Michael my nephew whimpers in his mother’s arms. “He’s perfect Sis,” I tell her as I watch her console the fussy baby. “How are you feeling? Mom told me you had complications.”
“That’s putting it mildly.” She giggles. “Other than feeling extremely sore I’m doing really well.”
“Are you happy Em?” Her blue eyes look up at me through the screen and smiles. A real genuine smile.
“I am Dan. I never realized how happy I could be but this little boy has changed my view on the world. I would give him the world and my happiness plays into that.”
“Wow, sis, I’m really proud of you.”
“Thanks, big bro.” Concern replaces the sparkle in her eyes.
“How are you, Dan? How’s Damien coping?” She asks and I sigh.
“Damien is being Damien, you know what he does when he’s in pain. One of our brothers was shot on one of our missions and had to be sent home. He’s taken it pretty hard.”
“That’s rough Dan. I’m sorry about your friend.”
“Thanks, Emily.” I reassure her with a smile. “Have you heard from Zeek since you got the protection order?”
“No, well yes. He called the house but Dad answered and we know how that was handled.” I chuckle.
“Yeah, Dad is pretty badass when it comes to you.” Just then her Son starts wailing, she reaches over and grabs his pacifier. She puts in his mouth but he spits it out, and she huffs. I can’t help but laugh at the sight.
“He knows what he wants?” She glares at me with an exasperated look.
“Oh, you have no idea. He’s just as stubborn as his namesake so I guess his name fits.”
“Are you saying Damien and I are pigheaded?” I chuckle again.
“That’ not what I said but if the shoe fits.” The baby is screaming now and needs his Mama’s attention.
“Well, Sis I have to get off here and actually do my job or something.”
“You do that, and please send Damien my love.”
“Will do and you take care of yourself as well. Love ya, little Sis.”
“Love you too, big bro.” Damien and the new guy Marcos come into the room. Marco took Jordan’s place in our Platoon. He is a decent guy but we haven’t had much time with him to give him a nickname.
“Hey, Twinkie.” Damien teases because he knows how much I hate that name. Marcos has a puzzled look in his eye.
“Twinkie?” He asks.
“Yeah, he was on a call with his girlfriend Dani, we all decided to give him a hard time so we busted in on him. Just as we opened the door we all heard Dani say something about a creamy middle, so hence the name twinkie.” Marco’s and my best friend fall into fits of laughter and I roll my eyes.
“Just so you know she was talking about stuffed french toast.” I holler at them over their annoying laughter. I won’t complain too much because it’s good to hear Damien laugh and not shutting everyone out. He stops laughing only to pin me with a ′Yeah right face.′
"You’re an ass D.” I punch him in the arm.
“Oof.” He punches me back and what started as a friendly game turned into a full-on boxing match. Damien could actually be a pro boxer if he really wanted. As Damien got older his father’s beatings became more severe. He took up boxing as a way to release his anger, but that was only after he beat a guy unconscious just for grabbing Emily’s arm. In his defense, it was unwanted and he left a bruise. The family of the guy wanted to press charges but my Dad was able to help him convince the family to drop the charges. He told them about Damien’s situation and they felt bad but understood why he would lose his temper.
Dad helped him with a lot of things but his temper was the biggest one. Dad told Damien if he wanted to continue dating his daughter then he would need to find a way to release his anger. He had a former client who owned a gym and was a pro boxer so he set Damien and me up with daily lessons.
I wasn’t into it as much but he took right to it. I feel a jab to my stomach, and hear Damien snicker. “Dude, pay attention!”
“Sorry, I was just visiting the past for a minute.” Damien drops his hands and uncurls his fists. His mask drops.
“I’ve been doing that a lot too. I wish there were so many things I could have done differently.”
“Is one of those my Sister?” He nods
“Yeah, I just wish I would’ve handled things differently with her but it’s too late now.”
“It’s never too late D, you two belong together but I get it.” Damien was about to rebuttal but Staff Sargent Joseph Miller comes in with all his gear, which means we are being sent out.
“We need to gear up and head out. Insurgents have taken over part of the city and our people are trapped. We need to go in and get it under control.”
“How many are we talking?” Damien asks he’s itching for a fight. We’ve been grounded for a while and we’re all starting to go a little crazy.
“The last report said at least one hundred and fifty.” Staff Sargent answers. ”
“Shit!” Marcos curses.
“Are we the only platoon going out?” He shakes his head.
