(A/N: Here is my fourth Inception fic on here, and it is based on a prompt on the Inception Kink meme that said: "We know something of what Dom's image of Mal is from his projection of her. But how does Mal see him? Why does she love him?" I really want to explore Mal's character, so obviously all the events take place before the movie (which is not my property, it's Nolan's). This story will be longer than the other three I've written. Enjoy!)
Half of a Whole
~ ~ * * * Prologue * * * ~ ~
It was suddenly too exhausting to continue standing there in Cobb's dark dining room. Arthur dropped into the nearest chair with a muffled thud that only his tailbone could've made when it connected with the wooden seat. Sweat broke the surface of the skin closest to his spine.
Cobb's voice had been calm, but in a way that had assured Arthur that he was up to something— which would've been normal… if the sun had been up. "I need you to meet me at my house," he'd said over the phone.
Arthur had been trying to catch up on some real sleep while Cobb spent the evening with his wife. "What about your anniversary dinner with Mal?" he'd asked, justifiably confused. He'd yawned into the crook of his arm.
"Arthur, just do as I ask. Go to the house. I'll meet you there."
"Alright…" he'd replied, groaning in irritation. "Can't I ask what this is about? It's two in the morning, Cobb."
"You'll know when you get there," Cobb dodged his question.
Arthur was almost overwhelmed by the temptation to shout a string of curses, drawing from air at the bottom of his lungs. He also wanted to bang his head against the wall, or flip over the heavy table in front of Cobb, who sat rigidly to his right. A screw driver jammed under the nails would've been better than hearing that Mallorie Cobb had committed suicide by jumping out of a goddamn hotel window. He just wanted to do something violent or loud because Cobb was being way too calm, and it was driving him crazy.
The older man muttered for the fourth time, "Mal… she's dead." Cobb cleared his throat. "There was a crowd when they put her body into the ambulance." Cobb's lip curled when he said this. "They were disgusting. People—people who call themselves 'civilized' still can't let go of the days when public executions and freak shows were considered top quality entertainment for the whole family. They watched, mesmerized, as my wife's body was cleaned up and taken away like it was road kill."
Arthur blinked, dragged out of his trance by Cobb's monotonous, dead voice. He tried to say something… anything… but nothing came out. He lifted his head. He felt sick.
Looking forward, Cobb tugged at his disheveled, loosened tie and slid it off the back of his neck. A black jacket was resting limply on the back of his chair. Arthur could only make out the contour of Cobb's cheek, nose, and taut jaw in the hazy darkness, but it was as if the man had aged another ten years in one night.
"I pleaded with her not to do it— to jump. She wanted us to be together…"
Arthur closed his eyes and pushed his fingers against his lids until he saw flecks of light. He was trying to squeeze out the vision that played too vividly in the forefront of his imagination.
Mal arguing psychotically with Cobb…
Mal stepping out into empty space…
Mal crumpled on the…
"She thrashed the room. She said she'd filed a letter to our attorney," Cobb went on, continuing to make even less sense than Arthur would've liked. Cobb's voice cracked. "She said she was 'fearful for her safety'. That's why she thrashed the room."
His heart shuddered behind his ribs. "Why'd she say that? You'd die before you'd harm a hair on her head." He shivered in despair. "Cobb, why'd she wanna jump at all? She's never struck me as suicidal. I mean, she's been a little stressed out lately, but…"
Cobb suddenly made solid eye contact. He scrunched up the black tie in his hands. "Because, she wanted to free me from the guilt of leaving our children."
Arthur raised a brow. Why would Cobb leave Mal and the kids? How does jumping out a window solve anything?
Cobb shook his head sadly. "She lied to me. She wasn't getting better. She was plotting to try and save us."
"I don't understand." Arthur frowned, shaking his head. He swallowed. "'Save us'?" he repeated. "From what? What are you talking about?"
"From a dream," Cobb answered plainly, as if it were so obvious. "To get back to reality she said we had to kill ourselves." He then looked down at the table. "I was supposed to jump with her."
Arthur's mouth had fallen open, and he closed it. Warily, he whispered, "Cobb, I've only known you for a year—longer, if you count the amount of time we've spent with the PASIV—and our relationship is primarily a professional one… and I understand why you kept this side of her from me, to protect her—"
"Ignorance is bliss, Arthur, believe me. I'm sorry, but this was between my wife and me."
Arthur shut his mouth at the quick, unyielding response. He looked around the room and shifted in his seat, feeling out of sorts, especially in the sweatshirt, sloppy tee-shirt, jeans, and sneakers he'd quickly thrown on. He ran his fingers self-consciously through his short, sleep-mussed hair. Of course Cobb wouldn't want to discuss his wife's brittle mental state with the kid they'd hired to help them train and arm the subconscious of paranoid corporate suits. Hired to take some of the stress off Mal because two young children need a lot of attention. Because Mal had so willingly welcomed Arthur into the Cobbs' life, he felt like he was entitled to more than just "it was between my wife and me". The invitations to family dinners when he would've otherwise microwaved a TV dinner for himself at his apartment; Mal and Cobb patiently drilling with him to perfect every trick they'd learned from Miles or invented themselves until he was performing to their standards; Mal buying him the business attire and shoes as a birthday present that he couldn't have otherwise afforded himself— had it all been for nothing? His own naïve foolishness sickened him. The feeling was almost gone at once, but left behind a nagging uneasiness towards Dominick Cobb.
