A/N: Can't really think right now. I saw this pic in my email and...this came out. View the pic at my livejournal. And this isn't me saying 'you should really see this pic bcause it's awesome. It's not awesome. It broke my heart. But it inspired the fic and, well, you just have to see it. Please. Thoughts and comments welcome. Enjoy. -pj
Link: http: /pdljmpr-armada. livejournal. com/ (remove spaces)
Suggested Mood Music: Believe by Yellowcard
Disclaimer: I own nothing and express no political views. This fic is about life. Pure and simple. And how, sometimes, it can be hell.

"You've gotta be the man of the house now, son."

His father had told him that. And Eliot had looked up at him with big blue eyes and nodded bravely.

"Okay, Dad."

His father had smiled, ruffled his hair and nodded.

"And take care of your momma and your baby sister," he'd said, looking over at his mother's enlarged stomach, "they're gonna need you while I'm gone."

Again, Eliot had nodded. "I will, Sir."

His father had winked at him when he said it, something he'd started doing when Eliot told him he was too old for hugs now, and raised his hand in a salute, which Eliot returned smartly.

Then his father had risen to his feet, kissed his mother, told her not to cry, even though she already was, and then bent over to kiss her stomach. Eliot had watched it all stoically, being strong, just like his Daddy taught him. He'd had blinked hard to keep the tears at bay when his father swung his green duffel up onto his shoulder straightened his fatigues and got in his truck, honking as he drove away.

You've gotta be the man of the house now, son.

Eliot can still hear those words in his head now. Even over noise of the twenty-one gun salute. Over the sound of his mother's despair and his sister's crying. Over the sound of his blood rushing in his ears and his heart trip-hammering in his chest.

You've gotta be the man of the house now, son.

Eliot watches with watery blue eyes as the shiny wood coffin is lowered into the ground. Listens as the preacher promises a better life for his father now even though he can't figure out why life here with him right now was so bad. He smells the gunpowder as it settles on the air and decides he hates it, will hate it forever. He tastes salty tears as they slip through his lips and licks them away, forcing himself to take a deep breath.

You've got to be the man of the house now, son.

And men don't cry.

A man in dress blues and a white hat starts toward him and Eliot rips his gaze off the coffin to watch him approach. He recognizes him, his father's CO. He carries a smooth, folded flag reverently in both hands and Eliot feels his breath hitch.

The man takes a knee in front of him and Eliot swallows hard and purses his lips to make his chin stop trembling as he takes it. He watches the man's lips move, softly speaking a few sentences and Eliot wishes he could hear what the man was saying to him because it's probably important.

But he can't.

Because all he can hear is his father's words, bouncing around, echoing in his head louder and clearer now than even the first time he said them.

You've got to be the man of the house now, son.

Eliot looks down at the flag, watching as droplets of water he refuses to acknowledge drop from his chin to the fabric and soak into the red and white and blue threads.

You've got to be the man of the house now, son.

Eliot closes his eyes and chokes back a sob. How many times had his father said those words to him? How many times had he nodded and said he would?

And how was he to know that this time his father meant 'forever'?