I confess to being very iffy about writing this. I wrote it back when I was SUPER obsessed with Tom Hiddleston. I still adore him, but the fervor has cooled some. Now I calmly admire his character and the work he does. I always felt weird for writing about real people, but honestly this is the best work I've ever done writing-wise. I am so, so proud of this and I can't believe I haven't shared this with you guys here. I posted it on AO3 months ago. Hopefully you all enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it. Feel free to leave constructive criticism in your reviews.
DISCLAIMER: I do NOT own Mr. Hiddleston. Alas.
When Tom decides to leave his apartment in favor of an afternoon stroll through the park, the thought that he may once again cross paths with someone he hasn't quite let go of doesn't enter his mind. Instead, he's thinking about how he ought to have traded his gray t-shirt for something with shorter sleeves. In mid-June the heat is on full-blast, the bright sun scorching down from a clear azure sky. Still, there's a slightly cool breeze about and he can smell the array of summer foliage as he nears the park entrance. It's two o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon, so most of the business lunch crowd has cleared out. There are only a handful of other people who pass him by: a gray-haired woman tossing birdseed to pigeons, a pair of joggers in impeccable shape, and a man playing catch with his dog near the small pond.
Tom can meander through the park in relative peace and quiet, blessedly. After the last few months spent filming he's glad to have a break. He idly watches a pair of bluebirds flit around between a copse of oak trees, chirping brightly to one another. He's always enjoyed bird-watching, though he's never made a hobby of it. A memory darts across his mind, fleeting, but clear. Messy blonde hair and bright eyes, slender hands gesticulating as a pair of soft lips identify and describe an elusive species of fowl in the backyard. There is a swift pang through his heart, a flutter of dulled longing. He hasn't seen her in years, though every now and again she strolls through his thoughts. It's been long enough that he doesn't feel sad remembering her, rather he recalls her wistfully. All the time spent together she had been a light in his life, and he looks upon her memory fondly for it. The last time he knew anything of her she was newly married. He wonders how she is now; if she's still a wife, perhaps now a mother. Did she ever get her book published? Did she make the trip to Alaska that she had always spoken of?
He hopes fervently that she has. He wants all these things and more for her, wants her to be as happy and fulfilled in her life and he is in his own. Certainly she deserves it; Tom has never met as kind a human being as she. Even when they parted ways, she had no cross words for him. She'd wished him joy. He allows himself a broad smile, letting her wash over him. Summer, more so than the other seasons, always leaves him feeling nostalgic. His very soul seems to swim with trips to the lake, naps on porch swings, dashing through sudden rainstorms. He'd done these things with her, of course, and even more besides. The hot air and the smell of flowers blanket him and Tom wonders if she's out enjoying this weather, too, wherever she may be. Does her husband take her on walks to look for birds? Does she still like them anyway? Unbidden, his mind conjures the idea of her being in this very park, right now as he is, soaking up the sunshine and picking flowers that are actually weeds. Tom dismisses the notion immediately, because it is absolutely ridiculous.
Until it isn't.
Lost in thought, he hasn't been paying attention overmuch to where he was going. He's close to the back end of the park now, near the shopping district on Main Street. The trees are thicker here, the empty patches of grass much larger. This end of the park is used more for outdoor concerts, which will be starting up again soon, and with no benches or jogging paths there are few who venture out this far. Apparently, one of those few has chosen to grace the area with her presence. She's leaned back upon a soft patterned quilt, a picnic basket at her side. A few plastic containers rest atop the fabric and Tom thinks they may contain fruits and crackers of some kind. Her legs are stretched out before her, beautifully revealed by her high-waisted shorts. The red plaid of her sleeveless blouse is very familiar to him, and he briefly recalls seeing it against a similar backdrop – a camping trip some years ago. Her hair, dark blonde and impossibly soft, is pulled back into a hapless French-braid. Ray-Ban sunglasses shield her eyes from the sun, but he knows their color as surely as he knows his own name. Deep, dark blue – the way the ocean reflects the blue light of the sun when there are no clouds to block it.
