Kat (clearillusion) wrote,
Kat
clearillusion

We Are All Illuminated [2]

Part 1 | Part 3
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Back inside, with the balcony door safely locked shut, Eames sits on the couch with one arm draped over Arthur’s shoulders. The other man is tense in his embrace, but Eames cannot bring himself to let go, scared that he might go and try launching himself off of the building again given half a chance. Cobb sits in the matching armchair, leant forward with his forearms resting on his knees, watching Arthur carefully.

Slowly, the point man reaches into the pocket of his trousers, pulling out the little red die that the other two men both know to be his totem. Reaching out, he lets the piece of weighted plastic roll across the surface of the coffee table, coming to rest with three dots facing upwards. Eames’ stomach sinks.

The next three rolls produce five, four, and finally one. Staring obsessively at the die now, Arthur picks it up and rolls yet again – another four. Another three rolls follow – two, six, three. It’s more than enough for even Cobb – who unlike Eames doesn’t know that the die is weighted in reality to always roll four – to realise that something isn’t right. Regardless of knowledge of the number, he knows that these are not the rolls of a weighted die. Wordlessly, he pulls the spinning top from his own pocket, setting it into motion on the table-top. It spins for a second, maybe two, before beginning to wobble and finally fall onto its side. Eames, for his part, pulls out his pocket-watch and presses it into Arthur’s hands. When his lover slowly opens it, he can see as well as the point man that the hands are frozen at 4:22. Another indicator of reality against Arthur’s die.

“I don’t know what’s happened, Arthur,” Eames is careful to keep his voice steady and calm, despite the confusion and panic warring inside of him. “I can’t explain right now, why your die’s not rolling right, but Cobb and I are both reading reality. You’re awake, darling.” He tries to press a kiss to Arthur’s temple, but the other man shrugs out of his reach.

“I don’t know what’s going on either,” Arthur admits, and his voice sounds pained and confused. “And I don’t know whether I can believe either of you. I’m sorry.” He gets to his feet and walks from the room with his head bowed, arms wrapped tight around himself.

Eames stands, as if to follow, but Cobb is quick to speak up. “Let him go, Eames,” he speaks softly, standing as well and placing a hand on the forger’s shoulder. “He won’t try anything else just yet.”

“How can you know that?” Eames turns on Cobb, channelling his terror into anger towards the nearest available person. He feels guilty almost immediately, as his mind catches up with his mouth and answers the question he’s just thrown at his friend. “I’m sorry,” he sighs, dropping back down into the couch and covering his face with his hands.

“I’ve seen all this before,” Cobb answers anyway, sitting himself back down in the armchair. “I’ve watched someone I loved lose their grip on reality. And I watched her throw herself to her death, thinking she’d wake up before she hit the ground. So I know, Eames. I know Arthur won’t try anything else stupid tonight.”

“Tonight,” Eames echoes the last word.

“I won’t let what happened to Mal happen to Arthur. I swear.”

Eames doesn’t respond this time, not knowing what to say. He can’t understand how things have gotten this way, when a week ago everything was normal. Three years, he and Arthur have been together, and in all that time there’s never even been a hint of any serious problems between them. They’ve rowed, of course they have, like all couples do. They’ve both had their share of nights sleeping on the couch. But they’ve never considered breaking up. Neither of them has ever had any medical problem more serious than a cold. And now, out of the blue, his Arthur is looking at him like he’s a stranger, and trying to throw himself off of the balcony.

“What’s happened?” He finally croaks out, voice broken with emotion. “Why’s his totem doing that?”

Cobb just shakes his head, looking as confused as Eames feels.



**


Cobb had been right; Arthur hadn’t tried anything else that night. Or the day after that, or even the day after that. For three days, the point man returned to his non-responsive state on their bed, staring up at the ceiling and refusing to eat, drink or talk. Whilst it killed Eames inside to see his lover like that, at least he wasn’t actively trying to take his own life again.

The third night after Cobb’s visit, Eames is lying on the couch, half-asleep. He’s barely slept, the last few days, too scared to let himself switch off completely. He doesn’t trust that Arthur won’t try anything else, and he knows he needs to be on his guard if he’s going to stop him before he does anything truly stupid. As it is, he’s barely dozing when he hears the footsteps coming from the bedroom, and the noise has him wide awake again at once. He strains to hear what Arthur’s up to, barely breathing as he forces himself to be utterly silent.

