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. 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.
Commentfic dating from last year (has it really been that long, yikes). The meme was kissing. Ta-dah. Unbeta'd.
After it's all over, after the joy and the tears, after the children's excitement wears down into sleep, Dom finds a quietness in things he never expected. He'd call it peace, but it's not quite that serene; it's a hollow space where the guilt and rage - and it had been rage - had filled him.
Ariadne had been right, but not complete. It isn't just himself Dom has to forgive, it's Mal too, because she's hurt him as much as he's wronged her. Even in her madness, she had chosen to leave him and the children behind.
The house seems familiar and strange at the same time, the way any home does after a long absence. His mother-in-law has been sleeping in the guest room, keeping the master bedroom neat and dust-free, and when he ventures into that cool space he can smell a ghost of Mal's scent in the air, the powder she used. Her lipstick still sits on her dresser, one careless remainder, and if he closes his eyes he can almost see her leaning towards the mirror to put it on -
Dom blinks the image away. Mal is gone, has been gone for months. The distorted reflection he carried so long, guilt and pain given illusory flesh, is gone too. He is free to be his children's father again, a law-abiding man. There are plenty of people who bear old sorrows; he is not unique.
But what he told Ariadne was also true. He lasts almost three weeks before he has to give in, and waits until Philippa and James are out with their grandmother before retrieving the machine from the back of his closet. It takes almost all his courage to implant the lines and press the button, but the human brain must dream to remain healthy, and he can no longer dream without the machine.
He uses only the basic sedative, none of the memory enhancers or the sharpeners, and drifts almost as he might in a natural dream, walking down a suburban street and watching the people passing by. Nothing urgent, no goal in mind; just letting his brain do what it needs to.
The feel of her hand slipping into the crook of his arm is bliss and horror at the same time.
But when he looks down, the madness is gone from her eyes, and Mal's smile is the old one, the wry, knowing, just slightly wicked love.
"You're not real." Dom makes himself say it, even if he can't seem to move at all, let alone shake off her touch.
"I know." The street and the people are gone, now; it's the woods out behind his - their - house, where Mal used to hunt violets in the spring.
"Then why are you here?" The words are hard to get out - is it all to do again, the anguish and the renunciation? Will she always return to haunt him?
She reaches up to cup his face in cool palms, the old gesture. "Because you deserve a chance to say goodbye to the woman I was, not the monster you made me."
There's no blame in that rich voice, and he realizes she's right; he banished the shade, but he never bid his wife farewell.
She is warm and strong and slender in his arms, and Dom presses his face into her hair - so soft! - once more, feeling a spasm pass through him that in the waking world would be a sob. He wants to keep her, but this time he knows he can let her go.
When he raises his head, she is looking up at him, her gaze clear and calm, and he bends again.
It is like the kiss he gave her the first time; a completion of something they both saw coming, a perfect fit of dissimilarities, a touch of excitement and a hint of sweetness. It is hello and goodbye and everything in between, because it has to be. And it cannot last forever.
The wetness on his cheeks belongs to him, though he can see moisture brimming in Mal's eyes too. "Au revoir, my love."
When he opens his eyes to their quiet room, his face is still wet.
She does not come again, even when Dom dares to think of her in a dream. He sets about remaking his life without her, letting Mal stand still in the past as the rest of them advance through time away from her. No one goes through life without some scars, and the pain fades, until there is only wistful love. The children grow and bloom, and life is good once more.
And if every so often he wonders if Mal wasn't right after all, he's content with the dream he's got.