amfiguree: (inception)
[personal profile] amfiguree

Title: All Roads Lead to You
Pairing: Arthur/Cobb, Eames
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Mild violence.
Word count: ~5,000
Summary: Post-Inception. After a job goes wrong, Arthur and Cobb have to deal with the fall out. Sliiiiiiiiight crossover with TSN.
Artist: The incredibly, impossibly, ridiculously talented [ profile] amorpheous. The second I saw her art, I knew I had to have it. My favourite movie AND Chinese culture? Match made in heaven. And then when she told me she was going to make A FANMIX, my love was sealed. and then it turns out SHE DID, LIKE, A BILLION PIECES, oh my gosh, a billion FANTASMICAL pieces, and i am just -- HEARTEYES FOREVER, OKAY. FOREVER AND EVER AND EVER. SO RUN AND TELL THAT, GUYS. And then douse Morphy in all the love and appreciation in the world~
Special thanks: This would not, in any way, shape or form, have been possible without the most lovely, fantastic, MIND-BLOWINGLY AMAZING [ profile] bloodbelieve, who went far beyond the call of world's best beta to cheer and hand-hold and REWARD WITH AMAZING FIC. ilu, bb. i would be the styles to your ace any day of the week! ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

It's not until their third practice run winds up with them pressed back-to-back against each other in the middle of a forest, circled by thirteen gun-wielding blood-thirsty projections, that Cobb thinks this is a problem.

The red thread is still twined between them, knotted at their wrists, wound tight around their bodies before spiraling down into a tangled pool at their feet. Arthur's straining against the cords, fighting it, but Cobb doesn't even try to pull free.

He's just thankful they're standing.

(Their second trial run they wake up in the Sahara, swallowed by grit and sand and even more thread, and Arthur dislocates his shoulder trying to rip them both free. They stay tangled till the projections - militarized, Jesus, the most militarized Cobb's seen Arthur in their entire partnership - roll up in tanks and start firing.)

(Their first had been messier still.

Cobb tries not to remember how it felt, that beat of holding his insides in his hands.)

"Arthur," Cobb says. "This has got to stop."

"Yeah," Arthur says, nothing but grim calm as he reaches for his guns; it's a lost cause with the string and their immobility and their being outnumbered six to one, but that's never stopped Arthur before. "I'm looking into it."

He'd said the same thing before, Cobb realizes. Both times.

Arthur doesn't like repeating himself.

"What are you not telling me?" Cobb asks, sharply. The projections steal more ground as Arthur stiffens, snipers lining up against the horizon. "Arthur--"

Then there's an explosion of gunfire and blood and the world winks out.

"Arthur," Cobb repeats, later, sitting up as Arthur rolls up the wires and puts them away with too much focus for a routine job.

Arthur doesn't let him finish. "All I know," he says shortly, as he turns away, "is that Yue is somehow involved with this. And that a week isn't enough time to become an expert on Chinese culture."

None of that is new information. They hadn't chalked up to coincidence the fact that everything had gone to hell only after the Yue job the first time they'd discussed this either. Cobb doesn't point that out.

"If you need help," he volunteers instead.

"It's fine," Arthur says, without looking around. He moves towards the reading room, his own makeshift workspace ("temporary," he'd said, when they set it up, but it's been ten months since inception and he's still here, and Cobb is grateful for it). "You need to get Philippa from school. And James has a playdate in an hour."

"Or you could get them," Cobb says. "And I--"

"My way, Cobb," Arthur interrupts, sharply. "You agreed. It's my way, or we don't do this."

Cobb pushes a hand through his hair and swallows the urge to argue. It's not going to get him anywhere. "Fine," he says, shortly. "Just let me know if you--"

The door to Arthur's office shuts with a quiet, decisive click.

Cobb represses the urge to kick it in.

Logically, Cobb understands what Arthur's trying to do when he nods at James and declines to join them for dinner.

Logically, he's grateful for the time he gets to spend with his children.

