Disclaimer: Not mine. I am not that smart.
A/N: Inception has taken over my brain. I'm in love with every person in this movie. Only a few of them are in this fic, but chances are good there's more where this came from. I'm not totally sure how the Robert/Ariadne stuff took over this fic, because I started writing it fully intending on an Arthur/Ariadne slant. But the heart wants what it wants, I suppose. It actually ended up filling a prompt on the Inception kink meme over on LJ.
The title comes from the song "Split Me Wide Open" by The Bravery.
I hope you enjoy. :)
On their wedding day, he makes a toast. "To the woman of my dreams," he says, and she smiles but it stabs like a knife.
This was easily avoidable. Or at least could have easily been discouraged. It was just the one bullet, and she saw it coming from miles and miles away, but dodging it? Didn't occur to her at all. Not until it was too late and she was bleeding all over herself and everyone who came into contact with her.
She blames it on her name. (She blames a lot of things on her name, good things and bad things, and she's not sure where this falls between those two categories, because it swings back and forth so wildly that it's impossible to keep track.)
But that day in the airport bar. If she'd been thinking, if she hadn't felt a creeping cold guilt in her throat, she would have lied. Rachel, she's said before. Jenny. Lauren. Something generic. Something boring. Something forgettable and untrackable.
In the airport bar, he asked her her name, and she told him. Stupidly. And a man like that, with his connections and power and money, who can almost definitely find someone named Rachel or Lauren, can absolutely find someone named Ariadne.
He'd've found her either way. But if she lied, he might've gotten the hint.
"Have we met?"
"I don't think so. I'd remember." "Right. You just... look familiar, somehow." "I get that a lot." "That surprises me." "I don't know why it would." "I'm Robert." "Hi, Robert." "What's your name?" The slightest of pauses.
"I don't think so. I'd remember."
"Right. You just... look familiar, somehow."
"I get that a lot."
"That surprises me."
"I don't know why it would."
"What's your name?"
The slightest of pauses.
He absently rubs his wrist.
And then there was Arthur.
When they parted ways at the airport, she fully expected to see him again. She was Paris bound, staying to wait for her plane, and he was leaving, heading out into Los Angeles and who knew where else, so she wasn't sure when it would be - she had to decide if she wanted to finish school first. Once she'd worked that out, one way or another, she was sure she'd see him again. From the way he smiled at her, he knew he was sure, too.
It had been a long time since she'd felt that way about someone, the butterflies and the blushing and the trying to catch each other's eye and sharing knowing, awkward looks. Now, back here, now that she wasn't trying to stay alive in a dreamworld, she was overwhelmingly focused on it. Exhilarated, thrilled, giddy almost, not because they did it but because they made it out alive, everyone was all right, and she was so relieved that the stupid things like her crush on Arthur came sharply into focus. (She was glad to let it eclipse another looming feeling she knew would overtake her later.)
She'd hoped he would stay, have a drink with her, or something - anything, really, but he left. He had places to be. So Ariadne found herself in the airport bar, alone, and then -
"Have we met?"
She doesn't wear makeup, not even on their wedding day. During the reception, she escapes to the bathroom and splashes water on her face. When she looks up, she sees Arthur in the mirror, his face unreadable.
"This is the ladies room, you know," she says dryly.
"What are you doing?" he asks. "I go away for a few months and the next thing I hear, you're marrying Robert Fischer."
"What can I say. It was love at first sight." She towels off her face.
"After that week we spent together in the dream," says Arthur. "You run off and do this."
Ariadne can't look at him. She's trying to block out the flashes of memories from the plane ride - how they whiled away their time, waiting to wake up, hiding from projections in the maze she built in her now-husband's mind -
"Don't do this, Arthur."
"You're the one doing it."
"You were gone."
"So you married the one man who can never know everything about you?"
"And you think you do?" she shoots back.
Arthur bristles. "That's not what I meant."
"I know what you meant." She takes a deep breath.
"He doesn't know you like I do," says Arthur, quietly.
