"Who the hell is this?" Eames whispered at Cobb, as the young woman in question shook hands with the rest of their party.
"This is who is going to be replacing me," Cobb responded, his arms crossed over his chest, a smug smile distorting his mouth.
"No one can replace you," Eames said, fumbling with a toothpick as he leaned against the desk behind him.
"I beg to differ," Cobb replied, raising a hand to his mouth. He paused, then pointed at the young woman. "She's proven herself."
"And how has she done that?" Eames asked skeptically, glancing at Cobb lazily.
The young woman turned and beamed at Cobb. He grinned back, nodding encouragingly. She turned back to Ariadne, who was feeling her out. Everyone was unsure whether this new girl could be trusted. Arthur was hanging on the periphery of the group, eyeing the proceedings. Cobb turned back to Eames.
"She's my sister," was all he said.
Eames' eyebrows rose to new heights on his forehead, and he tossed the toothpick over his shoulder before straightening up.
"Excellent job, Cobbs," he said sarcastically. "Let's just trust her because she's your sister."
"She's not just my sister," Cobb replied quietly. He glanced around cautiously.
"Well, please do explain, darling," Eames said, growing impatient.
Cobb was reluctant, though he knew the group would find out eventually, and it would probably be easier for the girl to get the respect she deserved if everyone knew. He tossed Arthur a loaded glance, which he picked up immediately, and Arthur nodded.
"She's a Specter," Cobb said.
Eames' eyes widened with surprise.
"I'm impressed," Eames replied. "Seems this dreaming thing runs in your family."
Cobb cast a warning glance at Eames before he turned away from him.
"A Specter comes in handy," Eames continued. "But who's to say she can benefit the group in any way?" He leaned back against the desk, his hands flat on the table.
"Why don't you just let her show you for herself?" Cobb asked reasonably over his shoulder.
"Maybe I will," Eames replied, smirking caustically back.
"It was lovely to meet you all," Marielle said sincerely, shaking hands with Ariadne and Eames in turn. "I'm excited to see you all again."
Cobb steered his sister from the warehouse as she wrapped her scarf tightly around her neck and buttoned up her pea coat.
"They're all very nice," Marielle commented as she and Cobb made their way to his car. He was driving his old car, the one he'd left behind before he'd been on the run. "Dom, do you really think this is a good idea?"
Cobb didn't reply as he opened the passenger door and held it open for Marielle. He closed it behind her as she watched him step around the front of the car with an expectant yet patient expression. He climbed behind the wheel and started the car before he chose to respond. Marielle stared at him.
"I can't work with them anymore," Cobb said. "I have other things to attend to. The kids need me, and this work is all that they know."
Marielle nodded understandingly, and waited for the rest of the explanation she knew was coming.
"If they have to continue doing this, I would like it to be with someone I trust," he continued. "And as you're the best, and I trust you implicitly, there was no better choice."
"I see," Marielle said.
Cobb turned out of the warehouse parking lot, and made his way toward the main part of town where he could get on the highway.
"You're lucky I agreed to this in the first place," Marielle mentioned to the silence that had fallen inside the car. "I'm surprised you didn't just drag me out here and drop me into the middle of things without so much as a warning.
Cobb cast her a look of disapproval.
"Sorry," Marielle said, raising her gloved hands before her in a gesture of submission. "Surprised may not have been the right word. More like pleased. But you have to admit that it's your usual way of doing things."
Things change," Cobb replied shortly. Marielle shrugged and dropped the subject.
Cobb kept his eyes trained on the road before him, flipping on the turn signal to change lanes. He rubbed his chin roughly, then ran his fingers through his hair. Marielle watched him closely, her head leaning forward, years of psychology courses initiating an automatic analysis of his behavior.
"You're not completely comfortable with this arrangement, are you Dom?" Marielle asked, adjusting herself in her seat to see his expression better. He glanced quickly at her, and in that loaded glance she could see layers of emotions behind it.
"You can't hide anything from me, Dominic, so you may as well just tell me."
Cobb sighed, exiting the highway a little faster than was probably warranted, and Marielle could feel the change of gravity as they flew around the turn.
"Dom, slow down," Marielle chided, clutching uncomfortably at her seatbelt. "Jesus, try to relax."
Cobb came to a stop at the light, and rubbed his face vigorously, breathing slowly. Marielle sat hunched in her seat, her eyes looking everywhere but at him.
"Can I smoke in here?" Marielle asked carelessly.
Cobb glared sharply at her.
"Since when do you smoke?" He asked angrily.
"Since you left and dropped all contact with the family," Marielle replied venomously. "The light is green, by the way."
