A/N: Important: This chapter jumps back in time, as its title suggests, and may be difficult to read for anyone who has lost a child. It deals with death (fake death, but they don't know that) and grief. If it's too hard for anyone to read, this chapter can be skipped; all it explains is a bit of what Jake's family went through when they lost him and hints at how he came to be with the Huntsclan.
Susan's first impression of her son is of a howling bundle of healthy pink flesh topped with a shock of black hair. The labour had been long and hard, but it is over now, and she is exhausted but happy because he is here. Wailing. Roaring. Strong, so strong, even when she had feared he might not be.
She is surprised when her baby boy is swaddled and whisked away by hospital staff before she has a chance to get a better look at him, but she thinks perhaps that is the way of things here. Part of her wants to argue, to demand to see him, but they are doctors and nurses, and they know what's best.
Jonathan comes to see her before she is clean, bursting through with a nervous energy and stubbornness to reach his goal. He is asking all the questions she swallowed back, but they are not given answers. They are given deflections. In the end, Jonathan knows no more about all this than she does, and they are left to wait.
When the answers come, she doesn't want them. They are not what she wants to hear. They cannot be true. Her son, her Jake…. She'd heard his cries, and her heart had filled with more love than she'd ever realized it could.
Maybe that is why it is so hard to believe what the nurse is telling them now. The linen-wrapped lump of grey they'd offered her—with comments about unforeseen circumstances and unfortunate complications—barely resembles a baby, let alone her Jake. Whatever it is, it is not him. It cannot be him.
Jonathan sits at her side, keeping an arm around her. She does not move, not even to lean into him. She just sits mutely in the bed, unable to comprehend everything the nurse is saying.
It is later—much, much later, when the stink of the hospital and the stink of death has finally left her nostrils—that she allows herself to cry. To scream. To curse her heritage and whatever her dragon blood has done to her half-human child, her baby boy who should have been happy and healthy and alive and with them….
She refuses to walk past the room that was to be his nursery.
She leaves the details of the death to Jonathan, to discuss with her father what is best. He knows more than she anyway. She can't help but love her husband, but she had never imagined this. Not when everything had gone so well throughout the entire pregnancy.
She is not surprised, then, when her father finds her walking the streets of Chinatown. It is raining. She likes it that way. It means no one who glances her way and manages to see her will notice her tears.
"My dear daughter," her father says, and she sees that the rain touches him, too. Even though he knows enough magic to deflect it and merely give the appearance of getting wet to those who don't know, who can't see, he is getting soaked. With her. For her. "We must consider the possibility that you will not be able to have healthy children with your chosen husband."
It is a conversation they have had before.
It is a conversation she hates.
It is an argument she had thought she had won.
She lets him talk even though she doesn't believe him—can't believe him, won't, even as the same treacherous thoughts flit through her mind—because she knows he is searching for an explanation they will never get, just as she is, and that this explanation is, to him, the most likely.
He had warned her.
She had not listened.
She does not want to listen now, but she does.
She has not told her husband the family secret, but what if this is her fault? What if her father is right? What if they can't have children because of what she is?
They'll adopt, she decides. She has cousins. Someone else can take up the mantle of the American Dragon once her father lays it down. A direct line isn't always the strongest, anyway; she is proof of that.
It would mean keeping this secret from even more of her family, but perhaps that is for the best.
It is a bitter secret when it holds truths like this.
She knows, in time, that this ache will become normal for her. Not faded, but part of her. She cannot imagine that now. She cannot imagine adapting to this grief, this guilt, on top of everything else, of learning to live anew.
But she has survived this much, and she will no doubt find it necessary to survive more.
She had been raised as if she would one day be the American Dragon, for even once they knew her powers simply wouldn't develop late, they had believed she would raise the next one. She has always known the responsibilities that came with the title. She has always known that her children would be expected to shoulder that responsibility and that she should be there to help them through it.
She cannot shirk from this forever, not when Jonathan needs her.
Not when they need each other, now more than ever.
The future will hold whatever it holds. She will not ask the Oracles if they had foreseen this or anything after it; she knows the trickery of prophecy, however unintentional, and she does not wish to run headlong into something she is trying desperately to avoid. It would be far better to climb from this pit one inch at a time, one moment, one hour, one day.
If magic is not meant to be a greater part of her life than it already is, then it won't be.
If the next child she holds in her arms and calls her own isn't hers by blood, it won't make them all less of a family, and it won't make the dear child any less loved.
She'd be able to love again when the time came, despite this hole in her heart. She is sure of that. Her love for the rest of her family might not mask the ache she feels for her lost son, but she doesn't expect that. Wouldn't expect that. She knows how much her heart had swelled at the sight of her first child; she has no doubt it will react just as strongly to that of her second, when they are ready for a second.
"Let us go home," her father urges, and she nods and allows him to lead her back to more familiar roads.
Home might not hold answers, but it holds family, and that must be enough for now.