Fic: Quid pro Quo [Inception]
Character/Pairings: Arthur/Eames, Ariadne, Cobb, Phillipa
Rating: PG-13 (language)
Disclaimer: Mr. Nolan owns it all
Warnings: Character death(s)
Summary: Cobb has close to nothing left. He has only his children left to lose, and he'll be damned if he loses them too. So, stupidly, desperately, he gives up his other "children" instead.
Author's Notes: Written for the square "imprisonment" for hc_bingo and for the prompt on inception_kink : "The military contacts Cobb, and says they're willing to clear him and let him go home if he turns in the rest of his team."
In a movie perhaps, Saito gets shot and drops into limbo, but Cobb somehow - inexplicably and impossibly - goes to rescue him, bringing his mind back to the world of the living. In the best case scenario, the entire team makes it out of Fischer's mind, idea firmly implanted, the inception a complete success. In a perfect world, Cobb never has to leave his children in the first place, and Mal never dies.
Except it's not a movie, perfect worlds don't exist, and unfortunately, that's not the way real life works.
The inception, at least, has a favorable outcome - Robert Matthew Fischer Jr. disbands his father's company and goes off in search of how to become his own man; a modern day Siddhartha Gautama, the stunned tabloids hail him. Or some variation thereof. It's a breakthrough in the world of subconscious security and that should be enough to warrant going out and getting drunk on their triumph - except that they fail in the one part where it truly matters to Cobb; except for the part where the mission, this last job fails to bring Cobb back home.
Saito remains asleep, his mind lost to the vast and uncharted far stretches of limbo, his body comatose, never to awaken ever again. The business mogul is hooked up to life support and visited by countless doctors from around the globe, but Cobb knows it's no use and that small glimmer of hope within him, the chance of ever seeing the faces of his children ever again flickers and goes out. As he steps off the plane he sees Arthur's pained glance of understanding (and of apology, maybe?), Ariadne's worried look, Miles standing on the other side of the gate, waiting to take his son-in-law home, waiting...
Waiting for a train...
So he runs.
Two weeks after the job, they find him in a small cabin in the mountains of Tennessee - tired, neurotic, unshaven and depressed - a burnt out and broken down shell of a man. He's gotten sloppy, they realize. Careless. Past his optimal years, no longer in his prime. And there, seeing that he is of no further use, they give him a choice.
"It's your decision, Mr. Cobb," the stern-looking man in uniform informs him flatly as he's staring down desolately, silently, at the metal bands clapped around his wrists.
He has close to nothing left. Cobb knows this. He has only his children left to lose, and as he's sitting there, slumped in the chair, he thinks of James's lisp and Phillipa's sweet, adoring gaze (with Mal's soft, brown eyes), hears their voices calling out Daddy! like a half forgotten memory, an echo across so many years of running and regrets. He'll be damned if he loses them too. "Alright," he acquiesces without a second thought, and desperately, stupidly, gives up his other children instead.
He doesn't even ask for thirty pieces of silver.
- * - * -
They find Ariadne first, wandering about the mall in a nondescript ensemble of jeans paired with a t-shirt and cardigan, seemingly just another college girl enjoying a Saturday afternoon away from her studies. But when they casually surround her and ask for a chat, she turns dark intelligent eyes upon them and her genius shines out willfully, the light of brilliance and creation.
Her jaw clenches tight and her lips press into a thin, bloodless line, but she goes quietly, without a word, fingers clenched around a small chess piece that she absolutely refuses to give up.
- * - * -
"You didn't read me my rights. You have no evidence that I've committed any crime, and more than that, I'm an American citizen with a study visa to Paris. You have no right to hold me here." The cold coffee sits untouched in its styrofoam cup and the interrogation room is both everything and nothing like the movies. The girl's eyes are clear and guarded, showing no indication of any fear whatsoever. She doesn't even flinch when the man opposite her slaps a file folder on the table and opens it with practiced nonchalance.
"I assure you Miss Brooks, we have ample evidence as to your recent illicit activity," is the cool response, and the girl juts her chin out, daring.
"Oh yeah? Prove it."
When they tell her Cobb turned her in, Ariadne simply folds her arms and stares cooly up through her lashes at the four star General sitting across the table from her, mouth turned slightly downwards. She doesn't appear to be surprised by the news, but she sits there calmly, the gears in her mind turning. "I want my phone call."
