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The first time he finds Saito on the ruined streets of his subconscious, the man takes one look at Dom and puts a bullet through his brain. It's decidedly anticlimactic, and Dom feels strangely cheated when he wakes up the sea shore in the surf, bruised and aching and alive. He'd been stupid to think that getting Saito out would be easy, that it would be as easy as it has been to find Fisher. Saito's always been too smart for that.

He decides that it's only right that death should do nothing, at least at this level. In Limbo. The sedative makes the dream too stable, far more stable than it had been when he'd been here with Mal. Only a true kick will knock them back. And apparently there's nowhere deeper than here. But on the upside, it seems he'll have as many tries as he needs to get this right.

 

The next time Dom finds him, the world has changed, just a little. They stand outside a ruined building at night, but the wide veranda that surrounds it is anything but his creation. He remembers seeing his projection of Mal here, standing at the railing looking radiant and beautiful and perfect, her delicate hands resting on the rough wood as she stared down at the surf. Saito has started building, somehow, or Dom himself has created subconsciously out of remnants of that first dream. Whichever it is, it will make this harder if he can't control things.

Saito doesn't kill him right off this time, but for a time simply stands yards away on the walkway, tall and composed in his perfectly pressed business suit. He doesn't turn, but Dom knows that he is completely aware of him. He starts to walk towards him, slowly, one foot in front of the other, and keeps his hands at his sides. He can't trick Saito, can't forge his way into belonging like Eames could have. He can't woo him with words and tricks like he would with any other mark. Saito isn't a mark, not anymore.

"Why are you here?" Saito asks plainly when he stops a mere meter away. "Are you here to kill me?"

"No," Dom replies immediately, and Saito turns, suspicion plain in his eyes. Dom's failed again.

"You lie," Saito hisses, and moves before Dom can react, a blur of control and bright steel. It slices into Dom's throat as easy as a knife through butter, and he feels a rush of red hot pain as his blood spills, choking as he tries to draw air and gets only blood. He manages to cast a glance at Saito's impassive face before everything goes black.

 

Dom spits out seawater and sand, limping back into the city. He sees his children out of the corner of his eye, bright clothes and blonde hair, playing in the sunlight. He could make his own kick, jump off a building and go back. Escape before he hits customs, somehow. Find another way back. But he knows already that he can't do that, can't leave Saito here to insanity.

He tries again.

This time he thinks it will work, meeting Saito on the stairs in Paris where they'd agreed to set their plan into action, the wide steps in grey tile smooth under his feet. He stays at the bottom, watching Saito descend slowly from the top, not watching him but still completely aware. "I just need to talk to you," he says quietly, keeping his eyes on the lapels of the man's jacket. "You know me, Saito. You hired me. I need to get you back."

"I know who you are, Mr. Cobb," Saito replies calmly, voice smooth like silk. His black Italian shoes sound loudly against the tile, and he turns towards Dom as he reaches the bottom step. Dom looks up, thinking for a moment that he has a chance at an audience, only to see Saito's eyes narrow.

"And I know what you want." He steps forward quickly, slipping around him before Dom can react, one hand on the top of his head as the other catches his chin. He feels a yank, a twist, pain, and then the blackness again.

 

When Dom reaches shore this time he pulls himself wearily to his feet, catching his breath, then stumbles to sit on a piece of rubble that sits half buried in sand, leaning back against the concrete. For a long time he stares at the sea, watching the surf as his mind drifts, shutting out for a moment the impossibility of his task. Then he forces himself back to reality.

He travels through the crumbling buildings for what seems like months before he finds a hint of Saito in one towering skyscraper, the top of the concrete breaking into the layers and peaked tile roofs of a Japanese donjon. When he steps out of the elevator it is into Saito's dream that he steps, into the large common room where Japanese businessmen in expensive suits sit and relax, drinking glasses of beer and sake out of tiny white cups, talking, smoking cigarettes. Girls move throughout the room in geta, steps slow and measured and careful as they balance trays of drinks, their bodies wrapped long fabric obis tied in fanciful bows at their backs over silk yukata with delicate patterning. These aren't the stereotyped geisha that Dom would think of when he thinks of Saito's home country, with their white painted faces and tiny red lips, black hair teased into impossible arrangements. These girls are modern, flirtatious beauties with shimmering eyeshadow over fake lashes, with expensive jewelry, black hair lightened to shades of brown and caramel as it falls in curls over their shoulders. Even their nails seem over the top, long and covered with tiny jewels and gems and flowers.

