Synthetic Friend


aaron_icon.gif bella_icon.gif

Scene Title Synthetic Friend
Synopsis Aaron seeks help from Bella, since his situation is very complicated. She's not nearly as sympathetic as she seems.
Date May 29, 2010

Bella's Old Studio Office

It may be cold out, but Aaron still managed to walk the entire way from Peyton's apartment to Bella's office. Or what used to be her office, apparently. He stares in confusion at how so much could have changed in so little time. It's then he realizes he hasn't actually seen Bella since January. The madness with the Nightmare Man seemed to have derailed his entire therapy process. When he pulls out his cell phone — the new one Peyton got him before he departed for the Lighthouse in April — to dial, he wonders what she'll think of his disappearance.

He's concerned she won't help him, and it makes it that much harder to place the call, but he eventually manages to navigate through his phone book and dial her number. His hand shakes, and it has nothing to do with his ability. If Bella can help him…. he doesn't have any idea what he's going to do.

Bella is making her way, cane in hand, through the snow-crowded streets of the Upper East Side. With a faux-fur lined jacket, brown leather gloves, mostly matching books and a pair of green ear warmers, she looks pretty damned harmless… which is how she prefers it. The streets are unpopulated enough to make her feel /relatively/ safe, but more and more she's learning to distrust the public sphere. The vibration of the phone in her pocket misses her notice for the first three rings, walking as she is, but finally catches her attention when she stops before a particularly large snow drift long enough to differentiate her movement from the phone's.

Bella rushes to pluck the phone from her pocket, catching the Caller ID 'Aaron M. - C', his name, last initial, status (client). She doesn't waste time being surprised. She flips open the phone and lifts it to her ear.

"Hello?" Her familiar voice, after quite some time.


This isn't the first time he's called, of course. There was time after he'd nearly been hit by a bus — distracted as he was thinking about Gillian's impending demise that turned out to be a non-issue — and also when he asked that she come over because he was in no condition to come to therapy at the allotted time and she managed to come over the next day. That was when she gained firsthand experience with his ability. This time seems better on account of him not crying or sounding like he's about to die or anything. It's certainly better.

Unfortunately, aside from making sure he is in fact talking to the person he thinks he is, he has absolutely no idea what to say, aside from noting the obvious. "You moved."

"Aaron!" Bella exclaims. "Yes, I did. I'm changing offices and changing apartments. I was going to let you know once I had found a new location. I'm sorry… where are you now? At my old office?" She's not eager to return there, now that she's cleared it out. Old clients… popping back up. "I don't think, Aaron," she says, with a touch of humor in her voice, "That we had a session planned for today."

"I didn't have much of this planned," he mutters back, though it may come across as mumbled over the phone. "Yeah, I'm at your old office." The sound of her moving apartments and office seems odd, but he doesn't press on it. "Where's your new office?" He idly wonders how many cabs are actually available. He can't recall seeing too many on the road given driving conditions. The idea of hauling all of his things to the opposite side of Manhattan doesn't really appeal to him much. Maybe he should have sucked it up and stayed at Peyton's again. Continue moping, continue being crazy and … "I hope it's not far."

Bella bites her lip. What to do, what to do? "I don't have one yet. Um… just stay there, okay, I'm not /too/ far. I'll be… well, I'll be less than an hour. Just… hold on, okay? I've got the keys. We'll use the old office," she gives a small laugh, "Like old times. You have some explaining to do, Mr. Michaels."

There's another mutter before Aaron hangs up and backs against the old office door. While said in humour, Bella's comment now has him somewhat fearful, but by the time she arrives, he's passed out against the door in a not-terribly-comfortable position, two gym bags and his guitar case propped up under him acting as a pillow of sorts. Bella's seen him disheveled to various degrees, but thanks to the long walk over, he went from just looking pale and tired to looking just plain exhausted. Then there's the fact that he fell asleep sitting up against her door in less than an hour….

