The night sky was flooded with moonlight, and there was a time, she was sure, that she was there with him. Tear breathed in the fresh night air and, leaning against a rock for support, regarded the valley in its beauty and emptiness. The flowers that she so bitterly associated with him bloomed, but there was nothing more to be done. She had told herself that a thousand times. She was sure she would be the only one there—everyone else had new lives, new things about which to worry and certainly no time to lament, especially after three years had passed. She bit her lip and, though she had prepared herself for this visit, was unsurprised by the hot tears that ran down her cheeks once again.
The first week, all she could think to do was thank him—in her thoughts, in her memories and when she sat in her garden in Yulia City. She could not be sad—it was ungrateful. He sacrificed himself for a reason, didn't he? He would hate to see this. She would sit among those flowers for hours, waiting and hoping to wake up to his smiling face, so changed from the first time she set eyes on him. When she reflected on him, even when she thought she hated him, she would begin to cry again.
Several months passed. She couldn't simply sit and think forever—there was plenty to do. She traveled frequently, especially with her work restoring areas harmed by the miasma and by Van. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't stop being mad at her brother. He could still be here. He could be helping her. But he left her too. The resentment was, if inappropriate, there, and strong for both her brother and Luke. They had left her.
One year. She went to Baticul on the day it had happened. She walked by the palace ten, twenty times, but she could not see his parents. She could not see his grave.
Over a year had passed. She met Guy once while he was between working for His Majesty and establishing his residence in Chokmah. He smiled, but she, to her immense embarrassment, cried. He offered kind words of comfort, and she continued to repeat them to herself. "He is happy."
She had began working just for the sake of comforting herself—or distracting herself—from how alone she felt. She had friends and she corresponded from time to time with Natalia. She envied her so, the princess of a country doing such good for her people. She had lost someone as dear to her as Luke had been to Tear, but she was working so hard. She had so much to work for.
Two years had passed. The days were getting shorter and more cheerful—she was working hard now, and she began thinking of him less. She was partly angry at herself, but again and again she remembered: He is happy. He must be, she thought, especially when she got word of Anise's ascension to Fon Master. Look at the world he created.
Two and a half years. She was nineteen now. Knowing Luke was a different lifetime. She even went on dates now, but nobody interested her. Evidently she still loved him. Not such a different lifetime after all, she thought to herself.
Three years. She received a formal invitation three weeks before the third anniversary of losing Luke. She had planned to go and looked forward to paying her respects once again. She still missed him every day. After the note arrived, she dreamt they were there together, in the valley where they first met. He smiled and told her he loved her. She woke up alone.
Three years exactly, and the sun was shining. She dressed formally and conservatively, ready to meet everyone together again for the first time since she lost Luke. She stared at herself in the mirror and gave herself a reassuring smile, only half sure she was ready to re-confront the fact that she had lost the large portion of her heart that had been filled with her love for Luke. She left that morning for Baticul.
Upon entering the city, she began to feel painfully nostalgic. As she made her way to the top of the city, she felt tears welling in her eyes. How ridiculous, she thought as she wiped them away and continued on her way. When she was about to enter the garden, where his grave was, she stopped. She could see Natalia looking perfect, standing in front of his grave with a bunch of white flowers. Luke would be twenty years old now. Then Guy, to the far left of the enclosed area, smiling sentimentally. Tear stood still. "I-I can't… I can't do this…"
She turned around and left as fast as she could.
What are you doing, she asked herself. She recalled her worst days in the military. She should be a jaded veteran of such things by now. What else could she do?
Three years after she had lost him, that night. Tear breathed in the fresh night air and, leaning against a rock for support, regarded the valley in its beauty and emptiness.
She heard footsteps behind her. Natalia and Guy arrived together.
"Tear!" Guy called out cordially, smiling. Tear couldn't believe how strong they were. Tear smiled and waved.
"I didn't expect to see you here tonight. I'm so glad you're here, too," Tear's voice was quiet but sincere. Jade was apparently several paces behind Natalia and Guy. He approached the small reunion quietly, nodding at each of the three.
"Hello, Tear," he extended a hand. Tear took it and could feel the hotness of tears in her eyes again.
"Colonel, thank you."