Saito is in the middle of it all, two women with him, dealing a card came out to the table. He is not drinking, but his eyes flick to Dom, regarding him briefly before turning back to the game.

Dom sits, and waits, and watches. He turns aside a girl who brings him a beer, and she pouts, telling him off in a language he doesn't understand before moving on. Saito's projections won't harm them here, not in the disorder of limbo. He does snack on the basket of green, pea-pod like vegetables that sit in baskets on the tables, sucking the beans out like he sees the others doing before discarding the shell. They're cold and salted and refreshing, and he wonders a little at the vivid taste; even in a shared dream, taste was a sense that was normally dulled.

He watches Saito turn aside to speak to another man, who nods and disappears into the room. A few moments later he appears at Dom's side. "Saito-san wishes to see you, if you will please come with me?"

They make room for him at the card table, though Saito doesn't look up, still shuffling cards. "Have you ever played Oichokabu? It is rather like baccarat, you'll find. Your goal is nine. Maximum bet is ten thousand dollars."

Dom isn't familiar with either, but he's watched enough of the game to be able to fudge it, though he looses his bet to the dealer on the first round, with the man on his right making nine. Then the second, and the third. Thank goodness it's a dream.

The fourth round he bets five thousand on an eight, holding when the second card flips at a nine. Saito smiles just a little when the dealer draws six; he looses with four, and Dom is handed a pile of bills that amounts to twice his bet. Then Saito stands, giving him a nod. "Come with me."

He takes Dom to the side of the room, opening an impressively painted shoji into the private room that Dom remembers from their first meeting. They kneel this time, across a small table, and Saito gives a nod to the girl that appears with a small bottle of steaming sake. She pours a cup for each of them, then leaves, pulling the door shut behind her.

Saito watches him, lifting the cup with a hint of a smile. "You learn quickly. Gambei."

Dom only nods, lifting his own cup to mirror Saito's toast, drinking down the warm liquid as Saito does. "Thank you."

Saito watches him drink, setting his empty cup on the table. "I feel like I should know you, though I regret to say that I cannot recall how. Why are you here, watching me? Who sent you?"

"I come of my own will," Dom says slowly, knowing that one wrong word will end this meeting. "I come because we were once young men together. To remind you of a deal we had."

Saito's eyes narrow slightly, taking in his words. "The strange thing is, I seem to remember you coming to steal something from me." He picks up the bottle of sake and pours Dom another cup, leaning across the table to lift it to his lips. "Tell me... can I trust you? Drink."

There's something incredibly focused, completely intent in Saito's gaze that makes Dom shiver, and he lets his lips part to the sake, taking the heady liquid as Saito tilts the cup. It burns going down, and he coughs to clear his throat as the cup is set saide. "That's for you to decide, Mr. Saito. But you did trust me, once. You trusted me enough to wager the future of your company on my skills."

"Is that so." Saito is silent for a long enough time that Dom begins to wonder if he was waiting for him to say something. "Say that I do decide to trust you," he said finally, watching him, "That I take your word on what you claim to have done for me. What is your business now? What is this deal?"

"The deal was a job I did for you. I orchestrate planting an idea in the mind of your rival that would save your business. You help me get back home. But something went wrong, and we've ended up here. We're both stuck in the deepest level of dreaming, a dream so sharp that it's impossible to tell what's real and what isn't. I'm trying to help you."

Saito nods slowly, and he stands, turning to open one of the shoji to retrieve a silver cigarette case from the shelf behind. He lights one and takes a long drag before inclining his head in invitation. "Join me."

