A/N- first time inception writer (long time on ff) but some of you probably recognize me as an avid reader in the category. trying to be as movie-sound as possible
The Logical Progression
Arthur was nothing if not crisp. His shirts were ironed, his suits dry-cleaned, his shoes polished to a precise shine. It was the basis of his job, the way he kept himself alive, this immaculate precision. She always imagined him precisely as precise as he was because it was something she admired about him.
His voice shook her out of her focus, "Yes?"
"Are you particularly fond of my suit?"
"Does your subconscious like it?" Arthur nodded to a group of men passing by them on the street dressed identically to him and Ariadne blushed. In the same second the group of men were wearing regular clothes again.
"Sorry." She offered but Arthur's stoic expression remained.
"You've just beautifully demonstrated why we have to be careful to be as impartial and disinterested in our surroundings as possible. We have to remain neutral and we have to keep the subject neutral or else the subconscious starts emulating focused feelings. That's the same logic behind not using memories to build from—the subconscious has a field day with embedded emotion in memories. It can make for a pretty violent dreamscape."
"It won't happen again."
Arthur's face lightened for a second, "I'm not a school teacher here to scold you, Ariadne. Don't apologize to me like you would to Professor Miles. Learn from your mistakes and for the love of God make all of your mistakes here and now in your training rather than making them closer to the job. I need you properly focused before Fischer because we don't know if we're going to need last minute changes in the mazes or if you will have to re-design on the fly."
Ariadne nodded and took a breath, "Ok…what's today's lesson, teach?"
Arthur let a small smile creep onto the very corner of his mouth and said, "Today's lesson is stacking spirals."
Ariadne came out of the dream smiling and wishing she were still climbing up the levels of spiraled sea-shells Arthur had built as an example for her. He insisted that they were cut-rate and that he looked forward to an actual architect refining them but they both knew that Arthur would have to teach her how to build with Cobb so deeply engrossed with Mal. Arthur didn't like to talk about it because he didn't really know what was going on. He knew Mal was active enough in Cobb's subconscious to shoot Arthur in the kneecap and that had shocked him. He was afraid of what he didn't know about Cobb's stability and even more anxious that there was no amount of research he could do to figure it out. He was a point man. He was supposed to be good with details.
He pulled himself out of his thoughts and focused on Ariadne, "Yes?"
"Yusef and I are almost done with his layout. It's broad and basic and he has it down pat. You're up and I was wondering what sort of location you wanted."
It had been a long time since someone had asked Arthur what kind of dream he wanted. He'd been working with Cobb for so long that they didn't need to discuss it anymore but Ariadne was still getting to know him.
"You pick, I'll see it in our first walk through."
"Which is when?"
He looked at his watch, "Two hours from now."
Part of him was hoping that Ariadne would insist that creating something without direction and bringing it up to Arthur's impeccable standard was completely impossible in two hours. The other part of him knew that Ariadne loved a challenge.
She was smirking at him, "An hour and a half ok for you?"
He smirked right back, "Perfect."
In an hour and a half and Ariadne had created something mind-blowing.
"Why a hotel?" He was still craning his head, looking at all the details, admiring the décor that was tailored to his taste. His subconscious was happy too—they were all laughing and joking and drinking in delight.
"You probably live in them most of the time, so does Fischer so it makes sense that you would both feel instantly comfortable in the layout. Hotels are pretty basic so I don't have to worry about fabric detailing or anything. Also we need a secure location for the third dream and a room with a locked door is probably the best location. There's also plenty of room to run from the subconscious through the stairwells and outside if we had too but the hotel is so complex internally we probably won't need to."
"Excellent reasoning. You know I'll want to see the outside as well but for now let's start with the basics. Where do you think Fischer should start?"
"At the bar. Hotel bars get the most use out of any part of the hotel."
Arthur nodded, "Another good choice. So from the bar to a hotel room. Let's see what we're dealing with."
At first glance the hotel was a fine first draft. With two detail-oriented people studying the plans the hotel quickly evolved.
"When do I get to see your version?" Ariadne asked and Arthur glanced at his watch. For a second he couldn't remember if the time on his watch was proper for the day that he was living in so he reached into his pocket and felt his totem's reassuring weight.
"How's now? It's still early enough."
Ariadne walked over to the lawn chair and plopped herself in, "Beam me up, Scotty."
Arthur's version of the hotel was more realistically refined than Ariadne's because he had far more experience with five-star hotels than she did.
"Very nice." She purred in approval as they walked into the bar, arm in arm. She looked down and saw that her outfit had changed which was something that hadn't happened in any of her dreams yet, "What happened to my clothes?"
"One thing the dreamer can do is manipulate the clothing of others in the dream. It's helpful if you're pulling someone into extreme conditions—just think about how awful it would be to pull someone into a desert while they were wearing a parka."
Ariadne nodded and studied her new clothes. Her usual jeans and t-shirt were discarded in favor of a fitted cocktail dress that was a deep purple. She had a cashmere black shawl draped over her shoulders and black suede pumps on her feet. Her hair was pulled up but she couldn't see what it looked like without a mirror.
"So you subconsciously want me to look a little bit more lady-like?" Ariadne asked and Arthur felt surprisingly taken aback by the question, "That sounds negative. Think of it this way—we always imagine ourselves dressed in our most familiar clothes. I live in this suit. We have a tendency to refine clothes in dreams that we are projecting on purpose. I've made my suit more expensive. I want the dream to look cohesive so I dressed you up to look like my date instead of my architect. I have no personal vendetta against your scarves and Oxfords."
Ariadne smirked at him and blushed, "Well if I'm dressed up like your date you should definitely treat me more like a date and buy me a drink or my subconscious will kick your ass."
Arthur escorted her to the bar and she surprised him by ordering a very rare red wine. When the bartender let Arthur test it for approval he almost purred, "Excellent choice, Ariadne."
She beamed when he complimented her and they walked around the bar, sipping wine, debating where Fischer would sit, and discussing how the kick would happen. Ariadne didn't catch on to why they were avoiding investigating the hotel room until she started realizing little details- the lighting in the room got lower, candles were lit, a violin quartette was beginning to play Italian and French love songs, and outside a gentle rain began to fall. The rain gave Ariadne the same feeling it always did—that she wanted to curl up under the covers and be deliciously lazy. Arthur was controlling her environment and he was setting a progressively more and more romantic one with each sip of wine he had.
