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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 wakes to a sharp glare of light in his eyes as the sun casts bright reflections off what seems to be a maze of mirrors in front of him. There are hedgerows supporting the mirrors, making it look more like a garden maze than a children’s house of horrors. He spins carefully in a circle to try and locate the others, not wanting to call out and attract the attention of any projections just yet.

In the distance, Arthur sees a house that looks like a mix between the Hôtel Biron and a house only familiar to Arthur because of his personal history with Eames. It appears to be miles away, but the familiar facade lets Arthur know exactly which projection to expect here.

He catches Ariadne’s gaze and manages a thoroughly displeased shake of his head. He knows what’s coming and he wishes he didn’t. “Arthur...?”

“Did you design it to look exactly like the Rodin museum?”

“Yes,” she agrees, seeing what he’s talking about. “Eames must be affecting the dreamscape.”

“Those are pieces of his mother’s home,” Arthur says, signalling to the house in the distance. “Ariadne, lead us through the maze. If Eames is going to be anywhere in this level, it’s up there,” he says with certainty, jutting a finger in the direction of the house.

When Arthur gets a closer look, he finds that the mirrors are all shattered. They splinter and form sparkling cobweb patterns in the bright sun and Arthur can’t help but feel relieved.

On some level, their message has taken and as they move deeper, he hopes (thinks, prays) that maybe they’ll continue to have luck. Ariadne takes the lead, wandering through the maze like she’s Alice finding her way through Wonderland.

Arthur takes point and Cobb covers the rear and there isn’t a single indication from up above that things are getting hairy. It’s a good sign. They’re nowhere near the end of this task – and Arthur reminds himself to focus -- but if they can stabilize three levels before Arthur jumps down lower, he’ll have more time to do his job when he gets down there.

“Watch your step,” Ariadne warns and Arthur casts his gaze down to the idyllic-coloured grass to see that there are shards of glass littering the ground.

Arthur looks skywards to the blazing sun and then checks with Cobb to make sure they aren’t being followed. “Are we taking the broken mirrors as a good sign?” he asks, his voice steady, even though Arthur is beginning to think that the peaceful quiet surrounding them is just a prelude to someone discovering that they’re there.

“We just told Eames on the first level that he’s, essentially, broken,” Ariadne points out, searching the area around them. “These were supposed to be whole. I think this is a good thing.”

Arthur glances over his shoulder to keep an eye on Cobb. Not for the first time since they started this mission, he begins to worry that someone is going to bring a projection in and because of the habits of old, he half-expects he’s going to turn a corner and find Mal standing there with a sawed-off shotgun ready to blast him down.

Cobb’s insisted that he’s fine now, that the children and therapy have helped him to assuage his guilt and to move on. “Arthur, this is only the second level,” Cobb pipes up, as if sensing that Arthur is entertaining thoughts of unrest. “If you don’t feel comfortable incepting Eames, we can stop here.”

“And leave Eames to his fractured sanity,” Arthur points out, not even considering the possibility, “which is only going to get worse if the last year is any indication. No,” he says firmly. “No way in hell, Cobb.”

“It’s an option, Arthur,” Ariadne says, which is all the proof he needs that this is a thought that’s been passing through both minds. Arthur purses his lips tightly together, his forehead pinched thoroughly together.

He shakes his head and sidesteps a cluster of pointed shards in the grass. “If this doesn’t work, I will step back and let life go on,” he negotiates. “But we’ve still got a long way to go and I’m not pulling out. I’d appreciate if both of you kept your involvement at the same level as me for this job.”

“Arthur, there’s no way we wouldn’t,” Ariadne promises, squeezing his shoulder in a show of her support.

She steps away from him and continues to lead them to the house. Arthur can see an exit approaching around the same time as he starts to see quick flashes of someone else in the mirrors – wearing dark clothing and sporting dark hair.

“Cobb,” Arthur says warningly. “How much time have we got?”

