Choke

Rating: PG-13/T

Genre: Hurt/Comfort/Drama/Angst

Summary: For hc_bingo, prompt "Asphyxiation". That one time Cobb and Arthur tried strangulation in lieu of a gunshot to the head while on a job. The first time, and the only time.

Author's Note:Yeeeeah, I couldn't do Silent Hill: Homecoming for this prompt (did it for my last wild card) and was going to try for a Silent Hill: Revelation story, but then Inception was on TNT and… Yup. Inspiration. (DUUUUUUUUUN.)

Disclaimer: I don't own Inception. It belongs to Christopher Nolan and Warner Brothers Studios.

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There were a number of reasons why they brought guns.

The sooner one could take down a projection, the better; it was also useful for intimidation, because if the mark didn't realize that they were dreaming, they logically believed that a bullet to the head could kill them. If nothing else, when someone was trying to shake you down for corporate secrets, the odds of said interrogator carrying a gun was high.

But most importantly, it gave the extractors a chance to make a clean getaway. You kill yourself, the dream (for you) ends: You have a head-start on the mark, time to pack up and get away before they wake up and call for backup. Dream-suicide was not a preferred method of escaping a dream, but it was better than being caught. And a bullet was fast, clean and immediate.

It was a rare occasion when they needed a gun and didn't have one.

But it did happen.

"We have to wake up." Cobb said it with such finality, because really, there was no other option. They had the information they needed, they were in the clear, but then ended up trapped in a room with the door barricaded and angry projections on the other side of it. Arthur suspected Mal (again), but now wasn't a time to be throwing accusations. One of them had to get away, and they had to do it as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, the room was empty. No heavy, blunt objects (Nothing they could lift, anyway, and most of it was being used to keep the door shut). No window to jump out of. No knives, no weapons at all, nothing that could bring about death- except one another.

Arthur would look back at this moment some time later and wonder how in the hell he managed to come up with such a monumentally stupid idea.

"Choke me."

"What?"

"Choke me, come on- Death takes five or six minutes, so you need to do it now." He could tell that in spite of their rather desperate situation- the door was rattling in the background as they spoke- Cobb seemed more than a bit unsettled by the idea.

"Why don't you choke me?"

"Because you're stronger than me. Cobb, I'll be fine. I'm not actually getting strangled, just like I've never actually been shot in the head. We don't have a lot of time to debate this!" Arthur snapped, jerking his head towards the door.

And so Cobb did it. He pinned Arthur to the ground, wrapped both hands around his neck, and squeezed. He kept his eyes shut, except for one instance where he shot a look at the door after a particularly loud banging.

Arthur wasn't certain how long it took him to blackout. The standard was somewhere between thirty seconds and a minute, but Cobb's form was poor- clearly he had never choked someone to death before, which was, if nothing else a reasonably comfortable realization. Time and sound began to blur, and his vision eventually began to darken, Cobb's face and the bleak colors of the room fading away.

After the first ten seconds or so Arthur had started praying to blackout. He wished that he had thought to check his dice before suggesting this idea, which was growing (in retrospect) increasingly idiotic with every passing moment. There wasn't even much pain to it, but the feeling of his throat closing, his mind telling him that he was being choked and therefore could not breathe was both terrifying and, to put it mildly, incredibly uncomfortable.

One of the many drawbacks of a slow death was that you could meditate on the fact that you were dying. A bullet to the head was done and over with, but the dream was so real that it felt like Arthur was genuinely being strangled, that he was about to die even though he knew intellectually it wasn't true. The fear rising in his chest as the air left his lungs was definitely one-hundred percent real.

Right on the cusp of darkness, he thought, Can't breathe can't breathe Dom stop this was a bad idea I'll just bash my head against the wall until it cracks stop stop stop-

Awake.

Arthur gasped and jerked forward, very nearly hurtling himself out of the chair he had been situated in when the sedation was administered. He had broken out into a sweat (a nightmare if he had ever had one), and his hands were shaking uncontrollably. His throat felt fine, and he heaved in a few deep gulps of air before reaching into his pocket for the loaded die.

Never again. Never, ever again.

After a toss on the floor and satisfied- insofar as someone in his business could be satisfied- that this was reality, Arthur got up and walked over to the still-sleeping Cobb. He didn't knock the chair over, but rather gripped it tightly and tilted it back until the older man's eyes flew open. "Arthur-"

"Did they get in?"

"They were just about to. Are you-"

"Let's go, then." Arthur turned away without looking Cobb in the eye, withdrawing the IV from the mark's arm and hastily putting the PASIV machine back together. "We have what we came for, right?"

"Yeah." Cobb was looking at him like he expected Arthur to pass out. Or maybe he was still trying to wrap his mind around reality and the fact that no, he hadn't just strangled Arthur to death. When the younger man looked, he saw that Cobb's hand was in his pocket, and the only reason he wasn't spinning his totem at the moment was because they couldn't stick around and wait for it to fall.

They left just as the mark was starting to stir. No one came running after them, which meant they had done their job well: He probably woke up and thought that he had simply had a very strange dream. Hopefully any suspicions to the contrary and ensuing actions would take place once they were long gone.

Cobb drove, which was unusual because usually Arthur drove. Arthur didn't complain, and if his hand came up to touch or massage his throat more than a few times over the next hour, Cobb said nothing about it.

There were a few subtle but alarming moments during the ride where Arthur got a little too lost in his own thoughts and thought he could feel Cobb's hands around his throat again, and it made him suck in an unnecessarily deep breath. He saw the other man's eyes flicker in his direction, but Cobb said nothing. After the second time, Arthur squeezed his eyes shut.

Get over it. You're fine. You were freaked out almost as badly the first time you got "shot". By tomorrow you'll have begun to forget about this altogether.

They stayed silent for most of the drive; when they reached their destination- the cold, corporate building belonging to their client- Cobb looked at him.

"You coming in?"

"I'll pass." Not unusual: Arthur wasn't the one who got hired; Cobb was the extractor, and he hired his own team. This time they had managed with Cobb doubling as the architect.

Cobb drummed his fingers on top of the car. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine. It was just a dream." Whoops: Never the right line to use, not with them. Cobb gave Arthur a flat look.

"It's never just a dream."

Arthur could understand Cobb's concern, because he would be concerned too if their positions were reversed. But at the same time, it struck a somewhat bitter cord: If Cobb wasn't willing to chat about why his dead wife was popping up on and messing up their jobs, Arthur didn't see why he should be expected to share his feelings about a difficult dream-death.

"I'll live. Go finish the job."

Cobb's expression was neutral enough, but then he made that face that reminded Arthur of the one his mother used to give him: One that said "Fine, fine, repress away, but eventually you're going to explode." Cobb knew how much Arthur hated it when he channeled his mother. "All right. I'll be back."

He started to close the door, until Arthur said, "Dom." He stopped, and Arthur gave him a dark look. "We're never doing that again."

Cobb stared at him for a moment, but then nodded.

It was never spoken of again.

-End