by: Stephanie L. Watson (SLWatson)
Editor: Karen Walker (Serris)

Disclaimer: All characters belong to Disney/Pixar. I'm not making a profit, and certainly don't plan to.

Notes: It's a lot darker than I normally write, and it doesn't take place within the same timeline as Snow and The Thin Blue Line. It's more of a story that just kind of jumped from my fingers to the keyboard in the wee hours of the morning, inspired by a 'what if?' Believe me when I say I don't plan on foraying into something this gritty again for a very long time.

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He hated going to funerals.

There was something about them that made him uncomfortable, aside the obvious. Buzz could never quite put his finger on it, but it was one of those feelings that made him think too much. He was an expert on not thinking too hard, not questioning his role in the great universal scheme, so when the times came up that he was forced to contemplate all of those metaphysical things, he hated it.

It was worse this time, though. A lot worse. Waaaay worse.

This time it meant that everything was going to change again.

If there was something that Buzz hated more than funerals, it was change. He just didn't like things being different; he had his comfort zone, a place where he didn't have to worry about the day-to-day stuff, where all he had to worry about was the universe threatening stuff that he was so good at dealing with.

His life was simple. He woke up in the morning, brewed a pot of coffee, sometimes read the paper, went to work, came home and watched sports and fell asleep on the couch with the television still on. It was routine, and Buzz liked routine.

But now, the routine was gone.

So was King Nova.

And that meant... so was Mira.

The casket carrying the king was handsome; truly befitting a monarch, and the funeral party was huge. Buzz was there out of obligation, along with his team, and a good many other Rangers. He was there because the Commander had sent them as formal escort.

He kept telling himself that. He didn't believe it, but he kept telling himself that anyway.

Mira stood at the front of the crowd, for once dressed like the princess... no, not a princess anymore. Dressed like the queen that she now was. She didn't wear black, like a human would, but instead she wore this long dress in a blue that made Buzz think of the summer sky, about an hour before a thunderstorm.

She stood there, tall and proud, and if it were anyone else in the universe, he would have thought she was being cold.

But it wasn't anyone else. And Buzz knew, as certainly as he knew his own name, that she was screaming on the inside, and that it took all of her formidable strength to hold that bearing like she did.

He didn't know how he knew, he just did.

The funeral took a long time; funerals generally do, and with so many people, it was worse than normal. And even Buzz couldn't help but ache a little... even though he and King Nova had rarely seen eye to eye, Buzz had respected the man. It was hard to imagine that the king was just gone, like he was... well, anyone else. That Buzz would never have to worry about being called a monkey again.

So he was there to pay his respects to the king. He told himself that too. He didn't believe it, but he told himself anyway.

Booster was sniffling away, and even XR wasn't saying anything snide or otherwise uncalled for. The aire of somberness might as well have been tangible. The Tangeans made no rude comments to the offworlders; it was painfully quiet, like funerals tend to be.

The silence lasted long after the casket was gone, lowered into the giant incinerator, as was custom for the royalty. No common burial, no scattering of the ashes; King Nova would take his place in the Great Hall in the palace, with his ancestors.

Buzz didn't move from his position, but he did allow himself a frown.

Now, Mira was going to be the Queen. She already acted the part; aloof and cool and regal, like a queen, and he hated that too, almost as much as the funeral.

Where was the woman who used to get in his face, an inch from his nose, growling? And where was the woman who used to stutter when she was nervous? The one that had saved him from permanent retirement, or from certain doom so many times? Where was she?

But he knew, watching as her jaw tightened while she replied to the thousands of sympathies tossed her way, that she was screaming on the inside.

Somewhere, so was he.

He told himself that he was there to stand guard, at least temporarily, for the new queen. He didn't believe it, but he told himself anyway.

He hated funerals. He always had. He never wanted his last memory of a person to be of them dead, only of them still alive. He could still remember with the clarity of perfection the day that he buried his grandmother, and the rain and cold of spring, and how there were only a handful of people who knew and loved her, this woman who had raised him and had given him the strength to take on the universe.

He wondered, silently, if Mira had gotten that strength from her father.

She stood there, answering all of those sympathies that Buzz knew felt hollow. Stood there, still tall and proud, and strong. Those were qualities he recognized, had always recognized, but where was the grin? And where was that smirk she used to give him when she was proven right in an argument? And where did all of that fire and bullheadedness go?

But he knew, as she walked back through the crowd with her head tilted up, the only betrayal to her feelings her heavier stride, that she was screaming on the inside.

Somewhere, so was he.

He told himself that he was there to help her organize her life again. He didn't believe it, but he told himself anyway.

She paused by where he was stationed at the back door, only for a moment. Stood there, regarding him, and Buzz wanted to say something, but he didn't. He wanted to tell her that he understood, but he didn't. Most of all, he wanted her not to hurt; wanted to fix it, make it right. But he couldn't.

