Disclaimer: None of this is mine, it belongs to Warner Bros and other creative outlets and people, I don't intend to profit from this in any way. I am just trying to curb my own writer's block.
Big last hurrah of thanks for the reviewers- Guest: thanks, glad you liked it! and wow, your prediction is deep! I never even connected those two sentences until now. Iole17: same here... kireitenshi000: hey, I don't think I've gotten a review from you before, so thanks for doing so now! Hmm perhaps Jonah is helping him... interesting. but the sad stories and sad songs are the best ones! MajesticMoments: haha, I love your dedication in reviewing, thank you! Yeah, I think there's a lot of potential regarding the bond between Ariadne and Miles, that was something I made sure to touch on. I had this ending planned out from the start, I hope you like it. Guest/Knuckiducki(?): haha, pretending he comes back two sentences later, I do that with books sometimes if I don't like the ending! That is true, I do wonder about the bodyguard and it's a good point that Arthur would finally have his clean slate... Yay Miles! And I know, the chapter was really short :( At least this one is quite long! In. Blue. 85: Arthur does have a plan for everything... and yes, he could easily fake it again. KrazyXISnowKnut: DAMN. One of my good friends is in Ontario for university and he explained the Thanksgiving customs to me! I wrote this long before that and I completely forgot to edit that. Shoot. I also love the angst, so you're not alone. Thanks for reviewing! recey2010: gosh, thanks friend!
Chapter title from the Kate Havnevik song (yup, like last chapter!), one of my all-time favorites. Just lovely and perfect for this ending.
Last chapter! IT'S DONE. Please read through the author's note at the end.
Thursday, December 22, 2011: Paris, France: Ariadne's apartment: Ariadne
It was two months after the job when the first snow hit Paris.
Ariadne was at home, working on a design for one of her classes. She'd returned a couple weeks previously, on the first day of the month. Her classmates had besieged her with questions on her 'internship' and she'd responded as best as she could.
She also dealt with the questions regarding Arthur, from the close friends who'd met him. On this, Ariadne lied: she said Arthur had died in a car accident in Los Angeles. Her friends panicked (none had experienced anything like this before, they were all so young) and dove into doing what they thought best for Ariadne, which included trying to get her to wipe all traces of him from her life, like the photographs around the apartment. But she hid the photos under her bed, and found herself leaving them all around the bedroom, where no one else entered. She liked to think he was watching her.
Their relationship had been long enough that her friends weren't trying to set her up yet. She was grateful for this, because she wasn't ready. She knew that one day she would be. But that day was a long ways away.
Ariadne visited Paris Descartes, where Geneviève wrapped her in a hug and repeated her sympathies for Ariadne's loss. Ariadne had wound up staying for lunch, chatting about Arthur. Geneviève turned out to be exactly the kind of person Ariadne needed. She only wanted to share stories about Arthur, and not spend time repeating how much Arthur had loved Ariadne.
Slowly but surely, Ariadne was beginning the long road to recovery. She was sleeping again, and eating. But she could not bear silence. She always was listening to something, whether it was the television or the record player. She forced herself to spend time with others, doing her best to not be alone, when she was swallowed by her memories and her grief.
And she found herself looking for signs.
She picked up loose change in the street, checking the numbers for anything relating to Arthur. Late at night, she lay awake, trying to hear odd and unexplainable creaks in the apartment. She kept the windows open for as long as she could, wondering if she might be able to hear his voice on the wind. When she was in the apartment by herself, she often wore his shirts and coats, sniffing the sleeves and pretending he was holding her again. She continued to buy his preferred aftershave, spraying it on surfaces so she would catch it on the breeze and think he was walking towards her. Whenever she made coffee, she poured a cup of black coffee and inhaled the scent until it cooled.
She sang to herself, and danced on her own. She still talked to Arthur, offering commentary on her day and her thoughts on her life. She took long walks by the Seine, often picnicking on her own with wine, bread and cheese, like they used to. She always carried a photo of him with her, and she never went outside without the lace scarf.
Ariadne routinely had lunch with Miles, where he'd tell her what he heard of the dream world, mostly from Cobb. She hadn't called Cobb back since her earlier call; she needed her distance. So it fell to Miles to tell her that Yusuf had signed on for a job in Buenos Aires next fall, and that rumor had it that Eames was already working with a Spanish architect, operating out of Barcelona.