The footsteps move from the bedroom into the small hallway, which comes as a relief to Eames. Whatever Arthur’s up to, at least he hasn’t headed straight for their balcony again - he’d locked the door after last time, and he now has the key in his pocket, but he doubts that that would really stop his partner if he was truly intent on throwing himself to his death.

The footsteps continue, past the lounge and into the kitchen. Slowly, Eames sits himself up, ready to move fast if needs be. He doesn’t let himself experience the naivety of believing that Arthur is just hungry and after a sandwich. For a moment, everything is silent, and then he hears movement again, gentle footfalls moving from the kitchen and towards the lounge. When Arthur appears in the doorway, Eames smiles up at him, trying to look encouraging. He manages, until he notices the carving knife held tight in the man’s right hand.

“Arthur?” Eames’ voice comes out more strained and scared than he had intended it to. “Why – what are you doing, darling?”

“The last few days, I’ve been thinking,” Arthur’s voice is the same strange monotone from the night on the balcony. “About what you and Cobb said. About your totems, and mine. I figure there’s three possible explanations. First, Neill had better subconscious security than we realised. He’s exacting his revenge now; he’s trapped me in a dream, and you and Cobb are actually forgers working for him. But I don’t think that’s very likely. You and Cobb are too real, you don’t feel like forgeries. And the apartment... it’s perfect. I can’t believe I’m in somebody else’s dream.”

Eames nods, encouraging. The fact that Arthur’s come to the conclusion that he’s not stuck in someone else’s dream is definitely a good sign. He’d be pulling the other man into a hug already, if it wasn’t for the fact that Arthur was still holding on tight to that knife. Eames figures that means there’s more to come.

“Second,” Arthur continues, “this is reality. For some reason, my totem’s broken. You and Cobb are telling the truth; and I woke up just like everybody else. I’m worrying over nothing. It really does seem very probable – you don’t seem like a shade of yourself, not at all. You seem real. All of this does.”

Eames nods more vigorously as Arthur comes up with the correct solution, even goes so far as to justify it, although there’s a heaviness settling in the bottom of his stomach at the same time. There’s still a third explanation Arthur hasn’t explained. And he’s showing no sign of relaxing his grip on that knife.

“But I don’t think I can believe that, either,” Arthur confirms Eames’ fears. “How can a totem break? We couldn’t have been asleep more than half an hour. How does a die lose its weighting in half an hour, whilst we were all sound asleep? And then there was the rain, and that car, on the way home. There’s some sort of security still present. I can’t believe this is reality either.”

“Darling...”

“So, third. This is limbo. Somewhere during the course of the job, I died. Yusuf messed up the sedative, and I didn’t wake up like I should have done. So I’m in limbo. It makes the most sense. I was always so happy in this apartment, with you, why wouldn’t I make it again here?”

“I...”

“And that means you’re just a projection. A very good one, I have to admit, but you’re not real. I guess it makes sense – I know you better than anyone, in reality. My subconscious knows you too. And I’m sure you’d make me happy here, but I want to be with the real you. In our real apartment. So I’m sorry...”

“Fuck,” Eames barely gets out the cuss word before he’s on his feet, trying to wrestle his lover for control of the lethal weapon in Arthur’s hand. Under normal circumstances, Eames wouldn’t have held much faith in being able to overpower his partner in a fight; the man had worked as a point man for years, and could be spectacularly lethal when needs be. As it is, Eames is fuelled by adrenaline borne of panic, whilst Arthur hasn’t slept or eaten in days. The point man is less than a second away from slashing his wrist open when Eames grabs at him, forcing his hands apart whilst bending away with his own body to prevent himself getting stabbed in the process. With all his strength, he squeezes down on Arthur’s right wrist, watching the skin of the hand holding the knife go redder and redder until the man has no choice but to drop the weapon. Immediately, Eames gives the knife a kick, sending it spinning across the laminate wood flooring and well out of Arthur’s reach.

“I’m so sorry,” Eames mutters into Arthur’s ear, before spinning him around and punching him, hard, knocking him out cold.