He does, swallowing hard as Saito turns towards him, his closeness forcing Dom to press back against the frame of the screen behind him. Even then he can feel the heat of Saito's body, and he remembers acutely that Saito is the only thing here that is real.

"Would you like a cigarette?" Saito asks, and even though he doesn't normally smoke, Dom nods. He's surprised with Saito presses his own to Dom's lips, watching as he draws on it, fingers brushing his mouth as he pulls it away. The smoke is thick and rich and not nearly as harsh as he remembers it being in real life, but the rush that moves through him is not from the nicotine.

"You speak very convincingly," Saito tells him, voice low, and turns to set the cigarette in an ashtray that sits on the shelf behind the open screen. "I must say, you almost won me over. But it's all a little too convenient, don't you think? You made a mistake coming to me like this." He steps forward then, a hand on Dom's chest to keep him in place as he leans in to brush his mouth to Dom's in a simple, closed mouth caress. Then he jerks against him, and Dom feels a sharp, ripping pain in his chest. He looks down to see Saito's hand closed around a small, thin blade, driving it deep into his chest. He looks almost sad as he does so, and Dom holds his gaze until the blackness takes over again.

 

It takes him some time, when he wakes up in the surf, to remember what he's meant to do. For a long time he simply wanders in the city, remembering pieces of Mal that drift through his memory like yellowed newsprint. For a time it feels like he can't find focus, like everywhere he goes is the same, an endless labyrinth of crumbling buildings, of the remains of his former life. Without night, without sleep and dreams to break up the day, he can't tell if years have passed or merely days.

When he finally comes upon Saito in the dreaming, the donjon has become a full castle with walls and gates. He remembers suddenly their last meeting, the kiss, the heat of Saito's body against his, and for a moment he sees it so clearly in his mind that it's almost as though he relives it. He'd almost forgotten about it, lost in the maze of the city, and now that he remembers he wonders how his mind could ever think on anything else. It's a strange and confusing situation, but as much as he can't understand why his body would react that way, he comes to the almost immediate conclusion that here and now his focus is to get Saito home, and whatever the other man's lead may be, he'll follow it.

He passes through the castle gates uncontested, the gate unguarded apart from the towering statues of Raijin and Fuujin that stand on either side of the inside gate. The grounds are quiet and deserted, a stark contrast to their last meeting.

He finds Saito in the middle of the castle grounds, surrounded by the luxury of the orient, by dark wood pillars and polished walkways. Somehow the daylight has faded into the dark of night, and he realizes suddenly that it's always been night when he's found Saito. It's a welcome break from the never-ending drabness of overcast late afternoon that Dom's subconscious always seems to create, and rather than coldness, Saito's night feels quiet and strong.

Saito himself kneels on a cushion in a small tea house in the middle, a low table in front of him with a Japanese tea service. The paper lamps that hang from the eves of the teahouse light the inside brightly, golden and warm. Serene.

Dom sits down to one side on the bottom rung of one of the walkway railings, exposing himself completely without being overt, without being threatening. He sits and waits, watching the older man's closed lids, eyelashes dark against his cheeks, watching his chest rise as he breathes.

He has all the time in the world. There will be no more kicks. He has to make it out of this on his own.

Saito opens his eyes, finally, not looking over, not making a move to indicate that he knows that Dom is there. All the same he is perfectly schooled, perfectly in control. He reaches forward for the pot of tea on the table, lifting the bamboo handle to pour the steaming liquid into two cups. When he sets it down he stretches an arm out towards Dom, waving him forward, and Dom moves without question, standing and moving across the courtyard to the tea house. He bows low, acutely aware that he must conduct himself perfectly, then kneels on the cushion across from him. He waits for Saito to pick up his own cup and motion towards Dom's before he takes a sip, finding the heat and earthiness of the green tea a little soothing.

"I feel like I should know you," Saito says finally, watching Dom. "I feel like I should... be suspicious of you."

Dom wraps his fingers around the small ceramic cup, letting the heat seep into his hands. "I wish I knew why you felt that way."

