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xxxxxxx

Chapter 29: HAMMERFIST (reprise)

"I'm sorry, Eames, you're just the first person I thought of."

The Forger shook his head, sitting down on his loveseat and turning off the tv so he could better listen, "Don't apologize. It's a matter of great importance to the both of us."

"I don't know what to do, now," babbled Arthur, "I thought she'd be with you."

Arthur didn't mean it as a dig. If anything, that should've been a boost to Eames' confidence that Arthur was certain Ariadne ran to him for solace. Perhaps it would've been more of one if Ariadne actually had. But here Eames was, alone in his townhome. Not even a call or a text asking for a confidant. "Well, no word yet."

"No I wouldn't think so," stated the Point, "she left her phone here."

"How are the kids?" was Eames' main concern.

Arthur's gaze cut up to the ceiling. Chloe was upstairs in Ariadne's bed and Ender was pacing the driveway with a flashlight, if that was any clue to their emotional states. "They were ok until about an hour ago. I thought if we went ahead with our plans for the evening that Ariadne would've cooled off and been home when we got back but...she wasn't and there's still no sign. I don't think she's coming back tonight."

Eames rubbed his forehead. Both men were hoping she hadn't gotten in another accident or anything of the sort. Without her phone, it'd be hard for the hospital to get in touch with her emergency contacts this time. They'd have to check if they didn't hear from her soon though neither wanted to be the one to point that out. "Maybe in the morning. Maybe she needed a night away and she'll head home after breakfast tomorrow."

Well the Englishman hadn't seen the size of the suitcase she threw in the backseat. It definitely wasn't an overnight bag. But who knows. Wishful thinking told him she must've packed heavy because she wasn't sure of the length of her outing and...she could always come home without using it all. Better to have too much than too little. So instead of being negative, he agreed. "Maybe. If not, I think I'll call the Miles', see if she stopped in to see them for a bit."

"And track her credit cards. Maybe she's checked in a hotel somewhere and we can at least be sure of her safety."

"I can't. Her activity is blacklisted from the internet, remember?"

Besides...with any hope, they wouldn't need to call anyone else or start sifting through hotels. With any hope, Ariadne would think about Ender and Chloe (or at least Chloe) and how this would affect them. And then maybe she'd turn around and come straight home from wherever she was. Maybe she could come back and just lock herself up in her room if she needed space. At least Ender and Chloe would know where she was. Ender felt horrible about his temper and disrespect—as he should, thought Arthur—so if she was trying to teach him a lesson about how thoughtless words could push someone over the edge, if she was trying to make him come to his senses about how he was treating her, her mission was accomplished. Arthur would like to think she'd realize that and come home. But if the Point Man was honest, he was far more concerned by this than he let on.

He was actually scared stiff (mostly for the kids). His hopefulness, his optimism, his subdued level of outward panic was all for them. There was something about the way she left, about her whole demeanor while leaving. The fact that she wouldn't take Chloe even if Ender was the only one she was upset by. No, Arthur could feel it radiating off of her. She was shaky and distraught and overwhelmed as she rushed into the car and ignored Chloe's crying and Arthur and Ender's pleas. Her emotional state was worse than he remembered her being during their last fight in Paris.

She hadn't even gone to Eames...even considering how close they'd become. How much she relied on him through the years concerning the kids. That clued Arthur into thinking this wasn't simply about their son letting his hormones blast her with his temper and attitude. It most likely had to do with the pressure both he and Eames had been putting her under to pick one of them.

xxxxxxx

"Next time we're only riding the Tilt-a-Whirl once," Ender vowed, wiping the soles of his shoes on the mat inside the door, "I'm still spinning."

Chloe stuffed her little bag into a cubby and sat on the bottom stair to pull off her sandals, "That's not fair. I rode The Scrambler for you."

"Yeah." Ender kicked his shoes in a cubby and moved so Arthur could hang his jacket on a hook, "Once. Not eight times. I sacrificed the most today—" he glared at her, "Including my corn dog."

"Which is what makes you the best big brother ever," she nodded and flashed him a cheesy grin that was more victorious than it was grateful. Then she straightened out of nowhere, "My note!"

Chloe scurried to the kitchen table to check the folded piece of paper she left for her mother. That morning, before they left for the carnival (out in the park across from the London Bridge), Chloe was adamant about staying home. She was afraid that if they left, Ariadne would come back while they were gone and be upset that they carried on without her and did fun things. That they didn't care they hurt her feelings. Arthur was quick to say their mother wouldn't think that and that most likely she'd want them to spend their last few days with him having fun and not worrying over her. To make her feel better though, Ender suggested leaving a note explaining where they went:

Dear Mommy,
We went to the carnival cause it and Daddy are only in town a few more days. We're all very sorry we hurt your feelings! Please stay and wait for us to get home cause I miss you. So do Daddy and Ender but I'm writing this. Daddy says we'll probably be back around four. I kind of want chinese for dinner. If you feel like it you should eat chinese with us. WE LOVE YOU A LOT!
Chloe.

P.S. I'll ride the carousel for you.

The driveway was still empty when they walked up but Chloe didn't let that deter her hope that Ariadne had at least stopped by. Maybe she came and saw the note and decided to come back later when she thought they'd be home. Chloe wrote they'd be back at four and it was only ten or so minutes after. Unfortunately, the paper was still folded and taped to the counter with a tiger sticker. Chloe frowned, "My note's right where I left it."

