Hello! This is a new WIP I am offering up for your consumption. :) It is a bit different than my usual, but I am really excited to share it and I hope you like it! I must thank ct522 (titania522) for beta'ing this for me and offering general support and guidance. I can assure you all this fic will be lightyears better for her involvement! Also, the lovely and talented nightlockinthecave produced the stunning banner for this piece. Her talent blows me away! Thanks to both you lovely ladies! Xoxo
Thank you so much for reading! I would love to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to leave a review or come say hi on tumblr (plumgal1899 over there as well).
And the tears come streaming down your face,
When you lose something you can't replace,
When you love someone but it goes to waste,
Could it be worse?
Lights will guide you home,
And ignite your bones,
And I will try to fix you.
New York City
Tuesday, September 11, 2001
8:45am, North Tower, 48th Floor, Men's Restroom
"Dad, I'm going to be late for school," I whine for about the hundredth time since we got here. "We only have fifteen minutes now. There is no way we'll make it there on time now."
"I know, Kat. It'll be fine, I'm almost done," he responds from where he is lying on the floor, fiddling with a pipe under the counter I'm sitting on.
I sigh loudly and start swinging my legs again, shaking my feet so that the Lizzie McGuire snaps on my shoelaces make the loud clicking noise I like. It figures that my dad would have the work phone this morning- Mom says that emergencies only ever seem to happen when he's on call. We were already almost to my school when his boss called, yelling so loud I could hear him through the phone, telling my dad to 'get his ass in and fix that god damn pipe in the men's room on 48 again.' I giggle a little- Dad would be so mad if he knew I heard those words.
He grunts a bit as he begins to wiggle out from under the counter to stand up. I roll my eyes- why do old people always grunt and groan when they go to stand up?
"Alright, I've just got to get this mopped up and then we can go," he says, waving his hand at the wet floor.
"Dad, we don't have time for that," I moan and he gives me the look. The one I get when he thinks my temper is showing. "Ugh, fine," I snap, jumping off the counter and sloshing through the puddle on the floor. "But if my teacher hates me it won't be my fault."
"Stop being so dramatic, Kat," he warns in that calm way that just makes me want to throw a full-blown tantrum. "Eleven is too young to have so much drama in your life. I'll get you a pass in the off-"
His words are cut off my a tremendous BOOM, and we stagger to the side as we feel the floor and walls shake really hard. It feels like the whole building moves and everything around us seems to rumble with a life of its own. My eyes go wide in alarm and I look to Dad for an explanation, but he looks just as surprised as me. "What was that?!"
"I don't know," he says in his even tone.
"It's an earthquake!" I say, panic rising up in me.
"It wasn't an earthquake, Kat. Just stay calm." He opens the bathroom door to peek his head out and I can hear other voices murmuring in the hallway. Stepping back in he tells me, "I'm just going to go down the hallway a little bit to the security desk and see what's happening. You stay right here, okay? I'll be right back."
I nod without saying anything and back up further into the room as he leaves. My heart is beating so fast that I can feel it through my shirt when I put my hand to my chest. The way the building shook, I've never felt anything like that before. It has to be an earthquake- what else could have caused that?
Moving over to the tile wall I slide down it and pull my knees up to my chest, wrapping my arms around them. I wait, for what feels like forever. I can hear more people out in the hallway now and, although I can't tell what they are saying, their voices seem to be raised in alarm. I think maybe I should go try to find my dad, but I don't know which way he went, and I am afraid I'll get lost in this huge building by myself. My breathing is already starting to come fast and shallow when I hear it. This sound is totally new to me, but it is almost like the building is groaning, like the steel and cement version of my dad trying to get up off the floor earlier. I don't know what causes it, but it seems to be coming from above and all around me at once.
I hug my knees even tighter and bury my face in them for a moment, but that is making it even harder for my shallow breaths to reach my lungs. I can feel tears in my eyes now and when I hear the building moan again I forget any thought of being brave. "Daddy!" I scream, not even caring if I sound like a baby. I scramble to my feet, deciding that going anywhere will be better than staying in this bathroom if we are having an earthquake. "Daddy!" I scream again louder as I race toward the door and yank it open.
