A/N: What even is this pairing. It's perfect and now all of you go write fics for it because the nine or ten posted on this site is not enough. I don't even know what you would call this. Ariama? Malaria? WHO CARES IT'S BEAUTIFUL.
Rootless: the Architect & the Shade
Ariadne dreamt of Mal often, but it occurred most frequently while she was away. It was her subconscious mind's method of coping with the anxiety being away from one she's so physically and emotionally attached to, of such a thing being surrounded by danger. The Mal she molds in her dreams is a shade of the real one, but it's better than nothing and it doesn't hurt her any less to watch her die in her nightmares.
She hopes she'll never know what it is to really lose her, but it does nothing to relieve the cold sweated fits she wakes in, thrashing her limbs like her lungs have stopped expanding.
A particularly horrid nightmare prompted her to clumsily grab her phone from its cradle on her bedside table - hands clambering and blind in the dark - dialing a number without looking at the buttons and going more by the tone of the mellow beeps they made as she pressed them. More than half the time she wondered if her dreams were a premonition or a warning, mentally preparing her for what she would face when she woke up. Though she did hope her subconscious was smarter than to think watching her Mal die in a dream would provide some sort of pillow for when it came time for it to be a reality.
It took Arthur a moment to answer after he'd picked up the phone.
"It's three A.M.," he'd finally greeted, not sounding surprised. Ariadne could picture him leaning back in a chair, pen tapping on the lip of a desk.
"For me. What, have you got time zones memorized?"
"I travel a lot."
Ariadne made a responsive noise somewhere in the back of her throat, a little too exhausted to engage in any sort of banter with Arthur when she all needed was a simple 'yes' to be able to fall back into her torturous sleep.
He sighed after a moment and she couldn't quite tell if he was irritated or if she was being too predictable.
"She's fine, Ariadne," he answered without her having to ask, sounding much less humorous than the first few times. "Go back to sleep."
"Can I talk to her…?"
"I'd have to say she's -"
"Preoccupied," she finished for him with a deep breath of disappointment. It was never any different.
"It's okay. I know she's busy, I knew you were going to tell me she's busy and that this is all really important. That if I talk to her it'll cause a distraction and ruin everything, believe me, I know, I just …. Sorry. I just had to ask."
He derailed the conversation about Mal and reset the course to something a little different, both hoping to stop disappointing Ariadne with the same answers and because he truly wanted to know if her issue was progressing. "It's getting worse?"
"I guess. I mean, it's fine, I can handle it. It just kind of - you know. What she says."
"That it's all in your head?" he asked, barely waiting for Ariadne's 'mhm' before he pounced on the opportunity to grasp what he thought was out of reach; the ability to interpret the insanity she had been bogged down by lately. "Pain is in the mind, yes, but when it starts becoming physical from the root of mental pain, then I think you have a problem."
"No, Arthur, I'm fine, don't start diagnosing me, please. I'm too tired," she rubbed a hand down her face as if she could wipe the exhaustion off and shake the bags under her eyes from her fingertips.
"Not diagnosing you, just warning you. Letting you know. But she'll be home soon, alright? Nothing is going to happen."
"Yeah," she nodded, eyes opening and closing. "Yeah, she'll be home. She promised she was coming home, so I don't know what I'm so freaked out about -"
"Mal doesn't waste time saying what she doesn't mean. If she said she'll be back, you know it means she will be. I don't know how much longer we'll be here, but I'm sure she'll be the first to let you know the second we do."
"Okay. Yeah," she murmured, nodding to herself again. "Thank you, Arthur."
"No problem, anytime you need it. Try and get some sleep."
Arthur's words helped her for the rest of that night; she dreamt of finishing school and snagging a job in the beautiful city of Paris, earning money for doing what she loved and coming home to Egyptian cotton and Mal.
But it was ultimately another complete waste.
The next day gave her too much free time to begin worrying again - lectures were considered to be free time because the professor's babbling wasn't consistent enough to distract her - and she was back to where she'd started the night before, waking up every few hours in jerky movements akin to having a trauma induced seizure. So she gripped her alarm clock in desperate, angry fingers, setting it to go off every two hours, preventing her from falling into an actual dream and therefore preventing her from watching her own mind's nightmare from happening over again in a different scenario, the outcome all the same.
