(or Something About Ariadne)
The two of them were in the middle of job.
But something about Ariadne made last minute plans feel like they were set in stone since earth's beginning. Made shirking responsibilities feel like a responsibility in itself.
Ariadne merely took the job for the thrill of creation. Arthur took it because work was all he knew. He somewhat considers it his idea. He posed a question to her on their ride back to the hotel the night before: Ever feel like life in dreamshare is like limbo? Hunt a job, hunt a secret, hunt a hiding place. Repeat. I'm constantly on the run and yet I'm stuck. Normally, he would never voice a personal observation to someone he worked with regularly but she was easy to relate to. Sure, her three years in the business paled to his twelve but she'd understand. Something about her always did. Ariadne gave him a strange look but was quiet. That's how he knew she gave it some thought.
It was after lunch break that Arthur had gone outside to check on her. She sat on the steps of the stairs to the building, staring at his black Lexus. He silently sat beside her, arms rested on knees. How fast does your car go? the Architect had asked. And he replied with some number he'd read in the manual that came in the glove compartment. Let's get out of here. At first, Arthur thought she meant taking a short ride through the city to clear her mind. He really should've known better by the sparkle in her eyes but let's be honest, he always saw the glint in them.
It was a very good thing he grabbed his briefcase and duffel from the warehouse because here they are two hours out of the city in east nowhere. Nothing but dirt and cacti on both sides of them and open road to the front. The windows are down, his foot is leaden. Arthur looks at his watch and suggests they head back but Ariadne is insistent they go further. There's something about the way the dry Arizonian wind blows her hair in thirty different directions. She looks like Medusa, except instead of turning to stone when he meets her determined eyes, he softens and relents. After all, the sun feels good on his skin and the asphalt feels smooth under his wheels.
Soon they spot a green sign—New Mexico, 20 miles. Arthur has this little thought in the back of his mind. They'd been gone almost four hours now and he left his laptop running on the desk. It'd surely gone into hibernate mode at that point and he hadn't saved his progress prior to following Ariadne outside. If it took four hours to drive this far out, it'll take them four hours to drive back in. They won't make it back until nine that night and Tucker is going to be pissed if there isn't an itemized list of the mark's insecurities and a sketch of San Diego's inner city on his desk by then. Again, Arthur risks looking away from the (mostly abandoned) road to recommend they turn around. Ariadne stretches her body his way and peers between the spaces of his steering wheel. You need gas before we cross the border. Her hair smells like vanilla and her shoulder brushes his when she leans back into her seat. He's dumbfounded. Why he doesn't just make a U-turn and do what he thinks is best is lost on him. He's the driver, he has the power. Perhaps it's the burst of colors in the sky that distracts him. The vivid blue that spikes down into the bright red which bleeds into the deep orange that fades into the wisps of yellow falling below the horizon. The sun's already gone and yet it's sitting next to him; the silhouette of its eyelashes creating contrast against the backdrop. Ariadne blinks. Licks her chapped lips. And Arthur presses the pedal to the floorboard, his eyes peeled for an exit with a gas station. He prefers Exxon but they'll have to take what they can get.
She grabs a six pack of green tea, a pack of gum, a stick of beef jerky, a bag of smart popcorn and two Lunchables while he fills the tank. They pile crackers, turkey that doesn't look like turkey and processed cheese on top of each other in the parking lot. Arthur hopes it's only intended as a snack because he doesn't think it's a sufficient dinner (there's not a question about it being unhealthy) but he doesn't say anything. He's too amused by the way the Architect stacks the snacks like she's building skyscrapers. They don't talk when he pulls back onto the highway. They haven't really talked at all since the first click of their seatbelts back in front of the warehouse. There's no need to interrupt the hum of the accelerator or the whirring of the breeze. Ariadne doesn't mind the quiet for once (maybe it's out of respect for the stillness of the desert around them) and Arthur's always been comfortable hiding behind silence. What breaks it is the buzzing of his phone in the cup holder. About time someone wondered where the hell they were…It's his entire body that buzzes when he reaches blindly for it but feels her skin under his fingertips instead of his phone. It's brief and fleeting and if not for his quickened pulse could've easily been mistaken for the wind through their windows. Ariadne does something with his Blackberry; whether she silenced it or turned it off, it stops. She grips it in her hand with a glare at him for safekeeping. Arthur muses: if he finds himself reaching for her hand it probably won't be to retrieve the device in it.
