Disclaimer: Wow, this was totally random. I honestly don't know why a Panic Room fic decided to come out of my head, but there you have it. I obviously don't own the film, the plot, the characters, Jodi Foster, Kristen Stewart….I could keep going with this all night, but I think I'll refrain for the sake of your poor eyes. Basically, I own nothing. Yeah.
A/N: This is, again, the most random thing in the world, but I kind of like it. I think it's a bit OOC, and I'm not entirely sure it's accurate, but Steven Altman always struck me as a cheater who was caught—hence the family split. If that's not actually how it went in the movie, then we can call this slightly AU.
A/N the second: If you're still here after all that rambling…hey, how're you doing? –grin-
"I hate you."
He flinched at the words. She didn't bother looking up from her book, only turned the page of…what was it she was reading? "The Lord of the Rings," he murmured to himself. He'd never read it, had never been a fan of that sort of novel. That had always been Meg's thing…
The cold indifference in her voice was worse than the abject hatred that flared in her eyes behind the book, he knew. He lifted his hands hopelessly and shook his head.
"Honey, I need to talk to you about—"
"Don't care." And she didn't, he could tell from her tone. Sarah was never all that interested in keeping a mask up. What you saw was what you got when it came to his feisty tomboy of a daughter and he respected it.
But, damn did it frustrate him.
He held a sigh in. Don't show weakness, he reminded himself. Weakness is what will let her tear you to pieces.
She was sitting cross-legged on her bed, leaning back against a pile of pillows. Her brown hair was falling across her forehead into intense blue eyes. Her lips were set in a thin line, like her mother's so often got. He fondly remembered the way she used to smile when she saw him coming, the way her young face would light up and her legs would propel her in his general direction. Then again, her mother used to smile too…
"Sarah, sweetie, please—"
She slipped down further, the remainder of her face hiding behind the thick book. Lovely, now she wasn't even bothering to acknowledge his presence. He had to hold back a groan now as he sank down beside her.
Please, oh please don't whip out a knife and stab me.
"Sarah, I know you don't want to speak to me," he began.
"Or look at you," she answered, almost absently.
"Or look at me," he repeated grudgingly. "But sweetheart, you have to understand."
"What?" A blank expression took over his face.
"Nope," she repeated, her lips curving into an almost-smirk. She was mocking him.
"Nope, what?" he demanded, not even bothering to conceal the anger that was edging past his mental barrier.
"Nope, I don't have to understand," she replied, looking up at last. Her eyes burned him like individual sapphire fires. He flinched again.
"But—," he attempted to say.
"I don't have to understand, I don't want to understand, I never will understand, so screw you." The quirky smirk, ever-mocking, was still lifting the corners of her lips. He wished for a moment, only a single moment, that he wasn't a non-violent man and father. Suddenly, all those parents who spanked their children were making an absurd kind of sense.
He shook it off. "Sarah. Sarah, listen to me. Baby, I know you're mad, you have a right to be, but I need to—"
"To vindicate yourself?" she taunted. "To lift any guilt you would have about this shit?"
"Hey! Language!" He had done it. He had forgotten himself entirely and become her father, her proper father—someone he no longer had the right to be, in her eyes.
Her eyes sparkled violently. "Sure, Daddy. Dad. Pop. Father. Mon pere."
"Stop that." He was massively annoyed and could no longer hide it. It was amusing her.
"Sorry. I forgot. None of those titles mean anything to you, do they?"
He cursed inwardly. Here it comes…
"Well, I agree with you on that level. None of those titles apply anymore, do they? In fact, I can think of only one title lacking profanity: Steven Altman: No Longer Part of My Life." She turned back to the tale of hobbits and elves.
It was over. He had gone in with the most sincere face and the most honest of hopes and she had put the smack down on him within five minutes. He felt his shoulders sag in disappointment as he stood up and jammed his hands into his jacket pockets.
"Well…I'll be going, I guess." It was a last-ditch effort, something that he knew would do him no good.
He was right. "Uh huh." It was a murmur more than an actual response; she was back in her own little world, one where heroes reigned and fathers did not betray their families. He couldn't blame her; after all, if he was given the choice between two such worlds, he would choose the one filled with triumphing heroes over sleazy, sex-driven men any day. But all the hoping and dreaming about other realities in the world couldn't change the one he was trapped in and he figured that he might as well accept it.
"I'll see you…around…if you want," he told her quietly. She shook her head. He nodded to himself. "All right then. Goodbye."
Only when he was gone would she allow herself to drop the mask. Only when he was out the door would she drop the book without bothering to mark her place—which didn't matter as she hadn't been paying attention anyway, it had only been a tactic to avoid making eye contact with her father. Only when he was out of her room would she allow her stiff limbs to liquidate and her shoulders to collapse.
She fell against the pillows and turned to cry into the alluring softness. Her thin shoulders shook with sobs and horror—who speaks to their father that way? A scream threatened to burst free, but her mother was down the hall. There was no need to disturb Meg Altman, not when her daughter was supposed to be the strong one in the family.
"The strong one," she mumbled to herself, brushing ferociously at her wet cheeks. Shouldn't the strong one have been able to stop the split? Wasn't it the job of the strong one to keep the family together, to prevent the idiotic actions of the man of the house?
Who was going to be the man of the house now?
Sarah moaned to herself. She had failed, failed herself and her family. She had turned her head and allowed something drastic to slip past her and now here it was…her family, their family, was over.
Her mother's voice was quiet. Weak. Sarah took five seconds to slip her mask into place, the mask of strength that she rarely dared let slip.
"What?" Good, no tremors rocked her voice. At least there was something familiar about this.
"Are you all right?"
Sarah forced herself to huff in annoyance. "Fine, Mom. Why wouldn't I be?"
"Uh…I don't…sorry, I didn't mean to disturb…" Her mother was fading away into the hall again. Sarah could see her out of the corner of her eye, a small, frail creature in a frayed yellow bathrobe. The urge to call her back tugged at the girl, reminding her, if only for a moment, that she was still a child. She wasn't grown up yet.
She didn't budge from her spot on the bed. "G'night, Mom," she called. Her mother looked back and gave a tiny, feeble smile and a two-fingered wave.
Sighing, Sarah waited until Meg was out of sight before collapsing again. She shut her eyes tightly and clasped her hands over her face. Sleep now, she decided. Nightmares tomorrow.
This was one time where procrastination would prove to be helpful.