He is speechless, mind working to process the sight before him. He'd never truly planned on seeing her again, certainly not out of the blue like this. He recalls something he'd once said in an interview a while back, about God always laughing at one's plans. Well, Tom muses, certainly He is having a marvelous chuckle at his expense. He watches her for a minute, debating whether or not to go over and say hello. She seems peaceful, as though the quiet is something she sorely needs, and so he is hesitant to disturb her – he knows all too well the value of a few moments peace to oneself. His debate is interrupted when, suddenly, she turns her head in what seems to be his direction and calls out.
"Thomas!" Admittedly, Tom panics slightly at the sound of his name. He wasn't prepared to stumble across her like this, and is even less equipped to confront her. But when she calls out again, he notices something isn't quite right. She's not looking in his direction; rather, her shaded gaze is levelled off to his right. "Tommy, you're too far away. Come back over here."
Tom turns then, following her voice and her line of sight, and notices something he had missed before, too preoccupied with observing the mostly-former object of his affections. A ways off from him, tearing up bits of grass with his small hands, is a boy. He cannot be more than three years of age, with large round eyes and a mop of blond curls in desperate need of trimming. His head perks up at the sound of his mother's voice – there is no denying that he's her son, and now one of Tom's previous questions has been answered – and he rises to totter his way back to her. Where Tom's heart had merely skipped before, it now seems to have stilled entirely. His own curls are long gone, hair darkened to a shade of reddish brown, but he looks at the little boy and a wave of something he can't put a name to crests within him. It's gone just as quickly – there is no possible way the boy could be his. The timeline is all wrong, and his coloring can just as easily have come from his mother. And small children are inclined to have curly hair, as well, are they not? No, little Thomas has nothing of him but his name.
That alone, though, makes his heart swell. That she thought enough of Tom to name her son for him is an immense privilege, assuming that's the reason behind it. Her husband could have picked the name for all he knows, although Tom feels otherwise, and is acutely aware of the other man's absence. He drops his gaze to her hands, but from this distance he cannot tell if she wears a ring. He watches for another moment as Thomas stumbles onto the quilt, careening into her embrace. They both laugh, and Tom's lips quirk up into a smile. He'd always believed she'd make an excellent mother, and he's pleased to see his theory is correct. Thomas wriggles away and plunks down between her legs, dragging one of the containers over. Reaching inside, he comes away with a chunk of red fruit – watermelon, Tom thinks – and takes a messy bite. A deep, slow ache starts in the center of his chest, creeping outward, and Tom wonders if, had they stayed together, he might have been a part of this scenario. In a split-second decision he is walking toward them, heart hammering away beneath his rib bones.
Thomas sees him first, and they smile at one another as Tom comes to a stop just beyond the quilt. She looks up at him and her lips part in surprise, and maybe something else. He can just see her eyes widen behind her sunglasses. "I – Tom?"
He breathes deeply, awash in the sound of his name on her lips. He tips his own shades up, resting them on his head, and offers her a shy smile. "Hello, Annie."
"I – Tom?"
There is a faint ringing in her ears, all her surroundings seem to have faded except where Tom stands before her. She is faintly aware of her young son, happily chewing away at his watermelon, eying the tall stranger with open curiosity. Annie herself is just as in awe – what are the chances of this? It's been years since she's seen Tom and though he's never truly left her mind, she admits he's been on it more than usual lately. He's as handsome as he always was, but it's more defined now. His face has lost much of the boyish roundness she remembers; his cheekbones are sharper and his jaw chiseled, covered in a fine layer of dark scruff. His hair is shorter and darker, no hint to be seen of his golden curls. His eyes, though, are just as bright and as kind as they were the day she met him. Something inside her eases at the sight.
"Tom," she says again, her lips pulling up into a smile on the exhale. She reaches up and tugs on his hand, pulling him down next to her. Carefully, trying not to crush Thomas, she leans over and wraps her arms tightly around Tom's neck, kisses him firmly on the cheek. "It's wonderful to see you again. I've missed you."
Tom's answering smile warms her from the inside out. "I've missed you, too. I was thinking about you just a few minutes ago, actually, right before I found you here. I saw a pair of bluebirds. Are they still your favorite?"
