She gripped the pencil in her aching hand while the other, balled up into a tight fist, held up her tense jaw.
After hours of wrestling with those damn maze sketches, she had a pounding headache and she wondered how much more time would pass before she went cross-eyed. The work needed to be completed, or close to it, by morning, but it was hard to create something complicated enough when her hand refused to obey her troubled mind.
She put down the pencil and flexed her stiff fingers. One of her many unsuccessful sketches had given her a parting gift on the way to the trashcan, and the scotch tape wrapped around the cut was beginning to redden the flesh on her knuckle. The pale skin from the side of her pinky finger to her elbow was tinged gray with graphite.
The paper creased and buckled all too easily between her palms. Her rolling chair squealed when the clump fell on top of the others with a soft, airy crunch. She wrinkled her nose at the bitterness of the graphite and eraser shavings. With her palm she brushed a few of the shavings from her workspace. Most landed on the ground. The rest landed stubbornly on her pants.
Her three teammates had departed hours before to rest.
And Cobb hadn't come along. He hadn't been around for several jobs.
It was just little Ariadne and her two lamps to light up her small corner of their workspace. Her guess was confirmed when she looked at her watch to see if it was late at night or very early in the morning.
"Crap… Two in the morning…"
They were pulling a "small favor" to Saito, and had ended up in Rio de Janeiro before they moved for the actual job that would take place in some obscure little village. For their new job, a few blocks from their hotel, they were renting out a small warehouse. It wasn't as big as the one in Paris, but it had decent plumbing and there was a surprisingly good flow of air despite the muggy heat outside. The language barrier bothered her slightly, but it wasn't such a big deal when all three men spoke Portuguese.
As every second oozed by painfully and with every pound in her head, her body was begging her to go back to her hotel room to relax. She was just being stubborn… and useless… but she couldn't give up though. She needed to finish the sketches so she could build and finish the models by the next afternoon to stay on schedule. So long as everything stayed on track, they were to meet their mark in little more than a week's time.
Give me somethingthat works…
She frowned, shaking her head after starting to work again.
Pencil strokes ran over the page like spider's web.
And another bites the dust…
When she'd reflected on them for inspiration, none of her mazes from her previous jobs had felt appropriate for one of the two levels they were planning to execute. She was used to drawing cities and complex buildings… not dumpy little villages like Arthur had suggested due to the mark's frequenting of a particular village and his work abroad, which supposedly was as a relief worker for the needy. How the mark, Gabriel Machado, had gotten the attention of Saito was a situation that was hazy at best to Ariadne, but they'd needed something simple and safe from her when she'd signed onto the job. She had agreed, thinking nothing of it, and suddenly she had been stricken with something as ridiculous as an art block.
With a growl, her pencil rolled from her fingers onto the next sheet of paper that was about to be filled with more terrible scribbles. The white expanse was dimpled with the groove lines of the other failures. They reminded her of how priests from ancient times would read animal entrails for bad omens. Sighing, she sat there, defeated, with her chin resting on the paper, tracing the indents with her index finger, hoping that inspiration would strike her.
"What? Huh?" She jumped at the touch of a hand on her shoulder and sat bolt upright. Twisting in her chair, she felt herself flush at the sight of Arthur standing there next to her. She wasn't sure how long she'd had her eyes closed, and tried to blink the sleep from her strained eyes.
He said her name again and asked if she was okay.
"I'm fine," she assured him, looking frantically for her pencil.
"Oh, thanks." She smiled tiredly as he handed her pencil to her. It had rolled onto the floor.
"Are you sure you're okay?"
Ariadne cringed as Arthur glanced at the pile of discarded sketches, his brow furrowing slightly.
"It's just… I have a block," she muttered grudgingly. "But it's silly. Really. Don't worry about me, Arthur. You have your own work to worry about." She forced a grin though she felt stupid doing so. "I'm fine."
She promptly turned back to the desk, pencil in hand. The graphite tip wavered over the surface of the paper for a few moments before she knew she had to start drawing again.
Arthur was watching.
She drew a few lines for his sake. Clearing her throat, she then explained that it was difficult to draw for an audience.
"Sorry. I'm over here if you need me," Arthur said. "Eames should be here soon."
"And Yusef? I have to begin teaching him his level by tonight, then Eames will have his run-through right after that."
Arthur got real quiet for a moment, making her stiffen. "Will you have time? Do you need help?"
