Oh, look at that. Inception fic!
This is for a prompt at inception_kink
It's also for a friend of mine to whom I promised some Arthur/Ariadne a while back. I really don't think this is what she had in mind, though. Sorry. ;3
Title: Of What Was, and What Is
Rating: Strong PG-13.
Genre: Angst. Oh shit, the angst. Het.
Length: 2,295 words.
WARNING(S): Highlight to read -- character death, language, heavy angst, also definitely un-beta'd
Disclaimer: I do not own Inception.
Of What Was, and What Is
"Keep him in your mind. If you forget him, you'll lose him forever."
-- The Doctor, Cold Blood.
Cobb doesn’t say anything the first time Arthur shows up as a projection.
He clenches his jaw and steers Ariadne the other way, hoping against hope she doesn’t see, even as he knows the attempt is fruitless and she’ll find out either way. The job they’re in the middle of is not that complex, their target relatively weak minded, and he’s never been more thankful for that fact. Arthur’s expression is sad and hollow, and his gaze flits between all of them, never resting on anyone for any length of time, and never, ever touching Ariadne. He dresses the same as he always did in life, on the job – there is only a stray hair here or there, the way his shirt is slightly rumpled and untucked, that marks him as the more relaxed, less uptight Arthur that Ariadne knew.
Cobb tenses his hand on her shoulder and pushes, urging her forward. Eames’ expression is oh-so-carefully controlled as he meets Cobb’s eyes, gives him a brief nod. If there’s a distinct tightness about his eyes that wasn’t there before, neither man mentions it. Eames fires the shot as they run, his shoulders slumping slightly as he does, and the body crumples before Ariadne can so much as turn her head.
When they wake up, Eames is subdued, Yusuf looks troubled, and Cobb spins his top discreetly before walking Ariadne out, keeping his face carefully calm. After all, he’s the only one of them that’s been through this before.
It’s not the same, he reminds himself forcibly after Ariadne drives away, and those words become a mantra, repeated over and over to himself as he makes his way home as if they’ll guarantee her sanity.
They were engaged when Arthur died. It was never going to be an ostentatious affair, and there would have been nothing religious about it – but it was something solid, something binding and real when so much of their work involved blurring the line between reality and dream.
There was nothing at all suspicious about his death, and oh, they’d looked, they’d looked so hard. They had all wanted – they’d needed, desperately needed – to find an outlet for the disbelief and the anger that had followed his passing, but there’d been nothing to show for their painstaking, detailed investigations. It had been natural causes, and then there’d been a gaping hole in their team and their lives left in his wake. The funeral was quiet, neat; Cobb and Eames gave heartfelt speeches while James and Phillipa clutched at Ariadne’s white, tense hands and asked where Uncle Arthur had gone, and Yusuf shut his eyes tight while his hand trembled on Phillipa’s shoulder. In the end, she couldn’t bring herself to speak, her throat clenching up and her eyes glossing over with suppressed moisture.
She didn’t return to their apartment for two weeks, practically moving into Cobb’s guest room and all but demanding he give her work to give her something to get up for in the cold, bleak mornings.
Every year, on his birthday, she visits his grave and adds to the headpiece. It’s an intricate creation, something she never intends to finish, only add to – they’d talked about a house, once, instead of the small apartment they shared, and she’d transfigured the design into art, building with such meticulous attention to detail that she thinks even he as the point man would have had to approve.
“Whole new room, this year,” Ariadne murmurs wistfully to the wind. It flicks through her hair and caresses her cheek in response. She smiles. “It took me a whole month. Phillipa wanted to help, this time,” she adds nonchalantly. If she were feeling imaginative, she might have said the brush of the breeze was almost curious. As it is, she merely hums lightly to herself and uses the tweezers she’s brought with her to help her position a small piece of wood.
