"Nothing Without Me"
Aaron had been left alone with his piano to try and rewrite In The Same Boat, and all because some detective with pretensions to musical theatre greatness had convinced the Oh-So-Brilliant-Director that a rewrite was needed. And Carmen had told Aaron to behave. So while Georgia was off with that good-for-nothing-Bobby doing "rehearsal", he was stuck here, alone, in the room he had claimed as his den. He had overheard some of the chorus members referring to it as his "lair."
He spread out the sheet music on top of the piano; the official "final" copy as well as the notes from when he and Georgia had been working on it. This song had given them no end of trouble when they were working on it, and it seemed that it was rearing its ugly head again. Only this time, he had to face the monster alone.
"Remember," came a sudden drawl, "None'a that there 'Eniah Klinah Trunk Music'."
Aaron jumped and turned around to see a masked man in a cowboy hat lounging against the wall, arms crossed.
"It makes me look bad," the cowboy continued, "Dun ferget, I'm supposed ta be savin' the day here."
"Shut up," Aaron responded, turning back to his music. He didn't need this right now.
"Watch it!" the cowboy threatened, "It'd be in yer best interest to listen ta me right now. Ya need my inspiration."
"You're not real," Aaron said, not looking up.
"I'm as real as yerself!" the cowboy - one Rob Hood, fictional outlaw - retorted, making his way over to piano and pianist.
"I made you up!"
"Git this, Has-Been!" Rob shot back, "Ya wouldn't even be workin' if it weren't fer me!" He smirked, "So ya should be grateful that I'm here ta help you come up with a new song."
Aaron smashed his hands down on the keys and stood up angrily.
"Nope, not that," Rob smirked, "You'll hafta do better."
Aaron picked up a pencil and started to make notes. Anything to distract himself from the very irritating specter currently haunting him.
"Ya know," Rob lolled against the piano, "I gotta thank whoever did my last Leadin' Lady in. Th' one I got now is quite th' catch."
"We both know that!" Aaron snarled, "Georgia's a much better actress than Jessica ever was! Jessica was murdering the part, and she… was…" He trailed off. Partly because he was starting to shout in an empty room, and partly because he knew just how bad that sounded. Everyone knew that he couldn't stand Jessica Cranshaw - especially after what that diva put Georgia through. Except, that wasn't something that he wanted at the forefront of everybody's minds right now.
"Dun' worry, I'll testify to th' fact ya didn't do it," Rob assured him, "That ya couldn't've done it."
"Fat lot of good the testimony of a fictional character'll do me," Aaron muttered.
"Ya dun have the guts ta do it," Rob crowed, "Yer yella. No wonder she left ya back then!"
"I didn't kill Jessica because I was afraid to!" Aaron snapped, "I didn't kill her because murder is against the law! And that has nothing to do with when Georgia left!"
"But ya thought about it," Rob crowed, "Admit it."
Aaron turned away from him, sitting down again. Ignoring Rob again.
"I ain't hearin' plinkin' comin' from that there piano, Piano-Man," Rob spoke up again after a moment, "And ya can't get rid of me. Dunno why you'd want to really." He looked over the sheet music, "If I wasn't here, ya'd still be writin' background… hell, what wouldja call it? Certainly wasn't music."
"It didn't have to be you, you know," Aaron said.
"Oh, I think it had ta be, Piano-Man. You were nothin' on yer own," Rob said, "Ya got me ta thank fer gittin' ya this job!"
"It could've just as easily been a story about people on the moon, you know," Aaron said, "And not at all Robin Hood related."
"Then I woulda had a different name, but I still woulda been here!" the specter shot back, "This is th' thanks I git fer gittin' ya back with her then?" He chuckled, "Without me, a filly like her wouldn' even look at ya twice now!"
"Ha, like you'd know," Aaron growled.
"Need I remind ya of that music ya've been comin' out with on yer own?" Rob chuckled, "Chris was bein' kind with what he called it. I woulda called it a pile of donkey-"
"Enough!" the composer banged his hands down on the keys and glared at his creation.
"Ya needed her, Aaron. An' ta get her, ya needed me."
