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[personal profile] ciircee


Higher Emotions Are Out To Get Us
And we soldier on, together

Later, Arthur would be able to remember it all. He would be able to retrace his steps to West Point and from West Point to Project Somnacin and then each that came after. He would remember being twenty and a little afraid under his complete—and stupid—confidence in himself. He would remember how the PASIV wasn't as sleek as it would become and the chemicals not nearly as refined. He would be able to recall how going under was like being hit with a sledgehammer and coming up was like getting shot in the face, even without getting shot in the face first. He'd be able to touch the scar on his wrists, so many years later, and recall when the needles were too large and the electrical pulse too high and how the leads were too tight. He would remember those first dreams and how the stability was terrible, the architecture slipshod, and the entire experience wasn't at all preferable to waking up in a puddle of one's one vomit after a hellacious Vegas bender.

More, however, Arthur would remember how much he had loved dreaming for all that it was or that it could become. He would remember his love for his ability to control it, direct it, and discover it. He would remember the thrill of putting together all the pieces to go into a dream and do a job and do it right. Do it well. Being stabbed, being shot, being run over by a tank was worth the price when he got to go under and do anything. Anything.

He would remember how one particular dream dumped him out with a blinding headache and phantom pains and a researcher with a penlight aimed directly in his eyes. He'd remember desperately dragging air into his lungs, having been waterboarded into waking. He would remember hearing the voices of the project director and the one-star general that oversaw them; he would remember them telling him that he was going to have a partner in dream sharing, one of the new international soldiers, a gesture of goodwill.

Arthur would remember the emerald-grey beret with the Excalibur cap badge, the one that would later become the emblem of the SRR, when the SRR wasn't a secret any longer. He would better remember the quick smile on that mouth and the blue-grey eyes that had met his and winked. He would remember the shocked rush of seeing that face, hearing that voice, for the first time as he was introduced to Reconnaissance Operator Eames. Many years later he would be able to remember thinking at that moment that he was still dreaming, not caring if he was.

But mostly he would only remember being breathless and Eames being there, would remember Eames and himself and being together.


Don't ask, don't tell, do NOT eyefuck Eames, became Arthur's motto. It didn't help much because Eames was charismatic and drew his eye like a magnet drew iron. It didn't help when Eames was good-looking with a mouth that had been designed with six kinds of sin in mind. It didn't help that Arthur was with Eames day in and day out in all sorts of situations both real and imagined. It didn't help at all that Eames was always close, always right at his back, right in his face, right on the edges of Arthur's every thought.

What did help was the fact that Eames was annoying.

"Ah, Arthur!" Eames said enthusiastically. "Tell me I'm wonderful!"

Arthur opened his eyes and glared at the ceiling. "Don't even," he replied warningly.

Eames beamed at him; he couldn't see it but he could feel it. "Come on now, admit that it was brilliant. You know it was. It was brilliant. I was brilliant."

"Spiders, Eames," Arthur could still feel them on his skin. "As big as my goddamned face."

"Yes indeed they were. I am quite clever."

He could still feel them, the hairy legs and sharp fangs and he could still hear the hissing shrieks of them, of spiders as big as his face as they dropped on him like a terrible rain. "Your subconscious was full of spiders. You killed me with fucking spiders."

"Again, I am a clever, clever boy. Say I am, Arthur."

"You're a dick."


But it only helped a little bit because, as annoying as Eames was—as he almost always was—he was also a little bit of a genius.

"No, Arthur, don't find me yet, don't look yet," Eames said, his voice seeming to come from everywhere. "Please."

Because he'd asked nicely Arthur kept his eyes closed. "You know, I could have been the dreamer if you'd wanted. Your spiders are fucked up but it's not like I can't handle them."

"No, no, I—you'll see. I'm in plain sight if you open your eyes."

Arthur waited a beat. Then. "Wait, open them now?"

"Yes."

Eames sounded so close but when Arthur opened his eyes he couldn't see him at all. He turned, looking. His subconscious had populated the space with people. Eames had told him it was a city street and so it was an even mixture of young and old and busy and playful. Just people and no Eames in any place he set his eyes. "I thought you said you were in plain sight?" Arthur asked, looking around more closely. "Are you being a dick again?" Only one projection was paying him any mind, a non-descript man in a generic sort of suit. Arthur shrugged and looked at the bit of his subconscious observing him. "Seen Eames?" he asked himself genially.

The projection blinked and suddenly Arthur was looking right at Eames. He was grinning, all but glowing. "Good, yeah? You couldn't tell?"

"What on—" Arthur stared and then it occurred to him what Eames had just done. Who Eames had just been. "Eames, that's—it's—"

"Right now I'm calling it forging," Eames said.

"Do it again." It was like falling into his first dream all over again, the kind of excitement that was rushing in his veins. This was what the dream-share technology was meant for. "Can you do it again?"

Eames did, changing in the blink of an eye. Now that Arthur knew who he was looking at he could see bits of Eames in the stranger in front of him. "It's not easy. Not yet, at least," said the man in what was unmistakably Eames' voice. "I think I can change every thing if I try hard enough. Or don't. It's a bit of both, trying and not."

"How long can you hold it?"

"Dunno yet," Eames said cheerfully, back to himself. "But I'm willing to wager I'll be able to hold it as long as you'd like, given time to figure it out." His eyes took on a serious cast. "Don't tell, Arthur. I don't want anybody working on this but us. Just between you and me. At least until it's a bit more along." Eames' hand was warm on his arm even in the dream. It was against the rules, this sort of secret keeping, this off-record sort of project. "Don't tell anybody else."

