A/N: Nefarious, remember when I told you about this pairing? Here it is!
She sat sideways to the table; legs crossed, skirt up to above the stocking line, and exhaled the smoke of her cigarette upward. Her face, once pretty, was carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey and barely recognizable as human if seen separate from her body. It upset his stomach to look at her, but she was an old contact and he desperately needed her to give him the blueprints necessary to accomplish his latest job.
Eames had a reputation as a gambler, and a damn good one. He'd been accused many times over the years of cheating, but the truth was that he was just lucky. Because his mother raised him to believe that we are born with gifts to use them, he often arranged bargains through games. Fortunately most of his clients and contacts, Blanche Barton included, enjoyed games as much as he did.
He kept his face impassive as he lay down what he hoped was a winning hand. She pursed her lips and he noticed yet again that she had fish cold eyes. She lay down her cards and took her defeat with grace. He always admired that about her; so many criminals were like petty children and almost invariably bad losers.
"Well, you have won yet again, Mr. Eames. I am going to bed. When I wake up tomorrow, I may or may not give you what you want. I want to sleep on it first. You know how valuable those plans are."
He smiled to cover his anger and kissed the hand she offered him, "Of course. I'll be right next to you, though, in case you wake in the night with a change of heart."
It was a not-very-subtle reminder that attempting to escape from the hotel without his knowledge would be futile. She gave him a twisted smile and disappeared up the rickety wooden stairs. The hotel they chose to meet in was not in the best condition and smelled. Still, it was safer than its cleaner brethren in the area.
He asked for a pot of coffee from the staff and spent a long sleepless night watching and listening. He hoped that Blanche got as little sleep as he did, the bitch.
Under normal circumstances he would never allow himself to be put into the position of depending on only one contact. He had no choice now. He didn't know what had been happening in the underworld during the past six months, but almost his entire old network had been either killed or reformed. Many of them didn't seem to recognize him at all when he tried to establish contact.
He didn't show it, but he was beginning to feel as though he'd been bitten by a cobra. The poison of a cobra feels like having an iron band clamped around your chest that tightens with every breath. That was the exact sensation he suffered from now. Things kept getting smaller and every week there were fewer people that he knew or that had jobs for him. To be frank, money was getting kind of tight, but that was the least of his worries. This was on the scale of a government clean-up, and if he was right it was only a matter of time before he was next.
He only hoped that he would be smart enough to escape unscathed when it was his turn.
In the Ministry of Magic there are many departments, like the many boxes of a hat maker. Each department handles a separate and necessary function. Most are known to the public. Some are not. Harry Potter belonged to the Department of Magical Security, which belonged to the latter category. That particular department is made up of conscientious and overworked men who carry out their duties quietly, anonymously, and with efficiency that approaches omniscience. Their function is to regulate and restrain all uses of magic amongst both magical and Muggle folk alike.
Contrary to popular belief, Muggles are, in fact, capable of magic. Just not the kind Wizards are accustomed to.
Lately a number of reports had come in from their international network of Watchers informing them of and confirming news that the Muggles had stumbled upon something that was tentatively known as Dream Technology. Muggles could now enter one another's minds whilst dreaming and learn their secrets or cause deep emotional disturbances that could incapacitate the victim.
Understandably it was unanimously decided by the Board that this technology had to be confiscated as soon as possible.
Because the Watchers were not good for much other than observation, the Department also employed a number of people referred to simply as 'soldiers'. Their very best was dispatched to remove the root, trunk, and branches of this Dream Technology before any further damage could be caused. It had already been in use for just under a decade, so time was of the essence.
Harry Potter, world-renowned as the killer of Lord Voldemort, was supposed to be retired. He had spent his childhood and youth in service to his country (somewhat unwillingly) and now nothing more was expected of him. He had a large inheritance from his parents and grandparents and didn't need to lift another finger for the rest of his life.
Privately, though, Harry had been employed by the Department of Magical Security since he supposedly decided that the Auror program just wasn't for him. He was actually recruited and now worked whenever he was needed for whatever they required. He was their most dedicated and skilled soldier with a real flair for manipulating people into giving him what he wanted.
Harry was dispatched to recover Dream Technology on October 17th. He returned January 2nd with an unconscious man over his shoulder.
Dream Technology had been developed in Russia as a means of interrogating prisoners and criminals during the Cold War, but the initial tests led only to madness and people that never woke up so it was abandoned for years until it was rediscovered, refined, and tested again by an amateur scientist unconnected to the Russian government. This time it worked. A new form of terrorism had been invented.
As most new weapons do, this circulated gradually in the criminal sector from Russia to American to Germany to China and so on. It was unknown in any official capacity by the various governments worldwide, but murmurs had begun to surface and suspicions were growing amongst those with their ears to the ground.
