Written for the 2011 LJ Wishlist
Requested By: Bloodied_Saint
Characters: Eames, Arthur, Buffy
Prompt: After the first time, Arthur and Eames don’t go into Buffy’s dreams anymore.
Disclaimer: I don't own Inception or BtVS, this was written purely for enjoyment. Dark Corners
The bar in Manchester was insanely busy. The World Cup was on and mostly everyone was drunk and rowdy. It was loud and it smelled and it was the perfect place to meet with an unknown potential client. Nice and public, but with a very low chance of being paid any attention to at all.
The man across from them eyed the scene by the bar in distaste before taking his glasses off and rubbing them with a handkerchief from his pocket.
“This will be your target,” the man said, getting to business and sliding an envelope across the table to them.
Arthur took it and pulled out a color photo of a woman with blond hair and green eyes. A very familiar woman. Eames groaned out loud and took the picture from Arthur, shoving it back in the envelope and sliding it back across the table.
“With every respect - not a chance in hell,” he said, his words overlapping Arthur’s “I’m sorry, but we‘ll have to decline.”
The man looked taken aback for a moment, but then his eyes narrowed. “Double the agreed on price.”
Eames groaned again, this time like the man’s words were causing him physical pain, but he still shook his head. He looked over at Arthur knowingly - both of them remembering exactly why they’d never take a job traipsing around in Buffy Summers’ dreams again… ~~~wavy~flashback~lines~wavy~flashback~lines~~~
The job was risky - borderline mad, really. Still, Eames had found himself saying yes when the client approached him in Belize with an offer of such extravagance it left his head spinning.
The target was in Mexico City, but wouldn’t be there long. According to the client, it was impossible to determine when they’d catch up with her again and they were in a hurry, so this had to be done immediately. No time for a team, no time for deep research, no time for more than a basic plan - go for it and pray. He’d worked with less. He hadn’t liked it but he’d done it. Still, he felt relieved at finding Arthur a stones throw away from Mexico in Dallas, Texas when he’d called around.
Eames had no idea why the point man had agreed to the job. Arthur was meticulous, always planning ten steps ahead - he hated rushing, hated half-baked plans, hated Eames. But after a weighty silence and a sigh of resignation, he’d said he’d dig up what he could on the client and would meet him in Mexico City.
The relief at Arthur’s acquiescence had been more than just being glad he didn’t have to do the job all on his own. It had been because of the fact that out of all of the people he’d ever worked with, Arthur was the one he would’ve chosen for this. Dom was a savant when it came to extraction, no doubt. He thought on his feet and had great instincts. But he was reckless, too. All traits Eames himself could claim to a lesser degree. The two of them working alone together was a recipe for disaster. Arthur was a great counter point to their personalities - balancing them and their work.
It was June, so Mexico City was about as hot as the bowels of hell, making Eames’ shirt stick to him as soon as he stepped out of the airport. He was glad they wouldn’t be staying long. He found Arthur waiting for him outside, a look of annoyance already etched onto his angular face.
“Nice to see you, too, darling,” Eames grinned, earning him a look of disgust.
They ended up at a nearby restaurant, getting lunch while Arthur went over what he’d found - which was very little. But that was expected given that he’d only had the past few hours to search, all while trying to get to Mexico City and arrange for them to be on Buffy Summers’ flight back to the States.
What he had found was remarkably unhelpful as well as being scarce. California born and raised, Buffy Summers seemed like a perfectly normal twenty-four year old that liked to travel. After graduating high school, she had a short and unexceptional stint at the local college before dropping out. He mother died and she took a job at a fast food place to make ends meet. Her sister left the States to attend school abroad in Rome a few years later, where the younger Summers still resided, but the older had taken to traveling and had no permanent address.
There were obvious holes in this story though. Like where she got the money to travel as she did; blank spots where she’d fly into a country but not out and somehow be suddenly across the world with no paper trail; the fact her previous residence was now at the bottom of a massive sinkhole. Oh, and the death certificate from years ago that was deemed a ‘clerical error’.
Seeing her didn’t help the mystery any. As they followed her from her hotel, they were shocked at her normality. Petite and blond, she offered a sunny smile and tips to the hotel personnel as they loaded her baggage in a taxi. She even had the driver stop on the way so she could buy some cheap little bracelets from a street vendor, chatting with him in horrible, stilted Spanish. After that they had to go on ahead to the airstrip, because she seemed to be getting edgy - looking around in suspicion as if she knew someone was watching her. Both Eames and Arthur were professionals, there was no way she could’ve actually seen them, but they moved on any way. Just in case.
