A/N: This is something that I started working on a couple weeks ago while working on another project that's driving me a bit up the wall. XD I hope you guys will enjoy it! It's just a little story about Arthur and Ariadne's relationship and how it's impacted in a couple different ways by the darker side of the dream world. Eames and Cobb are in it a bit, too. I'm uploading this in parts. I appreciate all my readers and reviews!

Disclaimer: I don't own the rights to Nolan's awesome characters, but I enjoy writing about them.

The Physical and the Mental

By Shembre

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Leaves like pieces of crumpled orange parchment were falling from scraggly trees by the wheel barrowful, covering over dull-green grass and rain-stained sidewalks, becoming a kinetic carpet that constantly rippled and tore open in the chilly, Parisian breeze.

Back when the leaves had been young and a vivid green, two long years after the Fischer job, Arthur had finally bit the bullet. He'd had enough of the stern debate that had been running through his head.

I have to see her again… No, you can't go down that road. It's not safe.

Wonder if Ariadne misses me…? Probably, though missing you from afar means she's that much safer.

What harm can I do if I just see her for a couple of days…? A lot.

What if she calls for work…? You turn her down carefully, that's what.

That kiss… Stop thinking of that kiss… The kiss that could lead to other things…

He wasn't as strong in his convictions as he'd wanted to be. With Eames's avid insistence, Ariadne had served as architect on one of the jobs they had pulled together during those two years, but things had remained mild between the point man and the architect to say the least. Arthur had convinced himself that if anyone could be good for her, it couldn't be him—at any rate, not who he was on the job, as well as whom he had associated with in the past, and would probably deal with in the future. He stole people's thoughts and ran away from gun-toting thugs. She was young. She had a promising career in design ahead of her. He couldn't bear the idea that someone might want her head stuffed and mounted on a wall because of him. For the most part, he allowed himself to check in on her every few months, but that was it.

He threw himself into his work to keep occupied, but when Ariadne had called and invited him to her graduation from Ecole D'Architecture, he'd accepted with little protest, especially when she'd said that Cobb and Eames were coming, too. Her parents, who'd had some affair to deal with on short notice, were flying in the following weekend. Arthur thought that if Cobb and Eames were going to show up, it would look bad if he refused. He also thought that with them hanging around, he'd be able to keep his business-like composure…

Seeing her in her graduate uniform on stage. The congratulatory handshake. Her sunny laugh. A hug. Dinner. The day had gone quickly and hadn't been terribly difficult at all until Cobb and Eames had gotten up from the table at the restaurant where they were all celebrating. Arthur and Ariadne had been talking about the job offers she'd been entertaining when Arthur had finally noticed that half their party was missing.

"Cobb's calling his children," Ariadne answered when he'd asked where the other men had gone. She carefully picked up her glass of the champagne that Cobb had ordered for the group. She was sitting on the opposite side of the table, diagonal from Arthur, who was seated next to Cobb. "Eames left about a minute or two ago to go to the loo."

"Hmm." Arthur's eyes flickered between the two empty seats.

She took a sip of her drink and then added with a warm laugh, "Stare at their seats harder and maybe you'll make them materialize." She giggled, probably at his confused expression. "Relax. I think they just needed a break."

He looked at her smiling face again as she took another sip. "Break from what?"

She was grinning. "You! I don't think we're used to you being so… talkative."

"Oh." He frowned at the almost empty glass in his hand, embarrassed. He then looked back up and smirked. "We? Well, do you need a break from me, too?"

She shook her head and smiled sweetly, glancing down at the table. "No, I like talkative Arthur," she said earnestly. "He wants answers to questions that aren't just… 'you still alive?' or… 'how's that maze coming?" She even tried to mimic his voice.

Arthur chuckled, but stopped short when Eames returned and sat down next to Ariadne. Feeling awkward, Arthur took a long drink of his champagne, trying to stay even-tempered under the forger's damnable grin.

"I think you'd sound more like poor Arthur if you weren't bursting into a fit of giggles, sweetheart." Ariadne's mirth-trembling shoulders then came under a half-hug from Eames, who asked Arthur, "You really ask her 'you still alive'? Just like that?"

Ariadne giggled harder. "Yes."

The forger's eyes widened in mock shock. "Really? I'm fairly sure that's what you ask me from time to time, darling," Eames went on. "Never am I gladder to hear those few words every six or so months."

Arthur rolled his eyes and shook his head. "No. I don't ask her that." In gesture, he raised his hand so they could see his palm as he said, "I ask: how are you doing?"

Eames grinned harder. "Which I suppose equals, 'are you still alive?' in Arthur-speak? Hmm?" He then dropped his arm from Ariadne's shoulders. "I expected far more. But, I suppose you should be flattered, Ariadne, that he asks about your well-being, and not just whether or not you're still breathing."

"Eames, if I stopped calling you all together, I'd save time, now wouldn't I?" Arthur retorted.

"Yes." The forger reached for the bottle of champagne. "But there's no need to throw around empty threats, darling; it's not very becoming of you. I know you enjoy our little chats just as much as I do."

Arthur smirked. "Like a toothache."

"Don't undersell it now."

Arthur shifted in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest, giving the forger a tight-lipped smile. "So suppose I do enjoy those… little chats… deep down… very deep down? They still can't compare to seeing your smiling face in person. I enjoy that about as much as I enjoy being shot in the kneecap or being told I have no imagination."

Ariadne grinned as Eames replied, topping off Arthur's glass, "Really that bad, huh? Could've fooled me." The Brit set the champagne bottle back down. "Now how about you stop bickering with me and get back to that lovely conversation you were having with Ariadne before I left the table, hmm? For the last half-hour it's been nothing but you two." Eames picked up his own glass and smirked goadingly at Arthur. "Cobb and I might as well leave you two birds to it." The forger then looked over at Ariadne and winked at her.

Eames was seconds away from a kick to the shin under the table when Cobb finally rejoined the party. The conversation's focus then thankfully turned from Arthur to Cobb's children, and how Cobb was planning on taking Phillipa and James to Disney World in a few weeks. As Cobb spoke however, and although she continued to nod and add to the conversation, Ariadne glanced in Arthur's direction a total of six times.

Make that seven, he thought silently.

About an hour later, when the restaurant was closing for the night, they paid the bill and gathered outside. The night air was refreshingly cool and smelled of sweet flowers and cooking food from one of the other restaurants nearby. Cobb and Eames were about to head to the hotel where all three men were staying when Ariadne noticed that Arthur had forgotten the jacket he'd come wearing, but had discarded in the warmth of the restaurant.

"I must have put it on the back of my chair." He turned to Cobb and Eames as he started to walk back inside. "I'll catch up."

The two men nodded, and were saying their good-byes to Ariadne when Arthur slipped back into the restaurant. Eames and Cobb had already started walking the seven or so blocks to the hotel by the time he found his light brown sports jacket on the back of his chair. A restaurant employee was gathering up Arthur's jacket, but he handed it over to the point man when he came to claim it. Jacket in hand, Arthur exited the building.

Outside, Ariadne had waited for Arthur.


She smiled. "Hey."

A/N: Hmm... I wonder where this is going to go? What are you guys hoping will happen? Well, I hope you're enjoying this so far, anyway. The banter between Arthur and Eames was my favorite part to write, but what was difficult about this chapter was how to show which text parts were Arthur's thoughts or which words needed emphasis because most of this was in italics! Reviews are welcome, please. There will be about 4 more parts after this, so stick around. :)