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Infected

 

***

‘…we will be…’

***

 

He arrives at the Kyoto Grand like a sleepwalker, experiencing the world as if through water—vision blurred, sounds muted and vibrating thickly. He thinks it might be entirely possible that he’s not touching the ground but he’s afraid to look, afraid to see—

Ito is waiting in the lobby. At attention, naturally, as if he’d been standing so all day. When he sees Saito, he rushes forward, then stops, frowning. He says something—his lips are moving—and when Saito doesn’t answer, he turns and snaps at the hotel manager, the bellboys.

Saito wants to chastise—you should always be polite when you’re not on your home soil—but his irritation drifts away even as he opens his mouth, as if the emotion has simply leaked out of his brain.

He turns to the bank of lifts and enters the first one he comes to.

They rise, ascending too quickly, and he touches the wall. Not for support, but to make sure it’s real. Ito notices, but he makes no move to help or question. Saito is grateful.

The suite, the same one he uses every time he visits the city, looks subtly different and he stops on the threshold, a rhythmic pressure building in his ears. Is it the same room? Is he still dreaming?

“Sir?” Ito finally asks, breaking Saito free of his hesitation.

Of course it’s the same room and the pressure is only the thrum of his own heart.

He steps forward.

***

He sits on the bed and calls his wife just as the sun dips behind the skyscrapers.

He’s forgotten the time difference and she’s foggy with sleep. He tries to build a picture of her in his mind and he can’t. They talk briefly—yes the trip was fine, yes, the project was completed successfully. She hangs up before he does and he stares at the phone as it beeps in protest, wondering if this will be the proverbial straw and camel. Divorce is not something he wants, if only because her father will make him pay for it.

He pushes to his feet like an old man and goes to stand before the broad chain of windows. The view is beautiful—buildings reflect the setting sun, deep blue sky darkens to black—everything is calm, serene.

It’s all false, of course. Everywhere people are lying, stealing, hurting. Each other and themselves. There’s very little honor left in the world, even within his own heart.

“Sir?”

He can see Ito’s reflection in the window. He’s standing by the small kitchen, waiting. “Yes?”

“Are you hungry?”

“No.”

“Would you like me to run a bath?”

“No.”

“Will you—”

Saito raises his hand and Ito breaks off. There’s a small noise followed by a soft click of the suite door. He’s alone. Finally.

He makes tea. Black, thick like crude oil, and takes the pot and cup out to the terrace. He sits and drinks one cup, then another. The caffeine seeps into his bloodstream, slowly, steadily. He watches the night come on.

Sometime before midnight, as he’s wondering if he’ll ever move again, he forgets and drifts off…

And he’s back. In that place of dark wood and gold leaf. Illuminated by lanterns that make haloed patterns on the sleek floor as he watches his feet take measured steps down one side of the wide table, then the…

He wakens with a gasp. And fumbles to his feet, staggering across the terrace to stand once again before the windows. The reflection is weak, but he can see enough—he examines his face, running his fingers over the smooth, tight lines of jaw and cheek.

He’s sweating, he realizes, and he feels his pulse. It’s racing, running and running and he tells himself to calm down, tells himself that it was nothing, that it was just a—

He hurries back to the kitchen and makes another pot of tea.

And doesn’t sleep for thirty-seven hours.

***

“Dad!”

“Dad!”

Dom looked up. Phillipa was on the swing set, upside down, her long blond hair trailing in the grass. He grinned and waved. She waved back and began to swing, back and forth, back and forth.

He watched, hypnotized by the movement, by his happiness and hers, until his attention was drawn back to the large sheaf of paper spread out before him.

“What is that, daddy?” James said, head bent. He was coloring in the new pad of graph paper that Miles had brought by.

“Just something a friend sent.”

“Uncle Arthur?”

“No, this is from another friend. Ariadne.”

James stopped coloring and looked up. “Ari…” he tried, faltering to a halt.

Dom smiled. “Yeah, it’s hard. Try it this way: ‘Ari.’

“Ari.”

‘Ad,’ like add and subtract.”

“Ad.”

‘Ne,’ like your knee.”

“Ariande,” James said carefully, already frowning because he heard the mistake. “Ariadne.”

“That’s it.”

“Ariadne.”

“You got it.”

He went back to coloring, picking up a soft blue crayon—periwinkle—and started in on the top, probably the sky. “She builds things?”

“She designs things.” Dom corrected, propping his head on his fist, again mesmerized, this time by his son’s focus and attention. He loved watching his children live. He doubted he’d ever get enough of it.

“Is she going to dinner with us?”

“If her plane gets in on time, yes.”

“From Paris?”

“Yes, from Paris.”

“Will Uncle Arthur be there?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

Dom smiled again. The kids loved Arthur. Which wasn’t hard. Under all that smartass and sharp wit, Arthur was a lovable person.

“Daddy?”

“Yes, James?” The kitchen door slammed. Phillipa came strolling in, her hair all over the place like a wild girl, a banana in one hand.

“Are you going to Paris?

“James!” Phillipa said, mouth full of banana.

