A/N: This is the first story I have ever published, ever. Also, English is not my first language, so if you notice any mistakes feel free to let me know in the comments, and I promise to edit it. Hope you enjoy it!

WARNING: mention of child abuse throughout the story, in line with what depicted on the show.


IN THE AFTERMATH OF A FIRE

...

"…Dad, I nearly died"

"The only thing he cares about is himself!"

"You know, I've had just about enough of that kind of talk, can we discuss this at home?

"But it's true!"

"… Hunter!?"

"I saw him hit Miles."

"He hit you?!"

"It was a heated moment…"

"…Seriously?"

"This is why I wanted him out of the house!"

"Just… get in the car!"

"No. we only go home if Mum comes to pick us up."

[14x12 – Firestarter Par 2]

...

...

Chapter 1

Saturday; evening after the school fire.

...

It was immediately obvious, once their mum got there, that they were in trouble. She came out of the car to hug Frankie, yes, she held her tight and said she was so glad they were all okay. But as she got back inside her face quickly hardened, her expression cold. They all got in the car, her two brothers climbing quietly in the back seat, silently agreeing to let Frankie sit up front – they must have thought she had had a bad enough day without having to fight for shotgun, after all. The engine started, and they were on the way. All was silent, for a while, until their mum spoke, restrained as usual.

"Your father is quite upset for the scene you three pulled out, you know?" she informed them, her voice stern. "And I am, too. I understand you had a hard day, we all had; we were both quite worried for you and the fire. Still, was that really necessary?"

Her words were quite harsh, all things considered, but it would be inaccurate to say they hadn't expected some sort of retaliation. The boys looked briefly at each other, before searching for Frankie's gaze in the rear mirror. They all knew without saying that, if this were yesterday, the twins would have already apologized to their mother, and Miles would be sulking alone, ready to start a fight as soon as they got home. But a lot of things had happened, since yesterday, and a lot of things had changed.

"Mum… he didn't even ask if I was okay…" Frankie feebly argued. She still could not believe it, and thinking about her father's harsh words brought back the same sense of abandonment she had felt before.

"I'm sure it was just a misunderstanding, honey," her mum reassured her, "Your dad was incredibly worried, but you know he is not one to show his feelings in public. Still, what you did to him was very inconsiderate, and it hurt him a lot."

"Like he hurt Miles, when he hit him?"

Hunter's voice was low, but in the compact space of the car it exploded like a bomb, and they all froze in the silence that followed. It was so unlike him to speak up, he was always so quiet. Frankie thought it was the second time, today, that he defended their brother; witnessing their dad hitting him – she couldn't even think the words without shivering – must have really shaken him. She felt him leaning closer to the back of her seat, as if he were trying to gain some strength from her. Miles looked smaller than ever in his corner in the back, launching side-glares to both of them in turn, seemingly afraid to make a sound. It was really not like him either, being so quiet.

"I thought we went over this, and we all agreed that yes, you father had a heated reaction, but Miles provoked him, didn't he?" their mum said, switching her gaze in the rear mirror to look for her eldest. "It's not like you make it easier on your father, now that he's under so much pressure."

"I can't believe you're still defending him!" Miles retorted, suddenly heated. He looked hurt, disappointed by their mother's words. Frankie thought it was quite sad, indeed, that she wouldn't stand up for him on this. Was she really not bothered by their father's violence? Would she be okay if it was her who got hit? Or Hunter?

Their mother stared straight into Miles's eyes in the rear mirror, and her voice was distinctly harsher when she replied, "All I know is that you father is doing his best; he's under a lot of stress, and he's sorry for taking it out on you".

"Like hell he isn't…" Miles muttered under his breath. Diana pretended not to hear him, and continued, "I really hope you kids can show a bit more understanding, and apologise for your behaviour once we get home."

And with that, the discussion was over. Frankie turned around to stare aimlessly out of the window. She felt as if a dark cloud had entered her being, for no matter how hard it was to face her father, before, she had really counted on her mother's love and support. She wondered for a second if this was how Miles felt all the time, and if she had ever made him feel this way. She remembered disregarding his rage at their father as a little rebellious act, something unimportant, not to worry about. She felt guilty for it now, and wished she could go back to when he had needed her, to hug him tight and tell him everything was going to be okay.

...

"Dinner is ready in half an hour," their mother declared, as they walked through the driveway and into their home.

"We're not hungry," Miles answered for the three of them. And they weren't – they had just gorged themselves on tacos less than an hour before, as apparently Frankie had been right, and surviving a fire did make you feel starved. Also, there was no way they would all sit down for that farce that was the Hollingsworth's family dinner, not after all that had just happened today.

