Haven't had a dream in a long time
See, the life I've had
Can make a good man turn bad
Arthur had been plagued with nightmares for years as a child. Waking up in the middle of the night, sweating like he had run a marathon, he had never understood what caused them. His home life was normal enough, he supposed. His mother stayed home; his father was a hard-working man. "A place for everything and everything in its place" was the family motto and that meant Arthur, too. His place when his father came home was to be silent and invisible – so he watched. The tight smiles from his mother, the exasperated sighs and silent disapprovals from his father. It instilled a sense in Arthur that it was never enough. Nothing was ever enough and so he played by the book, always making the right choices because he knew what a toe out of line would get him.
When he was a freshman in college, he had taken the intro psychology course because it fit into his schedule and when the class got to the section that covered dreams, he couldn't get enough. He needed to know more. What was his mind trying to tell him and why?
His research into the subject had led him on a long and twisting path all the way to Cobb, who showed him how first to control his dreams and then how to eliminate them altogether. For a few years, he had rejoiced in his lack of nightmares, happy to have his sleep free of the demons he have never been able to find in his subconscious. He didn't even want to contemplate what would happen in his dreams after the things he had seen and done with Cobb.
Cobb had made him a lot of money, and there had been stretches of months at a time when he didn't need to work and he sleep in blissful, dreamless sleep. He had been growing more and more unsettled, forgetting things he knew that he had learned, experiencing persistent and unshakeable feelings of déjà vu.
It would all be better when Cobb would call him up and they would dive into dreams again. He had finally connected the dots and realized he needed to dream on some level. That was when he began hooking himself up to the machine, even when he wasn't working, in order for his subconscious to work out whatever issues it might have had.
In these dreams, he let himself be unstructured. No architect creating the spaces, just his mind wandering on its own. Wherever it wanted to go, he followed. Sometimes the dreams were mundane, scenes from his life in dream form, with just little things wrong here and there. Other times, it was a twisted fantasyland where anything could and did happen. At first, these dreams had terrified him, the fear of not knowing what was around the next corner paralyzing him, but eventually he realized it was his mind's way confronting his deepest fears and regrets. If his mom was hounding him about not calling more, there she would be in the dream, making him feel guilty. If he had messed up something in a work dream, it would be replayed again and again until he got it right.
And...when he met an attractive girl, well, his mind helped his body work out some of those issues too.
When he had walked into the empty warehouse and saw the prone form of who he would later find out was Ariadne, brilliant architecture student and newest member of the team, he knew he had a problem that would need to be worked out. Cobb had started without him, wanting to expose Ariadne to as few people as possible in their not-quite-legal endeavors until he was sure about her, but when he had seen her laying there, eyes moving rapidly beneath her eyelids, breath coming a little faster than normal and one leg propped up slightly, he figured it wouldn't hurt to stick around, you know, just to make sure everything was okay with the machine. And, of course, the reason he looked over at her so much was just to ensure that she wasn't struggling in her first shared dream experience.
Later, when she woke up, scared to death after her second dream, it had been autopilot for him to rush to her. She had gripped his arm above his watch so tightly it almost hurt and when she unleashed a verbal tirade on Cobb, he had to hide his smile. She was completely unafraid of him, a man who intimidated even the most hardened of professional extractors. Not only that, she was completely spot-on about Cobb's subconscious and the gravity of the situation with Mal. This, combined with the color high on her cheeks and the way that she had angrily stomped out of the warehouse, made it clear to him that this problem would need to be worked out immediately.
Cobb had hung around a little longer, looking smug at his new find and bragging about what she was able to create with such limited experience. He became quiet after a while, leaving eventually, lost in his own head and not bothering to say good-bye to Arthur.
Arthur gave him a few minutes, ensuring that he was really gone, and then he went to turn the deadbolt on the main door of the warehouse and hooked himself up.
A hotel room. Non-descript, but lavish. Modern, just like he preferred. Not that he cared about the decor when Ariadne was standing in front of him, scantily-clad in ridiculous lingerie that, despite having only met her briefly, he knew she would never wear. Lacy bra, frilly underwear, high heels that made her legs look they went for miles and a come hither smile all combined to make him hard in an instant.
