A/N: Someone tell me to stop doing this. I need to stop making new fics. Blargh. Anywho, here's this one. Enjoy. There's more to come. Peeta, too. -Taryn
The footsteps rang in my ears.
The angry shouting and the high pitched screams weren't that bad. They were only background noise. It was that clambering thud, thud, thud of feet as they flew down the stairs which clung to my memory like early spring mud sucks at the soles of your rain boots.
Thud, thud, thud, came the sound, from the front porch.
I heard the roar of a car. Tires racing across gravel: crunch, crunch, crunch.
There was the eerie squeal of the rusted front-gate that circles our house as it opened, causing me to clutch my knees tighter to my chest. He was leaving. Thud, thud, thud. He forgot to check the closet. Crunch, crunch, crunch. He left.
He was never here.
For a long time I stayed curled up in my ball. I was sitting on daddy's favorite shoes. They weren't all that comfortable, though he told me once that was why they were his favorite. I shifted, reached underneath myself and wiggled the slipper free. It was soft, furry and white. I clutched it to my chest, fingers threading through the strands of silky fur until I counted to a hundred.
Just to be sure I counted to two hundred. That way I would give mommy enough time to set out my bedtime snack. Cookies and milk. Oreos were my favorite, but we ran out yesterday. Daddy was supposed to get more from the store. Oh, I hoped he did.
Once I reached three hundred, I knew it was time. I stalled. I put the shoe back in its place, next to the other one, then straightened them, more than once, until they were perfect, and I moved them around so they were on the right sides. This way daddy would be able to just kick his feet into them and be done with it. I smiled, crept away from the door and peered down the stairs.
Thud, thud, thud.
I sunk slowly onto the top step, hand clutching the rail. I counted to four hundred. I had heard something break before and I figured it would take a little while to clean up the mess. It was probably mommy. She was always clumsy, and she dropped things. Like her coffee. One time she knocked a vase of flowers off the table, that'd daddy had picked for her.
I cocked my head, waiting for the sound of the vacuum.
It never came. Daddy must have swept it up for her.
I waited for mommy to call me for snack.
I got all the way to five-hundred fifty-two, before I reminded myself that I wasn't supposed to have snack tonight. Last week mommy's friend came to visit and I got in trouble for pushing over her son, Gale, when he tried to steal my colored pencils. They were mine, to be fair. I sulked all the way to my room about the unfairness of my punishment, then slipped into the covers and curled into a ball.
The next morning I found mommy sleeping on the kitchen floor. I told her to get up, but she wouldn't listen, so I made breakfast myself. I climbed onto the counter, got a bowl all by myself and then poured myself the chocolate cereal. Then I thought, I should make mommy some breakfast, too. She must be really tired if she was sleeping on the floor, and that means she'd be really hungry when she woke up. I got out a second bowl and tried my best not to spill the milk. I did. A little. I got out a towel and threw it over the mess.
When I was done making the meal, I placed the bowl next to mommy's face. I rolled my eyes at her silliness. Who sleeps on their stomach, with their nose mushed into the rug? Oh, mommy.
I ate all my breakfast, sitting crisscrossed on the floor next to her. Then I skirted around the inky puddle of cherry juice on the ground and put the bowl in the sink. What a mess. I picked up the towel I had used to clean up the milk and dropped it over the cherry juice. It must have been mommy's juice that dropped last night, not her coffee. I looked around for the broken cup, then figured she must be laying on it.
I left mommy to nap.
Daddy was sleeping outside, and he left the front door wide open, too.
"You're going to let all the heat out," I told him severely, remembering he used to scold me the same and I closed it. Then I felt bad. He was out there without a coat and it was snowing. I ran up to the closet and found his furry slippers and streaked back down the halls. They would be a good apology.
Maybe he'd go get me my cookies.
But even after I had slid the slippers onto his pale feet, he didn't hear me asking him to take me to the store. I touched his arm. I even tickled his sides. I punched his leg. Daddy continued to sleep.
Oh, daddy, you work too hard.
I'd never woken up before both my parent before. I missed him, suddenly, a lot, and I wrapped my arms around him and hugged him. He was so cold. His lips were blue and the wind outside was vicious. Alaska had such harsh winters, mommy used to complain. Daddy would always say that he loved the snow, he grew up in this house. "Katniss should, too," he would add, patting my head.
