Post-Trip Blues


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Scene Title Post-Trip Blues
Synopsis Aaron and Peyton, both unenthusiastic about refrain, have coffee together and apologize for being so shitty to each other. Aaron then does for Peyton what Refrain could not do.
Date August 8, 2009

Upper East Side

Refrain — all of your most cherished memories relived in technicolor, new and improved, bigger and brighter than the first time around. What could go wrong?

Peyton wakes, her pillow wet for no reason she can think of. Hadn't she had the time of her life last night? A hand goes to her face, and comes away wet — a glance at her fingers shows the smudges of mascara and eyeliner. She glances left, and sees Aaron, still asleep. To the right, Wendy is curled up, smiling in her sleep. They're all still dressed and lying on the pillows where they took their trip down memory lane.

Peyton gets up, a little woozily. She steps carefully over the limbs of her friends — if one could call Aaron a friend. She finds her shoes in the corner where she left them, and feels her way to the bathroom in the dim light.

As she stares in the mirror, she sees a familiar face — the sight of a world-weary girl she sees sometimes there — the one who wakes alone after a one-night stand with some celebrity. The one who finds herself left behind by a group of people she thought were her friends. The one who passed out in the bathroom of a club, and no one noticed she was missing.

She washes her face, borrows some mouthwash, lipstick, and mascara, and she looks almost like herself. The club outfit looks ridiculous this early in the morning, but hopefully she can get to her own apartment without too many people seeing her.

Out of the bathroom, she heads for the front door, picking up her purse and opening the door. She can't be here. She can't stand the thought of Wendy waking up happy and babbling about how wonderful it was. For it was wonderful — but for Peyton, it was all too fleeting, and all too false. Somewhere in the euphoria of it all, her logical mind saw through the illusion. It's like a child who remembers Disneyland and goes back as an adult — the spectacle is still there — but now one can see through it and see how it was constructed.

If he were any other person, Aaron would have thought he had woken up hungover from Refrain. But he isn't quite like any other person. He knows why a headache throbs in his temples. When he looks over, he finds Wendy, still curled up on the floor, but Peyton is nowhere to be seen. He rubs his eyes, breaking up the hardened mucous deposits around his eyes. It almost hurts to move, but he gains a bit more speed as he sees Peyton moving for the door.

"I see it didn't take." Aaron's voice sounds softer than usual, and without any of the sting of his earlier words to her. It's merely an observation. His gift allows him to see that all-too-familiar pain is still there, and he actually feels for her.

Refrain was good. Though one may believe differently the way he acts most of the time, he has some pretty awesome memories. They've just become buried by all of the doom and gloom that has transpired since the Bomb. That and his gift gives him trouble. Heck, Peyton's almost guaranteed, should she look at him, to notice he's paler than he was the night before. Physical pain does that.

"I'm sorry," he says, although he does not elaborate as to what he is sorry for. Instead, he puts his jacket on, fumbling through his pockets in search of the elusive bottle of Excedrin he carries with him. When you're tired, achy, and have a splitting headache, having six pockets is not a good thing.

Peyton is almost out of the door — but not quite far enough to pretend not to hear him. Despite being blessed, or cursed, with that barbed tongue of hers, and despite her lack of decorum when presented with alcohol and drugs, she does have a good upbringing. She was taught manners, and she can't quite bring herself to just ignore an apology, even if she doubts its source.

She pauses in the doorway and turns back. "It was nice while it lasted," she says quietly. Other drugs — they leave less clarity and perhaps that's why this trip was more painful than sweet, despite the beauty of it all in the moment. "I … didn't want to hear Wendy go on about how wonderful it all is this morning. I wasn't mad at you." In case he thought she was leaving because of what he said.