Annie laughs, pleased that he remembers such a thing. "They are. There're a lot of them in the park this summer. Thomas likes to try and catch them when they land in the grass."
She watches as Tom's eyes flick down to her boy, who is still happily working on the same chunk of fruit. She tenses briefly, a habit of years past she hasn't yet broken, but then relaxes. This is Tom, and the warmth in his eyes is further reassurance that there is no reason to worry over his reaction. Tom isn't Gavin. She shakes that thought away insistently and enjoys the faces that Thomas makes at his namesake. She wonders if Tom has made that particular correlation. He's beyond intelligent so she doesn't doubt he's caught on. Annie isn't sure she's ready to explain that decision, though, and hopes he won't ask after it.
"Handsome little man," Tom compliments, and Annie preens proudly. "His dad at work today?"
Annie sighs. She's not really upset with him for asking – the question itself is perfectly innocent. It's been a year since her life with Gavin broke apart, and she's finally got most of the pieces picked up. Annie's done well for Thomas and herself; most times she can talk about what she went through without batting an eyelash. Today, though, has been a hard one for her. That's why she decided to take Thomas out to the park for a bit, thinking the fresh air would help. "Gavin and I aren't together anymore. It all went very… badly."
Tom frowns, guilt prevalent in his features. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize…"
"Oh, Tom, of course you didn't." Annie offers him a gentle smile. "The worst of it has long since passed. It's been a whole year and we're much better now. Aren't we, Thomas?" The toddler doesn't answer, naturally, having moved on to a container of blueberries. "I've been living back with my parents in that old two-story, do you remember it? I found a place for just us two, though. We moved in officially last week."
"That's wonderful!" Tom smiles.
"Yes, it's a nice little place." Annie peers at him through her sunglasses. "How about you, Hollywood? What have you been up to lately?"
Tom grins, a bit bashful. "I've just finished filming my newest role in Paris. I'm on a short holiday between projects right now."
"What fun! I bet Paris was wonderful."
"It was," Tom agrees. "But the schedule was very intense. I'm glad to be home."
"I saw your last film, you know. You were spectacular. I enjoyed your performance better than some of the A-listers you were starring with." Annie watches as two perfect splotches of pink bloom on his sharp cheeks. She laughs. "I've seen all your films, actually. You've done so well."
There is a softness to Tom now, on his face and in his eyes, mixed with gratitude and something almost familiar. "Thank you. It means so much to me, hearing that from you."
Annie sighs, nudging his shoulder with hers affectionately. "I could go on and on, really. I remember how hard you worked when all you did was theatre, and even then you were amazing to watch. I'm really proud of you."
"I'm so grateful for it, too. And you? Did you ever publish your novel? I remember what you told me of it; it sounded really interesting." The way Tom looks at her, with expectant bright eyes, waiting to hear her own tale of personal success, makes Annie's heart sink. She's going to disappoint him.
"I haven't been quite the busy bee you have," she says, laughing a bit. "After I married Gavin, my writing seemed to just… stop. I thought I might come back to it after a time, but I never did."
"How sad," Tom laments, a frown tugging at the corners of his lips. "You're so talented a writer. There are other things you've succeeded in, I'm sure. Motherhood, for example."
The tension in her belly eases some. "There is that. Thomas is my entire world, even more now than when he was born."
"Well, I am proud of you for being so devoted a mother. It's worth far more than a few films and awards."
They share a smile, and a brief silence. After that, words seem to pour from both of them, easy as you please. Annie finds herself falling back into years-old routines. Talking with Tom is no different now, six years down the road, than it was when they were younger. He moves his hands, broad and expressive gestures that punctuate the ends of his eloquent sentences. He weaves vivid details and splendid words into enthralling stories – recounts of his time on different films, anecdotes of his friends in the industry and their experiences. When it's Annie speaking, he listens attentively. Every last bit of his intense focus is aimed at her, and she knows he hears every word. He nods in all the right places, reacts when he's supposed to, but more than this he's enjoying it. He's having fun hearing her stories, the gaps of her life without him being filled in. She tells him mostly of Thomas, her experiences and revelations as a mother. There are a few stories with her parents and friends – Tom particularly enjoys the story of how Thomas ripped the popcorn from the tree last Christmas, nearly toppling the thing onto himself. Annie is careful to speak little of Gavin, and if she mentions him she keeps the details minimal.