Logically, he should be paying more attention to them instead of trying to simultaneously listen - through a wall - in on Arthur's phone conversation.


There's a thump from Arthur's side of the wall; the third in as many minutes.

"Daddy?" James says, and Cobb pauses in his logical efforts to drive his cutlery through the base of his plate. "Is Uncle Arthur okay?"

Cobb tries on a smile, leans in to kiss the top of James' forehead. "He's fine, sweetheart."

Another thump, and Phil looks up at him with wide eyes. "Are you sure?"

She looks worried. So does James, his tiny fists clenched around the silverware.

Cobb spoons more spaghetti onto a clean plate and says, "I'm absolutely sure. But why don't you check, just in case?"

Phil nods, and he lifts her off her seat - he'll never admit it, but he takes any excuse these days - and tries not to watch her approach Arthur's door from his place at the table.

"Is it important?" Arthur snaps, when she knocks, but he opens the door all the same, mouth pinched thin. Tired.

"We made you dinner," Phil says. There's no missing the way Arthur softens.

"Thank you," he says, too-formal, but he takes the plate she holds out to him.

"You're welcome," she says, craning her neck up to look at him. "Do you want to eat with us?"

Arthur hesitates, then folds into a crouch to meet her. "I can't tonight. I'm busy."

"Oh," Phil says. "With what?"

"It's just work. I'm trying to figure something out."

"Oh," Phil says again. "Can I help?"

Arthur laughs, but then he catches Cobb looking and rises stiffly to his feet. "Not this time," he says, formal all over again. "But thank you for dinner, Philippa."

"Um," Phil says, but Arthur's already shutting the door. She turns to Cobb, then, helplessly, till he spreads his arms for her.

He watches Arthur's door over her shoulder as she settles into his lap to finish her dinner.

It stays closed.

Cobb jerks awake, later, to the buzz of his phone vibrating on his bedside table. He gropes for it, blindly, groaning as the book he'd been reading slides off his chest and onto the floor. His neck twinges uncomfortably when he stretches too far. He'd been sitting up, listening for--but midnight had come and gone without a sound. Then one o'clock. Two. "H'lo?"

"Is Arthur with you?"

Cobb slumps back against his pillows. "Eames?"

"I'll take that as a no, shall I?" Eames says. "Odd. I distinctly remember demands to call back in an hour."

"Eames," Cobb says, glancing blearily at the clock. "It's 4.25. In the morning."

"Is it really?" Eames sounds genuinely surprised. "I realized it was late, but I didn't think it was that late."

Cobb pinches the bridge of his nose, trying to catch up. "What - where are you?"

"China," Eames asks, somehow sounding torn between impatience and amusement. "Why on earth would Arthur ring me if I was anywhere else?"

"Why--" Cobb starts. And then he realizes this must be about Yue. "Wait, what do you--"

"Have you two stopped fucking?" Eames interrupts.

Cobb chokes on a lungful of air. "What?"

"I only ask because he's being more intolerable than usual, and if I didn't owe him that favor from Bulgaria, he wouldn't be getting this call at all."

"Is that Eames?" Arthur says, from the doorway, and Cobb startles.

Arthur's expression is pinched when Cobb looks up, his head bowed and his brows knit. "Yeah," Cobb says; they aren't the right words, but he isn't sure what those are anymore. "He said you asked him to call."

Arthur nods, moving further into the room. His vest is open, Cobb realizes, tie hanging loose around his neck, sleeves rolled up to his elbows. There are dark, bruise-colored smudges under his eyes, impossible to miss even in the dim glow of the table lamp. "I'll get that," he says, slipping the phone easily out of Cobb's hold. "Go back to sleep, Cobb. The kids will be up in a couple of hours."

Arthur makes to leave, but Cobb says, "Hey," and reaches for him, catches his wrist. Arthur freezes, but Cobb sees the tension drain from his shoulders almost instantly. Cobb's pulse slows almost in response, and it's only then that he realizes it's been staccatoing all night, erratic, unsure. "Hey," he says again. "You okay?"

