Disclaimer: I don't own Inception and I receive no profit from writing this story.
A/N: Okay, so this last twist in the story totally took me by surprise, but I'm really excited about it. This chapter is a little bit interesting so I really, really need your reviews. Thanks again for all the reviews thus far and forgive me for jumping around a little bit. I think this is what's best for the story, but it is going to throw off things a little. So please be patient with me. :) You guys are great!
One Month Earlier
Arthur cursed at the sound of his phone ringing. He rolled onto his side, glancing at the clock—4:22 AM. Who calls anyone at 4:22 AM?—before he reached clumsily for his phone, almost knocking it off his bedside table in the process. Eventually he managed to get a firm grip on the phone and forced his tone to stay merely sleepy instead of furious when he answered.
"Hello?" With his thumb and forefinger he rubbed his eyes, trying to force himself to concentrate.
"Arthur. I need you to get over here now."
He sat up. "Cobb?"
"What's wrong?" he demanded, hearing the strain in his mentor's voice.
"I'll tell you when you get here. Come as soon as you can."
"Alright fine, I'm on my way." He kicked off the blankets as he spoke. Before he could ask any more questions the phone call ended and all that Arthur could hear was silence.
He yanked a pair of pants and a shirt from his closet, throwing them on and quickly running a hand through his hair before snatching up his keys and rushing down the stairs to underground parking in building. But before he left, he made a point of pulling his gun out of the drawer in his nightstand. Whatever was going on with Cobb it must be serious, or the Extractor would have given him more information. It made him nervous, thinking about Cobb so unhinged that he had almost resulted to pleading with his Point Man. Jamming his keys into the ignition, he brought the car roaring to life and then pulled out of the garage and onto the street without paying much heed to the rules of the road. The drive to the Cobb household usually took him about twenty minutes, without poor traffic, but he arrived there in ten, saying a silent prayer of thanks that there were no cops around to catch him speeding and running red lights.
He pulled into the Cobb's parking lot, slammed his car door shut, and rushed up to the front door, fumbling with the spare key that Mal had made for him. Even with his mind racing to try and think of what possible reason Cobb could have asked him to come there at that early hour, he was aware enough to notice that there were no lights on in the house. Silently, he removed his gun from where it had been tucked into the back of his pants, using his thumb to switch off the safety. He pushed open the door and walked inside, gun ready.
The house seemed completely empty. With slow and soundless steps, he checked the kitchen, the living room, and then approached the study. His hands started to tremble. Even after all of the target practice, after all of the times that he'd shot and killed men, they were still projections. He'd never shot a real person before and the thought of it made his stomach turn. Frustrated at his own weakness, he set his jaw and wrapped his hands more firmly around the grip of his gun. Then, taking a deep breath, he pushed open the door.
Nothing. The room was completely black. He started to lower his gun when he felt the sharp crack of metal against the back of his skull. He crumpled to the ground and his vision went black just as the light in the room was switched on.
It took a little while before Arthur came to again and when he did, he found that the situation was almost as bad as his somewhat overly pessimistic imagination had thought up. His hands were bound behind his back with zip ties and he was laying on the floor, the back of his head throbbing like it had been clouted with a gun which, he was sorry to say, it had. He glanced upwards and, aside from being blinded by the light, he saw two men in tailored suits standing above him, brandishing pistols, one of which was surely was the culprit behind his injury. The man nearest Arthur decided to kick him in the stomach to test if he was awake. Arthur sucked in a breath on contact with the foot which caused the suited stranger to laugh dully.
"The little hero is awake," he said to the other.
"Great," responded the other without much enthusiasm. "Put him on the couch."
