Carry on my wayward son
There’ll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don’t you cry no more
~ Kansas, ‘Carry on Wayward Son’
His feet are burning, aching with pain as he takes another step. The shotgun in his hand is heavier than ever, and the warm blood that streams down his face is unnerving. He sees the woman, her dark hair and golden skin familiar as he raises the gun. There is understanding in her eyes as she meets his gaze steadily, and this time, he can’t help the tears as he pulls the trigger.
He wipes his tear-streaked face with a bloodied hand, ignoring the smear that stains his skin. Hell, he can’t remember how it feels to be clean by now, but he keeps moving. There’s a glimmer of hope in his chest when he crosses the empty street, seeing no one. His fragile hope is shattered, and he raises the gun again, this time begging the man to stop him. The dark-haired man simply shakes his head, dropping his own blade.
The words are short, but they hit him like bullets to the chest, and he can feel the two shots it takes to kill the man in front of him. He cries this time as well; this man had been his brother-in-arms, when the world was still spinning on its axis. He drops to the ground as he remembers hugging this man the first time he battles it out of his own hell, remembers this brother of his being the only one who was patient enough with him to coax his back onto his feet and onto the battlefield once again.
The next two kills he makes are easier.
They are monsters, though he is by no means better than them now, he tells himself. He’s stumbling now, trying his hardest to find the light at the end of this blood-stained tunnel. For a moment, it’s all darkness, then he feels the pain and the warm liquid. He looks down to see the sharpened edge of a knife sticking out of his chest, and when he shifts, he can feel his bones grinding under his skin.
It’s a kill, he notes, smiling even through the pain as he drops to the ground. It’s only then that he realises that the blade in his chest is a mere blur, and that what’s hit him is actually a bullet.
There’s gunfire all around him now, and finally, he remembers where he really is.
Even here, his brothers are falling all around him; their cries of pain loud and overbearing as he crumples over another body. He is not alone now, though, and the faces he shoots at as he falls, screaming in pain, are cold and hard and unfamiliar.
When all the pain recedes, he finds himself floating over the noise of a thousand men living and dying all at the same time. He smiles as the noise dies slowly, and he can’t help but let his eyes slide shut as he hears a voice calling him home.
Welcome home, it says, sounding like everyone he’s ever known and loved all at the same time, even though the voice is singular and clear. It resonates through him, the timbre striking him warmly, and he embraces the sound bodily. I’m home, he tries to reply, but no sound leaves his lips.
When he opens his eyes, he sees his mother and his father, warm smiles on their faces and their skin glowing with health and happiness as his brother waits just beside them. They are the centre of the picture that makes tears roll down his cheeks, and ashamed, he lifts a hand to wipe at them.
“It’s good to see you again,” it is his brother-in-arms, the man who had given his own life away just to make sure that he didn’t return home in a body bag. Now, the man is smiling like he’s never seen him before, and he returns the gesture, smiling widely and pulling the man into a warm embrace; half-checking to see if he’s really there even as he revels in the warmth and peace that fills him.
“You don’t have to fight any more.”
That’s his brother, a smile on his young face, and he wants to cry and apologise for the man’s untimely death. The man stops him before he can do so, though, and he finally allows the warmth to permeate to him from the crowd of people surrounding him. All these people that he had loved and cared for in his lifetime. All these people who’d, in some way or other, given their lives just so that he could survive long enough to do what he’d had to.
“You don’t have to cry.”