Chapter 6: #JohnTravolta
Tel Aviv was a warm and inviting city, full of character. "Hill of Spring," is what it meant per Arthur and the colors infused into the buildings, the lights, and the stalls, all lived up to that name. Ariadne was enchanted with the place; she had always wanted to visit Tel Aviv and finally got the chance through their first merged job with Eames' current buddy Noam. It wasn't all perfect, though. As is more custom in Dreamshare, they outsourced their Somnacin from a decent nearby Chemist and their Architect would not be required to go under. While not ideal for Ariadne, they took the job for networking, bartering that she still went in as a tourist and back-up gun for the experience.
They got there a day early, having nothing much else to do. The hotel Noam had suggested was absolutely beautiful, situated on the coast of the Mediterranean between Meir Garden and Jerusalem Beach. You would've thought they had picked it for tourism and not for close proximity to a mark of mind-crime. After hanging up his suits, taking a shower, and enjoying the view, Arthur thought to see if Ariadne was settled in—and if her stomach was growling as loudly as his.
He had no luck stopping by her room and thought perhaps she was taking a nap after the long flight. Their seat assignments had been botched so they'd been split up and from the expressions of aggravation and helplessness she kept sending him, he could tell she was not enthusiastic about sitting next to the two loudest passengers in Economy. She might've been more understanding if she knew what they were screaming at each other but alas, they were speaking Mandarin. On the Point's subsequent self-tour of the hotel, he found her in one of the neatly shaped purple chairs in the vast lobby. "That's cool," he commented, looking over her shoulder at the sketchpad on her lap.
"Thanks," replied Ariadne, head bent low to add some shading, "The design of the hotel kind of inspired me." She gestured around as he sat in the chair next to her, "Modernist shapes and lights encased in mirrored paneling...I had to get some ideas out of my brain real quick."
Arthur observed as her pencil flew this way and that across the page, deftly adding precise detail. After another minute, she leaned back and regarded her finished sketch. Arthur shook his head, "I still don't understand how you can be that good, that effortlessly."
The Architect thought she might eventually get used to Arthur's amazement over some of her skills and the endless compliments he gave her about them. Thought one day she'd be accustomed to the praise from someone she admired equally. That day hadn't come yet. Ariadne humbly shrugged a shoulder, deflected, "Buildings are pretty much just lines and shapes."
"Yeah?" he said in disbelief, "You want to see my lines and shapes?"
The woman squinted at him, "Depends...is that a double entendre? Then I'd prefer not." Now that her and Arthur carried on personal conversations on a normal basis, she was toying with a measure of the kind of humor her and Eames shared and seeing how much of it Arthur was comfortable with. He didn't mind a small portion of it every now and then.
Arthur snorted at his partner and held his hand out in askance for her sketchpad. She surrendered it to him, along with her pencil, and watched until he'd completed his drawing. "I'm coming for your job, Benoit," he declared.
It was his best re-creation of the room around them: the seemingly endless ceiling, the asymmetrical seating, the sectioned off desks, the marble floor. It wasn't a replica per se but if one studied it hard enough they could determine what things were supposed to be.
Ariadne raised her eyebrows at it, took a deep breath, and surprisingly proclaimed, "I like it..."
Knowing she was lying and assuming she was being facetious, he jokingly tossed the pen at her, "Piss off."
"No," she insisted, "it has like a..." she peered closer to the page, her head inches a way while her eyes squinted, "innocent, simplistic, quality to it." That's as polite as she knew how to put it. The man had impeccably neat handwriting and those hands were also adept at handling weapons and working with machinery and wiring...but those hands could not draw...
Arthur put it in realistic terms for her, "As in, it looks like a child drew it."
"It's not that bad," said Ariadne, rolling her eyes.
"So can I drag you out of here to find some dinner?"
Communication with the client and other team members was unavoidable and there were certain precautions taken when adding those contacts to the phone's memory and listing their own numbers as 'unknown'. Between Arthur and Ariadne, though, protecting each other was more important than protecting those they networked with. The fact that they were together (or at most, a hallway away) all the time helped because they could do most conversing in person.