Ender moved around her to check the machine. Meanwhile, Arthur took a seat on the couch to text Eames and inform him the Architect was still absent. "Hold on," Ender announced, "we have two voicemails."

2 New Message(s)

"Just me. Sorry for not getting back in touch with you guys until now. We recieved your message about Ariadne. She hasn't shown up here and neither of us have heard from her since she was released from the hospital. I took the liberty of touching base with Clarisse, Edith and Madeline and none of them have seen hide nor tail of her. Hope everything's alright; maybe by now the issue is resolved. Please keep us updated. We'll let you know if we hear anything. Goodbye now."

Papa Miles...letting them know something they already knew about Ariadne's whereabouts...Nothing. Ender deleted the fruitless message and skipped to the next and final one. Ears straining to pick up the familiar French-tinted lilt of his mom. What he got was the semi-deep, clear cut voice of a robot.

"Hello. This is an automated message from Hammersmith Hospital to whomever it concerns regarding—Ariadne Talesco."

Normally, the computer's butchering of her name would've been funny...if she wasn't currently missing. And it wasn't the hospital on the line. Chloe tensed and gaped at her brother. Heart racing and palms sweating, Ender paused the machine in a panic, "Dad!" When Arthur didn't materialize in the kitchen instantaneously, Ender screeched bloody murder, "DAAAAD!"

"What?" Arthur skidded into the room. Stashed his phone away. "What is it?" Did she call and say she was never coming back? Or worse...did the highway patrol or hospital call to say she was never coming back?

"The hospital about Mom," choked the teenager. The instant terror that washed over the Point Man's face made his son hide his head in his hands and worry aloud, "I put her back in there, didn't I!?" His PTSD came flooding back and suddenly Ender was back in his swim team uniform with Chloe mindlessly picking out a movie in the living room, listening to a message that tore his world in two. He could feel his heart beat in his temples. Could feel his goggles digging into his scalp.

"Oh no!" Yelled Chloe, whirling towards her dad. Face already red and tears already building. "What are we going to do, Daddy?" The Point Man couldn't react fast enough to keep her from starting to hyperventilate. "She didn't say goodbye to me! I didn't get to say goodbye!"

Arthur pulled her into a hug to calm her down, "Don't panic. I'm sure she's—" He couldn't promise them she was safe because he didn't know. And quite frankly it didn't sound like she was. He sighed in lieu of finishing his sentence and held his breath as his thumb went to the play button.

"The neural recovery unit would like to remind the patient of her follow-up appointment Tuesday at eleven fifteen am. For rescheduling or cancellations please refer back to this number. Have a good day."

The relief coming off Arthur told Ender and Chloe they had nothing to worry about (as far as that went) and they peeled their hands off their ears. "It was just about her appointment for Tuesday. We don't know where she is but thank goodness she's not there."

Chloe laid her head down on the counter next to her brother's, tired from the whirlwind and then deflation of stress. "Maybe you should call Aunt Natalie. Mom talks to her all the time. Especially when she's upset or something. I bet she called her. I bet Aunt Nat knows!"

Arthur shrugged,"It's only day two and the day isn't even over. We've already worried everyone in London and Paris, I don't want to worry everyone in the States just yet."

What he didn't want to tell them was that he'd already been in touch with the Bourgeois side and none of them, not even Shannon, had gotten a call or email or text. Ariadne shut herself off from everyone and it was freaking him out. Traumatic events can really screw with a person's brain and throw them off the deep end. The accident was traumatic enough for her and then she woke up to find out she'd been in a coma for half a year and her past was back to haunt her. She'd been handling all of it calmly and resiliently. As if nothing really happened. But they pushed her too far... What if Ender's words were the catalyst and everything she'd been denying happened, sunk in? What if she finally let it all get to her and cracked up?

What if she decided she couldn't handle anything physically, mentally or emotionally anymore? If she needed complete solitude to cope, what if that became the only way she was able to? The only way she could stand to be?

What if she never came back?

xxxxxxx

The little girl sat with matted ponytail and tired eyes in front of her cereal bowl. Her cheerios were soggy from being untouched. She glanced at the clock on the wall for the fiftieth time, "Why isn't she home yet?"

"Or, why hasn't she even called?" Ender added, nibbling on toast that'd gone cold and soft.

Arthur rubbed his face and poured himself some orange juice, "She will. We just need to give her time." The more days that slipped by, the less he believed himself. And the kids (or really, just the teenager) were beginning to pick up on his dwindling sense of peace and confidence in her return.

"Four days isn't enough time?" complained the boy. Ultimately, he dropped his bread on the plate and shoved it away.

"Thanks a lot, Ender." Chloe chided. "It's your fault."

The boy certainly felt that way on his own. He didn't need his sister pointing it out. "Shut up."

"She thinks we don't love her, why would she come back?"

"SHUT. UP." Grit Ender, snatching his plate and taking it to the sink.

The little girl ignored the scolding from her father and kept at it, "Or what? You'll hate me too? You hate everyone."

The garbage disposal roared to life, it's sound embodying how he felt about her accusations. "I do not!"

"First Daddy, then Uncle Eames, now Mommy. I'm next, aren't I?"