Miles also told her that Cobb had checked in with Micah after the one-month anniversary of the job and Arthur's death. Micah was doing okay, Miles said. He was working hard to get his degree. Miles said Micah had told one of Arthur's old professors, a man named Bristol, of his death: the man had been utterly devastated.
"Arthur was quite the teacher's pet," Ariadne noted, causing Miles to chuckle.
Miles also informed her that the dream world was moving on past Arthur, and that Cobol hadn't had to pay anyone for his body. Ariadne felt a perverse disappointment at this.
It was getting easier for her to joke freely about him, and easier for her to just talk about him. Miles found her a therapist who was familiar with the dream world, and she went, uncertain about what she would say. She found herself loving the hour each Wednesday she spent in Dr. Marcel's office, describing her feelings and how she was coping without Arthur.
Her family knew that Arthur had died, but they didn't know the depth of her and Arthur's relationship. Her mother was anxious for Christmas, when Ariadne promised to go home to Montreal.
"You sound so lonely, sweetheart," her mother repeatedly told her.
And Ariadne responded as best she could: "I'm just tired, mum."
She eventually opened the locked door in the apartment, walking into her office for the first time in months. She looked at the dream designs she'd been working on, for levels and trips she would take with Arthur. She ran her fingers over the cardboard, thinking of how she'd planned to surprise Arthur with a trip into an awesome dream world of a Paris of their own on a boring Tuesday night.
Ariadne considered completing the level, but couldn't bring herself to do it. Like she and Arthur would always be unfinished, so would the dream.
Arthur's PASIV was still hidden away in his closet, and on bad days, days when her sorrow would leak out in salt tears, she considered going under, if only to see him again. She knew, without a doubt, it wouldn't be hard to find him in her dreams. But then she would remember what he'd said, and she would force herself to abstain.
She would not ignore his wishes now.
The night her school let out for Christmas break, Ariadne was in the apartment, packing her suitcase for her trip to Canada. Tracy Chapman played in the background, her favorite song by the artist: "Fast Car." Her phone rang, and assuming it was her father calling to confirm her arrival time the next day, she answered breezily.
"Ariadne? It's Adam."
She was relieved he hadn't hesitated to state his name, because she almost passed out when he said hers. She could never quite get past how identical they sounded, and she would've assumed that it was Arthur speaking. But it couldn't have been.
"Adam?" She repeated. She sank down onto the couch, needing the support.
"Yeah. Hi. How are you?"
Her breathing was becoming erratic, her shock paramount. "I'm okay. How are you?"
"I'm okay," he said, repeating her words. "Look, Ariadne, I… I'm in Paris."
She gripped the phone and automatically pulled her bishop from her jeans pocket. She set it on the table and knocked it over. Reality.
"Why?" She managed.
He swallowed. "Um… Well. Did Arthur tell you we met up in Oceanside on October 17th?"
"Yes," she whispered. "Do you know he's dead?"
"Yeah," Adam said, his voice quivering. "He told me he was going to die. And he told me that if he didn't call by the 27th to assume he was dead, and then as soon as I could after that, to come to Paris."
"Because he wanted me to give you something," Adam murmured.
Her heart stilled. She remembered her despair, after searching frantically through their bags, at not finding a single item or note from Arthur, anything to calm her mind. She'd been shocked: why did Eames get something and she didn't?
Adam had had it all along?
"Where are you?" She demanded.
"He gave me your address," Adam replied. "I thought I should call before I showed up at your front door though. Might be a bit of a shock, and all…"
She smiled in understanding. Hearing his voice had been bad enough. "I see. Thanks."
"Sure. I'll be there in a little bit, if that's okay."
"It's a good time," she confirmed. "Bye, Adam."
She hung up and flew around the apartment, tossing her suitcases on the bed and zipping them closed. She raced to the main part of the apartment, wondering if Adam liked coffee as much as Arthur had and deciding she didn't care, she wanted coffee anyway.
There was a quiet knock fifteen minutes later. She smoothed her sweater before pulling the door open.
Even though she'd been prepared, it was still a shock to see a man who looked identical to Arthur standing on her door mat. He was wearing a forest green jacket, with a black sweater and baggy jeans, sneakers poking out at his feet. His hair was wavy, and he had a bag slung over his shoulder.
He smiled. "Hi, Ariadne."
She took a deep breath and held out her hands. Adam looked at them.
"Please," she said. "I have to check something."
