Disclaimer; I don't own Inception. Big surprise.
A.N.: I'm not completely sure where this story came from. I guess that once again the plot bunnies made me do it. I just had the idea stuck inside my head, begging to be written, since the last time I watched Inception. Everything you have seen in the movie basically happened; I'm just adding an extra twist to the story from the moment the team woke up on the plane. Read and find out what it is… and don't forget to review!
STRANGER THAN YOU DREAMT IT
Ariadne was slowly coming around, the sedative having worn off. She hesitatingly opened her eyes, half scared she would wake up in a world of dreams, the never ending white shores Cobb had called limbo. Taking a few seconds to reassure herself that the soft buzzing sound she was hearing was the plane's engines and not the echo of the distant waves, she peeked under half closed eyelids trying to make out the outline of the cabin.
Once she made sure what she saw was actually the plane she had fallen asleep on before all this madness had begun she opened her eyes fully and glanced around. Arthur was already awake and was looking at her worriedly. Eames was stirring in his seat too while Yusuf was rubbing his eyes open. She heard a soft sigh coming from the seat in front of her, the tall-tale of someone waking up, and, even though she couldn't see the occupant from where she was situated, she breathed out a sigh of relief herself. She had to push him from the top of a crumbling skyscraper to save him, but Robert Fischer Jr. had returned to reality with her.
She turned her head towards the seats occupied by Cobb and Saito anxiously. She could practically feel Arthur's inner struggle between caution and making sure his friend was going to wake up as he gripped the handles of his seat hard, his knuckles turning white with the effort. For a few agonizing seconds nothing happened and her heart clenched painfully inside her chest as she observed the unmoving bodies of the two men she had come to feel as friends.
Just when she was ready to lose all hope -and quite possibly burst into tears- Cobb opened his eyes with a jerk. She gave him a teary eyed smile that went completely unnoticed by him as all her blond friend had eyes for was the phone Saito was holding in his hands while he dialed the number that would reunite him with his children. The whole team was momentarily focused on Saito too while, unnoticed by them, a sixth pair of eyes was observing the scene. The seconds felt like hours until whoever Saito was calling answered the phone. As Saito started talking Ariadne closed her eyes again and braced herself.
This was it; the moment of truth. The single thing that had made her more anxious than the whole inception operation had ever managed to. She opened her eyes slowly once more and turned her gaze away from the progressively perplexed businessman and her nervous team. She knew what had Saito so much confused but dared not to speak just yet.
Her fearful chocolate eyes locked with a pair of dazzling blue across the aisle and she stooped breathing for a second; his eyes would always affect her that way, she couldn't help it. Then again, she didn't really feel like helping it. She could live like that. Robert smiled reassuringly at her and Ariadne felt like the weight of the world was lifted from her shoulders. Oh, she could definitely live like that.
"Are you sure?" She heard Saito's voice; he was sounding completely shocked. Not that she could blame him really. Then again, she didn't need to listen to the other side of the conversation to understand his surprise. Her team however did, and thus the four men were staring helplessly at Saito who was in turn now staring helplessly at the phone in his hands.
"What happened?" Arthur whispered through clenched teeth. Cobb was looking paler than a ghost and staring at Saito like -and for the life of her Ariadne couldn't come up with a better way to put it- a lost puppy. Saito just stared back speechless.
"Come on Saito, what happened with the bloody phone call?" Eames was far too tense to keep the pretences but not even the always typical Arthur could find him in him to bother.
"What happened Saito?" Cobb whispered dejectedly, his left hand trembling, the palm lost inside his pocket. Ariadne could easily imagine his fist clenching around his totem with all he had. Impulsively she held her own totem in her hand and pulled it out of her pocket hastily placing it on the coffee table. She allowed herself the trace of a smile when the bishop toppled over. At least this was real. From the corner of her eye she saw Robert reaching for his own totem; she really was surprised nobody ever checked or even wondered if he had one after finding out he was trained to guard his mind from extractors. She imagined a train making its appearance in the middle of the dream had helped.
"My liaison… he said… he had thought that…" It was quite obvious that Saito was at loss. Cobb was getting paler by the second -if that was even possible- Yusuf was looking lost while Arthur and Eames looked just about ready to start swinging. Ariadne couldn't help but smile softly when Robert rose from his seat and approached the rest of the cabin's occupants.
He winked conspiratorially as he passed her but his face was back to polite curiousness as he moved closer to Cobb. By the time he placed a hand at the back of the extractor's seat he was the very picture of innocence with his lips set in a soft smile and his wide eyes twinkling kindly at the further shocked men in front of him. Boy the man could act! Ariadne wondered if she would be able to tell he was faking ignorance if she didn't know him that well. Robert himself insisted it was a talent of hers; he had reminded her that even his own godfather -thankfully- couldn't tell. It made her happy to think that and, judging from the satisfied look in his eyes every time he told her, it made him happy too.
"Pardon my interruption," he stated politely causing Eames -who hadn't seen him approaching- to gasp slightly "but you look, well…" he scrutinized Cobb, his brow frowning as he observed his pasty complexion "…terrible." Ariadne knew it was improper -Cobb was probably feeling terrible after all- but she had to try her best to keep a straight face; she blamed it on her nerves. "I was wondering if you would like me to call the air hostess? Or fetch you a bottle of water?" Cobb simply stared at him while Eames gave him a decisively "mate, are you for real?" look. It was Arthur who answered his question, surprisingly composed even in a moment like that.
"It's nothing. Thank you for asking but you don't need to trouble yourself." Ever the gentleman, Ariadne thought.
"No trouble at all." Robert dismissed him with a smile. "And you never know; if you tell me what's wrong, I might just be able to help you". Ariadne noticed one of Eames's eyes was twitching. Her heart doubled up in speed. Any moment now.
"Look mate just go. We've got it covered." Eames was barely able to contain his agitation and Robert raised both his hands in the globally acknowledged gesture of surrender and moved backwards.
