You know when I said the next one would be more light-hearted? I lied. This was begging to be written, so this comes first. It could be seen as a prequel to Masks, but can definitely be a standalone. and thanks everyone for the reviews to Masks by the way. It really keeps me inspired.

Disclaimer: I own nothing and bow to the genius called Nolan.


She had never thought herself weak. To be honest, she had never seen herself as particularly strong either though. She did what she could and that was that. Of course her new career demanded different and more things than she had ever anticipated.

It also gave her a lot more.

Yet she still had not expected him of all people to show her just how much. She also had not thought he, (again she thought) of everyone she knew, would be there when she needed it, to show her where her strength had gone.

It had started simply enough. She had needed comfort after a particular job left her traumatised and only he had known what had happened down there, eyes watching her carefully when Arthur asked her why she was shaking and she denied anything.

Later that night, he turned up at her hotel-room, just in time for her to fall apart, soaking his shirt in tears. He had wrapped his arms around her, broad frame warm around her shaking, small body.

Nothing had happened, though they had shared a bed. He had simply let her curl into his body, embrace like a safety blanket that kept her nightmares at bay.

Neither of them told Arthur that the Mark had turned against her just when Eames was cracking the safe and they only just made it out after most of her clothes had been ripped and her dream-self had been caked in her own blood.

It happened more often after that. Sometimes all it took was a look in his direction and he would be there later, helping her to pick up the pieces of herself.

He did not do all the work for her, though. Once she was sitting in the shower still fully clothed but soaked to the bones and he had walked in and just looked at her for a moment. She had wanted to reach out for him, for him to pick her up like the sad little broken doll she was and to carry her to bed and hold her until she felt like moving again.

Instead, Eames had reached for a towel and held it out to her. "Get up." He told her, voice soft. When she had not reacted, he had crouched down to be closer to her level, but still offered the towel for her to take. "Get up, Ariadne."

She did after a minute of looking into his warm but serious slate-coloured eyes and took the offered towel, wrapping it around her shoulders shakily while discarding dripping socks and ruined shoes.

The smile he gave her was one she had never seen before, but fell in love with as soon as she did. "There's my girl." He had said and then merely walked out to allow her to change out of the wet clothes.

When she came out, he was there waiting for her and looked like he had not expected anything else when she told him quietly that they needed to make sure next time that Arthur could find them quicker or they would need to have an emergency-escape route.

It was only when he bid her good-night that he hugged her, squeezing her a little tighter than usual and to her surprise brushed a kiss over her cheekbone that made her blush a little too fiercely for the fact that she had just escaped a dream by throwing herself down a set of stairs and feeling every bone break in her body.

It took her two more jobs that went without incident and almost a year to ask him about that particular incident.

It was strange, because he had turned up at her door, sporting a bleeding nose, a black eye and a cut above his eyebrow still streaming blood down his face. His glassy eyes betrayed the alcohol in his blood and he limped and staggered into her apartment.

She had stared, overwhelmed, since they had only said their goodbyes that very afternoon, having finished another job without incident thanks to the fact that she had given the extractor they were working with a piece of her mind about back-up plans and taking them seriously if she included them in her designs.

The admiring look Eames had sent her way afterwards had made her flush, but she had been too angry to pay it any mind.

Him slumped on her sofa, fighting not to pass out while she tried to patch him up with shaky fingers; that was another story. She had two brothers; she knew how to take care of a few bruises from a fight, even severe ones like this.

What she could not cope with so easily, were his eyes, though glazed, watching her every move, studying her and, as it seemed evaluating her.

"Do I want to know?" She had asked and he had smirked, eyes decidedly too soft to stop her nervousness as he continued looking at her.

"The little twit was talking about you." He told her, speech not as slurred as she had expected.

"What did he say?" Ariadne bit her lip and tried to concentrate on the wet rag she was using to clean the blood from the wound over his eye.

"That the only reason Arthur and me are keeping you around is because we're both trying to get into your knickers." He winced and flinched away when she accidently touched the edge of the swollen cut.

She said nothing and he simply watched while she finished cleaning him up. As she sat back, looking him over as if trying to see if there was any further damage, she met his half-lidded gaze.

She knew she had surprised him when she leant forward to kiss him on the lips, never mind that she could taste the beer on him still, because he stiffened before giving her tongue access to his mouth.

"I don't want you to fight my battles." She stated as she broke away, throwing the rag onto the floor beside them to avoid looking at him.

His hand ghosting past her cheek, to brush at a stray strand of her hair, made her look up nonetheless.

There was that smile again. The one that she had not seen in so long but tried to coax out of him ever since he had sported it for the first time.

"Good." He said, and this time initiated a kiss of his own, his experience evident in the way he pulled her closer easily.

"Don't forget that." He muttered into her hair, expression serious, when she lay curled against his chest later on, with his arm securely around her. She lifted her head from where she had buried it in the side of his neck, frowning.

"What?" She asked quietly, stroking over the bruised skin around his eye, careful to not hurt him while she did.

He reached his free hand around the back of her head to draw her in closer so that her forehead rested against his. "That you're stronger than you think."

She smiled into his lips as he drew her in again and knew that she had just fallen a lot deeper than she had ever intended for the simple fact that he had helped her see the truth of that again.

Did you like? This is my first attempt to try a beginning relationship between these two.