Their mother didn't seem to appreciate that, though. She turned around to face them, her eyes glowing.

"Listen to me, I'm really not liking this new attitude of yours," she scolded them. "What's the matter with you today? I suggest you go clean yourself up, and join your father and me downstairs for dinner, as a family. Please?"

"What's going on in here?"

Their father marched in the room, and suddenly the atmosphere drastically changed. It was almost like air was being sucked out of their lungs, and Frankie knew that all three of them could feel it. She instinctively retracted a bit closer to Hunter, at the sight of their father approaching, and noticed Miles shooting her a concerned glance.

"Well, look who's back, the prodigal children have returned. Are you three proud of yourself, for the little scene you caused, today?"

The silence tensed around them at the apparent, cold anger in his tone. A few moments passed without as much as a flinch, gazes shifting uncomfortably on the floor, but when the tension became unbearable, Frankie was the first one to break down. She hesitantly took a step forward and addressed their father, in an attempt to sound conciliatory.

"Dad… I'm sorry we upset you, back at school," she started. Both her brothers turned to her in disbelief, she could feel their glances on her even without looking. What did they expect? Frankie was really not the confrontational type, and maybe, maybe if they did the first step in the reconciliation, all would be back to normal soon enough. "I really am," she continued, "But Dad… you hurt us as well. The way you accused me of those horrible things, how you didn't believe me when I told you it wasn't my fault… it- it really hurt me."

Frankie was almost shaking, the last sentence coming out as a mere whisper. The tension was so thick she could have cut it with a knife, and she just hoped this would work. She had never spoken up to her father like this, ever. She had always been his good girl, and she wanted so desperately to go back to that. Her dad seemed startled for a second as well. He tilted his head, staring right into her eyes, with his signature disapproving look. But it was their mum who spoke first, breaking the silence.

"Honey, what do you want us to say?" she asked, "You said it yourself that you were involved!"

Whoever said that words can never hurt you was a moron, Frankie thought; she felt like her mother had just struck her across the face with all her strength.

"Your father was just trying to do the sensible thing, here. Contain the damage, handle the situation. And you really didn't make it any easier."

"That's right, contain the damage," her father interjected, like he had finally found his words back. "And Frankie… even setting aside your involvement in this outrageous ordeal – which trust me, as your father, is not easy to do… I have to say it again, I am deeply disappointed at your attitude in the past two days, and how you still insist not to take responsibility for your actions."

"But Dad-"

"Honestly, you're not the daughter I thought you were."

"Seriously?!" Miles exploded, but Frankie barely heard him. She felt Hunter leaning closer to her, as her vision got blurry with the tears building up in her eyes.

"Come on, Franks, let's go. Let's get out of here," he whispered in her ear, as he put a protective arm around her shoulders and pulled her away.

"…literally still covered in ashes from nearly dying in a fire! Are you for real?!" Miles was yelling at their father, and she would be worried about their fight, if she could find it in her to feel anything else than the pain her dad's words had just caused. She and Hunter quietly crossed the hall as the screaming match went on, until their mother's voice froze them at the base of the stairs.

"Enough!" she shouted – and it took Diana Hollingsworth a lot more than her husband, to raise her voice. The twins turned back on themselves to face her from across the hall, and it seemed even Miles and their dad had stopped fighting. Once she got their attention, their mother lowered her voice to little more than a whisper, and hissed, "You don't want to sit down at the table for dinner, fine. Then get off to your rooms, all three of you, and please make sure you stay there!"

All was silent for a second. Frankie's tears were tracing lines down her cheeks, and Hunter was still holding her at his side. Miles stared wordlessly at their mother, shooting daggers through his eyes, while Hunter just shook his head in disbelief. Then, Miles raised his hands, defeated, and covered the few steps that separated him from his siblings. He was fuming, his heart pounding so hard he thought it might explode. He placed a hand on Hunter's shoulder, and the three of them disappeared upstairs.

...

They retreated into Frankie's room, and as they walked in she let herself fall on her bed, defeated. Hunter climbed up quietly next to her, a hand stroking her trembling shoulders, and Miles took a seat on her other side, at the edge of the mattress.

"What a jerk…" he whispered, trying to break the sound of his sister's quiet sobs.

"Yeah… I can't believe the things Dad just said to you…" Hunter added hesitantly.

"He hates me now!" Frankie cried, big tears rolling out of her eyes.

Miles instinctively reached out to her, a painful feeling spreading inside his guts, for Frankie's tears were truly the worst thing on Earth.

