Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Life After (a Sandra/Bennet fic)
bennet&sandra
runningondreams

Title: Life After
Author:[info]runningondreams
Rating:
PG-13
Characters/Pairings:
Sandra/Bennet, Lyle, Claire

Spoilers/Warnings: Through 2x9 “Cautionary Tales” and then AU, implied drug use
Written for
:[info]apckrfan in the rare_heroes Sekrit Santa Exchange, with the prompts: 1) Would love to see why Sandra's still loyal to Noah and standing by him after finding out he'd altered her memories for a long while.  2) They clearly care for one another, I'd like to see that come through even if it's a gen fic.  3) And well, what would a fic involving Sandra be without involving Mr. Muggles.
Disclaimer:
Heroes and all its characters belong to Tim Kring, NBC, and their affiliates.

Summary: “There are things that we don't want to happen but have to accept, things we don't want to know but have to learn, and people we can't live without but have to let go.”  ~Anonymous 

A/N: Many thanks to indyhat for an awesome beta.


*

She remembers him telling her one night about the danger they’d been in. About people who could read minds and paint the future, and how Claire had been wrapped up in the middle of it all, a single piece in an intricate puzzle he still didn’t understand. It had seemed so unreal, sitting on their new sofa and sharing a cup of coffee while he spun tales of saving the world. Like something out of a movie with a cheesy tagline, and when she’d told him so he’d smiled and whispered soft promises into her hair, holding her like he was afraid she’d vanish before his eyes.

The thought that he might have been the one disappearing had never crossed her mind.
 

*

 

There are cardboard boxes all over the house, and she doesn’t know what to do.

They’ve been tripping over them all afternoon, some securely taped closed and others only half full, cardboard flaps hanging listlessly in quiet rooms. She spends twenty minutes looking for plates, cutting open everything with a ‘fragile’ label and digging through packing peanuts until they coat every inch of carpet, because if they aren’t leaving then they have to be able to eat, even if no one is hungry.

Lyle finds her slumped in the living room, surrounded by china and clutching uselessly at a gilt-edged platter her parents had given them as a wedding gift.

They’d never used it, saving it for some special occasion that had never come.  Would never come, now.

She doesn’t want to admit that her children are stronger than she is, but she can’t seem to focus, and Lyle’s bringing her a wet cloth for her face and a microwaved cup of tea while Claire tugs the plate away and puts it safely back in the box. She can hear West in the background, asking if there’s anything he can do. He hasn’t left Claire’s side for more than ten minutes in almost twenty hours, she’s sure, but she can’t make herself tell him to go home and get some rest. Someone needs to be there for Claire, and she can’t think through the haze in her head.

Someone has to keep their family together, and she just can’t face the fact that that someone is her.

 
*

 
"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”  – CS Lewis

 
*


She’d thought the first night would be the hardest. The night when the relief of having her daughter home had been ripped to shreds by the news that her husband was dead (and how could he be? He was just there, and he was going to bring Claire home and everything was going to be all right again). She’d thought, in the lucid moments when she realized that Claire still hadn’t changed out of her cheerleading uniform, that Lyle was asleep and still didn’t know, that it was 3 a.m. and she hadn’t moved for four hours…. She’d thought that nothing could possibly be worse than that night when the world crashed down around her and shattered on the floor like so much porcelain. If she just managed to survive that night….

But now she’s holding a gun, and Noah’s ashes are sitting on the stairs, and it’s so much worse, because she has to keep living. She has to protect their family, and she doesn’t know how. Her daughter can survive a nuclear explosion and there are people in the world who can generate electricity from their palms, and she never even learned how to fire a gun properly. She’s never been in a fight in her life, never been this scared, not even with men in her home threatening to kill her, to kill Claire and Lyle because of something Noah had done that she hadn’t even known about, had never even thought to ask about.

She’s always had faith that Noah would set things right because he always has, and she can’t help but hate him a little bit for not being here to tell his boss to get the hell out of their house.

All she has is a rough itinerary and a badly sketched map and she knows it can’t possibly be enough, but by God it’ll have to be. Noah trusted her to take care of their family if anything happened and so that’s what she’ll do (but surely he can’t have meant this, or else how could he leave her?).  