Any interactions that happened digitally had simple protocol. No use of the other's real name over text or email. Ever. And in their contacts they'd simply list each other as 'Him' and 'Her'. That way, should the burners ever be stumbled upon or even pried out of their dead hands, no one would have a way of identifying their partner.
Her delivered 3:03am Still up researching?
Him delivered 3:05am Yes.
Him delivered 3:05am Do you have a question about something?
Her delivered 3:06am Nightmare again. The one about C...
Her delivered 3:06am Can't go back to sleep :/
Him delivered 3:08am Did you try that accupressure point?
Her delivered 3:09am Yeah no luck
Him delivered 3:09am Do you want to me to call?
Her delivered 3:10am Nah you're busy
Him delivered 3:10am I don't mind. I've been there. I know how you feel.
Her delivered 3:11am Thanks. Just knowing someone else is still up too helps
Him delivered 3:12am I just finished the brief on the mark, want me to send to you?
Maybe it'll bore you back to sleep...
Her delivered 3:15am Doubt it but i'll try
Her delivered 3:19am Got it
Her delivered 3:19am Damn how many companies does he own?
Her delivered 3:19am this is ridiculous
Him delivered 3:20am I told you.
Him delivered 3:20am Read every single subsidiary. I'll check on you in a bit.
Him delivered 3:47am You there?
No she was not. Ariadne was snoring blissfully.
The group had plans to meet on the rooftop lounge the next morning. Most tourists would be down on the beach and the open air made it harder for others to unintentionally eavesdrop on them. Arthur coincidentally ran into Eames in the breakfast area downstairs and the two shared an elevator up with minimal dismay.
The wind off the water hit the two men instantly, as the doors slid open. They found the rooftop quiet—except for music playing low from hidden speakers—and abandoned, save for a lone bartender cleaning glasses and two people in the heat of conversation. One was a man who looked to be in his late 30's. He had lightly tanned skin, jet black hair, and a strong jawline covered in a 5' o clock shadow.
He wore linen suit pants and a aqua colored button up, his sleeves rolled to the elbow, revealing a bulky gold watch and signet pinky ring. That hand, motioned towards the sky. "—A lot of the aesthetics of the city really bounce off of the climate. Could you incoporate that?"
The person he'd asked was a familiar brunette in track shorts and a muscle cut shirt (from a Passion Pit concert) that revealed what was probably a brightly striped bathing suit top underneath but neither Arthur nor Eames looked at that area long enough to confirm. "Yeah. So I would use some neutrals like tans and beiges...More red undertones than orange." She scratched quickly into her notebook, "And then I'll probably offest with more golden highlights."
The man pursed his lips, trying to make sure he understood her vision, "Almost like a camera filter. You'll basically just cast everything in warm tones."
Ariadne winced. He wasn't wrong but there was much more subtlety and layering involved. "Right...but a little more tailored. For instance it's a dryer heat here. So I would translate that harshness with sharper contrasts, sharper lines, less variances of hues. Shadows here would be black whereas somewhere more humid, I would use deep blues." The man leaned forward with his hand in his chin to examine her notebook again.
"I see Noam and Ariadne have met," Eames declared, pulling a wooden bar chair over.
"Yes and already getting things done, might I add," Ariadne said to the group but more pointedly at Arthur whom she saluted. Arthur smiled, proud of her. She slid her pencil on top of her ear and pulled her knee up on the cabana chair, whereas Noam stood to shake Arthur's hand and move over so the Point could join.
Once settled and pleasantries shared, Arthur pulled a manila folder from his satchel and asked, "Was everyone able to get through the brief I sent?" with only a slight amusement on his face when he met Ariadne's eyes. Noam answered in the positive, Eames confidently proclaimed to have skimmed over it, and Ariadne joked that it took a couple tries. Arthur continued, "My professional opinion is we run this as a two level job with a pair of us on each level."
"Agreed," said Noam.
"The goal here is to extract Refaeli's expansion plans," Arthur explained, "So the starting question, is setting,"
Eames piped in, "A business meeting? Shareholders, perhaps? He has enough companies...can't have time to do much else. I can forge an investor."
"His office, then," Noam specified.
The Architect butted in, "Depends which investor," and pointed to the grainy candid picture of the mark pinned on the inside of Arthur's folder, "He wines and dines some of big ones."
