A/N: Goodness, I've just been churning out stories lately. This one's a bit slashy, which is not something I usually do, but I think it turned out pretty well.
We Are All Just Stories
He realizes, as he kneels next to his Point Man's spasming body, that he's never quite gotten used to seeing Arthur dying. He feels like the sharp gunshots should be fading into silence, like the bullets peppering the space around them should be slowing down as if the air was suddenly as thick as molasses, because Arthur is dying. The Point Man has been shot twice, one bullet slicing into his abdomen while the other tore into his lung, and he is shaking and gasping, and Cobb instinctively reaches for Arthur's blood-covered hand. A dull chopping noise comes to his attention, and he turns to see a helicopter descending nearby. In the back is the regal, unmistakable profile of Saito. A bullet sings past Cobb's face, missing him by several inches, and Cobb flinches back. There is no time to lose. He pulls out his gun and levels it to Arthur's head. The dying man's eyes widen and Cobb takes a short moment to empathise. Getting shot is never the nicest way to wake up.
Arthur is gasping out something, but the sporadic gunshots and the whir of the helicopter make it difficult to hear. "See you up above!" yells Cobb, and shoots Arthur in the head. Still crouching low, he runs to the helicopter, grateful to Saito for showing up before anything else could go seriously wrong.
There is an unmistakable bounce in Cobb's step as he walks into the warehouse. He has just dropped James and Philippa off at school, and he has a challenging but interesting job ahead of him. He knows that he told Miles that the Fischer job would be the last job, but after a few months of relaxing with his children he started to feel the pull of the dream-world. However, now he takes jobs that are strictly legal, with a small chance of danger.
Eames and Ariadne are already there, which is unusual. Even more oddly, they are crouched together over Eames' desk, clearly engrossed in secret conversation. They both whip around and stare at him when he slams the door behind him, and he pauses to consider them. They exchange stares until Cobb shrugs and decides to leave them to their conversation. He strides over to Arthur's desk, pulls a couple bulky files from his briefcase, and stacks the files neatly on the already tidy desktop. "Eames, let Arthur know I want these read by tomorrow morning," he instructs, and waltzes to his own office, eager to get started on his own research.
Later, when the daylight outside has dimmed to a dark velvet blue and after Eames and Ariadne have left, Cobb surreptitiously observes Arthur. The younger man is sitting in his chair, his left ankle resting on his right knee and his pointed elbows digging into the armrests, his fingers intertwined and his expression thoughtful. He is wearing khakis and his striped shirt, and Cobb dryly thinks that it's the most casual he's seen Arthur at work. Cobb pretends to be reading while he covertly stares at Arthur. He wonders what Arthur is pondering so deeply, but at the same time is glad Arthur is so absorbed in his thoughts, because it gives Cobb time to trace his gaze over Arthur's profile, to study the other man's sharp lines and angles again even though he has already memorized them.
Cobb has been close friends with Arthur for years, and maybe that's why it took him so long to realize that his love for Arthur was more than platonic. He'd always known that Arthur was a good-looking guy, had always appreciated his wry wit, had always trusted Arthur with his family and his life, but something about Cobb's perception of Arthur had changed after the Fischer job. No longer bogged down by Mal's malicious shade, he was free to turn his romantic attentions toward others, and somewhere along the way he came to understand that Arthur was the one he wanted.
Jerked out of his Arthur-induced reverie, Cobb blinks and finds Arthur watching him with a concerned look etched on his face, with his red leather jacket slung over his arm and his briefcase in hand. "You okay?"
Cobb nods jerkily, trying desperately not to blush. He fixes his gaze above Arthur's right ear. Arthur stands there for a few seconds more as if uncertain whether to leave, and after a long, tense moment of silence he clears his throat and mutters "Good night."
"See you tomorrow," Cobb says, as Arthur slips out the door. Relief courses through Cobb and he sags in his chair. He has to do something about his infatuation with Arthur, because it's driving him nuts and it would be really embarrassing to be caught staring like a lovesick teenager. Tomorrow, he decides. He'll make a move tomorrow.
As for tonight, he thinks as he switches off the lights and goes to pick James and Philippa up from their grandparents', tonight will be one of those nights he wishes he could dream.
Cobb is puzzled. Eames and Ariadne have arrived at work before himself and Arthur two days in a row, and to top it off they're having another one of their secretive conversations. "What's going on with you two?" he asks, a serious question masquerading as joke. Eames looks away but Ariadne's gaze slides to Arthur's desk as she says "Nothing."
It's such a tiny action, just a quick flick of her eyes towards Arthur's tidy little section of the warehouse, but it makes Cobb's indescribably nervous. They've figured him out. They know how he feels about Arthur, and judging by how uncomfortable they seem about it, they don't think Arthur reciprocates. Eames seems especially fidgety about it, and Cobb thinks of the taunts and innuendos the Forger constantly aims Arthur's way, and suddenly it is obvious. Eames wants Arthur too. The thought makes Cobb flush with anger and jealousy. He grits his teeth and, not trusting himself to speak, stalks out the room. He definitely has to make his move today, before Eames does. If this is a race, Cobb is determined to win it.
