“What’s the most resilient infection?” Mal asks the man standing next to her. He blinks in slight surprise. She smiles, mouth closed. “Do you know?”
“I can’t say I do, Ms. Cobb.” He grabs two glasses of champagne from a passing waiter and hands one to her.
“Call me Mal,” she insists. “Guess.”
Robert Fischer looks at her momentarily, taking a sip of champagne before looking back out over the floor of the busy casino, the controlled chaos of gamblers, security guards, waitresses.
“Guess!” she insists, smiling wider, taking a step closer. “What’s more infectious than a cold, more persistent than HIV? What lingers in your blood forever?”
Robert smiles back at her; the expression is soft, indulgent, but still closed off. He has so many secrets, Mal thinks. “An idea?” he hazards.
Mal blinks, then looks down to cover her surprise. “No, though that is a... compelling answer. No, cher. It’s love.”
Fischer looks at her a moment, then bursts out laughing.
She affects a pout. “Why do you laugh? I’m deadly earnest, Robert.”
“Sorry, sorry.” He sets his champagne down. “I’m just afraid I don’t agree.”
“I suppose I could be the exception that proves the rule,” Robert says dryly. “The one patient with an unexplainable immunity to this... infection.”
“Ah, you’re thinking of romantic love. Star-crossed love, always doomed to die suddenly or decay slowly. But there are other kinds of love.” Mal pulls a cigarette from the silver case in her bag, then waits, cigarette dangling from her fingertips, as Robert fumbles out his lighter. She watches him carefully from beneath her eyelashes as he lights it.
“Enlighten me, then,” he says.
She inhales a mouthful of smoke. “The love of a son for his father, perhaps.”
Robert freezes. Bingo, a voice says in her head. The voice is not her own, and she imagines gagging it, forcing it into silence.
Mal blows a stream of smoke discreetly to the side. “Love sinks its teeth into your heart and never releases you. No matter how you fight. There’s no remission. No cure. No surviving it. The best and worst kind of disease.”
She lets her eyes fill with empathy for poor, shaken Robert as he gulps down the rest of his champagne. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I should not have said–”
“What of it?” Robert says, turning away from her. “It doesn’t matter anymore. He’s dead.”
Mal runs a hand down his arm. “And yet, the infection persists.”
He turns back to her. They’re standing very close, and this is it, the moment, he is going to confess every sin and secret he has –
Her phone rings.
Mal takes it gracefully, laughs with exactly the right kind of embarrassment, excuses herself with enough of a promise in her eyes to ensure that Robert won’t go anywhere. She walks around the corner and answers her phone.
“Eames,” she says, patience frayed. “I hope you’re calling me to say you’ve gotten into the safe?”
“Sadly, no. We have a problem,” Eames says. “And it’s heading your way.”
Mal whirls around. Her heart – that stupid, weak organ – is hammering against her breast bone.
Dom is coming up the stairs, dressed in a fine black tux, looking like he belongs in one of those gangster movies he and Arthur loved so much.
“Indeed. Plan B?” he suggests.
“Yes,” she says, and hangs up the phone. She edges to the corner, just close enough to hear Dom talking.
“–Mr. Charles, I’m your head of security down here, you remember me,” Dom murmurs.
Mal rounds the corner, leaning against the wall. She knows the pose she’s striking practically screams “femme fatale”, but the plot of this story is not really in her hands anymore.
“Hello, Dom,” she says.
Both men suddenly turn to her. Robert’s eyes are blank, and Dom’s are...
Cold. There is nothing in them, and the sight of it still causes her skin to break out in goosebumps.
“Mr. Charles, do you know–”
“Mal is my ex-wife,” Dom says, and oh, that stings.
“Mal, is this true?” Robert asks her.
“Remember what I said, Robert, about the most resilient infection? He’s mine.”
Dom lets out a muffled shout as Eames slips a cloth over his nose and mouth. Mal grimaces a little, wanting to turn away but unwilling to do so. Dom glares at her the whole time that he’s trying to fight off Eames – unsuccessfully, thank god: Eames was always that little bit stronger, faster, and smarter than Dom. That little bit crueler, as well.
“Robert,” she says, letting some of her fright become visible, using it like a weapon. She holds out her hands to him. “Are you all right? What did he say to you?”
He’s still looking at Dom, whose struggles are growing progressively weaker as the chloroform takes hold.
“Robert,” she hisses.
He finally looks back at her. The look in his eyes; she knows then that she’s already lost him.
“He said that.... that this was a dream.”
All the movement in the casino stops, and the room goes eerily quiet; not even the fake cheer of the slot machines disrupts the silence. Mal feels the weight of accusatory stares from the all around. She looks again at Dom, his blue eyes still watching her with hatred, even as they struggle to stay open.
“Plan C it is then,” Eames says, and shoots her.
She wakes up in the damp heat of the hotel room, swearing in every language she can remember.