Harry assassinated Stepan Arkadyevich in his underground hide-out and reviewed his notes regarding those he had sold his machine to and those that he had used it on. The work of the next month consisted of tracking charms applied to the names. He assassinated the 'dream stealers' and Obliviated their victims. It was boring and tedious work, but he moved at a rapid pace and managed to destroy the majority of knowledge and use of the Dream Technology by Christmas.
That was when the hard part started. He could not leave even a single person associated with the technology untouched, because one person asking the wrong questions would be all it took to destroy months of work. He combed the underworld with a fine comb, searching for anyone who had used the technology or been involved with it in any way. He was surprised to find family men, professors, students, and even medical doctors involved in the web of dreams.
One man, a dream "Point Man" who went by the name Arthur almost killed him. So far Harry had found most of the people involved to be either thugs who taught people how to weaponize their minds or crafty people that got around the security. Arthur turned out to be an incredibly good marksman; Harry knew that no amount of magic would ever make his insides feel completely normal again after they had been shot full of bullets.
Thankfully he managed to surprise the Point Man with a well-placed Blast and knocked him halfway across the room to smash into a concrete outer wall. The Blast was not fatal, which left Harry with a choice. He could either kill him or inoculate him into the Department as a Watcher. He decided on the latter.
Arthur awoke in a bathtub full of ice. He yelled and tried to get out. A warm hand pushed him back down.
"Relax. It helps aches and pains."
This was said with a strong English accent with just a hint of amusement beneath the words. He frowned but relaxed into the ice. He was naked, unarmed, and injured. Whoever this man was, Arthur didn't stand a chance of escaping in his current situation.
"So, Arthur, I have some questions for you. You can either talk to me now or when you're more comfortable."
He picked up a piece of ice and began to suck on it to whet his dry mouth. When he was moister, he asked, "What kind of questions?" he didn't bother to ask who he was; men that put you in a tub of ice weren't likely to be honest about that sort of thing.
"Questions about Dream Technology."
He tensed. He hadn't worked on anything since the Inception fiasco with Cobb. That shaved too close to limbo for his tastes. He had every intention of returning to the profession later, but for now he was simply too frightened. It helped that he hadn't had a single offer to perform an extraction since autumn. Now that he thought about it, it seemed strange, but he had been busy with some side jobs and hadn't dwelled on the situation until now.
He looked at his nurse again. He was dressed in a gray sweat suit, bare foot, and in need of a haircut. His black hair hung into his eyes and he brushed it aside every few minutes. His age was difficult to gage, so Arthur simply pegged it as anywhere between 20 and 35. Glasses gave his face a guileless air, but Arthur knew better by now. He tried to remember the face of the man he'd been fighting with before he became unconscious and wasn't able to picture him. That was upsetting. Normally his memory was as fine-tuned as a watch.
"But like I said," the man went on, "you don't have to answer anything now. Are you hungry?"
He was. He nodded.
"Right, then. You stay here and I'll go order us something from room service. I shan't be long, but feel free to get out if you feel a little better. You were moaning in pain for a while earlier."
Arthur watched him go and then tried to get out of the tub. His entire body seized up and shot panicked pain signals through his nervous system. He collapsed back into the tub with a long moan and sank down until only his head was above the water. Ice baths. He would have to remember this trick.
The man came back with a plate of sandwiches, which he set on the sink counter. Grabbing a towel, he coaxed Arthur out of the ice and into it. Arthur bit his tongue to hide the pain but he had a feeling it didn't do much good. There was gentleness to the way he was bundled up and ushered into bed that was surprising. Most criminals didn't treat their prisoners with such care.
He was given a sandwich to eat while his still-nameless companion applied a bright blue salve in an unmarked jar to his bruises (his whole body felt like it had been pummeled). Sprains in his joints were coated with a green paste and then tightly wrapped with bandages. He felt instantly better and had to wonder what kind of salves this man used. He asked and received only silence and a sphinx-like smile in answer.
Full and wrapped up like a mummy, he slipped into sleep despite his best efforts. The next morning his companion served him a breakfast of fruit and cold cereal, no doubt the cheapest option on the room service menu. The other man selected a tangerine.
"First, you can call me James," his thumb broke through the peel of the tangerine and he began to remove it with deft fingertips. Then "James" began to ask questions. All the while he ate his tangerine, giving Arthur a piece now and again.
Arthur found most of his questions ones that would not compromise him, mostly involving details of how the machine worked and what kind of jobs he'd worked on in the past. With every piece of tangerine he felt his tongue loosening more, and he began to reveal things that could compromise him, such as the specific names and addresses of people he had worked with or on in the past.
