“Fuck I’m so sorry I’m late - my plane was delayed and - well, no, okay that’s a lie, but do you have any idea how hard it is to navigate London for the first time completely on your own, because it’s a awful I’m telling you-“
The door slams behind her and the girl who has just stormed their warm up session collapses messily to the floor. She immediately starts working at the laces on her Doc Martins, apparently trying to unbutton her coat and unravel herself from 3 scarves at the same time.
Arthur pauses mid-Arabesque. He’s nearly finished, but Dom is still flicking through his notes and the pianist has not progressed beyond trundling up and down a few chromatic scales, so they’re not going to be moving onto anything major anytime soon. He frowns at the newcomer slightly and goes over to snatch up his water bottle so he can assess her properly.
The girl can’t be much older than 20 or so, her face round and youthful with flushed cheeks and wind-ruffled dark hair. She strips herself free of the coat and the woollen scarves at last and kicks her Docs off, swapping them for pointes. Arthur can feel his eyebrows raising, can hear the quiet, horrified whispers of the understudies standing in the corner and, yeah, this should be interesting.
“Ariadne, so glad you’re here,” Dom says suddenly with surprising warmth- having apparently just only noticed her and ‘Ariadne’, really?
Ariadne grins toothily, and tugs her hair back from her face with an elastic band.
“As if I’d deprive you one more day of my presence Dom,” she says sarcastically, and she’s Canadian, Arthur thinks with a small sense of triumph, placing the slightly softer vowels and lilting articulation-
And Dom’s smiling. Actually smiling.
Arthur instantly wants to know everything.
“Can I do a quick warm-up? I’m dying to stretch my legs after that plane trip-“
“Sure,” says Dom, Dom who can apparently do easy-going smiles and dancers arriving late to practice sure no problem, “we were just getting started.”
Ariadne nods, smile still as a cheery as ever, and moves into the middle of the floor, rising up onto her pointes.
Arthur eyes Ariadne’s relative curves and short stature, an unusual find in an industry of twig thin arms and protruding collarbones. He catches the thought and feels horribly like a bitchy 14 year old. Arthur gulps back another swig of water to hide his sudden embarrassment at the comment no-one heard, feeling his ears burn in shame.
Ariadne stays completely still for a long moment, eyes closed, the smile not having quite faded from her wide mouth. And yes, she may look unassuming, with her choppy dark hair, dressed in a faded purple leotard under a too-big jumper with elbow patches but-
But there’s something about the way the entire room has retreated into a silence so complete it’s painful that makes the hairs on the back of Arthur’s neck stand on end.
And then the pianist starts to play.
And Ariadne starts to dance.
Arthur, along with the rest of the dance company, realises pretty quickly that this is no ordinary warm-up.
There is no order, no obvious routine, no strict classical pattern of developing moves. The girl moves as though she’s made of air; grace and elegance exuding from every limb like perfume - light and heady, side stepping and leaping, rising and falling, incorporating a complex mash of gymnastics, modern dance and ballet that really shouldn’t work, should have everyone in the room who has been trained professionally their entire adult lives clawing at their eyeballs but it just doesn’t-
Everyone is completely enthralled.
She lands each gliding jump with such perfect precision Arthur wants to cry, and as the music swells, so does the routine, the leaps becoming more ambitious, the turns tighter and more frequent, and it’s finally dawning on Arthur that there is no routine at all, and that this is pure, raw inspiration-
Arthur hears the side-entrance door click shut.
It’s Eames. Eames in sweatpants and a soft-looking hoodie, so of course Arthur’s fucking stomach bottoms out, even though he knows it’s ridiculous, even though Eames is insufferable-
But then Eames spots Ariadne and is suddenly grinning in delighted surprise. He takes a step towards her, pauses briefly, and then comes in with the music, stepping up behind her and lifting her into a lift without warning, just at the right moment. Ariadne goes with it easily, relaxing into Eames’ sure hold at once and it’s clear they’ve done this before, danced together before and know each other so intimately that Ariadne playfully cuffs the back of Eames’ head as she comes down, throwing him a grin before spinning away-
The company stands around the edge of the room, jaws practically on the floor, and Arthur can’t even feel jealous, can’t even despair at the fact he’s never danced with anyone like this before- probably never will, because it’s so mind-blowing beautiful, there is no room for feeling anything else than awe.
