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10 September 2011 @ 01:50 am
fiction: reaching my threshold 1/3  
( reaching my threshold -staring at the truth 'til i'm blind- 1/3 ) NC-17, 9615 words.
eventual Arthur/Cobb/Eames, established Arthur/Eames, Arthur/Cobb, Cobb/Eames.
warnings: dub-con, breath play, elements of bdsm, bottom!cobb

Cobb starts to feel the emptiness of his missing partner as he lives his life with his children. Strange enough though, that's the time when Arthur and Eames start to come back into his life.

Um. Thanks to my partner in crime saintdogstreet</lj> who made sense of my crap. Title from Threshold by Sex Bob-omb. This is post-movie, and not as bad as the summary I wrote makes it sound. It's about Cobb. And his life. And Arthur and Eames, who decide to woo him and give him what he needs. Also LJ keeps fucking with my cut, sorry if this goes out of whack from time to time. Urgh.


Cobb's life is different now. He no longer mingles with the black market of dream share and isn’t constantly on the run from either: a. the American law or b. other extractors out to take down his business.

His life now has nothing illegal or dangerous within its premises, unless you count that one mishap when he nearly burned the kitchen down and the amount of downloaded Disney movies he has on the laptop to appease Phillipa’s appetite.

(It’s not that he doesn’t want to purchase the movies, but Phillipa is the type to watch something once and never touch it again until she forgets the plot. If he bought everything she fancied, he’d be a lot less rich with a lot more DVDs on his hand than he'd know what to do with.)

He spends his time taking care of his children and works casually at the local library on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, providing free Maths tutoring to kids of all ages.

It’s not a glamorous lifestyle, Cobb knows that. But it’s not the worst lifestyle to have. Hell, Cobb thinks he has the right to say that he’s already experienced the worst lifestyle option of his life, and he’s keen on never reliving it again.

So he leads this normal life that’s satisfying in all aspects of parenthood but- But Cobb can’t help but notice what other people around him have. Something that he himself has lost. And he knows he shouldn’t compare his life to others- he knows that it’s foolish to do so.

But damn if he doesn’t notice all the happy couples, all the happy families playing nice around him. It makes him feel like he’s missing out.

It gives him an unpleasant feeling at the thought, and he feels even worse when he realises that he shouldn’t feel like this because he had spent 50 years with his wife and that-

That should last him a lifetime. That should make him satisfied. That should keep him content for so long that he can spend these next 50 years catering to his children.

But it doesn’t.

Come Valentine's Day where Phillipa and James give him red hearts and black crayon words, he can’t stop glancing at all the romance revolving around him. He’s suddenly too aware of the couples that pass by, suddenly too aware of how his children have stopped asking about their mother and now just stare forlornly at the full house families that plague the streets.

To say that it breaks his heart to see his children like that is putting it lightly. He feels like he’s falling apart and there’s no way to piece him back together. He feels so utterly inadequate as a father; that no matter what he can do, no matter how hard he can try, he will never be able to fill that hole in their hearts because Mal is their mother, and will forever be their beloved mother. To think of even trying to replace her- it’s unfathomable, the idea, but.

But maybe the idea isn’t to place a triangle into a square. Maybe it isn’t even about fulfilling the kids' want, but about Cobb wanting to fill the hole in his chest- not the Mal-shaped one, but the tiny hole beside it that’s been growing in size as he walks through life.

It’s grown so much that it aches every time he wakes up in the morning to make the kids breakfast, until the time where he slips into the right side of the king size bed, curled up and all alone.

-

Cobb’s mobile phone rings, a generic shrill that he reserves for callers not listed under his contacts. He spares a second to recognise that he hardly has anyone on that list, before he picks it up.

“Hello, Dominick speaking,” he says in between plating the toast and laying out the jam, butter and sugar.

A small laugh tinkles through the speaker and Cobb almost drops everything at the sound. Thankfully, he manages to get it all on the table with the phone wedged firmly between his ear and shoulder. Once his hands are free, they make their way to the back of one of the chairs, gripping it tight, eyes closed.

“So you’re going by Dominick again? That’s cute,” says the voice, clearly amused.

“Arthur,” whispers Cobb, embarrassed at how relieved and reverent he sounds in the one word. It’s not like he hasn’t talked to Arthur before, they’ve kept in touch since the Inception job- but usually through one-sided emails and texts. Cobb never has Arthur’s contact details because he changes them too frequently to keep up, so it’s a surprise to hear his voice, to have a conversation with him like this.

He coughs to clear his throat, to dispel the moment in which his tone lingers. “Yeah, I- Cobb was only-”

“For business purposes, I know. Just like how I go just by Arthur. Silly, Dom, you think I don’t remember?”

At the sound of Arthur calling him Dom, Cobb relaxes. The ‘silly’ part makes him smile slightly.

“Daddy?” calls Phillipa, walking into the kitchen, looking mix-matched with her school skirt and pyjama top. “Can I have some OJ today?”

“No milk?” asks Cobb, moving towards the fridge to grab the bottle of juice and the carton of milk.

“No milk,” confirms Phillipa, taking a seat at the table.

Cobb pours her a glass of orange juice and a glass of milk for James, who’s yet to come in. “Do you know where your brother is?”

“He’s reading his dinosaur book again,” answers Phillipa, reaching for her juice. Cobb passes her a piece of toast, and pulls the fruit mix he made out of the fridge.

“That Phillipa?” asks Arthur and Cobb had almost forgotten he was on the line.

“Yeah,” he says, getting over the shock. He sets the bowl somewhat off-centre, closer to where Phillips is sitting and she grabs for a strawberry, munching on it in delight. “Did you- you wanna talk to her? I’m sure she misses you.”

Arthur exhales, sounding like a storm on the phone. “Yeah, sure, if she wants. Ask her for me, would you?”

“Phillipa, sweetheart, daddy has Arthur on the ph-”

“Arthur!” shouts Phillipa, looking so excited, making grabby hands at Cobb.

“Arthur?!” shouts James, barrelling down the hallway, dinosaur book in tow. “Where’s Arthur!”

Cobb laughs at their antics and puts Arthur on speakerphone, placing the mobile on the table. He grabs James and plops him beside Phillipa, edging the glass of milk towards his hand.