He hesitated, and offered his own. She pushed up the sleeves of his shirt and coat until she could see his forearms. She ran her hands over them quickly, checking there wasn't any makeup, before nodding.
"What was that about?" Adam asked, looking worried. Probably wondering about her sanity…
"Arthur had scars on his arms," Ariadne explained. "From Afghanistan, and a couple from his time with Cobb. I just… I needed to check that you really weren't him." As she spoke, her eyes locked on the gold wedding ring on Adam's left hand.
"Oh," Adam said in recognition. "I don't blame you."
She took a step back. "Come in. Would you like some coffee?"
Adam followed her inside, looking slightly uncomfortable as he surveyed the apartment. He didn't take off his jacket, but he did set his bag on the floor by the hall.
"This is a really fancy place," he commented. "I shouldn't be surprised. Arthur always had a flair for the nicer things in life."
She laughed, giving him a cup of black coffee. She smiled when he drank it, not grimacing at the taste many found to be too bitter.
"It's beautiful," she agreed. "I didn't do anything to it. Arthur had it all set up like this by the time I moved in. Come sit down."
Adam picked up his bag and sat on the couch while Ariadne sat by the window in an armchair. Adam kept glancing around, taking in the bookshelves, the records, the expensive art on the walls, the candles…
"How are you?" She asked. "I can't imagine what it must be like to lose him twice."
Adam grimaced. "No kidding. It's… Well. Yeah."
"Does your mother know?"
"I had to tell her," Adam murmured. "Because she was fretting over how she hadn't heard anything from him. I told her everything he said to me. She can't accept it. She still thinks he's going to walk into her house, acting as me." He smirked. "She grills me whenever I show up, kind of like how you reacted."
Ariadne smiled sadly. "We can't help it."
"She still wants to meet you. Especially now, knowing…" He trailed off, letting Ariadne fill in the rest of his sentence: that he died for you.
She swallowed awkwardly. "Adam, what did he give you?"
"Ah," Adam said. He reached for his bag and began to explain as he dug through it.
"Arthur told me that to assume if he hadn't called by the 27th, that he'd died," Adam said softly. "He said that after he left mom's house, he was going to record a message for you, and then he would mail it to me. He wired money into my bank account to pay for a ticket for me to come to Paris to give it to you. Overpaid, judging by the fact he gave me twenty grand. Anyway… He must've thought it would be better for me to deliver this in person, rather than you getting it in the mail and thinking someone was screwing with you. He did it this way because he wasn't sure you would be able to get his stuff. You know. After he died." He hesitated, his hand gripping something in his bag and he looked at Ariadne.
"Please tell me. How did he die?"
Ariadne looked at her hands. "He was shot twice. Once in the abdomen, once in the chest. And then he fell down an elevator shaft."
"Jesus," Adam murmured. "Did you see?"
"Yes. He kissed me right before it happened. He let them catch him so a friend and I could escape. We were being chased by these men…"
Adam surprised her by nodding. "I know." She opened her mouth to ask but was distracted by Adam holding up a small brown package.
He shrugged and passed it to her. "Here."
She took it in her trembling hands, staring at what she recognized as Arthur's neat handwriting, spelling out the address of Adam Zaleski in Los Angeles. She pulled it open and a black CD case slid out, a DVD inside. Slowly, Ariadne picked it up, treating the DVD like it was a long-lost treasure.
Adam started speaking. "I'll just-"
"Don't leave, please," she whispered.
He nodded. "I'll go… hang out in your kitchen, then." Adam got to his feet and shuffled away, carrying his coffee with him.
Ariadne got up, taking the DVD to the DVD player by the television. She switched everything on, anxiously placing the DVD in the player with utmost care.
The television flickered, and then…
She gasped in a surprised bit of joy; it was like a shot of electricity to the heart.
Arthur was smiling, seated directly in front of what she assumed was his laptop. He looked exactly as she remembered, hair gelled back neatly, wearing a red dress shirt but no tie, the first few buttons of the shirt undone.
"Hello Ariadne," he whispered.
"Arthur," she whispered.
"If you're watching this, then it means I died," Arthur said, unaware of her words. "I don't know how, or who did it, but I hope it was fairly fast. If it wasn't, don't worry about me. It's over now."
She was already crying. How could she do this?
"Today is Sunday, October 17th, 2011," Arthur said. He looked at his watch. "It's about 10:30 at night, and I am currently in my hotel room at the Kyoto Grand in Los Angeles. You're a floor above me, with Eames. Today I visited my mother and my brother in Oceanside, which was probably the best decision I've made in a long time. If you're watching this, then it also means Adam has given this to you. Tell him thanks for me, would you?"