His hands went to her hips, tugging her down until her legs were straddled on either side of his hips. Their mouths met, with none of the tentativeness of a first kiss. It was straight to business and his subconscious's projection of Ariadne both liked it rough and was rough herself. It had been a while since Arthur had been with a woman, in real life or in a dream. Cobb had kept him busy, running around the world and running through the minds of others, caught up in the desire to return to his children and infecting Arthur with the same level of urgency. He was channeling that urgency, along with the feelings of instant attraction that he had had for Ariadne, into this dream. By the end, he was sure that he had satisfied all his baser urges and would be able to work with the new architect with little to no problems.
However, the erection that he woke up from the dream with, despite being taken care of several times by the time he saw her again, came back with a vengeance when she showed up the next day, looking sheepish and admitting that she couldn't stay away. He could only grin at her, trying not to look like a pervert but wanting more than anything for her to know that he was glad she was back.
Cobb was gone. Off to Mombasa, in search of Eames and whatever other help he could find. He had left Arthur specific instructions to get Ariadne completely trained by the time he got back. It had meant long hours spent with Ariadne in dreams and keeping such close company with her made him realize that he liked her as more than just a cute face and a nice body. He actually liked her, as a person. When she was there with him, he tried his hardest to train her thoroughly, wanting her to succeed, not so Cobb would tell him that he did a good job, but so Ariadne would get the praise from Cobb that she so desperately sought. When she left at the end of the day, he missed her and wanted her to come back. Wanted to see her smile, make her laugh, watch her as she worked out a tricky maze at her workspace, chewing the end of her pen cap. He actually liked when she told him off for being a jerk, never letting him get away with anything, but always retaining a certain sweetness that was unbelievably appealing.
So he would dream of her. He tried to space it out, not do it too regularly, but within a few days, he was dreaming of her every day, sometimes twice or even three times. Each time, his mind had picked up a little bit more about her mannerisms or her way of talking or a detail about her body that would be incorporated into his projection of her and would make the dream seem even more vivid and real. There were times when he would come so hard in the dream that when he woke up, he would panic, worried that he had turned his sex dream into a wet dream and would need to drop his slacks off at a different dry-cleaner than normal to get them cleaned and pressed. Medium starch, crease down the front. Luckily, it hadn't come to that, but he wouldn't be surprised if Ariadne would be the one to make him lose control completely.
After Cobb came back with the full entourage in tow, Arthur began to miss the days when it was just him and Ariadne alone together in the warehouse, working on their own schedule and at their own pace. Now it was nonstop action, everyone coming and going at all hours.
Ariadne was changing, as well. Every day, she would look more and more concerned and tired, having heated conversations with Cobb about who knows what. Arthur knew that Cobb was still completely in love with Mal, despite the bitter and broken version of her that lived in his mind, and he didn't detect any romantic feelings toward Cobb coming from her, but the image of the two of them standing close together, Ariadne's eyes flashing at him with a passion that Arthur had never mustered in her, he couldn't help but feel the jealousy roll through him. However, he remained unflappable, always keeping his face calm and collected, despite the hands balled into fists that he stuffed in his pockets, one hand gripping his totem so tightly that it hurt.
He could still find time, though, to hook himself up. He only needed five minutes in real time. There was a lot he could do in an hour-long dream with Ariadne. One perk of having the others around was his ability to surreptitiously stare at her while she was interacting with the others or a member of the group. Her mannerisms and quirks never failed to work their way into his dreams, to pleasant effect.
When she picked up the habit of sitting in meetings with her hand wrapped tightly around her totem, her thumb absentmindedly skimming over the top, back and forth, back and forth, with her bottom lip between her teeth, he dreamed of them together in a dark corner of a room, him leaning over her, one hand on the wall behind him, while her hand worked over his dick, the thumb rubbing over the slit at the top. His mouth fit over hers, his tongue a little too eager in her mouth and his hand in her hair. The sounds coming from the back of her throat spurred him on, his hand trailing through her hair and over her breast, palming it through the multiple layers that his subconscious now knew were her standard wardrobe. No more skimpy lingerie and nurse outfits on this projection. Not that he minded. She was cute in her own clothes and he mostly cared about what was underneath anyway.