Aaron may as well be hungover for how bad his head is throbbing right now. A bunch of Excedrin are poured onto his open hand. It takes a moment for him to get all but two back into the bottle. Once he has, those two are popped into his mouth, where he begins to chew them as he returns the bottle to one of his pockets. "You should be," he says, after swallowing the bitterness. "Angry at me, that is." He looks back into the den. "Yeah, I don't blame you," he says, looking back to Peyton. "Is she always to ra-ra-ra perky, or is she taking something else she's not sharing?" He moves forward to get out the door with Peyton. Poor Wendy, left all alone like that.

"Ra-ra-ra perky, I think. She's also like chummy with a therapist, and thinks being Evolved makes us super special happy shiny people holding hands instead of people with big ol' bulls eyes on our foreheads," Peyton says as she heads out into the hallway toward the elevator. "I like her, but I don't think she's ever had anything bad happen to her." She pushes the elevator for the button and wrinkles her nose at the chewing sounds he makes. "You're chewing aspirin? No wonder you're so bitter." It's a joke, of course. The elevator dings and opens its doors, and in she steps.

And in Aaron follows. "Funny," he says as he rubs his head sightly, as though that magically helps the pain go away. Only one thing does that, and unless he intends to go a capella on an almost complete stranger — though doesn't he normally perform for complete strangers? — there's not going to be any instant relief here. "Must be some therapist to keep her that happy. Can't be the Refrain. My God, you're happy for a whole hour and whatever bit of time you continue to relive those good memories. And then…." He finishes his sentence with a slow shake of his head.

She stares at the door for the short trip down to the ground floor. "You too?" she says, with a little shiver. "Reality seems even bleaker off the wake of that trip. Worse than any hangover I've ever had." Her aura of sadness is darker, thicker than it was the previous times she's seen him.

"I guess if you're like Wendy, and your happy times are still happy memories instead of painful ones… or if they meant something in the long run… unlike mine… it's a good trip and a good morning after. For us, well." She shrugs. Though she tries to keep from looking at him straight on, her reflection in the mirrored door blinks away tears in dark, somber eyes. With a ding, the doors open and she steps out.

"Happy memories are great, but unless you can stay there…. When all the good times you've had are memories, at least all the important ones…." There's a sigh. Aaron looks away too, because good memories in those who have lost almost everything are as equally painful as the memories of losing everything. They're just a reminder of what is no longer there. He reaches a hand to place upon Peyton's shoulder. "You're not alone, Peyton." There's no smile on his face as he says it — she had him spot on when she said most of his smiles are fake anyway. If he ever wished he could command his ability to his will, it is now. Something pulls at him. He wants to help her, relieve her of that pain even if only for a moment. Unfortunately, his ability just doesn't heed his command. Not the way he wants.

He takes the hand off her shoulder the instant the door opens, and hastens out at her side. "So where are you headed now that you've ditched your effervescent friend?"

Peyton stiffens a touch at the hand on her shoulder, then relaxes and turns to look up at him. There's a look of surprise and hurt mixed together, but then that moment's over and she moves toward the lobby doors. "I … I don't know, actually. I haven't decided if I'm going back home or going back to that place I was staying." She frowns and hugs her arms around herself.

"I hope it was at least nice for you to see those people you miss," she tells him. "Even for a moment. That's what everyone says — if they could only see them again. But I guess that's to have a new memory, not just the same, knowing they're going to be taken from you all over again. I saw my parents… But I couldn't make it better, you know? I was … in my memory, this little kid, before I turned into a brat, before I pushed everything they gave me in their faces and told them I didn't want it. Once, I was a nice little kid. I was cute and sweet and smart. I hadn't failed them yet." She sighs and heads out of the lobby doors. "You want to get some coffee or something?"

"As nice as seeing someone I care about only to have them snatched away again." He doesn't share his memory, because if he did, he'd probably start crying. Again. It wouldn't be the first time he's cried over it, either. "If there's a place nearby that makes a decent cup of tea, sure," Aaron says. And now for one of his rare pieces of wisdom. "As for where you're going, maybe you should ask yourself which place will make you feel better in the long run." Put in simpler terms, "Which places feels like home. Because that's where you want to be spending your time. If I had much of a choice in where I'm living, it wouldn't be where I am today, I'll say that much."

