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who: paris in summertime: by ?

I hear the song of your sadness

if they've become the same, it's time you unbecame


who: paris in summertime: by ?
AndreaLyn andrealyn
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Arthur feels strange. It takes him roughly five minutes to even put a finger on what he feels.

It takes even longer than that to recall that he’s dreaming.

It takes even more time to remember that the Somnacin they’ve used for this job has been laced with Yusuf’s own personal brand of ecstasy and that might be the cause for why he’s suddenly feeling so dizzy and calm at once. If he feels like this, he can only imagine what Eames is feeling – who has been dosed to receive the lion’s share of Yusuf’s work.

Arthur has to struggle to find a centrifugal focus. He still doesn’t know where Eames is and worse, he doesn’t know who he is, but he quickly finds Yusuf and the rest of the team in the lobby of a modern-styled office tower.

Cobb has designed this level and it’s of New York’s sprawling streets and they’re right in the heart of the business district. Arthur shouldn’t be thinking this because he has his own failings, but a part of him keeps wondering if a train is going to intersect the side-streets at any moment.

He presses his palm to his forehead and tries to quell the dizzying sensation running down his spine and settling into his bones, but every attempt he makes inevitably ends up in his watching the world spinning and he stares at Yusuf with a dire look. “Please tell me you brought something to temporarily counter-attack the ecstasy until the next level,” he breathes out sharply.

He could almost sing for joy as Yusuf produces a full vial of a green-tinted substance. “Whatever balm they offer will be temporary,” he warns, rolling up Arthur’s sleeve and swabbing the skin with an alcohol swab. “It won’t buy you the kind of time you need to wait out the week on this level, but it will give you the time you need to get you lower.”

Arthur scowls at the sharp prick at his arm, but almost instantly the world settles. He doesn’t feel half as queasy as before, just in time to register a flash of familiarity in the distance. He grips at the sleeve of Ariadne’s jacket suddenly.

“That’s not you, is it,” he says, his eyes tracking the man across the street from them. “If that’s any of you casting the projection, say so now,” he adds, sharper than before.

Up above, Arthur isn’t privy to the looks a forgery wears. He sees the mannerisms and hears the voice. He knows the history of each varied personality as far as Eames will tell him, but he’s never seen the faces that Eames’ splintered sanity wears. Even while planning this, he could never guarantee which of Eames’ forgeries would merge to the surface in the course of the levels (and if Eames would even be confined to just one or whether his mind was so torn that he would manifest in more than one projection in each level).

The man that Arthur sees across the street is too personal to just be any old projection. There are definitive hints of Robert Fischer in the man they’re all studying and Arthur has to wonder if on that third level all those years ago, the two men formed some kind of strange connection.

He wonders, briefly, if in Fischer’s mind, Eames is there as well as some kind of haunting echo of an idea that changed his world.

He doesn’t look exactly as Fischer ought to. His eyes aren’t the brilliant blue Fischer sports, but the colour of Eames’ eyes on any given day and his mouth is fuller. His suit is one of Arthur’s favourites – a grey Dunhill resplendent with waistcoat and a pocketwatch fastened tightly to it. It’s the suit that Arthur wore for Eames’ birthday five years ago when they officially bought their first piece of property together.

It’s these details that convince Arthur that this is more than just a projection – that this is Eames.

He’s on a cell phone and pacing back and forth on the sidewalk. Arthur counts it as lucky that they’ve spotted him so early because every second spent is an additional second for Eames’ sub-security to figure out what’s happening. Every time there’s a flash of movement in the corner of his eye, Arthur flinches as if he’s expecting gunfire to open up at any moment.

So far, there’s been no sign of danger, but Arthur wonders what’s going to happen if Eames realizes that his world is being created by someone else.

“Cobb, Yusuf, set up the secure zone. Ariadne, you and I are going after him,” he says, ready to get on with the job. The faster they go down through the levels, the faster that Arthur gets to the hard part. The others have the easy task. Cobb, on the third level, is going to have to wait the longest and might run into a scrape or two, but Arthur is planning to devote years to this.

Arthur barely waits for the crosswalk signal to change. He signals for Ariadne to come with him and charges across the street, following Eames into the lobby of another building, eavesdropping on his conversation for no more than five seconds.

“Mr. Fischer!” Arthur calls out, on a vague hunch.

