Most of the characters and situations in this story belong to Christopher Nolan, Legendary Pictures, Syncopy, and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. All others belong to me, and if you want to borrow them, you have to ask me first. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.
The opinions expressed by characters in this story may or may not be those of the author.
Okay, so I have a thing for this kind of plotline...right back to the very beginning. What can I say? Though two of 'em were canon... Anyway, this is last year's NaNoWriMo, pared down and polished up. Many are my thanks and fervent to Cincoflex for encouragement, suggestions and editing. *grin*
In the end, it had been hideously simple. Ariadne didn't know whether she should berate herself for being so gullible, or acknowledge that the only alternative was paranoia.
Arthur would vote for paranoia, she thought grimly, but that was Arthur.
It was hard to think through the headache and the chill. And the fear, and the fury. Ariadne twisted her wrists for the nth time, but all it won her was a little more blood to her cold fingers. She lay on her side in a small blank room, on a hard metal floor, and that was all she could say about her present predicament.
She'd been having coffee, for pity's sake. In an ordinary Cleveland coffee shop, because that was where their last job had been and she'd wanted to linger for a day and get over the jet lag. So, a latte, and the latest issue of Build, and maybe a muffin later. Just a day off.
Arthur's going to go insane. It made her sick to think it, but there was patently nothing Ariadne could do about it. He took his responsibilities very seriously, and even if they weren't on a job just now, having one of his people vanish was going to drive him straight up the proverbial wall.
The thing was, she didn't know quite how they - whoever they were - had managed it. All she remembered was getting dizzy where she sat in the busy shop. Probably Rohypnol or something like it. Which was an even scarier thought, except as far as she could tell she hadn't been touched aside from the rope holding her hands behind her back and her ankles together. The harsh light from the one naked bulb strung overhead showed her her own clothes, wrinkled but untwisted.
There was something linking the bindings, preventing her from sitting up. Ariadne could flop from side to side like a gaffed fish, but that was all; and between the headache and her burgeoning thirst, she wasn't inclined to move much. Shouting had produced absolutely no effect; she couldn't hear anything at all outside the little room. She desperately wanted to check her totem, but there was no way to reach her pockets - and in all her rolling back and forth she had yet to feel it dig into her leg. Probably, like the phone that had been on her belt, it was gone.
Clearly they want you for something, she told herself. Whoever "they" may be. But it was hard to keep away visions of simply being abandoned in this small prison, to die of thirst - or cold, if it got chillier. And, she had to admit, if being wanted by whoever had drugged and kidnapped her was the bright spot in a situation, things were pretty dire.
I wish I knew what time it is. It was almost as frustrating as the stubborn bindings, not knowing how much time had passed -
The clanking noise from behind her made Ariadne freeze, then flip over with clumsy haste to face whatever was making the sound. As she watched, the far wall split in half, one side swinging open to reveal a skinny figure with a gun in its hand. Ariadne held very still.
The gust of fresh air was enlivening, even if it smelled more like concrete than the outdoors. Ariadne knew she should look beyond the - man, yes, it was a male, to see what she could outside the room, but her attention was riveted on the gun, a heavy, ugly revolver. It wasn't until the man shoved it into his waistband that she could focus properly on him.
He was - weedy, was all she could think; tall, but bony and stooped, and not especially clean. He wore gloves, and a ski mask pulled over his head, and the latter made her feel a little better. If he doesn't want me to see his face, maybe he plans to let me go -
He stepped closer. Ariadne shrank back, hating herself for the cowardice but unable to help it. The man hesitated, then moved forward again and circled around her. "Hold still," he said in a slightly hoarse voice.
She obeyed, mostly because struggling wouldn't get her anywhere. He fumbled at her wrists, and then the bindings eased and fell away.
Her captor backed up. Ariadne bit back a whimper as strained muscles made themselves felt, but she was able to push herself into a sitting position in just two tries. She glared up at the man. "What do you want?"
He looked back with colorless eyes, ignoring the question. "I don't want to hurt you. Behave yourself, and you'll be fine." The way his hand caressed the revolver's butt made a chill run up Ariadne's spine. "I'll be back in a little while."