Noam questioned, "Is he trying to land a certain contract at the moment?"
It took no time for Arthur to answer, "Wyndam Corp. They're a new electric car manufacturer. On track for trillions. People are scrambling to get in on the bottom floor."
Eames looked to Ariadne, "Definitely a wine and dine then." With a nod, Ariadne turned her attention to Arthur, "If you'll pull a list of five stars that he frequents for me, I can see which will be most effective to base a level off."
The Point Man affirmed with a thumbs up and wrote a reminder for that on a sticky note. "I think that should be level 2."
"And I'll be this Mr. Wyndam then, I assume?" Eames stretched a leg out, taking care to slide in his chair enough for his foot to take up Ariadne's foot room. Ariadne playfully kicked him.
Arthur corrected, "Actually, the owner of the company is named David Markham."
At Noam and Eames' evident confusion, it was Ariadne who elaborated, "His mother's maiden name was Wyndam. The company is named after his maternal grandfather. They were close." The Point Man held his palm out towards Ariadne as if she'd took the words out of his mouth. Proud wasn't a large enough word to do Arthur's pride justice. That information was not included in the packets Arthur sent out which meant his partner had done the extra recon herself. He offered her a look of approval and she expressed a bit of smugness back.
"Settled," said Noam. "So the first level then..."
Ariadne sat, lathered in SPF-70, on the golden beaches just steps from the hotel's rear entrance. She felt cozily baked in the sun's heat, appreciating the whips of wind that blew across the coast ever so often. The sounds of the waves put her into a calm trance that made focusing on the designs in front of her feel less like work and more like a relaxing getaway. She leant back in the reclined beach chair, stretching out her legs, as she erased and retraced another line.
When she felt the coolness of a shadow cast over her, she looked up to find the Point Man, holding two Limonanas that were so cold and fresh that the condensation was dripping between his fingers. "Damn, you must really hate your life right now," he said from behind sunglasses.
"Yeah," she eagerly took one of the drinks and moved the tiny umbrella to take a sip, "You really should've warned me that my working conditions were going to be this harsh."
Arthur removed his glasses and hung them from his linen button up and smirked, "I'm sorry." He squinted at the horizon line, observed some tourist boats skim past. This was one of Arthur's only times outside of the small board room they'd rented for their workspace. Sure, the room was lined floor to ceiling with windows that looked out over the gorgeous sand and surf but that wasn't the same as basking in it. Because Ariadne wasn't needed for Somnacin trials or level runs, or plan adjustments until the later stages in the game, she was able to design wherever the heck she wanted. Often, Eames would track down her tiny dot out on the beach and lament how unfair it was. Then Arthur would remind him that they'd basically reduced her to a tourist on this job so she might as well be able to act like one—and that shut him up.
"Shorts." commented the woman, pulling him out of his thoughts. There was a layer of surprise in her otherwise monotone. When Arthur looked down, Ariadne was of course staring at his choice of dress for the day with raised eyebrows. Shorts, that hit at the knee. Sure they were khakis—no color or print—but still.
Arthur shrugged, "Yes? It's hot here."
Ariadne tilted her head and glanced back down at her sketchbook. The Point Man didn't miss the teasing twinkle in her eye, "I mean, I just didn't know you owned legs."
After a swig of his drink, he offhandedly chided back, "And I didn't think you owned a belly button, so—"
"Touche," digressed the woman.
The beach was lined with exclusive beach chairs, umbrellas, and cabana benches for guests of the Royal Tel Aviv Hotel. Each chair and bench was draped with an embroidered, golden yellow, beach towel to distinguish them from the ones belonging to the hotels adjacent. Arthur took the closest one and drug it over, leaving a line in the sand. "Mind if I join? Noam went to meet the Chemist for our som order and Eames is—"
It wasn't truly an inquiry, as both Arthur and Ariadne knew the girl didn't care whether he joined her or not. So without needing a verbal answer, Arthur made himself comfortable by lifting the back of the chair enough to support his neck and setting his glass down in the sand. "I was going to say conning free drinks from that bartender but essentially, yes."
