Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
My brother is a fucking art thief, Phillipa Cobb thought, glaring at the wall of the police station. I am going to fucking kill him.
The policemen and FBI agents at the station kept shooting her almost accusing glances, as if to say it’s your fault that your brother is seventeen and a fucking criminal mastermind.
It wasn’t her fault, really. She had tried to raise him right, to teach her baby brother the concepts of morality and right and wrong and that stealing is bad.
Unfortunately, morality didn’t seem to stick to James Cobb.
Which was why Phillipa was sitting in a police station, muttering under her breath, plotting the best way to kill her baby brother. Slowly. With a spoon.
“Ma’m,” one of the FBI agents (he was dressed too nicely to be a cop) approached her, his face carefully blank. “Are you sure you have no idea where your brother is?”
“Yes, I’m sure,” she replied flatly. “If I knew where he was, I’d tell you.”
The look the man gave her clearly said that he—Special Agent Matt Jefferson, according to the credentials he has clutched in one hand—didn’t believe her.
That was okay. Phillipa didn’t believe herself either.
She smiled at him, pulling her lips back. She intended it to be interpreted as a reassuring smile, a good-citizen smile. It probably came off as a crazy-person smile, though, because Phillipa wasn’t really great at the whole interaction thing, and more often than not she came across as one of those socially awkward types, the ones who were smart but not equipped to deal with people.
And again, that was okay. She didn’t really like people.
“Is there anywhere that he would go?” Agent Jefferson pressed, his silly moustache twitching. Phillipa tried not to laugh in his face.
“He doesn’t have a safe house? A friend willing to let him crash on a couch for a few nights? A car, anything?”
Phil tucked her hair behind an ear. “He’s got a car,” she said.
Agent Jefferson’s moustache quirked up with excitement. “What’s the model?”
“I dunno,” she told him, perfectly deadpan. “He steals a new one every week or so.”
Agent Jefferson looked like he was about to have a heart attack.
Phillipa wondered what that would look like.
“Do you have any relatives other than your grandparents?” He ground out, his face an interesting shade of red.
“Did you read the file?”
Agent Matt Jefferson closes his eyes and ground his teeth. “Yes.”
“There’s your answer.”
“Who is Uncle Arthur?”
Phillipa blinked, startled—she’d been expecting questions about her parents, her grandparents. Cops always talked about them, as if all of James’ problems could be traced back to the previous generation.
According to genetics, they could, but that was beside the point.
“He’s not our really uncle,” she said, automatically. She was surprised—Arthur had never been mentioned before, so where did Moustache here get that information?
“Who is he then?”
Phillipa eyed him warily. “Friend of Dad’s,” she murmured, deciding to play nice with Special Agent Jefferson, for a little while at least.
“Your father has been in a coma for fourteen years.”
“Really? I didn’t notice.”
“Why is a friend of your father’s still hanging around, fourteen years after his… accident?”
“Maybe ‘cause he feel obligated? He’s weirdly loyal like that.”
“How often do you see ‘Uncle’ Arthur?”
“Whenever he decides to drop in. Once or twice a year, usually. It was more often when James and I were kids, but now we can take care of ourselves, so…”
“What does he look like?”
“Like he stepped out of a ‘30s movie.”
Agent Jefferson glared, still gritting his teeth. “Miss Cobb—” He started.
“No, seriously. Three-piece suit, slicked-back hair, pocket watch, the whole thing.”
“Any physical characteristics?”
Phillipa paused, chewed her lip. “Tall, skinny, dark hair, dark eyes, early-to-mid forties. He’s younger than Dad.”
The agent breathed and pressed on. “Do you know where ‘Uncle’ Arthur lives?”
“With Uncle Eames, I’d imagine.”
“Yep. Fun guy.”
“Is Eames his first name or his last name?”
Phil almost admired Agent Moustache—he barely even paused in his questions, rolling with every subtle twist she threw at him, refusing to be befuddled or confused.
“Dunno. He’s always been ‘Eames.’”
“Do you have any other… relatives?”
“None in the States. We’ve got an uncle in India and one in Japan, and our aunt lives in France.”
Agent Jefferson looked confused, finally. He stopped gritting his teeth and his pencil stopped moving—something in his brain was turning, Phil could see it.
“I think Dad was in the mafia or something.” Phillipa said, leaning in conspiratorially. “You know, drug running, prostitution, gambling, that kind of shit, and all of our ‘uncles’ are really his partners. It’d explain James, right? And why we’re both basically set for life, and how Dad’s been able to afford a fancy two-million-a-year hospital for fourteen years.”
The agent stood up. “Now look here, Miss Cobb,” he said angrily. “I’m not an idiot—”
“Could’ve fooled me,” Phillipa stood up too, glaring at the cop. She was done with their game. “Can I leave now?”
“Am I being charged with anything?”
Agent Matt Jefferson clenched down on his teeth again. He was going to break them if he kept it up.
