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Chapter Text

It begins in a classroom

On a cold afternoon in the month of October, where leaves turn red, and the trees go bare; where everything is changing; everything falling apart.

It begins with a boy sitting opposite the blackboard wall. His knees are up to his chest; arms tightly embracing his thin, little frame. He doesn't look up even when his lunchbox is forcefully taken away, even when he receives a kick on his side. He lays his head to rest on his slim arms, and stays there.

It begins with a boy standing by the doorway, hands clenched tight and lips sealed shut. He watches disdainfully on, listening to the others laugh. He tries not to cringe on the sound of a lunchbox being tossed angrily on the ground. Tries not to look at the blonde haired bully pointing at the new kid with soft black curls and pale, pale skin.

The new kid sniffs, as gently as possible. The other kids don’t sense the immediate show of telltale weakness for they were too focused on their own petty insults, but the boy hiding behind the door senses him. Hears him. Sees him.

"How dare you trot in this school with a face like yours" The blonde boy spits, voice laced with venom and disgust. Menace forming into a tight grip of his body. "If this weren't lunch I would have punched that disgusting, little face of yours. Next time you look up at me as if I am beneath you, you know what’s coming to you"


Another kick. A round of laughter.


It begins when they leave; footsteps echoing throughout the hallway; laughter bouncing against the walls. The boy standing by the doorway clenches his hands a little too firmer, harder, until his knuckles turn as white as snow. He wants to scream back; demand that they return the pale kid’s lunchbox. To return everything that they had ever taken away.

But the wind nudges him; causing him to alter his attention. He looks back at the old classroom, and his eyes fall on the one thing that seem to make the place come to life. And so he takes a step forward, and a step forward and a step forward, until he is standing in front of the boy sitting opposite the blackboard wall.
He crouches a little too careful, as if the air is a fragile thing and he would break it.


But it begins.


There is glass breaking. It’s shattering against the floors. He hears a clock ticking. A train whistling far away. There is someone speaking in his ear, like a ghost whispering its regrets, its last goodbyes. It’s asking him to take a leap of faith. But he doesn’t look away.

It begins when he listens. And through the burbled, soft voice of the boy with soft, black curls and pale, pale skin


He listens.


"Have you come to punish me...I've been waiting for someone"


 

 

Chapter Text

Dominic Cobb jerked awake, his pulse racing through his veins like he had finished a race. He tried to keep his qualms at rest; tried to listen to the ticking of a clock nearby as he stared up ahead at his plain white ceiling. He noted that it was still quite dark; still silent. His body limped tiredly, and even after the force of awakening from a deep slumber, his body was still ready to rest. But his mind was already awake.

He sat up, legs dangling on the side of his bed. He rubbed the forming sweat off of his face with his hand, and he noticed how it was shaking.

Dreams are just dreams. He reminded himself. But he checked his arms nonetheless to make sure there wasn’t anything inserted in him, not a syringe or a damn PASIV. There was none, and so he laid back down, tucking the whole of his body inside his worn-out comforter and tried to get some sleep.

Only this time. He can’t. Not anymore.

He traced the dream in his mind, that same old dream every night; mapping out the details and whatnot. Red and orange leaves. Cold, cold air. A blonde jerk. And a lunchbox, a clock. Pain. Waiting.

A boy sitting opposite the blackboard wall.

Cobb frowned. The dream felt a little too real. He could feel the tension. The hate. And the lingering sadness seemingly filling the dream. Dreams were not supposed to be heavy. Dreams were not supposed to keep you awake. Especially when they were not supplied by chemicals. It was supposed to be just the subconscious talking. It was supposed to be just a dream.

But what is a dream anyway? Cobb had stopped asking himself that question ever since he became an extractor. Most of the times, he would just groan and go back to sleep. His mind would just forget and he would continue onto his daily routine. After all, dreams were not supposed to be remembered.

Funny how he recalled every detail. Ironic even, that he remembered how it began.

He called Arthur and despite half-knowing that it will probably come to voicemail, his friend’s voice flowed out from the other side of the line.

 


 

“Don’t look at me like that.” He glared daggers at his point man, though his voice held no real threat. And yet, he sounded offended, unrelieved perhaps. Despite his friend’s presence showering him with familiarity, Cobb felt unassured, unanswered. Around him were busy men and women with coffee mugs, too absorbed in their own paperbacks. Laughter could be heard a few feet away from them, from a bunch of lingering teenagers by the corner of the coffee shop in no doubt laughing about something beyond ridiculous. And then there was a nice, old couple by the ceiling windows, and Cobb had to avert his eyes.

Everything seemed to be in place, in peace, and yet, Cobb’s mind was not.

And he could only presume how much he hated it.

“I’m not looking at you with anything." Arthur took a sip of his own coffee, creamy and a tad bit sweet, like he always took it. Black seemed to be more fitting for the point man, if one should perceive and try to analyze him like Cobb first assumed when they were just starting to get comfortable with each other. He could remember bringing him coffee one morning before a job, and Arthur only thanked him but never really drank it. It offended him for some time, before he learned Arthur didn’t drink black. But even with the organized, controlled persona Arthur had portrayed, there were things about the point man that betrayed that cognitive consistency, one of a few things that Cobb only knew (and possibly a certain British man for nothing truly escapes his perceptive eye). It was a bit surprising in that moment, and then he realized he should have known not to judge a book by its cover.

“Oh of course you’re not.” Cobb deadpanned and leaned angrily at the chair. His breath shook as he exhaled.

“You’re supposed to be filing it away at the back of your mind and here you are trying to understand what it possibly means like a schoolgirl obsessed with the unknown” Arthur pointed out, his voice light and soothing; eyes glancing towards the unruly little adults. It was the only thing in the coffee shop to be much of interest, besides Cobb and his undying persistence to glare at him.

“It’s because it felt real.”

“All dreams feel real. Must I remind you how you heaved on the floor after a terrible practice session back in Columb—“

“I know how the dreamscape works Arthur” He said, irritated and somehow very impatient.

“Do you want a refresher for Dream-Sharing 101? Because Ariadne would be delighted to prove how insufferable you are being right now.”

“I am not insufferable. It felt real. Like it had happened before. I just can’t place when or where.”

“Look-“Arthur sighed, placed the cup on the coffee table and leaned towards Cobb a little too slowly; carefully threading. He wasn’t sure why Arthur was being so careful, even if his voice was as brash and normal as it could be. Though Cobb decided he didn’t like it. “-Maybe you’re just having a hard time adjusting into the normalcy of life. It happens. You said it yourself. Reality wouldn’t be the same anymore. You even particularly shoved it into our brains the first time we went under. “Arthur tried to reason, some shit load of practicality he thought he knew. Cobb was about to argue against it but then his gaze fell on the corner of his friend’s eyes, the way it crinkled and frowned at him, and then Cobb realized nothing that came out of his friend’s lips made sense even for him. A somewhat small plot hole under the guise of a conclusive story. A missing detail. A gap.

The eyes told another story. A well-hidden sentiment that only appeared in a fraction of a second. Concern.

Cobb felt his own eyes soften, his body limping against the chair as if to surrender. He sighed deeply, and all the pent up frustration that had built up ever since Arthur’s presence graced him left his body. He could think a little clearly now; give something that was not based on his frustrated emotions.

“It’s not though.” He starts, trying to find the words to phrase and rephrase what he wanted to say “It’s something else. I’m sure, and…and I know you’re just trying to give me some possible answers, but I don’t think it’s something we have encountered even from before.” He finished calmly, and he could see Arthur’s eyes widen as if he wasn’t expecting that kind of answer. But the point man actually tensed, and Cobb could figure out why. As Arthur looked away for a second, he pictured walls crumbling, and he wondered since when Arthur became this soft.

“Thanks anyway, you know, for coming.” Cobb added, out of amusement than intent after recognizing the major slip-off, but Arthur only jerked his head to look him in the eye, even if his cheeks turned slightly red, and held his gaze. “Of course I’ll come. I’m your best friend, am I not?”

Cobb gazed into his friend’s eyes; trying to see underneath the masked up persona. It was something he hadn’t expected from him anymore, ever since…But it was in the past now. All of these behind him as he tried to restart his life from a forgotten vantage point, like an adult turning his old video game console back again after all those years and starting at the place he had left it from when everything was easier; lighter.

It felt damn good, to know that he at least had something decent left from his past.

The first to break eye contact was Arthur, too shy even with that cool persona of his. “So, I guess I’ll be heading to the nearest headquarters then.” He stood up, gripping his messenger bag from the ground and hanging it over his shoulder.

“Headquarters? What do you mean, I thought you were on break from the job?” Cobb had an incredulous look on his face and Arthur had to roll his eyes.

“I am on a break. Having your throat slit from the last job did something to my head to be terribly honest. I wouldn’t want to look at a PASIV for a month first.”

“So why—“

“Research is my focal point and with the looks of it, we need a lot of research for this…little confusion of yours.” Arthur walked up a few steps away and when he turned around and saw Cobb still staring at him for quite unknown reasons, he cleared his throat and glared.

“God Cobb, sometimes I wonder if you were a freak from middle school.”

Cobb smirked, reeling into that same old feeling. Past the point of no return, he edged Arthur on.

“You love freaks.”

Chapter Text

It begins in a classroom

On a cold afternoon in the month of October, where leaves turn red, and the trees go bare; where everything is changing; everything falling apart.

It begins with a boy sitting opposite the blackboard wall. His knees are up to his chest; arms tightly embracing his thin, little frame. He doesn't look up, even when his lunchbox is forcedly taken away, even when he receives a kick on his side. He lays his head to rest on his slim arms, and stays there.

He sniffs, as gently as possible. He doesn’t want them to know how his eyes start to sting; that he is burning. That he is hurting. He would not give them that benefit. Will not pave them the way to victory.

"How dare you trot in this school with a face like yours? If this weren't lunch I would have punched that disgusting, little face. Next time you look up at me as if I am beneath you, you know what’s coming to you." The booming, threatening voice echoes in his ears. The words are like knives to his skin, paper-thin bullets, but no, he would not allow it to pierce his heart.

He receives another kick, hitting the side of his stomach a little too harder than the last one, and he knows it would bruise later.

It begins when they leave, their footsteps fading out of the background. They laugh, but their teasing cackles are short lived, and they disappear completely after a second only to be replaced by a crueler, meaner echo: Silence. The sudden gush of wind coming from the old window envelops him; embracing him as if to give comfort. The comfort is welcome, the boy argues in his head, if only it isn’t cold.  

He shivers. Not just because of the cold, so it seems.

It begins when the silence becomes too much, reminding him that he is left alone to pick himself back up again, like he always does

But the silence suddenly breaks

The set of footsteps thread carefully, gently, but he automatically folds his body into himself further, even if the presence is…

The presence is surprisingly calm.

And this time. Only this time, he is reminded that he is not alone.

He feels the presence at the tip of his toes, but it is not saying anything nor is it touching him. He feels the hair at the back of his neck stand tremendously, so he knows the presence is there, looking right at his pitiful, pitiful form.

And so, it begins, when he cracks

“Have you come to kill me? I’ve been waiting for someone" His own voice sends a shiver running down his spine, but the words don’t fit what he means to say. His voice is still weak, still pathetic, and it’s almost foreign, this show of telltale fragility, and he starts to get angry. His knuckles clenches hard against his red-stained shirt as he bites down his bottom lip out of hate, frustration, pain. Though he doesn’t look up. He doesn’t lift his head from his arms.

But then the presence speaks, and the world stops.

“Someone from a half-remembered dream.” The voice is not a boy, but a man, but when he lifts his head to stare at the presence’s feet, he stops, for instead of huge polished shoes, he sees a pair of small, worn out sneakers. He hides himself again under his arms, and closes his eyes.

It clicks.

It begins when he cracks, but the beginning is distorted.

And then he hears a click of a gun.

Bang

Chapter Text

Saito gasped from where he was lying. The sheets underneath him were damp, sweat perhaps, as it clung almost graciously onto his skin. It took a moment for him to register where he was, thoughts all jumbled that he could not form a single, coherent thought.

But then he registered the pain, and all at once, he remembered everything.

He quickly stood up, right hand clutching the whole of his stomach as he aimed to grab the nearest bin and vomited a little of what was left of his dinner into the container. He retched once again, and this time, it was only bile that came out.

He leaned against the wall after two more attempts to heave, his throat burning and head throbbing. But the pain was nothing compared to the aching sensation that settled onto his bandaged stomach. He slowly drew long breaths, each attempt to calm himself down. He slowly reached for the desk light beside him, and as yellow light flooded the room, he stared hard on his sheet white futon, and a string of curses left his lips. Laundry was something he, for the life of him, could not do right, but his brother was coming over tomorrow, so he didn’t have any choice but to comply.

After all, that red patch on the center of his futon won’t get rid of itself no matter how many times he stared at them.

 


 

 

“How is the divorce coming up?” The Japanese slur of his brother’s accent was think, somehow a little soothing too, if Saito could be honest, but he remained calm and composed, indifference dancing away on his face. Saito momentarily wondered if his eyes showed the same indifference.

“All papers signed. Done quickly to my relief.” He filled his cup with tea, fourth time now, while his brother’s share remained untouched. He raised an eyebrow at him, challenging him to talk. Saito however, remained quiet, and after a few seconds of silence, his brother sighed, frustration clearly painted on his face.

“I still don’t understand---“

“There is nothing to be understood.” Saito quickly dismissed, irritation building up faster than he expected from himself. His brother’s eyes were hard but he could see something more in it, even if he chose to hide whatever it was under all that militaristic approach of his.

“I know you’re not telling me everything”

“Oh that’s quite the shocker now isn’t it?”

“Naoki” His brother’s voice was cold, but it shook at the last syllable, and Saito couldn’t really blame him.

“Some things end naturally like it was supposed to. It’s better this way"

“It’s not ‘better this way’. You’ve been different ever since you came home from L.A 3 months ago.”

“And I already told you this has nothing to do with the work I did.” He spat, voice dangerously rising.

“You think I would believe that?”

“Believe what you want then. No one is stopping you from it.”