But no matter how many times she tells herself that they can do this, that they’ll be okay, she knows she’s barely a shadow following his footsteps, and nothing will ever be okay, not ever again.

 
*


That first year they were married they’d still been in St. Louis, in the little apartment on Chestnut Street where there’d barely been space for the bed and they’d joked that the toaster and coffee pot couldn’t sit on the counter at the same time without knocking the other off.  Noah was working at the University and she was taking shifts at the bakery down the street, and they were trying to make rent and paying off  school loans at the same time but they were young and happy and in love, and so that didn’t matter.  She’d been covering for Lizzie when he came visiting and she’d been so flustered she’d clean forgot the day. It wasn’t until he’d pulled her out from behind the counter and told her to cover her eyes that she even remembered she should be looking forward to anything.

When his arms came back around her and she opened her eyes to find the table in front of her covered in pictures and forms and flyers she didn’t know what to make of it, and even as warm breath whispered ‘happy anniversary’ in her ear she couldn’t quite believe that he was giving her the trip to Europe she’d always wanted.

A few slips of paper, and he gave her the world.

 

*

 
She can’t remember what Noah wanted done when he died (and these days she’s not sure if she can trust her memory anyway, she’s getting so forgetful), but she does know that he wouldn’t have wanted them to hang around wailing over something they couldn’t change. Always stepping forward, always looking for the next rung, that’s her husband. Was her husband, except that that’s not true because he’ll always be her husband, always be her knight in shining armor, even if he never had liked fairytales. She’d joked once that he did a fine James Bond impression, rushing off to save the company from one paper disaster after another, and he’d just smiled said he’d be home for Sunday dinner.

She’d never thought it might be true, and the movies had never said what happened when the handsome secret agent was just a little too slow, or a little too careless, because he never was.

But then, she’d never thought Noah would be.

 
*


“Death ends a life, not a relationship.” – Robert Benchley


*

 
The ashes are just dust and dirt, finer than sand, and she has to stop herself from touching them because she can’t quite believe that this is all that’s left. 19 years of marriage, and they didn’t even give her his ring. Just a pile of dust, like something she might sweep off the back patio, and it’s about as far a thing from her husband as she can think of.  Even the urn looks wrong somehow, and she can’t imagine how it’s supposed to fit all the gaps that have suddenly opened in her life, can’t even begin to think about those gaps because that would mean he really is gone, and she’s still praying for another miracle, though God knows getting a daughter back from the dead is more than anyone has any right to ask for.  

She keeps expecting him to walk through the door with that apologetic smile he has, the one she sees when he’s late for dinner, the one he wears whenever he’s trying to make up for something, even if she doesn’t know what, and maybe he’ll spin some tale of –of a mix-up at the hospital or some miracle-worker at that Company of his, and she won’t care whether he’s telling the truth because at least he’ll be here.

She barely feels anything when Claire asks if she can take the ashes to the ocean, and she stands back with Lyle when they get there (he’s been so quiet since they told him, like a ghost of a fourteen-year-old and she can’t remember the last time he spoke more than two words together). She just stands there with Mr. Muggles in her arms (poor darling probably doesn’t have a clue what’s going on anymore), and she watches her daughter pour that little pile of dust into the sea.

And she thinks that maybe this way at least one of them will be able to move on.

*

It was Claire’s fourth birthday, a grand old occasion on the back lawn with all the kids in her preschool class and it seemed like half the neighborhood kids as well, though at least she wasn’t doing it all herself. Kelly from two streets over had offered help cook for the afternoon and several of the kids’ mothers were helping with gifts and cake and games, and Noah was there with his English friend (and she can’t for the life of her remember his name) to “keep the little blighters from killing each other.” It was a perfect afternoon with blue skies and fluffy clouds and even the cold couldn’t dampen Claire’s insistence on an outdoor party, even if she did have to wear her coat all day.

But it’s not the cake she remembers, or the fight between Kenneth Forester and Evan Daugherty (and they have that on tape), or even the smile that threatened to reach all the way around Claire’s head when she opened the box of her very own My Little Pony set. They have photos of those in the family albums, from the days when everything the kids did was new and they still had the energy to take pictures.

