Author's Note: So, if it's all right with you all, I'd like to write short chapters. Hopefully that will entail that I update faster, but we'll see. I STILL haven't seen the movie thanks to surgery recovery, but I will this weekend. If I get anything wrong, I will come back and rewrite this. Thank you all for reading, everything will be revealed, and I will edit this later. Thank you so much for the encouraging reviews! I'll try to reply to them all. :)
disclaimer - Ariadne and Arthur don't belong to me, they belong to Christopher Nolan.
William Earnest Henley's Invictus makes a brief cameo in the summary and the beautiful poem belongs to him. I don't take credit for his words or his genius. :)
Plot Summary: Ariadne doesn't know who she is. She doesn't know how to draw blueprints anymore, or how to work the elevator in her apartment or how to drive a car. She doesn't know who the man is either, the man at the cafe, but she has a feeling that she's known him before.
by Harlequin Sequins
Chapter Two: Alters When Alteration Finds
Life, I had come to find, was like a clock.
Time pushed it on, directing its every whim, its every turn, and it bowed to the autocracy of fate. It had no mind of its own, no thought that came into its proverbial head bore resemblance to its likened image, and the cycle was never broken. The star-shaped forms of kismet moved along beneath an everyday sun, the pebbles tossed into a static pool. The water never changed, not really. It was always there, the same, the origin, but the pebble was foreign. It created chaos, gave birth to transformation.
Change, I learned, would always be there, waiting at the corner, a lonely suit and tie hanging onto every last word fortune spoke as if it were gospel. Perhaps it was, I'd never known. I'd heard of God – hadn't everyone? - but I'd never shaken his hand, asked him the great questions of the Universe.
But this was the plan. The grand design. I was just another colored strand, insignificant on my own, but a work of art when the blueprint of humanity was seen as a whole. A bigger picture.
All I knew for certain was that I'd arrived at its curve. There was no going back, not now. Not after everything that had happened.
And somehow, a little black thought had leached into my cognizance.
This was familiar.
This was something I'd seen before.
And the hands of the clock swung forward, to begin again.
Every now and then, but mostly in between the scarce population of good, there'd be those kind of nights. The bad ones.
This was one of them.
For one, I was late. Strike one. Or a thousand, whichever the boss preferred. Most of the time she was an angel of mercy, but there were factors to be considered. Her mood was one of them, customer happiness was another. But when it was boiled down to the bone-white business of it all, it came down to money. Wasn't it always money?
Money was the axis. It made the world go round, or so I'd always been told.
I'd spilled a whole pot of coffee all over the nomad in a dirty, tattered tuxedo who'd come in, shivering from the bitter cold that had gnawed all the way down to my last layer of warm clothing and had me in a vice lock. He looked weatherworn and too weary to care as I cracked off a string of profuse apology, even down to the gaunt sort of look in his eyes, the hungry leanness that sharpened his features. One look at his trembling, stiff hands told me he was arthritic. And tired. Strike two.
Strike three was easy. I'd let the man in for a place to sit and a cup of coffee to warm his winter-bitten hands, although I duly noted he was probably already good and toasty after the pot of coffee that now coated him like a second skin. And that was all thanks to me and my lack of coordination. Nonetheless, I set the full mug before him and gave him a fleeting pat on the shoulder. A wordless encouragement, because sometimes even those with no roots needed some.
Even knowing he didn't have the means to pay for it, I gave it to him. Willingly and happy to do so. Strike four.
It was simple enough, dodging the third, even the fourth, strike. I curled a nice five dollar bill into the man's callused palm while the old woman wasn't looking and caught a glimpse over my shoulder for a clear ditch before slipping quietly away, but not before I heard the gentle rasp of gratitude.
The words thank you were almost lost to the bustle of the L.A. downtown rush hour outside the streaked windows, but I captured them before they could disappear into the smog-choked horizon. They nestled like drowsy butterflies in my pocket. The good kind.
That was the first hour. When things still made sense and I was still just the miniature architect, the almost-graduate that was pulled between nocturnal work hours and early morning classes. My brain certainly bore the brunt of it, feeling bruised from all the tugging that little sleep and strenuous deep thinking caused. But I got by. And looking back, I wouldn't trade it for anything.
My professors cared little for background checks, exempting the ones that involved a criminal record or otherwise falsely worn pretenses. Otherwise, everything was just groovy. As long as the term papers and the exams and the dissertations stacked up to the exosphere without getting burnt to a crisp (although some of them did enjoy torturing their inferiors), there was nothing left to be desired. All was right in their narrow-minded worlds. Everything was as it should have been.
Yes, everything was fine and dandy. As long as I got my diploma, I was a happy woman. I could move on with my life and forget everything that I had forgotten. There was a new beginning somewhere, hidden in the untouched corners of my potential, and all I had to do was just…reach for it. Strive for something more than pacing the streets of L.A. wondering where the last twenty-two years of my life went. Who it was that stalked my dreams, only for their fragile shadows to wither beneath the weight of consciousness. Why it was that I dreamed of them…and why they seemed so familiar.
