Ariadne stripped off her thick gloves, hat, and scarf. She hung them on the coat-rack just inside the door. Eames' mental house was cozy, smelling of chocolate, cloves, and brandy. It was full of dark woods and plush fabrics on the overstuffed furniture. He waved at her from the kitchen. "You found your way."
"The path was pretty clear. After I dreamt up clothing so I wouldn't freeze to death! You couldn't warn me about the snow?"
"It doesn't always snow." His smile made his eyes twinkle. "Arthur, come get your chocolate."
Arthur looked up from the writing desk in the corner. "Hi. You made it. Only took half an hour. He must like you."
"Arthur." Eames' voice was sharp. The point man capped his fountain pen. He crossed the room to accept a plaid mug. He sipped it with a rare smile that showed off his dimples.
"You just show up here, don't you?" she demanded.
"No. No. Arthur shows up in the front garden. It's not worth forcing him to run the maze."
"You do remember there's a hedge maze in the front yard? You are getting up in years."
"Bite me, Darling."
"Only if you ask politely, Mr. Eames."
"Why are we doing this in Eames' head and not mine or yours?"
"Because you need to learn how to do it when you don't have complete control of the dream. And dear Arthur's projections would shred you."
"Oddly enough Eames is capable of disarming his projections. Or maybe it's simply the huge blizzards and sandstorms."
"The sandstorm was only the once and you were the one who brought up Afghanistan. It could well have been a bulletstorm." Eames tapped Arthur chidingly on the nose.
Ariadne's brows rose. That was bold. Arthur's eyes however widened in delight. "Bulletstorms. Or knives. I'll have to try that the next time a job goes to Hell."
Eames turned to Ariadne and offered a mug. The chocolate smelled heavenly and she clutched it to her chest greedily. "It's not that he has no imagination. It's that what little he does have is so bloody terrifying," he said.
"I'm not deaf, Eames."
"Hush, Darling. And do relax a bit. Ari won't be bothered if you're not dressed to the nines."
"I'm comfortable. See, sweatervest. No tie. As promised."
"Won't matter as soon as we start. Get the mirrors, won't you?"
"It's your mind. I don't know why I'm even part of this."
"Don't whine or I'll tell Cobb you've become the sweet sixteen year old you used to be."
"I'm afraid I'd have to kill you. Yusef's cat would mourn."
"Did you actually meet Arthur when he was sixteen? Are there pictures?"
"I'll just set up the mirrors." Arthur abandoned his chocolate. He crossed to the wall and started to flip the wood panels around to expose mirrors. Ari watched with eager eyes.
"The mirrors are part of the design?"
"Yes. I practice here. Arthur learned to forge here."
"Arthur can forge?"
"Arthur's a pointman. Or rather The Point Man. He wants to be able to do everything should it be necessary. He despises it - forging in dreams. He's much more comfortable topside."
Arthur rolled his eyes. "I'm passable at every part of the job, even basic compounds, but I prefer point. Research. I'm a stable dreamer." He shrugged. "Learned it while I was young."
"Show me the teenager Mal dreamt you as."
"A credible start, but I know that Ferragamo shoes were not in your closet at fifteen."
A brief smile crossed his lips. "They weren't mine at least." He closed his eyes. His hair lengthened down to his shoulders. His face didn't change much, but his eyes were bruised. There were traces of a split lip and Ariadne bit at her own lip. He stepped forward and his formal trousers and sweatervest were replaced by a grey hoodie over a thin white tee-shirt and loose jeans. His sneakers were white with no recognizable brand. He shoved his hands into the pockets and hunched his shoulders. He glared defiantly at Eames.
"Very nice, luv." Eames studied him. "The bruising is a nice effect. It can make you more or less threatening, Ari. See with the sulk, he looks like a bit of a fighter. Drop your chin and look up, there's a dear. And like so, he becomes a victim, someone the mark trusts and wants to help."
Arthur stood, slouching in his teenage form, while Eames talked Ariadne through her first attempts. She managed to change her hair color before the timer ran out.
Arthur sipped his coffee. He was reading one of his ubiquitous files when Ariadne flopped down next to him. "Teach me."
"Teach you what?" He raised his brows.
The architect made a frustrated hand wave. "Anything. Everything. How to research or how to fight. I'm not picky."
"You should be. It makes it easier at first. Pick one thing."
She was quiet. "Show me Mal. The real one that you knew. Not the bitch that shoved a knife into me."
Adrenaline surged as Athur's stomach twisted. "Not today."
"I want Eames with me to even things out. Something else." Arthur paused. "Oh, shit. I've got to call Cobb."
"It's Mal's birthday." Arthur dialed hastily.
"Hello?" Dom's voice sounded clear.
"Hi, Dom. Put Phillipa on."
"You only care about my kids."
"Yes, exactly. I have to manipulate them into teenagers who can annoy you better than I did."
"God, the number of times I had to drive you home from the hospital. If my daughter turns into a mini-Arthur, I will drop you off a cliff."
"Yes. Whatever. Child. Phone."
Dom chuckled. "Phillipa, James, it's Uncle Arthur on the phone." Arthur could hear them pounding through the house. They babbled at him in a happy mixture of French and English. When they wound down, he promised them a visit and was soon enough handed back to their father. "Arthur, I'm okay. Really. But thanks for the call and tell Eames... tell him I'm sorry, okay? For dragging you around the way I did."
"Send a subscription to Dream Psychology to the Liverpool address and I'll force him to answer the phone."
Arthur laughed. "Hug the kids for me." Arthur hung up without saying goodbye. Ariadne studied him with a small frown. He cocked his head to the side.
"Are you *related* to Cobb?"
Eames showed up just then, like an angel. "I have sweets and coffee for my sweets. Fresh from that adorable little shop run by the Korean grandmother who's adopted Arthur."
Arthur put his hand out for his coffee. It was hot and sweet. "Good thought, Mr. Eames. Ari's getting bored. Perhaps you can take her under to practice forging while I track down Mr. Gleason's boat registration?"
"Anything for you. Come along. Ari, let's leave the stick-in-the-mud behind and explore the wonderful world of flexible gender psychology. Next time we'll have Arthur show you the sweet, young thing he's practiced."
Ari quirked a disbelieving eyebrow at that. "Arthur as a woman? That's disturbing."
"Not nearly so much as you'd think. He's capable of passing topside."
"If you tell her that story, I will stab you in the balls."
Eames' dirty laugh floated back to him. Embarrassing but distracting. It was a perfect way to keep her occupied. When he was sure they were under, he closed his eyes. "We'll make an extractor out of her yet, Mal." He saluted his late partner with his coffee. "Wish like Hell you'd met her."
"Just poke around a moment, luv." Eames waved a hand at the warm and no familiar surroundings of his mental house. "I'll make us a cuppa."
Ariadne made her way to the bookshelves, looking at titles idly. She paused at one entitled, "Arthur's First Job." She pulled it out and flipped through it. Arthur in jeans pouring over a model with bits of foamboard in his hair and an Exacto knife / Mal hanging onto his arm to keep him from using that same knife on her husband / Arthur another day, counting coup with a flick knife against Eames' chest handle first.
She put it back on the shelf. There were scattered pictures from beaches that couldn't exist and architecture that was so subtly wrong that it made her eyes itch. In the center of the shelves was a small niche. It held not art, or sculpture, but rather a thimble case made to look like a bow front cabinet. Each thimble was labeled with a date and location. They weren't the metal ones from tourist traps, but rather simply functional ones made of multiple colors of plastic, metal, and one wooden one.
"You collect thimbles?" She took the offered mug.
Eames quirked a smile at her. "Something like that. What did you ask Arthur to make him send you under with me?"
"I asked if he was related to Cobb."
Eames' mug froze half-way to his mouth. He stared at her. "Christ. That's a disturbing idea, innit? No wonder he wanted me to distract you."
Ariadne paused, rethinking things. She paled. "Tell me they weren't lovers."
Eames' tea ended up on her shirt. His shoulders shook as his laughter started to build. He wiped the tears from his eyes. "Wrong end of the stick, Ari." He patted her shoulder. He reached for a book on the shelf. "I want you to ask him that while he's drinking."
"I don't want to die."
"Don't worry. He'll know to blame me." He flipped the book open. "This is the photo Mal showed me of our sweet Arthur the day she found him. In Paris."
Her head snapped up from the picture of a teenaged Arthur. "He's... I thought he was American."
"He is. He ran away from some precious small town to France when he was eleven. Mal created our Arthur from this."
She winced. "And it's her birthday."
"So it is. Enough chit-chat. Time to practice becoming someone other than your lovely self."
"Did he even go to college?"
"You'll have to ask him that, won't you?"
Eames pushed her through her transformations until she put up one broad and thick-fingered hand. "Mercy. Mercy."
"You are, as always welcome." His eyes crinkled up in the corners.
"Asshole. My brain wants to escape out of my ear."
Eames check his watch – a clunky black and white thing that belonged to the geek he was inhabiting. "Only twenty minutes left. Let's sit down with some cocoa."
Arthur had just taken a sip of his very nice red wine when Ariadne asked, "Were you and Cobb lovers when we met?" Only the cost of the wine kept him from a spit-take. He did choke as he got caught between the phrases "oh fuck no" and "goddamit, Eames!" He managed to swallow his sip.
"How many siblings do you have anyway?"
She pouted at him.
"No. Jesus. Did Eames put you up to this?" He glared at the Englishman. Eames' eyes were dancing in delight and his lips were curled up mischievously.
"He told me to ask you instead of answering."
Arthur narrowed his eyes at both of them. "I inherited him when Mal died. She was my partner. He just happened to be her boyfriend who made me repatriate when he graduated. He moved her to LA so he could join Schick and Schelling."
Ari's eyes widened. "How badly did the year on the run affect his standing?"
"Since he's working there again, I'd say not bad. You want a reference? I can sign his name."
"Darling, are you trying to get Ariadne a day job while you go off to Bali?"
"I wasn't hired for St. Petersburg. Besides, I'm sure they'll let me steal her away for projects. They never minded when I hired Cobb."
"And the fact that it would let me keep and eye on Dom doesn't play any part in this. What's this about Bali?" Ari frowned.
"Mr. Eames will be heading for Russia in a few days. I'm off to Bali next week and you might have an interview in LA. Let me call Cobb."
"What time is it in California?"
"He should be awake and at work."
"That's not an answer." Eames pressed. Arthur looked at the simple silver pocket-watch he wore when he wasn't on a job. Mal had given it to him when he'd settled on being a pointman above all else. It was engraved with the initials of the man she'd stolen it from. "It is 10:17 AM in LA and if Dom isn't at his desk, Mr. Schelling has him in his office."
"Thank you, Arthur. Specificity, you know."
Arthur contemplated kicking him in the shin. He hadn't been his best during Fischer. He narrowed his eyes and the other man's grin grew wider. Ariadne interrupted before he could retaliate.
"Eames, stop it. Arthur has a phone call to make."
Arthur dialed. "Mr. Cobb, please, Diana."
"Oh! Arthur! You never call anymore." Diana paused. Her voice, normally bright and perky, lowered to a quiet, confidential tone. "I'm so sorry about your sister. I was at the funeral, but I didn't want to... you know, with everything."
"Thank you, Diana. You're very kind." The thought of Mal's body on the ground made him go completely still. Eames put a hand on his wrist and stroked absently with his thumb. He drew Ariadne into a discussion of restaurant design. How the woman hadn't figured out they were involved escaped him. "She always adored your 'delightfully American' accent."