Aniki.” His brother inhaled deeply, trying to keep himself calm “You’ve given me vague answers and you keep avoiding the subject these past weeks, months even. You think I haven’t noticed? And then you had that crash—“

“Oh stop being sentimental as if you did care--”

“That nearly cost you your life!” His brother stood from his chair, his feet stomping at the wooden floors of his house, and Saito could only look at him with disbelief. Deadly silence enveloped them, and neither tried to break it. The conversation felt foreign, abnormal at the worst. Most of their conversations were heated arguments, yes, but this

This was laced with concern. Worry. Something he didn’t know his little brother possessed. And it made him feel sick.

Saito’s gaze fell onto the cup of tea in his hands, gripping it tight like a vice, but he gave in to the breath he didn’t realize he was holding, and gave up. “It would do her more harm than good.” His voice was hard, but it was quiet. His brother was awfully silent but Saito did not dare look up, hands still clenched on the cup, to the point of almost hurting. And then the silence broke

“You never got rid of it.”His brother was hard and brutal like he always was. Only this time, the tone was no longer cold. Saito did not say anything back. He did not even shift, for he was too shock for words and too hesitant for the next move.

“The gentleness never left.” His brother’s voice fleeted in and out, almost unsure and fluid. It was as if he was talking to himself and not at Saito. Trying to contemplate, to validate, to convince oneself.

“And yours did.” Saito reflected out loud, but they both knew it was not the gentleness he was referring to. After all, his brother was never the gentle one. But his…his was gone, perhaps, even for good.

“I had always looked up to you.” His brother paused, in no doubt trying to find the right words, Saito assumed. “Your persona blended well with you perfectly, but when you were alone, you would take off that façade. I was envious of you because I couldn’t do it. You knew yourself and I…” He stopped, and this time, Saito let his body move and he turned his head to face him, looking him right at the eye.

“You were doing perfectly fine on your own, but yours left.” Saito inquired. “What changed?”

“Someone once told me, from a half-remembered dream, that when something or someone important to you cracks, the mask you hold cracks with them.”

His breath caught in his throat. Everything seemed to suddenly stop, and Saito felt something tore itself inside of him, wreaking havoc; the beginning of chaos.  

This isn’t a dream, Saito. This isn’t a dream.

Saito quickly stood up, ignoring the look on his brother’s face and grabbed the folder from one of the nearest desks. He slid the folder towards his brother before turning away from him completely. His brother’s voice was misty, calling out to him, and paid it no heed as he shoved himself into the bathroom and heaved once again -- his arms on either side of the toilet, shaking against the cold cement; his eyes closing hard, tearing up at the corners; and his throat burning, a threatening sound of fleeting weakness coming out of his tired, tired lips.

“Saito.” The voice was not soothing to him. It was distant, and soft and warm, and something inside of him suddenly snapped. 

“Stop…stop regarding me with such fragility!” He roared, his teeth clashing against each other with frustration. “Kuso” He mumbled under his breath, voice shaking as he pressed his palms against his eyes.

Silence greeted from the other side of the door. But Saito was no longer in the mood for playing games.

“That folder…it’s my final decision. Reasons are stated as proceeded. If you’re going to question me further, you’ll get the same answers as listed in the paper. You know I haven’t been in the office for quite some time now.” He closed his eyes, too tired now to even act upon his ire.  

“Are you…are you alright?” His brother’s voice was tired, like he was pleading for surrender. Perhaps, this was what his brother was supposed to be, if the conditions were made differently…

Saito only eyed the door bitterly. Gone were the days of masking strength. It was time for the walls to crumble.

“It’s the medication. My torso had not quite healed yet, to be frank. And yes, I had already gone to the doctor for checkup.”

“Then—“

“Watashi wa jibun no sewa o suru koto ga dekimasu…“  His voice was as gentle as it can be, as soft and fragile like it always was. It was a sign of utter defeat, of submission. The handle to the door of the bathroom slowly rotated, and Saito had had not enough strength to pull himself from the ground, so he leaned against the tiles instead and stared hard on to his brother’s hesitant form. He smiled bitterly at him and continued to speak

“…Dakara watashi ga kowarete ita ka no yō ni hanashi o tomeru”

Chapter Text

“Dear God Cobb, you look like someone ran you over with a ten-wheeler truck.” Miles’ voice boomed once Cobb entered the premises of his own home. The old man was reading a newspaper by the living room, the soft hum of the television the only sound echoing in the house. Philippa was out on camping with the girl scouts, and it looked like James was already fast asleep. Cobb rubbed his face, the prickling tiredness suddenly catching up to him.

“Good evening too Miles.” He greeted on his way to the kitchen, pouring himself a glass full of water. His insistent thoughts kept distracting him to no end, and it was so distracting that he even forgot to close that Goddamn sink until Miles pointed it out. He could feel the old man stare at him from the living room, eyes seemingly boring into his own mind. He was going to ignore the circumstances for he was not in the mood for such…games. And yet he averted his eyes to look at him from across the kitchen, and sure enough, Miles had craned his whole body to look directly at him, in no doubt trying to discern Cobb’s actions, or perhaps waiting for him to say something. He didn’t always probe for answers. But the old man knew how to read people and he showed it in his actions, which was equally or even more so terrifying than being able to talk your way through.  

In the end though, Cobb gave in.

“Look, Miles, I appreciate the concern, but there’s nothing to worry about. Besides, I already have things under control.” Cobb walked towards the living room, stretching his arms to ease the tenseness in his shoulders. He leaned against the couch where Miles sat on, trying to rival the stare the old man gave and give an air of nonchalance, like everything was truly alright.

Miles raised an eyebrow. The look he gave him was too inquisitive and keen, almost as if he was reading the young man’s soul. Then, after a few seconds, he cocked his head sideways and smiled gently.

“Talk to me then.”

 Cobb set his jaw, tiredness and creeping irritation swallowing the pits of his body. Miles had caught you once again.

“Look, I…” Cobb hesitated, not entirely sure on what to say. Though the other waited patiently, his arm resting on the hand of the couch as his knuckles supported the whole of his head. He looked like a curious, but oh so terribly annoying kid with his head tilted sideways.

“I’ve always known you were terrible liar, Cobb.” There was nothing wrong with the tone of the old man’s voice, and maybe that’s why Cobb snorted, defenses suddenly becoming alert and defensive. He ought to carefully choose what he had to say next.

“I was a great extractor and I deceived people for a living, if you haven’t forgotten, and so I think I am justified to say that—“

“You are a terrible liar when it comes to things that concerns you. Your ambitions, your dreams, and most especially, your feelings.”

Fuck that hurt. And despite his competitive nature, he stayed surprisingly silent and blamed it on fatigue. He looked at the old man with hardened eyes and he ultimately, sighed at the end.

“I’ve…been having nightmares, or dreams – I don’t even know what to call it, truthfully – for weeks now, and I don’t know what to make of it. Arthur and I have been going in circles with his research, and I don’t think it’s something that most of the dream community had ever encountered, so we’re having trouble figuring it out.”

“I’ll assume these dreams are drastically different from your chemically induced ones I suppose?” Miles asked, kind and patience unwavering. Cobb slightly wondered if he would grow old with that kind of wisdom dancing in his eyes. He hoped he could.

“It is. Well, at least I think it is.”

“What kind of dreams?”

Cobb bit his bottom lip, weighing out his options. You see, this is where it all stops. These kind of questions were always the hardest to answer, since he felt like he was giving a part of who he was. It was terrifying, to say so at least, to tell someone even the closest ones about the things that lie beneath his mind.

“It’s…  I can’t…” Hesitation painted the tones of his voice. It was hard enough when he told Arthur, why would he go through that again?

“I can’t help you if you won’t tell me Cobb.”

They looked at each other; Miles with patience, and Cobb with hesitation. But the old man was right. He was always right.

“It…it begins in a classroom. There are red and orange leaves flying silently outside the window. It’s October, and it’s cold. There are three boys, one of them throws a lunchbox, and two of them laugh. There are insults, and I could feel the tension, the anger, the hate… and then, there is a boy with black curls and pale skin, sitting opposite the blackboard wall. He does not speak, he does not flinch. He only sits there, face hidden away.”

Miles gave him a look. “Where are you in this dream?”

“I’m standing by the classroom door. I suppose I’m hiding, watching the scene unfold. And when these three particular boys walk away, I approach this boy. I was…sad. But I manage to come close and then, and then I listen. There was glass shattering, and a clock, and a train. But I guess the loudest sound to me, was his voice.”

“What does the boy say?”

“He-he asks me if I am there to punish him, and that he’s been waiting for someone. And just when I am about to answer, I wake up.” Cobb finished, unable to look at the old man in the eye. It was a private thing to him, and talking about it made him awfully uncomfortable. Miles was silent for a moment, in no doubt trying to process the information. But when Cobb finally had the courage to look up, he saw the same set of eyes – the one with all the kindness and gentleness and patience – looking right at him as if he was not troubled at all.

“Perhaps it’s your subconscious, Cobb. It’s trying to tell you something.” Cobb paused, turning his gaze away and looking straight ahead at the muted television. A wolf sauntered in front of its pack, its teeth a nasty show of aggression and possession; danger leering in towards another wolf in front of it as if it was defending; protecting.

“I’ve… been dreaming about it the past weeks and it’s always the same. I tried to recreate it using a PASIV, but the atmosphere, it’s different. Whenever I try to control the dream, I am left empty. I couldn’t do anything that could sway the moment or make me choose a different path. It’s still the same damn dream. And the same old moment to wake up to.” Cobb looked down. He could have never thought he would feel desperate in his entire life again since Mal’s death. Now, he was just as lost as he was before, only a tad bit stable and perhaps, less moody about it.

“I just want this to stop. It keeps me awake at night and I can’t afford to lose myself in mind games, not anymore. I got a family to take care of for fuck’s sake” He chuckled bitterly, leaning his back towards the flat surface of the couch. God, he was just so awfully tired now. He gazed at Miles, patiently waiting for an answer, but he knew his eyes told a different story. Please, help me.

“You have to finish it.” Miles’ tone was direct, calm at the most, but hard enough to make a point, ultimately catching him off-guard

“But I can’t. I can’t recreate—“

“Without using the PASIV. Without going to the dreamscape willingly.”

Cobb gave an exasperated sigh, throwing his arms in the air out of frustration as he stood up.

“This Goddamn, fcking dream, disrupting my life—“

“I’m not really sure if it’s a dream--” Cobb turned around, confusion smothering the whole of his face.

“—because if it is, then why do you know how it begins?”

He stood still, running a hand through the slick of his hair before he looked back at the old man, whose expression changed from that of calmness to worry.  Realization quickly hit him like a rock. This whole mess was a big deal not just to him but to everybody else, like a stone being tossed into the water, creating a terrifying rippling effect to those around it.

Suddenly, the phone began to ring, slicing away the silence that seem to clung onto them.

Miles was the first to react and he gingerly reached for the phone by the end of the couch. Cobb watched as the old man’s facial expression turned grim just at a few seconds on the line.

“It’s for you.” He handed the phone to him, and Cobb quickly grabbed it from his hands.

“What do you—“

“Cobb my man!” The British slur of the voice made him roll his eyes, but kept the relief to himself as he sighed carefully.

“Eames, what do you want?”

“Is this how you greet your friends? I thought we already got passed that point.”

“Who told you we’re friends?”

“Ouch Cobb, you wound my ego.”

“Not as much as when you do it yourself when you’re trying to impress a certain someone.”

“Dearest Cobb, nothing good comes out when you use that against me, you know that” Cobb had to mentally note the change of tone in Eames’ voice, something akin to fondness, if he was allowed to be honest. He could use this as blackmail for later.

“Stop with the nonsense then, why did you call?”

Eames seemed to pause before talking again “Have you heard about...Saito?”

His mind went blank, all his previous worries about himself seemingly extinguishing themselves at the mere mention of a name.  Saito? The last time he saw the man was back at the airport 3 months ago, talking to some official looking security. The Japanese man had nodded at him when they caught each other’s gazes, a sign of respect and perhaps, at that time, goodbye, and then they separated paths, never to cross each other once more. Until now.

“What about Saito?”

“You didn’t check on him about the…uhh, you know…” Cobb could picture Eames’ arms making remarks on the air as if to make a point, and he had to stop from sighing deeply at the thought of his childish action.

“About what?”

“Oh bloody hell, you didn’t, did you? Now that makes sense, not that I’m blaming you or anything. Should have done that myself.”

“Eames, what are you talking about?”

“I’ll send you the link for details. But to cut things short…Saito resigned as CEO in his company and he had his brother step into that position. Based on my sources, his brother wasn’t actually happy about it. And uhm...” Eames paused once more, as if contemplating whether to give further information.

“Eames! Stop hesitating and tell me—“

“He disappeared. No one knows where he went. He stepped back, packed his things and left the country. His first stop was Paris but then no one knew where he was after that. I don’t know, but it seems likely that he is being targeted as well” Cobb tried to process the set of information. He didn’t quite know why, but it left a heavy blow on his stomach.

“Also, his wife divorced him.” Now, that caught him way off-guard.

“Wait, what?”

“Well that’s what the news say but other trusty sources of mine told me that it was some kind of mutual decision, even more so, that it might actually be Saito who initiated it.”

Tensed silence greeted them as neither said a word, the gears in Cobb’s head turning as he slowly recognized the whole point of this conversation. But Eames gave it to him nonetheless.

“Inception can do terrible things to your mind, Cobb. Especially when you don’t have someone to anchor you from it.” Cobb closed his eyes as he rubbed his free hand over his face. Shit, shit. This was turning absolutely desperate with every second passing. Granted that the man was once an enemy, turned acquaintance which he had only worked with once. But his presence, his existence, wasn’t an awful tirade. And Cobb felt ultimately guilty enough that he was getting angry at himself.

He should have known. He should have fcking known the dreams were going to wreck the man’s head.  

“Cobb?” He cut his thoughts out. He looked over at Miles who was watching him with concern painted with curiosity.

“Give me his latest records, coordinates and everything about his last position.”

 “What are you gonna do?”

