Author's Note: I was going to wait until I'd finished this fic before posting but I've decided to take the plunge and just do it, because I really do love this show and I want to add something to the fandom since it's depletion of late.
Disclaimer: I own nothing. I have a cat called Henry, but sadly, not my own sexy ghost. But I live in hope.
One: Only the Lonely
Those first few weeks are hell, trying to figure out what her life has become and just who Suzy Darling is, now, to everyone.
She cries more often that she's ever done in her life: when she speaks to her father's portrait hung in the new dental practice, there are tears in her eyes though there have never been before. When Henry is the only one at home, she sits on the back porch wrapped in her mother's blanket and weeps. For what she has lost, for what she has done and, in those moments when Henry's wrath inspires her…for what the universe has fucking done to them. Where are those reminders she was promised? Where is her mother, her saviour, who was meant to be her guiding light? She's a bird that's been flying blind for miles, only to suddenly find that home is far away. And everyone else has long since moved on.
It's a warm afternoon, Aaron is at work and she and Henry are both outside, basking in the last sunlight. She feels its warmth like a peaceful slumber settling over her, while he squints against the light and pretends to feel it. Suzy curls her toes against the grain of the back porch and thinks again of the moment Henry came back to her.
"Suzy? What is it?"
It's impossible to ignore Aaron's voice any longer. She pleads with her eyes for Henry to come inside, certain he knows that he will always be welcome and shouldn't lurk. He nods and she turns her back on him, that man who is her world, to another where her children and Aaron are staring at her with concern. Her hand slips away from the glass like it has lost all its strength.
"Sorry, I'm just – I'm not feeling very well," she lies. "I think I'd better go lie down for a while."
"Can I get you anything?" Aaron asks, "Do you want me to -?"
"No," she says firmly, "No it's okay. I just need to lie down."
This house is filled with her belongings but she may as well be walking blind for all she knows about it. She closes the door and as an afterthought locks it, sinks down onto the bed. The sheets are not hers – how deeply has Aaron sunk into my life? They crinkle unpleasantly as she bunches them in her fists. She curls onto her side and smiles tiredly at Henry, who lies down beside her. It's such a relief just to have him here that she feels dizzy. He moves as close as he can get to her; she is the only familiar scent in this new bedroom that smells of a man's cologne. It terrifies him, the things in this house that don't belong to Suzy.
"How long do you reckon you've been stuck with that smarmy git for?" he asks.
"I don't know," she whispers, laying her cheek into her hand. "We're living together, Henry." The second she says it she wants to take it back. It doesn't sound right, out in the open.
"That other you must be quite attached to him," Henry sniffs, hurt evident in his voice.
"Hey that's not me, remember?" she replies, "I don't want him."
"Well on some level you must –" he breaks off when he sees the tears in her eyes. "Know what," he says quickly, "It doesn't matter."
"It's not that," she murmurs, wiping her eyes. "My mother's dead, Henry."
"Oh. Shit," he mutters, struck dumb by such news. Helen? Gone? Well…it explains a lot. "I'm sorry, Suze. Really, I am."
"I know. She was the only one that knew about all this," she whispers, and it hurts,god that truth hurts. She wants to wail, to beat the ground, sink into these unfamiliar sheets and hide. "Without her…I'm on my own again."
He can't bear to see her in such pain, never could. He suddenly decides with absolute resolution that God doesn't exist. Never mind his own existence that disproves anything, how could someone that powerful inflict such fucking misery on someone like Suzy?
"You're not on your own," he tells her with conviction. "We're going to sort this out, Suzy Darling. I am not going anywhere."
Suzy resurfaces from the memory like it was a dream, finding that the sun has sunk a little lower. She shivers at the cool wind now playing around them. "I don't know what I'd do without you," she tells him. Henry sniffs at his glass of wine, imagining the taste, and feels nothing but bitterness for the world. He feels like that a lot these days. They fight more than they used to, because Suzy is at breaking point and it's so hard to catch up without anyone noticing.
"If I wasn't here you'd never be in this mess in the first place," he replies darkly. "You'd be married to Aaron by now and you'd have been able to say goodbye to your mum."
"I only met Aaron because of you," she counters, not looking at him, finishing the last of her wine with something akin to desperation.
"You'd marry someone else then," he says gruffly. "You'd be happy now, at least."
"I am happy," she protests. It comes out as a growl. He raises an eyebrow. "I just mean…" her voice trembles. "I will be. I have you, don't I?"
"I shouldn't have come back," he murmurs, getting to his feet. "I should have let you go."