Diana laughed. "I'm putting you through now."
"Arthur? What's wrong?"
"I can't just call?"
"Arthur." Dom's voice was an order. Not that he had to follow those.
"You see, I have this architect, a student of Miles'? You might remember her. Ariadne?"
"Yes?" The tone was softer now, more silky, as though he'd guessed where this might be going.
"What do you want her recommendation to say?"
"I will write it. Who's it for?"
"Mr. Schelling. He still prefers them on paper right?"
"My Mr. Schelling? She wants to work here. Hold on. Diana!" Dom was kind enough not to bellow into the phone. "Ask Mr. Schelling for a two minute meeting before lunch. Then schedule a time for Arthur to call him. Right. Arthur, get her to LA. I'll make the rest of the arrangements."
"You will get her a hotel room and I will make sure you did."
"I have a... ah, right. Hotel it is. I won't even let her know the scrapbooks exist."
"If only you weren't lying right now, I'd thank you. When should I call Schelling?"
"Diana's motioning that she's going to transfer you right now."
Arthur's brows rose, but Dom couldn't see that, so it was all right. "I'll send you the flight information."
"Right." There was a moment of New Age crap music, then a genteel voice in his ear.
"If it isn't my favorite Miles. How are you, my dearest boy?" Schelling was 72 and as queer as a three dollar bill. Arthur adored him.
"I'm sending you a new Miles for your collection."
"Is he as pretty as you are?"
"She is pretty. Sweet. Not your type at all."
"Not a blonde?" Schelling sounded horrified.
"I wouldn't do that to you. Miles recommended her to Dom. Dom and I both think she's sharp."
"When are you coming back to me? You haven't been home in months. You're breaking my heart. I have no beautiful boy to spoil."
"And I'm sure Howard is pleased to know that."
"You must come to dinner. Rosie missed cooking for someone who appreciates her. Leave that cretin you're with and run away with me. I'll keep you dressed in the finest suits. The new Dolce & Gabana line would suit your frame."
"Wooing me with suits. That's low."
"Oh, Darling, anything he offers I can surpass." Eames pouted at him.
"Tell that thug that you are *my* boy-toy."
"Mr. Schelling, you flatter me. Our dear Ariadne will have to suffice. She's a full Miles student and I expect her to be available when I need her."
"You know I'll always spoil you rotten, sweet boy. I'll expect my usual fees. Plus a kiss, since she's female."
"You are a dirty old mean."
"That's why I love you. Give Howard a kiss from me and tell Rosie I'll visit once Ari is settled in. I'll send her to you by the end of the week."
"Kiss-kiss, sweetie." Schelling hung up.
Ariadne stared at him, mouth open. Arthur closed it with a finger.
"Whatever that letch offered you isn't worth it. He's ancient."
"But loaded. He thinks of me as Arthur Miles. And Diana will refer to me as Mal's brother. You will likely be either Ariadne Miles, or Little Miss Cobb. I have first rights you you, if I need you, but I'll give you a few months. There's a dream clinic there and it'll help refine your profiling skills."
"Does he know that you're..." She waved a hand.
"Bi? Of course. He's the third person I came out to."
She scowled. "Not that. Christ. That you're this criminal mastermind."
"He knows not to ask questions."
Eames lifted the wrist he'd been holding and placed a kiss to the inside of it. "I have a hot date with the whirlpool tub. Feel free to join me." He kissed Ari's cheek. "Shall I make up a spare passport for her?"
Ariadne studied Arthur. "Were you going to tell me about Bali?"
Arthur frowned at her. "In a few days. What you don't know, you can't reveal."
"I thought you were working a job here in Paris."
"Oh that. Just doing some research for another point who's got overlapping schedules. He's paying me from his cut and he'll owe me a favor next time I call."
"Are you going to introduce me to him?"
"Fuck no. He'd kill you. You need a few more years of physical training before that."
"I am not fragile."
"No, but you are a female and a civilian. He's a psychopath. Good for when you're extracting in a warzone. If you want a job with a different point, I'll give you to Lucy-B. But first, you get to meet Mr. Schelling and build him an impossible building." Arthur made a note to call Lucy-B in his moleskin. He added flight and portfolio to his to do list. "Is your portfolio prepped? Dom will put you up while you're there. I'll send presents for the kids."
"Portfolio. Shit. I'll need that and a suit."
"We'll go shopping tomorrow."
Eames wrapped his arms around Arthur's waist. "Our little girl safely off?"
"Good, because I want to do filthy, filthy things to you while we still have access to that tub."
"How is it possible that she still takes your flirting with me at face value?"
"She has five brothers. You and I seem to be slotted there." Arthur leaned his head back. Eames took the opportunity to nibble at his throat. "Do promise you'll be careful."
"As carefully as possible. It's a fairly straight-forward job. Petra's competent and so it Lugo."
"All the same."
"Didn't you say something about filthy activities?"
Eames snorted. "My sentimental Darling." Arthur turned in the circle of arms. His eyes crinkled in the corners.
"But yours. That's what matters." He fished into his pocket. He came out with a green plastic thimble. Eames took it and tucked it into his shirt pocket.
"Who are you?" The little girl with Dom's blonde hair and blue eyes demanded.
"This is Ariadne. She's a friend of mine and Uncle Arthur's. Ari, this is Phillipa." A little boy careened off of the wall and into Dom's legs. "And this is James."
"Hello, Miss Ari." Phillipa was still frowning. "If you're Uncle Arthur's friend why isn't he here too?"
"He had to work. He sent something for you. Let me get it out of my bag."
"I'll take you to the guest room."
De ja vu hit her hard in the gut as she followed him down the hallway. Luckily, the kids' toys scattered through the house and the smell of lemon trees floating in through the wide open back door grounded her. There were stickers and sign declaring Phillipa's Room on the left. Across the hall was a more masculine sign for James. The room across from the guest room declared itself as Arthur's. What looked suspiciously like a copy of a Rembrant hung below it.
"It's locked," Dom informed her. His smile was wry. "Yes, I have a key, but we don't want the kids in there. God only knows what he has stashed, but he used to keep the sharps for me."
"Smart way to keep them away from a curious toddler." The guest room was done up in simple cream and a wealth of blues. It smelled fresh and clean with a hint of pipe tobacco. Miles must have used it last. The landscape over the headboard was from just outside of Paris. She put her bag on the bed and hung her suitbag in the closet. "Let me give the kids their presents."
Phillipa's package revealed a bottle with a Spanish ship rendered in delicate detail. The little girl handled it reverently. "Hook's ship."
James's opened to reveal drums. "Ice."
Dom shook his head. "Arthur's a bit upset with me, huh? Phil, why don't you show Ari your collection?"
Phillipa regarded her with assessing eyes. "What kind of watch does Uncle Arthur wear?"
Ari blinked. "He has a pocket-watch. It's silver with the initials DB on it."
The little girl's face cleared. "Okay." Her room was not the pink confection Ari had been expecting. The walls were covered in pinstriped black on white paper. Red was the predominant accent color. Her headboard was a converted rowboat. And the bedspread had a compass rose spread across it. Maps were framed on the walls with grease pencil trails mapped on the glass. There was a shelf that ran along the wall. On it was a wealth of trinkets. There was just enough room next to the red-jacketed pirate doll for the ship. "That's Hook. He's from France and can break if I play too roughly." The last was obviously quoted. There was a delicate lantern with green glass and a flameless candle flickering inside. "That's from Casablanca." Next ot the lantern was blown glass fairy. "Tinkerbelle is from Spain." A rapier was mounted on the shelf with pegs. "So is the sword." The litany continued and Ari's eyes traced the line on the map closest to the shelf. Each location was marked in pencil. "Where is Hook's boat from?"
"Will you put it on my map?" Phillipa offered the grease pencil.
"Of course. Are all of these from Arthur?"
"No. Mama bought me Captain Hook. And Daddy found the fairy. Uncle Eames brought me the lantern for my birthday when Daddy was traveling for work. Shh. Don't tell Uncle Arthur, but Uncle Eames read me Peter Pan because Uncle Arthur couldn't come."
"You like Peter Pan?"
She nodded. "I want to be like Captain Hook. Just like Mama. She always said that Uncle Arthur was Peter, but that's silly. He's Wendy. He wanted to grow up."
Ari was struck by the image of Arthur in a blue dress and she smiled. "Yes, he did," was all she said.
"Arthur." Her voice was little-girl sweet.
"Lucy-B." Arthur let his smile into his voice. "You still working with Po?"
"Ah. Sometimes. You want him? I'll sell cheap."
Arthur laughed. "I'll keep that in mind. I've got an architect."
"Oh? Finally dumped the psycho-blond?"
"Second best extractor I've ever worked with, but he claims he's retired."
"I give it six months. So, newbie any good?"
"Brilliant, but still new and young."
"Is she above the age of consent? She'd be older than you were."
"She's just finished her degree."
"And her internship?"
"Initially with Cobb and me. Eames and I have been coaching her."
Lucy-B was quiet. "You're making us a new Mal aren't you?"
"A new Cobb at least. She's young."
Lucy-B hummed. He stayed quiet and used another phone to continue his research. "I'll call you. I have a line on a legal job in Michigan."
"She'll be stateside. I'll get her there safely."
"Getting her used to traveling properly?" Her voice was full of approval. "I'll make sure the team scatters at the end. Let's see, is she any good at defese?"
Arthur snorted. "She'll shoot a projection, but her hand-to-hand is restricted. She's got rudimentary forging – enough to blend with her environment and maybe change her hair and eyes consistently."
"So she's not you or Eames, in other words."
"She's also nosy and bossy and thinks she knows more than she does."
"Was she on *that* job?" Lucy-B nearly squeaked out the question. "Was she?"
"Yes, but to *not* let her think that cocked-up job was normal."
"Oh, Arthur. You're the only one not bragging about it."
"I missed militarization." Lucy-B was likely the only other point in the world who'd understand his frustration.
"It happens. even to the best. I'll call you in two weeks. And I'll look after your baby extractor. And you owe me a date. In Tokyo."
"Right. Got a hit."
"Go. Later." Lucy-B hung up. Arthur shut down the phone and turned his attention to his research.
Boris gave Eames a bear hug and a mighty thump between the shoulders. "You are looking healthy, my friend."
"It's the sun. You should give it a try. You'd not have to dress like a bear."
Boris slung an arm over Eames' shoulders and led him away as he laughed. He was a big man with a barrel's physique and the bright red nose of an inveterate drinker. The vodka always made his dreamscapes brighter.
They were working out of a small flat that smelled of old socks and what might generously be called potato soup. Their architect looked up. He blanched as Eames crossed the room to deliver a sharp punch to the stomach. "Arthur sends his regards, you fucker."
"He's calmed down?"
"You're bloody lucky he was too busy to come find you the day of the funeral or we'd still be collecting bits of your body up. What possessed you, Franklin?"
"What did he do?" Eliza was a slip of thing. She made Ariadne look large.
"He sent a card that sang 'Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead' to Mal Cobb's funeral."
Eliza frowned at the architect. "Whenever we go under, stay away from my projections. It's good to see you, Eames." She smiled. "I was beginning to think Arthur'd put a leash on you."
"That's an image. No, no, we're training up a new extractor. Well, she doesn't know that yet, but she will get bored with building soon enough."
"Give me a call when she changes her mind. I can give her pointers on how to deal with men who think they know best."
"You and Arthur still not speaking? Bad date was it?"