Arthur nodded, turning his arm so that his hand was laid out on Eames' forearm. "I won't. It's our secret." It was too amazing to share just yet, he rationalized.


That was the real problem with Eames: he was amazing and he knew it and that made him obnoxious.

"Have you any idea how very much I adore Twelfth Night? The play, mind you, not the holiday."

Arthur froze for a fraction of a fraction of a second and then resumed reassembling his gun. "Really."

"Oh, really," Eames was practically cooing. He was also leaning in close to Arthur smelling like gun oil and sharp metal and a good, healthy sweat from the summer heat. "I adore it."

Sometimes Arthur purely wanted to hit Eames until he was unconscious and bleeding and hopefully on his way to being very dead. Instead he kept snapping his gun together and checking the smoothness of the firing pin before pulling it apart again. "Took you long enough," he said shortly. He was under no illusions. Eames wasn't subtle at all and was very obviously trying to tell Arthur that he'd figured out his real name, if not more than that.

Joining Project Somnacin had meant leaving everything behind—family and military record and name all burned to ashes. His new dog tags had only the name he'd chosen on them, a name that he felt fit him better than the one he'd been given as an infant. Supposedly any files remaining on his original identity were eyes only and impossible to get to.

Supposedly. Arthur had managed to get to them with very little difficulty and zero detection. He realized in the face of Eames' pleased smirk that he had underestimated him. He should have done something about that earlier, his records and his perception both.

"Oh, Arthur, don't be upset. I'll tell you how I did it, you know I will."

Arthur rubbed down the removed pin with a bit of steel wool, smoothing it, and bit back a sigh. "Captain," he said. He tested the pin against his thumb before cleaning it with an oiled cloth. "You've actually been promoted into and demoted out of that rank several times. Once for misconduct towards a superior, though it was reversed when your commanding officer was court-martialed for misconduct during—and obstruction of—an operation. The SAS has charged you with disobeying lawful commands, with contravening standing orders, conduct prejudicial, entering false records, damage to public property, damage to service property, fighting, and looting."

There had been a few other charges, but nothing else that would have earned him a demotion or a trial of his own. "Charges always dropped and rank reinstated due to higher-ranking interventions, which points to either the SAS's need for your talents or to these actions being a part of your necessary duties to a secret body—the fabled SRR." Nobody admitted it, yet, that it was real but Arthur had found more than enough documentation on it to satisfy himself. Eames was watching him and so Arthur set aside the cloth and flipped the pin through his fingers. "As a civilian you had quite the history of forgery, truancy, pickpocketing, larceny both petit and grand…though you never served any time for any of those offenses. In fact, the military fixed all charges against you and buried your records once you enlisted."

He put the pin back in place. "Your enlistment was questioned as was your acceptances into the SAS but those lines were dropped within a relatively short time period…whether that's your family history in play or your own abilities is a matter that's up for debate. Given your recommendation to this project I'm guessing it's the latter. Which means, Reconnaissance Operator Eames, that you should by now be aware that I don't need you to tell me how it's done."

Cocky bastard.

Eames beamed at him. "You've taken the time to get to know me, Arthur! I'm touched. I am truly, truly touched. I should have you 'round to the castle for tea."

Arthur snapped his firearm together and aimed it at Eames' head. "Should I explain to your father why you're using the name Eames?" he asked.

"Given time you'll be a better R.O. than I am," Eames said winningly. "According to sources you only began looking into me after I started picking after you. I do keep tabs, Arthur, just the same as you." He leaned close, ignoring the muzzle of the gun pressing against his forehead. "But I like you so I'll tell you that I was, in fact, at her majesty's pleasure, I was—oh, let's call it 'recruited', shall we?—out of prison due to my very special talents and I picked the name for the marvelous chairs. The affair with the aide is entirely made up as is the vast majority of my mother's later life. But I do appreciate knowing that you took the time to climb the family tree. Your own mum is lovely, by the way."

Eames patted him on the shoulder and left. It took a moment for Arthur to relax and set his gun down. He nearly set it on a piece of kugel wrapped in cling film. When he unwrapped it he could smell his mother's homemade apricot jam.

Sometimes Arthur absolutely hated Eames.


Hating him would have been so much easier if Eames hadn't been such a good…something…to Arthur. Co-worker, co-conspirator, friend. Something. Somebody.

Somebody woke him up in the middle of the night and Arthur was halfway to taking that somebody down when it registered on him that it was Eames hovering over him in the dark. Heavy and hot and smelling like regulation laundry soap and long faded aftershave and iodine swabs and something that was sweetly, irritatingly Eames.

"You are a scary bastard, Arthur," Eames said softly, laughing quietly in the shadows of the night-dark dorm.

"What are you doing in here?" Arthur asked, letting go and sliding his knife away. He couldn't come up with a good reason for Eames to be in his room in the middle of the night—not when they'd see each other at breakfast in just a few hours.

Eames smiled, a flash of brightness as the dim light caught on his lips and teeth. "It's your birthday."

Arthur blinked. It was his actual birthday, his real one. The other had passed months ago. "…and?"

"And I've come to take you out for it. It's not every day your young man turns legal."

Young man. Eames wasn't more than four years older than Arthur. "Fuck off."

"That's a nice thank-you," Eames said cheerfully. His hand when he patted Arthur's chest was incredibly warm through the blankets. "Come on, up you get. In my pocket are some freshly liberated and very nicely signed documents that let us both off base for a few days of holiday to someplace very special."

Arthur had no doubt that it was the work of those 'very special' skills of his that had freshly liberated and very nicely signed the leaves. "Is it Vegas?"

