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Citizen Soldier

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“What was it you wanted to show me, Kaname?”

“I heard a song the other day that made me think of you,” Kaname Chidori, former class representative at Jindai High School, answered as she guided the once-clueless boy into his study by pushing him forward with her hands on his shoulders.

“It involved a moody military maniac destroying public school facilities?” Sousuke Sagara, Arm Slave pilot and sergeant of the mercenary force MITHRIL, quipped before she could continue.

Narrowing her eyes, Kaname’s right hand twitched, the ghost of her long-abandoned habit of smashing his head in with a harisen whenever he did or said anything to annoy her. Instead, she pinched the back of his neck with her left hand as she pushed him down into the seat in front of the computer desk.

“Oh, hah, hah,” she said sarcastically, watching as he logged in and then looked back at her expectantly. She leaned forward against his back, reaching around him and bringing up an internet browser. A smirk crossed her face as she felt the minute shiver that passed through him as he felt her more feminine assets being pressed against him. “Enjoying yourself, soldier?”

“Uhh...”

She bit her lip to prevent herself from grinning outright. “We’re at home, Sousuke, no need to stand at attention,” she teased, forcing herself not to look down to see for herself as she brought up the video website, YouTube.

“Uhh...”

Once upon a time, he would’ve pointed out that one cannot stand at attention while sitting, but over two years at Jindai and one at Tokyo University, two of those years having been spent dating Kaname, he had learned the meaning of the phrase ‘double entendre.’

Smiling, Kaname cupped Sousuke’s cheek in her left hand, turned his head to the right, and kissed him tenderly. She pulled back after a moment, wrapping her left arm around his neck, then returned her attention to the computer. One-handed, she typed in a search and explained, “So I heard this song on campus and it made me think of you. I came home and looked up the music video for it, and it... well, you can be the judge, yourself.” She could have easily told him that she’d had a strong emotional reaction to the video, that it’d left her in tears, but that would bias his opinion, and she wanted to know what he thought of it without any input from her.

“‘Citizen Soldiers,’” Sousuke read from the displayed videos. “Three Doors Down. Kurz likes them.”

She smiled faintly, hovering the mouse pointer over the link. “He’s probably heard it. We’ll have to ask him what he thought of it.” She clicked on the link, then wrapped her other arm around his neck and rested her chin on his shoulder.

As the song began, the low-key intro of the guitars and drums reminded her of Sousuke’s very nature, quiet and low-key. Hearing a faint tapping sound, she looked down to find him tapping his foot to the beat, even as his attention remained focused raptly on the video.

 

Beyond the boundaries of your city’s lights
Stand the heroes waiting for your cries
So many times you did not bring this on yourself
When that moment finally comes,
I’ll be there to help

 

The initial scene brought a faint smile to Sousuke’s face; that of a number of college students enjoying an afternoon outdoors, including a football being tossed about and a couple embracing. At the fourth line, the scene changed to a city that had fallen victim to a natural disaster. One of the students from the earlier scene, now wearing a US Army uniform, pulled a deflated football from a pile of debris, appearing pensive. When the smile slowly faded from Sousuke’s face, Kaname, having learned over the years every detail of his childhood, gave him a reassuring squeeze.

 

On that day,
When you need your brothers and sisters to care,
I’ll be right here

 

The couple watched in silence as the next scene displayed American Revolution reenactors, one militia soldier in particular weaving in and out amongst the trees and cannon fire. Once upon a time, Sousuke would’ve pointed out that any man who was that close to a blast from a howitzer would have been killed by the concussive blast wave; he no longer felt any compunction to do so, instead simply observing the scene.

 

Citizen Soldiers
Holding the light for the ones that we guide
From the dark of despair
Standing on guard for the ones that we shelter
We’ll always be ready
Because we will always be there

 

As the militia soldier slid into a trench with a number of his fellows, all laying in ambush for the line of British regulars marching across the field toward them, Sousuke felt a connection with those men, even though he’d never taken part in any country’s war of revolution, or served as a military reenactor.

Kaname gently tightened her arms around him as the words ‘I fired the shot that started a nation’ appeared over the scene. He pursed his lips slightly and glanced toward her; it seemed that she, also, drew a connection between him and those men.

 

For when there’s people crying in the streets
For when they’re starving for a meal to eat
For when they simply need a place to make their beds
Right here underneath my wing,
You can rest your head

 

He watched the scene change to a more modern war field, themed for the Middle East, with images of military vehicles in action almost certainly meant to impress civilian viewers; they had no affect at all on Sousuke. Kaname, likewise, who had spent much of the last three years in and around a paramilitary structure, was not suitably impressed.

