It had all begun in Paris, so Ariadne would always hold a soft spot in her heart for the city. She had loved it before she had fallen in with career criminals, the romantic stories and the beautiful elegance in the buildings, the history in every brick and cobblestone. As a child, Ariadne had pored over travelogues and Fodor's brochures and books, hoping to craft an idea of what it might be like to actually live in the city. Her parents worked hard at two jobs each; New York was terribly expensive, even in the outer boroughs, and Ariadne was on her own a lot. She was petite, with pale skin, brown hair that tended toward waves, and brown eyes that flashed golden in the light. She learned early on how to construct a persona around herself like armor, to show others nothing of what was beneath. Maybe that was why she crafted the idea of Paris in her mind since she was very young, upset with being born into the wrong country.
Through sheer determination, Ariadne managed to earn a scholarship for a semester abroad while in college, and of course she chose a school in Paris. Her parents were so proud of her academic abilities, of the impressive drawings she painstakingly copied out of books and learned how to freehand, of the way she stood up for herself. She was everything they had hoped she would be, a testament to hard work and perseverance.
As much as it felt odd to be in the city she had dreamed of for so long, there was also a sense of exhilaration. The anticipation hadn't been unfounded, and the city itself lived up to the hopes she had carried since early childhood. She was exactly where she wanted to be, and everything about the place felt right in a way that she couldn't explain. Spending time in cafés, bars, clubs and galleries felt natural in Paris, in a way that going into New York City hadn't felt. As much as she was a child of the City, it had given her a sense of awkwardness, too. She didn't have that in Paris at all. The rhythm of the city and the energy it held touched something deep inside of her, and it felt like home.
Attending the École in Paris came as no surprise to anyone that knew her, and she absolutely flourished there. Teachers noted her eagerness to learn, the hours she crafted 3D models or slaved over the computer programs, the endless reams of journals and books she read in the library or in her tiny flat. Professor Miles had bonded with her, and she could feel the air of sadness and mystery in him, in the photos he had that he never talked about.
And then came the Fischer job, and it tilted her entire world on its axis.
Paris was still the center of everything, but she couldn't look at buildings the same way, or the people that moved through the streets. Any anonymous face might come back as a projection, could turn vicious and mean if she stepped wrong inside of a dream. Maybe there was something in somnacin that was addictive, but it was the building itself that drew her in. The layers of history that she could create with just a style of construction in a dream, or an artful tweak to the laws of physics, or adding a taste of the fantastic to the ordinary. And in an instant, she could change it all, as if stone was nothing more than putty. The power and sheer creativity was addicting itself, and now that she knew of dream share, she couldn't go back to her ordinary life once the Fischer job was done.
The Fischer job had opened Ariadne's eyes to a wider world of possibility. Was there a purpose to any of the studies Ariadne had painstakingly worked so hard for? Knowing about dream share, how could she go back to real world physics and design? How could she pretend she hadn't seen the fantastic and wonderful?
Arthur understood the conflict within her, though he did have less attachment to his former life. It had been far easier for him to leave his past behind, to take off into the unknown, to visit cities all over the world and move through them like a ghost. There was nothing that served as an anchor, exactly; he still visited his mother and sister in the United States occasionally, and told them he was a security consultant, but he could go months without contacting them. His emotional life was hidden deep, behind layers of professionalism and cool planning. Even knowing he still had family somewhere was a closely guarded secret that few knew.
With Cobb out of the picture and his former architect in the wind, Arthur needed someone he could trust to work with. Ariadne had no history with the dream share circuit, so she was safe enough to work with. Plus, he liked her.
Neither were really interested in putting a name to the tendre they had with each other, which worked. They got along well when working on a job, and Ariadne offered to show Arthur around her favorite parts of Paris. In spite of himself, Arthur found himself offering to show her various cities around the world. "We'll take jobs based on the location," he said, giving her a secretive smile. "I've been just about everywhere by now, so I know all the best places."
Ariadne's eyes twinkled with mischief and delight as she threw her arms around his neck. "That sounds perfect."
