Arthur awoke with only the slightest of tells: a hitch in his breathing as he went from asleep to awake before falling back into the impression of sleep. He forced himself to keep his eyes closed and his breathing deep and regulated as he strained his ears for sound, for reassurances that it was safe to show he was awake. He heard movement to both his left and right; the creak of a chair, the ripping sound of tape against flesh, someone hissed, footsteps moving around, the sound of paper being shaken out.
He tried not to react when he felt someone touch at his hand, but a deep throated chuckle proved him unsuccessful. He recognised the sound of that laugh however and opened his eyes to find Eames standing beside his chair. He lowered himself beside Arthur legs and Arthur shifted, giving Eames some room.
“Knew you were awake,” Eames said, reaching for Arthur’s hand once more. He turned it over, exposing his pale wrist and the needle stuck deep inside. He frowned, seeing the mottled bruising already forming from the rough entry of the needle.
“You have this little half-frown you do when you’ve just woken up but don’t actually want to get up,” Eames smiled at him, running gentle fingers over his bruised wrist before gently peeling the tape free and sliding the needle out. He pressed his thumb over the small puncture wound left behind.
Arthur watched Eames, momentarily warmed by his ministrations. When Eames looked up, Arthur looked away, turning his eyes towards the others who were sitting up in their chairs and disconnecting themselves from the PASIV device. Saito was already on his feet, standing beside the low table and reading from a slip of paper.
There was no sign of Fischer or his hired help.
“Where’s—” Arthur started.
“Fischer?” Eames asked, “not here anyway,” he answered with a shrug.
Arthur frowned, carefully extracting his hand from Eames’ hold and pushing himself to his feet. Cobb looked up from where he sat, Ariadne half-bent over his wrist, he gave a curt nod which Arthur returned, before turning his attention back to whatever Ariadne was saying to him.
“Saito?” Arthur called, stepping up beside him.
“It seems that Mr Fischer has indeed kept his word,” Saito said by way of answer, gesturing towards the paper in his hand. His words carried easily around the room, drawing interest from the others.
“He congratulates us—” here Saito paused, adding wryly, “those of us who have made it out alive and intact— on the successful extraction of that which is most dear to us all.”
All eyes turned to Ariadne who half-smiled, awkward under the attention. “Um, yeah. Thanks for that, by the way.”
“Not that you needed saving, of course,” Eames offered, grinning at her before turning to the group at large. “She’d only managed to save herself by the time we got there. Had that overgrown dinosaur eating right out the palm of her hand.”
“He wasn’t so bad,” Ariadne admitted, “once we got past the whole kidnapping business of course.”
“If only we’d known sooner,” Eames lamented, “we could have left you to it and enjoyed the relatively drama-free environs of Level One until the sedative wore off on its own.”
Ariadne laughed, punching at Eames’ arm. “As if you’d have left me there!”
Eames grinned, slinging an arm around her shoulders. “As if we had a choice,” he muttered inclining his head towards Cobb who shifted as everyone turned to look at him now. He scowled at Eames.
“Well, thank you. Everyone,” Ariadne said, smiling brightly, her eyes lingering on Cobb.
“Does Fischer say anything else?” Yusuf asked turning his attention back to the note Saito still held.
“Yeah,” Ariadne added, “does he mention anything about the dream? About how he did it?”
Saito shook his head. “Nothing about how he managed it, no. He just reiterates his intentions behind doing this, and says that as far as he’s concerned everything is now even between us. He’s also left us two cars and the papers we’ll need to get back to where we were, before…” Saito tapered off, his mouth curling in distaste even without saying the word ‘kidnapped’. He passed the letter over for Cobb to scan.
Ariadne frowned, “Shame. I’d have liked to have known…” she trailed off.
“Just be thankful we all got out of this alive,” Yusuf said in the face of her dejection.
She smiled, somewhat sheepishly and nodded.
“What- is that it?” Cobb muttered, frowning, his eyes still flickering over the letter. Fischer had also mentioned, though not in so many words, that he was far more experienced in dream sharing than they’d given him credit for. He also not-quite thanked them for the inception job they’d pulled on him. Cobb frowned a little deeper at that.
“Cobb…” Arthur started, his tone almost warning Cobb against saying anything else.
“What?” he asked absently, tearing his eyes from the page.
“Isn’t that enough?” Arthur pressed.
“No, I just meant…” he shook his head distractedly. “I’d suspected that once we woke up from the dream Fischer would honour his agreement,” he shared a look with Saito, remembering the game he’d played with Fischer down in Limbo. “I just didn’t expect him not to be here when we woke up. It’s all… well it’s all a bit too easy, isn’t it?”
“It’s about time something was,” Eames replied, staring down and flexing his hands a few times.
Arthur winced at Cobb’s words. “That’s exactly what you said when we woke up in the first level.”
“And on almost every other level come to think of it,” Eames added, looking up and shooting Cobb a suspicious look.
Cobb smirked. “Think you’re still dreaming, Eames?” he asked, only half-joking.
Eames laughed for a beat before his grin faltered and he shot a worried look towards the others, all of whom- aside from Saito- instinctively reached into their pockets, hands curling around their personal totems.
“Just, don’t jinx anything else, yeah?” Eames muttered to Cobb, his fist curled tightly around his own totem.
Yusuf quickly interjected. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m more than glad that this is over. I also think we should start thinking about getting out of here.”
The ‘before Fischer changes his mind and comes back’ was left unsaid.
“Yes,” Saito agreed, “you’ll understand if I don’t keep in touch for a while.”
Arthur inclined his head. Though Saito couldn’t exactly go into hiding, it was a subtle reminder that the rest of them should probably start thinking about laying low until they were completely certain this entire business had blown over.
Eames moved to his side then, his fingers catching against Arthur’s own in a loose hold and for once, despite the company of those around them, Arthur allowed the contact. He ignored Ariadne’s smile, the way Cobb and Saito deliberately didn’t notice it, as well as the clap Yusuf landed to Eames’ back as the rest of them began filing their way out of the warehouse.
Once the others were a few feet in front of them, Arthur turned to look at Eames.
“Where to, Mr Eames?” he asked, smiling faintly.
“Well we never did get to meet up in England,” Eames answered.
“Going back there wouldn’t be the smartest of moves,” Arthur said, suppressing an eye-roll because he knew Eames knew better.
Eames grinned. “No, but a quick pit-stop shouldn’t do any harm, right?”
Arthur raised one delicate eyebrow in reply to that. “What could you possibly need to stop off for that you haven’t already got stashed away in a handful of safe houses in countries across the world?”
“I’m sure I’ve got an old games console back home,” Eames said, his grin widening. “I quite fancy getting myself reacquainted with dear old Mario after this adventure.”
Arthur scowled at him, “That’s not in the least bit funny.”
Eames’ laugh however said that, yeah, it kind of was.