A/N: So I wasn't planning to write anything more until after I came back, but I got so excited by all the reviews/alerts/favorites, I found myself eagerly typing away! :D So thanks bunches to everyone! I will try to return all of your reviews personally. I hope you enjoy this installment! It has some action, if I do say so myself.
The others were standing around talking by the time Ariadne arrived.
"'Ello, Sunshine," Eames greeted with a grin.
"Hi, Eames. Hey guys." She gave them a warm smile, but it dimmed when she saw Arthur. At a glance, he looked the same. Every hair in its gelled place, suit pressed, tie straight. But looking closer she could see the weariness in his stance and the shadows in his eyes. He met her perusal evenly, and she quickly looked over at Dom and Eames, embarrassed at having been caught staring. Fortunately, neither of the other men had seemed to notice the exchange between her and Arthur.
"Alright," Dom began. "Let's go into the dream and take a look at what we've got so far. Yusuf!" He called to the chemist who just walked in the door, eating a big ham sandwich. "You're late." He waved off Yusuf's mumbled apologies. "We're ready to enter the dream. Monitor the equipment for us, please."
He then motioned to the others and they all settled in various chairs. With practiced ease, Ariadne deftly inserted the IV into the crook of her arm. Closing her eyes, she felt the familiar rush as she was pulled into the dream.
"Cheery place," Eames remarked dryly. "Been reading gothic novels, have you, Ariadne?"
She rolled her eyes. "Please. Can I help it if the man has no taste?"
Dom ignored their bickering. "How does it look to you, Arthur?"
The point man walked around the dimly lit room. The mahogany walls absorbed the light, making the room seem darker than it really was. Modern art—much of it dreary and grotesque—decorated the walls. A floor to ceiling bookcase covered the length of one wall, its shelves filled with books of all sorts.
"Looks like a match to me."
Dom nodded. "Let's check the rest of the house."
They moved throughout the many rooms and hallways, checking each and every detail and becoming familiar with the layout of the mark's house.
"You must admit, the man has impeccable taste," Eames remarked. He held up a frightening African funeral mask. "I mean really, I simply cannot understand why the man has never managed to marry."
Ariadne giggled, but Arthur glared at the forger.
"Why don't you just shut it, Eames," he snapped.
The man frowned. "Bit testy, aren't we, old boy. I see your sense of humor hasn't improved since the last job."
Ariadne watched nervously as a muscle in Arthur's jaw jumped, afraid he would lose his temper. Dom seemed oblivious to the two's bickering, probably used to tuning out the rather regular occurrence. But Ariadne knew something was wrong. Arthur was used to Eames' dry and sometimes lame humor. It wasn't like him to lash out like that, especially over a rather innocuous remark. She studied the point man. Something was definitely different. His face seemed to grow paler with every room they searched and his eyes darker and haunted. What was it about this job that had him so on edge?
"Alright, Arthur, everything seem okay to you?" Dom checked with his right hand man.
Arthur licked his lips in an uncustomary fashion. "Yeah, Ariadne did a good job."
"Good. Just one more room and then we're done in here." He led the others to a tiny room tucked away on the second floor.
Ariadne glanced up at Arthur as they made their way down the corridor. Her face tightened in worry. He was practically sweating and…was that fear in his eyes? As they were in the back, she put a hand on his arm and looked at him in concern. He glanced down at her and with obvious effort, schooled his features into their normal undisturbed state.
Dom tried the door. "It's locked." He turned to Arthur and Ariadne. "Do you know where the key is?"
She nodded. "It's downstairs in the study. But it shouldn't be locked. I made sure all the doors were unlocked for the exercise." She frowned. "I must have missed this one. I'll go get it." She ran downstairs and was soon back with the object.
Nodding his thanks, Dom inserted the key and opened the door. They filed in. The tiny room was basically empty. A small iron bed with a pinstriped mattress. A small dresser. Nothing covered the walls; it was completely undecorated. A window overlooked the large property of woods and a large green lawn.
