Actions

Work Header

Half of the Time We're Gone (But We Don't Know Where)

Chapter Text

 

Eames slouches into the hotel room five minutes behind schedule, nodding a greeting as he spots the mark -- sorry, the client -- already snoring softly on the bed.

"Nice of you to join us, Mr. Eames," says Foluke from the far side of the room. Eames smiles, loose and louche, and folds himself into a comfortable pose on the floor near the PASIV. He likes Foluke. He likes her sharp cheekbones, her sharper business sense, her penchant for headwraps as complex and architectural as the dreamscapes she builds. She might, he thinks, be his favorite extractor now that Cobb is in semi-retirement. Mind you, that doesn't mean he's going to break one of his working rules for her. In this case, it's the one about never letting a mark see him in the waking world. Not even if the mark is the client. Eames has built his reputation on pushing the limits, but he's built his career on knowing exactly when he's crossed them and how far past them he's willing to travel. Still, he likes Foluke, not least because he knows she doesn't mind being slightly inconvenienced by his working rules as long as he gets the job done. And of course he gets the job done.

"Always a pleasure, love," he drawls for the sheer enjoyment of watching her reserve crack and release a tiny smile. It reminds him of Arthur, back when they'd first met. Eames had been obsessed with peeling away the tailoring and taciturnity to find out what was beneath. Even now, Arthur continues to unfold and unfold, like a dream a hundred layers deep. He sinks for a moment into a recent memory: Arthur sitting on his desk in the warehouse in Buenos Aires, gasping obscenities in Portuguese, of all things, as Eames ran his hands up tweed-covered thighs and --

Someone is saying his name. He forces himself out of the memory and focuses on Bowler, on her hand with ragged coral nails holding out an IV line. "Eames," she says again. "Wakey-wakey, bruv."

He swallows the urge to tell her she's as bad at forgery as he is at chemistry -- does she honestly think her reverse My Fair Lady act is fooling anyone, never mind him? -- and rolls his eyes instead. She winks; she thinks he's amused by her terrible wordplay. He winks back and takes the IV line.

It's mere minutes before the client is hugging his "father" with tears in his eyes. Eames decides it's time to go. This is an easy job, no need to hang around afterwards for a debriefing. He can be on his way to the airport, on his way to Arthur, before the rest of Foluke's team gets the kick. He gives the client one last pat on the shoulder and slips out of the room, sighing with relief as he sheds the outward semblance of the client's portly, elderly, lame father. He pulls a tiny handgun from the capacious pocket of his much-loved corduroy blazer and raises it to his temple, ready to fire. Suddenly, a hand with bright, bitten nails is grabbing at his arm.

"Eames, wait," Bowler says from behind him. "I know you have a plane to catch, but I've been working on a new compound and I want your opinion."

Bowler is no Foluke. He doesn't dislike her, but he also doesn't like her more than he likes anyone else. Still, his working rules include "never piss off a chemist" and "listen when a chemist comes up with something interesting." Bowler has dropped the faux-chav mumble she affects on jobs, which is definitely interesting, so he turns instead of pulling the trigger. "Do go on," he says as he slips the gun back into his pocket.

"It shouldn't take long," she promises as she leads him to a nearby house and down into the basement. "Maybe an hour of dreamtime, that won't slow you down much topside."

There's a door with a lock, and behind it, a rec room lifted straight from the seventies, paneling and shag carpet and pleather recliner and all. Eames flops into the recliner and lifts one hand as if he expects Bowler to kiss it. Her hands tremble as she slips in the needle. That's interesting, too, he thinks, but her voice is calm when she reaches over to the PASIV and says, "Five minutes?" so he chalks the twitch up to her trying to beat the imminent kick topside.

"Five minutes," he repeats back to her, per protocol.  

She tips her head and says softly, "I'm sorry, Eames, I never thought I'd say this to you, but you're worth a lot to me." He mimes flattered embarrassment -- they've only worked together once, and he can't say she made an equivalent impression on him -- but then she flashes her teeth in something a little too pained to be a smile and says an actual number. It's a big number. In pounds.

Eames' eyes go wide. He starts to reach for the IV, to yank it loose, but his veins are congealing. He's slush, he's frozen, he can't move. He has just enough time to think oh, fuck me as the spot of vivid coral on Bowler's forefinger twitches on the button and --



He's at the airport, feeling like he's coming off the kind of weekend bender he hasn't indulged in since his military days. When he reaches into his pocket for his boarding pass, he also finds a sealed envelope bearing a note that says he had an allergic reaction to Bowler's new compound. It says she dosed him with Benadryl before dropping him off at the terminal and adds that if he starts itching or having trouble breathing during his flight, there's more Benadryl in the envelope and an Epi-Pen in his jacket. He fumbles for the tube. His tiny gun is missing, but the note informs him that Bowler took the liberty of packing it in his checked luggage to avoid any problems at security.

That's all right then, he thinks a bit hazily before he remembers to scold himself: it is most certainly not all right. Thinking hazily annoys Eames. He may be creative, he may even be a bit improvisational, but no one will ever accuse him of being sloppy. He needs to sharpen up.

He pops a Benadryl from its blister pack, reclines his first-class seat, and takes a hot towel proffered by a flight attendant. Instead of using it to wipe his hands, he drapes it over his face and holds it there, sighing with pleasure at the warm steam on his itchy eyes. He will, he swears to himself, pull himself together by the time he lands in Reykjavik. At the very least, he has to remember to text Arthur his flight number. He feels smug, in a fuzzy sort of way, that he found an available seat on this flight, which includes a 6-hour stopover in Reykjavik at no extra charge. That's enough time to enjoy a long soak in a natural hot spring and check into a hotel for a room service dinner and a nap that doesn't involve the use of Somnacin. He has good reason to want to be rested by the time he reaches London, a reason that involves peeling well-tailored trousers down a pair of wiry legs.

Maybe he'll send Arthur a selfie of himself relaxing in the milky blue, steaming waters of the Blue Lagoon. He imagines Arthur's groan of pained envy and grins at his reflection in the window.

When he strips down in the locker room of the Blue Lagoon, he briefly curses Bowler for checking his luggage through to London. He hates every moment without the familiar weight of his sterling poker chip over his heart, but if he wears his shirt into the sulfuric water, he'll earn the justified hatred of whomever sits next to him on his connecting flight, and he has nothing to change into. He has no intention of passing up his hard-earned soak, though, so he pats his clothes into what only looks like a haphazard ball and clicks the locker shut.

Two hours later, he returns to the locker room to find a man twice his own size -- and Eames knows he's not small -- stuffing the contents of his locker into a plastic shopping bag. Cursing the hot water and antihistamines that have left him noodle-limbed and careless, Eames takes a silent step back and begins to turn, only to catch another brawny figure coming up from behind. He braces himself to return a blow that doesn't come. Instead, his attacker bears him down to the ground while the man stealing his clothes pulls the Epi-Pen from the pocket of the corduroy blazer and jabs it into Eames' bare thigh. Eames grits his teeth and hopes to ride the punch of adrenaline into a solid kick or two, but instead, a wave of lassitude crashes over him. He can no more kick out than he can break the grip holding him down on the locker room floor.

A silver briefcase slides into view next to his head. There's a logo beneath the handle that he hasn't seen in years, a dent in the lid that he put there himself. He thought this particular PASIV had been destroyed a long time ago.

I'm sorry, darling, he thinks, I'm going to be late for work.

 

Chapter Text

He's not wearing a shirt. He suspects that means he's lost his totem. Arthur is not going to be happy about that. Eames certainly isn't.

The voice ordering him to wake up is familiar. Familiar, but he can't quite place it. All he knows is that it sets his teeth on edge, although to be honest they're already grinding under the pressure of the truly spectacular headache he woke up with.

"Corporal Eames," says the voice. Eames forces a sound of protest over his dry, dry tongue. He hasn't answered to that title in years.

"Corporal," the voice says again. This time the sound is followed by a slap to his face, one a little too hard to be meant just to drag him up to consciousness. He screws up his face and turns his head, but someone has hold of his chin and is turning it back. Eames cracks his eyes open and flinches at the bright light someone is shining into them. The light flicks from one eye to the other, someone says something about his pupils, and then suddenly he can see the man leaning over him.

"You're awake, for the moment. But you owe us a dream, Corporal. You owe it to your country."

Eames tries to lift his arms to push the man away, but they don't move. He feels restraints around both wrists, but that's the least of his concerns. He can't figure out how to make his limbs obey him anyhow.

The man raises one hand to show that he's tethered to a PASIV. "You will enter my dream," he intones. "You will find the target and retrieve a code word, and when you wake, you will tell me that code word." Eames blinks, not comprehending. A dreamer who's aware of being a mark could simply refuse to tell Eames what he wants to know. He looks around the room but the only other line emerging from the PASIV is attached to his own hand.

A pinch in the crook of one elbow. He forces himself to look: a saline drip. This is bad; it means they intend to keep him under for a while. His veins fill with a frozen slurry of fear and rage and -- he recognizes the sensation now -- sedatives. Suddenly he understands that he's being forced to try the impossible. Well, the improbable.

He and Arthur managed to share a remote dream once, when they were young, stupid, and convinced that dreamsharing was their own personal playground without limits. Once they discovered the vast murky swamp of mindcrime, they had sworn never to tell anyone it had worked. But it was no secret that just like everyone else in the business, Eames was fascinated by it, kept chasing after it, had failed and failed but kept researching it because it was the holy grail of the business. Imagine, just imagine what you could do if you could tap into a mark's dreams without having to use the same PASIV...

He does the only thing his uncooperative body will let him do: he shuts his eyes again and tries with all his might to dream up a gun. It doesn't work.

The man delivers another slap, this time with no pretense of anything but the desire to inflict pain. Eames glares up at him. Major Farringdon, his mind supplies, and he swallows hard. Farringdon ran the military's dreamsharing program, back when Eames was newly home from Afghanistan but not yet free to return to civilian life. Farringdon had tried to keep him in the army even after he'd made it clear he had other plans. Farringdon had insisted his skills belonged not to him, but to his unit, the military as a whole, and the queen, not to mention every one of her subjects, individually and collectively.

"You will look at me when I'm speaking to you, soldier," Farringdon says.

"Not a soldier any more," Eames manages to force past numb lips.

Farringdon sneers. "Everything you are is because of Project Night Watch. You owe your skills to your country, and your country needs them." He swings himself up into the adjacent bed and reaches for the PASIV. "You owe us," he repeats. "Ten minutes up, two hours down. Find the target."

If the fury percolating through him counteracted the effects of Somnacin, Eames would never dream again. Not now, not ever. He doesn't think he'd even regret the loss.

 

 

The buzzing fluorescent lights and vacant-eyed, suit-clad projections wandering the office complex of Farringdon's dream are aggressively unremarkable. It's exactly what he would expect from a military extractor: efficient, bland, and yet with an undercurrent of menace that would tip off all but the most mindless target that something is askew. If Farringdon is the best extractor the military has to offer, it's no wonder they want Eames back.

Time to see how long his leash is.

He cracks his knuckles, shrugs his shoulders, and dreams up his tiny gun. No sooner has he raised it to his temple, though, than someone charges out of the nearest cubicle and backhands it away with a deftly swung three-hole punch. Eames ducks the return swing and scuttles under a desk. When he crawls out the other side, he's not wearing his own face any more. The projections ignore him. He concludes that while forgery seems to be allowed, manifesting a weapon clearly isn't.