"It's a surprise! Also, we're going to put on some nice civilian clothes while we're at this. You do own nice civvies, don't you?"

"No. So, Vegas?"

"We're going to have to go shopping, then. I'll get you something lovely. Why don't you own nice things?"

"I don't need them. It's Las Vegas, isn't it?"

"I said 'a surprise'. This means that it is a surprise."

It really wasn't because it really was Vegas. And it was honestly because Eames seemed to think that Las Vegas was a magical place.

"Full of, like, unicorns and kittens and hookers and—" Arthur could hear himself rambling, he just couldn't care very much.

"Gaming tables," Eames was laughing, loud and hearty and Arthur smiled at him even as the world tilted around them. "Unicorns and kittens and hookers you can get on your own, but having a good go at the tables—that requires more than just you and I."

"Having a good…" Arthur frowned at the green felt table and the pretty red dice scattering down it. "Wait, aren't we losing?"

"Fantastically," Eames said, grinning at him and hauling him upright. Eames was very solid, very stable despite the way the world tipped and turned. "But we were about to get in to it if you kept counting cards so we've changed avenues."

Vaguely Arthur remembered somebody yelling at them about their winning streak and Arthur's luck—which was really just being able to know numbers and probabilities. "Well that—wait, I'm drunk. Why am I drunk?"

"Because I have been very lovingly pouring alcohol into you since we arrived?" Eames guessed pleasantly. He was very handsy, pushing him around and propping him up and holding him still. "I think, actually, that it's just catching up to you. Stop trying to shoot, Arthur, we're losing. You're crap at this game."

"Crap at craps?" Arthur glared at Eames, feeling bleary and irritated and affectionate. "You're an idiot. And the dice are loaded or something. I'm not—Eames, I am not even joking."

"You so rarely do." Eames was so very…just warm.

Arthur couldn't be mad at him. "The dice are loaded against us, Eames." He leaned close, closer, right against Eames so he could whisper to him. "We should cheat, too."

Eames patted him, setting him back. "You're very loud, Arthur, but I appreciate the sentiment all the same. Also, the dice aren't loaded. They're clear acrylic; the effort of altering them would be ridiculous. You're drunk and you can't shoot for sweet fuck all. Let's get you another drink and then find you a bed, yeah?"

Bed. Yes. He scratched his chin and felt an appreciable amount stubble; how many days had he been awake? "If you try—Eames, if you touch me I will not be held responsible for my actions," Arthur warned him, words precise and crisp and so very loaded with alcohol soaked sincerity. "No matter what they are." He was entirely responsible for grabbing the dice off the table and pocketing them. He was going to figure out how they were loaded. After he went to bed. After Eames found him a bed. After Eames. "I promise."

"I shall bear that in mind."

He more than half expected to wake up naked with a naked Eames. He was almost certain they'd be sore and sticky and tangled up together. He wasn't going to admit to looking forward to that even though he was sure that Eames would make it worthwhile because Eames was…well, he was Eames.


Being Eames, of course, explained why Arthur woke up desperately hating him. Desperately hating him and his flighty ways and his devil-may-care brilliance and his absent sense of decorum and the fact that he'd let Arthur lie in what was undeniably a pool of his own vomit.

"What the actual fuck?" he croaked. His new three-piece suit—Eames had called it his birthday suit—was probably ruined. "Eames?"

"It was spectacular. There are pictures," Eames said, patting his shoulder. "I'd let you keep sleeping this off as is only right and fair but we've got to get back before somebody notices that we're not actually where we might be rumored to be."

Arthur couldn't follow what he was saying but that was because he was very hungover, still a little drunk, totally filthy, and lacking a solid way to murder Eames for being a fucking jerk.

"…hate you," he managed to mumble as he crawled toward the bathroom.

"Bite your tongue!" Eames called after him. "Not many people get to throw up at the Bellagio! Properly!"

Which was probably true, but Arthur knew for a fact that Eames was using ill-gotten funds to pay for that propriety and so he didn't have any hang ups about throwing up again on Eames' shoes as he went past them.


Still—still!—for all that Eames was capable of half-assing his way through things…he didn't. Not where Arthur was concerned. And when he did, when he did it especially where Arthur was concerned, it was for a reason. Because Eames thought shit through even when it seemed like he didn't.

"Don't," Eames said softly, laying heavy over him. "Don't."

"Seriously, Eames?" Arthur snapped quietly before kneeing him in the stomach and sending him tumbling.

Eames sprawled on the mat and put his hands behind his head. "Completely," he said easily. "You've got to stop being so lovely at being the best at whatever it is that you're doing; it's idiotic and I expect better of you."

Arthur looked around the room, at the other pairs that were practicing throws and punches and other close quarter techniques. "I could have been partnered with anybody else," he muttered, looking back at Eames. "Let me explain something to you very slowly, Eames. Very, very slowly," he started before landing on his ass, hard.

"Don't be condescending," Eames said, much closer now that he'd toppled Arthur unexpectedly and Arthur was glad that he had because it made it so much easier to stay focused even as Eames flipped him and got his arms pinned hard behind his back. "You don't want them marking you too closely, Arthur. You shouldn't let them know all that they've got in you."

Going still, Arthur twisted his head to look sideways at him. "Why?" Because Eames meant it and Arthur could feel it, could half-sense it. A truth he didn't really want to believe in but would if Eames told him to, if Eames explained it to him, because he trusted Eames even when he didn't want to and possibly even when he shouldn't have.

"Because then they'll keep you." It was whispered in his ear, nearly inaudible, Eames' accent like a sigh on his skin. "Don't let them have you."

