Disclaimer: Everything is property of Chris Nolan.
A/N: Thanks to girlwiththepearls for editing.
The head-first impact with the concrete hurts, but not as much as it does when Mal wakes up to find Dom, still asleep next to her.
She worries her lip between her teeth, spins her totem, and then touches her husband's cheek once. Under her fingertips, Dom's skin is warm and alive. She pulls away when she feels someone touch her shoulder. It's Arthur, grinning like a fool, causing lines to form around his eyes.
"Hey, sleeping beauty. How'd the research go?"
Mal can't help herself, she starts laughing hysterically at that. Research is what she and Dom had gone down for an hour, which had turned into more than a lifetime. Where she is now feels like reality, because there's a crick in her neck and James is starting to cry, probably waking up from his nap. In the last dream, the projection of her son never cried if Dom wasn't around, instead staring up at her with his dark eyes, questioning.
And that thought is what turns her laughter to sobbing, James acting as her echo. Panic floods Arthur's face and he wraps one arm around her hesitantly. Tears are already blurring Mal's vision, softening all his edges until she buries her face in his chest and finds herself only able to say, "He didn't believe me."
Not knowing what else to do, Mal sets up the spare room and that's where Dom keeps on dreaming.
Arthur sleeps on the couch, watching James and Phillipa, as Mal alternates between keeping vigilant over their father and sobbing wildly in her room. This lasts for a week and leaves Phillipa with bags under her eyes, while James clings insistently to Arthur's pant leg during the day.
Then, Mal comes down to breakfast on the eighth day with red eyes. She studies the meal of cereal that Arthur has managed and as she pulls out a bowl of her own, she says that they'll all go grocery shopping later in the day. Phillipa asks, "Is Daddy coming with?"
The smile on Mal's face tightens, but doesn't disappear. She carefully explains that Dom is sick right now and has to stay in bed for a little while. Her children accept this answer, because they are young enough to believe whatever their mother says.
Arthur is not, however. When the children go to watch cartoons until it's time to leave, he sits at the kitchen table and watches Mal clean up. She's never liked doing dishes, always begged Dom to do it instead, but right now, she's elbow deep in suds even though the dishwasher works perfectly fine.
"When is he really waking up, Mal?" Arthur finally asks, watching how her shoulders bunch and back stiffens.
A silence stretches between them, in that time, Arthur slowly realizes the answer to his question, and Mal pulls her hands from the sink. The sudsy water runs down her arms, making little patches of wet on the shirt she's wearing. Just when he starts to feel like a jackass, she tells him. "He'll wake up when he dies in the dream."
She turns back around to start scrubbing dishes again. Arthur waits a moment, and then rolls up his sleeves to join her.
Her parents fly in from France, staying in the closest hotel possible and renting a car for their visit. Phillipa and James are delighted, of course, loving how Mal's mother sings in French as she cooks, and the gifts that her father brings. Miles spends the second and third days in the guest room, though, watching his protégée trapped by the very things Miles taught him.
Even though she's a grown woman, the taste of her father's homemade pasta sauce, and her mother's sweet country accent comforts Mal as much as they did when she was little. They help her decide what to do, as well. Miles brings enough Somnacin so they can refill the PASIV, if need be. It's Marie, who spent forty years as a nurse, who recommends that they turn Dom every few hours so he won't get stiff or sore.
It's the end of July, though, and by the middle of August, Miles has to go back to teaching. Marie stays for a few more weeks, but Mal knows that her mother is unhappy whenever she's away from her husband and they have little arguments in French until, finally, Mal and the children (and Arthur, who has yet to leave) sees her off at LAX.
The next few days are harder, because the kids miss their grandparents, and that means they cling to Mal more. She loves them more than life itself, but all she wants to do sometimes is sit by Dom's side to remind herself that he's still there.
Instead, she sits with them and reads them storybooks like Rip Van Winkle and Sleeping Beauty, because Dom and Mal thought they were being clever when they bought them. (That's once upon a time, though, because the minute Dom didn't wake up, the word 'hubris' filled her mind). They fall asleep in her lap and she finally catches Arthur watching from the doorway and decides to do something about it.
