• Battlefield

    “What are you doing here?” he asked her, glancing up from the paper on his desk as she stepped in. His hand still held the pen with which he had painstakingly scrawled ‘My name is Luke’. Commander Lucas Thompson’s entire right arm trembled with the strain those four easy words had caused him, but he refused to grip the bandage over his wounded arm in front of the lower ranked woman. The woman watched the fabric of his tan brown shirt quake with blank eyes.

    “With all due respect, sir, I feared you were a threat to yourself.” Lucas seemed to growl low in his throat as he stood, pushing his chair away from the heavy wooden desk and turning away from the woman. “Sir?” she asked after a long moment of silence had passed between them. He directed himself toward her again, leveling a dark stare on her face as if daring her to say more. “This is awkward….Permission to speak freely, sir?” Against his better judgment, he nodded once briskly.

    “I know you meant to die out there, with your men. I ruined that plan, I guess, but you have to know there was nothing else you could have done for them. You led all of them that far without a single loss; you’re the best commander we’ve ever seen.”

    “I should have gone ahead. They’d be alive then. If I had just paid more attention we wouldn’t have lost more than one man,” he snapped back at her, refusing to follow her line of logic, even though he knew it was true.

    "What would that have accomplished? We would have lost the best leader in our entire army. Even if you had spotted it, it’s quite arrogant of you to think that you, one man, could have saved an entire squadron.”

    “You’re way out of line, soldier,” he growled in warning. He didn’t move an inch, but the stare he had raised to her face darkened dangerously. Another long moment of silence passed between the pair before she took a step toward him. He watched her as if paralyzed by her movements. Another step and he still didn’t move. Another step, then another. She was mere inches from him now, and the look in her eyes was a strange mixture of those of a mother and those of a lover. As he stood motionless, she watched the emotions battle within him, hidden behind a veil of clouds. The clash was accentuated with bright snaps of lightening and deafening crashes of thunder muffled behind the wall of gray.

    “I’ve been out of line for a while now,” she whispered as she snaked her arms around her neck. Much too late he opened his mouth to stop her, but she cut him off, rising on her toes and planting her lips on his. It should have been a passionate moment as she pressed her body close against his, but he had already regressed. While she pushed him gently back toward the bed, his mind was drifting farther and farther away. By the time she had removed his shirt, he was back on the field, thousands of miles away. She pulled his boots off, but by then he was taking cover in a bunker, sand blinding him with every gust of wind. Her shirt was on the floor soon after, but he was running for his life, raising his rifle to his shoulder in preparation for the enemy he knew was waiting for him on the other side….

    ◊ ☼ ◊

    A mortar exploded off his right side. Gripping his rifle tightly to his chest, he ducked his head and ran on. Bullets bit the dirt on all sides of him, throwing sand upwards as if willing him to continue forwards another inch. Behind him he heard the grunts of the men that he led into battle. He heard the crunch of a bullet against Kevlar and knew that one of his men had been hit. There was no time for him to turn around, however, as a grenade landed several feet in front of him.

    “Down!” he shouted over his shoulder. He dove backwards and to the opposite side so fast that his men thought for a moment he had been hit with something. The rest of them hit the dirt just as the explosive went off, crossing their arms in front of what room there was between helmet and ground to protect their faces. Lucas was back up onto his feet the moment he heard the thing go off. Shrapnel littered the ground around him, but he couldn’t feel anywhere that he had been hit. Behind him his men were raising themselves to their feet. The man nearest Luke raised his rifle toward the Commander and pulled the trigger. Luke made ready to spring for him and bring down the traitor until he heard the grunt behind him and the flour-sack sound of a body hitting the ground. He spun in time to kick the combat knife out of the dying man’s hand.

    “Let’s go!” he called as started running again. Before their small group, Luke could see the building that was their objective. It was a good half mile away from them, but they hadn’t lost anyone so far. They were going to do it, by God. He’d never really thought this mission would be successful, but as of yet nothing had been able to stand in their way. Luke allowed himself a small smile as he picked off an Iraqi insurgent that had not quite taken cover completely enough. Those optimistic thoughts were still running through his head when the bullet caught him. Coming from such a sharp angle that it penetrated beneath his Kevlar vest and dug deep into the flesh and bone of his shoulder, the bullet twisted his entire body to the side and sent his rifle spinning off into the distance.

    “Sir!” Someone called behind him, but Luke paid no heed. Gritting his teeth against the pain, he drew his pistol from the holster on his thigh and continued running. He loosed an entire clip, catching a man with each and every bullet. But he could feel his strength waning, and there was still quite a distance between his squadron and success. He hadn’t seen the insurgent hunkering against the ground off his right side, so when the man jumped in front of Luke and leveled a pistol at his head, only pure instinct kept Commander Thompson alive. With a grunt he brought the butt of his pistol around, twisting to the side as he did so to avoid the shot fired by the man. It still grazed his left arm, but the satisfying crunch of metal against bone kept him from thinking of the pain.

    The man fell limply to the ground and Luke moved to continue onward, but his head was reeling and he soon found himself crumpling to the ground. Blindly he struck out, felt his gun meet flesh again, but this time he couldn’t see anything beyond that….

