Ariadne left the airport that day knowing only one thing: she had no freaking idea where her future was going to take her. Hell, her life was only plotted out for the next year, and then she would graduate and she had no clue what she would do after that.
Maybe she'll stay in this crazy business, where the only thing certain is the uncertainty. She liked the rush of it all. Designing buildings that would eventually be destroyed was so much better in the dreamscape anyway. Maybe Cobb would open his eyes and see her as more than an architect. Maybe she would pretend none of this had ever happened and just live a normal life- one without dreams. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
Her luggage made its way from wherever the hell it came from, just so she could take it and board another flight back home. She felt a tap on her shoulder. Arthur. He stood there with concern in his eyes, and asked her if she was ok. "It's an ordeal after your first job," he said, "and most veterans never even see limbo, but you have already". The reality of it hit her- she went someplace she shouldn't have been, something that hadn't been explained away by so-called "experts" yet.
She just smiled and replied "I'm fine. Are you ok?" She dropped to a whisper, "Fighting in zero gravity in a dream that isn't yours can't be easy either". He just laughed, like this was normal, like upside down, hand to hand combat with a projection trying to kill you was nothing unusual. And maybe it was, for him. Ariadne, however, just wasn't ready for what she had undergone in the past ten hours of her actual life. The violence of it all, and Mal…let's just say she wouldn't sleep easily for a good few weeks.
I need to recover from the inception, she thought. Suddenly, a wave of pain swept over her and she fell into the blackness.
Arthur had been the one to catch her. Of course he had been. She'd been hoping it'd be Cobb (somewhere in her subconscious screamed he doesn't love you, you stupid little girl), but she always knew that Cobb wouldn't look back on any of this- before long, she'd be just a memory to him (but not like Mal, she hoped).
Ariadne slowly awoke from her slumber. There were overly obnoxious bright lights and something that wasn't PASIV was pumping into her arm via needle. Arthur was sleeping in the chair next to the bed. When she sat up, she felt a cold breeze down her back and felt very, very exposed. The realization hit her: she was in a hospital (the point man really was concerned about her). Arthur began to stir a little bit, and she quickly recoiled, because God forbid he'd see her like that. Even though they kissed, Ariadne just didn't know how to feel about him. She still loved Cobb (was it love? She's only twenty-one).
A nurse with a nice smile came in with something resembling food for Ariadne. Arthur, fully awake now, gave her this look that was full of relief and concern and something she just couldn't put her finger on. She offered to share with him, because she said "I'm not that hungry". He just smiled and kindly refused. He put the pistol away (their world just isn't safe anymore), and walked over to her. He leaned in toward her and whispered something she will never forget:
"Quick, give me a promise: promise me that you'll be ok, no matter what you do".
She looked up at him and nodded; no smiles or empty words involved. Arthur kissed her forehead ever so gently, and then walked out of the room (out of her life?). A doctor came in and looked her over, then said she just needed to spend the night before she could go home. Wherever that is.
She doesn't hear from or see anyone on the team until a year and a half later, after she's graduated. She dated a nice guy for seven months, but he just wasn't right- there wasn't any thrill associated with him, the thrill she sought for in her life. The inception changed more than one person's life. No one and nothing really seemed to fit her, so she caught a plane to somewhere in Iowa (Lord knows why), and left Europe.
The most unexpected person is waiting for her when she steps off the plane: Cobb. He always had a way of staying informed. There aren't any words, just a hug full of understanding. Cobb says "stay with me", and, true to the young girl she still somewhat is, she has a hard time restraining herself from jumping up and down in excitement. She tips the bishop over just to check that this isn't a dream- and it isn't.
A week passes, and Ariadne isn't sure what she wants anymore. Cobb came to her bedroom door on the fifth night, looks her in the eye, and tells her, with no uncertainty whatsoever, that he wants her.
The little girl inside her doesn't quite understand that wanting and loving aren't the same thing.
She suddenly wakes up next to him and something is screaming inside of her that this isn't right! She starts crying, because she's scared shitless. A dreadful pang hits Ariadne as she remembers that Cobb has kids, for Christ's sake! He was just lonely, and she was just there. She's not Mal, she's Ariadne, and she can't compare.
She gets dressed and goes back to her own bed, feeling very soiled and very uncertain. She can't be there for Cobb when he doesn't love her, though part of her wants to stay- the same part that thinks she loves him. But then she thinks that these kids need a mother, and she's just not ready for that. She's only twenty-two, and now she's lost what she thought was love. So, like all people who realize that their dreams are shattered, she picked up the pieces of what was left and moved on.
When she tells Cobb she's leaving, he doesn't plead for her to stay or anything like that. He just nods quietly, and slips her a check, and tells her good luck with her life. Then, just like that, Cobb's out of her life for good.
She doesn't know what else to do, so she catches a plane back to Paris. Once she gets to a hotel room, her cell phone (which she'd been ignoring) rings. Eames. He's gotten miserably drunk, so will she be a dear and come get him? Sighing, she agrees, and that's how she found herself in Eames's apartment.
Eames pats the bed with a drunken giggle once he gets in it, and tells her to come over here, now that's a good dear. She feels disgusted with herself and with him when she does (am I that desperate, she thinks). She knows that he won't remember any of this in the morning, so she leaves in the middle of the night after writing a brief note:
Try not to get drunk again anytime soon. Don't know how long I can stay here without being haunted.
She found a flat in Paris and some roommates to share it with, and wonders if this is what normalcy feels like. It all goes normally for another year, then she sees someone she thought was gone forever on the street.
They look at each other, and Arthur just looks hurt. Maybe Eames did remember that night, and subsequently bragged to him about how sweet she'd been. He barely acknowledges her, just a slight nod in her direction, and she can feel her heart breaking (how is it still there after all this time?).
She never thought she'd need a point man, but it's in that second that she realizes that she does. And she just breaks down sobbing in the middle of the street, and she doesn't stop until the darkness engulfs her and she gets scared because this is when dreams happen. She goes home and calls him, and all she hears is:
Hi. You've reached Arthur. Leave a message after the beep, but if I'm not answering, I may not get back to you anytime soon.
And for the second time, she can feel her heart breaking inside her chest as she sobs into his answering machine.
It takes two weeks, but they finally run into each other again. He slides a note into her hand, and when she reads it, she smiles.
Meet me at the warehouse tomorrow, noon. –A.
The next day arrives and she eagerly heads over to the warehouse (oh memories). Arthur is punctual as always, and his voice is husky as he says "I thought we loved each other".
And she cries, because she does love him, can't he see it? And part of him wants to jump out for joy, because she does love him. But it's with complete honesty that he tells her that he doesn't know if he can trust her, though he does love her. She asks "how can I make it up to you? I was lonely and was disgusted with myself afterward. I never meant for it to be like this". He tells her that she can earn his trust by letting her into the most intimate of places: her dreams.
The tears flow freely from both of them when she tells him she doesn't dream anymore- she can't, they're too dark and they haunt her. He asks her, as he wipes a tear from her cheeks, if they can try, just once, and if it's too dark, they can try something else.
They both awaken at the same time, and Arthur holds Ariadne. He knew that she had been through a lot in the past three years, but never the specifics. She cries for a long time, and he wants to cry with her, but he just wipes away the tears and promises they'll make it better together.
Because he's twenty-seven and she's twenty-four and it's about time they settled down and left their dreams behind.