Then Eames was off of him, clapping his hands and crouching down. "Oh, let's go again! It's all very homoerotic. And everybody said you lot were against it. Against it most certainly."

"You are an irritating fuck," Arthur told him, rolling up and taking Eames down in under twelve seconds. He could have done it in six.


Eames was and wasn't a lot of things. He made Arthur feel a hundred different, conflicting ways about him. He should have been able to pick something, to file Eames away into the appropriate corner of his brain, but he couldn't. Eames was too immediate, too present, too close to be objectively dismantled and stored in anything but a temporary way. Even when he was gone he was there, a piece of Arthur's subconscious tucked away in the back of his mind.

The closest Arthur came to sorting him out was that no matter what Eames was—awful or stunning, annoying or insightful—he was Arthur's and, like it or not, Arthur wasn't about to let him go even if Eames didn't know it or wouldn't like it if he did. Arthur might or might not have been out of his mind, but he was certain either way.


Arthur liked certainties, like to plan, to know without doubt, to have things in hand. He'd joined the military for the order, the structure, the infrastructure, for what it could give him.

He'd never thought—really—about what it meant becoming and what it meant giving up. He started at his face in the mirror. He was twenty-two and a ghost. A shadow of who he'd been when he'd come to the Project. Just a trick of the light and fading fast into nighttime darkness.

His options were limited—if he wanted the freedom to do what he wanted to do he had to bury himself, hide his true talents. But in shifting the attentive military eyes away from him he lost the leverage to get what he needed to do what he wanted. If he called attention to himself, he got loaded with projects he didn't want. If he didn't, he got loaded with other projects he didn't want—the chimp simple stuff that he just couldn't force himself to do anymore.

Getting shit assignments was great for doing small, private experiments and keeping them utterly secret but Arthur wasn't about to get killed every day for small potatoes. If he was going to break every bone in his body, he wanted it to be worth it.

If he was being honest, he also wanted to be able to come and go as he liked, wanted to be able to see what else could be done with a dream rather than using it to get soldiers used to pain and fear. He wanted dreaming to be worth loving again and he wanted to have more than just what he was given.

"All right?" Eames' voice broke the wall of solid thoughts around Arthur's head. He looked up and caught Eames' eyes in the mirror.

"Yes?" Ever since their trip to Vegas Eames had been in and out of Arthur's life, flitting in and out of his dreams, often without any warning. Every handful of weeks he was there and then gone again. Arthur tracked him and knew that he was mostly off on SRR missions but sometimes he was on leave and sometimes he wasn't where he was rumored to be. But he was back now, back and looking at Arthur and asking if he…. "Was there something in particular you wanted, Eames?"

"They're ready for us to try the second interrogation sequence again. Deimos and Rochester are trying to figure out if they're awake or not. They're leaning towards still dreaming so they're not cleared for another run. That leaves us to work while they cry in a corner somewhere." He smiled and Arthur smiled back without feeling it. The way Eames said it, so cheerfully flip, it was probably true. Going into a dream interrogation had left two soldiers in doubt about reality and crying in a corner, probably in a padded room.

Arthur wished he cared more. Or even at all. "Sounds like fun."

Eames studied him and Arthur wanted to not care about the way it pricked against his skin but he couldn't. He could only care desperately about that. "All right, then?" asked Eames again, light voice but serious eyes and Arthur...

"You know it."

"Do you know, I never wanted to say this to you but you're the most contentious, prickly, annoying bastard I've ever known. I don't know why I—" Eames broke off with a good-natured huff. "I don't know why."

He looked at Eames, turned away from the mirror and looked and looked until he wasn't sure he was even seeing him anymore, seeing any more of him than the unfaltering, confusing, constant presence that never left him even when Eames was gone. As though Eames were some sort of touchstone, something Arthur could rely on. "Let's just get to work." Time. He needed time to think. He could live like this until he had a plan, had something more than Eames and his half-finished sentences and unknown reasons behind them. Things were bad enough without either of them adding to the mess. "Can we do that? Our jobs?"

"My pleasure," Eames said and Arthur brushed past him, walking away.

He could live like this but not with Eames there, not with Eames right there.



Arthur was, by nature and by nurture, a person who planned. Who thought and reasoned and worked things out in his head before committing himself to something. When he did something, it was because he knew he'd get it done.

When he decided to leave Project Somnacin, he did it with the goal in mind of walking out the front door with no bridges burned behind him. He was going to leave with the full approval and blessing of the United States armed forces and the United States government bestowed upon him. They weren't going to like it but that was just the way it was going to be. Arthur had decided. He knew that they would try to hold him, try to keep him but while the army was good, Arthur was better. He was much, much better and they didn't even know it.

He spent months unearthing secrets large and small, tracking rumors around the world and then around it once more. He searched out and caught every silent sideways glance exchanged between politicians and generals. Eyes-only files fluttered open for Arthur; ears-only orders whispered themselves for him. He climbed into the beds of CEOs and crawled out of back alleys with ambassadors. Paper trails and emotional ties and pulled strings and underhanded, under-the-table deals wrapped themselves up in pretty packages under his questing fingers. Dreams unfurled out of him and into others and when they curled back into him, they brought him treasures.

In short: Arthur ruled the world with nobody any the wiser to what he was up to.


He deliberately waited for Eames to be away on his own mission, in a whole other country, to start acting on his plans. Eames knew him too well and Eames was too much of a distraction. Arthur needed his plan to be as clear and concise and efficient as he was when Eames wasn't around.

