[identity profile] kiyala.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] shannys_corner

The next time Eames interviews Robert Fischer, he takes Arthur with him as well.

“We’ve decided to do the interview in his office this time,” Eames explains when they’re in the elevator, on their way up to one of the highest floors in the building. “It’ll be good to get him nice and relaxed.”

“And more cooperative,” Arthur adds. Between the two of them, interviews are more Arthur’s forte, but he has to concede that Eames is far better at reaching out to people and befriending them. With Eames taking care of that, Arthur can work on figuring out exactly how much Fischer knows about the development of the PASIV device.

“Don’t go jumping in with your questions right away,” Eames says with a small grin. “Don’t want to spook him, now.”

“I can be subtle,” Arthur murmurs, giving Eames a sidelong look.

“I don’t doubt it,” Eames chuckles fondly. “Forgive me if I’m just a little overcautious this time.”

Robert Fischer’s office is large, but minimally decorated. There’s a painting on one wall as a concession to his wealth, but everything else is functional. He’s sitting behind his mahogany desk, and there are two empty chairs waiting for them.

“Mr. Eames, Mr. Wolff.” He gets out of his seat, brushing past his personal assistant to shake their hands. “Please, sit down. Is there anything I can get for you to drink?”

“Tea,” Eames says, at the same time Arthur says, “We’re fine, thank you.”

Fischer looks between the two of them with faint amusement and looks at his assistant. “One tea. White, with one sugar, just like last time, Mr. Eames?”

“You have a good memory,” Eames smiles, and glancing at Arthur, he adds, “Arthur will have coffee. Black with two sugars, thank you.”

Arthur doesn’t protest, simply nodding in thanks to Fischer’s assistant as he leaves to prepare the drinks.

“I’m a big fan of your blog, Mr. Wolff. When I have the time to read your articles.” Fischer smiles, and it’s a little strained. “Though I haven’t had very much free time lately.”

“Because of your father’s health.” Arthur knows better than to make it a question, when the answer is so obvious. “You’ve been acting as CEO for Fischer-Morrow recently, since your father was declared ill. That must be a lot of work.”

Fischer gives them a humourless smile. “It might be, but I’m more than capable of doing it.”

“Your father never seemed to think that,” Arthur says casually. “From all the reports I’ve seen about the two of you arguing.”

Arthur,” Eames protests, playing his part perfectly. “That’s hardly…”

“No, no, you’re right.” Fischer sighs heavily. “He never thought I could hold the company up the way he did. Honestly, he’s not the only one who thinks it. They think I can’t tell, but I can. I’m just Maurice’s spoiled kid. I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve got no idea how to run a company. There are all these people who have lived through the Rising, who knew what it was like before. How can I compare to what they know?”

Fischer’s voice is steadily rising and he cuts himself off, taking a deep breath. He smiles, his expression a mask of calm, and it would be terrifying, how quickly he can switch moods, if Arthur couldn’t do the same. “I’m sorry. I get a little worked up, if I let myself dwell on it.”

“Understandable,” Eames says with a kind smile. “No need to apologise.”

“That’s absolutely right,” Arthur chimes in. “Take your time, Mr. Fischer. No need to push yourself. Especially if it’s something so unpleasant.”

“You know,” Fischer says with a small laugh, “I thought you’d be much more intimidating. When Mr. Eames told me you’d be joining us for today’s interview, I was a little hesitant.”

Arthur recognises this for what it is; Fischer’s trying to change the subject and evade the question. He decides not to point it out, and Eames chuckles warmly.

“You’re not the first one to say that, to be honest,” Eames says, giving Fischer a conspiratorial grin. “But I think you’ll find Arthur’s bark is much worse than his bite, as the old saying goes.”

Fischer laughs politely, but Arthur can tell from his eyes that he doesn’t quite get the joke. It’s understandable; not everyone has the same dated sense of humour, or interest in pre-Rising culture that Eames does. Most people can’t even imagining living with dogs; their body mass makes them amplification risks and most people aren’t the right combination of brave and stupid to continue keeping them as pets.

“Ah well,” Eames shrugs, also noting Fischer’s blank look. “Point is, Arthur’s nice, when he’s not pretending to be a prickly bastard.”

Arthur is about to retort when Fischer’s assistant returns with a tray bearing their drinks. Tea for Eames, coffee for Arthur and Fischer. Arthur resorts to glaring at Eames over his mug, and it earns him an unabashed grin.

“So.” Fischer clears his throat once he’s dismissed his assistant. “I read that post on your blog just recently, Mr. Wolff…”

Arthur sighs quietly, hoping that Fischer doesn’t notice the way his shoulders go rigid.

“I think that’s quite enough evasion from you, Mr. Fischer,” Eames speaks up, and he’s wearing a sharp smile. It’s effective; always that much more terrifying when he’s been so laid back and friendly before. Fischer swallows audibly, and Eames pauses a moment, just to let it sink in that Arthur is by no means the only one who can intimidate. “So, your position as acting CEO of the company. I know it’s unpleasant to think about all these people who think they can do your job better than you can, but you did promise us an interview.”

“Right.” Fischer gives them both a strained smile. “I’m sorry for wasting your time like this. Perhaps we can discuss it over lunch, to make it up to you?”

“I have some work to take care of,” Arthur says. “But I’m sure Eames will be more than willing to accompany you.”

Eames raises an eyebrow at Arthur, who doesn’t look at him all. Instead, Arthur is holding Fischer’s gaze, and Fischer looks away first, clearing his throat and getting to his feet.

