The Most Important Future


jonah_icon.gif monica2_icon.gif peyton_icon.gif

Scene Title The Most Important Future
Synopsis It's the one right in front of them.
Date March 4, 2018


The near-Spring day is warm enough to be out, with blue skies dotted with white clouds and a crisp chill in the air that only requires a coat instead of a parka and muffler and gloves and hat.

Well, Jonah still has a hat on, but at least his mother has allowed him to leave the muffler and gloves at home. His bright yellow coat is easy to keep track of, even for a mother without clairvoyance, and his Toronto Maple Leafs toque even more so — hopefully it won’t get him beaten up, but he insisted on wearing it.

Peyton sits on the park bench watching the boy clamber around on the jungle gym. A cell phone is held in one hand, just in case Monica decides to text or call. The Williamsburg park is one of the few spots where, if you didn’t look too far into the skyline, you could forget the tragedies of the past several years. The children playing seem oblivious in a way that adults never do — it’s refreshing.

The phone buzzes, giving Peyton a warning that Monica is incoming with food and gifts. And that she's excited to see them. And it's about ten minutes later than she comes into the park, her hands full of bags and drinks, but she seems to be handling it okay. Her arm is visible today, as she's dressed down in jeans and a t-shirt with her left sleeve cut off. She doesn't need it, anyway. She catches the looks her way behind dark sunglasses, but those don't seem to bother her, either. It's only when she draws the attention of the younger crowd that she makes a trip, nearly drops everything, but catches her goods with a flourish. Exaggerated for comedic effect.

"Peyton!" she calls when she sees her friend and she hurries over to her bench.

Jonah’s standing on top of the climbing apparatus when he hears his mother’s name on Monica’s lips, and turns to see the woman coming. “Aunty Moni!” he squeals, scrambling down faster than seems possible, and sprinting toward the woman coming their way.

Peyton turns too, jumping up and beaming. “Don’t knock her over, Jonah!” she calls ahead — Monica nearly lost everything she was carrying already, she doesn’t need the collision from the small boy making her ruin her save.

Jonah reaches Monica first, throwing his arms around her waist. If there was any worry that he’d be shy or have forgotten her the few visits and the FaceTime chats have kept her firmly in his young mind. Peyton reaches her a moment or two later — she didn’t run, but she hurried, and her long legs make up a lot of ground. “Offer to carry something,” she whispers to Jonah who puts his hands up for whatever Monica’s willing to give him.

That done, Peyton steps around the little boy to give Monica a hug as well, mindful of drinks and food, but still wrapping her as tightly as she can in the embrace. “Oh, my God, it’s good to see you.”

Monica might have worried, but the boy's greeting gets a wide grin from her. She braces herself when he comes barreling over, so nothing is lost in the rush. "Hi, Jonah," she says with a laugh. She hands the boy a bag full of sandwiches with a thank you before she turns to give Peyton a one-armed hug. "It's good to see you, too," she says warmly. "I'm so glad you are in the city," she adds.

Once she lets Peyton go, she turns to set the rest of her stuff down on the bench. And then she turns to Jonah. "Come here, kiddo, let me give you a proper hug," she says, even though he probably means this hug will come with embarrassing auntie kisses. But maybe he'll forgive her.

“If it means we get to see you more than every eighteen months or whatever, we’ll take it,” Peyton says, stepping back to let Jonah get a proper hug and kisses. She looks like she might cry, bringing her knuckles to her mouth to cover her lips, but she’s still smiling behind her fingers.

Jonah may know Monica, but he’s still a little wide-eyed at the arm, reaching to touch it tentatively. “Can you feel me?” he asks, his dark eyes peering at first the robotic limb, and then up at Monica. “Do you live here too? What’s your favorite dinosaur? Do you know-” Peyton’s index finger playfully presses over Jonah’s lips as she bends to kiss the top of his head.

“One question at a time, buddy,” she reminds him.

