Robert/Ariadne ate my brain. Don't get me wrong, Arthur/Ariadne is my original Inception pairing and a lot of fun, but I must go unconventional. This still contains some Arthur, though - the one-shot was supposed to focus only on Robert and Ariadne, but somehow Arthur managed to worm his way in there. =)

This operates under the idea that Cobb is still asleep.

Disclaimer: Inception isn't mine. I only wish I were that creative.

~ Islands in the Sky ~

"I know you from somewhere."

It's not a question, and it's not a statement, not quite. Maybe something in between, or something stronger: a belief. Whatever it is, it slips into Ariadne's ears while she is cradled in the soft comfort of a dream - a normal one, not one induced by drugs or a machine invented to pry open a person's mind.

Instinctively, the first thing Ariadne does is reach for her totem. She feels the hollowed metal in her jeans pocket and relaxes, relieved that she isn't really meeting Robert Fischer face-to-face on a wharf overlooking the peaceful ocean. Relieved that she is dreaming, and that this isn't reality, because if it was she doesn't think she could run away from the guilt of seeing the man whose mind she broke into.

"I think I was dreaming," Robert murmurs to himself. He's dressed in a pair of slacks and a white shirt, and vaguely Ariadne wonders how he can sound so lucid. Her usual dreams are never this clear.

Robert makes a confused sound in the back of his throat and shakes himself, staring around him. They are the only two people on the wharf, surrounded by little seafood and souvenir shops on all sides, and at the beginning of the wharf lies a gleaming city bustling with noise.

"I'm sorry," Robert says quietly, and stretches out his hand to her. "I forgot to introduce myself. I'm Robert."

"Ariadne," she answers without thinking. An instant later she curses herself, thinking that there is something off about this dream, that the only way it can be so clear is if she's being incepted. Or maybe...maybe Robert is what's wrong with the dream. He is much too lucid and alert, too real.

"Hello, Ariadne." Robert blinks, looking around himself, his blue eyes wide. "I...can't remember how I got here."

Ariadne studies those eyes, bluer and clearer than the waves curling on the shore, and suddenly the urge to protect him, to lead him out of the ruins of the dream-maze she created, is overwhelming. "Don't worry," she says softly, an understanding smile on her lips. "I can't either."

"You look tired."

Arthur's voice startles Ariadne out of her self-induced daze, like a horn blaring at her through a thick fog. She sits up straighter in her chair and glances around the coffee shop with bleary, swollen eyes. This is like the morning after cramming for a final exam: disjointed, slow, surreal. Even the point-man sitting across the table from her doesn't seem real. She reaches for the totem in her pocket for comfort.

"I've been getting a little too much sleep lately," she admits sheepishly.

"Too much?" Arthur raises an eyebrow, his dark eyes glistening with amusement. "Well, that's something new."

"I was a regular college student before you and Cobb came in," Ariadne says. "Not getting enough sleep was normal for me."

Something gleams in Arthur's gaze like a laugh, but his lips only twitch. He leans back, suddenly all business again. Ariadne almost sighs. That's the way it always is with him. One second, he'll be teasing her, leaning in close with a gleam in his eye and a chuckle ready on the lips that kissed her. And then he'll snap back behind his inscrutable mask, all focus and determination, and she is left wobbling on the edge of a deep, bottomless chasm, while he is poised and steady on the other side. Something about this entire game with him is incredibly exhausting. Without meaning to, Ariadne finds herself turning to thoughts of her next meeting with Robert. Twelve long, consecutive nights they have met, and each time only increased the feeling that she was discovering something important. She's just not quite there yet.

"Cobb," Arthur says. Ariadne sits up with a jolt, blinking furiously. He sits there with an apprehensive expression on his handsome face, a strangely open show of emotion for him. Ariadne's face fills with color.

"Um...I'm sorry, Arthur, what?"

He frowns and folds his arms in frustration. "I said, it's been more than a month since the job with Fischer. The rest of the team's been thinking that maybe it's time we replaced Cobb. Just temporarily," he adds hurriedly, seeing the stunned expression on her face. "We all want him to wake up, Ariadne, but it's been too long. Without an extractor, the team is directionless."

"He'll wake up," Ariadne states firmly. He promised me he would make it out. I'm not going to give up on that promise.

A pained look crosses Arthur's face. "Ariadne..."

"I'm sorry." She gets to her feet, slinging her bag over her shoulder and tossing a couple of bills on the table. "I have to"

They both know that's not really why she's leaving, but Ariadne pretends that she doesn't see the consternated look on his face, the look that says he wanted to say something more.

That night, Robert and Ariadne meet beneath the stars. She doodles lines of multi-colored fire into the night sky while she waits, connecting the bright white dots. Her skin fills with warmth, letting her know that he's there before she even sees him.

"The Big Dipper," his cultured voice announces as she lights up the final line in a constellation. He sits down beside her, dressed in his usual formal attire. Ariadne pulls her knees to her chest and smiles at him.

"You're familiar with constellations?"

"No, but everyone knows that one." The glare of the fire in the sky lances across his face, making his eyes gleam with brilliant color. She feels at ease with him, as if she has nothing to hide, even though she knows she has everything to hide. The inception, kicking him off the building in limbo, turning him against Browning, planting ideas in his head. Even with all of this between them, things he can't know, she feels more comfortable with him than with anyone else.