Her body became adjusted to interrupted sleep and the alarm grew inside of her like a sixth sense, turning into a warped internal clock to the point of which she no longer needed any sort of mechanism to wake her. In a few weeks' time, a little less than a month, she had begun to train herself into waking up before Mal was to be killed again. She began to dream with the knowledge that she was dreaming.
It both helped and made things worse. She was comforted by knowing if anything were to go wrong, it was not real. But the ache between her ribs was as real and solid as anything else when she was with Mal, and now it was there whether she was awake or not.
What is dreaming if you know every bit of it is a fantasy impossible to grasp?
It began to haunt her, painfully. The hollow, jagged hole in her chest was twice its size in diameter from before and ran red like thick wine along the stairs of her ribcage, pooling at the base of her stomach and she feared if she shifted too quickly in any direction, it would be flowing up rather than down.
She thought about the root Arthur had spoken briefly of, the plant growing in her head and dissolving the barrier between psychological and physical. She could practically feel the roots winding around the curves of her skull, attempting to crack through it and take permanent residency inside of her brain. Trying her best to ward it off, she took the initiative, running backward steps and reset her bi-hourly alarm as she slept. Hoping to un-learn what she had taught herself, and if she could rethink that idea, she wouldn't have even wasted her time.
It was beginning to drive her insane. Arthur hadn't called and she couldn't handle the rejection of Mal being "preoccupied", so she didn't bother with calling either. She was beginning to have headaches, she could see the roots spindling like knotted spider legs at the back of her eyes, digging holes in her skull. She'd failed to kill it and it was beginning to eat her mind from the inside out.
Never was she the type to think that love or the lack of it could destroy her, but the loose grip she had on reality with fractured fingers was beginning to change her mind.
A night like any other, she woke with a jolt of lightning surging through her, eyes snapping open as she swallowed air in fast, harsh gasps. Knuckles blotched white from her tight grip on the sheets.
"Why didn't I wake up," she whispered between drinking down necessary oxygen. Her two eyes were like inescapable television screens, playing over the screams and the blood with the volume turned all the way up. "Why didn't my alarm -"
"No wonder you're so tired," a voice whispered behind her, and the lightning was back, triggered at the soles of her feet all the way up to her eyes as she turned her body around. Mal smiled, a hand on Ariadne's cheek. Solid and warm and there. "How can you expect to sleep with that on throughout the night?"
"Mallorie," there was a question mark in her half used voice as Ariadne whispered the last syllable of Mal's name, unable to comprehend that she was physically there. She frowned in confusion. "You're home," she slid a hand into the hair at the nape of Mal's neck, twisting her fingers slowly, feeling for the solidarity. A sewing needle began to weave thread around the hole at the center of her chest, her ribcage already feeling stronger in preparation of protecting what seemed to have been returned to her.
"You're exhausted," Mal trailed a thumb along the discolored indentation beneath one of Ariadne's eyes, her calming French accent already lulling her to sleep. "Sleep, cherie."
Ariadne shook her head, burrowing into the crook of the other woman's neck and clung to her like she was going to disappear or the ceiling was going to start raining brittle pieces of itself upon them.
She felt Mal reach over her toward her bedside table, but didn't let herself think. She tried to will her mind into something solid; a plant derives no nutrients from cement and she hoped to starve it from the roots that were wrapped around her. As Mal settled back down beside her, she gently opened one of Ariadne's hands and pushed the chess piece inside of it, curling her fingers around it with a soft squeeze.
"Tell me, Ari," she whispered against Ariadne's temple, lips to skin for the first time since she'd gone away. "Is this real?"
Ariadne shifted her totem in the palm of her hand, measuring the weight of it for a moment before she met Mal's eyes with her own. She received the assurance she needed in the form of a single nod and turned around again, placing it on the table and reeling her middle finger back. The hot, satisfying burn of the threaded stitches from her wounded chest sealed the hole that seemed so permanent only minutes before and she felt the roots unplug themselves from the depth of her mind as they retreated, leaving her head feeling empty instead of suffocated. The infectious anxiety dissipated and she was staring into the bright blue eyes of the remedy; whatever disease Ariadne had given herself, Mal had managed to cure. To unwind all of the mess and cobwebs and garbage that Ariadne had built up and entwined in her mind with the simple, dangerous weapon of thought.
Leaning on her elbows, she laughed in relief, euphoria and disbelief as Mal's mouth found hers in a real kiss that she felt rather than dreamt and the chess piece toppled over with a gentle flick.