For Sergeant Thomas Simmons, getting injured in Iraq was just the start of an adventure that would throw him down the rabbit hole into a world where nothing made sense anymore. Having to restart his life, this soldier has to take his battlefield courage and turn it to a different arena in order to face this newest set of challenges. He just wonders if he is strong enough to handle this newest change in his life.
“Why the fuck did I join the Army?” grumbled Thomas, as he struggled to complete his third leg lift of the sequence. The Physical Therapy he was going through was hard, really hard, since he was learning to walk all over again after his injuries. He pushed himself hard, doing everything he could to get his legs to do what he wanted them to do and his legs fought back. He wanted to be able to walk again, but was it worth this pain? He often wondered that, especially when he was in physical therapy.
His therapist grinned evilly down at him, failing to sound encouraging as he tried to motivate his patient to keep going. The young man said, “Let’s go Sergeant Simmons, only seven more to go. You can do this.”
Thomas glared at the Specialist through his blue eyes and gritted his teeth as he pushed, muscles quivering with exertion, to make it through the fourth repetition. He let the leg just drop when he was done, no strength to lower it down to the ground. With another grunt and some teeth grinding he managed to make it to five. This part of therapy was horrible and his leg burned with the exertion. Maybe he should just quit and just lie there? Just give up?
“Only five more to go. You can do it Sergeant. Push!”
Thomas really wanted to reach up and strangle the blond haired Specialist that was helping to motivate him in the therapy. The bastard made Thomas’ life a series of excruciating exercises designed only for pain as far as he could tell. Maybe this was how the Spanish Inquisition worked, if so, it was a good method at breaking people and had to have been successful more often than not. The Specialist even had the gall to be tall and broad chested, just like Thomas wasn’t. All Thomas wanted to do at this point was to stop and rest, but that pissant little wannabe soldier kept telling him to do these god damned leg lifts. If it weren’t for the fact that he would get in trouble for killing the kid he might just reach up and break the Specialist’s neck.
“Three more to go. You’re almost there.”
Thomas knew he could kill him, without any real remorse at this point. He could just reach up with his hands and snap the moron’s neck. This whole process was torture and the Specialist was the torturer. Didn’t the Geneva Convention say something about the use of torture? Maybe the prick would be arrested and charged with crimes against humanity for all of this? It would certainly be fitting. Specialists, especially tall ones, should be taught not to fuck with short men for fear of getting themselves killed. It would serve them right. It would serve this cocky bastard right.
“One more Sergeant, push!”
Thomas screamed out his frustration and pain as he struggled to lift his leg that last time, fire running along the inside of his calf and thigh. Sweat ran down his dirty blonde hair and stung his eyes. After he got it lifted all the way up, he collapsed onto the mat exhausted, panting heavily, his thinking burned away in a white burst of pain. He just wanted to lie there until he died. His leg burned and throbbed in time with his heartbeat. Thomas gasped for air as the pain was keeping him from breathing deeply. The pain in his leg was so bad that he nearly wanted to vomit, but the Specialist wasn’t close enough to be worth the effort.
“Good job Sergeant Simmons. That’ll be it for today. Let me help you over to the table where we can get some ice on that leg. If you keep this up, we might just be able to get you up and walking some by early next week. Sound good?”
Thomas grunted and the Physical Therapist helped him into his wheelchair for the short roll over to the table. The ice was going to feel incredibly good after all of that. He was really hoping that he’d be able to get through the rest of physical therapy without killing the kid as he was focused on getting back onto his feet. It would be nice to get out of the wheelchair but the pain that caused was almost worse than the initial injury.
After twenty minutes of letting the ice leech out the ache and pain, slowly starting to burn in a different way, Thomas was helped back into his wheelchair. He shifted, to get settled more comfortably in it and adjusted his wrist brace. The Specialist looked down at him and asked, “Need help to get back to your ward, Sergeant?”