Dom straightened up and glanced between his two children. “No, James, of course not.” He’d thought he’d cleared this up the last time, two weeks ago now.

“I told you,” Phillipa said as she pulled out the chair next to James and climbed up. “Doofus.”

“Phillipa,” Dom reproved.

“But, dad, I’ve told him and told him!”

Her voice was too strident, almost shrill, and Dom reached for her arm, holding gently. “James, look at me. You too, Phillipa.” He waited until they both were watching, then said slowly, carefully, “I’m not going anywhere for a long, long time. I might have to take a trip to the city now and then, but if I go, you’ll go with me. All right?”

They nodded immediately, but he waited until James’ eyes cleared, until Phillipa lost that pinched look. He pushed his chair back and held out his arms. “C’mere.”

Phillipa wanted to roll her eyes, he could see it, but she dropped her banana and came as readily as James. Around the table so Dom could scoop them up. And that was another thing he’d never tire of—the way his children smelled of sun and cotton and joy. He thought of Mal, of how she’d carry Phillipa around the house on one hip, saying that she smelled too good to put her down.

Grief tugged, but it was weak and it passed quickly.

“Daddy, you’re squeezing too hard,” Phillipa said against his chest.

“Sorry, honey.” He let them go. They didn’t jump off, but turned in his lap to look at the plans.

Phillipa pointed. “Is this the new room?”

“The addition, yes. See?” He traced the L-shaped extension off the north side of the house. “This is where my new work room will be, and off that,” he drew a line to the smaller room next door, “will be your new play room.”

“Will we really get our own computer?”

“Yes, but remember, that doesn’t mean you’ll be using it all the time.”

‘One, non-consecutive hour a day,’ Phillipa quoted peevishly.

He smoothed her hair back from her forehead. “I don’t want you hurting your eyes and your imagination, honey. It’s something Mommy and I both wanted, and it’s not up for discussion.”

He expected more complaints, but she just curled into his arms and nodded.

He leaned back and held them close until it was time to get ready for dinner.

***

Ariadne made it after all. Right in the middle of the appetizers; Dom looked up and saw her as she hurried into the restaurant behind a couple that were dressed to the nines. She looked like a kid next to them, like she was their kid. She saw Dom the same time he saw her and she jerked in her hand in an aborted wave.

“Finally,” Arthur grumbled, getting up to meet her.

Miles turned, smiled, and got up as well. When she got closer, he held his arms out and they hugged briefly.

There was a flurry of introductions, of, ‘Why don’t you sit here,’ and ‘No, take mine’. Finally, when they were all settled, Dom watched as Ariadne studied his children. He could almost see her thoughts written in the air between them, see the words, ‘He did this all for you.’

She looked good. She was in her last year and had to be stressed out because she’d lost even more weight and was bird thin. Arthur thought so too. He kept putting food on her plate when she wasn’t looking and each time she rolled her eyes but ate it anyway. Miles caught Dom’s eye at one point, saying silently, ‘Do they really think that we don’t know?’

Dom just shook his head.

After the food arrived, the conversation settled down as well. They talked about the plans that Miles and Ariadne had created for the house, what she was going to do after graduation, what Arthur was going to do now that Dom said no to the third project he’d proposed.

What they didn’t talk about was last year’s job. He knew that Eames was in Calais, doing God knew what. That Yusuf had just developed a new compound that he was trying to sell to the highest bidder. That Nash was lying low in Atlanta.

There was only one member of his merry band of thieves that he hadn’t heard from.

“Dom?” Miles asked quietly.

He jerked his head up. They were all staring at him. “Sorry, what?”

Phillipa tugged on his hand. “I was telling Uncle Arthur about the dream I had last night.”

“Oh, that’s right,” he said neutrally, stalling for time as he tried to remember. “It was something about playing?”

“I was wading in a stream, Daddy. And I saw a fish.”

“That’s right,” he said again, this time with a real smile. “They were swimming around your legs and nibbling on your toes.”

She nodded happily. “It tickled.”

He could feel Mile’s and Arthur’s assessing glances. Phillipa had unusually vivid dreams and it worried Miles. Mal had always brushed off his concerns, reminding him that she’d had the same capacity when she was a little girl. Something that didn’t make Dom feel any better, but there was nothing he could do about it. And the last thing he wanted was to make his daughter afraid of her own dreams.

“Daddy?” James asked. The restaurant had given him some crayons and like earlier, he was busy coloring. Ariadne was watching him draw.

“Yes, James?” He dipped his spoon into his soup.

“What did you dream last night?”

He froze, spoon halfway to his mouth, completely taken aback. He caught himself, finally, and answered as smoothly as possible, “I don’t dream very much, sweetheart.”

“Oh,” James said. And then, insistently, “But, I heard you last night. When you were asleep.”

Dom put his spoon down and wiped his mouth with his napkin. “Excuse me. I’m going to run to…” He gestured to the other side of the restaurant where the bathrooms were.

“Dom—” Miles said, half rising from his seat, and Dom waved him back. They were all staring at him, Miles and Arthur with concern, Ariadne with accusation.

