This is the last chapter. It's been a privilege writing for you guys and I hope you've enjoyed the trip as much as I have. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this story—what you liked, what you didn't like, and what I can improve on. Thanks so much!
Arthur is curled up on the couch when Ariadne gives up on sleeping sometime in the early morning. She can see him in the streetlights that filter in through the cracked venetian blinds covering the front window. His suit jacket is draped over him and Ariadne feels a twinge of guilt for not thinking to offer him a blanket.
She tiptoes past him into the kitchen, where one poorly planned step makes the floor creak. She knows before she turns that he's looking at her. His eyes are back in the mottled light.
"Couldn't sleep?" Arthur guesses, sitting up. His shirt is wrinkled and he rubs a hand over his face.
"No," Ariadne says. "Don't you have somewhere to stay?"
"I'm at the Sofitel, but it's on the other side of town and it was late by the time Eames and I got through with our talk. He said I could stay here, but if it bothers you I can go."
He's already getting up when she walks over to him. His expression is closed off as she steps into his space and puts her mouth on his. He doesn't react at first, and Ariadne lifts her hands up to cradle his head, pulling it down to give her a better angle.
She means it to be a quick kiss, but the instant his lips start to move against hers Ariadne opens her mouth, as if she can make up for three months of pain with one perfect moment.
He pulls her down with him until he's lying on his back on the couch and she's on her side pressed into the nonexistent space between him and the back of the sofa. The kiss breaks on their way down, but it gives them both a second to breathe.
He runs a finger along the edge of her ear. "I thought you and Eames were…"
"No," she says, "Not like that."
There's hope hiding behind his eyes.
It doesn't feel right after what he did, but it does feel good, so she pushes the emotions down and focuses on the sensations of being so close to him.
That's how Eames finds them.
"Long night?" He asks as he walks past them into the kitchen. His voice is formal, and Ariadne guesses it takes more than one night to forgive someone for shooting you, even if it's sort of your fault they ended up in that situation in the first place.
She drags herself off the couch and follows him into the kitchen. "I was going to make coffee."
"I can tell you really got far on it." Eames ducks his head out of the kitchen at the same time Ariadne hears Arthur say, "Can I help with anything?"
"You can sit down and stay out of the way," Eames says, moving to the fridge and grabbing the carton of eggs, a bell pepper, and an onion.
Ariadne finishes setting up the coffee maker and turns it on before grabbing a cutting board, knife, and the vegetables Eames pulled from the fridge.
"So," Eames says, reaching for a skillet and a large bowl. "Have you two kissed and made up?"
Eames' voice is too loud. There's no way Arthur can't hear him from the living room.
Maybe that's the point.
Ariadne doesn't say anything as she slices, partially because she doesn't want to talk to him with Arthur listening in, and partially because she doesn't know.
Eames begins to hum a song she doesn't recognize and the sound of her knife on the cutting board accents the rhythm.
His cane hangs from the edge of the counter between them.
Breakfast is awkward. The tension between Eames and Arthur is palpable, and Ariadne pushes food around her plate and refills her coffee mug twice.
Afterward Arthur—proper, exacting Arthur—doesn't seem to know when he's overstayed his welcome. He lingers, offering to help with dishes and wandering around the living room looking at things when his offer is refused by Eames. Finally, he turns to Ariadne and offers to take her out for coffee.
They don't say much on the walk to the coffee shop on the corner. Ariadne orders a raspberry mocha and Arthur gets an Americano. The shop is crowded, but they manage to find a table in a corner.
"Tell me what you're thinking," Arthur prompts.
She takes a deep breath and stares down at her cup. "I don't know. You lied to me. You lied to me for three months, and it wasn't a white lie either. Do you know what it's like to think someone you…to think someone is dead?"
Arthur runs a hand over his hair. "I was close to Mal and she died, but I know it's not at all the same. If there had been another way I would have taken it, but Cobb and Yusuf's plan was the only option we had."
She's had this sort of conversation before, except with Eames. The story of people backed into corners making decisions that hurt her.
They make uncomfortable small talk as they finish their drinks.
Ariadne doesn't know what possesses her to take up his offer to visit his hotel room that night. He followed her around as she went about her day and at the end of it he invited her over.
