Hillary Morton was a short tomboy of a woman with hip-length brown hair coiled up into a French twist. She tapped her fingers against the white pine conference room table. She scowled at the white board full of neat handwriting in seven colors. "Where is he?" she demanded.
Chuck Pepper shook his head. "No idea. First time he's ever been late as long as I've known him." Pepper had short, greying hair that radiated in every direction no matter what he tried. He looked like a mad scientist. He punched his missing associate's cellphone number into the polycom. The line opened.
"Rise and shine, Darling, your friends are calling." The voice was smooth, the accent British.
Pepper started to smile. Morton raised her brows. She'd only been learning about Dreamshare for three weeks, but she wasn't suicidal enough to give Arthur a nickname. He was too dangerous.
"What?" Arthur sounded young and sleepy, but only for an instant. "What the fuck? Did you roofie me you public service toothed madman?"
"Say hello to your co-workers and tell them you're calling in sick."
Hillary's lips twitched. According to all of the spies the bureau had in Dreamshare, Arthur was the most reliable pointman in the community. The fact that no one could prove anything against him was the only reason they'd hired him.
"I have been kidnapped."
"For your own good, my little stick in the mud."
"Is that a Vegas sign? What the Hell?"
"If I'm marrying an American, then by God, I'm being married by an Elvis impersonator."
"I never agreed to marry you."
A sharp click heralded the start of a recording. "Will you marry me, Darling?" "Of course, just hold this." That was definitely Arthur's voice.
"When was that? Was that at the wedding? And why were you wired?"
"I didn't want to miss a minute of that night. And there was the possibility that you'd get drunk and actually say something interesting."
"Stop gloating." Arthur growled low in his throat. "It seems my fiancee is ready for a wedding. Run Hillary through a Molly and I'll call you later."
He hung up and Pepper fell into a fit of laughter that doubled him over.
"Shouldn't we be doing something to find him?"
"Nope. He's safe. His lover decided he needs a vacation. He'll be back in a day or two. It's the perfect time to run through a Molly." He rubbed his hands together. "So this is what we're gonna do."
Arthur worried at the silk rope around his wrists. "I'm experiencing a sincere lack of diamonds." He took the knot between his teeth. "What the fuck is this knot?" he mumbled around it.
"You'll figure it out. Besides, I've got this sweet little velvet bag for you."
Arthur looked up. "The Amsterdam thing was you? You ballsy son-of-a-bitch."
Eames dangled the bag over the back of the seat. Arthur grabbed it with his left hand. He spilled them into his cupped right hand, ignoring the ropes. "Those are pretty."
"Am I forgiven?"
"I suppose, Mr. Eames. Did you actually ask me to marry you while I rewiring the house during Mal and Dom's wedding?" He carefully maneuvered the diamonds back into the bag. The ropes around his wrists were just tight enough to keep him from slipping free of them. He'd been playing around with escape artistry since he was a teen though, so they didn't bother him in the least.
"I did." Arthur kicked the back of Eames' seat. "Now, now, Arthur. Settle down. You'll want to look at the file next to you."
"There better be coffee forthcoming."
"As soon as we come to a petrol station."
Arthur slumped against his backpack. He picked at the knot absently. "Should I be looking at this file before or after I figure out your little puzzle?"
Eames considered. "Solve your puzzle. The information will keep."
"Is there a problem, Darling?" Eames held two coffees and a plastic bag in his hands. It would make him seem harmless. Arthur was leaning against the car, talking quietly with two state troopers.
"Some wise-ass decided you were holding me hostage." Arthur rolled his eyes.
"Have you succeeded in soothing their fears?"
"Just about. I wanted to see if your puzzle worked the way you thought. Always better with an audience." Arthur smirked. He bent his thumbs back to catch what looked like the third knot, then freed the end of the rope and undid the knot. The rest of the ropes slithered off of his wrists. Arthur caught the loops.
Eames chuckled. "I thought you'd need your teeth actually." He handed over the coffee. "Was there something else, gentlemen?"
