|Dreamers of the Day
Author: Elizabeth Culmer PM
How Gwen Levine got into dreamshare, kicked ass, took names, and found herself entangled with a forger going by the name of Eames, and how said forger found himself similarly caught. Girl!Arthur/Eames, as told in twenty-one prompt fills for be-themoon.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Friendship/Romance - Arthur & Eames - Words: 12,125 - Reviews: 7 - Favs: 25 - Follows: 1 - Published: 01-04-12 - Status: Complete - id: 7711771
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by Christopher Nolan, et al. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Note: This story was written out of order as a series of prompt fills for be_themoon on caramelsilver's Three Sentence Ficathon (caramelsilver. livejournal. com/ 140906. html). You will note that I completely and utterly failed to play by the structure and length restrictions inherent to the 'three-sentence' concept. *wince* Anyway, a couple prompts in, I realized my fills were all set in the same world and began assembling them into a semi-coherent timeline. This is the result.
The sections of this fic have been slightly modified from the initial fills on the ficathon post. I have also modified the prompt texts in the process of turning them into section headings.
Summary: How Gwen Levine got into dreamshare, kicked ass, took names, and found herself inextricably entangled with a forger going by the name of Eames, and how said forger found himself similarly caught. Girl!Arthur/Eames, as told in a series of twenty prompt fills for be_themoon (and one more just because). Contains some violence and some oblique mention of child abuse and murder.
Dreamers of the Day
1. making it in the business
Point one: Anyone who assumes a former Marine doesn't know how to fight, how to assess a situation gone fubar and make a plan to get out (with or without achieving the mission objective, because while she's a perfectionist, she's also not stupid or willing to sacrifice her team or herself for no reason), and how to gather and analyze intelligence, is a Grade A fucking idiot, and Gwen has no time for them; she will do her part of the job, walk away, and spread word that so-and-so is an idiot who can't recognize talent when he sees it. As her reputation grows, her evaluation carries more and more weight.
Point two: Sexual harassment earns broken fingers or bruised ribs in reality, and a very, very, painful death in the dream; after Iraq and Afghanistan, Gwen knows a lot of ugly ways to die. Word gets around.
Point three: It helps to have another woman around, even if Mal has never been to war and has never quite learned to see guns as anything beyond slightly unreal toys; she is still brilliant and fierce, she's trained Dom to respect her and all other women by extension, she laughs and flings her arms around Gwen and drags her off on mad quests and lunches and library tours and shopping sprees, and she creates a space where Gwen can let down her guard and just be, if only between jobs (because jobs are different, even if she doesn't have to fight Dom to get her opinions heard). Those moments of grace keep her sane.
2. I dreamed a lot bigger
The first time Gwen meets Eames, they're two levels down and Eames is auditioning for Mal and Dom's newest experiment - openly shifting from shape to shape at a steady rate of one a minute and waiting to see how fast it will take untrained and unmilitarized minds to catch on to the anomaly. When Mal says, "Yes, excellent, now let us discuss the petty financial details," Eames settles down into a woman's skin: Caucasian, brunette, a bit blocky around the shoulders and waist but perfectly, obviously female in gait and word choice and attitude. Gwen watches Eames pull a Sig Sauer P230 from nowhere with skilled fingers, demonstrating her ability to escape any unintended consequences of the trials, and thinks, finally. Someone else who slogged her way through the military, through the shadier aspects of dreamshare, through the general shit life throws on women who care more about competence than gender presentation.
Eames tilts her head toward Gwen as Mal and Dom wander off talking about architecture and the uses of the pathetic fallacy, and says, "So what will you be doing during all this nonsense? It seems a waste of your skills."
"Someone has to keep the lovebirds safe while they take notes," Gwen says dryly.
Eames laughs and makes her handgun disappear. "Point for you. So tell me, when's your next extraction job likely to come up? The good professors Cobb can't be getting all their funding from grants, not with the way your military came down like a ton of bricks on the dreamshare. I've heard rumors about you three for years, and I'd love to watch you in proper action, not just babysitting."
"We'll see, Ms. Eames," Gwen says, as the warning music begins to play, eerie and drawn-out almost beyond recognition. She smiles more warmly than she often does with strangers, and wonders if the forger might be interested in coffee some afternoon.
Then they wake and she sees the man.
Dreams hurt when they break.
3. it goes off like a gun brighter than the sun
People who assume Gwen is uptight and cold are simply unobservant idiots, Eames thinks; they see her suits, her guns, the severe knot of her dark hair, and read her professionalism if it were the only truth of her self. Anyone who pays the slightest bit of attention can see the depth of her protectiveness toward the Cobbs and their daughter, can watch her slouch and tip back her chairs and roll up her sleeves without any care for her image or the wrinkles she makes in her shirts, can catch the sly jokes she makes at the expense of less talented or less prepared teammates (or, be fair, at his expense, because somehow they seem to have got off on the wrong foot after that first dream). She's economical with her emotional expression, to be sure, but calm isn't the same as cold. Eames rather admires her restraint, even as he needles her to bring out flashes of stronger emotion.
Then comes the dream where everything goes wrong. The mark turns out to have been repressing decades of hatred toward her sister, which rather ruins Eames's forge. The second level collapses, sending Eames and the good professors Cobb back up to the first, where Gwen is shocked to see them wake early with curses on their lips. Dom refuses to write off the job (something about departmental politics, funding changes, and a possibly unwise clandestine deal with a federal agency) and so he and Gwen hastily hash out a plan that involves a lot more improvising than Eames expects. Somehow all this results in Eames and Gwen bursting into a dragon's cave armed with magical grenades and bayonets while the Cobbs sneak around the back to the treasure.
As she swings down from the dragon's severed neck, Gwen smiles at Eames, and it's so blinding and real he thinks she might as well have stabbed him in the heart. She has dimples. She's the most dangerous woman he knows (yes, even more than Mal or his mum, though only by a whisker in the latter case). He wants to spend the rest of his life making her smile like that again.
"Darling, has anyone ever told you you're beautiful covered in blood?" he asks, his mouth running away from him as it sometimes does. Most likely she'll take the compliment the wrong way, hear it as another dig instead of awestruck admiration, but Eames can't help himself. He has no idea what expression is on his face right now: most unprofessional of him.
Luck is with him; Gwen laughs. "You would be the first to express that sentiment, Mr. Eames," she says. "Grab your weapons and help me take care of the horde of angry villagers coming up the path."
They pull off the job, but in the grand scheme of things, Eames can't really bring himself to care about such petty details as that. The important thing is that he slung an arm around Gwen's shoulders as the dream collapsed, and for two seconds she let him. He's had worse beginnings.