"Of course I need her!" Aaron said firmly, "Everyone knows that!" He sighed, "Everyone but her."
"I kin see why ya'd want me ta help ya get her back," Rob chuckled, "Such a filly… Wowee!" He grinned at Aaron, "Ya know, I remember when ya first introduced me ta her…"
"This isn't helping me rewrite In The Same Boat," Aaron muttered.
"You were writin' that song for the school teacher, th' one about seein' stuff in the clouds, 'member?" Rob asked, as if Aaron hadn't spoken.
"Yeah I was," Aaron softly started to play the chorus. Georgia had really only sung it once, when they were going through it, but she had always sung it in his imagination. Even when Nikki Harris sang his song during rehearsal, he always meant this song for his wife. As he played it, he could hear Georgia singing. Then, he realized that he really did hear someone singing. He looked up to see Nancy-the-school-teacher standing there, gazing up at the ceiling as if she could see the clouds. When he finished the song, she looked around, confused.
"That was beautiful," Aaron told her.
"Oh!" she gave a startled gasp. A light blush rose in her cheeks when she saw Aaron sitting there, "It's you Mr. Fox."
Aaron rose to his feet and went over to her, "Aaron," he corrected her gently.
"Aaron," she repeated softly, "I'm sorry, I'm not used to speaking so informally, not to a man as sweet as yourself."
"It's alright," he took her hands gently and led her over to the piano, "Please, have a seat."
Rob rolled his eyes behind his mask and then smiled warmly. "Miss Nancy, good ta be seein' ya again. How's about ya take a seat here nexta me an' we'll catch up?" He indicated a chair.
"Oh it's you," Nancy replied flatly, "What are you doing here?"
"Piano-Man's gotta re-write an entire song, an' I'm makin' sure it sounds good enough for us," Rob answered cheerfully.
"Now that I have Nancy to help me, I don't need you here," Aaron said to Rob, "So you can head back to Sherwood."
"Like hell ya 'don't need' me!" Rob growled, "You'll git distracted by her purdy eyes an' ya won't get a thing done."
"You're far more distracting," the composer retorted, "You just make me want to argue with you, and I'll never get anything done."
"You just want Nancy around cuz she reminds ya of -Her-, don'tcha?" Rob grumbled.
"You don't miss much, do you?" Aaron said sarcastically.
"I'm very observant."
"Hey, leave him alone," Nancy protested, "he's trying to work."
"Oh yes," Rob narrowed his eyes, "Must let The Genius work."
"That's right," she agreed.
"Oh puh-lease!" Rob drawled out the word, "We -all- know he wouldn' be here if it weren't fer me!" he turned to Aaron, "Ya mean ta tell me that you'd really rather have -her- instead of me?"
"Of course," Aaron replied.
"She ain't any help!" Rob said, "Her opinion won't help ya at all!"
"I'm not in need of her opinion," Aaron replied, "I just need someone to keep me company!"
"What?" Rob gaped at him. Nancy blinked at him as well, her eyes growing a bit wide, then narrowing slightly.
"It's just a rewrite," the composer said dismissively.
Rob looked back and forth between the school-marm and Aaron and then a not-very nice smile crossed his face and he chuckled.
"Now what?" Aaron growled at the fictional outlaw.
"Ya've really done it now Piano-Man," Rob sat down in a chair, leaning back, grinning at Aaron and tilting his hat back.
"So. The Great Aaron Fox was jus' gonna let me 'Keep him company' was he?" the second figment said, standing up from the piano crossly.
Aaron turned towards her, "Wait a minute, that's not what I meant."
"Then tell me, O Great One," she approached him, "What didja mean? Clearly lil' ol' me didn' quite git it!"
Aaron took a step back as she walked towards him. As she walked, she shimmered a bit. The hemline of her blue gown rose a few inches, and the neckline dropped a few. As she moved, the blue seemed to bleach out of her dress, and a dark red spread all across the fabric, as if being drenched in wine. He had just seen that outfit, Georgia had been trying it on. Miss Marion's costume at the end of the first act.
"What's going on here?" Aaron was more than a little bit unnerved. He was used to seeing phantoms of his imagination, and used to arguing with them, but he'd never had any of them do anything quite this dramatic.
