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Forfeit

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(Banner created by Neffie. http://archiveofourown.org/users/originalneffie)

 

“You can’t be serious, sir; I retired.”
“You’re too young to retire, son.”

Blake sighed and leaned back against the couch, balancing his cell between his ear and shoulder as he worked. He knew picking up a mysterious phone call from Commissioner Gordon at five in the morning was a bad idea.

“Well, then I quit.”

“No, you didn’t, not officially, it’s not on the books, anyway.”

Blake scrubbed his hand over his eyes, and then made a face when it came back with a handful of black greasepaint. He really just wanted to go to bed. It had been a very long and painful night.

“And why isn’t it on the books?” He finally ventured.

“Because I thought you might like to get paid for going out and getting your ass kicked every night instead of having to collect food stamps.”

He fumbled with the phone, finally catching it back up between his slippery fingers. “How—”

Gordon’s voice was softer at that. “Who else would he give it to? Just come in, John, please. You’re the only one I trust with what they’ve cooked up.”

He pressed his lips tightly together for a moment. “Are you going to rat me out if I don’t, sir?”

“Of course not. I am going to give you some boxing lessons, though; I’ve never seen such bad hand to hand combat, where did you even learn it?”

“…Learn?” he questioned feebly. Fuck, he was making it up as he went along.

He was fairly sure he heard a muttered curse on the other end of the line.

“Come in, John, and sign up for some martial arts or something. The Y down the block teaches taekwondo, I hear.”

“I don’t want to learn taekwondo,” he muttered defensively. “I’m doing ok.”

“I heard The Batman got knifed in the last heist he put a stop to.”

Blake flicked his eyes down to the gash in his armor where the handle of a knife was still protruding from his thigh. In his defense, it was a little knife.

“Did you at least go to the hospital?”

“It seemed a bit suspicious; I’m pretty sure I can stitch it up.”

His head jerked towards the door when he heard a knock that was suddenly echoed into his ear from the tiny speaker of his phone.

“Let me in.”

Blake sighed and looked down at himself, still half in the suit, the other half of him bare and covered in dirt and blood, some first aid supplies scattered around him in a mini flurry of fluffy white cotton and bandages, and then there was the sewing kit he hadn’t quite gotten the courage to open up yet.

“It’s open.” It wasn’t really supposed to be, but the lock had been jimmied open a while ago and it just didn’t seem worth it to try to replace it when the prowlers had finally seemed to realize he didn’t have anything of value anyway and had stopped coming around.

Blake watched as Gordon walked through his door, a file tucked under his arm. He felt fleetingly embarrassed to have his former—or apparently not so former—boss in his cramped little one-room apartment, but Gordon didn’t seem to care much, didn’t even give the room a cursory glance before he walked over to John.

“Let’s see the damage then, kid.” He took off his coat and set it aside with the file, rolling up his sleeves.

“Dammit, Jim, you’re a police commissioner not a doctor,” he joked weakly, but groaned in pain and carefully propped his leg up on the coffee table anyway.  Gordon ignored him, and he should probably have been grateful for that. The knife hurt coming out even more than it had going in; actually he’d barely felt it going in over the buzz of adrenaline that had been coursing through his entire body as he fought off three armed men and won, thank you very much, though he supposed points had to be taken off for the knife.

Gordon knew what he was doing, but just because he knew what he was doing didn’t mean it didn’t hurt like a bitch. He was able to stop the flow of blood fairly quickly and together they peeled the rest of his armor off of his leg before disinfecting the area, then Gordon proceeded to break out the thread and needles to put a few careful stitches into the wound while Blake grit his teeth and dug his fingers into the couch cushions, trying not to hurl every curse and swear he knew at Gordon for the amount of pain his steady fingers were inflicting. He was an orphan, too, so he knew a lot.

“Thanks for patching me up.” He tossed a throw blanket over his bandaged leg, at least trying to show a little modesty, not that he had much left. They’d spent a lot of time during occupation together, most of it in Blake’s old, just slightly larger apartment, and any modesty there had disappeared the day it became clear that there was enough water leftover that they could shower together or not at all.

He watched as Gordon reached back over to his coat and pulled out a small stack of envelopes, checks. “They’ve been waiting for you at the precinct. It took some doing, but I got you back pay for your work during occupation.”

Blake picked up the pile and thumbed through them. Combined, it was probably more money than he’d ever had at once. The idea of not having to eat ramen noodles for the rest of his life danced before his eyes. Hell, maybe he could even afford shampoo next week, really live a little.

“What are you trying to bring me in for, sir?”

Gordon, who was rummaging through the small kitchen area wrestling together some toast and coffee, bless him, glanced back, then cursed when the water in the sink sprayed up at him. “Take a look at the file.”

“Why do you want me in on this so bad?”

“Because you’ve got good instincts, rookie. The feds have cooked up some crazy idea and they’re barely letting anyone in on it. It’s beyond hush-hush, but I pulled what weight I could and I’m allowed to have one officer in. I want it to be you because I think if anyone can help them not muck this up, it’s going to be you.”

He took the bait, when he knew he shouldn’t have, and slid the file off of Gordon’s coat, settling it in his lap and paging through it. His jaw clenched and he felt his vision narrowing in anger before he could get more than two pages in.

“This is about Bane.”

“Isn’t everything, anymore?”

It was true. The monster had been found in a coma in the aftermath of their doomsday, now the media couldn’t get enough of him. Each party had their own idea of what to do with him, whether it was take him off life support for humane reasons or to hope he died, or to keep him on it out of, well, humane reasons or to hope he suffered. Blake frankly couldn’t care less, though if Bane did die he wanted it to be a lot slower and more painful, so he wasn’t sure where he came into all of this. He sighed and thumbed through the paperwork some more.

“What’s Dream Share?”

Dream Share, it turned out, was the craziest concept he had ever heard of. Dream hacking, who knew?

“Detective Blake.” A man leaning his hands across a table piled high with charts and building material turned to face him. Gordon hadn’t even given him time to get a nap in. He’d tossed Blake a change of clothes and a bottle of aspirin and told him that, if he was in, he had to go right then. Blake wasn’t sure how that was a threat, but he had suddenly found himself hobbling into a huge warehouse building just off the piers. It seemed shady as hell, but when he stepped inside, the inner floor space was clean, nearly pristine, with a couple of people milling around, working on large dry erase boards, typing away on laptops, in one case leaning over what looked like a chemistry set.

The man who had greeted him had slicked back hair and nice clothes, but he didn’t look like he was with any sort of agency. He was guarded, but a little too friendly as he held out his hand; no member of any organization was this laid back about someone from outside the team joining them.

“I’m Dominic Cobb, these are my associates.” He held out his hand and Blake shook it while the man clearly appraised him. He wasn’t exactly looking his freshest; his leg wasn’t hurting much, but he was definitely favoring it over the other while he had his duffle slung over one arm. He looked woefully underdressed compared to everyone else in the room.

“Were you debriefed?”

“Somewhat. I’ve gotta tell you, this all sounds like a lot of…”

“Bullshit?” Mr. Cobb didn’t seem bothered, and he flashed him a relaxed smile. “We get that a lot. I think you might change your mind soon enough.”

“Yeah, maybe. I’ve seen a lot of things already.”

“So I’ve heard. I’ll be honest with you, Officer Blake; we don’t generally take tourists with us on these things. We also don’t generally work with law enforcement, but, well, to be frank, no one has ever offered us quite this much money before. We were given our choice of which division we’d rather work with, and your commissioner seems like a good man, so we went with his choice. You.”

“Flattering,” he replied dryly. “Don’t worry, I tend to pick things up quick. So, you can really do it? You’ve got a machine that can go into people’s minds?”

“Not just their minds, their dreams. We can then use that to our advantage, to root out information that they might be otherwise hiding. This can save everyone a lot of the trouble that used to come from doing things the old fashioned way, or in the case here, when the subject is unconscious.”

“So they’re in there, too? They can see us in there, going through their shit?”

Mr. Cobb chuckled and a jar of pencils was spilled from the table. Blake blinked as they scattered across the floor, rolling all around the room.  “In a manner of speaking, yes, they’re in the dream, as well; they simply aren’t aware that it’s a dream.”

One of the workers beside Cobb glanced over and gave the man a dirty look before moving over to another table.

“I think someone would know if they were in a dream,” he argued, glancing over some of the mini models on the table. They looked complex, like someone was trying to build cities out of bits of foam and cardboard. “I mean sometimes you know, right?”

“But how often do you only know it’s a dream the moment you wake up, Officer Blake?”

Blake had to concede the point. He could remember many a dream that had felt absolutely real until the second the alarm went off in the morning, and then they felt absolutely ridiculous.

It was all a very interesting concept if one could push aside the absolute bullshit of it all, and he turned back towards Mr. Cobb to tell him so.

Then Mr. Cobb pulled a gun hidden in his waistband and shot him in the face.

That seemed like a bit of an overreaction.

Chapter Text

He jerked upwards and gasped, the feeling of a bullet shattering through his skull rushing through his mind, and the taste of blood and brain coating his tongue. He had just been shot, he had just fucking DIED.

He felt Gordon’s hand on his shoulder, keeping him steady as he gagged and thrashed. There was a pinpricking sensation; he looked down and saw a needle being pulled from his arm by the man he had just dreamed about, who looked up at him with a bit of a smirk.

“They always make sense until you wake up, don’t they?”

Blake was sure he was going to hate this bastard.

“Holy shit,” he breathed out, taking the bottle of water Gordon placed in his hand.

They were in a car, still; they hadn’t even reached their destination.

“You dozed off on the way. Mr. Cobb thought it would be a good way to cut the crap about whether this was possible or not,” Gordon explained.

Blake swore to himself and took a long drink from the water bottle, wishing it were something a bit stronger. “How did—”

“It’s a combination of drugs and a device we own. I’ll explain more in detail, later.”

“That whole thing…”

“Was a dream, yes. You just showed up there, remember?  Just popped up out of nowhere and it all made sense. The jar of pencils? I suspect the driver took way too sharp of a turn up on the topside. It made one of your projections a bit suspicious of me, but you didn’t even question it.”

Blake didn’t understand anything the man way saying at the moment, but he was damn well going to make sure he got answers.

They didn’t end up at a warehouse. They were in a prison. The warehouse, Mr. Cobb had explained, was actually a dream level they were working on as part of the setup. Then he rambled on for some time about architecture, which Blake honestly knew nothing about, which ended in several books being shoved into his bag as homework.

“Extraction is what we call it,” Mr. Cobb explained, “when we’re called in to pull something from someone’s mind. Mostly it is used by less… scrupulous corporations, wishing information about other companies, security codes, secrets… many different things.”

“So, you’re crooks.”

“Technically, it’s not illegal,” Mr. Cobb countered.

“Because no one’s ever heard of it!”

“Oh plenty of people have heard of it. Just not people who would ever want it to be illegal,” Mr. Cobb replied glibly. “Let’s hope it stays that way.”

“Fine. Why Bane?”

This time it was Gordon who spoke up. The three of them were working together in a tight little office usually reserved for clerical work, discussing the details of the assignment.  “Bane has an untold amount of information locked away in his mind. He’s led coups around the world. He and Talia al Ghul have had their hands in some very nasty plans worldwide. If we can get even a fraction of that information, we can stop a lot of bad things happening to good people, John.”

“This will still work if he’s in a coma?”

“His brain activity is functional. It may actually work to our advantage. Even if something goes wrong down there, we shouldn’t have to worry about him waking up top level.”

“Shouldn’t? How is this even going to work?”

Cobb set a pad of paper onto the crowded desk and traced his pen over it as he explained. “It’s complicated. Most jobs are easy: you go down one level; you sneak around until you get what you came for; you pop back out; no one is the wiser. This kind of plan, though, what your people want me to do, it takes a lot more finesse, that’s why they hired me. Your friend, here, he’s going to be one of the trickiest jobs we ever pulled for several reasons, the big one being this.”

He checked off a thick black mark beside a word on the pad, ‘militarization.’

“Why do I have the feeling I’m going to hate this?” Blake asked, taking a long drink of his coffee. His leg was aching and he wanted to go, but he couldn’t deny how absolutely fascinating this all was.

“Because it could be very messy. Militarization is when a subject has been trained to ward off extraction. It’s not unheard of, and we don’t really have any way of knowing if Bane has been trained or not.”

“What happens if he is?”

“Well, most training means that the projections, the subconscious people we fill our dreams with, will be very hostile right away.”

“How hostile?”

“Depends on the person. I’ve gone into dreams where the second I was in them I’ve had a grenade launcher aimed for me.”

“Well, Bane tried to nuke our entire city when it wasn’t a dream. Maybe you should be a little more scared,” Blake replied bluntly.

“I’m aware of his history. Militarization isn’t completely cut and dry though, it can take different forms depending on how a person was trained. It can be a straight-on physical onslaught, or it can be a psychological attack where it can use the subconscious against those trying to break into it.”

Blake felt a distinct sinking sensation in his stomach. “You mean like using our worst fears against us?”

“Maybe. It will be impossible to know what exactly we’re dealing with until we get down there.”

“You didn’t mention any of that in the paperwork.” Gordon narrowed his eyes slightly at Mr. Cobb.

“Some things big government is better off not knowing.”

“You mean you want as little people to know about militarization as possible so your life stays easier,” Blake guessed. Mr. Cobb just gave him a light smile in return.

“It’s always best to keep a little bit to yourself.”

Blake shook his head. “So how do we work around it? How do we go in there and not have Bane snap our necks?”

“Well, there are a couple of different things we could try, but knowing Bane’s background, I think the best thing by far would be to go into this by setting up the dream so that Bane is not himself in it.”

“You can do that?”

“How often are we not who we really are in dreams, Officer Blake? Yet it makes perfect sense to us; in that moment, we are exactly who we are dreaming. If we can set up a scenario that Bane’s mind accepts, that causes him to accept that he is in fact a different persona and in turn plays out that role for us, it may be enough to calm any militarization down enough that we can carry on the job smoothly.”

Blake had to begrudgingly concede at this point that, clearly, Mr. Cobb had been brought onto this job for a reason. “So, we’re going to set up a dream where Bane is, what, an active participant? What sort of dream? Please don’t tell me we’re all going to go in as his mercenaries or something while he takes over another city.”

“Officer Blake, you lack imagination, and WE are not doing anything. My team is going to set up the dream while you try to learn as much as possible in the next few weeks so you don’t mess anything up while you tag along.”

But he still didn’t have to like the guy.

Chapter Text

Projections, paradoxes, Penrose, PASIV—how the hell was he supposed to learn all of this shit in a couple of weeks? Ok, admittedly, some of it was pretty amazing. Cobb, he insisted that Blake drop the “Mr” at least, had taken him under more than a couple of times, taught him some of the basics that he would need, like how to hide himself inside of the mazes, and how to build escape routes. It was thrilling to be able to make the world shift around him, completely worth the first time he overdid it and had one of Cobb’s projections stab him in the eye. It was cutting into his time as a caped crusader, but it would all be over in a week or two anyway so he looked at it like a very strange vacation.

“Point man,” Cobb announced when he strolled into the workspace. They were dreaming, Blake had learned to recognize the differences, now. In fact, he often found himself checking frequently to make sure that he was actually awake. When he’d made a joke about it to Cobb, he’d cracked him what looked like a genuine smile and explained totems, suggesting Blake pick himself out one. He figured he’d work something out before they went into Bane.

Now, though, he didn’t have that trouble. His hair was styled differently when he went into dreams, it looked neater, neater than Blake was ever able to get it in reality; it was his first clue. His biggest tip off, though, was his clothing. His dream self seemed to have much better taste than his reality could ever hope to afford. He kept finding himself in nice suits, ones cut well, clearly hand tailored. It was fun, actually. Blake could understand why people were drawn into this world; it was creative, freeing.

“Point man?” he asked, looking up from notes he was studying.

“It’s perfect, if you think about it. In the dream, you’ll be the point man. Technically, your job will be to do the research while I plan everything out, take care of all of the minor details, but everything is already planned out, so you just have to be able to spit back everything we tell you.”

“So who’s really the point man?” He hadn’t actually met Cobb’s team; the man actually seemed a little reluctant to introduce them. Blake suspected he didn’t like revealing a lot to an outsider, and he couldn’t blame him too much for that.

“Her name is Ariadne, you’ll meet her soon, and our chemist.”

“That’s it, there’s only three of you? I thought you’d have a whole crew.” He’d been reading files, very blacked out files for the most part but with information on jobs that had taken place. He now knew some jobs went down with multiple extractors, architects, and forgers. It seemed crazy to just go down into Bane’s mind with such a small group.

“With a job like this, it’s best to keep to bare bones, too many people will just mess things up.” Blake didn’t miss the pointed look at him; right, tourist. “I’ll be designing the dreams myself, actually. In fact, this warehouse you’ve been training in is going to be an important part of the first level.”

“First level?”

“We’re going to peel Bane like an onion,” Cobb declared.

“Yeah, just remember onions make people cry,” Blake pointed out bluntly.

Cobb ignored him. “The best way to try and keep a handle on this dream is to stick to what we know, and what we know is dream share. What better way to extract something from someone’s mind if they’re actively working to extract it with you? We are going to put Bane into a dream where he is part of a job, a complex one, one that will require us to go deeper into his subconscious where he is more vulnerable.”

“And more dangerous,” Blake guessed, and noticed that Cobb didn’t deny it. “What kind of job?”

“Inception,” Cobb replied.

Blake looked through his notes in confusion. “Uhm…”

“Don’t bother. It’s not going to be in there. Inception is the planting of an idea into somebody’s mind.”

“Holy shit, can you do that?” Blake stared. That was beyond the illicit taking of information. That was true mind fuckery, and he wanted no part of it.

Cobb shook his head. “Of course not, it’s just myth, but Bane won’t know that, and we’ll use that to our advantage, set up a scenario where we’re on a job that requires it.”

“And then he won’t question why he’s going into dreams within dreams… or why he’s trying to break into somewhere for information… that’s pretty brilliant, actually.”

“Thank you.” Cobb smiled. “Now keep studying.”

He met the rest of the team, well the rest of Cobb’s team; he wasn’t really on it, after all. Both of them seemed very pleasant, he liked them a lot more than Cobb, actually. Yusuf was very relaxed and clearly extremely intelligent. He told Blake that he usually didn’t go under for jobs, but this one was very a special one.

“I had a lot of connections in Gotham,” he explained. “I would like something like that to never happen again.”

Ariadne seemed incredibly focused, less likely to make small talk than Yusuf, but polite. “So you’re going to be taking over my job,” she remarked. “Well, I have it all planned out for you, try not to make me look bad, ok?”

He still liked her more than Cobb.

He studied, and he learned what the possible levels could look like.

“They could change, though,” Cobb explained. “This will still be Bane’s dream, and we don’t have any idea what he could do while we’re in there. That’s why we make the bare bones of levels, then we’ll finish them off inside while we’re ‘planning the heist’.”

It made sense, but is also made him uncomfortable to be leaving so much of this up to Bane’s subconscious. He was pretty sure they were going to get down there and it was going to be a total clusterfuck, just… bombs and fire and death everywhere. Well, at least the worst that could happen was that they could die and presumably try again. Not very comforting, but it was better than just regular dying.  He’d asked why they didn’t just go down and check out Bane’s militarization, THEN do some planning around it, but he’d gotten some sort of vague answer from Cobb that basically informed him that he didn’t know what he was talking about and to go back and study some more.

“You mean we’ll be down there for weeks in the dream time?”

“Yes, it would take days, weeks to pull off this sort of job. Time runs differently in a dream, so it won’t be as long on the surface. We’re very lucky that he is in a coma, actually, since it lessens the worry that he might wake up.”