“Then goodbye.” And she swung her bag over her shoulder and stalked out of the station, leaving Special Agent Matt Jefferson gaping after her like a fish.
The air outside was brisk and cool—it was fall, the leaves brilliant and gold and orange, like fire, the sky marbled gray. San Francisco was beautiful in the fall, with the mists rolling from the bay and the sweet-salty sea air that flooded the lungs.
Phillipa liked it here much better than she liked Los Angeles—there were too many people in L.A., too many voices, too much anger and greed and human ugliness. In San Fran there was less of this. There was still the anger and the greed and the ugliness, but people here accepted more, tolerated more. They were quieter and calmer and they didn’t ask too many questions (unless they happened to be named Matt Jefferson) about a lonely young college student with a criminal brother and no parents.
The bike ride back to her apartment was peaceful, and she saw, every time she turned a corner, an unmarked old car trailing after her.
Subtle, Agent, she thought to herself, turning into the lot. Her apartment building was nice—too nice for a mostly-orphaned college student, actually—but her parents had money (supporting her mafia theory) and what the hell, they were dead or as good as, so they certainly didn’t need it anymore.
As she walked up the steps, she saw the car park along the curb. She forced down a groan, rolling her eyes.
Very subtle. I guess I’m not going anywhere without company… Goddamn cops. You see what I do for you, James? I should just turn your ass in. Maybe you’ll listen to me then.
Agent Jefferson and his FBI goons apparently thought that James would contact his sister, or vice versa, and that Phil was somehow involved—hiding her brother, maybe, or masterminding the whole thing. (She was an artist—forging the art he stole would be easy, with practice.)
Phil sighed. Cops make things so much harder. She would never turn James in, even if she fantasized about it—the detective should know that. James was really her only family left, and she loved him even if he was a fucking art thief. She had even said it, once. Agent Moustache probably had it on file somewhere.
And she didn’t know where he was, even if the police thought she did. James didn’t tell her much of anything anymore—he wasn’t really even in her life.
She got postcards from him, and cash and little trinkets, but she hadn’t actually seen him in something like a year.
She crushed the bitterness swelling in her chest—James was on the run, after all, and could hardly drop in and have a cup of coffee with his big sister, who would probably at least try to kill him on sight anyway.
Phil climbed the stairs, her mind occupied with swirling thoughts and feelings, most of them along the lines of holy shit James if I ever get my hands on you I am going to kill you with my bare fucking hands you little dick, they will never find your body.
Her apartment was all the way up, on the top floor, light and airy and more like a loft than anything. It was clean and bright and orderly, just like Phillipa liked it, and it suited her perfectly.
It looked nothing at all like her childhood home. The floors were all richly carpeted and the walls were cream and beige, and the furniture was white and the countertops were white marble.
There was no trace of that Place in her life now, no yard or wide high windows, no wooden floors, no knives left lying on the counters. There was no waiting, no pain or screaming or mad Mom, shrieking about dreams. There wasn’t a photograph of a laughing young woman and a grinning young man on the wall, dancing at their wedding, or pictures of tiny children, all round cheeks and big eyes.
There wasn’t a woman shouting in French or Edith Piaf playing somewhere (Phillipa never found out where—her parents hid the radio from each other, blasting music until one of them found it with a shout and turned it off, triumphant). There was silence.
Phillipa liked it, and when she woke up crying at night, she tangled her hands in rough sheets and listened and cried some more, because it was quiet and she couldn’t even pretend she was home anymore, waiting for her father to come back.
She was tired. It had been a long day—waking up to a frantic phone call, seeing James’ face on the news (she was still going to murder him), spending hours at the station, answering questions she had, sadly, answered before.
Except the question about Arthur. She’d been to the station eight separate times now (goddamn James and his goddamn thieving tendencies) and never once had the cops asked a question about Arthur or Phillipa’s “extended family.”
They usually asked about her mother—how did she die did your father do it how did James handle it—and her father—what happened to him was he abusive did he kill your mother do you miss him does James—and, occasionally, her grandparents.
But Arthur was an unknown connection to the Cobb family. He was one of her dad’s old acquaintances, a partner in whatever the hell he was up to. He dropped in every now and then, immaculate in his suits, and kept an eye on things, but he’d never been a terribly huge presence in Phil’s life.
She had always liked him, though. He was quiet, restrained, unlike his constant companion. He offered his steady silence, brought the order that she valued so much into the raucous, noisy chaos that was everywhere. He found her the apartment, pointed out her college (San Francisco Art Institute), and got her moved in.
Arthur was a Good Thing.
His “companion”—lover, really, because honestly Phil was sure that by now they had to be screwing each other, the sexual tension had been building for years—was a different story.
Eames was not a Bad Thing, not by any means. He was sweet and clever, when he wanted to be, and another old friend of the family. But he was chaos. He was loud and boisterous and immoral, loose and wild and fierce.
James adored him.
