Posted January 21, 2022 at 10:31 pm

Big update, took a little longer! Thanks for reading! Hope you like it!

~

[Transcript]

Isabel was staring up at him with frustrated intensity. Her gaze seemed to slip off of direct eye contact, falling to the left and right in staggered sequence. Despite this, she seemed as though her heels were dug in deep. The flashlight at her side bounced with a subtle rhythm to words she was rehearsing in her head. A beat of silence passed between them.

Spender thought he saw some of the look that Jean had given him in her determination. It was no surprise to him that Isabel was eager to prove herself—she was her grandfather's granddaughter, after all—but there was no way he was letting her go anywhere near those woods

"Isabel, you can't. You have to stay here—"

Isabel shook her head furiously. "No, don't go!" she shouted. She fumbled with the flashlight to grab Spender with both hands.

Spender blinked. What? Oh. Oh. Of course. His own penchant for heroics at a young age had misled him. No kid in their right mind would be itching for a fight after all this. No, she'd just thought...

Did she think he was going after Jean and Mina? That she'd be left here all alone? Again Spender was reminded just how young she was. Of course he wouldn't up and leave her. There was a monster on the loose. He was staying behind to protect her. That was the whole point.

"You don't understand—" Spender started to say, smiling despite the tension.

"I DO!!" she cried, and her voice cracked.

Spender felt his heart free fall just from the sound of it. He froze, suddenly lost.

"You don't!" Isabel was fighting tears, stamping her feet against the hollow wood. "No one does!" The tears welled up past her resistance and she choked, breaking out into a wail. "I'm not brave! I'm not strong! I'm scared, I'm scared, I'm scared, I'm scared

She was pulling at him desperately now, trying to drag him further back onto the hawk watch. Spender, stunned, let himself sink to one knee.

"Isabel," he said, his own voice high in his throat. He put his hands on both her shoulders. "I'm not going anywhere."

She thrashed him off. "You're LYING!!" Isabel shook her head again, trying to escape the pooling tears blurring her vision. "That's what dad said but he left! And mom leaves and Ed and it's because they think I'm strong and I'm not, I'm not, but nobody believes me!" The step or two she stumbled back brought Spender into focus. Her frustration seemed to spike, then dissipate, leaving only simple sadness in its place.

Isabel let out a stuttered sob and lurched forward, throwing her arms around Spender. The force of it spun him around, but he wasn't rattled long. He hugged her back.

"I hate you," she whimpered. "I hate you. It's not fair."

She was so small. He was a storm of guilt. Spender had seen nothing but himself. No, even then, he'd forgotten where his own strength, the kind he'd seen in her, came from. Tough because tears were a burden, brave because they'd had to fight alone... hardworking for affection, fleeting praise. Isabel was only six and already caught in those grinding gears, family failing and trying and failing again. What was he to her amidst all this? Another adult who only cared when she was crying. No, worse than that. He was the mold she bent herself to fit, a knight in shining armor that he'd forced a heart like hers to hide inside.

All his nostalgia felt so silly now in hindsight. He didn't want his childhood for Isabel... running from a cold home, piecing together parents from mentors who would leave her in the end. She didn't have to inherit his role as Mayview's self-appointed spectral steward, his open-ended quest to save it from its monsters and its mysteries. All of that was far too much for her. It was far too much for him. Even if—when she was older, none of this, none of this should be like it was then...!

A voice entered Spender's mind, a long lost memory. My life's work hasn't failed until it ends up the next generation's burden. Something Ed's mother had said. When had she said it? Spender couldn't recall. He hoped she didn't feel the sense of failure he felt now.

"I'm sorry, Isabel," he said. The words weren't enough. "I'm here. I'll stay. I'll listen." She kept hugging him, crying like any other kid. He squeezed her close.

Then the monster stepped out from the woods.

No fanfare, not a sound. Just a shadow that had been still now in motion. Spender's heart surged in his chest. He rose slowly to his feet, still holding Isabel.

"Don't worry," he said.

It was a great white beast, the color of full moonlight. Walking on all fours with a hunched, simian gait. The look on its long face was placid, almost pitiful, but its eyes were fixed on them. No, its eye—a long scar sealed one shut.

"I'll protect you, Isabel."

It took a silent, sidelong route, shuffling still closer. Spender felt the charged proximity of predator and prey, the impossible peace before the chase began. Pointed ears twitched with each stifled sob from Isabel, buried in Spender's shirt. She hadn't heard it, hadn't seen it. Not yet. Not yet.

Spender raised one hand. He'd steal its moonlight, if this meager sliver really did sustain it. Just like he did for Jean when it was full. He flicked his wrist. Silver scattered from its silhouette like mist.

Nothing changed. Darkness veiled the monster, now just feet away.

The werewolf rose up to full height.