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WHEW, this chapter was hard! I'm trying to incorporate all of the ideas that I got, and I wanted to streamline it as best I could. I hope it worked out. Just to remind you, this is what you all suggested for the plot/motivations:



[livejournal.com profile] skyvehicle said, I think Eames would have had to actually steal something tangible from them, and by tangible it could be an idea. [livejournal.com profile] twilightthief added, I have this suspicion that maybe Arthur and Eames both worked/lived with Ann and Jack before but they performed inception on them and now both don't remember! Maybe thats why when Eames performed (or tried) inception on Arthur he didn't recognize him!

[livejournal.com profile] gelbwax offered, (truncated,) One of the top 5-star generals was corrupt? ...And that's why Eames got blacklisted. HE WAS WORKING FOR THE BAD GUYS. And [livejournal.com profile] osaki_nana_707 said, The inception could be extensive enough that they led him to believe that he's never met them, I guess. I mean, you did mention that it's easy to completely forget everything they've done 3 layers down.

Then [livejournal.com profile] sparrow_hubris said, Maybe Ann and Dinclusin were this failed Inception's unknown teammates? A team that, like Cobb and Mal, developed extreme capabilities and situations due to over practice and experimentation. Maybe the mark was damaged somehow in the failed inception? And the two blame Eames for stealing their partner away (but are also latching on to their knowledge of him they've gained and punishing him according to his lifestyle.)

[livejournal.com profile] efcia suggested, ...the idea of Arthur being the mark of failed inception and the only thing I can say it's YES. And then goes on to ask: but it leaves my with one serious question: whe Eames didn't recognize him as his mark? HMM!

Anonymous said: i haven't read through the other suggestions for the whole Eames' past thing, but what do you think about putting in some of Dinclusin's past? And a (different?) anonymous said, since youre talking about incepting Arthur, what if it they were trying to make him like the perfect machine for dreamsharing? And also, what do you think about putting in some of Dinclusin's past? I think we can do that!

[livejournal.com profile] fae_boleyn said, Maybe they had some kind of bond before, when they were tied in with Jack and Ann, only for whatever reason (inception? something totally new and unexpected?) they don't remember it anymore. [livejournal.com profile] wirrrn agreed: Love the implied idea that Dinclusin used to be for Eames what Arthur is now. Maybe THAT's what all this is about- personal, not business :)
And Anonymous also said, I think Jack and Eames were a thing. I'm so set on this.

[livejournal.com profile] towel_master agrees, I like the idea that Arthur was the target of the failed inception.

[livejournal.com profile] sparrow_hubris said, I feel like Ann and Dinclusin lost Eames and Arthur. Like they were being punished by someone who took their boys away, and wiped their minds so they wouldn't remember them. And instead of taking responsibility, they blame Eames or blame the boys somehow. And [livejournal.com profile] coudre suggested, really love the idea of arthur either being the mark for the failed inception or dinclusin & co. training him to be the Ultimate Dreamsharer

THEN! [livejournal.com profile] laughing_lovers said, I really want to believe that the two creepies are actually decent people. They're too sinister, but I'd like to believe it. This made me think a lot about their motivations, and I liked the idea that they might not be acting 100% out of malice.

[livejournal.com profile] orgasmblush- I'm really liking the idea of Arthur being the one who was originally supposed to be incepted with Eames, of course, playing some role as to performing in the actual inception. Perhaps he doesn't remember -- perhaps the failed inception has left implanted roots into his own mind and that is why he does not remember.

So, it looks like a lot of people agree on this!



So, let's see how this works out in actual plot. I tried to get all of those ideas in. Granted, some of them are just concurring with others, which is great; it makes it easier for me! ^_^ I love that so many of you agree on the basic "who did what to whom" ideas.

The rest, I really tried to fit in there and I can only hope that I haven't turned it into a clustermug. I hope it actually fits, is what I'm saying. Please let me know!

These are suggestions that are either brand new, or that made it into this chapter:

[livejournal.com profile] orgasmblush said, I would very much like for Arthur, however much of a BAMF he may be, to just not be able to save himself, like, once. And, yeah: Eames can totally take care of himself and Arthur AND Michelle. I'm talking, like, whipping boy Arthur, here: bloody, bruised, confused and completely paranoid about just what the hell is going on in his mind and, because of that, not exactly trusting Eames anymore. This hits just about all of my kinks. :D

[livejournal.com profile] krytella - In fact, now that they've both said things to each other they've never said before, and been forced to think about defining the relationship, it would be really interesting to have some doubt creep in. OH, IT'S CREEPING IN. :D

[livejournal.com profile] towel_master - Suggestion: The train officials are corrupt, either with Dinclusin or wanting to stop the train somewhere in the middle of nowhere... LOVE.


Older suggestions that I WILL STILL GET TO:

[livejournal.com profile] fae_boleyn - I really want to see Michelle helping the boys out with this situation somehow In fact, almost everyone wanted to see this scenario! :D [livejournal.com profile] twilightthief: I definitely want to see Michelle do some bad ass stuff too. [livejournal.com profile] towel_master - So maybe Michelle will have to prove herself outside of Eames's patronizing view of her? Maybe she steps in to try and protect him?

