A/N Apparently I write this instead of reviewing for my sociology class tomorrow. Go figure.
Okay so this isn't too explicitly violent, just giving a heads up because there is domestic violence involved and some people don't do too well with that. Please don't just review to tell me thinking of "such an unnecessary subject matter" or something like that.
Third Time's The Charm
The first time it happened, it had been an accident. Ariadne was arguing with her boyfriend, a physics student names Thomas. They were yelling, Ariadne trying harder and harder to be heard over Thomas's loud tenor. She shrieked in frustrations, calling him an idiot. Without thinking, his hand shot out, slapping her across the face. Ariadne stared, tears filling her eyes as her hand flew to her stinging cheek. Thomas stared at her, horrified.
He pulled her to him in a crushing hug, ignoring her wince at the contact. He rubbed her back as her tears wet his shirt. "I'm so sorry," he said over and over again. "I don't know what happened, I'm so sorry."
She knew what the experts said, that once they hit you once, they will do it again. Then they will hit you again and again until one day, you stay down. But they hadn't seen Thomas's face, she reasoned. The experts hadn't seen the shock or the gut wrenching remorse, nor did they hear the desperation in his voice when he begged for forgiveness.
So she gave him another chance, it was an accident after all. But she slept a little father from this that night. And she didn't see the way he looked at her swollen cheek that night when she slept, she didn't see the pleasure welling inside him as he left his mark on her, his claim of ownership.
She was a few minutes late to the warehouse the next morning. She'd spent more time on makeup than usual (with was none) in an attempt to hide the ugly mark on her face. It wasn't obviously a hand, but the mark was noticeable. She almost managed to cover it completely and she left, satisfied. Thomas insisted on a hug.
Thanks to her extra effort in front of the mirror that morning, she was five minutes late, walking in at the end of Cobb's and Arthur's little speeches. She blushed as all eyes turned to her. She mumbled an apology and took her seat next to Eames. She thought she saw his eyes side over her face but dismissed her worries. Eames was always studying people.
Arthur finished speaking and everyone broke away, each heading for their own workspace. Eames pulled Arthur aside with a frown. Arthur's face was exasperated at first but quickly turned serious as he listened to Eames. He glanced over Eames's shoulder to where Ariadne was working, long brown locks swinging in front of her face. She paid no mind to them as she continued to work, but both men wore identical frowns. Apparently they'd finally found something they could agree on.
They gave her space throughout the day, letting her become absorbed in her work. Cobb checked on her progress, oblivious to the conversation Eames and Arthur had had, or to the look of murderous rage on Eames's face, a look that plainly stated that if things were going Eames's way, someone's legs would be getting broken. Cobb also didn't see the angry red mark on the other side of her face, he only had eyes for finishing the job so he could get home (he didn't know how Arthur had talked him into another job in the first place).
When the team cleared out for the night, Arthur walked over to where Ariadne was packing up. He complimented her on her work, insisting she was the most promising architect he'd ever run across. She thanked him and smiled, automatically pulling a stray strand of hair behind her ear. Arthur frowned and leaned forward as if seeing the mark for the first time.
"What's this?" he asked. "Are you okay?" He ran his hand delicately around the perimeter of the mark, now just a red line down her face. Ariadne fought the urge to gasp as his fingers left a tingling trail across her skin.
"I-yeah, I'm fine," she insisted, feeling flustered. She turned back to her bag, stuffing a sketchbook inside.
"What happened?" he asked, refusing to be deterred. He wouldn't be a good point man if he wasn't tenacious.
"Hm?" she asked, back still turned and he had the feeling that she was doing some very quick thinking
"What happened?" he repeated.
"Oh, I had an accident involving a wok and a high shelf, she said with a slight smile. She tossed her back over her shoulder and walked past him. "Goodnight Arthur."
He didn't ask her why if she dropped a round wok on her face the mark was straight. He had a sinking feeling he knew why but it was reckless to jump to conclusions. He called Eames and they vowed to keep a closer eye on her, just in case.
