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Patron Saint

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Arthur's been shot, and he's tired. All he wants is to pack up the gear, close out his laptop, and drive back to the hotel for a few hours of sleep before he has to get up, come back, and do it all over again. Dry runs. They're the worst.

"That exit isn't going to work," Cobb says, shifting sheets of trace under the gooseneck. Arthur closes his eyes, momentarily, and presses the heel of one hand to his forehead. When he opens them Cobb is just sitting down, reaching out for the scale. Arthur leaves his laptop where it is, and goes to the kitchen to make coffee.

He's watching the kettle boil when Eames comes over and leans against the refrigerator. "You staying?" He looks sympathetic, at least.

Arthur nods, looking back over his shoulder at the bright pool of light Cobb is working in. "Just till that exit's fixed."

Eames gives him a considering look, then checks his watch and holds his wrist up. "It's past two."

"I know."

Eames puts his back to the fridge and stands with his arms crossed, watching Cobb, while Arthur makes coffee.

"You should go," Arthur says. "No point all of us staying."

"The exit's fine," says Eames. "He's obsessing."

Arthur pulls the wet filter from the cone, drops it in the sink, and puts a new, dry filter in.

"Something's different," Eames says. "He's lost his nerve, maybe."

"He hasn't lost anything. Excuse me." Arthur has his hand on the fridge handle, and he waits pointedly until Eames pushes off the door and steps away. He can feel Eames studying him while he gets out the milk.

"How long are you going to follow him around like this?" Eames's voice is low, and not unfriendly. "You're smart, you're good at your job."

"Thanks."

"You could work with anyone. You could run your own teams. But you're still chasing around after Dom Cobb, after...how many years, now?"

Arthur pours milk into the first cup, watching it sink and then resurface, blooming unmixed and then losing its cohesion, its form. "I'm really not in the mood."

Eames says nothing. There's silence, except for the sound of the coffee draining through the filter into the cup.

"Sorry," Arthur says, after a minute. "I'm just tired."

"And you were shot in the stomach," Eames says. "That stings, I know."

"And I really," Arthur goes on, "don't think I need to take career advice from a guy who's worked with eight teams in the last twenty months. No offense."

"It's the stability, then. You like knowing where you stand."

Arthur turns. Eames has his hands in his pockets, slouched against the wall with his ankles crossed. He looks tired and a little heavy, and kind.

In a sudden upswelling of feeling, probably mostly fatigue, maybe some lingering adrenaline, Arthur says, "I don't know. Maybe. I just...he needs me. I used to need him, when I was starting out. Now I think he needs me, and I...I don't want to leave him stranded."

He cuts himself off. A flush is rising in his cheeks, and he has the bad, humiliating sense that he's exposed something he should have kept covered. He turns back to the counter, but not before he sees Eames's expression loosen, his eyes soften.

"You should go," Arthur says again, knocking the used filter out of the cone and running a jet of water over it. "We'll shut it down soon anyway."

He leaves the second cup black for himself, gives Eames a professional nod with his eyes averted, and walks back to the drafting table. Cobb is immersed in his drawings, and doesn't look up when Arthur sets the cup down. The door on the other side of the warehouse opens and closes: Eames, letting himself out.

 

Four days later they're still putting on some finishing touches, but the build is in place and the routines are down. Eames can do the mark's nephew perfectly, from his bow-legged walk to his taut, melon-shaped gut to the pinkish wen on the back of his neck, just above his collar.

"That's really good," Arthur tells him in a moment of generosity, as they're waiting for Cobb to make his way around the building at the pace he'll travel with the mark. Eames laughs. It's the nephew's laugh, high-pitched and snorting. Arthur allows himself a smile. "This is a good look for you."

"I'm flattered," Eames says, in the nephew's nasal voice. Then, just before Cobb is scheduled to appear, he tucks something into Arthur's breast pocket, and pats it with the flat of his hand.

"What--" Arthur pulls it out; it's a small medallion on a chain. Cheap, light metal, stamped with something. He's distracted, keeping an eye on the time to make sure Cobb is on pace.

"A little something for your buttonhole," Eames says. Arthur squints at it. It's St. Jude.

"Patron saint of lost causes," he says, and tucks the medallion away again. "Subtle."

"Just something to think on," Eames says, "in case you ever consider a new church."