early forties of mixed descent. He had coarse black hair, dark brown eyes, and dark skin that somehow managed to look sallow from his lack of sun. He had made millions as a government programmer, creating several ciphers used within the intelligence community. He had been paid handsomely for the work, and he had been lucky or skilled enough to triple it through the stock market and real estate investments. Somewhere along the way had grown reclusive. Talk in business circles was that he was paranoid and eccentric the way Howard Hughes had been, and that sometimes he didn't even trust his own sister Elizabeth. She was a charge nurse at a hospital in St. Louis, and had nothing to do with computers, programming, intelligence agencies or the simmering underground of spycraft. She was younger than Ferdinand, happily engaged to a woman of Hispanic descent, and for all intents and purposes was fond of him.
"What's the catch?" Arthur asked, letting some of his wariness through.
Wells chuckled. "C'mon, I never have steered you wrong yet. Chenglary heard about dream share, and now he's paranoid as fuck that someone is going to steal information out of his head without him knowing about it."
"Can't imagine how he got that idea," Arthur replied dryly, lips quirking slightly in spite of his resolve to be professional and stoic in response to any of Wells' remarks.
"Don't know, don't care. He put feelers out for a team to test his mind, kind of like the way companies hire hackers to test their systems."
"You're not interested in a simple job like that?" Arthur asked, surprised.
"I'm more interested in you taking the job and me getting a finder's fee," Wells answered in a bored tone. "Brokering deals nets me a nice sum with no risk to my personal safety."
"Did something happen?"
"When doesn't something happen?" Wells answered flippantly. "But yeah, there's been a few nasty ones that went down in your break time. So lucky you, you can do the jobs I would've done if I wasn't playing matchmaker."
Though the words irritated Arthur for a reason he couldn't name, he couldn't fault the logic. He remembered Wells as always being interested in his own security, and even botching a job or two in the past in order to get away.
"Send me the details and your fee," Arthur decided finally. "We're in."
Chenglary met them at the door himself, though he had an assistant with him that looked more like a bodyguard than a pencil pushing accountant. Evan had a stocky build and swarthy skin, a square jaw and small eyes that missed absolutely nothing around him. The suit he wore might have appeared to be an ordinary businessman's attire, but Ariadne knew enough about tailoring after living with Arthur and Eames to know bespoke when she saw it. The lines of the jacket were classically elegant, but the darts and seams were also done up in a way to hide the lines of a sidearm in a side holster as well as a holdout weapon at the small of his back. She was willing to bet that the tailored pants hid a knife or switchblade.
She had her own knife strapped to the inside of her forearm, so she couldn't fault the bodyguard for being extremely cautious around a trio of strangers claiming to be able to get into Chenglary's mind and extract what they wanted from it.
"You come recommended," Chenglary said, his voice reedy and thin. He gestured for them to follow him to his office, which was located in one of the front rooms beneath a turret. It was a large, circular room, the tinted glass making the room take on a greenish tinge. The furniture was ultramodern and completely at odds with the classical lines of the house itself, a jarring note to Ariadne's design sense.
"Perhaps if we discuss what you are looking for in detail," Arthur began, gracefully sitting down in the offered chair. Chenglary didn't appear impressed as he sat behind his massive glass and chrome desk, a faint afterimage reflecting in its surface. "We can best tailor your experience to the purpose you have in mind."
Ariadne could see the tense set of Chenglary's shoulders and the way his eyes flicked over their understated and casual appearance. His bodyguard had followed them into the office, and stood behind them all near the door. Other than the windows, which she was beginning to suspect were reinforced, there was no other way out of the room.
Paranoia was an understatement for this guy.
"Dreams can be invaded," Chenglary said, a thread of anger in his voice. "The sanctity of the mind, of the spirit... Violated. Assaulted."
It was a rather harsh way to look at dream share, but Ariadne couldn't exactly fault his logic. She had thought the same thing at first, though the ability to create entire worlds had pushed that from her mind. Eames' hands on the arms of his chair tensed slightly, and Ariadne wanted to touch his wrist in silent support. But they had to be professional, and the romantic entanglement couldn't even be hinted at. If they appeared to be anything other than what they said they were, credibility would be lost.
And she wouldn't put it past Evan to pull his weapon and permanently make sure they couldn't reveal anything about Chenglary's paranoia.
Arthur had a gift for putting prickly people at ease, a talent he had honed to a razor's edge while working with Cobb. He didn't discount Chenglary's opinion, but simply nodded. "And it certainly can be. There are other applications to dream share, of course. Exploration of ideas, recreation, learning new things or skills in a shorter amount of time... There are many opportunities and possibilities, depending on the intention of the dreamer and the team they work with. I was told that you were interested in subconscious security training."
"Perhaps," Chenglary said. The tension hadn't eased from his body in the slightest. "I find it difficult to believe that people cannot tell the difference between dreams and reality."
"Perhaps you need to see it for yourself," Arthur offered.
Chenglary looked at him suspiciously. "Oh?"
Ariadne leaned forward a bit. "I'm an architect, classically trained and had done some work in firms before deciding to work in only dream share," she said with a guileless smile. "There are a number of various interesting building tricks that would only work in dreams, but it does serve to make an environment that feels real while you're in the dream. It's only later that you might pick it apart and feel that there was something off about it."