He gives a little noncommittal shrug and sips his tea. "I don't suppose you care to tell me why you have been sitting in my private courtyard watching me drink tea."

"I had no intent to offend," Dom says, keeping his voice and his words calm and measured. "I didn't mean to disturb you."

"And what was your intent, then?"

Dom swallows, holding his gaze evenly. "I would like to work for you, sir. To serve you."

"To serve me?" He raises an eyebrow. "And how do you plan to do that?"

"By doing anything you wish me to do."

He isn't sure how they get from Point A to Point Saito pushing him up against the wall and kissing him, only that Saito's lips are pressed to his, hard and hot and demanding. He supposes he must have wanted it, to allow the dreaming to reach such a state. He knows that he wants it now, yielding without question to the force of Saito's kisses. He wants it because it's real, because it means a focus he hasn't been able to feel in ages. Because being with Saito, trying to wake him, it's the only purpose he has in this place. And if that means doing this, well... it's all just a dream, isn't it?

It always feels real, very real, to have contact with another dreamer. Dom slides his hands around Saito's hips, up under his suit jacket, the fabric silken and fine under his fingers, feeling the heat of his body through the clothes. The kiss is unlike anything he's ever experienced, hard and skilled and unforgiving and much like Saito himself. Dom meets his challenge, pressing back hard against his mouth, tongue chasing his, pushing into his mouth to taste tea and heat and desire. He's not soft like Mal, his hands tangled in Dom's hair to keep him still, his hint of beard rough against Dom's face. He can even smell him, the rich scent of the undoubtedly expensive aftershave Saito always wore in the real world. All of it makes Dom unbelievably, unbearably hard, and he pulls Saito closer, groaning into his mouth as their bodies press together, as a slight arch of his hips makes him rub against the fine wool of his suit stretched over an unmistakable hardness underneath.

It's dark around them, without a hint of where they are, and all he can see is Saito. "You want to serve me, do you?" Saito's voice is low against his mouth, and he nips at his bottom lip none too gently. One hand untangles from Dom's hair to trail down his throat, stroke fluidly over the lapels of his jacket. "Are you really prepared for all that might entail?"

"Please," Dom gasps, trying to arch up against him, arch closer, do anything that would mean more of this. More reality. He whimpers as Saito pushes a hand between them, cupping him through his pants, stroking, letting Dom grind against him. The hand on his chest stays, holding him in place, and Saito's mouth ghosts his own, smiling ever so slightly at the hard gasps of air Dom takes.

"Why are you here?" he whispers, still stroking, regardless of the fact that Dom's trousers are wet from the arousal that seeps from the head of his cock. "Why are you really here?"

"To be with you," he gasps, pinned and helpless between Saito and the wall, between Saito's kisses and the control of his hand, making Dom's body sing with pleasure. "To remind you...."

Saito gives a low, understanding hum in his throat. Then the hand on his chest moves, smoothing up to curl around his throat, and Saito begins to squeeze.

Dom's fingers clench hard in the fabric of Saito's slacks, but he doesn't try to push him away. He knows he's failed again, but he can't do anything to change that now, can't do anything but gasp for air as the pressure increases. Saito's hand doesn't leave his cock, however, stroking more firmly, and somehow it's the most intense thing he's ever felt. He doesn't fight any of it, letting the sensation build even as his lungs burn and his chest heaves, even as his vision goes black. It makes the pleasure stronger, and the last thing Dom remembers is bucking helplessly up against Saito's hand, the rush of orgasm shuddering through his body before the darkness takes him.

 

The pound of the waves on the shore is endless and unchanging; the tide never turns here. Dom wonders, as he stares at them, if the ocean's always been here. Perhaps he created it, when he was with Mal. He can't remember that anymore. He watches the waves for what seems like an eternity, perched on the rubble, never sleeping, never thirsting. The monotony is eventually broken by the crash of a building crumbling into the sea, and when he turns to look he sees the remains of a sand castle, slowly being reclaimed by the waves.

James. Phillipa.

He sets out again.

