Summary: There are yellow ribbons playing in the wind and Rodney takes a trip down memory lane.
I wrote this quite some time ago and planned to only post it once I've written a sequel. I've now done so and will add the sequel as the second chapter. Also: the Character Death warning is not needed. Promise!
Thanks go to my sis, Cass, who looked this over a long time ago and encouraged me to post it. I couldn't bring myself to do so, then, but I've changed my mind now. I hope you enjoy.
The house was silent, the children were finally asleep, as Rodney stepped up to the window to look outside. Lately he dreaded this time of day, when the fading light washed out all colors and he felt like he was the last person on Earth.
There was a light wind playing with the countless yellow ribbons that were wrapped around fences and trees, pinned to doors and windowsills. It would have been the perfect picture of a perfect summer day, if it hadn't been for the knot in Rodney's stomach.
They would be coming home, soon.
Most of them would, anyway.
Rodney had never minded living in Lacey, just a few minutes out from Joint Base Lewis-McChord. It had been John's choice to live here, rather than in housing. He'd said the houses were bigger, and nicer, too. After seeing the houses on base, Rodney had agreed. That there was a nice playground just across the street and a lot of children living in the neighborhood was a plus, too – Nathan and Sarah wouldn't lack friends to play with that way.
These days, Rodney doubted his sanity for staying for as long as he had. The streets Rodney could see from his place at the window were deserted, and he knew that outside it was completely silent save for the distant noise some sprinklers made. Creepy, Laura had called it when she pointed out the look-alike house-fronts and the absolute silence that descended upon the settlement at night. Peaceful and quiet, John had called it and laughed at her when she made a face. Rodney hadn't cared at all, as long as John was happy.
But John wasn't happy. Not really anyway.
Rodney could still recall the day he'd come home, looking even more weary and tired than usual. He'd taken off his boots with measured movements and shrugged out of his BDU shirt as he slowly walked towards the kitchen counters.
Rodney had watched him curiously, rocking and patting Sarah who was moving restlessly on his arm, fussing like only an infant with a tummy ache can. "Hey there, what are you searching for?" Rodney had asked as John had opened the cabinet under the sink.
"Do we have more of these?" John had asked in return, pulling out some empty plastic bottles that had once held soda or carbonated water.
"A few. I was gonna use them for a science project I want to do with Nathan. Why?" Rodney really hadn't known what to make of John's weird behavior.
"We're having a memorial tomorrow. I want to put them into the boots. You know, they put up the boots and the weapon and the helmet. They ... I ... the boots will look better that way and they'll stand properly."
Rodney had swallowed. "Alright. How many more do you need? How many all in all?" Rodney had felt like someone had punched him into the stomach. He had been so glad that John had a desk job just now and wasn't in harm's way, even though Rodney could see it was slowly killing John to be away from his unit, from his men.
"I need six more," John had said tonelessly, holding up two empty bottles.
Four men. Four men dead and John looking like he'd killed them himself.
"I'm sorry John."
"I didn't know them, but they're my men, Rodney. They are there and I'm here." The 'and I'm not doing my share' tacked on there unvoiced. Rodney heard it anyway.
It had only been a matter of time until John had gone half crazy with his desk-job and had joined his unit in Afghanistan.
Rodney thought about yellow ribbons and the meticulously folded flag that was stored in his closet, along with the paperwork that had told him that John's status had been changed from 'missing in action' to 'killed in action'.
Sometime during his trip down memory lane, it had become dark outside. Orange streetlights were illuminating a peaceful neighborhood.
"It only ever happens to the others" was a pretty stupid rule to live by, Rodney had known that.
But in the end, it hadn't mattered.
The yellow ribbons weren't for John, because John would not be coming back to them.
Rodney closed the blinds and walked away from the window. Students were waiting for their online course to start and Rodney had work to do.
Even if he might feel differently, he wasn't the last person on Earth, after all.