A/N: Credit for dragging me into Inception goes to Ginny, Mandy, Em, and various other GQMF unicorn princesses. (love you spashal gahells.)
The room was dark. Robert Fischer stood behind a lectern, backlit by an enormous screen. The text of his PowerPoint cast a blue glow over the crowd.
For standing in the Oxford auditorium, giving this presentation to the fourth-year business students, he had received a check for two hundred thousand dollars. He knew his audience was hanging on his every word; almost everyone held a pen in hand, poised to write down his wisdom in hopes of creating their own multimillion-dollar corporation.
But Robert's heart wasn't in it. Despite his turbulent relationship with his father, he'd loved the company his father passed to him, and still regretted breaking up the empire. It felt like betrayal, in a way—the elder Fischer had worked his whole life to build a legacy, and the younger Fischer had destroyed it. The word "disappointed" echoed in his mind, the same vague word which drifted through his subconscious everytime he pondered this subject.
As the students scratched words into their notebooks, Robert found himself surveying the crowd. His eyes landed on a young woman in the front row, writing diligently. She was dressed smartly, in a blazer and slacks, and her hair was pulled into a slick bun. He couldn't shake the feeling that he knew her. She glanced up at the screen and, for a brief moment, their eyes met. Quickly, she returned to taking notes.
While Robert finished his presentation, summarizing his main points and reminding them to maintain professional relationships and never to burn bridges, he kept glancing at the woman, who now refused to give any attention to the stage.
"We appreciate your time, Mr. Fischer." The dean appeared onstage and shook his hand, then addressed the audience. "Students, Mr. Fischer will return in approximately fifteen minutes for a brief Q&A session. Please return to the auditorium by 2:30."
Robert left the stage, thankful for the small break. He exited through one of the back doors, feeling the need to get his legs in motion after standing at a lectern for two hours. As he entered the hallway, he nearly ran into the woman from the front row.
"Excuse me," he said politely.
Visibly flustered, she hurried past him.
"Wait," he said, turning. "You look incredibly familiar. Have we met?"
"No," came the short response.
"I'm sure we have. A brief acquaintance, maybe. I—" He broke off, spotting her necklace for the first time. It was a chess piece—a pawn—on a long silver chain.
She quickly hid it with her notebook.
"No, we do know each other," he realized, closing the distance between them. "I dreamed about you—or, more accurately, we were in a dream together."
Ariadne said nothing.
His training kicked in. The details arranged themselves in his mind. "Extraction. You stole secrets from me?" he ventured, trying to remember.
"I didn't steal anything," she declared.
He strained to remember the dream. "Then someone else did."
"We didn't steal anything from you," Ariadne maintained.
She held his gaze firmly, and his instincts told him she was telling the truth. "Then it was inception." He remembered the snow, the odd juxtaposition of a safe within a safe and his dying father's last words. Disappointed. The papers, rough between his fingers. The urge he'd inexplicably felt, to be his own man, chase his own dream— "That's why I did it. You planted the idea to break up the company."
She sighed and stared off into the distance for a moment before answering. "It was my first and my last." He stared back at her, saying nothing, and she felt uncomfortable under his scrutinizing gaze. "I'm sorry, all right? I feel awful. It was all in the news. I followed the story. You sold part of the empire off to Saito. He's the one who hired us to perform inception, and he got what he wanted. And then you built a new business from the ground up."
"Why did you do it?"
"I never thought it was right in the first place…"
"Why?" he pressed.
"I did it so Cobb could get back to his kids. That's all. Kaito promised he'd make a call so Cobb could get back into the United States."
"He was part of the team. He was the one who told you that you were in a dream."
Robert cleared his throat. "So he was trying to protect me."
"He wasn't. He tricked you."
They stood for a moment, tense, breathing in the silence. "And you? What are you doing here?" Robert demanded. "Why are you at my lecture? Are you planning to go inside my mind again?"
"I'm not going into your mind, I'm going into business."
He raised an eyebrow.
"I told you. You were my first and last. I prefer to know the difference between reality and the dream world."
"What kind of business are you planning on getting into?"
She paused. "I want to open an architectural firm. Buildings," she added, to clarify.
Robert gazed out the window at the end of the hall. "The weather is perfect."
"I don't recall rain in the past few months."
"A dry spell?"
"Or are we really inside where we can never feel rain?"
"You're being paranoid." She palmed her chess piece. "We're not dreaming."
"I can't be sure… unless…" He considered her. "I have to get my own totem."
"You have a totem?" Ariadne asked.
"I was trained."
"Why didn't you have it with you in the dream?"
He stared at her. "That doesn't matter. What does matter is that you are coming with me."
"Until I know whether I am dreaming or awake, you will come with me. If I'm dreaming, you'll tell me why."
Twenty minutes later, an auditorium full of disappointed students checked their watches as the dean searched in vain for Robert Fischer.
An hour later, Ariadne and Robert boarded Robert's private jet and took off for New York.