Title: Takeaway Coffee and Spontaneous Kitchen Visits
Character(s)/pairing(s): Arthur/Ariadne, with cameos by Cobb and Eames.
Genre: Fluff. Gratuitous fluff, in fact.
Rating: PG-13 for language.
Length: 3,048 words (what?).
Disclaimer: I do not own Inception.
Summary: Ariadne is having a bad day. Arthur bakes her cookies.
“Jesus,” Ariadne moans when she wakes up and her brain feels like it’s trying to claw its way out of her skull through her forehead. “Fuck,” she adds eloquently as she drags herself rather slowly out of bed, glances at her phone and realises she’s overslept by a whole freaking hour. There’s already a text from Arthur and a missed call from Cobb, probably wondering where the hell she is.
Her day only goes downhill from there.
The porridge she hurriedly throws in the microwave while she pulls on clothes (her favourite jacket, she notes in frustration, is in the wash) and attempts to hide the bags under her eyes with concealer froths, boils over and splatters the inside with soggy oats because she put it on for too long, and she stares at it in horror, weighing up her options. She ends up putting everything in the sink to soak, and it’s only then that she realises her roommate’s used up the last of the fucking coffee without telling anyone.
On her way to the flat they’re using as a base (must have been a distinct lack of atmospheric warehouses around, she remembers thinking), she buys herself a latte while the guy in front of her buys the last melting moment, completely unrepentant. The girl who makes her latte doesn’t put in enough sugar and far too much milk, but it doesn’t end up mattering because Ariadne hasn’t gone ten metres before it ends up on the pavement. She makes several obscene hand gestures at the person who ran straight into her, but by that point he’s far, far away, the unapologetic bastard.
By the time she gets to the apartment building, she’s resigned herself to what is clearly going to be one of those days. As she trudges up the stairs and tries to force a smile onto her face, she fervently hopes that at least they won’t have to do much work with the PASIV, so that she doesn’t have to spend any more hours than necessary awake.
When she’s actually asleep. Whatever.
Arthur’s got his sleeves rolled up and is mid-explanation, marker in hand and a half formed diagram on the whiteboard in front of him when Ariadne walks in. He breaks off when she closes the door behind her a lot louder than she intended to, and Cobb immediately stands, hand on his hip and an annoyed expression plastered across his face.
“Ariadne,” is all he says, curt and irritated. She smiles weakly at him, already feeling awful for turning up so late.
“Rough night, huh?” Arthur inputs helpfully, as she puts her bag down on the table and pulls up a chair, notebook and pen in hand.
Ariadne opens her mouth to reply, but anything she had to say is immediately swallowed by the violent sneeze that bursts out of her at that precise moment.
Why me, she thinks selfishly, mournfully, and hopes to hell she didn’t actually say it out loud.
It ends up being “test the layout” day. As Arthur slides the IV into her wrist, she thinks of all sorts of colourful things she’d very much like to say to Cobb but probably shouldn’t, because he’s her boss (again) and she is professional.
The job is fairly straightforward, standard and boring. There’s only the three of them – her, Arthur and Cobb. Cobb has put his shade of Mal to rest, which should have meant that when their original architect bailed (Cobb’s kind word for we fired him) he could have built. However, he’d felt he didn’t have the time to devote to it, and so Ariadne had been called in. Ariadne’s layout is nice and intricate, though, because she’s not one to take chances and building something complex is honestly far more fun than building something simple. She didn’t mention that last to Cobb, although she suspected he knew.
Arthur’s helping her refine her command of firearms while Cobb meanders around, occasionally offering bits of advice and smiling and nodding to himself. She’ll only ever use a gun in a dream, and only then because she doesn’t want to be the one team member who has to rely on someone else to save her if it comes down to it. Nonetheless, before the inception job she’d never so much as visited a range, and Arthur, with his love of perfection, offered to teach her.