"Of course not," snaps Ariadne. "But he knows everything else. Fifty background checks later."
"That doesn't bother you."
"It's only fair." He can know everything else.
She's leaning on the counter for support, not looking at him, not looking at him even though she wants to, badly, because she knows she'd see a look of understanding on his face, because he always understands, even when he doesn't.
"Ariadne," he says, and he's close now, and then he's kissing her, the first time in reality, the first time since - and she wants to say no, knows she should, but she doesn't - she kisses him back, he lifts her up onto the counter, her fingers entangled in his hair, and he's running his hands all over the bodice of her gown - her wedding gown - Robert -
She jumps down and rushes back out to the party, refusing to look at him, shutting herself off. No more dreams, or memories of dreams.
If she squints, that's all he is.
Ariadne doesn't sleep much. When she sleeps, she dreams, and she hates it, because she's alone, and so they're not dreams. They're nightmares. Her head feels like a cave, full of monsters and cages and hotel lobbies.
Robert loves her unconditionally, and she loves him back for all the wrong reasons. Something like guilt, or remorse, or a thousand other things she can't put into words.
Or, because, How can I not.
After they make love, she turns away from him. He wraps himself around her, comfortably, naturally, habitually, because they always sleep this way. (He sleeps. She pretends to.) These are moments when she doesn't mind being here, with him - she shouldn't mind at all, because he's lovely, and he treats her like a queen. If only they'd met under the circumstances Robert thinks they met.
"I dream about you," he says, one night, into the dark, kissing the back of her neck. "All the time. You're always there."
Ariadne fights the urge to go stiff, to freeze up, to run away - talking about dreams, even saying the word has become a taboo for her. "What am I doing?"
"Saving me," he says. "Always saving me."
By throwing you off a building, she thinks. He never remembers that part.
She went back to school. She only had a few hours of credit left, and she'd worked so hard for so long for that degree that giving up now felt like defeat.
Back in Paris, the day after her graduation, she sat at a table outside her favorite cafe and sipped from a teacup, enjoying herself, thinking about Arthur, when she would see him again, what he was up to –
"Hello," says someone, and she looks up and nearly spills her tea down her shirt.
"Hi," she says, nervously, because it's Robert, and she's wondering, does he know? Has he caught us? Did it fail after all? But he's smiling.
"Do you remember me?" he asks.
"I – yeah," she says, feigning a bemused look, like she was trying to place him. "From the airport, right? Richard? Or – "
"Robert," he says. "Do you mind if I..."
"Oh no, go ahead."
He sits, and he's still smiling, and she's still feeling awkward and a little scared – a lot scared, if she's honest.
"Sorry, this is kind of weird, I know," he says, and his tone is friendly. "I just – well. I couldn't get your face out of my mind."
"Oh?" she says, and she imagines the rest of this conversation turning into some kind of crazed serial killer thing – how dare you invade my dreams, how dare you plant an idea like that where it doesn't belong –
"I looked you up and found out you were at school here," Robert says, and he has the decency to look a little abashed. "I was in town on business, and I told myself that if I ran into you when I was here, I'd go up and talk to you again. I didn't think it would happen... but here we are."
"Here we are indeed," says Ariadne, and the smile comes easier, if only because she's brimming with relief. She's just that girl from the airport bar.
"Ariadne," he says, tasting it. "It's a beautiful name."
That girl from the airport bar with the ancient name: the mistress of mazes.
Ariadne loves watching Robert sleep. He sleeps soundly and quietly, no snoring except for that one time he had the flu and spent a miserable week in his bathrobe. She likes to smooth his hair back from his forehead and watch the movement behind his eyelids, knowing with certainty that these dreams, whatever they are, are his.
She thinks of him as fragile, delicate, even though he isn't. She's seen him on the phone, doling out pieces of his mind to various business partners or whoever (she doesn't ask, or really care, and he likes that), she's seen him come home from meetings fuming, but it's because he looks to her for solace that her image of him endures. The image of him tied up, gagged, terrified on the balcony in a storm of memories and dreams. She thinks of how easy it was then, to just kick him off. It wasn't real, she repeats over and over to herself. I was saving him. From the mess they got him into. From the lies they planted in his mind.