And he hated it.

She held the gaze steadily, but her eyes said everything she didn't. For all of her bearing, all of her courage, she was screaming on the inside.

Somewhere, so was he.

The moment ended and he told himself that he was there to help clear out the crowd. He didn't believe it, but he told himself anyway.

They cleared out on their own, though, drifting like they had all been hit by a laser beam on wide stun, and Buzz was left briefly alone in the darkened room, left to think too much, something he usually tried to avoid. Left to wonder what would become of them now, now that the team they'd worked so hard to create was going to be gone. Left to wonder if he even could fix this, let alone how he could.

When she'd lost the Starthought, it was easy; go get it back for her. Tell her that it was okay. Let her know that he was proud of her, right in front of Zurg himself. When she was addicted to energy, it wasn't easy, but it wasn't impossible. Try to talk to her. Go and get her back when she was trapped. When she thought she'd lost her father the first time, with the planet destroyer, go with her theory even though it didn't make sense to him. When her ex showed back up, be happy for her when he turns out to be alive.

He couldn't have counted on both hands how many times he had tried as hard as he could to take her sorrows or upsets away, in any way he knew how.

But those were easier times. And now, Mira was hurting and he couldn't do anything... anything at all to fix it.

He hated that most of all.

He finally left the room, went to go and take off for home, to try to pick up the pieces of the routine that he needed. Absurdly, he thought that maybe if he could get back home and rack out on his couch with the television on, he would wake up and it would all be okay; go to work, and Mira would be Space Ranger Mira Nova, not Queen Nova of Tangea. She would be there and she would get an inch from his nose growling, or smirk when she was right, or stutter when she was nervous, or smile reassuringly when she knew that something was bothering him, and it would all be okay.

He told himself he would be okay. He didn't believe it, but he told himself anyway.

It was a long way home, but time didn't seem to have any real meaning. It slipped by with the kind of emptiness that accompanies funerals, where the living are left to ask how they would survive without their departed. But it wasn't the departed that left him empty.

He threw the keys onto the coffee table, and managed to get his thoughts in order long enough to go and change out of his uniform and into a t-shirt and shorts. He turned the television on, flipped it to the sports channel and dropped onto his couch. He wasn't watching, but he needed the noise; he couldn't sleep without background noise, a holdover from the days when he still lived in the midst of the city.

Buzz didn't change the channel, for fear of the funeral coverage, just left it where it was and stared at his ceiling, waiting and maybe even praying for sleep and a chance not to think for awhile.

He hated thinking too much. That only ever lead to trouble.

But there was no answer, and time just kept ticking by, steadily, too steadily, making him more miserable than he already was. He thought about calling someone, but who would he call? And what would be the point?

Somewhere, on another planet, the one person he always tried to protect was screaming on the inside.

Somewhere, so was he.

It was after two when the knock on the door came, startling him out of a fitful drift. He stood, rubbing at his eyes and trying not to seem too downtrodden... it was probably Booster in need of moral support, or XR, who would lament about the possibility of losing his own 'father', or maybe it was the media, who wanted to ask what he thought now that he was losing one of his teammates.

Somehow, though, deep in his gut, he knew it was Mira.

She stood back from the door, still tall and proud, but instead of the dress she wore jeans and a t-shirt, the clothes she wore in her off-time, when once in awhile the team would get together and hang out. She didn't say anything, just regarded him for a long moment, surrounded by the heavy summer air and the smell of something sweet drifting by from a garden; stood there, still tall and proud, but there were tears standing in her eyes, threatening to fall.

Buzz wanted to say something; wanted to tell her that it would be okay, someday, even if it didn't seem like it. But he didn't. And he wanted to tell her that he was proud of her, even if she was leaving them to fulfill some huge obligation to her home world. But he didn't. He wanted to fix it, make it right, take away that hurt.

But he couldn't.

And he hated it.

She took three steps forward, wrapped her arms around him, and buried her face against his shoulder, finally dropping that shield that had gotten her through the funeral and the time before and after it. And he held onto her as tight as he dared to, knowing that she was screaming on the inside.

Because she was, so was he.

He told himself that he was there because he had to be. And this time, he was telling himself the truth.

Tomorrow it would all be different. The funeral was over, the routine was gone, and she would be too. Tomorrow, Buzz would have to go to work and feel that hollow ache knowing that something important is missing, and knowing that while he would fight a universe for her, he couldn't even manage to save her dreams. Tomorrow, she would be a queen, destined to rule something bigger than herself, and any place he had in her world would be gone.

For now, though, he held on tight, and felt like he was being stabbed every time she hitched a breath; held on silently, any emotional barriers he had shattered, and tried to fix it the only way he could. Tried to give her back her grin, her smirk, her stutter, her growl, her smile...

Her dreams.

In the end, though, all he could give her was an unspoken goodbye.