The first time she met Arthur was the first time she worked with Dom. He was fresh out of the Army, head still cleanly buzzed and he only called her ma'amin a voice that still spoke of Southern roots. Now, the accent is all but gone and Arthur's hair is long and disheveled. He has a cagey look about him and Mal knows it's because he hates being in the same place for too long. She also knows that he's almost stupidly loyal to Dom and won't leave on his own.
So, she writes down a list of aliases and countries, and then asks Arthur to find Eames for her. His reaction is a mix of relief and sourness, but Arthur still goes to pack a suitcase. He knows that Mal doesn't want Eames just for comfort, even if the two go way back.
No, Eames has connections with some of the best in the more experimental (and morally questionably) aspects of dream sharing and that's what Mal is interested in.
Mal doesn't hear a word from Arthur for one week, and then two. Dom sleeps on peacefully, even when she nicks his cheek shaving him one afternoon. James asks her if they should bring Daddy some dinner later that night, because mashed potatoes are his favorite. This makes Phillipa demand to know if Dom will be well in time for Halloween and trick or treating. Mal purses her lips, and says. "Maybe, darling."
The children take control of the conversation then, demanding to know when they will go shopping for Halloween costumes. Phillipa offers to read James a bedtime story, because she is in kindergarten now and knows some of her letters. Mal nods and sits with them, a smile sneaking onto her face when Phillipa has to make up a story because she cannot actually read. Her brother, naturally, listens intently, because he is nearly three and even pretend reading is something akin to magic.
She tells this all to Dom later in the night, long after the children have gone to bed and she has changed into a nightgown. Mal tells him how James has been asking for a puppy and about the artwork Phillipa has been bringing home from school. She describes, vividly, the picture of their family that hangs above his bed, drawn by the clumsy hands of a five-year-old.
Dom, predictably, says nothing and she wonders how good of a dream he's having that he doesn't wake up, even without her. The thought puts a definite chill into her, and Mal kisses his brow once before returning to her own room.
She pulls a silver top out of her bureau drawer, spinning it mechanically. When it topples and bounces on the wood of the floor, she lets out a choked sob before burying her face in her pillow.
Halfway into the third week of Arthur being gone (which is the third monthof Dom's sleep), Mal gets a phone call from him. Over the line, Arthur's voice is tinny as he says. "He was in Kenya."
"Kenya wasn't on the list," is all Mal can think to say.
"I know," Arthur sounds decidedly Not Amused, "Give me a day or two for travel and we'll be-"
Arthur interrupts himself by swearing loudly, then Mal makes out the sound of fighting, and finally, Arthur continuing to swear in the background before Eames' voice is drowning him out. He lets out a long sigh and then is talking a mile a minute. It overwhelms her, because they haven't seen each other in months, but she does catch the end of his speech.
"You didn't need to send your guard dog. If you had called, I would have been there in a heartbeat, Mal."
"Arthur needed to get away." She says in a way that allows no argument.
"And how are you holding up then?"
Mal doesn't answer him, because she doesn't have a clue on how to answer the question. Even if she's lived most of her life so far without Dom in it, this past month has felt like a part of her was amputated, leaving behind all types of phantom pains.
And while she's not crying every night, but it hasn't stopped completely either. James and Phillipa both miss their Daddy, of course, and it's terrible whenever she can't think of the English version of a word and there's no one to help her figure it out and-
"Shite. That's it, I'm flying out tonight. Stay put, dove."
In the background, she can hear shouting from Arthur before the line goes dead. Very carefully, Mal puts the phone down and goes to prepare the sofa again, dragging a fold-up mattress out of the basement as an after thought. James insists on helping as they beat the dust out of the old thing, and then cover it with sheets and quilts.
"Are we having a sleepover?" Phillipa asks as she hangs back.
"You could say that. Uncle Eames is coming, because he wants to help Daddy."
They both give little shouts of joy at that, but Mal isn't sure if it's at the idea of Eames' visit or Dom's recovery.
