A/N: Original prompt from LJ inception_kink: Arthur's nervous about picking out an engagement ring for Ariadne. White gold? Yellow gold? Platinum? Double digit shapes to choose from? And what about carat, clarity, cut and colour? He gets advice from the rest of the team but none of it is particularly helpful. When he checks out her jewellery box to get her ring size, she notices something off later and figures out what's going on. She drops a hint about what she wants, but at this point he ignores whatever she says because he's already determined the perfect solution.

Summary: A point man's guide to finding the perfect engagement ring. Arthur/Ariadne

Disclaimer: Standard disclaimers apply throughout. Inception and characters belong to Christopher Mind-Bending-Genius Nolan.

Marriage Proposals for Dummies

A Point Man's Guide to Finding the Perfect Engagement Ring

Chapter 1: Cut

Tip #1: There is no such thing as too much research when it comes to women and their jewellery.


Take all the luck you can get. (Chances are you'll need it.)

Details were Arthur's job.

The point man prided himself on his specificity, his keen observational skills and his habit of jotting down organised notes with his 0.5mm Montblanc ballpoint pen, tiny spidery letters crawling in neat lines across the cream-coloured pages of his Moleskine notebook. It was his job to unearth encyclopaedic records of a mark's life, and to condense entire existences into a series of cold hard numbers and cold hard facts. Birth date, shoe size, favourite pizza toppings, the football club they have a soft spot for and that one song they listen to when they're depressed; the devil was always in the details.

But sometimes it was too easy to forget that paper didn't necessarily translate into a flesh-and-blood person, and that a living, breathing human being was a far cry from a ring-bound almanac of statistics. Things tended to get lost between the second and third dimensions, and that extra facet of reality was what made reality, well, real. Sometimes research – even when it was all the research in the world – was simply not enough. And unfortunately for Arthur, this happened to be one of those tiring times.

This being, of course, the all-important task of choosing the perfect engagement ring for Ariadne.

After dating for three years, Arthur had finally decided to pop the question, and being the stickler for tradition that he was, he had sought her parents' consent in advance. The point man could walk fearlessly into crossfire on a daily basis without so much as batting an eyelid, yet he had somehow succumbed to a case of the nerves when standing in Ariadne's father's study, asking for permission to seek her hand. He had hated having to lie about everything – how they had met, what he did for a living, where they planned to live; everything about the relationship except the way he felt about her – but it was a procedural precaution. As it turned out, though, that was actually the straightforward part, a figurative walk in the park compared to this.

Women – Arthur concluded, and not for the first time that day – were utterly unfathomable. Their taste in jewellery even more so.

First things first: white gold, yellow gold or even two-tone? How about platinum? And that was only the metals. On top of that, it was hard enough getting his head around the extensive list of possible shapes (oval, marquise, heart and pear-shape, to name but a few) without even having to worry about choosing a setting (pronged, bezel, tension, pave… the choices were endless).

Then there was the matter of the actual gemstone – a diamond seemed like the obvious option, but Ariadne had never openly stated a preference and an emerald, ruby or sapphire could potentially work as well. So much for knowing that 75% of women favoured diamonds, Arthur thought dryly, when he hadn't the faintest idea which side of the percentage divide his woman belonged in.

Assuming it was a diamond, there were still the so-called four Cs to worry about: cut, clarity, colour and carat. After hours of tediously trawling through self-help articles on the internet, Arthur knew exactly how many facets a round-cut diamond had (58), the difference between inclusions and blemishes (inclusions are internal flaws, blemishes are external) and even the diamond clarity scale back to front (FL and IF all the way down to I3). But that didn't mean he was any closer to choosing the perfect engagement ring.

Because, he knew, it had to be perfect. Perfect was what Ariadne deserved and Arthur would never settle for anything less.

Cobb was the first person that Arthur confided in. The point man had wisely refrained from telling Eames and Yusuf about his plans; the former could be entrusted with guns and ammunition, the latter with fragile glass vessels and volatile compounds, but neither could be charged with the safekeeping of a secret. Cobb, however, was Arthur's oldest colleague, mentor and friend, almost a fatherly figure – and besides, being on another continent halfway around the world greatly minimised the chances of Ariadne accidentally finding out beforehand.