He became more suspicious as he rattled off extremely personal information about his childhood and his feelings for Cobb's deceased wife Mal. He tried to stop the flood of words and found it impossible.
Over the years he had been exposed to every truth serum known to man, or so he thought until now. He had never experienced anything like this, and he wondered how it had been passed to him. Was it in the fruit?
James started taking notes a while ago and he pressed a finger over Arthur's lips to silence him when he used up the hotel's little notepad.
"Hold that thought. I'll be right back."
He went to the closet and began rummaging around in his bag. Arthur lay in horrified silence, wondering what was going on. James returned and the questioning continued until Arthur had nothing else to say. James capped his pen and asked him if he had ever wondered if the impossible things he experienced in dreams could be replicated while awake.
Arthur was still under the influence of the truth serum so he answered honestly, "Yes. I want that more than anything else, but obviously that is a stupid wish."
James gave him a funny little smirk that made him think of that bastard Forger Eames.
"I wouldn't be so sure of that. I can't promise you anything but a chance at working with people like me, people born with the ability to bend the rules of reality with our minds."
Arthur could think of nothing to say to that.
On the second day of the New Year, when he had sufficiently recovered from his injuries to travel with minimal discomfort, James picked him up and put him over one shoulder and his suitcase over his other.
There was a sucking sensation and he found himself in a circular room surrounded by men wearing cult robes. He passed out.
Once Arthur was put into safe hands for his training to become a Watcher or maybe even a Muggle version of their soldier, Harry went out to track down the people Arthur told him about. No one put up the same resistance Arthur did and he began to relax.
And then he reached the very last name on his list, a male "Forger" named, supposedly, James Eames. A search charm revealed that his current location was Mombasa. This was a bit of a blow since Harry wasn't technically allowed within their borders since the incident of '01, but what they didn't know wouldn't hurt them. One little gamble couldn't hurt, surely, and as long as this never got back to their government or his boss, everything would be fine.
The night of the 'raid' was a Saturday, planned that way on the off chance that this Eames would be the type to get plastered on the weekends. To be extra-careful he planned his attack for 3 in the morning. He was expecting one of the usual types of criminal with the added distinction of working in dreams. What he got was an extremely charming man sitting in the hallway of a half-collapsed (and smelly) hotel, drinking a lonely pot of coffee.
"Hello there, fellow guest."
He was greeted in English upon reaching the top of the structurally-unsound stairs by a man that he immediately knew to be Eames from the soft buzz of his seeking charm. Because the mission was nearly over and the wards personalized to keep Eames within a one-kilometer radius of the hotel were firmly in place, Harry let himself relax and take this one slow. He smiled and approached at a stroll.
"Hello. Are you locked out?"
"Not at all. I just find the air fresher here, and there is nothing like a little late-night breathing."
Harry snorted and gestured at the coffee pot, "Is that empty?"
"There's a cup or two left. Would you like one?"
"I would. I need to get some work done before I can sleep and I'm dead on my feet," Harry leaned against the wall across from him and slid slowly down until he sat cross-legged on the floor. It wasn't very clean or comfortable, as the tiles were mostly cracked and a bit sharp in places. He noticed with interest that Eames was wearing green leather loafers.
Eames passed him the mug, now full, and smiled again. Harry performed some silent diagnostics to make sure it wasn't drugged. It was safe. He took a sip and nearly spat it out. To say that it barely qualified as coffee would be generous. Eames chuckled and Harry joined him.
"Thanks for the warning."
"You're welcome. What's your name, stranger?"
Harry didn't normally use his real name these days. If he was under stress or just lazy he went by James, but when that wasn't a good idea he used Henry. Something about Eames relaxed him, though, and his real name just slipped out. This was a bad sign. Harry knew that he should get his business over with, but it had been so long since he'd had a nice chat with somebody that didn't think of him as a hero or a co-worker.
They chatted about the weather and then what their respective business was there. Harry knew that they were both lying but it was pleasant nevertheless. Sometime during their conversation the door behind him opened. A woman with a face from a horror flick stood there in a bathrobe with an ashtray in her hand and a cigarette between her fingers. Smoke rose from the ashtray.
"Are you boys going to stay up all night flirting? You're giving me insomnia."
Harry was surprised that she would call their conversation flirting, but it was perfectly possible that it had become such. Harry wasn't one to lie to himself (not anymore) and Eames wasn't an ugly or unpleasant companion. It got lonely in Harry's line of work and sometimes…
Well. This wasn't the time or place for that line of thinking.
They apologized and Harry decided that it was time to get on with it, reluctant though he was. He waited until she was safely locked into her room again before firing at Eames with an Obliviate.