“Looks like they both want to talk to you, Arthur,” says Cobb and Arthur does that small laugh again.

“Hey guys, hey, how are you two?”

“Arthur, hi!” they chorus and Cobb hooks a hand onto the back of their chair, gripping it firmly as the kids scrabble to catch Arthur up on everything as they eat breakfast.

-

It's coming close to June when Cobb gets an email from Miles. It’s an invitation for the kids to come up to Paris for their holiday, and a slight extension towards him as well. It makes Cobb feel weary, the whole tip-toeing he has to do around Stephen, just because Marie never really did like him.

But apart from that one problem, he thinks it’s a good idea to let the kids see their grandparents again. They’ve been such a big part of their lives that it feels cruel to cease all interactions. It’s also a good idea for them to get out of the country, broaden their horizons a bit and visit the place that Cobb truly calls home. Besides, it might be a good idea for him to go back.

Maybe he’ll find whatever it is he’s looking for.

Maybe not, but either way, he misses the beautiful place.

Cobb sends a reply in acceptance of the invitation and makes a note to book the flights and get the kids their passports.

-

Cobb is sitting on the couch with Phillipa squished by his side and James on the carpet, wrestling with his plush Pterodactyl, when his phone rings, vibrating in his pocket. He nudges Phillipa slightly and she’s not even paying attention because she’s so wrapped in Shrek arguing with Donkey. Fishing the phone out, he presses the accept button and holds it to his ear, “Hey, Dominick speaking.”

A chuckle. “Ah, so Arthur was telling the truth. I guess I owe him 5 pounds for that.”

“Eames?” asks Cobb, sitting up straight. Phillipa shoots him a glare and he puts a hand on her head, apologetic. He stands up and steps away to the kitchen where it’ll be quieter but he’ll still have the vantage of monitoring the kids.

“The one and only, looks like you win 5 pounds! Or rather- don’t suppose you could spot us a 5 so we can pay Arthur?”

Cobb laughs. “You don’t think I’m that daft, do you?”

“Spoken like a true Englishman, speaking of which, I know it’s quite early but the anniversary of your mum…”

The mention of it makes Cobb clench his eyes shut, turning away from the sunlight burning through the window. He sees the memories unravel before his eyes; the feel of linoleum floors, the smell of antiseptic and the burn of too much white.

He doesn’t realise his breaths are laboured until he registers Eames’ voice and that he’s trying to calm Cobb down from the phone.

“Easy there, Nick, calm- in and out, okay? It’s all right, it’s over, c’mon now,” murmurs Eames and Cobb sinks to the floor, back against one of the cupboard doors. He takes a deep breath and lets it all out. “That’s good, now back in. Then back out, yeah.”

“Sorry,” mutters Cobb, readjusting the phone so that it sits more comfortably against his ear. He gets back up on shaky legs and glances into the living room; everything’s still in order.

“Quite alright, mate,” chimes Eames, sounding remorseful, “I should’ve known not to mention it- or at least not over the phone where I can’t be there to calm you down physically.”

Cobb’s mind flashes to pinned wrists and lips moving against the shell of his ears. It was nothing sexual then, just a quick and sure way for Eames to bring him back to Earth, but thinking on it now…

“Yeah, I- I shouldn’t act like this every time someone mentions it.” He laughs, sounding self-deprecating, “You’d think after 20 years, I’d be over the fact that my mother died from a cancer she hid from her own son.” He laughs again, forehead meeting the solid timber kitchen bench top.

“Hey, don’t talk like that, yeah? She loved you, Nick, that’s why she did what she did.”

“And let me see her have a seizure in our own house? To follow her to the hospital- I can’t, Eames, I, the things-” He gets cut off when Eames growls, sounding livid.

“You think I don’t know? Don’t you remember who was by your side the whole time? The one who called the ambulance as soon as she fell and you had to hold her?”

Eames' voice is shaking and he’s panting into the phone like he’s forcing himself to stop talking, to not let the words spill out. Cobb chokes on an inhale and lifts his head to press a hand over his mouth, spreading his fingers to speak through them.

“I’m sorry,” he breathes, eyebrows drawn together in grief, “I didn’t mean to, D-”

“It’s alright,” says Eames, voice taking a sharp turn from distressed to peaceful. He talks as if he’s crooning into the phone, tone soothing Cobb’s fears, “She was your mother and you have every right, mate.”

“She was yours too,” says Cobb with a small smile, remembering all the times Eames would appear at his front door, bruised and battered. His mother wouldn’t say a word and would wrap her arms around Eames, fingers going through his hair before leading him to sit by Cobb.

“Yeah,” whispers Eames and Cobb almost doesn’t catch it. But he does, and a smile blooms on his face. He stands up straight and stretches, fingertips reaching for the ceiling.

“When it’s time, we’ll go visit her together. I bet she misses us,” suggests Cobb, striding back into the living room to press a kiss to Phillipa’s head and ruffle James’ hair.

The slight snuffle Cobb hears is answer enough and they stay on the phone like that, in comforting silence.

-

The holidays finally come and Cobb has his hands full on the long flight to Paris with placating a frightened James, who just won’t sit in his chair and keeps trying to get into his lap, and an overjoyed Phillipa who keeps trying to run up and down the length of the plane. He ends up using his most adorable and helpless expression to get the stewardess to play with them, plying them with answers and distractions to make the flight slightly more pleasant.

The long trek through luggage claim and customs makes the kids jittery with excitement, bursting with anticipation. When they see their grandparents they both leave his side, running at maximum speed to be enveloped in hugs.

Cobb approaches Stephen and Marie warily, moving at a more sedate pace.

“Stephen, Marie, it’s wonderful to see you again,” says Cobb and he embraces them both, feels the tension in Marie’s hold. He pulls back awkwardly and has to look away when Marie stares at him closely.

Stephen clears his throat and holds Phillipa’s hand, “Ready to see our home, children? There’s plenty of milk and cookies for the both of you.”

The kids beam wide, even when Marie shoots a frown at her husband. But Cobb can see the jest behind it and wonders when or if Marie will ever open her heart to him.

Upon arriving at the house, Cobb’s heart swells at the sight. All the memories he’s had comes rushing back and it takes everything he has not to stumble to his knees at that.

