When Ariadne returns from her first semester at Beax-Arts, she fully expects to be picked up from Kent by Eames himself, who after all had shelled out an exorbitant amount of money to sit her in first class on the train. (She had tried to protest, but Eames had pointed out – quite correctly – that he could more than afford it and besides, he wanted to spoil his ward, was that such a crime?) Instead, it is a neatly pressed man she doesn’t recognize who is standing in the station with a sign labeled Ariadne.
“Hi?” she says hesitantly, assuming that he must be there for her. There aren’t exactly a lot of Ariadnes running around. “I’m Ariadne.”
The man scrutinizes her, then says, “You’re smaller than you look in the pictures.” His accent is pure American. Ariadne never completely lost her own Canadian accent, still rounding the ‘o’ in ‘sorry’ and not really getting on board with the British r’s. “We haven’t met yet,” the man continues, sticking the sign under his arm and holding out his hand. “Arthur. I’m Lord Eames’s valet.”
“Oh!” Ariadne says, because now that she thought about it, Yusuf had said something about that in his last email to her, though he hadn’t been very specific. She shakes his hand. “Yeah, right. Nice to meet you.” She ignores some of the people who are scrutinizing her, probably recognizing her from the tabloids.
Arthur ignores them too. He takes her duffle bag and says, “Lord Eames is busy talking to the party planner about this year’s Christmas ball, but he told me to assure you that he is very much looking forward to seeing you again.”
“Is he inviting a hundred people again?” Ariadne asks hopelessly. Last year’s party had ended in Ariadne kissing Robert Fischer while slightly tipsy on the spiked punch (and she knows for a fact that Eames had spiked it himself, the jerk) and she is not looking forward to a repeat. She had thought she was over her childhood crush on Robert, but apparently not.
“I think it’s closer to two hundred at this point,” Arthur says wryly. He gives Ariadne a small smile. “I can’t imagine what your childhood must have been like.”
Ariadne considers it for a moment, then says, “Educational.”
Ariadne’s parents moved to England when she was seven over her strenuous objections. “But Mom,” she had whined as obnoxiously as she was capable, “I don’t want to move to England!”
“Sweetie,” her mom had said, stroking her hair gently, “you know that daddy’s job needs him there and not here.” Ariadne hadn’t really understood, but she had nodded and said okay.
Her parents were killed in a hit when she was ten. Ariadne had escaped by hiding in the crawlspace of her house, and she had been found there that night by Eames, wearing his black Kevlar and feature-concealing mask.
She had screamed when she first saw him. Like most people, she had heard of the masked vigilante who lurked around London’s streets, but she had never met anyone who had actually met him. He had been called the Batman by some of the papers, even though his costume wasn’t particularly bat-like. He did look intimidating, though. Except for his eyes; his eyes had been warm, and kind.
He had gathered her up in his arms and deposited her at Scotland Yard, where she had stayed for three days until Lord Eames, Duke of Somerset, had announced that he would take in “that poor orphan whose parents were murdered.” The public had been split over his announcement. Half had thought it was some sort of publicity stunt – the young Duke was a notorious rake and had only just turned twenty two, the age where he would start managing his family’s real estate holdings. Nothing had reformed him; not his numerous romances or his enforced time in the military. The other half thought that it must be because he felt empathy for the little girl, who was the same age he had been when his own parents had been murdered in front of him by anti-peer radicals.
Whatever the reason, he had taken her in and Ariadne didn’t mind at all. Her family was sparse and she only had a few distant relatives who were reluctant to take on a young child. Being adopted by the Duke of Somerset was nothing to sneeze at, so they all acquiesced and let Lord Eames take custody of her.
It only took her a day to work out that Lord Eames and the Batman were the same person. It was the eyes; Eames looked at her with the same empathy and compassion that the Batman had. Eames had seen the moment that she understood and had taken her into the sub-cellar of his London home, painstakingly built to avoid the underground lines. “Technically it wasn’t legal to build here,” Eames told her when he showed her the lair. “But we got around it.”
She trained on her own for the first few years by watching his work-outs. When he caught her practicing tumbles, he gave in and started training her in earnest, though he forbade her from joining him on patrol and didn’t give her a suit anyway. When she was sixteen, she bullied him into letting her do some light patrol work, insisting that he would work himself into exhaustion if he didn’t accept her help.
Yusuf, Eames’s pet scientist (and best friend), got really excited when he found out there was someone new to design for. “And you’re so small!” he said when she was sixteen and came into her first fitting. “It will be quite a challenge to design for your capabilities.”
He produced a lightweight, flexible suit for her that complemented Eames’s and made it obvious that they worked together. She quickly got nicknamed Robin by the papers (an unfortunate nickname which came from someone saying off-handedly that she was rather birdlike) They all seemed to be under the impression that she was much younger than she was, which ended up being unexpectedly helpful in maintaining her dual life.
In public, Ariadne maintains the persona of an intelligent, if a bit flighty, socialite. Most agree that she is unexpectedly well-behaved considering she is the ward of the frequently inappropriate Lord Eames. Eames has, over the years, cultivated a public persona of a drunken playboy with a penchant for impulsive decisions. It isn’t entirely inaccurate. Eames does get around, he does like to drink, and he does make impulsive decisions, just not to the extent that he likes people to believe.
When Ariadne had gone off to college for architecture, she had taken her suit with her and roamed the rooftops of Paris on her own. On her own, that is, until she met Mal, who considers Paris her territory. “Not that I dislike having you around,” she assured Ariadne as they leapt across a roof together. “It is just, you have a different kind of skill.” She smiled at Ariadne. “But I think we complement each other.”
Though Mal is not quite as agile as Ariadne, she knows her way around a gun and can kick serious ass if it’s called for. She’s a good partner. Ariadne hasn’t quite gotten around to mentioning her to Eames yet, but then Eames hadn’t told Ariadne that he had a new valet who (presumably) knows their secret.
“So,” Ariadne says in the car, looking over at Arthur. “When were you hired?”
Arthur slants her a slightly amused look, then says in a flat voice, “Right after you left for school.”