Her subconscious wasn't exactly helping the situation. Suddenly her subconscious was predominantly couples who were in various stages of public affection all around them. Everywhere people were holding hands, kissing, nuzzling together to share secrets and laugh privately.
"Quick, finish your drink and let's go upstairs."
Ariadne quirked an eyebrow at Arthur and teased, "I rarely respond to a man who commands me to get buzzed and go into a hotel room with him."
At first she thought he didn't understand that she was joking because he took her free hand, raised it to his lips, lightly kissed it and said, "You look beautiful."
She didn't know what to say.
He leaned forward and put two fingers under her chin like he was going to kiss her and whispered, "Please…come upstairs."
When he pulled back he winked at her and said, "First finish the wine."
Part of her wanted to laugh at his joke so he knew that she got it… part of her was shocked to discover that she wished he wasn't joking.
Upstairs the rooms were lavish, the bathrooms were regally fitted, and Arthur was slightly embarrassed that the bed was projected with the sheets folded down and ready for occupancy. The bathtub had a champagne bucket next to it with Dom Perignon on ice and perfumed bubble bath beside it. He also knew if he turned on the TV there would be a mix of Casablanca, Shakespeare remakes, original James Bond and porn. He couldn't help it because he could control his projection of the dream but not the subconscious desires that were attached to things like TVs, fancy hotel bathrooms, and beautiful women he wanted to get naked with. He wished very much that he hadn't dressed up Ariadne for the dream. In the real world he always asked himself what she would look like if she took more than ten minutes to throw together clothes. Arthur was constantly astounded by her mind, he was amazed by her quick learning and her devotion to the team.
Now he was amazed by how well she wore a satin cocktail dress.
It was his own fault for giving into that desire and consequently warping the desire into something more distracting. He should've left her in the jeans and staved off his physical attraction for her by focusing on his working relationship with her.
He would've paid a lot of money to have his dreamscape anywhere besides such a marvelous hotel right about now. But he also didn't quite feel up to being torn apart by Ariadne's enraged subconscious.
Ariadne absorbed the details of the room quickly, "You're much better at amenities than I am."
She ran her fingers over the champagne and bubble bath and walked across the room, right in front of him, and sat on the bed.
"I should be better at hotel details, I practically live in them after all."
"Do you always live in them with girls that you dress up in pretty outfits?"
"No. You would be the first to get such an honor and a privilege as to visit my room while I'm working."
"Well technically it's my building so maybe you're the one who should feel honored and privileged. And let's face it—it's a dream. You don't actually live here so it can't be that much of an honor."
Arthur sat down on the bed next to her and thought very hard about whether or not he should say what he wanted to say.
He decided to tell her, "Ariadne you're in my mind. You're in my dream. Most girls would be perfectly flattered to be told they're in a man's dream."
"Isn't it my job to be in your dreams sometimes?" She asked and he reached out and cupped her cheek in his hand so that she had to look into his eyes when he answered her.
"Trust me…you spend time in my dreams when we aren't working and after tonight I'm sure you'll be clocking overtime." He leaned in and kissed her cheek, "And don't think that your subconscious escaped my notice downstairs."
"Nothing escapes your notice; it's part of your charm."
He smiled and leaned forward for a kiss. Ariadne's subconscious decided he wasn't pushing her limits hard enough and suddenly the room next to them was inhabited by a couple having incredibly loud sex.
"Trying to tell me something, Ariadne?"
She blushed, shrugged off her shawl, kicked off her shoes, and laid down on the bed, "It's a good thing I'm not completely controlled by my subconscious."
The TV flashed on and Mal was on it, menacing towards the viewer with a knife and stabbing her, and then the TV went blank. Arthur understood her perfectly, "Yes…sometimes it's better to use a little sense."
He kicked off his shoes, folded his jacket neatly on the edge of the bed and laid down facing Ariadne who curled up against his chest. She sighed happily when he wrapped an arm around her waist and rested his chin on her head.
"How much time do we have left in here?" She asked.
"About an hour."
"Can we just stay like this?... Assuming you don't want to continue your tour of the place."
"Tour's over for tonight… have you ever seen Casablanca?"
"It happens to be on tonight."
They wouldn't finish Casablanca in the dream and about a minute before the dream would end Ariadne rolled onto her back and pulled Arthur on top of her.
"I want to tell you something before we wake up." She ran both of her hands through his hair and he studied her face, "Sometimes you really shouldn't ignore your subconscious desires. They can be a real bitch when they're pent up too long."
He smiled, "Are you saying you want to take some subconscious desires out on me some time?"
"Well…certainly not in your dreams." She winked and disappeared into the real world. A few seconds later Arthur disappeared too.
They both watched Cobb with anxious eyes and wondered how much he was hiding. Ariadne knew better than Arthur what was going on and she felt guilty over keeping it from him.
Cobb left the room and both Ariadne and Arthur let loose a breath they were only half aware of holding. They were worried. They were also trying to focus on Cobb so that they didn't have to discuss the other night in the dream hotel. Eames and Cobb both toyed with Ariadne to some extent in their dreams (when he contributed to her training Eames had gone so far as to pinch her butt to show her how to startle reactions from the subconscious if you actually wanted that sort of thing) but nothing quite like the romantic set up of the Casablanca Night had come up before. Ariadne wondered if she should treat it like any other dream—a fantasy.
"You're due for your next lesson, Ariadne." Arthur's voice hit her ears and she snapped out of her thoughts.
"Trap doors, secret passageways and short cuts."
"Sounds like a theme park attraction."
Arthur quirked a small smile, "In a way all the dreams are like theme park attractions. Until the tourists try to beat you to death with funnel cake."
"Was that a joke Mr. Serious?"
"Of course not."
Inside the dream Arthur had built a house. Ariadne craned her neck to try and get all the details—Dali paintings covered the walls (and one Picasso from his Blue Period) and all the metal she could see was either vintage gold or modern titanium. Black velvet curtains hung over black and white tiled floors with deep red walls. Modern and classic elements were mixed in a way that reminded Ariadne of Arthur's suits—modern takes on vintage designs.
