Light caught the smooth curves of the chess piece, throwing the dusky gold into sharp relief.
Never let another person touch your totem.
Sitting in a bar, her head cushioned on her arm, Ariadne moved the gold item across her fingers, letting the light catch one curve of the chess piece. The gold was oddly bright among the muted browns and ambers of the bar. Its light shone against the deep mahogany of the bar, reflecting the bright Parisian sun into the shadows of the wood. It glimmered brightly against the crystal of the glass that rested in front of her. A glass filled half way with cheap red wine that made her tongue recoil even though the fact of the matter was she could have bought the most expensive bottle in the bar-if not in all of Paris.
And yet the bright tuesday morning found her in a cheap bar drinking cheap wine and playing 'direct the light' with a bright gold chess pawn.
Raising her head from the cushion of her arm with a miserable sigh, Ariadne rested her hand on the table. Her fingers continued to hold the chess piece, as though it meant something to feel the contours of skin warmed metal. As though she would know the damn difference between a dream and reality. As though she had any sort of place being in the situation she found herself in. Grasping the wine glass with her free hand, she slid the glass towards her, using the wood of the bar to hold it steady. Grasping the stem with her hand, Ariadne raised the glass to her lips.
The liquid sloshed over the rim.
Quickly setting the glass down, Ariadne pressed her hand to the bar, fighting the color that blossomed on her cheeks. Her hand continued to tremble against the wood. Her hands hadn't stopped shaking since they woke on the plane to the chaos that had taken over the cockpit. Hours of questioning, of listening to accusations fly, to presenting endless papers with proof of citizenship and visas and the repetition of "no, sir, I don't know all the men in first class." And, "yes, I do think its strange that they just won't wake up." And, of course, her personal favorites of, "I'm sorry, who is Mr. Cobb?" and "extraction? inception? I have no idea what those thing are. I'm an architecture student!" Countless hours and untold lies later they let her out and got her on a plane back to Paris where she belonged.
All the while she had gripped the chess piece.
She wondered if it was normal. If the desperation to hold onto the one thing that said you were alive and not dreaming was a common side effect of what she had been though. But after telling everyone that she did not know the men she had traveled with, it was not as though she could just stay behind and ask them to jot down their phone numbers in case she had questions about her post-inception care. And as she sat in her seat on the plane to Paris she realized that she had absolutely no idea what any of their last names were. Somehow she doubted that she would find him in the yellow pages-or even that Arthur was his real name.
Feeling eyes on her, Ariadne looked up to see the bartender looking at her inquisitively. When he caught her eye, he set down the rag he held and moved forward. In an instant Ariadne knew he was going to see if she was alright. If she needed anything. He would probably listen to her problems, offer advice, do what old grandfather type bartenders always seemed to try and do for her. At the thought of speaking, her insides clenched and for a single, terrible moment she was certain she would be sick. It took her a moment to get her jellied, trembling limbs to work. To get off the precarious bar stool and stagger out into the bright sun before the bartender could ask her the terrible question of 'are you alright?'. If someone asked her that, Ariadne was fairly certain she would scream.
The sun hurt her eyes as she stumbled out into the streets.
She pushed forward, fighting past the urge to collapse to the pavement. It was a beautiful day out. So beautiful it almost did not seem real and even the mere possibility that this could be a dream was enough to chill her. The crowds did not help matters. People were out in droves, laughing and enjoying the sun. But there were so many of them. No-one grabbed at her but every touch of someone's shoulder, every brush of another's wrist made her entire body recoil and inevitably sent her bouncing into someone else. Her pulse quickened until the blood pounding in her ears was the only thing she could hear over the din of the people.
Until she heard the train.
Ariadne's eyes widened, her breath catching in her throat. Stopping dead in the street, she spun to her left, half sure that the train would be barreling down the street towards her, knocking deserted cars aside as it went. But the train was further away, on its tracks were trains belonged. Her fingers tightened on her chess pawn as she stood perfectly still, her eyes locked on the train. People jostled her but she paid them no attention. The train continued to move noisily along as Ariadne wondered how long trains were supposed to move along for. None of the people seemed to find it strange that a train was going by but Ariadne reasoned that if they were part of the dream they wouldn't. Not unless it was something obvious. She was so intent on the train that she forgot about the people jostling by, forgot about the feel of the sun and the warmth of the breeze. She forgot about everything.
A hand landed on her shoulder.
Acting purely on instinct, Ariadne shrieked and turned, sending her fist towards the face of the man whose hand laid on her shoulder. Her wrist was easily caught and the blow deferred.
"Ariadne, calm down, its me."
The firm but calm voice seemed to echo in her panic fogged brain. Though he did not let go of her wrist, the man had already moved her hand down so that it seemed like she had not just tried to punch him. Her eyes moved frantically across the suite clad man, taking in the carefully chosen chocolate three piece suite he wore. The way the light glinted off the polished shoes and the bright cufflinks on his sleeves. His tie was knotted with precision and perfectly in place-something Ariadne had always privately thought was a skill many men could learn. Her eyes finally landed on the sharp, angled features of the man's face, accented by his darkly slicked back hair, just visible underneath the hat he wore. The details fit together to form a complete picture.
"Arthur?" she gasped, looking at him, too stunned to show anything but.
Dominic Cobb's Point Man looked at her, his face largely unreadable but unmistakably calm. He looked as perfectly collected as he always did, not a hair out of place. The last time she had seen him was at the airport, when the ambulances and the police came. He had quietly leaned forward and told her to deny everything before the commotion overtook the plane. He had looked calm even as the police had led him out of the aircraft. He had been perfectly composed even as she had felt dangerously close to tears. Even now he seemed completely put together. Taking advantage of her shocked feelings, Arthur easily pulled her into motion.
"Its not safe here, come on," he said moving them through the crowds, his hand leaving her wrist to wrap around her shoulders.
