Title: take the long way home (soft as the radio)
Pairing: Ariadne/Yusuf, Arthur/Eames
Summary: The thought washes over her, steady and calming like a warm breeze, that this could be her own kind of love story.
Author's Note: Despite being Ariadne/Yusuf, this story is the sixth in an Arthur/Eames series called Wherever You Will Be (That's Where I'll Call Home); the link takes you to the series master post. There is a heavy Arthur/Eames presence in this piece, and the arc of the story covers a number of events that happen in the 'verse timeline. Yes? Yes.
Ariadne buys the camera with some of her share from the Saito job.
She's a practical girl, has always been a practical girl, and so most of the money goes into her savings. She pays off some of her college loans and puts a down payment on a small apartment in Echo Park and leases a cheap, efficient car, and then she decides she's earned something for herself. It's a Canon Digital SLR, bigger and better than the model she'd checked out nearly weekly from the equipment department at school, and she is impossibly fond of it.
Ariadne is the kind of person who enjoys the way things fit together, the hints of beauty in the everyday, the structure of magnificence and how it shifts. Before she learned to dream, she'd made due by constructing with light.
At first she's careful about it, quiet. She takes photos of graffiti, of incongruous buildings tucked between towering skyscrapers, of Cobb's kids, when he asks. She brings it to the warehouse with her each day, tucked into a bag slung round her shoulder, because it's new and fantastic and hers, and she's proud of it.
Ariadne grew up in the midwest, surrounded by a hoard of brothers and nothing she could truly call her own. The camera feels like freedom she can hold in her hands.
"You should name it," Yusuf tells her one afternoon, when she's got it out to clean the lens. She startles a little, because she'd thought he was on the other side of the warehouse, altering a new variant on the Somnacin. Eames and Arthur are bickering over the Chinese order at Arthur's desk, and Cobb's yelling at someone on the phone, so she hadn't even heard him walk up.
"I hadn't thought about it," she admits, flushing a little. He smiles disarmingly, like he knows he's surprised her, and she grins back. "I've never really gotten the whole name-your-tech thing."
"It's about personalizing it," Yusuf says, shrugging. He slides into the chair next to her and gestures at the camera. "May I see?"
Ariadne is still at the stage where she's tentative to hand it over; if Arthur had asked she would have winced, and if it had been Eames she'd have snatched it away unthinkingly. This is Yusuf, though, who is calm, steady with his things, whose hands never shake. She gives it up easily.
"My microscope, for example," Yusuf says, turning the camera over in his hands, "is David Bowie."
"You're kidding," Ariadne laughs. "God, why?"
"It makes things seem bigger than they really are," Yusuf says, grinning at her. "That, and I was on a Ziggy Stardust kick when I bought it."
"Stardust, really?" Ariadne asks, wrinkling her nose. "I never really understood that."
"That's because you're young and woefully undereducated," Yusuf tells her mournfully. "It's all indie music and ridiculous footwear with you kids today, more's the pity."
"You're not old enough to use the phrase 'you kids,'" Ariadne informs him. "Eames, on the other hand--"
"I can hear you, you know," Eames calls. "Your dulcet tones do travel, Ariadne, dear, and I am still young enough to tan your hide."
"You won't have hands to tan her hide with if you don't order beef with broccoli," Arthur says calmly from his chair. Eames whaps him on the back of the head with a file, and Arthur throws a pen at him.
In a minute, Arthur will call Eames an old man and Eames' eyes will crinkle up at the corners, and he'll brush his fingers along Arthur's shoulders like it's an accident. They're already so predictable. Ariadne turns back to Yusuf.
"So," she says, "a name, huh?"
"Think on it," he advises, handing it back to her, and goes back to work.
The camera's name is Eleanor Rigby, because it looks at all the lonely people and the song had come on her iPod while she was trying to pick something. Yusuf smiles approval at her reasoning, showing faint dimples, and she doesn't tell the rest of them the story behind it, just starts referring to it that way.
She gets used to having it in her hands, and after awhile she starts taking pictures in the warehouse, because her friends are much more interesting subjects than buildings or graffiti.
Arthur's an ass about it at first, covering his face and muttering about evidence, and Eames is predictably enthused, pulling ridiculous faces whenever it's swung his way. Cobb tolerates it like it's an indulgence he's allowing her, tossing her tight, forced smiles when he notices her with it in her hands.
"You guys, the whole point is for you to act like I'm not here," she complains, after several weeks of this treatment. Arthur ducks his head out of view, Cobb smiles tightly, Eames makes a lewd gesture, and Ariadne despairs of them all.
