Nathan knew he should know better than to read his stepdaughter's diary.

It was exactly the sort of thing they would warn against on the parenting books his sister had given him about two months ago, just before he married Dinah. Nathan had looked at her with a raised eyebrow, not understanding why she would think he needed some pointers on parenting now when his daughter had just turned twelve, and he had seemed to do an adequate enough job raising her alone for the past six years. But Janna had insisted they were a must.

"It was one thing when it was just you and Sarah Gail, Nate," she had told him with a shake of her head, in that irritating, slightly condescending manner she had always had as an older sister, and more so now that she was back in school, getting her master's degree in school counseling. "Adding another child to the mix, a teenager? And one who isn't yours? You're going to need all the help you can get."

Nathan had never read the books, but he knew enough on his own to know that they probably emphasized how important it was to build trust and honesty in relationships with a stepchild, and that you should honor their privacy. They probably all talked about not pushing, about letting the child draw close to you at her own pace, in her own way.

Probably none would mention , however, what you were supposed to do when your stepchild spent all her days either locked up in her room, playing around on one of her many electronic devices rather than joining flesh and blood people in the real world, or else out at hours that Nathan thought were entirely too late for a fifteen-year-old girl with all the rest of her black-clad, rainbow-haired, and pierced friends. They probably didn't mention how you were supposed to build and honest, trusting relationship when your stepchild barely said a word to her own mother, let alone to you.

Nathan had tried to get along with Nikita, ever since he first met her about a year ago. He tried to greet her pleasantly and involve her in conversations, even when she refused to look at him or else only fixed him with her usual cold stare. He tried to let slide things he never even had to mention as an issue to his own daughter, such as the way she threw her belongings around the house without picking them up afterward, never cleared her place at the table, and often slammed doors so hard it echoed. He tried to invite her along to family outings and activities, and got a flat no or a disbelieving laugh at best, an explosion at worst. Nikita was determined to dislike him, and it was difficult- no, impossible- not to dislike her in return.

"Oh, she'll warm up to you eventually…she's a teenager, Nathan," Dinah had dismissed him when he expressed his concern to her over Nikita's behavior. "That's how they are."

But Sarah Gail was only a year away from being a teenager, and Nathan had not only never witnessed such blatant rudeness from her, he could not imagine her being capable of showing it. But then, his Sarah Gail was bright and happy, open and affectionate, and always had been. If Nikita had ever been anything like his daughter, and whatever Dinah said, Nathan simply could not believe that, he was seeing no signs of it now.

If it had been Sarah Gail's diary Nathan had come across, he wouldn't have to read it, or worry about what it might say. There was nothing going on in her life or in her head that would be any concern to him, he was confident, and if there was, then it was her way to tell him about it before he even had cause for worry. But Nikita…there was no telling what she thought, what sort of trouble she was getting herself into. And if her mother was so lax with her that she didn't take it upon herself to find out…if Nikita wasn't going to volunteer any information that could not be conveyed in a single word or shrug…then wasn't it his duty to find out, however he might have to? For Nikita's own sake, her own safety…and Sarah Gail's too.

After all, they were stepsisters now, and the two shared a bedroom…surely for his daughter's sake, Nathan should know as much about her stepsister and the sort of girl she was as he could. It would make him a neglectful father otherwise, or at least, so he reasoned with himself.

Nathan had become accustomed, in the past six years, to being both father and mother to his only daughter, for his late wife, Mara, had died in a freak boating accident when Sarah Gail was only six years old. Nathan had for those years immediately following Mara's death let his world shrink to include only himself, his daughter, and everything involved in caring for her. She was his focus in life, the only reason he even wished to keep going, and he had put everything he had into being for her everything she might need. Perhaps that explained the closeness and easy affection they shared for each other, the feeling Nathan had that much more than an average twelve year old might, Sarah Gail respected and understood her father, and had no intentions of rebelling or pushing his limits.

But four, five years went by, and Nathan found that he was lonely. He had grown to miss the intimacy of a relationship with a woman, and a quiet life with his daughter was just not the same as what he had once had. To his embarrassment, he had found himself joining a couple of dating sites, just to explore the possibilities. He could think of no other way to attempt to meet women and be social in relative comfort, for it had been so long since he dated that he could not quite think of a way to begin.

