Disclaimer: I don't own Inception and I receive no profit from writing this story.
A/N: This story wouldn't get out of my head. It was sudden inspiration and before it leaves, I'm going to write it down. I hope you enjoy!
It was autumn in Paris. The atmosphere was filled with the crisp feel of cool air and the smell of colored leaves that littered the ground, skittering across the streets occasionally being lifted briefly into the air, twirling and dancing on the breeze. This was the sort of day that made Miles fall in love with Paris all those years ago; in love with Paris and in love with his wife. They'd met on a day like this. It had been too long since she'd sat with him there in the park, enjoying the rainbow of leaves—gold, brown, red, and orange—and reminiscing about the day they had first seen each other, right there in the Jardins des Champs-Elysées. That was years and years ago.
Miles shifted on his bench, pulling his jacket a little tighter around him. Despite the beauty of autumn, it was still chilly and he'd been waiting there for almost a half hour. He was beginning to wonder if his son-in-law was going to show up at all.
He glanced down at his watch for the fifteenth time, almost about to give up and head back to the college, when he finally heard the approach of a familiar, steady step.
"You always had a taste for the romantic," Dom said with the slightest hint at humor. The older gentleman smiled in response. "It's beautiful this time of year." Dom nodded at his surroundings.
"I could never resist this place in autumn," Miles agreed, standing to shake his son-in-law's hand.
He took in Dom's appearance. It had been a while since they'd seen one another. Ever since he and Mal had moved to LA, Miles only saw them a few times a year, depending on how well work went for both of them. The last he'd seen of Dom was almost a full year ago. Business had been slow on his end, and even a college professor's salary wasn't enough for constant trips back and forth across an ocean and half a continent. Dom was, as usual, his ruggedly charming self. His hair was slicked back today and he was wearing a business suit, which made him seem somewhat less rough around the edges than he often did, but he was more or less the same as ever.
The same could not be said of himself. Miles was getting on in years. He had married somewhat later in life than he would have liked, and had his only child, Malory, when he was in his late thirties. Now, he insisted that he was healthy as a horse, and as far as he knew, he was. But he was certainly getting older and slower. Work exhausted him every day and he spent much of his time resting. He could have retired this year, but he wouldn't hear of it. Teaching was his passion, and if he had his way he would only end his career as a professor if he was drug out of the school forcibly.
Dom had placed his hands in his pockets, giving off that slightly impatient air that seemed to be a permanent part of his personality. "So what merits the invitation?" he did not say it impolitely. Despite he's son-in-law's lack of warmth he knew that Dom was no less intense in his feelings or affections than anyone else. He merely didn't display it like others.
Mile's eyes sparkled at the question. A smile spreading across his features he said, "I have someone I'd like you to meet."
"I've yet to meet him myself," Miles continued as they entered his unused office. He flicked the light switch and made a face at the thin layer of dust that greeted them. "His paper was given to me by a colleague. It's quite brilliant, despite a few holes. But that can be fixed." He strode over to his desk and removed the only item there—a folder with plan black print across the top that Dom could not make out. "Shall we adjourn to my classroom?"
Dom nodded once and led the way out of the closet-like office. He knew the halls of the college well. He often came to visit Miles there, so there was no awkward pause as he waited for the professor to tell him where to go. They arrived at the classroom and Miles unlocked the door with steady hands. He did not look over his shoulder as he spoke.
"I'm going to meet the boy today," he said as he pushed the door open. It creaked, despite constant use. Without glancing at his son-in-law, he handed over the folder.
Dom read the title silently, then flipped open the folder and began to scan the paper inside.
"It's his dissertation," Miles said, nodding at the paper in Dom's hands. He didn't seem bothered by the fact that the other man was reading while he spoke. "His psychology professor—a good friend of mine—Professor Albert Blanc thought I might be interested, due to my closeness to the subject."
"It's good." Dom sounded only mildly impressed as he said it. He had scanned the first few pages and now flipped forward to the end, which he read quickly. When he finished, he looked up. "But not perfect."
"Well, no. He could use some correction, a little training perhaps," Miles agreed, picking up a pen on his desk and holding one end in each hand without even glancing at it.
"He sounds a little too sure of himself," Dom said with an air of finality. Miles knew he wasn't turning down the offer, just stating his initial analysis.
"I thought so as well," the professor said patiently. "That's why I'm meeting with him today. I'd like you to come along." He allowed one hand to drop the end of the pen so that it tapped the desk before bringing it automatically back to his fingertips.
