We've gotta hold on to what we've got
It doesn't make a difference if we make it or not
We've got each other and that's a lot
We'll give it a shot
Oh, we're halfway there
Livin' on a prayer
Take my hand
And we'll make it, I swear
Livin' on a prayer – Livin' On a Prayer, Bon Jovi
After Seville they go to Venice, and from Venice to Kyoto. Then Arthur, Eames, and Ariadne are offered a job in Philadelphia. So now they're on a plane, heading stateside. Arthur has the window seat this time – they switch off – and he's looking out as the plane begins its descent, his jaw clenching.
“Everything all right, darling?” Eames says, glancing over at him. Ariadne, who is in the aisle seat, looks around as well. Arthur shrugs, not looking at either of them.
“I grew up in Philly. I don't really like coming back,” he says evenly, his flat tone discouraging further questions. It's the truth; he hates coming back to Philadelphia, he always has. He'd gotten the hell out of there at eighteen and never looked back once. But this is the second time he's had to return on a job, and he really hopes it's the last. Nothing against the city; it's nice enough, no better or worse than the countless others he's been in. It's just that this particular city holds far too many memories for him that are not pleasant.
There are some advantages to working in Philadelphia, of course. The city was once an industrial center, and since that has died down, there's now a lot of abandoned factories. Most of them aren't safe to enter, but Arthur had managed to find one that was just unused and not actually falling apart. So they set up shop there and start planning the extraction from one John Sheppard, an ex-Air Force colonel who now runs a security firm. His firm's main competitor is paying the trio a lot of money to find out how he keeps sabotaging them.
Yusuf was their regular chemist now, but he called them saying that he was having some kind of trouble and couldn't send them the compound they needed. “Now what?” Ariadne asks after Eames gets off the phone and tells them. “I mean, we could get regular Somnacin from someone, right?”
“We could,” Eames says with a frown, “certainly. But at short notice like this, can we get good Somnacin? You don't want to know what can happen with a bad batch, sweetheart.”
“Bad batch of what?” Arthur asks, as he walks in with a deli bag – he was on the lunch grab today.
“Somnacin; Yusuf can't make it for us,”Ariadne explains.
Arthur frowns. “Actually... I might know someone. Old friend of mine, we got into dreamscape around the same time.”
“Oh? And here I thought it was the Cobbs who brought you in,” Eames said.
“No, it was actually through the government back when I was a Fed.”
“You were a federal agent?” Ariadne says, shocked. “What were you, FBI? CIA?”
“I can't say. It really is an – ”
“'If I tell you I'd have to kill you situation.' Don't try, Ariadne,” Eames advises. “I've been trying to find out for years. I knew he was government once, though not that he did dreamshare with them.”
“And I don't talk about it for a reason,” Arthur mutters, rolling his eyes. “Anyway, we were working with British counterparts on Dreamscape for a while, and... A few of the people I met in the program quit the government work themselves. Ashley and Daniel – Ashley's the chemist – are more freelance than full-time mind thieves, but I'm sure Ash will make up a batch for us.”
~ ~ ~
It turns out that this Ashley and Daniel are in New York City for a job of their own, so Arthur says he'll take the train up to meet them. “It's a four-hour ride, it keeps everything simple if I just take Amtrak up there,” he points out. So he leaves to go catch his train, and Ariadne glances over at Eames.
“You're jealous, aren't you?” she asks, because she'd seen the dark look on his face when Arthur had been talking to this Ashley on his cell and grinning in a way Arthur rarely did. It had only been there for a moment, but it had been there.
“And you're not?” The words are a challenge, and Ariadne knows there are all kinds of ways she could answer it. But maybe it's because she is jealous, because she is sick of this... this whatever it is going on between them. Arthur's gone already or she'd be confronting them both, but Eames is here, and challenging her to be honest, so fuck it.
“Yeah, yeah, I am, though I'm not sure who to be more jealous of. This Ashley we've never met because clearly Arthur's more comfortable with her than either of us, or Arthur because you're really not good at hiding how much you want him.”
Eames opens his mouth once, twice, and no sound comes out. Clearly, he did not expect her to say that, and Ariadne forces out a laugh, one that's just a little hollow and more than slightly bitter. “I know, silly little girl, has a crush on the two guys she works with, but I – ”
She's cut off by a pair of full lips covering her own. She would have expected, with the moods they're both in, for the kiss to be harsh, brutal, but it's not. Eames kisses her lightly, and it's so much of what Ariadne wants – not everything but you take as much as you can get – that she tries to deepen it. But Eames pulls back, his hand cupping the back of her neck, eyes serious.