He holds the forge and heads for the elevator bank. The window next to it overlooks a generic cityscape as seen from several floors up. That will do nicely, he thinks. He hefts a desk chair, points it wheels-forward, and runs at the glass. The window shatters and he follows the desk chair through it, howling triumphantly as he dives toward the ground.

His head is still throbbing when he opens his eyes to Farringdon's expression of thin-lipped disgust. "Every time you try to kick yourself out, I will send you back down," says the major. Eames snarls and --

This time he rummages through a supply closet until he finds a stapler, the old-fashioned metal kind that flips open at its jaw. If he holds it by the base and flips it just so, the top packs a wallop even before it bites into flesh with its tiny metal teeth. He flails it against the wall twice, just to be sure. He wraps the power cord of a charger around his other hand a few times, letting the wall wart swing free. Then he saunters into the elevator, rides it to the lobby, and perches himself on the edge of one of the club chairs there. Farringdon's target can bloody well come to him.

Hours pass. Projections eye him with irritation but make no moves. Eames decides he's bored. He trips the next projection to pass him by -- a plump elderly woman in a uniform straight out of the 1980s -- and gives her a wolfish grin as he presses his forearm across her neck. "You wouldn't happen to know where the target is, would you, love?"

She hisses an incongruous obscenity and tries to throw him off, but Eames has learned some street fighting tricks Farringdon would never have known how to counter. He knocks her out and leaps to his feet to find himself surrounded by more projections. "Come on, then," he says, holding his hands wide to either side. "Tell me where the target is or rip me to bits, your choice."

Fighting a battle you want to lose is surprisingly satisfying. He gets in some hits he thinks even Arthur would admit are artful -- a stapler to the face, the charger swung like a bolo into someone's gut, punches that would leave his knuckles bruised and raw if he were awake. Ultimately, though, the projections bear him down to the linoleum floor and one of them pulls out a pistol.

When he opens his eyes this time, he smirks. "The code word is 'uncle,' isn't it," he says just before Farringdon gives him another dose of Somnacin.

 

 

It feels like he's spent weeks being sent into Farringdon's dreamscape, kicking himself out, and being forced right back down. He wakes up and wakes up and he still doesn't quite feel like he's awake, but without his totem, he can't be sure. Time bends and warps in odd ways that no professional dreamer would tolerate or allow.

He amuses himself for a while by coming up with gory new ways to wreak havoc with office supplies. When this is all over, he'll have a few tricks to impress Arthur with. He particularly likes the one involving printer cartridges and a lighter. But that, too, pales after a while. He's checked out all the offices, all the supply cabinets, all the stairwells and conference rooms and wiring closets (which, he notes with amusement, bear no resemblance to the real thing, because Farringdon clearly knows fuck-all about it). The projections mostly leave him alone unless he's trying to kill himself, but they don't give him any pointers on finding Farringdon's supposed target, either.

He is, quite frankly, starting to get bored. And frustrated. He misses Arthur terribly -- darling, he thinks, what I wouldn't give to hear you make one cutting comment about my wardrobe -- but he doesn't let himself dwell on that, much as he wants to. Best not to let any thoughts of Arthur cross Farringdon's mind, even if they're second-hand.

He's killing time trying to make sense of the way Farringdon seems to think a computer works when the thought occurs to him: maybe he should cooperate. It isn't that he wants to help the military achieve remote dreaming. If he's honest with himself, nothing scares him more. But the one time he and Arthur managed it, he had slipped into Arthur's dream. Maybe Farringdon's target isn't in this purgatory of an office building. Maybe his target is waiting for him in another dream, and he needs to find a way to enter it. And if he can find his way into the target's dream, well, maybe he can wriggle his way into someone else's dream as well.

At any given moment, half a dozen people in the world are hooked up to a PASIV, and most of them are colleagues, trusted or otherwise. All he has to do is find one who can pass a message on to Arthur. And then all he has to do is wait until the cavalry comes.

He puts on a stranger's face and starts looking for the door out of Farringdon's head.

Chapter Text

In the end, it's almost obvious. Eames takes the elevator to the lobby and strolls out the revolving glass door, where he finds himself in a parking lot in a nondescript office park. A late-model sedan of no particular interest sits alone and idling. The driver's seat is empty, so he opens the door and slides in. A young man who looks less like a soldier than a K-pop star dressed up in a uniform looks at him from the passenger seat and asks, "Who are you?"

Eames lets his forged face dissolve and offers his most charming smile. "I'm the man you've been waiting for."

The young man grins back. "About time." He nods at the steering wheel. "Drive."

"Where are we going?" Eames asks as they swing out of the parking lot. The young man points down the road to an intersection with a stop sign. On the far side, night has fallen on what looks like a violent collision between Shibuya Crossing, the Sunset Strip, and Leicester Square.

"Five blocks in, turn left, and I'll give you the code word if my dream holds together until then."

Eames shrugs and says, "It's your dream."

He's five blocks into the other dreamscape and about to make the left turn when his target leans across the center console and whispers a word in his ear. It's Eames' real first name, the one he used when he enlisted. He startles and slams on the brakes. The target hurls himself out of the car and runs into the neon-splattered crowd.

"Bloody hell," Eames tells the steering wheel before thunking his head down on the rim.

He considers driving into the crowd, or at least into the first convenient wall, but what's the rush? It's bad enough that he has to give Farringdon the satisfaction of knowing he successfully fucked with Eames. He isn't inclined to do it any sooner than absolutely necessary. Besides, the target's dream is holding together amazingly well, far better than the few moments he and Arthur managed to sustain remote dreaming, and he wants to see how long it takes to collapse. Arthur will want to know.

He carefully avoids thinking about the possibility that he won't get the chance to tell him. Instead, he indulges himself for a moment in a favorite memory. He knows it's dangerous -- he can't risk getting dream and memory confused, especially not now, especially not here, not when his totem is missing. But he would have to be a far stronger man, in a far less stressful situation, to resist the thought of Arthur flushed and unwound beneath him for the first time. He'd been even more lovely than Eames had had any right to expect, intent and hungry and devastatingly focused until the moment Eames had literally lifted him off his feet and toppled him onto the bed. Then he had thrown his head back with a moaned "oh, fuck yes," and melted into the mattress while Eames stripped away his expensive suit to explore the revealed terrain beneath with hands and lips and tongue. Afterwards, Arthur had looked up with something satisfyingly like surprise in his eyes and rasped, "You were right. I had no imagination at all."

He aches from groin to throat, and not just with remembered desire. Farringdon has him cycling between awake and asleep so frequently that he risks forgetting which he is at any given moment; he can't afford to get so lost in thoughts of Arthur that he tries to kill himself topside to get back to him. Focus, he scolds himself. He forces himself to imagine tucking the memory into his shirt pocket to rest over his heart, where his totem ought to be. Then he concentrates on dreaming up a stopwatch, the old-fashioned kind he remembers old men using at the racetrack when he was a boy. He shoves the car seat back as far as it will go, clicks the start button, and stretches out his legs to wait for the kick.





He wakes up like a leaf caught in a current, whirling and drifting just beneath the surface of full awareness. Eventually it occurs to him to dig his teeth into his lower lip until he feels the sharp sting of breaking skin, clutching at the pain to keep him from slipping back under. Someone is releasing the straps restraining his arms. A moment later, the head of the bed begins to rise. It sets the room spinning.

He sucks in a breath and manages to blurt, "Gonna -- " Gloved hands shove a basin into his lap just in time.

When his stomach finally stops trying to escape his body, the hands return with a damp cloth. He takes it and wipes the cold sweat beading on his forehead before dabbing the blood and bile from his throbbing lip. Only then does he open his eyes.

"Are you with us?" The voice is warm, even through a surgical mask, and the eyes looking over the edge of the mask crinkle at the edges. One of Farringdon's team, undoubtedly, and therefore likely under orders to seem like a potential ally. He croaks a small affirmative sound.

"That's what I like to hear," the voice says. "In a minute, I'm going to get you out of bed. Do you think you can walk?"

Eames gives the question serious consideration. His lower back aches as it tends to do when he lies motionless for too long, but it's been worse. More worrisome is his unusually violent reaction to the Somnacin wearing off. Even his first forays into dreamsharing didn't leave him feeling like this; what else has he been dosed with, and how else is it affecting him? His head pounds, but he sets his jaw and nods.

After helping him through an embarrassing stumble to a toilet, the person he assumes is a nurse guides him to a small table, then brings him a sandwich and a small plastic bottle of water. The food and activity helps to clear his head, but only enough that he realizes his body is still too sluggish for him to entertain any thoughts of escape. At least he's being awakened to tend to his bodily functions. He has no illusions that he'll just be allowed to walk away, but for now, the Army doesn't seem to be in a hurry to pitch him down into limbo and be done with him.

He scans the room, a peculiar mashup of laboratory and hotel room that it looks like it might once have been a dormitory like the one Eames remembers sleeping in during basic training. Paper coffee cups with a familiar logo fill the nearest trash bin. A plane screams low overhead. He sees nothing to suggest where he might be, nor even what country he's in.

Suddenly, he isn't sure what frightens him more: that Arthur won't find him, or that he will, only to be captured by Farringdon and condemned to dream his life away all alone in a room like this one.

Eames will not allow that to happen.

He gulps the rest of his water hard enough to gag on it. Before the nurse can intervene, he hauls himself to his feet and lurches to the nearest window, shoving it open and hanging his head out, trying to memorize everything he sees through his watering eyes as he coughs and retches. He's looking straight down the side of a brick building with yellow wood trim, several floors above ground level. Beneath him is a sliver of grass with pavement along the edge. A group of figures in what he recognizes as Army fatigues is crossing the lawn, boots thumping in unison. That's all he manages to take in before hands are gently but firmly pulling him away from the window and pressing him down into the nearest chair.

The nurse offers him another small bottle of water, warns him to drink slowly this time, and seems pleased when he cracks the lid and takes a tiny sip. He nods and coughs and nods again, resisting the urge to smile. Every data point helps, and now he has more than he did even two minutes ago. He wants to go back under right now, to start looking for a way into shared dreamspace that isn't entirely under the Army's supervision.

When Farringdon appears in the doorway and barks at him to report, Eames calibrates his sneer and spits out his own first name, the one on his enlistment papers. Farringdon rocks back on his heels and smiles. It isn't a warm smile.

"How long did the dream remain stable?"

"Approximately four minutes and thirty seconds in dream time." Nearly twice as long as he and Arthur had achieved. The reluctant excitement in his voice isn't entirely fake.

"Details."

He pauses to give the impression that he's torn between giving information to his hated captor and continuing to pursue the goal everyone in dreamsharing is chasing. This isn't entirely fake, either. Eames has been thinking about remote dreaming for a long time. If he plays this right, though, Farringdon won't be able to make any use of anything Eames tells him.

After a moment, he sighs and describes the texture of the dream, the way it had collapsed (like a soufflé deflating, the buildings collapsing into themselves in slow motion, unlike the unsuccessful attempts that had popped like a soap bubble), the extent to which he was able to affect it (minimal).

"My theory is that both people in a remote dream need to be able to share the responsibility for keeping it stable." He pauses again, playacting reticence overcome by fascination, then continues: "I have some ideas about how to stabilize it further, but I'm going to need to talk to your chemist about sedation and second-level dreaming."

Farringdon draws closer, a shark on a line. Eames takes a careful breath and starts to reel him in.