He makes it well enough to the door, budging the luggage into the guest room that’s still the same. His fingers trace the floral patterns of the bedcover to the sound of Phillipa and James laughing and munching on their sweets. He presses his palms into his eyes, as if the pain will make the storm inside his head go away.

Shaking his head, he makes his way back out and into the kitchen, taking a seat and letting James climb onto his lap.

“Thank you for the invitation,” says Cobb, reaching for a cookie and pressing it into James’ open palm.

“You know you’re always welcome here, Dom,” says Stephen even when his wife doesn’t. Cobb smiles ruefully, ducking his head, ready to lose himself in his thoughts but they’re interrupted.

“Daddy, have a cookie,” says Phillipa, standing up on her seat to shove one into his mouth.

Cobb laughs around the mouthful, hands urging her to sit back down properly. He finishes it off and accepts the milk she passes him, grateful that as tiny as she is, she’s looking out for him.

“Thanks, Pips, I feel better already!” he exclaims, wrapping his arms tight around James. “In fact, I think I might just gobble James up so I can be the strongest dad, ever.”

They both giggle loudly, and Phillipa hops off her chair to wriggle her way into the hug as well.

“Oh, I get two to eat? Om nom nom,” he says, burying his face in their hair and they laugh louder, twisting and turning in his arms, limbs flailing about helplessly. He’s laughing loudly himself and when he takes a moment to catch his breath, he notices Stephen and Marie watching him.

He flushes under their gaze, but doesn’t loosen his grip on his children.

-

The next day, they’re awake with bright eyes. They have a sedate breakfast before Marie herds the children out into the world of Paris to meet with her friends.

Stephen presses a spare key into his hand and gives him a slight hug before going off to the university.

Cobb sits on the couch, eyes shut, grip tight around the key. He feels like the walls are closing in on him, and he shudders at the cold feeling. He stands up and makes for the door, only breathing right when it is shut behind him.

He feels shaken to the core and makes a note that he has to get over the memories and the fear that follows. Maybe not today but. One day. Soon.

With the key shoved deep into his pocket, Cobb starts walking, no particular destination in mind. His feet take him through the distance of Paris; visiting familiar places and letting him take in the architecture he once admired, the scenery he once loved and the atmosphere that he once was a part of.

Stopping on the Pont des Arts and looking at the scene around him, he breathes easy for the first time.

-

Funnily enough though, as he is walking out of a café with a café au lait in hand, he bumps into a man.

“Pardon,” he says in a French lilt and freezes when he sees who it is. “Eames?” he asks, baffled, and Eames looks just as surprised to see him.

“Sugar,” starts Eames and Cobb punches his shoulder automatically. He stares horrified at his own hand, and looks up to meet Eames’ eyes. A second later, they’re laughing, stepping away from the café and standing at a discreet spot on the path.

“That just- happened by itself,” explained Cobb, both hands now wrapped tight around his cup.

“No, that was my fault. That just slipped out and- I haven’t called you that in ages. Not since…”

Not since Cobb declared that he was going by Cobb and only Cobb.

“Yeah,” says Cobb, taking a sip, “well, you can call me Dominick again but sugar is still…”

Eames pinches his cheek. Cobb smacks it away but a smile lingers on his face. It’s always good to be around Eames.

“But you’ll always be sweet to me, Nick-o. So tell us, what are you doing here in Paris? Don’t tell me you’ve been exiled from America again.”

Or maybe not. Cobb shakes his head, pushing his anger from Eames’ jibe down. “No,” he says, exhaling, “I’m here on family business.”

“Aren’t you always,” muses Eames, and he checks his watch. “Hey look, why don’t you take a walk with me?”

Cobb stares at him, apprehensive. He blinks against the beam of Eames’ smile and wonders aloud, “And what’re you doing here in Paris, Eames?”

Eames doesn’t answer, just dips his head in secret, and takes Cobb for a long walk.

They go in circles and circles until Cobb isn’t sure where they are anymore, until Eames puts a hand on the small of his back and directs him to the door of a quaint little house that’s slightly rotting on the side but still appealing with its muted pastel colours.

When they’re inside, Eames toeing off his brogues at the entrance, he catches familiar voices; voices of Arthur, Ariadne and Yusuf, and backtracks hastily. Eames catches him though; hand still pressed to his back, and pushes him forward.

Eames,” he hisses, voice low, fighting against the pressure, “I can’t! Why did you,” he turns and slaps away Eames’ hand but Eames just grins and catches his wrist.

What was meant to be a covert escape becomes a full-fledged grapple, Cobb coming within inches of grasping the door handle before Eames pulls him away again. They’re making such extreme noises that the others come looking for them, footsteps running towards their fight.

They see Cobb again, for the first time in nine months, trapped against the wall, Eames pinning his hands down to either side of his hips. His face burns red and he sneers at Eames, who playfully pretends to take a bite of his nose.

“Dom,” starts Arthur, pulling out of his state of shock and stepping forward, hand reaching out slightly, “what are you doing here?”

Cobb doesn’t answer, he just struggles further against Eames, who rolls his eyes and sighs before letting go.

“So feral,” he comments, tracing the red of the line on his jaw with a thumb, eyes glinting with amusement.

Cobb pulls away from the wall, to rub at the lingering burn on his wrists, eyes on the skin so he doesn’t have to look at anyone. “I just bumped into him on the streets,” explains Cobb, “I’m here with the kids. Just visiting their grandparents.”

“Your kids are with the professor?” exclaims Ariadne, looking delighted. Cobb raises his head to look at her and finds that she doesn’t look different at all. Though she has developed a more mature air around her, like she knows more than she is letting on, then Cobb thinks about how she’s here with Eames, Arthur and Yusuf and laughs at himself.

Of course she knows more than she’s letting on.

“It was nice to see you all,” he starts, pulling himself out of his thoughts and slipping his hands into his pockets, “but I really must-”

“You look well,” says Arthur, stepping closer and Eames moves back to allow him the space. The move makes Cobb frown, sparking a curious thought that banishes when Arthur presses a touch to his forearm. It makes Cobb smile how Arthur says it all with no preamble. He’s always been slightly more direct and open towards Cobb than anyone else.

“Yeah,” sighs Cobb, giving in to the interaction, leaning into the touch, “you too- you all do.”