"Home," Peyton says, as she turns left out of the building, "I guess is my apartment. It's my parents' actually. I don't think of it as mine, but I can't bring myself to sell it. It'd be like losing the rest of them, you know?" she asks, as she begins the walk through the mostly-quiet street. Saturday morning at 6:30 a.m. is not a busy time in New York City, even if the City never sleeps. "There's a coffee shop up here. They have tea, but I've never had it. Everything else is good though."

"I just don't know how much I believe I'm in danger. Wendy doesn't seem to think it's a big deal, and neither do you, apparently. What exactly do you do? Since you don't seem to like the term Wendy called you."

"I know how that is," Aaron replies. That's why he has an old photo of his dead girlfriend that is most frequently found locked away in a small oak chest. That, his guitar, and a few other things are pretty much the only things he has of any of his past. "I don't know how much I'm in danger. When all is said and done, chances are, no more or less than anyone else. I think of it this way: It's probably more likely I'll be hit by a bus than get abducted or something. I wouldn't be surprised if it happens, but at the same time, I'm not about to worry about it either. I have enough problems."

Aaron casts his gaze to the coffee shop in question, and then around as he tries to gain his bearings. For all his eyes were on the street the other night in the cab, he only barely recognizes this part of the city. "I don't think I've been anywhere near here in at least three years…." The question Peyton poses him, however, is enough to snap him out of that bit of navigating memory lane. He lets out a snort and shakes his head. "Empath is too broad a term for how specialized I am. And I hear from one person I know that most empaths don't get withdrawal from not using their abilities." The last part is spoken with so much bitterness, it may finally be understood what he was chewing on pain killers for. And somehow, he managed not to say what his ability is beyond being a specialized empath.

"You're in the Upper East Side. Never up here, even when you were famous and all that?" she asks, then bites her lip, realizing she might be rubbing in that once he had a better life. "I live on the Upper West, other side of Central Park." She nods at the coffee shop. "Here we are." It's a small but upscale little coffee shop, comfortable, warm-hued furniture — the kind of shop Starbucks would be if it weren't a big chain. "Here's good," she says, nodding to a corner nook complete with russet and violet velvet armchairs, a little cherrywood table at knee level. "It's on me," she adds. "You get addicted to your ability? How's that work?" So much for being vague.

"I used to live in Midtown," Aaron says as he enters the shop. His voice has gotten quieter so as to maintain some semblance of privacy, even as they make their way to a relatively secluded part of the shop. "Was up here plenty before the Bomb, but after I moved to Greenwich Village to attend NYU, didn't get up this side of the city very often. Until they got the subway working again and some cabs willing to go through Midtown, there was no hope of me being up here, that's for sure…. Can't believe I didn't notice how long that taxi ride was last night, to get here from SoHo."

He takes a seat in one of the chairs. "Careful, I think Wendy's subtlety is rubbing off on you," he says with — surprise — a smirk. "Well, if I don't use my ability in say, eight hours, I start getting headaches. Light sensitivity, body aches. Go a few days and I won't be sleeping much the insomnia and headaches are so bad. And it's pretty much downhill from there, if I'm stupid enough to go more than a week without using my ability. And you have to understand, it feels like cheating, what I do, at least in the usual context of using it." He almost feels bad for not sharing what it is just yet, but it's not as though she's told him what her ability is. But then, it probably can't help him like his can help her. It's that thought that finally makes him say, "I'm the human anti-depressant. Only I work way better, and way faster."

She frowns as she listens, her brow furrowed and her head tilting. Brows go up and she laughs a little. "You… wow, that's ironic. I mean, no offense, Aaron, but you don't seem to be a ball of happiness, if you know what I mean. I'm guessing you haven't actually used your ability when around me? Because I haven't felt much better when you're around." She adds an extra, "No offense," with a smirk, a little self-conscious of this new truce of theirs.

The server comes over, a tired-looking man who looks like he wished that the shop wasn't open this morning. "What can I get you?"