[livejournal.com profile] wirrrn - I'd love to see Eames get in trouble, Arthur BAMF out to rescue him, only to find that Eames has already handled the situation. He's a BAMF to, after all :) A lot of people agreed with this!

[livejournal.com profile] twilightthief - Maybe Eames has to defend himself without the help of his gun or Arthur. IDK I think I just want Eames being caught in a tight spot using what he has available in the "shoot out" or whatever. And also, I also would like to see Eames like fighting his way through the train. I keep seeing him rush through the corridors and aisles of seats with Michelle protectively behind him as he's shooting. Great image! I'm going to try it.

[livejournal.com profile] gelbwax - And then he tries to get Eames to do something to Arthur? But he resists! And then Eames TAKES THAT FUCKER DOWN. Using only items he can find in the dining car, which is where he's been trussed up and left for dead. And on top of that, [livejournal.com profile] skyvehicle said, what if tremors give way to like, Dr. Strangelove hand? lol, until it tries to choke Arthur after Arthur tries to break into their train car? oooh. Okay, I really like this and I'm going to try to get this in there. Probably next chapter for this!

[livejournal.com profile] twilightthief also says, I like the idea that Michelle really isn't who she seems. There's something more to our Pokemon lovin' friend. Also, [livejournal.com profile] we_reflamingos says, Michelle has got to be the key to something. A revelation, inspiration, information - she's aces and needs a part to play. Perhaps her parents do too, maybe in that so-clueless-don't-know-what's-going-on-but-it-helps kind of way. I kinda maybe semi-sorta know of something I want to do with her, actually. :D

Anonymous said, How about if Eames turns into a killing machine after getting beat up? I'd like to see that. I WOULD TOO. :D

[livejournal.com profile] mydeerfriend - I'd really like to see Eames go through some sort of shit but NOT get saved by BAMF Arthur. Because Eames is awesome enough to save himself from danger (and then maybe Arthur would feel bad that he didn't/couldn't help Eames). It is time for Eames to save himself, eh? :)

[livejournal.com profile] astheytick - Arthur says to Eames "Just wait. Wait for me."

[livejournal.com profile] twisted_ream there's this huge spider on eames' back and he can't get it off and arthur just laughs Actually? I kind of think this is going to come somewhere near the end. :)

[livejournal.com profile] efcia a broken mirror, possibly a small one. I can see the shattered glass, maybe even a small amount of blood on them? This gave me a really cool idea! We already know which mirror this could be. :D And I sorta have an idea now on how that might play out.

Anonymous suggests, One having to carry the other.

[livejournal.com profile] gelbwax says, WHAT IF the wind whips the fedora off Arthur's head and into the siberian wasteland. OMFG, horror, right? AND THEN. AND THEN. It comes BACK TO HIM. THE FEDORA COMES BACK. RIGHT WHEN HE NEEDS ITS POWERS OF BADASSERY IT COMES BACK TO HIM.
I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. Not in this chapter, but down the road. :D

[livejournal.com profile] hazysea - A line for Eames to say to Arthur? "Stay at my level and keep to the shadows.


Right, so there we have this updates suggestions! I really hope I managed to get everyone's thoughts in here. And I hope I've made it into something coherent. Please let me know. :)

Off we go!



** ** ** **
Chapter 8 - "...Don't Let Him Get Control..."
** ** ** **

Now the passengers were really panicking, and Arthur saw how this could so easily spiral out of his control. Helen was frantic, about to tear out of the car to search for her daughter alone. Her husband Daniel was at the other and of the car, shouting for Michelle. Everyone else had caught on that this was no ordinary cell phone outage or dead zone. Arthur heard the word "terrorists" in frightened whispers from a few people.

The old couple, the one with matching outfits, sat huddled at a table, holding hands and waiting it out. They looked calm, as if they'd seen worse together. Even in the mess of humanity, and even in his own rush to find Eames, he stopped to take a closer look at them. Finally he saw her flaming red hair for what it was: a wig. Yes, they had been through worse than this.

And so had he. The old couple's resolve gave him back some of his. He was about to order them all into silence and ask for their cooperation, when the train shifted suddenly. The wheels beneath them squealed against the rails, and the train lurched back so hard that glasses, cards and even a few chairs tumbled forward. Arthur nearly fell, but steadied himself on a nearby table. A few passengers screamed. Helen was thrown face first into the door she was about to open. The old, matching couple pressed their foreheads together.

The train came to a complete stop, and everyone went quiet.

"Everyone keep calm," Arthur said.

"And carry on?" Daniel asked, a tremor in his voice. Still, he offered Arthur a small smile that said, I'm with you.

"Let's not carry on just yet," Arthur said, smiling back. He seemed to have everyone's attention. The ID he'd flashed probably had something to do with it. He had an idea of what he looked like, which was probably more of a tragic mess than an in-control agent, but he could do the 'authority' voice and stance when he had to.

"What's going on?" a woman yelled at him.

Arthur turned to see the fur-clad woman from earlier in the day, the one he and Eames had made up stories about. "I'm not sure," he admitted. "I don't know who's behind this or what they want. I want to keep everyone safe but I'll need your cooperation."

"Well where's the train staff?" a man shouted. "The conductor? Can't they radio for help, or have they been killed?"

