Warming up

Fascination

Even though the days passed so much more quickly in the constructed dreams, time in the actual world did not stand still either. Ariadne was reminded of this on an early September morning, when she stepped out of her small apartment to head for the warehouse where the preparation for the Fischer job would continue.

An involuntary shiver went down her spine and only when she looked up at the sky, she realized that the sun wasn't shining anymore. Instead, the sky was nothing but a collection of countless clouds in various shades of gray. Summer was over, at least for a while, and she was completely unprepared for autumn's arrival.

Being late already, she didn't have the time to get back inside and change into clothing more suitable for the season. She was sure however that the temperature in the warehouse would be as pleasant as always and the walk towards it was only a short one anyway.

But when she arrived in the warehouse fifteen minutes later, she was trembling with cold. Even increasing her walking speed hadn't been enough to warm her up and Ariadne was thankful that at least it wasn't raining. The fact that she had been completely unaware of the change of weather bothered her as much as the cold did: was she already so lost in the dreams that she didn't notice such things in the real world anymore until it was too late? The days that she used to check the weather forecast before choosing her outfit couldn't be that long ago.

Entering the warehouse, she greeted the other members of the team and settled herself behind her desk. She continued her work where she had stopped the previous night and lost track of everything when she tried to perfect the complex mazes that she had been designing the past few days.

Only when Eames's voice alerted her that it was time for their lunch break, Ariadne realized that she was feeling even colder than when she arrived that morning. Only then she became aware of the cold draft inside the large room. Doubtlessly the streams of air had always been there, finding their way inside through holes and gaps in the walls of the old building, but until very recently the temperature in the warehouse had been such that she didn't notice them.

It was Yusuf's turn to get lunch for the entire team from the small shop around the corner and although Ariadne usually loved to get out of the warehouse for a few minutes, she was glad that she could stay inside this time. At least it was still dry inside the building and judging from Yusuf's appearance when he returned, the same couldn't be said for outside.

No matter how much she loved the new world that she was offered, the lunch break was one of her favorite parts of the day. It was the only moment that all the team members stopped working for a short time simultaneously and although she had no idea why this habit was maintained in their line of work (it seemed very out of place, so... traditional), she liked to observe her new colleagues in the more informal setting.

Yusuf and Eames were talking together about some kind of gadget that Ariadne hadn't even heard of. She smiled inwardly as she listened to them; although they were grown men, they sounded just like children when they were talking like that.

Cobb was staring off into the distance, toying with his totem even as he was eating. It was a sight that she couldn't get used to, even though it was far from an exception to see him like this. It hurt her to know that he was still tormented by the memory of Mal, even though she didn't know exactly what had happened between them. She could only imagine how he felt right now, so close to a reunion with his children but so far away at the same time.

Arthur was the last of her colleagues who she focused her gaze on. He was dressed as impeccably as always, even though there didn't seem to be any need for it – it was just the five of them after all, spending another day preparing for the inception.

Even though this was their only actual break of the day, the point man seemed to be working even as he was eating a sandwich. Or at least, he was staring intently at the screen of his phone and for some reason, she highly doubted that he was reading a message from a family member or perhaps a girlfriend. Although she didn't actually know him, she sensed that he was a man who didn't maintain close relationships with other humans.

He studied people and he worked with them, but he didn't truly interact with him, didn't live with them. Just the fact that he was the only one of the team who hadn't opened up to her in a matter of days and didn't make small talk with her, proved to her that he wasn't a very social person.

Or at least, that's what Ariadne thought when she was looking at him. And yet, at the same time she had the feeling that he was a truly fascinating man who was hiding a lot behind the perfectly neutral expression on his face and the flawlessly ironed fabric of his suit.

The men that she worked with were the most interesting ones she had ever met, but Arthur somehow intrigued her most, even though she hardly knew anything about him. They had worked together for weeks and they had shared a few dreams, but she had hardly learned anything about him as he had told her more about paradoxes than her mind could process.

Ariadne had been convinced that Arthur was absorbed in whatever it was that he was doing. However, he looked up, almost as if he had felt her attention. Their gazes met for a moment and the architect looked away as quickly as she could, her cheeks reddening now that he had caught her looking at him.