"Where are we?"
"A house I'd love to own someday." Arthur walked through a set of double doors into a grand walkway that was a modified version of Versailles' Hall of Mirrors, "It's a collection of all of my favorite architectural designs from everywhere—different periods, places, etc. It also happens to be a treasure trove of trap doors and secret passageways."
"No short cuts?"
"Short cuts are outside in the gardens."
Ariadne craned her head around and realized they were quite alone, "Where are my projections?"
Arthur's head tilted, "I don't keep servants but outside someone is mowing the lawn—looks like you've projected domestic workers into this setting."
Ariadne shrugged and followed Arthur as they walked around. He didn't have to explain the different elements of the house to her because she was able to pick all of them out. In one particularly hectic room with too many different kinds of couches in it Ariadne exclaimed, "Forty six different couches? I would've thought you enjoyed a little more specificity."
Arthur actually blushed ever so slightly, "I could use a better architect than myself to make better use of the elements. Maybe the next room will interest you more?"
He opened the door for her and as soon as Ariadne stepped onto the plush red rug she fell right through it. At the bottom she landed on a giant mattress and Arthur called down, "Trap door."
"Ha ha. How do I get out of here?"
"There's a door to your left, take the stairs up two flights then push open the mirror."
When Ariadne emerged she was just on the other side of the carpet and Arthur had walked around it, "Do you see how trapdoors are most effective?"
"When entirely hidden?"
"And when they become an entirely natural thing for the projection—or the subject—to fall into or activate in some way. You didn't think it was strange that I opened a door for you and that you should walk in first without having to check your surroundings for danger—part of a trap's effectiveness are the people around it. You trust me not to trick you even when I tell you I'm teaching a lesson on trap doors and so something as juvenile as a rug over a hole worked on you."
"Like if Eames had opened the door and insisted I walked in first it would have raised red flags so this would've been a poor choice of trap door for him."
Arthur smiled at the quip, "Precisely."
A door slammed somewhere and Arthur looked in the direction of the noise, "All the surprises of this lesson are really going to aggravate your subconscious."
"They're getting pretty used to it at this point." Ariadne shrugged, "I'm sure you'll make it out with a slap on the wrist and a mild scolding."
Arthur quirked an eyebrow at her, "I'm sure that's the worst they'll do."
He walked in front of her and leaned against the fireplace with a mantle that boasted dozens of candlesticks in various stages of melted, "Ariadne if you would join me I would love to show you someplace where we could avoid your subconscious for a while if we had to."
His words made Ariadne blush and she stepped so close to him that she could smell his cologne. Without explaining himself Arthur reached over to one of the many candlesticks perched on the mantle and pulled it outward. The whole fireplace flipped like a scene out of James Bond and Ariadne found herself on the other side of the wall in a secret room that was currently blank.
Suddenly the room had a chair with straps on it—a torture device.
"See how useful this could be?"
The room flipped again and became a replica of the hotel room from the Casablanca Night. On the bed was a red rose and Arthur walked over to it and picked it up. Just as suddenly the room went blank again. The house rumbled and he looked upwards, "Your subconscious doesn't like this lesson."
He walked over to Ariadne and handed her the rose. For a moment they both smiled and quietly thought about what they could do with more time alone. Just for a moment. The air suddenly smelled like freshly cleaned sheets and the same delicious wine they'd had in their dream hotel's bar. Then Arthur took Ariadne's hand in his and said, "Follow me. Time to teach you the beauty of secret passageways."
The passageway was long and winding and it became progressively narrower in some spaces before belling out into a wide space again, "Hidden in the bricks are doors that open to other rooms or we could take this hallway around the entire house."
"Can we tour the house another time?"
Arthur paused walking, "Open a door whenever you feel like it."
Ariadne looked at his face and tried to figure out if he wanted her to open one now or not. She walked over to the brick wall and looked for the hidden door. She finally noticed one brick was a slightly different shade and when she pressed on it the hallway opened up into a lavish Master bedroom.
They were silent for a minute before Ariadne turned around and saw Arthur leaning against a bookshelf, studying her reaction.
"Should we consider why we keep winding up in bedrooms?"
Arthur smirked and snorted a laugh. He walked over to her carefully punctuating his sentence with his steps, "I think we both know why."
"Should we talk about what to do about it?" Ariadne twisted a stray lock of hair around her finger. Arthur was inches from her and his face softened for a minute as he reached out and brushed his knuckles gently across her cheek.
"Should we? Yes. But you don't want to hear the conversation."
"Does it end badly?"
"Yes." Arthur pulled his hand back and jammed it into one of his pockets, "This job isn't a game. In fact it is the worst possible job for a novice to be on. This job is extremely dangerous and extremely difficult- inception has never worked on a grand scale before no matter what Cobb has told you. Nobody on the team –nobody- can afford to be distracted. It's suicide to be distracted."
"Suicide in a dream isn't so bad." Ariadne offered.
Arthur's face instantly hardened, "It wouldn't be in a dream if we fail."
Ariadne blanched and turned her back on him so he couldn't see her eyes flash with pain. She wasn't worried for herself as much as the others especially because she knew Cobb was getting worse and she suspected she was the only one with an idea as to how much worse.
Arthur leaned forward and planted a soft kiss on Ariadne's shoulder, "After the job."
She turned around and kissed him—before he could react she threw her arms around his neck so he couldn't break the kiss off but he didn't fight her. When they finally stopped they were both breathing heavy and Ariadne said, "We can't mess up the job, then, or there won't be time after the job for us to…"
Her eyes fixated on the bed and her subconscious once again filled the air with orgasmic screams that Arthur smirked at hearing.
Wrapping his arms around her waist he kissed her forehead, "Given how bad the wanting is getting I'm beginning to think that I would be perfectly contented if they shot me in bed."
Ariadne smiled, "I prefer to not be shot."
Arthur pulled away from her and walked towards the door, "And so I'll make sure you won't be. Let's continue to the gardens and hope that your subconscious isn't doing naughty things in some of the nooks and crannies."
Ariadne raised an eyebrow at him, "And what if they are?"
Arthur opened his jacket to reveal a Baretta, "Then someone's getting shot in bed."
