"I don't get what you're sayin', I never had a choice?" (Set after meeting the Tessiers.)
<NYC> Joy and Noah's Apartment
Distantly, Joy is aware that she's panicking.
She didn't actually throw up, but she's nauseous, and probably hyperventilating no matter how hard she tries to keep her breathing steady. She's clutching her purse to her pounding heart like a lifeline. It's not true, her mind keeps insisting, it's not true, two strangers in a tea shop don't know anything about your life, but in her gut she knows it is true. She can't let herself believe that yet, though. She can't burst out crying on the subway.
Home and she has to use both shaking hands to get her key in the lock. She drops her purse and the keys in the hallway, kicks the door shut, and runs through the open french doors to throw herself on the bed. Now she can let herself realize it; it slams over her like a tidal wave.
Joy clutches a pillow to her chest and presses her face into another pillow and tries to cry, but she can't. How dare she even try, really? How dare she feel sorry for herself, when everyone she's ever known and loved has been forced into loving her back? Her friends, her family, Noah... she loves Noah desperately, more than her own self, and yet she's done this to him. She's essentially raped him, over and over, and how could he ever forgive that? How could she forgive herself? She closes her fist around her engagement ring, a desperate pain in her throat.
And her baby, what right does she have to bring a baby into this, when she'd just brainwash them too? She'll have to... she'll have to give up her rights entirely in favor of Noah, or place them for adoption if he doesn't want a child of hers. She'll have to leave Noah, and her friends, leave the city entirely and go somewhere where she can't hurt anyone. It's the only ethical thing left for her to do.
She's breaking into pieces. She still can't cry.
Time, as it does, passes.
Sometime between twenty to thirty minutes later, the sound of another key in the lock comes from the hallway. A click of the deadbolt as Noah relocks the door instead of unlocking it, a muffled curse after that before it turns the other way and he comes in. Noah nearly trips over Joy's purse, kicking her keys somewhere into the kitchen as he catches himself on the wall. "Joy?" he calls, confusion present in both his voice and the frown on his face, the downward pull of eyebrows. Concern bubbles at the edges of everything, panic underneath that.
Some of it eases, once he walks a bit farther into the apartment and spots her on the bed. Then, of course, immediately returns when he realizes the state of her. "What's wrong?" Crossing to the bedroom in long steps, he sits beside her, not caring that he's still covered in sweat and dust from work. Hovers a hand just over her back, unsure if she wants to be touched. "Honey, are you okay?"
No, no she's not, and she feels even more nauseous now, because now she has to tell him, and watch his face when he realizes what she's done. Inadvertantly, yeah, but that doesn't make it any better.
She should sit up and face him. She can't, not yet.
Instead she curls tighter around the pillow, fumbles for her ring, and slides it off, aching. "I... I have to give this back," she manages, stammering around the words she doesn't want to say.
Give what back? For a long moment, Noah doesn't understand. Only stares down at her, tumbling the words around his head over and over again, waiting for her to explain. Give what back? Lightly, he settles his hand between her shoulder blades, his other raising to gently push the ring back towards Joy. Someone has reached a hand between his ribs and wrapped it around his heart. The words "No, you don't," come out lackluster, winded, confused. "Joy, what...?"
"I do," she says, raising her head from the pillow, and now she can see his face, and that's when it hits her, that's what makes it real. She's hurting him, badly, and he's going to be hurt more when he realizes what she's done, and there's nothing she can do to fix any of it because she's the cause in the first place.
Joy shoves the ring into his hands, crams her face back into the pillow and bursts into tears.
He doesn't know what's happening. Noah doesn't know if she's calling off the engagement or calling things off for good, and he doesn't know what to do about the possibility of either. He takes the ring back reflexively, feeling lost; none of that disappears when Joy starts to cry. It's just a hell of a lot easier to push that to the side, to desperately grab onto the one thing he thinks he can handle. Blindly, the ring is put on the bedside table. He doesn't spare the seconds to untie his work boots, just lies down on the bed beside Joy to pull her to him, fights the urge to hold her tight like he usually would.
