Title: Eulogy to the Young Author: devilinthedetails Characters: Nield, Cerasi, and Wehutti from the JA books "Defenders of the Dead" and "The Uncertain Path." Genre: Angst, Drama, General, Mild Romance. Timeline: Before the Saga from before "Defenders of the Dead" to after "The Uncertain Path." Summary: Nield comes to terms with losing Cerasi. Author's Note: Written for the One Hit Wonder Challenge from @Raissa Baiard whom I thank for the inspiration. My assigned song was Teen Angel. Lines appearing in italics and parentheses are words from the song I have integrated into my story. Eulogy to the Young (Teen angel, teen angel, teen angel, ooh…) Nield met Cerasi creeping through a Zehava sewer. He was leading a pack of Daan children, and she was doing the same with what he knew had to be a group of Melida children since they weren’t Daan, and everyone on Melida/Daan was one or the other: Melida or Daan. Even in the dark and dirt of the sewers, he could see her clear green eyes that stared back at him as though cut from emeralds and her copper hair cropped jaggedly around her shoulders. That was how he knew she was the leader of her group of Melida children because he could feel the determination and the passion radiating off her like heat absorbed from the sun bouncing back from permacrete. “Who are you?” he demanded of her, lifting his chin, his voice echoing in the circles of the sewers. “Don’t talk to Wehutti’s daughter like that,” snapped a girl standing in the shadows behind Cerasi’s shoulder, naming the leader of the Melida faction that had warred against the Daans for centuries beyond counting—centuries beyond memory even in the eternally resentful Halls of Evidence. Her hair was filthy as if she hadn’t washed it in months, but he imagined that it had once been a blonde as light and pure as dancing moonbeams. “Quiet, Maile.” Cerasi laid a hand that was both soothing and quelling on the girl’s wrist. “I’m not Wehutti’s daughter any more. He’s disowned me and I’ve disowned him.” Maile subsided into silence even though she continued to glare vibrodaggers at Nield, receiving stares that matched hers in hostility from the Daan children ranged behind him. Seeing the instinctual hatred and distrust that flared like wildfire in the countryside springing up between these two groups of children that had no real reason to despise one another made Nield realize that if they intended to save their planet—and they had to save it—they couldn’t do it as Melida or Daan nor even as Melida and Daan. They had to wipe out the Melida and the Daan in themselves. They had to create and embrace a new identity, a joint identity. They had to be reborn from the ashes of war and memories in the Halls of Evidence. They had to the Young, the only united hope of their world. “I’m Cerasi.” Cerasi’s lifted chin mirrored his, a symmetry that assured him he had found the girl he needed to lead the Young to a victory that could only be imagined alongside him. “Who wants to know?” “Nield.” After giving her his name, Nield gestured at a side drain, inviting her to confer with him down it. “May I have a word with you in private, Cerasi?” She hesitated, studying him warily, before agreeing with a slight incline of her head. Once they had disappeared down the side drain enough for Nield to be reasonably confident their conversation wouldn’t carry, he asked, “Is it true you were Wehutti’s daughter?” “Yes.” Cerasi’s answer was clipped, and Nield understood that it concealed a lifetime of pain to rival his own unpleasant history. Harsh childhood was the only childhood to be found on Melida/Daan. That was the rotten inheritance both Melida and Daan were born into that the Young would reject. That was the heartbreak chain the Young would break together, reforging purer and stronger metal. “What made you disown him?” Nield pressed at her pain even though he didn’t want to because he sensed she was strong enough to take it but had to know that she was. Someone who was weak could never stand beside him and lead the Young to victory. “My mother was killed in his stupid, endless wars.” Cerasi’s gaze fixed unblinking on his. “Then he sent my brother to a munitions factory in the countryside, sacrificing him to the war effort without a second thought. I haven’t heard a word from my brother since he was sent to the munitions factory, and I never expect to hear from him again. That’s more than enough reason for a daughter to disown her father.” “Although you’ve disowned your father, you’re the leader of the Melida children as I’m the leader of the Daan children. We can unite to be leaders of something new, something neither Melida nor Daan. Something called the Young. Something that will be the hope of our planet. Something that will be the future. Something that will ensure that there even is a future for this world.” Nield offered her something that had never been extended from Daan to Melida in the long history of their war-torn world: not a temporary truce but a permanent alliance. “If you join me we can not just change the world together but we can save it. It won’t just