Conversation Piece

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Conversation Piece
by templemarker

Notes: Fill for this prompt on inception_kink: Ariadne takes a trip to Arthur’s subconscious, but all the women are in long skirts and dresses, and all the men have fedoras. Why are the forties alive in his subconscious? And is this actually what he wants?

The amount of time I spent researching this story is entirely disproportionate to its length. Sigh. Thanks to Tiriel for beta.


By the time everyone has left the warehouse that night, only Arthur is left, looking painfully crouched over the second-hand drafting table Ariadne thinks he nicked from a collège in the 5th arrondissement. She pauses at the door, fingers instinctively chipping away at the layers and layers of paint, and watches his still form for a moment. She doesn’t know what to make of Arthur–one minute he’s a little friendly, a little open; the next he’s ignoring everything around him, eyes only for his neat, ordered desk.

She taps the door once more and then turns to leave; she’d promised her friends from her course that she’d meet them for drinks that night, part of an effort to distract them from the way she’s never around any more.

Summer in Paris means light layers, things you can put on and take off until you hit the right balance. Ariadne is a California baby and it took her the first full year in France during her course to get used to the idea that she’d need to have an extra something in her bag for the odd gusts of cool wind blowing through the ruelles. She’s halfway to the 3rd arr. when she realizes she’s left her scarf hanging over the arm of the lounge chair she’d been in and out of all afternoon. She curses, waving sheepishly at the woman that glares reprovingly at her from an open window, and debates just going on without it.

The problem with that, though, is that her scarves tend to…migrate away if she leaves them in the warehouse. She’s not sure who’s taking them, or why, or why they won’t return them; asking the group just netted her incredulous looks, why would a bunch of dudes want your scarves, Ariadne, and she hasn’t pressed it even though she knows they’re being taken.

Ariadne waffles a moment, and then, cursing more softly this time, turns to head back to Bercy. Jean-Michel is the only one who will really complain that she’s late, the rest of the wastrels won’t notice if she turns up twenty or thirty minutes after they’d started breaking into the wine. And Jean-Michel will only notice because he’s been fighting a losing battle to get into her pants since they met in UC Atelier Deux in her first year.

The sky is slowly progressing towards dark, but there’s still more than enough light to scurry her way back to the Rue Crémieux. The door to the warehouse blends into the rest of the street by virtue of its slightly recessed entryway, and more than once Ariadne had come out of the building to a surprised look from a passerby. Clearly Arthur’s skills, there, hiding in plain sight.

She fumbles with her key–they all come and go as they please apart from the scheduled conferencing times–and finally expels an exasperated breath and steadies her hand. The lock clicks softly and Ariadne is surprised to find that the ceiling lights have been turned off. Perhaps Arthur has gone home–but no, she rounds the corner and the light on his desk is still on, casting a soft glow and creating interesting shadows. Ariadne sweeps her eyes over the space, and it’s only when she enters further in and spots her scarf hanging limply from the chair that she sees Arthur, hooked up to the PASIV, tucked in the corner where she usually finds Dom.

There’s no clear etiquette on joining a someone already hooked up to a dream. At least once, Arthur has joined a dreamstate Dom had started; Yusuf is regularly harassing someone to be hooked into the PASIV and then throwing someone in there after them. Ariadne has been debating this in her head–where’s the privacy line? It’s not like they have little “Do Not Disturb” signs hanging around their necks, and it’s the warehouse, not their own hotel rooms or flats.

Ariadne looks at her watch.

Surely they won’t miss her for another five minutes.

Decision made, she grabs her scarf and stuffs it into her bag, dragging the chair it was attached to over near Arthur and unscrolling a PASIV line. Yusuf had spent two whole days drilling them on entering IV lines and proper cannulation technique. He had been apalled at everyone’s skills except for Eames, who had looked on smugly as everyone else had to repeatedly thread needles into a banana.

She carefully presses the needle into her favored vein and tips it down, grabbing the tape she’d affixed to the arm of the chair and placing it carefully over the plastic of the sheath. She lets the lead lie over her upturned palm and sat back, extending her other hand to the PASIV and depressing the button.

She closes her eyes.

When she opens them again, she’s standing in a club, smoke dancing around her head. It looks like something out of Casablanca: small, round, candlelit tables with intimate conversations buzzing as the torch singer on the slighly raised stage croons something about New Year’s Eve. Ariadne suppresses a shiver as the door behind her opens, revealing a snowy scene just a few feet away. She looks down at herself, still dressed in the jeans and t-shirt she was wearing when she was awake. She frowns, and a moment later she looks like something out of that Keira Knightly film her friend Rosa made her watch a couple of years ago, deep green dress cut a little too low, her hair rolled back and standing on kitten heels.