It was due to his lack of interest in the images that he managed to pay attention to the words, and he swiftly brought up a hand to squeeze Kaname’s arm as his mind registered the last two lines. She immediately smiled broadly and snuggled into him, kissing his cheek.

Leaning his head against hers, he whispered, barely audible over the music, “You always have a place under my wing.”

But she heard it, and he knew she heard it. He could feel her swooning.

 

On that day,
When you need your brothers and sisters to care,
I’ll be right here

 

The scenes of military formations were more interesting than that of the vehicles in action, but even they didn’t do much to impress him. Despite that, he was beginning to see why this song reminded Kaname of him. Even the very title of the song seemed to call to him. No doubt the under the wing part also played a role. Kaname had always been a romantic.

He sat more upright during the presentation of the Bronze Star scene, upon seeing the words ‘I am an expert and a professional’ come on-screen. Beside him, Kaname grinned and whispered to him, “I’m thinking that should read ‘I am a Specialist,’ don’t you?”

Smiling, having been thinking exactly that, he leaned his head down and kissed her arm.

 

Citizen Soldiers
Holding the light for the ones that we guide
From the dark of despair
Standing on guard for the ones that we shelter
We’ll always be ready
Because we will always be there

 

Almost immediately, the scene changed to a reenactment of the Normandy landings during World War II. The first thing Sousuke noticed was the attention to detail in uniforms, weaponry, and the setting, which he approved of. He did not even bother to take notice of the disparity in timelines of the statement ‘I stormed the beach at Normandy’ the way he would have three years ago; he recognized that the overall tone of the video was rhetorical, speaking from the perspective of the US Army National Guard as a whole, not any one particular soldier.

The sight of the American soldier crouched behind a Czech hedgehog, mustering his courage, clearly overwhelmed by all that was going on around him, touched Sousuke deeply, and at first he didn’t know why. Then the soldier dropped his left hand to grab onto the metal anti-tank obstacle, and he caught sight of the band worn on his finger. A wedding band. He leaned back in his seat slightly, hoping that he could prevent his body from having a reaction that Kaname would pick up on. She knew all his twitches and movements all too well by now.

When the soldier let out a wordless cry and charged toward the German defenses, his actions drawing others in his wake, both Kaname and Sousuke reacted. He’d been that soldier once, notably when Gauron had attempted to hijack the Tuatha De Danaan, screaming his rage and defiance to the wind and casting his lot against fate. It had worked then, but he knew better than to rely heavily on that tactic; the unrelenting nature of war tended to make harsh examples out of the recklessly brave. Kaname, despite her intimate knowledge of the battlefield and the non-cinematic nature of war, reacted the way that movie directors crafted their movies to inspire: she felt a strong rush of sympathetic adrenaline for the charging soldiers, and at the same time she felt tears welling up for reasons she could not describe. Her sharp intake of breath drew Sousuke’s attention and, seeing her teary eyes, he drew back from her embrace enough to get the maneuvering room to press soft kisses to her closed eyes. She grinned at him, realizing why she had been about to cry: that soldier in the video would have been the hero of any war movie, and that placed him in the same general category as Sousuke, who she knew to be a true hero.

 

There...
there...
there...

 

The next scene, of the National Guard helping the victims of a natural disaster, did little for either viewer. Sousuke had never been assigned to task with rebuilding efforts or disaster relief; MITHRIL had its own specialized divisions to handle that thing. Further, the boy in the video reminded him far too much of his own childhood, and he went very still as he repressed those memories. But Kaname, keyed to his subtle actions, sensed his unease and tenderly brushed the back of her hand against his cheek in a reassuring gesture, almost in time with the appearance of the words ‘I comfort my neighbors’ in the video. He smiled faintly; for all the misunderstandings and shenanigans she had suffered through when he had first been given his assignment to protect her, she had more than earned her place as a veteran. The song could speak as much for her as it could for him.

 

Hope and pray that you never need me
But rest assured, I will not let you down
I walk beside you but you may not see me
The strongest among you may not wear a crown

 

The scene returned to the Middle Eastern segment from earlier, soldiers fast-roping down from a hovering UH-60 Black Hawk. A slight tremor ran through him as he watched the words ‘I will always place the mission first’ appear. On the battlefield, and on missions, he still held to that principal. But it no longer held true in his personal life. He always placed Kaname first, and in situations where she and the battlefield intersected, she still retained priority in his mind. It was potentially disastrous, but it hadn’t failed yet, and he was determined to always protect her at all costs.