**


“I knocked him out,” Eames explains, looking down at Arthur’s still form, now laid out on the couch. “I thought it was the safest option.”

Cobb nods, settling himself down into the armchair and resting his chin on his hand, looking pensive. “He thinks he’s in Limbo?” He checks his understanding of what Eames had told him down the phone.

“That’s what he said. He thinks I... we’re his own projections. And as much as he’s sure he could be happy here, he wants to wake up and come back to his real life.” Eames doesn’t know much about what had happened to Mal, but the look on Cobb’s face at his words suggests to him that the situation must have been very similar.

“If he really believes that,” Cobb speaks slowly, thinking out loud. “Then we need to keep a very careful eye on him. He won’t stop trying to take his life, if he’s convinced he’s in Limbo.”

“I know,” Eames sighs. “I just... I don’t know how we’re going to convince him otherwise. Whatever we do, he’s just going to think we’re his projections trying to convince him to stay.”

Cobb nods. “I know... I’ve been through all this before, Eames. We’re not going to be able to convince him with words. All we can do is work out what’s happened to his totem. And, until then, we need to make sure there’s no way he can do himself any damage.”

“What are you suggesting?” Eames asks, though he thinks he already knows the answer. And as much as he hates it, he also knows it makes the most sense.

**


Eames feels sick as he looks up at the imposing building, all white tiles and dark windows. Even the attractive floral arrangements around the entrance – doubtless meant to ease the minds of patients and their loved ones alike – do little to quieten his mind. Despite Cobb’s words, despite his own head telling him this is the right thing to do, still his heart rebels at it. But here he is, outside the Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital, and he knows it’s too late to turn back now. Thanks to Saito’s help, Arthur’s already got a bed ready, the best doctors on hand to take care of him.

“Ready?” He hears the voice and, whilst he’d balked at it at the time, now he’s glad of Cobb’s insistence to come with him. He’s not sure he’d be able to do this on his own.

“Yeah,” he lies, and opens up the car door. Taking hold of Arthur’s hand, he leads him out of the car and onto the pavement. Cobb’s quickly out from behind the wheel, and immediately takes his place at Arthur’s other side, not holding his hand but keeping close. Just in case. Eames had been surprised at how easily they’d managed to get Arthur out of the apartment, earlier, but the more glances he sends in his partner’s direction, the more he becomes convinced the point man is just biding his time, waiting for the opportune moment to get away. He’s seen the same face on enough jobs to know what he’s thinking, and that knowledge just makes him tighten his grip.

The three of them walk into the hospital reception together, where Eames reluctantly hands Arthur over to Cobb and heads on up to the desk. He quickly explains who they are, and that the hospital should have received a phone call from Arthur’s doctor requesting an emergency admittance. The fact that said doctor had been Eames himself was something only he and Cobb ever needed to know. His credentials had fooled the hospital, and that was all that mattered.

Asked to sit and wait for someone to take them to the correct ward, Eames and Cobb take seats in the reception with Arthur in between them. Eames quickly takes hold of both Arthur’s hands again, squeezing them tight and promising him over and over that they’re doing this because they care, because it’s the safest place for him until they work out what’s happened to his totem. If Arthur’s listening, he doesn’t show it, staring straight ahead with his hands limp in Eames’ own.

The three men fall into silence as they continue to wait, and the few minutes it takes for the doctor and his staff to appear feel more like hours. As the medical staff do finally appear Arthur finally seems to come out of his daze, taking Eames by surprise and pulling his hands free of the other man’s grip. Before Eames can stop him, his partner is trying to make a run for it.

Thankfully, they’re in the best possible place, every member of staff trained for these sorts of situations. The orderlies that had followed Arthur’s new doctor down from the wards are on him in the blink of an eye, expertly holding his arms to restrain him without causing undue pain. Even with all the combat training Arthur possesses, he can’t overpower the two men, too weak to put up a decent fight. Though it breaks his heart, Eames knows he owes it to Arthur not to look away as he’s dragged back, still struggling weakly.

“If you’d like to follow me?” The doctor speaks directly to Eames, as if nothing’s just happened.

