Author's Notes: For reference: Ryou was born on December 13th, UC 0071. Chihiro was born on March 24th, UC 0072. This makes them 22 and 21 respectively at the time the battle takes place.

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Kido Senshi Gundam: Char's Counter Attack

The Last Stand, Epilogue

-Gredival

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"Sweetwater is exploding!"

"What happened? Status report!" Bright asked in disbelief, standing up from his seat to look at the sight himself.

"Pilots are reporting that Sweetwater's nuclear missiles exploded sir!"

"How?" Bright pressed. He was hoping for anything besides what he heard next.

"We've lost track of the Re-GZ sir."

Bright slumped back into the chair helplessly.

= = = = =

Nanai watched the bright explosions that consumed the falling colony. The eerily beautiful fireworks ripped apart the metal and glass of the colony. Fire consumed the falling metal as it made its slow descent in the atmosphere.

The Neo Zeon's last attack had failed. As Sweetwater went up in flames, the mission crashed and burned. It was rich in irony, but Nanai Miguel found it anything but funny as she watched her last hope fade. She sighed and slowly unclenched her fists. She finally let go. It was all that was left for her to do.

She stood up from her seat at the Rewoola's Bridge and made her way to the exit. As she walked across the hallway she looked outside once again, but not towards the burning colony, but to the distant stars in empty space. "I'm sorry Char," she murmured.

"Withdraw the forces," Lyle ordered after the woman had left. "The mission's a failure."

The Neo Zeon forces disengaged the Londo Bell withdrawing into the folds of the retreating fleet. The Londo Bell was in no mood to pursue and gladly let them go.

And like that, the Last Stand of the Neo Zeon was over for the soldiers.

But its effects would ripple across history.

= = = = =

Reports of the Londo Bell's success spread like wildfire across the news networks. Mirai sighed relieved as she sat back in her chair. "Good job Bright..." she murmured watching the news.

"So the Neo Zeon failed," Hathaway stated flatly watching the news.

"You don't seem to happy," Cheimin said, tilting her head curiously at her older brother.

"I expected it," Hathaway replied. 'They can't lead the reformation, they don't understand.'

"Let's just be happy Earth's still there," Mirai said to her children. "Your dad and his crew saved millions of lives today."

'At the cost of saving a world saturated with ignorance and weighed by gravity,' Hathaway thought bitterly. He looked at his own hands though. 'Just as stained...'

= = = = =

Bright hugged Mirai tightly then lifted her up and twirled her around in the air, bringing her back for a kiss. "It's good to be back," he said with a tired grin. His eyes were puffy and a web of wrinkles told his wife the heavy toll the battles had waged on him. But this was a time of celebration.

She leaned in to kiss her husband again. "Will it be for good this time?"

"The Neo Zeon's dismembered. Almost all colonies that had supported the Neo Zeon have openly denounced them now. It's expected the rebels from Sweetwater will rejoin the Federation soon."

"That's good," Mirai replied wrapping her arm around Bright's waist. "Let's get out of here then."

"Actually I have one thing to do," Bright said, pecking his wife on the cheek. "I'll meet you back at the house in a bit."

= = = = =

Bright clutched the small box defensively for support as he stood in front of the small house. This was the listed residence of Warrant Officer Chihiro Kiran. It had taken some time to find out the name of the girl in the picture. But Bright knew he owed this to Ryou. Ryou had given his life for the cause of the Londo Bell, barely weeks after joining it. The wreckage of the Re-GZ Custom was barely recognizable, after its ordeal in the atmosphere. As Ryou probably expected, the unit was not fit to go through atmospheric re-entry, especially not while escaping a nuclear blast. They had collected what they could for a burial, even if it was more symbolic than anything else.

The woman inside though was oblivious to the harsh consequences of the battle last week; and of Ryou's final decision. Now that the battle was over and most of the diplomatic issues had been cleared up she fully expected to find him at her door sometime in the week, safe and sound with his large grin.

She had just finished toweling her hands off when she heard the knock at the door. "Coming," she called as she put the towel down on the white tile counter. She walked briskly across the floor to answer the door, and was startled to see Captain Noah.