Another suited man stepped forward to help the kicker lift Arthur off of the floor and drag him over to the couch. He landed unceremoniously next to Cobb who looked like he was in much the same situation as Arthur, though instead of a welt the size of an orange forming on the back of his neck, his eye was purpling with a newly received bruise and his lip had split so that blood trickled down his chin. Arthur tried to catch his mentor's gaze, but the Extractor refused to look at him. Frowning, Arthur glanced around the room, spotting Mal tied to a chair in the corner. She looked unharmed but clearly upset. Though he realized upon further inspection that "upset" did not mean "close to tears" or "reduced to whimpering" or anything like that. Instead it meant "eyes glowing with the kind of anger you would expect to see from a mother bear whose cubs had been slaughtered in front of her." Thankfully, Phillipa was nowhere to be seen and Arthur prayed that she was still asleep in bed, unharmed and unnoticed.
"Alright," said one of the suited intruders, the one Arthur was beginning to suspect was the leader. He had startling blue eyes and dark hair and an expression that seemed like a mixture of boredom and perpetual irritation. "Let's get started."
Arthur turned his eyes back to Cobb, but the Extractor still would not meet his gaze.
"Arthur, isn't it?" the leader asked as though it were a waste of time. "Allow me to bring you up to date. I've asked Mr. Cobb to perform an extraction for me and he just won't do it. But I really need that extraction to take place and Mr. Cobb is well-known for his dream-sharing knowledge and expertise. I won't settle for anyone less talented. So, I've decided that if he's going to continue to reject my offer, I'm going to kill him, his family, and you." He paused for a second, as though thinking. "Reverse that order."
"Hmmph," was all Arthur said.
"So I've brought you here for two reasons. One, I'd like you to talk Mr. Cobb here into doing this extraction for me. And if you won't do that, you'll still be a part of plan "B." I'll kill you first and see if that doesn't wake him up a little."
"And what if it doesn't?" Arthur asked.
"Then I'll kill his wife and see if that can't change his mind."
"Ah." Arthur's voice sounded much smaller than he would have liked.
"So start talking, Point Man, before I lose patience," commanded the suited man, waving at one of his comrades who responded by pointing his gun at Arthur's left temple.
The Point Man swallowed and took a deep breath. "Cobb," he started, his voice low, "what do you want me to do?"
The Extractor was silent for a long time. "We're going to do the extraction." He'd never heard Cobb's voice sound so defeated.
"Okay," Arthur agreed. "Then what?"
"That all depends on Mr. Landy," Cobb said dryly. Arthur could only assume that meant the dark-haired man that took pleasure in threatening innocent people.
"Then I'll let you go and you can continue to live your lives however you want," Landy said with a dark smile.
"Alright, you got your wish," Arthur said dully. "What's the job?"
The two cronies lowered their guns and retrieved several thick folders from two bags propped up against the wall by the door. They dropped the files onto the desk as Landy began to talk.
"His name is Kyle Forester, head of Forester Mining. He runs the largest conglomerate of gold and silver mines in the world. I happen to own the second largest. In order for my company to succeed, I need to know what his plans are for the new mine that he's building this upcoming fall, most especially how he plans to finance it." He gestured at the folders that now littered the desk. "Everything you need to know about the job and what I am looking for are in these."
No one spoke. Landly examined the extraction team with a look of distaste. Mal looked just about ready to kill him with her eyes.
"If that's all, then I hope you don't mind us trying to get some sleep tonight before we begin work," Cobb said stiffly.
"No, I don't mind at all," Landly said. "I'll be back periodically to check on your work."
With that, he turned to leave the room and one of the cronies followed suit; the other stayed put.
"Aren't you going to let us go?" Cobb demanded.
"Oh Johnson will do that," Landly said, waving his hand in the general direction of the man who was still pointing a gun at Cobb's chest. "He's going to stay here to make sure you do what you're supposed to."
Cobb glared at Landly with disgust.
"Have a good night," Landly taunted.
The room fell silent when he left and Arthur, Cobb, and Mal all stared with venom at Johnson who roughly began cutting them free. He finished the task by smacking each of them "accidentally" with the handle of the knife as he passed. Then, looking seriously tired himself, he moved to the living room to take a nap, warning the three of them that any false moves would get them killed. He left the room and Arthur immediately spun on his heel so that he was facing his trainers, his eyes narrowed with suppressed anger.
