Word count: Just shy of 4,000
Warnings/Spoilers: Spoilers for 1.17 ("Company Man")
Recipient/Prompts: marcal_92/ Pre-Claire and Lyle; Why Sandra fell in love with HRG; Sandra wants kids.
Summary: Always the little things, to let her know that he loved her. And so she shouldn't have been surprised, she supposed, that it was also the little things that gave him away.
A/N: Written for the rare_heroes Sekrit Santa fic exchange. Profound thanks to fantasticpants, who read this several times, above and beyond the call of duty, and who encouraged me greatly as well as pointing out my silly mistakes (all that remain are mine). The usual credit to visiblemarket, who will forever be my Sandra muse, and who inspired one or two of the moments in here.
It's always been the little things.
It wasn't the grand gesture of borrowing his father's battered old Citroen (and Oh my gosh, Noah, I can't believe you got the car), or his earnest proposal under a starry summer sky - though that was just about the most romantic thing she'd ever heard of, and she'd even cried a little bit, been all tearful and then felt so silly, though he hadn't seemed to mind at all. But it wasn't about the big things like that: it was the little things, like the the squeeze of his hand when she'd said I do (and she did, oh she did); that slight, self-deprecating smile as he'd taken her hand and walked with her back down the aisle.
And then there were all the little things after that, like changing her name. Bennet just sounded so much neater than boring old Bailey, and she'd liked that it didn't have the extra 't' on the end; it was different, like him. (And it just drove Noah crazy when people stuck that extra 't' on, though he wouldn't say so; but that was Noah.) So she'd signed Sandra Bennet for the bank and taken her new checkbook, all printed through with Sandra Bennets like English seaside rock from one of those ridiculous romance novels her college roommate had lent her. It had been the little things like that that made all the difference in her bright new world, things like being called Mrs Bennet, as though that wasn't the most ridiculous thing you'd ever heard. (But didn't she just break out in a huge grin every time she said it? It just made her so happy, and Noah caught her grinning to herself and called her crazy, but she could tell he was pleased, just the same.)
It was things like the expression on his face when he'd led her, eyes closed (I won't look, Noah, it's no fun that way), then asked her to open them, and they were right in front of the most handsome little house she'd ever seen. And he'd insisted, though she'd barely believed him, that it was really theirs; his face had worn such a tentative look, as though he wouldn't have been happy himself unless she found it satisfactory - as if anything he'd ever done was, could ever have been, less than satisfactory.
"Do you like it?"
"Like it? Gosh, Noah, are you kiddin' me?" And she'd hugged him, given him a big old kiss right there in the street; and he'd looked a little shy, but with that pleased look underneath, and she hadn't been fooled, not for a minute.
And he was so good at letting her have her way that, for the longest time, she barely noticed that he was indulging her at all (which she supposed he was, but that was just his way. He was always so thoughtful). When she'd asked if maybe they could get a dog, because Ma always kept dogs, Noah, and it just doesn't feel right, not having them around, he'd just given her that little smile and said "Whatever you want, honey," and the very next day they'd gone and picked out an adorable little pomeranian who would just melt your heart. And she'd known he wasn't really a dog person, at least, not dogs like that; but it had made her feel better, having someone at home with her while Noah worked,
Always the little things, to let her know that he loved her.
And so she shouldn't have been surprised, she supposed, that it was also the little things that gave him away. When she couldn't help but fuss over the Kaminskis' baby (because honestly, Noah, did you ever see such a little darlin'?), there had been that pucker in his forehead, like something was bothering him but he wouldn't ever say what. And she hadn't put it together then, but only much later, when they'd been lying in bed together and everything felt perfect, and she'd had to go and ruin it by wondering aloud whether maybe they shouldn't try, one of these days, having some kids.
She'd known at once, because although he hadn't frowned or gone to pieces or said ugly things (unlike some people's husbands whose names she wouldn't mention), she'd felt him hesitate, next to her, and when he'd turned to her with a sad little smile, and smoothed her hair against her head, she'd known.
