A/N: As usual, I'd like to take the beginning of the end to thank those of you who let me know that they were reading. It helps make the time spent worthwhile. So thank you once again.
They had gone, now. All of them, gone. They had left her alone with Harry.
With Harry's body, Sue corrected herself quickly. They had left her with empty flesh that meant nothing to her. Harry—sweet, gentle, loving Harry—was gone. There was nothing of the man she loved in the corpse her colleagues had desperately worked over long after they should have.
They hadn't wanted to give her the news.
As if she couldn't handle it.
A sob wanted to escape, but Sue managed to stop it. She held herself together the way she always did, with misplaced pride and righteous anger. She couldn't afford the luxury of self-pity. The interest alone could kill you—Peter would have agreed with her, except he had left her long ago.
Oh, Harry, how could you leave me?
Harry would have known what to do. Somehow, he always did. It took him a moment, always, because he didn't like to rush. But if you gave him that moment Harry came through. Always. Whatever you needed, even if you didn't know it, Harry gave it to you. In his silly little quotes, in his lovingly crafted stories, in his smile, in his always warm embrace, Harry always found a way to come through.
And now...who was going to stand beside her?
Harry was gone.
Meanwhile, the others had descended with their well-meaning suggestions and unendurable lectures. All Sue wanted to do was hold her husband's hand (he was dead, but she just wanted to pretend for a moment—one moment couldn't hurt) and they had to keep talking. They acted as if she were a simpleton, as if she hadn't understood the first time.
She may have been a woman, but she had heard the stories all her life. If she hadn't believed them before, well, that was before she found the monsters over her husband's body, before the things answered to the names of her children. There was nothing Billy or Quil had to say anymore to get Sue to believe. Now she knew all too well that the stories were real.
Just like Harry always thought.
"No wonder you looked so guilty lately," Sue told the corpse. No, she told the wind. Wherever he was now, Harry would still be listening to the wind. That was just Harry for you. "You have a terrible poker face."
Somewhere, Sue knew Harry was giving her the same slow, loving smile he always did. He would nod, then open his arms. He hated keeping secrets, especially from her. He was terrible at it; no wonder he had looked so weary lately. No wonder he couldn't sleep. No wonder he spent so many hours in his shed. No wonder the quotes had come constantly, almost as fast as they had when he first came back all those years ago. Sue couldn't believe he had managed to hold his tongue for as long as he had, even with the safety of the tribe on the line.
Was that what killed him?
But she couldn't say that to Billy and Quil. Harry wouldn't have wanted her to. He was too kind, sometimes.
How she loved that about him!
Even when it annoyed her most—how could Harry speak civilly to Sam Uley? It was one thing to dump her daughter; it was another to dump Sue's daughter after he had made her fail a year. Of course, now that she knew their stories were more than just words, she understood Harry hadn't had a choice. He loved his traditions too much. Tell him Sam was Chief and Harry would...well, Harry would have done exactly what he did.
Sue wanted to tell him she forgave him, now, but Harry was dead, so she clenched her jaw instead.
She had shaken Sam's hand when he expressed his condolences—and, more importantly, after he brought her news of her children. Maybe she could be just as respectful as Harry.
Maybe not. She had told Sam in no uncertain terms that she was the mother of Leah and Seth Clearwater, and she would be the one who would take care of them, mystical transformation or not. When he wouldn't let her help—even if he had tried to be calm as he explained they simply couldn't come home as they were now, they were too big and wild and dangerous—Sue had told him to get out the hell out of her face. She would deal with him later.
"It wasn't my finest moment, Harry," she told the trees though the open window. "But he...he's keeping me away from my babies."
The hitch in her voice was obvious. Good thing she was alone. There would be no time to mourn later. There was danger out there, the men had said, and she was on the Council now.
It was only because she already knew, had stumbled onto their secret. But she didn't reject the honour they reluctantly gave to her. It was about time the Council had someone on it who wasn't...well, Old Quil was half-dead and Billy couldn't take care of himself—why did the tribe expect him to be able to care for others?
And Harry...Harry was all heart. If loving people could fix their problems, then Harry would have single-handedly saved La Push. But love didn't always work.
Love hadn't stopped their children from turning into monsters.
Sue stood up to go. She had to figure out what she was going to say to help Leah and Seth when she finally did get to see them. Harry would have known what to say. He could always make you feel better—he didn't even have to try, though Harry always did. Not like Billy and Quil—their advice to Sue earlier that day had been to go home, let them take care of her dead, and wait patiently for their words of wisdom.
As well-intentioned as Harry would insist they were, Sue was ignoring Billy and Quil for as long as she could. If she didn't, she might end up strangling them and Harry would never have approved.
Only Charlie Swan, good old Charlie, seemed to understand she didn't want to listen to another lecture about what she should do. Charlie reminded her what had to be done then asked her what she wanted to do. That was all. He waited patiently and quietly, like Harry used to do. It wasn't because Harry couldn't speak up, because he could when he felt he had to, but it was just his way. Harry said more with a brief silence than most men could their entire lives—his silence said he trusted her, loved her.
She could do this.
Harry, please can't you come back for just a moment? Just a little moment...
