Yet again she stood alone. The sun was high above her, but she barely felt its heat, lost as she was in thought. The honour guard of Preventers had long since left, taking with them the flag she'd refused to keep. The last brazen notes of Taps still echoed through her mind, though the trumpet that had keened them was now in a case somewhere, on its way back to headquarters.

It had been magnificent. There had been more people there than she'd ever imagined would be. All gone now. Everything gone. She turned as a gentle hand touched her on the shoulder; turned to look at the woman who should have been her daughter. Who was her daughter. There were still tears in the blue eyes, so much like her father's, but the greying red hair was perfectly in place and the dark suit was immaculate, as befitted a politician.

"I'm sorry, Mother. He was a good man." Une wanted to shake her, to scream: 'He was the closest thing you ever had to a real father. He was my husband! And all you can say is you're sorry? Don't you know how empty that sounds?' She didn't. She kept her voice even.

"Yes. He was."

She didn't say anything more, returning her empty gaze to the mound of dark earth strewn with sweet peas. The delicate flowers had always been Rémi's. Her eye was caught by a flash of red amongst all the paler blues and pinks, and she bent creakily to pick up the rose. Roses belonged to Treize, and they always would. Straightening with difficulty, she played with the flower, twirling it between her fingers before snapping off the stem to make it more manageable and tucking it securely behind her ear. It was blood red, and somehow that fitted her sense of continuity. It seemed appropriate for the occasion.

"I'm leaving now, Mother. I have to get back. Please come with me?" She remained silent, her features composed. "Please?"

"I'll be all right, 'Meia. Go home."

"But – all right. Are you sure -?"

"Yes, dear."

Marimeia slumped a little, then bent to kiss her mother's cheek gently.

"If you need anything…" The younger woman trailed off. There wasn't any need to finish the sentence – she'd said it a million times before, and Une had never once taken her up on it. Wordlessly, she left. Une did not watch her go. She had other things occupying her mind.

It was strange. When Treize had died, when they'd told her that they couldn't even find a body to give her, she'd felt an incredibly strong grief. She'd been unable to function for weeks, crying incessantly when awake and waking up screaming every night. She'd come to terms with it eventually, but it had been one of the hardest things she'd ever done. Whereas with Rémi, she just felt numb. She'd grieved, yes, but there had been none of the ripping sense of loss and anguish, just a vague feeling of floating outside of her body, watching it move and speak without her guidance. She contemplated the wound in the earth for a few more moments, then turned and left without looking back.

* * * * * * *

She walks. Unaware of the setting sun, oblivious to the pain in her aged body, she meanders without any goal, with no thoughts in her mind, no knowledge of anything save for the fact that she is walking. The hem of her black skirt is shredded, her one remaining stocking hangs sodden with mud and in tatters to her ankle, and the soles of her feet are raw and bruised. She has lost her shoes long ago, formal uncomfortable things, now lying with broken heels and cracked soles somewhere far behind her. She is cold and shivering, but she doesn't notice.

She doesn't notice anything. She walks.

The dusk is casting a soft blue light over the world, blurring the harsh edges and straight lines that surround her into fuzzy impressions of themselves, creating an intricate patchwork of shadows stretching forever. A strong breeze comes up, whipping her silver hair from the remnants of a tight bun and into her face, carrying a faded pink hair ribbon with it. It flutters before her eyes for a moment before falling limply into a puddle at her feet. Finally, she stops walking, captivated by the flash of pale pink against the blue tinged green of the grass. A thin hand, too-big wedding ring hugging its third finger, reaches hesitantly up to touch her hair. The questing fingertips still suddenly upon encountering the rose she placed there earlier, somehow still with her. Then they resume, absently caressing the drying petals as she stoops to collect the thin piece of silk from the ground.

She holds it gently, allowing it to lie flat across her palm. Something stirs within her mind. The ribbon is special to her, and her fingers close across it one at a time. It is the same colour as her chipped nail polish, miraculously unstained and hardly damp. She stares at it, a faintly puzzled expression in her cloudy brown eyes as she tries to figure out its significance. The breeze returns, bringing with it the faintest ghost of a violin, playing one-two-three, one-two-three, and her lips part in a wistful smile.



Strong arms wrap around her waist, and she gives an involuntary star as a voice – an impossible voice, his voice – whispers tenderly in her ear.

"Look, Lady. The stars themselves are dancing."

She turns, afraid of the empty space logic tells her she must find there. But the hands caressing her waist are solid, and her now-clear brown eyes meet sparkling blue as she completes her spin. He smiles down at her, young and handsome and impossibly there. Smooth lips part, and the rich voice she remembers so well strokes her.

"Lady." She finds a voice.

"Lord."

"You look as beautiful as ever, Lady." She starts to demur, to protest that she is old and faded, no longer the woman he knew, but then looks down at herself as she realises that she doesn't feel nearly as tight anymore, that her limbs are like water. The smile explodes across her face, dimpling soft cheeks, and she executes a pirouette of joy. Thick brown hair trails behind her, and her feet are light on the ground. Her black clothes have lengthened, becoming a soft white gown that floats in the breeze, hugging her curves and newly firm breasts. She isn't shivering anymore, despite the lighter clothing.

She laughs incredulously, and he smiles at her delight and glances upwards. She follows his gaze, and the stars she saw were spinning in a stately progression. The lone violin broadens to include other sounds – the rustle of trees, the howl of wind, the swish of the waves on a stony shore, supporting the violin, deepening the sound until it thrums through her very bones. The music is the voice of the Earth.

He smiles and takes a step forwards, bowing and wordlessly extending a white-gloved hand to her. Without hesitating, she curtseys and takes it, and he whirls her into a dance. She's never danced this waltz before, never heard this music, but her grass-stained feet follow the steps unerringly. A new sound winds itself into the song, and as she looks up she realises that it is the stars themselves, singing glorious arpeggios, exulting in being stars.

The dance becomes more and more intricate, reminiscent of willows bending near a lake, of a rose opening, of a hawk soaring over mountains. The song falls in love, gives birth, dies, is trapped and explodes with the exaltation of being alive. She feels buoyed by it, and at the same time is drowning in the depths of his eyes. He whispers to her,

"Look up." and she does, and gasps in wonder. The stars seem so much closer. She looks at her feet, realising that she no longer feels the softness of the grass as her feet step, one-two-three, one-two-three. They're flying, up and up and up, and she looks at him, suddenly afraid.

"It's all right, Lady." He kisses her, still whirling in the dance.

A young man, walking his dog in the park the next morning, finds her wrinkled form lying crumpled on the grass with a bit of ribbon clutched in her hand and a dead rose by her side. Her eyes are open, staring at the sky with a childlike expression of awe, and she is smiling.

~Owari~