It pays off.

Eames stops where he is and turns, giving Arthur and Ariadne a curious look as they approach, all smiles and presenting a calm front. “I’m sorry?” Eames says in a polished American accent. Arthur starts to recognize this for what it is. It’s the professional forge that Eames puts on when he needs to assuage marks that he is of a commercial and like mind. They’ve run this con so many times together just the two of them, but back then, Eames had always been a slick businessman, resembling no one from the world of actual commerce.

In bed one night, their legs twined together, Arthur had joked that Eames’ businessman forge was the unholy mixture of Tilda Swinton and David Bowie. Apparently Eames took offense to that, because it’s changed to something sickeningly familiar and Arthur misses that shock of platinum white hair and those stunning blue-green eyes and androgynous body.

“My name is Mr. Smith,” he introduces himself and keeps steady and calm through deep breaths. “Sorry, there’s been an accident outside and I just need a phone. Can we...?” he asks, gesturing to the phone.

One more time, he’s holding his breath and Ariadne is standing with her back almost to his, guarding the door from any possible threats that might burst in through the front.

Eames pauses and seems to consider the merit of handing his phone over to a stranger, but his reluctance passes. He hands over the phone and Arthur breathes relief as he cooks up a plan to get the message through using the presented medium. Improvisation isn’t one of Arthur’s weaknesses, no matter what Eames likes to mutter on about in the community.

He frowns and stares at the phone before turning back to Eames, handing the cell back.

He’s called the number that Cobb had set-up specifically in the case that they could get Eames near a telephone and they could arrange for him to hear the incessant bleating of the phone, beeping on and on.

“You’re disconnected,” Arthur says, catching Eames’ gaze as he presses the cell phone back into his palm and lets the contact linger for a long moment. “You’re disconnected,” he repeats, as though Eames didn’t hear him the first time. “Do you know a phone number that you can call to help us? Our car broke down, I need a phone number, the first one that comes to mind is all I need,” he insists.

If Eames were in his right mind, he’d recognize this gambit from miles away, but one of the most terrifying parts of Eames’ forgeries has always been the depths in which he dives into when he really focuses.

This forgery knows nothing more than the stocks and funds of the market, the cut of his suit, and probably what the Dow has opened at for the last week. This mask and costume that Eames is wearing knows nothing about extraction and Arthur prays and hopes that this is enough to keep the militarized subconscious away, but the mind has a funny way of overcoming even the heaviest of denial and charades.

Eames shakes his head and sputters. “I don’t...”

“Any number,” Arthur prods, quickly, before Eames can think too hard, before he can shift and forge into something else. “I’ll dial it,” he says, forcing a warm smile onto his face. “If it’s the wrong number, I’ll try again. Any number.”

“Okay,” Eames says, looking so puzzled that Arthur almost hates this for a moment. “Seven one four, one nine seven nine.”

Arthur pales as he punches in the numbers and feels Ariadne turning to stare at him.

The number rings, rings, and then cuts out.

“Still disconnected. You’re still disconnected,” Arthur says, fighting past the mild shock of the moment. He wants to stay and make sure the message takes, but they’re not going to know for sure until they get into the next level and see what Eames does with Ariadne’s design. He hands the phone back to Eames apologetically and doesn’t need to scribble down the number on his hand.

He knows it by heart and has his whole life.

“Arthur,” Ariadne sounds warningly and Arthur turns to see a man in black edging along the edge of the building. It looks like their time is running out. It’s only a matter of time now before Yusuf’s compound wears off just enough for Eames to realize that his subconscious has company. He gives a nod to tell her he’s aware.

He can’t help turning back to Eames and tries to look past the foreign face. He eventually focuses on his gaze because those are still Eames’ eyes and no matter how much is different, Arthur can still lock onto a piece of Eames in this falsity.

“Thank you,” he breathes out heavily, reaching out to grasp Eames’ hand lightly enough for a brief squeeze.

This is not the level for Arthur to be spending time with Eames. That’s coming and it’s going to span a time longer than Arthur’s ever spent in a dream. Cobb’s been trying to prepare him for it, but had warned Arthur that no amount of talk, no amount of sketches, and no amount of warnings were going to be enough.

It all comes down to the moment you wash up on that shore, Cobb had kept saying. “If you hold onto your focus in that moment and remember why you’re there, you might have a shot in hell of holding onto yourself.”