"Are you?" Arthur counters, but there's no sting in it, just concern.

"I'm fine."

"Not in any pain?"

Cobb frowns, but Arthur's just looking at him, and he shrugs. "My neck is killing me; I've been sitting up all night."

Arthur lets out a quiet exhale, and it sounds like relief and resignation both. "Arthur," Cobb says, but Arthur just shakes his head, flashes Cobb a rare smile. Less rare these days, Cobb reminds himself. At least--they were, up till two weeks ago. Till the Yue job. Till the thread.

"Goodnight, Cobb," Arthur says, when Cobb doesn't speak up again, and turns out the light.

Cobb falls asleep to the sound of Arthur saying, as he slips out the door, "Eames? Yeah, did you--that's because I said an hour, not an hour and twenty-three minutes."

The house is silent the next time Cobb wakes. When he walks out he's greeted by an empty kitchen and a note on his work desk, wedged between the pages of his planner.

Following up on a lead, it says. I could be gone a while. Spend some time with the kids. I'll check in when I can.

"Goddammit, Arthur," Cobb says, to no one, as he balls the note and tosses it.

He can't even pretend he's surprised.

It takes less than two hours for James and Philippa to notice Arthur's absence. It takes even less for them to start asking questions Cobb can't answer.

Cobb offers to take them to the park.

Phil loves the swing set, and James has just learned to swing on his own (a milestone, Cobb thinks, and, gratefully, I didn't miss it). They declare one of the park benches a prime swing-watching location, and Cobb parks himself on it.

He tries not to think about the fact that it's the first time since the Fischer job that he's been here without Arthur.

They'd come to the park every day for a month after Cobb made it home. He'd wanted to make up for lost time, and the children were just as eager. He'd relearned them, cataloguing the changes - Phil felt heavier in his arms, James never wanted to be held as long - and drinking it all in. This, he'd thought, this is all I need.

It'd been true then, it still is, but it had barely been two months after that that Arthur had caught him staring out the kitchen window and said, "I got a call about a job."

"I'm retired," Cobb said, but he couldn't ignore the way his pulse kicked up a notch.

Arthur raised an eyebrow, head tilted. "You're restless."

Cobb let out a huff of laughter. "I'm listening."

"It's an easy job," Arthur said. "Standard training. The client lives twenty minutes away."

Cobb nodded, but Arthur raised a finger before he could speak. "If we do this, Cobb, we do it my way. Non-negotiable."

Cobb leaned back in his seat, wet his lips, drummed his fingers against the table. Arthur didn't waver. "Fine," Cobb said, at last. "When do we start?"

"Daddy!" Phil shrieks. When Cobb looks up, she's waving at him, hair streaming out behind her like sunbeams. "Daddy, you're not watching!"

"Of course I am!" he calls back, and he feels his chest swell when she tips her head back and laughs.

The children are important. They're everything. Going back into the field doesn't change that. But Arthur had been right: Cobb's restless. Building isn't the same here.

Nothing is, when you know there's potential for more.

The client, Mark, calls three days later demanding an update.

Cobb hasn't heard from Arthur at all.

"Are you saying there might be a delay?" Mark asks.

"I'm saying it's a minor possibility," Cobb says. "If that. My partner--"

"What your partner does is none of my concern. I am a very careful man when it comes to expenditure, Mr. Cobb. Now I'm paying an exorbitant amount of money for your expertise, and I expect to see results. Delays are not an option."

Mark hangs up.

Cobb scrubs a hand over his face. The jobs haven't been frequent, or regular, and Arthur's taken charge of most of the planning. It's been ten months since Cobb's had to think about anything but designing levels.

He tries Arthur's number, but it's a half-hearted attempt, and he hangs up as soon as he's directed to voicemail.

He could leave a message. He could text. He could email.

Instead, he plugs an IV into his arm.

There's no thread.

That's the first thing Cobb notices when he wakes up.

Thank god.

