This story was written for the Secret Santa swap for idealskeptic who has safely and sanely steered me through both the SS Fic Swap and the past month of advent stories and who I couldn't have coped without. She's fabulous and she requested a Sue/Charlie story so I attempted to deliver.
Happy Holidays everyone. As always, I do not own Twilight.
The Prettiest Girl in La Push
Charlie shuffled nervously from foot to foot as he stood on Sue's front porch.
It was strange to think that only a year ago, he would have visited here and thought of it as being Harry's front porch. It was moments like this that the death of one of his best friends really struck him and he was left wondering if he was doing the right thing spending so much time with Sue.
She was a beautiful woman, Sue Clearwater; she had been ever since she was a girl.
He could remember her quite vividly from all his trips down to La Push with Harry, Billy and Quil by his sides. She had easily outshone all the other girls there with her carefree laugh and her easy smile. She was the kind of person that people just liked to be around, simply because you felt that just her presence would keep the gloom away.
But she was Harry's girl.
She had always been Harry's girl.
That was why he was here of course, because Harry couldn't be. As much as he liked their kids, Leah and Seth didn't seem to have much time for their mother anymore. They were always running around the reservation barefoot with Sam Uley's gang. For some reason, people always assumed that he was oblivious to the happenings down here on the res, but with Bella messed up in it all, you could bet that Charlie would have his nose to ground and sniff out what was going on.
That was a puzzle for another day though, for now, there was just Sue.
He rapped sharply on the door and seconds later heard her footsteps as she neared the entrance. The door swung open, and there she was.
She greeted him with a happy smile. "Charlie!" Her eyes lit up and looked pleased to see him. "What are you doing here? Come in, come in."
He smiled bashfully back at her and accepted her invitation in.
"I just thought I'd check in on you since I was in the area." That was a bare-faced lie, he had come over all the way from the station in Forks, but she didn't need to know that. From the chuckle she gave though, he thought she might have figured it out.
His face flushing hotly, he rushed to hold up his offering for her – a hot meal ordered and picked up from the diner.
"I thought you might not feel like cooking tonight, I know Bells complains about slaving over the stove sometimes, so I thought you might like some good quality take out."
He sounded stupid, even to himself, and he could only imagine what Sue thought of him. This was just like being at high school again, trying to act cool and hide your sweaty palms while you chatted up the prettiest cheerleader.
...Not that he was trying to chat Sue up or anything.
"That's wonderful." To his relief she seemed genuinely pleased by his pathetic gift. "This will be fabulous, especially as I've been on my feet all day at the clinic. It'll be so nice not to have to cook." She brushed her shoulder-length hair out of her face. "You'll stay and join me, naturally."
It wasn't really a question, but Charlie found himself stuttering a pitiful excuse about how she might prefer to eat with her children, but she laughed him off, slapping him casually on the arm.
"Don't be silly. Of course, you'll stay. I doubt Leah and Seth will be home until later anyway. They'll probably come back when they get hungry and then disappear again. You know what kids and their stomachs are like."
He didn't actually. Bella had a small appetite and a tendency to pick at her food, especially when the Cullen boy was around, but he had seen Jake scarf down a few meals lately and if Seth was anything like him, then Charlie pitied Sue her grocery bill.
"So you'll stay?"
She stared up at him and there was something in her expression that let Charlie know that she wasn't just asking him to stay to be polite, she genuinely wanted him there. He ducked his head and then looked up and nodded at her.
"Yeah. That'll be great."
Sue beamed up at him. "Great. Why don't you go and pull up a seat and I'll dish this out and get you a beer."
He set his hat on the side table by the door and headed into the kitchen, shrugging off his jacket as he did. Sue was happily bustling around the room and without looking beckoned behind her.
"Go on. Take a seat."
He did as he was told and was rewarded seconds later with a chilled bottle of beer. Seconds later it was followed by a steaming plate of food. Leaning around him to put the plates on the table, Sue's hand came up to Charlie's shoulder for balance and her hand lingered there for a moment before she pulled away.
The ate together in companionable silence, as if they had been doing it for years, and they had in one way, Charlie supposed, only in the past Harry and Billy were usually with them.
