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Discussion in 'ONE ON ONES IN CHARACTER' started by Nav, Aug 16, 2016.
The road so far:
“Relax,” Valerie laughed as she pushed up and pressed a kiss against his temple, “There will be plenty of time for you to dote on me while I’m pregnant. You’ve been doing so much for me already; so let me have this one. I just wanted to make my loving, exhausted husband something nice to eat for the first real breakfast of the rest of our lives.”
It was a strange realization that from that moment on, their lives would be a whirlwind of doctor’s appointments and house shopping, redecorating and work, birth and Nadia. There were so many incredible things to look forward to that the future had gone from scary to exciting. They had forever in front of them and she was ready to spend each and every day appreciating and loving her life right down to the core of it. But more than anything, she would love Tavarius above all else with everything she had because he was it. If it wasn’t for him, for his strength, resilience and love – they would have never made it.
He was the start of her world, the end of it and everything in between. Love didn’t seem like the right word anymore and it hadn’t for a long time, but Valerie knew that above all else she believed that Tavarius was her soul mate. There was no argument. He completed her in every single way and their future? Their child? Would be miraculous and brilliant. “I mean, I would like to get our child one of those cute lunchboxes,” Valerie smiled, “With little loving notes written on napkins. But no, you’re right. Bacon and eggs would be a terrible bag lunch.”
At the thought, Valerie decided that she was going to buy some cookbooks for recipes she had never tried before. If they were going to have a baby scampering around, she owed it to herself to know as many recipes as she could and certainly to perfect her chocolate chip cookies. That way when all little barnacle’s friends came over, they would be well taken care of with delicious snacks. It made her so excited and she felt like she was getting there – she was almost ready for this child. The world was safe for them now, or at least as safe as any parent could make it.
"I'm so glad to be out of Chicago," Valerie admitted, "The snow here is prettier."
“Okay, okay,” he said, slicing his fork through more pancake and sliding it into his mouth with a sideways glance going in her direction, “You can have this one… one.”
To him, his marriage to Valerie was more than a ring worn of a paper signed, and he truly hated when he had to say ‘until death do us part’ in front of the pastor because he knew that if he had a thousand lifetimes, he’d want to spend them all with her. Isn’t that what soul-mates would share? Love that lived on past his mortal bones?
As such, he worried. It was probably foolish, first-time father worries that really had no ground in reality, but Tavarius always worried about her, and his worry shot up exponentially knowing he had been asleep all that time. Every moment of every day he just wanted to know she was okay. Maybe it was a bit controlling and certainly a bit unusual for most couples, but their relationship had been forged in fire and there was a great deal of protectiveness he felt towards her because it was something that had been necessary for a long time. Eventually, he’d shake out of it and the fear would begin to ebb away into comfort and wouldn’t spend every waking moment worrying someone was going to break into their home and try and bring her harm. Eventually, but the wounds were still fresh and Tavarius was existing in ruts that were years worth of bad experiences deep and that would take more than a single bullet to a man’s face to cure.
“Sure,” he replied with a tired yawn between bites, “Whatever lunch box he or she wants, we can get and you can pack it up with cute little notes and homemade, well, everything.” He chuckled softly, popping a bite of pancake in his mouth before going to move his plate away onto the bedside table. He stole Valerie’s away, too, just to move it a side for a second so he could steal her attention selfishly all for himself. His lips pressed against hers and a smile instantly formed. “I’m glad too,” he admitted. He would be fine with never having to see the Chicago skyline again, honestly.
“You look happier and that is a good thing to see.” She did, too. After the events at the warehouse and after he had begun to come to again, she had looked so impossibly sad but she seemed to be on the up and up again, which pleased him. “I’m just glad to be here with you.” One last stolen kiss made its way to her lips before he rolled to the side and on to his back, sighing as a swirling pain returned to his head. “But I’m still not feeling one-hundred percent yet.”
She loved it when he stole all of her attention.
He always had it, even when Valerie was in a conversation with someone else, she always noticed him in a room. She remembered back in their syndicate days, the night Vancouver died, the way he looked in that suit and even though they weren’t together and he had just left her the house – she could not take her attention off of him. It had been that way since the moment they met and even when they were in Columbia for the first time, her thoughts always managed to drift to him. Her body was just wired that way – their souls intertwined in a way that even a Disney movie would envy – and she loved it. When she was in Africa, tied to that chair, dehydrated, broken, and mourning the death of Zane – it was always Tavarius.
It was funny how life only made sense in retrospect.
“Well,” Valerie shifted so that she could weasel her way into his arms, “I am back home in bed with my handsome, loving husband, Vince is gone, the syndicate has been reduced to nothing, we are going to both a barbeque and looking at houses this weekend, and I am carrying the most perfect child in the entire world. I think, for once, we have more reasons to be happy than not.”
It was a strange realization. They had been so tired for so long, clawing their way through the mountains of shit that piled up in their lives that it seemed odd to just be. They were a married couple, living in their little house in Minnesota, with a baby on the way. Soon enough (fingers crossed) they would be living in a big, beautiful lake house with their dogs, child and Nadia. What a life they hade made for themselves – what a wonderful little life. When Tavarius rolled back onto his back, Valerie went with him and reached up to run her fingers gingerly through his hair. It was a soothing, soft motion and she couldn’t help but smile. “I know you’re not, baby,” Valerie cooed and pressed a soft, warm kiss to his temple where she was sure his mind was swirling, “That’s why I made you something to eat. The dogs won’t be back for a while, so you can just rest if you’d like.”