Ariadne waits, but no explanation seems forthcoming, and besides, she suspects Arthur wouldn’t tell her the truth anyway. He would probably insist that Eames be the one to tell her and Eames would just make up elaborate stories involving gangsters and possibly car chases. Yusuf is far more likely to give her a straight answer.
Yusuf’s lab is installed in the attic of Eames’s London home for reasons that Ariadne has never been able to ferret out. “Surely,” she always protests, “it would be far more convenient to have the lab in the basement with the rest of the equipment.”
“Sub-cellar,” Yusuf always corrects, and then explains, “I like it up here.”
Eames greets her at the door and throws his arms around her. The few paparazzi who are usually wandering around snap some photos before apparently getting bored. The tabloids have gotten bored of insinuating that things about Ariadne and Eames’s relationship by now and they’re mostly regarded as siblings more than anything else.
“Ariadne my love!” Eames croons in his dreadfully posh accent. “It is ever so wonderful to see you, have you gotten thinner? And I see you have taken to dressing like an arts student, how wonderfully plebian of you.”
Ariadne pecks him on the cheek and smacks his shoulder to make him let her down. He drops her back onto her feet and she says, “It’s wonderful to see you too, Eames.”
He beams and offers her his arm. “Shall we?” he asks. “Arthur will get your bags. I must show you what we’ve done to the place, I think it looks marvelous.”
Ariadne actually gasps aloud when she steps inside the house. Eames always goes all out for Christmas, as if to make up for the oddity of their family, but this year he has outdone himself. She feels like she’s walked into a postcard. There’s fake snow everywhere and dangling (diamond) icicles and snowflakes. She looks up and around, seeing surprisingly tasteful tinsel draped along the rail of the grand staircase. “Good Lord, Eames,” she remarks, awed. “What have you done?”
“You haven’t even seen the tree yet,” Eames complains and he drags her into what passes as a family room. A huge Christmas tree dominates the far wall, still undecorated. Along the west wall is a beautiful menorah, candles still unlit, next to the stylized crescent moon and star that they’d always kept to acknowledge Yusuf’s religion. Ariadne blinks at the menorah, confused. Eames catches her look and explains, “Arthur is Jewish. He tried to convince me not to, but we needed something for him.”
“Ah,” she says. Both of them have dropped their vapid personas, much to Ariadne’s relief. The toughest thing about going to college had been maintaining that façade every day and every night. She’s glad to be home where she can just be herself. “The tree isn’t decorated,” she points out.
“I was waiting for you,” Eames says proudly and he yells, “Arthur! We’re going to decorate the tree!”
“So,” Ariadne says to Yusuf after traipsing up the stairs to his lab. She’s covered in flecks of tinsel from when Eames had thrown some at her. She’s quite sure that she’d spotted Arthur straightening the ornaments when they had left the room, no doubt dissatisfied with their haphazard hanging methods. “Arthur.”
“Yes,” Yusuf agrees, leaning back in his desk chair. “Arthur. He’s quite interesting, that young man.”
Ariadne pulls up a stool and perches on it, fixing Yusuf with her Robin interrogation stare. “Where did he come from?”
Yusuf shrugs, apparently unperturbed by her stare. “He just showed up one day. Arrived with a suitcase and told Eames that he knew his secret and that Eames obviously needed someone to manage his life. This was right after Eames got himself shot,” he adds, which Ariadne certainly hadn’t known about. She makes a mental note to interrogate him later. “He’s very good at keeping track of things and he’s a good planner, too. You should see some of the gadget ideas he came up with for me.”
“Ooh!” Ariadne says, thoroughly distracted. “Show me.”
Yusuf produces something that looks a bit like a sci-fi gun and passes it over. “It’s a freeze ray!” he explains excitedly. “Or at least, it will be, once I isolate the correct chemicals.”
They spend about an hour looking through the different contraptions Arthur had come up with. Some of them are modifications for the lair, which Ariadne appreciates. It’s awfully dank and close in there and she would prefer it if she didn’t feel like scrubbing her own skin off every time she went down there. Others are useful methods for carrying weapons. They don’t really use guns, but Ariadne knows how to throw a knife and she uses pepper spray, too.
They eventually digress onto the topic of the Christmas party – “Holiday party,” Yusuf says. “He never changed it for me because I don’t celebrate anything this time of year, but he changed it for Arthur,” and he winks – and Yusuf prods Ariadne’s arm. “I heard about last year,” he tells her, eyes bright and mischievous. “About you and Robert, I mean.”
Ariadne groans. “Did Eames tell everyone about that?” she asks hopelessly. “It was entirely his fault.”
“I am sure,” Yusuf agrees pleasantly. “It usually is.”
“Yusuf, you must stay near me this year and be sure that I don’t make an idiot out of myself,” she orders, pointing at him. “Or –” She thinks of Mal, suddenly, and wonders if Eames would let Ariadne invite her.
“Absolutely not,” Eames says when she brings it up. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me you met another superhero!”
“We’re not superheroes, Eames,” Ariadne feels obliged to point out. “We’re vigilantes, not superheroes.”
Eames waves his hand dismissively. “You take my meaning.” He frowns at her. “Did you tell her who you are?”
“She’s the daughter of one of my professors,” Ariadne says with a huffy sigh. “It was kind of unavoidable.”
Eames muttered an expletive in some language that Ariadne never bothered to learn. Arthur, who is sitting neatly in the corner, says mildly, “Language.”
Eames glares at Arthur. “You can’t possibly approve of what she did, Arthur! You’re the one always warning me I have to be more careful.”
“I don’t think making friends with Mallorie Lorraine is going to ruin Ariadne’s life,” Arthur says. “I don’t know Ariadne very well yet, but I do know Mal and she’s a lovely woman. She wouldn’t do anything to hurt either of you, at least not knowingly.”
Ariadne frowned at that last part. “Not knowingly?”
Arthur sighs and folds his hands in his lap. “I was a student in Paris when I met her,” he says by way of explanation. “She was married at the time. His name was Dom Cobb.”
Ariadne and Eames both stiffen. “The Dreamwalker,” Eames says in an icy voice. “What did he do to her?”
