Picture taken from http://s.ngm.com/2007/06/arlington-cemetery/img/arlington-cemetery-615.jpg, courtesy of The Internet. It depicts Arlington National Cemetery.
This was written in response the "An Opportunity For Readers" challenge, in response to AJ's prompt: "He sat on her tombstone and laughed 'til he cried." It's (predictably) dark, but I like it. It's also longer than I expected it to be.
Soldiers and Tears
“Rhys died a war hero. She'll be honored with the best funeral accommodations the government has to offer. Anyone with the courage and integrity to sacrifice his or her life for the greater good deserves at least that.”
Jonathan stares up at the soldier telling him this and wonders how she can manage to seem so... cold—so distant—at a time like this.“Calm” is too warm a word to describe the look on the fighter's face.
He clenches his fists. Rhys deserves better than this, he thinks. She would have wanted something more. Joy, celebration, something. She—
He cuts himself off in the middle of his thought, because he simply doesn't know if all that's true anymore. When Rhys decided to leave the village to go off and fight, she had seemed like a different person than before. There was no complete personality reversal, nothing like that, just a... shift in her thinking, that was all. The old Rhys would never have joined the military to fight the monsters, she would have fought them by herself. And, knowing Rhys, she probably would have won, too.
The old Rhys still might have died, but it would have been on her own terms, not the military's.
And suddenly Jonathan wants to scream at this unfeeling soldier, to scream at the army, at the government or, better yet, at the monsters plaguing this country because the old Rhys—his Rhys—should never have had to die or even change for them!
Instead, he barely manages to choke out a sentence. “Did you know her?”
The soldier bites her lip. It's the first sign of emotion he's seen from her all day. She can only be about eighteen, maybe nineteen. A little younger than Rhys. “No,” she finally says. “We were stationed in different parts of the country. I only heard of her when she...”
“Then why are you here?”
“I...” She swallows and glances around to make sure no one else is within earshot. “It's what I'm supposed to do. I go to all the military funerals and tell everybody what the government wants them to hear, that this war is a good war and those who fight it are the best of people. And then I just... don't... cry... and they don't cry either, because they believe what I tell them.”
Jonathan leans forward. “So you're not a soldier.”
“I am,” she says. “Internal matters only, though. Peace-keeping. The government doesn't want—” She cuts herself off, knowing that there are some things she's just not allowed to say and that this is getting dangerously close to them.
There is a pause. Gray clouds loom over the burial ground, promising rain but never actually giving it.
Jonathan grabs the girl's hand. “Come to the gravestone with me. We can laugh instead of cry. Rhys would have liked that.”
She smiles a little but shakes her head and walks away, back to the post where the rest of her squad is waiting.
Jonathan goes to the grave alone. As the rain begins to fall, he laughs until he cries. This is his own little secret, something he can share with Rhys and Rhys alone. Whether or not she had changed, it was the kind of thing her very spirit, the very essence of her person, would have appreciated. She had always relished the unexpected.
And it feels so much better than keeping it all inside.