"Not safe?" Ariadne echoed, her fingers tight around the chess piece, "but this isn't a dream-"
"Its still not safe," Arthur said, his voice still calm as he led them over to the street and hailed a cab, ushering her inside.
She sank into the back of the taxi, clumsily scooting over so that he would have room as well. Arthur closed the door and gave the driver the name of a hotel. Without the necessity of standing, Ariadne felt her entire body tremble violently. Her breath still came in short gasps as her hands shook, even with her death grip on the chess piece. The jolt of the train, the smell of the crowds, even the feeling of people pressing against her was all too much. And now Arthur was there. Her head felt as if it would explode with all that was going on.
"Ariadne," Arthur's voice seemed to slip past the panic, still perfectly calm and unruffled, "put your head between your knees," he said, though to her even the simplest request for movement seemed impossible, "look at me-look at me," he repeated, his voice steady as her eyes frantically moved around before landing on his face, "this is normal. Head between your knees."
Ariadne forced herself to obey, putting her head between her knees and breathing in and out. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the carefully creased lines in Arthur's pants, not a wrinkle in sight though by her calculations he would have had to be on a plane almost as quickly as she for him to get there. Unless they were dreaming. A low sound caught in the back of her throat as she knotted her fingers behind her neck.
"Are we dreaming again?" she asked.
Instead of answering he pulled a leather briefcase onto the seat between them. He made no move to open it but his hand came up, opening to reveal the bright red dice that she had seen him hold before. With a well-practiced flick of his wrist he sent the red plastic across the leather. It rolled before coming to rest on a corner, two white dots facing upwards. Ariadne swallowed thickly and looked over at his face. It was still perfectly composed as he reached out and picked up the dice, curling his fingers around the plastic object before offering the surface to her.
Ariadne placed her chess piece with its rounded bottom on the surface and spun it, keeping her hand just out of reach of its arc. The totem spun for a moment, its arc widening before it landed on its side, just as it was supposed to if she was not dreaming. Ariadne looked at it for a moment before grabbing it with a quick motion, despite her trembling hand. Arthur made no comment on her movements, he simply removed the briefcase from the seat. They rode in silence for a few moments longer before the taxi pulled up at its destination. A uniformed doorman opened the door for.
"Welcome back to Paris, Mr. Stone," he said to Arthur, "we are so pleased to have you back with us. I trust you had a pleasant trip?"
"Very," Arthur said with an easy smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. Ariadne got out of the cab, staring up at the hotel, "this is my associate Ms. Miller," Arthur continued as the doorman looked at Ariadne.
"Of course, Ms. Miller, it is a pleasure to have you with us," the doorman said to Ariadne, "Mr. Stone has informed us of your airline's incompetence and fresh clothing is waiting for you in your rooms."
"Thank you," Arthur said, shaking the man's hand before ushering Ariadne inside.
The beauty of the lobby was lost on Ariadne as Arthur easily steered her towards the bank of elevators. Some event was going on, people were crowded into the hotel but the only person who touched Ariadne was Arthur. They rode up the elevator in silence before they got to the floor. Thankfully the cool colors were bright and very different from the dark ones of the dream. Arthur opened the door of the hotel with a keycard and only when they were inside did he let his arm leave her shoulders.
The hotel room was cool and dark, the heavy drapes keeping out the sun. Arthur moved through the room with quick, precise steps, going only as far as to turn on the lamp beside the bed. He seemed to know, even before she did, that the cool and the dark were exactly what she wanted the most. Arthur had stayed here before, of that she was certain as she watched him move about the room, discarding his coat and his hat before coming to stand back before her, his lips moving.
"What?" Ariadne asked, belatedly realizing that he had been speaking.
He gave her the same smile he had given the doorman before speaking again.
"What you're feeling is normal," he repeated, "two layer dreams are hard, three are even harder."
"I went to limbo," she said, her voice dull to her own ears, "is that four?"
"Like I said," he told her, "perfectly normal. Your body needs to recover from the stress of what happened. You need to sleep, to eat, to drink-"
"Can I shower?" she asked, cutting him off.
Arthur looked at her. If he had any feelings on her interrupting or asking to take a shower, he did not show them.
"The bathroom's in there," he said pointing to a door. Ariadne nodded her thanks before moving towards it, "you can leave it out here if you don't want it to get wet."
There was no need to ask what the 'it' was. Her hand was still wrapped in its death grip on the gold piece. For a moment she considered his request. But Arthur's own hand was in his pocket and Ariadne would have bet every cent in her bank account that it was gripping the plastic dice. She shook her head a quiet 'no', more out of some obligation for politeness than the need to actually speak before moving into the bathroom.
She turned on the light above the sink and went immediately for the shower, refusing to look at her reflection in the mirror. Instead she went to the shower stall. Bending down she place her pawn on the floor and spun the piece, holding her breath until it clattered to the floor. She undressed in intervals, loosing sight of the piece only when cloth covered her eyes. She spun the piece until she was certain each time it would clatter to the ground. Finally she turned on the shower and stepped inside, leaving her cloths in a heap but bringing the chess piece with her. She had been in the sterility of the airport, there was no grime on her. And yet she imagined she could feel dirt and sweat and snow covering her skin and hair. She scrubbed as though she had, until her skin felt raw and clean.
She brought the chess piece out of the shower with her, placing it on the sink as she caught sight of herself for the first time. Her first thought was that she looked exhausted. There were dark smudges under her eyes as if she hadn't slept in weeks. The next thought was that she looked young. Her dark hair was plastered with water and her face looked open and confused, as if the world was a place she did not understand. She did not look like someone who had just pulled off a task others would have deemed impossible, she looked like a lost soul.
She tore her eyes away from the mirror and pulled a bottle of body lotion towards her, smoothing the creme over her skin. Without looking in the mirror she grabbed a bathrobe and threw it on, walking back over and picking up her chess piece. It was still wet from the shower, a small puddle of water still on the marble. Grabbing a dry washcloth, Ariadne wiped down her totem, making sure it was dry before sticking it in her pocket.