Eames visited too, always with Arthur, and smiled his big smile and called Phil “darling” and played the part of the whacky uncle, but Phillipa was still not convinced that he was a Good Thing.
If James looked up to him, he couldn’t be, because James was in seriously deep shit with the cops, his face (he looked like their dad) splashed across every TV station in the state. He was a fucking art thief, for Christ’s sake, and it most definitely was a Bad Thing.
It was a very very very Bad Thing.
The conventional childhood—mother, father, children—had long since been shattered, and Phillipa found herself, at eight, being raised by, collectively, seven people. Her grandparents had been the primary caregivers, but Grand-mère and Grandpa were at each other’s throats so often that most of the time, only one of them had been in the house.
They had tried, though, until Grandpa was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when Phil was eighteen.
Arthur and Eames had been the “uncles” that visited the most. From what she understood, Arthur had been her father’s “point man;” his right hand, his best friend. (Further support for the mafia theory—what sort of legit business man, or whatever the hell her dad had done, had a point man? Answer: the non-legit kind). Eames had known Dom—they had all done something together, something momentous—and he was loyal to Arthur, so he came along and provided James with a role model.
The other two “uncles,” Saito and Yusuf, dropped in on Christmas and Thanksgiving. Saito was powerful, well-known, and he brought Phillipa and James fancy, thoughtful gifts. Phil thought that he had shared something deep with her father—he always came to visit him at the Arbors, even though he didn’t have to.
Yusuf was weird. He was scruffy and he smelled like chemicals, and he always had something entertaining up his sleeves.
He set the house on fire, once, Phil remembered. Grand-mère refused to let him in after that.
In the whole group of “relatives,” Phillipa had one “aunt,” Ariadne. She was a professor in France—Grandpa’s old job—and she was tiny, and Phil loved her. She was what a mother should be, Phil thought, and she went to her for advice or just to talk, to vent and lean on a sympathetic woman.
She still needed to let her know about James’ latest escapade, actually. The tiny older woman liked to be informed.
From the little scraps she’d been told, Phil gathered that Ariadne had been the youngest and newest member of her father’s… business group, and she’d been something like her dad’s student.
She glared at her father, and wondered how many other ‘students’ he’d taught, and if he made them as sad as Ariadne seemed to be, as Arthur and Eames and Saito and Yusuf often seemed to be.
Phillipa almost groaned in frustration, looking bleakly out the window. It was three in the afternoon, she had a headache, her brother was probably on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, and her “uncles” were popping up, something that had never happened before.
Ten hours ago, Phil had woken up with the intention of spending the day in the library, picking a thesis, and going out to buy paint supplies. She had wanted to go to Starbuck’s, grab a cappuccino, and maybe watch the ducks in the Bay for a little while or do a little painting in her studio.
And James, as always, managed to single-handedly ruin it in eight-and-a-half minutes, according to the TV reporter.
Stop it, Phil told herself irritably, turning away from the window and pacing around her apartment. Just because Agent Moustache brought up the past doesn’t mean you need to sulk.
The past was gone—there was no house in Los Angeles anymore, with French words and laughter and knives on the table.
There was only this, this beige-and-cream existence, and Phillipa was okay with it.
She needed to be okay with it.
The unmarked car still sat on the curb, the windows dark, tinted. She wondered if she could get away from them long enough to go visit her father.
As soon as the thought occurred to her, she almost laughed at herself.
She hated to go see her father.
He was the Past. In fact he was literally her manifestation of the Past, because no matter Phil went, she couldn’t seem to get away from him.
In elementary school, her classmates wouldn’t play with her because their parents told them that her dad was a killer. Even though he was gone, kids wouldn’t come to her house or invite her to parties. Phillipa was alone because the world had once believed that Dominick Cobb killed his wife, even if he was cleared two years later.
Since the man was in a coma, he couldn’t really share his side of the story, so everyone went on believing that he was a wife-killer who got off because he was sick, or rich, or both.
Which meant that, wherever she went, rumors of her father preceded her. So she didn’t really have any friends. There were people who avoided her because they’d watched too much Criminal Minds as kids and thought that kids whose parents were killers were killers too, and then there were people who offered simpering apologizes and false smiles and tried to make themselves feel better by pitying the poor orphan girl.
Phillipa mostly hated them all.
She was okay with that.
There were a lot of things that Phillipa was okay with.
What she was not okay with was the fact that there was a cop car parked outside her apartment, and it looked highly unlikely that they were going to let her go anywhere anytime soon.
She had things to do. She was in college for Christ’s sake—she had a fucking thesis to write and finals to study for. She knew that most cops didn’t care that she attended college (they only cared about catching James and locking him up), but still that was no excuse for ruining what could have been a good day’s work.
And there wasn’t much to do in Phillipa Cobb’s apartment. She had a TV and a laptop and a few books, some food (mostly mac-and-cheese and soup) and that was about it.
She didn’t spend much time in her apartment.
