For everyone who gave me the chance to fly - thank you is not nearly enough.
This last chapter is best taken with an extra large helping of Wake Up by Coheed and Cambria. I think it defines everything about Ariadne and Arthur as I see them. You may need to repeat it several times...unless you are an insanely fast reader.
Inception belongs to Christopher Nolan. Some lines in here belong to Linkin Park and John Donne.
A design principle that denotes a recognizable relationship of similar object within similar object
The hardest part of ending is starting again.
Most of the flight back to Paris is a blur. When the flight attendant asks for her boarding pass, Ariadne hands it over, oh so calmly, while she chants three months to herself, over and over again. She breaks off only long enough to whisper a silent thank you for the empty seat beside her.
Up until the very last moment, she doesn't really believe any of it is real. Her heart half expects to see Arthur strolling up to the seat next to her – why else would it be empty? Even Eames' presence would be a welcome relief to the solitude of her own company. She regrets now rushing away so quickly without saying goodbye to the forger. With one eye trained on the aisle and the other scanning the tarmac through the window, clinging to her last, finest thread of hope, she waits.
When the plane finally flares its engines and rolls off the runway, she realizes that it's only the beginning of her vigil.
By the time she's back on French soil, Ariadne is sick and tired of hoping. She hails a taxi to the nearest hotel and falls asleep, fully clothed, on top of the covers.
She does not dream.
The first few days are the worst. During the day, she avoids the claustrophobia of large crowds and at night, she wakes up at the lightest sound. At least twice a day, she picks up the phone and half dials his number, but every time her relentless pride holds her back. In the deepest, darkest corners of her daydreams, she wishes fervently that one of their targets would find her, and bring Arthur with them.
Ariadne's fear – or is it hope? – mounts to a peak when she switches on the TV three days later and sees Carla Antonelli's face plastered across the screen. The reporter, visibly excited, announces that the heiress had mysteriously cancelled her engagement to Michel Frechette. The shot switches to footage of the redhead's bodyguards warding off journalists. The camera pans briefly over a close up of her face. Ariadne immediately recognizes the hollow look in her eyes. Her trip to limbo had not been a happy one.
At the end of the week, Caligiuri still has not contacted her. Ariadne gives him up as another lost cause. More likely than not, he is satisfied with things as they are.
Sometime during the second week, her bank account suddenly overflows. She knows she should withdraw her paycheque before the police come knocking at her door, but there are no more student loans to pay off and nothing that she wants that could be bought with money. In the end, she settles on a small flat overlooking the Seine. Some of her reasoning has returned, and she realizes that she cannot spend forever eating off a room service tray. Still, she signs the deed so listlessly that the realtor spends several uncomfortable days fretting over it. Eventually, the commission soothes his nerves.
For Ariadne the flat means only one thing: escape. Caught up in a whirl of paint and wallpaper and glass topped coffee tables, she relearns how to live. There can be no question of forgetting, even if her considerable intellect had allowed it, but at least she can pack the memories away in the attic of her mind, to be brought out in the dim hours between darkness and dawn. Then, and only then, does she allow herself to curl up idly by the window of her half finished living room and think. Despair and hope take her by turns throughout the day and night until she is dizzy from the unending carousel ride. Yet in the greyness between them, when the morning starlight pales before the burning sun, giddy anticipation consumes her, and she counts down the days to herself.
Anything at all can happen right before the sunrise.
At two one morning, her mother calls collect from Canada and apologizes profusely for missing her graduation. Ariadne mumbles something politely distant, as is expected of her, and then settles back to count plane lights through her window while her mother chatters incessantly about their holiday plans. Some three and a half hours later, as the sun cracks over the horizon, she remembers that she has a daughter and dutifully asks Ariadne about her plans. She wants to know everything – did she have a job, a house, a boyfriend?
Ariadne answers the first two questions bluntly, stumbles halfway through the last one in a confused daze, and breathes a sigh of relief when her cell phone battery conveniently fizzles out. She does not attempt to reconnect the call from her landline and when the stores open later in the day, she gets a new number. When the woman at the counter enquires why, Ariadne has no answer.
She likes it best on the days it rains. On those days, she stands under the shelter of her balcony and holds out her hand to catch the tears. Then she lets them roll down into the gutter below, a drop for each step down the road to nostalgia.