Knotting the bathrobe around her waist, Ariadne walked out into the hotel room, careful to be as silent as possible. Her eyes found Arthur. If the Point Man had heard her enter, he didn't show it. He sat there hunched over the low coffee table, his jacket and vest folded neatly over the back of a chair. Slowly Ariadne walked forward, bringing his front into view. He had rolled up the sleeves of his shirt and unbuttoned the top button, the dark silk tie discarded somewhere in the room. The only sound in the entirety of the hotel room was the sound the dice made as they hit the table, rolling across the top of the table. Both were loaded. She watched him make five passes, her eyes picking up the pattern of the dice.
"Why is it an even number?" Ariadne asked, breaking the silence.
Arthur looked over at her sharply but if she had startled him he didn't say it. The look of concentration on his face did not leave and after a moment his hand moved. He did not pause as he reached out and picked up the red plastic dice once more, sliding one back into his pocket but leaving the other loaded one out.. Ariadne walked forward and seated herself on the other low chair, her hand gripping her own totem as she looked at the bright red plastic. Her own gold chess pawn was oddly heavy in her pocket but she refused to let it go as she looked up at him.
"How do you feel?" he asked, ignoring her question completely.
Ariadne looked down at her toes, feeling strangely overly dramatic at how she had acted. The idea that Arthur thought she might be dramatic settled like a lead weight in the bottom of her stomach. Out of all the team members she had spent the most time with Arthur. He was the Point Man, she was the Architect. After Cobb had made it clear he wanted to know as little about her design as possible, Arthur had established that he wanted to know as much as possible. Any questions she had, any ideas she was unsure of, all went to the patient Point Man who seemed to be able to answer any question no matter how big or small.
As an architecture student she had always toed a fine line between the impossible and the practical. After all, at the end of the day a building was a building. It could be beautiful and amazing but it had to serve a practical purpose. People had to be able to go inside without it toppling on them. As an artist she had felt a kinship with Cobb, she had understood him in some way because she knew what it was like to create. But she could appreciate the importance of a man like Arthur, someone who took the fantastical art a man like Cobb-and a woman like herself-created and saw the practical side of things.
But Arthur was almost chillingly practical. She did not even know his name-though she was sure it was not 'Stone'-and for all his classic his sense of style, she imagined he couldn't be much older than she was. Now though without the rush of the mission she was painfully aware of the fact that for all the time they had spent together she could count the things she knew about the man sitting across from her on one hand. She looked at him and instead of answering she asked her own question.
"Why are you in Paris?" she asked instead.
Arthur looked at her, his hand relaxed on the familiar plastic of his die. At her question he felt oddly young and strangely guilty. As if his being in Paris was somehow an invasion of Ariadne's privacy. Sternly he reminded himself that this was nothing of the sort. She was still pale, her eyes shadowed with sleeplessness. She was in bad shape and he needed to tend to her. It was part of the job and Arthur always made sure his jobs were seen to their completion. He straightened in the chair, sitting up before immediately regretting the action of putting space between them. He was acting as if he needed to put space between them.
"You went much deeper than you should have," he said, "there are consequence to that-and to being in a dream for as long as you were under that kind of sedation. The rest of us have done this before but you're new to the game."
"So you're checking on me," she said, cutting through his explanation.
Arthur pressed his lips slightly together, just enough to avoid a frown on his face. He was making sure the newest team member was in one piece after what had happened and yet when she said it like that, it made it sound like he was some lovesick young man and not a trained professional. But when he looked at her again, her face was so innocent and open that against all rationality he felt the urge to comfort her. It had been a very long time since Arthur had his cool practicality overcome by anything but anger and before he knew what was happening he nodded.
"You completed the job," he said.
He already knew that the idea had been planted, that within a few days the papers would proclaim the dissolution of the largest energy company in the world. Their accounts had been wired already with payment, something done beforehand to avoid suspicion. The papers would announce as well that murderer Dominic Cobb was back in the U.S., that he had never physically woken from his flight and that all signs pointed to a suicide attempt. Saito would not receive the same notoriety. His unconscious form was already back in Japan.
But Cobb-Arthur cut himself off. Cobb had known the risks, they all had. There hadn't been any time to mourn for the dreaming man either, not once their focus had become saving their own hides. Arthur had known that even the slightest suspicion that he cared for Cobb would land him in his own cell-something that he could not afford to have happen. Not when the newest member of their team was already on her way back to Paris with the effects of limbo still in her system.
"We all completed the job," Ariadne said finally before looking down at her hands, feeling very young and very stupid at his explanation.
Cobb was still under the dream, Saito too and there was nothing to be done about either of those things. As she sat there Ariadne was painfully aware of the fact that she could barely stand, much less dive headfirst back into a dream. And even then what would she do? Face Mal? Drag Cobb back? She had no idea what kind of dark twists and turns lay inside Cobb's mind, only that if their mark had been trained to defend his mind Cobb had to be able to do it a thousand times better. And even if she could make it through his mind, shared dreams required having the dreamer with you.
And there was a huge difference between stealing secrets and stealing a body from a U.S. government detention facility.
"Did Eames and Yusuf get out?" she asked finally.
Arthur nodded. Ariadne had no doubt that Eames would find a way out. But Yusuf she wasn't quite so sure about. But it seemed he had. As she looked at Arthur she realized that if someone had to find her, she was glad it was him. Inwardly she kicked herself for still being silly enough to care about boys after all that had happened. She should be thinking about Cobb and Saito, not Arthur and the fact that he had come to Paris because of his job. Not because of some strange desire to see her.
"I'll be okay," she said finally, answering his long asked question.
