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21 December 2017 @ 02:05 am
 
Title: As His Own Soul
Fandom: The Time Tunnel
Summary: In a world where hearts are bought and sold, Tony's is large enough for them both.
Genre: angst, hurt/comfort, friendship
Characters: Doug, Tony
Pairings: none
Warnings: AU



As His Own Soul

"Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness."-Kurt Vonnegut

The rules are simple. Everyone is born with a heart. Anyone can live without a heart, so long as their birth heart is beating in someone's chest. Anyone can live with another heart, if their own has failed. Hearts may be given, borrowed, stolen, or - most commonly - bought and sold.

His parents are heartless, both of them - his mother because she prefers living without the emotions a heart conjures, to feel the dulled ebb and flow instead of the weight in her chest, and his father because he sold his long ago, too impatient to wait for the better part of his inheritance. It's not a rare thing for two heartless to marry, but it's unusual for them to produce a child, and Doug enters the world with the consequence of that - a heart shriveled and deformed resting uneasily behind his ribs.

The doctor prescribes rest, a peaceful life at the country estate, and his parents all too eagerly shuffle him off to a nanny and out of their minds before he can toddle. When he's eight, a grave-faced doctor with dark-rimmed glasses quietly suggests a replacement to his nanny "if you want the boy to grow up" - hearts of those under eighteen cannot be legally bought, sold, or replaced, but there's a black market, of course, thriving on desperate poor and desperate rich willing to sell a child's heart for a better life for them all, or buy one to give their child a chance at life. But he protests, remembering the summer a little girl, the child of a new maid, fell dead in the middle of the yard, a smile still on her face, because her heart, somewhere in a rich child's chest, was crushed between two moving cars as the boy darted to school. His nanny purses her lips, but respects his decision, and his parents never even learn of the suggestion at all.

It's not so bad at that. He can still feel emotions - at least he thinks he can - even if they seem a little fuzzy around the edges, and he can even love, even if his heart twitches in warning, taxed beyond it's endurance at the prospect.

Halfway across the country and some time later, Tony Newman is born with a heart strong and steady, a bit too large and heavy for his chest. "A good heart." The doctor says with a smile. "Big enough for two boys." And his parents laugh, tearfully, grateful.

They grow up, both of them, Doug against the odds, and the science skills in both their hearts turns them toward Project Tic Toc, and a Tunnel in the middle of nowhere. They read each other's files the day Tony joins, and Doug raises an eyebrow at a heart that size in a single chest, even as some of the other scientists mutter disparaging comments about Doug's - being heartless out of choice is one thing, but someone like him is different.

Tony is..strange, he thinks, with that oversized heart and no judgement in his dark gaze, and he finds that the heart in his own chest warms slightly to the man's unabashed offer of friendship, the genuine lack of pity in his smile.

He doesn't think when he goes after him on the Titanic, because if he had a real heart, he thinks he would call Tony the closest thing to a friend he's ever had, and so he runs with him, that day, and the days after, chasing time from one place to the next, because Tony deserves to get back home, to use that heart for something great.

A shell blast stops that huge heart in the midst of the Civil War, and Doug hovers, hands inches above him, uncertain of where to touch, what to do. Ann must be watching, because a jolt, and then another one comes through the Tunnel, but it's not enough to stabilize the damage, because there's so much heart in Tony Newman's chest, and all of it is horribly still and silent.

Doug doesn't hesitate. He reaches into his chest, between ribs and muscles, and pulls it out, that shriveled, ugly little thing that's blessedly beating when Tony's isn't, and if it can help at all, if he can make it work, just this once, he'll never complain about it again. He pushes it, with a bit too much strength, and a little less gently than he should, letting it fall like a lead weight against Tony's heart. And Tony twitches, coughs, and flutters back to life, that tiny little support system jump starting his own heart.

Doug's chest feels hollow, his limbs fuzzy and cold, like a drug dripping into his veins, but he pushes Tony's hands away when he tries to return the heart.

"Keep it." He says quietly. "Until yours is stable."

He's selfish, in a way, he thinks, because part of him imagines that his heart will change, like a cocoon to a butterfly, expand and grow strong in the presence of the warmth and strength of Tony's heart, and he aches for just a little of that.

