May 7, 2028
Arlington National Cemetery
Clouds threatened to pour down upon the large acreage of headstones. On that dreary Sunday morning, lightning and thunder boomed dangerously, yet the rain had not yet begun to fall. There was a small congregation gathered around, some were sitting like statues, others battled their grief by standing and gently rocking. There were over twenty chairs stretched out for the immediate family and closest friends. Visitors of the cemetery, those who had also lost their friends and loved ones, paid their respects to the fallen soldier who had joined the ranks of the dead.
Dressed in a formal black skirt and black blazer, sitting in the front row of the folded seats, Rachel Allen tried her hardest not to break down as she comforted her and Matthew's, daughter Elise.
One Herse and three black Escalades drove up the beaten path and parked. Out, stepped Ira and his team, and other agents and soldiers who had all been trained by the late Matthew Allen; they were all dressed in their formal Army uniform.
As written in his will, Matthew asked that Ira, Alec, Cain, Garth, Cesare, and Meryl be the pallbearers, if they had outlived him. In place of the latter, Matthew's wife wished for Jackson, their thirteen-year-old son, take the vacant place.
As she prayed for her deceased husband's guidance. Through her watery eyes, she watched as Ira and Jackson led the pallbearers towards the procession; the American Flag formally draped over for the Three-star General's casket.
As the silent, mourning pallbearers set the coffin down on the lowering device, they picked up the corners of the flag and held it tautly, waiting for the Reverend's word. “Welcome guests, and visitors.” he nodded to the attendees standing in the back, “Today, we mourn the loss of a fellow comrade, a husband, father, a brother, and a friend. We fold this flag, one he loved, one he fought for, and we honor General Matthew Allen.”
Cain and Garth started the ceremony, one at a time, as the pastor continued. “The first fold this flag is the symbol of life. We fold again, symbolizing our belief in eternal life. The third fold is made to honor and remember the veteran departing our ranks.”
In tandem, the six folded the flag and passed it to Alec and Cesare. Ira and Jackson tucked in the ends as the pastor finished.
Taking the tri-cone shaped flag in both hands, Ira turned and knelt in front of Rachel. Jaw clenched, her glassy and red look studied Matthew's oldest friend, she found that Ira had bloodshot eyes and dark circles as if he too had not slept in days.
As he held out the token, he refused to look directly at her; he could not bear to see the harboring thoughts she might have held for him.
Unable to contain the overwhelming emotion, Rachel felt a lump in her throat as endless tears stained the deep blue cloth as she clutched it like a lost child, rocking back and forth, barely noticing the comforting hands upon her shoulders.
She never heard Ira whisper, “I'm sorry, Rachel.”
Trying not to limp, Ira walked to the podium, waiting for the reverend to finish, “As you may know, Captain Ira Byrne was Matthew's closest friend, he helped stop this war that took the lives of our brothers and sisters.”
Hearing his name, the visitors who had not been invited stood and waited to listen to what the captain had to say.
As the pastor stepped away, Ira quickly clutched the podium and stood as tall as he could. Over fifty people had now approached. “Three weeks ago, we lost an honored general. Matthew Spencer Allen. Surrounded by his friends, and one who is no longer among us, this great leader helped in ending the war we had fought for so long. I remember our early years, for the longest time, Matthew said he would never marry until he met Rachel. Everything changed for him. Because of her, Matthew had a positive outlook on life, she was his world. And when they had Jackson and Elise, Matthew knew he would be going to war to protect them.” Ira had to pause to control his emotions. “After years of constant, unending battles, Matthew and his team discovered the truth of this war and he enlisted my small team and me to rescue Blackbird. A hero who had also passed on trying to stop this war. Without Matthew, we would still be fighting. It was through his determination that helped us end this war.”
Fingers clasped together, Ira looked down at the open Bible pages. He was never very religious, but even he could not deny that wherever Matthew and Meryl were, they were, at least, in a better place.
“There is another I should mention.” Ira's eyes stung with weariness and loss. “Meryl Grigori. She was a good friend to all of us. When Matthew found her, he stopped at nothing to save her life, to save those who were still living, still fighting. I will miss him greatly, he was an honored general, an influential mentor, and a true friend to all who knew him.”
Hours later, after a final goodbye to Rachel, and a hug to her kids, his god-son and god-daughter, Ira stood out on the porch of their house in the windy night air. The maple trees rustled their leaves and he was taken back to a time long ago when he had listened to Meryl's relay about how the trees would talk if he only had the ears to hear.
Waiting on the others, Ira took his moment alone to listen, and for a moment, he thought he could hear her voice speak his name. Even in death, Meryl knew how to taunt him. After what they had been through that previous month, what would Ira do now to get over her?
He couldn't. Tucked in his inner coat pocket, he sighed as he pulled out an orange bottle with small, white capsules with “50mg” carved on one side, and “Zoloft” carved on the other.