The four of them beam at him, innocent smiles painted on their faces like wolves in sheep’s clothing, and Cobb sighs again. “Yeah okay,” he says, fingers playing with the metal of the house keys, “you can meet my kids.”

-

Cobb calls Stephen and informs him about the situation, glad he didn’t interrupt during a lecture. While Stephen is content with Ariadne and Arthur again, he’s always had a slight aversion with Eames. Yusuf, he’s never met, but he’s heard of.

When they get to the house, Marie looks less than happy with having strangers in her house, seated around her dinner table but Phillipa and James jump at the sight of Arthur’s familiar face, clambering all over him until they get comfortable on his lap.

After they’ve quieted down, Phillipa spots Eames and practically flies across the table to wrap her arms around his neck.

“Eamesy!” she calls, sounding absolutely overjoyed to see him.

“Ah, so you do remember me then, eh, squirt?” teases Eames, good naturedly, as Phillipa buries her face into the crook of his neck.

Cobb coughs into his hand to hide how overwhelmed he feels by the sight, and Arthur slips a hand onto the back of his neck in comfort.

“Daddy,” whispers James, in a conspiring tone and Cobb has to shuffle his chair right next to Arthur’s so James can whisper properly into his ear, “who are they?” He waves his hand at Ariadne and Yusuf, who are peering wide-eyed at the kids.

Cobb laughs and catches his hand, rubbing his thumb over his knuckles. “That’s Ariadne and Yusuf, Jay. They're good friends with daddy and Arthur and Eames.”

James squints at Eames, but seems content enough not to ask about him with Phillipa still cuddling him.

They seem hesitant in meeting Ariadne and Yusuf. Until Eames tells them that Yusuf is a brilliant scientist who knows how to make things explode and that Ariadne is super smart and loves to draw like their father. And that she makes the best chocolate chip muffins in the world.

It takes just that for the kids to be bothering them for attention, turning their adorable up to maximum in order to goad the pair into giving them what they want.

Cobb watches in amusement as they group together, talking and laughing.

Eames comes around, taking the vacant seat to his left.

“It’s getting bigger now, isn’t it?” asks Eames and Arthur huffs a laugh in response.

“What is?” asks Cobb, confused and Eames just scoots his chair closer, hand brushing the side of his hip.

“Your family, of course,” answers Arthur, leaning in close until their shoulders touch, making Cobb’s skin crawl at the point of contact.

-

The team doesn’t stay for dinner, but they promise Phillipa and James that they’ll take them out for lunch tomorrow and show them the fun places. The kids bounce like rabbits in excitement, making everyone cross their hearts and hope to die.

Cobb isn’t sure where they learnt this but he makes a note to teach them otherwise.

He sees them out, keeping the front door partly shut. They say their goodbyes and see you laters but Cobb stops Arthur from walking far with a touch to his bicep.

Arthur turns around with a curious expression and it makes Cobb shirk back a little, suddenly shy.

“I hadn’t the time to ask, but,” he says, hesitating, but Arthur seems to still be able to read him.

“Yeah,” confirms Arthur, glancing back at the group, “we’re on a job. Just a minor one, though.”

“A minor one that needs a Chemist, Architect, Point man and Forger?” he asks in disbelief.

“Believe it or not, but we have other skills too,” says Arthur, seemingly amused. “For example Yusuf’s quite apt at making strategies and researching. Ariadne is sneaky enough for extraction, Eames makes good back up seeing as-”

“And you build?” whispers Cobb, thinking about the dream-sharing world, and the joys of pure creation. He feels the itch in his mind for building whimsical buildings made of mirrors and black pearl, a gloss of high rises that reflects the sun’s light back towards it.

He snaps himself out of it before Arthur can realise his thoughts, but he’s too late. Arthur’s expression is already calculating, eyebrows drawn together as if mulling over options.

“Good night, Arthur,” he says in dismissal, hopefully quashing all of Arthur’s thoughts regarding him. He turns to walk back inside but Arthur’s fingers wrap around his wrist, tugging and pushing until he’s crowded against the front door.

“I still miss your designs,” murmurs Arthur and Cobb can’t make out his face in the darkness. The confession is a bolt from the blue, and he hadn’t realised that there are others beside himself that miss his work.

Cobb gets another surprise at the touch of Arthur’s lips against his, cool and sweet like sparkling wine. It doesn’t last long, three seconds maybe, and then Arthur is walking away from him.

Cobb doesn’t call him back, doesn’t make him explain himself. Instead he turns and rushes back inside through the heavy beating of his heart.

At night he can’t think of anything else, mind replaying the seconds until a headache forms behind his eyes, forcing him to close them. But even shutting them against the moonlight, fingers stroking through James’ hair, the memory won’t leave him alone.

-

The next day the team arrives to fulfil their promise. Phillipa and James are ready to go, dressed in their brightest colours and Cobb allows them to be released into the wild.

Eames and Arthur, though, have a problem with Cobb staying behind. They work together, hands pulling at his clothes, begging for a more appropriate dress and at the touch of Arthur’s hand on his bare hip, the memory from last night resurfaces.

Embarrassed, he gives into their whims and demands to be left alone to change. After he’s done, and approved by both Arthur and Eames on his outfit, they go out.

Phillipa and James have stars in their eyes from the beginning right until the end as Ariadne takes them to toy stores and candy stores and cake shops. Cobb can tell that she’s their favourite as she’s plied with affection but Yusuf isn’t doing so bad because Phillipa willingly holds his hand and points out the millefeuille aux fraises through the glass display.

It’s unexpected, the excitement the two have for the kids, but it’s not unwelcome.

Cobb jolts when Eames put an arm around the back of his chair, pressing a hand to his chest. “Hey,” he starts, lowering his hands to continue picking at his crème brulee.

“Hey,” Eames says and leans into his personal space, a wicked grin on his face. Cobb pulls away, not really uncomfortable with Eames’ antic but rather slightly annoyed. What is uncomfortable is Arthur sliding into the vacant seat on his other side, laying down his plate on the table.

“So,” says Arthur, picking up the silver fork to cut clean into his red velvet cake, “what do you think?”

Cobb opens his mouth to question Arthur’s question but the fork is shoved rather unceremoniously into his mouth, cream cheese icing smearing his lips.