The music is ending, climbing to its climax and Eames spins Ariadne one last time before stepping back, panting heavily, grinning like a fool, and watching her with such unabashed affection Arthur feels vaguely ill. Ariadne doesn’t look twice at him, instead spinning elegantly into a fouette, a move that took Arthur the best part of two years to master, and yet she makes look so impossibly easy- spinning, and spinning and spinning and-
Fuck how is she still going?
The music has ended but Ariadne keeps turning and Dom barks out a laugh, clapping his hands, the other dancers are turning to each other, eyes as wide as saucers, because how, this has to got to be a record-
Until Ariadne lands, sways momentarily, and stays standing, face flushed and eyes bright.
The applause is instantaneous. Arthur can’t help but join in.
Eames, who has tugged off his hoodie to reveal a tight black vest and broad, tanned shoulders that Arthur really doesn’t give a flying fuck about, pulls her into a fierce hug at once, laughing and saying, “Bloody hell I missed you.”
Ariadne beams at him.
“You’re the only man for me Eames, you know that, I couldn’t possibly dance with anyone else for such an important role.” Her imitation of Eames’ accent is so atrocious Arthur actually snorts; Eames yanks her ear in protest.
“Still gay?” Ariadne queries out of the blue, screwing her nose up hopefully.
“Oh yes, very much so,” Eames replies lightly, and Arthur’s heart thuds to a panicked halt when Eames’ eyes flick upwards in what might be his direction but that’s obviously not the case because Eames doesn’t even-
“Still dating hideously unattractive men who don’t deserve you?” Eames says easily.
She scoffs, pushing him back with a grin, “In part. And they are not unattractive - I just happen to like a specific sort of thing that isn’t your sort of thing.”
Eames gives a dramatic sigh of exasperation, and Arthur thinks he’s trying to look disapproving but is failing miserably because he’s still smiling far too much.
“I see you finally conquered those bloody fouettes then? Siobhan must be beside herself.”
“Conquered?” Ariadne says, single eyebrow raised, “I think you mean mastered, or did you not just witness the spectacle that was 31 of those in a row? You condescending gobshite.”
And Arthur decides that even if she didn’t dance like every fantasy he’s ever had- he and Ariadne will get along just fine purely on the basis she calls Eames a ‘gobshite’.
It’s the following day, during the first meeting of the principles for Dom’s reworking of Swan Lake, that Arthur realises, unsurprisingly, that Ariadne is to join the leading cast.
He arrives a few minutes early but she and Eames are already there.
Ariadne, perched on the top of the piano, greets him with a vague wave and a smile. Eames, flat on his back, vest plastered to his skin after a hard morning’s training groans slightly and doesn’t move.
“Jesus Eames, I can smell you from here. Is it really too much effort to take a shower?”
“Kindly fuck off Arthur dear,” Eames says pleasantly, eyes still closed.
Ariadne’s grin widens and she hops off the piano.
“Arthur, I’ve admired your dancing for years, and if Eames’ reports are anything to go by I’m sure we’ll get along just fine. Ariadne Jones, pleasure to meet you,” and she holds out her hand, eyes searching his face.
“Reports?” Arthur asks mildly, and tries to ignore the fact that a faint blush of colour has appeared in Eames’ cheeks that wasn’t there a second ago.
“I’m guessing they cast you as Siegfried then. You give off a very Princely aura.”
Eames snorts from his position on the floor.
“Your skills of deduction are truly astounding Ariadne –“ Ariadne cuts him off with a not-so-gentle kick to the ribs.
“Yes, yes they did,” Arthur says, trying to hide his smile. He realises he no longer feels jealous of whatever history Eames and Ariadne obviously have. It feels less like he’s being cut out and more like they’re including him in on the joke, inviting him to join in.
“Well, I guess we’ll be dancing together plenty then, future-husband-oh-wondrous-one,” Ariadne winks at him, and curtsies neatly. Arthur had already assumed she’d be cast as Odette, no one else in the company had a hope of competing with her.
