Fandom: Inception / Brick Crossover, (hints of) Arthur/Eames, PG
Summary: Arthur used to be Brendan Frye, a kid who managed to beat Dominic Cobb at his own game while recovering from internal injuries.
Notes: For this kink_meme prompt. The title and the quote in the end come from Sassafrass' "My Brother, My Enemy", which has nothing to do with this fic but is an awesome song nevertheless.
Warnings: Mentions of violence and drugs happening to minors.
There used to be a time Dom was so squeaky-clean, he could work for the police; could, and did. Not the most lucrative of positions, but he was a married man now, and needed to settle down, maybe start on a little nest egg. Hey, the benefits were good.
So he got a call. Drove out to a hospital, where the local police led him to a room where a fifteen year-old kid was lying in a coma because of bad drugs. Dom went under, he went out, he shook his head at the cops. "Too late," he said. "Should've called me earlier. He's all but dead inside."
Someone higher up wasn't happy about this. Dom could sympathize. Apparently a lot of kids had died, and someone wanted answers. Shame you can't interrogate the dead.
"There's another way," said one of the guys – not a cop, a vice principal at the high school where it all went down. He said it when their police escort left for a minute to make a call, so Dom figured something not entirely straight going on. But when Dom turned an inquiring look at him, the guy – Trueman – stared Dom down. Dom nodded at him minutely and they slipped away.
"We have someone who might know something," Trueman said, hushed. "But he's not involved in this. He's a good kid, and we don't want him seen with the cops. He didn't do this."
Dom filed that under 'related to someone important' and said sure, he'll take a look, where's the kid?
"Right here," Trueman said, grimly. "Internal injuries and a minor concussion, and all of it several days old."
Dom raised an eyebrow and internally changed his estimate from 'good connections' to 'I don't even want to know'. But of course he was going to learn; that was what they dragged him out here for, after all.
After seeing Trueman's expression, Dom was almost surprised to find the kid – not just awake, but distressingly alert. Dom had worked with a number of people who could take a glance at him and give him his life story, but it was disconcerting coming from a teenager.
The kid looked at him, then shifted his gaze to Trueman. The kid looked betrayed; Trueman – Dom noted it with a little surprise – looked almost guilty.
"Brendan," Trueman said (and he didn't sound like a teacher talking to a student, that's for certain), "This is Mr. Cobb. We need him to examine you."
"You mean, interrogate." The kid's voice was soft. Dom didn't like the sound of his breathing.
"Maybe we should wait. Give him a chance to recover." Dom directed a meaningful look at Trueman.
Trueman shook his head with a regretful look. "We need to do this now. If we wait until you get out of the hospital, this could look bad. Could go on your record, Brendan."
Brendan looked at them and nodded once, wary.
When Dom opened his eyes, he was walking down a high school corridor. Students standing by their lockers halted in their conversations to give him hostile looks.
Jeez. He'd seen more open minds on trained FBI agents. Agents Dom trained himself. Then again, maybe Dom just had fonder memories of high school.
He'd asked Brendan, before they went under, what his locker number was, and Brendan gave it. It shouldn't be too hard from there – wait for the class bell to ring, for the hall to empty of projections, go pick the locker. Child's play.
But even when the bell rang, the projections made no move away from their lockers. No, wait, that wasn't true. They were moving in Dom's direction.
He cursed under his breath and walked faster, scanning the locker numbers, looking for the particular one he needed. He only had to get there, get everything out and run like hell, hide and read everything in the bathroom or something until they caught up with him. It wouldn't be the first time Dom was ripped apart.
The right locker was the first one that didn't have a murderous-looking kid standing next to it. Dom abandoned all finesse and flatly shot out the lock. The projections flinched momentarily, and then recovered to swarm him.
Dom swallowed and grabbed inside the locker, which turned out to be empty except for something small and rectangular.
Out of nowhere, a young man appeared next to Dom, leaning on a cane and smiling a crooked smile before he shot Dom in the kneecap. "Wanted to do it to someone," he whispered, and then aimed his gun at the oncoming projections as Dom sank to the floor howling.
He had one look at what he was holding before the man shot him in the head. It was a Rubik's cube.
He came out pale and sweating. The kid – no, fuck that, anyone with a mind like that deserved respect – Brendan was looking at him.