His kiss was full of promise, so she led him to her bedroom and pushed him down onto her narrow bed. The flirting and teasing during the Fischer job had drawn her in, and now there was no reason to hold back from following through. Straddling him, Ariadne kissed him again, her hands on either side of his face, framing it. His mouth opened under hers, and his hands slid up from her hips beneath her shirt to touch her skin. Ariadne broke the kiss to lean back and pull off her shirt. Flashing him a saucy grin, she unhooked her bra and sent it over her shoulder to the floor. She ground her hips down against his, still covered in her corduroys and his slacks.
"Are you going to enjoy being with me or with all those new examples of architecture?" Arthur teased, starting to unbutton her pants.
"You mean I can't have both?" she teased back.
Arthur laughed as he undid her corduroys as far as they would go with her still straddling his body. "Fine, you can have both. What would you enjoy first?"
"Your body," she began, lips curling in approval when he reached up to fondle her breasts and flick her nipples with his fingers. "After all, it is rather classically constructed. Strong, lean lines." She gasped a little and swiveled her hips against his. "Strength hidden in structure. Nothing obvious, no portcullis or fortress structure, but oh!" She broke off when he pinched one nipple and ran his nails down her side.
"You were saying?" he said playfully.
She got off of him with a mischievous huff, then chucked off the rest of her clothes. Standing beside her bed, she undid his shoes and pants. She dragged his underwear off as she pulled off his pants, leaving him in nothing more than his shirt and socks.
"I'm going to debauch the everliving fuck out of you," Ariadne said sweetly. "I'm going to enjoy breaking those classical lines into something like putty."
"I think I lost the metaphor somewhere," Arthur laughed, propping himself up on an elbow. He picked up a knee, thrusting his burgeoning erection in her direction. "But have at it."
Shoving him back in place, Ariadne straddled his face and leaned down to take his cock into her mouth. The fabric of his shirt was soft, but it rubbed deliciously against her nipples as she moved over his prone form. She loved how she could lick his length and swirl her tongue around the head, making him moan against her flesh. Arthur was fantastic at licking into her, tracing the folds and nipping at them, circling her clit as if on a treasure hunt. It was a delicious way to increase the anticipation, setting her blood on fire before he dove in deep. His tongue curled into her, then licked a stripe up to her clit. Flicking against it fast and just how she liked it, Arthur hummed a little as she sucked hard on his cock.
Shivering as she approached orgasm, Ariadne pulled her mouth away and tried to catch her breath. She made a soft mewling sound, then moved to press her lips against his balls. Shifting her weight a little, she pushed the dense hair out of the way to lick and nuzzle him. He was licking her clit a little harder now, bless him, and she tightened her grip on his thigh. "Oh, God, I'm so close," she panted before pressing her face into his thigh. That swallowed up the cry she made as she came, wet and still wanting more. She didn't move; Arthur knew her body well enough by now that he hadn't stopped licking her. Anytime his jaw needed a break, he dragged his tongue down her slit or kissed her thigh. The pause was enough to help her catch her breath, and then he was back at it, working her to a fever pitch. He didn't let her come down from the high at all, licking and pulling at her clit with his lips until she came again, sagging against him limply, gasping for breath.
"Inside you now?" Arthur asked, a hopeful note to his voice.
"Fuck, yes," she growled, shifting off of him.
Ariadne waited impatiently for him to get the condom on, then she clambered on top of him. She pulled his hands to her breasts, and had him fondle them as she rode him hard and fast. Her own hands reached behind her, grasping his thighs, pulling him tight. Not that he had any intention of backing away from her thrusts, but she wanted him deep inside her, hitting that delicious spot that made her see stars.
"Gonna come if you keep that up," he panted, biting his lip.
"Good," she said, squeezing tightly around his sheathed cock. Arthur groaned, throwing his head back into her pillow, pinching her nipples.
Ariadne yelped, but not in pain. She hadn't been expecting that, and she squeezed around him again. Apparently that was just enough extra pressure, because Arthur's next groan was long and loud, mouth falling open. His thrusts up into her were erratic, losing the rhythm she had set.
She let him fall limp, and let go of his thighs to stroke his chest lovingly.