"Fine, I'll go, no need to get all worked up!" He actually turned his back to the five men cloaking Ariadne from their view as he started walking. She looked at him incredulously and he smirked in response. He seemed to actually return to his seat only to stop a few steps later; he looked at the still startled team over his shoulder and with a smile added "I just thought you might be interested to know why Mr. Cobb is now a free man." And with those words he walked back to his seat and sat down, picking up his forgotten Financial Times and resumed reading as if nothing had happened. Ariadne couldn't help herself; she did grin at his antics this time. He could be such a child sometimes. At that thought, her smile widened. Thankfully, the rest of her team was openly staring at the young businessman that was seemingly paying them no attention whatsoever.
"What… what did you just say? How could you know?" Saito practically stuttered.
"It's a gift; I know a little about a lot of things." Robert simply stated behind his newspaper. "You'd be surprised Mr. Saito" The silence was thick enough for Ariadne to feel it crawling on her skin. She hated that type of silence; it reminded her of her parents' fights before their divorce. Robert must have sensed her uneasiness and broke the quiet himself. He carefully folded his newspaper and placed it on the coffee table. He then proceeded to raise up again and, after loosening his tie a little, walk back towards the staggered men. "Aren't you going to say something?" His deep voice practically echoed through the first class cabin stirring no reaction. Well, it did stir a reaction in Ariadne, but that was completely irrelevant with their current situation.
"How?" Yusuf whispered not ever taking his eyes from Robert's face, the softly spoken question sounding like a shout in the eerie silence. Nobody dared to stop looking at him it seemed; their stares were making Ariadne nervous -much more than she already was and that was an accomplishment in itself- but the young Fischer seemed unfazed. If anything Yusuf's question appeared to amuse him as he tilted his head slightly to the side and grinned, faintly chuckling.
"That's it? No more questions?" He looked at their frozen forms once more. "Anybody?" Ariadne could swear they hadn't even blinked for the last five minutes. "Nothing?"
"How do you know my name?" Cobb at last asked.
"Finally!" Robert exclaimed and turned to face Dom, who was looking back at him with a determined look on his still pale face. Ariadne knew that if they weren't in flight at the moment, he would have probably shot Robert already, seeing him as an obstacle between himself and his children. And -in the cases where Robert wasn't the intended target- she admired him for his devotion.
"How do you know my name?" Cobb repeated angrily.
"That's a good question." Robert admitted swiftly dropping the happy-go-lucky façade; he turned serious instead, picking up on the desperation in Dom's voice. Something fluttered inside Ariadne and she absentmindedly registered it must have been her heart. Robert was driven to no ends when it came to his goals but, in contrast with his father and his godf… and Browning, he chose to never stomp on other people's feelings. Not on purpose at least. And so, here he was, trying not to prolong the torment of a man that had tried to ruin his life's work. "I know all of your names." He added, turning his gaze from man to man.
"How?" Cobb asked again, sitting straighter, trying not to look intimidated. Robert sighed and folded his hands over his chest, his expression turning professional.
"You underestimated me Mr. Cobb. Even now, now that you're afraid I might destroy your chances to see your children, you still underestimate me." His eyes were locked with the extractor's confused ones as he kept explaining. "I understand Arthur over here," he continued looking momentarily at the point man "has gathered as many information as he could find -and judging from your team's reputation it must have been a considerable amount of it- on me and my company." Nobody did as much as blink as Robert regarded them one by one. "Am I right?"
"Yes." Dom admitted not understanding where the young Fischer was headed.
"Then tell me, Mr. Cobb, how many years has my father been sick?" Robert asked nonchalantly. No matter his tone, Ariadne caught the slight clenching of his muscles as he referred to his father's illness. Arthur just stared at him unblinking. "No need to be shy, it's practically common knowledge!" Robert insisted as no one spoke.
"He'd been in and out of hospitals for four years until he collapsed a year ago. So five years in total." Arthur responded in a business-like tone.
"That's about right." Robert acquiesced. "And it was a year before that when he had started showing the first signs; he was only active as the CEO of Fischer Corp. for six months after that. Want to guess who, unofficially of course, took his place?" His voice was now bitter and Ariadne had to grip the armrests tight so that she wouldn't run to hold him. His question was met with stunned silence. "Let me help you; it sure as hell wasn't Browning!"
"You?" Eames muttered.
"Me. Besides, Mr. Eames, you were there, remember?" At his words everybody turned to stare at the stunned Englishman.
"I was there for what?" He asked trying to come up with anything he might have omitted.
"While you were trying to get my godfather's character down Mr. Eames, do try to remember." Robert offered smirking. "Great job by the way; if I hadn't known we were in a dream, I might have believed you. I think I even did for a second back there…" He added retrospectively. "But I'm straying off subject. Tell me Mr. Eames, while you were around, did my godfather ever make a single decision, from the simplest to the most complicated, without checking with me first?"
"Exactly, no. And that's because, no matter how much Browning might have wished against it, Fischer Corp., at least in the form it is today, is my creation. And he knows it." Now everybody was staring at him again and for a second the only sound that was heard was the muffled buzzing of the plane's engines.
"Your creation you say?" Saito asked making Robert smirk bitterly.
"My father was a good businessman Mr. Saito. He saw the needs of the market clearly when he began building his company and followed his instinct through the obstacles other businesses faced. And he succeeded; he created a colossus out of a small company. But somewhere along the way he became too…" he stopped obviously trying to find the right way to phrase his thoughts "secure. He kept dealing with the market as he did fifty years ago when he first started out and you should know better that anyone that the energy market changes from day to day. I saw that Mr. Saito; I tried to convince my father to share my views or at least listen to me, but, needless to say, we had never seen eye to eye before, why would he brake tradition? It was the main reason we fought." He stopped and smiled again, as if remembering something fond to him. "Until recently."
"So when your father got sick…" Arthur started, his practical mind having already assessed the situation at hand and began reaching its conclusions.
