title: Liminal Space
author: [personal profile] ghostrunner
fandom: Inception
paring: Arthur/Ariadne
rating: Adult
disclaimer: Christopher Nolan is an evil genius.
word count: 2,684



Liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning "a threshold”) is a psychological, neurological, or metaphysical subjective, conscious state of being on the "threshold" of or between two different existential planes…The liminal state is characterized by ambiguity, openness, and indeterminacy.

Major transformations occur at crossroads and other liminal places, at least partly because liminality—being so unstable—can pave the way for access to esoteric knowledge or understanding of both sides.

People, places, or things may not complete a transition, or a transition between two states may not be fully possible. Those who remain in a state between two other states may become permanently liminal.


--

She goes back to University, even though she doesn’t have to. Saito pays them enough that she never has to go back to school, and Arthur and Eames say now that they’ve worked with her they don’t want to work with any other architect ever again. Arthur says Cobb will be back.

But she goes back to her classes anyway. It just… it just seems like the thing to do, you know?

Ariadne sits in Architecture 472-01: Housing Concepts and draws a design for a room with sides that open out onto different dreamscapes but that can’t be seen if you’re looking for them. If you’re looking directly at them. When you aren’t paying attention they’ll spill out into a completely different landscape. On the chalkboard her professor is diagramming a modular apartment complex with Bauhaus principles. Ariadne sighs.

In her Structures class her professor waxes philosophical about the beautiful impossibility of Zaha Hadid’s conceptual office towers. Ariadne thinks, I could build that.

But she can’t, of course. Not in the real world.

--

She goes out for a drink with her friends. The people who think she was gone for an internship interview while she built impossible castles in another man’s mind and threw herself off a building in the nowhere-nothing liminal space of limbo.

They chatter and laugh and buy round after round of drinks. Arnaud has been trying to catch her eye all night. Ariadne fingers the totem in her pocket and tells herself that he is not a projection. That he isn’t looking at her because he’s trying to find the dreamer. That he doesn’t even know it’s possible. The thought makes her inexplicably sad.

Magda gestures a little too wildly and vodka spills in a plume of droplets from the rim of her glass. Ariadne finds herself transfixed by the slow arc and fall of the liquid. She imagines/remembers an explosion of wood and silverware and glass. She visualizes gravity shifting, the bottles behind the bartender sliding off the shelves in a cascade of overpriced ethanol as the patrons tip off their stools.

Snap cut, record scratch, and she’s back. Magda is trying to talk to her and everyone is looking.

“I’m sorry,” she says, knowing her eyes are wild and her voice is too loud. She drops a handful of euros on the table and struggles out of her chair. She ignores Arnaud calling after her.

The street remains stubbornly a street in Paris, but the cool air helps a little. Ariadne stands on the street corner and tries to ground herself in reality.

“Reality isn’t enough,” she tells the nearest streetlamp.

“I agree,” says a voice over her left shoulder.

Ariadne isn’t even surprised to see him when she turns. It’s like she conjured him out of the starlight and the sheen of oil on the cobblestones.

Arthur offers her a half smile. “What a fortuitous circumstance,” he says.

“You mean you weren’t following me?”

He glances back down the street. “No,” he says, and she notices that he’s dressed for dinner, or at least drinks. Black on black on black all tailored close and sharp, hands in his pockets. “No, I had a… well. Doesn’t matter now.” He tilts his head back at the bar. “Drink?”

Ariadne feels herself smiling. “Gravity was frustratingly normal in there.”

Arthur studies her for a moment and she can feel his triumph through his impenetrable façade of expressionlessness. Like he knows she’s a heartbeat away from begging him for another job. “Walk with me then?” he asks, and offers her his elbow.

They stroll with an idleness that feels feigned past shuttered shops and restaurants.

“How’s school?” he asks, like he doesn’t know the answer.

“Like you don’t know the answer,” she says, and she startles him into a laugh.

“Too dull,” he says. “Too normal, too real, too boring.”

They pass another bar and the raucous laughter spilling out into the night seems strangely muted.

“I’ve been working on a room,” she says, as she lets him guide her around a puddle in the sidewalk.

“A room?”

“A room in a building in a city, with walls that are actually doors to other places. There are worldmap complications.”

They are standing on a street corner while an empty city bus passes in a hiss of displaced rainwater. The red light plays sharply over the angles of Arthur’s face, the dark sheen of his hair.

“Come show me,” he says.

