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Brazilian hospitality gives them a suite of rooms in a sprawling mansion as they militarize the unconscious of one businessman and his adolescent son. The elder is accomplished relatively quickly: Cobb and Arthur go under with him while Mal monitors and it’s fully two less the standard number of sessions to teach his dreaming mind to recognize and brutally tear apart intruding consciousnesses. Some minds are like this, are blood-thirsty and savage beneath a thin veneer of civility, like a rabid animal. Arthur can’t look him in the eye after, still too new to the world of dreamshare to reconcile an awake mind’s control with his experience of its violent dream. The son is different.

Lanky yet coltish and graceful, growth still elongating his bones at such a pace that it seems he gains inches in just the few days they’ve been in his home, wearing a suit vaguely similar to Arthur’s own, Eduardo. “A birthday present,” his father intoned, grim. “If he becomes the success we hope for,” there is an emphasis on if, derisive, “the service you provide will prove invaluable.”

The boy charms effortlessly and unconsciously, even as he flinches from his father’s words. Mal takes to him immediately and imperiously demands she be the first to take Eduardo under, just the two of them. Cobb indulges his fiancée; Arthur silently hopes the son does not take after the father. Half an hour later, when Mal and Eduardo wake, eyes shining, Arthur is relieved.

“Oh, oh,” Mal says. “Darling boy, Dom, you must come and see, it is marvellous,” and she lays her palm against Eduardo’s golden cheek and beams fondly into his wide, amazed eyes.

Cobb and Mal have worked for years, pioneered the field even, in dream-share, and are probably the best source of experience Arthur has ever come across on outliers. Minds that do not behave to the norm, that do not conform, most often in terrifying ways but occasionally in beautiful ones. Eduardo Saverin’s mind has no native defence, no killing instinct. His projections are benign. To stop Mal from going to the sensitive protected places of his mind, his projections will distract her – with words, with actions, with shifting the dreamscape entirely. But they won’t harm her; and when she’s changing the dreamscape into one of her fanciful beautiful worlds, they even pause to marvel and stare.

For all that it’s pleasant and strangely, remarkably reassuring to have come across a mind that does not immediately and wholly want to tear apart its intruders, it does make militarizing the boy problematic. Arthur teaches him mazes, and paradoxes, and traps. “If someone takes you under,” Arthur says, “there’s always a pre-set time, a kick. You just have to last out the intruders until the kick. If you can keep them in a maze and out of your secrets, that works just as well as killing them off.”

“I like patterns,” Eduardo says. He seems introspective, quiet and withdrawn, like he usually is around Arthur. He’s more outgoing with Mal and even friendly with Cobb. It’s only Arthur he shies from. Arthur was vaguely discomfited by this until Mal pointed out that Arthur could be a family member of the Saverin clan; the patriarch of which is unkind. “I like numbers,” Eduardo adds, almost defiant. He glances sidelong at Arthur. “Pai says numbers are for accountants, but. I like them.”

“You can use them to keep yourself safe,” Arthur says bluntly. “It’s good that you like them. They’ll help you.”

Eduardo smiles at him. It’s perhaps the first smile he’s given Arthur this entire job. Arthur surprises himself by smiling back.

They teach Eduardo to recognize when he is dreaming, and to tell the difference between a dreamer and a projection, and to configure his mind into a complex trap, a construct of Penrose steps. Sometimes Mal and Eduardo go under together alone for hours and wake up peaceful, enraptured by whatever she’s taught him, whatever they’ve built together.

“You were meant to be a dreamer,” she tells him, and strokes his hair gently from his face, takes his hand in hers, maternal. Any bounds of formality between them have dropped entirely, and it bemuses Cobb as much as it amuses Arthur.

All of them like dreaming with Eduardo, truly, as it means that they can cooperatively change details, all of them, rebuilding and remaking, adding, subtracting from the architecture of thought and not risk violent wakening by murderous projections. It’s more of what Arthur had thought dreamshare would be like when he first learned of it.

Finally, though, the job comes to an end. Mal kisses Eduardo on both cheeks, and Cobb clasps his shoulder, shakes his thin body just a little in friendly farewell. Arthur musses the kid’s hair, his first break in professionalism. Eduardo is stilting and formal until he breaks with a huge grin, for once looking his proper age. His father is gone on a business trip and can’t see to be disappointed.

