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The Bullet Catch 6/12 (An Inception Fanfiction)

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Sep. 4th, 2012 | 07:10 pm
music: Still Thrives This Love - k.d. lang

Title: The Bullet Catch 6/12
Author: Mel Wong, @chn_breathmint on Livejournal and AO3.
Characters/Pairings: Eames, Arthur, Ariadne, Yusuf, OCs. Eames/Arthur flirting, Arthur/Eames attraction, Arthur/Ariadne attraction (and vice versa), Ariadne/Eames attraction (and vice versa), eventual Eames/Arthur/Ariadne OT3, Eames/OMC ex-relationship, Arthur/OFC ex-relationship, Yusuf/OFC relationship (eventually.)
Status: WIP
Rating: R for language, graphic violence, sexuality, drug use, other nasty stuff.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Inception or its characters.
Word Count: 7334
Summary: This is the fic I’ve spent 50k words winding up to – Eames and Arthur finally enact their mission of payback, but to get to their targets they have to go through the Russian mafia first.
Warnings: This chapter’s fairly boring by the standards of the previous ones. Exposition ahoy! Also, it’s a year late and written partially under the influence of codeine-laced cough syrup.
Notes: Thank you to skiriki for the Finn-picking and to nagaina_ryuuoh for the beta. As with previous instalments, words in < > brackets denote conversations taking place in a language other than English that the POV character does in fact understand.

Eames’ experiences of family reunions did not extend to armed standoffs, and he started to wish they had when Christian flicked the blade of his pruning knife open and pointed it at his father. Pity Gran was always such a pacifist, he thought as he took the scene in. Some of his relatives could have done with a good stabbing, perhaps even a glassing with a broken teacup.

“I’m not armed,” Khristofor said as he shut the door behind him and stared his son down despite the curved blade pointed in his face.

“No, but the legman you’ve left outside certainly would be.” Eames said. There was no way he would have come alone. Not if he had any kind of sense.

“A typical precaution in this business,” Khristofor shrugged. His English was better than Christian’s, but then Christian’s English had been better before his forced retirement three years ago.

“You’re dead,” Christian’s voice sank to a choked whisper, and tears of rage started to spill down his face. “You’re supposed to be dead.”

“Well.” Eames holstered his USP and took a deep breath. “Then unless your father is the Son of God he’s got a little explaining to do.”

“I buried you, Pappa.” The point of Christian’s knife wavered, but his gaze did not.

“Things are not always as they seem,” his father said with infuriating calmness, and Eames only had seconds to act when he realized Christian really was going to stab his own father. He reached into his pocket for Petra’s syringe and popped its cover off, jabbed him in the bicep through the thin sleeve of his t-shirt.

“I can’t let you do that,” Eames said as Christian turned on him and then wobbled before he could complete the motion.

“Why?” Christian whispered even as the knife slipped out of his grasp to clatter on the linoleum floor, and Eames caught him easily as he folded.

“He can’t kill you now, but I very well might.” That was Arthur, from the other side of the living room, and Eames picked Christian’s knife up and secured it before he turned to look. Arthur was standing in front of the bedroom door, with his Glock drawn. He held it at his side, but Eames knew he could aim and fire in a split-second if he had to.

Khristofor shrugged easily and held his empty hands up. “I’m here only to talk. To you, if he won’t.”

“Fine,” Arthur holstered his Glock and stepped away from the bedroom door. “We’ll talk in the kitchen.”

Eames watched the both of them vanish into the kitchen and thought for a minute before he decided where to put Christian.

“What’s happening outside?” Ariadne asked as Eames carried Christian into the room Arthur had placed her in. “Arthur told me to stay here.” She was still pale, her eyes reddened from crying, but her gaze was intense and alert.

“We’re fine for now, pet,” Eames said as he dropped Christian on the bed that Ariadne had vacated in the last minute. “Christian’s dad just wants to talk.”

“Christian’s father?” Ariadne stared in the direction Arthur had gone, her gaze hard and intent, as though willpower could bore through the door that Eames had shut behind him. “Have I missed something?”

“I think we all have.” Eames shrugged, sighed as he pondered his options. It would be better if Christian didn’t wake alone, but Eames wanted to keep an eye on Arthur and back him up if necessary.

Ariadne picked up her holstered Skyph from the nightstand and hesitated before she put the holster back on her belt. “Do you need me out there with you?”

Eames shook his head. “Right now I think it’d be better if you stayed here and kept an eye on Chris. I’d ask Petra, but – ” He went through Christian’s pockets and made sure they were empty, confiscated the CZ RAMI he had in an ankle holster while he was at it. Christian would be livid when he woke, and Eames didn’t want him to kill anyone or hurt himself when that happened. At least Ariadne was completely unthreatening and it was incredibly unlikely that Christian would ever harm her even at his worst. “He was on the verge of patricide when I knocked him out. He’ll probably be confused and rather upset when he wakes.”

Ariadne tugged the tail of her t-shirt down over her sidearm as Eames put Christian’s pill bottles down on the nightstand where her Skyph had been. “Will he be okay?” she asked, her voice soft and weary as she sat down on the other side of the bed.