Surely Tom has noticed this. He's a keen mind; one of the most intelligent men Annie has ever known. Annie's poker face is no better than his, but his politeness is her saving grace – he's not likely to ask why she's being so vague about her former husband and the circumstances surrounding their separation. Despite her surety that Tom is onto her, Annie feels lighter than she has all year. Tom, when they were still together, had been her best friend. She'd trusted him with everything and he'd never once let her down. He'd never made her feel anything less than beautiful and cherished, even when they fought with one another. He was unfailingly kind and considerate. He never forgot a birthday or anniversary, and if something good happened for her he would devise a way to celebrate. He was, and still is, the loveliest man to come into her life. Gavin, before things fell apart, had been nice. He'd bought her books, taken her to the movies or to the beach out of town. He'd seemed so smitten with her, and Annie thought she'd felt the same way about him. But with Gavin there was something… lacking. Some key component absent from the equation, the last piece of a puzzle nowhere to be found. But now here is Tom, and even though they're only talking, two old friends catching up, Annie can feel that piece lock back into place. She wonders why it went missing to begin with.
Tom soon catches her mind wandering and comments on it. "You all right, Annie?"
"Oh," she starts, returning to the present. She flicks her eyes down to Thomas, who has abandoned his fruit and is beginning to fall asleep. "Yes. Sorry. I was just thinking."
Tom smiles, bemused. "What of?"
"You," she replies, startling herself with her honesty. She won't take it back, though. The years have been hard, and she's coming to a place where she can handle it all now, a place where she's ready to take back some of the control she lost to Gavin. "We've been living very different lives since we left each other, Tom. Mine has been very difficult and hurtful, but I'm starting to come out of it. I'm finally functioning like a normal human being. I'm not all the way there yet, that'll take some more time, but I feel… good. And you know, I'm so glad you found me today. I think it was the last thing I needed to set me straight." She pauses, looking at him to see if he'll say anything. He doesn't, but she knows he's listening. "I feel like there's a reason we were brought back together, and if that sounds a bit camp then I'm sorry. But I'm thinking these things and I just… I wonder why we left in the first place."
There's silence, but Annie knows Tom well enough to know he's only processing her words. While he gathers his own thoughts, she looks back down at Thomas. He's curled up between her legs, blonde curls brushing the skin of her thigh. She notes a bit of pink on his cheeks and reaches into the picnic basket for the sunscreen she'd packed that morning. Thomas is quite fair-skinned and he's miserable with sunburn. She applies the lotion, gently so as not to disturb him, and picks up his little hat from where it lay abandoned on the quilt. She settles it over his head just so, to keep the sun from burning him further. She'll put some aloe on him when they get home. She glances back at Tom to find him watching her intently. The blue of his eyes makes her heart skitter, and she fights to keep the smile off her face. So much is different, but just as many things haven't changed at all. She pushes her sunglasses up so they can look each other in the eye, patiently waits for him to speak.
"When we decided to end our relationship," he begins, enunciating each word carefully. "It was mutual. We didn't have a terrible row, scream things we didn't mean. I don't remember how we got there, but we came to the realization that each of us was growing and clearly not in the same direction. We were young, but we were smart enough to know to stop while we were ahead. I still stand by that choice; my only regret is that your life since then hasn't gone so well as mine, because I only ever wanted good things for you. We've done our growing now, in this time apart, and now we seem to have grown back together. I think you're right about us being here for a reason. At least, I hope you're right. On various occasions these last six years, you have crossed my mind in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons. I haven't stopped thinking of you, not truly, and I… I haven't stopped loving you, either. Only now I think I love you a different way, because I am different and you are different. I don't know how you feel about me – if I ever cross your mind, if you still care for me – but there it is. I don't want you to think I have some sort of expectation, because I don't, but if we… that is if you –"
Tom rarely fumbles his words, and the sight is so endearing that Annie can't stop herself from pecking him lightly on the lips. Taking advantage of his sudden silence she says, "I don't expect anything, either. But for whatever reason, you've come back into my life and I'm not really keen to let you leave again. Now, you've got a career blowing up around the world and I still have so many things to work out after what I've been through. But this is something good, and I for one would like to see where it goes. And we don't have to do anything, you know. We don't have to rush to do or say certain things, we don't have to make promises. We can just… be. Okay?"