He backed towards the door, clearly taking no chance that she might spring up and attack him. Ariadne struggled to focus. "Can - can I have some water?" she managed, hating how her voice wavered.
The man didn't reply, merely disappearing through the door; the clank as it closed made the whole room echo in a ridiculously theatrical manner. Ariadne slumped back, furious and sick. Who the hell is that? What does he want with me? She supposed she should be grateful that he had undone her bonds, but all she felt was resentment mixed with simmering fear.
Still, they were undone. Despite the stiffness of her fingers, she was able to unknot the loop holding her ankles together, and it was a relief to sit with her back braced against the wall and rub her chafed wrists. Ariadne looked around her prison. It was a long, relatively narrow room, with one light fixture overhead; the wires disappeared through a hole drilled in the ceiling. A metal room? Weird.
And then it dawned on her, and she wanted to kick herself for not figuring it out sooner. "Not a room, idiot," she muttered. "It's a shipping container." It was almost the perfect prison - the only avenue of egress was the door, which couldn't be opened from the inside.
Ariadne reached for her pocket, but her earlier fears were correct; everything she'd had with her was gone, including her keys and the scarf she'd been wearing. Well. Odds are this is reality anyway. She'd tried to change things earlier, the way she might in a dream, but nothing had happened.
She sighed, and pushed stiffly to her feet. Walking would warm her up and loosen her cramped muscles, and hopefully help with the drug hangover.
As she paced, Ariadne let herself think about Arthur. Did he know she was gone yet? She hadn't been due to fly out until - She realized that she had no idea what day it was either, and growled.
I'm okay. Ariadne didn't believe in telepathy, but she sent the thought out anyway. I'm okay, Arthur. And tried not to imagine him frantic. Tried instead to imagine his arms around her, his reassuring presence by her side, because as much as Ariadne didn't consider herself to be a stereotypical helpless female, she was feeling pretty helpless. And her lover was very, very good at protecting.
The door clanked again, and Ariadne whirled, but the figure just outside didn't enter. Instead, he tossed something in and shut the door before she could react.
The bottle of water bounced dully and rolled across the floor, and Ariadne took five quick steps to scoop it up. It was new, sealed; she opened it with clumsy fingers and drank hastily, gulping. It was warm, but she didn't care.
After the first few swallows Ariadne made herself stop. Don't make yourself sick. She glanced around uneasily. Plus there's no toilet in here. Which would be a problem before too long, she judged.
She took one more mouthful, swishing it around to get rid of the last stickiness, then swallowed and recapped the bottle before sitting down again, back against the wall and water to hand. "You're okay," she muttered. "At least for now."
And tried to believe it.
Dom returned the straight-edge to its place without looking, absorbed in the diagram gradually taking form beneath his somewhat smudged fingers. It was good, so good, to get back to design after all this time, even if it was only for a real-world building, and not a very exciting one at that. He had laid his ghosts to rest, and if Mal was still the first thought on his mind when he woke and the image behind his eyes when he closed them at night, she was at peace now. His muse was no longer a Fury…just the woman he had loved and lost.
He led a quiet life now, and hung onto it with both hands, conscious every moment of the value of peace.
Which was, a moment later, shattered by a scream. Dom sighed and set down his stylus, rubbing his forehead without caring what might transfer from his fingers. He'd gotten better about ignoring the noises, but every so often one - excitement or game or argument - broke through.
Absently, he waited to hear Frances' voice rise above the ongoing screams in admonition or pacification, but nothing came. And, he realized, the shriek held real alarm.
Frowning, Dom spun on his stool and stood up, threading his way through the house to the front door and striding out. "James? What's the problem?"
His son barreled into him, throwing small arms around Dom's legs in a panicked clutch and babbling. Dom bent and scooped him up, looking around for Philippa and Frances and seeing neither.
"Hey, hey, it's okay." He stroked James' tangled curls from his eyes, trying to soothe. "What's the matter? Are you hurt?" There didn't seem to be any blood, at least.