Eliza's eyes narrowed. Her mouth pinched. "He's young enough to be my grand-son. That woman should never have taken him under." She shook her head and banished the anger. Her steel grey hair spun around her face. "If you talk to him, tell him that I am cautiously optimistic about the possibility of working together, granting that he does not mention the Queen Bitch's name."
"Will do. And will you finally consent to marry me?"
She laughed. Boris poured him a shot of vodka. "Here's your target. Vassily Trompkin. An American ex-patriot and our subject's best friend."
Eames nodded and lost himself in the details of the extraction.
Ari shook Mr. Schelling's hand. His fingers were long and thin. His skin was translucent and showed the tracery of his veins. His smile was bright. "A pleasure to meet you, Ariadne. Arthur and Dom have had such glowing words for your work that I'm certain they're trying to con me."
She smiled. "Oh no. How can I show you that every word is true?" She widened her eyes in the way Eames had drilled into her.
The old man's face made her think of a little boy. "Hand me that lovely portfolio. Then, go to the desk in the corner and draw me something unique." He took her drawings and looked over them, humming the "Jeopardy" theme under his breath.
She dove for the desk and the neatly prepped pencils. She didn't know how long she'd been drawing when she surfaced with an undersea city made of woven reeds and soaring heights. Schelling looked up from his computer. His reading glasses magnified his blue eyes. "Only two hours. Spectacular. Come here and show me."
"It's designed for swimming."
He nodded. His fingers traced the air above the drawing. "You designed this for the merpeople." He nodded. "Excellent. You'll work with our dream therapy clinic as your primary customer. It's as close to true dreaming research as I can place you since Mal's unfortunate passing. And you'll be called off on various projects by my favorite know-it-all. In the meantime, I've got a theatre and a movie special effects house to offer you out to. I've got Dom working on the movie. But you have the artist's touch for the threatre. Now, it's nearly lunch. Run along and make Dominick take you somewhere nice."
He shooed her out the door of his office. Ari stood, blinking at the heavily carved Tibetian door. The woman sitting at the desk to her right laughed. "You must be Ariadne. I'm Diana." Diana had long black hair that was coiled around her head like a cornet. Her red dress was Empire waisted and fell to the floor. Ari shook the offered hand.
"He told me to go to lunch."
"Excellent idea. Your desk will be waiting for you when you get back. I'll help you with all the formal paperwork. Dom! Come take this young lady to lunch!" She grimaced. "And you only need to wear a suit when you meet with the clinic. Everyone else will be fine with what you normally wear."
"And if this is what I normally wear?"
"Then I need to take you shopping. The summer here will kill you."
"Ariadne, you have a flight to Michigan in one week. I'm sending a courier with your tickets. Mr. Schelling is aware that you're on commission."
"Arthur?" Ari blinked. She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. "I'm thrilled to hear from you, but it's three in the morning."
"Are you actually in bed? Mr. Schelling won't care if you're in late. Didn't he give you the 'just get your work done' speech? You finished Capella yesterday."
"And you are an overly awake android," she shot back. "Humans need sleep you know."
"Eames keeps telling me that. Seems wasteful to me."
"I will talk to you at a reasonable hour."
"Possibly. This number won't work when you call." He hung up on her. She grabbed the closest pillow and threw it at the door. She followed it with the bolster pillow she'd been using to hold up her book before she fell asleep.
A few minutes later there was a knock on the door. "Ari?"
She opened the door, cheeks burning. "Sorry. Didn't mean to wake you."
His eyes flicked around the room; then over her body and face. Then, they focused on the phone. "Arthur."
"Arthur." She nodded.
"He does it on purpose. Never let him tell you differently. I'll make you some tea."
"It's fine. I'll just do some work on the Fish World."
"Is there an emergency?"
"No." She ran a hand through her tangled hair. "He's sending me something."
"Let me borrow your phone." He dialed and turned on the speaker.
"Oh, did I wake you, Dom? I'm not at all sorry. Snout out." Arthur hung up.
Dom redialed. "What if I'd been Phillipa?"
"Then you'd be calling a different phone. Try to keep up."
"Are you sending Ari something embarrassing?"
Ari's brows rose.
"Of course not. I like her." Arthur hung up again. Dom handed the phone back to its owner.
"What did he send you?"
Dom's cheeks went pink. "I'd rather not say."
"How bad could it be?"
"It was rubber, purple, and glittered. He sent it to the office. I will leave the rest to your imagination."
"What did you *do*?"
"Married Mal?" Dom shrugged.
"Lori!" Ari turned at the sound of her alias. She was caught in a quick, tight hug. "It's so good to see you." The woman who hugged her was in a green Lolita dress with a white bolero jacket and knee high Doc Martins. Her long black hair was in silky pigtails. She wore a small green top hat.
"It's been a long time," Ari answered. She let herself be escorted out of the airport by a happily chatting pointwoman. Thank goodness Arthur had included a picture of her. She sat in the car, staring at Lucy-B in a daze.
"Arthur didn't mention the," she waved a hand to encompass everything about the woman.
Lucy-B giggled. "What everyone sees looking at us is two college friends. And Arthur plays at it too. He looks either like a businessman or someone's very earnest PA." She patted Ari's leg with a white gloved hand. She pulled out into traffic. "You'll be staying in the room across from me. This is a legal job, but we'll be running it like an op. You'll scatter when we're done. You'll travel under Lori Mars. And if you want, I can introduce you that way."
"I'd rather be Ariadne."
"Truly? They'll think that's an alias. Perfect!" Lucy-B's smile was bright and wide. "You'll take me under tonight and show me what you can do. Arthur says Eames was coaching you?"
"Yes. I can't do much."
"Oh, sweetie. You can change your hair color. That's more than most." Lucy-B shifted smoothly. "Did you eat?"
Ari blinked. "No. Most people can't change their hair color?"
"Not even Mal Cobb. And her boy-toy husband is even less flexible."
Ari's body tensed at the mention of the Cobbs. "You knew Mrs. Cobb?"
"No, I knew Mal. Mrs. Cobb is Dom's projection of her from what little I've heard through the underground. Enough shop talk for now. What are your thoughts on Italian?"
"As long as I can get a salad."
"Of course. You're not a vegetarian like Arthur?"
"I never noticed him not eating meat."
"Maybe he changed his mind."
Eames flopped down on the hard bed. He just lay there for a long moment. Every limb ached and he was very sure that he had bruises on the majority of his body. Bloody Russian mafia lads had no sense of humor.
The knock on his door had him lifting his gun immediately. He crossed the room and peered out. He pulled the door open. "What's wrong?"
Boris chuckled. "Put away your gun. You need vodka."
The Russian gathered him along and led him to a loud, raucous bar. He found them a back table near the exit that had a view of the room. He ordered a bottled of local vodka. After opening toast, Boris spoke. "Tell me, my friend, who am I going to be looking for?"
"Don't worry. I'm just a stupid British businessman who got into the wrong poker game."
"Happily corrupt like all the rest." They drank to that as well. "Rumor has it that you have a little girl."
Eames smiled in spite of his split lip. "Our girl is brilliant. She's just out of school. She's starting as an architect, of course, but Arthur's of a mind to make her an extractor."
"And you agree?"
"Oh yes. She's a nosy little chit. Staying topside will never do for her. She's tried extracting from Arthur without even thinking about it."
"And did he show her that spectacular ending he does for most?"
"He trapped her in a crystal ball and lectured her until time ran out. I've never laughed so hard in my life as when she told me."
"I will work with her, when you feel she is ready to extract." After that, the conversation drifted to more salacious gossip. At some time early in the morning, Boris tucked Eames into his shithole hotel room.
Ari shook hands with the extractor, Po. "So you're Arthur's new architect."
"Call me Ariadne. Or Ari. It's shorter."
"Ari, then," he said with a laugh. "I'm glad to see you're thinking ahead about your reputation." Ari smiled pleasantly, trying not to let her confusion show. She sat down with her sketchpad on her lap and a cheap plastic mechanical pencil at the ready.
"Tell me about the job."
"First we drink some coffee or tea. Then, we'll talk about the job. It's legal, by the way. I'm sure you weren't told that by Lucy-B. She wants to run this as though it weren't."
"Better practice. Tea or coffee?"
Lucy-B nodded sharply and moved off to the kitchen, practically skipping. Her dress bounced with each step. Po studied Ari with an intensity that made her want to squirm.
"I will now commence with my Sherlock Holmes impression. You're the youngest from a large family with brothers older than you. You've finished your graduate degree early and are more used to speaking French than English. You love designing, but it's secrets and the thrill that have you hooked on dreamshare. You moved recently and aren't yet settled. You prefer tea to coffee, but drink coffee in social settings because you have rituals around your tea. You're bisexual, but don't, thankfully, have a crush on anyone at the moment. You prefer competent partners, but you're still trying to figure out how to judge that in others. How have I done so far?"
"That's creepy. But I hang around Eames, so I don't worry about stalkers the way I used to."
Lucy-B returned with three coffee mugs on a tray. She handed Ari hers. It already had milk in it. "2% milk with three sugars and a liberal shake of nutmeg." Lucy-B told her.
Ari blinked. "Can I see my file? I'm comparing point styles for my pop-quiz interrogation."
"Nice comeback," Po said. "Just the right amount of humor to distract from your emotional state."
"Does he do this to all the people he meets, or am I special?"
Lucy-B smiled over her coffee cup. "Oh no. You are a special case. We need to unteach you any bad habits you picked up from Cobb."
"Over dependence on the stability of a two-level dream. No need to do in two what can be accomplished in one. Also, if the words Penrose stairs come out of your mouth, I will squirt you with cold water." She held up a bright pink spray bottle. "What we're dealing with is a medical case. the subject is a police officer. He's got a piece of evidence stashed and we need to find out where. He's being held in a medical coma."
Dom knocked on Arthur's bedroom door. "If you don't open the door, I'm coming in."
Dom snorted. "I can tell you're sick." He opened the door and the bitter smell hit him like a sucker-punch. Arthur was curled up under his comforter. Dom sighed. He sat down on the side of the bed.
"Shut up, Arthur. You know I'm not going to do that. What's wrong?"
"I'm sick. I'm miserable. I'm hiding out until I feel better."
"Special mix for the dragon breather we were working with. I just need some time."
Dom patted his ankle. "I'll get you some juice and toast."
"Crawl in a hole and die."
"Be nice or I'll send James in to check on you."
Arthur huffed and pulled the comforter further over his head. Dom brought back a glass of apple juice and dry rye toast. He changed the bag in the trashcan. Arthur snarled at him when he pulled the blanket down to check for a fever, but didn't resist the strip thermometer. "No fever. Make sure you drink *all* of the juice. And do not lock your door."
"Language." He left him alone for the rest of the day. Well after Phillipa and James were in bed, Arthur slipped into the living room. His hair was hanging loose, curling under his jaw. He was wearing a faded concert tee and sweatpants. "Hungry?"
Dom frowned at him. Arthur collapsed onto the couch and slumped over until his head rested on Dom's thigh. He pulled his knees up and folded his arms close to his body. It was an old self-soothing technique that made Dom's heart clench. "You have noticed that I'm not Mal right?"
"The lack of breasts tipped me off. Her chest was much more comforting than yours."
Dom snorted. He went back to reading. He let one hand stroke over and through Arthur's hair until the younger man relaxed. The familiar sound of Arthur's breathing made his own shoulders relax. Arthur had been in his life for so many years that Dom could barely remember not having him there. Arthur and Mal had been thieves together before Dom had started dating her. Arthur'd been twelve and hated Dom with all the passion he could muster.
"Stop thinking so loud," Arthur mumbled.