It's easier to talk with actions than it is with words, so when Arthur closes the door Ariadne brushes her lips against his.
Arthur spins them around, pressing Ariadne's back to the door as he kisses her like they're running out of time. He dips his head to plant kisses and nips in the contours of her neck—gestures that make her shiver—before pulling back.
He doesn't speak until he's caught her gaze. "I've missed you so damn much and I am so sorry for everything I put you through."
She kisses him again to make him stop talking. Pulls him toward the bed to overwhelm the thoughts and apprehensions that won't sit quiet inside her mind.
His hands move everywhere, starting gently but growing more instant as she returns the touch. His eyes have taken on a look of adoration and she won't meet them because she's not ready to see that in his face again. Not after everything.
Their clothes are almost gone when he pulls away from her.
"What?" she demands.
"You won't look at me."
"I don't want this to be something that we do just because it's something that we did. I love you, and I don't want to go any further until you're at least comfortable with that. If we don't get to that point because of what I've done then I understand and I'm sorry."
He's sitting in the middle of the bed in boxer shorts, his watch, and a look of calm sincerity, and Ariadne's the one feeling under dressed. She had expected, logically, that three months and faking his own death would change him in some way, but she could have predicted he'd pull away if she'd been thinking about it, because that's how he is; never does things in part, never lets things go half-assed.
She watches him waiting patiently for her response and she realized that, as much as she wishes it weren't true for the sake of her anger, he's the same exact man she fell in love with, and she will love him until the stars come down.
She climbs into his lap and kisses him. It starts slow and simple, and escalates until they're back to where they left off.
In the morning she goes to talk with Eames.
"I take it our long lost lovers are back together again," he says as she steps through the door, looking up from the laundry he's folding on the couch. "Thank god it was such a minor inconvenience that he lied to you for months."
"It was wrong and he knows that," the tells him. "I wasn't happy about it—trust me—but it's Arthur, and he's alive."
"And you went running back to him like a love-sick puppy."
Ariadne rounds the couch until they're standing face to face. "It's my choice, Eames, and it's not like he's the only one who deceived me, who deceived the whole damn team."
Eames folds the shirt in his hands and reaches for another. "I know, love, I know."
She picks up a pair of sweatpants. The two of them fold in silence for a few minutes.
"So what happens now?" Eames asks.
"We have to get out of the country. Arthur's already changed his name and papers, but it would be safer if we left." She slowly turns to him. "You could come with us if you wanted to. We could find somewhere to hide out and keep working." As she says it she wonders if Arthur would ever consider working with Eames again.
"I'm not thick headed enough to go back to dream work after everything, Ariadne."
"How can you avoid it?" She's already feeling the pull of the dream world. She was feeling it within one month of everything going to hell, and it's only gotten worse.
He shrugs and looks away. "I'll forgive him, eventually," he says quietly. "I'm just not there yet. Maybe I'll join you then. Not for work, though, just to get out of the country for a while."
"That would be good."
"Meeting his in-laws and kids in Italy."
Eames nods. "I can't imagine what that mind trip must be like for them."
"At least the kids get a dad."
They finish with the pile of laundry and transfer it back into the laundry basket. Ariadne grabs the basket and carries it to Eames' room before he can protest.
She's going to miss this easy domesticity that she has with him. If it was anyone but Arthur she was switching lives for it wouldn't be worth it.
Eames smiles at her, and she catches a sliver of sadness in his features.
The silver briefcase looks smooth and professional, even seated on the corner of the bed. Ariadne's heartbeat speeds when she sees it.
"Do you miss it?" Arthur asks her.
It's seventeen hours and counting until they catch a plane to Bangkok. Ariadne has one bag resting by the door of his hotel room. In three months she hasn't accumulated much.
He unwinds the tubing, and they place the needles in their arms and lie back on the bed.
She builds some of the skylines she's been dreaming about since the last job. It's cathartic to watch them rise out of nothing at her wish.
"I'm staying with you," he tells her, balanced on the impossibly narrow bridge she built over a sea of dark water. "No more lies and no more tricks."
She watches him step, one foot solidly in front of the other, watches the smooth-sharp lines of his face.
And she believes him.