His hands slapped onto his hips, "Would you stop?" Arthur put in two cents to quiet her but she threw in one more pouty jab before her and Penny ran upstairs, "No wonder Mommy ran away."

xxxxxxx

Chloe sat up against the headboard next to Arthur, dozing off on him while they watched the Wizard of Oz on the tv in the guest room. Ender was laying in the floor with one of those build-your-own lightsabers he owned; taking it apart and putting it back together over and over again. The entire house was tinted over with greenish black from the weather. The rain was too heavy for anything that day even if they wanted to go out. The first four days they thought that if they went about their business and kept occupied that at any given time, they would come home to Ariadne. But day five without word brought worry and solemnity that rides on a ferris wheel or a smoothie run couldn't fix. It got to where little to nothing could get their minds off the prevalent absence in the house.

When the shrill of the phone erupted, Chloe was wide awake. She crawled the length of the bed and hit the ground running to reach the nearest one—which was a little down the hallway and in the kitchen. She'd been answering it every time it rang the past few days. Even wrenched Arthur's cell from him when it rang in case it was the Architect. It was usually Uncle Eames or Poppy and Gammy Miles calling for updates. A few times it'd been automated messages from school reminding them of the start date, one was a wrong number and two were people calling to rally up votes for the next election in their neighborhood-watch group. No matter how many times it'd been the opposite of what Chloe hoped, she still answered the phone eagerly and optimistically every time. "Talesco residence," rushed out of her mouth. Her breathing fast and hard from running.

"Hey, Baby," greeted the familiar honeyed tone.

Chloe was almost boneless with relief and content. Ariadne's voice was an aloe like nothing else. "Mommy!" she exclaimed, leaning against the fridge, "I miss you..." she slid down to the bottom and sat cross legged.

The little girl could hear the small, empathetic, smile, "I miss you too."

The boys evidently heard who it was because two sets of feet came quickly shuffling down the hallway. They rounded the corner with markedly engrossed expressions as she pleaded, "Please don't be mad at me just because you're mad at Ender."

There was a tick like Ariadne clicked her tongue, "Sweetie, I'm not mad at either of you," heartened the woman. Explaining herself, "I just needed time by myself."

Arthur entered and propped himself against the fridge too. Looked down at the top of Chloe's head. Maybe he thought if he was close enough he could hear what was being said through the reciever."Where did you go? You're still in England right?"

"Yes, I'm still in England," This time, Ariadne heartily laughed. No doubt in her mind that Chloe had pictured her hiding covertly somewhere in Hong Kong or something equally drastic. "I'm only a couple hours away."

"A couple hours?!" complained the little girl. She made eye contact with her brother who was on one of the barstools with head bent forwards intently, "When are you coming back?" That made Arthur perk up. He still couldn't hear from where he was positioned and he couldn't make much from only Chloe's side of the conversation so he squatted by her.

"Tomorrow afternoon."

The boys took comfort when she sat straighter and her face brightened, "You promise?"

"I promise." Something about Mommy still sounded sad though. And exhausted. She hadn't been her usual brightly colored, triumphantly grand self since she woke up. Chloe thought back and hoped her and Ender's schemes weren't the cause. They all pushed Mommy so far she went away and Chloe wished she could take it all back. They took having Mommy back and alive for granted and immediately started bugging her about Daddy and they maybe shouldn't have done that. They should've just loved her and let her relax.

"I'm going to pass that bakery we like in Paddington on my way," The Architect offered to help cheer them both up. To make up for leaving even though it was what she sorely needed. Ariadne didn't enjoy leaving Chloe in the driveway. In fact, she hated it. And if complete solitude wasn't her reason for going then she would've taken the girl with her. The thought to turn around and go back for her baby girl crossed her mind every time she looked in the rear view. "You want cupcakes?"

For once sweets didn't matter. Chloe didn't want sugar or chocolate or anything that would keep Ariadne away a second longer. She shook her head, "I just want you home, Mommy."

"I will be."

Chloe felt a tap on her shoulder and looked up to find Arthur pointing at himself. "Wait. Daddy wants to talk." Instead of handing over the phone like the Point Man expected, the little girl relayed a message, "She says she's fine and she'll talk to you when she gets home." Immediately after she affectionately responded, "I love you too."

He knew that meant goodbyes were in line so he spoke out in the air for her to hear, "Ari, I just want you to tell me where you are in case something happens and we need to get a hold of you." He didn't want her to presume he was trying to get her on the phone to do any kind of persuasion or guilt trip. He honestly just wanted to know her location. Again, instead of receiving the phone, he heard his daughter say, "Ok. Bye."

Arthur huffed as the phone beeped. He wasn't counting on Chloe adding, "She said she doesn't have to tell you. Just look up her credit card."

Did Ariadne forget that the only results he could get from a search on her were Error 404 pages? Unless...he darted to his room to grab his laptop while in the background Ender asked when Ariadne was coming back and Chloe excitedly said the next day. Arthur didn't bother sitting when he paced back into the kitchen, he set the computer up on the island and typed her information (information he'd memorized) into the program. Sure enough. Where before there were error messages and blank screens, Ariadne's purchase history loaded into columns. A couple clicks and opened links later, they learned she was staying in a bed and breakfast called Strawberry Fields an hour and a half away in Brighton. Two hours when factoring in the traffic in and out of London.

