Title: Burning at these Mysteries
Disclaimer: I don't own Inception or these characters.
Summary: Post-movie. The aftermath of the situation isn't something she'll allude easily to. And really, diving into his proposal, what exactly made her think this would be a good idea?
The thing about Dom and Arthur is that they're really good friends. In fact, they're more than that. The real thing is that they're brothers, by choice.
It's definitely the kind of thing that could, understandably, be misinterpreted.
But Ariadne knows. She has always known. She has stood on the outside of them and quite literally on the inside as well.
And as she sits by the river bank and watches the white van sink further into the dark water, sucking her teeth in and shivering against the cold wind, she tells the man next to her that Cobb will be alright.
Ariadne hopes that even with the water and multiple dream stages between them that it'll always be Dom and Arthur, the two men who've gone through hell and back together.
But when Cobb doesn't wake up on the plane, Ariadne witnesses the fleeting look of betrayal on Arthur's face.
And as she stands on one side of the baggage carousel, with Arthur on the other, not turning away until his eyes get too close, does she finally flee. Again.
Because the thing about Arthur and Ariadne, she could have broken him.
Ariadne lights the cigarette with a shaking hand.
She inhales the sweet tobacco, only hating herself a little for it. A disgusting new habit and she knows she shouldn't, but she also knows that cigarettes aren't as bad as the other ways she has hurt herself.
She had always been addicted more to adventure and spontaneity than the cigarettes, and before Ariadne can remind herself that it's not the way she wants it anymore, she hears the screeching brakes of a car halting a few feet away.
Arthur stumbles out of the vehicle, slamming the door behind him as he marches towards her.
"How'd you find me?"
It's a stupid question really. If this man once had the power to invade another's subconscious, once even her own, then what's stopping him from seeking her?
Arthur frowns, and even with the impending darkness of the New York City horizon, she can see something flash across his face in contempt.
"You haven't changed one bit, have you?" Ariadne grunts, exhaling hard in his direction so the smoke bounces off his impeccable face. "You're still bitter and angry and resentful over things you and I didn't have any control over."
"You have no idea what you're talking about," he growls back, "You could have saved him, Ariadne."
Her name sounds like it tastes of dust on his tongue.
Suddenly Arthur reaches out and clutches the end of the cigarette still in her mouth. He tugs at it, holding her gaze as it falls wordlessly to the ground.
"Do you really think you can make everyone forget?"
"What are you talking about? Eames is somewhere halfway across the world, and Yusuf is probably not far," she shouts, startled by this accusation, "they're trying to forget, Arthur, and so am I!"
Arthur's face is impassive, but his eyes burn with an emotion that makes her heart beat wildly inside her chest.
"You want to start over again on a blank slate? There's no such thing," says Arthur before storming back to his car.
And as Ariadne stands at the corner of the curb, fingers trembling as they search for another cigarette, she's so desperate for a smoke that she feels like she can't breathe. By the time she's inhaling the familiar tobacco, Ariadne pretends that she feels okay and that the cigarette is helping even though it's not and never will.
The world is spinning, and she doesn't remember when it had begun again to feel like it was too much effort to be in reality while Cobb is buried in the depths of himself… wherever he is.
And she stands here, waiting for a taxi, alone, certainly not in the need of the brown-haired man she had once believed in and gave up on a long time ago.
Ariadne has always thought that after the Fischer job she would be able to move with her life. But moving on isn't as easy as she had thought it would be.
She returns home to a Brooklyn apartment that is far from luxurious, with unreliable plumbing and splintered ceilings that maintenance hardly bothers to repair. Working for the city's construction developmental agency, while studying half the time, is a tedious job, and Ariadne almost wishes she had seen her demise beforehand, but that really does no one good. She tries fixing the damaged ceilings herself, but it never seems to hold up, and the cracks always return.
Again, her eyes catch sight of the golden chess piece on her nightstand. Ariadne doesn't know why she still clings to it – the instrument of her own torture – when it would make more sense to throw it as far away as she can from her balcony.
Perhaps the thought that if she can learn to look at it and not experience that vertigo feeling of waking up, similar to the one she had felt on the plane after the Fischer job, then she can somehow defeat the memory of it and erase it.
She sighs wearily and climbs onto the fire escape outside, reaching deep into her jeans for a cigarette and lighter.
"Did you come here to try to guilt trip me again?" Adriane quips at him as she exits the building where her latest lecture had been held.
She wishes Arthur would try to avoid her like he knows he should. That evening when he had seen her smoking makes Adriane realize that she wants him to feel something beside the hot smoke she purposely spews at him whenever he's too close to her.
"Just come and see him, Adriane, just once," he insists, blocking her path with his firm arm.
"What? You brought him here? In New York?" Adriane hisses, throwing her hands in the air to illustrate her astonishment. "Where are you keeping him, in another dingy warehouse?"