"Right." Dom sat up, wincing at the phantom pain in his knee. "That was fun."
A merest hint of a smile appeared on Brendan's face. "I'm sure there are those who would call it that," he agreed.
Dom breathed deep. He looked at Trueman. "Would you mind waiting outside?"
Trueman looked like he wanted to say something, but he took one look at Brendan and apparently thought better of it. He left.
Dom moved his chair to face Brendan. "I could get it, you know," he said, conversationally.
Bredan smirked. "You're welcome to try."
Dom met his eyes. "And maybe I won't succeed. Maybe it will take more than one or two attempts. Maybe I'll fail completely. And then what?"
Brendan looked at him blankly.
"You really don't like having people in your head," Dom said softly. "How many times you think they'll try it before they give up?"
"Or maybe they'll just throw you off the case," Brendan countered.
Dom raised his arms. "Hey. I'm not doing this again."
Brendan gave him an almost smug look. "Scared?"
Dom leaned closer to him, gently touched the bruises on his face. Give it to the kid, he didn't move, but his eyes widened. Didn't expect that, did he. "Yes," he said, honestly. "Of what it might do to you." Brendan withdrew, but Dom had no intention of letting this go. He got off his chair, sat himself right on the edge of Brendan's bed. Still touching his face. "You're a minor, Brendan. I don't think you actually did anything wrong. Why don't you just tell me what happened?"
Brendan swallowed, his eyes never leaving Dom's. Hoarsely, he said, "Hypothetically." He swallowed again. "If there was something I could tell. What would be the point? The police know who had the drugs. Who killed Emily." The last one was nearly a whisper. "What's the difference?"
Brendan coughed, rattling deep in his chest. Dom wanted to push the button to call a nurse, but he didn't dare, not when he was this close. "Still," he said, in the most caring tone of voice he thought wouldn't raise Brendan's defenses again. "You know police. They won't rest until everything's turned upside down. Do you really want that?"
Brendan closed his eyes, and Dom sensed victory. He couldn't take much joy in it. Then Brendan looked at him and said, "There's some things better left alone."
"Then we'll figure out how to cover them," Dom said, and knew he was committed.
Between the two of them, they came up with something plausible without digging too far into the dirt. Dom didn't pry, but quietly he put some things together. Pregnancy followed easily from a high school girl who wasn't seen for a few months. The pain in Brendan's eyes said enough about the subject of paternity.
He couldn't figure out whether Brendan had slept with that Laura girl, but that was neither here nor there.
But he was piecing together, too, things he didn't want to think about. All those kids, too bright for their own good, speaking in for-goodness-sakes-30's slang because it made something stupid and pointless and deadly look glamorous. The fact that Brendan was alone in the hospital, when Frisco's parents were anxiously waiting a room away.
"Several days old," Trueman had said. Dom knew injuries like that. Most people couldn't walk after injuries like that, never mind play detective and attend high school for several days. It made Dom's fists clench.
When it was over, just before his final meeting with the police, Dom lingered. "Here." He gave Brendan his card.
Brendan looked at him. "What for?"
Dom considered: Because your potential is enormous. Because I'm scared of what you'll do if you're left unchecked. Because you're just a kid and they nearly killed you, Jesus, and you should have someone you can call to help you. He was almost surprised to find himself saying, "I could use a man like you."
It was the right thing to say, even though it made Brendan's eyes narrow with suspicion. Anything else would have made him bolt.
Perhaps he should have been surprised when Brendan turned up on his doorstep, some months later.
When Dom opened the door, he made a quick mental calculation. "Okay, you're over sixteen," he said, "you can come in."
Brendan stayed put. Cautious. "Sixteen isn't majority," he said. "Just the age of consent." His eyes widened slightly, but he didn't take a step backwards. Dom inwardly applauded his courage even as he cursed his stubbornness.
"Sixteen means you have a vote in what happens to you, legally," he said, ushering Brendan in, "which means you can tell the Feds you came here of your own volition and they don't automatically slap a kidnapping charge on me." Which would be a problem, considering that the FBI payed most of his salary nowadays.