It’s the only thing she’s ever built in the real world. She designed, of course – it was part of her degree – but just as so long ago, she could never quite walk away from dreams. After the Fischer job, Ariadne became a solid member of the team – she can create whole cities, whole worlds, in a shared dream. Reality just doesn’t quite compare. She’s wondered weakly, before, why it is that she’s still allowed to build, why they’re not worried that Arthur will take his revenge on them all. (Why would he? They’ve done him no wrong, the rational part of her mind reminds her.) Her hand stills on Arthur’s grave, and she shakily brushes that thought aside with a shudder before the familiar panic can clutch at her throat.
There’s dirt collecting on the knees of her jeans and there’s rain threatening in the sky, but Ariadne and the wind pay it no attention. Arthur would have frowned slightly at the state of her, and the thought makes a slight smile tug at her lips. Without thinking, she runs a finger over her slim gold band – simple, unadorned, their names entwined in the engraving on its inside.
It takes her a few hours of solid work to add the detail to her usual standard, and when she’s finally finished the light has turned amber and the wind has gotten colder, biting through her thin jacket. As she stands, the dual weight of a hollow, gold chess piece and a red, loaded die knock into her thigh through her pocket. It’s only then that her façade crumbles and the tears threaten to spill.
Fuck reality, she thinks savagely, clutching Arthur’s totem through her jeans, and strides back to her car as the rain begins to fall.
That first time Arthur appeared in their shared dream, Eames phoned Cobb worriedly a few hours after they’d called it a day. He hadn’t wanted to take away the one thing that was keeping Ariadne going at that point, but neither did he want her to put them all in danger. Cobb was quick to assure him that Arthur’s death had nothing to do with dreaming – he was no Mal. Eames hung up shortly after, reassured only slightly. He got himself a bottle of vodka from the cupboard, called Yusuf, and proceeded to bitch rather thoroughly about the abysmal work of their new point man.
It was a week before his own projection appeared.
His Arthur is younger and is an exaggeration of reality – his smile is wider, his laughter louder and more carefree, and there’s a mischievous glint in his eye every time he smirks. The endearments slip out before Eames can catch himself; he immediately feels horrified, glancing at the man’s hand for reassurance and feeling a sick rush of relief when he sees the engagement ring glistening on his finger. Ariadne’s not there for that dream, and while he’s glad for it, he never considers chastising her again.
Ariadne takes a break from work and goes travelling with her family for a month, and the rest of the team are grateful for it if only because the stress of it is getting to her, even as it’s her escape. Her sister comes with her when she says goodbye, promises to write, and Ariadne hugs them all, whirling Cobb’s children in the air when they rush in from the next room to beg souvenirs from their Aunt. She laughs genuinely as Cobb scolds them, and then the door shuts behind her. They all think there’ll be no Arthur to haunt them in their dreams while she’s gone – they’ve chalked their projections of him down to her and how close they all are, but they’re wrong.
For that month the projection-Arthur becomes a constant presence. He’s never spoken before, only looked on, more lost than they’d ever seen him in reality, and so it’s a surprise when they hear his voice mid-practice run. However, surprise wars with heavy amusement for them all when the first words out of his mouth are a criticism of their current point man.
“Who the hell is this guy?” the man snaps, his long, shaggy hair swaying as he gestures and his stubble-covered chin jutting out defiantly. He’s Arthur’s polar opposite, as appearances go.
Eames raises an eyebrow as Arthur turns to him expectantly. “He used to be our point man,” the forger explains, and their current team member snorts.
“Why’d you get rid of him?” His voice is heavy with equal parts amusement and disdain.
Eames’ expression instantly darkens, but it’s Cobb who snarls, “He died.”
The man’s face goes completely ashen, his mouth forming a little ‘o’ of surprise as he struggles to think of a way to back pedal. No one questions Cobb when he fires him the next day.
The design for the model art-house on the grave has nearly doubled its original ambition by the time Ariadne is forced to confront her projection of him.