Thomas shook his head. He really didn’t want to rely on someone helping to move him about. He might be stuck in a wheelchair but he wasn’t a cripple. “No. I have to go see the head shrinker right after this. See you tomorrow.”
“You too Sergeant.”
Thomas wheeled himself along the busy hallways, moving around other people who were able to walk, only having a little trouble keeping up a good speed due to his wrist brace. He was getting a little bit bitter about that, the whole being in a wheelchair thing, but maybe the end was in sight and he would be able to start walking again, providing he didn’t kill his therapist. If his leg had healed right and the physical therapists agreed, he might be fit enough to make it back to his unit. It would be better than being stuck here in this POS hospital.
He wheeled himself into the bathroom and struggled himself out of the chair and onto the toilet. After that ordeal, he washed his hands and splashed water on his face. His face was still a bit gaunt from his time in the desert and his blue eyes were narrowed, pinched from the pain and exertion of the PT. At least he hadn’t gotten so mad at the Specialist that his eyes had changed color. Everyone in his unit had told him that when his eyes went green they tried to dive for cover. They thought it was hysterical.
He ran his wet hands over his head of blond hair that was growing longer. He would soon need to get a haircut to be able to stay within regulations. He liked his hair a bit on the long side but he had been glad of the high and tight haircut while he was in Iraq as it was a lot cooler, he had felt sorry for some of the female translators with all of their hair. After drying his hands, he rolled on his way.
He wasn’t really looking forward to this next bit of fun waiting for him. Thomas didn’t trust shrinks and was sure that they were all trying to find ways to put soldiers out of the Army for being crazy. So, he happened to have some nightmares and felt uncomfortable at times because he was unarmed, what was wrong with that? At least it was better than before when he had been in Germany, when he had asked repeatedly for his helmet, rifle, and flak vest and had been denied. He certainly wasn’t going to let the shrink know about the rest of the things rolling around in his head. Those thoughts alone would probably get him discharged from the Army dishonorably. No, those thoughts would stay safely in his own head for now as the shrinks were very clearly the enemy.
When he made it into the psych ward the receptionist smiled at him. “Yes, can I help you?”
“Yes. I have an appointment with Captain Wilson.”
“Okay, your name?”
“Sergeant Simmons. Last four is 7953.”
The woman checked her computer for confirmation and then smiled. “If you could just wait over there, the Doctor will be with you shortly.”
He thanked her and rolled to the side. ‘Oh joy’ thought Thomas wryly, ‘more hurry up and wait.’
After about ten minutes, a young-looking Captain came out of the hallway with a file in hand. He wore glasses and a condescending smile. The man called his name, “Sergeant Simmons?”
“Come with me.” Thomas took an immediate dislike to the man. This was the kind of officer that deserved to get fragged in his opinion. “Do you need any assistance?”
“No sir. I’ll be fine.” Thomas sighed wheeled himself into a small office that was very white and the fluorescents did little to help things. This was not a comfortable place and Thomas shifted uncomfortably in his wheelchair.
The Captain took a seat behind his desk, glanced at the computer briefly and looked over at Thomas. “So Sergeant Simmons, I hear that you have been having some nightmares. Want to tell me about them?”
“What do you want to know?” asked Thomas guardedly. He wouldn’t let himself be caught out by some idiot like this. He was definitely not as dumb as the officers thought. Contrary to popular belief, not all ground pounders were idiots.
“Well, your chart says something about probable Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and some of the notes I’ve read through support that. We should probably do what we can to take care of that, so why don’t you tell me about your time in Iraq?” The Doc sat back in his chair, trying to come across as relaxed and open. To Thomas, all it looked like was being smug.
“What’s to tell? We got there, fought and I got injured.” Thomas did not intend to make this whole thing easy for the shrink. If the Doc wanted to shrink his head and call him crazy, he would have to put up with whatever crap Thomas wanted to dish out, especially since he really didn’t want to be talking to the man in the first place. The man would have to earn his pay in dealing with Thomas.