He nodded, turning as there was a knock on the door. Seamlessly he stood and walked over, opening it to reveal a man dressed in a tuxedo pushing a cart filled with silver covered dishes. With quick, efficient movements the man set up the table and uncovered the dishes before departing with after receiving Arthur's forged signature on the bill. Ariadne walked over to the table to investigate the food.
He had ordered her a burger.
Ariadne stared at the food, starving and yet filled with disbelief before realizing there was no reason to be surprised. Of course Arthur would remember that the night before the job, when she had been nervous and excited and terrified out of her wits she had brought dinner to her workshop to make a few last minute modifications. And dinner had been her comfort food of choice: a burger. Lifting the bun, Ariadne was even less surprised to see it already made to her specifications with onions, blue cheese, pickles and ketchup-but no tomato. Dropping the bun she looked up to see Arthur had already seated himself at one of the chair and was apparently engrossed in his salad.
"How-" she began before stopping, "I-" she stopped again, "thank you," she said finally picking up the burger.
Arthur nodded, taking a bite of lettuce as he looked at her. If it was Cobb he knew they would be speaking about the next job, or where they would hide for the usual month or two that they spent apart after every job. Cobb probably wouldn't even be eating. He had spent so long in dreams that the physical effects such as hunger did not really effect him. The same was true for himself, Arthur knew. Ravenous appetite cut down to a mere hunger. Unlike the young woman sitting across from him whose shyness had been overcome with the need to eat.
Arthur busied himself with his own food and the wine he poured for them both, half wishing that he could have read at the table without seeming rude. But it wouldn't do to stare at Ariadne either. Once more Arthur felt frustration gnaw at him. He hated feeling so out of control. Not just with her but with the world in general. Jobs were to be done, loose ends tied up. The glaring, gaping holes in this job made him feel like he had not done his own very well. And Arthur was nothing if not a perfectionist.
"Arthur? Arthur are you okay?"
Arthur looked up at the call of his name, realizing that his fork was paused over his place, a piece of lettuce dangling from the prongs. Ariadne was looking at him curiously. She had devoured the burger and the food had clearly done her good. She was alert enough now to see that he was not doing entirely fantastic himself, something Arthur found incredibly frustrating. Appetite gone, he set his fork down next to his only half eaten salad.
The concern in her eyes made his insides clench. She was not supposed to be concerned about him. He was the one who worried, who was concerned about everything without ever actually worrying about himself. Men like Cobbs were too wrapped in their own misery to care about the problems of others-or at least about the problems of men who were paid to be problem solvers. Not that Arthur thought of himself as someone who needed the concern of others. But Ariadne was looking at him with concern, as though she was worried about him even though he had given her absolutely no reason to be worried.
"You should get some rest," he said instead of answering her question.
"What are you going to do?" she asked.
He looked at her sharply, feeling oddly like she was invading his privacy. Men like Cobb and Eames and even Yusuf acted a certain way. They got the job done and they left. Point Men, men like Arthur, they were the ones responsible for making sure that everything was tied up. When he had last checked the blackberry he had bought for this job, the number of times people from energy companies had tried to contact him was in the triple digits. There were calls to return, additional arrangements for Eames and Yusuf to be made and three hotel manages he had to pay off to say that he had stayed in their hotels if they were questioned by the police. These were boring but necessary tasks, the production that went on behind the scenes of the artistry of dreams.
Tasks that the artists themselves did not take interest in.
Arthur glanced back at her, surprised to see uncertainty in her eyes. As if she could sense that she had overstepped some boundary. Belatedly he realized that his frustration was showing on his face. Fighting back the emotion, Arthur forced himself back to calm. Back to center. Much to his surprise, Ariadne's face fell, disappointment shining in her eyes as if his unwillingness to show her what he was feeling was somehow a betrayal. He watched her hand move in the pocket of the robe, tightening on the chess piece and immediately he felt like a huge jackass. She had no idea what was and was not a boundary, not in the unfamiliar territory they found themselves in.
The truth was that neither did he.
Ever since Mal's death, Cobb had withdrawn into himself. If the two men shared a hotel suite after a job, they did not laugh or drink or enjoy each other's company like they once had. The three of them did not go to dinner, Mal inevitably finding some pretty girl to join them and act as Arthur's date for the evening. After jobs now Cobb would shut himself in the room to brood about what happened, to think about the newest way that Mal had appeared in the dreamscape and threatened their mission. He didn't care about loose ends or angry clients or any of the logistics that had made him a successful fugitive. He cared only about thinking about the dead woman who would always haunt him.
But now there was no Mal, no Cobb, just the bright eyed petite architect who looked at him with dark, sleepless smudges under her eyes and hair still wet from the shower. Though Ariadne had proven she could take care of herself, as he looked at her Arthur had the oddest urge to protect her. She was bright and young and innocent. Cobb had said she would be back, that after you built dreams you could hardly build something else. But somewhere in the recesses of his mind, Arthur almost wanted her to choose the normal. To go back to sketching buildings on napkins and building models that would one day be solid structures.
"Arthur, what's going on?" she asked, by the time he realized she was speaking she had already stepped forward, invading his personal space, "you're spacing out on me here," she added with a faint smile.
"Sorry," he apologized quickly, fighting the urge to scrub at his face with his hand, "there are things I need to do to finish the job," he said, leaving his answers purposefully vague, "arrangements that need to be made," he continued, trailing off into silence.
Ariadne crinkled her nose. Being vague did not suite Arthur in the least. He was precise, on point. All sharp edges and crisp lines. Everything from the rolled up sleeves to the vague answers made her aware that she was invading his space. It was odd really, how much younger he looked without his usual clothing. True he did not look as exhausted as she did but there was a definite edge to the way he was acting, as if he was trying to keep up his guard around her and not quite pulling off the act.