The Architect looked to where Arthur had gestured over his shoulder. Behind them, at least a mile back by the pool bar, Eames was propped with two empty glasses in front of him—offering a wink and a smile for another full one. Ariadne snorted, took another sip of her drink, and set hers down in the sand too. "I've come up with two designs so far but kinda hated both of them so it might be the end of the weekend before I have something substantial to show you guys." She pulled a pencil sharpener from her case.
"That's fine," Arthur assured as he pulled his laptop out of his satchel. "Trials are going slow for Eames' forgery anyway." Without the time or contacts to get Eames into an environment for long-term observation (as he'd done for Browning during the Fischer job), it was taking longer to get the right feel for Markham. "What's your opinion—should he come into play in both levels or just the second?"
Ariadne's answer took little thought, "I think second. Save the big guns."
"Me too." Arthur kicked off his shoes (not dress shoes, Ariadne would point out, but she didn't). The woman heard the familiar clacking of Arthur's keys next to her and resumed shading. "I think I'll poke around Markham's assistant's social media. Get some video or something for Eames to work with."
"Good luck," Ariadne wished without looking up.
They worked quietly and comfortably in tandem for a couple hours. Enough time for Arthur to finish his drink and Ariadne's to be forgotten and watered down. Ariadne took a break to stretch (she'd been out there hours before her companion) and reapply her sunscreen. Obviously, being so pale, she burned easily. So anytime she felt the slightest tingle of what could be a burn, she was lathering back up. As she did, she people watched. Quite a few families were out—splashing in the Mediterranean, digging holes in the sand, chasing each other and run-away balls. Several couples were out too—young and old. Probably on honey moons or anniversary trips. Most seemed to layout and nap or read books while holding hands. She spotted a group of people her age. Probably college students using their summer break to explore (and drink) instead of taking extra classes. The girls were chatting and the boys were being obnoxious in effort to get their attention. "It's surreal to think about."
Not able to read minds, Arthur turned from his screen, "What?" Ariadne seemed to be talking to herself aloud, as her gaze was in the opposite directon. Soon enough, she replied though, "That not that long ago, I was that oblivious. Like, just living my life, unaware that dreamshare even existed. That people could get inside my head and take secrets." She looked at Arthur curiously and then switched her attention to the family closest to them, now in the middle of packing up. "I'm curious what they would think..."
Arthur leaned forward to follow her line of sight. "If they found out that a couple feet from them, chilling on the beach, we were in the midst of planning an elaborate mind-heist?"
"Probably wouldn't believe it. Most of us didn't, at first."
Ariadne zeroed in on him, tossing her bottle of lotion into her bag, "Hey! I believed."
Arthur grinned, "You bolted." Before she could open her mouth and deny it, he quickly added, "So fast, in fact, that you whipped me in the face with your jacket."
She made a face and scoffed, "Yeah, because Cobb was a psycho not because I couldn't wrap my head around the concept." She returned to her chair and adjusted her towel to sit sideways, facing her partner. Ariadne wiggled her toes in the sand and regarded her drink but ruled against picking it up.
"It took me a while," admitted Arthur.
"It was experimental at the time. The military was forcing some of us grunts to test it out for them and it sounded like something out of a sci-fi movie so naturally I was skeptical. You know me...lover of logic and all that."
Ariadne's interest piqued in another direction, "You went into the military like your dad?"
Arthur nodded, "Right out of high school. I only enlisted for four years...didn't reenlist because I thought I wanted to go into law—"
"Naturally," she inserted. Of course he would go for law.
"—Met Dom at UCLA, he met Mal, the rest is history." All of a sudden, Arthur looked up from his laptop. Reminicence in his gaze at the water. A barely noticeable smile. "Damn. I'll never forget that surge of adrenaline the first time I shaped a dream. They didn't teach us to shape them in the military, just threw us in there like rats in a maze." He missed Ariadne's grimace at the thought. "Grand Canyon," he pointed in punctuation, "was the first place I altered; Mal helped me. I made stepping stones of jagged rock that touched the clouds and pillars of sand mixed with sky."
As Ariadne listened intently, she lowered her chair back so that it was all the way flat, and moved her book so she could lay on her stomach and work at the same time. If she was gonna get burnt (or by some miracle, slightly more tan), she at least wanted to do it evenly. Beside her Arthur humbly commented, "Though that's nothing compared to folding Paris in half on your first try." There he went again with the praise.