The second time it happened, she was confused as to what was going on. They were kissing on her bed, Thomas lying on top of her. He ran his hands down to her hips, grasping. She gasped as his grip grew tighter. She told him to stop, it hurt, but his hands tightened even more, hard enough to bruise. She yelled and pushed at him and he jerked to the side, slamming both of their bodies against the wall. Thomas stood with a grunt, glaring at her lack of adventure before storming out, leaving a bewildered Ariadne curled on her right side. She thought briefly of calling Arthur, but dismissed the idea quickly. She didn't really understand what just happened, he probably would think she was being young and naïve.
She walked with a slight limp the next day courtesy of an ugly bruise that ran from her ribs to upper high as well as an aggravating pain in her hip. She managed to get to the workshop early, before anyone else so when the team trickled in, she was already sitting. She only stood to take her sandwich from the table where Cobb had dumped them.
Eames's eyes narrowed as Ariadne winched when she took a step. A few steps later she managed to control her face, but she still couldn't hide the slight limp. Eames's specialty was people, of course he would noticed something simple like a change in her gait.
"You all right, darling?" Eames asked casually, motioning in a vague way to her legs. Arthur's eyes snapped up from his work as Eames spoke.
"Yeah," Ariadne answered. She patted her leg gingerly. "I sat funny, it fell asleep."
"Oh," Eames said. He glanced back at Arthur, both wearing looks that clearly stated that neither of them bought that.
"Ariadne," Arthur said suddenly. "Can you run through the second level with me? There's a detail I want to check."
"Sure," she answered.
They were hooked up to the PASIV in minutes, Eames setting the timer for a few minutes. They appeared in the empty club. Arthur pretended to memorize the room's details but in actuality he was studying Ariadne. He wasn't sure if she knew it, probably not, but a bruise was spontaneously blossoming and disappearing on the right side of her face.
"Ariadne." The bruise disappeared as he caught her attention. He walked to her, letting the concern show. "You know you can tell me of anything is wrong, don't you? And if I make you uncomfortable, Eames is actually very easy to talk to. Though don't tell him I said so."
Ariadne cocked her head to the side. "Of course I do. And I don't feel uncomfortable around you." Arthur took her hands, blasting his no touching rule out of the water. His gaze was so intense and pleading that she wanted to cave right there, but what would she tell him? Thomas had gotten a little rough last night? Lots of people like it rough, it'd sound stupid to complain about it. His thumb stroked easy circles around her knuckles.
They both felt the dream starting to slip away.
"There's nothing to tell," she said quietly.
She opened her eyes, coming back to reality. Eames eased the IV out of her arm apparently oblivious to what had happened. She stood and walked away as fast as her hip would allow with hands clutched to her temples before Arthur or Eames could say anything. Eames looked a question at Arthur, who just shook his head.
"She's hiding something," Arthur confirmed. "I just hope we're wrong about what it is."
Arthur and Eames watched Ariadne like a hawk over the next few weeks but they noticed nothing other than her continuing to excel. There were days when she was more withdrawn though she assured them it was because she was trying to focus, nothing more. Eames followed her a few times, making sure she was okay, but she just went to her apartment and seemed to read. He was frustrated.
Despite her brushing off their concern, Ariadne was having her doubts. She and Thomas were fighting a lot lately. He was furious that she wouldn't tell him where she was going. She'd finished her degree months ago so she couldn't use the excuse that she was at school. She'd created an elaborate story about an internship on the other side of the city, but Thomas was getting suspicious. What hadn't he ever heard of this company? Where was its headquarters? Why couldn't he come visit her?
Every question built his rage higher and higher. Each night was a new argument. She was a lying bitch, he deserved better, she was stupid and a waste of time. She glared coldly at him whenever he would scream these things, letting him rant. All the while her thoughts drifted to Arthur. Arthur would never call her a bitch, she wasn't even sure the word was in his vocabulary. Arthur wouldn't tell her she was stupid, in fact just the other day he'd praised her for her intelligence. Arthur wouldn't ever say she was a waste of time, he frequently took his own time to help her and work with her and he seemed more than happy to do so. She sighed as he berated her, sensing she may have made a huge mistake.
The third time it happened, Ariadne had had enough. Thomas was mad again. He shouted, insisting she needed to spend more time with her boyfriend than some ridiculous internship.
"It's for my future," Ariadne said exasperated. Which was true, she planned on sticking shared dreaming, at the very least as a side project from architecture.
"I should be your priority!" Thomas roared back.
