The snow fell, dreamily, drifting down from the dove-grey bowl of the sky, past the darker grey of mountains and trees, and it was beautiful, she thought, so beautiful. Why hadn't she noticed it before? Too busy, she answered herself. As a soldier deployed to unstable parts of the Empire, she'd quickly learned to assess the world around her for threats- whether from deserters or the instability of landscapes ravaged by war- anything not a threat or a civilian in need was unimportant to the mission, and if it wasn't important to the mission then it was dismissed. She was a soldier, dammit, not a tourist. There was work to be done, always so much work. And it was never enough, she admitted. There were always more hungry children, more desperate women, more embittered men, more, more, more and it left her heartbroken, though she'd admit that only to herself, and only in the lonely hours of the night when that broken heart wouldn't let her sleep.
I should be cold, she thought abruptly, puzzled, out in the snow, staring up at the sky. Should be, but wasn't. She needed to move, and get up, and go, and do, and be Alice Lee Malvin, 2nd Lieutenant and platoon leader of the Pumpkin Scissors. But she was warm, she realized, and sleepy, and it was so beautiful, and the beauty overwhelmed duty for once, and so she drifted, blinking as snowflakes lighted, gentle as butterflies, on her eyelashes, and washed her cheeks, mixing with something warmer. Tears, she realized in surprise, I'm crying? But why, she wondered, why would I cry when the world is so beautiful, and I'm so warm?
From the corner of her eye, she noticed another colour, startling against the monochromatic palette of the soft grey world around her, and turned her head, slowly, to get a better look. Red, dark red, so much of it covering the pristine blanket of snow around her, the blanket that was slowly covering her as she lay in the embrace of the soft, quiet, grey world.
My mother often wore grey, she remembered. When I asked her why she liked it so much, she said because it was the colour of peace, of stillness. And then she laughed and said that it definitely wasn't the colour for me. "Red for you, Alice darling, red with all its boldness and daring".
The red was curling away from her, Alice noted detachedly, stitching further and further across the snow, like the ribbons her mother had used to tie back Alice's braids. Her mother, who wore peaceful grey and smelled like lilies, lilies as white as the snowy blanket gently tucking itself over her.
Lilles, she thought, lilies. There's something that I need... to remember.
Lillies were her mother's favorite flowers, and Alice always took them when she visited her mother's grave. But... that wasn't it. There was something else that she needed to remember.
A face flashed into her mind, a young girl with black hair and wide, frightened eyes, mouth opened in a scream. Lili, Alice thought. I remember now.
And Alice did remember: the cold flash across the back of her neck, the knowledge that they had to get down NOW. She remembered pushing Lili out of the way, shielding her subordinate with her own body. The crack of the rifle, muffled by the woods and snow, the impact of the bullet as it tore its way through muscle and ground its way through bone, the absolute insult of the pain as she fell, still shielding Lili... she remembered it all now. More than that, she remembered ordering Lili to run, to hide, to be safe. After Lili had gone, saying she'd get help, Alice had turned onto her back with the thought that the pressure and snow would staunch the bleeding, drawing her dagger as she did, and hiding it under her hip. If the bastard who shot me comes close enough, he'll been in for a surprise, she'd thought grimly, smiling.
But now it seemed so unimportant, she thought, content to drift in the warm, grey, lily-scented lap of the world, with the downy feathers of snow covering her tired body, and the red ribbons curling gently away from her.