Arthur sat waiting impatiently for Ariadne to return from the toilet, all the while trying to ignore his friend's increasingly fervent appeals to listen to his idea. It wasn't a bad one; in fact, quite the opposite: Arthur could see the logic behind the proposal, and knew it was one of the only options open to them. Yet he couldn't bring himself to deceive Ariadne, to go behind her back and dig through her most private thoughts and dreams, even if it was for her benefit. If she wanted his help, she would ask. As for the dishonesty...well, he knew her too well by now to judge how she would react to that. The very thought brought back memories of the last time he had kept information from her, albeit inadvertently. That had ended with the hotel door being slammed in his face and her eventual kidnap as she tried to go off alone. There was no he would allow that to happen again.
'Arthur, I understand your objections, but what other option do you have?'
Eames' clipped tones cut through his spiralling thoughts and focused his attention back on the rather one-sided conversation. It was then Arthur became aware that he had simply been shaking his head the entire time without even realising what he was doing.
'I can't,' he said shortly. 'I won't betray her trust.'
'And if the dreams don't stop? If they get worse?'
'Then I'll figure it out then.'
The Forger sat back in his chair with a shrug and a heavy sigh, apparently accepting defeat. For the moment, at least. His timing was perfect, for at that moment Ariadne reappeared; she dropped into her chair, running her fingers lightly across Arthur's arm as she did so.
'And just what were you boys talking about to make you look so excited?' she asked, addressing her question to Eames but with a sideward glance at Arthur, too.
'We can't tell you that,' Eames said with a grin, as usual adopting a completely different behaviour in the blink of an eye. 'It's a surprise.'
Arthur shot him look that needed no translation: What the hell are you doing? If he so much as breathed a word of his plan...
'You should know by now how much I hate surprises,' she grumbled.
Arthur certainly didn't need reminding; he knew firsthand how persistent she was when she wanted to wheedle information out of someone. This time, though, he couldn't afford to cave in. He couldn't bear to face the fallout should she figure out what Eames had suggested.
'Patience, my dear, is a virtue,' Eames smiled, apparently unwittingly using Arthur's own words against Ariadne.
'Look who's talking,' Ariadne retorted; she, at least, had clearly not missed the irony. 'Fine. Be mysterious if you must.'
Both men struggled to hide their surprise at her surrender, their eyebrows raising almost in unison. She never gives up that easily, Arthur thought, frowning. What's going through her mind, I wonder? Whatever it was, she wasn't giving it away through her expression; it was as impassive a look as Arthur himself had ever managed to muster. He was, he admitted secretly, rather impressed. Either she was formulating a more discrete plan to disarm them, or she had undergone a personality transformation and accepted that, sometimes, things were best left alone. He hoped rather than genuinely believed it was the latter.
Another hour slipped by in perfect harmony, with no more grumbling from Ariadne nor cryptic quips from Eames. Soon it was time for them to leave, and Arthur found he was glad to be away from the babbling crowd and back in the pokey studio flat he now called home. The three friends spent another half hour catching up on what they had been up to in the past four months (Eames was decidedly vague about certain details, which only served to pique the others' interest more) before the Forger stood up, stretched rather elaborately and declared it was past his bedtime. With a pointed look at Arthur over Ariadne's shoulder as he drew her into a bear hug, he bid them goodnight and took his leave. Despite his relief, Arthur felt a now-familiar sense of dread descend upon him when Ariadne wandered into the bathroom to get changed into her nightclothes.
Countless questions chased each other around in his mind, but, always, one in particular stood out: would it happen again tonight?
Another disturbed night would make it three in a row: the most she had ever suffered in succession. All he could do was cling to the hope that it would resolve itself somehow. Otherwise...
'Done,' Ariadne's voice preceded her exit from the bathroom, now sporting nothing but a pair of Arthur's boxer shorts and a t-shirt.
Even in his present state of mind, Arthur couldn't help but smile at the sight; the underwear certainly looked better on her than it ever had done on him, although she was inclined to disagree. Her casual was one thing he loved about her. It was completely at odds with his own pristine clothing, and the sight of them together often drew curious looks from other passers-by. It was one of many points in which they differed, and yet he was constantly surprised by how similar they were in other aspects: stubbornness, a complete refusal to give in, being just two of them.
Without realising what he was doing, Arthur smirked, shook his head, and went into the bathroom to change himself. He was oblivious to the confused frown on the Architect's face as he passed.
As per usual, Arthur lay awake long after Ariadne had fallen asleep. Hands behind his head, he stared up at the stuccoed ceiling, his eyes now fully adjusted to the darkness of the room. Lost as he was in his own thoughts, he still retained an almost animal-like awareness of his surroundings; the slightest stir from Ariadne was enough to make him whip around to check on her. So far, however, she had passed an uneventful night.
Uneventful, that was, until precisely 2.34am.
First the slight murmurs started; then the kicking began, the struggle with the duvet; finally, a shrill, heart-rending scream split the night air. Arthur leapt up in bed and bent over the flailing figure of his girlfriend, apparently locked in another battle with her subconscious. His hand hovered over her shoulder as he weighed up his choice: wake her up and disorient her, yet save her from the nightmare, or leave her to free herself from the torment? He knew the potential effects of dragging someone out of a particularly traumatising nightmare; should he risk them?
As sobs racked her body, pale and small in the dim light from the streetlamp outside the window, a single cry rent Arthur's heart: 'Arthur...please...help me...'
Without further hesitation, Arthur made up his mind. Grabbing his phone from the bedside table, he punched in two words that would alter his near-future forever: I'm in.
A/N: I think I should be a cheesy thriller writer! All this angst and these cliff-hangers...well, hopefully they're doing their job and keeping you wondering, at any rate. :)
The story now will finally pick up and head in the intended direction, so stay tuned! I hope to see you all soon for the next installment.