Therefore Perfect

(she was dead, and therefore perfect.)

When he woke, Sarah was slumped over him, arms circling him protectively as though she was a mother cradling her child, even though he was taller than she was and almost twice as old. Around them lay the ruins of a ruins, the hard stone beneath them cracked into pieces that shifted under his hand as he moved. Hardly a wall was left standing, and above them, the sun was creeping west.

If they hadn't been out in the open, he knew, he would have died. If Sarah hadn't been there, he would have died. He struggled free of her embrace and pulled himself upright; for the first time, he could see the red stain on the back of her dress, where falling rubble had gashed through the cloth and crushed her spine.

Her eyes were closed and her face, peaceful. He had damned her without ever meaning to, but her death had punished her for her wrongs, real and imagined--she was transformed; she was absolved of sin. She was beautiful. Ignoring the deep, spreading ache somewhere in his chest, he stood.

Somewhere beneath piles of stone was an exit.

He carried her in his arms, limp like an oversized doll, her hair sweeping messily over her face--a veil for the dead. It might have been easier to sling her over his back, but she was a lady and he'd always respected that, and she was never meant to suffer such indignity. It might have been easier to just drift off again, close his eyes and leave them where they lay, picturesque and dead together, but she was a lady, and this was no sort of tomb for her. That was what he told himself as he walked.

He'd had to learn how to walk, once. He remembered it clearly: a pale hand reaching to him into the darkness, pulling him to his feet. The trick was to take steps one after another, but still, unused to his body, he kept falling. She was patient as she led him out of the palace one step at a time, her own pace steady and sure, even though she was two eyes blind and her third eye was blinder. The Circle Palace was a labyrinth of rooms and corridors radiating from the center, and every time he thought they had reached an exit, all they found was another passageway.

It had felt a little like he did now, although circumstances were perhaps different. No one to take him by the hand, this time, and Sarah leaning against the remains of a wall, as he broke marble and granite into pieces with magic and flung them aside with his hands. His gloves were white with dust and every blast made him lightheaded and dizzy, but he cleared through obstruction after obstruction, until end of the corridor was swallowed by darkness and not stone, then took Sarah in his arms again.

It was a good thing she was so light, or he probably wouldn't have been able to pick her up like this and continue stumbling forward. He'd never asked her to, but she'd worn herself to the bone for him and his cause anyway. Perhaps she did it because he'd never asked.

Nothing but the ruins themselves barred his way--everything living had already fled, or died, or been dismissed by the fading of Sarah's power. No one would come looking either, he knew. Harmonia wanted him, and the very idea that a Bishop could be a traitor, forgotten. The Grasslands and Zexay had their own lives and countries to rebuild. It was getting hard to breathe in the still, dust-choked air, but he kept walking. One step at a time, the way he'd learned to always do things. One step at a time.

When he broke through to the open, it was already night, all cool breeze and the sound of insects and owls. He almost wept with relief, but didn't, just sat down, Sarah's head resting in his lap. Tugging his gloves off, he brushed her hair back, running his left hand through it until it lay smooth and in place. Her blood had coloured his sleeves a darker shade of brown, but he didn't care, just placed a hand against her cheek, something like a lover's caress from one unused to such gestures. Her skin was smooth, and pale, and cold.

Far and away, something howled, deep and mournful to the moon.

He buried her beneath a cypress tree at midnight. He dug the grave with bare hands; the soil was soft and damp and gave easily, but even so, it was difficult and by the time he was done, his hands were scratched and raw. By the time he finished, he was almost panting, deep ragged breaths that did about as much good as inhaling water would have. He coughed, then wiped at his mouth. It felt wet, and when he looked down, blood was mixed with the dirt on his palm.

Kneeling in the soil by her side, he kissed her twice. Once upon the forehead, a benediction from an elder, once upon her lips. The red smudge he left there looked perfectly natural, as though she had applied it herself, a splash of colour to contrast her skin and hair. He arranged her carefully in the grave, hands above her heart, clothes straightened and as neat as he could get them.

He left his gloves in the grave, with her, a gift to send her through to the otherworld, and he couldn't watch as he threw dirt back into the ground. A thought occured to him then, sudden and crazy, that perhaps he could have spent eternity with her, if he'd known how. But it never would have worked, he knew. He was only a little in love with her now because she was dead, and had died for him, and because he was dying.

He was leaning heavily against the cypress tree for support as he worked, and when the last of Sarah was covered, he slid down the side, the bark rough against his back. He could barely see the stars through the leaves above him--a hundred and eight for war and destiny. Thousands more with meanings that he never knew, and never would. The stars had always been his mentor's domain.

Destiny. He felt like he should hate the word, but he found, to his own surprise, that he didn't. He had tried, and he had failed, and he was dying; there were worse things in the world. There was a metallic taste in his mouth that reminded him of regret, and his rune was an angry buzz beneath his skin. He ignored both. Tilted his head back and up, trying face the sky again. Took a breath. Closed his eyes, and flew.