When Arthur doesn't reply, she can almost feel the color draining from her face. The reality of her situation, her problems, is hidden somewhere in the city's industrial district and all she wants to do is leave New York or immerse herself into something else entirely.
That's why she's the one who walks away from Arthur, because she's good at that, at leaving him. She'll go back to her rundown apartment and shower before work, and congratulate herself for picking the easy route out and the leaving the hard one behind.
She spots Arthur lingering on the outskirts of the construction zone with her peripheral vision. Before he can seriously injure himself for not wearing a hard hat, Ariadne calls for a break over the shouts of the workers and roaring machines that sound as familiar to her as her own heartbeat.
"Hi," greets Arthur, attempting a smile that fits his face like a battle scar. It's not a real smile, because she's already seen one of those of his before.
It's a ghost of one, crooked and wrong, and it doesn't fit his face like the way Ariadne doesn't fit with him and his world. She wants him to stop trying so she nods in recognition and lights a cigarette as she prepares her speech of dissuasion.
"Do you ever stop smoking?"
If his question is supposed to be humorous she certainly can't tell by his estranged tone. Nonetheless, Ariadne shrugs, finding it difficult to explain to him that she needs to smoke because she's a full-blown addict now.
"When did you start?" Arthur asks, shoving his hands deep into the pockets of his trousers.
She opens her mouth to answer, but automatically shuts it, because the way he's gazing at her already says that he knows. That he's just waiting for her to say something to him that is snarky or rude, because God knows that's all Ariadne remembers articulating to him for the past few days.
"I think you should stop smoking," he says, squinting into the sunlight overhead.
Ariadne takes a long drag from her cigarette, feeling the jittery effect of nicotine in her body as her skin tingles.
The way Arthur looks right now, marking his words with such demand yet alienated comprehension, makes her see nothing of the man who taught her about paradoxes, even less of the one who had pressed his lips to her as they sat in that same dream.
There is a vague hint of that Arthur but ironically it doesn't bother her as much as she thought it would.
That had been the Arthur she met, after all. The Arthur who had sedated and monitored her while she had her first experience of subconscious manipulation with Cobb. The Arthur who now mourns for his friend, his brother, while she mourns the life she could have had.
"Arthur," she inhales, trying to find a way to put the mirth in her tone, "I think you should start smoking."
He laughs but his eyes look sad. She avoids them by staring down at her feet.
"Ariadne," he finally says, his voice breaking on her name, and she can't help but let her eyes flicker to him without a second thought.
Arthur's hand reaches over towards her and then freezes and clenches, dropping to his side. She loses her breath, caught in the way he almost makes her believe there's something more to him besides the deeply rooted abhorrence she has come to find.
"What do you want, Arthur?"
"Who says I want anything from you?" he smirks.
"You wanted me to see him." Ariadne points out, steadying her voice as her mind swirls at the thought of all the possible directions this conversation can take route, only to succumb to one known destination.
"Yeah, and I took you walking away as a refusal –"
"Fine, I'll do it," she says suddenly, glancing at her watch and tossing her cigarette to the ground before jamming it under her heel.
Arthur gives her a measured look and it changes everything.
Because today is different. Ariadne realizes now that she can't abstain from Arthur or the trauma she has foolishly caused him.
Today is a heavier aching, it's a foreshadowing she doesn't let herself interpret at the moment, because that means she has to try to engross herself into her guilt, almost like the one Cobb had been trying to keep furtive.
And she can't do that without Cobb.
She can't do it without Arthur, either.
"Pick me up at 7."
She knows she's pushing the boundaries when she takes out a cigarette and attempts to light it inside Arthur's car.
"Don't," he says, his voice marring a warning tone as he gestures to the interior setting, "this is Italian leather."
Slowly she puts the cigarette away. It's the first time she thinks of how his living and recreational conditions are so unnervingly different from her own.
"Are you working in the city?" Ariadne asks when the silence goes on for too long.
They've been driving for a while, and Ariadne can just about make out the sun setting in the skyline behind the large factories and buildings.
Lifting one shoulder in an attempt at a shrug Arthur answers, "kind of. It's an on-again, off-again, kind of thing at a firm downtown for years now."
Ariadne draws the tips of her fingers over the door handle, immediately feeling a little self conscious due to the predicament she remembers she's currently in. The money she had earned from the Fischer job was only enough to pay for her current tuition and student loans from Paris.
Other from that she's only making ends meet.
"I guess even you had a life outside of Cobb," mumbles Ariadne, sinking into the soft car seat and leaning towards the window beside her.
"I was going to quit, anyway."
"No, you weren't," she replies, her lips curling as she feel more like her old self than she has in weeks.
Cobb and Arthur, they're brothers. They would've always picked each other in the end.