“Looks good,” comments Eames as Cobb races to swallow, fingers coming up to wipe his mouth clean but Eames catches his hand, pressing it to the table. Cobb narrows his eyes at Eames, confused, and stays that way when Eames catches Cobb's jaw in between his index finger and thumb, tilting his head so he can lick at his lips. He kisses Cobb after, slipping his tongue right in, tasting like the coffee of his tiramisu.

Cobb freezes right up when he realises what Eames is doing, and his mouth clamps shut against the intrusion. Eames pulls away, swearing. He sticks his tongue out, eyes crossing as he tries to look down at its bleeding tip.

“What the fuck,” hisses Cobb, angry and confused, looking between Eames’ sulking face and Arthur’s laughing one.

“I repeat,” says Arthur, tilting his head, “so what do you think?”

Cobb furrows his eyebrows in thought, trying to make sense out of Arthur’s words. He thinks on the kiss from Arthur yesterday and then the kiss from Eames today and it clicks in his head.

He stands up abruptly. The chair screeches against the polished floor loud enough to attract attention. “You think this is funny?” he bites out, grabbing a napkin and wiping at his mouth, “Making some contest in confusing me? Well, ha ha.” He turns to see Ariadne and Yusuf trying to distract his kids from his outburst, slanting annoyed looks at Cobb and he feels guilty for a moment before he remembers that they’re his kids and that he has the right to be like this because Arthur and Eames is fucking with him.

Cobb doesn’t get to say any of this, doesn’t even get the chance to open his mouth, when Arthur grabs onto his wrist, just like yesterday night, albeit with more pressure that makes him pause, eyes glancing down then up.

“I said, what do you think?” repeats Arthur, looking severe, and Cobb makes an attempt to yank his arm out of the hold. Arthur tightens his grip though, pulling Cobb down until he’s seated again.

“Apologies,” says Eames, words sound slightly indistinct, “about Arthur. But you know what he’s like, Nick.” He frowns then, looking thoughtful. “Or don’t you?”

“I don’t know what you want, or why you think it’s funny to mess with me but,” snaps Cobb, taking a second to watch their faces for a reaction, but there isn’t any. They continue to sit there, looking at him as if in avid attention. He inhales then exhales. “But stop it. Please.”

The last word seems to make them crack, because Arthur’s hold loosens and then his fingers are spidering up Cobb’s arm to slip between the collar of his shirt, thumb pressing into skin below his collarbone.

“We’re not messing with you,” says Eames, spooning Arthur’s cake into his mouth, “we’re courting you.”

Cobb opens his mouth to respond to that, because what the hell? Eames says it so matter-of-factly, as if it isn’t a big deal, as if suddenly having two men, the very two who have been your friends for a long while, vying for your attention is completely normal. But finds that he can’t.

Because what do you say to that?

He furrows his eyebrows in thought, trying to make sense of it all until Arthur increases the pressure of his thumb, making his eyes flutter close.

Eames lets out an amused laugh.

“Arthur was right after all, you’re much more docile now that you’ve been partly fixed. I guess now is the right time to pursue you.”

“What are you,” starts Cobb, opening his eyes but Arthur pushes hard again and his mouth just falls shut.

Eames lets loose another laugh, setting down his spoon. “You were so volatile before you got your kids back, but look at you now.” He leans in close to Cobb, eyes dark, mouth curved into a sinister smile. “You’d be good for us now, wouldn’t you?”

Arthur takes his hand away and it’s like- Cobb can think again, he leans back and presses his lips together. “What are you talking about?”

“Remember when you did the whole shouting and pointing thing on the Inception job?” asks Arthur and Cobb frowns, trying to remember. “So obsessed about control, weren’t you; hot-tempered and unpredictable. Wouldn’t listen to a word I said, but when you had Eames against the car-”

“You were so much more meek, Nick. If it was any other situation, I would’ve had you against the cab, damn the rest,” says Eames, “I guess that means you were a pushy bottom- not so much now, I guess.” He trails a hand down Cobb’s neck and Cobb squirms away from it, reaching up to push it away.

“I don’t want to play your games,” he says, trying to maintain a façade of calm but his heart is racing, double time. Everything is rushing over him, like waves crashing violently against the shore and he can see her, see Mal cupping his face, stroking his hair, shouting at him, the wind whipping against his face, Mal telling him to move, to jump and he didn’t. He watched her drop instead, drop like a raindrop splattering against the ground, gone.

“You always needed that much more of a push than a normal person,” says Arthur, looking slightly morose.

“You’re crazy, you both are,” hisses Cobb and he stands more sensibly this time, making his way towards his kids. They whine and stomp their feet when he tells them it’s time to go home but he’s not in the mood for games, he’s adamant. He thanks Ariadne and Yusuf for looking after them, and wishes them a curt good-bye before ushering Philippa and James out into the open space of the streets.

-

Cobb doesn’t leave the house for the rest of the trip. He tells himself it’s because there’s not really anything else to do. He’s lived in Paris for ten years, there’s nothing he needs to see or visit. He’s content with drawing in the backyard, or browsing the internet in the living room.

He even tries a hand in helping Marie, an attempt to try to get on her good side but his efforts go wasted.

When the two weeks period comes to an end, Cobb is more than relieved even though the kids bawl at the airport, little fingers gripping tight to their grandparents. Cobb has to turn his head at the way his eyes water too, at the sight of Marie and Stephen not wanting to let go either.

When he turns back to collect the sobbing pair, both Stephen and Marie hug him. To have Marie, who for 10 years has never once accepted him, hold him like this; like he’s human, like he’s one of hers- Cobb can’t help the burn in his eyes, hugging her back.

-

Once he’s back in Los Angeles, Cobb restarts his routine with an added extra in the form of a babysitter by the name of Claire.

Claire is fantastic with the kids and genuinely engages with them, which make the kids, in turn, love her to bits. They also like that Claire is a bit different, sporting red bangs with her blonde hair, and that she brings comic books, video games and pastry recipes. She reassures Cobb that they’re all educational; that comic books enhance a child’s imagination, help them read and learn morals in visuals, while video games challenges their thinking, improves their problem solving skills, as baking makes them feel useful and develops their team skills. She waves textbooks at Cobb as well, as if he wasn’t convinced already, happy to help the kids with their homework or give them a jump or two ahead of their class.