“It’s okay. I’m fine.” Phillipa was glancing between Miles and Arthur, her mouth twisted with growing worry and he added evenly, “Miles, can you make sure they finish their soup?”

He didn’t wait for a response. He went to the back and was in the bathroom in front of a sink, splashing his face with water, but carefully, not wanting to get his shirt wet. He grabbed several sheets of paper towel and dried his face, looking into the mirror.

Only to stand there, staring.

Every afternoon he took the kids to the park and his skin had darkened while his hair had lightened. A false reflection of change because while he didn’t feel his old life, neither did he feel his new. He felt as if he was living in a waking limbo, waiting for the other shoe to drop, the knock on the door.

It made no sense but he knew it to be true. Just as true as the fact that, yes, he had dreamed last night, and the night before and the night before that. Each dream growing stronger and realer. A dream of…

…standing on a beach, sometime in the late morning—the colors are too softly intense for afternoon light. He’s looking down as the surf rushes over his toes, and he’s confused. He can’t be looking at his own feet because his skin has never been that dark, that gold. Something breaks the light and he looks up as a voice murmurs, ‘…we will be—’

“Are you okay?”

He spun around. Arthur was leaning on the closed door, arms crossed.

“Dom?”

“Yeah,” He said after a moment of confusion. “I’m fine.”

Arthur slowly shook his head. “Uh-huh. Try again.”

“It’s nothing.”

“Hey, you might as well tell me, because little miss nosy out there,” he jerked his thumb to the restaurant, “will ask, and I don’t want to have to—”

“Okay, Arthur, okay,” Dom snapped, leaning back against the sink, mirroring Arthur’s pose. “I’ve been dreaming,” he said slowly.

The statement was simple and simply said, but the words echoed as if he’d shouted them at the top of his voice.

Arthur’s face brightened. “Really?”

“Really.”

“Since when?”

Dom shrugged. “Since… I don’t know. Sometime in the last couple weeks, I guess?”

Arthur was silent for a moment. Then his faced changed and he straightened, as if readying himself for something bad that was coming round a very dark corner. “You know I gotta ask, right?”

“No.” Dom shook his head. “It has nothing to do with Mal. She’s gone.”

“You sure?”

Dom just tightened his lips and didn’t answer.

Arthur shrugged, his shoulders relaxing. “Yeah, okay, you’d know, after all.”

“Yeah.” He pushed away from the sink and threw the paper towel away.

Arthur opened the door, and he passed by, Dom murmured slyly, “And a fine way to talk about the girl you’re going to marry.”

Arthur raised an eyebrow in surprise but made no denial.

They hadn’t walked ten steps when Arthur tugged on his jacket sleeve. “I almost forgot. Did you hear the news?”

“What news?”

“Mr. Saito.”

Dom stopped. “What about him?”

“He’s gone missing.”

“What?”

“Yeah, it’s been in all the news. Two days ago, he divested himself of his holdings and stepped down as CEO. When the news got out, his wife announced that they’ve been divorced for almost five months. Apparently, he’s been acting strange since his trip to L.A.” Arthur voice was laced with innuendo.

Dom nodded and started walking again. At the time, there was nothing he could have done—he had to get home to the kids. But maybe he should have done a follow-up. The journey they’d undertaken together had been hard, even on seasoned travelers. Maybe Saito should’ve had someone standing by to help with the transition. Like Arthur had done for Ariadne.

He was still frowning when he got to the table. Miles looked up, eyes filled with worry, but all he said was, “Look at the drawing that James just finished. We’ve another architect in the family.”

***

The next few weeks were busy. With the kids as he got them ready for the new school year, with the addition as he began to make the final adjustments.

He tried to contact Saito, but ran into a virtual wall of silence that he couldn’t get around. All he learned, a repetition that grew old after the fourth phone call, was that Mr. Saito was unavailable and would remain so for the immediate future. Dom promised himself that as soon as his life evened out, he’d try again.

At the end of August, the kids entered school, not entirely happy to be separated from him, even for a few hours. By the third week, though, they got into the routine and no longer gave him those wounded looks when he dropped them off.

About the same time, Miles left with Ariadne, both heading back to the University. Arthur managed an entire week before following. He called Dom from the airport, saying he needed to make sure she didn’t get into any trouble. And then he hung up when Dom snorted and said, ‘Yeah, right.’

He didn’t dream again, but it didn’t worry him. Something was coming, he could feel it, almost taste it.

And since he had no other choice, he’d have to wait for it.

***

“Mr. Cobb?”

Dom altered his route and edged his way around the crew, the trucks, the lumber and equipment to where Mick, his general contractor stood. “What’s up?”

“The carpet for the playroom was just delivered, even though I told them to hold the order. We can store it as is.” He pointed to the side of the drive where a big, plastic-covered roll rested. “And make sure it’s covered, but…” He shook his head, clearly frustrated.

Dom shifted the grocery bag to his other arm. “Yeah, I don’t want to chance it getting damp.” James had developed allergies over the summer and the doctor worried that it was a precursor to asthma. “I’ll tell you what—let me move some things around in the spare bedroom and we can store it there. No one will be using it for a few months, anyway.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Cob. I’d return it if I could.”

