"You never tell me where you're going," Keith began, jaw tight with anger and his entire posture strung with tension. "There are those men you won't tell me about and you don't have any kind of office I can visit. You disappear for days at a time! What the hell is going on?!"
Ariadne wanted to wring his neck for bringing this up now. She had just returned from meeting with Arthur and Eames about the latest job, and she couldn't exactly discuss it with Keith. She was tired and cranky since the design wasn't holding up right, and she would have to do some massive changes to the layout when she returned to the rented office suite in the morning. She wasn't looking forward to that at all.
Keith normally didn't start arguments like this when she got home from work. It generally started when he wanted to go out and she had to remain behind. Or if she disappeared last minute because she saw someone that looked like the subject and didn't want to be seen. They had met after the Fischer job when she had started an internship at a design firm. Her hours had been erratic but it had allowed her to continue helping out in dream share, which is where she ultimately wanted to work. Neither of her coworkers told her not to try to have a regular life, though Arthur had warned that it would be difficult to do while keeping any boyfriend in the dark. She hadn't wanted to lie to Keith, but he never would have understood her need to work in dream share. It was illegal and dangerous, and it was safer to simply let him think she was continuing to work in the same design firm she had started in nearly two years ago. He was kind and understood her love of design and art. He had been a MFA candidate when they had met, after all. He knew what it was like to be consumed by work even if the rest of the world wouldn't necessarily appreciate it.
To be perfectly honest, she was starting to forget what his other appealing qualities might have been, since they were arguing all the time. She had moved in with him more out of guilt than a genuine desire to live with him, and she was sorely regretting that decision.
"Can't you even answer me?" Keith demanded. "Don't I deserve even that much?"
"There are things I just can't tell you," Ariadne began. "Nondisclosure agreements..."
"Oh, bullshit. You disappear, Ariadne. It's like sometimes you just don't exist, or I don't matter to you anymore."
"That's not true..."
Keith snorted and shook his head, but it was an expression that looked sour and twisted his features. "No? Then what's in your bag?" he demanded, reaching for it. "What project is so important that you don't come home until the middle of the night looking exhausted, and you're creeping around the city with strange men you won't introduce to me?"
Ariadne danced out of his grasp and nearly reached for a gun that wasn't under her shirt. Her hands stopped at the last moment, and it was with dawning horror that she realized she had been intending to threaten her boyfriend with bodily harm if he didn't stop pushing. This wasn't anything healthy, and certainly nothing she should continue.
"Do you even give a shit about this relationship anymore?" Keith demanded, hands tightening into fists when she didn't immediately answer. "Do you?"
"Keith, don't do this," Ariadne said, shaking her head. "This isn't like that. It's just a project I'm not allowed to talk about. Those were my coworkers, and I'm not allowed to talk about any of it. That's all. There's nothing else to it."
"Are you fucking them? Is that it?" He continued despite the shock and outrage on her face. "Is that why you won't sleep with me? Is that why you don't come home at night sometimes? You're out with them?"
"You can't be serious," Ariadne gasped, eyes growing round as saucers. Okay, she slept with Arthur and Eames, but that was via PASIV. There was nothing sexual going on other than the occasional innuendo, but that was par for the course. "I'm not cheating on you, Keith!" She threw up her hands in dismay. "I work ridiculous hours! You've always known that!"
"You're not an intern anymore! There's no reason for this!"
"I'm an architect! It's not some glamorous nine to five job. You're my boyfriend. You're the one I come home to."
"Assuming you even come home," Keith said bitterly, shaking his head. "This isn't going to work, Ariadne. I love you, I do. But I don't trust you anymore, and I can't live like this."
Ariadne gaped at him. "What are you saying?"
"You need to move out," he said quietly. "Preferably sooner rather than later."
She couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Keith..."
"I can't do this anymore, Ariadne. You need to move out."
Her mouth opened and closed, but he didn't waver in his resolve. He had to have been going over this decision in his head for months before he even approached her with it, and she had never even seen the signs. Her mind couldn't quite grasp that concept, and kept sticking on the goofy expression that had been on his face when he asked her to move in with him over a year ago. He had loved her then. She loved him, too, otherwise she never would have moved in with him. She had thought their relationship would outlast the secrets she had to live with.
Apparently, she was wrong.
"I-I'll leave then," Ariadne stammered, still not grasping what he was saying. She grabbed her bag with her drawings and notes. She didn't know where she would go this time of night, and even Keith suddenly looked worried. "I won't bother you anymore."
