Title: The End of One Life
Author: Kahlan the Dream Spirit
Summary: [Oneshot] ... And beginning of another. Kate's last memory and what happened after, as told by Milligan. / Written for GreatKateZonkeyMachine's Type 2 Challenge./
Word Count: 2,481
A/N As you can see, this was written for GreatKateZonkeyMachine's challenge. I hope 'tis a good entry. If not, well, I think it's worth throwing out there anyway. It took me a while to come up with this, but what got me started was my own discontinued fic "Kate's Story" and the fact that Milligan is sadly underwritten. I love Milligan. He is, and I quote, "Totally awesome".
Snaps to who can tell me where that's from. ;) And a Milligan action figure to the origin of the "snaps" reference (it has a little tranquilizer gun; that's included if you review).
Rather fast-paced, I know, but to be quite honest it'll be months before I can objectively revise this and make it longer/better/slower.
Being a single parent was hard, he decided. Especially if your child was female.
He didn't care that she was, of course. At the moment, in her toddler years, it didn't matter. She was the same as any child: bright, curious, full of wonder, and the biggest handful the world had ever known. Then again, most parents thought their children simultaneously the Evil Incarnate and a Gift From Above, so the fact that he did as well wasn't surprising.
At least she doesn't cry at night anymore, he thought, watching with a grin as his daughter discovered the meaning of the world "cold." She'd unwittingly put an ice cube down her shirt – it was a very hot summer day – and was now sitting up straight and trying with all of her skill to get it out. But her chubby little fingers couldn't quite manage the job. "Daddy!" she cried. "It's cold! It's cold!" She wasn't linguistically gifted enough to manage much else, especially under the circumstances.
He smiled broadly, a twinkle in his eye, and scooped up the daughter that – at two years old – in his arms appeared the same size a loaf of bread would in anyone else's. He was a tall man, and very sturdy, which helped immensely in his other line of work. Though not in parenting, he'd decided a long time ago. He missed her mother the most then, when the stress got to him and he all but tied his little girl in a meat-flavored sack and tossed her to the wolves. A bit drastic, but stress can force people into melodrama. Even the least dramatic of people.
At least she didn't look like her mother. That was, at the same time, a blessing and a curse. It meant that he didn't have to be reminded of her face every day, be reminded of what he didn't do; but it also meant that he had almost nothing left of her. Just a small, horrid kaleidoscope lens that wasn't even worth whatever she'd gotten it for.
He reached underneath his daughter's shirt and pulled out the ice cube, partially melted by now. She was laughing by now, excited and amused at her own folly. She took after her mother that way. "That's better, isn't it, Katie-Cat?" he asked her cheerfully.
His daughter nodded vigorously, then said, "Hot," in her laconic toddler language.
"Indeed it is," he replied, and set her down on the kitchen table. She looked so adorable sitting there in her blue jumper, one of the things that the woman down the street had given him when his wife passed. Even at an early age, he remarked, his daughter refused to wear pink. It was as if she recognized it as not suiting her. And he had to admit that, while he had absolutely no fashion sense (there was no room for fashion in his line of work), pink really didn't look nice at all on his daughter. It was too princessy, if that was even a word.
He loathed the next time he would have to leave her in care of someone else. Whenever he left, she would ask, "Where you going, Daddy?" and he would reply, "I'm just going away for a few days. I'll be back before you know it."
At least he could relish the time they had now. After all, his daughter would still be a child for at least ten years, and then she would grow up... but he shouldn't think about that. He had now, and that was what mattered. Not the future, not the past, but now. He'd always been a man of now, after all.
"Go to the pond?" his daughter asked suddenly, peering down over the edge of the table as if she could lift herself to the ground and toddle off without his consent. Which, he thought, she probably could. He would have followed her to the ends of the earth.
He smiled. "Of course," he replied, and lifted her down. "Do you need help with your suit?" he asked.
