Flash 15: Sue

Sue did not know that her husband had even been hurt until he was halfway to Vancouver.

Seth, looking like he'd grown an inch since the previous night, slunk into the house looking miserable and wearing someone else's clothes. (Sue would never let her boy wear such ratty jeans.) "Mom," he said, "um," he went on, and then he stopped, making half-gestures with his hands to illustrate words that wouldn't come.

"Spit it out," said Sue tiredly over the crooning radio. "Where's your father? Didn't you and Leah take him somewhere to see something an hour ago? Don't tell me you built another deathtrap of a treehouse..."

"No treehouse," whispered Seth. "Mom..."

"What?" asked Sue. She got up to take an apple out of the fridge.

"Dad... got... hurt," choked Seth.

"What happened?" asked Sue. She put the apple back and turned her gaze on her son, who stood trembling (and when did he get that tall?) in the doorway.

"He got hurt bad," sobbed Seth, "and it was an accident, it was, don't blame her, please, she didn't mean it, I know she didn't, but he got hurt, and Bella -"

"Bella? Charlie's kid? She's here? Did she hurt your father?" asked Sue sharply. She liked Charlie, but she didn't know about his kid. What she'd seen of the girl involved an unhealthy obsession with notebooks. She'd probably turn into an obnoxious reporter or something.

"No," said Seth emphatically. "Bella helped him... sort of..."

"Where is your father?" Sue demanded, tapping her foot.

"On his way to Alaska," Seth whispered.

The truth came out, over hours of explanation: Bella, and the Cullens, and all the old legends, and wolves and Rachel and Leah and Harry, Harry savaged and dying and turning into the kind of monster Sue once had nightmares about. She wondered if she was having a nightmare about them now - except in nightmares, the monsters were present. In nightmares they chased and bit and snarled, they didn't pour venom into one's husband while one was mixing cupcake batter and then drive him to Alaska.

Leah was still in wolf form, unable to "phase", for hours after the - Sue decided to call it an accident. Everyone said it was an accident, it was a wolf thing, it was dangerous to provoke them, it wasn't Leah's fault. Sue would have thought it was just Leah duping her little brother to avoid getting in trouble ("oh, I can't control myself, it's the wolf inside of me that did this") if it hadn't been for the fact that Rachel and some half a dozen other people backed up the story.

Sue didn't attempt to speak to Leah herself when the girl - taller too, though less dramatically than Seth - slunk back into the house the next day in Rachel's shirt and Marilyn's khakis. She didn't know what to say to her daughter. All her usual threats and punishments and the like had been losing force with the girl anyway, and they were out of proportion to the severity of the crime. Sue couldn't call Charlie, summon him in his cop car, tell him to take her child away. Not because she wouldn't, but because she couldn't very well have Leah prosecuted for a crime under the circumstances. What would she tell the man? "Good morning, Charlie, my daughter turned into a giant gray wolf and nearly slaughtered Harry. Yours is turning him into a Cold One (yes, that's the same thing as a vampire, and she is one of those) to save his life."

Not likely.

And - save his life? Was he going to be alive? Cold Ones were undead, monsters, savage death-dealing beasts less than human in everything but the ability to kill, it had taken magic to fight them off when they'd preyed on the tribe forever ago...

She wasn't sure if her husband was alive or dead.

If Harry were dead, Leah had killed him.

Leah and Sue hadn't spoken two words to each other since the - accident. Until finally the dam had burst, and they had shouted at each other all morning. Then Leah had stormed out of the house, doubtless to seek comfort in her fiancé's arms. (Fiancé. Ugh. She was too young, but Sue didn't disapprove of Sam per se, and that had limited her ability to prevent the early race to marriage.)

Leah came back in time for dinner - neither turning into a wolf nor killing (?) her father had made a dent in her appetite, and she and Seth both ate ravenously - and soon enough she and Sue were shouting at each other again.

The shouting went on, and on, and Leah phased in the house. It was the first time Sue had seen it from Leah (she'd seen Rachel do it, great fluffy cross between a wolf's shape and a polar bear's color and a Clydesdale's size that she was). Leah was smaller than Rachel, but she was still a toothy roaring creature tall as a horse and bristling gray, and Sue was for an instant terrified of her daughter.

Leah did lunge, but then she snapped herself back, pulled the fur back in through her skin and then she was Sue's baby girl, crying on the floor among the shreds of the ninth set of clothes she'd destroyed, and this was not a murderer.

But no one else's claws had hurt Harry...

So, he was not dead.