She fled his apartment, not looking back.
The thing of it was, she had only left Paris to be with him. He had a tiny flat in the outskirts of London and was working as an assistant in an art gallery. He hadn't been able to sell any of his work so far, and it had made sense to consolidate homes. They couldn't simply cross the Channel back and forth all the time.
Eames was somewhere in London. He had said which hotel he was staying in, but she couldn't recall the name of it in her current state of mind. She knew Arthur had a place in Kensington, some posh address that was very secure and without nosy neighbors.
She wondered what it meant that she went directly to Arthur's townhouse and knocked on his door. He opened it, concern etched on his features. "Ariadne? Are you all right?"
"I don't have anywhere else to go."
He of course let her in, and somehow the argument from the evening tumbled out of her in fits and starts. There was still that element of numb shock, and Ariadne was sure that she was making a mess of things. She hadn't even given any thought if Arthur had been doing anything when she arrived, or if he was living with someone himself. But he made no indication that she was bothering him, and his arm around her shoulders gave her more comfort than she thought it would.
"No decisions tonight," he told her. His tone was reassuring as it always was, and that did more to calm her down than she expected. "You can crash here, and then we'll figure out what to do next when we're not too exhausted."
"Thank you," Ariadne told him gratefully.
Arthur squeezed her hand in support. "What else are friends for?"
Over the next few days, Ariadne somehow was moved into one of the spare rooms on the first floor of Arthur's townhouse. Eames offered to punch Keith or have him arrested and thrown into jail, but Ariadne nixed those ideas. "You can't make someone love you and you can't make someone overlook the lies you've been telling them," she said sourly, frowning at the drink in front of her. She had just packed the last of her belongings from Keith's apartment, and had deliberately told Arthur and Eames not to help her. Keith was suspicious of them both enough already. There was no need to make things worse.
"Well, you can..." Eames began with a smirk. A sharp look from Arthur stopped him, and he finished off his whiskey sour. "Listen. Think of it this way. Now you don't have to lie about what you're doing for jobs. Can't get around the love part much in this line of work, unless you're the type to drown your sorrows."
Ariadne frowned at Eames and Arthur, feeling terrible. "That's just the thing, though. Shouldn't I be more upset that this is over? Shouldn't I care that he kicked me out? I mean, I do, and I'm angry about how he did it. But the biggest thing I feel right now is relief. Does that mean I didn't love him enough to make it work?"
Eames sighed and patted her arm gently. "He wasn't the one, then." He gave her a shrug and signaled the bartender to come back. It had been his idea to head to a pub afterward, rather than let Ariadne sit amongst labeled boxes in one of Arthur's spare rooms. "Someday, Ariadne, you'll meet someone that you don't think you can live without. I hope you can be honest, but it's better to be realistic about this. Ours is not a safe profession. It's why most of us are bachelors." He ordered another drink but Ariadne passed on hers. "Quick, meaningless fucks are one thing. Needs are needs, and it's best to get them met in a way that doesn't screw up a job. It's too difficult to be in a long term relationship."
"Cobb did it."
"Mal was an extractor," Arthur said quietly. "He was the architect. They both knew the risks."
Ariadne sighed. "So either I hook up within the business or stay single forever."
"There are worse fates, you know," Arthur said with a shrug.
"Student loans sucking you dry when you make a pittance, for one thing," Eames said with a grin. "Think we can fuck with his interest rate? Add a year or two to the loan?"
Smacking his arm, Ariadne couldn't help but laugh. "Don't do that. I don't hate him."
"You could. Maybe you should," Eames declared.
"I think the worst of it is disappointment. That we couldn't talk about it before it got to this point." She sipped at her drink and sighed. "But I'm just as guilty as he is in that situation. I didn't talk to him either. I just let things happen. I didn't love him, not really, not how it counted. Not if I don't feel more than this."
"There are different kinds of love," Arthur told her quietly. "It doesn't have to be blinding passion like in the movies."
"Fun," Eames commented with a quirky smile. "But ultimately, it burns out quick. Hopefully you don't get burned up with it."
"That's very deep," Ariadne commented.
"Fortune cookie," he declared in grave tones. Then he smiled, making her laugh. No doubt that had been his intention all along, since he liked to downplay his intelligence. He bumped her shoulder playfully. "You'll be all right, yeah? You got us looking after you."
"Thank you." She pressed kisses to both their cheeks, then laughed at the lip prints on Arthur's cheek. "It's a good color on you."