“You can’t be here!” she screams, face contorted into a horrible mix of anguish and fury. Arthur stands there, immovable, and says nothing. Eames’ gut twists painfully, even as he aims his gun at her back – a precaution, if nothing else. She bites back a sob and whirls away from her late fiancé, glaring at Cobb. “Why did you let this happen?”
Behind her, Arthur reaches out a hand to touch her and then drops it to his side with a frown, as if thinking better of it.
“Ariadne, I promise I had nothing to do with it,” he tries, but she’s not having any of it. She ignores him, spinning back around and taking a threatening step forward. Arthur doesn’t flinch, doesn’t move. Eames readjusts his grip on his gun. Desperately, Ariadne reaches into her pocket for her totem, but her fingers land on the die instead. She tears her hand away, holding Arthur’s totem before her like a weapon as she approaches on the projection.
“You know what this is?” She advances another step. “This – you –” Ariadne makes a strangled sound, squeezing her eyes shut and fisting the hand that isn’t clenching the die into her hair. A desperate tear makes its way down her cheek, a small black stripe dredging down behind it. “Are you from my subconscious?” she demands.
Arthur says nothing. He shifts, though, clasping his hands in front of him. Ariadne doesn’t miss the gesture. Her eyes narrow. “Where’s your –” she starts, her finger drifting to her engagement ring without thought. A change rolls over her expression as she realises, and her arm drops to her side. “I dreamed you up as if we were married.” She closes her eyes, as if willing this information out of existence.
There’s a moment of silence and then she swears and breaks, running towards him, her feet kicking up dirt as they race forward. Arthur’s arms fold around her immediately as she near collapses against him, body familiar and warm. His silence shatters then as she allows herself to be pulled in, even as she knows it’s wrong, wrong, wrong and a voice at the back of her head reminds her how fervently she fought to get Cobb to let go. “Ari, Ari, shit, Ari,” he mumbles into the skin of her neck and jaw, a constant litany of her name and curses and endearments and apologies.
Ariadne clutches desperately at the back of his suit jacket, her arms locked around his neck and her face buried into his shoulder. “I miss you. I miss you so much,” she sobs brokenly, and he tightens his hold even further, pressing them together.
“I could stay here,” she says then, and it’s such a choked whisper that Cobb almost doesn’t hear it. His eyes fly wide when he does, all the colour draining from his face as he shakes his head in horror. He seeks out Eames’ eyes, and the other man doesn’t need telling twice.
Fighting back tears of his own, Eames pulls the trigger.
Ariadne’s hysterical when she wakes, clawing at her chest and gasping in remembered pain, still clutching Arthur’s totem in one hand. When she realises where she is, a sob tears out of her throat and she hauls herself upright, resting her elbows on her knees and pressing the heels of her hands into her burning eyes. They’re beside her in an instant, Cobb on one side and Eames on the other, Yusuf rushing to get her coffee or water or whatever it is she needs.
It takes the better part of an hour for her to calm down enough to talk to them. Cobb still looks a little frightened and frayed around the edges, and he waits for her to take a fortifying gulp of coffee before she speaks. “You’re the only one who’s been through it before,” she finally says. Eames’ hand squeezes her shoulder comfortingly, his eyes watching her worriedly.
“Mal was different,” Cobb reminds her carefully.
“Yes, at least Arthur’s not out to kill us all,” Eames interjects with false cheerfulness, and despite herself Ariadne laughs a little. Cobb shakes his head in exasperation.
Ariadne takes a deep breath. “He could still jeopardise jobs.” She coughs and clears her throat. “Shit, it’s too raw for all of us. You have to help me fix this so I can still build.”
The plea is plain in her voice, and it sends a chill down Eames’ spine, for how strong she usually is and how utterly destroyed she is now. He finds himself releasing a breath he hadn’t remembered holding when Cobb finally says, “I will. I promise,” he adds fiercely, protectively.
Slowly, deliberately, he reaches out and spins the worn, metal top on the table in front of them, and together they watch it topple.
I'll cross-post this to one of the Inception comms in... the morning. Once I've gathered the nerve. *sheepish*