The characters?  Property of the WB.  The story? Copyrighted by Ishafel 4/29/2002.

Rated R for violence, drug use and adult themes.  If you're the kind of person who believes that fanfiction should consist solely of tributes to 7th Heaven because it is the most wonderful show ever, you might just want to stop reading here.


Chapter One

December 23, Early Morning. 

Two days until Christmas, and Simon thought it might as well be two months.  It didn't feel like Christmas; it barely even felt like Saturday.  He couldn't even get excited about the idea of vacation—not when he'd be happier at school, away from his family.  Not when he'd be happier anywhere but home.  It was raining outside, so loudly that it almost drowned out the noise from his parents' latest fight.  It would never be loud enough, though.  He could hear his mother screaming, the voice she had once reserved for groundings and deaths but now used regularly on his father.  Shivering, Simon pulled the blankets over his head.

Robbie and Matt were awake too, carefully not looking at each other as they listened to Matt's parents scream.  Robbie had survived his own parents' split, and he would survive this too.  He wasn't so sure about Matt and the kids.  He knew how much all this hurt, and for kids so attached to family…it was going to be tough.  One of the twins in the bedroom next door started to cry, no doubt frightened by his parents' rage.  With a sigh, Robbie slid out of bed.  In the hallway, the screaming was deafening.  He could tell they were fighting about either Mary or Matt again.  Sometimes he wondered if they even remembered their other kids.  Quickly, he gathered the twins, picking up the sobbing Sam and taking David by the hand.  David never cried anymore.  He hardly even talked.  Briefly, Robbie wondered how Simon, whose bedroom was between the twins' and his own, could sleep through the noise.  He could hear Ruthie creeping down the stairs already.

Ruthie waited until Robbie had gotten the twins and gone back to the Hello Kitty sanctuary before she knocked on the door.  Matt answered it, since Robbie was still trying to comfort Sam.  "Can I come in?" Ruthie asked, shy despite the fact that she was following the established ritual.  Matt nodded.  He didn't talk much anymore either.  Silently the five of them huddled on Robbie's bed, drawing what comfort they could from each other. 

Lucy had heard Ruthie leaving, and she almost followed, knowing that Simon would be glad of her company.  But Lucy had her own source of comfort now.  Moving as quietly as the others down the stairs from the attic, she slipped into the bathroom and locked the door.  She had hidden a small, very sharp kitchen knife behind the spare toilet paper under the bathroom sink a few days ago.  She drew it out now, carefully not looking at it, and without giving herself time to think about it made four shallow stripes on the inside of her left arm just above the elbow. 

At first Lucy felt nothing.  When the cuts began to burn she pressed a wad of toilet paper to them, careful not to smear the four neat parallel lines she had made.  For a moment her arm hurt enormously, but the pain allowed her to look in the mirror.  She was happy to see that she was still alive, still Lucy.  Sometimes when her parents fought this way she wondered if she was invisible, a blob-like presence defined only by the neat series of scars that marked her upper arms.  Finally she taped gauze carefully over the new cuts, shrugged on her bathrobe, rinsed the knife off and put it away.  Today she and Simon were going to go to the mall to finish Christmas shopping and take the twins to visit Santa.  All she wanted for Christmas was for all this to stop.

December 23, Mid-Morning

            The Camden kids had their routine down to an exact science now.  After two months of war, they were well-drilled soldiers.  Robbie or Matt dressed the twins while Lucy and Ruthie got ready.  The girls made breakfast and fed Sam and David while the Robbie and Matt dressed, dragged Simon out of bed, and tidied up the bedrooms and bathroom.  Most mornings they managed it without speaking a word or attracting their parents' attention.  Today was more challenging than usual; it was Saturday, which meant, potentially, that both their parents could come home at any time, and Christmas break, so there was nowhere to go until the mall opened, and Mary was coming home so Eric was in a particularly bad mood.  Still, they had managed to get everyone fed and the upstairs tidied reasonably quickly.  There was a note from Annie on the counter; she'd gone to the store for supplies for a homecoming dinner Mary wouldn't eat.  There was no note from Eric but his breakfast dishes were in the sink.  Clearly he had waited for Annie to leave before eating alone and sneaking out.  With luck they could do the same.  Robbie and Matt had to work and Ruthie was going to meet friends for the first time in months.  They all felt quietly elated as they headed for the door.   Simon even gave Sam and David horsey rides as Lucy backed the car out of the garage.