Cobb paused, his attention now diverted at the glass window in front of him. It was dark outside, the wind giving off a cold, intense atmosphere around as it seeped in through gaps under the doors. He could see his reflection on the glass. Somehow, his form was strong. He stood as if he was proud and resilient, a force to be reckoned with. Surrounding him was the same old room he lived in for years, but despite the familiarity, the vague reflection of them seemed to be like a thin connection, a distant bond of some sorts that was supposed to attach him to the ground of certainty, of existence. It was as if everything in the room was unsure, like the other side of the mirrored window pane was no more than just a dream

But then he gazed into his own eyes. The lines, the grease, something hidden beneath them – it was all there, masked only by his insistent act and sturdy façade. But he saw it still, his eyes.

Lifeless.

And that was when he knew this was all real.

“Cobb, what are you going to do?” Eames’ voice pulled him back to the shoreline of his thoughts. But this was what he needed, he supposed. Without breaking contact with his reflection, he spoke with a hard and resolved voice

“I’m going to find him.”

Chapter Text

It was a ridiculous move. It screamed of cowardice and desperation, and every fiber of his being no doubt hated him right now. The last time his mind allowed him to sleep was 64 hours ago, not to mention he kept retching on every bathroom hotel he had ever been in. Moreover, his body refused to even heal. Not that Saito couldn’t even blame his body. He was a shitty caretaker after all, and he deserved everything the world had been hauling at him since he decided to leave.

He knew his body was on the verge of shaking, the little tatters of signs that he would give in at any moment was like a blaring headlight. And yet, he still found himself in a bar of some inn in the middle of nowhere. He wasn’t drinking, he knew he was going to die if he does, so he kept his head low while he held onto a glass full of juice. He could picture his father’s disgust at the sight of him, no longer orderly and disciplined and confident. He wasn’t wearing anything fancy, not even a watch or even that suit and tie he really liked wearing, replaced only by a pastel colored polo shirt, though still tucked in by a worn-out suit pants. He kept rearranging bits and pieces of his wardrobe to change his look every day and avoided huge cities in his travels. After all, he didn’t want to be found.

At this very moment, he was somewhere in L.A. He still didn’t know why he had chosen this place of all places, for he was sure some tight security of his family… company, lingered all over the place.  But some voice at the back of his mind told him he needed to be here, even just for a few days. Los Angeles, somehow, felt like home. It always did.

Saito was thankful he was alone at the counter. Everyone else’s eyes were glued on the television at some basketball game. Non-stop cheers and pissed off people surrounded the whole comfort of the bar. He liked this place the best. It wasn’t suffocating like the hotel in Paris, or discomforting similar to the one in Scotland. Not even threatening like the one in Atlanta. Despite the dangerous connections the whole of Los Angeles probably has with his line, he didn’t care.

His senses however, where not much on alert. Exhaustion blocking the whole capacity of them.

“What is such a lonely pretty bloke doing out here in the middle of nowhere?” A gravel-like voice cut him from his thoughts. He looked up and saw a middle-aged man with unkempt chestnut hair grinning down at him. He had a shot glass on hand and Saito could even smell the alcohol lingering around. He plopped down at one of the bar stools beside him and placed his arm upright on the table, pressing his head on his hand as he tilted down at Saito. The man was tall, and somehow even a few years older than him, but the way his eyes glazed over and that lopsided smile made it looked like he was no other than a drunk teenager.

Saito shrugged, not trusting the man enough to say anything. He didn’t want Paris to happen again. God, he felt like a runaway “heir to the throne” that time, barely managing to get away from his step uncle’s wrath.

“Ohh, the silent-type then. I like silent types.” The man edged on, and he could feel his body tense with the unwanted presence. Didn’t the constant cold shoulder he always gave good enough to make him realize he didn’t want to be bothered? The man’s eyes widened with delight when Saito glanced his way to give a glare. Apparently, it wasn’t enough.

“I’m…sorry. I appreciate the attention, but I…it’s not what I need right now.” Saito tried not to be rudely blunt, but the man just gazed at him far more intensely that it was making his skin prick.

“Why not? It looks like you have so much stories to tell. I’m listener. And something’s telling me you’re more than a nagger.” The man winked, and Saito could only roll his eyes.

“I don’t have much to tell.” He said, eyes glazing over at the glass on his hand.

“Your eyes tell a different story though. You have something you want to tell, but couldn’t. Now why is that?” Now that strung a thought, and Saito couldn’t help but glance at him. Perhaps, he could play. Listen. Go with the flow of the conversation. Maybe even talk.

“I’m right, am not? You know you could tell me. I’m just a man in a bar after all. Your secrets’ safe with me. I can even deduce them for you” His grin widened, a comforting gesture he assumed to be, but it was doubt that rang in his mind. And yet, he felt an urge to tell, to spill, that maybe, it was alright to reveal.

 “Tell you what…” Saito began, turning his full attention to the man beside him. “You want to know what secrets I keep? Well, I’m having the same set of dreams every night, and it’s driving me insane. Try and deduce that.”

“Now, don’t infer with me idiocy.” Saito could feel the stranger’s frown in between the slurred voice. He was obviously trying to be patient enough, and he could only guess why.

“No explanations? Sorry then, I don’t talk to strangers.” He knew he was threading on dangerously, but he didn’t know what else to say to make the man leave him be. It was getting frustrating and the apparently lack of sleep made him a bit edgy. His mind was not at the right place of the situation and he needed this man out of his sight before he could say something incredibly stupid that could probably end his life right there and then.

“So my charms aren’t making an effect I presume. The first of everything. But I was truly just trying to help. You looked like you needed someone to talk to.” The man’s voice was genuine and he suddenly felt a surge of guilt. Maybe he was truly just trying to help. But the thought of accepting the man’s aide was trampled on by a memory which made him into the man he was.

And so all walls stayed that not even light could sweep in.

“If you’re expecting something in return, it’s not really helping, is it?” He said as he found himself staring at the pair of eyes grazing into him, challenging him with utmost respect. It was a hard truth, one that took him too long to accept back at his youthful days, but it was the truth nonetheless.  

To his surprise however, the man only chuckled.

“Sweetheart, you have such low regards for humanity.”

“I believe my sentiments are well-placed.”

“Something’s telling me somewhere in there, hurts, and you’re denying that it hurts.”

“Or perhaps I’m just insane.”

“Well let’s talk about your dreams that drive you insane then.” The charming smile was no longer there, like the reeking façade had already shattered, but what remained on the man’s face was softness, gentleness, as if he didn’t want to mess this up. Like he was genuinely going to listen. Saito could only furrow his eyebrows and sink deep into his chair.

“And what gives that I would agree talking about it?”  

“Well since you don’t like talking about your real problems, let’s just talk about the made-up ones.” It took him all his strength not to snort. Though perhaps Saito could play along, as long as he’s careful enough not to tilt the line between strangers, and not give probably unnecessary but important information

Maybe it was all good.

“Then what can you inquire about the previous statement?”

“Hmm…” The man stayed silent for a while, bringing his hand to his chin as he eyed the rows of bottles across from them. Saito took one more sip from his glass, watching the man with careful eyes. He wondered if he was truly trying to think of an answer, or maybe was feigning innocence to gain his trust. Despite the endless possibilities, Saito couldn’t help but watch intently because somehow, the man reminded him of someone from a far-off memory. Though before he could pinpoint who exactly, the man looked back at him, grinning as widely as he could.

“If it’s the same set of dreams every night, then maybe your subconscious is trying to tell you something...” Saito shrugged. He heard that thousands of times now.

“Good deduction Sherlock.” He attempted a little bit of humor to mask his exhaustion, though the man chuckled lightly and grinned at his statement.

“But maybe that’s not what you need.”

“Enlighten me then.” Saito’s not even listening anymore, caught up with the exhaustion and lack of energy. He did agree to play along, but somehow, just even talking for a few minutes made him realize that it was draining him more profusely. He might need to go back to his room earlier than he usually went after all.

But then the man shifted nearer to him, dangerously threading unto his personal space, and moved his lips closer to his ear.

“What you need perhaps, is someone who could bring you back to the shores of reality.”

Despite his attempt to stay placid, he could not stop his head from jerking away as if the very words that left the other’s lips burned him. He let his eyes graze intensely over to the man, and now, he knew, that the very eyes he used to mask kindness and exhibit discipline, were now leaking too much of those so called…emotions.  It had caught him off-guard. The words rang so close that he couldn’t help but flinch, because apparently, yes, indeed, it fucking made sense.

The silence however, was the one that gave him away.

 “Struck a chord down there, ey?” The man’s careful smile turned into a victorious one and Saito just wanted to punch the sneer right out of his face. He had let his guards down for only a second, and this man had already caught on?  Saito bit his lip as he tried to calm himself down. He glanced one last time at the smug man beside him and stood up a little too quickly. “Thank you for your time, even if it was not greatly appreciated, but I have to go now.” Without waiting for a reply, he walked away, hands clenched tight as he felt the pounding headache starting to resurface once again. This was a terrible night -- all his senses were fucked up, and now it looked like he had to leave at dawn, again.

A loud cheer echoed from the front of the bar. Good, no one seemed to notice their little tirade. He just had to go cross the hallway towards the back door and –

Suddenly, his world spun around for a second before he felt the hard wall pressing against his back.

 “Don’t touch me.” He snarled the best he could as the man gripped his wrist tight and cornered him onto the wall. It felt good when he saw his attacker wince at the tone of his voice. It seemed he never lost his touch after all.

“This is assault” Saito tried again, not resulting to physical defense yet because he knew he shouldn’t even be moving too much with the state of his body. The man looked down at him, the smile now replaced with a dangerous frown. Saito felt the throbbing of his heart start to speed up. Was he…? It was too early for him to get detected by the men his step uncle sent to track him down. Surely, his own calculations would not fail him.

“There are two types of people in a place like this. One that wants to hide, and one that needs to hide. I wonder which of those are…you.” The man’s breath tickled the shell of his ear, and Saito couldn’t help but shudder further into the wall. He glared at the man nonetheless and held his gaze.

“I’ll give you one last chance, unhand me. You’re not going to like it if you were to choose not to”

“Oh? Well, you see, you’re not much worth now than you were before, but half of the corporate world seems to think the exact opposite, now I wonder why, Mr. Saito?”

Shit, shit!

Panic laced through his veins,  as he flailed and tried to lose the man’s hold on him. “I will—“

“You will what? Call for attention? You do know there’s a chance that one of those blokes right there will recognize you? Well if they look hard enough, despite your own attempts to…blend in.” The man looked down at his body for a second before fixing his gaze back to him. He pressed his body closer to him, pinning him securely against the wall. Saito looked away and scanned the area. He was at least a few meters hidden away from most of the people. No one would even see him if they wouldn’t bother looking away from that stupid television. But this was not what he assessed, not nearly even.

“You’re alone.” Saito narrowed his eyes and looked up at the man with dangerous intent. He wasn’t going to back down, even if his body was on the verge of doing exactly that. If he was going down tonight, it wouldn’t be without a fight.

“Good deduction, Sherlock.” The man grinned, and Saito could almost feel the heat from his breath, the stench of alcohol violating his nostrils.

“Get off of me.” His voice suddenly slipped, revealing his discomfort. He could feel the new stiches on his torso slowly opening, ripping away his skin, and the jolt of pain sent adrenaline rushing down his veins.

If this continued on, he would bleed. It was now or never.

“If you—fuck! Hey!!—“ Saito used the rush of adrenaline to bang his head forward, hitting the man square on the face. Then, he wasted no time to pound his knee towards the man’s stomach and head towards the back door, just in time to hear a shout from who he assumed to be the bartender commanding the other man to stop. The voices only grew distant as he stepped outside, the cool air hitting him with a failed attempt at comfort. Yet, he didn’t stop running, turning, towards narrow alleyways and rock-strewn pathways. It was probably more or less 3 am and the roads were severely empty and silent, save for his own short breaths.

He looked back for a moment, trying to see if he was being tailed when suddenly his knees gave away, buckling and causing him to fall against the wet pavement with a gentle oomph! His vision blacked out for a second as he instinctively wrapped his arm around his stomach, the pain coming all at once as if his brain had only registered the feeling of it now. He groaned against the ground, holding onto his own body for dear life.

Okiru! A harsh voice rang inside his head, though it was not of his own as he distinguished it to be older and much colder, even colder than his own little brother. He gritted his teeth, not with the pain though, but with the memory dancing and forcing itself to the front of his mind. Okiru! Okiru! Okiru! It persisted, it yelled at him, intense with rage and frustration. He used his other arm to support the whole of his weight as he slowly tried to get up, but his feet were glued, knees buckled to the ground. God he was just so tired now. Even if he decided to just stop running, at the whole lot of this, even if he just stop whatever he was doing right now, it would still feel the same. Exhausted. Burdened. Lost. It would always feel that way.

Suddenly, he was being pulled from the ground rather harshly, his back hitting the brick wall of the alleyway beside him.

“I forgot you’re not just some shit businessman who thinks he can own everything.” The man’s voice was dangerously intense now. His fist curled tight on the collar of his polo. Saito could no longer focus singlehandedly at one thing, the pain jumbling out his thoughts. He had wanted to spit at him, glare and lash out. Anything really that he would not go down tonight without a decent fight.

But this. This night of all nights, his mind finally decided to give in, or perhaps, it was his soul.

And even he was surprised with the strangled chuckle that left his chapped lips.

“Go on then. Shove me now at the back seat of your getaway car so you can hand me over. Or perhaps you’re actually trying to kill me? I mean that would be way better.” The man made no move, though he only frowned much more. He did not even speak and this only fueled him to anger.

“What? You pity me now? Must I remind you how many lives I destroyed while I was at the top of my reign?! Don’t pity me now you useless dog! Get on with it!” Saito was losing the fight, he knew, as he moved his hands to try and shove the man away but instead ending up curled against the man’s shirt as if it were pleading. Saito does not plead. He does not beg. But here he was now, pitiful and pathetic as he tried to understand what the hell he was even pleading for. There was silence however, just the exchange of harsh breaths at the middle of the God damn night. Then Saito could feel the grip on his collar slowly loosen itself.