But he was a vampire. Sue didn't expect to find laws on the books about what that meant, but was he still her husband? Did she want him to ever venture close to her or her (their?) children again? Certainly the children shouldn't visit him. He was dangerous - so was Leah, for that matter, and maybe even Seth if something provoked him enough - it wouldn't end well.

But he was alive.

Harry started writing.

It was different. Even in writing he was different - he made no more typos, he wrote blindingly fast and replied near instantly when she answered (tersely and with misgivings, but she wrote back). His messages were long and full of awkwardly restrained expressions of affection. Plainly, he thought they were still married.

He didn't say much about the place Bella had taken him, until Sue asked, but then it came spilling out: they were hitting him, all the time, to keep him "under control", and one had magic like a Taser that she flung around indiscriminately too. There was no one besides the sisters (except for the married one, and the "married" bit was only a guess on Harry's part, they were practitioners of deplorable morals that made Sue shiver with distaste) and the one sister's husband (?) and the other "newborn" and Carmen and Eleazar to talk to. Carmen and Eleazar were better than the others, Harry told her, but he missed his home, his wife -

Sue wasn't sure if she was his wife.

But she answered his letters, anyway.

Sue wrote about how she and Billy were cooperating to keep Charlie from the truth, and how much she hated it. She wrote about the wolves, and how the tribe was changing around them, and how Seth and Leah were holding up. She sometimes wrote nothing but monosyllabic responses to his questions, but he always seemed impossibly thrilled to hear from her. He'd never been a neglectful spouse, but Sue felt like she had his attention in a way that she'd never sustained before.

So when he wrote, she wrote back.

Sue did not like that it took her daughter's fiancé abandoning her for the pair of them to have the first civil, honest mother-daughter talk they'd managed in years. That, and the rude betrayal of Emily. But Leah needed support, and her father wasn't there - he wrote, but there were times when words didn't do the trick, and the mother-daughter talks were accompanied by bowls of ice cream and hugs and occasional sappy movies that Leah liked (or was masochistically drawn to) and Sue tolerated.

And Sue heard volumes about Sam, and how Sam was such a good man, and how he never meant to imprint, and how all Rachel's demands hadn't moved him but that could only be because he was incapable. Except, Leah went on around a mouthful of rocky road, that she didn't think if he'd really loved her as much as he possibly could, he would have imprinted on anyone else; if he'd loved her enough he would have imprinted on her if anyone at all. Leah vacillated between calling down curses on his head and wishing for his love again with a speed that gave Sue whiplash.

And Sue listened to Leah wail about Emily, who had stood by her to begin with in opposition to the force that had taken over Sam, who had been a good nigh-sisterly cousin, who had been so supportive...

Up until the moment Emily wavered and Sam was there to catch her and push her over the fence. Up until the moment she decided she wanted arbitrary, fairy-tale love and devotion from one mystical creature more than she wanted the hard-earned sisterly affection she already had from another. Sue listened to her daughter call her niece every foul name in the book and some she was sure Leah was inventing on the spot.

Sue listened, and occasionally she spoke brief, quiet sentences about Harry, and Leah nodded and used them as springboards into her next tirade or parade of misery.

When Leah was out on one of her long, furious four-legged runs, Sue informed Seth that he was not allowed to date, ever, until and unless he imprinted.

Seth just nodded once, wide-eyed, and crossed his heart.

I'd like to visit you, Harry wrote, if you're willing.

August sunshine glared on the computer screen, and Sue squinted to read it, but that was what it said. Harry wanted to visit her.

The e-mailing had been like their initial courtship through the honeymoon, except long-distance, all over again. And that had wound up with Sue pregnant before they really had enough money to afford Leah. But those loose vampire women Harry lived with never got knocked up, did they? (And why was she imagining that there would be anything of that nature if he visited, anyway? He could walk near a human without killing; but he might not be able to even touch her. More likely they would talk face-to-face and that would be the whole of it.)

Get Rachel's permission. Otherwise, I'm not sure the wolves wouldn't kill you if you came onto tribal land, she wrote.

I don't want to have to clear it with Rachel just to see my wife, he sent back. Or my coven, for that matter. What about the old cabin?

When it came down to it, nor did Sue like the idea of Rachel having to know about every moment she spent with her husband (no point in pretending he wasn't, anymore). They worked out some logistics: she'd need to bring a change of clothes, to prevent their wolf children from smelling him on her; he'd need to pretend to his "covenmates" that he was only going for a long walk; he'd have to choose his route carefully to avoid exposure. All for a very short visit before he'd have to turn right around and go... "home".

He was adamant that yes, he was willing to spend a full day in transit just to see her for a couple of hours, so he did.