In sharp contrast, Yusuf hardly takes any time at all to get comfortable with it. They have slow, meandering conversations that go on absently for days, whenever they've got a minute. Ariadne tells him about her brothers and Yusuf tells her about Mombassa, the shop and life he left behind, and she takes photos all the while. He's a good subject, because he talks with his hands and his face is expressive, and he's almost always smiling.
Eventually everyone else just gets used to the clicking noises. They stop paying attention.
Ariadne gets a lot of good photos, after that.
Two months after Ariadne's first birthday with the team, they go out to a bar to celebrate the completion of the job they'd been working for ages. Eames is a handsy drunk, leaning onto Arthur and slurring badly-formed come-ons, and it's the first--but not the last--time Ariadne notices how much Arthur lets his guard down once Eames is a little impaired.
"Yes, yes," he's saying, probably more fondly than he means to, "I promise, I did understand what you were asking when you told me to go hunting for your trouser snake. You really don't need to elaborate."
"I need more alcohol for this," Cobb mutters, and Ariadne slides out of the booth to let him head for the bar even as Eames laughs and tips over in his seat, his head landing in Arthur's lap.
And really, there's no point not taking the photo, because she's at the perfect angle for it, and Arthur is smiling down at Eames, and Eames is staring starry-eyed up at Arthur, and they look so happy. Emotion is one of those things that brings up the tone of a shot, she's discovered, and she gets three different versions of it before Arthur glances up and rolls his eyes at her.
"You're caught," Yusuf informs her cheerfully. He hands over his beer as a conciliatory gesture, because he's not drunk enough to start needling her about how she's "practically underage" and "making him feel like a bad role model."
"They always get me in the end," Ariadne sighs, defeated.
"Yeah, well, I think I'm going to go ahead and take him home," Arthur says, rolling his eyes again. "Considering our options here are voyeurism and photographic proof that Eames is a sloppy drunk, it's probably for the best."
"But that is the kind of thing you like!" Eames protests, letting Arthur drag him into standing, and then amends, "Well, not the voyeurism."
"More your area," Arthur agrees dryly. "Have a good night, guys."
"Do you want help getting him to the car?" Yusuf inquires, looking Eames over with amusement. "He's properly pissed, no question."
"My Arthur will guide me to the car!" Eames declares, and sways where he stands. Arthur catches him around the waist and bites down on a laugh, and Ariadne gets a shot of that too, just a quick one while they're too distracted to pay her any attention.
"Blatant voyeurism," Arthur says, as Cobb comes back. "Hey, Dom, sorry, but we're going to head out."
"Thank god," Cobb says, downing his shot at once. "I didn't want to be a killjoy, but the nanny only wants to stay for so long, you know? Especially on a Thursday night."
"Thirsty Thursday," Eames sighs happily, nudging Arthur's neck. Arthur doesn't even bother making a half-hearted attempt to push him off, just laughs and buries his nose in Eames' hair for a very brief second.
"Come on, you fucking wastrel," he says, "no one wants to see you like this, you're embarrassing yourself."
"Mmmm," Eames says. "But I haven't any shame, or so you're always telling me."
Arthur laughs and pushes him forward, leading him to the door. Cobb lingers for a second and then he heads out too, and Ariadne and Yusuf get bored of the bar quickly. They stop in a liquor store up the street, and Ariadne buys a bottle of Skyy just to prove that she's old enough to do so. Yusuf laughs indulgently and they pass it between them on a park bench, talking about supernovas and the chemical structure of caffeine and Frank Gehry.
"Hey," Ariadne says eventually, "whatever happened to that girl? You had a girlfriend, on my birthday."
Yusuf sighs and waves a hand. "I don't have the best luck with women," he admits. "I tend to find the complete nutters, or the type to get bored easily."
"Was whats-her-face in the first category or the second?"
"The first," Yusuf says, laughing. "Definitely the first. I told her I couldn't go out with her friends because of work, and she tried to set my bloody lab on fire."
"Urgh," Ariadne offers, taking a swig from the paper bag housing the vodka. It burns going down her throat, and she coughs a little, giving Yusuf a glare that suggests that she will smack him if he comments. He just smiles and pries the bottle from her, holding it out of her reach.
She has probably had enough anyway, all things considered.
"I always manage to find the egomaniacs," she admits. "Or the nerds with no sense of self worth, if it's any comfort."
"Great comfort," Yusuf deadpans. "To being unlucky in love, then."
"I'll drink to that," Ariadne says, and they each take a sip to it.