Not everything in their personal lives had been kept secret from him, though- they'd told him about Limbo. Springing from the image of Mal's body lying on the pavement like a porcelain doll knocked from a shelf, Arthur couldn't help but wonder if Mal's death had anything to do with their stay in Limbo. He was at a loss as to why such a thought had occurred to him, but… they had needed to kill themselves in order to wake up. Arthur had had to kill himself in a dream before, and it wasn't pleasant, and fifty years was a long time to spend in one dream, no matter how proficient a grip a person had on reality.
For the first time, Arthur realized how noiseless the house was; how bone-chillingly and gut-wrenchingly impersonal it was, made it feel like a foreign continent. The stagnant, unmoving air didn't even smell right. The chair he sat in seemed to drink in the warmth from his body and give nothing in return.
"Where are the kids?" he asked finally while he watched Cobb remove a small, silver top from his pocket and carefully wrap his tie around it.
"Not here, thankfully. They're with Marie." Cobb swallowed thickly. "Here, keep this safe for me, will you, Arthur, hmm? I had to grab it before the cops confiscated it as evidence. Mal jumped just before ten, and I was busy at the police station up until I called you. I thought you should know before you saw the news." Fresh tears ran down the older man's flushed cheeks. "I can't have it right now."
"Mal's totem… It reminds you too much of her?" Arthur guessed, bemused. He barely registered the soft fabric roll that was placed in his upturned, cupped palms. "Mal set you up…" He couldn't complete the sentence. Police officers often seemed to cling to the most obvious leads and hold onto them with a death grip. "Her mental state… have you explained it to them? Will you tell them about how we have to kill ourselves to wake up sometimes when we share dreams? How we keep totems to keep track of reality?" He then added, a little bit cuttingly, "Or are you gonna hang onto that piece of information, too?"
Cobb glared at him. His nostrils flared a bit. "Even if I explained everything to them, I have a feeling that it won't be so simple, Arthur," Cobb replied hostilely. The hand he'd rested on the surface of the table curled into a fist. "Dream-sharing is outlawed in the United States, remember? I can't share anything about that, alright? As it is, your employment is off the books. You do not exist in our lives. I might need you to hide the PASIV and the compounds at your place."
"If I know my wife…" Cobb continued with a sneer, "I'm willing to gamble that she put on a worthy performance for her psychiatrist."
Arthur cringed. That's what those "appointments" were… She was couch bait for a goddamn shrink! "What about fingerprints? Did you touch anything?"
Cobb shook his head and squeezed his eyes shut. "I don't know… I don't remember. I don't think I did. Not anything that was broken or smashed anyway."
"How long were you two alone together? Did any cameras see her or you?"
"I don't know." Arthur was sure their meeting was over when Cobb stood up abruptly. "Like I said, Arthur, keep her totem safe until I ask for it back."
Arthur nodded rigidly. "I won't touch it." He stood up as well.
"That's all I ask. I'll call you tomorrow afternoon, alright? I'm expected at the station again in the morning. They're going to break down the crime scene for me, probably try to force a confession." Cobb then started to lead Arthur towards the front door.
Straight-faced, Arthur muttered, "Sounds like fun."
When the shape of Cobb's shoulders hardened, Arthur felt a pang of guilt. They walked through the house in silence. Cobb pulled open the door and stood to the side. His posture was rigid.
Arthur paused when half his body was already out the door.
"Good-night, Arthur," Cobb told him formally.
Arthur turned back, his hand squeezing the small package in his left hand. The night, late-summer air nipped at the skin on his hands. "Cobb… I'm sorry she's gone. I shouldn't have antagonized you."
Cobb gave him a thin smile. "I'm just as angry as you are," he said quietly, although his tone was not nearly as hostile has it had been a minute before. He glanced down at the ground, giving the impression that he wasn't all the way present. "Tomorrow, Arthur," the older man reminded him wearily.
Arthur nodded and followed the sidewalk to the street where his car was parked. Behind him, Cobb closed the door and locked it.
He did no envy Cobb what needed to be done in the morning with the police, as well as with Mal's divorced parents, Miles and Marie.
And those poor kids...
Since he'd known him, Cobb had been a private sort of man, which was somewhat admirable in a day and age where people did not hesitate to share every minute of their lives with faceless strangers. Arthur predicted that Cobb's thoughts and motives were going to be much harder to access and understand from that point on… if of course, Cobb kept him around and stayed out of prison.
What went wrong, Mal? How could someone like you lose touch with reality? How could you do this to your family? What in the hell happened?
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(A/N: I thought it would be interesting to tell the first part through Arthur's POV. The rest of it will be through Mal's eyes, and will also contain flashbacks regarding her childhood and her life with Cobb.)