He missed. Eames ducked in a move so fast he blurred and smashed his fist into Harry's nose, his stomach, and his groin. And then he was at the end of the hall climbing out the window. Harry groaned, bent over his groin. The nose and stomach hits he could have borne, but Eames fought dirty.
He took all the time he needed to recover. Eames couldn't go anywhere far.
Outside Eames became frantic after he repeatedly found himself unable to move a certain distance from the hotel. This wouldn't have bothered him so much if he had been able to figure out why. Right now there was just a sort of mysterious invisible wall there that removed all desire to go any farther when he reached it.
He stopped his mad sprinting from point to point to catch his breath. He sat and wiped the sweat off his face. This process was repeated several times before he wore himself out and stopped for good. It was a few minutes after this that he heard someone approaching.
He squinted in the gloom and made out someone of Harry's dimensions. He rolled his eyes and reached into his hidden pocket for his knife. He never got a chance to use it. Harry suddenly pounced on him and tackled him to the ground. Eames rolled them over and tried to get in a hit but Harry was fast and good at squirming to the side every time he tried to smash him in the ribs. Harry rolled them over and returned the earlier favor by breaking Eames' nose. He coughed on the blood flooding his throat and scrabbled at Harry's neck.
They rolled around in the dirt some more, trying to kick, punch, or bite each other. The sun began to creep onto the horizon and their struggle was now lit with a faint purple light. He saw that Harry had lost his glasses at some point. From the way he never looked directly at Eames now, he presumed that he was practically blind without them. The sight of those distant eyes was a tad disturbing.
It was too bad that Harry was a very good fighter even without his glasses. Eames was beginning to fear that he would lose this one. It had been a long time since he'd lost.
Harry's forearm got pressed into his neck and he couldn't fight him off. He felt himself drift into unconsciousness.
When he awoke he was lying in someone's bed and dressed in someone else's pajamas. They were nice, the old-fashioned kind with little stripes. He felt movement to his left and turned his eyes lazily in that direction, still pleasantly fuzzy and partially asleep. Harry lay on his stomach, fast asleep, breathing softly and steadily through his nose. On impulse Eames reached out and ran his hand down Harry's back, which was conveniently bare. Harry stretched languidly into the caress and sighed. He didn't wake.
Eames made to sneak off but discovered that one of his ankles was handcuffed to the ironwork foot of the bed frame. He cursed and reached down to try and pick it. His eyebrows went up when he couldn't find a single opening on the cuff. It was a smooth unmarked ring of metal.
He spared a few more minutes in examination of his shackles before giving up. He was here to stay so he may as well find a way to amuse himself. His eyes shifted over to his bedmate and he smirked. His admiration of Harry had been ruined by their brawl during their first meeting, but now that he was in the right position, he let himself look at Harry as salaciously as he wanted.
He grabbed the top edge of the sheet and tugged them down to thigh-level, taking a long moment or two to admire the graceful line of Harry's back as he murmured and curled onto his side. He ran an admiring, worshipful palm down over his ribs, the smooth jut of his hipbone and the warm, lean thigh unfortunately covered by loose sleep shorts. Harry's age was a puzzle, as there was something youthful about his body that contrasted with the stress lines around his eyes and mouth. He could have been 20, or he could have been 30. It was impossible to tell.
Harry stirred and opened one sleepy eye. It was green. He regarded Eames in silence before asking.
"Were you feeling me up just now?"
Harry somehow managed to look reproachful while half-asleep. Eames decided to change the subject before he did or said anything else foolish.
"What would you like for breakfast?"
Harry went back to sleep. Eames frowned. He had to piss.
He waited as long as he could before shaking Harry awake again. Harry scowled but actually showed signs of waking for good. He even sat up and shoved his hair out of his eyes.
"Look, this has been character forming, but I really must go now."
Harry smirked at Eames.
"I don't think so. You, sir, are now my property. I was supposed to kill or incapacitate you, but since you resisted both of those methods I have decided to let you live. The downside for you is that you are now my room mate and will have to endure my habits and friends."
"Well, I could execute you if that's what you'd prefer, but it would be a damn shame. You're a fine-looking man, Mr. Eames."
Eames considered this. His old work was barely an option anymore, so he was technically unemployed and would be flat broke in another year or so. The past was looking distant when viewed through those circumstances. He chewed his lip and looked Harry over. On the other hand he knew next to nothing about this young man who had apparently decided to let him live out of pure generosity.
He chose to stay with Harry. It was a gamble, but Eames was a gambling man. And he was pretty sure he would win this round.
With a smile he stretched himself out half on top of Harry and kissed him the way he always did when he was trying to make an impression. From the way he could feel Harry respond to it, he succeeded. He broke away after a few long minutes and asked,
"So, now what do you want for breakfast?"
End Gambling Man
INCEPTION STORY! Sort of. Review even though its new?