She quickly discovered just how bloody demanding a teacher a point man can make.
There’s nothing to shoot at, so while Cobb takes his time, Arthur stands beside her, arms folded, and barks at her about posture and trigger discipline and her grip and a million other things.
They call it quits when she forgets to take her finger off the trigger and ends up shooting Cobb in the shoulder whilst she’s in the middle of explaining something about the layout to him.
Needless to say, he doesn’t protest when she suggests dully that she take the rest of the day off, apologising profusely over and over again. In fact, he seems to take pity on her – he tells her that she would never have made such a rooky mistake if she were in perfect health, and much to Arthur’s chagrin drags out a story about one of the very first times they worked together, when Arthur was fresh out of the military.
She finds the images he spins so hard to reconcile with the half-scowling, half-exasperated point man in front of her that she goes home with a smile on her face after all, promising to rest well. Despite Cobb’s protests to the contrary, she insists that she’ll be into work early tomorrow morning to make up for time lost that day.
Ariadne has never hated public transport more in her entire life, nor has she ever been so relieved to sink into her worn, leather couch and contemplate just how shit her day has been in the lifeless black of her television screen. Half of her wants to bury her head in shame, and the other half wants to beat herself up continuously for the dismal performance at the flat that day. To compromise, she doses herself with aspirin and sticks Zombieland in the DVD player to remind herself that some people have it a lot worse than she does.
It gets up to the scene where they destroy an entire shop (wouldn’t that be nice right now, she thinks to herself) and the doorbell rings. Ariadne scowls, wondering who the hell it could possibly be because her roommate is on holiday in Germany. She contemplates leaving it, but then thinks better of it and sighs, getting stiffly off the couch where she had comfortably ensconced herself. She hasn’t gone four steps before the door opens of its own accord, and Arthur steps into the room.
“It was open,” he says by way of explanation at Ariadne’s slightly stunned expression.
“How did you even know—?” she begins, but then shakes her head and smiles at him drily. “Hello.”
It’s completely not what she meant to say, and Arthur, to his credit, isn’t fazed. He stands there, coolly and not at all awkwardly in her hallway, and Ariadne thinks absently I’m not being a very good host before she realises he’s extending a hot, steaming take-away coffee towards her from her favourite café. “I love you,” she blurts, and then claps a hand to her mouth in horror.
“Do you react this way whenever someone brings you coffee?”
“Thank-you is obviously what I meant to say,” she clarifies, shuffling forward and gratefully accepting the gloriously caffeinated drink from him, the back of her neck burning slightly in embarrassment. At least, she hopes it’s embarrassment, and not a fever, because that is really not what she needs right now.
He smiles at her quickly. “Ah,” he says. “In which case, I will put any further spontaneous declarations down to lack of sleep and an awful headache.”
She coughs involuntarily and then scowls at herself.
“Or the flu,” Arthur amends.
“Not the flu,” Ariadne pleads, and takes a huge sip of coffee. It’s really too hot for her to be doing that, but right now she does not care. “This is heavenly. I owe you.”
“Consider us even if you’re able to do your job tomorrow,” he says, unbuttoning his cuffs and rolling up his sleeves. He’s taken off his tie already, Ariadne notes absently, and then forgets to stop staring when he says, taking her completely by surprise, “May I borrow your kitchen?”
Maybe, if she were healthier she would protest, but as is Ariadne merely follows Arthur into her kitchen in utter confusion. “You weren’t kidding when you said it exploded,” is all he says about the mess, and then he asks calmly, as if wandering into colleagues’ kitchens was a usual occurrence for him, “Do you have chocolate chips?” and Ariadne has to admit to being equal parts bewildered and amused.
Her mouth works soundlessly. “What—?” is all that comes out before she sneezes violently several times in a row.
Arthur frowns. He pads over to her and puts a hand on her forehead. Frowns again. “Take your temperature, Ariadne,” he instructs.