“I’m going to see if I can make arrangements for lunch to be brought into the office.”

“What was that?” Eames asks, unbothered but curious.

“Seems that you’ve made an impression on Fischer,” Arthur mutters and he knows there’s no need to be jealous, but it doesn’t stop the slow, unpleasant twisting in his stomach. He’s sure he hides it from Eames just as well as he hides everything else. “You’ll do better here if you’re alone with him. You could encourage him to be more… forthcoming.”

Eames frowns, and his voice is softer than normal when he says, “Surely, Fischer knows that he doesn’t stand a chance.”

Arthur grimaces, and if it doubles as a grateful smile, only Eames has to know. “That doesn’t stop people from hoping, Eames. No one stops wanting things just because they can’t have them.”

“I know,” Eames says quietly, and Arthur averts his eyes because he might not have meant it that way, but he knows, too.

“I’ll be in the meeting room with the rest of the team,” Arthur tells him, standing up. “Pay attention to anything we can use. The smallest detail. I don’t need to tell you how to do your job.”

“Of course not,” Eames murmurs, and Arthur spares him one last glance before leaving.

It’s several hours before Eames returns. It means only one thing: Eames has found something worth investigating. Arthur keeps himself busy, going through the old PASIV documentation again in case there’s any information he’s missed. It’s towards the end of the day and Arthur has just finished reading an email that Miles has sent him when Eames walks into their makeshift office.

“Long day, don’t you think?” he asks, looking directly at Arthur. There’s a tension in his shoulders that says he has information he can’t share right here. Arthur is already on his feet, packing his things away. He’s curious to hear what Eames has found, and he has news of his own.

Ariadne, Yusuf and Cobb grab their bags as Arthur nods towards the door and their small talk fills the silence between Arthur and Eames as they walk shoulder to shoulder. Whatever Eames has to say, Arthur can tell that it’s important.

When they're finally in the team’s van, far from the offices of Fischer-Morrow, Eames finally clears his throat.

“I followed Fischer around for the better part of the afternoon, and despite what he may think, he’s not the one running the company. He’s the one approving everything, of course, but he’s been kept in the dark for so long that he doesn’t even realise it.” Eames wets his lips when he pauses. “It’s a pity, because Fischer trusts him so much. It’s his godfather. Maurice Fischer’s closest friend and right-hand man, Peter Browning.”

Arthur swears in a low voice. “That’s not good. I just got an email from Miles, and he sent me a list of the army personnel he remembers working with. I searched for them, but most of them are recorded to be dead or presumed deceased during the Rising. Except for Peter Browning.”

“Not good at all,” Eames says grimly. “So he’s the one behind all of this. Now what?”

“Now,” Arthur replies, looking around the van at the entire team, “we figure out how to take him down.”

By the end of the following day, they’ve made no progress on finding any useful information on Browning. He keeps to himself outside of meetings that he attends with Fischer and the rest of the board, and Eames has yet to find an excuse to follow him for some closer observation. It’s becoming a serious concern for them when, out of the blue, there’s a knock on the door of their conference room.

“Um, Arthur…?” Ariadne calls when she answers it. She glances over her shoulder, eyebrows drawn together, and Arthur is immediately on his feet, walking over to see who it is.

Standing in the doorway is Peter Browning himself, arms folded across his chest. Arthur can feel Eames standing right behind him and schools his expression into a mask of utter calm.

“Mr. Browning. This is a surprise.”

“I’m sure.” Browning gives Arthur a smile that doesn’t feel the least bit sincere. “Robert has told me about the work your little team is doing here and I thought I’d take some time out of my day to have a look for myself. It’s good to have people so dedicated to getting the story of Maurice Fischer out there, so we have something to remember him by.”

“I hear that you were best friends growing up,” Eames speaks up. He’s standing by Arthur’s side protectively, but Arthur can’t fault him for it when even he’s being set on edge by Browning’s presence.

“Indeed we were.” Browning makes his way into the room and takes a seat, reclining like he owns the place. Going by what they’ve pieced together, Arthur thinks, he pretty much does. Keeping this thought to himself, he sits down, subtly gesturing the others to sit as well.

“I’d like to assist you,” Browning says, steepling his fingers. “It makes sense for you to cover the projects we're currently working on, at Fischer-Morrow. We get some early advertising for our new products and you have exclusive information, drawing readers to your site. It would be mutually beneficial. Do we have a deal?”

Arthur and Eames look at each other, eyebrows raised, but it’s Cobb who speaks.

“That sounds almost too good to be true, sir.”

“I’m a man of my word,” Browning smiles. “In fact, if you still need to be convinced… I have an offer I don’t think you’ll turn down.”

“Alright.” Cobb folds his arms and looks at Browning expectantly. “Let’s hear it.”

“We have a select team working on a virtual reality tool that will revolutionise the entertainment industry.” Browning licks his lips. “It’s called the PASIV device, and it opens doors that no one has ever considered before. You can literally build an entire dream world with it. When it’s done, it’s what’s going to keep us at the top of the market. Your site’s ratings would be unbeatable with that kind of exclusive news.”

This time, Eames speaks before Cobb can. “That does sound incredibly enticing, but we won’t be able to make a decision without having a team meeting. We’ll give you an answer tomorrow morning.”

“I’ll be waiting for it.” Browning nods in approval, getting to his feet. “Thank you for you time.”

