AN: To my readers of The Sword of Damocles, no, the appearance of this fic does not mean I've abandoned that one. But due to my schedule for this semester and an as-of-yet undiagnosed health problem, that story has been so delayed that now, even sitting down to type it just brings on a wave of needless self-guilt and feelings of incompetence, and the story is just so tied emotionally to the roughness of this semester that I don't enjoy trying to write it right now. And if I'm forcing myself to write it, I doubt it'll be fun for anyone to read. So I decided to write something drastically different, new, and exciting, and this is what I came up with.

This story takes place about two years after the events of The Dark Knight and Inception occurred.

The title comes from the quote "dreams are like the paints of a great artist. The dreams are your paints, the world is your canvas. Believing, is the brush that converts your dreams into a masterpiece of reality." Try as I might, I've yet to find an attribution for that line.

Reviews are always appreciated!

Arthur hadn't slept.

An outsider wouldn't have realized it. There was no slump to the man's shoulders, nothing more than the faintest of dark circles below his eyes. He was alert as ever, eyes wide open, focused, and Eames imagined the man had stocked up on some sort of caffeine during their flight. He couldn't confirm it one way or the other, however, because Arthur's breath, as always, smelled only of mint, and Eames hadn't been able to observe what his companion had consumed on the way to Japan because, being a reasonable person, Eames had fallen asleep. Even now, seated in the back of a taxi and stuck in traffic with no one speaking and absolutely nothing to do, Arthur showed no signs of fatigue.

Sometimes Eames wondered the point man was a man at all, or some sort of android prototype. He'd seen Arthur bleed in dreams, but that was hardly proof of anything.

"You know, we really ought to look around the city before we get to business," he began, staring at the shop signs outside. The rain had fogged the windows, making the neon lights blurred and illegible, though Eames couldn't have read it anyway. He knew just enough Japanese to get by verbally, but when it came to any of the syllabaries, he was illiterate. Reading wasn't necessary in a dream, in which words on the page were really just the mark's thoughts and feelings, after all, and he'd always been able to get by without it in the waking world.

"Absolutely not."

Eames knew Arthur hadn't slept not because of any external clue, but from years of experience. Arthur was angry, and when he was angry, everything else fell by the wayside. Eating, drinking, sleeping—they all became detriments to the strength of his conviction and relegated to the absolute minimum. Eames would be willing to bet that whatever Arthur had consumed during the flight had simply been something to keep him awake, not to provide any lasting nourishment.

Arthur's anger wasn't explosive, not like Cobb or so many other men Eames had worked with. They were akin to a pot boiling over, whereas his current companion bore more resemblance to a pot of water that, although set on simmer, would still slowly build to a boil through its sheer duration and conviction. There was no room for anything else when Arthur was angry. Not food, not rest, and certainly not sightseeing.

"Darling, how often do you find yourself in Tokyo? On a free flight, no less?"

Arthur didn't deem that worthy of an answer, apparently, as he went back to the all-important task of brooding out the window.

Arthur had called Saito yesterday afternoon, asking—well, demanding—for Saito to provide them with transportation to the man's current location, the penthouse in Tokyo. They needed to talk, he had said tersely. When Arthur was in a mood, there was no such thing as an argument over the phone. No, he needed to be face to face in order to glare and furrow his brow and throw his version of a tantrum properly.

"It seems a waste of a trip, if you ask me," Eames muttered, pretending not to see the death glare Arthur sent his way.

Maths had never Eames's strong point—between that and spelling, his marks in primary school had been just a hair short of abysmal—but it seemed to him, mentally adding up the number of floors in the apartment complex and multiplying that by the estimated height of each level, that if Saito's penthouse were any higher, it would be in orbit. Certainly the elevator ride up to it felt unnaturally long, but that might have been due to sharing the space with Arthur, who by this point seemed to be giving off anger in palpable waves.

"You know, Arthur, I doubt there's anything he can do about it now."

The elevator doors slid open, and Arthur was out without a glance back. "That's not the point."

The point seemed to be that, even though there was no use crying over spilled milk as much as a moment after the fact, it was still perfectly acceptable to travel halfway across the globe in order to pitch a fit about things a day afterward, if only for catharsis. Not that Arthur would ever put it in such common terms. No, he'd go on about a need for discretion and reckless namedropping and everything else he'd ranted about yesterday before he'd decided that the silent treatment was a better way of letting himself develop ulcers.

There was no bell. Eames supposed they should have been buzzed in at the ground level, back when they were still in Earth's atmosphere, but Saito had known they were coming, and Saito, judging by his resources, was either God Himself or had bought the planet from Him, so they'd been ushered in by the concierge without so much as a request for their names. Arthur knocked against the door, one, twice, three times, with enough force to redden his knuckles when he pulled his hand away. There was a pause, and the door opened.

Robert Fischer stood inside.

As a forger, Eames had been trained to have both precise control of his emotions and expressions and to have the ability to dissect the mannerisms of others in a manner of seconds. His own face impassive, he watched Fischer's eyes pass over them twice, each gaze lingering for just a fraction too long, pupils dilating—he ought to recognize them, but from where?—and hovering on Eames the longest. Eames was, after all, the one he'd gotten the closest look at in the taxi on the first level.