**


It’s the hardest thing Eames has ever had to do, leaving Arthur alone at the hospital, regardless of how many times Cobb tells him it’s for the best. He knows that much, and anyone else’s reassurances aren’t going to help him. He knows that the image of Arthur in that bare hospital room, dressed in unflattering white hospital garb and staring blankly at the far wall will haunt him forever more. He feels like a failure, even if there’s nothing more he could have done. Even if this way, he knows there’s someone else watching Arthur 24/7, letting him get on with working out what the hell has happened to his lover.

With Arthur not having been allowed to keep his totem with him at the hospital – there’d barely been anything Arthur had been allowed for fear of him using it in some suicidal manner – Eames now holds it tight in his fist as Cobb drives him home in silence. It’s the only piece of evidence he has in this whole mystery, and whilst he has no idea what he’s going to work out from it he knows he has no intention of letting it go. It has to hold the answer, somehow...

But it doesn’t. Days become weeks, weeks blend into months, and still Eames is no closer to explaining how a weighted die suddenly becomes as unbiased as any other. He visits the hospital at least twice a week, often more, sometimes alone and sometimes with Cobb. Ariadne apologises profusely for not making it over, but her architect job in the real world prevents her from travelling across the globe to Los Angeles. Yusuf also offers his help and condolences from afar, even managing to return briefly to Los Angeles in the hope that Arthur might respond to a different familiar face. But nothing works. Continuing to pose as Arthur’s doctor, both over the phone and occasionally by putting in a physical appearance with the help of a disguise, Eames learns far more than he would ever do as just a broken-hearted partner. He knows the team at the hospital are stumped. They’ve never had a patient so resistant to treatment, or so he’s told. No matter what therapies they offer, Arthur doesn’t respond, showing no desire to do anything other than stare straight ahead and placidly do as he’s told. Two or three times, Eames receives phone calls to say Arthur had broken free of the orderlies and tried to make an attempt on his life, but every time the staff had been one step ahead and kept him from doing any serious damage.

And so life goes on. Whilst Eames never falters in his visits, or in his promises to Arthur whilst he’s there that he’s going to make all of this better, he’s fast running out of ideas. He’s been through every aspect of that fateful night in his mind, and he just cannot understand it. So when Cobb rings, saying that he’s been offered a job and tentatively asking if Eames would be interested, the forger answers yes. He knows it’s not healthy, devoting every spare moment of his waking life to Arthur’s broken totem, and he figures that Cobb asked him because he thinks the same. They both know they’re already doing the best they can, and perhaps they both need something else to concentrate on for a while.

**


Hearing the screen door slide open, Eames hastily wipes at his eyes before turning back to see who has decided to follow him out into Cobb’s garden. He’d left the assembled team, currently in Cobb’s lounge, without a word when his phone had begun to ring; it was only going to be a matter of time before somebody came after him. “I’m gonna have to go...” he apologises, when he sees Dom heading towards him. He realises from the look of panic that crosses his friend’s face that the other man has immediately assumed the worst.

“No, no, he’s alright. Arthur’s alright. Or, he will be. He’s not dead. Another patient got loose. Managed to get hold of Arthur. Beat him up pretty badly before the staff could pull him away. He’s got cuts and bruises, but he’ll... he’ll be fine.”

“You want me to come with you?”

And whilst Eames normally prefers to deal with the bad news on his own, this once he’s glad of the offer.

**


The words down the phone don’t prepare him for the sight of his lover. The emotionless face, the hollow eyes staring into the distance – those things Eames has gotten used to. He hates it, but he’s prepared for it. What he’s not ready for is just how badly battered his partner looks when he’s let into his bare room. One eye is swollen shut, his bottom lip split and puffy. His right cheek is a dark blue, and Arthur draws back instinctively when Eames tries to rest gentle fingers over the injuries. The sight makes his blood boil, and he swears to himself that the hospital won’t get away with this so quickly. Regardless of where they are, it shouldn’t be acceptable to have one patient beat up another. Eames had decided before they’d even arrived that he was going to press a lawsuit for this, and the sight of Arthur so bruised and beaten isn’t doing anything to weaken his resolve.