She can cry only when the world cries with her.
On the first day of summer, Ariadne goes back to her old dormitory to retrieve the last of her possessions. Ailin is long gone, and with her, the familiar sense of home. A fine layer of dust lies over the room, blurring the image around the edges. She finds that, after all, she does not really want any of the things there. They belong to an Ariadne of a different time, one that was carefree and bordering on arrogance in her belief of happy endings. With half a heart, she shoves clothes and sketches haphazardly into a suitcase and manages to drag it down to the lobby.
At the bus stop, she bumps into one of her former professors. After exchanging some polite small talk, he asks her if she's interested in teaching a summer course at the university. He assures her quite firmly that her height will not disadvantage her in any way with her prospective students, who all seem to hover at six feet tall. Ariadne fully intends to turn him down, but then the thought of spending another two and a half months in her finished flat floats across her mind. Without any clear idea of what she's doing, she accepts.
Ariadne teaches on autopilot. She knows her lectures are lacklustre – it shows in her poor attendance rate – but somehow, she cannot be bothered to care. The job, after all, is only temporary. She neither enjoys teaching, nor does she need the money. It's simply there to fill in the gaps that used to be taken up by dreaming.
Only a small handful of people turn in the first project. She suspects they only do it from a compulsive need to finish homework; these are the same people who attend her classes everyday just to have the pleasure of seeing that bolded zero next to the Absences box on their transcript. She does not expect much from the assignment, a sketch of Paris in fifty years. She had been thinking of dice and bishops at the time. With a sigh, she pulls the thin stack of papers towards her.
That night, for the first time in what feels like ages, she forgets to watch for the break between night and day, too busy sprawled out on her paper covered floor with one piece of charcoal in her hand and another tucked behind her ear.
Each passing day lightens the massive weight constricting her chest. There are still nights when she cannot sleep for fear of forgetting, nights when Arthur burns vividly against her skin. She cries then, sweet, cool tears that soothe the constant fire raging in her heart and bring back the taste of evergreens to her lips. The nights of calm exhaustion in between grow longer all the time, but she always wakes up the next day with guilt and shame tingling her numb fingers alive. Even then, she experiences a strange thrill of exhilaration that she knows she has no business to feel. Half of her is content to wander the empty halls of memory while the other is desperate to be alive again. Torn between the two, she spends several miserable days locked up with her own, tormented self. The little inspiration left to her fades quickly and she finds herself staring at blank pages again, willing her stagnant imagination to breathe life into the empty cities.
Until she opens her eyes one morning to suddenly find that she can breathe again.
She gets a call from Eames about a month later, the first call to her new home phone. Unused to the sound of its insistent ringing, she spills half her coffee down her jacket. Swearing loudly, she tugs it off and tosses it into a corner before running to pick up the phone, still in a foul mood.
"Hello?" she gasps into the mouthpiece.
The receiver turns Eames' voice into an odd, tinny sound, but it does nothing to mask its teasing tone of condescension.
"You sound like you're expecting someone important," he says seriously. "I'm sorry to disappoint you, but it's just me."
For a full minute, Ariadne stares at the phone in shock. The hand cradling the receiver trembles violently. "Eames?"
"Nah, not that important. It's God, of course."
"Eames – what are you – did something happen – is Arthur-?"
The forger chuckles. "Slow down, darling. This phone card is still good for another two hours."
She swallows the long list of question and reminds herself to breathe and count to ten. "Is everything okay?" she asks finally.
"Everything's just peachy," he replies lightly. "There have been a few people tailing me, but I managed to shake them off easily. Nothing out of the ordinary."
"Why are you calling then?"
"Can't a friend call to say hello? I wanted to make sure you were doing alright."
Dimly, Ariadne wonders why Eames is calling her, and not Arthur. The former seems to read her thoughts through the phone.
"Arthur would love nothing more than to call you. I imagine he's losing boatloads of sleep over it."
"So why doesn't he?"
A loud rush of air on Eames' side that could be a sigh. "He's been busy. Cobol finally caught up with him."
Fear seizes Ariadne in its grip. Arthur couldn't be – no, she would not even think it. She almost chokes on her words. "Is he-"
"He's fine," Eames assures her with surprising softness. "But he's not exactly in a position to call anyone at the moment."