“No, don’t worry about it. It’s not that big a deal.” He began to walk towards the front door, saying over his shoulder, “And if this is the worst problem we run into, we’ll be lucky.”

Mick smiled wryly and gave him a thumbs up.

He was almost to the porch, hurrying because he had to pick the kids up in two hours and he wanted to get some work done, when he heard a shouted, “Mr. Cobb?”

He sighed and turned back around. To find a kid of about nineteen, dodging the workmen as he jogged up the drive. He was wearing a shirt with a bright green shamrock logo and Dom muttered, “Damn,” because he’d forgotten to cancel the lawn service. Before the kid could speak, he said, “I’m sorry. You’re trying to get in, aren’t you?”

The kid looked around anxiously. “Yeah, do you want us today? I don’t think we can get the mowers through all this equipment.”

“No, you won’t be able to. Let me talk to the contractor and see if we can work up a schedule for you. I’m sorry I didn’t think of it.”

“No, it’s cool. Georgia was just worried. Because we missed you last week, I mean.”

“It’s fine. Tell her not to worry, tell her I said hi.”

The kid nodded. “Okay, yeah. Will do.”

Dom watched him go. It was one of the things he hadn’t quite gotten used to, being a single parent. He had a part-time maid, gardeners, and the lawn service and still he had trouble making it all work. Miles had suggested he retire so he and Marie could move to the States, but she wouldn’t hear of it. It was something that would take time, rebuilding the broken relationship with his mother-in-law.

He frowned, remembering their last tense conversation, and he was almost to the door when a low voice called out, “Mr. Cobb?” And even in the act of snapping a frustrated, “What?” he knew who it was. He stood there, on his welcome mat that didn’t say welcome, speechless.

Saito had been sitting on the rattan chair in the corner of the porch and as Dom turned, he slowly rose. “I hope you don’t mind,” he said, pointing to the chair, the porch.

Dom shook his head. Saito was alone, no bodyguard, no assistant. He looked much the same as the last time Dom had seen him—elegant three-piece suit, slight beard. But there was something—

Saito took a step forward. “If you are busy, I can come back another time.”

He took another step and Dom, paralysis broken, hurried forward, hand outstretched. “No, of course not.” Saito’s grip was cool and firm, just as he remembered, but up close, he could clearly see the marks of stress—red-rimmed eyes, skin stretched too tight over his cheek and forehead. “Come on in. I need to put these away.”

He held the bag up and Saito reached out. “May I help you?”

“No, I’ve got it.” He led the way. Into the cool of the foyer and down the long narrow hall, calling out, “If you feel more comfortable, you can take your shoes off.” He sat the groceries on the countertop and leaned back to look. Saito was walking slowly with his hands in his pockets, examining the house, the photos on the wall.

“No, it’s fine,” he said when he got to the dining room. “At first, I had a hard time with the Western custom of wearing shoes in the house, but I’ve gotten used to it.”

“The other is better, though, in general,” Dom said, keeping his eye on Saito as he put away the lettuce and avocados. “Better for your floors, your carpets.”

“Better for your feet,” Saito added, finally coming to a halt by the dining room table. He touched it briefly, as if for support and Dom’s heart sank.

But he just agreed casually, “I suppose so.” He folded the bag and stuffed it under the sink. “Can I get you something to drink?”

“Water?”

Dom got a glass and ran the tap. A heavy silence settled between them, like the invisible force of two like-minded magnets. He shrugged off the uncomfortable feeling and handed the glass to Saito.

Who drank it down, slowly, as if he’d only just learned how and was still unsure about the process. When he was done, he carefully set the glass on the countertop and turned to the windows. The stillness grew.

Dom could hear the workmen as they called out to each other, could hear their radio above the hammering and sounds of destruction. He waited for Saito to ask him about the work, but he just stood there, staring out the window.

He propped an elbow on the counter and asked, “How’ve you been?”

Saito opened his mouth, then closed it. “If I say ‘well,’ you’ll only know I am lying.”

“Yes.”

“When in fact, I am not doing well.”

“Arthur told me you’ve dissolved your company.”

“Arthur,” Saito repeated, a very faint smile bending his lips. “How is he?”

“Fine.”

“And the rest? Eames and the girl, Ariadne? Is she also fine?” Saito asked, looking away as if in pain.

Dom hesitated, then said abruptly, “I know what you’re asking and you need to remember that we all handle things differently.”

“Yes.”

“And it’s not a weakness to be disoriented after going as deep as we did.”

“Yes.”

He reached out and touched Saito’s shoulder, feeling like he was talking to a ghost. “When was the last time you slept?”

Saito tipped his head to the side and frowned. “I can’t remember.”

So not good. “You need to sleep.”

Saito shook his head sharply. “I can’t.”

“Yes, you can,” Dom insisted, leaning forward, close enough to hear Saito’s ragged breathing, his little swallows as he fought his demon. “You can sleep here. I’ve got a guest room. It’s safe. I promise.”