"What the hell, Cobb?" he snapped. "What happened?"
"I don't know how he found me," the Extractor insisted.
"But why was he here? You work in anti-extraction, why the hell would he ask you to perform an extraction instead?"
"I don't know, Arthur," Cobb sighed, rubbing his eyes with one hand. "I wish I did. I don't even know where he heard about me or how he knew to find us."
"And why was he threatening to kill you?" Arthur continued as if he hadn't heard anything Cobb had said.
"He called, a few days ago. I refused his offer. I didn't think he'd show up in the middle of the night threatening to shoot me if I didn't cooperate."
"This is…insane," Arthur fumed.
"Oh for God's sake, Arthur, shut up!" Mal snapped. It was the first time she'd talked since Arthur had been there and she caught him completely off-guard. "You're not the only one who's upset about this."
He didn't know how to respond.
"Mal…you should get some rest before we start work tomorrow," Cobb said softly.
She sent him a withering glance, then shot another one at Arthur before storming from the room. The Point Man took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He looked over at Cobb who was sinking back into the couch, running his hands over his face like he was trying to iron his eyes open.
"I'm sorry, Cobb," said Arthur. "I shouldn't have gotten angry at you. This isn't your fault."
"Don't be stupid, Arthur, of course it's my fault," Cobb groaned.
The two of them fell silent. Exhausted, Arthur lowered himself into a chair.
"Now what?" he asked.
"Now we complete the extraction as quickly as possible and pray that we can get on with our lives." Cobb looked up at him, suddenly much older than he'd been the last time Arthur had seen him only thirty-six hours before.
"And after it's over?"
Cobb huffed and folded his arms across his chest. "After it's over I'm going to do whatever it takes to make sure that man never comes near my family again."
The Forester job had been a strange experience for everyone. They'd worked tirelessly until the job was successfully completed, and in that time Arthur realized that this line of work had ramifications in the real world that he hadn't anticipated. Mal, being so close to her due date, didn't work much of the job which meant that Arthur was basically on his own. It wasn't too bad and he handled it fairly well, but whenever Mal and Cobb were together it was clear that they were discussing things behind Arthur's back. It seemed to the Point Man that there were secrets about Cobb's past in extraction that they weren't telling him. Landly had found them somehow and though Cobb denied it, Arthur was almost positive the Extractor knew how.
Now that the job was behind them and things had returned somewhat to normal, Arthur had mixed feelings about taking on the South Africa job. He wasn't sure what it was that had made Cobb chose to accept—it had seemed pretty clear on the ride back from the hotel that Cobb wasn't planning on saying yes. Especially after the Forester job, Arthur was almost certain that they would turn down Eames's offer. And yet on Friday, Arthur and Cobb were packed and ready to fly down to Johannesburg. They met Eames at the airport and before the Point Man even had time to confront his mentor about why they'd agreed to this they were arriving.
Arthur wasn't sure why he'd been so willing to follow Cobb's lead. Frankly, the Forester job was just short of a disaster, and another extraction wasn't exactly something Arthur was leaping at. On top of that, this time he'd be on his own without Mal or anyone to walk him through this. Not to mention the fact that Cobb would more likely than not miss the birth of his new child while he was away in South Africa. But for whatever reason, Mal supported the decision and Arthur did too. Over a year had passed since he first met Cobb and since then he'd come to admire and respect the Extractor in a way that Arthur never had before. It wasn't like he had a father figure to look up to, or an older brother, or even good friends. Arthur had always been a bit of a loner and Cobb was the closest thing to a best friend that he'd had since high school. But at the same time, there were moments when the Point Man just wanted to punch Cobb in the face. It was frustrating, working with Cobb, but it was also the best experience he'd ever had in his life. So even if Cobb was lying to him, even if he was keeping secrets, he was willing to stick it out. He trusted Cobb, as strange as that might be.
A/N: I hope this chapter didn't seem too out of place. I really enjoyed writing it and I hope you enjoy reading it. Please let me know what you thought! Sorry, once again, that it's not very long.