This question sent a murmur throughout the car. The idea that the train had been hijacked, and the people in control had been killed, seemed to settle into the occupants. Hysteria threatened. The train had been hijacked, that much was clear, but he wanted to avoid that word at all costs.

"I don't know," Arthur said. "The truth is I'm on vacation just like the rest of you and I am not aware of the situation. But if we all stay calm and not allow hysteria to run this train, we can stay alive. It's important to remember that we're on the ground, we're not on an airplane or in the middle of the sea. It looks like we might outnumber the people who... who took over this train, but I do not want anyone to do anything rash. Numbers don't mean a thing if they're armed and you're not. Okay? So keep your heads together and if I tell you to get down on and take cover, do it. If they decide to open fire, then we can..."

The door behind him burst open and one of the many uniformed men of the train staff came through. The passengers all fell into a hush, making it clear that they knew what was going on and the charade was over. Arthur saw that he was armed.

Dinclusin must have replaced the actual staff with his own goons, or threatened them with something. Or he had a hostage that Arthur didn't know about. The reasons didn't matter. He wasn't willing to risk casualties. He knew Eames wouldn't either.

He forced the uniformed man to look at him, and held his eyes severely for a second, showing his intention to face up to him. He also held up his hands as he approached. He wanted to project confidence but not recklessness.

"What do you want?" Arthur asked the man. "We can work this out." He leaned in a little closer and found that he wasn't wearing a name tag. That wasn't good; he wouldn't be able to personalize the conversation by using the man's name. He'd have to offer something up. "I'm gonna put down my gun," he said, moving slowly, reaching into his jacket with one hand, the other still held up.

"Never relinquish your weapon," someone admonished him from the back of the train. He ignored them, because in this case, with the lives of the entire train on his shoulders, he didn't see any other choice.

The goon just watched him closely, his eyes narrowed. Arthur took a good look while he was disarming himself. The guy's suit was ill-fitted and the cap was too small for his massive, square head. They weren't his clothes. So they must have taken away the real rail-workers and replaced them with their own people. He hadn't seen this guy before, so it had probably happened this morning. He wondered where the real staff was being held, if they were still alive.

He put his gun on the small table beside him, hyper-aware that anyone could grab it, and hoping that no one would be so stupid.

"I'm Arthur," he said to the block of a man in the too-small clothes. "I think it's me that you want, right?"

"I know who you are," the man said, in a British accent. "Pretending to be FBI this time? And what's Eames, British intelligence? These people bought this from you two?"

"I can show you my ID," Arthur said. Sweat gathered at the back of his neck. If this was their plan – to turn the tables and make him and Eames the bad guys – it could go very badly, very quickly. He would just have to play it as innocent as he could. He didn't think he'd lost his touch at doing the "good guy" thing.

"The ID that your partner forged for you," the guy said. "Come closer, Arthur."

"Who's in charge of you?" he asked. "I'll give you what you want if you'll let these people off the train but I need to talk to Ann or Dinclusin first."

The goon laughed, showing big, white teeth. "Let them out? Do you have any idea where we are? You'd throw these innocent people out into the middle of a Siberian snowstorm, nothing for miles but white-out and mountains? Come here, Arthur. Jack told me to break your arm, said it would keep you quiet but he wants you alive."

Someone gasped at that, maybe Helen, probably thinking of what her kid was going through if they were this cavalier about violence. He wasn't too worried about himself, because once he got within range, this guy wasn't going to be doing any arm-breaking. Arthur sized him up. He was pretty big. Big usually meant slow. Not always, as in Eames's case, but often.

He looked over his shoulder at the rest of the passengers. The old matching couple still had their heads bowed, unable to look. Helen had both hands over her mouth, her face streaked with tears. A few others were watching, almost rapt, as if this was a particularly nasty part of a movie that they might have to shut their eyes for. He hoped that they did. He gave them all a quick look: Don't do anything stupid.

"Okay," Arthur said to the guy, turning back. "Okay, if - if you have to."

Then he launched himself at the goon, because fuck honor and honesty, was Arthur's philosophy, and it had always served him well. He got his knee into the guy's crotch and bloodied his fist trying to punch him in the throat but getting his teeth instead. A huge, hot hand gripped around Arthur's throat. He twisted out of the way to avoid being head-butted. He landed on his side and fumbled for the gun on the man's hip, but took an elbow to the solar plexus and for a second he couldn't breathe, could only gasp and see flashing lights. He managed to roll out of the way of another descending fist, when the unmistakable sound of gunfire put a stop to all movement. A few people screamed.

"Don't move!" a man's voice said, and damned if Arthur wasn't sure that it was his own Glock that had been discharged.

He froze and looked up. Daniel, obviously as stupid and stupidly brave as his brat of a daughter, was holding the Glock.

"Don't move or I'll shoot. You," he said, indicating the guy on the ground beside Arthur. "You just go on and put your weapon down. Nice and slow." He sounded like he was reciting lines from a script.

Arthur wasn't the only one to notice this. The goon just laughed at him and started to get up. Arthur turned sideways and kicked him just below the knee. He heard the somewhat familiar snapping sound and knew he'd gotten the right spot to break the medial ligament. It satisfied him.

While the guy was busy rolling around holding his knee, Arthur got his gun off him and stood up, catching his breath.

