Title: My Corner of the Sky (Sequel to Thicker Than Blood)
Crossover: Inception/ (500) Days of Summer
Pairing: Arthur/Eames, Tom/Autumn
Summary: Two levels down into his first real extraction, with his brother's boyfriend tagging along like a babysitter, Tom Hansen wonders if he has what it takes to make it in dream share.
Notes: This is a sequel to Thicker Than Blood, and contains references to that fic. If you haven't read it, just be aware that Arthur and Tom are twins in this 'verse.
Tom Hansen allowed himself a brief surge of satisfaction as he walked down a sidewalk of his own making. He gazed up at dark brickwork skyscrapers and rolling grey skies. Evening was falling into night in the city, and the deepening shadows emphasized all of the sharp right angles and the leering faces of stone gargoyles peering out over ledges.
The idea for the city had come to him in a dream – the real, natural kind – the other week when he had fallen asleep on the couch with Autumn while rewatching The Dark Knight. When Cobb had asked for something dark and ominous for the second level, this is what had come to mind: a noir version of Chicago.
He just hoped that none of the mark's projections took up the theme and became Batman.
A chill wind blew between the buildings, tumbling dried leaves all along the pathway. Tom hunched a little into his trench coat, stuck his hands deep his pockets, and walked on. The projections around him glanced up at the sky, but otherwise seemed unconcerned. They weren't agitated, weren't yet looking for the dreamer. For him.
Architects didn't always go into the field, but on Arthur's suggestion, Tom had agreed to come along. For some reason, Cobb had declined to preview the maze ahead of time, and it would be a strain for Eames to be both forger and dreamer. Besides, if this was to be his new profession, it was prudent to know every element.
Mostly, though, Tom wanted to see for himself how Cobb's methods were different from monsters like Carson and Muir.
A slinky figure detached itself from the shadows, and took up a quick pace behind him. Knowing the best defense was to ignore it and hope the projection went away on its own, Tom headed for a knot of businessmen and women who were walking briskly to some high rise building.
When he glanced back, the projection – a woman – was still following him. And... wow, she was... wow.
She was a spot of color in an otherwise washed out landscape, with a short red dress barely touching milky thighs. Her face was vaguely asianish with dark eyes, long ebony hair, and bright red lips.
Another gust of wind caught the edge of her dress and Tom's mind stalled out as it lifted the hem up, exposing a peek of lacy red panties.
He glanced away a moment too late – he'd seen her intent expression, fixed on him – and changed track, ducking into a narrowed alleyway between two buildings. His left hand fell to his trench coat pocket, this time curling around the handle of the small pistol he'd one time seen in a old detective movie. It went along with the coat.
Tom disliked guns. Up until a few weeks ago, he had never even held one. They were startlingly loud, the recoil was unpleasant, and the thought of actually killing someone made his stomach hurt.
But he had been faced with the unpleasant fact, very recently, that there were some seriously evil people in the world. Carson and Muir hadn't needed a gun to torture information out of their marks. Or out of him. They'd taken Tom by surprise when he had thought he was going in for a job interview, and he had no way to defend himself.
Besides, it wasn't as if the woman following him were real, anyway.
He waited, heart tripping over itself, and wondered if he had it in him to actually pull the trigger.
He hadn't quite talked himself into it by the time the woman strode into the alleyway with him.
"Hello there," she purred, in a rich contralto voice that actually made his dick twitch. "What's a cute thing like you doing in a place like this?"
Tom wasn't sure what finally tipped him off – maybe it was that she was just a little too aggressive, even for a dreamscape hooker. Maybe it was the sardonic smile that curved her lips, or the way she gazed at him, dark eyes a bit too familiar.
He let out a breath and took his hand out of his pocket, away from the gun. "That is so wrong," he said, "On so many, many levels."
The woman threw back her head and laughed, exposing a length of smooth skin. Jesus, even her pert breasts bounced realistically.
Then she changed, becoming at once a well muscled man in his mid-thirties, with neatly combed hair, light eyes, a generous mouth, and an air of sly confidence. Not Tom's type at all, but most definitely his twin brother's.