Bella is flushed from the march up to her old studio apartment. She has the lease for months to come, an unpleasant financial burden she'll be unlikely to alleviate via a sublettor. But at least that means she has the key. She's leaning on her cane a little heavily, and her breath comes in quick puffs as she scales to her floor (damned elevator isn't working, of course). She takes a moment to lean against the wall and catch her breath, eyes finding Aaron and, in an unkind moment, rolling. Asleep? He never catches a break, does he? She gets to her feet and eases over to him, stooping next to him and reaching out to touching his arm. "Mr. Michaels," she says, softly, giving him a very gentle shake.

The shake makes him jump a bit, though he immediately calms down when recognition dawns on his face. "What?" Aaron looks around, brushing sleep from his eyes. Sitting down and falling asleep don't register in his memory, though from the feel of his aching body, sleep doesn't seem unwanted at any rate. He rubs his face and moves to slowly stand, behind numb from sitting awkwardly for so long.

"I can't say I ever much liked napping." He stretches to ease out the kinks that sleeping in an uncomfortable position leave behind before reaching out to hug Bella. It may be strange and awkward, even to him.

Bella accepts the hug without awkwardness on her part. A show of warmth, a demonstration that Aaron is safe, with someone who will look out for him - this is the sort of thing Bella tries to cultivate. Her embrace is warm, friendly, and affectionate without being ambiguous. She draws back, hands resting lightly on his upper arms, "It's not any warmer in the apartment," she admits, "But at least there's somewhere to sit. Come on." She turns to the door and unlocks it, opening it for Aaron.

"Hell of a lot warmer than it was," he says, although the studio doesn't have the benefit the outdoors do: the sun. Aaron picks up his things with a grunt. "I have enough to keep myself warm, anyway." He managed to get over here without freezing his ass off, so…. "They seriously need to get all of the buildings with heat again. Many already do." Well, he knows Peyton's has heat. Hell, Peyton was wearing SHORTS.

Once in the apartment, Aaron is reminded, only briefly, of hunting man-eating dogs— or searching for their victims, anyway. The cold gets to him sometimes, not that he could feel much by the time that horrible night ended. It's only because he didn't get to dreaming that he wasn't disturbed by a nightmare of such. He deposits his things wherever it seems appropriate he does so and curls up on the couch. He doesn't take off his boots only because it's still below freezing and they help keep his feet warm.

"Do you have somewhere to stay, Aaron?" Bella says, following him into the studio and locking the door behind them. She moves over to her usual seat, leaning her cane against the arm before falling into the set with an 'oof'. She's tuckered out, and her leg aches badly. "I ask because you seem to be carrying quite a lot of your worldly possessions with you. What's happened to you? It's been… months!"

"All of them, actually," he says as he answers Bella's remarks in no particular order. Does he have a place to stay? Well, yes. Peyton offered. Hell, Gillian offered, if he'd help out. But he doesn't consider himself child-safe. They shouldn't have someone as unstable as he is around. Colette was right.

He shakes his head, getting carried away in his thoughts. "Technically, yes. But, I'd rather not go back there." To Peyton's apartment. He's made her suffer through his psychoses long enough. "And that is a very, very long story. Epic. And seriously fucked up all at once. Pretty craptastic."

"Well," Bella says, lifting her hands, "I was just… out on a walk, really." She doesn't want to outright admit that she was looking for a new apartment. It's much too early for good taste to do that. "Enjoying being able to go outside without /dying/. This has all been difficult on everyone, I think. So please… share. I've rather a lot of sessions to make up for," she pauses, remember their last few meetings, "Have you fed your ability, Aaron?" A practical question. She wants him as clear as possible.