"No, no. I'll have time." She started to furiously scribble on the paper, her shoulders hunched.
Why can't I draw this stupid maze for a stupid little village?
She could feel his eyes on her back as she glanced at her watch.
Five in the morning… Great…
Soon, the few straight lines she'd drawn were covered up again by webs of curved lines that had only been drawn for show. The page was blackening with each stroke.
She barely heard the familiar tune that had started to play behind her.
Non, rien de rien…
Ariadne lifted her head and twisted around to look over her shoulder.
Non, je ne regrette rien…
"We have a little time left before the others show." Arthur was walking over to her from the table where the PASIV rested in the open position, the mp3 laying on top. By now, he'd rolled up the sleeves of his striped dress shirt.
Ni le bien qu'on m'a fait…
He came up to her and offered his hand, palm up.
"What're you doing?" she asked, confused. She eyed him, one brow raised.
Ni le mal, tout ça m'est bien égal…
"What?" she said when at first he didn't speak.
"From the looks of that piece of paper, I think you can use a moment away from your desk," he told her.
"To dream? I thought we weren't supposed to use it for recreation?"
He shook his head. "We're not gonna dream."
As it dawned on her, she felt a laugh bubble up in her chest. "You… You're asking me to dance then?"
"The song will be over by the time you say 'yes'."
She smirked. "Who said I was gonna agree?"
Non, je ne regrette rien…
His face fell a little, but only a second passed before he was smiling wider than before. He shook his hand a little and reached towards her a little more. "You'll be back at your desk in a moment."
Avec mes souvenirs, j'ai allumé le feu
Mes chagrins, mes plaisirs, je n'ai plus besoin d'eux
Balayées les amours, avec leurs tremolos…
She rolled her eyes, shaking her head. With a sigh, she took his hand and stood up. "Fine…"
His hand grasped hers gently as he led her a few feet away from the desk. He turned to her, and she reached up and rested her free hand on his shoulder, feeling awkward. As the song entered the final stretch, Arthur gently placed his hand on her hip. His other hand squeezed hers. They swayed to the music. She was curiously watching his face as the song ended and started up again. His brown eyes were on her, but she could tell that he was keeping an ear open in case Eames or Yusef ambushed them. She admitted to herself that she was doing the same thing. She swallowed nervously. If they were caught, they were guaranteed to be teased for hours by Eames.
C'est payé, balayé, oublié
Je me fous du passé…
"This is nice."
He smirked. "Any ideas yet?"
She shook her head. "Nope. Not yet."
He chuckled as he let his hand slide away from her hip. She smiled as he twirled her around before they came back together, both pairs of hands clasped.
"I bet you ask all the pretty girls to dance with you, Arthur," she teased him.
He chuckled as they waved their clasped hands back and forth. "Any now?"
Mes chagrins, mes plaisirs, je n'ai plus besoin d'eux
Balayées les amours, avec leurs tremolos…
"We can change the plan if you want."
She shrugged. "The plan for the second level revolves around me designing the level above it with his village. We don't have time to start from scratch. I'll think of something, I promise."
"Mind if I look at the sketches? Putting entire mazes together obviously isn't my forte, but I hope you value my humble opinion."
"Please don't tell me that you used 'forte' and 'humble' in the same sentence."
"We're also dancing when we should be working."
"True. But I wouldn't consider waving our hands from side to side dancing."
Non, rien de rien
Non, je ne regrette rien
Car ma vie car mes joies
Aujourd'hui, ça commence avec toi!
"Well? May I look?"
She rolled her eyes. "I suppose."
Ariadne figured that Arthur knew enough tricks and whatnot to fill out her village and bring it to an acceptable enough standard. He always had some nifty idea to add. She led him over to her desk, quickly crumpling up the last sheet of graphite-blackened paper before chucking it at the trashcan. Then she grabbed for her written notes and passed them to Arthur.
"When we enter the dream," she began to explain, though they both knew the plan backwards and forwards, "it'll be evening and Machado will just be heading to his shack, er, lair, with Eames, who will be impersonating his daughter, Celia. Celia-Eames will then start making her father dinner. Yusef will be occupied elsewhere to lead the projections away for a bit. You and I will hide in Machado's back room while we wait for Yusef's distraction to kick in."
"Machado and Eames, hearing Yusef when he's blown up the village water system, will go to the window to investigate."