When I went back to the old man's table after he'd gone, a little gold cuff link waited for me there. Glinting at me in the watery light.
Ever since I woke up in that hospital not knowing who I was, my mind had a different way of working. Like it was set to a rhythm that didn't exist in the natural world and I was the only one that knew its patterns, its functions.
Sometimes, the nights droned on without me, and I couldn't hear the sound of its voice. The swish of the tires against the pavement escaped me. The eyes of the stars were blind to me. And when I looked out the window, out at the fluorescent night, all I saw was a brushstroke stain of of human mottled the spectrum and the flash of bright lights found me in the gloom, but I wasn't all there. I was missing and no one could find me, even if they cared to look.
If only just for a moment, a minute, a split second, I didn't exist. A void. Oblivion.
It's almost like I'm trying to remember something, something very important, and then the episode ends. And everything is back to normal. As it should be, or should've been.
I hate to place blame on anyone but myself. Mostly because I am the conductor of my own dreams, my own choices. I am the shepherd of my own fate and not even the Grand Design can tell me where to go, what to do, how to feel. No one dictates which paths to follow but me and I don't even try to instruct them in the ways of my philosophy 'get busy living or get busy dying' either. It just wasn't supposed to be that way.
We were all separate worlds, revolving around our own suns, existing in our own universes that were billions of light years away from one another. It is always a miracle when we collide, for love or for acrimony, but when it happens…it's something like beauty. Like a super nova, the birth of a new star.
His reality, his lifetime, had collided with mine before I even knew it.
It was before everything had happened. Way before the first step into the next phase of my life had even been taken. I recall a particularly cold night in late December when he first walked in. He was nothing out of the ordinary, just another cold soul searching for a bit of shelter from the winter rains. All I remember was that he had worn a pressed black suit beneath a rain-spattered overcoat and his hair had been slicked back before ruined by the weather. He walked in, dripping and disheveled, and that was all. As simple as that. A suit and tie, I figured.
And then he looked at me and our eyes met and he was like a shot of clarity. Somehow, somewhere…he forced something to make sense. He made it happen. He was the catalyst.
It happened every time he came in. And I hated it. Every single time he walked through that door and asked for me specifically, I experienced that feeling. Like being submerged in cold water and having my senses sharpened to an almost instinctive point.
I had a feeling he was hunting me. A very low feeling that seemed to sink every time he looked at me. All he ever ordered was coffee, giving the impression that he didn't eat and had no intention of ever sleeping, and he stayed long into the night. Kind of like a lost soul with a purpose. A wanderer with a destination. He knew why he was there and, call me paranoid, but I had my suspicions that I was the target.
Knowing nothing of my past life left fertile ground for fear. I could have some age-old hit on me and this guy was my intended killer. Or worse…I was a fugitive. On the run. He was the cop on the case, looking for evidence that would put me away for the rest of my natural born life. Either scenario ended in blood and unpleasant consequences and so I kept cautious and to myself, measuring every word that I spoke to him as carefully as he measured cream for his coffee.
Two creams, two sugars. Will that be all for you sir?
Tonight he was looking tense, focused. Not nervous, never flustered or looking out place, just as calm and collected as always. But he appeared...prepared. As if he were waiting for an occurrence, a happenstance. Which meant he was twice as capable of jumping the gun than usual. I didn't want to push any buttons that would leave me dead or wind me up in a hospital with no memory again, so I quickly checked for holsters underneath his black overcoat and turned on a dime for the coffee. God knows he wouldn't need it, but I already knew him like the back of my hand. Sans the sloppy writing that served as my makeshift day-planner.
He was already sliding behind his usual window-side table when I arrived, hips turned slightly to a forty-five degree angle and the coffee in hand. The table surface seemed to glow in its sanitary sheen beneath dust-smattered old lamps that were as ancient as carbon filament itself. In the corner, a tin pot of fresh cream sat pouting in the corner with a dowdy slouch. His fingers absently fumbled a pack of sweetener, his eyes looking blank for brief intervals before coming to life and fixating briefly, though not without intensity, on the door.
He reminded me of a busted automaton that just wouldn't quit. Just wouldn't die without a fight.
"Evening, midnight caller," I sighed, pouring his first cup, making sure not to spill a drop on the burnished table where his self-important elbows would be. Or worse, his clean white shirt. "How goes the night?"
"Ariadne," he murmured placidly, looking up at me with those gentle brown eyes that could melt a popsicle in a snowstorm. "Sit down."