Horrified at her own physical reaction – she was allowed to look at her colleague, wasn't she? - she promised herself not to look into the point man's direction for the rest of the day.

Acting as if nothing had happened, she focused her attention on the coffee that Yusuf had bought her, savoring the heat of it as long as it lasted and trying to forget that she had just stared at Arthur for several minutes.

The cup of coffee was empty far too early for her liking and even as she just held the still hot cup to warm her hands, she found herself shivering with cold once more.

"Hey guys," she said, feeling somewhat uncomfortable when four pair of eyes focused on her. During moments like this she was always horribly aware of the fact that she was both the youngest member of the team, and the only female one. "It's pretty cold in here, isn't it?"

She looked around hopefully – surely there was someone who agreed with her or at least knew how to stay warm in the large room. They had been working in the cold warehouse a lot longer than she had, after all.

As she looked at the clothing of her colleagues instead of watching their behavior like she had done earlier, she realized however that she was the only one who was still wearing clothes that were only suitable for sunny summer days.

A sudden pouring of rain that was so loud that it could be heard inside the room, combined with the wind that howled around the old building, made her feel even more ridiculous. This was not just bad weather, this was weather of the kind that people were warned for on television and on the radio. Obviously, she was the only one who had missed it.

"It's not that cold," Yusuf replied, and Eames nodded in agreement. The two, having lost their interest, continued their conversation, but not before the forger winked at her suggestively.

Rolling her eyes at him, she looked at Cobb, but the extractor just shrugged when he returned her look. His thoughts were clearly not with the Parisian weather, and probably not in France at all.

The point man was the last one she expected to get a reply from, and the last one she wanted to look at after he had just found her staring at him. But even now that she was holding the empty cup of coffee, her fingers were getting stiff and cold, and if it continued like that she wasn't sure whether she'd be able to hold her pencil at the end of the day. If he had any suggestion of how to stay warm, she'd like to hear it.

Arthur's expression was as neutral as ever and although he was sitting further away from her than the others, there was no way that he couldn't have heard her question. Instead of replying however, he had given up all pretense of taking a break and was scribbling fanatically in one of his little notebooks once more.

Another gust of wind seemed to find its way right through the walls as if they weren't there at all, and as Ariadne suppressed a shiver, she was sure that there was no way that the men didn't feel this at all. But she was feeling ridiculous enough already and decided not to press the point.

She continued glaring at Arthur instead, taking in his three piece suit. Today he was wearing a gray colored one and even though it had probably cost the same amount of money as she spent during several months, she highly doubted that the fabric, no matter how expensive it was, could keep him warm during such a day. The man had to be completely engrossed in his work, even during his break, not to be aware of the bad weather that seemed to invade the warehouse more and more. Fascinating, albeit rather strange, indeed.

The other team members finished their lunch and went back to work, just like Ariadne herself. She pulled her scarf tighter around her neck as she focused on her mazes once more.

She didn't feel as cold anymore as she had been now that she was working again, but the shivers that occasionally still ran down her spine were distracting her from the paradoxes she was supposed to create for the Fischer job. And so was the point man, who was sitting on the opposite side of the warehouse, his posture as straight as always even as hour after after hour passed. In spite of herself, she found herself casting curious glances at him every once in a while.

Thus it was no surprise that her work wasn't finished yet when the other team members gradually completed their work for the day, wished her luck with the rest of her task and left the warehouse. Or at least, when even Cobb bade her goodnight she thought that everyone was gone.

Only after half an hour later she realized that the warehouse wasn't deserted except for herself after all. She caught a glimpse of something that wasn't as dark as the rest of the area outside the circle of light of her desk lamp, and realized Arthur was still working too. Unlike her, he was surrounded by darkness, the laptop he was apparently working on standing like some sort of wall between them.

Seeing how much he had done that day she highly doubted that he was still there because he had been distracted like she had been, both by the coldness and the man himself. The thought of the point man being distracted by anyone or anything actually seemed a very unlikely one to her.