Or--there is, but it's harmless: a thin string in a dead knot around his left wrist, trailing away into nothing.

There's a strange, unsettled urgency in his gut, and Arthur's quiet voice in his head saying left, go left, go left goleftgoleftgo--but Cobb ignores it. Arthur isn't here, left is a dead end, and he has work to do.

This first level is a house - a mansion - designed to look very much like Mark's own, with cleverly twisted corridors and Pentrose stairs to throw the projections off. It's second nature by now, and Cobb's just going through the motions, wandering from room to room correcting errors, tweaking details, testing stability, till he sees a flash out of the corner of his eye.

He freezes, remembering

(James and Philippa, in the garden, heads ducked and gleaming golden in the sunlight)

but it can't be, it can't, not after ten months without guilt or ghosts or visions of fragmented memories. He doesn't let himself wonder if that has more to do with the fact that it's been ten months since he's been allowed to be here, to be under, alone.

Cobb turns, slow, pulse racing as he steels himself for twin identical blonde heads and the sharp pang of regret.

Instead he sees--himself, slouched in the kitchen doorway, hands tucked in his pockets. Arthur's leaning against the sink, smiling, fond and relaxed, and Cobb's heart lodges in his throat.

Then Arthur's crossing the room, mouth moving soundlessly around Cobb's name, and there is red thread strewn all over the kitchen floor.

Cobb wakes up.

James comes to him later -- and when he does Cobb sweeps his totem back in his pocket, slides his foot along the edge of his bed to push the PASIV further inwards; he doesn't want any chance of the dreamspace around his family ever again.

"Daddy?" James says, settling in the empty space beside Cobb. Like his mother, his smile occupies all the room his too-small frame can't, and Cobb braces himself for the sting of watching it fade because the final answer is always Mommy's not here anymore, James.

"When's Arthur coming home?"

"Oh," Cobb says, caught off-guard. It's not a new feeling these days. "James--"

"How 'bout Thursday, Daddy?" James says. "Can he come back on Thursday? 'Cause Thursday is pancakes day and Arthur has to make the pancakes on pancakes day."

"Oh," Cobb says again, and he shouldn't be surprised they've fallen into a routine without him noticing; ten months and Arthur's been there for all of it, Cobb shouldn't be surprised at all. James is still smiling hopefully up at him, and Cobb hears himself say, "I'll ask him, sweetheart."

They establish an agreement the first time Cobb's recognized while they're on a job in Cuba and has to lay low for a couple of weeks while Arthur gets their papers in order.

Don't call me, I'll call you.

Unless it's an emergency goes unspoken.

Cobb doesn't even hesitate when he sends the text: back by thurs?

It's barely a minute before Arthur sends back: Maybe. I'll email a recipe just in case. How's the job?

Cobb falters for a moment. trial was ok, he types, eventually.

No thread?

no. lead worked out?

Cobb falls asleep waiting for Arthur's reply.

After inception, though it's a while longer before Cobb realizes it, it only takes a couple of weeks for Arthur to develop a system. Routine training and simple extractions are assigned one trial run each, more elaborate ploys are assigned two. Anything more difficult than that, Arthur declines.

They've exceeded the allotted number of trial runs on this job by three.

When there's no word from Arthur, Cobb decides to stretch the number to four.

He wakes up on the couch, and isn't surprised to see the red thread curled around his wrist again when he sits up. The time, he wanders the house with intent, takes measured steps from room to room, and doesn't even try to pretend that he's here to work on the level.