Chapter Text

Farringdon insists on cluttering his dreamscape with hostile projections that go on the offensive rather more often than Eames finds convenient. Eames tolerates it in exchange for the sweet relief of greater control. He can dream up a weapon now, if he wants to. He can shoot himself out of Farringdon's dreams. Better yet, he can shoot Farringdon out, a pleasure he doles out to himself sparingly, but with enormous enjoyment.

He's managed to wheedle Farringdon's chemist down to a minimal ratio of sedatives to Somnacin, but Farringdon himself clearly still doesn't trust his cooperation. One of the most persistent projections -- a security guard who resembles a walrus in both whiskers and fishy body odor -- comes jogging up behind Eames as he leaves the office building and delivers a shove that sends Eames to his hands and knees with a grunt. The follow-up kick with a steel-toed boot grazes Eames' jaw as he rolls away. That's enough to make him lose his patience. Springing to his feet with a bellow, he tackles the projection low and hard.

He doesn't waste time dreaming up a weapon to defend himself, just straddles his attacker, yanks him up by the collar into a sitting position, and cracks their foreheads together in a move that leaves him seeing stars. The guard slumps like a marionette with snapped strings. Eames staggers to his feet, spits blood from his bitten tongue, and puts two fingers to his forehead. When he pulls them away, they're smudged with blood, too. He shakes his throbbing head and turns back toward the nondescript car in the parking lot. He still has half an hour before his next kick.

The exit loops back into the office park twice, but Eames eventually coaxes the car out of the lot and toward the intersection that marks the boundary of shared dreamspace. As soon as he crosses it, the car vanishes. With no sense of transition, he's walking through the English countryside. A light rain dampens his hair. Birds sing. He works his jaw and groans at the ache, wondering whose dream he's crossed into.

"Better your face than your arse," someone says.

Eames is already smiling as he turns to greet the man who's clambering out of the hedgerow with a military first aid kit and a wry smile beneath an upturned nose. "Are you trying to say it's my arse that's my fortune?"

"No, it's your misfortune," Doc Watson replies, and it warms Eames right through. Eames finds it both comforting and amusing, how often Doc shows up in his dreams when he's hurt. When he'd finally told Arthur about it, Arthur had made a quip about guardian angels. Eames had yelped with laughter at the notion. "It's a pretty poor excuse for a guardian angel who only shows up after something bad happens. Besides, the only time we met, he spent the entire time looking at my arse."

Arthur had arched an eyebrow. "Should I be jealous?"

"I wouldn't have turned him down if he'd asked, but as difficult as you might find this to believe, his only interest in my body was stitching it back up." He had rolled over and pointed out the tidy scar across the top curve of his right buttock.

"Nice tailoring."

"You would know."

"It's true, I would." With that, Arthur had stroked one fingertip along the scar and down, down, down, the sensation overwriting any stray thoughts about the embarrassing but minor flesh wound and the Army doctor who'd sutured it.

Now his projection of said doctor is peering at the cut on his brow, pressing gently on his jaw, examining his pupils. Doc purses his lips and nods before delivering a diagnosis: "Yeah, you'll live, more's the pity." It's what he'd said to a younger, skinnier Eames lying face-down on a stretcher with his blood-stained trousers around his knees. It's what he always says. Eames isn't sure what he'd do if Doc said anything else. Then he rewinds and thinks it again, deliberately: Doc always says the same thing.

As far as he knows, no one else in dreamsharing has any idea who Doc is. Doc is just a projection, but he's Eames' projection, and his presence indicates that for the moment, Eames has just as much control in the current dreamscape as Farringdon does. Maybe more, since he's left Farringdon's dream.

"Say, Doc, how would you feel about being a totem?"

"I have no idea what the hell that means. Does it involve beer?"

"I don't see why not." Eames dreams up two bottles of Old Speckled Hen and pops off the tops. He hands one to Doc, clinks them together, and downs half of his in a single appreciative swig.

Later, running hell-for-leather down the country lane with a border collie snapping at his heels, it occurs to him that he's had better ideas. He'll have to injure himself enough to summon his projection of Doc any time he wants to verify whether or not the dream he's in is under Farringdon's control. Right now, though, he knows this isn't one of Farringdon's dreams, and he doesn't have much time left.

He wonders which of his colleagues is doing this extraction and hopes it's no one he's pissed off lately. He's never been given a kick by an angry dog and he'd rather not try it now. Needs must, though, so he tucks and rolls into the ditch at the side of the road, ending up on his back with two paws on his chest and hot breath on his face.

"I'm not a sheep, love," he says. The dog pants and snarls. He hopes that border collies are as smart in dreams as they are in the waking world. "I'm Eames. Go get your people and tell them Eames needs to talk to them."

The dog takes a step back and cocks its head in an almost human way, but the ditch and road and field have already started to disintegrate around him. Eames wakes up muttering "good dog, good dog" and forcing down the urge to bury his fingers in soft fur.




He no longer has any idea how long he's been in captivity. It could be a week, but it feels like months. He goes down into dreamspace, he dreams, he comes up, he goes down again. Every time he's allowed out of bed to move around and drink and eat, he's grateful, because it means he has a little more time to try to get a message to Arthur. He knows Arthur is dreaming out there somewhere, too, and Eames misses him, misses him, misses him until even his terror of leading Farringdon to him is no match for the longing.

It's the slice of mango on his tray of food that cracks him open. He determines to wrench a tiny corner of someone else's dream to himself so he can let himself dream of Arthur -- Arthur before he was Eames', to be safe, Arthur on their first dreamsharing job together -- even if he can only hold it for a minute before he has to hand the dream back over to its rightful owner. The next time the Somnacin slides into his veins, he jogs past the idling car in the parking lot and continues on foot. He holds the taste of mango on his lips and focuses on the memory of a crumbling pink stucco building on a hot Manila afternoon as he hits his stride.

He crosses the intersection into a blazing, blaring, bustling square that's instantly familiar. Jeepneys bright as tropical birds surround him. The air is thick with humidity and the smells of the open-air market. He stops and catches his breath in pure shock: he didn't even see what the dream was before he bent it to his will. He has no idea how he did it, and that, he thinks, is fantastic. He hopes he can do it again.

The extent of his success leaves him feeling self-indulgent. He'll cross the market, slip into the pink building with the rusted roof, and find the room where he and Arthur had first seen each other after Project Night Watch. He'd walked among the fruit and vegetable stands then, too, high on the excitement of his new career as a forger. He had wanted to make an entrance, swaggering into the room and plucking a straw hat from his head to sail it like a frisbee onto the nearest desktop. Instead, he'd dropped the hat and gawped like a graceless amateur.

"Eames," Arthur had turned to him and said.

Eames had blinked and swallowed hard. In Project Night Watch, in a buzz cut and fatigues, Arthur had been taciturn, but young and unfinished. This new Arthur with slicked-back hair and seersucker trousers was all that potential realized -- gone zero to sixty in just the six months since Eames had seen him last.

"Arthur," he'd replied, voice steady but hands embarrassingly shaky. When he bent to retrieve his hat, he had dropped the mango in his other hand, and it rolled away to stop between Arthur's feet. He'd had the sudden wild notion that he should follow it.

Now Eames stops in front of a cart with a pyramid of mangos. He'll buy one to lay at his dream-Arthur's feet, homage to the moment when he realized he was in over his head and probably had been from the start. Aware that time is passing fast, he flips a coin to the vendor and continues on across the square.

Chapter Text

Manila had been Arthur's first time running a team, his first time working with a forger, his first time seeing Eames since he'd deserted the military with Eames' parting gift of a stolen PASIV chained to his wrist. He'd been terrified. Eames knows this now. But at the time, all he could see of Arthur was a facade so cool it made the poorly ventilated office seem like an industrial freezer.

That's the version of Arthur he's conjured up now, shrugging off a seersucker blazer and turning up the cuffs of the crisp white shirt beneath. He's well aware that this Arthur is only a projection built of Eames' own memories and desires. Still, the twist of his wrists and the flex of his forearms as he rolls up his sleeves makes Eames' mouth dry with want. If he'd recognized his reaction to Arthur back then for what it was, he wouldn't have spent their entire week in Manila thinking obsessively about punching him in the jaw and stealing back the PASIV. Instead, he'd have spent the week trying to find a plausible excuse to lick the sweat off Arthur's collarbone. Which, he thinks deliriously, he is going to do right now.

He rolls the small yellow mango across the floor. Dream-Arthur looks down when it bumps against one of his loafers, then looks over at where Eames is standing in the doorway to the shabby office. Eames' breath catches, and he spares a moment of gratitude for his training.

The first lesson any man who works in dreamsharing learns -- well, almost the first -- is how to minimize his sleeping body's reactions to what happens in a dream. Eames will never forget the first few weeks of Project Night Watch, a mortifying replay of his early teen years as far as waking up panting and sticky goes. These days, though, he can forge a woman having multiple orgasms and not even pitch the proverbial tent topside. If Farringdon is watching his sleeping body right now, the only thing he might notice is a slightly elevated pulse rate.

Dream-Arthur casts a pointed glance at the mango and spreads his hands in a wordless but eloquent question. "It's a gift, darling," Eames says. The response is a grin so bright, he can't hold himself back any longer. He pushes off from the doorframe and fills his arms with a solid, warm weight so excruciatingly real that he wishes he could forget it's literally all in his mind.

He doesn't care if he drops into limbo right now and stays there forever if it means he can stay in this moment with his hands on Arthur's shoulder blades and Arthur lipping at his earlobe. Or this moment, sliding one hand down the back of Arthur's sinfully flattering trousers as he maneuvers them back against the nearest wall. Or this moment, on his knees at Arthur's feet, as Arthur clenches his fist in Eames' hair and babbles "Yeah, yeah, do it, just like that." Even knowing it isn't really Arthur, just his own brain spooling out his fondest wishes, Eames is giddy with the sound, the smell, the taste of him.

Then he surges to his feet, not even bothering to wipe his lips before crashing his mouth into dream-Arthur's, ferocious and needy. Dream-Arthur responds as Eames knew he would, by panting something incoherent about being able to taste himself and spinning them so it's Eames against the wall. Eames' trousers slither down his thighs under demanding fingers. He locks his knees to keep from collapsing under the hands that grip and stroke exactly as he likes most. It's almost real, almost enough, almost --

"Arthur," he chokes at the last, the only word he knows, the only word worth knowing.





They're sitting entwined on the dingy carpet, still breathless, when the building trembles. Eames isn't ready to let go, but he knows he's been lucky to control this corner of the dream as long as he has. He groans, resigned, and tightens his arms around dream-Arthur, wanting to cling to the feel of him even as the dream collapses -- but the dream doesn't collapse.

The groan of metal and concrete under duress is sudden and deafening. Eames has just enough time to push himself upright before a blast of cold, damp air rushes over him. He looks reluctantly away from dream-Arthur and lets him vanish. Eames needs to focus on his surroundings, which are demanding his immediate attention. He can barely believe what he's seeing, which is something a dreamsharing pro can't say very often.

The entire back wall of the building has folded away like a box being opened from the outside. What it reveals is not the sweltering Filipino afternoon, but light snow sifting down on wet pavement that reflects back the flashing lights of what can only be Times Square. Eames suddenly feels nearly sick with hope. This is how Arthur builds, Arthur and no one else. More than that, there's a private logic to the connection between the two locations. Manila was the first time they worked together. New York was the first time they worked well together. Arthur knows whatever is going on involves remote dreaming. Excitement sizzles down his spine and out to his fingertips: Arthur has to be coming for him. And if Arthur is coming for him, Eames needs to meet him halfway.

