Not Strong Enough


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In Shadows:

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Scene Title Not Strong Enough
Synopsis While stuck wallowing in her own weaknesses, Gillian doesn't have to do it alone, at least. Aaron dreamwalks to save a friend from herself.
Date February 10, 2010


Sweet piano sounds drift through the air…. Well, Aaron supposes it's not actually air. It's just a dream.

In retrospect, he has come to realize he has spent more time sleeping this past week than he has in a very long while. Hopefully the Nightmare Man will meet his end soon so he can get back to a regular schedule. At least he hasn't had any nightmares.

His fingers drift over the keys as they usually do. He always plays something when he first arrives in the hall of mirrors. He's gone so long without a regular piano that he can't help but do so. Inevitably, he's either pulled through a mirror, or steps through one himself. This is one of those times where he does not enter a mirror willingly. He imagines the feeling coincides with cartoon characters being yanked off stage by giant canes.

The first thing that catches Aaron's eye in this new place would be that it seems to be a bookstore. Shelves and shelves of books. Something seems off about it, though, because it seems bigger than it should, like the dream itself has expanded the floor space. Too much room between the shelves, and there's no door. No windows. The light is dim and not enough to read by.

Rather than a door, there's a mirror, which is what he steps out of.

Two women sit on the floor, surrounded by books, with their legs crossed. One is unknown to him, vaguely seen in a blindfolded state. Asian, pretty, small, young looking despite being older than she looks. The second is more familiar and known to him. Gillian.

Cards are laid out in a formation. Some are flipped, some aren't.

"The Nine of Pentacles, inverted." Hokuto's brows furrow together, though she doesn't seem surprised. There is a smile on her lips, almost as if she's saying something that she feels the other person already knows. It's almost sadistic looking, almost cruel. "People see you as someone defined by your trouble with relationships. You haven't come into your own, as a person, in their eyes. You're seen as a woman who has trouble with men in her life, and their actions have reflected on you so strongly others have a hard time seeing past it."

Gillian flinches visibly, a hand coming up to cover her face halfway.

The woman's voice takes the leap into cruelty as she leans back from the cards. "And there's no arguing that anymore, is you? You didn't change, as the cards said you should. You became what people saw."

The instant Aaron arrives where he does, he becomes confused. Why is he here? He slowly and quietly moves closer to the two women, his black duster rustling softly as he passes a stack of books. The unknown woman seems vaguely familiar. Was that the woman who beckoned him into the hall of mirrors? At first he thinks it's just a regular dream until he notices the reaction this other woman provokes from Gillian, and the tone she takes. It's definitely a nightmare, but is it one of the nightmares? He steps a bit closer, not about to do anything crazy just yet.

Things start to disappear, fade out of the room. Books vanish, shelves disappear, as if slowly dissolving into the shadows that grow longer. A voice sounds out of the corner. A male voice.

"I'm still trying to understand what I did, other than not let whatever we had fester on the vine after it long since died, or indulge your ego."

Gillian twitches as if struck physically, and her shoulders slump. If it's not one of the nightmares, it's fairly brutal for her to experience.

The sudden transition to this shadowy location does little for Aaron as he begins to think it may just be one of those nightmares. 'Oh screw this,' he thinks to himself. Whether or not the Nightmare Man is involved, this has gone on quite long enough as far as he's concerned. He steps forward out of the shadows towards Gillian, a look of concern etched on his face as he scans the shadowy corners for the source of the unfamiliar voice. "Who's out there?" he asks, his voice even but edgy.

There's a crackle that immitates a campfire in the background, a chill that begins to come into the air. As Aaron turns toward one corner, another voice comes from the opposite one.

"You wonder why I treat you like an obtuse child incapable of taking care of herself? You're an over-emotional young woman who does not belong here or in any position of importance."

There's no protests that come from Gillian, no answer to Aaron's questions. And no visible target. Even the woman laying out the tarot cards seems to have vanished.

Aaron's eyes turn to Gillian with sadness and confusion. What is this, and why is this happening? Who would talk to her like that. He swivels around, searching the shadows for something, anything, but ultimately finding nothing but darkness. He turns back to Gillian, a hand reaching down to touch her shoulder before he starts to anger. That shadows have been his allies before, hiding his avatar. What about light? "Show yourself, you fucking coward," he snarls." Given the content of the dream, he's making an assumption it's who he thinks it is. He'll be delighted if he finds out he's wrong.