She takes a photo of him a little while later, bathed in the golden glow of a streetlamp, laughing and brandishing the bottle. A little of the vodka spills out as he talks, and the camera catches the arc of it, capitulating inevitably toward the ground.
It's one of her better photos.
In the Hamptons, after their night of drunken revelry, they decide to go to the beach. Ariadne has a splitting headache and can't find her sunglasses, but she wants to be a good sport, so she goes along with it. Too hungover to frolic properly, she takes pictures--of Eames attempting to push Arthur into the water, of Yusuf and Eames tossing beers back and forth, of Cobb and Arthur flicking sand at each other.
There is one of Cobb alone, staring out at the ocean with an expression of inexpressible longing carved into his face, that makes her eyes sting when she looks at it later. She doesn't notice until after she takes it, though, and when she does realize she calls him over and demands his opinion on the framing of her next shot until he looks alright again.
They've been out for maybe an hour when Yusuf plops down in the sand next to her, coating her arm with it. She sticks her tongue out at him and brushes it off, and he affects a completely innocent expression that she knows means she'll end up with more on her eventually.
"You've got a shell stuck to you," she tells him, pointing to his bare, sand-coated left foot. "No, don't move it--it'll make for an interesting composition. Hold still."
"You're a very odd girl," Yusuf informs her, but he keeps his feet still, lets her fuck with the aperture and zoom until she's got exactly the set-up she wants. She waves a hand when she's done, and he flicks the shell off casually. She follows the line of it upward, which forces her to look at the sun, and winces.
"Trade you my sunglasses for Eleanor," Yusuf offers. Ariadne agrees at once, taking the aviators he offers her and tossing the camera to him. He laughs at her when she puts them on, because they're much too big for her face and she probably looks ridiculous.
"Oh, shut up," she says good-naturedly. "Not all of us hold our liquor as well as you do."
"I hear that," Yusuf agrees. "There needs to be proof of this for posterity, though. You look like a fruit bat. How do I work this thing?"
Ariadne leans over and shows him the right buttons to press, and is surprised to find she's a little self-conscious on this side of things.
"Smile," Yusuf insists, "you have to suffer the same torture as everyone else," so Ariadne does, wide and a little mocking.
When she looks at the still later there's sand in her hair and the sunglasses look fucking stupid, but they're reflective enough that if you zoom in a little you can see Yusuf in them, grinning and holding the camera.
"Ariadne," Yusuf says, opening his door with a look of mild surprise. "What're you doing here?"
"I got dumped," Ariadne tells him. "I brought boxed wine and burritos. Can we watch shit movies or something?"
"A box of wine and burritos," Yusuf laughs, stepping aside to let her in. "You can take the girl out of college--"
"Oh, go to hell," Ariadne says, smiling a little despite herself. "Sorry to barge in like this, I just--the idea of going back to my apartment was pretty bleak, you know?"
"I do indeed know," Yusuf says. "I've been on that end of the stick many a time."
"Well, next time you can come over to mine," Ariadne tells him, crashing down onto his couch. "We can be single and miserable together or something."
"You make it sound so appealing," Yusuf says, but he's laughing. She tosses him a burrito and he flicks the television on, going to grab glasses from the kitchen. He comes back with chipped mugs, making excuses about the dishwasher, but Ariadne doesn't even bat an eyelash; she just fills them both nearly to the top and passes one over to him.
"Men are such assholes," she complains. "Not that I thought this was really going anywhere, but it was fun, you know?"
"Yeah," Yusuf sighs, kicking his feet up onto the table. "And no one likes to be left."
"Exactly," Ariadne says, following his example and putting her feet up. She takes a sip of the wine; it's really, really terrible, which pleases her. "It's not, you know, I'm not here to cry or anything--"
"And thank god, because I wouldn't have the faintest idea what to do with you," Yusuf says solemnly. She laughs.
"It just sucks," she says. "It's not heartbreaking or anything, you know, it's just--"
"Unpleasant," Yusuf agrees, taking a sip of his own wine.
"Yeah," Ariadne sighs.
"You want to tell me what happened?" Yusuf asks. "I feel safe asking, since you're not planning on crying."
Ariadne laughs and puts a hand to her eyes. "Dane wanted…I don't know. Grand gestures, I guess? He said he couldn't be with someone who wasn't going to give back."
"Well, that's silly," Yusuf comments, kicking her lightly and taking a bite of his burrito. "I know you to be an excellent teammate."
"Thanks," she sighs. She's not sure what else to say, but she's saved by the sensation of something small and warm settling on top of her lap. She glances down.