"Franks, don't say that," he tried, "You're so much better than him. It's not worth it, to feel bad, he's not worth it!"

"Of course he is, Miles! He's my dad!" she cried out hysterically, and she sobbed so hard that something broke inside him.

"Franks-"

"Dude, cut it!" said Hunter, in a harsh whisper that sounded miserable, more than angry. Frankie had rolled over towards him to hide her tear-struck face in his shoulder, and he hesitantly wrapped his arms around her.

Miles was left aside, staring at the twins, and it made him feel even more alone. They had always had each other, he thought. It was so apparent how they got each other – the way Hunter's head was leaning closer to Frankie's, barely whispering a few words which were obviously the right ones; and he knew for a fact that Hunter wasn't exactly the affectionate type, nor the most tactful person alive. Miles couldn't help thinking that no-one had ever consoled him like this, ever. Then again, he had never let his feelings out as openly as Frankie was doing. He didn't know how to.

"Frankie… I'm sorry, okay?" he apologized, leaning over towards her. "I'm sorry. Please, let me make it better, please…"

She slowly turned around, her face a red mask, weakly wiping her own tears away.

"How?!" she asked, her voice broken.

"I… I don't know!" he admitted, and he had never wished so hard to be someone else; someone better, stronger, older – someone who could actually take her and Hunter somewhere safe, away from their father. But he couldn't. So he did the only thing he could: he leaned in and hugged her. He held her close, a tight grip around her tiny waist, his face buried in her shoulder. The strong smell of the burnt ashes on Frankie invaded his nostrils, and he had to open his eyes and take a good look at his sister's room to remind himself that they were safe, she was safe, as the images of the chaos at school came back relentlessly.

He felt Hunter moving closer and reaching out to place an arm on both of their shoulders. And, just like earlier, he was surprised how good it felt, to be this close to the twins. Going back all the way till they were little, Miles could barely recall a handful of times in which the three of them had held each other like this. Today it had already happened twice.

"Why don't you start by taking a shower?" he suggested, softly pulling back from her. "It'll make you feel better. Hunter and I will go freshen up, as well, and we will be back when you're ready, okay?"

Hunter gave her an encouraging look, moving to sit up at the edge of the mattress. Frankie shot a vague glance at the dark patches on her clothes and her skin, almost surprised to see them there. She nodded slowly, lifting herself up from the bed and heading towards the door. Halfway there, though, she stopped. She turned around, her eyes big and liquid, pointed at them.

"You'll be back though, promise?" she asked in a feeble voice. They looked at her intently, both nodding reassuringly. "It's just… I really don't want to be alone, tonight…"

Miles smiled what felt like the saddest smile of his life. He spoke softly, trying to sound calm and reassuring, even though his own emotions were having a party inside him. "We'll be here, I promise. We're not going anywhere." Frankie nodded back, and finally left the room.

As she walked out, Miles suddenly felt all the panic of the afternoon come crashing back on him. He didn't even want to think about what could have happened, he couldn't let himself. The guilt he felt for starting the fire had been somehow at bay, so far, as all his attention had needed to be focused on what was still going on, on Frankie, on making it better for her. But now it all came back, full on, to the point he almost felt dizzy.

"You okay?" Hunter asked. "Dude, you're shaking…"

Miles followed his gaze to see that, indeed, his legs were trembling without him even noticing. And it literally took all he had left in him to make it stop, to calm down, until he regained some sort of appearance of composure.

"Uhm… yeah, sure..." he replied.

He will have to tell them, that it was him. He will, eventually – Miles was never one to shy away from his responsibilities. But not now, now was not the time. He really couldn't bring it on himself to have that conversation now. They needed each other, tonight, and his siblings deserved some peace and quiet, finally, after the rollercoaster of emotions that had been today. Call him a coward, but he just wasn't ready.

"She's okay. She's safe, now," Hunter reminded him. He was looking straight into his face – Miles ended up locking eyes with him the moment he raised his gaze.

"Yeah, I know. You're right," he conceded, suddenly feeling very tired. He let out a sigh, it helped with his nerves. "Why don't you go freshen up yourself? I'll jump in my shower, but I'll be back in a second, so take your time."

Hunter nodded, slowly. The concerned look had not yet left his eyes, but he seemed to accept Miles's suggestion, and head for the door. He stopped mid-way, though, and turned around to face him again, looking dead serious.

"You were right, this morning," he said, "Nothing like this can ever happen again."

Miles nodded back, holding his brother's gaze. There really was nothing to add to that.

...

