Arthur releases a heavy sigh and leans against the dresser as he hears the faucet begin to run. This is not how anything was supposed to have gone, and unexpected changes are the bane of a Point Man's existence. He'd known that this job wouldn't be easy, wouldn't have attempted it if he didn't have such trust in Cobb, but for things to have gone this wrong… He's still kicking himself for missing the sub-security detail and how much it had cost them. But it isn't any of those things, or the constant threat of discovery by the projections, that unsettle him the most. No, that title would have to be given to this damn hotel suite and the Architect currently bathing inside it.
Arthur makes it a point to play his cards close to his chest. Cobb is his closest friend and easily the person who knows the most about him. He prefers to maintain an air of mystery and anonymity while his partner serves as the face of their operation; it gives him an edge when they have to go on the run or extract from a subject who has encountered them before. So this suite, with its closet of suits in exactly his style, box of his favorite biscotti in the cupboard, and shelf featuring some of his favorite books, makes him feel oddly exposed. How could Ariadne have pegged him so perfectly? He almost would think she'd stalked him if he wasn't as observant as he is, and therefore certain that such a thing was beyond her. But mere guesses can't explain the level of detail, either.
He knows he must intrigue her, based on the number of times he's caught her furtive glances - a habit he might only have noticed because he was guilty of the same - as well as her reactions to him. He'll never admit it, but he finds her equally captivating, with her odd mixture of innocence and maturity and the way her mind creates elaborate cities like it's nothing. Her petite size doesn't help matters, looking like a particularly strong wind might blow her away. Arthur had become protective of her before he'd even known it; fear and anger had gripped him in turns when he learned Cobb was bringing her into the dream with them. And when he'd revealed the results that dying would have… Arthur had come very close to punching the man. His careful self-control slips far too easily when she's involved, which is not helpful now that they have to spend a week cooped up here together. Not that he would have let her go with anyone else, regardless of how mad she might feel about it. Eames is far too rough and far too interested, Yusuf too much of an unknown, Saito needing protection himself, and Cobb has been proven to take far too many risks where Ariadne is concerned. Not to mention that the latter two are in Limbo.
At some point during his musings, Arthur had changed from his wet clothes into a clean suit he had found. He orders his thoughts, filing them away for later with practised ease. The water is no longer running, has not been for a while, and he casts about to find a change of clothes in case Ariadne is getting out of the bath soon. The best he finds is a white undershirt and pair of pajama pants that she can tighten with a drawstring. He's mildly amused that she seems to think he even sleeps in suits, albeit suits of the silk pajama variety. He'll have to pick up something to lounge in when they venture out to find her some spare sets of clothes. He gathers the little bundle and moves to the bathroom door, knocking lightly to give her some warning before he slips the clothes in; it hadn't escaped his notice how jumpy she'd been after emerging from the river. When there is no reply, he knocks a little louder.
Still nothing. He hesitates. She has to be able to hear him. He can't just burst in, but… Well, she's good at getting herself into trouble. He knocks one more time and again receives no answer.
"Ariadne, I'm coming in!"
A thick cloud of steam greets him when he pushes open the door and he has to wave a hand around to disperse it. When he can see through it enough to find her, he pauses.
The Architect's head and the top of her shoulders are all that can be seen above the mass of bubbles in the tub, and Arthur is momentarily relieved to find she hasn't drowned. Then he notices the way she's twitching, as if she means to thrash about but is bound too tightly. He risks a step closer, keeping his eyes dutifully above the waterline, until he can see the distressed expression twisting her features. She twitches again and mumbles something inaudible, and he closes the distance between them.
"Ariadne. Ariadne, wake up," He kneels beside her, gently shaking her shoulder. "Ariadne."
Her body jolts and the water sloshes around, her eyes flying open as one hand finds its way to his arm, clinging tight.
"Ar-Arthur?" She gasps. Her eyes dart around the room. "What-?"
"Hey, hey, hey, you're okay; you were sleeping."
She still struggles to breathe, so Arthur uses his free hand to guide her into sitting up. Ariadne takes a shuddering breath.
"I thought- I thought we couldn't dream if we fell asleep."
"You can't," Arthur absently smoothes back her damp hair. "Anything you see if you fall asleep naturally in a dream is just a memory. They feel realer because you're already closer to your subconscious, but your mind can't make up anything new."
She audibly swallows.
"So we can't go to Limbo from here?"
"Not without dying."
"Okay. That's- Okay." She's nodding over and over again without seeming to realize it.
He studies her, the slight glaze to her eyes, flush of her cheeks, beads of sweat gathering at the nape of her neck. A tear has leaked its way from the corner of her eye. She still hasn't let go of him.
"Ariadne… What did you see?"
"Nothing," Comes the automatic response. She visibly catches herself, giving him a long look as if trying to decide whether or not to trust him. "I thought I was in Limbo."
Arthur lets himself relax. Of course she's afraid of Limbo; they'd spent the whole of the mission hyper-aware of the dangers it presented. Hell, Cobb seems to view her as a protégé and he's the posterboy for how Limbo could fuck up your life. A first Extraction is bound to be distressing and confusing enough, let alone an Inception with all the added pressure. The Architect is simply experiencing the most stressful parts of what she's just been through. Except, how would that explain…?
"Ariadne," He says slowly. "Did you go to Limbo? With Cobb?"
It isn't possible. Cobb wouldn't - couldn't - be so reckless. She wouldn't be sitting here with him.
But then why isn't she looking him in the eye?
"Ariadne." Arthur has to fight to keep his voice even.
A small choking noise escapes her, and it's all the answer he needs. He stares.
Ariadne's eyes are trained on some imperceivable point ahead of her. For a long moment he doesn't think she'll respond at all.
"It was my idea. Mal showed up and shot Fischer, so I… I said there was still a chance we could go down into Limbo and get him. Cobb agreed."
"Ariadne, you don't have to-"
She cuts him off with a shake of her head.
"It was so...beautiful, Arthur. And frightening. Pure creation. I could feel it pulling at me. Then the kick happened and it all started falling apart and I had to jump-"
She's getting worked up again, her grip on his arm tighter than he would have thought someone of her stature could manage.
"Hey, hey, it's alright. You don't have to talk about it anymore, and you don't ever have to go back."
"You don't know that."
"I do. I'm not going to let anything happen to you; here, or up there."
She finally looks at him then, staring up with an expression he can't read. It could be wonder just as easily as doubt. He returns her gaze, giving her what he hopes comes across as a reassuring smile. She nods slowly, then breaks eye contact and looks away, blinking rapidly.
It's then that Ariadne realizes where they are and what she's wearing - or not wearing. She makes a noise and sinks lower into the water, hands flying to cover her chest as her face goes from pale to flushed pink in milliseconds.
"Oh, my God."
Arthur averts his eyes and pushes himself up, rubbing lightly at his arm where the blood is beginning to recirculate. He's mildly annoyed to feel his cheeks warmer than usual.
"I'll, uh, leave these here," He says, indicating the bundle of clothes that lay forgotten by the door. "Let me know if you need anything."
He's almost out the door when she calls out.
Author's Note: I hope you enjoyed! This is my first time writing in present-tense, so forgive me if I make a few errors as I figure it out. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite movies. Please review!
Much love, Miss Luxe