“All right, why don’t you tell me about how you got injured? Let me know all the details of the event.
I’m sure there is something useful in there that will help me to find a way to help you.” The Captain smiled at Thomas in a way that was probably meant to encourage trust. It failed and only put the Sergeant more on edge.
Thomas thought about things. If the Doc really wanted to know about what he had gone through in Iraq, he guessed that he could humor the man. That part of it was fairly straight forward and in no way would give away any of the things that were really bothering Thomas. “Okay. Our platoon, along with several others, was being sent in to pacify a section of Mosul, as there were some insurgents doing their best to drive us out of the city. Things were going well for us initially, as we were able to move through several streets safely on our patrol. We moved deeper into the city and into the problem area, when all of a sudden things got real ugly…”
* * * * * *
“Shit!” Thomas flinched and ducked lower as several bullets slammed into his sparse cover. He could feel bits of the sandy colored low wall ping off his helmet. Moments like this made him wonder why he had joined the Army. He had to have been an idiot to get into a job where people shot at you.
His squad was currently pinned down by a group of Iraqi insurgents that were safe behind a fortified position further down the street as they had tried to move through the city towards their objective deep within the problem area. The people here, especially the insurgents, were holding out against the coalition forces and so they went in to further “pacify” the city. Parts of the city were resisting and other parts were just happy with not being blown up further.
Thomas hated urban warfare with a passion, as you basically had to constantly keep eyes out in every direction at once, just in case the enemy had circled around behind you. That had happened to their unit several times in training exercises and now they were doing this for real, with no room for such mistakes. This was like the worst final exam ever and there really was no room for failure. Thomas looked across the gap between himself and one of the nearby buildings. He could get far better cover over there, if he could make the sprint across the open ground.
Peterson opened up with his 249 to provide some cover fire for everybody and to get the enemy to pull back under cover. Thomas took that moment to sprint to the corner of the nearby building, feeling his gear shifting heavily on his body as he moved. A few rounds spacked off the ground behind him, urging him to run even faster, as the enemy had barely missed him. He slammed his back against the wall when he reached safety and took in deep gulps of the dust and cordite filled air. Sprinting with a full combat load wasn’t easy; in fact, it was just like running with a full grown person hanging on your back. He was glad to be short, for a change, because at five foot five he made a smaller target and could hide behind things the others couldn’t. It had served him well in training, so far and he was desperately that it would help here.
A few rounds struck the corner he was safely behind, tearing gouges into the masonry. He shifted back a little more from the corner, and looked back at the members of his unit, slightly scattered behind various bits of fallen masonry, burned out cars and the small wall of a garden or something. He hoped the Iraqis didn’t have any stronger weapons on hand, because something like a grenade launcher would make short work of that haphazard cover. Thomas was now the closest to this Iraqi hard point, making him the one who needed to take out the machinegun nest. This was not a good thing in his opinion. A frontal assault would be suicide but there had to be some way he could do this.
“Medic! Medic!” The voice sounded distant to him at that moment as the world seemed to close in on him. The air throbbed with the sounds of the street-to-street battle for this city but he was almost a witness to this even and not a participant. He glanced back again at his team and saw Hernandez scuttling towards Jones, who was clutching his left shoulder and screaming, blood oozing between his fingers. The air smelled of various things, only some of which were identifiable, but each separate scent seemed to be in sharp contrast. In addition to dust and cordite, fire and some unnamable thing choked the air. Things were definitely not going according to the plan the Lieutenant had briefed them on this morning before they were sent out. This whole situation was starting to become a total cluster fuck. They had to get moving again before the insurgents reinforcements arrived.
Thomas took a quick glance around the corner, towards the Iraqi position. The building they were positioned at was up at the intersection, built around the corner. Their position was well built up, with heavy sandbags and the stores façade as overhead cover and none of the grenades had really gotten into the position due to that metal roof extending over the site making the grenades roll to the ground to explode pretty uselessly against the sandbags. If Thomas could make it closer to the position, he just might be able to toss a grenade in there and turn the tide of this bit of the battle. He looked down the street, alongside his position and spotted a door close by, about five meters away. Maybe that route would play out and he could move closer. At this point it was about the only option available.