There is a grey and white kitten sitting on her, peering up at her with inquisitive eyes. She grins down at him, delighted, and puts her burrito down to pick him up.
"And who are you, little guy?" she coos. Yusuf smiles.
"That's Van Morrison," he says. "I found him out back last week, trying to get into the garbage cans."
"Van Morrison?" Ariadne asks. The kitten reaches out a tiny paw and bats at her face with it, and she can't help giggling a little.
Yusuf shrugs. "That's what I was listening to that night? I don't know, it seemed apt."
Ariadne laughs and puts the kitten back down on her lap. "You have a hell of a namesake, Vinny," she tells him, petting him. He pushes his head up against her hand and purrs, long and low, curling up. "He likes me."
"Obviously a considerably better judge of character than this Dane fellow," Yusuf replies. They smile at each other, the purring and the faint hum of the television the only sound in the room, and Yusuf gets up to start rummaging through his DVDs.
"I didn't know you liked cats," Ariadne says, sometime later. Ziggy Stardust is on, because Yusuf had insisted that it was high tragedy that she'd never seen it. Yusuf shrugs.
"They're brilliant pets," he says. "Loving but self-sufficient. I had three back in Mombassa."
"Why'd you leave?" Ariadne asks, because she's been curious for ages. "Mombassa, I mean. You could've gone back."
"Ah," Yusuf says, sighing. "I might have liked that, honestly. But I was--stagnating there, I suppose you could say. I had my shop and my cats but very little adventure, very few friends. I could have been happy there, but it wasn't really…living, no?"
"I get that," Ariadne says, taking a sip of her third mug of a wine. "That's why I wanted to go to school in Paris--it's easy to set down roots somewhere without meaning to, isn't it? And then you're stuck, and you can't even blame anyone, because you've done it to yourself."
"Yes," Yusuf agrees. "Yes, that's it exactly. I had the opportunity to do something new, so I took it."
"Brave," Ariadne says, without even thinking about it.
"I suppose so," Yusuf says after a minute, smiling askance at her. "I'd never thought of it that way."
She snaps a photo of him, just because she can, and then several of the kitten. Yusuf rolls his eyes but lets her do it, cradling the tiny thing in his large, calloused hands, posing him for various shots.
They watch the rest of the movie in a companionable kind of silence, Vinny migrating back and forth between them every few minutes. When it ends Ariadne is more than a little tipsy, and Yusuf gets her a pillow and blanket, a pair of too-big sweatpants to borrow so she can sleep on the couch.
It's not until he's said goodnight, shutting the door to his room and leaving the cat asleep on her chest, that it occurs to her that she'd gone to Yusuf. She'd been dumped, and rather than call her mother or a girlfriend, she'd come here. She hadn't even thought about it. And it had been the right decision--she feels better, more grounded, than she had before she came. She feels better and more grounded than she's felt in ages, really.
He's my best friend, she realizes, a little stunned. Vinny purrs against her chest and she falls asleep smiling, surprise and warmth wrapped around her like a borrowed quilt.
They take a job in Colorado in the middle of May, pretty much only because it's easy money. Cobb opts out because Phillipa has a dance recital and James is still getting over a spring cold, but the rest of them go.
For the first three days Ariadne and Yusuf are alone in the warehouse. Eames is following the mark's sister, learning her walk and mannerisms, and Arthur's off doing whatever nefarious things he does in the name of making the job go smoothly. It's nice--Ariadne works on the layout and Yusuf tweaks his latest compound, and every couple hours he tests it on her and she practices the build until he wakes her up. They spilt entrees from nearby restaurants and rag on each other good-naturedly about how bad they both are at making coffee.
Sometimes they talk, and sometimes they don't, and it's always comfortable. Ariadne's kind of sad when it's over.
On the third morning, she walks into the rented warehouse and finds Arthur and Eames have beaten her there. Eames is leaning against Arthur's desk, heavy circles under his eyes, and Arthur's in the chair below him. His hair is loose and he's wearing jeans and a pressed sweater, and even though he still looks like he's walked directly out of a J.Crew catalogue, for Arthur it's practically pajama bottoms and a ripped tank top.
His eyes are red-rimmed and his nose is red and angry, and the first thing he says to her is, "If you take a picture of me like this, Ariadne, I swear to god I will end you."
"Are you okay?" Ariadne asks, ignoring the rest of it. "You look like hell."
"I'm fine," he growls. Eames rolls his eyes.
