Disclaimer: Tamora Pierce owns it. 'Nough said.

A/N: This is a drabble in response to a prompt from TammyDrabbles on Live Journal. The title was the exact prompt.

FOR THE LAST TIME

Everything was definitely smaller – or well, that's how it seemed anyway. Doorways, credenzas, even vases seemed miniaturized by the version her memory had clung to. Perhaps that was the way memories were stored – tucked away in the corners of her mind where newer, fresher experiences fought for space, squeezing the older pictures until they became miniaturized. Aly thought she was lucky to see anything around her at all. This was not the happy visit she had fantasized so often aloud to her own children.

Why had she taken so long to return? Aly didn't know the answer. Perhaps there was not a single phrase that summed it up. On several occasions, he had told her that time gained momentum with years, but she had never believed him. The phenomenon might be something she could only understand by the direct experience that came with age. She knew now that it was absolutely true, and yet, she had been so wrapped up in her life that she'd not even noticed.

The room was sunlit and airy. She stood staring at a sunbeam carrying a parade of dust particles toward the rumpled bed in the corner. Aly knew he was there, but she needed a moment to prepare. Her mind held a portrait of this beloved man as he looked years ago, and it was about to be shattered.

"Little Aly, is that you," cracked the frail voice. Her mental preparations faltered at the call of her name. She looked before she was ready. He was thin and pale, a pitiful shell of wrinkled flesh and fine gray hair – no longer the embodiment of strength and wisdom her father had always been to her. She flew to his bedside against her will and knelt there, giving in to tears she'd promised her devastated mother would not be shed in his presence. She smiled as she thought of what his response would have been to that anyway – never make promises you can't keep, Aly Girl; you'll feel foolish and those around you will think your word is worthless. How many times had she heard him say that? And with the question, she realized that this visit was one such broken promise. It should have come much, much sooner.

"Why Da?" The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them. Her mother's explanation had not quelled her desperation to have him in the world for longer. Why would he tell his talented healer wife not to do any more to put off the Black God? She knew her mother's violet eyes had shed buckets of salt water over his decision.

"All lives end, Aly," he answered in that weakened timbre – a last slip of wisdom from lips that had shared so much knowledge now engrained in her core. "I always did like things on my terms." Were it not for the feeble voice, she might have laughed at the irony. Instead, she made a choking cough and only cried harder.

A rough hand enfolded hers lightly and patted. In younger days his grip had been strong and commanding, now it was brittle. "I can't tell you not to cry, Aly Girl, but don't scrunch your face so when you do it. It makes your nose look huge." His hazel eyes held a smile that his tired face could not sustain. Still, it was enough to make her laugh – and laugh she did, one last time.