"I won't bring the Feds on you," Brendan said scornfully. "My parents are fine with this. I'm finished with high school and." His voice faltered, just for a moment. "You said I could work for you." It was almost a question. Then, something shifted in Brendan's face. "No. What you said was you could use a man like me."
His eyes met Dom's, unwavering. Dom was very nearly impressed. "Good memory," he said, dryly. "However, I don't see a lot I could do with a high-school dropout."
Brendan regarded him patiently. "I didn't say I dropped out. I said I was finished with it. Got all my walking papers." He took them out of his backpack for Dom to inspect.
Dom surveyed them. "Perfect grades. Why am I not surprised?"
Brendan smiled. "Have I given you any reason to be?" He had dimples. Dom was suddenly very worried of what Mal would do when she came home. She'd devour the poor kid alive.
As it turned out, Mal smiled at Brendan warmly, kissed his cheeks and fussed about his clothes, which was Mal's way of hugging him to her chest and squealing "He's so precious! Can we keep him?"
The tragedy of the situation was that Dom's emotions weren't very different. This made everything considerably more difficult, especially since Brendan didn't seem to realize the direness of possible consequences.
"The thing you did, in my dream," he said, looking Dom steadily in the eye. "I could do it. I could be better than anyone you've ever trained." It wouldn't have been so bad if he wasn't absolutely right.
"Don't rush," Mal scolded him. Brendan ducked his head and smiled at her. "I'm serious," she admonished. "You could be hurt very badly."
Brendan tilts his head. "How bad could it be? You come out when you die."
"Bad," Mal said with an air of finality, and thank goodness Brendan had the good sense not to argue with her.
She refused to let Dom persuade Brendan to give it a rest, wait a few years, get a degree and maybe a lick of sense. "He can study while he works with you," she said, as if she was being completely reasonable. "A mind like his would be bored with anything less. And he must be trained properly," and with this Dom had to agree. Brendan had too much potential. If they wouldn't teach him, he'd go to somebody who would, and Dom wanted to keep this kid as far away from the shadier sides of life as humanly possible.
Their second foray into dreams was far less traumatic than the first. Not surprising, given that 1. they weren't in Brendan's mind and 2. Brendan seemed to have mellowed considerably once Dom promised to teach him.
"I can change anything?" Brendan inquired.
Dom smiled at him and gestured expansively. "Just don't overdo it," he added, almost offhand. "The projections--"
"I did understand you the first time," Brendan said mildly.
"Go ahead, then. Show me what you've got."
Brendan's face furrowed in concentration. For a minute, everything was the same, and then Brendan blinked and reappeared. Dom blinked as well; Suddenly Brendan was wearing a three-piece suit, his hair slicked back. He must have done something with his shoes, too, because he looked taller. "Like it?" he asked Dom.
"Classic," Dom said.
"I used to watch a lot of old movies," Brendan said, smiling enough for his dimples to make an appearance.
"Couldn't tell," Dom said dryly, which made Brendan laugh.
It wasn't until a few moments later that Dom realized they were conducting that conversation while walking in circles, because Brendan had turned the staircase they climbed into perfect Penrose steps.
"Was it well?" Mal inquired when they woke.
"Outstanding," Dom said. "You ought to let the kid show you."
Brendan's expression turned menacing when Dom called him 'kid', and the conversation went downhill until there wasn't anything to do but for all three of them to do under again.
Dom couldn't be upset, not when he saw the delight in Mal's eyes at seeing Brendan in a suit. Her voice, however, was stern. "No, that will never do," she said, turning Brendan around. With a flick of her fingers, something about the suit changed – Dom had no idea what it was, but suddenly where stood a kid wearing his father's clothes there was a young man, looking sharp and professional and terrifyingly intelligent.
"I think I liked the old suit better," Dom said feebly.
The other two ignored him. Mal summoned a mirror for Brendan to examine himself in, which he did with pursed lips. Eventually he said, "I don't think I look like a Brendan anymore."
"How about Arthur?" Dom suggested, mostly sarcastic.
The kid gave him a hint of a smile. On this grown-looking version, it looked upsettingly knowing. "Arthur works."
If Dom had any say about it, Brendan – fine, Arthur, but only because he sulked otherwise – was not going to work with anyone but Dom, Mal and a finely selected list of professionals. Not until he was at least eighteen, and God, that thought gave Dom the worst headache in history.
