Prompt/Challenge: For Alchemine. So the prompt was "Any sort of "what happened next" story set after the last episode would be great. Did he really wake up or did he move to a different level of reality?" Written for Yuletide 2013.
Author's Note: En brief: the producers have already informed us that his mind was splitting again, that he further lost his foothold on reality, and that he neither woke up nor was ever in a coma. Therefore, I have taken this approach to the "What happens next...?" question and am calling the new timeline the "white" timeline.
Don't Let Go
It's turtles all the way down...
Dream upon dream, dream within a dream, mind cracking open one more rivening seam, bleeding with memory and hope and impossibility. Reality breaks and wasn't that always the point?
He steps into warmth, into his wife's arms with his son standing behind her and there is the sum of all the days and dreams and nightmares he's walked through since. She got her wish (and when did Hannah ever not?) because there she was pregnant and laughing at him while Rex pretended in his teenage boyishness not to notice and not to notice that his parents still looked at each other like they were in love.
It was a dream and this time, he knew it. It wasn't him wondering if this was the waking world or that was; it was a dream, his own perfect dream, and for a few moments, he grasped it in his hands like warm, hard reality and maybe they didn't know why he was hugging them so tightly, but he couldn't stop holding onto them. "You have no idea how much you mean to me."
Rex just shook his head with that whole teenage look of 'Dad's having a midlife crisis,' and Hannah shot back that warning look of mother's everywhere before leaning her forehead against Michael's.
"It's okay," she whispered. "We're okay. Nobody got hurt. It's not your fault."
Michael looked at her, puzzled for a freeze-frame moment, then got it and had to breathe a moment. The accident. In reality, it had killed one of them, but in this world, they'd all made it through alive somehow. He held her a little tighter and nodded, as if to remind himself. "Yeah, I'll be fine."
She gave him that smile that encompassed all of him, and a little sadness, that crinkled the corners of her eyes—the one that said it didn't matter one way or another to her, she loved him anyway.
"Bye, Mom. Dad." Rex disappeared out the door to school without a backward glance, maybe glad to escape any more of his father getting too sentimental.
Michael looked over his shoulder at the passage and realized that even in all this craziness, he had gained something by losing them both. "You sure he's really a family guy?" he asked, easy humor, smiling back at his wife.
"He's a teen," Hannah reminded him gently. Always that perfect bridge between the two men in her family.
Michael nodded, kissed her forehead, and wondered to himself why it took losing Hannah to really be able to connect with his own son. He rubbed her stomach and she slapped him off with a laugh.
"Go, get ready for work before Bird calls."
It dazed him for a moment. Bird was... No. "All right." He backed up and assimilated that Bird was alive in this world. Effrem Vega had grown on him and was the one person Michael didn't think he would see again. He glanced back at his wife, humming to herself in the kitchen. He glanced around their house and murmured to himself again, "I'll be fine."
Rex was waiting up for him when Michael finally got home. It had been late—and hard—hashing out the truth with Bird, who didn't really want to believe it even though he couldn't deny it. Michael had expected Rex to be in bed.
"Thought you were calling it a night early," he reminded Rex as he pulled off his jacket and tossed it on the back of the couch for a moment and sat down.
Rex shrugged. They were still guys, not given to a lot of talking. "Emma was worried about you."
Michael stopped and looked at him for a long moment before chuckling. It was the first time Rex had ever done that, putting his own feelings in someone else's mouth.
But Rex seemed to know what he was thinking and looked annoyed. "She was. When she asked where you were and I said I didn't know, you would've thought I was the parent and a bad one at that."
Michael shook his head, still chuckling. Emma was becoming a part of their family now in a way that made it hurt a little less that this world had no Hannah in it. He could see Emma and Rex marrying, having a family, being a part of his. Eventually. Right now, they were still kids and Michael could still enjoy just having his son as his son. "She's good for you," he said at last.
Rex finally let himself smile. "She's a little crazy."
"In a good way."
Conversation stuttered between them, but they let it die and it didn't feel uncomfortable at all. They didn't need words and interpretations between them anymore. They had finally learned how to connect without that.
Michael leaned over and rubbed Rex's shoulder as he stood. "I'm calling it a night. Don't stay up too late."
"I won't." The answer was too quick and easy with too great a grin.
He thought through what might keep Rex up, then sighed. "Call Emma then, but not too late."
"Seriously, Dad, I won't." Rex still knew how to pull off that teen look, 'Dad's going overboard.'
Michael kept shaking his head as he headed up the stairs. "Kids," he muttered below his breath, but paused in the hallway long enough to hear Rex muttering, "Parents," into his room.
Michael blew out a sigh and went into the master bedroom. His room. It used to be theirs. He looked around at all the small changes and missing signs of a woman's presence. He lay down and closed his eyes, knowing exactly where he was going.
Britten opened his eyes on the familiar comfortless cold of his prison cell. Here in this world, Tricia Harper walked free and he had been confirmed as a lunatic. Bird was dead, and he was in jail, but Hannah was alive, and somewhere so too was his one and only grandchild.
He smiled, almost despite himself. It was worth it.