The bigger revelation here, at least for Arthur, was that she'd had all her information restored.

Chloe didn't want to wait now that they knew where she was staying. "Can't we just drive there now? And then we can all come back together tomorrow."

Thankfully Arthur could use the nasty weather as an excuse, "It's not safe to drive in these storms." Not that he didn't want to see her but...she was staying another day on her own for a reason. They needed to respect that.

xxxxxxx

The sun had been asleep for a couple hours at minimum when two bright horizontal beams of light cut through the dark blue haze and pulled into their driveway, accompanied by the crackling sound of tires on gravel. Chloe's eyes widened between the two strips of blinds and jumped, "It's her!" Before either male could stand the girl was out the door, running barefoot down the porch steps.

Ariadne stood up and had just sat her cup on the roof of the car as her daughter leapt into her arms. Instinctively, Ari caught the child and picked her up while she wrapped around her like a koala. Taking comfort in the warmth of her daughter, the Architect squeezed her tight and combed her fingers through the ends of her (always tangled) curls. "What are you doing outside without shoes?"

"Hugging you," came muffled from Ariadne's shoulder.

After kissing the girl's head she replied, "Fair enough," and set her down. Even with feet planted on the concrete, Chloe didn't let go. She circled her arms around Ariadne's stomach and held on while the woman ducked back in to get a plastic box and her sling bag.

Ender surprised her when she surfaced. Standing on the other side of the open car door and looking every bit as apologetic as Ariadne felt herself. She smiled softly and maternally, offering the box to him, "I stopped by Brownstone and got a dozen of your favorite." He took and gazed down at them guiltily. The perfect swirls of icing made him feel even worse for saying he hated her.

Ariadne winked at Chloe, "There's a half dozen of your favorite on the other side. Will you go around and get them for me?" Nodding, the child rounded the vehicle to retrieve the sweets. The teenager was still looking sullen and Ariadne thought it might be because he was in the mood for a different flavor. Or maybe he still despised her..."What's wrong?"

"I'm sorry," he dove to hug her too. "For everything I said. I didn't mean to make you leave."

"It's ok, Booger," the woman patted his back, "I didn't leave because of you. Besides, I understand where you're coming from. I would hate me too."

He pulled away and tilted his head, "But I don't hate you. I was upset and I overreacted. You're supermom. Always were and always will be. I've been a horrible sidekick lately."

All Ariadne did was shake her head in protest and change subject, "Will you help me get my suitcase in? I'm beat." Obediently, Ender grabbed her suitcase from the backseat and wheeled it as he followed his mom and sister.

"How was the drive?" Arthur met them at the steps of the porch. Took the handle of the luggage from Ender and lugged it inside.

"Tiring," sighed the woman.

The Point propped the bag at the bottom of the stairs after a wordless agreement that neither wanted to take it up and unpack it anytime soon. He pocketed his hands and pursed his lips at her. "It wasn't a good idea. I wish you hadn't."

When she replied it wasn't as annoyed as you'd expect. In fact, it was devoid of anything but more exhaustion. No irritated twist of tone. "Could we not?"

"We cooked dinner." He switched gears completely after a deep breath as the group moseyed into the kitchen. "Chicken and rice; nothing fancy. There's some in the microwave."

"Oh," she lifted her fast food to-go cup, "I had to pick up something on the road. But thanks." Right away, she set it down on the counter and went to the microwave to put the leftovers up. Arthur offered to do the task instead but she insisted that it was her duty since he cooked and continued. Leaving the others to do nothing but stand in the silence and watch her spoon the food from the plate to the tupperware container.

Ender felt awkward. Felt that her melancholy and quietness was her being upset. He was afraid that she was the angry one now. So he brought it up again. "Mom, what I said about you and Uncle Eames—"

Ariadne stiffened for a moment, her head in the fridge, but recovered quick enough to cut him off. "Is forgotten." Flashing another smile, she leaned on the counter with her elbows. "Don't worry about it. Eat a cupcake."

Still wary, his stare slid down to them like he shouldn't have them. The box got inched his way with waggling eyebrows, "They're peanut butter fudge and I can't eat all twelve by myself." The three of them (Ari, Ender and Chloe) were basically chocolate addicts but Chloe didn't like peanut butter as much as her brother and mom did. They'd have Reeses cups withdrawals every now and then...so when they found those cupcakes on an out of town trip for one of Ender's swim meets, they were hooked. Those cupcakes were kind of their thing. When he didn't make a move to, she opened the box and pulled one out for herself. Peeled the paper away. That seemed to help his nerves and he gratefully took one.

Chloe hopped onto a bar stool with her box, already fiddling with the tabs to open it, "Did you get me cookies and cream?"

"Course I did," Ari nodded to them.

Ultimately, Arthur had to help her. All her cupcakes were chocolate cake with white oreo cream and cookie bits as icing which is why the single yellow cake with plain brown icing in the corner stood out like a sore thumb. The Architect pointed to it and adressed the Point, "And I got you Boston Creme. It's even filled on the inside."

First, he helped their daughter fish one of hers out. Then, grabbed for his with his thumb and middle finger. "Thank you for thinking of me as well."