“Make sure he takes his medication when he wakes up.” Eames paused, and then removed Christian’s belt and tugged his boots off for good measure, took them with him as he turned to leave the room.

“Good luck with your father-in-law,” Ariadne said. She reached out and pushed Christian’s hair out of his face with a wary deliberation that made Eames think of a child patting a lion, albeit one that had been tranquilized for some kind of veterinary procedure.

“At this point I’m glad we didn’t go for that civil union back when,” Eames sighed as he pushed the door open, hesitated and turned back to glance at Ariadne.

“We’ll be okay,” she told him. She took out her smartphone and fired up a video game as she settled down to wait, and he nodded and shut the door behind him.

The ensuing discussion reminded Eames of badly cooked Sunday dinners; half-truths slid around like overcooked slices of lamb on a platter. It was uncanny how Christian looked like his father – Big Chris and Little Chris, Eames thought absurdly as he took a seat in the kitchen opposite the man who had nearly become his father-in-law. Christian was taller, his eyes and natural hair color subtly darker, but it was otherwise like looking at the same man in photographs taken decades apart.

“So why the Lazarus act, eh?” Eames asked Khristofor, felt that cold green gaze brush up against him like an icy hand as they studied each other like caged predators, each unwilling to give ground. Arthur had exercised his usual caution and cleared Christian’s knives off the table before he had suggested the kitchen as a makeshift conference room.

“I did it for much the same reason you no longer go by your birth name,” Khristofor said calmly. Eames kept his expression carefully neutral despite the sudden spike of rage flaring behind his heart. No wonder he never talks about his family.

Arthur cleared his throat, broke the silence as he pushed his chair back. “You said you were here to talk,” he said. “I’m fairly surprised we haven’t been murdered for edging in on someone else’s turf if they’re pulling someone of your weight class as a go-between.”

“Not just anybody’s territory, you understand,” Khristofor said. “I had been watching your activities, but I chose not to interfere until you infringed on official jurisdiction.”

There was a soft rustle, a crackle of stiff paper as he pulled a folded envelope out of his jacket and slid it across the table. The fat envelope was warm under Eames’ touch as he opened it with Christian’s pruning knife and pulled a sheaf of papers out.

“What you’re saying is that we’re infringing upon your official jurisdiction,” Arthur said mildly as Eames’ glanced at the papers in his hands, felt his jaw tighten as he recognized the documents Whitehall had promised him weeks ago. He did not realize how tight his grip was until he heard the paper crackle softly in his hands. Arthur glanced up at him, expression opaque, and he calmed himself with an effort of will, forced his hands to loosen up on the sheaf of paper. The tamper-proof seals on the envelope had been intact until he had slit the envelope, but all bets were off now that actual intelligence agencies were involved.

“All right,” Eames said. “You have us in a position where we have to listen, so talk. I assume there’s something you want.” Christian’s folded pruning knife was surprisingly dense in his hand, its weight and balance reassuring under his touch.

Khristofor chose not to notice the knife, and when he spoke the tone of his voice was mild, as though he had been discussing the weather. “Your recent activities have stirred up quite the hornet’s nest,” he said. “I understand that your eventual goal is to trace the origins of a certain transfer of technology.”

“I take it that you want us to stop what we’re doing,” Arthur offered, the next line in a script that nobody would admit to following, but an important one nevertheless.

“On the contrary – your presence has flushed certain elements out of hiding, and that is something we can take advantage of.” And there it came, the offer they could not afford to refuse.

Arthur caught Eames’ eye across the table – the next move was his. “We,” he said, according to script. “You’re proposing some kind of alliance."

“A temporary one, of course. Unofficial, until the crisis is resolved to our satisfaction.” Khristofor was hard to read, but Eames caught the stiffness in his posture and the slight aversion of his gaze as he spoke. He’s as worried about this as we are, he realized.

Eames’ pulse jittered in his throat and chest even as he kept his face and body language carefully neutral. Time to turn the cards over, he thought. “Let’s not mince words,” he said. “You’re as concerned about the intrusions countermeasures as we are, and that’s why we’re having this civilized little chat as opposed to something cruder.”

Animation leaked back into Khristofor’s face as he shifted back in his chair, let his professional demeanor ease minutely. “I believe you’ll both agree that it benefits no one if there isn’t a dreamshare scene left to work in, officially or not,” He hesitated – the most vulnerable Eames had seen him in these few minutes, and sighed. “Besides, there is the matter of my wayward son and his failing health.”

“With all due respect, sir? Good luck with that,” Arthur said carefully.

“Thank you. He is ever stubborn, no?” Khristofor said, his smile slow and sad, and when he spoke again Eames could hear the pride and bitterness warring in his heart.
“He doesn’t have to die like this. I could get him into an experimental treatment program, but I know he would never accept anything from me now.”

“I could talk to him if you’d like,” Eames said. “I can’t guarantee he’ll listen.”