“You're not a little girl, love, and you're not silly. If you can see the way I look at him, why don't you see the way I look at you?”
Ariadne swallows hard at the intense look in Eames' eyes. “I... I wasn't sure...” she says, looking down, then back up. “This is going to be complicated, isn't it?”
Eames laughs, though there isn't much actual humor in it. “One way to put it, I imagine.”
They kiss again twice, with more heat, tongues slipping into each other's mouths and hands wandering a little, before they stop. Ariadne isn't sure if that was because they're not ready for anything else or because, as right as it feels, it's still not quite right. There's only two here and there should be three, they have a piece missing, but will that ever change?
“What are we going to do?” she asks, and she doesn't need to clarify, because he knows. He knows as well as she does that this is good but not entirely right, that they're missing someone who should be here, and might not ever be.
“I have absolutely no idea.”
~ ~ ~
Arthur is on the Amtrak train heading back, a screaming red briefcase at his feet. Ashley's sense of humor can sometimes be extremely annoying. But it was good to see her and Daniel again, remember the old days. He remembers something Cobb and Saito like to say, about “being young men together again.” None of them are old, but Ash and Daniel remind him what it was like to be twenty and finally able to control his own life, just finding out how much stranger the world was than he'd thought.
Of course, there's a downside to that. They know him well, and so when he was telling them about what he's been up to, about Eames and Ariadne... Well, fine, there was no reason for him to go on at length about their off-work antics, such as the time they all got drunk on sake in Kyoto. Ariadne and Eames did karaoke, making him be the judge when he wouldn't sing. But he really wishes Ashley hadn't said so flatly, “You're in love with them. And you should really do something about that.”
He's aware of the situation, thank you very much. He's not in denial, he's been half in love with Eames for years and Ariadne's gotten under his skin so quickly he can't even pinpoint when it happened. It's just that he doesn't think doing something about it is a good idea. He knows how this sort of thing will go. Eames will get bored once he doesn't have to chase Arthur anymore, or Ariadne will discover Arthur's not like her, not creative and passionate, and she'll lose interest. And if, as Ashley also suggested, it was all three of them, well... Ariadne and Eames are better suited to each other than he is to either of them.
Arthur knows exactly who and what he is, and he knows he's not the sort of man who could hold either of the two people he'd do anything for. He's never been able to find anyone willing to stay with him – Ashley doesn't count, as much as he likes her she's not a permanent fixture in his life – so why would that change now? And maybe being back in Philadelphia is good for him. The city reminds him of who he used to be, a boy who lived in seven foster homes in ten years, and why he knows better than to think something like this can ever work.
Somehow, though he told himself this in order to prove that he's making the right decision, he doesn't feel any less conflicted. He just feels depressed. Closing his eyes, he rests his head on the back of his seat, trying not to think at all.
~ ~ ~
Eames is the one who talks them all into drinks after the job. Ariadne doesn't mind, though Arthur tries to get out of it. Eames slings an arm around the point man's narrow shoulders. “Don't even think about it, darling,” he says, mock-sternly. “You are coming whether you like it or not.”
They start out at the hotel bar, but end up in Eames' room with a bottle of tequila. There's a half-formed plan in the forger's mind, he just has to work out the kinks. Because now he has some idea of what it would be like to be with Ariadne, and that combined with his memories of Arthur is getting to be too much. He's not the most patient of men, and now he knows Ari wants the same thing he does – all three of them, together. The question mark is Arthur, it's always Arthur.
“We should play Truth or Dare,” Ariadne says cheerfully, still the university student in some ways.
“I'm not sure that's a good idea,” Arthur says. “We've had enough alcohol to make us do some stupid shit.”
“No dares, but if you don't want to answer the questions, you have to down a shot,” Eames decides.
Ariadne nods eagerly and Arthur blinks, then shrugs. “Well, better than having one of us ordered to steal someone's underwear,” he mutters. God, Eames would love to know that story, but not tonight. There are more important things to get to tonight. He's figured out what he's going to do – it will involve putting Ariadne on the spot, but he thinks she'll understand. If it works, anyway. If it doesn't... I'll deal with that then.
The questions start out innocent enough. They find out that Ariadne would rather down a shot than admit her celebrity crush and that Arthur played male leads in three musicals during high school. Eames reveals that he graduated from Eton and had his name down at Cambridge. Ariadne talks about the craziest thing she ever did outside of the dreaming business – which is sneak into a rock concert with her friends the night of her high school graduation. Then she looks at Arthur, and Eames wants to laugh because he can tell that he's not going to be the one to start asking the hard questions.
