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Life Could Be a Dream

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The doorbell rings.

Arthur grabs a fistful of candy from a bowl and opens the door.

It's possibly Yusuf, in the same blazer he's wearing topside, plus a goblin mask.

"Trick or treat," he sing-songs.

In any case, Arthur isn't glad to see him. He didn't invite Yusuf. It's been years, but Arthur still hasn't forgiven him for concealing the danger of the sedative on the Fischer job.

But Yusuf arrived tonight anyway, arm in arm with Eames. He gave Yusuf a peck on the cheek and called him his plus one whose invite must've gotten lost in the mail.

Maybe-Yusuf-maybe-Eames holds out a hollow plastic pumpkin.

"And who are you supposed to be?" Arthur asks by rote, dropping candy into the bucket.

"I thought that was obvious," he answers, still sounding like Yusuf. But unless Eames coached him recently, Yusuf still hasn't picked up the minor tricks some non-forgers learn, like voice mimicry or height changing.

Arthur presses a gun to the forehead of the plastic mask. Technically he's skipping ahead, but it's not against the rules.

"Cocky, aren't you?" escapes the air hole at the lips of the mask.

Eames would have acted surprised, but Yusuf, instructed to feign Eames, would snipe at him.

"Yusuf," Arthur states more than guesses.

"Well, you've got me there."

Arthur shoots him, and Yusuf's corpse flops on the porch. Arthur flips a switch beside the door frame, and the welcome mat swings away to reveal a trapdoor.

He's glad he thought of that one. It beats going outside and dragging the bodies to the cellar himself.

Arthur closes the door, sits back down on the couch, and waits for the next one.

They do it every October. Eames came up with it. He pitched it to Cobb as a training exercise, but it's become more of a party game.

Whoever dreams the suburban townhouse it takes place in practices their perception. The trick-or-treaters who drop into the dream one at a time practice their deception, with costumes and whatever forgery tricks they have under their belt, or by being themselves and hoping the dreamer guesses they're Eames.

If the dreamer guesses wrong, they get woken up and replaced by whoever they failed to recognize. But if they guess right, as Arthur tends to, they get stuck on house duty while everyone else stays awake most of the night, placing bets and getting wasted.

The doorbell rings again.

Up next is a white mascot costume at about Cobb's height.

A paw holds up a paper bag. Arthur deposits a handful of candy.

"And who are you supposed to be?" Arthur asks.

The blue-eyed wolf shrugs and takes the option of staying silent. It's a rarity for Eames, but it doesn't rule him out.

"Eames," Arthur guesses.

The wolf shakes its head and reaches its paw into the bag, taking out a gun.

~

When everyone sees Arthur's awake, the room erupts in claps and cheers. Yusuf adds a tally to the whiteboard under Ariadne's name.

"You're welcome," Cobb elbows her. "That was my idea. I call it ' The Lone Wolf.'"

"What?" says Eames. "Ariadne pitched staying quiet and being your height."

Cobb counters, "But I pitched the wolf costume, and that makes it. The blue eyes? That's gotta be me, or you playing me, and it leaves her off the table."

They all give Ariadne a hearty round of congratulations, then send her under so she can build the house.

Arthur says, "Whoever goes next should impersonate me. She'll think I'd want to go in and take the house back from her."

"I'll do you playing Yusuf," says Eames.

"Try my Cobb," Arthur insists. "If it really were me, she'd be expecting my Cobb, that's my best voice. I can do Cobb's voice topside." He clears his throat. "No, you're doing it wrong," growls Arthur in a Cobbish tone. 

"That sounds nothing like me," grumbles Cobb, though it's enough to crack Eames up.

"I'll go," says Cobb. "I'll do my Arthur. King Arthur, in a suit of armor, with Excalibur and a crown."

Arthur bets on him with a clap on the shoulder, then grabs a beer.

After Cobb's down, Eames and Yusuf bet on Ariadne. It's the safer bet, but Arthur wanted to flatter him.

If Cobb fails, he'll go next. He'll be Ariadne's height, no voice, ensconced in a long scarf. She'll probably know it's him, and it'll help her start to overtake his lead. Then he'll be back up brainstorming gambits with everyone else, and he can finish his beer.