Pushing those thoughts aside, he focused on the video. He recognized almost immediately, even before he saw the captive soldier held inside a building, that it was a rescue operation. This he could relate to; he’d gone on a number of missions to save hostages or captured allies, and he had been the target of a fair share of operations. One particular recovery mission in particular; he looked back to Kaname, and by the look on her face, he knew that she was also thinking of the time that they had been trapped behind enemy lines, along with a wounded Kurz. ‘I will never accept defeat.’

Those words had equal application to both Sousuke and Kaname. The Whispered girl felt slightly shamed, knowing that her refusal to accept defeat was always on trivial matters, such as her former rivalry with Sousuke’s battle group commander over his affections, academic achievements, and sports. She knew that it was a much more serious thing with Sousuke; if he allowed himself to be defeated, it would always mean his death; in some occasions, it would mean hers, too. The situations in which he had to persevere and continue fighting against all odds made her situations look like Saturday morning cartoons.

Sensing how Kaname would feel about that line, given time to think about it, Sousuke turned toward her and stroked her cheek in return, missing the scene of the American Revolution militia soldiers springing their ambush on the British regulars. Yes, her life had been easy in comparison to his, yes, she had never faced the same hardships that he had. He held no hard feelings for her for the relatively soft life she had lived by comparison, but that made her all the more precious in his eyes; he would give his life to keep those hardships away from her, but for her, he would far more gladly live.

All this and more he communicated easily in just the touch of his hand and the look in his eyes.

Her intake of breath had him turning back toward the computer, watching as an American soldier kicked in the door of a poorly-maintained shack and then quickly moved out of the way of the opening. More soldiers flooded in behind him, weapons up and sweeping the corners of the room. The building’s only occupant, the captured soldier, stared wearily at the others. ‘I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade’

Kaname squeezed his shoulder, and he met her gesture by placing his hand over hers. As altruistic as MITHRIL was, they were not the American Army. They were a secret organization, and that meant that they did not have the ability to make sure that every single soldier who went onto the field came back from the field, whether dead or alive. Many operatives had been left behind, some alive, some not. Sousuke had been forced to leave behind comrades, and it always left a sour taste in his mouth. Understanding his pain, Kaname placed her hands on his shoulders and began to gently massage the tension out of his muscles.

 

On that day,
When you need your brothers and sisters to care,
I’ll be right here

 

Kaname’s melodious voice tickled his ear as she sang the next verse, placing special emphasis so he would listen and understand:

On that day, when you don’t have the strength for the burden you bear, I’ll be right here.

The next scene stilled both Kaname and Sousuke, bringing a lump to both their throats. A single soldier carrying a flashlight, picking his way through a darkened maze of debris and ash. Even Sousuke didn’t know what he was looking at until the words ‘I stepped forward when the Towers fell’ appeared and the view changed to show that one instantly-recognizable section of wall debris. Admittedly, there were days when Sousuke questioned his willingness to stay the course, especially when he was called away from Kaname for dangerous missions. The Towers reminded him of why he stayed. Just like nearly everyone else in the world, he remembered where he was and what exactly he was doing when he’d heard the news. He’d been aboard the Tuatha De Danaan, eating his dinner in the enlisted mess hall, when the announcement had come over the public address. Commander Mardukas had made the announcement; Tessa had been beside herself with grief.

But this time, Kaname’s experience was the worse one. She had been in New York on 9/11. She could see the Twin Towers from her school. She had personally witnessed the second plane strike the tower, and then watched both towers come crashing down. It took a long time for her to admit to Sousuke that she’d been stricken with a panic attack, gripped with fear for her parents and younger sister. Just as the Towers were the reason why Sousuke remained with MITHRIL, they were the reason why she was willing to play the part of the ‘military girlfriend’ whenever he went out on missions. Whenever Sousuke left to pilot the Arbalest, more evil men like the ones who had crashed those planes died without getting to inflict more pain on innocent lives.

 

Citizen Soldiers
Holding the light for the ones that we guide
From the dark of despair
Standing on guard for the ones that we shelter
We’ll always be ready
Because we will always be there

 

Looping her arms around his neck again, she pressed her head against his and whispered to him, paraphrasing the closing line of the video, “I am free, because of my soldier.”