Inception, its characters and settings, do not belong to me and are being used here without permission but for no profit. This fic is rated R (possibly NC-17 at some point?) for sexual situations and violence. Takes place immediately after the end of the movie.
This fic is mostly about Eames and Arthur but it is not Eames/Arthur. It's Eames/Robert, Arthur/Ariadne, and most of the cast makes an appearance.
The Helix Trap
Eames had expected to feel a very strong sense of triumph after accomplishing the impossible, and for the first hour he was not disappointed. Even a lengthy wait followed by a particularly irritating customs officer was not enough to diminish his satisfaction over a job well done. The sizable payment from Saito that would soon be nestled in his account, though delightful, was nothing compared to that kind of euphoria.
So when a glance of recognition from Robert Fischer threatened to end his private celebration, he was at first more annoyed than troubled; victim of mind-crime or no, he could have at least waited a day before spoiling Eames's mood. Eames maintained his vigil of the baggage carousel, telling himself that Robert would forget any familiarity soon enough, as any subject would. When Robert looked away again, he began to relax.
But then Robert squeezed his eyes shut. He pinched the bridge of his nose, shook his head, and blinked against the reflections of fluorescent lighting off too much polished metal. Still Eames was not greatly concerned-until he saw Robert's eyes roll back.
He only had a moment to decide. They were two paces apart, close enough that Eames was able to catch Robert by the shoulders just as his knees began to buckle. He glanced around swiftly, but all he could spot of his team was Yusuf's back, disappearing into the crowd by the exit. He was alone.
"Whoa there!" Eames steadied Robert as best he could, and breathed a sigh of relief when he didn't collapse entirely. It took only a little effort to keep him on his feet. "Just about went over, didn't you? Are you all right?"
Robert wavered, but another shake of his head seemed to pull him back under control, and he was soon able to stand on his own power. "Yes," he mumbled, rubbing his face. "I'm all right. Just this headache..." He glanced up, and started to move forward. "My suitcase..."
He did not yet feel entirely steady, and Eames eased him back. "Hold on, I've got it." With Robert's indication he pulled the black suitcase off the rotating belt and set it between them. "Just the one bag?"
"Yes, thank you." Robert took a deep breath and lifted his head, but he only managed half a smile before he realized who had come to his aid. "I know you, don't I?"
"We did just share a flying tin can for half a day." Eames sometimes surprised himself with how well he was able to cover up a brief moment of panic.
"No." Robert looked him over carefully, and winced. "I do know you."
Eames leaned back, eyebrows raised. He had no idea how a normal person would respond to a stranger's sudden declaration of "You were in my dream," but he struggled to think of something. Preferably, something that would allow him to retreat as innocently as possible. "Maybe I just have one of those faces."
Robert pointed at him. "In Sydney," he declared, and Eames could have slapped himself. "You work for Port and Dunn."
"Ah...yes. Of course!" Eames spotted his bag approaching, and he chattered on as he retrieved it. "I'm honored you remember me, Mr. Fischer. I don't believe we were ever properly introduced."
"I remember the people that come into my house," Robert said as they moved away from the carousel together. "Their faces, anyway. Mr...?"
It took Eames a beat to remember which alias he had used. "Simmonds." He shook Robert's hand firmly. "Fred Simmonds. Pleased to finally meet you directly, Mr. Fischer."
"Likewise." They turned toward the exit, but only a few steps in Robert paused, and rubbed his eyes again. "Excuse me."
"So much traveling and you still get jet lag?" Eames teased sympathetically. He watched Robert closely, feeling a prickle of honest concern. He began to ask himself if he had ever seen a subject react with pain or dizziness to a successful dreaming, and came up with nothing. "I hope you're on your way home for a long rest."
Robert continued walking, and Eames followed. "Not yet. I have to prepare for my father's funeral." His eyes unfocused and then came back. "Will you be attending?"
Eames scratched the back of his neck awkwardly. "You have my condolences, but I barely knew your father. It might not be appropriate."
"It's all right. I barely knew him, either." A smile, bitter and sad, flickered across Robert's lips. "Give my regards to Mr. Dunn."
A pair of men approached, and one gave Eames a heavy look as the other took Robert's suitcase for him. Eames flashed them a smile and a wave as he stepped out of their way. "I will," he said. "Take care of yourself, Robert."
Robert glanced back at him as if surprised to hear his own name. As he nodded vaguely recognition again showed in his eyes, but he continued on with his assistants without saying anything more.
Eames watched them leave. He should have felt relieved, having escaped from the man without arousing suspicion, but uncertainty formed a sour taste at the back of his throat that he couldn't swallow down. His internal victory celebration had been replaced by a nagging sensation that something had managed to go wrong.
"What was that all about?"
