She comes to see him exactly one week after the job. He doesn't bother asking her in because she chooses to walk outside. The ease and familiarity of it is surprising but welcomed. So much so that he never notices how long they've been walking until it's well after dusk. He reaches instantly for his totem and finds her eyes watching him as his hand goes for the inside of his jacket. She smiles at him and beckons him to follow her.
"Happens to me a lot now," she says by way of explanation. "Usually I head into a store to shake it off."
They walk to a café and inside she leaves him at a table in the corner to order coffee. He sits at the table and eyes his totem, breathing easing at last when he sees that reality makes it topple.
She sets down his cup and hands him a couple of sugars, already sipping her own. Her hand is in her pocket and he knows she too is touching her own reassurance on reality. He watches as she smiles and sits down.
"Saito called me the other day," she begins. "He says he has another job for us."
Cobb's surprise must show because in the next instant she's explaining everything.
"He recommended us to a couple of his colleagues- I've looked the cases over with Arthur and Eames- they say they're calling them simple cases that can turn ugly. So they said they'd do it if you came along," she smiles a little uncertainly.
He looks at her, at a loss for words and closes his eyes, "why do you want to do it? Arthur and Eames I can understand but you?"
Her smiles grows wider, "Arthur said you'd ask that, so..." she sets her cup down and folds her hands neatly above the table. "He said I should tell you the truth- I want to keep doing this." He stares at her incredulously but she continues, "you told Arthur I'd come back and I did. But now, I can't go away now. Not when...-"
"-when there are worlds for you to build," Cobb finishes for her knowing exactly what she means.
Her soft smile is shy and he can't help but nod at her, "let me see file and then I'll decide."
And so this is how it starts and how it continues even long after each job is "the last one Cobb, I swear." And each and every time all he can tell her is to see the file before he decides. And he always says yes. Which is why he isn't surprised that Arthur and Eames start sending her every time, leaving her to the job of convincing him to take the next job. Saito's become more than just the tourist now, he picks amongst the many demands for them. He has become something of a supervisor, ensuring they are paid and kept safe.
In a way it feels nice and comforting and almost like a regular job. He rarely leaves the country (or state for that matter), and comes home to his children every single day. Not once has he missed a meal with them, on any of the new jobs they've been on. But the more they delve into dreams the more he wonders if perhaps it was a good idea in the first place.
The routine of the new extractions are a dream for him. He doesn't have to travel and gets to stay in a familiar environment as the contractors bring the targets to them. The only thing that makes him worry is Ariadne who has fallen into her role of architect so well that it almost seems as if she's been building forever.
She loves building. It fascinates her and captures her attention in ways he knows it can't for others. Yet every time they slip into a dream, he sees in her eyes a new gleam of need, and suddenly certain landscapes of the dreams begin to change to her every thought. The dreamer always notices and the target's subconscious always attacks.
And this always makes her smile.
For the most part he'll leave the debriefs to Arthur but every now and then, he'll rent a warehouse for them to explain the job himself, alongside Ariadne's who's already begun to plan. It feels odd to have her stand up beside him to lay out the plan of the dream but he allows her to do it. And he watches her revel in the position before them all.
It takes a while before he begins to notice her escapades from the warehouse with Yusuf to his apartment. At first he thinks something is going on there but the professional way they treat each other tells a different story. It isn't until he stays a little longer than usual that he realizes what's going on.
This particular assignment has kept the entire team away from their homes for hours on end and Arthur has told him that Ariadne set up her own sleeping area earlier in the week. He expects to find her working late, he expects to see her bending over a new maze, he expects to talk her into taking a break. What he doesn't expect is to find her sprawled across a chair, IV needle stuck in her vein as she dreams unsupervised and alone.
He looks at her for just a moment before he leaves.
It's about a week later and he's seen her hooked up at least five of those seven nights with only Yusuf to help her at the beginning and at the end of her nightly journeys. He feels helpless as he watches her from afar, wondering if he should return the favor and intrude in on her or not.
On the seventh night, he stops wondering and locks the door behind him, hoping to find something less disturbing than his own dreams.
He should have known better- she isn't like him.
The entire dream is happy and bright to such a degree that the light of the buildings blinds him in the present afternoon scene. There is nothing stifling about the dream, no signs of regrets or sorrows to be hidden in the deep recesses of her mind. There is only brilliance and sheer beauty that twines well with her nature. He walks around, hoping to find her only to come across a stray memory of children he knows are his. He stares, at a loss for words until he catches sight of her.
There she is, staring at the building and shaping it over and over again, projections sliding in and out of focus as she wills them away, attention solely on the leaning glass structure before her. Curiously he spots one projection stand with her, one that doesn't fade away, one she turns to smiles at quite often as the building changes.
Cobb stares at him before he find his same blue eyes staring back at him. Ariadne turns without a flicker of surprise and begins walking towards him with her hands in her pockets and a new gleam in her eyes.
"Decided it was time for payback?" she asks with a smile.
"Something like that," Cobb nods. "What are you doing?"
"Practicing," she replies. "I've been trying to come up with new things to build but I never finish them here..." she walks over to a lamppost, trailing her delicate small fingers over the dark fuzzy angles. "I like seeing them finished in our jobs. That way, I don't end up thinking they're actually real."
"And why am I here?" Cobb points at his own projection standing beside her.
"Well, you remind me why to never finish things," Ariadne replies with a laugh.
He figures her dreams don't hurt and sometimes he volunteers to accompany her, ignoring Arthur's raised eyebrows and Eames' innocent whistle. Yet her smile is easy as she nods and beckons him to follow her into a shared space of conscious.
It's innocent at first- just a simple act of watching her build and rebuild again and again, leaving things unfinished as she walks in her city of buildings longing for her delicate touch. Soon he takes to directing her a little. Nudging her with a smile and a nod as she turns to look at him for guidance on the aspects of a new building. He points out the possible flaws and the new things she could possibly do with the mazes.
And she agrees to it all with a smile of her own, the building already shaping to his suggestions without her gaze to supervise. She falls so fast for his ideas and thoughts that it leaves him in awe when she guesses for him and does everything the way he thinks would look best. She knows exactly what he's thinking before he even does and soon it begins to make him wonder.
What if he pushed a little harder? Went a little out his limits and asked more of her? He tries it once, and she complies easily and it's too much for him. He can't stand it. He needs to know why.
So he takes her, forces her mind to open for him and she does, spreading herself to accommodate him. Her gasps fill the dream along with his grunts and thrusts and little pants of breath.
It's too much and he wants it all from her. He can see what she can do. He can see now what she's been doing all this time. He can see it all. And it bothers him, because he knows in a way he's created this. Just like he created Mal's destruction, he's created this for Ariadne.
When they wake from the bliss of the dream, she's on him, smiling and coy and God help him, he knows he shouldn't want it (she's too young) but he does. So he lets her do what she pleases, basking in her own primal destruction and her need. He knows he's changed her, corrupted her, and done something like inception to her by showing her and allowing her to do this much so early but he can't help it- he wants to see where this ends.
He just hopes it doesn't end too soon.