They met up every month or two for coffee or dinner in various cities to swap stories and catch up. Ariadne completed her master's program and took a very safe, very boring job in Paris working at an architecture firm. She was expected to pull long hours at her desk, but it was an easy thing to have another window open to chat with Yusuf, who tended to do four or five different things at once too. The sleepers in his den didn't seem to mind it, after all. At first, Ariadne simply whined about how boring her job was, and how she missed the excitement of dream sharing and being in the mind crime business. She very carefully avoided any mention of Arthur or Eames in a romantic sense. Yusuf always sent her smiley faces in response, and invited her to visit him. Working in this lab might cure you of that! he'd teased her. As a surprise, she did just that.
After that, it was easy enough to coordinate vacations. They were usually short, just a day or two, but it was enough to meet up, talk about life and work and the people they knew, as well as visit new cities. The team as Ariadne had known it had fallen apart, and at her request she never heard from Eames or Arthur via phone. Occasionally she would send them an e-mail, which they always returned. They always seemed surprised that she knew what they were up to. Mostly, it came down to Yusuf knowing what they were doing, or at least in what part of the world they were staying.
"I don't think any of my other friends understand when I complain that my life is so boring," Ariadne said with a laugh. "They think all this traveling is just a phase."
"Well, not everyone decides to get their pad thai in Thailand," Yusuf replied with a laugh.
She pointed at him with her chopsticks. "You may have a point. But the food's better here, so why not?"
"When are you going to get a date to bring along?" Yusuf asked, tucking into his noodles. It had been several months since her relationship had ended, so it seemed like a safe enough time to bring it up. She shrugged nonchalantly. "What? Not interested in anyone?"
"No time," Ariadne said with a sigh. "Do you know the hours that an architect usually keeps?"
"No, but I have a feeling you're about to tell me," Yusuf replied with a laugh. He only laughed harder when Ariadne pulled a face at him. "Can't be worse than a pharmacologist."
"Twelve to fifteen hour days, until I think my eyes are going to bleed. And it's always the same schematics, the same boring plans, over and over and over," she said, circling her chopsticks. "I want to do something fun and exciting, but that always goes to people higher up in the department. They've been around longer, have the contacts..."
"Contact Saito. He'll buy you a company."
Ariadne snorted and nearly spit up her tea. "Good God, he wouldn't do that, would he?"
"The man bought an airline, Ariadne."
"Good point," she conceded with a grin.
"You miss it, don't you?" Yusuf asked softly after a while.
"Sometimes. Don't you?"
He smiled. "I'm still at my same job. I just don't go into the field much. That little stunt with Fischer reminded me why."
"He seems to be doing well. Fischer, I mean. I saw an article in the paper about the company. Sold off a few subsidiary companies and made a killing in the stock market. It doesn't seem like a bad outcome."
"They don't all end up as well, you know."
"Logically, I do."
Yusuf laughed. "An adrenaline junkie? Just take up skydiving."
"Under sedation, maybe," Ariadne drawled. She laughed along with Yusuf. "You know, my next vacation falls at Christmastime." She made a face at him. "We'll have to put off our next lunch or dinner meeting."
"Unless I meet you there? I'm sure even while visiting your family you could get away to meet a friend."
"There's nothing to do in Baltimore. Why would you want to go there?"
"Well, nothing else around my lab to do either. Why not go there?"
Ariadne laughed. "We're nuts."
"Quite possibly. But it makes for a good time, doesn't it?"
"That it does," she agreed. They clinked tea cups and finished dinner amiably.
It was an unspoken agreement that they wouldn't talk about what had happened with Arthur and Eames. Arthur had been in love with Eames, who had been in love with Ariadne. She had cared too much about Arthur, and had fallen for his advances. From there, it had been only too easy for Arthur to suggest that they have a triad relationship with Eames. She had felt sorry for Eames being alone, and hadn't realized Arthur had used her to try to keep Eames from leaving. God, what a mess it had all been. She had been so blind, so caught up in the excitement of the job that had come after the Fischer one. She had never once stopped to think about what they were doing until it was only too clear that she had been lied to. Confused, she had broken things off with both of them completely and left that life behind. It would be easier to make a clean break, she thought. Start up again with a whole new life, all legitimate and free from lies.
Only, she missed them. She missed them a lot.
She focused on her work; it was easy to throw herself into the mindlessness of it and chat with Yusuf in between renderings of her designs. Ever wish you could go back? he asked her, a week before she was going to head to Baltimore.
