A/N: Because this film will not leave me alone (not after the third time, anyway) and because these two are just too damn cute together. A huge thank you for all the reviews and faves! They make me very happy :)
Summary: Ariadne always loved Wednesdays. Arthur/Ariadne
Disclaimer: Inception and characters belong to the inimitable Mr Nolan. I'm just borrowing.
Ariadne loved Wednesdays.
For her, the beginnings of weeks were always sluggish and distracted, and Thursdays always seemed too rushed, spent in eager anticipation of Friday nights. Sure, weekends were great, but Saturday meant taking part-time shifts at the corner café down the street and on Sundays she usually ended up finishing off assignments, with hardly any time for rest. No, Ariadne decided; the middle of the week was definitely the best.
Lectures at the university finished early on Wednesday afternoons and she would take time to stroll along the Seine, away from the tourist hubbub, ambling at a leisurely pace across her favourite bridge before heading home just as the first colours of night started to bleed into the sky. It was always her favourite time of the week.
She met Arthur on a Wednesday.
The first time she saw him, he was barely more than a blurry face that swam into view as she jerked awake in a panic in the workshop, an intravenous needle in her wrist, wired to a strange-looking device she'd never seen before. Moments later, when her dream exploded into shards of pain, he had hurried quickly to her side – "Hey, look at me, you're OK," – a comforting hand on her arm, a comforting voice allaying her fears. And he was still there when she returned the next day, unable to resist the allure of pure creation.
Eventually, she realised that Arthur too had his own kind of allure. Everything about the point man – from his charismatic confidence to his impeccable dress sense (he was the only person she knew for whom casual wear meant donning a tie) to his habit of leaning back on two chair legs, an easy target for Eames's taunting kicks – fascinated Ariadne. His was a world of efficiency, precision and the polished ringing of sterling silver cutlery against leaded crystal wineglasses, a universe apart from the messy, homely ambience of her cramped Left Bank studio apartment, yet despite their differences, she learned to trust him the most. Where Cobb saw reliability and Eames saw a human straitjacket, Ariadne found in Arthur a confidant and the closest thing she had to a friend on the team.
She kissed him on a Wednesday – assuming, of course, it was still the same day in the dream as it was on that 747. Arthur's Swiss-made titanium-alloy chronograph may have kept perfect timing, but Ariadne was pretty sure her heart had skipped a beat. She was also pretty sure that she wasn't supposed to enjoy the kiss as much as she did, considering it wasn't supposed to mean anything. She kept reminding herself of that as she walked away from him at the airport, but it hadn't made the truth any less true. It hadn't made it any less true at all.
So she booked herself on the first flight back to Paris, back to school and back to reality – if it could still legitimately be called that after her life had been flipped upside-down, taken apart and haphazardly reassembled again without consulting the instruction manual. It was like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle with the pieces turned over to the other side; the parts still fit in place like they did before, but now they were blank and meaningless. During her first day as the team's architect, she had learned it was all about the feel of things, and right now, her world felt… empty.
Édith Piaf's music haunted her, and her new totem was a perpetual reminder that another world existed out there, tantalisingly close yet out of reach. While sitting in the university's stuffy lecture halls, Ariadne's mind inevitably strayed and rather than concentrating on Brunelleschi's Santa Maria del Fiore, she thought only of how she had folded and piled the VIIe Arrondissement on top of itself, and of how easily she had reconstructed the Pont de Bir-Hakeim from the infinity effect created by two parallel mirrors.
Miles was the only one she could confide in. But the old professor shook his head sadly and told Ariadne what she already knew: that once she started, there was no going back.
On Wednesdays, instead of walking by the river, Ariadne went back to the abandoned workshop, as if being there would somehow bring her closer to the dream world. The place had almost become her second home, and now she missed it. She missed the way it smelled, with the musty hint of sawdust and the bitter, acrid tang of oxidised metal lingering in the air, strange yet intoxicating. She missed the way the building's lofty ceiling made the smallest sounds – the jarring noise of chairs scraping on cement, the muted clatter of totems falling over – echo and seem louder than they actually were. She missed the way sunlight filtered in through the tattered, outdated copies of Le Parisien that were pasted neatly across the grimy windowpanes, with last year's headlines hazily backlit in a spectrum of amber and ochre incandescence.