The colors are gone. The sky is black. And there are several other cars to keep them company, now. Ariadne counts the blue ones as if she can properly tell any color but the one their headlights are shining on in the dark…Arthur counts the red. He figures she gets bored with it (because he's winning) because she sticks a cd in after a while. The Point Man can't fathom where she got it. He never keeps cds in his car and they weren't selling any at the station. Odd that she should carry around a Mumford and Sons album in her sling everywhere she went…but at the same time it was probably odd that Arthur carried eight different passports and a silver dream machine everywhere he went too. It's not his personal taste. The banjos are a little much but the acoustic guitars are nice. It fits where they are, the scenery they're passing. And something about the fact that she knows all the words makes him feel like he should learn them too. Something about Ariadne makes Arthur feel like singing.
Arthur wonders if she's ever going to ask him to stop because for the life of him he can't bring himself to do it as long as she's drumming the beat of the song on her knees and using her half eaten stick of jerky as a microphone. It's nearly perfect timing when she does. He's memorized the chorus lyrics to seven of the twelve songs as the cd rolls around to the beginning for the hundredth go and it's time for a refill on gas, all conveniently as they speed past the Lonestar State's welcome billboard. It's practically midnight and Arthur is starving so this time he grabs some hot dogs to devour from the gas station and stocks up on chicken sandwiches from the Wendy's attached. Ariadne gets an icee—they're an incredible price, 79 cents for 32 ounces— a cosmic brownie and some type of ginormous wrap. Arthur gasses the car, buys his hot dogs, waits in line next door, orders and receives his food in the time it takes her to make a decision but she more than makes up for it by inadvertently having him play hide and seek with her between all the aisles. The image of her coy smile peeking out from behind the nacho cheese machine and the sound of her laughter when he springs from behind the row of candy bars and pokes her side with one will follow him into his dreams. It's really funny that you're attempting to stab me with a 3 Musketeers bar. So will the fantasy of tasting her cold, blue raspberry dyed lips.
Last time Arthur slept under the stars he was ten and camping not so deep in the woods on a Boy Scout trip. It's better this time because there are no trees to block his view. The hood of his car is hard and unforgiving but she's lying next to him on it. The stars aren't falling to the earth. It's her smart popcorn that keeps raining down and hitting him in the face—neither of them are good at catching kernels in their mouths. Since she insists on sleeping somewhere off the highway instead of an actual establishment, he insists they at least sleep inside the car with the doors locked. To which Ariadne begrudgingly agrees but only after insisting they open the window roof so they still have a view of the constellations. She falls asleep humming and staring at the heavens. Arthur falls asleep staring at her and the freckle just under her left ear.
Ariadne panics when she wakes up because they're moving. Because she left Arthur unsupervised. Because without her to prod and coax him, he probably decided to turn around and head back to Arizona. His phone isn't hidden in the door where she shoved it the day before and she just knows he's called their Extractor and their short-lived vacation is over. Her chair springs up with the pull of a lever but before she can ask he's rumbling a good morning. One hand on the steering wheel, one on the gear shift, the windows down and Mumford low. I swiped my phone to look up cafes in Round Rock. I thought we could use some breakfast. It's actually about noon but after sleeping in past ten-thirty, it still feels like morning to Arthur. He'd forgotten what it was like to wake up after the sun instead of before it—it's better than he remembered. He's never known what it was like to wake up next to Ariadne—even with the console and gear shift between them, it was better than he imagined.
