Disclaimer: I do not own Next to Normal. Shocking, isn't it?
Summary: It's Christmastime! And Diana's current treatment seems to be working. Even Natalie is getting into the Christmas spirit. Dan believes his family will finally have the perfect Christmas, until disaster strikes… Pre N2N.
"You'd better go to sleep, Natalie," Dan Goodman instructed his daughter. "Santa won't come until you're asleep."
The twelve year-old jumped down from the counter where she sat, decorating the cookies she had baked earlier using her grandmother's recipe. "Dad," she said, rolling her eyes, "I haven't believed in Santa since I was seven."
"If that's the case," her father replied, "then I guess there's no need to celebrate Christmas."
Natalie froze, then smiled. "Well, I guess I'd better be safe than sorry." She took the stairs two at a time as she hurried to her room.
Dan smiled at her uncharacteristic joy before entering the family room where his wife sat wrapping a mountain of presents.
"Do you need help, sweetheart?" he asked, eyeing the mess that surrounded Diana.
"No, I've got it," she answered without lifting her head to look at her husband.
"In that case, I think I'm going to go to bed early. Good night, Diana."
Natalie sat in her room, unable to sleep. Excitement was not something she was used to; she'd learned long ago that it only led to disappointment. But in this instance, she couldn't help herself. Things really seemed to be turning around for her mother. Maybe, just maybe, this year, things would be different…
Her thoughts were interrupted by Dan's footsteps on the stairs and she hurried under her covers just as he opened the door to check on her.
"Good night, Natalie," she heard him whisper. "I love you."
As Dan stood in his daughter's doorway, he couldn't suppress a smile. Finally, after so many years of therapy and medication, they had finally found the right balance. Diana was happier than he'd seen her since—well, since before Natalie was born.
Where Christmastime was usually the most difficult, this year, she had insisted on doing all the shopping herself. She wouldn't even allow Dan to assist with the wrapping (which was probably best, as his wrapping abilities did not extend far beyond putting the gift in a bag).
And her good cheer was rubbing off on Natalie. Although she tried to hide it, Dan knew his daughter was excited about the holidays.
Finally, Dan thought, his family could have a normal Christmas, like in those movies his mother used to watch when he was younger. Finally, they would have the Christmas they deserved.
Natalie opened one eye to check the clock again. 5:57. Ugh. She rolled over and hid her face in her pillow. Why did it seem like the past few hours had passed more slowly than usual? It's not as if she really cared about Christmas…
She looked at her clock again. 5:58. Groaning, Natalie sat up. If she couldn't sleep, she might as well get up. As her bare feet touched the cold floor, she shivered then reached for her bathrobe and slippers.
When she reached the family room, she was surprised to see her dad sitting by the tree, staring at the twinkling lights with a child-like excitement shining in his eyes. Natalie rolled her eyes. Parents are so dorky, she though.
Dan looked up when he realized Natalie was in the room with him. He smiled at her. "Couldn't sleep, either, huh?"
"Of course. I always wake up this early," Natalie responded.
"Uh-huh…" Dan raised one eyebrow but left it at that.
Dan patted a spot on the floor next to him, and Natalie sat down. He reached over to the plate resting on the fireplace and handed her a cookie.
"I thought these were for Santa…" Natalie teased.
"I think Santa's had enough cookies," Dan replied with a wink, causing Natalie to laugh.
Diana padded down the stairs, sleepily rubbing her eyes.
"Good morning, sweetheart," Dan said, getting up to kiss his wife.
Diana mumbled incoherently and plopped down onto the sofa. Dan reached over and flicked on the light.
"All right, present time," Dan said excitedly.
He reached for the nearest package, read the tag and frowned, then reached for another. After repeating the process a few times, he began mumble under his breath.
Diana opened her eyes and looked confusedly at her husband. Natalie watched, her anxiety growing, as her father carried on a silent conversation with his wife.
Natalie reached for a gift and examined it.
She grabbed another and read the tag. Same thing. Hot tears pooled in her eyes and she angrily wipe them away. Fuck.
"Language, young lady," her father scolded, and she realized she had said it aloud.
"All these presents are for my brother! My fucking dead brother!"
Natalie stood up and rushed to the front door. Once outside, she began running. Tears were streaming down her face, blocking her vision, but she didn't care. She continued to run until she reached the school, two miles away.
She lowered herself onto a swing, sobbing. Why did Gabe have to ruin everything? Why did her mom love her dead brother more than she loved her only living child?
She knew it was only a few minutes, but it felt like hours before her father pulled in the parking lot in the minivan. She didn't move. She couldn't move. Even when her father sat down on the swing beside her, she sat, staring at the woodchips that covered the ground below her feet.
"Natalie," he began, and she noticed his voice sounded strangely thick, "I am so sorry. I had no idea… I thought- I thought she was getting better…"
"Yeah, well, you were wrong," Natalie replied, more harshly than she intended.
"You think I don't realize that? I should have kept a closer eye on her. I guess I just wanted so badly for her to be better that I was afraid to find out the truth…"
When Natalie finally looked up, she saw her father was crying. Awkwardly, she reached to pat his back, not entirely sure how to comfort him.
"Come on, Dad," she finally said. "Let's go."
Gabe sat amid a pile of presents and wrapping paper, watching as his mom stood worriedly by the window.
"Do you think Natalie's okay?" she finally asked.
"I wouldn't worry about her," the fourteen-year-old replied. "I think she's just jealous that I got more presents than her."
Diana smiled then replied, "You're probably right."
"She's such a freak…" Gabe said as he began playing with his new video game system.
Diana was about to scold her son when the front door opened and Dan and Natalie entered. Natalie went immediately upstairs without so much as glance at her mother. Dan, however, took his wife by the hand and said, "We need to talk."
"Okay," Diana said as she sat down on the sofa.
"Di, we have a serious problem. This morning… All those presents were for—you do realize he's not here."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I mean, Diana, our son died. And you've completely forgotten your daughter."
"What…" Diana asked, disbelieving.
"Di, I think we need to call Dr. Fine tomorrow morning and get this straightened out."
Diana nodded silently. She couldn't comprehend what she was being told.
Dan stood up, then leaned down to kiss his wife. "Now, I have to go take care of a heart-broken little girl."
A few days later, Natalie was sitting on her bed, staring blankly at the wall when Dan knocked on her bedroom door.
"Natalie, can I come in?" he asked.
"Sure," she replied blandly.
"I got you something," Dan said, and for the first time, Natalie noticed he was holding a wrapped box.
"Thanks, Dad, but I'm done with Christmas…"
"Come on, Nat. At least open her…"
"Her?" Natalie asked, confused. She lifted the lid of the box. Instantly, a paw shot out of the cardboard container.
"A cat? Really?" Natalie tried to hide her thrill, but she knew she was failing.
Dan smiled at his daughter. "I know we talked about this before, and I said I didn't think you were ready, but I've changed my mind."
"Dad, are you only doing this because of what happened the other day?"
"Honestly?" Dan responded. "Yes."
Natalie shrugged and pulled her kitten out of the box. She cradled the tiny animal in her arms as she rubbed its stomach. The kitten pawed at her finger, and Natalie laughed.
Dan stood to leave, but Natalie stopped him.
"Thank you, Dad," she said. "I love you."
"I love you, too, Nat," he replied. "I love you, too."
A/N: Wasn't that a giant piece of crap? Oh, well. I did finish it by my self-imposed deadline, which has to be a good thing.
Also, I have an idea for another, full-length N2N fic. I'm not sure if I'll write it; it's not my usual material, but I like the idea. Anyway, be on the lookout for it, just in case.