What she remembers best, what stayed with her in the days afterwards when Noah was working long hours, and Lyle was teething, and Claire’s new toys drew long scratches in the hardwood floors, was the moment when her husband walked through the back door with their son on his shoulders and their daughter clinging to his leg and she realized she had everything she’d ever wanted, even if she’d never known to ask for it.

 
*

Dragging Claire out of Costa Verde is almost literal, and Sandra hasn’t felt this thin since she had two toddlers underfoot and Noah was gone on some trip or other every weekend. Her beautiful, talented, miraculous daughter has some fool plan in her head and she’s developed Noah’s stubborn streak to boot. Sandra can’t blame her for being tired of fear and tired of running, but God help her, she’s not going to sit by and watch her little girl get herself killed for her father’s mistakes.

She comes down from packing up the master bedroom (and she’s not thinking about that, not thinking about the pictures and the jewelry and that beautifully carved headboard his parents gave them) to find Claire up to her elbows in so many file folders she doesn’t know where they’ve all come from. Noah always keeps things so organized she’s never realized how much paper is in those cabinets of his, and looking at Claire now- wiping tears on her sleeve and setting her jaw in a way Sandra knows means trouble- she wishes he’d just thrown it all away.

Claire’s motoring on about people who can help and going to the newspaper of all things, and all Sandra wants in this moment is for Noah to walk in and tell Claire to stop this, because it’s never going to get them anywhere. 

But, of course, he doesn’t.

Claire’s talking like she isn’t part of the family anymore and Lyle’s acting like he doesn’t want to be, and Mr. Muggles, poor thing, is about ready to have a nervous breakdown with all the tension in this house, and she has to make it right all on her own.

She doesn’t know what to do, but something has to be done, so she waits ’til Claire’s gone to bed and locks Mr. Muggles in the laundry room, and she burns the files. It’s an easy thing to start the gas fireplace even if they’d never used it, and she feeds it folder after folder, half-thrown handfuls at a time, names she’s never heard of, people she’ll never meet, and she burns it all, watches it crinkle and twist and glow and fade to grey dust. And as she rakes out the fireplace and dumps the ash in a trash bag on the patio she wonders whether this isn’t more of who Noah was than the remains Bob delivered ever could be.

It’s almost 4am when the last flame goes out and she stares blindly at the yellow-stamped boxes around her, face flushed and eyes glassy from the fire and ash all over her clothes and her hair, and she’ll have to take a shower before the kids are up or they’ll never get out of here.  
Even after the lies, and the lost memories, and God-knows-what else, her husband’s life was still paper, and she can feel a scream itching in her throat and tears stinging her eyes because it’s not fair that she’s still finding secrets and he’s not there to take the blame.

Worse is the thought that she chose to stay with him, chose the lies and the strangeness because it was Noah, and a life with Noah and danger was leaps and bounds better than a life without either.

But now Noah’s gone, and the secrets are all she has left.

 
*

 
“We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.”  ~Kenji Miyazawa

 

*

 
Heat permeates the car against all her efforts to get the air conditioner working and the radio keeps frizzing out on them until Lyle shuts it off with a quick, impatient motion, and she supposes that’s better than staring out the window without a word the way he’s been doing. Eight hours of driving with only a handful of stops (because everyone needs to stretch their legs sometimes, don’t they Mr. Muggles? Yes they do), and she’s tempted to ask Claire to take the wheel just so she can get a short nap.  But Claire’s been as quiet as Lyle since she finished shouting (and good Lord, she’d never thought her daughter was quite that dramatic), and there’s no guarantee she wouldn’t wake up to find they were on their way back to California.   

The silence spins between them and it’s so strange, because Noah was always the quiet one listening to their stories (and he’d always been a good listener, since the first time she met him), and now he’s gone it seems like they’ve got nothing left to talk about. Lyle and Claire aren’t even fighting with each other and she isn’t sure whether to be worried or relieved- she doesn’t have the energy to deal with their bickering but it’d be nice to have something normal to hold onto.  

But then, the past three days have been so far beyond normal that she’s not sure she would recognize it anymore.


*


The first time Noah took her to a company party she’d been so nervous she nearly didn’t make it out of the car. It was just so—overwhelming, with the lights and the music and all those people, and he’d only just gotten the job and she’d always been terrible at names and oh, God, she’d never been to anything that fancy in her life.