It wasn't that she thought Arthur put up a front when he was with her. They had spent so much time together that she was very sure he was just as precise and neat and sharp all the way down to his core. But she knew that her usual humor was gone in the face of the weariness that settled deep in her bones. Yet Arthur seemed determined to still act like a perfect gentleman, in spite of the fact he was probably just as tired as she was. But he was determined to act like he always did, as if he was above such things as physical reactions to flying over multiple time zones.
"How old are you?" Ariadne blurted out.
Arthur's eyes widened and Ariadne immediately wished she hadn't just asked him that-even if she was desperate to know something, anything about the man who had come to check up on her. The man who she had spent countless hours with, pouring over designs and details. What she had learned about him had been by observation. She didn't even know his real name or if it was Arthur. He seemed caught off guard by her question, surprise written all over his face and Ariadne wondered when the last time someone had asked him about his age. Or any detail for that matter. To his credit the surprised expression only lasted a moment before he stamped it down, his face returning to the calm expression she had become accustom to seeing.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to pry-" she said, pressing a hand to her hot cheek, "God I sound like my grandmother-" she shook her head, "I shouldn't have said anything-"
"Twenty nine," he cut in, his furrowed brow revealing how odd he found the question, "why do you want to know?"
Ariadne looked at him. Why did she want to know? Maybe because she knew so much about Cobb-in spite of the fact that they had spent much less time together than she and Arthur had. Maybe because she found it very strange that you could spend so much time with someone-that you could kiss them, risk your neck, ask questions about strange things that were not supposed to exist and yet you couldn't even know the basics. Like their last name or how old they were or even where they were from. But when he asked her like that, as if it was strange for her to be curious, Ariadne felt her face warm further.
"I don't know," she said with a shrug, "you came all this way to check on me and we've spent so much time together. I just thought it was weird that you probably know everything about me and I didn't know anything about you."
Arthur frowned, the corners of his mouth turning down at the way she spoke. She sounded like a child and it was on the tip of his tongue to inform her of the fact. But snapping would do no good for either of them, even if she was speaking nonsense. He was very aware of the unspoken accusation in her tone and in spite of his best efforts to tell himself otherwise, he felt his temper bristle at her tone.
"I don't research team members," he said, turning to the windows to avoid her surprised face.
He wasn't sure why the idea she thought he had researched her past without extending her the same courtesy bothered him, but oddly it did. Slipping his hands into his pockets, Arthur rand his fingers over the plastic die, feeling the loaded object in his pocket where it rested next to the other one. He heard Ariadne exhale before he felt her move closer to him. The urge to move away was powerful but he pushed it aside with distaste. One could not help how one felt, only how they acted and he was not going to act like some hurt schoolboy or bashful teenager.
"I'm sorry," she said finally, "I didn't mean to accuse you like that," he saw her arm move as her fingers gripped the chess piece, "its been a very long day."
"Spectacularly so," he said looking over at her, "you should get some rest," he added, not unkindly.
Ariadne shook her head with a faint smile, though the look in Arthur's eyes said he was perfectly aware of the fact that she would not be sleeping. Not willingly anyway. After what she had done in Fischer's head, the idea that she would close her eyes and be unguarded like that made her feel sick. She could feel exhaustion gnawing at her, but she ignored it. Sleeping wasn't going to happen. Not now, not until she physically could not stand anymore. she knew that she would need to be drugged, hooked up to the metal case and somehow she doubted that Arthur was going to try and perform extraction on her. But that didn't mean she wasn't going to have nightmares about people breaking into her head or Mal whispering taunts in her ear.
"I don't think I can sleep," she said finally, as though admitting a great secret.
"You need to sleep," Arthur said, gently but firmly.
Ariadne was silent for a moment before she turned fully to face him, once again looking startlingly young and vulnerable.
"Did you dream?" she asked, "your first time after you went into someone elses dreams?"
"You've already been in another's dream," he pointed out.
"Yeah, but we didn't steal anything," she said.
"We didn't steal anything," he pointed out.
"Thats not what I meant," Ariadne said rolling her eyes at his practicality, "before everyone knew what happened. They knew that I'd be there. This time it was different," she shook her head, "I keep seeing the way that Fischer looked before-" she trailed off.
Before it became clear that Cobb and Saito were not going to wake up. Before the chaos and the ambulances and the police. Before they had been so intent on getting off the plane without being connected to Cobb and Saito, without Fischer recognizing them. But Ariadne remembered with startling clarity the way that Fischer had looked when he had first woken up. His eyes shining with resolve to be his own man. That brief moment when it became clear that their mission had been an astounding success, even though the price had been far higher than they could have anticipated.
"Hey," Arthur gently drew her attention to him, "everything on Fischer's side went according to plan."
"Did you see his face?" she said looking at Arthur, "he seemed so happy, so determined, so-I don't know, relieved."
"And what's wrong with that?" Arthur asked.
"Its not real!" Ariadne said, "his father's last words probably really were 'I'm disappointed that you're my son' and now we're making him dissolve his entire legacy for a man whose unconscious and lost in dream limbo."
Arthur knew exactly the point that they had reached, that moment after the first job when exhaustion and adrenaline made you feel guilty for what you had done. It was an irrational feeling, or at the very least it was one that was trumped by the power controlling a dream world gave you. But everyone he knew had their crisis of conscious. Architects seemed to have them more than any other. Probably something to do with the sensitive artistic personality type.
"Don't think of it that way," he told her. She looked at him, "a job is a job. You created an incredible and layered dream world that even the best architects would have balked at. At the end of the day you did your job with considerable skill."
"Is that supposed to be some kind of consolation?" she asked, "if I was designing buildings out here, this wouldn't be a problem."
"Maybe," Arthur said, "maybe it would. Lets say you designed a building and a within a month, someone was murdered inside and your building became a crime scene. We can take it another step and say that the murderer was a man who commissioned the building from you. Would you blame yourself for the death of the other man?"
"If I'd known that he was going to kill someone in the building? Yeah!" Ariadne said.
"Would you stop building?"