When she started to wear some sort of lipstick that made her full lips a dark red, the dreams became especially lascivious, a sexy Ariadne with dark eyes and red lips undressing him slowly and smearing red lipstick along his neck, across his chest and down his stomach. When she arrived at his pants, she kissed the fabric along his fly, pressing down slightly on his erection beneath and making him forget how hard it would be to get lipstick out of wool. The sight of those red lips wrapped around him made him pray that she was this skilled in real life and that he would be able to find out one day.
But the most surprising part was that when she looked like she was having a particularly bad day or that the dreams were becoming too much for her, his dreams would be filled with them on a soft bed and him kissing her even more softly, her hands touching him carefully while they lazily made love. It was tenderness and comfort and when he woke up his heart would hurt a little when he rolled his die out of force of habit and confirmed what he already knew; that it had all been a dream.
The best dreams, though, were still the ones where she was really there. No matter how well he knew her, it was never the same. He never quite got the proportions of her face correct and it was always such a pleasant surprise to see the subtleties that his mind couldn't pick up or project fast enough in his race to kiss her, to taste her, to touch her, to make her his for an hour at a time.
He couldn't tell if he was imagining it or if it was real, but she always seemed to end up standing next to him or asking him a question that anyone could have answered or laying in the chair next to him when they went under. He suspected that the others noticed, especially when one day Yusuf absentmindedly plopped into a chair, letting out a tired yawn and scrubbing his hand over his face. When he looked around, he caught sight of Arthur sitting next to him, hooking himself up to the machine, and he immediately jumped up to sit next to Eames. Ariadne came a second later, taking her place next to him and smiling a little to herself. He smiled with her, for no reason other than that she was sitting next to him smiling.
One day, Ariadne confided in him that she didn't think she was doing that good of a job, that she felt overwhelmed by all the new information and was afraid she wasn't making the levels complex enough to keep the subjects fooled. He had reached a tentative hand out to rub her upper arm, trying to be comforting but not sure if that's what she wanted. She stepped forward and put her arms around his waist, hugging him tightly. He was so surprised that he just stood there for a long beat before his arms went around her shoulders. She released a shaky sigh and he rested his cheek on top of her head, a little amused by how short she was in comparison to himself. He breathed in the smell of her hair, begging his subconscious to remember it for next time and trying not to get hard.
They heard the footsteps of the others coming closer so they broke apart, small smiles on their faces, though she still looked worried. As they talked about how to get Fischer alone and under for ten hours, she inched closer and closer to him, looking startled when Cobb said her name. The smile on her face when he told her she was doing a terrific job made his heart jump in his chest and when she looked at him with excitement and relief showing on her face, he smiled a genuine smile back at her, trying to convey how happy he was for her. It was a moment just for them and it was one he cherished.
It happened quickly, too quickly. It wasn't until later, sitting next to Ariadne in a hotel room in L.A. that he could try to make heads or tails of it.
It had started simply, the chain of events. Everyone had gone home for the night, leaving Arthur alone, ostensibly to pour over his notes one more time. Ariadne had taken one last long look at him and with the question of what she saw when she looked at him lingering in his brain, he hooked himself up, falling into a quick and effortless dream. It was in Paris, obvious enough from the architecture and the Eiffel Tower jutting into the sky, but, of course, no place that he had actually ever been.
He found himself walking up the stairs of a building split into apartments, a sense of home and familiarity in the dream that didn't usually occur. He came to the first door on the second level, opening the door like he lived there and stopped short when he saw the immediately recognizable figure of Ariadne standing there. For a moment, she looked nervous, as if she was worried that he had found her. He smiled at her, a broad, eager smile that he reserved for dream Ariadne on his face and she smiled back hesitantly, a hand stuffed in the pocket of her incredibly tight jeans.
"Hi," she said. "I hope you don't mind that I'm here."