    ◊ ☼ ◊

    He came to in his quarters, breathing incredibly hard. It was dark, but he could hear someone in the room with him. Luke sat up quickly, surprised to find himself naked and the sheet from the bed sprawled mostly onto the floor. He leaned over to pick them up and then gasped in surprise. There was a woman lying there, gripping the side of her face as if she was in pain. Even as he stood up to flip the lights and help her up, he couldn’t stop his eyes from following the curves of her shapely, nude body. Nude? Luke’s mind was already piecing things together, but he still couldn’t quite understand it.

    “What the hell was that for?” she gasped as she felt his hand on her arm. Luke pulled her up and set her on the bed. The right side of her face was already turning a deep purple, and Luke couldn’t help but notice the handprint that he was sure was the same size as his hand. It was then that he realized his hand was throbbing in pain as if he had punched a wall.

    “I- I don’t know,” he confessed as he watched her open her mouth a few times, testing her jaw. His eyes inevitably wandered down her body, but he snapped them back up when he heard her laugh at him. “You’re not that bad looking yourself,” she joked. Luke looked down at himself and then swallowed in embarrassment, quickly drawing the sheets around his body. “What’s this nonsense? One would think you couldn’t remember anything from earlier.” Her smile faded as she realized he wasn’t playing games with her. “Oh my god…you can’t remember can you? That’s why you hit me… What did you see?”

    “There were…It was…I don’t know. It was really dark, that’s all,” Luke lied. He didn’t want to tell her how he pictured her as the Iraqi that shot him and how pleasant he had found the sound of his gun smashing her skull in. She saw right through him.

    “Tell me,” she purred, laying her hand on his arm and pulling gently. She held him in his arms as he relayed his story, his walls broken down by her want to hear what he had to say. When he spoke of the man that shot him, her fingers traced the edge of the gauze bandage on his shoulder. At the mention of the bullet grazing his other arm her hand gently caressed the small dip in his skin were the missile had torn through.

    “I had no idea…How long after that was it when I found you?”

    “I don’t know, maybe ten minutes,” he answered. He looked up at her face, remembering it as it looked when she had found him lying in the dirt some fifty feet from where his squadron had been decimated. Luke felt his mind receding from the present again as she lay back, holding him tight to her bare chest. Again, it should have been a moment full of blooming passion between them, but it only bloomed on her side of the equation. He was pulling himself up from the sandy ground, struggling to follow behind the troops he had ordered onwards….

    ◊ ☼ ◊

    “Commander’s hit!” one of the men called, stopping his forward momentum and spinning midstride. In a matter of seconds he was at the fallen man’s side. “I’ve got you, sir,” he said as he moved to lift the much thinner, lighter man into his arms. Luke’s eyes fluttered back open as a new surge of strength hit him.

    “No!” he shouted, fighting against the other man so hard that he tumbled back to the ground. The soldier stood stunned, mouthing the word ‘no’ to himself. He didn’t understand. “Just go! I’m right behind you. Go, go, go!” The man snapped a short salute and spun back around, relaying the command to his fellow troops. Luke struggled to his feet, but staggered to the left side and fell to the ground again. Gritting his teeth, he levered himself back up and kept his balance this time. Popping the wasted clip out of his pistol, he snapped a new one in as he took the first few tentative steps forward.

    “Keep going!” he cried as he watched several of his men stop and glance over their shoulders at him. He masked his pain beneath his helmet and impassive visage for their sake. He was almost to them now. They weren’t far from the building either. About seventy-five feet from him, maybe two hundred from the building. All they had to do was make it a little bit farther. Just keep going. Don’t stop, don’t stop. He repeated the same command over and over in his head, forcing his feet to continue in their pattern, even gaining enough momentum to make his awkward walk an awkward jog. A bullet caught his leg, just enough to break through the thick camouflaged cargos and draw blood.

    Almost there, a little bit farther now. As this thought ran through his head, his mind flickered back ever so slightly to the present. He felt her shaking him, asking him what was wrong. He heard her frightened cries as she struggled to wake him from the trance he was falling into. He felt his legs moving of their own accord, his hands struggling to force her away. Then he was back in Iraq. He watched his men covering the last twenty feet toward the building. Then he remembered.

    “No! Stop!” he shouted, and it took him a moment to realize that the noise had only taken place in his head. The men continued onward. “Stop! Please God stop running!” Luke stumbled forward, shaking his head to clear the fuzziness. He snapped back for a moment, felt himself yank open some door, though which one he couldn’t have guessed. Get in the game, Luke. He chastised himself, forcing his mind back to the battlefield. Again he tried to shout for his men to halt, and everything seemed to slow down. “Please make them stop,” he pleaded to no one in particular. Nothing happened.

    The trap was sprung. A plume of sand shot up around the squadron as they plummeted through the sudden chasms beneath them. A second later and the mines planted in the floor of the trench went off. He snapped back, felt wind rushing past his face. The world spun around him as he fell to the sandy ground. A dark shadow loomed before him in both the present and past. It was her face in the desert, streaked brown with sand, but by the time she came into view, Commander Lucas Thompson was lying spread-eagled on the pavement of the parking lot outside officer’s quarters.

    Author’s Note:
    For every soldier, American or not, that faces the horrors of the battlefield and returns in one piece. May they never meet the same end as Commander Thompson, and may they always be able to find the help they need to recover from the terrible syndrome of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.