But Noah promised to stay by her side all night (and he really did try, and he only left her alone for ten minutes while they were sorting something out), and everyone was so kind to her, and they didn’t seem to mind at all when she fumbled the names (and they had such strange names too! All first names and last names but never the two together).

New Years Eve and Noah was back in time for the countdown, and he kissed right there on the dance floor in front of his entire office, and she knew she was probably redder than a tomato when he let her go but he was smiling that shy little smile and nobody seemed to be watching, so she supposed that was all right. 



Sometimes she wonders if he knew, then, just what he was getting into.

 
*

 
She doesn’t know how the first check finds them. She’s gotten rid of everything she can that might connect their new address to the one in Costa Verde, and they’ve changed their name again (Hartford this time, and she hopes it’ll be the last because she’s not sure this family can survive another), but still there’s an envelope in her hands that’s addressed to her maiden name, and she’s terrified.  She almost cuts herself with the letter opener her hands are shaking so badly, and when she finally gets it open her legs give out right there in the entryway.

“Sandra—  I hope this is never necessary, but I promised to keep you safe any way I could—”

Mr. Muggles’ paws are pressing into her thighs and a cold nose is pushing against her face, and she realizes she’s crying so hard she’s hiccupping for air. The letter drifts to the floor and she pulls her wonderful little dog into her lap and sobs over the only man in the world who would plan for a day when his family couldn’t even claim his name.

 

*

 
"Funny thing about families. You think they’ll hang together after a loss. But death doesn’t necessarily unite you.”- Anne Hosansky

 

*

Three weeks in Salt Lake City, and Lyle’s shouting at her.  She’s never seen him so angry, never heard so much frustration, and it’s all about how she can’t run his life, and Claire’s always been their favorite anyway, and he doesn’t care that Dad’s dead!

And she’s yelling after him, and she swore never to scream at her children like this but she’s his mother, after all, and that’s not true, and damn it Lyle come back here! And she knows that everyone deals with grief in different ways but that doesn’t excuse the fact that her son is skipping class and making the rest of them even more miserable with his temper, or that his clothes smell like alcohol and marijuana when he finally comes home (and she doesn’t want to know how he gets it or who he gets it from because there are some things she just can’t deal with). 

Three weeks, and Claire’s stopped fighting. She comes to meals and goes to school and does her homework, but she only picks at her food and her teachers are worried that she hasn’t made any friends and her grades are falling.  Sandra feels like she’s losing her little girl all over again, but this can’t be fixed with movies and shopping and girl-talk, and the longer it lasts the less sure she is that it can be fixed. Her daughter can heal from any wound but that doesn’t make her invulnerable, and sometimes Sandra wonders if this unbelievable gift is a curse after all.

Her children are twisting away from her and she doesn’t know how to stop it, doesn’t know how to do more than try to talk to them, and hold them, and make sure they have three meals a day and a roof over their heads because God knows they could be so much worse off than they are. She’s tried to keep their lives as normal as she can with school and sports and rules but if they don’t care then there’s nothing she can do.

She feels like her children are leaving her while they’re still in the house, and she’s not sure she can live without them.

 
*

 
She remembers the night Noah brought Claire home, when she thought she’d been handed a little angel, the baby was just that perfect. And Noah was so careful with her, like he thought she might break or explode at any minute, and watching him become a father was just about the most amazing thing she’d ever seen because it wasn’t so much the ways he changed as the ways he didn’t. He was more somehow. More careful, more focused, more Noah, in all the ways that mattered, and more there than he’d been in months.  She remembers the crib, and the car seat, and piles of blankets and that new hole in their budget called ‘baby things,’ but she can’t remember painting Claire’s room or the first time he brought her a teddy bear.

She remembers holding Lyle after seven hours of labor and seeing Noah’s face relax in wonder when he held his son for the first time as Claire whined and begged for ‘just one look daddy, please can I see him daddy?’ But she can’t remember Lyle’s first day of school or whether Noah made it to his son’s first grade graduation.

They’re just little things, little pockets of forgetfulness that could happen to anyone, really, but they make her wonder about the things she doesn’t even know she should remember.