But Mal was pregnant now, and Somnacin wasn't safe enough. They needed an architect (Nash, whom Dom disliked but could live with), and Nash demanded his own team, a chemist named Sophie (Dom heard about her, perfectly professional by all accounts) and a forger named Eames (no, no, not over Dom's dead fucking body).
He realized, in hindsight, that he may have been a tiny bit overprotective. But still. "He's a criminal!" Dom protested to Miles, who was acting as liaison between the government and private contractors at the time. "The k-- Arthur," he modified at the last's murderous glare, "is underage and shouldn't be exposed to things like that!"
"The k-- Arthur," Arthur interjected dryly, "has already been exposed to drugs, murder and more unpleasantness than the average jailbird." Arthur had probably looked up the statistics about it, Dom thought glumly. "It's a bit late to worry, I should think." Arthur gave Dom a pointed look.
Dom threw his hands up in disgust. "Fine. Be corrupted. See if I care. Just don't blame me if Mal doesn't want you to come over to dinner anymore."
He knew as soon as he said it that is was a low blow; he didn't need Arthur's wounded look or Miles saying "She would do no such thing!" rather forcefully.
"Sorry. F-- crap. Excuse me for saying anything." But before he left the room in ignominy, he stopped and asked Arthur, "How about this? Just come in for the dream. Get in last, leave first." In his dream-suits, Arthur at least looked like an adult.
Arthur rolled his eyes. "Well, if it keeps me from being banished from the table, by all means."
Dom huffed and left. He really hoped no one told Mal about this. Pregnancy made her unpredictable enough as it was.
Arthur's existing experience, Dom realized belatedly, was actually a part of the problem. He'd already seen too much, had too much done to him (internal injuries, Dom thinks, mild concussion, and grits his teeth). Was a little protection now (too little, too late) too much to offer?
Apparently, it was. Even though Arthur was considerate enough to follow Dom's suggestion, things didn't just go badly: they went badly in a wholly unforeseen way.
Eames, when Dom met him, was about what he'd expected; seedy, shifty, all sly smirks and dirty looks. Dom held his breath, counted to ten, told himself he'd never do this again. They could wait until Mal gave birth, couldn't they?
However, when Arthur appeared beside them in the dreams, all of Eames' dirty looks were replaced by wide eyed disbelief.
Followed, to Arthur's mortification and Dom's slight nausea, by much dirtier looks.
"A vision of beauty!" Eames cries, kneeling before Arthur with arms spread wide. "I must be dreaming," he said in a beatific tone of voice.
"You think?" Nash said, crankily, while Arthur was trying to edge away without being noticed.
Eames got to his feet and cleared his throat. "Forgive me," he told Arthur formally. "I was overcome by finally seeing the man I was meant to spend the rest of my life with. It's terribly distracting." So were Arthur's silent pleas for a rescue, in Dom's opinion.
Dom grabbed Eames by the collar of his shirt and dragged him away, none too gently. "Don't be unprofessional, Mr. Eames. It doesn't reflect on you well."
Eames turned to give Arthur one more smile, which was frankly more lecherous than besotted. Dom wasn't really surprised by that.
Wonder of wonders, though, the training run went through smoothly. In record time, too, which Dom suspected in part because both he and Arthur wanted to get the hell away from there as fast as possible.
However, after the initial panic, Arthur seemed to take Eames in stride. Dom found himself actually wishing Arthur wouldn't keep his promise not to let Eames see him out of dreams; maybe if Eames understood who he was actually trying to pursue here...
Well, what terrified Dom was the possibility that he'd go on with full strength ahead, but he wanted to give the guy some credit.
Arthur seemed to find it almost amusing now, keeping an immobile face and only responding in the driest of sardonic wit to Eames enthusiastic attempts. Far from deterring Eames, it appeared to actively encourage him.
Dom came home one evening to find Arthur lying on the couch and shaking, and nearly got a heart attack before he realized Arthur was laughing.
When Arthur saw Dom, he actually doubled up on himself for a few minutes, before easing to breathe out a few 'ha!'s. Dom frowned at him. "Hey. I like my workers breathing."