Sue had been thankful for Charlie's silence, today. She would have to thank him for that, when all this was over.
When her husband was...
But she had cried herself out for the day, when Billy had first told her there was nothing else the doctors could do. Later tonight, when she went back to the house Harry had been born in, lived in, loved in, died in...when she crawled into their empty bed, alone, all alone...yes, she would cry then. Sue was sure of it. But not right now.
Right now she let Sam approach her.
"What happened to you?"
There were scratches across his face, arms and torso. They were a variety of lengths and depths and shapes. Some were blade marks—Sue would have bet good money the others were claw marks. Sam flushed, a little.
"We had to cut Leah's...you saw it. It was too long."
"And you decided to cut your skin at the same time?"
"The length of our fur depends on the length of our hair, Sue. Leah didn't like..it's hard cutting the hair of a wild animal."
"You cut her hair?"
If her husband hadn't died that morning maybe Sue wouldn't have shouted. Maybe. Probably not. She had been growing her daughter's hair out since Leah was a child. It was beautiful. Perfect. Harry loved his daughter's hair. And Sam had dared to cut it?
"We had to," Sam insisted. "Her fur was too long."
Sue wasn't an idiot. She had understood from Billy and Quil's shifty looks and Sam's shock that Leah was the first woman to transform. Of course the old men hadn't considered their womenfolk might be at all useful. And of course the idea of a woman who could fight like they could scared the shit out of them. So they tried to force her to become just like them—because if she wasn't beautiful, if her face was black and blue, well, then, somehow it was okay that she was strong because she wasn't a proper woman anymore. Right?
"What else did you have to do to her, Sam?"
The boy dropped his eyes and looked embarrassed. Good. Sue might have been falling apart, a little bit, but that didn't mean she was going to become a pushover anytime soon.
"I'm going to take them running once they both calm down," was all Sam said. "It'll be good for them to see the good things about...they have to learn what they can do now."
"That sounds reasonable."
"They're going to miss school." While his voice was apologetic, Sam looked firm. "It's too dangerous for them to go back anytime soon."
"Leah has to go back." Seth could afford to miss a few weeks, but Leah... "If her marks drop suddenly again..."
It would be just like last time, when Sam disappeared and Leah hadn't bothered to get her ass to school and so had lost any hope of a scholarship.
"I'm sorry, Sue. It's too dangerous."
They're too dangerous—Sue heard the words Sam was too frightened to say to her. Yet she held her tongue. The men made it clear they were on Sam's side. He was the Chief in these matters and his word was law. Berating him was only going to get her ignored faster. She could let it lie until she got her head on straight. Then she would attack him more effectively.
"Fine. When can I see them?"
"You...they won't be able to speak to you, yet. They won't be able to transform back for a week, at least. Probably around two weeks. Leah might take even long...one to two weeks," Sam hurried to promise.
"They don't have to be able to talk back," she said. "I just want to—wait. One to two weeks before they can become...people again?"
"Probably closer to two," Sam warned her.
"I..." There was a moment of panic, when the fear wrapped around her heart and squeezed, but Sue pushed past it as she always did. You didn't survive by dwelling on what made you scared (that just left you bitter) and Sue was a professional survivor. And a very angry Mama Bear. "Waiting two weeks for the funeral is unacceptable."
"I'm sorry, Sue. We can bring them to the woods, that day. They just won't be able to...there's no way I can get them to calm down enough to transform back for a couple of hours in just a few days. No one's done that before. It's impossible."
She was supposed to be another unfortunate statistic. Impossible was for cowards.
"Listen to me carefully, Sam Uley, because I'm only going to say this once. My children are coming to their father's funeral—on two feet. I don't care what you have to do to make that happen, but that's what's happening."
"I can't make them calm down. It doesn't work like that."
Leah and Seth were Harry's children. Oh, Leah may have looked like her mother, and lately she had developed an attitude that was almost laughably foreign to Harry, but she was still her father's daughter, through and through. And Seth...Seth might as well have been a carbon copy, all wide-eyed delight at everything. Sue's children were gentle people, a little too sensitive, a little too empathetic, a little too sweet but impossibly lovely.
But they were her children, too.
Inside Leah and Seth there was that girl who wouldn't hold her tongue, no matter how many times they ordered her to shut up. There was pure stubbornness—and a belief that she mattered, that she deserved more. He couldn't beat that out of her, no matter how hard he tried.
Her children would find that belief inside themselves and they would come to their father's funeral and stand there on two feet and show some respect for the soft-spoken man who had given them so much.
"I'm going to see them now, Sam. If you think it's impossible, then clearly someone who knows it's not needs to be talking to them. Now tell me where you're keeping my children."
"Sue, you can't—"
"Watch me. Where are they?"
They had a staring contest; Sue won. Of course she did. Somewhere in the wind, Harry was smiling proudly at her, and laughing at her just a little, too. She knew him too well to doubt it. Sam relented: "I'll take you to them now."
"Thank you, Sam. Oh, and Sam?"
"It's Mrs Clearwater."
Sue stood tall at her husband's funeral. Their two children stood beside her. Sue, Leah and Seth were together as they said goodbye to Harry.