Sisters In Arms
by Moonslash

Dear Buffy,

I guess I should have called you, but I can't trust my voice yet, not with this. I hope you forgive me for the news I have to deliver, and for the snail-mail way I'm delivering them -- then again, most people are not exactly in a hurry to get bad news, so...

I'm rambling. Guess it's a form of procrastination.

Last week, during an operation on the outskirts of Baghdad, Riley got separated from his team and attacked. The previous day's explosion messed up our cell tech and over 40% of our network was still down, which is why nobody realized he was missing until almost an hour later. Which, actually, doesn't make any difference now and it wouldn't have made any then, because all indications point to a very quick and clean job. As I'm told by the unit's medic in charge, he died instantaneously and with minimum pain associated with stab-to- the-heart injury.

The memory of his body so terribly still, and of his pale face and half-closed eyes, and that wound in his chest almost indiscernible from all the blood -- oh, and the thought that I wasn't there when it happened makes me wanna scream until I lose my voice again.

It's weird, but for a split second before the pain crashed in on me, I thought of you, right there and then when I first saw him. His body, I mean. It looked like a vampire slayer made a very bad mistake, actually, and all I could think was: he shouldn't have been killed this way. It's a disgrace for a soldier, a hero to die the way those beasts do. Dammit, it's wrong. It's too fucking wrong, and it shouldn't have happened, not like this. Not like this.

I guess I let all my anger pour out into that stream of thought, at least in the beginning, before I began to yell at everyone in his team for letting him out of their sight, and the sergeant for letting them out in the field without a tag, and hell, everybody else as well because they didn't do anything to prevent this.

I did a lot of yelling that first day. And I've never been more terribly unfair in my life.

They were all hurt, and some felt guilty (irrationally, of course, but who am I to talk?), and some who were kinda together until then broke down when I came after them, and basically I made everything unbearably painful for all involved. I apologized, later, to each person I insulted, but I'm still amazed at how much I lost it.

Suppose that's proportionate to how much I lost.

I am still angry about a lot of things. First, the autopsy did not produce any conclusive evidence on whether Riley was killed by a human or a demon, which usually means it was a human, but I hate thinking about that. There were no witnesses, and the area was not under surveillance at the time (thanks to the aforementioned glitch), which means we still don't know who did it or why. And in this place, there are too many possible answers to either question. So many, actually, that the investigation may take months, and I'm not allowed to take part in it -- which is the second thing that's driving me crazy.

I'm so mad about so much of this, I can't even begin to tell you.

You know, I keep thinking that things were much easier when we were dealing with demons only. The way this world is going, the distinction between our world and theirs is melting away more steadily than ever. I spent a lot of time undercover this past year, and one thing that most civilians in potential crisis areas tend to feel is this: the world is becoming too big, and the systems that run it too untouchable. The global experience can fuck up your life worse than a war if you're on the wrong side of the poverty line. Hell, no wonder so many people are turning toward the demon world; they can't go up, might as well go down.

I'm beginning to think that, with so much fear and anguish everywhere, containment as provided by our unit may be insufficient. And, eventually, impossible.

About two years ago, the army decided to cut through the red tape and plug us directly into its anti-terrorism ops. Some of our members had a harder time with this new development than others, but Riley kept it clear and simple, and his clarity of vision motivated everyone more efficiently and profoundly than anything we ever received from Washington. Riley was the perfect squad leader for the troubled times.

These days, I wish I'd picked more fights with him over the reasons why we were tracing decades-old histories of illegal demon contraband, arresting the civilians involved in handling, trade or possession thereof, and having them shipped to the likes of G-Bay if they were lucky, and nameless prisons if they weren't. If he'd questioned orders, if he'd wondered about the logic (if not ethics) of our new assignments, maybe he'd still be alive today.

Crazy talk. I know.

You knew Riley. You remember how straightforward, honest, dedicated, brave he was; and you remember how comforting it can be to have someone like that fighting on your side. I was comforted by his determination and his uncomplicated sense of right and wrong. That's why I didn't argue with him, didn't even talk to him about these new battles we were fighting.

