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I Specialize In Happy Endings (Not Euphemistically)

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It all started in a dream.

Arthur, kicking ass and taking names, had been leading a few security projections up a staircase he'd included in the design, knowing that he'd need the advantages it offered at the first hint that something was wrong. And things were already going wrong. They had their so-so architect, Nash, holding the first level together, and Arthur was in charge of the second while Cobb scrambled to find the secrets they had been paid to steal.

It appeared that they had been made within their mark's dream- either their mark knew that he was dreaming or their mark knew that they were trying to steal something from him, or, as it had been happening more and more lately, Cobb had brought Mal into the dream.

The point man grit his teeth and chanced a glance over his shoulder as he ran- the steps obligingly shifting for him when his gait stuttered and almost made him take a header off his own Penrose Steps. The steps stopped moving as soon as Arthur regained his balance; if he had wanted to take the damned escalator in their creepy empty shopping mall dream level, he would have.

He was being followed by several more security projections now- suicidal three piece suit-wearing, gun-toting lemmings. Maybe if they were fast enough or stuck closely to him as he made the jump, they'd not get trapped in the paradox. But he wanted them all to fall from his never ending staircase.

And then, Arthur heard a voice as he reached the first landing.

"Arthur led the foolish security projections on a madcap race, a merry chase- follow me, the point man thought, hoping to buy the Squint the time he'd need to break the safe and steal their mark's secrets."

Arthur paused on the landing, briefly flummoxed. That voice, it was in the dream. But he hadn't heard his new friends speak. Arthur narrowed his eyes and pulled his gun, not willing to fuck around with a disembodied voice when this distraction had cost him important seconds. He'd have to pick them off or fight them hand to hand, then.

The narration began once more as Arthur took down the first projection to get within three-feet of him.

"One by one, as the staircase was narrow, projections rushed and then bottle-necked at the first tight turn ending in Arthur's landing, his perch. Arthur sighted down the barrel, choosing the nearest target and firing! The projection, slumped, the shot to the head killing him immediately, dropping him like a sack of bricks. Arthur, brave and defiant, wouldn't stop till the job was done, till the Squint was finally back home safely with his children."

Arthur continued to fight, dodging a bullet here, a bullet there, and finally throwing a few of his attackers off the stairs, not stopping to listen to the sound the bodies made as they dropped.

Once the threat had been taken care of, Arthur looked around his eerie shopping mall and noticed a speaker installed near the ceiling. Maybe the voice was coming from there? If he wanted to be sure, he'd have to find the place to access the intercom or loudspeaker system, maybe in an office? As he was mulling this over, he spotted Cobb.

The extractor was a little dusty (because Arthur had hidden the safe in the basement) and a little bloody (because he'd probably had a few of his own projections to deal with, including the persistent shade of his wife) making the man squint as he spotted Arthur still lingering on his perch. But Cobb had gotten the papers they needed, he'd discovered the physical manifestation of the secret within the mark's mind.

It shouldn't have been such an ah-ha moment, but Arthur almost cracked the brief smile when he got it. Cobb was the Squint. The Squinter Extraordinaire!

"Come on!" Cobb (or, as Arthur wouldn't be able to help thinking from time to time now, the Squint ) shouted to Arthur. "I've got it! I've got it all and we have to move!"

Arthur nodded shortly and didn't even blink as he forced his Penrose Steps to smooth out into normal steps. And from normal steps they shifted once more into a slide.

His polished shoes barely squeaked as he slipped down the new slide, hopping off and moving to Cobb's side immediately, stowing his gun away and ready to move. It appeared that the coast was clear but more projections wouldn't surprise him. It was expected now, it was becoming a tiring but always occurring feature of their jobs together. It made Arthur want to sigh.

"Ready to move and help his dearest friend, Arthur wondered when it would end. And when that happened, what exactly would it mean for him? Arthur would someday have a life away from this man. Someday he would live for himself and work for himself and maybe he'd be happy."

Arthur took a risk as he and Cobb began to walk to a more secure area, so they could give themselves the kick and reach Nash's level.

"Did you just hear that," Arthur asked Cobb, trying hard not to look unnerved. The point man shouldn't look unnerved. The point man shouldn't look shaken. But he had to know whether or not Cobb was catching these tidbits of deliciously accented narration!

Cobb didn't even look over as he was busy flipping through the papers he had rescued from the safe. Reviewing the information, memorizing it. Cobb didn't appear to have heard Arthur, at all.

Arthur sighed, once again, to himself. He could ask when they were out of the dream and on the run again. Maybe he'd say something then.

"Little did Arthur know," the Voice said, warmly and affectionately pronouncing the point man's name, "that the day would come sooner than he thought."