A/N: If you've read my fics before, be aware: this is not Twific!
This is based in the universe of the musical, Once, which is in turn based on the movie, Once. The story is basically the same, though, so if you've only seen the movie, I think you can follow it.
In both the movie and the musical, the two main characters don't have names. I just can't write an entire fic with unnamed characters, so I had to name them myself. I hope my choices work for you!
There is a tiny bit of Czech in this. I don't speak it, so I did my best. Apologies if I get it wrong. Notes on what I do know at the bottom.
Also, this is unbeta'd so apologies for any errors.
This is complete, so I'll post it all at once.
"Call me when you land."
It's the last thing she says to me before I hang up. I stare at the face of my phone, at her contact info, at her picture, still glowing on the screen.
Overhead, a woman's voice announces that the boarding of Flight 6793 to JFK will begin in fifteen minutes.
It feels so unreal. Me. This airport. This flight. New York. Fiona.
I want to scroll to her name and see her on my screen, more real and immediate than anyone on earth right now, but I don't have her in my phone. I'm not sure Dusana even owns a cell phone. Probably not.
Maybe it's better this way. Maybe she was right. I have CDs full of songs about Fiona. How I met her, how I loved her, how I lost her, how I missed her. Maybe Dusana was right and Fiona is still my future. She held my heart in her hands once, and maybe she wants to again, if I'll let her.
But I know where my heart is. Back behind me in that dodgy recording studio in a bad neighborhood in Dublin. Then I remind myself that it's not then, that night, those magic dark hours we all spent there. The morning came and the spell broke. Even if I turn around now and go back, all I'll find there is peeling linoleum, threadbare rugs, burnt coffee, and walls covered in battered soundproofing foam. There is no music there anymore. No magic. No Dusana. Just some guys recording a jingle for the local supermarket.
There's nothing left for me here. There hasn't been for a long time. Only my Da and the shop and a job that was never meant for me. No purpose, no life, no love.
All I have left is what lies ahead of me. I have this bundle of CDs, our magic digitized and pressed flat. Dusana has her daughter and her husband, finally coming back to claim her. And maybe I have Fiona, waiting for me in that vast unknown city across the sea.
When the woman's voice announces the boarding has begun, I don't hesitate. I hoist my battered bag and I walk down the metal tunnel to the plane. I barely look down at Dublin as the plane disappears into the clouds.
"Declan!" Fiona's waiting beside the baggage carousel when I round the corner. She looks like herself. After so many months, after so much pain, all those songs, I thought she'd be… different. More. The Fiona I sang about was stunning, a siren luring me in to wreck myself on the rocks. This is just Fiona. Just a girl. She's pretty—just as pretty as she always was. Her long sandy hair, the pale dash of freckles across her nose, her light blue eyes, all these things are Fiona's. But in my memory, they added up to more, to a goddess, a succubus, my heart and my ruin. But she's only Fiona, pretty and happy to see me.
I feel tricked, like all of that pain and music was for some phantom, some thing in my head that was never real. This girl waiting for me to reach her doesn't hold the power to wreck anyone. So did she fool me or was I a fool?
As I close the distance to her, I wonder how it will be between us and what we'll say. She left in a bad way, full of bitterness and anger, leaving hurt behind. How do we start over from that place in the middle of a crowded airport? I should have known, though, that Fiona wouldn't be here if she didn't already have a plan. And her plan is "everything is fine".
When I get close, she sprints the last few feet, throwing her arms around my neck, pressing herself into my arms. I'm still carrying my bag and my guitar case, so I can't hug her back. All I can do is lift my arms like I might want to, but the gesture is incomplete. Fiona doesn't care. Her cheek is pressed to my neck and I can smell her hair, different than before.
"I missed you, Declan," she whispers into my shoulder. I don't say anything. I don't know what to say. Not yet.
"You look good," she says, holding me at arm's length. Her eyes are bright and her face is alive, all smiles.