"I will," she promised.
"And let that guy know his stupid twin brother loved him, okay?" Arthur added, still smiling. "But I'm not making this video to say that." He fidgeted a little, looking uncomfortable. "This is so strange, but I figured, if you'd died, I would want a lasting way to see your face and hear your voice, so... I'm doing this because I don't know if I'll ever get to tell you that I'm sorry, and that I love you."
Ariadne took a deep breath, gasping. No…
"I think we officially broke up yesterday," Arthur murmured. "And… I'm not really sure what to do about that. All I know is that I've never felt more lonely or lost. It's crazy, because for so long, I never needed anyone. People needed me, but I didn't need them. That changed when I met you. When I fell in love with you, I knew you were it for me, that I was done looking.
"And I still feel that way," he continued. "And I know that even if I'd survived the job, I wouldn't change my mind on this. So, in a way, I'm okay with dying because it means I'll never have to lose you."
Ariadne grasped the couch, rocking back and forth, wishing she could dive into the television and tell Arthur how wrong he was.
"I really want you to know that I'm sorry," Arthur whispered. "I'm sorry for all the pain I've given you. I'm sorry for making you feel unloved. I'm sorry for treating you less than the goddess you really are. I hope that before I die, I'll get to explain this in real life, but because I can't know that for sure… This will have to do. I'm sorry, Ariadne."
He straightened suddenly. "A couple things you need to know… You are going to inherit everything. The apartment, my possessions and my money. You'll want to get a pen out…"
Arthur proceeded to give her the numbers to everything: his bank accounts and passwords, for everything from his emails to his foreign accounts. She listened in awe.
"You also get my legacy in the military," Arthur continued. "Including the pass codes to my files. It's up to you with what happens to my files. I don't care. Release them to the media if you want. Just let the military know I died, because then they can breathe a little more easily. Anyway, the pass codes…"
She listened as he listed off a series of numbers.
"I chose those numbers," he murmured. "And I've never told anyone why those numbers until now. The Russian alphabet is very different from English, mostly because it has thirty-three letters. I assigned each letter a number, depending on its order in Russian, all the way up to thirty-three. Translated thus, my numbers come out to say this: 'Алты́нного во́ра ве́шают, а полти́нного че́ствуют.'" He smiled. "My father's favorite saying and one that I have always been fond of: 'Little thieves are hanged, but great ones escape.'
"If there seems to be some trouble regarding your inheritance, bring it up with my attorney," Arthur continued. "His name is Roger Hart, and he's based in Manhattan. He's very aware of what I want and he'll bypass any restrictions. I have his phone number in my bureau drawer, the little one on top."
"You thought of everything," she whispered.
"This is probably a bit overwhelming," Arthur said. "But I think it's necessary. So thanks for bearing with me."
He laughed suddenly, running a hand through his hair. "God. Fair warning: I'm about to get unbearably sappy. But if these are my last words to you…" He shrugged. Ariadne held her knees to her chest.
"Do you remember when we met?" He asked. "You came into the warehouse with Cobb. You were so small, and so shy, when you shook my hand and Cobb introduced us. I swear, I knew, right that second, that I was in serious trouble. I could tell I was going to fall in love with you quickly.
"And when we were on the second level," he continued. "With projections everywhere, one bullet away from Limbo, and you were scared… I stole a kiss from you. You looked so surprised, and a little scandalized, even when I told you on the elevator that I liked you, and that I hoped to see you again after the job. You laughed and said you would have to think about it… So I caught up to you at LAX, and you kissed me, and I knew."
He smiled widely. "The last year with you has been the best year of my life. You're everything I've ever wanted to be. You're so brilliant, brave, kind and so strong. Not to mention beautiful. I could never figure out why you were with me.
"I told you once before that I would wait to marry you as long as you wanted me to," he whispered. "And that's still true. I would wait forever for you. But I don't want you to wait forever for me. I don't know how you feel now, if you have already moved on, if you hate me…" He sighed. "I figure if you're still watching this that you don't hate me that much. But I just want to make sure you understand: Move on. Find someone else. Marry someone else, have children with someone else. I want you to be happy, and I want you to live. Do all the things you wanted to. Finish your degree. Build a cathedral. Dream again if you'd like."
