Some things etched by blood and fire; iron, heat, the grit of sand - somehow ever-present in your teeth - the smell of cordite.

The rumble of the truck. The shock of the main charge. Lead truck tossed in the air, all five tons landing twisted; some child’s discarded bit of play dough. Waiting for a secondary; doesn’t come.

Giving the order to dismount. First rocket cutting you off, drowning you out, hitting the truck, rocking it hard. Second one hitting, truck going on it’s side. Impact of chaos. Burning. No sound. Everything white, then dark.

Eyes opening. The kid next to you - really, just a kid; barely even has to shave - sprawled, shredded. Taste of blood; not yours. Trying to help. Fumbling with a tourniquet. Arm not working right. Broken wrist? Maybe. Can’t tell. Knowing you’ll feel it later; Adrenaline, no time for it now. The kid - a brother - still needing help.

A brother dying. Realization of too much blood lost, tourniquet or no. Last words lost in incoherent screams, heard through a fog, far away. Realizing you’ll never be able to forget his face.

The worse realization, watching the light fade from his eyes, that in that moment you feel /nothing/. Not good, not bad. Not joy, not fear. Just.. calm. Empty. Soulless.

World fading to black and white. Hearing, now, small arms fire; rounds hitting already burnt steel - popcorn on cast iron.

Prying his hand from your arm. Watching it fall, lifeless. Handprint left in blood. It will never wash out - nor will it be the only blood on your sleeve before it’s over. Later you will burn it all; along with the memory - or try to. Can’t. It sticks, like the sand. Never leaves.

Everything moving slow. Faintly hearing voices on the net, calling for fire support. Hearing the words “danger close”. Fleeting thoughts wondering what it’d be like to still have “stuck in traffic” or “crowded mall” mean “bad day”. Finding your M4. Brushing off the sand, checking the sights. Re-seating the mag, clicking from “safe” to “semi”. Returning fire for the first time.

Those are the bits that will stick - like the sand - fragmented, tumbling, popping in when you least want them.

No longer sleeping. Won’t. Can’t. Envy of those who can. Wonder at people who /want/ to dream.

Thinking that the dead are the lucky ones. Mourned, sure, but finished. Closure. Not fading to a ghost. Not having to be a shade amongst the living. Dismissed. Forgotten.

Wishing for a dreamless sleep - a sort of temporary death. Not wanting to be away from those you still try to care about. Not wanting to be /alone/. Just.. away from the faces, the heat, the blood, the voices. Worst, the voices.

Just let me be. Like so many nights before, it’s 0319.

No longer care how.