“How long will we actually be down there for until there is a kick?” He’d learned about kicks, now. It was  lot nicer than being shot in the face, so he would definitely prefer it if given the option.

“We’ll be sedated for two days.”

Blake let out a low whistle. “That’s… a long time to be sleeping.”

“I’ll make sure you all wake up,” Yusuf assured.

“The first level is quite vast,” Ariadne commented. “There may be several days before we’re actually connected with Bane inside of the dream.”

“So we won’t even see him at first? How will we know it’s him when we do?”

“Oh we’ll know. The dream will guide us to him. According to the dream, we’re all just a part of it; we have to be pulled to the main part of the show,” Ariadne explained. “We just won’t know exactly how or when until it happens.”

“We’re going in tomorrow,” Cobb informed them. “We can’t do any more planning out here. Blake, you’re going to need a name for down there. It won’t exactly do for one of us to slip and call you officer, and it’s going to be easier to not do that if you just pick out a whole new name.”

“You couldn’t have mentioned that like two weeks ago? How come you all get to keep your names?”

“Because none of our names are real. Enjoy the rest of your evening.”

Blake was a bundle of nervous energy that night. He tossed and turned before he realized that he was going to be sleeping for two days straight, he didn’t need his rest. Instead, he went out and stopped a couple of muggings, put out a fire starting in an abandoned building, and got tasered trying to help an old lady to her car. In her defense, once she put her glasses on the woman had been very apologetic and insisted on dragging him into her apartment for tea. So that was how he ended up in full batman gear, sitting on an ancient wicker chair, sipping tea from a delicate porcelain cup and being force fed the best cookies he’d ever tasted in his life. Halfway through, a sleek little black kitten had scrambled onto his legs, clawing happily at his chest like it was a scratching post.

“Oh don’t mind Arthur none. He likes you.”

Huh.

He shambled into the prison the next morning looking half dead. At least he wasn’t the only one. Yusuf clearly looked like he had been doing a little pregame partying last night; at least Blake had been out trying to clean up the streets, not in a bottle.

There was Bane, strapped down to a hospital gurney, more like chained; Blake approved. Bane didn’t look like he was in a coma, or, well, maybe he did, but he still looked like he could easily murder you even while comatose.  Blake was surprised the mask was still on his face, but he didn’t really feel it was his place to be asking. He took his place on one of the cots that had been set up for them. It was flimsy and he was pretty sure his back was going to be killing him after two days on it, but it couldn’t be helped. He was wearing a pair of soft cotton pajama pants, which earned him a look but, hey, if he was going to be there he was going to be comfortable. He stripped down to his undershirt and lay down, taking a nervous breath as a nurse looked over his vital signs. She was pretty, but Blake figured his chances with her were pretty slim as she was going to be taking care of his unconscious body for the next few days.

He glanced over at the rest of them as they took their places.

“You can call me Arthur.”

Ariadne considered it a moment then smiled. “Welcome to the team, Arthur.”

He watched as the cannula was pressed into Bane’s arm and offered his own when it was his turn. He watched the hand hovering over the button to the PASIV machine and knew he had time for either one more nervous breath or a quick Hail Mary even though he’d given up religion long ago. He glanced at the still body on the gurney next to him. Time in a coma hadn’t seemed to whither his muscles at all; hopefully it had at least rendered his mind into something a little more workable.

As he watched the button on the machine being depressed, he decided to go with the Hail Mary, just in case.

Chapter Text

He opened his eyes, and he was on a train. Cobb was asleep on the chair in front of him. The job had gone wrong, but it hadn’t really gone wrong, had it? His memory was fuzzy as he knelt down onto the floor of the train, images flashed into it; a beautiful building, slipping down corridors, a ruse falling apart not once but twice. He shook them off. He’d been warned about this, that the dream they went into might put him into a strange mindset at first.

“Sometimes when we dream, there’s background knowledge, isn’t there? Things we have no way of knowing, but we do know them. We just know that we have to get to a certain place or we’ll be late, we know that we have the key in our pocket to open the door, we know the name of the person we are talking to. Sometimes that information fills your head first thing and it takes a moment to shake it off. Just go with it, the more you go along with the dream, play along, the less angry we’ll make the projections.”

“How’d it go?” Some kid was staring up at him questioningly.

“Not good.” He didn’t have to know what was really going on to know that.

Then another man was beside him, waking up. He felt annoyed with him even though he didn’t really understand why, so he let the first words that came to his mind, remnants of the strange memories that had been pushed into his brain, spit out. “Asshole, how do you mess up the carpeting?”

Then the man awake with him, the projection, he corrected himself, was arguing with him.

He argued back heatedly for a moment and then, thank god, Cobb was waking up so he could follow his lead because he was so out of his league, here.

“That’s enough,” Cobb spoke curtly at both of them. Blake glanced up at him from where he knelt at the floor; his face looked troubled, heavier than it did on the surface, that couldn’t be good, but at least the projections around them weren’t shooting at either of them. One was still passed out beside them while Cobb checked his pulse. Their mark, a part of his brain supplied for him, for a job that had failed.

So, Bane’s mind had decided that they failed at their job before they were more than five seconds in. That was promising.

“You… what the hell was all that?” he couldn’t help asking. He knew he wasn’t supposed to question in front of projections, that he was supposed to keep in character at all times, really, but this was a lot weirder than he had anticipated. Cobb fixed him with a quick glare.

“I have it under control,” Cobb promised, but his eyes looked harried already and Blake knew a lie when he saw one.

Bullshit, Blake’s brain supplied for him. “I’d hate to see you out of control,” he muttered instead, not willing to let it alone. Things were off to a bad start already, that was clear.

“We don’t have time for this,” Cobb interjected, and then he was muttering about destinations and trains as he was heading out of their compartment door.

…Leaving Blake completely alone with two projections and without any idea what to do. Maybe he should have been flattered that Cobb had enough faith in him to be just leaving him alone like this. He glanced at the projections he was left with. One was still asleep, one staring at him with slightly narrowed eyes.

Right. Cobb said he was getting off at Kyoto. When Cobb had been building, he had shown him several possible sections of countries he had built into the dream. He’d explained that it wasn’t unusual to country-hop on jobs, and it made for better realism if Bane’s mind was given the opportunity to place them there. They weren’t whole countries, really, just an idea, enough of an area to make someone feel like they were halfway around the world. Kyoto had been one of them, and Blake supposed he would be following Cobb to it now. He packed up the PASIV, which apparently was the point man’s job, either that or Cobb was a lazy asshole, and got off at the next stop.

The city surrounding him was beautiful; he had to commend Cobb for it. If you didn’t look at all of the finer details it felt like he was in Japan, not that he had ever been there. On closer inspection, though, he could spot the little details, like how some of the buildings looked a little too identical, and the way if he walked around one street corner he’d wind up back around the loop he had started once he stepped out of the train station. There wasn’t much on the loop that seemed like it held promise, so he decided the hotel there was his best bet.

He felt a faint buzz in his pants pocket. Incoming text.

Roof in 10 minutes. Get Cobb.

His dream self had an impressive cellphone, small but elegant, something he could never afford in the waking world. The message came from a number he didn’t recognize, but he hoped it was from either Yusuf or Ariadne.

Actually, he really just hoped it wasn’t from Bane.

He checked in with the front desk with his false name, apparently he had a room here, convenient. He hoped he was sharing with Cobb, because otherwise he had no idea how to find the man. He found the correct floor and moments later he was knocking on a rather nice hotel door, and then looking at Cobb’s face. The man looked even more spooked than he had before. He wanted to be able to question him, but he also didn’t want to miss their ride.

“Our ride’s on the roof.”

Cobb didn’t seem too surprised by the idea; he just made a noise of agreement and gathered a couple of things from the room. Maybe they had a couple minutes and there were no projections around, he doubted that they'd get much opportunity after this.

“Hey, are you ok?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. We’re fine, why?”

“Because, this is turning out really weird really fast, I don’t really remember much, but it felt like something really bad just happened and we really stepped in it.”

“No, we’re fine.” Cobb shook his head and glanced at the phone before he gave Blake a smile. “Sorry about your leg.”

“My leg?” Blake asked in confusion.

Cobb chuckled at that. “Probably for the best you don’t remember that part. One apology is all you’re getting, Arthur. Where’s Nash?”

“Who?”

“The other projection. I think he’s part of the team Bane has put together in the dream.”

“Oh, I don’t know, I haven’t seen him; is that bad?”

“Probably not, he’s just a projection. We do have to get out of here, though. If the job we did failed, that means we’ve probably made some people very unhappy here, and so it’s time we disappear.”

They went up on the roof together. Blake wondered vaguely what was even in the bags he was carrying.

“Bane could be anywhere in the areas we have set up. We should split up, cover more ground. Yusuf and Ariadne will be doing the same.”

“You trusting me to bump into him all by myself?”

“Just keep in contact.”

“Ok, where you gonna go?”

“Buenos Ares, lie low and see if I get any usual job offers.” He gave him an amused look. “You?”

Blake thought briefly about the different sections of the world they’d set up, Japan, France, Kenya, Italy, England; he went with the one place he knew and might actually be of more use.

“Stateside.”

Cobb glanced over and gave him a strange look. “Send my regards,” he spoke a bit stiffly. Blake really wished he knew what he was thinking.

He opened his mouth to ask, but it would have to wait because they were standing in front of a helicopter now. The door slid open, revealing the same projections they had dealt with earlier, one looking much the worse for wear.

“He sold you out,” the one projection calmly explained. “Thought to bargain for his life.”

Blake stared. Could projections even do that? Did they have that kind of range? Nothing that had happened so far was going how he had thought it would. They both stared as the other projection was dragged off. Blake wanted to dive after him and tackle the other men; it was hard to remind himself that the guy who was clearly getting dragged off to his death was in fact just a part of Bane’s mind.

He stared out the window, jaw clenched, as they flew over the dreamscape Cobb had created. Cobb and this projection—Saito, as they learned—were making small talk, really unpleasant small talk. Blake just wanted to get out of there, and he could tell Cobb was getting uncomfortable, too.

“What do you want from us?” Cobb finally asked.

“Inception,” Saito stated calmly.

Blake felt himself relaxing slightly. Finally, they were getting somewhere.

“Is it possible?”

“Of course not,” Blake shot back. They’d talked about this, this was something from their possible scripts that he actually KNEW, and dammit he wasn’t going to miss his cue. He was supposed to be the doubter in all of this; it made sense, really, he knew the least, he could question things, be cynical, without looking like he knew less than the others.

“If you can steal an idea from someone’s mind, why can’t you plant one there instead?” Saito calmly countered.

The guy was so suave, very suave, so much more suave than Blake recognized he was ever going to be and he wasn’t even real. It was a little annoying; projection or not he felt the strong urge to knock the guy down a peg. “Ok.” He sat up more. “Here’s me planting an idea in your head: I say to you, don’t think about elephants, what are you thinking about?”

The projection tilted his head curiously, an amused look on his face. “Elephants.”

“Right, but it’s not YOUR idea because you know I gave it to you,” he finished triumphantly. He didn’t bother to look over at Cobb. He knew he’d nailed that one. “True inspiration is impossible to fake.”

“It’s not true,” Cobb argued softly. He was staring out the window.

Blake listened to them argue until the helicopter touched down again. He didn’t understand why Cobb was saying no, maybe he thought he should be playing hard to get? Blake thought HE was supposed to be the negative one in this.

He touched down on the pavement and hoisted his bag on his shoulder. He was just the tourist, after all, and Cobb knew what he was doing. As they left the helicopter, Saito spoke again, offering Cobb a chance to go home, to his children.

Blake was really fucking confused.

Cobb froze and turned back.

“Cobb, come on,” Blake warned. He really needed to get the man alone to talk to him.

Instead, Cobb was walking back to the helicopter. Blake realized he had been baiting Saito all along, coaxing him to give up as much information about their scenario as he could without having to ask questions, to arouse suspicion; it was quite clever. Blake listened to Saito explain their goal, what they were supposed to do in this job. It sounded like they were more than a little screwed, honestly. They were supposed to break up a son’s empire with one tiny idea? That was vague, and Blake was glad that they didn’t REALLY have to do it, they just had to make it seem like they were.

He heard Saito speaking to Cobb, and he couldn’t help but hold back an involuntary shudder at the eloquence in his tone and wording. Cobb had mentioned that some projections had parts of their dreamer’s personalities, and this man’s voice, the way he spoke, reminded him a little too much of Bane and the way he would address the masses across the television during his occupation.

He waited until they were alone, on a plane—and wasn’t that strange, having an entire plane section to themselves. It was nice feeling rich even if it was in a dream.

He picked at the salad that had been put in front of him. It was the first real vegetation he’d seen on his plate in months, but it wasn’t really there, so it was a little weird to bother eating it.

“Where are we going?” he asked finally when he was sure the attendant wasn’t going to come back.

“Paris. Ariadne texted me her location, Yusuf, too.”

“Are they ok?”

Cobb worked his jaw and glanced out the window. “Things are going a bit more off base than we planned. They’ve both got backstories they just can’t explain. Usually, if we come into a dream with information, it’s not usually this… involved.”

Blake studied him carefully. “Is it Bane?”

“It could be, it could also be that’s he’s in a coma, and his subconscious could be stronger because of that; it could be effecting things differently.”

“Should I be worried?”

“No, but some of our plans have to be scrapped. We’re going to need a new architect.”

“What? But all of those plans…”

Cobb shook his head. “We can’t use them. I can’t explain it, but Bane’s mind is creating its own story here, and I know that if we use the buildings I’ve created, we’re going to be sorry. Unfortunately, by eliminating me as builder he's taking more control of his dream whether he realizes it or not."

“That’s great.  So, what do we do?”

“Ariadne can build. She’s not as skilled at it as me, but she’ll be able to come up with new plans for it. According to her, she went to school for it here, so that’s probably what Bane’s mind is pushing for.”

“How come I didn’t get a fancy backstory?” Blake questioned.

“Be grateful,” Cobb snapped out sullenly, rubbing at his chin.

“Hey… are you really ok?”

“It’s fine. We’re fine. I’m going to go collect Ariadne; you are going to set up the warehouse scene like we talked about. We all have our roles to play in this, and playing them will get us deep enough to get what we need, so let’s just do them.”

Blake nodded uncertainly. There was something Cobb wasn’t telling him, but he wasn’t going to be able to force the information from the man. They separated at Paris. There were keys in his pocket, a plain ring of them, not a single keychain or adornment on them. When he got to a familiar set of large doors, he found one of the keys fit into it perfectly. It was almost a relief to see the familiar warehouse setup. Almost everything was in place as it had been when he’d been first taught about dream share. He was able to set the PASIV up quickly and arrange a couple of lounge chairs in a circle, busy work, really, to calm his nerves.

He flipped open the laptop he apparently owned here and jotted down some notes on it. There wasn’t much to go on, so he wrote down some observations. When he got bored, he checked the email account he had, and was surprised to see there were actually two letters in the inbox. The first was an encrypted packet of information, presumably from “Saito.” Luckily, his computer contained the means to decode it. He was soon presented with a packet of information on their little job, including names and images of the people involved.

He stared down at the picture he was being presented with. It was Dr. Jonathan Crane, AKA the Scarecrow. He had been warned about this, but it still took him by surprise.

"In dreams, projections often take on the faces of people we've seen before in life. Sometimes it's just the face of someone we see in passing, sometimes it's a friend or loved one. Don't be surprised if you see a couple of mercenaries suddenly playing a role in the dream; just accept it for what it is, and continue."

He didn’t like the idea of having to get up close and personal with even a projection of Dr. Crane; it figured that Bane would have to make him their subject. He glanced curiously at the second email.

Thinking of you, Pet. Wish you were in Mombasa with me. —Eames.

Chapter Text

Blake furrowed his brow in confusion. What was that even doing there? He couldn’t dwell on it for long, however. He looked up when he heard noises, quickly reaching for his holstered gun, cop instincts serving him well here. It was Cobb, though, Ariadne following behind him. It was nice to see some familiar faces.

“Have a good flight?”

She gave him a tight smile and shook her head. “I ended up here to begin with, actually. It’s something else isn’t it? I’ve never been inside such a pushy subconscious.”

“Yeah, well, it’s kind of fitting, I guess.”

She nodded, studying the room distractedly. “It’s strange. We’ve been in this room a million times, but it feels like I’ve never set foot in it before… Cobb—”

“I’m headed to pick up our subject,” Cobb cut her off sharply.

“COBB,” she spoke just as sharply. “You have to at least entertain the possibility.”

“It’s nothing to worry about, Ariadne. It’s just a stronger manifestation of his subconscious, that’s all this is.”

“Look, I don’t know if you can’t see what could be going on here or if you just don’t want to, but if you don’t take this seriously there could be some serious issues for us here when we try to go deeper, and I’m not about to just open my mind to something like this.” She grabbed up her purse and strode out the door, leaving Blake feeling nervous and bewildered. He’d never seen the woman lose her cool since he’d met her.

“What’s she talking about, Cobb?”

“She’ll be back,” Cob assured him.”

“That’s not what I asked. What’s going ON?”

“Don’t worry about it. When she comes back, you’re going to have her building mazes with you; she’ll design them, you work with her and get to know them better.”

It was like talking to a brick wall. He bit back a frustrated growl. “Fine, where are you going to be?”

“I’ve got a lead, Yusuf came through for us and he wants me to go visit a man there named Eames.”

“Eames?” His brain went back to the email he’d received. “He’s in Mombasa.”

Cobb’s head snapped over to look at him. “Yes, with Yusuf. How did you know that?”

“The guy sent me an email. Who is he?”

“He’s our forger, and I think he’s Bane.”

Blake didn’t want to think about the fact that Bane has possibly sent him an email. He just didn’t. Ariadne came back and when Blake tried to talk to her she was unusually tight lipped.

“I overreacted, it’s nothing you have to worry about. Let’s work on those mazes, ok?”

Blake really hated being left out of the loop. He was beginning to think his life was a bit like the Penrose staircase Ariadne was helping him construct; she said he had a knack for them.

“Why isn’t Cobb here building, instead?”

“He can’t, anymore.”

“Can’t? Why?”

A strange look flashed over Ariadne’s face. “Mal won’t let him.”

Blake looked at her, confused. “Who’s Mal?”

She turned her attention back to the staircase, showing him how to warp it into different shapes. “Never mind, it’s nothing.”

He wished he could believe that. Yusuf showed up the next day, and he was like a breath of fresh air compared to the other two. Blake was more than happy to help him arrange his work station.

“So did you see him?” he couldn’t resist asking.

“Our friend? Oh yes. Apparently he fancies us acquaintances. It was quite convenient, actually.”

“You don’t seem nearly as freaked out about the way this is going as they do.”

“Our friend is quite a man of romantic whimsy, is he not?” Yusuf remarked instead of really answering.

“I wouldn’t know. Cobb won’t tell me anything and I have the feeling you all got a lot more backstory than I did.”

Yusuf just chuckled and studied a vial of liquid. “That is Cobb and Ariadne for you. They both like to believe they have a firm handle on things.”

“And do we? Have a handle on things?” Blake asked cautiously.

“Perhaps. I’m just here to make chemicals, Arthur.”

“We’re in a dream; the chemicals you’re making aren’t even real,” he argued.

“Ah, but they are real here, and require my concentration, thank you.”

Blake sighed and tracked down Cobb. He looked even more troubled, his blue eyes had taken on a cloudier appearance. What the fuck was going on?

“So where is he?”
“He’s studying our mark for us. He’s fully on board with the idea of inception; that helps us.”

“Was there more trouble?” he questioned. Cobb didn’t have the face of a man who was patting himself on the back.

“I had a run-in with our first manifestation of physical militarization there,” Cobb admitted.

