Word count: 2857
Notes: This is for metonymy, who won my fic-writing services by her generosity in the help_japan auction. We have shared interests that include mythology, Arthur/Ariadne/Eames and globetrotting, so this was a pleasure to write! Many thanks to ineptshieldmaid who stepped up like a champ for a last-minute beta.
Despite living in and loving Sydney for many years, I think this is the first time I've used it as the main setting for a story. As you will probably guess, I miss it (and its food) enormously.
Title from 'The Lady of Shalott'.
and little other care hath she
They eat all of the buns and Eames orders more in clipped Mandarin that strikes her ears like bells. She doesn't know how good his accent is but doesn't care, really, as long as another wicker basket of sweet dark pork wrapped in soft dough appears on their table; which it does. The restaurant hardly deserves the noun, it's tiny and too hot and very noisy, but there's a cheerful queue forming outside as the lunch hour picks up, people transferring shopping bags from one cramped hand to another and looking hungrily through the window at the steaming bowls of noodles and those wicker baskets that form stacks at the corner of every table.
Ariadne finds a smear of soy sauce on her thumb and licks it off, staring at the ceiling, from which hang bunches and bunches of plastic grapes. They're so delightfully incongruous she hasn't been able to keep her eyes off them.
"Water?" Eames lifts the jug. She nods and he refills her glass with an economy that makes her smile; he's been forging Arthur for the past half hour, in the way that he sometimes does when he's awake. Gestures and glances, everything but the look. She hasn't said anything yet because she's not entirely convinced he's doing it deliberately.
Not moving her eyes from the grapes, she says, "I've started dreaming again."
By the time she finally swallows her denial and decides to go and see the specialist, she finds that she's deleted the email that Cobb sent her with the address. Stupid.
When she calls him there's that long-distance hesitance that ruins the rhythm of the conversation.
"Ariadne," he says, warm. "How are you? How are you liking the wrong side of the planet?"
"It's great," she says. "Blue skies all over the place."
And beaches, she doesn't say. Crashing waves against the sand. Thanks a fucking bunch for ruining my vacation with your emotional baggage, boss.
"Job going well?"
Not that it's meant to be a vacation.
"I wanted -- Donna, was that her name? I wanted," and she stops.
Perhaps Cobb is trying not to say, I told you so. Perhaps the pause is the equator and the ocean, between them.
Donna is tall, with a black braid, and a settled look about her. She doesn't quite look at Ariadne, but fixes her inscrutable dark eyes on a nearby point and listens without interrupting until Ariadne talks herself to a halt.
"Ariadne," she says, at last. "Really?"
Ariadne feels hot in the cheeks. But she's sunburnt anyway.
"My parents liked it," she says. And because that seems too much like an apology: "I like it."
"Nothing to dislike," Donna says. She smiles for the first time. "You wear it well. That's probably where the mythology of the image comes from."
"Oh." Ariadne leans forward, her shoulders lighter; she's relieved, and she hadn't really admitted to herself how worried she was. "You don't think it's anyone else building it, then? You think it's just me?"
"I'd bet on it," Donna says. "It's not common, having the ability return this way, but it happens, and there's usually a trigger. Emotional stress. Something along those lines."
"A change of scenery?" Ariadne suggests.
Donna shrugs and reaches out to press her hand, briefly, a businesslike form of comfort. "The oldest mythology of this land," she says, "is called the Dreaming."
All right. The dream is:
her hands sore and thread-sliced as they move the loom, the endless shuttle of colours, some great design taking shape. A blur of time. Sunlight through the window and the spinning wheel casting spoked shadows on the wall. The feeling of waiting, waiting, a limbo that has nothing to do with shared consciousness; the hot longing for something that is not this reality, one girl sitting in a room, with threads, alone. The tapestry too vast and too fast for her. Scissors --
and Ariadne wakes up with the side of her hand halfway into her mouth, choking on old instincts of silence and self-reliance, but Arthur is already switching on the lamp. In the sudden sting of yellow light his hair is all over the place, his eyes gone military, but Ariadne spares him only a short look before she fumbles on the bedside stand for her totem. She is profoundly and absurdly glad that he knocked on her room's door tonight, with the result that she is waking into a relatively familiar space.
"Eames told me," he says.
Eames, who spent the afternoon inside the waking version of Arthur's skin. Of course. Ariadne sighs and runs her finger across the base of her chess piece and doesn't bother to be angry at either of them.
Blue skies. What Ariadne can't fit into a phone call is the way the air here feels: hectic, young, aching with promises made and forgotten. Arthur takes her walking along a headland that curves high above the sea and leads down to Bondi Beach, which is so very postcard-bright and stuffed with humanity that Ariadne can't associate it with any kind of dark memory. Arthur holds his beautiful shoes in one hand and looks more comfortable than Ariadne would have guessed, stepping around sandcastles and over sharp clumps of shells.
Inhale; exhale. Young; young. Not in the proud and striving way of America but with the heedless strength and curiosity of a small child.