Arthur paused for a moment, as if considering his words. "I don't know how I died. I put it in my will that you'll get my ashes, so maybe I'm sitting next to you right now. I don't really care what you do with them. Throw me in the dumpster. I don't care. I just know that you're the only person I want to be with."
She was choking. There was not enough air…
"I love you," he murmured. "Sorry, I just can't say it enough. I really hope you believe me. And I don't regret a thing. Hopefully I died saving you. I hope you know that I know it was worth it. I really don't want to live without you, mostly because I don't know how to. I don't really change, Ari, but you changed me.
"But it's time to let me go, Ari."
"It's time to let me go."
"Hang in there," he continued. "For me. Keep living, for me, keep breathing, for me. Have an incredible life, and keep going until you don't need me at all. It may seem impossible now, but you'll be ready to one day. Got it, Ariadne?"
She swallowed and found herself nodding. "Yes, Arthur. I know."
"And if you do dream of me, make sure it's natural. Don't go under just for that."
"I won't," she whispered.
There was a short pause, and Arthur added, "The very last thing I will ask you to do is to look in the PASIV case. Specifically the vials on the left side. I think you'll find something there that will be an appendix of sorts to prove to you how determined I was to spend my life with you."
Ariadne half-glanced around for the PASIV, puzzled, but turned back quickly when Arthur spoke again.
"I'm an Atheist, so I have no idea what happens next," Arthur whispered. She felt her heart breaking all over again at the way his eyes shined with tears. "But I have to believe that I'll see you again, one day. If only to hear you say you forgive me."
"I forgive you," she croaked.
Arthur smiled. "I feel like I could talk to you forever, but I'll stop now. I'll see you tomorrow. I love you; always. Bye, Ariadne."
He leaned forward and switched the camera off.
Ariadne stared at the black screen, as the DVD player spit the DVD out. She felt like she'd been run over by a freight train. She was still crying, and felt like she would be crying for the rest of her life.
"God dammit, Arthur," she whispered. And then she stood.
She moved quickly down the hallway, ignoring Adam in the kitchen, who looked after her, bewildered. Ariadne pushed open the door to the bedroom and strode to the closet. She pulled open the doors and knelt, shoving aside clothes and shoes until she found what she was looking for: Arthur's PASIV.
Ariadne dragged it out and set it carefully down on the bed. She flicked the latches and opened it slowly, nervous about the contents.
Everything looked in order. Her eyes ran over the machinery, the center button that started the machine, the timekeeper determining how long the dream would last, the neatly coiled tubes. Her eyes located the vials that held somnacin, the vials Arthur had mentioned. All were empty (he kept them empty for safety, should someone steal the device) save for one on the end. Frowning, she grasped it and tugged it out.
At first glance, the vial appeared to be inconspicuously empty. But as Ariadne held it up the light, something caught her eye. She gasped and dropped the vial; it shattered on the floor.
Ariadne knelt, uncaring about the glass. For lying in the midst of the broken glass was a silver ring.
She didn't touch it. Instead, she brushed the glass aside, moving her face closer to inspect the ring. It looked very old; there was one large, circular diamond at the center, surrounded by a ring of smaller diamonds. Further bands of diamonds appeared to be woven behind it, before connecting into a circular band. It was absolutely stunning, and she instantly loved it.
Ariadne was swept by memories. The farmers markets, where she repeatedly mentioned her love of second-hand things; her trips to thrift shops around Paris and the Mediterranean, Arthur following her and listening to her cooing over the antique jewelry she admired.
He knew I would've wanted an antique, she thought to herself. And Arthur had hid the ring in a place he knew she would never find it. Only he knew how the PASIV worked, how to set it up and run it. She never dreamt without him, and when they did dream together, she let him solely get the PASIV ready. She knew, without a doubt, she would never have found the ring if Arthur hadn't told her where to find it.
Ariadne reflected on the conversation the past summer, when Arthur had brought up marriage. How she'd politely and lovingly declined, telling him that she wanted to wait to establish herself first. How Arthur had quickly agreed, and never brought the subject up again. She thought of how regretful he'd looked over the last few days, when they both realized how they'd wanted to get married, how devastated they were it hadn't happened...
You really wanted to, Ariadne thought, overwhelmed. You were just waiting for me to say yes.
She reached forward and picked up the ring, cradling it in her palm, treating it like the lost treasure it really was. It glimmered at her, flawless and gorgeous, and she could imagine telling Arthur that and his small smile as he told her, well, I wanted a ring that personified my wife.