He's shivering in the wet chill blowing into the open room, so he dreams himself into his favorite vintage overcoat and flips the fur collar up around his neck. Then he climbs over a crumbling pink stucco wall and down a pile of rubble onto the corner of -- he checks the nearest street sign -- 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue.

If he'd had any doubt that he was in one of Arthur's dreams, it evaporates as soon as he starts walking up Seventh. He recognizes Arthur's style. The Empire State Building is far too close, the signs on the storefronts slide in and out of focus as he passes them, and the streets are pulsing with life. The closer he gets to the heart of the theater district, though, the emptier the streets become. It begins to feel less like rush hour and more like the relative peace of the very early morning.

The empty sidewalks and bright lights are meant to make him conspicuous, so he allows them to do just that. He even helps the process along, veering off Seventh to head up Broadway and slowing to a meander in the exposed middle of the pedestrian zone. Arthur's Times Square makes his throat tight with pride. The billboards are just suggestions of advertising, a parade of generically beautiful faces and splashes of bright color that might or might not be familiar brands, but selected storefronts are convincing enough to convince people unaware they're dreaming. It was a masterful bit of design even when Arthur first built it, for all that Eames said otherwise. Eames vows to apologize for that when he sees Arthur again. He hopes it happens soon. Preferably before the kick.

He covers nearly three blocks at a leisurely stroll, stopping often and making eye contact with the few projections he encounters, but Arthur fails to appear. When his watch beeps to alert him that his kick is only five minutes away, he decides to speed up the process. A cab can take him in a big loop through the area faster than he can walk it, and Arthur has, of course, liberally salted his New York City with cabs.

He steps off the curb at 48th Street and lifts his arm. Almost instantly, a black town car with tinted windows pulls up and the back door swings open. At the same moment, a Checker Cab squeals around the corner of 8th Avenue and heads his way. Assuming it's either an out-of-control projection or an amusing bit of "local color," he makes the split-second decision to hop into the town car. It's only as he pulls the door shut that he hears Arthur bellowing his name out the window of the taxi.

The town car slides away from the curb. "Stop," he yells. He grabs for the door handle, but there isn't one, nor any way to lower the window. He turns around and watches helplessly out the rear window as Arthur — he can see that it's Arthur driving the taxi — gives chase. He kneels up on the seat and presses a hand against the heavily tinted glass, hoping Arthur can see it even a fraction as clearly as he can read Arthur's lips mouthing "come on, come on" while his passengers lurch around behind him.

When he turns back around to shout at the driver of the town car again, an opaque partition has appeared to separate him from the front seat. He's alone in a box of darkened glass and black upholstery that for a horrifying moment he thinks is a hearse. He kicks at the partition but it doesn't so much as crack. He hurls himself at the door and pounds his fist on the window as he feels the car accelerate and pull away from Arthur.

He snaps awake imagining he can hear his howl of rage ringing off the walls of the room. Farringdon is in the other bed, plucking his line to the PASIV out of his hand.

"Congratulations, soldier," Farringdon says. "I was able to follow you into a remote dream and affect what happened. Well done. We'll be trying that again tomorrow."

Even as he nods and play-acts enthusiasm for what he can't deny is a milestone in dreamsharing, Eames has to concentrate on calming his breathing. His stomach goes sour with anxiety. Shit, he thinks. He's better at this than I thought.

He has to figure out a way back to Arthur's dream, and back to Arthur within it -- and the sooner, the better. If Farringdon has figured out how to piggyback on Eames' ability to dream remotely, how long before he figures out how to do it without Eames? And how long after that before he disposes of Eames entirely?

Chapter Text

The rush of anxiety propels Eames upright in his bed.

"Tomorrow?" he blurts. "Let's try it again right now."

Too much, he scolds himself when Farringdon frowns at him and asks, "What's your rush, Corporal?"

He dials it back, leans back on his elbows and gives voice to the part of himself that is fucking triumphant about pulling off remote dreaming. "We just did something that as far as I know has never been done before. I want to do it again so I know it wasn't just a fluke."

"What makes you think it might have been a fluke?"

"I'm not entirely sure what I did, so I'm not confident I can make it happen again. Or prevent it."

Farringdon eyes him with suspicion. Eames sighs. "I'm assuming that if you want to be able to fuck with other people's dreams, you also want to keep them from fucking with yours. Am I right?"

"My dreams are militarized," Farringdon says, but he's reaching for the antiseptic swabs and a new needle for the IV he's already removed. Eames rucks up his sheets in one fist to stop himself from rolling out of his bed and hitting the switch on the PASIV himself while Farringdon takes his time snapping in a fresh ampule of Somnacin. Time is slipping under him like icy pavement, throwing him off balance.

Hurry, he thinks, but he doesn't let that word cross his lips. He breathes in, breathes out, and says mildly, "If I could make a suggestion?"

Farringdon looks over at him.

"Give me a head start to get into someone else's dream, then send one projection in after me." Eames is making it up as he goes, but he's gratified to hear his voice coming out without a single waver. He sounds entirely confident, as if theorizing about remote dreaming is all he's done for the last decade. "If I can stop it from affecting the dream, send in a second and see if I can stop two at once."

"And if my first projection can change the dream?"

"Then we've started to create a baseline for future defensive efforts."

"Fine." Farringdon glances at the points where Eames is tethered to both the PASIV and a hanging bag of saline. "Do you need a break first?" he asks. He sounds as though he resents Eames for having bodily functions.

Eames could actually do with a walk down the hallway, even if he doesn't need the facilities at the far end — his back is starting to protest at the long motionless hours — but he can get to that later. Right now, he needs to get back to Arthur's dream before Arthur wakes up. He says "I'm good," and slides down onto his pillow to shift around until he's a bit more comfortable.

"You have five minutes of dreamtime before I come after you." Farringdon holds up the business end of his IV to show that he hasn't slipped the needle in yet.

Eames wishes he had more time to consider what Arthur might choose to dream about, knowing he's looking for Eames, knowing Eames is looking for him. "Five minutes?" he stalls. "That's not even enough time to get to the border of your dream."

"I'll drop you near the car." Farringdon is already reaching for the PASIV.

"Wait!" He needs a minute, just one more minute — "How will I know it's you changing the dream, and not the dreamer?"

He can already predict how Farringdon will reply, down to the absent note in his voice and the little sneer, but it buys him an extra few seconds to make a decision. Sure enough, as everything goes dark and then bright, Farringdon's voice follows him down: "Oh, you'll know."

It echoes across the parking lot in the office complex of the damned. His usual ride is standing empty with the door invitingly open and the motor running. Somewhere in the distance, Officer Walrus shouts out an order to stop, but Eames is already behind the wheel, foot on the accelerator, pulling away toward the intersection between dreams. He thinks of a foggy evening in a distant city and stomps on the gas.




Eames doesn't need to summon Doc to know he's in a dream. Parking in the real San Francisco would never be so easy. He abandons the nondescript car with the key still in the ignition and dodges across three lanes of traffic toward the opaque glass door with no sign. He brushes past the woman checking IDs and through the black velvet curtain that separates her from the street outside.

He has to stop dead just inside to give his eyes a moment to adjust to the dim lighting. It makes him nervous — everyone inside can see who's come in, but no one coming in can see who's already there, or anything else, for that matter. If he didn't already know about the staircase leading down to the lower bar, he could take four steps to his right and fall ass-over-teakettle. He's surprised it doesn't happen all the time.

Someone bumps into him from behind and mutters an apology. He ignores it and scans the crowd standing four deep at the main bar, where a bearded man in a straw porkpie hat is brandishing a cocktail shaker in each hand. Eames glances down at himself and wills himself into an eye-blistering paisley shirt. The better to see me with, my dear, he thinks, imagining Arthur's grimace of distaste at the lemon-lime swirls.

He steps carefully down the stairs and stops just before he reaches the bottom to scan the small room. He can take in the entire space at a glance: four small tables that look like shipping crates, two long upholstered benches, a scattering of wicker chairs. To his left, a violet-haired woman with a snake tattoo coiling over her collarbones is perusing a menu that says "Rumbustion Society" and sipping thoughtfully at a full shotglass. To his right, half a dozen young men in polo shirts are sharing a flaming Scorpion Bowl through straws longer than their arms. The air smells of cinnamon and freshly squeezed lime.

The bartender on the far side of the room looks up from grating a nutmeg over a glass of something creamy and nods at Eames. He remembers her — or rather, he remembers the dress she's wearing. How could he not? The elaborate black and white pattern resolves itself, on close examination, into interlocking bottles and martini glasses. It is distinctly un-Arthurish. Yet when he thinks back to the night he and Arthur had decided to check Smuggler's Cove off their slowly shrinking list of the world's best cocktail bars — and it was an unforgettable night — it was Arthur's fascination with the bartender's dress that had sent the evening veering off in an unexpected direction, taking Eames' entire life with it.

"I want a waistcoat of that fabric," Arthur had rhapsodized after his third drink. "No, an entire suit."

Eames had been powerless to do anything but grin helplessly at the thought. "Careful, pet," he'd said. "You wouldn't want people to think my fashion sense is rubbing off on you."

"That's not what I want rubbing off on me," Arthur had murmured in reply. When Eames gave him a startled double-take, he had swiped his finger around the rim of his empty glass and held Eames' eye as he darted out his tongue to flick the final droplet of his Fogcutter off his fingertip.

"Arthur," Eames had managed to croak, "I think maybe you've had enough."

"Eames." Arthur had slid off his barstool and swung his jacket over his shoulder. "I haven't had nearly enough." And he had swaggered to the door in a way Eames had never seen him move before, and Eames, dazed and disbelieving, had followed him, and everything had changed.

Now the projection of the bartender slides a cocktail over the gleaming top of the tiki bar. He toasts her silently and takes a sip, then blinks a surprised question at the unexpected tingle of allspice and hot pepper. "This is amazing. What is it?"

"House specialty," she says with a wink. "I was told to have it waiting for you when you arrived."

Something warm and bright expands in Eames' chest. This isn't just one of Arthur's dreams. Arthur built this dream for him. It isn't going to vanish. Arthur will keep it going until he and Eames find each other. And that's a damn good thing, because Eames needs to get out of here before Farringdon's projections find him. He isn't sure why they haven't made an appearance yet, unless — he hopes this fervently — they're in some other part of the dream, some part he's already seen or hasn't discovered yet.

"Cheers, love." He winks back at the bartender and wastes her hard work by guzzling his cocktail in one jerk-spiced mouthful. It burns softly on his palate as he bounds back upstairs in search of Arthur.

The main bar is even more crowded now, a heaving throng of patrons surrounding the bar and packing the back staircase up to the bamboo-shrouded balcony. He looks around as best he can, craning his neck and standing on tiptoe, but Arthur must be in another part of the dream, because Eames can't see him anywhere. Someone up in the balcony is definitely looking over the rail at him, though, someone tall with angular features and a head of dark curls that Eames automatically files away as worth copying for some future forgery. His gaze is sharp in a way that makes Eames uneasy. Time to go, he thinks.

He turns and forces his way through the crowd and out to the street. The nondescript car is still there, keys and all, as if Eames needed another reminder that this isn't real life.

He's making an illegal u-turn in the middle of Gough Street when the radio switches itself on and a vaguely familiar song begins to play. It surrounds him and kicks him up, up, through streetlights and fog. He wakes up feeling more hopeful than he has since the moment Bowler turned on him. Arthur is looking for him. He's looking for Arthur. And they always have made a damn good team.