Everyone was too afraid to give him a hand, and Daniel stood there holding Arthur's Glock out to him like it was a scorpion and he didn't know how it had gotten into his hand.

"Thank you," Arthur said. "I did say not to do anything stupid, but, yeah. Thanks. He probably would have pinned me if you hadn't done it."

"I don't really know what I did," Daniel said. He was shaking all over. "I just thought of Michelle when he said... I have to find my daughter. Arthur, please, please help us, don't let them have hurt her."

As if Arthur could go back in time and undo whatever they'd already done. "We'll find her," he said.

He crouched down and whipped the writhing man's too-tight belt from his waist, intending to use it to lash his hands together until he could get something more secure.

"Everyone, hear me out," he said as he did this. His voice was already hoarse from the man's hand having been around his throat, but he tried to talk above the din anyway. "Someone will have heard that shot, we don't have a lot of time. We have two guns, but they have more. We're going to move to the next car and the next one after that until we've got most people rounded up. I'll take point – that means I'll go first and clear the path, okay?" He turned the goon over onto his stomach and jerked his hands behind his back.

The man grunted, but followed it up with a laugh. "None of this means anything," he said.

Arthur didn't know what he meant. He turned to look at Daniel. "But I'll need someone to watch my six. Do you know what I mean?"

"Stand in the back," Daniel said. "Behind you, yes."

Arthur spared him a tight smile. "Did you serve?"

"God no." He laughed. "I just read a lot."

Well, fuck, Arthur thought. It had been a long time since he'd had to take point for a group of this size – in fact, maybe never. There were at least twenty five people in this car, and more down the line. At least he had a few of them willing to help, though.

They never got to even try. The farthest door opened, and the first to come back in was Ann. A few passengers regarded her cool entrance warily, but most of them had no idea who she was. Helen did, though.

"Where is my daughter?" she asked. "I'll kill you if anyone's hurt her. I know you think I can't. But..."

Michelle came in behind her, her eyes wide, shocked, and obviously adjusting to light again. She had been somewhere dark. Arthur tried to think of where that might be. Could have just been a darkened compartment.

Michelle fell crying into her mother's embrace, and Daniel forgot all about watching his six and firing Glocks and all of that, and just ran to collect them both into his arms. Arthur would be happy if he'd seen the last of their involvement, now that the kid was safe.

Ann locked him with her eyes from across the room. The rest of the passengers went totally quiet and parted to let her pass. Arthur held onto the gun he'd lifted as she approached him. He wasn't going to back down. Clearly, neither was she.

Finally she stood about two feet in front of him. She glanced down at the man on the floor, and back up to Arthur with amusement in her eyes.

"Arthur, really," she said. "Why are you so unnecessarily violent?"

"You poisoned me and then had this dumb mug wave a gun in my face and you ordered him to break my arm, so don't try to feed me that line of bullshit. I'll probably shoot you next."

"You hurt me so badly when you say things like that," she said.

And the hell of it was, she wasn't even playing a game. Arthur saw genuine pain in her face and for a moment she looked near tears.

"I don't even know you," he said.

"No, and it's such a shame. Let's have your partner tell you everything." The venom in her voice was unmistakable.

She stood aside, out of his line of vision. At the other end of the car, staring at him like he'd lost his way, was Eames. A small trickle of blood ran down from his temple. Arthur started towards him, but stopped when he saw Dinclusin behind him. He took a second to sort it out. Maybe Dinclusin had a gun jammed into Eames's back that Arthur couldn't see. He should take it slow.

Tears,, honest to god tears were tracking down Eames's face and that wasn't a gun that Dinclusin had to his back, it was just his hand, moving in slow, soothing strokes. Dinclusin wasn't looking at Eames, though. He was looking at Arthur, over his shoulder. The way he was touching Eames was proprietary, and Eames was allowing this, not flinching from it as he, too, stared at Arthur.

It took him a moment to place the look in his eyes, because he'd rarely, if ever, seen it there: Guilt.

He went cold inside. It started in his chest and bloomed over his arms and legs until his fingertips felt like ice. His head felt swimmy and unreal. He didn't know what had happened, but something had changed. He'd known Eames for years, they'd been working partners for more than half that time, and it had taken just as long for them to build up trust that wasn't fragile, a safe business where no questions needed to be asked. It took too much time and energy to work with people you couldn't trust with your life and your secrets. They'd figured it out, and working like that had made them the best, almost untouchable as a team.

And in one second, with that naked look in Eames's eyes and Dinclusin's hand on his back, it was gone.

"Eames," Arthur said, aware of how ridiculously soft his voice had gone. Peripherally aware of the fact that this was a spectacle and that it wasn't obvious only to him, either.

"He's with them, he's one of them," someone murmured. Arthur didn't know who. "What is going on," asked another and "this has nothing to do with us!" a different voice called out.

"It doesn't," Arthur answered. He felt dazed, but tried to bring himself to attention. Finally he took a look around. At Ann, at Dinclusin, at the passengers. "It really doesn't. These people have nothing to do with it. Start the train, get to the next stop, let them go." He turned to Ann, appealing to the hurt he'd seen in her eyes before. "I promise, I promise, I'll go with you. You have my word, you have..."

"Shush," she said. "We're not going to hurt them, I know you're going to comply, no one needs to get hurt."

