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When You Know It's Time To Go

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"Take the money and go," Cobb says. "It's not worth it."

Ariadne sprawls back on the couch, presses the phone closer to her ear (like she could bring Cobb closer to her, yeah right), and just pulls her hoodie around herself. "You don't get it. I can't just go back. Not after -- " Not after everything.

"After everything you saw, you should be running." His voice gets an edge. "I owe you, so I'm not gonna lie, Ariadne, you don't want to get into this."

She has the sudden itching desire to punch him in the face; it's too bad he's off with his kids and his dad in that big sunny house while she's freaking stuck in London. "Can we talk about something else?"

"Like what, the weather?" she retorts sardonically.

"Just watch yourself. This is a dangerous business. You may be smart but you're still new."

That's Cobb for you -- always giving advice he'd never follow himself, because it's everyone else's responsibility to have the self-control to haul his ass out of trouble.

---

Arthur doesn't even look remotely surprised when she shows up at the address he texted her.

"Come on in."

She should have at least asked what was going on, if this is a job or another class in shared dreaming (like she needs any help) or if it's something completely unprofessional and once that idea flits through her mind she can't help but notice how he's looking at her. Like she's not too young, not too short, not wearing Doc Martens and mismatched bra and panties. More like that forged blonde Eames has on tap.

He locks the door behind her, drops the keys into a bowl by the door, and she has to swallow before she speaks. "Nice apartment," she offers.

"Thanks," he says, getting that half-smile. "I don't let just anyone in here."

God, now she's nervous. "Yeah?"

"Yeah. Would've bought you a drink, but no point in giving the spooks a chance to get a shot of the three of us." He taps his nose and goes to a cabinet -- and it's full of liquor. Her eyebrows raise.

"Three?" she echoes, watching him smoothly pour a drink.

"Three. Eames might be coming. That depends on you."

Finally, she just takes a seat on his couch, pretending not to care or look or anything. "Do you have to be cryptic?"

"I can cut to the chase if you want. Have a favorite?" Arthur asks, as an afterthought, setting his own drink aside.

"Just don't mix like Yusuf," she deadpans, and smiles when he laughs at that. "I've got class tomorrow so I'm not partying all night with you boys, all right?"

"Riiiight," he says slowly, with a comprehending nod. "So you're going back to school."

Maybe sounds like a vague, weasely sort of answer but it's the only one she's got. "Cobb says I should," she answers.

Arthur shakes his head and offers Ariadne a martini. "He wasn't always like that. I blame James and Philippa," he says, with the air of an expert. "Once he became a dad, only person he wanted taking risks was himself."

She wishes they weren't talking about Cobb, but that's Cobb for you. "Not even Mal?" she asks idly.

He sighs. "Especially not Mal." He raises his drink to her. "A toast?"

She tries not to crack a smile. "To what?"

"To taking risks," he returns promptly.

She doesn't even hesitate, clinks her glass against his, and the martini is as intoxicating and full of rushing warmth as the moment. Except this isn't some fratboy in a collegetown bar, this isn't flirting with her lit tutor in the library, this is a hell of a lot better than that.

Right now whatever guy she was putting up with because he knew how to talk would have a hand on her knee, but he doesn't even try. She's surprised that it doesn't bother her that he's not trying harder.

Arthur rests back against the couch. "So? What's your answer?"

"You didn't ask a question," she reminds him.

"We have a job. Are you in or not?"

She knows what she should say, she knows she should just leave and have a normal life, but her dreams are already slipping away, and the power to mold Paris, to shred Boston, to create a whole new world with so many levels and so much detail... god, it's too much to deny. "I'm in."

The door opens and Arthur doesn't seem bothered at all, even though Ariadne jumps, nearly spills her drink. "Hi honey, I'm home," Eames calls inside, and tosses his coat onto the nearest chair.

"Next time you come in without knocking, I'm shooting you," Arthur says offhand.

"Wait, you locked that," Ariadne realizes, and sends Arthur a wary look.

"Psst." Eames jangles his keychain. "I have keys," he says helpfully.

"He has keys," Arthur confirms, then glances back at Eames. "She's in."

"Oh, you're in? Good." Eames is way too comfortable in Arthur's apartment, and now she's alone with Eames and Arthur and god, if only her mother could see her now. Drinking with criminals. With fellow criminals.

"We'll start it on it next week, you'd better leave that university or the paper trail, that'll be hell," Arthur advises her.

Wow. She's actually doing this. "Okay," she agrees, feigning cheer, and downs more of the martini.

"Fuck university," Eames said easily, as he pours himself a hearty glass of scotch. "You survived the worst fucking job I've ever been on without batting a pretty little eyelash. I'd call you a prodigy."

"He's trying to get into your pants," Arthur mentions in an undertone.

"I'll share," Eames says without missing a beat. He sits and puts his feet up on the table, only for Arthur to shove him off.

"Watch the table."

God. Now Eames. Ariadne does her best not to get visibly flustered. "Can we keep this professional?" she suggests. "Just until the job is over."

Eames leans back in the chair. "Job hasn't started, has it?"

Arthur clears his throat. "Take it slow, Eames."

"You know I'm gentle, dove."

Ariadne lets out a slow, calming breath, then finishes her drink. She resolutely sets it down on the table. "So whose apartment is this, anyway?" she interrupts the banter.

Just like that, Eames is grinning, ear to ear. "You know what I like about you, darling? You catch on fast."

She does her best not to go crimson, but she doesn't have to wait long. It's only half a flirt before Arthur kisses her and Eames laughs in the background and she can taste the gin and tonic on his mouth.

Shit. Even being awake in this life is better than every night of guilt-free sleep at a great grad program in Oxford.

There are dreams that can't be shared, that are buried too deep in the core of you to be removed, like the foundation of self. And this idea she's had since a kid, that she'd work hard and be honest and good no matter what tempts her -- she lets go.

It feels good.

---

Cobb doesn't answer the phone. It's a Saturday so he's probably at the zoo or the movies or the library with the kids, telling them a story, playing with the toys, god knows what. So she waits through the voicemail message, to the beep.

"I'm going to do it, Cobb. Don't worry about me. I'll be careful."

She hangs up before she can say anything else, anything more sentimental or whatever, and tosses the phone onto Arthur's table before she can be tempted to dial again in hopes that he'll answer this time.

"'Bye," she says at the phone, more symbolically than anything, then glances up, abashed, at realizing Arthur's watching her from the bedroom.

"Just a minute," she calls, her voice light. It's a new morning, light shuttered through the windows, and she has coffee to fetch for the boys.