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Not Alone

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Sometimes, he wondered if the discomfort he felt in his dress uniform was because of the memory it was associated with.

The memory of men knocking on the door, bringing his mother’s world crashing down around her. The big man in the dress uniform – green, back then – kneeling down and telling Conrad Hauser his father was never coming home. He remembered staring at the ribbons on the man’s chest, trying to drown out the words, his mother’s tears.

It hadn’t worked.

There had been another man in the same uniform, one who knelt in front of his mother and presented her with a flag, “on behalf of a grateful nation”. He could still see his mother’s hands trembling in his memory as she took the flag and clasped it to her heart.

He couldn’t remember them laying another flag over his father’s casket and folding it, but suddenly the man was kneeling in front of him. “On behalf of a grateful nation.”

The nation had been grateful, but Conrad and his mother had been left to pick up the pieces. They had, of course, but Conrad knew he would never forget it.

Now, this morning, he had been called upon to do the same. To knock on a door and tell a woman her husband wouldn’t come home. The man hadn’t been one of the GI Joe team, but Duke had been called up to do the notification.

He would rather, he decided, face COBRA with no ammunition than do that again. But it hadn’t been the first, and he knew it wouldn’t be the last.

He had removed his jacket when there was a knock at the door. Half expecting to see Shana standing there, he was surprised to see Falcon instead.

“How did it go?” His younger brother asked.

“It…I hate doing them,” Duke said suddenly. “It always makes me think about when my mother was the one opening the door.”

Falcon rested his hand on Duke’s shoulder. “I’m sure you did your best.”

As a kid, Duke had resented his mother’s remarriage, feeling as if she had forgotten his father the hero. He’d been resentful of Vincent, the baby brother who had always wanted to tag along and get him in trouble.

But now, he had to admit, he was glad Vincent – Falcon – was here. The team was like one big family, but it was good to have his actual brother here as well.

It was good to not deal with this alone.