“He tried to convince her that she was dreaming,” Arthur says flatly. “That she had to kill herself to wake up. He had her drugged so deep she almost believed it.”
Ariadne covers her mouth, horrified. Eames rests a hand on her shoulder comfortingly.
“She nearly went mad,” Arthur continues. “She shot me in the knee when I tried to help. Eventually, she broke free long enough to sober up and shot him in the spine. She, uh. Hasn’t really been around since then, from what I’ve heard. I think it’s good that Ariadne befriended her. For both of them.”
“Fine,” Eames says after a moment. “I’ll invite her. Sounds like she could use a night out of Paris.”
Ariadne hugs him impulsively and kisses his cheek. “Thank you! It’ll be fun to have her here.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Eames says gruffly, but he’s smiling. He’s really a pushover. “Arthur! I want cookies.”
“What kind?” Arthur asks, getting to his feet. Ariadne is impressed by how well-trained he is already. “Chocolate chips or peanut butter?”
“Chocolate chip,” Ariadne and Eames say together. Arthur snorts and nods, heading off to the kitchen. Ariadne raises her eyebrows at Eames, who is watching Arthur go with a look she can only call besotted.
“Really?” she asks. “The duke who falls in love with the help? Could you be any more clichéd?”
“He’s not the help,” Eames says indignantly. “He’s my soul mate. I don’t know how I survived without him.” He raises his voice and yells, “Arthur! You’re my soul mate!”
“So you tell me every day,” calls Arthur and Eames beams at Ariadne. Ariadne purses her lips and decides it’s high time she talks to Arthur in private. She gets up and heads into the kitchen where Arthur is mixing together flour, sugar, and butter.
“So, Arthur,” Ariadne says, leaning her elbows on the counter and narrowing her eyes at him. “Yusuf tells me you just showed up here one day.”
Arthur gives her an amused look, apparently not fazed by her glare, and passes her the mixing bowl. “Stir,” he commands her. She obeys, working the wooden spoon through the batter.
“Why?” Ariadne asks curiously.
“I told you I was friends with Mal. She got sick of me looking over her shoulder and told me to get out of Paris.” Arthur smiles wryly. “I’m having a friend keep an eye on her, but I’m glad you’re around too.
“I’d been reading about the Batman in the papers for some time by that point and it only took some cursory observation to determine who it was. The disappearance of Robin coinciding with your departure for university only reinforced this opinion.” He holds out his hands for the bowl and Ariadne returns it to him.
“Clearly we have not been as covert as we might have hoped,” Ariadne observes morosely as Arthur starts rolling the dough into balls.
“I have taken care of that,” Arthur says with a trace of smugness. “A few well-timed, highly public appearances by Yusuf in the suit while Lord Eames is seen falling down drunk with one of the princesses and a few brief sightings of myself in a suit similar to yours has successfully shrouded your true identities for good.”
Ariadne stares at him for a long moment, then says, “Excuse me for a moment, I just realized I have to ask Yusuf something.”
She marches up to Yusuf’s lab where she finds him playing Tetris. He closes it down guiltily when she comes in, as he’s technically still on the clock. She pretends she doesn’t notice and asks, “What do you know about Arthur, really?”
Yusuf looks shifty and says, “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Don’t try to tell me you didn’t look him up the moment Eames hired him,” Ariadne warns. She waggles her eyebrows at Yusuf, knowing that her Robin routine doesn’t work on him anyway. “I know you. Eames is your best friend, you wouldn’t risk letting a stranger into our household.”
“I wouldn’t risk you either,” Yusuf reminds her, eyes soft. Ariadne ducks her head, grinning helplessly. Yusuf is like her crazy uncle who just happens to spend eight hours a day in their attic. “And you’re right. Come here so I can show you what I dug up.”
Ariadne drags her usual stool around to sit behind him and props her elbows on his shoulders. Yusuf pulls up a file folder and starts clicking through it.
“He’s twenty-eight, born in Connecticut,” he says, showing her Arthur’s birth certificate. “Practicing but not devout Jew. Well-educated. Studied at Georgetown in ROTC, then joined the army for four years. Spent the last two years in Paris getting his Masters in Linguistics.”
“Linguistics?” interrupts Ariadne, surprised. “Really?”
Yusuf shrugs. “I don’t know either. Anyway, there isn’t anything to indicate that he is anything other than above board.”
“Hmm,” Ariadne says. She slips off the stool and pads around the room restlessly. “I want to trust him,” she admits. “And that worries me. I thought Eames had me trained better than that.”
“You trust that Mal you met, right?” Yusuf says. Ariadne doesn’t bother asking how he knows that.
“That’s because I know her secret, too,” Ariadne explains. “Mutually assured destruction is a wonderful way to build a friendship.”
“That is the most disturbing thing I have ever heard you say and I’ve known you since you were ten and prone to making morbid comments about the murders Eames investigated.” Yusuf leans back in his chair and eyes her. “I think you need more normal friends. Maybe you should start seeing Fischer.”
“Um, no,” Ariadne says. “Do you remember the last time I tried to have a boyfriend? I brought him home once and Eames scared him so bad he refused to come back.”
Yusuf grins. “It was my idea for him to casually mention his time in the SAS.”
“I hate you,” Ariadne says feelingly. “There was nothing wrong with Andrew.”
“Maybe not, but we were worried about you,” Yusuf explains. “He might have freaked out if he knew about the whole…vigilante thing.”
“Which he didn’t and I wouldn’t have had to tell him, either,” Ariadne protests. “Because of you two, I had to make do with sneaking around, which I do enough of already.”
“If it helps,” Yusuf says, “Eames approves of Robert.”
“It is not helpful at all,” Ariadne insists, annoyed. “Robert is nothing to me.”
It’s a lie and Yusuf’s answering expression tells her that he knows very well how much of a lie it is. Ariadne had first met Robert Fischer at the Fischer Christmas party when she was eleven. They’d flown down to Sydney especially because Eames liked to purchase some of Fischer-Morrow’s more idiosyncratic energy products. Also, Eames held some sort of grudge against Fischer-Morrow’s competition, Saito Energy. Eames is always really vague when Ariadne asks why.