Chapter Text

He barely bobs to the surface of consciousness before plummeting back down harder than usual. One instant, he can hear the distant beep of the machine monitoring his pulse. The next, he's flat on his back on the pavement outside Farringdon's office park, eyes screwed shut in pain. Eames wonders what the hell Farringdon has slipped into his IV. It's not a sedative, or at least no sedative he's ever encountered; he's still entirely lucid and aware that he's dreaming. He just feels like he's been dropped by a punch in the gut. Then he opens his eyes to Farringdon himself leaning over him, the sea mammal of a security guard at his side with clenched fists.

"I'm not letting you out of my sight this time," Farringdon says, and it occurs to Eames that maybe he actually has been dropped by a punch in the gut. When he rolls over, he has to inhale a few careful times before he can push himself up to hands and knees.

Farringdon insists on driving at first, but after half a dozen pointless loops around the parking lot, it's obvious that Eames has to be at the wheel to escape Farringdon's dream. Eames finds that comforting -- as long as Farringdon can't manage remote dreaming under his own power, Eames will live to dream another day. Farringdon, on the other hand, is frustrated. When he finally cedes the spot behind the wheel, he takes the keys with him, handing them to Eames only when both of them are back in the car and belted in. "No tricks," he says. "If you try to give me the kick by driving into a lamppost -- "

"I wouldn't dream of it," Eames interrupts. When Farringdon glowers, he adds a sardonic "sir."

They cross over the boundary between dreams and find themselves in the middle of a crowd in academic robes, filing across a green quadrangle and into what can only be an auditorium. A banner hanging over the double door congratulates the graduating class of a well-known graduate program in architecture. Eames knows this place. He remembers this day. He thinks, not for the first time, that Arthur is a genius. He doesn't know how Arthur is attracting him to his own dreams or keeping him from falling into someone else's, but does it matter right now, as long as it works?

And oh, it works. As he scans the faces around him, he sees Arthur -- Arthur! -- stroll out of the side door of the auditorium and head toward two men on the far side of the lawn. Both have their backs to him, but Eames can make out that one is tall, wearing a sweepingly dramatic overcoat, with dark curls that remind him of the man in the balcony at Smuggler's Cove. It takes all of Eames' acting skills not to follow Arthur with his eyes, to paste on a baffled expression and let the crowd push him along without resistance.

"Where are we?" Farringdon snaps.

"I haven't a clue." Eames looks around, feigning confusion, and finally points up at the banner over the main doors to the auditorium as they pass beneath it. "Someone is dreaming about graduating, I suppose. Or doing an extraction that involves the mark's graduation. Excuse me. The subject's."

Farringdon's eyes widen in interest. "How would we go about finding out the details?"

"Such as?"

"Who's dreaming, the purpose of the dream, the target. Anything that might be of use when we don't have any relevant background information."

Eames has considered this question himself many times over the years. He and Arthur have discussed it at length. There's no way in hell he's giving away anything Farringdon can use, not if he can help it, but he still needs to say something plausible. He steps out of the array of graduates lining up for their ceremony and leads Farringdon to an open spot next to one wall. Weaving through the crowd gives him an excuse not to speak until they stop. Then he speaks low, as if worried that someone will overhear despite the babble around them.

"It has to be a combination of observation and questioning, and we have to be careful -- we are absolutely surrounded by projections who will turn on us in a second if we arouse suspicion."

Farringdon gives him an eloquent glare.

"Well then, if you already know all that, you don't need me, do you?" Eames shifts himself so his back is to the room and holds out his hand just enough for Farringdon to see the solid, satisfying shape of the tiny gun Eames has dreamed into his palm. "I can just shoot myself out and go have a cuppa."

"Stand down, soldier. If I couldn't get into this dream without you, what makes you think I can stay in it if you leave?"

Eames maintains his best poker face and says lightly, "Don't you want to find out?" He can't actually think of anything he wants less than to learn whether or not Farringdon can maintain a remote dream after Eames leads him into it. That's only one step away from not needing Eames at all. He's grateful that the room is loud enough to conceal the way his breath shakes when Farringdon shakes his head and admits that they aren't ready for that yet.

"If I can make another suggestion, sir." Eames deliberately takes a moment to tuck his weapon out of sight, enjoying the way Farringdon twitches. "Why don't you talk to the projections in the audience to see if any of them can give you a clue to whose dream it is? I'll slip up to the front and see what the students have to say."

It's hilarious how much Farringdon visibly dislikes the idea of letting Eames so much as cross the room without him, but the lure of expanding the boundaries of dreamsharing even a tiny bit is too strong. When he nods, it's stiff and grudging, but definite. "Be back here before the kick," he says. It reminds Eames so powerfully of the Fischer job, of Arthur being unexpectedly brilliant, that he can't help but smile.

"Yes, sir," he says with a salute so sloppy even he is almost ashamed of it. One crisp pivot later, he's nearly trotting in his eagerness to reach the front of the room and slip up to the side of the stage. A reedy man with a moustache is standing behind a lectern, reading out names, and students in caps and gowns are climbing onto the far side of the stage to pick up their diplomas. Eames stations himself next to the stairs where they descend again, angling his body so he can watch them and the room behind them at the same time. He's looking for Ariadne and failing to spot her when a woman in impractically high heels wobbles at the top of the stairs. He responds to her yelp of dismay without thinking, reaching out a hand to steady her.

"Eames!"

His head snaps up and turns, searching. Arthur's voice was close, close enough that Eames should be able to spot him, but the room is so crowded and everyone keeps moving and --

"Eames!"

This time, Arthur's shout is like true north to the compass of Eames' body. It pulls his eyes inerrantly. Eames couldn't control himself if he wanted to, and he doesn't want to. He grins, broad and brazen, and shouts back, "Arthur!"

And there Arthur is, shoving through the crowd, running up the center aisle of the auditorium. The tall, curly-haired man in the dramatic coat is several steps behind. It is the same man from Smuggler's Cove, Eames is sure of it. He's watching Arthur watch Eames, and there's something knowing in his expression that would make Eames uneasy if he could be arsed to look away from Arthur, which he can't, because Arthur.

He's about to vault into the crowd like it's a mosh pit when Arthur flinches and starts to raise his gun arm. Someone screams. The curly-haired man rushes up and bellows something incomprehensible about the Vatican before he and another man whose face Eames can't see tackle Arthur to the floor. Eames hesitates for a split second -- just the moment it takes to recognize that the men aren't attacking Arthur, but shielding him -- and that turns out to be his mistake. He realizes his error even as he turns his head to see what Arthur needs to be shielded from: the man who was handing out diplomas, but is now pointing a small semi-automatic directly at Eames.

Everything skids into slow-motion chaos. He watches the man's finger twitch on the trigger, sees the bullet leave the barrel of the gun and the air ripple around it as it spirals toward him, hears his own voice groan an expletive at slow-slower-slowest speed. Then time snaps back to normal and the bullet rips into his side.

It hurts, but then, it always hurts. At least this time it's fast. He turns his head back toward where he last saw Arthur, but he can't see Arthur. He can't see anything. He staggers and topples backwards as darkness races into his field of vision from every direction at once. Fuck, he thinks, resigned, just before he hits the floor.

He opens his eyes to Farringdon holding him down by the shoulders, red-faced and visibly restraining his fury. "Who was that? Was that who I think it was? Did you sell us out?"

Eames musters up some nonsense about dreaming up Arthur to help him interrogate the actual dreamer's projections. He reels it out as convincingly as he can, looking baffled and disturbed: No, Major, I didn't think I was capable of bringing my own projections into a shared dream. I'm as surprised as you are. Arthur? I haven't heard from Arthur in ages, I'm not even sure how to contact him. This is something that needs closer investigation before we risk dropping other people into remote dreams and mucking up the dreams and possibly the dreamers, don't you agree? Or do we have a deadline you haven't made me aware of?

Eventually, Farringdon stomps out of the room. A moment later, the nurse steps in, friendly eyes above a blank face mask, helping Eames to the loo and then to sit and eat. He nibbles at the sandwich as slowly as he can, flexing his legs beneath the table. He doesn't like the way he tottered down the hallway. He needs to get some exercise. He needs to get out of here. He needs to get back to Arthur's dream.

When Farringdon returns, Eames nods toward the two beds and the PASIV and says calmly, "Let's try that again, shall we?"

Chapter Text

Eames is starting to wonder if Arthur thinks they drink too much. First Arthur built part of his dream for Eames around Smuggler's Cove, and now -- well, Eames can never remember the name of this place, because he only ever refers to it as "the place with the perfect martinis." It's his little secret, his oasis of gin, heaven with an olive on a skewer, and he goes back as often as he dares for a man whose line of work makes it unwise to become a regular anywhere. Arthur has dreamed it meticulously, even affectionately, with only enough variations from reality to make it clear it's an approximation rather than a memory. The rows of trestle tables look much as Eames remembers them, the chandelier of wrought iron and wood that hangs from a thick rope at the center of the high ceiling is note-perfect, but the artfully lit bottles behind the bar are a shimmering blur even when he's looking directly at them.

Then there's the well-thumbed copy of the final Harry Potter novel splayed open on one table like someone just walked away from it. Eames grins. He and Arthur had once spent an entire weekend in a Sao Paulo hotel room, leaving the king-sized bed only when room service knocked, reading that very book aloud to each other in turns. This simulacrum has a red cocktail straw in the gutter as a bookmark, a slash of equally red ink underlining one sentence that reads, "I'll be needing butterbeer to wash that one down."

The bartender is nowhere to be seen, but then, neither are Farringdon's projections. Eames thinks he'll take Arthur's suggestion and have one of those perfect martinis while he can.

He ambles toward the bar, drawn by the vintage candlestick lamp at one end. It's identical, minus the red lightbulb that flickers distractingly beneath the pleated shade, to the one that sits next to Arthur's bed in the apartment he keeps in a college town in New England. Arthur had stolen it as a "don't fuck with me" message to a client who'd tried to convince him to stiff his team. ("He said it while we were under, the idiot," Arthur had said as he left the house, lamp tucked under one arm like a yoga mat. "If he had better taste in furniture, I'd sedate him long enough to empty his entire house.") That it's here now can't be a coincidence. It's nothing that anyone unfamiliar with the bar would notice, but it doesn't fit, in the same way that the Harry Potter novel doesn't fit: as a message to Eames.

Sure enough, when he gets within five feet of the bar, the lamp begins to flash an urgent beat. By the time he actually touches the bar, it's a bright strobe. The bar melts into the ground, the wall of bottles unrolls like a red carpet, and he's suddenly surrounded by the clang and shimmer of a casino floor. And not just any casino floor -- it's the Sahara, dear departed icon of old Las Vegas.

Eames fucking loves the Sahara. It's where he first learned to make poker chips appear and disappear with deft fingers. It's also where he cleaned Arthur's clock at poker before teaching him how to win it all back at blackjack. He might have cried a little when the casino shut down, and then again a few months later when Arthur surprised him by reconstructing parts of it for his birthday. He has a hunch Arthur has repurposed that reconstruction, and as he looks around, he becomes certain: he recognizes the bank of slot machines with the hidden escape from the dream maze, the smug camel on the wall, the way the light falls over one particular blackjack table.

He dreams himself into a suit so elegantly tailored that even Arthur at his most critical couldn't find fault with it and begins to circle the floor. Scan left. He snags a full glass from a passing cocktail server and discovers to his delight that it contains one of those perfect martinis, which he drains in one swallow before lipping the olive off its pick and rolling it around on his tongue. Scan right. He passes through the gambling throngs unremarked. The projections around him remain rapt in their predetermined routines. By the time he completes a full circuit of the room with no interference, he's certain that Farringdon is in another part of Arthur's dream entirely. Unfortunately, the same seems to be true of Arthur himself.