She nodded, "Sure." Gaze averted to the specks in the granite counters.

xxxxxxx

Ariadne crept out of Chloe's room, Arthur behind her, and soundlessly closed the door. Ender's lamp still shone from the cracks under his door but they'd already said goodnight to him. The parents descended the main stairs together. "Did you guys have fun the past few days?" she asked brightly.

"Tried to," Arthur fought to keep his composure. She'd been home several hours and still no explanation. He could guess...but still. "It was hard to do anything but wonder where on earth you went."

She shook her head, partly annoyed, "You guys don't have to shut down everytime I'm not with you."

"What do you expect us to do?!" he couldn't help but bite, "Especially when you walk out like you did." When they reached the bottom he gaited in front of her, "You should've called."

He received a look that said she wasn't in the mood for any shit as she defended, "I did."

"Yes," he peered, "four days later. After we'd already suspected the worst." He pinched the bridge of his nose angrily, "It's one thing to walk out on me but it's another thing entirely to walk out on them." At least now he could fully sympathize with how Ariadne felt everytime he left for a job. Not knowing exactly when he'd be back, whether he'd be safe when he did, or if he would at all. Being more upset that he could do that to Ender because at least she could somewhat take it. She partly understood. With the shoes on the other foot, he was both empathetic and livid.

She crossed her arms and moved from the stairs into the living room where the tv could drown out some of their argument from younger ears, "I wasn't leaving for good. I was only going to be gone a little while."

Arthur grit, pointing to the ceiling, "But they didn't know that." His irritation and frustration with her was so encompassing, he stuttered, "And the—the—the guilt you left Ender with—he learned his lesson! Before you even pulled out of the driveway and you still—"

"I didn't leave because of Ender or what he said. It hurt but it wasn't the issue. It was a catalyst," she sighed, exasperated, "I just needed time—"

"To yourself. We get it."

Here is where Ariadne blew up right back at him, "I woke up to my world turned upside down and haven't had a minute to myself since without people pushing ideals on me! You, Ender, Chloe, Eames, everyone wants something from me. And if they don't, then they think they know what I want better than I do. It's I need to do this, or I should do that, or make this choice or that one. I didn't want anyone's help but my own figuring out what's best for me. I needed space and quiet. I needed to be as far away from pitiful frowns and angsty eyes as I could. You can be upset with me for it all you want but that's what was necessary and that's what I did."

He flushed with slight embarrassment and darted his gaze elsewhere when she mentioned angsty eyes. No doubt she was alluding to his; he couldn't look at her with anything but. Her point of view was valid too. She hadn't had a moment's peace without he or Eames throwing themselves at her or the kids scheming to get them together. After a beat, Arthur swallowed and changed subjects. "The papers are finished. I have them on my dresser."

"Well, maybe we should finish this in there since we tend to have eavesdroppers..." suggested the woman. So she followed him down the hallway and closed his door behind them.

"Alright, I've already signed them and talked to Jay. He's lined up to notarize and file them for us. We don't need a witness." Arthur held out the thick packet to her after thumbing through the pages one last time, "By all means, read through it and make sure everything seems fair before you sign."

Ariadne skimmed over the first few pages, picking up words like 'custody' and 'assets.' Squinting at a few more like 'equitable distribution' and 'dissolution', all of which made the pit of her stomach feel like lead so heavy it could pull her down through the floor and all the way through to the center of the earth. This is what she'd been preparing for while she was in Brighton. It was time to give him the explanation he'd deserved for years. And to clear up any rumors she was sure he heard (probably from Eames). She left the packet open to the page stating that their grounds for fault was 'irretrievable breakdown of marriage' and clasped her hands together. "I want to explain myself first."

"You don't have to ex—"

"There are some things you need to hear from me before we do this. I want to end on a better note than fighting."

Arthur had to agree. It wasn't a pleasant notion thinking he'd have to wake up and get on a plane after a blow up and begrudged agreement of contract the night before. Rather than saying so, he gestured with his hand for her to continue.

"I'm not sure how but if Ender knows then I think you do too...But I want you to hear it from me." With a lick of her lips, she confessed, "Before the crash, literally days before, I decided to marry Eames."

The man inwardly cringed as he recalled the conversation he came across in her subconscious. And worse, Eames' blissfully smug grin afterwards."Yes. I know."

She nodded, "I want you to know that it wasn't because I love him," she paused and corrected herself, "I mean I do...but not like that. I'm not in love with him. I came to that conclusion because he loves us and he's been asking forever. I thought 'why not, I'm never going to see Arthur again'. Then while I was in Brighton I couldn't help but wonder what I meant by that. Like seeing you would've made a difference." Arthur coudn't decide whether something promising was trying to weed it's way through that or whether it was a subtle dash of his ideals. So he leaned his hip on the corner of his desk and listened for something easier to decipher while she got flustered and flexed her hands in front of herself in a way that looked like she was holding a box. "I made a list. I don't do that, that's your kind of thing, but I did. I had one for you and one for Eames and I wrote down pros and cons."

Ariadne's eyes fluttered around the room as if she was trying to remember exactly what each said. "Honestly...the pro list for Eames was longer. Starting out a new life with him would be immensely easy. We haven't been officially together as a family but he's been that figure all these years and it'd be so natural for us to transition. For him to be my husband and the kids' stepfather. It makes the most sense." She couldn't interpret Arthur's reaction from nothing but his blinking, so she awkwardly pressed forward. "And with the bad blood between you and I, the complication in our history, there's so much shit in the mess we made that can't be untangled. For us, a divorce is the realistic next step."

