Stress was different than it used to be, for Dominick Cobb.
He squinted severely at the cereal bag in front of him. If he pulled too hard, there would be a second bag of cereal all over his kitchen floor. If he didn’t pull hard enough, the bag would remain sealed, and his children would remain hungry.
“Loops!” James called from his booster seat, just to remind him of the stakes. “Loooops!”
“Cut it,” a voice said beside him. He looked down. Phillipa set a pair of safety scissors on the counter. She looked up at him, blankly. “Cut it,” she said, again.
There were moments Dom felt like a good dad, but way more often, he just felt out of his depth. Sometimes, one of them needed to be dealt with with a level of emotional intelligence Dom did not possess. Sometimes, it was moments like this one, where something small and insignificant was insurmountable to him. Phillipa could take care of the problem, but Dom couldn’t even plan a solution.
Dom silently took the scissors and cut the edge of the bag. Phillipa screwed up her brow and frowned. “That’s—“
There was a knock at the door. Loud.
“Loops, Daddy,” James insisted.
Dom frowned at the knock repeated. “I know honey,” he said, pushing the cereal box back on the counter. “Let me see who’s at the door.”
Dom jogged to the front door and looked out the peephole. He expected some kind of salesman or scammer. Instead, he found Saito. There was a moment where he nearly walked away, leaving the door shut, the past on the other side.
He opened the door.
“Mr. Saito,” Dom greeted, stunned.
“Mr. Cobb,” Saito nodded. “May we come in?” Dom glanced at the two large men behind Saito and quietly stepped aside.
“Dad, who’s that?” Phillipa asked quietly from the kitchen door.
Dom could see the anxiety in her posture, the fingers clenching in her JoJo Siwa shirt. He thought about telling her the truth— Saito was a man who was undoubtedly here to make life harder, but only with very good reason. He thought about lying— Saito was a close friend, someone Dom had known for a very long time, and shared memories with. Then again, that wasn’t entirely untruthful. Unable to decide, he punted. “Go back to your brother, Phillipa.” She frowned and disappeared.
“I apologize for interrupting your Sunday,” Saito began. He folded his hands behind his back.
“You wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t important,” Dom guessed.
“Correct. I would not.”
Dom stared at him for a moment. “I need to be with my kids,” he said. “Can we take this into the kitchen?” The men with Saito frowned, but the man himself nodded.
“Hello,” James said as they walked in. He shoved his orange juice onto the floor.
“Jamie,” Dom sighed, thanking himself for the foresight of using a sippy cup. He sank to the floor to retrieve it.
“I apologize, but we must speak quickly,” Saito began. Dom looked up. “It appears our influence on Mr. Fischer’s business interests has been discovered.”
Dom frowned. “What? How? Our tracks were covered.”
Saito shook his head. “I am unsure. What I do know is Peter Browning has had private investigators following me and a number of my board members. Also, a very prominent member of your work community, a Mr. Jeong, has disappeared.”
“Jeong does subsecurity,” Dom supplied. “He’s the closest thing to a legitimate dreamsharer there is nowadays.”
“According to my people, it would be more accurate to say he was.“ Saito glanced at Phillipa, cautiously.
“Shit.” Dom blinked. He looked quickly to James and Phillipa. “Daddy didn’t say shit. That’s not a good word to use.”
“Shit,” James said.
“I have put my own investigators to the task of checking up on Mr. Browning’s interference. Yesterday, they found his people following Ms. Campbell.”
“She is safe. My men picked her up and are transporting her to my business retreat. I must insist that you accompany us there at once, until we can figure this out.”
Dom’s eyes squinted tighter. “Well, I can’t do that, Mr. Saito. I’m retired. I’ve got my kids to think about.”
Saito stepped closer and sighed. “I understand your priorities. However, you must understand mine. I cannot expose my company to Mr. Browning’s investigation. Additionally, taking your chances is unlikely the safer option—“ Saito nodded meaningfully at the children. “—for any of you.” Dom frowned. “It’s now or never, Mr. Cobb.”
Dom absently brushed his fingers across the base of his left ring finger. He stared around at the mess that was his kitchen. “I need time to contact my in laws to watch my kids.” Phillipa looked stricken. Dom tried not to notice.
“There is no time. The children will come as well.” Saito nodded to the men beside him. They hurried forward to lift the children up and carry them out of the house.
“Wait, you can’t just—“ but they were out the kitchen door.
“Daddy!” James whined, bouncing over the shoulder of a bodyguard.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” Dom yelled, taking a step toward the retreating body guards.
Saito placed a calming hand on his shoulder. “Do you need to retrieve anything?” Saito asked.
Dom stared at Saito with wide eyes. He felt rooted to the floor. There was a time when he would have been ready for something like this— when he would have had a suitcase packed in his closet, ready to go for himself, and maybe even the kids. He’d been home eighteen months, and he’d grown complacent. He shook himself. He pulled open a drawer and snatched out a plastic sandwich bag. He filled it with cereal for James. He filled another for Phillipa. He pressed the bags into Saito’s surprised hands and ran to his safe. His hands fumbled nervously over the lock. He grabbed his passport, and the kids’. He stared in the open safe for a moment, making a decision.
He grabbed the top.
Saito was waiting in the doorway when Dom shut the safe. “There is no time. We must go. We will get all of you clothes once we reach our destination.” Dom nodded stiffly and followed him out.
The drive to the airport was slightly faster than was strictly legal, and silent, but for James’ sniffling. Phillipa glared daggers at Saito, who was remarkably unfazed.
It wasn’t until they reached the private air strip and boarded the plane that James began to wail. Dom passed him a baggie of cereal, somewhat desperately. He threw the baggie onto the floor of the private jet. Saito’s mouth thinned.
“Jamie, why did you throw your Loops on Mr. Saito’s floor?”
“Loops!” James wailed, sobbing harder.
Phillipa stared up at Dom’s sullen face. “Those are Apple Jacks,” she said. Dom ran a hand through his hair.
“I have waffles,” Saito said. Dom blinked.
James sniffled. “With syrup?”
“And whipped cream,” Saito promised.
The flight attendant began pulling open drawers and bags in the little kitchen. Dom could smell the maple. “You’re a lifesaver,” he sighed.
Saito favored him with a very small smile. “That was the plan, Mr. Cobb.”
“Since when are you the one calling with work? Who’s your extractor?” Arthur poked a smiley face into the pile of bubbles around his stomach.
Eames hummed out a laugh. “I’ve decided to try my hand at extraction, you see.”
“Why not?” Eames asked, vaguely offended.
“You haven’t even been to extractor school,” Arthur protested.
“Extractor school?” Eames asked, quietly.
“It’s a thing,” Arthur insisted. “We did a whole seminar back on base.”
“Well, we’re not in the military anymore, are we? There’s no reason I can’t expand my skill set the old fashioned way.”
Arthur sank farther into the warm water. He laid his phone on the closed toilet beside him and set it to speaker. “It’s not that I think you can’t do it. All I mean is there are things you don’t know. There are psychological theories, and practical methods you haven’t had a chance to learn.”