Several minutes passed with informal chatter between the four. Jade had retired from military service and was working on regulation and perfection of replica technology. Guy was working for the Emperor in Chokmah and living as a noble in the city. Natalia discussed her work as a politician. Tear smiled and said several words about her work as a Yulian ambassador of sorts. After several seconds of silence, Natalia quietly interjected. "It's hard to believe he's… they've… been gone for so long…"
Before anyone could respond, another person approached, hurrying and stumbling. Anise arrived and greeted the group.
"Sorry I'm late! I didn't know whether everyone was going to be here, but the Colonel told me today that he was planning on paying his respect here, too…" Jade pushed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose and cleared his throat.
"I had no idea you all were coming. I didn't know what else to do. I guess I wanted… to sing for him again," Tear explained. Though she had hardly planned to go to the valley to sing, the idea of doing so suddenly seemed extremely attractive to her. Guy gestured for her to begin and she blushed. She made her way back to the boulder on which she had been leaning and lifted herself onto it. This is all I can do, she thought. This is it.
The song came from her almost like a reflex. The melody that filled the air felt entirely external, and the time it took seemed to last only a fraction of a second as well as a lifetime. Anise crossed her arms and looked down; Natalia's eyes were fixed on Tear; Guy was deep in retrospection; Jade was looking into the distance. The final note resonated in the air and finally stopped. Tear let a hand fall limply onto her chest as her voice cut off. Several silent moments passed among the group.
"You didn't come," Natalia suddenly interjected. Tear's heart sunk as she recalled the events from earlier that day. She remembered the rush of emotions she had felt, how ridiculous it had been to leave and how guilty she had felt for doing so. "I believe your presence was requested at Luke's coming-of-age ceremony at the Duke's manor."
Tear couldn't handle the guilt, and yet she could not tell Natalia what had happened. Guy noticed Tear's downward glace as she was overcome again with discontentment. He was prepared to ask Natalia not to bring it up—Guy knew how hard it had been on Tear.
"I'm not interested in some ceremony in front of Luke's grave," Tear explained quietly. At this point she had no more tears to shed—she felt defensive and guilty.
"That's why the both of you came here, isn't it?" asked Anise in an attempt to clear up any tension between the two.
"He said he'd be back, so let the other sit around and tell stories at his grave. But I won't be joining them," said Guy, looking up at the stars again. He regretted saying it almost as soon as it was out of his mouth, but it was true—he had never really let go of hope of seeing Luke again. It may have been ridiculous—after all, it had been three years—but maybe it's the only way to get through it, Guy had thought to himself on so many occasions.
"We should be heading back soon," said Jade, dismissing Guy's comment in somewhat of an attempt to ground everyone. "The valley is dangerous at night." Jade's guilt would never disappear. Luke's death, after all, would never have had to have happened if he had just stayed away from such things in the first place. The day Luke died, Jade wanted to disappear. He felt it again when he saw Tear, so torn up and so lost without Luke. It was his fault, after all.
As if she had suffered a blow to the chest, Tear felt the momentary hope from Guy's comment disappear instantly with Jade's scathingly real comment. He was gone. He was gone and now we have to leave him. I have to leave him here now. Tear's breath became hitched, but she was too tired to cry anymore. The only thought on her mind was forgetting. How ridiculous it was to think even for a second he could come back, just for my sake. She turned around, preparing to follow the only other people she was sure were missing Luke almost as much as she was.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a figure in the distance. The moonlight provided only the vaguest of silvery outline and she squinted to see. The figure, though, was so familiar… his hair trailed down his shoulders in a vibrant shade of red. His posture, the way he walked… how could this be? Tear breathed in, prepared to awaken from another dream, but she couldn't take her eyes off of the approaching man. She hopped off the boulder, landing softly in the dewy green grass. Those green eyes were unmistakably his. She was too doubtful to run to him. Life was never so kind to her as to let her meet Luke—meeting him again was out of the question.
"Why are… you here?" she asked, surprised at how demanding she sounded.
"This place has a nice view of Hod," the man spoke in a voice that Tear had yearned to hear for the past three years. The words fell upon her ears gently and she was breathless. "And also…" Luke said, looking Tear in the eyes for the first time in so long, "I promised someone."
Tear whimpered once, feeling the tears coming down her cheeks once again as she went to him. The feeling of wholeness was so strong. No matter what may have happened, no matter what she may have lost, she knew, the moment his strong arms were wrapped around her, that she was whole and he was home.