Chapter 1: The Invitation

A/N: This is my first Inception fanfic, inspired by a mix of my friend WolfieLovesSilently's "The Team Again" and various other factors. Basically, Ariadne is kidnapped by a mysterious criminal, who calls Arthur and offers him a deal, if he plays his game and wins then she goes free. If not…well, just read the chapter.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters or aspects of "Inception". Oh, and the title name was given to my friend and then me by Lazarus76.

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Arthur lay silently on the springy queen bed, staring blankly at the pale yellow ceiling above. It was 7 in the evening, and already he had eaten dinner, packed his suitcase, and even had time to read a bit farther in the novel he had bought for the trip. With nothing left to do he had contented himself to looking at the ceiling, occasionally thinking of her. It had been a month now since he saw the young architect, and though he hated to admit it, every moment he spent apart from her tore at his heart.

It wasn't like he hadn't fallen in love before. Gracie Mourdoe, his girlfriend back in high school, had always made his heart pound and his breath stop at her beauty. But with her it was different. It was like she was the sun at the center of his universe, pulling him closer and warming him with her smile. Her looks weren't like Gracie's, but she was attractive in a different way, in her personality and her innocence. It was because of that innocence that he insisted that she continue her studies in Paris, instead of asking her to come with him like he would have wanted to. He couldn't be that selfish, put her in so much danger just so he could be happy. A heart could wish what a heart could wish. Arthur sometimes wished he could understand his heart. After years of traveling into the dreams of others, picking away at their subconscious mind like an archeologist, he understood the inner workings of a mind better than some psychologists. But the needs of a heart he would never understand, nor could he ever hope to.

The buzzing of his phone brought him back to reality, two beeps and a short vibration alerted him that he had a text message. Reaching to the oak nightstand beside the bed, he picked up the phone and drew it close, reading the name. Ariadne. Even her name brought a smile to his lips.

Quickly he tapped the screen, and a small message icon pulled up. After tapping it again, the message appeared across the screen.

Call me.

Two simple words. No emotion, no explanation. Puzzled, Arthur quickly did the mental math in his head, determining with a start that by now it would be around 1:00 a.m. in Paris. Ariadne was never up this late, not even the night before a test. Why would she text him so late, and why did she need him to call her so urgently? Part of him knew he was probably overreacting, and the part of him he'd trained so meticulously to handle any situation calmly won over. Taking a breath, he called her number, putting the phone to his ear. It picked up on the first ring.

"Hello?" Ariadne's voice answered slowly, hesitantly.

Arthur breathed the smallest sigh of relief. "Hey, Ariadne it's me. You asked me to call-

"So this is who she decided to call."

Arthur started slightly. It was not Ariadne's voice that spoke, but a foreign, raspy voice of an unfamiliar man.

"I gave her the option to call one person, any person in the world, and instead of her family, or college friends or even the police, she called you."

Arthur's eyes widened and he stood up from the bed. "Where's Ariadne?"

"She's alive, and unharmed, at least for now," answered the voice mysteriously.

"Who are you, and what do you want?" Arthur demanded, clenching his fist.

"You don't need to know who I am, but I do know who you are, Arthur, and that's all that really matters."

"What do you want?" Arthur repeated with icy calm, despite the emotional turmoil raging through his brain.

"I want to play a game," replied the voice, like this was the most obvious thing in the world.

"What are you talking about?" Arthur said, lowering his voice threateningly.

"I said I want to play a game. And not just any boring old game, no, but the best kind of game, a game with prizes."

Arthur bit his lip; something about the man's voice was disturbingly off, like a man on the very edge of sanity. Lunatics were just part of the business, as Eames would say, but another thing that seeped through this man's voice was power. He knew that Arthur could not disagree, not with Ariadne's life on the line. A lunatic was incredibly dangerous, especially with a hostage. Just the smallest little mistake could snap them; send them over the edge and into pure insanity. If this man reached that point, then Ariadne might not make it out alive.

"What kinds of prizes?" Arthur continued slowly, keeping the man distracted.

"I'm glad you still want to play." Here there was a brief pause, and Arthur could almost picture the man smiling to himself. "Here are the prizes. If you win then I will release your friend and turn myself in to the police. No violence, no suffering, nice and easy. However, if I win then you must do me one favor. I will not tell you the favor unless I win, but no matter what you must carry it out."

Arthur bit his lip again, silenced by thought.

"Now I will make you a deal. Because this is your first time playing the game you may bring no more than 3… friends to help you. If you wish to play the game, bring yourself and your friends to Big Ben in London, England in 3 days' time. If you do not wish to play the game then I will kill your little friend here. Simple as that. When you arrive the game will be explained, and then we will start. Any questions?"

Arthur was silent for a moment, weighing his options. 3 days wasn't enough time to track down this man and stop him, not with the team scattered across the 7 continents, and refusing to play would ensure Ariadne's death. Playing would be dangerous, especially considering how he had no idea what kind of game they would play. But it was the only choice.

"No. I'll be there."

"Good." The voice replied, and Arthur swore he could actually hear the grin creeping onto the man's face. "I look forward to meeting the rest of your team, point man." And with that, the line went dead.

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Thousands of miles away, across a large blue ocean to a city wreathed in darkness, a phone snapped shut. For a moment there was just silence, then laughter started up, softly at first, but gradually increasing in volume until it echoed off the walls of the empty room.

"It looks like we will be playing our little game after all," said a man said slowly, smiling to himself.

After a moment, he gripped the phone in his hands and hurled it across the room with all of his strength. With a crash it collided with the solid concrete wall, shattering into a thousand pieces across the floor. In a dark corner, a young woman cringed slightly at the noise, reminding the man of her presence.

He turned to her, smiling a crooked smile as he walked her direction.

"And it's all thanks to you."

He crouched next to her, staring intently at her face as if trying to memorize every detail. Almost subconsciously it seemed, he began lightly stroking the side of her head with his hand. The girl shook slightly as he touched her, turning away from him. She would not give him the satisfaction of seeing her in pain, of hearing her whimper or cry, no matter how badly she wanted to.

"You don't have to be so afraid, I won't hurt you. No, you're much too important for that," the man assured, moving his hand under her chin, lifting it slightly and forcing her to look at him. She released a shaky breath, but still said nothing, feeling his dark eyes burn into hers.

After receiving no response from the girl, he stood up and walked away, his shoes clicking against the cement floor. As he approached a thick metal door that lead out to the hallway, he flipped off the overhead light, then latched the door behind him. The room was now heavy with darkness, the only source of light coming in small diamonds from the barred windows that hugged the ceiling-far too high for her to see out of.

Finally alone, the girl breathed in and out deeply, tears rolling slowly down her face as she let out sobs.

"Arthur," she sobbed through her tears. She tried to say more, but she only said his name again and again, until eventually her own exhaustion pulled her into a shallow, fretful sleep.

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A/N: All reviews appreciated! Thanks so much to all the readers!