"Not at all," he murmured, stepping across the room, knowing he only had a short time before he woke up and so he kissed her, fast and hard. She gave a muffled squeak, seemingly surprised by his advances. A shy Ariadne. It wasn't something he dreamed about a lot, but he immediately saw the potential in it. Breaking away from her mouth, he moved one hand to the side of her neck, pulling her closer and putting his lips as close as possible to her ear. "Is this okay?"
She let out a stuttering breath and nodded her head. He kissed lightly down her neck, stopping to suck on the skin there and she tilted her head back, letting out a small moan that had him pressing himself against her insistently.
She threaded her hands through his hair, pulling his face back to hers and kissing him with tender lips and a deliciously enthusiastic tongue. She was doing something different with her tongue, something unexpected, and he wanted to shake hands with his subconscious for providing this new wrinkle in his projection of Ariadne.
Conscious of the time, his hands went straight to the button of her jeans, sliding it through the hole with a practiced ease and unzipping them and pushing them down her hips without breaking the kiss. She gasped into his mouth, her eyes opening and looking at him in shock. He smiled into the kiss, closing his eyes and kissing her harder and she relented, melting back into the kiss again.
His hands went between her legs and it excited him to find how wet she was. For him. In his dreams, it was always just for him. "I love that," he whispered, as he slid his fingers into her.
"Yeah?" she asked, sounding uncertain, nothing like the usually confident projection of Ariadne. He could get used to this more timid, slightly different version of his dream girl. He inhaled deeply through his nose and the smell of her hair flooded his senses.
"Yeah," he mumbled, pushing her back onto the bed expediently placed directly behind them. She kicked her jeans the rest of the way off and shimmied out of her top and bra.
Arthur was quick to follow, removing his suit jacket and beginning to unbutton his vest from the bottom. "Wait!" she said, startling him a bit. "Leave it on?"
It took him only a split second to realize that this was a fantastic idea and he fell on top of her, fully clothed, while she laughed quietly into his neck. He managed to get one hand between them to unbutton and unzip and then her hand was in his pants, wrapped around him, the thumb going straight back to the slit and he panted into her neck, pushing his hips up to meet the downward movement of her hand.
"Arthur," she whispered. It wasn't a question, it wasn't a plea. It was just his name, an acknowledgement and he knew it was his subconscious's way of building a projection that loved him back, even if it was just for a moment, just in a dream.
He rolled on top of her, lining himself and meeting her eye, silently asking for permission, wanting to be a gentleman with this Ariadne. She nodded her head and closed her eyes, her mouth opening slightly when he entered her and bringing her legs up to wrap around his hips, her heels digging into the back of his thighs, making the wool rub against his skin.
They made love. There was no other word for it. Tender and slow, but full of passion and it was the best dream sex he had ever had. His heart broke a little when he woke up alone in the cold warehouse. He stared up at the ceiling, ignoring the feeling in his pants to contemplate the ache in his heart.
The sound of a chair leg scraping across concrete floor broke him out of his trance and he looked to where the noise came from, shocked to see Ariadne pulling a needle out of her wrist, her face blank, but her movements short and precise. He couldn't tell what she was thinking. He could only gape at her.
"Ariadne…that was really you?" he managed to choke out.
"I'm sorry. I was just…curious," she said, her voice emotionless.
He felt himself color a little, embarrassed of being caught. "You can't just do that! That dream was supposed to be private," he said, his voice getting louder as he went on. He felt like all his defenses were down and he didn't like it.
"Well, you didn't exactly seem surprised to see me there. It wasn't the first time we'd done that in your dreams, was it?" There it was. The first trace of some emotion and it was anger.
He opened his mouth to…defend himself or say something, anything, but before his mind could think something up, the sound of the metal door to the warehouse scraping on its hinges echoed through the space. Ariadne threw the strap of her bag over her head, her lips mashed together and Arthur felt like all hope was gone.
Cobb strode across the floor of the warehouse, looking only a little surprised to see them. Ariadne started talking before he could even say anything. "Arthur just had a couple of questions about the escape routes in his level." She wouldn't look at either of them, instead staring a hole into the floor.