He narrowed his eyes at her. "Dreams are not real."
"Dreams have their own logic," Eames interjected with a slight shake of his head. "Entire universes are created, lived in and then destroyed once you wake up. Who are we to say that it's not real? The dreamer is the only one that can really say that."
Leaning back in his chair, Chenglary took in the three of them. "You truly believe what you say."
"Absolutely," Arthur said firmly. "That is how we've built a reputation. Quality work, attention to detail, follow through and making sure we fulfill the nature of the contract. It isn't any different just because we work with dreams."
"I should take you up on that demonstration," Chenglary said finally. His eyes bored into Arthur's, and Ariadne felt her hackles rise. "I will only believe for myself if I see the nature of this work. It feels unnatural. That you are full of lies and you are only trying to steal secrets and a part of my soul."
The pent up rage and suspicion in Chenglary's voice startled Ariadne, but she knew better than to react to it. Instead, she only tilted her head to the side. "But we're not here to steal anything. I thought we were going to train you in another way to protect yourself."
He turned his gaze to her, and she felt as though he was better suited to be the crazed villain in a horror movie than an eccentric millionaire. Her skin crawled, and she suddenly wanted to get out of the house and as far away from them as possible.
"Then by all means, let us proceed."
Later, she would desperately wish they hadn't.
Frowning at his reflection, he turned to face the opposite wall. "They tricked me." His voice was hard with anger, and his hands balled up into fists. "They lied."
Stalking through the hallway, he headed for the kitchen. There at the table was his sister Elizabeth, buttering a toasted English muffin as she hummed an off key tune. She was in a loose T shirt emblazoned with the logo of her fiancée's niece's softball team, her hair twisted into a messy ponytail. Her grin at his arrival faded as she took in his scowl. "What's that for?"
"What the hell are you doing in my home?"
"Really, Nando?" she asked, a trace of irritation in her voice. "You invited me, remember? I arrived last night with Sofia, and she's still exhausted from the drive. If you really didn't want to, you could've said something. I could've stayed home during my vacation time. I don't need you looking at me like I stole the silver. Jerk."
Chenglary walked forward, frowning a little. "Is it already August?"
Elizabeth put down the English muffin and frowned at him. "Seriously? You have no idea what day it is? Okay, that's it, you can't live in this massive house alone. Your guards obviously don't talk to you about anything. How much time did you lose?"
"It's the end of June."
She snorted and then picked up her muffin. "I don't even want to know who you're working for that you'd lose track of six weeks. Did you even get any sleep? Eat regular meals?"
His frown deepened and he yanked a chair away from the table to sit down heavily in it. "I don't, not consistently. You know that."
"Yeah, exactly. That's my point." She pointed at him with her muffin. "That's a good way to get sick, Nando. I've been telling you for years, all that money is not worth your health." She took a big bite of the muffin and chewed thoughtfully, shaking her head. "I mean, I get it that you have an important job. But your mind and body can't survive this kind of abuse. Human beings are just not built to go without sleep. People that do that do stupid things that land them in the ER."
"I don't do anything dangerous," Chenglary replied defensively. "I code."
"Staring at a computer in the dark all day," Elizabeth huffed. "That changes the amount of light you get, and it changes your entire sleep/wake pattern. It's not healthy, Nando. For someone that lives off of your intelligence, sometimes you just don't think!"
Chenglary glared at her. "You forget who's older."
"You might be older," Elizabeth replied with a cheeky smile, "but I got all the sense. So there."
He choked back some startled laughter when she stuck her tongue out at him the way she used to when they were younger. "Elizabeth..."
"Listen. Your life is yours. I don't mean to butt in, Nando, but this isn't healthy. I worry about you, all alone up here and no one visiting."
"I had three people visit me not too long ago," he said.
"Oooh. Three people. For business, I'll bet." She laughed and shook her head ruefully when he didn't say anything and only glared at her. "When Sofia wakes, we're all going out and doing something outside of this house. Maybe take a walk in the park. Something. You're stuck inside your head too much. I worry."
"You don't have to worry about me," Chenglary sighed, scooting closer to touch her arm gently. "Really, you don't. I've just been working hard on this new project. You know how I get."
"Yes, I do. Which is why I worry. So what's the big deal about this project?" She held up a hand before he could say anything. "Not the details, I don't need to know about those. It probably wouldn't make sense to me anyway. But what's it for? Which government agency are you working for this time?"
"Financial sector algorhythm," Chenglary admitted after a moment, scrubbing at his jaw in a tired manner. "It's tricky to get right."
Elizabeth made a sympathetic clucking noise. "No wonder you lost track of time. It's like that one project last year, the one that you had and missed the Ladybugs' playoffs."
Chenglary rolled his eyes. "No, that was deliberate. I don't care about softball."
"Just numbers more than people," Elizabeth said with a sigh. She took another big bite of the muffin and chewed, the two of them sitting in awkward silence for a time.
"I care about you," Chenglary said finally. "You're my sister."