Joy wants desperately to burrow into Noah's chest and cry everything out. She wants to believe that he'll let her, even after she's told him everything. But she's not that much of an optimist- nobody is.
She gulps in a breath and pushes gently at his chest. "You sh-shouldn't, you won't want to." The sobs tear at her chest and shake her shoulders. "This is all my fault!"
Maybe he should, but Noah doesn't unwrap his arms. He's too busy trying to figure out what that means. How it connects to all of this. He doesn't...? "Of course I wanna," he says, tries to sound more soothing than confused. "I love you." He brings one hand up to cup her face, gently wipes away tears with his thumb. "Whatever it is, I promise it'l be okay." This isn't some hormonal mood swing. Something has obviously happened. "What's wrong?"
"You don't, though," Joy manages, and then starts crying harder, because he never really did love her, did he? "It's me, I'm making you think that. I didn't mean to, I'm sorry, I didn't know I was doing it but I made you think you loved me."
It won't be okay. It will never be okay. She's ruined everything and she didn't even know she had.
He doesn't know what to say. Noah has no idea what Joy means when she says she made him love her. There's no thinking about it, he knows he loves her like he knows a clear sky is blue. "Joy, I /do/. Course I love you. What's goin' on? What happened? Is it the baby?" Does she think he only asked her to marry him because she's pregnant?
"Because I made you!" Joy wails. She's clutching at his shirt, shaking her hands a little, trying to make him understand. "You don't get it, I made you! I forced you and you never had a choice about any of it."
She should, she thinks, reassure him about the baby, or tell him about the men in the tea shop, but she doesn't think she can get the words out for either. But she can explain this much, at least: "I have a power."
Her shaking doesn't move him at all, but it does ramp up his already growing alarm. He gently unfolds her hands from his shirt, holds them in his. "Honey, try takin' some deep breaths, okay?" Noah's not going to say the words, but he needs to try to get her to calm down for her sake. "I don't get what you're sayin', I never had a choice?" How did he not? He's here in New York City, isn't he?
Her revelation silences him, though not in the way that she fears. Only befuddlement shows on his face. She has a power? It's certainly news to him, but he doesn't understand the ashamed way she says it. His mom has powers, too, and he's certainly met other mutants since moving to the city. Seems hard not to. "Okay. You got a power. How d'ya know? What is it?"
Deep breaths, he said. Okay. Deep breaths. Just calm down long enough to get it out and then she can go back to sobbing when he's...
Joy puts both her hands over her face and forces herself to breathe slowly, the way she does after a workout when every muscle is sore and her breathing hurts her throat. Breathe. Tell him.
"It makes people like me," she whispers, not taking her hands away from her face. She can't look at him for this. "It makes them want to be nice to me. Or..." She swallows, her throat raw. "Or love me."
Noah breathes along with her, a very slight wave of relief washing over him. Okay. One thing handled. If they can talk, they can figure this out. He desperately hopes. At first, Noah thinks he must have misheard--when he realizes he didn't, he's more confused than ever.
Her power is people like her? He doesn't understand. People like Joy because she's charismatic. People want to be nice to her because /she's/ nice. And the last... "Joy, I don't... I would /know/ if you were makin' me do anythin' I didn't wanna." He does his best to keep the incredulity out of his voice, he really does, but hints of it are there anyway. "How d'ya suddenly know all this?" Everything had been /fine/ when he left this morning.
Oh, God, he isn't listening, he doesn't understand. Joy drops her hands, casts her eyes to the ceiling and God above and sends up a quick, despairing prayer- make him listen. "There... there were people, at the tea house. They told me." And she believes them, everything they said. "It makes sense, Noah, don't you see? No one ever gets mad at me. No one ever fights me. Customers who get handsy stop when I tell them, and have you seen that work for anyone else?"
She buries her face in her hands again. "I don't know why they knew. But no one else ever has."
For a moment, Noah is almost glad that Joy has her face in her hands again. It means she can't see whatever his face is doing. Frustration picks at the edges of his confusion. Either something is getting lost in communication or he's too simple to pick it up in the first place. Considering how lost he's been since he came through the front door, he fears it's the latter. He can't make this new information fit into place with everything else he knows.