That’s still levels away. Right now, there are more men in dark clothing gathering at the front of the building.

“Come on,” Ariadne hisses and tugs at Arthur’s hand, leading him up to a bank of elevators and a door to a supposed maintenance room. Arthur spares one last look at Eames, who is staring down at his phone in confusion and seems to be addressing the fact that it’s disconnected. Arthur abandons staring at the forgery when he realizes that the projections are going to be closing in on them soon enough if they don’t do anything.

Ariadne swipes a keycard through the door and they duck inside. Quickly, they change from the suits they’re wearing into more casual wear to try and buy them just that much more time. They need to rendezvous with Yusuf and Cobb quickly in order to get stabilized in the maze-like version of the Empire State Building that Cobb has made. Seventy-three elevators that all lead to different floors, and boasting stairwells that open to the outside, and Penrose stairs around every corner.

“They’re closing in,” she says, sounding slightly worried. “How are you feeling?”

“A little dizzy,” Arthur admits and loads up the ammunition for his Glock, tucking it into the back of his pants and adjusting his jacket to cover it up. “I think Yusuf’s temporary cure is wearing off, but I think we got the message to Eames. We’re ready for the next level,” he insists. “Okay, you get Eames to come back here and I’ll drug him,” he says, taking deep breaths and trying to ready himself for this. It’s not hurting Eames, he tells himself – they have to kidnap him and sedate him in order to help him.

She salutes him lazily with a ‘you got it, boss’ and heads for the lobby.

When five minutes pass and she isn’t back, Arthur begins to worry that she needs help. She doesn’t go into the field as often as he does and he’s not sure if she’s really ready for this, but after seven minutes, he hears her voice again.

“We got the number working, but we just need an extra set of hands. You’re so amazing to be helping us out with this,” she’s saying. “Thank you, again, from the bottom of my heart Mr. Fischer. It won’t take more than a second.”

And that’s Arthur’s cue.

He’s standing behind the door, ready with the sedative and when Ariadne opens the door, Arthur slides in from behind and gets Eames in a chokehold, dropping three droplets of sedative onto his tongue and bracing him until all the fight goes out of him and he slumps down to the ground.

“Well,” Ariadne pipes up, sounding vaguely bemused in a giddy and strange sort of way. “At least he forged a lightweight.”

“When did you turn into such an optimist?” Arthur grumbles, arranging Eames into a fireman’s carry in his arms.

Ariadne looks at him with an almost sad smile. “I’ve always been one, Arthur. You just don’t visit enough anymore to remember.”

Great. Not only is he trying to incept sanity back into his boyfriend’s mind, but now one of his closest friends is guilting him into visiting more often at the same time as they’re on ecstasy and being pursued by Eames’ militarized subconscious. He adjusts Eames on his back and glares at her as they push out into the street via a back door.

He urges her along, trying to calculate where they are in Cobb’s version of New York. “How far are we?”

“There’s a shortcut!” she says, tugging on Arthur’s sleeve when he keeps lumbering past 32nd street. “Here!” she insists, bringing him down the sidestreets and even though they were just near 1st, they’ve somehow managed to make it to the Empire State Building through a short series of turns. They hurry into the lobby and find Cobb and Yusuf waiting for them.

By this point, Arthur is swaying more than before and the weight of Eames on his back seems to have tripled.

“Well?” Yusuf demands, hurrying over to help Arthur shoulder the burden of Eames’ body.

“We called the number,” Arthur says, “and I repeated the message. We need to be on the lower level to see if it worked and if it didn’t, we’ll course-correct there. The projections were just beginning to circle as we were finishing up.”

“Arthur,” Ariadne cuts in. “The number...”

“It’s not important,” he insists.

Not important? Arthur, he shouldn’t know anything about himself, but that...”

“He’s still got the same colour eyes. Ariadne, he’s not forging by his own will, he’s splintered,” Arthur hotly retorts in reply. “Just because he happened to rattle off numbers of some significance doesn’t mean he’s aware of what’s going on.”

Cobb and Yusuf are looking at them warily as they enter one of the elevators and Cobb presses the sixth floor button.

“It’s not relevant,” Arthur insists. “He’s splintered. He barely knows who he is.”