"Arthur here is engaged in a battle of wills with his allergies," he says, sounding irritated. "Don't bother attempting to reason with him, I assure you I've taken that tack. Repeatedly."
"How do you engage in a battle of wills with allergies?" Ariadne asks. Eames glares down at the top of Arthur's head.
"It's very simple, really," he drawls. "All the allergies have to do is exist; you must then stringently insist that they don't, despite inarguable evidence to the contrary."
"Fuck off, Eames," Arthur snaps. He sniffles, and Eames brandishes a tissue box at him, a viciously smug expression on his face. Arthur takes one, but grudgingly. "I hate you."
"Yes, well, you're not endearing yourself to me at this moment either," Eames returns, his eyes still narrowed. "But if you want to make yourself bloody miserable, it's no skin off my back."
Ariadne almost laughs, because it's such a patently obviously lie that it's ridiculous. She drifts off to her own workspace, though, smiling at Yusuf when he gets in, and tries not to add fuel to their fire.
It's a very unpleasant morning, because Arthur is indeed miserable, and in misery he takes to snapping at everyone. And Eames is unhappy because Arthur's unhappy, not that he'd ever admit it, so he's testy too, quick to take offense and even quicker to cut ideas down. When Yusuf offers to fetch lunch Ariadne glares at him, because that had been her escape plan, damn it.
He shrugs apologetically at her, an every man for himself kind of gesture, and ducks out before she can stop him. She sighs and goes to get a coffee, and when she comes back Arthur's sitting on top of his desk and Eames is standing in front of him, arms crossed. Ariadne stops, because she doesn't want to interrupt.
"Look," Eames says, his voice exasperated but fond too, "it's not that I'm not proud to be involved with the most stubborn git in the history of the world--"
"You're talking about yourself, right?" Arthur snaps, glaring. "Because you're obviously the stubborn git here, not me." Eames just smiles and reaches a hand out to push Arthur's hair up out of his eyes.
"Be that as it may," he says, "I really do prefer it when you're able to breathe, love."
Arthur continues to glare up at him for a second, and then he sighs and lets the expression drop. He sags a little, leaning into Eames' hand, and relief is already breaking over Eames' face when he says, "Oh, fine, if you're going to whine about it. Give me the damn Claritin."
"Thank Christ," Eames breathes, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a box. He hands it to Arthur, who scowls and pries a pill out of the packaging. He pops it into his mouth and Eames hands over his coffee cup so he can wash it down. Arthur grimaces at the taste, but takes a couple more sips before he gives it back.
"I hope you're happy," he growls.
"Very," Eames says, grinning. "Was that really so hard?"
"Yes," Arthur mutters, but when Eames pushes his hair back again he offers up a tired smile and closes his eyes, letting Eames brush a thumb across his temple.
They still haven't noticed Ariadne. Knowing the sounds of the cars outside will cover the click of it, she takes a picture, softening the focus on it enough that Arthur looks slightly blurred rather than ill. Then, feeling…strange, she slips back out, goes to sit on the grass in front of the building.
She's never been the type of person to be jealous over someone else's happiness. She's had friends like that, girls who complained bitterly about being single, who scowled at couples kissing in public, but it seems like a lot of energy to Ariadne, to let loneliness drive you to hate.
In any case, what Eames and Arthur have isn't something she's ever wanted; the happiness part is great, certainly, but the rest of it seems like too much. They're both the type to live furiously, to push too hard, to shoot first and ask questions later, and they love like that--like they're the only people alive, like they'd flounder and drown alone. Ariadne gets it, gets that it works for them. It's probably the steadiest they've ever been, and she's thrilled that they've found it, but it's not the kind of love she's always looked for.
Ariadne wants something quieter, something that feels less grand and fated, something calm and slow and soft in the morning light. She wants to grow into something, to wrap herself up in it and carry it with her, warm without be smothering. She's not sure if it's possible in this world she's come to live in--she sees the vicious certainty of Arthur and Eames, the obvious vaulting passion that had been Cobb and Mal, and thinks that maybe it's not. But she's a patient girl, patient and practical and grounded in her own sense of self, and she figures she's allowed to want whatever she wants.
So it's not jealousy, not exactly. It's just--well, it's just that some days she remembers Mal saying You don't know what it is to be a lover, and she wonders if it's true. Wonders if she'll ever know.
She's sitting there, playing at a blade of grass, when Yusuf returns with lunch. "Hey. What're you doing out here?"
"Hi," she says, glancing up. "Uh, Eames and Arthur are...in there. I didn't want to bother them."