“I’m just glad to be here with you, too.”
And she was. Despite all the darkness they had endured, the most important thing in the world to her was that they stayed together. When they were together, they could handle anything, even the after effects of the drugs Tavarius had been given by Hullett. She wondered if he was in prison, or if there had been anything found in their investigation. She hoped so, but at the same time – she just did not care. Hullett had come when she called after they had taken him, but it did not change the fact that it was his fault and that he was the reason for their near-death experiences. That being said – he was also a bit of the reason why they met and while Valerie would always be grateful for that, she did not feel sympathy for the man.
Anyone who dared hurt Tavarius was nothing to her.
“You know,” Valerie beamed, her free hand that rested on her stomach tugged her shirt up just a little bit, “I think you can see it if you look close enough. Just the tiniest little bump.”
Tavarius' eyes, for as grey as steel and ice and clouds as they were, were inexplicably warm. Before, they had always been warm like a recently fired gun-- hot to the touch, but dangerous, distant, and uneasy all the same. It was different now. They were different now, there story was different. She was his everything but more importantly, she made him into the man he wanted to be. No, that wasn't true. She didn't make him into anyone or anything, she merely allowed him to be the man he wanted to be. The best friend, the midnight 'I love you' whisper, the early morning laugh... The man, the husband, the soon-to-be father. Always Tavarius would carry with him certain burdens and demons, but it was easy to be happy. No matter what obstacles they would face, and they would certainly face many (they always did), he had the resources to continue continuing on without hesitation.
Letting her crawl up over him, he closed his arms around her. "Well, thanks for breakfast, it was needed." It was settling in his stomach comfortably and now his body felt compelled to just drift straight back to sleep like before. The drug was leaching energy from him and even a good night's sleep hadn't entirely solved his exhaustion. In a way, he was glad the dogs weren't there. He missed them, yes, but what he needed was his wife and their marital bed. His eyes were opening and closing slowly, drifting in and out of consciousness in the most pleasant of ways. He'd nearly drifted off again when Valerie's movement jarred him awake again.
"Hm?" He fanned his eyes up to her first, then glanced down to what she was doing. Peeling back the hem of her night shirt, all he could do was laugh and rear his weight up on to his elbows. "Well, look at that," he agreed. There was just a little puffiness around her middle and not 'just ate Thanksgiving's dinner' puffiness, either. "My, my, look at that," he hummed, sitting up more properly so he could guide his hands down both of her sides. His thumbs brushed across the smooth, burnt Sienna of her midsection, entirely unable to deny to grin that was growing not only on his lips, but all through his eyes.
"And just when I think there is no possible way you can be any sexier, you go and make yourself even sexier..." There was no denying that Valerie was the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on in all of his days, but pregnant Valerie? If he wasn't already flushed with fever, he would have been blushing with admiration. Her skin was fair and glowing--something he had always thought was just a figure of speech. With his fingers still spread out across his stomach and all sick feelings quickly forgotten, Tavarius perched up and stole a kiss from her lips...
Three, four, five.
"God, I love you, you know that? Hm," he said as he flopped back against the bed and stretched out with a sleepy yawn. "So, we just going to hang out around the house today? I don't even know what day of the week it is. It's Friday, right? It feels like Friday. Wait, do we look at that house tomorrow then?" Everything was happening awfully damn quick, but he couldn't have been more thrilled.
"And that means you have an appointment coming up too, right? So we will know if we have a little Dean or Lucy on our hands?"
That was her favorite Tavarius.
There were little moments when he forgot she was watching, when the joy in his heart kind of just spilled over and painted his face in bright, loving light. He always made her feel beautiful, but she remembered a time where she was frightened, for a moment, of telling him about her pregnancy. They had just gone through her shooting after all and there was still so much to heal from, but in that moment she didn’t regret a second of it. He looked at her like she was the most brilliant woman he had ever seen and to see that same look in his eye as he looked down at her tummy, hands splayed out feeling the smallest little bump that was there, she knew that he would be the best father to their child.
And then he stole kisses from her lips one…two…five. Valerie giggled as he peppered her with kisses and she took his cheeks with her own hands to pull him in for another, just a bit deeper, and she felt all the tension in her body dissipate. No matter what the world threw at them, they would survive, because this? This was where they were strongest – together – and that baby of theirs would feel safe, loved and cherished beyond any shadow of a doubt. “I love you too,” Valerie smiled, “so much, Tavarius.”
“We can hang around the house if you want,” Valerie curled up next to him and laid her head on his chest, “I can cook something later for dinner, too. And yes, it’s Friday which means we have the house viewing tomorrow and then we’re going to the Flynn’s on Sunday, so I’ve got to figure out something to cook and bring. I’ll probably call Cynthia later, see if there’s anything they need before I make this American BBQ a little too Italian.”
