Status: Complete.

I Want You to Live

Chapter 14

The morning was chilly and gloomy, a light drizzle beginning to fall. Dark clouds rolled overhead and Peyton silently prayed the downpour would hold off. The weather was suitable, really, for the tragic day. A breeze blew through her hair, causing her to tighten her black coat around her. Her black dress swirled around her legs and chill bumps formed.

Her eyes sought Rusty, but he stared ahead, stoic. She had to look close to see that his eyes were still blinking, that being the only movement he made. The rest of the squad stood tall and strong, like a cluster of oak trees. They were a grand sight in their dress uniforms. Each man so different, but so united all at once. Their expressions gave nothing away of their sorrow, guilt, or regrets.

Her body ached to move, but she resisted the urge to fidget out of respect. Her heels sunk into the soft grass and she inwardly cursed for wearing such impractical shoes. She stood a little off to one side, clustered among other girlfriends and wives. Every now and then, her eyes would dart to the women around her, mimicking their movements when she fumbled for the right etiquette. The gathering was quiet, save for the preacher reading from his worn Bible. Peyton tried to listen to the aged man, but her thoughts were consumed elsewhere.

Under any other circumstances, she would've been elated by Rusty's impromptu return. She had felt overjoyed when he had turned up on her doorstep at midnight, but it didn't take long to realize something was off. Not even his bushy beard and thick hair had hid his pale face or the dark circles beneath his bloodshot eyes. He hadn't said more than a few words in a clipped tone before breaking down. He had lost a fellow Ranger, a friend, a brother.

Peyton's watery gaze lingered on Preston "Joker" Dane's wife as she sat stiffly a few feet from his casket. The red headed woman stared straight ahead, tears streaming down her blotchy face, but remained silent. Her mascara was smeared around her red rimmed, swollen eyes. Occupying the two chairs on either side of her were their young daughters. They couldn't have been more than six and eight. Their sniffles could be heard from where she stood, tearing at Peyton's heart. She couldn't even begin to imagine the pain the family was going through.

Gunshots rang out, causing her to jump. She watched in awe as the 21 gun salute was performed. The precision at which each move and shot was executed was mesmerizing. Even though she was watching, each shot still made her jump. Rusty had moved just enough to raise his right hand in a salute, as did every other service member there. Peyton noticed the women next to her had their right hands over their hearts and she quickly followed suit.

Her eyes returned to Misty, the most recent war widow, noticing the way she didn't even blink as shots cracked in the quiet air. She looked like a zombie, with her pasty skin and limp hair. The only time she had made any kind of movement was when the folded up flag had been presented to her. The flag now lay in her lap, as lifeless as she was.

And just like that, it was over. The soldiers were dismissed and allowed to return to their families. Peyton watched the women hug their men, comfortingly, before walking away with them. She could see the sadness and relief on each woman's face. She knew hers looked similar. All of their hearts went out to the newly widowed woman, but each woman there was relieved it wasn't their soldier lying still in the wooden box. She waited patiently as Rusty and Ty spoke quiet words of condolences to the woman who briefly squeezed both men's hands. Her glassy eyes barely focused on them.

Peyton hugged each, before placing her hand in the crook of Rusty's arm. Wordlessly, they made their way through the cemetery to their awaiting vehicles. The gray clouds unleashed their fury just as they got to Rusty's truck. He opened the door for her and helped her inside before shutting it behind her. She looked back towards the burial site.

The rain was coming down in sheets now, making it difficult to see. Even though, the outline of a very sad family was still noticeable. As far as she was concerned, her life was over. She didn't care if the rain poured over her. Peyton's lips curved up in a touched smile as she saw a man, one of the soldiers, walk over with an umbrella. He stood behind the three, holding it above their heads, while they wept with all the heartache and sorrow in their bodies.

It was in that moment, as her very own soldier started his truck, that she realized what it really meant to be an Army girlfriend.


That night Peyton laid awake in Rusty's bed, while he snored softly next to her. Her wide eyes watched the ceiling fan spin around and around, much like her thoughts were inside her head. Like most nights, his strong body was curled tightly around her small frame. She could feel the warmth of his skin through the soft, worn t-shirt he had given her to sleep in while he was away. Many nights, she had drifted off with the collar pulled to her nose, breathing in his comforting scent. She couldn't bear to part with it, even though he was back home.

How long until he was gone again? Assuming their mission hadn't been completed, he would be gone again soon, right? She still wasn't sure how all of this worked, but the thought made her stomach churn. Panic started to claw at her, making it hard to breathe. The reality of their situation had just hit her today. Of course she had known there was a chance Rusty wouldn't come home, but the funeral today really hit that home for her. It was different thinking it and seeing it.