It was with a sad smile that she typed Only every time I fall asleep in reply.
Why don't you get yourself back out there? Want me to recommend you to some people?
Her render was finished, and it would be time to start putting together the building layout and floor plans. I wouldn't want to work with anyone else.
Who says you would have to? he wrote back right away.
I don't know if I'm ready yet, she admitted.
You won't know until you try, he pointed out.
Now isn't the time, she replied. Off to real world work. I'll see you in Baltimore!
It was good to see her family again. It was a different kind of world, one where her jet setting was simply a way to look at the world's architecture to better incorporate it into her work. It was an excuse that sounded good, so Ariadne ran with it. Her parents and brother liked all the trinkets she brought them, so it all worked out well for everyone. She felt more settled in her parents' home; she probably should have visited them a lot sooner. As Yusuf had guessed, they weren't at all opposed to her visiting a coffee shop to meet up with a friend. If anything, they encouraged her to be more social.
She and Yusuf bought their coffees and settled down in a corner of the shop. Yusuf had a bag with him. "I thought we weren't going to trade gifts. I didn't get you anything since you don't do Christmas."
"I didn't," Yusuf responded with a shrug, handing her the bag. "These aren't from me."
Frowning, Ariadne put down her mug on the table and took out the two packages. They were plainly wrapped, with no visible cards. She opened the smaller one and saw the card tucked inside, familiar writing on it. I thought of you when I saw this. I hope things continue to go well with you. -E. Putting the card aside, Ariadne sighed when she saw the charm bracelet with little pens and houses on it. She looked up at Yusuf who shrugged. "What's going on?" she asked him, accusingly.
"I might've mentioned I planned to visit you over hols. They met me at the den, though, and I never said where I was going."
They would have known, however. She never saw any point in keeping secrets from them when they were together, so they would have known how much her family meant to her. They were honoring her request for them not to contact her, not to try to see her. Now she was feeling like an idiot.
Tearing the paper from the second gift, she saw a hand painted silk scarf folded carefully over a book on paradoxes and optical illusions. The card was tucked inside the book, letters written in Arthur's careful penmanship. There are some lines that should never be crossed. I'm sorry I crossed those lines with you.
Ariadne bit her lip. "Did I do the right thing? Or did I throw something away I could have saved?"
Yusuf sighed and took a deep drought of coffee. "You know, I am the last person that should be giving relationship advice."
"Why? You're the impartial one. Cobb was all bluster and yelling and telling me I was fucking up the team. You've always been my friend."
He shrugged. "Well, it didn't go so well the last time." At Ariadne's questioning look, his shoulders slumped a little. "My sister had problems with her fiance two years ago. I never did get the details, but she asked me what she should do if her trust in him was broken. I told her that trust was everything, that if she couldn't trust him, there was no point in forging a life together. So she broke off the engagement."
"What happened?" Ariadne asked quietly, almost dreading the answer based on Yusuf's pensive look.
"He killed himself." Yusuf sipped his coffee contemplatively. "Maybe I should have asked what happened, but I didn't really want to know. Not my business. It was my sister's decision to break things off. Maybe it wouldn't have ended differently, no matter what I said. I can't know. But that's why I don't want to give advice anymore."
Ariadne kept her hands around her coffee cup for warmth. "But you brought me their gifts. Why do that if you're trying to stay impartial?"
"I'm not going to tell you what to do," Yusuf clarified. "I'm not going to tell you what's right or wrong. Only you can decide that. All I know is that they're both miserable bastards. Eames is all about work, and he's getting himself into dangerous spots when he really should know better. It's like he has nothing keeping him around any longer. Arthur... Well, you know him. He looks like everything is in control, like he's unaffected by everything. It isn't true. It's obvious to whoever knows him well that things aren't going well at all. He's not in control, and the extractor he's working with right now is pitiful. He puts on a good front, but inside he's a mess."
"Yusuf... Why are you telling me this?"
He looked at her with a pointed expression. "You're not doing so well either, are you? I mean, work is fine. But other than meeting me every other month, do you actually do anything anymore?"
Ariadne picked at the cardboard cup holder with her thumbnail. She had bitten all her fingernails ragged. "I don't even dream anymore."
"That's not you, Ariadne," he said gently. "They care a lot about you. Maybe it was in different ways, maybe not what you thought it was, but they did care."
Ariadne could feel her eyes well with tears, but she blinked them back, staring at the holder she was picking at. "Arthur should have loved me first. He shouldn't have used me just to get to Eames."