            As Matt helped to put the twins into their car seats he thought of Sarah, his wife, in New York finishing medical school.  If he had only had the nerve to stand up to his parents, he might have been with her.  They might have had children of their own by now.  Surely that had been a dream worth fighting for?  Surely there was more to life than this dark and desperate exile, than being forced to watch his family self-destruct.

December 23, Afternoon

They had all agreed to meet at the eatery in the mall for a late lunch, and looking around the table at her family Lucy was happy for the first time in months.  Simon was smiling, and Ruthie seemed to have lost thirty years in a few hours.  The twins were still whispering to each other about Santa.  She could feel the cuts on her arm but for once they meant nothing.

"Check out what I got Mary for Christmas," Simon said suddenly.  He dug through the pile of shopping bags at his feet and pulled out one from Baby GAP.  The tiny outfit was one of the most adorable things Lucy had ever seen, and she was torn between horror at her brother's nerve and envy that Mary, of all people, was going to be a mother soon. 

Ruthie had no mixed emotions to keep her from speaking.  "You shouldn't encourage her," she told Simon severely.  "Mary only got pregnant because she was jealous Mom and Dad were paying too much attention to Matt.  Personally I think she made it up, so she'd have an excuse to quit flight attendant training and throw up full time.

"She does that anyway—quit, I mean," Simon pointed out.  "Mom and Dad didn't want to deal with it, so they pawned her off on the Colonel.  And Mary could never lie about anything successfully for more than three hours.  She's going to have a baby, and it's time this family faced it.  I thought I might as well get her something she could use."

For Lucy, some of the pleasure had gone out of the afternoon.  Mary's fall from grace had been hard on them all.  Only Mary had survived unchanged.  She couldn't imagine doing something like that—couldn't imagine risking her parents' love.  But that had always been the difference between Lucy and Mary.  Things came so easily to her sister that she didn't mind throwing them away.  She hated the fact that Mary's mistakes had touched Simon and Ruthie and the twins, too.  It was as though Annie and Eric simply didn't have enough love or attention to go around anymore.  They were so focused on healing their older children's wounds—Matt's failed career and marriage, Mary's terminal lack of direction, and now her pregnancy—that they wouldn't have noticed if the others really had disappeared. 

            Ruthie had noticed Lucy's abstraction.  She watched worriedly as her older sister lost her smile and began to stare fixedly at the wall behind the Pizza Express.  Once it might have been a cute boy or a good book that caught Lucy's eye; now it was clear she was thinking about their family whenever her expression changed.  They had all of them made sacrifices of a sort to hold the family together.  Ruthie had given up her friends, Simon his hopes of popularity, Robbie his education, and Matt his chances of reconciliation with Sarah.  But Lucy had given up her life, and now she more than any of them seemed to be slipping away. 

            Ruthie knew Lucy's secret.  She knew all their secrets, from Simon's smoking to the lump on Annie's breast that her mother refused to have treated.  She knew Matt had given up a second chance in New York because he was afraid to leave his brothers and sisters in their parents' house unsupervised, and that her father had said something to Robbie that made Robbie avoid being alone with him.  She knew that Sam and David rarely spoke English, but that they had a complex secret language—and though they applied the word for mother frequently to Ruthie and Lucy, they had no names for their parents.  And she knew exactly who it was that had fathered the child Mary was half embarrassed, half proud to bear.  Ruthie knew everything, and she knew that nothing could save her family now.