Jonah doesn't just get a hug, not even just kisses, but she wraps him up and picks him up to swing him around. "Gosh, look at you," she says, "You're almost as tall as me." The kiss to his cheek comes when she sets him back down again. Sorry, Jonah. "They tell me," she says to Peyton, "that I'll be here more often now. Shorter trips. I guess it's like a promotion." That comes with a smirk. Because it's one of those promotions without more money or a better title.

The touch to her arm gets her attention and she looks back to Jonah. "I sure can," she says before she crouches down to be more on his level. "It's a lot like my other arm. My mind doesn't really see it as any different. So that's pretty cool." She wiggles the cybernetic fingers, as if this would somehow prove her point. She laughs as the questions pour out, and more when Peyton has to slow him down. "I do live here. I hear you're living here now, too. It's a little different from the school, huh?"

His last question gets a more thoughtful look, but she seems to have come prepared for questions like these. "Ankylosaurus. Armor plating, pretty awesome."

“Cooool,” Jonah says, touching her fingers, his own sliding over the joints curiously. “We saw cool things in Richard’s lab the other day. He didn’t show us the dinosaur labs but,” he lowers his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, “he said he had them!”

Peyton snorts and rolls her eyes behind his back, shaking her head just slightly.

“I like Carcharodontosaurus best,” he adds, and Peyton adds, “today, anyway. It changes by the hour.”

She moves to sit on the bench, starting to sort out the drinks and food. “It’s a big change. So far the benefits outweigh the costs, but it’s still new,” she says carefully.

Monica doesn't mind him checking out her robot arm, seeing as his curiosity only gets a warm smile. "First of its kind. Which is extra cool." When Richard is mentioned, there's a dip in Monica's smile, but she covers pretty quick— at least for the kid— and reaches out to ruffle his hair. "If Richard says he has a dinosaur lab, he probably does. I mean, what would be cooler than dinosaurs?" Nothing, if her tone is anything to judge by.

She stands up, though, and looks over at Peyton. "If you two need anything, you know you can let me know. Anything to make it easier." She did her adjustment to the new New York herself, it isn't an easy thing. She opens her mouth, then closes it again. Her hand moves through her hair. And then she manages to get her question out.

"How is he?" Richard, she means. But it's almost like she doesn't actually want to know because she turns back to Jonah. "What should we do first? Lunch or presents?"

Peyton watches, both amusement and worry mixing in her expression. “He asked about you,” she answers. “And he seems okay. I mean — it was a surface level reunion. We haven’t done much but send Christmas cards and congratulations over the last few years.” Her smile there is a little rueful — it’s her fault, and she knows that.

Jonah doesn’t really care about how Richard’s doing, but he does care about presents. “Presents!” he says, jumping up and down.

Peyton chuckles. “That was a loaded question, Aunt Monica.”

"Did he?" Monica lets out a sigh at that. Guilt, maybe. That's her fault, too. "I'm glad he's okay. I've been keeping up, you know, with the news. Raytech. It isn't the same, though. So. Yeah, it's good that he's okay." Everything's okay. But Jonah gives her a distraction as he makes his (or the obvious) choice. "Yeah? Presents it is!"

She looks over at Peyton, sheepish but unapologetic, "Maybe a little." She chuckles, but turns to the bench to open one of her bags, in her best Santa impression, pulling out a box for him. It's wrapped and everything. "Here you go, Jonah," she says warmly as she passes it over to him. Inside the box is a collection of toy cars, good ones, too. Made of metal and detailed to look like some of the fancier cars no one sees around the Safe Zone. A Ferrari, a Lamborghini, A Maserati and the like.

But Jonah's not the only one who gets a present. As she pulls out an (unwrapped) box for Peyton. "I was in Italy," she says, as if to explain why the cars are what they are. But also the box, which has an Armani logo on it. Inside is a cashmere scarf and a clutch purse. They match and everything. "There's a book, too," she says with a nod toward Jonah's box, "art history. Don't worry, I checked it out, it's very tasteful."

“Whoaaaa, coooool,” says Jonah as he pulls out one of the cars, and off he goes, driving along the edge of the back of the bench. Peyton glances up at him and without her having to say anything, he says quickly, “Thank you Auntie Monica!”

