It was a given, after Sarah Gail found Nikita's knife, that she certainly could not stay in the home any longer. Each of the others were afraid of what might happen, what she might do, if they allowed her to.
All the while that Dinah packed her bags, Nikita was screaming and swearing, accusing each of the others in turn of setting her up, of hating her for no reason, of conspiring against her to turn her out of her own home. As Dinah phoned her grandmother, giving her the gist of the situation with as few details as possible, Nikita was right at her elbow, begging for her to not send her away. And by the time Dinah was half dragging her out the door to the car, Nikita was crying, tears streaming down her face even as she continued to declare her fury towards Nathan and his daughter.
"I hate you…why do you hate me, why are you doing this to me? You won't get away with this…you aren't going to get away with this!"
Nathan had said nothing, simply wrapping his arms around Sarah Gail in an attempt to assure himself as well as his daughter that soon enough, all of this would be over. Soon enough, the home would be blessedly empty of Nikita and her rage, Nikita and her hate, and they could begin again, start their family together as it should have been all along. Soon enough, they would truly have a chance to be happy.
It was a terrible thing that a girl so young could have such hatred, that Nikita would never be able to fit into their family in the way that Nathan would have liked. But he could not risk his life trying to make happen what likely never could, and he certainly would not risk his child's.
After Dinah left, with Nikita in tow, Sarah Gail was understandably anxious and unsettled by the events that had occurred. It was late, growing close to midnight, but neither she nor Nathan, he was fairly certain, would be able to sleep. She wasn't asking or saying much about Nikita or what would happen to her, but she was sticking close to him, touching him often, not seeming to want to be left alone. Nathan certainly couldn't blame her for that. He did what he could to provide her with reassurance, both with brief hugs and pats and with words, but Sarah Gail seemed still to need him to remain near her, calling out to see where he was if he left the room even briefly.
It didn't seem like a good idea to make her go to school the next day, not when she'd had so little sleep and gone through such draining experiences the day before. But Nathan could not afford to miss a day of work or to be late again, and yet, how could he leave Sarah Gail home alone all day when she seemed reluctant to be alone for even a few minutes?
"Honey, you're going to have to go to school tomorrow, because I can't miss work, and I don't want to leave you here alone," he explained finally, as he slipped his arm around her shoulders and steered her in the direction of the hallway. "So you need to go to sleep right now, so you'll be able to get through school tomorrow."
"Daddy…it's just…I don't want to be alone right now," Sarah Gail had protested, biting her lower lip, and Nathan looked over her, pitying. How could he expect a twelve-year-old to observe everything she had over the past few weeks and not be frightened of what might happen next, or what could be possible?
"Are you scared, honey?" he asked, and when Sarah Gail nodded, still gnawing her lip, he hugged her again, feeling her heart beating rapidly against his chest as she put her arms around him.
"How about you sleep with me in my bed tonight?" he suggested, kissing the top of her head. "Would that help you to feel a little safer?"
Sarah Gail nodded against his chest, and Nathan kissed her head again, marveling at how little he had to bend his neck to do so anymore. She was getting to be so tall, growing up so fast…fast enough that he knew if Dinah were home, she would disapprove of his suggestion, say in her usual uncomfortable, hesitant manner that maybe it wasn't such a good idea, implying that Sarah Gail was getting too old and big to sleep with her father anymore. But Dinah wasn't here, and Nathan thought that even if she were, it would be best she concern herself with her own daughter and what she'd just done, the damage she could have caused Sarah Gail, before worrying about how Nathan chose to make Sarah Gail feel a little safer and get a better night's sleep.
As Nathan, with Sarah Gail just behind him, made his way into his and Dinah's bedroom and slid under the covers, Sarah Gail clambered in after him, moving in close, her cold toes brushing his leg. She snuggled in close against him, her head resting against his shoulder, and after a moment, Nathan dismissed from his thoughts the look Dinah might have given him if she saw, settling his arm around her. One night of babying was hardly going to hurt the child, and he couldn't deny that he could use the warm comfort of someone physically close as well.