She shook her little head violently, making her slightly dizzy, but when recovered she ran off to her bedroom to find her suit underneath the various nick-knacks he'd gotten for her on his travels. She was simple-minded, he knew. Far from slow or stupid, but simple-minded. There was a distinct difference in his world, especially when it was his daughter he was describing.
A few minutes later, of course, while he was still getting ready (actually, it took less than a minute for him, but he was taking his time today), she came toddling into the room, half-in her suit and half-out. It was rather comical, but she seemed in utter misery.
"It won't work!" she yelled. "It won't go on!"
"Have you ever thought that maybe it's your fault it won't fit?" he asked, bending down to disentangle her from the monstrous depths of material.
She seemed to consider this for half a minute, then said, "No."
"You're an honest little girl." He managed to wriggle her arms out and turned it the right way for her.
"What's 'honest'?" she asked him.
He held the suit wide open for her while she put in first one foot, then the other, followed by her arms. "'Honest' means that you always tell the truth."
"That's good, right?"
He smiled and ran a hand through her wispy baby hair. "It's a very good thing, Katie-Cat."
She beamed. "I'm honest!" she said brightly, and began to jump around excitedly, narrowly missing a side table on which rested a small, battered paperback novel.
"Be careful!" her father called, but to no extent. She completely ignored him as she danced and sang her way to the front door.
"Going to the mill-pond, going to the mill-pond!" she chanted. She only just remembered her shoes. He grabbed a towel from the closet in the hall and scooped her up with another arm, then put her on his hip and listened to her cheerful laugh. "Wee!" she called.
It was a short journey to the mill-pond. She told him interesting facts the whole way there, pointing out certain birds, wondering what trees thought, and musing about what insects liked to eat. One of their conversations went much like this:
"Do beetles like cake?"
"I don't know; you'll have to ask them that."
"I bet they do."
"I like cake."
"So do I."
"Can we get some cake later?"
And so on. Almost every one of her little comments was strange or random in the way that small children's are, and it was very rare that he found his mind wandering. It didn't have long to wander, though, because in only ten minutes or so his daughter cried, "There it is!"
Up ahead, in the clearing around an abandoned mill, was a pond that appeared black in the glare from the trees. To its right was an old mill, and a water wheel was in the water. It was inactive now, and the mill had long since gone out of business, but he could just picture what the scene had been like when it was up and running. The patches where the sun pierced through the foliage were mirror-like, and as they got closer they could see their reflections almost perfectly. There were fish swimming as well, barely visible except near the shore. Occasionally there was a ripple where a falling leaf touched the water or a water beetle swam on the surface, but other than that the scene was extremely peaceful. The only real noise around was the chirping of birds in the trees (they were being very noisy, but it wasn't too bothersome. His daughter was, of course, thrilled).
He set her down on the bank and cautioned her to wait to get in until he had her with him. She laughed and stood on the bank, admiring her reflection for a split second, then plunging headfirst into the water.
Even though he knew she was an excellent swimmer, better than all twice her age (he had trained her, after all), he still couldn't repress that feeling of worry that rose in his throat when she didn't resurface for ten consecutive seconds.
He was just on the verge of plunging in after her (which he did later anyway, but at the moment he hadn't yet) when there were bubbles, some ripples, and then a few feet from the bank she resurfaced, her face red from the exertion of holding her breath. She was grinning broadly. "It's cold," she said simply.
He grinned. "Yes, yes it is," was his replied, stepping in after her. She swam dog-paddle towards him, not having mastered any of the strokes yet.
"I like it," she said as he pulled her into his arms.
"I do too," he replied.
"Indeed it is."
And with that, the fun really began. (He didn't want to use a cliché to describe the situation, but to be honest it was the only thing that fit.) His daughter was fascinated by everything about the place, as she had been every other time they'd gone. The frogs in the water, the fish, the birds in the trees, the beetles that scuttled across the surface of the water, and even the leaf that insisted on landing on her nose. She had a comment for everything, a splash for more, and a laugh for whatever was left. It was perfection.