Out in the hallway I see people moving around everywhere. I notice one woman on her cell phone, agitatedly pushing buttons and holding the phone to her ear before telling the man she is standing with, "I can't get through!" Others are loudly questioning what is happening or describing what they felt. Most seem to be moving toward the lobby with all the elevators where my dad and I came from earlier.
Seeing all of these grown-ups out here acting so frantic is just making me more scared. I gulp hard, trying to swallow the painful lump in my throat so that I can yell again. "Dad!" The shrillness of my own voice scares me almost as much as everything else. My feet begin moving in the same direction as everyone else without my brain telling them too, but I am scanning the faces in the crowd for my dad.
I have only made it a few doors down the hallway when I finally see him coming toward me. I pull in a shuddering breath and run toward him. "Dad, what's happening?!"
He crouches down a little so that his face is level with mine and I am staring into the silver eyes that are a mirror of my own. "Hey, look at me, Katniss," he says calmly, and I am able to finally pull in a full deep breath. "We don't know what happened, but everything is going to be just fine. I promise," he continues. "We are just going to go over and wait for our turn for the elevator, okay? Then we will head outside and see what happened. It'll be okay."
I nod slowly, soothed a little by his steady voice. "Okay," I say finally, and let him take my hand, not even worried that someone might see and think it's babyish. I'm very small for my age anyway, so they probably think I'm younger than I am.
There are already people crowded in the elevator lobby so that I can't see any of the elevators through them. We wait patiently for a few moments, but I don't hear any of the characteristic 'dings' to announce that they are arriving. It only takes a minute or two of waiting before I feel my dad pulling my hand gently in the opposite direction. "Come on, honey, we are going to take the stairs."
I look at him in surprise, but he is looking forward, dodging past people as we head in the opposite direction. The idea of using the stairs when we are on the 48th floor seems crazy to me, but then my dad glances down at me briefly and I see a little spark of fear in his eyes. He doesn't want me to know, but something is very wrong. I want to ask what is happening again, but I am too scared to. I've never seen my dad afraid of anything, and seeing it now causes the panic I was feeling earlier to rise up in me, choking my words in my throat.
We reach a stairwell that looks wide, but only one of the double doors is propped open. There is a group of people trying to push through and someone in the back yells for them to open the other door, but as one man takes a moment to yank on it, it stays firmly in place. As he is in the front and poised to walk through, he doesn't waste any more time trying to open it, and the people waiting just keep piling up at the entrance.
9:03a.m., 48th Floor, Entrance to Stairwell A
It feels like it takes forever for Dad and me to shuffle along with the crowd to get to the door, but we are almost there when we hear what sounds like a loud explosion. People begin scrambling frantically, trying to find the source of the explosion, but it doesn't seem to be anywhere visible to us. Several people scream and those behind us begin pushing and shoving. I let out a yelp of pain as I feel someone behind me step on my heel, but the large man doesn't seem to notice as he barrels into me, pressing me into the metal door frame and shoving past me. My hand is yanked out of Dad's as I am propelled through the door by more people crowding behind me.
Inside the stairwell everything is in chaos. People are pressing their way down the stairs and I can see a steady wave of people pouring down from the floors above. I try to pause long enough to look over my shoulder for my dad, but he is nowhere in sight and I am being prodded forward by the crowd. I have no way of pushing against the tide of people behind me, and have no choice but to scramble down the stairs.
"Daddy!" I scream over my shoulder, hoping that my dad has made it through the door and will hear me. When I make it to the landing I scamper over against a wall, putting my hands up to cover my head as bodies shove into mine, frantically trying to get past me. "Dad!" I call again, hoping desperately that he'll hear me.
After a moment I feel a woman's claw-like hands grip my shoulder hard and push me forward again. "Come on, dear. Gotta keep moving," she insists as she shuffles me toward the next flight of stairs.
"No!" I scream. "Dad! Daddy!" I yell, craning my neck up in the hopes that my voice will carry over the hectic crowd propelling me forward.
I am at the bottom of the next flight when I hear him. "Katniss! Where are you?"