“Arthur, have you ever been in love?”
The point man freezes for a second, in fact he looks completely poleaxed. Then he reaches for the bottle and pours out a shot, tilting his head to knock it back. After, he looks at Eames, and it's clear he's going to return to the lighthearted questioning. “Weirdest forge you've ever done.”
“Spock – the mark was quite the Trekkie.” Ariadne actually tips onto her side, she's laughing so hard, and Arthur ducks his head to try and hide his own laughter. Eames waits until they've calmed down – it's funny now but it was weird as hell at the time – before turning to Ariadne. “If you could have anyone in the world, who would it be?”
He raises an eyebrow slightly, and he can tell she knows that he's giving her an out – well, two, actually. She can take the shot, or she can make something up. And he won't call her on it. She looks back at him, and he can see her weighing the decision, working out why he asked and what this could do. She'd asked him what they were going to do, and here is his answer. Because this might be the best chance they have.
But they stare at each other too long, and it's only broken by the rustle of cloth as Arthur gets up. “I... I should go,” he says, looking not at either of them but at some invisible point on the wall. “You... I... Good night,” he says, stumbling over his own words as he backs toward the door. Eames realizes he's miscalculated, that this plan is all going to hell, but Ariadne steps in.
“Arthur, wait. I didn't... I didn't answer the question yet.”
“You really don't need to – or at least, not with me in the room. You basically already did, the way you're looking at Eames, and I really don't...”
Ariadne looks at him then, and Eames glances at her, seeing the determination and the worry in her eyes. He looks back at Arthur, who doesn't seem to know what to do. Ariadne gets up and grabs his wrist. “I only answered half the question,” she says quietly. “I don't just want one person. I want you, the both of you. All three of us together. It wouldn't be right any other way.” Arthur just looks at her blankly, and Eames bites back a sigh, standing himself and walking over to them.
“She wants us both, and I want both of you,” he says, holding Arthur's gaze with his own. He doesn't touch either of them, but he's close enough that it doesn't really matter. “What about you? What do you want?”
Arthur stares at Eames for a long moment, then looks down to Ariadne. He seems to be struggling with something, but finally... “I want what you both want,” he says in a quiet voice.
“Well, it's about damn time,” Eames says, and then none of them say much else for quite a while.
~ ~ ~
The next morning Eames lifts his head from the pillows to find Ariadne curled against his side like a cat and Arthur dressing on the far side of the room. “Not sneaking off, are you, darling?” he asks, voice rough with sleep and the aftermath of last night. Arthur jerks in surprise, then turns around, hands knotting his tie in deft moves.
“I... No, actually. Even if this was just for the night, we're friends, and that would be inconsiderate.”
Eames almost throws his hands up in frustration. “What makes you think this was just for the night?” he wants to know, frowning.
Arthur looks at him in confusion. “What else would it be?” And he means it. Christ, did he not get it at all? Or did he get it, and just not want it?
Ariadne must have already been awake, because suddenly she's sitting bolt upright, frowning at them both. “This had better not be just for the night,” she says firmly. “I've been waiting too long for this.”
Eames can't help but grin a little, tugging at a lock of her sleep-tousled hair. “Well, I'm in, sweetheart,” he says honestly, before slanting a look at Arthur. “What about you, Arthur?”
Arthur blinks, running a hand through his own ruffled hair, and Eames likes seeing it without gel in, a sight he's missed in more recent days. He stares at them, and looks so confused that under any other circumstances it would be funny. But it's making Eames nervous, and clearly worrying Ariadne. “Arthur?” she prods him. “You aren't going to leave, are you?”
He shakes his head slowly, sitting down on the side of the bed and giving them a bewildered look through the hair that is falling in front of his face. He looks about nineteen and it's an almost painful sight. “I didn't think you'd want...” He doesn't finish that sentence, instead just saying, “I'll stay,” in that same quiet voice he'd used last night, like he's not sure this is real but he's going with it for now.
“Then come back to bed with us,” Ariadne says, reaching up and undoing his tie. She flashes him a wicked grin and then glances at Eames, who can't think of any reason why her plan isn't the best one to be starting out the morning with. Arthur apparently agrees, or at least he doesn't argue, and the clothes he'd tugged on lie forgotten at the side of the bed within minutes, and stay there half the day.