be a revolution. It’ll be a total transformation.” “Your vision inspires me.” The first smile Cerasi ever gave him was a tight one. “I’ll follow you.” “I don’t want you to follow me.” Nield pulled his hand from his pocket and extended it to her, certain that she would ignore the grime of the sewers that stained his fingers and palm. “I want you to walk beside me in leadership of the Young.” “I’ll walk beside you forever,” promised Cerasi, squeezing his hand between her own, her skin warmer and softer than Nield had expected. Nield paradoxically felt his heart tightening and flying free of his chest at the same time. He hadn’t thought that he, an eternal war orphan, would ever hear anyone swear to walk beside him forever after his older cousin died, a casualty of the never-ending violence between the Melida and the Daan that Nield was determined to stop or die trying. (That fateful night the car was stalled upon the railroad track) Normally Nield and Cerasi slept facing each other on quilts in the anteroom of the Young’s headquarters—a repurposed vault of moss-covered tombstones because graves were everywhere on Melida/Daan and Zehava was a city built upon the dead. The night of their first argument about strategy, however, she curled away from him, drawing her quilt tightly about herself. She wasn’t asleep. He could tell that by the tension in her shoulder blades. Fighting the urge to reach out and grab her shoulders—to massage the tension from them—because he knew she would jerk away from him in a huff, he whispered softly enough so he wouldn’t wake the sleeping children circled around him and Cerasi, “Are you still mad at me?” A silly question, he knew, when he could see the taut knots in her shoulders, but at least it was a conversation starter, however clumsy. “We can’t argue in front of the children, Nield.” Cerasi turned to look at him—her eyes as fierce as her tone was quiet. “We must present a united front. They must see that we can resolve our differences peacefully—without fighting. The children are watching us and putting their trust in us. They’re going to be like us. We have to show them its possible to learn from our bloody history and do things differently.” “Our children are the future.” Nield couldn’t prevent a trace of mockery from coloring his voice because Cerasi’s words had reminded him of the lies spun in the Halls of Evidence, the way the warriors insisted that they were fighting to protect the future for their children when really they were only ensuring the violent destruction of that future. “You make it sound like we’re Elders instead of the Young.” “We are Elders compared to these children.” Cerasi swept a hand about her, taking in a girl tucked into a fetal position who was sucking on a thumb in the midst of an apparently sweet dream. “We have to protect them and bring them up to know the peace we never had.” “You’re right.” Nield felt himself choking on his own shame, hating himself for becoming as twisted in his resentment as any of his warrior ancestor. “I’m sorry. I won’t argue with you in front of the children again, I promise.” “Thank you.” Cerasi’s lips quirked. “I promise I won’t argue with you in front of the children either.” Nield nodded, silently swearing to her and to himself that he would show the children that they could learn from the bloody history of their world and do things differently—less savagely. They could have peace like so many of the more civilized planets in the galaxy. It was possible, and he would achieve that future for them. That would be his legacy, a legacy of peace and true hope for the future, not of violence and self-aggrandizement. (I pulled you out, and we were safe, but you went running back.) Nield and his supporters had been arrayed against Wehutti and the other Melida Elders protesting the destruction of the Hall of Evidence where the remains of Cerasi’s mother lay. The durasteel threat of violence had hovered in the air–both sides were on the verge of firing on each other–when there came a scraping sound that would haunt Nield’s nightmares forever. Then Cerasi, who knew the sewers better than anyone, had emerged from a grate, standing squarely between the opposing factions. She hadn’t carried a weapon. She had come defenseless to a firefight to try to prevent it, and they had shot her. What was the worst is he didn’t know who the “they” who had shot her was: his side or Wehutti’s. In the gray daylight, he thought it was Wehutti–blamed Cerasi’s death on her own hateful father–but in the darkness of night, in the nightmares that dogged his sleep until he awoke in cold sweat, he feared it had been him–his bitterness, his destructive desire to destroy everything about their world’s violent history–that had killed her. If she were alive, he could have shared his guilt and his fears with her. Since she was dead, he isolated himself, trusting nobody now that the last person he had cared about, Cerasi, was gone and cutting himself off from anyone who might try to offer consolation. (What was it you were looking for that took your life that night? They said they