"Yeah… what, like, sixty or so? By my count anyway, and that's … part of the story." He curls up tighter on the couch and nods, "Just, an hour or so before I called. I'm good." At least as far as his ability is considered. Aaron is anything but good. "Um…" It seems infinitely long ago for him. "You remember me mentioning the dream Peyton and I sort of shared, where I woke up after hitting my head to discover her with a knife in hand ready to slit her wrists?" He doesn't wait for a reply.

"Yeah, that was thanks to a wonderful evolved with the ability to fuck with people's dreams. I actually got pretty good at fighting him until he lured me off a ledge. I spent what felt like months alone in a barren, nuclear wasteland of Manhattan." He points to his head. "Of course, it was all in my head. Sure felt real, though…. When I finally came out of it, I'd pretty much forgotten to feed— Peyton handily pointed out that I needed to. I also forgot about our appointments and the anti-depressants…."

Well, that is one suspicion of Bella's that was neatly confirmed! She does not, however, say 'I told you so!' but it certainly happens in her head. For all outward appearances, however, she feels on sympathy for Aaron's incredible travails. "Unbelievable. As if you didn't have enough to deal with with in your head just as it is…" she shakes her head, "And now, do you want to resume treatment? Start with the medication I suggested? I was troubled when you didn't show up, really worried, Aaron," though, to be fair, she had her own project to work on, other things on her mind, but the appearance must be of total availability and support, "But we have to get you situated first. Why don't you want to stay wherever you've been asked to stay? You need somewhere. Living out on the street would /not/ be therapeutic for you."

Aaron relaxes some when she mentions her worry. He finds it strangely comforting, even though Peyton and Gillian have expressed such to him in the past. He shakes his head. "I'm not anywhere even close to done yet. Why I don't want to stay with Peyton is … complicated, and partially related to what happened a little later." Which is the part he clearly has trouble telling, because he goes quiet and looks deep in thought for quite a while.

"Being stuck in your worst nightmare for a period of time long enough to lose track of time… changes you. I kissed her." The memory of the kiss makes his cheeks glow just a bit in the cold, before they resume their earlier pallor. "Dumbest thing I've ever done in my entire life. It's not like I couldn't tell she didn't share my feelings for her, but I did it anyway and things got awkward. So we avoided each other for a long time. I guess nearly a month. I'm actually amazed they didn't call you. Must have been an oversight.

"I was doing my … rounds," he says, feeling somewhat clever for coming up with a more appealing metaphor for what it is he does with his ability. "There was this girl there. She just went limp. Like she'd been drugged. I brought her home. Her ID gave an address in Midtown I knew didn't exist anymore, I assumed she was homeless. Peyton came home, made some comments that didn't really sit well with me. It was cold as hell out, but I packed most of my things, took my guitar, and took the girl to a hotel so she could sleep off the effects of my ability. Maybe get a bath in. Which she did, from the sounds of it."

The next part is very hard for him to admit to, and he looks vaguely ill at the thought of it, mostly because it reminds him too much of the mess he was at the Lighthouse. The hallucination. "I … wound up in the hospital. I got … overzealous with a razor blade," he says, his word choice almost making him laugh for some reason. "Unintentional." He looks sad again, like he might cry. He remembers the look on Peyton's face. The darkness. "I just wanted to relax, to get perspective. But I cut a little too deep." He sniffles and wipes away some tears that leaked out. "I could barely breathe, I didn't know what to do. I panicked. Next thing I know, I woke up at St. Luke's under suicide watch."

Bella listens with the intent patience that makes her good at her job. Her expressions are subtle, but always shift at the appropriate moments, wincing in sympathy, frowning at his misfortune, looking pained when she learns what he has done to himself, but never once seeming overwhelmed by her feelings. Not hard to do, since she feels nothing deeply. What she feels, she feels less than a method actor does when calling up memories and motivation. A virtual sympathy, a synthetic friend.

"Do you still feel like hurting yourself?" Bella says, "Because next time you do, I beg you, please, contact me instead so we can talk things out. You should seek perspective through talk, not through self harm. Any good that could ever do you will be tied to bad, and you develop dangerous habits. We need to free you from you cycles, Aaron. We need to get you on your feet." She pauses, "But please… go on. I need to know everything."