"And you're my brother." She leaned in close and dropped a buttery kiss onto his cheek. "Look, why don't you take a nap? I'll go back to bed, and maybe this afternoon we can plan on doing something, all three of us. Sound good?"
He smiled at her. "Yes, that does sound good. I think I'll do that."
As he left the kitchen, there was an unfamiliar sound, something like music slowed down so much that he couldn't make out the melody. There was no communication system within his house, and the radio hadn't been left on. The TV was off in the drawing room. Stalking through his home didn't reveal the location of the music, and returning to the kitchen, he found that Elizabeth wasn't at the table.
Eames was, finishing off the English muffin. He flashed Chenglary a grin as the programmer's expression turned thunderous and the entire room seemed to darken. The bright cream walls seemed to flake and peel, as if they were burned to ash. Chenglary rushed forward, hands hooked into claws, crashing into Eames as he screamed "Where is my sister? What foul thing have you done to her, you monster?!"
Chenglary's nails dug into Eames' throat, and his eyes were completely blacked over, teeth razor sharp as his lips pulled back in a snarl. The forger tried his best to push Chenglary back without hurting him. The ghostly music was growing louder, almost distinct—
—and Chenglary gasped awake, hands hooked into claws, murder in his eyes.
Eames gasped awake, clutching at his throat, the PASIV lines abruptly pulled free from his wrist with the motion. Ariadne was at his side in an instant, frowning in concern and trying to stem the flow of blood from the open wound. He flailed, eyes wide with shock and pain for a moment before he was able to take in his surroundings.
Arthur opened his eyes, and immediately took stock of the situation. "Ariadne, get him to the kitchen for some water. Mr. Chenglary and I have business to discuss."
Ariadne hurried to comply with the request, worried about the sudden shivers wracking Eames' body. "It didn't go well?" she asked him.
"Too well," he rasped, sounding as if he had been strangled.
"Let's get you some tea."
"I might be British, but a cuppa doesn't solve all ills."
She laughed a little at the joke, pleased that he could still find humor after such an awful awakening. It didn't seem to rattle him as much as she feared it would; the handful of bad wakings she had experience so far sometimes still filtered into her nightmares. She supposed it was his experience in the field that gave him a better perspective on it, and he had more tricks to ground himself in reality.
As she bustled about the kitchen getting some tea ready, she missed the way his hand slipped into his pocket and his eyes skittered about the room.
"Were the walls always that shade of cream?" he asked when she brought him a teacup. It was a dainty thing, white porcelain with roses painted on it and a silver edge. Its saucer matched perfectly, not a single chip to mar its surface.
"Yes?" Ariadne said, her voice ending in a question. "I was just in here once yesterday around dinner time. Why?"
"No reason," he muttered, picking up the teacup to begin sipping at the hot tea. "Just how I like it," he murmured with a fond smile at her.
She beamed at him. "I try to pay attention to details like that. They matter, you know."
Eames' gaze sharpened. "Yes, they do. They do, indeed."
Eames paced the length of the room that they had picked, the largest one on that side of the house, with a king sized bed. Ariadne watched him pace, lower lip between her teeth in worry. She couldn't pick out any likely camera locations or listening devices, but they had all agreed while at the car getting their belongings to move in that they had to exist. "Just stay professional at all times, and don't give him any ammunition to use against us," Arthur had warned them in low tones. "I don't like the feel I have off this guy."
"Think Wells was screwing us?" Eames asked, expression careless.
"No. I think he had no clue how bad this guy was," Arthur replied evenly.
Ariadne had remained silent, and merely brought in her carryon and shoulder bags. She had novels and sketchbooks to keep her busy; she hadn't wanted to bring her laptop anywhere near a man that regularly wrote and cracked code for intelligence agencies. It possibly wouldn't be enough to keep her busy, but it largely depended on how long it took Arthur to teach Chenglary to recognize and protect his mind from invasion.
"There has to be something we can do to occupy ourselves," Ariadne said finally.
His eyes flashed as he looked at her, banked desire that neither could act on. "I rather doubt that our employer would appreciate us leaving the premises."
"He didn't say we couldn't. I've already finished the books I brought."
She hadn't, but it was a believable lie.
"I suppose we could ask about visiting the mall."
Evan had merely sneered at them when they approached him, lip curling in disgust. "Listening to the silence is too much for you?"
Eames stiffened slightly, hand slipping into his pocket. "Nothing else for us to do, and we're of no use to your employer at this point."
"Fuck each other for all I care," Evan said in an offhand manner. "No one leaves the house until Mr. Chenglary says that you can."
"You're going to enforce that rule, then?" Eames asked, voice tight with anger.
"You gonna push me to find out?" Evan challenged.
"I suppose I can check Mr. Chenglary's library, then," Ariadne said sweetly, interrupting the potential argument that would arise.
That went over as well as she thought it would, and Evan glowered at her. "Absolutely not."
"No TV, no cable, no internet, no library access..."
"Not my concern."
"Oh, we'll make sure it is," Ariadne replied, spinning on her heel and heading down the hallway.