Which wasn't to say that he didn't have backup plans. He had several. One of them even involved running away, fighting his way free. But he'd never done a dry run, hadn't researched who would be on guard duty, hadn't looked up their run times or their firing range scores or bothered to find anything out about them at all.

It was a mistake he wasn't ever going to repeat, he vowed to himself as paused to reload his M11.


He'd gone in too sure of himself. He had walked in and nodded coolly to the stone-faced men waiting for him. "General, Senator," he'd greeted as he'd laid out the many, many files he'd amassed. "I think you know what this is," he'd said, flipping them all open with the most incriminating photos showing at the very top. "This is my honorable discharge."

"No, son," the General had said. "This is your funeral."

Arthur had always been quick on his feet, ready to react when he sensed danger. He had upset the table and bolted before the guard in the room had squeezed off the first shot.


Still, where the military was good, Arthur was even better and they were damn well going to find that out the hard way. They'd underestimated him even more than he'd suspected. Arthur wasn't actually running away; he was simply taking another route out. He twisted around a corner and flatted himself to the wall, waiting, grabbing a breath while he could. It wasn't going to be easy but it was going to be done. He looked up at the CCTV camera in the hallway. "I wanted to do this the easy way," he said to the people he knew were watching. The camera wasn't actually recording, none of them anywhere on the base was, but he was the only one who knew that. If they were planning to use today against him they'd never get the chance. "We can still do it that way: just rescind the orders."

The chatter of semi-automatic rounds burst over the clattering of running footfalls. The other soldiers had caught up to him.

"Assholes," Arthur muttered to the camera.

He slid the PASIV case down the hall behind him and swung his arm up, firing automatically as the first soldier rounded the corner. He'd served with Leopold for two years and shot him in the shoulder without blinking. He didn't have time to offer anybody the chance to back him on his bid for freedom. He felled the next man, Scrim, with a shot to the calf. "I could kill them," he said, looking to the camera while the others took a split second to regroup. "I am very deliberately not killing them."

It was mostly true.

Arthur was a good shot at close range and with a small caliber. Give him distance and a harder kick and he ran into problems. It was why he'd led the chase to this spot: it bottlenecked them and gave him the distance he needed while allowing him room to keep running. If things went wrong—even more wrong—he wouldn't be able to afford anybody the courtesy of a flesh wound. The next man that came around got a shot in at Arthur but Arthur had already moved silently, had crept closer. Shooting at Arthur just meant that he overshot and let Arthur break arm at the elbow. The gun fell and so did the soldier. "Sorry," he said, pushing him screaming onto the others behind him.

Running, Arthur snagged the case on his way and instead of keeping down the hallway he ducked into a room and threw the lock. He realized belatedly that he should have actually looked at the Somnacin before he'd made his move. Nothing was mixed; there were racks of chemicals that made the drug but almost nothing already made. "Really?" he muttered before flipping the PASIV open and tossing bottles in, grabbing a few of everything while he heard orders being relayed in the hall.

"Soldier, you are surrounded," the General's voice boomed from outside the door. "There are no windows in that room and no other doors."

"I know that," Arthur called back calmly, slipping a detonator out of his pocket and thumbing the switch. "I'm on it." The wall on his left crumbled in a cloud of rubble and Semtex. So, too, did the wall on the far side of that room, and the one after that— bringing about the collapse of a load-bearing wall and the shattering of the windows in the room beyond that. Arthur tossed a grenade at the wall on his right and when the concrete shattered he threw another through the hole before ducking out to his left. Let them figure out which way he'd gone.

He needed them to take a moment to figure out which way he'd gone: he was weighted down with the device and the chemicals, several more grenades, another block of Semtex, one extra pistol and a lot more ammunition. It weighed a ton in comparison to stuff the other guys weren't carrying.

Dropping his shoulder Arthur let a bottle drop and fall and break. The spark from the wiring in the ruined wall took care of lighting it on fire, the heat sudden on his back as he kept moving. He didn't go through the series of walls he'd opened up. Instead he slipped out the door, in to the smoke and dust and confusion, and then he took off down another hallway. He was going to walk out the front door, just like he'd planned.

Arthur tossed a bit of tear gas at the guard at the door and then stopped and looked up at the camera in the corner. "Everything I laid out for you? I have copies of all of it. I have them stashed in several places. I have enough of it memorized to make life hell for you. When you want to discuss my terms, well…" He smiled feeling generally pleased despite the minor shitshow it had been. "I'll let you know when I want you to bow to my terms."

And fuck but he was going to have to remember not to showboat. That bullet had come closer than any others. He lobbed a flash grenade over his shoulder and scrambled out the door into the motor pool. He stopped dead, heart dropping like a stone. The lot was empty. Somebody had thought ahead, planned despite the chaos, and cleared the vehicles out—all of them and not just the jeep that Arthur had set up for himself. "Shit," he breathed, stunned. It was a long run across the base to the civilian lot and there was only a slim chance that there would be anything waiting for him there.

"Get in here and drive this bloody thing!" A familiar voice jolted him. Arthur looked up to see a gorgeous low slung sports car whip to a purring stop in front of him, Eames in the driver's seat. "It's lovely but I can't drive it for shit."

"Eames?" Arthur said stupidly. It wasn't possible. Or, rather, it was perfectly possible but it being real was beyond comprehension. Eames was in even more trouble than Arthur was, as far as Arthur knew.

"Not kidding, Arthur! Everything is on the wrong side and nobody drives in the right lanes!"

"You—?" Arthur ran to the car and threw his gear into the back, hoping that the custom cushioning for the PASIV would keep it, and the chemicals, safe. "Eames?"

