The Strong Are Few
Rifiuto: Non Miriena
Summary: I have seen what man can do when the evil lives inside of you. Many are the weak and the strong are few. But with the water, we'll start anew. Won't you take me down to the river? We're gonna wash our souls clean... A trip to Arlington brings up painful memories for Jo, and forces her to reconsider her life's work.
Stones gleamed in the sun; the grass was fresh and mowed. Statues stared blind at the passersby. The Eternal Flame blew in the wind, protecting the Kennedys; visitors watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. And a group of school children followed the sound of footsteps, getting away from their teachers and tour guides...
They came upon Section Sixty-One, to see a military funeral taking place.
Two lines of chairs were set up on either side of the casket, and the children watched as four families gathered around the casket all dressed in black. "Come on, all of you-" But everyone stopped, at the sight of three people in military dress.
"Look! Children!" One of the kids cried, pointing. A gaggle of children and teenagers joined their parents.
"One of them lost a parent." One of the teachers said, covering her mouth in shock.
Down in Section Sixty-One, the Lupo and Donovan families gathered to bid farewell to one of their own. Zane took his wife's hand, squeezing gently. The white glove that covered her small fingers didn't hide the gold wedding band on her finger, and he ran his thumb over the imprint, before bringing her hand up and kissing it. She gave him a sad smile, before glancing behind her. Jasmine Lupo clutched her oldest daughter's hand tight. Once they reached the casket, everyone settled in their seats with the exception of Jo.
"Remember what Daddy and I told you about manners at Uncle Ricco's funeral?" She asked, kneeling before her five children. Her middle child, Ashlynn, reached out, running her fingers over her mother's smooth hair. It had taken Jo two hours to get her long dark hair in the tight black bun, because her fingers had shook so badly. In the end, Zane had had to do her hair, running his fingers in the familiar silky strands as he pulled it back, whispering soft words of encouragement to her. She'd let Zane dress her in her military uniform- the dark blue pants, white blouse and her jacket, decorated with her awards, as was required for all funerals.
She knelt before her children now, looking into each of their faces. She held her hat tucked beneath her arm, her medals and awards decorating the breast of her jacket. Her younger son, Ashton, reached out, running his fingers over the purple heart hanging on his mother's jacket. She gave him a small smile, before reaching out and wrapping them each in a tight hug. "Be good, okay my darlings? Uncle Ricco is watching."
"What about Uncle Davie?" Kelly, their youngest asked. Jo nodded.
"And Uncle Davie." She whispered. Then, she stood, turning to her husband. Zane reached up, gently wiping a tear off her cheek. He wrapped her in his arms, rubbing her back.
"I'm so sorry, Jojo." She buried her face in his neck, tangling her gloved hand in his hair.
"Thank you, Zane." He kissed her gently, before letting her go. He joined their children, settling down as the funeral began. Taking a deep breath and squaring her shoulders, Jo moved to join her remaining family members. Her father and her remaining brother, Tomas, stood waiting for her, dressed in their military finest. The three stood at attention as Davie's commander made his way towards them, accompanied by General Mansfield and Captain Shaw.
"Colonel, Major Lupo. Sergeant Donovan." Mansfield nodded to each in turn. Jo glanced at her husband, pride blooming in her chest that she had Zane's name. "Captain Lupo's passing is... a loss to all of us." The three nodded, not letting their grief show. The funeral began, a quiet affair. The school children and their teachers stood in silence, listening from their perch, watching as the twenty-one gun salute was started. They watched from their birds' eye view as the flag was folded and presented to Jasmine, along with a Purple Heart.
Tears stung Jo's eyes, and she took a deep breath, feeling her own Purple Heart against her breast. She glanced sideways at her father and brother; two children dead, two awarded the heart, two left to suffer survivor's guilt. Another family ripped apart; a clan brought tighter together thanks to death. She looked up, catching movement out of the corner of her eye, and saw the school children and their teachers standing above, watching the funeral take place. They stood, hands over their hearts as the rest of the Lupo clan stood.
"Ah ten, hut!"