"Oh ... it's okay, sweetheart," and she'd meant it, meant it as much as she could. And he'd said nothing, just kissed her and stroked her hair a little more, and eventually they'd gone to sleep. And in the morning, they hadn't talked about it at all, and then life just sort of carried on; and if he'd been a little quieter for a few days, well, he'd gotten so busy at work lately, and the weather had been positively peculiar, so everything was a bit off, really, and she was probably just imagining it.
She'd tried so hard not to mind. She'd made dinner for friends and neighbours and sometimes people from Noah's work (they're awfully polite, Noah, but don't you think they're, well, you know, a little strange?) and entering Garibaldi for shows. He was an absolute darlin', though he wouldn't behave for the judges, but she loved him just the same, yes she did.
And all the while, she was trying not to acknowledge the voice inside that nagged at her and told her that he didn't want children, or that it might be too late by the time they were ready (he was ready). Trying to find it enough that she had Noah and Garibaldi and that she was happy (which she was, really. She didn't want to seem ungrateful when some folks didn't have much of anything at all.)
So if she'd ever gotten distracted, watching mothers with their babies in the street, she'd just told herself not to be so silly, and that her turn would come and she just needed a little patience, and that nobody ever died of waiting (except maybe those two gentlemen in the play, but that was probably more metaphorical waiting, anyhow). But she wasn't altogether sure she believed it herself.
And then Claude had come to dinner. She liked him at once; he felt, oh, she didn't know, more real, somehow, than Noah's other colleagues. Maybe it was the accent; she'd always been crazy about that whole English thing, though he didn't sound like any of the movie stars she knew. But he complimented her cooking, which was nice of him and he didn't have to do, and she told him so.
He grinned at her. "Better than anythin' I've eaten all week."
"You eat abysmally," said Noah from across the table.
"Yeah, well." Claude grinned at Noah and then at her. " 'S a nice house," he said, looking around. "Nice for raisin' a family, y'know?"
"Yes," she blurted, without even thinking about it - and then grabbed the empty plates off the table, not looking at him, not really looking at anything, vision gone suddenly hot and blurry. Retreated into the kitchen on the pretext of clearing up and bringing out dessert, and just about managed to put the dishes in the sink without breaking them.
Heard her husband say, low, "We're not quite ready for that yet."
"What you waitin' for, mate? Doomsday?"
"Yes, well—" and she drowned the rest of the conversation in the gurgle and splutter of the faucet, letting it run. Took a long moment to compose herself before she went back out with the pie. And if Claude noticed that her eyes were a little pink, her voice a little too bright, he didn't say one word about it. The perfect gentleman, she told Noah after they'd wished him goodnight, and they'd have to find him a wife, someone who'd feed him a decent meal now and again (skin and bone he was, and she didn't know what he must have been living off, all alone in that apartment of his.)
And after that, life just carried on, like she knew it would, with or without her say-so. Garibaldi won a prize (it was only third place, but she was so very proud of him; the judge said he had the most beautiful coat he'd ever seen, Noah - how about that?). She planted some vegetables in their back yard; some pest or other got the carrots, but the squash and potatoes came up big and strong, and by November they'd eaten mash and roasted squash, and it was satisfying, somehow, cooking and eating things she'd grown herself. She felt useful.
But rosettes and squashes couldn't quite fill the gap, no matter how hard she wished it, and there were some nights when she'd lie awake long after Noah had gone to sleep and wonder whether they'd ever have kids at all. She wanted them so badly that it ached in her chest, but she didn't want to nag and be one of those wives. She just had to be patient.
She never let Noah see her crying. He didn't need that, with with being so busy at work and all.
And then he turned up early from work one evening while she was ironing shirts, watching some program on television about Patagonia or Cape Horn or somewhere like that, with half an eye on Garibaldi, who would not stop chewing on Noah's slippers, though Lord knows she'd tried to get him to chew on hers, just to give the poor things a break. But part of her wasn't there at all, a part of her that had been thinking and thinking about that non-conversation, the one stretching the space between them, and wondering how on earth she was ever going to fix it. Whether it was something that could even be fixed. She nearly lit one of his shirts on fire, going over and over the collar, not thinking much about ironing or shirts at all.