"I understand," he declared both gently and genuinely then held out a pen, " That's why I offered to draw these up; so you could have a way out." He slipped the last page out of order and laid it on top.

His signature fluidly dipped and curved at the bottom of the page next to a highlighted x and blank line that waited for hers. She pursed her lips at it and completely threw him off, "I don't want one." Thinking he had to have misheard or simply imagined what the wanted her to say coming from her mouth, he continued holding out the pen expectantly. It was when she disregarded the writing utensil and pivoted to pace the room that he deduced it might've actually happened and felt at his pocket for his totem. He froze, slackjawed with disbelief and listened: "The more the signs pointed to Eames—the more reasons I had to marry him—the more sick I felt and the more I realized that's not what I want." She tilted her head, "True, you and I didn't work out. And maybe we're not meant to be together...but I'm sure as hell not meant to be with anyone else either." She whipped from where she faced his bathroom door to face him, "It's you or nothing. And I've known that all these years—at least subconciously—or I'd already be married to him. I've waited so long because I want you. I've only ever wanted you. I want to be with you again more than anything."

The man opened his mouth, then closed it. Still in shock. Because the entire week, he'd been preparing to expect the exact opposite. And because he didn't know how to respond, Ariadne didn't know how to react. So she voiced what she'd prepared for him to say, "I know...It's kind of too little, too late, isn't it?"

A spark flickered in his eye, "No. I'm just wondering why I'm still holding this pen. Why we're even having this conversation." He hiccupped a laugh, "Or why we haven't ripped up these papers yet—" When he went to giddily tear them to pieces she flinched like she wanted to stop him. He felt her reluctance and stopped, "Ok. I'm confused. You don't want one but you want one?"

"I'm sorry, I know I'm frustrating you," she apologized.

"Yes, you are." Concurred Arthur as he marched forward and grabbed her elbows, "You're infuriating me. The issue is all but solved. We want the same thing. So why are you still fighting to keep a distance between us?" Her brows furrowed. The sole problem he could come up with was something she'd mentioned in Paris, "Because you still don't think you can trust me again?"

She shook her head. "I know I can trust you again. I don't think you'll want to trust me..."

He gave her an irritated gape, "But I do. Why the hell wouldn't I?"

"My mista—"

Without letting her finish he angrily pointed out, "We've both made mistakes. It's past time to get over them. It was a misunderstanding on both our parts. I know you thought you were giving me what I wanted. You thought you were holding me back and forcing me to be something I didn't want to be so you let me go...you thought you were making me happy. You were being selfless. It's my fault you thought I loved dreaming more; because I lied and I was never home and I didn't prove to you that you and Ender were everything when it mattered most. I don't fault you for leaving."

"I'm not talking about leaving I'm talking about staying away," she yelled, pushing him off. "About cutting you off. I wanted you to find me but I did everything I could to keep you from it. I ruined us. I ruined our family. Our lives. Everything. None of it had to be this way."

Ironically, she was trying to convince him she was in the wrong and he was doing his utmost to defend her against herself. Not the typical fight. Ariadne knew he was barely listening. He didn't know the whole story. "You were hurt; I understand—You didn't think I was willing to give you the life I promised. And you reacted realistically."

"But you did give me what I wanted."

Arthur tilted his head. Baffled.

"You quit. You stopped dreaming cold turkey. Moved to New York. Miles and Dom told me the lengths you went to prove you were done and stable and domesticated. But then I felt guilty; like I'd thrown a temper tantrum and got my way and I thought you'd hate me for it and pride wouldn't let me take it back..." Ariadne took his shoulders and bore into his eyes so he'd fully comprehend, "I knew where you were and I didn't come back to you." Her face crumbled with remorse, "Nine years and I didn't come back to you..."

Arthur took a deep breath then averted his eyes. Ariadne knew that would be the kicker. "And then I wake up and you're here and you're still perfect and I don't deserve you. That's why we can't be together, I don't deserve for you to want me back. To love me like you did. To be happy and have what I want. I deserve for you to divorce me, for the kids to hate me, for me to have to settle with Eames and watch you move on."

The Point's eyes returned to hers in slits, "Ok, but tell me this. You don't think you're deserving of my love. Do you also think I'm not deserving of yours?"

"Of course you are. That's the problem."

He softened. His head tilted and his eyebrows lifted, "How is it fair to punish me just to punish yourself? Your happiness has always been my happiness. So if you think I deserve it...then, Sweetheart, I believe you do too." As she opened her mouth to protest, he covered it with his hand. "I don't care about what happened anymore. The past is the past and from now on, I don't want to hear another word about it. We can't change it, it's done and I'm so sick and tired of recalling it. Living in it. All I care about is our present and our future because those we still have control over. That's where we can make it right."