Dom shook his head. He tugged on a chunk of hair. "Shouldn't you be sleeping on your boyfriend?"
"He's on a job. Can't sleep anyway."
"Want me to read to you?"
Arthur was quiet for so long that Dom thought he'd fallen asleep. "Please?"
Eames had been through his pockets five times, his bag twice, the kitchen cabinets, the bathroom, and even under the sofa. He pulled out his phone. "Arthur, where are my keys?"
The entire team stopped to look at him. He ignored them.
"Are you hungover?" Arthur's voice was sharp.
"Um, no? Well, yes, possibly." Eames scrubbed at his hair. It was Dom's tell, not his.
"In the left-hand pocket of Boris' coat." Arthur hung up.
Eames rolled his chair across the room to the coat-rack. He pulled his keys out of the pocket. "He's like magic, he is," Eames informed the team.
"No," Lucy-B said. "We need to extend this wall up two more feet. Make the mark feel as though this is a real obstacle."
Ari extended the wall with a thought. Lucy-B was wearing a French maid's outfit in the dream today. "I feel underdressed."
Lucy-B giggled in a little girl voice. "You look lovely, Miss Ari," she contradicted. "Is it permeable three feet up?"
Lucy-B jumped and rolled out and into the room several times. "Dream me up some targets please."
Ari set up bulleyes around the room, while Lucy-B tumbled out again. When she came back in she was carrying two handguns. She proceeded to tumble across the room and hit every target. "Perfect, Ari. Let's check on the lawyer's office."
"Uncle Arthur!" Phillipa barreled into her favorite uncle's arms. He caught her and lifted her onto his hip.
"You're getting big, Captain Pip." He knelt down to give James a hug. "Did Ari bring you your presents?"
Phillipa nodded. She wrapped her arms around his neck. Daddy watched them with his sad-smile. Arthur settled down in his favorite chair. James claimed his other knee. He hung on tight.
"Missed you too, Jimmy-Jack."
Arthur picked Ari up at the airport. She gave him a quick hug. Then, she really looked at him. "You're wearing jeans."
"Dom has children under the age of ten." He didn't offer to take her case, just led her out to Dom's mini-van. She put her bag in the back.
"Not that I didn't miss you, but what are you doing here?" Ari clicked her seatbelt into place. Arthur was quiet for a moment.
"You didn't notice my room?"
"Well, I didn't think you stayed there much. My room's still at my parents', but I don't go home at all."
"How much did Eames tell you?"
"Just that you met the Cobbs as a teenager." She frowned. "No. That you ran away to Paris at eleven. Oh! That's why Dom gets all over-protective."
"We're talking about Dom Cobb the annoying squinty jerk who married my partner right?"
"Mal was your partner. Dom was your architect. Mal was an extractor."
"And you were a precocious teenage who was violently jealous of Dom."
Arthur shrugged. "I had to come back to the states because of him. I was not happy."
"And you torture him still."
"Until my minions are old enough to torment him in my place."
"Oh my God. You're training them aren't you?"
"Yes. That's what you do with godchildren right?"
"Normally you spoil them." Ariadne informed him. "Why did Lucy-B keep a spray bottle with her at all time?"
"To correct behavior. Did she squirt you?" Arthur shifted lanes. Ari squeezed the seatbelt.
"Jesus Christ, Arthur! We are not in the dreamscape."
"Are you sure?" He glanced over at her.
"Yes." She swallowed. "Aren't you?"
He shrugged. "If it isn't, I expect Mal will give me the kick sometime soon." He squealed off the exit. "So how did you like her?"
"She's interesting. Does she always dress like an anime character?"
"You sound as though you don't approve."
"It's just, I thought avoiding attention was a good thing."
"Describe her to me."
"She's young. With beautiful long black hair. She's almost five-five." Ari frowned. "Japanese descent." She faltered.
"How many weapons was she carrying when she met you?"
"One? I felt a gun when she hugged me."
"Ten usually. Gun with a quick draw. Knife in each boot. Garrote either around her wrist or her waist. The others you'll have to learn the hard way. Would you recognize her if she wore jeans and a sloppy ponytail?"
Ari was quiet. Arthur pulled into the driveway. "It wouldn't be easy."
"You associate her with Lolita dresses. You see me wearing suits. God only knows what you see Eames as wearing." Arthur shrugged. "Reputation. Archetypes. When I wear a suit, people seem as a businessman and dismiss me. They look at you and see a grad student. Manipulation of perceptions works just as well on this level as in a dream."
"Arthur Phillip, you are supposed to be in bed." Dom's voice was sharp. Ari winced when she saw the glare he was giving the younger man.
"I'm fine, Cobb."
"Yet last night you spent twenty minutes debating wing color choices in a Disney movie with a stuffed cat."
"Oh fuck you."
"One more word and the video goes on YouTube with a link going directly to Eames."
"Fine." Arthur stomped past Dom, every step making him seem to be a teenager in a sulk.
"Manipulation of perception," she repeated to herself as she got her bags from the trunk. She greeted Dom with a hug. "I get to see the video right?"
"I like my blood on the inside of my body."
She laughed. She poked her head into Arthur's room once she'd unpacked. He'd obviously given up fighting Dom's parenting. He was tucked under a blanket with his iPod. The stuffed cat at the foot of the bed was black and white with a purple bow. "The cat's name is Dinah. She's on loan from Phillipa because Dom ratted on me."
"How do you do that?"
"I keep my music at a level that won't damage my hearing. Is Daddy Dom with the kids?"
"He's in the back yard."
"Great. Time to raid his computer."
She followed him to the master bedroom. Arthur logged on under Dom's name. There was an electronic sticky on the center of the screen. "I've already made four copies and have one on the thumb drive I'm carrying. GO TO BED."
"Son of a misbred camel." Arthur scrubbed a hand through his hair. There were circles under his eyes.
"Come on. I'll talk to you about cops in comas until you fall asleep."
He gave her a half-smile.
"Eames, tell me you're almost done."
Eames looked at his phone. "Arthur, is there a problem?"
"Eames. Arthur's reacting to a compound. It's been three days. He's better today than yesterday. He should be fine by tomorrow. And if I don't get Phillipa to give him Bambi-eyes, he'll be off somewhere else by the end of the week." Dom's voice was matter of fact.
"Okay. Are you blackmailing him?"
"Carry on." Eames hung up, even as he heard Arthur demanding his phone.
"Is there a problem?" Eliza raised a brow. She didn't particularly care for Arthur, but no one in dreamshare ignored one of his warnings.
"Allergic reaction. I'll get the name of the chemist to avoid."
"Do pass it on." Eliza turned back to the timeline that Boris was laying out. "We grab him here and go under in a van? I don't care for that at all."
"We could pay off his favorite whore," Eames said. "She's not making enough off of him that a few thousand wouldn't take her attention."
"And the odds of her narcing on us?"
Eames blinked for a moment. "Slim. We do no lasting damage. And he drinks heavily on those nights."
Boris frowned. "I need to investigate the woman and her apartment."
"Two exits. Fire escape. Front hall. And possibly the window I the bathroom. Smells of cooking drugs and cheap coffee."
Eliza cocked her head to the side. "Can you show us the room? Could we..." She drifted off. "Franklin, we need the flop for the first level."
"You aren't planning three levels are you? We'll need sedation."
"No, two levels. You forge the hooker on the first level and the best friend on the second. OR perhaps simply a hooker of a similar type." She started to pace the room. She chewed on the end of her pen. "The hooker for familiarity. And the best friend for security."
"If you leave without seeing Mr. Schelling, he will cut you off."
"Mr. Schelling loves me." Arthur stuck his tongue out at Dom. "Come on, Capt. Pip." He offered the girl his hand. "We're going to the park. And lunch. Ari has Jimmy-Jack. You get to go finish that novel next to your bed. Enjoy the freedom."
After he got Phillipa settled in and he got behind the wheel, he switched to French. "To the park or to the museum?"
"The museum. I want to steal a painting."
"Your wish is my command, Captain."
Phillipa giggled. They were quiet on the way to the furthest art museum from the house. They wandered through the marble-floored rooms. Phillipa stopped in front of a portrait. "This was Mama's favorite."
"Oui. She liked the way the light fell." Phillipa clung to his leg and he put a hand on top of her head.
"Is there a problem?" The guard's voice was gentle, but Arthur heard the suspicion.
"My niece. We lost her mother about two years ago. This was her favorite." He let his voice crack at the end of the sentence. Eames would be pleased that his coaching continued to pay off.
The guard's face moved through a few changes before settling on sympathetic. "My condolences."
Phillipa scrubbed at her cheek. Arthur offered his handkerchief. She wiped her tears away and cleared out her nose. He took it back and tucked it into his pocket. That seemed to releive the lingering suspicion. Phillipa didn't say anything, but pulled on his belt loop.
"Did I do okay?" she asked in the next room, her voice low.
"Perfect," he assured her. He knelt down so that they were eye to eye. "What do you see?'
"Three guards. Cameras on the corners and vibration sensors on the frame wires," she murmered as she hugged him. "They don't see us as a threat. Guards have radios and guns."
"Good girl." He stood up and offered his hand. They finished their tour, grabbed take-out Chinese and repaired to the park. "Plans?"
Phillipa began to talk.
"Darling, if you don't move over, I shall simply sleep on top of you."
"Take your gun off first." Arthur didn't looked up from his laptop.
Eames huffed. He laid his gun on the side table, toed off his shoes and crawled into the queen-sized bed that had been Mal's bribe for moving without making trouble for Dom. He fell asleep to the familiar clicking of keys.
Ari blinked, but no, there were two people in Arthur's bed. Arthur's laptop was perched on his chest like a high-tech teddy bear. Next to him... She smiled. Of course, it was Eames. "In or out," Arthur stated. His eyes didn't open.
She shut the door and toed off her shoes. She put the laptop away. Arthur frowned at her, but didn't actually protest. She settled across both of them for a nap. She felt perfectly safe there and some tension she hadn't noticed left her spine. Dom found them there.
"Something you want to tell me?"
Ari snuggled more firmly into her pillow. Wait, her pillow smelled like air travel. "Miss me, luv?"
"Hi, Eames." She grinned at him.
"Shove it, Dom." Arthur was sitting up and working one-handed on something. She was sprawled over his legs with her head pressed to Eames' chest. Arthur's other hand was stroking her hair as if she were a cat.
"I see you've taught her your sprawling habits."
"Do you sprawl on unsuspecting people, Arthur?"
"No. They all expect it. Still, I can't feel my legs and Dom's going to call for Chinese, so up."
Arthur was all slicked-back hair and three-piece suit when he walked into Schelling's office. He greeted the head of the firm with a kiss to each cheek. "Hello, Mr. Schelling." He gave him a dimpled smile.
"Hello, my beautiful boy." Schelling patted his knee. Arthur settled there, keeping most of his weight on his toes. "You owe me a kiss."
Arthur gifted him with a full smile before he pressed a chaste kiss to the older man's mouth. "Thank you for taking on Ariadne."
"Anything for you. Go draw me something impossible."
"My desk still free?"
"Of course. I live in hope that you'll come back to me."
"Maybe some day, Mr. Schelling." Arthur was still officially on the payroll. He paid taxes and everything. He just never actually took the money. It was quietly funneled into Swiss accounts for Phillipa and James. He took off his suitcoat and carefully rolled up his sleeves. The drafting table was an antique. It was scarred with initials on the top corner reading H.S. Arthur ran his fingers over the letters. He set up his paper and set to work designing a theatre where Eames could show off. There were trapdoors that deposited you on the other side of the stage and mirrors that more than cats could walk through.