"I could live here," Arthur says, surprising her.
"Californian," she teases.
He gives a short grin, wide and boyish. "What about you?" he says.
"Where in America? Or could I live here?"
But she doesn't feel American, she's lived too long in other countries, and she's not in the mood for origin stories. So she stretches her arms out to feel the gritty teeth of the wind, the mixed blessing of unshielded sun, and she says, "I think so, as long as I could still travel."
Of course, you can cross the globe in your dreams, but she refuses to accept this as a substitute.
The job is a job; extraction, not inception, but a challenge. Ariadne is glad to be working with friends, because apparently this isn't the industry for long-term loyalties; teams should be tailored to the needs of the job, put together anew each time.
"Bullshit," she complains. "We work well together because we have experience to build on."
Eames laughs and kisses the tips of her fingers. "You'll get bored of us soon enough, pet. Half the fun is the chance to work with new people, new imaginations."
Nevertheless. She's grateful for Arthur's orderly mind and sly humour, for the way Eames will glance over her designs and point out the holes, for their unspoken trust in a twenty-something with neither a full degree nor a sordid past to her name.
She drags them to Circular Quay and from there to the steps of the opera house, iconic and garish in comparison to the opera houses of Europe; Ariadne loves it.
"Slices of orange," she says. "That was what the architect had in mind."
Eames squints thoughtfully. "I can see it."
Arthur stands with his hands in his pockets, a silhouette in shades of Armani against the white sails of the building, and watches the harbour with a cool stillness that makes Ariadne's blood tingle. She digs an elbow into Eames's side and he nods, rueful, his greenly grey eyes alert with wanting.
Donna is on the phone to someone in Canada, lining up a freelance job. She waves Ariadne onto a seat, and Ariadne slips her feet in and out of her orange flip-flops -- they call them thongs here -- and waits, restless.
Donna puts a book in her lap and says, "Pinpoint your mythology, Ariadne."
It's not that easy. Once she starts looking the weavers pour off the pages: just in the culture of Ariadne's own labyrinthine thread she finds the Moirae spinning the fates of mortals, Athena the proud and Arachne the punished. Loyal Penelope weaving all day and unravelling each night; Philomela's loom becoming her mouthpiece so that all might know what she has suffered.
Further afield she stumbles over the weaving halls of Amaterasu, and Neith daily weaving the world into existence. Always women. Always. She'd draw a connection with fertility but she thinks it's deeper than that, not solely a creation myth but something more powerful.
Her unbidden dreams are no less frustrating, she still wakes up angry. But she tells Arthur and Eames and even Cobb, between those pacific gaps, that she's stopped being afraid.
This is not entirely true.
But surrounded by men who knew and loved a woman whose mind was destroyed by dreaming, Ariadne thinks that silence is the best option. At least about this. At least for now.
Only two layers to build, and no urgent deadline, which leaves a lot of free sunny afternoons for them to catch buses around the city and find cafés that sell every variation on chocolate, craft markets and unfamiliar clothing stores and galleries and monuments and glimpses of an ancient culture struggling to be recognised through the money and modernity. Noodle houses. Lebanese delis. Dumplings. Curries.
"Kangaroo pizza," Eames says, delighted, and orders two.
Ariadne remembers the kangaroos at the wildlife centre, with their pointed ears and inquisitive looks, and tries to muster enough indignation to defeat the watering of her mouth at the smell of the food. She's not sure if she's failing or succeeding at being a tourist, and during her hesitation Arthur reaches across her and grabs a slice; cheese stretches out like spun thread between the pizza and his plate and Ariadne laughs and takes a swig from her sweating bottle of beer.
Only two layers to build, but one of them is a naval base that has to fool a navy officer, and for all that she's an army brat Ariadne's a bit out of her depth when it comes to these things. Arthur, disciplined and besuited, is not nearly as helpful as he should be.
"Field work," he apologises. "Mostly."
Ariadne chews her lip and erases half a floor's worth of offices in her sketch.
Ariadne winds thread into a ball and then sets it rolling, forgetting to hold onto the end; the whole thing tangles and she's so frustrated she could cry, but she doesn't, because there's someone watching her. A woman who sits cross-legged in the corner and judges her because her creation is faulty, her world is incomplete, her looms are silent but for clicks and creaks and she can't lead anyone out of a maze.
"I'm no good at this yet," Ariadne explains. "I'm too young. Like this place."
"Young?" the woman hisses. "Look deeper. Look past the first layer of the dream."
She is holding a snake in all colours of the rainbow and Ariadne thinks of Eve first; when Adam delved and Eve span...
"No!" snaps the woman, as though reading her mind. The snake twists itself around her arm and opens its mouth wide as though to spit out the universe. "Your myth is not mine."
Now she looks old. White-haired and dark-eyed, and fierce. Old as the Moirae; but that's the wrong myth too, Ariadne knows.
Donna says, "Apply it to your trade."