Cobb shrugged. "I'm just here to wrap a few things up myself," he said, nodding his head once and wandering off to his own corner to get a machine ready.
The ever-present echo in the warehouse meant there was no way Arthur would be able to talk to Ariadne about what had just happened without cluing in Cobb to this mess. It was so un-Arthur-like to be doing something like this in the first place and then to get caught. He was kicking himself as he wrapped up his cord and made sure the machine was ready for the next dreamers.
"So you have nothing to say?" Ariadne asked to his back.
"What am I supposed to say?" he murmured, dejected and feeling like a teenager getting caught by his parents with his girlfriend, except it wasn't his parents, it was the real life version of his dream girl catching him. It was all so convoluted and strange, even for him. "Besides, you didn't exactly object," he said, tilting his head to her but not meeting her eye. He knew it was a jerk move, to point out her own actions, but he didn't want to be the kind of man who forced women into doing something they didn't want, dreams or not.
From his peripheral vision, he saw her look away. "No, I guess I didn't." She walked away, clutching her jacket over her stomach. He snapped the case shut, putting it next to the table for next time and left the warehouse, the cool night air doing nothing to clear his head.
Do you know what it is to be a lover? Half of a whole?
Ariadne winced, not because she didn't know what it was like, but because the memory of Arthur's dream was all too real in her mind.
She knew what it was to be a lover, but what tormented her was whether she was a half of a whole or the easiest target for Arthur's repressed subconscious. The worst part about it was that not knowing made her stupid, willingly traipsing through Cobb's damaged subconscious to have a terrifying conversation with Mal-cum-Cobb's guilty conscience.
Or maybe it wasn't the not knowing, because she had been feeling pretty stupid since she had woken up from her first shared dream to see a perfectly tailored GQ model staring down at her with soulful brown eyes and a sardonic smile. She had almost asked if they were still dreaming, but she had asked enough stupid questions already. Besides, she didn't think she would dream anyone with that deep of a voice and that pleated of a pant, not that she minded in the least.
So, she took out her annoyance and aggression on Cobb, angry that his subconscious had pinpointed such a sensitive issue and thrown it back in her face. As she quietly reamed Cobb out for the prison he kept Mal in, Arthur and Saito walked up announcing that it was time. Arthur's calm façade made her stomach hurt and her head feel light.
Yes, she knew what it was to be a lover, but not half of a whole.
Sitting next to Ariadne, who was dressed sharply in a suit with her hair pulled back, was more than a little disconcerting for Arthur. This is work. Strictly work, he reminded himself, while not looking at her legs. No, not looking at her legs in those shoes that he recognized from his first dream at all. Also not wondering if she was ticklish behind the knee. Or if she would be more ticklish if he touched her with his fingers or his tongue. He was the consummate professional.
What was worse was she was being even more professional than he was. Hardly even looking at him, to be honest, which helped in his non-appraisal of her legs but not in his desire to see her eyes.
She was asking him questions about Mr. Charles in her straightforward, simple way. He was answering her in the way they had established, straightforward and to the point. This was why they worked well together. No question was stupid and all answers were given quickly and to the point.
If only she would look at him, it would all be okay.
The projections were getting restless. Everyone's eyes but Ariadne's were on him and he was desperate to change that and that desperation was feeding into the projections's restlessness. It was a mess and combined with the Mr. Charles gambit, things were about to turn ugly.
"Quick, give me a kiss."
Their eyes met and the desperation seeped out of him. Their lips met and he tried not to let other desperations seep into it.
"They're still looking at us."
He didn't say it, but he could tell they were at least calmer, for now.
"It was worth a shot."
As they beat a hasty retreat, he was sure that she thought he couldn't see her small smile or the twinkle in her eye, but they gave him hope that maybe he could be honest with her.
On the elevator ride up, her face was once again blank, but that didn't discourage him.
"I like you. A lot." Her head snapped around and she looked at him for a brief moment before slowly turning her head back toward the front of the elevator, but he could see the blush on her cheeks in the reflection of the elevator door. She was a very good architect, after all. Never forgot a detail. "I have dreamed about you, quite a bit actually, and I'm sorry that you had to find out like that." He had resolved that he wouldn't offer any excuses for his behavior. Just an apology.
