Disclaimer: I do not own Inception. I could never handle the immensity of owning something so...epic. :P
Summary: Falling. The bishop falls because she made it so, the die because he tosses it from his hand. It's a kick, pulling them up for air when another job threatens everything they don't realize they've found in each other. :Arthur/Ariadne:
Note: You'll notice that Cobb is ambiguously absent, meaning I couldn't commit myself to either ending. (Even though in my heart of hearts I really wish it stops.)
It was done.
The Job (as it came up inside her mind) was complete. Cobb was gone. Ariadne hadn't known what to do or say besides mutely rise from her seat on the plane, pass through customs and immigration and the pointed stares of—not projections—the people working in customs and immigration. She waits for her one bag that holds basically nothing. When it finally arrives she glances up again to the chaos of the airport.
They are all gone.
She isn't miffed or offended or sad, (because it's not strictly speaking legal, after all) really Ariadne is just bewildered at absolutely everything, too bewildered. She can feel her lungs start to constrict, air flow cutting off. The bishop is firm in her grasp; her fingers hold on so tight that her nails dig into her palm around the totem. All sense of reason abandons her as she is overwhelmed with the need to put it down; to watch the bishop fall and swing in a gentle half circle before coming to a stop.
She has to know that this is real.
But as much as the sudden panic crushes her chest, Ariadne cannot risk the crowded floor, even for a moment, because no one else can touch your totem. So the architect rushes out into the blinding sunshine, tugging at the scarf around her neck because she can't breathe and hails a cab, not even noticing when the scarf falls silently to the ground as the cab screeches away.
Details are his business.
Arthur can feel the very distinct weight of the die in his pocket, but that doesn't stop his fingers from reaching in and turning it over and over against the fabric of his pristine pants. He'd taken his time de-boarding, casting his die on the first smooth, level surface he saw. The knowledge that Ficher's nightmare is behind him is comforting, however the fact that he'd missed such an important—literally life and death—detail is, in itself, the most unsettling part of his twisted journey.
In truth, Arthur has no idea how he could have missed it. The man was trained against Extractors, for God's sake. How could he not have known? Arthur is about to wrack his brain, but decides against it, gripping the die tighter in his hand and striding out of the airport, impeccably dressed and poised as always; as the point man should be. Except when dealing with Cobb in level one. He forces himself not to dwell on it.
Out of the corner of his eye he can see Ariadne, ducking into a cab. Her eyes are wild, frightened. The car darts from the curb and through the crowd Arthur thinks he spies something bright and translucent glide onto the sidewalk. He has to be sure. He lopes over with steady, assured steps, and eventually finds his fingers flooded with the filmy material of Ariadne's scarf. Her cab is still in view. Arthur grabs the next one he sees, slams the door, and points.
"Follow that cab, please."
They talked about aliases once.
Between 'Who's Mr. Charles?' and 'Quick, give me a kiss', before Ariadne had felt that tug of an invisible line being pulled taut, so tight in fact she'd been scared of the snap. But then he drawls 'it was worth a shot,' in dry humourand she relaxes, because even though this moment is so not Arthur, this tiny conned kiss sends an equal jolt of thrill and comfort down her spine.
As if this job wasn't life and death, (because it is), as if they weren't breaking all kinds of laws (because they are), as if they were just Ariadne and Arthur (because they aren't) climbing the Penrose stairs. Of course that's definitely not how this works anymore.
"So if Cobb is Mr. Charles, who are you?"
He shrugs a little. The action is too vague on Arthur's shoulders, what with his default of clean, concise, straight edges and sharp lines. "I'm...I'm Mr. Dawson."
Ariadne shoots him a somewhat dubious, amused look. "You just made that up."
Arthur turns his gaze from hers. The ghost of a smile dusts across his lips. "I most certainly did not."
She opens her mouth to argue this, but her focus is almost immediately deterred by the dozens of eyes now trained on them. "...what's happening?"
"His subconscious is looking for the dreamer. Me."
Ariadne tightens her grip on the bishop, pressing her lips together in a vain attempt not to remember. It was quick, innocent, an attempt to deter Fischer's subconscious projections from noticing them. It didn't really mean anything, right? Her gaze travels lazily to the half dozen or so hotels that line the street. She'd asked for a three star hotel, one where she could simultaneously treat herself and deflect suspicion.
She's just a college kid, after all; one who shouldn't be able to afford four or five-star hotels, despite the sizable sum that Saito had wired to all of them. It was certainly more money than she'd ever hoped of having. So Ariadne settles for the first three-star on the street, thrusting cash at the driver, and hurries inside. She's breathless arriving at the reception counter.
The first thing she does is place the bishop on the varnished wood. It falls with a sense of final, deep relief. Ariadne asks for three nights, almost giddy and delirious. The woman working asks for her name, and she pauses for the briefest of moments. If she's learned anything on this job, it's that everything about it puts her in danger. And what self-respecting law-breaker would use their real name, anyway?