“She’s supposed to know something that’s worth amount of money the client’s offering?” Arthur asked dubiously as they headed for the private airstrip.
“That’s what they said. They’re looking for some kind of stronghold and its weaknesses. A base of operations, they said.”
“A base for what?”
“That they didn’t
say,” Eames replied.
Actually, the lawyer-type he’d met with had been cagey as hell about the whole thing. But with the amount of money that was offered, he’d let it slide. Part of him was okay with that – after all, she was just a cute little blond thing, how much trouble could she really be? But another part of him was wondering if this whole thing wasn’t a huge mistake. There were too many unknowns - including the target herself.
It was too late for second thoughts though and soon they were seated on the private plane Buffy was taking - made a little less private with a call to Saito, who luckily had kept that particular investment after the Fischer job.
Buffy boarded around fifteen minutes after they had, offering them a confused smile before talking quietly with a stewardess, obviously wondering about strangers on her private flight. But after the employee, who worked for Saito and was well aware of what was about to occur, gave her the story about their plane having trouble and whatnot, Buffy shrugged it off and offered them both a kind greeting as she seated herself. They made small talk about their time in Mexico City, their favorite sights and restaurants and foods, while they waited for takeoff.
Eames was glad when Buffy asked for a glass of lemonade, which would be loaded with tranquilizers, because the more he talked to her, the more his instincts were telling him to back out of this plan. He told himself it was too late, that he just liked her so he was feeling badly about trespassing in her mind and stealing her thoughts. But a little, easily ignored, part knew that wasn’t it. Guilt wasn’t something he felt about what he did. Whatever was bothering him about this job was something else.
It took a whole second glass of drugged lemonade to take her down, much to his surprise. She was so small, he was half worried the stewardess would kill her trying to get her unconscious. But after she drained the second lemonade, she smacked her lips together and yawned, then curled like a cat in her seat and went to sleep. They watched her for another minute to make sure she was out, Arthur looking just as wary of her fortitude against the tranquilizers as he was.
The stewardess was calm and efficient as she helped them hook everything up, making Eames grateful Saito had apparent good taste in employees. Arthur glanced at him once before he started the cocktail flowing - his cold, clinical expression made Eames feel better, like this was just any other job. They were soon to find out it was anything but.
The first clue that something was off wasn’t hidden, it was immediately noticeable as they “woke” in the dream world. Arthur was to be the architect in this situation, so Eames was expecting an orderly city with boring suited people. But instead of that, they were on a beach. Yellow sand rolled up over their shoes, salty wind brushed their faces and surf rushed to and from not far from them. A regular beach.
Except for the doors.
“Arthur, luv, I’m all for you experimenting - lord knows you need a little imagination in your life - but this is a little too abstract for such a job, don’t you think?” Eames asked, trying to hide his unease. The circle of freestanding doors around them was strange enough, but it was the beach that bothered him the most. Tales from Ariadne of limbo echoed in his head.
“This isn’t my design,” Arthur said in confusion, turning in a slow circle. Then, apparently noticing Eames disquiet, added, “The beach is mine. I wanted a beach town, since she’s from California - I thought she’d be comfortable there. But these… these aren’t mine.”
The relief from the explanation for the beach’s presence was overrun by the presence of the odd doors. If these weren’t Arthur’s design and not his, that meant they were Buffy’s, which shouldn’t be the case since she was subject - she shouldn’t be affecting the dreamscape, only populating it with projections of her subconscious.
Being in an unknown environment, one that you can’t control, is a very bad
idea in their line of work. Not to mention they didn’t have the time to navigate her entire mind to find what they needed.
Eames made a full circle around the door closest to him before the sounds started. Despite having nothing on the other side of them, different sounds came from within each of the doors - screaming and begging, wet tearing, growling, splashing, laughing and crying. It got hard to distinguish one from the other in the din.
“Think she’s been trained in dream protection?” Eames asked, tensing in remembrance of the last time they were in a dream where the target had been trained. He didn’t fancy a repeat performance of that clusterfuck.
“No. She hasn’t. I’m sure of it,” Arthur answered, shaking his head as he studied the doors. “She had some shady connections and a lot of her past has been buried, but nothing led to anything remotely linked with dream sharing. I wouldn’t have- after what happened-”
“Yeah, I know,” Eames interrupted Arthur’s rare display of insecurity.
He knew the last job, the information Arthur had missed on Fischer‘s training, ate at him. Really, Dom had been to blame for the whole fucked up situation, but Eames knew well the perfectionist Arthur was - and the fact that he found it hard to blame Dom for anything at all.
“So, if she’s not trained in dream sharing… Then what the hell is this?” Eames asked seriously.