Arthur drank greedily, despite the heat. Cast iron mouth on that one. "Where are you gentlemen headed?" Trooper Alecto asked.
"Vegas," Eames answered. "Haven't been in ages. Even managed to get this one to skiv off work."
"A lot of things seem like a good idea when you're drunk. Aspirin," Arthur demanded - hand out.
"Sorry, luv, what was that?"
"Better." Eames gave him the bottle.
"Thank you for your concern, but as you can see, I'm fine. You're doing a commendable job." Arthur's tone and even more-so his casual display of FBI credentials convinced the troopers to leave. "Bathroom?"
"Inside on the left." Eames accepted the half-empty coffee and coil of rope. He settled back into the driver's seat. Arthur paused outside. "Coffee's in the front." The pointman gathered the file and settled in the passenger's seat.
"Am I going to be unhappy?"
"Darling, you will be livid. Drink your coffee first. I've made all the arrangements."
"To deal with the file or make an honest man out of me?"
"I cannot work miracles." Eames sniffed like his Aunt Agatha. "However, I have made arrangements for everything else."
Arthur started to read. "You've been stalking me again."
"Only for your own good."
"I took the job because you asked me to. You couldn't have told me the truth?"
"Hillary is a lovely woman and doesn't deserve the pleasure of you in a strope."
Arthur snorted. "She's FBI. She can deal."
Arthur looked up at the casino, then at the smugly smiling Eames. "I'm probably going to kill you."
"I look forward to your attempts."
"Welcome to Excalibur." The front desk manager smiled. Eames slid his ID across the desk.
"We'll need two keys, Kelly."
Kelly's smile froze and her eyes widened. "Oh, Mr. Williams, let me call the bell-hop."
"We're fine," Arthur assured her. He had his backpack, messenger's bag, and a suitbag. Eames had a suitcoat draped over the silver PASIV briefcase and a black carry-on suitcase. The elevator took them to the top floor. "How much have you lost here?"
Eames laughed. "I play poker here."
"Ah. You fleece tourists. But my previous question remains. Excalibur? Really?"
"Nowhere else would suit you."
"Bellagio. Venetian. Monte Carlo. The Wynn even."
"They've not got jousting at the Wynn." Eames opened the suite door and ushered Arthur into the spacious room. Arthur hung up the suitbag, then did a quick tour of the space.
"Talk to me about the hateful syphilitic warthog that is Agent Bragg." Arthur set his bags down at the foot of the bed.
"He's a former drunk who cheats on his wife and cannot abide the idea that a woman is more intelligent than he is. He has been attempting to implicate dear Hillary in some form of corruption since she was transferred into his department."
"Is she aware of any of this?"
The Brit laughed. "She's too bloody honest."
"She'll make an excellent extractor. Her sub-conscious security is downright vicious at the moment." Arthur settled into the reading chair and steepled his fingers. "Do we want to corrupt her or simply pull her out and expose the asshole?"
"We'll decide that after we have our ceremony."
"Are you banned anywhere?"
"I don't cheat. And I stopped counting cards. I will play poker though. And craps will always have a place in my heart." A wave of melancholy reminded him that Mal Cobb would never again blow on his dice. Her suicide still weighed on his mind at odd moments. She'd taught him how to properly gamble.
"Stop it. We're here to make a few new memories. Lunch has been arranged and should be here shortly."
"So, back to Bragg. Main weakness?"
"A mistress and alcohol. And a frightful fear of cats."
"Cats? Interesting." There were plenty of ways to torture a man with fears.
Arthur focused on Eames' face. "Yes, Mr. Eames?"
"No more work. We're going to play. We're going to marry. And perhaps a little bit of real world crime."
"You're traveling under Ted Williams?"
"Yes. I haven't registered you obviously, except for the wedding."
"You gave them what name?"
"Arthur Gold, to match your FBI credentials."
"Always feels odd to call you Ted. I think of you as a Theodore."
"Mal was convinced you were Phillip."