"Second," Ariadne corrected before inserting her own humble comment, "And not everything's a competition." Her short breather let her come back to her design with fresh eyes and already she had some alterations she wanted to incorporate.
The Point Man laughed, "If it were, I'm glad you'd be with me instead of against me."
"Me too. What you can accomplish by just typing on a keyboard is freaking scary."
Minutes later, it was Arthur who broke the silence. He twisted his laptop on his lap and moved the screen so she could see it better. The look of someone entertained, all over him. "Look, this guy has the same password for everything."
Ariadne sat up and scanned over what looked like a coded spreadsheet. The same string of numbers repeating themselves. 4071987. 4071987. 4071987. 4071987. The woman grimaced, disappointment at stupidity in her tone, "Don't tell me that's his birthday."
"Phone number," Arthur cheekily grinned.
"Even worse!" she exclaimed with an eye roll and went back to work. "People these days..."
The days led into weeks and eventually the time came when they could no longer work leisurely from the beachfront. With the completion of Eames' research, and his handle on the forgery at a workable point, the plans for extraction and everyone's roles in it were finalized. This meant everyone now needed to run trials in the air conditioned board room all day. And with the base layout of the mazes now set in stone, Ariadne could focus on design elements. She could now construct the feel and look of the dream, instead of just it's structure. Not that she preferred one over the other.
For this purpose, Arthur compiled a list of high-end restaurants that the mark frequented with clientele, for her to choose from. She picked four to pull specific elements from and they had dinner at each respective location. Eames and Noam tagged along intermittently, when they thought the menu sounded enticing. Tonight, the Forger fancied a beer and room service instead of joining them. And Noam stayed behind to commit Ariadne's mazes to memory—he was having trouble with the second level—so the partners were on their own to test out Zepra on the eastern side of the coast.
The minute they walked in, Ariadne declared the establishment as her favorite so far. Everything was square or rectangular in shape. Deep coffee hues for the furniture, walls, and floors. Red abstract artwork that created a grid on one large accent wall that wrapped up across the ceiling. Purple accent lighting and small dotted pendant lighting encased in giant lightbulb-shaped glass.
Arthur could tell Ariadne was impressed with the place from the slight dip of her chin, the tug at the right corner of her mouth, and the miniscule raise of her eyebrows that most would have missed. He was learning these things about her, now. Small idiosyncracies, like she was learning about him in turn. For instance, he'd learned that the more subtle Ariadne's initial reaction to something was (in terms of her expression and body language), the more she was affected by it on an emotional level. She may gasp in shock or jump up and down in excitement or comically roll her eyes a second later, but if her first instinct was something tiny like a squint of the eyes or imperceptible cock of the head—whatever it was impacted her just a little more than normal. Something else he'd picked up was her habit while thinking. She chewed her lip if her wheels were simply turning regular speed. She bit on the edge of her pencil or pen (disgusting) when she was full of ideas and inspiration. And she bit at the nail of her ring finger if she was stumped. Also, Ariadne was shit at keeping up with her earphones. She used them constantly and yet was always hunting for them.
The Architect was learning her share of things about Arthur, too. Like how most days he drank his coffee with one cream but on days he was especially vexed, tired, or stressed, he took it black. And every time he was annoyed but wanted to seem like he wasn't, he would cut his eyes to the right (always the right) and flex his jaw before offering a close-mouthed smile. It was quick. Lightning quick. But he did it every time. Arthur also never let his phone or laptop battery get below thirty percent and he loved a good microwave ramen. Beef teriyaki to be exact. Shrimp flavor if the other wasn't available. He wasn't above a good vending machine honey bun either. She thought that was ironic for a man of usually high taste.
Ariadne took pictures of the surroundings on her phone, pretending for all the world to be the most basic, typical, American, tourist. That way, taking a picture of every square inch of the space was less suspicious. She even took a few selfies to keep within the confines of her character and forced Arthur into one with her. He surprisingly offered up a toothy grin and gave her bunny ears for it—probably because the hostess had been watching. "Pound Tel Aviv," he stated.
It took the Architect a second because she was doing a quick scroll of her camera roll to make sure she had the references she needed from the area. But once it registered, she fixed him with a confused purse of the lips. "What?"
