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Mise en Abîme

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The first time, that trick with the mirrors in her dream. She'd seen Mal then, too.

Just on the very edge, milling around with the other projections of Cobb's. Harmless. But there had been a predatory gleam in her eye, her small smile had been made of glass and ice. She'd been pacing, just waiting for Ariadne to make a mistake so she could attack; willing for her to push the envelope and push Dom over the edge.

A pacing tiger waiting for the prey to trip and lag behind.

And all Ariadne could do as Cobb's projections held her painfully tight, keeping him from helping her, was watch at the ice in her look blackened and became as solid as a diamond. She saw Mal's pace pick up and the knife appear from nothing. She could hear it whisper through the air as it closed in on the space between her and the shade.

Hot pain, the blood in her head pounding. Her heart racing, nerves on fire.

Then waking up to Arthur by her side instead of Mal over her.

That night, when she went home, she saw her own reflection.

Haunted.

The next time she went into the dreamscape, as Arthur taught her about paradoxes and the Penrose stairs, it was her subconscious that filled the dream this time. As she and the point man talked, she could see a shade from the corner of her eye. Woman who traversed the stairs over and over, endlessly descending and watching the two of them as he taught her.

She only watched, her face expressionless, eyes empty.

Ariadne's days and nights were tense, filled with constant jumping and whispers. No matter where she went, she thought she saw Mal waiting in the wings. Sometimes with a knife, others with a gun. The invisible shadow seemed to prefer her bare hands and an empty stare. She knew that just the threat and the possibility scared Ariadne more than the actual action. That it didn't matter if she was really dead.

Despite totems and tips from the others, there was always that nagging thought, the doubt that burrowed in her mind. What if this wasn't reality? What if she wasn't really awake yet?

She didn't tell the others about what was happening. She barely understood it herself. Everyone was busy planning for their first inception. Cobb had to deal with his own ghost of Mal. She found herself determined to help him; to help him release the malevolent Mal he'd trapped within his own mind. The back part of her mind she called irrationality, a small part of her thought helping him would help herself.

Each time she looked in a mirror, saw a reflection, she saw Mal staring back at her. Once, when she was at the train station, in the shiny doors, she saw six Mals surrounding only one of herself. A shake of her head and furiously rubbing her eyes corrected her vision.

Until the next time when she helped Eames construct his dream and she saw her reflected in his goggles.

When she shot Mal in front of Cobb, she wasn't doing it for him, despite her hand hovering over him with a knife. If Ariadne was able to kill her there in limbo, her presence in her mind could leave her in peace. The cracks in her sanity had become priority over Cobb long before they left Sydney.

Once, in high school, her art class studied medieval art. The teacher told the class of how it was common to place the image of something within an image of itself. He had said it was a form of self-awareness and infinity.

But when she stared at Mal's eyes, she didn't see the past or the future. She saw nothing but abyss.

She saw rage and jealousy and hurt. The betrayals that soaked her mind and the insecurities that made her vulnerable.

And her heart broke because she could feel all of those emotions reflected in her own eyes.

After shooting Mal in limbo and returning to reality, it took less than a week for Mal to make a reappearance in Ariadne's life.

The look in her eyes was softer. Still cold and black, but they carried a depth Ariadne had never seen before. Not even in Cobb's own memories, which had been twisted and skewed. Mal stared at her behind her eyelids, through the mirror, in the reflections at the stores, with the eyes of a woman. Mal's eyes bore into her own with an understanding that clicked within Ariadne's own mind.

One morning, Ariadne woke up determined and went to the department store that crowded the Champs Élysée and headed straight to the clothing. Walking briskly past the attendant and barging into a changing room, she stood in front of the triple mirror and stared at Mal who stood behind her.

Behind Mal was the mirror on the door, reflecting her back and the mirrors ahead.

And just as it all started, an endless eternity of mirrors and reflections filled her eyes. The abyss was magnified with the glassy surface of her own eyes; the images were drunk in by Mal's empty ones.

"You and I, Ariadne, are now two halves of a whole," she whispered, placing a hand on the girl's shoulder. "We are not lovers, but we are molded to each other now. There can be no you without me."

"Why?" Ariadne's voice trembled.

"I am the dark to your light. You are the pure to my corrupt. What you see in my eyes is what you keep buried and could destroy you. You will be part of my childrens' lives, my Dom's life. I can't have you self-destruct. You need to be more aware."

Ariadne licked her lips nervously. "You're a part of my subconscious."

Mal shook her head. "I am your subconscious. Together we have eyes that can see into infinity."

"You're not going to have me kill myself, are you?"

Mal's laugh reverberated in the room; light, laced with dark humor. "We'll see."