The look on his face when he first saw her was - really something. Sue compared it to the way the wolves with imprints looked at those. It wasn't the same. It had that intensity, but not that shock of newness: Harry's was the look of a profoundly devoted married man, not a permanently infatuated wolf. She knew he was one of the monsters from her nightmares, but with that look on his face she couldn't bring herself to fear him.

They didn't have a lot to say. They'd covered most of the content of the new features in their lives through writing. Anything less novel they already knew. Mostly, Harry mentioned things he couldn't quite remember, and Sue filled it in for him - exact details about their wedding. Leah's first word ("cake"). The pattern of the wallpaper in their kitchen. The way Seth had babbled with delight at his first day of school. The lyrics to "their song".

He touched her once - he brought his hand up under hers, not holding it exactly for fear of crushing it but letting her rest it there. And he looked at her rings, which she'd somehow never gotten around to taking off even when she wasn't sure they were still married, and then he looked up at her and smiled.

Then he had to go.

Sue went back to the house, washed her hands before crossing paths with any wolves, and quietly pined.

And when he came back a day and a half later, having checked in with the Denali vampires, she suggested that it might be safe if he just held very still while she did the touching.

It was amazing they were never caught before she got pregnant. Even timing things so he arrived in the wee hours of the morning and Sue could shower right after without arousing suspicion, someone might have noticed, but no one was paying her that much attention.

Then she realized she'd missed a period, and had a bewildering bump on her stomach, and an explanation for all the omelettes and French toast and frittatas she'd been fixing came to mind... and she called Harry to make him turn around.

He'd been baffled. He'd stopped short of accusing her of infidelity, so she denied it on her own initiative: "This is not a human baby," she told him. "Too fast. I was on time last month and now I'm showing. I couldn't get into some of my pants this morning. I think it was your second visit..."

"Does anyone else know?" he asked, after a stunned pause.

"No, but it won't be long before they figure out something's up, and I'm going to have trouble getting around soon," she said. "I'm not going to tell anyone what's going on. I don't dare. They'll want to hurt him."

"I'll be there as soon as I can," Harry promised. "My phone is dying; I'll be there as soon as I can, love."

Half the tribe wanted her baby dead.

Her baby. Leah and Seth's little brother (she was sure it was a boy, and she'd been right with her first two). Accidental, but so was Leah. Babies were not disposable, whatever politicians and legislators liked to argue about these days. She was not going to let anyone harm her son.

Or rather, she wouldn't if she had any ability whatever to stop them. She was not much able to get into and out of bed, let alone defend herself and the child if it came to physical confrontation.

Then Bella showed up, and Bella thought Sue was allowed to keep her baby (oh, how generous, that she was allowed) but still felt entitled to call Sue an idiot in her own house, in front of her children, for not wanting a stranger to reach in with instruments of death to destroy her baby. This when that slip of a girl was only seventeen and had never been and would never be pregnant herself. Sue helped herself to practical advice about diet, and when the interfering little chit crossed the line, a well-placed threat about talking to Charlie (who already suspected something) shut her up quick.

It was a strange pregnancy. She'd had the usual cravings with Seth and Leah, but never for blood, which tasted mysteriously delicious when Leah brought her the stuff from various wildlife. When she wasn't sucking down as much blood as they could get her (and damned if it didn't feel bizarre slurping a mug of red liquid that had been coursing around in Charlie's veins minutes earlier), she was devouring eggs and everything else that was brought to her. When she wasn't bringing it back up again.

The broken ribs hurt when she breathed, but she could live with that. Each new one didn't add that much to the discomfort after the first, and it wasn't like suddenly changing her mind about keeping the baby would make them heal overnight.

"Cody," she said once, testing out the name.

"Huh, Mom?" asked Seth, who was sitting with her when she thought of it.

"Your little brother. I'm going to call him Cody," she said. "Your father can pick a girls' name in case I'm wrong." And then she passed out, and woke up to find that the clock had advanced by three minutes and several people were standing over her anxiously.

Bella's idea of a c-section had seemed so clever at the time.

Mid-turning, Sue wanted to crank back the clock and undo every decision that had made her more likely to survive to experience it.

Except the decision to keep her baby. Cody.

But if he could have killed her coming out, like every other half-vampire had... that would have been an improvement.

She screamed, and it didn't help, and she went on screaming anyway, and the burn raged on.

When Sue's heart stopped and the pain was finally over, she was in Harry's arms, and thought of nothing else for a good three seconds. And then she said, "Cody."

"Leah and Seth have him," soothed Harry. "I'll go fetch him out here right now if you like."

Sue nodded, and he kissed her brow. "Don't go anywhere," he cautioned, and was off like a flash.