4. perhaps a paradise, a serious paradise
Eames gives careful consideration to seducing Gwen. Or rather, to not seducing her, as that isn't the right word at all. There's a skid and skew to the concept that doesn't suit his intentions. He wants, oddly enough, to do this honestly, to be good. He wants to be her friend.
He wants sex, too, of course, but that's just bodies. Gwen's heart and mind and her steady presence at his back are much better things to dream of.
The best treasures are always hardest to win. Fortunately, Eames likes a challenge.
He starts small: the next time the Cobbs hire him for an extraction (they do find the best jobs, always some interesting complication that other teams decline to face), he soberly and seriously asks Gwen for her help researching the two marks' husbands. He can tail them, strike up conversations with their acquaintances, and run a basic Google search, but Gwen's the one with a PI license and a background in military signals intelligence. She can hunt down things Eames has no way to learn, and it's more efficient if they pool their investigations instead of trading summaries in group meetings with Dom and Mal.
Gwen gives him a considering look, but doesn't comment on his change of attitude. She just gets on with her job, as always. Her ability to focus is one of her more impressive gifts, Eames thinks: she will do things correctly or bust, and to Hades with anything that tries to distract her from solving the thousand little and not-so-little emergencies that sprout like weeds around any extraction.
When they finish, there's no rush to leave town. Los Angeles is huge and filled with transient visitors, and there's nothing to link them to the two lovers in their rented suite. Gwen is scarily good with cameras, Eames is rather skilled with stolen key cards, and Dom and Mal have a perfect excuse to be right across the corridor in their own rented love nest: they have, as all their university colleagues have been informed, a reservation to both escape their children for a weekend and celebrate the anniversary of their first meeting on one of Miles's projects. The Cobbs vanish behind closed doors with a bottle of champagne and conspiratorial smiles, leaving Eames and Gwen to make their more conventional escapes.
As he pushes open the stairwell door - because Gwen has a thing about stairs and Eames isn't afraid of physical exertion - he says, in what he hopes is a casual tone of voice, "So, job well done, congratulations to us. I'm for a drink, maybe dinner. Do you have any restaurant recommendations?"
Gwen gives him the same considering look from last week, only this time there's more weight behind her gaze. Her dark hair is out of its sleek bonds, falling free and wavy over her shoulders, and she's wearing jeans and a flowered blouse instead of her usual trousers and patterned waistcoats: less memorable, just in case. Eames has seen her in everything from sleeveless ball gowns to military fatigues in dreams, but it's different in waking life. This pretty, forgettable woman is not who Gwen chooses to be... except insofar as it is, because this is the temporary camouflage that will let her do the work she loves, lives, and breathes. The PASIV's silver case may be concealed inside a hideous purple-striped duffle bag and Gwen's gun may be likewise concealed in a belly band, but woe to anyone who forgets that either is there, just waiting for her hands to wield them.
"If we have sex, which I presume is what you're maneuvering toward, will it affect our working relationship?" Gwen asks, straightforward as ever.
Eames misses a beat. Really, it was dense of him not to expect her to catch on; discovering secrets is what she does, when she's not wrangling projections or pointing out the flaws in Dom and Mal's wilder schemes. Then he shrugs and smiles, one hand resting lightly on the central rail of the stairs. "Not on my end," he says. "I wouldn't dare to speak for you."
The corners of Gwen's mouth flicker upward for half a second before she pulls her face under control. "How uncharacteristically cautious of you," she says dryly. "Speaking of which, are you genuinely interested in dinner or would you prefer to cut to the main event?"
"...Room service, after?" Eames manages. "My hotel's just down the street."
Gwen smiles. With dimples. "Lead the way, Mr. Eames," she says, and transfers the duffle bag to his hands.
She's almost a whole flight down, boots clicking purposefully on the concrete steps, before Eames pulls himself together and scrambles to catch up.
5. where lovers hold hands / and everything works
Eames expects Gwen to leave after she showers, slides back into her jeans and blouse (but no socks or boots, Eames can't help noticing), and shares a late dinner with him. She has her own room in a different hotel, and he can't quite wrap his head around the idea of her returning there in the morning wearing day-old clothes.
But after they get rid of the room service paraphernalia, Gwen flops onto his bed, chest propped up on a pillow, and starts flipping through television channels. "I wish it were football season already," she says wistfully. "The Stanley Cup playoffs are done, baseball's never been my thing, and tennis and golf are like watching paint dry."
"Basketball?" Eames suggests. He wouldn't have taken Gwen for a sport fan, but now that he comes to think on it, it would explain the non-musical noises he's heard from her headset now and then while she's slogging through database searches.
"The NBA and the NHL overlap seasons, give or take a couple weeks," Gwen says with a sigh. "Dammit. Oh, hey, soccer!" She brightens, stops on a channel, and waves Eames over toward the bed. "Come explain the arcane bits to me and tell me when I'm supposed to mock people for incompetence."
The two American teams aren't anywhere near the Premier League's quality of play, of course, but they're less awful than Eames expects, considering this country can't even give football its proper name and apparently runs their regular season right through FIFA's cup season. He lies next to Gwen and over the course of an hour watches her file away his summary of the rules, clarify the squidgy bits, and eagerly adopt the grand old tradition of slagging off the refs for anything and everything under the sun.
"Why they can't use instant replay is beyond me," Gwen says as she kills the power rather than watch the post-match analysis.
"FIFA is a strange and arcane beast of an organization," Eames admits. Then he broaches the question: "I hate to ask - and please don't think I'm trying to impose a preference on you either way - but are you planning to stay the night?"
"Of course," Gwen says, hooking her bare foot over his ankle. "I'm not going to waste weeks tiptoeing around the issue. If we're doing this at all, we're doing it properly. The sooner we figure out if we can live with each other's less attractive habits, the better."
"'Come live with me and you'll know me,' as the saying is," Eames quotes, unconsciously mimicking his father's pedantic rhythm of speech.
"I'm not telling you any of my addresses, but yes," Gwen says. Her foot is sliding slowly up the side of his calf, toenails scraping a delicate, torturous line through his trousers. There's a smile crinkled in the corner of her eye, though she's holding her mouth under firm control.
Eames rolls them so she's lying on his chest and lifts his head to kiss her. She bends down to meet him, rigid spine gone boneless and hair like a soft curtain against his cheeks and jaw, until Eames's neck begins to complain and they have to break apart for breath.
Eames cracks his neck. "Bloody ouch. Where's your pillow gone, anyway?"
As he gropes sideways for a bit of support, Gwen presses her head to his chest and laughs.
