Sorry this took so long! It wasn't my intention, but I got distracted. XD
Disclaimer: I do not own Inception or Cats!
"…Merde." Mal turned the key again, but there wasn't a sound from her truck, not even a sputter. She leaned back in her seat and sighed, running a hand over her face. This was such a pain… Not only was it pitch-black out and snowing steadily, but now her car wouldn't start. She flipped open her cell and dialed her husband at home. It rang twice before he picked up.
"Hold on just one minute- James! James, put that- Philippa, take that away from your brother. No, put it on the table." The sound became muffled and there was a click as he put the phone down. Fuzzily, Mal could hear Dom telling their children not to get into the decorative pinecones on the mantle. She smiled. In a few moments, Dom picked up again. "Sorry. Hello?"
"Hello, mon cher. It's me." Mal got out the truck as she was talking and locked it up, heading back to the clinic where she could wait in warmth. "My old Ford finally gave up the ghost."
"Do you need me to come pick you up?" he asked. "I can come get you as soon as the casserole's done."
"Merci, Dom. I'll have the truck looked at tomorrow." Mal unlocked the door and disarmed the warning system, stepping into the dark foyer and shutting out the cold. "Oh! Yusuf called on his way home. There's an accident on 35th, so you might want to go around the back on Wetherly."
"Thanks for the heads-up, honey. I'll be there in about half an hour."
"No, thank you, Dom. I love you."
"Love you, too."
Mal hung up and leaned back against the reception desk to wait.
The trip from the car to what looked to be a small house was characterized by warmth and then an icy cold and then warmth again. Eames closed his eyes, tired by the struggle to make sense of things. His paw and arm throbbed dully and he felt drained. He'd had a broken limb at least once before and he knew from the feel of it that it had happened again. That, and he could see his bones when he glanced down. Still, the pain wasn't debilitating – it had been the cold more than anything that had dropped him in the street on his way back to the junkyard for help – so, as soon as the opportunity presented itself, he would be taking his leave of his misguided Good Samaritan catnapper.
The man carried him in a box through the front door and down into the cellar, which was brightly lit and contained a desk and a few tables. Eames tried to look for escape routes, but the rocking motion of being carried and the heat generated by the substantial radiator were lulling him. He wondered if he was in shock.
Suddenly, he came to a halt. Eames blinked, realizing that the box had been set down on a low metal table. The man who had been carrying it had his back to Eames, so all he could make out was black hair and white clothes. He couldn't help letting out a pitiful mew when a particularly strong wave of pain went through his paw, though getting the attention of this stranger was the last thing he wanted. After all, it was getting caught by Robert's 'mother' that had caused this whole mess in the first place. He should have been more careful. He knew firsthand what humans could do! Why hadn't he kept that in mind and sensibly stayed in the junkyard. At least then he could have protected Arthur.
Arthur was still in the apartment. Yes, and Eames had been going to get Saito. He swished his tail angrily, trying to wake himself up. How many hours had since passed? Just thinking of that evil woman was stirring him up. What had she done to his darling by now? Eames hissed softly.
"I know, I know, but I'll just be a second more," came the surprisingly pleasant voice of the dark-haired man who had captured him. "I just need to fetch a few more things, that's all." He moved away, behind Eames, and started rummaging in a drawer. Eames noticed that already he had amassed a pile of odd-looking objects on the desk: a white roll that looked like heavy toilet paper, for one. There was also a tiny pair of gray scissors and a bottle of something with a label incomprehensible to Eames. It smacked of mischief.
"You don't seem like a bad guy," said Eames, though he still wasn't sure if this man wasn't going to experiment on him or some such thing. Flattery was a useful and often effective strategy. "You actually seem pretty nice. But I have someone I need to look out for, and I really have to be going." The man ignored him, as Eames knew he would, since humans were not intelligent enough to understand. Still, thanks paid and duty over, Eames stood up and walked to the edge of the table, cradling his injured paw to his chest.
The man must have heard something, because just as Eames was calculating his jump down, he let out a dismayed sound. "No, that's not good. Just sit for a few more minutes. I need to sterilize my instruments." He wrapped his large hands carefully around Eames's middle and picked him up. Eames did not appreciate this in the slightest, but when he started twisting, the only thing he managed to accomplish was to wake the bruises he had sustained from his fall, causing the rest of him besides his paw to ache fiercely.