When they were finished, Sue tidied up around them and then sat down opposite Charlie with a glass of wine and a fresh bottle of beer to replace the last one.
They were each lost in their thoughts until Charlie suddenly snapped out of it and realised that he should probably make an effort to speak. The problem was, he wasn't naturally very talkative - usually he and Bella got through the day with only a couple of words between them – and it had been a while since he'd had a sit-down dinner with a lady and had to make polite conversation.
Staring fixedly at the table, he mumbled, "Your hair looks nice. It's longer."
Sue's head jerked up with a puzzled frown and he could've kicked himself. Why was this so hard? He and Sue used to talk all the time and it was never like this. But then, he supposed, back then she had been his best friend's wife, not this new, strange version of Sue.
"Ummm, thank you." She idly pulled a strand of her hair in front of her face to study it. "I have to say I'm glad that it's growing out again."
"Why did you cut it in the first place then?" Charlie guilelessly asked.
Sue flushed. "Well, Leah had to have hers short, so it didn't get in the way at... work." Charlie pretended not to catch the hesitation before she said that. "And she was really upset about it, so I guess I just cut mine too, so she wouldn't feel so alone."
He stared at her for a minute. "You're a good mother, Sue."
She flushed at the compliment, pleased. "I just do the best I can, I guess."
"No, you are," he insisted.
She ducked her head again, but this time nodded reluctantly.
"You do well with Bella too, considering," she tried to return the flattering remark.
Charlie laughed somewhat bitterly. "Any way that Bella turns out has got very little to do with me or her mother and very much to do with her character. I don't think we've always been the best of parents to her unfortunately."
Sue's mouth turned down sympathetically. "How's she getting on now?"
He took a swig of his beer and set it back down again before replying.
"Better, I think, especially since that Cullen boy and his family have run off again. I have to say, it's a good thing they're so rich considering how much moving they've been doing over the last two years. She's a quiet one, my Bells, but she's dealing with it all a lot better than the last time they left." He frowned. "At least she seems to be; me and her are not really big talkers, you see. I think Jake being around a lot helps, but I do worry sometimes."
Sue leaned forward and gripped his hand where in was twisting the bottle around and around, stilling the movement.
"She's doing great, Charlie. Seriously, she was here the other day and she looked good – healthier, not as fragile. I mean, professionally speaking I think she could stand to put a couple of pounds on, but she's one of those girls who's tougher than they look. She's a survivor."
His heart swelled with pride at this description of his daughter, especially coming from Sue and he twisted his hand around to lightly clasp hers before releasing it.
"Bella was here the other day?" He hadn't known about this.
"Yeah, her and Jake, along with a few of their other friends," Sue confirmed. "Don't tell anyone, but I think Leah likes having another girl around who hasn't had it easy."
Charlie's mind went blank for a second.
"Oh, that's right. She used to see Sam Uley, didn't she, before he got together with the Young girl."
Sue's smile dipped minutely, but she nodded at that assessment.
"Yes. I think she struggled to move on, like your Bella did, but she's a strong girl, she'll be fine...better if she has good friends she can count on too."
Sue drew back and took a sip of her wine thoughtfully.
"It just seems like she's never in the house anymore. Seth either. I mean, I'm happy that they're out there with their friends having a good time, but sometimes..."
Her voice trailed off, and Charlie quickly picked up the thread of the conversation.
"Yeah, sometimes I don't see Bella for days unless I'm stopping by Billy's. She spends almost all of her spare time down here on the res."
Swallowing heavily, Sue threw back the rest of her drink. "I think Leah and Seth don't want to stay here anymore than they have to because this is where Harry died."
Charlie froze, the mention of his friend cutting him deeply. Every time he thought that he had accepted that his friend had passed away, someone would mention him and the grief would hit him full force all over again. He could only imagine what it must be like for Sue if it was this bad for him.
He would have reached out, tried to comfort Sue or something, but the way she was sitting screamed at him to stay out of her personal space. He was good at reading body language; it was the reason he had done so well in the police.
"I'm sorry." There wasn't much else he could say. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Sue shook her head, unable to speak, her eyes shining bright with unshed tears.