"I'm not disagreeing with you," he replied, reaching out to touch her hand gently. She looked up at Yusuf with a pained expression. "Only you can decide what's right for you. I can't do that for you, as much as you might want me to."
She gave him a watery smile. "Why do you have to make so much sense?"
"Because I'm awesome," Yusuf replied with a grin.
Ariadne laughed. "Yes, you are. I'll admit that."
"And you're one of my very best friends, Ariadne. I want you to be happy. I want to hear you smiling when we talk on the phone. I want those silly e-mails and smiley faces and random text messages." His grin was warm, one of her favorites on his face. "I can't tell you what to do, but I do know that you were happiest while we were all working together in Paris, before everything fell apart. You had them, the job, your classes and the dissertation, but it never once made you feel like you were too stressed out. I mean... You told off Cobb. That was fucking epic."
She let out a burst of startled laughter and shook her head. "Somehow that shouldn't be something to cheer me on for."
"Oh, come on now," Yusuf said with a playful grin. "That look on his face was priceless. I wish I got a picture of it."
Laughing, she ran her fingers over the painted scarf. "I wouldn't even know where to begin." She looked up at Yusuf. "Or if I even should."
"You told them to leave you alone, Ariadne," Yusuf said, taking out the book to rifle through its pages. "You never did say goodbye."
Ariadne slipped the charm bracelet on her wrist and fingered the charms gently. "I couldn't," she admitted. "I was so angry. I still am, if I think about how stupid I had been."
"Nothing worthwhile is easy," Yusuf said, handing her the book.
"Thanks for listening, Yusuf," Ariadne murmured. "Want to come by my house? There's plenty of leftovers. I'll introduce you to my parents, but I promise they're harmless. You might like my brother."
He thought of refusing, but paused. He finished up his coffee. "As long as they don't think I'm some kind of boyfriend you've been hiding, sure."
"Maybe they'll fix you up with someone," she said with a smile.
"The horror," he joked. The slant of her shoulders seemed less tense, and Yusuf returned her smile with one of his own. "If they fix me up with your brother, I'm outta there."
She laughed so hard that the other coffee shop patrons turned to look at them in wonder. He had missed the sound of that kind of laughter, the unbridled happiness and sheer joy in life.
Now he had to just watch and wait.
Without questioning her motives, Ariadne brought her phone into the bathroom with her. Her parents and brother were chatting amiably with Yusuf, glad to meet one of her friends from her "consulting job" that she had taken before graduation. She slid open the keyboard and sent a text to Arthur and Eames before she could stop and second guess herself.
I'm in Baltimore with my parents for another week, if you'd like to come visit me.
She sat down on the edge of the tub and stared at the phone when it pinged "Messages sent."
She could only hope she hadn't made a mistake.
Ariadne, Yusuf and her brother were playing a video game in the den when her mother ducked her head into the door. "Ariadne, another one of your friends is here to see you. I'm going to get some snacks out, since he said someone else was probably going to stop by, too."
Heart pounding, Ariadne turned and flashed her mother a smile. "Thanks, Mom."
"Hey, I can beat this guy here, if you want to talk in private," Yusuf said, grinning at Ariadne's brother. "I know cheat codes."
"Don't even think about it, dude," Ariadne's brother laughed. "I've beaten this level nine times."
Laughing along with them, Ariadne dropped out of the game and went into the living room. She could hear her mother puttering around in the kitchen, and her father was in the basement watching a football game. Her mouth went dry when she saw Eames standing there. "Eames," she said, voice soft. "Um..."
He rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. "I might've dropped a job to head here this fast," he admitted with a wry smile. "They were shite anyway. Would've gotten us all killed. You know how it is."
"My Mom said..."
"Arthur was in Hong Kong. He'll be here, too, I suspect."
"I didn't mean for you to drop everything just to see me," Ariadne said, feeling vaguely guilty. She shook her head. "I shouldn't be that important..."
Eames grasped her hand tightly in his. "You are to me. And as much as he might not admit it, to Arthur, too."
She kept shaking her head, but didn't shake off his hand. "I don't know if I should've sent that text. I didn't mean..." She broke off at the flash of pain in Eames' eyes. "I can't go back to how things were. I won't be used again."
He gently rubbed the back of her wrist with the ball of his thumb. "It was never like that for me, love," he said gently. "Never."
Ariadne couldn't keep looking into his intense gaze, and she dropped her eyes to stare at their entwined hands. "So what happens now?"
"What do you want to happen?" he asked her quietly. "I won't push you where you don't want to go."