The moment Browning is gone, Eames turns on Cobb with fury in his eyes. “Next time you presume to speak for the team, Cobb, I would suggest that you remember one very important fact. You are not the leader of this team. That’s Arthur, and he would never make a decision for the entire team without letting everyone voice their opinions first.”

Cobb frowns. “But the answer is obvious—”

“That’s enough,” Arthur says sharply. He glances up at Ariadne and Yusuf, thankful for the way they subtly place themselves between Eames and Cobb. “Everyone pack your things. We’re going back to the house and having our meeting there. Eames, you’re riding in the front of the van with me. Cobb, you’re in the back.”

“That’s fair,” Cobb mutters sarcastically. “Just because you’re sleeping with him.”

“Can I punch him?” Eames asks, and there’s a tightness to his voice that tells Arthur that he’s just barely holding back.

“If he doesn’t have the sense to shut his mouth, I’ll punch him myself,” Arthur promises, loud enough that Cobb can hear. “Let’s go.”

The drive home is silent. Eames is tense beside Arthur, hands balled into fists, and he doesn’t need to speak for his anger to be clear. Arthur glances at him whenever possible, and from Eames’ small smile, it’s appreciated, even if it doesn’t fix anything.

It’s Yusuf who is the first to speak when they’re sitting around the dining table at the house. “So, is there a reason that we shouldn’t take Browning up on his offer? It does make our work a hell of a lot easier.”

“I don’t think it does.” This time, it’s Ariadne, shaking her head. “It’s just a way for him to keep an eye on us. Think about it. He can show us whatever he wants us to see and make us think that’s the whole story. We need to find out exactly how much Peter Browning is doing with the company behind Fischer’s back, and then figure out how to expose him.”

“The girl’s brilliant,” Eames says with a grin. “Couldn’t have said it better myself, Ariadne.”

She smiles at the praise, and then turns to Arthur. “So that’s two for going along with Browning and two against. What about you?”

“That’s not how we work,” Arthur reminds her patiently. With a sigh, he looks at Cobb, and then Eames. “I agree with Ariadne. I don’t think that Browning is making the offer out of the kindness of his own heart. Fischer-Morrow doesn’t need the exposure they’d get from our blogs. He’s presented us with a situation in which we’re the ones who clearly benefit more, and that makes me wonder exactly why he’s offering us access in the first place. He’s hiding something, and he’s making sure we won’t find any more information than we already have by keeping us right where he can see us.”

Eames nods, satisfied. “So that means—”

“But.” Arthur holds a finger up. “I think that if we make him think we’ve taken the bait, Browning will let his guard down. We go in, but we keep an eye out for anything suspicious. Browning gives us an inch, we run a mile. This is the best time for us to go looking for some proper answers.”

“So your answer is both, then,” Eames summarises, folding his arms across his chest. “Does it ever chafe, Arthur? Always sitting on the fence like that?”

“Don’t,” Arthur warns, not needing to specify. Eames has never directly made Arthur choose between him and Cobb, but sometimes, it seems far too close to it for comfort.

“Yeah,” Cobb snorts, clearly reading the rest in Arthur’s expression. “Like no one knows the answer to that question.”

“You, shut up before you get hurt,” Arthur growls, pointing a finger at Cobb. He turns on Eames, “And you, stop making this about yourself. This is a choice we need to make as a team, and we all need to agree on what we’re doing.”

It takes another half an hour, but in the end, it’s decided that they’ll play along in Browning’s little plan for them, and see how they can use it to their benefit. Then, the others are gone and it’s just Arthur, seeing them off, and Eames clearing the dining table.

“I’m sorry,” Eames murmurs, gaze fixed on the empty teacup he’s picking up from the table.

“You were angry,” Arthur replies with a small shrug.

“It’s Cobb.” Eames scowls. “He’s never done this before. Not until that blog post you made. He knows we’re not—together—and he has no right to remind us of it when we’re arguing over something entirely unrelated.”

“He’s right, though.” This time, it’s Arthur avoiding Eames’ eyes. “We might not be doing anything about the fact that we mean this much to each other, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m biased in your favour. That isn’t going to change just because Cobb thinks it’s going to make me agree with everything you’re going to say. You know yourself that it’s not the case.”

Eames chuckles warmly. “That I do.”

Arthur grins, and this moment right here is the most frustrating part of their relationship. They’re watching each other, close enough to touch, but they know that they shouldn’t. It’s just a matter of which one is strong enough to turn away first.

“Well.” Eames looks back down at the table, clearing his throat. “I’d better get these washed up.”

“Yeah.” Arthur nods lamely, following Eames with his gaze. “I’ll be reviewing your interview tapes with Fischer, alright?”

“I’ll come join you when I’m done,” Eames calls from the kitchen, and Arthur spares one last glance in his direction before going to his work station.

If there’s one thing I hate about you, Arthur, it’s the fact that even though you know my password, I know you aren’t going to read this. It’s going to sit in my drafts folder forever—until I get too damn embarrassed to keep it here any longer—and you won’t look at it once.

God, I just wish we could stop this. Stop tiptoeing around each other and just take what we both want. I wish that you’d throw caution to the wind, for this, for me.

You know how I feel, without me needing to tell you, but I promise you, Arthur, I’d never let you forget. I’d hold you carefully, I’d be gentle with you until you lost your patience with me. You’d tell me that you aren’t fragile, and I wouldn’t tell you that it has nothing to do with how delicate you feel in my arms, but how precious you are to me.