When Eames shows up, he brings gifts for everyone. Phillipa gets an elaborate dollhouse and James a bright red tricycle. After hugging her friend, Mal finds a little vial of something she doesn't recognize in her pocket. Arthur grumbles about Eames wasting his money for no reason, but Mal swears that the watch that he's wearing is new.
One of the things that makes Eames a great forger is his ability to read a situation, and then find the best way to react to it. He declares that they should all go out for pizza and somehow finds a restaurant with a build in playground for the children. There, he convinces Phillipa and James to drag Arthur with them into the ball pit before he leans in close to Mal and starts to talk.
"That vial contains a highly concentrated compound, made by a friend of mine in Mombassa. It'll drop you into wherever Dom in his dream. You'll be able to follow him into dreams without hooking yourself up to another PASIV. You can make little changes to the dreams, as if you were the dreamer."
"Will I be able to kill Dom and wake him up?"
Eames chews on his straw thoughtfully, but ultimately winds up frowning. "Yes, but I'm not sure if that's the best idea. You're dead in the dream, right?"
Mal nods slowly, a weight of dread settling in her stomach at the look in his eyes. Just over Eames' shoulder, she can see Phillipa and James running away from Arthur, who must be playing the part of the ball pit monster.
She remembers how listless their projections were around her when Mal first realized they were dreaming. She also remembers how, towards the end, the fake Phillipa would shove her with inhuman strength and James would hiss like an animal.
"The projections would swarm you, dove. I think it's best that you leave the final choice up to him, have Dom decide to come with you. It might make it less of a shock when he wakes up that way."
Mal nods again and glances down at her watch, like she has every five minutes since they left the house. She then checks her cell phone, because she left the number and a note next to Dom's bedside, just in case he woke up when she was gone. Eames notices and nudges her knee with his own.
"Why don't you go home and try it out? Arthur and I can keep the sprogs occupied for another hour or so."
He passes Mal the keys to his rental and she drops a kiss on his cheek in return, and then bolts.
The act of preparing herself for the PASIV is second nature to Mal now.
She finds a vein, and then cleans the area with careful hands before inserting the cannula, which is always the worse part. Using one hand, she puts adds her own compound to the PASIV and then attaches her line. Settling into her chair, Mal gives Dom one last look before hitting the button.
Mal opens her eyes to what she recognizes almost immediately as recreation of Arthur's mind. The decor is sleek and clean, along with the long ball gown she's in. It's disappointing to be two levels deep already, but Mal still tracks Dom down. They talk briefly, but she's not ashamed to admit that she tries to give him a kick by dropping him off a building.
It doesn't work though, and Mal resorts to hunting down whatever projection is supposed to be the mark. He looks at her with a quiet curiosity as Mal explains that he is dreaming, because this is a bit of Dom's subconscious.
The fake mark nods and quietly asks her to help him deal the intruders. She agrees right away and it's partially because it's been awhile since Mal dreamed like this. Another thing she isn't ashamed of is shooting projections, even if one is a copy of Arthur. The ends will justify the means, she tells herself.
Except Mal doesn't get to the ends, because not soon after the shooting, the dream winds up collapsing. She wakes up swearing, because she should have known that her husband would still use two levels for a job. Dom doesn't know he's dreaming, so there's no reason for him to change his pattern.
Part of her wants to go down again, but there's a note in handwriting that Mal doesn't recognize, warning her not to use the compound more than once every twelve hours. She removes her line and the bottle from the PASIV, still fuming as she checks Dom's Somnacin levels.
Her anger melts away though, at the small smile that has appeared on Dom's face. She pauses and runs her hand tenderly across his jaw, then whispers into his ear. "You're still waiting for the train, Dom."
"We could we go down as a team," Arthur suggests, "Take a shot at inception and make him realize that he's dreaming."
"No!" Mal and Eames say together, and then give each other a startled look.
The three of them are sitting around Mal's kitchen table, each sipping a mug of coffee with different levels of alcohol mixed in. So far, Mal has dropped in on Dom's dreams twice a day, but only shows herself when he thinks he's dreaming. He's planning a job, but she's not sure who for and she's has no clue why he's not home with the children.
"What's your reasoning?" Arthur asks, looking back and forth between the other two.