All this, all the time they were on a globetrotting adventure. Of course she would think it was perfect. A life like that, no matter how long or short it lasted, was miles better than slaving away over a model in a firm that would only take her ideas to pass off as a senior partner's.
Paris was her favorite city, her first love, but it would be waiting there when she came back.
That worked well initially; Ariadne had never been to Hong Kong. The energy of the city was fantastic, buoying her up for the design itself, a classical Romantic set with a hedge maze in an opulent manor's grounds. Once that was done, she could lose herself in the street markets and the downtown shopping, staring up at the spires of skyscrapers. She ate in every restaurant that Fodor's and Travel Wiki suggested were the best, danced in nightclubs with Arthur, and rode him hard on top of eight hundred thread count sheets in their hotel.
The next dart fell into the Indian Ocean, with no upcoming jobs nearby. Ariadne was a little disappointed; seeing cities in the Indian subcontinent would have been an education for her. A photo in a textbook or journal was such a pale shadow of seeing a monument or building in person. Trying to explain it to Arthur made her sound foolish, but she felt as though there was a void in most travel photos, an emptiness that she felt almost compelled to fill. But standing in the middle of the city itself, no matter what city, Ariadne felt as though she could breathe in the spirit of the place.
With the next few darts coming up empty, Arthur cast about for feelers in Asia. "I don't know if we should stick around triad territory for too long," he said with a shrug, "but I'm an independent contractor to them. I don't think they'll bother us if we aren't working for them."
"I'm a tourist," she told him brightly, eyes lighting up with mischief. "I want to see beaches and tourist traps and eat food that the locals do."
"In that case," Arthur replied with a smile, drawing her into his arms, "I think I know who I call for a few job referrals."
The next extraction target was in Ca Na, a quiet beachfront town on the coast of Vietnam. They weren't the only Caucasian people there, and blended in with the other tourists to stalk and track down the vacationing. Ariadne slathered on generous amounts of sunscreen to keep her pale skin from burning to a crisp in the sun, jealous of the way Arthur could get a tan easily. She enjoyed sitting on the beach with her sketchbook, taking in the white sand, the clear water, as well as the open-walled and thatched roof cabanas that tourists spent money renting. Her part of the job was too easy, leaving her with far too much time to wander around the city on her own. It was peaceful, and she could see why some of the tourists eventually became expat locals. Still, it was almost too sedate a place for her, as much as it was beautiful and visually stimulating. The language, with its rising and falling cadences, sounded almost like a melody, but was far too difficult for her to mimic.
Moscow was next, with the classic Russian architecture and sense of history making Ariadne all but drool over her sketchbook. "There's a presence here!" she tried to tell him, arms sweeping about her as they stood in the middle of Red Square. "The details are amazing. I could spend days going through photo references and still not understand how it all adds up to the feel of the city. The taste of the air, the way the clouds hang overhead, the shadows as they're cast on the ground..." She took in Arthur's indulgent expression. "This is the kind of thing that matters to me," she said, a defensive tone creeping in.
"I know. You get so passionate about everything. Whenever you find something you love, you're all in. Nothing gets held back." There was a fleeting haze of uncertainty in his expression, gone in the blink of an eye.
"Why hold back? Life is for the living. Why not experience as much of it as possible?" She linked her fingers through his, smiling up at him. "No point in locking myself away or hiding. I want to see the world and everything in it."
"Everything?" Arthur echoed. "It's a big world, lots to see."
"As long as you want to travel, I'll do it with you," Ariadne promised.
Arthur's smile was blinding bright, eyes crinkling in the corners, dimples showing. He lifted her up into his arms and swung her around in a circle until she shrieked in delight. It didn't matter that other tourists gave them amused or irritated looks; they were together, devoted to each others' happiness as much as the job. It was a cakewalk anyway, so Ariadne got a chance to do four tours and discover local shops during her walks. She took photos and made sketches of places more than she bought tchotchkes as souvenirs, faces and buildings rendered equally lovingly on the pages.
Leaving for Greece was fast and apparently just before a Vory enforcer put the pieces together and figured out that Arthur was part of the team. Ariadne's name was carefully hidden behind four different layers of false identities, but she was still afraid for their safety.
