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 for sexual situations and violence.
The Helix Trap
Cobb awoke in the study. He remained still for a long moment, only his eyes flicking back and forth over the room: the books were on the shelves, the desk was fully formed, and no clouds showed through the windows. The door was open and several broad - shouldered men were watching with concern as quiet gasps echoed through the room, announcing everyone's rise from the dream. Everything was sharp and stinging, the way reality was meant to be, and Cobb at last let out a sigh of relief. I'm awake.
Someone took his wrist and removed his IV. "Cobb? Are you with me?"
"Yusuf." Cobb sucked the pinprick of blood from his arm and then looked about the room again. "Did everyone make it?"
His face was grim. "Not quite."
Cobb pushed to his feet. The first sight was a familiar one: Ariadne, freeing Arthur from the two PASIVs. "It's all right," she told him, stroking his face very much like she had in the dream. "It's over - you're awake. Can you hear me?"
Arthur shuddered, and all at once his face and body convulsed in agony. His eyes screwed shut and his hands flew to his ears as he curled over his knees, gagging and choking. "Shh," Ariadne whispered, stroking his shoulders. "Shh, it's..." She closed her eyes, and when he leaned into her she welcomed him, cradling his head against her stomach. "It's all right."
"Too loud," Arthur groaned, trying to sink further into her. "Too bright..."
Yusuf maneuvered into the corner and began pawing through his satchel. When Cobb noticed him pulling free a bottle of pills he turned to the bodyguards. "Mr. Erhard, could you bring us some water?"
Erhard nodded and hurried to do so. In the meantime Cobb stepped closer to Arthur and, awkwardly, set a hand on his shoulder to help steady him. "Did it work?" he asked Ariadne quietly. "Do you think he..."
"I think he's okay," she replied. When he looked closely he could see her lip tremble. "He made it back together before we woke up."
Erhard returned with bottled waters, and Cobb swiftly uncapped one. "Come on, Arthur," he said, urging him back. Yusuf handed over a pair of pills and he didn't bother to ask what they were.
Arthur had some trouble swallowing them down even with the water, and afterward immediately pulled Ariadne back to him. "It's too much," he said, his hands shaking against her waist. "I can't see - "
"Shh." Ariadne removed her scarf and folded it into a blindfold. Once she'd tied it gently behind his head she wrapped him up again. "I know..."
Cobb turned away; he wanted to say I told you so but it was hard to watch his long - time friend in pain. Instead he looked to Charla, still connected to the PASIV, her chin tipped onto her chest. He looked to Browning, also unmoved from his chair, his hand over his mouth - he was pale and staring unblinkingly at the center of the room, where Robert and Eames were still seated close together, asleep.
Cobb swallowed, and stared just as intensely at the unmoving pair. Yusuf and the bodyguards were watching as well, and then even Ariadne turned enough to see. They all waited, silent and tense, as the seconds ticked by without sign of either man waking.
"Come on," Cobb said under his breath. He could taste his heart in his throat. "Come on, come on..."
Eames took in a huge breath, and was echoed by Robert a moment later. It spurred Cobb swiftly to life; he darted forward and removed Robert's IVs as quickly as he could without hurting him, then put both hands on his shoulders anticipating the same reaction as Arthur. As expected Robert jerked, and coughed, and had to clamp both hands over his mouth to keep from retching. Cobb winced as he steadied him: he was pale, and shivering, and tears were already collecting in the corners of his eyes as he grimaced against the pain.
Eames dragged himself upright. He didn't look entirely stable either but he urged Cobb back and draped his palm over the nape of Robert's neck. "Easy, easy," he soothed.
Robert scraped his sleeve over his mouth, and in time was able to open his eyes to the room. As soon as he saw where they were a look of horror fell over him. "No," he moaned, his hands shaking as he pawed at Eames's arms. "No, no, not again."
"Robert?" Eames touched his face. "It's all right, you're - "
"Wake me up," Robert begged. "I can't do this anymore - please kill me." His fingers curled into hooks and he jerked at Eames's shirt in desperation. "Kill me!"
"Calm down," Eames said, grimacing. "Just take a breath..." He shot Cobb a swift look over his shoulder. "You'd better get out of here."
Cobb was only too eager to comply. His stomach twisted as he turned his back on the near - hysterical Robert and rushed to pack the two PASIVs. I did this, he thought as he deactivated the devices and let the tubing snap inside. He tried not to look at Charla as he removed the IV from her wrist: she didn't stir. What I did led to all of this. For all that he had prepared himself before the inception he had never expected to be face to face with the raw outcome of a mind corrupted again, and watching Robert quake beneath Eames's hands sent nausea spinning all through him.
"Wait," said one of the bodyguards still crowding the doorway. "You can't just waltz out of here."
"Watch us," Cobb replied. He closed both cases and pushed them at Yusuf. "Take those."
"Wait - what about Dr. Banks?" Yusuf cast a quick glance in her direction, and when he looked back, his eyes were hard. "What did you do to her?"
"I didn't do anything." Cobb straightened and touched Ariadne's shoulder. "Let me take him."
As she struggled to get Arthur's arms off her, the guards resumed their protests. "I'm calling the cops," said Yeates. "I don't know what the hell is going on, but - "
"No," Browning interrupted. The men silenced and looked to him in surprise. "No," he said again, "No one is calling any cops." He rubbed his eyes wearily. "Let them go."
Erhard stepped forward. "All due respect, Mr. Browning, but isn't that Mr. Fischer's decision?"
Everyone looked to Robert again, slumped against Eames with his head in his hands. He was shaking and moaning softly, and at first it seemed that he was lost to the world around him, but then he uttered, "Get them out."
Erhard shifted his weight anxiously. "Mr. Fischer, are you sure? These people - "
"Get them out," he repeated. His fingernails dug rivets into his forehead. "Take them wherever they want to go, just get them the hell out."
"If he changes his mind later, I know where to find them," Eames added, stroking Robert's back. "For now just do what he says. Please."
Erhard didn't look convinced, but he turned to his peers. "Marcus, Hunnigan, show them out," he instructed. "You heard Mr. Fischer: wherever they want to go."
Yusuf moved next to Cobb again as he pulled Arthur's arm over his shoulders. "We can't just leave Charla like this," he insisted. "I don't know what you have against her, but - "
"Shut up," Cobb snapped. "It's too late for her now and it's what she deserves." He wrapped his arm around Arthur's waist and hoisted him to his feet; Arthur was only just able to bear some of his own weight. "Now let's get out of here before Fischer comes to his senses."
Yusuf stared after him, frustrated and incredulous, but as Cobb headed for the door he had little choice but to snatch up both PASIVs and follow. Ariadne scooped up their shed suit coats, but before following as well she paused in front of Robert. Cobb glanced back, wanting to warn her against saying too much, but the words shriveled in his throat.