Eames smirked. "I had you going for a minute, didn't I?"
Tom rolled his eyes. "In your dreams."
"Speaking of." Eames glanced about and then laid the flat of his hand against the brickwork, grunting when he found it wet with gathering condensation. Tom had imagined a gloomy day, complete with the high humidity of an oncoming storm. "You've a mind for detail. Only, be sure you don't let it get the best of you."
"What do you mean?"
Eames grimaced. "Cobb had a dab hand at detail, too, back when he used to build. Eventually he became lost in it."
It was interesting how both Eames and Arthur always seemed to use Cobb as an example of what not to do, but were still willing to work with him. "I thought he and his wife became lost in limbo?".
"He did," Eames said. "Though if you ask me, they were already losing their grip on reality before taking that trip. Limbo was the end result."
"Where's Cobb, anyway? Aren't you supposed to be with him?" Tom asked. His job was minimal down here – just make sure he held the dream together and didn't get killed. Cobb and Eames were to perform the actual extraction.
Eames shook his head. "It seems Mr. Boyd wasn't in the mood for my charms, although I did come away with his wallet." He withdrew from his pocket a slim leather wallet, flashed it open, and tucked it back in with a con-man's grin.
Where did he even hide it in that dress? Tom wondered, but decided he didn't want to know.
"Cobb waived me off, and I came to see how you were holding up," Eames continued.
"Thanks," Tom said, dryly. "But I think I can handle walking around the city by myself."
It wasn’t that he didn't like Eames – well okay, the Englishman did remind Tom of a used car salesman, sometimes, with his always assessing look – but he seemed to sincerely care for Arthur, and visa-versa. And it took a lot to get past his brother's barriers.
It was just that... Eames and Arthur had this whole hard-ass military thing going for them. Arthur tried not to show it, but Tom could tell that he was worried about him. Maybe his brother still felt bad about Carson and Muir, although that hadn't been his fault – well, mostly. Tom didn't blame Arthur for it, at least. Those two had been looking for any architect to pull into their job. Tom would have been fucked even if he didn't look like Arthur's double.
So what if he didn't know how to really handle a gun yet? He may be the new guy, but he wasn't helpless.
"It's not a reflection on your abilities, I assure you," Eames said, and Tom wondered how much of his thoughts had shown in his expression. He couldn’t do the whole emotionless man-robot impression like his brother. "There are safety in numbers."
As if to put emphasis to Eames' words, a fire truck went roaring past on the street beyond, lights flashing and sirens screaming. The projections along the sidewalk all watched it go by. Their expressions darkened, and after the truck had passed, they returned to their business with noticeably sharper movements.
Tom found his hand drifting to the gun in his pocket. The fire truck had been heading back towards the heart of the maze, where Cobb was supposed to be conducting business with the mark.
Tom swallowed. "I don't think we should stay here."
"Right," Eames agreed. Tom saw him reach behind his back and withdraw a pistol with a long muzzle – the old fashioned type, like a vigilante from a 1970's film would carry. He checked to make sure all rounds were loaded before he slid it back. "Follow my lead."
The atmosphere in the city was much different now – something that Tom could feel more than see. Instead of the quiet purpose of people going about their daily lives, the projections around him were much more wary. Those he passed on the street eyed him and Eames a moment longer than what was usually considered polite. There were more police visible as well, standing on crosswalks or driving by in patrol cars.
Somehow, Tom got the feeling that things had not gone as planned with Cobb and their mark, Boyd.
He and Eames walked down the street, causal as they could, hiding in plain sight. So far, none of the projections had pinged on them, but Tom had enough experience with Carson's angry, paranoid subconscious to guess that it would only be a matter of time. Then there would be bullets, and pain.
"You know, I don't get it," he mused. "What does someone like Cobb get out of this?"
Eames glanced at him. "What's that?"