6. I am not sentimental
Gwen is not a morning person. She is also a very sound sleeper, which is both useful and not in her chosen profession. On the one hand, she's not one of the unfortunates who need extra sedatives in their somnacin and thus forfeit the easy way out of a dream gone wrong. On the other hand, there's a reason the old saying claims there's no rest for the wicked. She has to be able to wake at the faintest sense of things gone askew, because sometimes you need to grab everything and run before trouble catches up.
On jobs, Gwen almost always sleeps on alert, even with Dom and Mal theoretically there to watch her back. They mean well, and they can fight and shoot both in theory and in dreams, but she's not bone-deep sure they can make the split second choices that mean life or death in the waking world.
Eames can. She's been sure of that since they first met, when she'd thought he was a woman; the assessment holds, regardless of sex and gender.
She doesn't realize she trusts him enough to keep watch for her as well as for himself, though - not until she wakes, blinking in surprise at the late morning angle of the sun and the horrible burnt sulfur smell coming from the en suite kitchenette of his hotel room, where she's just spent the night. And where the alarm on her phone has failed to go off at its appointed hour.
"When did you memorize my password?" she asks.
"I haven't, darling," Eames says, hasty and distracted. "I just took out the battery. People so rarely manage to sleep enough on jobs, and you looked so comfortable all stretched out that I hadn't the heart to wake you."
"You watch me sleep all the time at work," Gwen grumbles, mostly pro forma, as she rolls out of the bed and snags a complimentary white cotton bathrobe from the closet. This is a nice hotel. She may have to stay here herself the next time she's in LA.
"Yes, well, it's a bit different when we're both naked," Eames says. "No, wait, don't come over yet!"
Gwen ignores him and shoves him away from the sink, where he's running cold water over... "What on earth did you do to those poor eggs?" she demands. "How did you do it? And why?"
"You like soft-boiled eggs; I remember that from last autumn when the Cobbs put us up for a night. But no matter how long I boiled them, they wouldn't get soft," Eames says, almost managing to carry off nonchalance - it's only Gwen's memory of seeing him thirty seconds ago that spoils the effect. "Then I seem to have boiled all the water off."
Gwen stares morbidly at the burned remnants of two eggs glued to the bottom of the pot by their own shells and guts. "Mr. Eames. Tell me, are raw eggs soft or hard?"
"I would say runny rather than..." He trails off. "Oh. Ha. Bit stupid of me, then."
"Ignorant," Gwen corrects. "Stupidity is incurable. Ignorance is not. Now you know better." She abandons the pot for the hotel staff to rescue. Hopefully Eames will think to leave them a sizable tip when he checks out.
"I did manage not to ruin the toast and coffee," Eames says, redirecting her attention to the tiny table under the east window. Two plates, each with three pieces of buttered toast, sit on either side of a cereal bowl filled with something green, purple, and a bit squashed. Violets, Gwen discovers as she strides over for a closer look. Apparently picked from somebody's yard, along with stray blades of grass and a lone white clover blossom; this is anything but a professional arrangement.
"I didn't know you stole flowers," she says, turning to bestow a half-smile on Eames. "At least tell me you didn't get chased off by a dog."
"I am a far better thief than that, I'll have you know. Didn't I get out of and back into this room without disturbing you? As if a mere dog would be a challenge," Eames says with a mock-hurt sniff. "But enough of your condescension. Shall we eat? The toast is probably going cold. I meant to wake you when the eggs were done, only, well." He shrugs expressively.
Gwen pulls out both chairs and waits for him to choose a place before she takes the other and sits.
The toast is indeed going cold. Her hair feels oily where it straggles down her neck. Eames has neglected to shave, and his idea of pajamas is apparently a Hawaiian shirt over blue checkered boxers. (She hopes, absently, that he at least put on pants for his excursion to find eggs and flowers.) Her back is sore; it's been almost a year since she had sex and her body isn't used to those particular strains anymore.
"To the beginning of a beautiful friendship," Eames says, raising a glass of tapwater. Gwen picks up her own and clinks the rims together before she drinks.
"To good intentions," she says. "May the results continue to improve."
Eames mimes a shot to the heart. Normally Gwen would bite back her amusement - he's too good at making people see what he wants them to see and react how he wants them to react; he doesn't need to know he's been growing on her despite the sourness of their first meeting - but now... now she lowers her water and lets him see her smile.
The morning sun strikes rainbows from the glass.
7. come back and we'll take them all on
"Darling, I may have run into the tiniest bit of inconvenience," Eames says over the crackling of an unstable connection and the piece of shit headset that was all Gwen could find on short notice when someone (Eames) who shall remain nameless broke her customized one.
Gwen tightens her grip on the steering wheel, waiting for the condescension she's learned is inevitable from men who fancy themselves in love with her: the same tired old 'for your safety'chauvinism masquerading as chivalry (which is just a nicer word for the same trap, anyway).
"Come and save me?" Eames says instead, and reels off an address and a sitrep so fast anyone else would have needed to make him repeat it. Then he hangs up, trusting her to have his back.
Gwen wheels her rented car around and bares her teeth at the world. This one - this one, she thinks she'll keep.
8. she hears death from halfway around the world
"Take a vacation, Guinevere, before you burn out," Mal says on New Year's Eve. "We all need a little down time and Dom and I aren't planning anything that needs your talents this semester, only some deep diving with each other as the subject." Dom agrees, dangling James upside-down by his ankles to hear the boy shriek with laughter.
"I can tell when I'm not wanted," Gwen says with a smile, and emails Eames to say she'll be available for freelance jobs until May after all.
Mal is right; the vacation is wonderful. Even if Gwen and Eames spend half their time on two-bit extractions, they spend the other half playing tourist in a way they so rarely could in the military and still don't often have time for given the time crunch that accompanies most jobs.
They're in Florence when she checks her email and sees a message from Dom - but the subject line doesn't look urgent and Eames is making terrible faces over the table in a marvelous but fearsomely expensive restaurant, so Gwen slips her phone back into the pocket of her leather jacket and pokes Eames in the nose. "Didn't your mother ever tell you your face would freeze that way?" she asks, and bites back her smile when he grins and shakes his head.
Later they head back to their equally expensive hotel, a bottle of wine held carelessly in the strong fingers of Eames's left hand and a bag of pastries tucked under Gwen's arm. He's singing under his breath, probably Verdi, and Gwen breathes in the crisp February air and thinks she must bring Mal here someday when the children are old enough to appreciate the trip.
Eames disappears into the bathroom - "Got to freshen up; back in a tick" - and Gwen takes the opportunity to check her neglected email.
When Eames reappears, she's already half-packed.
"What-?" he starts to ask.
"Mal's dead," Gwen says, her voice flat and wrong even to her own ears. "Suicide, but she rigged it to implicate Dom. If I'm not there, he'll panic and do something stupid, and I owe it to Mal not to let him."