And the studio was at school, and, irrational as it was, Phil didn’t want to go there, bring the police to the only place were she really let go, where she let it all out, splashed it onto a canvas in brilliant colors.
The thought of the police there was like sacrilege.
An idea returned in her head, persistent. There was one place she could go; the ridiculously expensive private clinic where her father’s shell slept.
The cops would follow—with luck, Detective Jefferson would think that Phillipa was going to meet James, since the cops wouldn’t be allowed in (it was a very very very expensive private clinic—security was awesome) and he’d waste his time investigating that and the mob idea that Phil fed him.
And then they’d leave her alone, like she liked it, and it would be okay again, and that was worth taking the trip that she hated, if only she could have peace and order.
Until James screwed it up. Again.
No, Phil told herself, shoving the annoying thought from her mind. I am not spending the rest of my day off at the clinic, staring at Dad’s shell.
She flopped down on her bed, glaring at the ceiling. It was three in the afternoon and she had no where to go, nothing to do but stare at the stucco.
“Jesus, I need a life,” she muttered, and hopped up again, stalking into the kitchen. Tea would fix this—tea would cure everything, the only good advice Uncle Eames had ever given—and she had plenty, and she could go for some chamomile, right about now.
She was halfway through making a cup when the door buzzer went off, loud and obnoxious.
Just fucking great.
It buzzed again, loud, annoying, and with a groan she thunked her teacup down on the counter and stalked to the intercom.
“Hello?” She snapped, pressing the button.
There was the crackle of static and a man cleared his voice. “Uh, package for a Ms. Cobb?” He said. He sounded young, maybe her age.
“Package? I wasn’t expecting anything.”
“To Ms. Phillipa Cobb,” the delivery guy read. “From Jimmy Darling?”
“Oh! I’ll be right down!” Phillipa rocketed out the door, all her anger left stewing with her teacup. She half-flew down the stairs, bounding into the lobby where a delivery guy about her age, young and scruffy, stood with an awkward package in his arms.
“You’re Ms. Cobb?” The guy said.
She nodded eagerly, reaching for the package.
“Okay,” he groped for a clipboard and pen. “Sign here, please.”
“Uh, sure.” She did, in her messy, looping scrawl, and took the awkward box, tucking it under her arm.
The delivery guy smiled. “Have a nice day,” he said, and she smiled distractedly as he left.
A package from James!
Jimmy was James’ nickname and Darling was what Eames called everyone; Jimmy Darling, alias for one Jim Cobb.
He sent me something, she thought, happier. She missed him, really, and it was nice to get packages; it showed her that her brother still cared. She climbed the stairs again and rounded the corner to her apartment just as one of her neighbors was disappearing from view.
Her door was open, but she’d left it that way, and she dropped the box on the table and went back to her tea.
It tasted perfect, like chamomile and sleep, and she closed her eyes.
Mmm, she thought, and she staggered, a little bit. Little strong?
Her eyes flew open and she swayed, the world twisting away. What…?
She fell forward, hitting the floor because she couldn’t seem to reach out and stop herself.
What’s going on? What’s happening? She thought, blurrily, and far away footsteps were closing in, stopping in front of her.
Oh, she thought. I’m being kidnapped. There was a drug in my tea?
She didn’t have time to think about the specifics. Phillipa closed her eyes to stop the spinning, and she fell.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.
She opens her eyes and she’s dreaming. She knows this because she’s standing in the shadow of a clock tower, in a field of rolling white grass, and just minutes ago—at least she’s pretty sure it was only minutes, but one can never tell in dreams—she was sitting in a hospital, watching her father sleep.
The air is sweet and cool—the beginning of spring. Tiny little wildflowers bloom at her feet, pink and purple and yellow and white. The sky is wide and impossibly blue—the blue of memories, of forgotten things.
It hurts to look at it.
The clock strikes three in the afternoon, deep peals of a bell echoing across the white field. Phillipa breathes, the grass tickling her bare feet. Her summer dress is white, rippling in the gentle breeze.
At least I’m not dreaming of home, she thinks, running her hands down the smooth sandstone of the clock tower. At least I’m not dreaming of the past.
“I wouldn’t say that, Phil.”
She spins, startled, and presses up against the wall in shock, and when she recognizes him, she almost snarls. “Why are you here?”
Her father smiles at her, gently. “This isn’t my dream,” he says. “I have no idea why I’m here.” His eyes are the blue of the sky and Phillipa can’t look at him.
Dom Cobb is every inch the man she remembers—tall, broad-shouldered, sandy-haired, eyes sharp and intelligent and just a little dreamy, as if he wasn’t all there all the time. (And he’s not—he’s lying on a hospital bed, lost, mostly dead.)
She stopped dreaming of her father a long time ago, when she realized that he was never coming back. It hurt too much to think about him.
“Dad,” she says, and he offers her a lopsided grin and with a stab she remembers being three and laughing as he spun her, around and around and around in the sunshine. “Leave.”