I’d give you anything you want, Arthur. I’d give you so much more than whatever it is you’re imagining when you’re in the bathroom too long and I pretend I can’t hear your soft panting. I’d fuck you through the mattress until we can’t think straight, until we can’t walk straight. I’d hold you down to the bed and see if I can get you to come with nothing more than my fingers inside you. I’d get my hands and mouth on you Arthur, and I swear, I’d never want to stop.

Bloody hell, this is pathetic. I hate us, for being too damn clever for our own good.

—From Dream A Little Bigger, the blog of David Eames, February 27, 2039. Unpublished.

Just fuck me.

Forget this stupid bullshit we keep feeding ourselves about our professional relationship and fuck me, Eames.

—From Paradox, the blog of Arthur Wolff, June 8, 2037. Unpublished.

The next day is already off to a bad start by the time the team arrives at Fischer-Morrow, when Eames announces that despite their plans to lull Browning into a false sense of security, he’s not going to join them.

“I contacted Fischer,” he tells them in the van. “He’s promised to show me around the offices in person… it seems that I’ve made quite the impression on him. I’m sure I’ll manage to convince Browning that I’m not a threat.”

Arthur’s seen it before; he’s seen Eames play the vapid reporter who flirts shamelessly with his interviewees. He hates it, but he can’t deny the fact that it’s effective. But even if it means that they’ll have someone close to Robert Fischer to figure out just how much he knows, it’s a last-minute change, and it does not make Arthur happy. He does not hesitate to let it show.

“Damn it, Eames,” he hisses. “We had a plan. We make plans for a reason.”

“Look.” Eames lowers his voice, speaking right into Arthur’s ear. “There are two ways this can go. Either I spend my day in close quarters with Cobb, pretending I’m happy about the fact that Browning’s limiting the amount of information we get and thinks he’s being so fucking clever about it. Or I stay the hell away from Cobb, no one gets punched in the face, and I get us some extra information. Which one do you prefer?”

“You’d better get us some good information,” Arthur replies with a scowl.

Eames simply laughs, patting his shoulder. “You know me, Arthur.”

With that, Eames turns to leave and Arthur sighs, preparing himself for what already feels like a long day.

By lunch time, Arthur is in desperate need of a cigarette. He doesn’t smoke much these days, but he’d started when he was younger, when Eames had offered him one with a smirk, saying, “Might as well take advantage of the fact that it’ll never give us cancer, yeah?”

It doesn’t really surprise him that when he goes up to the rooftop, Eames is already there, crushing a cigarette butt beneath his heel as he lights another.

Arthur hangs back for a moment, because it’s not often that he gets to see Eames in a suit and he certainly enjoys the view. Then he walks up to Eames, leans on the railing beside him and slants him a smile.

“I can tell your day has been nice and stress-free.”

“Arthur.” Eames’ hand comes up to rest on the small of Arthur’s back, the touch a little possessive. “I was just—fuck, am I glad to see you.”

“You were worried,” Arthur accuses, his eyes narrowing. It’s hypocritical to get irritated, he knows, but if he focuses on that, it means he doesn’t need to think about how unpleasant it is, being separated from Eames all day. Judging by the fact that Eames hasn’t moved his hand from Arthur’s back, the feeling’s mutual.

“I hate being away from you,” Eames murmurs, confirming it. He offers his lighter as Arthur pulls a cigarette out of his own crumpled carton, lighting it with an easy flick. “Nobody works with you as well as I do, and I hate the thought of you having to make do. With Cobb.”

As always, Arthur thinks of several ways that he can point out that he works well with Cobb too, that Cobb was his mentor for a long time, before everything fell apart, before Eames started hating the man. This time, however, he simply sighs and allows himself to turn into Eames’ touch just a little. “I don’t want to talk about Cobb.”

“Good.” The way Eames moves towards him is not subtle at all. “Neither do I.”

They do this sometimes. They’re both self-aware enough that they know it’s a bad idea, but when they’re stressed, when they’re on edge, there’s nothing that will calm them as much as simply being close to each other. Eames finally moves his hand away from Arthur’s back, and they lean there, against the railing on the roof of the Fischer-Morrow building, shoulder to shoulder.

Then, Eames’ hand returns, higher on Arthur’s back this time, sliding up between his shoulder blades. Arthur turns easily, not even sure where his cigarette’s gone until he shifts and feels it under his shoe. He doesn’t look down to check, because Eames is holding his gaze. The hand on Arthur's back is drawing him closer and his own hand is resting on Eames’ chest and god fucking damn it, he knows what comes next.

He shuts his eyes, but doesn’t turn his head away. Eames’ breath ghosts over his face, warm and wonderful and so incredibly torturous. It’s a struggle for Arthur to find his voice, to say, “No, Eames.”

“No,” Eames echoes. His nose skims against Arthur's forehead and he takes a deep breath. They’re both still for a moment, and Eames’ fingers tense on Arthur’s shoulder, frustrated, before he pulls away. “No. You’re right.”

“I wish I wasn’t,” Arthur whispers. He’s not meant to, he knows, and Eames’ eyes darken with pure desire that Arthur can feel, too. He takes a step back for good measure, hating himself, hating Eames, hating the world for the way things are. “We’re being told about how the PASIV works today, how you can make your own dream world, without zombies, where…”

“Where we’d have no reason to do this stupid dance,” Eames finishes for him. He smiles, small and sad. “That’s the problem with dreams, Arthur. They aren’t real.”

“I need to get back to work,” Arthur lies, thankful when Eames doesn’t call him on it. “I’ll see you at the end of the day.”