"Ah," Yusuf says, giving her a knowing look. "Feeling sorry for ourselves, are we?"
"No," Ariadne says too quickly, coloring. Yusuf sighs and sits down next to her, putting the bag of food he'd been holding down in the grass.
"Sometimes I forget how young you are," he says, which, really, is the whole problem. Ariadne grimaces.
"Funny, since you never let me forget it," she snaps. He makes an apologetic noise and she looks up at him, not knowing what to expect. His eyes are soft, though, and when he speaks his voice is very kind.
"That's because I don't think you should forget," he says gently. "In this business everyone is older than they look and younger than they seem. It can be easy to lose sight of how much time you've got left."
"Well it's not like I think I'm going to die or anything," Ariadne complains, trusting him to follow what she's not saying. "I just, I don't know. I feel like I'm missing something. Like I should be trying harder. You know?"
"I do," Yusuf says. "But that's my point--you're young yet, Ariadne. You've plenty of time to figure it out."
From anyone else, it would sound like a platitude. Cobb would say it in that condescending, fatherly way he has, and Arthur would make her feel like an idiot by accident, and Eames would try to distract her from the issue by jumping into something else entirely. But this is Yusuf, who is surefooted and solid, who thinks before he speaks, who measures out emotion with the same care he uses in his lab. She knows that he means it.
"If you say so," she sighs. He smiles at her, warm and inviting, and the weight of it settles over her and calms her implicitly.
"I'll tell you what doesn't have much time, though," he continues, "and that's these sandwiches. If Arthur bitches about soggy bread, I'm blaming you and no mistake."
"Eames bullied him into taking allergy meds," Ariadne says. "He's probably a little less--you know, awful by now."
Yusuf releases a relieved breath and stands, offering Ariadne a hand. She takes it and he hauls her up, grinning.
"Thank heavens for small favors," he intones. He'd picked that phrase up from her--it's something her mother says, that Ariadne utters when she's not paying attention. She grins at him.
"Thanks," she says. "For not being a dick, I mean. I appreciate it."
"I am more than happy to refrain from being a dick anytime," Yusuf says. His tone is solemn, but his eyes are sparkling. "Shall we?"
"Let's," Ariadne decides, and she follows him back into the warehouse.
When Eames and Arthur return from London, they're…different.
Ariadne had expected some change, of course. Cobb had told them that Eames' father had died, that he and Arthur would be gone for a few days, and Ariadne had felt pity well up in her chest, slow and sick. She'd thought about texting, but she'd asked Yusuf first, and he'd shaken his head sadly.
"Eames has a complicated relationship with his past," he'd said. "Best to let Arthur handle it, I think."
She hugs Eames when they get back on Monday, coming into the warehouse together, because she can't help herself. He lets her, wrapping his arms around her, and when she says, "Eames, I'm so sorry," he sighs against her hair and squeezes for a second before he lets go.
"Thank you," he says, sounding like he means it, and that's all they say about it. Yusuf claps him on the back and Cobb nods at him, a tacit kind of understanding there, and then they go about their day.
But Eames and Arthur are different. There's no denying it.
Eames is quieter, more muted than he was before he left, and he looks for Arthur in little ways that are easy to miss. Ariadne's not sure Arthur's even noticing it, because he's always there before Eames has to ask for him, but it's--it's casual teasing touches that have become lingering grips, fleeting looks that have become long gazes. For that first week, Eames treats Arthur like Arthur's his totem, and Arthur lets him do it, offering him smile after smile and standing closer than he normally would.
And Arthur--oh, Arthur. It breaks Ariadne's heart, the way he looks at Eames when Eames is looking away, panic and worry heavy in his eyes. She's sure he knows that this will pass, that Eames won't be sad and strange like this forever--because she knows that, and she doesn't know him half as well as Arthur does--but she wishes she knew how to tell him, reassure him.
"He's scared," Yusuf says, over lunch on Wednesday. "He's afraid Eames needs more than he can give."
"How did you know that?" Ariadne asks, because she can see that it's true, now that she's heard it. Yusuf shrugs.
"I've lost a parent," he says. "And I've had friends lose parents. There are parts of the experience that are universal."
"I'm sorry," Ariadne says, taking his large hand with her smaller one unthinkingly.
"Thank you," Yusuf says, smiling at her. "But it was a long time ago."
"I'm still sorry," Ariadne insists, and Yusuf squeezes her hand very briefly before letting her go.
"I know you are," he says.
