18 July 2013 @ 11:31 pm
Prompt #091: Labels  
Title: Reality
Pairing/Characters: Ashley, Adam, Brian, Tommy
Rating (Word Count): G (14 X 100)
Content(s)/Warning(s): Terminal illness, death themes
Author's notes: So this is really not what I intended to write for this week, but it happened anyway. I have no explanation for it.
Many thanks to @aislinntlc for the beta.

Reality is just a label, a word to make people feel safe.

It’s Adam who says it first. Maybe that’s why Ashley doesn’t laugh in his face, the way she would have if Brian or Tommy had done the same.

There’s something in how serious Adam looks that makes her pause and think.

But she isn’t ready. She knows that in reality, she’s dying.

She believes him somehow. She believes that she could stay here and make music with them. Learn who she really is.

Yet she shakes her head. “This isn’t real. I’m just dreaming.”

“If you say so.”

***

She wakes up to a small hand pressing a cold cloth to her forehead.

She tries to sit in her bed. Pain explodes in her lower back.

She can’t move. Again.

“What happened?” She tries really hard to keep her voice steady.

Jen’s pitying look let her know that she failed.

“You had a fever, Ashley.”

Ashley nods. She can feel it now, in the tense muscles of her back and shoulder, in the shivers running through her body.

“Did you dream?” Jen asks, casually. Far too casually.

“Music.” And, because Jen is already frowning, she quickly adds, “Nothing important.”

***

She sees the lines disappear from Jen’s forehead and holds in a relieved sigh. If she’d said anything else, Jen would have been talking about upping her medication again.

Ashley knows they’re not trying to heal her anymore. She’s dying. No one can stop it. But they seem intent on taking her dreams away from her, and right now, it’s the only thing that makes her want to keep going.

In her day to day life, it feels like she has nothing left. The visits from friends and family, with their fake, “you’ll get better soon,” only hurt her more.

***

That night, after she falls asleep, she opens her eyes to find herself standing backstage with Tommy. She can hear the crowd, a low buzzing sound of conversation and screams.

“Where are we?” She asks.

“Fantasy Springs.” Tommy takes her hand in his. “I wasn’t sure we’d be able to reach you again.”

“Why is that?”

“They’re trying to stop us.”

Ashley shakes her head. “This isn’t real.”

“If you say so.” Tommy sighs but he doesn’t argue. “Let’s play.”

The show is electric and the energy from the crowd, incredible. It’s everything Ashley wishes for but can never have.

***

The fever is gone, and Ashley’s feeling a little better. She knows it’s an illusion, but once Jen finally leave her alone, it’s enough to get her out of bed.

She rummages through her closet until she finds her bass.

When she tries to play, her fingers tremble so much on the strings, she can’t even pluck the way she used to.

“Dammit!” She has to hold in a sob as she hit her bass with her open palm. She wants her music back so much…

By the time Jen comes back, Ashley’s bass is hidden in her closet again.

***

She’s in Brian’s hotel room. Everybody has gone to bed. She should have left when Tommy did, but she was too comfortable here, lying on Brian’s bed, with his hands playing with her hair.

“I should go,” she says, softly.

“Why don’t you stay?”

It takes her a minute to realize that Brian doesn’t mean here, with him. He means here, with them.

“This isn’t real.”

The more she says those words, the less she believes them.

“Reality is just a label.”

Ashley recognizes Adam’s words in Brian’s mouth. She doesn’t understand how her dreams can make so much sense.

***

“It’s just a dream.” She has to say it. It would be too easy to believe this isn’t some wicked world made up by her feverish mind.

“Look at me.”

She rolls on her back to watch him, lying on his side, raised on one elbow. He brings his hand to the strip of skin showing between her shirt and her leggings, and he pinches. Hard.

Her back arches, she sucks in a breath. Brian doesn’t release her until she’s literally sobbing from pain.

“If it was a dream, you’d be waking up now, or you wouldn’t have felt anything.”

***

When she opens her eyes, she pulls up her night shirt and stares. Low on her hip, there’s a small, purplish bruise, right in the spot where Brian pinched her.

She brings her hand to the bruise and presses down. A fresh wave of pain washes over her, letting her know that the bruise is brand new, and not just the remnants of one of those times when she hurts herself without noticing.