Eames laughed. "And you were her James then?"
"I was first introduced to her as James Arthur." The younger man shrugged. "I never did get her to understand that I'm *not* a James at all."
"You'll always be my Arthur though." Arthur nodded. A slow smile curled up his lips. He pulled Eames close for a soft kiss.
"And you're my Eames."
There was a sharp knock on the door. "Room Service."
"And there's lunch."
"So why is this called a Molly?" Hillary asked. She peered through the scope and marked two more cameras onto the layout.
Chuck laughed. "Many years ago, in the dark days of Dreamshare, there was a man called Daniel B. One day Daniel B. hooked up with a wonderfully uninhibited woman named Molly. His point started doing surveillance to get away. Whenever his teammates asked where he was headed, he'd say 'Molly.' Eventually, it became shorthand."
"And Molly herself?"
"An excellent chemist." Chuck reviewed the map she was creating. "Remember there are cameras at the ATM."
"Right." She added the notes. "So, Arthur."
"What about him?"
"Bi, I think. Well, there have been rumors about him and a few women at least. Sounds like his boy is finally taking him off the market."
"How long have they been an item?"
Chuck shrugged. "Real-time or dream-time?"
"Is there a difference?" She looked up at him.
"Remember, this is all hearsay. Rumor has it that they spent a month under together in the old days and when they woke up they were the best team and couldn't stand to be in the same room together for at least a year."
"A month in a dream? How the Hell does that work?"
"You have to remember that Dreamshare was a military project."
"So there wasn't a choice, in other words."
"Or it was an experimental compound." Chuck shrugged. "Maybe they volunteered. We'll never know because Arthur will pull my lungs out through my nose if I ask."
Hillary snorted. "Arthur doesn't strike me as randomly violent. Dangerous yes. Anal maybe."
"I don't ask and he doesn't tell." Chuck sniffed.
Hillary smacked his arm. "Crazy."
"I fold," said the pot-bellied Texan cowboy wannabe. Eames' eyes flicked to the last competitor at the table. He smirked.
Arthur rolled his eyes. "What do you think, Robert?" he asked the dealer. "Should I quit while he's ahead or do my best to crush his dream?"
Robert's lips quirked into a brief smile. "That depends on how annoyed you'll be if you lose."
"Well, I won't take it out on you." Arthur gave Eames a narrow-eyed glare. "20,000." He pushed the chips carefully to the center of the table.
Eames smirked back at him. "Very brave, Darling."
The pot grew as neither man backed down. Eventually, Eames cocked his head to the side. "if I win, you'll wear what I choose tomorrow."
Arthur's eyes narrowed. "And vice versa, I assume."
The other three players focused on them. "Tempting, very tempting." Arthur toyed with a chip. "Fine."
"Agreed then." Eames smile felt a bit feral. "Check."
Arthur checked as well and they laid down their cards. A straight ace high to a straight king high. Arthur sighed. "Well, at least you can't do too much to embarrass me." He paused. "The gift shop. I forgot about the gift shop."
"You've got the legs for a doublet."
"Do you think security will kill me if I ask nicely?"
"Cheer up. You're getting married soon." Eames grinned at him.
"On that note, I need a drink."
Hillary studied the profile that Arthur had created. The first few pages and the overview had been dull, but now there was detail and excitement. She stared at the pictures, turning it this way and that.
"Is the sex or nudity disturbing?" Chuck asked.
"No. I'm just trying to figure out where the photographer was."
"Computer, I think. A laptop. Arthur can hack them."
She glanced at her laptop case. "I'll have to block off my camera. Right now."
"Or keep it out of the bedroom."
She snorted. "I have a studio." She pulled out her laptop and fastened a piece of paper over the camera and inserted the plug into the microphone. "I'm assuming he can hack the microphone too."
"It's a good assumption. So what did we learn during our Molly?"
Hillary took a moment to center herself. "There are five major blind-spots for the approach to the headquarters building." She used her finger to draw out the paths on the map they kept spread on the table.