--

That Arthur keeps a flat in Paris does not particularly surprise her. The Van Goghs on the wall are a little unexpected.

“Eames’ work,” he says. “No way to fence them as the real things. I think he just did them as practice.”

“And you hang them on the wall?”

Arthur just shrugs.

“Drink?” he asks again, and she nods, wandering into his living room where a silver briefcase sits on a glass coffee table between two reclining chairs.

“Were you expecting this?” she calls back to him.

He steps out of his kitchen with two glasses and a bottle of top shelf vodka. He’s left his gun on the counter. “Not this exactly,” he says. “Not necessarily.”

Ariadne looks at him, somewhere between accusation and amusement.

“Were you hoping for this?”

Arthur looks back, cool and smug. There’s a kind of inevitability in his voice when he says, “Were you?”

They stare at each other, amusement and acceptance and something like a challenge in the air. Arthur very deliberately puts the bottle and glasses down on an end table, strips off his jacket and begins unbuttoning his cuff.

Without taking her eyes from his Ariadne lifts the strap of her purse over her head, lets it fall to the floor. She dumps her coat on top of it and steps around the end of his couch toward the table and chairs, watching as he mirrors her.

Arthur sets the shunts and tourniquets, measures the dosage for five minutes and puts his finger on the center button and raises his eyebrows.

“I’m waiting,” Ariadne tells him.

Arthur hits the button.

--

“I’m waiting,” Ariadne says.

Arthur drags his eyes from the fan-like twists of the glass tower back down to the carpeted steps that lead to the front entrance. Ariadne is standing by the handrail in a cocktail dress and heels, her hair loose around her shoulders. Arthur stares at her legs for a moment and then says, “My subconscious is remarkably unsubtle.”

Ariadne laughs. “This part is all you, cowboy.” She moves up the stairs slightly, waiting for him, taking care where she places her feet.

The relationship between dreamer and architect is always an interesting one. Arthur wonders what else he’s changed.

Ariadne leads him through an art deco lobby and into an elevator. She pushes the button for the fourth floor.

Arthur thinks briefly about the last time he was in an elevator in the dream world, and says, “Were the stairs and the lobby me, too?”

“You mean the over-the-top hotel feel? No, that’s purposeful. I thought it might make the room seem even more amazing. Make the doors more difficult to spot.”

Arthur glances over at her. “I’ll let you know.”

They get off on the fourth floor and Ariadne follows him slowly down a dark wood hallway. The carpet is a tasteful dark green and it contrasts beautifully with the bronze light fixtures. Arthur knows very well that his dreamscape is a source of amusement to others, but he’s never had call to be ashamed of his tastes.

“Which room?” he asks Ariadne over his shoulder.

“You tell me,” she says.

Arthur smiles to himself, but if that’s how she wants to play it, then that’s how they’ll play. He chooses a door at random and finds it unlocked. He turns the handle and pushes until the bar clears the door jam and he looks back at her.

Ariadne smiles, daring. He steps inside. Holds the door for her to follow.

It’s just a room. A very nice room with a wide, white bed and a seemingly endless cream carpet, nice perception trick there, bending the edges of the room a little to disguise the joining of floor and wall. He looks for the doorways to other places and sees only smooth, dark walls.

“Where are they?” he asks, turning. Ariadne is standing closer than he expected.

“You can’t see them if you’re looking,” she says. And she steps closer still.

Arthur holds his ground. The hem of her dress brushes his thigh.

“But they’re there?” he teases in a murmur.

“They’re there.” Her mouth is half an inch from his. His face and hers and the liminal space they create between them.

“Show me,” says Arthur. And he closes the distance.

Her mouth is sweet, soft. He remembers tricking her into kissing him. Playing fast and loose with her trust, her naiveté. Arthur never claimed to be a good man.

She doesn’t seem so naïve now, her hands smooth and competent on the shoulders of his jacket, the buttons of his vest, the knot of his tie. She creases his shirt in her fists when he pulls her close against him and slides his hands up her thighs, her dress spilling cool and silky over his wrists.

God, his mind is good with the details.

Ariadne leans back a little, pushes the straps of the dress off her shoulders, lets it puddle to the floor. Arthur stares even as he takes her hands, helps her step free. She presses close again and lets him catch her mouth, harder this time and her breath is ragged when he pulls away. She wraps a hand around his belt buckle and tugs him back toward the bed but loses patience halfway, pops the top buttons of his shirt and sucks a bruise into the skin there.