"THIEVES!" A voice roared from the hallway. A half-crazed man stormed into the room brandishing a wicked-looking knife. Ariadne screamed as the others quickly stepped in front of her. The man snarled, his face twisted in fury. Eames and Dom crouched in a defensive stance, eyes trained on the flashing blade. Arthur stood stock-still, face white as a sheet. Ariadne clutched him; she knew that it wasn't real, but she had no desire to feel the pain that would accompany a violent stabbing. Apparently Arthur felt the same way; his body trembled beneath her arms.
In front of them, the man swung wildly, nearly catching Dom, who managed to knock the knife away. Eames tried to attack from behind, but the man brought his elbow up, whacking the forger on the side of the head. Turning to Dom, the man grabbed his arm and swung him through the window, shattering the glass. He grabbed the fallen knife from the floor and approached Eames with a predatory sneer.
"Arthur! Help! Get him!" Eames shouted.
Arthur only stared at the attacker, as if frozen. Ariadne gave him a shake but he didn't—couldn't?—move. She searched the room for a weapon and grabbed a rickety-looking chair from a corner. Too late…the man dodged Eames' attempts at blocking and plunged the knife into his chest. Eames didn't cry out from the shock of it. A gurgling cough sounded in his throat, then his thrashing stilled, his eyes staring sightlessly at the ceiling. Ariadne brandished the chair in front of her, but the man blocked it and wrenched it away.
"Time to die, girly," he growled. He started to stalk her into a corner.
"Don't touch her!" Arthur started into action, sprinting towards him. His movements caught the man off guard and he stumbled as Arthur rammed into him. The attacker momentarily stunned, Arthur grabbed Ariadne and shoved her towards the window.
"Forgive me, Ariadne," he whispered. He pushed her out of the window.
As she fell, she heard the man's roars and Arthur's cry of pain just before everything turned to black.
"What was that?" Eames' angry voice was the first thing she heard as she returned to reality. She opened her eyes to see Arthur also coming out of the dream state with a gasp, his face white.
Yusuf glanced back and forth from person to person, eyes wide. "What happened?"
"Nothing much, just someone decided to bring a little friend along for the ride. Whose projection was that?" Eames' growled again.
Dom's face mirrored that of the forger's. Ariadne and the other men turned to Arthur. The point man drew his hand over his face roughly.
"I-I'm sorry…I…" His voice shook.
Eames scowled. "You're sorry? If that happens when we do the job, then we're finished. Finito. Kaput. It's like Mal all over again," he muttered.
Dom's fist slamming on the table silenced him. "Enough!" He shouted. He turned to Arthur. "What was that back there? If there's a chance our lives are in danger because of you, then you owe it to us to tell."
"Just like you did on the Fischer job?" Arthur's voice was steely. The blood had yet to return to his face but he was still in control. He and Dom stared at each other for a long minute, the tension thick and crackling with electricity.
"Alright," Dom gritted out. "Don't tell us. But we'll do this again. And if there's even a hint that anything is out of the design, then so help me, I'll kick you off this job so fast your ears will ring. Clear?"
"Yeah," Arthur glared.
"Then get out of here." He turned away.
Eames looked at Dom in disbelief as Arthur stalked away. "You're letting him go? Just like that? His projection just tried to kill us! Correction: it did!"
Ariadne backed away as Eames continued to argue with Dom while a still-shocked Yusuf looked on. She hurried to the warehouse door that Arthur had just exited. "Arthur?" She found him around the side. She watched him worriedly as his shaking hands tried to light a cigarette. Arthur never smoked.
"Just leave me alone, Ariadne!" He flicked the lighter several times before a flame flickered. "I don't want to talk about it." A wisp of smoke curled up from the trembling cigarette in his mouth. He drew a shaky breath of smoke.
"Arthur, perhaps if you just talk about it—"
"Did you hear me? Just go away!"
Hurt, she drew back. His face was a mask of anger but she could see the fear still lurking in his eyes. She watched his retreating back grow smaller as he headed in the direction of his hotel room. What was going on?
A/N: Well, there it is...the angst has begun in earnest! :\ I probably won't be able to eke out another chapter before I leave (although I wrote this one in a few hours), but please do continue to review! They mean so much to me...I had a huge smile on my face as I read all of your lovely comments. And please give me suggestions for this story! I have the basic idea of what's going to happen, but I'm curious to see what you guys want to read in this fic...plus, sometimes my muse gets a little stuck. :P Anyway, thanks for reading! :)