“Yes, mum,” she retorts with a roll of her eyes before she can stop herself, and Arthur chuckles.
“What were you watching?” he asks, wandering over to her pantry and rummaging around in there without asking. Given that he brought her coffee, Ariadne’s not really in a position to stop him. And she highly doubts he’d try to poison her after demanding she check her temperature, anyway.
“Zombieland. Perfect feel-good movie,” Ariadne deadpans, but searches blindly in the kitchen draw for the thermometer obediently.
Arthur nods sagely and loosens his tie a little bit more, fishing in his pocket and pulling out, of all things, a Twinkie. “Phillipa likes them, but I kept one for himself,” he says, and then adds, “Besides, now you can sympathise with Tallahassee.” He throws it to her; to her amazement, she catches it.
Ariadne stares at him for a moment, completely bemused and cradling her coffee to her chest, Twinkie and thermometer clutched in the other hand, before padding back out to the lounge and leaving Arthur to do… whatever it was he was doing in her kitchen.
The movie’s almost finished when Arthur marches in, spoon held aloft in one hand, and demands, “Taste.”
Ariadne dislodges her neat pile of tissues as she sits up. No sooner has she opened her mouth to ask what he’s giving her when the aforementioned spoon is unceremoniously shoved into her mouth. She gives a muffled squeak of protest which dies the moment she realises that whatever he’s just force fed her tastes absolutely glorious. It’s sweet – but not too much – and there’s chocolate there and something that might be honey and a bit of vanilla maybe, but whatever it all is tastes fantastic.
She swallows, and looks up at Arthur, who is eyeing her expectantly. “Good?”
“Fantastic,” she tells him honestly, sniffling a little, and then she notices that he has flour on his sweater. “You have flour on your sweater,” she informs him seriously.
Arthur glances down, grimaces slightly, and then smiles at her. “Duly noted,” he replies. “Lie back down, Ariadne.”
Ariadne really means to protest, she does. She lies back down on the couch, which sinks and curls around her under her weight, but when she opens her mouth to say anything a folded blanket hits her squarely in the face. “Your aim is awful,” she laughs, draping the blanket over herself nonetheless. Arthur disappears back into the kitchen, and Ariadne really, really does not admire his profile from behind as he leaves, because he is a colleague and a friend and even if he’s brought her coffee and is making, from the taste of it, something godly in her kitchen, it’s still crossing the line.
And if she slips her hand down to curl around her totem, well, no-one really has to know.
Arthur’s phone buzzes on the kitchen counter – he’s come to the conclusion that creativity begets mess, given the state of Ariadne’s kitchen – and he ignores it for a moment as he runs the water in the sink, waiting for it to turn hot. He’s only going to tidy up his own mess, he tells himself. For a fleeting moment, he wonders what the hell he’s even doing here in the first place, but banishes that thought rather quickly. A glance at the screen tells him it’s Cobb, so he wipes his hands on the tea-towel and picks it up.
The message reads simply: How is she?
Arthur goes to tap out a reply, but it buzzes again: Phillipa wanted me to pass on a hello.
Arthur smiles, shaking his head fondly. Phillipa should be doing her homework, he begins. I think Ariadne’s got mild flu, though.
He checks the timer on the oven – five minutes left, and his stomach rumbles appreciatively. While he waits for Cobb to respond he finishes tidying up after himself, washing the mess away from Ariadne’s breakfast disaster as an extra favour. Which, if he’s honest, worries him rather a bit.
Bake her those cookies the kids love, Cobb’s next message reads, and with a half-smirk, half-smile, Arthur responds: One step ahead of you there, Dom.
Surprisingly, there’s also a message from Eames, which had come through while Arthur was at the sink. Ariadne says shes sick, it says. perfct chance to win her ova. Arthur scowls at the screen, thinks, I should never have told him that, and then his phone buzzes again. stop scowling @ the fone, it reads this time, and Arthur huffs a laugh involuntarily, pocketing the thing and putting his last dish up to dry.