"Hello, Ari," he murmured not looking up from the intricacies of the Escher-stairs he was adding to the backstage area.
"How do you know it's me?"
"I know your step." He added another small line, then capped his pen. "Is it lunch time?"
"Almost. Can I see it?"
"It's for Mr. Schelling. He gets to see it first." He left the drawing with Diana.
Her face lit up. "Are you coming back?"
"No. I do research, remember? An if you need me, you can call. Which reminds me." He fished out a CD. "The current building codes for California and Nevada. Make sure they get uploaded ot the server please."
"Of course." Her eyes crinkled at the corners. "Your tie is crooked."
Arthur straightened it. "Better?"
"Perfect. When are you going to marry me, Arthur?"
"That depends. When do you come into that trust fund money?"
"The pre-nup will specify no murder."
"Forget it then." He checked his watch. "I've got a meeting in half an hour. I'll be back to see Mr. Schelling before I leave town."
Ari pouted. "Did the meeting go well?"
Arthur frowned. "Why do you think I need to tell you?"
"We're business partners, aren't we?"
"It doesn't work like that, Ariadne. I am known for my discretion. That means that unless you are hired onto the job, you don't have need to know."
"And how do I get hired?"
"They don't need an architect for this job." His voice was gentle. That freaked her out more than anything. "Ari, Lucy-B may call you again, or I might find you another job, but for right now, work with the clinic. You ran before you walked in dreamshare. You need to learn from Dr. Thompson all the things that Eames and I learned fifteen years ago. Think of it as your building codes classes. They're boring, but you need to know them."
She scowled at him. "So where are you going?"
"Nowhere. It's local. And it's legal." He gave her a half-shrug. "Should take me no more than a month."
"And is Eames going to be working with you?"
"No. Training maybe, but I expect he'll be heading to Vegas to get banned form another casino."
Eames sauntered into the kitchen. "What time do the sprogs get home?"
"Dom picks them up at four. So, with traffic, say five."
"Plenty of time to have my wicked way with his computer."
"No viruses from porn-sites this time. Phillipa uses it alone these days."
"And how is my baby-point at hacking?"
"AOL bows before her and she's writing an app to track homework assignments."
"I'm so proud. Mal would be thrilled."
"Look in her bedroom. Fourth shelf on the right."
Eames ruffled Arthur's hair until it stuck up in wild directions. "There. That's better."
Arthur scowled. He didn't try to smooth is down until Eames left them alone. Even then, he just pushed the wild tangles out of his eyes. "I've got to go reprogram his phone to play ABBA songs."
Dom tucked the blanket more firmly around Phillipa. He set Prisoner of Azkaban on the bookshelf. He stared at the miniature painting that sat there. The frame was an antique. That was obvious. The delicate brush strokes and perfectly realized lace med him believe the painting was real too. It could just be a present form Eames like the reproduction Bacon in Arthur's room. In fact, he decided, that was the assumption he was going to keep.
That resolve lasted until he found Arthur and Eames playing Trouble with a bottle of vodka to turn it into a drinking game. "Which one of you stole the miniature?"
"Neither of us," Arthur stated. "Want a screwdriver?" His eyes were starting to lose focus.
"The lovely little ivory in Phillipa's room. Didn't she get it as a present?" Eames dropped his green dunce-cap shaped piece over Arthur's red. He poured a shot and Arthur bolted it down.
Dom collapsed onto the couch. Ari was asleep in the recliner. He rubbed his temples. "I'm going to believe that she got it as a present from Miles."
"Shot?" Eames offered.
"If the two of you get alcohol poisoning, someone needs to be able to drive to the emergency room."
"Pragmatist," the forger accused.
"Eliza?" Arthur stared at the Skype window.
"I thought you'd rather chew off your own hand before calling me."
"Didn't Eames give you my message?"
"Cautiously optimistic didn't twig as positive."
"Rule number one, don't say that woman's name, clear?"
"Mal?" he asked snidely.
Eliza's lip curled into to a sneer. "Yes. Two, you'll bring your baby extractor and your forger."
He cocked his head to the side. "You offering to give her training a look-see?"
"I'll keep my specs on her."
"And if I say no?"
"I'll call your mother and tell her how to find you."
"Well-played." Arthur's heart clenched. "My rules. No mentioning that bitch. You take Baby under and run her through her paces to test her militarization and suppression. She's been under with me and Eames too often."
"Agreed. Oh, and Arthur? You're building." She disconnected before he could argue. The email that pinged his mailbox a moment later made him grit his teeth.
"Darling?" Eames rubbed Arthur's shoulder.
"We're working with Silver Bullet. In London. Medical job. We leave in two days."
Eames stilled. "Eliza called *you*?"
"Sun's blacking out as we speak." Arthur bent his head back. "You've gotta get me a piece in London."
"No, luv. Better for all if you've only a knife."
"She's planning to kill me!"
"Darling. Calmly now. London's neutral ground for you two. Has been for twelve years." Eames kissed Arthur's forehead. "If she were going to kill you, she'd do it in Russia."
"Right. You brokered that." Arthur closed his eyes. "I should visit Papa Joe while I'm there."
"It's relatively odd to hear a pioneer of dreamshare refered to as 'Papa Joe'."
"Mal called Miles 'Papa.' That never bothered you."
"He is her father."
"Papa Joe's my grandfather."
Eames' fingers clenched. "Good Lord. No wonder Eliza hated Mal."
"I know." Arthur grimaced. "Mal shouldn't have been the one to take me under, but she didn't know. Miles does."
"Point runs in the blood. Promise me you won't end up like Joe." Eames closed his eyes.
"No. If it is necessary, I will stand between you and a bullet." Arthur turned in his chair. "I will promise to do my best to make sure it's not necessary."
"I'll hold you to that." Arthur listened to Eames' heart for a moment. Then, he pressed a pink plastic thimble into Eames' palm.
"You can tell Dom about Eliza."
"You're far too good to me, Arthur."
Eliza looked Arthur over carefully. There were no new visible scars on his face or hands. There were no bruises except for the edge of a hickey peeking out from the edge of his collar. She nodded in greeting. He returned it.
"Bullet," he said.
Eames looked between the two of them with his negotiator's face on.
"You look sharp and steady on your pins," Arthur complemented.
"Thank you." She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Sweet doll. She stand up?"
"No whiskers or buttons."
"Introduce me then."
"Ariadne, this is Eliza. Miles' extractor. Eliza, this is Ariadne, my architect."
Eliza shook hands with the young woman. "A pleasure to meet you. Eames speaks very highly of you."
"Thank you." She smiled. Eliza felt a pang of regret. They were ruining another innocent. They should have destroyed the PASIV as soon as the military had funded it. "Will you tell me stories about Professor Miles?"
"We'll see. Arthur, you and Eames have the room on the left. Ariadne will share with me on the right. No business will be discussed in the kitchen. The living room is for planning and training."
Arthur nodded sharply. "Is there Wifi?"
Eliza laughed. "Oh, Darling, I would never cut a pointman off from his information addiction."
Arthur stuck his tongue out at her. He gathered his bags and kicked a duffle towards Eames. Eames greeted her with a hug and kiss to each cheek. "He *is* trying."
"I know. We'll put this to bed during this job."
"On your word?"
"I promise, dear-heart. Go keep him from setting trip wires."
Ariadne's eyes were sharp, but she held her tongue until they were in the bedroom. "What's up with you and Arthur?"
"It's between me and Arthur. It won't affect the job."
"No murderous projections of your lover?"
"Fucking Cobbs. No. Nothing like that." She regarded the young woman. "Don't tell me you fell for the tortured soul bullshit. Dom Cobb is a prick. He always was. Even as that woman's architect. Unless the children have mellowed him considerably, he is still an arrogant prick."
"Arrogant." Ariadne tested the word. "And how would you describe Eames?"
Ariadne considered that. Eliza sat down on one of the twin beds. She'd let Arthur and Eames have the queen because she didn't want to share the bed with a stranger. The young woman unpacked methodically. "In dreams or in the real world?"
"Both. You won't find a deadlier point in the business. As long as your name is attached to his, very few people will be stupid enough to attack or double-cross you. That's no reason not to learn to protect yourself."
"I go to the range regularly and Dom arranged self-defense classes. Lucy-B offered training as well."
"Oh, take her up on it. She's very effective. There are some who hoped she and Arthur would produce a tribe of ninja children."
Ariadne's hands froze. "I will never get the image of a little girl in a fluffy pink dress slaughtering projections with a sword out of my head."
"I'm proud of you. An entire conversation without shouting at her." Eames stretched until he heard his vertebrae pop. "Think you can make it through dinner?"
"She has better blackmail material then Dom. I could manage the rest of the job on that alone."
"And if she won't let you do point?"
Eames stopped in mid-stretch. "What?"
"I'm here as an architect. Ari's working with Eliza as an extractor I think. Eliza and I will share point. She'd be double-checking my work anyway."
"I'm beginning to get nervous?"
"Beginning? I've been terrified since she showed up on my monitor. It's attenuated into generalized anxiety now."
"When was the last time you worked strictly as an architect?"
Arthur settled on the bed and leaned against him. "Strictly? The Harrison job in Puerto Rico. Dom pulled out because Mal was going into labor with James. It was Lucy-B and Po. I pulled a double for the Sprinkle and DeSoto jobs. That was before Dom hired Nash. What a cock-up *that* was."
"Recently enough then."
"I think so. If we get a few minutes, I have something to show you. I figured out the mirrors."
"Good show. Was it the fluid physics then?"
"Yes. Viscosity changes."
"Tea time," Eliza called back.
"Think she'll notice if I spike my tea?"
"I've Prozac in my bag."
"I knew there was a reason I put up with you, Mr. Eames."
"Here's your build blueprint, Arthur." Eliza handed him the end papers of a book. Arthur took one look and started to laugh. Eames plucked the sheet from his fingers.
"Shall we fence awhile, Mr. Eames?"
"Arthur's building?" Ariadne stared at Eliza. "Then what am I doing here?"
"You didn't tell her?"
"Your job. Unless I get to run point as well?"
"Just build Neverland. I want the illusion of choice in flight. The full map in a condensed form. We'll discover if he's Peter or Hook once we go under. So be ready with options for both."
"I'll go read to the mark shall I? Lay the foundation." Eames suggested.
"Good idea. I'll let his daughter know."
"What are we looking for?"
"Where he put his will."
Arthur raised his hand. "Thought. Why don't Eames and I just toss his place?"
"His children have been through the home with a fine-toothed comb. They even drilled out the safe. No, their father secured his will somewhere else."
"Would they be adverse to letting us in so that we can gather more information about his way of life?" Arthur's shoulders were loose and his head canted to the side. Eliza considered.
"I'll talk with the client. The estate is already contested and the poor man's not even dead yet."
Arthur grimaced. "Natural causes?"
"As far as the doctors can tell."
"The brain activity is high enough for extraction? Or is this a last ditch before they pull the plug?"
"There's REM cycles on a regular basis. He's not being drugged, simply maintained. Normal somnicin will be no issue. His doctor signed off on the idea. If we can't find the will, we might be able to find out why he's in the coma."
"No signs of dementia?"
"Have you worked with a dementia client?"
Arthur and Eames grimaced in unison. "Yes. And I will not go in unprepared."