She looked up with a pained expression. "I don't know. I've missed you both," she whispered. "Is that strange?"
He smiled at her, and she could see the hope in it. "Would you believe me if I said no?"
Ariadne squeezed his hand. "I'm not making any rash decisions here."
"I wouldn't want you to," Eames told her honestly. "Take your time."
Yusuf was right. She had never said goodbye, really. She hadn't wanted to.
"We're playing video games," Ariadne said after clearing her throat. "Wanna play?"
There was a smoldering undercurrent in his smile, a playfulness that Ariadne had missed. "Absolutely."
Arthur could turn on the charm when he wanted to. It was something that Ariadne knew very well, and it was oddly disconcerting and comforting at once to see her parents fall under his spell as easily as she had. He arrived just before dinner, and had called ahead to see if he was welcome to stop by. Her mother loved having people over, and was utterly charmed by his concern, as well as his willingness to bring anything she needed for the meal. Eames had gone out earlier with her brother to pick up a few things, and Yusuf had cleverly invited himself to dinner to watch what was bound to be an amusing dinner. Ariadne's brother had also invited over a few of his friends from college, so it was going to be a packed house.
He presented himself as the personal assistant for the senior vice president of a large multinational corporation, but didn't want to name drop to sound pretentious. Eames had explained that he was friends with Yusuf, who was the friend in common he had with Ariadne. He knew Arthur through various business deals in the past, which in turn implied he was in some kind of international business scene. Ariadne wanted to pinch herself to see if she was awake. Maybe someone had slipped sedatives into her drink and hooked her up into a PASIV, but there was no easy way to run to her room and find her totem.
Ariadne's father was a district manager for a manufacturing company, so he and Arthur hit it off right away talking about business law. Her jaw nearly dropped when Eames chimed in at several points in the conversation, and the three of them seemed to tune out the sports talk from her brother's corner of the table. Ariadne's mother seemed utterly pleased that dinner was going so well, and Yusuf looked as though he wanted to burst out laughing every few minutes.
"You're evil," she hissed at him. "I thought you were my friend."
"I am. You're the one that invited them over, you know."
"I didn't think they'd show up today!"
"Would this be any less awkward some other day?" Yusuf asked, looking ready to laugh again. "And besides... I have front row seats! Did you really think I was going to leave?"
Ariadne gave him a playful smack and joined into the conversation with her brother and his friends. She was startled when her father drew her into the conversation he was having with Arthur and Eames. "Ari! Did you know that Arthur here saw that office building you helped design in Nice?"
She looked at Arthur with wide eyes. "No... I didn't realize you even knew I was on that design team."
"I could tell by the lobby and some of the floors," Arthur replied, a soft smile on his face. "It was your style. I recognized it right away. Elegant and classic lines. I think some of the colors were influenced by Chinese traditional artwork, wasn't it?"
"Thailand, actually," Ariadne replied. She had to tell herself not to warm to him right away. She was still mad at him for using her feelings for him and twisting them up just to draw in Eames. "What were you doing in Nice?"
"There was some work there recently. It didn't go over as planned," he said with a dismissive shrug. Ariadne wondered what that meant and if he had gotten hurt in the process. "It was just as well, since that allowed me to go to Hong Kong."
"I've always wanted to go there," Ariadne's mother exclaimed brightly. "What is it like?"
Ariadne listened as Arthur started to describe the business districts and some of the touristy things to do. She'd been there briefly with Yusuf for one of their weekend trips, but it sounded different from Arthur's perspective. She missed just spending time with him, she realized. She missed him, as betrayed as she had felt when she had broken things off.
Eames was sitting on her other side, Arthur next to him. He leaned a little closer to her. "Doing okay, love?" he asked quietly.
"This is surreal."
He merely grinned impishly at her. "Didn't think we'd make the cut with your parents?"
"Not really, no."
He almost laughed loud enough to disrupt the flow of Arthur's story. "Not everything is about lying or making things up. A lot of it is real."
She realized that. It was part of the problem.
Ariadne shivered inside her coat and wondered if she should have brought a scarf and hat with her. She was sitting on the back deck for a bit, looking out over the yard. Inside, Yusuf, her brother and his friends were all playing video games and trying to out-gross each other. Eames had left early, not wanting to intrude for very long after dinner. She looked up as Arthur came out onto the back deck. He noticed her shivering and unwound his own scarf and gently put it around her neck. "I was going to head out, too."
He sat down next to her. "I didn't mean for any of this to happen, Ariadne," he said quietly, looking down at his gloved hands.
