Thanks so much for not giving up on me even though it has taken me so long to update. I decided that I wanted to wait on this chapter until I had the DVD as I needed to reconnect with the characters. This chapter is going to be pretty intense but will also fill in some of the back story of the relationship that has been developing between Arthur and Ariadne and this history will become even more important in future chapters. I also tried to give you some insight on how Ariadne feels so that she seems less like the helpless victim. Hopefully I was successful!

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Ariadne had always taken pride in her toughness, her physical and mental bravery. Her father was quite fond of telling the story of how she'd tripped while sucking on a lollipop at the county fair and landed chin first on the hard pavement below, splitting open her chin and nearly biting through her tongue. She was only six. Within an instant, she was surrounded by horrified adults, each one waiting for her to start to wail, cry, or scream. Her dad scooped her up into his arms, looking her over carefully. Ariadne's whole face felt like it was on fire and she could feel the familiar pinprick of hot tears just waiting to spill over her face. And then something amazing happened. She saw a cotton candy booth, and just like that, the pain she felt gave way to a stronger desire to eat the fluffy pink and blue confection. She looked up at her father, took a deep breath, and said, "Daddy, if I'm a big girl at the doctor, will you buy me some cotton candy?"

Her father simply shook his head at his tiny brave little girl, her mouth covered in blood, whose only care in the world seemed to be cotton candy. He'd grabbed a napkin, wiped off her face as best he could, and taken her to buy four large bags of cotton candy before loading her in his truck for a trip to the Emergency Room.

Once they arrived at the ER, he held her hand and stroked her hair while a man in a white coat sewed up her chin with a needle, just like the one her mommy had used to sew her well-worn stuffed bunny's ear back on a million times. At first her face stung and then later felt funny, like it was stuffed with cotton balls, but Ariadne never let out so much as a whimper. Her father bought her ice cream on the way home from the hospital ("Doctor's orders," he later told her mom) and let her eat cotton candy for breakfast the next morning.

But Ariadne had never felt pain like this before and this time the pain was secondary to her fearsome hunger for air, making her feel like she was trying to suck soda through a straw with a hole in it. Some rational part of Ariadne's mind knew that she was losing blood and not getting enough oxygen, that something was wrong with her chest or lung and that the whole team was being put in harms way in order to stay and care for her. Even with all of these thoughts and feelings competing for her attention, the one thing that really scared her was the look on Arthur's face. Sure, he was trying to cover his fear by focusing on the plans for getting the team out of this in one piece, but she could see the overwhelming anxiety on his face every time she cried out in pain or struggled to draw in a breath.

She shuddered as she tried to think of how she would feel if the roles had been reversed, if Arthur was the one lying against the chair bleeding and in pain. She knew her feelings for Arthur had been steadily growing since they completed the Fischer job. It didn't hurt that he was gorgeous to look at it in his impeccably tailored suits. Her desire for Arthur was present from the first day they met. When Arthur grabbed her hand as she came out of the first dream (or really nightmare) when Mal stabbed her, she immediately felt safe and comforted. But she saw how seriously Arthur took his job as point man and it became clear to her that Arthur was always careful to keep his relationship with every team member including her on a professional level. She hadn't even dared to dream that Arthur could return her feelings until he'd spontaneously kissed her during the Fischer job under the very flimsy guise of "tricking the projections." The kiss was electric but all too short. The kiss seemed to communicate an unspoken need to spend more time together.

At first, there were only the stolen moments while working when Arthur's hand would linger on hers for just a few seconds longer than necessary when hooking up the PASIV device or when Ariadne would purposefully drag out her own work when she knew Arthur would be working late so that they could be the last two people working in the warehouse together. After several months of office flirting, they'd finally taken a step forward with Eames' help when he invited them both to dinner and then had bowed out at the last minute, leaving Arthur and Ariadne to dine alone together in a very romantic Italian restaurant. Ariadne couldn't be sure if Eames' help had been inadvertent or intentional, but she was grateful nonetheless. Since that first "date" or whatever you would call it, Arthur and Ariadne had found many excuses to spend time alone together and while these moments had been flirtatious and fun, she still sensed that Arthur was still holding back in an attempt to keep things professional. Arthur was clearly a man with many walls up and while Ariadne had finally started to get past some of those walls, she sometimes wondered whether or not she'd ever be able to truly see Arthur with his guard down.

However, as Ariadne stared into Arthur's eyes down, she sensed that something tangible had shifted in their relationship. Arthur's worry for her was written all over his face, now matter how hard he tried to hide it, to be strong for her. And that in turn made Ariadne want to be strong for Arthur, just as she had been for her father years ago.

She was pulled from these thoughts by the feeling of Arthur's warm hand reaching up to cup her cheek while his other hand gently brushed back the damp hair from her forehead. The feel of Arthur's warm hands against her own clammy cheek made her shiver as she struggled to open her eyes.

"Ari?," Arthur called to Ariadne. "How are you doing? Saito's car is just up ahead and we need to get you out of here now before Frankie's men get here. I'm going to pick you up, okay?"

Ari gazed into Arthur's eyes for a second before replying. "I'm...okay. I think I...can walk," Ari gasped in reply.

Arthur shook his head. "No Ariadne, you don't need to walk. I've got you. Besides it will be faster to get you in the car this way and we need to hurry." Arthur thought (but didn't add) that he felt a strong desire to hold her in his arms in order to reassure her (and him) that everything was going to be okay. He was relieved to see Ari nod in response before reaching out her uninjured arm and wrapping it around his neck.