"I'm sorry," Ariadne said, sincerity wearing her voice raw. "I'm so sorry, Mr. Fischer."
Robert parted his fingers just enough that he was able to glare at her through them. "Get out."
Ariadne flinched and chased after Cobb. As the bodyguards parted for them Cobb couldn't help but glance to Charla one more time. Her head was still bowed in sleep but he could easily make out the smile curling her lips.
Cobb moved swiftly through the condo, and it wasn't until he was pressing the button for the elevator that he realized Nash had fallen into step beside them. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" he asked.
"I'm getting the fuck out of here, that's what I'm doing," Nash said, fidgeting. He glanced between them. "Um...what exactly happened down there, anyway?"
"What happened was you sold us out," Ariadne said with sudden vehemence. "You knew that Dr. Banks was going to turn on us, didn't you?"
Nash shook his head. "Look, all she told me was to stick to the job no matter what, and that's what I did, all right?"
"Then why didn't you answer when I tried to contact you? You knew that - "
"Ariadne," Arthur said, grimacing and pressing his hand against his ear. "Not now."
The elevator opened, and Marcus pushed past them all to go in first. As they piled in Cobb took the corner so Arthur had plenty of wall to lean against, and then they were heading to the lobby.
"I don't believe you," Yusuf started up again. "Of all people, you claim to know what Limbo is like, and you still - "
Cobb tensed defensively. "Don't you get it? Banks used you. All she wanted was to destroy Fischer - she told me herself. And you all went along with it."
Ariadne shook her head. "We didn't know," she said. Her eyes were red and he could feel her composure cracking. "She said it was what Browning wanted - that when we were finished she'd help him - "
"And you believed that?"
"Why wouldn't we believe it?" said Nash. "She's Dr. Banks, for crying out loud." He rubbed his scarred cheek. "Like it makes a difference anyway. You saw his projections - he's already fucked."
Ariadne bristled. "Of course it makes a difference! I didn't sign up just to torture him!"
Arthur shrank against Cobb's side. "I'm going to be sick," he groaned.
"All I know is that this is the second time one of your jobs has gone wrong," Yusuf continued, shaking his finger at Arthur. "You lied to us before - how do I know you're not lying now? Well I've learned my lesson - no more field for me. No more you for that matter." He pointed at Cobb as well. "You're mad, the both of you, and if Charla really is trapped down there it's on your heads."
"Fine with me," Cobb grumbled. Marcus and Hunnigan exchanged baffled looks but wisely remained silent.
They let out in the lobby, and as soon as they were outside Yusuf passed off one of the PASIVs to Ariadne. "Good luck with them," he said.
Ariadne stared back. "You're not coming with us?"
"I'm taking a cab to the airport so I can have the first flight out of here," he replied. "Before Fischer comes to his senses - like Cobb said."
Nash glanced between them and then took a step toward Yusuf. "Me too."
"I'll call them a cab," Hunnigan offered. "If you get the rest." Marcus nodded.
"My car is at the dog park down the road," Cobb said. "If you can just take us there, we'll be gone for good." Though his temper was still close to his surface he nodded at Yusuf, hoping to convey more than he was capable of saying. "Take care."
Yusuf eyed him warily, but at long last returned the gesture. "And you."
They split up, Yusuf and Nash with one guard, Cobb, Arthur, and Ariadne with the other. As they pulled away Cobb closed his eyes, trying to let an image of his children's faces block out all others.
Robert kept his eyes tightly closed; whenever he tried to open them the world spun around him in burning, jagged edges. Everything was too bright and too loud and it stuck to his pores like tiny insects feeding on his skin. His head ached so badly he could imagine blood pouring out from some terrible wound, until his entire body throbbed and he couldn't help but vomit bile across the floor of the loathsome study.
His only comfort was Eames: Eames's strong hands rubbing his back, Eames's low voice close to his ear. It wasn't enough to calm the thousand wheeling memories that were trying to assail him at once, but it gave gravity to a world that otherwise had none. When he finally managed to breathe instead of choke something cold and plastic was nudged into his hand. "Drink," Eames said, and he did. The water sloshing into his empty stomach almost made him vomit again but his parched tongue was grateful, and when he pushed the bottle away he was able to speak again.
"Is everyone gone?" he asked weakly.
"Mostly." Eames spilled some of the remaining water into his hand and used it to smooth Robert's hair back - the cool touch was soothing. "Do you want to be alone?"
No. Robert's hand seized around Eames's wrist. "Where's Peter?"
Fabric shifted nearby. "I'm here," said Browning.
Robert flinched. He wasn't sure what to make of his godfather's hoarse voice, and with a slow shudder he forced his eyes open. Browning was watching him from a nearby chair; he looked pale and grim, but not nearly as pale or grim as Robert thought he ought to. "Erhard," he said, "please give us some privacy."
"Yes, Mr. Fischer."
Erhard ushered his remaining peers out of the study and shut the door. As soon as Robert heard it click his eyes narrowed on Browning and he asked, "Are you my father?"
Browning's shoulders drooped, and he looked away. "I don't know."
Robert again tasted bile in his throat, and he grabbed at Eames's arm, using it as a crutch so he could stand. "Don't lie to me," he snapped. "Don't you dare lie to me after all that!"
"I don't know," Browning said again, facing him. He scraped his hand over his mouth. "We never tried to find out - no one wanted to know."
Robert wavered on his feet, and he knew if he looked at Browning any longer he would be sick again. His chest tightened until he couldn't breathe, and in a panic he shook away from Eames and stormed out of the study.
This can't be real. Robert clutched the back of the sofa, ignoring the startled and concerned looks of the bodyguards. It's just a sick joke, all of it. I don't want to be here. He blinked about the condo that was so familiar and so unwelcoming, letting it smear against his weary eyes. I'll make myself safe, he thought. Like before. He concentrated, as hard as he could, but nothing changed. Only sleek lines and pretentious artwork glared back at him: all the things he owned but had never cared to look at, like a pristine museum raised in honor of the wasted mockery that was Robert Fischer.
None of this is real. Robert stumbled away from the sofa, and when he caught a glimpse of blue sky he hastened toward it. It can't be - I have to be able to change it, just like Eames showed me. I can change it -
His outstretched hands rammed into polished glass, and he sagged against the broad picture window, staring past the balcony to the bright and ordinary Los Angeles skyline. Not a cloud dotted the sky and every building was tall, straight, and rectangular, as they were meant to be. He had forgotten that it looked that way, free of dreary ghosts and spinning windmills. He tried to tear them all down - his fingertips pawed at the glass as if they could do the work themselves - but life outside continued, oblivious to him. He reached for the balcony door.
