Title: puzzle pieces in your hand
Disclaimer: The show or characters ain't mine, ok?
Characters: Priya, Tony, T
Genre: romance, family, angst
Word Count: 3,004
Summary: Priya, Tony, and the years in between the collapse of the dollhouse and restoration of society (Epitaph Two). A look at the development of their romance and its descent.
Prompt: Inspired by both 'penny_lane_42' and 'ellievanna' at LJ's Fall Fandom Free-For-All, whose prompts on desiring any kind of Victor/Sierra fic finally pushed me to finish a fic that I ignored for a good two years. Thank you, both!
These days, the light in the treatment room stays on throughout the night.
Echo insists that the former Actives still hiding in the LA branch of the dollhouse not be left in the dark about what is going on. (The world outside is decaying, Tony's glimpsed it with his own eyes; trash littered from end to end, pillaged cars with broken glass, faint traces of dry blood on the walls of shops.) And Topher, acting stranger than usual, fails to understand Echo's metaphor and keeps the light on dim.
Not that Tony's complaining. Because this light lets him stare at Priya's sleeping form in his arms. The nightmares that plagued her when she first came back have stopped and he admires (envies, even) her for that. (Tony still has his fair share, and he can't quite tell if they are nightmares from his past or those of his imminent future.)
But in the moment, Tony focuses on more pleasant images. Like how Priya's eyelashes curl slightly even in her sleep, and the light from above creates a shadow that makes them look even longer. He runs his hands over stomach and thinks about how remarkably thin she is. He focuses on the smoothness of her skin (he sometimes hesitates to kiss her neck as to not scratch her with his stubble, but tonight is not one of those times).
Mmm, Priya moans. Somethin' wrong?
No. Didn't mean to wake you. He tugs the disentangled blanket from Priya and drapes it over both of them; he almost misses the snug feeling that sleeping in the pod gave him. But the night Priya became Priya again, she refused to sleep in that tombstone, as she called it, ever again. (He's pleased that she hasn't snubbed the co-ed showers.)
Y' know, not for nothin', Tony murmurs, but you really hog the blanket. You should eat more, get fatter, and be less cold. I'm thinkin' we start you off with three daily bowls of pasta.
Priya chuckles lightly. I guarantee you I will be sufficiently plump in a few months. Thanks to you.
What? He responds, getting comfortable beneath the tiny blanket.
Oh. I'm pregnant. A beat skips. I didn't tell you that?
He surprises himself when he lets out a laugh. This has gotta be the stupidest thing we've done. Now. Of all times.
Priya's slightly affronted. Oh, I dunno. I've done pretty stupid things in my youth. I mean, that art degree, for starters… She sighs in feigned regret, but pushes her sarcasm aside. She swallows and asks, You don't really mean that, do ya?
Tony's sure it's his imagination at work (coupled with his accelerated heart beat and the chills that seem to be running through him), but the room seems to get so much brighter.
He smiles at her and says: I didn't get to finish. It's also the best thing.
She knows the world's in bad shape. She's been up there a few times with Echo for supplies and it looks like a dystopia she's only read about in literature. (She wonders how long the shops have been abandoned, wonders how the skies could be so dark without a shedding a drop of rain, wonders how it can be that dead animals in the street elicit no more than a weak gasp from her.)
The thing is? She doesn't care much.
Priya doesn't know what's happened to her. Sometimes she thinks she's absorbed past Active personalities like Echo has and they've hardened her against sights like this. Or maybe stabbing Nolan (over and over again, every jab in his chest acting as payback for every time he turned her into his brainwashed mistress) has turned her bitter, sharp and unsympathetic to the misfortunes of others.
But honestly, Priya knows that she cannot concern herself with the misfortunes of others when she needs to focus on keeping her own family safe. (Any negative thoughts of the world out there will pollute the joy T has brought into her life. And it might be egocentric of her, but she won't let that happen.)
She never envisioned motherhood in her future, but she's not surprised at how much she adores it.
Her son is beautiful, in every sense of the word.
He is nearly one year old and he feels the need to grab at everything in his sight. On more than one occasion, he has reached for and pulled on Adelle's long hair. Adelle laughs, painfully. Priya knows that a dry British sense of humor is ingrained deep in Adelle's bones and she covers her smile as she realizes her child has made Adelle, of all people, laugh.
T is a quiet boy, as Tony and Priya always keep their son occupied with a variety of toys. Priya snags a few stuffed animals for him during her visits above ground. And Tony fashions toy trucks, animals, and nearly any other object from miscellaneous supplies in the dollhouse. Together, Priya and Tony create and enact plays for T (always with happy endings; they make sure of it) and play house with him (when T is older, and they have relocated to Safe Haven, he inquires why his small toy house doesn't have any chairs in it. Priya never has a good answer, so she doesn't say anything at all.)