"Arthur in drag? That might be good to see," Eames taunted.
"Professionalism, Mr. Eames," Arthur began in a threatening tone, lifting his glass.
"Is entirely lost on me if we're not in a professional situation," Eames replied, drinking half of the whiskey in one gulp. He grinned in the face of Arthur's disgruntled expression. "Sure you'd rather not stay with me, darling?" he asked Ariadne. "My hotel room has a king size bed."
"Who are you sharing it with at the moment?" she asked in arch tones.
"Haven't the foggiest what his name is, but he does this trick with his tongue..." Eames began with an unrepentant grin. At her squeak of protest, Eames laughed. "What? No threesome fantasies to get back at Mr. Humdrum And Normal?"
"No, can't say I've had those."
"Perhaps you need a little more imagination," Eames teased, finishing off his drink. "Stay with this stick in the mud and you'll be woefully inhibited in no time."
"Different kind of imagination," Arthur intoned. "I generally don't apply mine to pornographic situations."
"Terrible waste." He grinned at them. "Well, I'm off. Same time tomorrow, then?"
"I have most of the layout complete, so we can go in on a test run and see if there are any parts that need some ironing out," Ariadne said with a nod. "Thanks for hanging out with me."
Eames gave her a fond smile. "There are very few in the business I would spend time with outside of jobs. You are one of the very privileged few." He leaned in and kissed her forehead. "Don't stay up too late, Ariadne. Though with Arthur around, you will probably get a good night's sleep." He grinned at the both of them. "See you in a few hours."
Arthur waited a few minutes after he left. "He's right, actually. We should head back to the townhouse and get some sleep."
Ariadne laughed and nodded. "I'm more than ready to head to bed. I'm sure he thinks I'm a stick in the mud, too." Arthur laughed and they headed out of the pub. "At least I'm in good company, right?"
"There is that," Arthur agreed with a smile. Nothing more needed to be said after that.
There was a guest room on the second floor of Arthur's townhouse that was next to the bathroom. The room on the ground floor was smaller and the bathroom closest to it didn't have a shower or tub. "Do you mind if I move some things up into the bathroom? It should make things easier in the mornings," Ariadne said as she buttered a piece of toast for breakfast. The extraction was going to be a simple one level job in two days, and she wasn't needed to watch over them. "I won't bump into you dressed in only towels anymore," she said with a smile.
"Pity," Arthur replied with a grin, pouring himself coffee. "I guess you could do that. I haven't really done anything with the room," he said with a shrug. "I won't be coming straight back here after the job. I have some people I need to meet, and we'll see what happens after that regarding jobs. The utilities are automatically paid, so you won't have to worry about that while you're here. Don't feel like you have to be in a rush to figure out what you need to do next."
"Thanks," she said gratefully. She didn't know what she would do without him and didn't even want to try. "Will Eames go with you to wherever it is you're going?"
Arthur shook his head after his sip of coffee. "Once the job is done, he's off to wherever he wants to go. He might head back to Mombasa, though. He mentioned yesterday he had forgotten how much he hates the English weather."
Ariadne laughed. "So he isn't very fond of rain?"
"Not particularly, no," he replied as he laughed along with her. "Nearly two weeks solid is pushing it for me, too. I'll be glad to head to Sicily for a while. It should be nice and warm."
"I got an e-mail from Cobb," she said, picking up her piece of toast. "He and the kids are doing well. He thinks if I'm really going to stay in dream share, I should stick with you or talk to someone named Lambert," she told him before biting into her toast.
Arthur snorted. "Lambert's an extractor, and not as good as Cobb was. I wouldn't say it's a bad idea, exactly, but he's failed enough extractions that none of the bigger players will deal with him. It would keep you busy and give you something to do, not much more than that."
She polished off her toast. "I suppose I could redecorate your townhouse," she teased. "There's so much beige and not much personality."
"I didn't change anything in it when I bought it. This is a place to stay in between jobs if I'm able to, nothing more," Arthur replied, putting his coffee cup in the sink. "I've got another two places like this, but it really all depends on how dangerous it is to get there."
"Should I be doing something similar?" Ariadne asked in concern. It wasn't quite alarm, as she had been fairly well protected by Arthur and Eames so far. It was as if they felt personally responsible for her involvement in dream share, and were taking extra precautions to keep her out of the line of fire.