Arthur was at his side. Eames was too distracted to be irritated about not spotting him sooner. "I don't know," he admitted. "He recognized me." When Arthur gave him a look he added, "From Sydney. Even if he remembers anything of the dreams, he'll have forgotten by tomorrow, don't worry."
"I'm not worried about that. I just want to know that it worked." Arthur frowned. "He looks pale, doesn't he."
"Said he had a headache. Let's hope that's all it is, hm?" Eames gave Arthur a pat on the shoulder and started for the exit again. "Or maybe we should withdraw our payments now, just in case this bird doesn't fly."
Arthur had no reply, which was just as well. But he did follow Eames outside, and gave him another look.
"This was a bad idea," Arthur said as he and Eames climbed out of the rental car.
"It was your idea," Eames reminded him, buttoning his jacket. "I was going to leave well enough alone."
Arthur made a noise at the back of his throat. "Sure you were. You want to know that it worked just as much as I do. Then you can add a new service to your already impressive resume."
It sounded distinctly like a dig. "You're the one that should be worried about your resume. After today, you're out an Extractor." He continued before Arthur could reply. "How do you want me to introduce you if he spots us together?"
"He won't." Arthur sped his pace, overtaking Eames at the entrance to the cemetery. Without another word he moved off the main path, looking as if he were heading for a specific gravesite.
Eames shook his head. He was tempted to jump back in the car and speed away, being the one with the keys, just to imagine Arthur's face at having been abandoned. But something about the look Robert had fixed him with in the airport had remained with him, and he felt like pushing his luck. Just a little.
The burial of Maurice Fischer was taking place on the far side of the cemetery, and a flock of people were in attendance. Eames did not venture too close. Even if he had packed black formal wear he was not eager to arouse the suspicion of the many painfully obvious members of security stationed about the area. He picked a bench in one of the heavily landscaped areas, watching from a seemingly casual distance. Spotting Robert himself was not hard; he stood close to the open grave, next to Peter Browning and a few other Fischer Morrow executives that Eames recognized. For a funeral, there were many dry eyes.
Robert still looked pale. That was to be expected, as were his hollow, unfocused eyes. Still, Eames felt the same creeping unease he had the day before: something was not right.
Glancing among the other attendees he spotted another familiar face, and his mood did not improve.
When Arthur noticed Saito among the mourners, he was not pleased. They had all agreed to stay away from Robert Fischer, and each other, for at least several days after the successful inception. He may have already broken that promise, but he had expected better cooperation from their employer.
The ceremony ended. As the men and women began to depart Arthur moved to the side of the main path, and waited until Saito passed close by. His raised eyebrows served as indication enough that a talk was in order. Saito smiled humorlessly, and whispered something to the elegant woman at his side. She moved away with Saito's assistant to leave the two men in peace.
"My wife," Saito explained as he stopped in front of Arthur, his hands in his pockets.
"I know. What are you doing here, Mr. Saito?"
Saito motioned for him to follow, and together they continued down the path a few yards behind his wife. "Maurice may have been my rival professionally, but we knew each other for many years. It would be seen as an incredible insult for me to be in Los Angeles and not attend his funeral." He gave Arthur a sideways look. "And yourself?"
Arthur glanced behind him, and noticed that Robert, last to leave the gravesite, was heading in Eames's direction. Damn it. "I'm just following up on the assignment," he said. "It's my job to see that you get your money's worth."
"I doubt that he's going to be announcing any business plans at his father's funeral. I am a patient man-I did not expect the results to be immediate." Saito lowered his voice. "Do you have some reason to believe it was ineffective?"
"No," Arthur replied quickly. "Like you said, it's too soon to know. But I take my job very seriously, and what we've done" He hesitated. "hasn't been done before. Someone ought to document it."
"Hasn't been done," Saito repeated. "I wonder."
Eames would tell Arthur later that he had been careless. In truth he simply hadn't made an effort to keep Robert from noticing him. He wanted another look at him, up close, just to know if his concerns were valid. Then he would disappear from the man's life for good.
"Mr. Simmonds." Robert, accompanied by Browning, approached Eames and smiled faintly. "You came after all."
"I realized that paying my respects was more important than worrying about appropriateness," said Eames, standing. "My condolences." He offered his hand to Browning.
Browning shook it out of obligation. "And you are?"
"Fred Simmonds, Sir. I did some paper pushing for you a few weeks ago, on behalf of your legal team?"
"Ahh." He still didn't remember. "Well, we appreciate you coming."
"We're on our way to an early dinner," Robert said. "Would you join us?"
That was more than Eames had planned for, and his instincts told him to refuse. Browning's disgruntled expression indicated he should. But when he searched Robert's eyes, hoping to find some kind of answer before he disengaged, he found unexpected sincerity. "I would, happily, but I'm not properly dressed." He gave his brown jacket a tug.