And then Garibaldi started barking, and Noah came in, surprising her, because it was barely quarter after five. She suddenly felt very silly. Wiped away the tear she'd barely noticed, before he could see it, and felt so so ashamed of herself, as though she didn't have everything to be grateful for: the perfect husband, the perfect house (and the most handsomest dog that ever lived, that's right).
"Hi." Noah came right over and kissed her cheek.
"Hi honey," and she touched his shoulder as he leaned in. "I didn't even hear you come in."
He gave her a quick smile and carried his briefcase through to the bedroom. And she turned back to the ironing board, expecting him to disappear into his paperwork at the little desk they'd somehow crammed in by the bedroom window.
So she wasn't prepared when he came back out again a minute later and said "Get your coat."
She stared at him. "Is somethin' wrong?" She couldn't imagine what might possibly be the matter, but it just wasn't like him. He had a routine.
"No," he said, evenly."But I think you should come with me."
She set the iron back down. "Okay."
Got her coat, trying to keep a lid on all the possibilities running through her head. And then she had to stop at the door, because Garibaldi, bless his little soul, just didn't understand why in the world she didn't have his leash. "Noah ... shouldn't we take him with us?"
The smile he gave her was, well, enigmatic. That was the only word for it (and so what if that was overdramatic; he was the one being all secretive). "We won't be gone long. He'll be fine."
The shadows were lengthening as he walked with her down the path, and she was glad she'd taken her warmer coat, because the nights were getting a little colder now (and that reminded her: she'd have to bring the laundry in later). He unlocked the car and walked around to the driver's side.
They'd gotten rid of the old Citroen by then; that thing had been on its last legs and it had just about broken her heart, watching Noah trying to start it every morning before work, as though they couldn't afford something that would even go. So they'd saved their money and bought some sleek-looking thing. Noah said it was only a Ford, but she liked it, and the metallic blue colour reminded her of a long-ago school trip to the west coast, and seeing the ocean stretching out all the way to Asia.
"Well, are you going to get in?" And for a moment he looked so serious that she wondered whether something really was terribly wrong, and he was just trying to break it to her nicely.
"And where, exactly, are we goin'?" It came out wrong: brassy, like one of those women her Ma had always been so disparaging about and hinted at her not to become; but she couldn't think straight, with all those thoughts swirling 'round in her head.
But he smiled at her with more warmth than she'd seen in days, and he was just so handsome right then and there, that she was sure she had no business being worried, no business at all.
"Okay," and she opened the door and got in. Trying to make more light of it than she felt as he fastened his seat-belt beside her. "Well, aren't you all mysterious?"
He laughed, then, louder than she thought it really merited (but that was the thing with Noah: you never knew what was going to tickle him), and put a hand on her knee. And she thought, then, that maybe things would be all right after all, because you couldn't buy loyalty like that, and she did love him, so very much.
They drove for around half an hour, talking about nothing in particular; she wondered where they were going, but she supposed he would tell her when he was ready, or they'd get there, and then she'd see anyway. (That was the thing with Noah - you couldn't rush him. Some days it just drove her crazy, but he was who he was, and you couldn't change that about anyone - it wouldn't be right, somehow.)
The conversation lapsed, and for a while they just drove. She supposed he was busy with his own thoughts (he must have had so much to think about, what with work and everything, and she didn't like to intrude), and it was a fine evening, the sun sinking off to the west, leaving streaky pink fingers in the sky.
She looked at him, driving the car with perfect concentration, as if it was the only thing in the world he knew how to do (though she knew that wasn't true; he just had this knack of working out how to do things, and not many people could do that. It was a real gift, and she'd told him so) and she leaned across for emphasis until her head was nearly on his shoulder.
"It's gettin' dark, Noah."
"I know," and he looked down at her, gave her that secret little smile that still made her stomach turn cartwheels, and goodness, she wasn't eighteen anymore.
She sat back up, trying to resist the urge to fuss with her hair in the mirror. "Well, are you goin' to tell me where we're goin'?"