“Take care, Arthur,” Eames murmurs, and it makes Arthur realise that he’d never gotten around to sorting out the jumble of thoughts in his mind. He turns his mind to Browning on the elevator ride back down from the roof, so that he doesn’t dwell on Eames.

He can tell that their every move is being watched closely by Browning. Arthur is not a naturally suspicious person, but his job has definitely made him catalogue every little detail he notices. He can’t simply shrug off the way Browning is constantly hovering about the team as they’re given a basic introduction to the PASIV, with all the details watered down, not even one single mention of the fact that it had once been a military device.

It’s frustrating; not only is Browning slowing down their work, he’s so incredibly smug about it that Arthur can only wonder how Fischer doesn’t see through it immediately.

At least Cobb seems interested in their little tour, hanging on to every piece of information he gets, like the good reporter he once was. His eyes are sharp and intelligent again, rather than clouded over with grief and what Arthur sometimes suspects to be madness. It’s a welcome change, and Arthur sits back, letting Cobb ask all the questions, savouring the glimpses of the man he once knew.

“We need to have a meeting back at the house,” Cobb announces at the end of the day. Eames looks irritated by the fact that he's taken charge again, but calms down when he sees that Arthur isn’t bothered.

“Did I miss something?” Eames asks in a low voice, riding shotgun as Arthur drives them home.

“You should have seen Cobb today,” Arthur replies quietly. “It was just like old times. He was asking all the right questions, making the most out of our bad situation. Even if Browning was trying to keep us from doing our own work, I don’t think he realised exactly how much information he gave us, thanks to Cobb.”

Eames glances over his shoulder, to where Cobb is sitting in the back with his notebook out, reading and rewriting his notes. “Just because he surprised you today, Arthur…”

“I know he’s not back. I know he’s probably never going to be, but damn it, Eames, just let me pretend for a while?”

“You’re the one dedicated to the truth,” Eames murmurs, and he reaches out to touch Arthur’s shoulder before reconsidering. It’s not a good idea, after their small lapse in self-control earlier. He sits back in his seat and his tone is light when he says, “If I didn’t know better, Arthur, I’d be jealous.”

Arthur simply huffs in reply. Eames does know better, so he simply changes the subject. “What did you get on Fischer?”

“Got another lovely interview to post, talking about growing up with people like his father and Peter Browning around to inspire him. Touching story, really.”

“And it meant that you had a good reason to ask him everything you could about his relationship with Browning.” Arthur nods approvingly.

“He has no idea, Arthur.” Eames’ voice is quiet and angry. “He doesn’t deserve this. He trusts Browning with everything he has, but the man has no problem simply using him as a pawn to unleash this dangerous device on the world…”

“Browning is giving the world access to the PASIV device, knowing full well exactly how dangerous it can be,” Arthur points out, not taking his eyes off the road. “You can’t expect someone like that to be a decent human being.”

Cobb’s opinion, however, is very different. He has nothing but praise for Browning and the entire PASIV project during their team meeting, insisting that it’s going to change the world—that it will help the world.

“We… are talking about the same thing, right?” Ariadne asks, her eyebrows raised. “Pre-Rising military device? Has the potential to make people lose their grip on reality?”

“Forget all of that. It’s being upgraded, Ariadne. It’s going to be safer. Besides, you’d need to buy enough somnacin to keep dreaming, and they’ll regulate that. They’ll make sure that people don’t go overboard.”

“And what about the risk of people growing addicted?” Yusuf speaks up. “If not to the substance itself, then they’ll get addicted to dreaming. If you really can build your own world, however you want it, of course people are going to want to do it all the time.”

“Besides, you can regulate all you want, and people will still find ways to get around the rules. They’ll start hoarding somnacin. Making it themselves. Think of how the black market would thrive.” Eames folds his arms, levelling Cobb with a look of utter contempt. “As much as I do enjoy watching you make a fool out of yourself, mate, I think it’s time that someone point out the fact that Saito approached you to stop the production of the PASIV and you seem to be keen on doing the exact opposite.”

“We can still stop it,” Cobb says seriously, and his expression is so sober that Arthur dares to hope that he’s regained his senses. Then he continues to say, “I just don’t see any harm in allowing Fischer-Morrow to complete their production of it and release it first. Then we can expose the PASIV devices for how dangerous they really are, and everything will come crashing down.”

“Cobb, we’re not trying to do that kind of damage—” Arthur begins, but he falls silent when he hears Eames’ low growl of anger.

“Fuck me, I see what you’re trying to do here.” Eames begins advancing on Cobb, stopping when they’re face to face. “You want one, don’t you? You don’t give a shit about how dangerous it is, or how much damage it does, because all you care about is getting your grubby hands on one of your own. I shouldn’t even be surprised—we should all know by now that you don’t care about anyone but yourself.”

“Eames,” Arthur warns, taking a step forward, but he’s ignored.

“Let me guess, you want to create a happy little world where Mal is still alive, so you don’t have to deal with all of your guilt, because you can’t deal with the fact that she’s gone, that you were too damn selfish to let her go when you needed—”

Without warning, Cobb punches Eames in the face. He’s red-faced with fury as he grabs the front of Eames’ shirt. “You think you can just go ahead and treat me like the bad guy because I couldn’t shoot the one person I loved most in the entire world? You act like I’m the one in the wrong when you’re the one who shot my wife?”

“She wasn’t your wife anymore,” Arthur says, but freezes in his tracks when Cobb reaches for his gun.

Eames’ eyes darken. “Cobb.”