“No, the Raven’s will be joining you. Commander Russell and the rest of your guys are already geared up and ready to head out.” Damien, Marcos and I all wait till we are released and run to the tent to gear up. All while a nagging feeling sits in the pit of my stomach.
We pull into the city and instantly are guards are up. the streets are deserted and not a soul in sight.
“Something isn’t right Sir, It’s too, quiet,” I say into the radio, and after a minute of no communication Commander Russell’s voice comes over the static.
“I agree, but we need to keep going.”
“Yes, Sir,” I respond and we keep driving through what feels like a ghost town. The tension in the hummer is so thick it could be cut through with a knife, everyone else is feeling it too. I glance over at Bomber, he’s gripping the steering wheel like it’s his lifeline, his knuckles turning white with the amount of pressure he’s putting on them.
Marcos is in the back with his gun aimed out the window and his eyes trained on the road. Damien is the gunner and is ramrod stiff as he survey’s the roofs for snipers. Ghost is sitting in the back seat as well, he is relaxed but has his weapon out as well. Ghost is used to these high-stress missions and he lives for them. He is the only one who doesn’t seem to care one way or t.
Sweat drips from every pour in my body and streams down my back. It could be from the trepidation and heat. I’ve been on several patrol’s but not one of them has made me feel this insecure about my task. My heart is pounding wildly against my chest and I fear I may pass out if I can’t get it under control.
Get it together, Dan, one wrong move and you or someone else can die. I give myself an inner pep talk, and I’m so deep into that I almost don’t hear Damien shout,
“Shooter at five,” I observe the area spot him hiding in an alcove of a house. His assault rifle is aimed at our vehicle. I don’t have time to think, I just react and point my weapon towards him and pull the trigger. When I know I’ve made contact I close my eyes for just a moment. I don’t watch them die, I can’t bring myself to accept that I’ve killed a human being. Regardless of them being murderers themselves and I know it’s for the best that I end them, it just doesn’t sit well with me.
“He’s down, you can open your eyes now Bro,” Damien says and when I open my eyes I’m staring straight at the guy I just killed. The bullet went through his head, killing him instantly. “You okay man?”
“I’m as good as all the rest of you,” I answer with anger in my tone. “Just keep going so we can finish this.” Bomber shows his answer by driving forward. We drive for a few more minutes but come to a forced stop. Bodies of our fallen, citizens and even some of the insurgents.
The blood of all the dead seeps into the sand making a gruesome display. ”Fuck this is bad,” Marcos says. I get on the radio and report.
“Commander, we are being forced to stop, bodies litter the ground. What should we do?” All I hear is static then a ping hits the humvee and Damien manning the machine gun, shooting anyone in his way. “We’ve got contact, Sir!” I yell into the radio as we all roll up the windows.
“Go back the way we came and we’ll try a different route.” Bomber doesn’t have to be told, he puts the vehicle in reverse and slams on the gas. The humvee moves backward while still taking in gunfire.
“Fuck!” We all hear Damien shout. He drops into the jeep with a bloody shoulder. “Those fucking bastards shot me.” His face is tomato red and fuming. He rummages around the back looking for something to stop the bleeding, finally, he gives up and just jumps back up but Ghost pulls him down.
“I’ll take over, treat the wound or you’ll be no good to us.” He can’t argue since Ghost has a higher rank.
“Yes, sir.” he switches places with Ghost and takes up his weapon.
“You good?” I ask and he nods. Marcos wraps his shoulder and staunches the bleeding.
“The bullet only grazed your shoulder, so you’ll live.” Damien just smirks.
“There isn’t another way in.” He says.
“How do you know?”
“I’ve studied the maps in my off time and there is no other way out. They put those bodies there to trap us in.” I had a feeling that was the case but I’m not about to let those terrorist bastards one-up me.
“So what is our best option here?”
“We get out and sneak our way to them. They think they’ve got us but we can give the element of surprise.”
“That’s not a good idea D! If we get out we take a higher risk of getting shot at.”
“We can’t just sit here and twiddle our thumbs plus we are sitting ducks. They want us to stay in the humvee, they think they have us so outnumbered and cornered but I’ll be damned if I’m going to die by sitting on my ass.” He has a point but the idea still bothers me.
“What are your thoughts Sarg?” I yell out to Ghost.
“Frostbite is right. Do you know these back streets?” He addresses Damien.
