Summary: It was like coming up for air after a long time under the water. Right here, right now, this was better than dreaming.
A/N: In a very short amount of time, this movie has become one of my favorite movies ever. And also, I ship these two like it's my job. Holy crap.
It was like a secret — even between them. They didn't speak of the kiss they'd shared in the dream, never mentioned the looks they'd exchanged, even as they glanced at each other still. They treated each other as normal, and assumed no one else had a clue. But every night, as Eames hurried to get out of the warehouse and to whatever plans he had for the evening, and Ariadne rushed to finish whatever details she could before leaving, Arthur would walk the length of the large room, switching off nearly all the lights. When there was only one left to illuminate them, he would turn to Ariadne and ask, "Are you ready?" Every night, she would answer yes and he would wait until she was level with him before he joined step with her to leave the warehouse. And every night as they walked, they found themselves close enough that the back of his hand brushed against hers.
It had been just over a month since the job when Ariadne had gotten the call. One voicemail on her cell phone. Arthur had a job, and he needed an architect. She'd jumped at the chance. School was somewhere beyond boring now and she'd found herself missing even Eames. Twenty-four hours after she'd gotten the message, she was watching Arthur turn around at the sound of the opening warehouse door, his mouth twitching into a small smile at the sight of her. They were in Rome this time, and the job was much simpler than Ariadne's first. It was perfect: the work was just what she wanted creatively, Eames was almost constantly joking — which annoyed Arthur and just amused Eames all the more — and she was glad to be near him and Arthur again.
And, though she was reluctant to admit it even to herself, she was glad to feel Arthur's touch every night, even if it was just against the back of her hand.
One evening, Eames announced that he had to leave early. Arthur looked at him reproachfully.
"I have a flight to catch, Arthur," Eames explained painstakingly.
"A flight?" Arthur asked suspiciously. "In the middle of a job?"
"Old Saito wants a favor, thought I'd oblige," Eames told him. "And before you ask," he added, putting up one hand, "I have no idea what it is. But he said he'd pay. I have to leave by six."
Arthur sighed in exasperation and returned to his work.
"I'll take that as a 'have a nice flight,'" Eames said quietly, glancing conspiratorially at Ariadne, who offered him a slight smile over her models.
Six o'clock rolled around and Eames saluted them both before leaving. Ariadne waved, but Arthur refused to acknowledge his departure. Five minutes later, however, Arthur sighed again and put down the stack of papers he'd been rifling through.
"You want to wrap up early?" he asked Ariadne, who raised her eyebrows at him.
"Really?" she asked. "You're okay with that?"
"I just think if Eames gets the evening off, so should we," Arthur told her, smirking slightly.
"Yeah, sure," Ariadne agreed, picking up her bag. "I'm starving, actually." She'd skipped lunch that day, too caught in the middle of inspiration to eat.
Arthur went off to start switching off the lights, turning back to speak to her over his shoulder. "Do you want to go get something to eat?"
Ariadne considered the option. "As opposed to the nothing I have in the refrigerator in my apartment, that sounds great, yeah."
She caught the glimpse of another one of Arthur's smiles before he shut off the light on the far side of the room.
"I know a great little Italian place," he said, circling back to turn off the next set of lights.
"In Rome?" Ariadne asked. "Go figure."
"We could try to find Chinese," Arthur offered jokingly.
Ariadne shrugged. "I think I'm too hungry for a search."
Arthur nodded, turning off the second to last switch. "Italian it is." He looked around the room. "Are you ready?"
"Yeah." Ariadne slipped around the table she worked on and moved to Arthur's side. As he fell in step beside her, she felt the warmth of his hand as it brushed against hers.
Arthur led her down the street to a little hole-in-the-wall place where the owners knew him by name. They talked about pleasant, meaningless things through most of dinner as Ariadne wondered how to broach a topic she'd been thinking about ever since she'd heard his voice on her phone offering her a job.
She saw her moment as the conversation came to a close and Arthur raised his wine glass to his lips.
"Arthur," Ariadne began slowly, "I want to go in with you and Eames."
Arthur almost choked on his wine.
"You okay there?"
"You want to what?" he asked, sputtering.
"I want to go in the dream," Ariadne repeated.
"Without me, it's just you and Eames."