"Well," Tom glanced around, at the living city in his head. "I get to create all of this – make real any building I can literally dream up. The pay is great, too," he added, needing to be honest. "You do the same, really, only with people. Arthur – well." Tom shook his head. "But what does someone like Cobb get out of this? I've been to his house, and it doesn't look like he needs the money. And he has two young kids to think about. So I don't get it: what's the draw in coming back to dreamshare? It's not exactly a low risk profession."
"Back a step," Eames said. "What's this about Arthur?"
Tom snorted. "Are you kidding? Arthur loves to organize and plan." He grinned, a memory he hadn't thought of in years resurfacing. "Back when we were kids, we lived in Jersey until our parents split and mom moved us west. Anyway, we had this treehouse club with some friends. You know, the 'Girls Not Allowed' type? Arthur was elected to make the rules, and he came up with a three-ring binder's worth by the next day. In bullet-point."
Eames barked out a laugh, his grey eyes crinkled and suddenly full of affection. And that was what Tom liked most about his brother's boyfriend. He came off as a little too slick sometimes for Tom's taste, but he could tell that Eames genuinely loved Arthur. That counted for a lot in his book.
"Oh yes, that's very much like Arthur, isn't it?" Eames rubbed at his mouth, probably trying to conceal a grin. They couldn't look too happy amidst a bunch of sullen projections. Eames sobered. "As for Cobb... I did say he used to be an architect himself – one of the best. Now, I suspect it has more to do with the thrill of the hunt."
"You mean, how he's able to get inside a mark's head?"
Eames nodded. "It can be intoxicating, snatching just the information you need as the timer counts down, with subconscious security is hot on your tail. Not everyone can do it, you realize. Just because you build a bloody safe for secrets doesn't mean the right ones go in there. For example, a team can go in for intel on a new project for a dam or some other pubic work, but only find information on an affair the mark has been trying to keep hidden. Planting the correct idea to steal is the extractor's job as well."
Tom thought about that as they came to a stop in front of another crosswalk. There was a policeman standing on the median strip, directing traffic, his eyes darting and suspicious. He didn't focus on either of them, aside from a quick glance up and down before he waved them on their way.
He was about to ask another question when one of Eames' hands clamped down on his shoulder and Tom found himself being pulled abruptly to the side. A woman speed walked past them both – she would have crashed headlong into Tom, had Eames not pulled him out of the way and stepped between them – her dark, loosely curled hair bobbing, and a steely expression in her eyes.
She's lovely, Tom thought, absently, the description there and gone again as if it weren't his at all.
She passed them with not a glance back, but Eames watched her with laser-intensity, his other hand gripping the pistol under his jacket.
"I've seen her before," Tom realized. "In Cobb's house... he had a picture of that woman on a wall. Is that is projection? Is he—he can bring his projections in?"
Eames glanced at him in surprise. Then, perhaps realizing that his hand was still on Tom's shoulder and that he was practically pushing him into the wall of the building, let free his grip and took a step back.
"Just that one," Eames said, grimly. "And he ought not be able to. Cobb promised us both she was gone, and I know for a fact that Arthur verified it himself. "
He looked shaken, and that sent a finger of fear up Tom's spine. Suddenly, a few cryptic warnings from his brother over the last few weeks during the prep for the job made a lot more sense. "That's Mal?"
"Yes, she was. Although," Eames admitted, after a beat. "She is acting rather odd."
"Normally," Eames said, flashing a humorless grin, "she'd try to kill the both of us. She actually gutted me once, from groin to sternum, and then left me to die. It was quite horrible."
Jesus, Tom thought, and the zing of adrenaline and fear made his voice come out sarcastic, parodying Eames' British accent. "Oh, I'm quite sure it was."
Eames cut a sharp look at him, and the smile was more predatory this time – and a bit more genuine. "Well, well. It seems the puppy has teeth, after all." Before Tom could sputter an comeback, Eames nodded in the direction where the woman had gone. "Let's see where she leads us, hm?"
They followed at a discreet distance, though Mal paid them no mind. She headed down the sidewalk at a brisk pace, just short of a full out run. She even took a small side road – one of Tom's shortcuts straight through the heart of the maze – as if she had seen right through it.