"This is obviously somethin' we gotta talk about," he says, tucking some hair behind her ear. "Why don't we get up and go sit in the kitchen, I'll make you some-a that fancy tea you got?" They'll figure it out and (he prays) she'll take the ring back. They can't end over something strangers said, if they were even right in the first place.
She wants to do what he says. She wants to sit across the kitchen table from him and have a cup of tea and pretend everything's okay. But. But.
Joy pulls back and pulls her legs up to her chest, wrapping her arms around her knees. It's harder than it used to be; the baby's already making itself felt. "I can't," she says, miserable, determined. "I didn't buy any tea." Which isn't what she meant to say, but it's true, she didn't.
Determined in /his/ task, Noah sits up and moves his hand down to her shoulder, comfortingly rubbing her arm. "Some lemonade, then. Or water. You had anythin' to eat since this mornin'?" This is easy, falling into the role of taking care of her. Comfortable. And, he silently notes, there certainly isn't anything about her behavior that points to her /making/ him want to do that. He does it because she's hurting; he does it because he loves her. "You can tell me everythin' from the beginnin'. I /want/ to understand what all you're talkin' 'bout, alright? I know I ain't doin' the best."
Oh. She hasn't eaten, not since lunch, and it has to be after dinnertime now. Joy has never really been in the habit of skipping meals, but she definitely can't do it now. "Okay," she says, her voice tiny. She lets her legs unfold, but doesn't stop hugging herself. "Okay. But I just... when you understand? I'll do it all." Move out, she means, and pay for things, and let him decide what he wants to do without interference from her. She's not going to cause him any more pain than she has to.
Noah is able to get Joy up and to the kitchen table with some cajoling. Once she's taken a seat, he pours her a glass of lemonade. After she has that, he moves onto slicing her some apples and cheese, trying to think of a quick, healthy meal that he can put together while paying attention to what she has to say. "You said you was told by people at the tea shop, right?" he asks, not looking up his current task. As much as Noah wants to watch Joy's reactions, his common sense and the knife in his hand suggest otherwise. "Tell me more 'bout that."
Joy stares at him for a moment. Tell me more about that? Like that's the most important part of her afternoon.
But she owes him any answers he wants. She looks back down at the lemonade, and starts turning the glass around and around on the table, leaving smeared rings of condensation behind. "I went to the shop, and there were these two men, and I asked them for tea recommendations, and they told me--" She chokes on the words. No. Calm down. Tell him.
"One of them asked me if I was doing it on purpose." She swallows. "I didn't know what he was talking about. He said I can... I can change how people feel about me. The other one said I was making my friends like me. And I thought--" About you.
She thought about him. How could she not, in those circumstances? Noah bats away the initial protective annoyance on Joy's behalf, knowing that isn't what she wants him to focus on. Still, it's hard to agree with her. He can't help but hold on to the stubborn thought that he would know if he was doing something he didn't want to do, especially from the start. Wouldn't she have had to come up and talk to him, to make him like her? Yet he had been the one to walk over and talk to Joy first.
There's the slightest break in the steady rhythm of the knife against the cutting board, while Noah goes over that thought again. Had that been odd for him? He can't exactly speak now for his actions of almost a decade ago. Being at a bar in the first place was and is still out of his comfort zone. Back then, Noah thinks that maybe the need to do something different had overtaken the gut dislike of somewhere so loud and close and crowded. And then he had seen Joy. Dancing as easy as everyone else breathed. Why wouldn't he have gone up to her? If he hadn't, somebody else would've, and he still remembers the low panic he felt at the idea. It wasn't love at first sight; more like the sudden knowledge of her hitting him like an invisible train.
He places the plate with the apples and cheese in front of Joy, takes his own seat across the table. "Did they say how that's s'pose t'work?" he asks, arms folding in front of his chest. "There even any way t'check and see if they was right? I just don't know 'bout takin' the word of two men at a tea house, Joy."