Eames yanked his arm away from the handle, and he started, turning toward him with wide eyes. The truth crushed from all angles. "I'm awake," Robert said, "aren't I."
Eames smiled grimly. "Yes."
He tugged, and Robert leaned into him, hesitantly at first. His brain was still heavy with images from the dream, surging forward and overlapping each other like ocean waves. Everything was tumbling and crashing and draining inside his skull, and when Eames's firm arms wrapped him up, it overpowered him. He all but collapsed against Eames's chest beneath the weight of curved skyscrapers imploding into their foundations, of a thousand screaming ghosts plummeting to their deaths, of his father's gnarled hands and his godfather's fleeting smile and the small of his mother's back and Eames dying in the stairwell and -
A sob wracked him. He shrank into the warm embrace as a lifetime of bitterness flooded out of him through hot, desperate tears. Everything ached; everything was breaking way. And Eames did the best he could - he held him, his breath shallow against Robert's ear, accepting the anguish. Robert couldn't remember if anyone had ever held him like that. He clenched his fists against Eames's back and bore teeth against his collar as he wept, exhausted and ashamed and terrified, until all his life had flashed before his eyes and he had nothing left to give.
Ariadne didn't speak a word on the drive to Cobb's apartment. She sat in the passenger seat, their suit coats clenched against her lap, her eyes straight ahead. She dreaded that at any moment Cobb would turn to her and say again how wrong she had been, how nave and cruel, and she wasn't sure she could handle that much truth - not with Arthur huddled in the back seat, quietly wheezing. By the time they arrived and Cobb, too, had said nothing, she was so tense she almost invited it.
Cobb shut off the car and handed her the keys, pointing out which ones were for the building and apartment. She left the jackets behind as they piled out and opened the rear door. "Arthur, we're here," she said, squeezing his shoulder. "Are you..."
Ariadne trailed off when she realized how still Arthur was beneath her hand. "Arthur?" She rocked him to no response. When Cobb reached forward to press two fingers to his throat she felt faint, but then he sighed and began to pull Arthur out of the car.
"Let's get him upstairs," he said.
Ariadne let them into Cobb's apartment on the second floor. She feared a patter of children's feet and children's voices, but the place was empty, and Cobb carried Arthur immediately into the master bedroom. Together they stretched him out on the bed, and Ariadne removed his shoes and tie while Cobb moved about the room, pulling the drapes closed.
"Arthur?" Once the room was as dark as it could be Ariadne slipped her scarf off his eyes, and sat down on the edge of the mattress next to him. "Can you hear me?" She cupped his face in both hands, stroked his cheeks with her thumbs, but he only continued to breathe shallowly, in and out.
Is he asleep? Unconscious? Ariadne's pulse rose into her ears as she took his shoulders and gave him a gentle shake. "Arthur?" Did he fall back under? The thought made her ill and she shook him again, harder. What if he didn't really make it out? What if half of him is still down there trapped, and he's not really here, he's down in Limbo just like Dr. Banks and he's not waking up? Panic sharpened at the back of her throat and she shoved him against the mattress. "Arthur!"
"Ow, stop." Arthur squirmed and pushed her hands off him. "Stop, I'm awake." He draped his arm over his eyes and let out a long sigh. "God, my head hurts."
Ariadne stared; her fists were tight and she wished she could punch him. Cobb must have seen, because he squeezed her shoulder. "We should let him rest," he said quietly.
"I want to stay with him," Ariadne replied. When his raised eyebrows asked, are you sure? she nodded. "I think I could use some rest, too."
"I'll check on you in a while," Cobb said. As he headed out he added, "Don't think you're not going to get an earful from me later, Arthur."
Arthur grimaced, and when the door shut he let out his breath in a long sigh. "Shit."
Ariadne watched him for a long moment, and at last slipped out of her shoes and stretched out next to him on the bed. "Are you really all right?" she asked. "There isn't part of you still under...?"
"No, I'm..." Arthur lifted his arm, allowing her to settle closer. "I'm all right. This is just like before, only...worse." He peeked at her with one eye but even the dull light managing to sneak through the curtains was too much, and he quickly closed it again. "Are you?"
"Yeah." Ariadne hesitated and then pressed her hand over his chest. She wanted to tell him that her own head was throbbing and she was close to being sick, but it was nothing compared to what he was going through. She gulped. "Do you think Fischer...?"
Arthur didn't reply for several long moments. "I don't know." His fingers threaded through her hair, plucking out the little pins that kept her bun in place. "But it's not your fault, Ariadne. None of it."
She didn't believe him. Squeezing her eyes shut she nestled into his side, head pillowed against his shoulder. She couldn't stop thinking about Robert's cold eyes glaring at her through his bloodless fingers, nor the rasp of his voice as he ordered them out. A tremor passed through her and her breath caught in her throat.
Arthur's fingertips stroked the back of her neck. "Please don't cry," he said quietly, so she clenched her jaws tight and did her best to hide it from him.
Robert dreamed of black. It was endless and silent and everything he could have hoped for. At long last he felt calm, adrift, with no past and no future cluttering his weary brain. Everything had fallen away and there was only formless dark awaiting him. He had control again and he could make his world into whatever he wished.
Robert dreamed of the beach. Water splashed his ankles as he strode in bare feet down the shore, the breeze salty against his lips. Every dozen steps or so he crouched down to paw through the coarse sand, plucking out seashells and wave - tumbled rocks, and sometimes little fish and broken glass. He knew with the clairvoyance of a child that each one was of the greatest importance, and he filled his pockets with all manner of raw materials.
When he was finished, he sat down in the sand and spread his trinkets lovingly around him. He was rather proud of himself and the variety he had managed to collect, and he spent hours arranging and then rearranging them into groups. At long last he was satisfied with his work, and he leaned back on his hands, thinking, That will do.
Robert stretched out on his back, feeling the sand ripple and melt until it became warm satin. The rays of sunlight stretching out of the clouds smoothed together, coating him, and the salt dissolved out of the air. He opened his eyes to a plain white ceiling.
"Good, I'm glad. Not yet, no."
Robert tried to move, but the weight of a blanket over his fully - clothed body was too much to bother with. Instead he squinted blearily at the room around him, tracing out the shapes of his bedside clock, and his dresser, and his closet door. Each was familiar, and he squirmed, trying to see more.
"If he doesn't wake up soon, I'm going back under. ...Well of course I don't want to, but I can't just leave him like this, can I?"
Robert followed the voice, blinking until his sight came into focus on Eames, standing in the open balcony doorway. He had a phone to his ear.
"I can't ask you to do that," Eames said. "You already - " He stopped, listening, and then his shoulders sagged. He rubbed his eyes. "All right... Thank you."
