Semper Mine (Chapter One: Sawyer, page 1 of 6)


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March

Save Petr.

I can still hear Mikael Khavalov's final words. There's a reason the military doesn't put brothers on the same special operations team, but that night seven days ago, it didn't matter. A routine mission with a second team put the twins both under my watch, and every commander's worst nightmare happened.

Sergeant First Class Mikael Khavalov - known as Khav-One - was one of four service members that died to give the rest of us, including his wounded brother, Petr - Khav-Two - a chance to make it to safety.

An early spring chill tickles my ear, a reminder that I'm in Massachusetts, thousands of miles from the war zone. The sky is unusually clear, blue and cloudless, with the scent of flowers in the air. My gaze sweeps over the men and women dressed in black, gathered for the final farewell to Mikael.

Nothing is quite as moving as a military funeral: the aching wail of a coronet, twenty one gun salute, and the piercing silence that follows. I've attended too many the past year, four this week alone. There's a sense of peace in the final solemn, disciplined display that thanks a man or woman for the ultimate sacrifice before lowering him or her into the ground.

This one is unlike the others for a few reasons, and I feel out of place where I normally don't. There's no Taps or salute, no one else in uniform. I hold the folded flag under my arm to give the survivors. The wealthy Khavalov family declined the Arlington burial in favor of having their son laid to rest in a private, walled cemetery, behind the mansion where the rest of the immediate family lives. It's a completely civilian affair, and I am out of my element.

A true blueblood, Khav-One had a degree from Yale, a sports car I wouldn't be able to afford with ten years of wages in hand, and was friends with the families of politicians and celebrities, some of whom are in attendance today.

God knows what made someone with his background enlist, of all things, let alone pursue the grueling, gritty, elite path of a Green Beret, aside from a love of his country, mixed with a side of crazy. Whatever it is, it runs in the family. Mikael didn't survive the worst night of my life, but Khav-Two did. He's in a hospital near here, stuck in a medically induced coma to keep him stable after his leg was blown off near the hip.

It's certainly the most peaceful graveyard I've visited yet. It feels more like a garden with hedges, stately statues and obelisks, a fountain at its center and a stone pathway that weaves among the dead.

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