Her son is beautiful. When he laughs, she forgets about her past (Tony's not the only one with nightmares). When he cries, she forgets about her present (what does she care about the world out there when her own world is in pain). And when he sleeps, she forgets that they might be all doomed, dead within years, months, or weeks, even.
Because she would do anything to protect T. And if that means letting the rest of the world rot, then so be it.
I can't just let the world rot, Priya.
Why the hell not? Tony knows that she doesn't care if it makes her seem callous. He's leaving her and T to fight in some war that Priya thinks he's got nothing to do with; he knows that she'll be downright violent if she needs to be.
You think that we can just stay down here and it'll be okay? Sweetheart, it's the friggin' apocalypse up there! It's not just gonna go away.
Priya breathes in deep. Just. Don't. You heard Adelle. We'll be leaving for Safe Haven in about two month, maybe less. Come with us. Please.
No, he swallows hard and chokes on saliva. (It's all the more painful for the fact that he recently caught himself a sore throat from T during the holiday season, though it didn't seem like it – no Christmas tree, no presents. Except for the vigil. The prayers that Adelle organizes. But Tony's sure as hell that they're not celebrating a savior's birth.)
He continues. It's not good enough. Safe Haven is only a temporary fix. They'll keep comin' and they'll find us there. The Techs need me up there. Fightin'.
And I don't? Tony thinks that she means to say it harshly, so that the piercing of her broken voice would make him stay. But it comes out like an inquiry, traced with softness and devastation. And, for Tony, that is so much worse than any amount of badgering. T doesn't need you? He's barely three years old. And you're – what – just going to abandon him?
It's a challenge that Tony doesn't know how to approach. He stares at the floor, clears his throat. The Techies need someone with Active architecture, but it needs to be a volunteer – they can't make dolls do whatever they please anymore.
Priya chuckles bitterly. And you're going to step in like their damned savior? If you're leaving us just because you have some chance to play superhero–
I'm leaving you because it's the only way I know how to keep you safe!
He's not what people would call an optimist, but Tony sees a future where Priya takes T to play on the swings, where T goes to school and comes home smiling (still laughing from a joke his friend told him, or taking pleasure in the fact that he scored a perfect grade on his Math test).
And if he needs to go to help make that happen, then any fate that awaits him is a small price to pay.
The Techs give him a couple of weeks to settle his personal affairs before they come and get him. (And if that doesn't sound like a death sentence already, Priya doesn't know what does.)
Priya's tried every method to convince Tony to stay. She's screamed, rationalized, pleaded. All to no avail. (Years ago, she would have found Tony's determination admirable and it would've given Priya butterflies in her stomach. Now she calls it stubbornness and it gives her a taste of bile in her throat.)
With only one day left before his departure (or abduction, as she thinks of it), she tries seduction. He's trying to advise (or reprimand) her for something or other. Priya sees Tony's mouth moving, hears his voice, but it all sounds muffled to her. (She is elsewhere – in her mind, Tony's voice is telling her that he loves her and their son, that he will always be there for them. She wonders if Tony always knew what a fundamental liar he was.)
She has another one of her headaches today, but the meds they have pilfered from abandoned hospitals over the months remain perfectly untouched (bottles filled to the top with capsules, plastic seals surrounding lids unbroken). The pain she feels in her head is trifling compared to the one she feels in her soul.
So she turns to Tony and ambles up to him slowly. The arms that she had wrapped around her chest (for warmth? security? a means to keep herself from totally breaking down? – she isn't sure anymore) come down briefly before they wrap themselves around him. One hand finds its way beneath his flimsy T-shirt, the other around his ear, leisurely tracing the outline of his jaw. She feels his body stiffen at her touch and she slyly smiles into his neck, the heat of her breath tickling his skin.
It's been three weeks since they last touched like this. (Tony has remained celibate and steadfast lest he surrender his determination to leave to Priya's intellect, beauty, charm … pure godliness, if Tony is honest with himself.)
Priya's hand starts caressing Tony's neck and shoulder, her teeth beginning to nibble on his ear when she hears him say, Don't, resolute without hint of regret.
Priya pulls herself away from him and turns away.
He takes a shallow breath. It's better if you – if we – don't.
Better for who?, she wants to say, but she bites on her lip. She doesn't want her last memory of him to be an angry one.
You're bleeding?, he declares aloud, nervously.
My new birthmark … so I'll always know who I am, she explains to him and her body shivers when his cold fingers trace the edges of her latest scar (the only scar she's proud of).
Tony gently pulls her shirt back down as he intends to grab her hand, before realizing what that would implicate. Instead he says, C'mon. I wanna show you something.
He shows her the back-up stash of their original personalities hidden inside the crevices of the treatment room. She wants to close her eyes and fall backwards, joyfully, into the relief of this knowledge, but then she wonders how bad things will have to get if they are ever to use them, and so she keeps her eyes open, straight on Tony, instead.