“Great, how bad was it?”

“It could have been a lot worse, honestly.” He glanced back at Blake as he leaned over Ariadne’s shoulder, peaking at the building designs. “A group of projections tried to chase me down. Eames actually helped me evade them by providing a distraction; we’ll hope that’s a good sign.”

“So, what’s the problem?”

“He mentioned you, Arthur. Fondly.”

Ariadne turned around to join the conversation. “What?”

Blake stared. “Define that for me.”

“Nothing suggestive, just enough that leads me to believe that, in his dream, he at least considers you some sort of companion which is… unexpected.”

“It’s not unheard of, but that is unusual, Cobb,” Ariadne spoke before turning back around.

“Wait, how does he even know about me, Cobb? How does he even know my name?”

“It’s his subconscious, Arthur. All you have to do is mention it to a projection and he’s going to know it on some level. Any interactions here with them are interactions with him, really, that’s why we can’t break character with one around.”

Blake thought about how he checked in at the hotel room under his false name. Shit, no wonder he knew it.

“That’s why we have to always stay in character around projections, we talked about that remember?”

“Right, right, ok. What do you want me to do about it?”

“Play along. If he considers you friends, then associating with him will likely keep his subconscious more docile.”

“I did not sign up to play babysitter to him!” Blake hissed out through his teeth. “Why is he even fixated on me?”

“Who knows why we fixate on the things we do. You signed up to help, and this is something you can do to actually help. I’m not asking you to go drinking with him, I’m just saying make conversation if he talks to you.”

“Maybe I’d start helping if I could at least get a single straight answer out of either of you!” he exclaimed, running a hand through his slicked back hair in exasperation.

“He’s right. Are you going to tell him, Cobb?” Ariadne asked, not looking back as she ran an exacto blade through a piece of cardboard. Her whole body seemed tense.

Cobb looked down for a few moments, hands thrust into his jacket pockets as he studied the floor before he cleared his throat and looked at Blake.

"Alright, something may be wrong," he finally admitted.

“MAY be?” Ariadne interjected.

"I went into a dream, to do some practice, test out a compound he had here, and something happened." Cobb's lips were pressed into a tight line

“What was it? Did Bane come after you in it?”

"No, my wife nearly killed me."

Blake blinked at that. "Well, you said that the militarization could work through each layer of the dre—”

"You don't understand, I don't HAVE a wife."

"Well that's... that's what, good, bad? I mean you said you started this dream with a lot more information than usual.”

"I don't know, but I do know that in that moment, you couldn't have convinced me that I didn't have a wife... Nothing would have convinced me otherwise and I felt my heart breaking when she attacked me. I barely made it out before the timer ticked off. That doesn't happen to me, not in dreams. That can’t ever happen in dreams, Arthur, because once you start to believe them, you forget your own reality."

Blake was worried; the man looked downright shaken.

"What does it mean?"

"I'm not sure, but I’m not the only one feeling it.”

Ariadne nodded. “I feel… different, younger, less experienced. I can build better than what I’m doing now, I know I can, but it’s just not coming to me like it should. It might mean that Bane is more in control of this than we thought. It might mean we’re going to have some trouble ourselves the deeper we go, remembering what’s real.”

“It might also be a sign of militarization,” Cobb admitted.

“What? How so?”

“I told you, not every person is trained to attack physically. What’s the strongest mental defense you can have? The ability to make people forget who they even are.”

“Well, that sucks, but it’s just in the dream, right? I mean, as long as we hold onto that, when we go topside we’ll be fine, and Bane, or Eames, or whatever we’re going to call him, HE won’t forget the job, he’ll still be helping us, so all we’ve gotta do is stay focused, right?”

“Cobb,” Ariadne’s voice lowered dangerously.

“It’s just a rumor,” Cobb grated out harshly.

“If you’re not going to tell him—”

“Fine.” Cobb combed his fingers through his hair. “Look, this is nothing, ok? Dream share is surrounded by ridiculous myths. It’s what happens when something this big is cloaked in secrecy.”

“Just tell me.”

“A couple years ago there was a rumor about a new type of militarization, but nothing ever came of it, and the rumors died down pretty quickly.”

“How did it work?”

Ariadne turned back around to look at him. “It drove the dreamers insane.”

“Not insane,” Cobb argued. “It made them forget who they were, even after they woke up.”

Blake narrowed his eyes. “That sounds like inception to me; I thought you said that wasn’t fucking possible?”

“I did, and it isn’t, which is why it’s only a rumor. You can’t make someone forget who they are, Arthur. You can’t.”

Blake would have felt a lot better if it didn’t sound like Cobb was trying to convince himself of that, as well.

“Look, there’s no reason to get worked up over a rumor. We’re here to do a job. Let’s do it.”

Chapter Text

Saito showed up within the hour; it staved off any other arguments they might have had. Blake fumed inwardly, though. This was beyond what he signed up for. This was supposed to be safe, there wasn’t supposed to be any risk that he could lose everything about himself. He found himself going over every detail of his life in his mind as he made notes about the ‘job’ and listened to Saito. Blake hated that Saito was even here, but apparently he had insisted which Blake assumed was a bit worrying—a pushy projection—but he couldn’t exactly ask. His memories didn’t feel any different. He didn’t feel like anything was missing or like anything had been replaced. He just felt like him: John Blake; parents deceased; apparently currently still a part of Gotham PD; woefully single; part-time vigilante; it all felt right. He knew himself, and if he could just remember himself he would be just fine.

He noticed that Cobb was beginning to talk about an aspect of the job that might require more detail, so he should probably be paying attention. He pulled out his black moleskine notebook from his pocket and jotted down a couple of notes. He always preferred his notebook for important details, even if there was a slight risk of leaving a paper trail on jobs.

His pen scratched sharply against the smooth white paper. His fingers froze.

No. He didn’t. In fact, Blake fucking hated writing things down. His hand writing was chicken scratch and he knew it. He’d gotten low marks in class and more than one wrap over his knuckles for it, and now he just hated having to write.

He glanced down at the notebook he had balanced carefully over his knee. Handwriting so immaculate it could have been typed stared back up at him.

He looked up at the others at they spoke; Saito was still there so he couldn’t mention this, he couldn’t freak out. Instead, he snapped the notebook shut and went back to his laptop, fingers clicking sharply over keys as he tried to calm down. He went to bed that night, in a hotel room in a dream hotel. Suddenly, he realized that he had no idea if he should, or even could sleep. They’d never really covered it and now he was perched on the edge of a luxurious hotel bed in a three piece suit wondering about sleeping in a dream and also if he was possibly losing his mind. His mind kept going back to the notebook. It hadn’t seemed unusual at all, to be writing in it, to enjoy the feeling of making things neat and orderly inside. It had felt completely natural. He was too scared to open up the notebook and write in it again, unsure of what his handwriting would look like.

The soft sounds of an elegant violin welled up from his coat pocket, not the ringtone he probably would have chosen for himself. He glanced at the screen before answering it, unnamed of course.

“Cobb?”

“Oh, I hope you weren’t expecting a call from him, pet.” The voice on the other end was light, playful, definitely not Cobb’s, not with that accent. “What could he be doing calling you past midnight I wonder?”

Eames, it just had to be.

“I don’t know, what the hell are YOU doing calling me past midnight?” he snapped out, bewildered at the turn of events.

“Seven hour time difference, pet, unless you wanted to be getting up to something.” His voice came out as a near purr from the speaker. Blake shuddered.

“What do you want, Mr.Eames?” Make nice, his brain reminded him.

“I heard you were working with Cobb on this. I thought you believed it couldn’t be done?” There was a twist of curiosity to his tone. “You’re really going to go down and try it anyway?”

“It doesn’t matter what I think, the money is good.”

“You’re such an awful liar, Arthur. I can hear it even over the phone.”

Blake froze at that, staring down at the mattress.

“You’re too good to him, you know. He bollocksed up his life on his own, you don’t have to keep on trying to help him fix it.”

He felt the tension in his shoulder’s loosening. “It’s just a job.”

“It’s on the up and up, then? I should take it? I’ve started surveying but this whole deal seems a bit squiffy.” His tone sounded sincere, like he was truly asking Blake’s opinion. He couldn’t help but feel a little baffled by it.

“Just… You’d be an idiot to turn down the cash.”

He heard a throaty chuckle on the other end of the line. “Goodnight, Arthur.” Then the call ended.

One could, it turned out, sleep in a dream, but Blake found it to be a dreamless sort of sleep and he ‘woke’ feeling strangely empty yet wide awake. Eating was strange, too. He never really felt hungry, per se, but sometimes food would be in the warehouse and well, he wasn’t going to turn it down, though he felt a little like he was back in kindergarten, having an imaginary tea party whenever he sunk his teeth into a pastry or sipped some coffee.  The phone call he’d gotten was… fucking weird. He decided not to bother mentioning it. He’d convinced Eames to come he figured, and he made nice, he was doing his part of making sure this went smoothly and that was enough.

Four days of that, of fake eating, fake sleeping, mostly fake working with Saito and he was more than ready for the next phase of this. He honestly hadn’t expected to feel so, well, alone. Saito was there at almost all times so they had to keep in character and after he punched out for the day he had no idea where anyone else went. He was used to being mostly alone, but this was beyond that, everyone around him was fake in one way or another, including himself, and maybe that was starting to get to him, making him feel a bit more uptight than usual, more serious.

Not to mention that Eames kept calling him, checking in each night, filling him in on bits of information about Fisher, then making a bit of playful chitchat on the end until Blake would finally hang up on him. It was unnerving and weird and maybe possibly made him feel just a little less lonely at night in his hotel room, but that was certainly not going to be thought about in detail anytime soon.

He walked into the warehouse that morning, his satchel tucked under his arm. Something felt off. He stopped and went for his gun when he saw a man, his back to him as he tapped a black marker thoughtfully onto the large pad of paper that had been propped onto an easel.

“Hey!” he brought his gun out and flicked off the safety. He didn’t know how a projection had gotten in or why it was snooping, but it wasn’t real so Blake really had no issues with shooting it; yet he wasn’t sure if that would cause a chain reaction of hostile projections.

The man didn’t seem surprised or startled. He made an inquisitive noise and turned around casually, the cap for the marker tucked into the corner of his mouth. Blake felt a sudden flash of warmth when his eyes caught sight of the plump lips there. They broke into an easy grin as the man capped the pen and tossed it haphazardly towards a pen jar where it rattled but stuck.

“There you are, pet, I should have known you’d be the first in.”

Blake lowered his gun slowly. His brain was working rapid fire when he realized who this could be. He tried to make possible connections between the monster of a man he had witnessed before and this man standing before him. It was hard to compare, he didn’t exactly have a face to match the face with. The eyes, that was it, nothing about this man looked like Bane at all beyond his eyes. Though the same cloudy blue, even they were different, they shone differently. They were casual, easy-going. Beyond that, his body language, his size, his voice, though he’d been listening to it every night the past few days.

Those eyes…

He tucked his gun away cautiously.

“Mr. Eames.” He nodded formally. Bane was standing right there in front of him, another personality or not, and fuck Cobb, there was no reason he had to be anything beyond civil now that he was here in the flesh where they needed him, and he damn well wasn’t going to be friendly.

Bane just seemed entertained and flashed him another grin as Blake headed over to his work station, and Blake faintly caught the sight of crooked teeth before he turned his head away and set up his laptop. He’d still been steering clear of his notebook.

“You know, you never responded to my email I realized.”

Blake paused a moment before he sat. “Of course not. I have much better things to be doing and you’ve been pestering me nightly on the phone,” he replied briskly.

Bane—or was it Eames? it was hard to put Bane’s name on this man’s face—let out a low raspy chuckle. “It’s always down to business with you, Arthur, isn’t it?”

Beyond a jaw twitch, he didn’t bother responding, and Eames didn’t seem to mind.

“Alright then, let’s see where we are then, shall we? Show us your work.”

Blake sighed, knowing the others wouldn’t be in yet. He always made a habit of showing up early. He liked being punctual, so he really was stuck bringing Eames up to date, so to speak. He brought up the careful documents he had been keeping. He could feel Eames over his shoulder; it was unsettling. He was leaning over him enough that he was casting a faint shadow over Blake’s arms as he typed. He worked to not let his discomfort show, but he had a feeling it could be sensed anyway and was being enjoyed in the same manner one enjoyed pulling on the pigtails of another child when one was young—for the reaction.

So he refused to give him the satisfaction of one. Instead, he went over some of the building that had been established, along with the research he had been compiling and refining. With Ariadne busy building levels and not quite at the top of her game, Blake found that he really was taking on the role of ‘point man’ more than expected. He didn’t mind much, he found the compilation of the data strangely relaxing and it was giving him something to do.

Eames seemed to be listening intently to what he was saying; it was the first time all week he felt like someone was really listening to his input, actually. When he finished, he snapped his laptop lid shut neatly and turned to face him.

“And what will you be contributing to the team, Mr. Eames?” he couldn’t help asking. He’d been getting basic information on Fisher, but Eames had mentioned that he’d worked out some theories and approaches on his own.

Eames smiled down at him and gave his shoulder a friendly pat. Arthur tensed, but the hand was gone before he could react further. “Let’s wait for the others, shall we? I don’t fancy having to repeat myself.”

Chapter Text

He was worried that the silence then would be uncomfortable, but Eames seemed to have no problem setting himself up in a chair and working from a file he had brought; he didn’t seem inclined to bother Blake in the slightest which he was quite grateful for. They worked until Blake heard the others coming in, Ariadne and Cobb looked worse for wear than usual even. Saito looked calm and collected, and Yusuf looked rather laid back, actually.

“Eames, how was your flight?” he asked casually as he went to his collection of tubes and vials.

“Bloody awful, thanks. I’m still half dead from the breakfast they served,” Eames replied cheerfully.

“Eames, this is Ariadne.” Cobb nodded in greeting then gestured to Ariadne who gave a small smile, shaking his hand.

“If you’re not feeling well, how about I make us some tea?”

Eames started to defer politely but she smiled. “I’d like some myself actually. Arthur, could you help me?”

He nodded quickly and walked out with her. They’d set up a smaller offshoot of the room as a small kitchenette type area, barely functional beyond a leaky sink, a coffeepot, an electric kettle that in the real world would be a fire hazard, and a noisily humming mini refrigerator.

He honestly got a little homesick whenever he went inside to refresh his coffee. He closed the door and carefully filled up the kettle.  “What’s going on? You both look even worse than before.”

Ariadne looked at him then crossed her arms, rubbing at her forearms nervously. “I made a totem last night.”

“But we’re already in a—”

“I know, Arthur, do you think I don’t know that? Even if I didn’t, I already have a totem. I’ve had it since I first started this… and I can’t remember what it is. I can’t remember, and I felt like I had to make this one, instead.” She sounded scared, so much younger than she did before, less certain. Blake didn’t know what to do; he didn’t know how to fix that.

“This is getting worse. I’m not the only one. Have you noticed Yusuf? He isn’t bothered at all by what’s been going on. That’s not like him, he’d notice, he’d be at least warning us, and you’re acting different, too.”

Blake turned to face her. “Me? I’m fine. You two, though, need to get a handle on things.”

She glanced at the door. “You’re not fine, Blake.”

His hands slipped and some water from the kettle splattered onto the counter.

“Do you think about yourself as Blake in your head, or Arthur?”

Fuck. He swore softly and mopped up the mess with a towel. He hadn’t even noticed. How had he not even noticed the switch in his brain, how it had become natural to hear himself being called Arthur? When Ariadne had said his name it felt like something had shifted slightly in his mind and suddenly things that he had been doing differently the past few days that had seemed normal for himself now felt different and out of place from his usual actions.

He was quiet for a few minutes, flicking the kettle on and taking a breath. “You’re right. This is getting bad, but look, we’re going to make it through this, ok? We’re almost done here on this level, aren’t we? Then the next levels will go faster, right?”

She gave him an uncertain look and slipped her hand into her pocket, squeezing something inside of it tightly. “Cobb and I had an argument last night, about Mal. This is getting worse, Arthur. I can’t, I’m having trouble remembering everything. We need to get this done quickly.”

“Mal, his fake wife?”

“You should have seen me trying to tell him that. He started talking about her, when we were alone, about his kids. It… it took a bit of time to help him remember they weren’t real.” She sighed then nodded. “You’re right. Let’s get through this as quickly as we can and hope for the best.” She gave him a fragile smile before she walked back out with the mugs.

It didn’t take long for them to set up in a circle. Now that the ‘team’ was fully assembled, they could actually work out a more detailed plan. Eames began with filling them in on the information he’d received by tailing Fischer and his godfather, Browning. Blake couldn’t help but stare in wonder as the man spoke with such self-assured confidence in his work, using careful but casual small gestures of his hand as he explained his idea for them to plant an idea into Fischer’s mind. The thoughts Eames had put into the plan were actually pretty brilliant, the idea of forging a man to suggest ideas only to have a projection of that same man later feed ideas to Fischer. It was convoluted and confusing, enough so that Blake found himself questioning if inception was really so impossible, after all.

“So, he gives himself the idea?” he clarified.

Eames glanced over and gave a tiny nod of acknowledgement. “Precisely, that’s the only way it will stick; it has to seem self-generated.”

He couldn’t help but sit back in his chair a bit at that. He knew that Bane was intelligent, Gotham’s takeover had proven that. It was another thing to see it poured out on display for him. There was a sense of imagination and whimsy to Eames’ idea that was hard to imagine coming from Bane. “Eames… I am impressed,” he finally spoke out loud.

He was barely spared a glance. “Your condescension, as always, is much appreciated, Arthur, thank you.”

Blake was left feeling a bit stunned as Eames turned his back to him and went on with the rest of his presentation. Try to give a guy a compliment. Fine, he reminded himself that he didn’t have to be nice, he just had to do his job. He ignored him and went to get his notebook so he could take notes while Cobb took the floor. When he came back he held back a sigh when he noticed that Eames had managed to flop down onto the chair right beside his. Fine. He ignored him and wrote instead, pausing at one point when he couldn’t help but wonder out loud how exactly they were supposed to be changing a business strategy into an emotion. He was new here, yes, but that just didn’t make sense.

It turned out they were going to use Fischer’s connection to his father to create such an emotion. Blake felt uncomfortable with the entire idea. Projection or not, the thought of digging into a man’s mind and using his relationships against him… it made him squirm. It wasn’t surprising that Eames seemed to have no problem with it. He was quite happy to toss idea around.

“Well, can we run with that? We could suggest to him breaking up his father’s empire as a ‘screw you’ to the old man?”

Blake stopped listening for a moment. He was too busy staring down at his notebook. When had he decided to take it out? His notes were pristine again even though his fingers were slightly shaky. He tried to write in his usual scratchy scribbles, but his strokes of the pen nib kept turning from harsh hatchings to elegant strokes. It was disconcerting to say the least, and it was making him feel snappish. Here they were still making plans, and they needed to go deeper. They sounded like they were going to be sitting here all day tossing back and forth ideas while Blake wrote in perfect handwriting and questioned his sanity.

“That might work,” Cobb agreed suddenly.

“MIGHT?” Blake finally spoke up in aggravation. They were going to go down to the next level on some idea that was hinged on a ‘might’? “We’re going to need to do a little better than ‘might’.”

Eames seemed to perk up at his interjection, spinning his chair around and giving him a cheery smile. “Oh yes! Thank you for your contribution, Arthur.” Apparently the guy had noticed he hadn’t spoken up since Cobb had started.

“Forgive me for wanting a little specificity, Eames.” He narrowed his eyes when the little smile didn’t leave Eames face, in fact he just tilted his head downward in amusement. “Specificity?”

“Inception is not about being specific,” Cobb interrupted. “When we get inside his mind, we’re going to have to work with what we find.”