"Well you aren't!" Ariadne snapped. "You aren't my priority, I'M my priority."
Thomas sputtered, face turning red, eyes wild. For a moment he froze and Ariadne could actually see his anger building like shaking a bottle of pop. And as with any bubbling pressure, he exploded. He slammed his fist against her cheek, sending her flying back into the fridge. She collapsed onto all fours and he threw a vicious kick to her ribs twice, three times.
Ariadne gasped and curled into a ball, arms protecting delicate areas. Thomas squatted in front of her, grabbing her chin in his hand and yanking her to his face. "I am your priority," he hissed. He threw her head back, cracking it against the fridge. She felt something sticky coming from what she was sure was a gash in the back of her head. He stalked away to the bathroom to wash her blood of himself.
Ariadne sat still for a moment, feeling oddly empty. She vaguely thought she should be crying but she couldn't bring the tears. She felt very light as if she was an observer of some tragic event, not directly affected by what had happened. She wondered if she was in shock, but didn't allow herself to dwell on it. This was a moment of clarity. She grabbed her bag and gathered the few things she had scattered around Thomas's apartment, stuffing them inside. The pipes creaked as Thomas's shower turned on.
Ariadne's face was still bank, taking in the cluttered apartment. She took a cursory glance around to check if she left anything behind and on second thought, removed the key to her apartment from Thomas's key ring and pocketed it. Without a backwards glance, she left Thomas's apartment, promising herself never to come back.
Arthur wasn't expecting a late night call though they weren't exactly out of the ordinary. Cobb had a habit of calling at odd hours whenever he had a random brainwave. He frowned when he realized it was Ariadne's number. She had never called him at 1:00 AM.
"Ariadne?" he asked, worry etched in his features.
"Hey," she answered. Her voice sounded distant and detached. The worry turned to cold fear. "I'm sorry, I know it's late, I wasn't sure who else to call."
"It's fine," he assured her. "Ariadne, what happened? Where are you?"
"I'm by a big fountain," she said with a sigh. "I've always loved this fountain. I can't go home like this, the neighbors would talk."
Arthur pinched the bridge of his nose, not liking the implications of that. He promised to met her and she gave him the cross streets.
He called Eames as he left, telling the other man exactly what Ariadne had said. Eames let loose a string of curses. They had looked up Ariadne's boyfriend months ago, as soon as she'd mentioned him so they knew where he lived. It was all Arthur could to do keep Eames from marching right over there to educate Thomas on the consequences on endangering his architect. Arthur managed to convince the other man to hold off on the limb breaking until after he heard everything from Ariadne. Eames, grumbling, agreed though emphasized he was very alert and on standby.
Ariadne wasn't sure why she'd called Arthur, he was just the first person to pop into her head. He'd said to call if she ever needed anything and well, now she did. This wasn't exactly an everyday situation for her and she was feeling shockingly out of her depth. Arthur struck her as someone who had an answer and a plan for anything plus, as much as she hated to admit it to herself, Arthur was always a calming presence. The small touches, gentle, while making her heart race also made her feel inexplicably relaxed and safe. She knew he was absolutely trustworthy no matter what.
She sat on the stone edge of the fountain, legs pulled under her. She'd pulled her hood over her head when a passersby or two gave her face a glance for a bit too long. To the world, she was just another young person out at 1:00 AM doing nothing productive.
It only took Arthur 15 minutes to get to her. He sat next to her without a word. She smiled to herself, if he noticed his crisp black dress pants were being dirtied by the stone bench, he didn't show it. He was wearing a black button up shirt with the sleeves rolled back to reveal muscles forearms. With his color unbuttoned he looked positively casual. He didn't say anything at first, just waited for her to speak.
"I'm sorry," she said finally. Arthur blinked, that wasn't what he'd been expecting to hear. "I know I've been rude or distant lately and I didn't mean to be."
"I'm not blaming you for anything," Arthur said.
"But I am," she said. She raised her face to look at him fully and Arthur's jaw clenched. The left side of her face was an angry massive bruise in the rough shape of a fist. Her eyes were hollow, clear that she was still yet to cry. "I blame me, I should've known, Thomas…" She sighed a sat up straighter, wincing at the movement.