“Oh, he won’t, but I thank you for it anyway.” Khristofor shrugged. His crooked smile fit badly on his face, as though he had been out of practice doing it. He straightened up in his chair then, and it creaked softly under his weight as he slid a smaller, folded envelope across the table to Arthur. “I cannot discuss this matter for long. I’m supposed to be in Moscow right now. In here are emergency contact details with a handler in case you run into trouble before I return. Meanwhile I suggest you cover your tracks and wait a few days.”
Arthur put the envelope in his shirt pocket without looking at its contents. “What about the operation Irina was on?” he asked.

“Nobody witnessed the failed extraction, and at this point Boris has assumed that she has been kidnapped by a rival faction. No doubt Sergey will want reprisals if he figures out that Nikolai has been backing you, but I am sure your deal covers this sort of thing, neh?” Khristofor stood up then, the crack of his knees sharp against the scrape of his chairlegs. “Take care of my stupid boy for me,” he said to Eames. They watched him let himself out of the apartment and then rose from their own seats in mutual agreement. Eames crossed to the clouded kitchen windows and glanced out at the car park across the street for several long minutes, until he was sure Khristofor and his helpers had left.

Arthur secured the flat, the bolts clicking loudly in the door deadbolt and then came back into the kitchen with a loud sigh. “What are you going to do now?” he asked Eames as he sat back down at the table and hauled his Toughbook out of its bag.

“Do what I promised to do,” Eames shrugged as he studied the empty car park for a moment more, and then sat back down at the table and poured himself a cold cup of tea.

“Try to talk to Christian?” Arthur turned his laptop on and then squirmed in his seat, pulled his backup Glock out of his pocket and laid it down in easy reach.

“I’m obliged to try,” Eames said, wincing faintly at his first bitter sip of the stewed tea. “What about you?”

“Firstly, I’m going to assume that we’ve been compromised, even if we aren’t. Secondly, I try to figure out how Khristofor got his intel.” Arthur’s laptop beeped quietly as it booted up, and then greeted him with its usual Windows chord.

“How he knew to be here instead of Moscow?” Eames hesitated, and then drained the teacup, ignoring the taste.

“Among other things,” Arthur said as his fingers tapped away at his keyboard.

“Vladimir.” Eames emptied the teapot into the sink, left his teacup there as well.

“You think he’s a mole?” Arthur asked almost-absently. No doubt he had already guessed, but better to let Khristofor know their suspicions in case the flat was bugged, which it probably was.

“We report directly to him, and he reports directly to Nikolai,” Eames said for the benefit of any remote listeners. “There isn’t any room for a leak unless they’ve gotten sloppy on things, and former regime personnel do not generally live very long after getting sloppy.” Do you hear that, you old bastard? Eames thought to himself as he left Arthur to his work, I can play this game as well as you, and Arthur is better.

Eames wasn’t entirely prepared for what greeted him when he poked his head into the spare room. Christian and Ariadne were sitting on the bed, huddled together conspiratorially with their backs to the headboard. Eames reached instinctively into his trouser pocket and ran his fingers across the poker chip he carried on him, tested its balance and blinked when he realized that he really was watching Christian play Angry Birds on Ariadne’s smartphone.

Ariadne looked up from the screen as he entered the room. “How did things go?” she asked.

Eames pulled a Dunhill from the pack in his shirt pocket and tapped it out, stilled his shaking hands with an effort of will. His nerves were utterly shot. “Not as badly as I had expected.” He glanced at Christian, who remained pointedly silent as a tiny, high-pitched wheee squeaked tinnily from the speakers of Ariadne’s phone, followed by the sound of splintering wood.

Ariadne looked back down at the game and assessed the results of his last play. “You want to aim a little lower,” she told him before she swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood up. “You’ll be okay for now, right?”

Christian nodded wordlessly in reply, his expression unreadable beneath the fringe of hair that he had let fall over his face. The gesture was punctuated with another crunch as Ariadne crossed the floor, shooed Eames outside and then shut the door behind her.

“Why are we talking out here? ” Eames managed to say before she cut him off.

“Because Christian isn’t ready for this,” she said, and then sighed heavily. Her shoulders sagged as the fight bled out of her slight frame, and Eames had to remind himself that she was still struggling with having killed someone scant hours ago.

“Was he – difficult or anything?” Eames asked as he ushered her towards the ancient lumpy sofa in the living room and sat down in an armchair that smelled strongly of cats and stale tea. The upholstery zinged softly against his shoulders as he pulled out his lighter, flicked it open and lit his cigarette.

“You’d be difficult too if you found out that everything you had believed for the past ten years was a lie,” she said as she sat down crosslegged on the right end of the sofa, “But no, he was okay, pretty well-behaved once I explained the situation. Took his meds like I told him to.”

Eames tried to imagine his own reaction to betrayal of that magnitude but could not. In hindsight he found it slightly miraculous that Christian had not drawn his sidearm and shot his father then and there. “How about you? How are you coping?” he asked after he took a long drag on his cigarette.

“I don’t know. I’m not happy with what I had to do, but at least I’m alive to be unhappy about it.” Ariadne’s mouth twisted sharply then, and she fell silent, looked down at her clasped hands.

“You know I’m here if I need to talk,” Eames said, and she looked up then, her eyes fierce and bright with tears.