"Daddy?" Sarah Gail whispered after a few moments, and Nathan whispered back, aware and vaguely uncomfortable with the feel of her breath tickling his skin.
"Is it bad that I'm glad Niki's gone?" she asked, and Nathan shook his head, his voice still soft in reply.
"No, Sarah Gail, it's not…it's fine you feel that way. Perfectly fine."
"She was mean," Sarah Gail continued to whisper, and Nathan felt her knee press lightly into his leg, her body shifting slightly beside him so that the mattress creaked. "She said really awful things, sometimes at night…like how she hated me and you and Dinah, and how she wished we were all dead. She called you bad names…Daddy, do you really think she would have killed you? Or me?"
"I don't know, honey," Nathan told her after a moment's pause, stroking her hair back from her face. "Nikita has a lot of problems, but Dinah and I will see that she gets help. Don't think about it right now, okay? Just try to go to sleep."
"She's never coming back, is she?" Sarah Gail asked one final question, her voice tense, but almost hopeful too, and Nathan again hesitated, then shook his head.
"No, Sarah Gail, I won't let that happen. You're safe now."
"Good," she murmured, before laying her head down again, her body relaxing near his. "Good."
It took Nathan considerably longer to drift off to sleep, and it was restless, plagued with nightmares. When he awakened with a gasp several hours later, he was startled to see that Dinah was standing at his side, looking down at him and Sarah Gail curled close against him. He thought it to be a dream at first, and blinked several times, only convinced of the reality of her figure when she spoke.
"Sorry, didn't mean to wake you…I was just going to get in bed, but she…"
She looked at Sarah Gail's still form, then back at Nathan, as though questioning him, and Nathan blinked again, his voice thick with sleep. "You're back? I thought you'd stay the night…"
"No…no I just…I wanted to get home," Dinah said softly, and there was a catch in her voice that caused Nathan to automatically reach a hand out to her, which she took and squeezed tightly. "I'm sorry, Nathan…for everything. I'm just….I'm sorry."
"Let me get Sarah Gail into her own bed," he murmured, and gently detached the girl from his side, lifting her up into his arms. Sarah Gail stirred, but her eyes did not open, and he carried her down the hallway to her own bedroom, laying her down in her bed and covering her before returning to Dinah.
She was waiting beneath the covers, undressed, for him, and as Nathan drew in beside her, she went to him, curling into him and burying her face in his chest as she began to cry almost silently. Nathan wrapped his arms around her, and neither spoke. He didn't ask about the drive, didn't ask about Nikita or anything she might have said and done to further upset her. It had been a long, horrendous day, and there seemed to be no reason to speak of what both already knew without words.
It was after perhaps ten minutes of this that they both drew apart slightly, and still touching closely, were able to drift into sleep.
Nathan thought at first that the noise was one from a dream. A gasping, almost a cry, and then a strange choking, wet and seemingly close by. He tried to ignore it, but the sound seemed close and very real, and eventually Nathan turned his face instinctively towards the noise, and opened his eyes.
He was facing Dinah's bulging eyes, and it was she who was making those noises, twitching beside him, shaking and trying to scream as blood poured from the deep gash in her throat. And as Nathan stared, uncomprehending, his stomach twisting with horrified denial, her panicked eyes slowly glazed over, showing no expression at all, and her twitching stopped.
He had just watched his wife take her last breath…he had just watched his wife die.
"No," he blurted in a hoarse whisper, feeling his heart begin to slam with fierce patternless staccato against his ribs, and he started to sit up, to turn his face away. And that was when he saw her, standing over his bedside, dark hair half hiding her face, but not concealing her glistening eyes, her cruel little smile.
Sarah Gail. Sarah Gail was standing over him, knife in her hand…the same knife, it appeared, as the one she had declared to have found under Nikita's pillow.
"Good morning, Daddy," she said, and her voice was as cheerful as ever, even as she rubbed her thumb lovingly over the knife's reddened blade. "Can I get a hug and kiss?"
