Lillian was a fragile woman, thin and spindly limbs securely tucked into the confines of her wheelchair. She had many of the same facial features that Ariadne loved to see on Arthur, from the expressive eyes and strong jaw, as well as the same cheek bones. They had the same shade of dark hair, too. Her eyes were startling blue in her overly pale and drawn face, and they were sharp as they took in Ariadne's brightly colored scarf and sweater. She'd worn them to feel more like herself in her otherwise plain monochrome outfit, trying to dress up nicely in the hope of impressing Arthur's parents. But his father was out for the day at a meeting that no one wanted to elaborate on, and Lillian was all but mute, appearing like a desiccated wax form.
Quite frankly, Ariadne didn't know what to do or say, and it scared her out of her mind.
Arthur brightened when he leaned over and gave his mother a kiss on the cheek. "Mom, this is Ariadne, the woman I've told you about."
There was a faint grunt and twitch of her lower lip, and Ariadne smiled nervously, hoping that she appeared more confident than she felt. If she could delve into the minds of criminals, killers and egotistical bureaucrats, surely she could handle one woman.
"It's lovely to finally be able to meet you," Ariadne told Lillian. If Arthur had told her about Ariadne, why hadn't he told Ariadne anything about this? He had only mentioned that his mother was a strong woman, and had been a stabilizing presence throughout his childhood. Why wouldn't he mention that Lillian was so disabled?
This time, the woman's nose wrinkled, and the blue eyes didn't seem overly pleased with Ariadne. Or was she merely reading more into it?
But Arthur smiled indulgently in response to Lillian's unspoken commentary. "Be nice, Mom. She's an amazing artist. You remember Dom, right? Miles recommended her, and she's been fantastic to work with." He picked up one of Lillian's limp hands and gave it a squeeze, then turned to Ariadne. "I needed to have you meet."
Two sharp sounds, and Lillian's gaze slid to Arthur.
"No, no, nothing dangerous."
"I'm not pregnant," Ariadne blurted, feeling awkward and out of place. Lillian made another sharp sound, something sounding almost like a bark. "If that's what you're worried about, you don't have to be. I promise, Arthur's been a gentleman."
Well, mostly. But his mother didn't need to know about the bedroom games, and how her scarves did double duty and his ties were so very soft when used for sensory play.
Arthur chuckled when his mother made a noise that Ariadne couldn't interpret. "What? I can be, you know that," he told his mother with a fond smile. "Did your aide do the feeding yet today?"
Lillian gave another sharp grunt, and Arthur visibly relaxed. "Good. Want to sit closer to the window while I get something for me and Ariadne?" Another grunt, and Arthur pushed her into the warm sunlight from the bay window.
Left alone with Lillian for a moment, Ariadne tried to keep from fidgeting. She pulled a chair closer to Lillian and sat down facing her. Mentally, she briefly cursed Arthur for not warning her ahead of time. Ariadne assumed that her mind was unaffected, and it was only her physical body that was disabled. It was clear from the way Arthur had addressed Lillian that she was still capable of understanding speech and conversation, so Ariadne would follow his lead. Normal meeting-the-boyfriend's-family conversation, no patronizing words or dumbing down her language, then.
Not knowing what Arthur would have said or not said about how they met was a bit disconcerting. She would have to keep things generic, just in case he hadn't told Lillian anything. She took a breath, smiled again, and began to focus on describing her time in college and then at the École in Paris. When Lillian made a rumbling sound in response to Ariadne's inquiry about hearing about Paris, Ariadne started describing the café she frequented and the patisseries she enjoyed, as well as the Louvre and walking along the Seine.
When Arthur returned, he had a tray with sandwiches, drinks and snacks for himself and Ariadne. He grinned at her, obviously pleased with the way the two women were interacting.
"I've been telling your Mom about school and Paris," she said in summary. "I hope I'm not being too rude talking all the time."
Two sharp noises, which appeared to be Lillian's "no."
"Mom's been like this a long time," he said by way of explanation as Ariadne tucked into her food. "I should explain Mom," he said, looking at Lillian with a firm expression, even though she sounded "no" again and had a sharp look in her eye.
Ah. So that was where Arthur got it. Though much of Lillian's face was paralyzed, there was still enough animation there that Ariadne could see where Arthur got his stern and fierce look. Come to think of it, to be such a commanding presence despite the obvious disability, Lillian had to have an impressive strength of will.
"There was a car accident when I was a junior in high school," he told Ariadne. She didn't say anything, merely chewed her food and kept an inquiring expression on her face. She wasn't going to judge until she got the whole story, but perhaps Arthur hadn't said anything about this as a way to protect Lillian and to honor her wishes. If so, that was rather admirable.
"I'm so sorry," Ariadne said softly after swallowing her mouthful.
"It was nasty, and Mom nearly died. Dad was awful."
Lillian sounded no again, sharply and forcefully as she was able. Arthur shook his head. "You were in a coma, Mom. You don't know, and you never want to believe it, but he was awful."
"So then what happened?" Ariadne asked, looking between them.
"This took up a lot of junior year," Arthur said quietly, putting aside his food. "And senior year, too." Lillian made a noise that seemed almost despairing to Ariadne, but Arthur reached over to grasp her hand. "It's okay, Mom. Really. It turned out to be for the best."
"Wait... What? What did?" Ariadne asked incredulously, frowning. How was being a mute paraplegic for the best? Had life been so horrible before that? It seemed like such callous phrasing, and Arthur wasn't normally like that. She didn't realize she had said some of that out loud until Arthur looked at her in surprise. "I'm sorry, that came out wrong," she said, contrite, shaking her hand and holding her hands out in a placating gesture. "I don't understand..."
"Mom's always been an introvert, anyway. Hated going out. But with audiobooks, movies, being able to spend time with Dad and Aunt Ellie..." Arthur shrugged. "They never had much time to stay in with Mom, and I had so many activities for school. Afterward, they made the time."
Ariadne smiled at him almost wistfully. "I can see you as an overachiever."
"I had an impressive resume for college," he conceded. "But we didn't have anything left in my college fund when I graduated," Arthur explained. "So I joined the military for school. And... Well, you know the rest, with the research program."
Meaning his exposure to somnacin, running away with a PASIV as soon as he was discharged and turning to a life of a gentleman criminal.
"I wouldn't have met you," she said softly.
"Exactly. You're the best thing that happened to me." He smiled at her. "I wouldn't have been able to appreciate the good things I have otherwise. I was a little shit back in the day, I can admit it. But I know that real life takes work, and you have to keep going to help the ones important to you, no matter what."
That made her feel about two inches tall for how she had felt before. She put aside her own discomfort and scooted closer, smiling gently at Lillian. "You raised a wonderful man. I know my life would be much worse without him in it."
She made a soft noise in response and her face relaxed. It had apparently been the right thing to say, and Arthur beamed at her. His eyes crinkled in the corners, just as they always did when he was truly happy. In response, Ariadne grinned at him, gaze soft and tender. Maybe later she could ask him why he hadn't told her about his mother's accident and his teenage years, growing up with her disabilities and learning to communicate with her as he did. They must have shaped him and his family in ways that she was only just starting to see. But she wanted to learn, get to know his family as he experienced it. After all, she was hoping that maybe his family would be hers too, someday.
But for now, she could try her best to get to know the woman who had raised him, helped make him the man he was and hope that she would see Ariadne as someone who cared deeply for him too.