Arthur tips his head toward the ceiling and fights for breath, for clarity even as he shivers under her teeth. The mirrored ceiling tiles are a labyrinth. He could get lost here. He lets her drag him down.

He rolls, tumbling her onto her back and she drags his shirt off, impatient, hooks her knee over his hip and he has to kiss her again. Slow, greedy, he pins her to the carpet with his weight and takes his time. Ariadne moans, slides her hands over his shoulders and lets him bite her lip, drag his teeth down her neck. Her hair spills across the carpet and the incoming wave leaves it spiky with salt and sea foam.

Wave?

Arthur raises his head from the tops of her breasts and stares out at the endless ocean washing up on the carpet. The room is just barely there in his peripheral vision. He turns his head to see where the edges come together and finds the blank walls. Turns back and the ocean is gone. He’s staring at a Mies van der Rohe coffee table. He squeezes his eyes shut and he can hear the waves, smell the sand.

“How…” he manages, and Ariadne laughs, breathless and wild, and rolls, grinning down at him through the curtain of her hair.

She bends to kiss him, whispers, “Life is a dream,” and bites.

He rolls her again, too close to the wall and when he shifts his hips against hers and digs a hand into the carpet for purchase he comes up with a handful of grass and earth. There’s an oak tree at the edge of his vision and the grass is scratchy under his elbows as he braces himself up, lets Ariadne drag at his belt and zipper, kick his pants away.

He settles back down, hips between her thighs, and rocks against her gently. Steady and slow like a pulse, beating. Ariadne moans, arching, hooks her knees back over his thighs. She claws at the grass and he looks for her hands, looks directly at the trees and when he catches her hands he pins them to the carpet, seeing the wall in the corner of his eye.

“Tell me about the room,” he says as he shifts back, hitches her hip higher. He slides inside her by slow increments while she arches and gasps and fights for breath.

“It…oh,” she can’t find the words. He presses all the way in, deep, deeper. Feeling her hips rise, her legs dragging him impossibly closer. Slides away and she whimpers, ragged, and her nails bite into his shoulders.

He tips his head against her collarbone and clings to the edge of his careful control. “How does the room work?” he whispers against her skin, teasing.

“Corners,” she manages, rocking up to meet him as he thrusts back down. “Corners… don’t have to meet at the sides. Mind fills the liminal space on its own, I… Arthur, God…” He’s panting into her hair, he can hear the echo of his breath. She rakes her nails down his spine and he shivers, rhythm falling to pieces. He gives in to the strangling demands of his heartbeat and takes her, deep and hard and merciless as she shakes and cries out beneath him.

A door opens again, now that they aren’t paying attention to it, and Arthur’s knee slides in coarse red sand, still radiating heat like a desert just after sunset. He’s close now, feeling it build at the base of his spine and Ariadne gasps for breath, loses it when he kisses her again.

“Ariadne,” he breathes against the curve of her cheek and she makes a sound like a sob and he feels her body clench hard around him. This is his dream but the room starts to shake anyway, a white marble temple crumbling to pieces in the corner of his eye. Soon, he thinks. His body rough against hers now, plunging, unable to stop. No rhythm, no control, Ariadne shudders, sobs for breath against his throat, and he feels it sweep him up. Arthur tilts his face into her hair and shatters endlessly, trapped in a sensation enough like falling that there’s a…


…kick.


--

The first thing she feels is a pang of…loneliness. Emptiness. But her eyes drift open slowly and she finds herself smiling. She feels amazing. The sex may have been a dream, but the endorphins are real and she stretches in the chair and wants to dance.

She watches Arthur’s eyes flutter open and wonders what on earth she’s going to say.

Arthur saves her from it, of course. He blinks a few times, looks around, settling himself. Undoing the IV, straightening his shirt. He looks over at her and pauses, clears his throat.

“So,” he says. “About that drink.”

Ariadne laughs and he smiles, gets up for the bottle and glasses. Their fingers touch when he hands her one and they both hesitate. Ariadne looks up into his eyes and feels her face heat. She wants, very badly, to kiss him. It occurs to her that she never has, not really, not in the real world.

“Well,” she says.

“Well.” He surprises her by kneeling suddenly beside her chair, bringing their faces level and close enough that Ariadne subconsciously reaches for her totem, to assure herself this isn’t still the dream.

His eyes are dark and fathomless. “Don’t go back to school,” he murmurs, his eyes on hers, his mouth a scant breath away.

Liminal space. A crossroads, tipping.

“Yes,” Ariadne whispers, and closes the distance.

--

fin
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