Restlessly, she threw back the covers and carefully slid out from underneath Rusty's arm. He stirred slightly, before rolling onto his back and continuing his snoring. The heaviness of his sleep made it apparent that he had been sorely lacking. Not for the first time, she wondered what horrors he had lived through. What sights would forever be etched into his memory and what guilt would he carry with him always. She stood by the bed and took in the sight of him. The cover had been pushed down, revealing his naked torso.

Even though his chiseled abs were exposed, the thing she couldn't help but stare at was his clean shaven face. Not at how handsome she thought he was, but the expression. It was so peaceful. His forehead was without wrinkles and his brows were not furrowed, a stark contrast to the days prior to today. Gently, she slid the covers back over his bare flesh and pressed a light kiss on his temple.

Realizing she was standing there staring at him like a creeper, she quietly exited the room. Her feet squished into the soft carpet of the hallway as she made her way to the kitchen. She was surprised to find Ty already in there, drinking a cup of coffee.

He gave her a small, tired smile before pouring another cup and sliding it to her. "Couldn't sleep either?"

"No," she answered, clutching the warm mug with both hands. She cautiously sipped at the steaming, dark liquid.

"The funeral?" he asked next, leaning against the counter, arms crossed over his bare chest.

"Sort of. I was wondering when you all were going to be leaving again," she answered. She wished the coffee could seep into her very bones and defeat the permanent chill that had taken root since Rusty had come home.

"It's hard to say," he replied, shifting his weight, "we don't normally know until we know. They typically try to rotate the battalions out, but if they need us, then we'll go. The fighting is picking up, more are being sent over. Maybe within the month," he finished so matter-of-factly that you would've thought he was taking a vacation instead of going overseas to fight.

How could someone be able to accept that so easily? How could someone enjoy doing what they did?

"That soon?" Peyton squeaked, feeling the panic rise once again. Her knuckles turned white as she gripped the mug with all her might.

"That's just my guess. We won't actually know until they tell us," he backtracked, seeming to realize the effect his answer had had on her.

He filled his cup again before stretching. The muscles in his abdomen rippled as he moved. Peyton noticed a matching tattoo on his chest in the same spot as Rusty's. She guessed it must've had something to do with their team. It was a rare sight to see him drinking something other than a beer.

He chuckled softly before lifting the coffee in a toast. "It's out of respect," he explained, pausing to take a drink, "some memories deserve to be remembered while sober. The emotions deserve to be felt, entirely."

The comment held tenderness rarely seen in the lighthearted, humorous man. It was touching to see him let his guard down in front of her. He swirled his cup around, watching the liquid, lost in thought.

"Do you have nightmares?" she softly asked. Ty looked up and blinked, almost as if he had forgotten she was there. "Rusty has nightmares sometimes. He doesn't know that I know, but I do."

"Sometimes," he replied, "mostly just insomnia, though. Some soldiers relive their nightmares while sleeping. I relive mine while awake." He shrugged as if it was no big deal.

"Is it normal?" she inquired, drifting a little closer.

"Normal?" Ty laughed, almost bitterly. "There's nothing normal about doing what w- Seeing the things-" He stopped and dropped his gaze, rubbing the back of his neck.

Peyton waited, but he remained silent. Empathy surged through her body. Gone was the cocky, self assured man, and in his place was this broken shell. He looked boyish standing there, with his hands shoved in the pockets of his lounge pants, unsure of himself. For a fleeting moment, she wished it was Rusty. That it was her boyfriend opening up to her this way, but he always seemed more concerned with protecting her than confiding in her.

"You don't like it?"

Ty sent her a patient smile. "On the contrary, I love what I do. I'm proud of what I do," he insisted, pushing off the cabinet to stand tall. He removed his hands to gesture while he spoke. "I don't always agree with the things asked of me, but I always agree with what it stands for."

She grew quiet to let his answer sink in. She contemplated it, trying to fully grasp what it all meant. What drove wonderful men like Rusty and Ty, like Preston, to die for a country that wouldn't ever even know their name. For people that couldn't even begin to grasp the enormity of the sacrifice.

"I feel like there's so much I don't know," Peyton confessed. A piece of hair fell into her eye and she carelessly tucked it back into her bun.

"You'll figure it out and realize it isn't as complicated as it seems," he reassured her." You want some advice?" Peyton nodded in response. "Enjoy your time with him and stop worrying about the rest."

"That's easier said than done," she groaned, rolling her eyes. She had been hoping for something solid to work off of.

He laughed, but his expression soon turned serious. "Not all women are up for this life." He took another drink of coffee, but Peyton could see his eyes darken with an unpleasant memory.

She finished her cup and set it on the counter. Crossing her arms, she wanted to ask about his past, but hesitated. She uncrossed them and nervously played with the hem of Rusty's shirt. Finally, she settled on leaning onto the counter, her arms on either side of the empty mug.