“Forgive me, but that kind of education didn’t seem to help Cobb on the Fischer job,” Eames groused. “As I recall, the plan we used was mine.”
“Mr. Charles was Cobb’s idea.”
“And you said it had never worked before. Luck is half the battle, and the other half is observation. I specialize in both.”
“Hmm,” Arthur sighed. “If the rest of the team is experienced, I’d be willing to try it. You seem teachable.”
“Do I?” Eames asked, sarcastically. “Someone’s at the door, love, hang on,” Eames said. He groaned like an old man standing. “Probably my Jollibee delivery.”
Arthur scrunched his nose. “You need vegetables, Eames.”
“Don't be so judgmental, Arthur. Nobody eats vegetables at midnight.”
There was a knock on Arthur’s hotel room door. He frowned. “There’s somebody here too.”
“Did you also order hot dog spaghetti?” Eames teased.
“Eames, you’re disgusting,” Arthur sighed. He climbed out of the bathtub and wrapped a towel around his waist.
“Arthur,” Eames said, sounding grave.
“What, did they forget your Halo-Halo?” Arthur asked, pulling on a bathrobe. He padded across the hotel room carpet.
“Arthur, it’s not a food delivery.” Arthur frowned. He picked up his gun from the coffee table and opened the door. Two large men in suits were waiting. Arthur started to raise the pistol. One of the men jerked forward to pin his arms.
“Mr. Saito would like you to come with us,” the other man said.
“Saito?” Arthur asked, aghast.
“Seems I might be seeing you soon,” Eames muttered into the phone. He hung up.
“Of course,” Eames nodded. “Arthur with you?”
“No,” Dom frowned.
Eames shook his head. “No reason to worry. He was picked up the same time I was. He was probably somewhere in Eastern Europe.”
Dom snorted. “Vacation?”
“This is Arthur we’re talking about,” Eames purred.
Saito strode down the plane stairs. After half a day of flying, he looked perfectly put together, and Dom just felt out of place. He held James a little tighter. Phillipa shifted sleepily in Eames’ arms. “Mr. Eames,” Saito greeted.
“Come. I will show you to where you are staying.”
The halls of the complex were intimidating, with tidy wooden floors and soft lighting. Saito opened the door to a large bedroom. “You and Mr. Cohen will share this room.”
Eames glanced in and smiled. He dropped his bag inside the door. “Oh, I would very much like to be there when you show Arthur around,” he said. The room was huge, with artfully potted plants and a folding screen to change behind. Everything was immaculately clean. There was an attached en suite, with what looked from the door to be both a walk in shower and a huge jacuzzi tub in the corner. Against one wall, there was a very large, very soft looking bed.
Only the one.
Dom rolled his eyes. “Leave him alone or ask him out already,” he teased. Eames frowned. He set Phillipa down and took her hand.
“Your father makes terrible jokes,” he told her.
“Are you going out with Uncle Arthur?” she asked.
Eames sighed heavily and turned back to Saito. “No wife?” he asked, abruptly, eager to change the subject.
“No need,” Saito replied, smoothly.
“You don’t want to leave your empire to your kids?” Dom asked, a little too bluntly.
“I have,” Saito paused, “very fortunate nieces and nephews.”
“I’m hungry,” James whined.
“We’ll eat something in a little while,” Dom promised.
“What would you like for dinner?” Saito asked. “This is a surprise vacation for you.” He glanced at Dom. “You may have whatever you wish.”
“Chicken strips,” James said, immediately.
“Or pasta,” Phillipa added, softly. She yawned.
“What sort of pasta?” Saito asked.
“Unicorn shapes?” She asked, hopefully.
“Whatever you wish,” Saito assured her.
—well, he couldn’t just let Eames get kidnapped alone. It would be much easier to rescue him if they were kidnapped together. Arthur had no illusions about just keeping him around for work either; He knew how he felt. He was very clear.
He was in love with Eames, and if he could help it, nothing bad would ever happen to him.
The complex was huge, and Arthur really shouldn’t have been surprised, because he’d been here before, in a dream. It was also sprawling, with multiple buildings spread across the landscape. Dinner parties were held in the one closest to the beach, he knew. Arthur had been unceremoniously dropped off at the building deepest in the woods. He could smell the mineral tang of a hot springs, beneath the sharp scent of looming snow. He tugged his bag higher on his shoulder, and pulled his coat together tighter.
The lights inside were warm, and Arthur could hear voices coming from what felt like a mile down the hall. “Saito-sama will speak with you tomorrow,” one of the men with him said. Arthur looked up at him, studying his expression. It looked honest.
“So what now?” he asked.
“I will take your bag,” the man said. “You will be staying with an Eames,” he drawled. Arthur nodded. The arrangement would be convenient for keeping an eye on the older man, but otherwise tricky as hell. At least a place this big was bound to have a lot of beds, if not a lot of rooms. “Your group is further down the hall.” The man nodded towards the voices. He grabbed the bag from Arthur, roughly, and walked off.
“Okay,” Arthur hummed to himself. He walked down the stone floor of the hall, taking note of the canvas and brick features of the building. He followed the hall until he reached a huge, open room that seemed to function as a gathering space. There were multiple couches, a pool table, and a large dining table. There was a wet bar along one wall, and a water feature trickling down the opposite. Ariadne was flopped in an overly large arm chair. Yusuf was in a matching one next to her, sprawled and boneless. Cobb was pacing, nervously. He visibly relaxed at seeing Arthur. Arthur tried to hide his feelings on seeing all of them here. Panicking would help no one. He snapped his eyes over to his left, to find Eames also pacing.
Eames met his eyes, shoulders sagging in relief. He crossed the room to Arthur. “Darling— glad to see you’re in one piece,” Eames greeted. He held his arm out a little too widely to be angling for a handshake, but caught himself. Arthur shook, his grip a little too tight.
“You too, Eames,” he admitted. Eames had no idea how true it was. The older man cocked his head carefully, curious at Arthur’s tone. “Later,” Arthur said.
A sly smile spread slowly across Eames face. “We can talk whenever you like. We’re staying together, you and me.”
Arthur tried not to smile. “So I hear,” he said, flatly.
“Oh, you’ve seen the room, then?”
“No,” Arthur frowned.
“Ah,” Eames purred. “Well the bed is very high quality.”
“Not as high quality as the lab he gave me,” Yusuf called. “I’ll take my cot over your feather top mattress any day.”
Arthur frowned harder. “What do you mean the bed?”
“You’ll love it, I promise,” Eames grinned.
“Eames, leave him be,” Dom ordered, smiling.
“Dom,” Arthur greeted. “How did the kids take getting dropped off at grandpa’s?”
Dom averted his eyes, smiling awkwardly. “Well, they’re actually here. With me.”
Arthur could feel the color draining from his face. “What?” he snapped.
“It seemed safer than waiting,” Dom shrugged.
“In Japan, at the mercy of one of the most dangerous men in the world— that deemed more safe to you than asking for a detour to Santa Monica?”
“It’s Saito,” Dom frowned, defensively. “We’re perfectly safe.”
