ch1/I will pursue this dream

A/N: Any comments or critiques would be much appreciated! I've only seen Inception twice so I'm still working on getting the characters down. [PS: The opening is unintentionally ambiguous. XD I'm too much of an optimist to believe the worst of the movie's ending.]

Cobb is gone. This is a truth acknowledged, however quietly, by every dreamer lounging in the warehouse. Arthur is reading the paper. Eames is having a drink while polishing his pistol (perhaps not, Ariadne thinks, two activities which should be practiced simultaneously). Yusuf is sprawled out on one of the lounge chaises, muttering to himself over some sheet of paper.

Ariadne is spinning a top.

His top.

This is the sound of the empty space Cobb left.

Finally Ariadne can't help but ask. "Are we waiting for a job?"

"No," Eames says. Arthur raises his eyes from the paper. "No more jobs. In case you didn't notice, we barely escaped that last one with our lives, let alone our sanity." It's been a week, though, and the job—The Job, as it now seems to be said—is becoming something like a half-remembered dream. Something that changed them, each in his or her own way, but is moving away from the front of their minds. A tattoo they can no longer feel the sting of.

"I think we make a pretty good team," Ariadne says. The top tips to the ground and rolls in a wide circle; she starts it spinning again. Good old reality.

Arthur quirks a smile. "Then what will you do now? Are you going to go back to France? Finish your studies to be an architect?" The top falls.

It sounds absurd—the thought that she still needs to study. That she should go back and sit in an uncomfortable chair and be babbled at in French till her eyes droop, that she should slave over ridiculous and pointless and superfluous projects, stay up late building tiny perfect models which no one will ever really care about, and finally find sleep just as the sun rises…sleep without dreams…

"I dunno," she says. "I…don't really think I have anything left to learn from that place."

"I've often felt that way about France," Eames says.

Ariadne smiles at him from under her dark hair, but she isn't done. "When we went into Fischer's head, we didn't just make some money and build some pretty places. We changed things—for Fischer, and for ourselves. We grew. I've never had an experience like that, and, well, I don't want to stop now. I want to keep being your Architect."

No one misses that this line is directed at Arthur—not even Yusuf, who hasn't been fully there since he received some ten million dollars in cold, hard cash.

There is a long silence. Eames finally says, "If we got a job—if we got a job—and it paid a lot and wasn't more than a couple layers deep, I could be your forger." That nets him a real smile from Ariadne, bright and sweet. "If."

"I have all the money I ever dreamed of," Yusuf chortles. "Count me out!"

"Yusuf, at the rate you're spending, you're going to be looking for work in a matter of days." Arthur points a thumb at the hot yellow Mustang shining in the corner of the warehouse.
"If not hours." Eames's glance includes the home theater system (not yet assembled), Jacuzzi, and full-size yacht. "Out of curiosity, exactly how do you plan to get that back to your house?"

Yusuf shrugs. "Money will find a way, believe me."

"'All the money you ever dreamed of'…please, honey. You need to dream a little bigger than that."

"This is the part where he pulls out his bazooka," Arthur mutters to Ariadne.

"I sure hope not."

Then there is a knock at the door.

For a moment this does not seem to fit into their reality. They are in a warehouse, abandoned for all that the people of New York know (excepting, of course, the men who delivered Yusuf's newest spoils). No one knocks at a warehouse and, more to the point, no one knocks at an empty warehouse.

"Expecting another toy?" Eames hisses at Yusuf, who shakes his head. Ariadne has a moment of jolting panic and Arthur tips his chair so all four legs are firmly on the ground. The police? Then the moment passes. Like the police would knock politely.

Maybe they imagined it.

Knock, knock, knock.

Or maybe not.

"Come in?" Ariadne calls, though it's clear from the others' faces that they don't think inviting Mystery Person X in is a good idea.

The warehouse door budges a fraction of an inch, sending a beam of pure light slicing across the floor. Then there is the distinct sound of someone struggling against a heavy weight. Ariadne scrambles up off the floor to help, but Arthur puts a hand in front of her and nods. He'll handle this. He strides over to the door and heaves it open. On the other side is a girl who can't be older than eighteen.

"Whhhhhewwww." Eames sighs in relief and drops his pistol back in his lap. "Who the hell knocks at a warehouse?" The girl is too far away to pick this up, fortunately.

She approaches them with light, echoing steps, the sound of her tiny feet overshadowed by Arthur striding after her. When she reaches the circle of their chairs, she stops. The Mustang and the yacht receive appraising glances. Then she turns her attention to the people who have been staring at her like a space alien since she first walked in.

Ariadne speaks first. "Um, can we help you?"

"Is there a Mister Cobb here?" she asks.

The team exchanges swift glances. "He's not available at the moment," Ariadne says. "What seems to be the problem?"

"I was hoping to hire him."

Ariadne can see from his face that if Arthur had been leaning back in his chair, that sentence would've been as good as a kick. The short, slim young girl standing in front of them with her chin up high is dressed in immaculate designer clothing, from the gray cap perched lightly on her golden hair to the Coach sneakers laced neatly up her ankles. She belongs in a mansion, or maybe Yusuf's yacht. She does not belong in the shady business dealings of the subconscious.

"What kind of job?" Ariadne manages to ask; the girl seems to be addressing her.

The girl hesitates. "Do you know Mister Cobb?"

"He's my boss. This is the rest of his team…his associates."

"Then you should know as well as I do the reason I came. I've heard that he specializes in a very specific type of security."

"Subconscious security," Arthur fills in.

Now she turns and smiles at him. "Yes. Don't worry, I have the money to pay whatever fees are required."

"What kind of money, exactly?" Eames asks with a casualty bordering on criminal.

"Well—I'm Sophia Wagner of the Wagner family, and I recently came into my inheritance."

Arthur whistles. "The Wagner Steel Industry is worth billions."

"And all of it is locked up nice and safe at home," she says hurriedly. Yusuf frowns and sits back in his chair. "But I will pay out, if Mister Cobb can fulfill my request."

"Uh, see, that's the problem." Ariadne looks at Arthur. "Mister Cobb is spending time with his family right now."

"I can wait."

"A lot of time."

Sophia raises one perfect eyebrow. "A permanent time?"

"Maybe," Arthur admits.

"Hmm." She frowns. "I hadn't counted on that." The seconds tick by as she thinks to herself. Arthur tries to communicate some silent question to Ariadne, who makes a mental note to tell him that he must never become a mime, and then Eames wants to know what's going on and the girl's deep reflection is interrupted by the scraping of chairs and irritated whispers. "Okay!" she says loudly, and they all shut up. "You're his associates, right? You're as good as he is?"

"We can get the job done," Eames says.

"This may not be something you've ever done before," she cautions. "It's likely no one's ever done it."

"Try us."

"I want you to break into a mind and recover a memory."

"Memory," Arthur says. "That's questionable territory. We might have to recreate where it took place to draw the memory out, and that could cause problems for all of us. But it's possible."

"Especially if the money's good," Yusuf pitches in.

Ariadne still has questions. "Is it a vivid memory?"

She shakes her head with a quirked smile. "I don't know. I would imagine so."

"An old memory?"

"Six years."

"Who's the target?"

"Me," she says, and smiles.