“That’s right.” Cobb is wild-eyed as he raises his gun, pointing it at Arthur. The safety is still on, but Arthur feels his stomach bottom out all the same. “See how you like it when I point my gun at the person you care about most in the world.”

Eames grabs Cobb’s gun hand, twisting it away from Arthur and pressing down hard. Cobb drops the gun with a cry of pain, but Eames isn’t done with him. The first punch makes Cobb’s head jerk backwards and the next sends him crashing down to the floor. Eames follows him down, fists and elbows and knees still striking at Cobb until Arthur and Yusuf rush forward to separate them.

“Stop it,” Arthur shouts when Eames struggles against him. “Stop!”

“Don’t you fucking dare do that again,” Eames snarls, still scrambling to reach Cobb. Yusuf is helping Arthur hold him down with all he has, but Eames still has the strength to struggle against their combined weight. “You point your gun at Arthur again and I’ll kill you, you hear me?”

“Eames,” Arthur says, as patiently as he can. “Stop that. It’s okay.”

“It’s not bloody okay,” Eames growls, but he stops struggling, staying where he is on the floor. Arthur sighs with relief, not letting go of Eames just yet.

“Get him out of here,” Arthur instructs, nodding in Cobb’s direction without getting up. It’s really a request for Ariadne and Yusuf to leave them alone too, and their team is good enough to know how to read between the lines.

“It’s not okay,” Eames repeats, once the others are gone. He sighs loudly and when Arthur leans against him, he doesn't seem to mind. “I don't trust Cobb. I didn’t, even before this, but now…”

“The safety was on,” Arthur says calmly and even to his own ears, it sounds like he's trying to convince himself. “He wasn't going to shoot.”

Eames snorts, seeing right through Arthur just as he always does. “Do you trust him enough to let him do it to you again? Because believe me, if he tries, I’ll break his fingers. One at a time.”

“He was trying to make a point,” Arthur says quietly. “To show you how it felt to watch you shoot Mal.”

Eames tenses, and his voice is much lower, almost a growl, when he says, “She wasn't Mal when I shot her.”

“I don't think Cobb sees it that way.”

"Well, I don't give a fuck what Cobb thinks," Eames mutters, looking at Arthur as if challenging him to make this an issue. “After this, Arthur, we are kicking him from the team for good. I never want to work with him again. And I’m keeping an eye on him. No matter how much you want to believe in him, he’s up to something. He wants the PASIV to be released. He wants one for himself. Just try and tell me I’m wrong.”

Arthur sighs, sitting on the floor beside Eames, one hand still on his shoulder, and says nothing.

The next day, Arthur tries as hard as he can to treat Cobb the same as ever. It’s impossible. Even without the gun incident, Eames’ doubt is enough to have him double-guessing every single thing that Cobb does. A day ago, if anybody had asked Arthur who he’d trusted more between Eames and Cobb, he would have found a way to change the subject. Now, there’s no point in denying the truth. He may owe a lot to Cobb, but if it comes down to it, he knows he’d take Eames’ side in a heartbeat.

It doesn’t help that his gut is telling him to watch out for Cobb. He hasn’t come this far by ignoring his gut instincts.

Eames stays with the rest of the team this time, reluctant to let Arthur out of his sight for longer than strictly necessary.

Arthur is used to Eames’ occasional bouts of possessiveness. To be fair, Arthur has them too, so he has no right to complain. However, it does drive Cobb away. Despite his other failings, Cobb does have the presence of mind to stay well away from danger. He puts a good distance between Eames and himself, conversing with Browning instead. Infuriatingly, this means he's also staying out of Arthur's earshot—a fact that would bother him enough as it is, but is made worse by the fact that it’s Browning, of all people, that Cobb is speaking to.

When Arthur relates his irritation to Eames, all he gets is a warm laugh. It’s certainly not what he’d expected, and he simply stares at Eames until he gets an explanation.

“Oh, Arthur.” Eames is still grinning, shaking his head. He brings his mouth to Arthur’s ear, so close that Arthur can actually feel the curve of his lips. “You know me better than that. I knew Cobb would avoid us today. Just like I know that he’s up to something. That’s why I made sure to plant a bug on him. I asked Yusuf to make some new ones a while back. Something small that Cobb will never notice. It records all the information into a secure server that only we can access.”

“How long have you been planning this?” Arthur asks in a low voice. “And when were you going to tell me?”

“Since Cobb joined the main team again.” Eames smiles at him without humour. “And I’m telling you now, aren’t I? Now that I’ve actually got a reason to use it.”

Shaking his head, Arthur glances at Cobb, and then back to Eames. “He’s a member of our team, damn it.”

“For now.” Eames places a hand on Arthur's back, guiding him as they follow the rest of the team. “We’ll have a listen to what he’s saying to Browning when we get home tonight, and find out how much the team really means to Cobb, hm?”

“Right.” Arthur doesn’t bothering trying to hide how much the thought unsettles him.

Eames sighs, squeezing Arthur’s shoulder with a sympathetic look. “Come on. We’ll deal with it later.”

Arthur truly does try pushing it from his mind, but it proves to be impossible when Cobb is right there, constantly shadowing Browning. Arthur no longer likes the way Cobb is hanging onto every single word Browning says, his mind full of all the possible things they could be talking about, all the possible ways Cobb could be breaking the team’s trust.