He keeps smiling. “I can’t do that, Phil,” he says, shrugging his shoulders.
“Leave,” she repeats, and her dress is fluttering and her hair is pulled back by the wind, the wildflowers dancing at her feet.
He shakes his head and his eyes are the color of dreaming. “Dreams don’t work that way, Phillipa.”
Her hands ball into fists. “It’s my dream,” she insists, angrily. “I can make it whatever I want. Now get. Out.”
His challenge is enough to stop her anger, briefly.
“Prove to me that you can change the dream. Make me leave.”
“Ah,” he says, and he’s got smug disappointment in his eyes. “You can’t.” He steps closer, and Phil can’t get any farther back.
He smells like the ocean, clean and sharp and salty.
“Don’t worry,” he says, patiently. “You’ll learn.”
“Go away.” She feels like a broken record but she’s got nothing else to say to this man, to this father who is what she remembers, not what she sees lying broken on a hospital bed.
Dom Cobb backs up, tilts his head up to look at the clock tower. “Huh,” he says. “That’s an odd clock.”
And he nods, almost to himself. “You are my daughter,” he says, slowly. “I’ll see you soon, Phil.”
And then he’s gone and she’s left alone in the white field and the clock looms above her, and she smells the smell of the ocean on the wind.
She shakes with anger. “I’m not your daughter,” she tells the wind. “You lost the right to call me that when you left.”
He doesn’t respond, and the wind blows and the bell tolls, and she stands in a field of wildflowers in a summer dress, waiting for the world to change.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
“Phillipa,” someone said, and she snapped back to earth, eyes flickering open in alarm.
Her first thought was that it was dark. The weak sunlight was gone, replaced by darker, rolling clouds. A storm was brewing. The room was full of shadows that slanted off desks and support beams, and she realized she was lying in a lawn chair and gasped.
A thousand things came rushing at her at once—she’d been at home, she’d just received a package, taken a drink of tea, and then there was rushing dark and clock towers and dreams that sang in her blood, and holy shit she’d been kidnapped, her tea had been drugged, she didn’t know where she was—
Panic made her heart spike and her breath catch, and when someone laid a hand on her shoulder, she damn near leaped out of her skin and keeled over right there.
She knew that voice.
“Uncle Arthur,” she said, and sat up.
Arthur stood beside the chair, stiff and straight. He blinked down at his “niece” and offered her a slight (if strained) smile when she stared up at him, deeply, deeply confused.
“It’s okay, Pippa,” he said, using his private name for her. “You’re safe, you’re with us. There’s no reason to be afraid.”
“I was kidnapped,” she squinted up at him, confused, her heart pulsing unsteadily under her skin. “My tea was drugged.
Arthur shrugged apologetically. “It was the only way to get you out without Jefferson’s dogs knowing.”
“You drugged my tea? “ She hissed, outrage quickly replacing fear. “You drugged my fucking tea?”
“It was necessary,” Arthur tried, spreading his hands as if to say you really left us with no choice there, Pip.
“Arthur Whatever-the-fuck-your-last-name-is, I am going to end you.”
“Watch it with this one, darling,” someone new said, and another familiar shape padded from the shadows. “I think she means it.” Whatever-the-fuck-his-first-name-is Eames smiled fondly at the fuming Phillipa, coming to lean on Arthur’s shoulder.
“Please don’t kill him, Phil,” Eames said cheerfully. “I’m rather attached to him, and it’s a pain to go looking for sex at my age.”
Arthur glared. “Shut up, Eames.”
“He drugged my tea,” Phillipa growled, still pissed, because it was her tea, goddamit.
Eames stared. “You heartless bastard,” he said. Arthur glared some more.
“It was your idea, Mr. Eames,” the taller man shot back darkly.
The Brit paled. “Well don’t tell her that,” he cried, throwing his hand out in Phil’s general direction. “She’ll murder me! And get away with it, seeing as Saito’s wrapped around her pretty little finger, she can probably get him to buy a judge, jury and a fucking airline—”
“This was your idea?” Phil struggled to her feet, ignoring the way the room—warehouse, she thought, because of the size—spun madly. “You little British traitor, that’s sacrilege! Tea is sacred! You said so yourself!”
“Which is why,” Arthur cut in smoothly, most likely to save his booty call from eminent castration or death. “It must be important, if Eames drugged your tea to get you away.”
Phillipa glared viciously at both of them, waiting for the world to stop moving. “What’s so important?”
“Calm down and we’ll tell you, pet,” Eames said soothingly.
Arthur nodded in affirmation, and Phil rolled her eyes and tried to slow her breathing. She looked at her “uncles” for the first time in over a year, and was startled to see how old they looked.
Arthur was forty-something, but he looked almost like he was fifty-- streaks of gray shot through his slicked-back hair and lines deepened the corners of his mouth (which was odd, considering he usually had no expression whatsoever on his face). He had tired eyes, but he stood straight and proud, his suit immaculate and pressed, if a little outdated.