"I can see you're a bit troublesome," said the man as he held Eames in place in the middle of the table. "And likely a stray. Here." He reached over to the desk and grabbed a syringe, which he quickly but gently stuck into Eames's shoulder. "Sleep. When you wake, you'll feel better."
"I don't want to feel better," Eames yowled, vision going fuzzy. "I want to find Arthur. Arthur…" Another moment and he closed his eyes and slept.
Arthur wished fervently that he'd had the foresight to bring his die with him to Robert's apartment, but he had always had the fear that it would get left there and he wouldn't be able to come back for it. It would have done him a world of good now, though. The lock on the door to his little room was impermeable from the inside, but with a dash of magic… He supposed it was useless to plan at this point. He'd just have to think of something in the morning when the woman or the cat-place-man came back. Somewhere, Eames was hurting, and Arthur couldn't just sit here cleaning his paws. He needed to get out.
Suddenly, there was the chunk-click sound of the front door opening and the soft clack of the woman's heels on the floor. Arthur wondered if she'd left something inside (Ariadne was constantly forgetting her pencil or her ball when she went out) and had come to retrieve it. As she came further in, Arthur could hear some of the others who were trapped here with him shift themselves more awake and start talking. There was an Akita in the room across the hallway from him who started shouting to be let out as soon as the woman clacked her way to a halt. Arthur suppressed the urge to bristle.
"Hey!" shouted the Pollicle, standing up to brace his front paws on the glass window to his room. Arthur watched him with annoyance, tail swishing briefly back and forth. "Hey, lady! You can't keep me in here! I'm Johnny Appleseed, the right hand of Caesar! Hey!"
Arthur smirked. He had heard of Caesar, who was one of the gang leaders around the south side of the city. He had a reputation for being standoffish, prone to biting, and altogether unmanageable in territory disputes. He was also a Westie. A tiny little Westie. Arthur purred at the image of Appleseed (what a ridiculous name) taking orders from a dog half his size.
"What are you laughing at?" barked Appleseed, hackles rising. "You're stuck in here, too. Though I suppose no one would miss a damn cat."
"Temper," said Arthur, crossing his paws. "And yes, I am also trapped, but I, unlike you, will find a way out." He had to believe that.
"There are only two ways out of this place; adoption or death," sniffed Appleseed, dropping his paws back to the floor to stand rather stiffly. It was apparent that the woman wasn't going to pay attention to him. "Either you get a family or you waste away trying."
This dismayed Arthur. He had no intention of following either path. "Hasn't anyone ever escaped?"
Appleseed opened his mouth to reply and then seemed to realize he was talking to a Jellicle. He narrowed his eyes and turned away, content to nose about at an old rope on the floor of his room. Arthur hissed in frustration.
"Look, you want to get back to Caesar, don't you? So tell me."
It took a few minutes, but Appleseed finally growled and came back to the window. "There's only one I've heard of. Her name was Biscuit. She was a Rhodesian Ridgeback who learned how to open the kennel door while she was here. But we don't have her, and we don't have anyone like her. It's useless."
"There must be some way…" But Appleseed had lost interest in the conversation, probably resigning himself to a lifetime inside. Arthur sighed and leapt down from his bed-ledge to have a drink of water from the bowl by the door. It was while he was lapping fitfully, grimacing at the metallic taste, that he heard the front door open again and heavier footsteps approach.
"Sorry I'm late," said a very familiar voice. Arthur went completely still. "I had to get Sandra over to watch the kids, and she was on the phone."
"That's fine, mon cher," said the woman cheerfully. "Just let me set the alarm and we can go. Thank you for coming up here; the snow's really starting to fall!" She walked across the floor again, but Arthur wasn't paying attention to her. No, he was much more focused on the other voice.
"I wasn't going to leave my wife alone in a veterinary clinic all night."
"No!" cried Arthur, his whole body vibrating. "It can't be." But it was! He was sure of it.
"You are the epitome of chivalry, Dom," said the woman. The woman who had to be Mallorie Cobb. The woman who was the wife of Dominic Cobb. The woman whose husband and children Arthur spent every noon with from spring to fall, sharing lunch and tales of his adventures around town.