She didn't allow herself to waste any more time by wondering what could possibly cause Arthur to lose the focus on his work. She still needed to test whether her mazes and the paradoxes they included were good enough before showing them to the actual dreamers; and if she wanted to get home before she was completely exhausted and frozen, she'd better hurry.

Besides, testing the dream would be the most unpleasant part of the day and she wanted to be done with it as soon as possible. It was not the actual dream that she feared – her subconscious would be a pleasant place to stay indeed at this moment – but what would happen later. After the twenty minutes that she would need in the actual world to completely test the maze-like building that she had designed during the past few days, her body would be very stiff and trembling with cold at best.

She knew that it was all her own fault; the only thing she could do was complete her work for the day as quickly as she could, and made sure to work harder and to keep paying attention to things that weren't work related in the future.

She looked at Arthur for a moment and decided not to tell him that she was going into a dream; she highly doubted that he would notice, let alone care. It was not that she had the impression that he did it on purpose – he had been nothing but kind and patient with her when she needed that during her first days on the job - but he usually just seemed to be focused so much on his own work to pay much attention to others. She had to admit though that she didn't blame him at all; she had no idea how he managed to deal with all the information the way he did with apparent ease in the first place.

Ariadne made her way to a lawn chair and the PASIV machine next to it. She switched on a lamp next to it, creating a new circle of light in the darkness, and quickly read her notes one more time. She sighed as she sat down, stretching her limbs once more, and was unaware of Arthur, who was watching her.

She made sure to give the complex building that she was going to inspect in her dream a pleasant temperature as she carefully connected herself to the PASIV device and activated the machine.

The architect closed her eyes and when she opened them again, she was standing inside the hotel that the team was going to need in the second level of the inception. The temperature wasn't as high as she had hoped, but it wasn't a strange thing seeing that her actual body was still in the warehouse. Either way, in her dream the temperature was a lot more pleasant than in reality.

She began walking through the lobby, paying special attention to the boundaries of the dream, making sure that they were indeed as flawless as was necessary.

As she worked, this time not bothered by the temperature or the rather mysterious point man who was always present, the hours seemed to fly by. Before Ariadne knew it, both her body and mind were on the uncomfortable lawn chair once again.

She took a deep breath, carefully moving her limbs a little to find out how much of her body still actually functioned. To her surprise, she didn't have any trouble while trying to move. In fact, she was hardly feeling cold at all. If it hadn't been for the hard steel of the lawn chair behind her back, she would've thought that she was still dreaming.

Only when she sat up, she noticed the material that had been covering her when she slept. It slid off her because of the upright movement, but intuitively she managed to grab it before it fell on the floor.

A moment later, she found herself staring at a piece of gray fabric. As she studied the material, she realized that it was a jacket.

Her day had been full of surprises, but this was certainly the biggest one. Someone had covered her with the jacket while she slept, knowing that she was cold. There was only one other person in the warehouse, only one person who could've done this for her.

Arthur.

She looked up, but his desk was deserted and his laptop was gone. Truly confused now, she gently touched the fabric. As she did so, she became aware of a vaguely familiar smell of soap and aftershave. Unable to resist the temptation, she moved the jacket closer to her face and inhaled deeply.

She recognized the smell now; it had been there, right beside her, when she had been terrified after just having been murdered in a dream for the first time, and when they had climbed a part of endless stairs together.

The scent – Arthur's scent - was somehow pleasant and reassuring, and she found herself breathing in once again, actually feeling calmer as she did so.

The sound of a throat that was being cleared interrupted her thoughts and when she looked up, she found Arthur standing right in front of her. For the second time that day she blushed, but this time she was much more horrified and humiliated than before. Being caught staring at him was nothing compared to being found sniffing his jacket, after all. And she knew how seriously the point man his clothing took. Well, she didn't know exactly, but she had a good idea.

"Is your work of the day finished?"

There was no trace of anger or even mockery in his voice, and it took Ariadne a moment to process the unexpectedly normal question.

"Y-yes," she replied.

It wasn't completely true; she still needed to write down the conclusions of her inspection of the hotel that she had designed for the team, but it could wait. It was not that she could focus on something like that now anyway.

"So is mine," he said. "Shall I drive you home?"