"Eames, yes," said Eames. "But can it wait? They're shooting at us and if we don't leave we'll die because bullets hurt a lot and are lethal and if I drive we'll die because this entire bloody country is backwards."

"Move over, Captain Eames."

"Not to nitpick, but a moment such as this needs a bigger send-up," Eames critiqued as he moved aside and Arthur climbed behind the wheel. "More imagination."

"Right," Arthur said, shoving the car into gear and flooring the pedal. "I—" he stopped talking as the ground beneath them trembled. "Eames? What was that?"

"That, Arthur, was a bigger send up and a lot more imagination," Eames said mildly as a fireball bloomed in the review mirror and smoke plumed toward the sky. "It should—should—also keep them off our backs for the time being."

"I was pretty sure replacing the gasoline with diesel fuel was going to take care of that after a few miles," Arthur said. He already had the gas pedal to the floor but Arthur pushed down harder even still.

He hardly realized that he was grinning wildly, that they both were, as they left the base in the dust.

They were together, they were free, and for the moment they were unstoppable.


Possibly, given everything, once the reality of the moment sank in it should have been silent and focused in the car. Or silent and oppressive. Perhaps silent and comfortable. Even silent and profound but certainly silent.

Arthur kept his hands furiously tight on the steering wheel and yelled at Eames instead. "What the fucking fuck?" he demanded. Again. He'd come down from the elated high of getting away alive and intact and was firmly into gritty reality of being a wanted fugitive without having prepared for it as well as he'd have liked. He was annoyed with himself for that. And Eames was there which did and didn't make it better, as having Eames there always did and didn't do. "What the fucking hell were you doing out there? Are you somehow unaware that you are wanted for fucking treason?"

"Swearing is a sign of a weak vocabulary and an uncreative mind. Also, that is in England," Eames said companionably. "This is America."

Oh, god, he wanted to kill him. Eames was too stupid to live. "America would be more than happy to extradite you, Eames!" He was doing his best to calm down and speak rationally because Eames wasn't going to care very much if he shouted and one of them had to be thinking, planning, doing. Eames made that harder than it should have been. "Because we take treason extremely seriously in this country. Extremely. Fucking. Seriously."

"Condescension noted, Arthur, thank you."

Seriously, Eames made Arthur want to stab him even though they weren't in a dream. "Just tell me what the fuck you were thinking. Just tell me that."

Tipping his head, Eames said, "I knew you were getting out and I thought that I should pick you up."

"You—no, you didn't know. You couldn't know." Arthur hadn't written down any plans anywhere, no notes anywhere but in his own head, all his files safely stored in a place nobody could reach until he'd brought them out. "Can't you be serious for once in—"

"I am serious," Eames said. And he sounded it. "I knew—don't make that face at me, then—I know people. I watch people. I understand people. This includes you, Arthur, and I had a very deep and extremely specific hunch that you were going to make your move. Very distractingly," Eames mused, "it came to me right in the middle of my own business. Nearly made a hash of it like that. But I finished and I came for you."

"Yeah, well, I didn't need you there." It was only mostly untrue.

"You expected me to be there."

"That's absurd." He'd been shocked. He was still shocked. He'd expected Eames to be on his way to someplace safe. Safer than America. He hadn't expected anything at all from him.

"Is it?" Eames asked mildly. "Perhaps I should rather say that you wanted me to be there."

It was said so matter-of-factly that Arthur drew a breath, about to go back to yelling at Eames but Eames spoke again, talking over him. "I was on my way here within an hour of committing treason. It's not been even a full day, Arthur. It's barely been even half a day but you knew. You knew before you gave it your own shot. And you knew I'd come to collect you because how the hell else would they have got your getaway car from you if you hadn't."

Silence fell, finally. Arthur wouldn't speak when he didn't know what he would say, or could. Arthur kept his foot heavy on the gas pedal and his eyes straight ahead. The silence was worse than the shouting, than the talking. There was too much whispering voicelessly around them, too many things Arthur didn't want to think about that wouldn't leave him alone. Eames might have been right. It was possible that Arthur's subconscious had counted on Eames being there despite his conscious mind knowing better. Eames was a dangerous idea and a much more dangerous reality. It had always been that way, even from their very first dream together.

Eventually Eames snapped on the radio as the sun in the west turned gold-tinted red. The sky went pink and dusky grey at the edges and purple-blue overhead in a place they couldn't see from where they were.

It was fully dark when Eames broke the echoing silence, the radio nothing but static as they crossed the miles. "Pull over."

The car jerked and gravel crunched under the tires as Arthur pulled to the side. He didn't speak, didn't move, didn't look at anything but the landscape dark and bare and bleached in the white light of the lopsided moon.

"What?" he gritted out when Eames said nothing. His throat felt tight from all the things he wasn't saying.

But Eames didn't speak until Arthur gave up and looked over at him. "Do you even know where you're headed?" Eames asked and Arthur had the distinct impression that whatever the reason Eames had had for making him pull over, asking that question was not it.

"Yeah," Arthur answered it anyway. "There's a civilian group doing dream research in California." And now that he was a fugitive he was going to have to put that off. God damn it. "I'm going to find a place to lay low for a while and wait until the government comes to its senses."

Eames smiled at him, a full blown grin. "Marvelous. I know a place in Mexico that is full of people with which neither of our governments wants us to meet. We can go off and make them think we're meeting with them while we have ourselves a nice holiday, yeah?"

Holiday. Arthur snorted. "If I wake up in a puddle of vomit, I'll shoot you."