“And I called this morning. My appointment is Tuesday morning, first thing,” Valerie beamed, “We were gonna wait another two or three weeks, but Joyce said after all the stress and my family history, she would prefer to do the ultrasound sooner rather than later. Not because anything is wrong, but more preventative.”
Propping up just enough to look down at him, Valerie was certainly glowing and the thoughts of finally getting to see their baby definitely made all the terrible darkness from Chicago just sort of dissipate into the light. “So that begs the question,” Valerie smiled, “Do you wanna know? When we see the baby, I mean. Do you want to know if it’s a Dean or Lucy or do you want to wait? I’m impatient and want to know, but if you want it to be a surprise, I can manage.”
“Yea, that’s what I want to do,” he explained when she suggested they could just hang around the house. He needed a while to recover, seeing as the drugs were still working out of his system. Even more than that, he was just… tired. Tired of the last thirty years of hi life because it felt like he hadn’t known rest. He had slept, napped, closed his eyes… hell, he had even relaxed to some extent, but the first sigh after knowing Valerie was well and Vince was dead? That sigh let off so much weight from his shoulders.
He used to joke about how he felt like he had been getting old, but with the stress beginning to leech away day by day, he was realizing his age had never been the problem— the force of his very existence had been. He felt lighter, somehow, as if all those worries and troubles had carried actually weight on him and now that they were gone, his exhausted body was ready for its first chance at true assuagement. All day, he wanted to do nothing besides sleep, eat, and stay in his slack pants, stretched out across the bed with the distant, wintery sun warming the skin across his chest and back.
After all, the next few days sounded awfully busy. He was drugged, Vince was shot, Valerie was injured… and the world spun madly on.
“Don’t let me hold you back though… if you wanna go out and do something, feel free. I think I’m just going to take it easy today though,” especially if they had a BBQ in the next few days. Social engagements still made him weary— he couldn’t help it. His brain was trained a certain way and it would take a long time to rewire. He wasn’t sure he’d ever be completely normal again, at least in what everyday people around them would ascribe ‘normal.’ He’d still watch for signs of firearms or knives, and sift through expressions for shifty or underhanded behavior. In a crowd, Tavarius was always quite busy— analyzing, reanalyzing, assessing what was around him… he would have never faired well in a large city like Chicago for a long time.
“Right, tomorrow, Sunday, Tuesday… got it,” he nodded, writing himself a mental note to reach out to New Hullett again to discuss when he’d start back at work. He’d need at least a week or two off, especially if they were planning on moving, but he also wanted to discuss the matter of Old Hullett. After all, if the Bureau was really pursuing him lawfully, he imagined he’d be called as a witness. The corner of his lips flinched with annoyance at the thought.
Thankfully, Valerie came in the save and the warmth in his smile quickly returned. “I’d want to know,” he stated without a beat of pause, “I don’t do well with surprises, remember? I hate them.”
“I know,” Valerie said with a smirk, her hand not moving from her taut little belly, “I just wanted to make sure. I would feel like a terrible mother and wife if I didn’t ask. Not that it matters either way, if my pregnant brain gets the better of me that nursery is going to be all giraffes anyway. Girl or boy. Doesn’t matter.”
Her laughter was warm but easy, knowing just how much he was trying to heal from what had happened in Chicago. She tried not to dwell, especially after all this time. She knew he was okay and she knew that no matter what she did to Vince that night, she would be too. They had a beautiful baby on the way and the life they always dreamed of laid out at their feet for the taking and she had to breathe. It would be a lot, hell, even leaving for groceries seemed like a lot to Valerie when she had spent so long inside for her own protection. The last time she left the house on her own was — wow — not since before the shooting. Ever since she was glued to Tavarius’ side and with all due reason, but it still did not change the fact that Valerie needed to face the real world.
All her life had been this strange dichotomy and now she had her chance to be the woman she wanted to be and she was going to be. School, babies, a loving, wonderful husband — she was going to do it all. There wasn't a single doubt in her mind that she would accomplish it because unlike other girls her age, Valerie had narrowly missed ever having the opportunity. If Zane had not been shot that fateful day in Africa, Valerie would have been in a similar spot physically — married with a baby on the way — but her life would have been drastically different. She never knew true happiness until Tavarius came along and she had no shame in admitting that. He called her quite a great deal of things and believed her to be the reason for so much, but he really did change her entire life.
The moment he reached that hand out and pulled her from the broken glass, the red strings of their fate had been tangled up until you couldn't tell which belonged to who or if they were even different strings to begin with.
“I think I’m just going to go to the grocery store, we’re running low after our little trip,” Valerie said leaning over to press a kiss to his lips, slow and appreciative, “Is there anything you can think of that you need? I was thinking we could use some nice, homemade food for dinner.”
The outside world would never be safe.
When she mentioned the grocery store, there was the familiar beat of uncertainty in his chest but he forced himself to inhale sharply and accept it. Viktor was gone, Vince was gone… the syndicate had been dissolved and the world was spinning madly on. It was hard for him to finally accept that he needed to let Valerie go on her own; that she was strong, brave, and no one would be pulling a gun on her this time. It was hard for him to grapple with as he had spent so long being so protective and he always would be to some extent, but the last thing he ever wanted to do was become jealous or to not allow her to experience life to its fullest.
