Author's Note: As an author, but more importantly as a military wife, today holds a special significance for me. When I married my soldier husband almost a dozen years ago, the world was a safe place. When we went to bed at night, there were no secret fears of what tomorrow might hold. Ten years ago that changed for all of us. And our world will never be the same.
There is a Steep Price For What We Believe
Her fingers curled into her hand, her nails digging into the skin of her palm, a reminder that she could still feel something. But it was indeed more pain. Swallowing hard, she blinked against the sting in her eyes and fought the tears threatening to fall.
She wouldn't do this. Not here. Not now.
Holding her breath, she watched the uniformed men in their crisp suits with sharp creases carrying the flag draped coffin to the platform. Even now, the whole experience seemed surreal. Had it only been five days ago that she'd heard his voice, so strong and clear from half a world away? How had the world changed so much between then and now?
She sat numbly through the half hour service, surrounded by her quasi-family. She felt each concerned gaze linger on her face, assessing her for weakness, ready to lend support on a moment's notice if she would only let them. Straightening her spine as the chaplain concluded the brief ceremony, JJ forced herself to breathe deeply and reminded herself once more that it would be over soon.
She knew the apple hadn't fallen far from the tree. Her brother had despised funerals, too, and she had no trouble imagining him standing at the gates of Heaven ordering them to all get on with the show. Drawn sharply from her fanciful thoughts as the first rifle shot sounded, she jerked involuntarily in her seat, automatically reaching for the hand of the man beside her. Closing her eyes tightly as the salute to her fallen brother continued, she mentally counted the shots, refusing to open them again until the last had been fired.
Goosebumps rose against her skin as the lonely, haunting melody of Taps filled the clear air around them, nearly suffocating her with finality, weighing down her already shattered heart. Gripping his hand tightly as the bugler's last note hung in the air, she silently congratulated herself on not dissolving into hysterical tears.
A lone tear drop rolled down her cold cheek as the officer in charge knelt in front of her, his gray eyes solemn as he pressed the folded flag into her nerveless hands. "On behalf of the President of the United States and the people of a grateful nation, may I present this flag as a token of appreciation for the honorable and faithful service your loved one rendered this nation."
And that quickly, it was over. Widened eyes dropping to her lap, she shook her head in shock. Her brother had given his life...made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, and this was his family's reminder.
A folded flag.
She'd given them her only brother, and in his place now, she had a flag.
Bending her head, she squeezed her eyes closed as she heard people shuffle by her, offering condolences and whispered words meant to comfort, each one leaving her colder and more disconnected than the last. Why did no one realize that no words could dull this pain? No platitude could fill the void in her heart.
"Jen?" his deep voice broke into her chaotic thoughts, slowly drawing her back from the precipice of madness only grief could bring.
Lifting her head, she forced herself to open her eyes. Glancing around at the now empty cemetery, she whispered, "It's over?"
"It's just us now," David Rossi murmured, squeezing her icy hand again, trying to infuse the limb with some of his warmth.
Staring at the coffin in front of her, her eyes filled again. "I want to know why," she bit out shakily, crumpling her handkerchief in her hand as a wave of bitterness assaulted her. "I want to know what this was all for! What was the goddamned point of all this?" she asked, choking on a rising sob as she clutched the flag tighter to her heart. "He could have done anything! Anything," she cried out angrily, her breaths coming in rapid succession.
"You know why your brother chose to be a soldier, JJ," Dave said softly, sweeping his thumb back and forth across her hand. "He did it for the nearly three thousand souls this country lost on 9-11. Because of men like him, no tragedy like that will touch our children's lives again. He did it for the soldiers standing to the left and right of him."
"His brothers," JJ whispered tightly, memories of photographs she had seen of her brother's team floating in her mind. While they might have been the last relative each had left, she knew that he counted those men his kin.
Nodding, Dave continued, "Brothers in blood rather than by blood," he agreed. "Your brother was convinced that the sacrifice he was making was worth any cost he had to pay. He was a hero, Jennifer," he said with quiet vehemence.
"A hero?" JJ sobbed, the words forced out with vehemence as she shook her head rapidly. "What the hell kind of heroic death was that? They shot him in a dirty alley in some godforsaken village in Afghanistan, damn you! They killed my baby brother, Dave! For what!"
"I don't know. The only thing I'm sure of is that he gave his life up to keep us safe. He made that sacrifice for each one of us. No matter where he died or what he died doing, nothing changes that fact."
"It isn't fair," she breathed raggedly, clutching the flag to her chest as she rocked back and forth on the metal chair. Her balance seemed more precarious with each passing second as the legs of the chair sunk deeper and deeper into the soft ground.
"No, it isn't," Dave agreed, wrapping an arm around her quaking shoulders as the tears coursed down her cheeks, the corkscrew that had been tightly compressing her emotions finally dislodged, allowing a torrent of emotion to escape in a flood. "Nothing about this is fair." Pressing his lips to her forehead, he whispered, "What do you think that he'd tell you if he could, JJ? If he was here, what would he say?"
"That he died the most honorable death any warrior could...giving his life so that another could live," JJ said huskily, frantically wiping at her tearstained cheeks. "He wouldn't want me to mourn him, but celebrate what he'd done."
"James Garfield said that for love of country they accepted death," Dave quoted, his voice gentle as a breeze ruffled the dried leaves on the ground. "There can't be anything more self-sacrificing than that."
Inhaling deeply, JJ nodded. Grimly facing her brother's coffin again, she slowly rose and walked toward it on shaky legs. Reaching out, she laid a trembling hand upon the shrouded wood. "Thank you," she whispered, the words renting her heart. "We'll never forget, Alan. I know it wasn't in vain," she vowed softly.
And as the darkened clouds in the gloomy sky above parted for a moment, JJ felt the warmth of a ray of sunshine on her face, bathing her in a moment of serenity.
And somehow, she knew, her brother had heard every word she'd said.
Author's Note: Hello Readers! We would like to encourage each reader and author alike to participate in nominating their favorite fics and authors for the second annual "Profiler's Choice CM Awards 2011! The nomination ballot, rules and category summaries can each be found at "Chit Chat on Author's Corner" Forum. To reach that post, please either take a trip to the forum itself OR links are provided on the profile pages of ilovetvalot, tonnie2001969, OR Profiler's Choice CM Awards. Nomination ballots should be pm'd to Profiler's Choice CM Awards ONLY. That link is also provided on the forum or through the profile pages listed above. We look forward to hearing from each of you!
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