"Stupid like what?" Eames asks, his own voice maddeningly calm, though Gwen can see his hands shaping fists at his sides.
Gwen zips her suitcase and fastens the pathetic TSA-approved padlock. "He's going to run. Mal handled most of the job searches. The only less than legal person besides me that Dom knows enough to trust is Joel Hauer, and he spooks at the first hint of smoke. The last thing I need is to have Dom listed as an international fugitive."
Eames moves forward and touches her cheek, redirecting her attention from her briefcase and the PASIV to his face. "Gwen, I'm an international fugitive. So Dom runs and has to set up shop in another country under another name. So what? Give it a month or three and take the children to him. They speak French; set them up somewhere in Provence. Nothing simpler."
Gwen closes her eyes and leans into the palm of his hand for a moment. Then she straightens and steps away. "What works for you and me doesn't work for everyone. I don't want to help Dom escape. I want to prove him innocent. He has a life; he shouldn't have to throw it away. Philippa and James don't deserve to grow up in hiding. They deserve to keep their mother's name."
"Gwen-" Eames begins.
"I'll call you," Gwen says, interrupting whatever persuasion he was going to attempt. "Give my apologies to Signor Matrisciano, but I doubt I'll make the job next week. Not until I have this mess squared away and Dom safe at home where he belongs."
"As you wish," Eames says, and Gwen nods, attention fixed on making the earliest flight reservation she can find.
It isn't until she finds Eames's phone number disconnected and all his aliases come up blank that she realizes his voice was too light and tense to be trusted. "That bastard," she says, staring at the cursor mocking her on the computer screen. The first sign of real trouble, and he doesn't stay to have her back or even to fight it out; he just runs. That's not the person she thought she knew. Was the Eames she liked - the Eames she loved - ever real, or only another mask?
Then she's chasing after Dom, trying to keep him from throwing away his damn fool life in some twisted idea of penance for Mal, and she has no time to think about her own loss.
9. all that bravery got us nowhere
Eames doesn't always work in dreamshare. The average extraction doesn't require a forger and his other talents have plenty of waking applications anyway, so he figures he might as well keep his hand in and his name relatively high on certain people's go-to lists. As a side-effect, he's never lost the ability to dream naturally.
Sometimes this is a downright nuisance, especially when his subconscious is being either sillier or more opaque than usual.
In Cape Town, as he gives advice on the paperwork side of a land swindle, Eames finds himself walking through a petrified forest - everything from the trees to the bloody songbirds flitting among the branches turned to striated stone. The birds hang frozen in midair rather than crashing and shattering on the equally petrified carpet of last year's leaves. His left hand clutches a piece of twine that vanishes up into the sky so he can pull the moon along with him for light. He is looking for something. Just as he finds a staircase, spiraling upward into nowhere, he wakes.
In Paris, while paying for new paper stocks with a made-to-order forgery of one of Cézanne's lesser couillarde works, she is late for a piano lesson and trying desperately to remember where she put her keys. Perhaps in the refrigerator? Eames opens the door and stares blankly at the empty shelves. "None of your tricks now," she says sternly. "I know I went shopping just yesterday." The shelves sheepishly begin to refill with satsumas. Hungry, Eames splits one open with her thumbnail and finds a bunch of violets. Then she wakes.
In London, the night after his mum's birthday, he looks out his window and realizes that everyone on the street - everyone in the world - is having a conversation with each other and somehow he's been left out. Eames pushes up the glass and leans out to join in, but he can't hear anything. Everyone is hurrying away up endless flights of stairs that lead nowhere, and no matter how fast he runs, all he can see is the trailing sole of a boot and a hint of trouser cuff vanishing around the turn. He wakes with his arm outstretched to the side of the bed, fingers grasping empty air.
In Mombasa, dozing on his new acquaintance's sofa with a cat draped over his chest, he faces a doorway filled with nothing but blue mist. A voice he knows he should recognize asks, "What do you understand of love?"
"Nothing," he says.
"Then why do you dream of either?"
"I don't," Eames says, and plunges through the doorway and over a cliff, where he falls past endless switchback stairs toward the grand and arid freedom of outer space. The moon turns its back as he passes.
He wakes and realizes the voice was Gwen.
Perhaps he should call, he thinks. She and Dominick Cobb are making quite a name for themselves; they might have work for him. Even if he thinks it's mad and pointless to dream of Dom ever going back to his old life, it would be good to see Gwen. He's sure she isn't smiling much these days; certainly not with dimples.
He misses her smile.
But Yusuf is frying omelets in his kitchen. The smell of food and tea distracts Eames from his thoughts. His stomach growls, and he nudges the cat to the floor and goes to fill the only emptiness he acknowledges.
10. I know you've been burnt but every fire is a lesson learned
Eames calls Gwen two weeks after the Fischer job - uses a burner phone, disguises his voice, and leaves a message pretending he's making a job offer on behalf of Louie Ramos out of Albuquerque so she'll call him back. He knows her pride will force her to at least hear him out for the duration of one call if she's the one who dialed.
"I was wrong," he says, and nothing more.
There's a long silence... and then she sighs and says, "I wasn't blameless either, Eames, but you didn't have to overreact like that. I know what you want, but I don't know if we can trust each other that way again."
"We can't," he admits. "And that's for the best, don't you think? We were younger and stupid and thought love meant we understood more about each other than we actually did. Now we know where more of the lines are, and we know we need to talk when things go sideways instead of simply assuming the other will jump the way we ourselves would. Let's give it a try, Gwen - unless you're too scared?"
"Shameless manipulation only works when the party under manipulation is an idiot or in love," Gwen growls, but Eames can hear the amusement under the annoyance, and he smiles at his cheap little excuse for a mobile phone.
"I rather think those are mutually inclusive states of being, darling," he says. "So, Albuquerque on Thursday? Fly under the alias you used from Sydney and I'll meet you at the airport."
He hangs up.
She'll be there or she won't. Either way, he'd rather live in hope for three days than listen to her reject him now.
11. 'cause I don't want to get over you
One of Eames's odder quirks - he has many, and it's impossible to say from the outside which are genuine, which are put on for effect, and which are something in between - is that occasionally he decides not to be himself for a few hours. This is easy to deal with in a dream. Suddenly Gwen will be walking next to a teenage girl with dreadlocks and a row of piercings up her ear, or a heavyset man with a thick Chinese accent and papery skin, or any of a thousand faces and names. Some of them are people Eames has met, people he knows and imitates in varying degrees of accuracy. Others are pure invention.