“Look. Eames,” she said, after a long, shaky breath, “I know you want to try and fix things for me and make everything better, but you can’t. This is my issue to deal with. Either I get used to the idea of killing in self-defense, or I decide it’s too much and I turn back, but you can’t take this responsibility upon yourself. And the same goes for Christian. I know you’re still looking for closure with him, but you’re going to have to let his therapy work before you go in looking, otherwise you’re just going to hurt each other the way you both used to, all over again.”

How does she know so much? Eames kept his misgivings behind his blank poker-playing face. “How much did Chris tell you?” he asked.

“About you? Nothing, actually.” Ariadne looked briefly away as though embarrassed before she spoke again. “I guessed, mostly,” she said, “You identifying with Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. The way you acted that evening in Helsinki.” She shrugged. “I don’t know. Am I wrong about that?”

“No, you’re –“ he paused mid-sentence, too weary to dissemble, and let the mask drop. “You’re right,” he sighed.

“So what do we do now?” she asked.

Eames took a long drag on his Dunhill and exhaled, capped the stream of smoke with a smoke ring instead of sighing again like he had wanted to. Ariadne didn’t seem as trusting as she had been before – a good thing no matter how much it stung personally, because it improved her chances of survival in the extraction world. “The same thing we were planning on doing all along, except with a few extra steps. Big Chris is going to send us a handler, we turn some of the cards face up, and then figure out what our intelligence has in common.”

“Christian warned me not to trust his dad,” Ariadne said after a brief, thoughtful moment.

No surprise there, Eames thought. “I wouldn’t trust him further than I could piss, but that isn’t what we’re dealing with here.”

“What is it, then?” she asked slowly, but he could see from the darkness in her gaze that she had guessed his answer already.

“Desperation, Ariadne. The FSB are going to be as fucked as we are if this thing gets loose, if it hasn’t already."

She nodded thoughtfully at his answer and let out a tired, shaky breath before she spoke again. “I guess I’m going to have to take Christian up on his offer, then.”

“What offer?” Eames got a vague feeling that he was not going to like her answer.

“He wants to teach me knife-fighting,” she said before she got up and went into the kitchen to talk to Arthur.

Christian was still playing Angry Birds when Eames poked his head into the spare bedroom to return him his knife and sidearm. “I’m sorry,” he said as he laid them on top of the blanket in the indentation where Ariadne had been sitting. Christian stabbed at the screen with his index finger and put the game on pause as a tremor rippled through his frame, and then vanished abruptly.

“Thank you,” he said very softly, as though he did not trust his voice. He had his hair hanging over his face again so nobody could read his expression. “The rest of my knives are in the kitchen?”

“Arthur put them in one of the empty drawers.” Eames shrugged as he pinched out his cigarette butt belatedly, its heat a tiny bright pain between thumb and forefinger. “He didn’t want your dad to get the wrong idea.”

Christian froze in mid-movement, his left hand poised over the nightstand as he was putting Ariadne’s phone down. “What did he have to say?”

“He didn’t say it in as many words but I think he’s as worried about this leak as we are, and –” Eames kept a careful eye on Christian’s movements, suddenly aware of the awful intensity of his gaze.

Christian glanced at Eames’ face as he finished putting the phone down and then swung his long legs over the side of bed, making no move to reclaim his knife and gun. “And?”

He wants me to know he’s trying to not lose it, Eames thought as he considered the words. “He says you don’t have to die like this. There are treatment options for your liver.”

“You can tell him to fuck off,” Christian’s shoulders slumped as he rested his elbows on his knees. “There is no way he doesn’t know the ribvarin therapy didn’t work on me. His offer probably involves killing someone for their liver.”

You’re probably right, Eames thought but did not say. “What if it doesn’t?” he asked instead.

“I don’t know,” Christian said simply. “I’d have to figure out what I’d do with a life first.”

The next two days passed in a blend of fading terror and increasing tedium as the team moved back into the dispensary and the chemists went back to work after Christian and Arthur had swept the building for bugs. The building was miraculously clean, which made Eames wonder about Big Chris’ motivations. He didn’t doubt that the old spook loved his son, albeit in a completely dysfunctional sort of way, but it didn’t seem a solid enough reason to back the team clandestinely, not with the risks they were running. The simplest answer was, unfortunately, the one with the worst possible outcome – that the intrusions countermeasures were as terrifying as he had feared, and that the FSB was as worried about this as they were, which was an unsettling thought and one he tried not to dwell on for too long.

“I’d wonder what kind of fucked-up mind comes up with something like this in the first place,” Petra volunteered one afternoon in the laboratory as she flipped through a pharmaceutical textbook one-handed, “except I probably already know.”

“Too much like someone you know?” Yusuf took a new index card from the pile sitting on the benchtop and put down a few notes in his crabbed handwriting.

“Too much like me,” Petra muttered darkly from the other side of the laboratory. She had been moody ever since the botched extraction – not that Eames could blame her – but Big Chris’ reappearance seemed to upset her as much as it had Christian. Yusuf met Eames’ curious gaze and shrugged vaguely. No, I don’t know, his look said, and I’m not stupid enough to ask her about it.

