It was sloppy work from the beginning, driven by desperation and guesswork. If it'd been solely MI6 in charge, in the days before Eames burned all his bridges into bitter ashes, he would've counselled his employers to expect months of patient questioning and psychological warfare.
But he supposed that when one had the world's most wanted mutant extremist in custody with every anti-mutant security measure deployed to prevent his escape, and every intelligence agency in the world circling anxiously against likely reprisals, time seemed more like wishful thinking than anything else.
They needed information on the Brotherhood's operatives and the location of their bases, and they needed it before Magneto's inevitable breakout.
"I want final say on my team, and full immunity against arrest and prosecution for every member," he said to his would-be employers, who hemmed and hawwed but finally said yes to all his conditions, fully aware they weren't in any position to say no.
Cobb was out of the game, but it wasn't his particular set of skills that was needed for this extraction. Eames assembled his team with a half-sketched plan in his head, marking potential problems and their probable solutions. Arthur, he lured in with the promise of a challenge and a thumb in the eye of US security agencies. Yusuf was already working on a drug tailored to mutant physiology. He found the perfect Architect in Lorna Dane: keen geophysicist, occasional criminal, and just so happened to be a magnetism-controlling mutant.
"Is there a reason why they didn't send in a telepath to pull what they need out of Magneto's head?" Arthur asked, eyeing the higgledy-piggledy pile of brown folders with distaste.
"Because every telepath we know of who's skilled enough to do it and won't stab us through the skull was taught by Dr. Charles Xavier," Lorna said. "I was in his school for a year, okay? And the thing is, maybe you can graduate from Xavier's without knowing where the hell Ulan Bator is, but you damn well never forget his code of ethics."
She made a face. "I swear to god, sometimes I still think I'm going to find him at my doorstep, waiting to tick me off over the dream-sharing business. Seriously, forget trying to convince one of Xavier's telepaths to do this, and you really don't want to deal with the ones like Selene Gallio."
"I'd feel better if we have one of them on our side, though," Yusuf said. "I can change the drug formula to slow down the rate his system metabolises it and bring him under deeper, but it'll take more time than I have to come up with something that also blunts his power without cutting it off completely."
"That's where I come in," Lorna reassured, holding up a hand, palm facing out. The iron nails heaped on their table rattled gently, then flowed up like a molasses spill in reverse, tendrils of metal moving here and there as she reshaped them into a scaled-down model of a military outpost.
It was the one Brotherhood hideout they were sure Magneto didn't know they knew about — perfect as the setting of the first level of the shared dream. Lorna had walked every centimetre of the place, murmuring under her breath about "electromagnetic signature" and "feeling out the metals."
"Mutants aren't alike in how they perceive their powers," Lorna said, slipping into "formal lecture" mode. Arthur heard echoes of Dr. Xavier's talks on TED.com in her voice, the precise enunciation of her words. "For Magneto and myself, much like telepaths, our power is as much a sensory organ as it is a tool — I can orient myself anywhere in the world by its geomagnetic field. When I walk into a room, I sense patterns of magnetic energy the same way I would see the colours of the curtains or hear the ticking of the clock.
"We're going to place him — and ourselves — in a reinforced bunker. The walls should be thick enough that Magneto can just about sense the metals beyond them, even unconscious. Couple that with the architecture of the first dream level, and Eames' fine forgery, and I think we can convince him he's awake but drugged, possibly had his mind tampered with by a telepath."
Eames spun his chair around to face the whiteboard, contemplating the photos tacked up within concentric circles. Mystique, Quicksilver and Wanda Lehnsherr-Maximoff in the innermost circle, followed by various members of the Brotherhood, rippling outward until they hit the outliers and unlikely-but-maybes: Dr. Xavier himself, Magneto's former associate Emma Frost, Alex Summers, Sean Cassidy, Dr. Henry McCoy, and Armando Muñoz.
"Magneto knows Mystique too well for me to forge. Wanda, however..." Eames paused, testing out his instinct in his head. "He'll respond best to her out of his two children. Quicksilver was his anointed heir until he turned his back on the Brotherhood, but Wanda is Magneto's favourite. She never actually directly betrayed him, for one. And, importantly, he respects her for being a self-made woman."
Lorna propped her chin against the heel of her hand, staring at Wanda's photo with interest. "Huh. She was at Xavier's for a while, too. She and McCoy were tight. That was years before my time, though."