“Oh god,” Eames groans, pulling himself to his feet and fixing Ariadne with a frown, “please don’t make Arthur your next conquest you awful flirt. I can’t bear another Nutcracker fiasco.”
Ariadne laughs out loud, and yanks off her jumper to throw it at him.
“’Cause you’re so much better?”
Eames sighs and gives her a deeply unimpressed look. Arthur assumes Ariadne’s referring to the fact Eames himself has a bit of a track record when it comes to sleeping with other dancers.
Arthur tends to try and forget that particular aspect of Eames’ character. That and the fact that chorus gossip is constantly rife with who might be his dancer of choice in this production.
“At least I didn’t turn up late to Opening night because I was too busy shagging-“ Eames counters, grin wry.
“Fuck off, that was one time and Roberta was Italian I mean can you really blame me?”
Ariadne cuts off, shooting Arthur an apologetic smile, “no offense of course Arthur, you also have perfectly worthy abs, and a gorgeous face. In fact, Eames, remind me again why you -“
“Have no fear Arthur,” Eames cuts in abruptly, his voice strangely strangled, “I shall defend you from this insatiable minx.”
Ariadne squawks, indignant, and Arthur laughs a little awkwardly, because if he wasn’t mistaken (and Arthur rarely was) Eames was embarrassed right now.
“Thank you for the offer, but I doubt I’ll need defending,” he says as easily as he can, “for a start, Dom would kill us all, and secondly, as lovely as you are Ariadne, I’m afraid you are definitely not my type.” He lets the emphasis land on the word with a pointed significance.
Ariadne stares down at her chest proudly for a moment.
“I like him - this one can stay,” she announces, as though Arthur had been waiting for her approval, before sneaking Eames a pointed side-long grin.
Eames is staring at Arthur, eyes narrowed calculatingly.
“Assalam alaikum bitches,” Yusuf says as he saunters through the double swing doors opposite them, effectively breaking whatever complicated triangle Arthur had found himself in.
“Alaikum assalam Yusuf,” Arthur replies automatically, silently grateful for the interruption.
Yusuf is one of those dancers everyone knows, but rarely talks about. He’s a solid performer, technically accurate and a damn good actor, and there’s an underlying, barley restrained sense of power behind each and every one of his characters. He’s also a clinically sarcastic cynic, but he always gets on well with the director. Arthur was pleased when he saw that Dom had cast him as Rothbart. He suits the role to a tee.
If, for nothing else, Yusuf could be an evil bastard at the best of times.
“Hello, hello- and what have we here?” Yusuf says in what Arthur he imagines he thinks is a sly, confident, sexy kinda voice. It falls pretty flat.
“Ariadne,” says Ariadne cheerily, the seduction attempt completely passing her by, “lovely to meet you Yusuf - I’ve heard you’re not as much as a fuckwit as people seem to think you are.” She sticks out her hand again in greeting.
Yusuf frowns a little, but accepts the handshake anyway. Arthur ducks his head to hide his grin.
“And now!” Eames says loudly, appearing behind the piano, and he plays a loud C chord with a flourish, “warm up improvisation, class! And a one, a two, and a one, two, three-”
And that’s how Arthur ends up trying not to suffocate laughing as Ariadne and Yusuf flounce bizarrely across the floor in a sort of waltz. To the tune of chopsticks.
“Good god I leave you lot alone for 5 minutes-“ Dom says from the doorway, exasperation warring with amusement on his face. Arthur grins at him unapologetically. Happiness looks good on Dom. It’s early days in this production; the stress hasn’t had time to set in.
Ariadne does several slow-motion pique turns as Eames slows the pace down impossibly. It looks ridiculous but from the years Arthur’s spent doing the same thing in front of a mirror it’s actually pretty impressive technically. Her arms are perfectly poised, her spine a graceful arch.
Arthur can’t really help himself.
He steps over to her, bowing graciously and offers a hand. At the piano Eames picks up at once and starts playing - something Tchaikovsky, Arthur had no idea he could play so well - and Ariadne melts into it at once.