On Thursday, Arthur and Eames go on a test run together. When they wake up they look for each other immediately, both of them with a desperation in their eyes that hadn't been there before, and Ariadne could cry, really. She wishes she could say something, but it all seems meaningless and trite, and her other option doesn't occur to her until she goes home that night and opens her laptop.
Her background is a photo that Phillipa took, when they were all having dinner in Cobb's backyard one night. Ariadne had left Eleanor on a chair and hadn't seen the kid grab it, and she'd probably taken the shot by accident; Ariadne hadn't found it until she was uploading stuff days later. Her fingers are visible in the edge of the frame and the focus is very slightly off, but she managed, in a stroke of luck, to catch all of them.
Cobb's the only one looking at the camera, and really he's looking at Phillipa just behind it--his mouth is open, the edges of his lips curled up, obviously in the middle of laughing and telling her to put it down. Arthur's sitting next to Eames, smiling askance at him, and Eames has an arm around Arthur's shoulders and a shit-eating grin on his face. He's looking at Arthur but gesturing to Yusuf, who's looking at Ariadne, his mouth open and his hands waving in the middle of some story. Ariadne's got her gaze focused right back at him, laughing at whatever he's saying like she means it.
They look like a family. Ariadne smiles whenever she sees it.
Staring at it, it occurs to her that maybe Arthur would want something like this, something he could touch, feel, to remind him that Eames won't always be this way. She opens her photo file and starts flipping through, bypassing everything that isn't Arthur and Eames, and tries to decide.
There's…hundreds of them. She hadn't realized, because she takes the photos for the fun of it as much as for anything else, only spends time editing them when she has the time, which is never. She doesn't flip through them often, and so she hadn't realized she'd been absently recording a love story, the growth of a relationship between two very different people.
They're cleaning each other's guns and grinning at someone offscreen; they're glaring at each other, twin badly-concealed smiles on their faces. Eames is staring at Arthur with unabashed affection from across the room--Arthur is looking down at Eames, asleep on his desk, with inexpressible fondness on his face. They're kissing, and kissing, and kissing, little moments Ariadne hadn't even realized she was catching. They're brushing up against each other, touching in quiet, subtle ways, watching one another with easy warmth.
"Oh my god," Ariadne says to the empty room, stunned.
She spends hours trying to choose the right one, pausing over several of them and considering it. The one she ends up deciding on is the two of them eating Chinese food, sitting next to each other on the couch in the warehouse. Arthur is flipping his middle finger at Eames, probably because Eames has his chopsticks buried in Arthur's precious beef with broccoli, but he's grinning, like he can't help himself.
She picks it because Eames' head is thrown back in laughter, and he looks like he doesn't want to be anywhere but he is, and she thinks Arthur will probably like that.
She goes into the warehouse next day with an 8'' by 10'' glossy of it in a folder in her bag, hoping to get Arthur alone. It's hard to do, though, because Arthur stays close to Eames, usually within arm's reach, and she can't bear to try and separate them. She waits all day, through three test runs and a meeting, and when they're all heading out she hangs back, hoping to find her moment.
"We're still on for tonight, yeah?" Yusuf asks, walking past her. She grins at him.
"It is Friday, isn't it?" she says. "Plus, it's just wrong that you've never seen Life of Brian. My turn, right?"
"Yes, well, considering that I've hosted for the last month," Yusuf says, mock-stern. Ariadne laughs.
"Vinny misses me," she says.
"He does, at that," Yusuf agrees. "Your concern for him would be more touching if I didn't think you were just trying to avoid having to pick up for me, though."
"Like I'd pick up for you," she says, rolling her eyes. "Does seven-ish work?"
"I'll be there," Yusuf promises, heading for the door.
"Bring pizza!" she calls, and Yusuf laughs and nods back at her before he's gone.
Ariadne packs her things slowly, watching Arthur. He's telling Eames some story, and Eames is laughing, and if she's not careful they're going to walk out together. She waits till they're both headed for the door and then, swallowing her pride, she says, "Hey, Arthur?"
"Yeah?" Arthur replies. He and Eames both turn around.
"I, uh," she says, uncomfortable under their stares, "could I talk to you for a second?"
Eames raises his eyebrows, grinning. "If you're planning on propositioning him, dearest, you should know he's firmly spoken for."
"Yes, Eames, because I'm not capable of asserting that myself," Arthur says, rolling his eyes.
"And obviously it's such news to me," Ariadne adds, giving him an unimpressed look. "I promise, I've got no designs on Arthur, I just--I have to ask him a. Uh. A personal question?"