He looks very nervous at the question. He ignores it.

"After I got out…. Gillian, she helps operate a sort of foster home. I was supposed to go there to help out with teaching the kids music. You know, serve some sort of purpose. I really just wanted to be there because it always seemed like Gillian could handle me better. I got there and she disappeared to Las Vegas for a week. She gets back and a day later she disappears again. One of the kids went out. It was freezing cold. One kid was already mauled to death by these feral dogs….

"The girl went out because she can feel and influence animal emotions. She thought she could make them leave or something. I don't know what stupidity possessed Gillian to go out there and get mauled. Hell, we were nearly killed going out to look for her, and that little brat who started it all only got a broken leg. Whatever happened to Karma?" Aaron's anger seems to come from nowhere and disappears just as quickly, fading as he leans back into the couch and takes a few deep breaths.

"She nearly died. Gillian. She… amplifies evolved abilities." He shouldn't be sharing that detail, but he assumes it will never leave the room. "She had so little control of it, she was in so much pain. She accidentally used it on me and I lost control of my ability. I nearly eliminated any source of pain I could grab. Staten Island…. not exactly populated, and that orphanage, even less so I'd say." He starts to cry.

"Her ability…. fucked me up pretty bad. A few hours later I welcomed Peyton into the orphanage. Her story seemed plausible." He begins to really hesitate on this part, even though Bella knows that his ability has resulted in hallucinations before. "But, as I discovered the next morning…. she wasn't there. But, this ghost of Peyton just kept showing up, even after I knew I was hallucinating. Gillian was upstairs on her death bed and I was essentially chaining myself to the laundry room on the main floor. The hallucination kept pressing me, mocking me. As though I should have figured out it wasn't real. I thought I was doing laundry, but it turns out I was just tearing open the wounds that hadn't quite healed yet, the ones that bled enough to make me pass out in the first place. And then one of the other volunteers should up and found me conversing with thin air. She of course though I was high or on drugs. Considering how Gillian's ability accelerated my withdrawal, I pretty much looked like a junkie. The blood didn't help, either…."

Aaron wipes the tears from his eyes and is rather surprised to find he's been more or less crying through a fair portion of his story. He mops his face with his coat sleeve and musters up enough energy to finish the story. "I got better. It was only a matter of time before I had enough pain to feed on. The volunteer, she wasn't in the best shape emotionally. She found out what it was I could do and offered to let me feed on her. So I did. She left a few days before I did. They … somehow got a healer in. Gillian's fine, though I didn't believe it at first. Swore I was still hallucinating…." He sniffles and manages to calm himself down. "Until, um. Until I went from thinking I was doing laundry to staring at bloody fingers…. every day. To answer your question. It felt so good. It didn't make the pain go away so much as it made it … so it didn't matter? It just, it was relaxing. But since that day in the laundry room…. The mere idea makes me want to vomit."

Bella shakes her head. Worse and worse. Bella has never been a great fan of institutionalization as a concept - deciding this or that person is not fit to govern themselves is repugnant, whatever the reasons given. But this… this is the sort of thing that tests one's convictions. This man need to be placed in a controlled environment, held away from all the complicating factors until he can find just one bit of solid ground to stand upon. "You shouldn't hurt yourself any longer," Bella says, "But we need to find an alternative to your negativity, rather than balancing punishments against pains. How long ago was this? How did you end up here?"

Which, ironically, is precisely why Aaron came to see Bella.

"The hospital thing was end of march, the rest was last weekend. Gillian dropped me off outside Peyton's and I told her I was going to seek help. I walked here." Which explains why he fell asleep outside her door. "Actually didn't really know what I was going to do…."

Bella frowns, "Well, let's find out what you're going to do," she says, "We need to focus on first things first. Where can you stay, and what do you need to stay afloat? Much of the city isn't in working order, still."