What if they wipe you?, Priya announces, suddenly and frightfully. Instantly, she wants to shove the words back into her mouth, but she can't turn back now. What if the Techs wipe you, Tony? Wipe your memories of everything – of your past, of your present, of T, of me, of us? What if you come back to us, unscathed and whole, and you won't remember who the hell we are?
They won't, okay. They won't. And even if someone does… Tony stands still for a moment and in the moment, Priya fears he's already gotten lost within the neurons and synapses in his brain. Priya looks up to the ceiling, exhaling all the breath and fear and madness she has been holding in the pit of the stomach, when she feels Tony's fingers in her hair, and he echoes words that kept her grounded for so long. You know, don't you? You know that no matter who I am, no matter what they put in my skull, I always remember you. That won't change.
With that, Tony places a soft kiss in her hair before picking up his bag and exiting the room.
It's been a decade since he was last a soldier, but Tony reverts back into the business like he never left at all.
He needs to. He needs it. It steadies him, keeps him balanced, focused. He's heard it said that it's not a crime to need your job, but he knows he's taken it to a whole other level.
So Tony immerses his body (brain handed over to the Tech-heads for improvements, his mouth consuming food and energy for them, his hands assembling and disassembling equipment for them – only them) and soul (what's left of it, anyway) into his work.
His memories are still his though.
(We can't have T be involved in any of this. You know that, right? Our son cannot be anywhere near this crap.
It's not crap, he tried to argue, futilely. In the right hands, technology can be a big asset, Pri. That's why I'm joining the Techs. I believe they'll help us put down the Butchers and everything else that made this world turn into a race for survival, paved with black ash and torn limbs.
Priya swallowed hard, shaking her head. YOU believe it. Not me. I don't trust it.
Yeah, I know. Tony sighed. Okay, he nodded stiffly, and it felt like he was bleeding on the inside - a silent sacrifice. Our son will never see a piece of tech in his life. Not even me. I promise.)
So Tony collaborates with his comrades to produce better gear. He uses that equipment to take out a few Butchers, here and there. His group settles back indoors at the end of the day and scheme on ways to take out the big gun itself, Rossum Cooperation.
At night, his dreams consume his thoughts with images of a wonderful woman with long smooth legs and a dazzling smile and of a little boy with eyes as big and bright as the full moon who laughs at every stupid unfunny thing his daddy does, but during the day, he throws himself into his work until it wears him to the bone and beneath.
(He needs to. He has nothing else left.)
She's not sure why she's doing this. They had made an agreement not to do such a thing and she thinks that all of the walls she's worked so hard on putting up (a fortress of lumber and steel around her heart with an opening so small that only a select few are allowed in) are coming down at the sight of his face (so very different than what she remembers – metal, bulleted, pebbles making a semi-circle around his ear and a tattoo, long and detailed, taking up space on his neck – yet still so similar that it makes Priya's heart skip a beat).
Priya crouches down next to T, smiling secretly into his shoulder-blade, as she introduces him to his father.
She sees Tony shoot her a quick peek, a look of relief, gratitude, and elation washing over him in seconds, before being replaced with a certain timidity and anxiety.
Priya watches as his eyes dart down, briefly, as if trying to compose himself, before looking up again and extending his hand to T. (The smile that is set on her face craves to give way toward a laugh, a full-blown, good-natured laugh because it's endearing that he would have such formality – a handshake is such an adult action – for such a small child.)
I'm Anthony, he says, but you can call me Tony.
That's my name too.
Such a simple statement makes Tony stare at the ground, nodding animatedly, with a grin tugging at his lips.
(Priya feels a spark in her heart budding into a fire. It starts burning up the wood and melting down the steel surrounding her heart and she knows now, for certainty, as a tear slips down her cheek, that she's made the right choice.)
She goes to take a seat next to T and hands him a book.
That's T's favorite book, she says to Tony, and then looking at her son, she adds, Isn't that right, love?
T gives a half-nod, already paying full attention to the book within his hands, as he turns from page to page to find his favorite pictures.
Do you want Tony to read it you? She notices how Tony's hastily picks up his head, like a dog who's heard his name called. He shoots her a glance that she cannot quite interpret, so she goes back to T and continues: He's an excellent reader, y'know. What do you say?
This time, T nods enthusiastically and opens the book to the front page for his father. Priya starts playing with T's hair, while Tony clears his throat.
For a moment, Priya closes her eyes and gently rests her head on her son's. T's hair feels soft against her cheek, Tony's calm and soothing voice eases the headache that she had had all day long, and in that moment, she releases a breath of bliss.
(This is a déjà vu she never thought she would have again. It never felt so good to be wrong.)
A/N: Positive feedback and constructive criticism are both highly welcomed and appreciated. Hope you enjoyed the fic!