As she neared the center of the maze, she turned the closest corner and briefly disappeared. When Tom and Eames followed, they were confronted by a small mob of projections with their back to them, grouped tightly along the sidewalk; all mutters and angry stares.
Beyond them, a figure lay prone on the empty street, a puddle of red blood pooling out from under him and his head carefully cradled in Mal's lap. It was Cobb.
Eames swore and pushed past the mob to kneel by Cobb's side. When Tom tried to follow, however, he was stopped by a burley looking projection in a police uniform.
"This is a crime scene," the man snapped. "What do you think you two are doing?"
"My friend's a doctor," Tom invented. Over his shoulder he could see Eames speaking hurriedly to a very pale looking Cobb. Mal sat serenely by, threading her fingers through her husband's hair.
The blood was so read and there was so much of it... Tom had to remind himself that Cobb wasn't really dying. Not really. "What happened?" he asked the policeman.
For all that he was a projection of an officer, the man seemed wholy unconcerned as he said, "Stabbed, from the looks of it. We're pretty sure he attacked someone, and he got hurt in self defense."
Well, they were Mr. Boyd's projections. They would be on his side.
Mal gave a sudden pained moan and Tom looked back in time to see Cobb's body jerk once, and then go still. The woman cradling his head vanished abruptly, as if she had never been there at all.
Around them, the angry whispers from the watching projections grew into something like the low buzz of a disturbed beehive. The police officer reached for his weapon and Tom, reacting in instinctive panic, punched him right in the nose.
The officer didn't drop to the ground unconscious as he would in the movies, but rather staggered back, a hand to his bloody face.
"Run!" Eames snapped, rising, with his hands slick and red. Together he and Tom darted down the street, the crowd of projections calling angrily after them and a few giving chase.
Tom recognized a side street he'd put in, with a lone red garbage can standing out front as if for sentinel. "This way," he said, and led Eames through, up a shadowed staircase, neatly hidden unless you knew where to look. They came abruptly to the top of a gravel-lined building. From there, the stewing gray clouds overhead almost seemed close enough to touch.
Eames pulled out his weapon and waited to the side of the stairwell door. When two minutes passed and there was no sign of pursuit, he gave a nod and holstered his gun.
"It appears Boyd is at least a semi-lucid dreamer," he said. "Which would at least explain the trouble we had in the first level. Cobb said Boyd caught on just as they were discussing the new location for the mine." Eames squinted up at the clouds in thought. "Now that Cobb's been sounded out, he'll be no use to us down here. I gave him the kick, and he will be helping Arthur secure the first level. The extraction will be up to us, I'm afraid."
Shit, Tom thought, though he tried not let his sudden unease show on his face. "But if Boyd knows what's going on, his mind will raise the defenses around the vault."
"Perhaps," Eames said, with a shrug. "Boyd isn't militarized, so while he may realize he's dreaming, I doubt he'll guess exactly to what purpose."
Booming thunder rolled across the sky at the tail end of his words, loud enough to split the very air and send the gravel around them spitting and jumping like butter on a hot plate.
They exchanged a grim glance, and Tom saw his own worry reflected across Eames' face: something was happening up above.
"Arthur will hold it together as long as he's able," Eames said. "But we shouldn't be long about it."
Tom had created the first level to be deep and secure as possible but nothing was impenetrable, given enough time and rabid projections. The thought of his brother having to fight off an army to give them time, was as unpleasant as a dunk in ice-water. He nodded, reaching again for the handgun in his pocket. "Yeah," Tom said. "Okay, I know a shortcut to the bank. Follow me."
Despite the shortcut, it was still slow-going to the bank. Not because of the projections which were on even more alert now -- army humvees carrying soldiers now patrolled the streets along with police cruisers -- but because of the near deafening thunder above, and the small earthquakes that followed along with it. Several times, Tom and Eames had to stop and brace themselves against walls or streetlamps just to keep their footing. Windows broke out from skyscrapers above and rained razor death to the street. Tom was nearly crushed under the weight of a falling stone gargoyle, which came down not three feet in front of him.
On reflection, he was never building a city with those again.
Whatever was happening above was slowly shaking apart the second level. Their time was running short.