"Well you've changed your tune," she replies harshly, "I thought you said you weren't going anywhere?" She slams her wine glass onto the floor with more force than necessary. "And anyway, you can't just let me go. I'm not trapped, Henry. I wanted this, it was my idea. Mum and I, we just didn't think - we didn't plan well enough. I never thought she'd – she'd…" Suzy feels the tears coming again, and more than anything she is angry. When did these floodgates open inside her? What happened to the days when emotions made her awkward, not honest? Henry has broken her down, made her into a real person, that's what has happened. On another day she would be grateful for it, but today she's too tired.
Henry paces the length of the veranda, careful to step around her and over the wine glasses as if it matters. Like he really holds any sway over the living world.
"Do you regret it?" he asks flatly, and she doesn't have to ask what he means.
Her voice is black and cuts like daggers. "You're the love of my life, Henry," she replies. "But right now I think I need to be alone."
And soon, she is.
Suzy is cleaning her bedroom when she finds the suitcase with her name on it.
It's small and unobtrusive, tucked away under the bed – but the name is written across the fabric in thick black ink, in her mother's handwriting. There's a lock on the zip, keeping the secrets safe from prying eyes. Suzy's mind races, her throat thick and voiceless. She drags the case out and lifts it onto the bed – it's not heavy, barely sinks into the feather stuffed blanket. Her fingers toy with the lock, smoothing over its dusty surface. Where would the key be? Carefully she runs her hands over the whole case, searching for a pocket that might hold it. She turns it over and on the back is another message. Look at me.
"Look at me…?" she murmurs, voice returning. Her hand unconsciously rises to fondle her necklace, as it does when she's thinking about people who matter to her. Look at me. She sees Helen behind her closed eyes, with that knowing smile and those hard eyes that have seen more than anything in this world. Look at me. She wishes she could see her again, just once. Briefly she wonders why Helen hasn't come to her the way Henry does, until she remembers that Robbie would have been waiting. A photograph comes to mind. The photo of Helen with Verity and Elvis, tucked into an armchair and wearing Christmas hats. Suzy seeks out the picture, where it sits framed on her nightstand. Without thinking she turns it over and notices the bulge in the back of the chipboard. Sure enough, when she opens the back, there's a key. She takes it, lingering on her mother's framed face for just a second longer before returning to the suitcase.
Just before fitting the key into the lock she remembers Henry, and hurries out of the room in search of him.
"Henry!" she calls loudly, because nobody is home. "Henry, I've found something!"
He appears through the back door, hurrying up the stairs at the tone in her voice. "What's going on?" he asks worriedly, all thoughts of their fighting dismissed.
"I think my mum left me something," she answers breathlessly, already dashing back to the bedroom. "It might be diaries of what's been happening."
"Helen, you never cease to surprise me," Henry mutters, perching next to the suitcase as Suzy unlocks it with fumbling hands.
Inside is just what they've been hoping for. A myriad of memories. There's a small portable DVD player sitting beneath a case full of about twenty discs. Suzy flicks through the labels of them: Verity's 12th Birthday, Suzy's 40th, Elvis at the Airport and the Welcome Home Party, Jonquil and Zac's Wedding –
"Their wedding?" Henry splutters as Suzy reads them aloud, but she doesn't linger, looking for something else.
"Here," she announces, pausing on one disc. "Helen at the hospital, October 21st. And Helen with the kids, Christmas 2011." She glances up at Henry, thoughts running riot. "I missed my mum's last Christmas, Henry," she states in a high voice, distraught.
"What are those?" he points at a stack of envelopes, because he doesn't know what to say.
There are about twelve of them, all labelled differently, some heavily stuffed with items unknown and others light as a feather. Suzy spreads them out on the bed and scans over the labels. "Your new dentistry," Henry reads from one, and another: "Your new house."
"Photos of the trip to Melbourne," Suzy reads, picking up a particularly heavy envelope, desperate for pictures of Helen.
"My dearest Suzy, please read this first," Henry murmurs in a hoarse voice. His gaze flicks up at Suzy, finds her tense and trembling. In lieu of being able to put his arms around her, which is what he wants more than anything, he gestures at the envelope closest to him and offers this as comfort instead.
Suzy picks it up, trying to gauge from the weight of the paper what truths might be within. She unfolds the letter, licking her dry lips, and there is the familiar scrawl of her mother's handwriting. It loops and slants and flows along the pages like a river, and she tries to keep her shaking hands still as she reads aloud:
"My dear Suzy,
I am so very sorry. I've spent every night hoping you might come back in time, but if you're reading this then it wasn't meant to be. I am no longer with you. I want to assume that you must be so lost, my poor dear, but that would be an insult. I cannot be pompous enough to think that you would ever need me that much. After all, you grew into such a fine woman without me – though we both know someone else helped with that. Just know that this time, I didn't leave you willingly. I would never have left you again, if I could help it.