Somehow it doesn’t end there. Mal gets in touch with Eduardo’s father and arranges for Eduardo to be their intern two weeks out of every summer until he graduates secondary school, fourteen days they stretch into – much longer, with the help of the PASIV device. Eduardo’s mind honestly fascinates Mal and Cobb, and strikes Arthur silent with wonder; he’s not even jealous at being supplanted of his place as youngest protégée, it’s kind of nice, having someone lower than him on the totem pole. They never bring Eduardo in on their government contracts, use his mind for pure research: expansive joy, awe-struck glee. There are three summers of this, and interspersed is: Mal and Cobb’s wedding, Mal’s pregnancy and the birth of their first child, Arthur’s goddaughter, golden-haired Philippa, and Arthur’s rapid advancement through the CIA ranks. During their last summer together Eduardo takes to obsessive studying of weather patterns to better model them in dreamscape, and Mal takes him and Arthur two levels deep where they lounge on beaches and teach other French, Portuguese, Spanish.

Eduardo goes to Harvard and meets someone who creates worlds the way the Cobbs do, though in code rather than pure thought; and life happens, and is wonderful and horrible and traumatizing and ends in threats of lawsuits, later grimly carried out. After, raw, bruised, Mal calls Eduardo home. His father can't look at him, but his mentors can. He doesn't have much time before he has to be back in class, but they stretch it the way they've always done and when he returns to finish his degree he has a measure of equilibrium again, hard-won. Going under that first time was a relief for all of them, Mal and Cobb and even Arthur who had taken a day off work to check on Eduardo, because his mind remains the same: his projections slightly more stand-offish, less likely to engage, but nowhere violent - always kind. Some part of all of them feared Eduardo's nature would be fundamentally changed, but it hadn't, and they could still have their shared cooperative creation in his dream.

Eventually, he has his degree, he has half a billion dollars, but he doesn't have a company and he doesn't have a best friend. He does have dreams.

Mal recruits him deeper into dreamshare as he networks his own connections to develop his freelance consulting business, and he keeps busy, and life is all right though lonely, because he still has - well, they're family by this point, and even if he's been effectively disowned by his blood kin, he still has the Cobbs and Arthur - but he doesn't really have a peer group anymore, no one to play video games with (Dom tries, once; it's awkward, almost hilariously bad) or throw his mind against, he'll always be apprentice to Arthur's journeyman, the Cobbs' mastery. But it's enough to be getting on with, and he's travelling the world, he's a success and when Mal gets pregnant again she and Dom ask Eduardo to be godfather and he says yes, of course, because they're family - and James is born, perfect, and everything is the best it's been for maybe ever - and then he's in Singapore - and Dom calls and says, We need you, please, and maybe Eduardo isn't a genius but he learns his lessons; he drops everything. He comes running.

There is something wrong with both of them. Dom moves like his bones tire him. Mal moves like - . It leaves Eduardo uneasy and he phones and emails Arthur, not wanting to be alone with it; but Arthur's on deep-cover and when he finally gets back to Eduardo, it's too late, Mal is dead.

Mal is dead. She's dead.

And the police think Dom killed her. And he looks so guilty all the time. And something of what Mal said, something of how Dom acts, tells Eduardo why. And Dom won't stop spinning her totem, and the children are bewildered and aching, and Eduardo is still too young to know what to do.

Dom runs first. Before Arthur follows after, he gives Eduardo instructions to keep away from the entire mess. "Not even your lawyers, nothing, no money, no contact," Arthur insists. Eduardo frowns, and Arthur hisses. He wouldn't give an explanation to anyone else, wouldn't spare the time. "Cobb doesn't have any family besides us. Miles is terminal, diagnosed a month ago. Mada is unfit as a longterm caregiver. Philippa and James - you're, you have to be beyond question in this if we can't get Cobb clear. If we can't get Cobb clear, you're going to have to step up."

It's huge. The weight of this responsibility. But Eduardo nods, because what else can he do? All he knows is how to give all he has, everything he is.

He effectively moves to California that year. Not quite into the Cobbs' house; Mal's mother has taken up residence, with frequent visits from her father from overseas. Mal's children are withdrawn, and it makes Eduardo's chest ache to see them so still when they should be moving. He itches to track Arthur and Dom but he knows he can't; knows he can't do anything, anything at all, because he has to be above reproach if worse comes to worst. He has legal custody of the children - it was discussed when James was born - but even so, with the scandals surrounding Mal and Dom, and Eduardo's own lack of a blood connection, if Mada fights him for them she may well win.

Living in California means attending the events he's always before begged off of, socializing with those from whom he's maintained careful distance. There's mystification and gossip and awkward attempts at reconciliation that he ignores, has to ignore, all his focus is on the children and trying to find ways of - of, of getting Dom and Arthur out of the mess they're in. He doesn't even know what direction to look in to find the solution to this problem. Someone with power and influence could fix it so Dom could come home. (Not - not his old - not them, they have money but that doesn't always mean freedom, and it probably won't mean freedom for Dom.)

It's at a benefit for some sort of charity that Eduardo meets Saito. No first name. The face of Proclus Global. In a room full of billionaires (Eduardo one of them), Saito still stands out.

Eduardo gathers information. He sets events in motion.

Three months later, Dom comes home.