Robert sank into the mattress at his back. He was still heavy with sleep and very content to let Eames finish whatever conversation he was wrapped up in.
"I'll give him another hour, then call back." Eames glanced at Robert over his shoulder. "If I still can't get him to - "
Their eyes met, and Eames broke off, staring. After a long moment of silence he said into the phone, "Hold on a second," and moved to Robert's bedside. His gaze was intense as he studied Robert's face. "Robert? Are you awake?"
Robert blinked back at him. "You tell me."
Eames heaved a sigh. "He's awake," he said into the phone. "I'll call you back." He hung up, and once the phone was secure in his pocket he sat down on the edge of the bed. His smile was unlike anything Robert had seen before, pained and hopeful and lovely against the sterile room. "Ahh, there's my sleeping beauty."
Robert rolled his eyes. He tried again to move, and was at last able to slip his arms out from under the covers. His limbs were sluggish but they obeyed him; he rubbed his face with both hands and felt a little clearer. "How long was I out?"
"Almost five hours," Eames said. He shifted, his jaw working as if he were fighting back too many questions at once. "You had me worried - I thought I was going to have to go back in after you."
"I heard." Robert set his hands beneath him, and when Eames moved to help him he warned him off with a shake of his head. With a quiet groan he pushed himself up, settling his back into the headboard. His sight had recovered in full, and in looking about he knew once and for all that he really was sitting in his condo's bedroom. The wind coming in off the balcony smelled of the city, so much thicker and more pungent than his charming beach.
"I'm awake," he murmured. He looked back to Eames, studying the wrinkles etched into the corners of his eyes and mouth. "You look like hell."
Eames let out a quiet bark of laughter, and with the release his expression crumpled. He shifted closer and drew Robert into his arms. His hands were tense, and when he pressed his face into the slope of Robert's neck his breath was halting. Robert remained still at first, confused, but when he had the strength he returned the embrace. It was a mysterious sensation, feeling Eames's broad shoulders tremble within the circle of his arms.
"I needed you to wake up," Eames said.
Robert smiled, but then too much emotion twisted his face, too, and swelled down into his chest. His fingers tightened against the back of Eames's neck. They remained that way for long minutes, breathing hard in the quiet room, until Eames leaned back. His eyes were red but he was smiling again as he touched Robert's cheeks. "How do you feel?" he asked. "Are you still in pain?"
Robert sagged into the headboard again. "I don't know. I mean, it doesn't hurt anymore." He closed his eyes and sighed contentedly when Eames ran his fingers through his short hair. "It just feels strange, like I've been asleep for months."
Eames's hands stopped, and he lowered them to the bed. "How much do you remember?" he asked quietly.
The prompting spread a series of visions across the screen of Robert's closed eyelids, and his brow furrowed as he shuffled through them, sorting them, remembering. He breathed slowly, in and out, as they gradually fit into structure. When he opened his eyes the first thing he saw was Eames's chest, and he reached out, trailing his hand down the paths of bullets. He curled his fingers and could almost feel dried blood pulling at his skin; he felt Arthur's hand clenched too tightly around his, and Nash's hair pulling free in his grip, and the polish of his father's old desk. It was all close to his surface, but when he concentrated, everything slid into place and made sense in one long stream of events, like a picture book opening before him.
"I remember everything," he said. He let his hand fall and looked to Eames; when their eyes met he realized at last how light he felt. He had clarity he hadn't known he'd been missing, as if weights had peeled off his brain and bones. Two deep breaths later, he was ready. "Where's Peter?"
Robert kept his arm around Eames's as they left the room together. His feet were clumsy at first, but every step was stronger than the last. His and Browning's bodyguards were gathered in the great room, and they hurried to their feet as Robert entered.
"Mr. Fischer!" Erhard moved to greet them. "We didn't know you were awake. Are you all right? Can I get you anything?"
"No, I'm all right." Robert glanced about, and shuddered when his eyes fell on the closed study door. "Where's Peter?"
Erhard pointed to the guest room. "He's with that woman, the doctor."
Robert frowned, but he started toward it anyway. Without knocking he opened the door, and was met immediately by the sight of Charla Banks stretched out on the guest bed. Her arms were draped over her stomach and her eyes were closed, her face arranged in an expression of peaceful slumber.
Browning was seated in a chair at her bedside. As soon as he saw Robert he straightened, but when he started to stand Robert motioned for him not to. "Robert," he said, his hands tight on the chair's arms. "God, it's good to see you awake."
Robert glanced again to Charla. "She hasn't woken up at all?"
Browning fidgeted. "No. I was going to call her colleagues at her institute, but I wanted to wait until..." He sighed. "Until you were awake. Are you all right?"
"I don't know," Robert replied honestly. He squeezed Eames's arm but then realized he already had all the courage he needed. "Are you my father?"
"Robert." Browning slumped back in the chair. "I told you - I don't know. It's the truth."
"So you did have an affair with Mrs. Fischer," Eames interrupted.
Browning glared at him, but when he looked to Robert his irritation faltered. "Yes," he said. "And with the timing...it's possible. But it wasn't that your mother..." He winced, and rubbed his jaw, and tried again. "Robert, your mother, she didn't, that is..."
"She wasn't a slut?" Robert supplied for him tersely. "Is that what you're trying to say?"
His shoulders fell. "Of course not." He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped sweat off his brow, and Robert waited, patient but intense, for him to continue. "I was hired into Fischer Morrow just after your parents got married," he said. "They were already waffling between being happy and not. Maurice was always busy with the company, and she needed someone on her side, and I..." He shrugged helplessly. "These things happen."
These things happen, Robert thought, staring down at the ground. "I understand," he said. "It was a mistake."
"Wait." Browning started to stand up again. "Robert, I don't want you to think that - "
"Sit down," Robert snapped, and he did. He took only a moment to compose himself again. "Did Maurice know?"
Browning pursed his lips and shook his head. "I don't know - we never told him. When Charla told me that he'd hired an extractor I thought he would find out for sure, but he never brought it up to me. But...maybe. If nothing else, I think he suspected."
Robert took in a shaky breath, and Eames leaned closer, whispering, "You don't have to do this now."
"No, I'm all right," he said. He faced Browning seriously. "And Dr. Banks?" He remembered their brief conversation in Arthur's hotel, and the insults that suddenly made sense. "She was trying to kill me, thinking I was yours. Did you use her, too?"
"Robert." Browning rocked to the edge of his chair. "I asked for her help. I didn't know what she was really up to, and I'm sorry - God, I'm so sorry - but you have to remember what you've been like recently. I had to do something and she was the only one I could...I thought I could trust."
Robert's eyes narrowed. "Did you use her, too?" he repeated.
Browning sighed in exasperation, but at last admitted, "We were together at one point, yes. But how was I supposed to know she was obsessed? That was years ago."