"Pound Tel Aviv." He repeated. Then with a click of his tongue, he pointed between them and jested, "Pound foodies."
Ariadne locked and pocketed her phone in her back pocket, shaking her head at him, "I don't know what you're saying."
"Pound," said Arthur once more. "I'm doing that thing."
In complete and utter bafflement, Ariadne responded, "What thing? What are you pounding? Why do you keep saying that?"
Arthur narrowed his eyes at her. How could Ariadne not know about it? "It's what they do on social media so you can find things you're interested in." With no response but an 'o' shaped mouth, Arthur elaborated, "The four crossing lines?" He made them with his fingers, "This?"
Realization dawned on her face, "Oh, you mean a hashtag."
"That's what it's called." The grin growing on Ariadne's face and the coo of pity in her tone irritated him, "Precious grandpa Arthur..."
In fact, Arthur did that thing he did when he was annoyed that Ariadne had picked up on; he looked to the right and flexed his jaw, returning with a close lipped smile, "No it's definitely a pound sign. Google it. That symbol has always been called a pound sign. "
"I mean...technically, yes." She was trying not to laugh. "But in the context of social media, the youngsters call it a 'hashtag'."
Arthur made a face, "That's dumb."
Ariadne didn't have to reply because they were led by the hostess to their seats. They were sat at a table near the center just steps from the bar area and handed two mahogany colored, square, menus that were several pages in volume. While Arthur perused the laminated pages, Ariadne set hers aside, already decided. "Ok so I already know I have to get the bourekas," she shrugged, picking her phone back up.
Arthur gave her a judgemental look over the top of his menu, "You can't eat bourekas for every meal." That had been her takeout request the entire past week. He was also learning that Ariadne got stuck on specific things for days at a time. Certain foods (like bourekas), certain songs on her playlist (currently a mixture of Dancing in the Moonlight by Toploader, a bunch of Halsey, and a David Bowie hit or two that he heard blasting from her earphones), and obviously certain items of clothing. Scarves were forever but she had favored a blue and grey pinstriped one lately and a handmade threaded bracelet she'd purchased from a local stall downtown with her name in Arabic.
She merely smiled back, "I can...And I will." She aimed her phone's camera at the menu and then at the bar behind.
He offered, "How about we share them as a starter—and you try something new?"
"Why do you care?" She said, still fixed on her small screen.
He dropped his menu to the table. "I'm not taking you around the world for you not to get the full experience." As if the purpose of their travels was solely to see sights and try foreign eateries.
"Um excuse you I have eaten shawarma and kibbeh and khachapuri. I am well rounded in the Israeli delicacy department. I've just found my favorite." She fixed him with a look that dared him to challenge her decision.
"Alright," Arthur held up his hands in surrender, "I retract."
She did, however, slide her menu closer and casually gave it a look-through. Their waitress came fairly quickly. They started with drinks and went ahead with their orders. As the Point Man opened his mouth, Ariadne cut him off. "Will you get the hamin and let me try some?"
He snorted, "Are you kidding?"
"I'm gonna try the aubergine ptitim," Ariadne partly defended and partly ordered. It was a compromise of sorts: "I'll give you some of that."
He rolled his eyes but smiled, "Deal. And bourekas to share then?"
"If by share you mean sixty-forty, then yes."
Arthur nodded to the waitress to confirm. Once she'd collected the menus and left the table, they dissolved into easy conversation. Arthur asked how Ariadne was faring with her dreams about Dom and Limbo. It was nice to hear that while still freaky when she experienced them, she was having them less and less often—something she attributed to getting re-familiar with dreamspace and spending a lot of time under in more sane people's heads (sane, she meant, in a comparative sense). They spoke of Noam and how easy he was to work with. Discussed the heat. Arthur enlightened Ariadne about a few Israeli customs she'd shown interest in and before they knew it, their food had come.
"Mmm, pound delicious..." remarked Ariadne after a bite.
Ariadne snickered to herself. She was enjoying figuring out which buttons she could get away with pushing.
Her delivered 1:14am you up?
Him delivered 1:18am Now I am.
Him delivered 1:18am What do you need?