Part of Eames wants to slide into that escape hatch and explore Arthur's dream until they find each other -- but he doesn't want to risk running into Farringdon, who's almost certainly not happy that Eames is out of his sight. Besides, if Arthur is looking for him, it's his job to make himself easy to find. He slides into an open seat at the blackjack table and slaps down the hundred dollar bill that appears in his hand.

"You're not playing against the other people at the table, Arthur," Eames recalls impressing upon him. "Everyone at the table is a team, playing against the dealer. If you all know what you're doing, you'll all have a good time." Three rounds in, it's apparent that Arthur took his lessons to heart. Everyone is drawing at the right time, splitting pairs when they ought to, tipping the dealer after an especially good hand. When the projection next to him decides to cash out, Eames touches his fingertips reflexively to his shirt pocket, missing the weight of his totem. He half expects Arthur to slip into the vacant seat, mouthing "Happy birthday, Mr. Eames," and hand him a box with a sterling silver chip inside, but Arthur fails to appear. He decides it's time for him to cash out, too.

The dealer gives him his winnings in chips that feel like traditional clay composite but shine as bright as gold, another touch Eames knows Arthur included just for him. He flips one into the air, then slips it into his trouser pocket. It's a reminder of his totem but not -- not even slightly -- a replacement. He stacks the rest and carries them to the craps table on the other side of the room. He has to occupy himself somehow while waiting for Arthur to show up.

Someone shoves him in the small of his back just as he's about to roll the dice. He slaps one hand down on the surface of the table to keep his balance, then surrenders his turn with grace when the croupier frowns and shakes his head. He's less forgiving to whomever has come up behind him, though. He begins to turn as if he planned to step away from the table before planting one heel heavily on the toe of the platform pump that's so close, he'd actually have to make an effort to avoid it.

"Ow!" The voice is high, nasal, petulant. "That was my foot, asshole!"

Ah, finally, a reaction, Eames thinks. He completes his about-face and takes in the projection.

She has (as Ariadne would say of certain buildings) good bones, even if they recede behind the faux tan and the glare she's giving him from heavily lined eyes. She's nearly his height, slender to the point of parody, with long black hair in a carefully messy topknot. Her dress is black, short, and so tight that he can see the contour of both the ring in her left nipple and the strap that's most likely holding a small knife against the inside of her right thigh. He doesn't think she's Arthur's, but he wants to be sure.

He looks her over from head to toe and back again, taking care to be oily about it in a way he never would in the waking world. "I'm sorry, love," he finally says. "It's just that it was right there. I'll make it up to you on the next roll."

She rolls her eyes and shoves past him. Eames turns as she goes, staying in character to admire the view, and a striking view it is. The back of her dress dips almost all the way to her waist, showing off four tattoos running down the line of her spine. The diamond is at the top, just below the base of her skull. Below it, just between her shoulder blades, is the heart. The club is slipping down the upper curve of her back, and at the bottom, right above the edge of the dress, rests the spade.

"I adore your ink," he says into her ear as he reclaims his place at the craps table. She replies with a snarl that has no irony in it, just pure distaste. Farringdon's, then. He smiles to himself: he can appreciate solid work, even when he dislikes its creator, and this projection is quite the piece of work, in every sense of the phrase. Farringdon must have based her on someone he knows. He wonders if this might be useful information even as he shifts to protect his back from her. Then he sets it on his mental pile of things to consider later and turns his attention to the dice.

 

Chapter Text

Eames is on a roll, literally, and has been for quite a while now. If he were actually in Las Vegas, he'd just have increased his personal fortune by a small but significant amount. Granted, if he were actually in Las Vegas, he wouldn't be able to make the dice perform to his liking. He's still having a lovely time at the craps table while he waits for Arthur to show up. Even Farringdon's tattooed woman is caught up in the moment, squealing and grabbing at his arm. He can't understand why Arthur hasn't found him yet, though. How much more attention can he possibly draw to himself? Does he need to strip off and do a little dance?

The thought breaks his concentration and he loses control of the dice. As he waits for his turn to come around again, he pulls the golden chip from his pocket and starts flipping it through his fingers in a complicated pattern. He rolls it over his knuckles, rotates it end over end, balances it between his thumb and forefinger until his mind calms and settles. Then he balances the chip on the side of his forefinger and flicks it into the air with his thumb.

The chip flies up, tumbling end over end, and hangs at the top of its trajectory in defiance of gravity and several other laws of physics. Eames holds it there for a breath, slowing its spin, before snapping it out of the air -- and nearly drops it as he spots the tall man with curly hair. It is, unmistakably, the same man from the balcony at Smuggler's Cove, the same man who'd dragged Arthur to the ground at Ariadne's graduation. He's striding out from behind a bank of slot machines like he's strutting the catwalk at Fashion Week. The cut of his suit leaves Eames with no doubt: this projection belongs to Arthur.

"Oh, hello there," breathes the tattooed woman at his side as the projection comes closer. The look in her eyes reminds Eames of a cat sizing up an unsuspecting rodent. He thinks she might even wiggle her haunches before she pounces. He goes for distraction, scooping up the dice and asking her to blow on them.

"For luck," he says, if only because it's such a cliche. She looks up through her lashes, purses her lips, and exhales across his palm in a way he's uncomfortably sure Farringdon imagines is seductive.

"For luck," she echoes.

Eames rattles the dice in his palm, watching their movements as though they hold the secret of the universe. When the tall man reaches the edge of his peripheral vision, he looks up and drawls, "Have we met, darling?"

The curly-haired man makes a face that suggests he just bit into something sour but doesn't want anyone to know.

"Mr. Eames," says another voice. Eames' careful half-smile turns into a grin. That voice is comfort and safety. Even though he knows it's just a projection, he's delighted to see Doc step into view.

"Bloody hell, it's Doc Watson," he exclaims. "I haven't seen you in a donkey's!" He knows as he says it that it isn't quite true. Doc found him in that hedgerow just a few dreams ago. Yes, it was probably just a day or two ago in objective time, but it feels like weeks. But if Doc is here --the realization rockets through him -- Am I hurt? How am I hurt?

"Shit," he mutters. He drops the dice and starts patting himself down, looking for an injury he's afraid he missed, but he finds nothing. This can't be Doc. He shoves his hand into his pocket, going for his tiny gun.

Doc frowns at him, head cocked in a question that Eames answers without thinking. "I don't usually dream about you until after I'm hurt."

"I'm not a projection," the projection says, and that pulls Eames up short. He's never heard of a projection that knew it was a projection. He didn't think projections were capable of that level of self-awareness.

"This is Sherlock Holmes," Doc is saying with a gesture toward the tall curly-haired bloke, and isn't that unexpected? Eames has heard the name in passing -- something about a private investigator? -- but it was nothing he ever bothered to concern himself with, beyond a passing thought that such a spectacular name couldn't be real. He remembers that Arthur once waved a copy of the Sun at him and said something about a Doctor John Watson who worked with a detective. Eames hadn't bothered to look; he'd scoffed at the idea that his Doc would do anything so ridiculous.

A closer look now reveals that he was right: this isn't his Doc. It's recognizably the same man, though, albeit one whose face is more wrinkled than the Doc Watson who stitched him up in Afghanistan, whose fair hair is more than half silvered, whose clothes are distinctly civilian. Eames is abruptly sure this is the actual John Watson, MD, Army days well behind him, standing in the middle of Arthur's dream. Arthur, who's smart enough to add Eames' war stories to tabloid tall tales and come up with this implausibility.

What the actual fuck, Arthur, he thinks, but what comes out of his mouth is, "You don't say. What are you doing in my dream?"

He can already guess at the answer, and sure enough, Sherlock Holmes delivers it. "We've been hired by someone who's trying to find you. I don't think we need to use a name."

Arthur is somewhere nearby; he can tell by the way Doc's eyes keep sliding over to one of the pillars near the cashier's booth. "Where is he?" Eames demands. "I don't see him."

Before Holmes can answer, the woman with the tattoos down her spine snaps, "If you aren’t going to play, get out of the way and let someone else have a turn."

She shoves Holmes and elbows Eames hard in the solar plexus as she passes between them. Eames and Holmes each cough out a pained breath. Eames gasps for air and grabs at the woman's arm. She purses her lips again, like he's a camera and she's taking a selfie, and flashes the slender knife she must have slipped out from beneath her skirt. The blade gleams a dark wet red under the casino lights.

"I told you that you'd know when I affected the dream," she purrs.

Holmes is swaying, hand pressed to his stomach. Blood is slowly staining his shirt beneath his long fingers. The horrified expression on Doc's face when he notices it punches Eames' breath back out. Doc is clearly an amateur who's forgotten that he's dreaming. He wants to grab Doc by the shoulders and remind him that he can give Holmes a kick, because he knows what comes next, and it's not going to be pleasant for any of them.

"Doc," he says urgently. Doc stares at him, wide-eyed and thin-lipped. "You need to get him -- "

He doesn't get to finish the sentence. Someone grabs him from behind and yanks him backwards by the wrists as Ms. Tattoos sweeps his legs out from under him. He yelps at the pop of his shoulder dislocating.

Two more projections leap on top of him. A foot connects with his ribcage. Someone's handbag falls next to his face. Arthur is yelling his name. Someone steps on his ankle and pain twists up his calf.

Something -- desperation, maybe, or just habit -- makes him shout for Arthur. Arthur can make this stop. That's Arthur's job. Arthur can give him a kick.

Someone fires a gun. One of the projections on top of him collapses. Eames head-butts him out of the way as best he can and roars Arthur's name again, trying to give his point man something to aim at. Another gunshot, this one closer. Another. It becomes a perverse version of hide-and-seek as projections leap into the fight as fast as Arthur can shoot them down.

Eames manages to wrench one hand free and thrust it into the air. Someone grabs it and tugs sharply. He whines through his teeth at the pain in his shoulder but follows the momentum until he's standing before a disheveled, snarling Arthur.

Arthur drops Eames' wrist and brings his gun to bear between Eames' eyes. "Amsterdam," he mouths. Eames winks. Message received.

"Do it," he says.

Arthur does.

Chapter Text


Eames remembers Amsterdam more vividly than he should, given the circumstances of his first (and so far, only) visit. A few months after the Fischer job, he and Arthur had endured a job that involved a deeply troubled client who was obsessed with vampires. Angry, hungry, relentless vampires who couldn't be stopped by stakes or silver bullets. Every night for the following week, one or the other of them had awakened screaming from nightmares of feeding or being fed upon. Arthur had finally suggested they take a long weekend to get their heads screwed back on straight.

"Amsterdam, really?" Eames had remarked when the reservations popped up in his email. "Are we going for the curative wonders of fried foods and the Dutch Masters?"

Arthur had simply smiled and said something about how Eames still had a lot to learn about him. And he'd been right. To Eames' shock and delight, staid, stolid Arthur's idea of a mental reboot was spending four days on a little blue houseboat on Prinsengracht, combining high-quality cannabis and vigorous sex to extremely satisfying effect.

On their final evening, they had sprawled naked across the bed, sharing a slice of deep dish apple pie as tall as Eames' hand was wide. Arthur paused mid-bite with a gleam in his eyes that Eames hadn't seen since before the vampires.

"I have a brilliant — hey!" Arthur brandished his fork like a stun gun as Eames tried to slip his own fork into the depths of the pie. "Back off, you greedy fucker."