Saito finally met his glance. He shifted from side to side and the afternoon light struck the side of his face, making his eyes a rich, gold brown. “You promise?”

But his expression was asking another question and in that moment, Dom realized what was so different about him. Gone was the casual arrogance, the calculated reserve. In its place was a vulnerable helplessness that shouldn’t be so disturbing, but was.

Without breaking contact, he reached into his pocket and brought out the bronze top. He held it up to the light. “You know what this is, right?”

Saito swallowed thickly. “Your totem, yes.”

“Then, here, watch…” Dom reached around him and spun the top. He knew what the result would be, but even he sighed when it lost velocity, skipped on a gnarl in the wood, and fell to its side.

“See?” He gripped Saito’s shoulder and murmured, “It’s safe.”

“Safe,” Saito repeated, his voice was weak, as if he was about to drop dead.

“Come on.”

Dom led him to the back bedroom and opened the door. It was small, decorated with a soft green paint, lined by windows that let in the sun. It had been Mal’s favorite place. In the winter, she’d curl up on the window seat, saying that at least here it was still summer.

Saito looked around, then bent over to remove his shoes. He tucked them neatly against the wall.

“Is this okay?” Dom asked.

“Yes.”

“You’ll sleep good here. My wife always did.”

Saito sat on the bed, hands on thighs. “Yes.”

“I have to pick up my kids in about an hour, but I’ll check on you before I leave.”

“Yes.”

“I’ll ask the guys to be quiet, but they’re right in the middle of the demo and it might be noisy.”

“It will be fine.”

“Okay.” He hesitated. “And if you wake up while I’m gone, don’t go, okay?”

“I won’t.”

Dom left, closing the door softly. He stood there a moment, palm on the smooth wood, then went back to the kitchen. He’d have to let Mick know the guest bedroom was off limits, but there was more than enough space in the other rooms for the carpet. His own bedroom was plenty big, now that he was alone.

He scowled and got out the cutting board.

He was chopping up an apple for the kids’ after-school snack when a thought came to him. He put the slices on a plate, and carried it to the bedroom. He knocked, but there was no answer and when he opened the door carefully, he found Saito, on his side facing the door, already fast asleep.

***

“But, daddy,” Phillipa wheedled, “why can’t we go see? Maybe he’s awake now.”

Dom shook his head. He had already checked five times, and Saito hadn’t moved an inch. “And maybe he’s not, so you sit right there.”

“Daddy—”

He knelt down next to her. “Honey, I appreciate that you want to see if he’s okay and I think it’s sweet that you want to give him your breakfast, but that door stays shut. He’s very, very tired. Okay?”

She nodded, not happily, and he got to his feet. James had finished his breakfast and was already drawing.

“Daddy?” he asked.

“Yes?”

“Is he really from Japan?”

“He really is.”

“Can he speak Japanese?” This from Phillipa, talking around a mouthful of toast.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full, and yes, of course, he can.” He sat down and picked up his fork. “Just as German people speak German and French speak French.” He took a bite—the eggs were a little too salty, but at least he was learning. The first time he’d made scrambled eggs, he’d burned them so bad, they stuck to the pan and he’d had to throw it away.

“But we’re Americans and we don’t speak American,” Phillipa pointed out. She was smearing jam on her last piece of toast, concentrating on covering every square inch.

“No, we speak English. That’s because America was founded by the English.” An over-simplification, but there was time for British Imperialism and Amerigo Vespucci when she got a bit older.

“My friend Lu-lu doesn’t. Her mommy is from Kyoto.”

She had a hard time pronouncing it, and he hid his smile. “That’s a big city in Japan, so she’s Japanese. At least partly.”

“Lu-lu is going to Japan next year to visit her grandma. Can I go with her?”

“We’ll see.” James had stopped drawing and was watching the two of them, head propped on his folded arms.

“Which means, ‘no,’” Phillipa sighed.

“No, it means, ‘we’ll see.’ Your grandpa has been invited to speak at a convention in Tokyo in the spring and I was thinking we’d go. All of us,” he added for James who was starting to look anxious.

Phillipa, though, had brightened and she leaned over eagerly. “What’s Kyoto like?”

“Very beautiful, very crowded,” came a low, accented voice from the hall.

They all turned. Saito was leaning against the wall, not as if he needed support, but as if he were simply tired. His eyes were puffy and a thin crease bisected his cheek. Probably from the sheet or pillowcase.

Dom stood up, oddly nervous. “Hey.”

“How long did I sleep?”

He looked at his watch. “Almost eighteen hours.”

Saito raised one eyebrow and repeated, “Eighteen?”

“I guess you were tired.”

“I guess so.”

“Can I get you breakfast?

Saito closed his eyes and shook his head.

“Then, here…” Dom pulled a chair out. “Have some coffee, at least.”

Saito nodded and came forward, not quite shuffling, but walking as if his legs weren’t quite working yet. He sat down the same way, gingerly, experimentally, and placed his hands on the table.

“What’s your name?” James asked.

“Oh.” Dom said, remembering. “Kids, this is Mr. Saito. He and I worked together last year. Saito, these are my children, Phillipa and James.”