Arthur shuffled through the folders, pulling out the one labeled LEHNSHERR-MAXIMOFF, W. It was half the thickness of her twin brother's dossier (MAXIMOFF, P.) — being a costumed vigilante clearly never appealed to Wanda. Their adoptive parents had seen to her education. She was a mathematician and a teacher, and seemed not to care one whit that she could manipulate probability to her advantage. But this was also the woman who, without fanfare, adopted her father's name and then looked at the world in the eye and dared them to make something out of it.
Her role in the Latverian Revolution bore out the impression of quiet steel, though older observations in her CIA file from field agents noted the possibility of exploiting points of emotional fragility. More recent photographs showed a solemn, self-assured woman revelling in her new position as the Democratic Republic of Latveria's first permanent representative to the UN. Wanda had clearly faced down her demons at some point, and came out the stronger for it.
Eames studied Wanda's face, noting the high cheekbones and brown eyes, and lips that wouldn't look out of place on a 1940s Hollywood starlet. Her auburn curls were starting to go grey at the temples. Eames had the shrewd suspicion that though Pietro Maximoff was the professional superhero of the family, he wouldn't be able to compete against Wanda's reserves of raw power.
What must it be like, to inhabit her skin? Wanda Lehnsherr-Maximoff liked the colour red and cared about her father as deeply as she disagreed with him. She was fond of children and elderly women. There were few lovers in her life, but she had a steady, long-term relationship with almost each of the men. No known allergies and food aversions. She called her brother at least once a week, though their conversations never lasted more than 15 minutes.
Wanda changed probabilities, could force a die to roll to whatever number she wanted. Eames liked that.
"Let's discuss the second level of the dream," Arthur said.
Their plans for first dream level went off without a hitch. Magneto "woke up" disoriented and glad to see his daughter, accepting without question her urgent explanation that he'd just been rescued and was in hiding, and she couldn't stay long or they'd track her down.
"Papa, I'm sorry to have to do this," Eames-as-Wanda whispered, holding out a cup of water and a pill. "But the doctor says you need to sleep. I— I think they might have tried to use some kind of experimental truth serum. You may have a migraine — that's why. He said to try and leave it to your body's natural healing process first, and then we'll see."
"Mystique?" Magneto croaked out, after swallowing the pill.
Eames-as-Wanda stroked Magneto's sweat-dampened hair. "She'll be here soon. I'll stay until she arrives. Just sleep."
"Good," Magneto muttered, closing his eyes.
"Sweet dreams, Papa."
Lorna and Arthur, PASIV device in hand, melted out from the walls. In the bunker where their sleeping bodies lay, Lorna was cloaking their magnetic auras from Magneto, dream actions translating into the waking world.
"Luck be with you," she said, watching Eames and Arthur hook themselves and Magneto to the device. "You'll need it."
His team really did need it, Eames thought ruefully. They'd decided to run with a variation of Cobb's Mister Charles routine: let Magneto think it was all just a dream, where he could shed his guarded reserve within the safety of his own head. Anything else seemed unlikely to produce results — he trusted only Mystique without reservations, and was unlikely to talk shop with Wanda under normal circumstances.
The second dream level was constructed based on some of the earliest surveillance photographs of Magneto: New York's Washington Square Park, where he'd played chess against an unidentified man in the 1960s. It seemed to have been a particular favourite — until he was placed on the US Most Wanted list, Magneto had regularly shown up incognito for games of chess against strangers.
Eames-as-Wanda flicked at a leaf, appreciative and amused. He didn't think Arthur had it in him to manufacture a terribly idealised version of the park in summer, but there it was. Perhaps Arthur had drawn on childhood memories, in which case he was unlikely to ever admit to his inspiration.
The park was empty of Magneto's projections, which Eames found unexpectedly sad and welcome all at the same time. Even here, aloneness seemed to be an inherent trait for Magneto.
"Hello, Papa," Eames-as-Wanda said softly.
Magneto smiled with genuine pleasure, his eyes crinkling at the corners. It was startling, to see how much it changed him.
"Wanda." He rose to his feet, gentlemanly, and kissed Eames-as-Wanda on the cheek. "I wasn't expecting you here — but ah, I won't complain. It's no hardship to spend time I won't otherwise have with you, even in a dream."
They sat, and Eames-as-Wanda picked up one of the pieces: a bishop. Wanda was a mediocre chess player.
"I was never very good at this," he said, rueful.