Suddenly the noise behind the doors quieted, leaving a ringing silence behind. To be cliché, it was too
quiet. Turning around and looking between two doors, he saw that the ocean had disappeared. The sun had remained and intensified, and the sand became coarser, scrubby little thistly plants dotted the landscape. They were in a bloody desert. As if that wasn’t bad enough on its own, he caught sight of movement in the distance.
“I see it.”
Its movements alternating between twitchy and smooth, the thing came toward them in odd flashes, suddenly being closer in a blink of an eye. It was human. Kind of. Gauzy strips of cloth covered its body and unkempt matted hair hung in clumps around its painted face. It was also carrying a long dirty knife as it watched them with dead black eyes.
“Might be time to leave,” Eames suggested lightly, though something about the thing coming at them made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.
“I think that’s a very good idea,” a voice not Arthur’s answered behind them.
Both of them spun to see one of the doors had opened while they were distracted; revealing a thin man with round black glasses holding what looked to be a tray of cheese slices.
“Hurry now,” he said, transferring the weight of the tray to one hand so he could wave them in. “She doesn’t like strangers.”
Choosing between the cheese man and the psycho with the rusty knife wouldn’t have been a hard choice had this been real life, but things were different in the dream world. Eames looked to Arthur for answers, but the other man just shook his head, his eyes still locked on the strange stop-motion actions of the approaching figure.
“I don’t think we have a choice,” he said. “We can’t stay here if we want to find what we’re looking for. We only have a limited amount of time. Moving though her mindscape might not be ideal, but we could still come across what we came here to find.”
“Right then, in we go,” Eames said, moving toward the open door. He was silently relieved - he got the feeling that the thing in the desert was something he wouldn’t want to face, even if he dreamed himself up a Tommy gun.
Eames slid past the overwhelmingly cheese smelling little man and found himself standing on a dark road in a residential neighborhood. No lights were on, no people were out - it was either the middle of the night or the place was deserted.
“Where are we?” He asked, turning back the cheese man, but he was gone along with the door they’d come through. Only Arthur stood behind him, looking around the area with suspicion.
“No idea,” Arthur answered. “I have a feeling we’re not alone though.”
Eames followed his gaze and saw the curtains twitch on a nearby house. Now that he was looking for it, he could see shadows, just a shade darker than the windows themselves, moving in the houses.
“Out of the pot and into the fire, hmm?”
“It could just be-”
The front door two housed down from them burst open, people clamoring out onto the porch and then the street. By the meager moon light Eames could see that calling them “people” had been hasty. Their faces were misshapen, ridges and bumps where there shouldn’t be any, glaring yellow eyes staring out at them from beneath large, uneven brows. Then they opened their mouths - growling, hissing and taunting - revealing their pointed teeth.
“Fire it is then,” Arthur said with a calm nod.
Eames wasted no time in imagining up a gun and taking fire, Arthur doing the same next to him as they backed away. It was for naught though; the doors to the other houses were opening now, flooding the streets with more and more of the things. Plus, the guns weren’t helping at all - barely making those hit pause in their advance. Eames cursed as he looked behind him and saw the rows of houses in that direction also spewing out evil masses.
“We can’t stay here. We need a more defensible position,” Arthur said. Into the fire, indeed
, Eames thought, growing nervous as the house nearest to them opened. But that gave him an idea and he paused to re-imagine his gun into something else, something hopefully more useful. Within a second he hefted the huge flamethrower and sent a stream of fire out over the approaching crowd. That
worked much better. Their advance was halted as the fire engulfed them, flailing and screaming in a way that was oddly satisfying. Unfortunately, unless they wanted their thrashing bodies to crash into them, they needed to get more space between them.
“The house!” Arthur yelled over the roar of flames.
Looking behind him, Eames saw that that was indeed their only option as the creatures had pretty much caged them in the front yard. He walked backwards up the stairs, sending out a few more waves of flame for good measure, though most of the things were already on fire at this point.
A shocked gasp and the sound of tearing had Eames whipping around. In the doorway stood one of the creatures, this one feminine with long dark hair and a floor length dress that might’ve been in style a hundred and fifty years ago. She stood behind Arthur, her thin fingered hands on his shoulders, seemingly keeping his struggling body in place with ease. Her mouth was latched onto his neck.
“Get off him!” Eames yelled, pulling a gun from thin air and planting a bullet between her eyes. It worked at getting her to release Arthur, who hit the ground with a groan as his hands shakily groped at his bleeding neck.
“You interrupted my dinner,” she pouted in some kind of twisted Cockney accent. “Spike will be very angry with you.”
Suddenly she was on him, knocking both the gun and the flamethrower from his hands. He hadn’t even seen her move!