"But you like it when I'm greedy," Eames laughed while delivering a single slice of apple to Arthur's mouth. When Arthur lipped at the fruit and winked, Eames had seen no choice but to kiss a stray crumb from Arthur's lower lip, then gently suck the whole lip between his teeth. Arthur sighed with satisfaction and pulled Eames down on top of him, letting Eames chase the taste of fruit and cinnamon into his mouth.

They lingered that way for a few minutes, pressing close and lazy, until Eames finally pulled away with a playful smack of his lips. "You were saying?" he prompted.

Arthur blinked at him, kiss-drunk, trying to smile and frown at the same time. "I don't remember." He flopped onto his back and waved a hand toward the small pipe on the windowsill. "I'm a little distracted what with this, and the pie, and the nakedness..."

"Concentrate, Arthur," Eames said, brushing away the hand groping for his thigh. "You said you had a brilliant something. Mouth? Arse? Way with a gun? Yes to all of those, by the way."

"A brilliant -- oh! Right! I have a brilliant idea! I've been thinking about it all weekend."

"Do tell." Eames rolled onto Arthur's chest and propped his chin on one nearly hairless pectoral. Arthur, rambling, was a beautiful novelty. He was fully prepared to enjoy the experience while breathing over the nipple an inch away from his nose until he could no longer resist the temptation to distract Arthur by licking at it.

"Remember the Fischer job?"

Eames lifted his head just far enough for Arthur to see him rolling his eyes. He wasn't so stoned that he couldn't remember something that had happened so recently. Besides, they had achieved inception, for fuck's sake. He was never going to forget that.

"Fine, all right," Arthur continued. "Remember how we dreamed a PASIV into the first and second levels of the dream so we could go down an extra level and have even more time to work? What if -- stop it, Eames, that tickles!"

Eames left off rubbing his unshaven chin into Arthur's left armpit to hum encouragement against the tender skin there. "You love it."

"Seriously, pay attention."

"I apologize. Please, go on."

"I say we hide a PASIV in every dream. Not for the client, for us. So we can create another level if we need one. What do you think? It can be our secret weapon."

It was so simple and clever that Eames couldn't believe no one had ever thought of it before. He opened his mouth to argue, then shut it again at the realization that he had nothing, literally nothing, to say against the idea. He repeated the cycle twice more before finally sitting up and declaring Arthur a genius.

"You only say that because you want to get into my pants," Arthur grumbled, ducking his head to hide his smile.

"Darling, I don't know if you've noticed, but you aren't wearing any." Eames moved in to demonstrate that inarguable truth with hands and mouth, to Arthur's loud appreciation, and the topic hadn't come up again for the rest of the weekend.

On their next shared job, just as the dream was on the verge of collapsing, Arthur had tugged him into the garden shed behind the house at the center of the dream and pulled a PASIV out from beneath an overturned wheelbarrow. Ten minutes on the second level of the dream was enough time to work out how to redirect the client and return to the first level before their extractor even realized what they'd done. From that point on, concealing a PASIV somewhere in the dream was their standard operating procedure.

Eames knows Arthur has to have hidden a PASIV somewhere in the dream they've been sharing this time, too. He only needs to find out where, then get there far enough ahead of Farringdon and his projections for Arthur to take him down another level. Even five minutes on the first level will give him a full hour on the second level to tell Arthur everything he's noticed about where he's being held.

Unfortunately, while Farringdon may be a fool, he's no idiot. One of his projections was standing right there when Doc and Holmes said they were there to find Eames, and a few dozen more died at the business end of Arthur's favorite handgun. Until this point, he's reserved physical violence against Eames for dreams, but now that he suspects Arthur is hot on Eames' trail, the brakes seem to be off.

Farringdon backhands him hard enough to split his lip and flexes his right hand as if he wishes he'd punched Eames instead. "Who were they?" he demands for the second time.

"I have no idea," Eames replies. His lip stings when he licks at it.

"As if you'd tell me otherwise."

"You've followed the industry for more than ten minutes. I'm sure you know who the major players are as well as I do."

"You and Arthur are the best-known package deal in dreamsharing, and two of you have obviously been working on remote dreaming for a while now. He's managing to send people after you into a third-party dream, and I want to know how."

Maybe Farringdon is an idiot after all, Eames thinks. He hasn't caught on yet that the dreams he's been infiltrating are Arthur's. Who does he think is dreaming of Las Vegas? That boy band refugee he set up as the target is barely old enough to be allowed into a casino.

"Did you ever consider that maybe they were my projections?"

Farringdon rolls his eyes. "Don't insult me, Corporal. I can tell the difference between a projection and a dreamer, and those were dreamers. They said they'd been hired to rescue you."

"If you know so much about the business, you know damn well that Arthur doesn't work with nobodies."

"Then who. Are. They." Farringdon's voice rises. "And who are they working for?"

Eames repeats, "I don't know." He wishes Farringdon would just punch him and get it over with so they can get back to their dreaming. He has a hidden PASIV to find.

Farringdon says nothing for a long time. Eames closes his eyes and listens to him pacing laps around the lab. Eventually, his footsteps stop on the far side of the room. Eames opens his eyes again. They stare at each other.

"Nobodies, you say," Farringdon says flatly.

"I've never met them before, awake or asleep. They must be new to dreamsharing." Eames is certain that part, at least, is absolutely true.

Farringdon falls silent again, arms crossed, jaw working. "All right then," he finally declares. "You and I, we keep practicing. But I'm running them down until I can kick them out or buy them off. If their client doesn't kill them for it, they can go back to whatever petty crime they were involved in before they learned about dreamsharing."

"Fine." Eames shuts his eyes again. He hopes it looks like resignation, but on the inside, he's punching the air and cheering.




He opens his eyes in Farringdon's dream to find that he's already in the car, Farringdon himself in the passenger seat with a gun to his temple. When they cruise out of the parking lot and into a dream Amsterdam, the car transforms into a tandem bicycle.

The little blue houseboat is exactly as Eames remembers it, from the dent in the black stovepipe to the brass latch on the door. He coasts the bike down the slope of the bridge over Prinsengracht and brakes gently at the bottom, mindful of the gun Farringdon is pressing into his kidneys. He's in no particular hurry for the kick. He dreams up a heavy chain, draped over his shoulders and rattling as he swings himself off the bicycle. Farringdon practically leaps off his seat and steps back well out of Eames' reach, clearly expecting Eames to lash out at him with the chain, but Eames simply uses it to lock the bike to the nearest railing.

"Here we are," he says.

"Meaning what?"

"Amsterdam, obviously." Eames waves a hand to indicate the canal, the bar, the coffeehouse down the street where he and Arthur had bought a pipe and something to smoke in it. "It's a lovely day and a nice neighborhood for a walk -- how about a beer?"

He's unsurprised when Farringdon scowls and shakes his head. He is, on the other hand, surprised when the two beefy goons who snatched him in Reykjavik come trotting out of a storefront down the block and wrestle him to the cobblestones. They ziptie his arms and legs, but fine, he can work with that, especially since Farringdon is telling them to get him out of sight as fast as possible. The bigger goon hoists Eames over one shoulder like a rolled-up carpet and heads for the nearest option: the houseboat. Eames recalls a favorite childhood story about a rabbit and a briar patch and starts to struggle.

"What the fuck are you doing?" he protests as he's plopped indecorously onto the prow.

"I fucking hate boats," he hollers while the goons carry him in by ankles and wrists.

"No, no, I can feel it moving," he howls when they manhandle him into a cramped storage space and Farringdon kicks it shut.

He immediately tries to dream up a knife to cut himself free of the zipties, to no avail. Outside the storage space, he can hear the goons moving around while Farringdon says something about getting the attention of his attempted rescuers. A few thumps and buzzes later, the houseboat goes silent but for a faint repetitive beep. No problem, he thinks as he grins fiercely into the dark.

It can't be more than five minutes before something disrupts the slight rock of the boat beneath him. He wriggles himself into a more comfortable position and leans his ear against the cover of the storage space.

First comes a low creak, probably the unlatched door swinging on its hinges. Then the footsteps of someone who's stepping with care but not trying too hard to hide his presence. Finally, he hears the voice he's been waiting for.

"Eames?"

"Arthur."

"Oh, thank god." Arthur's voice is suddenly right outside the storage space. When he speaks again, his voice shakes, though Eames can't tell whether it's with fear or frustration. "Eames, I'm sorry. This entire place is wired to blow and I can't tell how much time we have."

"That's what I thought." Eames sighs. "At least it's fast. Tell me where -- "

"Tokyo. 1821. Shit!"

He hears Arthur's footsteps thundering for the door, his yell as he dives off the houseboat into the canal. It gives Eames the bare moment of warning he needs to brace himself before a sledgehammer of white heat pounds him back into his waking body.

Chapter Text

Eames opens his eyes to a room illuminated only by the orange haze of a streetlight outlining the window blinds. The medical instruments along the far wall beep and ping just above the threshold of his hearing, slowly leaching away the imagined roar of the explosion. Eventually, he registers the low wheeze to his left: Farringdon, snoring.

It's the first time Eames has been awake while his captor dreams. Even knowing there must be a camera on him somewhere, he considers making a run for it. Then he imagines trying to make his way through what he suspects is an active military base and out to the nearest road -- in the middle of the night, unsteady on his feet, slightly sedated, and to top it all off, wearing only a hospital gown -- and dismisses the idea as a bad bet. Instead, he rises up on his elbows for a better look at the man in the neighboring bed.

Farringdon is supine, jaw slack, eyes flicking back and forth in the depths of his dream. Even in sleep, his brow is furrowed in angry lines. An IV line slithers out from beneath his pillow where he's tucked one hand, no doubt protecting both his cannula and a gun. His other hand is dangling over the side of the mattress, fingers a few inches above the PASIV sitting on a low table. Eames leans over the side of his own bed for a better view and can't resist giving a soft grunt of satisfaction at what he sees: the timer on the PASIV still has nearly five minutes remaining. 

He pushes himself upright, first on his elbows and then on his extended arms, and swings his legs over the side of the bed. Once he's sure he won't fall over, he loops his IV line down to his hand and bends a sharp kink into the tubing, pinching it between two fingers. Moving as slowly and smoothly as his shaky limbs will allow, he leans forward and triggers the PASIV to release another dose of Somnacin. Then he settles himself back on his pillow, still pressing the twist in his IV as tightly as he can. 



Eames flips an obscene gesture at the sleeping Farringdon with his free hand before allowing his IV line to unkink itself and let the Somnacin flow into his veins.

 





He's not, to his astonishment, in Farringdon's office park. He isn't even in Amsterdam. He seems to have dreamed himself straight into...a toilet. It's a posh toilet, to be sure, with the fluffiest of white towels stacked in a chrome rack and an array of toiletries gleaming under halogen lights next to a small pyramid of individually wrapped soaps. A card propped against the mirror informs him that he's in the Tokyo Intercontinental. That's all the evidence he needs to understand that somehow -- probably because Farringdon and his projections are still down here with him -- he's dropped directly back into Arthur's dream.

"You sentimental bastard," he can't help muttering with a smile. "I hope you're leading them on precisely the merry chase they deserve."

Hope is no substitute for caution, though, and if someone hostile is waiting for him on the other side of the door, he'd rather not make himself an easy target. He dreams up his palm-sized gun as he steps carefully out of the shower stall and duckwalks across the tile floor. When he reaches the door, he depresses the handle by tiny increments until he feels rather than hears it unlatch. Then he launches himself over the threshold in a somersault that brings him to his feet, gun out, on defense against what turns out to be an empty room.