Her delivered 1:19am nvm sorry to wake you
Instead of offering her an opportunity to turn him down, Arthur skipped asking if she needed a call and simply dialed her up. Ariadne answered after one ring, voice heavy and clouded by sniffling. "Hey."
Arthur was never comfortable around crying, especially crying women, but was incredibly skilled at comforting people. He could read them well, could calculate what the soothing thing to say would be. Arthur was too empathetic for the good of the image he fought so hard to maintain, so crying made him uneasy not because he couldn't handle it or was helpless when it came to feelings but because Arthur preferred not to show his soft side too often. "You had the dream again?"
"The worst in a while," she said nasally, hiccupping."You think it will ever go away?"
Arthur had heard Ariadne upset, shaken, even angry before. Especially the day they trained her sub-security with Eames. But he'd never heard her cry. It was a shock to the system for her normal light and humorous lilt to sound weighted with tears. "It will. Eventually you won't have the capacity to dream naturally at all." He wouldn't mention it took him close to a decade to reach that point unless she expressly asked. It wasn't an encouraging fact. "You've just got to hang in there. Keep your totem close. I know it's hard."
"It felt so real. I can't shake it." She drew in a shaky breath as if she was trying to slow down, "Her eyes. Cobb's screams. The waves...My blood." Arthur heard the rush of air escape her as more tears forced their way out. Immediately he was out of bed, throwing an undershirt on, and stepping into his dress shoes. She needed someone to lean on.
Ariadne sat curled up on the floor at the foot of her bed. For some reason, the hard floor gave her some sense of stability. Something for her mind to hold on to in reality. It was the worst nightmare she'd had since the beginning of these dreams. Maybe it was her brain reacting to the onslaught of stimulation from the PASIV recently. Maybe she'd eaten something too many bourekas before bed. Whatever it was, she felt all the sensations that came with lucidity but with as little control of the situation as a natural REM dream. She'd been pinned down on the shores of limbo, choking on salty water as the cold tip of a knife bore into her over and over again. Her blood running in the water, Mal's eyes piercing into hers mercilessly, Cobb's voice wrenching out her name...Ariadne shifted and pressed the phone closer to her ear.
A soft knock echoed through her room. Ariadne's heart jumped, her other hand already testing the weight of her bishop. "Is that you?"
"Yes," Arthur replied on the reciever before hanging up. The Architect wiped her face, pocketed the totem, and pulled her Universite sweatshirt over her head on the way to the door. She hoped the face of someone she trusted would push the face of the person she feared most from her memory.
Not much luck. Ariadne was relieved to be greeted by his kind (and sleepy) brown eyes though.
Arthur winced at the sight he beheld: pale faced Ariadne with red rimmed and puffy eyes, wet cheeks, and vulnerability in her posture. That was never a quality he would've attributed to his small friend before. Arthur recalled those days. Back when Mal first started haunting Dom's subconcious and sabotaging things, he'd been brutally tortured by the Shade more times than he could count. To that day, even thinking of some of those experiences in Dom's head gave Arthur a cold sweat. "Let's go for a walk."
"Moving helps clear the head," stated Arthur as they exited the elevator on the bottom floor. Ariadne merely nodded in a daze. The lights in the lobby were dimly lit. All the areas had been shut down and locked up except for the bar. Aside from the clinks of glasses and low hum coming from it, the hotel was eerie as a ghost town. Not ideal for someone already frightened and paranoid.
The Architect followed the Point through the sea of chairs around the computer desks and towards the back (making sure to keep close and keep her eye on the gun stuck in the back of his pajama pants' waistband) until finally they were outside, headed towards the sea.
The sea? Ariadne froze at the sight of the dark water, the sound of the waves. Was her mind playing tricks on her? Was she still dreaming? She retreated two steps, giving Arthur a wary look. Would his face contort into Mal's in a split-second? Her fists clenched in case she was fixing to have to fight and scrabble for her life again.
"It's ok. This will help you orient yourself. Check your totem." He calmly advised. Watching for the movement of her hand in her pocket and waiting for the slight release of tension in her shoulders. When he saw her relax slightly, he reassured, "You're fine." He resumed on the path to the beach, walking backwards to keep in tune with her. "Do you trust me?"