“Naughty boys like you get punished,” she whispered, oddly cold, blood scented breath washing over his face.
Her hands met his chest like a sledgehammer, sending him flying off the porch and onto the sidewalk beyond. Over the sound of his own heart pounding and his struggle to get his air back, he heard the whoosh of the flamethrower followed by an awful shriek. Pushing himself up on his elbows, he saw the woman-thing that had attacked him was now flailing around in the yard in panic, flames climbing over her body. Beyond her, Arthur stood on the porch – one blood covered hand pressed to his neck, the other holding the flamethrower.
Eames wasted no time getting to his feet and rushing to the porch, hauling a wobbly Arthur along with him into the house and slamming the door behind them. The sound of the deadbolt was cold comfort, but that was all he could do for now. He settled Arthur in a kitchen chair and grabbed a dishtowel from the stove handle.
“Let me see it.”
Arthur shook his head slowly. “’s fine.”
“No, it’s not fine. Now move your damned hand.”
With a weak eye roll, Arthur let his hand slide away from the wound on his neck, allowing a gush of blood to follow. Eames cursed and pressed the towel to it quickly.
“This is over,” he grunted, pulling a new pistol from thin air. “Everything’s sideways in here. Her bloody projections are insane monsters and ours are nowhere to be seen. This job is over.”
He raised the gun, intending to kill Arthur first and then himself, but Arthur’s hand came up and knocked the gun to the side.
The alarmed look in his eyes made Eames wonder if the blood loss wasn’t already getting to him.
“You’ll just wake up, luv,” he explained slowly. “No need to worry your pretty little head.”
“No, I might not,” Arthur wheezed out, his pace pale but eyes serious and clear as they looked back at Eames. “We don’t know what will happen if we die in here. Maybe limbo.”
“Limbo?! Why would we end up in limbo?”
“Nothing here is like it’s supposed to be!” Arthur barked then coughed. Lower and more controlled, he went on. “Who knows how far down we’ve gone in her mind - either on accident or if her subconscious has sucked us down. I. Don’t. Know.”
“So we have to wait for the kick?”
“Yes. To be safe, we have to wait for the kick.”
Waiting for the stewardess to shove them out of their seats back on the flight was set up as a failsafe, never really intended to go into effect. But now Eames was glad Arthur had insisted on it. That was the good news. The bad news was that by having lost track of what level they were on, they had no idea how long they had to hold on down here. It could be minutes, hours or even days before they’d be woken from the dream world. And with the things Miss Buffy Summers had prowling the dark of her mind, that was far from an ideal situation.
Eames ran a hand roughly through his hair, trying to figure a way out of this mess. He was usually fine to roll with the punches, but monsters and limbo were threats that made him a little edgy. A noise from the pantry pulled him from his thoughts and had both of them jerking their heads toward it - Arthur with a rush of blood and a wince. Eames held his hand out to Arthur, indicating for him to stay put as he advanced on the door with his gun pulled. With a deep steadying breath he yanked it open, gun aimed inside.
Bright light and strips of shops stretched out from the doorway. Eames lowered his gun a little and looked around in surprise. He could see a food court and a jewelry store and-
“Is that a mall
?” Arthur asked, appearing next to him.
“It appears so,” Eames muttered. “So do we go or do we-”
The front door crashed open and more of the disfigured monsters came rushing in the house.
“I guess we have our answer,” he said, pulling Arthur through the door and slamming it closed. He looked around them for more threats, his adrenaline pumping, but there was nothing but regular shoppers going about their business. When he made a full circle, he noticed the door had disappeared.
“Well, good news is we don’t have to worry about those things following us,” he said.
“Bad news is we might’ve just dropped another level,” Arthur answered.
“You are, like, totally gross,” a young girls voice said. Looking around, they found what was obviously a younger version of Buffy Summers; maybe fourteen or fifteen years old. She was looking at Arthur’s gory wound with a wrinkled nose. “You can’t just walk around like that. It’s unsanitary. Not to mention total social suicide. Wearing your insides on the outside is so
“I don’t suppose you happen to know where I could find some kind of stronghold, or base of operations, do you?” Eames asked. At Arthur’s withering look, he gave a shrug. “Worth a shot.”
“I don’t think you need to worry about that right now,” the young Buffy said, then pointed behind them. “I think you need to worry about that
Turning around, they saw three figures standing on a higher level, looking down at the crowd. One was a man with dark spiked hair and an eager smirk, the other looked familiar and it took Eames a second to realize it was the woman that had attacked Arthur and him, sans the facial disfigurement. But the one in the middle was what demanded the most attention. It was huge and wearing armor - and also blue.
