A/N: This is something quite experimental for me. It's a piece with only one line of dialogue, and without a single plot thread beyond "bits of Tony's future". Hold me, I'm scared.
Warning: Characters we love will die.
Disclaimer: Disclaimed.


He doesn't know what lust is until he finally gives in to it. Foolishly, be believes the act will scratch the itch that's been plaguing him for years. The reality is more like a hit of meth—he's addicted and dependent from the moment his hands first touch her bare skin. He takes her down the rabbit hole with him, and she goes willingly. It's a moment of weakness that sets him up for life.

...

He doesn't know what beauty is until the first morning he wakes up with her and realizes he's completely in love. Her hair is wild, her lips are swollen and she's not wearing a scrap of makeup, but she makes his heart stop. This is her as she really is. Private, intimate, with all her walls down. Words of love and hope tumble from his lips before his heart can seek permission from his head, and then he holds his breath as he awaits her response. Right before hypoxia takes him out she tells him she loves him too, and then he almost passes out anyway.

...

He doesn't know the darkness inside him until she tells him what they did to her. Steady, horrific words are whispered in a hush without prompt or reason, but he absorbs every one of them. Feels every one of them like spikes being driven into his heart and soul. They scar his memory and blur his concept of what is just. They make him shake with rage and fear. His feelings towards her captors were already unequivocally murderous, but he begins to indulge in fantasies around their sniper's bullet missing its target so that his own hands might get to torture Saleem into a slow, violent and horrific death. For weeks after she tells him, he finds himself reaching for her as if touch will assure him she survived it. For months after she tells him, he smiles at the vision he conjures every night of her captor bleeding into the dust. For decades after she tells him, he thanks whatever nameless power gave her the strength to move on with her life and forgive. He knows if she had cracked, he would have broken with her.

...

He doesn't know what it is to feel lost until his first few weeks as team leader in a new city. He finds that he doubts himself when he doesn't have his old team to rely on, and the bravado he's spent his life projecting takes a serious hit. The devil within him whispers that he'll never be able to make a decision without his boss. He'll never be able to move confidently without his partner at his back. He'll never be able to lead someone without the existing talent of his probie. He's so busy worrying that his new team won't respect him that he doesn't notice that they already think he's some kind of legend.

...

He doesn't know what anxious is until the two agents he's responsible for are seriously endangered. They're watching each other's backs just like he taught them to, but their shared stubbornness puts them in situations that make him want to tear his hair out. In a moment of blinding clarity he realizes what he and his partner must have put their boss through for almost a decade. As soon as his agents are both safe and accounted for, he calls the boss man and leaves a message of apology that amuses the silver-haired patriarch to no end.

...

He doesn't know what need is until they spend six months in different cities and he accepts he can't function without her. His career is taking off, and his team is making a name for itself for all the right reasons. But he decides it's not worth a damn if he can't see her and touch her and love her every day. In the end, his dedication to securing justice for the innocent turns out to be no match for his dedication to her. He tells her he's coming back, but then she tells him he's too late. She's already booked a ticket to come to him.

...

He doesn't know what bravery is until his partner throws away her entire life and commits to him on the other side of the country. While he believes that she loves him, he knows she's not prone to making impulsive, romantic gestures. She has always thought in practicalities, and so he can't quite believe that she would gamble on them when everyone else thinks they're destined to burn bright before quickly dying. She tells him it's not bravery, but faith in him and her inability to accept that their time is up. He's never felt so loved.

...

He doesn't know what alone is until the night she leaves and says she doesn't know when she'll return. By now he lives and breathes with her, and the quiet, dark, empty house is too much to endure. He punishes himself with drink and self-hating thoughts until the morning sun hits him in the face, and he realizes the world did not stop turning. They spend months fighting and yelling and crying, but also trying, and neither of them ever entertains the thought of giving up and moving on.

...

He doesn't know what desire is until she spends a week teasing him from the other side of the world. She crowds his voicemail, his email, his phone's inbox with sounds, pictures and words that leave him speechless and half mad. He's never wanted to touch her more (although he's said that a million times), and by the time she's home he's been walking painfully for days. She teases him to the point of pain and tears before she floods his veins with bliss. He decides he's waited long enough and slides a diamond onto her finger while she sleeps. She never takes it off, and a year later he wakes up with a permanent gold band of his own. They never get around to making it official.