I found his hand and pulled at it, but it was too heavy. I wiggled lower, until I could rest my head against his palm and I closed my eyes. But it was so cold outside. Flurries of white specks rained on us, even though the front porch had a covering. It was the wind. Unforgiving and strong enough to lash skin.
I snuggled closer to daddy, thinking he would warm me up.
"Dad," I said. "Dad, please get up."
I sat up, gripped his big hands and shook them. "Dad. Mommy made a mess in the kitchen."
"Dad. I don't feel good. My tummy hurts."
"Dad. Dad. Dad."
I reached for his face and felt his cheek. It was gray. That was a funny color. "Are you wearing makeup?" I asked, wrinkling my nose. "Daddy.."
I brought him my favorite blanket and tucked him in just like he would for me. I could be the care-taker. I used to have a doll; I was not unfamiliar with the concept of playing mommy. Pallid flesh felt icy underneath my small fingers. The wooden porch wasn't the best place to nap; I told him that, and daddy didn't seem to care. I brought him a pillow from the couch–the blue one, not the red, since I knew he hated red–I tried to slide it underneath his head, but when my hand slipped underneath his black curls, it felt sticky and wet.
My fingers came away red.
"You slipped," I said. Then I said it again, multiple times, until I fled to the bathroom, to wash my hands. You shouldn't touch other people's blood, I knew. They could get you sick. I washed them once, then again – the stuff caked easily around my nails and I grew panicked. After the third time I calmed myself. It was only a bump. I'd bumped my head before. Daddy was bigger and stronger, he'd be fine. So I clawed my way into the medicine cabinet, despite how vehemently mommy told me never to touch. Inside, there were a box of scooby-doo band-aids – my favorite. It took the whole batch to patch him up.
I was hungry afterward, and I found a box of goldfish to eat. But when I walked through the kitchen, I forgot about the bowl of cereal next to mom and I tripped it. Soggy, white, the liquid spread, squishy between my toes. Milk and juice soaked into mommy's shirt and I brought her the bath rode off the bathroom door, because I couldn't really remember where she kept her shirts. For my sticky toes I found some socks. That helped a little.
For dinner I ate three popsicles from the freezer. I asked mommy and she didn't answer, so I thought it'd be alright, but just in case I was wrong I brought one to daddy. He used to steal us a bowl of ice cream from the freezer once and awhile, and he'd put a finger to his lips to tell me not to let mommy know. I did that to him, pressing a finger to his cold lips, and I put his popsicle in his hand.
Like mommy, he wasn't hungry.
I tried to sleep with daddy, but it was too cold and the wind was too loud. Instead, I stumbled into the house and curled up on the kitchen floor with mommy, she wasn't very warm, so I pressed my cheek into her arm and hoped that'd help.
The next day I tried waking them again, punching and pinching. They still couldn't hear me.
The third and fourth day was the same. They didn't eat. They only slept.
I wondered how they were going to the bathroom behind me back.
On the sixth day I concluded that it was some game. Mommy and daddy weren't sleeping. They were pretending. Oh, how they tricked me. I laughed and shook mommy's shoulders and I told her I got it now. I found them out and the game was over. "I know you're tricking me, mommy. Wake up now," I said, smiling.
She still wanted to play.
A foul stink started to fill the house by the seventh day. I told them they needed a bath, but they didn't care how awful they smelt. I started to smell, too. I didn't like that. So I took matters into my own hands; I fed myself fine, I got dressed, and I cleaned, and I watched television, there was no reason I couldn't bathe on my own. I went into the bathroom and fiddled with the knobs. But I wasn't strong enough to unstick the lever that made the water run in the shower. I could turn the sink on, though. I stripped and crawled onto the counter, but only my feet seemed to fit. I washed one piece at a time, with the foamy soup next to the toothpaste. I couldn't get all the bubbles out of my hair and it was slick underneath my fingers, greasy when I gripped at it – I couldn't braid, I only twisted and knotted the black hair and wondered if mommy would get upset at the mess. Shifting onto my knees, to admire my reflection, my ankle caught on the facet, my thighs were wet and, in a flail of many limbs, gathering bruises from slamming them into the hard counter-top, I fell off the counter.
