"I miss you," he admits quietly. "You wouldn't believe how many times I've thought about calling you."
She's stunned by his confession.
She doesn't really know what to say.
The minutes pass, she's not sure how long they sit in silence. The air is thick with tension; the only sound being the thunderous beating of her heart, pounding in her chest.
Despite the sincerity in his tone, she's hesitant to trust him. Every time the walls have come down between them, even ever so slightly, he's pulled away immediately after. She's not sure her heart can take that again.
He's waiting for some kind of response but her brain is working overtime to figure out what his motives are. Why tonight? Why now? What changed between them?
"Are you there?" he asks, sounding almost panicked.
"Did you hear what I said?"
"Are you going to say something besides 'yes'?"
"I'm considering it."
"Anything I can do to move things along?"
"You can shut up and let me think."
He chuckles softly.
It's almost dawn. She has a class in less than four hours, she should be sleeping. Instead she's lying in bed with the phone nestled between her head and shoulder, listening to the quiet sound of his breaths. The rhythm has a calming effect on her, something she desperately needs right now when her brain is muddled with confusion.
"What are you thinking about?" he finally asks, breaking the peaceful silence.
She can sense the hesitation behind his question, the deeply buried insecurity which he's trying to keep hidden from her. This isn't easy for him, she knows that, and maybe if she was a better person she could accept his confession at face value, but she isn't. He's hurt her repeatedly, and she's not sure he won't do it again. "Why are you telling me this now?"
His heavy sigh holds secrets he won't reveal. "I don't know."
"What if I hadn't called you today?"
There's a definite bite to his tone this time. This is the Arthur she's familiar with. "I don't know."
"And here I thought you had all the answers."
"I used to, until you came along."
"This is my fault?"
She smiles, she can't help it. He sounds like a petulant child who's been forced to apologize.
"So do you really have nothing to say to me?" he probes.
It takes her a while to respond. "I can't figure out why you're telling me this."
"Do I have to have a reason?"
"You always do, Arthur. You don't do anything without one."
"Maybe I'm turning over a new leaf."
"That's not what I want."
"No. I don't want you to change. Not for me."
"How many times have you called me a cold-blooded bastard?"
"Are you really trying to pick a fight with me now?"
"Just answer the question. How many?"
"Too many to count."
"Exactly. And now you're telling me you don't want me to change? Make up your fucking mind, Ariadne."
"And you need to start paying attention, Arthur. I want you to let me in. I never said I wanted you to change."
"Trust me. You won't like what you find."
"Let me be the judge of that."
"I'm no Prince Charming."
"No shit, Sherlock," she scoffs loudly. "I don't have blinders on when it comes to you. You're difficult, you're frustrating, you're stubborn as hell-"
"Stop. You're making me blush," he deadpans.
"But underneath all that, you're…" Soft. Sweet. Kind. Things she'll never tell him because he'll mock her mercilessly for it. She remembers the beginning stages of their friendship all too well, when they first started working together, all the late nights they spent talking and laughing. Cobb may have introduced her to the world of dream-sharing but it was Arthur who taught her the ins and outs of dream space, he was with her every step of the way while she explored this whole new world, sharing with her the amazing adrenaline rush that followed after every experiment.
It saddens her that what started out as a great friendship between them degenerated into something this painful and broken. At first she believed it was because of her increasing guilt about Robert that caused Arthur to withdraw from her, but over the past few months she's come to realize that wasn't true. Arthur was already pulling away for a while; her breakdown over the Inception job was just the excuse he needed to add more distance between them.
The soft urgency in his tone brings her out of her reverie.
"Don't leave me hanging," he probes. "What am I on the inside?"
"Not as much of a jerk."
He laughs, and she can't help but join in. The sound of his laughter has always been cheery and infectious, surprising her with the carefreeness of it since it was so unlike him.
"And you know what you are?" he asks.
"A major pain in the ass."
"Whatever. You love that about me." She regrets the words as soon as they leave her mouth. Any hopes she has of Arthur not misconstruing her words are quickly dashed when there's a sudden awkward pause in the air. "I was just joking," she explains quickly.
"I can't give you what you want, Ariadne."
His guard is back up again along with the cold exterior that she's come to loathe.
And she no longer has the patience to deal with it.
"No, you can't. So there's no point in continuing this conversation."
"So that's it? This is goodbye?"
He seems genuinely surprised with her answer, almost as if he expected her to argue and try and change his mind.
"I deserve someone who wants to be with me… and you've said many times that's not you. So… yeah, this is goodbye."
She hangs up on him.
Although proud of herself for sounding as firm as she did, Ariadne wishes she could somehow convince her heart to go along with her words. In time, maybe she can. No, no maybes. She has to. Because she refuses to be in love with someone who can't love her back. She deserves better than that.