Notes: Thank you for the reviews! I know this is not nearly as long as the first chapter, but we didn't have a lot of time to write last night and I found a nice cliff-hanger for you. =)
"So he worked out, right?" Dom asked without looking up from his notes. When Arthur didn't respond he turned, noting that the younger man had his headsets in his ears and he could hear muffled music coming loudly from it. He moved towards him and tapped his shoulder, causing him to jump and turn.
"Damn it, Dom!"
The elder man blinked. "What... is the matter with you?"
"Mr. Eames is very talented in his style, but-"
"But what?" Eames grinned as he walked from behind the white board.
"Nothing. Surprised to see you here so quickly, Mr. Eames."
"I called him," Dom explained. "Agent Trevors showed up in the middle of Mal's and my lunch. Our deadline just got moved up."
"By how much?" Arthur asked, risking a brief glance at Eames to make sure he still had his own face. He knew they weren't dreaming, but it never hurt to check.
"We leave in forty eight hours." Dom said grimly. "It's a hell of a lot sooner than I'd like, but we at least got a file with some more detailed information on our target. We need to do a practice run with all four of us so we can all be comfortable in the shared space together."
"Relatively speaking, eh, Artie?" Eames asked.
Arthur glared at him before shrugging and forcing his expression into neutrality. "You're right. The sooner we can get started the better. Where's Mal?"
"I've been running last minute tests," a pretty, French-accented voice filled the room, followed closely by Dom's fiancé's entrance. She tossed her curls back as her eyes lingered momentarily on Eames, as if she were trying to decide if she could trust him or not. She gave no definitive reaction to the question before she continued speaking. "Dom and I believe that it is possible to go two layers deep into a dream."
"It hasn't been done," Arthur argued.
"Something has to be tried for it to be done," Dom retaliated with a confident smile. "It's just building a structure." He moved to the whiteboard and began showing what they had apparently been working on. "Mal will be the dreamer for our first layer. She has a way of setting up a welcoming atmosphere. We go in, gain Agent Calden's trust via Eames' particular skills, and then we'll take him a layer deeper. His subconscious will fill in the gaps of what we need."
"Who's our second dreamer?" Eames asked, taking an empty seat.
"Arthur," Dom answered easily, ignoring the surprised look on the younger man's face. "The second layer of the dream will be shaky, easily jarred, so we need a steadier mind to balance it out and give us the time that we'll need to get to Calden's secrets."
Eames frowned. "Young Arthur here doesn't have nearly the ah, in-dream experience that you or I have though, Dom. Don't get your knickers in a twist, darling, it's a true statement and this is serious business."
Arthur had started to protest but stopped when Eames addressed him.
Dom shrugged. "True. But all the trials I've done with him have been very consistent. Don't you think, Mal?"
She nodded as she added a note to the board. "Yes. Do you have reason to think otherwise, Mr. Eames?" she asked, turning her cool gaze on him.
Eames looked at Arthur for a long moment, impressed when the younger man held his gaze. "No. Just as I say. Difference of experience." He said.
Arthur broke the gaze to fiddle with a stack of papers.
"Good. Then it's settled." Dom said.
The door opened again and Miles walked in, silver case in his hand. "Everyone ready?" he asked, looking between the newly formed team.
"We're running the trial right now?" Arthur asked, keeping the hesitation that he felt out of his voice.
"Like I said, everything got moved up," Dom answered with a shrug. "Professor Miles is kind enough to run our machinery for us on the outside. I'd like to bring us all down two layers deep so that we get the feel for it."
"Oh goody, so we'll have more stairs come the second layer then?" Eames drawled sarcastically, rolling his eyes as he spoke.
Mal stifled a laugh. "Arthur has more creativity in his mind than he cares to admit. You just have to know where to look for it."
The younger man ducked his head at the compliment. "Shall we?"
Eames deliberately sat next to Arthur as they were hooked into the machine. "Let's get creative then, shall we Arthur?" Eames said with a grin.
