Note: This was one of the first LJ community stories I ever wrote, this one for the 101 Kisses challenge ("Starlight"). For the curious, the title is a quote from the song "Theme from Love Story." ("How long does it last/ Can love be measured by the hours in a day/ I have no answers now but this much I can say / I know I'll need her 'til the stars all burn away") This story is set after the ending of THE SWORD OF THE SOUL, but this does not preclude me writing a sequel to that book. This is more a "what might be"...

'Til the Stars All Burn Away

I can hear the surf, the pounding of the waves on the rocks far below and the cry of the seagulls. Even as the moon begins to rise over the ocean, and exhaustion beckons me home, I remain standing on the rock and stare out at the sea.

And a star falls from the sky.

Was it only a year ago since that other star-filled night when I held her in my arms above the falls and brushed my lips to her hair as I gave her my warmth? A single year since she and I gave one another the strength to continue, to strive against hopeless odds in our own quests to find happiness?

And a star falls from the sky.

The walls of Kyuden Shiden'issen stand tall behind me, white banners snapping in the night breeze. Normally even this late, the halls are filled with activity, but tonight, everything is still.

And a star falls from the sky.

Footfalls approach from behind me, and a hand gently rests on my shoulder. I glance back and see Shichiroji standing there, staring at me with a worried expression.

"You shouldn't be out here all alone," he says softly, and I look away again.

"Do not worry about me," I murmur, staring out at the sea once again.

For a long time, neither of us say anything.

And a star falls from the sky.

"So beautiful," he muses, and I nod.

"Yes. It is."

And a star falls from the sky.

From behind us begins the sound of chanting, low and rhythmic. At first it is faint, but then, one by one, the others in the castle lend their voices until it resonates and fills the night. Shichiroji turns to look back over his shoulder, as I do, and we see several priests bearing small lanterns toward the lake near the family shrine. Behind them come several others - servants, retainers, family, honored friends.

All bearing lanterns.

And a star falls from the sky.

As they reach the pond, one by one, each lantern is set aflame and then released out onto the water. Shichiroji sighs and squeezes my shoulder once, then rejoins the others to take up a lantern of his own and set it free upon the lake. For a moment, I wonder what image he sees as the lantern floats away, what treasured memory he offers to the stars.
Soon the whole lake seems to glow and sparkle from the firelight of the lanterns as they blaze high and then fade.

In the light of each lantern, I see a memory of Nasami, image after image reaching for heaven as the sparks rise on the breeze before vanishing into the darkness.

I turn away... I cannot watch anymore.

As my composure finally breaks, a breeze chills the tears on my cheeks, and I would swear that I can feel the touch of her lips against mine and the sound of my name.

And a star falls from the sky.