Blake nodded and snapped his notebook shut. He knew Cobb wasn’t just meaning this Fischer job when he said that. He was letting Eames get to him and he knew it. He didn’t even know what it was about the man. Maybe it was because he had gone in feeling like he should be terrified of Bane when he met up with him in here, but this man just seemed… pleasant. It was too strange to reconcile the differences, and it was making him downright irritable. He needed more coffee.

He stood in the kitchen and slowly stirred sugar into his mug, jumping when Eames slipped in through the door, his hip bumped lightly against his own when he reached into the sink and picked out a mug.

“You’re all out of sorts today, aren’t you?”

“Don’t start with me, Mr. Eames.”

“Now then, I don’t know what’s got you all worked up,” Eames replied casually, reaching to flip on the kettle then flicking his eyes towards the door. He lowered his voice suddenly. “Does something seem a bit sticky about all of this to you, pet? Is that why you’re acting so high strung?”

Blake opened his mouth then closed it. He didn’t know how to begin to respond to that.

“If it’s looking like a bad deal, we should back out now. I’m sure you’ve got enough dosh stored away in your piggy for a rainy day. I’ll take your word for it if you have the feeling we should cut our losses now.”

“You’d trust me like that?” he couldn’t help asking.

“Of course; you’ve got no imagination, but you’ve got a killer’s instinct, love.” He made a slight face as he checked the box of teabags, pulling one out and fixing up his cup. “So, what do you think?”

“I… it’s nothing. I’m just overreacting. I just think the whole idea is nonsense. If you think it can happen, though, then you should stay. I’m here for the money, and I’m getting that either way.”

“Hmm.” He made a slight noise of thoughtful consideration as he sipped from his mug. “If you’re sure.”

“I’m sure.”

“Fancy coming out to have a drink with me, tonight?”

“Absolutely not.”

He was surprised at the huge grin his response got him.

“Can’t fault a bloke for trying, can we?” He winked, yes winked, which was the cheesiest thing Blake had ever seen, and walked out of the kitchen with his cup. Blake tried to reconcile the idea that he was pretty sure Bane had just hit on him. Maybe he needed a drink after all; just not with Eames.

Chapter Text

Could you get drunk in dreams? Blake was pretty sure he was going to find out.

Apparently you can, but you have to be really, really determined. He’d cleaned out the minibar, and most of the night was a hazy blur after that, but hey, apparently dream-drunk meant no hangover which was the best news Blake had heard all week, honestly. He’d shown up early as usual, feeling better than he had the night before, and ready to help move this along however he could.

And it was starting to move along. They spent the next day going through the different empty shells of levels Ariadne had built, and going over the plan with as much detail as they could. It actually felt a bit familiar as they had done the same thing before they’d gone down to this level. Here, though, Eames was quite confident in explaining each level and Cobb was stepping back, letting him do it so that they might be able to get a feel for what was coming.

Blake tried to help out however he could, and apparently that involved volunteering to be sedated. He wasn’t even sure how it had happened. Ok, no, he did. Yusuf had asked for a volunteer and Arthur had practically shot his hand up into the air, not quite knowing what he was getting into.

“Sedation for sleep stable enough to create three layers of dreaming, we’ll have to combine it with an extremely powerful sedative,” Yusuf explained with a proud smile. Four, Blake thought to himself, the sly bastard had already concocted such a thing.

Blake leaned back in his chair and listened to them discuss the layers and the time spent dreaming. He knew all of this, and even though math wasn’t exactly his strong suit either he wasn’t worried about it because he also knew it was a blatant lie. They were already in a dream, and that meant any effects were going to be compounded once more. His brow furrowed suddenly. They hadn’t discussed how exactly they were going to be getting taken out of each dream before, and he didn’t fancy spending X-number of years trapped in Bane’s subconscious.

“So once we’ve made the plant how do we get out?” he asked. “I’m hoping you have something more elegant in mind than shooting me in the head?” Blake refrained from glaring. He still held a grudge about that. He didn’t want to feel that ever again, thank you.

Cobb made a slight face before responding. “A kick.”

“What’s a kick?”

Blake snapped his head over sharply to look at her. She was serious.

Ariadne had been the one to explain kicks to him. She was looking up at Cobb, though, as though she was some bright-eyed new student to all of this. Blake felt his stomach lurch and quickly put his head back to his notes, trying not to look conspicuous as Cobb was already staring tersely down at her. They’d both broken character.

“This, Ariadne, would be a kick,” Eames helpfully supplied.

Blake suddenly felt the world under him shift and his legs shot out and his body jolted to attention as the chair legs thunked down onto the floor. He turned his head and glared at Eames in silence who only broke into a little schoolboy grin in return. At least it broke the mood. Whatever Cobb was thinking, he seemed to move on, even smiling a little.

“It’s that feeling of falling you get that snaps you awake.”

They continued to discuss it further and suddenly Blake got a much clearer idea of what he had signed up for with Yusuf. God damn it.

“Arthur, love, you’re so stressed out, all of the time. I don’t think you really need another drop of coffee inside of you,” Eames scolded mildly. They were back in the kitchen; they always seemed to end up in the kitchen together. “Have some tea, at least there’s less caffeine in it.”

“I’m fine. It calms me down,” Blake argued, fixing another cup.

“Oh, then by all means, I’d hate to see you without it.”

Blake froze when he felt Eames’ hand come to rest on the small of his back. It was large and warm, the heat seeping through his shirt and traveling to his skin quickly. “But there’s a lot of different ways you could calm down,” he remarked casually, his voice taking on a decidedly lower, smoother pitch.

Blake couldn’t suppress the shiver that went up his spine. He left his coffee mug on the counter in favor of spinning around to face Eames. “What do you think you’re doing?” he demanded sharply.

Two hands came to rest on the counter, trapping him neatly between them as Eames stood in front of him. They were about the same height, but Blake couldn’t help but note he was certainly not more built and he felt damn small suddenly, pinned to that counter.

“Just giving you a little something to help you relax, love.” The words were breathed out softly and Eames leaned into him. Blake gasped as he felt the sudden press of wet, plush lips to his own; he leaned back into the counter further.

Then he was falling through the counter.

He gasped and came to suddenly, his body jerking, his arms flailing out, his head smacking down onto the floor. He heard a short burst of laughter above him and saw Eames staring down at him.

“You don’t have to be here, you know.” He glared then groaned and rubbed his head. “Or you could at least take a turn.”

“But you just look so lovely when you’re sleeping, and even funnier when you’re flailing about. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

It wasn’t fucking funny at all. It wasn’t funny the second time, the third time, and especially not the fourth when his head was starting to ache from always managing to get hit on the same damn spot. He only had the stupid dream once, but once was more than enough. He didn’t even know what had prompted it or why he couldn’t get it out of his mind.  Yeah he’d hit a bit of a dry spell, surface level, but he wasn’t scraping bottom barrel yet and guys were definitely not his thing, and they damn well better not be ‘Arthur’s’ thing either.

He shook it off as they continued to plan. It was all falling into place quickly now. The kicks were set up, the countdowns. Saito had even managed to score them a way to keep ‘Fischer’ under for the supposed amount of time they needed for the job to take place. Blake chose to take that as a good sign, that maybe Bane’s subconscious was deciding to cut them just a little bit of slack.

Plus, projection or not, buying out an entire airline was arguably one of the slickest moves he’d ever seen.

And he was fucking-Batman now, so he liked to think he knew some pretty slick moves. Maybe.

Blake stayed late and took some time to pack up some things. He was just going home to an empty hotel room so he found himself often lingering around the warehouse. He saw Cobb and Ariadne sharing a PASIV together on his way out, and he couldn’t help but wonder what was going on, but he decided it would be best not to interfere. He left the warehouse only to be stopped by Saito.

“I’m afraid none of us will be getting much sleep tonight, Arthur,” the man said politely and walked back into the warehouse. Blake followed. He glanced down at Cobb and Ariadne, awake now, and both looked tense. He couldn’t help but wonder what he had missed.

“It’s time. Maurice Fischer just died in Sydney.”

Damn it. Just when he thought Bane’s subconscious was cutting them some slack, it decided to toss something new at them. They were supposed to have another day of practice, of going over the plan, but now they found themselves quickly packing up everything in a mad bustle to the airport. As he was packing the PASIV, Ariadne pulled him aside. Her eyes looked haunted; Blake couldn’t help but give her shoulder a light squeeze. It seemed to surprise her, but she spoke in a hushed tone.

“I saw her, Arthur. I went down into a dream he was testing, and I saw her. She tried to attack me. I’ve never seen anything like it. It could be worse than we thought. Cobb is worse than we thought. He’s been trying to keep her locked away in his own subconscious to spare us from her, but I followed him down. I knew her face, the projection, Mal. I saw it in the files.”

“Someone Bane was associated with?” He glanced around the room but everyone was too busy to notice their conversation, except perhaps Cobb who kept glancing over at him.

“Talia Al Ghul,” Ariadne confirmed, snapping shut the case for him.

“Shit, that’s… is that bad?”

“The information that was released to us about them implied that she was his closest relationship. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that his subconscious would use her to attack us but… it was bad, ok? She was like a predator... It’s why Cobb can’t build, now. It’s not even his subconscious, but it’s like she’s attached herself to his mind. He can’t know the layouts of the mazes because if he knows it, then she knows it.”

“Why isn’t she affecting him in this level, then?”

“I don’t know, maybe because Bane’s subconscious hasn’t fully pieced together that this is a dream, so it can’t let her out here, I hope.”

Blake nodded tensely. It was a good thing they were going down to the next level. They could put an end to this soon. There was no way he wanted to meet up with Miranda Tate, or Talia al Ghul, or Mal, no matter what her personality was, not that this one sounded like it was any better than the last.

“Will this be better or worse the next level down?”

Ariadne shook her head. “There’s no way of knowing. I’m going down with you guys.”

“I thought you were going to stay up here, watch over us while we’re sleeping. We’ll be sitting ducks, won’t we?”

“We haven’t had a single attack since Mombasa. We’ll be on a plane and we have no reason to believe the projections on this level will start attacking us. I’m not letting you guys go down there alone,” she insisted firmly.

“If you’re sure…” He picked up the briefcase and headed out.

It was just his luck that he managed to get picked up by the same taxi as Eames. Well, no, he couldn’t rightfully call it that; what he could call it was Bane’s subconscious being a jerk. Eames plopped his duffle bag down between them and flashed him a smile.

“Ready for this, then?”

“As ready as we can be, I suppose.”

“You still don’t like it being as wide open as it is, do you?”

“I like knowing exactly what I’m getting into.”

“Oh, we’ll be alright. You did good in your job like you always do, and you know I’ll take good care of you, Arthur.” His voice took on a softer more teasing tone at that. “We’re in this together, you and I.”

Blake, who had been staring at the window, glanced over at him. He sounded so sincere in it, he almost felt a little bad. He suddenly realized that maybe he was getting a little attached to this Eames, which was utter insanity. Eames wasn’t even real, he was just some part of a terrorist’s mind and once this dream was over, he wouldn’t exist. That shouldn’t have made Blake’s stomach give a little twist. Eames was fun, he was smart, clever, a jerk, and Blake maybe had been thinking about that dream a little too much, thinking about those playful phone calls. He couldn’t seem to help himself from coming back to them at night, or that kiss, just before he went to sleep. It really figured that he would set himself up to grow attached to something he could never have. By the way, he wasn’t gay.

“You’re right. Everything is going to be fine,” he finally forced out quietly. Eames gave him a smile and his knee a little pat.

“There we are, that’s about as chipper as we’re going to get you. Don’t worry, I’ll buy you a coffee at the airport.”

He couldn’t help but smile a little at that. “None of the cheap crap.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it, can I change your mind about that drink, then?”

It wasn’t real. It seemed such a shame to disappoint him, though, when he could see the little glint of hope in his eyes.

“This goes well? Fine.”

He ignored the guilt when he saw the broad smile Eames flashed him. “Guess I’ll just have to make sure it all goes off according to plan, then.”

He wasn’t real.

Maybe part of him was wishing he was.

He took his seat on the plane, watching closely as the Fischer projection walked by. He felt a little smile tug at his lips when he saw Eames lift his passport from him and pass it off to Cobb before he casually strapped in, pretending to thumb through a magazine. Blake watched the interactions between Cobb and Fischer take place out of the corner of his eye as he tried to calm his nerves. They were finally going under; this would all be over soon enough.

Things went as expected and Fischer toasted to his father, drinking the doctored water, and was unconscious in moments. They all snapped to work, hooking up the PASIV and settling in. Cobb gave the nod to an attendant there, and Blake once again found himself giving a Hail Mary as the button was depressed.

Chapter Text

He was in a car, and it was absolutely pouring.

“Maybe Yusuf should see someone about his bladder problems,” Eames remarked cheerfully from the front seat as he adjusted his buckle.

“Where is he?” Blake asked.

“I see him.” Cobb squinted out past the rapidly working windshield wipers and gave the horn a honk. Moments later, Blake could see Yusuf scrambling over to them, ducking into the backseat beside him.

“You couldn’t have peed before you want under?” He’d had this explained to them and this blinding rain was the last thing they needed.

“Sorry,” Yusuf mumbled.

Eames teased him a bit further, right up until they were ramming the back bumper of a taxi and then performing a friendly carjacking. It wasn’t exactly subtle, and Blake felt like he should be arresting them even while he did it, but they were in, and Saito took a seat beside him. He didn’t like being alone with the projection, but that was how it seemed to play out.

And oh god, what awful music; he made a face and flicked off the radio as he saw Fischer up ahead waiting on the curb, signaling him. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Eames casually stalking up close to him then dash around to the other side of the car to hop in with him. Blake had to bite back an amused smile as he listened to them argue, Eames pouring on the charm as Fischer grew increasingly annoyed. It only ceased when Saito pulled a gun on him. Everything was going according to plan.

At least until a bullet flew past Eames’ head. He made a startled noise and ducked down. Blake brought the car to a screeching halt when he saw an SUV spinning around in traffic to face them, doors popping open and armed men poured out of it.

Shit. This couldn’t be good. Bane's militarization had finally decided to kick in. He threw the car into reverse as bullets started to fly into the taxi.

“Cover him!” he shouted. If the Fischer projection was shot, there would be no reason to continue down the levels, and this would all be a wash. He was relieved when he saw Eames lunge over and shove Fischer down. He could hear bullets clanking over the taxi. He had to get them the hell out of here, but they were surrounded by high traffic. He rammed into the cars ahead of them, a glance in the rear view mirror showing him that Eames was practically out the window, aiming his own gun while Saito did the same, creating a small measure of cover while Blake worked to forcibly ram cars out of the way. He was sure the taxi wasn’t going to hold up under this kind of abuse.

The window beside his head shattered; Eames and Saito were horrible for cover. He grabbed his gun and aimed carefully, taking out the projection that had been aiming for him. He could hear the squealing tires of another car coming close. Cobb.

There was a projection behind him, aiming right for their heads. They were fucked. He slammed into reverse, sandwiching the bastard between his bumper and another car, but the guy looked ready to keep firing anyway.

“GET HIM!” he shouted. Fuck if he could aim while driving, the least Eames could do was take out the bastard Blake had pinned perfectly for him. Finally, he heard more gunshots and was able to spin the car, breaking out of the boxed-in area.

Jesus Christ, that had been close. He kept his foot slammed down onto the gas. It was occupation all over again in his mind, the explosions going off around him. Fuck, what if Eames had been hurt? He had to check on his partner.

“Are you alright?!” he shouted out over the sound of pouring rain, of gunshots in the distance, of a train that sounded like it was barreling down main street from how noisy it was being.

“Yeah, I’m ok, I’m ok.” He could hear the nervous sigh of relief leave Eames mouth as he worked to reassure him. “Fischer’s ok, too,” he added. “’Less he gets carsick.”

Right, Fischer; he needed to be alive, too. He glanced over beside him. “Saito?”

The man had a hand to his chest, coming back with a handful of blood. Well, Blake felt a little bad because, as far as projections go, Saito had been pretty civil, but honestly if someone was going to get shot it was best that it was him. He just nodded and followed Cobb’s car as they made their way to the predestinated location. None of this was going like planned. They’d been worried about militarization, but after getting so little of it he knew no one had expected something so extreme so fast. They were in over their heads here. If this was level two, what could level three be like, or four? Blake briefly considered shooting himself in the head right now to save himself the trouble of having a random projection do it.

He felt a firm squeeze on his shoulder. “Nice shooting, mate.”

He nodded. “You, too, when you aim.”

Eames gave him an uneasy laugh. “In this together, I told you.” Then he ducked out of the car to open the bay door.

Cobb was shouting when they pulled in, and he yanked Fischer out of the car. “Get Fischer in the back room, now!”

“What the hell happened?” They’d at least talked about this. They hadn’t expected anything so extreme, but if they went in and found militarization they were going to have Arthur take the blame for it, as point man. He didn’t like it, but it at least made sense.

“Jesus Christ, is he dying?” Cobb sounded panicked at they pulled Saito out of the car. Blake wasn’t sure why he sounded so worried, even in character Saito would just wake up one level from here.

“I don’t know, what happened to you?” he asked, trying to stick to the important information.

“We got blocked by a freight train.”

He turned to Ariadne who looked bewildered, frightened. “Why would you put a freight train in the middle of downtown?” Was that militarization, could militarization even do that? Could it completely warp the dream levels?

“I didn’t!”

Cobb was shouting again. “Why the hell were we ambushed? Those were not normal projections. They’d been trained for God’s sake!”

He felt his shoulders tensing. Yeah, it was part of the plan, but he didn’t have to like being yelled at.

“How could they be trained?” Ariadne asked, and Blake felt his heart sink a bit. He hoped she was asking for the sake of the barely conscious projection he was crouched over.

He explained, gritting his teeth as Cobb yelled. He was a hell of a lot angrier about this than Blake had expected him to act.

“Look, calm down!”

“Don’t tell me to calm down! This was your job, God damn it, this was YOUR responsibility!”

Blake had had enough of this bullshit. He sprang up to his feet as Cobb waved his hand in front of his face, looking furious. He kept shouting, and Blake couldn’t help being baited into it, shouting back at him. He could see Yusuf and Eames rushing out from the back. From the corner of his eye he could see Eames’ eyes narrow at Cobb and Blake had the sudden realization that he was angry. Angry because Blake was being yelled at. This was the first time he had seem Eames angry. He stalked over and held out his gun as Cobb was shouting that Saito was dying.

“Well then put him out of his misery!” He aimed his gun.

Blake was confused as Cobb shoved Eames into the car. “Don’t! Don’t do that.” He sounded near desperation.

“He’s in agony, I’m waking him UP,” Eames argued.

“No, it won’t wake him up.”

“What do you mean, it won’t wake him up? When we die in a dream, we wake up,” Eames explained and Blake clearly wasn’t the only one who thought that Cobb had possibly completely lost his shit. Besides, what was he talking about?

Yusuf spoke up suddenly. He didn’t look calm anymore. “Not from this. We’re too heavily sedated to wake up that way.”

“Right, so what happens when we die?” Eames asked.

“We drop into limbo.”

Blake felt like the walls of the room were closing in on him. This couldn’t be real. If that was true, not just some line they were feeding Eames, then it was true for them, too. They were even more heavily sedated topside than they were down here. Limbo. They’d only talked about it briefly, what could happen if you went too deep into dreams, why they didn’t dare go down more than four levels. It was an eternity down there.

“Are you serious?” he yelled.

“Limbo?” Ariadne asked, her voice shaky.

Blake looked over at her. He just didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t anymore. “Unconstructed dream space,” he finally spat out.

“Well, what the hell is down there?”

“Just raw, infinite subconscious; NOTHING is down there!”