Maybe that's starting to be a problem. He's a dream. Isn't he?

"I'm not entirely sure what's happening anymore," Robert says suddenly. He turns his head to look at her full-on, facing her with a smoldering intensity she's never seen from him before. It feels like the fire she lit in the sky is suddenly racing through her veins, shortening her breath, making her heart pound. And Ariadne suddenly knows, just knows, as she knew that Cobb was hiding something the instant she met him, that she is in trouble.

She's falling for something that's not real, a happy delusion out of her own mind.

"This is a dream," Robert continues, "but it feels so...real. It's like you're really here, beside me."

Ariadne blinks, startled out of her musings. What he describes is exactly how she feels. Is it possible? This is a dream, but she may not be the only real thing in here. She remembers hearing something about connections formed between people's minds, how some connections are established from birth, and others form after life-changing events. The inception certainly was life-changing.

"I'm real," she says slowly, meeting his eye. "And so are you."

Relief lances through his expression. With a shock, Ariadne realizes that he believes her. Just does. As if he trusts her.

"Good," he says, and leaves it at that.

Robert is plastered all over the news. It's died down somewhat since he announced the dissolving of his father's energy company, but the reporters persist in milking the subject for all it's worth.

"Fischer's mental health called into question," read the tabloid headlines, "Future of Fischer empire uncertain," "Business relationships strained," and on, and on.

Ariadne wishes for a way to contact Robert, other than meeting him in her dreams. She wants to hear his voice, his real voice, in her ear, wants to comfort and shield him against everything lobbed his way.

But she can't, and not just because she doubts she would be able to get through his personal security. She's afraid of what might happen if she's wrong, and the dream-Robert isn't the real Robert, but a shade, a memory, as Mal was to Cobb.

She needs to talk to someone. Before she knows what she's doing, her fingers have searched for and dialed the number, and she's holding her cell phone to her ear.

"You've reached Fischer Enterprise. Our business hours are..." A woman's voice intones. Ariadne ends the call, strangely disappointed - the sun's not even up yet, why does she expect anyone to answer her call - and dials in another number. She waits for three rings before there is an answer.

"Hello?" Arthur's voice is smudged with sleep. "Ariadne? Do you have any idea what time it is?"

Yes, she wants to say, I know it's four in the morning, but I can't sleep because I think I may be falling in love with a figment of my imagination, and if I sleep he'll be there, and I don't know if I can face him like this. But she doesn't. Instead, she hears herself saying, "I know I probably won't be able to resist it for long, because it's like Cobb said - addicting - but if you're doing another inception, count me out. I might fall in love with this mark, too."

"What?" Arthur asks, but she's already hung up.

She and Robert meet every night for a year. Ariadne barely wakes up from these dreams in time to live her real life, but no matter what she tries, she can't bring herself to leave. She loves the way he looks at her, the way he confides in her about his troubles, small and large, the way he smiles and laughs around her. She loves the way he makes her feel loved.

"I want to meet you," he says one day, threading his fingers through her hair as they lie in the middle of a field of grass. Ariadne leans her head against his chest and draws islands in the endless blue sky. Each one is small, perfect, and another sign that what she has with him might not be real.

"What?" Ariadne sits up and gives him a confused stare. Robert only smiles and presses a loving kiss to her forehead.

"I want to meet you. The real you," he explains. A chuckle rises in his chest. "I'm not sure about you, but people are starting to worry about how much I sleep."

Ariadne smiles and rests her head against his chest, listening to his heartbeat. It's hard to remember that this is only a dream. "I'm surprised you haven't tried looking for me yet."

"Um." Robert stirs, and when she looks up his cheeks are red. "I have. It's just that you're a hard woman to pin down."

"Ah." It's true. Ever since the inception job, she's been moving around from place to place, never too far, but far enough, apparently. Ariadne smiles and shifts the upper half of her body over Robert. Her hair hangs down and frames his handsome face.

"I think we should meet," she agrees. She hasn't seen him so joyful and excited since their first kiss.

"I'm glad you think so," he murmurs, and then she is lost in his kisses, and they don't speak anymore.

Ariadne is a nervous wreck. There was a reason she moved around so much, a reason Robert couldn't find her. She's known that he would come looking for her even before he admitted he would. It's who he is. She's only lucky he waited this long to bring it up. Because she isn't sure what she'll do if he isn't what she thought he is.

She waits by a fountain in the middle of a park, watching the clear water fall down in fat droplets. Nervousness rises in her stomach, and though she sits utterly still, appearing composed to the casual viewer, she's trying to be brave. Trying not to run and preserve what she and Robert have, if only in dreams.

Polished shoes enter her field of vision and come to a stop in front of her. Ariadne's heart siezes in her chest.

"You're here," his beloved voice says, a hint of wonder mixed in with the relief. "You're not just a dream."

Ariadne looks up. And there he is, smiling at her as if she is the sun after an endless rain storm, loving her.

"Ariadne," he says.

She grins, feeling her spirit soar, and goes to him.

A/N: Reviews are love. =)