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Chapter 34: With You

Arthur left.

In fact, within minutes of arriving at the airport, the Point man was on a flight to Dubai with only wallet, passport and phone in possession. He basically asked for the first ticket to leave out of Los Angeles and was gone within thirty eight minutes of his departure from the hotel. When he landed he would turn on his phone and see that Gerard had called twenty plus times but hadn't left a voicemail. From there the Point Man checked into a random hotel and slept. And slept and slept and slept and slept. He didn't leave his room for weeks. He threw away his phone, ordered room service for every meal, purposelessly watched reruns of Friends and movies on PPV, and slept in a new suit every day. Arthur spent a month in Dubai before heading to Houston, TX and doing the same. After a solid two months there he found himself in London repeating the process.

It was a healthier way to cope than to drown in alcohol or wrap himself up in recreational PASIV use. Ariadne's happy face plagued his dreams every night which caused him to sit under the scalding hot spray from the shower for minutes on end every morning. He knew it would take time—years at the least—to get to a point of being ok with her decision. With his mistake. With the situation. In time, he too would be ok. Arthur just had to pull through it as she did. Be as strong as the Architect was. Live each day at a time despite the struggle to breathe in the gloom thickened by her absence. The day he'd be strong enough to visit the only people he called his family again was far off; he feared the children would be grown with children of their own before he could face Dominic and Ariadne Cobb and not be eaten alive from the inside out. Arthur didn't think about it, didn't dwell on it as you'd expect but the knowledge was still there in the back of his mind. Ariadne in her beautiful wedding gown was still imprinted on the insides of his eyelids. The last kiss he pressed to her palm stung his lips to the point that they chapped.

Seven months into shying away from civilization and he decided to go back to his place in New York. Feeling a little more numb, a little less raw. Somewhere in the mountainous pile of mail inside his door was an invitation for a get-together in Stephen and Penelope's honor. It was the anniversary of their fiftieth year of marriage and would be celebrated by a renewal of vows and reception afterwards. The date to RSVP was fourth months ago but the event was scheduled for Tuesday the 14th. The Point man turned on the TV and set it to the guide. The bottom right corner noted it was Monday the 13th and confirmed that the event was the very next day in Paris. All who accepted the invitation would be flown in—courtesy of the Miles'. Curiously, Arthur called his good friend—

"Ah Darling, to what do I owe this pleasure?" Eames purred, "Back to the old Arthur I assume? Since you've dropped off the face of the earth again as always."

Falling back into his annoyed routine with the Forger was easy. He ignored his comment and carried on with his purpose for calling, "Are you in Paris by any chance?"

Eames halted a beat, "Why yes. Are you stalking me?"

"Merely interested to see if you were invited to Stephen and Penelope's 50th bash and whether or not you were attending." If the Point Man was to consider hopping on a plane and showing up he needed to be sure he'd have a friend to hang around awkwardly with. He couldn't go stand alone in a silent corner and watch the big, blissful Miles-Cobb family and survive without backup.

It was nice of Eames to drop his satirical nature and be serious, "I was and I am. Are you thinking of making an appearance?"

"I am," Arthur sat on the couch (feeling grubby and jetlagged), "Miles and Penelope are very dear to me; I'd like to show my respect regardless of the uncomfortableness I might feel."

"That's noble of you. And I mean that honestly not sarcastically." Wherever Eames was he had a drink with him and sipped on it, "Speaking of, how are you, mate?"

The Point Man sighed, "I'm…I'm getting by. Close to ok." He heard the Forger take one of those deep breaths he always took before he delved into matters and opinions too truthful for Arthur to want to hear. He didn't want to discuss these last few months; he wanted to forget them. So Arthur hurried into an inquiry that would take the focus off of him— "How are the Cobbs?" –Arthur didn't really think that through so well...

"Good," declared the other man. Nothing in his tone suggested whether he meant it or not. "Adjusting. The kids took it well."

Arthur's hand rubbed over his face as he slumped further into the cushions. This was the last thing he wanted to mull over: His love's new children. "Of course they did. They adore Ariadne; they were tickled to have her as a mother."