Zane watched with tears in his eyes as his wife removed her hat and slipped it beneath her arm. He watched as her back went rail-straight, and she raised her hand to her forehead, along with her brother and father; a final salute to a man that was more than just a soldier, but a father, a husband, a brother. As the funeral broke up, leaving the immediate family gathered around the casket, Zane made his way to his wife, laying a hand on her waist. She watched through her tears as Jazzie clung tight to Carla, the flag and medal clutched within her grasp.
"Mommy?" She turned to stare into her oldest's eyes, before pulling away from her husband and going to the casket. She reached out, laying a hand on the smooth wood, the tears she'd tried so hard to hide dripping onto the casket.
"I'm sorry, Davie." She collapsed, her knees going weak, and she leaned forward, pressing her forehead against the smooth wood. She didn't hear the camera click, didn't realize that the image of her in front of her brother's casket, lost in her grief, would make front page news in the next few weeks. Didn't realize that the photograph of a sergeant grieving at her brother's burial would haunt the children watching from above. Didn't realize that over the next few years, the children would try to seek out the woman at her brother's casket.
Moments passed, before she felt strong hands help her to her feet. She turned in her husband's arms, burying her face in his chest, letting her grief take hold. When she was finally able to take a breath, she turned, accepting Jasmine into her arms. When the women broke apart, Jasmine's eyes traveled down to her sister-in-law's chest, landing on the Purple Heart. "I had no idea, Jo."
"No one but Dad and my brothers and... Zane knew." Jo replied, brushing tears off Jasmine's cheeks. Moments passed before the clan started to leave the cemetery. As they passed by the school children, Jo stopped and turned. The kids stood silent, hands up to salute the soldiers passing by. Her oldest son wrapped his arm around his mother's, keeping close to her, ever protective of her. She glanced down at her son, squeezing his hand. One of the teachers spoke up, directing her gaze at Jo.
"Thank you. You don't know the sacrifices you make for these children, and yours."
Jo's dark eyes turned a deep black as she looked up at the teacher. "Actually, yes, we do know the sacrifices. My brother gave the ultimate."
"Jojo?" She didn't respond. He stepped into the living room; the TV was one, but she wasn't watching it. Instead, she sat on the sofa, nursing a glass of wine. Her long dark hair was down around her face in unruly curls, and she was still in her military dress; her jacket sat on the table. She was staring at the purple heart she'd been awarded in Afganistan. Silent, he went to her, leaning over the sofa to run his hands down her shoulders. "What are you thinking, babe?"
She looked up at him. "I can't believe he's gone. Not Davie..." He went around the sofa, taking a seat and putting the empty glass on the table before taking her in his arms. He kissed her hair, holding her close. "Did I make the right choice, Zane? Going into the Army? Did I do the right thing?" She asked, looking up at him. He brushed the tears off her cheeks.
"I don't know. But I do know that if you'd never been in the Army, you never would have come to Eureka, and we wouldn't have the life we have now. We wouldn't have Nabby, or Ash, or Lynn or Kelly or Nate. I wouldn't have you. I can't imagine my life without you, Jojo. My life is complete with you in it."
She gave him a watery smile and kissed him, wrapping her arms around his neck. He stood and scooped her up, allowing her to bury her head in his shoulder. Once upstairs, he set her on the bed and started the shower, before slowly stripping her of her clothes and taking her into the bathroom. He joined her, washing her slowly, holding her close, and listening as she ranted about how unfair it was. Her tears mixed with the water, and after a moment, she turned and threw herself into his arms, sobbing. Zane held her, letting her become lost in her grief. Eventually, she pulled away, looking up at him.
"Zane, if anything happens to me-"
"Nothing's going to happen to you, Jojo."
She shook her head. "Just... just listen to me, Zane, please." He was silent, letting her speak. "If... if anything happens to me, there's a folder in the safe behind the picture of Obama in my office." She swallowed, taking a deep breath. "It has my final wishes and my last rites, and exactly how I want my funeral handled and what I want for you and the children. It has everything you'll need in case... in case..." She broke down, burying her face in his chest, digging her nails into his back as she wrapped her arms around him. He held her, kissing the top of her head. "Promise me, Zane. Promise that if anything happens, you'll do as I ask."
"Always, Jojo. Always." He whispered, tightening his grip on her.