“Maybe you should consider taking some of those pills, Petra,” Eames tried to say soothingly. She had refused all painkillers since Yusuf had stitched her up, which probably accounted for some of this uncharacteristic gloom. Muffled shouts echoed from the waiting room, but it was just Ariadne sparring with Arthur.

“I can’t drink vodka if I’m on painkillers,” Petra sniffed. She pulled a lipstick-smudged pencil stub out from behind her ear with her left hand, transferred it to her right hand (currently sticking out of a sling and propped on the bench-top) and then left a few more notes on an index card that she had plucked from Yusuf’s pile.

“The kind of vodka you drink, that’s a good side effect. That shite tastes like turpentine,” Yusuf said.

Petra dropped the pencil stub and flicked the index card across the table to him. “Puts hair on your chest,” she said, deadpan.

“I have enough hair on my chest.” Yusuf said as he reached up to his shirtfront and mimed ripping the garment off in Austin Powers fashion.

Eames fought a laugh at that. “Do that and I’ll have to report you to HR for sexual harassment.”

“We don’t have a HR department here,” Yusuf protested.

“No, that’s what Arthur’s for,” Eames said archly. A faint relief spilled through him as Petra laughed briefly and then went poker-faced again as she remembered her bad mood.

There was a polite cough and Eames turned to find Arthur watching them from the doorway. “Now I know why my ears are burning,” he said as he stood with his hands in his pockets. Eames wondered how long he had been there.

“You’re not sufficiently Messianic for it to be a sin. Taking your name in vain, I mean,” Eames said as he crossed the room to join him. “Although you know, some people do believe that calling upon the Devil does summon his presence.”

Arthur refused to rise to the bait. “Big Chris’ handler called to set up a meeting,” he said, all business. “I thought you’d want to know.”

“Actually, yes, thank you.” Eames realized he could still hear shouts and thumps from the waiting room. “Wait. If you’re here, who is Ariadne sparring with?”

“That’s the other thing I wanted to talk to you about,” Arthur said.

Eames shrugged. “I recall Ariadne saying Christian wanted to teach her to knife-fight. I didn’t think you’d have an issue with it.”

“Oh, I don’t, but you’re going to have to see this,” Arthur nodded down the hallway at the source of the noise, and Eames followed, his curiosity piqued.

Both Christian and Ariadne were wearing oversized white t-shirts that were covered in alarming streaks and splotches – but what made up those marks was definitely not blood unless they bled green and blue. A sweetish chemical smell hung in the air, and Eames noticed that Christian had decided to dispense with the practice blades and had used marker pens in this sparring session instead. Good idea, he thought. The ink marks made it easier to track notional injuries in a mock-fight, and more importantly, Ariadne would quickly learn that nobody came out of a proper knife fight unscratched. She bore most of the marker lines in dots and streaks down her forearms, the front of her t-shirt and against her throat. Christian was covered in similar lines – several crossing over each other just under his jaw against his carotid artery, what looked to be a stab upwards under the ribcage aiming for the liver, and a random collection of blue lines on the outside of his left hand.

“I do hope these are temporary,” Eames said as he stepped into the waiting room.

“Actually, I forgot to check,” Christian said with a nasty smile as Ariadne put her own marker down on her now-empty desk.

“I hope you’re just joking or I’m going to shoot you.” Ariadne frowned and studied her reflection in a compact she pulled out of her purse, rubbed at one of the ink lines experimentally with her free hand.

“They’re temporary,” Arthur said after a quick glance at the marker she had left on her desk. “These are just the dry-erase markers I bought for the whiteboard in the lab."

“We can talk about the anatomy later,” Christian murmured after he tugged his practice t-shirt over his head. “Right now I’m going to get a drink. Do you want some water, too?”

“Sure. That’d be good,” Ariadne said. She watched Christian retreat towards the small pantry and then sighed heavily. “And I thought killing someone with a gun was hard.”

“It’s a lot more personal, isn’t it?” Eames asked as he squeezed her shoulder briefly and found it taut from tension and nerves. “Relax, love.”

Ariadne let out a long sigh but did not relax. “I mean, we were just practicing with markers, but every time I went at him I was horribly conscious that this is a real breathing person I’m trying my best to stab the life out of. And it’s not like knife fights are these clean, neat kills like you see in video games.” She held up her hatch-marked arm for emphasis. “If the person you’re stabbing wants to fight, they can put up a hell of a fight before they get too tired or bleed out from their defensive injuries. I thought I could take care of myself after you two kicked my ass from one end of the Seine to the other, but this is something else.”

Something flitted across Arthur’s gaze briefly. “Good thing I had to interrupt your lesson, then. Christian’s dad called,” he said. “He’s still busy but he’s bullied someone into running handler for us.”

“Bullied?” Ariadne asked doubtfully.

Eames shrugged. “Intelligence services are like any other bureaucracy in the world, Ariadne. Everyone wants something done, nobody wants to actually volunteer the staff and funding to do it, and the resulting management turf war and paperwork is always a nightmare.”