In any event, Ariadne had been wearing a red satin dress with her very first pair of heels when she’d been introduced to the older, handsome Robert Fischer. He had been sixteen at the time and he’d been wearing his school blazer and was the most beautiful boy she had ever seen.
“Eames,” she had asked in a loud whisper, “is he a prince?” Robert, of course, had heard and had promptly turned as red as Ariadne’s dress.
What made it worse was when Robert came to England to study at Oxford. He would spend weekends at their place to study. Eames couldn’t really come up with a convincing reason to forbid it, and so Robert was there when Ariadne came back from patrol one night. Ariadne snuck in, carefully arranged to look like she had just come back from a tryst, and walked straight into Robert, who had apparently decided to get some cookies from the kitchen.
“Ariadne!” he’d said, grabbing her shoulders gently. “What are you still doing awake? I thought you went to bed hours ago.”
Ariadne had blinked at him and then gestured vaguely, said, “Boyfriend. Don’t tell Eames,” then ran away from his bed head and earnest expression.
After that, things had been even more awkward between them, if that was possible. Robert had fallen for her ditzy socialite act and seemed to think that she needed protecting, as he made a point of asking about boyfriends every time he saw her. And at the Christmas party the year before, he had gently pried her off when she had kissed him and told her that she should date boys her own age.
“You have been in love with Robert since you were eleven years old,” Yusuf says. “Also, do you know if dinner is ready yet? Arthur makes good halal.”
“He was making cookies when I left,” Ariadne informs him.
“Ooh!” Yusuf says, getting up. “Cookies!”
The four of them sit around the kitchen table and eat cookies with milk or coffee, depending on the person. Eames accidentally kicks Ariadne in his attempt to nudge Arthur’s foot. Ariadne retaliates by telling Arthur about the time that Eames almost had to marry the Duchess of Kent because they’d woken up together after a night of particularly drunken revelry.
“Clearly you’ve needed a personal assistant for years,” Arthur observes.
“I have a full staff at my family’s estate,” Eames protests. “But this is my London home; I refuse to have an overabundance of servants here.”
“Just a few maids and the occasional cook, but he scares most of them off,” Yusuf says through a mouthful of cookies.
“Thank you very much, dearest friends,” Eames says sarcastically. “I love you all so very much.”
“What is family for?” Ariadne asks with a wide grin.
“Just for that, I’m stringing up mistletoe at the party,” Eames threatens and Yusuf hoots with laughter at the horrified expression on Ariadne’s face.
The first night she’s back, Eames doesn’t let her go on patrol. “You need to readjust to London,” he insists as he gets into the suit. “I’ll try not to be out too late. You can come out tomorrow.”
She scowls at him. “I’m not fourteen any more, Eames,” she points out irritably. “You can’t just tell me to stay here.”
“I can ask you politely,” Eames says. “Plus, Arthur is going to keep an eye on you.”
Ariadne glances over at Arthur, who is leaning against the desk for the console. He meets her gaze and smiles thinly. He doesn’t look overjoyed by the prospect of baby-sitting her. “This is ridiculous, Eames,” she says matter-of-factly. “Is something going on that you don’t want to tell me about?”
“Of course not.” Eames puts his cowl on and scowls at her, becoming Batman with one change of facial expression. “Don’t wait up for me.”
Ariadne rolls her eyes, but waits until he sneaks out of the lair, watching until the edge of his cloak whisks around the corner. “I hate it when he goes out alone,” she tells Arthur, though she doesn’t look at him. “I hate when he goes somewhere I can’t follow.”
After a long moment of silence, Arthur admits, “I don’t know how you did it for so long. I’ve only been here a few months and it already makes me feel ill when he leaves.” He turns slightly red as he says this, as though he’s ashamed to say so. “He’s always getting himself shot or stabbed.”
“It’s part of the job,” Ariadne offers, knowing it’s not really reassuring. “It’s something we’ve gotten used to.”
“You shouldn’t have to,” Arthur says. “The police exist for a reason.”
Ariadne doesn’t say anything for a long moment, thinking about how the police had tried to help after her parents had been killed. “The police do their best,” she agrees. “And they’re good for some kinds of crime. But Arthur, you know Mal – sometimes people with special skills are more needed.”
“But you don’t have special skills!” snaps Arthur, throwing his hands up in the air. “You’re just an ordinary girl and he’s just a man!”
“Eames is anything but just a man,” Ariadne points out and Arthur smile wryly.
“That is true,” he admits. “And he’s good at what he does.” He rubs his face and sighs. “Well, you’re going to bed, Ariadne. You need to get over your jetlag.”
“I already have,” Ariadne protests, but Arthur marches her off to bed, gives her another cookie, and threatens to lock her in if she tries to sneak out after Eames. Ariadne can see why Eames likes him.
Ariadne cooks herself breakfast in the morning, as Arthur apparently stayed up waiting for Eames to come home. She eats her eggs by herself in the overly-decorated dining room before going to see if Yusuf is in yet.
He is and he’s fiddling with one of Eames’s grappling guns when she walks in. “Stupid thing broke last night,” he tells Ariadne. “Eames almost broke his arm.”
“Is he all right?” Ariadne asks worriedly, straddling her stool.
“Arthur’s taking care of him,” Yusuf assures her. “He’s quite good at that. I’m sure Eames will be fine by tonight. He’s just got some nasty bruises.” He twirls a tiny screwdriver in the side of the gun and then sets it aside. “I have some gauntlets for you to try on,” he tells her.
She holds out her hands and he fits the gauntlets on over her wrists. They fit just a little loosely to leave room for the underclothes she wears to keep the armor from chafing her skin. “How’s the research coming?” she asks, nodding to the test tubes behind him.
“I’ve worked out a better formula for the sleeping pills so that they’re less addictive.” He cinches the gauntlets and drops his hands. “You should take some back to Paris with you. I don’t think you sleep enough.”
Ariadne tests her arm movement and finds that the gauntlets are light enough for easy movement, and they don’t restrict her wrists too much. “Haven’t you ever considered getting a real job?” she asks Yusuf curiously. “I’m sure you could get a job anywhere.”