Tom's eyes search hers, his tongue flicking out to wet his bottom lip thoughtfully. He sighs, seeming to find what he was looking for, and offers her a tentative smile. "Yeah. Yeah, okay. We can do that. We can just be. I'd really like that, actually."
"Good," Annie sighs, feeling something light and lovely wrap around her heart. It's an old, familiar sensation from the first time she had him, and she greets it like a long-lost friend. "Great."
Thomas stirs against her leg, reminding her that it's nearing suppertime and she needs to get him home. She's loathe to leave the park, however. As she closes the containers and packs them back into the picnic basket she asks Tom, "Could you pick Thomas up for just second? I need to fold up this quilt."
She feels more than sees him hesitate, but ultimately he consents. She gathers Thomas up carefully, eternally grateful that this toddler is so unusually deep a sleeper, and waits until Tom has stood up and stooped back over before handing him off. Thomas immediately burrows down, never having been particularly choosy about who holds him so long as he can nap. Annie bites her lip to keep from laughing and turns her attention to the quilt, folding it quickly and neatly before tucking it into the raised handles of the picnic basket. She stalls for a second, desperate to keep Tom in her company a bit longer. "Do you have any plans for tonight?"
Tom, who is currently studying Thomas's sleeping features intensely, starts at her question. "What? Er, no, not really. Probably just dinner and cheap reality television before bed."
"Would you like to have dinner with us?" she offers, suddenly nervous again. "Mom dropped off some groceries yesterday, and we haven't had any real guests to our new home yet. You know, if you'd like."
Se bites her lip again, awaiting his answer, and Tom kindly doesn't leave her in suspense. "I would love to. Thank you."
She beams at him, positively delighted, and lifts the basket up off the grass. "My house is close enough to walk to, just that way. You can keep ahold of him if you want. He'll get moody if we keep passing him back and forth."
Tom obligingly keeps Thomas to himself and tilts his toward her. "Lead the way, Annie."
She smiles up at him and leads him back toward the main path through the park, swinging the basket gently at her side. There are more people in the park now, mostly joggers and dog-walkers home from work, and a few young couples out for a stroll. She wonders if Tom and she count as one of them and the thought leaves her giddy. The sky has darkened some to a dusky blue, the shadows of trees stretching out over the grass. The birds have settled down some, no longer hopping from perch to perch. She mentally goes through the contents of her fridge to see what she has; considers making pasta for supper. Tom likes her pasta.
Annie still feels incredibly light, like the past six years have never happened – like she and Tom had never left and this chance encounter is actually something they do all the time. She glances back at him, finds him looking at Thomas again. The sight sends a pang through her heart. She doesn't think she'll ever tell him, but she's often wished Thomas had been his son instead of Gavin's. But then Thomas wouldn't be Thomas, and that would break her heart. It's enough to have them both here now – more than enough, it's perfect.
Annie'd had no idea, not the slightest inkling that by coming to the park today she would find Tom all over again. She can't fathom what convoluted threads God had strung together to make this happen, and decides it only matters that He strung them in the first place. She thinks she'll get Him a thank-you card, maybe tie it to a balloon and send it up, but Annie lets the thought go. It doesn't matter how or why Tom came back to her. She's not even really concerned with the when, either. All she cares about is that he did – that he found her and he's with her and he's very likely not going to leave her again. Because he still loves her, even if in a different way, and even though she didn't tell him it's true that she's been thinking of him, as well.
And she still loves him differently, too.