"What are you talking about?" The Forger confusedly replied. Were they speaking about the same Cobbs? Did Arthur know something that Eames didn't? "They called it off."

"What?" The Point Man sat straight up, stiff as a bored.

Eames rambled on as if he'd told the story a million times, "The I do's became I don'ts. The party was cancelled. Didn't you hear?"

Arthur was shocked into stutters, "N-I—no, I di—I didn't." While the rest of him was paralyzed, his mind raced faster than a champion horse. He thought back to how many times Ariadne said she needed Dom and begged Arthur to let her go so she could have the Extractor and he suddenly became angry with the ex-groom, thinking he abandoned her. "Cobb wasn't angry because of what I did, was he? He didn't run out on her because of that, right?"

The reply started with a hum then, "No. The cancellation was mutual from what I understand. There are no hard feelings either. You'd think it'd be awkward between them but she visited them in LA for a week last month for James' birthday and everything was ho hum."

"Will she be at Miles and Penelope's party?" the Point Man couldn't help but spurt out.

"Well I—"

Hastily, Arthur interrupted, "I'm very aware that just because her and Dom decided they didn't want each other like that after all doesn't mean she wants me. I wouldn't push anything were we to see each other there."

Eames made a noise of agreement and started, "I know. I ta—"

"I wouldn't talk to her unless she acted like it would be appropriate. I just—I need to see her, Eames. We need a proper goodbye."

"Yeah I think so too. So as I—"

Once again, the Point interjected, "Maybe she would spare me a last dance."

"For God's sake, Arthur, let me answer your question! I talked her yesterday and yes, she will be there." Eames finished, exasperated.

xxxxxxx

Within seconds of Arthur clumsily escaping out of the ceremony, Ariadne wiped the mascara from her cheeks, walked over to Dom and weaved their hands together. She pretended not to notice Natalie's (almost upset) gaze and Eames' disappointed look of disbelief. The bride swallowed and croaked to the officiant, "The vows, please?"

Dom furrowed his eyebrows and studied her. Really studied her. Behind the forced smile, Ariadne was hardening up. She was hiding behind the pretense that nothing happened. That there was no interruption. She was fooling herself into believing Arthur never objected, he never got on his knees and begged for her. She was thrusting herself into their wedding vows to forget the ones Arthur just promised her. The man in between them opened the book with the chosen vows they'd given him and stated for her to repeat, "I, Ariadne, take you Dominic Cobb…"

"I, Ariadne—"

"Stop." Dom cut her off. "We need to talk about what just happened before we go through with this."

"Dom—" Ariadne went to protest but he grabbed her hand and excused them in front of everyone. He pulled her into the bridal dressing room and made her sit across from him on the chaise lounge her mother was sitting in earlier. Once closed up inside the room, the Architect huffed and repeated, "Dom, I'm sorry for all that. Arthur was being dramatic and I sort of let it get to me—" Yeah, she was already "sort of" letting it get to her again. Her eyes were welling up thinking about it.

The groom corrected, "Sort of? You fell apart."

The woman defended blinking back tears (two of which escaped), "I was embarrassed!"

"You don't really want this." Dominic shook his head both resolutely and sadly.

She tried to appear angry when she argued, "Yes I do."

"You're not crying because he embarrassed you, Sweetheart. You're crying because you want to take him back and you think you can't. You think I'll be upset. That you're obligated to pay me back by marrying me." The truth was all too clear now. When he looked back on the day he proposed the five words in her acceptance that stood out the most were: How could I say no? Cobb took her hands in his sweetly, "He's right. We're doing this out of convenience and comfort. You and I are best friends; I had my soul mate and you deserve yours."

The girl surveyed the empty room. Recalled the conversation Shannon forced on her earlier. "Don't buy into the shit everyone else is saying. We do love each other."

"We do," he nodded, "but we're not in love. I've heard you tell me and others you love me a million times but never once have you said you're in love with me. And I know you couldn't say it honestly if asked to… Call it off." Dom kissed her hand. The decision was entirely in her hands; he wouldn't do it for her. If she stubbornly wanted to marry him STILL, he would do it. He strongly advised she call it off but it was her call. "I'll understand. Your family will understand. Mine will understand— "

Ariadne's head hung low, guilty, self-reproachful, "James and Pippa—"

The man's head tilted as they both winced, "Might not fully understand at first but they'll get over it. Philippa always wanted you with her Uncle Arthur any way. I think she took the break up just as hard as you did. And…she did say it was weird that you started making her eat broccoli; she wasn't too thrilled about that."