“He picked your birthday,” Ariadne says. They get off on the sixth floor and Cobb hurries them across the bank of elevators to get away from the glass walls. They stay out of sight and board another elevator that brings them up to the seventy-second floor, at which point they transfer once more and go down to the fifty-first.

Arthur wants to believe that there’s a part of Eames that’s conscious in that forgery and that he’ll manage to call off the projections or at least slow them down long enough for Arthur and the team to travel deeper.

He knows, though, better than anyone that Eames has no actual control over what he’s doing.

He focuses, first, on getting Eames settled away once they get into the room, bolting the heavy doors behind them. Yusuf has a way to get out through the ceiling should he need to lead the projections on a merry chase (so to speak), but they’re afforded protection in case they come searching.

“Arthur,” Ariadne is trying to get his attention as they barricade the door and start in on the preparations for the next step. “How did this manifest? Does Eames even know who he is anymore?”

“Yes! I wouldn’t have brought us here unless I thought so,” he snaps, eyes wide at the implication that they should discuss this now of all times. “This is really something we could have talked about during our sessions, Ariadne.”

“We never went under with Eames, Arthur,” she lectures right back, mimicking his tone perfectly. “I had no idea what I was going to find. A clone of Fischer with Eames’ eyes wasn’t exactly what I prepared for.”

“What did you expect, the Queen?” Yusuf mildly comments in the background as Cobb drags out the PASIV from the safe they’ve hidden it in.

Ariadne rolls her eyes and shrugs. “I don’t know. I guess, I guess I just thought that the forgeries would be more faceless. More anonymous.”

Arthur’s sure that Eames has a dozen anonymous forgeries tucked away, but the dreamers are personal and most of them are used to speaking with Arthur – someone familiar, someone he knows.

“What happened, Arthur?” Ariadne is asking now, lost.

Arthur wants nothing more than to drop down to the next level and continue on, but she’s looking at him so plaintively that he feels bad about ignoring her. “One day, I woke up and I realized that Eames’ little confusions and odd little phrases weren’t just him being eccentric,” he says, speaking quietly. As much as he trusts Cobb and Yusuf, he feels like this is personal and that Eames doesn’t deserve to have all of them gossiping about him while he’s sedated. “I woke up and I realized that Eames wasn’t just being strange for the sake of it, he’d fractured into a dozen pieces and I didn’t even see it coming. He just worked so much and forged so often that it broke the levee.”

“And there’s no precedent?”

“No one forges quite so well as Mr. Eames,” Arthur admits with a rueful smile. “I think that’s what did him in. His absolute belief in who he was, even when he wasn’t himself.”

“And his totem?”

Arthur smiles wryly at that as he drags a chaise over to Eames’ side and settles back against it. “Eames always used to base reality on whether or not he could look in a mirror and see who he actually was. It was handy up until the point that he lost his mind,” he says, blunt and knowing it’s the honest truth. “Can we please keep going? The longer we linger, the more chance the projections have of finding us.”

She assents with a nod, but the way she purses her lips together tells Arthur that she has more to say on the subject. He sighs and ignores that for now, letting the dizzy feeling of Yusuf’s Somnacin-ecstasy compound kick through his veins and makes him feel almost like he’s flying. He takes deep breaths and tries to regulate his control of the situation, inserting the IV with only mildly shaking hands.

Arthur glances across the room to Yusuf. “Be careful,” he warns. “I know that you think your compound is going to work, but I know Eames and I know his training. If his projections get a hold of us, we’ll be in bad shape.”

Yusuf displays the gun in his hands and flashes Arthur a steady and confident grin. “I’ve learned a lot since the last time you saw me, Arthur,” he assures and hurries to check on everyone’s progress as he draws out the lines to give them more slack. “Be careful down there.”

“Be safe, Yusuf,” Ariadne says desperately, as if she needs to get that out.

Settled, Arthur starts to count down as he watches Yusuf plunge the deployment of the drugs for the next level and he holds onto his focus as tightly as he can, his gaze settling on Cobb across the room.

“Focus,” is all Cobb says, his voice heavy with sleep.

Focus.

In Arthur’s last waking moment of this world, he reaches out for Eames’ hand and their fingers brush for the barest of moments, but it’s enough to help him focus on what he’s diving downwards to fix.

Level Two

Okay, I really must go to sleep now. But, seriously, this is brilliant so far. Just brilliant.

♥ Thank you for reading!