Disclaimer: I do not own Inception!
This story was originally written for the Sneeze Fetish Forum. :)
Ariadne hurried down the aisle of the train, her bag clutched to her chest so she wouldn't smack any of the sitting passengers. This car, like the last one, looked completely full, and there were more people boarding behind her. She needed to find a seat quickly if she didn't want to stand for the five hours her trip was going to take. "Excuse me, sir," she asked, leaning down to address an elderly gentleman sitting beside a free chair. "Is that-?"
"I'm sorry," he replied, looking genuinely regretful. "My wife will be back in just a minute. Try the next car."
"Thank you," she sighed, and took his advice. A sea of faces peered at her curiously as she stepped through to the next compartment, but none of them looked even remotely helpful. Just as she was going to move on again, with just a minute before the train left, she spotted a seat beside a harried-looking young man, intent on his laptop screen. "Uh, hello," she blurted. "Is this seat taken?"
Apparently startled, he glanced up, blinking. He looked exhausted, with shadows under his eyes that put her insomniac roommate to shame. "Oh, uh. No." He reached out and moved his laptop bag from it, shoving it unceremoniously down by his feet.
"Thank you," she said, sliding into the chair just as the announcement came on declaring that the train was departing. She busied herself settling her bag and taking out her ticket, relaxing after the chaos of making last-minute plans. How was she supposed to know that she'd have to cut her visit to Leipzig short? A little warning would have been appreciated. She was still thinking about it a trifle resentfully when a soft sound pulled her from her musings.
Ariadne glanced to the side to see the young man wiping his nose gingerly with a blue silk handkerchief. A nose that was, now that she thought about it, quite red. "Bless you," she said, because it seemed polite. The passengers sitting ahead of and behind them were intent on their own little worlds and ignored the sound altogether.
"Thank you," said the man in a rather clipped tone, looking like he had heard it a million times already that day. He sniffed and gave her an incongruously apologetic look. "You might not want to sit here… I'm probably contagious."
"There's nowhere else to sit," she replied truthfully, and shrugged. "Besides, I have a very good immune system." She smiled and, after a moment, stuck out her hand. "I'm Ariadne. I'm an architecture student at the École des Beaux-Arts."
"Arthur," said Arthur, briefly taking her hand in a firm grip. He let go to cover a short cough. "I'm in… business. Kind of an entrepreneur." He gestured to his laptop. "Work."
"That sucks," Ariadne said, and she meant it. Arthur looked like he should hop into bed and stay there for a week. "I won't disturb you then." He nodded vaguely, frowning, already focused back on whatever it was that he was doing. Ariadne unzipped the corner pocket of her bag and pulled out her copy of Le Petit Prince. She turned to page seventeen and removed the pen from behind her ear, ready to make annotations. She was studying for her French exam, which had been rescheduled, hence her annoying relocation. Still, she enjoyed the book and it was fairly easy going. The only problem – and it was hardly his fault – was that every five minutes or so, Arthur would stifle another sneeze, or another two, into his handkerchief. She refrained from commenting, because it looked like it was bothering him even more than it was her.
Finally, after close to an hour, Arthur gave up on his typing and closed his laptop, fumbling it into its case and leaning back, eyes closed. Ariadne peered over her book at him, taking in the early frown lines on his forehead and the pinched look of discomfort on his face, which worsened when he sneezed again, this time unstifled into his shoulder. "Eh-chxxkst!" He yanked his handkerchief – going rather limp now – out of his jacket pocket and blew his nose with difficulty.
"Bless you, again," Ariadne said, setting her book down, open, in her lap. "That sounds like a pretty bad cold." She wanted to give him some cough medicine, but all she had in her bag was Pamprin.
"Ugh, I know… It wasn't nearly so bad this morning… I knew I should have picked up some aspirin in Berlin." He shook his head, but Ariadne wasn't sure if it wasn't just an attempt to cover a shiver.
"You're coming from Berlin? Business?" Ariadne closed Le Petit Prince. Now that Arthur was no longer working and regrettably unable to sleep, he seemed fairly friendly. That, or desperate for something to distract him.
"Eh- Eh-hggst! Excuse me…" Arthur blew his nose again, sounding quite congested indeed. "No. I was actually babysitting." He chuckled a tad derisively. "A couple of my good friends were taking a second honeymoon and asked me to look after the kids for a week and a half." He sniffed. "That would have been fine, only both kids chose that week to get sick. Now I've got it…" He sniffed again and absently rolled his handkerchief between his fingers. "I've been fighting this thing since eight this morning."
