Warnings: Violence, character death, hard-to-find allusion to Oliver Twist

A/N Procrastinating to the highest power here.

The inspiration for this fic actually came from an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Season 3, episode one, I can't remember the title). There's this one shot in the episode where Buffy's about to get into a fight (not with vampires), and a close-up shows her thinking about something. We don't know what, but I like to believe that she's thinking about mortality and how she could very well die in the next few seconds. Then I put Kate in Buffy's situation, and this little thing was born.

Enjoy. Or don't. 'Tis rather depressing. If you find the allusion to Oliver Twist (it's in there, but it's hidden), you win the answers to the questions in "The End of One Life," which will in turn get you a Milligan action figure.

Beta'd by Dove's Wing. Dove, you rock.


-Invincible-


She's always been unconquerable, indestructible, been the one thing standing between hope and utter defeat.

…She ducks as a heavy limb swings at her head…

Her friends look up to her. They rely on her to get them through the great storm that is their life. And she pulls through, she's always pulled through, she's one of the things that are constant in a great sea of change all heroes are doomed to. Ever since anyone can remember, she's been there, standing on the crest of a hill with her ponytail blowing and her stance strong.

…The limb's weight has carried its owner down to the ground, but he's good, very good, almost better than she is, and he swings his leg around in a surprising moment of clarity. It almost collides with her legs, but she jumps only just in time…

She's probably bleeding in various places, her bucket is likely dented from the battle, and she's definitely covered in scratches, bruises, and breaks that will become scars and, in her book, marks of honorable combat. Maybe a limb or four is broken, and it's obvious that she's in a lot of pain.

…When she lands she ducks out of momentum and a fist sails over her head. She's amazed at the close call, because she didn't see her other foe stand up, but there's no time to congratulate herself because a third is on the way…

But she hides it, because she has to be strong for her friends and family, she has to be a pillar of strength and cheerfulness, someone who will always have hope regardless of time and circumstance.

…This one's smaller, about her height, and the head is coal-black, but she doesn't notice anything else because the figure feigns one direction and heads another, landing a blow on her breasts…

It started when she was very little, when her father left her. He was gone for a few days, but she wasn't worried. He was gone for a week, but she wasn't worried. Even after two weeks she wasn't worried, because he was her father and nothing could happen to him.

…She gasps in pain, and in the small minute she hesitates a blow hits the small of her back. The pain is akin to a broken spine, but she's not dead, and she kicks out, hearing the satisfying crunch of bone shattering…

After a month, she realized that he wasn't coming back. She cried for the next twenty-four hours.

…There's a scream. Suddenly, she feels the wet stickiness of blood cover her mouth as someone's wounded hand grabs her from behind, hooking his hand around her mouth. She bites down, hard, and tastes more coppery blood as she breaks skin…

When she was done crying, even as a two-year-old she knew that it would never happen again. Never again would she show weakness like that, because she didn't want pity. That's what she got for the next year was pity, pity, and more pity, and she hated it more than she'd ever hated anything before. So she smiled, was cheerful, and acted as normal as possible for the next five years.

…The hand is removed and she spits out blood, then cries out as someone twists her left arm behind her and she hears a snap. Searing pain shoots up her arm, made worse because she's bleeding and whoever it is isn't the gentle sort…

Then she was flipping, turning, somersaulting and wowing crowds in her beloved circus. People were cheering, yelling, gasping, oohing and ah-ing as she performed stunts that could get her seriously hurt. She grinned mischievously and continued to execute the most dangerous things a girl of eight could achieve, that people had never seen before. When she was finished, she stood with her arms in a V and drank in the applause hungrily, like a vampire that feeds on praise.

…With her right arm she wields her elbow and jabs it backward with as much force as she can muster. It connects with flesh and someone doubles over, twisting her arm even more. This time, she screams…

She won prizes that night, prizes for being the youngest acrobat ever to achieve that kind of gymnastic marvel. "She's amazing" the newspapers said. "Downright crazy" said still more. And the president, who had taken his seven-year-old daughter to the show, said, "if that girl doesn't go on to win the damn Olympics, I'll eat my head."

…She works with her elbow, her foot, and her head in quick succession, and manages to release herself from the man's grasp. Her arm doesn't hurt quite so much for a nanosecond, and then as the limb loses support the bones crash into each other and she swears she can see something through her skin. She clutches the arm close to her chest as she runs away, not leaving the battle, but rather trying to gain an advantage and stake her assets…

The Emergency. It'd been going on for twenty years, and nobody was doing a thing about it. She determined that she would be the one to save the world. She'd do it, and she'd have fun too. She'd win even more prizes, get more awards, international recognition, and all before adolescence to boot. "Don't let it go to your head" people cautioned her. "I won't, don't worry," she'd reply, and go on dreaming about the glory days.

…The three she'd been fighting were giving chase, she saw – each was wounded, but none more than herself. And there were more behind them, fresh cavalry. The prospects became daunting and her heart sank as she realized that she'd lost her bucket, broken her arm, and had seven, fully-grown, trained men to face…

"Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?"… The Great Kate Weather Machine and her Stormy Companions… Beware the Gemini… This boy was especially average-looking… Brush your teeth and kill the germs; poison apples, poison worms… K and C needed at lighthouse now... Jack and Jill went up the hill, to fetch a pail of water… Sorry I'm late, Katie-Cat…

…She turned and kept running. All she had to do was get into the forest, she could lose them, she could make it, she had a chance

Lemon-juice letters and key disappointments… CHILDREN YOU MUST NOT COME STOP… Take the Shortcut… Bullfrogs and Cannonballs… perilous castles… What's with the weird money... a long train ride… Reynie's got a diamond… Risker's ship… Her Majesty the Queen… the duskwort papers… Ledroptha Curtain… narcolepsy…

…But the men were faster, they were too fast, and now they were gaining, and why were the gaining? She was tired, so tired… couldn't keep going like this forever… only a couple hundred yards… Perfectly fine, nothing to worry about… it hurts…

Silence, talking, and Option C… Constance is an orphan… the lights were out… chaos everywhere… a race to the Abbot Edifice... She's betrayed them all to Curtain… they're going to an island… it's a prison… S-pies… funny disguises… the Salamander… electrical pain… Sticky's so brave… Milligan's gone, he's dead… We've won, we've really won… Curtain's in jail… He doesn't like cookies… Mr. Benedict's narcolepsy is cured… Sticky has contacts now; he's kind of handsome…

…Someone tackles her from behind, and her arm feels like it's going to tear off. She screams in pain as blows begin to land on her everywhere. She feels something else break, but she can't pin point the location… it hurts… she's seeing spots, bright colors… her head is swimming, she feels like she's going to through up, and she sees red blood – her blood – land in the grass at her feet. She's standing up, someone's holding her up by her shoulders. Her left arm swings freely at her side and the pain is searing…

…Someone grabs her ponytail and forces her to look up, she blinks red out of her eyes and tries to clear her vision. She can see someone who looks vaguely familiar, but she can't remember who. What's going on? Who is he? What is he saying? She can't hear him, her ears aren't working, the pain is fading now, blissful numbness… The man's rearing his fist back…

I'm mortal, she thinks. I'm actually going to die now. It's over. End of the line.

…He swings…

I love you… she thinks, but doesn't know who she's thinking about.

…He hits.

When the collision occurs, when everything finally goes black, when she stops thinking, stops breathing, she doesn't feel it. It's painless, but it's done.

Kate Wetherall.

Daughter.

Friend.

Performer.

Savior.

Warrior.

Lover.

Dead.