"These things happen," Eames said dryly.
Browning's attention snapped on him, and he jabbed at him with an accusing finger. "Don't you dare - I haven't forgotten about you. I know you did something to him on that plane. This wouldn't have happened if not for - "
"Peter," Robert said. "This isn't about him. I just want the truth from you."
"And I'm telling you the truth," he insisted. "Please, just..." He grimaced, and shook his head. "Robert, listen. If we do a test - if it's put on paper - someone is going to find out, and then you and I will both be ruined." He sighed. "But I'll do it, if that's what you want. I know I owe you that much."
Robert stared down at him with half - lidded eyes. His stomach itched and he could already imagine himself tearing open a flimsy manila envelope, followed by screeching tabloids and buzzing lawyers. He was a coward but he wasn't ashamed. "What does your gut tell you?" he asked. "Honestly."
Browning wilted, and at last the regret in his face looked sincere. He smiled, just barely. "That you're exactly like your mother," he said.
And he meant it. Robert could tell, and he closed his eyes briefly, filling himself with the memories of her. He still had many questions but for just a moment, he was satisfied. He took in a deep breath. "I want you to call Shelby," he said. "Tell her to contact my realtor and have some paperwork drawn up to put this place on the market. I don't care at what price - I want this condo sold as soon as possible."
"What?" Browning - and Eames - watched him in confusion. "What are you talking about?"
"As soon as possible," Robert repeated. "Fully furnished, except for a few things I'll itemize for her." He gave Eames's hand a squeeze. "By tomorrow I want to be looking at properties for sale - homes, preferably, somewhere secure, within a decent distance to the office. I'd like to be able to see water if I can."
Browning rubbed the back of his neck. "I know you've just been through lot, but there's no need to do all this now. You can take your time and - "
"I'm not stepping foot inside this place again," Robert said resolutely. "I'll stay in a hotel until I can close on a place, if I have to." The thought of ever dozing off only to awaken in the study was enough to give him goose bumps. "All right?"
"...I'll tell her."
He looked to Charla, having almost forgotten she was still there, smiling unconsciously into her oblivion. "Will she ever wake up?" he asked.
Browning shook his head. "Even if she does, there's not much the law can do to her, considering how few laws there are against mind crime. And the fact that I hired her in the first place." His lip quirked. "Unless you're going to have me arrested, too."
Robert and Eames both glared at him until his humor shriveled. "She's not going to wake up," Eames said. "Not unless she wants to. And she won't want to."
Robert had to look away. "Call her institute," he told Browning. "Have someone come and get her. If she wakes up...I'll decide what to do about her then." He frowned. "I'm leaving now. I'll keep my phone on but I don't want to hear from anyone unless it's absolutely vital, understand?"
Browning started to question, but thankfully, thought better of it. "All right," he replied. He sobered, as if only then coming to understand the gravity of his confessions. "But I think we need to talk again, soon." His gaze flickered to Eames and back. "In private."
Robert nodded vaguely. "I'll think about it." He tugged at Eames's arm, and together they left the study.
"I want to ask if you're all right," Eames said, "but you haven't been able to give me a straight answer so far."
The bodyguards glanced up, and Robert pulled Eames swiftly past them. "I'm...hungry," he said, and was surprised when he meant it.
"Hungry? Well, that's a good sign, I suppose." Eames smiled at him. "Then we'll find someplace cozy and out of the way, and finally get a proper meal in you."
"Mr. Fischer," Erhard said, and they paused, glancing back at him. He scratched the back of his neck awkwardly. "Can we come with you?"
Robert frowned, glancing between him and Marcus. I am paying them to be security, he thought. As much good as they did. But they looked sincere, and he couldn't deny that he would appreciate having another set of eyes looking out for him.
Eames leaned in to his ear. "You told me before that you're alone," he said quietly. "But that's not true."
Robert squirmed on his feet, and though he was anxious to have Eames alone, the words warmed him. "All right," he relented. He even managed a smile. "Erhard, Marcus, come with us. Let's find something to eat."
Arthur awoke to a tingle at the back of his mind. It was sharper than usual, though thankfully not as excruciating as when he had fallen asleep. He breathed slowly, letting the pins and needles gradually fade, until he felt confident enough to open his eyes. Dull orange light gleamed through a gap in the curtains, illuminating an unfamiliar bedroom, from which he took an inordinate degree of elation: if it were his mind filling the space, he would have chosen something from his memory.
I'm awake. Arthur sat up, and wavered when the blood rushed to his head. Even before the moment of dizziness had passed he dug into the pocket of his waistcoat, and tossed his red die onto the bedside table. It clacked loudly across the surface and came close to falling over the edge, but the settled on an unremarkable number four. He rolled it again, just to be sure, and finally tucked it away.
Wasn't Ariadne here? There was no sign of her, but the space next to him on the bed was still warm, and he pressed his fingers into it. If we didn't go back to the hotel, is this... He gulped, but there was no point in delaying the inevitable. With a deep breath he pulled himself to his feet and ventured outside.
Children's laughter pealed down the hall. Arthur recognized the voices immediately, and he followed them, past a second, colorful bedroom, and into the apartment's main living space. As he'd expected James and Philipa were spread out across the floor, coloring books and markers strewn in every direction. They both reached for the brown, but before they could come to an argument over it Ariadne intervened, suggesting instead that James's cat would be just as impressive in orange stripes. He agreed, and both children went back to work, content.
Arthur stared. Ariadne was still dressed in her suit from that morning, but her jacket was missing and her white blouse was rumpled and untucked. Her toes wiggled, stocking - free, against the carpet as she continued coloring her own hydrangea drawing with pointillistic dots, and her hair, mussed from sleeping in a half - formed bun, fell in uncombed waves against her sloping shoulders. When she smiled her eyes pinched and betrayed her exhaustion. It was oddly captivating.
James lifted his head, and when he spotted Arthur his face lit in a brilliant grin. "Sleepy - head's awake!" he laughed, vaulting to his feet.
Philipa jumped as well, and because he wasn't sure he could lift either of them he instead lowered to his knees, and accepted their enthusiastic hugs around his neck. "Oof! Careful, I'm still half asleep," he said, but when Ariadne looked to him in alarm, he winced and shook his head. "I mean...how are you?" He eased them back. "What are you up to? Drawing?"
"I colored you a cat!" James declared, and he rushed to hold up his book. "Is orange your favorite color?"
Philipa snatched up her papers as well. "I drew Ari! And you, while you were sleeping."
Arthur frowned at the intensely discomforted look his markered self was making in Philipa's drawing. "Did you peek at me? I don't really look like that, do I?"
"You do!" said James, dragging down the corners of his mouth with two fingers. "Wike wis!"