It had been on one of those sites that he met Dinah. He had not thought anything beyond casual dating would come of their encounters at first, simply because Dinah was so very different from how Mara had been. Whereas Mara had been intellectual and serious, sometimes overly intense, and a very straightforward, confrontation-embracing woman, not one to let others take advantage of her or keep from seeing her point of view, Dinah was more laidback, light in manner and self-deprecating, always willing to let things go, never viewing anything as too terribly important. Dinah was neither particularly affectionate nor disciplined, either with herself or with her teenage daughter, but she was fun, and Nathan found himself to be quickly developing feelings for her.

It was her daughter who was the problem. From the start, Nikita would have none of his efforts to reach out to her, or even help her to accept the reality of their relationship.

"It's a stage," Dinah had told him, "she takes a while to trust anyone. Hell, she doesn't even trust me."

And Nathan did understand that the girl had had a difficult time, that she had had quite a lot to adjust to in the past few years. Her father had left her and Dinah suddenly just over three years ago, and had had no contact with Nikita since. He could understand her anger, and Dinah's guilt towards her. But in his opinion, Dinah let her daughter get away with murder. And if he could find out what sort of trouble the girl was getting herself into, have a better knowledge of what they needed to cope with as a family by reading her diary…well, then it was all for the best. Maybe he would even understand Nikita more, have better insight into how he could truly connect with her.

It was with this reasoning that Nathan had found himself looking in the girls' bedroom one Sunday afternoon, when he found himself alone in the house with ample opportunity to do so. Nikita had left less than an hour ago to go "out," and Dinah had taken Sarah Gail shopping, in what Nathan himself had suggested as an opportunity for them to get to know each other better. Nathan told himself, as he quietly slid open the door to their bedroom, despite his knowledge that no one was around to hear, that he was simply looking for anything the girls shouldn't have up there, such as drugs, cigarettes, or other such items.

He found nothing of the sort, but he did find the diary, buried under Nikita's undergarments in her side of the dresser drawer. And he did open it and flip through its contents.

For several pages, there were nothing but a series of doodles, ranging from inked roses with heavy thorns lining the stems to attempts at serious sketches- all, of course, devoid of color and very dreary in their mood. Nathan flipped past them, pausing to skim over the scrawled written entries, but there was nothing of real consequence at first. A lot of talk about "sexy" boys, but at least judging on what Nikita had written down, she wasn't dating or having sex with any of them. That was a relief, at any rate. There was a lot of complaining about "asshole" teachers giving too much work- as if Nikita even did it half the time- and "bitchy" girls, but it was all fairly standard, generic. Nathan was almost disappointed.

He flipped through more rapidly, and it wasn't until towards the end that his name began to crop up. Those entries he paid closer attention to, and was not surprised to find a general theme cropping up. In aggressive, coarse language, Nikita outlined how she resented her mother marrying him, how she didn't want to be part of their "lameass idea of a Brady bunch family," how she hated sharing her room with that "so goody goody it's creepy" Sarah Gail, how she hated how Nathan tried to "pretend" to like her. Again, it was nothing unexpected, nothing Nathan couldn't have already guessed, but still, he found himself reading it all carefully.

It wasn't until the last page, the final mentioning of his name, that anything particularly stuck out to him.

"Why would Mom ever MARRY an idiot like Nathan? Is she that desperate not to be alone? She's too old to even care! We were fine on our own, no one was breathing down my back or trying to make me TALK to them, and then he and that suck up kid of his come barging in and all of a sudden Mom's walking around singing like she got the best sex of her life, which is not only unbelievable, but also enough to make me become unwillingly bulimic. He really thinks he can be my dad! He thinks I don't see through him and all his fake, phony little things he says and does, he thinks that I don't know he can't stand me just as much as I can't stand him? No, not just as much, because I hate the guy. Hate him. Sometimes I wish he would just die already. No, sometimes I think I should kill him. At least I'd finally have some peace around here."

Nathan shut the book pretty harshly then, feeling his jaw clinch. So that was how it was, then. Nikita- it was difficult for him to think of her by her name, rather than by a more insulting description- hated him. In fact, Nikita wouldn't mind fantasizing about his death, as long as it meant he was out of her life. It didn't matter what he would do or try to do for her in the future, she had made up her mind, and that was that.

There was no point in even trying with her anymore- that was the only really helpful information he had managed to glean from this. Nikita was dead set on hatred, so why should he bother trying to win her over anymore? If the girl wanted him to leave her alone, well, Nathan could certainly manage that for the next three years.

He had not bothered to properly replace the book, instead leaving it out in plain sight on her dresser. Let her accuse him of reading it. What was worse, his having read her diary, or her writing down such hateful thoughts in it? So much for his getting insight from doing so.

The irony was that in hindsight, Nathan would realize that the diary had actually provided him with all the insight to Nikita he would ever need.