"This is your last lesson before the job so let's make it count." Arthur announced as he sat down next to Ariadne and rolled up his sleeve.
"The last one? Why?"
"Maurice Fischer was just given his last rites. The clock is ticking." He set the timer and laid back against the chair.
Ariadne was in a crowded city walking along the street when Arthur caught up to her.
"Do we ever work in countrysides? Is it always going to be city after city?"
"Tired of them?" Arthur asked and she shrugged, "Gets redundant."
In his dream he was dressed in an elegant three piece gray suit that reminded her a lot of a James Bond movie she'd watched years ago with her father. She looked down and saw that she was wearing jeans and a long sleeved sweater and a cashmere scarf.
"No dress this time?" She asked and he laughed, "Weapons training is today. Dresses tomorrow."
"Tomorrow? Is that a promise?" She quirked an eyebrow at him. They both knew that Cobb dreamed recreationally and ignored it but Ariadne had mentioned to Arthur, casually as he was driving her home one night, that one session of fuck-it-all dreaming might be a healthy release for their subconsciouses before the Fischer job. Arthur had given her a look that was divided between agreeing with her and knowing how dangerous it was for new dreamers to get in the habit of recreational use.
"No promises, just temptations." Arthur almost smiled at her and held out something for her. It took her a minute to process that it was a handgun.
"I don't know what to do with that."
"I'd put it in your pocket before your subconscious decides it's angry about you being armed. It knows it's going to be the target during this round."
Ariadne shoved the gun in her waistband and covered it with her sweater.
"Basic information you need about guns is as follows: handguns are easier to conceal and lighter to carry but they are more inaccurate and harder for beginners to get used to. Rifles are easier to aim and adjust to but there is a clear disadvantage with size and weight. Both rifles and handguns will have a kickback after release and the kickbacks are unique to the model of gun. In general rifles feel like a punch and handguns feel like a push. That sounds strange now but you'll catch onto it quickly. One more thing- safeties need to come off to shoot the gun. Also, don't shoot yourself. This means that until it is second nature to safety and unsafety your gun you should avoid pointing it at yourself at all costs."
"Was I supposed to take notes?" Ariadne gave him the look that reminded him not everyone was a straight A student.
"It'll all start coming back to you soon."
Arthur brought out a machine gun concealed under his suit jacket and shot at a cab until it exploded.
She shot him an agitated look, "You could've warned me about all this."
"I could have, you're absolutely right." He shot a dozen more rounds into another car and police sirens started getting closer, "Now try to figure out what Cover Fire is."
It was harder than he wanted to admit—seeing her dodging bullets. Maybe the blessing was that she was dodging them well and not catching them. In his first dream-fight he looked like Swiss Cheese within the first five minutes but Ariadne had caught on fast to use the maze to her advantage. He refused to lead her to safety, refused to offer her cover, because if he was separated from her during a hard time in Fischer he wanted her to be able to defend herself. It hurt him to not help her, it went against his better instincts, but his totem assured him it was a dream and that the worst that could happen to Ariadne was that she'd wake up.
Ariadne sprinted into a nearby building and straight for the stairwell. He followed her and wanted to tell her that he had added a hidden passage but decided that new features of the dream could wait until they weren't running away from bullets.
There was a trick hallway in this building and within minutes Ariadne had led Arthur to a spare conference room that the projections would have a hard time finding. She was panting, rubbing her shoulder to ease out the pain from the gun's recoil, and was studying the hands that had been handling a gun without too many problems not all that long ago.
"I've never shot a gun, how was I doing that?"
"You have the advantage of knowing it's a dream-nobody is getting hurt. It's like a videogame, some part of your brain tells you to just go for it." Arthur nodded, "You did well—excellent job using the maze."
The conference room had desks and chairs and more office supplies than Ariadne cared to detail but no sink to wash her hands or look at her reflection in a mirror. She was tempted to just bring one into the dream but she didn't feel like dealing with the projections yet. Instead she amused herself rifling through the drawers looking for something reflective so she could see the face of Stone-Cold-Killer-Ariadne but instead the drawers of the desk revealed condoms and Playboys.
She giggled at the sheer amount of pent-up frustration and Arthur blushed without her showing him what she found.
"Are you sure you don't want to run some steam off?" She asked, laughing awkwardly, "Can you imagine if during the job the bartender goes to pour cocktails and condoms fall into the glass? What about if Eames picks up a magazine and its porn? What would he say?"
"Eames would be amused, its Cobb that would shoot me on sight." Arthur sighed and strode over to the desk to analyze how bad it was and whistled at the findings, "It's worse than I thought."
"In a weird way that's a compliment." Ariadne smirked and pretended to blow smoke from her gun's barrel, "It must be that a sharp shooting woman is irresistible."
Arthur pulled her close and pushed the safety on her gun, "It would be a shame for you to blow your brains out right now."
Ariadne leaned up and brushed a small kiss against his lips but he pulled away, "Not this close to the job. We've been lax enough already with this."
"Arthur can you just… explain it to me? Is it me? Is it the dreams? Is it the job? What is it? Are you really so afraid of being distracted that you'll risk your subconscious flinging condoms into the middle of a job?" Ariadne walked towards the set of windows across the room and watched the projections start to militarize outside the building. In a world where buildings could burst into existence with the blink of her eye she was willing to let go of certain rules; in a world where the subconscious of other people walked around and advertised how they felt about you she was willing to ask fewer questions. Maybe it was the shooting, maybe it was the impending job, maybe it was a deep-seeded fear that Arthur just wanted to fantasize about her and not actually be with her that was making her bite at him now.
Arthur walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist, "I can't expect you to understand how strange it is for me to behave the way I've been behaving with you. I've trained dozens of extractors, probably two dozen architects, and I've never been involved with any of them. They're just a job—in and out. Some of them have tried to interest me but none of them grabbed my attention like you have. You're waltzing around in my subconscious and an occupational hazard of that is sexual attraction gets exposed. I want your body, Ariadne, but don't for one minute think I haven't lost sleep over the idea that if we fail to Incept Fischer then your head goes on the chopping block next to mine and Cobb's and Eames' and Yusef's. Saito can only protect us from our enemies if we succeed—if we fail Cobol will go through with the hit they have on us and you will very likely be caught in the crossfire."