Ariadne looked at him silently, her lip drawn into her mouth. Would she stop building if something like that happened? Part of her said yes, absolutely. Especially if she'd known something bad was going to happen in the building. But the rest of her said that it was impossible. That the question was not 'if' she would stop building but 'could' she stop building? After a moment she shook her head, already knowing she wouldn't see anything like disgust or accusation on Arthur's face. The point man gave her a small smile.
"I guess this happens to everyone too?" she asked.
"Yes," he said.
"Even to men like Eames?" she asked.
"Even to men like Eames," Arthur confirmed.
"And to you?"
Arthur looked at her with a faint smile, hesitant to reply. Her gaze faltered for a moment, the wary look of trust being replaced once more by disappointment at her assumptions of him knowing more about her than he did. Already regretting the words he was about to speak, Arthur slid his hands into his pocket and pulled out the pair of loaded dice, turning the plastic objects so that she could see the emblem stamped onto the face.
"After my first heist," he said, "I was convinced that our mark had lost something invaluable. I cooked up a scenario where his family was going to starve on the streets, he was going to be destitute-the works. I told myself I had ruined this man's life. So I went and found the nearest gambling house. I gambled and drank away a large amount of the considerable sum I'd been paid."
She was quiet as he continued to speak, though the idea that Arthur had been in a sketchy gambling house drinking and throwing dice was unsettling to say the least. Especially if it was sketchy enough for them not to figure out he was probably cheating.
"I got it in my head that I was dreaming and I was stupid," he said, "this was before totems, mind you. When the other gamblers figured out that my dice had been loaded, they decided to teach me a lesson. I was," he paused, seeming to search for the right word, "I was stupid," he said finally.
"You got them to kill you," Ariadne said, horror filling her.
"Well they certainly did their best," Arthur said mildly, "I woke three days later in a private hospital halfway around the world with only this die to remind me what had happened."
"What about the man who you stole from?" Ariadne asked, "was he okay?"
"He was fine," Arthur said, "as was I. Eventually the man who hired us disappeared and it came to light that our mark actually had strong ties to the mafia. The casino where I was shot actually belonged to him," he fixed her with his sharp gaze, "don't think about our marks or the people who hired us as good people-or as people at all. Think of them like chess pieces. Because at the end of the day this is all a game."
"So you made the second die your totem?" she asked, fixating on the simplest part of the equation.
"I carry both. That way I can always tell the difference between the loaded one that someone else made and the loaded one I modified."
It was a practical thing to do, very practical and very Arthur. Still she realized that she was staring at him blatantly, unable to wrap her mind around the idea of him bleeding out in some back ally. They all had their vices but the idea that practical, precise Arthur first got drunk then gambled with loaded dice seemed incomprehensible. The idea of him getting his shirt stained seemed incomprehensible.
"Do you gamble a lot?" she asked.
"No," he said returning the dice to his pocket, "our work, our mind-those things are unpredictable enough as it is."
"They're odd too," she said, a smile tugging at her lips, "is that why you're totem rolls even?"
He glanced at her and Ariadne smiled, delight filling her like it always did when she solved a challenging puzzle. Without a word he walked back over to the table. Ariadne watched him as he poured more wine into both of their glasses before returning, offering hers to her. She accepted it, knowing the contents of the glass were a far cry from the cheap stuff she had bought earlier at the bar. Carefully Arthur seated himself on one of the low chairs before she did the same, drawing her knees up off the ground.
"So why did you pick a pawn?" he asked her, "why not a bishop or a queen?"
Ariadne took a sip of the wine, feeling the warmth of the liquor move through her before she spoke again.
"You don't play chess very often, do you?" she asked. Arthur shook his head, "if you had the choice between taking a bishop or a pawn what would you do?" Arthur opened his mouth but before he could launch into an explanation about games and moves, Ariadne barreled on, "chance are you'd take the bishop. Because a pawn isn't really a threat. Not yet anyway. But if the pawn makes it to the other side of the board, then it becomes any piece i want."
Arthur leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees as he looked at her.
"But if I've already captured your bishop, what good does the pawn serve?"
Ariadne leaned forward, her devious smile wider than his.
"I make the pawn a queen and win the game," she said without missing a beat before leaning back in her chair,"I'll have you know that people forgetting about pawns has been winning me chess games for a very long time."
Arthur smiled before leaning back in the chair. It was odd and wonderfully pleasant to be sitting there with her. Her moment of guilt seemed to have passed, or maybe he had just successfully distracted her from it. Either way it was a job well done. Her dark hair was drier now, the chocolate locks beginning to take on a natural curl. He watched as her hand slowly slid out of the pocket of her robe. She leaned forward and spun the chess piece, watching it spin intently until it clattered to its side on the glass.
"How long is it going to take before I'm sure its not a dream?" she asked, her eyes rising to meet his.
"Its only been a few hours," Arthur pointed out.
"So?" she questioned, looking at her wine glass, "I feel like the slow kid," she said finally.
"You're the newest member of the team," he said, "we've all been where you are."
Ariadne nodded finally, though her face showed she did not particularly like the fact that she had to be patient. Arthur could sympathize. Patience was a learned trait and even now it was one he struggled to master. Taking a sip of the wine in his glass, he leaned back until his back touched the leather of the chair. He knew he had work to do. He also knew that the work he was going to do was supplementary work, unnecessary work even. Work to keep him occupied. But for the first time in a very long time he found he did not want the occupation. Reaching behind his head, he pulled apart the blinds and looked up at the setting sun before letting the drape settle back into place.
"It'll be dark soon," he said to her. Ariadne nodded, lifting the wine glass to her lips and drinking, "how are you feeling?" he asked.
"Better," she said before looking down at her glass, "tired," she added, "but I can't sleep yet."
"Alright," he said leaning forward and setting down his wine glass.