"And, you can barely get through an hour without arguing," Ariadne pointed out. "Cobb's not here anymore, you need someone between you two."
"Ariadne," Arthur began slowly, leaning forward over the table and dropping his voice, "you went way farther than anyone was supposed to last time. Don't you think you should get some distance before you try going in again?"
"I'm fine," Ariadne insisted. "I've had enough distance. And this is only supposed to be a one-layer dream, right? I can handle it."
Arthur leaned back again, studying her. "I'll think about it," he promised eventually.
"Thank you," Ariadne said, raising her own glass to her lips.
As they left the restaurant, Arthur started checking his pockets. He felt like he was missing something.
"Damn it," he muttered once he'd figured it out.
"What is it?" Ariadne asked him, frowning in concern as she shrugged her coat onto her shoulders.
"I don't have my totem," he told her. This fact bothered him more than he wanted her to know.
"Well, is it at the warehouse?" She was looking around them, as though hoping to spot it on the ground nearby.
"I don't know," Arthur admitted, continuing to search his pockets even though he knew it wasn't there, "I haven't actually seen it since this morning."
"Let's go look for it," Ariadne offered.
"No," Arthur said, "it's okay, you go home. I'll look."
"No, Arthur, really," Ariadne insisted, "let's go look."
She turned to walk back before he could protest again. He stopped to watch the sway of her hips for just a second before he followed. The lack of his totem left him feeling more vulnerable than he ever wished to be, and it meant more to him than she knew that Ariadne was so intent on helping him find it, because he was sure he'd never be able to sleep without it.
Once they were back in the warehouse, Arthur went immediately to the table he worked over, stripping off his suit jacket as Ariadne went to turn the lights back on.
Arthur's work space was very organized, unlike either of his coworkers. Ariadne's table always showed evidence of being possessed by a creative mind, and Eames seemed to work better in clutter, but Arthur needed his space to be clean. He liked knowing where everything was and what purpose it served. It was a trait that made him good at his job, but it was a trait that was failing him now. Everything was where it should be, and his die was nowhere to be seen.
"Damn it!" he exclaimed again, banging his fist down on the table.
Ariadne said nothing, but started to look around her table and Eames'. Arthur ducked under his own table, hoping the die had just rolled out of his pocket and landed nearby. Finding nothing, he groaned loudly and stood up again.
Ariadne crossed the room to him. "We'll find it," she promised, her eyes scanning his table in search.
Arthur didn't speak, not wanting to give away his emotions anymore than he already had. Ariadne glanced at him and frowned. He knew he looked a mess. He'd shoved his sleeves up to his elbows unceremoniously, and he knew that his tie was askew and hanging out of his vest. This last detail is what Ariadne seemed to have narrowed in on. She took another step toward him and reached out to straighten his tie.
She was screamingly close to him now, and he was suddenly all too aware of the warmth of her breath, which was permeating his shirt to the skin of his chest. As she pulled his tie straight, he was superconscious of the way the tip of her thumb grazed his exposed throat. Her expression changed as she too appeared to become aware of their proximity to each other. One of her hands was resting unconsciously on his chest, and she removed it suddenly, dropping both of her hands to her sides.
"I get it," she said, looking down. "If I lost my totem, I'd freak out."
He appreciated that she hadn't said she'd freak out "too". She hadn't included him in that reaction, though he knew she could have done so justly.
"It's been too many jobs," he said quietly. "I can't —"
"I know," she interrupted kindly.
She knew he didn't like loosing it in front of people. She was telling him that he didn't need to, he didn't need to explain. Even so, he felt like he did. Felt like he owed it to her. But he didn't know how to begin.
"When you came out of limbo . . . ," he started to ask instead, then stopped, unsure of how to finish the question delicately.
Ariadne glanced back up at him. Neither of them had stepped away, and he was suddenly filled with the overwhelming urge to. He could smell her perfume, and it was driving him mad.
"I slept with my totem in hand for about a week," she admitted. "And then next to my bed all the time after that."
"I don't want you to get lost," he breathed, finally telling her what he'd been worried about since their conversation at dinner, "or addicted. You're too much like Cobb, too artistic. You could get absorbed by it all if I let you go in more."