Saito nodded gravely.

James nodded back, just as gravely, but Phillipa said, “Is your first name and last name the same name?”

Dom paused as he got a cup from the cupboard, trying to work it out but Saito answered before he could.

“No. My surname—my family name—is Saito. My first name is Masahiro.”

“Masahiro,” Phillipa repeated.

“That is correct.”

She cocked her head and said thoughtfully, “It’s pretty.”

And Saito, obviously caught by surprise, bowed his head, smiling briefly. “Thank you.”

Phillipa blushed and smiled back. “You’re welcome.”

Saito turned to Dom, and this time he smiled with his eyes as well.  “You have charming children, Cobb.”

Dom sat the cup down, then poured the coffee. He turned back to the kitchen, pausing to tweak Phillipa’s hair. “Not so charming when you get to know them.”

“Dad!” she objected, making the word a lot longer than it actually was.

“Don’t ‘dad,’ me and anyway,” he added, patting his pockets for his totem and his keys, “we’ve got to run or you’ll be late. C’mon, shoo.”

They shooed. Dragging their heels a little, clearly fascinated with their guest, they got their backpacks and headed for the door. Dom paused in the hallway. Saito was watching him, coffee untouched.

“If it were me,” Dom said, “I’d go back to bed, but do what you want. Just don’t go, okay?”

Saito nodded, just as gravely as before. “Okay.”

***

He hurried. Driving the speed limit to school, breaking it on the way back, trying to beat the construction crew. But traffic interfered and by the time he pulled through the gates, the men had arrived and were scurrying about like ants.

He jumped out of the SUV, waved to Mick, just missing a wheelbarrow full of cement. When he got inside, he strode to the dining room. And stopped.

Saito wasn’t there. The cup of coffee was still full—Dom touched its rim as he passed by on his way to the back bedroom.

He was sitting on the bed in the same position as the day before, only this time he was facing the windows. Dom leaned against the doorjamb and crossed his arms.

They stayed that way for a while until Dom couldn’t stand it anymore. “You don’t think this is real, do you?”

Saito took a breath to speak, then hesitated before murmuring, “I want to believe.”

Dom made himself move. Mal had preferred simplicity and there was only the bed and the window seat. And somehow, he couldn’t sit on the bed, so he went to the window seat and sat down.

He clasped his hands together and watched the floor, wanting to give Saito his privacy. “What happened last year?”

“Do you mean the day I realized I was bored and very little in my life held any meaning or the day I realized that nothing was real?”

“Let’s start with the first.”

Saito made a face—a moué, Mal would have called it—but spoke readily enough, “I used to believe a man had only one life and he owed it to his country, his family, to make the best of that life.”

“Yes.”

“Even if that meant deceit, even if that meant force.”

Dom nodded. He knew Saito’s business dealings verged on shady—it would’ve been a surprise if they hadn’t.

“I’ve never murdered anyone, but I’ve put them in the position to be…” Saito struggled for the words, then shrugged. “In a position they didn’t want to be in.”

An obnoxious buzz, probably a table saw, broke the quiet and Dom raised his voice when he asked, “Like Nash?”

“He lived.”

“If you call hiding out in Atlanta, afraid to make contact with your friends and family, ‘living.’

Saito finally looked around. “Don’t you hate him for what he did to you? For his betrayal?”

Dom shook his head. “When you go where I’ve gone, you realize there’s not a lot of room for hate, for revenge. And betrayal—” He shrugged. “Nash had reasons for what he did. They were probably stupid reasons, but still…” He shrugged again.

“And what about regrets?”

Dom heard the echo of a labored breath, of the hopelessness in the whispered, ‘an old man, filled with regrets.’ “I’ve had my share of those.”

Saito turned back to the windows. “Yes.”

Dom wanted to ask him about his regrets, but it was the wrong place. The radio had started up, louder than usual, and they couldn’t do this here. He straightened up. “Do you know what I do when I’m not happy?”

“No.”

He rose. “C’mon. I’ll show you.”

***

The drive usually took forty-five minutes. Today it took an hour just to get off the highway. By the time he turned the SUV onto the narrow road that led to the beach, it was almost an hour and a half. He thought Saito might become impatient, but he just sat there, chin on fist as if turned to stone.

Dom sighed, took the last right, and cut the engine.

Saito finally moved, peering around. “You come to the beach when you are not happy?”

“I do.” He didn’t wait. He got out and took off his boots and socks and left them in the SUV, then headed towards the beach.

He almost moaned when he stepped onto sand—it felt so good, the heat on his soles, the way the sand slipped under his feet as he made his way. It was impossible to be anything but happy out here.

He turned. And grinned. Saito had taken off his jacket and was standing at the demarcation line of pavement and beach, staring down. “C’mon!” Dom called out. “You won’t melt!”

Saito tightened his lips, then carefully took off his shoes and socks, and sat them on a rock. He bent down again and rolled up his pant legs to his knee, then stepped gingerly onto the sand.

Dom turned to the ocean and went to meet the surf as it pushed and pulled. He stopped where the sand turned dark and smiled again for no reason.