Tony keeps it a week, than hands it back, during a blizzard in Colorado when Doug can't stop shaking, and Tony's face is pinched with fright, but so much warmer than Doug's, powered by that heart.

Tony cradles it, using both palms, even though it fits easily into one, and Doug pushes it back in himself with only a faintly bitter glance. His heart stutters nervously, as if it's forgotten the amount of space in his chest, the empty room it can't fill. It's no larger or stronger, and he feels an irrational urge to apologize for the sight of it, even when Tony's eyes glimmer with gratitude, and he's appallingly grateful himself that there was enough life in his flicker of a heartbeat to save Tony's heart.

Of this, he's certain. The world needs Tony's heart, that goodness, that warmth, and kindness. The world doesn't need his.

It's a matter of time, in the end, a ticking, slowing bomb, worsened by the share, by the constant warp and weft of time, but it's a surprise, even so, when his heart gives out in the midst of a Russian ballet performance. They'd been stuck there for two months, and taken a job moving props and setting up the lamps, and he thinks he's laughing at something Tony said, when there's a sharp pain across his chest, and he's on his back staring at the ceiling, unable to remember why all the breath has left his lungs.

His heart gives a final, apologetic twitch, and it's silent, and he's gone before awareness sets in, before he knows what happened.

His eyes fly open, as he gulps for air. His chest is weighted, something pressing against his ribs, and it's far too heavy, far too much. Tony's face swims into focus, and he's - crying? why is he crying? - and so visibly relieved that for an instant Doug thinks they must have made it home, until the ropes of the backstage room swim into view, and he realizes that it's still turn of the century Russia, and nothing has changed.

He sits up, slowly, and Tony reaches to help him with a single hand, prop him against a chair. He glances down, noting something cradled in Tony's other palm - his heart, still and dead-looking - and he's even more confused.

"How...?" He rubs his chest, and his heart thumps heavily - his heart never sounded like that before - and it's nearly deafening, enough to stop him cold. And then he's clawing at his chest, as Tony drops the old heart in time to stop him from pulling out the new.

"It's okay." Tony says, when he's pinned his arms to his side, slightly out of breath and frantic. "The beat jumps a little sometimes, and I know it's too big, but it.." He trails off.

"You gave me your heart." Doug's voice is numb, and he's feeling...he's feeling, and it's strange and overwhelming, and is this what people, normal people feel like all the time, like the world is too large and his heart, even one this big can't seem to contain it? "Why?"

"To save your life." Tony's voice sounds the same, and he doesn't even know how that's possible, because lacking a heart is supposed to make you dulled and cold, and Tony sounds anything but, a mixture of fear and happiness that he's too overwhelmed to process.

"Why?" He repeats, numbly, all he can manage for now, and this time Tony looks like he's going to cry again, and Doug knows for certain that that is impossible without a heart, and yet he's doing it.

"You did the same for me once."

"Not the same." Doug's eyes shift to the miserable looking heart on the floor, but Tony's eyes don't follow.

"Not just that." Tony's voice is gentle. "All the times you've kept me going, given up everything to keep me safe. Even following me in the first place. We're family, why wouldn't I give you my heart to save you?"

And like that, Doug's eyes are wet, too - he hates and loves this heart, he thinks, because he knows for sure he's never cried before - but no one has ever cared about him before, he's never mattered to anyone before, and Tony must take that as a cue that he's not going to claw the heart out now, because he lets go of his arms and pulls him into a hug. This is family, Doug's mind says softly, but aloud. "Thank you." He feels Tony nod.

They come back home, finally, ten years and two weeks after the day they entered the Tunnel, and the newspaper cover it, all, even as the psychologists and scientific papers study them with curiosity, considering the idea that perhaps there are many things the world has gotten wrong for too long. Tony lives, heartless, and it doesn't seem to alter or bother him in any way, still full of life and emotions. Doug keeps his heart, safe and sound, and if the papers mistake them for brothers, for twins, even, they only smile and don't correct them.

The rules are simple. Everyone is born with a heart. Anyone can live without a heart, so long as their birth heart is beating in someone's chest. Anyone can live with another heart, if their own has failed. Hearts may be bought, sold, borrowed, stolen, or - most notably - freely given.