"You should be fine. Most architects don't get as involved in the actual jobs, so they aren't as well known as the point or extractor jobs. It's my job to make sure the rest of you stay safe, after all." He flashed Ariadne a grin. "Ready to go?"
Ariadne nodded. "Do I get to use your car while you're away, too?" she teased, taking the proffered car keys he handed to her.
Arthur laughed. "Just don't crash it, okay? You're not on my insurance and the rates will skyrocket."
Just to make Arthur nervous, Ariadne refused to make any promises as she drove him to the airport. She did take pity on him and promise to be a model driver while he was away as he walked away from the gate. They waved, and Ariadne headed back to his townhouse to start moving into his guest room.
By the time Arthur returned to his townhouse three weeks later, Ariadne was comfortably settled in the guest room. Her clothes were unpacked in the closet and dressers, her books neatly piled in a bookcase she had bought to fit the remaining wall space. She had a little basket of her bathroom supplies on the counter in the upstairs bathroom, as well as a shower caddy on the floor beside the tub. "You have way too many bathroom products, you know that?" she teased when she picked him up at the airport.
Arthur merely laughed in response to that. "It takes work to look this good, you know. Maybe I'll teach you how to use more product. Then you can stop complaining about curls and flyaway strands during the day."
"You are in a ridiculously good mood," Ariadne observed.
"The job went well, my follow up plans all fell into place." Arthur leaned back in the passenger seat and smiled. "It's good when things work out."
"In that case, I could use some of your excellent mojo. I've looked at a few apartments but they either are in horrible places or I can't stand the thought of living with those neighbors. I suppose I could always go back to Paris or try someplace completely new, but I've gotten used to London. I kind of like it here."
"I like it here," Arthur agreed. "It's a large enough city to get lost in if you need to, there are plenty of major conveniences and activities, but it isn't so overwhelming either. I've lived in New York City for a long time, and the energy there is completely different."
"I don't know... Sometimes you absolutely strike me as a New York City kind of person."
"On the job, I suppose?"
"Definitely then. I wouldn't want to cross you or get on your bad side at that point," Ariadne said with a teasing smile. She pulled up in front of the townhouse and parked in his usual spot. "The place is spotless, of course," she told him as he got his bag and they went inside.
"You're easily the best house guest I've ever had," Arthur told her in appreciation. "Eames had to stay with me for a few weeks once a few years back. It might have been deliberate, but it took me days to clean up after him. Cobb was here a few times, and he cleaned up after himself but that was about it."
"Well, I'm grateful for the place to stay." Ariadne grinned. "There's even food in the fridge in case you're hungry."
"Just something light," Arthur said as he put his bag down in the living room. He'd bring it up to his room later and sort the laundry items from the dry cleaning. "My internal clock is still a mess, so I'd be expecting breakfast instead of a snack."
"Cinnamon bread? I got some from the market yesterday."
He grinned as they got into the kitchen. "Sounds good." He saw the newspaper on the table, some things circled and others X'd out in red. "So this is the list?" He looked it over as Ariadne started getting the bread out of the breadbox. "I'm assuming you would want to stay close to Kensington or Chelsea, right? Better security in these areas."
"Somehow, if I could find a place as nice as this one for relatively cheap..."
Arthur snorted and perused the rest of the ads. "You'd want to look in Mayfair, Soho, Marylebone, Notting Hill, Knightsbridge or Sloane Square. None of those neighborhoods are cheap, and you really don't want to skimp on security." He accepted the bread and started nibbling on it, ignoring the crumbs falling to his shirt. "Some of these apartments are overpriced, even for the neighborhood. There are others close by that should be almost as good and suit your needs." He looked up at her after a moment. "If you keep working high profile jobs, you can afford the posh neighborhoods, you know."
Ariadne couldn't help but smile ruefully. "Some part of me keeps thinking I'm not so far out of school that I should tempt fate that way."
"It fades quickly, trust me. You want a place safe enough to store your PASIV and weapons without anyone looking twice."
"I'll take your word for it," she replied with a smile. She kept the loaf on the table and sat down beside him. "So, let's look at what's available for viewing."
There was something wrong with every possibility on the list. If it wasn't something that Ariadne found wanting, Arthur felt security was lacking or could not be installed after the fact to his specifications. They sat on his sofa with beers in hand and clinked them in amusement. "Looks like I'm stuck here for the moment," Ariadne told him. "I don't want you to feel like I'm abusing your hospitality."
"I'd let you know if you were," he assured her with a smile. "Like I've said a hundred times by now, I've had worse house guests."