“I know you, I walked with you once upon a dream,” she starts singing slightly off-key under her breath. Arthur laughs.
“I knew I recognised it.”
“Well of course you do - everyone’s seen Sleeping Beauty,” Ariadne rolls her eyes dramatically. Twinkling under the practice room lights, Arthur notices she has several coloured studs in each earlobe. Piercings of any kind is an ultimate no-no in the stiff-lipped, traditional world of Professional Ballet, but then, just as Eames suits his hideously tacky tattoos, so does Ariadne her earrings.
They are both a bit different like that.
“Now come on,” Ariadne demands playfully after they’ve waltzed around for a while, “let’s see some proper lifts Mister, I know you’ve got more in you than this-“
Arthur has never been one to resist a challenge. Especially when it’s at something he really can do. And rather well, according to the press.
He places his hands firmly on Ariadne’s hips, and as she leaps upwards Arthur uses the momentum to swoop her up into the air, high above his head.
His arms burn after no real warm-up, and his back protests a little at the sudden onslaught after months of solo dancing, but he manages. The most important thing, after all, is to make whoever you’re carrying look as though they’re as light as air.
Yusuf wolf whistles, and Eames plays a pretentious series of final dramatic chords.
Dom actually claps. Arthur lowers Ariadne back down, and she drops a kiss on his cheek as she goes. He’s glad she’s dancing opposite him.
“Well, you certainly look good together,” Dom says thoughtfully, “and that’s half the battle won in a production like this-“
“Yeah about that,” Eames interrupts, leaning up against the piano and flicking casually through Dom’s choreography notes, “I’ve got a couple of questions about the way you’re planning on playing this - only from what I’ve gleaned from the summary you emailed of course, but all the same.”
“Yes?” says Dom warily. Ariadne goes over to her gym bag and pulls out her pointes and a bottle of water which she lobs over at Arthur. Arthur accepts it gratefully- even from a 10 minute mess-around he’d managed to build up a sweat. He’d have to get used to lifting over the next month or so.
“Well,” Eames starts, “if I’m perfectly honest I’m not really sure what you’re getting at. This is a reworking of Swan Lake right? A modern take?”
Dom nods. “Of sorts.”
“Be that as it may, dare I ask why on earth you’ve got Odile, aka me, as The Gay Temptation being personified as this dark, evil cackly thing while Little Miss Het over there gets the big tutu and all the flowers?”
“Oi!” says Ariadne and throws her shoe at Eames’ head, “I object to being labelled as a heterosexual!”
“It’s an interpretation,” Dom says tightly, and he’s got that look on his face as though he’s suddenly coming down with a migraine. “It doesn’t represent the political affiliations of the company- Arthur you understand-“
“Actually, he’s got a point,” Arthur admits, “the last time Swan Lake was redone was by Bourne, and we all know how huge that was. People might be a bit put off when after all that it’s straight back to the gay character being the baddy.”
“Exactly,” says Eames, and Arthur steadfastly does not make eye contact. Eames’ rise to fame was mainly thanks to playing Siegfried in Bourne’s American tour, and Eames’ ego is big enough as it is without needing to know that Arthur had seen him in the production multiple times (seven times actually, if you were counting, not that Arthur is).
“Fantastic job Dom,” Yusuf says delightedly, “you have succeeded in writing a ballet that offends everyone, well done.”
“Maybe if we pretend it’s based in like the 60s? Then we could play it off as being the biased perspective of the time,” Ariadne says thoughtfully, using Eames’ bicep as a balance as she rolls her ankles to warm up, despite the fact there’s a perfectly useable barre 5 feet away.
“Or maybe Siegfried and Odile could get together in the end and have passionate metaphorical butt sex and Odette be revealed as a heinous bitch-“ Yusuf offers.
“How the fuck would you translate anal sex into ballet?”
“Come, come now Arthur, stranger things have happened-“
“Guys,” Dom protests; he looks pained.
“OR,” Ariadne interjects, “how about Siegfried and Rothbart get it on? And Odette and Odile were just distractions? I can 100% guarantee that that would not be anticipated by whats-his-face at the Guardian-“
“I’d be up for that,” Yusuf concedes, squinting over at Arthur. Arthur questions his life choices.