Something about Ariadne makes 'covered and chunked' hash browns and chicken fried steak from a diner in Bodine taste like potatoes au gratin and filet mignon from the Ritz in Los Angeles. Los Angeles is Spanish for the 'City of Angels' but he's starting to think whatever city Ariadne is occupying is deserving enough of the title. Maybe it's the way her eyes flutter as the first bite of flaky Texas toast go in. Maybe it's the way she square dances with the gumball machine in front of the coin jukebox while they wait for their order. Maybe it's because her foot accidentally bumps his under the table as she crosses her legs or because she keeps licking those mesmerizing lips in pursuit of melted butter. Maybe it's because they talk about the red wagons they used to play with during their childhoods and Ariadne's favorite sweater and Arthur's fear of the endless space in the universe. Or maybe it's all of these things combined…He's coming out of the restroom as she's going in one last time before they hit the road. She's not looking; she's fiddling with her sleeves as she turns the corner and they smash into each other. Arthur steadies her, hands on her elbows, and Ariadne hiccups a laugh and grimaces as her apology. The material of their shirts are barely, barely touching but if he strains he can feel her stomach against his for a split second and it's like an explosion goes off in his chest. Maybe she's not an angel, maybe she's a supernova.
The Lone-Star State doesn't feel so lonely when two stars collide.
Ariadne offers to drive for a while but he claims he's refreshed from the day before and that being at the wheel clears his head. It really does. If she drove he'd have nothing to focus on but her and that wasn't smart.
Turns out Texas is a very large state. Top to bottom. Side to side. Anyway you wanna measure it. Of course they knew that, but driving it is another thing entirely. The Architect makes him find a Wal-Mart so they can stock up on music because even Mumford and Sons gets old the twenty-thousandth time and while they're there, some more snacks would be nice. She's thinking Oreos. Ariadne also forces him to push a buggy—Ariadne can coerce him into a lot things, he's beginning to realize. As if realization shouldn't have dawned on him twenty eight hours ago as he sped into nowhere. He can't remember the last time he was somewhere so domestic as the grocery store. Something about that girl hurling bags of pretzels into a basket and squinting her eyes to read pricing-labels makes him wonder what it would be like to stock a fridge and pantry of their mutual ownership. It fits; them there together. Up and down the aisles. Him trailing behind dutifully while she marks off a checklist she hastily wrote in the car.
He notices everytime she decides she wants something from the top shelf. It's his job to notice. But he never grabs it for her, no, he waits. Because he likes to see her body stretch. He likes the stripe of skin that shows when she reaches and her shirt rides up. Above all, he likes to hear her cute grunt of frustration and for her to look at him: A little help here, Long Legs.
He likes for her to look at him.
As the sun rises on a new day, they speed into Louisiana. Jazz music in the background. Ariadne's giant sunglasses definitely in the foreground. It's so humid, they can feel the droplets of moisture in the air with their hands and the dank smell of the bayou penetrates the windows even after they roll them up. Arthur has to take off his suit jacket, roll up his sleeves, loosen his tie and unbutton his collar or he'll sweat to death. He tries not to laugh (or blush) when Ariadne hoots and pokes fun at him. Tells him she's hot enough, he doesn't have to strip-tease. He catches her appreciatively studying his forearms several times but only calls her out on it once.
They stop in some little town off the beaten path because Ariadne insists she needs to experience good ole, authentic, gumbo. Two spoonfuls in, she decides it's way too spicy. Ariadne doesn't do spicy. So Arthur finishes it for her, enjoying the idea of using her spoon instead of his own entirely too much. She orders beignets and is much more of a happy camper despite commenting on the endless chirping of frogs and 'the feel of an alligator watching me'. Comments she makes disregarding the fact that they are nowhere near any swamps at the moment.
There's something about the way she moves in her seat. Eyes closed, shoulders bouncing, her fingers occasionally tinkering like she's playing the saxophone. Chin down sometimes. Hands raising the roof here and there. For such an intelligent and genius woman, she sure does dance like the biggest idiot he's ever seen when dixieland jazz music plays. He can't help the dimples or the bubbles of belly deep laughter that fizz and explode out of him. Her eyes shoot open and she looks at him with this oblivious smile. What? What?! Arthur shakes his head and then imitates her as best he can while still holding on to the steering wheel. You're a mindblowing architect. But you're a stupid dancer. She gasps. She slaps his shoulder (and the sting is fantastic). Then she laughs too and just the sound of her itself is happiness. It's a cool breeze knifing through the heat. He doesn't even mind that her feet are propped on the dashboard or that his phone went dead three hours ago.