"I'm here! I'm down here!" hearing his voice gives me the strength shove against the people behind me and grab onto the metal railing against the wall for dear life and begin climbing. "I'm right down here Dad! By the wall."
Pushing against the wave of people moving downward takes more strength than I have, but I hold on to the rail as hard as I can, and hope that he makes it to me before I get pushed into the crowd again. I let out a gasp of relief when I see my dad round the corner of the landing above me and I begin calling out to him desperately. He spots me and begins shoving people out of his way as though he doesn't even notice them. When he reaches me he crushes me to him, and I feel tears streaming down my face.
"Alright, I'm here now. We're okay, let's just keep going." I am surprised when I feel him pick me up and begin carrying me down the stairs, but I don't care. I am too old to be carried but small enough that it doesn't seem to hinder him at first. And if this is what keeps us from getting separated again, I'll let him.
9:35a.m., 22nd Floor, Stairwell A
We have been stopped for a few minutes now. When we were up on the 48th floor I could barely make my legs move fast enough to keep me from being trampled by the crowd. But the farther down we went the slower the crowd was moving. Now we've come to a complete stop, stuck on a landing where I can see a sign that says '22,' and word is being passed upward from below that people entering from lower floors are the reason we've slowed.
My dad and I, along with a bunch of people around us, have pulled our shirts up over our noses because an awful smell began to fill the stairwell a while ago, when we were still several floors up. I don't know what it is, but it smells like really strong chemicals, or some kind of fuel, and something else I can't place. And even worse than the smell, is that smoke started to enter the stairwell not too long after we started down. I was having trouble breathing before, but now I can hardly get a breath in at all.
Some of the people around us have been trying to use their cell phones, to call and find out what is happening, but for some reason nobody is able to get through. Dad hurt his leg in his fight to get down the stairwell to me earlier, so after having carried me from the 48th floor, he set me down when our progress stopped. He grabs my hand now and leans down, speaking quietly into my ear. "I know of another stairwell- one that is only used by janitors and maintenance staff. I think it might be less crowded so we are going to go there okay."
I nod and he begins pushing through the crowd to get to the door that will take us out onto the 22nd floor, but just as he pushes it open we hear someone's cell phone ringing, and a woman about halfway down the flight of stairs below us answers. "Shauna! Shauna, yes it's me! … I'm fine. I'm okay right now… I'm stuck in a stairwell… No we haven't heard… Oh my god. Oh my god!" The woman begins crying as she listens to whoever is on the other end, and a few seconds later she is calling Shauna's name into the phone. The call must have disconnected. "Airplanes!" the woman screams. "They've flown planes into the towers! Both of them! They're calling it an attack!"
A few people scream, some are calling out questions, and the crowd begins pushing again. The word 'attack' has me frozen in fear. I don't even understand what's happening, but I know enough to know that it is very bad. My head starts to feel fuzzy and everything gets very quiet. I can see people shouting and pushing, but it is like I have cotton shoved in my ears. Everything around the sides of my vision starts to look black so that I can only see what is directly in front of me. I feel myself lifted off the ground, and my dad is carrying me again. I can't hear what he is saying, but I just keep my eyes trained on his face, so calm and steady even with all of this.
The bump in his gait as he carries me tells me that his injured leg is getting worse and I want to ask what happened to it, but my brain won't seem to make my mouth work. After a minute Dad pauses and sets me down again, then leans down in front of me to look me in the eyes. "Katniss, honey look at me. We are okay, but I've hurt myself and I can't carry you anymore. I know you're scared, but I need you to walk. Okay?"
I hear him, I do. And I understand what he is saying and what he wants me to do, but I can't seem to do anything other than stare at him blankly. He grabs me by the shoulders and shakes me a little, "Katniss!" he says again. "You have to stay with me, honey. I promise we will be alright, but you have to stay with me." I am finally able to respond with a nod, and my dad doesn't waste any more time talking as he grabs my hand again and starts to lead me away.
I see now that we are passing by another elevator lobby, but instead of being crowded by people like the one upstairs, this floor is completely empty. For some reason this scares me more.