Big Chris’ handler made contact some time after sundown, first with a coded text message, and then a staccato series of knocks on the dispensary’s back door, carefully spaced to spell out the day of the month plus four in Morse code. The password had been Arthur’s idea, his tradecraft impeccable as usual. The date was something anyone could know, but the integer added or subtracted changed on a daily basis, which meant it was effectively impossible to falsify the password without inside information. Christian answered the door with his usual caution, stepped back from the doorway as though surprised, and then raised an eyebrow as he turned to glance at the team through the hallway.

His surprise started to make sense when Eames registered the soft tones of a woman’s voice – a familiar one at that – as their contact spoke to Chris. She stepped into the doorway and was briefly silhouetted, and Eames knew her even before the door swung shut behind her.
“Good evening,” Irina Alekseeva said as she stepped out into the half-light with Christian behind her. She seemed infuriatingly calm for someone returning to a room full of professional dream thieves who had recently failed to invade her mind. Eames saw Ariadne stiffen minutely in her seat but the gesture was one of suspicion rather than surprise.

“I’m frankly a little surprised that you’re here.” Arthur said mildly. Eames noticed that he had risen from his seat automatically and wagered that it was caution, rather than politeness, that had led him to do so. Irina looked very different from the polished personal assistant she had been less than a week ago. The professional skirt suit and heels were gone, replaced with sneakers, jeans and a surplus camouflage jacket, and her shoulder-length hair was now boy-short and bleached until it was almost white.

“That I’m your handler, or that I’m willing to come back in here after I put a bullet hole in one of your people?” she asked as she accepted the seat Christian pulled out for her.

“Both, really,” Eames said before Arthur could answer.

“Well.” She shrugged. “I’m currently not on active assignment, which means my direct superiors can spare me for this. That and they don’t listen to my objections when they send me into the field, which explains why I’m here.” Her candor was calculated to disarm, as was her dry good humor.

“Doesn’t Boris need watching?” Christian asked, too quietly. He had taken the seat to her right, his chair pushed back from the table for ostensible legroom, but Eames noted that he had seated himself with his good hand towards her in case she tried something.

“He’s not going to be a problem for very much longer.” She laid her large handbag on the tabletop and pulled its flap open carefully to reveal a slightly dog-eared manila envelope. Eames remembered the Makarov she had pulled in the dream and the bullet hole in Petra’s arm when they had woken up, after. She’s not carrying her sidearm in that handbag, he thought, Shoulder carry under the jacket. Round in the chamber, hammer down and safety on. “My superiors are fairly invested in the idea that you stay alive,” she continued as she slid the envelope across the table, waiting for either Eames or Arthur to pick it up.

“I doubt so,” Arthur murmured dryly as he picked the envelope up, slit it open with a small penknife. “We’re not even on your official payroll.”

“I can’t explain how they think,” Irina shrugged, “I’m just doing my job. Also, you can tell your girlfriend to put her gun down now.”

Eames glanced instantly at Ariadne, who held her empty hands up with a vague air of confusion. Christian cleared his throat, nodded towards the laboratory door behind Eames, and he registered that Petra had drawn her 1911 from the holster she had sewn into the sling supporting her wounded arm. “Just making sure,” Petra said as Eames turned to look at her, “And I’m not his girlfriend. He isn’t that lucky.”

“I’m sure we’re all the worse for it,” Arthur said drily once Petra had reholstered her sidearm, “Except for Yusuf, of course.”

“In your dreams, and his, too,” Petra said before she stepped back into the laboratory and shut the door behind her, and Eames could not help but notice that her ears had started to turn a delicate red in the moments before her retreat.

“What I just gave you is something I didn’t know about until yesterday,” Irina said after Petra had left. “I am not a dreamshare operative.”

Bloody obvious, that, Eames thought in reply. Her subconscious militarization had been so thorough that she would never be able to suppress her projections even if she had wanted to, which meant that any attempt at shared lucid dreaming would end very much like their failed extraction had – in her mind tearing the artificial dream apart one way or another.

“I don’t think your departmental assignment has anything to do with this,” Arthur said as he pulled a sheaf of photocopies out of the folder, handed the rest of the papers to Eames. “The bureaucratic left hand rarely knows what the bureaucratic right hand is doing.”

“Perhaps, but this is something even Dr. Stephen Miles might not care for you to know,” Irina said drily with a sharp glance in Ariadne’s direction. Ariadne’s expression shifted slightly in response, and Eames glimpsed something cold and hard under the girlish softness of her face, something not unlike the soft tck of a gun’s safety being flipped off. He started to understand why as he read the grainy photocopies Arthur had handed over to him, some of them copies of documents old enough that they had pin marks in the upper left corners from before the KGB had started to use staples.

Eames had been involved in shared dreaming since its early days, since the turn of the millennium. No doubt there were others who had racked up more sleep-hours than him. Arthur definitely; Dominic and Mallorie too, but they too were part of the early dreamers, the first group assembled to push the boundaries of the subconscious. During that time he had always accepted that there were things he would never find out about how dreamshare itself came into being but now the truth (or part of it, at least) was being laid out before him in grainy typewritten Cyrillic that made him think, perversely enough, of lepidopterists and dead butterflies in glass-fronted cases. It was the biographical data, he thought – lives and their attendant messiness dissected with a callousness that even he found shocking.