The hand on shoulder opens him up to the fact that Gillian's ice cold and shaking. The coolness might eerily remind him of his own nightmare, but she's moving, breathing. It's almost as if her whole body is sobbing, even if she's not crying, by the sound of things.

"You never listen to anyone's advice, you know," a more familiar voice says, a foot appearing out of the shadow and pulling together into a physical form. One he knows well. It looks just like the woman he's touching. But she's not talking to Aaron, her eyes are on the woman he's touching instead. She steps closer and kneels down, smiling wickedly. "You should have let me take the pain away. You would have died without having heard the truth."

That makes Aaron freeze. He wants to lash out at someone, anyone, for causing Gillian pain. But he can't exactly attack someone or something that looks like her. And then something hits him, and his sadness and confusion turn to concern. He kneels down behind Gillian, his head close to hers, "Why are you listening to this, why aren't you fighting?" Because Gillian learned how to fight the Nightmare Man before he did.

"Because she agrees with me," Stef says harshely, finally looking up at him and addressing him directly. There's anger in her voice, disappointment. "I should have been the one to live, instead I'm buried in the ground and she's wasting what life we were given." The bookstore dissolves entirely. Grass replaces the hardwood floor, and gravestones replace the bookshelves. Not as tall, but there. Little light to see by, only a blood red moon in the sky above, casting a dark light on the long shadows.

"Here lies Stephanie Winters," the shadow says, reaching to touch the nearest stone. "Where it should read here lies Gillian Childs."

Still no fight, no words, Gillian doesn't even shake her head in denial.

Perhaps Aaron would pale if this weren't a dream. Then again, it sure looks like the colour drained a bit from his face. He takes a step forward to stand between Gillian and Stef, shoving the shadow if necessary. "Get out, or so help me God, I will force you out by whatever means necessary." His voice grows cold. "I don't care if she agrees with you. I don't," he says, to the shadow of the woman he had sex with, and had very nearly considered dating for whatever messed up jumble of confused feelings that overtook him in the throes of passion. There comes a point of emotional desperation in which one seeks out anyone who makes them feel better and wanted. He barely knew Stef. His feelings for her stemmed almost entirely from Gillian, herself. "I don't agree with you. I think more people would mourn the loss of Gillian Childs than they would or have mourned your death, and the monster beyond these petty illusions will have even fewer mourners, if any at all. I know I certainly won't mourn the Nightmare Man."

He points his finger and shakes it at the shadow, "To think I was almost tempted to thank you in our next encounter for giving me my spine back. I don't think I will anymore. You're not worth it. Thank the Nightmare Man. I've clearly lost it. What was I thinking?" He laughs, "Oh, I know. I can finally be to Peyton and Gillian what they were to me. A friend. A person who cares, and would do anything for. And all I needed was the right kick in the ass. Now, whether or not they'd do anything for me is beside the point, but I will. And I will drive. you. out."

Rather than look threatened, Stef smiles, hair falling in front of half of her face and obscuring an eye, but adding to the wicked look even more. "You're welcome," she says, as if he had thanked her. "But that doesn't change how she feels." Even then, Gillian's eyes move upward, as if she listened to what he said, and is no longer quite so fetal in position. "Don't look at me like that," Stef says, until she suddenly starts to shift, becoming someone else. A male, with a scar across his face. Brown eyes— no wait, blue eyes…

No, brown again. And the scar is gone. "I don't want to see you again," the voice says, coming from all directions. As he says that, the shaking returns, her shoulders fall. "I don't want to hear from you again, I want you out of my life."

The Nightmare's voice settles into one, "He says he wants to be your friend now— but how long will it be til he says that to you?"

Teeth are grit at the remark. "If I know my heart as well as I think I do, it'll never happen." Aaron narrows his eyes at this blue-then-brown-again-eyed man. "Is this the man who broke your heart, Gillybean?" he asks, turning back around to face her. Not that he needs an answer, based on how she trembles. And just like that, Aaron comes around again, his fist swinging like an iron ram at this false friend's face.

The false friend takes the punch to the face, ending up on his hands and knees for a moment, before he pushes himself to his feet. As he stands, the figure shifts again, returning to that of Stef, with blood on her lip and smeared across her face. "She breaks her own heart just fine without anyone else doing anything," she says, wiping more of the blood away from her lip. "She destroys everything that she cares about until it leaves. She holds on so tight she crushes it." The woman stands up, taking a step away, and leaving him closer to Gillian.

The victim of the dream, though, still seems unresponsive, or perhaps afraid to respond. Or unable. Either way, she really isn't trying to fight it… Even when he knows she can.

