-
--
---
A/N: I must say something at the beginning. This wasn't written as a character piece, or, well, as anything. I was listening to pretty music (Hiru no Tsuki from Outlaw Star, and Aeris's Theme from Final Fantasy VII in particular) and got the urge to write something pretty. This was not written for drama, or to be particularly fast-paced. I wrote to write, because I haven't been happy with anything I've been turning out, and when you're not enjoying it, then there's no point in doing it. So if you hate this, or don't finish it because you think it's boring, I'm sorry. I wanted it to happen, which matters more to me than if people review or not.

Too often we writers get so caught up in HEY! WE'RE WRITERS! that we forget why we do it. So I wrote a piece that's deliberately slow, deliberately descriptive, deliberately pretentious-sounding. Because you know what? I love language, and pretty words. That's why I write. It's beautiful to me. So there are a lot of pretty words here that don't necessarily add anything. Review if you want, but if you don't think it deserves a review, or you just hate it, okay. Good for you. I don't mind.

Now, to the actual story.
---
--
-

water-lilies

There's a fountain in a courtyard hidden deep in the palace. It's stone, and a little cracked on one side, with a short, slender pillar reaching out of the center, water running off of it, serene and quiet and elegant. There are flowers, water-lilies, floating in the bowl, but no one living remembers how they got there or what function they serve.

In fact, no one living remembers who built the courtyard, or who takes care of it (except, presumably, the person who does), but it is well tended. There is an apple tree in one corner, and a cherry tree stretching over the fountain, winding stone pathways kept impeccably clean leading through the space, and gray stone benches standing straight and proud, carved by forgotten masons in years long past. A cluster of birches stand guard near one entrance, ivy saunters over one wall, and roses bloom in the farthest corner.

Peaceful, untarnished by time, redolent with memory and elegance and grace - this is her best-kept secret and earliest recollection of her past. She remembers sneaking into this world one night, while her mother was clearing the pathways (it was her mother then, and she does it now, but no one knew it was here while she was gone, and it fell into disrepair, which hurts almost more than losing her country). Her mother was beautiful, ash-blonde hair and shaded gray eyes with long eyelashes and high cheekbones, and this is the only strong memory she can still call up of her.

She was kneeling at the fountain, white chemise spilling over the stones, fingers tracing the edges of a lily, and she smiled, and beckoned. Her mother told her the story of the courtyard, that a Queen many years ago - her name was Vivian, which was only important in that it wasn't, and the ordinary people should never be forgotten - had felt lonely in the stone walls, longing for the beauty of her home. So her husband built her this, set it away from prying eyes - because beauty ceases to exist when exploited, her mother explained - and tried to hire a caretaker, but Vivian refused. She wanted to keep her own piece of home, and made it a point to show her daughter-in-law where the garden was and how to keep it. Each successive queen added something to it.

Her mother had planted the water-lilies.

It is a contrivance, nothing that a ruling queen should bother herself with - because running the country is far more important, but all of her mothers had a husband to take much of the burden, and she has none - and yet she does. Partly because it is beautiful, partly because it is her mother's, and partly because it gives her time to think. She likes tending the garden, polishing the stones, cleaning the pathways. She does it at night, of course, when no one is looking for her, like her mother before her, and all of the others before her, she assumes.

While she was a leader of the resistance, trying to take back her own throne, she didn't think about it. With the worries of fighting and running and not thrusting her sword down Vaan's throat, she had no time to think of pretty things back home. So when she returned, it was decrepit, dulled and faded, rotting.

It has taken her months to recover the garden back to its former splendor. Months of nights that she knows would be better spent sleeping, preparing for another long day of politicking. But she doesn't think she could quite face all that peace entails without it. And somehow, she thinks that that might have been why Vivian asked for it so many years ago - because fighting for peace is nothing if peace doesn't exist within the palace walls. She would have quickly forgotten the lure of peace (because a queen never receives it, always meeting with advisors and suitors and foreign leaders and nobles and judges) had she never the chance to feel it.

It has been one year to the day since she was crowned Queen, and everyone - including the sky pirates, who have apparently brought their friends, making this quite the party - has shown up. She's already had to threaten Vaan with losing his hand if he didn't stop picking pockets. The boy is lucky that Penelo is with him and can keep him in check. One year to the day, and she feels like she should make a pilgrimage to the courtyard, because it is such a part of her past and represents so much of what she does here.

When she walks into the garden, the first thing she sees is Fran.

Had it been anyone else, she would have been absolutely furious, but Fran is a Viera, and as such, she must have a great respect for this sort of place, so she bites it back.

"How did you find this place?"

Fran doesn't answer immediately, instead trailing a long finger over the ivy-covered wall. She wanders slowly through the path, running a hand over all of it, before replying. "It was not hard. I simply walked."

Ashe sighs, feeling vaguely threatened. "This part of the palace is not open to guests. And you should be watching Balthier, anyway."

Fran doesn't acknowledge her dismissal, typical of the Viera, but that doesn't make it welcome. "It is beautiful. How long has this been here?"

"No one knows. A queen named Vivian had it built, but no one remembers when she ruled. Every queen adds something."

"What is your contribution?"

This question gives her pause. She likes gardening, but has never been one to look for pretty flowers to plant here. Fran is watching expectantly, but she has no answer. Not liking being caught unawares, she walks to the cherry tree and picks a blossom, twirling it in her fingers. Quietly, she says, "I have none, yet."

"Ah." It carries no weight, no unspoken condescension, which is somewhat infuriating, because she wants Fran to look down on her so she can have an excuse to get angry at this intrusion of her privacy. "What, then, was your mother's?"

"The water-lilies." Fran immediately turns to these, tracing a finger over them the same way her mother had, years ago.

"Where do they come from?"

"I don't know. She planted them before I was born."

"I have never seen flowers like these before." She says quietly. "How do they float? Do you know?" It seems an odd question, but then Ashe remembers that Fran also likes machinery. Strange in a Viera, a desire to know how things work, but Fran is like that. She likes to know what makes things move, how they do what they do, and why.

"No."

But Fran doesn't understand one thing, and that is that knowing means nothing. And that looking at the mechanics of life will not unravel its secrets, only entangle them more so. In order to live, to love, you have to step back and look at the picture as a whole, not the parts. Fran wants to know why the water-lily floats, and doesn't quite see the water-lily. She suspects that it has something to do with trying to escape her past - if she picks it apart enough, perhaps it will cease to define her. It is something they have all done, from Vaan to Vayne to Ashe herself. A defense mechanism, escape and then rip it apart until it makes sense and stops hurting.

Ashe doesn't mention this, and they make small talk for a while, until Fran finally goes, accepting that Balthier is probably rip-roaring drunk and making wild bets with Vaan by now, which someone has to intercept, because Penelo alone is not enough.

"Lily-of-the-valley." She says suddenly, as Fran is at the door. The Viera turns, and Ashe repeats herself. "Lily-of-the-valley. It grows in the North, little bell-shaped white flowers. They are some of the first to bloom in Spring. They were part of my bouquet at my wedding. I think I'll plant those."

Fran nods, and leaves Ashe standing there, a wind blowing her hair into her face and her dress around her ankles. Knowing means nothing, and picking life apart will not salvage it. A lesson they could all stand to learn.