His dark eyes were kind, if a little anxious, and covered by neat wire-frame glasses.
Eames had aged better than Arthur. His hair was still brown, his face lined but not as deeply as Arthur’s or as her father’s. He still had the bounce in his step, the cocky arrogance that characterized him settled around his shoulders.
They were in a warehouse, that much was obvious, now that it was swimming steadily into focus, her eyes adjusting to the deep almost-gray light. There were lawn chairs strewn sporadically inbetween desks and papers scattered all over the place. Architecture models covered on table and a smoking series of test tubes another. The warehouse wasn’t silent—no, there was sound, the hum of electricity, the creak of old buildings, but the sound was muted, somehow, subdued. It wasn’t unlike having one’s ears popped.
It was too quiet and too strange, and a prickle of unease ran down Phillipa’s spine.
“What’s going on?” She demanded, finally. “What’s so important that you had to kidnap me to talk?”
The two man exchanged deep glances (they were so screwing each other) and Arthur shifted forward, the light glinting off his glasses.
“I assume you know what your brother did this morning?”
Phil’s expression darkened. “Yes,” she hissed. “He’s the reason I’ve got the fucking cops following me, the little bastard.”
Arthur’s lip quirked. “Yeah,” he said. “Things are starting to get out of hand.”
“Things? What things? James things?”
“James things,” Arthur agreed.
“That lad’s after my own heart,” Eames said affectionately. Phillipa kicked him in the shin.
Arthur dipped his head, almost indulgently. That was the way he communicated—with his body, the way he stood or held himself. It was interesting, because he didn’t use his face and it made Phillipa wonder why.
Her curiosity was almost overwhelming—she loved mysteries, and with someone as naturally mysterious as Arthur, something good was going on.
Maybe he was going to tell her secrets—old secrets, information about her dad, her mom, what they had all done together.
She liked secrets, and as much as she disliked the past, she wanted to know why her family was the way it was—screwed-up and half-dead and mostly composed of people she was pretty sure were criminals.
She was a curious person. According to Grand-mère, her parents had been the same way; insatiable in there need to know more, to learn more. And from the way her old grandmother talked, this need, this desire, was one of the reasons that Phillipa’s mother died.
Phil didn’t know what that meant. Did her mother get too curious about the wrong thing, piss off the wrong people? Or did she get too curious about her husband and what he did, pry too deeply, and force Dominick to kill her?
Maybe Arthur knew.
You are going to give me answers, she thought, watching his face for the slightest sign. You are going to tell me what’s going on.
“Things are going too far,” Arthur said, slowly. “So we decided to do something about it.”
“What’s going too far?”
Arthur’s face was black. “Agent,” he said disdainfully, with the air of a king looking down at a particularly filthy peasant, “Matthew Jefferson.”
Phillipa raised her eyebrows, surprised. “You know him?”
The older man’s face was as dark as it could get. “Yes,” he said. “Agent Jefferson is a stubborn son of a bitch, he’s got a grudge, and he’s very, very well connected.”
“Why does he have a grudge against me?”
“Not you,” Arthur corrected. “James. Or, more specifically, your father.”
Phil scowled. It always came back to Dad. “Dad’s as good as dead,” she snapped coldly. “Why the hell does Jefferson still care?”
“Maybe someone else should explain that, pet,” Eames said. He turned to face the depths of the warehouse. “Jimmy!” He called.
“What?” A familiar voice shouted back, and from a lawn chair (while she was on the topic, what the hell were lawn chairs doing in an abandoned warehouse? It didn’t make sense.) a tousled head of blonde-ish hair popped up and a lanky form came ambling out of the shadows.
James Cobb brushed dirt off his suit and smiled hugely. “Phil!”
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the corner. Through the first gate,
Into our first world, shall we follow
The deception of the thrush?
For several seconds, Phillipa didn’t know whether to strangle her brother or hug him; she just gaped openly, stunned to see him out and about and there, so close after a year of separation. So she settled for both.
She half-tackled him, crushing him to her fiercely, delighted that he was safe and not in prison and pissed that he made her worry in the first place.
“You fucking dick,” she hissed, still unsure whether or not she was trying to hug or kill him. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you right now.”
James made a possibly apologetic sound and tugged gently at her arms, his face turning a mild shade of red.
“Let him go, Phillipa,” Arthur said gently, pulling her arms off of her baby brother.
James took a huge gulp of air and grinned ruefully, rubbing his ribs. “Probably deserved that,” he said.
“You did,” Phillipa informed him frostily. “You stole. Again.”
James’ face hardens imperceptibly. “Yeah,” he said, slowly. “Yeah, I did.”
“Children,” Eames broke in, firmly. “We have more important things to discuss tonight.”
“More important things?” Phil snapped, incredulous and angry. “He’s on the fucking FBI’s fucking Most Wanted List. Every cop in the state is looking for him. He’s facing years of prison time! What’s more important than that, huh?”