James wailed and buried his face in Dom's shoulder. Dom hugged him, looking around again and starting to be alarmed himself. James' cries should have brought both his sister and his grandmother, and there was no sign of either. "James…James, calm down, buddy. Where's Pippa?"
"Dom?" His mother-in-law's voice came from behind him, and Dom turned to see her emerging from the bathroom down the hall. "What's going on?"
"I don't know - where's Philippa? Is she with you?" His daughter was often impatient with her little brother, but she was very protective too, and was never far away when they were outside.
"No, she stayed outside, I - James, what is it, mon choux?" Frances stroked James' head, her elderly face creasing into concern.
"Pippa's gone!" It was half a sob, and the face James raised from Dom's shoulder was red and heartbroken. "The bad guys took her!"
Dom's heart tore in his chest, a lightning pain that brought panic screaming along behind. "What? James, what bad guys?"
The boy rubbed one fist over his eyes, woe in every line. "G'mère went inside and there was a car, and the bad guys chased us, but Pippa was mean and she stopped them, but they got her!"
The story was confusing, but Dom was used to sorting out James' meaning, and he looked over his son's head at Frances, who had gone bone-white. "Are they playing a game?"
"I don't think so." Her voice was faint. "Pippa was playing ponies, and you know how she is when - Dom, they couldn't have - "
He pushed James into her arms and bolted outside, frantically scanning the yard for the little figure in the yellow t-shirt and sneakers. "Philippa! Where are you?"
But she was not there. She wasn't under the trees, or in the backyard, or even down the road, and when gently questioned James didn't change his story. There had been a car, and two men who had chased the children; Philippa had been caught, but had fought so hard that James had gotten away. The men had put her in the car and driven away.
"She told me run," James sniffled. "She was mad." He lifted wet eyes to his father.
"You did the right thing," Dom told him around the lump in his throat, cuddling James close. Frances had already called the police.
"Will she come back?" James asked, and Dom squeezed his own eyes shut, feeling the pressure behind them. "Is she gone like Mommy?"
"No." It was a vow he had no idea if he could keep. "No, we'll get her back."
"What do you mean, she wasn't on the plane?" Arthur frowned, eyes unfocused as he concentrated on the voice at the other end of the connection. "She had a ticket - "
The customer service agent's voice droned on in his ear. Ms. Temenos did have a ticket, yes, but she had not checked in, either in person or electronically. As far as the airline was concerned, she had simply missed her flight -
His temper snapped, and Arthur thumbed the phone off, squeezing much too hard. Simple, my ass. Nothing about this is simple. Ariadne was punctual, it was one of the things he loved about her. If she'd just missed her flight, she would have called.
But she hadn't. She hadn't stepped off her plane at Orly; she hadn't even gotten on in Cleveland, it appeared. She hadn't checked out of the motel.
If it had been almost anyone else, Arthur would have been cynical. In their business, people vanished all the time, slipping between the cracks to lie low for a while. But she wouldn't have gone without telling me. Hell, she wouldn't have gone at all.
Not without me.
It was one of the new truths in his life, Ariadne's firm assurance that they were a couple. He'd been prepared to ease into it, aware of his own flaws as a lover, but she'd simply taken it as a given, and while he'd had to make a few adjustments, her wholehearted acceptance had been an unforeseen delight. To her, they were a pair, and she would no more leave him without a word than he would disappear without telling her.
Something is very, very wrong.
He set down the phone with deliberate care and looked out at the vista beyond the window. Moving to London had been a business calculation on both their parts, but money bought a pleasant view, and their spacious flat was the first permanent home Arthur had possessed in years. It was comfortable and beautiful both, but without Ariadne it echoed, and he felt a black dread growing. Was she hurt, lying unconscious and unidentified in one of the hospitals he'd already called? He was her emergency contact - had someone mugged her?
Or worse, had someone taken her for revenge? For leverage? For - and it was the worst thought - some random reason? Had she just caught a passing psychopath's eye?
The phone rang, startling him. Arthur snatched it up, hoping desperately that it was Ariadne herself with some complicated tale of circumstances, he could forgive her any slip-up if she'd only just - "Yeah?"
"Arthur." It was Dom's voice, rough and taut. "Philippa's been kidnapped."
