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i'll wear a mask (for you)

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Ariadne wants to understand. She takes a long, long dive inside Cobb’s subconscious, walking on malleable sands and shards of wine glasses, hoping she can reshape it with her bare hands alone. Inside that prison of memories, and in the process of trying to decipher Cobb, she falls in love with the shadow of his wife.

-

It starts on a Monday: she’s just walking through Paris in the nineties, dreamlike Paris under the rain, with a friend so old she can barely tell their names apart. They must have known each other for decades and centuries, for she can barely tell their skins apart, and she can barely tell how they got there.

She can barely tell why she should have cared.

-

(Topside, Cobb is sound asleep, and that’s the way it will remain. Another day, another story, he’ll get to be the hero too.)

-

She visits the rooms of Mal’s mind, the castles she built, six feet under: the second, the third dream level. It’s a walk through the dust, meeting her friends and family, and later on meeting her kids, meeting her husband before she becomes his late wife.

She thinks she’s changing history when she’s just dreaming open-eyed, her hand inside Mal’s hand frail and weak and scared, and they’re waiting for a train.

-

(This isn’t growing old; it’s growing apart, together. Limbo stretches between them when Mal plants an idea, a seed deep inside her mind.

Ariadne grows to think she’s changing history, when she’s just dreaming open-eyed.)

-

In Limbo, they spend their free time fighting, and Ariadne learns time there is inherently free. The scratches and bruises and burns barely hurt, they just tear at their skin waiting to be healed. The words thrown like arrows are a different story, a sad cautionary tale. Those wounds don’t heal; those girls don’t heal.

-

They build stories, and buildings around them. Ariadne listens to Mal talk for hours on end, that lilt to her voice so convincing, so manipulating. Ariadne believes she can tell the truth from the lies, believes she can see the wrinkles behind the fresh-faced mask.

She will not fall for the same lie that cost Mal her life.

-

(Topside, Ariadne went missing the minute Cobb woke up.)

-

Limbo becomes her private room in Hell, the proverbial Sodom and Gomorrah she cannot burn to the ground.

Ariadne runs away, runs in a straight line first through the city then through unconstructed dream space, runs from the idea spinning inside her mind, spinning and spinning without ever relenting, even for a moment.

For a year, she manages, and then the fear of losing her mind has her crawling back to Mal, in the prim little house.

-

Mal swore she would take care of Ariadne, and so she does. They can’t dream, they can’t sleep, so Mal just turns off the lights, puts them into bed and whispers stories, incoherent things she dreamed of once upon a time. Princesses and knights, and dragons slain when they weren’t even the bad guys to begin with.

Injustice and unfairness feature often in Mal’s stories.

-

(Topside, they’re saying Ariadne drowned in nine inches of water.)

-

It takes Mal nine years of limbo to break Ariadne, to hammer the walls of her mind to the ground and to fill her mind with blood, drop after drop so slow it goes unnoticed, until Mal snaps her fingers and sets the girl on fire.

It takes Mal nine years, and then she’s left standing opposite a body bag, one notch more on the body count of the souls she helped kill.

All she is, is a notch after a notch after a notch, Mal then Cobb then Ariadne all burnt to the ground, limping and finally, finally, dead.

-

(Topside, they cremate Ariadne’s body and feet its ashes to the wind.)