He edged along the wall, weapon trained down the street, towards the door, knowing that his own unit was at his back if things got too hairy. When he reached the boarded up window, he glanced back at the unit, still hunkered down, returning fire. He was pretty much on his own now, with no other support at his back. Once this engagement was over he was sure that he was going to catch some flack over this. Thomas spotted the Sergeant and called out, hoping to be heard over the din, “Sarge! Sarge!”
When the Sergeant turned and looked his way, Thomas used hand signals to let him know the basics of his idea. The Sergeant held up a hand letting him know to wait. Thomas nervously watched him talk to several other people and then sent the signal for him to go ahead. Thomas nodded and settled himself. Going into a house alone was not a good idea, all of his training told him that. There were too many ways this could end poorly but he didn’t really feel that there was an option.
His unit began to provide distracting fire, to cover his entrance to the building. They put a lot of brass into the air as he kicked in the door. Before the door had swung in fully he charged in, weapon held at the ready, just as he had been taught and had practiced.
It seemed like this building was some sort of electronics store from what he could tell at a glance. There were several television sets in various states of disrepair and a few stereos as well as radio parts scattered about. Nothing was moving in the front room. He moved through the door to the back, trying to cover everywhere at once, nervous sweat trickling cold down his back.
The sound of gunfire was muted inside the building, making the battle just outside seem further away from him at the moment than it actually was. He went through the room-clearing tactics they had practiced for weeks before they were sent over here, making sure there was no one who might give him any hassle. As he moved into what seemed to be a storage room he heard a deep male voice cry out, “Ya raab, sa’edni!”
Thomas spun and aimed his M4 at the cowering Iraqi. The man looked as if he hadn’t bathed or shaved in days and his eyes were wide, almost more white than anything else. The man was down on his knees; he went face down, as if at prayer quickly. Thomas ran over and kicked the man over onto his back, then scuttled back to cover him. The man’s face was a mask of fear, tears rolling down the dusty face and making a slight bit of mud in his beard. “Are there anymore of you in here?!” Thomas yelled. “Are there anymore?!!”
The man shook, eyes wide, watching the weapon, his hands shaking almost as if he had palsy. Thomas screamed the question again, to no effect. It was clear that the man had no idea what he was saying and that was very frustrating. Why couldn’t people speak English? Thomas moved forward and kicked the man again, forcing him to turn back over onto his stomach. Once the man was in position, Thomas dropped a knee into the man’s back and zip tied the man’s hands together quickly, ignoring the groans of pain. Safety was more important than comfort at this point.
He got up and backed away from the man, weapon still trained on his prostrate form, in case the man was going to try something. Another quick scan of the room showed him that there were no doors or windows in the back of this building for him to exit through. Thomas cursed under his breath as he looked around the back room trying to find something that would help, some way he could get outside and back to the battle. He spotted a ladder and quickly made a choice. It certainly seemed to be the best bet available.
He slung his weapon over one shoulder which enabled him to climb with both hands but kept the weapon handy, as he was sure he was going to need it. With a quick exhalation to calm down he started up. When Thomas reached the top he slowly opened the ceiling hatch with the tip of his barrel. The sounds of the battle rushed back in on him as Thomas peered over the edge, scanning the rooftop. There didn’t seem to be anyone up here, which was good. He scrambled up onto the roof and unslung his rifle, so he could have better range of motion with it.
He looked around and noticed several insurgents who had the same idea he had, moving a bit hunched over towards his teammates. He took aim and opened fire, dropping two of the three quickly. The other one dropped for the roof, hoping for some cover and Thomas lost his line of sight. He cursed under his breath and started moving onto the roof itself. Scanning the opposite roof, Thomas waited for his target to pop his head up. When the man did, one shot ended that problem.