"Sarah Gail," Nathan choked, making no movement; he would not have been able to bring himself to do so if he tried. He could only stare at his daughter's bright expression, at the knife in her hand, trying desperately to make sense of what he was seeing, of what could possibly be happening. "Sarah Gail, what…"
"She should have stayed away, Daddy," Sarah Gail said in the same casual tone, shaking her head. "You told me she was going to never come back. That's what you said, Daddy, and here she is. So what else was I supposed to do?"
"Sarah Gail…I meant…Nikita…we were talking about Nikita…you didn't…what are you…Sarah Gail, why-" Nathan stammered, and she answered what he could not seem to find the words to say, tossing her bangs back from her eyes in an impatient gesture.
"Well, yeah, Nikita too, she was a drag to have around too, but I MOSTLY meant your little wifey DINAH. Don't you get it, that's who I REALLY wanted gone! Why do you think I had to do all those awful things to you?"
"Sarah Gail…you? You did-" he choked, feeling his eyes widen until they felt close to popping out their sockets. Sarah Gail rolled her eyes, then smiled, and she appeared to him then all the more frightening because that smile was the same sweet smile he had always known her to have, the same smile she'd given him at six years old.
"Yeah, of course I did, Daddy. Surprised?"
"Sarah Gail…you can't…you…"
"I had to get them to go away SOMEHOW. I knew you weren't smart enough to realize that you didn't really need that stupid Dinah, you weren't ever going to send her away all on your own. So I had to help you out," she explained, idly flicking a drying speck of blood off her blade as she spoke. "If you thought Niki was trying to kill you, then either Dinah wouldn't believe you and you guys would get so mad that you'd get a divorce, or else you would send Dinah and Niki away. It took like FOREVER before they would GO, though, and then what, she comes BACK! I wouldn't have had to do this if she hadn't come back like a dummy…you should have stayed away, stupid," she said directly to Dinah's still face then, shaking the knife in her direction like a finger wagging in warning. "That was your own fault."
Nathan's breathing came shallow, his eyes fixated on his daughter, on the friendly playfulness of her expression, of the knife in her hand…and still he could not bring himself to understand. He could not bring himself to see. Yet again, he tried to force what she was implying into some kind of sentence, hoping wildly still that he had it wrong.
"Sarah Gail…you…those things, you were the one…"
"Yeah, I was. You really don't pay much attention, Daddy," she chided, giggling slightly, her shoulders hunching up like a young, playful child…like the preteen that she was. "I got your glasses easy, and your laptop too? Know where I hid it? The suitcase on top of my closet shelf. You even saw me right after I put it up and you didn't know! I almost cut myself doing your razor too. And the snake, that was the hardest, I had to wait until a night Niki was out to sneak out and get that stupid thing, you know I had to walk like six blocks to go borrow it from Jacob Andrews? I hate Jacob Andrews anyway and then after I took his dumb snake and he didn't get it back he NEVER left me alone. The peanut oil stuff was a lot easier, I just slipped it in my jacket pocket when I was grocery shopping with Dinah. She was too dumb to even notice. It was all really easy."
"But why?" Nathan choked, as his head grew light and faint with his mounting horror, his face draining of color as he stared into his daughter's glinting eyes. "Sarah Gail, why?"
"Because I didn't want them here, Daddy," she said simply, as though this were something obvious, something that he should have known and understood long ago. "There's not supposed to be anyone else with us. It was always just me and you, FOREVER, and then you go and bring them here and that isn't how it's supposed to be. I don't want them, and they didn't leave, so I had to get rid of them. That's all."
And then she drew closer, sliding cold fingers, slick with blood, against his cheek, before she settled beside him in bed, curling up close, even as she continued to clinch the knife in her hand.
"Now it will be like it used to be, Daddy…now everything will be better. Just me and you again, Daddy…just me and you."
And as Nathan looked down at his daughter's glowing face, lying between her and the cooling body of his wife, he felt all words, all thoughts, all ability to act, to do anything but feel an all encompassing terror fill his soul.