Cobb compliments her on her hair, paying her a little extra when he catches the colour fading, and comments her on her glossy red boots that she probably saved up for. Claire always ducks her head and smiles wide.

He’s taken to using those free nights to go to bars, nursing his beer until the four hours are up. Though there are times when women come up to him, trailing a hand across the width of his shoulders, and press their breasts to his arm. He allows them a kiss, a touch sometime, maybe even a shudder in the bathroom, but doesn’t ask anything for himself, just gives and gives until it’s time to go home and give some more.

Tonight though, a man approaches him, discreet in his way. He strikes up a conversation first, that makes Cobb laugh, and he’s startled by the sound. After, the man takes him to the bathroom, hand on his hip and Cobb pushes him against the wall, dropping to his knees.

He goes home with a bruised jaw, stains on his pants and a number in his pocket. Even though he had felt a spark with the man, he didn’t take anything from him and won’t even call. Because though it had felt right, it also felt wrong in a way that Cobb can’t explain.

He comes home to a quiet house which isn’t really unusual, but when he calls out for Claire, she doesn’t answer back. Walking the length of the hallway, he doesn’t see her waiting at the kitchen counter doing her homework or taking advantage of his internet.

What greets him though, is Arthur and Eames sitting on either side of his sofa, outline highlighted by the moonlight.

“So,” says Arthur with a slight tilt of his head, “what do you think?”

“Fuck off,” says Cobb, shrugging off his jacket and snarling at them. Because how dare they come into his home, unannounced and uninvited, and ask him that question? The one question he has been trying so hard not to think about- avoiding every thought that tries to distract him. “And get the fuck out of my house. How did you even get in?”

“Oh, Phillipa and James were real happy to see us so they put in a few good words. It helped that we flashed her our matching rings and passports; she was absolutely thrilled to leave the house in charge of Mr. Arthur Cobb and Mr. Eames Cobb. She is a firm believer in love is all around, that child.”

“What did you tell her?” snaps Cobb, horrified when Arthur and Eames hold up their left hand and wriggle their fingers, the light catching on the silver band present.

“That I’m Mormon, and you both are my beautiful husbands,” says Arthur, holding out another ring, towards Cobb, in the palm of his right hand.

“And she bought that?”

“She had this sly smile on,” says Eames, “but basically quoted that Beatles’ song; all you need is love, love, love is all you need.”

“I can’t believe you two, when did you both get so obnoxious?” At their raised eyebrow he shakes his head. “Look, we’re friends, partners at the very least, but I don’t work anymore. I just,” he pauses, not knowing how to express himself kindly and so doesn’t, “I just want a life with my kids, you have to understand. So why don’t you leave me be?”

“Do you really want us to do that? Knowing what we can give you?” They both stand, walking towards Cobb like predators and Eames crowds his front while Arthur does the same from behind, slipping the ring into his hand before trapping the both of them against the small of his back. “We can attend to your every need, make you feel loved, make you lose control, make you lose every single thought in your head-”

“Why all of a sudden though?” interrupts Cobb, taken back by his words and he takes a step back, jolting when he remembers that Arthur is behind him.

Arthur lets go of his hands but keep them where they are with his body, arms going around his waist as Eames’ goes around his neck. He feels Arthur’s forehead press against his nape and Eames leans his forehead against Cobb’s.

“Have you seen how you look lately? Like you’re so lost that you’re not really living? Have you noticed how Arthur and I have been looking at you these past years, how we always, always forgive you- regardless.”

“No,” says Cobb, willing himself not to look Eames in the eyes, staring at the bow of his lips instead, “no. I don’t know. Why would you-” he grasps for words that make sense, that can articulate what’s going on in his head; the utter confusion, the helplessness, the denial, the want, “I’m nothing, I can’t. You’re both.”

“I like Arthur, that’s true,” says Eames, lips curving into a smile, “He’s a nice bloke.”

“And I like Eames,” says Arthur, voice slightly muffled, “He’s a… good man.”

“And you’re together, in love or dating, friends with benefits, whatever,” deduces Cobb, feeling confused. He belatedly realises that he’s being rocked side to side, Eames and Arthur moving in harmony.

“Not necessarily. Arthur really gets on my bad side- he’s full of condescension, never thinks about how brilliant I really am, hates my tattoos, doesn’t trust me.”

“Eames is hard to know, he doesn’t have a true self and he thinks only in visuals.”

“Well, thank you for continuing to point out my flaws, Arthur,” deadpans Eames. “You see that? He’s so attentive to details, sealed shut.”

“He thinks in words that revolve in full circles, doesn’t show what he feels and doesn’t bother filtering his words before he says them,” continues Arthur, burrowing closer to Cobb in a way that forces his shoulders to bend back further, fingers squashed, bicep muscles straining, but he doesn’t pull his hands out.

“And me?” he whispers instead.

“You’re the worst,” laughs Eames, “You’re selfish but brilliant, you think like an absolute nutcase, you tell the truth but not the whole truth.”

“You’re broken and slightly awkward, skittish at times; beautifully imperfect,” finishes Arthur.

“You’re not making any sense,” says Cobb, shaking his head slightly, “I’m just me. There’s nothing beautiful or attractive about my faults. I don’t deserve anything.”

“Everyone makes mistakes, everyone is selfish, no one is better than the other, because we all have our faults regardless of all the good we do but we still deserve good things. We just have to believe we do.”

Cobb can’t accept that, just can’t. The things he has done, the things that have come to fruition because he played a part, are all bad things, things that no one in their right mind would’ve done. He’s as flawed as they come and his only retribution is to make sure his children don’t turn out like him.

No one should want what he is, who he is. Not at the very least Arthur and Eames; the two men who have stuck by his side for as long as he can remember. It’s not like Cobb hasn’t thought of being with either one of them, especially on those nights where they’re working a job and they’re the only presence in the room when he’s hurting, when he’s lonely, but unlike each other, Cobb doesn’t have a history with them that’s even the slightest bit romantic.

He pulls away, sliding out from between them and they let him. He stands aside, freed hand now covering his mouth, thoughts still churning in a tornado.

There’s also the question of why Arthur and Eames are both after him when they’re already together. It doesn’t make sense. It sounds absolutely absurd.

It sounds perfect.