“We’re about forty feet ahead of them, but we need to move,” Cobb replies. “Ariadne, when we get out of the maze, can you change it without Eames noticing?”

“I can try?” she offers, sounding slightly worried, but capable. “We need to get out of here. I’ll seal off the exit and move the architecture around just enough that I shouldn’t call attention to the changes,” she promises, turning to look over her shoulder at Arthur. “Take the lead.”

Arthur readies his weapon and treats the exit of the maze like a room, clearing it quietly and quickly, not wanting to waste any time, especially if the projections are closing in. He has no doubt that they can handle them, but the last thing he wants to do is leave Ariadne to deal with this. He turns his gaze back to the Biron and looks over his shoulder to Ariadne.

“Can you hold them down in the house?” he asks. “Or do you want us to lure Eames back out to the maze?”

“If he didn’t change the layout of the house, I’ll be safe there,” she promises. “I layered in a hidden servant’s floor where you can go under and I can hide out.”

The journey to the house is easy from there. Ariadne seals off the maze with a large slab of an unbroken mirror. From there, the only hazard on the way to the house is the assorted and wayward pieces of jagged glass on the sloping lawn that leads to the front door.

Everything here is broken. Eames’ subconscious has taken on that message and has created a landscape reflecting what he must know deep down and Arthur takes the first moment since they started this mission to feel hope that what they’re trying to do is going to take.

They stop at the door and Arthur presses his shoulder up against it, listening to see whether there’s movement inside.

Cobb catches his gaze and raises his brow to ask if he hears anything.

Arthur dismisses that with a shake of his head.

No sooner than he’s about to open his mouth and say that Eames must be somewhere else does the door draw open and there is the very physical and real manifestation of Mrs. Celia Eames staring back at him.

Arthur did have a bad feeling about this level.

He tries for charm and innocence, smiling broadly as he regards Eames in this disguise, this forgery that he must feel safe in. Arthur prepares himself for the likely barrage of questions. And they’re not even going to be very good things, they’re going to be things like...

“Well, you’re late,” she bluntly states. Arthur takes a deep breath in and nods, knowing that this isn’t even going to be the worst of it. The worst of it is most certainly yet to come. “You might as well come in. I’ve put afternoon tea on. Three places? You don’t have any other company expected? No other men I should know about?”

“It’s just us, ma’am,” Arthur replies, with all due politeness owed to a man who thinks he’s a woman that needs to evaluate Arthur for her son.

She keeps a critical eye on him from behind her glasses, pinching them at the band as she regards Arthur and he stays very still, ignoring his raging heartbeat. Every minute that passes and they don’t make any progress, he worries about the projections closing in on them. If they don’t time everything perfectly, they won’t be able to go further.

Cobb shoots Arthur a wary look as they sit down at the linen-clad table and Arthur returns it with heated impatience. He’s no more pleased about this delay than Cobb is, but they have to run with it. They have no other choice.

Celia pours the tea and Arthur stares at her and can’t quite reconcile the fact that somewhere buried in there is Eames. He sees all the traits that Eames inherited from the woman – the cleft of the chin and the earlobes, the colour of her eyes and the absolutely beautiful smile – but he can’t bring himself to acknowledge him in her.

“You’ll have to forgive the lack of food,” she murmurs with a critical look Arthur’s way. “I was under the expectation that the guests would provide something.” ‘Lack of food’ in this case means that she only has scones, biscuits, and a plate of small sandwiches out.

It really is nothing more than a polite and sharp little jab at Arthur.

Back when Arthur had first met the woman, Eames had whispered softly into his ear that his mother was an expert on using etiquette like a scalpel and making tiny incisions that would inevitably bleed you out until you were simply so exhausted, you couldn’t bear it.

“It’s the talent of all English mothers,” Eames had wryly remarked before showing that polite indifference was the best defense.