Hesitant at first, she followed and kept pace. "You, yes." She threw a cautionary glance behind her.
When they reached the point where the foamy water's edge met the sand, they stopped. Arthur gauged her reaction; Ariadne was cautious but not distraught. He coached, "Count the differences. Rely on all four senses." His head tilted, "Well maybe not taste."
Arthur fought the heaviness of his eyes and the ache in his legs as he patiently waited for her to calm down and come to terms with her nightmare. When she finally did, she took a seat in the sand and mindlessly played with it. The Point really wanted nothing more than to head back up to bed but his partner's feelings took priority. If he could be troubled by her distress over a dream the day they met, of course he would feel sympathetic now. She meant more to him now. More than an innocent seeming stranger and more than a business investment. Ariadne was genuinely his good friend and her well being mattered to him on a personal level. So he sat too, stretched his legs in hopes it would help with soreness. "You good?"
Ariadne nodded, "I think so."
"It pisses me off sometimes." Arthur blurted a minute later. Out of the blue. Ariadne's head swiveled to him, unsure. An apology on her tongue for waking him up if that's what he was complaining about. He clarified, "You shouldn't have to deal with this shit. And that mess when we were training your sub-security—Cobb is such an asshole." From missing his old friend to death, to gritting his teeth at the mention of him, Arthur's relationship with Dom was ever-changing.
Ariadne took up for their former fearless leader as Arthur should've expected. She didn't harbor the same frustration and resentment for him that Arthur did. Then again, she didn't feel like she was competing with him for Arthur's friendship so to speak. Arthur felt that Cobb of past and present was doing his best to drive a wedge between he and Ariadne so that she'd be more inclined to quit and go home. Cobb had the nerve to worry that Arthur would do damage to Ariadne as if he hadn't already done a whole dreamworld of damage to her first. "He didn't ask me to go to Limbo. I insisted. I kinda wouldn't take no for an answer so it's my own fault." She accepted the blame, "You should be pissed at me."
Arthur heaved a sigh and leaned back on his hands. His head shook after a moment of thought. This was no way to think. Ariadne was her own person. Her own mature, driven, imaginative self. If she didn't want to be persuaded away from the field by Dom or Miles, then she wouldn't be. And her friendship with Dom and the nature of it's foundation was nothing to aspire to. They were good together. On their own. No comparison needed. And maybe the blame should be laid elsewhere. If Arthur couldn't stand watching Ariadne trail after Dom to her mental death, maybe he should've done something about it. "No. I should be pissed at myself. I knew he was in a bad way but I chose to side-eye him and ignore it. I shouldn't have trusted him to figure it out on his own and I should've stepped in so you didn't have to."
"I might've still stepped in anyways..." Ariadne dug her feet into the sand and rested her chin on her knees. If Arthur had been in on the dangerous secret too, that would've doubled her instinct to stick her nose in the middle of it. When Arthur regarded her, she smirked, "I'm too curious for my own good."
Arthur remembered the day they first met. The day she marched out with fire in her eyes, determined that they were all suicidal psychopaths and she was never coming back, only to traipse back in later that afternoon. A twinkle in her eyes that wouldn't be persuaded to change. "And stubborn," he added. Ariadne shrugged like 'eh, what can you do?'. She wouldn't deny that trait, she got it honest from her father.
Arthur nudged her with his elbow, "But I'm glad you are or you wouldn't be working in Israel with me right now."
"Waking you up at one in the morning for the hundredth time..." she pointed out.
Arthur gestured towards the sky, "If you hadn't, I would've missed this beautiful, waxing gibbous, moon." Feeling her amused eyes on him, he mentioned, "I was a super space nerd growing up."
"You? A nerd?" Ariadne mocked good-naturedly, "No way." Arthur tossed sand at her which only made her chuckle more. He sighed and laid back with his hands behind his head. "I had a telescope and everything. Used to chart the stars movement. Built satellites out of legos."
Ariadne followed suit, the both of them appreciating the sprinkling of stars and easy breeze. "I was a dinosaur kid. Every birthday party from like four to ten was jurassic park themed. Loved me a good Triceratops."
"What was year eleven?"
Arthur snorted, "That's a drastic departure."
"Eleven year old Ariadne thought John Travolta was hot."