An argument exploded around him. He stood there a moment and stared, wondering how everything could have gone this wrong, how he had been lied to this entire time. He looked down at Saito’s body, bleeding out, and then looked over to Yusuf.

“Let’s just get him upstairs.”

He could hear the faint sounds of shouting downstairs still as they set Saito down carefully to rest. They followed him up and ‘breaking character’ be-fucking-damned. He grabbed Cobb and shoved him out of earshot.

“Is it fucking true?”

“Arthur, I had to.”

His fist clenched tight. He was going to kill this man when they got topside, or have him arrested then kill him. “So you knew about those risks, and you didn’t tell me?”

“There weren’t meant to be risks, I didn’t know we’d be dealing with gunfire.”

Blake stared. They’d known upfront that Bane could be militarized. He glanced around the room, but no one was paying them any attention at the moment. “Cut the crap. You knew, and you had NO right.”

Cobb shrugged. “This was the only way to go three layer’s deep.”

“Four.”

Cobb narrowed his eyes at him in confusion and brushed him off. Blake watched him for a moment. Then he knew. Cobb thought this was the first layer. Jesus Christ, whatever had been warping him a level up had taken hold of him even tighter down here. Blake wondered if he even remembered his real name, that he wasn’t actually his fucking point man. He turned to Yusuf desperately.

“You. You knew about this?”

“I trusted him!” Yusuf argued, waving his arm at Cobb. Blake hesitated at that.

“Trusted him when… when he promised you half his share?” He watched Yusuf’s face closely.

“No.” Yusuf looked at him in disbelief. Relief flooded into Blake’s body. At least he wasn’t completely alone in this level.

“His whole share. Besides, he said he’d done it before.”

His heart sank. Yusuf, too, and Blake had no doubt that Ariadne had no idea what was going on, either. They all thought this was real, that this entire job was the real deal, and Blake didn’t know what to do. He’d never felt so overwhelmed. He was in this on his own, and there was no easy way out. If he died, it was game over.

Chapter Text

“Look I had to do whatever I could to get back to my children.”

You don’t fucking have children! his mind shouted back in a rage, but it was no use. Eames was there again, glaring down Cobb and Blake had no way of convincing any of the team that they had gone out of their fucking minds.

“So you led us into a warzone with no way out?” Eames asked, his eyes narrowing.

“There is a way out; we go through with the plan and get out using the kicks just like before.”

“Forget it.” Eames shook his head and looked over at Blake. “I’m sitting this one out on this level.” He took a chair and Blake realized that Eames expected him to stay with him. If this were real, it would make perfect sense, too, and he was sorely tempted to do it.

Until Cobb pointed out what sitting ducks they were. Eames curled his fingers nervously, holding his hand in front of his face as he listened and glanced at Blake.

“Downwards is the only way forwards,” Cobb finally said and Eames gave a reluctant shake of his head. Blake was tossed a ski mask and he went to work on Fischer with Cobb. It felt ridiculous, threatening a projection, but he put some of the anger he was feeling at Cobb at the moment into it and he ended up feeling a little better as he threatened the man.

He could hear pained shouts coming from a backroom. They were very realistic, but then Eames was always impressive when he was forging. The man knew what he was doing.

He stopped when he realized what he was thinking. Keep calm. He took a breath and reminded himself that no, he had in fact never actually seen Eames forge anything before. Eames wasn’t real. They were in Bane’s mind. His name was Arthur Blake, mother deceased, part of the Gotham police department, mostly single except for a couple of trysts here and there with girls and guys, and part time vigilante. It all felt right. He knew himself, and if he could just remember himself, he would be just fine.

He watched as Eames’ forgery was manhandled down beside Fischer. He listened at the door for a few minutes until he realized he might be able to talk to one of the team alone, now. He found Yusuf with Saito, checking in on the man; he looked terrible. Projection, just a projection, Blake reminded himself, ignoring the feeling of apprehension that was creeping up at him when he looked over the wound. He looked for Ariadne and Cobb and found them talking together. He hadn’t meant to eavesdrop, but they didn’t notice him. They were too deeply engrossed in conversation, and Blake heard it all, just how far they were gone as they discussed ‘Mal,’ her suicide, limbo. If Blake didn’t know for sure, if he didn’t really know himself, he would have believed every word from them. He turned away quickly before he could be seen. There was going to be no convincing either of them.

He watched the windows carefully and waited for Cobb to get him. They threatened Fischer more before finally loading him into the van. At least that part was according to plan, even if nothing else was, even if he could hear the sounds of cars screeching and people gathering around the building in droves. He looked at Eames as he pulled the hood off of his head.

“What did you get?” Cobb demanded

Eames shook his head, letting out a shaky breath. “That boy’s relationship with his father is even worse than we imagined.”

Damn it. Of course it was, of course Bane’s subconscious would make this as difficult as possible. “This helps us how?” He gave Eames a look, trying to remind himself that it was all his fault, after all.

Cobb didn’t look affected. “The stronger the issues, the more powerful the catharsis.”

Blake grit his teeth. It was all pretend! It didn’t matter if Fischer reconciled or not, all that mattered was getting deep enough, to a place where they could extract from Bane.  He heard the sound of distant gunfire. They didn’t have time for a psychological debate. He grabbed one of the assault rifles from their supply.

“How are you going to reconcile them if they’re so estranged?” Cobb asked.

“Well I’m working on that,” Eames said defensively, clearly not believing, rightfully so, that Cobb had any reason to be edgy with him.

Blake turned to look at Eames as he walked by. “Work faster.” They were running out of time. “The projections are closing in quick.” He made sure the rifle was loaded as he spoke and went for the window as the team worked on loading the van. “We’ve got to break out of here before we’re totally boxed in.”

He decided to draw the gunfire to a specific point before it could even start, better to put himself in control of where and when it began. He tugged a chain, opening up a window and aiming. It wasn’t long before, through the thick of the rain, he could make out the grainy shape of a figure atop a nearby building. He took aim, but he wasn’t used to firing from a long distance like this and the angle made it even harder. He ducked down quickly when a rain of bullets came towards him, ripping into the side of the building. He waited for them to cease before he tried again, only to be stopped again. The window just wasn’t going to cut it.

He didn’t like the risk, but he stalked over to the doors and yanked one open as much as he dared. It slid open with a low creak. He was able to aim better now, through it, but the projection he was after was quick, able to duck behind obstacles whenever Blake got a good shot in.

“Damn it,” he swore under his breath when he was so sure he had finally gotten him, only to miss once more. He heard footsteps and Eames was striding up behind him confidently, his face seeming almost fondly exasperated with him.

“You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling,” he said scoldingly, and then looked intently out the door. Blake looked down at his weapon, and his eyes widened when suddenly there was a grenade launcher being hoisted into the air and fired with a dizzying precision. He couldn’t help but watch with a touch of awe as the projectile found its target and burst into a fiery explosion. His mouth fell open just slightly as the shrapnel flew through the air and smoke billowed out from the wreckage. Eames turned around without another word. As he was leaving Blake raised his eyebrows, impressed.

There was no time to comment, though, as they raced back to the van together and Blake opened the side door. As he climbed inside, he felt the firm touch of Eames hand on the small of his back, steadying him before it disappeared and he was vaulting into the back with the others.

They peeled out of the warehouse, Yusuf at the wheel.

“Now we need to shift his animosity from his father to his godfather,” Cobb spoke as they worked to set up the PASIV for the next level.

“You’re going to destroy his one positive relationship?” Ariadne asked in disbelief, Blake shook his head; this was why you didn’t bring rookies into jobs like this. They weren’t in this for the morality of the situation.

“No!” Eames disagreed cheerfully. “We repair his relationship with his father, whilst exposing his godfather’s true nature. We should charge Fischer a lot more than Saito for this job.”

Ariadne relaxed and Blake held back an amused look at how well Eames was able to soothe her conscience. She fit right in, after all. He felt a pounding at the back of his head; it throbbed, probably from the stress of the job, but it couldn’t be helped, not with how Cobb had screwed them all over.

“What about his security? It’s going to get worse as we go deeper.”  

“I think we run with Mr. Charles,” Cobb replied, sounding uncertain but determined.

“No,” Blake replied firmly.

“Who’s Mr. Charles?” Eames questioned.

“Bad idea.” Something in his head throbbed harder. Something wasn’t quite right.

“The second we get into that hotel and approach Fischer, his security is going to be all over us. We run with Mr. Charles like we did on the Stein job,” Cobb argued.

But it wasn’t Fischer’s security, was it? He needed to think, but there just wasn’t time. He argued back, instead.

“So, you’ve done it before?” Eames asked, sounding optimistic, but Blake shut that down quickly.

“Yeah, and it didn’t WORK; the subject realized he was dreaming, and his subconscious tore us to pieces.”

The subject realized he was dreaming. The idea tickled at his brain.

Two levels. Two levels down. It snapped back into place in his mind, like it had been a piece of a puzzle carefully worked out but now jammed back into place with a painful click.

“Excellent, but you learned a lot, right?” Eames chimed in sarcastically.

He couldn’t believe how easy it had been. He couldn’t let it happen. Fuck, they were going to go deeper. He was going to lose it. He couldn’t lose it. Arthur Blake, Arthur Blake: parents ages 57 and 54; part of a special team put together for an extraction job on a ruthless vigilante; single, but he was thinking of finally taking Eames up for his constant offers of a drink; full time point man.

But was that right? Did he know himself?

Of course he did. It all felt right. He knew himself, and if he could just remember himself, he would be just fine. He wouldn’t lose himself.

“Don’t jump too soon,” he warned Yusuf. “We’ve only got one shot at that kick; we’ve got to make it.”

He strapped in as Yusuf wished them sweet dreams and said a quick Hail Mary for luck.

Arthur Blake. Arthur Blake. Arthur Blake.

Chapter Text

Arthur gave Ariadne a patient look as they took a seat together on the small couch of the hotel lobby. She was doing admirably; the job might have gone to hell, but she was being professional and Arthur admired that. He was feeling pretty damn tense himself. His head wouldn’t stop throbbing to the point where it felt like it was pounding at the backs of his eyeballs. Ariadne tapped her fingers nervously against her thighs, so he nodded slightly in Cobb’s direction as he walked by.

“There goes Mr. Charles.”

He watched as Eames strutted past them in a forge he’d seen him use in the past, gorgeous and blonde. Really, commendable work, his cock calmly pointed out when he turned towards them and flashed the briefest of smiles at him before strutting away.

“Who or what is Mr. Charles?” Ariadne asked, bringing Arthur back to the situation at hand.

“It’s a gambit designed to turn Fischer against his own subconscious,” Arthur explained. He couldn’t keep his own hands from moving a bit nervously. This wasn’t good. He was going to get torn apart again, only this time he wasn’t going to resurface and have to shoot his way out of a hospital; he’d wind up in limbo.

“And why don’t you approve?”

“Because it involves telling the mark that he’s dreaming.” That was dangerous enough one level down, but two? He winced as his head throbbed even harder before he continued. “Which, in turn, draws a lot of attention to us.”

“Didn’t Cobb say never to do that?”

Arthur couldn’t refrain from letting out an amused sound. “So, now you’ve noticed how much time Cobb spends doing things he says never to do.” If he went into limbo for this, he was going to find his way out and make those two adorable godchildren of his into orphans. He glanced over and had to give Ariadne a small smile when she seemed to share his amusement.

It didn’t last long; he could feel a faint rumbling beneath his feel, the vibrations shaking through the chair. Ariadne looked around, beginner’s mistake, but he couldn’t blame her.

“What’s happening?”

“Cobb’s drawing Fischer’s attention to the strangeness of the dream, which is making his subconscious look for the dreamer.” He avoided eye contact as he could feel the gaze of various projections turn towards him suspiciously. Ariadne tensed more beside him. He licked over his top lip nervously.

“For me.” He glanced over at her. Well, if he was going to die.  “Quick, give me a kiss.”

He smiled as he felt her soft lips quickly pressed up against his. She pulled back quickly and looked around.

“They’re still looking at us,” she pointed out anxiously.

“Yeah, it was worth a shot. We should probably get out of here.” He barely kept his smile in check as he glanced at her once more before rising from the couch and heading off. As they walked, the ground shifted beneath their feet. It took a little doing to adjust to the subtle shifts as they moved forward, but they were able to get to the hotel room without attracting a lot of attention.

He pulled the bag of plastic explosives from the hotel safe and started carefully setting up the charges. It was actually the most relaxing part of the job so far. He got the call from Cobb as he explained the kick to Ariadne, then met him out in the hall. It was clear so far; Fischer was watching them nervously as they entered room 528. Arthur pulled out his Glock, Cobb his Beretta, and together they made a show of sweeping the room before Arthur grabbed the PASIV out of the bathroom area.

He heard the faint clicking noise of a keycard being swiped and shushed the others, quickly disabling the projection as it walked through the door. It was Browning, looking guilty as he held onto the hotel keycard. That was a good sign. It meant Fischer wasn’t trusting Browning anymore. Arthur felt relieved; finally, something was going as it should. He kept his gun trained on Browning as Cobb questioned Fischer, planted more doubt in his mind about his uncle until sudden realization seemed to light up in the man’s eyes.

“The kidnappers are working for you.” He sounded disappointed, but not incredulous, not as shocked as he would have been if the inception wasn’t taking.

Arthur listened to Browning explain; it gave them a good indication of how exactly they were doing here. It sounded promising, hell, maybe they could actually pull this off. Maybe this was actually possible. It was hard to stay a skeptic about the whole thing when it was unfolding in front of him.

Cobb pulled Fischer aside and accused Browning of lying as Eames and Saito joined them.  Eames gave him a quick glance and Arthur helped him pretend to hook the Browning projection up to the PASIV. Cobb set up and Ariadne sat down, looking bewildered.

“Wait, WHOSE subconscious are we going into, exactly?”

Arthur couldn’t really blame her for the confusion.

Cobb explained, “We’re going into Fischer’s. We told him it was Browning’s so he’d come be a part of our team.”

“He’s going to help us break into his own self-conscious,” Arthur realized, and he couldn’t help but feel impressed by the cleverness of it. It sent off strange pangs in the pit of his stomach, though, a memory he couldn’t quite hold onto. Had they done a job like this before? Setting up the dreamer to break into their own self-conscious? They couldn’t have, not after the disaster the Stein job had been.  It was hard to shake the feeling, though, so he ignored it, instead, and knelt down beside Eames. He was taking a while to unbutton his cuff and Arthur figured he could use some help setting up.

When he looked up at him, Eames looked a little distant; this job was stressful on all of them. His face relaxed, though, when Arthur brought the cannula to him.

“Security is gonna run you down hard,” was his only remark. he didn't quite meet Arthur's eyes as he said it.

Arthur shook his head, not understanding why the words seemed almost more like a vaugue threat then a distinct warning from his partner, well, as much of a partner as one got in this business. It was an unspoken trust that they always had each other’s back whenever they worked together, but he could take care of himself. “And I will lead them on a merry chase,” he replied confidently.

Eames made a pleased sounding noise and smiled. “Just be back before the kick,” he warned finally, settling back more.

“Go to sleep, Mr. Eames.” He couldn’t help sounding a little fond. They should go get that drink after this. Not going to limbo deserved a little bit of celebrating. He let his hand linger for a moment on Eames’ wrist before he stood and looked over to Cobb who was staring out the window.

“You good? Hey, are you ready?”

“Yes, yes, I’m fine. I’m ready.” He sounded like he was trying too hard to assure him. Arthur didn’t have much choice but to take his word for it and depress the button on the PASIV.

He’d never been much for religion, but he almost felt like saying a Hail Mary as he did it. He felt a jolt under his feet. Damn Yusuf’s driving. Though, to be fair, the man was probably under attack, but still. He snapped the PASIV shut and cautiously walked into the hall. He wanted to be ready to set off the explosives under them on a moment’s notice.

It was clear until he heard the soft chime of the elevator in front of him. He ducked his head down quickly and avoided eye contact. He knew it wouldn’t be enough, but it would be something that would at least make the projection hesitate before following. He used the opportunity to duck into a small alcove and wait for its approach. He grabbed onto its arm and was surprised at the strength the thing held as it shoved him across the hall and into the wall. He cursed inwardly when he saw another out of the corner of his eye, already aiming its gun.

He revoked his earlier curse about Yusuf’s driving. Bless the man. The sudden shift in gravity worked to his advantage as he slammed into the projection restraining him, the other gunman toppling over, losing his shot. The shift wasn’t over, though, and suddenly the world was turning around him. He rolled onto the wall and shoved the projection, listening to it shout as it fell down the steep drop of the hall. He almost went with it, his hands scrambling for purchase onto the edge of the hallway wall. He was able to pull himself up, though, and went for the other projection as its gun skittered away from it across the floor.

The world kept spinning around him. He tried to use it to his advantage, pushing off of the walls, springing to the ground and attacking the man until they ended up on the ceiling. Another revolution sent them crashing through a weaker door and into a hotel room. The sharp drop hurt, but he continued, trying to keep track of the gun as it spun around the room with them. A sharp punch to his jaw made him grunt and he grabbed a nearby laptop and tried to bludgeon the projection with it to little effect.

The next revolution at least sent them crashing onto the bed, cushioning the fall. He rolled off of it and, finally, the gun slid across the floor into his reach. He aimed as the projection hurled towards him, sending a neat bullet through his skull, as gravity finally settled. He took a breath and checked the gun; of course, only one bullet. He tossed it away in disgust. He couldn’t afford to waste time like this.

The hall was clear when he left the hotel room. No way was he risking the elevator. He made for the emergency steps, instead. He shoved open the doors impatiently, grateful that Ariadne hadn’t set up the hotel with emergency alarms for them. He froze in the middle of his race down the stairs, the melodic strain of music suddenly echoing in his ears.

“No… it’s too soon,” he breathed out in alarm and ran towards the exit. His heart sank when he saw two more projections standing in front of him. He’d never make it, he knew it was impossible. Just like inception. He shook his head. It was worth a shot.

“HEY!” He raced back into the stairwell, an idea forming in his mind, the Penrose staircase. Bullets flew past his head as he raced down the stairwell, doubling back up the other side to grab onto the projection who had been firing on him.

“Paradox,” he announced smugly, pushing him off the ledge.

He didn’t think the projection would be fast enough to grab onto his ankle.

 Arthur was almost yanked down with him, and he grunted as his body slammed down onto the floor, his legs dangling over the edge. He braced himself against the railway, trying to kick the thing off of him until he felt the cold muzzle of a gun being pressed to the base of his skull.

“Quite clever, Officer Blake.”

Chapter Text

He choked in shock as the simple words slammed into his brain, pieces of everything he knew being pulled apart mixed together and then scattered like ash. He could barely hold on as the man climbed over him and used the rail to pull himself up to stand, training his gun on him still. His other hand slipped a cellphone out of his pocket and dialed before he pressed it to his ear.

“I have him; give him the signal then deliver the kick.”

Arthur, Blake? His mind felt like two people, and they listened together and clung desperately to the rail as an explosion rocked the hotel.

“What, what’s happening?” he finally demanded. His brain felt like it had been torn apart, information oozing in and out of it, contradictions, pasts, presents, all flooding together and nothing felt right.

“The others are being sent up through the kicks, with the exception of yourself and a one Mr. Eames, of course. My brother was removed from the hotel room prior to the charge’s detonation, so he will return to this level. The others are unimportant, but oh the projections have been keeping a close eye on you. You are important to him for some reason aren't you?”

“I don’t—”

“Understand? I imagine not, Officer Blake; that is very much the point.” He watched as the man regarded him with a curious look as he crouched down to consider him. His eyes were relaxed even as he held a gun to him, almost bored in appearance, but there was an underlying sharpness in them.