"I'll take care of it," he promised. Drawing her hand up to his lips, he smiled as he gave her a courtly kiss. "I'll take care of you, Ariadne. I know how to keep us safe."
He didn't say anything about love, didn't promise for more than the next job or location. Neither did Ariadne.
Combing through some of his better connected contacts, Arthur selected Scotland as the next destination. "I don't always have to do a job for Markos," he said with a shrug when she asked about it, "but he usually has easy ones with a good payout."
"I've never been there before," Ariadne told him. "It'll be nice to play to tourist there. Think you'll get a chance to go to some locales with me?"
"Sometimes it's nice to be a tourist for real," Arthur said with a nod. "To remember what it's like to live without looking over my shoulder."
"But you always look over your shoulder."
"And you should look over yours," he told her before wrapping her into a tight embrace.
Later, Ariadne sat for hours in the Devil's Pulpit in Scotland, camera and sketchbook open. The trees and draping greenery of the place were easy to draw, as was the river cascading over the stones. It was the atmosphere of the place, the way she felt even tinier and insignificant than usual, as if the rock walls were nature's skyscrapers. Arthur made fun of her for that one, but she drew him down into a dream and pushed him up against the stone walls. Shifting the ground beneath her feet gave her enough height to match him. At that point, she kissed him on the mouth, hands on his shoulders to keep him in place. "I think I like this side of you," he said breathlessly, eyes glittering with desire.
"Yeah, I think I do, too. I want to see how it plays out," she told him, grinning.
"We can always take it to the real world."
"And miss the opportunity to do something fun?" Ariadne teased.
The world spun around them, looking less like Scotland and more like they were standing on clouds with a silver, glittering waterfall spilling down from it. Gravity and physics shifted next, so that Arthur wasn't standing anymore, but lying on the cloud. It felt like a featherbed, the texture softer than anything found in real life. Ariadne was above him, her hair streaming up behind her and away from her face.
"This is nice," Arthur murmured, smiling at her as he stroked her face tenderly. "In the real world, your hair would be tickling my nose."
She laughed and bent down to kiss him, tongue swiping across his lips. "There are some benefits to dreams. Like magically disappearing clothes."
He laughed along with her and pulled her down into the cloud on top of him. True to Ariadne's words, their clothes were gone, and there was nothing but skin on skin. Suspended in a warm cloud, no hint of normal gravity, they could caress and touch all of that exposed skin without fear of falling. Ariadne traced the lines of his limbs with her fingers and lips, curling around him and giggling when his fingers ghosted over her sides, tickling her. Arthur firmed his caress, and then grasped her hips to keep her in place. "Running away?" he taunted, eyes alight with mischief. "It isn't like you to do that."
"Who said I'm running?"
The cloud turned into water, and they both moved through the fluid without any difficulty breathing. Ariadne's hair streamed behind her, then moved in the eddies left in her wake as she turned around. Wiggling her ass in his direction playfully, she turned her head to look at him over her shoulder with a smirk. "Come and get me if you can."
Both were strong swimmers, and it wasn't long until Arthur caught up with her, wrapping his arms and legs around her. He kissed her neck, the spot of skin behind her ear, the curve where her throat and shoulder met. Ariadne turned in his arms so she could kiss him on the mouth and run her hands down his back. "You'd come after me anywhere, wouldn't you?"
"It's a dream, Arthur. You can come inside me this time."
He gave her a filthy grin in response, and then kissed her passionately. She responded to the kiss, opening her mouth beneath his. His tongue darted between her lips to touch hers, to stroke and caress as his hands ran down her back. In this watery dream, there was no up or down, no sense of vertigo. They were simply suspended in the clear fluid, breathing in each other and trying to touch as much bare skin as possible.
Ariadne broke the kiss to mouth his jaw and shimmy a bit so that she could reach down to cup his cock lovingly in her palm. Her other arm was slung around his shoulders to keep herself locked in place. She stroked him and nuzzled his neck, humming in pleasure as he kneaded her ass and pulled one leg up around his hip. Arthur's breath was ragged as he tried to maintain control of himself, and Ariadne wanted so badly to break that control. This was a dream, he could let go. He didn't always have to stay wound so tight.