No, wait, scratch that. Cobb doesn’t need them, he doesn’t need anybody. He’s just in love with the idea of being loved but he had Mal and he has his kids. He’ll be fine. They might not be the one perfect happy family that Cobb wishes they could be, but they’re still a happy family regardless of numbers.

“Why don’t we give you time to mull it over?” suggests Eames, lips pressed into a straight line.

“We should’ve done that before,” says Arthur, frowning, “This is the last time we ever use one of your tactics, Eames.”

“Hey, don’t fault my plan, it worked. Sort of.”

“We shouldn’t have sprung this on you, Dom, we should’ve just- but seeing you again after so long, looking like- and you have-”

“It’s selfish to want you after Mal, but it was hopeless to want you with her,” says Eames and it’s silent afterwards, awkward even.

“We’ll let you think it through, but know we’re being honest here,” says Arthur, cutting into the quiet like a sharp knife. Cobb nods, speechless.

Arthur and Eames let themselves out as Cobb stumbles into his bedroom, hands moving to unbutton his shirt and he jumps the sound of metal hitting his hardwood floor. He looks down to see the ring on the floor and realises that he’s the one who dropped it, finger uncurling around it to get at the buttons of his shirt.

He crouches down to pick it up, and discovers an inscription on the inside. In your own time, it says in French and Cobb sets it down on the bedside table. He changes into night clothes and spends the night staring at the ring. He gives into his thoughts, thinking over everything that has happened until his head hurts.

When he turns over onto the other side of the bed, he curls up, shivering.

-

For days after, Cobb finds himself thinking about it when he’s avoided it before. He keeps the ring inside his pocket, turning it around his thumb. He mulls over how the relationship would work; how does he even know if he wants Eames or Arthur or even both? He’s been working with them for so long, to even consider this… he’s always had Mal by his side and she was the only thing he could focus on when in his vicinity. It makes sense that he hadn’t noticed their attention to him then and until now he’s been wrought with guilt over the death to even think about anything but seeing his children.

Cobb thinks about Eames first, because it’s easier to start with him. Cobb thinks about how they’ve known each other since their youth, when Cobb’s mother had taken him to London and kept him there. He remembers the snotty neighbour’s kid, reciting Disney’s Hercules lines so loudly that he stuck his head out and told him to shut up. It all started there. Then Eames had enrolled into his high school and they rolled about the grounds, spraying graffiti onto the walls and floors; Cobb would draw the background and Eames would fill it with people.

But Cobb had left, at the end of school. He flew to Paris to study, and while they still contacted each other, it wasn’t the same. And when Eames finished school, he disappeared off the face of the Earth.

It was only when he contacted his old art teacher that he found Eames had joined the British Army.

He was bitter for years after that.

He filled his time with studying, drawing and meeting with professors who were amazed at his work. He got to know Mal during that time and they became best friends.

Arthur filtered in around the time Cobb was hired by the American Army to help in Project Somnacin. He was cold and quiet, professional all the way through and while he was brilliant with research and combat, he was also brilliant with Dream Share design. Cobb bargained away his pay for the employment of Arthur by his side, offering him a ride to any course at the University.

It was when they were legal practitioners, hired to infiltrate the black market to find their mark, that they meet Eames. Eames hadn’t recognised Cobb at first, but he had recognised Arthur. He was snippy at Arthur, talked about him leaving the American Army and Arthur sniped back about Eames leaving the British Army.

It wasn’t until Arthur had him pinned to the wall, gun to his throat, that Cobb stepped in. To say Eames was surprised was putting it lightly, to have Eames act like they hadn’t stopped talking for five years made Cobb mad. He had treated Eames formally, hinting that they’d like to meet his employer, but Eames didn’t budge.

Money was what drove him, money was all he cared about, and so Cobb had to buy back his friendship. It felt cheap. And Eames didn’t stay long after.

Though they would still see glimpses of Eames as they worked, slipping in and out of the black market. More often than not, Arthur would have to dip his hand into the dark pool and wave his magic wand, summoning other players to work with them for a percentage of the pay.

Eames finally got dragged in when they locked down and needed a more precise forger. It was an awkward job, tension filling up the room that somehow dissipated the next morning, leaving Cobb confused. Arthur and Eames were no longer at each other’s throat and that made it easy to finish the job.

It was Mal who coaxed him to make up with Eames, to pull a loyal player to his side. It took awhile before they became comfortable with each other, even though Cobb couldn’t believe his eyes at how much Eames had changed, how he filled out his clothes. A phase, just a phase, he told himself. Eames was like those high school friends you were never interested until they came back better looking but still the same.

It took the Wedding, and Arthur standing as one of his groomsmen to see how good looking he was, how suits fitted him right and made him look more stern and sleek. Mal had laughed in his ear about his boy growing up finely and Cobb had shushed her with a kiss.

After that, Arthur kept with the suits, bought piles of Giorgio Armani, Calvin Klein, Cerruti, Yves Saint Lauren, Burberry Prorsum, Dior Homme that filled his suitcases.

Eames had a great appreciation for Arthur that way, but it was when Arthur started dressing Cobb up, had he started with the nickname ‘sugar’.

Looking on it now, Cobb can see pieces of the past that should’ve made it known to him that Arthur and Eames meant more than they did in regards to him. And the times that maybe- Maybe he meant more than he did in regards to them. But he couldn’t- it was just a fancy, a little appreciation on his side because Mal was his world then.

And if he can’t answer the question as to if he loves Arthur or Eames too or even just as much, well, he sure as hell can say he trusts them. With anything and everything.

Cobb mulls it all over, again and again, from every perspective like he’s analysing the architectural structure of a model, looking at its compatibility with the support, the design, the logic, the stability. There are so many elements to consider though, things so unlike architecture that it makes him dizzy.

It makes him shaky when he wakes up one morning, mind pure and hazy from sleep, to realise that there’s not really any angle that makes the whole getting together a bad idea. Besides the fact that he doesn’t love them. Not in the way they want. And maybe that’s okay, maybe-

His mind starts working again, filling blank spaces with information that hurts his head and he banishes the thought, rolls out of bed.