“Tell me, what is your first name?”

He glared, his head was swimming and he was still hanging halfway off of a ledge, and he had just missed the kick, and who WAS this man, was it really a man or the most intelligent projection he had ever seen?

The cold, smooth sensation of a gun barrel sliding across his lower lip snapped him out of his thoughts.

“Your name, or do you not remember it anymore?”

“Of course I do,” he spat out, tilting his head away from the gun.

“Then tell me.”

He stared then closed his eyes; the throbbing was back in full force. The man felt almost familiar now as strange ideas were at war in his head. He could see a police officer racing into a building, holding a shotgun, then another man, smooth and tailored in his suit striding down a hall, confident with his Glock. They both shared his face, but that couldn’t be right. How could both of those memories be real?

“What have you done?” he finally whispered, he was so unsure. He’d never felt so unsure before.

An amused smiled graced the man’s lips. “I have only aided. It is my brother’s mind that shaped you. Why does he favor you, I wonder?” he murmured out loud and slid the barrel of his gun under his chin, forcing it upwards so their eyes locked.

“Ahh…” the man made a soft sound of understanding. His eyes become more focused, curious. “You have her eyes. It is no wonder he has attached to you. What a complication you are. I suppose I will take you along to Bane.”

Bane.

Everything was coming back. Oh god, how could he have lost it? He’d lost his entire mind, he could barely grasp onto it now, and he tried to cling frantically as the memories began to cloud again quickly.

John Blake. John Blake.

“Please,” he gasped out, knowing this man would not listen, but he was desperate, he couldn’t lose himself.

“It is a wonder, is it not? The method took some time for me to create, but my brother and sister insisted on nothing short of the best of protection of their minds when they took me in. What better way to protect my brother’s mind than to make those attempting to extract from it lose their own, to lose sight of everything they know and thus their mission entirely? It takes a very strong mind to pull off such a psychological militarization.” The man had others with him now, and they grabbed Blake up, John Blake, and secured his hands behind his back. “We were only able to test it briefly, too many rumors spread quickly. It is not surprising that my brother would master it so well, but then, we have been aiding up top, feeding all of you drugs that would assist such a feat since we took over the prison.”

Prison? He shook his head. He remembered a prison. This had all started in a prison. No, this had all started with Batman. He was Batman now, though. Wasn’t that crazy?

“Drugs?” He finally asked. He couldn’t piece it all together, but that seemed important.

“We knew our brother would require assistance, and we did not know how long it would take to get to him beneath the levels with time compounded. You are being fed a concoction on the surface to temper you, to aid in his militarization.”

He was being led into another hotel room. Eames was there, surrounded by other men, and was hooked up to a PASIV. It didn’t look like theirs, though, the case was battered and dinged; how had they been able to transfer him to this one without breaking the dream? He’d never heard of such a thing, but there he was, and the others were gone, a man hooked up beside him looked as though he were just waking up from the dream, but Eames was still asleep. He couldn’t let these men hurt Eames. He struggled towards his sleeping body. They were partners. He wasn’t going to let him down.

“What’s this?” he sounded curious. “You’ve grown attached to him, too, haven’t you? Very interesting.” He walked over to Eames and knelt down, touching his cheek and frowning before he looked back at the waking man.

“Kojo?”

The man shook his head, looking regretful. “He is still down there, Barsad. He was not in the tower when I detonated the explosives. I did not know he was trying to draw projections away from the hospital. He missed the kick.”

Barsad swore softly, running his hand down Eames’ chest. “You make things difficult, brother.”

“Our men can deliver another kick through the levels,” Kojo reassured. “We can go down and find him, still.”

Barsad shook his head. “You stay here; I trust you to orchestrate it best on this level.” He turned to the PASIV and pulled out two wires.

He shook his head, still trying to clear it, still trying to hold on. “What are you doing?”

“We are going to see to him. He has attached to you here, I can feel it. You may prove useful.”

“I can’t go down there, this is MY dream,” he argued. Things like that were dangerous. That’s how Mal and Cobb had ended up in limbo, exploring dreams within dreams, passing back and forth going down deeper into their own dreams until they’d lost track of everything.

“As you can see, you do not have much say in the matter,” Barsad bluntly replied.

He struggled, yelling as his arm was pinned down and Barsad deftly inserted the needle into his wrist. He started to shout, but the drugs kicked into his system rapidly. Don’t, don’t lose yourself, he prayed.

John Blake. John Blake.

Chapter Text

The world was white. The snow was so cold it made his face burn as it cut against it with the wind. Smoke flew into his eyes and filled his lungs as he stood at the feet of a smoldering tower. His brain felt like it was trying to hammer its way out of his skull, leak out of his ears. He clasped his hands over them tightly, gasping from it. A hand roughly grabbed the collar of his thick downy coat and yanked him forward. He stumbled before getting his legs steady and thrashed out, only to be caught up in a steady grip.

“I would have no guilt about sending a bullet through your temple, Officer Blake. I merely bring you with me in hopes you will be useful. If you are a hindrance, I need you no longer.” Barsad’s words were spoken with a smooth casualness as he slid a hand up the back of Blake’s skull, curling his fingers into his hair and yanking so his neck arched back. “So follow along.”

Blake grunted. Limbo, don’t get sent to limbo. Don’t lose your fucking mind, he reminded himself. He put his hands up in surrender.

“That’s a smart lad,” Barsad praised, giving the back of his head an almost playful shove. “Come along, then.”

Blake marched on, being forced to take point. His mind was hazy. Sometimes he was John, sometimes he was Arthur; sometimes he felt like he was both. Both were scrambling around in his brain, vying against one another for a turn as his consciousness. His training as an officer ran through his head while the hand to hand he had learned over the years doing extraction played alongside it. Neither had quite prepared him for this, though, and the back and forth was making him feel nauseous.

“Where are we going?”

“To the hospital. We thought that Bane would be here in the tower to draw projections towards him, but things must have worked out differently.”

“Don’t hurt Eames, please.”

There was a soft sound of amusement from behind him. “So fogged up, aren’t you? Can you not even recall that they are one and the same?”

He nodded; there was no point in denying either point, but he couldn’t shake the feelings he was having. He felt sick with the confusion running through him. “Who are you? How can you do this?”

“You know my name.”

“Please, just please talk; it hurts. I can’t think.”

“I have no pity for a man who would take advantage of my brother in his most fragile state.”

“You taught him this. You’re an extractor, aren’t you?”

“I was, until I was given another purpose.”

He focused on the words coming from the man’s mouth, he let them wrap around his mind and anchor them to their location, let them be what he thought about instead of who he was, who he couldn’t remember.

“What purpose?”

“To serve her.” The words were soft behind him, filled with longing. “I was sent to attempt inception on her. To make her turn against her protector, by her own father… but I had never been inside such a perfect mind. Cold and calculating, but imaginative, beautiful; I could not risk damaging such a thing. So I chose to serve them, instead, until she was destroyed.”

Nothing he was saying made sense, nothing at all, but he focused on the ramble. “Why are you here? Why not just shoot us while we were sleeping, keep the information Bane has in his mind safe?” Why was he giving this man ideas? His mind flashed to the scene of a prison, laying down in soft cotton pants and taking a deep breath. Was that real? Was his body up there now, surrounded by mercenaries? Was anyone else even alive?

“Ah, but I care not for the secrets my brother holds. Your lot has done me quite a service. Mr. Cobb is a very well-known extractor by those who know of the business. We have been spying on your lot since the plan was first orchestrated. No one would have been able to create such a setup, to go down so many levels and keep them stable, to be able to get a PASIV to the prison, to be allowed two days’ time exclusion with my brother and for us to attempt to break him out in his state would be a great risk with him so vulnerable. So we traveled down with you, kept tabs on you all througout the first level.”

"How did you get here though? We were on a plane!"

"Do you think that it is really so difficult to hijack an airplane in a dream when you have done so before in reality?"

“But why? What’s the point? He’s in a coma!”

“Precisely, and we are going to wake him up, officer. We are deep in his mind, now, Mr. Cobb's plans saw to that, perhaps close enough to get through to him, to wake him, and we have this team to thank for it.”

Blake froze in place then spun around to face Barsad. “NO! You can’t!”

There was a cracking noise in the air; pain exploded in his arm and he screamed, blood bubbling up from the gunshot wound, wicked away by the thick down of his coat.

“The next will be in your head.”

“Fuck!” he wheezed out and grabbed at his arm as it throbbed in agony. “Fuck!”

“Keep moving.”

He staggered forward, blood dripping down the length of his arm to his fingertips where it trickled down onto the pristine snow.  The hospital was just in front of them now; there were projections there, they lifted their rifles to aim for them both but Barsad was staggeringly fast with his own, taking them out with a sniper-like efficiency, quick neat bullet holes through each head. Blake was so cold by the time they pushed into the hospital, and it was barely better in there, he could see his breath and he was hurting so badly. Barsad said nothing, but when he began to fall behind he grabbed up the back of Blake’s coat and pulled him along.

Bodies of projections littered the ground at almost every hall, their blood smeared against the walls, pooled and congealed into the corners of the floor, its scent was thick in the air and Blake rushed ahead to round the corner, to escape the smell. He doubled over, gagging from it combined with his brain’s confusion and the shock his arm was sending him into.

“Arthur!” He heard the voice at the end of the corridor and tilted his head up as he felt saliva running down from his mouth. His eyes locked with Eames’, he looked confused, worried.

“What are you doing down here, what’s happened, darling?” He rushed towards him; his white winter wear was streaked with the blood of dozens of projections. He put a bracing hand on his shoulder, drew him up. “Bloody hell, look at you. You know to be more careful.” He sounded angry, but the kind of sharp anger that came from worry. “We need to patch you before you bleed out here and end up having mush for brains.”

There was the vision of Barsad rounding the corner now. Eames let him go to raise his rifle cautiously. Blake doubled over once more, gripping his knee tightly with his good arm in an attempt to stay upright.

“Eames, Eames, shoot him!”

“Brother,” Barsad spoke with cautious enthusiasm.

Eames stared, his eyes lowering as he tried to remember, tried to place the man in front of him, as though he were trying to remember the details of someone from a dream.

“Just shoot him!” Blake begged.

“What’s going on?” Eames’ voice was soft, uncertain.

Barsad crouched down to set his gun to the floor then slid it towards Eames’ with a careful push of his foot before he rose again, gracefully. “I am unarmed, brother; I mean you no ill will. You remember me, don’t you? You know in your heart that I serve you.”

When Eames lowered his gun, Blake wanted to scream. He made a soft pained noise and Eames flicked his gaze back to him. “Arthur…”

“He will last a few moments more, brother.”

“What’s going on?” Eames demanded.

“Do you not find it strange, brother, that everyone has vanished here? There were others, were there not? “

“Saito bit it, poor bastard. Fischer… I guess he got kicked, all of them. I missed the kick.” He sounded troubled now.

Barsad shook his head and approached them slowly. Blake opened his mouth and gagged on his own tongue and saliva when he tried to speak.

“I came to wake you up, brother,” Barsad spoke gently, insistently. His hand came up hesitantly and cupped Eames’ cheek, his thumbnail tracing through the light stubble there. “You are not who you think you are.”

Eames’ flinched, his eyes flashing with a nervousness Blake never saw in them, a doubt.

“Bane…” Barsad breathed the name out in reverence, his lips pressed forward to kiss against Eames’ brow. “Brother, come back to me.”

Spooked, Eames pulled back, a new knowledge in his eyes, recognition, remembrance. “Arthur, what’s happening?” His hands rubbed over his face, as though he was trying to rouse himself.

Blake shut his eyes tightly. He couldn’t speak. He couldn’t make the words come out to beg Eames to just shoot the man. He crumpled to his knees, the floor beneath him was slippery from his own blood and he fell onto it, his hands sliding through it as his head thudded into the cold metal. Eames was kneeling now beside him, shouting, but it was so quiet in Blake’s ears. His eyes were too heavy to keep open any longer.

“Bane, my brother, let him be.”

“I can’t, he’s dying! I can’t—”

Blake could feel wetness dripping down onto his cheeks, hot tears falling from Eames eyes into his own.

“I can’t let him die like she did.” He felt a hand cradling his head, warm, big, big enough that it supported his entire head easily. It felt too big for Eames, but it felt so warm like he knew Eames would be. He relaxed into it. He was so tired and the voices above him were an annoying buzz in his ears.

“I know why you can’t wake up, brother. I know why you are so willing to believe in their lies. Would that I could leave you in this dream world to live in contentment, but it would not be as you truly wished it.”

He could hear pained breathing above him, almost a hiss, like it was mechanized.

“She is gone, and part of you does not wish to live in a world without her. I am so sorry, brother. We failed her, but I will not fail you. We are not deep enough even now, brother, are we? You are still lost to me. We must reach your core, or you will never wake up from this.”

“I can’t, I can’t just let him go.”

“Then take him with you.”

“Is he even real?” His tone sounded different to Blake’s ears. He could feel fingers fleetingly brushing over his lips, they were so warm and Blake felt so very cold now; his mouth dropped open.

“He is not who he says he is, but what does that matter? In limbo you can mold him as you desire. I know why you clung to him, brother.”

“Yes… he has her spirit.”

“Then we will reshape his mind to match it. Come, I will journey with you. We will lose and find ourselves together there.”

He heard the a sharp crack of gunfire over his head then the thud of a lifeless body dropping beside him.

Fingers brushed over his mouth again, then they were replaced, gunmetal clicked against his teeth and bit into the roof of his mouth.

John Blake.

Chapter Text

The water was so warm as it lapped at his cheek in shallow waves. He was warm everywhere as the sun shone down on him. It made him feel like dozing. There were fingers in his hair, playing with the curls it had been wetted into by the saltwater. A hand was circled lightly around his ankle, a thumb rubbing against the bone. He could stay just like this forever with them. He spoke the words out loud and he heard a soft laugh by his feet. The hand in his hair tugged lightly at a curl in amusement.

A thousand memories played through his mind of a thousand lives lived. His childhood had been shaped again and again until he no longer knew the truth of it, but that seemed to almost be a relief. He remembered more from of his adulthood, or what they had made of it, the thousands of times they had taken him apart and reshaped him. Sometimes when they remade him it was so sweet it's painful, and he loved it. So many memories; they run together now, but he could remember his favorites so clearly.

Eames was there murmuring into his ear as he stroked him.

"It's lovely, isn't it, darling? Just look at you drip. You're making such a mess of yourself. Don't you want to come all over my hand?" Eames crooned sweetly, and he cried because he did. He did, so very badly, but Barsad was in his mouth, hot and thick, gripping his hair tightly and he couldn’t stop sucking on him long enough to beg for it.

Other times, Bane was there, and maybe he loved that even more. Bane fucking into him, holding his thighs open in a bruising grip, like an animal; Barsad would take his turn next, not a single moment’s pause between them, sliding into his worked open hole with ease. Barsad would kiss his shoulder briefly as he writhed under him, cock leaking against the mattress, but for the brief show of sweetness, Barsad still displayed all of the same aggression as Bane, still rutted him like they’re were trying to fucking breed him, but who were they trying to do it to? He just didn’t know anymore. He wasn’t sure he ever really knew or cared.

No one ever cared who he was before besides himself. They certainly don’t care about names. He could sometimes remember those names; he didn’t remember which he had started as, and they never used them. He was whoever they wanted him to be in that moment. He didn’t know what memories were true anymore and which were false, but he didn’t care because they are all together in them, they lived them all together. He had been so alone before, they showed him that and filled his head with all of their cruelty and sweetness, their bliss and their pain.

He remembered when they had first come here. It was the hardest memory, though, so fuzzy and painful. They were in the sand then, too, and he had been so scared. The world was empty around them beyond the shore and he ran from them into the emptiness, oh, but that emptiness was so vast and terrifying. His mind filled it as he ran, buildings springing up from nothingness, fields, grass, memories and ideas of what should be even as he tried to escape them. There was nowhere to escape to, though, and he ran into the mass of Bane, was caught up by him and he thrashed in his arms.

“I remember everything, now; he does not?”

“I am uncertain all that he remembers, brother, limbo is unexplored territory even for myself.”

Bane tilted his head in consideration of that. “It would be better for him to remember nothing.”

“Fuck you!” he spat out. “I remember you, you fucking monster!” He could not remember his name, he tried so hard. Once he had two names, now he had none, but he could remember a monster even without a name for it.

The eyes that stared at him from behind the mask were almost hurt before they narrowed, before he felt a forehead press tight to his and he stilled in terror as Bane’s eyes were lined up with his, his mask pressed intimately against his mouth.

“Do you? Is this who you prefer, then?”

The metal vanished, replaced with soft lips, a handsome face with stubble and no mask to hide it. He shook his head. “He’s not real! I know he’s not!” That he could remember and god that thought hurt.

“Reality is what we make it here,” Barsad spoke behind him and traced a hand up his spine. “And we will be here for so long… perhaps it would be best to start off on the right foot this time.”

He shuddered and closed his eyes tightly, letting out a wounded noise when Eames’ lips kissed his own sweetly. It felt so very real, so very gentle, something inside of him twisted and loosened at the feel of them.

Those lips kissed over him before drawing back. “You have a here choice, darling. You can either be a good, lovely boy for us and we will play with you so nicely just as I am now,” his voice was low, seductive, and his intent could not be missed; then it changed, became covered again by leather and metal. “Or you can misbehave, try to fight, to run, and we will take you as I am now, with no regrets and little care for your emotions in it.”

“No!” he screamed, trying to twist away. Barsad helped to keep him still, not that Bane needed much help. He made a pained sound as the grip on him became too tight. He wanted to fight, but he knew, he knew that they would win and, God, he couldn’t cope with that idea, with the idea of being hunted down and forced open by this monster. Even if the other was a lie, he needed it to be real; he needed Eames to be real and there.

“Eames,” he choked out the word like a prayer. “Please, God, I’ll be good.”

The hands holding him changed and became gentle, but still strong. “That’s a good boy, pet. That wasn’t too difficult, now was it?”

He remained stiff in their arms, untrusting as Eames kissed across his neck, as Barsad rubbed his hands slowly down his hips, not believing that Bane wouldn’t come back, wouldn’t suddenly mock him for trusting in them the moment he gave in, but they wore him down slowly with their gentling. Barsad was surprisingly affectionate. He could not imagine how both men knew how to be so soft. They laid him down in the grass and Barsad slowly unbuttoned his shirt, dipping his head down to kiss over the exposed skin of his chest as it was revealed. Eames rubbed his still clothed thighs, working upwards, kneading into the muscles and he wouldn’t stop talking, not letting him drift, keeping him anchored to the situation with his voice.

“That’s it, so good for us, darling. You just have to relax and be good and everything will turn out just lovely for you.”

He found himself wanting so badly to believe that. It was getting harder to hold onto his terror when he was being petted like a treasured thing. A soft sigh escaped his lips as Eames rubbed his fingers against the crux of his thighs.

“That’s it, darling.”

He whimpered when Eames worked open his pants, rolled them down to expose his cock which, to his shame, was slowly growing for them.

“It’s alright, pet, that’s just lovely, doing just what you’re supposed to,” Eames praised softly and then suddenly his lips were rubbing against Blake’s cock, wet and plump, leaving a slick trail as he moved up to press those lips against the head of his cock. He let out a choked noise and bucked his hips up, pressing into Eames’ mouth, shuddering at the sudden heat. Eames watched him, he didn’t have to look down to know it, he could feel his gaze sweeping over his body as he sucked at his cock with wet lurid noises. He couldn’t look down to meet that shameless gaze so he looked up instead into gentle eyes. Barsad was smiling; he wasn’t angry with him, here. He had what he wanted, after all. Instead, he was soothing, his hands ran over his chest and he leaned down to kiss at his lips, to bite them playfully.