“I’m not going to hurt you.” Came the voice across from him, the roughness of it lacking, and Saito just wanted to scream at him. He didn’t get what was going on. It almost felt like he was even in a dream.

“Don’t…just, do it.” His voice cracked and his walls began to fall. Everything was dangerously heading north. But instead of lashing out, he leaned his head down until he could feel the soft fabric of the man’s shirt touching his forehead.

“Mr. Saito…” His voice was full of urgency, one that should have caused him to act, but Saito remained there, burying his face onto a stranger’s shoulder“….Saito, you’re hurt.”

The man’s hand went over to the side of his stomach and the dampness of his shirt finally registered on his head.

“Don’t touch me.” He spat, but his voice held no threat, not anymore. He could feel his body slowly limping against the man, his eyes drooping. No. Don’t sleep. Don’t you dare fall asleep!

A static call was heard nearby, probably a call for the other men, or a getaway car. Saito tried to push him away again with the mere thoughts of these, but his attempts were futile. There was no bite in them, no matter how much he had wanted to. It was as if his body had already given up before he even decided to.

“I got him. Immobilized now. But you didn’t fucking tell me he was injured you little twat! How am I supposed to oof!--”

The weight pining him to the wall suddenly vanished, and Saito desperately grabbed onto the wall behind him to keep himself from falling. He watched as the man was tackled to the ground by another man, sending him a punch to the side of his face to knock him to the ground. The man tried to struggle, but it was of no use as the assailant pinned him aggressively on the ground.

It was his chance to run, no matter how senseless this bloody situation was, but instead, Saito slid against the wall, not minding the gashes on his arms as he did so. His breathing was ragged, his vision unfocused. The pain seeped into his system, and he found himself trying to control his urge to hurl.

“I’m not one of them! I’m—fuck—wait stop! I’m Eames’ contact!” The assailant suddenly stopped, his fist raised on the air. His back was on Saito so he couldn’t possibly see the man’s face, but he could see the other on the ground, arms raised for defense, his face contorted with confusion and fury; his nose dripping with blood.

“Yeah? Then you should have known better how to handle your fucking clients.” The assailant spat, and it took Saito a while to register the information, the voice. And when the man turned around, everything seemed to stop.

Dominic Cobb.

The man who stole from him.

And the man who tried to give it back.

His face was still the same since the last time he saw him. Though with a few worry lines that made him looked a few years older as he was angry at the moment, with his furrowed eyebrows and a dangerous snarl that sent shivers down his spine. And for a second, it was fear gnawing at his insides. So he pushed himself closer to the wall, as possible as he could go, as his eyes stared wide-eyed at the man in front of him. He could see Cobb hesitate, probably not knowing what to do next.

Cobb took a step closer.

“Don’t.” His voice sounded pathetic to his ears. How humiliating it was to show weakness to a man whom he had showed great strength from the past. His reputation was falling. Well, not that it mattered anyway.

“Saito. It’s me. It’s Cobb. I’m not…I’m not here to hurt you.”

Why does everyone keep telling me that? You think I can’t handle a little pain? Saito wanted to snap. Destroy. Break things.

He looked away.

“He’s disoriented. You should have let me handled it. And this was not a part of the fucking plan.” The man stood a good few feet away from Cobb, if ever he decided to lash out once more.

“We had a run down with one of those people who were chasing him, not my fault you look like one of them.” Cobb’s gaze on him never faltered away, and Saito could only look away ashamed. He took a step closer once more, hands in front of him and carefully threading, as if this whole lot was a fragile thing he dared not break. Saito let him, and when he exhaled and his shoulders relaxed, a sign of defeat, Cobb hurriedly went to his side.

“I got you.” His voice was soothing enough to calm him down, but when Cobb wrapped his hand under his elbow to help him up, he hissed in pain, cowering back to the ground. Cobb had stopped then, his eyes widening with worry.

“Hold up! He’s injured!” The other man pressed, trudging closer to the both of them.

“Where does it hurt?” Saito couldn’t even look back at Cobb, his humiliation getting the better of him. He gulped before looking down to his arm wrapped protectively around his torso. He slowly lifted it, giving Cobb a bigger view of the damage.

“Shit. Shit Saito, you’re bleeding! Fuck. Where did you get this? Shit, you’re bleeding.” Cobb’s panicked voice didn’t help him one bit. It felt like Inception all over again, him bleeding on the front seat of the car, the pain and the fear running down his veins. The stench of death in the air.

Just then, they heard gunshots from afar, echoing throughout the silenced alleyways. “We have to get him out of here.” The man urgently said as he took his phone from his pocket. Cobb was looking everywhere but at him.

“I can… I can walk. I just need something to lean onto to, but I can walk damn it Mr. Cobb.” He gritted his teeth, trying to keep himself calm. Though everything started to become a blur and he urged himself to fight it. Cobb sighed in frustration, running his hand through his thick hair before placing his arm behind Saito’s back as a support, and then ultimately wrapping it around his waist. Saito hissed at every step he took, but every time he did, he could feel Cobb’s hold on him go even tighter around his waist as if it would ease the pain. Though Cobb didn’t seem to be bothered with carrying almost all of his weight. He briefly wondered if he was actually lighter than he had thought he was.

A screeching vehicle suddenly halted in front of them. Cobb quickly opened the door to the back seat, gently helping Saito inside, though the American went in with him, much to his dismay.

“Go! Go now!” The other man hurriedly slid in beside the driver’s seat, his rough voice sending waves of panic that entirely filled the car along with the adrenaline pumping into their veins. Cobb stayed within reach as Saito unintentionally grabbed onto him in order to not get tossed around the swerves. The jolt of pain kept him awake, disoriented yes, but still awake. It was what mattered anyway. Cobb’s hand was plastered still on his wounded side, laying delicately above his hand, and he could feel the weight tense on him every time he groaned. He pondered if Cobb wasn’t used to pain that he had to react to every sound of it.

He subtly watched Cobb try to calm down as he looked every now and then at the windows to see if they were being chased, until Cobb’s eyes fell on him. They locked their gazes for a while, a delicate moment with nobody else daring to speak, to move. Their ears found no distraction, no few rounds of shots hitting the car, or perhaps a wild chase. Just them. And eyes that searched for answers to a million of questions.

“I think we lost them.” The man finally said, breaking the silence. He glanced at the two people at the back but decided not to comment on it, remembering the feel of Cobb’s fist on his red-patched cheek. The tension was off though, something tacit that lay between them, a question perhaps, or maybe an unfinished thought.

But whatever it was, it remained unspoken.

“Cobb, snap out of it and tend to his injuries.” The voice gave Saito leeway to break the overdue eye contact and stare at the rear view mirror. It was Mr. Eames, and the British man gave him a small smile before putting his focus back on the road.

“I need to see it.” Cobb’s gravel-like voice sent his attention back to him before he was able to respond to Eames, though now he tried to add to the distance between them while desperately nodding in refusal.

“No, I got this. It’s fine.”

“No, you don’t ‘got this’. Stop pretending and let me help you.” The tone was aggressive and Cobb seemed to dare him to obey as he forced Saito to look back at him. Saito only cursed under his breath before ultimately taking out his hand and lifting up his shirt.

“Stitches?! You still have stitches and you’re still running around like an immortal lunatic! Shit, Eames we need to go to the hospi—“


“No hospital. The stiches only reopened and there is no need for any kind of hospitalization.”

“Saito—“

“If they see you helping me you’ll be targeted as well. My uncle does not leave anyone out.” Saito watched him curse under his breath, not truly understanding the most of this man’s intentions. Now come to think of it, it was indeed out of character per say, to see Cobb react this way. It was not as if he was indebted to him. There wasn’t supposed to be any kind of working relationship between them after the job. The deal was finished, the work has been done, over roughly about 3 months ago.

“What are you doing here?” He asked, watching Cobb tense under his gaze.

“What does it look like I’m doing? Helping you of course.” Cobb’s gaze was unfocused, disruptive. Under the guise of it all, there was nothing but turmoil. Though Saito had not known its very reason. But he could see it, something was there. Others might have pegged Cobb to be just that man with lots of money. That man who didn’t have a care for those not in line with his work. That…man

Filled with regret, waiting to die alone.

Words echoed within the reachable caresses of his mind, but it gave him no discomfort, no perplexity.

Because Saito understood that they were wrong. He always saw. Always knew ever since Cobb went down to get him from the cages of his mind.  

“I do not remember asking you for it.” He said a little braver despite the uncertainty, trying to get Cobb to look at him. It was the only way to know. To see.

“Your welcome then.” Cobb’s voice was smug enough that he wanted to punch the man in the face right there and then. He wouldn’t budge, wouldn’t dare. Saito sent him a glare anyway before sighing instead as he leaned his head back. The very action caused him to elicit a moan from his chapped lips, and Cobb’s grip on him tightened.

“Thank you. Just…this is ridiculous, even for you, I do not require assistance.”

“Yeah, and that almost got you kidnapped or killed. I mean, no offense Saito, but you look like…” Eames spoke from the front, peering on the mirror to look at him in the eye.

“No offense taken.” Saito grinned back at Eames, though he knew it was too forceful, too robotic.

“You need to get your energy back.” He turned towards Cobb, scowling at him with all his might and nudging farther away from him. “Saito—“

“I’m...” He gritted his teeth, trying to calm his breaths to an easy flow and tune out the pain as he strove to regain control of his senses. His mind was slipping now. The more he thought of it, the more he became aware of the reality of his situation, the condition of his body. He can no longer carry on. He needed to stop. To rest.

His mind screamed no.

His body however, screamed the very opposite.

“Saito?” He heard Cobb’s voice pierce through the veil between consciousness and unconsciousness. Oh how much he needed that pull. That anchor to steer him awake.

“Shit Eames—“

“I know Cobb I’m driving as fast as we can without attracting attention.”

Voices seem to fleet in and out. Saito could blame his comforting position in the car, making his body relax and slowly shut down, or perhaps it was the voices, soothing, soft, even with a tinge of worry somewhere in them. But he fought through it, not letting the darkness of slumber take him, no, not yet. He felt his world turn upside down, his body colliding with another one, the heat making him lean to the touch. He could barely keep his eyes awake, his body almost limping altogether. It felt like he was being carried away, far away, as if he were flying, lingering above a cloud.

And then he heard the clatter of objects being thrown rather harshly, the sound of it sending him to an override panic. He jerked himself to move, his eyes suddenly opening.

“Woah, woah calm down Saito!” He saw a light above him, a face by the side. It was a youthful presence, somehow, one from a long forgotten memory… dream? He yanked himself forward, only to be pinned down by another set of arms. He realized he was lying on a table, things thrown haphazardly on the ground.

“Saito! Calm down! It’s me. Arthur.” Arthur. Arthur. Yes. The young, capable, researcher who was always at Cobb’s side. The pull of the team. The anchor.

“Is this…” His body began to relax once more despite the uncertainty. Maybe it was his exhaustion finally pulling him in. Perhaps a drug he was induced with. Though both, he knew at the back of his mind, were doubtful. Possibly he knew what it was, he was only too scared to admit it.

“Saito, I’m going to clean your wounds and stitch you back until the doctor comes.” His shirt being ripped open sent a sudden chill like paper-thin knives scratching at the whole of his skin. The pain was still there, good perhaps, that it had not turned numb.

“This is going to be a discomfort so I need you to sleep.” He saw Arthur’s face pinch, perhaps trying to keep his emotions at bay. He knew the point man was beyond capable, brilliant even, but when it came down to feelings, or anything that had to do with the heart, he sort of guessed he would be the first to crack. He wished he was wrong though. He liked Arthur enough that he didn’t want to see him crack. 

“No. Not…” Saito tried to keep his focus on Arthur’s face. On the worry lines. That thin line of frowning lips. That same old calculation set in the fire of his eyes. But the hands that kept him pinned down squeezed him even tighter, successfully catching his attention. It wasn’t hostile nor even angry. It was gentle and comforting, one that he had not experienced since he was a child.

He panicked.

“This is a dream.” He muttered under his breath, his eyes wide with the dawning realization. How could he had let his mind win over and over again? This was a dream. The feel of it, even the pain, a reflection of his memories, his desires, his sufferings.

The coldness of a hand yanked him back, touching the side of his face to break him from his thoughts. He caught a pair of eyes piercing into his own.

“This is not a dream, you hear me Saito?” It was Dominic Cobb.

“That is what you say when you’re in a dream.”

“Look…” Cobb has his spinning top on his hand, and he lets it twirl, only for it to stop after a few seconds. “It’s real. This is real.”

“Don’t let me fall asleep.” His voice was quiet, almost like a prayer. He felt a stinging pain on his arm, though it was too dull to stay that way. Everything began to feel heavy, his breathing slowly but surely dying down to calm intakes.

“Don’t let me fall asleep.” One last mutter. One last plead.

Then the darkness took over.

Chapter Text

Cobb sat infuriatingly across Saito, now bandaged up and sprawled on an old couch. Cobb’s arms were on his knees, fists curled together as he leaned his lips on them. He had yet to take his eyes off of the businessman – skinny, pale, tired ex-businessman. There were dark circles under his closed eyes, and frown lines seemed to appear increasingly the longer he looked at him. This was not the sight he was ready for. Not yet.

A hand lain on his shoulder, a moment’s break away from his thoughts, but he didn’t  flinch nor move to the gesture.

“You need to rest.” The weight of Arthur’s hand was heavy, too heavy for his liking. Like a brick being added to the weight of his world.

“I’m fine.”

“The doctor had already looked him over. He’s…not really in the best condition, but he’s not dying Cobb.”

“Where did you even find doctor? Are you even sure he’s authorized?” He forced himself to look at Arthur, only for a second, then turned away at the slightest connection of their gazes. He felt naked to his soul whenever he had to keep his gaze on Arthur’s. He felt like he could read him, and after everything they had been through together, he probably could if Arthur could allow himself to sink a little deeper.

“I have my sources and like I said before, he’s 100% authorized and valid, and he won’t even talk, that I can assure you. Now, go rest. Must I remind you that you haven’t gotten enough sleep lately?”

“At least not for 64 hours.”