"It still did." She shivered, but not all of it was from the cold. She had loved the feel of his hands on her skin, and she still longed to feel his touch. God, she was pathetic.
"Yeah." He looked up at the night sky, stars covered with wispy clouds. "I wish I could start things over." He looked down at her, hands tightly laced together. "I'm sorry I ruined our friendship. I can't even tell you how much I regret that."
Ariadne reached out and grasped his arm to pull him back down when he got up to leave. "Sit," she said with a sigh. He sat down beside her, looking at her questioningly. "Was it all a game to you?" she asked quietly. "I couldn't listen before. I was too angry. I think I can listen now."
Tenatively, Arthur reached out to thread his fingers through hers. Ariadne looked at him in wonder. She had never seen him look tentative about anything before. "I didn't exactly think things through. I wanted Eames to stay, and he kept leaving. I figured out he was interested in you, and I knew you liked me. It seemed simple, that we'd all be together and it would just work out. I thought we could still be friends and everyone would get what they wanted."
"Sounds like an organized plan," Ariadne began slowly, not sure how she felt about hearing it put that way.
He looked at her ruefully. "It seemed to work at first." Arthur shook his head and squeezed her hand tightly. "I didn't factor in love, though. I do love you," he admitted softly. "It's not the same as what I feel for Eames. I don't think it should be, though. We started off as friends..." His voice trailed off and he looked at her in concern. "I miss that. I miss our friendship."
"I miss you."
"I miss you, too."
"So what do we do about this?" Arthur asked in a quiet tone.
"I don't know." Ariadne leaned into him, letting her head fall onto his shoulder. She looked down at their twined hands. "You still love him."
"And he still loves you."
"Is it selfish if I say I want you both? I was happiest when we were all together."
Ariadne looked up with a sad smile. "At least you're honest with me this time."
"Could we be friends again?" Arthur asked gently. "Would we be able to start over?"
"I don't want to start over," Ariadne told him, pulling back to watch his face. She saw his start of surprise and the flash of pain before his expression shuttered completely. She covered his gloved hands with hers. "I want more than to be just friends."
He blinked at her. "Even after what happened last year?"
"If you're honest with me, maybe something could happen? I don't know." She shrugged, feeling a sense of anticipation building in her chest. "You used me, Arthur. That's what got me upset. You used me and you pretended to give me what I wanted. Did you think I could excuse that?"
"Put that way," he began, chagrined, "I guess not."
"This needs to be a discussion with Eames, I think," Ariadne said, withdrawing her hands to plunge them into her pockets. She shivered a little in the cold. "I don't even know where he is right now. I should text him."
"He told me where he's staying," Arthur said, standing. "My plane was late, but he let me know in case I arrived early enough to meet him there."
"Are you two still together?" Ariadne asked, standing to face him.
"Not like before," Arthur admitted. "There's been drunk, angry sex, but that's probably not what you're referring to."
"No, it wasn't. But I guess I did ask you to be honest with me," Ariadne admitted ruefully.
"You did," Arthur agreed, smiling at her. His eyes crinkled a bit in the corners, and she could feel her stomach flutter in response. She still had feelings for him, dammit. That had to complicate things.
"I guess we should talk with Eames," Ariadne said slowly. It felt strange; she hadn't looked forward to this in ages, but suddenly she wanted to see Eames's expression when they walked into his hotel room. She wanted to hold his hand again and see him smile at her, now that she knew what it meant.
"We could stop by tomorrow..." Arthur began, trying to give her some space.
If she thought about this, it might never happen. She would think of all the reasons why it shouldn't work, why she should stay angry at them, and why she was better off alone.
Ariadne shook her head. "I'll just tell my parents I'm heading out for a bit. They won't mind."
Her parents didn't mind, and Yusuf didn't even blink in surprise. He nodded at her, taking in her flushed cheeks and the fact that Arthur's scarf was wrapped around her throat comfortably. He seemed to almost expect it, but Yusuf knew her very well by now. He could probably guess what would happen once he gave her their presents, if only because she had so steadfastly never talked about them. She only ever discussed things she was sure about, and she had never been sure that breaking things off had been the right decision.
Ariadne considered launching herself at Eames when he opened his hotel room door, slackjawed with surprise. She took off her coat and Arthur's scarf, then rubbed at her arms a little. "I missed you. I must be out of my mind, but I missed you both." She saw Eames' hopeful smile as he lounged on his bed, and took in Arthur standing slightly apart from them both. They were giving her room to leave if she wanted to, a chance to back out if she couldn't start again. Something in her broke as she realized it.