"I can't stay with Peyton. I mean, I can, she offered but… I can't let her see me like this. She's dealt with me being crazy enough. I don't want to do that anymore. I want to be OK next time I see her." And right now he's a train wreck. An epic train wreck. "And I honestly don't know what I need. Nothing makes me feel good anymore. Nothing feels good anymore."

Bella steeples her gloved fingers, peering at Aaron. She wants him to prompt her, to give her something to work with. But this is an epic train wreck. And she is not sure how to start rebuilding. She purses her lips. What is she willing to do? What is she able to do? "You can stay here," she says, "For the duration of the lease. It's not strictly legal, and is frankly outside of the boundaries of the client/therapist relationship, but this is a time of crisis for everyone… I think I can be given a little leeway. It will be cold but," she smiles, "At least you won't be late to any sessions."

"Yes. And things are going to get better," Bella says, with a certainty that brooks no nay saying, "We're going to get you on medication, see if we can find you a job to help structure your life… maybe helping out with clearing the streets, or other public works. Something to improve your mind and body. And…" she pauses, "Well, we'll need to find a way of feeding your ability until we get you centered enough that maybe you can control it better."

Aaron still hasn't mentioned that he can control it better. At least to the extent of choosing when to use it, and using it by touch. Not that it helped when Gillian amplified him, since he was hardly expecting it…. He still doesn't mention it.

"Meds sound good," he says. Drugs sound good. Anything to take him away. The idea of a job only gets a shrug from him. He feels far too useless to consider himself capable of holding down a job.

Bella narrows her eyes, "That attitude won't stand, Aaron," she says, "I'm going to get tough with you if I have to. All this mental interference, hallucination, suicidal ideation… none of it's consistent. Your disorder mutates. Which means you're either a medical marvel, or you have no underlying problem, just a series of acute states that build on one another. The probability severely leans towards the latter. We can fix you Aaron. But it has to be us, not just me."

"Sorry," Aaron says, shrinking a bit into the couch. Fearful, or apparently so at any rate. Terrified would be what he's actually feeling in response to the words and the tone. Just as quickly, it resolves to anger. "Great. Just more evidence that my ability's fucking with me."

"If that's the source of your problems," Bella says, sternly, "Then our first duty is to get it under control. But we need you to have a stable living situation first, and the means to keep your ability under control. How often do you have to feed it?"

The only headache Aaron has right now is purely one of sleep deprivation, so it's hard for him to tell, so he goes with what he's figured based on past experience the last few days. "I guess every… sixteen hours or so." Not even a whole day. He may as well be a junkie. On the plus side, he hasn't changed since they last discussed it, so that's a plus. It also means he hasn't managed to curb it. At all.

Bella twists her mouth to the side. "We… need to find a way to feed you regularly," she says, "And I admit… I'm not sure how to go about that."

"That's… kind of why I didn't go straight to the Suresh Center or something." That and no means of getting there beyond walking. He wasn't about to hitchhike or call Gillian back. Aaron shrinks back into his pit of despair, the cold making him more tired than he already has the right to be. "I usually just went out busking but, the streets aren't quite as populated as they once were. Though, that's probably going to change now that the weather's getting better. There were more people out there than I remember." And he doesn't quite feed in the same way as he used too.

"I'm glad you came to me," Bella says, firmly, "I don't think anyone else knows you well enough, is equipped to deal with your situation. But that doesn't change our basic difficulty," the shrink gives a huff of thought, "I'm going to have you go out and help clear the streets, even if you're not paid. Consider it the payment towards your renting this space. If you see someone, and it's not dangerous for them, feed on them. If worse comes to worst… let me know," she pauses, "I'll volunteer. But I'll need advanced warning. After last time, I know I'm not much use after the fact, and I have responsibilities, both to you and… uh…" she lifts a hand to her head, "God. Sorry. I've been light headed for… the whole day."