He turned Ariadne around to face him, "When it was just a nameless architect that we needed it was really easy to sign them up for this impossible job and hope they didn't die. It is terrifying to me that you could catch shit for this if it doesn't work and despite what Cobb says Inception has never worked on this scale. Never. I want you to be safe, I want this job to go well, and the last thing I want is to get sex flashbacks when I'm supposed to be focusing. You aren't supposed to come into the dream, I'll have to deal with my frustration some other way but I'm not fanning the flames before a job."
"How is it fanning the flames and not throwing water on them?" She asked.
"I'm only going to want more… I already want more. I shouldn't have kissed you until we were done with this job." He shook his head, "But I find you hard to resist."
She beamed at the thought that Arthur cared about her, that he was worried, that he was so mesmerized by her. Arthur pressed a kiss to her forehead and said, "I really hope you never have to use this lesson."
"I really hope the job goes well."
He lifted his gun to his head, "Time to wake up before this conference room turns into a bedroom."
He waited for Ariadne to unsafety her gun and point it to her own head before counting down from three. Two. One.
When they were blinking and in the real world Cobb growled at them, "How'd she do?"
"She's a natural." Arthur replied and offered Ariadne a hand out of the lawn chair. Eames saw the motion and chewed on it but decided not to speak for the time being. Arthur did have a reputation for being overly gentlemanly but Eames couldn't shake the idea that Arthur was giving special attention to Ariadne. He didn't have proof but his suspicions had a horrible habit of being right.
"Arthur, I need you to help me review some of the airline documents so we know everything is in order." Saito called and Arthur nodded, grabbed his suit jacket and coat, and followed Saito out of the warehouse without even a backwards glance at Ariadne. She knew better than to think she wasn't on his mind and she returned to her models with relish knowing that the job was coming to a close. Eames left, and Yusef had been in his hotel for hours. It was just Ariadne and Cobb left in the warehouse and as Ariadne was just about to leave she couldn't help but notice that their tense and nervous leader was dreaming alone.
Surely it couldn't hurt to just…take a peak.
They woke to the announcement that Maurice Fischer had died and Arthur was already walking towards them to start collecting his final notes for the job. Cobb knew, quickly, that his choices were limited to letting Ariadne in the dream or telling Arthur what he'd been doing with Mal all this time. He knew Arthur would pull the plug on the whole mission if he knew, Arthur would be too afraid of Cobb's instability to put a team at his command and the way that Ariadne defaulted to Arthur made Cobb realize that leaving his Point Man and his Architect alone to train had ending up bonding them…against him.
But Ariadne was new and anxious for the dreaming… she was silly to offer to go into the dream at all when she saw the grade of danger Cobb presented but she wanted this job to be successful for dozens and dozens of reasons. Successful, not a surrender. Not a failure.
"She's coming." Cobb said in a guttural tone.
Arthur's head perked up but he was interrupted by Eames' arrival.
"What did you say, Dom? Couldn't hear you."
"Ariadne's coming with us. Make sure Yusef brings enough for her."
The team grew deadly quiet. Saito knew that this wasn't his place to argue and offered to go get Yusef ready to leave and Ariadne quickly volunteered to go with him but Arthur spoke, "Just wait outside, Ariadne."
"Absolutely not, Dom." Arthur countered the second Ariadne and Saito left the room, "She's not coming, she's a novice and this is a three-layer inception."
"She designed it and you've been training her, she'll be fine."
"Dom this isn't exactly a play to be throwing Hail Mary's on…I'm not comfortable with a change this late in the game."
Cobb gave Eames a searing look, "Get comfortable quick."
"This is unprofessional and unsafe, Cobb." Arthur persisted.
"Are you saying you didn't make her ready for entry?"
"I'm saying she's not prepared to go three layers! We're barely prepared to go three layers!"
Eames watched Arthur speak and saw a strange glint in his eye. Arthur didn't usually argue with Cobb or anyone else—if they situation became volatile he would just leave and if other people fucked themselves then that was their problem not his. Arthur wasn't fighting for himself because Arthur wasn't above pulling out.
"Why are you worried for her, Arthur?" Eames asked although the look Arthur gave him was all the answer he needed… this wasn't about the layers, it was about the Architect.
"She's too young and inexperienced for this, Eames. It's beyond dangerous."
"You protect her then." Eames snapped, "Is that what you're getting at? She needs a babysitter?"
"I will protect her but I'm only two layers deep—what happens in the third layer? Does she just get to build snowmen? This is ridiculous—none of us should be babysitting anyone. We already have one tourist and that's more than enough."
"I'm taking responsibility for her Arthur," Cobb injected, "so you can rest easy. I'll be with her for all three layers and I won't let her get hurt. Now goodnight, gentlemen. I'll see you on a plane tomorrow. Make all your final arrangements."
"Already made." Arthur snipped.
"Teacher's pet." Eames whispered and Cobb left without even noticing Ariadne beside the door.
When they were alone Eames looked at Arthur and put all joking aside, "Is this a problem, Arthur? Because I'll shoot her out in the first layer."
Arthur didn't answer and he just walked over to the door and opened it, "Goodnight Eames."
Arthur watched Eames walk down the stairs and then craned his head to find Ariadne hiding in the shadows so she didn't have to talk to the Forger.
"We need to talk." Arthur's voice was cold and Ariadne went back into the warehouse knowing that she couldn't tell Arthur what he wanted to know.
She stood there, silent, and waited for him to ask, "What happened? Why are you suddenly going in with us?"
"It was always a possibility."
"A remote possibility in the event of an emergency." He reached out and put both his hands on her shoulders, "Is there an emergency?"
Ariadne's eyes were pleading, "I can't tell you."
Arthur's eyebrows shot up to his hairline, "What do you mean you can't tell me? This isn't some dormroom secret, what the hell is going on?"
"I can't tell you but if you trust me at all you will understand that my presence is absolutely necessary and without it the job will suffer major traumas."
"It's Cobb." Arthur knew, "How bad is it? What is it? Is it Mal again? Is she worse?"