There would be times, days, when Valerie wouldn’t be at his side, when he was at work, she was at school, or they were just… apart. His eyes flicked open and looked up to her, grey as the ocean an instant before dawn’s first rays strike the water, and he gave a small nod. “That sounds great,” he concluded, though the words struggled to make it out of his mouth. It did sound great, “Just… be careful, okay?” he didn’t have to ask, he knew she would be, but it was a small reminder that he would be back at the house waiting, anticipating, her safe return.
It’d get easier with time, he knew. Someday, they’d be able to kiss goodbye over morning coffee without batting an eyelash, but the wounds were still fresh— quite literately. For the meantime though, he’d just enjoy the kiss she gave him and do his best to remain calm when she finally left for the grocery store; he knew he’d spend most of the time in a minor series of panics.
“Uhmm, could you maybe get a few frozen pizzas? And oh! I need deodorant and toothpaste, please. I don’t want to offend you when I start to smell.” He grinned sheepishly, reaching up to her and resting his hands on her hips as he remained flopped back against the pillows. “But yea, whatever you pick up. Maybe some milk, eggs… Oh! And don’t forget the orange juice!” he shrugged, knowing she didn’t really need his input as she could master the supermarket just fine without his back-seat shopping. “I love you, you know that?” he gave her hips a small squeeze, “But why don’t you get going. The sooner you leave, the sooner you’ll be back.”
It was just how they were. Valerie knew their separating would never be easy for her, she would always anticipate how soon they would be back together, but they had to exist like human beings — like parents. If not for themselves, they had to learn how to separate for their future child who would need dad one night for a father daughter dance, or their future child who had a mother-son Boy Scout outing. There would come a day where they had to learn how to be strong together but also let that strength speak volumes from a distance. There was no doubt in Valerie’s mind that they would find themselves at that point, but for now it was still a bit uneasy. It seemed so counterintuitive for her to worry about him, considering Tavarius could certainly take care of himself, but she knew what he had endured to reach that point.
Tavarius Petrove had faced hell and back, somehow winding up at her side, and Valerie never wanted him to feel alone or like he was falling back into old habits. She was there, she was alive and thanks to him (multiple times over) she would live for quite a long time.
“Way ahead of you, love of my life,” Valerie beamed as she pressed her lips to his, “and I promise I’ll be careful.”
He was something else, that Tavarius. He always managed to make little butterflies flutter in her stomach and she could feel their child there, not understanding why they were there, but only knowing the love that exuded from them. “Frozen pizzas, deodorant, toothpaste, orange juice. I think I can manage that much,” she chuckled, “and I love you too, Tavarius. More than anything in the entire world.”
“And I’ll even text you when I get there and when I am about to head back, so don’t panic, okay?” Valerie smirked but fell into bright laughter, “Please hold your applause, I know I am the best wife in the world. It is mostly selfish, though. I am not trying to carry all of those groceries in myself.”
She pressed a kiss to his lips, “You just get some rest, okay? I think after everything we’ve been through, you’ve earned today. You’ve more than earned today.”
Tavarius would never be a man who was entirely right in the head. He suffered from a great number of things and he probably always would, see the life he had grown up in. He was skittish and volatile around people he didn’t know, distrusting of everyone and everything, and large crowds made him physically nauseous. He’d probably never understand the appeal of getting with ‘the boys’ to kick back and have a few beers, or participate in fantasy football. Hell, he’d probably never even be entirely comfortable in a grocery store for the rest of his days. There were a lot of things wrong with the man named Tavarius Jay Petrove, but he was finally beginning to see that there were a lot of things right, too.
He smiled warmly into the kiss his wife popped against his lips as she rattled her little shopping list back at him. “I’ll be out waiting for you to get back to help you with the groceries,” he agreed, though she hadn’t explicitly asked. He picked up his phone from the bedside table and wiggled it at her as he turned up the volume so he could hear it. “And you don’t need to text me when you get there,” he assured her, glancing her way. Maybe he would have liked it, but Tavarius had assured himself that there were a lot of things right with him, and one of them was not being overly protective. She was a capable, intelligent adult. She’d be fine.
“I will, however, get some rest.” And that was exactly what he did… for a short while, anyways.
Once Valerie slipped out, Tavarius rested back and closed his eyes. He sighed as he slipped almost immediately to sleep. Almost as quickly as he had fallen asleep, his dreams devolved into terrors. He was stuck int he same spiral staircase again. No matter if he goes upstairs or down, he kept coming back to that same spot. A light bulb overhead shines and it’s the only light in the whole place. If he put a foot on another stair, it immediately turned off and he was left in utter darkness. He had only two choices— to get back to the step below the lightbulb or walk to the next floor in the darkness, only to find himself at the same spot again.
He spent a thousand times trying to escape until he finally chose to just stand under the light. The light slowly began from overhead a door just a few feet to his left, a door that hadn’t been there only moment’s prior. The scream from the other side of the door tore through him like a great shard of glass. He felt his eyes widen and pulse quicken, his heart thudding like a rock rattling in a box. The scream came again, desperate, terrified… human. Valerie?