But the gaze lasted a matter of seconds, if that—two years was a long time to remember the faces in a dream—and then he was back to looking indifferent, if polite. "May I help you?"

Arthur was not quite gaping, but his usual precision and control seemed to have left him, perhaps dulled by fatigue, and the widening of his eyes and slight gape of his mouth wouldn't be ignored for much longer if he kept it up without answering.

Eames, as per usual, took it upon himself to save the day. "Thank God, another English speaker," he muttered, and while Robert Fischer did not quite smile, the subtle shift to his expression made it clear that he'd had more than a few struggles with the language barrier. "Yes, we've an appointment with Mr. Saito? He sent for us yesterday, I believe he knows we've arrived."

"Ah. He mentioned having company." Fischer stepped to the side, ushering them in. "Leave your shoes by the door. I'll find him for you." He left them there, Arthur still gawking, and disappeared further into the penthouse. "Saito-sempai?"

"You cannot be serious," Arthur said, once the man was out of ear shot.

Eames didn't bother to mention that what he found most surprising about all of this was the fact that Saito didn't have a servant positioned at all hours to open the door. "Well, they are business partners."

"I'm going to kill him."

Eames also didn't point out that Saito had probably bought himself a spare life or two somewhere along the line. This time, not out of tact, but because one of what he assumed to be Saito's maids appeared and asked them to follow.

The décor in Saito's parlor room alone had to be worth enough to buy a third world nation. Eames considered pointing this out, but Arthur, being in a mood, wouldn't appreciate it, and knowing Saito, he probably already owned a third world country. Or several. More than anything, Eames was relieved to find that the room was designed, at least in part, in Western style; spacious as the flight had been, it was hard to spend eleven hours on an airplane and then another two stuck in a taxi without getting a bit cramped. He wasn't sure how he'd have managed if they'd ended up kneeling around the table as Saito and Robert were, invested in some form of paperwork.

Saito's voice as he greeted them had that same peaceful, Zen-like quality it had held ever since the inception was completed, and Eames could tell by the faint tense in Arthur's jaw that the calm had nearly pushed him over the edge. He could likewise tell by the faint smile on Saito's face that their former employer had noticed as well, along with the way his expression was just the slightest bit too innocent when he asked, "Now, exactly what is it that you came to discuss?"

Arthur sat down like a mature adult instead of throwing himself into the chair, which Eames was sure he really wanted to do, though he must know how obvious his anger was in spite of his flawless etiquette. It really was astounding, the length of time he could sustain a grudge. If Eames weren't dead set on getting some enjoyment out of this trip, he'd be severely tempted to keep the man angry, just to see how long Arthur would keep it up. "Bruce Wayne."

Saito's smile went from polite to amused at that, and Eames was sure that Arthur would have leapt over the table and throttled the man were Fischer not sitting directly in his path. Saito had probably arranged them that way on purpose. Hell, he'd probably had Fischer open the door so that Arthur wouldn't walk in shouting. And it was Fischer that he turned to once Arthur was suitably fuming. "Robert, could you give us a moment?"

Fischer nodded, stood, and exited, saying something that sounded vaguely like "shitsureishimasu" if it were being pronounced through a mouthful of rocks.

"You're teaching him Japanese?" Arthur asked, in a tone that implied teaching languages was on par with genocide.

"Our corporations are merging." Saito straightened the paperwork on the table before relocating to one of the chairs. "Is it not beneficial to be able to communicate in any business venture?"

"And you need to live with him to do that?" Another maid appeared with a tray of tea, and Arthur displayed remarkable reserve by not throwing the boiling liquid into Saito's face.

"I don't recall saying we're living together."

"I don't recall your denying it, either." Eames took a cup from the maid, sipped it, winced. What sort of animal served tea without lemon or sugar? Saito and Fischer, flatmates. It sounded like the setup for some sort of corporate comedy show. He imagined Cobb would take the news about as well as Arthur, if Cobb were still with them. He'd sworn off the business after being reunited with his children, going back to the straight and narrow.

For now, anyway. It had become more than just a way home for him, in those years. It had become a lifestyle. They all knew he'd be back sooner or later. Cobb himself might even know it, deep down. The only question was when.

Saito ran a finger along the rim of his own cup, nonchalant as always. "He barely understands the most basic of phrases. If Robert Fischer were to live on his own here, he would get into a taxi to buy groceries and end up stranded in a red light district."

Well, that mental image made the trip more than worthwhile, sightseeing or not.

"And even without the language barrier, Robert's rededicated what remains of his business to green energy." He spun that same finger in a circle, mimicking the windmill on the Gawain Energies logo. "Does it not follow that he would prefer to share resources?"

"Wouldn't it also follow that he'd prefer not to be in a penthouse the size of a city block? Or to be exposed to those who altered his worldview, and risk having him remember the entire job?" Eames knew it was biologically impossible for steam to shoot out of a person's ears—in circumstances he cared to consider, anyway—but if Arthur got any more tense about things, he just might manage to break the laws of nature.