His doppleganger keeps appearing, brief flashes that never linger more than a couple of seconds, and Arthur is never far away--

(he's holding a cup of Starbucks coffee out to Cobb, his green apron just barely visible from behind the kitchen counter, a message scrawled below Cobb's name on the side of the cup)

(he's in a peace love beauty t-shirt and bell-bottoms in the garden, a Berklee scarf wrapped around his neck and a guitar case strapped to his back, and Cobb tips his head back and laugh when Arthur holds out his upturned cap)

(he's collapsed in one of the armchairs in the master bedroom, one fist pressed to his mouth, the other cradling a sleeping child against his side, but his eyes remain dark and watchful over Cobb, who's lying still and pale in bed, swathed in thick blankets)

(he's bent over the large oak desk in the office penning a letter, fingers smudged with ink, but he doesn't even pause when Cobb leans in to read over his shoulder, only shifts to make room and keeps on writing)

(he's standing at the edge of the balcony, a too-solemn picture in his black tail coat, his white vest and his matching gloves, but then he sees Cobb step out onto the veranda, and when he smiles he is abruptly recognizable again)

Left, Cobb, he hears Arthur whisper, as he steps back from the curtains, and there's that urgent tug in his gut that's starting to become all too familiar. You need to go left, go left, leftleftleft--

Cobb wakes up on the couch.

When Cobb tries calling that night, Arthur doesn't pick up.

Mark demands an answer on Wednesday, while the children are at school.

No one sees Cobb hesitating by the phone.

"The target is going to be on a plane ride to the other side of the world in fourteen hours," Mark says. "I need the job done today, or I'm rescinding my contract."

No one remembers that Cobb worked alone first.

"I'll do it."

Eduardo is exactly where Mark said he'd be - in his swanky, three-room apartment - and he doesn't hesitate to buzz Cobb in when Cobb says he's there with more forms for the depositions.

"Jesus," Eduardo says, scrubbing a weary hand over his face. For a fleeting second, Cobb sees Arthur in Eduardo's place, exhaustion written in the falling slope of his shoulders. "I thought Sunday was the last of it."

"Apparently not," Cobb says, and nods through his sudden nausea as he sets a thick stack of paper on the table.

Eduardo cracks an uneven smile. "I think I'm going to need a drink for this."

There's no thread.

Again, that's the first thing Cobb notices when he wakes up.

But there's also no Eduardo, and Cobb's head is aching.

Left, Arthur's voice says, louder now than it's ever been, and the dull throb at Cobb's temples bursts into a loud roar. Left, go left, go left now, now, Cobb, leftleftgoleft--

"Jesus Christ," Cobb grits out. When he stands he isn't sure his legs will keep him up, but there's no ignoring the voice this time so he doesn't try. His stomach lurches when he steps forward, and oh god, it's excruciating, but another step and he can breathe past the burn in his chest, a third and his vision clears.

Keep moving, Arthur says, still urgent, but quieter now, manageable, and Cobb leans into it involuntarily. Left, Cobb, keep moving left, go left, Cobb




It takes Cobb a moment to process--he blinks and suddenly he's not alone. Suddenly the world isn't spinning and his head isn't on fire and Arthur's there, Arthur is there, is close enough to touch, and there's a buzz under Cobb's skin that tells him this is real, this is happening.

Then he realizes that Arthur's on his knees, swallowed in thread and hunched in on himself with his head bowed like - like he's in pain, and Cobb reaches for him without a thought. There's a jolt when Cobb presses his hand to Arthur's shoulder, and Cobb's heart stops trying to pound straight out of his ribcage.

Arthur's brow unfurrows, and he lets out a quiet breath. When Cobb curls his fingers, Arthur sways into him like he can't help himself.

"It's about time," Eames snaps, and Cobb jerks his head up.

"Eames?" he demands, and Arthur tenses under his hand. "Arthur, what the hell is going on here?"

Arthur shakes his head as he swallows, but he doesn't move; it looks like it takes more effort than it should. "I'm fixing this," he says, at last. "How did you - you shouldn't be here, Cobb."

"For god's sake, Arthur," Eames snaps. "Stop playing the fucking martyr and tell him what's going on!"

It takes a moment, but Arthur wrenches himself from Cobb and climbs to his feet. His jaw is clenched. "Don't start, Eames."

"You're in no position to negotiate, darling," Eames says, but his voice is hard. "Clearly, this isn't getting better. You need Cobb and frankly this pathetic display of altruism isn't what I signed up for."