We are just passing another stairwell, but my dad doesn't try to enter this one- I can see through the propped open door that it is crowded with people streaming down from the floors above just like the one we left a few moments ago. As we pass the last elevator I tug on Dad's sleeve to point at it. The door is open and the elevator is waiting on this floor. "No, Kat," he says in response. "The elevators are not safe. It is probably stuck there. We're almost to the other stairs. Come on."
But before he can pull me away again we are surprised by a loud snapping noise, then the elevator just disappears, dropping out of sight and plummeting through the shaft below. We both watch in shock as the thick cable whips around behind it for a while before it finally disappears too.
What happens next comes so fast that I don't even know what is going on. But my dad must recognize what is happening when we see the now empty elevator shaft glow bright orange, because the next thing I know, I am thrown to the floor and Dad lands on top of me, hard. All at once I am blinded by the brightest flash I have ever seen and I hear my dad screaming loudly in my ear. I barely have time to worry about that before I register a pain like nothing I have ever known before along my left arm, and part of my back and left leg. I can't even manage a scream as I look down and see flames licking up my body, my mouth just gaping in horror as I realize that I am on fire.
I can't think of anything other than the horrible pain as Daddy grabs me tight and rolls me with him across the floor a few times. He lets me go and then lands next to me, face down, not making a sound. I don't understand why, but the pain seems to leave my body just as quickly as it came. The same seems to go for the fire itself, as the only evidence left of it having come is some blackening along the walls and a few smoldering benches.
"Katniss,"Dad says weakly and I turn my head slowly to look at him where he lays next to me. The skin on the left side of my neck feels like it is pulling uncomfortably, but it doesn't hurt.
I am relieved for a split second when I first look at my dad and see his face, which is turned toward me, half pressed against the tile of the floor as he lays on his stomach. He looks exactly as he always has and I think at first that somehow the fire didn't get to him, but my relief doesn't last long as I look past his face and down at the rest of him. If I didn't know what I was looking at I wouldn't be able to tell it was once clothes and skin, as my dad's back is mass of angry red and, even worse, blackish brown. Where his gray work jumpsuit still exists it looks like it has been imbedded into the burned flesh that used to be his skin.
I hear what sounds like the whimpering of a puppy, and it takes me a moment to realize it is coming from me.
"Katniss," he says again his voice even softer this time. I look back to his face as I strain to make out what he is saying over the sounds of the building groaning, loud voices in the nearby stairwell, and my own pitiful crying. "Can you move, honey? I need you to get up if you can." I test my limbs and find that I can move as long as I don't try to do too much on my left side. "Okay, Kat," he continues, "you have to get going, now." He has to pause for what feels like a long time, gasping, before he can continue. "Keep going down this hall… the way we were and turn right at the end… You will see another stairwell. Take it all the way down… and when you get to the bottom there will be… an exit. Okay?"
I am sort of half kneeling next to him now and tears are running unchecked down my face. "How am I going to move you, Daddy?" I ask, my voice strained from my crying.
He closes his eyes and answers, "You can't, honey. It is going to be alright. You need to get going now."
I shake my head a little but stop when I feel the uncomfortable pulling sensation again. "No, Daddy," I say, my voice rising. "I can't go without you."
"You have to, Katniss. Right now. Go," he says, and I begin crying harder- he almost sounds as if he is telling me to do something as simple as come inside from playing or to do my homework.
My whole body is trembling now and I shake my head again, not caring anymore that it is uncomfortable. "No!" I sob. "I can't go! Not without you!"
He is trying to speak again but he can't seem to make words come out. A second later he stops trying as his eyes flutter closed again and he is still. I panic for a second until I press my face up to his and feel his soft breath on my cheek. He has lost consciousness but he is not gone. "Daddy!" I yell into his face, afraid to touch his burned skin anywhere in order to shake him. "Daddy, get up!"
I don't know how long I try, but he doesn't wake up, and I eventually just rest my face against his, sobbing. I don't notice the moment when I stop feeling his breath against my cheek.
9:50a.m., 22nd Floor, Elevator Lobby
It could be a minute later or an hour later when a new voice reaches me. When I realized I couldn't get my dad to wake up, my brain did that funny thing again where it wouldn't let me move or talk or even see. But now I hear a gentle yet firm voice that stirs me to raise my head from where I am resting it against Daddy's cheek and find out where it is coming from.