"I know you're confused, Arthur," Dinclusin said from across the car. "I needed a few minutes with Mr. Eames. He understands everything. Now I need you to understand. I need you to go with him, to work this out together. You can have until morning to talk. Alone." He patted Eames on the shoulder and said, "All right?"

"Yeah," Eames said. He swallowed hard and nodded. "Yeah, all right. Good." He sounded nothing like himself. Dinclusin gave him a gentle nudge forward. He stumbled a little and caught his balance.

He's drugged, that's it, Arthur thought. Obviously they hurt him and he's sick, he needs – it's whatever was wrong with him this morning, it's nothing like what you're thinking, he didn't, he couldn't, he didn't...

"Keep in mind," Dinclusin said, addressing the rest of the passengers, "that the train is still under my control, and that you are in the middle of nowhere. If you try to run, you'll probably freeze before you even reach the mountains. No one will know this until tomorrow morning when the train is late. We'll be gone by then. I suggest everyone just go back to your own business and you'll all be fine. All right? No need for anyone else to get hurt."

"Don't listen to him!" Michelle called out suddenly. She pulled away from her parents. Her face was wet with weeping, her cheeks blotchy and red.

"Michelle, don't," Helen warned, trying to pull her back.

"Arthur, don't listen to this guy! You guys, he's bad, he did something in there, he hurt Mr. Eames and he'll hurt you too, don't..."

Eames turned to her, his eyes cool and quiet. "Stop. Keep out of this. Stay with your parents and mind your business. No need for anyone else to get hurt."

The fact that he had repeated Dinclusin's words exactly sat like hot lead in Arthur's chest. Michelle promptly shut her mouth, but her face showed surprise, and utter dismay, as if she'd been betrayed. It was the kind of nakedly honest shock that Arthur hadn't felt in years. He was starting to understand it again, but damned if he would show that. And definitely not in front of Dinclusin.

Eames didn't say a word to him when he was within reach. He didn't even look at him. He brushed past Arthur, barely touching, as he went to the closest door that led back to their compartment. He didn't look back to see if Arthur was following.

Helplessly, and shivering all over with panic, Arthur did.

** ** ** **

Dinclusin's dream had been made up of a darkness that Eames could not navigate. Something had sucked him toward the center of it, actually pulled at his mind, a blackness deeper than anything. He had fought for control with everything he had, wondering if this was what Arthur had seen that had unnerved him so badly. It had to have been.

"Don't fight," Dinclusin's voice had said. "You'll hurt yourself, believe me. Migraines for days. Go with it. You'll remember."

In the end, he hadn't had a choice. It was too strong, too dark, too much and it had dragged him down.

Eames opened his eyes to a sunlit park. The air was cold, brittle, but there was no snow on the ground. The park was surrounded by sprawling, brick buildings with glass doors. He was shaking all over, his back and neck hurt even in the dream, as if he'd been bent into unnatural shapes to get here. This was like no dream he'd ever seen. He'd worked with the best, the most intense, even the craziest. He'd worked with Cobb. And he'd never seen or felt any dream as insistent as this one.

"Breathe," Dinclusin said, suddenly standing beside him. "I took you down another level without a dream PASIV, that's all. It's easy when you get used to it. You'll remember how to do it again, I think."

Eames turned to face him. The air was crisp, it smelled like winter, and every color seemed over-saturated. Jack's hair gleamed like the sun, his eyes a shade bluer than the sky. He was smiling, unthreatening. He looked about ten years younger, too.

"Fourteen, actually," Jack said. "Do you remember the place?"

"No." It alarmed him that he was being read so easily. This had never happened to him. Eames was the one who read people, not the other way around.

"You didn't even stop to think."

"Then just tell me," Eames said. "Stop fucking around."

"You won't believe me if I just tell you. You have to see it in your mind, as is normally the case with memories. Right? If I tell you something happened and you can't imagine it in your past, that means nothing. But if you can access it as a part of your history, if you can see it, hear it, smell it, and relive it, then you know it really happened."

"That's not true," Eames said. "And every dreamer knows it. Dreams feel real when we're in them. Doesn't mean they happened in real life."

"No?"

Eames reached into his pocket for his totem. The ridges of it, the correctly spelled letters, assured him it was a dream.

"Right, then," Jack said. "We're two levels down in my mind, but I'm going to let you fill in the details, which you will, once it starts to come back." He tried to take Eames's hand. Eames pulled away. "All right," Jack said. "Not yet."

"Not ever. You're psychotic."

Jack gave him a look so honestly hurt that he had to look away.

"Fine. You're twenty three, this year. You're in the service, but this winter, we're in America on a project."

"I didn't come to America until..."

"Darling," Jack interrupted, "all of your papers are forged, so there is no physical evidence of this. You should know that. You were in America that winter, and you spent some time at this university, and in New York City." He gestured around him, to the expanse of dead grass in a field, and brick university buildings. "You were in the military's the dreamshare program."

He wanted to tell Jack that this was bullshit, that he hadn't learned dreamshare until the following year. But he didn't bother.

