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Hiding The Future

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Moving to a new country on a different continent meant that Ariadne could leave her past behind. She did well, and no one really asked about family or childhoods; no one cared when they were all too busy dealing with projects at school. She had reinvented herself with shirts, vests and scarves, which worked well to cover the scars on her chest and distinguish herself from her otherwise fairly bland peers. She had personality, and she felt that the scarves especially lead to a bit more of stylish flair. Diving headlong into her work, she was able to shed everything that held her back, working on creating something new, something grand, something that held very little resemblance to things of the past.

That was the idea, anyway.

It was impossible not to be influenced by the past; logically, she knew that. But it wasn't until Professor Miles introduced her to dream share that Ariadne could see just how much the past could come to bear on the present. Fischer was hamstrung by his feelings and relationship with his father, Cobb was strangled by the guilt he felt over his wife's death. Eames, Arthur and Yusuf were something like ciphers, but she knew that they were only involved in dream share because of whatever their past lifetimes had contained, same as her.

But it didn't have to be painful. It didn't have to be an ordeal. As frightened as she was of the entire process, seeing the transformation that had come over Cobb and Fischer had been particularly enlightening. The past could be overcome. Again, she knew it was possible in a logical sense, but she didn't really feel it until she saw for herself.

The dream share world was potentially dangerous, one that Ariadne had to tread very carefully if she wanted any kind of legitimate work as well. Arthur promised to help her, feeling a little responsible for her after the training. Eames liked working with her, and promised to send a few easy jobs her way if he could. Yusuf didn't want to return to the field, but invited her to visit Mombasa and his dreaming den any time. "My people would enjoy the feel of your dreams. My chemicals provide very clear dreams, and yours are just as solid as reality. I think I might enjoy more time traveling in them."

"I just might do that. I've never been there," Ariadne said with a smile. "After all this, I think I'd want to travel for a while. Experience the world. Figure out what I want to do."

"Who to be after a while is a difficult decision to make," he agreed with a solemn nod. But then he broke out into a wide smile. "But some things always remain the same. I am sure you will find your way once you realize what is important to you."

"Oh? What's that?" Ariadne had asked, intrigued.

"Knowledge," Yusuf had replied easily. "That's what seems to drive you on."

It was certainly a truth, and Ariadne agreed with him. He turned out to be a great friend in the final days of her program, when she thought she would lose her mind with her thesis project. She obtained her degree from the École, and on the spur of the moment decided to visit Yusuf in Mombasa. He was as kind and welcoming as she hoped he would be, and even introduced her to a number of his associates in the city. One of them had grinned knowingly when Yusuf said her name. "Oh, yes. Arthur mentioned you. He deliberately didn't say how lovely you are, I think," Malcolm laughed. "Saving you for himself."

"Is he around?" Ariadne asked, feeling something like anticipation coil in her belly.

Malcolm, a jovial fellow, nodded. "I saw him in Old Town a few days ago. Laying low with a mutual friend of ours. Now that he's shaken loose from Cobb, he can stay in the city." At her inquisitive look, Malcolm grinned. "Cobol practically owns this part of the world, my dear. And Mr. Cobb failed one too many jobs for them. Since Arthur tagged along a lot, he would've been hunted down to get to Mr. Cobb. But word is that Mr. Cobb retired, so Arthur is a free agent again. Cobol doesn't care about him, so he can visit."

"Sounds... complicated," Ariadne murmured, trying to picture what Arthur would look like in the city. Mombasa was hot this time of year, damn near stifling in the noonday sun.

Yusuf and Malcolm exchanged a glance. "Partly why we no longer go into the field," Yusuf said mildly, pouring Ariadne another cup of tea. "But if Arthur is still in Old Town, we can show you the way there. Maybe see if you can find him."

Ariadne eyed the two of them. "What's going on?"

"He's lonely," Yusuf said, shrugging. "Cobb is out of the loop, most of dream share is highly fragmented, and here was the first place he came to decompress from that difficult job we all shared. I do believe he's waiting for a sense of purpose."

Her heart beat erratically in her scarred chest, her loose floral scarf fluttering as her breath was forced out slowly. "You're playing matchmaker," she finally said.

"Perhaps," Yusuf admitted with a smile. "But wouldn't you like to see what the future could hold between the two of you? Even I could see sparks, and I was most often across the room and buried behind a table full of glassware."

Smiling a little, Ariadne shook her head fondly. "Fine, fine. Play your matchmaking game. Let's see what will happen."

What happened was a series of dates, strung out across the globe whenever it was safe to meet. A dinner in Montréal, a walk in São Paolo, dessert in Shanghai, a play in Mumbai, poetry readings in Johannesburg, the wax museum in London, the Basilica, the Kremlin, the spires of Hagia Sophia. Arthur knew so many details about cities that guide books left out, and Ariadne learned the shape of his smiles and the touch of his hand on hers. It was in a gorgeous hotel room in New Orleans on Halloween where they peeled apart the layers of each other's costumes, until they were able to touch, skin on skin, comparing the scars that ran like tracks on their bodies. Arthur's were the result of bullets, knives, and broken bones piercing the skin. Ariadne's were from the many cardiac surgeries she had as a child, repairing a heart defect that by rights should have killed her as an infant.

Arthur traced the thick scar with his fingers, then ran his lips down its length. "Maybe this was meant to be," he said quietly, then looked up at her through his eyelashes. "All the hardships, all the narrow escapes... We never would have met otherwise."

"Very philosophical," she said, her voice just as hushed. Running her fingers through his hair, she smiled. "Do you think it's true?"

"Why wouldn't it be?" He reverently kissed the scar on her chest. "This means you're a survivor. This means you fought to live. This means you're stronger than anything life tried to throw at you." His lips curled into a slow smile. "This means you might just survive dream share, if you really wanted to."

Ariadne pulled him up to kiss her mouth. "Maybe I want to. With you."

Wrapping his wiry frame around her, Arthur deepened the kiss. "Then we'll make it happen."

The dates around the world turned into jobs for various employers and contacts that Arthur had accumulated over the year. Ariadne didn't think about what she was actually doing, the legality of the dreaming. She cared about the creation, watching her sketches unfold, building entire worlds for projections and people to populate. The real world held the raw materials, the dreams held the promise. She didn't let on how much she really cared about Arthur, that the love she had felt like a tangible thing, a vital organ seated in the center of her chest behind her scar. It was a way to keep them both safe, to prevent anyone from using one as a pawn to take down the other or try to manipulate them.

When Arthur proposed, Ariadne immediately accepted. She feathered his face with kisses, grinning when he showed her the antique diamond ring he had found in Madrid. "This once belonged to a countess according to the jeweler," Arthur said, holding it out for her to take. "It's heavy and probably would feel clunky while you draw or build models."

"Not all of the jobs really need models," Ariadne began.

"I know," Arthur replied with a smile. He produced another jewelry box, this one with a chain that matched the intricacies of the ring. "But this will keep it safe, right next to your heart."

The length of the chain was perfect, of course. The ring hung perfectly between her breasts, resting right over the scar over her heart. Its weight was a comfort, a steady presence that constantly reminded her that she had something real and solid. This was her truth, this was her reality, this was what she needed.

Her scarves once hid her scars from the world. Now they hid her ring, keeping her secret safe from anyone that might do her or Arthur harm.

The End