“Or better still, Dom-“ Ariadne starts up again.
“Except,” Eames says suddenly looking down at Dom’s notes, his voice oddly quiet, “It’s not Dom’s decision to make, really.”
Dom’s face has gone carefully blank.
“You didn’t write it?” Ariadne breathes, sounding faintly horrified.
“Mal did,” Eames murmurs in a soft tone that still speaks of months of grief even after two years.
Arthur stiffens. No-one mentions Mal. That’s the rule. Even the juniors, barely out of high school, know better than to bring her up in rehearsal, even in casual discussion. It doesn’t matter that she was one of the best ballet dancers to grace the stage in the 21st century, doesn’t matter that she had been impossibly beautiful, graceful and poised in every thing she did, doesn’t matter that she was the very definition of elegant, each turn immaculate, limbs carved from white marble - that she had been perfect.
She was Dom’s wife, and she had died, so no-one mentioned her.
A heavy, sudden silence pervaded the room.
Eames lifts up a crumpled sheet of paper, ripped and torn at the edges. Even from this distance, Arthur recognises the fluid French calligraphy of Mal’s handwriting. She had been the one who had spotted him after all, trained him, praised his progress and teasingly admonished his mistakes. Arthur’s throat closes up painfully. It’s better, but after all this time, it still hurts.
Eames starts to read, carefully, slowly and Arthur hangs on to every word. Imagining Mal saying them instead, her lilting accent and quirked smile rounding off each vowel, lazily merging words like a song.
“Verre Cassé- a modern take on Swan Lake.”
“Siegfried is young, impressionable, lost in a world he’s not ready for and entirely led by his heart. He only has to see Odette once, as young and naive as him, to fall in love with her. She’s lost in a different way, kept at home by her father- too possessive and cruel to care that his daughter is fading away. But the spark ignited by her meeting with Siegfried is impossible not to hide. She’s alive, for the first time in a long time, and Rothbart can’t stand it.”
“So he sets his son, Odile, dark, amused by his sister’s infatuations and entirely under his father’s control, to meet with Siegfried in a chance encounter. Siegfried is entranced, drawn by the element of a rebellion, the chance to be with a man. He falls for Odile too, meets with them both separately, the decision gradually tearing him apart until one night, Odette sees them together through the window.”
“And she breaks. Like fragile spun glass.”
“She dies, throwing herself into the ocean and Siegfried is devastated, the guilt enough for him to follow her. Odile is left conflicted. He may have been cruel, may have manipulated Siegfried’s feelings for him, with his charm and allure- but he never truly means to hurt anyone, not his sister, not the young man who fell for him.”
“Rothbart is the true antagonist. He’s the one who wanted to break his daughter’s spirit, force her to mindlessly submissive, stamp out the fire and life in her- even his son is nothing more than a player in his game. He laughs at her tears, enjoys her misery, and smiles even as his Odile finally, overcome by guilt and grief, kills him.”
There is silence for a long time. Eames sits down heavily on the piano stool, looking vaguely stunned and fuck, Arthur can sympathise.
It’s deep. The whole concept, the story, the emotion- it’s all more than anything Arthur has ever heard of being translated into a ballet.
“She cast you all,” Dom says in a hoarse voice, and Arthur can’t meet his eye, “she cast you all two years ago. That’s why I didn’t run auditions. She said you were all perfect, even if you didn’t know it yet.”
Ariadne makes a muffled sound somewhere between a sob and a groan.
“She never got round to finishing writing it, so I’ve made some modifications. It’s still a work in process to be honest, but I had to slightly lie to the company about that to get the funding,” he gives them all a grim smile.
“I know it’s a bit out there, but it was never meant to be a traditional production. She’d been talking about it for months up until-“
Dom’s voice dries up suddenly, and Arthur puts a hand on his shoulder because he can’t think of a single thing to say.
Dom clears his throat, “But at it’s core it will always be Swan Lake. It was her favourite after all.”
His voice breaks slightly on the last word and Arthur’s chest tightens.