Eames adjusted the gold singlet on Arthur's head. It seemed purposefully anachronistic when combined with the brown on brown pinstripe three-piece suit Eames had chosen for their wedding. His own head was crown-free. Arthur scowled at him, but couldn't hold the expression. Their new matching rings glinted in the neon light.
"You are overly amused with yourself, Mr. Eames."
Eames chucked him under the chin. "We have tickets to the jousting feast."
"Will you be bitchy if I nitpick historical inaccuracies?"
"I would never ask you to be anyone other than you are." Eames kissed him gently. "But you will wear the crown all day. Then, you can pawn it for the gold."
"Don't be an idiot. I'm keeping it for those days when you forget that I'm in charge."
"Sir Harold of the Golden Lion" scanned the crowd. There was always an element of audience participation to their show. He smiled flirtatiously at the older woman in the front row. Her eyes widened in surprise before she smiled back. His eyes drifted higher until his attention was caught by the arrogant posture near the center of the fifth row. There were two mock-lordlings in attendance, he realized. They were eating too comfortably to be anything but SCA members. One of them even wore a simple gold crown.
Harold steadied himself for his joust. He had three people who'd appreciate his hard work. The show went off without a hitch. He was shocked when the two lordlings found him after the show.
"Sir Harold, isn't it?" The blond was British.
The blond's lips quirked. "We were wondering if there were any practice blades around? Nothing gets the blood pumping like a good spar. But if I give my darling Arthur a live blade he'll likely slice bits off of me."
The dark-haired man's lips curled up into a sly smile. "I just want to dump you on your ass with a flat of a blade to the back of the leg."
Harold scoffed. "Blades are heavy."
"I think you'll find us capable."
Something in the man's voice made him shiver. "Right. I'm pretty sure the insurance won't allow it."
Arthur shrugged. "It was worth a shot. Where's the best local place to find weapons then?" His partner pouted. "Stop that. Oh, God. Don't even try puppy dog eyes on me. They don't work on you."
Harold excused himself to the showers, laughing to himself.
"Harry! Get your ass out here!" "Sir" Bill yelled. "You have to see this."
Harold toweled his hair dry and pulled on his jeans and a tee-shirt. "Oh fuck," he muttered. The lordlings had found the swords. They were in the arena fighting. The metal crashed and the blond grunted. Harold stared at the fight. The weight obviously wasn't an issue. It was a brutal fight with hands and hilts used as much as blades.
Eventually, the blond was on the ground a bloody smile on his face. "God, you look gorgeous when you've been fighting."
"Never." He kicked out at Arthur's ankle and rolled to the side, knocking the blade away. The fight was joined again. The second time he ended up on his knees with Arthur's blade against his throat.
"Agreed. Give us a kiss."
"Not while you're armed." Blood trickled from the corner of Arthur's lip. His partner – what the Hell was his name – released his blade. Arthur helped him up and dropped a quick kiss on his cheek. His crown glinted in the stage lights.
"Thanks for the loan, chaps. We're much obliged." They wiped down the blades and offered them to the sword master.
"If you ever need work, give me a call. I'm sure I'll be able to find a place for you."
The lordlings shook hands all around. "How the Hell did they convince you to let them do that?"
"When a man wears a solid gold crown, he has the money to deal with the lawyers if they get hurt."
Arthur pressed a copper-flavored kiss to Eames' mouth. "That was fun, dangerous, and stupid."
"There are cameras on this elevator," Eames said mildly.
"Do you care? I don't. Kissing isn't illegal." Arthur twisted Eames' tie around his hand. "Even though I should make you take a knee in front of your king."
Eames' eyes dilated. "Feeling a bit dominant, love?"
"Hmmm. Depends on you." The door opened on their floor. "I don't know, shouldn't we be sweet or some shit?" They stumbled into the hotel room. The door closed behind them.
"We can do gentle." Eames pressed Arthur against the door. "First things first, though. I'm going to blow you, your majesty."
