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November 9, 2011
The explosion went off behind him. A loud, deafening sound that threw him off his feet. Loud shouts rang out through the previously still night, and he winced slightly, gingerly picking himself up from the ground. His shoulder throbbed gently in time with his heartbeat and he forced himself to push the pain aside, to focus on more important things, like the people currently streaming towards him.

In the cloaking darkness it was impossible to see faces, to see uniforms. The sounds of gunshots rang out and he heard more cries spill free. A heavy blanket seemed to fall over his brain, and his body worked on autopilot. Turning, he ran as if his life depended on it, and in a brief hysterical moment, he realized it did. All thoughts about how it wasn’t supposed to be this way, it had simply been a scouting mission, were swept away as he focused on the one thing keeping him alive. Around him, the gunshots continued to ring out, their harsh noise grating in a way he hadn’t expected. His training had mentioned nothing about this, the gripping fear and desperation that overtook him.

A bullet rushed past his ear and he immediately dropped to the ground, his heart feeling as if it was trying to break free from his chest. Even on the ground, he continued moving, rolling to the side and pushing himself back up a moment later, sprinting off again. Gradually, the bleak flatlands transformed into an abandoned city and he gratefully ducked into a building, forcing his breathing to quiet.

It was then, in that quiet moment of false stillness and peace, that he allowed himself to wonder why he had ever signed up for this. Risking his life for a cause he didn’t honestly understand, when he could have been perfectly safe back at home, asleep in his bed and naively unaware of what was going on. He allowed himself to admit then, that his family had probably pressured him into this, a long line of soldiers and war heroes, he had felt like he had no other choice.

When a weak cry rang through the now eerily silent air, he forced his troubled thoughts away again. If it was one thing he had learned, it was that he couldn’t afford to be distracted out here. Anything could happen and he had to be prepared for the worse. With a steadying breath he carefully peaked around the corner of the building he was hiding in. The streets on either side were empty, the remnants of dust swirling in the air from the scuffle.

The second cry was more quiet, yet still filled with pain and fear. Wincing, he remembered his little sister, not so little anymore. She had been playing in a tree and had fallen, breaking her arm in the process. In too much pain to move, and shocked to her core she had simply lain there and cried loudly. He had been the one to find her, to gently lift her and carry her inside. When she was nervous at the hospital, he had held her good hand the entire time. The cry hit a little too close to home, therefore, he was incredibly grateful when he found the source of the sound.

A small boy lay behind a small house across the street from him. He was curled up on his side, whimpering softly, like a pained animal. Very slowly, he approached the boy, trying not to startle the poor thing anymore than he already was. When the boy finally caught sight of him, he seemed to freeze, his dark eyes having gone wide and fixed completely on him.

Letting out a quiet breath, he held his hands up, in the universal sign for ’I come in peace’, and closed the remaining distance between them. Up close, he could make out that the boy’s hands were clasped around his upper leg, dark blood spilling out from underneath his dirty hands. With a wince, he reached down and gently ripped a strip from his shirt. The boy watched curiously, but was unable to hold back a flinch as he slowly removed the hands covering the wound.

After wrapping the makeshift bandage around the still bleeding gash, he very carefully picked the child up. With a soft cry, the boy’s arms came up around his neck and he hung on tightly. Beginning to move again, he wove around buildings, keeping his eyes open and sticking to the shadows. It seemed that with someone to focus his attention on, he was able to think better.

Safely they made it back to base camp, and they were both greeted with loud cheers and relieved smiles. The boy was gently removed from his arms, and taken away to seek medical attention. As he was being checked over for any wounds of his own, his mind kept returning to the terrified face the boy had shown when he had approached. Yet when he had lifted the boy, he had hung on like he was afraid to let go. The thoughts led him back to his baby sister. She had been only eight when he had left, still a little girl. She wouldn’t be so little anymore, and he regretted the fact that he hadn’t been there to see her grow and change.

It was later, however, when the boy approached him, limping visibly but still determinedly pushing on, that the answer came to him. As the boy gave him a shy smile and wrapped him in a surprisingly strong hug, he knew. He knew that he was fighting to protect them. To protect his family, his baby sister, and his country.





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