"Ariadne, I need you to listen to me very carefully," he said. She turned to face him, still blank faced. It was okay though, Arthur's face held enough pain for both of them. "This is not your fault. This is the work of a coward, and you were brave enough and smart enough to leave."
She nodded, a sliver of emotion trickling into her face. Anger, fear, pain, caring. "I guess."
"I need to know," Arthur said softly, "where else you're hurt."
"My ribs," she answered. "The back of my head. I think I have a cut."
"Can I see?" he asked. She made a movement halfway between a nod and a shrug, screwing up her face in pain at the motion. She pulled her hood down and Arthur leaned behind her, using the light from his phone to illuminate the cut. The rushing water of the fountain masked his sharp intake of breath. He pretended to be examining her still but sent a quick text to Eames, saying It's worse than we thought, knowing that was all the encouragement the forger needed.
"Okay," Arthur said, standing up. "Come with me." He pulled her up gently, sure part of him was breaking as her face scrunched in pain. She let him lead her to his car with no complaint and didn't question once where they were going. He guided her by the hand into his hotel, nothing her tight grip as if he was her lifeline. She made it to his room when she suddenly felt it. The damn that had been shielding her from the pain burst and for the first time that night, she felt the sting of tears beginning to form in her eyes.
Arthur immediately swept her to him, hugging her as best he could without hurting her ribs. He held her as sobs wracked her small body, which hurt her ribs even more. She cried out, hysterically apologizing for getting his shirt wet, but he shushed her, promising it wasn't a problem. After a good ten minutes the crying stopped, but she still clung to Arthur, his arms wrapped around her and his hand on her neck, a comforting weight.
"Ariadne," he said quietly. "I need to clean the cut on your head and see your ribs."
She nodded against him and pulled back reluctantly. Arthur had her sit on the edge of the rub in the bathroom while he cleaned the cut. It wasn't as bad as he'd thought, head wounds just tended to bleed a lot. Though any head wound on her was, in his opinion, more than too much. She talked him through the fight as he worked. Now that she'd allowed herself to feel it, she had to get it out, she had to tell someone.
He had her stand so he could look at her ribs. She lifted her shirt, revealing the ugly multicolored bruise that was coloring her entire torso. He ran his hands very gently over her ribs and told her none were broken but bruised and a few were probably cracked. She nodded, telling him Thomas had kicked her three times.
Arthur stood, gingerly cupping her face. He rested his forehead against hers while speaking slowly. "Ariadne, you know you're brilliant, right? You're beautiful, intelligent, and amazingly talented. You deserve to be happy and safe."
She brought her hands up to hold his wrists. Her eyes were closed, basking in the gentle feeling and scent that were solidly Arthur. "I know," she said and she felt his body sigh in relief. "I know," she repeated. "I'm not the kind of girl this happens to, and I'm not stupid enough to stick around with him to see what happened next. I feel safe now."
Without any Arthur-planning, he leaned around and kissed her unbruised cheek. "Good," he said, stroking her jawline with his thumb. "You'll always be safe with me."
"I know," she said again. She moved into the circle of his arms, wrapping her own around his waist while Arthur ran his hand gently up and down her spine, feeling her relax against him. She knew two things for sure, the first being that somehow tonight something changed between her and Arthur. Some distance they'd kept was obliterated and she was completely fine with that. The second was that she was never going back to Thomas. Never.
Across town in his shabbily kept apartment, Thomas was emerging from his extremely long shower. He padded to the living room, stopping short at the sight of a rather muscled man in a horrid blue shirt sitting in his armchair, twirling a pen between his fingers.
"Who the fuck are you?" Thomas demanded.
The other man smiled and it was a look that chilled Thomas to the core. "We have a mutual acquaintance," the accented voice said. Eames tossed the pen aside, looking at the boy who has panic seeping through his show of bravado.
"What are you talking about? How'd you get in?" Thomas asked.
Eames chuckled at that. He stood, stretching his long body. "This is a lesson in etiquette. I'm here to give you a lasting reminder of what happens when men (and I use that term lightly) who abuse women. And I can assure you, you'll wish I'd just dragged you off the prison."
Thomas blanched and sputtered, claiming innocence but Eames just shook his head. You can't feign innocence when her blood still stains your walls.
If you need help with domestic violence or any abuse, there are some good places.
1 800 799 SAFE – The Hotline