"She's broken. She's weak. What makes you think you can do anything at all to help her without her destroying you, too?"

"Because you tried to destroy me intentionally and failed spectacularly," Aaron says. Little twinkles of light form around him, small stuffed animals dropping out of the air to collect on the ground around him. A fair number of them crawl towards Gillian and surround her, their little stuffed hands grasping at whatever part of her they can, as though they're all trying to hug her. They're simply too small. A familiar stuffed tiger walks towards her and sits down in front of her, its tail flicking slightly. The larger stuffed animals, however, rally beside Aaron, his hands at his sides. The twinkles of light brought the stuffed animal army and the giant amalgam stuffed animal chimera that looms over him, larger than ever. Those same twinkles sparkle in Aaron's hands, a golden light about him. "This is your only warning. Leave."

"You can kick me out," the nightmare says, shrugging her shoulders casually as she backs up another step or two. "But kicking me out won't save her. She'll still want to die— She'll keep destroying herself, and everything that she cares about." The flicking tail of the tiger seems to draw Gillian's eyes up. A hand lifts forward, and something falls out of her grasp when it does.

A syringe of blue liquid, glowing with it's own light. Her veins may not be blue, but the syringe is there, and from the look of things, she'd been holding on to it.

"There's nothing you can do to stop it. And she's too weak to stop it herself."

Aaron's eyes widen when he spots the glowing blue syringe, but he decides there is one slightly more pressing matter to attend to first. It's easier to be lovingly attentive without some miscreant making snide remarks. He turns back to the nightmare, hands glowing with radiant light as though he holds two small suns, one in either hand. "Have it your way," he says. The chimera behind Aaron gives out a loud battle cry as Aaron raises his hands towards the nightmare, blinding light streaming from his hands. Warmth, love, and all of the will Aaron can muster to dispel the bastard from Gillian's mind and leave them alone so he can tend to her.

The beam of sunlight cuts through darkness, casting a glow onto the now upturned face of Gillian. Her eyes are streaked with black, running make up that shows she had been crying. Stringy hair falls in front of her face, her lips part a bit…

And the other version of her gets knocked back, body smoking a bit as she's blasted away by the beam of sunlight. From the ground, she looks up, face burnt, clothes seared. "As long as she remains as she is, you'll never really get rid of me."

For a moment the voice seems multitoned, like many voices speaking at once— and then she fades down into the shadows in the graveyard. But the graveyard doesn't disappear. The moon remains blood red. And the tombstones continue to stand. And there's no visible mirror.

Aaron rubs his face after listening to the creature's final words before it dissolves into the shadows. "Wanker." Once he is at least presented with the illusion of privacy with Gillian, he turns and kneels down in front of her. He reaches his arms out to hold her. "Gillian, why didn't you tell someone?" His words aren't angry, nor are they disappointed. They're understanding. God knows, if there's someone who understands emotional agony, it's Aaron Michaels.

"Would it matter if I did?" Gillian asks, voice drawn out and raspy as she reaches a holds the stuffed tiger paw in her hand. The similarities between the one she bought him and the one that's showing up here is not missed, but it doesn't have quite the same effect. Her sadness doesn't disappear. The location doesn't change. "I don't even know what I'd— what would I say? What am I supposed to say? That I hate myself? That the people I want to love me don't and never did? That I— ruined everything?"

She shakes her head, not even noticing the refrain syringe as she pulls the stuffed animal up against her chest and closes her eyes.

The very syringe that Aaron brushes away with his hand before sitting down next to Gillian. The remaining stuffed animals wander over and — like the others — begin pawing at Gillian, giving her their tiny stuffed animal hugs. Aaron reaches an arm around Gillian's shoulder and tugs on her gently to pull her closer to him. "I don't know. But this isn't the answer. I'd say I could sing you a song and make all your pain go away but, even though that's true, it's not permanent."

He looks down, "I hated myself, too. I must have fucked up every opportunity to be a better person, or at least as good of a person as I used to be. You saw that…. I descended into self-loathing and self-pity until I was…. Well, you must have unknowingly convinced me not to kill myself at least twice."

Aaron lets out a sigh. "You know I love you, right? I know probably not the way you want someone to love you, and I am so sorry I can't give you that, but I do love you. You're practically the only family I have, you and Peyton, and I would do anything for you. You can talk to me. I can be there even when you don't know what to say or how to say it. Just like you were for me."

