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6. Loyalty

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The room we entered was bustling with consistent activity, officers rushing back and forth to make plans. We stood apprehensively in the doorway, awaiting a command or even proof of acknowledgment. Maps covered the tables, various locations highlighted and detailed with photographs. We stood silently in place for five minutes before being asked to move elsewhere. An officer led us away to a quiet room on the side.

“Boys, we’re going to train you up for special operations, being we’re lacking in that general area. We need intelligence, covert operations, technicians, mathematicians, field operations, snipers . . .” the list trailed on. I saw Syrius light up along the way.

“Sir, I volunteer for sniper training,” he said excitedly. Before I could think, I heard myself agreeing with him with Draven in tow. The officer took some notes and nodded approvingly at us. In another ten minutes we were gone, back to out barracks and packing for transfer. Our new post wasn’t far, kept us all together, the three would-be snipers. With training in a specialized field like that, we may qualify for the front lines. A lot of thought raged through my mind, all of it returning to my family. Work and family concerns plagued my conscience as I neatly packed away my uniforms and belongings for the transfer.

Leaving the old post wasn’t too bad; a change of career was more exciting than the security shift all day, every day. I met Draven and Syrius at the gate where we caught a bus to the new base. A tired looking young assistant cadet waited for us patiently, saluting clumsily as we came upon him. He led us past the refined headquarters of the elite, down to the desolate den that would be our home, the Wolf’s Den, home of silent assassins, sniping from afar. They would become our mentors and brothers in combat. The cadet gave us a brief tour, yawning wide, and bid us farewell as we returned to the Den. The shack was empty of soldiers; we found beds already made for us, so we made ourselves at home. There were a total of ten beds, identically uniform, all lined up in an orderly pattern around the room. Overall, there was a very homey atmosphere that put our trio at ease.

We were instructed to find the commander, swap paperwork, and get moving. With the aid of some oriented cadets, we had everything established in no time at all. Once directed to the shooting range, training began. Our new colleagues were practicing in unison, joking around between shots like men in a bar, their voices lively and fun. With our presence announced, they stopped and looked up to see the “fresh meat”. They largest of them climbed out of his sunken hole and came at us with a harsh glare.

“Listen here, I’m in charge of you bastards, do your job or we shoot you and let you die, no time for sarcasm or attitude or any other wise-cracking.” His threatening features cracked at our slight look of fright and he gave a booming laugh.

“Just messing with you, welcome to the Wolves, I’m Alpha.”

Once lessons started, days flew by briskly. Every day I’d wake up, go to work, come home and repeat tomorrow. Every so often I slept on the base, Draven and Syrius stayed there full time. Our new job strangely suited us, as we became Wolves ourselves. Each man had a nickname from the military alphabet. Syrius was Sierra, Draven was Delta; and me; I was Romeo, our names coming from the first letter of our names. Our brothers in arms were compassionate toward life but nonchalant about destroying it; they were an extended family.

Madison still wrote; battle was affecting her mind and body. Letters that used to be thoughtful and neat were now hurried and illogical. Some were hardly letters, just scrapes of paper, sometimes bloodstained, simple messages scribbled on them. Mostly, “Send Draven my love, I long to be with you all again, ‘till next time -“ So that’s where we stood currently, on the path to war, waiting for a peace that would never come.

I walked through desolate streets at night, on my way home to those I’d neglected. I crept in to avoid waking everyone up, my efforts wasted as I found Darius waiting by the window, smoking serenely. She was at peace, her mind probably far from rest, as always. The kids were long asleep of course, but I moved to see them regardless. Just as I imagined, sleeping peacefully, chests heaving as they dreamed their innocent dreams of peace. Peace . . . such a foreign idea, an alien concept, extinct from society. I longed for it, the end of this conflict, to allow me to spend time at home, with my family. I was missing their childhood, as I’d missed my own. Simply making up for lost time . . .

Darius followed me around silently, her feet barely gracing the ground. We went to the living room and sat together, the cigarette put out but the smoke still misty in the air. I leaned over and held her, quietly grasping as tightly as I could onto her warm skin. We both stared off into the distance as night wore on.

“I’ve missed you,” she whispered, “We’ve missed you. Please don’t go.” Her voice was childish, pleading innocently with me to stay with her, her and our twin angels. The decision wasn’t mine to make, only the hardship mine to carry. And I bore it as my comrades did, explaining again to Darius that I couldn’t quit. She knew the obvious truth, if our positions were reversed, she’d never quit. We had kids; I was fighting to save them from my fate in the future. My sacrifice would be their salvation.

I held her until the morning sun rose over the horizon; I was off today. We watched the sunrise in the earliest dawn hours together, dreaming of seeing such a rise over a peaceful horizon. Various warnings of justice sounded through the street, the city came alive, but we didn’t care. The kids would sleep and the streets would flow with people, but we were together then; she was all my reasons. No amount of dignity, pride or patriotism could measure enough for my reason. This right here, this gentle life in my arms and the two others ten feet away were my only reasons, the single answer to why I must fight. Not for government or religion, but for love.

This day was ours and nobody else’s. Darius wanted a job outside of home but I pleaded with her to stay for the kids. They were so young and impressionable, we had to raise them good and proper so they’d be good citizens. So she stayed as I trained. But today was ours. This single day would remain beyond all else, if it all crumbled in the end. As soon as a reasonable hour came, I woke up the twins myself. They were five now, old enough to walk, speak and think a bit. They were ours though, the most bizarre truth of all. Darius and I were embodied in smaller, younger, handsomer selves, the image before me was strange.

Now, to set a time frame – The war started when I turned 24. Darius was sent away for two years, until we were both 20. When she got out, we were married and the kids were conceived. I’m 26 now, 8 years passed since the great ordeal of our youth. The kids came a bit before the war, unfortunately for them, to grow up in conflict; the nightmare of good parents. Syrius hit 28 by now, Faye’s gone for 10. Her official anniversary was coming fast, the day after our wedding anniversary, Darius and I – Halloween. Draven was 27, engaged to Madison, of course, scared of losing her before they could go down the aisle.  Madison was 24 now, the youngest, with my 25-year old Darius in front of her. So, there we were –

The war raged on with no sign of closure. Each day would bring a new tragedy, fresh grief, renewed anguish. Our children would remember it all as a passing nightmare, a darkened part of their lives beyond comprehension. Payge Fayth Drake and Dante Set Drake were born in the hot August air, carrying names of lost friends and family. The war I actively survived would merely be a chapter in a history book. Just black and white print on a dull page read without interest or purpose. They’d learn from me the measure of peace and pride, my service to protect them. As they woke up, blinking their angelic eyes softly, they focused on me with awe. I gathered them up and prepared for the day, rushing them into clothes and through meals. Their eyes shone as the four of us left to walk the urban maze as I’d done as a youth.

The city was surreal at such an hour, as the benevolent and the brutal slept together peacefully. We went to the park, played with morning creatures; we had no cares. The rational idea of worry and paranoia were distant ideas we neglected to consider. The four of us were a family, the kids running free, my wife watching them from her scrutinizing gaze, her mother’s eyes. When she moved to tell them to slow down, I grabbed her shoulder and held her back, watching helplessly as they seemed to fly. I held her against my chest, whispering softly in her ear:

“Just watch, see how happy they are? Once they know, it’ll never be the same, they won’t be as innocent ever again. Just observe.”

She relaxed, her eyes shifting shades as she held onto me. We glanced at the empty park, our free-spirited children; life as a whole. For a brief moment, for that minute, time stood still.

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