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.
This is the sequel to To Lose My Life so if you haven't read that you ABSOLUTELY MUST because this won't make any sense otherwise.
Til Kingdom Come summary- Eighteen months after Arthur's death, the team is broken up, each member trying to deal with and overcome their grief and guilt. Struggling to move on from losing Arthur, Ariadne has abandoned dream work and is working at an architecture firm in New York City, when she receives a mysterious package containing photos of Arthur with a note claiming that he is alive. With Cobb, Eames and Micah, Ariadne begins the journey to rescue and save her love... Only to realize that Arthur's mind needs to be saved as well.
To Lose My Life was Arthur's hero's journey. Till Kingdom Come is Ariadne's hero's journey. (So if you were ever frustrated with how weak Ariadne seemed in the former... I was too, and this story is my redemption!) I'm looking forward to developing Eames' background story, Cobb working on earning absolution from Arthur, Micah fully discovering the psychology of the dream world, and of course, Ariadne saving Arthur and trying to repair the relationship they once had.
Oh, Micah Harper is my own Original Character.
Chapter title from the gorgeous Radiohead song. Certainly sets the mood.
All I Need
The birds cawed overhead, and she watched their progress with idle interest, enjoying the way their dark forms contrasted with the periwinkle blue that was the afternoon sky over Paris. A soft breeze ambled towards her, sending her loose brown hair fluttering around her face. She found her jeans-clad legs swinging, her sneakers tapping the ground softly when they returned beneath the bench. She took a deep breath, her fingers grazing the wood of the bench she was perched on, her eyes locked on the bright blue water of the Seine. She felt very calm, very content.
"What are you thinking about?"
She turned, slightly startled. A man was approaching her, wearing a black three-piece suit, though without the jacket; it hung over his shoulder. He handed her a green sweater, and she smiled, taking it and pulling it over her head. He sat on the bench beside her, his body a small inch from hers, but just out of reach.
"Nothing really," she said, honestly. "I just really like this spot."
She looked at him, catching his small smile as he followed her lead, swinging his much longer legs in sync with hers. His hair was perfectly slicked back, though she watched with some amusement as the wind threatened to pick it up.
"I thought you would," he said at last, and she recognized his self-congratulatory smile. She rolled her eyes and looked up at the sky, wondering how it could possibly look that beautiful. They sat in silence for a while.
He spoke suddenly. "There's something I wanted to talk to you about."
She turned, raising an eyebrow. He was rarely this formal with her; he sounded very serious. "Okay. Shoot."
His mouth quirked slightly, and he rested his arms over the tops of his legs, resting his head in his hands. She looked at him, frowning, and rubbing the tops of her knees in confusion. Was he… uncertain?
"Arthur?" She paused. "What is it?"
"I…" He ran a hand through his hair, mussing it up some. "I'm not sure how to put this…"
Her stomach took a tumble. Everything had been going so well; was it possible Arthur was having doubts now? About what? Her?
Some of this panic must have shown on her face, because he straightened and started shaking his head determinedly. "No! No, it's nothing bad. Or, at least… I hope it isn't anything bad."
"What is it?" Ariadne demanded. "You're making me nervous."
"Sorry," he muttered. He looked at her then, finally sitting up straight, his hands smoothing his tie and vest almost reflexively. "I was wondering if you've ever thought about what's next… with us."
She blinked. "What?"
Arthur sighed. "Ari. We've been together for a while now."
"Yes…" She said slowly. The wheels were turning in her head, and she was trying to catch up to Arthur's mindset. "What are you saying?"
"Have you ever thought about marriage?"
Her stomach fell away, as did her mouth when she caught up to what he was really talking about.
He laughed lightly, relaxing significantly and straightening again. Arthur looked out at the river for a long moment as Ariadne struggled to process the conversation. He turned back to her soon enough. "I basically just said that I want to marry you and your response is 'oh'? You really must love me."
"I do-" Ariadne quickly finished the sentence "-I do love you. This is just…"
She shook her head. "No… Not entirely. I mean, I figured you would want to talk about this at some point. Marriage... it's definitely right up your alley."
"Ari…" He turned, reaching forward and grasping her hand tightly in both of his. "Please, look at me."
She did, raising her eyes to meet his. He looked intense.
"I'm not proposing," he clarified. "I'm just telling you that I would very much love to marry you. I'm thirty, and… Well, I guess age just caught up with me. But it's also you. You know that. You're the first-and I hope only-woman I want to marry."