Evan tried to grasp her arm, but Eames shoved him out of the way. As Evan fell sideways, Eames sidestepped him and then followed Ariadne into the room that Chenglary had used as a library. Neither had been allowed to use it before, and Eames tripped the door's lock. He glared at Ariadne. "Did you have to do that?"
"Oh, come on. We're both bored to tears, and what's the harm in getting a book to read, right?" she asked, eyebrow lofted at him. She even managed not to jump in surprise when Evan banged on the door, angrily shouting at them to get out of the room.
She moved to the bookshelves, finding most of them were full of books on electrical engineering, computer languages, cryptography and history. Ariadne happily grabbed a book on the medieval era and plopped down into one of the comfortable armchairs to start reading it, ignoring the pounding and yelling. She grinned at Eames' incredulous look. "I was a student for a long time, you know. You get used to studying with a lot of noise and sneaking into libraries to get the books you want to read before others do."
"Hidden depths," Eames commented dryly.
He paced the length of the library, occasionally picking up and discarding the cryptography books on the shelves. "This is rubbish," he muttered.
"Of course it is," Ariadne murmured from her seat, not even looking up from her book.
"There are better things we could be doing," Eames continued.
"Like each other?" she asked, still reading.
"Ariadne!" he said, staring at her incredulously. Whatever happened to keeping their secrets?
She looked up abruptly, eyes wide and startled. It was genuine surprise, making Eames doubt hearing her talk to him. "What? Is Evan back?"
"No. I think we can probably make a break for it."
Her laughter was her lighthearted tone, and Eames rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. "I can't wait to get home. This place is just odd."
Ariadne shrugged, not disagreeing in the slightest, and they retreated to their room without any further incident. Both checked through all their belongings and the room itself for bugs again, but found nothing. Eames wasn't sure if he was being too paranoid, or if Evan was just that clever with his hiding places.
Staying silent, he grabbed one of Ariadne's spy thrillers and sat down on the bed to read. She still had the book she had taken from the library room, and settled down beside him. It didn't comfort him the way it usually did to have her tucked up next to him. He hoped that Chenglary caught on quickly, because this was going to drive him out of his mind.
"Do you enjoy history?" Chenglary asked Ariadne as the dessert course was served.
She gave him a brittle smile. "Of course. It gives great insight into the design trends of the period, and I have a fondness for that period."
He glowered at her. "Stay out of my library."
"How is the training going?" she asked Arthur, not answering him.
"I hope to be done by tomorrow afternoon." The look in his eyes was subtly apologetic as he glanced at her. "It's going very quickly."
"Not quick enough," Chenglary said, standing abruptly. "I will continue to practice before lessons resume tomorrow."
"That's too much time under sedation—" Arthur protested.
"For you, perhaps," Chenglary told him dismissively. "Then your compatriot may assist with the training. Once this is done, I can have my space to myself again."
Eames patted his mouth with his napkin and shrugged. "Whatever you want," he said, tossing it down onto his plate. "Let's get this show on the road."
"You know that you shouldn't—" Arthur began.
"You've been under all day," Eames reminded him, standing as well. "I've been bored out of my mind, and I have done subconscious training before. I can stand in for a few hours while you get some natural sleep, and you can begin again tomorrow."
Arthur looked unhappy, but nodded. "It's concern for your wellbeing, Mr. Chenglary," he said heavily. "But if you'd rather continue, Eames is just as good a teacher."
"For the price you all demand, I hope so," Chenglary snapped, stalking from the room.
Ariadne gave Eames a concerned look, but didn't say anything. She remained in place and looked at Arthur helplessly as Evan also abruptly rose to accompany Eames to the office. "This is so awful, and not at all what I expected."
"It really should be done soon," he said in a soothing tone. "Then things go back to normal."
"I hope so," Ariadne murmured. She didn't sleep well that night with only Arthur in bed.
"What secrets are you looking for?" Chenglary said, venom in his tone. He seemed to have just materialized out of nowhere as lightning crashed outside.
Eames wondered if this was how his subconscious security was going to work for him. Usually the projections just turned vicious and murderous, trying to find the stranger in their midst. With someone as paranoid as Chenglary was to start with, the projections probably all turned on each other without any prompting.
"That's not how dream share works," Eames said calmly, knowing that he would appear to be far more collected than he felt. The perks of being a forger had to count for something.
He was in front of Eames within the blink of an eye, his skin carrying a deathly pallor. His eyes were entirely blacked over, and he seemed to loom over Eames even though he ordinarily was much shorter. "You were asking about my work," he hissed. He didn't even blink once, adding to the creepy vibe that Eames was getting.
"It's conversation your sister would have made," Eames huffed, rolling his eyes. "The point was to make you see that dreams could feel real while you're in them. That there's a function our team could serve to help you."
A piercing spike of pain shot up Eames' gut, and he looked down in surprise. Chenglary's hand was inside of his abdomen, as if he had been able to simply shove it into his body. He twisted his hand, teeth bared and jagged, razor sharp. The man seemed to be more like a monster, and Eames opened his mouth to scream in pain. Blood bubbled up and out of his lips, and he watched in shock as Chenglary pulled back, uncoiling his intestines.
"You won't die," Chenglary hissed, black eyes glittering with insidious intent. "But you'll wish that you had. No one fucks with me. No one."