With careful movements he pulled his briefcase up onto the glass table and opened the latches. Ariadne craned her head to see the contents of the case, her eyes catching the sight of the handful of manilla folders stacked neatly inside and the row of pens that lined the pockets. He pulled one out along with a leather notepad, offering both to her. Setting down her wine glass, she leaned forward taking both of them. The pen was sleek and heavy, certainly not the ballpoint one use type she was used to. Opening the notebook she looked at the graph paper that lined the pages before looking up at Arthur.
"Draw me limbo."
Ariadne looked at him and for a moment Arthur was certain that he had made a mistake. But if she was going to stay in the business she needed to know everything. She needed to understand what she was getting herself into. Arthur looked at her before the young woman nodded quickly, flipping the first sheet of graph paper over the edge of the pad and uncapping the fountain pen he had handed her, setting the nib onto the paper and beginning to draw the confines of Cobb's personal hell.
Ariadne was engrossed in her work, her hand fighting to remember the general layout of the city. She drew the crumbling buildings by the ocean and the soaring skyscrapers. She drew closer sketches of the important places, the house on top of the apartment building. and the endless city that she had seen as she fell from the porch. Her ability to zone in on her work was one that had served her well in the past. She focused only on drawing, not the quiet murmur of Arthur's voice or the occasional whisper of his own fountain pen against the paper. Ariadne lost herself in her work.
She finished her last drawing as Arthur finished his tenth phone call, setting the telephone down as she put the cap on his pen. Arthur set down the mobile phone he held, placing the device on the paper, Arthur looked at the young architect. Ariadne returned his look. Working side by side was something that had become familiar to them both in preparation for their job. He looked up, meeting her gaze with his own before his eyes went to the papers stacked haphazardly on the table. She had put them there to dry, mindful of the ink, but Ariadne was aware of the fact that Arthur's workspace was much neater.
"Thats all of it," she said, setting the pad aside and leaning forward to straighten the pile, "or as much as I remember."
He picked the pages up and leafed through them, taking in the drawings of buildings. Certain designs he remembered, others he did not. It made sense that Cobb and Mal would draw on what they had known. The idea of rescuing Cobb was a preposterous one, one that would involve some very real crime he had a nasty feeling was going to require the help of a man like Eames to pull off. Arthur liked to keep a healthy distance of six months or three jobs between himself and the forger-something that would be a luxury he could not afford. But he knew that he was going to have some kind of information to go on. And having Ariadne draw limbo had served the dual purpose of having the information when it was clearest and taking her mind off the potential hazards of falling asleep.
"Are you thinking about rescuing Cobb?" she asked.
"Yes," he said finally.
"That's going to require a lot of work," she stated, "we'd have to really steal something," she looked at him, "do you know any thieves?"
"Eames," he said.
"Yusuf probably knows some of them too," she said. Arthur shrugged, it was worth a shot, "we'll have to move quickly too," she said.
"You're not going to finish your degree?" Arthur asked raising an eyebrow.
"In case you missed it, I spent every hour of every day of the past two weeks with you," she said, "its not as if I can just waltz back into class after that," he continued to look at her, "and stop looking at me like that," she said folding her arms over her chest, "you're only five years older than me."
"I completed my degree," he said.
"In what?" she questioned.
"Management studies," he answered as her expression mirrored his own previous one.
"What were your minors?"
"Religion and philosophy."
"How did you become a point man?"
"I was another point man's personal assistant," he said, "I took over the job when I proved myself before branching out on my own. Why don't you want to finish your degree?"
"What could is it to know architecture when I can bend the rules of everything? Cobb said that you should never build places that you already know."
"Cobb spends a lot of time saying one thing and doing another," Arthur said, "finish your degree."
"Let me help you rescue Cobb and I'll think about it."
"Are you bargaining with me?" he asked leaning forward.
"That depends," she said, copying the gesture, "is it working?"
Arthur looked at her, surprised at how close they had become. Not just physically, thought that was certainly something to consider. But the ease with which they spoke caught him off guard. It was something he hadn't felt since, well, since the incident with Mal. Arthur looked at her again. The differences were sharp, unmistakable, but he could see the similarities as well. Same dark hair, same spark for dreaming, same smile that Arthur knew could make men do stupid stupid things. Ariadne's eyes left his, darting down his face to his lips before looking back at him and instantly Arthur knew he couldn't let this happen.
The mere thought of Mal rushed through Arthur like breath of cold air. He had seen this before, he had watched this story play out and he knew where the long, twisty, wonderful road led. To Ariadne Cobb was the cold, efficient, angst ridden man who carried the weight of secrets and the burdens of leadership. She had not known the man he was when Mal was alive. Before limbo and being accused of murder. Before he had watched his wife die. Arthur had seen Cobb break, he had witnessed a man die the worst kind of death and miraculously keep living.
Wordlessly Arthur got to his feet, needing the physical distance between them before they did something they would both regret.
"Its been a long day, you should get some rest," he said finally.
Ariadne stared at him, feeling oddly like she had been dunked in ice water. They had been so close, she was certain he was going to lean forward any second and kiss her. And not just the quick peck they had exchanged in the make believe lobby. But then he had leaned back, pulling away from her. Quickly she tried to play the scene back, her mind trying to figure out what had happened between them just then and why she suddenly felt as if she had been exposed to him, only to have him reject her. Ariadne quietly pushed herself to her feet, stepping away from the leather chair and moving towards the man who stood by the windows, his hands tucked into his pockets.
"Its not a very nice view," she said. He glanced at her, "those curtains, they're not a very nice view," she repeated, "are you going to tell me what's wrong?"
"People in our line of work have one thing in common," Arthur said turning to her, "they're bored with reality. Normalcy isn't something for us," he looked between them, "this isn't a good idea."
"What do you think 'this' is?" Ariadne asked him.
