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Falling Into Shadow

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Falling Into Shadow

He could almost hear her talking. "Cheer up, Wallace – everything happens at least once," she'd say, with that quiet smile on her lips. She never did like him to grumble.

Considering the circumstances, though, cheering up wasn't likely. The best Daniel could manage was resolute lack of emotion, and a focus on packing.

He was nearly finished with her clothes. The skirts and bodices were neatly folded, packed into the bottom of the trunk, and her, erm, delicates had been wrapped in cloth and placed on top. All that was left were two pairs of woollen stockings (to be laid aside, and given to the poor), the blue bonnet (to be put inside the trunk after everything else so that it wouldn't be squashed), and the boots.

An unwelcome thought in Daniel's head pointed out that, in fact, all the clothing in the trunk might be given to the poor along with the stockings, rather than being packed away where it couldn't do anyone good. He suppressed it, but he could still hear exactly what Catherine would say: "We can't let sentiment keep us from duty, Wallace."

"Later," he said, aloud. "Not today. Not this year." He simply couldn't. Instead, he picked up the right boot, running his fingers slowly along the heel.

She'd been so proud of those boots. Daniel could remember her exclaiming "I look almost level!" and continually pulling up her skirts to check on how they looked. They had removed her limp almost completely, at a walking pace. And put a smile on her face for a week.

Strange, how much difference half an inch could make.

Daniel laid the boots carefully in the trunk, swallowed, and turned to the rest.

There was her lucky stake. Catherine had carved it herself, out of a broken chair leg. She hadn't had much practice at carving, at the time, so it was rather lopsided – but it was the first she'd made, and it was lucky, so she kept it.

He put it on top of her clothes, and placed her Bible next to it.

Her Bible. One of her most valued possessions. Right now, Daniel wanted nothing so much as to throw it across the room and hopefully damage it beyond repair – but it had been important to her. It had. So he left it there, and tried not to think about it.

Next were three ribbons and a brooch. Her "shiny-and-pretties".

The brooch – small, insignificant, and probably worthless – had been her mother's, as far as Daniel knew. She'd never said.

And the ribbons…

He sat down, heavily, on Catherine's bed, his fingers tracing along the silky material. Those ribbons…

He'd given her the first – the blue one – as a Christmas present, almost an afterthought. He'd only been her Watcher for three months, still slightly aghast at the ridiculousness of the situation, but he had thought he should give her some small token to mark the occasion, so he'd bought it in the street on his way home…

…and she had gone wild, squealing, grinning, twirling it through the air, and running it through her fingers, exclaiming over the colour, "So lovely and blue! It's just so bright! So very pretty!" – and he'd suddenly remembered how young she really was. He was so used to her hard-thought, quietly weary speech, that it was easy not to notice that she was still almost a child.

That blue. The blue that made him forget what a disappointment she was to the Council, to the world. (To him.) The blue that made him realise how drab – how ragged – her clothes were, and start to think about providing for her, as long as she was still alive.

The second – the yellow – was still stained, unfortunately. Blood is hard to get out.

He'd given it to her for no reason at all, just a whim, and she'd worn it in her hair every day for two weeks, until the night she came home with a fresh, jagged scar down the side of her face. He'd cleansed the wounds with alcohol, and commended her for not wincing – to which Catherine replied that she was used to a certain amount of pain. (Fool that he was, he'd forgotten. It was easy enough to, when she was sitting down.)

They hadn't noticed the stained and ruined ribbon until later. And Catherine had just said quietly that it didn't matter, and put it away on her nightstand, where it had stayed.

The third ribbon had been a soft purple – a birthday present last year. She must have been wearing it when– when it happened. It certainly wasn't here.

And the fourth. Not just solid colour, but a beautiful design of red flowers and leaves, entwined along its length. Catherine had looked up and asked worriedly, "Wallace, can we really afford this? What if we need to buy more weapons?" and, upon being reassured, had still treated it as precious – too precious to wear outside and potentially get stained.

It had been a present less than two months ago. To mark her third year as a Slayer, although he hadn't said so…

Daniel folded the ribbons together neatly, and continued to sit there, thumb still stroking gently along their edge.

She'd been so young.

He blinked back tears, placed them in the trunk, and picked up the next item.

It was a book. Filled with pencil-covered pages – the first few just clumsy rows of letters, the alphabet over and over, from when he had first taught her to write.

Then, later, notes on training, with the occasional sketch. She couldn't do all the normal moves, of course, so they'd had to improvise. No kicks, no flips, nothing that required moving at any speed… He'd forgotten how many hours they'd spent working it out. But it was all here.

And more – notes on magic, important vampires, various Slayers throughout history. Catherine had read through most of his books at one time or another. She'd taken it all so seriously. "The good Lord chose me for this, Wallace," she had said once. "As strange as it appears, he must have had a reason. The least I can do is try my best."

And she had. She'd tried, every damn night she'd tried, even when she was left breathless with pain. She had tried so hard.

Except it still hadn't been enough, had it?

Next was a pressed flower, neatly left beside her pillow. He placed it gingerly on top of the ribbons.

A chipped china plate, still waiting for her to wash it. He wiped the crumbs off, and put it in the trunk.

Then a faded picture of a lake, in autumn, which he slipped inside the front cover of the book.

And finally, there was the walking stick.

Daniel picked it up, and turned it slowly in his hands. It was still all over in mud from when he'd found it, lying in the graveyard – so he picked up a cloth and began to wipe it clean.

Her stick. Her fourth since he'd found her, actually. Eventually, they always seemed to get snapped in half and used as emergency stakes.

This one was a reddish brown, very scratched. And yet still intact – he'd found it undamaged, untouched – so he'd hoped. Hoped, uselessly, for three days until her body was found, bruised, beaten, and drained. Then dropped in the street. Just another dead girl.

And somewhere in the world, a new Slayer had been called, and the Watchers had rejoiced…

Daniel's grip tightened, his eyes staring at nothing, his hands still rubbing non-existent dirt away.

She never would have survived Cruciamentum – he knew that. A helpless girl with a twisted, damaged leg would never have managed. Much better for her to go down fighting, heroic, rather than ending – the inconvenient mistake – at the Council's hands.

He knew that. He did. Didn't help.

Everything happens at least once.

But this – this shouldn't have happened. She had been so young, so fresh, hopeful. She had tried so hard.

If she were here, she would have been chiding him gently as if he were her younger brother and not seventeen years her senior. "We cannot choose our lives, Wallace. We can only live them."

"Or die," he muttered.

"That too. Now, can we do some more weapons training, please?"

He was going to miss her.

Daniel sat quietly for a moment more, and then closed the trunk in front of him, placed a walking stick on top of it, and went to write and inform the Council that Mister D. Wallace, Watcher, was available for reassignment.