A couple of projections who had been making out in the corner near her pause to stare at her, glaring a little, and she blows a kiss at them and makes for the bar. The noise doesn’t really stop, which makes her think she’s passed muster in Arthur’s subconscious. She signals for the bartender, and he arrives looking a little like Eames but not enough to remark on.

She orders a vodka gimlet–it sounds right for the dream–and turns to listen to the performance. The singer has moved on, talking about all the old familiar places, and the two guys in front of Ariadne take their drinks, clearing her view to land on Arthur.

Arthur. He’s standing at the bar, one foot planted on the floor and the other hooked onto the barstep. He looks much the same, except his suit is cut differently, and there’s a fedora sitting on the bar next to hand, next to his drink.

She hadn’t noticed before, but the whole world is a little muted. She can tell Arthur is drinking whiskey, because that’s what he usually orders when he’s gone out with her. But the colour isn’t right, too dull to be truly golden; and when Ariadne looks down at herself, she can see that her dress is green but not quite the shimmering shade of emerald she had pictured when she made it.


Arthur is smoking, which Ariadne has never seen him do; and his hair, while still slicked, is parted to the side instead of smoothed back. His profile makes her breath catch. She watches him drag off the cigarette in his hand, and the smoke he releases is held in perfect circles.

The singer moves to April in Paris, this is a feeling, and that’s how she knows Arthur knows she is here.

She moves to stand next to him and says, “Come here often?”

He’s silent and unmoving, apart from the slow upward motion of his drink to his lips. He doesn’t look at her, just stares at the projection on the stage. Now that Ariadne is paying attention, she thinks it looks like Mal–but this version of her isn’t using her microphone stand as a lance.

“You know, Ariadne,” Arthur says finally, tapping his cigarette into the cheap plastic ashtray on the bar and smoothing down his tie with one hand, “in general, people don’t hook into other people’s dreams, especially if that person is alone with a PASIV.”

Ariadne’s vodka gimlet comes; it tastes like lime and bubbles. “I just wanted–”

“I know what you wanted,” Arthur replies, cutting her off. “I get it. I’m just saying, because you can isn’t always a reason you should.”

“What is this place?” she asks, deflecting his criticism. Her fingernails are red, not the glossy red she sees in magazines but a quieter flare of crimson that wraps around her glass like something out of an old movie.

“It’s where I like to go when I get off work,” he says, succinctly.

She comes to stand next to him, instead of behind him, and finally he looks at her. In fact, he looks her up and down, and if she were to hazard a guess she’d say he approved of her sartorial choices. “Is it a bar where everybody knows your name?” she asks, not bothering to hide her grin.

He snorts. “No. It’s a bar where no one cares if you have one.”

She watches Arthur take a thorough sip from his glass, admiring the lean column of his neck. His collars are lower here, less starched; she guesses it’s the style. “Why do you like this era?” she asks, genuinely curious. She might’ve picked something different for him, if she’d had a reason to do so–maybe a French salon or a British gentleman’s club, something more refined and formal.

Arthur almost doesn’t answer, but she watches intently the minute play of emotions on his face. “It’s easier here,” he says finally. “People have roles to play. There’s not as much blurring of the lines.” He plucks his cigarette from the ashtray and sees about finishing it off. “There was style, and there were rules. You knew what to do and you did it; you didn’t have to make things up just to get by.”

Ariadne really and truly doesn’t know what to say to that. What’s the fun in life if you don’t make your own rules? At least, that’s what she more or less believed before, and it’s becoming more and more true for her now. So she doesn’t say anything; instead, she takes another sip from her drink and rests a careful hand on Arthur’s forearm, as if to see if he’ll push it away.

He doesn’t. The singer finishes, and moves into another song, slower, if only you’ll trust in me, and he smiles a little as though he loves the tune. He stubs out his cigarette, throws back his drink, and turns to face her for the first time.

“Care to dance?” he asks, face caught halfway between serious and smiling.

She sets her own drink on the bar and takes his proffered hand. “There’s nowhere I’d rather be,” she says, and at that moment she believes it.

The projections part to let them on to the dance floor, and he pulls her into his arms, guiding her slowly across the floor. Have the faith that I have in you, sings not-Mal, and Ariadne lets her eyes slip closed and pretends, for a moment, that this is real, and reality isn’t a kick away.

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