I wish I had.

And I'm angry at myself for all this fucking regret. It makes me feel weak and stupid. It makes me angry and powerless.

It makes me break up inside.

Nowadays, I feel like I'm disrespecting Riley's memory if I remember that frail old woman holding a toddler in her arms, and how she spit on my shoe and looked at me with death in her eyes when we drove into Kabul, and how the child tried to spit on me too but ended up just pouting instead.

Or, if I remember the refugees in Syria whom we rescued from the zombies that were attacking their shelter, and how it was too damn hard to tell which ones were zombies and which ones were humans, and how one of them said they wouldn't thank us because they became what they are thanks to our bombing of Afghanistan.

Or, if I remember the food vendor who sold those yummy stuffed-meat- and-veggies cakes from a cart he'd drag to the main entry of our base out by the oil fields, and how his food -- too expensive for the Iraqi standards, too cheap for ours -- was so much better than the crap loaded with preservatives that we received as rations, and how he disappeared for a few days but then returned all bruised and limping, and how he cried that his people beat him up because he was a monster, feeding the enemy and taking the enemy's money, but they should be forgiven because they hadn't given up the way he had.

Or, if I remember going on patrol one night and contacting Riley for backup because I had a highly suspicious sighting I wanted to investigate, and how he crawled up to the crest of the dusty hill where I awaited him and looked over my shoulder into the valley, and then he sighed and gave me his nightsight binoculars, and when I looked through them I saw that the unmoving mass of silvery bubbles that looked like a gigantic spill of unidentified demon eggs was actually a mass of empty water bottles, made in the USA, used by the army, dumped into the dried riverbed in a country without appropriate recycling facilities, and forgotten.

I suppose it would be easier to mourn if I could forget these things. Except I'm having a hard time forgetting. Even things -- no, especially things -- that make me feel all torn up inside.

Which is probably why I'm writing to you about all this crap. I need to get it out of my head. And there are weird things in my head, only I don't know anyone who'd be able to understand them.

You're a warrior. You've been around long enough to know about strange things, or about complicated things, or both. I think you can understand.

There's one thing that keeps coming back to me. The night Riley died, a bunch of GIs got drunk and went to the Baghdad zoo. They sat around the tiger's cage with beer in their hands, laughing and drinking while the animal paced up and down, watching them with predatory yellow eyes. Then the tiger laid down, looking sleepy and deceptively defeated. The men booed at the beast, shouted for entertainment, threw pebbles at the cage. The animal did not move.

One GI decided he'd motivate the tiger the way he used to motivate his golden retriever. He climbed over the outward railing, went to the maintenance door, and stuck a handful of meat through the bars, calling for the kitty. The kitty moved very slowly, sniffing and blinking at him, then very quickly, biting down at the offering. A few of the GI's fingers got snapped off by the powerful jaws, and he screamed.

His buddies drew out their guns and shot. The tiger growled, swayed, fell, bled, and died within minutes.

The news of a caged member of endangered species getting executed by drunk American soldiers never made it to the majority of the US media.

I wonder why I keep thinking about that incident. It makes me mad, and I guess my anger at Riley's death is still looking for channels to pour itself into and flow out. But being angry doesn't fix anything. It doesn't make me feel any better. Riley is dead, and the line between humans and demons keeps melting, and I'm tired and angry and tired of being angry, and I wish I could tell someone about all this. Which is why I'm writing to you. I've been thinking about you a lot lately.

This letter will reach you via a private and non-censored channel; don't try to write back. I'll be taking a leave maybe as soon as next week. I'll look for you when I'm out.

This was supposed to be a letter about Riley. Dammit, I miss him. I can't cry enough, and I still feel like I should just go out and kill, kill, kill until I grow too tired to hate. But this helped a bit, calmed me down -- writing a letter to you, I mean. I need to be calm to figure out what kind of fight I should be fighting, and how to mourn my husband without feeling like a traitor.

I hope you don't mind that I'm coming to see you. And I hope we can talk.

Samantha Finn


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