"I wouldn't worry about it if I were you," he cuts in. "If he says he'll find you, then he will. Arthur will follow a schedule until Armageddon, and probably beyond, too."
For a long time, neither of them speaks. Eames' words do little to comfort Ariadne, who never had much doubt that Arthur would be true to his word. What scares her more than anything else is the constant waiting and wondering of where he might be, what he might be doing, and above all, what happens after the three months are up.
Finally, Eames breaks the silence.
"Don't take this too hard, Ariadne."
"I'm not," she replies automatically.
"This is just the way Arthur is-"
"-the more he cares-"
"-the more careful he is," Ariadne finishes with more bitterness than she intended. More silence follows, this time decidedly frosty. She scrubs absentmindedly at a drop of coffee on the bottom hem of her shirt. The momentary joy of hearing Eames' voice is fading now. With each passing second, she wants more and more desperately to hang up. She had been so close to forgetting, the closest she would ever get, and now she's suddenly back to where she started.
"He loves you."
Her heart freezes in icy shards. "I have to go," she lies.
Eames, for some strange reason known only to him, laughs. "I won't keep you then. When you see Arthur, tell him he owes me."
The line clicks off before she can ask for what.
For days after Eames' call, Ariadne sleeps with her totem on her dresser. In the daytime, she keeps it tucked safely in her pocket. She never dreams, but there are times when she wakes up in the middle of the night and swears that she can hear his voice. Her life is slipping again, but there's little she can do. Day and night start to blend together into a murky, unpleasant grey that presses in on her from all sides, forcing her to shrink deeper and deeper into herself, until all that's left of her is a small round bundle curled beneath heavy blankets on a moonless night. No matter how much she sleeps, she cannot rid herself of the constant lethargy. The hollows beneath her eyes bruise grey and purple and her neighbours begin to give her wary looks when they pass her in the hall. She takes to leaving at the crack of dawn and returning long after sunset to avoid their accusing gazes.
Her students fare little better. Disappointed after her brief period of animation, they trickle out of the classroom one by one. The only thing Ariadne feels at the sight is thankfulness that there are still a few occupied seats. She makes no effort to reclaim the ones that she's already lost, although she does her best not to lose any more. While she hates teaching mundane facts and figures with an unrivalled passion, it's the one thing that's keeping her tethered to reality, and she's terrified of losing it.
In the moments between class and home, Ariadne watches strangers on the metro. She creates names and stories for everyone from the little ladies dwarfed by their hats of coloured straw to the sullen teenagers sporting artfully ripped jeans and headphones twice the size of their heads. Their imaginary lives dull the ache of her own just a little, enough for her to get through each day.
She opens the paper one morning to be greeted by Antonelli's name screaming up at her from every headline.
DEATH OF AN EMPIRE
Late last night, Viktor Antonelli, founder and CEO of the world famous Antonelli Laboratories, died at his family home in Florence, Italy.
While early reports vary as to the exact time and manner of his death, the consensus is that Antonelli died after a short battle with the rare Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rapidly progressing degenerative neurological illness with no known cure. He was just fifty-five.
Antonelli's lawyers have remained silent as to the future of his company, but it is suspected that all of Antonelli's shares will be transferred to his daughter, Carla Antonelli, who will be the sole heir to his estates. Miss Antonelli made headlines herself earlier this month following the sudden cancellation of her three year engagement to famed architect Michel Frechette. It is unknown whether the breakup was related to Antonelli's illness, or whether his death will have an effect on the current state of the couple's relationship. Close friends of the heiress say that she was aware of her father's illness, and is, given the circumstances, coping well with his death. They ask that the press kindly respect the family's privacy while they mourn. The funeral will be private, but it has been confirmed that a public memorial will be scheduled for a later date.
While Antonelli's immediate family may have known about the rapid decline of his health, members of his company's executive office and board of directors were caught off guard by his sudden death. An insider at Antonelli Laboratories' headquarters in Paris released a statement that, while Antonelli had appeared agitated at times and was more and more frequently absent from his office, his behaviour was attributed to his daughter's impending marriage to the godson of his biggest corporate rival, Luke Caligiuri. As a result, Antonelli's unexpected death has been accompanied by a drastic drop in share prices that is expected to plummet even further as the week progresses. A financial advisor with the Banque de France predicted-
Ariadne closes the paper before she can read more and for the remainder of the day, she steers clear of any newspaper vendors.