"Inception is risky business. You've got to get the idea to plant itself just right otherwise it's all balls up," Eames is gesturing with his hands, contents of his mug threatening to spill, "If you don't plant the idea deep enough, the mark completely forgets it. Plant it too deep and it'll consume them, without them realizing it. I tried it once, ages ago. Mark wound off going nuts, then offing himself."
They're all quiet for a long moment, in which Mal stares pointedly into her mug while Arthur and Eames try to look anywhere but at her. She is not a stupid woman and knows it wasn't her own grasp of reality that ended with her jumping. Putting a hand in her sweater pocket, Mal traces her totem but doesn't move to take it out.
Mal isn't sure if she should feel so betrayed, reminding herself about ends and means. They will talk about it when Dom wakes up, she decides, and that's the priority right now. After taking a long sip of her coffee, Mal adds. "He's got projections for both of you already working with him. And the ones he made up are just as good."
She knows, because the girl that Dom invented caught Mal tailing him one night and turned out to as good with knives as she is at feigning innocence. Mal vows to pay her back tenfold the next chance she can get, if only she's been stuck entering the dream in memory worlds that Dom seems to always be visiting.
"Could you ruin the job, dove? Even in dreams, his employer might not be too happy about it."
The shooting motion and bang sound that Eames does after that is unnecessary, unless he meant to earn a glare from Arthur and a kick in the shin, courtesy of Mal. It's still the best shot that they have. At least, that's what Arthur tells her after calling Eames an asshole, because god forbid the forger's ego swells any more. (Arthur's words, not hers).
The two bicker back and forth for a while, which Mal would usually find entertaining. Tonight, however, she can feel the pounding of a headache starting, and excuses herself to check on Dom. She still has a good six hours before she can go under again, but still sits in order to hold his hand and talk.
This must be what it's like for couples when one half is sick. This is the type of thing she and Dom never had to endure when they grew old in limbo. Yes, her hair grayed and he gained a paunch, but any ailments could be willed away.
In sickness and in health has no real standing in dreams and Mal is terrified that this, holding onto Dom without him even knowing she's alive, is a glance into her future as a wife.
In the world outside of the house, leaves are changing colors and a chill is steadily creeping into the air. In the morning, Mal has to make sure that Phillipa buttons up her coat all the way and keeps a pot of coffee going around the clock. Mal feels like she's fading along with the warm weather, because whenever she looks in the mirror, she's greeted by dangerously pale skin that contrasts with the bags under her eyes.
She's half-way through a two-day wait to visit Dom's dreams again. He's started the job and because it's three levels down, Mal doesn't want to get a kick before she can get him alone. The time has been agonizing, knowing that she still has at least 18 hours before she can see Dom in some semblance of consciousness.
These are the things Mal thinks about as she sits in the living room, a photo album resting in front of her. James is napping against her side, sucking his thumb. She runs a hand through his hair and knows that he'll be a spitting image of Dom when he's older. One day, she might even mix up pictures of the two and won't that be funny for everyone?
The picture she's looking at now is of herself and Dom. He's saying something to whoever took the picture, grinning broadly and flipping them off. She is tucked under one of his arms, her face half-buried in his neck. Mal has no idea where the picture was taken, but it must have been before they were married, because he's not wearing a ring.
Twisting her own wedding band once, Mal snaps the album shut and glances at her watch. Time must be going in reverse, because there's still 18 hours left before she can go under. James makes a soft, fluttery sound at her side and Mal scoops him into her arms. He is a little less than thirty pounds and all of that weight is warm as he presses into her.
Still sleeping, James mumbles something that she doesn't make out, but Mal still smiles and presses a kiss to his crown. The boy furrows his brows in his sleep, just like his father.
Her heart twists a little as Mal carries her son to his room, not daring to look at the shut door separating Dom from everything else.
In the end, Mal fails.
She times everything right, dropping into the dream just as Dom starts the third level of his job. There's snow everywhere and she hates it, even when her sweater and jeans become a snowsuit. Mal isn't sure who the dreamer is supposed to be here, but when an avalanche starts from absolutely nowhere, she's sure that it's someone in the business. Kick music had been playing distortedly in the background, a few beats ahead of the actual avalanche.