Arthur turned away, disgusted. “No way Saito lets us leave when we’ve seen this place,” he muttered. He strolled to the couch and sank down. Behind him, the waterfall gurgled placidly.
“We don’t even know where ‘this place’ is,” Ariadne said.
“Somewhere in the Kita Alps,” Yusuf supplied. The others stared at him blankly. He shrugged. “I saw a tourist pamphlet for the Hakuba Ski Jumping Stadium on the kitchen counter yesterday.” Eames leaned his hip against the back of the couch. He frowned.
“We don’t need to worry about Saito,” Cobb said.
“How can you be so sure?” Arthur asked.
“Because he scooped us up to get us out of harm’s way. Browning was looking for us,” Cobb explained. Arthur frowned.
“He protects his investments,” Eames added.
Arthur stared up at him, his face expressionless. “Hey,” he said, suddenly. “It looks like we’ll have time to work on your extractor training.”
Eames smiled softly at him. “Yes,” he agreed. “It does look that way.” His smile darkened. “We can work on it tonight. You can read me theories and I’ll pretend it’s a bedtime story.”
Arthur blew out a breath through his nose. “Yusuf!” he called, “you got an extra cot at the lab?”
Yusuf arched and eyebrow. “For you?” he asked.
Arthur glared at Eames. “For him,” he growled.
“Now now, darling,” Eames purred, heading for the door. “You mustn’t snap. That’s not proper social behavior.”
Arthur stood up to follow him. “I call the shower.”
“At what extension?” Eames threw over his shoulder. He walked faster.
“Eames,” Arthur warned, quickening his pace.
“That’s always been my name,” Eames called, breaking into a jog.
“No it hasn’t!” Arthur sprinted after him. Dom snorted.
“So many children in my house today.” Dom turned to the open door, startled. He sighed. Just Saito.
“You’ll have to excuse them,” Dom said. He slid his hands into his pockets. “We’re all a little off kilter.”
Saito nodded. “We should talk. Come with me.”
He led Ariadne into the R&D facility, arms spread wide. “Welcome to Chemical Nirvana,” he said.
Ariadne looked around, suitably impressed. “And yet, there’s nowhere to get a decent cup of coffee.”
“I could make it,” Yusuf said. “With the right beans from Saito, we could make the best coffee in the world.”
“Sold,” she said. She hopped up onto a lab counter and nodded at a small machine. Yusuf frowned at her, frustrated by the poor lab etiquette, but too polite to say anything. “What does that do?” Ariadne asked.
Yusuf followed her gaze. “Ah,” he said. “That is an autoclave. A big one. It’s like a chemistry dishwasher.”
“Spectrometer. Listen, it’s a well stocked facility.” He turned the knob on a nearby burner and sparked it. He flipped on his goggles and smiled. “We are literally cooking with gas.” He glanced back at Ariadne. “Eyes on in the lab.”
She pulled on a pair of goggles from the counter. “What are you gonna work on?”
Yusuf hummed thoughtfully. “Well, it seems like we’ll probably be taking down Browning to see what he knows. He’s obviously militarized. We’re going to need to get into Browning’s mind with even less risk of getting caught than usual.” He was picturing many guns in the dream, and many more outside of it.
He wasn’t picturing a big pay day. Knowing Saito, he likely considered this cleanup mission just part of the original job.
“Very,” Yusuf agreed. “I’d like to try lacing somnacin with a few things. Maybe amantadine to start with.”
Yusuf turned off the burner and started opening cabinet doors. “Flu medicine.”
“Really?” Ariadne snorted.
“It’s also used to treat Parkinson’s,” he added. “Helps calm muscle tension, and increases dopamine.”
“Hmm,” she hummed. “I’m not gonna pretend I understand what you’re doing, but I’m happy to stand here and pass you things.”
Yusuf smiled. “The company is much appreciated.”
Saito drummed his fingertips on the dining room table. He took a sip of his wine. “It has been eighteen months,” he said.
“And I was gone two years. Do you know how long that is to be absent from a child’s life?” Dom shook his head. “It’s a wonder they even recognized me. I missed so much. Phillipa can write. James knows all of his animals.”
“They will live long lives, and enjoy the company of their father for many years,” Saito said.
“I’m an old man,” Dom sighed. “I don’t look it, and neither do you. But it feels like I was gone for decades.”
Saito swirled the wine in his glass. He stared at a tapestry on the opposite wall. “Sometimes I forget,” he said, quietly. “There are mornings I wake up, and I expect to see the ocean out my window. I will go into town, and there are people. My men, I expect. But unique, varying, living people. And I will be surprised by their uniqueness and texture.” He laughed, mirthlessly. “I once was slapped by a woman in the marketplace because I couldn’t stop myself from reaching out to touch the jewels in her hair pin.”
Dom frowned. “How long do these episodes last?” he asked, leaning forward on his elbows.
Saito met his gaze, sharply. “No time at all,” he said, warningly. “Now then, as for what we should do about Peter Browning—“
“Saito, I don’t know if I can do inception twice,” Dom blurted. “I’m kind of amazed we did it the first time, and I, for one, am out of practice.”
Saito waved his hand. “There will be no dreaming. I will handle Mr. Browning the way I handle problems of this nature.”
Dom frowned. “I’m gonna guess it’s not the way I like to deal with things.”
“Probably not,” Saito admitted.
“How long does Browning have left?”
“A few days,” Saito said. “My men will take care of the issue. There is no need to involve your team, beyond the protection I offer. Stay,” he urged, leaning forward. The children are safe here, and you are more than welcome.” He laid his hand on Dom’s. Dom glanced down at it, as subtly as he could manage.
“I appreciate your hospitality, Mr. Saito,” he said.
“Kenichi,” Saito said, “please.”
Dom stared. “Kenichi,” he tried, nodding carefully.
“For just a few days,” Saito repeated.
“Plan for what, exactly?” Eames asked.
“How we stay alive and get out of here,” Arthur shrugged. He lugged his suitcase onto the bed and unzipped it.
Eames flopped onto the bed next to him. “We don’t know that we’re in danger,” he said.
“We don’t know we’re not,” Arthur replied, rifling through the bag.
“If Saito wanted us dead, we’d already be dead,” Eames argued. “He’s had multiple opportunities. If he wanted information, he wouldn’t be letting us run around his place without supervision.”
Arthur shrugged again, but he was certain there were cameras somewhere in the room. “I want to know what tipped him off that Browning was onto us. I also want to know what tipped Browning off, and I want to know how bad it is. Until I’m sure Saito doesn’t see any of us as a dispensable liability, I won’t relax.”
“Just for you, I locked the door when we came in,” Eames said.
“I feel the urge to say something short to you,” Arthur stated, flatly. “Because you make me feel dumb sometimes.” Eames blinked.
“I’ve been seeing someone,” Arthur explained. Eames’ smile stretched wider, but didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“Arthur,” he purred. “You have a special someone?”
“A therapist,” he sighed. “I’m tired of being so mad all the time.” Eames opened his mouth, and promptly shut it. “He said I should just confront others with the truth instead of snapping.” Arthur rolled his eyes. “Apparently, I become condescending when I feel threatened or overwhelmed.”