The confusing part is when Eames shifts in waking life. Never on a job, and never in more personal moments, but sometimes Gwen will let herself in to their shared hotel room and discover, thirty seconds in to a bewildered chain of miscommunication, that regardless of the physical body she's facing, she's actually talking to a forge. Maybe Esme from Baton Rouge, who wants to know if Gwen has any suggestions on what to get her no-good nephews for Christmas this year and goes on about the Corps of Engineers and how they're always favoring New Orleans and the damn oystermen over people upstream. Or maybe to Rajesh from Mumbai who owns a business that paves private roads for Indian conglomerates and wishes the national government would cut through its corruption and inefficiencies so he could bid on proper highways, like he's seen in Europe and America. It's the same cast of thousands, just trapped in Eames's body without the physical liberation of dreams.
Some of them act as if they're meeting Gwen for the first time. Others she's known for years now, in a glancing way, and they treat her like old friends. None of them dislike her, though, no matter what she tries to do to shock Eames back into his own skin and memories.
"Of course the ones you meet like you," Eames says the only time Gwen brings that point up, when they're still feeling their way back into each other's lives. "Why would I make you spend time with someone disagreeable outside of a job? I rather like you myself."
"But some of your forges don't?" Gwen asks, seizing on the salient point.
Eames grimaces and turns half away, fiddling ostentatiously with his poker chip. "Yes, well, the idea is to not be me, isn't it? So my feelings about you are a bit irrelevant, except insofar as I choose which people to be when I know you're around. The others are more restricted in their playtime. They only come out in dreams."
Gwen considers this.
"If I can put up with you as yourself and I could put up with Dom for those two years, then I can put up with whatever shit you need to drag out of your head and lend your body to - at least for an hour or two," she says after a minute. "They're only as real as I allow them to be. They won't change how I feel about you."
"There are times I think you're as mad as the Cobbs ever were," Eames says, his voice and expression saying very plainly and in capital letters that he's not convinced. But he puts the poker chip away and settles back down on the park bench.
Gwen slings her arm across his shoulders and presses her toes down on his shoe. Mine, the gesture says. She's not letting him slip away, not this time.
He'll figure it out sooner or later.
Now and again they work on the side of the angels, though rarely officially. This time it's the grieving parents of a kidnapping victim who are convinced they know who took their ten-year-old daughter but can't legally touch him for lack of evidence.
"You know it's unlikely for Aliesha to still be alive six months later," Eames says gently as Gwen copies the parents' extensive research to a flash drive. "Despite a few sensational cases, long-term captivity is by far the exception."
"I know," Mrs. Jackson says, hands clasped in her lap and fierce eyes brilliant with unshed tears. "I just want the truth."
"What will you do when you have it?" Gwen asks, not looking up from the computer.
Mrs. Jackson exchanges a troubled look with her husband. "We'll cross that bridge when we get there," Mr. Jackson says after a moment, pulling his wife closer to his side on their faded sofa.
"Mmm," Gwen says. "I have the data. We'll call you when we're done. Good afternoon."
As Eames settles into the passenger seat of Gwen's latest rental car, he asks, "How did you find this job, and how are they affording your price? Contract law and firefighting don't pay that well."
"Mr. Jackson's sister JaBrea was in the Marines with me," Gwen says, glaring at the suburban streets as if they might explode with insurgents or IEDs at the drop of a hat. "I met him at her funeral. Apparently she told a few carefully disguised stories at family reunions, and he knew enough to read between the lines. He was Army."
"Ah." Eames is silent for the rest of the drive.
The extraction itself is almost textbook: Gwen times the mark's schedule, they catch him while he sunbathes in his fenced back garden, and they only need one level to coax him into spilling the details of Aliesha's fate... as well as his three other victims. Gwen makes a terrifying Grim Reaper, Eames thinks as he sheds Aliesha's skin and shoots himself out of the dream.
Gwen takes another minute to surface. Eames wonders what she's doing down with the subject. Then he swallows and decides he doesn't particularly need to know.
When Gwen wakes, smooth and fast, he's already cleaned up every sign of their presence except the PASIV itself and the tarp covering the chair where Gwen slept. Eames busies himself clearing the last traces while Gwen heads into the mark's study and begins booting up his computer.
"Dare I ask?" Eames says once he has everything neatly bundled up in their nondescript gym bags.
"I'm making a bookmark list of all news reports on the four victims," Gwen says. "Backdated, of course. Where's a good place to hide some printouts - somewhere the police will find them, but won't seem too obvious?"
"Are we staging a home invasion turned deadly, then?" Eames asks as he starts examining the house with a new purpose.
Gwen doesn't bother answering rhetorical questions.
When they leave, she calls the Jacksons long enough to say, "He did it. We took care of him." Then she sets about transferring her data to a new phone and destroying the old one. Eames drives in silence, taking Interstate 80 west with no real destination in mind. He finds an exit when the sun sets and checks them in to a slightly shabby Motel 6.
"She was ten years old," Gwen says abruptly, abandoning her half-opened suitcase and sitting on the ugly brown-and-floral bedspread. "Ten. The other three were younger. Who does that? Who thinks of that?"
"He won't do it again," Eames says, sitting down beside her in his stocking feet and his hair disarranged from pulling off his undershirt. "You made very sure of that." He touches her gently, just a brush of fingers along her side, waits for her to set the rules of the night.
Gwen is the one who pulls him down into a kiss, who strips off his trousers and pants and has her way with him. Eames goes willingly, gives her what he can. It's not enough - nothing could be, in the face of the world's uncaring cruelty - but it's life screaming in the face of the void that while they're here, they'll do the best they can to burn away the dark.
13. let's join forces / we've got our guns and horses
It's generally a pleasure helping Ariadne find her feet in the dreamshare - the more women the better, as far as Gwen's concerned, and Ariadne is good, both with the physical structure of the dreams and with finding a subject's psychological pressure points. But sometimes the younger woman gets in over her head, still reacting to things like an honest civilian instead of a criminal or a soldier, and Gwen feels honor-bound to haul her back to solid ground.
Eames finds the entire process hilarious.
"What is it this time?" he asks, lounging on the bed of his terrible little Mombasa apartment, which Gwen only agrees to visit because it's easier to deal with Yusuf in person when she can visually remind him of her gun and ability to kill him barehanded if he pulls any shit like he did on the Fischer job. (Dom's instructions or not, you don't fuck with your team like that. Gwen has a long memory and a high price for forgiveness.)
Gwen sighs. "Recreational dreaming, she says. Some mad scientist type out in Arizona has come up with a formula that deters projections from attacking. The downside is that the effect involves destroying belief in the dream - you're always aware it's not real, even if you've never tried dreamshare before, so it's useless for extractions. On the other hand, the entertainment possibilities it opens..." She shrugs.
"All the joy and none of the pain or the practicality," Eames agrees, laughter dancing in his eyes. "What scenarios has your petite protégé come up with, and what's gone wrong to make her call you in?"