Slumped, and against my wishes, I began to cry and I screamed for mom. I screamed louder and wailed for daddy. A pain throbbed on my backside. Splintering aches and a burning pain radiated from the elbow I'd landed on, so bad that for one moment, I thought I heard that sound. That horrifying sound. Thud, thud, thud. I sucked the screams back into my lungs. I scrambled naked to the tub, ripped the curtain around me and felt a sob shake its way up my throat.
I squished it back inside with my hand over my mouth.
Thud, thud, thud.
My heart raced in my chest.
"How the..!" shouted a voice.
That was mommy's friend's voice! I lurched to my feet and ripped the curtain out of my way. The floor was wet, still, and one of my toes caught on the rug. I fell so hard to the tile floor my chin cracked against the ground and I could taste rusted blood seething up through my bottom teeth.
"Gale! Get back to the car! Go.. get in the car.."
I heard Gale's loud voice, asking something, indignant, because he could never really take a punishment well. But mommy's friend shouted at him, louder, shrill and Gale burst in sobs. I had never heard her shout before. Hazelle was always so cheerful. I pulled my green bathrobe from the door, and wrapped it around myself, sucking on my bottom teeth, the sore spot in my mouth pulsing hotly. I could taste salt from the blood and from the tears on my cheeks.
Thud, thud, thud. A wailing Gale, being dragged away, and: "Yes, this is Hazelle Hawthorne. There's been.. some sort of attack. No, I don't know who. I'm not in danger. We're far from town.. and you have to come quick. My friends.. there's blood and.. please.. hurry..." her voice faded as she walked away.
I peered out of the bathroom, down the hall, to the open front door. Daddy was still playing.
In the front yard, amidst the snow and wind, I could see Hazelle. Her black hair whipped away from her face as she raced toward the mini-van parked in the driveway, the silver and blue scarf around her neck, flapping at her back. Gale was clinging to her legs, resisting his booster seat.
A phone was pressed to Hazelle's ear.
He was on the phone when he met daddy on the front porch.
No. Daddy slipped on the ice. He bonked his head. Mommy was sleeping and spilled her koolaid.
I went to mommy, to let her know her friend was here. I told her Gale was crying and I didn't like that. I wanted to tell Gale how I made breakfast all by myself. He would be jealous. And then, I wouldn't need to fight over colored pencils. Because I wanted oreos.
"Mommy," I said, shaking her shoulders. "Mommy. Hazelle is here. Gale is here. Can I play with him, now? I don't want to play with you anymore." I felt the throb of my teeth and chin, the tears welling in my eyes, hot and sharp. "Mommy. I don't want to play anymore."
She didn't move.
I was angry suddenly, why won't you listen to me? Can't you see me? "Mommy! Mommy! Wake up!"
Thud, thud, thud. "Katniss? Is that you? Sweetheart?"
Beyond her voice I could hear the sound of a car. Crunch, crunch, crunching, against the gravel.
I looked to mommy, but I remembered the way she shoved me toward the stairs. I remembered her frantic hissing and pointing and the way her eyes gleamed – terrified. I leapt to my feet in seconds and made a mad dash toward the stairs, just as before, but this time I slipped in the cherry juice I never finished cleaning. I landed hard on my shoulder and cried out.
"Katniss! Sweetheart, it's me. It's Hazelle. Katniss, come to me. Where are you?"
She was coming nearer, climbing over daddy's body, calling –
I tried to scramble onto my hands and knees, but the juice was like jelly, sticking to me. I slipped and slid some paces, closer. The stairs were only a few tiles away. Five tiles. Just five. I'm five. I can make it. It was a lucky sign. Daddy always told me I was lucky.
"Oh, God! Katniss!"
The voice is in the kitchen and I tried to lurch toward the stairs, desperate, but I was stopped before I reached the first step. They were too fast, they were across the kitchen in seconds, and they wrapped their arms around my tummy and pulled me hard to their chest. Terrified, I screamed and wiggled and cried and I heard the thud, thud, thud, of footsteps.
Oh, mommy, he knows. He knows I'm in the closet. He's going to get me, mommy.
"She's deranged," I heard Hazelle tell the men in the doorway, as she pinned me to her chest.
I screamed, to block out her words. Didn't she know?
He was still here. I heard him, thud, thud, thudding up the stairs.