"We can find you something on the way. Didn't you say you wanted to change your shirt before dinner, Peter?" Robert started toward the exit.
Eames and Browning fell into step on either side. "I did," said Browning. "But the reservation is for twelve people."
"And Mr. Wayland had to cancel," Robert pointed out. "We have an open seat. What do you say, Mr. Simmonds?"
Eames had a dozen excuses to pick from, but curiosity got the better of him. "In that case, how could I say no?"
Arthur watched Saito very closely. "What do you mean?"
"I recently had a lot of time to think," said Saito. "And I realized something about Inception: it's actually the simplest thing in the world."
Arthur didn't like hearing him throw the word around so easily when they were still in public, but he didn't want to draw even more attention to it by saying so. "Not counting the part with the gunshot wound, I suppose."
Saito went on as if he hadn't heard. "We do it every day," he murmured, not taking his eyes off his wife ahead of them. "We plant seeds in each other's minds. We change each other with simple words."
Arthur was shaking his head before he finished. "That's not the same thing."
"What if I told you that I had a Plan B, had you failed? A plan that involved murdering Robert Fischer and Peter Browning."
The change of subject was unexpected, and Arthur was momentarily thrown off his guard. "Do you realize where we are?" he hissed. "Fischer's security is right over-"
"I have people with access to Mr. Fischer's private jet," he continued regardless. "Did you never wonder why I did not use them to greater advantage? In these times, it is cheaper to kill a man than it is to hire you." At last he gave Arthur his attention. "Or even several men."
Arthur tensed, but it wasn't his own safety that immediately came to mind. "I hope you're not implying what I think you are, Mr. Saito," he said coldly.
"I am only supposing," Saito assured. "If I had such secondary plans, my time spent thinking has likely changed them. But even so, telling you this changes your opinion of me, does it not? I imagine you will remember me in a different light than if I had said nothing. It is a very simple thing, to destroy one person's trust in another."
Arthur was not sure if he believed him, but he relaxed, if only minutely. "All right, I see you're trying to make a point. But that's still not the same thing as Inception. Even if what you've said does change what I think about you, it doesnt change me."
Saito smirked without humor. "Doesn't it?"
He picked up his pace, rejoining his wife. Arthur watched him slide his hand to the small of her back, watched her shoulders hitch and relax a moment later. As they reached the exit of the cemetery, Arthur stopped walking and let them go.
Eames's voice rose behind him. "I'm embarrassed to admit it at this point, but I was let go from Port and Dunn," he was saying. "I'm here in Los Angeles chasing a job prospect."
"Then you should email your resume to our HR department," replied Robert. "We could always use another in-house legal analyst. Right Peter?"
They passed, and Arthur was close to grabbing Eames by the arm and dragging him back to the car. Before he could act, their shoulders bumped and he felt Eames press something into the palm of his hand: the car keys.
The three continued on. Arthur glared after them, baffled. When it became clear that Eames was deep in whatever charade he was running, he shook his head and turned toward the parking lot. "Fine," he grumbled. "You're on your own."
It wasn't until he was getting into the limousine that Eames glanced in Arthur's direction, just in time to see him slam the door of the rental car. He felt rather than saw the glare thrown at him. Sorry, Arthur, he thought with a half grin that he hoped the other could see. But remember, this was your idea.
Robert and Browning sat together in the back of the limo, and Eames settled himself just behind the driver. As Robert had suggested they first stopped at a tailor, and Eames had little choice but to pay cash on a suit rental for the evening. It was simple and appropriate, and not at all his style, but he comforted himself knowing that Saito's fee would more than make the difference. Their second stop was Browning's downtown condominium-one of several, in fact-so that he could change as well. Robert declined an invitation to wait inside, leaving him and his impromptu guest alone.
Eames shifted against the stiff fabric of his rented suit. "I feel like I should apologize," he admitted. "You've gone to some extra trouble because of me, and I wasn't supposed to be invited."
Robert looked back at him. After a moment of silent thoughtfulness he moved to sit next to Eames, the soft leather creaking beneath him as he sagged into it. "Do you want to know why I invited you?" he asked as he pulled a bottle of water out of a cache in the vehicle door.
"If there's a special reason, I'm all ears."
Robert took a slow sip of the water. "Because I recognized you," he said, quietly. "While I was standing there, I looked around, and I realized...I didn't know anyone." He stared blankly at the empty seat across from them. "I should have, but all of a sudden it was like they were all strangers. Even Un...even Peter.
"But then, you." Robert pointed at him with the water bottle. "I saw you, and I thought...'Ahh, I know him. That's Fred Simmonds, from the airport.'" He smiled in self-depreciation. "It's so ridiculous, but I felt much better."