“I make you feel threatened?” Eames asked, quietly.
“You overwhelm me,” Arthur sighed.
“Take a shower and then come to bed,” Eames said, softly. “We don’t have enough information to plan. The best thing we can do is be rested.”
Arthur stared at him, taking in his relaxed posture, the lack of tension in his shoulders. “You’re probably right,” Arthur agreed. He took his pajama bottoms and toiletry bag out of the suitcase. “I get the left side.”
“You’ll do no such thing,” Eames chirped, standing and unbuttoning his shirt. “You’ll be cuddled up on the right side, and you’ll like it.”
“I’m not cuddling you, Eames,” Arthur called as he entered the bathroom. “Holy shit. Is that a jacuzzi tub?”
“No eating in the lab,” Yusuf tutted. Honestly, the lab etiquette among supposedly well-educated people was atrocious sometimes. Eames chewed faster. “It seems Saito-san runs a tight ship.”
“Early is better for the jet lag,” Arthur said. “That’s assuming, of course, that we’re going to be here long enough for that to matter.”
“Arthur thinks we’re all going to die,” Eames said around a mouth of bread.
“Arthur’s usually right about that kind of thing,” Ariadne yawned. She reached out and nabbed a piece of Eames’ croissant. He jerked it backwards, throwing her an offended look.
“No yawning in the lab either,” Yusuf yawned. “We’ve got work to do.”
“You were up all night,” Ariadne mumbled around the bread, scrubbing an eye with her hand. “How are you this perky?”
“I’m not wasting a second with this equipment,” Yusuf said, dreamily. “And I’ve got something ready for you to try.”
“Ah, that’ll be for you, then,” Eames said, nudging Arthur. Arthur passed him another croissant and frowned. Eames tore the end off and handed it to Ariadne.
“That was fast,” Arthur muttered.
“We’re gonna cure your Parkinson’s,” Ariadne said. She shuffled to a nearby counter, where a flask full of coffee was resting above a low flame.
Arthur balked as she poured some of the coffee into a smaller beaker and took a measured sip. “I hope you cleaned that,” he snapped at Yusuf, nodding towards Ariadne. Eames groaned, gravitating towards the caffeine.
Yusuf rolled his eyes. “Of course I did,” he said. “I’m not the one who doesn’t know how to act in a lab.” Yusuf gestured to a chair he’d dragged in from another part of the facility. “If you please,” he said, politely. Arthur sighed. He glanced at Ariadne, all sleepy excitement. He looked over to Eames, who was eyeing him cautiously around a beaker full of coffee.
“Only if you’re comfortable, love,” Eames said.
“This is my job,” Arthur said, resigned. He sank into the chair.
“Today we’re just concerned about waking and side effects,” Yusuf said. “We’ll deal with the dreaming later.” Arthur nodded, obediently rolling up a sleeve. Yusuf checked the needle and injected him, slowly. Within seconds, Arthur’s head was lolling forward.
Eames crept closer to Arthur, squatting down to look at his face. Yusuf leaned down beside him. He pulled Arthur’s eyes open to check, and felt his pulse. “So far so good,” Eames muttered.
“Mm,” Yusuf agreed. “Do you want to slap him or shall I?”
“I’m not slapping him,” Eames snorted. “I value my balls too much for that.” Yusuf shrugged. He pulled his hand back and smacked Arthur, hard.
Arthur vomited all over Yusuf’s shoes as he woke.
“For fuck’s sake!” Yusuf barked.
Ariadne came up beside him, wincing. “Saito will buy you new ones,” she said with certainty.
“Hngh,” Arthur whined.
Eames placed a gentle hand on his hair and slowly stroked. “Alright, darling,” he sighed. “Back to bed for you.”
“Nausea,” Yusuf noted. “Ariadne, write that down.” Arthur groaned again.
It was also weirdly comfortable, and that was stranger.
James was in heaven, devouring a breakfast that had ruined him for Loops, and would likely make things harder for Dom once they got home. Saito’s kitchen staff had created the superior form of Loops, mixing the already sugary cereal with butter and marshmallows. James was on his second gooey bar, and someone kept refilling his tiny mug to keep his milk fresh and cold.
Phillipa was eating a soft cinnamon bun, and sliced peaches. Dom had been given a more traditional breakfast, and was learning to conceptualize rice before eight the morning.
“Would you like more tea?” Saito asked. Dom wasn’t interested, but he was weirdly interested in watching the graceful movements of Saito’s wrists as he poured it.
“You know, this is all very nice,” Dom said.
Saito looked at him, expectantly. “But?”
Dom sat, quietly. “No,” he frowned. “That’s it. This is all very nice.”
Saito sighed quietly. “You have made my life much easier,” Saito said. “I want to make your life easier as well.”
Dom wasn’t sure what that meant. “You have made my life easier. You got me back to my family. You don’t owe me anything.”
“Not everything I do is because I feel some obligation,” Saito said. Dom stayed quiet. “You are currently trapped in my home because of what you did for me. I assure you I will keep all of you safe, and I will do whatever I can to make your stay comfortable.”
Dom smiled. “I can think of worse places to be.”
“Maybe at lunch,” Eames said, smiling fondly at him. He leaned down to pull off his shoes.
“Just gonna nap a minute,” Arthur murmured. His eyes sank shut. “Just gotta get rid of the somnacin.”
“Whatever you need, darling. I’ll be here.” Eames settled in next to him, reclined against the black headboard. He pulled his tablet from the nightstand and began to click through.
“Mm,” Arthur replied, intelligently.
But then Eames’ hands were working their way up his back, warm and slow.
“Eames?” Arthur asked, hesitantly.
“Shh,” Eames cooed. “Let me take care of you.” Arthur sighed out a quiet breath as Eames’ fingers dug into his tired muscles. He was exhausted, but he was a little more awake every second. Eames was a heavy, solid weight on his ass, and Arthur could feel the firm heft of his cock pressing against the line of his trousers. Eames rocked his hips, and Arthur bit off a moan. “Arthur,” Eames sighed, moving and urging him to roll over. Arthur complied, meeting Eames in an urgent, forceful kiss. Something in the back of his brain was pinging, alarmed at the suddenness. Years of pent up longing quickly overrode it.
“Eames,” Arthur gasped against his lips. He trailed his fingers across the naked skin of Eames’ sides. “When did you—“ but Eames was sliding down, hurriedly undoing the zip and button of Arthur’s trousers. Arthur only had a few shocked seconds before Eames swallowed him down, gripping Arthur’s hips tightly, and working his hot mouth around his shaft. “Oh,” Arthur whimpered. Eames’ naked ass bobbed in the air, and his erection idly dripped onto the knee of Arthur’s pants. He hollowed his cheeks, sucking waves of building pleasure through Arthur’s body.
Eames crawled back over him, kissing him harshly as he wrapped demanding fingers around Arthur’s spit-slicked cock. “Arthur,” Eames moaned into his ear. Then, completely composed, “Arthur, love, are you alright?”
Arthur snapped his eyes open. Eames was reclined against the headboard, fully clothed, reading his tablet with his glasses propped on the end of his nose. “Are you alright?” he asked again.
