Ashe feels the grass between her toes, the breeze at her face and the presence of those she loves surrounding her. They do this once a year on the same day – Basch's birthday – and though she does this more often than they, there is a weight about the event – the heaviness of knowing this will be the last time she stands with her family over her husband's grave and remembers him with them.

She knows she will not live another year. Her old, weary bones have made it ten years without him – ten long, lonely years – and she feels this is punishment enough for any sins she has committed.

A warm, desert breeze blows in from the Estersand, and Ashe closes her eyes, imagining that Basch is there, beside her, enjoying the sunshine and warm weather.

Larsa, who joins them when he can, pulls his graying hair back into a ponytail, and kneels before the grave beside Basch's –the one that reads Noah Gabranth. They have switched the headstones – Ashe insisted upon it.

Only in death can Basch reclaim his name.

She'd thought she would be prepared for life without him – she is older and wiser now – she'd know this was coming. They'd always known he would leave first, and sometimes she thinks he knew even when she was a child that he would leave her alone and she would have to fend for herself.

But Ashe had never imagined that she would feel so alone without him, even when surrounded by pieces of him – their children and grandchildren.

No, for Ashelia B'Nargin Dalmasca, there was no substitute for her knight.

"Mother? We should go back. You need your rest."

Ashe feels Larisa's hand at her shoulder. She nods, earning herself a hug of approval from her daughter, who needs rest herself. Her husband – Al-Cid's eldest – carries their firstborn, only a week old.

As the rest leave, bidding farewell to Basch, Ashe lingers at his grave. It should have become easier through the years to see it – to see her beloved's name etched into stone, as if he was no more than an assembly of letters – but it never has, and the weight of knowing the space beside him will soon be filled with everything that is left of hers crushes her in her brittle age.

Perhaps she has lingered too long, for she feels a small hand slip into hers, its tiny warm fingers reaching around her palm and pulling ever so slightly.

She looks down into familiar eyes – the only pair of eyes that bring her comfort in these days. They are the Gabranth eyes that broke Basch's heart the first time he saw them – the eyes of a then-infant that made the strong knight cry in his old age.

"Grandma? Are you coming?"

She smiles down at him – the ten year old boy Basch barely knew – Noah's eldest son. His light blonde hair shimmers in the sunlight as he bounces on the balls of his feet with boundless energy. He has grown into Basch's large hands and has come to smile like his grandfather more and more with each passing year.

Some days Ashe cannot look at him, but today it comforts her, knowing a large part of her and her knight will live on.

"I am coming."

"Will you come see my drawings? I made one for you."

"Lead the way, Basch," she says. She says the boy's name rarely, and she hopes that does not hurt him. He runs on ahead of her, grinning and dodging the graves, ever respectful, but ever energetic.

Ashe follows after him, musing that she has done this all her life – follow a Basch fon Ronsenburg of Dalmasca.

Basch watches Ashe – an invisible spirit forever at her side. She is leaning against her sink, washing her hands and staring into her reflection, searching, he imagines, for some remnant of the vibrance and flawless beauty she once held.

"You are still beautiful," he tells her, though she cannot hear his words. He cannot either. In this state he has no voice, and there is no one to hear. No one to care.

He endures it for her – for the moments, so few and far between, when she is closer to death and the energy around her ripples and he can reach out to her. She can never see him, but he knows she can feel him – knows when she freezes and takes deep breaths – knows when she whispers his name under his breath.

He endures this maddening silence and nonbeing for those moments that he knows bring her comfort.

It is enough.

He reaches out to touch her, to satisfy his own need for nearness, as she organizes the bottles on her counter. His hands are smooth and youthful to his eyes. He has no reflection, but he imagines he is as he was when he entered Dalmasca's knightly order.

Perhaps that is why he is as he is – it is Ashe's existence he is tied to. Perhaps he exists as she would remember him, as he knows she has always seen him.

She walks through him and it warms him, making him feel as if he is alive for only a second. It is torture, returning to his cold, lifeless state before he can enjoy the moment of heat and comfort she brings him, but he knows he is not here for himself.

He is here for her.

Ashe walks into her room, her strides no longer lengthy and powerful, but careful and calculated. It pains him to see her weakened – only in her latter years has she accepted her own limits – when he knows her spirit still possesses the same vigor and ferocity, the same gentle strength and tender beauty he had always loved.

He follows at her side, his hands clasped behind his back to prevent himself from reaching out to help her. He watches as she stops and looks about the room for something. He follows her gaze, trying to find what it is she seeks, for the moment lost in need to help her – forgetting that he cannot. It is not until she whispers the name that he feels his cold face crack in a smile.


He spots the bear on a distant shelf, up far too high for her to reach and too far away for her failing vision to see, and without considering his state, he walks to it and reaches for it.

His ghostly hand passes through the bear's body and he frowns. Basch looks back to her, standing frozen and helpless as she looks around with tears in her eyes. Surely some maid had moved the bear. Ashe would not have taken it from her bed, for it is what she clung to in his absence.

There are moments like these all too frequently.

In the stillness of the night Ashe begins to cry alone. It start slow with a slow trickle of tears sliding down her lined face, then becomes sobbing that Basch fears will break her frail body. He cries out in anger at his helplessness. He is worthless to her – beside her but unable to protect her from the pain of a lost friend.

He swipes at the bear over and over again, and his hand passes through it as Ashe's crying becomes louder, more pained, and she leans into her desk for support, knocking over an inkwell and a stack of books. They fall to the floor.