"When he got sick, I took over. My godfather tried to prevent it of course, as my father wanted him to steer things until he came around. He never thought he wouldn't overcome his illness you see." He closed his eyes momentarily and Ariadne's heart clenched painfully. His loss was still new, the anguish far too raw. "Anyways, I started stabilizing the company, cutting off loose ends and expanding, trying out new technologies my father had rejected. And it worked as Mr. Saito can inform you; his company is the last bit of significant competition I have. And it can't be looking good on your side. Not if you have to resort to measures as extreme as inception to bring me down." His last words were met with a collective gasp.
"You knew? All this time you knew?" Saito asked disbelievingly.
"Yes, I did." His shoulders slumped a little before he spoke again. His voice was deeper, sadder when he spoke again. He combed his hair back with one of his hands tiredly as he spoke. "In my defense, things didn't go as planned; I wanted you all gathered here, each and every one of you, but limbo was never included in what I had in mind."
"You wanted all of us here?" Yusuf asked after yet another long pause.
"I'll get to that." Robert offered. "As I was saying, I'm planning to change the whole direction of my company from now on; and for that I need it to be just as strong as it is in this moment, if not stronger. As you must have realized by now, the whole idea you were planning to incept me with was a little out of target. I haven't regarded Fischer Corp. as my father's company since I was twenty four. And now, now that I'm on the verge of a breakthrough, it's more my company than it ever has been."
"So all of this, everything, was for nothing?" Cobb asked, his voice sounding resigned.
"For nothing?" Robert asked smirking. "Hardly!"
"If you don't stop being so bloody cryptic, I swear I'll hit you so hard you'll wish you were stuck in limbo!" Eames growled menacingly causing Robert to chuckle again.
"Allow me to elaborate then; you're all here because I have a proposition for you." Eames studied him intently trying to understand if his mind was playing tricks on him.
"What kind of proposition?" Saito asked.
"A business proposition Mr. Saito. Albeit the one I have for you is slightly different, still… It's just a business proposition; as honest as they come, I promise."
"Speak then." Saito offered resigned, rubbing his tired eyes.
"Let me start with you; you're the one that ordered this whole mission, am I right?" Robert asked only slightly accusing.
"Now, even if it was organized against me, I can't help but to admire your drive." Saito's eyes zoomed back to Robert who was smiling enigmatically. "Don't look so surprised, I do! Thing is, I need your company to accomplish what I have in mind; at the beginning I was planning a takeover, but…"
"But?" Saito intervened not really trusting his ears.
"But now I believe we could work something out. You're a smart man Mr. Saito. And determined to boot; you must be able to see what I'm proposing." Saito glared at him angrily.
"You want me to hand over my company to you!" He spat springing up from his seat. "Never! It took me years to build it and I won't stand seeing it in the hands of another man!" Ariadne was a little shocked at his outburst -along with the whole team- but Robert just smiled impishly.
"You misunderstood me." At that, instead of arguing, Saito simply raised an eyebrow and waited for his explanation.
"I was thinking of something more akin to a merger. Fischer Corp. will buy your company and that will be the only change; you will still deal with it the way you like, even take jobs that aren't related to Fischer Corp. All I'm asking in return is using some of your facilities." Robert offered.
"And where's the catch?" Saito asked bewildered. Ariadne tried to hide her smile; he understood why Saito was so hesitant to accept such a deal; everyone on board the first class of this plane knew Saito's company, Proclus Global, wouldn't survive three more months if Robert didn't break up Fischer Corp. Why offer him such a deal when he could simply sit back and wait?
"No catch, not really." The young businessman answered, still smiling.
"But there is something…" Saito pressed on making Robert chuckle. He did an awful lot of chuckling in the past ten minutes and Ariadne knew him well enough to understand it was more of a show than actual mirth. She knew quite well he had practiced it enough to sound natural to anyone who had never truly heard him laugh.
"Let's say that, in the concept of our latest adventure, I have another proposition for you; a proposition within the proposition if you'd prefer." Saito eyed him wearily.
"As I said, I believe you to be a clever man Mr. Saito. I've heard of your new energy expansion program and I find it quite interesting." Saito's eyes bulged in shock, along with Arthur's and Dom's.
"But that was the information we were trying to extract from him ourselves! We never really got it!" Arthur protested.
"Yeah, that's actually another quite interesting story. I could narrate it to you, but I'm afraid we'll be landing in half an hour, so all I'll offer is this. Word to the wise; fire your head of security Mr. Saito. He makes the need of extraction… obsolete." Saito seemed ready to protest but soon seemed to reconsider; he offered Robert a nod instead.
"The traditional approach?" Eames asked amused, earning a glare from Arthur.
"Industrial espionage seems a little out of date, I'll agree." Robert offered, shrugging his shoulders. "But you should never underestimate honest greed, Mr. Eames; when used properly it can get you more information than the best extractor."
"Your proposition, Mr. Fischer." Saito reminded him.
"Of course; I understand you want nothing more than keep your company in tact, and you have my word that, even if you leave this plane rejecting my second offer, I will still keep my promise and not allow your company to be destroyed. And now for my second offer; I want you to be the new vice-president of Fischer Corp."
"What?" It was Arthur who exclaimed his surprise. Saito just kept staring at Robert, seemingly not having heard what he had said. Eames and Yusuf were checking their totems over and over while Cobb gripped his as if it was his lifeline.
"You are being serious." Saito deduced after yet another prolonged silence.
"Yes, I am." The blue eyed businessman reassured him.
"Correct me if I'm wrong Mr. Fischer, but isn't Browning, your own godfather, the current vice-president?" Saito asked, his curiosity surpassing his bewilderment. Ariadne rolled her eyes in exasperation, the less she saw of Browning the better; she wasn't going to miss him once he was gone, that was for sure.