Arthur stroked her breast with his free hand, and gradually tipped her torso away from him. That allowed him to twist around her and take her other breast into his mouth, laving at the nipple with his tongue. Ariadne moaned, letting go of his shoulders to slide her fingers through his hair and scratch at his scalp lightly in approval. As he shifted, she had to let go of his cock, and instead began to caress his back. He had his moments where he wanted to lavish her with attention, and she was more than eager to have this be one of those times.
She twitched when his mouth trailed down her belly, his breath tickling her despite the fluid suspension they were in. Arthur chuckled, then ghosted his fingers down her sides. She flailed and kicked out as she writhed beneath his hands. That was apparently part of the plan, because soon enough he was between her thighs and licking into her as if she was a feast laid out in front of a starving man. Ariadne moaned and clutched at her breasts, rolling her nipples between her fingers for added sensation. Arthur was clever with his tongue, so very clever, and her body shook with the effort to stay still enough for him to do his work. As soon as he slid two fingers inside of her, however, she was lost.
Only then did he slide his erect cock into her, full and thick and feeling sinfully delicious without a latex sheath to separate them. It was a slick slide of skin on skin, knowing he was right where she needed him, feeling the way he was responding to her.
A particularly strong thrust started a slow spin through the fluid, and Ariadne grinned at him in amusement. "Do that again. Spinning sex!"
That made him laugh a little, and the shaking added to the spin. Ariadne ran her hands along his stomach and chest, then pulled him down to stretch along her body. That made his thrusts shallower, slowing the spin. "Nope," he said after a moment, shaking his head. "We need more resistance." Lifting himself up a fraction, he thrust deeply inside her to demonstrate. "Like so."
"Mmmm... I like how you think," she gasped, clenching down tight around his cock. "You feel so damn good like this."
It was a dream, so he lasted far longer inside her than he would have in real life. He stayed thick and erect despite the delicious sensation of her, despite feeling overwhelmed with pleasure. He pushed deeply into her, grasping her thighs to counterbalance his rocking. Ariadne moaned and grasped his forearms, arching her back. Both were sliding past the ability to speak, lost in the exquisite pleasure. Arthur groaned and shut his eyes when it became too much, when his control shattered and he came with a shout. Ariadne came soon after, her entire body shaking from the force of it.
The fluid around them sizzled and crackled, as if it was sparking with energy. That seemed to help them both come down from the high of orgasm, and the dream fluid supported their bodies as they curled up in each others' arms.
"Tell me why we never tried dream sex like this before?" she asked with a breathless laugh.
"As nice as dreams are," Arthur said, stroking her arm gently, "I like seeing you in the real world, too. Tasting you. Finding some new way to see that look on your face."
She grinned at him. "Getting romantic, are you?" she teased.
"That sense of wonder you have... It makes everything feel new again."
The strains of the musical cue began, and Ariadne turned her head to take it in. She looked around her thoughtfully, knowing that everything was about to dissolve as they woke. Leaning in close to Arthur, she kissed his lips softly. "I suppose you have a point. Dreams always should be different from reality."
He returned her kiss, then opened his mouth to reply. The timer was ticking down, though, so he ultimately shook his head. "We'll talk topside."
The transition was fairly smooth, but it usually took her a minute or so to get used to the idea of being in the real world after a PASIV dream. Ariadne usually enjoyed the contrast between the two, but this time it didn't feel fun. For some reason, she felt tired. The draw of newness and exploration didn't feel thrilling, more like a chore. Arthur relied on her to keep things new and interesting for him, but she didn't have anything to recharge her. The cracks in the ceiling paint mocked her with their unfamiliarity, and the exhaustion in her bones longed for something soothing and well-known. She wanted home, the same sounds and sights and smells she had known for years, the sensation of comfort in familiarity.
"I can't believe I'm saying this," Ariadne murmured, "but you had a point about not being able to dream all the time."
He chuckled. "Of course not. That's what waking sex is for."