"The general sent us over, with the name Project Voodoo. We didn't know exactly what we were getting into, but the idea was to find the best of the best, to make a dreamsoldier. Someone who could dreamwalk like none other. This would take a lot of time, a lot of work. A lot of inception and erasure. Because the project was to start with a clean slate, you see. Inception was just a word back then, of course, but there was evidence that every dreamshare was its own inception. It was very easy to target people with dream disorders. Still is. So the general sought out people who were bright, who showed potential and imagination. And those who already had sleep disorders were chosen first, for two reasons: first, the ease of which one could plant ideas in their minds, and second, because they had no idea what was going on. They just thought they were part of an experimental treatment; they didn't know they were being tested."

A creeping dread began to worm its way through Eames's heart. He looked around the college campus that existed somewhere in the USA fourteen years ago, during a time that he had lost from his memory. Erasure, Jack had said.

"Come down another level," Jack said. "Just to save time. And you'll remember more clearly down there. Because nothing is ever truly erased, is it?"

"I don't think that's a good idea," Eames said.

Jack put his hand on Eames's arm. "I'm sorry. I've got to take you anyway."

That awful, pulling, sucking feeling came again at his center. He tried only briefly to fight it this time.

When they went into the next level, he was in a small, neat, and spare apartment. One tiny window was the only link to the outside, and heavy blinds were pulled down over it, covered by a black drape. It was chilly here, too. A bulky, unwieldy black case dominated the center of the room, about the size of a sofa cushion. Around it, and connected to it by clear, thick tubes, lay Ann, Jack, and the two Fenderlyn brothers.

"The earliest PASIV" Jack said, at his side once again. "Remember it?"

"Yes," Eames said, before he was even aware that he'd spoken. And then, "New York City. January."

"Yes!" Jack's voice was bright and pleased.

"There was a … You had found someone. Ann had found him, someone from the sleep program who could... what could he do?"

"He could create structures," Jack said. "Impossible ones; he built them out of dream logic. And physics, he was very, very good with dream physics. We couldn't take him here, of course, to our little headquarters. Ann wanted to, but he could not know what we were trying to do so, we only visited him at the false clinic. He was very sharp, good at details. Ann had her mind set on him. I thought..."

"That he lacked imagination," Eames finished for him. "Yes. You said that."

"But she would not be deterred. His dreaming was very powerful, but of course, his other problems so often got in the way. His past."

"Oh, Christ," Eames said. His heart felt like it was made of melting lead. "Why don't I remember seeing him? You erased him from me?"

"No, not I. Project Voodoo did. You found him forgettable anyway. And he only knew you in dreams. And even then, Luke, he never knew you. Because you had a gift, too; a rare one, the likes of which Project Voodoo had never seen before. You could forge, darling. The power to do this was invaluable to the general, when it came to getting people to give things up. The ability to become anyone, and say anything it would take to make another person give you their secrets. That gift belonged to you."

Eames ran his hand across his mouth. On the floor, the dreamers stirred. The sedatives hadn't been that strong back then, they'd been flawed, as had been the method of delivery. "What did I do to him?"

"Obviously, Ann's prodigy did not work out," Jack said. "Mine did, though." He turned to Eames, the look in his eyes soft, and full of affection. "You were so special. You still are. They tried to make me forget. And I did, Luke, for years I did, Ann and I both, and Giles and Kenzie. It started to come back a few years ago, those lost four months, Project Voodoo. I don't know that it was meant to, but it did."

"What did I do to him?" Eames repeated.

"One more level," Jack said. "Just one. I'll tell you down there. Let me finish the story."

"No. Tell me now, here, and let me go, let me see if I can stop this – if I can reverse whatever I did. If I can fix this."

"I won't allow it," Jack said. "I'm sorry. Come down with me. I'll show you what you have been afraid to look at."

He fought it hard this time, the drag on his consciousness, even though Jack had warned him not to. It hurt everything in him, his dream-self felt wracked with pain, his mind was burning.

Jack dragged him under anyway.

This time when he opened his eyes, he was in a bed, in a darkened room, trying to catch his breath, trying to thrash himself free from the pain. He couldn't make out the details of the place but he knew that he was in a room in the apartment in New York.

"Shh," Jack said. "Just a nightmare, pet. I'm here." He wrapped his arms around him and soothed him like a child.

No, Eames thought, allowing himself to be touched like that, just for a moment. Not a child. A lover. It felt familiar, and so easy. He could let it go on. It was something he knew. Something he had once wanted.

"Don't touch me," he gasped, and wrenched himself away.

"You're twenty three," Jack said. He curled his hand around Eames's wrist and held fast. "It's almost spring, and the boy from university is not going according to plan. He can't let go of his past. He's too willful, and worse, he's figuring dreamshare out on his own. He's a danger to the project because he knows things he's not supposed to know. Look."

The darkness of the room gave way to what looked like a cross between a clinic and a hospital. This, he knew as if it had happened yesterday, was the false "dream center" that the project had set up for its "clients." Its unknowing potential recruits.

Ann, young but tired looking and haggard, sat on a small cot, alone. She wore white, loose clothing and was supposed to be one of the patients there. Her head jerked up when she heard screaming from down the hall. She jumped to her feet, wringing her hands together, and waited.

Three men came through the door, two of them struggling against the one in the center. He was young, no more than a college boy with soft, curling hair, endless scrawny limbs, and determined eyes as he fought against the two men restraining him. He screamed obscenities, threw punches and kicks with an accuracy that looked out of place on his small frame.