The General chuckles at the gall of this clearly brilliant yet naive child sitting in front of him. "Miss Brooks, this isn't prison. There are no phone calls, no lawyers-"
"And yet you've arrested me with no reasonable suspicion which, if the law hasn't suddenly changed while I've been in France, is the legal standard of proof for arrests, warrants, or anything of that nature."
"Mr. Cobb is a world-renown, international criminal, wanted in several countries, including this one." She scoffs and flicks her glance toward the two-way mirror, glaring as though said criminal is standing on the other side of the glass and can feel the heat of her scowl. "Do you really think his testimony is going to hold up against the word of a college girl's in court?"
"What makes you think this is going to go to court?"
Ariadne stiffens, and her lips thin again, an obvious sign of her displeasure. "I want that phone call, sir."
"Are who were you planning to call? Mr. Eames? Or perhaps Mr. Davidson?" The General pulls out the forger's and point man's respective files, and while Eames's is chock-full of what Ariadne supposes are multiple aliases and so forth, Arthur's is only several sheets thick. "Don't bother, Miss Brooks. We have men tracking them down even as we speak."
At that, Ariadne's shoulders slump, she wraps her arms around herself as if extremely cold, and her eyes start to water just before she closes them tight. She takes several deep breaths, and the General is just about to stand and leave the room, thinking he's won this battle of wills when she suddenly rears up, jumping out of her seat like an angry cobra about to strike. Her fist slams down upon the table and the coffee cup tips over, spilling its contents everywhere.
"You'll never catch them," she hisses, and her eyes are dark and wild, full of both hurt and conviction. "You might have manpower and intelligence and technology, but Arthur and Eames are the best in the world and you won't ever find them."
- * - * -
Eames is extremely hard to locate. It's like trying to track down a man with a million different faces, and it's only by an incredible stroke of luck that they stumble upon the forger purchasing a set of expensive Armani cufflinks and asking the girl behind the counter to gift wrap them with a bow and a tag reading "To my dear Arthur."
True to form, he tries to run but they catch him anyways, because he's only one man against an army. Just like Cobb.
- * - * -
He's leaning back in his chair, feet up on the table, hands behind his head as he whistles - the perfect picture of innocence, save for the rapidly darkening bruise coloring his forehead from where he was pistol-whipped before going down. When they tell him that Cobb turned him in, Eames simply smirks, something hard and bitter in his eyes betraying his jovial tone. "Of course he did," is all he says before he resumes whistling, tilting his head back to stare at the ceiling.
The Colonel assigned to the forger's interrogation clears his throat. "Mr. Eames, are you aware that we also have one Miss Ariadne Brooks in our custody? She has been showing signs of increasing cooperation, and I would advise you to take this situation seriously, and to do the same."
Eames's tune wavers, his eyes narrow, and he sweeps his feet off the table, leaning forward with a dark expression. "You leave that girl alone," he says in a low voice, and suddenly he's an elder brother protecting his little sister from the bad kids in the neighborhood, an unnamed shadow in the dark, a threat made of the stuff of nightmares that haunt grown men and children alike. "Whatever Cobb told you lot, Ariadne has nothing to do with any of this. She's a child. So leave her be."
The battle-hardened soldier is only able to match Eames's intense gaze for a few moments before he looks away, chilled. His fingers hover over the other file he brought along to goad the Englishman into cooperation, skimming along the tab labeled DAVIDSON, ARTHUR and trying to gauge whether or not bringing up Cobb's ever-elusive right hand man is a good idea or not. There seems to be a tight connection between the forger and point man, and he doesn't want to push his luck but...
"Quid pro quo, Mr. Eames. Perhaps we can release Miss Brooks if you give us the whereabouts of Mr. Arthur Davidson?"
He should have listened to his first instinct. Eames breaks the man's nose with one swift, upwards blow and it takes three men to restrain him as he lunges forward again. The snarl ripped from his throat is vicious and deadly, a knot of barely controlled fear and rage rolled together: "You touch him and I will break your bloody neck."
- * - * -
Yusuf apparently already high tailed it back to Mombasa or some other obscure country overseas, and when the United States Army decides they really can't be bothered to go after the equivalent of a mad scientist with a slightly illegal agenda, they put all their resources into seeking out the last remaining member of Dominic Cobb's team.