They were a block away from the bank when Eames gave a sudden wheezing gasp and staggered in place, clutching at his chest.
"Eames!" Tom barked, and grabbed him before he could collapse completely, helping the other man to the ground. The projections on the street were taking notice of them. From the corner of his eye, Tom saw a man in a severe business suit flip open his cell phone and dial quickly.
"Don't—" Eames gasped, blood, bright and red trickling from the corner of his mouth. The thunder rumbled ominously again, as the forger's eyes went momentarily wide, then blank.
"Eames? Fuck, Eames?!" There was no answer, and stunned, Tom let the limp body sink to the ground. Something must have happened to Eames' on the first level – at least, Tom sincerely hoped so, and not that Eames had some sort of heart attack or something else up top.
"What do I do now?" he asked no one as he passed a hand over Eames' staring eyes.
The thunder rumbled again as Tom straitened up. He was the last man standing.
Over the booms above and the now near constant vibration under his feet, he could hear the distant wail of a siren. In minutes, the bulk of Boyd's subconscious security would be there, and gun him down. The bank was just around the corner.
"Okay," Tom said, taking a shuddering breath. Then he repeated, clenching his fists, "Okay."
Cobb and Eames had hatched a smooth plan to infiltrate the bank and gain access to the vault, and Boyd's secrets. It involved a forgery of a security guard, official looking documents to grant them access, and a good deal of Cobb's charm.
Tom had no idea how to forge people or papers. He had no time to come up with a plan at all.
He did have a gun, however.
"Listen up, people!" Tom's baritone voice echoed across marbled floors and the faux stonework inside the bank as he held his gun for everyone to see. "Everyone down on the floor, right now! This is a hold up!"
He half expected the projections to see right through him, laugh in his face. Or worse, just start shooting.
A woman gave a startled shriek, but to his surprise the bank employees and customers alike obediently held up their hands, and most went down to at least their knees, if not all the way to the floor.
Tom had to battle back an almost hysterical bubble of laughter trying to rise up in his throat. This was insane. Insane and... he had never felt more powerful in all his life. He was so going to have to tell Autumn about this after it was over -- within context, of course.
There was a screech of tires from right outside. Tom whipped his head around to see a police cruiser skid to a stop right in front of the door. Had someone pushed a silent alarm already?
"You!" Tom yelled, pointing the gun at a balding, well-dressed man he hoped was the manager. "Take me to the vault. Right now!"
The floor gave an almost convulsive shudder as the manager led him towards the back. Tom nearly lost his footing as the manager, in a burst of bravery, made a half-hearted grab towards his weapon. Somehow Tom was able to straighten up in time to stop him short.
"I'll shoot you right now," he growled, and thought that he could almost believe it himself.
The man paled and nodded, his hands trembling as he turned to unlock a gilded door which must have been the vault. It opened just as Tom heard running footsteps headed in their direction, and barked orders from the police. Panic lent him speed, and shoving the manager aside, Tom stepped into the vault and shut the door behind himself.
Tom expected a – well, he wasn't sure what he expected. Entry level architecture jobs and greeting card companies didn't exactly pay well. He'd had little experience with a bank other than the very basics: when his debit card needed replacing, or paying the occasional overdraft fee.
He was pretty sure actual bank vaults didn't resemble turn of the century map-rooms, however.
It was a comfortable space, with the worn in scent of cigar smoke and leather. An old fashioned secretarial desk dominated the middle of the room, with an oil-lit lamp providing a mellow light.
It all probably represented something, an aspect of Mr. Boyd's personality or secret desires, though Tom had no idea what.
It didn't matter, because tacked upon the walls were maps and schematics of the new diamond mine set to be dug out in Sierra Leone.
Arthur had been very frank with him when Tom had agreed to the job.
"Mind crime isn't always pleasant, and it's an easy way to get yourself killed," he had said, his face serious. "And we don't usually work for the side of the angels."