“Dom…” He forced himself not to react to the sudden call of his name, a private thing that touched the outer crevice of his mind. Normally, he didn’t allow anyone to call him that. Now however…He sensed Arthur kneeling beside him, trying to get him to look at him. Though Cobb remained in his position, eyes never wavering. Arthur knew he was listening though, whatever he had to tell him.

“…No matter what you think you know. No matter what you even think about what happened, I want you to remember it wasn’t all your fault.” Cobb would not dare to look away, afraid his eyes would break the façade and something terrible might leak out of them, like guilt. Something he had always had trouble taming in its cage.  Arthur’s grip on him tightened once more, comforting at the least, destructive at the most. “Dom--”

“I get it.” His voice was rough, like a child throwing a tantrum at his mother. Cobb knew he was right though. He only couldn’t get himself to act, to not wallow in self-pity. “Yes mother, I’m going to rest.” He edged Arthur on, sarcasm laced in his tones, but Arthur didn’t bite it. Didn’t even correct him or throw some smart-ass retort. He only let it slide, sighed at the very least and nodded before heading his way towards his makeshift office. Cobb almost felt bad, however, though he let his pride win him over this time.

He looked around, no sign of Eames or that shitty excuse of a decoy -- Tony? Trevor was it? He couldn’t remember his name. He was a retired forger they say, and Cobb was only relieved when he learned about it. That man looked at the situation wrong, and now look at what they’ve arrived to.

He glanced one last time at the sleeping businessman before standing up and plopping down to one of the other couches near Arthur’s table. He saw his friend glance at him at the corner of his eyes, but shrugged it out as he pressed his back on the couch and stared numbingly at the ceiling. His muscles began to surrender to the comfort, but his eyes didn’t close. Not yet perhaps.

“I’m going to keep an eye on Saito, if that’s what you’re worried about.” Arthur stated without looking away from the paper he was writing, the illuminous light from his lamp desk gently shadowing the side of his face. Cobb turned to face him, staring at him for a moment.  

“Don’t you ever sleep?” he said without even meaning to, a pathetic excuse to keep his mind running and awake. Arthur only raised an eyebrow, not bothering to look at him.

“Of course I do.”

“Yeah but only in the mornings”

“My brain is much more alert during late evenings than it is during mornings.” Arthur shrugged as if it was an obvious answer, but Cobb knew it was far from it. It was an answer, but it wasn’t a fact. Not nearly. Though Cobb stayed silent, eyes glazing over Arthur like an owl in the night. He could feel Arthur tense under his gaze, doing his utmost best not to acknowledge him.

“What do you want me to say?” Arthur suddenly said as he tore his eyes from his work to look right at him. Though Cobb wasn’t expecting him to talk. He gave a sympathetic look at the point man before rearranging himself on the couch to face the ceiling. There were a few moments of silence, and even Arthur had stopped working then to lean on his chair and just, pause.

“It frustrates me when I can’t help; when I can’t fix.” Vague. He knew that he had been spouting nonsense. Eames wouldn’t probably make sense of it, maybe Ariadne wouldn’t too if she were here. But he knows Arthur can. He knows Arthur will.

To Cobb’s surprise however, Arthur only remained silent, not a grunt or a snort for an answer. He glanced over at the point man once more, and found him twiddling his thumbs over each other as he looked at them. His mind seemed to be somewhere else, a momentarily pause from reality, until Arthur lifted his head and looked at him straight in the eye.

“That one—“ Arthur nudged his head towards Saito’s sleeping form on the other couch “—you can fix. And I know you will.” He said, and Cobb could only furrow his eyebrows.

“But here—“The point man looked down, almost shy and mortified, but then Cobb realized Arthur wasn’t actually embarrassed when he looked right back at him -- his eyes showing resolve, his lips curling into a tight smile. He wasn't embarrassed, he was only careful. Calm. Sad.

“It’s not yours to fix.”

The ghost of the conversation had died away, Arthur ultimately going back to his research while Cobb lying on his back on this dusty, old couch. So many things had been left. So many things once broken – his family, his career, his relationships, his mind even. But he picked it up again and tried to put them back together. Sure there were holes now, some places left empty forever. But he fixed it. He fixed them. Although there was something else entirely at the moment that was probably his fault to begin with. It’s the biggest broken thing yet to come -- A huge gap that’s waiting to be fixed and he’s trying his damn hardest to fix it. It seemed impossible and he didn’t even know where to start. But he’s trying.

Perhaps, he had paid more attention to the most broken ones that he had forgotten to look after the ones that weren’t broken, and now they’re falling apart too.

It’s not yours to fix.

The words riddled his head until it was too heavy to bear, and then he let himself, just this one time, be embraced by the arms and comfort of nothingness.

Chapter Text

It begins in a classroom

On a cold afternoon in the month of October, where leaves turn red, and the trees go bare; where everything is changing; everything falling apart.

It begins with a boy sitting opposite the blackboard wall. His knees are up to his chest; arms tightly embracing his thin, little frame. He doesn't look up, even when his lunchbox is forcefully taken away; even when he receives a kick on his side. He lays his head to rest on his slim arms and stays there.

It begins with a boy standing by the doorway, hands clenched tight and lips sealed shut. He watches disdainfully on, listening to the others laugh. He tries not to cringe on the sound of a lunchbox being tossed angrily on the ground. Tries not to look at the blonde-haired bully pointing at the new kid with soft black curls and pale, pale skin.

The new kid sniffs, as gently as possible. The other kids don’t sense the immediate show of telltale weakness for they were too focused on their own petty insults, but the boy hiding behind the door senses him. Hears him. Sees him.

"How dare you trot in this school with a face like yours" The blonde boy spits, voice laced with venom and disgust. Menace forming into a tight grip of his body. "If this weren't lunch I would have punched that disgusting, little face of yours. Next time you look up at me as if I am beneath you, you know what’s coming to you"

Another kick. A round of laughter.

It begins when they leave; footsteps echoing throughout the hallway; laughter bouncing against the walls. The boy standing by the doorway clenches his hands a little too firmer, harder, until his knuckles turn as white as snow. He wants to scream back; demand that they return the pale kid’s lunchbox. To return everything they had ever taken away.

But the wind nudges him; causing him to alter his attention. He looks back at the old classroom, and his eyes fall on the one thing that seem to make the place come to life. And so he takes a step forward, and another, and another, until he is standing in front of the boy sitting opposite the blackboard wall.

He crouches a little too careful, as if the air is a fragile thing and he would break it.

But it begins.

There is glass breaking. It’s shattering against the floors. He hears a clock ticking. A train whistling far away. There is someone speaking in his ear, like a ghost whispering its regrets, its last goodbyes. It’s asking him to take a leap of faith. But he doesn’t look away.

It begins when he listens. And through the burbled, soft voice of the boy with soft, black curls and pale, pale skin

He listens.

"Have you come to punish me...I've been waiting for someone"

The scene does not shift. It does not move or evaporate like gas. It stays there. The same old peeled off walls. The same cold air. The boy.

Funny thing. A dream is.

He stands still.

The once quiet sniff grows louder, and it almost makes him jump, but he stands his ground and pushes his knees towards the floor, his ankles supporting the whole of his weight. He raises his left hand and reaches for him, but he stops midway.

"Why would I need to punish you?" He inquires. Steadily, his voice rough but soft enough around the edges. He doesn't want to frighten him after all.

"Because I am different" The pale boy clenches hard on his uniform, like he is trying to hold himself together. "Have you come to punish me? " the boy pleads, once more. Voice breaking.

And it is painfully silent. The only sound coming from the ticking of a clock; the wind blowing gently through the classroom window, as if saying I am here I am here I am here

I am here

“I am here… I am here to…” He struggles for the words. His mind is ready for them, but his lips…his lips are not.

“I am here.” It echoes so loudly that the classroom shakes.

And then he hears a train.

Chapter Text

Cobb blinked slowly, letting his eyes adjust to the sudden burst of the unwanted light swimming around his vision. His heart was pulsating rapidly, but his breaths were no longer short and heavy. He did not even feel tired, as if he had enough rest for the night despite only having 3-4 hours of sleep. Strange. He was even calmer now.

He sat up, the first rays of breaking dawn showering through the gaps of the windows nearby. There was no sign of Eames, or even that pathetic excuse of a retired forger. Now what was his name again?

His eyes then landed on the slumped figure of Arthur, his face smudged against his desk. Despite the calming features of his young face, his furrowed eyebrows and the tightness of his body told him he was anything but calm. A twitch of his fingers indicated he was in a deeper realm of sleep, perhaps he was even dreaming. Cobb was about to wake him, hands barely touching Arthur when he glanced away for a moment, the realization coming late as it finally registered in his head.

The other couch was empty. Saito was gone.

“Saito?” He called out in a hushed tone, warily looking around for any sign of him as he quickly walked over to the nearby couch. Saito’s things were still hunched at the corner like it was the night before. It didn’t even look like it was touched.

“Saito??” He called out once more, panic laced in the tone of his voice. He ran his hands over his face. How could he had fallen asleep that deep? How come he had even decided to rest in a situation like this in the first place? Never mind that he also knew Arthur was probably more exhausted than him. Never mind the fact that he couldn’t even find Eames when he was supposed to be a lookout, or even that other ‘ex-forger’ who didn’t even do anything right. Various scenarios plagued his head and the more he thought of it, the grimmer they turned out to be.

 And guilt once again surged into his veins. This was his fault. This was--

Thump!

The sudden noise cut him off from his thoughts and he scurried over to the edge of the warehouse where the noise came from. He heard someone coughing rather harshly, but then suddenly quieting down as if the person didn’t want to be heard, only to backfire when it had sent him to a dangerous coughing fit instead. Cobb sighed in relief. He bit his lip, contemplating his choices, before gently tapping the door.  “Saito?” There was silence for a moment, before he heard Saito’s voice, graveled and weak and somehow trembling.

“I’m…fine, Mr. Cobb. Please go back to rest. I can handle this on my own.” Cobb rolled his eyes and shook his head before gently pushing the door open.

Cobb didn’t know what to say or even where to look. He swallowed thickly as his eyes scanned over to Saito’s bandaged back while the man leaned against the toilet seat, breathing heavily and sweating profusely. Just last night, even if the man looked like a complete wreck, he was still fighting. He could remember the determination in the man’s face. The fire in his eyes. He wasn’t giving up and despite his weakened state, it made him look strong. But this. This was different. It was a sight he was not ready to see just yet.

Saito slowly turned around to face him and Cobb had to avert his eyes before he could catch his gaze.

“Why is it that you always catch me in a time when I am not myself?” Saito’s voice was soft and gentle, to his surprise. He didn’t know Saito was capable of such… tenderness.

“Just had to check on you, we wouldn’t want you leaving just yet.” Cobb tried to keep a straight face, looking down at Saito with utter seriousness. Though he wondered briefly if Saito could see through his façade. Saito only chuckled as he tried to lift himself up from the tiled floor. Cobb had his arms raised, just in case, but Saito only dismissed his qualms with a flick of his hand, and before he knew it, the businessman was standing without aid.

“I’m afraid I don’t have anywhere else to go.” Saito shrugged as he made his way out of the door as Cobb watched him. Cobb trailed behind as they went back, trying to figure out what to do or even what to say next, now that they were in a momentary pause. No guns involved. No dirty work next in line. The meeting was such that of long lost friends… distant, peaceful. But Cobb didn’t do peaceful, especially when it involved people from his own twisted, chaotic life work. The man standing in front of him, with his disheveled black hair and too pale skin, was uncharted territory, one that he wasn’t sure he wanted to cross.

 “What are you doing, Mr. Cobb?” Cobb looked away from the almost red bandages and lifted his eyes. He hadn’t realized he was staring.

“Well, uhm, I…” He choked as he looked away and ran a hand through his thick hair. He could feel his face and the tip of ears burn.

“You don’t have to watch me around like a hawk waiting for its prey.” Saito gave him a small smile before focusing back on his bandages, and oh boy did that made Cobb very uncomfortable. This wasn’t the Saito he once knew.

“I’m not...” Cobb sighed. “Look…” He stopped, words no longer formulating themselves in his lips. Tentative annoyance prickled his skin. Fuck. He felt like he was back at 5th grade, choking on his words in front of the school’s resident popular girl. A long-time admiration. That childish crush.

Saito’s eyebrows were furrowed together as he waited patiently, bandages long forgotten by his side. He didn’t seem to mind the waiting, but Cobb knew he was a fool in his eyes. Perhaps he was even a little emotional wrecked than Saito was. Maybe he was after all.

“I’m…”

“You don’t have to say anything. It will be fine.” Saito frowned at him, but then gave a small smile before resuming taking out his bloodied bandages. The inner turmoil boiled however in Cobb’s stomach. God, he looked pathetic. He just— He just didn’t want to ruin this like everything else. This whole lot was risky, and he knew deep inside, the thought of chasing him away frightened him. He just needed to fix this. He wanted to fix this. After all, it was his fault. Even with the relief that poured down every time Saito would reassure him everything was fine, something at the back of his head told him it never will be. Cobb turned around as he ran his hand on his face, only to be caught by a now woken up, disheveled Arthur. The point man was giving him a sympathetic look, eyes locked in disbelief, before standing up and making his way towards them.

“Are you alright, Mr. Saito?” Saito looked up and Cobb saw the twitch in his eyes. The way he seems to fold into himself unintentionally. Though the glimpse of emotion was quickly replaced by his strict façade. Cobb frowned. Something was not right.

“I’m generally fine. Thank you. Though Saito would suffice now.”

“Well then Saito, I’m not going to force you to talk, lest you want to. But we can’t let you go, not when your uncle is still set out to find you.” Saito seemed surprised at the words, but he bowed his head as a sign of gratefulness.

“First of all, he is my step uncle. Anything about him is not in any relation to my kin. Second, I appreciate the effort, and I am very grateful for the help, but he doesn’t mean me any harm, at least not with a few bruises to catch me… but… he won’t kill me. Just a typical man chase. It’s not that of a big deal.” Cobb paused, eyes scanning over to Saito in one whole fraction of a second. He felt blood rushing through his head. Not a big deal? The older man left everything behind, ran around the globe to hide, almost got killed, and it’s still not that of a big deal?