My vision is black around the edges again so that when I look up the only thing I see is a pair of very blue eyes in a very flushed face. The prettiest blue I can ever remember seeing was one time last summer, when Daddy drove me and my sister, Prim, a few hours out of the city, to a lake in the country by where he grew up. We swam and fished all day, and I remember lying in the grass for a long time with Prim, pointing out shapes that we saw in the fluffy white clouds drifting across a sky bluer than I had ever seen in the city. Daddy said that pollution blocked us from seeing blue like that, but here it was, right in front of me in this stranger's eyes.
Next I take in his helmet and the bulky suit he is wearing and realize that he must be a firefighter. He is talking to me, and while I can hear his words, it takes a minute before my brain lets them make sense. He touches my right cheek gently, speaking again, and I finally understand, "Listen to me, sweetheart, what's your name? Can you hear me?" I nod once, slowly. "You can hear me? Tell me your name." When I just continue to stare at him without responding he looks past me, toward the nearby stairwell and says, "I got this, Finn. You go on up. I'm gonna get her to someone who can take her down."
"Alright, man. I'll meet you up there in a few minutes. Don't take too long. With my radio going in and out I'm going to need you to communicate to command." I look over just in time to see the other man- also a fireman- disappear back into the stairwell.
"Okay, little one," the man with the blue eyes says as he begins removing his thick, black and yellow coat, unclipping the radio speaker from the shoulder and clipping it onto one of his suspenders. "Does this hurt?" he asks, gesturing to my left arm. I feel my eyes widen in shock when I look down at my arm and realize for the first time that my skin looks just like my Daddy's. My breath comes in fast, shallow pants and I begin shaking all over again. "It's okay. It's going to be okay, sweetheart. I'm going to put this around you so that you don't get hurt anymore, okay?" he says, lifting his heavy coat around my shoulders. "Come on. I'm going to take you with me, and we are going to get someone to take care of you."
He stands and picks me up gently, one arm at my back and one under my legs. As he begins to walk toward the stairwell my foggy mind finally registers that my dad is still lying on the floor and that we are leaving him there. I suddenly find my voice again. "Daddy!" I try to scream, but it comes out as a rasping croak as I begin to writhe frantically in the fireman's arms. His grip on me is strong and my desperate movements do nothing other than to cause the uncomfortable pulling of my skin again. But I don't care. The only thing I can focus on is the image of my dad, lying motionless on the floor. I am screaming desperately, my face wet with tears as I claw at the chest of the man carrying me farther and farther away from my father. "Stop! We have to help my dad!"
He pauses just inside the stairwell, speaking with a firm voice that gives me pause. "Listen to me now. You are going to be okay. I promise I will get you out of here. I'm going to stay right here with you and make sure of it. But there is nothing I can do for your dad." I look up into his eyes and somehow they calm the wildness in me. I understand what he means- on some level I probably already knew it. So as the man begins to carry me down the still crowded stairwell, I just burry my face into the blue T-shirt that covers his chest and sob silently.
9:58a.m., 10th Floor, Stairwell B
Despite the fact that there are a lot of other people in here with us, this stairwell doesn't seem to be plugged up like the other one was, and we have been climbing down steadily for a few minutes now. I have burrowed down into the big coat that I am wrapped in, shutting out everything that is going on around me. Every now and then though, the gentle voice of the man carrying me reaches me as he leans down to murmur reassurances- "I've got you, sweetheart," "you're going to be fine," "I'm right here with you, little one, it'll be okay."
My tears continue to come unchecked, but otherwise it is as though a peaceful numbness has taken over me, and I just let myself be carried.
I become aware of the people around me beginning to call out in alarm a second before I understand why. Everything is shaking again and the walls around us vibrate with an immense rumbling. I clutch at the blue-eyed man and he holds me a little tighter as he tucks his head right next to mine where it is buried in his coat and says, "Don't worry, I'm right here. We're alright, sweetheart- we're going to be alright."