"I'm sorry. That sounds awful," Ariadne said. "Here." She flagged down the refreshment cart. "Let me buy you a hot drink. Do you like tea?"
"I- Don't." Arthur flushed a little and took out his wallet. "You don't need to do that."
But once Ariadne set her mind to something, she was hard to dissuade. She ended up buying her unfortunate companion a large chai tea. Arthur, however, was no slouch himself, and Ariadne gained a small bag of Mozartkugeln to munch on. She popped one into her mouth as Arthur sneezed yet again, bending with the force of it.
"Bweff you," mumbled Ariadne around a mouth full of marzipan. She swallowed and reached into her bag to get her travel tissues. "Here. I think you need them more than I do."
"Thanks," he said wearily, and took the little package from her, slitting it open with his thumb.
After finishing his tea, Arthur curled up as best he could in his seat and managed to drop off for a few hours. Ariadne finished her book and started in on her Sudoku puzzles, every now and then glancing worriedly beside her. Arthur was, by now, definitely shivering, and his breathing sounded awful, labored and hoarse. She wanted to rub some of the tension out of his neck, but it really wasn't her place. What was she doing thinking such things?
She almost did it anyway when two and a half hours later he still looked as tense as a spring, but Arthur woke just as she was reaching over. She changed the movement into an awkward brushing-back of her bangs, but Arthur didn't even seem to notice. Instead, he straightaway pulled out a clump of tissues and tried desperately to clear his nose a little, with limited success. He sounded even more stuffed-up than before when he turned to her and asked "Whad tibe is it?"
"It's just about 4:30," Ariadne said, and Arthur nodded distractedly before sighing and sneezing into the crook of his elbow. He then pulled out a slim Blackberry and hit one of the speed dial numbers.
"Id's be," was all he said when, evidently, it stopped ringing. "Ndo, I'b sdill od by way back to Paris… Whad? Oh, ndo, I caughd sobethig frob the kids. I wadted to cancel our plads for todight, sindce I'b really dot feeling well. Ndo, you really don'd have to… Hold od." He moved the phone away from his mouth and sneezed into his other hand. "Eh-nng! Eh-hnngh! …Eh-chhxxgst!" He sighed and wiped his hand on his jeans, something Ariadne had the feeling he would never do if he were even remotely healthier. "Sorry. Ndo, I said you did't have to- You're ibpossible. Eh-chssxht!"
"You okay?" Ariadne asked quietly, and Arthur nodded exhaustedly.
"Excuse be," he said to the phone. "Okay, okay. Bye." He hung up, letting out a long sigh.
Ariadne was beginning to feel quite sorry for him.
The feeling didn't abate over the last hour of the trip. Arthur looked sick as a dog, certainly feverish by this point, and huddled in his pea coat even though the heat was blasting on the train. He had pillowed his head on Ariadne's scarf at her urging and drifted in and out of wakefulness as France rolled by the windows. Ariadne had to help rouse him when they reached the station, and she saw him off the train.
"Good luck," she told him and they stood side by side on the platform. Arthur smiled at her weakly.
"Thags. Good luck with your French exab." And before she could ask him how he knew about that, he was walking a tad unsteadily off into the station.
Ariadne watched him for a minute or so, a nagging in her stomach telling her he was going to die in a ditch somewhere if she didn't assist him, and then she jogged after him. She was within earshot after a few seconds, but she didn't catch up to him. Arthur had stopped walking. In fact, he was embracing a rather broad man wearing a cheerfully red jacket and a white beret.
"Take that off," Arthur grumped, still wrapped in the man's arms. "You look ridiculous."
"At least I don't look like Rudolph, darling," replied the man cheekily, though Ariadne noticed he was rocking Arthur softly. "How are you feeling?" He reached out to press a hand to Arthur's forehead.
"I'b fide, Eabes," Arthur said, making a face and pulling away. A second later he sneezed harshly into Eames's shoulder, shaking with the force of it. "Eh-hyggxst!"
"Bless you, love," said Eames, ignoring the mess and rubbing Arthur's back. "What say we get back to the hotel and have a lie down, hm?" He didn't give Arthur a chance to reply, just steered him gently through the milling crowd and toward the doors to the street, the two of them disappearing in the tumult that was Paris.
Ariadne smiled, glad that everything would be all right. She picked up her bag, slinging the strap over her shoulder, and set off. Perhaps she would get a bite to eat…
Hope you enjoyed! Reviews are lovely. :D