"Ah, I see you've finally worked up the courage" was the retired extractor's reaction when the news was revealed to him. Although Cobb had originally opposed the couple's relationship, explaining that their professional and personal lives were too dangerously intermingled like his and Mal's had been, he had eventually relented and given them their blessing. Arthur could picture him grinning now over the phone: a beam of joy marred by hidden sorrow, a smile tinted with the shade of regret.

"I've never been so scared in my life, Dom," Arthur confessed in a rare display of emotion. "I mean, how can you tell when it's the right time to propose?"

"Well, you… you feel it, I suppose. I remember, with Mal, I knew straightaway it was the right thing to do." There was an uncomfortable pause in the conversation; the topic inevitably reminded Cobb of his own loss, like a souvenir from a haunted past that could never be discarded, and somewhere in the shadowed vaults of his mind, a ghostly voice dripped words like honeyed nightshade. Do you remember when you asked me to marry you? the shade whispered. You said you dreamt that we'd grow old together. But he derailed this runaway train of thought before it got completely out of control, and pressed on quickly: "Getting married is a huge step and the important thing is to ask yourself if it's what you really want."

Arthur hesitated, his stuttered breathing rasping in the silence.

"Let me put it this way," Cobb counselled. "You don't marry someone that you can live with; you marry the one person you can't live without. So is Ariadne that person?"

Arthur pondered this for a moment. Before the Fischer job, he had never been involved with anyone for more than a few hours, let alone a serious relationship. There was no point pretending that the series of one-night stands and temporary hook-ups were anything more than just that: lust-driven ruses to make an empty hotel room in a foreign city seem a little less lonely. A procession of pretty girls; a flurry of frantic hands and limbs and unfocused faces, dirty thoughts and naughty words with no real meaning. He told himself it was because he couldn't afford to get romantically attached – look what happened to Cobb, he had argued – but the only person he was fooling was himself.

Ariadne, on the other hand, was another matter entirely. Somehow he hadn't been able to bring himself to leave when she fell asleep curled up against him after their first night together, and when he woke up still in that same position and saw her looking back at him with sleepy chocolate-brown eyes… something had stirred in him, something he didn't have a name for at the time. It took him weeks to identify that new feeling as trust, as belonging – it was a lot easier opening up to her since he didn't have to fabricate a whole new alternative alias for himself – but when he did, he hadn't wanted to leave anymore. Not then and not ever.

"Yes," Arthur said, with assured sincerity. "Yes, she definitely is."

"Then it's the right decision and you have nothing to worry about."

"OK," he allowed. "But what if I choose a ring and she doesn't like it? What if I mess up the proposal?"

There was a chuckle on the other end of the line. "Who are you and what have you done with the real Arthur?"

"I'm serious, Cobb, what if she says no?"

"I've known you for ten years and I can safely say that I've never seen you anywhere near this distressed before." Cobb's voice held a distinct trace of amusement. "I'll take that as a good sign, though; an indication that you've learned to think with your heart instead of your head. I know I originally had my doubts, but I can see that you and Ariadne have worked hard to make your bond stronger over the years. Things will get tougher but you truly deserve every happiness in your lives together, and knowing her, I doubt she'll refuse."

"Thanks, Dom. You're getting sentimental in your old age," Arthur laughed, but his heart swelled at the encouragement nonetheless.

"What can I say? Retirement does strange things to people," Cobb quipped, and Arthur was glad to hear his friend reverting back to his old self again. He would never be able to forget Mal, but at least with the happiness that his children brought, he had moved on and learned to enjoy life again. As if to emphasise this, the sound of a boy's singsong voice and a girl's carefree laughter floated momentarily in the background. "Look, I have to take Phillipa and James to school now, but send my regards to the others, will you?"

The point man duly promised to do so.

"Oh, and Arthur?" Cobb added before hanging up. "I'm proud of you and Ariadne, for not making the same mistakes that I made. Good luck."

A/N: To be continued, with more fluff and humour to come in later chapters. In the meantime, please check out my other Inception fanfics too. Reviews are always welcome.