Ariadne is just as observant as Eames, even if she doesn’t know him as well, and catches his eye with a grimace. She walks over to him, following his gaze to Cobb and back. “You know, you’re perfectly within your rights to be shaken about what happened yesterday. Hell, even I feel weird about him now, and he was your best friend.”

“He was never my best friend,” Arthur mutters, in favour of figuring out how to reply to the rest. “That was Eames. Only Eames.”

“Eames is…” Ariadne sighs, gesturing expansively as if trying to say both, way more than that, and, forget I mentioned it.

He takes pity on her and nods, just once. “I guess.”

“I was talking to Yusuf yesterday,” she tells him, her voice dropping even lower. “We both agreed that, well, if you’re going to kick Cobb out, we don’t have a problem with it.“

“We’re not—” Arthur begins, defending Cobb out of habit before his brain catches up. He runs a hand through his hair, pretending that he‘s smoothing it back into place rather than buying time. Ariadne isn‘t fooled, but Arthur keeps his expression free of the weariness he feels. “We’ll just watch him for now and see, alright? If we’re a little more careful than usual, well, he can’t blame us.”

“Right.” Ariadne nods, and Arthur feels better, letting himself pretend just briefly that he’d helped with her concerns, rather than his own.

Still, Cobb and Browning spend most of the day conversing away from the rest of the team. Even if Arthur isn‘t impatiently waiting to listen to the recordings to find out exactly what they‘re talking about, he hates not having anything to do, now that Browning is ignoring the rest of them.

Eames is calm—he knows Yusuf well, and has always praised his work. It’s true, Yusuf is certainly brilliant. His recording devices are good enough to be spy technology, and he makes sure that they’re resistant to the usual disablers.

Arthur can tell, from the confidence in both Eames and Yusuf‘s expressions, that this particular bug is more resilient than usual. Cobb wouldn‘t be able to turn it off even if he knew it was there.

But if Arthur dislikes standing around with nothing to do, Eames absolutely loathes it. Browning is in a completely different part of the research and development lab with Cobb, and the other employees seem happy to ignore them entirely. So of course, Eames and Ariadne start playing up their charm, flirting their way into the restricted sections of the lab that store the classified data.

The two of them make sure that everyone is distracted, while Arthur and Yusuf make use of the fact that Browning is nowhere nearby to stop them.

Arthur has three small cameras on him; one in his suit button, one in his cufflink, and the last in his pen. He isn‘t sure how many cameras Yusuf has hidden on him, but they get to work, taking photos of all the information they can find. They don’t try to push their luck; there’s no point in digging for information if they're going to be caught.

Arthur looks at Eames, raising an eyebrow at the young man watching him reverentially. Eames catches Arthur looking and grins, prompting the other man to turn and look as well. The look of utter mortification on the poor man’s face is almost enough to make Arthur pity him. He simply stares back, waiting for Eames to make his excuses and walk over to him.

“Jealous?“ Eames teases with a small smirk.

“Please,“ Arthur huffs, tucking his pen back into his jacket pocket. “You‘d never catch me staring at you like you‘re the most amazing thing on earth.“

“Sure you aren‘t self-projecting?“ Eames asks with a wink. “Only joking, of course. We both know that if anyone is deserving of the title, it‘s—“

“Cobb,“ Arthur interrupts.

“Not even close, Arthur, do try and keep up—“

“I mean it‘s Cobb.“ Arthur clears his throat. “Walking towards us. Without Browning, for the first time all day.“

“It is four-thirty,“ Eames says, checking his watch. “I suppose even bastards like Browning need a break from Cobb.“

“Eames.“ By this point, it's just a token protest. Arthur eyes Cobb warily as he joins them, already looking out for Cobb's tics.

“Hey guys.“ Cobb doesn‘t quite meet their eyes and Arthur sees the guilt in his expression and can’'t help thinking, good.

“I do hope your day has been nice and productive,“ Eames says with a cold smile. “If my day had been any less interesting, I would have been forced to start a zombie outbreak, just to make things more lively.“

“Bored Irwin, always a dangerous thing,” Arthur speaks up with forced cheer, firmly pulling Eames along before he can start another fight.

“I did get something useful from Browning.” Cobb’s voice is quiet but determined. “I’m sorry if you guys were bored but I… have a lot to sort through. How about we head home? I’ll email you all with what I have once I make sense of it.”

Arthur can tell that Cobb is just eager to get out of here and Eames seems to notice it too, but neither of them says anything about it. The sooner they leave, the sooner they can listen to the voice recording waiting for them at home.

It takes a good hour until Arthur and Eames finally get home, after dropping everyone else off. Eames makes dinner while Arthur sorts through the photos he and Yusuf took of the PASIV documents. Yusuf and Ariadne are already logged into their private chatroom, comparing the photos of the information they already have from before, thanks to Arthur’s hacking and Miles’ contributions. The recording from the bugging device plays in the background and Arthur half-listens to it. There’s nothing interesting just yet; Cobb is poking around the development lab from the sounds of it, asking basic questions that he already knows the answers to.

Eames comes into the room, placing a bowl of noodles beside Arthur’s keyboard, and begins skipping through the recording. He goes past the bits that they can recognise—from when Cobb was still near the group—and stops once they reach the part where he’d gone off with Browning.

Arthur checks the screen and sighs. “That’s still a good four hours of recording to get through.”

“Not my fault that he spent half the day with Browning, is it? I just want to know exactly what they were talking about for such a long time, because I can tell you now that they weren’t exchanging pleasantries.” Eames cuts himself off, briefly running his hand through Arthur’s hair by way of an apology. “I don’t mean to take it out on you.”