"She wouldn't tell me over the phone," Gwen says, still annoyed. There's rational caution and then there's irrational paranoia and/or keeping important information from your allies for kicks, and neither of the latter options is acceptable. She'll have to give Ariadne another lecture when they arrive in Phoenix.
"You're making a first-person immersion dream based on Cowboys vs. Aliens," Gwen says flatly.
Ariadne nods. "Pretty much. Except while I can get the landscape and the buildings right, I'm having trouble with the weapons and tactics. You and Eames were military, right? Can you help?"
Gwen elbows Eames to keep him from making sarcastic comments. "Who did you promise the finished plans to and when are they due?" she asks.
Ariadne tells her, and Gwen fights the urge to clap a hand over her eyes. "Next time, ask me first," she says. "Hell, ask Dom first - he doesn't have a third of my contacts, but even he knows better than to deal with Jimmy Torres." She watches Ariadne swallow nervously and asks, morbidly, "Did he threaten your body or your family?"
"Both," Ariadne admits. "Well, at first. Then I pulled a gun on him and he backed off on the personal stuff. But he knows where my mom and stepdad live, and my little sister's name."
Gwen and Eames exchange a speaking look. "We'll take care of it, pixie," Eames promises. "We'll fix up your little shoot-out dream too, while we're at it. But I think it's time you and I have a talk about false identities and Gwen starts erasing your life."
For a moment Ariadne looks like she's going to protest, but good sense overrides emotion and she sighs. "Yeah, all right. I can tell Mom and Cassie I'm in witness protection or something - that's enough of an excuse so I can keep in touch, right?"
"For now," Gwen allows. Her suitcase finally appears on the baggage claim carousel, and she snags it to lie on the cart beside Eames's luggage. "But that can wait. At the moment I want coffee, dinner, and a look at your little guns and horses dilemma." She grins, suddenly feeling like a little girl again. "I always wanted to be a cowboy. Killing aliens is icing on the cake."
Eames makes a finger gun and mimes shooting her, then blows imaginary smoke off his index finger and grins.
Gwen pulls him in for a kiss.
"Get a room, guys!" Ariadne whines cheerfully and dashes off with the baggage cart. Eames breaks the kiss to chase after her, and Gwen tips back her head and laughs.
14. and this part was for her does she remember?
Gwen doesn't get a lot of physical mail. She's not usually in one place long enough to make that practical, for one, most of her friendlier acquaintances aren't the sort of people to send silly cards on occasions Hallmark is trying to promote, for another, and, of course, she uses a Chicago post office box as a medium-term holding bin until she brings a crate around to the post office every few months to haul away the junk circulars and political whining. But she does have mailboxes at her California house and her Brooklyn apartment, if only for the look of things.
Currently there is an envelope clipped to the lid of her mailbox with a clothespin. It has no stamp and no address, just a heart scrawled in red crayon. Gwen pulls it off, tucks it into her briefcase, and continues on her way to Dom's house. She and Ariadne agreed that he shouldn't be left alone around Valentine's Day (around his anniversary, damn him and Mal both for being hopeless romantics), and it's her turn to babysit him and the kids tonight.
Once she has Philippa and James safely tucked into bed and Dom presumably safe in the shower (Gwen's keeping an ear out, though; bathrooms are dangerous, especially to people who aren't exactly sober and aren't exactly sane), she takes out the mysterious card and slits it open with her pocketknife.
Inside is an uncolored pen-and-ink sketch of a flower, helpfully labeled 'VIOLET' for the non-botanically inclined. The shape of the letters is unfamiliar, but that means nothing. The paper itself smells faintly of the cologne Eames wears when not on a job, and really, who else would hand deliver a valentine to her when he's meant to be in Singapore soothing the paranoia of the People's Action Party by extracting any potential hidden agendas of the new Worker's Party MPs.
She turns the heavy paper over. On the back, in the chicken scratch handwriting he uses when writing private notes only he and she will ever see - Gwen doesn't know if it's his real hand, or even if he still has any writing that's unstudied, but this is hers and that's good enough - Eames has scribbled: flowers for my lady; do you remember?
Gwen thinks about the clump of violets in a cereal bowl he'd improvised after their first night together. She smiles.
I have never seen anyone so thoroughly ruin a soft-boiled egg, she texts him. Love you.
The shower cuts off. Gwen puts the picture and her phone away and goes to tuck Dom into bed like the sad lost boy he is when Mal's absence stabs him anew.
In the morning, she wakes up to a chime from her phone and finds Eames's answer: *hearts*
15. they're the best in the business but even the best make mistakes
"Should've known- should've seen the way he- should've been paying attention to the money, not to- should've done my job- should've-"
Gwen is muttering to herself, a half-coherent litany of blame, as she ties strips of her shirt around the bullet wound in Eames's left upper arm - through and through, thank whatever saints look out for disreputable forgers, but the exit wound must be a monster - and presses her left knee on the pad of his own shirt where it's stuffed into the hole in his side. There's no exit wound there, and god only knows what the bullet hit inside.
"Darling. Shush. Hurts," Eames manages to say before blood loss and pain catch up and drag him under.
"Not your fault," he croaks when they take out the infernal breathing tube. He's in hospital - under a false name, of course; Gwen's too good to lose her presence of mind no matter how personal the crisis - and judging by the lack of uniformed officers of the law outside his door, Gwen's spun a tale convincing enough to turn any suspicion away. Mugging, most likely. They don't exactly look like the sort of people who'd be involved in a shoot-out down a back alley in Detroit, even though that's closer to the truth.
"If not mine, then whose?" Gwen asks, sitting ramrod straight in the plastic torture device masquerading as a chair. "And don't say yours - you were paying attention to the mark, like you were supposed to. It's my job to vet the team and my job to turn up any potential complications. I should have realized what Mr. Alameda was tangled in. I should have noticed that Olson had found better money elsewhere, especially once he stopped acting out to get my attention."
"You broke. Fingers," Eames points out. "Would shut most. People up. Fast."
"Yes, well," Gwen says, looking away. "Still."
"Shit. Happens," Eames manages. He coughs, deep, wracking spasms that trigger stabbing pain in his arm and a sort of nauseating heat in his abdomen. Gwen hurries over to hold his hand and press down on his ribs until he wrestles his rebellious lungs into submission.
"Ice chip?" she asks. Eames nods, and sucks gratefully on the numbing coldness, letting the water trickle down his abused throat at its own pace.
"Job? Olson?" he asks after a minute.