Choking on his own blood, Eames couldn't do much more than scream.
Ariadne had packed quickly, not even questioning it. Once they were in the car and on their way, she threaded her fingers through Eames' hair. "Something happened, and that shifty bastard won't tell us what it is."
"I know. Eames is a professional. He's done training over a thousand times. He shouldn't be like this." His tightly controlled voice still had anger and apprehension laced in it. Before they had gotten close, Ariadne wouldn't have been able to hear it.
"So now what do we do? We can't say anything to authorities, and there's no way for us to see what happened."
"There might be. I might know somebody," Arthur said in a clipped tone.
Of course he knew somebody. Arthur knew just about everyone worth knowing in dream share, and even the ones not worth knowing.
The drive felt impossibly long, fear making every second an eternity. Every thought was agony, and every bump felt like a rasping file against her bones. Ariadne bit her lip and tried not to cry, and she kept running her fingers through his hair, feeling the stubble on his cheeks. Eames was too still, too quiet. Even in his sleep he could be restless, shifting around and clutching at her body, curling into her warmth.
He lay there like the dead, and that terrified her.
She didn't catch the name of the underground doctor that Arthur drove to, or the gist of the conversation they had in muffled whispers. A different associate of the doctors had some kind of scanner in hand, and he headed to the car with a determined step. Searching for bugs? That would be good, given Chenglary's paranoia.
At some point she fell asleep in the chair beside Eames, chin nodding forward toward her chest, exhaustion in her entire body. If she dreamed, she didn't recall it when she woke.
Of course, waking up to a hand around her throat was distracting enough to make her forget.
Eames looked at her, eyes wild and crazed, one hand on her throat and the other raking through the blankets and pillow of the makeshift bed behind him. "What's going on here?" he growled, frightening her even more. It looked like he didn't even recognize her. "Where's my gun? Or at least a fucking knife?"
"Eames—" she managed to choke out before he gave her a shake.
"No lies," he warned her.
"I don't know what you're worried about," she gasped, holding onto his wrist. "You were out of it when you and Mr. Chenglary finished. He paid us off and we got the hell out of there. Arthur wanted his doctor friend to check you out."
Something in his eyes shifted, and he blinked slowly, as if waking up. "Ariadne," he said, voice thick with shame and regret as he let go of her throat and backed away.
"Jesus, Eames. What did Chenglary do to you?"
The wild look was back in his eyes, and he shifted to look around their surroundings. He didn't distrust her then, just where they were. Given that he had passed out in the Queen Anne mansion and woke up here, she didn't quite blame him.
Slowly, she approached with her hands up where he could see them. Telegraphing every motion, she sat beside him and stroked his cheeks. "You don't have to say. I don't know what happened, and I don't care as long as we never have to go back. At this point, maybe we shouldn't work in teaching dream share. It's too damn dangerous."
Eames lifted a hand and brushed the backs of his fingers against her cheek, a distant look in his eyes. "Some things never go away, Ariadne. Never."
Crushing his hand against her face, she shook her head. "No, they don't. I'll be here with you no matter what. And you know Arthur will, too."
At the sound of Arthur's name, his eyes snapped out of focus and he looked sharply around the room for him. "Where is he?"
"He was going to handle the accounts while I stayed here with you."
"Why didn't he want you to go with him?" Eames asked suspiciously.
"He did. But I didn't want you to be alone. What is it? What did Chenglary say?"
"Why are you so focused on Chenglary?"
"Because the man's a weirdo and now you're acting just like him!"
Eames yanked his hand away from her, shutting down. "You don't understand."
"No, I don't," Ariadne agreed. "Explain it to me."
He shook his head then rose to his feet. "I can't. I can't, Ariadne. I need to make sure you don't get infected. As long as you're not corrupted, we'll all be okay."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
Taking a deep breath, he began to pace the length of the room, just as he had in Chenglary's house. "There are rules. I just have to figure them out. Once I know how to move within the rules, then I can explain it. We have to keep you safe, Ariadne. He might have gotten to Arthur. The bastard had his hooks in him for a long time, and we don't know what he would have poisoned him with."
She stood and got in the way of his pacing to grab hold of his arms. "We're free of him and his paranoia, Eames. All you need is actual rest and time away from him."
The words didn't seem to make a dent at all. "He poured poison into me. He scooped out my insides and put the darkness in, put the poison in my heart. I feel it, Ariadne. It's in my blood, a sickness that will ruin everything. For all we know, he could have done it to Arthur, too, but I got away before Arthur could. Arthur was trapped with him all day, he could be ruined. His soul is corrupted. Vile. Evil. I won't let it ruin you."
Ariadne tightened her grip on Eames and forced to sit on the bed. "For God's sake, Eames, stop it!" she cried. Her eyes were wide with fear, and she knew that something very, very wrong had happened. She'd never gotten a chance to ask Arthur how the training sessions had gone, but now she knew she had to.
His gaze at her was heartbreaking. "I'll save you, Ariadne. I promise."
It seemed easier to play along. "I believe you. Just rest now, so we can get the hell out of here."
"Yes," he agreed in relief. "Home."