He grabs at the bear, yelling for it to come to him, as angry at him as he is the silence and darkness that surround him. A voice – a selfish one – rings in from the back of his mind, saying he should have moved on, that she would have joined him.

"I said I would stay with her," he says, reaching for the bear still, "and stay with her I shall."

Ashe gasps for air and Basch knocks Percival to the ground, where he falls, as lifeless as the spirit before him.

The energy has rippled before, but never like this. Never that he could touch something – effect the world around him. His eyes widen and he looks back to his princess.

Ashe clutches her chest, but her face is calm as she looks to the place where she had just seen motion. Her eyes scan the area, and then she spots it – Percival on the floor where he had not been only moments ago.

From somewhere deep inside, she pulls the energy to walk forward, to let go of the desk. She stumbles to the chair, and Basch keeps himself still, not wanting to startle her if he can indeed touch her. He watches her – so beautiful still, he thinks – as she comes to meet him, her silver hair falling from its clip into her face. She crouches and grasps Percival, but remains hung there until Basch caves and helps her stand. She gasps again at his touch and she knows she can feel him somehow. He feels a pounding in his chest, but surely it is not his heart – he has not felt a heartbeat in ten years.

Ten years that have been as long for him as they have for her.

She looks down at the bear, the color slowly draining from her face. He is old and worn – there are patches on his arms, and a stain still on his foot from the knight she lost him.

"Oh, Percival."

Her knees give, and Basch catches her and she rights herself, then holds herself still. She has truly felt him – she wears the look she always does when this happens – one of childlike wonder. It is a look he came to love long ago.

"Basch." It is not a question.

"Move to the bed," he whispers to her, and from somewhere she takes the suggestion. Together he ambles with her. He marvels at how he does not move through her.

She must be closer now than she has ever been before.

Together, they fall into her bed. She clutches Percival to her chest, and Basch lays himself at her side, looking into her face as she closes her eyes. The air is failing her, not making it into her lungs to keeping her heart beating. He is glad, in some ways – glad that she is coming to him, but he knows she does not want to leave their children or grandchildren, for she loves them so.

"They will be fine." He whispers the words, hoping she can hear them. Did he not take an oath years ago to comfort her when she was in need? "You have raised them well."

"Basch." Her voice is faint now, and he touches her face. He cannot cry – the emotion builds inside of him, and he fears he will explode until he sees a lock of her hair move at his touch. She is closer now, so close to him that he can feel her more and more.

"You're coming to meet me," he says. His voice breaks with emotion – happiness or pain, he does not know. "I'm waiting right here on the other side, princess. I'm right here. Don't you know I would never leave you?"

He sees a single tear slip from the corner of her eye, and watches as it rolls over the bridge of her nose onto Percival's small brown ear. He runs his hand over her side and feels her shiver – from his touch, or from death's hand? It does not matter. She will be with him soon, so soon.

He echoes himself as she lets her last sweet breath go, barely able to speak. She is taking him with her. "Don't you know I would never leave you?"

Ashe breathes out the stale air of her room in the palace, then breathes in the fragrant, earthy air of a field covered in dew. Her eyes snap open, and she is met with a blue, cloudless sky above, illuminated by a bright, midmorning sun sitting just atop the rolling hills at a distance. She sits up, her motions fluid, and finds herself surrounded by wildflowers, their colors brilliant as they sway in a gentle breeze. She takes one in her hand – a shade of violet so bright that she does not know the name – and notices the smooth flesh stretched over her long fingers.

She examines them, and then feels over her face. She is young again, and she is on her feet within seconds, admiring her long, unscarred legs, strong and smooth. She takes in a deep breath – deeper than she has been able to take in for years – and laughs, spinning around in a circle and feeling her white dress flow out around her. She is dressed as a princess again, for that is what she is. She stretches her arms out before her, admiring them not for their beauty, but for the memories they once held – children, grandchildren, friends and a man so wonderful that she aches when she examines her fingers.

The ring rests on her left hand, right where it belongs. She admires it as it gleams in the sunlight, then notices something move somewhere above her fingertips. She lowers her hands and looks into the distance at the hills.

A figure stands perched atop one, and when she listens she can hear its laugher – so familiar, so beautiful! It is a sound she has tried so hard to remember – one she clung to on cold nights – and one that is so much more beautiful coming from him than from her memory.

She walks towards him, the moisture from the ground covering and cooling her feet. There is no need to run – she can feel time stretching out forever around her, all wrapped up in endless choices for them. He walks down from the hill towards her and she notices the uniform he wears. It brings tears to her eyes.

He strides towards her as a Dalmascan knight, his sword at his side, the cape he wore long ago billowing behind him. He appears as she remembers him, and she grins as she has not grinned in ages

They meet in the middle in the basin of the hills, the sunlight washing over them, and she can think of nothing to say – no words that seem appropriate. She can only stare at him, look into his gorgeous eyes and see their lives in them and all the love they shared.

Words fail her until she realizes she is meeting him again, all over again, to start another existence – one without hardships, pain or distances. She smiles at him softly, tilting her head to one side as she drinks in the handsome sight of him again, as if it were the first time.

"My name is Ashe," she says, hearing her voice as it was upon their meeting. "What is yours?"

He draws his sword from his side – the flash of metal blinding her for a moment, and then she sees him grin. Tears appear on his perfect face as he reaches out to touch hers, wiping away the droplets that have betrayed the intensity of what she feels. She knows everything is okay when he touches her – that their children are fine, and that she is right where she belongs. She is with him, and he kneels before her as he once did many years ago.

"My name is Basch, my lady, and I am ever at your service."