So now he sits at the table with his palms folded politely in his lap and sips at his tea slowly, taking every barb about his hair, his dress, and his relationships. He takes it all and simply smiles coolly the whole time.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Ariadne looking at him with worry, but it’s only when she clears her throat and taps her watch that Arthur tries looking for a segue into the topic of the hour.

“...and anyway, I just told them that I refused to pay that much money for such a poor job,” she’s harrumphing about the roofing job that she’d had done. “That’s simply robbery.”

Arthur dabs the corner of his lips with his napkin and slowly stands, offering his arm out to Mrs. Eames. “I couldn’t agree more,” he smoothly agrees. “Would you like to take a walk with me, Ma’am?”

She eyes him dubiously, but inevitably accedes with a smoothed hand over her grey tweed skirt. Arthur could almost laugh. After all, it’s the same colour as one of Eames’ favourite suits back home and it brings him right back to knowing that there could still be something of Eames lingering here.

In some way, Eames could even be helping by showing them that he’s still conscious (even if it is on a base level). Arthur clings onto that idea, as though it guarantees that Eames’ militarized subconscious isn’t simply going to start attacking at any minute.

It’s pure denial, but for a scant moment, it almost makes Arthur feel better.

He shoots a look over his shoulder to Cobb and Ariadne and mouths – five minutes – and sets himself a schedule. Plant the idea, get her to the quarters, and dive deeper.

“You’re getting thin, Arthur,” Mrs. Eames murmurs in worry and Arthur’s grasp on her arm tightens just that bit more at the continued verbal assault because he wonders if, deep down, these are Eames’ thoughts as well. “I worry about you.”

“I’ve been busy,” he counters. “And I’m the same weight I’ve been since I was eighteen,” he says with great patience. “You just want something to needle me about.”

“Perhaps I’m guilty of that,” she hums as he takes her out to the balcony, staying behind the glass doors. He doesn’t want to lead her out too far where she might be able to see the men coming to the house. Arthur expects them to still be in Ariadne’s maze, but they won’t stay lost for too much longer.

Arthur starts the gambit.

He turns, just slightly, and looks out on the sprawling backyard, making a small distressed sound when he casts his gaze out to the maze of mirrors.

“What?” she asks, perfectly keyed into his every breath and move. “What is it?”

“Look,” he says, easing in just behind her and angling her gaze until she’s looking in the direction of the maze. From here, he’s essentially whispering the truths he’s invented to plant the right idea in Eames’ head, coaxing them into his head until they turn and shift and convert into a self-generated truth that Eames knows – that he is broken and he needs to be fixed. “All your pieces, they’re broken,” he goes on, as if this is a surprising turn of events.

She drifts closer to the window and adjusts her glasses, regarding the grounds with a heavy look of dismay in her gaze. “What on earth,” she remarks, haughty and dignified despite the seeming disaster. “When did this happen?”

“It’s been happening slowly,” says Arthur, pressing a hand to her back gently, trying to ease the message in without causing too much panic. “Your broken pieces need to be fixed.”

She turns to look at him and in one heartwrenching moment, Arthur is sure he sees Eames’ awareness there, but it flickers and is gone as quickly as it had come.

“I’ll have a word with the staff straightaway,” she insists with determination, which is Arthur’s cue to hurry Eames along to the servants’ quarters where Ariadne is waiting with the PASIV. It’s a veritable maze to get there, one that should take fifteen minutes for someone who knows the way and so they need to move and quickly.

Arthur smiles as politely and perfectly as any potential son-in-law should (as he plays the role with aplomb) and nods thoughtfully. “I’ll help,” he remarks, offering his arm to her. “Shall we?”

She slides her arm into his easily, like it’s always belonged there. It’s tacit permission that allows him to lead and he quickens their pace before knocking lightly on the door that Ariadne has told him will lead straight to a narrow hallway that ends in their hideout.

“Do you know anyone who can fix them?” Mrs. Eames is asking as they bustle about with no time to lose. “I don’t want to spend too much money, of course.”