...

He doesn't know what luck is until the day a bullet travels clean through his chest and misses every organ, artery and important piece of bone. Still, it takes him too long to pull himself out of the dark, and even after he's woken up the urge to slip back into the abyss is almost too strong to resist. She's there every day while he recovers—his living, breathing reason to expend energy on fighting—but she doesn't start crying until his expression assures her he's lucid enough to understand why she's telling him they've only got seven months to get their shit together.

...

He doesn't know what panic is until he's handed his gooey, red, screaming baby daughter for the first time, and he catches on that her life is completely dependent on him not screwing up. He doesn't know how he can possibly be responsible enough to protect her against his own stupidity and inexperience. But his partner's smile and tears over his first moments as a father make him determined to do the best he can. Better than his father. Better than her father.

...

He doesn't know what unconditional love is until a moment later when he touches his daughter's soft-as-clouds skin and feels her butterfly heart beat against his fingertips. He recognizes his mouth under his partner's nose, and the wave of devotion and protectiveness that slams into him almost brings him to his knees. All she does in their first moments together is scream bloody murder, but his paternal blindness has already kicked in and he finds the ruckus easy to forgive. She's three minutes old and already owns his ass, but he couldn't care less. He eagerly hands over his heart to her forever.

...

He doesn't know what hatred is until her father makes it clear that he doesn't want to be a grandfather. Although she never says it, he knows she was hoping that the arrival of the little girl would be the first stone in a bridge repaired. He cradles perfection in the crook of his arm as he listens to her deliver words of celebration in her native tongue, and although he doesn't hear the cold-hearted rejection it shows clearly on her face. He hates him for ruining this moment for her, and wonders if the asshole never considered that his strong, beautiful daughter might share her heart and blood with another one day. Then it dawns on him that the asshole probably expected her to be dead before she had the chance, and he hates him even more.

...

He doesn't know what respect is until 500 people turn up to farewell the medical examiner who guided so many through their darkest moments, and turned them all into Trivial Pursuit champions. He hears hundreds of odd, affectionate and unbelievable tales from strangers, and he realizes that as much as their dear doctor loved to share stories of his life, he never got to tell even a quarter of them. For the rest of his days, he never finds a better example of a life fully lived.

...

He doesn't know what forgiveness is until he decides he doesn't want to hold grudges. When his father asks to be part of his family again, his tongue touches the roof of his mouth with the impulse to say no. But his limited time in a father's shoes has been enough to give him perspective. He imagines his daughter telling him no, and the pain takes his breath away. Senior ends up with a yes, and his daughter ends up with two grandfathers after all—one by blood, one by love—who fight over who gets to spoil her more. He thinks his relationship with Senior hasn't been this easy since he was his daughter's age.

...

He doesn't know what happiness is until a random Saturday morning when they wake up wrapped around the toddler who appeared in their doorway hours ago complaining of nightmares. In that moment he knows that if he lost everything else, everything he has outside of the women in this bed, his friends, his job, his house, his car, his DVD collection, his original Thunderball poster—everything—he would be okay. They are all he needs to keep breathing. All he needs to keep moving. All he needs to make life worth living. For a moment he contemplates losing one of them, and the pain that lances through his chest makes his eyes water and breath catch. He hugs his partner closer and tells her he loves her, and then he loves them both even more when the toddler lets out a snore that could make the windows shake, and his partner mutters a profanity of disbelief.

...

He doesn't know what self-confidence is until his dad sincerely tells him he's doing a great job with the whole "family thing", and he realizes he already knew that. He's not perfect—Lord, that's an understatement—and he screws something up every other day. But where his dad tired of his own mistakes and sent Junior away to school, he finds himself more determined to learn from his missteps and do better. He's lost count of how many times his inner voice has declared that he doesn't know what the hell he's doing, but whatever he is doing seems to be enough. The little girl loves him with all her heart, and even when she sends him to the heights of frustration and stress he can't contemplate sending her away to be someone else's problem. He doesn't know what he's doing, but he knows what he's doing is right. And that he's really, really good at it.

...