“What do you mean ‘not that of a big deal’?” Cobb snapped before he could stop himself, but he wasn’t sorry, even if the man winced at the tone of his voice. “We’re ending this man chase once and for all and we have to fix you up –till— “

“There is nothing to be fixed. I can assure you I have this under control.” Saito snapped back, his calm façade breaking as it revealed, for the first time, the raw emotion beneath him. Agony. Exhaustion. Chaos. Cobb tried not to focus on the slipping disguise. He tried his hardest not to see past it. He knew it would break the man, and he didn’t want to.

But he didn’t understand, and he needed to.

“Have you even seen a mirror lately?” He could feel his voice shake with anger. Frustration digging up in his veins. He couldn’t take his eyes off Saito, who was now looking at the ground as intensely as his knuckles turned white from being clenched a little too tight.  “Have you tried to stop and assess yourself and--”

“Cobb—“Arthur’s voice was exasperated, tired. But he wouldn’t let Arthur cut him off.

“Don’t.” He gave him a glare, and for once the point man backed down, giving him a nod of disagreement. Saito stood up, his eyes turned to slits as he frighteningly scowled at Cobb. He took a step forward, almost head to head now with the extractor, but Cobb wasn’t backing down.

“You think you’re so high up on that pedestal of yours for not asking for help and shrugging everyone off when they try to help you!” Cobb dangerously mocked him as he let Saito grab the front of his jacket. Saito was hostile and angry now, and every word from his lips were fuel to the fire igniting and burning them both.

“I am not useless like you think I am! I always have a plan for everything! Even if you haven’t found me back at the bar, I would have escaped and hid. Don’t underestimate me just because I am not trained well enough by the likes of you!” His voice was tangible, dangerous. They scowled at each other, Arthur trying to coax them out of each other’s throats. Silence ridiculed them both, but the silence cannot last, they both knew that.

Silence was a powerful teacher, but Cobb knew it wasn’t the best one. 

“I am not talking about that.” Cobb swallowed hard after he spoke in native tones – gentle, gentle ones – as he watched Saito’s face soften, his eyes widening with the sudden realization dawning on him. Saito let him go and took a step back, eyes scrunching shut as he turned his back on them. His clenched knuckles were shaking, his head bowed down like a beaten-up man. It made Cobb sick knowing this was his doing. It was his fault.

Cobb sighed deeply, letting his anger run out of his system. Arthur looked pointedly at him as he grabbed him by the arm. His face was prickled with annoyance, the thin line of his lips turning more and more alarmingly dangerous with an appalled frown.

“He’s not reacting well to the after effects of Inception and it would be very helpful if you keep your issues to yourself if you, want, to, help, him.” He said through gritted teeth, pausing at every word at the end. One look from the point man made Cobb stop in his tracks. He was about to speak, eyes glinting with annoyance, only to be shaken up with a gentler, foreign voice.

“I don’t understand.” Saito’s voice cut through the air, though this time it was so soft it made Cobb’s heart clench tight in his chest. Arthur looked at Cobb before heading a few steps towards Saito. He was cautious and a little wary, like everything was a delicate thing.

“I know you don’t understand, but we’ve come to help.” Arthur warily said. “Trying to understand it on your own won’t help you. It would only…Look, just, let us help you get through this.”

“Is there something wrong with me?” Saito edged on. His back still on them. His body still stiff. His head hung low as if he was looking at his hands. For some reason, it was difficult to read him now of all times. Terrifying even, of what kind of thoughts running through his head, or if he was even thinking at all.

Cobb then took a step forward. “No...” His voice was resonant. Final. As if he was stating the truth and the truth alone. Arthur turned his head back and gave him a look, but he didn’t try to stop him from speaking. “…There is nothing wrong with you.”

“Then maybe this is a dream.”

“No. That is not the reason why we’re here. This is not a dream.”

“Then why have you come?” Cobb paused momentarily. He had to convince himself that he could do this. He had to remind himself that this was his fault. That it will always be his fault, and that he needed to fix this. to fix him.

“I’ve come…I’ve come to remind you of something. Something…you once knew…” Cobb’s voice trailed as he frowned. The words keep pouring out, haunting him in his sleep, haunting him in the wake. Like a puzzle piece trying to coax him to help it find where it belongs.

That this world is not real.

“…That this world, this world is real.”  He said with resolve, but despite that, he felt like he was hanging on a thread. Full of uncertainty. Full of doubt. But enough of that. Enough of the doubt. It was time to rise. To wake up. And so, he said it again nonetheless, and this time, he meant it.

“I’ve come to remind you of something. Something you once knew. That this world is real.”

That this world is real.

Just then, Saito turned around. His face was scrunched up still in a glare, but his eyes were different. Raw. Unmasked. Shattered.  

Cobb paid no mind to the footsteps echoing from the sudden burst of open doors, nor at the echo of annoying voices. He let his eyes dangle on the man in front of him, waiting patiently for something he knew would never come. But perhaps they could start here, by reminding him every day what was real and what was not. 

He just had to find a way how.

Chapter Text

Saito stood very still on the welcome mat in front of a very fine-looking house. Arthur was on his side, looking at him carefully, though not pressuring him into doing anything. He could hear footsteps echoing inside the house, rather empty per say, a little too silent. He wondered briefly if this was truly Cobb’s home. He expected noises and clutter and children. Though his surroundings made up for the apparently hollow house. Trees lined up from the pathways, gorgeous yellow flowers sprinkled everywhere. Mountains that stood high and mighty behind. Even though the outside was as silent as the house, it was the kind of silence that bathe with calmness, peacefulness and certainty.

“You okay?” Arthur asked, and Saito only nodded in return. He was feeling rather fine. Albeit tired. They first rented a motel far away from the warehouse, Eames looking out for any possible intruders, then after a few hours they made their way back apparently to Dominic Cobb’s house. He didn’t want to, not when it would be of trouble to his family. But Cobb wasn’t taking no for an answer, saying that he didn’t trust anyone at the moment. Besides, the extractor was a frightening man when he was very angry. Arthur raised an eyebrow, not seemingly buying his answer.

He truly was fine. He just didn’t want to come in, that’s all.

“You don’t want to go in?” Arthur tried again.

“It…feels like I’m intruding.”

“Who says you’re intruding?” Cobb opened the door and sent Arthur a look as if they were communicating in thin air, the words disappearing but the message coming across, but Saito didn’t understand any of their silent exchange. “Just come in Saito.” He edged on, sounding almost like pleading. Saito decided he didn’t like that tone -- too foreign to be coming out from the extractor’s lips. He coaxed his legs to move and found himself surrounded by the same still calmness akin to what he felt outside. Strange. He was almost sure this house belonged to the ‘deafening silence’ types. The ones that could be filled with people but were still hollow. Meaningless. A big, black hole of emptiness. Just like his.

But it wasn’t. Strange.

It was warm and a bit homey. He was surprised that even a stranger like him could feel the tranquility radiating off of its walls, inviting him into its comfort. Perhaps, this was what a home felt like. Not that he knew how it feels like in the first place anyway.

“I have a spare bedroom upstairs, across mine. That would be yours for the entire stay. Miles just rather visits, looking out for the children while I’m away.” Saito only shrugged. He wasn’t really looking at Cobb, or even hearing him. His mind was still reeling in the new environment; new atmosphere. He took a few steps away, trying to memorize the details of the carved walls, the portraits, the linens of curtains. His eyes then finally landed on Cobb leaning against the island a few meters away from him. “Where are your children, Mr. Cobb?”

“School. They’ll be home by 4 since they still have rehearsals for a play, but it’s still quite early in the morning anyway so...” Saito nodded, not trusting his lips to say anything else as silence greeted them once again, but neither found the strength to look away. It wasn’t awkward, though it was rather heavy. Too silent. An unspoken thought fleeting in the air like wisps.

“If you’re worried about the kids— “

“I’m not worried about that. Don’t worry.” Saito discreetly clenched his fists on his sides as the pounding in his chest like elephants trampling over them took over. He dreaded what Cobb would say next or request him to do. He wasn’t ready yet for the aid. He still had so much to understand. So much to look away from.

“You have to sleep.”

Saito looked down as he slipped his shoes from his feet, reeling into the comfort of the cold floor and stretching his toes. Once finished, he looked back, dreading the way Cobb’s eyes seem to glaze over him to let go.

“I can’t.”

“I promise I will wake you up when your body starts to tingle. I will know when…I will know when you need to wake up. Just… let me fix this.” That pleading tone was too uncomfortable to bear on its own. Saito didn’t understand why Cobb had to do this. Can’t he see he was merely punishing himself? Why would he do such things that would only cause him pain? It didn’t make sense. Dominic Cobb was a strange fellow, and he was only beginning to see some things that weren’t there before when they had first met.

“You have to sleep, Saito.” Arthur joined in, his voice a soothing presence from where he was standing behind him, not like Cobb’s, where it was rough and graveled and almost persuasive.

“Aren’t the few doses of sleep back in the warehouse enough?” He knew it wasn’t.

“That was chemically-induced. You know it’s not enough.”

Saito closed his eyes for a moment. Perhaps they were right. He knew they were right. He just didn’t want to face it yet. He took a deep breath as he closed his eyes, a ritual of his own whenever he had an important presentation just a few minutes away when he was still at the top of his game. It gave him comfort, a fix up that told his mind that he was confident and great, and he had things under control. Only now, he wasn’t all those things. Only now, his mind told him something else. You have lost control and you’re down on your knees and you’re not even worthy, but you need strength. So here, take it.

His feet started to move, making its way to the open bedroom door at the second floor. He could hear another set of footsteps following him, stopping abruptly when it reached the doorway. Saito examined the room, reeling in the lack of décor, the white sheets on the bed, the light blue colored walls, and the equally white curtain dancing as the wind blew through the windows.

Surprisingly calm.

“Mal wanted to have a guest room even if I didn’t want to. She was always the planner, as if she knew what will happen in the future. It’s like they say, ‘always listen to your wife’. I’m glad I did.” Cobb spoke that of fondness in his voice, as well as a tinge of longing somewhere in them, the curl of a laugh in the end making him chuckle lightly. The sound breezed through them rather quickly however, and they were left with an uncomfortable silence.

“Here.” Cobb stretched his arm and handed him a large grey shirt, still fresh out of the closets. “We only got to take your backpack with us, and the only things you have in them are your passports and wallets. A few clothes were there as well but I’ve put them in the laundry. You wouldn’t want to smell like blood now do you?” Saito reached for the shirt and offered him a small smile. “Thank you.” He said as he carefully sat down on the bed.

“I guess I should be leaving then. I’ll wake you up as promised.” Saito watched him turn around, but there was a nagging thought in his head.

“Mr. Cobb.” Cobb turned as quickly as he could and looked at Saito with questioning eyes. “Do you…do you have a plastic bag, or a small bin which can be of use?”

“ER, yes, I have. Wait a sec.” Cobb appeared as fast as he disappeared, bringing the requested bin with him and giving it to him. “What do you need it for?”

Saito hesitated, contemplating whether to give half the truth or lie. It was just his reflexes fucking up. A habitual contrivance he developed as a form of coping mechanism. He knew it was not healthy, but he couldn’t seem to stop. He didn’t always run to the nearest bathroom though, only during the nights when the dream was too real and too heavy to deal with; when he couldn’t feel his toes and fingers; or when he just needed something, anything, to anchor him back to the shores of reality.

Though apparently, he wasn’t given much of a choice to begin with.

“Don’t lie.” Cobb was a master conversationalist, always willing his companion to do the things he asked them too.  Even he was not immune to it.

“When… the dream gets too real, when I can’t feel my body, or when my body shakes so violently after I’ve woken up, I retch until the back of my throat burns so I can feel the pain. A gag reflex I developed, sadly. I…” He stopped when he saw Cobb’s frown deepen, and he wondered what kind of thoughts run through his head to make him look like he had lost someone important once again. “It’s just a precaution, Cobb. I haven’t even reeled since last… two weeks, or since this early morning where you found me in the bathroom.” A lie. He tried to sound assuring, but no matter what he said, the expression on Cobb’s face never changed. Was it pity? Confusion? He didn’t have any clue of what it was, but one thing was sure: he didn’t like it one bit.

“Mr. Cobb…”

“Is it…is it the same dream, every night?” He asked, a little gentler, as if Cobb was threading on something dangerous and brittle.

“Yes. There were…a few minor changes, but somehow, it’s still the same.”

“And you’ve dealt with this since…?”

“I’m not sure— “

“But I have to know. Despite being not sure, or anything that doesn’t feel right. I have to--” Cobb sighed, ran his hand through his now unruly hair, and dropped his arms in defeat. Saito was glad however, that their eyes wouldn’t meet. “Okay, I’m sorry. Rest first. I’ll get back to you when you’re— “

“At first… it was just scenes. Not a wholesome sequence. It went on for a month, then things escalated rather quickly. It was as if I have dreamt of a nightmare, because after each sequence I would wake up feeling threatened, burned out. It was fine at first. I could cope with it. Until it, unfortunately, engraved deeper into my subconscious, my body now feeling the after effects without meaning to.” Cobb only looked at him, though his eyes suggested his mind was somewhere else. Probably trying to decipher his words, trying to make sense of something that wasn’t meant to make sense.

“And you’ve dreamt of these since…?” The hanging question was futile. Though both somewhat knew what the answer was.

“Since Inception.”  

Cobb nodded in acknowledgement, but his eyes wouldn’t meet Saito’s own. He stretched his arm and ran his hand through his hair again. Saito was beginning to sort out his quirks, his habits. If he were right, Cobb was trying not to say anything. A sign of nervousness, an echo for surrender. The words almost slipped from his tongue. Why?

Okay. I’ll jot this down. Might come in handy for the research, or…or whatever. I’ll leave you be now. Don’t hesitate to call out.” Cobb almost muttered, a string of words haphazardly strung together in an attempt to look comprehensible but failing miserably at the end. He had his back already turned at him, hiding the bleak emotion Saito knew was there, and was already walking away.