"That he is. But you're missing the whole point; I thought you would have realized it by now. My godfather, Mr. Saito, wants nothing more than to take control of Fischer Corp. He was certain that, after my father's death, he would be able to control me and keep running the business as always." He laughed mirthlessly once more. "He never stopped seeing me as a little child you understand and in some ways -in most ways- he's worse than my father on that aspect. And personal matters put aside," Robert continued his face betraying traces of the rage that was boiling beneath the surface, "he would bring the end of my company if he were to take lead; he was good in following my father's orders, as long as he agreed with them. Still he was even better in pilfering money from the company accounts, promoting his own people in a degree where they are now everywhere in the company and stealing other people's ideas. For the last part I can vouch myself. You on the other hand Mr. Saito have shown unfathomable dedication to your work; your company would have been thriving if it wasn't for Fischer Corp. And you have proved you're a man of your word; you came back from limbo and your first reaction was honor a deal you've made, even if you didn't know if you had achieved your goal. Despite our previous differences, I'm confident you won't turn on me once you've committed to a common cause. And you have the vision I need. All and all, I think you're a keeper, Mr. Saito." Ariadne fully expected the older businessman's next outburst. She was practically ready to grab Robert and duck behind a seat to shield both of them from the explosion. Saito simply had to leave her gapping by breaking into laughter. One that, even if she didn't know him that well, she could swear was for real.
"He snapped." Eames muttered and proceeded to twist his totem with his figures, studying the poker chip intently as if it could give him all the answers he needed.
"No, Mr. Eames, I assure you, I'm quite sane." Saito offered, wiping a tear that had fallen amidst his laughing fit. "Mr. Fischer." He added turning his eyes back at Robert, the initial shock and fear having lessened "You are a very different than what I was expecting you to be."
"Good different I hope?"
"And what do you say about my offer?" Robert asked his eyes never faltering.
"I still need to see it written. And I want to hear more about that change you've been talking about. But I'm not stupid enough to say no." Saito said, making Eames gasp.
"I think there's something wrong with my totem." He said in a frightened voice, looking at the poker chip in his hands. Yusuf, who was previously gapping at the scene in front of him, snapped his head towards the Englishman so fast Ariadne almost swore she heard a whooshing sound.
"What?" Arthur asked gripping his loaded dice harder.
"It insists we're in reality but we can't be. Can we?" He asked, talking more to his totem than anyone else. Despite the situation, everyone broke into laughter after his suggestion, with even Dom smiling a little.
"Oh well, I have to agree with your totem. Besides, my totem seems to have reached the same conclusion." Robert offered and pulled out a silver, meticulously carved pocket watch. He flipped it open and smiled at what he saw; Ariadne knew that the watch only worked in dreams, his inner mechanism being damaged beyond repair. In reality it was permanently stuck at seven twenty.
"You have a totem?" Arthur asked incredulously.
"I have a trained subconscious that wields machine guns and drives armored cars and you're surprised that I have a totem?" Robert asked, his blue eyes twinkling mischievously as he placed the watch in his inner pocket once more.
"Figures." Eames muttered, finally shoving his own totem in his jacket pocket.
"What about the rest of us?" Dom asked bringing everyone's attention to the more pressing matters of the conversation.
"It's quite simple really; you're the best at what you do, all of you." Robert said looking at the faces of everyone around him, lingering a little longer on Ariadne's.
"So?" Arthur asked confused, only to stare at the young Fischer wide-eyed a second later. "You want to hire us?"
"Exactly." Robert responded with a smile.
"Why?" Eames asked perplexed. "I don't know if you missed it but we just tried to incept your mind and have you break up your company." He added, earning a glare from the point man. "It's the truth!"
"And Mr. Saito hired you after you tried to extract valuable information from his mind. It seems to be a pattern." Robert replied nonchalantly.
"That I did." Saito deadpanned with a smirk.
"Oh, great; now you're actually agreeing with him. Thanks mate!"
"But he did." Robert continued unfazed.
"What's the job?" Arthur asked immediately, cutting Eames's retort short.
"It's not a single job per se." Robert answered shrugging. "Browning isn't going to be thrilled with me firing him as you can understand." He continued, dropping the title "godfather" altogether as he had for some months now. "And I have already told you that he's got people everywhere; in the course of the years I have managed to locate most of them and they will soon follow him into unemployment. But that doesn't mean there won't be retribution coming. I want you to extract information from some trusted men of his and from the man himself; I need you to find out who his connections are so I can take measures against them."
"And for how many extraction jobs are we talking about?" Arthur asked.
"At least three, including Browning, to begin with. And, of course, whatever you deem necessary afterwards. I would also like to hire you in a more permanent basis. And I don't mean that, if you agree, you can't take unrelated jobs or choose to pass on the extractions I'll ask you to do." He added in order to placate Eames and Arthur who were ready to protest. "I would however prefer if you didn't take jobs against my company; I believe you've agreed on one job too many against me."
"And if we do take up on your offer, I will walk free? Is that the deal?" Cobb asked eyeing the blue eyed man suspiciously. Everyone fell silent, even Eames's grumble halting.
"No. You walk free either way. Call it a peace offering." Robert answered with a smile that made Ariadne want to grab him and kiss him there and then.
"Are you serious?" Dom asked disbelieving.
"I wouldn't joke about something like that Mr. Cobb." He responded with all the sincerity he could muster. "As Mr. Saito can assure you, all the charges on your name have been dropped. I made sure of that even before we got on the plane. You're a free man Mr. Cobb." And Dom fell back on his seat his hands covering his eyes, letting out the first real laugh, albeit short, Ariadne had ever heard from him.
"I can't believe you did that." Eames stated, looking at the younger Fischer with something akin to… could it be respect?
"I don't tend to torture people for fun Mr. Eames; besides, after seeing what you can do with my own, I would be a fool to not do my best to ensure you'd work for me. Although I'll understand you completely if you decline my proposition Mr. Cobb; even if you do you won't find policemen banging on your door in the middle of the night."
"Thank you Mr. Fischer." Dom said sincerely after a sort pause.
"Considering the circumstances, call me Robert." He simply said, addressing everyone.
"Then thank you Robert. And the name's Dom." Cobb repeated with a soft smile, filled with gratitude and relief.
"So we're taking the job?" Arthur asked raising one eyebrow, smiling a little at his friend's happiness.
"I'm game!" Eames said surprising everyone. "What?" He asked when they all once again turned to stare at him. "It's a job. And besides Robert, I like your style." Robert mock bowed at him.