"A non-fat latte, jalapeno-cheese bagel with cream cheese, and whatever he wants," Peyton says with a smile.

"I used to be. Hell, you should know that, you saw me way back when you were an annoying little girl at a party. I didn't have my ability then, but I could still tell you were hurting even then. You were trying to be someone else, someone who's not you." His sapphire eyes somehow look darker, sadder when he says it. "And no. My ability isn't that easy…" Aaron's voice trails off as he sees the weary server approach. He gives a nod of thanks to Peyton. "Just a cup of English Breakfast with lemon and honey, thanks."

Once the server has vanished from their sight, Aaron continues. "It's not that easy to work, unfortunately. The only time I can consistently do it is through music, which kinda of makes it feel like cheating. When you have … evicted people of their pain, some of them can get euphoric, and frankly, I can't tell if they're enjoying the music or being burden free for once." He looks sad again.

"And it doesn't work on me, as you've probably guessed by now. So basically, it lets me make everyone around me happy and dare I say even perky, while I get to remain the way I am now, unless I want to physically torture myself. Then I can just leave them the way they are. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if this supposed gift could kill me." Which is actually what he was trying to find out when he didn't use his ability for … well, he still can't even remember how long he went without using it.

This is much too hard to wrap her head around after not enough sleep and the Refrain trip. She frowns as she listens, looking away when he calls her an annoying little girl, then back when he begins to explain his ability. Finally, she nods to show she understands, though her frown remains as she mulls it all over.

"Well. It's not cheating. You are talented, and if the ability wasn't there — well, you have the past as proof that people like you for more than just being walking and talking Prozac," she tells him. "Can you … turn it off when you sing? I mean, obviously you probably don't usually want to. But can you?"

"As a matter of fact, that's the only control I have over it. But if I do that consistently, I'd end up in a pretty bad state, so yeah, I don't want to. I have a fair few days missing from my memory thanks to the first and only time I did that." Aaron leans back in his chair and rubs his head. His eyes are starting to go bloodshot. "Sometimes I get the impression that my boss thinks I'm a drug addict…. Since I often look like I've burnt the candle at both ends."

"Well, then, there you go. You've sung without using it — did they like it?" Peyton says, nodding to the server who comes by with their drinks and Peyton's bagel. "Thanks," she tells the man, as she reaches for the yellow packets on the table, tearing three open at once to pour into the coffee. After the server has walked away, she looks back up at Aaron. "How long since you've used your ability? I … I mean, I can offer to listen, if you need it. Not because I want to feel better, but I guess it would help both of us."

"I think it's gotten to a point where nothing's good anymore," Aaron says. "My piano teacher from twenty years ago said to me: Music should never feel like work. But you know what? Sometimes it does." He gives a curt nod to the server as he takes his tea, "Thank you." Of course, his has already been prepared so he simply takes a sip of it then and there. Well, more than a sip really, since he needs to warm up his throat. He sets the tea cup and saucer down on the coffee table. "I forgot how classy some of the places up here are," he says, avoiding the question at least for a moment. Then he sighs, "Early yesterday evening. Hasn't even been twelve hours." In an unusual move, he reaches out a hand for Peyton's.

Peyton glances at his hand, then up to his face. Not so long ago they were still tossing barbs at one another. Now they're about to enter a symbiotic relationship of sorts. She lays her hand lightly on his. What once might have been a perfect manicure is chipped, a couple nails bitten down from the looks of it. One more flaw in that funloving facade she presents to the world. "Here?" she says, looking a little surprised.

They don't go unnoticed as Aaron's warm hand tenderly cradles Peyton's. Those damaged nails only deepen the sadness on Aaron's face. "Unless you know of a music store or a lounge with a piano that's open at six thirty in the morning or want to take the long trip back to Greenwich Village and my hovel, a capella is pretty much the only route, in which case, does where really matter?"