Hours passed in this way, just a father and his daughter spending time together. Who cares what tomorrow will bring? he thought. Today is what matters. And today I am happily playing with my daughter in the mill-pond.
Eventually the sun began to go down and he told her it was time to leave. She pouted, then as he lifted her out and began to wrap her in the towel she asked, "Can we swim here again?"
He smiled and replied, "Of course we can, Katie-Cat."
As they were walking home, she asked, "Can we get some cake?"
And in the same manner he replied, "Of course. I promised you, didn't I?"
And she replied yes, but he might have forgotten, and they really couldn't have that, now could they? He smiled in return. She was right, as usual. "What kind of cake do you want?"
She thought about it for a minute, then said, "Chockit" which was her way of saying "Chocolate."
"Chockit it is, then."
And chockit it was.
A few days later, though, he was glad that he'd spent the day with his daughter, though the memory of it ached inside of him when he told her that they couldn't go to the pond again for some time. "Why?" she asked. "Because Daddy has business he needs to take care of," he told her. She didn't say anything except "Okay", and he felt all the worse for it. If it merited only an "Okay" that meant she was used to it. What kind of father made his child used to him being on "business trips," especially one without a mother? It was terrible parenting, he thought.
But later that week, just as usual, he dropped his daughter and her little backpack off with her caretaker and bent to kiss her good-bye. I'll be right back, he thought. And then we'll go swimming again. It'll be a week, two weeks at most.
Then she asked her usual question. "Where you going, Daddy?"
He was standing in front of her, holding her hands in his own and bent down to her eye-level. Her blue eyes were filled with curiosity and a gravity that shouldn't have been there at her age.
He felt a lump in his throat as he said, "I'm just going away for a few days." Before he could finish, though, there was a strange, foreboding feeling in his stomach, making the knot there worse than it had ever been. It was the kind you got before a near-death situation, the kind that freezes you up and says, You're not coming back this time, mister. He knew it; he'd felt it hundreds of times. In his line of work, you always trusted your gut, no matter what it said.
He nearly choked as he finished, "I'll be back before you know it."
She nodded gravely, her eyes devoid of tears. Then she threw her arms around him and would have strangled him if she were any bigger. He teared up as she said, "I'll miss you."
He replied, "I'll miss you too."
She said, "I love you a whole lot. More than the whole wide world."
There was a lump in his throat, a dry scratchiness that threatened tears. This time I won't come back, he thought. This time it was going to be different. "I love you too, Katie-Cat," he said, and pulled her deeper into an embrace.
They stayed like that for as long as he thought they could get away with it. But it was getting late, and eventually he had to pry his daughter's arms away from his neck and hand her over to the kindly woman who watched her. "Don't you worry, Mr. Wetherall," she said to him in a Southern drawl. "We'll have lots of fun, won't we, dear?" she addressed his daughter. His daughter nodded, but she didn't take her eyes off of him.
"Come back soon," she whispered. "I'll miss you."
He nodded. "I'll come back very soon, and we'll go to the mill again," he said. "I promise you that." And he turned around, picked up his bag, and walked toward the car.
As it started to drive away, he looked back at his daughter, who was still standing on the porch, waving to him. She looked so young, so innocent, so unprotected.
He quickly focused on the road in front of him, staring so hard at it and avoiding blinking in order to hold back the tears. The going-away was proving to be more painful than it had in years, when he'd left while his daughter was still an embryo. That had been the hardest to date; because his wife was alone with their unborn child and he wouldn't be there if she went into delivery. But this time was worse, because somehow he knew that this time he wasn't coming back. This time he wouldn't make it.
This time, his daughter would be left an orphan.
" When I tried to recall where I was, and how I'd come there, I found I couldn't... I could recall nothing at all—not my past, not my purpose, not even my name. To this day I have no memory of who I am. "
~ Milligan, The Mysterious Benedict Society
A/N Poor Kate. Poor Milligan.