“I’m fine,” Arthur grunted. He turned his head away, blushing furiously, and thanked the stars that he was often a stomach sleeper. Never in his life had he had a more vivid or realistic feeling sex dream. “Done napping,” he muttered, standing carefully. He kept his hips angled out of Eames’ line of sight.
He really should have known that would only be suspicious.
“Arthur,” Eames purred. “Were you having a sex dream?“
Arthur scowled. “Not a normal one,” he growled.
“Well, at least we know Yusuf’s compound is good for something,” Eames leered. Arthur shook his head and headed for the bathroom. “Think of me while you’re in there, darling!” Eames called.
You have no idea, Arthur thought, blushing furiously.
“Uncle Arthur!” Phillipa cried. Arthur knelt down and smiled as she crashed into him.
“Hey Pip,” he greeted softly, brushing his palm over her golden hair. “How are you liking Japan?”
“Mr. Saito says we’re just down the street from Hello Kitty’s vacation home,” she said, somewhat conspiratorially. Arthur glanced up at Saito, who was settling into a chair and pointedly not looking.
“Is that so?” Arthur asked. He glanced at the window, and caught Eames’ reflection smiling at him, fondly.
And then James climbed into Saito’s lap.
There is an unwritten rule in every family that nobody is allowed to get a kid a gift card or cash as a birthday present. Supposedly, this is because that’s super impersonal and thoughtless. Really, it’s because that gift instantly trumps all of the other gifts. Cash is king. Arthur hummed quietly, amused and a little jealous. James wasn’t too young to figure out which side his bread was buttered on. Arthur helped Phillipa into a chair and sat down beside her. Eames settled in next to him, maintaining their usual careful balance.
Saito, meanwhile, looked both baffled and terrified. He held his hands aloft as James settled in, resting one awkwardly on the boy’s back.
“Hi,” James said.
“Hello,” Saito replied. A small, affectionate smile grew on his face. His eyes slid to Dom. Arthur watched the same smile grow there as well.
“Hmm,” Arthur hummed again.
Eames followed his bouncing gaze. “Oh my,” he said, under his breath. “That’s an interesting turn of events.”
“How are you feeling, Arthur?” Yusuf asked, dragging Arthur’s attention away from the telenovela at the end of the table.
“Fine,” he replied. A member of Saito’s staff placed a large bowl of udon in front of him, and his stomach lurched. He bit off a gag. “Mostly fine,” he amended.
“What happened?” Cobb asked, frowning.
“The usual trouble with testing,” Yusuf replied, smiling jovially.
“Arthur ralphed all over Yusuf’s shoes,” Ariadne added.
“We’re eating,” Arthur protested.
“I will buy you a new pair,” Saito said to Yusuf, earnestly. Ariadne elbowed him.
“Thank you,” Yusuf muttered. He looked back at Arthur. “Any other side effects pop up?”
“He had some very interesting dreams,” Eames volunteered. Arthur stomped his foot under the table, and Eames cursed.
“Go on,” Yusuf encouraged.
Arthur glared at Eames. “Just very vivid,” he growled. “And unusual subjects.”
That part was a lie, of course.
“Well the good news is we won’t be needing any new compounds,” Dom said, wiping his chin with a cotton napkin. He looked to Saito, expectantly.
Saito shifted James around on his lap. “As you are aware, you are here because Peter Browning has been looking into our influence over Mr. Fischer. He had tracked down Ms. Campbell when I had all of you… evacuated to my home.” Arthur looked at Ariadne, alarmed.
“Stop,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“They found your home?” Arthur asked, horrified.
“I’m fine,” she insisted.
“Thanks to Saito, that’s true,” Dom added. Saito looked like he was trying not to preen.
“So what do we do?” Arthur asked.
“I will take care of the problem,” Saito said. My men are already working on it. Within forty-eight hours, Peter Browning will no longer be of any concern.”
“And you’re gonna let that happen?” Arthur asked, turning to Dom. “You’re okay with it?”
Dom frowned. “Arthur, this one’s not up to me. And even if it was, I’m not sure there’s another way. He knows where Ariadne lives. He could find any of us. We could try to incept him into not looking for us, but that’s all we could do, and it’s too much of a risk.” Arthur frowned. He didn’t disagree, per se, but he hated the idea of blood on his hands.
“Hey,” Eames murmured, elbowing him gently. Dom and Saito were discussing the details of Saito’s plans, but Arthur honestly didn’t want to know. Not now. “Browning’s no civilian. He knew the risks when he started looking into this. It wasn’t his company to keep.”
“I know,” Arthur said, softly. “That doesn’t make this feel any less like collateral damage.”
Eames reached under the table and quickly squeezed Arthur’s knee.
“I hope you will all make yourselves comfortable,” Saito said. “My home is open to you. Perhaps this will be a vacation.”
“Can we go see Hello Kitty?” Phillipa asked.
“We can meet her in town in a few days,” Saito promised. Arthur had no doubt he would find a way to make that happen.
“Do you mind if I continue to use your facility?” Yusuf asked, carefully. “I understand we don’t need to dream. But your resources are very impressive.”
Saito nodded, curtly. “With the understanding that I will want to know what you create,” he said.
Yusuf grinned. “If I’m successful, everyone will want to know.”
“We’re gonna fly,” Ariadne said, gleeful.
“You can’t fly in a shared dream,” Cobb said. “The projections will riot.”
“Your body knows better,” Arthur added. “As soon as you remember you’re dreaming, you’ll fall. Dream over.”
“I think it’s worth a shot,” Yusuf shrugged.
Arthur ate his udon slowly, processing the information overload and working around the unpleasant churning in his gut. “You’re being paranoid,” Eames muttered into his soup.
“Stop reading my mind, Eames.”
The second was the knife. The knife and the stabbing. It probably shouldn’t have been a surprise that the knife was stabbing things, but it was, and it was in Arthur’s hands. There was blood running around it, where it was embedded in Eames’ stomach. “Jesus!” Arthur cried, pulling his hand back. The knife came with it, as Eames squeaked out a yelp. “Oh, shit!” Arthur hissed. He tried to press his hands against the wound. Instead, he pressed the knife in again.
“Arthur!” Eames cried, panicked and desperate. He staggered out of the bed. “Fuck!” he choked. Arthur followed him. He pulled the knife out and stabbed in again, wringing a strangled grunt from Eames. The knife was slick with blood, rattling in Arthur’s shaking hands.
Eames dropped to the ground, and Arthur followed, dropping the knife. “Oh no,” he moaned. “Oh, no, no, no—“ Arthur patted his pockets, pulling out his die. He rolled it in the rapidly growing pool of blood. Three. “God! No— no, nonono,” he patted at Eames’ face. “No, Eames, come on, come on, wake up.”
“Arthur,” Eames groaned. Arthur’s eyes snapped wide.
But then the world shifted, and Arthur was blinking in the lamp light. “Arthur, wake up!” Eames barked, shaking Arthur’s shoulder. Arthur bolted upright. He grabbed his head, a little dizzy. He looked over, and Eames was staring at him, sleepy and concerned. “Arthur, what the fuck? Are you ok?”