Ariadne laughed. The choice looming over her head came back into her mind full force and she had to pull her hands out of his to put her face in them, "I can't trust him. You know that."

"Not the old Arthur but he's changed. He came and attempted to watch, feign happiness and congratulate us just because you asked. And no matter how much that had to have killed him, he put himself through it to support you. Give him the second chance," he nodded. "He's earned it." Ariadne wasn't having it. Her head shook adamantly. Cobb took her shoulders and lightly shook them, humorously crooned, "Tell me, Princess, now when did you last let your heart decide."

No time at all passed between the melody leaving his mouth and Ariadne recognizing it. It wasn't funny at all to her. It was reminiscent of everything her and Cobb shared, every moment they spent together. It reminded her of the selfish decision she was pondering. That life—the life lived with the Cobbs, as a Cobb—was wonderful. His joke did the opposite of his intention. Ariadne closed her eyes. Water leaked out her lids and she choked her own jilted melody, "A whole new world…" The bride felt her chin lifted and the pad of her would-be groom's thumb wiping away the tears as he'd always done, insisting with the lyrics: "Don't you dare close your eyes." And as Ariadne had always done, she opened them on his command. Opened them to his refreshing, sweetened blue eyes. The Architect couldn't let go of Arthur without Arthur's help and now she couldn't hold on to Dom without his. So she dove into his arms, hung onto the Extractor for dear life and hiccupped through tears, terrified of letting go of his stability. Dom was her rock.

Make no mistake, he wanted her to let go but he held on with the same tightness she did and he rubbed calming circles on her back. He continued singing the song. The man hoped it would help comfort her in some way; after all, the lyrics were holding new meanings now, "Hold your breath it gets better."

They were holding real meaning. Her head shook against his chest albeit slowly. Her hair messed up in the process. Jasmine's words seemed truer and truer, "I've come so far. I can't go back to where I used to be—"

"A whole new world," his lilt softened as he gently pushed her back to look into her eyes. Meaningfully, importantly, "with new horizons to pursue…"

Ariadne frowned. Her shaky hands reached for his, "I don't know how to let you go. I'm afraid to. Terrified. You make everything so easy. I don't want to ruin this—"

His hands squeezed hers back, "I'll always be here when you need me. That will never change. Our closeness and trust and openness will never change. You can come stay with us any time for as long as you want."

And he could see the weight floating off her shoulders. Ariadne became care free. She even smiled, "I'll never forget everything you've done for me. You don't know how much you and the kids mean. I do love you, you know that right?"

"I know." He smiled back. Full of compassion. Understanding. "And I you."

The Architect kissed him on the cheek and chuckled, "See? You really shouldn't have seen me before the wedding." Then she poked him in the chest, "You jinxed it."

"I'll be damned. The superstition is real," he mocked then pushed a strand of her hair behind her ear, "Shall you tell them? Or do you want me to?"

They walked out of the dressing room hand in hand, pleasant expressions all around. Shannon, Gerard, Miles and Penelope were waiting in the hallway. Miles pursed his lips and held his hands up, "I take it, we're having a wedding?" He didn't need his disappointment about their union to show so easily…Dom and Ariadne shared a glance. They were both thinking the same thing.

"No actually, we're not," declared the almost bride.

