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I Regret Nothing (the Colonel Mustard in the Solarium with the Wind-Up Victrola remix)

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They said she’d stop dreaming eventually.

If she has, she can’t tell.

* * * * *

She remembers from a class she took in college, one of those general education requirements, that the best predictor of who you will develop a bond with is proximity. Other factors include sharing adrenaline and sharing danger, so it shouldn’t be surprising to her that she’s more than a little attached to the three criminals she runs with these days.

She shouldn’t be surprised, even, that she dreams about them, but sometimes the dreams are so real she wakes up expecting marks, expecting a body -- or bodies -- next to her in the bed. Sometimes she even dreams about falling asleep with them, dreams about waking up the next day. Those are the most disorienting; the moments when she snaps awake from a dream in which she was already waking up.

One night she dreams the three of them with her, hot kisses and hands on her skin, Eames laughing as he grabs her wrists, keeps her from reaching for her totem.

The next morning she frowns at the red mark below her thumb where she remembers him grabbing her. Giddy and terrified, she angles her phone over it and takes a picture.

Two days later, when she opens her phone to send Yusuf the picture of him and Eames on the beach, the photo of her wrist isn’t there.

* * * * *

She’s gotten closer to Eames than she would have expected. She thinks it’s because they share a tiny, secret -- or not-so-tiny, not-so-secret, in Eames’s case -- glee at seeing Arthur flustered, and nobody and nothing can ruffle his feathers quite like they can. They bonded over more than that, though.

It started the day she watched him write shorthand equations on a chalkboard in the handwriting of half a dozen different people -- always covering his tracks, even in the waking world -- and she snapped a picture on her phone. Some sixth sense had him turning around right before she pressed the button, and the startled look on his face is a prize.

Her first instinct is, as always, to send the picture to Cassie, to gloat with her over having caught Eames off-guard, but Cassie wouldn’t know why it’s such a big deal. Cassie doesn’t know Eames...or Arthur or Yusuf. And all things considered, it’s probably better that she doesn’t, but it doesn’t stop Ariadne from feeling sad that she can’t share this with her sister, this part of her life that has come to dominate her emotional landscape. It has become her Notre Dame, and all her hours spiral outward from it.

Eames, annoyed at first, watches her silently while she stares at the picture on her phone, and she gives him an apologetic half-shrug that she learned from Yusuf, a devil-may-care smile that she learned from Eames himself.

“Sorry,” she says. She isn’t really, and Eames knows it.

“Uh huh,” he says, and lets it go.

She’s aware of him watching her for the next few weeks, aware of the way he notices any time she pulls out her phone, any time she takes a picture. She suspects he even knows about the ones she takes of him sleeping -- alone, curled against Arthur, his head in Yusuf’s lap -- and she’s a little surprised it takes him as long as it does to ask her about them.

It happens when they’re between jobs, staying in a gothic mansion that belongs to a friend of Yusuf’s. (From the look in his eyes when he says this, Ariadne suspects it might be more of a friend, but the owner of the house is never mentioned by name and is never around, and somehow it doesn’t feel right to pry. At least not yet.) Ariadne loves the house, loves its walls and windows and winding staircases and maze-like hallways. She finds herself wandering through it at all hours of the night, trailing her fingers along the wainscoting, adding its details to her repertoire.

She is in a new part of the house one night when she hears a woman’s voice floating through the air. Her stomach drops and she grips the banister, standing perfectly still on the bottom step of a long spiral staircase. She closes her eyes against the sensation of falling, and when she opens them, she is still in the house. She reaches into her pocket and finds the smooth metal bishop, wraps her fingers around its familiar weight. She sets it on the end of the banister and knocks it over, but the surface isn’t wide enough, and she can’t tell how it falls before it rolls to the floor.

Panicking now, she picks it up and runs through a doorway, looking for a table, a flat surface, anywhere to set her totem. What she finds there draws her up short, her fingers still gripping the totem, her eyes wide.

Eames is standing in front of an antique phonograph, hands in the pockets of a dark gold dressing gown, eyes closed as he sways to the music -- just a little, just a brief lean to the right and then the left.

“What --” Ariadne says before she thinks better of it, and he turns, surprised but not startled. He expected someone, she thinks -- someone, but not her. She clears her throat. “What are you doing?”

He smiles and stops the Victrola, and another wave of dizziness washes over her when the music ceases.

“Do you ever wonder,” he says, “whether your memories really happened, or if you just dreamed them?”

She swallows, and this time when her hand goes to her pocket, it isn’t for her chess piece.

“It happens to normal people as well, or so I hear.”  He shrugs, and the dressing gown shimmers in the dim light. “I’ve heard of people dreaming they argued with someone and woke up still angry… or slept with them, and woke up in love.”  His mouth twists bitterly. “Of course, it makes it easier if the other person is dreaming with you, but trying to remember what happened and what you only imagined… It’s enough to drive a man to drink.”

She isn’t sure what he’s getting at, but he nods at the hand she still has jammed in her pocket. Not the one holding the totem.

“It’s got to be hard, not sharing your life with the people you love. Not having someone to remind you of things after you’ve forgotten them, because they weren’t there and you haven’t told them.”  He traces the fluted edge of the phonograph’s cone, watching his fingers rub over the gold flakes. “Irony of ironies. Brokers of dreams and can’t remember our own.”  He looks at her then, sharp and yet somehow tender. “That’s why you do it, isn’t it?  Why you take so many pictures. So that when you wonder if you dreamed something or if it really happened, you can open your phone and look. It’s like a totem for your memories.”

She swallows again; her mouth has gone suddenly dry. “Something like that.”

He nods and turns back to the phonograph.

This time, when he turns the music on, she pulls out her phone and takes a picture.