"I'm honored. Just a question though; that blonde in the hotel…"
"Yeah, it was me." Robert made a face.
"Okay, that sounded weird." That promptly caused another round of laughter.
"This whole conversation sounded weird." Cobb offered.
"I would say so, yes." Saito added.
"Well, I'm in too." Yusuf decided. "If I have to work with someone, I would be safer working with the best."
"You call your driving safe?" Eames asked shocked.
"So that was you?" Robert asked. "Nice kick." Yusuf nodded, still glaring at Eames.
"Count me in too." Arthur offered. "Though I have to warn you there might still be a problem I have to deal with before I'm free to officially accept your offer."
"And what would that be?" Robert asked perplexed.
"COBOL Engineering." Cobb answered for the point man, his expression turning dark. Ariadne wanted to smile, but decided to allow Robert the element of surprise. Robert on his side smiled shyly, rubbing his neck with one arm.
"Yeah, I forgot to tell you, didn't I?" Ariadne almost smiled at his mischievous side, knowing very well that, despite the appearances he was feeling more sly than shy; he was surely enjoying this.
"Forgot what?" Dom asked smiling instinctively.
"Well, after not giving them the information they needed from Saito, COBOL's plans for their new pipeline sunk. They were loosing money fast, their debts were pilling up faster and I was in need of an engineering company anyways. So I figured why not kill two birds with one stone, right?"
"Are you implying what I think you're implying?" Arthur asked bewildered.
"I can't be sure, but what I'm implying is that I kind of -short of- bought the company?" He offered making Arthur openly gape at him. "The official announcement will be made sometime this week."
"I told you I liked your style!" Eames put in chuckling. "You and Saito will go along just fine…" At that Ariadne had to giggle; if left alone -and in the name of neatness- they would buy all sorts of different companies. They were already counting an airline and an engineering company. And they hadn't even begun working together officially yet. Oh joy…
"I guess that settles it." Arthur said and looked at Cobb.
"I would rather spend some time with my children first. I want to get to know them again." Dom answered.
"But I will consider it." Robert simply grinned at his response.
"I know you will." And just as Ariadne was thinking of a way to introduce her true involvement in the whole case to the team, Eames offered her the perfect pass.
"And what of our architect?" He asked with a smirk. "She's a little shy you know." He offered teasingly at Robert who smiled back.
"Shy? I wouldn't say so…" Robert stated as Ariadne smirked at Eames.
"Am I missing something?"
"Yes, Rob, is he?" Ariadne asked smiling openly at the man in front of her.
"Rob?" Five different voices chorused, looking at Ariadne in shock.
"Yeah, that's me." Robert offered with a wide grin. "Well you don't really think I knew all this stuff about you and the inception without some inside information?"
"Ariadne?" Arthur asked disbelieving.
"Why so surprised?" She asked back. She tried to sound relaxed even if her insides were clenched tight and her heart felt like it would flutter off her chest any second now.
"I don't know if I should be insulted or admiring." Eames offered after some consideration. And to her delight, Ariadne noticed he wasn't being sarcastic, merely contemplative. That was the best he could ask at the moment. Arthur and Yusuf were looking at her undecided while Dom's face was the perfect blank mask. Saito however was smiling knowingly.
"Before you jump into conclusions," Robert ran at her defense "I believe that official introductions are in order."
"What, isn't her name Ariadne?" Yusuf asked in pure shock.
"No, it's Wilfred. Of course my name's Ariadne! Rob you're not helping!" The blue eyed businessman looked at her and raised his hands in defense.
"I'm trying here!" He then proceeded to offer her his hand, which she gladly took, and help her from her seat as they both turned to face the members of her team. "Everybody," He started "I believe you know Ariadne Greene. My fiancée." And they all fell silent until Yusuf broke the calm once more;
"Fiancée?" That seemed to be the last drop needed to break the dam; it was all a blare of questions from that point.
"Excuse me?" Dom asked, his eyes all but popping from his head.
"Your what?" Arthur asked staring at her fingers looking for a ring.
"You're engaged? Mate I've said it once and I've said it twice but a third time can't hurt; I so like your style!" Eames offered laughing. That was good, Ariadne concluded.
"For how long?" Saito asked with a smirk.
"A year next week." Robert answered with a proud smile.
"A year?" Arthur asked in shock; everybody else seemed to have fallen in a trance; it seemed to have become a habit, Ariadne noted. "You knew each other before the job?"
"Yes, we did." Ariadne answered for both of them.
"Care to elaborate?" Dom asked, his face still not betraying anything but surprise.
"Should I…?" Robert asked softly turning to his fiancée only to have her nod back.
"Sure, I'll fill in the blanks." Eames rolled his eyes at the couple.
"For those of us who can't read minds, would you mind telling the story aloud?" Ariadne smiled at him and Robert begun narrating.
"A year an a half ago there was this cut edge technology exhibition in Paris." Robert started, his eyes growing soft as he reminisced. "I was there searching for new minds to recruit and Ariadne was there…"
"… because I'm preparing a post-graduate thesis on energy efficient building technologies." Ariadne finished the sentence for him.
"You are?" Saito seemed pleasantly surprised so Ariadne offered him a smile of gratitude.
"Many of the designs I'm basing my new projects on are her work." He turned to her grinning smugly. "I'm engaged to a genius!" He proclaimed as Ariadne ducked her head shyly making him chuckle, an act the rest soon followed.
"Love you too Rob." She mumbled under her breath.
"Quite right too." Robert continued smiling. "Anyways, I was looking at a new type of power cell that, even if it was quite innovative as a design, was far too massive for its efficiency." Robert smiled at the memory as he looked at Ariadne who grinned back. "Now imagine my surprise as, the very moment I was thinking those lines, I heard a voice right next to me murmuring "too damn much wasted space"."
"That was me." Ariadne said blushing slightly.
"So you asked her out?" Eames wondered out loud, looking far too amused for Ariadne's comfort.