“Why didn’t you fight back, darling?” He sighs the question as he sits on the edge of Arthur’s hospital bed, pulling the man into his arms. He’s used to the complete lack of resistance by now, doesn’t expect anything other than complete, emotionless, compliance. He’s also prepared for not getting an answer. He can count on one hand the number of times he’s heard Arthur talk since arriving in this place. Reports from his doctors paint the same picture – they’ve never experienced a patient so unaffected by any form of therapy. Eames isn’t surprised, but he can’t explain that to the hospital.

Hugging the too-thin, silent body to him, Eames looks up at Cobb. His friend has been standing in the corner of the room in silence, not intruding in on what was now the closest Eames and Arthur got to a private moment. Eames doesn’t know what more either of them can do, but the look he gives Dom is a pure cry for help. For a way to fix this, and to bring their Arthur back. The Arthur who would have knocked out anyone who dared to lay an unwanted finger on him in under five seconds. The report from the hospital, that Arthur had just taken every blow without even raising his hands to protect himself, makes his heart ache with loss.

“Hang in there, Arthur,” Cobb speaks for the first time since arriving in the hospital room. “Eames ‘nd I... we’re trying to work this out. And we won’t give up. Yusuf ‘nd Ariadne are looking into it as well. They’re both over here, at the moment. We’re not gonna stop until we’ve got you back with us.”

If Arthur feels any sort of emotion to Cobb’s words, then it is impossible for Eames to tell.

**


“Arthur, what are you doing?” Eames can’t help but laugh as he wanders into the lounge, finding his lover flat on his back with his head behind the stereo.

“This thing has never worked,” comes the reply, rather muffled behind the large piece of technology. “I put it in this corner when I moved here, then never bothered plugging it all in.”

“But now you’re overcome with the need to listen to a bit of ABBA?”

“Shut up, Eames.”

Flopping down onto the couch, Eames stretches himself out over it, waiting for Arthur to finish connecting up the speakers. Closing his eyes, he waits for the room to be filled with music. When the first guitar chords wash over him, he smiles, recognising the tune as one of Arthur’s favourites. A moment later, and there are hands at his, tugging insistently. Laughing, he opens his eyes and lets Arthur have his way, getting back up onto his feet and pulling the other man close.

“May I have this dance?” He quirks an eyebrow, loving how Arthur smiles before he presses closer, hiding his face by resting his chin on Eames’ shoulder. Swaying softly in time with the music, Eames dances with his partner, just enjoying their time together.

That is, until he hears the unmistakable creak of their front door. He knows there’s no one else in the flat, knows the front door is closed. Frowning, he kisses Arthur on the top of the head before pulling back, heading out into their hallway to see what is going on. Their front door is ajar, rather than closed, and that makes Eames immediately suspicious. Slipping out of the flat, he finds himself in the corridor, where another door up ahead is just being closed. Following, he catches the door before it closes, and slips through.

On the other side is a bustling street café. Forgoing his normal routine, still alert for an intruder, he skips buying drinks and heads straight out onto the street, heading for the table where Arthur and Ariadne should be sat. Only this time, there’s someone else there as well, hovering just beside the table.

“What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to see what you were dreaming about.”

“It’s none of your business, Cobb,” he scowls at his friend. Normally, he’s glad of the man’s company, but not here. This is his private place. This is where he goes when he misses Arthur too much. All his favourite memories, locked away behind apartment doors, for him to revisit whenever he needs to. Here, he can touch Arthur, hold him, tell him he loves him and hear the words back. It’s not reality, but it’s the best substitute he has.

“I... I know it’s not. I’m sorry.” Cobb looks around warily, aware that the bustling scene has gone deathly silent, everybody staring in his direction as Eames’ subconscious shows its annoyance at having its sanctuary violated. “Look, can we not... talk about this here?”

Nodding, Eames sighs, defeated. Stepping over to his projection of Arthur, he slips a hand inside his suit jacket, fingers closing around the gun his partner always carries with him. He shoots Cobb between the eyes without ceremony, before turning the weapon on himself. Pressing the gun to his temple, he pulls the trigger...

...and wakes up, lying on his bed, in his apartment. His real apartment, which he shares with himself since Arthur had been hospitalised, where the soft music he and his lover had once danced to was just a distant memory. Cobb is already awake at his side, unhooking himself from the PASIV device resting between them on the bed.