Tavarius woke up with a snap. His heart was pounding, a hypodermic of adrenaline feeling as though it had been emptied into his carotid as he reached over and felt the opposite side of the bed, which was empty and cold. Sweat dappled along the back of his neck as he steadied his breathing, trying to wrangle out of the sheets. Grocery store, he reminded himself. She was just at the grocery store.
It was really uneventful.
After saying goodbye to Tavarius, Valerie slipped into the car and made her way to the grocery store. It was early enough on a Friday that there weren't many people there, but Valerie had almost forgot how much she loved grocery shopping. It was just relaxing to her and while it stressed out Tavarius, it just brought her a strange sense of serenity. It was one of the only things she was allowed to do as a girl — tag along to the store — and now that she was an adult who could pick out and pay for her own groceries, she took her time. Valerie just leisurely strolled down the aisles and tossed one or two things every few minutes into her cart. They didn't need a ton and it was hard to stop herself from buying the whole damn store, but she did her best to curb her excitement.
It was only when she was in line checking out did she feel a hand on her shoulder and Valerie nearly leapt out of her skin. Her heart started beating rapidly, all the way up in her throat, and she looked up to see Cynthia standing there with an understanding smile. The two chatted a bit as they walked out to their cars and Cynthia made sure to let her know that they were welcome at the Flynn’s anytime, even if she just wanted some company once Tavarius went back to work. Valerie thanked her and loaded the groceries into the car before sitting in the driver’s seat and just breathing.
The world wasn't scary, Valerie thought to herself, it was Vince, Viktor and the syndicate that were scary. But it was so hard to look at the bright side when she knew that all the men they had worked with over their time with the syndicate were still alive and in operation. Who was flying to Columbia right now, for example, to do a deal for what syndicate? Valerie shook her head. They were in Minnesota, for god’s sake, this was about as safe as they got from that sort of thing.
Valerie grabbed her phone and texted Tavarius, letting him know that she was on her way back, but she took another minute or two before she actually turned on the car and started back to the house. Everything was always terrifying the first time, but then it got better, and she knew it would because everything else in their life had even when it seemed hopeless. Valerie pulled up to the house, the car parked in the driveway, before she slipped out and headed for the trunk to pull out an arm full of groceries. There was no way she would be able to carry it all herself at once, but part of her didn't want to interrupt Tavarius’ sleep.
She unlocked the door and slipped in with her arms full of bags. “Baby?” she called out, “You awake? I’m home. Sorry it took so long, I ran into Cynthia and that woman can talk.”
The text from Valerie helped soothe his aching heart that was beating too fast, but it didn’t stop the nightmare that was clinging to the darkest parts of his mind, so he just lied there for a moment. Perhaps what was the worst was the silence. The silence was what was making his blood as cold as the wintery air that crept through the imperfections in the window’s sealants. Outside, there was no wind that blew or rustled branches, no cars driving past, no sounds of people, and inside was equally silent: no dogs, no Valerie, no Vancouver. It was just Tavarius and his own mind, and that couldn’t have been a worse combination.
Forcing a sigh to decompress his lungs, he remained sprawled out across the bed with all limbs going in a different direction, taking up the entire space in a way he normally couldn’t as he rested knee deep in silence. Finally, realizing Valerie was bound to be home soon, he forced himself to kick his legs over the side of the bed and moved to pull on a sweater and his winter boots in preparation to help her carry in the groceries. The movement felt nice, actually, and helped wick away some the sweat that was sticking to his forehead and the back of his neck.
Tavarius let out slow, controlled breaths and attempted to loosen his body movements. He found himself moving like a soldier: controlled, precise, and clockwork-like as if all of his muscles had been replaced with mechanical parts. It was a decent effort, enough to fool the casual observer but for an onlooker with a keen eye, or someone who knew him well enough, he was a walking advert for tension. His eyes moved with an alertness that came from heavy stress and his hands remained clenched by subconscious demand.
The door jingled and he could hear Valerie shuffling on the landing as she called out to him and he cursed his own stupidity, tying off the last of his laces before going to trot down the stairs. “Hey,” he smiled as best as could manage, “It’s okay, you don’t need to rush.” He paused next to her and pressed a kiss to her cheek, “Sorry, I was going to try and be outside waiting for you to help you, but—“ he paused and shrugged, “I must have gotten distracted. Anyways, everything still out in the car?” he asked, though he was too busy taking the bags from Valerie’s arms, “Why don’t you go in the kitchen and begin unpacking, and I’ll bring everything in, okay?”
In took him two more trips to get everything in, but he was glad for it. He liked putting his anxious mind to rest by doing something physical, even if it was just carrying groceries. Getting the last of it, he shut the front door and made his way back into the kitchen. “Have fun?”
“Hi to you too,” Valerie laughed as Tavarius came bounding down the stairs to not only take the groceries in her arms, but also to offer to bring in the rest of them while she put them away. It wasn't such a bad trade off, considering her lower back was killing her, but if he was trying to put on an act for her, it wasn't working. Tavarius, of all people, didn't really get distracted — no, he was always alert and aware of what was going on, but today seemed different. He was just feeling a bit under the weather when she left, but now he looked like he had just run a mental marathon. Valerie knew him too well to let him brush it off with a smile.