"Can I help you?" she asked politely. Then she noticed the box in his hands. She didn't really recognize it. It was simple office box, plain and brown. But she recognized what was in it. On top was the picture of Ryou and her at the river, his arms were wrapped around her; she was gripping his hands in her own as she leaned against him. And that meant that Ryou's things were being given to her; it meant he was dead. She looked helplessly into the older man's face, her eyes beginning to tear up.

"I'm sorry ma'am," Bright offered. He handed the box of Ryou's things to the woman. "He was a fine soldier, and a better man. It was an honor to fight along side him..."

Chihiro nodded slowly holding back the tears. She sniffled and managed to thank Bright. Understanding, Bright let the young soldier go. Chihiro had barely shut the door before the trembling in her legs took over; she fell to her knees crying and dropping the box.

"No you idiot... You said you'd come back..." she sobbed, looking upwards. "You promised! Damn it Ryou! YOU PROMISED ME!" she screamed as if trying to argue with fate.

Of course there wouldn't be an answer. There'd never be an answer.

She punched the door, her tears dropping onto the hardwood floor. She raised her arm to wipe away the streaks of water from her face. A black tape has fallen out of the box onto the floor. The label simply said "To Chihiro."

= = = = =

"Chihiro, if you've got this then I wasn't able to keep my word. I'm... I want you to know I'm sorry."

Chihiro stared at the image of Ryou on the screen again. His short brown hair, his sparkling green eyes, simple boyish smile.

"Take care of yourself Chihiro. I'll be watching for you, I promise you that. And it will take the devil himself to stop me. I'll be waiting for you, as long as it takes, and I'll always be watching over you. Live your life with the love you showed me... And visit Earth one day, I'm sure that Captain Bright can arrange it for you. You'd love it."

The tape ran into the blank portions again static overtaking the screen.

'Is this all I have left?' Chihiro thought. She fell back into her bed. She wished that Ryou was there to wrap his arms around her, and kiss her on the cheek. His hug had always wiped away any fears or troubles she had, if only for a moment's time. She closed her eyes and could almost see his quietly peaceful and happy green eyes and his smile. She could almost feel his lips on hers, the gentle warmth of his body. Almost. Almost.

Every day had become one long nightmare. The days she spent sullenly, moving through the actions with a broken heart and dead spirit. She forced herself to live through the pain of watching the video out of some will and compulsion to hear his voice. Sleep brought reprieve in the form of another nightmare. Dreams could bring her to peace, and sometimes to him. Only to be doomed to end in the dawn of morning.

"Dummy..." she echoed softly, her eyes watering up again.

= = = = =

She caressed the coffin, giving it a gentle pat.

"Thank you," she whispered softly, hoping somehow Ryou could hear her voice. "I will never ever forget you, and I will never stop loving you... And I'll make sure that she knows what kind of a man her father was..." Chihiro promised, her hand moving across her abdomen.

It took all her strength not to start crying again as she stood up and walked away from the coffin.

Lynn looked into the broken eyes of her friend and ran to embrace her. There was no stopping the tears as the two women hugged each other, crying for the loss of their friend. Charlie patted Chihiro on the back gently; he looked at the coffin, draped in the Federation flag, as was the custom for those dying while in service, and gave a goodbye nod to his long time friend.

Bright nodded to the men.

They fired their riffles in salute for the fallen soldier as the coffin was laid to rest, along with what was left of the Re-GZ.

Benjamin wheeled himself forward across the grass, wet with morning dew, slowly as his injuries impaired his arm use.

"Miss Kiran?" he asked softly.

Chihiro wiped her eyes and turned to the man, trying to clear her head. "Yes?"

"My name is Benjamin Matthews," he said, extending his hand as he up at the woman from the wheel chair. They exchanged a handshake before he continued. "I owe Ryou my life. If it wasn't for him I don't think I would have made it. I just wanted to tell you how honored I am to have known him, and I'm truly sorry for your loss."

"Thank you," Chihiro said, trying to put a grateful tone in her voice. It had become so hard for her to express emotions in the past few weeks.

Bright looked on from afar. He had been to five funerals recently for some of the finest people he had ever worked with.

Amuro Rei, his long time friend back from the One Year War and a Newtype Ace of the likes Bright doubted he'd ever see again in his life. Amuro was an amazingly passionate and brilliant man. He possessed wisdom far beyond his years, with a faith in humanity's ability to grow and change.