"Yeah," she murmured. "But Arthur… I'm twenty-three. I'm not even done with school. I want to marry you, too, but I'm too young right now. I want to have a job I love before I get engaged."
He nodded thoughtfully. "I understand, and I agree." He smiled widely. "But the moment you tell me you're ready, I'm going to buy a ring."
She laughed and scooted closer to him, laying her head on his shoulder. He kept one hand in hers and raised his free arm, wrapping it around her shoulders, pressing her to his side. Together they sat in silence, watching the passersby, from the businessman on his way to a meeting, to the middle-aged women on their lunch break, to the gawking tourists whose cameras snapped furiously at every moment. Ariadne sighed and closed her eyes, inhaling the scent of Paris and Arthur; she couldn't imagine a more perfect combination.
"Are you happy, Ariadne?"
Ariadne stared up at Arthur in surprise. "Am I happy? Of course I am! The man I love just told me that he wants to spend the rest of his life with me. I'm very happy."
"Good," Arthur said, smiling.
"Why'd you ask?"
"Just checking," Arthur hedged. His expression turned solemn suddenly, and he turned his head, pressing his lips to her forehead. She closed her eyes, smiling at the warm contact.
"Tally-ho! I spot a couple of lovebirds!"
Her eyes snapped open and both she and Arthur scrambled around to look behind them, nearly twisting their necks in their haste. Ariadne giggled when she spotted the four men approaching them.
"Eames?" Arthur's query was muffled in the groan that accompanied it as Eames walked around to face them, beaming, his usual scruff apparent, his blue eyes hidden behind sunglasses, a pastry in his hand. Beside him was Cobb, hands in his pockets, a shy smile on his face, embarrassed to have interrupted Arthur and Ariadne at such a private moment. Then there was Yusuf, a bundled newspaper under his arm and a coffee in his other hand, beaming with enthusiasm. And last was Micah Harper, grinning shyly, sporting a baseball cap with the logo of the Texas Rangers baseball team, twisting his hands together with his nervous energy.
"Hey!" Ariadne said excitedly. "Edward, Cobb, Yusuf, Micah! What are you all doing here?"
"Visiting you, of course," Yusuf said warmly.
Arthur raised an eyebrow. "And you just happened to know we'd be in this particular park?"
"I sensed your ambivalent presence, darling," Eames chortled. He tapped the side of his head. "Not just a pretty face, you see." Arthur rolled his eyes.
"We're not just visiting," Micah admitted. "We've got a job."
"A job?" Ariadne repeated. Her eyes swiveled to Cobb. "I thought you'd retired! Where are your kids?"
Cobb smiled. "Over there." He nodded to the side and she looked and sure enough, two small blonde children were playing in the grass just a few yards away, squealing with obvious excitement. "They're looking forward to some quality time with their grandpa. And me, of course. We'll stay local."
"Gosh, that sounds nice," Ariadne remarked.
"Look, Cobb..." Arthur sighed, looking deeply apologetic. "I told you this months ago, and I'm sure Stephen said the same. I'm retired. I'm out of the game, I'm done."
It was Cobb's turn to sigh, his expression disappointed. Meanwhile, Eames' and Yusuf's jaws dropped.
"What?" Yusuf gasped.
"My God," Eames murmured. "Bloody hell, why? You live for dream work. You told me once that it was the best thing that ever happened to you-"
"-And it was," Arthur said. "Until..."
Arthur gave a small smile. "Until I met someone I decided was worth spending time in reality for." He looked at Ariadne, still sitting so close to him on the park bench. Ariadne blushed but met his adoring gaze unflinchingly. "I've been in love with her for so long... Sometimes I think since the first moment I saw her."
"You goose," Ariadne mumbled, blushing even more at the sappiness of it all, while secretly loving how honest Arthur was speaking about her, in front of their colleagues.
"And I decided she was too important to risk," Arthur murmured. "So I've given it up. It's almost hard to imagine my life before her, how empty and meaningless it was, and now... I'm ready to wake up, and she's the only one I want to wake up next to."
"Arthur," Ariadne croaked. "You're the only one I want to wake up with, too..."
"But you'll have to wake up without him."
It was like the entire park froze when Cobb spoke. The birds stopped chirping, the wind stopped blowing, the boats on the river stilled, and every person in the vicinity besides the six of them vanished. Ariadne tore her gaze from Arthur to face Cobb, Eames, Yusuf and Micah; all of their expressions had unexpectedly and alarmingly darkened.
"Without...?" She trailed off in bewilderment. "Cobb?"