"Ya got'er angry, Piano-Man," Rob crowed gleefully.
"But she's not real. Neither are you," Aaron said desperately.
"Not real?" the woman spat, "I'm as real as YOU are, Mister Fox! An' jus' as capable of comin' up with ideas!"
"Marion," Aaron said softly, "What are you doing here?" Marion had never been his muse, she had been Georgia's.
The saloon keeper glared at Aaron, "Showin' ya that I dun aim on bein' tossed aside!"
"But you're Georgia's creation, not mine," Aaron said, "You should be helping her."
"Yet here she is," Rob muttered, "Imagine that"
"You stay out of this," Aaron snapped at Rob.
"I'm here so she gits -some- say in this supposed re-write. Gawd knows -ya'd take credit fer all it otherwise."
"I want her here helping me!" Aaron exclaimed.
Marion narrowed her eyes, "Oh, so ya'd rather git Fancy Miss Nancy's help then -mine-?"
"I'd be glad of your help," Aaron tried.
"You changed yer tune fast, Mister Fox," she glared at him, crossing her arms, "Sure ain't what ya were hintin' at!"
"Better watch yerself, Piano-Man," Rob put in unhelpfully, "Yer diggin' a hole ya ain't gonna be able ta get out of…"
"Yes, thank you," Aaron muttered. Then he approached Marion, changing his tone a bit. "I do want your help," he said placatingly, "But I didn't think I'd get it. You're a very busy woman, running the saloon all by yourself."
"Headliner too, most nights," she huffed. But she uncrossed her arms.
"I know," Aaron said with a smile, "You're a big star. You… don't have time to waste on… someone like me."
Marion sighed, "What is it you fellas see in her?" she muttered.
"Me or him?" Aaron asked, jerking a thumb back at Rob.
"Well, I can only speak for me," Aaron said, "Nancy reminds me of my wife, Georgia."
"Oh," Marion said shortly, "So ya want a meek, mild-mannered, willingly obeying damsel in distress who dotes on everything you say? I kin do that too, ya know!"
Aaron held up his hands in a gesture of surrender, "Hold on a minute…"
Without preamble, Marion took his arm, "My darlin' Mister Fox, ya've got to get to work." She led him over to the piano, "Sit yerself down now. Dontcha worry about a thing besides creatin'." She beamed at him, "I know that yer the best composer in the whole history of the world." She placed a pen in his hand, "Now, can I getcha anything? You'll need ta keep yer strength up."
"Uh…" Aaron said eloquently.
Marion sat down next to him, still clinging to him, "I love ta watch my man work."
"This is," Aaron hesitated, looking down at the woman clinging to his arm, "This is a bit out of character for you, you know."
Marion pushed him away, "Jus' givin' ya what ya wanted!" she shot back.
"That's not quite what I want," Aaron said awkwardly.
"Ya said that ya wanted Fancy Miss Nancy," she snapped, "That ya'd prefer her company over mine!"
"I…" Aaron trailed off uncertainly.
"Watch it there, Piano-Man," Rob made a digging motion.
The composer detached himself from Marion and stood up, trying to get away from the two apparitions, but Rob blocked his way. "She is yer wife too, jus' as much as Miss Nancy is. Maybe more so."
"She's my wife's creation," Aaron corrected automatically.
"Tho if ya dun want her anymore," Rob moved towards Marion, "I'll pick up th' pieces of her broken heart." He took Marion's arm gently.
"Who said I didn't want her?" Aaron almost shouted, darting over and pulling Marion away from Rob. He pulled her into his arms. "I miss you," he whispered.
Marion let him hold her for a moment. She waited for him to close his eyes, and then she yanked away, slapping him.
Aaron's eyes flew opened and he looked stunned, setting a hand on his cheek, "Georgia," he protested automatically, "Please don't be like this."
"I ain't yer ex-wife, Mister Fox!"
Her words hit him harder than her slap had. What was he doing? Since he was without his partner, he had conjured up a replacement. Almost in a daze, he started towards his piano.
Rob moved in his way.
"Move," he snarled.
"Hear me out, Piano-man," Rob said, "I've got an idea fer the song."