Ann went to him and tried to still his thrashing, laying her hands on his face and telling him to shush, shush.

"You're a part of this!" he screamed at her. "You lied to me, you're one of them! You made me think I was crazy!"

"No," she said, stroking his face, "no, petit, I would never."

"Don't fucking lie to me!" He finally pulled himself out of the grip of the two men who were holding him back. Instantly he pulled his shoulders in and crossed his arms over his chest, ducking his head. "What kind of grift is this, this isn't a sleep disorder clinic for fuck's sake. Tell me what's going on." He caught his breath and looked to Ann, appealing to her. "Please. Just tell me what you're doing."

She threw her arms around his narrow shoulders. He didn't return the embrace. She spoke anyway, into his ear. "Je suis tellement desole, mon favori bein-aime. Je vous choissisez."

"I know you chose me," he said. "I want to know why, for what?"

She looked up at him, tearful, shaking her head. "I can't tell you. Je suis desole. Just sleep." She ran her finger along his bottom lip. "Please, one more time, sleep for me. I have to let you go. Je dois te laisser partir. I must let you go."

He swayed in her arms. "Let me go? Oh my god, you-you bitch, you bitch." His voice faded and his eyes rolled back.

She tried to hold him up as he fell, but she was too small. She glared at the two men in the room. "Giles, you shit, come over here and help me!" she barked. "Kenzie, move your useless arse!"

Reluctantly, the two men came to help her catch him. They moved him onto the bed while a third man came into the room. It was Jack. He pulled the early PASIV device along on a cart behind him.

Eames looked to the Jack standing beside him, repulsed.

"Watch," Jack beside him said. "Just keep watching."

Eames looked back to the scene in the clinic. When he saw himself walk into the room, casually adjusting his shirtsleeves and not even glancing at the boy on the bed, he wanted to fight and thrash like the boy had been doing. Instead, he just watched, rapt, afraid of what he was going to see. Afraid because he knew.

"Come along, darling," Jack-of-old told him. "Here is where you shine."

"Don't see why," Eames—or Luke, as he was back then—said. "General says this is over, wants him disappeared. Why can't he just be rubbed out like the others? We've been trying to incept him for months to be this dream-hyper-soldier and nothing has worked. All of our inceptions in him have failed. He's too stubborn, he has no imagination and he is not meant for this work. On top of this, he knows too much. This is a waste of time and resources." He stopped, and walked over to the bed where the young man slept, still looking worried and angry in his sleep. "Hm," he said. "I never much looked at him before. Looks like a nice boy, really. Shame." He ran his fingers along the angle of his jaw, over the lips that Ann had touched to put him to sleep. It was an intrusive gesture, too insistent. He looked up at Ann, grinning. "Maybe I'll steal him from you instead."

"You just try," she said, bitterly daring. "I'll break both of your hands and you'll never steal again."

"Now, now." Jack sat down beside him on the bed and kissed him, casually intimate and lingering, on the mouth. "Ann called in a favor," he murmured. "He needs his memory erased. It has to take, or they will eliminate him." Jack leaned very close and whispered in his ear. "Were it up to me, I'd put him down myself. I don't like or trust him. And I'd sooner cut his throat before I let him run off with you. But Ann is fond, you see." He nipped along his jaw, trailed small kisses up to his mouth.

This Eames, this young, careless man, kissed him back freely until Ann said, "Enough."

Jack sighed. "Right, then. If we're doing this, we need to use his own powerful emotions to get him to forget, to go back to his life before the dreamshare. We need a total reset on his mind. We've got to pull out all the stops. It will fuck him up for life, Ann," he warned. "Might be better for him to just..."

"Go fuck yourself," Ann said.

Eames/Luke laughed at this. Jack slipped an arm around his waist.

Eames's watching dream-self turned to Jack's watching dream-self and gripped him by the collars. "What did I do to him?" he asked through clenched teeth. "Who did I forge?"

Jack held his arms, firm but gentle, and stroked the insides of his wrists. "There was a girl."

Eames felt like someone had punched him in the chest. All of his breath left him and he held onto Jack's shirt convulsively.

"He'd gotten into some trouble in school, you see," Jack went on. "You didn't know his story, but there was a girl, a little blonde he thought he loved. Of course she was a few years dead at the time, but when he was in school, he..."

"I know," Eames said. "I know, I know, fuck."

He had hurt Arthur. He'd used his past against him in order to try to change him into something else, and then had used it again to make him forget. Arthur had told him of hysteria-inducing night terrors he'd had through college, until Dom and Mal had come along to teach him to control them. His disorder hadn't been so unmanageable before they'd fucked with him. He'd mostly lived a normal life, nightmares notwithstanding, and he certainly hadn't suffered as badly as he'd done after they'd been inside his head for four months.

He'd done it. He'd gone into this stranger's head, a college boy with his heart already broken. He'd done it under the orders of his own corrupt legion and he'd damaged Arthur for years, years, so cavalier inside his mind, careless, wishing to be done with him the whole time.

How could he blame Jack, for having done the same thing? And how could he blame Ann, who had tried to save Arthur when everyone else had been willing to throw him away?