"Thanks. You, too," I reply, because she does look good. She may not be the soul-crushing siren my memories made her out to be, but she definitely looks better than when she left Dublin. Her clothes are different. No long skirts and sandals. She looks like an American girl now, glossy and sharp. "I didn't expect you to be here," I go on, to fill the silence. "You didn't say you'd come meet me."
She brushes me off with a wave of her hand. "I wouldn't leave you on your own in New York!"
I smile, but what I'm thinking is that she left me on my own in Dublin so what's the difference?
"Let's get your bags," she says, wrapping her hands around my arm and leaning into me. "I'll take you home."
Such a strange word for this loud, crowded new city, with this girl who was my other half but is now half-stranger. Am I home? I guess I'll find out.
"Not now, Matka."
"But don't you want Ivanka to look nice for her father? You should change her into a dress."
I am making tidy piles out of the magazines and mail on the little living room table. My hands won't hold still. So much clutter. I want to throw it all away, so everything is perfect and tidy when he gets here, but it's not all mine. Reza's gossip magazines, Andrej's mail… we live with too many people. All our lives so jumbled together. No wonder he left us.
"He hasn't seen Ivanka in nine months. I don't think he'll care what she's wearing."
My mother sniffs and goes back into the kitchen. She's so old-fashioned sometimes, always trying to put Ivanka in little girl dresses and bows in her hair. Ivanka hates dresses and she can't bear the hairbrush. She's sitting on the floor playing with two little cars that Švec brought her. She runs them straight into each other and shouts "Boom" when they collide. She makes all the noises. The squealing tires, the crunching metal, the anguished cries of the dying crash victims. I need to stop letting her watch television with Švec.
I chased my mother out of the room with my snapping but now that she's left me alone, I want her back. I'm too nervous. I don't know what to do with myself. Marek is almost here and I don't know how it will be with him.
For so long I've waited for this moment. I have cried for him and longed for him and still he stayed in Prague. Now, he finally comes and I've made a mess of things before he's even arrived.
I wanted something that made my heart fly. Just one thing and just for a few days. I wanted to steal that moment of freedom for myself, just once. Life is nothing but work and struggle and everything you can'thave. There is so little joy, outside of Ivanka, and even that is threaded through with sacrifice and hard work.
I thought I could steal my moment and then maybe I could turn back to my life satisfied that at least I'd flown once. But as always, I am a stupid girl. I am trapped back on the ground, but I will never forget what it felt like to fly. That feeling eats away at my soul and leaves me hungry, not satisfied. It's because I was foolish to think I could steal my moment and not pay. Declan gave me his music, but he took part of my soul for it and now I have to do without.
Life stretches out before me and I want to cry. I will always feel this loss. Or maybe I'll forget and I won't. That would be worse.
So many months of struggle. Working and raising Ivanka and trying to figure us out and now, at the last moment, when I could finally fix it all, I've gone and broken it again. Marek doesn't know that, though. He doesn't know what I've done and how I feel. And it doesn't matter anyway. That's all over and done with. Declan has gone across the sea to his girl and I am here in Dublin where I will begin again at being a wife.
"Máma!" I call, but before she can answer, he knocks on the door.
I want to hide behind my mother's skirt and make her answer, but I'm not a little girl anymore. I'm a mother and a wife. I'm his wife. And I have a duty to try. I will try. For Ivanka's sake and my own.
I open the door and after all this time, there is Marek. He looks just the same, not older, not tired, not sad. Just Marek.
"You're here!" I say, not sounding at all like myself.
Marek smiles, that knowing half-smile I remember. "Hello, Dusana."
That's all. Just 'hello'. I am past romantic fairy tales, but if I'd been hoping for him to sweep me into his arms and kiss me with all of the passion he'd held back for the months of our separation, I'd have been disappointed. I wasn't expecting it. Not really. It would have been nice, though.