Miles let a deep sigh escape from his chest the moment he was alone in his bedroom. His room was just across the corridor from Frankie's, their doors facing each other; unlike Hunter's, which was at the other end of the floor, separated from Frankie's by their two washrooms. He had never given too much thought to the disposition, before: he had the biggest room, being the eldest, and the twins had just chosen between the remaining two once they had got old enough to leave the nursery they had shared before. He was glad, now, to have the one closest to Frankie's, as he would have heard her coming back in, just in case he wasn't there yet.

Today had turned out to be hands down the most stressful day in living memory, what with the fight with his Dad in front of Hunter, worrying sick for his sister being trapped in the fire at school, and the nice and tense atmosphere once they got back home. He contracted and released his fists a few times to keep his emotions at bay. He couldn't afford this, he thought. He had to find a way to calm down, and stop replaying the day's events in his head. Frankie had pretty much straight up told him that she needed him, now, and the last thing he wanted was failing her again. The guilt would kill him, he was sure. So, he'll be back in her room before her, like he had promised. He just needed a few seconds to breathe.

He got rid of the shirt he was wearing, and headed to the washroom across the room. He found himself staring at his own image in the mirror, and barely recognizing it – he looked tense, and worried, and so exhausted. He turned around abruptly, not able to face the reflection, and ended up staring at the tiled wall instead. It seemed so inviting; fresh, soothing. Instinctively, he rested his forehead on it, and God, it felt like a miracle right now. He raised his arms above his head, bare skin against the wall, and breathed in heavily in an attempt to calm himself down. All was okay, he reminded himself. Frankie was safe. The mug had missed Hunter. Nobody else got slapped. Nobody got hurt in the fire. As his heartbeat got back to a normal rhythm, Miles trusted himself to leave the safe space against the tiles and walked into his shower. Fresh water would clear his mind, calm his nerves.

Washed and dried, he quickly grabbed a pair of comfy joggers and a tee from his closet and covered again the few steps that separated his door from his sister's. Frankie wasn't back yet, as he had imagined, nor Hunter, so he just sat on her bed, waiting. It wasn't good for him, really, being alone. But the shower had helped him calm down, and he felt a little readier for the rest of the night. Whatever Frankie needed, he would be there.

To pass the time, he found himself staring at the collection of pictures on his sister's dresser. Most of them were of her with her friends, Shay and Lola; a couple with Winston; one or two from Junior High, giggly girls that she barely kept in touch with. And then there were the childhood ones; mini Frankie smiling wide to the camera, her front teeth missing; Frankie and Hunter, dressed to match on their second birthday; the three of them, in their grandparents' garden in Martha's Vineyard, a summer afternoon of ten thousand years ago. They were happy, he thought, they had had a happy childhood. He wondered when things had started going so terribly wrong, and he couldn't give himself an answer.

Hunter came back a few minutes later. He was wearing a black tee and some pyjama bottoms, his damp hair all over the place. Miles gave him a tired smile, to which he nodded back as he took a seat on the floor. He had brought his laptop, and he started scrolling down the Netflix library for something to watch when Frankie would get back. He looked fine, Miles thought, not too worried or too shaken. He stared intently at him, while Hunter was busy doing his stuff. Miles could never really tell, with Hunter, it was so hard to read him. Frankie would have laughed at this, since she always seemed to know exactly what passed through their brother's mind, but to him the boy was a mystery. He honestly couldn't tell if Hunter was fine, or if he was just hiding his emotions very well. It worried him a bit. Although, he supposed, Miles was the first one to constantly bottle up his feelings, so he couldn't really talk. Unlike Frankie, who was such an open book, bless her.

...

Frankie walked back in, eventually, her face clean and radiant, looking tired but definitely more relaxed than before.

"You were right, it actually helped. I feel a lot better!" she said, as she came to sit down on her bed next to him. She was wrapped in her robe, patting her hair dry with a fluffy pink towel, and the scent of her shampoo filled the air between them. She dropped the towel on her lap, looking slightly uncomfortable as she turned to face him, her big brown eyes staring right into his.

"I'm sorry for yelling at you, before," she apologized, "I know you were just trying to help."

"Franks, don't even say it," Miles reassured her, softly.

She looked caught up in her own thoughts, and a little distressed. He stretched a hand out to pat her gently over her knee, to remark that really, it was no big deal, he wasn't mad at her, at all. She seemed hesitant, undecided whether to look at him or not, but then she brought her eyes back up to his and asked what was apparently bothering her.

"Did Dad really… hurt you?"