"No." Robert said smirking as Ariadne blushed deeper.
"Wait a sec; you're saying she asked you out?" The Englishman asked again with mirth and this time even Cobb's lips twitched slightly. Taking that as a good sign Ariadne continued with her explanation.
"He's saying he tried to ask me out, in the sense that he talked to me."
"Then what happened?" This time it was Arthur who asked, an amused expression present on his face too.
"I turned around to see who the voice belonged too," Robert continued "and even introduced myself, but Ari was completely lost to the world, scribbling down information and making corrections on the design."
"I know what you're talking about…" Cobb offered with a smirk, talking for the first time since he heard of the engagement.
"Am I that bad?" Ariadne asked hiding her face in her hands with mock same.
"You're worse darling." Eames informed her chuckling. "Back at the beginning of this job I was talking to you for good ten minutes before you acknowledged my existence."
"Why am I not surprised?" Robert muttered gaining a well aimed pinch from Ariadne. "That hurt you know." He complained rubbing his left side on the spot she had pinched him.
"So, how did you two get engaged if she never noticed you?" Cobb asked intrigued. His smile was much more obvious now, seeing there were no ill intentions coming from the couple.
"I played stalker for a day." Robert admitted with a grin.
"You what?" Yusuf asked eyeing him carefully.
"You heard me. I followed her around while she was at the exhibition and then back to her University. I asked a couple of questions and found out the café where she always goes in the morning for tea…"
"The one you saw when we first shared a dream Cobb." Ariadne explained and Dom nodded in understanding.
"So, next morning, I went to that café bright and early and waited two hours for her to show up so that I could introduce myself properly." Robert concluded winking at Ariadne.
"That's all that took really; things just took their natural course from then on." Ariadne added with a smile.
"I never took you for the stalker type Robert." Arthur commended smirking; Ariadne was relieved that the kiss they had shared at the dream world seemed to mean nothing more than a joke to him. That had the potential to create a huge awkward moment.
"I prefer the term "persistent" if you don't mind."
"So do all the stalkers." Ariadne piped innocently.
"And that's the reason why you agreed to take the job? To make sure everything turned out the way he had planned?" Cobb asked. That seemed to be the question on everyone's mind and Ariadne was completely serious when she answered.
"When professor Miles introduced us, I had no idea what he wanted me to do; I had heard of dream sharing before from Rob and he had taught me the basics so that I could defend myself in case of an extraction after we got engaged, but I had never imagined what being an architect in a dream would be like." They seemed to be paying complete attention to her so she continued. "When I left the warehouse the first time I contacted Rob and told him about what had happened. Remember, at the beginning, I didn't even know who the mark would be. Rob did some research on your names and found out you were hired by Saito."
"I did the math after that and correctly guessed he was organizing an extraction against me." Robert added.
"So you asked her to come back?" Eames asked confused.
"No, I told her to stay away, but did she listen to me? Of course not! Have you ever tried to dissuade her from something she's set on doing?" Robert asked in exasperation. "It's impossible to change her mind, I swear… She said she was going back to find out more and, before I could fly to Paris, she had signed up for the job. When I got her call and she told me about the inception of course, I had to bow to her higher intelligence; I would be in serious trouble without knowing what I was going to face."
"That would explain why you were so intent on keeping him safe through the dream stages. And why you followed me all the way to limbo." Cobb muttered retrospectively.
"I almost had a heart attack when I saw you down there." Robert said darkly.
"And I almost had a heart attack when you got shot. Anyways, did you expect me to just abandon you?" She asked dryly and then turned to Cobb. "Besides, I couldn't allow Dom to go there alone. I wanted to make sure everybody got back safe." At that Cobb truly smiled; Ariadne felt a huge weight leave her chest.
"Some point man you are Arthur!" Eames said wickedly looking at the meticulously dressed man.
"How is that even relevant?" Arthur asked angrily.
"Mate they are engaged! How did you miss that?" He asked back pointedly.
"Not his fault; only other two people know of our engagement and one of them was my father. He never accepted that I didn't choose to marry one of the women he had picked out for me; nothing beats a marriage in uniting companies, that was his motto." He commented bitterly. "It was one of the reasons why our relationship was so tumulus over the last year. Things got better in the end." Ariadne squeezed his hand affectionately.
"I thought you said his last words were…" Eames began only to find himself interrupted.
"That he was disappointed?" Robert asked smiling mirthlessly. "That was just me trying to further confuse you; sorry for that but I couldn't take the chance of the inception actually succeeding."
"Then the whole vault thing was fake?" Cobb asked surprised. "You didn't seem like faking it at the time."
"It wasn't; not completely at least." Robert explained, his expression turning dark. "My subconscious had to go and recreate my father's last moments. I almost thought I had lost it and only just managed to alter his last words."
"Excuse me?" Dom asked again confused.
"It was my subconscious, my own projections that inhibited the dream; what you saw was a figment of my imagination. Still, we were far too deep; I almost lost track and showed you the real thing." His clear blue eyes seemed nearly frozen as he spoke.
"So he wasn't disappointed in you after all? Could we be more off target in this job?" Eames complained crossing his hands over his chest and practically sulking.
"Considering he apologised and asked me if I was disappointed in him? No, you really couldn't."
"You said there where two." Saito stated after a short pause.
"Two?" Ariadne asked perplexed.
"Two people who knew about your engagement. Who was the second?"
"Browning." Robert stated frostily.
"I guess your godfather wasn't supportive?" Arthur asked tilting his head a bit to the right.
"Let me put it this way; you nailed his character Eames." Ariadne said, scooting a bit closer to her fiancé.
"So, besides of the embezzlement, he caused you personal problems too?" Saito asked. "Excuse me for asking, but you did offer me his place in your company; I would like to know why, if it's not too personal."
"He's the reason we kept our relationship secret for so long." Ariadne offered with downcast eyes.
"Hey, Ari look at me." Robert cupped her cheek and turned her face upwards. "It's over; he can't hurt you. I won't let him. I got you out in time, remember?"