It was approaching two months that she had lived in his townhouse with him. She was a late enough sleeper that their showers didn't coincide even though they both liked to take showers early in the morning. He generally spent time brushing his hair and putting in the styling products to get it slicked back and even. Otherwise there was a wild wave to it, which she had been amused to see the first time they had crashed into each other in the bathroom. Ariadne tended to wash and scrub quickly in the shower, and was out and wrapped in a towel while Arthur was still putting the pomade in place. He moved over in front of the large mirror so that she could pull her brush through her hair, but she otherwise didn't do much with it. Ariadne tended to put on makeup after she was dressed, and even then she tended to stick to powder foundation, mascara and a light gloss on her lips. Arthur was usually finishing up with his hair by the time Ariadne had picked out her clothes for the day in her room, which was on the other side of the bathroom they shared.
Ariadne made sure to expend the extra effort not to tease him about the excessive amount of time he spent in front of the mirror in the mornings. He at least didn't disappear during the day to touch up anything.
Just to be annoying one evening, however, she mussed his hair and then made a big show of pulling a face at the sticky residue coating her palm. "Oh, icky, Arthur."
He was trying to smooth his hair back into place, frowning at her. "You know how long it takes me to get that done in the mornings!"
"Yes, you spend more time in the bathroom than I do!"
Arthur took a swig of his beer. "Yes, but then it stays put all day. You complain about flyaways getting into your eyes or mouth whenever the wind blows."
"The price I pay for long hair," Ariadne reasoned.
"Tell you what. If you spend maybe five more minutes in the bathroom, I'll bet you won't complain about that anymore."
"Oh come on," Ariadne scoffed, taking a drink of her beer. "No way."
Arthur was warming to the topic, however, and Ariadne was starting to think that perhaps he had been waiting for just this opportunity to say something to her. "Some hair serum will get everything to lie flat. You won't even have to straighten it if you don't want to, though it shouldn't be that hard with a flat iron."
Ariadne blinked at Arthur, stunned. "You know way too much about hair," she said finally, not sure what else to say.
"Three older sisters," he said solemnly. "If you think I spend too long in the bathroom, you should've grown up with them."
She waited a beat before breaking out into laughter, and Arthur actually smiled. "Fine, fine. We'll do this experiment." She narrowed her eyes at Arthur. "I bet it doesn't work."
He arched an eyebrow at her. "Do you now? And what if you lose that bet?"
Ariadne had to think of something she could offer. "Um... Total kitchen duty for a month instead of switching off."
Arthur pondered that one for a moment. "You do cook better than I do..."
Warming to the concept, she grinned at him. "And if you lose, you're doing all the laundry."
"I do most of it already!"
"Dry cleaning doesn't count! I'm talking about using the actual washer and dryer." Ariadne didn't own too many dry clean only clothes, so usually she was the one in the basement doing the laundry. She had never particularly liked that chore, but it was a necessity she put up with. "Well? Have we got a deal?"
Arthur smiled. "Deal."
They shook on it and finished their beers in companionable silence, settling in to watch a programme on BBC One.
Ariadne really should have known better than to make a bet against Arthur. Of course she lost.
It only took a minute or two to smooth the hair serum over the wet strands when she was out of the shower. That made it easier for Ariadne to brush out her hair, and it tended to lie flatter and straighter throughout the day. She didn't have the patience to use the flat iron that Arthur bought her with a straight face, but she did have to admit that the one time she tried it she managed not to burn her hair and it was perfectly flat. Arthur at least wasn't a sore winner, as Ariadne had no doubt Eames would be. He simply smiled when she conceded defeat and asked for something fairly simple to make for dinner.
She popped in a jazz CD she particularly liked as she went through the kitchen gathering up ingredients to start dinner. She sang along to Nina Simone, aware of Arthur hanging around in the doorway watching her in amusement. "You can't sing," he said finally.
"So? I still like this song."
He shook his head in amusement. "You have no sense of timing and you're off key."
"Yes, but it's the spirit that counts," she declared loftily. "Anyway, you get to choose the music and entertainment options when you do the cooking."
"That won't be for another month," Arthur complained, lips drawing into a frown.
"Well, you could let me out of the payout..."
"Not a chance."
"Then it's you, me and me singing Nina Simone," Ariadne told him with a grin. And just for that, she turned up the volume both on the CD player and her singing. Arthur couldn't leave the kitchen fast enough.