It takes him longer to remember Saito this time, to find Saito, or at least it feels that way. It all comes rushing back at the first sign of the man, at the hint of the now familiar donjon between the buildings of the city. Dom closes his eyes for a moment and breathes, tries to convince himself that he's not aroused at the memory, that he doesn't want more of the same as soon as possible. That he hasn't touched anyone since Mal. It's difficult, but everything is controlled by the mind here, so eventually he's able to calm himself, and he moves out.

Walking through the gates of the temple seems to put him into Saito's world, into the darkness. When he sees Saito this time he doesn't approach, doesn't even overtly reveal himself, merely moving amoungst Saito's projections as if he belongs there. It's ridiculous, when he thinks about it, one shaggy haired American trying to fit into the elegance of Saito's world.

He can't keep track of how long he follows Saito, the aspects of the dream changing around them at random intervals, but never loosing the connection between the dreamers. Finally he hears Saito speak, suddenly next to him, breath warm against Dom's ear.

"What is your name?"

It's a start. Hopefully a start that doesn't mean killing him. He doesn't move, keeps his eyes lowered. "Cobb. Dom Cobb."

Saito is silent for a long moment, but he doesn't move. Finally Dom feels the warmth of his hand on his back, and he shivers despite himself. "You remind me of a man I once knew, long ago."

"Like a half remembered dream," Dom replies before he can stop himself, and he closes his eyes as Saito's fingers smooth up the back of his suit jacket, up the length of his spine. Saito doesn't reply though, just standing and waiting with his hand warm between Dom's shoulder blades.

Though he doesn't address him, Saito allows him to stay near. They talk, though Dom doesn't remember what about. The dream changes around them, but Saito doesn't seem to notice. Dom doesn't breech the issue of the dream, and this time Saito doesn't push him, seemingly content with not knowing exactly why he's here. Dom hopes he's finally ready to trust.

He finds himself back in the room where they'd first met, surrounded by antique oriental luxury. The table is gone completely now, the bed that replaces it curtained with gauze, giving the illusion of privacy. Perhaps this is Saito's creation, or perhaps his own, but Dom realizes that he doesn't care. Being here, in private with Saito, he remembers more acutely what had happened the last time, and he can't stop himself from wanting it.

Saito stands at his side, a hand resting lightly on his back, and he leans close. "Somehow it feels like I have been waiting for you for a very long time," he says softly, lips brushing against Dom's ear. It sends a shiver of desire through him and he closes his eyes, accepting that this is going to happen. That he wants it to happen. Whatever Saito wants, if it gets them home.

Even if it doesn't get them home.

Saito presses a soft kiss to the hollow behind his ear, and Dom can't open his eyes, can't do anything but savor the contact, the warmth of his body and his scent seeming somehow so very familiar. "I feel like I've been searching for you, for your face, for your blue eyes," Saito murmurs, and his kisses move slowly along his jaw. "That there is something that I desperately need you for. Do you ever feel that way?"

"Yes," Dom whispers, and turns his face into his kisses, turns to meet Saito's mouth with his own. He's shivering with a turmoil of emotion - anxiety and need and fear and desire, and the rational part of his mind screams that he's going too far, that he doesn't have a clue about how to do this, that he can't possibly give Saito what he wants. That he'll end up with Saito's fingers around his throat again, back at square one. But it's not loud enough to overshadow the desperation he feels, needing Saito's passion and intensity, needing to feel touch and affection the way he hasn't dared to since Mal died.

Saito gives a soft, pleased hum against his mouth, and his hands stroke around Dom's waist, smoothing over his suit jacket to pull him closer. He's strangely gentle compared to last time, but Dom can still feel the strength and control that is the core of this man, and slowly he allows it to calm him, his lips parting to the gentle, repeated caress of his lips, the flick of his tongue. He can't help but groan and arch closer, stroking his hands up over his chest to clench at his shoulders, and one of Saito's hands leaves his waist to slide into his hair, tangle in the golden strands.

They don't speak, not now, and Dom no longer thinks about whether or not this will help, whether it will finally win him Saito's trust. He can only think about how good this feels, arching closer to Saito and groaning against his mouth, craving the physical contact, needing the sensation.