The Point pulled away and sauntered back to the desk for the pen and signature sheet. "So here we go, my final offer. Without thinking about any other factor than what you want, make our decision." He waited until she took the items from him to state the terms, "Sign it and it's over. We'll split time with the kids, we'll be cordial, but I won't ever mention loving you again. I'll bow out amiably, I'll quit pestering you about it. We'll see each other maybe twice a year, avoid each other at our children's weddings. Or...don't sign it. We'll renew our vows, buy new rings, I'll move back home. I'll make love to you every night and wake up to you every morning. I'll cook you breakfast in bed and massage your back after a long day of work and fight over stupid things like the dog needing a bath. And I will forgive and forget and love you like no time has passed since the day I tricked you into a kiss in Robert Fischer's head."

He watched with bated breath as she stared at the paper and twirled the pen in her hands. As the twirling turned into wringing in between her fingers. "What time does your plane leave?"

Arthur tensed but didn't falter, "Noon."

"Can I have until then to give you an answer?"

"Of course," because what else was he going to say?

So Ariadne excused herself from the room and left him to sit on his bed and rub his face. She got five paces down the hall before she stopped herself. And she couldn't force her feet to move further away from him if she tried. She burst back into his room. The fling of the pen towards his desk called him to attention and made him stand. "I don't need until then." The emphatic rip of the paper and her "I know what I want" made his chest sing almost as much as when she dragged him down to her lips.

Sensations burst from every atom in his body. Her hand cupping his jaw set off his instinct to encircle her waist and meld them closer. And when she sighed that she loved him and her fingers scratched lightly across his scalp, he couldn't stop himself from peppering kisses down the column of her neck and letting his hands skate the expanse of her back.

Ariadne pulled away suddenly. And loss of her made his vision somewhat blurry. He'd kill her if she was fixing to object to their reunion again...but instead she panted worriedly, "Door. Lock." He wasn't able to make any sense of it. Only to shake his head in confusion and steal another peck from her lips. Again, the Architect pushed at his chest, "I don't want to traumatize the kids if one of them—" Ohhh...he agreed. He tripped over himself in his haste to close his door and make sure the lock was secure. Then he dove for her mouth again and picked her up on his way to the bed.
xxxxxxx

When Ariadne woke up, it was early early morning and she was toasty warm. Wrapped up in Arthur with her arms folded between them and his fingers aimlessly combing through her hair. He was smiling with those adorable dimples and his hair was all over the place—she couldn't help reaching up to fiddle with it and mumble, "Morning, Handsome." He joked back, "Morning, my darling."

Maneuvering the sheets to keep her cold shoulders covered, she rolled to lay on top of the Point. They gazed at each other that cheesily happy way for a long few minutes. Him still fingering her curls and her tracing his jawline. When she misted up, he kindly scolded, "Hey, none of of that. No more tears, ever. Remember?"

"Not even happy ones?" she smirked.

Arthur wiped under one of her eyes with his thumb, "I guess I could allow you happy ones..." His reward was a laugh and a kiss. "So how are we going to break it to Ender and Chloe?" The man grimaced (it was fake), "I think they'll be pretty upset about it."

Ariadne nodded, "Devastated."

"It's so not what they were hoping for."

"They might try to run away."

Arthur pulled her down to brush their lips again, "You think a kiss would do it?"

Smiling evilly, she proposed, "I say we act completely casual about it like nothing big has changed. Then do something subtle to catch them off guard so we can enjoy the shock on their faces."

"You want to mess with their heads?" he chuckled, perplexed, "Vengeful, are we, Dear?"

She shrugged, "They kind of deserve it."

His chuckles turned into louder laughter, "I cannot believe you." At the raise of her eyebrows and mischievously excited smile, he caved, "I should put my suit on and leave my suitcase by the stairs. It's close enough to the door they won't realize I'm actually taking it up to your room."

"Our room," she corrected. "Great idea."

xxxxxxx

So Ariadne and Arthur were up, showered (they showered together, so it took longer than normal as you might expect), dressed and busying around the kitchen by the time the kids tiredly dragged themselves down from their rooms to the kitchen table. The kids were solemn and actually doing their best to hide it. They still thought Arthur was leaving at noon (for who knows how long) and the suitcase by the stairs did nothing to lift their moods when they came down. They sat at the table quietly, hands in their laps, watching their parents cook. Not able to see that everytime Ariadne faced away from them she was biting back a smile.

As Arthur poured two glasses of apple juice for their son and daughter, he nudged her hip with his. (Which was the signal for let's put them out of their misery). Non-chalant, the Architect cracked an egg into the pan and began scrambling with the spatula, "Ok, you two, I know you're a little upset but we've got a lot to do today so I need you to get dressed as soon as we're done with breakfast."

Ender took the glass from Arthur with a smile containing a sympathy and melancholy (that Arthur had a hard time letting him feel). "Are we not going to drive Dad to the airport?"

"We wanted to say goodbye at the gate," Chloe added small and quiet. She wanted to pout but didn't.

Ariadne shook her head like the idea was stupid. "You don't need to."

Ender and Chloe looked at each other, upset, but afraid to voice it. Afraid to pick a fight with her. Ender squinted, "But—"

"School starts Tuesday." Ariadne interjected, "We need to get supplies and I need to update the sizes of your uniforms. Not to mention registration for your extra-curriculars. I called earlier and they'll still let us register late if I can do it today."

Chloe timidly interjected, "But Mommy..."

"And, we all need new dress clothes."

While Chloe was still stuck on having to pick out a new lunchbox instead of hugging her Daddy bye, Ender was adressing the other (seemingly) random reason they couldn't go. "Why?"