Eames slid down to his knees. Arthur didn't bother to release his tie as he did. Eames simply smirked at him with bruised lips. He opened Arthur's trousers with his teeth. Arthur's silk boxers added to the sensation as Eames mouthed along his swiftly hardening length. Arthur leaned agains the cool metal fire door. It made him shiver. Or maybe it was the feeling of Eames' broad hands at Arthur's hips holding him in place as he engulfed Arthur's cock with wet heat. "Jesus fuck," Arthur groaned. He let his head rest against the door.
Eames chuckled. The sensation transferred to the cock in his mouth. Arthur ran a hand through the dirty blond hair to encourage his lover – no his husband. His wedding ring caught the indirect light from the desk lamp. Arthur frowned. "Did we leave that light on?"
Eames pulled back. "Yes. I refuse to knock into the furniture to satisfy your far too American ecological conscience. Do be a dear and concentrate." Eames' mouth decended once more and Arthur's eyes drifted closed. He groaned as Eames started to move slowly, then with increasing speed.
"I'm going to come," he warned. Eames' fingers tightened, pinning Arthur's hips to the door. Arthur strangled his cry as his body went stiff. His knees and the rest of him softened until he was curled over his lover. No matter how tight of a hold Arthur had on his tie, it was obvious who was currently in control. Arthur pulled at Eames' hair until the Englishman allowed a gentle, exploratory kiss. "Get onto the bed before we end up fucking on the floor like a pair of teenagers grabbing a quickie."
"It really is too bad we missed out on those years."
Arthur snorted. "I was far too sheltered at fourteen for you."
"Are you trying to make me feel old?"
Arthur kissed Eames. "Sex, remember? On that too big bed over there. Unless you want me to focus on work again."
Pepper answered the phone. "Did the honeymoon soften your edges?" The speaker crackled a bit.
"Fuck you too," Arthur responded. "Pull a full Ripley."
Hillary looked up in interest. Pepper took a breath. "Really? A full Ripley?"
"It's the only way to be sure. Code's set to the usual." Arthur hung up.
As soon as the dial tone sounded, Pepper was out of his seat. He gathered all the files into the box. He popped the SIM card out of his phone and added the phone to the box. Hillary blinked. "Put anything paper on the table. Take the card from your phone and dump the phone into the box," he ordered.
"What's going on?"
"Just do it."
Hillary scowled. She hated the random pop-quizzes that her teachers seemed to come up with. She did as she was told though. She wanted the full training that Arthur had promised her. If part of that was trusting them enough to leave her brand new phone behind, that was what she was going to do. Chuck nodded in approval. He dropped something into the center of the box, then closed the top. He punched a hole in either side and placed the box under the table. He opened a bottle of rubbing alcohol and started disinfecting everything in the room. No, she realized, he was removing fingerprints. He cleaned the table with a wadded handful of cheap paper towels that had been stacked under the white board. She'd put it down to Arthur's over-use of the whiteboard. She followed Chuck's lead and cleaned off the whiteboard with the cleaner that was hanging off the shelf. He nodded at her with a bright smile. She smiled back automatically.
He cleaned off the cleaner bottle with the last papertowels. "Let's go," he said. He herded her out of the office and down the stairs. She swung her purse into place and frowned at him. "We're going to lunch."
"It's ten o'clock."
"Brunch, if you insist," he rolled his eyes. "I haven't had anything to eat this morning. I was waiting for our fearless leader to bring in apology bagels."
Hillary settled in the passenger seat of the car. They were on the highway before he spoke again. "Put your gun in the glovebox with your badge."
"So you don't shoot Arthur when we meet with him."
She laughed. "Arthur knows I'm armed."
Chuck shook his head with a fond smile. "I think you're going to be surprised. Make him buy you the newest iPhone."
Hillary stared. "What did you put into that box that will affect my phone that badly?"
"Congratulations, Hillary, you're a real crook now. We just torched an office."
She gulped. "This better be a really bad joke."
Back to the Misc. Bedroom