INES reports little to no advantage to interrogations enhanced with somnacin, one fragment read, despite the drug’s efficacy as a hypnotic. Its ability to induce lucid dreams remains irrelevant to actual interrogative use, Eames read in a heavily redacted photocopy dating back to the late 70s. Its real benefits are in the inducement of zerzetzung, it continued, as the dreams it creates are so vivid that they confuse the boundary between sleep and reality. This particular document itself came from the East German archives and had been translated into Russian in longhand between lines of typewritten German. Zerzetzung had been translated literally as “corrosion”, but Eames knew it better as gaslighting, subtle and prolonged psychological manipulations meant to make a target question their own sanity.

INES is becoming harder to control, a later excerpt read. Her cancer diagnosis is making her more reckless and less susceptible to threats, and the British have renewed their efforts to contact her. I recommend we increase our surveillance and revoke her clearance.

Surveillance request approved. Clearance revocation request denied, the follow-up read, we are on the verge of a breakthrough and cannot risk alienating the doctor until we know for sure that her research has borne fruit. For now we will inquire if Moscow will counter-offer with radiation therapy and a spa holiday after the project terminates.

A later, undated telegram was photocopied whole in its code language – shipments lost overboard in a summer squall in the Mediterranean Sea. A terse memo deciphered the message for Eames, that a Dr. Ute Mühlbach had gone missing after a supposed car accident on the way home from work, that no body had been found in the wreck, and that rival intelligence services had performed a snatch-and-grab. The translation itself was dated 1986 – The beginning of the end, Eames thought, just four years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Eames turned the page and swore softly when a grainy surveillance photo of Doktor Mühlbach resolved itself into a face he recognized. His mind added the crows’ feet and the gray in her hair on reflex.

“Dr. Irene Cameron,” Eames whispered just under his breath.

“Kuka?” Christian asked, “Who?” he added in English.

“The Stasi’s INES – Doktor Mühlbach is Dr. Irene Cameron,” Eames said. He tore the sheet of paper off the sheaf that he had been reading, laid it down on the table in front of him. “I worked with her once, back when I took the Queen’s shilling.”

“She defected after the British promised to put her cancer in remission,” Irina said coolly, “Which they did in 1987, after a radical mastectomy and several months of chemotherapy. By the time the truth came out everyone was kind of busy with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union.” She waggled her fingers in a vaguely embarrassed way, shrugged as though she were personally responsible for her predecessors’ failings, surveillance-wise.

“Is she the former co-worker you said was unaccounted for?” Ariadne asked, very softly, “Back in Helsinki, I mean?”

Eames looked down at the photograph, at Irene’s face – he could not think of her as Ute Mühlbach, despite the truth – at the defiance in her stare and the set of her chin, tried to imagine facing a cancer diagnosis and grasping at any chance to live. “I’m afraid so,” he murmured, long seconds after Ariadne’s question.

“There’s a letter here, from Professor Miles to someone named Irene. Dr. Cameron. It dates back to the fall of’88.” Ariadne said. “I think he was in love with her.”

“That was shortly before he divorced Dr. Marie David,” Irina said simply, “Irreconcilable differences. There should be copies of the paperwork in that folder.”

“Mal was about fourteen when it happened, which would have made it –” Arthur paused then, did a brief mental calculation, “–1989.” Too brief, Eames thought, his gut filled with an odd, inexplicable fury. Mallorie’s been dead two years. How long has he been carrying that around in his head?

Ariadne squinted at another photocopy, sighed softly as she did. “Twenty years of marriage gone like that. I hope Cameron was worth it.”

“Love usually is,” Christian shrugged ruefully. “The morning afterwards not so much.”

“Christian,” Ariadne said, smiling despite her mock-exasperation.

Eames managed to corner Arthur in the clinic’s tiny pantry when they broke for coffee. “You’re not over Mal, and I don’t think you ever were,” he said without preamble, watched for a reaction.

Arthur’s hands remained steady – too steady – as he reached for the coffee pot. A drop of hot coffee splashed onto the back of his hand as he filled his paper cup, spotted his shirt cuff with tiny brown dots, but he remained silent.

“You’re still thinking about her,” Eames continued, choosing his words for maximum emotional impact, “it took you less than a second to remember how old she was when her parents were divorced. This isn’t the kind of thing platonic best friends talk about while getting pedicures at the spa. Is this why you’ve been holding the world at arm’s length?”

“That’s none of your goddamned business.” Arthur gripped the handle of the coffee pot tightly enough that his knuckles turned the color of old ice. “You told me back in Singapore that it wouldn’t be a problem if I turned you down.”

“I’m a big boy, but this really isn’t about me,” Eames lied, his heart lurching in his chest as he did, “Ariadne likes you – she really does, and I’m going to take you to the bloody cleaners if you treat her as a substitute for Mallorie.” That much, at least, was true.
Arthur sagged minutely, and Eames watched him, waited as he took a sip of hot coffee.

“I don’t want to,” he said after a long, tired sigh. “That’s why I’ve been – holding her at arm’s length, like you said. I want to be sure I’m not just looking for a replacement goldfish.”

“I don’t know if you trust me well enough for it,” Eames said as he put a tea bag in his own paper cup, poured some hot water in, “but I can keep an eye out if you want, you know, if you need help with objectivity.”