"Did he threaten you?" Cobb asked. He seemed enraged and Ariadne felt her heart swell with gratitude. He seemed to still count her amongst his friends and that mattered more than he would ever know.
"Let's say I used to have a car six months ago. Now I don't." Robert placed one arm around her petite, trembling frame and brought her closer. She turned to him and buried her face in his chest, taking in his cedar and ice scent, trying to push the memories away. Her eyes were clenched by the time Robert started talking again, his thumb tracing soothing circles on her back.
"My father told Browning of our engagement eight months ago. Fearing that Ari was some kind of gold digger that would take away what he saw as his lawful share of Fischer Corp., he at first tried to bribe her into leaving. When she said no he seemingly retreated. I wasn't convinced, knowing his character, so I had him watched. It was two months later when I got a call saying he had placed a bomb under Ari's car. I got to her literally seconds before she opened the door." The silence was complete but Ariadne couldn't bring herself to step away from her fiancé's warm embrace just yet. As a result, her words came out a little muffled but perfectly understandable when she spoke.
"We had to blow up the car of course so that Browning would think I got lucky and the bomb's mechanism malfunctioned. It did work but, in order for him not to understand Rob was watching him, we pretended to break up." She gave out something between a laugh and a sob as she finally turned around to face her team. "We even staged a fight. And he had the audacity to pretend comforting Rob afterwards, can you believe it?"
"A bomb?" Eames all but growled. Ariadne's mouth fell open; she had never seen the usually cheery Englishman so enraged. "He planted a bomb under your car?" He was practically trembling with rage. Instead of answering she turned to observe the rest of her team.
Yusuf was clenching and unclenching his fists, his face scrunched up in the same way it did when he was focusing on a potentially lethal compound. Arthur had clenched his eyes shut and showed no other sign of turmoil to the unsuspecting onlooker. Anyone who knew him could easily notice the angry veins that had made their appearance on his temples.
Cobb was in the process of ripping his armrests into pieces judging from his white knuckles and clenched fists. His eyes were burning with untamed anger, the light blue having almost turned the grey of storm clouds. Saito was looking straight ahead and would have passed as calm if he wasn't staring at the opposite wall as if it was his mortal enemy and his breath wasn't slightly labored. Ariadne felt warmth spread inside her chest, almost as if she had just taken a big gulp of hot chocolate. They still cared; all of them.
"Why is he still alive then?" Saito asked calmly. Eames glared at Robert accusingly.
"You actually let him walk away with it? I saw you in the same room; you're not even aggressive towards him!"
"He's alive for one reason and one alone." Robert began, his voice growing deeper as it did when he was furious. He never yelled; he just stared with cold, almost empty eyes and spoke calmly, every word slithering past the defenses of the subject of his anger, congealing their blood to the last drop. He could look right down terrifying at those times and even if his anger was never addressed to her personally, Ariadne could feel it oozing from his lithe body heading for the men he was addressing. And they must have felt it too for they fell silent once more and stared at him as if he was a completely different man.
"And what would that be?" Cobb asked softly, not really knowing what to expect anymore.
"The moment he found out Ari survived he stationed his men around her family and friends, ready to strike should anything happen to him." He explained.
"Shit." Yusuf simply stated.
"I couldn't summarize the situation better." Robert agreed. "Browning might not be the brightest man I've ever met but he's paranoid enough to cover for it; he has made many enemies during the years and has been the target of four failed assassination attempts. He sees Ariadne as a loose end, as potential danger. In his eyes she's a bitter gold digger that might team up with his enemies at any given time and strike him back."
"You can't be serious." Arthur stated, clearly expressing the disbelief that was evident all around.
"I didn't believe it at first myself." Ariadne said softly. "But the evidence is too real to ignore; past associates of his turned up dead weeks after the termination of their partnership, while some went missing completely. And Rob has gathered enough information to be positive my family is in danger; we can't move them all in time. I'm afraid we have reached and impasse."
"That's one of the reasons I need you -the best team there is out there- to extract information from him and his men. We can't afford any mistakes." Robert concluded. "Believe me, if I could do it myself, Browning would be dead and buried the same night I found out about the bomb."
"So when do we start?" Cobb answered for all of them, making Ariadne stare at him in disbelief.
"As soon as you're ready." Robert responded with a smile and a nod.
"Immediately it is then." Eames offered and the team nodded their consent.
"No, Cobb wait; the only thing you'll be doing immediately is going home to your children. You have to think of your family first." Ariadne protested.
"I am." Dom answered. Ariadne felt her throat constrict with emotion at the implication of his words. Unable to contain herself, she ran to him and pulled him in for a hug.
"Hey! Don't I get a hug too?" Eames asked irritated. A second later he was having trouble breathing with Ariadne hugging him to death amidst laughter.
"You're crazy. All of you." She decided, as she proceeded to embrace all of them -Saito included.
"You'd do the same Ariadne." Cobb told her rubbing his sides to restart his blood circulation after escaping her death grip. "You already have."
"I still think you're crazy." She insisted wiping a tear that had escaped her eyes.
"You and I both darling." Eames informed her winking.
"I believe I could help you with Browning too." Saito said thoughtfully.
"How?" Robert asked intrigued.
"Well, Browning possibly thinks of me as your sworn enemy already; I could easily reaffirm his beliefs and approach him with an imaginary business deal to bring you down. After you fully take control of the company he'll be desperate for help; I'll make sure to time my appearance properly. If we play this right he will see me as his very own deus ex machina." The older businessman elaborated.
"See why I want to make you vice-president?" Robert asked, his mood brightening considerably.
"You may get to actually kidnap him this time." Saito continued, addressing Cobb with gleaming eyes. Dom grinned and nodded.
"And I have some very interesting samples I've been dying to try; I'm willing to experiment on Browning." Yusuf said, more thinking aloud than anything else. Robert moved and kissed the top of Ariadne's head.
"Told you they wouldn't hate you." He said jokingly. "Thank you. All of you."
"Don't mention it." Arthur stated. "And Dom is right Ariadne; you're stuck with us for good."