They waited in an empty reception hall—the six of them and kids—while Gerard called and called and called the Point Man to inform him of the decision. To have him come back so Ariadne could talk rationally with him but he never answered so two days later they all went back to their normal lives.

xxxxxxx

Two hours into the party and there was still no sign of the Architect. Arthur arrived exactly on time and kept near Eames. When two ladies approached them for a dance, he had to politely accept so Eames could make a move. Typical. It just so happened that as he was side-stepping with a blonde in a purple sundress that made her look like an eggplant…that Ariadne traipsed through the doors. It was like a movie really. Everything around him stopped. He was deaf to the chatter of his dance partner and the music, blind to the other couples on the dancefloor and lost for words because of her effortless beauty. Cheesy…he knew. Distractedly, he pulled away from his partner, "Excuse me…" and struggled to cross the dance floor but she saw Dom first and bee-lined over to him. Arthur modestly pushed through people while watching her smile and kiss the ever-excited children and hug Dom warmly.
xxxxxxx

"He's here," the Extractor whispered in warning to Ariadne so she'd be prepared if Arthur popped out of nowhere. It did briefly give her a panic attack. She looked around near the food table and didn't see him there. Attention back on Dom, she asked, "Have you talked?"

"Yeah when he first got here." He nodded satisfactorily, "We're patched up. We're good. Now you need to—"

The idea worried her too much after his disappearance. After he ignored all their calls. Ariadne then searched for a gray head, "Where's Penelope? I promised I'd hug her as soon as I got here."

xxxxxxx

Ariadne seemed to make her way through the crowds easier than Arthur was able to. She crossed the room again to find and embrace Penelope. It caused Arthur to shift direction again and to anyone watching (namely Eames) he looked like a lost dog, spinning in circles to find where to go. He caught sight and the world screeched to a stop again when she felt eyes and looked at him. She tensed. From yards away he could see the tension and a sharp pain tingled through his stomach to his legs. Yet, Ariadne's eyes were soft and her lips parted like she was going to mouth something to him. Or come his way. Or…something….but her attention was called away. Miles walked up with a friend of his that he desperately wanted to introduce his protégé to. She was all smiles though subdued ones as she shook his hand and conversed. The friend of Miles' had a daughter Ariadne's age that the group pulled over to introduce her to. And when she sat at one of the reception tables and engaged in what looked like a gripping discussion, Arthur gave up and despondently returned to an empty table himself. He had all night to see her up close after all. And true to his word, he wouldn't speak to her unless it was welcomed.

It had to be welcomed. Table now filled with other guests, he was pulling roast chicken off the bone with the fork when he sensed her come stand in front of him. Arthur looked up, attentively (ready to act on whatever she asked of him) and Ariadne looked down, tentatively. Both were silent. The Architect reached into her back pocket and rolled a familiar looking red cube on the table between them. It landed on three, as it should. Arthur felt like he should stand but also like what happened next might floor him enough that he should sit. Ariadne's head tilted and she looked as if she might smile…but she also looked like she could cry.

"Ladies and gentleman, if everyone could please return to their seats for the beginning of the brief ceremony."

Fate hated him. Reality hated him. The woman glanced and saw there were no seats available at his table and looked back across the room at the one she shared with Miles' friend's daughter (named Noelle by the way). Arthur's words caught in his throat while she walked away—leaving the dice on the table with him. It'd been returned to its rightful owner. The Point Man wasn't sure what that meant…or whether it meant anything at all.

xxxxxxx

Wise men say,
Only fools rush in

Fuck it. That's what Arthur decided. Forget what he told himself…he was going to approach her. After the vows were renewed and Penelope and Miles kicked off the reception with the first slow dance, Arthur forced his way to her table and stood waiting. She swallowed before regarding him. His hand was already held out, "May I have this dance?" Ariadne took the hand. She took it readily. And she let it lead her wherever he wanted on the dance floor. They waltzed mutely for a while, the girl keeping her eye trained on anything that wasn't him. But he could feel her breaths quicken, he could see the furrow in her eyebrow. Wanting to comfort the best he could but still leave her her pride and space and privacy, Arthur's thumb caressed the hand he was holding lightly, tenderly. That's when Ariadne's eyes fluttered up to his. And that's when his adoring gaze broke her down again. Arthur halted his steps. They stopped moving in the middle of the dance floor as the Architect's tears began flowing once more.