"There were no indications of dementia. He just didn't trust his family." Eliza contemplated the two men. "Find out if he was right about that." Arthur made a note in his little black notebook. She felt like a professor again, just for a moment. "Eames, rumor has it that you have a medical contact. I have his medical records."
"I'll send them for a second opinion."
"What is it, Arthur?" she asked. "I know that face."
Ariadne's eyes were fixed on Arthur's face. "You think the family or the doctor's hiding something," she said. Arthur inclined his head. "And you're trying to figure out where to find the real records without tipping off the doctor."
"Where would you look?" he challenged. Eliza bit her tongue. Ariadne was his apprentice, not hers. Not yet at least.
"The nurse at his family doctor. As long as we have the paperwork in order, she wouldn't bother the doctor. And Eames can provide the papers."
"Good thought, luv. Arthur can hack the computres, but the older records would be in hard copy."
"Adequate. But if the doctor's been keeping something from the family, why turn it over to us?"
"Because he's actually giving it to his hospital doctor, not us."
Ariadne looked pleased by the faint praise. Than again, it was from Arthur. Arthur who was never praised by his teacher and therefore never gave out praise. Eliza forced herself not to interfere in their dynamic. It would only end up with her yelling at Arthur.
"See what you can find. And don't be afraid to sing out, Flick. I won't get mad if you point out holes."
Arthur regarded her for a moment. He nodded slowly. "Okay." He might even believe her.
"Show me your build this afternoon."
"But we've only been here a day," Ariadne protested.
Arthur and Eames looked at her. "It's Neverland," Arthur explained. "It's already built. It just needs some flourishes. I've picked up some new gravity tricks for the skyways and if I can get it to work, we'll be able to use specific pools to move from the ship to the mermaids. And we'll be able to fly."
"Are you sure of that?"
"Not the pirates. The ship's a maze. Eames will be either Hook or Peter, depending on who the subject chooses, but I'll control Tinkerbell in either case."
"And will I be Wendy or what?"
Eliza frowned. "If you prove that you can hold the forge. We'll go under and work on that."
"Tiger Lily maybe? Or a lost boy. If we put you in the right clothes you needn't have to change much," Eames offered. "As a lost boy she'd be expected to fly."
"If he's Hook, we'll need Smee. I've got that role. Enough. Work on the health report. We'll wait for your analysis on what we already have in the files. Five minutes first, Flick." She nodded toward her room.
Arthur looked out the greasy window at the trash-filled alley. He wrinkled his nose at the rancid smell of unwashed skin that clung to everything in the apartment. "She's still using," was Eliza's opened statement.
"Don't feed me a bullshit line about her still looking for me. She stopped looking before I left home."
"Why didn't you come to me? Or Papa?"
"Because you would have brought me back here to rot until I was broken enough for your purposes." Arthur turned to face her. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his hoodie. He gripped the flick-knife, prepared to kill to get free of the nightmare.
Eliza didn't deny the statement. "I would have sent you to school."
"I tested out. I have my diploma that swears I learned all the useless facts that high school requires. I stole enough lettuce to get a local to make me some stamps and I was gone."
"And you became a common thief with that woman."
"I was a thief before I met Mal. And I was an even better one with her. I won't stand for you putting her down. I notice you're not pissed at Eames for helping me forge papers to get back to the states and an ex-patriated teen. Or with the fact that we fucked when I was sixteen."
"Blind men know you're married to Eames. He didn't..."
"Miles took me under as part of the therapy he thought I needed. Mal and I worked in the real world until I was fifteen. So you blame the right person. *Me*. I made *the choice* to work in dreamshare. And I am good at point. It's my calling."
Eliza frowned. "I don't want you in a bed next to Papa Joe."
"Then don't hamstring me. I know I'm not what you wanted. I'm not an extractor. I'm not a forger. I'm a researcher. I'm an analyst. I'm a killer. I'm the best damn Pointman in the business."
"That's Joe and don't you forget it."
"Joe's trapped in his body. He's in Hell and you're keeping him alive out of spite."
She slapped him hard enough to draw blood, then stumbled back toward the threadbare crap brown sofa. "Jesus, Artie, when did you learn to manipulate people like that?"
"Daddy number three and boyfriend number thirteen. Both grifters. So much for 'I'll never hit you, Arthur'. You never bothered to save me, so I did it myself. Don't blame me for your expectations. I'm loyal. I'm dependable. I'm stable. But I am not your dog, Bullet." His breathing was ragged. "And I am not Joe. I don't love you." He slit his throat.
Eliza scrambled over to hold his hand as he bled out.
Arthur threw the line aside, ignoring the blood on his arm. He slammed out of the room and grabbed for his suitcoat. Eames caught his arm, staunching the blood with a piece of gauze and a Band-Aid. "Let me go, Mr. Eames."
"No, Darling. No fights."
Eliza slammed into the bathroom and threw up.
"If you don't let go, I might hurt you."
"Come under with me and I'll dream up a zombie shooting range."
Arthur chewed his lip. "Any gun I want?"
"Of course." Eames coaxed Arthur into their room. Ari heard the door close and a chair was shoved behind it.
"Can I get you some water?"
Eliza looked up at her. "That would be kind. Feel free to add it to a shot of whiskey."
Ari provided the drink and turned on the tea kettle. Eames would need a cup of tea and she could force a cup of instant espresso down Arthur's throat. She sat down on the couch next to the older woman. She didn't say anything but schooled her face to express sympathy the way Eames taught her.
"He hates me," Eliza murmured. "And maybe he's right." She pressed a hand to her eyes as though she had a headache. "He cut his throat in the dream. He forced me to watch him die or shoot myself out. He knows that gives me migraines."
"So did you shoot yourself?"
Eliza barked out a laugh. "No. I need to be able to go under to review the build this afternoon."
"Do you want me to do that?"
"That's sweet of you. But no, I need to be the one to do it. He'll be different with me in his mind and I need to test his limits with me." Eliza patted Ari's knee. "He likes you after all. And Eames isn't an intruder anymore."
"Can I come with you at least? So I know what to look for?" Ari kept her voice sweet.
"Arthur's right about you. You'll be an ace extractor one day."
"Yes, you may come with us. Eames as well."
Ari fixed a cup of tea the way she'd been taught. She set up the cup of instant, but waited until the door of the bedroom cracked open to pour the hot water into it. "Thanks, sweetheart."
Arthur accepted his mug with a brief twitch of his lips and a nod. He had his phone out and was texting with his free hand. "What's the timetable, Bullet?"
"No more than a month."
"Right." He sent a response.
"Have a hot date then?" Eames raised his brows.
"Lucy-B required a date in Tokyo in payment for taking Ari on the last job."
"A date! Wonderful. You'll need one of these." Eames held out a condom. "You know what this is?"
"A special balloon for adults."
"Dear God, tell me Cobb isn't letting you give the children The Talk."
"Because he's so good at it." Arthur rolled his eyes.
Eliza shuddered. "Dominick Cobb? That woman's husband?"
"He tried to talk to me when I was almost sixteen. I reminded him I'd lived on the streets. He turned red and gave up." Arthur's smile was wistful. "My apologies for earlier. I shouldn't have backed you into a corner that way."
"No. Don't apologize. Not for protecting yourself. I had no right to play on our past history."
"So when are you going to let Joe die?" Arthur's voice was calm.
Eliza went white with two circles of color on her cheeks. "If he asks, you tell him no, or so help me God, I will slide a hatpin between your vertebrae."
"At least I know someone'll take advantage of my weakness. Joe killed all his enemies, poor bastard."
Eliza's shoulders loosened. Interesting peace offering, Ari thought. She glance at Eames who seemed desperate to play peacemaker. "Are you planning to see him?" Eliza asked.
"If Monique lets me into the house. Might as well take advantage of all available resources."
"And you'll introduce Ariadne? Or shall I do that?"
"Mitts off my girl."
"Hey!" Ari interjected sharply. "You know how I feel about that sort of statement."
Arthur rolled his eyes. "Eliza, please understand that I don't wish there to be any confusion about who is training her. It's bad enough trying to get Miles to relax and stay in Paris."
"She's one of Miles'? Why didn't you say so?"
"Because you'd become annoyingly perky and I promised Joe that I wouldn't shoot first." He snorted. "Stupidest promise I've ever bothered to make."
"Who is this Joe?"
"Joe is the first recognized Pointman in the business. He ran point for Eliza. Miles was their architect and Omar was their chemist."
"Doesn't anyone use full names in this business?"
"No," Eames said. "Dom Cobb retired."
"Mal didn't use her last name when she was working."
"*Arthur*." Eliza's voice was sharp.
"Sorry. 'That woman' didn't use her last name."
"Better. I'll order some lunch. You go play with files."
"Whatever." Arthur retreated to the bedroom with an armful of papers.
"I suppose this means I'll be sleeping on the couch if I don't want papercuts in inappropriate places."
"He'll clear a space. I'm going to have to check my bed for bombs."
"Not while Ari's sharing the room," Eames comforted absently. He'd picked up the slender file that contained the client's background. "Are you pulling someone else in for point?"
"No, I'll work it with Arthur."
"Oh, that will work out ever so well. I'll see if I can't wrangled a bit of stalking out of his grip then. Ariadne, you're still learning background investigation, yes?"
"Yes. Does that mean I get a field trip?"
"Make yourself look sweet and innocent, luv, and we'll go visit the bureaucrats."
Ari was pleased. She pulled on a clean shirt and combed her hair. She added just a touch of make-up to emphasize her eyes. "Eames?" He looked up from the laptop.
"Ah. Perfect." He ducked his head into the bedroom. "No murder while I'm away."
"No promises," Arthur called back. His voice was lighter now, almost absently fond. Eames offered his arm. She tucked a hand into the crook of his elbow.
"Hey, Joe." Arthur leaned against the wall of Joe's mental dojo. Joe stretched. He was young in his dreams. He looked to be in his forties, with firm, lean muscle from martial arts training.
"Hey, kiddo. How's your boy?"
"He's fine. I'll tell him to visit." Arthur took off his jacket and tossed it onto the floor.
"You have something to show me, or do you want to spar?"
"We can do both. Spar. Then, I'll show you some new tricks and then have you look at some data?"
"How long are you under?"
"An hour and ten. That gives us about seven hours."
"No more than three hours playing then. And you owe me new audiobooks. Read them yourself if you have to. If I have to hear one more bleeding version of Cat in the Hat, I'll find a way to kill Monique and escape this torture chamber. Think you can put the word out that you'd hate to see something happen to me?"
"And bring the mercs running? Hell no. Eliza threatened to put me in a bed next to you if I killed you or helped you to be killed. So fight. Then, we'll play with zero-G."
"That's my boy."
Eames closed the book. "I'll be back in two days, Edward," he informed the comatose old man. He patted the man's wrist. He took a picture of his bracelet. Arthur could likely use that. "We'll do another chapter. There are some new books out as well, I'm told."
"You're a good boyfriend," the day nurse said. She checked Edward's vitals. "It's a shame that your girlfriend is the only other one to visit. She said there are three boys?"
"Her brothers, yes. They're squabbling over treatments or some such." He rolled his eyes. "My theory is he's sick of listening to them and decided to take a break."
The nurse's lips twitched. "I think he's just really tired. He dreams sometimes. It's as if he just doesn't want to wake up." She dropped a hand to the man's ankle. "Seems an awful shame to sleep your life away."
"Dreams can be very alluring."
"But living is so much better than dreaming."
"Perhaps he'll hear you." Eames smiled a friendly smile. The nurse left him alone a moment later with a similar smile. "I do have to wonder if you've been purposefully left dreaming, old man."