The slightest smile played at the corners of Dom's lips. "You want me to corrupt a student?" He sounded both incredulous and a tad bit teasing.
"I wouldn't say corrupt." Miles leaned back in his chair. "He's graduating in the spring anyway, and he's potential is limitless. Already he's got more job offers than he knows what to do with. But I spoke with Blanc. He doesn't think this boy's really interested in any of them. Frankly, from what I've heard, they'd be a waste of his talent."
"You sound like you know him," Dom said, placing the folder on the corner of Miles' desk.
"You know," the old man smiled as he spoke, "I feel like I do, after reading that paper." He stood and pointed a finger at his son-in-law's chest. "I think he's the one, Dom. From what I can tell, he fits the bill perfectly. I don't want you judging him before you even meet him. Just give the boy a chance."
Dom inclined his head in reply, but said nothing.
The campus had become so familiar over the past four years. It was home, far more than Albany ever was, and he wasn't looking forward to the awkward reunion with his parents that awaited him when he left this place. He couldn't avoid it any longer; he'd been ignoring them as much as possible ever since he'd left for school nearly six years before. Grad school had been an excuse to keep as far away as he could, and Paris was definitely far from New York.
He strode up to the School of the Arts with a determined step, pulling the doors open with one hand and holding it for the girl that was coming in the opposite direction. She thanked him sweetly and he flashed her a very brief ghost of a smile.
This was the first time he'd been in the Arts building in nearly a year. He'd taken a few elective courses there in previous semesters, but he'd never been a serious student there. The halls were nearly empty at this time of day, and he had to keep his eyes peeled for the correct door since there wasn't anyone to ask directions from. He stumbled upon it almost by accident, but recovered quickly enough to look in control as he rapped three times on the glass.
An older gentleman opened the door, stepping out into the hall to shake hands with him.
"Arthur, it's a pleasure to meet you," the gentleman said with a grandfatherly smile. "I'm Professor Miles, a friend of Professor Blanc's."
Arthur didn't have time to be surprised with the fact that he didn't need to introduce himself. "It's a pleasure to meet you, sir," he responded smoothly.
Miles spread his hand out to indicate the hallway. "Could we walk for a minute? There are some things I'd like to discuss with you."
Arthur nodded, falling into step beside the older gentleman.
"I read your dissertation on shared dream technology. It was quite impressive, I must say." He looked straight ahead as he spoke, his hands clasped together behind his back.
"Thank you." Arthur didn't know what else to say.
"Your research was extensive and thorough, your conclusions spot on. Only a few mistakes, here and there, really."
"Mistakes?" Arthur couldn't help the question, though his tone remained completely level. He wasn't defensive, simply curious.
The professor came to a stop, turning to face Arthur fully for the first time.
"Did you know that I was the original architect on the military's first shared dream project?" His eyes sparkled as he said it, like he was remembering the thrill of it all when he spoke
Arthur was taken by surprise. He shifted his weight slightly. "No, sir, I didn't."
"I've trained a handful of people in dream sharing myself," he continued, once again starting to walk.
"That's…incredible," Arthur admitted with a hint of admiration. "I wish I'd known that before I started writing. I would have come to you sooner."
"Well, it's never too late to make a new, and hopefully helpful, acquaintance," Miles replied. There was a short pause as he seemed to weigh his own words before he continued. "Would it be wrong of me to assume that you have longed to try dream sharing yourself, now that you've learned so much about it?"
Arthur's response was steady. "No, you wouldn't be. I've certainly considered—"
"My boy, search no more." The professor had stopped walking once again, smiling widely at Arthur now.
The younger man tilted his head ever so slightly to the side. "Sir?"
Miles turned and began walking back in the direction they had come. "There is a man in my classroom that would very much like to meet you," he said illusively. "He's an expert at dream sharing. One of the men, in fact, that I trained myself."
Arthur's eyebrows rose slightly.
"He's here to offer you a job, but he'll want to test you some first. Would you be interested?" He knew the answer before he even asked the question.
"Surprised, but yes, I'm interested," Arthur confessed.
The older man clapped him on the shoulder. "Lovely," he said as he steered Arthur into his classroom.