"I'm happy that you don't love me like that," Gillian says softly, leaning against him, and hugging the tiger tighter as she gets little stuffed animal hugs from all sides. "If you did love me like that, I'd have to be the one hurting you, and I don't think I could handle that. I didn't even— I wasn't trying to make him love me, I just wanted to know if he ever had… I wanted to know if it was real or if…"

The tears choke her voice and she curls a little more, shoulders shaking as she audibly sobs. "Gabriel stopped loving me… Peter never wants to see me again… I wish I'd died in Antarctica."

"I'm glad you didn't," Aaron replies, holding Gillian tightly. "Because I've lost enough family. You'll pull through this. I promise you will. It won't be easy, it'll hurt like a bitch, but you will pull through. You'll never forget, and part of you will probably always hurt, but I will help you through. I'll be there, every step of the way. Because my love is real, that I can promise you."

"I wanted to handle this on my own," Gillian says after a quiet moment, still curled over the tiger, but leaning against him. Eyes squeezed shut, tears leak down her cheeks. "I'm supposed to be stronger than this. I'm not supposed to need people… I was supposed to change, and all I did was prove everyone right— everything that they said about me. I didn't deserve either of them…" It's hard to get through sometimes, but he probably knew that going in. Cause he's been in her position before. It's one thing they had in common, whether they'd admited it at the time or not.

"I can't even apologize, to him, cause he never wants to see me again…"

The tiger nuzzles its snout against Gillian's face, clinging to her as much as she is to it while even the chimera comes closer and acts as a chair or backrest. It's certainly big enough for both of them. "We all need people sometimes," Aaron says. "God knows I've needed people more than I should. I still do, really, I've just been so occupied lately I haven't had the chance. Maybe I'll be lucky and won't fall back down again." He reaches a hooked finger to pull Gillian's chin up. "Sometimes we just need someone else to show us the way out of the darkness. Sometimes it's not who you expect. And in my experience, people who say they never want to see you again never quite mean it. And even if he does, he's not good enough for you. Sounds like a jerk to me, if he sounded anything like any of those voices I heard."

"He said I didn't need him, and he was wrong," Gillian says, giving her head a slight shake, before she moves her arms to stop hugging the tiger and turn toward Aaron and hug against him. The little thing will have to sit on her lap and hug her stomach. "It doesn't matter. He kept trying to drive me away and I kept trying to chase after him. It's my fault. I did the same thing to Gabriel until he… used one of his powers on me."

Made her move as if she had strings attached to her. Just like Peter did. It was the last time she tried to talk to him. Something she regrets now, because he died before he could tell her she was sorry…

"I want to leave here."

Aaron shivers at the thought of someone using their power on Gillian. It only then occurs to him that she may be more used to it than he thinks, though having someone she cares about and trusts using it on her, that just makes him angry. If he ever runs into this person, it will be an exercise in restraint not to punch his lights out. His arm rests on the small of Gillian's back, where he gently strokes her with his hand. The stuffed animals seem to be doing likewise, with gentle little soft brushes of their plush appendages. And then she makes her request. She wants to leave here.

"Then let's leave. But promise me something: Promise me you'll come to me. I can only be here for you if you let me."

Oh, she may be used to it, but it makes her just as furious. Which would be why she doesn't have a phone anymore. Well, she has a phone, it just doesn't want to work, and it's missing the battery casing. Gillian keeps curled against him, arms around him, that nasty refrain syringe a good distance away. "I don't know what time it is— I may have to wait until morning to come back. But… I will. Even if it's just for a little while."

The surrounding cemetary starts to dissolve and disappear, the dream fading out slowly. It's similar to going to sleep, instead of suddenly waking up.

"It's late," Aaron replies. "At least it was when I went to sleep. I'm not sure how much time has actually gone by." He holds Gillian close to him and kisses the top of her head, "I'll have breakfast waiting. Fresh crepes with berries. How does that sound?" It's a last though as the surrounding dreamscape evanesces.

"Okay," Gillian says quietly, voice nearly a whisper. And then the dream world completely dissolves around them, until they both are pushed into the waking world once again.

Gillian wakes up with her back propped up against the headboard of a hotel bed. The bedside lamp still shines a light down on her, and a small box sits in her hand, open. A syringe, blue liquid glowing brightly, almost seems to look back at her.

I'm not weak, she thinks quietly, picking it up, the plastic needle shield still on. "I don't need this."

With a sudden movement, she throws the syringe across the room, until it impacts a mirror, skittering off to the floor, casing cracked. The blue liquid slowly leaks out onto the carpet..

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