TITLE: How to Disappear Completely (1/1)

AUTHOR: c. midori

EMAIL: socksless@hotmail.com

CATEGORY: angst (SL)

RATING: PG

SPOILERS: the bare bones of season eight.

ARCHIVE: please ask first for permission.

DISCLAIMER: story is based on characters and situations owned by Not Me, etc.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: because there's not enough susan!fic out there, dammit. title taken from a song by radiohead.

SUMMARY: a love story, (un)happily ever after. susan/dix, susan/carter, susan/mark--pick your poison. season 8.

*          *          *

It snows almost every day in December, starting with the first day and breaking a steady path to the holidays. You scowl at the cold, but secretly some part of you enjoys the picture it makes: all sugar and icing atop a birthday cake of a world too busy to blow out its own candles. You think you'd like to watch it melt, sometimes.

Decembers in Arizona did that to you, made you wish for ice and snow and cold Christmas air as sharp as knives. Arizona was hot, the heat merciless and unforgiving, the horizon blurring and the asphalt burning the soles of your feet. Suzie's fingers were permanently sticky with sand and gravel and ice cream; Chloe's hair streaked yellow like butter under the sun.

You wanted to be blonde, was not, bought the bottle, was. There was no room for a brunette in the desert, just sun-bottled blondes. Why the hell not? Besides, it went with all the denim that suddenly found its way into your wardrobe. (Oh, god. Denim.) It went with the sun, and the sky, and the sweat…

He liked it, anyway.

*

Little Suzie (who is not so little anymore but the name sticks nevertheless) loves him. It's because he brings her things--potted cacti and stones rubbed smooth by sand and the frayed lengths of lassos, and on her birthday a real cowboy hat.

Chloe is all raised eyebrows and meaningful looks. And there's something like envy in her voice whenever she says his name.

"Dix."

*

Talk is cheap. So you don't talk much. You were never any good at it, anyway. Too smart and too sarcastic for your own good. So you're happy to let your hands do all the talking, all that syntax and all those syllables reduced to the way you run your fingers along the ridges of his spine or the way you shove his jeans down over his hips. It's nice.

*

Twilight. The sun is bleeding all across the sky, bleeding all over you. He has you pressed up against the side of the house; he has you trembling as he begins to undo the neat row of buttons down the front of your shirt. It's like being sixteen all over again and you're all nerves--you can't help but shudder, summertime and sweat dried on your skin, your shirt opening beneath his hands.

His hands. His hands are calloused and work-hardened; his jaw is coarse with stubble. But you like the way he feels against you, on you, in you. Like sandpaper, rough and ready against your button-down and starch-pressed, always proper and professional Dr. Lewis. Like the edge of a dream.

And soon it'll be dark, and soon you'll be able to see the stars. This is the desert, a space beyond the borders of the city, beyond its hectic lights and siren song. This is the sky, crammed full of light, the sun by day, and the stars at night. There are so many stars, but you ever grow tired of counting them, the same way he never grows tired of numbering your freckles--the ones sprinkled across your nose, the ones splashed atop your arms, the ones sprayed across your back like constellations mapped out against the night sky. Too much sunlight in the desert.

Your head falls back. Above, the first stars wink awake, and his mouth brushes low over your throat. Of course, his lips are chapped. Of course, you don't care. Of course.

*

He's asleep on your side of the bed, snoring like a tractor and sporting a six o'clock shadow. You take these things because they're his, as much as the cowboy boots that he's so fond of tossing in the corner, or the dirt that's constantly present under his fingernails, or the way he sucks his knuckles when he's eating oranges. You take these things because he leaves them to you. The boots by the bed, the trace of dusty footprints on your floorboards. Orange peels, and his toothbrush by your sink. He leaves them so when he leaves you you've got something to remember him by; he leaves them so when he leaves you he can never find these parts of himself again.

*

Do you ever think about it, you ask him.

He doesn't reply, just holds you close.

Do you, you insist. Even as you feel stupid just saying the words, even as he tightens his grip. Do you ever think about it?

"Sometimes," he says, his voice low, and he smiles at you oddly.

*

It's a constant buzz in your bones; this sickness, this fever. Like falling into the open maw of a hot, hot hell; like the sun after snowfall, light and bright and electric. It goes with you on the plane to Chicago, and it stays with you even as the bitter cold settles in. The memory of heat, the memory of him.

He left. It is the only thing you know as you board a plane to Chicago.

*

Chicago comes back to you in bits and pieces--the cold rush of river water, the tracks whose trains once led you away from this place, Carter. Still with that odd light in his eyes which makes you think of the awkward, fumbling med student, still with that earnest smile and those steady hands. Except he's not a med student anymore, and is he flirting with you? Really, you can't possibly be flirting back.