Miles was startled by the question, as he hadn't expected the conversation to take that direction. He instinctively retreated back, moving his hand away from her. He dropped his gaze, as well, as he knew he was failing miserably at keeping his composure, with all the emotions of the morning coming back to him at her words. Frankie was still waiting, though, the silence getting uncomfortable, and even Hunter had stopped moving altogether.

"Franks… it's- you shouldn't worry about it, really. I'm fine."

"I just… still can't believe he would actually hit you…"

She spoke softly, but the words were hard for him to take. He didn't know how to feel, nor how to handle all the different emotions that were taking over him: he felt so guilty, for the fire, for putting her in danger, and he really wanted to focus on her, to make it up at least a little bit; he was very uncomfortable with the attention suddenly shifting towards him, and also, he was uncomfortable in general talking about what had happened this morning. To make things worse, Frankie seemed genuinely worked up about it, adding up to the guilt he felt towards her: even this was ending up hurting her. Like the terrified look in Hunter's eyes, this morning, wasn't enough. He sat in silence, not daring to look at her, until Hunter moved close to Frankie, leaning against the canopy of her bed.

"But he did," Hunter recalled, a mere whisper.

"Hunter…" Miles tried to stop his brother, but Hunter ignored him.

"He backhanded him across the face, like that." He hesitated for a second, lowering his gaze. "It looked ugly. And for sure it hurt, no matter what he tells you now."

"Stop, please..." Miles raised his pleading eyes to his siblings. Hunter looked conflicted, and Frankie had that face she made when she was so hurt that she didn't know what to say. He looked away, he couldn't stand to see them like this.

"But it's true!" Hunter continued, adamant, a sense of urgency in his voice. "And then I told Mum that it was your fault, but it wasn't, and I'm so, so sorry!"

He abruptly turned his head away from them, his arms crossed against his chest, and Miles suddenly realized that Hunter had been feeling guilty about this all day. It made sense now, it kind of explained all his tiptoeing around him, making sure he was okay, and his speaking up for him – twice, so out of character.

Frankie looked at her twin, confused, and also a bit horrified by his crude retelling of the events. She then turned back to Miles, who was a ball of tension fighting to keep it together.

"I… I'm so sorry, Miles!" she whispered. She had almost said I can't believe he did that, but thought better of it. What a stupid thing to say. Miles looked at her, his distress clearly showing through his darkened eyes.

"It's okay, Franks," he reassured her, regaining his composure. "It's not like I'm the only one he hurt, anyway." His voice was gentler, now, and she felt a fit of rage building inside her at the injustice of it all.

"Well, it's not like he ever hit me, though, is it?" she snapped, and she felt both her brothers shiver uncomfortably at her words, Hunter moving slightly closer to her, Miles turning his face away. She wondered how they'd got so messed up, locked in a room hiding from their parents, debating the various ways in which their dad had screwed them over. The rage left her as fast as it had just come, and she felt deflated, and sad. It's like her emotions were going all sort of places, today, and she couldn't even keep up with them. She scooted closer to her big brother, sitting right at his side, and wrapped her arms around his neck.

"I'm really sorry," she whispered in his ear as he returned the hug, a hand gently running up and down her back. She couldn't even start to imagine what that must have felt like, being hit by Dad. She recalled the furious looks he gave her before, his hurtful words: those had been more than enough to completely shatter her. What if he had slapped her, too? The mere idea made her shiver.

Miles must have noticed her uneasiness, because he turned his face to kiss her gently on her cheek.

"It's done, now," he said, softly. "It feels like ages ago. And I'd take Dad over you almost dying in a fire anytime, you know," he finished with a crooked smile. You know you're royally screwed when you start making jokes about violent fathers and dying, she thought, but she smiled back, pulling out of the embrace.

"You look tired," she observed, seeing for the first time the dark circles under his eyes.

"You too, sis. You must be exhausted," said Miles, with a weary smile.

"I have Netflix set up," Hunter informed them, "Whenever you guys are cool."

They all stood up, and Frankie started removing cushions from her bed, getting it ready for the night. She placed her robe on the window bench, revealing the frilly summer pyjamas she was wearing underneath, and then climbed into her bed, patting the mattress at her sides to invite her brothers in. They all snuggled underneath the covers, limbs touching as they rearranged her pillows, for there really wasn't much spare space, with the three of them in bed together.

"I kind of feel like watching Gossip Girl until I fall asleep from exhaustion," she stated, enjoying the feeling of comfort that came from having her brothers at her sides. "Is that okay?"

Hunter chuckled, and it was the first genuine smile any of them had pulled off all evening. Miles laid down closer to her, and turned to place a light peck on her damp hair.

"Whatever you want, sis," he said, softly.