Ariadne threw her coat across the room and let her messenger bag drop to the floor with a solid thunk. It didn't sound as though her laptop had broken, so she didn't bother to check it. Striding across the floor with heavy, angry steps, she ripped her cell phone out of her back pocket and dropped it on the counter. Her keys were next, and then she pulled off her watch. Once it was plunked down next to the keys, she whirled around to face Arthur as he came into their apartment and quietly locked the door. "This day can just go die in a fire," she seethed.
"It's over, it's done," he told her in a soothing voice, coming forward to hold her.
She shook off his comforting presence, deciding to pace instead. She grit her teeth and clenched her fists at her sides. "He's an arrogant prick."
"Yes, he is," Arthur told her dutifully.
"I can't believe you followed him for years."
"Someone had to keep him alive," he said in reasonable tones.
"Maybe you shouldn't have!"
"Philipa and James missed him," Arthur said with a sigh. He caught her as she paced, steps jerky and rigid. She stood stiffly in the circle of his arms, refusing to let him soothe her. "He's selfish, and was cruel. But we needed his contact list."
"I am so tired of his self righteous bullshit!"
Arthur squeezed her tighter. "Dom has been the best extractor in the business for years. So we needed that list from him. Even I didn't have all the names."
"Selfish bastard," Ariadne seethed.
"But now you don't have to deal with him."
"I don't know how you were able to."
"I played this game," Arthur said slowly, running his fingers along her spine. "Whenever he was being unreasonable, I started playing it. I called it the Reverse Game."
That seemed to perk up her interest, and Ariadne looked up at him. He could feel the way her body softened a bit, and the anger was dampened just enough that she wasn't ready to spit nails. "How do you play? What kind of game is it?"
"Before you even start to play, you have to have a calm place in mind. That would be the safe zone," Arthur said. "It can be anywhere, and I don't even have to know what it is."
"I can tell you. It's our bedroom."
He smiled approvingly at her. "Well, good. That's my spot now, too." She mirrored his smile, just as he hoped she would, and he ran his hands down her back. Ariadne shifted enough to pull her arms free and wrap them around him. "Okay. Picture our room, as much detail as you can."
"You know me and detail," she told him, eyebrows lifted in an arch expression.
"Exactly. Think about it in the way you would plan a level. All the details, the atmosphere inviting, a place you want to come to."
"Where you'd be waiting to fuck me on the bed?" she asked, a teasing lilt creeping into her voice.
Arthur ducked down enough to kiss her forehead. "Naked and ready for you to have your wicked way with me," he promised her.
"I like this safe zone," Ariadne said, untucking his dress shirt from his pants. She ran her short nails along the skin of his back, making him shiver. "So how do you play?"
"I'm sure you noticed there are certain phrases that Dom uses a lot," Arthur began, waiting for her to nod. "There's a point value for different phrases, and some have either a lot of them, some have negative points, some carry reverse meanings. Tell me something he said that really pissed you off."
Ariadne's mouth pinched in distaste. "You don't have the training."
"That's worth ten points. Give me another."
"You don't have the experience."
"Well, that's a variation of 'You don't have the training,' so it only earns you five points."
"What about 'I know what I'm doing'?"
"Definitely ten points."
"You have to listen to me."
"Only five points. If it's said in conjunction with 'I know what I'm doing,' it's worth only two."
"Why only two?" she asked in surprise.
"Because he says that combination way too often, so it's too easy to earn points that way," Arthur said with a smile.
She snickered, and leaned into him as she tightened the hug. After a few heartbeats under her ear, Ariadne remembered something. "And what about the Safe Zone?" she asked, pulling back and looking up at him.
"Every twenty-five points, I get to ignore his ranting and stay there for an hour, without having to lie and say I'm doing more background research."
She laughed, shaking her head. "I knew you couldn't possibly do that much research for those jobs!" she crowed. "But there aren't too many reversed points in the game. Why call it that?"
Arthur lifted her up in his arms enough to get them to the same eye and mouth level. "Because that's how I reverse the tension that I rack up. It's how I dealt with bullies growing up, assholes in the military with higher rank, dicks that think me working a job means I'll be a slave to every whim they have. How else can I maintain my calm so well?"
Wrapping her arms tightly around him, Ariadne kissed him full on the mouth. "Thanks for teaching me the game."
He smiled at her. "You're welcome, Ariadne."
"Why don't we go to our Safe Zone now?" she suggested, tugging on his shirt. "I think that is a fun Reverse Game to play."
"I do like how creative you can be," he began, starting to walk to the bedroom. "Feel better now?" he asked, kissing the tip of her nose.