"Arthur," Cobb says, and if he wasn't alarmed before, he is now. "What--"

"I said I'd look into it," Arthur grinds out.

Cobb almost says, "Repetition--" but Eames beats him to it.

"Your subconscious has been an absolute shithole, Arthur, and Cobb may be an oblivious fool, but even he has to figure it out eventually."


"Eames," Arthur says, quietly, and Cobb feels his stomach knot, feels the pull in his gut at the weariness on Arthur's face, thinks about Eduardo all over again--

"Old Chinese myth," Eames says, nodding at the string. "You're soulmates."

Cobb has never been less surprised in his life.

They're silent as they walk down the hall to meet Yue. Cobb doesn't have blueprints, or a map, or even know exactly where he is, but he feels the pull, the same one that's led him here, and he knows better than to fight it by now.

He's always believed in choice, but he's starting to see that some things choose you.

"Arthur," he tries.

But Arthur's already stopping, face grim as he looks up at the imposing red doors that have appeared to greet them. "Let me do the talking," he says, shortly.

He's pushing the doors open before Cobb can even think to protest.

They step into a garden, lush and serene. A pond bubbles in the distance, and in the heart of it all is a pavilion, ornate carvings lining its pillars, a wall of golds and greens and reds. Yue looks up at them from his game of one-man chess, unperturbed.

"Ah," he says. "Gentlemen. I suspected I might see you again."

Arthur opens his mouth, but Cobb doesn't recognize the words that come out of it. Mandarin, he realizes belatedly.

To his credit, Yue only looks marginally surprised. "Very good," he says, smilingly. "You've learned well. It is unfortunate that, no matter the language, Destiny cannot be bargained with."

"I'm not--" Arthur starts. He stops, glances at Cobb like he can't help himself, and tries again, quieter, "There has to be some kind of mistake. We've been partners for a long time--"

"Hmm," Yue says, noncommittally, his eyes on Cobb. "A very long time."

"Look," Arthur says, and Cobb is distracted from that Mona-Lisa smile; there's no missing the frustration in Arthur's voice. "I appreciate the thought, but I don't need some Chinese myth running interference. This is my problem. And I just--"

"It would have remained your problem," Yue says, "if you had not gone searching forbidden places. Unfortunately--"

"I'm sorry," Arthur snaps, edgy and clearly not sorry at all. "I'm sorry we tried to extract that zodiac information from you, but we were just doing our job. And all I want to know is if there's any way we can stop this from fucking that job up."

Yue takes a sip of tea. "No."

Arthur clenches his jaw, takes a sharp breath. "Then is there a way to make the pain more manageable?"

"Wait, what?" Cobb interrupts. "Pain?"


Arthur tenses, and Cobb finds himself sliding his palm over the curve of Arthur's back. Arthur doesn't protest, but he presses the heels of his hands against his eyes for a moment, two. When he lowers them, he looks calm again. "Okay," he says, evenly. To Cobb, he adds, "We can work with this. We'll just have to stop dreaming together."

"Or," Yue says, smiling beatifically, "you could learn to accept it."

It sounds like an alternative, and any alternative is better than this one, the one with Arthur's slow, measured breaths, the tension coiled in his shoulders, his face set in stone.

"Arthur," Cobb says again, and Arthur looks at him. He tenses again, and at first Cobb thinks he's about to pull his gun--but all Arthur does is pull away. He won't meet Cobb's eyes. "Thank you for your time," Arthur manages, after a long beat.

"It's only going to get worse, you know," Yue says, and Arthur can't quite mask the way he flinches.

"There's no use arguing, is there," he says, quietly. It's not a question.

Yue looks sympathetic. "There's no arguing with Destiny."

Something in his voice makes Cobb wonder how they were stupid enough to think they could ever get the best of him.

"You're fighting something that was meant to be," Yue says, and Arthur's mouth tightens. "You're fighting very, very hard. But there are some things that shouldn't be fought."