Most of all, though, she missed the people. Well, one team member in particular, anyway.
It was almost absurd how much she remembered of Arthur, considering they'd only spent two weeks together. She remembered that his gel-slicked hair had been so perfect that she'd wanted to run her fingers through it just to see what it would look like all messed up; she remembered that his immaculately tailored suits had hugged his lean frame so closely that she'd wanted to slip her hands beneath his shirt just to make sure it wasn't, in fact, glued to his skin; and she remembered how much she had wanted to kiss away that infuriating, enigmatic smile from his lips – those lips she had once tasted, briefly, in his dream.
She kept telling herself it was time she forgot about him, but she always remembered enough never to be quite convinced.
When she handed in her final project, her professors looked at her strangely and questioned the influences behind the looping staircases and the other quasi-paradoxical geometric forms she had incorporated into her work. Before the Fischer job, Ariadne would have drawn inspiration from Ando, Niemeyer, Mies van der Rohe, but they seemed like safe choices now compared with what she had done.
"Escher," she said. "And someone whose last name I don't know." She didn't even know if Arthur was his real name.
Just when she was readjusting to her old routine, Arthur walked right back into her life again, as unexpectedly as he had that first time. He showed up outside her apartment one day, five months after she had last seen him in LA, and Ariadne found herself reaching instinctively for the totem that jangled together with the keys in her pocket, wondering if her sleep-deprived mind was playing tricks on her, wondering if she had ended up deluded like Cobb, chasing ghosts from fragmented memories.
But Arthur was real. He was real and he offered her a permanent place on the new team he was assembling.
She found herself accepting almost before the words were out of his mouth. She understood the risks, since after all she was the one who had made it to Limbo and back, and as her fingers clenched tightly around cold bronze, feeling the bishop's familiarly reassuring bulk in her hand, she knew she had already made her choice long ago.
He asked her out on a Wednesday, suave as ever, casually suggesting that they go out for dinner.
"As in a date, point man?" she smiled.
"It will be, architect," he grinned, a maddening smirk playing lightly on the corners of his mouth. "If you want it to."
She pressed her lips against his, the way she had done once before, and her world was filled with the scent of his perfume and the slightly rough texture of his suit beneath her fingertips. This time, the kiss really meant everything because it was real and she was letting him know without words that she did want it to be a date, that she thought he was definitely worth a shot, and that after the months of emptiness her world suddenly wasn't so empty anymore, because he had become a part of it again.
On their third date together, they walked past a shop that sold scarves in every colour imaginable. It was if nature's entire catalogue of hues had been gathered together, distilled into dye and printed on silk. Ariadne recalled that she had once set her eye on a particular scarf and had been saving up for it; she realised she could afford it now, but Arthur beat her to it.
"Wait here," he said, disappearing into the shop.
He emerged ten minutes later, with a forest-green scarf decorated with an intricate pattern picked out in gold. It wasn't the one she originally had in mind, but in a way it was better because he had chosen it for her. So she saved a special space for it in her wardrobe, next to the cherry pinks and sunflower yellows, among the teals and lilacs and periwinkle blues, between the bold patterns and batiks and floral prints, and she was surprised to find it was actually one of the few colours she didn't already own. She wondered if he had known.
She wore the scarf every week after that. Every Wednesday.
Over time, even for someone as brilliant as Ariadne, it became harder to constantly invent new places. Although her imagination had been freed from the constraints of real-world physics, it gradually became harder to stop elements of real life from seeping into the dreamscapes, harder to distinguish between memories of dreams and dreams of memories. After what had happened to Cobb, the team shared an unspoken agreement never to resort to sedated dreaming outside of work, yet the fear of repeating Cobb and Mal's mistakes was never far away, a long shadow continuously looming over all of Ariadne's creations. Not knowing the truth was almost as bad as choosing to forget it, though in the end it amounted to the same thing, really: the fact that reality could far too easily be misplaced.