The hallway outside is silent, even when he presses his ear to the door. Glancing through the  peephole shows him nothing, but no one with any sense would stand within view anyhow, so Eames drops back into a crouch and pulls the door open fast enough to surprise anyone waiting on the other side. Nobody is. He eases his head around the corner and looks up and down the corridor, seeing nothing but closed doors, hearing nothing but the low sough of the air conditioning. Just to be sure, he stands to check the number plate on the wall: room 1821.

He steps back into the room and lets the door shut behind him without bothering with the deadbolt. If Arthur needs to get in, the extra lock will only slow him down, and if Farringdon wants to get in, he can bloody well kick the door down for all Eames cares.

The entertainment available to him while he waits for Arthur to find him is, putting it mildly, limited. Five minutes later, he's back in the luxuriously appointed loo, twisting the handles in the shower stall and looking forward to a hot shower, even an imaginary one. He's about to tug his shirt off over his head when a puff of air slips beneath the door and swirls the steam around. The sound of running water makes it impossible for him to hear what might be happening outside the toilet. On the other hand, turning off the tap will sacrifice the element of surprise. He reaches for the nearest towel so he can pull his gun with dry hands.

When he flings open the door, Arthur is on the other side, grinning and tucking his own gun into his shoulder holster. "No time to shave, I see," he manages to quip before Eames steps into his gravitational field and buries his nose in the soft spot beneath Arthur's ear.

"Oh, thank the fucking lord. It's been so long. So fucking long." He lifts Arthur off the ground and spins him around for the pleasure of annoying him, relishing his soft grunts of protest. "I didn't think it would take you this long," he says, meaning exactly the opposite: I know you came as soon as you could.

Someone behind Arthur shifts in Eames' peripheral vision. It might be Doc, or it might be Holmes. It doesn't matter. Eames can't be bothered to look away from Arthur's bright, sharp eyes as they dip briefly to Eames' mouth, tacit acknowledgement of what they both want but won't allow themselves in front of an audience. They catch each other's gaze again and hold, and Eames suddenly remembers why they have an audience in the first place.

"Darling!" he blurts. "We did it! We’re remote dreaming! We've made dreamsharing history!”

This time it's Eames' eyes that flick down to Arthur's lips as they part, then press together in a twitch Eames knows is Arthur's way of holding back a grin. "Yeah, I know," Arthur says, before immediately sobering and adding, "But whoever's onto us is going to find us. We need to know who's got you, and where."

As if on cue, a bell chimes far down the hallway. Eames throws one hand up in the universal sign for "stop right there" and they all freeze as footsteps thud past on the plush carpet just beyond the door. Doc slips a gun from the small of his back and prowls toward the door like he's never spent a day out of uniform. "Sounds like they've found us already," he mutters to Holmes, who produces a gun of his own.

Time -- they need more of it, and there's only one way they can get it. If the amateurs can hold off Farringdon's projections for just a few minutes, he and Arthur can go down another level for at least an hour, maybe even two. He's about to ask Arthur where he's stashed their secret PASIV when Arthur kneels gracefully and slides a silver case out from beneath one of the beds. Eames swears on the grave of his actually quite hale and hearty mother that his heart is not only leaping, but doing flips and twists.

"Arthur." His voice comes out in a low rasp, far too throaty and intimate for the situation, but he doesn't give the proverbial rat's arse what Doc or Holmes might think. "You are a prince among men."

"Don't thank me until it works," Arthur replies, but the way he looks up at Eames through his eyelashes as he preps the PASIV for two users says something else entirely. By the time Arthur is leaning against a mound of pillows, slipping one IV line into the back of his hand, the flush that began on his cheekbones has crept down beyond where the knot of his tie guards the dip at the base of his throat. Eames wants to tug his collar open to see how far down it goes.

Arthur gives Holmes and Doc their marching orders: do whatever they must to buy him and Eames ten uninterrupted minutes on this level of the dream, two hours on the next. It feels like an embarrassment of riches, the idea of two full hours with Arthur.

"Chicago all right?"

"Chicago is perfect." Eames grins and flops onto the bed so they can recline shoulder-to-shoulder. "Don't let me tell you that you lack imagination ever again."

The barely perceptible tremble of Arthur's hand as he holds out the second IV line tells Eames that Arthur's imagination is active and extensive, thank you very much. The last thing his awareness records before he dives down to the second level is the brush of Arthur's fingertips reaching for his, his own fingers reflexively reaching back.

Chapter Text

Arthur is already sprawled across a familiar bed, all sly smile and bare chest. The sight swamps Eames with such a wave of longing that he has to grab the doorframe to keep his knees from buckling. "Bloody hell," he manages, "you don't waste any time."

"We don't have any time to waste."

"That's what I'm saying."

"Fine." Arthur cocks an eyebrow that's both challenge and invitation. "What would you rather do first?"

"You know my answer to that never changes," Eames says, dragging his shirt off over his head without bothering to unbutton it. Talking can wait. "But it's your dream."

"It is." Arthur eyes Eames like it's dinnertime and he's a gourmet feast. "It really, really is."

The apartment they keep in Chicago is nothing special but for its location: a building so nondescript that shortly after they moved in, they walked right past their own front door three times in a single day. Arthur instantly dubbed it "Grimmauld Place" and replicated it as their go-to meeting spot when they need to confer privately on a dream's second level. In the waking world, Eames once cracked a windowpane by removing his shoes a little too enthusiastically in his eagerness to get to bed. Now Eames kicks a shoe toward the window out of sheer sentiment, and Arthur laughs — but as soon as Eames' knees hit the edge of the mattress, Arthur grips his biceps and pulls him down into a ferocious kiss. He bites once at Eames' lower lip before exhaling in a determined way and saying, "Tell me everything."

Eames knows that Arthur is trying heroically to stay professional. He knows they could be kicked out of the dream at any moment. They could be shot or dismembered on the first level and wake up separately having exchanged no useful information at all. But Arthur is flushed, Arthur's hands are skittering down his sides, Arthur is pulling him closer by the hipbones even as he demands a full report.

Arthur is the best point man in the business for a reason; he's perfectly capable of deciding where their priorities should lie. Eames says as much and adds, "Clearly, my priority is for us to lie right here in this bed."

Arthur makes a satisfied sound and hooks one leg up over Eames' hip. Eames tips them over and slides a hand down Arthur's spine to run it covetously over the sinuous curve where lower back becomes buttock before he adds, "Farringdon."

Arthur instantly pushes at Eames' shoulders. "Are you fucking kidding me?"

"I'm afraid not," Eames sighs.

"That's the worst possible -- shit." This time he shoves at Eames hard enough to roll him away and scrambles to sit up at the head of the bed. "Tell me."

Eames' hands feel empty without Arthur between them. He reaches out to rest one on Arthur's knee as he describes his flight to Reykjavik and the aftermath of his soak in the Blue Lagoon. When he gets to the part about being dosed with the fake Epi-Pen, Arthur grabs his hand and slides it up to press it to the inside of his bare — wait, Eames thinks, when did Arthur's trousers disappear? — thigh. Eames curls his fingers and rubs his knuckles back and forth across the tender skin, aroused yet comforted.

"They took your poker chip?"

Eames nods. "I'm sorry, I should never have left it."

"Eames," Arthur says, voice cracking like he's in pain, and suddenly he's on top of Eames, straddling his hips and making soft urgent noises against his tongue. Eames lets himself dissolve into it, clutching at Arthur's shoulder blades and rocking against him until Eames starts to fumble for the zipper of his own trousers. Then Arthur breaks the kiss again.

"Wait, no," he says reluctantly. "We need to finish debriefing."

Eames laughs, hoarse and amused. "You should have thought of that before you took off your briefs," he says with a pointed squeeze.

"Fine." Arthur glares and they're both abruptly naked. The sudden slip of skin against skin makes his entire body shudder.

"Arthur," he protests. "I can't think if you insist on doing that."

Arthur laughs a little, low and rough. "Talk to me." He nips at Eames' neck and soothes the spot with a flick of his tongue. "Tell me everything you can."

Eames grinds up against him with a dizzy grin. Trust Arthur to find a way to achieve all their objectives with optimal efficiency.

"Army base, I think," he begins. He reels off a list of disconnected details, everything he can recall that suggests Farringdon is using military resources. Arthur rewards him by pinching one of his nipples between thumb and forefinger and rolling it with just the right amount of pressure. He has to stop talking for a moment and arch his back into the ache for more.  

"Yeah? What else?"

"And — nghh — there's an airfield nearby. I can hear the planes. Screaming." He pulls Arthur tighter against him and rolls his hips. "I much prefer the way you scream."

Arthur presses a little closer and rasps, "What else?"

He does his best to describe the sleep lab, the perpetually masked nurse, the coffee cups in the trash bin, all while Arthur's hands and mouth conspire to steal his ability to speak. Finally he simply groans in impatience and dreams himself a tube of slick, and then Arthur is pressing back against his fingers. There's more to say, they both know there's more, but it will have to wait, because Arthur is panting something that sounds like "don't stop," and that's all his brain has room for at the moment as Arthur grinds against him and he shakes and Arthur gasps his name, Eames, fuck, Eames, while he can't even manage Arthur's name, just oh — oh — oh.

Eames would say it's only so good because it's a dream, but that wouldn't be true. It's almost always this good.

An endless time later and still far too soon, he's brushing sweaty strands of hair off Arthur's forehead.  Arthur checks his phone on the nightstand and raises his eyebrows in surprise. "Look at that," he says. "We've been down here for more than an hour without a kick. My newest recruits to the business are doing all right for themselves."

"And I thank them for it," Eames says. "You must be so proud."

"It's gone better than I expected," Arthur admits. He frowns thoughtfully.

"What?"

Arthur huffs and bites at Eames' collarbone before sitting up. "You know how I'd kill for you?"

He says it lightly, as if it's a joke, but Eames remembers Arthur in the casino, a well-tailored angel of vengeance. "Likewise, I'm sure," he replies, just as lightly. He's never been quite so sure of anything.

"Those two. Holmes and Doc," Arthur says, then falls silent and flicks a hand back and forth between them with an eloquent eyeroll.

"Really?"

"You saw it. Just like we were right before — well, you know."

Eames can't help smiling at the memory, even though it also includes one of the most unpleasant kicks he's ever experienced, and that's saying a lot. "Well, I just hope they don't figure it out and unleash a swarm of rabid projections on themselves in the next — " He glances at Arthur's phone. " — 37 minutes. I have plans."

Arthur laces their fingers together and lets Eames drag him back down across his chest, but he says briskly, "Much as I admire your ambition, Mr. Eames, I would rather save it for real life. And if that's going to happen any time soon, we need to finish our conversation."

"Darling," Eames says mournfully, pressing a sloppy kiss to Arthur's hairline. He knows when Arthur has snapped back into work mode, and there's no point arguing. He contents himself with murmuring the details of Bowles' treachery into Arthur's ear as Arthur's cool fingers drag random patterns across his chest.

He's just described his worrisome reactions to Farringdon's Somnacin blend when Arthur's phone beeps and music starts to play from somewhere all around. Arthur sits up and cups one hand to the side of Eames' face. His eyes are hard and bright. "I will see you soon," he says. "I will, Eames. I swear it."

Eames can still feel Arthur's hand when he opens his eyes in Farringdon's laboratory. "I know," he murmurs to the ceiling, and he actually believes it.