Ty stepped close and filled her cup to the brim, his spicy cologne floating after him. She smiled her thanks and watched the liquid steam before gaining her courage. "Rusty told me about Liz."

Ty stilled, the pot inches from the coffeemaker. His back was to her and she could see his muscles tense at her words. Slowly, he replaced the pot and turned to face her. His eyes were dark, the usual sparkle gone. Averting her eyes, she bit her lip and stood again, crossing her arms. Without realizing it she had scurried back a couple steps. Forcing her eyes to meet his again, she slouched in relief. It wasn't anger in his eyes, but...shame?

He cleared his throat and looked around the room. His hand moved to rub at his chin. His voice was low as he began to speak, "We were from the same town. We went all through school together. It was after basic when we first started dating." Ty slid his hands back into his pockets, shoulders hunched uncharacteristically. "We got engaged shortly after. When you know, you know, right?" The laughter that followed sounded hollow. "Anyways, long story short, I came home from my first deployment and she was gone. She left a note explaining why, but it didn't really matter. I haven't talked to her since."

Peyton pressed a hand to her mouth, horrified at the revelation. "That's terrible, Ty! I don't understand how someone could do that."

Ty searched her eyes. Her heart constricted at the torment she saw in his face. "Dying isn't a soldier's biggest fear, Peyton. That is."

Silence embraced them as they finished their coffees, lost in their own minds. Her eyes had been opened tonight and she was so grateful that Ty had let her see this side of him. She was in awe at the wisdom he hid, just beneath the jokes and playboy attitude. He really would make someone very happy one day.

"Well, I'm off to bed. Try to get some sleep, mon cher" Ty instructed, the normal cheer having returned to his voice. This time, though, Peyton was almost certain that she could detect the unhappiness lurking just below the surface.

"Thank you for the coffee," she said as he started past her. She raised her mug, trying to lighten the mood.

Surprising her, he turned back to wrap her in his arms. "Thank you for the company. It gets lonely some nights." She hugged him tighter, silently praying that God would send a wonderful woman into his life. Someone patient and understanding, but strong enough to handle his bullheaddness.

"Take care of him for me, okay?" Peyton asked, pulling back out of his arms. Her tone was light, but eyes serious. "I've gotten a little attached."

"Of course, madamosielle," Ty responded, taking an exaggerated bow. Peyton swatted his arm as he stood.

"In all seriousness, Ty. Whatever happened in the past- With Li- With her, it wasn't your fault. I hope you know that."

Ty's gaze dropped, obviously uncomfortable at having her brought up again. Peyton had needed to say it. Just in case he blamed himself and someone hadn't told him.

"You give me too much credit, mon cher," he spoke softly. He brushed her cheek and exited the kitchen.

"You don't give yourself enough," she retorted, raising her voice just enough for him to hear.

He faltered a moment, but turned his head to look at her over his shoulder. "There are two sides to every story," was all he replied before disappearing down the hallway.

Peyton thought the comment a little odd, but chalked it up as her guess being right. He did feel guilty. She sighed and leaned against the counter. She finished her second cup of coffee and was debating on a third when she heard footsteps coming up the hallway. Assuming it was Ty again, she smirked, ready to tease him.

Instead, Rusty appeared in the living room entrance, catching her off guard. Rubbing his eyes, he tried in vain to remove the sleepiness from his grey orbs. He squinted across the bar separating the two. "What are you doing up? he rasped, "I woke up and you weren't there."

"I couldn't sleep, so I got up and drank a cup of coffee," she replied, omitting the conversation she had had with Ty. Rusty had enough stress without her adding to it.

"How is that supposed to help you sleep? Caffeine keeps you up, you know," he informed her as he attempted to stifle a yawn. He came around the bar and wrapped her in his arms. She hadn't realized how chilled she was until his body heat soaked into her skin.

"Coffee, like ice cream, is good day or night and regardless of weather," she explained, pressing a sweet kiss to his lips. He snorted as she slipped from his grasp to rinse her and Ty's cups out.

"Let's go to bed," he responded, holding his right arm out.

Noticing his tattoo looked different, she leaned forward to peer closer. Gently, she traced the red welts on his side. Another set of dog tags had been added to the piece. Now four sets hung from the rifle that was propped in a pair of combat boots. A helmet sat on top of the gun and the American flag flew behind the whole scene. Tears choked her as she finally realized what the tattoo symbolized. It was a memorial to his fallen brothers.

"I got it added earlier, after we went out for drinks," he whispered, peering down at the inflamed skin. She silently nodded and kissed the place before turning a comforting kiss to his lips. A sad smile played on his mouth.

Rusty slid his arm around her shoulders as they made their way back to bed. She snuggled as close as possible to him before giving him a long goodnight kiss. He smiled, sleepily, already dozing off again. This time, Ty's words eased her mind enough to let her join him in slumber.