He doesn't know what funny is until he starts watching the world through his daughter's eyes. He spends her formative years fascinated by her fascination and rediscovering the joy and absurdity in everyday life. Her questions and theories as to the why and how of things has him in stitches most of the time, and he knows for sure that she is a genius. It's the only explanation for the creativity in her justifications for the way things are. He becomes one of those fathers who relates every side-splitting anecdote to his co-workers, and he knows they only listen to be polite. But he doesn't care. He remains convinced that she'll grow up to be the 2030s' Lucille Ball.

...

He doesn't know what fighting is until his gothic little sister refuses to lie down and take it, and decides to beat the odds. She attacks the disease with grace, positivity and an unshakable faith in God and science. She declares that she has too much to live for—her work, her nieces, her adoptive father and her siblings—and dares them to tell her otherwise. None of them have the balls to take her on, and in the end, neither does the disease. When she leaves the hospital at the end of her treatment, she skips all the way to her hearse.

...

He doesn't know how much pain his heart can take until he spends two agonizing days sitting beside his 16-year-old daughter's hospital bed, keeping vigil and protecting his partner from the worst of the tests their baby is forced to endure. When he's told she might not wake up, the deals he makes with God ensures he'll be stone cold and in his grave if He ever decides to collect. He carries the breaks in her bones from when car met tree for months inside him until the boss not-so-subtly reminds him that he should be grateful she's still there to worry about.

...

He doesn't know what grief is until his mentor and father figure passes away two months after the diagnosis. He tries to step into their patriarch's sensible shoes to hold their family together, but some are inconsolable and others refuse to talk. He delivers the eulogy flawlessly before falling apart at the wake, and if she hadn't been there to soothe him after the impotent rage died down and he was only left with tears, he's not sure he would have made it through the day.

...

He doesn't know what letting go is until his daughter brings home the man she'll eventually marry. At first he doesn't like the chatty, confident joker, and he can't work out why his partner lets him charm her so much. He dismisses the kid as a Mr Right Now and puts little effort into getting to know him until his partner kicks his ass and tells him exactly how his behavior is hurting their girl. He makes a huge effort to put his protective feelings aside to let the guy into their family, and to accept that their baby is a fully grown adult who doesn't need her hand held anymore (the next time they regularly hold hands, she'll be helping him). By the time he walks her down the aisle, he almost likes the guy.

...

He doesn't know what guilt is until his probie is killed in the line of duty. Although it's been 20 years since they'd worked on the same team, and eight since they were at the same agency, he still feels overwhelming guilt for not being there to watch his six. For not preparing him better. For letting a kid as young as him (he'll always be 25 and chubby-cheeked in his head) run around on his own and face off against the scum of the earth. The guilt becomes suffocating when he has to face his probie's 13-year-old daughter, but she's just like her father—full of kindness, innocence and common sense—and so she doesn't understand why her uncle is begging for her forgiveness. The only things she wants from him are solace and love. He gives them freely.

...

He doesn't know what content feels like until he's surrounded by family and friends on his birthday and realizes that 'almost 70' isn't a big deal. He's been dreading these birthdays since he was 20 because it always seemed like the end of the road. But he's so ridiculously happy with how his life turned out that instead of preparing for the end, he finds that he can't wait to see what the following years will bring. He sneaks away with his partner and little sister later that night to mourn the three they've lost along the way, and then celebrate the time they all had together. They're utterly drunk by the time his daughter finds them and rolls her eyes as she hands over cake and his best and final present of the day—an ultrasound of what she insists is not a jellybean.

...

He doesn't know what pride is until his first grandchild is born. As soon as they leave their daughter's hospital room, he high fives his partner and triumphantly declares that they didn't screw up. She's in as much shock at their success as he is when everyone (including them) was so nervous that they'd destroy each other. But it's 30 years later, they're more in love than ever, and their daughter is happy, healthy, successful and admirably well adjusted. Without question, she is his greatest achievement.

...

He doesn't know what fear is until she slips away first. He's with her as her heartbeat slows and she leaves him with the parting words they thought would be reserved for him. "Tony, I've seen this film..." They share a final smile before he promises that he'll follow her soon, and she's gone before he can add that he loves her. He feels lost and alone for the first time in 40 years, and his weakened heart can only cope with the strain for another six weeks. In the end, it's not the bullets or the plague or a bomb that takes him out. It's love.

...

He doesn't know what success is until his final moments when he looks back on his life and decides that he did it right.


Brief, but like I said: it's an experiment.
Also, that was as close to babyfic as I'm ever going to get.