“This is what you do, when you’re not happy?” Saito asked again, his voice filled with doubt. “You walk around barefoot and get sand between your toes?”

Dom snorted and nodded to the ocean. “Among other things. Being out here reminds me that I’m alive. Reminds me that the world isn’t dependent upon me. That I can be happy or sad and the tide won’t care. It just keeps moving in and out. In a crazy way, it’s entirely peaceful.”

“Hmm.”

“It also makes me feel young. Imagine,” he turned to Saito and leaned in close, “this ocean has been around for millennia. Who knows how old all these rocks are? How old the water is?”

“You can’t measure the water’s lifespan, Cobb. It just is.”

Dom smiled and touched Saito’s arm. “Yes, but that’s my point. It is, and always has been. In an endless cycle of evaporation and rain, it continues. Do you see?”

“Except when human beings interfere.”

Dom straightened. He wasn’t getting through. “Except for that,” he said flatly as he scanned the shore, looking for a piece of sea glass he could bring back to Phillipa.

“Dom?”

He turned. As far as he remembered, Saito had never called him anything but, ‘Cobb.’ “Yeah?”

Saito put his hands in his pockets and looked out over the ocean, once more atypically hesitant. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“I’m not good company, right now.”

“I’m not asking you to be.” Dom bent and picked up a strand of seaweed. It was so beautiful; such a clean, simple design.

“Dom?”

He tossed the seaweed back to the water. “Yes?”

“I’ve been wondering—”

“What?”

“That day. I mean, that day in the first dream. In the warehouse.”

“Yes?”

“I was wondering— Did you mean it?”

“Mean what?”

“What you said about not leaving me behind.”

“Of course I did.”

“No.” Saito pushed his words away with a harsh chopping gesture. “You came for me because of the contract, because of your children.  I understand that. What I want to know is, would you have come for me anyway, contract or no?”

Dom stepped forward. “I know what you meant,” he said slowly, to make sure he was understood. “And yes, I would have.”

Saito turned from the ocean, doubt in every line of his body.

“I would have,” Dom repeated.

Saito cocked his head. “Even if it took a lifetime?”

“It did, remember?”

And whatever it was, whatever was gnawing at Saito’s soul, it bit deep. His eyes narrowed, glossy wet, and Dom remembered the warehouse, remembered looking down, thinking that he had to do something to ease the fear, the pain. Remembered waking on the plane, finding Saito’s gaze on him once more, this time shaken and amazed.

Saito took a deep breath. “You said— You told me. On that first day, in the very first dream, that a thought is like a virus.”

Dom didn’t remind him that it had been the second dream because they were here, at the slick black heart of it. “Yes.”

“That was like an infection, growing and invading every thought, every notion.”

Those weren’t his words and his stomach clenched in protest. Even though the circumstances were completely different, he couldn’t do this again. “Yes?”

Saito made a gesture, helpless and lost. “Dom—”

He stepped close enough that his chest brushed Saito’s shoulder. “What is it?”

“It’s not real.”

“Yes, it is.”

Saito threw off his arm and backed away. “No! It’s not. None of this is.” He swept his arm in a wide arc. “It’s all false, a product of my mind. I’m in a dream!”

“Saito, I’ve shown you. Back at the house—”

“I knew you would,” Saito turned on him, fierce and wild. “I’ve seen it before, remember? In the washroom?”

Dom held up his hands, as if facing a loaded gun. “No, that’s not how it works and you know—”

“No!”

“Saito, listen—” Dom grabbed him and reeled him in. “Listen!”

They struggled, staggering in the sand as Saito tried to break free, as Dom tried to calm him down. Finally, he resorted to dirty tactics—he kicked the vulnerable area behind Saito’s knee and they fell, Saito on his back, Dom half on top.

He grabbed Saito’s jaw and forced his head around. “Listen. I didn’t get it, either. Not until that last day of the dream. That no matter how long I’ve been doing this, no matter how good my imagination is, I could never create another person, not entirely. We’re too complex, too varied.” He was breathing too hard, almost panting, and he took a breath and forced the panic from his voice. “And if I can’t do it, then neither can you.”

Saito stopped struggling. “I can’t?”

“No. Tell me, except for the dreams I’ve taken you into, does this,” he shook Saito’s jaw and used his own weight to press hard, “feel like a dream?”

Saito narrowed his eyes again, but this time in reflection. He was thinking again, rationally, logically. “No,” he finally murmured. “It doesn’t feel like a dream.”

Dom let go of his jaw and rested his fingertips on his neck. He could feel his heart pounding, could feel his pulse. “I get where you’ve been,” he said gently. “I get your doubts. But you’re just going to have to take another leap of faith and trust me.”

Saito nodded. “Like you did for me.”

‘We will be young men together.’ “Yes.”

Saito nodded again and closed his eyes. “Let me up.”

Dom pushed away and got to his feet, then helped Saito up. He looked down at his pants—he was covered with sand and he swiped at it, trying to get it all off, unable to reach his back.

“Turn around,” Saito said softly.