"Ha," Arthur wheezed. He ineffectually waved a much-folded sheet of paper at Dom. "This. Eames left it on my chair before he went under. It's." And he went back into paroxysms of laughter, which Dom had never wanted to encounter as anything other than a figure of speech and wasn't very happy to do so now.
It was, apparently, a poem. "What are you going to do with that?" Dom asked, apprehensive.
Arthur's eyes danced with mirth. "Why, Mr. Cobb," he said in his most correct voice, the one he'd developed to bounce Eames' advances, "I intend to return it."
And so he did, with all of Eames' misspellings circled in red ink, and scribbled notes decrying Eames' attempts at scansion, or rather the lack thereof. Eames turned about seventeen shades of purple laughing; at least he could take a joke, Dom conceded.
On their way home, Arthur confessed, "I wanted to write 'see me after class' at the bottom."
Dom chuckled. "Scared he might take you up on it?"
Arthur bit his lip and looked away. "I wouldn't say scared, precisely," he mumbled, and Dom nearly crashed into the vehicle ahead.
Phillipa slept soundly in Dom's lap all the way through Arthur's graduation. Dom held Mal's hand all that time, turning every now and then to look at her, radiant with joy.
Arthur's new suit looked good. It didn't fit as well as the dream suits – Arthur couldn't afford to spend much on clothes yet, but with a degree and the experience he already had he would be raking the cash in soon. Dom allowed himself a small – well, make that a rather large measure of satisaction.
They'd dropped Mal and Phillipa at home (Mal wasn't showing yet, but she tired easily) before going on to celebrate. Dom bought Arthur a glass of the most expensive whiskey the place had and they sat drinking, quietly companionable.
After about half a glass, Dom had the inexplicable urge to say, "Did you know, I used to be afraid you'd ditch us?"
"How so?" Arthur's expression barely flickered. It made Dom almost sorry to see him so contained, so controlled. He was still so young.
But then, Arthur wasn't very young even before he'd been Arthur.
"I thought, I had to teach you. That if I didn't, you'd run away and find someone else." It's a stupid thing to say, after all that time. Dom thought a little. "I guess I'm trying to say," he hazarded, "you're your own man now, Arthur. A very good man. You can do whatever you want."
Arthur looked up, thoughtfully. At length, he said, "Do you think there was one single competent adult in the town I grew up in?"
Dom frowned. He wasn't sure where this was going, and he knew Arthur would see it without being told.
"Let me tell you: There wasn't. Not a single one. It took me years to understand that." He took a swig of his drink. "'Then you came down, the prayers of men made flesh before me; I'd never been terrified by anyone before.'" Dom had no idea what Arthur was quoting.
"I mean it," Arthur said, looking at Dom sharply. "You came to me. I was a lonely, miserable child. You dangled a bit of caring before me, and I snatched it even though I knew it was a bait."
Dom flinched. "I didn't mean it like that."
"I know." Suddenly, there was nothing contained about the affection in Arthur's eyes. "But that wasn't it. I'd lost someone I cared about a lot." He smiled softly, the affection in his expression replaced by old sorrow. "I couldn't believe I'd love anyone that much again. And all I could see around me was stupid greed, avarice, gluttony." His eyes focused on Dom. "And then you."
"Me," Dom said stupidly.
"And Mal," Arthur amended. "But that was later. You showed me I had something to aspire to."
Dom swallowed. "Glad to know I did something right."
Arthur smiled at him, bright and open now. "At least two. No, three, you have to count getting Mal to marry you."
"I'll drink to that," Dom said, and they did.
After a while, considerably drunker, Dom said, "So that's two things."
"Mmm?" Arthur asked, more than a little woozy himself.
"Marrying Mal, showing you the way out." Dom counted on his fingers, and came up with two. "What's the third?"
He was familiar with Arthur's expression: it was one he often looked with at Eames, which Dom privately named the 'I have no idea why I'm so fond of such an idiot' look. Dom did not appreciate that directed at him.
"In the folly of my youth," Arthur said in the arch tones that he also liked to direct at Eames, "I believed some thoroughly untrue things. You," and his voice lost its aloofness in favor of genuine emotion, "taught me better."
"Which—" Dom said, then thought back. He blinked furiously, trying to clear his eyes. "You're welcome," he said, and if he was a bit hoarse, they could both damned well attribute that to the drink.