Now that he was safe, he low crawled towards the edge closest to the hard point. He looked over the edge cautiously, not wanting to expose himself to enemy fire. This was already a bit more forward than he wanted to be. The Iraqis were using a corner storefront as their position, with a built up, reinforced barricade in front of it which luckily blocked their view of him. That should keep himself somewhat safe at the moment as he could act unobserved. He was able to make out a narrow opening in the cover from this angle and if he were lucky he might just be able to toss a grenade into their laps. As he looked down some more, he noticed that there was another group of Iraqis jogging up the street towards the corner with a rocket propelled grenade launcher already loaded. Reinforcements had arrived. He cursed and pulled two grenades from his LBV. He had to do this right or everyone would be torn apart by the new enemy arrivals.
Thomas muttered a quick prayer for luck and tossed the first grenade into the hard point, as that was clearly the first priority. It arced through the air and it seemed to him like it made it inside but by then his attention was diverted. He then lobbed the other grenade down on the group on the street, since that weapon was a bit more dangerous than the machine gun. He was really hoping that he could pull this off without getting caught as getting shot did not fit in with his plans. Shouts filled the air and he heard the first explosion, and the secondary explosions of the ammunition cooking off. He had taken care of the machine gun and helped his team.
The second explosion he never heard as his own world exploded in pain. He flew backwards, as the corner heaved into pieces of masonry and fire, both cutting into him. Thomas slammed solidly into the ground back by the ladder, as the pain level raised and he realized he was screaming. His shoulder and leg were burning and he tried to swat them out. The pain from that was excruciating and everything went thankfully black.
* * * * * *
Thomas blinked his eyes open and looked up. His head was throbbing in time with his pulse and he groaned. He realized that was in a Blackhawk, one of the medivac birds, and he felt horrible. He heard the pain-induced moaning before realizing he was the source and that did not comfort him in the least. The pain killers were helping but Thomas could feel the burns and broken limbs.
He was in the middle of the stack of injured, one above and one below him on the rotating rack made to hold the stretchers. He turned his head slightly and saw that the other side looked empty, but he wasn’t sure. He really didn’t have a good view. A flight medic moved alongside him and injected something into the IV that that had already been started. The pain faded even more and he closed his eyes to the world.
The next time he awoke, he could feel bandages everywhere and there were several places that burned, but he no longer cared about any of that thanks to the pain meds that filled him. He layback and listened to the rhythmic thrum of the chopper, drifting in and out of consciousness trying to remember what had just happened to him. Why was he here?
When he reached the combat hospital, they rushed him inside and everything was even more of a blur at that point. They took x-rays and he felt his uniform being cut off among the other pokings and proddings going on. Someone injected something else into his IV and things went thankfully black again.
* * * * * *
Thomas’ lips were dry and chapped, he ached all over. What the hell had happened to him? His head was fuzzy and he shook it slightly in an attempt to clear the mental cobwebs. The movement made his head throb painfully, so he stopped, fighting back the nausea. He moaned in pain, feeling like he was slowly getting clearer headed. Soon a nurse came up to his bed, clearly checking on him.
She was pretty, with dark brown hair in a braid, wearing fatigue pants and one of the ugly brown regulation undershirts. The woman had nice curves and an amble bosom, which gave him a slight smile. “How are you feeling Corporal Simmons?”
He blinked and replied, his voice a bit slurred, “Like shit. I hurt everywhere. What happened?”
“You got a concussion, broken leg and wrist, and shrapnel wounds. You just got out of surgery, where they pulled the shrapnel. Your bones have been set and now you are in recovery.” Her voice was friendly. “Thirsty?”
Thomas thought about nodding his head and remembered that it hurt. Maybe it would be best just to say something. “Yes, please.”
She smiled at him brightly. “I’ll be right back. Don’t go anywhere.”
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