All their intel finally leads their men to an internet cafe in Seattle, where their target is talking in a low tone into the pre-paid cell phone tucked against his ear and shoulder, fingers flying over the keyboard, attempting to find the location of one "D. Cobb." He notices them as soon as they step in the door, eyes narrowing sharply at the horrible disguise of plaid flannel and plain clothes. They're surprised by his response though, at the way he smoothly stands, straightening out the non-existent wrinkles in his tailored three-piece navy suit and nodding at them as though he were in control of the situation, and not them. They'd sent two captains, one lieutenant, one retired general, and an entire SWAT team waiting out back to capture the point man. He's cool, calm, and almost professional in a sense - but the furthest thing from resigned, if the ice in his gaze is any indication.
The only thing they find on his person is a small, red loaded die.
- * - * -
When the young, fit, and very capable Captain (they learned their lesson from the previous interrogation with Eames, apparently) tells Arthur that Cobb gave him up, the point man narrows his eyes and flat out denies the possibility of any such thing happening.
When the Captain brings out evidence to support his claim - a written and signed affidavit, a tape recorded message, and the promise to pardon Dominic Cobb of his crimes, Arthur slowly puts his hand into his pocket and withdraws his die, rolling the small cube between his fingers as he stares at the panoply of betrayal. He rolls the die once across the table, eyes tight and muscles tense. Picks it up and rolls it again. And again. And again.
It keeps landing on the same number, three small dots facing the ceiling, mocking the reality of the situation.
Arthur's jaw clenches and he glares upwards from under straight, dark eyebrows. "You're lying. Cobb wouldn't do this." He's clenching the die in his fist now, knuckles going white, tendons in his forearm standing out.
The Captain is surprised to find that his own throat is tight with sympathy. "I'm sorry."
Arthur bows his head and doesn't reply. The die goes skittering across the table again.
- * - * -
"Daddy?" Phillipa has that look on her face that Dom knows well and he smiles at his daughter indulgently, turning away from the blueprint spread across his work table.
"My birthday is coming up," she informs him proudly, and Dom laughs, drawing the girl into an embrace. "I'll be six years old," she mumbles into his shirt, and he kisses her hair. She doesn't have to remind him, because he's already planning an all out, over-the-budget party, complete with balloons, cake, moon bounce, and maybe even a hired magician, something to make up for those birthdays he couldn't attend.
"That's right, princess. We've marked it on the calendar; Daddy isn't going to forget." There must be something else up, because Phillipa smiles shyly, and Dom knows that one day, his daughter is going to be a heartbreaker.
"Is Uncle Arthur going to come?" She asks, and at her words, Dom feels a block of ice drop into the pit of his stomach. "He always brings me such nice presents," Phillipa continues, oblivious to her father's discomfort. "Even when you couldn't be here Daddy, Uncle Arthur never forgot my birthday."
Guilt, dark and heavy, weighs down in his chest and it's all he can do to smile and hope it doesn't come out as a grimace as he pats his daughter's head, muttering a noncommittal "we'll see" in reply to her innocent query. She squeals in delight and skips off to go put together another puzzle (skills inherited from her mother coming to the forefront already) and Dom turns back to his desk and puts his head in his hands.
Six months. It's been six months since he received a missive from the Pentagon, blocky font marching in short, curt sentences across the crisp white paper notifying him of the "successful apprehension of one Arthur L. Davidson." Six months since he gave up his team in order to return to his children. Dom had read the missive and against his better judgment had also read the monthly updates that arrived detailing the military's actions.
In the end, Ariadne was deemed too young, and sent back to Paris, back to her studies after merely two days. Eames proved to have put his many connections to good use and somehow managed to pull just the right strings to be released on the grounds of diplomatic immunity after a week. Arthur though...Arthur has no one. He's an orphan. He has- had Cobb. And before that, he had Mal, too. But not anymore, not since Dom turned Judas, and so...they kept him. Who better than the world's best point man to train soldiers and the defenders of the nation against subconscious invasion, right? It's not prison, and it's not Guantanamo Bay. So really, for a world-renown criminal, it's not so terrible a sentence. Right?