But she did as she was told and made her way into the kitchen after kicking off her boots and jacket. The house was warm, the kind of warm that settled down in her bones, and Valerie started unpacking one bag at a time. She didn't get as much as she could have, but she certainly got enough to last them for a little while — things they hadn't had in so long like fresh produce, and she went a little baby crazy and splurged on a few items. Ice cream, for example, was one of the new features making its way into the freezer. God, she was going to get so fat wasn't she?
When Tavarius came back in with the last bag and settled it down on the counter, Valerie started on it quickly — a master of kitchen tetris and finding just where everything could fit. “Yeah, a bit strange, but definitely enjoyable,” she shrugged as she slid some spices into the cabinets, “It’s pretty empty on a Friday morning, so I basically had the whole place to myself. I ran into Cynthia too, chatted about the barbecue this weekend and she gave me some ideas as to what I can make.”
“But,” she closed the lat cabinet and made her way over to Tavarius and wrapped her arms around his waist with all the love she could muster, “I think the more important thing here is you telling me what’s got you so tense. I haven't seen you like this in a while." She brought one hand up to brush Tavarius' hair from his face and let her hand rest on his cheek so she could lovingly ease the tension in his expression, "Why don't you tell me what's going on in that head of yours?”
Once he had brought the last of the bags down to the kitchen, Tavarius began to help put away some of the more obvious things—like eggs, milk, his orange juice. He left all the weirder items, like the spices and herbs, to Valerie as he would probably never use them in his lifetime, so as long as she could find them, that was all that mattered. After all, it was her kitchen seeing as she did most, if not almost all, of the cooking in the Petrove household. Still, he did what he could to help, humming softly as he tried to will the stress collecting in his shoulders.
“Well, good. Hopefully you got some ideas for the BBQ then. I feel it’s a little weird we’re having a BBQ in the middle of winter, but apparently they have this indoor stove grill thing… Flynn tried to explain it to me. It’s kind of like a fireplace but… a grill… so it’ll be all inside,” he shrugged, just making small talk so he didn’t have to worry about the terrible thoughts going through his head. It was only when everything was put away that he realized he wasn’t sure what to do with his hands. Hell, he wasn’t sure what to do with his life. From the moment he was born, Tavarius was trained to be a soldier and now that was gone. He didn’t miss it, but it left him feeling discombobulated. He had never really been good at anything else—he had never been given the opportunity to be good at anything else—and he felt lost. And he worried, too. He worried about Valerie, he worried about the baby, he worried about his own mental health. He wondered if he could ever be normal or what normal even meant and the nightmare had just shaken him.
Of course Valerie picked up on it, too. She always could, even when no one else was able to. Her arms came around his waist and he sighed, though not in any way that seemed to relieve any stress, as he draped his own arms across her shoulders. “I don’t know,” he admitted. He had never been very keen on talking about whatever was in his head because he didn’t like to visit it; he didn’t like to admit his own thoughts. It had taken Valerie a long time to get to a point where he felt comfortable enough discussing them with her, but even so, it was hard. It was hard to describe it. It was hard to blurt it out. It was just… hard. This life was hard. His eyes softened when they opened again, looking down to her as the warmth of her palm spread through his cheek.
“I just had a weird dream,” he explained, “And I’m struggling with… this… with house shopping and Barbecues and Christmas trees and grocery shopping. It’s just all so foreign. When we were in Chicago, out in public, I spent so much of my time being apprehensive of the people around me. Being normal is just so—so stressful.” And why wouldn’t it be? He had never been ‘normal’ before. He had never been the nine-to-five, dashing husband who drank a few beers on the weekend and enjoyed football games. He worried constantly people would see right through him and be repulsed by what they found.
And truthfully, he knew most people would be. Tavarius had seen and done horrible things and he didn’t think the same way everyone else did. He probably never would. “It’s just a transitionary period,” he tried to smile it off, “I’m sure I’ll figure it out.”
Valerie could hear the tension in his voice as he spoke. Of course he was exhausted, stressed out and on edge — he was right in so many ways. They had gone from syndicate children to on the run, to facing their mortality to Martha Stewart. It was a difficult transition for anyone. Valerie pressed up on her toes and pressed a kiss to his jawline, then to the crook of his neck right on his pulse point, before settling back down onto her feet. He had been there for her so many times and she had been there so many time for him, but the first time they really just needed to be there for each other. It was how everything worked — they were better together, stronger together, and she would do her best to remind him that he was not alone.
“Well maybe that’s the problem,” Valerie said as he held her in his arms, “You know, I was thinking at the grocery store — probably more than I’ve thought in the last twenty five years of my life, but I realized something. We are never going to be normal. I am always going to have this scar, and you yours, you are still the fastest shot I have ever seen and stronger than any man I have ever known. I flinched today when someone shut a door too loud. I know it’s a lot at once, but you are not alone and we can take this slow. We deserve the life we want to live and we shouldn't feel obligated to be ‘normal.’ Not after everything we’ve been through.”
“It’s a transition, but you’re allowed to do it in your own time and I feel it too,” Valerie laughed softly, “hell, my entire life after meeting you has just been one big transition after the other. If we can survive Africa, Columbia, Brazil — then we can survive this one, too. Just — you have to talk to me, okay? Because if you’re so worried it’s keeping you up, then I want to be there for you and help in any way that I can. That’s the only way we’re going to figure this out — together — just like everything else. You don’t have to figure it out alone.”