"Ariadne." Micah's voice was uncharacteristically hard. "How did you get here?"
She huffed irritably. "Oh please, Micah. I've dreamed a lot, don't you think I'd know by now if I-"
But she was forced to trail off, her spine tingling and a chill coming over her as she realized that Micah had a point in asking, for she couldn't recall how she'd come to be at this park bench, and furthermore... but it couldn't be true...
Eames held out a hand and Arthur took it; the two shook hands, smirking at the other.
"Even if we're all figments of Ari's imagination..." Eames shrugged. "I've missed you, darling."
Micah took a shuddering breath, his eyes trained on Arthur. Arthur held out his hand and Micah gripped it tightly.
"This sucks," he muttered, causing Arthur to chuckle.
Ariadne was experiencing a panic attack bordering on hysteria. Her eyes took in the scene, her head swiveling from Arthur to Micah and back.
"We met in Los Angeles," she whispered. "Micah, you're from Harvard, you're a psychology graduate student, Cobb brought you on for the Browning job, when he took Cobb's children, and Micah, we've been training you in everything, and you worship Arthur, and he almost drowned you but you love him, and we don't know why, and Micah, you were there, you pulled me away from the power plant, you were with me when we watched-"
She broke off, the horror slamming her like a tidal wave. All at once, Eames, Cobb, Micah and Yusuf vanished, and it was just her and Arthur sitting on the park bench.
Arthur's face was devastatingly sorrowful. He lifted his hand and touched her face. "I'm sorry, Ariadne."
"That conversation... You asked me to marry you when we were in Italy, on our trip over the summer... Not here, in Paris," she croaked, her heart heavy. "You already bought a ring. You hit it in the PASIV, and told me where to find it, and..."
She remembered now.
"Oh, God," Ariadne gasped. "Arthur, I'm so sorry, I broke my promise, I'm using the PASIV-"
"Ssh." He pressed a finger to her lips, his eyes gentle. "I know. Don't apologize to me, Ari. It..." He hesitated. "I'm not me. The real me... I'm dead."
"I miss you so much," she gasped, jumping forward. She gripped his neck in her hand, feeling the ends of his hair tickle her fingers, her other arm wrapped around his shoulders. She inhaled and her breath shook when she was hit with a blast of aftershave; her attempts at recreating it had been for moot, though her memories of it were definitely intact and recreated it perfectly here.
She felt Arthur turn his head, and she closed her eyes tightly when she felt him press his lips to her cheek.
"Ssh," he whispered. For a wild moment, she wondered why he'd said that, and then she felt herself trembling, and realized she was sobbing.
"I'm sorry," she croaked. "Oh God, I'm so sorry."
He sighed. "Ariadne. You have nothing to apologize for." He curved his back, pulling away hesitantly. Ariadne wiped her eyes quickly with the back of her sleeve as Arthur held her shoulders in his hands.
"Come on, Ari. Look at me."
She forced her eyes to lock in on his, the familiar auburn melting her heart. He smiled warmly at her.
"How are you doing, my love?"
She took a deep breath. "Not so good. Arthur, I miss you."
"I miss you too," he murmured, taking one of her hands and kissing it. She stared at him, waiting for him to say something, but he didn't. He only gripped her hand, running his thumb over her skin. And it hit her.
"You're not real," she whispered.
He shook his head. "I'm not. I'm your projection. I'm sorry."
"Don't be," she said softly. "I'm being silly. It doesn't really matter what I say to you, does it? The real you won't hear it."
"I won't," he confirmed. "But you can still say it... Might make you feel better."
She raised her eyes and took a deep breath. "I love you, Arthur."
He smiled. "I love you, Ariadne. You know I do."
"I know you did," she whispered. "You loved me so much, you gave up your life for mine, you let yourself be shot twice and thrown down an elevator shaft..."
"Stop it," Arthur said sharply. "Stop saying that I loved you."
He looked at her, really looked at her, his dark auburn eyes staring directly into hers, and she could feel the ground shaking and knew their time was almost up. Arthur abruptly leaned forward, his lips ghosting over her face, warm breath blowing over her.
"How do you know..." He murmured, and Ariadne leaned into his touch, gripping his hand in hers. "How do you know that I don't still love you? How do you know I left... How do you know..."
His lips went to her ear as he whispered, "How do you know I'm not still with you?"
And then the bench vanished, the Seine vanished, Paris vanished, her world vanished, and Arthur crumbled with it. And when Ariadne opened her eyes, she was lying fully-clothed on her bed and she was alone.