“Don’t tell him that,” protests Eames from behind them and they both turn to look at the door to the attic. Eames is leaning heavily against the doorframe, Arthur scowling behind him. “He’ll run off to get a job and leave us with nothing.”
“I do have other jobs,” Yusuf says calmly without batting an eye. “I consult with many manufacturers and I do have patents on several of my inventions.”
Eames limps in, heavily favoring his left side. “What do the gauntlets do?” he asks interestedly, squinting at Ariadne’s arms. “Anything interesting?”
“Quite,” Yusuf says. “When connected to the accompanying gloves, she’ll be able to shoot knock out gas or tranquilizing darts.”
“You always give her the coolest toys,” complains Eames, sitting down in one of the chairs across the desk. “Why not me?”
“Because you break them,” Yusuf says petulantly, gesturing at the disemboweled grappling gun. “I worked hard on that, Eames, and you broke the damn thing.”
“He’s been eating too many of my cookies,” Arthur says dryly. He comes into the room, neatly pressed as if he was born into a suit, and he forces a glass of water and a pill into Eames’s hands. “You should still be in bed.”
“Nag,” Eames accuses, but he takes the pill and the water. He sets the glass down on Yusuf’s desk when he’s done and Arthur snaps it up immediately.
“Could you all please leave me alone so I can work?” demands Yusuf irritably. “I have work to do that isn’t for you, Eames.”
“After all the help I give you, this is the thanks I get?” Eames pouts and gets up, limping towards the door. Arthur tries to offer him an arm to lean on, but Eames shrugs him off almost immediately, frowning. Ariadne takes off her gauntlets and sets them back on Yusuf’s table. He gives her a small smile before making shooing motions.
Ariadne heads downstairs to the practice room and changes into her workout clothes. She does warm-up stretches and is about to bring out the punching bag when Arthur comes into the room. She pauses, her hair coming loose around her face, and waits for him to speak.
“I thought you could use a sparring partner.” He shrugs off his suit jacket when she nods, and sets it on a hanger. He ducks behind the changing screen and changes into sweatpants and a t-shirt.
Ariadne reties up her hair and tightens the wrappings on her hands. Arthur moves with casual grace, she notes now, sizing him up. His balance is nearly impeccable, and he’s obviously well-muscled. Ariadne thinks they’re probably about an even match, and that’s only because she has a few years on him in unconventional training.
They circle each other for a moment, and then Arthur lunges, his arm snapping out. Ariadne flips out of the way, swinging her leg to catch Arthur’s ankle. He twists aside, her foot only catching the edge of his calf. They back up from each other and give each other evaluating looks.
They spar for almost an hour and by the end of it, Ariadne is sweaty and panting and feeling slightly bruised. Arthur’s hair is mussed and he’s smiling at Ariadne approvingly.
“I used to worry about you,” he admits, mopping his brow with a towel. “But you’re good.”
“Thanks. You’re not so bad yourself,” Ariadne tells him. Arthur’s faster and more agile than Eames; his fighting style is more similar to Ariadne’s, though he’s not as acrobatic as she is. It made for an interesting challenge. “We should do this again, if you don’t mind.”
“Sure,” Arthur says. He glances at the clock. “I should get dressed again,” he tells her. “Eames has some appointment or another and I have to be at his side, like a loving wife.”
Ariadne nods and falls into a stretch, going through the yoga routine Eames had taught her when she was twelve. “Don’t keep him out too late,” she teases, pressing her face to her calf.
Arthur makes an amused sound and grabs his clothes before departing to shower. Ariadne stays downstairs for another hour, stretching out the muscles she’s neglected as a result of studying. She sends off an email to Mal, inviting her to the party and mentioning Arthur as discretely as she can.
She eats lunch, forces herself to take a nap, and checks her email to find a message from Mal, saying she’d be delighted to come, and would it be okay if she brought her children?
Ariadne frowns and sets off to see if Arthur and Eames are home. She finds them in Eames’s study, where Eames is frowning at a spreadsheet while Arthur talks to him about something.
“Do I have to go to that fundraiser?” Eames asks petulantly. “I’m pretty sure the Queen wants me dead.”
“If you weren’t always out and about with the princesses, it wouldn’t be a problem,” Arthur says shortly with a complete lack of sympathy. Ariadne grins at Eames’s annoyed expression and knocks quietly on the door to announce her presence.
“We could have used you years ago,” she tells Arthur. “He tried to have a PA when I was eleven, but we fired her after a week and after that, no one wanted the job.”
“It was a week and a half,” protests Eames. “And she was so nosy and wanted to treat us both like children. Granted, I don’t think I was particularly qualified to parent you, but she didn’t have to be so rude about it.”
“I think you did a perfectly good job of parenting me,” Ariadne says, crossing the floor of the study. She has quite vivid memories of the two of them puzzling over her Algebra homework before giving up and calling Yusuf to help; trying to bake a cake for Princess Alexandra’s seventh birthday; running across rooftops and beating up muggers together. Definitely not the most conventional of childhoods, but she doesn’t regret any of it except for the circumstances that brought her into Eames’s care.
“You’re too kind,” Eames says wryly, eyebrow quirked. “I don’t think I was a very good father.”
“Perhaps,” Ariadne acknowledges. “Perhaps you weren’t a good father, but I think you made an excellent older brother.” She leans across the desk and kisses him on the cheek. He smiles fondly up at her.
“Ah, my little girl is all grown up,” he says nostalgically. “Arthur, they grow up so fast.”
“You’re still young,” Arthur points out in a slightly bored tone of voice. “You could still have a child.”
“Only if you would deign to have one with me,” Eames purrs and Arthur swats at his shoulder without even blinking.
“I think I would prefer that,” Ariadne says frankly. “I don’t particularly want to be a Duchess.”
“You would make a magnificent duchess,” Eames informs her. “Even if you aren’t English.”
“I shouldn’t be allowed to be Duchess,” Ariadne continues, repeating her part of the often held argument. “The King thinks I’m an idiot.”