Chan Agi, a brilliant mind and a woman of uncommon kindness. She went onto the field, her only concern was to help Amuro. Unknown to Bright her life had been stolen from her by someone she had considered a friend, Bright's own son Hathaway.

Kayra Su and Astonage Mendoz, two people deeply in love that given their lives while serving the Londo Bell. Both had so much to give to the world, and so much more they could have done.

And finally Ryou Okuimi. A young man with everything to lose who asked to join the Londo Bell to save the Earth and people he didn't even know. He had that spark that made him an instant magnet to the people of the Londo Bell, easily becoming friends with many of the crew.

Bright couldn't help but wonder if this was that war was for – taking the lives of brave men and women before their time.

He turned his gaze to the young woman, Chihiro Kiran and couldn't help but feel guilty for all the pain she was going through. Ryou was barely into his twenties, his third mission in active combat. How many battles had Bright been in, always eluding the Grim Reaper? And of all the questions he was left with, this was the only one he could answer: too many.

= = = = =

Chihiro brushed back a strand of her long honey hair that had whipped across her face in the wind. 'It is beautiful... You were right...' she thought looking at the lake. She stretched out her arms, covered in the sleeves of the denim jacket and felt the breeze blow over her sending the back of the jacket flapping backwards with her hair. Her jeans hugged her slender legs as her white shirt wrapped tight her feminine figure.

On the surface she might have just been another beautiful girl, without a care in the world. Nothing on the surface might have betrayed that, except for her eyes. Her eyes had gained back an edge of her spirit, along with a sagacious edge of wisdom that could only come from experience. Anyone looking into them long enough would see that she had lived through some trials most other women of her age could not even imagine.

It had been years since the events of the Second Neo Zeon war. Shortly after the birth of her daughter, she had left the Federation and moved to Earth, with more than a little help from a new friend in the Londo Bell command. She found she couldn't stay on Londenion. Too many memories were encased in it; everywhere she went there were reminders: the orphanage where she and Ryou had grown up, the base, and his old house, her house itself, they all brought back memories and they reopened wounds.

Ryou always looked out for Chihiro while they were growing up. He had helped her with schoolwork. He beat up her bad boyfriends; got beat up by bad boyfriends.

Most important of all though, Ryou had taught her how to live – how to love, how to trust. And for this reason she was always drawn to him. When he enlisted in the forces, she found herself enlisting too. And as their friendship awkwardly developed into more, Ryou's importance to her could only increase.

She found things in him some people never find – the unconditional love like that of a mother, the acceptance of a true best friend, and the Prince Charming of her dreams. Despite his modest wage, he was always able to give her everything she ever needed or wanted. However at twenty-two Ryou was still like the boy she had first met in so many ways. Amazed and inspired by the world around him, and always pushing to make headway in it. She found that it was Ryou that inspired and lead her through so much of her life. And that she was at a loss without him. It would take time to learn to live without him, even after she got over the every day things. When she would have a particularly bad day, her first instincts still told her to find Ryou for support.

And she found even here, she was reminded of him, if not by the beauty of the place, in the innocent face of her baby girl. She had the eyes of her father; Haruka looked so much like her mother except for those brilliant green eyes. In a way he had already fulfilled his promise. He was always with her, in her heart, and in their beautiful daughter. Ryou would forever be ingrained as a part of Chihiro.

As she watched the sunset she could swear she heard Ryou on the lake, his voice calling her name. But it was gone in a second, just as soon as it came.

"You better keep your promise this time jerk!" she yelled into the winds.

The little girl came running up, her face smudged with dirt from play. "Mommy who are you talking to?"

"I'm talking to Daddy," Chihiro said, picking the child up to nuzzle her playfully.

Haruka tugged on her mother's jacket a little. "Where's Daddy?" she asked, confused at her mother's answer.

The sapphire, cut in the shape of a crescent moon, hanging on a silver chain, sparkled in the warm glow of dusk. For a while the necklace had been a burden, a link to painful wounds and ever-present sign of what could have been. Now it served as a reminder to her; so she simply smiled at her daughter's question. "He's always with us, in here," the young mother said, patting the little girl's chest, "in our hearts."

Somewhere she knew Ryou was watching over them, smiling. She just didn't realize how close he was.