"Charles must not have taught you properly," Magneto said with a disappointed harrumph. "He was very good — the strategy one thinks he is playing never turns out to be his true game. We used to play on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a long time ago."
Eames-as-Wanda set down the bishop with care, wishing desperately that they had more information on the relationship between Wanda and Charles Xavier.
"I don't understand this side of the two of you," he said slowly, going with his gut.
"We were different then." Magneto's voice changed, and Eames-as-Wanda looked up from the board to see a much younger Erik Lehnsherr — the way he must have looked when he arrived on American shores. The uniform and helmet had fallen away with the years, and in their place was an old-fashioned double-breasted suit.
"I first came here with Charles looking for mutants," Magneto said, dreamily nostalgic. "He found Raven, and myself, but that would never have been enough for any of us. We — Charles and I — didn't meet the man we came to see, but we spent the entire afternoon fighting to a stalemate on the chessboard."
"As I recall, you forfeited the last match," a new voice cut in.
Eames-as-Wanda turned around casually, grooming his expression into polite blankness. The accent marked the speaker as English, posh, and over-educated; his clothes fit the stereotype of an Oxbridge academic, but not his vivid youthfulness. He was standing, hands casually slipped into his pockets, blue eyes calm and guileless.
"I was—" Magneto smirked "—motivated by other factors."
"So you were." The man — Charles? — sauntered over and leaned into Magneto, pressing a kiss on the crown of his head. "Erik, I fear I need to borrow your daughter for a while," he murmured, then slid a hand over Magneto's eyes, gentle and easy. "Rest now."
Magneto slumped forward, seemingly unconscious. "Charles" caught him just in time, easing Magneto's head onto his lap as he sat down, across the table from Eames-as-Wanda.
"Hello, intruder," Magneto's Charles said, smiling pleasantly. There was a whuff of displaced air and Arthur appeared beside Eames-as-Wanda, looking as shocked as he's ever seen Arthur, and distinctly discombobulated.
That Charles now had a gun in each hand pointing straight at their foreheads, Eames thought, probably didn't help matters any.
"Who are you?" Arthur demanded.
Charles raised an eyebrow. "It's easiest to think of me as a very motivated and unusually independent militarised projection."
So Magneto had a Mister Charles. Eames-as-Wanda met his eyes steadily. "But that's not what you are entirely, are you?"
"Close enough. It's far less of a blow to my ego than calling myself a leftover," Charles said with a little laugh, and pulled the trigger.
Eames and Arthur jolted awake in the first level, gasping. Magneto moaned and shifted on the bed, but didn't open his eyes.
"Abort the extraction!" Eames barked out. "Forget the kick, we have to leave before—"
Abruptly the room broke into pieces around them, the walls and metal beams and all of Lorna's meticulous rivets swirling into into the sand at their feet. Sand. They were on a beach somewhere sunny and hot — not a cloud in the impossibly blue sky — bracketed by the wreckages of a submarine and a plane. Smoke plumed up from what was left of the engines and on the distant horizon they could see a fleet of warships, bristling with weapons. Magneto and his bed still lay where they were, incongruous against the setting.
"I don't like the looks of this," Lorna said in an undertone.
"Magneto hates dream-sharing technology," Arthur growled, stunned. "That helmet — he refuses to even let a telepath into his head, who convinced him to militarise—"
Charles re-appeared before them — no fanfare, just a sudden presence where there wasn't, next to Magneto's bed. He was wearing a grimy flightsuit with a yellow X quadrisecting his chest. Eames followed the slender lines of his legs downward, where blood stained the sand at his heels in slow trickles.
"Professor?" Lorna choked out.
The man tilted his head quizzically. "You know who I am? Then you know I can't let you rummage around in his head. It's impolite and invasive, and in any case he hasn't said yes to anything like this for years."
"Who are you, truly?" Say his name three times and he comes, bubbled out from Eames' thoughts. "You're not just a projection."
Charles took Magneto's hand, smiling down at him. "I'm a piece of someone who was and will always be his friend."
The missile strike that killed them hurt more than Eames expected.
"We need to talk to Dr. Charles Xavier," Eames said, at the post-mortem briefing.
Arthur nodded, his mouth a flat, angry line. Yusuf was silent, having already said his piece: he can't make compounds to neutralise something that may or may not be a projection, he'd pointed out. This was something else, something they'd never encountered before.
"I'll arrange a meeting," Lorna sighed.