Arthur gave a small smile as Ariadne reached for him. Arthur slid his right arm behind Ariadne's back and slowly led her upper body to rest against his chest. Ariadne winced and drew in a deep breath but silently kept her eyes on Arthur's as he moved her to his chest.

"Ari, you doing okay?" asked Arthur, while reaching out to grab her hand and giving it a gentle squeeze. Ari nodded and Arthur continued to slowly move Ariadne, sliding his other arm under her legs and scooping her up like a small child. Ari's arm tightened around Arthur's neck as she buried her face into his shoulder, gritting her teeth to keep from crying out in pain.

Arthur turned to Yusuf, pointing him to the bag of saline that he'd been squeezing in an attempt to quickly get some fluids into Ariadne to counteract her blood loss. "Yusuf, can you hold onto this until we get her into Saito's car?"

Before Yusuf could answer, Cobb and Eames jumped out of the back of the van and made their way to the door next to Arthur and Ariadne. Eames flung open the door while Cobb scanned the horizon for any sign of Frankie's men.

"We've got to move now," shouted Cobb before firing at a black SUV in the distance.

"Shit!" said Eames as bullets whizzed perilously close to where he stood. He held open to the door and gestured for Arthur to step out while Cobb continued to return fire.

Arthur slid off the car seat and out into the line of fire. He easily supported Ariadne's petite frame and immediately curled his body around Ari and turned his back to the gunfire in order to protect Ari from stray bullets. Eames and Cobb surrounded Arthur and Ariadne, facing into the line of fire in an attempt to hold off Frankie's men until they could get to Saito's car.

Arthur's adrenaline had kicked in full force as soon as he heard the first burst of gunfire. Yet despite the very real danger he and Ari were currently in, he was not immune to Ariadne's charms. He could smell her delicious scent that smelled clean and fresh in a light, subtle way. He could also feel her hot breath on his neck which sent shivers down his spine. He was shaken out of his reverie by the sound of Ariadne's ragged breathing. Her breathing seemed to be getting worse, and he feared that she had a collapsed lung. He mentally chided himself for momentarily getting off track and forgetting his true purpose which was to keep Ari safe. He'd already failed her once, but he wouldn't fail her again.

Arthur breathed a sigh of relief as he reached Saito's massive SUV limo with Yusuf trailing right behind with Ariadne's IV bag. He slid across the large bench seat with Ari still wrapped protectively in his arms. He looked out the door to see Cobb and Eames taking heavy fire from Frankie's men. He contemplated whether he should get out and help them before remembering that as a marksman, he was no match for Eames who'd time and time again proven to Arthur that he could indeed dream a little bigger. As if on cue, Eames pulled out a bazooka (Arthur had no idea how he had gotten his hands on the gun, but he was certain that he hadn't gone through legal channels) and managed to launch enough fire at the mobsters to get him and Cobb safely to the car.

The second that Cobb slid into the car, he shouted to the driver, "Go, go! We need to get out of here and fast because they're going to try to follow us. Everyone stay away from the windows because I don't want anyone else getting shot."

The driver took off at a high rate of speed before lowering the partition to speak to the team. "You should be safe. This car is armored, so all the glass is bulletproof. I'll do what I can to lose our tail. Mr. Saito gave me an address of a warehouse where he is having the doctor meet us. He did stock the car with medical supplies in that pull out drawer down below, so take anything you need to help your friend."

"Thank you," said Cobb gratefully.

"Bloody amazing, that Saito," said Eames. He turned his attention to Ariadne, taking note that her color was even worse than it had been only minutes before. He also took in Arthur's appearance. He looked slightly less anxious but continued to gaze into Ariadne's eyes with a look of such tenderness that it caused Eames to pause momentarily. Anyone with eyes and half a brain knew that Ariadne and Arthur had feelings for one another. Their excuses for needing to "work late" were fooling absolutely no one. Eames sensed that they needed a little push in the right direction, particularly "Mr. Professional" Arthur, so he'd manipulated their dinner plans so that the two of them ended up having dinner alone at La Travia, his favorite restaurant for bringing beautiful women. His machinations seemed to have worked as Arthur and Ariadne started regularly seeing each other outside of work, going to dinners, movies, and concerts. There still seemed to be some sort of implied boundary, but things were definitely heading in the right direction for them. Eames smiled briefly at the thought of Arthur being forever in his debt for pointing him towards Ariadne.

Arthur continued to gaze at Ariadne while he gently rubbed her uninjured arm. Her body felt cold as ice and her forehead was covered in a cold sweat. Ari had her eyes open and started right back at Arthur, but he could see the how much she was struggling just to stay conscious.

"Ari?" Arthur called out while taking her uninjured hand in his. "You doing okay?"

Ariadne squeezed his hand in return while saying, "I am now."

Arthur responded with one of his rare, heart-stopping smiles. He cupped Ari's cheek and lightly kissed her forehead before gently stroking her hair. "Everything's going to be fine. You're doing great." he whispered to Ariadne although the reassurance was as much for his benefit as it was for hers.

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Well, how did you like this chapter? Pretty intense, huh? Things will be intense in the next chapter too, but there is also lots more h/c goodness to come. I've already started the next chapter, so I can promise that I'll update much sooner this time. Reviews are like oxygen to me, so if there is something you liked or didn't like, please let me know. Also, if there is something that you'd really like me to incorporate in the story going forward, what would it be? Please let me know with your review :)