“I think I know just the person. You know,” Arthur says, aware he’s about to push the next level before he should, “your son isn’t half bad at mending what’s broken. Maybe he can put this all back together.”

There’s a long silence that spans the whole length of the narrow hallway as they walk single file – her in front of him – and Arthur holds his breath as he waits for the answer.

“I haven’t seen that boy in years,” is her quiet remark. “I think he’s scared to come see me,” she continues, speaking truth in every word. She knows every emotion that’s ever passed through Eames’ mind and here in an unguarded subconscious, it all tumbles loose. “He thinks I’m disappointed in him, that he can’t measure up to what I expect, that his relationship with you is something to be ashamed of.”

“I know,” Arthur says, having accepted Eames’ beliefs long ago, even if he thought that they could be conquered. “I tried to get him to visit,” Arthur says, his hand on the keypad. It won’t enter without a code, but Eames has provided them with the numbers that unlock everything in this dream-world.

Arthur keys in his birthday as he keeps his eye on Mrs. Eames, never once looking away on the off-chance she tries to get away from him.

“He loves you so much,” is what Arthur says, giving a forgery some kind of peace. “He’s just scared. He was so scared that you’d take one look at him and see how broken he was. I should have brought him to you, just for that. A mother always knows.”

Arthur should have seen it, but he didn’t. He hadn’t wanted to.

It’s too late to start playing what-ifs, but Arthur’s constantly going over the art of the possible and the hypothetical in his mind. He can’t help thinking about where they would be if he had just been more attentive.

“Where are we going, anyway? I sincerely doubt we’ll find the proper help in here,” Mrs. Eames remarks dismissively as Arthur locks the door shut behind them and nods once to encourage Cobb forwards with the cloth soaked in sedative.

She keels over in Arthur’s arms and his demeanor goes from polite young man to the ruthless taskmaster he can turn into on a job. He snaps his fingers for help, urging Cobb over instantly as they help Eames over to the nearest chaise and Ariadne starts closing multiple doors, each with their own combination.

“Bulletproof?” Arthur asks.

“Even better,” Ariadne promises as she starts loading up weapons. “Bombproof. If they get to this point, I’ll have good warning they’re breaking through.”

“And you armed some with combinations Eames won’t know?”

“All from my own mind,” Ariadne promises with a tap of two of her fingers to her temple. “Don’t worry. You’ll have time.”

“I need years,” Arthur reminds her as he winds out the length of the lines of the PASIV, trying to get across how important it is that he has full use of the planned time. “And you need to be able to drop us when the time is up.”

“Don’t worry,” Ariadne promises. “While you were having tea and distracting Eames, I set some things in place beneath the supporting columns on the floor below. We’re ready, Arthur. You’re ready to go deeper.”

Arthur wastes no time arranging himself on the chair after sliding the IV into Eames’ arm and takes one last look at Cobb.

“Are you ready?” asks Cobb.

“Work quickly,” Arthur says brusquely. “We won’t have much time to convince him to go against his security.”

“I may have been out of the game,” Cobb says wryly, his hand hovering over the plunger of the PASIV, “but I was doing this long before you were, Arthur.”

“When we get out of here, you can tell me all about it and the time you walked uphill five miles in the snow,” Arthur deadpans, smirk on his lips. “You can even tell me twice, old man.”

“Just remember it, kid,” is Cobb’s patient reply as the drugs flow through their systems and Arthur remembers just how much time has passed. Phillipa is dating and looking at colleges, James is becoming a young man, and Arthur isn’t half as young as he used to be.

They’re all older and Arthur would like to pretend they’re wiser for it, but he’s still not sure how wise this gambit to save Eames is so much as desperate and bordering on selfish.

Still, he refuses to feel guilty.

Instead, he focuses on what’s coming next and the fact that every step deeper takes Arthur closer to what he’s been training his mind for ever since he embarked on this plan.

Level Three