"No," he said, the gentle reproof softened by his expression and by the quick flicker of blue eyes towards her (and she never had been able to resist those eyes), "Because then it wouldn't be a surprise."
"Well, okay," she said, indulging him.
A little after that, he made a left off the highway, up towards the lake, which didn't really make any sense, but she was about done with trying to speculate about whatever the heck this was, anyway (and God knew you could make yourself plumb crazy thinking like that, just like her Aunt Betty).
They cleared the trees and the car came to rest by the lake, tyres crunching unevenly against soft gravel beneath them. Noah turned the key and everything went suddenly quiet.
The lake was glassy, ruffled in places by the breeze and soft like silk under the violet sky. But what she saw, what pulled her right out of the ridiculous mire she'd been wallowing in (and didn't she just feel so stupid about that), were the swans: gorgeous white feathers reflecting softly in the water, delicately arched necks mirrored in soft shades of blue and lilac as they drifted serenely across the surface.
"Oh ... Noah, it's just beautiful." Her hand snuck across without her even meaning it to, and found his.
She didn't need to be looking at him to know that he was pleased. "I thought you might like them."
"Oh, I do ... aren't they gorgeous?"
He wasn't looking at the lake; he was looking at her, with that same little hopeful expression she'd seen the very first time he'd showed her the house.
"I think I owe you an apology," he said, carefully.
"What?" She pushed mocking fingers against his chest, disbelieving. "Whatever for?"
He reached out and stroked her cheek with his hand, and he looked, she didn't know, guilty or something, so she grabbed his hand and squeezed it, because whatever else, she loved him, and he just looked so, well, so lost.
"I'm—" he had to clear his throat a little "—I'm finding it very difficult to imagine being a father."
And was that what this was all about? Goodness ... it wasn't like either of them had any experience at that sort of thing.
"You'll do just fine," she said, and she meant it. Held his hand in her lap. "Do you remember when I was sick last fall? I couldn't even stand to get out of bed, but you took care of me ... you were so kind to me, honey."
His smile was a little rueful, but it was a smile, and that was something. "That's not really the same thing as having children."
"Oh, gosh, Noah," she said, and maybe she was just a little bit cross with him, because really. "I've got no more practice at this than you do, and we'll do fine. You can't control everythin'; I know you want to, but you can't."
He gave her another sideways look, apologetic, and suddenly she felt terrible. Who was she to sit and criticise him, when he worked so hard, keeping a roof over their heads? He was doing his best, and that was what mattered; she just had to have a little faith, was all.
"I'm sorry," she said. "We've got time. I mean, I guess we do." She was only twenty-five, and that wasn't old (well, it was according to Mrs Synott down the street, but she could go to you-know-where), so that was something, she supposed.
"Actually, that's why I brought you here," he said, quietly. "I'm ready."
She stared at him. "Are you sure?" Because they had to be sure. It wasn't right, bringing someone into the world if they weren't wanted.
"I'm sure," he said, and squeezed her hand.
And that, in the end, was what undid her, because it was always the little things about him that just got right under her skin.
She tried to glare at him, though they both knew she wasn't really succeeding. "If you're just humouring me, Noah John Bennet, we are goin' to have words."
"That shouldn't be necessary," he said, wryly, and leaned forward and kissed her.
He'd always been a good kisser, but she didn't remember the last time they'd just sat in the car and made out like a couple of teenagers. Her husband was one hot studmuffin, and no doubt about it.
Eventually, they pulled apart, and he grinned at her, a pleased, stupid grin that was just so damn contagious she couldn't help but grin right back.
"Well," she said, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear, "Aren't you goin' to take me home?"
The corner of his mouth curled up. "I might."
She regarded him seriously for a moment. "Garibaldi's goin' to need feedin' and walking."
"Ah." He paused. "That wasn't quite what I had in mind."
"I'm kiddin', silly. I mean, he does, but it doesn't have to be a long walk."
His eyes twinkled at her as he put the car into gear. "Good."
They left the lake behind, water reflecting the indigo sky, the swans a pale and muted huddle on the far bank.
x-posted to rare_heroes and heroes_fic