No, not from the lies. The lies are still there.
She's coming out of a coffee shop in New York the next time she sees Arthur. She was supposed to be looking for a dress for some gala she's obliged to attend with Robert in a couple of nights, but she has time and a half to worry about that. Coffee and a bagel seems much more inviting than expensive dress stores filled with overhelpful shopgirls clamoring to be the one who sold a dress to Ariadne Fischer. It's a bit much. She misses her anonymity.
He's across the street, buying a newspaper, and she stops and just stares, a cool autumn breeze blowing errant wisps of hair across her face. How long has it been, now? Years, at least... or it felt like years. Absently, she slips her hand into her pocket and tightens her fingers around the chess piece, a security blanket even now, even with such distance between her and the last time she shared a dream with anyone.
Arthur strolls along leisurely, perusing the front page. He is without a sense of urgency, so he looks like a different man to her. Still the same, though, impeccably dressed and poised. And then, like some sort of mutant with a sixth sense, he looks up, right at her, sending her heart into her throat.
She waits for him to come to her.
He casually invades her personal space and she lets him, carelessly, aware that she's the wife of a powerfully rich man and that there's a chance she's being watched - it doesn't matter. If she gets caught, she'll deal with it.
She won't get caught. She's not that lucky. She never gets what she deserves.
"You look lovely," says Arthur.
Ariadne tilts her head and looks at him, thinking, this is about to get complicated. She smothers thoughts of walking away.
"Long time no see."
"Why do you stay?"
Ariadne has installed herself in the crook of his arm, warming herself with the heat of his body. The afternoon is fading fast, and she should go, is already thinking about how to escape, but the golden glow of Arthur's hotel room is intoxicating, and his embrace is tight. Why don't you, she thinks.
"Because he needs me," she says, lazily dragging her fingers across his chest.
Arthur chuckles. "No offense intended, Ariadne, but Robert Fischer could buy anything he needed."
"You don't have to be cruel about it."
She ignores this because it's true.
"I hate what we did to him," she says finally. "I just wanted him to be okay. I wanted to make sure."
"I think he's doing fine."
"Of course you do."
"He calls me the woman of his dreams," she says.
Arthur flat out laughs. "For Christ's sake."
After a moment of awkward silence, Ariadne gets up and goes into the bathroom. She turns the water on in the shower and closes the door, sealing in the steam. She lets the water pound against her back and neck and shoulders.
She waits for Arthur to join her.
When Ariadne finally wanders back home, the day is fading and there's a brilliant orange sunset behind her. Robert is waiting for her in their lavish living room, watching TV in his pajamas, and when he hears her come in, he gets up and goes to her.
"I don't know where you've been," says Robert, wrapping his arms around her. "But I'm glad you're back."
You'd forgive me for anything, wouldn't you, she thinks, and he suddenly leans back to look at her, alarmed, because she's crying.
"What? What's wrong?" he asks, searching her face.
"I'm sorry," she says.
"It's okay," he says, instead of asking what for. He strokes her hair, looking worried and concerned, like he'd go to battle for her then and there, wearing his pajamas, if he had to. The same way he always looks at her.
The pieces of her heart start to mend.
When she pulls him down for a kiss, it's the first time she really means it.
They're sitting on the shore, drenched and not drying, breathing hard, wiping rain and river water from their eyes.
They watch the rain pound the surface of the water, little droplets getting lost in the bigger picture, creating ripples too small to make a difference.
After a moment, she looks at Arthur.
"What do we do now?"
"As long as we're careful?" he says, smiling slowly. "Anything we want."
"Sounds dangerous," says Ariadne.
That night, she lets herself sleep.
When she wakes up, the dreams slip past the edges of her mind, and she just watches them go.
She rolls over to face Robert. He's already awake.
"Good morning, sunshine," he says.