Cobb stood slowly as the two men, one old and eyes alight with excitement, the other young and looking exactly like Dom had pictured him. He wasn't too thrilled with his first impression. The boy was in his early twenties with dark hair and eyes and a very smooth, in-control appearance. His clothes were casual—a grey T-shirt covered by a navy blue sweater worn with a pair of jeans—but obviously expensive. This kid came from money, that much was clear. And there it was—the slight tilt upward in the way he held his chin. He was handsome and clever, and he knew it. It would have been imperceptible to nearly anyone else, but Cobb had trained himself to notice the vaguest of details; it was a major part of being an architect, especially a dream architect. The boy wasn't exactly arrogant, from what he could tell, just aware of himself. That could either be a very good sign or a very major setback.
"Arthur, I'd like you to meet Mr. Cobb," Miles said, gesturing at Dom with one hand.
The boy didn't need any other invitation. With two very stead strides he reached Dom and held out his hand. "Nice to meet you." His voice was even and controlled.
A faint smile, too quick to be noticed, crossed Dom's lips as he took the younger man's hand. "Same to you," he replied. Arthur's grip was firm and he returned it with equal resolve. "I was looking through your paper just now. It's very remarkable."
"Thank you." He was polite, but unimpressed by the compliment.
"Though there are a few things you're missing," Dom continued, not allowing the younger man to feel too sure of himself. "First of all, experience in the field. You're talking about something that you yourself have never experienced. That loses you a little of your credibility."
It was hard to tell, but Arthur's chin came up ever so slightly.
Cobb took a step backwards, then turned around entirely, walking towards the giant blackboard. "I, however, would be interested in helping you get some of that experience." He turned again to face the boy, hands sliding into place in his pockets. "You have a lot of potential from what I can see. But, of course, it's all up to you…"
"What exactly?" Arthur asked cautiously. "What kind of experience are you talking about?"
Dom sat lightly on the edge of the desk. "Have you ever heard of extraction, Arthur?"
This time, Cobb actually allowed himself to smile. "Extraction. It's the illegal removal of information from someone's subconscious during the dream-state."
There was a short pause. "No, I've never heard of it."
"I thought so, after reading your paper. There was no mention of it." He could feel his totem in his pocket, small and solid in his hand.
"I wasn't aware—" the student began, for the first time starting to sound defensive.
"And that's because it's a very new form of crime," Cobb cut him off smoothly. "Hardly anyone knows about it. Even those who've been effected rarely, if ever, discover what it was that happened to them." The boy looked incredulous. "And that's why it's so lucrative to be on the opposite side."
"The opposite side?" Arthur repeated.
"Yes," Dom said, standing now and walking to the board. He examined it as he spoke, glancing over the sketches that had been left from Miles' last class. "Because hardly anyone is aware of extraction's possibilities, it's become successful almost overnight. As more and more people become subject to it, more and more people are in need of being trained against extraction." He looked over his shoulder at the young man. "That's where I come in."
Arthur shifted his weight and folded his arms, obviously interested.
"I train people against extraction in the possibility that they might be attacked," Cobb continued slowly. "I teach them what to do in case they realize they are being robbed of their secrets."
"That's…" Arthur began, shaking his head as he tried to take in the information.
"Incredibly lucrative," Dom repeated.
"How exactly does that work?" the younger man asked, genuinely curious.
"We take the subject into the dream state and teach them what it means to be attacked mentally, in their subconscious." Cobb reached over and picked up Arthur's paper from off the desk. "From reading this I gather you're interested in dream sharing." He looked up at the younger man who made no response. "For some time I've been in need of a new point man, and, if you're willing to take a little risk, I think you just might be it."
"Point man?" Arthur said with a hint of confusion and obvious interest.
"You'd be my eyes and ears on every project," Cobb explained. "It'll take a lot of training, but you've got the potential. And, as I said before, it's a very rewarding business."
Silence fell between the three men. Miles had sat in one of the chairs in the auditorium, watching in unspoken interest while the two younger men talked. His eyes were on Arthur now as he stood there, arms folded, appraising Cobb with calculating eyes.
Finally, Dom dropped the folder back onto the desk and headed for the door. He gave Arthur a pointed look as he walked past him and said, "I'll give you a few days to think about it." He strode past the possible point man and to the door. Just before the door closed he said, without turning around, "If you're interested, Miles will get you in contact with me."
There was a dull click as the door closed behind him and for a moment, neither Arthur nor Miles spoke. Slowly, the older man stood, walking over to place his hand on Arthur's shoulder.
"He's really not as grouchy as he seems."