“Do not start with me, James. I have fucking cops following me everywhere, probably going through my home, through the studio, through my life. My life, James! Not yours!”
The young man had the sense to look ashamed, but Phillipa knew it wasn’t real, wasn’t sincere. James would do it again in a heartbeat.
“I should turn you in,” she seethed. “Maybe then you’d think before do something like robbing a fucking museum you asshole. Do you have any idea what you’ve done? Did you even think, James, about who’d you hurt?”
James shifted uncomfortably, but his face was defiant. “I knew what I was doing,” he said.
“You knew? Why the hell’d you do it then? To piss me off? Because you can’t fucking control yourself?”
“You don’t know, Phil, you don’t understand—”
“The fuck is there to understand? You robbed a goddamn museum. You took $500,000 dollars worth of art, James. You’re lucky no one was hurt.”
“I wouldn’t hurt anyone.”
“You could have. You walk into a museum with guns, Jim. I mean, what the hell do you think will happen? You sneak in and creep around and steal things and you have a gun in the waistband of your pants. It’s less violent, sure, but what happens when someone tries to fight back? When someone jumps at you and you shoot him or get caught?”
James was quiet, though she thought she heard him mutter “actually I freaking crawl, thanks.”
“Exactly,” Phillipa said coldly. “Exactly, James.”
Arthur laid a hand on her, trying to pull her away. “Phillipa, you’re angry.”
“You need to calm down, darling,” Eames joined in. “This is not the time.”
“It’s the first time I’ve seen him in a year. When am I going to see him again, huh? At his trial? In fucking prison?”
“Phil, I had a reason, this time.” James wouldn’t look her in the eye, instead choosing to stare (with his father’s eyes, disturbingly blue, the color of a dream) at the wall.
“Yeah? What reason could possibly be good enough to steal from a museum? To take that much in art?”
“Agent,” he spat, angrily. “Matthew Jefferson.”
That shut Phil up, for a minute. “Agent Jefferson again?”
James met her eyes. “You know him, right?”
“He questioned me today. He’s leading the investigation on you.”
James curled his lip angrily. “Bastard.”
“What did he do to you?”
“He’s been after me since last August,” James muttered. “Since I stole that Picasso, remember?”
“So?” She demanded, still angry, not convinced that she shouldn’t squeeze the life out of him.
Her brother studied her, his bangs falling messily into his face. She tried not think about how much he looked like a kicked puppy, because she was not going to forgive him this time.
“He’s ruthless,” said James. “I mean ruthless. He’s talked to everyone who knew me; teachers, old neighbors, friends, tried to get every scrap of information that he can get. He’s bullied and threatened and coerced everyone into talking about what a bad kid I was, how horrible I was to everyone.”
Phillipa listened and watched his face, searching for a lie.
James swallowed, obviously rankled and still angry by whatever Special Agent Moustache had done to incite his fury.
“He went to Grandpa,” he said, lowly.
Phil’s hands curled into fists, involuntarily. “He what?”
“He went to Grandpa, and bullied him into talking about me, about us.”
“Grandpa has Alzheimer’s,” Phillipa almost snarled. “He doesn’t remember—”
“He remembers enough.” James’ voice was ice. “He remembers us as kids, and he remembers Dad mostly just fine.”
“Wait, what? Dad?”
“Agent Jefferson,” Arthur cut in smoothly, “was the detective who investigated your mother’s death.”
All three men watched Phillipa solemnly, and agitation crackled under her skin, her previous excitement and anticipation gone.
“He investigated your father for two years,” Arthur continued. “And when he came back in li—in the coma, he pushed for your father to be disconnected from life support and given the death penalty.”
“He’s a bastard,” James said darkly. “Dad didn’t kill Mom, the charges were dropped, but this fuckwad, he didn’t quit. He was furious that Dad was put in the hospital, was being taken care of. He never let it go.”
“And then Jimmy here started displaying less than legal tendencies,” Eames cut in fondly, ruffling James’ blonde hair. Phillipa kicked him in the ankle this time.
“Don’t encourage him,” she said sharply.
“He joined the FBI,” Arthur continued, reading from what appeared to be a dossier. Of course he had a dossier. With every passing minute, Phillipa was becoming more and more convinced that she was in the presence of Mafiosos. “And moved up quickly through the Bureau—he closes cases—and was assigned to James last year.”
“I can’t believe he went to Grandpa.”
That was just wrong, bullying a man half-out of his mind with Alzheimer’s for information on a case that was effectively closed fourteen years ago.
“This is why we went to get you,” Arthur said. “It’s getting out of hand.”
“Not just him,” Eames said. “Everything. Everything that’s been buried for fourteen years, it’s coming back to the surface.”
“Fourteen years?” Phillipa narrowed her eyes, anger curling in her stomach. It all came back to Dominick Cobb. “Just what the hell were you all involved in?”
The two older men exchanged glances.
