In Arthur’s subconscious, the projections always have an edge to them. He’s been militarized, yes, but Arthur has a degree of control that no one else has really ever been able to achieve. No matter what the situation, Arthur’s teammates—the inception team, at least—are safe from his projections. That in no way means Ariadne isn’t just the littlest bit nervous when Mal appears beside her, stunning in a low-cut gold number that has Ariadne more than a little envious.
“This is quite the party,” Mal murmurs, and her accent curls around Ariadne, warm and almost comforting.
“The mark,” is all she offers in return. She isn’t sure she can trust Mal, even if this is Arthur’s projection of her. Mal, it seems, understands perfectly.
“You needn’t worry. See.” She tilts her perfectly coiffed head towards the back of the room, where Eames is slowly but surely extracting all of the marks secrets. Arthur is just a few steps away, calm and relaxed. “Now, be a darling and light this for me?”
Ariadne tears her gaze away from her teammates to see that Mal now has a cigarette clutched between two fingers. “I don’t—”
“Breast pocket of your suit,” Mal says, cutting her off.
And something about the way she says the word breast has Ariadne sucking in a sharp breath. Sure enough, when she slips her fingers into her pocket, she finds a lighter there. Her hands tremble only slightly as she flicks it open, and Mal’s eyes are dark and dangerous as she leans in, lips wrapped firmly around the end of her cigarette.
Mal is the first to move away, leaning back against the wall as she slowly exhales out a thin stream of smoke. Ariadne is aware of the heat pooling low in her gut, of the way she’s staring at Mal’s mouth, but she can’t tear her gaze away. If Mal is displeased by the attention, she does not show it.
“How rude of me,” Mal says suddenly, and her words pull Ariadne back into reality, or at least, dream-reality. “Here.”
Mal holds out the cigarette, but it’s clear from the way she’s holding it that she has no intention of relinquishing it completely. Ariadne darts a glance over to Eames and Arthur, who have not yet noticed her companion, then leans in to take a long, slow drag.
“Aren’t you just precious,” Mal coos when she pulls back. She brings the cigarette back to her own mouth, inhales, then lets the smoke slip from her lips once more. Her free hand comes up, and she presses her thumb to Ariadne’s mouth, smearing her lipstick. “I can see why Arthur trusts you enough to let me out.”
“His projection of me. This is the me he met in Paris, who would spend hours walking in the rain with him just because it felt good.” Mal’s gaze slides away, past Ariadne, for just the briefest of moments, then returns. “It looks like your time is up.”
Ariadne starts when she feels Mal’s hand inside her jacket, sliding down her chest, along her ribs to where she has her gun tucked—incorrectly, she knows, but it’s a dream—in the back of her trousers. Her heart skips a beat as she recalls Mal’s penchant for knees and she’s ready for just about anything when Mal leans in, lips brushing Ariadne’s ear as she speaks.
“May I do the honors,” she whispers, and it comes out like a promise.
“Yes,” Ariadne breathes, and she allows Mal to turn her around. As the barrel of the gun brushes her temple, Ariadne sees Arthur watching her, lips tilted up in the faintest of smirks.