"I knew you missed me," Eames said agreeably.

Arthur maneuvered the car back onto the road. He had, but he didn't say it. They probably should have talked, should have discussed splitting up because staying together wasn't smart or safe or in any way planned so that nobody's subconscious could get in the way. But Arthur felt that the only thing that really needed to be said was: "Shut up."



Naked in a Mexican whorehouse was not the condition or the place for a goodbye to a relationship that had spanned years, stretched a connection between countries and continents, that had built itself in dreams and yet Arthur could not have found any more fitting for himself and Eames if he tried. He knew that. He knew it. He stopped trying to put on his pants and blinked slowly at him. "Really?" he said dryly. "Here? This is how we're going to do this?"

Eames shrugged. "Running afoul of the law with you this past year has been a lark but I have a job set to go off and you're all tidied up to go back to your country a free and respectable man."

"So are you," Arthur pointed out, going back to changing his clothes. Blackmail was such a useful tool. "And I hardly think helping you run away from stealing a drug lord's money is a lark. I hate doing this shit." He'd had enough of being chased by gun-wielding men. Getting shot hurt like hell and it wasn't like he could wake up from reality when it happened. "I really do."

"I know. It's why I'm not offering to bring you along," Eames pointed out reasonably. "You're good in a pinch and ace at the details but you haven't got the flair we're going to need on this one."

Arthur rolled his eyes. "I don't want to have the 'flair' for it, Eames."

"Good, because you haven't got it. You're a bit of a stick-in-the-mud if we're being honest."

"Yet my rap sheet is clean enough that I can travel to any country in the world under my own assumed name." At his last count Eames had seven different aliases and five of them were wanted somewhere for something. One of them was actively taunting Interpol.

Eames grinned at him and Arthur was glad he was leaving, glad they were both going. It had been a while since he and Eames had last lived in each other's back pockets for more than a week or two at a time and now the many months of side-by-side had done a number on Arthur's brain. The days where he wanted to kill Eames were only slightly less in number than the days he felt like keeping Eames alive and in easy reach. Their governments regretted putting them together; Arthur didn't want either of them to regret staying that way. The more time that passed the more Arthur was sure that one of them was going to make a serious mistake, a mistake that could—and would—cost more than Arthur was willing to risk.

"Keep in touch, Arthur, do," Eames said. Something in his face said that he also felt the untenable balance they were keeping, the cost of losing it.

Arthur offered him a slight smile. "I'd rather not." He wanted to, but he'd rather not.

He wasn't surprised when Eames leaned close and kissed him, simple and sure on the mouth. It was the first time and probably the last. Arthur kissed him back, solid and steady. Definitely the last. "Then keep tabs," Eames said against his lips "and try not to miss me too much."

"Go away."


They both went away.


Eames went to work his mysterious job (a jewel heist, from what Arthur had been able to uncover) and Arthur went, finally, to California to meet the researches he'd discovered in his note-taking before his honorable discharge. He tolerated most of them but he actually liked Dominic Cobb and Stephen and Mallorie Miles.

Still, he'd learned from his time with the Project and his time with Eames. He allowed himself to like them but not to give them everything, not to tie himself to them in a way that left him bound in knots. He helped with their research, he went looking for answers for them, went under with them, and dreamed for them.

He also took jobs on the side. He tried, at first, to keep it legal and above board. He worked for COOs trying to figure out if their CEOs were selling them out. He helped the super-rich sleep at night. It was boring and it was small and it wasn't what he wanted to do so he stopped doing it.

Instead he found chemists who could identify the building blocks of Somnacin by smell and taste and color alone, architects who built masterfully realistic places in which to hide all manner of truths, he found people who loved to unearth secrets as much as he did. Extractors.

Mind-heist, they called it. Extraction. It was illegal and it wasn't safe and Arthur loved it. It was a lot like Las Vegas and, when he took point on those jobs, Arthur had all the cards and all the chips and he could shoot for sweet fuck all every time he went to the tables. He thought of Eames and knew that he must love it absolutely. He told Mal and Dom and Stephen that it was a civilian off-shoot of a military procedure.

Only Stephen seemed to know or care that it wasn't. "I know what you're up to," he said one day. "I'm not so old or caught up in my buildings that I don't see the way you study mazes you don't need to know. You're taking them away and using them for something you oughtn't."

"I'm not your daughter or your student, sir," he said politely, winding new lines into his PASIV. He'd upgraded it, slimming it down so that it weighed less, could take a smaller tube and a lower gauge needle. "Though I appreciate the fact that you care."

"I don't want you getting them mixed in with this."

Arthur actually startled a bit at that. "I wouldn't," he protested automatically. Then, because he did care, because Stephen deserved more than any general ever had: "Even if I wanted to, they'd never do it. They love dreaming, they love exploring it for what it is. It's enough for them." They weren't like him, he thought, not like himself or Eames.

As much as he loved it, loved exploring, it wasn't enough for him unless he had a goal, a target, a mark, something on the line. It was probably a bit of a dangerous place to be but Arthur always had a backup plan. He didn't have a getaway driver but he'd never really needed one.

"My boy," Stephen said, studying him, "you don't have to do this. You're better than this. You've got a place here, you know, a family."

"Thank you, sir," he repeated, clicking the case closed. "Again, I appreciate that."

He wasn't a better man and he didn't particularly want to be. He didn't particularly want a place or a family.


But

Sometimes he might have thought of it and maybe he'd feel a little regretful. "Married, huh?" he asked, looking at Mal's ring. "Congratulations."