She's an architect, but that's just another form of world-creation, isn't it? More literal, more concrete; more satisfying than this shallow symbolism of cloth. She reads about warp, and weft, plain weave and the floating unbalanced pattern of satin weave. Every craft has its own language and she's already fluent in her own, so it's nice, in a way, to be starting at the beginning again.
"Twill is an offset uneven weave forming diagonals," she recites, brushing her hand down Eames's tweed jacket. Denim is also twill; she can almost feel the delicate lines rubbing against the insides of her thighs.
Twill is a fraction: 1/2, 2/2, warp over weft, like a musical time signature. So Ariadne kisses Eames with no song in her mouth but the percussion of her own pulse, the perfect rhythm of nearness. He tastes like salt and the cigarettes he really shouldn't be smoking, and she loves the way his hand feels splayed at the very lowest curve of her back.
"Could you live here?" she asks him.
"Not you as well." Eames pulls back and his extraordinary mouth is amused. "Have you two gone and bought a house or something without telling me?"
"No!" But now they're on the precipice of a larger conversation. She goes back to eyeing the lapels of his jacket and says, as neutrally as possible, "What did Arthur say?"
He taps one finger against her lips -- no carrying tales.
There are other stories, other women, spinners and weavers both. The anonymous girl who made a deal with Rumpelstiltskin. Sleeping Beauty. Elaine of Astolat, who abandoned the act of creation in order to destroy herself. The knights come riding two and two; Ariadne can't help but smile.
She's flicking through her sketch book when she comes across some doodles that fill the corner of a page, the soft crisscrossing lines of satin weave, adjacent to an aborted diagram of insulation tunnels.
Apply it to your trade. All very well, except the materials are so --
It hits her like a headache and she exhales, almost a groan.
"What is it?" says Arthur.
"It's got nothing to do with the materials. The balance," she says, "the balance of the creation cycle, dreamer and subject -- it can be tipped. It doesn't just have to be me doing the creation. If we leave more gaps, his subconscious will fill them anyway. We substitute his expertise for ours."
Warp and weft. Two of his threads to every one of hers.
Arthur frowns. "It's riskier. We won’t know the design as well as we should."
"I can help with that." Eames leans in and taps a pen against the paper in a mannerism that's Ariadne's own; she wonders how long he's been forging her today, while she kept her head bent over the paper. "I can probably get him to give me a personal tour, if we're prepared to lengthen the first stage of that level."
"I'll bet you can," says Arthur, dry and pleased, and Eames grins.
She's sitting by a fire with the rainbow serpent and its keeper, the stern woman who flits between her forms -- young, and pregnant, and old -- as though she's making a point of pandering to Ariadne's more colonial mythos.
"Why aren't you a weaver?" Ariadne demands. Her own hands are busy and she wants to know what the pattern will look like, when it's done.
The woman rubs charcoal between her palms. "I am that which is created, not that which creates." Her glance is almost sympathetic. "You're too young to understand just yet."
"I certainly wouldn't mind working with some other women next time," Ariadne says. This seems as safe a space as any in which to voice it. "I guess I can see what Eames meant about new imaginations."
The snake coils off the woman's lap and gives a long shiver, turning its belly to the warmth of the fire, and the light glancing off its multicoloured skin reminds Ariadne of sunset over the water.
There's a pair of scissors nearby and Ariadne picks them up. One by one she cuts the threads that extend from her tools to the cloth. The loom sighs gently, like an awakening.
"I am the Dreaming, not the Dreamer," says the woman. "You see?"
Ariadne wakes alone and calm, kicks her legs sleepily to untangle the sheets, and doesn’t reach for her totem.
They run exhaustive trials for a week. The day before they're due to do the job proper, Arthur locks the warehouse and makes a show of dropping the key deep into his pocket.
"Come on," he says. As he walks past them he brushes his hand against Eames's in a way that's practically a declaration, if you know Arthur, and some of the tense excitement in Ariadne's chest is eased down new paths.
They buy an enormous amount of food at the fish markets and sprawl out in a nearby park, unwrapping chips and oysters and grilled scallops and white fish that melts on the tongue, and plastic containers of sashimi that Ariadne watched a man slice from something caught less than an hour ago. She squeezes lemon over everything and then licks her fingers clean under Arthur's thoughtful gaze, feeling pretty and careless and at peace. She stretches out her legs and watches the drifting shade of the tree dapple them. She can hear lapping water and the cries of thwarted gulls.
"I was just thinking --" Eames says, and Arthur reaches to slap his ankle without looking up from his book.
"I can't believe it's me having to enforce this," he says, and pauses to yawn. "But: no work talk until tomorrow."
"Got it," says Eames, and swivels around so that when he lies down his head rests on Arthur's leg.
Propped up on one elbow Ariadne watches them, her eyelids heavier by the minute, lulled by food and fondness and the smell of grass.
"The sun came dazzling through the leaves," she whispers, and closes her eyes, and does not dream.