Morbid as it is, Antonelli's death brings her a strange sense of freedom. The lifting of one cloud makes it easier to bear the looming thunderstorms of another, and soon Ariadne finds herself cluttering her living room with page upon page of sketches and vague blueprints. The cities in her mind grow exponentially until they crowd out the shadowy stories of subway strangers. She draws them as they come on every surface she can find, whether it be the back of her arm or the margins of a library book. Inky towers, fortified with low-rising domes and crystals, spiral every which way into the sky.
Her only regret is that they will never come to life.
Sometimes, Ariadne wonders if she shouldn't tell the truth.
With Antonelli's death, there is no one else, with the exception of Carla, who knows the real and absolute truth. And Ariadne has severe doubts that the heiress remembers anything much after her sojourn to limbo and back. Sometimes, she's curious to know what happened. Had Antonelli found enough courage to kill his own daughter, or had she come back some other way? She wonders what would happen if she were to stroll down to Antonelli Laboratories and demand an audience with its new CEO.
The memory of a gun trained at her temple usually puts a stop to these musings.
When the first two months are up, she begins to worry needlessly.
She worries that Arthur will forget, that something will prevent him from coming, that he won't want to come, that Paris will be flooded by a sudden tsunami. Her fears are entirely unfounded, she knows, but they disturb her nonetheless, usually in the dim moments just before sleep arrives. In her agitation, she buys a large calendar from the dollar store and pins it up on her bedroom ceiling. Every night, she crosses off another day, and then counts the red checkmarks until she falls into a fitful doze. And every morning, in the glaring light of the early sun, she laughs at her own foolishness and swears that she'll take it down just as soon as she gets home from school.
On a rainy Sunday afternoon, Ariadne finds it.
She's in the middle of doing laundry when she catches sight of the offending jacket, crumpled up in the corner she'd thrown it when Eames had called. She smoothes it out, wrinkles her nose at the faint odour of coffee it emits, and is about to toss it into the washing machine when something tumbles out of the inside pocket. Curious, she kneels down to pick it up and freezes with her fingertips a breath away from its surface. Her other hand reaches instinctively for the bishop in her pocket and knocks it, shaking, to the floor. They lie side by side on the carpet, just barely touching.
In case you need me.
She knows she shouldn't. It could all be a mistake, an accident. Except that Arthur never makes mistakes.
I'll come find you, wherever you are.
Memory tugs at her and she remembers Arthur handing her the same jacket in the airport. She can't help it.
Her fingers close tightly over the cool plastic.
The rest of her life, delicately cupped in her palm. A pledge of trust, and perhaps something more. Not exactly everything she's ever wanted, but the promise of so much better than her dreams, tangible and real, waiting, hidden just around the corner. And she can wait, with all the time in the world, because no matter how many times they fall apart, their orbits will always find a way to collide again, interlocking curvatures in the fabric of space and time. They cannot help it any more than the compass can help returning home at the end of the circle.
He loves you.
Dotted white against bright red, the die's weight rests comfortably in her hand.
Thank you thank you thank you thank you to everyone who has ever read, favourited, reviewed, or otherwise contributed to this story. I adore you all, I really do. If I had any prowess at sonnet writing, I would compose one for you right now. Writing this has been somewhere along the same lines as attempting an axel for the first time. I realize that this is quite a pathetic comparison, but it's what I know, so - a googol of thanks for being that indispensible safety harness. Even now, I'm still in a kind of comatose shock.
Please review. This ending has undergone so many drafts and mood swings that it bears absolutely no resemblance to its original conception. I tried desperately to make it definitively happy, but it downright refused to cooperate, and now it terrifies me to no end. Whether you despise it or love it, please let me know. I will be eternally grateful.
P.S. I swore up and down when I finished writing that I would leave Inception alone after this. As usual, I have been absolutely dismal at keeping my own resolutions. I don't believe in sequels to stories that were not planned as such, but I do believe in starting again from scratch. I don't have the strength of will to abandon Arthur and Ariadne altogether, so...there will be more. Just different. Hopefully it'll be up this weekend. So if you feel up to it...check back soon?
- Li :O)