Arthur looks deliciously dishevelled, which is understandable given that they have spent all day testing new compounds for Yusuf, and Arthur's chair- with the Point Man in it- was kicked over several times. The loose chunks of dark hair hang in Arthur's face, making him look softer and younger. He is packing his things for the day when Cobb shoves down his insecurities and saunters over. He leans against the edge of the desk, his arms crossed, and openly watches Arthur. The other man continues his task, not acknowledging Cobb until he is finished. "Cobb," he says, pointedly raising his eyebrow at the Extractor's proximity. A chunk of hair shifts into his eyes, the smooth curve of it directing Cobb's gaze right into Arthur's soulful brown eyes, and suddenly Cobb has a hard time breathing. "Arthur," is all he can whisper before he is leaning forward. Time seems to have slowed down; he notices how Arthur's eyes widen then latch onto Cobb's face, following the motion as Cobb moves closer. By the time the tips of their noses are brushing and Arthur's breath is ghosting over Cobb's lips, it looks like Arthur's eyes are closed. Only a faint glimmer from between his lashes reveals otherwise, and Cobb closes his own eyes and takes the plunge.
He is floating, made of air. He didn't get much sleep last night, and the sight of the warehouse revives the memories of yesterday evening. Arthur was all he could think about last night, Arthur who kissed him back enthusiastically, almost feverishly, who carded his thin hands through Cobb's hair, who let Cobb's own hands explore underneath his clothes. Cobb hasn't been this happy in a very long time, and he's so caught up in his bliss that for the rest of the morning he doesn't notice anything going on around him.
Until Eames quits.
Cobb isn't quite clear on why the Forger does it. Eames is clearly shaken, his words jarring and almost incomprehensible to Cobb, and he jabbers on about Mal and time off from work and Arthur. There's quite a lot about Arthur but Cobb can't pin down what Eames is trying to say. Then the Forger is gone, his footsteps stomping away, and Cobb tries to follow him but Eames slams the warehouse door in his face. Cobb stares, stunned, at the plain door, then slowly turns away. Ariadne is watching him with an almost fearful expression on her face; Arthur's desk is empty. He has a brief moment to wonder where Arthur's got to before Ariadne is suddenly standing beside him.
"Cobb?" she says, cautiously, as if he were liable to blow up at her for Eames' surprising behavior. He recalls the secretive conversations she and Eames have been holding. Maybe she knows what's going on. Maybe she's going to quit as well.
"What was that about?" He asks, and Ariadne looks momentarily lost.
"Well, he was upset. About Arthur."
"Arthur?" Cobb repeats dumbly. He knows he has been acting foolishly gleeful all day, and suspects Arthur was doing the same; no doubt Eames and Ariadne noticed and put two and two together. Still, he never expected Eames to take it so badly.
"Yeah," Ariadne confirms, as if it were obvious. "I mean, Eames and I...we just can't understand how you can be so happy about it."
Something is not making sense here. He thinks he and Ariadne are not talking about quite the same things. He's trying to piece it together when Ariadne sighs sadly. "Take some time off, Cobb. I think you need it." She grabs her bag and slings it over her shoulder. "And don't forget, Arthur's funeral is at 2 today."
His heart skips and his mind grinds to a halt. Arthur's funeral?
He realizes, as he kneels next to his Point Man's spasming body, that he's never quite gotten used to seeing Arthur dying. He feels like the sharp gunshots should be fading into silence, like bullets peppering the space around them should be slowing down as if the air was suddenly as thick as molasses, because Arthur is dying. The Point Man has been shot twice, one bullet slicing into his abdomen while the other tore into his lung, and he is shaking and gasping, and Cobb instinctively reaches for Arthur's blood-covered hand. A dull chopping noise comes to his attention, and he turns to see a helicopter descending nearby. In the back is the regal, unmistakable profile of Saito. A bullet sings past Cobb's face, missing him by several inches, and Cobb flinches back. There is no time to lose. He pulls out his gun and levels it to Arthur's head. The dying man's eyes widen and Cobb takes a short moment to empathise. Getting shot is never the nicest way to wake up.
Arthur is gasping out something, but the sporadic gunshots and the whir of the helicopter make it difficult to hear. "No. C-Cobb, we aren't- dreaming-"
"See you up above!" yells Cobb, and shoots Arthur in the head. Still crouching low, he runs to the helicopter, grateful to Saito for showing up before anything else could go seriously wrong.
"Who were the men shooting at us?" His voice is little more than a whisper. Arthur doesn't look at him, just continues to stare out the window at the thickly pouring rain. They are in Cobb's house; Arthur stands at the window, dressed in a suave black suit, his back to Cobb. "Cobol," he answers simply.
Cobb moves to stand next to Arthur. He doesn't say anything. He doesn't think he's physically capable of saying anything. Arthur puts his hands in his pockets. "Officially, I died from getting shot by Cobol's men. No one but Saito knows it was-" He cuts off his sentence but they both know how it's supposed to end. "He understands that you were confused." They stand silently together. Cobb thinks of Mal, falling from the hotel ledge; of Saito, trapped in Limbo for decades; of his children, now motherless. All his fault. Now Arthur is gone because of him. It's a miracle, he thinks, that he hasn't yet done anything to ruin Eames's, Ariadne's, and Yusuf's lives.
He glances at the clock. He only set the timer for a minute, and he's been down here with Arthur for almost ten minutes now. There are still ten minutes left; he doesn't think he can handle staying here for much longer. He has to leave soon, anyway. To make it to Arthur's funeral. He looks from the clock to Arthur, and a gun appears into his hand. Arthur glances at it, then looks up at Cobb's face curiously. Cobb leans over and presses their lips together in a quick, chaste kiss. He can't go any further than that, not knowing what he does now.
Eight minutes before the timer runs out. He holds the gun to his temple. "See you up above," he says softly, because it feels like he needs to say something and goodbye is too final. Arthur nods, and Cobb pulls the trigger.