"Stairs. Many, many stairs." Arthur said through gritted teeth. It was the last thing Eames heard before his eyes were drifting shut.
He opened them again, sitting on a patio cafe overlooking a beach, cup of coffee in his hand. The sun was warm and the breeze just enough to keep it cool without blowing the napkins away. He tilted his face into the light. A perfect afternoon.
"Cozy, isn't it?" Dom asked from across the table. Eames cracked one eye open.
"Mmm. Best place to get coffee, this. Smell that ocean air. Take years of worry and stress off of you. Of course, taking years off would make dear Arthur barely a teenager, wouldn't it?"
"I'm really not as young as I look," the man in question stated firmly as he approached the table.
"You certainly have style beyond your years," Mal acknowledged, taking in the tailored suit, thin tie and polished dress shoes that seemed to contradict the beach setting. "It's interesting how you can tell how one sees themselves in this setting." She peered over at her fiancé. "See? Dom always has a wedding band on when we come here."
Dom glanced down at his own hand, looking as if he had never noticed or at least had assumed no one else would. He cleared his throat and stood. "Okay, let's get down to business. This is my dream here." He motioned out towards the projections passing by, the long, busy street and vendors on either side. A couple of people at the cafe looked up at the word "dream," but returned to their conversation and coffee just as quickly. "Simple enough. We'll work through Calden's reports for the setting. Mal works well with spur-of-the-moment set ups and I'm sure Arthur will be more than capable of gleaning even the tiniest details from his reports that we just got to add onto what he's all ready found."
"You did all the research?" Eames asked, voice bordering dangerously on sounding impressed.
Dom grinned. "He may be knew to this, but I'd bet my entire share that Arthur turns out to be the best damn point man in the business."
Eames made an appreciative sound but declined to bet his share against Dom. He was beginning to think he would put his money on the serious young man any day of the week and twice on Sundays. "So. We'll draw the poor schmuck in, I'll tug on his heartstrings, then what? Why draw into a second layer what we could accomplish in the first?" Eames asked.
"A fair enough question. It provides us with an extra layer of security. If this young agent has any hesitations, they will be remote enough by the second layer that they will not pose a problem for us to get to the information." Mal said softly.
"So what happens if he turns out not to be a traitor? Do we get paid either way, or do we get paid to tell them what they want to hear?" Eames asked.
Dom frowned. His entire expression was one of a man that had not thought that someone would be biased.
"We give them the correct information," Arthur answered stiffly.
"Yes, because that always works," Eames grumbled.
"Are you ready to go to the next level?" Mal asked, defusing the impending battle that showed glimmering in their youngest team member's eyes.
Dom shifted in his seat, eyeing his fiancé carefully. "Mal, what we talked about last time... Is it under control?"
"I don't see how it could be one way or the other," she answered him with a shrug. "One does not control their subconscious, Dom."
"What? What's this?" Arthur demanded.
"It's nothing," Dom said quickly. "Just something that Mal and I have been testing. You ready?"
"Ready as we'll ever be." Eames murmured, glancing between the three of them. He'd been in dreams gone bad (it really was too cliché even for him to call them nightmares, the bête noir experiences of his chosen path) with people he'd known and it was tricky enough. Worse then, or better to be stuck in a bad situation with strangers he had yet to determine. And as smart as Arthur was, all the book knowledge in the world didn't help face down the wrong end of a gun or a knife. Or a midget with a flamethrower, which was another story all together, and what Eames wouldn't give to see Arthur's face when that happened.
They made their way to the back room of the cafe. "Take care of them," Dom instructed Mal with a wink.
Arthur shifted in his seat, turning a wary eye to Eames. He wasn't entirely sure what experiments that Dom and Mal had bee working with, but his mind couldn't help but wander back to the first time that he'd shared a dream with the two. He had never read anything of a subconscious being comfortable with a so-called intruder, as seemed to be the way with them, but he couldn't help but wonder if that added to the hostility that her subconscious would feel for the dreamer without Dom to balance it.