He doesn't quite remember how they end up naked in bed together, his mind too focused on Saito's kisses to pay attention to the details of the dream. What matters is the feel of Saito's skin under his fingers, and he lets Saito press him back into the bed, laying half over him, body pressed to his. Dom tilts his head back to Saito as the man kisses hungrily over his jaw, down his throat, gasping at the scrape of his teeth at the crook of his neck. He strokes a hand over the warmth of Saito's chest, skin smooth and golden and almost hairless, pressing a thumb to one pert nipple and hearing Saito groan against his skin, biting a little harder. He tries to turn into him, tangling his legs with Saito's, his cock hard and aching and craving sensation. Saito is just as hard against him, which is different but definitely not bad, and it turns Dom on more than he'd realized he would be to know he's had such an effect on the other man.

Dom closes his eyes to the storm of sensation and lets his fingers smooth down Saito's chest and stomach, stroking and teasing slowly lower until he's stroking through the dark curls at the base of his cock, then wrapping his fingers around it. It shouldn't be so thrilling to touch him, not when he's so familiar with his own body. But there's something intoxicating about about how hard he is in Dom's palm, hard under velvet soft skin. He strokes him slowly, from root to tip, and Saito gives a little strangled gasp into his shoulder and bucks up into his hand. His own fingers close around Dom's erection, returning his touch in long, even strokes, his thumb smoothing over the head of his cock on each stroke, slicking Dom's arousal over his skin. Dom can understand his reactions because it feels so fucking good, and he bites down at his bottom lip in a futile attempt to hold back a groan, eyes closed tight.

There's only touch now, the stroke of his hand on Saito's cock as Saito works his, both gasping, voices mingling with soft moans of pleasure. His skin burns where they touch, where Saito's lips devour his throat and jaw, his mouth leaving trails of heat as he licks and sucks at his skin. When Saito lets go and tugs Dom's hand from him he can't help but whimper at the loss, but then Saito is pushing him onto his back and pressing between his thighs, covering him with his body, and the weight of Saito on top if him is somehow completely perfect. He rocks up against him before he can stop himself, the rush of pleasure from the slide of his cock against Saito's, against his stomach making him gasp. Saito smiles, gaze dark and needy, and thrusts back against him as he covers Dom's mouth with his own.

Dom can hardly control himself as they rock together, groaning helplessly into his mouth, his hands on Saito's back and shoulders, clenching, raking his fingers over his skin, anything that will give him more. The heat of Saito's body against his has pooled at the base of his spine, sensation pulsing through his body with each shift of their hips, pounding like the waves on the shore. He can't focus on anything but Saito, pulling him hard against him and rocking up against him desperately, their bodies sweat-streaked and shuddering with pleasure as they move together. He gasps helplessly for breath against his mouth. "Oh god. Oh god, oh fuck - !"

"Dom." His name is a soft sigh on Saito's lips as he drops his head, kissing the softness under his ear. "Dom..."

Dom lets himself believe that the man remembers, closing his eyes and letting go of the last of his self-control. He jerks up against Saito helplessly, eyes closed to the rush of pleasure as he comes hot and slick between them. Saito gasps his name again and follows, and for a long moment Dom just revels in everything that's happened, in his closeness to Saito, in bringing the other man to climax.

They lay together quietly for some time, Saito pressing a soft kiss to his mouth before fitting against his side. "I wish I could remember how it is that I know you," he says finally, sadness darkening his eyes.

"I can help you remember," Dom replies, finally taking the chance. "I can show you. If you believe me."

"If I trust you," Saito muses slowly. He pulls away, standing, pulling on a dark blue cotton yukata that appears for him in the dream, belting it around his waist. It reminds Dom too much of his final, fateful days in Limbo with Mal, it's a complete lack of awareness of the dream, of creating. That this world isn't real.

"Come home with me," Dom says softly, but it's as though Saito doesn't hear.