She waited. Experimentally, she performed a backflip. It should have been exhilirating, but there was no dizzy urgency to the change in equilibrium - she was just aware that she was temporarily upside-down. She didn't repeat the test; instead she looked around at the cabin. It was halfway decent; Harry had been busy while she was gestating with fixing the place up to be livable. There was no question of vampires living in the village itself. The house belonged to Leah now, and Seth.

Harry was back in no time (nine minutes, six and a half seconds) with Cody in his arms. The little boy looked older than he should already - slimmer than a human baby, more like a miniature toddler. But he was her boy, that she'd given so much for, and she scooped him right up. He poured out heat and giggled and said "Ma" like he knew the sense of the syllable.

"Hello, Cody," purred Sue.

"Mr. Clearwater, Mrs. Clearwater," panted Quil, carrying a bewildered Claire under one arm and standing naked in their doorway, "vampires. Volturi. They got everybody except imprinters. We're making a run for it, you have to -"

"Leah and Seth?" Harry interrupted, clenching a hand over Sue's shoulder.

"Not imprinters," said Quil, clutching urgently at Claire. "We're going, I just wanted to warn -"

"Take Cody with you," said Sue abruptly, picking up her son and thrusting him at Quil. The wolf tucked the hybrid under his other arm, but looked at her in confusion. "What are you standing there for? Go! Get him somewhere safe! Harry -"

"Leah and Seth," said Harry grimly, and they ran towards the village in perfect sync.

Cody is safe, Sue repeated to herself over the low scream of pain from every disassembled part of her body. The wolves have Cody. Cody is safe... But she didn't know about Leah or Seth, and Harry was not safe, and she... was halfway to dead.

But Cody is safe.

There was fire, and then she knew no more.

Sue woke.

She was staring in a mirror, at a face that was not as white and smooth as it should have been (it looked like someone had covered her in makeup, which wouldn't stick, so she had no idea why they'd do it), but it did look like her, for the most part.

Standing over her was a girl, with almost metallic orange hair and inappropriately large eyes set in an anxious face. "Where am I?" Sue demanded.

"Volterra, Italy," the girl told her.

So Sue was a prisoner, but they didn't have her restrained - she shot a hand up towards the girl, intending to knock her head from her shoulders. A brown hand caught hers in midair and she tried to wrench free, but he was stronger than her, which didn't make sense - she was a newborn - was that Jacob?

"Jacob?" she asked. In Volterra? She tried again to pull her hand out of his grip, and he let her. She sat up warily.

"I did just tell her she's in Volterra, and the last thing she remembers is being taken prisoner by the Volturi," rambled the girl. "She doesn't know who I am and probably didn't notice right away she's not a vampire any more. If I'd been, say, Noemi, and worked for the bad guys, it would have been reasonable..."

One couldn't un-turn... "Not a vam- what?" She looked at her hands. They were darker than they should have been too. Not as dark as she'd been before she turned, but not vampire pale either. Weakly tanned white human hands. Without makeup smeared all over them. She pulled in a breath. The air wasn't full of the smells it should have carried, and it felt needed in a way it shouldn't have, unless. Human. "How is this possible?"

A man sitting in a bed across the room said, voice cracking with stress, "I'm told we're Italian now."

"Italian? Who are you?" Sue asked him.

"I'm Harry, I think. They tell me you're Sue." He peered at something he was holding in his hand. He didn't resemble Harry to speak of, except a little around the eyes.

"Of course I'm Sue." Who else would she be? She turned to look at the other occupants of the room. "Leah? Seth?" she breathed. They were familiar. Just as she remembered. "And..." She knew that young man, from somewhere, but...

"Cody," he murmured. Tears trailed down his cheeks. "I'm Cody, Mom."

She didn't let her eyes flicker away from his face. That was her son? All grown? He'd been a little boy...

"Someone," said Sue, "had better explain all this to me from the beginning."

"Do you want to turn again, once we stop moving around long enough to do it?" Harry asked her in a low voice. It wouldn't stop the vampires from hearing, but it would stop them from thinking they were invited to do so.

"I don't know," she sighed. "Maybe. Maybe not. I only did it because of Cody, the first time... and the pain..."

"The pain won't be a problem in the future," Harry said. "Alec will be handling that."

"Mmm. I don't know. What do you think?" she asked.

"I miss being able to feel people at a distance. They think the power will come back if I turn," he murmured. "And near as I can tell, all our children will live forever and think choosing to stay human is a lot like committing suicide. Being a vampire wasn't so bad, it was just... other things that made it hard."

"Mmm," said Sue.

Turning was much easier, the second time.