“I thought you’d gone to sleep,” Eames has the sense to sound slightly ashamed, knowing he shouldn’t be using the device as he had just been. Especially knowing Cobb was in the apartment, having decided Eames was in no fit state to be left alone following their visit to the hospital that afternoon. The Englishman had assumed he was safe, in the privacy of his own bedroom, but he supposes he cannot blame his friend for looking in on him. Or deciding to follow him into his dreams, to check up on him there.

“I did exactly the same, you know,” Cobb doesn’t sound angry, and somehow that makes it worse. Eames finds anger far easier to deal with than pity. “After Mal died. I kept her alive in my dreams, put away all the best memories so that I didn’t lose her completely. But... it didn’t help. It just made it harder to let go.”

“I don’t want to let go!” Eames is on his feet now, staring at his friend. Cobb looks like he’s about to reply, but Eames cuts him off, continuing to talk. “Do you know what you walked in on, in there? In that café? That was just before you rang us up and asked us to do the Neill job. Arthur and I went to Paris, to visit Ariadne. We sat in that café, and she asked us... asked Arthur if we were ever going to make our relationship official. And he said yes. He said, in front of me, he’d be happy to marry me. So I’m not about to bloody let go!”

“Eames... I never suggested... I didn’t mean that. All I meant was... you can lose sight of reality, if you live in your dreams. Memories are... memories. We should be focussed on getting the real Arthur back.”

And whilst Eames readily agrees, he’s not sure he can stop using the PASIV so easily.

**


Before Ariadne jets off back to Paris, another job successfully completed, she offers to visit Arthur. Eames is almost beyond hope, by this point, but he accepts her offer graciously. Cobb offers to come along, as he often does, and so Arthur is greeted by three guests that afternoon. He’s as silent and unresponsive as ever, and Eames doesn’t fail to notice Ariadne’s shock. The young architect has yet to visit Arthur here, and Eames can understand that it must be a huge surprise to her to see her friend looking so haggard and soulless. Perching on the edge of the hospital bed, whilst Ariadne and Cobb stand, Eames falls into his normal banal chatter, telling Arthur about the job they’ve been doing, that he hasn’t given up on him, that they’ll sort this out. That he loves him, and always will. Arthur takes all of this in in silence, staring at the far wall.

When Eames is out of things to say, Cobb takes over, offering similar stories and reassurances to his mute audience. Finally, Ariadne tries to talk, but her voice is trembling with emotion and barely manages to say hello to Arthur before she’s choking up with tears. Taking that as a signal to go, Eames leans in to press a kiss to Arthur’s forehead, muttering a quiet “I love you, Arthur.” As is the norm now, he gets no response. He gets up and leaves before he gets himself into a similar state as Ariadne. He doesn’t want Arthur to see him upset. His partner needs to see him strong, no matter how deeply he’s fallen into his beliefs about limbo.

Outside the ward, however, he can’t hold back the tears. He normally manages to make it home before the emotions take hold, not often letting Cobb see his tears, but Ariadne’s own obvious distress is making him feel his own sadness all the more acutely. “I don’t know what else we can do,” he admits to his friends, voice shaking as he flops down into one of the uncomfortable plastic chairs in the hospital’s reception. “I can’t think of anything else to try.”

“I... I think I can help.” Ariadne’s gone pale, trembling slightly as she remains standing, looking between Eames and Cobb. Biting her bottom lip, she slips a hand into the pocket of her jacket, before pulling it out again with something clasped tight in her fist. Slipping into the seat next to Eames, she opens up her hand, revealing a small, red, die.

Just like Arthur’s totem.

Taking it from her, Eames stares at her incredulously for a moment, before rolling it across the small, magazine littered coffee-table in front of them. Five rolls, and five times it comes up four.

It is Arthur’s totem...

**


Arthur had made his reputation as a point man. Extractors world-wide knew his name, his ability to find out anything about anyone, not leaving a single stone unturned. But he had other skills as well, and he had been approached more than once by clients looking for an extractor. Whilst he hadn’t always said yes, preferring to work as a point man, sometimes he did.

One such job had been the case of Alexander Kerr vs. Douglas Williams. Two up and coming Massachusetts politicians, fighting head to head to represent their party, both determined to dig up dirt on the other. Unfortunately for Williams, Kerr had employed far more than lawyers and private investigators to break down his rival. He had had some altogether more illegal contacts, including a single name – Arthur – a man who could bring him dirt on his competitor even if there were no paper trail to be found.