“I almost got lost on the way home because I couldn't remember where the house was or how to drive a car in the snow,” she chuckled, “because they’re not things I ever learned and it’s so frustrating. But I’ll get there because I know I can always call you to help me.”
"I know," he responded truthfully. He knew they would never be normal, he knew he was not alone, and he knew they deserved everything they had, he knew it. He knew it with all of his heart, but that wasn't making the transition any easy, either. He struggled with day-to-day tasks and the idea of grocery shopping just felt so lost on him. All his life had been spent worrying, surviving, and clawing his way out of any pit the syndicate or Hullett had shoved him in and now that he was on top he didn't know how to answer the question of 'now what?' It felt, sometimes, that without the syndicate he didn't know who he was. Of course it was absurd, but the syndicate had defined him for so long that he felt like a caged tiger feeling grass for the very first time. It felt good, but foreign.
"I guess I'm just not quite sure how to explain it, really. I just don't know who I am supposed to be now." He didn't know how to try new things and that was the hardest part. Those parts of them would never be forgotten. In a crowd, Tavarius would always search for weapons and study faces, and Valerie would probably always wince at loud noises. Forever, he'd carry the scars on his back. Idly, as if reminding himself, Tavarius ran his tongue over the scar on the roof of his mouth. "But you're right, it's very overwhelming." He knew she wanted him to talk to her, hell, she had even said as much, but at least in part it was something he was going to have to figure out on his own. He would always be the dutiful husband and father, but Tavarius needed to figure out who Tavarius was-- away from the syndicate, away from Viktor, from Vince, from Vancouver.
He smiled down to her, leaning down and stealing a kiss from her lips. "I promise, I'm okay. I'm in a weird spot, but I'll be fine. It probably doesn't help that I'm not feeling the best, either," he continued. The doctor had warned him that their may be residual side-effects of the drug for next two or three days, and he had no doubt that was playing a part in his hesitant mood. Once the dogs came back and they all got in to a routine, Tavarius knew he'd feel better. He liked routine, it made him feel comfortable.
"Anyways," he shook off the conversation for the time being, "I'm just glad to see that shopping was a success. Did you get my toothpaste and deodorant?" He leaned down, stealing another kiss from her, "or have you vanquished me to the smelly wastelands forever?" He had already seen his pizza and orange juice, so he doubted she had forgotten. It wasn't like Valerie to forget.
“Of course I did,” Valerie laughed as he inquired the whereabouts of his deodorant and toothpaste. In one swift motion, she grabbed them from the counter behind her and held them out to him, “But only because I love you too much to send you to the smelly wasteland.”
Valerie understood his words, but she did not want to push. If it was something he felt like he needed to figure out, she would be there in any capacity she could be, but she also knew that Tavarius liked to be self-sufficient and rely on himself for quite a bit. He just needed to figure out what it meant to be this Tavarius, the husband, the father, the member of society. Valerie had to figure it out too, but she had a lot more practice than Tavarius did. She had zero freedom when they had met, under the thumb of both Zane and her father, but Tavarius gave her a choice and a voice, two things that she had been trying to use every single moment she could and this wasn't her first rodeo. She had been trying since they met, but that also meant she had failed a few times — most notably when she had been shot and was yanked out of school.
She would never speak the words, but the idea of going back scared her. Terrified her, really, because if she was wrong this time — if she put herself in danger unknowingly — it was not just her and Tavarius, but she was putting the baby at risk and that was something she was never willing to do. Even in Chicago, Valerie had nearly beaten herself to death mentally for going after Vince while pregnant, but she had to do what she had to do. That was all that was there to it.
“Why don’t I…” Valerie hummed, “Whip us up something for dinner, hm? Anything you want — anything at all. The world is your oyster because I think we’re lucky tonight and little barnacle here is on board for letting someone else choose the food for once.” Valerie laughed and placed her hand on her tiny little belly, but it felt so much more real when she could feel their baby there. It wasn’t kicking or anything, but there were signs on her body now of the pregnancy, and she could not wait to start showing. She never wanted to get too fat, but soon enough everyone would be able to tell.
“Also, I had my first real terrible craving,” Valerie admitted with a bit of an embarrassed smile, “and there’s ice cream in the freezer. If you catch me with that whole tub, you take it away from me immediately. I don’t know what would be worse, gaining a hundred points or giving birth to a twelve pound baby.”
Tavarius scratched a hand along the back of his neck, right under his collar, to pull away the last bit of sweat from his skin that remained from waking up with a start. It had been a long time since he had last had a nightmare, mostly because after a while his brain had just figured out how to rationalize everything he had endured and done. He compartmentalized, mostly, packing up all those memories into teeny tiny black boxes all across his subconscious so he could just pretend they didn’t exist. It had worked for a long time and it had been that ability that had allowed him to survive the syndicate and the bureau simultaneously. Unfortunately, that guilt, those memories, didn’t ever completely vanish.