Saito, in contrast, only shrugged. "You needn't concern yourself with that. He hasn't noticed a thing over six months of negotiations. Now, I thought you had come to discuss Bruce Wayne?"

"You told him about us."

"I did." Saito had mastered the art of hiding his mirth behind a look of innocent, mild bewilderment so well that even Eames was envious. "I believe it is customary to recommend employees who have performed admirably. Particularly those whose salaries are based on commissions."

Arthur didn't quite slam his cup onto the table, but he moved it with enough force to send a few drops of tea cascading down the ceramic side. "You knew this would happen and you did it for your own entertainment."

"This?" He arched a brow. "I mentioned the quality of your services. I had no idea what Mr. Wayne intended to request, or if he would require anything at all. Wayne Enterprises has always been remarkably self-reliant. Even now, I have no idea what he asked of you."

Arthur seemed stuck between believing this—much to his frustration—or adjusting the narrow end of Saito's tie by about a meter, so Eames took it upon himself to recount the events of their meeting with the Prince of Gotham yesterday morning.

The initial request came by phone, as usual. It was rare for someone to bring the subject up in a face-to-face meeting unless the team had done work for them before, and no one at Wayne Enterprises, let alone their CEO, had ever required the services of an extractor. At least, they had never contacted the members of this particular team if they had.

The details, of course, were not discussed over the phone. Even the absolute basics of the job, or the fact that a job would be arranged at all, weren't something communicated anywhere but face to face. A phone conversation generally consisted of the following: The caller confirming that he had reached the right person, stating a name and a location, getting the extractor's location, and then deciding on the place and time of a meeting to discuss things in full detail. A phone line could be searched for tapping, true, but only meeting face to face could confirm the caller's identity, and a situation there was far easier to negotiate and much safer in terms of security. So when the call "Bruce Wayne, Gotham" had come through, a meeting point had been arranged midway between the billionaire's city and their current location in Manhattan—stealing fashion sketches from the minds of clothing designers was far less interesting than it sounded—for the next week, and Arthur and Eames had spent the next several days wondering just what the prince of Gotham needed from them.

While Wayne Enterprises' CEO was well-known for his drunken antics, the company itself was well-known in the corporate world for its lack of scandal, likely owing the fact that Bruce Wayne wasn't really the one running things. Their research into the company after the call showed no loss of revenue that would explain the need to extract from a competitor, no signs of a scandal that needed sweeping under the rug. Either they had the world's most talented bookkeeper, or the company's record really was spotless.

"Maybe," Eames had suggested when they took off for the meeting place, completely out of ideas, "he's got a jilted lover stashing compromising photos of him somewhere, and he needs their location."

But it hadn't been Bruce Wayne the playboy that they'd encountered in their chosen hotel room, the hall surveillance camera hijacked and added to their own feed, along with the cameras positioned out the window and more placed in front of all entrances and exits. The rooms had been swept for bugs, and all worst case scenarios exits checked and double-checked to make sure they were clear. Arthur had been the one to bother with most of the security things. It wasn't that Eames didn't have experience; he just found the whole process to be bloody tedious.

The Bruce Wayne they'd met, despite his good façade of confidence and calm, was nervous. Eames supposed it this were his first foray into the illegal—barring, of course, a bit of underage drinking and a few hits of the drug of the moment here and there—then it was to be expected, but it was rare to see a business tycoon with a conscience about such things these days, particularly if that tycoon had just been on the cover of all the tabloids for deciding that a few of his fashion model friends were fine to go skinny-dipping in the fountain at a charity ball.

"I've never really arranged something like this before," he admitted, fingers curling the edges of the file he'd brought along.

"Take your time." Arthur's eyes had barely left the computer monitor, focused intently on the hall as though it could become overrun with police officers or former marks or Jehovah's Witnesses at any moment.

"I'm not sure where to start."

"You could tell us the name of your mark, to begin," Eames suggested. "And what it is that you would like us to retrieve for you."

"That's the problem. I don't need anything retrieved." Wayne twisted a hand through his hair, exhaling heavily. "I—it's hard to explain, and you're going to think I'm crazy for even asking it, I know—"

"We've had a number of strange requests in our time, Mr. Wayne," Arthur informed him. "We've probably heard yours before in one way or another."

"I doubt that." He opened the file, turned it to face them, and tapped his finger against the photo sitting on the top of the information. "That's your mark. I assume I don't need to introduce him?"

Of course he didn't. There wasn't anyone in the developed world that didn't know that face, no one who hadn't seen at least a passing glimpse of it on a news station or in the papers. Even Eames, for all his control over his mannerisms, couldn't keep his jaw from dropping slightly, and he knew without looking that beside him Arthur was doing the same.

Dark eyes surrounded by darker greasepaint glared back at them, the rest of the face white as a skull, with a red, twisted slash through the mouth. The Joker.

Well, this meeting would make an interesting story to tell over drinks, if nothing else.