"What do you want to do, Ariadne?" Eames asked her in careful tones. He didn't want to push her into anything, she knew. He was always hovering, waiting, content with whatever scraps of her attention she would give him. She felt awful about that and still believed he could do better than this.
"If this happens again," she began, her voice cracking as she looked at the two of them, "I don't want either of you to lie to me. I don't want you using me to get to someone else," she said, directing her attention at Arthur. She turned to Eames and stepped closer. "And I don't want you to feel like I'm using you."
"Can you really be with me, knowing I didn't love you first?" Ariadne asked, coming close enough to lay her hands on his shoulder. "Tell me honestly, please."
"Yes," he said, looking up at her with an open, broken expression. He covered her hands with his. "I love you, Ariadne. That hasn't changed, not ever."
"Even if you had to deal with Arthur?"
"I've dealt with the bastard before," Eames told her with a grin. It was rather like the ones he used to have, that rakish smile that meant he was plotting something. She had missed it, and couldn't help but smile at the sight of it. "I know how to push his buttons."
Arthur approached carefully, and reached out to take Ariadne's hand gently. "We can take it slow," Ariadne said slowly, looking down at their twined fingers. "See how it works out this time. I don't want to hurt you again." She pulled him closer and buried her face against his chest. She breathed him in, the familiar scent that had haunted her dreams for months. "I missed you," she said, taking another breath. She pulled Eames closer, and he closed his arms around them both. "I missed you both so much."
They talked for another hour and a half before Arthur drove her back to her parents' home. Ariadne stopped short to see Yusuf dozing on the couch in the living room with a pillow and blanket. He started awake at the sound of the door slamming shut; it always stuck in the winter, and only a slam would get it to close properly. She had always suspected her parents allowed that to track what time she or her brother returned home. He sat up when he saw it was Ariadne, and noticed that she had Arthur's scarf and Eames' hat. "So you worked things out between the three of you?"
"You knew I would, didn't you?"
He smiled. "I know my friends and what makes them happy. But the decision had to be made when you were ready."
Ariadne came to sit next to Yusuf. "Did you deliberately stay just so you could wait up and see what happened?"
"Maybe. Your brother's good to talk to, actually. We wound up talking about medical schools after a few of his friends went home."
"Yeah. He said he was thinking of Johns Hopkins."
They lapsed into a comfortable silence for a few minutes. "So we're still going to have our dinners and coffee meets, right?" Yusuf asked.
"Of course we are! If I have to complain about how annoying they are, who else would know what the hell I'm talking about?" Ariadne asked, bumping into his shoulder playfully. "Anyway, no one else likes to go get overpriced coffee as much as you and I do. I can't stand the crap they drink."
They laughed; the bitter instant brew had always been a source of jokes in the warehouse in Paris. "Do you think you might come back to dream sharing?"
"Well, I have this big project I'm working on now. It's a park system within an office complex, all sorts of interesting things I really want to play around with," Ariadne began, instantly starting to describe the shapes and constructs she wanted to work into the design. Yusuf grinned at her all the while, seeing her really light up as she talked about it.
"Maybe you'd start on a part time basis," Yusuf guessed. "You know all the major players."
"We've discussed them enough," Ariadne agreed with a smile.
"Not to mention you happen to personally know a good forger and point man."
"And my best friend's an awesome chemist."
Yusuf preened. "Yes, well. It's an art."
"That it is," Ariadne agreed. She smiled and heaved a deep breath. "I'm going to take it slow. With them, with getting back into the business... The whole thing. I want it to work out this time," she admitted. "I don't want to do this again. I don't want to feel like I'm missing something."
He smiled at her gently. "Somehow, I don't think you'll ever have to say goodbye to either."
"I hope so." She leaned her head down on Yusuf's shoulder and he slung an arm comfortably around her shoulders. "Thanks for listening when I was whining like a soap opera drama queen."
"That's what friends do," Yusuf told her. "If I ever meet the right girl, I'm sure you'll listen the same way for me."
"You know, there was this classmate I had in Paris..."
"Don't even think about it," he said with a laugh. "Now's not a good time."
Ariadne laughed and gave Yusuf. "You're awesome. It'll happen."
"Of course it will," Yusuf agreed. "All right, you. Off to bed. Your mom's making pancakes and I should probably head back to Mombasa soon. I do actually have plans for New Year's that don't include you."
Laughing, Ariadne headed up to her old room. For the first time in a long time, she looked forward to what the future held.