He couldn’t keep them tucked away in some dark corner forever and now it was coming time for him to finally, genuinely, begin to sort through them—one at a time and with them came the nightmares. He wasn’t even sure where to begin with all his demons and getting them to a point where he could accept them and move on with his life, but he knew it had come time that he figured it out. The syndicate was gone—there was no use for the man Tavarius had once been in their lives anymore. Between his wife and their child, he knew it was for them that he had to depart from who he was and slowly work to who he could be.
Thankfully, that was a change that didn’t need to come overnight because it never would.
He inhaled sharply, glancing deeper into the kitchen as he wondered her proposal. “That sounds good,” he agreed to dinner, his stomach gurgling uncomfortably now that she had planted the seed in his mind. “As for what I want? I have no idea…” Normally, Valerie just made something and Tavarius, being Tavarius, always enjoyed it. He had yet to meet a Valerie meal he hadn’t enjoyed but now that he was in the driver’s seat, he wasn’t quite sure what he was craving, though apparently Valerie knew what she was craving. A soft chuckle rumbled through his chest as he flicked his eyes back to her, stepping to open the fridge and inspect her shopping.
“Well, I don’t think I could take it away from you because I don’t think you’d let me. I’d be afraid of you trying to bite my fingers off if I did,” he smirked and glanced into the fridge, rooting around until he finally decided on the chicken. Chicken sounded fine, maybe with rice. “Something tells me even pregnant, you will never be able to gain a hundred pounds. How about chicken and rice though?” he asked, pulling the chicken out and going to get the rice. “Nothing too fancy.”
He couldn’t handle fancy. He didn’t want to deal with fancy. “I miss having a glass of wine with you though. I’m excited for our baby, but damn, I really wish we could split a bottle of wine right about now.”
Valerie beamed, “Chicken and rice, I can definitely do that.”
Barnacle seemed to agree, too, because Valerie could feel the hunger pang in her stomach. She found herself having to eat more frequently and while she loved her some chicken and rice, she knew she would need at least one other vegetable in her meal to make it as healthy as possible for the baby. Valerie had never really had many health problems in her lifetime (at least, none that she caused) but being pregnant made her weary of her diet and she was just trying to eat enough and make sure that it was nutritious enough to help a growing baby. There were so many things that could go wrong and since Valerie was just home, she had time to think about it constantly.
But she didn’t need to worry, she reminded herself. Joyce was great and Tavarius would be there for her through anything. After everything they had been through, they could certainly handle a pregnancy. People did it every single day — hell, both of their mothers had done it and look at the situation they were in. Valerie had love in abundance and support from Tavarius, no matter what happened. That much she knew.
Valerie pulled out the chicken and rice, also grabbing some broccoli to toss in some olive oil and let roast for a short while in the oven with the chicken. Her hands were moving quickly as they always did, but her attention was totally on Tavarius. “Hey!” she laughed, “I would not bite your fingers off. Maybe cry, but never bite your fingers off. Little barnacle hasn’t developed a taste for human flesh, thank god.”
It was a warm joke, followed by a bright laugh, “And I know. I would love a glass of wine right now. But, be careful what you wish for, the last time we split a bottle of wine — this happened.” Her hand went to her stomach and she smirked up at him, “And we haven’t even gotten this one out yet. Let’s wait a minute on the second.”
“Hm,” Tavarius snorted with laughter, a proud little grin tipping the corners of his lips at her comment as she began to work around the kitchen. Deciding he’d be more of a hindrance than a help, he lazily laced his fingers together and rested against the kitchen island, watching her move about. “That’d be even worse than biting my fingers off,” he reminded her, “You know I can’t stand when you’re crying. I’d do anything to make it stop.” Crying was her greatest power over him—always had been. She put a few tears in the corners of her eyes and Tavarius would stop and nothing to get her smiling again.
So, all in all, her plan to remove the ice-cream from her death grip would never work anyways.
“You better knock on wood there, girly. Neither of us are prepared for a flesh-eating barnacle,” he finally seemed to be relaxing again. His shoulders seemed to slope more gracefully, no longer balled up with tense energy. The corners of his eyes had also unwound, leaving his misty grey eyes to look bright and warm as they followed behind her, watching every movement. “Well, hey, I’m not at all disappointed that that happened, mind you. Even if it did come as a little bit of a surprise.” That certainly hadn’t been their intention at the time, but as the world generally seemed to work: everything worked out for them in the end.
The timing couldn’t have been better, he supposed. Well, perhaps a little bit… they could have had their housing permanently established, but those were minor details. With the syndicate gone, Tavarius couldn’t let himself sweat over the smaller things—not when he had so many personal problems to work through. “I’m not rushing to the second though, I promise. I’m not even sure I’m capable of handling one yet, so I don’t want to rush anything. I do miss having wine with you in the blanket fort though,” he murmured, stretching his arms over the length of the counter that divided them and wiggling his fingers at her merrily. Their little family unit—dysfunctional, but perfect.
His wife’s smile was as sweet as a summer strawberry and filled him with a sunshine he never knew existed in the world. His child, boy, girl, or otherwise, wasn’t even technically a person yet, and he was already filling up with love for him or her. The nightmares plagued him, and would probably continue to do so, but if he could wake up to this life every day, then he could put up with it.
“Do you need me to do something?”