Ariadne had never felt the urge before to use the totem that she had so recently created, but now she was truly tempted to think that she was actually in a dream. Arthur, the only man of the team who hadn't talked to her about things that didn't have anything to do with work - who, in fact, hardly talked to her at all – offered her her a ride home. For a moment, she was too dumbfounded to speak.

"It's still raining, and we wouldn't want you to catch a cold while walking home."

Of course. He had nothing in mind but her well-being because they needed her for the inception. But still, the offer was rather bizarre.

"My car is parked right outside the warehouse," he continued, and if she hadn't been so astounded, she would've heard a hint of uncertainty in his voice.

"Alright," she found herself saying.

Suddenly very much aware of the jacket that she was still holding, she stretched her arm to give it back to him.

"You can keep it a bit longer," he replied, as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

Even more bewildered than before, Ariadne accepted the hand that was stretched out to her and allowed him to pull her on her feet. Arthur wasn't done yet behaving unexpectedly however.

When she was standing in front of him, the smell of his aftershave reached her nostrils once more and she couldn't help but think that it was a very pleasant smell indeed. And as if that realization wasn't shocking enough yet, Arthur stepped towards her, took his jacket from her unmoving hands and placed the fabric around her shoulders.

"Just put it on," he said gently, "it's cold outside."

Usually, she would've made a sarcastic remark – it was rather ironic after all that he was the one now saying that it was cold – but she was too dumbfounded now to do so.

Somewhat reluctantly because she still had the feeling that Arthur would realize very soon how uncharacteristically he was behaving, she managed to get her arms into the sleeves and move the buttons through their holes. She felt ridiculous, but nicely warm once again.

He gestured her to follow him and she did, only partly aware of the rain that was still falling down and the wind that blew it with huge force in all possible directions. It was much colder now than it had been that morning, probably because of the wind, but this too was something she didn't really notice.

Arthur unlocked the door of his car and opened it for her; only when he was sure that she was seated, he closed it behind her and rushed to the other side of the car to get in himself.

He didn't speak to her as he drove her home, but the silence was a comfortable one. Besides, the wind that seemed to be getting more and more powerful, howled around the car and made a normal conversation impossible. Ariadne wasn't sure whether she would've been able to make small talk in the first place. She couldn't help but stare at Arthur from the corners of her eye, wondering how much crazier life could get.

The comfort and warmth of his car were a huge relief after having spent all day in the warehouse and in spite of the situation, the architect found herself relaxing in a way she hadn't been for quite a while even as the forces of nature tormented the mostly abandoned streets.

He didn't ask her where he was supposed to take her to, and she was waiting for him to, until she realized that he, being the point man of the team, already knew such things and probably had them all memorized. The man seemed to know everything. She vaguely wondered to what extent she had been researched before Cobb had chosen her, and how much of that information was still present in the point man's flawless memory.

Within only a few minutes they arrived before the building where she lived and Arthur parked right in front of the door. Suddenly feeling rather awkward as she was trying to think of the right words to say, she took off the jacket and handed it back to him. His small smile as she did so wasn't making things easier either.

"Thanks for the jacket and for driving me home," was all she managed to say.

"Anytime," he replied, and there was something in his voice that made her hands tremble in a whole new way when she opened the door and got out of the car. A part of her wanted to remain standing there, her hand still on the handle, just to stare at the man who just had acted in such an entirely unexpected way. But to remain standing in the rain didn't seem the right way to show her gratitude after he had just driven her home through the storm.

Coming somewhat to her senses as she was exposed to the extreme weather, she rushed to the entrance and entered the hallway of the building where she lived, her mind attempting to comprehend the recent developments.

Standing right behind the door, she waved at Arthur as he drove away and watched his car until its lights disappeared into the restless night.

None of what just had happened made any sense, but the architect was somehow sure of one thing: it were not just her limbs now that were pleasantly warm at last, but there was a sudden warmth in a place deep inside of her, a place of which she hadn't even known that it was there.

Ariadne had no idea what had just happened and what it was supposed to mean, only that it was fascinating indeed.


A/N: I have a few more temperature related ideas and I'll try to turn this into a multi-chapter Arthur/Ariadne story.