"Arthur he trusts me and he listens to me but most importantly he confides in me. You will need me down there to keep him honest- please just trust me. If things get really bad for me I solemnly swear to shoot myself or hide out until the timer runs out."
His eyes were strangely soft when he said, "If it gets really bad down there I'll shoot you myself. I won't have you wait for the timer to go off-that's way too long in the dreamscape for a first-timer. And in the third layer, when I'm not there, I'm going to make sure Eames is prepared to do it."
"I won't fight you on that."
He stepped away from her and took a deep breath, "I'm never going to sleep tonight. This is such a bad idea."
Ariadne walked up behind him and leaned her head into his shoulder, "Do you want to not sleep at my place? I haven't packed, I don't know what to bring, and I'm scared out of my mind."
Arthur gave a dark laugh, "Two hours ago I thought that my biggest hurdle in this job would be keeping my mind out of the gutter. Now it's the absolute furthest thing from my mind."
He turned and grabbed her face, kissed her hard, "I'm not letting you out of my sight until we're out of Fischer's head."
"What about when we land?" she asked, "We're all so focused on what happens during the job that I don't even know what to do when we reach Los Angeles"
Arthur rested his forehead against hers, "I have reservations but I can't think about them now. Don't worry, Ariadne, I have at least three exit strategies and you're covered in all of them."
She smiled and wrapped her arm around his, "Let's go pack?"
Her suitcase was full with an outfit for every occasion—t-shirt, sweater, hoodie, sweatpants, tank top, bathing suit, cocktail dress and raincoat. She supposed a parka could've been shoved it but then she would've had to take out the scarves and loafers she was bringing. Arthur laughed at her when she emptied a drawer of scarves into the suitcase but didn't tell her she was wasting her space.
"Are you packed?" She asked as she closed her bag.
"Well let's go finish." Ariadne checked her watch, "It's almost two a.m. but I'm wired."
"That's pretty common before a job… my hotel's about twenty minutes from here. Do you have everything? You might not be here again for a few days." Or a few weeks. Or ever.
"Yeah…everything I want and can carry." She smiled sadly and switched off the light as Arthur got his car keys ready. They went to his hotel suite in silence and he packed, made them tea, and at five in the morning Ariadne yawned for the first time.
Arthur checked his watch and said, "If you want we can grab about two hours of sleep before we need to meet them at the airport. That should give you an energy boost."
She nodded and they retreated to his bed where they laid down together fully clothed. Ariadne nuzzled her head against his neck and said, "This is not how I planned to treat you if I got you in a bed."
Arthur smiled, pressed a kiss to her forehead, and told her to sleep while she could. He couldn't sleep so he watched her nod off and thought about what he had gotten himself into by agreeing to this job, agreeing to train Ariadne and letting himself fall for her. He felt weak, he felt exposed, but right now he mostly felt like she was exposed and he needed to fix that. He felt almost helpless about Cobb and knew at this point there was nothing left but hope that his team could pull off a miracle. Hope that he would get a chance to really be alone in the real world with Ariadne without any of this looming over them, coloring everything they did and said.
Before he knew it he was waking her up and they were getting changed for the flight.
"Remember, we're strangers." He told her before they left the room and just as he was about to step out she squeaked, "Wait! Give me a kiss! For luck!"
He smiled and planted a long, slow kiss on her trembling lips.
"Think that will help?" He asked.
"It was worth a shot." She shrugged her shoulders and picked up her suitcase, "I'll grab a cab, wait to follow me. See you in my dreams."
He watched her go and his face grew hard and serious again- it was time to work.
The rain was just one thing on the long, long list of things that pissed Arthur off about the start of the Inception. It was raining, they weren't prepared to start an abduction in two cars, they weren't prepared to steal a car, and so far things were off to an incredibly bad start. He couldn't even think about the fact that they still needed to pick up Yusef and Ariadne who had appeared in the dream further away from the rest of the team than planned.
"This is just great… you couldn't take a piss before you went under?" He snapped at Yusef when he hopped in the car and tried to take a breath and calm himself, "Cobb- we still need to find Ariadne."
Eames eyed Arthur. As surely as Ariadne was keeping tabs on Cobb and Arthur was keeping tabs on Ariadne, Eames was keeping tabs on Arthur to make sure nothing was going to rock the boat for this job. Although, to be fair, the boat was already being rocked considerably with or without the Point Man having an uncharacteristic flirtation.
"I know, I'll take care of it….in this weather Fischer's going to be looking for a cab. Arthur you'll drive it, Saito will be keep you company and Eames will be in charge of blocking in Fischer and man-handling him. I will be in charge of finding Ariadne and getting the three of us to the agreed upon meeting point." Even though Arthur knew Cobb was rattled his voice was smooth and sure, his leadership coming across as absolute and unquestionable, "Everyone clear?"
"Yes drill sergeant." Eames rolled his eyes, "Let's heist a cab."
Arthur was driving the cab when he saw Ariadne on the corner. He flicked his blinker briefly at Cobb to signal that the Architect was waiting for a ride. When she slid into the car she barely had time to register everything when the train hit and all the gunfire began.
At the warehouse she tried to pry Cobb off of Arthur when they were screaming about Fischer's training. How could it have been missed? Ariadne thought guiltily that maybe Arthur spent more time training her then reviewing his files but she knew that even distracted Arthur was more qualified than almost every man out there. If Arthur hadn't been able to find this information it probably couldn't have been found.
Limbo. The word hit the air like a bomb and everyone was rattled in its wake.
After Cobb threw the mask to Arthur and told him it was time to shake up Fischer Arthur looked at the mask limply. He strode over to Ariadne, pinned her against the car, and just said, "If you need to hide, hide. Hide in the deepest part of the maze. Check your totem every single hour to remind yourself that this isn't real and for the love of God do not get yourself lost in Limbo. Please stay as close to the team as possible and if there comes a time when you have to run you just run."
She nodded mutely and reached out a hand to grip the lapel of his jacket, "Just concentrate on Fischer."
"I'll concentrate on keeping this team alive. No one else seems to be doing that." He let out a breath of rage and frustration, "Did you know about Limbo?"
He nodded as if he was glad he could forgive her for a lot of secrets-but not that one, "What about the train? If it wasn't your design what was it?"