“Oh my God,” Arthur moaned. He shoved Eames back on the bed, pushed up his t-shirt, and pressed his palms to Eames’ stomach. He kneaded, feeling for wounds or scars. Finding only the typical awful tattoos, he curled up, laying his head to rest on Eames’ whole, uninjured abdomen, and he sobbed. Eames hurriedly threw his arms around Arthur’s shoulders and gripped.
“Shh,” Eames whispered, rocking Arthur gently. “Arthur, darling, no— no, don’t cry.” And Arthur rolled away from him, curling further in on himself as he wept. It was half fear, half embarrassment. “Get your totem, love,” Eames urged.
Arthur shook his head, scrubbing at his eyes with his hands. “I did that. You were dead and I rolled a three.”
Eames chose to ignore that Arthur was trusting him with the workings of his totem, and focused instead on the dream. “I’m not dead, Arthur. I’m right here.” He rubbed a warm hand down Arthur’s spine.
“You don’t understand,” Arthur said, voice hoarse. “All I know is if I’m dreaming, it’s my dream. Nobody’s trying to take anything. But you were dead, Eames. I killed you,” he whimpered.
“Well, you didn’t,” Eames argued, laying down to meet Arthur’s gaze. “And you wouldn’t, because I brighten your life.”
“How did you get here, Arthur?”
Arthur frowned, thinking. “I remember going to bed,” he said. He glanced at the clock. “That was about two hours ago.”
“And before that?”
“Before that… I brushed my teeth, and so did you, and that was after we sat on the balcony over the hot springs and drank sake with Yusuf.”
“Keep going,” Eames encouraged.
Arthur swallowed. “Before that, we played some pool, and we had sukiyaki for dinner.”
Eames kept stroking his back. “And you’ve probably still got some of whatever Yusuf gave you in your system. You’re okay. I’m right here, and I’m fine, and I’m not going to let mmph—“
Arthur kissed him.
He pulled back, and Eames met Arthur’s wide-eyes gaze with one of his own. “Shit,” Arthur whispered.
“Keeping watch?” Dom asked, lightly.
Arthur spared him a quick glance. “I fucked up.”
Dom walked to the window. The forest was still dark, and honestly, not much to look at. “What happened?”
Arthur sighed. He closed his eyes. “I kissed Eames.”
Dom squinted. “And you didn’t like it?”
“Of course I liked it,” Arthur groused, rolling his eyes. “This is gonna ruin everything.” He dragged a hand over his face.
Dom turned towards him, confused. “Why? You and Eames have been after each other for years.”
“No. No, we haven’t.” Arthur gripped his own arms a little tighter. “There was a time when they might have been true, but— God, Dom. I’m in love with him. And even if you’re right, that’s not what he wants out of this.”
Dom slid his hands into his pockets and looked back at the forest. “I think it would be smarter to let him decide that. Just because you’ve spent a lot of time in each other’s heads doesn’t mean you know everything.”
Arthur took a long breath. “Can I use your shower?”
Dom sighed. “Sure. Want me to go find you some clothes?” Arthur just looked at him, a little desperately.
That was how Dom himself knocking on the door to Arthur’s room at six thirty. Eames yanked it open almost immediately. He looked frazzled, worried. He also looked like he hadn’t slept. Dom wondered how it was possible for two people of their intelligence to be this dumb.
“Why is Arthur in my room showering right now?” Eames’ face fell. He sighed.
“Hell if I know,” he grumbled. He stepped back to let Dom in. “I think Yusuf’s latest experiment isn’t agreeing with him.” Eames sagged down into the bed and watched the floor. “He was having nightmares last night. After I woke him up, he did something I think he didn’t mean to, and then,” he shrugged, “gone. Without a goddamn word.”
Dom eased further into the room. “Well, he seems to think he screwed up and did something you didn’t want.”
Eames looked up at him, hair askew, eyes bright and tired at the same time. “Dominick, I have been in love with that man for a full third of my life. Anything he asked of me he could have in an instant. He didn’t run out of here because I didn’t want it.”
“You didn’t go after him?”
“There was no point. Arthur’s a grown man. He knows what he wants, and I’m not going to pressure him into anything.”
Dom sighed. He rubbed his eye with one hand. “You’re both idiots.”
“One could say the same about you and Saito,” Eames growled.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Dom said, voice dark. Maybe Saito was being a little familiar. And yeah, maybe Dom was more alright with that than he would have expected. It was the intimacy and closeness of months at a long dinner table— of two grandfathers who grew up together.
It didn’t mean anything.
“Did you have a purpose in coming here?” Eames asked, flatly.
“Arthur needs clothes.”
“Top drawer,” Eames said. He stood and walked for the bathroom. “Good talk, Cobb,” he snapped, pulling the door shut behind him.
“I’ve solved the problem,” Yusuf announced, looking fairly smug. Dom turned to him.
“Well,” Yusuf admitted, “we still need to test it. But I have high hopes.”
“Xanax,” Ariadne blurted.
“Something analogous to Xanax,” Yusuf corrected.
“You really think that will work?” Eames asked. Out of the corner of his eye, Dom saw Arthur slip out of the room. He stood to follow.
“Arthur,” Dom whispered harshly, voice echoing off the hallway walls. Arthur stopped, but didn’t turn around. He let Dom catch up to him. “You need to fix this.”
“I can’t,” Arthur huffed, staring at the floor.
“You can,” Dom said, firmly. “You need to tell him how you feel.”
“It’s never been the right time,” Arthur said.
Dom blinked. “What?”
Arthur looked up at him. “I wanted to tell him when Mal died. Dom frowned. “I didn’t feel like I could keep it in anymore, after that. But then—“ Arthur let out a frustrated sigh. “It just wasn’t right. It was her funeral, and then we were running.”
Arthur shook his head. “I don’t mean it’s your fault. I mean it just didn’t feel right. ‘Hey, I’ve got feelings for you, I’ll see you in six months.’” He looked down the hall toward the dining room. “It was never right. Not once was it ever the right time. If he felt the same, it’s been too long now.” He rubbed a hand across the back of his neck. “Usually it’s easier to deal with, but we’re in pretty close quarters here.”
Dom nearly growled in frustration, filled with impotent confidences. He felt extremely prepared for Phillipa’s teenage years. “You don’t know how he feels unless you ask,” he said.
Arthur met his gaze, sharply. “So, you and Saito, huh?”
Dom blanched. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Arthur sighed, deflating. There was a defeated look in his eye that Dom didn’t love. “Don't be dumb about it, Dom. We don’t get infinite chances.” Dom squinted. “You’re sure he’s safe?”
He looked away. “Arthur, I can’t explain it. I feel safer here than anywhere else. Safer with him than anywhere else.”
Arthur smiled, softly. “Then do something about it.”
Dom shook his head. “I don’t know if he’s even attracted to men. I don’t know that I am. But Kenichi is—“
“Kenichi?” Arthur grinned.
Dom grimaced. He punched Arthur in the shoulder. “I don’t know that it’s like that,” he summarized. “I don’t know if I’m ready.”
