Fandom: Song Of The Sea
Characters: Conor (Conor/Bronach)
Author's Notes: On my fourth rewatch I came to the belated realization that the room Ben and Saoirse are put to sleep in at Granny's is Conor's from when he was a teenager, and while the rest of the house is clearly inhabited by someone with very definite tastes who lives alone, she hasn't redecorated her son's childhood room. She hasn't even taken down the stickers on his door. Somehow or other that realization inspired this.
Summary: His heart was broken into pieces by a great, great tragedy.
Shadow had heard too many people telling each other not to repress their feelings, to let their emotions out, let the pain go. Shadow thought there was a lot to be said for bottling up emotions. If you did it long enough and deep enough, he suspected, pretty soon you wouldn't feel anything at all.-Neil Gaiman, American Gods
When Conor's father died, he never saw his mum cry.
She wasn't the demonstrative kind. She never had been. She loved as fiercely and devotedly as anyone, just ... quietly.
"There'll be no tears in my house, Conor," she told him on the drive back home from the funeral. "Sure we'll get along fine, you and me."
Conor stared out the window and didn't say anything, not that it would have mattered if he had.
He did his crying away from home, where his mum couldn't hear.
When Conor took the job at the lighthouse, his mum wrote to him regularly, but since most of the time the letters consisted of heavy-handed hinting that he should give up the job and move back to the city, he mostly didn't answer them.
He was pretty sure he was never going to move back to the city.
For the first time in his life, he felt like he could breathe.
Most days he didn't see anyone, save the ferryman Dan, and it was liberating. He didn't have to struggle to find topics for small talk. He could just take things at his own pace.
He spent his days watching the ocean on the rocks and finding his own sense of peace, separate from anything anyone else expected from him.
And then, with no warning, there was Bronach.
From the moment they met, Bronach was everything to him.
She was beautiful, but that wasn't all of it. She was smart, but that wasn't all of it. She was funny and charming and carefree and everything he wasn't, but that wasn't all of it.
It was just her.
They went for walks along the beach, hand in hand, and she told him stories and he listened.
Bronach didn't mind that he didn't talk much. She knew he was listening.
They got married on that very beach in the summer, and he cried when he kissed her.
He never tried to trap her.
That was something he clung to, even in his grief afterwards. He never tried to steal her coat or hide it from her. He knew the stories as well as any human, and men who tried to force their selkie wives to stay never came to a happy end. She was always free to come and go as she pleased, and if she stayed it was because she loved him like he loved her.
When Ben was born, Conor was sure no man alive had ever been more happy with his life.
Ben looked like his father but took after his mother, quick to speak, fond of songs and stories, fond of people. They painted the walls of his room with scenes from Bronach's stories, and their little home by the lighthouse was filled with laughter and music and love, and Conor was more than content. Even his mum began to soften towards Bronach with the arrival of a grandson, though she never stopped dropping heavy-handed hints about how many good schools were close to her home in the city, and how Ben would benefit from playmates his own age.
But the island was home.
As far as Conor was concerned they weren't going to leave it for anything.
Saoirse was the spit and image of her mother.
It hurt, more often than not, to look at her.
Conor's mum came out to the island for a few weeks, after, to help out -- to look after Saoirse, and keep Ben out of struggle.
"Put on a brave face," she told him. "Your children need you to be strong."
Conor didn't know how to be strong, not without Bronach, but he tried. He didn't cry in front of the kids, not even when Ben sang one of her fairy songs and then stopped, troubled, at the point she usually joined in, not even when Saoirse blinked up at him with eyes exactly the shape and color of hers.
He put Saoirse's coat in the trunk Bronach had kept hers in, and he locked it, and told himself she wouldn't need it until she was older, anyway, so there was no harm in keeping it out of the way. He wasn't doing anything wrong.
He took all of his grief, and his fear, and his anger, and he bottled it down tightly in the darkest pits of his soul where it couldn't touch him anymore, and the world around him went gray and harmless.
Every year on Saoirse's birthday, his mum came out to the island to see her grandchildren, and the four of them had a little celebration -- a cake, and presents, and Saoirse's favorite songs, and Conor did not allow himself to feel anything until the kids were in bed and he was away on the mainland, and then he allowed the feelings only the shortest time to surface before he drowned them in ale.
Grief, he had discovered, was a good swimmer. But there was plenty of ale.
As Saoirse grew she looked more and more her mother, and he tried to find any trace of himself in her. At the age Ben had learned his first words and quickly raced on to sentences and stories and songs, Saoirse remained silent, and Conor fancied that she took after her quiet father. She was most peaceful when she could see the ocean crashing into the rocks, the places where he had found his own peace long ago, before the ocean became a symbol of everything he'd lost.
He was softer on her than Ben, and he knew it -- but Ben was full of stories and art and music and reckless grace, reflective of Bronach in a sharp, painful way. Looking at Saoirse, her little mirror image, punctured the gray with reminders of how Bronach had brightened his world; talking to Ben only reminded him of how much he missed her, and how much better things would be if she were here to help bring up their children.
She wouldn't have approved of how he was raising them, he knew with a dull, distant certainty, and yet he couldn't find the strength to be better.
The night of Saoirse's sixth birthday brought a terrifying revelation, one that punched through the fog that had swallowed his life with a rush of pain and fear he hadn't felt since Bronach.
He couldn't take another loss.
He wasn't strong enough.
He could send them to live with his mum in the safe, distant city, where things were real and solid and fairy stories held no power, where seals didn't turn into women who loved you but couldn't stay. But he couldn't lose them. He couldn't take that risk.
He threw Saoirse's coat into the ocean, and part of him knew it was the wrong thing to do.
Once the kids were safely gone, away from the island that had brought him peace and then taken everything in return, he drank until the part of him that was telling him it was wrong was quiet.
It spoke with Bronach's voice.
And then, all in one horrible night, he nearly lost them both, Saoirse gray and dying in the bottom of a boat, Ben jumping overboard into a stormy sea to prove a point, and all the fear and pain and grief punched through the alcohol and the fog and he realized that he wasn't protecting himself or his children at all.
Ben couldn't swim.
Ben had grown up on a tiny island in the middle of nowhere, but he couldn't swim, just because his father couldn't come to terms with losing his mother and had infected his son with his own fear.
So Conor jumped in after him and let his fear drive him to swim harder and better than he ever had before, because if he didn't he was going to lose both of his children on the same night.
As he dove down deeper to find Ben, he knew with a sudden, heart-stopping certainty that if he had to give Saoirse back to the sea that had taken Bronach to save her life, he would, and that he had to listen to Ben no matter how much it hurt, or he'd lose him too, and he still didn't know if he was strong enough but he was beginning to realize that didn't matter.
In the end, Saoirse stayed.
And Conor said goodbye to his wife, six years overdue.
He never stopped loving her.
But he let her go.
Learning to let himself feel again was hard, but Conor did it.
It was a struggle. There were days when the blank gray fog looked terribly tempting -- days when Ben's habit of launching into a story at the least prompting called to mind a sudden memory of Bronach doing the same like a knife to his heart; days when Saoirse singing as she went about her day sounded so much like her mother that he looked up expecting her to be there, and when she wasn't --
But it was worth it.
The kids grew up quickly, like kids always did, and blossomed, and they were brilliant. And there were days when the echoes of Bronach he saw in them didn't hurt at all -- they just made him glad that there was still something of her in this world.
And on every day, even the worst days, the pain was worth it.