It’s not your fault.” It slipped away from his lips without meaning to, but every word, Saito had meant it. Cobb stopped on his tracks, his head moving sideways, perhaps wanting to turn around and give him some reassuring shit he always did, like back then at the Fischer job. But he went still midway, as if deciding against it, then pulling his back to where it was before, always to him. His hands were now clenched on his sides, his head looking down at the floor instead as if it were much more interesting than the man sitting on the bed with eyes glinting with something rather unreadable. Then without so much of a word, Cobb closed the door. Saito was rather thankful however. If he could have only turned around, even just a little bit, he wouldn’t take it. He wouldn’t take having Cobb seeing him at this moment. He wasn’t sure what kind of face he was wearing, but he didn’t need a mirror to know it was weak. Pitiful. Dangerous.

The wind blew from the open windows, the solemnity of it broken beyond repair. Now that he was alone, the calmness stinging him that he had mistaken it with loneliness. Perhaps, it was loneliness that was here right now and not the calmness he was oh so desperate to have. But his body complied with the comfort underneath him, and without a second thought, he surrendered.

Chapter Text

It begins in a classroom

On a cold afternoon in the month of October, where leaves turn red, and the trees go bare; where everything is changing; everything falling apart.

It begins with a boy sitting opposite the blackboard wall. His knees are up to his chest; arms tightly embracing his thin, little frame. He doesn't look up, even when his lunchbox is forcefully taken away, even when he receives a kick on his side. He lays his head to rest on his slim arms and stays there.

He sniffs, as gently as possible. He doesn’t want them to know how his eyes start to sting; that he is burning. That he is hurting. He would not give them that benefit. Will not pave them the way to victory.

"How dare you trot in this school with a face like yours? If this weren't lunch I would have punched that disgusting, little face of yours. Next time you look up at me as if I am beneath you, you know what’s coming to you" The booming, threatening voice echoes in his ears. The words are like knives to his skin, paper-thin bullets, but no, he would not allow it to pierce his heart.

He receives another kick, hitting the side of his stomach a little too harder than the last one, and he knows it would bruise later.

It begins when they leave, their footsteps fading out of the background. They laugh, but their teasing cackles are short lived, and they disappear completely after a second, only to be replaced by a crueler, meaner, echo: Silence.

The sudden gush of wind coming from the old window envelops him; embracing him as if to give comfort. The comfort is welcome, the boy argues in his head, if only it isn’t cold.

He shivers. Not just because of the cold, so it seems.

It begins when the silence becomes too much, reminding him that he is left alone to pick himself back up again, like he always does

But the silence suddenly breaks

The set of footsteps thread carefully, gently, but he automatically folds his body into himself further, even if the presence is…

The presence is surprisingly calm.

And this time. Only this time, he is reminded that he is not alone.

He feels the presence at the tip of his toes, but it is not saying anything nor is it touching him. Though he feels the hair at the back of his neck stand tremendously, so he knows the presence is there, looking right at his pitiful, pitiful form.

And so, it begins, when he cracks

“Have you come to kill me? I’ve been waiting for someone" His own voice sends a shiver running down his spine, but the words don’t fit what he means to say. His voice is still weak, still pathetic, and it’s almost foreign, this show of telltale fragility, and he starts to get angry. His knuckles clenches hard against his red-stained shirt as he bites down his bottom lip out of hate, frustration, pain. But he doesn’t look up; doesn’t lift his head from his arms.

But then the presence speaks, and the world stops.

“Someone from a half-remembered dream.” The voice is not a boy, but a man, but when he lifts his head to stare at the presence’s feet, he stops, for instead of huge polished shoes, he sees a pair of small, worn out sneakers. He hides himself again under his arms and closes his eyes.

It doesn’t click.

It begins when he…when he…

But there is no gun. There is no sound.

Funny thing, a dream is.

A name slips past his lips, but he can’t hear, as if his ears are filled with a ringing sound that renders him deaf. He curls into himself until he can take the silence no more and he speaks yet again.

“Impossible. We were young men together. I’m an--” Useless. Useless words. He stops abruptly. This is not what he means. There is someone out there putting words in his lips. This is not what he means. He can no longer keep his tears from falling, and he sniffs, ever so gently. He doesn’t want to, and then he finds he couldn’t breathe.

“Filled with regret...” Says the presence in front of him, but he is still too scared to lift his head, even if he knows, perhaps, if he could just be brave enough to lift his head up and open his eyes, this will all stop.

Voices began to fill the emptiness of the air. Distinct voices, a woman, and a man, screaming, shouting. Tearing each other apart. There is a clock ticking. A wind rushing through the windows, whispering in small, terrified voices, ‘Nii-san’.

Something clashes against the walls, and he wants them to stop.

It clicks. How does it begin?

It begins at how he cracks, but the middle is distorted.

But he speaks, and he cannot stop. The words that come next terrified him so much that the ground begins to shake.

“Waiting to die alone.”

Chapter Text

“Shit.” Cobb cursed under his breath as the kitchen knife cut skin, drawing a straight red line along his pointing finger. He quickly put his now wounded hand under running water, not even sure if he was supposed to do this. He traced the blood dripping down along with the water, making swirls on the sink like whirlpools on master seas. Never mind the pain, he supposed. There were far more painful things yet to bear. Things that were worth suffering for.

He hadn’t realized he had took a few extra minutes staring at the swirling water before Arthur came in to the kitchen unannounced, a bag full of groceries on his arms and two bright smiled kids trailing behind him.

“Daddy!” James voice reeled in and Cobb turned around far more quickly than necessary. Arthur seemed to have noticed him spacing out, maybe even seen through him as he saw the point man give him a questioning look while he sorted out through the groceries by the island with Philippa.

“Had fun shopping with Uncle Arthur?” Cobb scooped James into his arms as he came near, smiling down at Philippa and nodding at Arthur, who seemed to only raise an eyebrow in return. Cobb had to stop himself from rolling his eyes. It looked like he and his point man would have things to discuss later.

“I want to go shopping with Uncle Arthur again.” Philippa smiled as she slipped her tongue out at him. “Uncle Arthur allowed me to buy baby donuts and even played with me at the Arcade.”  She grinned at Arthur and Cobb saw him gave a triumphant smile,

“Is that right? Your daddy doesn’t allow you near the arcade?” He smirked, fondness ever grazing the tones of his voice.

“He says I’m too young to play!”

“How outrageous! Nobody’s ever too young to play at the arcade” Arthur sent out an obvious fake gasp and Cobb only sent him a glare to retaliate.

“That’s because the last time we went there you cried your eyes out honey since you got scared at the mascot.”

“But I’m a big girl now daddy. I'm not afraid anymore” Cobb parted his lips to say something back, probably along the lines of ‘of course you’re not a big girl you’re not even 10’, when he closed them and looked at her again. Maybe she wasn’t big enough like she claimed to be. She may still cry at times or go to bed with her dragon stuff toy he sent her a year ago. She might still be a child, but she wasn’t the same. She’d grown quite significantly over the course of time where he wasn’t here with them. He might not know what she went through or dealt with. But right now, looking at her grown form, a bit taller now and perhaps a little physically stronger, he’d forgotten how much time he’d missed, and what they were before everything began to collapse; they were now gone.

So instead of treating her the way he did before, he only smiled. “Of course, you are. You’re brave and strong. And brave and strong girls don’t get afraid with oversized chickens now do they?” Philippa only smiled and hugged Cobb around the waist.

“I’m brave too daddy.” James pouted, and Cobb had to suppress a chuckle. He kissed him on the cheeks and hugged his children. “Of course, you are. You’re all so very brave and strong.”

“Like daddy.” Philippa beamed at him while Cobb paused, reeling the words in, and then smiling nonetheless at them. “Yeah. Maybe… like daddy.”

“Is something wrong daddy?” Cobb paused, seemingly quite taken aback. James wasn’t smiling, nor was he even pouting. His lips were in a thin line, his eyes glazing over his. The little boy cocked his head to the side, as if he knew what was going on inside his head; his heart.

Cobb gave him another smile and gently tapped both of their heads. “I’m fine honey.”

 “Hey, why don’t you clean up first, so you can help daddy serve early dinner?” Arthur said as he gave one of the brightest smiles he could muster towards the children. This prompted Philippa and James to dash away, trying to outdo the other in running the fastest like they always did. They were competitive that way.

“Don’t forget to keep quiet on the way upstairs!” Cobb softly yelled. Despite the warning however, he could still hear their little giggles, and for once, Cobb let his mask slide and genuinely smiled. Though that didn’t last long. The impending silence was back again between them; a thought left unspoken, perhaps, even forgotten.

 “How’s Saito?” Arthur broke the silence, his tone suggestive.

“He’s been asleep for 18 hours now. Not a single sign of waking up. That’s normal though” Cobb shrugged, trying to act casually in front of him. He had to act like he believed everything was normal and not fragile, that the thin line between fiction and reality wouldn’t blur forever. He had to believe even if he didn’t, cause what else can he do than to wait and hope? Perhaps though, his act wasn’t so convincing, not towards his friend anyway. Arthur might have had read people wrong sometimes, but when it came to him, he already knew even before Cobb himself realized it. He felt a pressure settle onto his shoulder, and even though he didn’t want to, he turned around.

“Dom it’s not your fault.” Arthur was frowning but it wasn’t the annoyed or angry kind and something inside snapped. 

“Isn’t it?” Cobb’s voice was bitter and cold. The way he spat those words were as if it stung his very tongue. He hadn’t had the time and perhaps, the courage yet to talk about this to someone else. After his conversation with Saito, he spoke to Arthur about everything the businessman had told him before he went back to his own apartment. All the objective reasoning and technicalities, but not what it possibly meant to himself; never to what it meant.  

“No matter who says it, you’re not going to listen are you?” Arthur rolled his eyes as a light frown planted itself on his face. “I looked into what Saito had said. It’s normal you know. What he’s going through. Some people who aren’t ready with dream sharing often get side effects similar to his, especially when the drug used isn’t compatible with the body. Though I must admit, most cases just end up for 3 days to a week. Worst case reported was a month. I’m guessing it’s because of inception. Saito just had it worst.”

“Then why…” Cobb ran a hand on his face in frustration. “Then why does he have the same set of dreams every time he falls asleep? Like mine? You know we haven’t even deduced mine, let alone try to understand them. It’s affecting him emotionally, mentally and physically. And he’s not…he’s not telling me anything.” Cobb almost choked on his words. He’d already noticed it by now, how it always seems like he’s not in control. It was as if everything was wrong and there was no way to fix it.

Cobb closed his eyes. Stop. Nothing good comes out when he overthinks. He can do this damn it.

“You haven’t even talked to him in a normal conversation. You know, without the constant man chase rounding up at every corner. I would try, but there are certain things you can only do, even if you suck at communication.”

“Wow look who’s talking. You can’t even form coherent sentences without having to resort to smart ass retorts so you just stay as silent when you work with people you dislike, or even like so much but pretend you don’t like, like you’re doing with E—“

Arthur gave a scowl.“You’re changing the subject.”

“And you’re avoiding it.”

“And that’s beside the point. What I’m trying to say is…” Arthur sighed and licked his lips, probably trying to calm himself from being riled up too much. He had his hands on his hips and it was clear he was getting frustrated. Cobb vaguely remembered his mother.

“…Out of all of us, you’re the one who has a deeper connection. Not even…Eames can get through him.” Cobb only frowned. The point man didn’t need to explain why. The reason was clear even if Cobb was too stubborn to admit it. Though Arthur voiced it out anyway. “Limbo.”

“I know. But what are you trying to say?”

“Just…I know how much it frustrates you. How much self-loathing you probably have stuck in that thick brain of yours. But I have to remind you that you have to be careful.”

“Since when did you filter your words? I know what you mean. Don’t ‘fuck’ this up.” Cobb turned his back at him, his frustration obviously unhitched. He knew. God, fuck he knew. He didn’t need Arthur on his tail like his mother once was. He could feel Arthur’s tensed stature, hearing the way his breath hitched on his throat.

“Don’t get the wrong idea Dom. I’m just--”

“Look, I know okay!” Cobb dropped the knife back into the sink with a loud thud and turned around, annoyance prickling against his skin. He hadn’t meant to be so angry, but he was. Though Arthur… Arthur showed the same look. He showed the same look of defiance. Anger. Frustration; without having the intention to ever backing down. But his, it was different altogether. He could tell. Perhaps, Arthur was trying to be patient. Maybe he was trying to be as calm as possible; trying to understand him not like what he was doing, bringing out the big guns and all that short-tempered fiasco he had under his sleeves. Cobb seemed to accept that he was doomed to be an opposite of his friend, no matter how similar he thought they were. He sometimes wondered how the hell they survived as friends for so long.

“You see, this is where it all goes wrong. This is you fucking shit up if you haven’t goddamn noticed.” Arthur’s voice was a threat, but he never raised it like Cobb would always do.

“You think I don’t know that?! But of course, oh fucking course you know everything about me. But you know what? I know! So you can keep your mouth shut because I goddamn know!”

Arthur sneered. “Do you? Huh. Do you?” Cobb paused, his eyes wide and angry, but the point-man wasn’t having any of it.  “Look the fuck around you Dom. Don’t you see? Don’t you understand? You don’t because you’re not listening enough!” The raised tension caught Cobb’s attention. Arthur’s nose was flaring in anger now, and he seemed to have taken a few steps forward to look at him in the eye. 

“FOR FUCK’S SAKE ARTH--“

“No. Stop! Stop this nonsense Dom! Look at me! And listen!” Arthur grabbed Cobb’s collar and pulled him harshly. Arthur was dangerous now. All the calmness vanishing from his face, only to be replaced by pure, pure fury. They stood like that for a couple more seconds before Cobb couldn’t take it anymore and grabbed both of Arthur’s hands from his shirt and pushed him back. He could see Arthur’s knuckles clenching; the tightness in his jaw; the tension in his body. But Arthur seemed to not let it go. He had so much yet to say, and before Cobb got the chance to dismiss him off, his friend spoke yet again. This time, however the rigidity in his face, his voice wasn’t harsh and cold like he expected it to be.