“The King thinks we’re both idiots and the Queen has banned me from the palace,” Eames says cheerfully. “It makes our lives much easier, Ariadne, to have them think we’re useless pieces of peerage.”
“So long as they don’t strip us of our titles,” Ariadne points out. “That could make things difficult.”
“I honestly don’t understand how the two of you functioned without a PA,” Arthur says. He pokes Eames in the shoulder. “Sign this so I can send it off.”
Eames signs his name with a flourish. “I must teach you how to forge my name, Arthur,” he remarks jovially. “It would make both of our lives easier.”
“Are you trying to get rid of me, milord?” asks Arthur, a teasing tone to his voice. Ariadne bites her lip to hide her smile.
“Never, Arthur,” Eames assures him. He looks up at Ariadne. “Is there something you wanted?”
Ariadne remembers the reason she’d come up to see them and says, “Yes. Arthur, did you know Mal had children?”
“Yes, two of them.” Arthur shuffles the papers in his arms. “Philippa and James. They’ll be about…five and three now, I think?”
“Ah,” Ariadne says. “Well, she wanted to know if she could bring them to the party.”
“Of course,” Eames exclaims, spreading his arms wide. “The more the merrier! Perhaps we will be able to talk Lord Arundel into playing Santa Claus again, he did a marvelous job at the last party.”
“As long as his son is not there.” Ariadne shudders. “He’s such a skeeze.”
“Agreed.” Eames smiles at her. “You’d better get some more sleep before we go out tonight. We have a full patrol ahead of us.”
“Roger that,” she says, and she leaves to go take another nap before nightfall.
The two of them leave the house a little after ten and take to the roofs. Eames has his police scanner hooked into his utility belt, and he listens carefully while Ariadne listens in on the different mics they have placed around the city.
“We should get Arthur or Yusuf to do this part,” she tells Eames, switching channels. “He could aggregate the information and tell us where to go.”
Eames makes a thoughtful noise. “Not a bad idea,” he admits. He freezes, pressing a hand to his ear, then says, “I’ve got something.”
They stop a robbery in progress, then split up to cover a mugging and an attempted rape. Ariadne sends the would-be rapist into the arms of a policeman who’d heard the racket and helps the girl to her feet. “Are you all right?” Ariadne asks in a low voice.
The girl breathes out a sharp breath and then nods. “Yes.” She’s shaking a little, but she meets Ariadne’s eyes easily when she asks, “Should I go with the police to make a statement?”
“That would be good,” Ariadne says, and she pulls the policeman over to tell him that he’d better actually do something about it rather than sit on his ass, only in much politer terms. She sends him back to the car a little terrified and goes to find Eames.
Eames is breathing just a little harder than usual, the only sign that he had been wrestling with a rather large mugger who had been intent on depriving the young businessman of his wallet. “Everything go well?” he asks her and she nods.
The night is relatively calm. No horrific murders to investigate, no mob meetings to break up. Which is really a good thing, as the Christmas party is in three days and Ariadne is not prepared to have a broken arm just in time for Mal’s arrival. As the sun begins to rise, rays turning the grey streets a slightly more appealing shade, the two of them return home and collapse into bed to sleep for a few hours.
The days leading up to the Christmas party are much as they were before Ariadne left for university. Nights are taken up with patrol and days are consumed with sleeping and talking to Yusuf or Arthur, who has taken up the offer of monitoring the radio frequencies with gusto. He seems to like having something concrete to do, though Ariadne isn’t entirely sure when he actually sleeps. Arthur assures her, when she asks, that he doesn’t require much sleep and that he’s perfectly fine.
Since he never manages to look anything less than well-rested and perfectly turned out, Ariadne doesn’t question his assertion and accepts it as a quirk, though she thinks maybe she should call Mal and verify if Arthur’s telling the truth.
On the Friday before the party, Ariadne gets into a nasty tangle with a rather muscular man who nearly has her in a chokehold when Mal shows up out of nowhere, decking him in the chin and tricking him into walking into a pair of cuffs. “Looks like it’s a good thing I came early,” Mal remarks with a saucy grin, pinning the man’s hands behind him.
“I should say so,” agrees Ariadne and they take him to the police. Mal, dressed in her skintight leather catsuit, draws appreciative stares.
“Arthur called me and told me you might need help,” Mal explains later as they head back to the house. “I left the children with him and came out to help you. I’ll take them back to the hotel once I’ve changed, though.”
“No you won’t,” Ariadne protests. “You’ll stay at the house, we have rooms you can use. It’s no trouble,” she adds, seeing Mal open her mouth to protest. “Besides, I think Eames will adore you.”
Eames does adore her. He kisses Mal’s hand when Ariadne introduces them, halfway down the darkened hall while James and Philippa cling to their mother’s legs. Arthur gathers James into his arms and watches with soft-eyed amusement while Mal and Eames converse in French.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Lorraine, and I hope you enjoy your quarters. The room isn’t exactly prepared –”
“I’m sure it will be fine,” Mal assures him. She hoists Philippa up onto her hip and says, “Bed time, children.”
Philippa makes a sleepy noise of protest, but allows herself to be carried into the guest bedroom without kicking up a fuss. Arthur carries James after her, and Ariadne hears the soft murmur of voices before Arthur reemerges. She bids both him and Eames goodnight before excusing herself to her bedroom.
Ariadne is about to shut the door to her room when outside she hears Arthur saying, “Ariadne could have been killed today, Eames. It’s lucky that Mal was here.”
“We run that risk every day,” Eames reminds Arthur, his voice very bland.
“I know,” Arthur says. “It doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
Ariadne shuts the door silently and crawls into bed, curling up. Her neck will probably be really sore come morning, but for now she’s just eager to sleep. The thrill of having a brush with death has long since ceased to faze her. She closes her eyes and slips easily into a dreamless slumber.
When Ariadne finally gets up the next morning, the house smells like food. She pulls on a sweatshirt and pads downstairs to the kitchen to find Mal and Arthur bickering while Arthur stirs something in a pot. Mal glances up at Ariadne and beams.