He met Arthur in the hall without even a nod. Arthur - in his scrubs - looked every inch the orderly on a mission. A quick hand-sign let Eames know that the data had been received.
"Which one of the kids is the Dreamer, Eliza?" Arthur asked. His voice was his business monotone. Arie straightened up from the model of the skyway maze. Her head snapped toward Eliza. Even she knew that was important information to have.
Eliza frowned. "None that I can tell. What have you found?"
"Somnicin in his blood. Deftly deleted from the records by the doctor. Actually rather impressive. He recreated and substituted a record that looks just like the original with the Somnicin missing. The dangers of electronic medical records."
"But you found it."
"He isn't that good. I assume he also wanted some sort of blackmail to protect himself. he could miraculously find it if needed."
"You think he's in Limbo," Ari stated.
Eames nodded. "Classic."
"He'll wake up when he dies in the dream."
"Not without continuing doses of Somnicin." Eliza murmured. "No one's ever dared it without."
Eames cleared his throat. Arthur studied his notes intently. "Not exactly true," Arthur said into the momentary silence. "It's possible to drop someone and leave them there. He's still in a coma."
"Who?" Eliza demanded "We can compare their brainwaves."
Arthur and Eames shifted like guilty schoolboys. "Not really, luv. He's in Russia."
"Arthur doesn't work in Russia."
"When you can catch me."
Eliza's cheeks colored. "Just as I don't work in the states."
Eames sighed. "I go to the trouble of negotiating a cease-fire and niether party follows It."
"We stay a hemisphere apart," Eliza informed him. "Spirit of the agreement."
"Exactly. Anyhow the other example's been in a coma for six years now. I don't think he'll be waking up. And there aren't records available."
"Who was it? Anyone I know?"
"An asshole." Arthur growled. "An asshole who raped children."
Eliza went still. "Tall blond with brown eyes and green snake tattoos?"
"Did you have evidence?"
"I still have evidence." Arthur sneered. "I'd have just killed him, but calmer minds convinced me to prime him for nightmares instead."
"But if Limbo is unstructured dreamspace, how did you..." Ari began.
"Who told you it was unstructured?" Eliza blinked. "It's unconscious yes, but unstructured no."
"It's whatever you're primed to believe. For you it was dreamspace with the structure imposed by someone who'd been there. For Rosen it's the place where dreams and nightmares fight for dominance." Arthur looked Ari dead in the eye. "Rosen believed me."
"He wasn't completely stupid. Why would he believe a word out of your mouth?" Eliza frowned.
"Because he first heard the story from me," Eames stated. "Everyone knows that if Arthur agrees with me, it must be true."
"Because I'd rather eat my tongue than agree with Eames."
"Ari, dear, remind me to slit Arthur's throat for my own safety at the end of this job."
Ari eyed her. "I can't tell if you're joking."
"You're not good enough with a knife to catch me. Back to the topic at hand. Diving into Limbo."
"I'd rather not." Eames shuddered. "Once was enough."
Arthur hummed. "What if..."
"You are not building in Limbo," Eliza stated.
Arthur rolled his eyes. Ari giggled. "If I may finish my sentence, Miss Eliza?"
She waved a hand.
"If we build the world and call him into it. If I remember the theory correctly, because Limbo is fluid, you can call a non-trained mind from anywhere. If you're not in a built level..."
"No," Eliza broke in. "We tried that with Wisdom. It didn't work. Billings had to go in and pull him up."
Ari looked between them. "Does falling into Limbo happen a lot? I got the impression that it was rare."
"Falling isn't rare. Someone going in after you is rare. Most people simply wake up after they die in the dream. If they've been maintained on the drug. But the fear is, and there is evidence, that if you die of old age, then your heart stops up top as well." Eames frowned an chewed on his thumbnail. Ari recognized her own tell and firmly folded her hands in her lap.
"He should be awake or dead. He was an old man going into the dream," Ari pointed out.
Eliza froze. "No, no he wasn't. Oh, those brilliant, malicious fools."
"The daughter's a dreamer or knows one isn't she? She suggested Neverland." Arthur scowled. "Do you have a picture of the client?"
"No direct contact. That's been my policy for years."
"The client is the daughter, right, pet?"
Eames went still. Arthur looked up from the file. "Miranda Perkins O'Dell?" Eames asked.
Arthur licked his lips. "Yes?" he ventured.
"Daughter of Miriam Fucking O'Dell?"
"Flushing, Mr. Eames. Should I know the name?"
"Who's the first Forger, Arthur?"
Arthur scowled, but didn't answer immediately. Eliza looked ready to say something, but Eames shot her a warning look. "Jennifer O'Donnel."
Eames blinked. "Oh. Technically yes. The first researcher to forger was O'Donnel. The first, ah, 'commercial' forger was Miriam O'Dell."
"Your mentor, Mr. Eames?"
"Not hardly. I worked with Cora."
Arthur nodded. "Meaning that Miranda is a second generation dreamer? Or at the very least an amateur dreamer."
"We still don't know anything about Somnicin's effects on children." Eliza's voice was brittle. "She's only twenty-two. She shouldn't have much experience yet."
Eames and Arthur snorted. "Eliza, luv, you know better than that."
The extractor sighed. She looked older than she normally did. "Oh do let me prod at Arthur, just a bit more. I'll try not to draw blood."
"As long as I get to fight back without repercussions."
"Bottom line, we're going into Limbo?" Ari stared at Arthur. She trusted him not to lie about the dangers of a job.
"We are, but it's alright. We won't be... Christ. I need a whiteboard or something."
Eames smirked. He reached under the sofa and pulled out a sketchpad. "Will this do?"
Arthur nodded. He reached for it.
"Thank you, Mr. Eames." He was allowed the book. He flipped to a clean page. He made a quick sketch. "Okay, Ari. This is Limbo. And if we've guessed correctly, he's built himself a version of Never-Neverland. I'd really like to take a look at his personal rooms," he mentioned to Eliza. "A little second-story work, Eames?"
"I'll find a way in."
"What we're going to do is overlay his Neverland with my Neverland. With you or Eames as Wendy."
"You just want to play Captain Hook."
Arthur didn't respond to that jab. "My paths should overlay his. And he'll be moving into constructed space."
"And if he's already created a Captain Hook and all?" Ari leaned forward.
"We kill the projections quietly and take their place."
Ari swallowed. "I don't know if I can kill a little girl."
"We'll practice," Eames said.
"Or one of us will do it, if that doesn't work quickly enough." Arthur's fingers continued to move, filling in the sketch. "Once we bring our construction into place, we'll be able to draw him to us."
"Oh easy-peasy. Then why the Hell is Limbo so dangerous?"
"Because normally one had no idea what one will find there." Eames took the pen from Arthur's fingers. "And dropping down to a pure dreamstate means you can forget that you're dreaming. If you truly believe in the dream, when you die..." He shrugged.
"Can I have my pen back?"
"Only if you give me the paper."
"Done. Until I need a place for dose calculations."
"That's what the calculator you have instead of a brain is for, luv." Eames studied the sketch. "Shall we take a field-trip to Neverland, Eliza? So Ariadne can get some practice with the skyways?"
"And her forge." Eliza smiled. Ari's gut told her not to trust that smile. She narrowed her eyes at the older woman. Arthur returned with the PASIV. His steps were annoyingly quiet. She turned a mild glare his way when he tugged on her ponytail.
"Eames is a bad influence."
"Oi. I'll have you know that he has always pulled on ponytails."
Eames pulled the pick back carefully and the door lock released. Arthur triumphantly presented a fake key and pretended to unlock it. The subterfuge was likely unnecessary, but Athur didn't tolerate sloppiness well.
The front door opened on oiled hinges. The air inside was not just dusty. Arthur's nose wrinkled. "Someone searched. Badly. Fight too, you think?"
Eames shrugged. "To the search yes. The fight, perhaps. Perhaps just a tempter tantrum."
"We'll assume they didn't find what they were looking for." Arthur offered a pair of cotton liner gloves.
"Thanks." Eames pulled on the gloves. "Work right. I'll work left. Are we looking for papers?"
"And valuables that weren't taken. To see if there's a pattern."
They worked in silence. Eames would occasionally hand a piece of paper to Arthur or accept a piece for evaluation. The house took longer to search than Eames had hoped. By the time they'd found the mark's bedroom, they'd been in the house for hours. Arthur had gone through four memory cards on his hand scanner.
They both stood in the doorway of the bedroom. Dear Christ." Eames stared at the room.
Arthur's fingers twitched. "Swear to me that if I ever get this obsessive you will attempt Inception to save me."
"Oh, Darling. I will simply shoot you."
The walls were papered with layers of Peter Pan illustrations. Built-in shelves were filled floor to ceiling with figurines, miniatures, and copies of the book. The headboard of the subject's bed was carved with a map of Neverland. Arthur took hundreds of pictures. He stared at the bed. "At least this isn't the Disney version. I can't imagine something that colorful."
"Arthur." Eames held out a stack of neatly typed pages. "He's writing his own stories."
"Shit. Well, at least he'll be open to any changes we make. I need to make some adjustments to the build though. And you need to practice your fencing."
"You're going to let me play Hook?" Eames smirked.
"My life is easier if I simply blend in. Even though I'd love to be on the ship."
"Does Eliza know we're a couple or is she simply assuming we'll have no issues sharing space?"
"You're just now questioning her arrangements? She thinks we're married."
Eames hummed agreement. "That's a thought isn't it?"
"Marriage? That's awfully permanent." Arthur looked up from the paper he was scanning. "We can if you want. It's not like... you know."
"She'd love it wouldn't she?" Eames studied his hands. "Arthur all grown up and finally giving in to the idea of normalcy."
"Mal wanted me to have kids of my own."
"Always knew she was crazy."
"I know. Seriously. I think I'm done here. Of course, it's going to mean something like fourteen more hours to go through all of this shit. Bloody obsessives."
"Don't try to curse like an Englishman. Use American or German. Your English is simply awful."
"Bite me, Mr. Eames."
Eliza rubbed her eyes. "I'm too old for this type of research. Give me bullets in the morning or afternoon depending on when you get to sleep."
Arthur nodded without looking away from yet another page of dense script. He had his father's cheekbones, she noticed. She hesitated, wanting to reach out and touch his hair. She wanted to be his grandmother just once.
Ari was sitting cross-legged on the floor with a stack of sketches. "Have you considered a Devil's Fork on the ship?"
"No, I'm using an Escher staircase."
"Not a penrose?" she teased.
"Too much lateral space."
"Hmmm. Can I annotate these?"
"I reserve the right to ignore your comments. Eames, is there coffee?"
"You're cut off, Darling. Water only for at least three hours."
"Fuck yourself, Mr. Eames. Give me caffeine or I will pull your intestines out through your nose." He still didn't look up or even raise his voice. Eames laughed at the threat.
"No. Arthur, you're starting to vibrate. Water and a nap. Then you may have coffee."
Arthur's head lifted at that. "You did not just say that."
"I did. And you will listen to me."
"Because we aren't in a rush."
Arthur frowned. "But..."
"And you are *not* supposed to be running point." Eames glared at Eliza. "Isn't that right?"
She winced. "Correct."
"Water. Sleep. Then you can dive back into your papers." Eames took the papers from Arthur's hands. The younger man twitched toward his weapon. "Come along. Nap time."
"You are an over-bearing, annoying, son-of-a-bitch. And I say this having met your mother."
"Just because she won't give you a Kalashnikov."
"She doesn't need three!"