But Arthur was always there, a constant that she could rely on between worlds. He helped to remind her that nothing she built was real or permanent; that even though her fabrications seemed solid while they lasted, they quickly disintegrated into the wreckage of ideas when the illusion collapsed. She in turn made him think twice before taking a bullet in the chest, just in case he didn't wake up, just in case the pain was very real and he lost everything he still had to live for.
Somehow, they kept each other anchored to reality, anchored to each other.
Their work took them all around the world but when they weren't working, they bought an apartment together and made Paris their home. She chose the place: light and airy with a great view, small enough to be cosy, spacious enough not to feel confined. Her dream buildings were all about grand vision, towering columns and endless galleries accentuating the harsh beauty of exposed reinforced concrete, but Ariadne filled their home with smooth lines, blending his taste in elegance with her own fondness for soft comforts.
On Wednesday afternoons, they walked hand-in-hand by the river, first on one bank and then the other, sometimes even getting on a boat and pretending to be tourists so that they could take in both views at the same time. At sunset, she would always take him to her favourite bridge – their favourite bridge – and from there they would watch the sun set as the sky flared every shade of orange and rose and purple, while she lazily ran her fingers through his wind-tousled hair.
Later, when they were back home, with her green-and-gold scarf haphazardly thrown over the back of a chair and his tie and waistcoat hastily discarded on the floor, she would skim her fingers lightly across his skin, satisfied that she had successfully proven once again that his shirts were not, in fact, glued to his body. Then he would smile that infuriating, enigmatic smile, and when she tried to kiss it away she would find it replaced instead by an even wider grin as he leaned in for another, slower, deeper kiss.
When they went back to the scarf shop again, he didn't ask and she didn't say anything, because she didn't have to.
He got it right this time.
Ariadne only ventured into Limbo once more, during another inception mission. Their subject had accidentally been killed so she went down to retrieve him, the same way she had brought Fischer back. Without Cobb around to guide her, however, it took four whole days, and the only thing that kept her sane during that time was the thought of Arthur, waiting for her; having something worth looking forward to in the real world helped to make waking up just that little bit easier.
When Arthur, who had been stationed in a higher dream level, found out afterwards, he was more furious than she had ever seen him before and forced her to promise never to go into Limbo again. She made the promise, her voice shaking, and afterwards, as he pulled her close and kissed her, her cheeks became wet with tears but she wasn't sure whose they were anymore. Those tears told her that, if ever faced with the choice, he would rather spend eternity in Limbo with her than a lifetime in the real world alone. The very thought scared her beyond belief, but she knew with absolute certainty that she would have made exactly the same decision herself.
Neither of them slept that night. The sound of totems toppling over lasted until dawn.
"You know, the truth isn't just what the bishop and the die tell us anymore," he said later.
Ariadne's gaze automatically flickered over to the two small objects in question, resting side by side on the nightstand. Hazy morning light trickled in through half-drawn curtains, illuminating the vague outlines of their bedroom, and it was just possible to make out the chess piece rolled on its side, the small red cube tipped over to show a six.
"It's not the only reality that matters anymore." Arthur's fingers trailed slowly through her hair. There were caramel-coloured highlights, golden-brown strands woven in among the soft chestnut waves.
She shifted in his arms and tilted her head questioningly up to his. "What do you mean?"
A pair of warm brown eyes stared into hers. "I want a different kind of certainty, Ariadne." The corners of his mouth curved almost imperceptibly upwards. "One that, I believe, calls for a different kind of totem."
A sliver of light flashed into view, glimmering in the dimness, balanced between his fingers. A perfect circle. "Do you think we can become each other's reality from now on?"
Ariadne smiled. She knew then that he was right, that their other totems weren't the only ones that mattered anymore. Unlike her dreams, unlike the cathedrals of glass and the paper cities that unravelled at the first flutter of consciousness, what she shared with Arthur was both permanent and real, too real to be anything other than a reality of its own; she didn't need the chess piece to tell her that. He was her life, her whole existence, her real totem, just as he always had been.
She gave him her answer almost before he finished asking. She had made her choice on a Wednesday afternoon long, long ago.
"We already are."
A/N: Thanks for reading... please leave a review if you're feeling up to it. Also, be sure to check out my new Inception fanfics, "Ithaca", "Unravel" and the multichapter "Marriage Proposals for Dummies", if you haven't already done so. :)