They laughed, and Arthur cast a quick glance to Ariadne. She was trying to smile, but every time she came close worry chased it off. I'm okay, he mouthed. She finally got it, but then her eyes darted upward, and she started. She motioned with her head.
Arthur glanced over his shoulder, and wasn't surprised to see Cobb standing over them, but he flinched anyway. "Dom..."
"Dinner's ready," Cobb said. He waved at his children. "Come on, wash up." As they scampered past him he looked to Arthur and Ariadne. "You, too."
"Yes, Dad," Ariadne teased. She hooked her arm under Arthur's and helped him up as Cobb headed back for the kitchen.
"How is he?" Arthur whispered as they followed James and Philipa. His stomach was suddenly roiling and the thought of dinner didn't help.
"Better than earlier," Ariadne replied in kind. "But you should probably tread lightly." She gave his hand a squeeze. "How are you?"
"I'm all right." When she continued to stare at him he added, "Really."
James's pick for Saturday night dinner at the Cobb house was make - your - own - tacos - a messy, exuberant affair with various dishes being passed back and forth, chopped vegetables spilling onto the tables, and sour cream stuck in Cobb's beard. Arthur did his best to keep up but he soon realized he was not as fully recovered as he'd assumed, and the excited chatter quickly resumed the throb between his temples. Far worse was Cobb's apparent ease. He asked Arthur how he was feeling, without mentioning any circumstances or applying any blame, then continued through the meal with perfect friendliness. Even knowing it was for the children's sakes it put Arthur on edge, and he dreaded what would come once dinner was complete. He ate only enough to satisfy Philipa's nosiness and smiled as best he could to the end.
Once Philipa and James were back in the family room, settling in for a movie, Cobb at last faced him seriously. "Tell me the truth," he said. "You're all right?"
The eyes on him made him doubt. "Yes. At least, I'm pretty sure I'm not hallucinating, so it seems both halves of me made it out all right."
"Good." Cobb rolled up his sleeves. "Then you can help me do the dishes." He started collecting the plates and bowls off the table.
Arthur sighed and looked to Ariadne, but she was already moving to assist him. "I will, too," she said, nudging Arthur with her elbow on the way. He made a face, but followed suit.
"I talked to Eames while you were asleep," Cobb said as he scraped bits of food into the trash.
"Oh?" Arthur rolled up his sleeves. "What did he say?" he asked, curious and wary at once.
"Fischer's awake." He started the water running, giving each plate a decent rinse before handing them to Ariadne for the dishwasher. "It sounds like he's still shaken, but all right. They were out having an early dinner."
Arthur frowned as he emptied glasses into the sink. "He was out?"
"Sounds like he's recovering faster than you," Ariadne teased, but she quickly sobered. "That's great news."
"Yeah..." Arthur filed silverware into the basket slots, though his focus was far elsewhere. "Did you ever figure out what the big secret was?"
Cobb didn't look at him as he collected pans from the stove. "You're both better off not knowing," he said, but Arthur clearly heard his true words hidden beneath the strain: Like hell I'm telling you now. "I'll wash if you rinse, and Ariadne can dry."
They stood shoulder to shoulder at Cobb's small apartment sink. As Arthur waited, listening to the quiet scrape of Cobb working steel wool into the pan, he grew ever more anxious. Cobb had promised him an earful and he was ready for it, but he wasn't prepared for the silent treatment. I know what you're going to say, he thought, staring fixedly at the little white suds. Just say it!
"Here," Cobb said, handing him the pan.
Arthur accepted and held it under the running water. Once the soap had all been cleansed he passed the pan to Ariadne, who was waiting with a towel to dry it off. When Cobb moved on to the bean pot without saying anything more, Arthur couldn't take it any longer.
"I'm sorry," he blurted out. "I never meant for you to be involved." He cast a quick glance at Ariadne. "Either of you. And you know I wouldn't have agreed to it if I'd known what Banks was really after. So go ahead and say 'I told you so' already - I was wrong to trust her, I get it."
Cobb paused in his washing to stare. "And?" he prompted.
Arthur heaved a sigh and reached past him for the cutting board. "I know you're a dad, but you're not my dad. Do we have to do this like I'm five?"
Cobb tensed, and Arthur braced himself. He knew how to press Cobb's buttons, especially how to do so to his advantage; he was accustomed to his friend's temper and he had learned how to let it wash over him. But just as Cobb's ears were turning red he abruptly went slack, and returned to scrubbing the pot.
"You almost got yourself worse than killed today," he said. "I just want to be sure that you know that."
Arthur started to reply, but the words died in his throat. Everything tumbled together and all he could manage was, "I know."
He expected Cobb to continue, and when he didn't, it was worse. As they worked all he could think of were the dozens of accusations that Cobb should have been levying at him: about trusting Charla, and going after Robert again, and the hundred times he could and should have told him about Mal. Each was so clear and sharp in his ears he almost couldn't tell that they weren't being spoken directly at him. I know, I know, he thought over and over, almost rubbing the cutting board raw in his anxious attempts to clean it. When Ariadne touched his arm he finally handed it over and accepted the next pot from Cobb.
"I know," he said again. His brow was furrowed so deeply that it was making his head hurt again, and he tried to rub the tension out with the back of his hand. "But it's not like - "
The suds crept down his face and into the corner of his eye; he hissed, wincing against the sting. His instinct was to use his hands but they were still wet and soapy, and his wrist was no help.
"Are you all right?" Ariadne asked with alarm.
"Yeah, just...damn it." He shook his head. "Soap in my eye."
Cobb dampened a clean wash cloth and passed it to him. "Here."
Arthur pressed the cloth to his face, and at first it was soothing, but as the water seeped into his eyes and then down his cheeks it triggered a deeper pain brewing in his chest. The tension already drawing his face into a grimace tightened knots in his throat and stomach, hitched his shoulders and clenched his free hand against the lip of the sink. He was too afraid to breathe; he knew that if he let even one shaky breath past his grinding teeth the last of his composure would fail.
Cobb filled the last of the pans with soapy water and left it in the sink to soak. Ariadne dried the cutting board and slipped it into a cabinet. Neither of them spoke or stared, continuing on as if nothing was wrong while Arthur hid behind the wash cloth. At last Cobb dried his hands. "How long are you staying in the city?" he asked.
"Our flight out is at ten in the morning," said Ariadne. "All our stuff is still at the hotel."
"You should just spend the night here. I'll get the kids up early and we can stop by the hotel in the morning before taking you to the airport. See you off."
Arthur drew himself in, and just when he thought he was on the verge of collapse, he took in a sharp breath and the moment passed. "All right," he said, his voice strained but unbroken as he dropped the wash cloth into the sink. "Thank you."
"The sofa pulls out, if...you dont mind sharing."