Ariadne just looked at him silently and he kicked the tire of the cab, "Fucking Cobb. I almost want to shoot him just so he can finally go back to her and rot there. Let him go as long as he doesn't take the rest of us with him."
"You don't mean that." Ariadne whispered and patted his arm, "Go help him with Fischer."
Arthur shoved the mask over his head and went in to interrogate Robert Fischer. Eames was priming himself for his Browning impersonation but managed to throw a glance at Ariadne.
"So… it is the extractor or the point man?" He asked and adjusted the shade of Browning's eyebrows in the mirror.
Eames suddenly looked at her so seriously that she was afraid of him, "Which one are you in love with and which one loves you? Why did Cobb drag you into this when you don't have anything to do with the job? Why is Arthur working himself into a fit trying to keep you safe? What is it—Arthur has a thing for you but you'd rather chase after the boss? Because let me assure you that Cobb has more damage than even you can fix with all your skills at building things."
Ariadne blushed and stuttered over her answer, "I'm not in love with Cobb- I just… I know he's having problems. I want to help him. I… I want to make sure someone reminds him …"
"Reminds him that Mal's dead? We've all tried to. If you can do it then kudos to you but just try not to muck it all up while Limbo's on the line." The Forger's face softened and he took a few deep breaths to calm himself, "So it's the Point Man then?"
"I don't know."
Eames smiled, "I've never seen Arthur admit to liking a movie, much less a person, and I've sadly known him for years. If Cobb wasn't so wrapped up in his own twisted horror story he'd tell you that Arthur almost going to fisticuffs for you is tantamount to a marriage proposal."
Ariadne smiled and touched her lips as if remembering the kisses Eames claimed were so hard to get. He returned to studying his mannerisms in the mirror like a seasoned actor who had to get into the zone before a performance.
In the van Arthur turned around twice to make sure that Ariadne was fastened securely into her seat with the seatbelt. He'd only checked on Fischer once. Cobb had turned around to look at Ariadne too and she gave him a look that clearly said No More Trains, Please.
Ariadne opened her eyes and was sitting on a plush ottoman in the hotel lobby with Arthur next to her. He smirked at her, "Fancy seeing you here."
She tried to make light of the situation, "And you were afraid I'd pop in."
"Well it certainly takes the pressure off my subconscious to create you if you're already here." He tried to smile but his face absorbed a mask of seriousness and he ran his eyes over her worriedly, "You aren't hurt, right?"
He nodded and she took to studying everything around her…this was, after all, her first job as a Dream Architect. She was flattered to see that her suit was nicer than most of the suits the other women were wearing and she noticed Arthur had added subtle hints of Japanese decorating to the main lobby. Saito she remembered.
"Will Saito be alright?"
Arthur winced, "He'll be in less pain here. He'll regain some mobility."
Ariadne read something deeper in his eyes, "But you don't think he'll make it?"
"It will be very close."
Arthur wanted to reach out and take Ariadne's hand but they were clenched on her lap—the only part of her that showed how stressed she truly felt by the situation were those small, pale hands. He started studying the projections, the setting, and was running through escape plans in his head. He had no faith in the Mr. Charles gambit but it seemed that this job had gone from well-planned to a free-for-all in the last few hours and he was hardly surprised that Cobb had come up with the most dangerous and shakey of scams to run on Fischer now. Hardly surprised but massively uncomfortable.
"If we need to run keep as close to me as possible."
She nodded and he noticed she was looking at the projections as if they were hyenas circling her. Then Cobb strode by, going towards the bar, looking like a man on Death Row.
"Who or what is Mr. Charles?"
Arthur was coiled tighter than a rattlesnake and he was instantly on edge when he told Ariadne the most dangerous part of the Mr. Charles gambit—revealing that they were in a dream. It painted a target on his back and with Ariadne next to him he knew she would get torn apart by the projections right along with him.
Her face was wrinkled with worry but absorbing his every word. He understood that she had gotten herself into Cobb's good graces and might be the only person Cobb was being mostly honest with during this job—and even she had been surprised and terrified to discover that Limbo was on the line. Arthur felt like smacking Dom around for springing that on them, especially with a Rookie in the field, but what good would it do? They were already inside.
The hotel rattled and the projections glared at Arthur. At least he'd shortly be taking his pent out frustrations with Cobb out on them. And what about his buried frustrations about Ariadne?
He smirked and without skipping a beat dead-panned, "Quick, give me a kiss."
Ariadne didn't even seem to be processing that Arthur, Arthur of all people, was asking her for a kiss with Eames and Saito chilling in the same lobby somewhere, in the middle of the most dangerous job any of them had ever done with Limbo on the line. She kissed him and it wasn't until he sucked ever so slightly on her bottom lip that she quit looking at the projections and fully realized him and what he was doing.
"They're still looking at us." She squeaked, lamely, blushing at the fact that she hadn't thought up a better line.
"Yeah, it was worth a shot." Arthur quirked an eyebrow, studied his hands and when their eyes met again they were both smiling ever so slightly.
"Son of a bitch." Eames muttered under his breath as he saw Arthur lean in and kiss Ariadne, "And me without my camera. Dom is never going to believe this."
The Forger shook his head and mentally reviewed every job he'd been on with Arthur and tried to think of a single time where Arthur had been this loose.
And let's face it—he's really not loose enough. He still has the top button on his shirt buttoned for crying out loud.
Eames let himself chuckle but then focused as he saw Fischer's projection of Browning, Hello Dolly.
Ariadne tried not to think about the last time she had seen this hotel room with Arthur. She let him explain the explosives, how he would drop them, and felt momentarily silly when she completely forgot that free-fall would suddenly send them all into a gravity-free zone. Just as Arthur was strapping his last explosive to the ceiling Cobb called him—fifth floor.
"Time to work." He tucked the phone into his pocket. Ariadne was looking lost in the hotel, suddenly she seemed much younger and more fragile than she had on the airplane or in the warehouse and he grabbed her arms to pull her towards him, "But first…"
He kissed her harder, faster, and it spun her head.
"I'll keep you safe down here. Try to get in and out of the next layer as quickly as possible."
She looked into his eyes and said the only thing she really believed, "I know you'll keep me safe when I'm asleep."