"If it's itchy and red, you should probably see a doctor," Eames advises, his grin going a little wider. Ariadne is so relieved to hear him making a disgusting joke that she almost forgets to hit him.
Arthur rolls his eyes again. "Go get the car, you pervert," he sighs. "I'll be right out."
"I love it when you call me names," Eames replies, wiggling his eyebrows, and kisses Arthur right on the mouth before he turns and hits the door.
This leaves Ariadne alone with Arthur, feeling suddenly more shy than she ever has in her life.
"Well?" he asks, looking at her with concern. "Is everything okay?"
"Oh, yeah, I," and she pauses, pulls the folder out of her bag. "I just--look, this is probably awkward and stupid and, I mean, I know you think the photography thing is like…voyeuristic and, uh, creating evidence, but I just thought--I thought you might want this? So, here. Sorry."
She hands it to him, and Arthur furrows his brow at her in confusion, but he flips the folder open. He stares at the picture, his face going completely expressionless, for a long minute.
"Oh," he says.
"Oh god," Ariadne says in a rush, "oh, shit, this was so stupid, I'm sorry, I swear I'm not--"
"Ariadne, shut up," Arthur says quietly, lifting his gaze to meet hers. He closes the folder almost reverently, and his eyes are bright. Before she knows what's happening, he's leaning forward and kissing her on the cheek.
"Thank you," he says, with real feeling. "Jesus, Ari, don't apologize, it's great. Thank you."
"You're welcome," she breathes, relieved.
She walks outside with him, casually discussing weekend plans. Eames is sitting in the driver's side of that ridiculous car he drives, and he waves to her.
"Hope that infection clears up!" he yells cheerfully.
"Go to hell," Ariadne replies, grinning and waving back, and veers off towards her car. When she gets in, she catches sight of them out of the corner of her eye; Arthur has the folder open and Eames is grinning, a real, honest grin, looking down at it. He leans across the gearshift and grabs Arthur by the back of the neck, pulling him in for a kiss.
Ariadne smiles to herself, and drives home.
When she gets there she's got maybe an hour before Yusuf shows up; she showers and puts on fresh jeans, and then she goes over to her laptop. She'd felt like she was missing something looking at the photos the night before, and she thinks it's about time she flipped through all of them, rather than focusing on Arthur and Eames.
There's a lot of Cobb, grinning with his kids on his lap, and some of James and Phillipa alone. And there's a number of ridiculous artistic shots, things that seemed brilliant in the moment--a power line listing the the left, a penny caught between the sidewalk cracks. Laughing at herself, she keeps going.
And then…well, then there's Yusuf, sauce caught on the edge of his mouth, his fork in the air as he tells a joke. Yusuf at his lab, peering at a test tube critically. Yusuf on her couch, laughing hysterically at Family Guy, and Yusuf on his couch, head tilted back, examining his ceiling as he listens to whatever it is she's clearly saying. Yusuf holding that vodka bottle. Yusuf on the beach with sand on his bare arms, and, inexplicably, on his cheek.
Ariadne feels her breath catch in her throat, and scrolls on.
And then it's her, in the photos Yusuf has taken. Her, wearing every one of her scarves at once, trying to cheer him after a breakup by letting him mock her hipster clothes. Her on the couch with Vinny, fully grown now, his tail wound around her hand. Her in those sunglasses, which she'd gone ahead and stolen after that day at the beach.
There are some that are cropped oddly, because Yusuf is enamored of unusual constructions, emphasizing the little things. Some of just her hands, wrapped around a mug, or just her mouth, open in laughter. There are some where she's staring right at him over the camera, her eyes fond and her face serious, absorbed in a story he's telling.
There's a knock at the door, and Ariadne blinks, trying to tear herself away. But when she minimizes the window her desktop background is there, and she looks at it, really looks at it, for maybe the first time. Arthur and Eames are looking at each other and Cobb's looking at the camera but she's looking at Yusuf, laughing, focused, like she never wants to look away.
And, god, the way he's looking back at her--warm and tender and patient, like he sees all of her, like the way she's laughing makes whatever he's saying worth it. And that's how he was looking at the camera, too, in the shots she'd taken of him; fond and understanding and like he didn't want to look at anything else. That's how he always looks at her. She can't believe she's never seen it before.
The thought washes over her, steady and calming like a warm breeze, that this could be her own kind of love story.
"Ariadne," Yusuf calls through the door, light and laughing, "it's disgusting enough to eat pizza with pineapple on it without it being bloody cold! Come on!"
Ariadne smiles, and closes her laptop, and goes to get the door. She's got plenty of time to figure it out.