When she lifts her fingers from her skin, she’s out of breath, tempted to press the bruise again. She hasn’t felt this alive in far too long.

***

She walks the few steps from her bed to her balcony. It’s the kind of cloudy day when rain always threatens but never falls.

She sits with a book in her lap. She doesn’t try to read, aware that after only a couple of lines, her vision will blur and her eyes will sting. Reading isn’t something she can enjoy anymore.

There’s very little in her everyday life that she actually likes. Every little thing that matters has been taken away from her.

Sometimes she wonders why they don’t help her die. It would be so much easier for everyone.

***

It’s Adam who asks her next. “Stay.”

They’re in South Africa. They went on a safari and then on a bicycle ride. They’re playing two shows. This is the most fun Ashley’s had in a long time.

This is when she realizes that it all makes too much sense. That a dream can’t keep going like this, for months, like her mind is trying to see the story to the end.

So she asks, “What are you?”

Adam shakes his head. “You’re asking the wrong question, Ashley. It doesn’t matter what we are. What really matters is what you are.”

***

When her father visits her, she’s tempted to tell him about the dreams, about the music. She knows he would tell her, like he did months ago, that her dreams aren’t real.

That she should talk to her doctor about them, that they aren’t good for her.

They’ve already had this conversation, back when Ashley still had the energy for it. She remembers screaming herself hoarse and how angry her father was.

The last thing she wants is a fight, yet she’s tempted to tell him.

Just to see his face when she replies, “Reality is nothing but a label.”

***

They’re all enjoying the sun in Bali when she looks at Adam and asks, “You said this was about me. What am I, then?”

“A Wanderer,” Adam says, smiling like he’s proud of her. “Someone who can slip into other’s dreams and shape them.”

Ashley shakes her head. It sounds a little too perfect. “But I’m the one dreaming.”

“We had no other way to reach you. They’re still doing their best to keep us out.”

She can’t help but say, “They’re just trying to help me get better.”

“No. They’re trying to kill everything in you that isn’t human.”

***

If they do that, there will be nothing left of you.

Adam’s last words follow her as she wakes up. There is so little left of her already.

She’s lost her family, her friends. She’s lost her music. She’s lost every little thing that mattered.

Maybe she shouldn’t trust her dreams, but Adam, Tommy and Brian have been the only constant, the only good thing in her life in far too long.

She needs to believe in something, even if it’s a dream.

Reality is nothing but a word, a label. It can be whatever she wants it to be.

***

“Where are we?” She asks once they’ve taken and tweeted the band picture.

“Asia,” Brian says. “We’re touring.”

Slowly, like even she can’t believe what’s in her head, she asks, “How do I stay?”

He smiles. “You let your human body die.”

Fear nearly swallows her whole. If this is just a dream, nothing but a way for her mind to make the horror of what’s happening to her tolerable, it means she won’t wake up tomorrow morning.

But she knows that refusing would only delay the inevitable.

She takes the hand Brian offers, and says, “Show me how. Please.”
 
 
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leela_cat: death - what if?[personal profile] leela_cat on July 19th, 2013 03:56 am (UTC)
This is just amazing. I have so many questions, but I don't really need answers to any of them.

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arianne_maya[personal profile] arianne_maya on July 19th, 2013 03:28 pm (UTC)
I'd probably have the answers because this is inspired in part by one of my originals, but I'm glad it works as is.
Thank you so much.



Edited 2013-07-19 03:30 pm (UTC)
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thraceadams: Adam TKIC NOT SHAREABLE[personal profile] thraceadams on July 19th, 2013 11:04 am (UTC)
OH wow, this reminded me of that Buffy episode Normal Again - SO BRILLIANT.

And I"m with Leela - so many questions, but I don't really need the answers to them because this was perfect.
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arianne_maya[personal profile] arianne_maya on July 19th, 2013 03:29 pm (UTC)
I'd completely forgotten this episode, but it's true there are similarities.

Thank you so much, bb.
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jeweledvixen: A Adam Head Down Rainbow[personal profile] jeweledvixen on July 19th, 2013 08:31 pm (UTC)
I loved this. It's so sad, yet so hopeful. At least Ashley gets to stay with the band now. ;__;
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arianne_maya[personal profile] arianne_maya on July 20th, 2013 01:28 pm (UTC)
Yes, and she gets to do what she loves again. Thank you!
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