But you are, and that immediately puts you on Abby's hit list. Like Carol, Abby is one of the nurses; unlike Carol, Abby doesn't like you. Abby walks around with a tense, hunted look on her face; Abby keeps her replies short and sharp as if she's readying for blood sacrifice.  At first, you think Abby has no sense of humor, but then you come to realize that you're only partially right.  Abby has no sense of humor, all right--but only when it comes to Carter.

Carol? Got on a plane and never looked back. (At least you had half of that equation down.) Haleh, Lydia, and Conni are happy to see you. Peter gives you an unusually warm welcome. Kerry…well, the less said about her, the better.

You look around and you can't help but notice all the changes--and then you can't help but notice everything that's stayed the same. The peeling paint, the frequent flyers, the lousy pay…

Mark.

*

So the rumors are true, so time heals even a broken heart. You try not to look surprised when he shows you pictures of Ella, when you meet Elizabeth. So he's happy, now. So were you, once.

So you try your best to be happy for him. And you're surprised when you find that you don't have to try. Because you are, amazingly, happy for him--and Elizabeth, and Rachel and Ella. But your bones still ache when he smiles at you, and it's easy to remember why you fell in love with your best friend in the first place.

*

Days pass. You rent an apartment, write your name by your callbox. Nights, you can hear the rattling of the El and you miss the sound of him asleep next to you, you miss the warmth of his breath on your neck. But you take care of yourself. It is, after all, all you have left of him.

There are good days and there are bad days. More good than bad, but, oh, the bad days. Blood and bone, loss and mourning, never and forever in the length of a second--you lose patients on these days. You know them only as silhouettes, because all you can see are the dark shapes pressed against a bright light. Like twilights in the desert.

And on these days you see yourself grabbing your coat, jamming a knit hat over your head, slamming the door behind you. On a one way flight back to Arizona, away from the cold and away from here. Away from a place where everyone knows your name and everyone takes you for granted, back to the one place where you are sacred.

Sometimes, it's all you can do to keep yourself from flying into a million pieces.

*

Winter settles in, and Carter kisses you.

He kisses you sweetly. He barely even touches you. It's nice, and it doesn't hurt quite as much as you expected it to.

*

He can barely walk, but somehow the two of you make it back to his place before he collapses on his couch.

You could cry. (If you let yourself.) Instead, you walk into his kitchen and heat a can of soup.

He falls asleep with his head in your lap. His body already feels different. Lighter, and altogether too frail for his spirit. You wonder. How long he stood on that platform and watched as that train took you away, how long it took for him to let go of you and make for himself a new life. A part of you imagines a different time, a different place, a different world from this one. The two of you stealing into an empty room. Kissing messily, laughing helplessly. If things were different.

But they're not, and it's not like old times at all. One, you both fell in love again--and not with each other.

Two, he's dying.

*

Days turn into weeks, weeks into months, months into a year.

You are Dr. Lewis. Sensible and dependable. Like an expensive insurance policy. You do laundry on Saturdays and ironing on Sundays so you can wear your signature starched shirts all week long. You love your job. You joke around with your patients. You learn to reinvest in wool.

You dump Carter because he's in love with Abby. You befriend Abby. (What happened, she asks. I'd rather not talk about it, you say. It just sort of happens over coffee and mutual male-bashing. You suppose that's the way all your female friendships form, at first.) You learn that you were right: Abby has a sense of humor. A great sense of humor. But about everything other than Carter.

You miss Mark. You remember the way he used to smile at you, the way he was your best friend. Once upon a time was so very long ago, but the tracks are still there and the trains still run on those rails. Away from here. Back here.

And you still remember the desert. But you can't quite remember what it's like to feel that warm anymore.

*

On your birthday you get a postcard in the mail. It's from him; the handwriting is unmistakable, the look of his name bewildering after all this time.

Susan, it says. Happy Birthday.

The postmark is unreadable. There's no return address.

*

Arizona is a million miles away, and you feel so much older as you stare at the birthday cake in front of you. The lights dance before your eyes and the heat from the flames makes your eyes water. You blink.

When you look up you happen to catch your reflection in a window. Unconsciously, you reach out to touch the edges of your hair, still bottle-blonde after all this time. And, suddenly, you can't help but remember. You remember all the things you tried so hard to forget, and you remember all the things you forgot without even trying. Arizona, the scent of orange peels, a sky full of light, falling in love.

"Happy Birthday," Abby says to you, interrupting your thoughts, and she and Carter are grinning like idiots. You can't help but smile back at them both. They, in return, gesture impatiently at the birthday cake.

So you take a deep breath, and you make a wish.