“It’s going to be bloody fantastic,” Eames says gently, offering Dom a smile. “I always told her she should be writing her own stuff - always one for imagination was Mal.”
“How did she even know I existed?” Ariadne asks, an awe-stricken expression on her face, “I was barely 19 two years ago!”
“She saw you in the Nutcracker,” Dom says, “I went with her. She said- ‘now there’s a dancer to watch’- and made sure she got your name.”
“So what you’re saying,” Yusuf says magnanimously, brow scrunched in thought, “is that while Eames isn’t actually portraying an evil personification of homosexuality and all that because Odile is just human with levels and shit, the character played by the Muslim dude is still ultimately evil?”
“Yes Yusuf,” Arthur deadpans, “that’s exactly what Mal was getting at.”
Eames snorts and Dom laughs, and it’s so strange, so odd to be talking about her after all this time. Arthur feels as though a crushing weight he hadn’t even realised was there has been lifted off his chest.
“What?” Yusuf argues indignantly, “You’ve got to look at the facts. I’m playing the only baddy in a completely white, Western, Christian, Capitalist ballet and I’m-“
“Objection,” Ariadne pipes up, “I’ll eat my tutu if Arthur isn’t Jewish.”
“Really Arthur?” Eames says looking oddly thrilled.
Arthur groans, feeling his cheeks heat and rubs a hand over his face. “Please can we not discuss this - I am the worst Jew in existence; my grandparents are so ashamed.”
"I bet they are,” Eames says, voice smoky and dark and never mind his habit of his face flushing embarrassingly easily; Arthur feels hot all over.
“OKAY,” Cobb says much louder than necessary, “Now that we’ve ironed out this isn’t actually a homophonic, Islamaphobic or racist production - rehearsals? Can we?”
The rest of the day is remarkably uneventful for a first day’s production. Cobb walks them through the core structure of the ballet as it’s written so far, the transition from Acts to Scenes to the interval to the second half, highlighting as he goes dances and pas de deuxs of particular significance. Arthur dances most with Ariadne, which he is flattered to see she seems to be rather pleased about, but it’s the dance with Eames at the beginning of the second half half he’s most concerned about. It’s a long piece, with the most complicated choreography score he’s ever seen, but he tries not to look too intimidated because Eames appears to take it in his stride.
Late afternoon Dom calls in the rest of the company, the juniors and chorus who will be part of Ariadne and Eames’ entourage, or part of the dances that take place in the city centre. Siegfried’s mother is a lovely Russian dancer named Petrova, who Arthur has had the pleasure with working with before when he did his tour with the Bolshoi Ballet. She wraps him in a tight embrace when she comes in, and kisses his forehead.
Dom then hauls the set designer, Chris, out from where he’s already fiddling with his team backstage, to give a rough outline of the artistic feel of the production. It’s gritty and dark, and when Chris shows the cast some of the concept art for the stage design, sweeping dark angles and irregular shards of mirror in the back wall that will reflect the dancers back out to the audience, Arthur can’t help but be impressed. A dirty council estate fringing with an old money neighbourhood would not be the most automatic assumption for the setting of a modern Swan Lake, but it works. There’s a fission of excitement that runs through the assembled cast that Arthur knows only too well; it’s going to be an epic performance when it’s done, something that everyone will be proud to have worked on and be a part of.
By early evening, Dom dismisses the chorus with the light-hearted threat that anyone failing to make the 8am training the following morning will be cut from the production, no excuses, and then turns to the principals.
“I’m going to work you hard, I won’t lie,” he says, carefully, “probably harder than you’ve ever been worked before. I’ll expect a lot from you, and likewise you can expect a lot from me. This is a two-way street, but just so you know, I’ll be giving it everything I’ve got. This - this performance means a lot to me. I’ve got to do it right.” Dom looks earnest, but his eyes are a little too bright, mouth in a hard line, and they all know what he’s not saying.
Arthur can’t think of a single comforting, supportive thing to say in response but then Ariadne steps in. She lays a hand on Dom’s forearm and gives him a small smile.
“Don’t worry Dom, we’ve got this.”
And that’s that really. They’ve got to ‘got this’. For Dom, for Mal.