Tom had rolled his eyes. He knew it was dangerous, knew Cobol Engineering probably still had a price on his head, despite Saito's interference. Not to mention Muir and Carson... and Summer's husband by now. Many more wanted Arthur dead, and that sort of heat could easily fall on Tom, if someone didn't know they were twins. Hell, even if they did.
"Hey, I've already had a taste of what I'm getting into, remember?" Tom had told his twin as he tapped the briefing Cobb had left with them. "Besides, if we do this... we could stop a blood diamond operation right in its tracks."
"Things won't always be this clear cut," Arthur had warned.
"But this time, it is."
Now Tom scanned the maps as fast as he could, drinking in the details: the location of the prospective mine, the schematics. There was even more written on yellowed paper upon the desk: the expected yield of the mine, and which top officials Boyd's company planned on paying off to subdue the local population and draft them into work. Even a local American senator was in on it – that was an unpleasant shock: Tom had voted for that guy in the last election, the asshole.
He heard more shouted orders from the other side of the vault-room door, and then the boom of what might have been a battering ram. Sweat beaded at his temples, but he didn't dare stop his reading, or turn around.
He heard a crash as the door came down, a scream for him to put his hands behind his head before –
Tom woke to the sound of gunfire.
He recognized where he was at once. The first level had been hidden deep inside a stylized diamond mine, complete with glittering gems poking out from rock walls. When Tom had gone under with Eames and Cobb, they had been arranged on separate army cots. Now, Tom woke up on the floor, the cot overturned on its side as if to shield him from view.
Cobb was lying near by, dead from what looked like spray of bullets -- he'd had a very unlucky day. Eames' body was not too far off, and Tom averted his eyes quickly. One of the heavy supporting beams had come loose from the ceiling – Tom had no idea how, but there was what looked like a pick-axe near by – and had literally crushed Eames' chest in.
Removing the cannula from his wrist, Tom carefully sat up and looked over the upturned cot.
Arthur was sitting propped up against a corner of the wall opposite to him, a glock cradled in his hands and staring wearily to the mineshaft beyond. He looked like Hell: ashen and bleeding in two separate places that Tom could see. His breathing was labored too, with a rasp that didn't sound healthy.
Before Tom could say anything, Arthur glanced towards him. There was a bloom of dark bruises around his neck, as if someone had tried to strangle him.
"Did you get it?" Arthur croaked.
"I got it." Tom rose to his feet, intending to come over to his brother's aid. "I got everything."
"About time," Arthur said, and then lifted his glock and shot Tom right between the eyes.
Tom woke up, this time to the feel of overenthusiastic office air conditioning chilling the tip of his nose.
"They're coming awake," Cobb's voice said. "Eames, get ready with the sedative for Boyd. It's risky, but we can put him under again with a double-dose."
Tom opened his eyes to see Cobb hovering near the PASIV device, his sandy hair askew as if he had run his fingers through in worry, and Eames ignoring Cobb's orders completely to stand near Arthur.
"What happened?" Eames asked, lowly. "The second level started to shake itself apart, and the next thing I knew I was kicked completely awake."
None of the injuries had followed them up to the waking world, but Tom thought he saw Arthur wince as he sat up. "The projections rushed in all at once. They—" This time he did wince. "They took you and Cobb out before I could stop them."
Tom was suddenly very, very grateful Autumn had expressed zero desire to join in dream share. Yeah, it wasn't real, but to see the person you loved killed before your eyes...
"Eames," Cobb snapped, as Boyd began to stir. "We need to put him under now if we want a second shot at this."
"It's fine," Tom said, sitting up and pulling out the needle from his vein. The implications of what he just accomplished -- an actual extraction -- rushed over him in a near giddy wave. He grinned. "I broke into the vault and saw everything."
Cobb and Eames both looked at him sharply.
"You did?" Cobb blurted.
"Of course," Arthur said, with cool confidence.
"Of course," Tom said, in the same breath, trying and failing not to beam. The thrill of the hunt, indeed.
Eames made a sound suspiciously like a stifled laugh, breaking out into a full chuckle when Cobb shot him a dark look. "Come off it," he said. "Couldn't you tell what an intimidating pair these Hansen brothers make?"