The Architect slid the cooked eggs onto a plate, "Your dad and I are getting our vows renewed next weekend." Like she hadn't just rocked them with a revelation of massive proportions she turned to Arthur, "Could you grab the butter from the fridge?"

Shortly after his jaw colliding with the ground, Ender began to smile. That's when Ariadne and Arthur stopped what they were doing to enjoy their children's realizations. Chloe was a little slower to the party than Ender; she sat up cheerfully, "Does that mean Daddy's staying another weekend?"

"Chloe." Ender hit her shoulder, then shook her, "That means Dad's staying FOREVER."

"WHAT?!" shrieked the tiny one, darting her crazed grin to the pair of adults by the stove. "Are you getting back together?!"

Ariadne folded her arms, "Happy? You got what you wanted." Arthur teased, wrapping his arms around her waist and resting his chin on her shoulder, "Come on, Sweetheart, that's not fair. I think we got what we wanted too, don't you?" In response, she nodded and turned her head so he could kiss her grinning lips.

That's when the Talesco children broke loose and started cheering. When they sprinted to Arthur and Ariadne and hugged them and hooted and hollered and jumped and celebrated.

xxxxxxx

"Grandpa, do you want some chips?" Chloe and Ariadne squeezed back through to their spots on the stands after getting the little girl nachos for doing a great job during her turn. Arthur helped her up to stand on the riser between him and the man Chloe most recently adressed.

The man smiled with crinkly eyes and gratefully took a chip, "Mmm." His warm accent lilted, "Thank you, Tesoro." She grinned proudly at the sentiment, not looking where her next chip was going.

Ariadne nudged her husband, "Arthur, her uniform." He looked and sighed. Took a napkin, wet it with his tongue and wiped at a smudge of cheese near the collar. "Tiny, you're wearing white."

She shoved another glob of cheese into her mouth via chip, "My belt is blue."

"Yes, but your dobok is white and your mom's already washed it twice this week. So watch what you're doing." Chloe still paid no mind and almost stained her uniform again by waving to her brother down in the arena. For extra measure, Arthur tucked a clean napkin into the top of her dobok and let her be.

Ender was on deck for the next spar, so he got up from the bench and started warming up in the corner behind the mat. Ariadne commented, "Geeze, he looks so much like Arthur out there, doesn't he?"

"He really does. Terrible he got his ears, though," responded the sweet older woman next to her. "You can see them from here."

Ariadne covered her mouth to keep from laughing too loud but the woman's unapologetic shrug was too funny for Ariadne to resist. Arthur blanched at his wife and then scoffed at the woman offensively, "Wow. Thanks mom."

The man on the other side of Chloe joined in just as matter-of-fact, "You're a Talesco, Art." He flicked his own large ear, "You can't help it."

Arthur's mother wrapped her arms around Ariadne's shoulders so she could lean closer to her son and amend, "At least Chloe didn't get them. She has Ariadne's demure little ears." Then Genevieve bent down and rubbed Ariadne's baby bump, "And hopefully little Sawyer will too."

The Point smiled and rubbed Ari's stomach too then breathed, "Ok we get it. My ears are awful."

"You know we love them," Ariadne soothed playfully, hugged his waist and kissed the offending body part. Adding to the sweetness, Chloe hugged Arthur's neck and kissed his cheek, "Yeah, Daddy, we looooooove them."

"Oh! He's up!" Emilio jumped, "Here we go!"

They all stood straight and cheered as the boy entered onto the mat and threw them a thumbs up.

"GO Ender!"

"We love you!"

"Get, em, Son!"

"That's my boy!"

He bowed to his sensei, then his opponent and took his opening stance at the buzzard. At which point the signal to start alarmed, Chloe screamed at the top of her lungs, "BOOGER! DO THE HAMMER FIST!" Her chips flew behind her and her cheese sauce went up in the air and rained down on her, her grandfather's head, and Arthur's suit sleeve.

Chloe sheepishly turned her head and smiled at her parents, "Oops..."

And Arthur and Ariadne just looked at each other and shook their heads.

Fin.

xxxxxxx
xxxxxxx

And we're done! I can't express the giggling and intense jumping for joy I did when I finally wrapped this chapter up. It's been a long journey with these guys and I'm very happy with how it ended. I didn't address Ariadne telling Eames her decision because the story was never really about them and their issues. I wanted the focus to be on Ari and Arthur and once their stuff was resolved and they were happy, I didn't want to cut to Eames being all sad (cause no one cares, sorry). And I didn't want her to tell him before Art and Ari had their talk because i didn't want to give it away before they ever even spoke.

I must say, this is the most bittersweet I've ever been about finishing and I think it's because I'm sort of torn up over saying goodbye to my little Ender and Chloe. I feel like they're literally my children too and I love them.

HAPPY ENDING (Epilogue of sorts): I've got some manips on my profile of the Talesco family living happily ever after and the kids being excited cause their parents are being lovey dovey hahahah. Also, I'm toying with the idea of making a story full of one shots and just adding to it every now and then, showing bits of every day life for our little family in the aftermath. Would anyone read it? Or should I leave our story as is and let your imaginations wander? haha

Thank you to everyone who read along with the story and laughed and cried ( and wanted to hit upside the head) with all the characters.