"There's more to this story," Jack said, holding onto his wrists, still stroking with his thumbs. "We were all following orders. We were all made to forget. No one could have guessed that you would come back later and find Arthur again. None of us could have known that he would be the dreamwalker that Project Voodoo had tried to build, and that when he was finally worthy, you would come back to steal him."

"I didn't," Eames said. "Arthur chooses to be... he chose to be with me. And anyway, the Cobbs..."

"The Cobbs trained a brilliant dreamer, and Arthur gave them his loyalty. Ann perceives that you took Arthur from her. As you said you would."

"That's insane, I could never..."

"Come down one more level. There's something else I need to show you."

Eames wanted to tell him no, he was done, he'd seen enough of himself tossing Arthur's mind around like an old toy. But he knew better than to fight it this time.

He went easily and the drag down hurt less, maybe not at all. He floated down, and as he let go of the will to fight, he seemed to let go of the rest of his will, too. The feeling of surrender was overwhelming, and something of a relief.

When he opened his eyes, he found himself lying on his side in a green field, drenched with sun. Spring, now, nearly summer, and back in England. Jack was curled around him, kissing the back of his neck. Eames tried to pull away, but his efforts were half-hearted.

"I lost you after this," Jack said. "And forgot you as you forgot me. Project Voodoo disbanded and Ann and I were separated for four years. They didn't allow me to see my own sister. We were stationed in different parts of the world with no contact until they were sure it had been erased. But you can't erase everything, can you? And when we found each other again, little bits and pieces started to come back."

Eames turned to face him, feeling exhausted, too tired to move away. Everything hurt. His chest hurt, his head, his bones. "It's the past. It's long gone and doesn't even matter anymore. Tell me what I can do to make you give me my hands back, and I'll do it. Let this train go and we go our separate ways and that's it."

"That's hardly it," Jack said. He ran his hand over Eames's hair, down his jaw, his neck. "I could care less about what you stole or didn't steal. That's Ann's thing. I've hated Arthur since finding out what he did to you."

"It's too bad you-- What?" Eames looked at him, cautious and ready to disbelieve him. "Arthur did nothing to me. I'm the one who hurt him."

"I told you there was more to the story. One more piece that you need to know." Jack pulled him close. He didn't seem to expect a struggle anymore. "I told you our memories started to come back once Ann and I were together again. I remembered your name, your real name, and I did some research on who you might have become. You were a ghost to me, someone I knew I'd known, but couldn't remember how. You were what kept me searching. I found a lot about your past. Something you should know about. SomniCore took you about two years later, when you started dreamsharing on your own."

He thought back. This, he remembered clearly. His blood chilled and his mouth went dry – yes, this he would never forget. He'd been in rotten situations in his early days, even as a young kid he'd gotten himself in trouble, beaten, hurt, locked up. He'd thought himself quite a hard man, someone who'd seen enough shit that he couldn't be broken.

His two weeks at SomniCore had banished all of his bravado.

"They hurt you quite badly," Jack said, still petting him. "They went into your head, they drugged you and kept you under, I believe they let you starve for a time. I know they kept you alone in a room with strobe lights for a day or two."

"Long since past," Eames said. "If anyone were to do that now, I'd shake it off."

"Yes, now. You're a different man now. But then, they hurt you."

"I don't want to know," Eames said. But he already knew what Jack was going to say and the thought made him shiver. "I don't care." But he did.

"Who set you up for capture, back then?" Jack said. "Who was SomniCore's prodigy, who tracked you for years? Broke into your files, hacked your life, got you caught and sent you to be tortured?"

"It doesn't matter." His eyes were wet and his chest felt tight. It was worse, really, than the memory of the capture itself.

"Arthur handed you to them."

"He didn't know me."

"He set you up for weeks of pain and months of flashbacks and nightmares."

"He didn't know..."

"Oh, pet," Jack said. "You see, you've betrayed each other. It probably wasn't the last time, either. Was it? Trust is so fragile. One slip and it's gone forever, especially where lives and sanity are at stake."

Eames pulled away from him and sat up. The idea of what was happening here began to dawn on him. He licked his lips before speaking. "What are you doing to me?"

"I'm telling you how it is. That I never betrayed you, ever. That you never betrayed me. Not the way you and Arthur did to each other."

Panic clawed at him. He'd gone under so easily, he'd just handed himself over... "How many levels down are we?"

Jack smiled. "Depth's got nothing to do with it, darling. It's a simple idea, based in emotion. That's all it takes. Your trust is broken."

It wasn't exactly fear that Eames felt. It wasn't anger or hurt or betrayal. It was simply grief for what he knew he'd just lost.

** ** ** **




Did that all work out? Can anything further be added?

Okay, so I think I know what comes next. Arthur and Eames have to spend some time together and I'm pretty certain of how that's going to play out. I think it's going to go exactly as Jack wants it to.

Now, I've got to get: Arthur outside of the train in the Siberian wasteland with his hat on, and Eames in the clutches of the bad guys again - likely Ann, and the two brothers, because Jack's probably not wanting to hurt him, right?

More suggestions, you guys? I am still open to taking them, even though the plot is leaving less wiggle-room now. :D

If you've made suggestions and I haven't used any of yours, PLEASE LET ME KNOW. I'll keep trying!

9 - Might Rain Fire
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