“In my experience, that kind of thing is fluid. You won’t know unless you try. You can wait for the right moment, but you’ll always be waiting. You have to take the risk,” Arthur said. He sighed, looking away. “Eventually, the waiting is too long.”
“A leap of faith,” Dom murmured.
“Something like that,” Arthur agreed.
Arthur was dwelling on the silent day they’d spent, surrounded by the others, broken up only by strange glances passed between them. He was still thinking about it when Eames arrived —and of course he would be here too— and he removed his towel and slipped into the water. Traditionally, men in Japan did this naked. Eames was never one to buck the local traditions. Arthur watched his very well-built form slide into the dark water. He swallowed. He sank a little further in himself. He pretended he couldn’t see Dom watching him.
“Mr. Eames,” Saito greeted. Arthur hoped this was the kind of thing where people stayed quiet— where it was polite to just soak and meditate.
“I am curious, Mr. Eames,” Saito began as Eames settled into the water. “What is it like, living your life as someone else?”
Eames frowned. “That’s not easy to describe,” he said. “You ever get a peek inside someone’s window as you drive past? Just a flash of a lamp and a table. Somebody’s mum making dinner.” Saito nodded. Eames looked away. “I find that absolutely terrifying— an intimate look at people you’ve never met, a fragment of a life you’ll never be a part of.” He paused. “But that’s what I do, isn’t it? That’s forging. I take a small piece of somebody’s life and I inhabit it, for just a moment. And then it’s over.”
“I couldn’t do it,” Dom said. “I mean, I actually can’t forge, but even if I was able to, I don’t think I could handle it. I don’t know how you don’t lose track of reality every day.”
Eames shrugged. Arthur stared at him. Arthur knew. Eames could keep track of reality because Eames was the best. Eames knew exactly who he was, well enough to know exactly when he wasn’t.
God, Arthur thought he would actually kill to have that kind of certainty.
To his right, Dom was very poorly trying to secretly eye Saito. Arthur would admit Saito was a little fitter than he’d expected. Still, he could only imagine what was going on in Cobb’s head. He looked up at the stars, bright this far away from the city. The snow was steadily falling. The evening had every sign of lapsing into the kind of quiet, reflective time Arthur had hoped for, but he didn’t have it in him. He stood. He pulled a towel from the wall beside him and wrapped it around himself as he moved to exit the water. He heard sloshing behind him— Eames was leaving too. Arthur wanted to pull him closer, wrap them both in something warm. He wanted to bicker over absolutely nothing. He wanted to fall asleep in Eames’ arms.
He wanted to kiss him again.
He had to fix this.
Arthur stood still, allowing Eames to catch up as he pulled on a yukata. He frowned. Eames looked over at him, his face a mask of concern. “I want to talk,” Arthur said. “In the room,” he added. Eames nodded his agreement.
“I’ve wanted to kiss you for years,” Arthur said instead.
Eames started. “Your messages are a little mixed, darling,” Eames groused. “First you kiss me, then you storm out of the room and ignore me all day.” He moved into Arthur’s space, cold water droplets running down his chest.
“I’m sorry,” Arthur said.
“What do you want from me, Arthur?” Eames asked, face deadly serious.
Arthur swallowed. “Everything,” he whispered, harshly.
Eames’ face softened. “I’m gonna need a little specificity,” he whispered.
Arthur sighed, looking down. “I’m in love with you. I have been for years. You don’t have to—“ but Eames was pulling him into his arms and tilting his chin up, blue eyes boring intensely into Arthur’s. “Eames?”
“Arthur, I love you,” Eames said, like it was simple. “I would do anything for you. Anything.”
Arthur’s heart was pounding. His eyes flickered to Eames’ mouth. “Then kiss me,” he said. Eames did. He ran his cold hands into Arthur’s wet yukata and pushed it to the ground. Arthur wrapped his arms around Eames’ neck and held on, knees in danger of weakening.
“Darling,” Eames whispered against his lips.
“Bathroom,” Arthur said, kissing him again. Eames didn’t argue, separating long enough to remove his sodden towel and walk into the en suite. Arthur’s mouth went dry at the sight, and at the evidence of Eames’ quickening arousal. He followed him in, drawing Eames’ face back for another kiss after Eames started the tap in the jacuzzi tub. Eames’ tongue flickered against Arthur’s lips, and Arthur let him in, willingly. He slid his hands down Eames’ naked torso, then pulled away long enough to remove his wet swim trunks. Eames let out a small moan as his eyes followed Arthur’s movements. “I can’t believe this is happening,” Arthur whispered, dragging his fingertips across Eames’ face.
“I can’t believe it took us this long,” Eames replied. He held out his hand and helped Arthur into the filling tub. The jacuzzi was huge, big enough for three people, and deeper than a normal tub. They sank in carefully, and Eames pressed Arthur into the wall as the jets started. Arthur dragged him down for another kiss, feeling the hot water rising and flowing around them. He ran his hands across Eames’ skin, grabbing his ass and pulling him closer. They both hissed as their erections slid together. “Arthur—“ Eames breathed. Arthur reached down to take Eames in hand, gratified by the sound Eames made in return. “Oh fuck,” he choked.
Arthur stroked, his hand firm despite the slipperiness of the water. “This is only the beginning, Eames,” he promised. Eames kissed him, harshly. He batted Arthur’s hand away and took over, gathering Arthur’s length against his own and jacking both at once. “Shit,” Arthur hissed. “Eames—“ Eames kissed him again, one hand cradling the back of Arthur’s head as the other moved between them. Their legs tangled together in the tub, and the hot water bubbled and sloshed around them. Arthur reached down to assist, moving his hand in time with Eames’, hips jolting as he neared his end. “Eames,” he keened, “I’m gonna—“ and he did, spasming and writhing in Eames’ arms. Eames stroked him through it, following after him quickly. Arthur pulled him down into the frothing water and wrapped his arms around Eames’ shoulders as they caught their breath.
“I love you,” Eames rushed out. He ran his fingers through Arthur’s wet hair and kissed him again. Arthur smiled up at him as he pulled away. “Holy fuck, I love you.”
Arthur was never going to let him go.
“This is it!” she called to the ground. “You did it!” and Yusuf whooped with joy. He looked around the ground, but the projections were just walking by. It was a perfect day, filled with sunlight and blue skies.
It was perfect flying weather.
“Ariadne!” Yusuf called, as she circled the park. “How did you get here?”
She grinned, floating in a circle, just because. “We plugged into the PASIV!” she called.
“You’re dreaming!” Yusuf shouted.
“I know!” she yelled back.
It was a lovely day for flying, and Yusuf’s projections couldn’t care less. It was also an imaginary day, and that meant nothing to Ariadne. Yusuf grinned, secure in the knowledge that he was a fucking genius.
You’ll always be waiting.
He knew the door when he found it, primarily because there was a bodyguard settled in across the hall. The man looked up, expressionless. “I need to see Saito,” Dom said. “It’s important.” The guard sighed, put out. He nodded. Dom knocked on the door.
