Disclaimer: I don't own IPS or any of the characters.

Warning: Rated M for character death, adult themes, and angst. If those will upset you, don't read.

Author's Note: We have reached the conclusion. To everyone who has followed this story to the end, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for letting me share this story with you.

She says, "If I leave before you, darling,

Don't you waste me in the ground."

I lay smiling like our sleeping children

One of us will die inside these arms

Eyes wide open, naked as we came

One will spread our ashes round the yard.

Iron & Wine (Naked As We Came)


Cowboy boots sat next to the door of the college dorm room; their owner had slipped on a pair of Uggs for comfort before sitting down at the desk where a framed photograph sat, carefully placed like everything else in the newly inhabited room.

The eighteen year old girl looked at the picture lovingly as she pulled out some paper and a pen. How the two people in it looked like her - the woman's eyes were hers, as were her hands, sturdy and strong; from the man, the hair color and the slender shape of his face were her own. She was lonely for home. What she wouldn't give to be watching a Star Trek movie or Lord of the Rings with her dad right now… but college was something she'd been looking forward to, also, and she knew how proud he was of her.

And the woman… they had never met, but always, when she looked at that picture, she knew that woman was a part of her: her mother, Mary. She could feel their connection, and knew that had her mother lived, they would have had so much in common. She knew that her mother had loved her long before she was born.

She put pen to paper and began to write.

Dear Dad,

I know you just left for home yesterday, and I know I'll just end up calling you a long time before this letter gets home. I had to write anyway, because I know you're still at work, and I can't wait to tell you about my first day of college. Besides, you always say it's good to have something to hold onto.

My classes are awesome. I think my world history instructor's going to be a hard grader, but I know I'll be alright. In English composition, we were all asked to share a fact about ourselves as we made our introductions. I told them about how I can palm a basketball, just like Mom could.

I know she's with me, Daddy. I don't know how, but I can just feel it… I think about her and suddenly everything's warmer, like the sun started shining. I know she would be proud of me, like you always are.

Charlotte seems like it will be a really interesting place. I can't wait to explore, but don't worry - I'll be safe! I have my pepper spray that you gave me! But I should go now, because I've already been assigned a paper, and you always say not to leave it until the last minute.

Write me back! And say hello to everyone back home for me!

I love you, Daddy.

Love, Shannon

She tucked the letter into an envelope that was already stamped and addressed, from a stack of envelopes just like it that her father had given her. Her eyes fell on the photograph again, her long, elegant fingers reaching out to caress the image of the golden-haired woman. Those fingers, with nails always chewed to the quick… how many times had her father scolded her for that, shaking his head as he tried not to laugh? The corner of her mouth twitched up in a small half-smile that her father had told her many times made her look just like her mother.

She thought of her last day in Albuquerque; how her father had taken her to that place in the desert where her mother's memorial had been held all those years ago, and how together, all these years later, they had cast her ashes to the wind and sent them scattering into the arroyo below. Then, too, there had been that feeling of warmth, like the sun, that was Mary, always with her. It lifted her up inside even as tears had streamed down her face, matching her father's; unlike him, she didn't cry easily, but when it was called for... and in that, also, was her mother.

The warm feeling washed over her again as she looked at the photo.

"I love you, too, Mom," Shannon murmured softly, her smile spreading like light across her face. "I'll carry you with me, wherever I go."