Arthur let Eames pull him to his feet and chivvy him toward the bedroom. Eliza rubbed her eyes. "Don't stay up too late, Ari."
The nurse frowned at the paperwork. "This all seems to be in order. I haven't heard about this procedure."
"It's experimental," Eliza stated. "Still, a small chance is better than no chance."
"True. I suppose. Draw the curtains and I'll keep the nurses form bothering you for two hours."
Arthur closed the curtains and set up four chairs and the small silver case. The nurse watched as the young man checked her patient's IV and monitors. He did so with confidence and professional ease. Her shoulders relaxed.
"Do we know his current weight exactly? I can estimate dosage."
"95 kilos last time we weighed him. That was the first of the month. I'd estimate he's lost 2 kilos since then."
"Thank you." He gave her a sweet smile. The research assistant/nurse, she decided as she returned it. She showed herself out.
Eames rocked with the motion of the boat. His left wrist ached with phantom pain. The sea smelled warm and salty. He adjusted the hook on his wrist. He stood alone on the wheelhouse. Projection pirates filled the main deck.
A moment later, Smee was next to him. She adjusted her scarf. "That answers that," she commented. "I'll have to try out the sky some other day."
Arthur peered through his spyglass at the ship. "Eames and Eliza are on the ship." He turned his head. Ariadne had darkened her hair, eyes, and skin. Beyond that she looked like herself. "I thought you were going to be Wendy."
She bit her lip. "I've been trying to shift."
"Hell." Arthur rubbed the bridge of his nose. He was himself, if a few years younger. Quite a few, he admitted, considering he was shorter than Ari. He was dressed as a Lost Boy. "Try calling for help. Call Peter."
She nodded. "Peter! Peter help me!"
"Be scared. You need a rescue." Arthur considered the cliff. The edge could crumble. "Pretend you lost your thesis."
"Peter!" Her voice spiralled up.
"Come on, luv." Eames murmured, fixing his spyglass on the hill. He could practically feel Athur's frustration in the vibration of the ship. Ari was holding her forge well enough, but she wasn't panicking. There was no way that Arthur could threaten her to make her scream. She was too bloody level-headed.
"We need you as Wendy." Eliza frowned. She straightened the scarf over her hair. "Arthur can do Hook well enough. Is there an easy way to trade places?" She tapped her teeth. There were no radios. If Arthur looked back, Eames could signal.
Suddenly, there was a blue light dancing around Eliza's head. It coalesced into a fairy that pulled on her hair. Eames smiled. "Hullo, TinkerMal." She was a perfect copy of the Frenchwoman. She wore a cocktail dress form the Monte Carlo casino Arthur favored.
"Should I push her off the cliff or should we try to get you here to play Wendy?" Arthur's voice made Eliza jump, though she'd deny it.
"You could play Wendy yourself."
"I'm holding the levels. My job is to just survive, remember."
"The day you can't hold Neverland is the day I put you to sleep."
"Tell everyone I ran away to join the circus. I hate farms."
"So you'll show Ari how to forge a proper Wendy?"
"You owe me. Both of you," Arthur hissed. TinkerMal flew away like a shot.
"That woman is Tinkerbelle? Truly?"
"TinkerMal. Tinkerbelle looks more like her daughter. TinkerMal he controls. Tinkerbelle is a projection."
A sharp, panicked voice screamed for "Peter." It was matched by Ariadne's pure scream. Eames smirked. Eliza snatched the spyglass from his hand.
Ariadne held her forge, even as she threw herself forward toward the crumbling cliff. She reached for Arthur, screaming in fear as he fell.
"Peter! Peter! Help!" The voice was Phillipa's. The face when she looked down wasn't Arthur. It wasn't Phillipa either.
Part of her brain thought, "Arthur can forge girls." The rest of her brain was screaming, "he's holding the level! He can't die!"
"Peter!" She added her own voice.
A little boy with wild hair and tattered clothes hovered next to Arthur. "Wendy!" His face lit up. "You can fly, silly." He tugged her fuzzy braid. He pried her fingers off of the root she was holding. "Wendy's" eyes squeezed shut, but she didn't fall. She kept hold of Peter's hand as she moved back ot the cliff. Her dress had dirt stains, grass stains, and clumsily fixed tears.
"Tiger Lily and I were looking for arrowhead rocks."
Peter rolled his eyes. "Come on, let's go visit the camp."
Ari grabbed Arthur's hand and looked shyly up at her friend. Peter's eyes widened in delight. His stories featured the two girls as friends with hints of them being special friends in a completely G-rated way.
Peter led them through the woods at an exhilarating pace. It was a safe forest with only occasional roots to jump over. Ari found herself laughing the way she hadn't since she'd left grade school.
There were no Lost Boys in the camp, but "Peter" didn't seem to mind.
Jim Hardwick woke up slowly. He remembered a wonderful Neverland dream. The monitor by his bedside beeped steadily. The first thing he saw was a nurse. "Welcome back, Mr. Hardwick. Let me call the doctor," he said with a dimpled smile.
"The client wants to know where the will is," Eliza stated. "We weren't hired to wake him up."
"The will is in the safe in his bedroom. Here's a copy of it." Arthur handed it over.
Eliza blinked. "And how did his children not find it?"
"They didn't know how to read the clues." Arthur shrugged. "I need to hit the road. I'll expect my cut within three days."
"It was good to see you."
"Don't call me again, Eliza. And if you call my mother, I'll disappear and destroy you. And for the love of little green men, let Joe go." Arthur tucked his napkin under his plate. He left her with a formal handshake.
Her lips tightened into a frown. "Arthur."
"No. I'll stick by the accord. I don't need a family that only cares when I do what I'm told. Good death, Eliza."
Ari watched Arthur sink into Eames' arms with raised brows. He was shaking. "It's okay. The mean lady's gone." Eames stroked Arthur's back.
"Not yet. Have to organize an OD to get rid of her blackmail threat."
"Eliza threatened you?" Ari sat up straight. She couldn't understand anyone who'd worked with him being that stupid.
"You didn't know?" Eames shook his head. "We need to sit down and chart out the Dream World do's and don'ts. Number one who you don't hire to work together. Arthur and Eliza. Eliza and Cobb. Arthur and Po."
"Eames and Nash. If the asshole's still alive. Miles and Eames. Singh and Lucy-B. Ashton and Kerri. Boris and Singh. I've got a spreadsheet."
"It's huge." Eames told her. "And in code that only he and Lucy-B can read."
"Which means we get first call on the good jobs." Arthur sat up, his shakes gone. "Lucy-B'll help your reputation. And I won't even tell you not to work with Eliza. She won't hold my training against you."
Ari nodded slowly. "Dom wants to know if you're coming home with me?"
"No. Places to see. People to kill."
Eames laughed. "I'll see you to the airport, Ari." He offered his hand to her. "Arthur, you know the way?"
Arthur was reading a text with a frown. He waved absently.
Arthur scowled down at his mother. She was sprawled on a dirty mattress. Her breathing hitched a bit. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his faded green hoodie. The hole at the knee of his jeans tickled his leg. The room smelled like unwashed bodies, sweat, sex, shit, and decaying food.
He pulled a baggie of strychnine-laced heroin. He held it between his gloved fingers. He stared at the powder for a long minute. Then, he kenlt and slipped it into her cleavage. She'd always kept her stash there. He stood with his hands in his pockets. He turned on his heel and retreated to the small flop across the street to monitor the situation. The flop was down at the heels, but mostly clean, though it did smell like the curry the woman above him was cooking. His stomach gurlgled as he looked through the scope to verify that she was in sight.
He filled his stomach with a cliff bar and promised himself coffee later. He'd need to send Eliza a bill for dinner after he tied up this little loose end. the woman stirred as the drug wore off. He watched as she prepped the next shot with shaking fingers. She injected it between her toes.
The convulsions started soon after. She shivered and shook and her lips peeled back in a grimace. He ran through the arrangements he'd need to make to get to Japan by next Saturday for his Lucy-B demanded tribute. A dark stain spread across the woman's ratty grey sweatpants. He watched until she stopped moving.
His phone chimed an incoming message. He glanced down. He smiled at the thimble picture. When he looked back, the woman's body was still and boneless. "See you in Hell, Mom."
Lucy-B looked Arthur over as he approached. He was wearing a subtle pinstripe suit and a fedora. He swept her a bow and kissed her hand. It was a very courtly gesture and she curtsied with a giggle.
"Hello, Arthur." He released her hand, then followed her out of the airport. "You look like Hell," she told him as he snapped his seatbelt into place. Niether of them liked the pressure of the subways. Too many people and too many chances to cause damage without meaning it.
"Why thank you. you look beautiful as usual."
Lucy-B rolled her eyes. "Bad job?"
"My mother finally OD'd. It affected me more strongly than I thought it would."
"I wasn't aware that she was still living."
"For certain definitions of living." He gave her a sour frown. "Let's focus on something more interesting. What are you looking for in a date? A wander through the electronics shop? A wirlwind tour of the temples on a motorcycle?"
"An introduction to Proclus Global?"
"I'll consider it when I need something dangerous."
That wasn't an outright denial. Which meant at least some of the rumors were right. She pouted, but he didn't take the bait. "Take me someplace nice for dinner and dancing. And come with me to be seen at the right places." She paused. "And let me do your hair."
Ari opened the picture attached to Lucy-B's email. It was her and Arthur in a Japanese photo-booth. She giggled. Arthur was dressed in his best forties gangster style, complete with hat. His hair, however, was gelled into spikes that would be at home on an anime character. Lucy-B herself was resplendent in a matching pinstripe Lolita dress with a bright red tie and black lace at her collar and cuffs. Her hair was up in high ponytails, ringed with bullet-casings. They were both scowling at the camera in exaggerated fighting poses.
"I haven't had to squirt him with water once!" as the message under the picture.
Dom looked up fro his book. He raised his brows. She shook her head, then turned her laptop around. He snorted. "So that must be Lucy-B."
"You haven't met her?"
"Arthur doesn't like me around his friends." Dom gave her a broad girn. "Of course, most of his friends thought I'd narc on them. They were right. Before Mal corrupted me." His eyes weren't tortured at the mention. "The last rumor I heard was that Arthur and Lucy-B were going to make two little ninja children to raise into the community."
"That is a disturbing image. In spite of having seen him with Phillipa and James."
"I think he considers them his siblings. In spite of being 'uncle' Arthur. He was very good with them as babies." Dom paused. "I'm starting to freak myself out with this conversation. New topic, I'm going to get a piece of chocolate cake. Do you want some?"
"Hell, yes. My God that stuff is deadly."
"Cora made me take a cooking course before I got married."
"Good to know." Ari followed him to the kitchen, mostly so she could check out his ass. "So Cora is Mal's mother?"
"And she wanted a suitable husband for her. When we met, I was not that man."
Eames leaned back from the poker table and surveyed his competition from under half-lidded eyes. The fat man with the puce shirt and cowboy hat had two pair – he was rubbing his nose. The American with the blue hoodie was bluffing – he'd just poured himself another drink. The neatly pressed dentist loosened his tie and undid his top button – worried, but willing to see his first good hand all the way through. Itw was time to win one, Eames judged – a few more dollars than he lost would be good.
He took the pot with a pleased smile. "Thanks, mates."
Cowboy Hat shook his head. "I'm done for tonight." He lumbered to his feet and gathered the few chips left in front of him. He tossed a $100 tip to the dealer. He puleld up on his strained pants and his stomach jiggled. Eames cataloged the way his hip splayed as he walked.
Back to the Misc. Bedroom