"Oh God." Aaron doesn't even get the chance to respond to anything else he said, his world swarming in on itself at his therapist's sudden distress, or perceived distressed. "Should I call for help?" He seems a moment away from outright panicking as he scrambles off the couch to cross the short distance between them. His hands reach out to Bella, his eyes wide.

Bella waves her hand, "Aaron, Aaron, I'm fine, I'm fine," she manages to keep her cool, even though he is baring down on her in a somewhat frightening manner. She even reaches out to take his hand, squeezing it a little, "Sit down. I'm fine. Just… I don't know… all that running around in the snow catching up with me."

Aaron doesn't seem to be terribly at ease from Bella's words, but he nevertheless retreats to the couch once again. He curls back up. He doesn't feel particularly with it, himself, but that's not terribly new. "Just don't leave me too."

Bella has to take a moment for her wits to fully return. That wasn't… normal. But it doesn't feel lasting, and she'll power through. She's been moving a lot lately, pushing her limits. She's had a lot to do. "I won't, Aaron, don't worry," she says, softly, "I'm a tough bitch, trust me." She manages a smile, hand dropping from her forehead. She sits up straight.

"Don't call yourself that," Aaron mutters, though it's he now who looks ready to pass out. For him, though, it's just from exhaustion, and partially the cold. But he's bundled up well enough to not die in the cold, at any rate. The only parts of him that are cold are those that are exposed.

"I'll call myself what I like," Bella says, with a laugh, "Now if /you/ call me a bitch, then we'll have a problem." She gives a long sigh, "I am… just entirely wiped. I'm sorry, Aaron. I'll have to stick around for a little, can't give you privacy yet. I'm just… I bit off more than I could chew today."

Aaron shakes his head, which in his tired state gives him interesting sensations of weightless dizziness. "It's OK," he says. "I like the company." He'd die if not for company. He's more reclined on his side now, curled up on the icy-cold couch, and blinks at her. "What did you do?"

Bella laces her fingers together over her stomach, closing her eyes, letting her breathes come slowly and steadily. "Went for a walk," she says, "Met a crazy girl. I know, I'm not supposed to say crazy, but it's the best way to describe her. Or maybe… a madwoman. I don't know, there's something about her disorganized speech. Highly irregular, not quite paranoid delusive, not quite disorganized/dissociative."

"I've probably sounded like that a couple of times." He's sure he did to Colette when he lost his mind last week. Just thinking back on it again makes Aaron feel nothing. He's burned himself out pretty good today. "Maybe not to you," he adds.

"Well, plenty of time for me to find out, hmm?" Bella jokes, lightly, "You look bone tired, Aaron. You can sleep if you'd like. I'll make sure to wake you and say goodbye before I go."

Aaron nods as soon as she mentions he's tired. Because he's exhausted. He could probably fall asleep in that instant, once he's properly bundled up his scarf again. But he gives a startled gasp and goes still as soon as Bella mentions leaving.

Bella's eyes are still closed, but she hears that gasp. "I'll do what I can Aaron, I promise, but I have other responsibilities," as she was saying just before the light-headedness hit. She doesn't get into them of course. Best to leave it vague. "I'll bring you some books and a radio when I get the chance. For now you should rest, play some music, try and get yourself in a better state of mind."

"Rest sounds good…." He tugs at his scarf to drape it around his face to protect it from the cold. "Just promise me you'll come back." Aaron definitely sounds afraid that she won't.

Bella has the urge to say something witty, some quip or other. This is a bad habit, one she's been indulging in her other therapeutic settings. But for here, for this, it's inappropriate. So she restraints herself. "I promise Aaron. I promise I will come back."

Aaron nods, though he's cautious. Almost as though he doesn't believe. Or can't. Nevertheless, he nods again, trying to prove he understands and is accepting of her word. Then he closes his eyes and tries to sleep.

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