She's nothing if not smart. Arthur nods in silent approval to himself at Ariadne's hotel choice. She's learned quickly, although after her first lesson, he shouldn't really be surprised. Dom called her one of a kind. So it's only halfway up to the reception counter that the point man has to decide how smart he thinks the architect really is. (This train of thought also stems from the fact he doesn't even know her last name. Not that she knows his, or anything.)
Arthur takes his (nearly) infallible professionalism to reception and smiles politely at the woman sitting there. She starts at the sight of him. "C-Can I help you?"
"I most certainly hope so." Arthur's smile grows carefully wider. Yes it is overkill, completely unlike him with his precision and un-minced words. But he's unwilling to take the risk of being denied what he wants, so if he has to flirt with the woman at the reception desk of Ariadne's hotel, then so be it.
"I was wondering a Ms. Dawson is staying at this hotel. I have something of hers that I need to return immediately, for I'm afraid she doesn't know she's missing it."
Her scarf—gauzy and pink and staple Ariadne—is weightless in his fingertips. The receptionist's eyes widen. She straightens in her chair, holding her (quite large) chest out without subtlety. "You actually just missed her...I could take that, if you prefer. I could pass it on when she comes down next."
She used his name; his fake, never-used-anyway-made-up-on-the-spot-because-Dom-just-had-to-pull-the-Mr. Charles name. He's not quite sure what to make of this.
"Quick, give me a kiss."
He's thinking on his feet. Really. That's what it is, as a startled Ariadne turns to look at him and he leans over to place a chaste kiss on her lips. He can feel the exhale of her breath against his face.
"They're still looking at us."
"Well, it was worth a shot."
He doesn't really have time to smile inwardly at the (adorable) flush of her cheeks and her mildly disbelieving stare, because the projections are starting to do more than just look.
Arthur is suddenly filled with the desire to grin wickedly and wag his finger at this ridiculous woman. He knew she'd try that, which is why he confirms her suspicions (without the malice and finger waving.) "It's no problem. It's just...well; it's a genuine Parisian scarf. One of her favourites actually, and I just wouldn't feel comfortable not delivering it to her personally."
The receptionist visibly deflates. He is successful in disguising the disgust on his face, leaning forward the slightest bit. "You couldn't give me her room number could you? It would mean the world to me."
"302." The woman's dejection is palpable even as she smiles earnestly, obviously attempting to keep at least one possibility afloat. She tosses her (painfully platinum blonde) hair over her shoulder. "Are you sure that's all you need?"
There's an urge to laugh, coming deep from within his throat. Arthur quickly makes his exit. "Yes, thank you very much."
As he walks away, he wonders briefly what Eames would have thought of that. Who said Cobb's point man had no imagination?
You would think that ten hours (more or less) of continuous sleep would be nothing but refreshing. Ariadne begs to differ. The mental toll of three (crazy ass run for your lives and try to avoid the Extractor's tortured shade of a wife) levels of dream plus Dom's—a fourth. Plus a fourth. She still hasn't decided whether that was Limbo, or just the deep recesses of Dom's dreams. It can't be both (right?), and she can't choose. So she doesn't. Ariadne just calls it four levels of shared dream.
Case in point: it's exhausting.
All she wants to do is fall into a dreamless sleep. But Ariadne knows that's not going to happen. She knows because every time her eyes are closed for too long, she sees her. She sees a crazed Mal rattling the confines of her prison, she sees her plunging a knife into her chest (Ariadne's still not quite over that), and she sees the two broken, lost halves of a whole dying together on the floor of a crumbling oblivion.
Sleep isn't really up there on the list of Possible right now. The architect of unreal realities contents herself with calming her still erratically beating heart, clutching her totem in one hand and reaching to fiddle with the scarf around her neck...that's not there. Ariadne jerks up, slamming the bishop onto the bedside table. She's not even looking when the dull 'thunk' reaches her ears, instead tearing her hotel room and bag apart.
That's a hundred dollar hand-made scarf from Paris damn it! Where the hell is it? Ariadne forces her mind to back up, knowing it shouldn't be too hard...only to remember pulling at her scarf in agitation in her rush to leave the airport. Great. Just great. She lets out a small shriek of frustration. It was her favourite, too. She remembers putting it on just before the flight, hoping (foolishly) that it might bring them luck.
Moments into Fisher's dream however, she realized that all the luck in the world wouldn't have helped them. Ariadne takes deep breaths to dispel the intense fear and panic, barely registering the sound of knocking over her inner turmoil.
"Who is it?"
She should have gone for four-star. At least they had peep holes. Ariadne grabs the first thing within reach—her totem—and fists it in her hand. If anything, it's heavy. If she aimed well enough, it could knock out.