There is fort at the base of the mountain and that's where Mal goes, glad for the gun that materializes at her hip and the skis that appear under her feet. As she crawls through an air duct system, she thinks about how this was always her favorite part of the job.
A quiet thrill races through her veins as she aims her gun at the mark that Dom imagined for himself and Mal realizes how much she's missed extraction. The shot to the mark is clean and he goes down like a sack of bricks.
The shot that hits her is even cleaner and Mal doesn't even realize that she's dead (again) until she wakes up in limbo. Stuck in a daze, she wanders around the city that she and Dom built together.
It seems to take another half-century before she finds the mark, who looks at her with wide, frightened eyes. He reminds her of Dom after the first time he died in a dream, so Mal kisses him once, on the forehead.
The projection still looks terrified, but sits across from her as they wait for whatever comes next. Despite all of this, despite the way she doesn't hurt a hair on his head even though it would the easiest way to ruin the job because he looks so much like a child grown too big, Dom still doesn't believe that she's anything more than a ghost.
Dom speaks to her tenderly; reminding her of growing old in limbo like Mal is the one who is lost. He wipes away tears that she didn't know that she shed with hands as careful and sweet as they've ever been. The mark and the girl projection (Ariadne is what Dom calls her) ride the kick out.
They stay together for a while, Dom holding Mal as she quietly weeps and kissing away the tracks of her tears. He promises that her death won't be in vain and tells her how much the children miss her back home. The strength it takes to keep Mal from screaming about how he's the one that left is not as enormous as one would think. Instead, she takes a quiet solace in her husband's embrace and words.
He leaves in the end, though and that's all that matters. Mal waits in this limbo for a little while longer, building up a world in order to destroy it again. Nothing should touch her there, because she won't allow it. Even so, the tornadoes and tsunamis Mal summons bring along a ghost of a touch, a phantom feeling that isn't quite pain and when she finally finds herself okay with that, she creates a high-rise and throws herself off of it.
It means that she wakes up with a splitting headache along with the bitterness of defeat on her tongue, but for a moment Mal felt like she was flying.
The ends justify the means.
Eames and Arthur are both waiting when she wakes up.
Arthur's eyes dart rapidly between Mal and Dom, his cardigan sleeves pushed up around his elbows. Dazedly, she remembers that he is only twenty-five, seven years her junior. Being twenty-five seems like it's light-years away from where Mal is now and she knows that limbo can shoulder much of the blame. Eames touches her shoulder gingerly, mouth twisting into a thin line.
"Alright there, dove?"
But all Mal does is keep quiet, still looking at Arthur with baffled eyes. His eyes have stopped darting and are now fixed on her, dark things rimmed with purple shadows. They're not from the past month, though. No, these shadows were made from Arthur spending the past six years of his life working in dreams. Six years could be six thousand life times in limbo.
Eames touches her shoulder again, murmuring her name. Mal tears her eyes from Arthur's haunting youth and focuses on Dom. The stubble on his face makes him look a good five years older. This is strange, because Mal always heard that people looked younger while they slept and has found it to be true, for the most part.
Because of a picture Dom took of her sleeping in the hospital the day James was born, Mal knows she looks younger then. Except, now that she's awake, her body is the achingly tired one of a woman closer to her mother's age.
This is the payment for living in limbo: an old soul trapped in a young body. She rubs at her wrinkle free hands, remembering what it felt like when the joints there would stiffen and hurt until she willed it away.
"I'm not going back again," Mal decides and then adds in a confident voice, "Dom will find his own way back to me."
She starts to remove her line, ignoring how Eames and Arthur stare, even as Mal heads out the door after dropping a brief kiss to Dom's forehead. It is nearly three o' clock, meaning James is due to wake up from his nap, and Phillipa will need to be picked up from school. This is Mal refusing to shut down again, confident in the strength of her and Dom's love.
After a little while, Arthur pinches the brim of his nose and sighs. "I'm getting too old for this shit."