I don't know if you've figured out what happened, but I'd like to give you my account of it anyway. Two months after you left, I was diagnosed with lung cancer. Stage two. You had learnt to turn a blind eye on my smoking habit, because I think you knew I would never have given it up. Maybe I should have tried. It's my thirty year habit that has led to my death, Suzy, and I'm sorry. So sorry, because it's a death I could have avoided. I started chemotherapy and radiation therapy, but it was more than I could handle. It felt like I would die from the treatment before I died of the cancer. I have never been the strong one in this family; you and I know that. I am trying every alternative method under the sun, but the cancer has continued to spread. Maybe it's because I'm weak, or maybe it's because I have already given my heart and soul to someone on the other side. But I can't fight it, Suzy, not the way you need me to, and I'm so sorry. The doctors have given me less than a year.
Before I go any further there is something I have to warn you about. Though, now that I think about it, for you it might be too late. For me, it has only just begun. You have been speaking with that man, Aaron, the one you told me about last year. You've been out for coffee with him three times now, and I've met him. Suzy, he is the kind of man I'd have wished for you before I knew about Henry. He's clever and funny. He hasn't met the kids yet but I know he wants to. I can see very clearly that he cares about you. But I know that you don't want him, the real you. I know you have Henry, and that you'd be appalled at the idea that you might be cheating on him. So far, all I know is that you like him. I'm trying very hard to dissuade you from seeing him, I've even lied a few times about messages he's left. I'm doing it all for you of course, and hoping that the rest of your family doesn't interfere, even if they can never understand. I just want you to know that I am doing my best, despite the fact that the world seems to have its own plans, and I hope you find only your children waiting when you come home.
I have put together this package for you and I'll continue to update it to the moment of my death, if I can. The DVD player is so that you can watch these movies in private, if you need to. There are more notes from me, and plenty of videos of us together. Savour them, but don't linger on them. I want you to catch up, not fall behind farther than before. There is enough here for you to hopefully piece together everything, but I can't provide for what might have happened since my death. I wish I could do more. I keep myself going with the knowledge that you are out there with the one you love. Give Henry my regards, and please, don't blame him. There were times when I wanted to put everything on Robbie's shoulders, and it wasn't worth the pain of upsetting him. There is always more than one person at fault, Suzy, but please don't think on that too much either. Just forgive yourself now for the choices you will make, love Henry, and let him love you. You are an outstanding mother and a very clever person, and I know that you will make better decisions than I ever did. I know you will find a way to make one world out of the two that you have been given. Don't panic. Don't cry too much, or hurt too badly. Wherever you have found yourself now, you will be fine. You might not know it yet, but I do. You are a survivor, Suzy Darling, and you have the love of a good man, even if I can never meet him.
Be happy, my daughter, and take my love for all that it is worth,
The world has stopped. She can't feel her heart beating, or her hands that drop the letter and curl into fists to rest in her lap. Henry sits as close to her as he can, holding one hand over hers and brushing the air near her cheek.
"Suzy…" he murmurs sympathetically, but can think of nothing else to say.
"She didn't even get to say goodbye to me," she replies, taking off her glasses and casting them aside. She closes her eyes and leans into him, doesn't care about the cold chill that comes when she accidentally brushes through his legs.
"She would have made peace with that," he says. "Helen was good at accepting what came."
"She wasn't a fighter," she agrees with a pained sigh. "Henry, what will I do without her?"
"Live on," he answers unwaveringly. "It's what we all do. Well, sort of, in my case."
"Henry, I –" she opens her eyes, makes sure that he can see how much she means it: "I love you. And I'm sorry for being angry with you. If you weren't here, I'd never have found mum in the first place; I'd never have understood why she did the things she did."
He can't remember ever directly telling her. He's still afraid of the words, but right now Suzy needs his strength more than his fear. And what has a ghost got to lose? "I'm sorry too. You're…you're the love of my death, Suzy Darling."
Somehow, through all the guilt and dread and pain, she manages to find a smile that's just for him.
It's going to be a hard life, with this ridiculous love. But like her mother said, it's the love they've chosen, time and again, over all else – and what else is there to do but fight for it?
And maybe that makes them selfish, and foolish, but it's a decision they are willing to live with. Well. Henry would smile at that.