It seems like the shaking around us goes on forever, but it is actually probably less than a minute. When it stops silence rings in the stairwell for a few seconds before people start yelling again, asking what that was. Nobody seems to know- not even my firefighter, but he sounds calm as he calls for everybody to keep moving. "Come on, you're almost there, just 10 more floors. Everybody just stay calm and keep moving."
The crowd around us seems to be willing to listen to his command, and everybody begins moving again, even faster now. I burrow even further into the huge coat around me, grateful to have it to hide in and to have the strong arms holding me- protecting me, at least for now, from the horrors of this day.
We have only been moving again for a very short time when the firefighter's radio crackles to life with a message that, if possible, escalates the panicked scene around us even further. "Command to all units. Evacuate the building immediately." And then, a second later, "Repeat: Command to all units. Evacuate the building."
My firefighter is calling out to the crowd around us again, "Everybody keep moving. Let's go. Stay calm and keep moving." He is jogging down the stairwell now, but from what I can hear from the people around us, so is everybody else. I burry my face into him again and hold on as hard as I can, repeating to myself, I'm okay, I'm okay. He's got me. I'm okay.
In another few minutes the seemingly endless bumping of running down stairs ends and I can feel that we are now running on solid ground. Just as I poke my head up to see what is happening I hear the iron screech of a heavy door opening and suddenly we are outside. Somehow it is both bright and dark at the same time. The air around us is thick with dust- everywhere dust- so that as the sun from the bright day filters through it, everything looks a dusky brown color.
I cough as I inhale a deep breath of dirt and ash and whatever else consumes us. The firefighter pushes my head down into the jacket. "Just stay down, we'll be out of here soon," he says as he pulls his T-shirt up over his nose and the shield of his helmet down to protect his eyes. The air is so thick with debris that he has to jostle me around in his arms every so often so that he can bring his hand up to wipe off the visor.
He doesn't stop running and I can hear sirens and people shouting all around us. After we have run a ways, he pauses and is yelling at someone, but I don't dare peek out to see who. "I'm Mellark, Ladder 10! Our radios were in and out! Some are still up there! They didn't get the evacuation command!" I don't hear the response of whoever he was yelling to as he continues to run again.
10:25 a.m., St. Paul's Churchyard, EMT Unit
The fireman is shouting to someone again and they are giving him directions. A minute later I feel myself set down on something soft and he is pulling the coat away from my face. My first instinct is to grasp out for him desperately again- he's the only solid and safe thing in my world right now- but he stills my flailing arms gently and crouches down so that his face is level with mine. "It's okay, sweetheart. You're safe now- I'm right here with you. This is my friend, Thom, and he's going to take care of you. Okay?"
"Don't leave me?" I manage to croak.
He gives me a sad, gentle smile and the only thing visible of his dust-covered face is straight white teeth and eyes the color of the prettiest sky I have ever seen. "Thom is going to give you something to help you sleep. I'll stay with you until then." I nod, wanting to cry and tell him to stay while I sleep too, but I can't do that. I know I can't do that. "You have to tell us your name, little one, okay?"
"Katniss," I rasp out, my voice hoarse from the dust around us and a morning spent screaming. "Katniss Everdeen."
"That's a very pretty name," he says, holding my right hand as his friend, Thom, sticks a needle into my arm.
My eyes grow heavy quickly, and I am just losing the battle to fight off sleep as we hear another loud rumbling, and voices rise in horror all around us. We all watch as the tower I was in only moments ago, which we can see above the surrounding buildings only a few blocks away, begins to collapse into dust.
I look over at my fireman as he stands and turns away, but not before I see his eyes full of horror and wet with tears. The last thing I am aware of as I lose consciousness is his retreating back as he walks a few feet away. Sinking down into a crouch and throwing off his helmet, he rests his elbows on his knees and clutches his blonde curls in both hands.
Thank you again! I hope you enjoyed it. Please let me know what you think. :D
Major events from 9/11/2001 that Katniss experiences:
8:46a.m.: First plane crashes into North Tower
9:03a.m.: Second plane crashes into South Tower
9:58a.m.: South Tower collapses
10:00a.m.: First responders ordered to evacuate North Tower
10:28a.m.: North Tower collapses