Arthur sat up straight, a fresh chill running through him. "Damn. What happened?"
"I don't know - James said two men dragged her into a car and drove off - we haven't heard anything yet. Arthur, I…your connections - can you help?"
Under any other circumstances, he would have been on the next plane, ready to give his old friend any aid his own particular skills could supply, as well as moral support. But not now. "I…Dom, I can't. Ariadne's disappeared, I can't get in touch with her and…"
In that instant, the pattern was clear. He had no proof, and he didn't know who, but he knew. The oath whispered past his lips. "Oh fuck…"
Dom's realization was only a beat behind his own. "It's the same people, isn't it?"
Arthur told himself that the scrap of knowledge was better than nothing, but it rang hollow. "I'd stake a lot on it. I'll be on the next flight out."
"Hurry," Dom said, and his voice broke on the word. "Please. Hurry."
Arthur ended the call and began packing rapidly, collecting essentials with the mindless ease of long practice. It has to be the same people, the coincidence is just too great. Which means one of two things - leverage, or revenge.
Pray it's leverage.
Because if it was revenge, they most likely would never see either Philippa or Ariadne again.
At least alive...
Ariadne was still damning her decision to not wear a watch that morning. That's the last time I rely on my cellphone. She paced slowly up and down the length of the shipping container, trying to count seconds in her head and sourly aware that she was probably either too fast or too slow. Not that it makes much difference since I don't know what time I'm starting from.
The container was roughly twenty yards long, and apparently had ventilation holes somewhere, because the air was stuffy but never became unbearable. Ariadne decided they had to be up near the ceiling and out of her reach, because she couldn't find them.
She'd spent what had probably been an hour examining her prison minutely, but there wasn't much to find. The door was firmly shut, and had never been intended to be opened from the inside. The walls and floor were scarred and dented, which told her the container had been used for its intended purpose at some point. And she still could hear nothing from outside, which meant…actually, she didn't know what it meant. Maybe she was in an isolated location, maybe she was indoors, maybe the damned box was just really well insulated. There was just no telling.
She stopped and rubbed her aching temples. It was hard to keep from imagining Arthur in the same situation, and trying to figure out what he'd do; and as much as she admired the man and his wits, she didn't think he could come up with some way to get out - at least not without power tools.
Dom and Professor M never covered kidnapping. The thought was half-humorous. They'd both warned her of the dangers of extraction, but only of angry clients or addiction to the machine. I guess this is a new one.
Ariadne leaned against one chilly wall and frowned thoughtfully. The truth was, she didn't know for sure that her abduction had anything to do with her work. Could be unrelated; it could even be a mistake. But the only people in her life who had money enough to make a ransom worth the risk were Arthur and Dom, which led her right back to the business of Dream-theft. I need more data.
And a toilet. The need was getting urgent. Ariadne sighed and tried to think of something else -
The sound of the door opening was becoming familiar. She pushed away from the wall, fear making her knees weak but anger stiffening her spine. Her captor, still masked, stepped through but halted just inside, tossing something at her. "Here."
Ariadne caught the object automatically despite its awkward flight. It was a pair of handcuffs, shiny silver, and she stared back at him, outraged. "You have got to be kidding."
He gestured with one hand impatiently, then pulled the revolver from his waistband. "If you want to visit the can, put 'em on. In front."
Everything in her rebelled at making herself more helpless. But the pressure in her bladder was stronger, so Ariadne slowly obeyed, fastening the cuffs around each wrist and letting her hands fall to her waist.
The man nodded in satisfaction. "Okay, come on." He waved the revolver towards the door.
The shipping container was in a warehouse, or an industrial garage, Ariadne saw as soon as she passed through - a big space, all harsh lights and concrete, with various bits of obsolete-looking machinery scattered around. Two couches and a table had been set up near the container, forming a living area of sorts; it was messy with papers and trash, Ariadne saw as she passed it, but she didn't have much time to look. Her captor urged her on with another wave of the gun, pointing her past the couches towards a door in the nearest wall. As she neared it Ariadne saw that it had one of the semi-universal symbols for a lavatory - in this case, a male.