“I do and I have the map as well.” He looks back at me. “I’m sorry I dragged you into this Dan. I should have been more persistent when I told you to go home. You have a family who loves you and is waiting for you to come home, so I feel like the biggest dick for bringing you with me. If one of us doesn’t make it back it’s going to be me. I have nothing left to live for but you do.”
I turn and face Damien, my best friend, and my brother. “Damien, you have a family waiting for you too. My parents and Emily, you know she didn’t marry that tool because not only was he a creep but because she’s still in love with you. So you stop with that self-deprecating attitude and fight to stay alive.”
“Alright let’s do this!” Bomber stops the humvee and turns it off. “Woods and I will go out first, then Reed and Marcos you follow when we give you the signal.” All of us nod in agreement. I take a deep breath and with a trembling hand, I open the door. “Ready?”
“Yeah.” I jump out and steady my rifle, I watch for the enemy and when it’s clear I give them a signal, by pointing to them, then back to the darkened alley. I hear both doors open and slam shut, then hear Marcos and Damien’s boots hitting the ground. Sarg is flowing behind them.
“Follow me.” Damien order and takes off. We have no choice but to follow. We don’t get very far when I have to step over the body of a Muslim woman, her throat’s been slit and she lay in a puddle of her own blood. Her eyes cast towards heaven pleading for forgiveness; I bend down and close her eyes. I stand back up and see our Commander, they are taking in heavy gunfire but give out just as much as they take. “Here we go, Brother. You ready?”
He doesn’t use words to answer, instead, he fires at a hostile creeping toward us, and the bullet flies through his chest making the guy drop to the ground. The wound is fatal and he will be dead within seconds. Damien has his emotional mask back in place, shielding himself from vulnerability but I know the guilt is getting to him; it does every time he has to kill. These people have turned us into killers and it’s something we will have to face every day for the rest of our lives.
“Reed, Woods what the hell are you two doing just standing there? Alpha demands with irritation and fear. Damien bristles with anger but he keeps his mouth shut and his anger in check. I turn and Salute or Commander as does Damien.
Sir, they set a trap for us, we couldn’t just sit in the fucking humvee and wait for them to come to us. ” Alpha glares at me for speaking in such a manner but instead of yelling at me he lets go of a long breath.
“I know, we got here and saw that the vehicle was abandoned. Your Sargent called it in over the radio.”
“What’s going on out there?” I ask again.
“Most of the insurgents have taken to the roofs or houses.”
“So they’re being cowards by hiding behind the innocent. Fuck this!” Damien kicks a pebble causing it to hit the concrete wall. He’s feeling the same thing, just by his reaction he’s afraid for us.
“It will be by the grace of God we make it out of this alive.” I murmur.
“Don’t go there, I told you the only one not making it back is me. If I have to take a bullet for you then I will. You came here for me, you’ve always had my back but now it’s my turn to have yours.” That is not something I will accept, Emily would have my ass if I didn’t bring him back. They may not be together right now but they still love each other very much, and I feel deep down my Sister is the only one who can bring the real Damien back.
“That’s not going to happen, Dude and you know it. We both are going home.” I’m not sure who I’m trying to convince, myself or him.
“Okay, girls, I hate to break up your moment here but we do have terrorist to take out and rescue or men.” Alpha demands our attention again so we do as we’re told and focus on him.
“So what’s the plan?” Damien asks while he stands stock still but on high alert.
“I’m going to need Woods to go the left and you go to the right. Deiz and Ghost are already at the front line and I’m going behind. We need to be stealthy as well on guard. These Pricks are just popping up everywhere and remember its shoot to kill. There is no room for hesitation.” His eyes flick over to Damien and he nods in understanding. “Okay, let’s go.”
We disband and Damien goes right and I go left. As I’m rounding a building I don’t have time to react when a feel pain in the chest. I drop on my knees and put my hand over the pain, my hand comes away covered in blood. I hear shouting and gunfire all around me. My team will find me, I’m going to be okay. Yet, even as I say that I know I’m not going to be. The guy who shot me falls to the ground next to me, blood seeps from his head. I turn my head the other direction, trying to fight through the agony. I just need to hold on long enough to talk to Damien. He needs to know the truth about Emily.
He kneels down next to me and presses his hand to my gaping bloody wound. Tears rain down his face and he knows as well. “Dan, hang on buddy. Help is coming.” I close my eyes and wait as another wave of pain takes over.
“Take care of them, Damien, she still loves you very much. You both need each other.” I gasp as the last of my air dissipates.