Even after he fell into a natural sleep, Ariadne wasn't convinced that it was over.
"Chenglary is a reclusive, paranoid millionaire. There's nothing that happened that I didn't expect to happen," Arthur said dismissively. "Paranoid as hell, which is why it didn't take much to get his subconscious militarized. If anyone wants to extract anything from him, they're in for a world of pain. I certainly won't go back in there, no matter what we get paid."
That sounded like Arthur, which was comforting. Some of the tension eased from her shoulders, and Ariadne nodded. "There's something wrong with Eames."
"It was probably just weird getting into his head. He's not exactly a pleasant guy."
Ariadne blew out a worried breath and turned toward the bedroom. "What could he have done with Eames in the dream? Can you guess? Did he say anything to you about it?"
"I taught him signs to look for that he is in a manufactured dream. I taught him to trust his instincts about reality vs. dreaming. He already was more paranoid than any man has a right to be, so that wasn't necessary. Then to militarize the subconscious is just a matter of willpower."
"Projections stabbing you?" Ariadne guessed, remembering Mal during the Fischer job.
"He tends to use his environment more," Arthur replied with a shake of his head. "Or shift his own body. He doesn't even trust his own subconscious."
"So what does that mean? Eames would've been trapped inside of a collapsing building?"
"Or attacked repeatedly by Chenglary himself."
Bringing her hands to her mouth, she shook her head in denial. "Oh my god, there is not enough money in the universe to pay for that kind of damage."
"He'll be fine," Arthur said soothingly, reaching for her hands and pulling them away from her face. He pulled her into a tight embrace, rubbing her back gently. "He's a professional. He's been through a lot. This guy was an asshole, but it's going to be okay. You'll see."
"That bastard won't leave us alone. I can hear the humming. I know the sound of active electrical work. It's here somewhere. I'll find it."
"Just what do you think he wants?" she asked cautiously.
"Paranoid bastard," Eames muttered, looking over the flooring again. "It might be there."
"There are ways to find listening devices and frequencies," she said soothingly. "You have the equipment. You would have found it already if there was anything."
"Bastard's got resources. More fucking money than we do. While we're holed up, he tracked us down, he got other people to put in the lines."
Eames looked at her in something like condescending pity. "You're too new to this, Ariadne. I know you don't understand it, but this is a dangerous world. You never should have gotten involved in it. Cobb is such an asshole, he never should have dragged you into this."
"I'm not going to argue that point," she sighed, shaking her head. "But this isn't like you. Eames, we're safe. You and Arthur chose this spot because it's safe for us."
"Not anymore. I can hear it, Ariadne. I'm sure you could, too, if you knew what to listen for." He strode forward, an intense expression on his face. He grasped her arms tightly, nearly lifting her up from the floor. "Listen. Listen. Don't you hear it? A high pitched whining sound. The hum of a TV left on silent. You have to hear it. It's there, we need to find it."
Her lips trembled as she took in his crazed look. "You're scaring me," she whispered.
"Good," Eames said, letting go of her. "You can't ignore the risks we take. You can't pretend this is all fun and games. People get hurt. They get killed."
"Oh, Jesus," Ariadne whispered, staring at him in shock. "Oh my god."
"I'll make sure we're safe," Eames mumbled, stepping away from her and heading back to the bookshelves. The DVD and Bluray cases were next, apparently. "Arthur is supposed to be good at this. I can't believe he missed it."
Ariadne wanted to shake him to make him see sense. "Arthur is good at what he does."
"Which means the bastard used his money to hire someone better."
"Who's better than Arthur?" she demanded incredulously.
He turned and shot her a pitying look. There was no mistaking it this time. "He's good. One of the best, certainly. But I know it's here, and he missed it."
"I'm calling Arthur. He was going to meet Wells to get another job—"
"Yes. Tell him I need new wire cutters and a voltimeter," Eames demanded. "The one we have is broken, and the cutters are dull."
Wanting to cry in frustration, Ariadne spun on her heel to call Arthur, leaving Eames to continue taking apart the living room.
"We know he can hire whoever he bloody well likes. He's got money enough. Paid extra for the joy of isolating and torturing us all."
"I wasn't tortured," Arthur said with a frown, squatting down to get to eye level. "Eames, what happened in your training session?"
His laughter was a bitter bark. "Don't sugar coat it, Arthur. I'm not Ariadne. I won't flutter and faint like a delicate flower. What horrible thing did he do to you?"
"If you're going to play that game—"
"No game, Eames. I did my job and he learned how to militarize his subconscious."
"I see," Eames said icily as he looked at Arthur, a strange twist to his lips. It reminded him of the way Eames had looked when they had first met years ago, a job that was an utter cock up from start to finish.
But he clearly wasn't listening anymore. He swayed back and away from Arthur, then shot to his feet to leave the bedroom. Ariadne was in the kitchen, and looked up with a startled expression as the forger stormed into the room with a glower on his features. Without a word, he grasped her arm and pulled her with him as he stalked toward the apartment door. She tried tugging her arm away, voice rising as she demanded to know what was going on. Efforts to peel his fingers off her arm didn't work, so Arthur tried blocking the door. "What the fuck are you doing?" he cried, raising his arms to take up more space.