"I'm getting out!" he declared triumphantly, ignoring Appleseed's derisive sneer. "I am getting out of here!"
He started to paw at the door, yowling to wake the dead.
"What is that noise?" asked Cobb, raising an eyebrow as he picked up Mal's bag to be taken home. Over the ambient low barking and shuffling that he was accustomed to hearing on visiting Furry Friends, a strident, angry whining had started. "You have a possessed cat these days?"
"Ah, no. At least, not that I am aware of," Mal said, distracted. She left the alarm pad beside the front door open and took a few strides toward the back hallway which led to the animals' rooms.
Cobb sighed internally. They really ought to be getting home. As much as he cared for Mal's work – and he did – he was infinitely more interested in getting back to his children with her rather than checking on a bothered pet. The state of the roads was getting steadily worse as well.
"I think it's the new cat we got in today," she admitted. "I'll just be a minute. I need to make sure he's all right. He was fine earlier this evening." She reached around the reception desk and put on a pair of latex gloves before going to the temporary rooms. "Yusuf found him inside the apartment of one of our regular customers. Apparently he is a stray who wandered through the open window. That was clever of him, no? But we mustn't let it go on, of course." As she spoke, she turned on the hall light and peered through the glass into a small room on the left. Cobb came up behind her. "Are you all right, mon petit? What is the matter?"
On the other side, scratching at the door, was a small black and white cat with a distinctive tie-shaped patch of fur on his chest. He looked up at Cobb with pleading brown eyes and yowled again.
"I know that cat!" Dom declared, surprise flooding through him. "Mal, this is the stray the kids and I usually see around the park during lunchtime. That's Gatsby. I'd recognize that tie anywhere."
"Gatsby?" Mal smiled at her husband. "You named him? That is adorable, Dom." She chuckled to herself as he blushed a bit and opened the door to the room, stepping inside. A quick examination to the now-quiet cat showed that he was as healthy as he'd been when he arrived. She looked around for another possible cause of distress, but couldn't find anything. Even Jordan, the excitable Akita in the next room, was still, resting his head on his paws. "I don't know what that was all about, but I think we can go now," she said finally.
"You know, I've been thinking…" It was cold in Cobb's car even though the heat was running at full blast. "Now that we have our own place, it might be nice to get the kids their first pet. What do you say?" His hand rested over Mal's between the seats as they sat at a stop light, alone on the slick, snowy road.
"I think we could probably manage that," she said, her soft lips curving. "Do you think James is old enough?"
"He's always really good when he plays with Gatsby in the park," Cobb explained. "He never pulls his tail or anything like that."
Mal let out a wonderfully vibrant laugh. "Dom, mon cher, you are the one who wants to adopt that cat."
Cobb joined her in laughing. "I suppose. But he really is a nice animal. I've never met such a friendly cat. Do you think-? Well, I mean, is he up for adoption? The kids would love it. We could get him for Phil's birthday."
"That's certainly an idea. He's scheduled for a check-up tomorrow morning. How about I let you know then? I need to give him his shots and things."
"I like that plan," said Cobb. The light turned green and he pulled out into the street, heading for home.
Robert sat under the overhanging edge of the comforter in the apartment's master bedroom, scowling and whipping his tail back and forth. It was his fault that both Eames, who had stood by him for almost a year, and that Arthur, his new friend, were in this predicament. If he had been able to stop her… But he'd never tried, had he?
"There must be something I can do," he said. They had taken Arthur away to the vet's clinic, he knew. He had recognized the man that came with the carry-cage. But there was no way he could get there at this time of night. Surely the place would be closed, even if he could navigate the bewildering system of buses that ran across the city.
No. There was only one course of action available to him. He had to go to the junkyard. Saito would know what to do. Eames always described him as wise and fair, not to mention he was leader of the Jellicles, and thus had resources to spare. That would work.
He stood up from his crouch and darted out into the kitchen, slipping under the table without being noticed. Mother was sitting there on the phone, chattering away. In a few minutes, Father would be getting back from work.
It was then, when the man pushed open the door roughly with his shoulder, that Robert made his move, bolting out into the hallway and streaking to the stairway. He was going to do this, he told himself, filtering out the cries of his startled family.
He was going to get Arthur and Eames back.
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