“Arthur used to be miserable at cooking,” she tells Ariadne. “Until I taught him how.”
“I could cook,” Arthur protests, though he doesn’t sound too upset. He’s grinning, though, and clearly happy to be with Mal.
“Where are the kids?” asks Ariadne, looking around. The children had clearly been there at some point – the kitchen table is littered with the remains of two plates of pancakes – but they are nowhere to be seen.
“They’re with that man in the attic,” Mal says, snapping her fingers. “What was his name? Yusuf! I like him, he is very intelligent. He has already come up with four plans for a new uniform.”
“You’re not stealing him from me!” Ariadne protests.
“I think Eames would object to you staking your claim on Yusuf like that,” Arthur says blandly, stirring the pot with precise motions. Mal swears under her breath in French and smacks his hand. “What? I was just stirring!”
“You should only cook simple things that are made in a pan,” Mal grumbles. “You almost burned it.” She turns off the stove and shoos Arthur. “Go wake up Lord Eames, isn’t it time he wakes up?”
Arthur rolls his eyes, but does as she says, which Ariadne can’t help but find endlessly fascinating. Mal goes back to whatever she was doing and says nothing for a long moment. Then, she asks, “Do you know what it is like to be in love?”
Ariadne blinks, startled. “I beg your pardon?”
“I am just thinking,” Mal explains, looking over her shoulder. “It has been almost two years since I…lost my husband. He, he may have been a very –” She flaps her hand, apparently at a loss for words. “But I did love him.”
“What he did to you was inexcusable,” Ariadne says flatly. “He tried to keep you under his control, Mal. He took away what made you beautiful and special.”
“No one can take that away from me,” Mal says sharply, her spoon banging against a pot. “No one can. Certainly not Dominic Cobb.”
Ariadne shuts her mouth and doesn’t say anything else. She doesn’t know Mal very well and she’s never met Dom Cobb, though of course she’s heard of him. She just doesn’t understand what Mal’s saying. She could never forgive or love someone who’d tried to take over her mind like that.
Later, she tells Mal about Robert. “I really don’t want to make an idiot of myself like I did last year,” she explains to Mal. “Rescue me if you think things are going badly.”
“I am delighted to be your wing man,” Mal replies and she stubbornly refuses to change the wording to wing woman, even though Ariadne needles her about it right up until Eames comes downstairs dressed in his suit with Arthur padding behind him. Philippa, who clearly has a crush on Eames, giggles and hides behind Mal while James holds up his arms, wanting to be lifted up. Eames obliges him, though Arthur scowls, and Ariadne grins at James’s delighted laughter.
The guests start arriving around six, and Ariadne puts her game face on. She’s wearing an elegant cocktail dress, her hair swept up. She feels distinctly false and even more masked than she does when she’s wearing her Robin suit, but at least Mal is at her side, looking beautiful and sophisticated.
Eames looks slightly ragged, but people are used to that with him. Arthur is fixing Eames’s tie when the first guests arrive, and he growls something to Eames before going to get the door. Yusuf returns not long after the first few guests and takes charge of James and Philippa, who are getting restless already.
“This is going to be a bloody disaster,” Eames says in an undertone to Ariadne, who privately agrees. She looks up at him and tries a smile, but it doesn’t fly.
Robert arrives around seven, by which point Ariadne has migrated to their sitting room, where she is telling the youngest Prince of York about her studies in Paris. She spots him across the room and immediately feels like running. She is saved by Mal, who materializes at her side as if she’s been called, and says, “Pardon me, highness, but I must borrow Lady Ariadne for a moment.”
Mal hustles them out of the room and into the kitchen, where Yusuf is playing Life with the children. There are a few others who aren’t old enough to be wandering around without their parents’ keeping an eye on them, and Yusuf always volunteers to watch them.
“I hate these stupid parties,” he’d explained to Ariadne in exasperation one night when she was straightening his tie. “But Eames makes me attend so he has someone to complain to if he gets bored.” Ariadne had not been happy when she’d gotten old enough to be excused from the children’s table.
“That was him, right?” Mal asks eagerly, peering out the kitchen door. “The one with the nice suit and the very blue eyes?”
“If you are talking about Robert Fischer, then yes,” Yusuf chips in unhelpfully. Ariadne sends him a narrow-eyed glare, and, in response, he offers her a beaming smile.
“He is certainly very pretty,” Mal observes, still at the door. She releases it after a moment and says, “Bah! If you say you wish to avoid him and you want to not make a fool out of yourself, then I will help you achieve that goal.”
Mal, however, quickly gets sucked into the game of Life, which she’s apparently never played before, and Ariadne starts getting antsy in the kitchen. She eats four gingerbread cookies before she realizes what she’s doing and then she heads out back into the party to mingle.
Arthur catches her around the waist almost immediately. He leans his head in close and says, “Bored already?”
Ariadne looks up at him and can’t hold back a grin. Arthur looks a little less formal than usual, his cheeks flushed and his hair slightly mussed. “Had some of the eggnog, did you?” she asks shrewdly. “Did you let Eames spike it again?”
Arthur laughs brightly. Yes, she thinks, definitely a little tipsy. “Only a bit,” he confesses. They’ve come to a stop by the fireplace, the warmth ghosting across Ariadne’s bare legs. Someone nearby – Ariadne thinks it’s the film star Janie Moore – says, “Mistletoe!”
Ariadne looks up and sees that she is, indeed, standing under the mistletoe. She sighs dramatically for effect and looks at Arthur, who is looking vaguely mischievous. “Kiss me, Arthur darling,” she says loudly so that the guests can hear.
Arthur, a small smirk on his face, leans down and presses a kiss to her mouth. It’s fairly chaste, as kisses go, but it goes on a beat too long for a casual kiss and when they part she frowns up at him. “Trust me,” he says, barely moving his lips. His eyes slide to his left and Ariadne glances over to see Robert Fischer staring at the two of them, his knuckles white on the stem of his wine glass.
Ariadne looks back at Arthur, who winks at her before letting her go. Ariadne resolves to have a talk with him later – she suspects Yusuf, at least, was also involved – and she moves in the opposite direction, intending to avoid Robert.