“You have pretty lips, little one,” he spoke in a husky tone as he flicked his tongue over them. “Let me teach them how to suck cock.”

So he unzipped his pants and taught him. He thought to struggle, at first, but one warning squeeze of Eames’ hand against his thigh froze him, made him open his mouth to accept Barsad’s length. He was no good at it, he knew it. It was strange and salty in his mouth and he gagged more then once when it went too deep, but Barsad praised him anyway, told him he would learn how to do it well soon enough. The constant praise relaxed him, made him lower his eyes and suckle more carefully, sweep his tongue against the crown of him in an effort to please. Eames didn’t neglect his cock while he worked, keeping it in his mouth, teasing at it, never enough suction to tip him over the edge, but just to keep him at it until he whimpered and Eames finally slid him from his mouth; those lips were swollen and shiny from sucking, and he was struck with the sudden desire to kiss them.

Barsad slid from his mouth and he panted for air, feeling dizzy with need now. His cock twitched when Eames cupped his balls, palming them gently. “You’re doing so very well, darling.”

He gasped and wanted to struggle again when there were wet fingers on his ass, pressing into the ring of muscles there. It was a gentle push, but he wasn’t even sure if he had ever felt anything like it before and he felt like a bundle of nerves, too scared to show his fear, not wanting this to become rough, not wanting Eames to go, but he clenched up tight in response. He heard Barsad make a noise of disapproval and his stomach lurched.

“Please, please, I’m trying, don’t go,” he pleaded, looking at Eames who kissed his knee in response.

“You’re trying to be good, I know that, love. I won’t go so long as you’re trying for me. Just breathe.”

He nodded and sucked in lungfuls of air as Eames pushed his fingers into him, one after another, worked them in until he was so wet and slippery. They burned and he ached, but Eames would push deeper at times and he would shiver and twitch when he pushed against the cluster of nerves inside of him. He was practically leaking lubricant by then. Eames pumped his fingers deeply, and by now he was rocking back in response, getting praised by Barsad for it, being told how sweet he looked and getting little kisses between his panting as a reward.

He made a disappointed noise when Eames’ fingers left him, and raised his hips up in offering. He felt empty now with them gone. He felt hollowed out everywhere inside. Everything was empty, his mind his body, he was just waiting to be filled up. There was the sound of a zipper and he looked down because he wanted to finally see Eames. He was hard, and Eames made a soft sound of pleasure as he wrapped a slick hand around himself, making himself slippery for him, and he wanted it then, he spread wider for it, knowing something was wrong but he could figure out what it was later. Maybe all that was wrong was that Eames wasn’t inside of him.

But that was getting slowly fixed. Eames smiled down in approval at him and he soaked in the sight, reached up and grabbed his shoulders, pulling him down so that he could finally, finally kiss him. Their tongues met and he could taste himself while Eames was pushing into him. He was surprised by how little his body resisted, no more than a token protest as the tip of Eames breached him. He dug his nails into his shoulders and gasped against Eames’ mouth at the slow slide into him. It felt good, so good. Something whispered in his mind that if this was new then it should hurt more but it didn't and he didn't care.

Eames was still kissing at his mouth when he started to thrust, but he was too overwhelmed by the new sensation to be much of a partner in it. Eames more than made up for it, licking at his mouth, rubbing their lips together, telling him how good he felt inside, how wet, how tight. He hitched a leg up to curl around the small of his back and moaned as he was swept away in it.

It should have felt dumb and a little insulting to be praised for taking dick, but in that moment it felt so good. There was something he was forgetting, but he didn’t care. He just wanted to feel good; he just wanted to be good. He rolled his hips up into Eames’ thrusts, soaking in every praise from him. It was wonderful and his body welcomed each stroke of him now.

“So good, so good, darling. You’d like a little more, though, wouldn’t you? You’re so hungry for it now.”

He nodded, not really hearing the question, just hoping being amenable would be enough for this not to stop. He was guided into a new position, dropping down onto Eames as he rolled onto his back. He was more than happy to settle on the man’s chest, to nuzzle at the tattooed skin there, flushed with arousal and glistening with sweat; he smelled good and musky. As he was mouthing at it, he felt the press of a wet finger to his already stretched rim. He squirmed with uncertainty, feeling Eames settle him with a hand to his back.

“I have you. It’s alright, love, just relax.”

Barsad kissed up his spine as he stroked across his entrance, as he worked one then another finger into him, making his breath catch, his teeth clamping down onto Eames chest, drawing a chuckle from him. It was so much, too much; those fingers wiggled, stroking inside of him, stroking Eames cock which was still in him, though now having paused when Barsad started his stretching. Then the fingers were gone, replaced with the blunt, hot feeling of another cock pressing to him. He opened his mouth to protest and Eames caught it up in a kiss. He whined as Barsad worked into him, as he made soft groans of pleasure at the feeling of filling him up beyond his limits. It was just too much at first, it couldn't fit could it? Not both of them. His hands balled into tightly-clenched fists, but Eames took them and stroked over the knuckles until he relaxed, until he accepted and his body loosened again against that impossible feeling of fullness.

When they began to rock into him, he felt his eyes getting wet, overwhelmed by how they filled him, how they took over every bit of him. He felt Eames wiping the wetness away, shushing him softly, telling him how good he was, how good he felt, how they were both going to come inside of him soon and that he was going to come with them. He nodded because he knew Eames was right. Barsad panted wetly against his ear, his hand coming up and circling around his leaking cock, pumping it so quickly that it made him feel raw with the sudden flare of pleasure there. He keened and tried to push his hand away, tried to curl in on himself as he was overwhelmed by it all.

“This is just our beginning, little one,” Barsad promised in a whisper against his ear.

“What a good boy,” Eames spoke in a low tone, sounding so very pleased with him as he writhed on their cocks. He felt warmth unfurl in his belly at the praise, then he sobbed with pleasure as he came, as they finished together in him, and then the world changed.

The world kept changing endlessly.

Chapter Text

He remembered one of the first times he met Barsad and Eames. He was in a nightclub; the music was thick in the air. Nightclubs weren’t really his thing, but he was feeling lonely, bored, and maybe a little curious. It hadn’t worked out well, though, since no one seemed to even notice him.

“Aren’t you a pretty little thing, darling?”

Startled, he turned from the bar, spilling his drink onto his t-shirt as he saw the men standing in front of him, one casually draping his arm over the shoulder of another, his plush lips smiling at him. Blake was mesmerized by them both. The other smiled at him and took his drink from his hands, setting it on the bar before taking his hand.

“Come dance with us.”

Us, it turned out, really was us. He’d never danced between two people before, and he jumped when the man with sweet, relaxed eyes placed his hands on his hips, giving them a bold squeeze as the other man moved behind him, wrapping an arm around his chest and pulling him back so he was compressed to his chest. He could smell the faint scent of cologne and sweat as the man leaned to brush his wet lips against the shell of his ear.

“The name is Eames; that is Barsad. We want to play with you, pet. You’ll like that, won’t you?”

He shivered because he knew he would. He had never gotten this kind of attention before. He could feel Eames’ body heat making his own body temperature rise quickly, his face flush. Barsad pressed up tightly to his front, trapping him between them as their hips swayed to the music. He was embarrassingly hard already; perhaps it would be more embarrassing if he couldn’t feel Barsad’s cock hot against his own even through their pants, or if he couldn’t feel the slight grind of Eames’ nestling between the cheeks of his ass. Instead, he let out a soft whine and ground his hips against them both. Eames hummed his approval against his ear.

“That’s a good boy, now. You ever gotten one off on the dance floor, darling?” he teased in his ear.  He shook his head in reply, eyes widening.

Barsad gave him a wicked little grin. “Well, you’re about to.”

They played with his body to the rhythm of the music. He wanted to protest, they were going to get in trouble, but when he dared to glance out at the other dancers around them he realized no one was paying a single bit of attention to any of them. So he moaned instead, his breath catching when Eames toyed with his nipples through the thin cotton of his shirt. He could feel himself dirtying up his pants with precome, the front getting damp with it.

“Look at you, pet, getting all wet for us. We’d love to take you back to our place, make a lovely mess of you there, but now we want to see you come for us, right here, right where everyone can see you.”

He was so turned on, and they were all so hard now, they weren’t dancing they were just grinding against him, you couldn’t call that dancing, could you? But no one was saying anything, even when he moaned, even when Barsad cupped the front of his pants and rubbed up his cock.

“You’re so close, aren’t you?” Barsad laughed lightly in approval when he got a nod. “Watch us,” he ordered with a gleam in his eye. He watched as best as he could, craning his neck so he could see them begin to kiss. He was trapped between their bodies, between their cocks as they ground against him to the beat, their lips locked in a filthy open-mouthed kiss that he could hear right next to his shoulder. He realized that he was just a playtoy for them right then, just something to fit between the two of them for fun. He shuddered and his hands flew up to grip Barsad’s shoulders as he orgasmed while locked between them, whimpering softly and soaking the front of his boxers. He heard their chuckles as they pulled back from the kiss and looked down at his wet front. He whined as Eames stroked a finger there, playing with the damp material.

“What a good boy.”

He let out a faint sigh of pleasure at the approval.

He remembered one of the first times he realized where he really was. Something had triggered his memories and they flooded back, the pleasant illusion Barsad and Bane had created crumbled around him. Neither seemed surprised, almost as if they had expected such a moment sooner or later. Blake looked at them, horrified, memories running through his mind, how they made him beg and whine for them with each new memory they crafted for him, but not now. Now he was small, so little.

“Stay back!” he shouted, stumbling out the door of the collapsing apartment, skinning his elbow against the doorframe. It had been an apartment from his childhood, his parents’ little home before the money had stopped coming in and his father’s gambling debts had started rising. They had been playing with him in there, an innocent tea party where his mind felt young, like a boy’s, as he sipped imaginary tea. He had felt safe; he didn’t question why Bane had on such a strange mask, it was Halloween after all, and his adopted fathers had decided to dress up with him that day. Barsad had made an amusing pirate as they sat down at the little table and pretended to eat cookies and sweets.

 It was when he had scrambled over to gather a toy from his toy box, when he passed the mirror on his closet and he saw his self-chosen superhero costume. He had made it mostly himself; Barsad had helped after some mild protest to the subject matter. He was looking at a child in a homemade batman costume, and then he was looking at a tall man wearing the same outfit. It was him. He’d dropped his toy in confusion. Now he was scared, he was running as fast as his small legs could take him, until he was crying and panting, wedged in an alley between two filthy trashcans.

Bane was in front of him now, crouching down, his presence heavy and looming over him.  He whimpered in fear before Bane spoke. “Why do you run from us, little one?”

“It’s not real. It’s not real,” he whimpered again and his face was grubby and tear-streaked when Bane cupped it.

“But you want it to be.”

He did. He really did, and he nodded when Barsad joined them, when he kissed the scrape on his elbow even though it was dirty and he probably smelled gross now. He wanted to grow up like this, he wanted to have these memories of a loved and cherished childhood, but he was grown, wasn’t he? He had his own memories, once, but they were so cold in comparison.

“Then let yourself have them,” Barsad whispered gently. “Let us shape your reality into something much nicer.”

He sniffled and held up his arms so his daddy could lift him into his arms.

The mask pressed against his forehead tenderly. “What a good boy.” A large hand cupped the back of his head. He hugged tightly around his neck as he was cradled closely, glowing at the approval, falling asleep as he was carried safely home.

Chapter Text

He remembered one of the first times he met Bane and Barsad.

He was coaching basketball for his local team. They had been doing well lately, and he’d stayed behind to help some of the girls get more practice in. He smiled and waved as they were picked up by one of their fathers and taken home. He looked up at the sky, surprised by how dark it had gotten, how quickly time had passed. He made his way to his bike, frowning and cursing a little when he saw the bike rack was empty despite the fact that he had locked it away carefully, as always.  He knew he didn’t have nearly enough cash on him for a cab so it looked like he was walking.

He heard footsteps behind him, barely there, matching his own. He wrapped his coat around himself a bit more tightly and glanced into a nearby shop window to look behind him, but there was nothing. He walked faster; it was silly to get worked up about little noises at night, but there had been talk lately, talk about bodies showing up in dumpsters in his area of town, and that was enough to make anyone nervous.

There were those footsteps again.

Right. He broke into a light jog. It didn’t look conspicuous, he was still dressed from the gym anyway, so maybe he was the sort of guy who liked to jog alone at night. He wasn’t running from something. He wasn’t trying to get home just as fast as he could so he could slam his door shut and slide the deadbolt tightly into place.

It had been a long day of practice and his legs protested the sudden new exercise, wobbling slightly. He caught sight of his apartment building and let relief wash over him as he raced up the steps. He felt a little ridiculous now; he wasn’t living in some sort of horror movie. He unlatched his door and stepped into the sanctuary of his little home, his heart beating a bit faster than usual, what nonsense. He turned to flick the bolt anyway.

The bolt was broken.

A startled noise left his throat when a hand clasped over his mouth.

A low voice rumbled close to his ear. “As I understood it, you were to be home hours ago.” An impossibly strong arm wrapped around him, held him in place and he grabbed for the hand at his mouth, trying to yank it free.

“I am sure he has his reasons.” Another voice was close to him, but he couldn’t turn to see it, he couldn’t move his head at all. They sounded familiar, though, so very familiar. The faint sound of air being pushed out by his ear, soft and mechanized, made the puzzle unfold in front of him. He had heard that hiss over his phone the past few weeks. He’d hung up on it a dozen times and had been working on changing numbers.

He was spun around and pressed to the door, and he came face to face with the man, taking in his form briefly. Its mass was pressed tightly to his body. It was insanely muscled, the bulk of it making the air rush out of his own lungs as their chests were crushed together. He cried out and shoved his hands at his shoulders, the impossible weight of the man, his face. What was on his face? It was like a nightmare.

His wrists were pinned to the doorframe in a bruising grip and that low rasp of air washed over his face.

“You will scare him,” a voice chided by his side. Bullshit, he wasn’t going to scare him. He was already terrified. He couldn’t breathe with this behemoth putting his weight on his chest. He was going to die, he was sure of it.

“Forgive him; we have been waiting for you for longer than anticipated.  We did not think your practice would run so long.”

He jumped when he felt a kiss against his cheek, gentle and apologetic. He was so confused. The weight against him lessened ever so slightly as the mammoth above him pulled back, though their bodies were still flush. He sucked in a lungful of air gratefully. “W—” he choked and tried again. “What’s going on?”

The masked man wrapped a gloved hand around his throat and he thrashed against the door, waiting for it to crush his windpipe, but the touch was more a caress, not meant to gag him. “Have you enjoyed our gifts, little one?”

The gifts. The gifts that came mysteriously to his door every day like clockwork, the ones he thought were from some secret admirer from his work, too shy to speak up about it. They had started out small: a bar of special dark chocolate from the candy shop nearby that he liked to look into and watch the candy making process on occasion, but never actually had the money to splurge on; a bottle of wine which he had enjoyed on a cool rainy evening. Then they had begun to escalate: a tie, nice, silk, he didn’t have anything nice enough to wear it with but he’d liked it; running shoes, that one had given him pause, his own were wearing thin and these looked nice, top of the line, far too expensive, though, but in the end he’d slipped them on and they’d fit like they’d been made for him; finally, his bike. He’d been startled to come home to it last week, leaning against his door with a muted gray bow wrapped around its handlebars, a lock coiled neatly on its seat.

No wonder his bike had been stolen so easily. He felt like an idiot and a little humiliated if that was appropriate at all in a time like this, but the gifts had made him smile, had made him feel like someone was looking out for him. Well, apparently someone was, two someones, and he was going to die from never having learned to not take candy, or bikes, from strangers. He wondered if the people being found dead in the neighborhood had gotten gifts, too. He should have known the only people who could possibly be interested in him were complete psychopaths; lesson learned too late.

Think, think, he had to think. He was still against the door, and if he could just distract them he could get it open and run down the hall. None of his neighbors would answer their doors if he knocked, it wasn’t exactly a good neighborhood, but if he got into the streets, made enough of a ruckus, maybe someone would think to at least call the police.

Then he could get dragged back there to die before they showed up. Excellent plan.

He managed to keep the stammer out of his voice, he felt at least he could be proud of that. “Yeah, they were lovely, now let me go.”

They didn’t. Instead, they dragged him to the bedroom. He soon found out that they liked to play games with him there, and that they had brought so many toys with which to play them. Games that would make him whimper and sweat and sometimes bleed, but never more than a little.

“Your blood is precious and innocent,” Bane, the monster with the mask, had explained to him. “It is a sin to waste it.”

 They bound him and gagged him until he promised not to scream again—they didn’t like when he screamed, not when it was for help, anyway. They liked when they could make him scream for other reasons well enough, and those truly rarely had anything to do with pain. No one came for him.

“Your mother fell ill,” Barsad, the monster’s brother, had explained to him when he mustered the courage to ask. “You quit your job to move back home and take care of her. The children miss you. They sent you a farewell card. Would you like to see it?” He kissed over his skin as he spoke, he was mottled with bites and scratches and Barsad was kissing over each one, adding to them on occasion. Bane brought the card over and sat down heavily beside him on the bed.

“I will even let you hold it, little one, if you promise to be good.”

He nodded and crawled over to him, laying his head on his thigh, feeling so tired and wanting to be good. “I promise.”

“Good boy.” There was a pat on his head and a tiny bit of the fear that had been cramping his stomach for weeks let go.

He remembered the first time the memories came back to him when it was only Barsad with him. They did that sometimes, though it was rare. They would build a new memory of their joining where one of them would not come into the picture until later, where they would then have the task of convincing him to let the other join, or make him seduce the other even; just another little game for them. He wasn’t sure what was happening at first. One moment he was an undergraduate student, bent over a desk, moaning wantonly as he was driven into by the teacher he was supposed to be convincing to take him on for an internship. His hands grabbed against the edge of the desk for purchase, but instead his nails scratched over the thin binding of a black moleskin notebook.

He stilled, his passion gone in an instant and replaced with horror. Barsad seemed to sense the change in him and grunted softly as he slid from his dripping hole, leaving his still-reacting body to clench around emptiness. He couldn’t quite bite back the whine in time. He felt the hand on his shoulder, that had moments ago been rubbing it down while Barsad grunted out in his ear what a naughty little student his was, now move to his back to trap him to the desk firmly, waiting for his reaction.

When he didn’t speak, Barsad finally broke the silence. “If you remain still, I will get Eames.”

That was the usual solution if he was in his adult mind when it happened, for his childhood dreams never fought anymore, to use Eames—never Bane, but Eames—who would coax him into calming down when he was near hyperventilating from all of the old memories clashing with the new. Eames always knew how to settle him down and entice him into just letting the thoughts go, into letting them have their fun with him, then they would fuck, with the unspoken threat that Bane would take Eames’ place if he put up too much of a fuss about it, and he would come undone for them, pass out, and they would start a new memory from scratch.

But he had never jolted back like this without Bane right there to shift into Eames as needed. He could feel Barsad’s tension as he leaned over his body, he could still feel the press of his cock, now against his thigh, still hard from their interruption.

“Please don’t; just wait a few minutes, just let me have them for a few minutes.” He hated himself for doing it, but he rocked back against Barsad, feeling the sticky, wet trail he left against his skin. “You don’t have to stop. I’ll take it, I’ll be good, and you can keep going,” he promised, shivering as he felt himself getting heated up again when Barsad slid his length between the cheeks of his ass, rocking against his hole, seeming to be considering the option.

“I would not be gentle with you,” Barsad warned, and he knew by his tone that he meant it. “Better to let him come and make you forget.”