“Don’t lie to me,” she instructed. “I know you and Dad and everyone else in the “family” were up to your necks in illegal shit. What was it? Drugs? Prostitution? You were the goddamn mafia, weren’t you?”
“Mafia?” James asked.
“It makes sense,” she said grimly. “Look at the facts; they’re obviously criminals, Dad was doing illegal shit, the cops started to notice…”
“We weren’t the fucking mafia,” Eames said, affronted. “We had more class than that.”
Arthur shook his head, a tiny little movement that meant shut up, we’re done with this.
“I want answers,” Phil said, sounding stronger and more in control than she felt. “Now, please.”
Eames laughed, walking over to a table where a silver briefcase lay, unassuming. “She’s got a good bit of her mother, doesn’t she?”
“Eames,” Arthur said warningly.
“I’m going to tell her,” the older man said calmly. “It’s time she knew, darling.”
“We weren’t mafia,” Eames said gently. “We were in the extraction business.”
“Extraction?” Phil was confused now—they were trying to mess with her or something, to confuse her. It wasn’t going to work.
“Ever heard of dreamshare?”
She nodded, this time. Sharing dreams, using a special drug and machine to create and experience a world all your own, had been a huge thing when she was a kid—it was always in the news— but when she was twelve or so, the government ruled it illegal—something to do with stealing secrets, with extracting—oh, she thought, and she got it.
“Extraction is stealing secrets,” she said. “Right?”
“More or less,” Arthur said. “It’s a little more complex than that, but yes, that’s the general idea.
“You were involved in dreamshare?” She remembered the news broadcasts quite clearly—police raids, trails, hordes of screaming, angry people, shouting “thieves! Thieves!”
“It wasn’t such a bad thing, back then,” Eames said.
“When we started, we had good intentions,” Arthur said earnestly. “We tried to make the world better, tried to learn. Your parents were researchers; their work helped hundreds, maybe thousands, or mental patients, and we trained soldiers to be better.”
“Why’d the government ban it, then?”
“They saw what it could be. They cut the funding, left dreamshare in some dark closet somewhere,” Eames interjected. “So people like us, like your parents, were left with these skills and no legitimate was to use ‘em. So we turned to less-than-legal ways. Extraction, inception, the like.”
“My parents were criminals?”
“The best,” Arthur had a note of painful nostalgia in his voice. “We didn’t really hurt anyone, per say—no murder, no prostitution, but yeah, it wasn’t legal.”
“And then a few years ago the government made all types of dreamshare an imprisonable offence,” spat Eames. “So our trade all but died. But dreaming was a huge part of your parents’ lives, and, well…” He trailed off, looking uncertainly to Arthur, who looked at James, who shrugged.
“When Mom died, Jefferson was assigned to her case,” the youngest Cobb said. “He got obsessed—dunno how—and he’s been after Dad and me ever since.”
“I inherited Dad’s illegality, apparently, and that offends him,” James was dry, older than his seventeen years.
“How did Mom die?” The question slipped out before Phil could stop it, could crush it and never think about it again.
Arthur’s eyes were sad and gentle. “Dream with us,” he said. “And I’ll explain.”
Eames smiled, gestured to the silver briefcase sitting on the desk.
Phillipa stared at the silver briefcase. It looked familiar… she had seen it before…
James was watching her with his dream-blue eyes, his face framed by his hair. He looked so serious, far too old. He should still be in high school, agonizing over prom and grades and sports, not running loose with the FBI baying at his heels.
“You want to know what we got up to, back then, darling?” Eames approached her, opening the briefcase, and she strained to see. “All the rotten things we did?”
“Eames,” Arthur warned. “Don’t scare her.”
“Relax, darling, you worry too much. James was fine. She’s got dreaming in her blood, same as him. A little somnacin won’t hurt her. Five minutes out to do it, don’t you think?”
Arthur sighed. “Five,” he agreed.
“I’m coming under too,” James declared, flopping down on the nearest lawn chair. “It’s easier than explaining.”
“Explaining what?” She was starting to get nervous now, the tense expressions of everyone in the room setting her on edge.
“Just relax, darling,” Eames said soothingly, and he pulled a needle from the briefcase in a long fluid movement.
Arthur grabbed her wrist and she twisted, instinctively, but James was there and he was stronger, damn him, and he pushed her gently into a chair.
“Relax,” he said, and his eyes were sparkling. “It’s amazing, Phil. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.”
She stared into his eyes—her brother, her thieving, loving little brother.
“You ready?” Eames said, and he was there with his whirring briefcase. “Come on, love, it won’t hurt. Don’t you want to know how your parents felt?”
Goddamn curiosity, she thought, because she did, she really, really did. She closed her eyes briefly and, in one jerky, rough movement, dragged up her sleeve to reveal her pale wrists. Eames smiled fondly.
“Good girl,” he said. “This will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.” And he pushed the needle into her skin and the silver machine-thing started to him softly.
“Pleasant dreams,” he said, and then the world went dark.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.