"I guess not. And Greenwich Village is quirky and artsy. No hovels allowed," she tosses back, her fingers curling and meeting her thumb, as if it could hide her less-than-perfect nails, but then her hand relaxes again on top of his. She watches his face a little nervously, her fake-blue eyes curious as to how his power works. "Do I have to do anything?"

"I suppose I exaggerate just a little," Aaron says, "It's this tiny broom closet of an apartment above the grocer I work at. The place definitely saw better days." Yes, he works retail. He places his other hand overtop Peyton's, now cupping the whole hand, and gives a light shake of his head. "No. It would work even if you couldn't hear me." He leans his head back as he thinks, trying to find a song that won't embarrass him. That after a moment's hesitation makes him decide on a song in Italian, hoping she doesn't understand it better than he — he can sing Italian, but only really knows the meaning of song's he's studied beyond pronunciation.

As Aaron holds Peyton's hand, she can likely feel his fingers moving ever so slightly, as though he were playing the piano on her hand. It's then that his ability already starts working on her. Touching her as he is, the emotional pain she feels is sapped away as poison sucked out of a wound.

"Se tu fossi nei miei occhi per un giorno
Vedresti la bellezza che piena d'allegria
Io trovo dentro gli occhi tuoi
E nearo se magia o lealta

Se tu fossi nel mio cuore per un giorno
Potreste avere un'idea
Di cio che sento io
Quando m'abbracci forte a te
E petto a petto, noi
Respiriamo insieme"

Although he didn't realize it, Aaron has closed his eyes before he stops singing, revelling in the fact that his headache is no longer present. It's so good to be pain-free.

She watches him sing, but somehow it's too intimate, too private, though she doesn't understand the words. She turns away and looks out the window as the pain begins to slip away. The sorrow and grief she felt this morning seems to float away like a helium balloon, farther and farther away until it's out of reach, then out of sight. When the song stops, she turns back with wide eyes. "Wow."

Aaron's eyes open. They're still mildly bloodshot, because that simply doesn't go away instantly, but they're looking better. Colour has returned to his face, too. "Yeah, it's quite something I hear," he says, though he doesn't relinquish Peyton's hand yet. "Probably last you a day or two, depending on how much you dwell on things."

Peyton nods, frowning a little, though not from any sort of pain or sorrow. Her fake blue eyes look into his bloodshot ones. "What you have… it's a gift. I'm sorry it hurts you not to use it, but you could do a lot of good with it. Don't hate yourself for it." The words sound odd, sincere and sweet at once, coming from the shallow girl that rarely says anything genuine or lets anyone see her true face.

"I don't hate myself for it," Aaron says, letting go of Peyton's hand and reaching for his tea. "I'm not particularly fond of the side effects, but my ability is one of the few things I have going for me." One of the terribly few. He takes a drink. "But I have to find a different way to control it."

She nods a little, reaching for her coffee and taking a sip. "My ability … it manifested when I was drunk. So it was all out of control. And again… at the hostage situation, at the hospital," she says quietly. "That was frightening. I'm just learning how to control it a little. I don't really want it, but I need to know how not to let it control me." She's quiet and turns her eyes to the window again. The street is slowly coming alive.

"My other boss…" That's right, he has two jobs. "She can probably help you, get you in touch with people who can help." Aaron sets his tea cup down. "If you want to, I can put you touch with her. It can't hurt." Which of course, begs the question why he hasn't taken her up on the offer. There used to be a reason, a good one, why he was too ashamed to ask her for her help, but now … there's nothing stopping him but the shame from not getting her help. Funny how that works.

"I don't know if I want help or not. The people I was with, they were supposedly trying to help, but Wendy says they might have been after my trust fund," Peyton says with a shake of her head. "I don't want to hide in a hole my whole life you know? But I don't want to get thrown in a hole by someone else, either. It's confusing." She doesn't feel overwhelmed, as she did a few days ago — without the sorrow that usually weighs her down, the fear is manageable. "I'll let you know. Thanks for the offer."