Quiet footsteps interrupted her reverie, and she had to remind herself that Adam had brought the DVD to her. He hovered in the doorway, uncertain. She wiped her eyes, discreetly slipping the ring into her jeans pocket.
"You all right?" He asked. "Should I go?"
"No, no," Ariadne said hurriedly. "I'd like to talk to you, for a little bit... Let's go back to the living room."
Ariadne stood and brushed past Adam, leading the way to the living room. He followed her silently. She nodded at the couch and he hesitantly sat on it.
"I heard a lot of that," he admitted. "Er, the video, I mean."
"That's fine," she murmured. "Adam… I can't thank you enough."
He shrugged. "All I did was get on a plane to Paris. Wasn't too hard. Arthur really did all the work…"
Ariadne leaned back in her armchair, fiddling with the sleeves of an old Harvard sweatshirt that Arthur used to wear when he went on runs. She wiped her eyes hurriedly, aware of how she must've looked.
"I can't believe he's gone," she whispered.
Adam swallowed. "Ariadne… There's something I wanted to talk to you about."
She looked at him, confused. Adam took a deep breath.
"I'm a trauma surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center," Adam explained. "On October 20th, the day my brother told me he would die, we got an emergency call from the Fischer-Morrow power plant. Saying there were gunshots and numerous injuries from stray bullets and broken windows. And I just… I had a feeling that Arthur would be there. Call it twin-tuition. Was I…?"
"Yes," Ariadne breathed. "We were hired by Peter Browning to do a… job, on Robert Fischer."
Adam nodded, unsurprised. "Right. He told me about Browning. Anyway, I volunteered to go with the paramedics to the scene."
From faraway, Ariadne remembered passing numerous ambulances speeding past them as they fled the power plant…
"It was crazy," Adam murmured. "I was part of the second wave, so firemen, paramedics and police officers were already there; a couple ambulances were already going to different hospitals. Workers were panicking… I went with the paramedics into a conference room, and a man there—Robert Fischer, actually—said that his godfather had been shot. He said the man's name was Peter Browning. Well, he was definitely dead. His neck was blown out…"
"Arthur shot him," Ariadne said.
Adam grimaced. "Well, if he meant to kill the guy, he did it. Browning probably didn't feel a thing. As soon as I found out it was him, I knew that Arthur had been there. So I told the policemen that I was pretty sure my brother was there, hurt…"
"Oh my God," Ariadne gasped. "Adam, did you find him?"
He looked at her, an odd smile playing on his features. "You watched Arthur fall into an elevator shaft. And let me tell you: they found a ton of blood at the bottom of an elevator shaft. I saw it myself, and I remember it, because it was weird. And it was weird, because there was no body."
It was like the air had been sucked out of the room. Ariadne gaped at Adam, uncertain, wanting to believe…
"Ariadne… There was no body."
"What are you saying?" She croaked.
"They turned the place inside-out," Adam said quickly. "Trying to find the poor bastard who left that blood behind. I stayed there all day, waiting to hear. When they didn't find him, I assumed that meant Arthur was alive. Because those guys, they would've known who he was, right? He told me there was a company that wanted him dead for 2.5 million dollars. And we got there so quickly…"
"Cobol," she confirmed. "But how do you know they didn't pay anyone?"
Adam flushed. "I have a friend in the military, a man named Jonah Mellark. He went to boot camp with Arthur; they used to be best friends. Arthur actually reconnected with Jonah right before he died, so I knew I could go to him. He can get into Cobol's systems, and he said there hasn't been anything about Arthur." He carried on. "So I was really surprised when he didn't call. He said to assume that meant he died, so I came here. I was hoping you would tell me that you managed to get his body out of there…"
"I didn't," she murmured. She felt like her skin was tingling. "Adam, what are you saying?"
He took a deep breath. "For all intents and purposes, judging by the evidence, my brother is dead. But part of me wants to believe someone got him out alive. That he's recovering somewhere. Or maybe he's being held against his will somewhere, being tortured again for information on his team." Adam looked at her, his gaze piercing. "I thought my brother was dead for nine years, just because I trusted the word of the military and buried a coffin. I accepted I would never see him again. And then he shows up in my mother's kitchen. And now… Well, it just doesn't seem like much of a stretch to think he might still be alive somewhere."
