43 - Domestic Dispute

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Natasha woke with a scream.

The room was still dark. But she was alone, blankets clutched tight to her chest, sheets tangled around her bare legs. She was damp with sweat, and cold, and her body trembled with the remnants of fear.

But she was alive. The dog was gone. It had been a nightmare.

Weak, shaky, she fell back against her pillow and tried to recover her senses.

There were noises outside the door. Voices past the hall. She couldn't make out the words, but they sounded angry. A man's voice, and a woman's; the keening, high-pitched pleas of a child.

Liz, she thought. Kyle. Liam.

The whole family seemed to be congregated at the end of the hall, and as she focused on the sound, Nat started to pick out bits of conversation. Words, disjointed — only the higher notes seemed to carry with emphasis, the lower syllables fading into a general muffled din.

"Selfish bitch" stuck out, though.

She rolled out of the bed, stumbling and nearly falling as she put down weight on a foot that had fallen asleep. She sat down at the edge of the bed, hurriedly. The dream still clung to her, shivery and sticky like the sweat on her body, and the memories before it felt the same — equal parts real and surreal, just as likely in the dim light as the vision of the hound with its burning coal-bright eyes. Just now, on the edges of sleep, it all seemed equally likely: Fluff's death, the shift in the dog's posture, the hound breathing over her in bed. It was hard to know for certain where the nightmare began, it all blended together so seamlessly.

But she was alive. That much was real.

And the words out in the hall were real.

She flexed her toes, blood and sensation returning to her foot, and started again for the bedroom door. She opened it a crack, lingering in the doorway.

"You want all of the fun with none of the responsibility. That's all you've ever wanted, Kyle. The second anything gets hard you fucking run like a goddamn coward!"

"Fun? Is that what you think this is?" Kyle's voice reached that pitch, not quite a roar, but the angry man voice that made Nat instinctively cringe. She pressed herself to the door frame, trying to get a glimpse of them through the barely cracked door. "I don't know what kind of shit you bitches get up to in here, and I don't want to. But the things Liam says! The kid is terrified!"

"I am not!" Liam protested, but they argued past him, ignoring him.

"The nightmares he's having! And talking on and on about some fucking stuffed dog like it's real!" A shadow shifted, altering the light in the hall as Kyle stepped closer to Liz. "And you thought you could take him to the hospital without even telling me? Thought you could just slip it past me like I wouldn't even notice?" 

"I wasn't trying to hide it from you! You just didn't need to be there. I had it handled!"

"Bullshit! You're trying to cover your own ass, more like. Or are you trying to protect that bitch wife of yours?"

Nat widened the gap in the door, trying to get a better look without giving away her position. She couldn't see Kyle from her vantage point, only the shadow that he cast into the hall. But she could see Liz standing in the entryway between the kitchen and the hall, her arms folded over her chest. Her back was turned to Nat, but even from here she could see the line of tension in her shoulders, the way her shirt clung to her back, semi-translucent with sweat. Liam hung behind her, cowered against the back of her leg, but his face was upturned with an expression of defiance.

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