"What?" he asked flatly.
"Since they dun like th' ladies singin' it, why not give it ta me?"
"What?" Marion exclaimed, "You want another song?"
"Why not?" Rob grinned cheekily, "Show's off my voice."
"Not ta mention yer huge ego," Marion muttered, rolling her eyes.
"Aww c'mon Miss Marion!" Rob replied. "I know ya'd -love- ta hear me sing another song. 'Specially somethin' as big an' epic as th' Boat number." He struck a pose.
"You just want to impress her," Aaron grumbled, "Just like the real Rob Hood."
"Ya know, that's the first brilliant thing ya've said all night, Piano-Man."
"Ha ha," Aaron answered humorlessly.
Rob stopped posing and turned to Aaron, "What, ya don't believe me?"
"Well, you are a character in my head, so I ought to know what you're thinking," Aaron said, "although, to give credit where credit is due, Bobby Pepper did play a part in your creation."
Rob stopped in his tracks and turned back to Aaron, "Ya think I'm Bobby Pepper?"
"You're Rob Hood," Aaron said, "But you're as much Bobby Pepper as she's Georgia," he indicated Marion, who didn't react much. She was watching Rob curiously, as the outlaw was looking a bit uncomfortable. "Behind that mask, you look like your actor."
"That's what you think," Rob repeated, "Tell me, how many times have I taken off my mask?"
"Not since we started rehearsal," Aaron admitted.
"And you are sure that I look like Bobby Pepper?" he asked again, his hands going to his mask. He slowly untied it and removed it, holding the cloth mask in his hands.
"Of course you d-" Aaron stopped mid sentence, staring. Without the mask, Rob Hood was Alan O'Dell again. Alan was Nancy's true love.
The fictional man gave Aaron a faint grin, "Surprised, piano man?"
"You're not Bobby…" Aaron whispered. It had been so much easier to fight with Rob Hood when he had the face of Aaron's arch rival. But this… he had been fighting with his own reflection. "You're…"
"I…" Aaron closed his eyes, "You're right… I just didn't want to hear it."
Rob started to flicker, as if on a TV set that was losing reception. He held out a hand to Marion, who joined him. Aaron watched the two of them flicker and fade out.
He closed the lid on his piano. They were gone. She was gone. But then again, what else was new? She was always leaving him. He needed her, and she was gone.
"Mr. Fox?" came a soft female voice.
Aaron turned to see Nancy standing next to his piano."I'm sorry I left in such a hurry," she said softly, "Something upset me."
"Probably me," he sighed.
Her eyes widened, "No! You could never-"
"You know I could," he said gently, "You don't have to make excuses for me this time." A faint smile crossed his face, "But, I'm glad that you're back."
"Rob Hood told me that you could use some help," she said shyly.
"I'm pretty hopeless on my own," he agreed.
"Rob is much better at this sort of thing," she said, "but I'll do my best."
"Well, he-" Aaron stopped and sighed, "I haven't been able to come up with anything."
"Chris and the detective are right though," Nancy said, "I never liked In The Same Boat, especially with Jessica in the lead role."
"Maybe we should have Rob sing it after all," Aaron said thoughtfully, "Yes…" he picked up his pencil, "we could have Rob Hood and his men heading up the mighty Colorado river." He gave Nancy a wink," A real He-Man approach this time."
She giggled and blushed at that.
"I think we had it that way in an original draft," the composer paged through his notes. It took him a few minutes to find it, "Ah ha! Here we are."
"Are you going to write an entirely new song?" Nancy asked with interest.
"No," Aaron said, "there's not enough time, and I couldn't do it alone. But I can adjust the existing song."
"It will give Tuck and Lil' John another song as well, then," the school teacher said with a nod.
Aaron nodded absently. He spread blank paper on the piano, clenched his pencil in his teeth and started to work.
"Mr. Fox?" Nancy interrupted shyly.
"May I stay and hear you work, Mr. Fox?" Nancy asked, "I do love to hear you play…"
A smile crossed Aaron's face and he spat out the pencil, "I would love it if you would stay," he said, "But under on condition."
"Call me Aaron. "