For a minute, he didn’t think Saito was going to open it. He crossed his arms. He second guessed everything. He thought about walking back to his room, and nobody would know about this but the guard. Nobody would really know about this but Dom himself. The door squeaked open. “Mr. Cobb?” Saito greeted, confused.
“I need to talk to you,” Dom said, urgently. Saito stepped back to let him in. He let the door shut behind him. He was dressed in just a yukata. Dom resolutely didn’t stare.
“What’s on your mind?” Saito asked.
“You,” Dom answered. He swallowed. “Look, this might be crazy, but I think you and I work well together.” He shifted anxiously on his feet.
“We do,” Saito agreed, brow furrowed.
“I think we could work well in other ways, too.” Dom held Saito’s gaze, refusing to back down. Saito hummed.
This was Saito. He was the most dangerous man Dom knew, but also the safest. He had the capacity to shut electricity off for half the globe. He’d gotten Dom back to his kids, and now he was protecting them. Besides— it wasn’t like he hadn’t experimented in college. Everyone experiments. He maybe wasn’t ready for much, but Mal wasn’t coming back, and more than that, there wasn’t a woman on the earth who could hold a candle to even her memory.
Saito understood that. He understood the importance of memories, and the value of time together, even if it wasn’t strictly real. Saito was the only person besides Mal who ever really understood him.
He took the leap. He leaned in and kissed him, holding Saito gently at the elbow. Saito remained still for several moments, and then tentatively, he kissed back. Dom pulled back. “Is this okay?” he asked, breathless.
“Yes,” Saito said, completely composed. Dom tried again. Saito joined in quickly this time, bringing his hands up to carefully bracket Dom’s hips. Dom raised his own hands to Saito’s face, and awkwardly realized he was kissing him like he’d kiss a woman. He wasn’t really sure how (or if) it should be different, so he kept going, cautiously flitting his tongue against Saito’s lips. The older man let out a startled grunt, but opened up. He grasped Dom’s hips more tightly. Saito pulled back, cheeks flushed. Dom panted.
“What are we doing?” Saito asked, quietly.
Cobb searched his eyes, taking in their unusually rattled appearance. “Being young men together,” he breathed.
In an instant, Saito was on him, pressing Dom back into the wall, hands running up his sides. Dom gasped, running his fingers into Saito’s short hair. One of Saito’s hands slid down to his ass and Dom felt his cock twitch in appreciation.
You’re never too old to learn something about yourself.
Saito’s arms wrapped firmly around him, and Dom felt like letting go— like floating away, adrift and safe in Saito’s grasp. Saito’s lips moved down his throat and Dom groaned.
At once, Saito pulled back. “What are you doing?” Dom asked, breathlessly. “What’s wrong?”
Saito raised a hand to his cheek. “Nothing is wrong, Dominick,” he said. He pressed another gentle kiss to Dom’s lips. “This is too important to rush.”
Ariadne snapped the last vial of somnacin shut and slid it into the carrying case. “I bet you could come back,” she said. “As long as Saito can own whatever you make, I bet you’ve got free rein.”
Yusuf sighed. “Maybe.” He wandered idly, fingertips tracing the melamine counters. “I’ll just miss it.”
“What’s your lab like?” Ariadne asked, eyes bright.
Yusuf glanced up. “Full of cats.”
Ariadne smiled and ambled closer, the somnacin case swinging freely. “I like cats.”
“Would you like to see it?” Yusuf asked, a little hopefully.
“Come on,” Ariadne said, slapping him on the elbow. “We’ve got more flying to do.” She grinned.
“Yeah,” Yusuf agreed, smiling. “We definitely do.”
He hesitated. “I want you to have this,” he said, carefully. He held his hand over Saito’s and dropped Mal’s top into it.
Saito frowned. “This is—“
“Yeah,” Dom sighed. “It is. But she made this for safety. It kept her safe, until I took that from her.” He swallowed. “It kept me safe, in a way, while I was running.” He looked away. “You said you can’t always tell this is reality. That’s what this is.” He looked back to Saito’s worried eyes. “I don’t want to lose someone else to that uncertainty. I don’t want my kids to. Mal made this for safety. I want you to have it, to keep you safe.” Saito slowly lowered the top to the table and spun it, experimentally. “Look,” Dom sighed. “I’ve got baggage. A lot of it. And I’m not sure I’m really ever going to be ready to ‘move on.’ But it’s nice to be able to just trust somebody. You make me feel… comfortable. It’s not something I’m used to, these days.”
“I will admit this is not my usual type of affair,” Saito murmured.
“It might be worth it,” Dom shrugged. “If not, I guess we’ll both learn something.”
“I believe it is worth a try,” Saito said.
“California’s not that far away,” Dom said, smiling softly.
“No, not when you own an airline,” Saito agreed. He looked behind Dom, where James and Phillipa were running down the hall. “But first,” he chirped, “I believe we are meeting a certain Ms. Kitty at the cafe.” Phillipa grabbed his hand, grinning.
Arthur turned, leaning his forehead against Eames’. “I’m alright,” he said. Eames was right— it was freezing. The snow was falling more heavily, blanketing the forest in silence. They needed to leave soon if they wanted to make it back to the city. Arthur was more than ready to get out of Saito’s territory. “I’m afraid of what happens next,” he admitted.
“Why is that?” Eames asked softly.
“I don’t know what it is.”
Eames laced his fingers with Arthur’s. “It’s whatever you want it to be. If you want to leave this here in the mountains, we can. If you’re not done with it, we could go to Hokkaido. Take a real vacation.”
“Hmm,” Arthur hummed. He slipped his arms around Eames’ waist and let his head fall to his shoulder. The thought of walking away was unbearable. He’d wanted this for years, and never allowed himself to dream it was possible. “I don’t want to leave it in the mountains.”
“I don’t either,” Eames agreed, softly.
Arthur pulled back. “I’m worried— I think I’m worried that if we haven’t crashed and burned yet… we won’t.”
Eames looked in Arthur’s eyes, searching. He stroked a thumb across Arthur’s arm. “Would that be so bad?”
“No,“ Arthur said, emphatically. “I can’t believe it, but no.”
“Aren’t you tired?” Eames asked. “I’m exhausted.” He shook his head. “For the longest time, I’ve wondered what it would be like— slowing down, really getting in bed with someone. If I’m being honest, I always imagined it would be you.” Eames looked away, eyes following a rabbit in the snow. “Being with you here— I’m not disappointed, Arthur. We don’t have to decide the rest of our lives this minute. What I can say for sure is this—“ Eames turned back to him. “I want more.”
“Let’s go to Hokkaido,” Arthur said, resolutely. “Let’s see where this goes.” He leaned in and kissed Eames, gently. It felt like a promise. “I’m not done with you,” he whispered, eyes flitting to Eames’ mouth. “And you still need that extractor training.”
“Find us somewhere with a private hot spring, and you can teach me to extract however you want” Eames purred.
“Oh, it’ll have a private hot spring,” Arthur promised.
Eames lifted a hand to his face and kissed him again. He swiped his thumb across Arthur’s cheek. “Let’s go pack.” Arthur took his hand and smiled.