It doesn't take long to drive the width of Mississippi or Alabama. Even with the stop at Jefferson Davis' house in Biloxi. They decide to spend the night at an inn at the edge of Alabama right before the tip of Florida's panhandle. They could use some showers and real mattresses. Perhaps a change of clothes and some fried green tomatoes. They eat at this outdoor place that looks like it's made of tin. Lights strung up in the trees and the patio. Ariadne drinks six glasses of sweet tea for every one Arthur drinks and he knows she's gonna be up all night. There's chicken fried chicken and chicken fried steak...Arthur starts to automatically add the words 'chicken fried' in front of everything. He's usually not much for the grease or the heaviness of southern comfort food, but the macaroni and collard greens are damn amazing. It may help that the Architect can't stop praising it.
The moon is a full one and away from the bustle and lights of Mobile, two things come out to greet them. Stars and lightning bugs. After the bill is paid, she goes chasing them. Catching them in mason jars provided by the eatery while some music group strums their guitars. It's all very cinematic. Arthur really has nothing to lose out here. The only one that'll witness him cutting loose and being himself—being very un-Point like—is Ariadne. And something in him wants her to see him that way. Wants her to see the Arthur beneath the hair gel and Armani. Beneath the stoic front. Who he is away from the job. Who he is when he's not trying to distance or impress or intimidate people.
Then again, something about her has always, always, seen who he really is anyway.
He chases some with her. Then he does something unexpected. He grabs her waist and pulls her to the patio. His hand slips around hers and he sways. They dance. She flushes. He whispers, his eyes every bit as coy and cunning as the day he tricked her into a kiss in the middle of a dream. I lied. I like the way you dance. Arthur almost kisses her (in the middle of reality, this time). And when he doesn't it's not for lack of desire. It's not because she doesn't have the same gravitational pull on him that the moon has on the tides. Or because the curve of her back doesn't fit his hand exactly. Or because her eyes don't twinkle with a fire to rival the blaze of comets.
It's because—after his gaze fixes on her lips, after his eyelids go heavy with craving, and he slants his eager mouth towards hers—thunder rolls. And she jumps. And the moment is as lost as a raft at sea...because the musicians begin to pack up and the lights start shutting off and Ariadne awkwardly steps away to release her fireflies back into nature.
They sleep in the same room but in two different beds. Arthur doesn't get much sleep. That almost-kiss is seared on the inside of his eyelids. Every time she tosses or turns and her sheets rustle, his stomach flips. Why? Arthur's not sure. But something about her is starting to affect him magnanimously. Something about her is sucking him into a whirlpool and he stares at the ceiling, realizing he's ready to drown. There's a reason he's gotten this far (across the country, he means). There's a reason he'll follow her anywhere she leads without protest or hesitation. And it's not because he's lost. Not because he needs her to guide him through a labyrinth with lips as red as her thread. It's because—
Well, it's not love. But it's something. She's something, that architect.
They end up on the beach. On the white sands of Panama City. He sits in the first pair of board shorts he's owned since he was eighteen and she's chilling on a towel as bright as a highlighter, sipping on a cherry coke. The gulf breeze in her hair turning her into Medusa again. Arthur's calm. Surprisingly calm for a Point Man who's shirked his duties. In fact, not only is he calm but he's relaxed. He's shirtless for heaven's sake.
Ariadne lays back, hands behind her head. Her boy short and bikini clad form pulled taut. And damn...it's not just her mind but her body that's doing something to him these days. We should probably find a phone and call the team. Fly back out there. Weird thing is that it's Ariadne who says it and not Arthur. Road trip's over? He asks back. Slightly disappointed. But she shrugs and says matter-of-fact that it's probably about time. That she counts it successful.
Successful? What was your goal?
You said you felt stuck. I thought that maybe, together, we could get somewhere.
Just a oneshot inspired by the song Fast Car by Tracy Chapman. Working on several multi-chaps at the moment. This was an exercise to help with writer's block. Hope you enjoyed.