“Those are beautiful,” Peyton says, with appreciation for the craftsmanship of the cars. “And you shouldn’t have,” she says, especially in regards to her own box, which she opens. “Oh, it’s lovely. Ugh, I miss Italy.” She hasn’t been anywhere but Toronto for the past few years. She leans in for another hug before pulling the scarf out to wrap around her own neck.

“I don’t have anything for you, but Jonah does,” she says, with a small smile, and Jonah promptly rushes over to get the present coming out of Peyton’s coat pocket. It’s wrapped, but clumsily with a lot of tape, and it is surprisingly heavy when it is set in Monica’s hands.

Inside is a ceramic dinosaur, clearly made by Jonah’s hands, painted and glazed so it’s a very shiny lime green. “It’s a brontosaurus,” Jonah says, “not because they’re anybody’s favorite, but because I couldn’t make a T-Rex that didn’t look stupid.

"You're welcome," Monica says to Jonah with a chuckle. It's likely seeing him playing with them is thanks enough for her, but she won't ruin the good parenting. "And don't worry about it. I couldn't come back from there without something for you guys." Which is what she says about every place she goes. Given the state of her own family, it's likely that Peyton and Jonah have become her reason for coming home at all. Even if she doesn't say as much.

"Something for me?" she says with a gentler smile. She takes the present, unwrapping it carefully so she can get a good look at it. "Jonah, I love it," she says looking from the dinosaur to the boy. "Thank you, sweetheart," she says as she reaches over to pull him into a hug. "This looks perfect to me. They might have to be my favorite dinosaur now."

Peyton watches as Jonah beams at the praise; her hand comes to her scarf, touching it and her heart at the same time. Her dark eyes glitter with tears, but they seem to be the happy sort.

“Have I told you it’s great to see you?” she says, reaching to squeeze Monica’s hand. “I’m so happy our lives have sort of aligned to put us both back in New York at the same time. I’m not sure I could brave it otherwise — I mean, I promised I’d try but you’re definitely making it easier,” she says softly.

“Card- Richard,” she makes a face, irritated with her inability to adapt as quickly as she’d like, “will be thrilled to know you’re in town. Don’t let whatever keep you from reaching out, yeah? If I can…” Her smile shifts to something a little sad, a little rueful, “you can.”

Monica cups Jonah's face for a moment before she lets him go again. He can go play, she'll save the rest of her affection for later. In the meantime, she holds onto her little dinosaur.

"You might have," Monica says with a chuckle. "It's good to see you, too, though. The city hasn't felt right without you guys." Not that Jonah's ever been there. But still. "How is Bruce, anyway?" she asks, her smile crooked. "I hope he appreciates it, you know? It's not such an easy thing, picking up and moving the whole family."

The mention of Richard has Monica letting out a dramatic sigh and dipping her head back. "I don't know about thrilled. And I don't know if he'll… understand. But I'll find a way to touch base with him. Soon. Promise." Double promise. "Was it the most awkward conversation you ever had?" There's a glance to Jonah, since Peyton's reconnecting is even more strange than her own.

Jonah hugs Monica one more time, but runs off, much more excited to play with his car on the surfaces of the playground equipment than in eating. Peyton shakes her head, handing Monica the food and drink she’s sorted out while the presents were being unwrapped.

“He does. It’ll be good. It felt weird to be gone for so long — it’s where I was born, you know? I’d never been away from it more than a month in my life until…” well, until six years ago.

Her eyes raise to check on Jonah, before she looks back at Monica. “Second most awkward, probably,” she says a bit wryly. Monica was present for the most, back in Hollis’ cabin. “He has a very large and hard to miss building. Sign says Raytech.” She smiles and reaches for her own food. “Can’t miss it.”

Monica takes the food— the rest will keep for the kid— taking a bite and nodding to Peyton. "It will be good. Long distance is hard," she says, although she has no real frame of reference. She can imagine. "When everything's settled for you guys, do I get to meet him or will the cyborg thing throw him off? I promise not to be too threatening," she says with a smile. Just a little threatening. For fun!