found my high school ring clutched in your fingers tight.) He was locking himself away in his own guilt and grief the way they said that his greatest enemy, the father of the girl he mourned, was doing. He had his palms pressed against his throbbing temples in a vain attempt to contain a pain that was far more than physical when Delia, his deputy, stepped up beside him. She didn’t reach out to touch his heaving shoulder, but he could see the itch to do so inside her and recoiled from the very idea of her touch. “They found this ring in her pocket.” Deila extended a ring between clutched fingers. Its silver band and gemstone–green as Cerasi’s once piercing eyes–were mercifully unstained by blood. Taking it between his own fingers, Nield try to feel the warmth of Cerasi’s skin–of Cerasi’s life–on it as he had when he gave it to her on her last Name Day, but all he felt was the soul-chilling cold of a sealed tomb. Howling like a wounded animal at this reminder of his love and his lost, Nield threw the ring at the wall, watching it fall off it onto the floor to be abandoned forever for all he cared. (Teen angel, can you hear me? Teen angel, can you see me? Are you somewhere up above and am I still your own true love?) From beyond death, Cerasi returned to stop the violence being committed in her name. The Elder Jedi, the one who abandoned Obi-Wan on Melida/Daan but whom Obi-Wan had managed to bring back somehow, proved that Elders weren’t always useless and without wisdom, after all. He found a hologram she had recorded on her datapad the night before her death and played it so all could hear the only voice that could convince them to lower their weapons: “I made my decision after the war ended,” Cerasi said, every word etching itself on Nield’s heart as a deep, scarring purpose. “ I will no longer carry a weapon. I will fight no more in the name of peace. But today I might die for it. Do me a favor, friends. Don’t build any monuments for me. Don’t destroy any either. History isn’t in our favor, but that doesn’t mean we should annihilate it. Don’t let our dream of peace die. Work for it. Don’t kill for it. We fought one war for it. We always said one war would have to be enough. Don’t mourn too long for me. After all, I wanted peace.” She shrugged, and that was the most heartbreaking thing for Nield as she continued, finishing the last wry words he would ever hear her say, “Look at it this way, now I have it forever.” Build no monuments for me. The words rattled inside the cage of Nield’s skull as if screaming for freedom. He remembered one night in the vault of the Young headquarters during the dirty beginnings of their revolution when they were sitting side-by-side on a large tombstone, scraping moss off a bone-white surface so it could be converted into a makeshift table to sustain the resistance effort. “When I die, I want no stone monument built to me.” Her hair had fluttered away from her face with each exasperated exhale as they separated the moss from the tombstone to which it had become mated. “Not even an angel monument?” he had asked her, nudging her with a teasing shoulder. His older cousin had whispered stories of the angels that flew on golden wings over the moons of Iego when she tucked them beneath his blankets before her life was over before it began, another casualty of the endless wars between the Daan and Melida. They were supposed to be beautiful, graceful, and peaceful beings. All the stories of beauty, grace, and peace his cousin had ever told him had taken place far away from their homeworld as if his cousin couldn’t imagine, even in stories, there ever being beauty, grace, and peace on their war-torn planet. “Not even an angel monument.” Cerasi had shot him an almost sly smile. “I’m Young. That’s how I want to be remembered. As forever Young. Not as an angel.” She hadn’t wanted to be remembered as an angel, Nield thought, even though she had been everything an angel should be, everything his cousin had described an angel as...She had been beautiful–those emerald eyes under her cropped copper hair had always been so striking. She had been graceful–of all the Young, only she could perform a triple twist down a grate from a Zehava street and land in a curved grate without faltering foot or a wavering arm as poise personified. She had been peaceful–she had gone to what she had sensed would be her death without a weapon in her hand. She had wanted peace forever, not just for herself–her vision had never been so selfish, so limited–but for her entire planet, Nield thought, her words searing into his soul. She would never have wanted to be remembered with violence. She wanted no memorial to herself that might induce others to violence, but she understood how others might need to grieve their dead in the Halls of Evidence. She understood that although their history was ugly and painful, the ugliness and the pain must be acknowledged in order for it to not be repeated. They couldn’t destroy their history without a risk of repeating it. They would have to learn from it and then begin rewriting it together. Together