In better circumstances Arthur might have taken some amusement in Cobb's awkwardness. "It's fine," Ariadne said. "We'll figure it out, I'm sure."
"Then I'll let you finish up while I check on the kids."
Arthur was yanking a paper towel off the roll when Cobb's hand came down on his shoulder and squeezed. It was a brief but firm gesture, followed by a heavy clap, and then Cobb moved away. Everything that needed to be said passed in the short exchange, and Arthur pressed his eyes shut again, clinging to the countertop until he heard the children giggling with their father's arrival.
Ariadne leaned into him, caressing his elbow with gentle fingers. "You finished with that pot?" she asked.
Arthur finished drying his face and at last straightened. "Yeah, it's...clean." He gave it a final rinse and handed it off. The sting hadn't left him completely but he managed to smile for her. "Thank you."
She didn't look back. "What for?"
For not saying anything. He turned to lean his back against the counter, watching as she finished drying the pot and began to hunt through the cupboards for its proper home. For saving my life. His jaw worked, and he wished that he could just clasp her shoulder and communicate all the things that needed saying, just as easily as Cobb had done for him. "Everything."
Ariadne closed the cupboard and returned to his side. She stared into his face, and though he had hoped to see a gleam of perfect understanding, her eyes were marred with doubt. "What's going to happen," she asked quietly, "when we get back to Paris?"
Arthur's usual poker face failed him. "What do you mean?"
Ariadne shoved her sleeves further up her elbows. "I mean, what's going to happen to us when we get back to Paris?" Her lips quirked in a barely - formed smile. "Assuming there is an us."
He did his best not to squirm. "I'd like there to be," he said, and started to smile, but her expression killed it before it got anywhere. "That is, I thought we'd established that part...at least somewhat."
Ariadne fidgeted, and glanced toward the family room before stepping closer. Her eyes were serious and vulnerable, in a way he had never seen - had never expected to see, after the many acts of fearless heroism he had witnessed. It made his stomach tighten all over again and he wasn't sure he was ready to hear whatever was already on her tongue.
"I don't think I can do this again," she said.
"Again?" He grinned, trying to make light as if that would sway her. "I wasnt aware we already - "
"You scare me," Ariadne blurted out, and when he leaned back in confusion, she hurried on. "At least, that's what my subconscious told me. And seeing that it was my subconscious, I figured it deserved a little reflection. And I think she was right." She shook her head. "I mean, I was right. All of this came about so quickly I never had the chance to really think it through like I should, but now that I have, I know it's true." She stared up at him through her lashes. "You scare me."
Arthur stared back at her, speechless. It wasn't the first time someone had told him so, but hearing it from Ariadne, who only hours before had shot him through the forehead with barely a moment's hesitation, melted lead in his gut. "Oh."
Ariadne lowered her eyes. "It's not just the obvious stuff, either," she continued. "The invading people's minds stuff, the possible assassinations and what have you. But that's a part of it, and..."
She trailed off, and grumbled as she swiped at her eyes. "Damn it. I didn't want to do this...like this."
"Are you asking me to go clean?" Arthur asked.
"No. Well, maybe." Ariadne took in a huge breath and abruptly leaned into his chest, her arms snaking around him. "I just know that when I thought you might not wake up, I almost puked."
Arthur sighed around a dry smile. "That's something, at least."
"But seriously." She hid her face against his lapel; though her voice was muffled, he had no trouble making out the words. "I know it's not fair of me to ask - I'm not - I'm just being honest. Don't ask me into the field with you again."
I didn't ask you the first time, he wanted to say, but then she tucked herself snugly under his chin, and he couldn't help but return the embrace. Her mussed hair was soft under his nose and he breathed her in, letting her smell, the warmth of her smaller body, ease him into his proper senses. "I won't," he said. His fingers twitched. "I can't make any promises as to the other part, but...after today, I don't think I'll be doing extractions for a while. There are plenty of other ways for me to make money."
"Legal ways?" she teased.
Arthur scoffed. "Of course not."
Ariadne chuckled and leaned back, her hands sliding to his chest. "It's a start. Baby steps."
Her smile eased him - he felt as if had been years since he'd seen it last. His arms were still around her and he tugged, drawing her up in hopes of a kiss. She granted it, and the taste of her lipstick almost covered up the little quiver hiding in the corners of her mouth. Frowning, he leaned back again. "What was the other stuff?" he asked quietly.
Ariadne's smile became a wince. "It's...personal," she said. "And really stupid, and kind of embarrassing." Her fingers moved in little circles against his chest as her cheeks reddened. "But if you can put up with me long enough...I'll tell you when I'm ready."
Arthur's brow resumed its furrowing as he tried to puzzle out what she meant, but there was no making sense of the depth of emotion in her wide brown eyes. "I could just extract it from you," he suggested.
She punched him jokingly in the stomach, and before he could recover from his over - exaggerated recoil, she drew him into a kiss. Her lips were more confident than the previous and they replaced the heaviness in his stomach with a very pleasant tingle; but before he could seek something deeper, she pulled away again. Her turned head alerted Arthur to the fact that they suddenly had an audience: Philipa was giggling at them from behind the kitchen table.
Ariadne blushed harder and stepped away from him. "Little scamp," she teased. "Were you spying on us?" She stomped forward and with a squeal Philipa dashed back into the family room.
Arthur smiled as he followed Ariadne out of the kitchen. "Are you sure you wouldn't rather stay at the hotel tonight?" he asked innocently. She shot him a look, but as they rejoined Cobb and his family for movie night, she took his hand in hers and squeezed.
Eames opened his eyes to a rolling field. Lush grass swayed in a fragrant wind, brushing his bare ankles and feet, and soft earth depressed beneath his wiggling toes. He turned in a slow circle, taking in the sight of thousands of blossoming flowers, and ancient graveyards, and charcoal drawings carved into the sides of rocky outcroppings. It was a vibrant dream, rich with life and history as if it had been growing for centuries. And it was familiar.
Eames started forward, and just when he was about to call out for Robert, he spotted a space in the grass that was matted down by a prone body. He headed toward it, his feet making a soft, swishing noise through the field.
"It's very rude to trespass in someone's dream," Robert said.
Eames smiled. "Sorry," he replied as he drew nearer. "But I could tell you were dreaming, and I needed to know what..."
He stopped a few steps short of his host when he realized for the first time that they weren't in a field: it was a grassy bluff terminating in a jagged cliff, perched hundreds of feet above a pristine and even more familiar beach. Beyond the golden sand lay an endless and undulating ocean, though it alone was not as unblemished as Eames remembered.