"Don't scare the poor woman Arthur!" Eames scolded him, accompanying his words with a slap on the back of the point man's head.
"You're incorrigible and generally annoying. You know that, right?" Arthur said glaring at his assailant.
"Not generally darling; I'm only annoying you. It's a matter of specificity." The Englishman stated seriously, causing everyone but Robert to laugh again. The ex mark simply stared at his fiancée confused.
"Is that even a word?" His question was all that was needed to double the laughter all around.
"I'll explain later." Ariadne offered and pulled him down by the lapel of his shirt to kiss him soundly on the lips. He returned the kiss more than willingly.
"Could this job turn any weirder?" Cobb asked after they all sobered up.
"I'm still waiting for Ariadne's evil twin sister to make an appearance." Eames's offered solemnly getting all eyes on him. "What? You asked!"
"I believe the question was rhetorical." Arthur offered rolling his eyes.
"You're just mad you didn't think of it first darling." Eames insisted. And that was the moment the airhostess walked in the cabin to inform them to fasten their seatbelts and prepare for landing. She froze in her tracks at the image of the people she had helped go under at the beginning of the flight laughing along with the man she had considered to be their target, the only female of the group sitting on his lap. She left the first class after making the announcement, fully considering the possibility she had misunderstood the entire situation completely.
"So," Robert asked fastening his seatbelt in the seat across Ariadne. "what are your immediate plans after we get off this plane?"
"Miles flew to the states last week; he'll be waiting for me at the airport to drive me home." Cobb answered with a smile.
"Professor Miles will be there?" Ariadne asked smiling back. "Now that there's no need of secrecy, could I say hello?" She asked expectantly, rejoicing at the though of meeting with her mentor.
"Sure. What will you be doing after we land?" Dom asked back.
"I still can't be seen with Rob; I was thinking to visit my grandma for a few days. I haven't seen her in over a year."
"I'll check in a hotel, call my family…" Yusuf stated.
"Go to the loo…" Eames continued for him earning a glare and another round of laughter.
"Considering the possibility of becoming repetitive…" Robert began confused once more.
"He got too much champagne for his own good." Ariadne explained. "Noticed the rain on the first dream level?" And like that, Robert joined the laughing men around him.
"I'll check in a hotel too. Maybe pay a little visit to my parents while I'm at it. And check for a new base of operations." Arthur announced after a few more moments of mirth.
"And you never relax." An amused Englishman stated.
"I have a company to prepare for merging." Saito reminded them and Robert nodded in agreement.
"And I have to make sure Browning hasn't done anything drastic to destroy mine. Play the gullible godson for a little longer while imagining new, innovative ways of killing him." Robert said lightly.
"How's that going?" Cobb asked entertained.
"I'm up to five hundred and twenty six."
"I'll go for a drink." Eames informed them. "No offence, but I think I need it after everything."
"None taken." Ariadne assured him with a smile.
"So I've been thinking…" The Englishman started but never got to finish his sentence as Arthur intervened.
"Haven't I warned you against that?"
"Shut up Arthur. So I've been thinking Ariadne should come and stay with one of us after visiting her grandmother. I'm not comfortable to have her all alone with Browning on the loose." Robert eyed him appraisingly.
"That's actually a great idea."
"I know; it's because I'm a genius myself."
"Your modesty never fails to surprise me Eames." An exasperated point man stated dryly.
"You could come stay with me after a couple of days." Dom offered after some consideration.
"No, Dom, I could never impose…" She protested only to be dismissed by the extractor.
"You won't be imposing. Miles will need some company and I'll be too busy with my children to do that." Seeing she was still uncomfortable with the situation he pressed on. "It's the most inconspicuous choice; you'll be seemingly spending time with your professor. And if you still think you're imposing, you can choose to stay locked in your room the whole day; I promise I won't be insulted."
"Thank you Cobb." Robert said nodding to the extractor gratefully.
"Thank you Dom." Ariadne said in turn with a tearful smile.
"Don't you dare cry Ariadne; family, remember?" Cobb warned her as he noticed the gathering droplets.
"Talking about family…" Ariadne changed the subject wiping her eyes. "After all this is over we have to tell my parents of the engagement." Robert started coughing, chocking on his own breath in shock.
"You act all cool and dandy with inception, homicidal relatives and secret corporate transactions, yet you fear to deal with your fiancée's family?" Eames asked sarcastically.
"I was never good with big families." Robert defended himself.
"You better get used to it." Cobb advised him with a knowing smile.
"Did I mention she has three older brothers? Two of them along with her father are cops and on is a fire fighter." The blue eyed businessman continued. "And I have to somehow tell them I've been engaged with their only daughter and sister secretly for moths and survive."
"Well if you put it that way… Touché." Eames conceded shivering. Ariadne wasn't sure if it was all an act; the tremors seemed quite real.
"Maybe I'll join you for that drink." Robert offered, causing everyone to laugh again.
"Don't be so dramatic Rob." Ariadne said smiling.
"I'm being realistic." He countered frowning. Ariadne just smiled at him and, on the spur of the moment, took out her totem and placed it on the coffee table; she had done this once already since she had woken up, but she decided it wouldn't hurt to check one last time. The bishop toppled over with the slightest touch and she was left smiling brighter than the sun at the fallen chess piece. She raised her eyes from her totem and placed it happily in her pocket. She turned towards her fiancé, meeting his loving azure gaze across the aisle.
"So, how does reality feel?" Robert asked smiling softly. Ariadne struggled to find the correct answer; there were still obstacles in their way, that was for sure. But she was now more confident than ever than they would pull through. She imagined that if he kept looking at her like that she would soon forget said obstacles altogether. The wheels of the plane touched the runway with a soft thud.
"Stranger than I dreamt it." She answered and his smile widened. "And I love it." She added. "I love you."
"I love you too." He mouthed sincerely making Ariadne feel her heart soar, as if it forgot to land with the rest of the plane. And as the speakers welcomed them to L.A., she made a silent wish to keep that feeling and the man who had awakened it in her, forever.