"The job's a washout, but I kept the first half of the fee as payment for not telling us who else might be looking for Mr. Alameda. As for Olson, he's out of reach," Gwen says between clenched teeth. "I can't take on a whole Mexican drug cartel by myself - and no, the two of us wouldn't do any better, stop giving me that look. But the second he gets complacent..." She snaps her mouth shut, her dark brows drawn down into a vicious hunting mask.
"Together," Eames says, squeezing her hand.
16. each other's anchors, each other's buoys
Secrecy has been drummed into their minds, carved into their bones, mixed into their breath and blood - first by the regulations of military, then by the law of the underworld. If anyone knows a truth about you, that's a lever; it can move you, and not always in directions you want to go. Better to be unknown, untouched, unanchored: boats running free before the storm with no compass or course that anyone else can chart. It's the closest you can get to guaranteed survival.
"If I'd been born a boy, my mother wanted to name me Arthur," Gwen says one evening as she lies sideways on her couch, flicking rapidly from channel to channel until she finds a hockey game. "Well, really she preferred Lancelot or Gawain, and Niniane for a girl, of all horrible things, but my aunt talked sense into her at the hospital so I didn't spend my childhood as Ninny Levine."
"Your father didn't get a vote?" Eames asks, turning with a plate and dishtowel in his hands.
"He removed himself from the picture five months earlier," Gwen says. "Drunk driving - smashed straight into a tree at the side of the driveway. Probably just as well in the end, even if money did get tight without him."
"Ah," says Eames, and opens a cupboard over the sink to put the last plate away. Gwen is from Minnesota. He knows her age. Now she's told him the name on her birth certificate. He could find her family, if he wanted to.
He buys her a Father's Day card in June instead and smiles at her utterly perplexed expression.
"I never worry about missing confession in Mombasa," Eames says as they sit at an airport bar in Frankfurt, delayed by a vicious string of summer thunderstorms. "Or anywhere else, for that matter, except when I visit my mum or I'm with you in New York. You live too close to St. Joseph's. Makes all my childhood guilt come rushing back despite my better sense."
"I like Prospect Heights," Gwen says unrepentantly. "It's attractive, it has history, and I can visit the Brooklyn Museum any time I want. You can deal with the guilt."
"I still think you should move to Manhattan," Eames grumbles. He waves the bartender over and orders a screwdriver - technically a Vodka-Orange - mispronouncing his German as badly as Gwen knows she mispronounces Japanese. She's fairly sure he does it on purpose. "What? It has orange juice; that's a fruit. I'm being healthy," he says in response to Gwen's skeptical eyebrows.
She looks up the church's hours for weekday mass and leaves a printout taped to her bathroom mirror the next time he visits.
He doesn't go, but after the sun dies in glory behind the skyline of Manhattan in Gwen's western window, he pulls the blinds and murmurs, "Ave amata, gratia plena, benedicta tu in mulieribus," butchering the Hail Mary while he undresses her by candlelight. It's not Gwen's religion in any sense of the word, but she raises her arms and gives him this night.
If anyone knows a truth about you, that's a lever; this is true. But sometimes the direction you need to go isn't the one you would have chosen on your own, and sometimes it gets tiring running lonely on the wings of the storm. Sometimes it's worth the danger to exchange signal flares, put down anchors, and remind each other how to live instead of just survive.
17. there's a drumming noise inside my head and it starts when you're around
"You are impossible to ignore," Eames announces one night as he carries groceries into Gwen's Brooklyn apartment. "I feel you should be aware of this."
Gwen looks up from the couch, where she's been comfortably watching Monday night football - the Giants vs. the Vikings; she'd be more torn between loyalty to her home state and to her adopted city if the Vikings were any good this year - and says, "I'm not sure if I should take that as a compliment or an insult."
"Oh, you fade away very smoothly on a job," Eames says with a wave of his hand as he sets the groceries on the counter and begins to unpack the canvas bag. "On a personal level, however, it's maddening how you stick in a man's mind. Rather like an incessant beat saying 'Gwen, Gwen, Gwen' until I can't take it and have to ravish your body to drown out the infernal drums."
Gwen reaches sideways and raps on the coffee table - tap-tap-tap-tap, tap-tap-tap-tap, tap-tap-tap-tap - waiting for Eames to catch the reference.
"I am not the bloody Master," he says after a moment, but the annoyance is a paper-thin mask over amusement. "Since when do you watch Doctor Who anyhow?"
"Since I live in a science fiction film," Gwen says. "We invade dreams for a living. The more I know about what other people have imagined, the more possibilities I have to play with. Besides, David Tennant was easy on the eyes - nothing quite like a rumpled Brit." She grins at Eames's outraged expression.
"He's a bleeding Scot," Eames says, voice rising to a ridiculous pitch. "And I'll show you rumpled!"
He tips Gwen off the couch onto the floor and proceeds to rumple them both.
18. in a dream you can change anything - including yourself
They fool around in dreams sometimes - everyone does; anyone who says otherwise is lying (or asexual, Gwen points out whenever Eames raises the issue) - but not very often. The main appeal of sex in dreams is the impossible, and they're both more than happy with what they have.
But now and then, Eames has a notion he can't unstick from his head until they try it.
Like now: "Have you ever thought about having sex as a man?" he says casually as he and Gwen stroll through Ariadne's mockup of the final scene of Planet of the Apes (the original, of course, none of that tedious remake). "Or having sex while I'm a woman? Maybe even both?"
Gwen's forehead wrinkles in thought. "I can't say that I have," she says. "Why? Do you want to?"
"You want to," Gwen concludes. "Well, I suppose we could try. I'm not much use at forgery, but I can do the basic exercises. That should serve, unless you'd prefer a man with muscles on his muscles, a blond, or something else other than me if I'd been born with a Y chromosome."
"Why would I want anyone but you?" Eames asks.
"My question exactly," says Gwen, but she frowns, closes her eyes, and seems to shiver all over like a photograph in a stiff breeze... and then a man is standing in her place: a bit taller, a bit broader in the shoulders, and with short hair combed back from his face instead of Gwen's long hair pulled back into a messy bun and held with a ballpoint pen. The trousers, the shirt, and the waistcoat are the same, simply retailored for a flatter chest and slimmer hips.
"Brilliant, darling," Eames says, and slips into the shape he wore when he first met Gwen: himself as a woman, a bit blocky and plain, but with a decent chest and a pleasant curve to her hips and arse if she does say so herself. "What shall I call you?" she asks in her new voice. "Surnames are beautifully gender-neutral, but Gwen won't quite work for a man."
The familiar stranger across from her purses his lips for a moment. "Oh, why not Arthur," he says in an unexpectedly deep voice, and smiles. He kept Gwen's dimples, Eames notices in delight.
"Well then, darling, let's find somewhere a bit less likely to get sand in unmentionable places," Eames says, and waits for Arthur to dream her up a bed.