And dirt Arthur had brought him. Working as both extractor and point man, with only Nash’s help as architect, he’d pulled skeletons out of Williams’ closet (quite literally, in the dream world) that had the man not only thrown off the campaign trail, but also straight behind bars for the foreseeable future. With no one to run against him, Kerr had been elected in a landslide, and Arthur left his employ with more money than most people saw in a lifetime.

Let out of jail five years later, thanks to multiple appeals and a lawyer who knew his way around a loophole, Williams devoted his life to working out how on earth his rival had found out what he had. It had taken him years, but finally he was introduced to the world of subconscious heists, extractors who could steal information straight out of your head. He found out about Arthur, too, digging up enough information on the man to rival the skills of any point man. He now had the name, and so much more, on the man who had been hired to ruin his life. Kerr was long gone from office, having only lasted a single term. Having turned to alcohol shortly after, he had drunk himself to death in a matter of years. But that wasn’t revenge enough, for Douglas Williams. He knew he wouldn’t rest easy until he’d made the man who had taken his secrets from his head – this Arthur – suffer like he had. He had lost everything, and he was determined Arthur would too...


**


“He came to me, the same afternoon I met day you phoned me about the Neill job,” Ariadne looks over at Cobb, whole body still trembling and face white as a sheet. “He never gave me his name. He had men with him, they took me... somewhere, I don’t know. He showed me photos of... of your kids, Cobb. He said... he said he could get to them. Said he’d kill them, if I didn’t do as he asked. After everything you’d been through to get back to them, I couldn’t... I didn’t know what to do.”

“And what did he ask?” Cobb’s voice is remarkably level, Eames thinks. His entire reality feels mildly surreal, all of a sudden, almost as if he’s hovering above himself, looking down on a conversation he has no part of. It’s just beyond incomprehensible to him, that a friend of his - Ariadne - has the answers to all of Arthur’s suffering. That she’d known this, all along, and not said or done anything. He doesn’t know what to think, or do, or say.

“He just told me to... I had to switch Arthur’s totem. He wanted... he wanted this. He wanted him to lose his sense of reality. He said... he said death would be too good for him, that he wanted to ruin his life. But... but it’s not just his life that’s been ruined. Seeing him... that hurts enough. But... you, Eames. And you, Cobb. This is breaking all your hearts. I can’t.... I can’t pretend like I don’t know what’s happened, any more.”

“You fucking bitch,” Eames finds his voice, and his feelings, in full force as Ariadne stops talking again. He’s never struck a woman before, but that thought barely crosses his mind as he finds himself back on his feet, hand in a fist and arm drawn back for a punch. When Cobb jumps up between them, he tries to pummel him instead, feelings of anger and betrayal taking over every little part of him.

“How did you do it?” Cobb asks, and whilst Eames wants him to shut up so he can have his own revenge, he has to admit he wants to hear the answer. He had replayed Arthur’s last job over and over, in his mind and with the help of the PASIV, and he had never suspected Ariadne’s involvement. He just cannot see how she’d have managed it.

“I... the security, what you thought was Neill’s... that was me, my subconscious. I’m the architect, I know how to change the dreamscape at will. It was hard, but I managed it. You... you never wondered why you didn’t meet any more resistance, after I died?” It’s a rhetorical question, not giving Eames or Cobb time to answer before continuing on. “I made sure I was the first to go. I knew you’d all still be under, that way... that you wouldn’t be able to see what I was doing, in reality. It was... I wasn’t expecting Yusuf to be right behind me. But he wasn’t quite fast enough. He caught me leaning over Arthur, but he thought.... he just thought I was checking up on you all. He... he never suspected a thing. I switched the totems, and... well, you know what comes next.”

“Get out of here.” Eames’ voice is still low and dangerous, clutching Arthur’s real totem so hard in his fist the edges of the die press painfully against the flesh of his palm.

“I’m so sorry...”

“Just... please, just go.” The fight leaving him, Eames just hangs his head. He doesn’t even bother to look up again as he hears Ariadne move, footsteps fading away to silence.

Part 1 | Part 3
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