“I know,” Arthur murmurs, savouring the contact for a moment longer before he sits up in his chair. “Hey, look at this. The risk assessment report for the old PASIV, next to the current one.”

He brings them both up on his main monitor, and Eames reads through them, shaking his head in disbelief. “It’s like they’re talking about two entirely different things!”

The pre-Rising documentation lists all the potential risks of shared dreaming, from somnacin-dependency to hardware malfunctions within the dream state, to heavy use resulting in a weakened grasp on reality. It’s thorough and makes a very clear case against the wide-spread use of the PASIV device. In contrast, the document they’d found at Fischer-Morrow lists none of these things. Arthur can only imagine who Browning must have paid off, but these reports make the PASIV device sound completely harmless.

“This is ridiculous,” Arthur mutters, making a new folder on their server for anything that would come in handy for exposing Browning. He types furiously, explaining all of this to Yusuf and Ariadne as he listens to the recording of Cobb going through the standard interview questions with Browning. It goes for an entire hour, during which they learn nothing that is actually related to what they’re after. Cobb’s interview sounds like he really is intending to do a story on Browning’s decades-old friendship with Maurice Fischer, and by the time he’s done asking question, Eames is sitting at his desk, face pressed against the keyboard. Arthur ends his chat with Yusuf and Ariadne and sits there, staring at the ceiling, trying to pay attention to every little thing he hears, just in case it’s important.

“I should have known better than to expect Cobb to actually be interesting,” Eames grumbles, getting up and stretching. “Pause it. I’ll make us some coffee.”

“Double strength,” Arthur calls after him.

“Nothing less for you, my dearest,” Eames replies cheerfully and soon enough, he’s returning with two steaming mugs. He pulls his chair over to sit beside Arthur and reclines in it, taking a careful sip from his mug. “Back to the excitement then, yeah?”

They don’t need to wait much longer after that before things begin to get interesting.

“Alright, Mr. Cobb,” Browning’s voice cuts through Cobb’s attempt at small-talk. “We both know exactly why we’re here so why don’t we just cut to the chase? Your team knows about the work we’re doing here on the PASIV device—you knew before I even mentioned it to you. I have to admit, you’ve been doing a great job of playing dumb all this time, but why don’t you tell me exactly what you know, and where you got your information?”

Cobb is silent for a long, nerve-wracking moment before finally saying, “I’m sorry. There must be some kind of misunderstanding…”

Arthur lets out a breath he’d been holding without even realising, relief coursing through him. Cobb hadn’t taken the opportunity to sell the team out. He can tell by the way that Eames’ shoulders relax that even he approves.

Of course, in that time, Browning comes up with a different approach.

“Okay, Cobb. Why don’t we strike up a deal? I’m sure I can think of something that would interest you.”

“Mr. Browning, I—”

“How about this? Tell me everything you know. Point me towards your sources. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. We have fully-functional PASIV devices we use in our tests. You give me what I want, and I’ll give you a PASIV of your own. What do you say?”

“Fuck.” Arthur’s blood runs cold. There’s only one way this can go, and Eames knows it too, from the way he immediately sits up.

Cobb’s silence is shorter this time, but much more torturous. He sucks in a deep breath and says, “It would look too suspicious if the rest of the team saw me with one.”

“That’s an easy problem to solve. I’ll personally make sure that it’s delivered to your home. You’ll have your PASIV, I just have some conditions.”

“No one can know.” Cobb sounds defeated already. “Not the team. Not Fischer.”

“Especially not Robert,” Browning says sternly. “Now, if you want that PASIV, Mr. Cobb…”

“Jonathan Miles,” Cobb replies. “My father-in-law. He was involved in the development of the earlier PASIV, before the Rising.”

“Project Oneiros.” Browning hums. “I knew it. Keep going, Cobb. Don’t leave anything out.”

The conversation continues, but Arthur doesn’t register any of it. He and Eames stare at each other with twin looks of wide-eyed horror.

“Shit,” Arthur says succinctly, more than a little panicked.

“Shit,” Eames agrees. “We’re utterly fucked, aren’t we?”

Arthur’s never been good at lying to Eames, and there’s no point in doing so now. “Yeah. Really, really fucked.”

Two years ago to this day, I killed one of my best friends. She was more than a friend to me; she was my mentor. My inspiration for all the crazy shit that I do for fun. I aimed my favourite gun between her eyes and shot her, point blank.

Honestly, it was much easier than I expected it to be. When Kellis-Amberlee takes hold of someone, they stop being your best friend, your wife, your mother, whoever. They die. The least you can do is shoot them while they still remember who they are.

Mallorie Cobb underwent amplification after being bitten while we were in the field, on July 16, 2038. Kellis-Amberlee killed her, so I killed her again.

We all die two deaths, in this world of ours. That’s the way the world works, and it’s something that we have to deal with. Me? I live my life comforted by the knowledge that when the day comes that those little lights on my blood test kit settle on red—and it will—I have Arthur. I live safe in the knowledge that someone loves me enough to kill me, when it comes down to it. I have someone who loves me enough that they would rather shoot me than let me turn into something entirely unrecognisable.

So before you go to sleep tonight, look at your partner. Look at your parents. Look at your children. And ask yourself: do they love you enough to kill you when they need to? And do you love them the same way?

I hope you know the answer to this. And I’d say that I hope you never need to find out for real, but I’m not that deluded.

—From Dream A Little Bigger, the blog of David Eames, September 18, 2040.



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February 2012


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