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Copyright Lauren Kate 2012. All rights reserved.

. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

DANIELS GIFT
by Lauren Kate
Daniel awoke on a bed of withered peonies. Starlight seeped through the canopy of oak trees overhead. His body was stiff and cold, curled around the short stump of a tree instead of his loves warm body. How long had he slept? The petals beneath him were crushed and brown. He breathed in their frail decay. His fingertips still bore the black stamp of ash that had been Lucindas bones before her body flashed into flames. Perhaps hed slept here a week, dreaming of nothing, gone from this world but it wasnt long enough. Daniels pain was so acute it felt extraordinarily large, vaster than his wingspanas if his soul bore the weight of twenty men, each of whom had each lost their dearest lover. The desperate ache tightened into an absence where his heart was meant to be. In the three months following his first Valentines Day with Lucinda, Daniel had brought her back here to this spot in the medieval English forest at least twenty times. Each time, during their walk across the village green into the cool recesses of the woods, Daniel would cause these Valentines peonies to bloom anew, so that when Lucinda stepped into the clearing, the flowers would be as vibrant and lovely and in bloom as Lucinda. He looked at them now, dying, dead, and tore at a handful of damp, squashed petals. He recognized no power within himself to revive their delicate blossoms. Daniel alternated between two different souls: one when Lucinda was alive and another when she was dead. He required her affection, the glory of her presence to be the best version of himself. He required her to add sweetness and light to the world. Daniel winced as he tried to stand. His wings were stiff with tension and loss. He aimed to stretch and loosen as he left the forest, but with each step he was surprised to find his body only felt heavier, more depressed.

He wanted to connect with her memory, wanted to roam every street shed ever roamed and search for traces of his love; he always wanted this after she died. It was never a good idea. This time, inexplicably, he indulged himself. He staggered back toward the walls of the village where she had lived. Crossing the dirt road, entering the bare market at midnight, turning down the narrow street where Lucindas family lived . . . all of it hurt more than he was prepared to withstand. Three doors from her family home, Daniel saw the light inside their threshold and cried out in pain. He threw himself against the high stone wall of a neighboring dwelling. Grief overtook him and his eyes blazed with hot tears. At last he realized why. The pain he felt at losing Lucinda was worsened by the pain her family felt at losing her. They loved her for who she truly was, loved her in a way similar to how Daniel loved her. Now they grieved like Daniel grieved, which made him grieve anew, knowing that he had separated her from good people who had cared for her. Stealthily, he swept into the night sky and landed on the flat roof of the home where Lucindas family slept. He lay down on the packed mud bricks and spread his wings out below him, trying to feel their pain radiating through the roof. It was the darkest hour of the morning and the village was asleep. But Daniel heard . . . or he felt . . . a woman weeping just below him. He traced the sound, creeping along the roof, then slinking down the side of the wall until he was just outside the small room where he knew Lucindas elder sister Helen slept with her husband. They were newlyweds, fast asleep. Through dreams, no doubt of Lucinda, Helen was crying. Risking a peek inside the room, Daniel made out the shape of her husbands arms around her, kissing her furrowed forehead, offering comfort even through his dreams.

Copyright Lauren Kate 2012. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

They were in love. Daniel saw how very many things were different about the love between this man and wife and the love he shared with Lucinda. The love he witnessed tonight was steady and earthly and finite, whereas his love with Lucinda was tempestuous and transcendent andfor better or for worseeternal. It was perplexing that both kinds of connection, both ways to express devotion could be called the same thing: Love. And yet Daniel recognized one thing in the shape of this mans arms around his wife: he would give anything, do anything, to lessen his lovers pain. Their drowsy kiss deepened and Daniel watched with unabashed fascination. He wished there was something he could do. Daniel had shuffled many souls out of their bodies during his millennia on earth. He had sped their souls to peace and light in the unfathomable afterlife, the mortal equivalent of Heaven to which no angel had access. But Daniel had never shepherded new life into the world. It was beyond his powers, a gift only the Throne could give. Only the Throne could remove all obstacles from mortal bodies and souls so that, in nine months, they would bring a hardy, happy child into the world. Perhaps that was in store for these two lovers; Daniel could not tell. Even if they had a child of their own, it would never replace Lucinda. Her particular soul would bring joy to some other family in some faraway place, which Daniel would have to wait for and eventually find. He might have to wait decades, but he was used to that. For now, any gift Daniel gave to this family would pale in comparison to what they had lost. His mind reached outwards, trying to take hold of something that would help him help them. In the distant forest bordering the town, his keen eyesight settled on a pair of goats grazing in the moonlight. Absurdly poor substitutions for Lucindaand yet . . .

Copyright Lauren Kate 2012. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

For this family, the goats milk would be rare to the point of exceptional. Any sustenance or income these beasts might provide would bring some peace to them. They deserved that and so much more. In an instant Daniel flew to the edge of the forest, retrieved the goats and shepherded them through the sky and to Lucindas familys doorstep, where he tethered them with a length of rope. No note. They could neither read nor understand his explanation. The simple gesture would have to suffice. Glancing up at Lucindas sisters window, Daniel bowed, humbled by the reality of the mortal world. Then he spread his wings and took to the sky, where he would stay until his love was settled into a new life that would bring him back to earth again.

Copyright Lauren Kate 2012. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.