A knot formed in Eames's stomach: he was already in uneasy territory, and he had never expected to be unnerved by even Robert's disarmingly blue eyes. He was supposed to be better than that. And yet, the subtle pressure of the man's shoulder close to his was stifling.
"It's not ridiculous," he said, matching Robert's smile. "I felt the same way at my father's funeral. Except, I was only nine, so most of them were strangers."
Robert looked surprised. "And your mother?"
"Oh, she's still around. Wishing her son visited more often, I'm sure." He lowered his voice. "Mrs. Fischer passed some time ago, didn't she?"
Browning returned, and though he looked irritated by the change in positions he sat down without comment.
Robert only gave him a cursory nod as the limo started moving again, keeping most of his attention on Eames. "Yes, when I was eleven. And you know, I still remember what my father said." He straightened. "'There's really nothing to be said,' he told me."
Eames exchanged an uneasy look with Browning. Even having heard the story he was no better prepared to respond. However, Robert kept going.
"I think, at the time, I was too young to understand," he said, and Eames felt a chill. "He was right-what was there to say? Nothing he could say would bring her back. All we needed was each other." He sighed. "But I doubted him. I wish I could have been there for him."
"Your father loved you," Browning told him with confidence. "And whatever problems you had, he knew you loved him. He was right-what else needs to be said?"
"Nothing." Robert smiled distantly, satisfied. Eames lowered his eyes and again could not respond.
As soon as they arrived at the restaurant Eames excused himself to the rest room. His stomach was roiling, and the cold water he splashed on his face didn't help enough. Over and over the revelation repeated in his brain: it worked. His hands trembled as he came to terms with the accomplishment and waited for the return of his triumph.
Eames looked into the mirror and wished he could become someone else.
The bathroom door opened, and Browning walked in. Eames shoved his hands back under the faucet, scrubbing casually-if such a thing were possible-in hopes that Browning wouldn't be able to detect anything wrong. But his luck seemed to have run out.
"It has always been my experience," Browning drawled as he joined Eames at the counter, "that wherever there's a corpse, vultures gather."
Eames turned off the water and reached for a paper towel. "I beg your pardon?"
"You're going to walk through that door and right out of the restaurant." Browning washed his hands even though he hadn't used the facilities. "And I'll forget I ever saw you here. Understand?"
I never expected him to be subtle, but still Eames wasn't sure what he'd done to tip Browning off, but he tried not to think about it yet. "I'd be more than happy to, Mr. Browning, but then I won't exactly get my money's worth on this suit, will I?" He gave the lapel a tug.
"Keep it," Browning grunted. He finished washing and turned to face Eames with a glare he had not had the chance to observe during his research. "I'll pay the difference-and that's the last you're going to get out of this, so do not push me."
"Get out of this?" Eames shook his head. "I'm sorry, but I still don't have the foggiest idea what you're talking about."
Browning took a step closer and jabbed Eames in the chest with two harsh fingers. "You're a con," he said. "You think I don't know your type? I've seen a million, but you're the first with the balls to go after a grieving man at his father's funeral!"
Eames took a step back. "I only came to offer condolences, like I said. If you'd just talk to Mr. Dunn-"
"Get out," Browning demanded, poking him again. "Now, before I call my security and have you thrown out."
"All right, I understand." Eames held up his hands and moved around Browning so he could head for the door. He may not have liked it, but he was not above a tactful retreat, especially when he was already off his game. "You're wrong about me, but I don't want to cause any trouble. Please give my regards to Mr. Fischer."
Browning glared at him the entire way out. His ferocity was sharp and almost paternal, and as Eames left the bathroom he couldn't help but think that he had missed something in his original assessments. He felt as if he had been rebuked by his own father.
The restaurant was filled with pleasant chatter. Eames squashed any temptation he might have had to look for Robert one last time and headed straight for the exit. At least no one was here to see it, he consoled himself as he stepped out into brisk evening air. Not my best performance, for certain.
He moved to the curb, trying to remember if he still had enough cash on him for a cab. He had just about moved to hail one when a hand took his elbow and pulled him back. "Arthur?" Surprised, he carefully removed his arm from the man's grip. "What are you doing here?"
"My job," Arthur replied. "Are you finished now?" It was phrased as a question, but only barely.
"Yes, I learned what I wanted." Eames followed him down the street to where the rental car was parked. "It worked, Arthur. We all assumed it did, but now I know for sure. We did it."
Arthur blinked and started to reply, but a glance at Eames's face made him rethink. "Then why do you look sick?"
Eames shook his head. "I don't know," he admitted, having given up on celebrating their victory all together. "Let's just get out of here."
Arthur nodded and, seeming to understand Eames's foul mood, didn't speak as he drove them back to their hotel.