She almost drops the bishop. The voice is unmistakably Arthur's. He sounds...amused. For once, she isn't sure her totem can help her detect danger. A trick could be easy. On the other hand, who else would know her (stolen) fake name? Most obviously, the person who gave it to her.
Ariadne doesn't even realize the door was still ajar until it swings open. After she says it she realizes she'll have to open it herself, but before she can move it opens on its own. Or rather, with Arthur's help. He stands with his hands behind his back, a small, kind smile on his face. The woman opposite him forces herself to let go of her totem, placing it once more onto the bedside table. She can't tear her gaze from Arthur's (fearfully, she admits to herself) and listens instead for the 'thunk.'
It sounds a moment later.
Arthur's smile twists in understanding. "Very good, Ariadne. With the name, as well."
She lets out a breath, unaware she'd been holding it, and pockets her bishop. A strained smile finds its way to her lips. "Thanks." Ariadne wonders how they could have possibly shared the same ten-hour flight. Arthur is (as he always is) the epitome of professional-looking, without a hair out of place. Not even a wrinkle. "Er, what's up?"
He seems to remember himself, putting a hand in his pocket and withdrawing something she thought she'd never see again: her scarf. "I believe this is yours?"
When Ariadne looks back on this moment, she tends to blush a little. Or a lot. What she should have done was calmly accepted her scarf, thank Arthur, and let him be on his way, because she couldn't think of any reason he'd stay in Los Angeles.
What Ariadne does is grab the scarf, feel tears build in her eyes, and throw her arms around him. She can't even get in enough breath to thank him, although he probably won't hear the words, muffled against his tie as they'd most likely be. She feels it; the drawn-out second in which he freezes, before carefully wrapping his arms around her in a loose, tentative embrace.
They stay like that for five of Arthur's steady heartbeats, before Ariadne jerks away in a fit of embarrassment. Arthur is smiling again; that infinitely kind smile that greeted her the first time she'd awoken from a dream with Cobb, breathless and terrified. The same smile when he agrees that there's nothing quite like it, or when he teaches her about totems.
It just makes her blush deeper.
"I'm sorry Arthur, I just...thank you." She trails off, unsure of what exactly had come over her. It's then she realizes there are still tears burning in her eyes. Ariadne whips around, her hair following like a shield as she drags the back of her wrist over her eyes.
"Don't worry about it."
He sounds perfectly at ease with talking to her back. She can hear that minute lift of his voice; that mix of amusement and infinite patience that she doesn't know how to respond to. She suddenly feels so young and childish, standing there, trying not to burst into tears.
"Are you alright, Ariadne?"
Like the tentative embrace, the tentativeness of his question surprises her. They'd never breached those barriers before; the kiss being something completely different, and the fact that Cobb always seemed like the one who kept post on their architect. She knows that he's being nice, sweet even, because nowhere in all of her learning and training and dreaming did attachment ever come up, aside from the blaring, neon, angry destruction of Mal and Cobb. And she knows that he can tell when she lies. He's been inside her dreams, after all.
She lies anyway. "I'm fine."
"I don't believe you." A response akin to the (steady, to the point, structured) Arthur she'd first met is comforting.
"You wouldn't, would you?"
His features have also settled back into something familiar; calm, professional, serious. If this wasn't default Arthur, it would have disconcerted her. He shakes his head to solidify the statement. "Not after what you've been through."
She doesn't try to argue this, instead averting her eyes and reaching up to tie her scarf. Her hands shake. It's maddening. When Ariadne finds the courage to look up again, he's still watching with that unwavering patience.
"I can't sleep."
Arthur nods once. She's almost surprised he doesn't press, and then remembers that this is Arthur, and she's never seen him sleep without a catheter inserted into his arm. "What about eat? Are you hungry?"
Ariadne opens her mouth to say "starving," but stops herself, feeling a pressure of something like mingled confusion and annoyance tug in her gut. "You don't have to check up on me, Arthur."
He nods again. "Maybe I don't." But I will anyway. The unspoken hangs in the air as he repeats, "Hungry?"
Sensing she's never going to win this argument, Ariadne takes her turn nodding, grabbing her bag and pulling it over her head. She clutches her bishop in her pocket as she follows Arthur out the door.
The air is thicker and warmer than it is in Paris. Still, it is better than the starkness of the hotel, and Ariadne breathes deeply. She's silently let Arthur take the lead. He's obviously been here before, with his ever-assured steps and steady expression. He knows exactly where he's going, which allows her to concentrate on organizing her convoluted thoughts. Cobb, Mal, Fisher, Eames, Yusuf, Saito. She wonders where they all are now.
"Feel like anything in particular?"