She nodded. "You'll sneak up on Machado at that moment and incapacitate him. He'll be blindfolded and tied up as quickly as possible. That way Eames can help stronghold him if needed when you set Machado in the back room alone. Then we'll make some sounds to get Machado riled up before putting his daughter with him. We'll then wait to see if Celia can get anything out of dear old daddy when she begs to know what's going on."
"If not, Eames and I are gonna go down another layer while you and Yusef protect us," Arthur finished. Nodding, he rubbed his chin while holding the piece of paper with his other hand. "What problems are you having exactly, Ariadne? You got everything straight it seems."
She shrugged. "I'm having a hard time deciding how to help Yusef hide from the projections. I can't think of anything good enough. The projections are not trained as far as we know, but he'll need a way to evade them. I thought about making a few of the shacks into labyrinths of their own so he could lose projections in them and come out another way to trap them there, but I didn't know if the projections would sense that or not and catch on too quickly. It's also harder to make the village itself into a maze, especially if Machado somehow escapes and is tipped off by the strangeness of the village's layout. He knows it like the back of his hand, and so would his projections. When Eames took me there, I didn't find much to work with. We're also not exactly sure yet on how much time we'll need."
"Do you have photos of the village?"
She nodded, scratching her head. "Umm-hmm." She sifted through her supplies and pulled out the notebook that had various scribbles and photographs of the village's layout. A few were aerial views that she and Eames had gotten with the help of one of Saito's helicopter pilots. She handed over the notebook to Arthur after flipping to the starting page.
The dark-haired young man studied them for a bit. "The population of the village is, give or take, a hundred or so. The projection count should match up with that. Most will occupy themselves with the destruction of the water system, if they're not already dead, but the rest will be after Yusef with a vengeance. Villagers tend to be less docile than your typical-suit-with-a-gun projection."
"Like the 'grab yer pitchfork and torch' kind of less docile?"
She made a face. "How lovely."
Arthur smiled at her then. Like a genuine smile. "Don't give up yet," he said. "I don't think there's gonna be much of a problem if you wanna have Yusef rig a couple of houses with labyrinths. They'll be aggravated already, won't they?"
She felt like smacking her forehead and covering her eyes. "Of course!" How did I forget that? I knew I wasn't over complicating things!
He must have been smirking at the expression on her face.
"Knock it off," she told him, snatching the notebook and her other notes from his hand when he passed it back to her. She turned to reorganize her materials, and in the process she dropped her pencil… again.
"I'll get that."
They both grunted and palmed their foreheads as the worn-out pencil continued to roll away to freedom.
Ariadne grimaced as she and Arthur squatted down on the floor. "Do you pick up pencils for all the pretty girls?" she asked.
He chuckled and reached over to grab her pencil. As he handed it over to her, he said, "No. Just yours."
"Now you can knock that off."
He gently grabbed her by the elbow and they stood up together. She was blushing as it was, and her face felt like it was on fire when she raised her gaze to meet Arthur's.
"Have I helped you?"
Mentally, she kicked herself at the sound of her breathy voice. She also demanded her heart to cease its annoying pattering, but it only got worse when Arthur reached up and stroked the line of her jaw.
Her eyes widened.
"Artist's block all gone?"
His hands then fell on her shoulders and she felt herself being pulled closer.
And not hating it…
"Quick, give me a kiss."
Looking up through her eyelashes at him, she felt a shiver run through her body. She tilted her chin up and found she was also stretching up on tiptoes to meet his lips.
The kiss was just as she had remembered from the Fischer job. Like before, it wasn't much more than a peck, but when they pulled away, she couldn't help the grin that made her cheeks hurt.
Her whole body was shaking now. She tried to keep her breathing steady. "I think… I think it's gone now…"
She couldn't stop smiling. She felt a bit stupid for smiling so much, but she found it easy to let go of that feeling as she held Arthur's gaze.
He said her name.
Suddenly, Arthur grip on her shoulders tightened, and she gasped when he started to shake her.
Alarmed, she tried to push him away. "Hey! What the fu—"
"Time to wake up," Arthur was yelling at her, only it wasn't his voice.
Her head shot up from the desk. There was a large hand on her shoulder, vigorously shaking her awake. She looked up. It was Eames.
Inwardly she growled.
"Thought I'd wake you, darling. You looked like quite the Sleeping Beauty."
Her face was blazing with embarrassment when she, without realizing it, ran her fingertips over the bit of crust that went from the corner of her mouth to part way down her chin. Her eyes snapped to her small stack of disheveled papers and she saw the dark, bubbled area of saliva that had dribbled out of her mouth while she'd been asleep. She was glad there wasn't more than some eraser shavings stuck to her cheek at that moment.