Which of course fails spectacularly after only a few minutes of idle chat with an old school friend. Her friend disappears on the arm of her boyfriend, and Robert materializes in front of her a moment later. He looks a little out of sorts, and he’s fidgeting.
“Ariadne,” he says, lifting his wine glass in toast.
“Robert,” she acknowledges. “Are you enjoying the party?”
“Very much so,” Robert assures her. “Lord Eames certainly went all out on the decorations.”
“You realize you can call him Eames,” Ariadne reminds him. “You’ve spent enough time here.”
Robert goes a little red and looks down. After a moment, he asks, “So, was that your…boyfriend?”
Ariadne stares at him, uncomprehending. Then it clicks in her mind and she says, “Who, Arthur? No, he’s definitely not my boyfriend.” She glances across the room and sees Arthur and Eames in one corner, looking giddy and giggly. “If anything, he’s likely to become my stepdad,” she says dryly.
Robert’s head jerks up at that. “Oh,” he says, blankly. “Wait. What?”
Ariadne moves aside and indicates by inclining her head. Robert looks and then says, “Oh,” again. Ariadne starts to step away, eager to avoid making an idiot out of herself, but Robert catches her arm.
“Wait,” he says urgently. “Ariadne, it’s – it’s good to see you. You look nice.”
“Thank you,” Ariadne replies, fighting down a blush. “You look good too.”
Robert smiles, suddenly. It’s a rare expression for him, and it lights up his face. Ariadne’s stomach jumps and she looks down, her face heating up despite her best efforts. She hurries away before she can say something stupid and talks to some musician for half an hour, steadily downing glasses of champagne.
She realizes after the third glass that she hadn’t thought things through all the way. She decides to go back to the kitchen, where at least Yusuf or Mal can keep an eye on her, but her balance has gone to shit with the combination of tipsiness and stiletto heels (her nemesis). She starts to stumble, and is caught around the waist by a sturdy, steady arm.
“Careful there,” Robert says kindly, voice warm in her ear. He sets her back on her feet. “Had a bit too much?”
“Just a little,” she admits, clutching to his arm. “And the heels.”
Robert looks down – and Ariadne doesn’t think she’s imagining the admiring expression when his gaze reaches her legs. “That would do it. Where did you want to go?”
She considers the question, and then says firmly, “The library.”
“The library?” he asks, startled, then rallies admirably. “All right, let me help you there.”
Ariadne kicks off her shoes and carries them in one hand, leaning on Robert more heavily than she actually needs to. The library is quiet, empty, and cozy – utterly perfect. Ariadne sits down on one of the leather chairs with a sigh. “That’s a relief.”
Robert takes a seat facing her. “You seem different,” he says. “Usually you’re rather…well, flighty.”
Ariadne laughs, tilting her head back against her seat. “Yep,” she agrees. “That’s the cover.”
“Don’t you know?” she teases. “I’m Robin.” At his blank look, she elaborates, “As in Batman’s sidekick.”
Robert laughs, disbelieving. Then, apparently seeing the unchanging expression on her face, he sobers and his eyes go huge in his face. “Wait,” he says slowly. “Seriously?”
“You should know,” Ariadne says. “I want you to know that I’m not just a ditzy heiress.”
Robert slides off his chair to his knees in front of her. He takes her hands in his and says, “Ariadne.” His voice cracks a little and he blushes, but doesn’t look away from her face. “You are the most amazing person I know.” His voice burns with sincerity. “I’ve always known that you were special.”
Ariadne rolls her eyes, prepared to protest the word special, but then Robert is leaning up to close the distance between them, his mouth warm and soft on hers. She half-falls off the chair to meet him, her fingers curling desperately in the collar of his shirt, and he catches her in his arms, steady and reassuring.
When Robert comes over the following night to take Ariadne out to dinner, Arthur locks her out of the room with the orders to keep an eye on Philippa and James. She sits with them, straining her ears in vain for any hint of what Eames or Yusuf or Mal (who shows no signs of wanting to return to Paris) is saying to Robert.
When he finally emerges, he looks a little shell-shocked but mostly intact, so Ariadne compromises with a glare at her makeshift family unit before taking his arm. “I apologize for them,” she says loudly, throwing a glare at Eames over her shoulder. He beams and waves unrepentantly at her. “They’re crazy.”
“They’re just trying to keep you safe,” Robert says. He pats her arm. “Though I’m pretty sure you can take care of yourself.”
“Hear that?” Ariadne tosses back at the evilly grinning Yusuf and the smirking Mal and Arthur. “He knows the truth.”
“Have fun, children!” Eames yells as they go through the front door. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t!”
“Fortunately,” Ariadne says, shutting the door behind her, “that leaves us with quite a bit of leeway.”
Robert smiles and leans down to kiss her. Ariadne smiles back against his mouth as one of the paparazzi, who have been lurking outside the house since the night before, leaps up and snaps a picture of them. She can’t bring herself to mind too much, though. She just plays up to the attention, beaming at the camera, and then drags Robert to the car before anything else can happen.
They tear off down the street, tires squealing as Ariadne jerks the wheel to avoid hitting one particularly persistent paparazzo, and Robert laughs, loud and open.
Dinner is quiet and nice, as Robert talks about his work at his father’s company and asks about what Ariadne’s studying. Afterwards, they make-out in the car for what feels like ages, but is probably only half an hour before Robert says breathlessly, “I promised Eames I’d have you home in time for patrol.” His hand is on her upper thigh, his thumb rubbing distractingly over her bare skin.
Ariadne groans, but folds herself back over into the driver’s seat, yanking her dress back down around her knees. She drives back to the house and lets Robert come down with her to the cellar. Arthur is sitting at the computer already, and Eames is just about to put his helmet on.
“Almost late,” Eames says teasingly. Ariadne makes a face at him and ducks behind a changing screen to get into her own uniform. When she emerges, Robert’s eyes are soft and fond, if a little worried. He kisses her once, “for luck,” and makes her promise to get back in one piece.
“I promise,” she says against his mouth, and then she and Eames are disappearing into the night together.