19. I won't lose him
It's a game they play sometimes: on slow days between jobs, while exploring the layouts of new dreams, even during extractions when they're drawing the subject's attention away from the theft of precious secrets. Eames changes and changes and changes, and Gwen finds him. Always. Inevitably.
"What gives me away?" he asks one imaginary evening on the watchtower of a castle straight out of Escher. "Tell me, darling; it's a matter of professional interest. If you can spot me, someday someone else will figure out the trick and then where will I and all the other forgers be?"
Gwen just smiles and tips them over the edge.
As they fall toward death and waking, she whispers the truth to the screaming wind: "I find you because I refuse to lose you. That's all." And in dreams, a strong enough will can rewrite reality. Her little secret, and she'll never let on how desperately she needs Eames at her side, how much of the world she'd burn to keep him there.
They wake curled into each other's arms, and Gwen silences his questions with a kiss.
20. I have loved not wisely but too well
"Do you ever think we'll end up like the Cobbs?" Eames asks one night as he's arranging himself in bed - yet another hotel on yet another job, and they're not getting any younger. His knees and ankles aren't particularly happy with him today.
"Mmm. I dunno. You mean married with children, or Shakespearean tragedy?" Gwen asks, her voice soft and thick with incipient sleep.
"Won't be a single mother, an' I won't raise a child in our current lifestyle," Gwen says. "Can you see y'self picking one name? Settling down?"
Eames tries to imagine this. They do have a few home bases, as it were - his flat in Mombasa, Gwen's flat in New York City, the beach house she bought in California after James was born and the Cobbs ran out of guest rooms. And the idea of less time on airplanes is appealing. But to lose the freedom to pick up and go, whenever and wherever he wants, with only the need to keep Gwen aware of his movements...
"Not yet, at any rate," he admits.
"S'much for option one. As for tragedy..." Gwen rolls over in Eames's arms and presses the tips of her fingers to his throat, her eyelids sliding downward despite her effort to meet his gaze in the faint light seeping under the bathroom door. "If I died an' you had some reason to believe it was your fault - won't be your fault, course, but I know you - anyway, 'f I died, could you let me go?"
"Yes," Eames says. This part, he's thought about before, more often than he'd like, and no matter how hard it would be to lose Gwen, he won't go down Dominick Cobb's path of self-destruction. "It would hurt like hell and back, but I'd find a way to make peace."
Gwen nods to herself. "Have to make sure I die first, then," she mumbles, and falls asleep.
Eames stares into the darkness for a long, long time.
21. always halfway to somewhere
"I want to introduce you to my mum," Eames says as Gwen fights the mayhem of Delhi traffic, heading toward Indira Gandhi Airport. She jams her hand down on the horn and wishes she could shoot obstructions in waking life.
"Your mother, who terrifies you," she says before slamming on the brakes to avoid crashing into the idiot in front of her who has slammed on his (or her) brakes with no courtesy warning. "That mother."
"What other mum do I have?" Eames asks, leaning back in his seat with his hand folded nonchalantly behind his head. "I'm not certain if you'll get along like a house on fire or like two cats in a sack, but either way I think it's overdue. We must count as a common-law marriage by now, don't you think?"
"Neither New York nor California recognizes that kind of contract. I'd have to live in a different state," Gwen says absently, scanning the road and the side streets for more unexpected obstacles. She hates driving on the left, but she hates trusting other people's driving even more.
Eames is silent for more than two seconds, which almost tempts Gwen to watch his face, trying to track his thoughts behind however many layers of habitual obfuscation he's thrown up.
"Ah, right, you lot still use that to mean something legal," he says. "What's your idiom, then - shacking up?"
"Partners," Gwen says firmly. "Now shush, unless you want to get us killed."
"You are the best offensive driver in my considerable acquaintance," Eames says, but he obligingly shuts his mouth and contents himself with reaching out the open window and making rude gestures at other drivers who attempt to cut them off before they can get on the congested highway.
They arrive safely at the airport, leave the car in one of the overdesigned parking garages - somebody on Ms. Chandrasekar's payroll will pick it up later and make it vanish - and hurry to catch their flight to Heathrow. Gwen is sure the destination is what brought on Eames's odd fit of family feeling.
She knows his birth name, of course. He's nearly impossible to track these days, but he wasn't half so good at hiding his trail back when he abandoned the SAS for less regulated walks of life and unearthing that tangible kind of secret is her job, like unearthing the less tangible secrets of a mark's mindset is his. He knows that she knows, but they have an unspoken agreement not to bring up each other's secrets without permission. Despite his occasional phone calls and the annual trip home for his mother's birthday, Eames has always made it clear that his family is not part of his relationship with Gwen.
"Why now?" she asks as they settle into their seats in first class.
Eames shrugs. "We're not getting any younger, are we? And this job made me think about regrets - dying with things undone and unsaid, like Chandrasekar's father did. One gets in the habit of putting things off for 'someday,' but there are no guarantees in life, much less in our lives."
"Mmm," Gwen agrees. She turns her phone off with reluctance and tries not to think about the laptop in her carryon satchel. At least two thirds of her files are perfectly aboveboard, and there's a lot of organizational footwork she could do on a flight this long, but common sense prescribes some mindless in-flight entertainment and a few hours of natural sleep instead. She and Eames can alternate.
"I'll give her a ring once we're safely out of Heathrow and in a hotel of your choice," Eames says, as if everything is decided. "Until then, I'm knackered. Mind if I sleep first?"
"Not at all. I think I'll watch a movie. There must be something with a sufficient ratio of explosions to character development in the entertainment list," Gwen says dryly, bending down to pull her headphones from her carryon. She won't turn the noise-cancelling on. Nobody knows they invaded Ms. Chandrasekar's half-brother's mind, nobody followed them to the airport, and given that they found proof the man had altered the now-deceased Mr. Chandrasekar's will in his favor, Ms. Chandrasekar should have no reason to wish them harm. But judicious caution has kept her safe and alive this long. She's not about to abandon the habit.
"I don't know what you have against using your brain when watching moving pictures on a screen," Eames says with false petulance as he stuffs a pillow behind his neck and settles deeper into his seat. "Have you watched a single Oscar-winning film from the past decade?"
"No," Gwen says. She leans over to drop the ghost of a kiss on his hair and press her fingertips to his mouth, stilling his next words. "Go to sleep, Mr. Blythe."
"My mum," he says, "is going to love you." Eames closes his eyes and stretches his left foot forward and sideways until the toe of his loafer grazes the side of her boot.
Gwen hooks her headphones over her ears with a smile.
AN: Thanks for reading, and please review! I'm particularly interested in knowing what parts of the story worked for you, what parts didn't, and why.