As she pushed the door open, the man spoke, his voice sardonic. "Take your time, I'm not in a hurry. The lock's broken, though, so don't even think about trying to hide in there."
Ariadne didn't deign to reply. The bathroom was small and not very clean, she saw with a grimace as she pushed the door shut, but it was better than nothing and she had seen worse. She looked around uneasily, not happy about using the toilet with her kidnapper just on the other side of an unlockable door, but there was nothing in the room that could be used to block the doorway.
He hasn't even come near you since you woke up, she reminded herself. Whatever he wants, assault doesn't seem to be part of it…yet anyway.
She took her time making use of the facilities, and washed up thoroughly at the stained sink. There was a streaked mirror hung over it, the sort that was polished metal rather than glass, and it reflected a still-pale, pinched face surrounded by a tangle of dark hair. Ariadne stuck her tongue out at the image and raked her fingers clumsily through the snarls, trying not to catch her hair on the short chain linking the cuffs.
But eventually there was nothing else she could do to delay, and she pulled the door open and peered out.
Her captor was sitting on the nearer couch, bent over a newspaper spread out on the box serving as a low table. Ariadne thought briefly of running, but he was already looking up, and without even knowing where the exit was it seemed stupid.
Wait and see.
He escorted her back to the shipping container, halting a few feet inside. "Here."
His left hand held the key to the cuffs. Ariadne approached him cautiously and held up her wrists, trying not to flinch. He fumbled the key into the lock using only one hand, swearing under his breath, and she glanced down at his right hand, which hung motionless in its glove at his side. Paralysis?
Eventually he was able to open one cuff, and stepped back. "You finish it."
Ariadne unlocked the other cuff quickly. "Key," the man demanded, and on impulse she tossed it back; he caught it against his chest, and left without another word.
As soon as the door banged shut, Ariadne blew out a breath and sagged to the floor. Nothing about her kidnapper was overtly threatening, besides the gun, but nonetheless she was as tense as wire, nerves jangling. She set the cuffs down beside her and ran the past few minutes back through her memory, searching for detail.
She hadn't been able to see much of the building, but there hadn't been anyone else around, and no visible exits or recognizable machines. Even the smell of the place had been general, old grease and cold metal and dust. There was nothing in the lavatory that would so much as tell her what continent she was on.
But her kidnapper - Young, Ariadne thought. Mid-thirties, maybe. And despite his grubby appearance, he hadn't smelled unwashed. And he had an accent that placed him in North America.
It was his right hand that intrigued her. Her earlier memories were still a little drug-fogged, but she couldn't remember him using that hand at all - he'd handled the revolver with his left. So maybe it is paralyzed, or maybe he's hurt. That could be useful.
If she ever got the chance to use the information, anyway. Ariadne leaned her head back against the wall and sighed again, realizing bleakly that at the moment her biggest problem with captivity wasn't going to be him, it was going to be boredom.
She snickered. I wonder if he'd let me read the newspaper when he's done with it.
Time passed slowly. The door opened twice more, once to provide her a lukewarm TV dinner and a fresh bottle of water, and once to offer her another bathroom run. They repeated the cuff routine for the latter; Ariadne thought about making the cuffs loose enough to slip off, but was glad she hadn't when her captor checked them as she passed.
Afterwards she wished she'd thought to ask for something more - a chair, a toothbrush, a blanket - but it didn't dawn on her until after he'd closed the door. She sat with her back against the wall and played idly with the empty cuffs for lack of anything else, listening to the ratchet of the teeth and feeling the metal warm under her fingers.
The sound was so muffled that she almost missed it, but when it came again Ariadne froze, listening hard. Someone was yelling, angry and muffled; the shouting paused, then resumed, and she realized that he was talking on a phone. It made her shiver.
Eventually the yelling stopped. There was a bang, as if something had been thrown or slammed, and then silence again, thicker than before. It took the tickle of wetness on her chin for Ariadne to realize she was crying.
The fear boiled up, black as ink in water, pushing aside even the anger. She didn't so much as sob, but the tears ran thick and fast, blurring the sight of her prison, and they went on, and on.