There were so many things Arthur could say. Needed to say. Should say. Things like: I'm sorry. For all of it. For breaking your heart, ruining the second chance, acting like an entitled asshole when I saw you again, sabotaging your wedding day. Arthur should've confessed: In New York, I was the biggest coward a person could be. I was starting to realize that I didn't belong to myself anymore, that I wasn't in control, that you owned me and I was scared. My Point Man reflexes cut you off and treated you in a way you never deserve to be. I thought I was better off without you. Stronger. Arthur wanted to explain: And when I realized that I was nothing—absolutely nothing—without your hand in mine anymore—when I decided I was going to crawl back to you on my hands and knees and beg you to take me back, I found out about you and Cobb. And I wanted to murder him. I wasn't thinking anything but that I needed you and he was in the way and I panicked. None of it made it out of his mouth. All he could do was feel awful for reducing her to that state choke: "I—"

Miraculously, though, "I know." Ariadne knew every single word he could've, should've and would've said. It was all implied in his eyes. His touch. "I hurt you too. And I'm sorry too."

Arthur's eyes closed on reflex when her soft hand cupped his jaw. He felt some tears building up in his eyes too. Not just from the feeling of resolution but from the wonderful, euphoric feeling her skin back on his caused. He took her hands in his but let her be the one to weave them together. Let her make the choice. Then Arthur asked her to, "Look at Miles and Penelope." The elderly couple was swaying with their hands entwined, foreheads pressed together, like there was no one else in the world. Ariadne smiled admiringly at them. Arthur called her attention back. He whispered, "I want so desperately for that to be us." The Point Man copied Miles and rested his head against hers, relishing in her willingness. The way she lightly rubbed her nose against his. He continued, lost to anything but her and that moment, "In 50 years or 60 or 70 or 80…I want that to be me and you. Old, grey, happy and just as in love as we were in Berlin. As in love as I am with you now. No amount of words could describe the depth, length or volume of my love for you. I surrendered all I had—everything I ever was— to you the second I taught you the Penrose Steps, it just took me longer to accept it." Arthur squeezed one of hands tighter, urgent. Then seized up in anxiety, nervously pulling a purple tulip out of his pocket and holding it out for her, "Even if you don't—if you can't—bring yourself to reciprocate my feelings anymore, if I've ruined all chances… I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I'm—"

"I know. I forgive you. It's forgotten," she took the flower nostalgically and held it to her nose. Arthur was the one to breath heavily then. Ariadne was renewed and whole and Arthur was still worried over the past. Or maybe he was so upset with himself that he didn't hear her. Or maybe he was so relieved he couldn't help but repeat it like a mantra—face all scrunched as she lovingly wrapped her arms around his neck and reassured him that they were repaired. The Point Man enveloped her in his arms half happily sighing, half remorsefully apologizing. Still. He picked her up off the ground and just walked in a slow circle that way, her legs bent and nose in the crook of his neck. "I'm sorry, Ariadne. I'm so sorry I made you hurt. I hate myself for it. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm—"

The Architect straightened her legs to touch the ground and clapped her hand over his mouth. "It's forgotten, Arthur. Now, Shut up and kiss me." The man didn't have to be told twice. Arthur reunited their lips with fervor and contented passion. They deepened and grinned into each other. Ariadne pulled away first to comb at the hair above his ear and remind him, "I love you."

Arthur pecked Ariadne's lips again dreamily, "I love you more."

To which the Architect smirked up at him, poked him in the nose with her flower, "Impossible."

Ariadne rested her head on his chest as they continued dancing. Happiness finally written all over both their faces. By chance, her eye and Penelope's met in the middle. Noticing Arthur, the elderly woman smiled and winked at her. Penelope's attention was gone as soon as it came so Ariadne beamed once again, closing her eyes and listening to Arthur's heartbeat with one ear and the background music with the other.

Take my hand, take my whole life too.
For I can't help falling in love with you.
For I can't help falling in love…

With You.

Fin.
xxxxxxx

Tada! I'd like to thank each and every person that read, reviewed, followed and/or favorite this story. Thank you SO MUCH for coming on this journey with me. Hope you were happy with the ending. I really like how this last chapter ended up. Smiles for everyone. Wee! Wasn't Cobb terribly terribly sweet. Inception men are wonderful. Lol.

Also, which of my upcoming stories (listed on my profile) are you most interested in seeing? I'm sort of working a little on each but I'm trying to pick one to hunker down on and get it to a point to start posting.

could die of cancer . s was how it was gonna progres ves. llway.

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