But the idea keeps plaguing him, and he finds himself thinking about it every time he’s not doing something, or just doing something routine. He’s thinking about it when he’s hanging the clothes up, or washing the dishes. He even catches himself lounging on the couch, contemplating, and once was late in picking up the kids because he was so lost in thought. He made it up to them with the promise of a movie at night, and from then on, keeps an alarm on his phone to remind him when to pick the up.

He tells himself that if he feels this thing called love for them, it’s because they’re his friends and if it feels more than that- well, Cobb always was in love with the idea of being in love.

-

Cobb is in the kitchen, doing nothing but sketching in the natural light when Arthur calls him.

“Dominick speaking.”

“Arthur calling.”

Cobb rolls his eyes, swinging around on his stool. “Ha ha, Arthur, very original,” he says but his insides twist, a tight feeling in the pit of his stomach. He isn’t quite sure how to react, what he should say. Sure, it's been a little over a week since he had last seen them but that doesn’t mean he’s made a decision.

He doesn’t think he ever will. The thought is daunting.

He reaches into his pocket to touch the ring.

“I like to be, every now and then,” says Arthur, not portraying any discomfort on his side, instead sounding amused, “So what are you doing? Wait. Let me guess; drawing, as usual. How has your day been so far?”

“I am not drawing,” argues Cobb, pushing the pencil and pad away and Arthur makes a disbelieving sound on his end of the line, “and my day has been fine, thank you. Sunny and so forth.”

If Arthur can be casual about all this, then he can too.

“Thinking about what to cook for dinner?”

“Possibly.”

“Nothing to occupy your time?” asks Arthur, sounding curious. “I know you’ve sent James to pre-school on a three day a week program, so you’re alone for a good three days out of the seven. What have you been doing? Got a job?”

Cobb is surprised at how much Arthur knows by heart and boggles at it for a second before realising that it’s Arthur and he will always be so attentive to details. “I’ve got a volunteering job teaching Maths on Tuesday and Thursday nights, from 4 to 8, and Claire looks after the kids during that time.”

“But you don’t do anything besides that?’

“No… I’ve pretty much been at home.”

“Doing nothing,” says Arthur.

“Doing nothing,” confirms Cobb.

“Restless, huh,” mumbles Arthur and Cobb blinks.

“What?”

“Nothing,” says Arthur, “maybe you need someone to… suggest something to you?”

“Like what?” laughs Cobb.

“Maybe you can be a be more active tutor,” says Arthur, “I know your children are home after school but you can plan things ahead during their time gone, get Claire to babysit while you go off and teach high school students or university student..”

Cobb thinks about it, it wouldn’t be bad to turn his volunteer job into a real job. “Maybe.”

“How about a university lecturer? It’s even better, you pick your times.”

“I’ll think about it,” says Cobb.

“Just do it,” says Arthur, with an air of finality that makes Cobb raise his brows. He doesn’t comment on it though, and instead asks about Arthur’s day in return.

-

Three days later, Cobb finds himself meeting with the dean of the Architecture and Design faculty, resume in hand. He’s nervous, leg bouncing up and down, the ring jostling against his keys in his pocket, and he thinks about Arthur. How if he was here, he’d put a hand on Cobb’s knee to stop it. He shakes his head to banish the thought and stands up when the dean opens the door, a tired smile on his face.

They talk business, the interview going as smoothly as it can. Cobb is nervous about any criminal records being seen on his background check, but the dean doesn’t make mention of any of it, instead he goes through Cobb’s resume, impressed.

“In addition to your qualifications and employment history, I’ve been contacted with many references for you, and each of them glowing,” says the dean and Cobb’s head snaps up, surprised.

“You have?” he asks, definitely not squeaking, and the dean nods.

“A Professor Miles has vouched for you, as well as many of your past employers- a Mr. Arthur James and a Mr. Daniel Philippe Eames for example.”

Cobb narrows his eyes at the information but nods nonetheless, smile still in place.

“I’d be happy to give you a class under our architecture history module if you’d like. We have a lecturer who’s temporarily filling the class, Mapping Pre-Modern Architecture. How do you feel about that?

Pre-Modern Architecture? Everything before the 20th century? There's nothing Cobb loves better than the classics. He nods, enthusiastic.

“That sounds perfect.”

[next]
 
 
 
forgernessforgerness on September 10th, 2011 01:21 am (UTC)
Okay, I loved Arthur and Eames' seductive moves to Cobb so much, omg. Cobb, seriously, do not reject their advances.

I love your Cobb so much, I always have. I just... he is awesome. I approve with all of my heart. And this part:

"“Looks good,” comments Eames as Cobb races to swallow, fingers coming up to wipe his mouth clean but Eames catches his hand, pressing it to the table. Cobb narrows his eyes at Eames, confused, and stays that way when Eames catches Cobb's jaw in between his index finger and thumb, tilting his head so he can lick at his lips. He kisses Cobb after, slipping his tongue right in, tasting like the coffee of his tiramisu."

Basically I CANNOT wait for the next parts. ♥
i'm a bad kid and i will survive: innocent. //Bartsketchofsoda on September 11th, 2011 11:00 am (UTC)
It'll take a bit, but Cobb will come around eventually. I mean, c'mon, who would reject both Arthur and Eames at the same time?

Thank you. Cobb's my favourite character and I try to do him some justice.

Haha. There was meant to be 2000 more word to this post, but LJ was all like NO, THIS IS AS FAR AS YOU GET MY FRIEND and I had to end it here. The next part will be up soon, don't you fret. C:
business in the front;: robbie.ofvanity on September 11th, 2011 09:09 pm (UTC)
This is fucking AWESOME. Seriously though, I love your work here and how you've built Cobb's hesitation and automatic self-preserving defense. I love how Arthur and Eames have always had this peripheral presence and how their courting is unconventional to say the least but terribly disarming. I love how when Arthur presses his thumb at Cobb's throat, Cobb is defenseless, because he wants it. I especially love that there is no qualm about domesticity, no commitment problems, nothing left unsaid.

I can't wait to see where you take this and these characters.
i'm a bad kid and i will survive: think. //Hopesketchofsoda on September 12th, 2011 12:34 pm (UTC)
I put a lot of work into this particular story and I'm glad you're enjoying the ride so far. Thank you for giving this a chance. ♥

I really don't how to respond to such a great comment, though I guess the best way would be updating- one will be on it's way shortly!