A/N – So here it is, like I said: the epilogue of Chasing Mr X. I'd like to thank all reviewers for their kind words and harsh criticism. Every word is invaluable and I thank them for their time and perseverance.
I actually wrote this around the time I wrote Chapter Nine, so I've had this planned out for some time. Bearing this in mind, I hope it satisfies and doesn't disappoint. If it is disappointing, please don't hesitate to yell at me via review.
For the very last time, thanks for reading. Reviews are great - Ellen
Paris glistened in the glow of the early morning sun. The air was calm and still, laden thick with the smell of coffee and sleepiness. It was an almost lazy morning, the sun bright and bold, although not stifling, seeming to make everything look daintier and prettier than usual.
The pastel-coloured buildings appeared to consist of sugar in the cheerful sunshine, the fragments of ground glass in the masonry sparkling slightly. An old-fashioned bicycle, broken and bent out of shape, leant against the oldest part of an antiques shop, rusting artistically.
Arthur turned the teaspoon over in his hand, examining it in the clear light. The coffee shop was busy, buzzing with conversation and laughter. Everybody seemed to be dressed smartly, like Arthur himself, and was clutching laptops – the very epitome of sophistication and class.
"I've always loved it here," said the woman sitting opposite Arthur. Her voice seemed musical and it hung in the still air for a moment, as if waiting to be noticed. "I know of nothing as beautiful as Paris in spring."
"Maybe," Arthur said, turning to look at her. "Although you say a lot of things you don't mean, don't you, Mal?"
The woman named Mal looked at him for a minute, her large, dark eyes searching his.
"What do you want?" Arthur asked, deciding to skip the pleasantries. "After all, you only ever find me when you want something."
"That's harsh, Arthur." Mal whispered, picking up her own teaspoon and twiddling it between two elegant fingers. "I am not as cold-hearted or as selfish as you think."
"No?" Arthur suddenly felt a wave of anger, smothering all sense of decorum and tact. "You knew, didn't you?" He spat. "You knew what life would be like for me. I can't taste anything, feel pain when I bleed, feel the warmth from the sun...it's all gone …as I should be." He paused for a moment, staring angrily at her lowered lashes. "You knew you were condemning me to a half-life, an empty life..."
"I did it because I had to," Mal's words were quiet, yet firm and made Arthur stop in his tracks. "What alternative did I have?" she asked, her eyes now glassy as she stumbled over some of the longer words. "I couldn't watch Dom die...not like that..." She broke off suddenly and Arthur felt ashamed; she'd had to watch as her father had plotted and schemed against the man she loved. His stomach twisted as he thought of Ariadne and he frowned at his coffee cup.
"I'm sorry," he said, fiddling awkwardly with his napkin. "That must have been terrible." Mal didn't reply. She just stared at him, her eyes hollow and empty. Arthur didn't blame her.
He reached for his coffee cup and, as his fingers brushed the smooth, enamel surface, he recoiled, burned by the scolding hot tea.
"Ah!" he exclaimed as he shook his hand. Then he stopped, the tingling sensation of pain slowly ebbing as realisation dawned. "I felt it," he murmured, looking at his fingers in wonder. He flexed them, marvelling at the glorious power of his nerves streaming down his fingers and into his palm.
He tore his eyes away and looked at Mal, who was staring at him, unperturbed.
"Why can I feel it?" he asked, turning his hand over to inspect the pads of his fingertips. They still hurt and were reddened by the heat.
Instead of providing answers, however, Mal simply asked another question.
"How did we get here, Arthur?" she asked, leaning forward over the table until Arthur could see the solid brown of her irises.
Something clicked inside him. He remembered that Mal had flecks of green and hazel in her eyes. It was as if this detail had...been forgotten?
"I'm dreaming," he said, his heart sinking slowly as he leaned back in his chair, almost to distance himself from her. Mal nodded.
"You're lying in bed in a New York hotel room," she said. A few of the customers sitting next to them turned to face her, their expressions ones of shock and disgust. Mal smiled at them courteously before turning back to Arthur.
"How are you here?" he asked, his tone resigned and bitter. Mal suddenly looked shifty.
"Arthur," she began, twiddling her teaspoon between her fingers. Arthur remembered she always used to fidget when she was nervous. "I brought you back to do a job," she said tentatively. "And you've done that job – very well, I might add. But now that job is over and...you don't belong with the living anymore." Arthur remained motionless, still leaning back in his chair as he stared at her through narrowed eyes.
"What?" he asked quietly, his voice carefully controlled.
"I've come to take you back, Arthur," Mal said, reaching out to grasp his hand, which he swiftly removed from the tabletop and placed on his knee. Hers came to rest uselessly on the sugar bowl.
"Take me back where?" he asked.
"The other side," Mal replied. "Where I found you. To death."
Arthur's eyes snapped shut and, taking this as a sign of defeat, Mal continued.
"When you fell from the lighthouse, something inside you died and, without that something, you'll never be able to feel anything, to live a full life. Death is where you belong now, Arthur," she said. "Death is where I've come to take you."
Arthur's eyes flew open.
"No," he said, his eyes fixing unblinkingly on hers.
"What?" she asked, aghast.
"You're wrong," he said, unmoving. "I don't belong in death." Mal frowned.
"You don't get to choose these things, Arthur," she said, shaking her head slightly. "It's already been decided."
"By who?" His voice was loud and angry. More customers turned to look at them. Mal didn't answer. "Well I guess they'd better un-decide it," he continued. "Because I'm not going anywhere. And, for your information, I can feel something." He leaned forward, until he was looking Mal directly in the eye.
"I'm not going to die," he breathed, his face mere inches from hers and, for a second, he seemed to detect a flicker of fear behind her blank irises.
"You're already dead, Arthur," she replied stubbornly, although her tone displayed her sudden nervousness.
"No I'm not," he said. "Not until I decide I am."He paused, "I'm not going anywhere," he repeated solemnly.
Mal leaned back in her chair, distancing herself from him. She seemed to study him for a moment and Arthur couldn't tell if she was about to smile or grimace. Eventually, she frowned and Arthur knew what she was about to do the millisecond before she did it.
He knocked the Browning Pistol out of her hand the moment she brought it up to his forehead. It fell onto the table with a crash and, immediately, his subconscious turned to stare at them.
"Not very friendly," he said, smirking the way he knew she hated.
"This isn't a joke, Arthur," she said, now angry and bristling with irritation. "You can't escape who you are."
"Actually," he said, getting up from the table. "I think I can." The world started to collapse around them, the walls of the coffee shop crumbling and sending the other customers running.
Mal stood, dust and rubble coating her elegant suit.
"Death will find you Arthur!" she shouted after him as he started to walk away from her, sidestepping a hysterical middle-aged woman. "No matter where you hide, death will always be able to find you!"
"We'll see about that," his words were whisked away from his mouth as the dream collapsed around him.
Arthur's eyes flew open. It was dark, the faint glow of the lights outside filtered through the light cotton of the curtains, drifting in the whispering night breeze. New York City buzzed beneath them, its vast wing spread like an avenging angel beneath the hotel room's balcony. He could hear the wail of a distant siren a few blocks away, battling with the noise from the midnight traffic
He was in bed, the covers pulled up to his chest and, as he rolled slightly to his left, he nearly crushed Ariadne, who was bundled up into his side, her face resting on his chest.
Smiling slightly, he stroked her cheek and pulled her closer, unable to feel the warmth of her body but he knew it was there all the same. She sighed in her sleep and nestled into him, her nose squashed slightly by his collarbone.
If Mal wanted him to die, she was going to have to wait a little longer.