Pairing: Arthur/Cobb, Ariadne/Arthur
Cobb comes into her life suddenly, and she feels fulfilled, somehow. She's always been a prodigy, which means she was an awkward, friendless child. In her dreams, she was always the main character in a fanciful story, pining for the day when her life would suddenly have some kind of richer, deeper meaning. When the prince would need her help. When her real parents, who were wizards, would come take her to their kingdom, and happen to need...an extremely skilled architect and draftswoman.
Instead, it’s this. Mazes, she thinks wryly as she sees the pad in his hand. Of course. Her parents had led her here, to the inevitable. The string.
She takes the pen.
It’s a marvelous story for her, and each player had their role. An international band of thieves? Of course. It wasn't her favorite tale, but it was fantastical enough when she stepped into a world she could control.
Cobb was the leader, Eames the forger, Yusef the chemist. Saito was the money. Ariadne is the Architect, the builder. But.
Arthur was the puzzle, at first. She felt his presence more than she heard it, his crisp suits and calm demeanor and small smile. He moved quietly. He anticipates Cobb’s needs – there was food in the work room fridge, his favorite soda always at hand. Black dossiers of information spread around, photographs of the rich and powerful all neatly tucked into folders. He gets her precisely the right type of pencils and razor blades, the kind she'd used at school, without ever asking her preference. But that just makes him useful, perceptive. It doesn't make him fit.
Ariadne spends a few days in the clouds, designing the most impossible landscapes she can in the sky. “Just let her get it all out of her system,” Cobb had said, roughly, with a dismissive wave of his hand, when he'd seen. Arthur had just smiled.
So. Mountains, floating castles, islands that hover, cities in soap bubbles. Arthur’s subconscious is forced to take flight, and appears at first as clumps of startled ravens. She smirks. They never attack.
“We’re near the ocean,” he states steadily as the birds change to gulls, squabbling. His brain is nimble and full of delightful surprises, unlike the slow and hostile movement of Cobb’s dreams. She spends a lot of time either with or inside his mind, and grows to like it there. Arthur never lets his secrets out bleed into their dreams, never brings anything unexpected but himself.
Arthur is the dreamer. It hardly fits – there is nothing fantastical about him. But he needed an archetype. She needs a place to put him.
“Why do you need to know?” he asks, and there is anger there for the first time. She relishes it, a tiny bit. She put that emotion in his voice.
There is, of course, no good answer, unless she is willing to lead Arthur further into a tangle that even Cobb cannot solve. “I just. I was just curious. I see her sometimes.” It was futile to keep any breech of protocol from Arthur; she had to simply operate on the assumption that he already knew about her dalliances with Cobb. It sounded sordid in her mind, even though it wasn't.
His eyes narrow. “Cobb can’t love anyone else, you know.” The volume is soft but the words are made of steel. “It would be a waste of time for you to try.”
She only sees them once, and not for lack of trying.
It’s in the workroom, of course, and Cobb seems unsteady, just awoken. He has Arthur backed into a wall, and Cobb touches him hungrily. Ariadne wonders if he even sees who he is touching. She notices the flinch that ripples across Arthur's face.
Arthur stands still, but his mouth opens into the kiss. His hands are shaky when they raise to meet Cobb’s shoulders.
Cobb takes. Arthur gives.
The second time she dies in a dream she wakes up shouting. She runs her hands through her hair, over her face, before hugging herself tightly. Her breath comes in pants. She exists, shakily.
Arthur is already awake, his hands spidering together. His face looks like it always does, sharp and impassive, and she heaves in air, watching him.
“It doesn’t get easier, if you were wondering,” he says, and then he is moving toward her, behind her, and his hands are smoothing her hair. She shivers, full body, once, and then closes her eyes and lets him massage her scalp. “The trick is only needing to get shot once.”
In LAX, they are surrounded by people, but no one pays them any attention. She feels tightly wound, her heart pounding and the world extra bright due to excess adrenaline. They all sneak glances to each other until Yusuf sighs and says, “Well, now what?” He bounces on the balls of his feet.
Eames laughs. Arthur adjusts his tie. “Dom is out,” he says flatly.
Ariadne swallows loudly, her mouth suddenly dry. “Does that mean –“
Eames’ hand is large as he slaps her on the back. “Don’t you worry, love. The square always has something planned.”
Arthur rolls his eyes a bit. “The job is in a month. The money from this has already been wired. I expect to see you all at the Four Seasons in Melbourne on the 3rd.”
Yusuf grins widely. “Excellent.” He grabs his luggage and drifts into the crowd, and Eames does the same, experienced at disappearing.
Ariadne looks at him expectantly. This isn’t quite how she expected the tale to end. Arthur wasn’t the prince, and the princess was dead. She is the builder but she needed to be more than just a role now. The airport is too real, hyper-real after everything and she thinks she could be panicking, a little bit, with uncertainty.
He is rolling his die in his right hand, she notices. “Yes?” he asks, because she’s staring. He doesn’t mean to be mean, but she feels herself blushing. Fuck, who blushes. She nervously fingers the pawn in her pocket. “I. What do I do now?”
He smiles at her, and it’s brilliant and real. She grabs him, holding tight and is crying a little in relief. Everything is coming at her in a rush now. She needs to belong to excel, and she wants to know if she can belong with him.
He pushes her off his chest, gently, and he is still smiling. He tips her chin up and kisses her, and it feels nothing like the last one. This one is solid, comfortable. When they break, no one is looking at them.
“You come with me to dinner,” he says and she knows this must be part of the story.
He takes her hand.