"It was private and I never should have seen it anyway, so I apologize for that." She shifted awkwardly on her feet and muttered, "I think I learned my lesson on going uninvited into other people's dreams pretty thoroughly by now."
A silence followed and he still wasn't sure where he stood, but he was too proud to ask her how she felt. Luckily for him, as the elevator stopped, she turned to face him. "I like you too," she said. Simple, straightforward, Ariadne. She stepped forward as the doors slid open and wrapped her arms around his waist like she had before in another dream. The high heels made her taller than normal and as he ran one hand up and down her back, he was able to lean forward slightly and kiss the top of her head, inhaling her scent again and reveling in it.
The doors began to slide shut and Arthur darted his hand out to stop it. They had a job to do. A big job that left no room for error. "We'll talk after?"
She nodded and walked out of the elevator, assuming a professional air once more and he breathed a sigh of relief.
Soaking wet and sitting on the bank of a river across from an industrial park, Arthur leaned over and whispered into Ariadne's ear. "Chateau Marmont, room 88."
She shivered and nodded and nothing further was said.
When they woke up on the plane, Ariadne immediately unbuckled her seatbelt and stood up. She dug into her pocket and emerged with her totem gripped tightly in her hand and walked quickly to the bathroom, a little unsteady on her feet, her mouth set into a grim, worried line.
Arthur's worry increased with each passing minute that she spent in the bathroom and just as he was about to unbuckle and follow her, she emerged, the hair around her face a little wet and her eyes pink and a little puffy. He could see the outline of her totem safely secured back in her pants pocket.
As she sat down, he leaned forward. "Are you okay?"
"I think so. I don't know," she said, not turning to look at him. A pause followed and quieter, she asked. "Tonight? At your hotel?"
He nodded, despite the fact that she couldn't see him. "We could share a cab." He heard Eames snort from across the cabin, but he chose to take the higher road and ignore him.
"Sounds good," she said, noncommittally.
She stood close to him as they were getting their luggage, as always, and he resisted the urge to put his arm around her, as always. She had a pretty killer thousand yard stare going on and he didn't want to disturb her, so when her bag came first, he grabbed that and then his own. He put his hand on her elbow and guided her toward the line of cabs. As they were waiting in line, she finally looked up at him and he watched her face crumble.
She fell into his arms and sobbed. He shuffled her into a cab and she curled up in his lap, crying her eyes out. He sensed that she didn't need him to talk, just to hold her, so he did.
About halfway to the hotel, she put her lips next to his ear and began to whisper. "I shot Mal. In front of James and Phillipa." Her breath comes out with a long shuddering sound. "In front of Cobb. And then I just left him. Left him alone to find Saito. I killed the one thing he had in limbo and then jumped." He was silent as she buried her face in his neck and cried more. "Who am I, Arthur? What happened to me?"
And that he would not stand. He understood the need to talk about a particularly difficult mission, but letting her think it had changed her on some basic level and made her a bad person was unacceptable.
He pulled her away and the shock on her face was evident, but he wanted – needed – her to see his face when he said this. "You did what you had to do. Your responsibility in the dream is first to yourself to get out safely and then to ensure that your team members get out and finally to complete the mission successfully." She began to shake her head, but he cut her off. "You did what you had to do. You did what Cobb trained you to do and you did a good job." It was a truth he had barely begun to learn for himself, but under no circumstances did he want Ariadne to be infected with the same regrets he had.
"I did?" she asked, quietly.
"Yes," he said, as empathically as he could.
She nodded slowly and sank back into his side, sniffling quietly. They arrived at his hotel and he took care of getting the keys and getting their bags to their room, while she sat silently in an oversized chair in the lobby. He took her hand and led her to the elevators and he pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her.
"Let me take care of you."
"Do you really want to?"
"Yes, I do." He leaned down to catch her lips in a kiss. It was different than the dream embraces they had shared. It was real and quiet and they kept their eyes open, saying everything and nothing to each other with just a look.
When they broke apart, he continued his thought.