She sat up and frowned at Arthur. Usually he understood what she meant, and the fact that he didn't understand this bothered her. They had been caught up in the physical and the travel, and she needed more than that in this moment. "It's not that," she said, shaking her head. "I think I want to go home."
Arthur sat up and gently removed the needles from the PASIV device. "Home," he echoed, expression a little blank.
"Paris," she clarified. "We've been gone a long time."
"I never had a home there."
His distant tone of voice and expression finally registered, especially in contrast from how expressive he had been while in the dream. Ariadne looked at him closely, then reached out to touch his arm as he went through the motions of breaking down the PASIV.
"What happened to traveling the world?" He kept his focus on the PASIV, not on her. "I thought that's what you wanted, me showing you places."
"My home can be your home," she said quietly. "If you want it to be."
"I think we have something good. Don't we?"
"We have something great," she said, looking at his bent head. "But don't you get tired of running all over the world? Don't you need something familiar? That can be soothing. I need that right now. Don't you want to have somewhere to rest?"
Arthur looked up at her, his face an expressionless mask. "I don't get tired. I have what I need. I thought you did, too."
"We never talked about it..."
"Do we have to talk about us?"
Ariadne was frustrated with his carefully neutral tone of voice. "We are a given. But we should talk about why we're moving around so much. I love travel. But there's hardly any time in between, no chance to think over what parts of which city we liked, why we liked it. You're running so far and so fast, it's like you're trying to avoid something—"
"That's ridiculous," he interrupted, irritation creeping into his voice.
"—and whatever this void is, we need to talk about it. Whose mistakes am I paying for?" she snapped. "I never pressured you for anything, never assumed this was more than it is. But something is going on, so yes, we need to talk about it."
Arthur snapped the PASIV case shut, lips compressed into a tight, unhappy line. "You're not paying for anything, Ariadne. I thought you wanted to travel. I thought you liked this. We were planning other cities, other jobs, the things to see—"
"Are you just afraid of the word home?" she asked, brows knitted in confusion. "That if you can't be with your mother and sister, you can't have a home?"
"I'm not going to dignify that with an answer," he huffed in reply.
"Because sometimes that's the case," she continued, as if he never spoke. "Sometimes places aren't home, cities aren't the comfortable places to be. Sometimes it's the people that are home. Is that what it is for you? That you go everywhere because it's not a place that's home?"
"All I need is you, Ariadne," Arthur replied tightly. "If you need more than that—"
"I didn't say that!" she said, throwing her hands up in frustration. "All I said was that I wanted a break from traveling. I feel worn out. I want to rest in my favorite city with my favorite person to share it with. That's all I want right now."
His eyes bored into hers. "You're not breaking up with me."
"Are you kidding?!" she cried incredulously. "I offer up my teeny apartment to be your place and you think I'm breaking up with you?"
"That's always been a trap before." His guarded expression didn't change. "With expectations and rules I didn't want to follow."
"So I am paying for someone else's mistakes," Ariadne sighed, shaking her head. She approached him and grasped his hands tightly. "Arthur. We're doing dangerous things. It's not strictly legal. We could be hurt at any time if a job goes wrong, or someone decides they didn't like what we do. I know that. I'm not trying to pin you down or turn you into someone you don't want to be. You've been showing me parts of the world I've never seen before and probably never would. We've been to Paris before, but let me show you my Paris. Let me show you my world."
Arthur loosened one hand from her grip to cup her cheek. "I've seen your world."
"I'd still like to have you come with me."
"And then after?"
"We'll see when we get there," Ariadne said with confident tones. She wasn't tall enough to kiss him even on tip toes, so she pulled on the hand in her grasp so that he could bend down far enough for her to kiss his mouth. "You're mine. I don't care where. Got it?"
His lips curled into a smile, though there were still shadows in his eyes. "Got it."
He would likely need a lot of reminding while they were together, but Ariadne didn't mind. She would give him as many reminders as he needed, as long as he needed them. She didn't need a ring or promises of forever, just his desire to continue traveling with her, wandering around the world, seeing what there was to see.
The future was a nebulous unknown, but they both liked it best that way.