Arthur caught the fact that she didn't comment about the third layer or Cobb.
Eames watched as Arthur set Ariadne up in the only chair in the suite.
Not even pretending to treat the mark better, is he?
When Fischer went under, Cobb followed, then Ariadne, then Saito. Before Eames put the needle in his arm he looked over to Arthur, "I'll keep the heavy fire away from her but while I'm doing that you better hope Dom has his priorities straight."
Arthur flinched as he remembered Mal shooting out his knee because Dom put his gun down for her before protecting his partner. Eames went under and Arthur left the room and hoped a security guard looked at him the wrong way. He needed to kill something, he needed to do something, so that he didn't feel like he was leaving the woman he loved at the mercy of a lovesick madman whose recklessness may or may not cost Ariadne her sanity.
"How am I going to drop you without gravity?"
It was a question Arthur had never hoped to ponder. He'd been chasing around the security guards, and they'd be chasing him, but now he was faced with a challenge he'd never encountered. They'd missed the first kick. They'd actually missed it. Now he was floating around a five-star hotel trying to figure out how to access the only wake-up method left to his teammates—a gravity shift in their inner ear.
He piled everyone on top of each other and tried to keep Ariadne from looking sandwiched between so many strange men but ultimately he just had to swallow the discomfort seeing her like that gave him. He tried to keep her face up in the elevator so that she wouldn't break her nose in the first hit but it really wretched him that he was going to put her through an elevator explosion.
Explosions were not a fun way to die. They echoed in your ear even after you woke and they gave you a weird complex with flashing lights. They stuck with you in a way that shooting and falling never did.
But he was going to make sure he dropped the team, he was going to make sure they woke up, even if he had to maim each and every single one of them personally.
Maybe the truth was he hated explosions. He huddled in the corner of the elevator, fighting the zero gravity, and trying to make himself more comfortable with the idea of plummeting five stories to his death in a big metal box. Nothing really eased him.
He looked at Ariadne's face and swore, even though it wasn't possible, that she whimpered. He felt a twist in his gut that something was not right in the Inception. That something was, in fact, terribly, horribly wrong.
But he didn't have a choice except move forward.
Edith Piaf was calling him home.
One last look at Ariadne. He wondered if he would get the satisfaction of seeing her open her eyes again.
The water hit him hard and it tasted like success. He found his air supply by his feet but waited until he saw Fischer and Eames escape to pull it out. Arthur inhaled deeply and looked around.
Yusef was chugging on his oxygen.
Saito was dead—open eyed and stone cold.
Limbo. Poor Bastard.
Ariadne and Cobb were the only two left. Arthur stared at them and his heart dropped out.
No no no, not them too. Not them too.
He stared as if he could force them to wake up. Just as he was thinking about staying in the van right next to them Ariadne's eyelashes fluttered and he instantly offered her oxygen. She seemed lucid, seemed herself, she was signaling that she had enough air and was trying to get out of her seatbelt. It was only when he reached for Dom, expecting his friend to also be awake, that Ariadne signaled to him the thing he didn't want to see: Leave him.
Arthur obeyed and helped Ariadne escape the van. When they were swimming towards the surface he purposely led her further down the shore than Yusef so that they could talk without him eavesdropping. Panting, soaking wet, exhausted they flung themselves on the rocky shore.
"What the hell happened down there?"
Ariadne began to tell him about the third layer and got to the point where Mal shot Fischer.
Arthur eyed her warily as she paused and said, "But Fischer's awake. Mal shooting him would have put him in Limbo."
"Exactly." Ariadne breathed the word as if it was the entire confession and Arthur cursed, flung one of his fists into the largest rock he could find, and then cupped her face, "So you sent Cobb in alone?"
"I…I went with him."
Arthur's eyes died a little, "You. You went to Limbo."
He kept looking at her as if she might explode, "Where are you?"
"We're in Yusef's layer. We still need to kick back to reality. To the plane."
He let out a breath of relief, "Thank God."
Without caring who saw him Arthur wrapped an arm around her and pulled her against him. They reclined on the stones and let the sun bath them. They just sat there, breathing, until Yusef finally trotted over to them.
"I hate to interrupt but I was thinking it's time to go."
He motioned to the bridge, "Anyone feel like a dive?"
Arthur looked around but didn't move from his relaxed pose with the Architect, "If this worked you realize there's no need to run, right? If we successfully Incepted Fischer than his subconscious will stop fighting us—we won't register as threats anymore."
In their own time they got up, walked around the city as unmolested as pigeons, and eventually walked up to the highest building's roof. Yusef jumped alone but when Arthur and Ariadne jumped they were holding hands. Hands Arthur pressed a kiss to right before they hit the pavement.
"Which escape route are we using?" Ariadne whispered to Arthur as they fished their bags out of the lineup of luggage.
"The first one." He was still looking very serious as if the job wasn't over. Ariadne supposed for men like him it wasn't but they'd waltzed through Fischer's dream without being attacked and moments ago Cobb had just strode through security as if he was a normal passenger and not a wanted felon. As far as Ariadne was concerned—they'd won.
"What's the first one?"
"A penthouse suite at a very posh hotel in downtown LA. There should be a very nice bottle of champagne chilling for us." He finally smirked, "But can you try to keep your enthusiasm contained until we're away from Fischer? He's supposed to think we're strangers."
"Yes drill sergeant." Eames inserted over Ariadne's shoulder and Arthur actually caved enough to flip him the bird.
"Be warned, Ariadne, this is what Arthur looks like when he's happy. This is as good as it gets." Eames winked at the Point Man one last time and said, "I know I'll hear from you at some point. Keep your chin up."
Arthur and Ariadne made it all the way to a cab without another word. Their cab made it just outside the airport's property lines before she flung her arms around his neck and kissed him.
"This is real, right?" She asked as they paused to breathe.
"Check." He nudged the pocket he knew contained her totem. She shook her head, "I want you to tell me, not the Bishop."
He smiled and tucked a stray hair behind her ear, "It's over, it's done, and this is very real."
"Good enough for me." She grabbed the lapels of his jacket and pulled him towards her for another kiss.
The end. For now.
A/N- R/R and suggest whether or not I should continue