Then the oven beeps and he rushes to get a serving plate, all thought of Eames forgotten as he dons the gloves and opens the oven, greeted with a strong blast of hot air and cookie smell. His mouth waters a little despite himself, and with heat-proof coffee-drinker fingers he plucks the biscuits from the stupidly hot oven tray. He doesn’t even burn himself, a fact of which he is possibly ridiculously proud.
He can cook, yes, but safety in the kitchen has never been his strong suit, a fact which has never ceased to amuse those who know.
Ariadne has almost dozed off when the feel of the couch dipping beside her with the weight of someone else wakes her. She blinks in confusion, before remembering Arthur’s spontaneous bout of kitchen commandeering, and then the smell assaults her. “Shit, that smells good,” she informs the room at large.
Slowly, Arthur swims into view. He smiles, and extends a hand. In his fingers is a freshly-baked chocolate chip cookie. Ariadne gapes stupidly for a moment, and Arthur seizes the moment to break off a chunk of cookie and shove it in. Ariadne coughs and then starts chewing, and closes her eyes again because good god that tastes amazing. “Were you a cook in a past life?” she says blearily, and from the other end of the couch Arthur chuckles.
“European grandma,” he explains.
She’s not sure if he’s telling the truth, but doesn’t really care, because sitting on the coffee table in front of her is a mound of cookies, fresh out of her own oven. Her nose has started to block up, but what little filters through smells ridiculously good. “Jesus, Arthur, you didn’t have to,” she blurts, reaching for a biscuit and sighing in pleasure as it practically crumbles in her mouth. Melted chocolate chips, she thinks. Home-made cookies. I can die happy.
“They’re not all for you,” he reminds her, and reaches for one himself.
“You’ll get crumbs all over your suit,” she says sensibly.
In response, Arthur reaches out and brushes a crumb off her cheek with his thumb. She swallows, and he flicks his gaze away almost immediately. “Worse things have happened.”
They eat in silence (well, relative silence – there’s a few involuntary noises of delight that Ariadne makes as she devours cookie after cookie) for a while, and then Ariadne says softly, “Seriously, though. Thanks.” She swallows her mouthful slowly. “Thanks a bunch.” She’s not going to say you didn’t have to again, because she never liked stating the obvious, even though she tends to do that a lot the moment her mind gets a little befuddled. “I should pay you, or something.” An idea seems to occur to her, then. “Actually, will you make these for me again if I do?”
Arthur smiles at her, gesturing with a half-eaten cookie as he speaks. “Just do your job – and try not to shoot Cobb in the shoulder next time.”
Ariadne laughs through a momentary scowl. “Won’t happen again,” she promises, and reaches for another cookie.
Arthur meant to bake the cookies and leave, he really did. She’s young, his mind dutifully reminds him. She’s a colleague. He also meant to save some cookies for Cobb’s kids, but neither of those things end up happening. They eat every last one, and somehow, Ariadne ends up falling asleep with her head pillowed on his thigh, the blanket tucked loosely around her with one hand creeping out to tangle their fingers together. He rests his head against the back of her couch and tucks her hair securely behind her ear with his other hand, brushing his fingers against her cheek without really meaning to.
He phones Cobb in the morning to tell him that Ariadne’s taking the day off, and when he turns up at the flat wearing the clothes he left in the night before (sans the sweater with flour on it), Cobb, to his credit, doesn’t say a word. He does, however, look mightily disappointed when Arthur informs him stoically that they did, unfortunately, eat all of the cookies.
And when he falls sick the next week, thankfully after the job is done, he doesn’t protest when Ariadne arrives at his apartment, kisses him quickly on the forehead and then disappears into his kitchen to make vanilla slice.
It ends up being a disaster, but that is entirely not the point.
Yes, well. I prefer my attempt at angst, but...