meant with her father, who shared Nield’s grief. Together meant being a leader not just for the Young, but for the Elders who maybe did have some wisdom to impart after all. Cerasi couldn’t hear him, but he could hear her, and he would honor her wishes every day of his life. (Just sweet sixteen, and now you’re gone. They’ve taken you away. I’ll never kiss your lips again.) On Cerasi’s last Name Day, Nield had given her the only family heirloom he didn’t despise–a silver ring with a gemstone the color of Cerasi’s eyes that his cousin had once worn. It was an ancient family treasure–one his ancestors had refused to sell no matter what dire straits they found themselves in–but he had given it to her, slipping it over her callused finger with the clumsy explanation, “My cousin used to wear this. It’s the only thing that belonged to my family that I don’t hate. I want you to have it.” She didn’t refuse the ring as he had worried she might. Instead she twirled it around her finger almost contemplatively as she gave him a grin that illuminated the grimy, dark drain. “It’s beautiful, thank you, Nield. I’ll have to keep it in my pocket so it stays beautiful and clean instead of getting dirty like everything and everyone does in the sewers.” Then she had done the most unexpected and wonderful thing–the thing she never did anywhere but in his dreams. She brushed her lips across his. He could taste the salt and grime above her lips but thought he had never tasted anything so sweet as her mouth. He could feel the cracked skin but believed he had never felt anything so smooth even with the biting roughness of her teeth concealed just beneath...It had been the first and only time she had kissed him...Now she was dead with that ring he had given her in her pocket–stowed safely there even when she was in danger, untouched by violence even when it destroyed her–and he would never feel the warmth of his lips against hers again. (They buried you today. Teen angel, can you hear me? Teen angel, can you see me? Are you somewhere up above and am I still your own true love? Teen angel, teen angel, answer me please.) Nield and Wehutti buried Cerasi not by placing her ashes in a Hall of Evidence but by negotiating a truce—a cessation of hostility—between them. They met at an outdoor table on the patio of a cafe overlooking a square that was just beginning to be filled with the tentatively blossoming first flowers of peace and shoppers moving from shop to shop with nervous expressions that suggested they didn’t yet believe that Zehava’s violent days were history. Gazing at the man across the table from him over the rim of the caf cup at which he was sipping, Nield noted that Wehutti seemed to be a hollow husk—a shallow shell of a once great warrior—who appeared liable to be blown up by a sharp gust of wind. His eyes, Nield noticed for the first time, were as green and as fiercely determined as Cerasi’s. How could he have ever hated the man who had given Cerasi not only her life but her eyes? What a bitter fool he had been. A young fool, just like the Elders had always dismissed him as… “My daughter was a fighter like her mother and like me.” Wehutti’s words bore an eerie resemblance like an image in a broken mirror to what was in Nield’s heart. “She fought for peace, but she was still fighting for what she believed in. I didn’t want her to die—not really—but my wife’s remains were in that Hall of Evidence. I had to fight to keep them safe, but I didn’t give the order to fire on my daughter.” “I know. Neither did I.” Nield’s voice sounded rusty even to his own ears. Thanks to the Jedi investigation into Cerasi’s shooting, both of them knew they were not the ones to give the order that had killed Cerasi. There was some solace in that. “But I could have.” Wehutti’s shell seemed to collapse in on itself even more than it already had. “Perhaps you Young are right. Maybe I’m just an old man blinded by my prejudices and stuck in the mud of my own ways.” “I could have too.” Nield felt as if he were finally admitting to the bitterness that had lurked inside him for years and that had almost prevented his planet from achieving peace. “Perhaps you Elders are right. Maybe I’m just a boy too blinded by my hatred of the past to see that it has lessons to teach me.” “We might have each been blind in our own ways.” Wehutti extended his hand in the ancient symbol of offered peace. “Perhaps we can finally begin seeing each other.” “Perhaps we can,” agreed Nield, honoring tradition by taking Wehutti’s extended hand in his own. If Cerasi could have seen and heard them, Nield believed deep in his bones that she would be grinning from ear to ear. She might not have wanted a monument built in her honor, but Nield sensed she would accept this one: this peace between the generations—between the Elders and the Young—in her memory. She would want to see peace between the Elders and the Young the same way she had spent her whole life hoping to see peace between the Melida and the Daan. She could no longer speak to him, so he would have to learn to find peace in the memory of her.