"You've come to steal something from me." Saito's voice sounds leaden, dead. He turns back to Dom, but instead of angry he just seems tired. "You came to seduce me with your pretty words and your charisma, you came to trick me, mislead me. I am your mark. Your job."

"You're so much more to me than that," Dom replies, the truth spilling out before he can even begin to think of manipulation. "I swear it.

For a long moment Saito watches him, but the sadness doesn't leave his expression. "I wish that I could believe that," he says finally, and turns to leave the room.

"Saito, please!" Dom leaps to his feet, not caring about his nudity. But Saito is already through the door, and his projections come spilling through, faceless guards in identical black suits that tear him to pieces.

 

Dom looks again for Saito's castle, his clothes dripping seawater as he slowly stumbles through the city. But no matter how far he walks, how long he goes and what areas he thinks that he's searched, there's no sign of Saito.

Finally he returns to their home. He sits at the table and takes Mal's totem from the breast pocket of his suit, watching it spin and spin and never stop. Perhaps it spins for hours, for days, or perhaps he looses himself to years, to the blank, unmeasurable passage of time.

He's screwed up. He could have dealt with his demons long before now and none of this would have happened.

Dom picks up the still spinning top and tucks it back into his breast pocked. Then he leaves and walks into the sea.

 

When he becomes aware of himself again he's washed up onto the beach, feeling weak and helpless, and so for a long time he just lays there, letting the water wash over his form. He's hardly aware of the voices talking over top of him until they're taking the gun from the back of his slacks - of course he had a gun, where had it been all this time? - hauling him up by his armpits, dragging him up stairs cut into the cliff towards a large gate leading to a Japanese castle. It seems like it should be familiar to him, but he can't place it.

They take him into a room lined with painted Shoji screens, light by dozens of lanterns that hang from the ceiling, and sit him at the end of a polished wood table, giving him a bowl of some kind of steaming food. He eats, and watches the old man at the end of the table as he turns Dom's totem over and over in his fingers. Something tugs at Dom's mind, that he shouldn't let anyone else handle it, but he can't remember why...."

"I know what this is." The old man speaks slowly, carefully, watching him. "I've seen one before, many many years ago. It belonged to a man I met in a half remembered dream... a man possessed of some radical notions."

Dom stops, slowly setting down his spoon, and something that the man says triggers his memory.

The job.

Inception.

Saito.

This man is Saito. And they've been stuck here in limbo, together, for... a lifetime? Pieces of it flash through his mind, all his attempts to get through to the other man. Everything they'd done. And now, finally... Saito remembers. They speak, echo familiar words they spoke together long ago. Words of growing old, alone. Regretful. But all that can change.

"Come back with me," he murmurs, pulse racing, but he knows somehow that this time Saito will say yes. "So we can be young men together again. Come back with me." The deal doesn't matter, nothing matters more than getting Saito home. "Come back."

Saito nods slowly, and stands.

Then they're standing on the veranda of the donjon, the night cool around them, standing at the rail overlooking the sea. Dom thinks of Mal for a moment, but only through association. He looks out towards the sea, the water black, touched with flecks of silver from the moon.

"I'm sorry it took so long for me to remember," Saito says, and when Dom glances over the man is young again, self image renewed in his subconscious. "Thank you for not giving up. It cannot have been an easy task for you."

He wants to say that he would have completed this no matter what, but even now he wonders if Saito will assume that he's only done this to secure his own safety. To ensure he doesn't step off the plane and into jail. He opens his mouth to say so, but the words stick in his throat, so he just nods.

Saito smiles, watching him, thinking, calculating as Saito always does. For a moment it looks as though he wants to say something, but it passes, and he looks away. He rests on the veranda railing and looks down at the surf at the base of the cliff, far below. "If we jump... will we survive?"

Dom reaches up to touch his elbow. "We will."

 

When Dom wakes up he's back in the airplane, and it takes him a moment to adjust to being awake. To bring his mind back to a time that seems so long ago. To real life.

He turns to find Saito watching him silently, thoughtfully. When their gaze meets, Saito holds it for a moment before turning away and reaching for the phone.

~~~~