Dom scrubs at his face wearily with the heel of his palm. It's been six months since he's seen his point man, six months of guilt gnawing away at him each time he passes through the living room and sees the framed picture of Arthur kneeling down in the grass with either arm around Phillipa and James, grinning for the camera; every time he hears ripples through the grapevine of the need for a point man; every night when he goes to sleep and sees his wedding picture, Mal beautiful and radiant, a vision in white and Arthur standing tall at Dom's side as best man, as he always does.
Ariadne and Eames were never really his, given that in the world of subconscious security, teams are only as permanent as its members wish. Ariadne is barely into the game and Eames is a free spirit, a wanderer. But Arthur...Arthur has always stood by Dominic Cobb's side.
Uncle Arthur never forgot.
Uncle Arthur. Arthur, the point man. Dependable, noble, intelligent, loyal-to-a-fucking-fault Arthur.
With a growl of frustration, Dom sweeps his hand across the pencils and loose paper covering his desk, watching the materials clatter to the floor. Then, he reaches for his cell phone to book a flight to Washington.
- * - * -
"I don't understand, why did you mean I'm not authorized to see him?" Dom is growing increasingly frustrated, and his voice increasing in volume.
The young lieutenant is turning paler and paler shades of white under his glare, and he would feel sorry for her if he didn't feel so irritated already. The growing feeling in his gut of something not being quite right isn't doing much to help matters either.
"Lieutenant." They both look up and it's General Hamm, a stern-looking man with steel-grey hair, steel-grey eyes, and a voice that might very well be made of steel as well. "I'll take care of Mr. Cobb."
The young woman nods quickly and backs away, and the two men stare at each other for a moment, Pharisee and Judas Iscariot, the Devil and Doctor Faustus, the tempter and the traitor. Dom still remembers back to what seems like so long ago, sitting in a dirty cabin in the middle of nowhere, signing his team over to this man and his military, signing over his point man to what equated to indentured servitude. "Where's Arthur?" he finally manages to get out, a thick sense of foreboding clogging his throat and making it difficult to speak.
General Hamm sighs and turns neatly on his heel. "Come with me, Mr. Cobb." Dom follows, wordlessly.
The General leads him to the fucking morgue.
- * - * -
"Battle simulations...harsh environments, training day in and day out...miraculous physical strength and mental defenses unparalleled...one day just burnt out...stopped eating...wasted away...autopsy...cerebral aneurysm...
The General's words swirl around in the maelstrom of Dom's mind as he jams his key into the lock and shoulders open the door, fingers reaching out to flip the light switch. He's already thrown up twice and yet he still feels sick, the image of Arthur laid out on a cold slab still fresh in his mind's eye, pale and bloodless and stripped bare, looking so impossibly young without the defining lines of a well-cut suit. James and Phillipa are staying with Miles tonight, and Dom intends to get drunk out of his mind whilst trying to come up with a good reason as to why Uncle Arthur isn't going to make it to Phillipa's birthday party, as to why Uncle Arthur isn't going to be able to make it to anything in the future, birthday parties or otherwise.
Stumbling as though already drunk, Dom makes his way slowly down the hall, too distracted to notice the soft glow of the kitchen light, too distracted to notice anything amiss until he sees him.
Eames is sitting at the kitchen table, gun in hand and something small and red in the other - a die. Arthur's die. His eyes are dark and cold as he raises the gun and aims it directly between Dom's eyes, and Dom knows from experience that Eames never misses. "Cobb. How nice of you to finally show."
"Eames." Dom's voice is quiet, and a whole hell of a lot steadier than he feels.
"Fancy a drink?" The forger asks icily, motioning to a tumbler of scotch set out on the table, ice having melted long ago. "Smoke?" He takes out a packet of cigarettes from his breast pocket and tosses it on the table, gun never once lowering. With a sudden, terrifying jolt, Dom realizes this for what it is, a drink and a smoke and a gun aimed between his eyes-
"Please." It's tumbling out of his mouth before he can even stop it and he's reaching into his pocket for his totem, remembering too lat e that he locked it away a long time ago. "Eames, listen to me. I'm sorry. I-"
"Yes," the forger says quietly, and there's no fire or rage in his tone, only an immense sadness. "You bloody well should be."
- * - * -
A/N: Yeah...um. *ducks and hides* I really don't know what happened here either. Not really happy with this one.