“Why do you hate me so much?” he asked. He hadn’t meant to ask, but the question came from his mouth of its own volition because he could feel it now, anger that rolled off of Barsad in waves, poured from his skin and settled heavily in the air around him. It was so distracting that he forgot he was trying to bargain. Maybe it had been bothering his subconscious for some time, the way in each memory Barsad would work with Bane or Eames, but only how it was clear he was being instructed to, like he was simply following orders. The only time it seemed to change was when he was a child for them, but perhaps he was only too young in mind to sense it then. It hurt. Why did it hurt, even in this moment, now, when he remembered his past and should be trying to hold onto it?

“Why?” Barsad’s voice was dark now, he could hear the anger there as much as he could feel it in the air around him as the hand on his shoulder yanked him up and spun him around. The flesh of his thighs pinched against the edge of the desk as he was forced onto it. “If you have your memories back even a little then you know why. You nearly drove a wedge between us. You nearly made me lose him,” he spat out at him.

“But I didn’t, you didn’t, you won! ” He knew that it was true. He knew there was no way he would ever escape them now.

Barsad’s hands went to his throat suddenly, wrapping around it just tightly enough to make him squirm and worry. “Yes, you are so fortunate in that. Should you have succeeded there, I would have beaten you.  I would have slit your throat and fucked you in the blood until you died, and then I would have followed you down here and tortured you until you were too broken to speak were you to still possess a tongue,” he swore darkly. His eyes bored into his and he shuddered at the truth in his words.

“I’m sorry; I’m sorry, I didn’t know!” he swore earnestly and tried not to pull at the hands on his throat.

There was a long pause as he was looked over, his entire face was studied and the room was silent for some time until Barsad’s face cleared slightly, the cloudy anger in his eyes fading. “No… no, you did not,” he conceded then sighed. His hands turned gentle, a light squeeze to his throat before they ran down his chest to his stomach. “You sensed my anger?”

He bobbed his head nervously, unsure if he could relax at the touch even if his body wanted to. “Please, forgive me?” He meant it. He wanted forgiveness for an act that could make anyone feel this angry, for something he didn’t understand, for being stupid and thinking at some point in time he had ever been anything but theirs.

 He was surprised to hear a rueful laugh, to feel a bearded chin drop onto his shoulder and place a light kiss there.

“You are so sweet however we make you, aren’t you? For you to feel my emotions even as we shape your world, you must have been an earnest and innocent individual at your core. How foolish of me to cling to my own old memories and taint your new ones. My brother would have my ears if he knew how I was affecting you.”

His mouth dropped open and he breathed out an uncertain sigh when Barsad kissed up to his neck, nipping at the corner of his jaw.

“It’s ok. It’s ok, I won’t tell him, I promise; just please don’t be angry anymore.”

He closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around Barsad’s shoulders as the man took a moment to kiss wetly at the hollow just behind his ear. He felt relieved when he could feel the lips still pressed there smiling.

“Our work here does not just affect you. They are our memories, as well, now. I confess, it has been harder to hold onto my anger when I know what we have shared. Perhaps I merely needed to hear your apology for your crimes. You are forgiven, little one.”

He felt like a weight was loosening from his shoulders and slipping away at the absolution Barsad had given him. Barsad parted his legs once more and slipped back into him with a sigh. His breath caught and he wrapped himself around him, clung to him with his legs and arms as he was rocked into again. He tilted his head as Barsad mouthed up his jawline then kissed him. He felt like he was melting into the desk from the tenderness of it. Barsad was usually gentle, soft touches and smooth thrusts, but he never quite felt tender. He knew now what had been held back from him, and it felt like a shame to have missed out on it.

He tried to give back, to rock against him, but he was pinned neatly to the desk, their bodies pressed tightly. His cock was very much interested once more in the proceedings, leaking out between them. When he realized movement was a futile thing, he tried tomake up for it with kisses, licking into Barsad’s mouth eagerly, over his lips, running his hands through his hair, trailing his fingers down his spine.

Barsad moaned close to his ear and went still above him before sighing. “Come for me, little one.”

He clenched up then shuddered as he spilled out between them.

“Good boy.” The words were sincere and spoken with a kiss to his forehead.

He held on as tightly as he could, with trembling limbs, at the praise.

Chapter Text

He remembered the first time he remembered who Bane was and didn’t care.

They were lounging in bed together. It was a lazy sort of day, with rain dripping down the windowpanes and a chill that had him wiggling down a little deeper between them both to greedily suck up more of their body heat. Barsad had tousled his hair as he read.

“Don’t; you’ll upset your stitches.”

He made a face. He was fine, Bane had been the one really hurt in the accident; Jesus, he was the one who was going to need a mask on his face for the rest of his life because of some stupid deer in the road. They’d only been discharged a few days before and he was still sore all over, Barsad’s leg was still in a cast, but Bane, who had gone face-first through the windshield, seemed determined to be the one to take care of them instead of himself. He’d insisted that he was fine, in his usual quiet way, and made them both stay in bed together.

He sighed. They’d make it through this together; they were all alive and more or less whole, they had enough money from the business to get them through for a long rest, then they’d get back on their feet.

He settled back down and watched TV with them. Well, he watched TV, they read, but he’d been reading for days and he needed some mindless violence, so he’d flicked on a predictable action movie and let it be background noise as he nuzzled into Bane’s chest. Bane made an amused noise and stroked over his arm with the hand not holding his book.

He wasn’t quite sure how it all dissolved into careful, lazy, rainy day sex after that, but he wasn’t going to complain. He was spooned against Bane’s chest, sighing contently as he was held close, but not tight, the stitches along his chest and belly did still sting when pressed on. Bane’s cock was thick and wet between his thighs. He hadn’t been able to convince the man that he was well enough to take it inside, but this was still so good, he still loved how it felt rubbing against him all slippery with lube and making his thighs sticky. Barsad’s hand was rubbing over his cock while his rocked into it as much as Bane would let him move. He stroked Barsad in return, sighing contently. Nothing was rushed, it was a gentle, slow ride, none of them hurrying to climax, just enjoying the feeling of touching each other once again, hot skin pressed together as low noises of pleasure and heavier breathing filled the room.

An explosion sounded from the TV, a sequence from the forgotten action movie, and he remembered a time when bombs exploded around his ears. His motions stopped, as they always did in those moments, and they paused with him. He felt Bane start to move his hand away from his chest, and he closed his eyes and brought his hand up to rest over it.

 “Please don’t stop, please just hold me.” He was warm, and he felt good now. He didn’t want to stop just so he could be soothed with a lie. The mask was pressed lightly against the back of his head and he could hear the soft hiss of it, the air from it blowing over his scalp.

“If that is your wish,” Bane finally spoke, his hand tracing over the planes of his chest.

“He’s not real,” he said softly.

“I would not say that,” Barsad countered, his hand having stilled but not left him. “He is more real than you imagine. He is part of him, just as everything we have done here is now a part of you.”

He contemplated that a moment then nodded. “Then he’s already here.”

“That is a wise way to look at it,” Barsad agreed.

He hesitated then brought Bane’s hand up to kiss the palm of it, rubbing his lips over it for a brief moment. He felt Bane’s other hand on his chest grip him closer. “You’re both the only real things here. Please just stay with me.”

“You’re real, little one,” Bane assured him, but he wasn’t so sure anymore.

“I don’t exist; nothing about me is real anymore except for you. I don’t even have a name.”

Bane paused, and Barsad seemed to share a look with him over his shoulder.

Bane’s voice was low and cautious in his ear. “My wish was not that you would disbelieve your own existence, merely that you would throw off the shackles of your old memories. Would you like a name, little one? Barsad knows it.”

“You do?”

Barsad nodded. “I researched you. You went by one name, before, to others around you, and it was written only as such for most of the paperwork you had filled out in your life. The other, it was almost as if you kept it secret, but I feel it more fitting to use the name that you seemed to keep hidden away from the world.”

“What is it?”

“Robin.”

He breathed out slowly before he spoke the word out, testing it out on his tongue. It felt distant, but familiar at the same time. He liked it, it felt right. He liked it when Barsad said it affectionately and kissed his forehead, their hands working each other over again, and he especially liked it when he felt Bane whisper it against his ear as he spent himself between his thighs.

That was when they started to let him choose the memories, choose what he would like to live out with them. He stopped letting them always put him in such passive roles, well, for the most part. Sometimes it was nice to relax and let go. Now, though, when memories formed, they were a team. Whether they were outlaws, heroes, fighters, anything they could think of, they were always working together in them. They changed him, and themselves, until the memories weren’t enough and now here they were, lying in the sand together, choosing instead to live in the moment, as real of a moment as one could hold in a world that was, in itself, not real.

“How much will I remember?”

“Everything, little one. This is not simply a dream, we’re in your very subconscious. Some things may fade, but they will be as true to you as your own memories,” Barsad answered.

“Are you sure?”

“Not at all.”

He chuckled and splashed seawater at Barsad, sputtering at the handful of wet sand that was rubbed in his face in return. 

“Ah! Jerk.” He sat up finally and rinsed his face with water. The tide was coming in now, and it wasn’t long before they were sitting waist-deep in the warm sea. He pushed at Bane’s leg when he heard him chuckle, and then turned serious again. “When will we do it?”

“Soon.”

Robin slid his hand over, seeking Bane’s hand, their fingers lacing. “You’ll come back with us?”

“I will,” Bane promised.

"But what if you don't?"

"I will," His voice was more firm.

“How will we do it?”

“Something messy and quick, I assume.” Barsad sat up, smirking slightly.

“You would think that,” Robin snorted.

“It is not every day one gets to choose their own death,” Barsad said contemplatively. “Even when I worked in the business, one usually got out through a bullet.”

“I’ll miss kissing you,” Robin blurted out when he glanced over at Bane, then felt a little dumb about it. Bane’s eyes merely looked amused. He wore the mask, he usually did, but in a dream it could be taken off without pain, and Robin and Barsad had both carefully explored those scarred lips with their own.

When he had first pressed into them, Robin had known he was kissing Eames’ lips, and he’d finally understood. He understood what Barsad had meant about Eames being more real than he could imagine. He hadn’t asked, but he knew now what Bane had looked like before he had been mutilated. He had been Eames, not with the same occupation and perhaps with even shadier morals, but he had been Eames, charming, charismatic, strong, and all of those things were still inside of Bane.

“The tools needed to accomplish such a thing will still be ours.”

“We can go under again sometime, you mean?”

“Perhaps we will refrain from limbo next time,” Barsad supplied helpfully.

“It was your idea,” Robin pointed out.

“You drove me to it.”

Bane made an amused noise and rubbed both of their faces into the sand to cut off the impending argument.

In the end, Robin wasn’t sure where the idea came from, really, but it seemed right. Besides, it would make a mess, and he figured Barsad would get a kick out of that. He shifted onto the tracks, laying his head down against the cool, rusted metal. Bane was by his side, Barsad beside him. He could feel the beginnings of soft vibration against his ear. No one spoke; there really weren’t any words to be said. He reached down instead and twined his fingers with Banes, looking over to see Barsad had done the same.

The train came rushing down the tracks toward them. No one flinched. It was quick but messy.

Robin Arthur Blake.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t like waking up from a nightmare. He didn’t jerk up from the bed and thrash around. Instead, he felt himself slowly drift into wakefulness, his eyes fluttering open. Then the world felt all wrong. He had so many memories in his brain, all crowding and pushing around there, that it hurt to try to focus on his surroundings.

The barrel of the gun against his temple, though? That he noticed almost right away. The man above him kept it pressed lightly as he stood guard over him. He didn’t dare move his head, but he flicked his eyes around the room. There were a dozen or so men crammed into the room. The room itself hadn’t changed, but he’d almost forgotten what it had looked like; it had been countless lifetimes since he had seen it. The team was there, awake, bound, and, now that he was focusing, he came to the realization that his wrists were also chained to his bedpost.

He felt sick, his stomach was quivering and his mouth was dry. Two days unconscious. It was hard to believe it had only been two days, though. The IV drip to keep him hydrated was still on his one arm, and the cannula from the PASIV was still inserted in the other. He swallowed dryly when he saw familiar slender fingers take gentle hold of his forearm and carefully slide the needle out with practiced ease.

“Release him. He is a brother to us.” He felt the cool bite of the gun leave his head, and as his bindings were removed he dared to tilt his head up further, looking into Barsad’s eyes.

“Hello, Robin.” The words were soft and there was a light touch to his cheek before Barsad moved away. He felt himself being released and sat up quickly, then promptly fell back down in a rush as he nearly fainted from the sudden action. He shifted to his side instead. No one was talking, probably the guns. He was surprised that he couldn’t hear any alarms going off. How had a group of armed men managed to sneak into a prison? Had they really been here this whole time? That was really impressive.

His head really fucking hurt. It felt like things were squirming around inside of him—good things, bad things, crazy things—and all of them hurt just the same. He knew his breathing was getting quicker and he could feel bile gathering up in his mouth, a warning that he was going to throw up whatever liquids had gone into him the past two days. Those words in his brain were creeping up tight to his skin, closing in on him, pressing tightly against his face and throat, suffocating him. There were just too many words in his brain, too many things to be; some things had to be let go.

He rolled onto his side with a pained groan, only to hear one echoed close to him, louder, raspier. Bane was there, his eyes opening slowly, with Barsad by his side checking him over carefully. Robin felt relief flooding him even through the pain. His brain screamed that he shouldn’t be fucking HAPPY Bane was awake, but he was, he was so relieved; some of the weight of those words was being lifted from him.

Robin Blake.

Like a creature waking from a long hibernation, Bane was slow to rise, but his presence could be felt throughout the room as he slowly sat on his own, his eyes taking a moment to come into focus before they swept across the room, calm, calculating, taking in every bit of the situation before him in seconds. His gaze swept over Cobb and his team, including the nurses who had clearly been kept around to keep everyone who was under functioning. He made a light sweeping motion with his fingers and Barsad nodded in response, turning to the man beside them.

“Kill them,” he remarked dispassionately.

“Wait!” Robin yelled, jerking back up in the bed, fighting a new wave of nausea. “Don’t, please don’t do that. You don’t have to do that.”

Barsad went to his side, pressing a glass of water into his hands. “Drink, and do not argue.”

He gripped the glass tightly but shook his head. “Please don’t, you could just leave them here tied.”

“Always innocent to the end,” Barsad muttered softly and Robin felt his hand go into his hair, the gesture was familiar now and he sunk against his body a bit, his head pressing into his hip. It felt so good to relax against his body, and some of the pain was receding at the reassuring closeness.

“Please don’t kill them.” He looked over towards Bane imploringly.

Bane gripped the sides of the hospital gurney tightly as he slid his feet to the floor. He was fully clothed, boots even, dressed in his sleep in preparation, and now those boots struck the floor heavily as he slowly forced himself to stand. The first step wasn’t even shaky so much as it was slow, his stance was weaker, his muscles worn down slightly, but he was still the most intimidating person in the room by far. His footsteps were heavy as he walked over to Robin’s bed and stood before it. His fingers reached to take hold of his chin and tilt it upwards, looking over his face. Robin suddenly realized that this was the first time they’d ever met in the waking world. He slid his head down and kissed the back of Bane’s thumb, unsure if that was really appropriate in the given situation, but it felt right.

“Hi.”

Bane made an amused noise before he dropped his chin and looked across the room again. “Leave them.”

He let out a breath and closed his eyes in relief. It wouldn’t have been his fault if they’d died, but he knew he wouldn’t have been able to convince himself of that, not really. He would have seen their faces in his mind for the rest of his life. As it was, it was already too crowded in there. He was hauled up on weak legs, an arm slung over Barsad’s shoulder. It was honestly unfair that he could barely walk when Bane seemed to be doing just fine.

Breaking out of a prison? Easier than it looked, apparently, when you weren’t in a cell. The area the team had set up had been purposefully cleared so as not to draw attention. Guns were slipped away seamlessly and when Robin walked through the security office he was barely glanced at even with Barsad carefully keeping him propped up a bit. It went sour after that; Bane wasn’t exactly the kind of face that waltzed past a security checkpoint. He heard gunfire, and alarms started blaring. He tugged at Barsad’s hold but it tightened and he was steered ahead clearly while the man’s other hand pulled out his berretta.

“You don’t honestly want to see this, Robin. Not every battle can be won without bloodshed. Just keep walking.”

He was right. He really didn’t. He didn’t want it to happen, but he also wanted to get out of there alive, and part of him, all of those memories still pressing in, still flooding into him, wanted them to make it out, too. He grit his teeth and forced himself not to look back as he heard more gunshots and the shouting of orders; he focused instead on Barsad’s hand gripping him, and the steady fall of boot steps just behind him, never pausing their pace.

They were out the doors now, near running, or as much as could be managed in their state. He saw before he heard guns being fired in the air and shoved Barsad out of the way in time to keep a bullet out of his side. He was given a brief look of surprise and a quick smile before they took off again. They closed in on a jeep, the door open and waiting for them as Barsad leapt into it. Robin couldn’t help yelping as he was pulled along and his shoulder jammed into the door. Bane entered the vehicle with much less preamble, pulling the door shut behind him. Robin flew back into the seat as the Jeep screeched out of the area. No one had to tell him that there was no way the police or guards were going to catch this Jeep. He knew that they had truly escaped.

Barsad laughed breathlessly when they rounded a sharp curve and Robin’s legs flew into the air a bit. “The first prison break is always the hardest, I suppose.”

“I don’t even want to know how many times you’ve done this,” he shot back, groping around for a seatbelt and of course finding nothing. Barsad merely smiled in return, tucking away his gun.  He shook his head then felt Bane’s wide hand on his thigh, squeezing it firmly.

“Hello,” he returned the earlier greeting.

Somehow, with a confused protest and some careful maneuvering, he wound up in both of their laps. Bane and Barsad sat tight against one another and exchanged a look that Robin could probably write a book about for all its subtext before Bane brought his hand up and wrapped it around Barsad’s shoulder, pulling him closer, his fingers biting deeply into the flesh of his upper arm. Barsad only let out a sigh and allowed his head to drop onto Bane’s shoulder. Robin couldn’t help but feel like he was intruding on their moment. His head still ached terribly, and running had made him even queasier; it was going to be awkward if he interrupted their tender, borderline-romantic moment by throwing up in their laps. He clamped his jaw shut and forced back a low groan, though unfortunately a soft noise still escaped his lips.

Barsad’s hand went to his cheek. “Are you in pain?”

“Everything kind of hurts,” he admitted. “I feel sick.”

“It is not surprising. Mental trouble often manifests as physical,” Barsad contemplated.

“I’m not mental,” he complained then sighed when Bane rubbed a warm hand over his stomach. “Everything’s jumbled; it hurts.”

“You still cling to your old life,” Bane guessed easily. “You must let it go and allow your new memories to rule your mind.”

“It’s easier said than done.”

“I know. The old is never truly forgotten, it just dwells under the surface.”

“How do you know?”

“I was not always a creature of the pit. I have a past, as well, and it also ached in my brain until I learned to let it go.”

He nodded, and then reached his fingers up to touch over Bane’s mask, his fingers slightly unsteady with his nervousness. “This is really real? You have all of those memories with me?”

“All of the same memories,” Barsad promised. “And I didn’t even get a hello.”

A smiled tugged at Robin’s lips and he saw it returned by Barsad. “Hello.”

“Hello, Robin.” His lips were caught up in a slow kiss. He could feel Bane’s fingers stroking in a circle across his stomach still, and he melted into their touch. Bane was right. He needed to let go of some things. He didn’t want to be weighed down anymore. He settled into them, feeling their lips and their hands on him as he relaxed and let go. It was like a physical release, to open up his mind and let them out, to let the memories of his life be brushed away from him, disregarded as unimportant. He felt so light afterwards. He felt like he was flying.

Robin.