Eames simply used his free arm to punch Arthur in the jaw. Ariadne shrieked and redoubled her efforts to peel his fingers off, this time stomping down hard on his instep and then kicking the side of his knee when that didn't seem to work. He turned betrayed eyes toward her, only to get the side of her foot smashing him in the temple.
He crumpled to the floor, unconscious. Ariadne looked at Arthur in shock, chest heaving as the adrenaline rush left her shaking. Neither could say a word, and looked at each other as they tried to process what had just happened.
Try as they might, they couldn't figure it out.
He eased into wakefulness, and Ariadne's worry spiked as he looked around the room and tested his bonds. Eames' expression softened when he saw her, complete with ragged and bloody ends of her fingers. "I tried to save you from him," Eames rasped. "I'm sorry, it was a nasty surprise, I know. But he can't be trusted. He's in league with Chenglary. I see that now."
"Have you ever stopped to think that maybe it's you that was affected? That maybe Arthur isn't the one that's dangerous?"
The incredulous and betrayed expression on his face was heartbreaking. "Ariadne."
She let her head fall onto her knees as she let out a ragged sob. "That fucking job. It's done something to your head, and you probably don't even trust me anymore."
"You're the only one I trust now."
Looking up, she let him see her heartbreak. "How long until that changes? Until you think I'm the one that put listening devices in our apartment, or that I'm trying to hurt you? Until you think Chenglary paid me off?"
"Don't be ridiculous. He didn't like you, either."
"Yeah? Well, he didn't enjoy Arthur's company, but you think Arthur's working for him. You think we're trying to hurt you. But we love you, Eames. And until this job, it was working out just fine with the three of us." Her voice broke, and she shook her head. "Because now you've got me paranoid. Of you. Of what else you're going to destroy, of what you're going to say next, of what I'm going to have to say to keep you calm."
Eames looked at her steadily. "You really mean that."
"I've never been the kind of person to pretend to be something I'm not," she told him sadly. "I don't know what to do," she admitted.
"Why? So you can grab me and run away? So you can hit Arthur and accuse him of working with an asshole against you? So you can say something else that sounds insane?"
"You haven't been in this business long enough to know how it can be," Eames said, his voice even and gaze intense. "It's cutthroat. Dangerous. Even men like me and Arthur have our dark sides. You don't know everything about us or what we're capable of."
"I'm starting to see that. I thought I knew you, but now I'm not so sure."
"Do you think I'd hurt you?"
Ariadne shook her head. "Not on purpose, anyway."
He was obviously displeased with that answer, but she couldn't help it. "What are you going to do now, Ariadne?" he asked, shoulders slumping slightly. "I just want to keep you safe."
"I accept that that's what you want," she said slowly. "But it's not turning out that way, is it?"
"You're not safe," Eames said, a stubborn tilt to his jaw. "I'm trying, but you won't let me."
"Has it ever occurred to you that maybe I can take care of myself?" Ariadne snapped. "Do you really think after living with you guys for so long that I'm a complete imbecile?"
"Not an imbecile. Easy to trick."
She was about to reply, but there was a shift in the way his eyes focused, and a slight tilt to his head. "You hear something," she guessed, a defeated note in her voice.
"I told you I did. Don't you believe me?"
"That you hear something? Yeah, I believe that. But I don't hear it. And you haven't found anything after ripping apart the bedroom and living room. Has it occurred to you that maybe there's nothing to find?"
"Or that you're too unskilled to find it?" he challenged.
Ariadne covered her face in her hands. "I can't," she said finally, her eyes still covered. "This is ridiculous. It doesn't make sense, and you can't see that. You won't see that."
When she didn't continue, Eames sighed. "Ariadne?"
She pulled her hands away from her face and pushed her legs out in front of her, feeling like a broken marionette. "What?" she asked, chest and throat burning with unshed tears.
"I'm sorry this hurts you."
Her lips pulled back in a watery smile. "Me, too. I don't know how to deal with this. I love you, Eames, I don't want to leave."
"But," he said, blinking slowly.
"How do I deal with this? How do I deal with you acting like a crazy person and grabbing me and hitting Arthur? Dear god, Eames. You've known him for years. You know he's trustworthy, that he would never do anything to endanger you, but you're convinced he's out to get you. How long before you think that about me?"
There was no answer for her, and they both knew it.
"You're safe from me," Eames assured her after a moment. "I would never hurt you. And I know you would never hurt me."
"Now you say that. What about when those noises get to you? Or you see something that freaks you out and you think I did it?" Her hands fluttered helplessly. "I don't know what to do, Eames. I can't even begin to guess. I don't know what I'm dealing with. I don't know if you'd even let me help you if I did figure it out. I don't know. I just don't know."
"And that's the part that frightens you the most, isn't it?" Eames said, tilting his head to the side. "You need to know. You need to be right. You need a sense of control. And there is no control now. You just realized it was all an illusion, and it's terrifying."
"You think it isn't?"
"Oh, I know it is, darling. But I have always known that I'm not the one in control," he said, bitterness lacing his tone. "I've always known I was hanging on by a slender thread, that there isn't much more to me than what you see."