 
*

 
She’s taking Mr. Muggles for a walk around the neighborhood (a champion like Mr. Muggles living the life of a common house pet, and it’s just such a shame, isn’t it Mr. Muggles?), and then she’ll start on dinner before the kids get back, and –

 –She wakes up in the hospital with Claire clutching her hand tight enough to hurt and Lyle sitting pale-faced in the corner. She tries to smile for them but the gesture makes her temples pound and she has to close her eyes against the pain for a moment. There’s a doctor talking about bruises in her brain and memory loss and a whole long spiel of information that only means that whatever Noah did to her is still a problem and there’s not much they can do about it.

When she opens her eyes there are tears on Claire’s cheeks. She pulls her daughter into a one-armed hug (and oh, God, her hands are shaking so badly) and Claire sobs into the blankets, and then Lyle’s clinging to her other arm saying he’s so sorry and I didn’t mean it mom, I swear I didn’t, and she holds her children close and tells them that everything will be all right, that they’ll get through this, they’ll be okay.  

 

 

At this point they need the hope so badly that it doesn’t matter if it’s not true.

 

*

 
“The hardest part of faith is the last hour.” -David Wilkerson

 

*

 
There are grey spaces in her mind. They’re small, and scattered, and most of the time she can avoid them. She doesn’t often think about the everyday actions of her life after all, and that’s all that surrounds them. Everyday things like taking Mr. Muggles to the groomer’s and making dinner and doing laundry and buying groceries. Ordinary days when something went wrong, or Noah slipped up, or she saw something strange.

She knows that he was only trying to protect her, that he never meant to hurt her, but all the words in the world can’t change the fact that he still did it. He found someone to reach into her head and take away pieces of her life (of their life), like it was nothing, like they’d never been part of her, and there’s something in her that will never forgive that.

But there’s another part of her, a bigger part, the part that’s held faith through all the lies and business trips and danger and secrets, and that part will always believe in him, no matter what hidden details she finds lurking in their past. 
 

She just wishes he’d believed in her enough to let her remember every minute of it.

Tags: ,

  • 1
Oh God. This fic just about broke me (I started crying towards the end - the angst levels are fucking scary!). Poor, poor Sandra. ;_;

The fic's absolutely fantastic, with the tragedy slipping in through the cracks of mundane life and little details, and the flashbacks (they're such beautiful little moments) making it more vivid and more painful, because it sharpens the sense of loss.

I love your Sandra, and it's so easy to feel her pain and denial and mourning. Her burning the documents was such a poignant, strong moment, and I just feel so terrible for her. I didn't expect the memory loss damage to come back, and even the thought of that happening scares me.

But now Noah’s gone, and the secrets are all she has left.

That's a perfect line. Hits so hard. And the ending...

I IZ G0 CRY NAO K THX BAI.

I think I need to write some angst now, to get it out of my system.

Amazing, just amazing fic.

I've been trying not to cry from near the beginning. This was incredibly beautiful and emotionally powerful. I'll have to read it again after my eyes clear.

Gorgeous. You do a fantastic job capturing her loneliness and her desperation--how her family is breaking apart, and how the mosaic of her memories comes and clashes back together. How her children are twisting away like leaves, how Noah's always been a good listener, but there's something more sinister to that; and that broken trust juxtaposed with Sandra's faith....it's so gut-wrenchingly sad. Poor Sandra!

Beautiful job. Seriously. Thank you for sharing :)

This is absolutely amazing. The way you’ve written Sandra and the rest of the family’s grief, the destruction the loss is causing them and the shadow Noah casts is just beautiful. I love the balance you have between the sadness of the present and the memories of him being of happier times. I particularly adore the scene in which Sandra burns the files, the last of her husband, to protect Claire. This is just so wonderful.

You have acheived the nigh impossible and rendered me near speechless.

This was truly magnificent. I love the emotions that seep through your words particularly that of grief. A powerful and well written piece of fanfic. *licks it*

Wow, that last section - that's right to the heart of it. I was doing okay, crying wise, until I got there, and that just hit every one of my Bennet buttons so hard... But the weight and texture of the rest of it really helps drive that home.

Beautifully done.

(Deleted comment)
Ouch, my heart!
Brilliant.

I'm very late in reading this. I started to a bit ago and got sidetracked. This was wonderful. Thank you very much for such an insightful story.

  • 1
?

Log in