Arthur turned his head to look at the architect. Ariadne returned his gaze, refusing to look away or appear embarrassed at his gaze. He had kissed her first, she reasoned. And though it had been for the mission she doubted he would have done it if he was not at the very least curious about what it would be like to kiss her. She held his gaze with her own, refusing to let him look away.
"This is nothing," he said, "and that is all it ever should be."
"So we can't be friends?" she asked, titling her head to the side.
It was on his lips to say no, they could not. That seeing each other outside of a strictly professional capacity was not something that was a good idea. But considering that broad umbrella of professional capacity had landed in them in their current position, he knew that saying something like that was nothing more than a lie. Even if the memory of what happened to Mal and Cobb had been permanently imprinted on his mind.
He had been unfailingly polite to her, throwing up every barrier of professional courtesy he knew of. And yet the young woman had still managed to worm he way past them, almost without him realizing it. As he stood there watching her hold his gaze, Arthur realized that every excuse his mind seemed to come up with sounded increasingly ridiculous. She was tired and beautiful and as he looked at her he realized that he did want to kiss her. Very very badly. She broke their shared gaze finally, her eyes leaving his as though she had come to some realization that he was serious about not doing anything.
"Goodnight Arthur," she said, turning around to go to bed.
Three things happened in rapid succession. A smooth hand grasped the exposed skin of her wrist, a gentle tug turned her back around and before Ariadne could get words past her parted lips, Arthur's mouth found hers.
It wasn't the first time she had kissed a boy, nor was it the first time she had kissed him, but it was certainly the first time she had been kissed quite like this. There was nothing hesitant or polite about the way his lips pressed against hers. Her lips were already parted but Ariadne was surprised at just how easily her mouth opened to accept his. The taste of wine still lingered on his tongue, mingling with the touch on her own. His hand easily touched the small of her back, pulling her soft body against the lean planes of his own. Ariadne titled her head, allowing him better access as the young man kissed her in a way that had her very certain what was happening was not a dream.
The hand that was on her wrist guided it up, placing it on his shoulder. Ariadne pressed her palm to the smooth, soft cotton of his shirt, feeling his muscles underneath the fabric. Her other hand slid out of her pocket, releasing her totem as both came up to wrap around the back of the point man's neck. It didn't matter that she was dressed in a bathrobe, with Arthur kissing her like he was she felt like an old fashioned movie star. He kissed her long and hard, until Ariadne was not terribly sure she would be able to stand without swooning.
"I guess we're not friends then," she said, her cheeks flushed and her lips swollen.
"I suppose not," he said, partially stunned at what he had just done.
Arthur was not an impulsive man and yet that was the only way to describe what he had just done. But when he had seen her turn away from him to shuffle off to bed, he knew that even if it was irrational he didn't want her to go away thinking that she had made a fool out of herself. Now though as he stood with his hands on her waist and hers looped around the back of his neck, he wondered if they had not just crossed a boundary they shouldn't have-and if it should bother him more. But when she leaned forward, intent on kissing him again, he managed to pull away.
"We've had a very long, rough day," he said, "this shouldn't go any further. Not tonight."
Ariadne looked up at his face and realized that he was right. She might have wished that it would keep going but she knew that if it happened now, like this, it would be something neither of them would be able to live down. Her lips still tingled from when Arthur had kissed her. She knew that all the looks hadn't been for nothing. As if the kiss he had given her had somehow undone the tension in her, Ariadne felt the urge to sleep pull at her.
"You're right," she said finally, unwinding her arms from behind his neck as he reluctantly moved his hands from her robe-clad waist, "you're such a gentleman," she added with a crinkle of her nose, "not that its a bad thing," she added quickly, "I should go to bed now."
"Bedrooms are there," he said, motioning to two doors in the wall, "and Ariadne?" she turned to look at him, "you're probably not going to dream."
"Thanks Arthur," she said.
With a final smile in his driection, Ariadne stepped into the bedroom and closed the door softly behind her.
She was asleep before she hit the pillows.
Morning seemed to come too soon.
Stretching underneath the warm duvet, Ariadne wished she could just curl up and fall back into the dreamless sleep she had been enjoying. A glance at the bedside clock, however, told her it was well past time to get up. Slowly she pushed herself up, swinging her legs out of bed before getting to her feet, making sure her bathrobe was tightly knotted as she
Ariadne padded out of the bedroom to discover the main room of the hotel was deserted. The heavy drapes had been drawn back to reveal the bright Parisian sun and the spectacular view of the city. Arthur's cloths were gone from the room, in fact there was no sign at all that he had been there. A room service table lay set up, the smell of coffee filling the room. As she turned to it, Ariadne's eyes landed on the bright vase of lilies that sat squarely on the table. Eyes widening, Ariadne walked over, stopping in front of the vase.
The bright oranges and pinks of the lilies were sharp bursts of color in the otherwise muted room. Ariadne stared at them silently for a full minute, her mind desperately trying to work out what the last occasion had been for a boy to bring her flowers. Or for anyone to bring her flowers. She was sure it was not a 'just because its wednesday'. Her eyes landed on the creme colored envelope leaning against the vase. Picking it up, Ariadne felt the weight of the stationary, far too heavy to be the hotel's. Carefully she pulled out the notecard nestled inside, her eyes moving across the careful, concise message.
I apologize for my quick departure, there is business I must attend to in Paris.
Your clothing is in the wardrobe.
I will be back around 7 pm, I hope you will join me for dinner.
Setting down the envelope, Ariadne looked over at the wardrobe he had mentioned, wondering what Arthur had gotten her. Her wrist brushed against the weight in her pocket from the chess piece, stopping her before she could move towards it. Pulling the pawn from her pocket, Ariadne set the gold piece with its weighted, rounded bottom onto the table and set it spinning, holding her breath as she watched the angle widen until the piece fell against the linen of the tablecloth.
Tucking the gold piece back into her pocket, Ariadne poured a cup of coffee and made her way to the wardrobe, ready to face the day.