Dom hesitated, then turned and stood there, an odd lump in his throat, while Saito held his shoulder and brushed him off. When he was done, he turned and Dom did the same for him, trying for detachment and failing.

They walked back to the car, side by side.

He picked up Saito’s shoes and handed them to him. They propped themselves against the SUV and pulled on their socks and shoes. Dom had to hide his smile at Saito’s grimace of distaste—after everything they’d just gone through, such a small inconvenience as sand in one’s shoes was a little funny.

They got in the SUV, still not speaking, and Dom turned the key and put the car in gear.

***

They’d just reached the highway when Dom said quietly, “What are your plans? Can you stay a while?”

“No.” Saito said, just as quietly. “I need to get my affairs in order. I left everything in a mess and there is much to do.”

“Phillipa will be disappointed.”

“I’ll see her again. Tell her that, will you?”

“I will.”

“Much to do,” Saito mused, stroking his chin thoughtfully. “Fischer contacted my ex-CFO. He wants to meet with me about a project, and of course, I need to do something about Nash.”

Dom shot him a quick look. “Yeah?”

“Yes. I may have divested, but I still have more power and money than I know what to do with. And I owe him a favor.”

Dom wasn’t sure what the favor was, wasn’t sure he wanted to know. Yet. “Thank you.”

Saito settled into the corner of the seat and propped his elbow on the car door. His demeanor had changed again and he was almost the man Dom remembered. “I’m not doing it just for you.”

“I know.” Dom shrugged. “But thank you, anyway.”

Saito closed his eyes and tipped his head back, smiling as he murmured, “You’re welcome.”

He was asleep a few minutes later.

***

Saito woke up just as Dom pulled into the drive. They got out and walked slowly to the house. There was a note stuck on the door. It was from Mick, saying that he needed to talk to Dom as soon as possible, that he’d run into a snag with the plumbing.

“Trouble?” Saito asked.

Dom held the note up. “Probably.”

Saito leaned close to read. He smelled of heat and sand. “Hmm. Your house is old. Older homes need care when they’re being altered.”

“Is that some ancient Japanese saying?”

Saito didn’t smile, but his eyes did. “No. I have a place in the south of France. We had to repair the roof a few years ago and ended up rebuilding the entire foundation.”

Dom unlocked the door and held it open. He shouldn’t be surprised that Saito had a home in France, but he was. “Who’s, ‘we’?”

“My wife and I. Ex-wife,” Saito corrected as he passed, too close, in front of Dom.

“Yeah, I heard about that. I’m sorry.” He closed the door and followed Saito down the hall.

His words were dismissed with a slight wave. “It was inevitable.”

“Still…”

“Yes, still.” Saito went to stand before the windows. But he wasn’t looking out—he was watching Dom’s reflection.

And just like that, the heavy silence was back, as if the space between them could actually be weighed and measured. Dom stuck his hands in his pockets and asked, “You’re leaving now, aren’t you?”

“Yes, as soon as I call a taxi.”

The pressure eased up and he leaned one hip on the table. “You can’t go anywhere in that suit. It’s a mess.”

Saito smiled. “It is. I’ve got sand in places where there shouldn’t be sand.”

“Well, we can’t have that, now can we?”

***

Dom called a taxi while Saito showered.

He went through his closet and chose the best suit he had, a pale grey Hugo Boss he’d bought a few months ago—it was a little crazy because the suit was expensive, but he didn’t like the idea of Saito traveling in less than style and he had little reason to wear it these days.

He knocked on the bathroom door and when he got no reply, he turned the knob. He kept his eyes firmly away from the glass-walled shower as he hung the suit on the door hook, but still got a glimpse of gold skin and smooth muscle. He beat a hasty retreat, telling himself that it wasn’t sweat on the back of his neck, it was just the sudden humidity.

He was slicing a carrot for the kids’ snack when Saito came out. He gave Dom a sharp look and fingered the suit’s lapel. “Beautiful. Are you sure?”

“You can mail it back to me.”

“I will.”

He cut the last carrot in two. “And will you return?”

“I have to.” And at Dom’s raised eyebrow, he added with an arch smile, “If only to see Phillipa again.”

Dom opened his mouth to say something, anything, but just as he did, a loud horn announced the presence of the taxi.

***

He walked Saito to the door. They shook hands as if they’d just completed a business deal, and he thought that was all there would be, an unexpected disappointment tightening his throat, when Saito turned around at the top of the steps and said, “Remember.”

Dom nodded, not really sure what he was being asked to remember, but maybe it didn’t matter. He waited until the taxi was through the gates, then went to find Mick and see what the problem was.

*** 

He dreams that night. The first time in almost a year and it’s not of his family or his friends. It’s not of dying three times, each time harder than the last.

It’s of standing at the edge of a wide ocean. Of standing next to a man who’s kneeling at his feet, blond hair tangled by the light breeze. He reaches down, fingertips seeking, until he touches and grips, tilting the man’s face to the sky.

Dom’s eyes are so blue, bluer than the water and he smiles up at Saito, murmuring as if reciting a lullaby or invocation, ‘And we will be young men together…’

 

 

 

fin.