Ariadne didn't know what to do, or say to that. Her mind was replaying Arthur's fall, but this time, he fell only ten feet. He managed to pick himself up and hide, staying silent, until he was rescued…
"I was part of the second rescue team," Adam said, as if he could read her thoughts. "I scoured hospitals in L.A., trying to find his body in the morgue, or something. I knew I would never get a call about identification, because my brother legally died in 2002. And I couldn't get into the I.C.U.s, where it sounds like he would probably be, because I'm absolutely certain he would've used a fake name, and those records are sealed closed. Even if my military friends hacked the system, there's no way I could pick out Arthur."
"You think he's alive," she whispered.
Adam shrugged. "I don't know. But I have hope that I'll see him again. Maybe in ten days… Maybe in twenty years. I can only hope."
"Adam," Ariadne said. "Thank you."
"Just don't put all your eggs in one basket," Adam said quickly. "It sounds like he's probably dead. But… I don't know. 'Little thieves are hanged, but great ones escape', remember? This is Arthur."
Adam stayed for another half an hour, during which they talked about everything but Arthur. Ariadne found herself agreeing to meet his mother over her school's spring break, and visiting Adam and his family in Los Angeles. Adam also promised to come to her graduation in May.
"Just because at least one Zaleski should," he joked.
She led him to the door when he said he had to catch his plane home. He and Lily were spending Christmas with her family in Oakland.
As he took a step to leave, she grabbed his arm. "Adam, wait."
He turned, and before she quite knew what she was doing, she stood on her toes and kissed him firmly on the mouth. Adam's jaw went slack with shock, but before he could react, she stepped away.
"Definitely not Arthur," she said. "Sorry. I had to check."
He managed to laugh. "Take care of yourself, Ariadne. And if you hear anything…"
"I'll let you know," she promised. "Thank you, Adam. For everything."
He raised a hand in farewell and walked away.
Ariadne walked back into her apartment. The place was silent and utterly still. She stood in the center of it for a moment, taking it in, until she realized the Tracy Chapman record was scratching. She hurried to it, pulling it out and returning it to its proper place. She glanced at the DVD, still resting in the player.
"I'm always with you…"
Was it possible?
She reached into her pocket and pulled out the totem. She set it down and flicked it. The bishop fell as it was supposed to.
Ariadne walked back to her armchair, sitting in it and curling up, clutching her cold mug of black coffee. She raised it to her mouth and inhaled, letting the familiar scent waft over her.
"Tomorrow. Promise me that you will try. That you won't just lay down and let them kill you. Try to survive."
"I will. I'll try."
Ariadne slid her hand into her pocket and pulled out the ring. It rested on her palm: a possibility. She picked it up and slid it on her left hand ring finger, knowing that Arthur, in all his perfectionism, would've ensured it fit perfectly, and it did. She looked at it, as it glittered in the dying light from the sunset, and she saw it for what it was: a promise.
She smiled sadly and looked out the window.
"Always," she murmured.
I know many of you will hate the ambiguous ending, but let me explain why I chose it: One, I love ambiguous endings. I love letting the reader decide the end of the story they've invested so much time and energy into. Two, "Inception" had an ambiguous ending. This is a fan fic, so it should follow that, right?
Three, this is Arthur. His whole life has been a mystery. Makes sense his death is controversial, too.
Mr. Nolan has stated he likes to think Cobb was awake at the end of "Inception," if only because he wanted Cobb to have that happy ending with his family. I, too, would like to believe that Arthur is alive somewhere after this story, but I think a good argument can be made either way, and a theme in this story was sacrifice and letting go. Only Adam and Ariadne have hope that Arthur might be alive, and even then, their hope is a hesitant one.
SEQUEL: Yikes. I don't know. I'm still shocked I managed to finish this sucker. I wrote an outline for a sequel, and I've written four chapters, but I've been busy working on other personal projects. What do you want? Should I wait to finish (like I did with this fic) before posting a sequel? Or post as I go? (The sequel would have Ariadne as the hero, trying to find Arthur, if you were curious.)
I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to read, favorite and follow this, with a special emphasis on the people who also took the time to review. Knowing that people cared enough about this story and the characters to drop a line was such a motivator and gave me the strength to keep posting. I'm awfully self-critical, so often times, reviews were all that kept me posting. But it's all over now, so might as well tell me what you really think: like it? hate it? Do you think Arthur's alive? What's next for Ariadne? Cobb? Eames? Micah, even?
And again, thank you for your time.