"You let Eames in," Ariadne argued, her voice low. She wasn't being stubborn, it sounded like she wanted to understand his concern. "And you go in all the time."
"I'm different," he said. "So is Eames. To us, it's just a job. To you, it's a whole world."
"How can it be just a job to you?" she asked incredulously.
"You see?" Arthur countered. "It's an incredible job, absolutely, but we don't create it. It's much different for us than it is for you. It's delicate," he sighed.
"I won't get lost."
Arthur stopped. He'd gotten too close too many times, now. He took a step back. Ariadne looked hurt for just a moment before her face forcibly changed expression.
"You can go home," he said finally, turning away. "I can find it on my own."
"Arthur," Ariadne's voice came commandingly from behind him and he stopped. "Tell me. Why can't I get lost?"
"That's a —"
"I know it's a stupid question, Arthur, but you had an answer for it."
Arthur turned back around to look the extraordinary girl in the eyes.
"What was the answer?" Ariadne asked softly.
She was just two steps away from him. He could have closed the space between them with two easy steps. But it had been a secret, and any movement he made in this moment would bring it out into the open. It had been hidden between them, covered in the darkness, and the lights were on.
His name was only halfway out of her mouth when his brain snapped into action. Like when he was on a job fighting projections, but easer, more natural. He'd taken the two steps toward her and before Ariadne could even register her surprise, his mouth found hers.
It was like coming up for air after a long time under the water. His hands found their way, as though without needing help from his brain, one to the curve of her hip, the other to the back of her neck. He felt both of her hands come up and rest on his shoulders before moving more urgently up around his neck, her fingers tangling in his hair. She tasted of wine and a little of garlic and Arthur found himself caring less about the whereabouts of his totem and more about the movement of her lips on his. This had been so long coming; from the first time she woke up out of her first shared dream, through the long hours they'd clocked together on the Fischer job, through the dreaming and the last kiss they'd shared. Finally, finally, his real mouth was against her real mouth, and it was like nothing else he'd ever known. Right here, right now, this was better than dreaming.
They pulled apart at the same time, both gasping for air, resting on each other's foreheads. Arthur opened his eyes to see Ariadne smiling beautifully up at him. He reached up and brushed her soft cheek with his thumb.
They left then, without finding Arthur's totem. He didn't need it tonight. He knew what was real. This was real — Ariadne was real. As long as she was with him, totem be damned.
Eames was back the next morning, leaning on the wall of the warehouse, waiting for Arthur to arrive with the key. He refused to tell them the nature of his "favor" to Saito, chanting "Client confidentiality, darling," annoyingly whenever either of them asked.
They returned to business as usual. Arthur had almost finished the client detailing and Ariadne was nearing completion of her dream world, which meant she spent most of the day in a state of fervent inspiration. When she was in the middle of a fit of creativity, and clearly would not be paying attention to the boys any time soon, Eames pulled Arthur aside.
"What?" Arthur asked sullenly as Eames took his arm and dragged him several yards away from his workspace. Ariadne hadn't so much as glanced in his direction for at least a half an hour, which made him a little cranky, and Eames had interrupted him when he was in the middle of staring obsessively at her as she worked, which made him crankier.
His complaints were silenced, however, when Eames pulled a small bag out of his trouser pocket and handed it to Arthur. Inside were a stash of foreign coins, and one small red die.
"I'm really sorry, mate," Eames was telling him genuinely. "I had no idea I had it until I was already in Amsterdam. I found it in my bag, must have rolled in or something. I promise I didn't touch it, I took everything out of my bag and then dumped it into this change purse. I didn't touch it once."
Arthur stared inside the small bag for a moment longer before extracting his totem and transferring it to his pocket. He handed the change purse back to Eames with a clap on the shoulder.
"Thanks," Arthur said simply, before walking away. The slight weight in his pocket comforted him greatly. The sight of Ariadne reassured him more.
That night, as Eames said goodbye and Arthur went to turn out all the lights and Ariadne hurriedly put the final finishing touches on her work, nothing was different. Arthur asked her if she was ready, and Ariadne told him she was, and he waited for her small frame to level with his before falling into step beside her. But tonight, when the backs of their hands brushed against each other, Arthur reached out and slipped his hand into hers, intertwining his fingers around hers.
Everything had changed.