Once upon a time, Mal thinks to herself after reading James a bedtime story, there used to be people that got to live happily ever after.
The thought reminds her of the year she wasted in university, listening to her peers try and wax poetic in order to impress each other. It only helped to lower Mal's tolerance for being in one place and so when she got a chance to start dreaming, she took it and ran.
Mal had always been a romantic growing up, a firm believer in fate and that everything happens for a reason. A fuck-up on a job literally left her falling into Dom's lap. Watching him scramble out of sleep and help her jump a wire fence made her see in life in him. The way they laughed and drank later that night made her fall in love. None of it would have happened if the subject hadn't gone haywire that day
What's there to gain from Dom being gone for five months, though?
Mal is thinner and angrier than she's ever been before. Already, she's gotten sick of Eames lectures and has sent him back wherever he came from. Phillipa mirrors this, screaming at her brother and Arthur when she gets upset. (And she's always more upset just after seeing Dom, something Mal is hesitantly allowing a few times a week).
James, her sweet boy, just asks for his daddy and stares at Mal with eyes just like Dom's. She gets nervous when she looks at him for too long, meaning that James spends most of the day with Arthur.
Dom would hate to see Arthur reduced to this: wasting all his dream sharing potential in order to play nanny during the day and spending sleepless nights listening to old records in the guest bedroom. He's been on an Edith Piaf kick the last few days, which means Mal doesn't even try to sleep anymore. Instead, she stares up at her bedroom ceiling and remembers all the times she and Dom went to bed angry or without saying goodnight. She regrets them all.
"Ni le bien qu'on m'a fait ni le mal," Edith croons out and Mal looks down to see that her hands are shaking as she puts away the toys littering James' room, the most maternal thing she's done in days.
In his sleep, James snuffles and mumbles something, making his mother stop cold. The first few weeks he was asleep, Dom would talk and snore like he always did in his sleep. By August, this was reduced to only the occasional snore. Now, it's November and Dom is silent as death, while this is the first time Mal has heard James making noises in his sleep. And, suddenly, she can't do this anymore and Mal flees the nursery for the sanctuary of her own room.
She sits on the bed, staring at her pale, pale hands and hating herself. There isn't a doubt within in her that, had the situations been reversed, Dom would not be falling apart like she is now. The children are not with him in the dream, but he's still functioning (more than that really, he's trying inception.)
There's a moment of terrible silence when Arthur must be changing the record; Mal considers jumping again. Human beings are capable of withstanding many things, she knows, but a sadness this strong can't possible be one of them. It is as if she has been rented in two, her other half visible, but completely untouchable. Mal has been tortured by projections before, but that can't compare to the dull hurt in her chest now.
From the guest bedroom a new record starts, the sweet French reminding Mal of her mother's singing. Methodically, she takes her totem out of her pocket and spins it. As it starts to tumble and she reminds herself that there is no waking up from a kick this time.
And it's just as Mal closes her eyes in attempt to force sleep that on the other side of the house, Dom opens his.
Dom Cobb finds it odd that the afterlife bears a strange resemblance to the house in LA, back from when the kids were little. He very clearly remembers dying. Or at least, he remembers being on his deathbed: Phillipa and Tyler (her husband) were there, along with James. His grand-kids were in the living room with their aunt, but Dom had made sure to kiss them goodbye before. He'd had a sense leaving fill him for the last few weeks and he knew it was his time.
After he sits up in bed and hears all his joints pop, Dom thinks fleetingly for a moment that the rumors are true and dying makes you young again. Except then he sees that he's hooked up to a PASIV and his stomach plummets.
Instinctively, he goes for the totem that he'd begun to carry again as an old man, when the thought of Mal didn't hurt so badly. It's gone and, feeling like a man possessed, Dom unhooks from the machine and walks to the door. Someone somewhere is playing a record he used to know, hushed French that seems to echo through the halls of his once home.
Some things are exactly as he remembered, the photos on the walls and wooden floors, but other things he forgot. Toys are littered about and there's a portrait of scribble family near what has to be the old nursery, faded from all the scrubbing done in vain to remove it. Dom realizes where he's going only when he's outside the door: the bedroom he and Mal shared.