"I'm so happy," Mal said jubilantly, hugging him around the neck. "We're so happy. But pretend I didn't tell you. Dom wants to tell you and be as proud as a peacock at you."

"I am literally two steps behind you, Mal," Dom said.

"Since when does this matter?" Mal wanted to know while Arthur laughed and opened the bottle of champagne he'd bought when Mal's father had told him about it earlier in the day.


And

"Take her back, Cobb, I've never held a baby before in my life."

"I haven't slept in four days, Arthur. You're holding her. I will make you her godfather if I have to. I don't care if you're Jewish."

Dom thrust the baby at him and there was no other option but to take her. He held the baby, a soft weight that smelled like lotion and milk and warmth and watched Dom shuffle away to bed like a hopeful zombie on the trail of fresh brains. "Philippa? Your dad is a shit."


Or

"We reached a second level," Mal said, sounding rapturous. "My father, he won't hear of it, but we think there is a third. It would be incredibly unstable, like you would not believe, Arthur, but it would be incredible."

"Your father won't hear of it because he's your father," Arthur told her.

"He's not willing to push the boundaries," Dom said. He grinned at him, eyes bright. "You're up for a challenge, right, Arthur?"

Arthur thought about it, about the first time he'd gone under. He wondered if going down another level was the same. If a third would be compounded. "Yeah."


But mostly, he didn't want a place.

Mostly he worked the jobs he chose and followed the traces he'd set on people: the General, several ambassadors, a few congressional leaders, anybody he had serious dirt on. And Eames. He read articles in foreign newspapers that never mentioned Eames by name but couldn't stop talking about him.

Usually it made Arthur roll his eyes. Sometimes it made him smile. The rest of the time it reminded him of why he didn't really want a 'place'. There was too much fun in the chase, too much danger in staying still. Eames and his almost perfectly executed misadventures made him remember both of those things.

Only very rarely did it make his heart twist in his chest with a feeling that was close to wistfulness but vastly more complicated and probably much more unpleasant. He wasn't sure what to call it.


"How about forgery, Arthur? Have you ever heard about changing into somebody else in a dream? Being another person, somebody other than yourself?"

Arthur didn't startle, just kept his finger sliding down the margin of Dom's copious notes regarding his new theory on a three level dream. "The military never looked into that while I was there," he said calmly. Inside he thought Eames.

"Mal met a guy in Paris when she was visiting her father," Dom went on. "At a bar, of all the places. I mean, she's married and a mother and meeting men in bars and—"

"Is this you needing marriage counseling, Cobb?" Arthur interrupted to ask, still eyeing the words but not really taking them in anymore. He looked up. "Because I don't do that."

Dom grinned at him and took a sip of beer. "Anyhow, she met this guy who said he could do that, change himself completely, and she brought him back with her." Distantly the front door opened. "That would be them now."

Arthur turned and there was Eames, carrying Mal's bag, one arm around her waist and laughing with her. "—and I said, 'but darling, I stole something really nice for you!'"

Mal laughed, head tipped back and curls bouncing. "She was a horrible bitch and you are grateful she is gone now." Then she spotted her husband and fell into his arms. "Lover!"

In the moment of the Cobbs' utter preoccupation with each other, Arthur looked at Eames and found Eames looking back. Eames looked the same as he had the last time Arthur had seen him, years ago. A little older, his hair a little longer, his shoulders a little broader but otherwise he was still the same Eames. Blue-grey eyes and a devilish smile, lightening quick hands. He thought I am not hugging him as his heart did something deeply disturbing in his chest before climbing into his throat. He got to his feet entirely without meaning to do so. He'd honestly thought he would never see Eames again, despite the business they were in.

Yet Eames was in front of him with a smile on the verge of a laugh and a considering look in his eye. "Oh, I am jealous. Where's my hug? You! Hug me!" And he wrapped his arms around Arthur, crushing him to his chest in a hold that Arthur could have broke easily but…didn't. He knew it was a ruse, for whatever Eames-ian purpose, and he didn't mind as much as he could have. Not even though Eames smelled like stale, recycled air and cheap laundry soap and Mal's perfume and faded cologne and that stupid sweetness that Arthur remembered from days on end in Eames' close company. One hand was warm and brief on the back of his neck for a moment, a strange second of intimacy.

"Get off me," he said, tightening his arms around him for a bare moment, his hands hard against the long muscles of his back before patting him in a manly fashion and pushing at him.

Mal looked at them both as Eames drew back and Arthur allowed the rest of the room to regain the majority of his attention. "But you know each other already!" she said, surprised.

"Oh this? It's only that I'm an incredible pervert," Eames disclaimed, pulling a bashful look as he turned Arthur loose. "Emphasis on incredible, please."

Arthur sat down again and rolled his eyes, knowing what Eames was up to with the not-quite denial. "I was there when Eames pioneered forging." Dom and Mal were sharper than Eames was giving them credit for. Unless Eames was testing him to see how much he was willing to give away to them. "When I left the military he took me to a whorehouse in Mexico and left me there, naked."

Dom and Mal both choked, faces swinging between disbelief and curiosity, heads swiveling between Arthur and Eames.

Arthur sipped his beer, going back to Dom's notes.

"I am a pervert," Eames repeated. "And also, that was very innocent. Arthur is maligning me. He was putting on pants and trousers anyhow so he wasn't entirely without clothes."

"Naked. In a Mexican whorehouse," Arthur repeated, picking up a pen and making a note in the margin. "You dick," he added dryly.

Mal threw back her head and laughed, Dom clapped Eames on the shoulder, and Arthur left two weeks later. He had a job in Brussels.

Part 2
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Circe

November 2012

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