Instead, he reaches for me, resting one hand lightly on my waist, and leans in to kiss my cheek, like a cousin at a wedding.
"You look well," he says, and then his eyes move past me to Ivanka on the floor. Ivanka looks up at him and it breaks my heart when I see the moment of hesitation in her eyes. She's not completely sure who he is. Her father. Then, seeing him standing so close to me must remind her, because she's scrambling to her feet.
"Táta!" she shrieks, flinging her little body at his legs.
He crouches to catch her, his face full of the big, wide smiles he didn't have for me. It's alright, though. He and I, it's complicated. But Ivanka is pure love. I understand that. He hugs her tight and she starts talking all over herself and this breaks the tension. With Ivanka as our distraction, we can move into the room; we can sit and talk.
A few minutes later Máma joins us. She's polite, but I know she doesn't like Marek. She never loved him and since he left us to go back to Prague, it's settled into something much harder. I know what she thinks. She thinks I'm wasting my time on Marek. She thinks I had my chance at happiness and sent him off on a plane to New York. Sometimes, late at night when I'm all alone with all of these thoughts in my head, I'm afraid that she's right. But the truth is, Marek is my husband. For all that has gone wrong between the two of us, together we've made Ivanka. So I will try. Once, I loved him. I loved him so much. I was young and very naïve, but the feelings were real. I just need to find my way back to them. We need to find each other again, the us before Ivanka and Dublin and hardship.
Máma has brought tea and I keep my hands busy pouring a cup for Marek while Ivanka climbs all over his lap and chatters like a little monkey. He runs his hands over her hair, which is always tangled and crazy, and laughs.
"Look at you, little girl. Your mamma has let you grow wild while I was gone."
The dig is exactly what I don't need to hear when I'm trying so hard to do everything right. Because it brings it all back, all the anger and resentment from the months before he left. I let myself forget it when we talked on the phone. I told myself I could let it go and start over. But now I'm sitting still, my fingers digging into the arms of the chair, telling myself not to be hurt by his criticism. That's what it was. He's always careful about it. Nothing in my face or direct. Marek is a mature, educated, enlightened man. That's what he says and what he believes. Cruelty is beneath him. So his is always wrapped in jokes that aren't funny and teasing that doesn't make me smile.
"You know how she is," I finally say, forcing a smile, trying to forget the sting.
"I know how she is," Marek says. He's looking at Ivanka, but he's not talking about her. He's talking about me.
"That's new," he says, nodding to the piano, stuffed into the corner of the living room that is already too crowded. Declan's piano. The moment I look at it, I feel it in my chest. It hurts. It hurts to look at it and it hurts to play it. But I do anyway. Every day, every minute that I can steal from my hard life, I play. Sometimes Declan's songs, sometimes Beethoven. It doesn't really matter.
"It was a gift," I say, my voice barely a whisper. I hadn't thought of an explanation before and I can't think of one now. My mother saves me.
"Dusana has been teaching music here and there. To make ends meet." It's hard to miss the dig in her words, since we've been making do without Marek's help for all these months. "One of her little students moved away and they couldn't take it. It's nice, isn't it? So nice to have music in the house again."
"You can use it to give lessons at home while you watch Ivanka," Marek says. He thinks his idea is grand, but my mother purses her lips in disapproval.
"That's a very good idea," I say, trying to take Marek's side. Máma is upset because she knows what the piano and the music mean to me, but Marek doesn't. He can't. Not ever. Declan, his music, and the days I spent with him making it have nothing to do with Marek. I don't want them to. Besides, I feel like I can't talk about Declan without my feelings showing on my face. That's something Marek can't ever see. Not if I want this to work.
And I do want it to work. It has to.
A/N: Matka is a diminutive of Máma, or "mother". It's considered an endearment, used between people who are very close. In a later chapter, Dusana's mother calls her "Dusanka", which is a diminutive of her name.