Standing up, Charlie moved around the table and crouched down next to Sue's chair.
He pulled her into a gentle hug and she just dissolved against him, her shoulders shaking with her grief, the collar of his shirt being soaked by her tears.
"Hey now. You're all right. You're going to be just fine."
He kept murmuring useless platitudes as she clung to him and rocked her gently from side to side.
"Everything's going to be okay, Sue. I promise. Everything's going to be okay."
Eventually she stopped and sat back in her chair, wiping her cheeks dry, an embarrassed look on her face.
"I'm so sorry. I don't know what came over me just then."
"Hey." Charlie tried to get her to look at him. "It's okay," he soothed when she finally met his eyes. "It's okay. There's no shame in being upset. Hell, I've even shed a tear or two over the last couple of weeks." Searching for something to say, he tried to awkwardly put a smile on her face. "I'd be more worried if you weren't upset, you know. It might make me think you'd bumped him off yourself."
She laughed at that. It was only a small laugh and it got caught in her throat at the end, but it was good enough for Charlie.
Sue sniffled. "It's just that it hurt them both so badly and now they don't like to be here, so I'm left here alone a lot of the time, only I don't really want to be here either." It was all blurted out, as if she was afraid that if she didn't say it all at once then it would never get said. "And this was Harry's house, you know? Everything here just reminds me of him and I get so upset and so lonely, and I shouldn't feel that way in my own home."
Charlie nodded. He knew exactly what she meant. Although she had packed away most of her late husband's possessions, there was still an undeniably masculine edge to the house. You could almost imagine walking around the corner of the kitchen to find Harry slumped in his armchair, beer in hand, watching the game and making bad jokes. The ghost of him was hard to avoid in this house.
Sue sighed and then visibly pulled herself together again. She scrubbed roughly at her face with her hands and then looked back up at Charlie with a weak attempt at a smile.
"I'm sorry," she apologised again. "I know I shouldn't get like that, but sometimes it just washes over me and I can't help it."
"It's not a problem at all," Charlie rushed to reassure her. "There's no shame in grieving."
"I know," she replied. "I just... Sometimes, I just think the quiet and the atmosphere here gets to me."
"I know what you mean. Bella's hardly ever in these days and when you get home and call out, only to get no reply, it's a little discouraging. I never realised, until she moved back to Forks a couple of years ago, just how big and empty your home feels when there's no one but you in it."
Sue nodded vigorously. "Yes, that's it exactly. I walk in and it feels so lonely when I'm the only one here. It's jarring, especially considering how bright and noisy it used to feel." She swallowed heavily. "That's why it was so nice of you to come and visit, and bring dinner. I really enjoyed the company tonight." She reached out and squeezed the top of Charlie's arm. "Thank you."
Charlie could feel himself turning red again at her gratitude and he tried to bluster his way out of his self-conscious reaction.
"Well, if you enjoyed it, maybe we should do this again sometime?"
He froze the instant the words left his mouth, as did Sue.
To try and hide his initial reaction to her praise, he had ended up sounding like he was asking her out, which was completely inappropriate. She was his best friend's widow; what was he thinking?
Cursing himself under his breath, he looked up nervously to see Sue's reaction only to find that she wasn't glaring at him like he expected, but instead had a soft, almost-embarrassed expression on her face.
"I'd like that," she replied quietly, completely stealing his breath away. "It would be nice to have some adult company for once."
"Right then." He couldn't think what else to say. Luckily for him, Sue didn't need any prompting.
"How about I come round yours next time? It would be nice to get out and see something other than just work and home for once. I could come over on Thursday and cook for us both, if you like? I'm sure Bella gets bored of doing all the cooking all the time and you can't live off diner food and take out forever."
"Well, I could try," Charlie mumbled.
Sue heard him and laughed anyway. "So Thursday then?"
"Thursday," he confirmed with a gruff smile.
"Oooh." Sue suddenly stood up and turned towards the kitchen. "I think we've got some leftover pie if you feel like dessert."
She bustled off to get it and as she came back, a grin on her face, her hair swirling around her face as she walked, Charlie thought that even with the passing of time, Sue was still the prettiest girl in La Push.