“What happened?” Nash asks nervously. He’s always nervous, sweating. Mal despises him, the gormless idiot. He was, unfortunately, the only forger that was willing to take on this job.
“We failed,” she says, ripping the IV out of her wrist. “Plan C.”
He only looks at her, dazed.
“Change!” she shouts at him.
He changes. Just in time. Mal gets a hand around his neck and a gun under his jaw just before Eames wakes up. He trains a gun on Fischer, who wakes up seconds later.
“Oh god,” he says, at the sight that greets him. His ailing, weakened father, with a furious woman holding a gun to his jaw. Another man holding a gun on him.
“Robert,” Nash says, in Maurice Fischer’s rasping voice. “What have you done?”
Robert can’t take his eyes off his father, mouth working noiselessly.
“Robert,” Maurice hisses.
“You’re dead. You... you died, what the hell is this–”
“You’ve been dreaming, Robert,” Mal tells him. “But now, it’s time to wake up.”
“Just tell them what they want to know, boy,” Maurice says, cutting him off. “It’s the only way we’ll both get out of this alive.”
“Best do as your old man says,” Eames advises. “He knows what we’re on about.”
“Look,” Fischer says, holding a hand out. “Let’s be reasonable, just let him go.”
“I am being reasonable,” Mal says. “You will give me the information that I want, or I will show you what it’s like when I am unreasonable.”
“Please, Ms. Cobb, we can talk about this–”
Mal shoots Nash in the foot. She has had enough, wants this job to be over, and is willing to do whatever it takes to get it done. She and Dom had done this before. It’s unpleasant, but so is everything else about this job. And after all, it’s just a dream.
Maurice Fischer screams, falling to his knees. As he does so, his face flickers, just for a second. Shit.
Distantly, she can hear the sound of “Hymne à l'amour” beginning to play. A minute left. There’s gunfire outside the building. Fischer’s projections will be closing in, then.
“Stop whimpering,” she tells Maurice. “It’s unbecoming in a man of your age. Well?” Mal asks Robert. “Where shall I shoot him next?”
Robert looks up at her. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Of course it fucking matters,” Maurice screams.
Robert flinches, glancing at the old man on the ground. When he looks back to Mal, his eyes are set, resolved.
All is lost, she realizes. He’s calling her bluff. She hopes her resignation doesn’t show on her face. She certainly doesn’t drop the gun that’s aimed at Nash. Forty-five seconds left.
“My father died,” Robert Fischer says. “On Wednesday, May 2nd, at 3:14 in the morning. It had been a long time coming.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Maurice groans. Mal realizes that he doesn’t even know that his forgery slipped. The man is beyond useless.
“This is a dream,” Robert whispers. Thirty seconds.
“Are you willing to bet your father’s life on it?” Mal says, cocking the gun again.
“That’s not my father,” Fischer insists.
“Fine,” Mal says, and pulls the trigger. She watches Robert’s face as she does, the split second of panicked regret. The body doesn’t disappear, or revert back to Nash’s. She wipes the blood splatters off her chin and moves over to the bed. She pushes Robert, and he falls on his back without any resistance. She touches the barrel of the gun to his chest, right over his heart.
“This is your last chance,” she whispers.
“No,” Robert says. Mal realizes that Eames is gone, and it’s just the two of them in the room. “But it could be yours.”
“Don’t be tiresome,” Mal scolds. She feels exhausted. Ten seconds.
Robert looks at her; he looks as fatigued as she is. “I must say, Ms. Cobb, that your reputation is well-deserved. I am impressed.”
She raises an eyebrow at him. Considers shooting him, just to get rid of that patronizing tone.
“It’s been a pleasure,” he says. “I’ll be in tou...”
Mal wakes up. Eames is gently extricating the IV from her wrist. He looks up at her with a question on his face. She shakes her head, just slightly.
“You shot me, you fucking bitch!” Nash hisses from the other side of the carriage.
“Oi,” Eames says, gathering up the PASIV cord. “Watch your fucking language.”
“She fucking shot me, I think I’m allowed to be pissed off. I hope you at least got–”
“No,” Mal answers shortly. She looks at the young man crouched by the PASIV. “Todashi, you know what to do.”
He takes the roll of bills from her hand and nods. “Goodbye, Mal. And good luck.”
She picks up her coat and purse, checking her watch.
“Wait, where are you–” Nash begins.
“The next stop is in five minutes. I’m getting off.”
“We’re still twenty minutes out of Bucharest, Mal,” Eames reminds her. “He’s not going to search every compartment for us."
Todashi looks up, his fingers on Fischer’s wrist. “He’ll be out for another half-hour, anyway. I doubt he even knows what happened.”
“He knew," Mal says. “Even if Nash hadn't fucked up his forge, he would have known.”
“Hey--” Nash starts.
“Besides, I don’t like trains,” Mal says, cutting him off. “I’ll see you at the rendezvous.”
She doesn’t look at any of them – not at Eames’ calculating face, nor Nash’s angry one, nor Robert, still sleeping – when she leaves.