That was certainly something I wasn't half-expecting. Sure, I'd envisioned him calling me by my last name with something like a miss or 'young lady' tagged at the beginning or the end of the sentence that would be my downfall. Maybe a reading of my rights or something of a composed, Clint Eastwood inspired witticism before whipping out a terribly large semi-automatic and pointing it directly at my face. Sure, I'd beg for mercy or just stare down the barrel of a black, grinning gun. But I wouldn't be feeling like I was at the moment. I'd certainly anticipated nothing at all as…intimate as this.
I blinked away the confusion and choked on a few words before the right ones came up. There was no doubt in my mind that I looked mentally unstable or undeniably foolish, but at the moment I didn't quite have the right mind to care. I was being addressed by a man I didn't know on a first name basis. He was telling me to sit down. And I really wasn't all prepared. I'd been rehearsing harrowing escape routes and brute fight scenes over and over in my head until it was almost like reality, only an execution and a verb or two away. Not...civilized conversation.
"Ex-" I reeled again, losing all intelligible trains of thought. "Are you talking to me?"
"Am I mistaken?" He asked, raising an eyebrow at my blatantly obvious name tag. "Is your name not Ariadne?"
He gestured to the empty spot across from him, the plastic seat covering gleaming in its innocence. "Then please...do sit down."
This was going to earn me a dock in my pay. Sitting down on the job was not the smartest thing to do when you were expecting a raise, but seeing as my life was at stake, I considered him for a moment as he stared up at me and I stared down at him and I tried to bat away the tangles of confusion. He was desperate. So I sat down.
"You'd better tip me good for this," I whispered across the table, hoping he heard me in the clutches of all that brooding intensity. "If my boss finds me chatting up a customer in the middle of my shift my ass will be-"
My quiet protestations were swiftly and calmly removed from the conversation entirely. "Look, I know everything seems mildly bewildering and you like to be sort of in some semblance of control, but I need you to do what I say. Exactly how I say it. Exactly how I mean it."
"What are you talking about?" I insisted. This was getting a little too weird for my delicate palate. "You don't even know me…besides me pouring you coffee for hours on end in the dead of night, we're not involved in any way."
For a moment, he was silent. His head fell sideways a little as if on its last thread, his eyes narrowing into thoughtful darkness. "You don't remember me do you?" His voice was somewhat strained, full of something like bitterness.
A million questions rushed by me in a hurry and all of them seemed too busy to stop and let me ask them what they meant. It was apparent this man knew me. Not as a case file, not as a lump sum in exchange for my head or a vial of my blood, but as something of an acquaintance, if even in its basest form. Logic was the abundant soil upon which I was founded and so I prided myself, a little too excessively, upon being able to read faces. Expressions in the eyes. And in this exposé, I found remnants of a past I never knew. I saw clarity. I saw pieces of myself lodged into his soul.
And it was then.
Then that it happened. When the course of my life changed, for better or for worse. I had no say in its timing. I didn't even have time to think.
All I knew was that something was coming. The atmosphere had changed with one look. I was on the brink of change.
He glanced past me for an instant, his line of vision falling over my shoulder, and that was all it took. His eyes narrowed again, this time precariously, and the blood in my veins turned to ice.
He hissed, his teeth bared. "Get down. Quickly."
Glass shattered and the bullets poured down on the dusty old café like biting, metal rain, tearing it apart. Limb from limb, blood and bone, it came toppling over like an already rotting corpse. He leapt over the table, quick as lightning, but not quick enough; his body crashed into mine like a force of nature to be reckoned with just as the steel jaws of a bullet tore into my back.
I felt my head collide with the cold, hard backbone of the table behind us, lulling us into a cocoon of shaded safety. Shouting erupted in halted misfire and the screaming never seemed to stop and the guns were relentless. One seemed nearer and I guessed it was the man who had saved my life, the black-overcoat suit and tie regular. But I was only there for a moment, one too transitory to process the thought of him fighting back.
But it was enough to hear them all die, without even an answer as to why they had to go.
Even in the commotion, I could hear the sound of death falling in tumbling sheets against the blood-stained, glass-riddled floor, soft and pliant beneath the grip of the cold night. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't hold on to that last strain of consciousness. It glided easily through my fingers liked sand through a sieve. And it was gone before I even knew it was there.
I slipped past the throbbing pain in my back, the numbness that came and soothed the ache and flowed like gentle water. The remaining fragments of memory I had of that night were lost. Tucked away for later, if there ever was a later to be had.
I knew I was dead. What was the shame in holding on when all I wanted was to let go? The blood pooled and flourished on my grease-stained apron like a deadly blossom, the petals reaching out in little vines and trickling into the roots of the earth. Apart from me, no longer mine, but belonging to them.
He pulled me into his side, resurrecting the dulled ache in my shoulder blade.
Hold on, Ariadne. I'll get you out of here alive.
I slumped like a torn rag doll in his arms.
And the next swing of the pendulum grazed gently by.