Cobb ignored her, his teeth grinding together. Someone behind them laid on the horn, and Cobb punched the gas, whipping the car around the corner and speeding down the road.
"Dom!" Marielle shouted, clutching at the door panel with her right hand and the center console with her left. "What the fuck?"
"You're absolutely right," Cobb spat, gripping the steering wheel at ten and two, his knuckles white against the rest of his hands. "I am one hundred and fifty percent uncomfortable with this arrangement."
He turned roughly onto a side road without using a signal, and sped along it at frightening speed. He took the twists and turns like it came naturally, and Marielle was sure he'd hit a cat at some point. She was too focused on not panicking that she didn't take the time to mourn its loss.
"But what the fuck am I going to do?" he continued, brandishing his right hand theatrically. "I can't continue doing this anymore, I need to be home with James and Phillipa. They need a father, and I'm the one the oh so merciful God gave to them. They are my job now, and I can't explain to you how badly I want to be there for them."
"You don't have to explain that to me, Dom," Marielle replied. "But for fuck's sake, slow down!"
Cobb slammed on the brakes, the wheels screeching in protest, and turned up a narrow dirt drive. He stopped immediately when he lost sight of the road in the rearview mirror and put the car in park. His hands continued gripping the wheel with every ounce of strength he could muster. He kneaded the wheel like rough dough, and attempted to control his breathing.
For all her years in school studying books, Marielle had never expected this sort of reaction from her brother. She realized then that he had indeed changed dramatically over the years he'd been gone, and it was like meeting someone for the first time. The same rules didn't apply to the man she now sat in the car with.
"Dom," she whispered, reaching over to place a hand on his sleeve. He glanced at her hand, chewing the inside of his cheek.
"Marielle, I've lost my wife, and I almost lost my kids," he said. "I couldn't bare to lose you, too. But I can't let the group go off with some other person that they hardly know. It needs to be someone which I know for a fact can take care of them."
"And you think this person is me?" Marielle asked, somewhat abashed. She retracted her hand, folding her arms against her chest and glancing out the window at the darkness beyond. It was getting very late. "What if I can't do it, Dom?"
Cobb almost missed the question, she'd whispered it so quietly.
"What are you talking about, Marielle?" It was his turn to lay a hand in comfort. "There's no better option. You've done this a million times, practiced it since I first turned you on to it. You're the best chance anyone has at ever being safe in someone else's dream."
Marielle shook her head.
"I haven't dreamed in two years, Dom."
Cobb turned his head away, confused.
"You mean for yourself?"
Marielle pushed the button to roll down the window, and lit a cigarette with shaking fingers.
"Marielle, please," Cobb began. "Not in my car."
"You're stressing me out, Dom," Marielle snapped. "Allow me this one small comfort."
Cobb shut his mouth abruptly, and sat back in his seat. He returned the car to drive, and made his way, much more slowly, toward the house he lived in with his kids.
"We can talk about this tomorrow," Cobb said, slowing down so a deer could cross the road in front of them. Marielle watched silently as her head snapped up, ears swiveled forward, and her eyes reflected the light from their car. She snorted quietly at them, and when a fawn appeared behind her, bounded off into the bushes with her infant at her heels.
"I'll do it," Marielle said quietly, chewing her lip. "But I'm doing this for me, not for you. I need you to understand that. This is a hard decision for me, but as it's like pulling teeth finding a job I can enjoy after my first shared dream and extraction, I guess I have fewer options than I originally wanted to admit to."
She paused as Cobb sucked in a breath and sighed with relief.
"Besides, I cant stand around and watch those kids lose their father again," she said. "I know you'd try to keep up the extraction business."
Cobb glanced over at her as they pulled up to the house, lit up bright as a Christmas tree for their arrival home. He parked the car beside his sister's, and killed the engine.
"Thank you, Marielle," he said. "Just do me a favor and don't get lost."
"I won't," Marielle replied. "I'm coming back to those kids, too. I'm not missing a birthday or Christmas morning. They're a part of my life, as I am a part of theirs'."
Cobb nodded in understanding, and Marielle smiled at her brother. They both climbed out of the car, and Cobb wrapped his arms around his sister's thin shoulders, and she hesitated sarcastically before returning it.
"Come home to us, Marielle," Cobb whispered.
"I will," Marielle replied, breaking from the hug and fishing for her car keys. "I won't get lost."
Cobb smiled sadly at his sister as she climbed in her car and started the engine. He watched her pull away from the house, and continued watching until her lights disappeared behind the trees. He knew that he'd been lost once, with Mal, and that Marielle was smart enough to avoid that at all costs. But he also knew, more so than she, that there were many other ways she could lose herself.
Cobb pulled out his phone and called Arthur before he made his way into the house to kiss his children goodnight.