"Wish I could sleep as well as you," Eames remarked. "I've never seen sitting in a chair with one's face glued to a piece of paper look so comfy."
It was when he said this that she realized there was a kink in her neck. She rubbed at it and grimaced. "It's not as comfy as it looked, I promise."
She glared daggers at a chucking Eames before she glanced at her watch. Oddly enough, it was a few minutes past five. At the sound of paper shuffling, she looked up again. Just behind Eames, who was wearing a typical tourist's flowered shirt, she could see Arthur as he messed around with his folders. His back to them, he was wearing a navy sweater vest over nice short-sleeved shirt. Yusef, as far Ariadne knew, wasn't there yet.
"Burning the midnight oil?"
"Huh? Oh, yes." She grabbed at her papers and crumpled up the ones that had been stained by her spittle and chucked them into the trashcan.
"Seems like you used a lot of oil," Eames remarked. He had his hands in his khaki pants pockets as he craned his neck and eyed the overflow of discarded papers. "Do you need any help, Ariadne?"
"No. I'm fine." Getting up, with her fist she compressed the wads of paper to give the impression that they had been somewhat managed. She shook her head and sighed. "I had an art block, but I think it's gone now."
Her head snapped up. She wasn't sure if she should stare blankly at Eames or glare at him, but she didn't get the chance. He already had his back turned to her. By the easy gait that he was walking away from her, she guessed he was off to pester Arthur, who turned around just in time to glare at the forger and mutter something.
Her throat felt like it was closing as she turned over her wrists and checked the crook of her elbows. It was suspicious enough that Eames hadn't teased her more about the state in which he had found her. In the worst case scenario she had cooked up in her mind, she imaged him walking in and finding her with a big goofy, sloppy grin on her face while she unwittingly muttered Arthur's name. Now, in an even worse scenario…
God help him if I find out he was forging…
But as far as she could tell, there were no fresh marks on her person, and the PASIV seemed, safely enough, across the room, locked tight. She was usually a light sleeper, and for the life of her she couldn't imagine that Eames would go through any amount of trouble that it would take to drug her to unconsciousness.
She flopped down into her chair and leaned back, causing it to squeak and moan. For a few minutes, she sat there with her eyes closed. Her fingers were at her temples in an attempt to rub out the headache she still had.
"Have you eaten?"
Her eyes popped open and she prayed the jump Arthur's voice had caused had been reasonably unnoticeable.
When she focused on him, as it was he had a brow raised.
"No, I haven't eaten."
Her stomach growled at his question. She guessed he'd heard it, too, when the corner of his mouth turned up a little. "I could eat," she replied. She then made a face. "Let me get cleaned up first, okay?"
He nodded and turned for the door. "Meet you outside."
She all but dashed towards the bathroom. She tucked her dark hair behind her ears and splashed her face with cool water. It felt nice when the water dripped down her skin and swelled over her palms as she cupped her hands to splash her face again.
It was just a dream…
Sighing, she blotted her face with the towel one of the guys had stolen from their hotel to use at the warehouse. It smelled stale, but she didn't mind too much. She turned her attention back to the dusty mirror and ran her fingers through her hair to fluff it up a bit.
Arthur would get a kick out of it if I told him how "he" helped me get rid of my art block…
She couldn't help but grin. She almost rolled her eyes at her reflection.
But maybe I'll save that story for another day…
Drawing her totem from her pocket, she stood it up on the dirty floor and flicked it with her index finger and thumb. It fell over and stayed down.
"Have any place in particular you'd wanna go to?"
After opening the door, she was blinded momentarily by the bright light of the morning sun. She stumbled out, a hand shielding her eyes.
She hadn't seen the lump in the sidewalk until it was too late, though normally she avoided it. Arthur had grabbed her by the arms to keep her from making friends with the pavement. He straightened her out and they stood face to face.
As if suddenly aware of himself, Arthur quickly removed his hands. "Welcome."
He raised a brow. "What?"
But she shook her head. "Guess I'm just really excited to eat. Lead the way, Point Man."
A/N:Just a little, dorky one-shot I decided to work on instead of doing homework, like a good girl, which I've had several days to finish. (Woo-hoo…) This has sat on my computer since about July and I thought it was worth finishing. I hope you were at least a little bit entertained by it. : )