"Only second most. Not too bad." She has a very clear memory of the ranking awkwardness. When Peyton mentions the very large building, Monica lifts her eyebrows as if in surprise. "Oh, really? Does he? I must have walked right past it a hundred times." And totally missed it, of course. That's believable. "I suppose putting Cardinal on the windows wouldn't go over too well these days."

“Of course,” Peyton says, about the meeting, and she rolls her eyes. “We’ve all been through way weirder and way worse crap than cyborg parts, right? He’s seen a lot, too, if not, you know, black holes and other dimensions.” Or whatever they saw through the Mallett Device. She looks away, bringing her drink up to sip at the straw, her expression dark for a moment. Remembering the day, perhaps.

“Soon, though, I promise. I just… you know, we’re taking it slow. Keeping it out of the spotlight and stuff. It’s hard enough just moving back. I worry about who I’ll run into — if they’re someone who…” she trails off again, and shrugs this time. “It feels right, to come back, but I don’t want to anger anyone,” she adds in a smaller voice.

"Good. I suppose you have to see a few things, living here." Monica sounds like she regrets it, though. At that darkness from Peyton, she reaches over to put a hand on her arm. "I totally understand taking it slow. Plus, with Jonah, you have to be sure, yeah?" That's also a guess, but she's more confident on that one.

"You were as much a— I mean, he took advantage of you in a bad moment, that's nothing anyone can blame you for. I hope no one gives you any bad looks, but if they do, you know I'm here." And she'll set them straight. Or, at least, hug her afterward. And if Monica can't find a reason to blame Peyton, then no one else should, either. All things considered.

Peyton shakes her head, tipping it back and looking up at the blue sky to try to keep the tears in them from falling. “That’s the difference between strong people and weak people, I think. The ones who don’t let themselves get taken advantage of in bad moments. The ones who do what’s right even when it’s hard.” She swallows, takes a deep breath, and looks over at Jonah, who’s digging in the sand with a tinier boy in a teal jacket.

She smiles, then looks back at Monica. “You can’t fight my battles for me, but I’ll gladly take any hugs,” she says. “We have a lot of time to make up for.”

"We're all weak sometimes," Monica says as she leans forward to put her elbows on her knees. "Back then, everything was a rush, nothing was clear, and we all were falling apart. And hid the truth from you until he couldn't anymore." Her eyes are on Jonah, too, as much as her expression is far stonier than Peyton's is. "We didn't even know what right was, you know? Killing futures. What did we put in its place?" She leans back again, her hand running over her face. "Sorry," she says with a forced chuckle, "see, maybe I should wait a bit before dropping in on Richard."

She looks back over at Peyton, her expression softening. "Well, the offers on the table, if you change your mind. But hugs are, too."

Peyton presses her lips together and simply nods at the end, rather than argue over any of it. She reaches over, though, to pull Monica into a tight hug that she holds for a long moment, before releasing.

“Jonah’s the most important future for me now. And the litmus test for anything I do from now on. If it’s not something that would make him proud of me or his world a better place, than I’m not touching it,” she says, wiping her eyes as she looks back to the little boy playing.

He looks up at that moment, noticing that he’s being watched, and waves, a happy smile on his face. It’s all Peyton needs to bring her own smile back up to the surface.

Monica returns the hug, holding onto Peyton until she lets go. It might be a little telling on Monica's state, but she just wipes an eye and looks back out to the playground.

"That's probably the best litmus test out there. We'll get things back around, Peyton. Rebuild. Give him a better world." She lifts her hand to wave at the boy, her smile gentle, but present. "He's amazing, Peyton. Look at him, happy like nothing at all's wrong. You're doing good."

Jonah’s mother all but beams at the praise of her child, but her shrug is modest when it comes to herself. “He’s the best gift I didn’t deserve, and I try to make myself more worthy of him every day. To make this world more worthy of him and all the innocent kids. None of them deserve the world that we were aimed at, to grow up like poor JJ had to.” She never met Monica’s son from the future, but she’s heard the stories and about the dreams.

“We’ll make it better. We already are,” she agrees, reaching to squeeze Monica’s hand again.

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