Ariadne let the tears spill. "I love you, Eames."
"I know," he murmured. "But you don't trust me anymore."
"It's more that I don't know if you trust me anymore. Or if I have to look over my shoulder to see if you're standing there. If whatever is going on is going to make you seriously hurt me or Arthur."
"I'm better at quite a lot of things in this field than Arthur," Eames said mildly. "Don't you think I could have gotten out of these ties easily?"
She looked at him in anguish. "We don't want to hurt you," she said, voice breaking. "Whatever is happening, we only want to help. And I don't know how. I don't know what's happening."
Eames stood up abruptly, hands coming free of the bonds that Arthur had put on. Ariadne squeaked in fright, and scuttled back a bit, her back fetching up against her desk. She looked up at him, distressed.
"I suppose that tells us all we need to know," he said in a low tone. It was flat, as if there was no emotion whatsoever, as if they had no history together, as if he didn't feel even a drop of the love they had shared until a week ago.
Tears in her eyes, Ariadne looked up at him helplessly. "What are you going to do?"
"Do you think I'll hurt you?"
She shook her head. "But you'd be willing to hurt Arthur, wouldn't you?"
"I know you think he's innocent," Eames said, voice still in that strange neutral tone. "I can overlook this about you. You don't know the things to look out for, as much as you think you do. We've kept a lot of the field from you, after all. Nothing you've ever done has been ordinary, and of course you think the three of us together are extraordinary."
"Aren't we?" Arthur asked from the doorway, voice hard. There was a bruise darkening on his cheekbone from where Eames had punched him, and the lines of his body were rigid.
"Arthur," Eames intoned.
"You're going to discount everything we had? You're that convinced that I'm unfaithful? That I'm disloyal? That I'd do anything so underhanded?"
There didn't even seem to be a moment's hesitation. Maybe if he had seemed uncertain, that the conviction was starting to waver, the three of them could have repaired this breach.
"We're not holding you here," Arthur said in that same cold voice. "You were always free to go, whenever you like."
"So free that you tied me up, Arthur?" he asked in arch tones. "And it's not even a kink night," he added, hurt sarcasm coming through.
"There's no way to guarantee how you would be when you woke up. I'm not willing to risk Ariadne's safety," he replied, steel in his voice and his spine. "I won't apologize for that."
"Of course you won't."
"Please," Ariadne whispered from the floor, looking up at them plaintively. "We can work on this. We can come to some kind of conclusion, can't we?" Neither man answered her, glaring at each other instead. "Can't we?"
"Some things you can't fix," Eames said.
"Especially if you don't want to or think there's even a problem," Arthur added, stepping into the room and out of the doorway. "I spent years in that situation."
"I am not Dominic Cobb!" Eames raged, hands clenched into fists at his side.
"Right now, you're also not Eames," Arthur replied coolly. "Maybe you should go, and come back to us when you are."
Bending over to undo the ties around his ankles, Eames leveled a glare at Arthur. "You never did lose gracefully, did you?" he sneered. "If it wasn't working between the three of us, you should have just said so. But then you'd've lost Ariadne to me, wouldn't you. And can't have that, not after you fucked up so badly with Cobb."
Ariadne scrambled to her feet and grasped Eames' arm. When he turned his gaze to her, she searched his expression desperately. "Come back when you can," she pleaded.
"Not going to beg me to stay?" he asked, that snide tone thick enough to make her flinch.
"You wouldn't even if I did," she said quietly, dropping her hand from his arm and stepping back. "If you can't trust us, it doesn't matter if you still love us. It doesn't matter if we love you. You can't live with someone you don't trust."
Eames nodded sharply at her. "At least you've learned something from me."
She choked back a sob when he stalked from the room, heading toward the bedroom to pack a few things. Arthur didn't move from his spot either, and the two of them could only stare at each other in agony, listening to Eames in the next room grumbling and throwing belongings around in frustration. Her lips trembled when she caught sight of Eames with a duffel bag in hand. He paused in the doorway, lips parted as he looked at her distress, but his jaw firmed when he took in Arthur's stoic expression.
"Don't look for me," he snarled at Arthur.
Ariadne made a desperate sound when he continued to stalk down the hallway toward the front door, and followed him. Arthur remained where he was, as if rooted to the spot or turned to stone, never to move again.
When she grasped his arm again, Eames whirled around, panic in his eyes. He softened when he saw that it was just Ariadne. "If you know what's good for you, you'll stay away. Far away."
"There has to be a way we can prove—"
"I don't even recognize why we thought this might work." He reached up to tenderly cup her cheek in his hand. "We're all far too different, and this isn't safe. He's too easily corrupted, I see that now. And you're right, love. I can't live with someone I can't trust. I can trust you right now, but it's only a matter of time before he warps you, too."
Bending down, Eames kissed her forehead, then her nose, then her lips. "I love you like this, Ariadne. And this is what I'll remember. But he'll change you, and it's only a matter of time before that love sours."
She pulled him into a tight embrace. "Watch your back and stay safe, Eames."
He pulled away and pasted a jaunty smile on his lips. "Always."
Eames didn't look back when he left, leaving his key behind.