He hardly realized that the dream had shifted into his own until he found himself standing in a well-manicured hotel.
"I told you that you could be creative," Mal praised as she looked over the dreamscape. Polished marble melted into a deep red carpet in the lobby that they stood, leading all the way up the winding staircase.
"You and your damn stairs," Eames grumbled.
"You and your damn blondes," Arthur returned easily as a tall, cool woman brushed by them headed towards the hotel bar.
"Don't be jealous, darling, I only have eyes for you." Eames leered.
Arthur started to protest when Eames turned in a slow half circle, a small knot of worry forming in his stomach. He reached back to grab Arthur's arm. "Where's Mal?" he asked. At the name, several projects looked up at him sharply, slowly resuming their movement.
Arthur looked around. "I'm not sure. She can't be far. Maybe she went into the longue over there." he suggested. He took a step closer to Eames when a projection bumped into his shoulder, glaring coldly at the young man.
"She was just here," the forger pressed as he watched their surroundings. Something wasn't right. He could feel it; it just wasn't right.
"Well then she's around," Arthur snapped, irritated at the turn of events. They were down there for a reason, not for a free drink at the bar inside of his mind.
Another projection clipped Eames' shoulder, pushing him into Arthur.
"What's their problem?" the younger man asked lowly. "I didn't think projections were supposed to be this hostile this quickly. I haven't changed anything."
"Not everything is by the books, dearest," Eames acknowledged. "Best we find Miss Mal and do what we came here to do."
They moved carefully through the lobby of the hotel, conversations dropping to a dull murmur or ceasing altogether as they passed. Arthur felt his unease grow with every step they took, with every glare or bump they received. Eames was making him more nervous by sticking close and Arthur wasn't willing to move away. They passed a dining room and the bar with no sign of Mal.
"Well, we can try the conference room or going up stairs." Eames said.
"How would she have gotten upstairs without us seeing?" Arthur demanded.
"This isn't quite reality, don't forget." Eames said. "We'd best move faster though, darling, they all seem to be glaring at you."
"The first time that I shared a dream with Dom and Mal," Arthur said in low tones as they picked up their pace, "her projections glared. They weren't entirely hostile like this time, just very cautious of anyone other than Cobb."
Eames gave a distracted shrug as if to say it was well beyond his knowledge. They moved up the stairs to find a man in a dark suit standing at the top and looking very intimidating. His eyes flashed dangerously and the two men stopped, unsure of how to react. Without warning he grabbed Arthur by the jacket and took him off his feet, dangling over the top step.
"Ah, I'm going to need you to put him down. Slowly. We're no danger to you," Eames said, spreading his hands wide.
"No one beyond this point." The man said flatly.
"We'll go. Just put my friend back on his feet and we'll be out of your way."
"No one beyond this point." he repeated.
"Eames?" Arthur asked, hoping he didn't sound as terrified as he felt.
"No one beyond this point." the man repeated, sounding more agitated.
Eames carefully reached out as if to place a hand on the man's arm. "Okay. I just need Arthur here and-" Eames started. He was cut off by the man throwing Arthur back into him. Eames wasn't ready for the young man's weight and they stumbled and fell back several feet to the landing.
"I don't understand," Arthur grumbled as they untangled themselves, "if this is my...space, how is it that he can-"
"Arthur," The sound of his name falling so seriously and fiercely from Eames caused Arthur to look up sharply. He barely caught the man's movement, the flash of metal in the low hotel light, but the roaring pop of the gun flooded his ears. Eames was against him in a split second, his back against Arthur's chest as the con-man obscured him from the guard's view. Out of the corner of his eye Arthur saw the spray of blood hit the wall, the metallic scent filling his nose and they were sinking again to the carpet.
Notes: Haha! Cliffhanger! Poor guys, all they want is a trial run and they find trouble. XD Please, please feed the authors' addiction to reviews.