She shakes her head, still staring down at the lemonade. She can't meet Noah's eyes; she doesn't even want to look at his face. "No. I don't know how to check. I guess maybe if either of us knows a mutant--" Joy swallows down another sudden surge of nausea-- "another mutant, we could ask how to find out. But... it makes _sense,_ Noah. Can you tell me it doesn't?"
Joy rubs the heel of one hand against her eyes to keep the tears away. She's had her indulgence, she can cry more later. "Think about it. Think about you. You came right up to me at the bar, and you came home with me right away, and you said you'd do a long-distance relationship, you agreed right away, and then you moved up here and asked me to marry you, and--" She stops. If she says anything else she'll start crying again no matter what she does.
"I ain't sayin' it doesn't make sense," he answers softly, shaking his head. "I just... Shouldn't we get the whole picture 'fore we go and make any big decisions?" Noah leans forward and reaches across the table to lightly lay his hand over Joy's free one. "You're askin' me t'think about it, and I am. Maybe I did go talk t'ya because of whatever powers you got. But if I hadn't done that, does that mean you wouldn'ta come up t'me instead? If I did agree to try long distance because you made me, wouldn't it've stopped once you left? You was gone almost a year."
Squeezing her hand, he lifts it to his mouth to kiss her palm. "I know this is a shock. I know you're upset, and once we got this figured out and it all sinks in, maybe I'll be upset too. But I decided ages ago I wanted t'marry you. You can ask Sierra, if you want, she's been laughin' at me for months. Part-a those vows is 'for better or worse'. I know we ain't married yet, and maybe this is leading to one-a those worse times, but I ain't just givin' up on you, Joy."
It startles her when he touches her, and even more when he kisses her palm. Joy was so sure... but he has a point. "Yes," she admits, and dares to look up as high as his chin. "I would have come over to talk to you. You were so..." There aren't any words for what he was. Respectful. Warm. Obviously thunderstruck, which roils her stomach again.
And then he brings up the long-distance thing.
That shouldn't surprise her. Joy knows the history of their relationship as well as Noah does. But somehow... she'd forgotten. Long-distance. She doesn't know how her powers work, exactly, but it can't work long-distance, can it? People have fought with her, been angry with her, over the phone. Noah's been angry with her over the phone. And still.
She sniffles a little, and wipes at her face with her free hand. "I don't... want to make you do anything," she says. "I never want to do that. You're right, maybe I didn't. But if you... if you have any doubts at all, Noah..."
Stop it now, she wants to say. Stop it now because I can't take it if you do it later.
Noah rubs his thumb back and forth over Joy's knuckles as he thinks, his gaze dropping to trace over the grain of the table. He reaches out with his other hand to nudge the still untouched plate of apples and cheese toward her, only half-realizing he's doing so. He believes intent is an important thing; he'd be lying if he tries to say she isn't a little spoiled, but she's never steamrolled over his opinion, or expected him to do everything anything she said. She certainly has never made him do anything against his will. Of that, he's certain.
The memory doesn't hit him, but it does starkly pop up. Joy smiling at him in a bar and unbuttoning the top button of her shirt, and then another a moment later. All the while, he's using every bit of willpower to remember his manners and keep his eyes on hers. He squeezes Joy's hand before standing and walking to the bedroom. Her ring is where he left it. It feels delicate between his fingers when he picks it up, takes it back to Joy. Noah takes his seat again and holds it out to her. "Y'want this back?"
A lump rises to Joy's throat when he holds the ring out to her, and she wipes the heel of her hand across her eyes again. "Yeah," she says, softly. "More than anything. I... no doubts then?"
He has to duck his head a little to catch her eye. Once Joy is looking at him, Noah solemnly shakes his head.
"Okay," she says. It's a whisper, but she can't get it out any louder.
Joy can't believe she's been so lucky. He could have-- should have left her, should have walked right out. It wouldn't be anything more than she deserved. But Noah is better than that, better than anything she could have ever dreamed for herself. She makes a silent vow, then; she will be better for him. She'll solve this, somehow. For him, and for their baby.
She holds her hand out and lets him slip her ring back on.