The shallows were cluttered with smoldering debris. Iron beams that had once been playfully colored clawed out of the waves as twisted specters, charred almost beyond recognition. Striped awnings fluttered like war - torn banners and carousel horses drowned beneath them. The wreckage spread for miles, and though the smoke was heavy and black, the wind coming off the hillsides easily swept it out into the infinite sea.
"...was going on in here," Eames finished, stunned. "Is that the carnival?"
Robert was stretched out on his back in the grass, his bare feet dangling just to the edge of the cliff. "You should have seen it earlier," he said, his eyes closed. "When it was really burning. Pillars of fire, right up to the clouds." He lifted his arms into the air, letting them twist and sway as he mimicked the sounds of explosions. His hands dropped to his stomach. "It was very cathartic."
Eames's eyebrows perked. "I'll bet." But as he stared down at the beach dread threatened to creep up his spine; there was a heaviness in the atmosphere not unlike miles of ocean already on his shoulders. We're sinking. He looked behind him and remembered suddenly where he had seen the flowers and graveyards before. "I made this," he murmured, and his chest grew tight with panic. "Robert, we're still - "
"It's all right," Robert said, and he sounded so calm that Eames couldn't help but believe him. "We're not in Limbo - you didn't make this." He stretched his shoulders against the grass. "I did."
Eames glanced around one more time and then sat down next to Robert, though he kept his feet pulled in from the edge. "You did?"
"You built it in my subconscious, remember? So I borrowed it." His lips quirked in a smile that was almost smug. "I've kept everything you've given me so far, haven't I?"
"You have." Eames smiled back, but as he watched the surf pound the remnants of Robert's painful childhood, he couldn't shake the weight from his back. "But we are sinking. This must be more than one layer deep - there's too much here. It's just so...dense." The sky was so clear that he could see horizon for seemingly hundreds of miles in all directions, and when he pressed his hand in the earth, he could have sworn there were a hundred miles more buried underneath. He shook his head. "Do you even know how impossible it is that you're capable of this?"
"I'd rather not think about it." Robert finally opened his eyes, and stared upwards with a clarity Eames had never seen in him before. "I'm just glad those things are gone."
Eames straightened when he realized that Robert was right: not a spot of black of any kind marred Robert's perfect scenery. "But you don't have any projections here now. What if..."
He trailed off as a sound of churning rock drew his attention. Leaning over the edge he saw a collection of small cottages pull out of the side of the cliff far below. Umbrellas and tanning chairs blossoming along the shore and with them came vacationing families: flesh and blood people with flowing hair and tanned skin. They raced into the waters and their laughter floated all the way to Eames and Robert's grassy vantage point.
His projections are back to normal. Eames breathed a sigh of relief so deep he flopped onto his back next to Robert. Finally he felt bold enough to let his ankles scrape the overhang, and Robert nudged their bare feet together with affection. "I don't understand," Eames said as they nestled close. "Did the extraction cancel out the inception somehow?"
Robert hummed, and when he spoke again, his voice had lowered. "The idea you planted in me was that my father loved me. And now...I don't even know who that is."
He reached between them, plucking up a small yellow daffodil. As he held it up between them the petals flexed against the wind and then began to twirl in a lazy pinwheel. "It's not gone completely," he said, letting the flower's soft blades brush against the tip of his thumb as they turned. "But now that I know the truth, there's no point in protecting the lie. It's over." He gave the daffodil a flick and watched it sail out of view. "I'll never be Maurice. And...that's all right. I think I'll be all right."
Eames watched him closely, and once Robert had settled again, he curled their hands together. "I'm glad," he said, sincerity making his voice rough. "I'm happy for you."
Robert squeezed his hand. He looked to be deciding on something, and Eames remained quiet, waiting patiently for him to work the words to his tongue. "I'm going to talk to Peter in the morning," he said at last. "In private. I need to hear everything from him - anything he can tell me."
"Are you going to ask him to do a DNA test?"
"No." Robert closed his eyes, and when lines creased his brow Eames rubbed his thumb gently against his knuckles, soothing him. "I don't want to know," he continued with that encouragement. "If we do the test and Peter is my father, he's right: we'll both lose everything. And if Maurice is..." He shivered. "Who's to say those ghosts won't come back? Maybe eventually I'll ask him, but for now..."
Robert took in a deep breath and faced Eames. "I'm going to dissolve Fischer Morrow," he said.
Eames's heart skipped, but his expression didn't change. "Is that what you really want?"
He considered for a long moment before nodding. "Yes. Deep down, I don't think Maurice ever really wanted me to have it, anyway." He closed his eyes, and when he rolled closer Eames welcomed him against his chest. "I think...I can break it down into pieces, first. Sell the companies off one by one. Build up some capital, invest." He snorted quietly. "Make use of my business degrees for once. And when I'm ready, I'll make something for myself. Something they won't be able to take away from me, if the truth ever does come out..."
Eames's mind spun, torn between pride and doubt, but all he could do was hold Robert more tightly to him. "And Browning?" he asked. "He won't like that."
"I don't care if he does." Robert chuckled into Eames's whiskers. "I'll sell him Richter Cole's. He likes their shoes."
Eames chuckled with him, and then they twisted together, meeting for a kiss. Robert's lips were soft and seeking, and Eames tried to be everything that he needed: strong, and supporting, and understanding. But when they pulled back it was his breath that came up short, his pulse that hammered between them like a tangible pulse in the air.
They woke up in Eames's hotel's room. Eames spared only a moment to remove his IV, and Robert his, before they wound together again. Each kiss was a question and an answer, not always a match but well meant, and as the sheets hissed against them Eames thought, Please, just...please.
Robert settled onto his back, welcoming Eames between his thighs, but before they went any further Eames propped himself up on his elbows. "Robert," he said, his voice quiet in the already darkened and intimate room. "I want to stay with you for a while - at least until we're certain that you really are recovering."
Robert sagged into the mattress and regarded him warily. "If you're only saying that because you feel guilty, don't," he said. "I can take care of myself."
Eames smiled wryly. "I know you can. And I'd be lying if I said guilt wasn't part of it. But I..." Robert's eyes were intense, and he couldn't help but speak the truth to them. "It's important to me that you be all right," he finished, moving his fingertips gently against Robert's soft hair. "For a lot of reasons."
Robert stared back at him, gauging, and at last offered a grin. "As if I would have let you leave," he chuckled. He laced his fingers behind Eames's neck and pulled.
Eames sighed through a grin of his own, and as they kissed he couldn't imagine being more pleased with himself.
AN: And that's it! Thank you so much, to my reviewers and alerters. Your support means so much to me. The Helix Trap is done but I do plan to do a couple (MUCH SHORTER) fics in the same universe, so I hope you'll keep an eye out for them! And more Inception fics in general. If you have any comments, be they positive, negative, or in between, please feel free: I'm always striving to improve my writing.
Thanks again for reading!