Aaron actually lets out a bit of a chuckle, thankfully having already swallowed his tea lest he be choking on it. "Yeah, well, as much as I can believe in people wanting to go after money, I'm not sure I'd put a lot of stock into what Wendy has to say. She doesn't seem to be too well grounded on reality." He says the last part very quietly. It's not meant as an insult or anything. "No offense, or anything, and no offense meant to her, she just seems … I don't know. She's weird."

"So you think I should hide myself away in some apartment building and not come out because some bogeyman might come sweep me up and force me to work for Frontline or something?" she says, peering at him. "That's what they're telling me. One even suggested I get a face change or something."

Blink. Aaron looks rather dumbfounded at that statement, primarily because it sounds completely … well, insane. "They, what?" He rubs his forehead, "Good Lord, no wonder Wendy disagreed with hem. No, I'm not saying you should hide yourself away in some apartment building. I'm saying you should get help controlling your ability and then live life how you want to, save maybe a bit more cautious." There's a pause of hesitation, which he covers up by gulping the last of his tea. "And maybe without the facade."

She nods. "They basically told me about all the people who hate me just because of being Evo, and how dangerous it is. That if I register, than who knows who could get a hold of that registry and use it against me. That HF people might target me. That Frontline might target me. That there's something called the Company that might come grab me or something. All these people know who I am, because it was in the news or something, and that I need to weigh the odds. That they could help me change my face, and get me a new name, but transfer my money so I can still access it or something." It's all a little detached — normally she'd probably be crying by now, but she just sees it as a list of facts today, thanks to Aaron's gift. "Then there's Wendy, who has that amazing ability that would actually make a lot of sense for someone to try to use, right? And no one cares."

"She's registered as being the human Evo test? Hell, she'd be the first I'd pick up. Far more covert than pricking a person's finger, that's for sure," Aaron remarks as he sets his empty tea cup on its saucer. "And I thought I was all doom and gloom. These people sound like those crazy people who think the world's ending on New Year's. Every year." He waves his arms a bit, "The world's coming to an end. Repent!"

That earns a small smile. "So you don't think I should go back?" she asks, looking at him with wide eyes. "I went back to my apartment. No one's been in there, I don't think. No forced door, lock was in place, nothing was touched that I can tell. And it's not like they don't have my name and address, you know? I was going to register when the thing at the hospital happened and this guy helped me get out." She's quiet for a moment. "I saw through the guy's eyes. The gunman's. I was like… blind… basically, because I couldn't turn it off. But I can't hurt anyone with that power — I can't make anyone blow up or die from it. I should be safe, right?"

"That's…." Weird? "Well, I'd say that's weird, but i see people in colour and black and white at the same time, so I'm really one to talk," Aaron says with a quick shake of his head, "Safe from 'them', I'd hope. No, I'd be more worried about you than what you might see from someone else. What would happen if you were driving a vehicle and started seeing from someone else's car?"

That never occurred to her. She frowns. "That would be bad. But I think I have it under control now. I can at least turn it off. And I seem to be able to turn it on when I want to — I need to decide if I want to practice or not. It hurts my head. My eyes. Like a migraine." She shrugs. "All right. Then I'm not going back." She smiles, having made a decision.

"Yeah, I know just how that feels," Aaron says, cringing just at the thought of how bad his headaches can get. "Control is a good thing though, but practice only what you can bear." He looks down for a moment and then looks into the fake-blue eyes, "Thank you, for this, and the tea. And I'm sorry again for being so sharp-tongued with you before." He pauses. "You're not annoying when you're being you. Just so you know." Then he gets up, because he's not sure how much more he can take. "If you'll indulge me, meet me at the Serenity Lounge Monday night. I know for a fact nobody's playing there. It'll be the first time I've touched a real piano in few years, and I want you to be there."

Peyton makes a little face when he mentions her being fake, for the second or third time. "You need work on your apologies, Aaron Michaels," she says with a smirk. "But I'm sorry about before too. And I'll see if I can make it. It's not like my social calendar is filled right now, and it'd be nice to help you play. Sing something I can understand next time, though. I only speak French, no Italian."

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