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The Things He Loses

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(Thump.)

These are the things he remembers, the bits and pieces that he scrambles to keep hold of, even as they are torn away.

(Thump.)

The first time he left, she had been so angry that she refused to say goodbye. Her birthday was in less than a week, but the summons had come with the greatest of urgency; the First Battalion has fallen, please, General, please! He'd spoken to her through her closed door to try and explain, and he looked up at her window as he departed, but there was no answer.

When he'd come home two months later, his arm in a sling and in a doctor's wheeled chair, she had thrown herself onto him so hard that his cracked ribs had screamed protest, but he'd ignored it to pet her hair with his good hand.

(Thump.)

"Other fathers come to their daughters recitals!" she'd hissed at him, and oh there was the fire of stars in her eyes, the fire that her mother had given her, and he was helpless before it -- but there were things greater than the both of them. "Other fathers are actually there!"

"Other fathers," he said, "are not what you have."

She'd called him a terrible name for that (and he would have to discipline someone quite severely for teaching her such language) and run away. The housekeeper reported that she had holed herself up in the attic, so at suppertime he went and sat at the foot of the stairs and sang the same lullaby her mother had sung for her when she'd been an infant. His voice was rough and it was low, but he still heard the soft sound of footsteps on the stairs behind him, and then her thin arms around his neck as she hugged him behind. She did not apologize, but she crawled into his lap as she had not since she was very young, and they let the cook's super go cold in favor of going to her favorite restaurant.

(Thump.)

"They're afraid of me," she'd said to him through her door, and oh, how it had broken his heart to hear her sniffling between words. "Because of you. Because they think you'll bring the darkness back with you."

There was nothing he could say to that, and so there was nothing he'd said at all.

(Thump.)

They'd been ask to paint their heroes, she'd said shyly; she wouldn't look him in the eye. They'd been asked to do that and to write why this person, why this choice and not something else, and in her pretty flowing script she had written: Because he keeps the darkness away.

It barely looked like him -- it had his nose; it had his thin dark hair; it had something approaching his uniform in color, with the gold and the silver and the black.

He hung it in his office, on the wall behind his desk, so that all visitors could see it. And if it looked strange and awkward -- if she had yelled at him with her cheeks flaming and hot because that was meant to be private, Father, how dare you! take that down at once! -- he found he did not mind the more he looked at it.

(Thump.)

"Will you miss me?" he had asked, tugging just a little at a tendril of her hair; there were two in particular that her maid despaired of ever doing anything proper with, that seemed to move of their own free will. It was just like how her mother's hair had been, and he knew that she liked them, even when she complained about how they got into her eyes, how silly they looked when she had the rest of her hair smoothed down and elegant.

"I might a little," she had said, tossing her head a little. She was just old enough to be flirting with the idea of adulthood; he'd seen a few boys throw speculative glances her way, and, more troublingly, he'd seen her return more than one. She was practicing her diction in an attempt to be more ladylike, and had scoffed when he'd told her she was more than enough of a lady for him. "But if you are late for my party this year, I will never forgive you."

He had laughed (oh he'd laughed, for he'd seen the light in her eyes) and he'd kissed her hand, just as any gentleman might for a lady, and he'd said, "Then I will do my best to return as soon as possible, your highness."

(Thump.)

These are the things he remembers, the bits and pieces that he scrambles to keep hold of, even as they are torn away.

(Thump.)
(Thump.)
( d ɯ n ɥ ʇ )

These are the things he loses, all in the dimming light of a little girl's smile.