"Well I'm going to try," Arthur says. His voice is firm, but his fingers are clenched in white-knuckled fists.

"Don't," Cobb says, reaching for him again, unthinkingly. Then Yue looks at him, and Cobb feels that sudden pull in his gut, that jerk.

Cobb wakes up.

Eduardo's leaning over him, and his jaw aches.

"Jesus, are you okay?" Eduardo asks. His eyes are wide and panicked. "You just passed out on my carpet!"

"Yeah," Cobb says. His mouth tastes cottony. "Could you just--"

He waves a hand, and Eduardo jumps to his feet. "Yeah, sure, sorry." He holds out a hand and doesn't shift away till Cobb takes it and pulls himself to his feet. "You scared the hell out of me."

"Yeah," Cobb says, grabbing the PASIV device and tucking it under an arm. "I'm sorry, I have to go. Can you just fax this to the office when you're done?"

Eduardo shakes his head, but he's saying, "Yeah, of course, man. Uh - you're sure you're okay?"

"Fine," Cobb says easily, as he heads for the door. "Runs in the family." He pauses for a second despite himself, glances over his shoulder at Eduardo, who's picked up the first stack of papers to look over. There are two empty glasses on the table, and his hands are shaking.

"For what it's worth," Cobb finds himself saying, "I think you should talk to Mark."

Arthur shows up at the house that evening after Cobb's put the kids to bed.

He looks exhausted, but he musters up a smile when Cobb lets him inside.

"I wasn't sure you'd come," Cobb says, after a long moment of awkward silence. "After what Yue said--"

Arthur's expression shutters, then, a jumble of emotions that settle into the grim determination Cobb remembers from that afternoon. "It's fine, Cobb," he says. "We don't have to talk about it."

"So why..." Cobb says, before he can catch himself. "I didn't mean--"

"I wasn't--" Arthur interrupts, looking away. "It's Thursday tomorrow. And I forgot to email you that recipe."

Cobb stares at him. His skin is humming. "Arthur," he says, but he doesn't know what comes next.

But Arthur's already shaking his head, pushing his hand through his hair as he blows out a breath. "I'm sorry," he says. "I can't - I shouldn't have come."

And suddenly Cobb remembers

(Arthur's message on the Starbucks cup: we're out of milk, grab some on your way home?)

(laughing as Arthur holds out his empty cap and says, "I don't play as well when you're around; you're a distraction and it's costing me.")

(a child with his eyes, and his smile, and Arthur's wicked sense of humor; and one other, the one he'd held as she burned with fever, too sick to even speak)

(watching Arthur pen that letter to his mother: be happy for me, for I intend to be )

(pulling a cloak around Arthur's shoulders against the stark, chill night and trying to usher him inside)

and he blurts, "I've been dreaming about you."

Arthur freezes, and Cobb shuts his eyes.

"I've - I kept seeing you when I went under."

When Cobb opens his eyes again, Arthur looks completely stricken. "Yue," he says. "We could--"

But Cobb shakes his head. "You can go back and talk till you're blue in the face; he's not going to give in."

Arthur drops into a chair, pinching the bridge of his nose as he swears under his breath.

"Arthur," Cobb says again, helplessly.

"Cobb," Arthur deadpans, but it's tired instead of wry, and Cobb sits beside him. This time he's looking for it, and he doesn't miss the way Arthur leans into him, all instinct, the way his eyes slide shut for the briefest moment.

When Cobb leans in, uncertain, Arthur does too, helplessly, and Cobb doesn't know how he never noticed.

"I don't know how to fix this," Arthur says, then, hoarsely. "I've done the research but no one knows for sure. And all Yue told us today is that it's not going to wear off."

"It's okay," Cobb says, even though it's not; there's this, and there's Mark, and there's Pancakes Day, but--

"It's okay," Cobb says again, and Arthur swallows, hard, when Cobb rests their foreheads together, but he doesn't pull away. And that's something. "We'll figure this out."
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