“That’s not good,” Arthur said from next to him.
He was about to agree, crazy monster women and blue armored beings could definitely be classified as “not good”, but then he realized Arthur’s attention was somewhere else. Following his gaze, he saw a new version of Buffy, a little older than the one they’d just seen, but not much.
She was holding a rocket launcher aimed at the other three.
“Time to go,” Eames said, grabbing Arthur’s arm and pulling him through a nearby door marked “stairs”.
A bell sounded overhead and instead of a sterile stairwell, Eames found they had just entered a shop of some sort. A very strange shop. Crystal balls, etched bowls and what looked like small animal bones sat on a nearby table.
“Welcome to the Magic Shop,” a chipper blond said from a nearby counter. “Please look around and spend much of your money.”
With that, she gave them a big smile and disappeared into the back. Eames shook his head in amusement and looked to Arthur. What he saw took away any good humor he’d just gained. Arthur had lost even more of his color and his eyes were glassy, staring ahead instead of looking around. The dishtowel at his neck had soaked through and coated his hand and one whole side of his shirt.
“Let’s get you a seat,” he said, guiding him carefully down a few steps to a table and some chairs. Once he got him settled, he was surprised to see they weren’t alone. A few seats over was Buffy, looking about as full of life as Arthur was at the moment. She was much older than she’d been at the mall, or maybe it was just the defeated posture and hopeless look that made her seem that way. Next to her sat the cheese man from earlier, pushing a tray in front of her.
“You need to eat to keep your strength up. Cheese makes the world go ‘round, after all.”
Her hand shot out, shoving the man and his cheese away from her and out of his chair. There was no sound of him hitting the ground and when Eames looked curiously under the table, he found the man had once again disappeared. Sitting up again, he found Buffy staring at Arthur.
“You should just let go,” she said softly. “Death is a gift.”
“No, no. There will be no gifts. No letting go,” Eames said.
“What’s to come… You have no idea…” She said, her eyes going distant.
The bell over the door jingled, pulling Eames’ eyes away from Buffy. The woman that walked in had him immediately grabbing Arthur and pulling him to his feet, pushing his wobbly steps toward the back room. She was dressed in black, with black hair and cruel black eyes, dark veins framed her face. Her gaze locked in on Buffy and she advanced. Buffy’s tired eyes came up to meet hers and a look of relief came over her face.
With a wave of her hand, the black eyed woman ripped the skin from Buffy’s body.
She turned slowly toward Eames and Arthur just as they stepped through the entrance to the back of the shop. By this time, Eames decided he shouldn’t be surprised by the fact that any doorway seemed to take them somewhere else. But somehow he was still taken aback to find Arthur and himself in a library.
A teenage Buffy was sitting on a table, her legs swinging as she hummed and flipped through a magazine. When she looked up at them though, her eyes were cold and empty, mud painted her features.
“You shouldn’t be here.”
A sharp pain made him gasp and he looked down to see the wild person from the desert hunched down in front of him with its hand pushing the dirty blade into his gut.
“That looks like it hurts,” Arthur said mildly from next to him before collapsing.
Eames eyes snapped open on the floor of the plane with the stewardess leaning over him in concern.
“I’m sorry, sir. But we’ll be landing soon. I was told-”
But Eames wasn’t listening anymore, he sat up quickly and found Arthur also on the ground, wide eyed and rubbing his neck but alive and awake. They shared a loaded look and retook their seats silently. Buffy woke less than five minutes later.
“Bleh, no more Mexican lemonade,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “My mouth tastes like something died in there.” ~~~~wavy~end-flashback~lines~wavy~end-flashback~lines~~~
“Not happening,” Eames said, standing up and throwing a few bills down for his beer at the same time as Arthur.
No way was he going through that again. Not for any price.
“If you don’t do it, I’ll just find someone else that will,” the man snapped.
“Good luck with that, mate,” Eames said, with a little wave.
He felt sorry for whatever poor bastard accepted that job. *******
Giles stayed at the table as the two Extractors made their way through the crowd and out of the bar. Seconds later Xander slid into the seat across from him.
“So, we have to worry about this dream espionage stuff?”
“It appears not,” he said. “I have a feeling they got more than they bargained for when they tried to enter Buffy’s mind. Our sources say they had nothing to give to Wolfram and Hart and they’re refusing to try again. If the best in the business are refusing the job, then I don’t believe we have anything to worry about.”
“That’s good to know. Gotta admit though, stealing information from people’s dreams? So
Giles didn’t answer. He couldn’t think of anywhere he’d rather avoid than the depths of Buffy’s subconscious…