“Eames, I –” Doubt flitted across Arthur’s dark eyes, faded. “I don’t want to put you in a difficult situation, but thanks,” he said awkwardly after another sip of coffee.

“It can’t be more difficult than watching you not deal with your issues,” Eames said as he stirred sugar into his tea, “God. I keep wanting to reach in your head and push until you sort your shite out.”

“Physician, heal thyself,” Arthur murmured into his coffee cup.

“Is that not the bloody truth,” Eames sighed, and then looked up when he heard a soft throat-clearing sound at the pantry door. Christian stood half in the doorway as though he had been peeking in to make sure no indiscretions happened on his watch – Bloody unlikely, Eames thought. Christian was more likely to have documented any indiscretion for future blackmail than anything else.

“I’m sorry to interrupt your foreplay but –” Christian hesitated, his voice faltering before he could complete the jibe, and he waited until Arthur waved him on. “My father has called from Moscow, and I would rather not talk to him. Irina is stalling him until one of you gets there."

“Right.” Arthur put his half-empty coffee cup down. “Lead on, Macduff.”

“Lay on. It’s ‘Lay on, Macduff,’” Eames groused softly as they left.

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Comments {10}


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from: ilovetakahana
date: Sep. 4th, 2012 04:44 pm (UTC)

Brilliant. Brilliant. Love the bit of Christian and Ariadne playing Angry Birds [of course she would be good at it] and I love the interactions between Eames and Ariadne so much. Thanks for the gorgeous dialogue and the characters getting fleshed out some more. Arthur looks like he is carrying some serious baggage - and I'm not sure I would have been as subtle in that threat about Ariadne as Eames was.

I loved the idea of practicing knife-fighting with marker pens.

And that last line made me laugh!

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Mel Wong

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from: chn_breathmint
date: Sep. 4th, 2012 04:51 pm (UTC)

I think Arthur and Eames are both carrying serious baggage whenever I write them. Of course, Ariadne's the Only Sane (Wo)Man in this crew. Her and Yusuf.

- Mel

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(no subject)

from: illian
date: Sep. 4th, 2012 05:54 pm (UTC)

“I’m sorry to interrupt your foreplay . . .

Oh God, Christian is us, the readers.

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Mel Wong

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from: chn_breathmint
date: Sep. 4th, 2012 06:18 pm (UTC)

I don't think of my readers as a questionably sane bunch with failing livers.

Well. If you happen to fit that demographic, it's just a coincidence. (:

- Mel

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Hyacinth Girl

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from: eustacia_vye28
date: Sep. 5th, 2012 01:37 am (UTC)

New chapter! woo! \o/

That out of the way, I love how everything started coming together with the bigger plot pieces falling into place. Big Chris is such an ass, and I want to reach through the screen and shake him for how much he hurt Chris in this. Though I'd likely get a bullet to the brainpan for my trouble.

I'm loving everyone's voices in this, I really am. :)

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Mel Wong

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from: chn_breathmint
date: Sep. 5th, 2012 04:47 am (UTC)

The thing about really dangerous people is that they don't kill just because they've been provoked. Not right then anyway.

Big Chris is of the sort who'd recognize that shooting someone for calling him out on bad parenting would be counterproductive and thus let it pass until he could deal with said someone in an untraceable manner.

Which is probably, if you think about it, nastier than him just flipping out and popping a cap in someone.

- Mel

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Hyacinth Girl

(no subject)

from: eustacia_vye28
date: Sep. 5th, 2012 07:32 pm (UTC)

Eek. Yes, you're right. This is exactl why he's so terrifying ad good as a spy but horrible as a parent. I can't wait to see what he does next, tho. I'm sure whatever it is, it's a doozy and Chris will be traumatized again. I'm glad that he can talk to Ariadne without any difficulties. Eames is so guilt ridden that he'd be useless to help Chris.

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(no subject)

from: vattelapesca
date: Oct. 18th, 2012 03:49 am (UTC)

Ooh! Part 6!

The team banter is delightful, Angry Birds is just too perfect, marker fights FTW... I love the development of Ariadne's professional and dangerous side(s), Christian's backstory & father (Big Chris, you asshole!), Arthur and Eames beginning to edge towards getting a romantic clue. *happy sigh* hearts for eyes, man. Hearts for eyes.

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Mel Wong

(no subject)

from: chn_breathmint
date: Oct. 18th, 2012 04:04 am (UTC)

rthur and Eames beginning to edge towards getting a romantic clue.

I don't know, thought. Ariadne might have something to say about the both of them playing romantic hot potato with her. Something along the lines of "HELLO, guys, I have agency here, I think I can decide whether fucking either of you is bad for me."

((: Which is why I love having her around in my noggin. Next chapter is in the works, but I have a Intro to Finnish History paper to finish this weekend, so that's being prioritized first.

- Mel

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(no subject)

from: vattelapesca
date: Oct. 18th, 2012 04:14 am (UTC)

Heh. Her annoyance will be epic. XD

RL always comes first. Rock that paper, and whenever you have time for fic, you will also have an audience.

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