She shakes her head, following the line of his gaze to the small outdoor cafe across the street. She can feel the blood rush from her face at the stark throwback to her first lesson in dream sharing. She hadn't even realized she'd flinched until Arthur's hand was on her elbow, guiding her gently towards the other set of lights. They cross in the other direction and end up at a sit-down restaurant.
Ariadne orders the first thing she sees: a burger, while Arthur asks for a kind of pasta. Their waitress makes eyes at him, and Ariadne has to stifle her laughter into the glass of water raised to her lips. It's the first time she's laughed in weeks. The thought is sobering, and the smile slides from her face.
"What happens now?" She's almost afraid to ask. She can't go back to Paris and pretend as though none of this had happened, as if her life hasn't been irrevocably and forever altered by that one flight and the weeks leading up to it. "After...what happens?"
Arthur sits up a little more (if possible) and looks as though he's gearing himself up, as though he'd been training for weeks just to answer this one question. Of course, it would have been foolish of him not to expect it.
"Well, everyone involved tends to make themselves scarce for as long as possible, at least until another job comes in. A month or two, maybe more. I've actually never worked with a team this large before. Usually it was just me and Cobb."
Ariadne nods. He watches her intently, gauging her reaction. "You don't have to do this again, you know."
She sucks in a breath, trying to imagine a reality in which she can't bend walls and shatter buildings. "What if..." What if I want to?
Arthur's eyes narrow, just slightly. She shouldn't want this, she knows. The addiction is too obvious, the danger too evident in Cobb, and in Mal. But she can't help it. It's pure creation. As an architect, as The Architect, Ariadne knows that anything she could design in the real word, dealing with limits and logic and physics of reality could not compare with what she could design inside a dream. Where anything is possible.
"I can't go back."
She doesn't mean Paris. She can certainly go back to Paris. He knows what she's talking about.
"Try," he says, almost gently. "Aren't you still technically working on that degree?"
Ariadne makes a face, realizing suddenly how far behind she's gotten in her schooling. She can feel herself wanting to say it doesn't matter anymore, but she knows it does. She wasn't going to waste three years at one of the finest universities in the world. Even for designs she could possibly lose herself in with her limitless imagination.
"Okay." The 'but' hinges on her lips like a waiting sky diver. He can see she wants to say more, that much she knows. But neither say much more for a while, since the food has arrived and both have just realized how famished they are. For a long time they just sit and eat, and Ariadne lets herself be comforted by the easy silence.
Finally, he says what she wants to hear. "I'll contact you. If something comes up."
Knowing this is all she's going to get, Ariadne smiles. It's enough for her.
As he accompanies her back to the hotel, Arthur can tell she's going to crash. Even he can feel the weight of the exhaustion, pressing behind his eyes and through to his bones. They arrive in silence to her door, and he's a little surprised to see her ushering him in and closing it behind them. He realizes she probably craves the company.
"You should sleep."
He's loath to cause her pain, but Arthur has been through this. He knows. Ariadne flinches, ever so slightly, before sitting down on the bed. When she looks up at him, her eyes are filled with fear.
"I'm scared." There is a pause, as he wonders what he could possibly say to quell her panic. "Could you...could you stay?"
Arthur finds himself nodding before even thinking about it. He settles into the large chair next to her bed, pulling it just a bit closer. He can see Ariadne's hesitation as she takes off her shoes and sweater and crawls underneath the covers. Her eyelids droop, and at the last moment before he watches her lose total consciousness, her hand reaches out and grasps his wrist. He looks down at the pale, slender fingers holding him, but doesn't move.
Arthur dozes in and out as Ariadne slumbers, what looks like peacefully. He can't remember the last time he'd slept with such continuity and depth. Besides on the job, of course. Several hours later night has fallen, and the woman beside him awakens with a jerk. Her hand constricts around his. She jumps even more when she sees him, sitting there half immersed in shadow.
With her free hand (he's not sure if she's realized where her other one is yet) she extracts her totem, reaching over to place it on the table. It falls, and he watches her entire body shudder as she takes several long, deep breaths.
"Arthur?" Her voice is so quiet he almost has to strain to hear.
"Does it get better?"
He presses his lips together before replying. "In time."
Ariadne has noticed their connection, and draws her hand close to her body. He smiles very softly, rising from his seat.
"I'll be in touch, Ariadne. Goodnight."
He touches her shoulder briefly, before leaving her alone in the dark.
The next day she checks out, returns home with her totem, and waits.
Author's Note: Wow that's long. Not sure about the following chapters lengths, but I'll take the inspiration as it comes. There were several ideas that I couldn't get out of my head, and the only way to let them out was to make this originally-a-oneshot into a multi-chaptered fic. The next chapter will hopefully be soon; I won't see the movie again for a few weeks, and I want to get as much as I can out before I start to forget. I love this movie.
Opinions are also loved.