Suddenly, Dom finds himself very afraid as he grips the doorknob, the faux crystal digging into his palm like a hundred little knives. With an ear pressed to the door, he can hear the small, desperate moan. It is familiar and female, making him want to simultaneously shout with joy and empty the contents of his stomach right onto the floor.
Someone once said that there was a time and place for everything. Well, Dom figures, the time is now and the place must be here, so the everything is opening this goddamn door. What is there left to lose?
He takes a breath and turns the handle.
When the door opens, Mal isn't willing to roll over and face it right away. She figures it must be one of the children, frightened by some nightmare and about to climb into bed next to her. No one gets into the bed though, and the room is filled with the sounds of her intruder's heavy breathing. Mal shuts her eyes, now sure that it's Arthur coming to tell her that he can't handle the Cobb family madness and he has to leave right away.
Except then, Dom says her name. There's no questioning that it's him, because Mal has been going crazy over not hearing his voice for months. Now, it's raspy from disuse, but that does nothing to keep tears from springing to her eyes. He says her name again, louder and less unsure. Mal wastes no time in leaping from the bed, wrapping herself around him, and kissing all over Dom's face.
Her husband appears to be in shock, because he doesn't kiss back, but Mal is more than happy to pick up his slack. She presses feather light kisses along his jaw line and brow, flutters her eyelashes sweetly against his cheek, allows herself to shakily whisper how she loves him before burying her face in his neck. Now, as Mal laughs and cries all at once, Dom pulls her a little closer.
"You died." He says very matter-of-factly. "I saw you jump. We had a funeral and everything."
"Nothing but a bad dream." Mal insists, smoothing out his sleep mussed hair.
They are both whispering, but neither one would be able to say why. When Mal imagined this moment, the walls shook with the sound of their joy. Now that the novelty of seeing Dom awake has worn off, she feels foolish for laughing. This exchange seems more like they're sharing secrets from past lives. (And, in a way, Dom is doing just that. But in the moment, Mal forgets how bewildering it can be to wake up from a particularly long dream.)
"The kids grew up. I walked Phillipa down the aisle when she married Tyler. She wore your old dress."
Dom is trembling now and he's gripping Mal just a little too tightly. She doesn't complain or ask who Tyler is, just gently reminds him that Phillipa only turned five last summer. The look that flashes over his face is one she'll never forget: Dom's blue eyes go wild and his mouth twists into something ugly before a low, broken moan comes out. His knees buckle and Mal, who cannot support both their weight, is forced to sink to the floor with him.
All the times Mal has seen Dom cry before, it had been quiet and contained. Now is no different, except now as tears flow freely down his face, he's patting himself down with a fierceness that makes her terrified. Mal loves this man more than anything else in the world, but she knows that one of his (and her own) greatest failings is how much he's come to rely on his totem once they came up with the idea of them.
He can't find it though, because Mal had tucked it safely into the drawer of nightstand in the guest room. Dom's letting out little moans now and then that are probably words, but she can't make them out. As Mal passes him her own totem, her throat seizes up in a sudden ache and she, too, is crying.
With shaky hands, Dom takes the top and flicks it. It tumbles almost immediately and he lets out a howl that is more animal than man before growing very quiet again. Mal tries to touch his shoulder, but Dom flinches away and suddenly it's as if her soul has abandoned her body.
She's aware of the sound of her own crying, along with the sound of someone (most likely Arthur) running from down the hall. He must of flipped the record only seconds before bolting, because Mal can make out the beginning strains of Non, je ne regrette rien. She sees herself sitting inches away from her husband, but completely unable to touch him as he tries her totem again and again.
As Arthur bursts into the room, Mal crashes back into herself. He's got his gun pulled out but drops it as soon as he spots Dom. It clatters to the floor harshly and, suddenly, Arthur's throwing questions at rapid speed. She only hears one though: "Mal, what do we do?"
And everything in her aches (worse than it did when she hit the pavement or all the times she had to wake up without Dom or when James said that he no longer remembered what Daddy sounded like) as Mal finds that she has no answer to give.