“You’re not listening anymore Dom.” Arthur sagged his shoulders, his eyebrows scrunching together; the kind of face you make when you were in pain. And Cobb couldn’t understand. “It’s so obvious. You’re ignoring everything that’s important. You’re shutting yourself in like you did before when…before all of this… And I know you’ve been suffering through so much shit, but you have to keep things under control and not let this swallow you whole or you’re going lose him. You’re going to lose him for good. And…and I know I was meant to be your friend from the very start of this fucked up friendship, but you might lose me too and I don’t want you to, because I don’t want to lose you, again, to despair or to your fucked up emotions when we could have picked up from where we stopped before and start anew. Inception messed things up, but you have the chance to make it all better. So I suggest you zip your ass up and do some shit before you lose someone else over and over again”. The echoes of footsteps from upstairs broke the silence that lay among them for a few seconds. Arthur looked down, disappointment clearly on his face, before he turned around and stormed right out of the house, passing Ariadne on her way inside.

“Hey, Arthur—“Ariadne stopped on her tracks, automatically feeling the tension in the air as Arthur swooped past her intensely. When she looked back inside, she raised an eyebrow at Cobb, who seemed to be too stunned to greet her back. He looked at her though, and even without saying anything, Ariadne only sighed and shook her head.

“You know what? I’m not even going to ask. I’m going to go upstairs, check on Saito while playing with the kids. You sort this out on your own.” Ariadne took off her shoes and scarf then went straight upstairs. The soon-to-become real world architect was on leave for a month, and as soon as she heard what was going on, she flew directly from Paris to Los Angeles.

Cobb continued to stare at the place where Ariadne and Arthur stood before they left, a million thoughts running inside his head. Now that the weight of things was shoved right in his face, he could see it now. He just wished he had the capacity to look over his own anger and guilt to see the bigger picture. To see what lies hidden from the naked eye. To feel not just his own damned emotions, but others as well. But there was one thing he never told Arthur. The one thing he must have overlooked, or perhaps, Arthur just underestimated him. He couldn’t really blame him. He wasn’t the honest type of person, wasn’t the most open either. 

“Shit.” He muttered under his breath as he went over to the sink once again. He rubbed his face with both of his hands rather harshly and grunted, trying to calm himself down. He turned on the tap once more and started peeling, knowing that he mulled over best when doing something else. Not that there was much left to analyze anyway. It was only him and his thoughts that pondered his mind in lifeless echoes, basking in his guilty ridden head. He ought to apologize to Arthur when he comes back, if he does. Though it doesn’t matter anyway now, he guessed. It was surprising however, to hear Arthur’s inner turmoil out loud when all he could do before was to assume, and stunned at the same time, to learn how broken he had left him be.

He watched as the water circled down the drain. The same old moment, only this time, there were no blood. But now he can’t help but mind the pain, he supposed. There were far more painful things yet to bear. Things that were worth suffering for.

He hoped this was one of them

Chapter Text

Saito’s eyes slowly flickered into awakening. However, the whole of his body made no move just yet. Just for a little while. He was on his side facing the balcony. He stared at the light blue walls around that seem to shine against the bright sunshine light coming from the windows. The curtains slowly danced away, gliding across the room along with the wind as if they were dancing together. Saito could feel the drapes caress over his body as a gust of wind came through, and just for this moment, everything was silent, painless, pure. It felt as if he was in another place, perhaps even another world. A rift through time. A pause in the universe.

Slowly, as he adjusted the weight of his body as if he were waking up from a terrible coma, he sat up, feeling the weight of his arms, his torso, and his hips. He could feel his hands shaking for a little bit, but he clenched them hard and he gained control over them after a few minutes. He looked down at the carpeted floor as his feet dangled just above them. It felt like water, the entirety of it. His back was to the door, and he was admittedly afraid that if he were to turn around, the tranquility he was feeling right now would disappear for eternity. So he stayed in that position, tucking his legs in front of him so he may get a better view of the outside. It seemed bright, no noises, no darkness approaching. It felt like he was in a dream, only this time, it was the kind of dreams he used to have when he was still a child.

Funny how he remembered what it felt like to be in a dream where you would never want to wake up from.

“Hi.” A girl’s voice cut through his thoughts, though he was no longer afraid when he decided to turn around to face the source of the sound. And thereby the slightly opened door was a girl. A youthful face full of life and her blonde hair tucked in a ponytail. She seemed not afraid, not even cautious. From the way she stood, Saito could tell she was a very brave young lady, more so now as he witnessed how her face lit up when her presence was acknowledged. The little girl smiled so dearly that Saito couldn’t help but smile back, though before he could say anything, the little girl left quickly. It was a strange, however, when she came back only after a minute with a tray of food on her hands.

“Good Morning mister. I don’t really know what you eat but you’ve been asleep for so long. I don’t want you to end up like our goldfish Mr. Bubbles. He didn’t eat for a day and then I accidentally gave him too much food the next day and he died. Don’t tell James I said that. He hates it when I talk about him.” Saito could only nod and smile with the overwhelming innocence. The girl had brought an apple, a fiber bar, and a glass of water. She was even beaming as if she were so proud of her achievement.

“T-thank…you, dear.” Saito couldn’t help but cough a little, the dryness in his throat restricting his speech. This didn’t seem to faze the little girl as she smiled even wider than before.

“You need water. Here!” She handed the glass of water enthusiastically and Saito gladly took it from her small hands. He drank the whole glass, feeling the pinch of his stomach, reminding him that yes probably, he was hungry.

“What’s your name?” 

Saito hesitated for a brief moment. “Friends…People call me Saito. What’s your name little one?”

“I’m Philippa Cobb! And James is my younger brother. He’s still asleep in his room even though he promised he would wake up early, so we could see if you’ve woken up!”

“You want to know when I’ve woken up?”

“Daddy doesn’t usually have friends over. It’s just Uncle Arthur and Aunt Ariadne. Uncle Eames had only been here once, but I would love it for him to come back. But I’ve never seen much of Daddy’s friends. You’re his friend, right?” Saito paused for a second, carefully watching the little girl in front of him. It was obvious she got her hair from her father, but what made it all worth was her eyes. It was as if he were looking right at Dominic Cobb’s own.

“Yes. I am a friend.”

“That’s great! Nice to meet you, Mr. Saito.”

“I’m glad to meet you too Philippa.” It was then that she gave the brightest of smiles, and it took Saito seconds to convince himself this was even real. He had never met someone so bright, so full of hope. Admittedly, he never had children of his own. His eyes softened at the sight as realization dawned on him. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her, and soon he felt the genuine smile waver from his grasps. Philippa took his response as an invitation however and immediately sat beside him on the bed. She practically grinned at him.

“Is Saito your first name?”

“No. Saito is my last name. In Japan, we call each other by our last names to show a sign of respect.”

“Oh. Even family?”

“Actually, no. With close friends, and family, you can call them by their first name.”

“So, what’s your first name?”

A sudden knock sent their attention to the door. Cobb was leaning on the doorframe, a small smile playing on his lips. He had his arms crossed in front of him and he sent Philippa a raised eyebrow.

“Honey, dear, what did I say about going to Mr. Saito’s room?”

“But I saw him wake up and I brought him food and he smiled so that’s a good thing!". Philippa ran over to where her dad was and pouted. Cobb only sighed and smiled before grabbing hold of her hand.

“Your grandpa is already downstairs. Go eat your breakfast. I’ll take care of him.”

Philippa then turned around to give Saito one big smile and a wave. “See you later, Mr. Saito. Get well soon! I’ll tell you a story when I get back from school!” Saito smiled and waved back as she dashed away. He carefully counted the steps until it completely disappeared from his range. 20 living, little steps. Nobody said a word after that. It was only them, and the drapes that danced away among the open windows, caressing Saito as if to give a sense of comfort. He was afraid of what Cobb had to say. But then again, he figured Cobb wouldn’t know what to even say. Sighing under his breath, the ex-businessman broke the silence, not wanting to further deal with it any longer.

“How long was I asleep?”

He could feel Cobb's relief a foot away. “The whole day yesterday. It’s a good sign you woke up this morning. It’s not healthy being asleep for so long. I was getting worried you weren’t going to wake up.”

“Well I’ve been awake for three days straight I think I deserve that sleep, even if I wouldn’t wake up.” Saito grimly chuckled, but Cobb didn’t bite it. In fact, his lips even curled downward a little too much. This made Saito frown in return, and an unbearable thought escaped his lips.

“Don’t give me that look.” He spat, but there wasn’t much strength in those words either way. Cobb was looking right at him and it began to prickle his skin.

“I’ll stop when you stop wanting to die.” He said back. His eyes pierce through Saito as if he could read his soul, and he could only look away.

“It was just a terrible joke Mr. Cobb, it doesn’t even make— “

“Cobb.”

Saito lifted his head and raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”

“Call me Cobb. And I call you Saito. That was the deal.” Saito paused for a second, reeling in the kind of conversation they were having. It didn’t quite make sense, at least to him. What was Cobb trying to say?

“You’re a strange man, Cobb. You focus on things that aren’t even that much of importance, or are you only trying to avoid the subject?” The man didn’t respond. He remained plastered on the side of the doorway without a single hitch of a muscle, and Saito could only sigh in return. There was no getting sense out of this man, and it was beginning to get into his nerves.

“Look— “

“Does it hurt? Anywhere?” Cobb’s voice suddenly cut through and Saito could only zip his lips and frown in return. Cobb was no longer looking at him as he ran a hand through his thick, blonde hair. He could admit that he wasn’t used to the show of concern, even if it was only because he thought it was his fault; even if it was out of guilt. It was true though. They weren’t friends. They will never be. They lived in two different worlds and had different likes and outlooks in life. Although, Saito understood that Cobb was only trying to help, in his own little way.

“Cobb…”

“I changed your bandages every 4 hours, or maybe it was 2. Depends if it was bleeding. It never bled out though. Thankfully, you’re a fast healer and a heavy sleeper.” Saito looked at him for a while, their eyes meeting and never wavering. The silence greeted them like old friends, and while the cold air surrounded them like a blanket of comfort, Saito couldn’t help but notice how uneasy a whole lot of his mind was. How his body would quiver, unnerving even the far reaches of his mixed-up soul. An unbearable thought escaped his mind.

“What if… I’m asleep until now?”

Cobb gave a worried look. “What? No. No Saito. You’re awake. You’re fully awake.” Saito looked away, down at his hands as he watched them quiver. One, two, three… he counted all the lines visible on the palms of his hands. And when he reached the farthest number, he counted backward. Backward. Backward.

There was silence once again, but there was a shift in the air. A colder atmosphere. A brighter shadow. He couldn't exactly pinpoint it.  Although the silence wasn’t aggravated, nor was it strange. It was the kind of silence that comforted him like the icy winds that danced away during October while red and orange leaves fell; the smell of pine trees and oak wood…the stench of chalkboards and worn-out sneakers, and – and suddenly, a familiar boy dashed across the hallway behind where Cobb stood.

Then the boy dashed back. Black hair. Pale skin.

He could hear the ringing of a school bell at the back of his head, echoes of children, the scratching of chalk. And there out of the corner of his eye, he could see a boy sitting by the corner of the wall, head tucked underneath his arms, shivering in the cold, cold air. Saito suddenly shivered, his arms crossing tighter against his chest as he crossed his arms. He clenched his hands under them, trying to shake off the pounding in his chest which seemed to get louder and stronger in every thump against his flesh. He sealed his eyes shut and tried to calm his quivers, his breaths.

“Saito.” Someone whispered. He could tell the shift of notes in the tone of his voice; a telltale shown of concern. 

“I can… I can hear everything. I can hear it. “ Saito bit his lips, drowning out the words he wanted to say. The sounds never ceased. The coldness never went away. It was beginning to mock his mind. It was beginning to drown out his senses. What if this wasn’t the real, and his dreams were? What if all of this was just the product of his own pitiful imagination?

“Saito.” There it was again. Cobb. Dominic Cobb. The one who ruined his life. And the one who tried to save it.

“Saito. List—” He could feel a hand press against his shoulder, and as if he was suddenly burned, he swapped them away. The touch disappeared, and Saito was left with the same old sounds; the feeling of unperturbed loneliness; the constant dull ache of coldness. He can see children running around; stomping their feet along the corridors. He could see the image of the classroom, the sunlight shining through the windows as if to give him a sense of comfort. But it was never comforting. It was always indifference. Now, the voices were back. Changing and unchanging. Over and back.

 

“Saito. Come and play.”

“Saito, can I come over to your house?”

“When can you let me call you by your first name?”

“Are you always like this?”

“You don’t belong here. You never will be.”

“This is your job. Do it.”

“This is a disgrace. You bring dishonor to this house!”

Otto, don’t be so cold.”

“Take a leap of faith.”

“Come back..."

"Come back, so we can be young men together again.”

The last voice echoed. He felt the pull of reality waging a war with the push of reverie as if he was neither here nor there. Or perhaps, he was both here and there after all. 

Saito blinked his eyes open, and he saw an empty white room.

He blinked again, this time, he closed it for a bit longer and opened it. Still the same old, white room.

He closed them again, but this time, warmth embraced the whole of his torso. A soft fabric dangling and caressing the tightness of his own, brittle body. His heart is still thumping hard against his chest. He could still hear the voices. But he still opened his eyes.

There stood Dominic Cobb. His eyebrows furrowed; his eyes as piercing as the sun.

“You are not real.” Saito looked down at the lines of his hands, remembering how many were there. He closed them again.

“I am real Saito. Look at me. I am here. I am real. Look at me.” Tempting. Like his dreams. 

“In my dreams, my face is hidden away in the comfort of my arms. I never lift my head up. I was too afraid.” A definite pause. It was like he was standing on the edge of tomorrow, nearly there but not quite yet.

“Only one way to find out then.” Cobb said back, convincingly comforting.

 “What if I open them and I’m back to where I started?”

“Then you’ll start over, but this time, you won’t be alone.”

A long, defeated sigh. Warmth, and then light. He lifted his head on his own choice, on his own free will, and the very first thing he saw was deep blue eyes that swallow the depths of big blue seas.

“Told you, you were real.”

And for the very first time for a while now, Saito smiled.