Author's Note: Thank you to all my readers who have stuck by me and continued to follow this story even with my long hiatus. I can't tell you how much I appreciate all the favorites, follows, and reviews that you all have left me. Enjoy the last bit!
Ari had yet to find something as breathtaking as the perfect summer day in Paris. Curled in her usual spot on the balcony, this time with one of Jane Austen's novels, a gentle breeze tousled her dark hair back away from her forehead as she carefully turned another page. There was something so calming to her about losing herself in a book, blocking out the sounds of reality. It was almost like escaping into somebody else's dream but without the threat of limbo.
She was so lost in her book that she almost missed the sound of her phone ringing from inside the apartment. Ari let it go to voicemail, figuring it was Eames calling to check up on her again, but bolted upright when the sound of another familiar voice called out.
"Ariadne, hey! It's Dom. Listen, I just managed to leave the agency so I'm going to head home to see Phillipa and James, but I'd really love to see you if you had some free time next week. Let me know and I'll book a flight."
Skidding into the kitchen, Ari darted for the phone but Dom had already hung up by the time she picked up. Placing it back onto the receiver, she made a mental note to call him back later that evening.
As she was about to retreat back to her balcony, the sound of keys jingling in the lock caused her to pause. Wondering if she had misheard, Ari padded barefoot across the kitchen to peer at her door. At the sound of the lock turning, she moved out into the open so that she would have a direct view of whoever was entering. She couldn't recall if she had given a key to anyone else, or if perhaps it was just her landlord coming to check up on her.
Her words lodged in her throat as the door swung open.
Because standing in her doorway, hand still poised on the doorknob with a look that was a cross between surprise and relief, was Arthur.
It was as if her stomach fell through her feet and onto the floor. Her mouth moved wordlessly as she stared at him with a surprised look. He hadn't called – hadn't spoken with her, truthfully, in a very long time – and Ari suddenly felt as if a rug had been pulled out from underneath her feet.
Arthur must have realized this because his steps forward were slow and cautious, as if he was trying not to startle a deer. He didn't say anything, but Ari could hear the sound of his shaky breathing from where she stood and a thought struck her that this was the most disorganized and spontaneous Arthur had been in a while. At least, from what she could remember.
The door was left open, an escape for her if she needed it, and the closer he grew the more her heart began to race… but, strangely, it wasn't out of fear.
Her days with Eames had given her some time to move past some of her warped memories and to begin to trust her new ones. She was able to notice the strange buzzing sound that would fill her ears whenever she stumbled across a memory that Wiedoff had messed with, and would take deep steadying breaths to focus. It was getting easier to recognize them and to calm herself down without making a scene and drawing attention to herself.
He had still noticed, but that was what she expected of Eames.
Arthur was to be the true test, however - the one person who could either set back all of her progress or determine if she finally was past the destruction Wiedoff had created in her mind. As he drew closer her mind flashed back to the image of him choking the life out of her, and her breathing hitched slightly. That strange buzzing, like a fly or mosquito near her ear, filled her thoughts and slowly she began to count backwards in her head to drown out the sound.
10…It's only a dream…9… Just an illusion, just breathe…8…
He was only a foot away now, his eyes analyzing every inch of her. A strange ache began to fill her heart, and the space between them suddenly made Ari feel very much alone.
7… He had never hurt you before, Ari… 6…5… He's the one who saved you...4… Wiedoff did this…
Her eyes slowly slid up his face until they locked with his, and the concern and tenderness that shone there almost overwhelmed her.
Letting out a deep breathe when her heart rate steadied once more, Ari opened her mouth as if to speak. Yet, what was there to say? Apologies had no place here – it was neither of their faults for how they ended up like this. Small talk seemed awkward, and Arthur had never been good at it anyway. But Ari needed to close this gap between them. Despite the horrors that would still occasionally fill her head, she was drawn to this man like a moth to a flame.
Closing her mouth, she slowly crossed the last two steps between them and wrapped her arms timidly around his torso. She rested her cheek against his chest, listening to the rapid pace of his heartbeat, and gradually began to relax when to strong arms folded themselves gently around her waist. As her muscles loosened, Arthur gathered her further into his arms, holding her tightly against her and resting his cheek on top of her head. While the warmth surrounded her, Ari finally felt as if that void that had filled her heart was patching itself together little by little.
It hadn't been the distortion of her memories that had made her feel so lost. It was the fact that she had not had this man by her side to help her through it all. So as the sunlight streamed through her apartment, the breeze fluttering the curtains and tousling their hair, Ari sank into the comforting embrace of the man who continued to love her despite her faults.
And while she was terrified of what was to come, she knew that this was how she wanted to begin her life again.
And that, more than anything, finally brought her a sense of peace.