Somewhere in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan
Russell’s ears rang and he blinked, trying hard to focus, but the shockwave wouldn’t let him. His teammates ran around him, securing the perimeter and helping those soldiers hurt the most.
All the noise came from a distance, as though Russell was separated from the action by a thick wall of plastic. His team yelled at him, but he didn’t understand any of what they said since he couldn’t hear. Bullets chipped the rocks close by. Yet it was the bombs exploding around him that caused his disorientation and temporary deafness.
He crouched at the edge of the cliff and stared down at the enemy shooting up at him. So far Russell had been lucky and hadn’t gotten injured since shipping over from Fort Hood, Texas, unlike quite a few of his unit and other fellow soldiers who had been wounded or killed by insurgents. Russell had three more months in the country before he shipped back home and he tried hard not to think about anything except doing his job. He didn’t want to jinx it.
Suddenly a numbing pain tore through his side and he wobbled at the edge before falling off the cliff. He had no breath to cry out as he bounced off ledges and rocks. When his momentum stopped, he lay on his back and looked into the clear sky. When had it gotten so bright? He stared up at the cloudless expanse of blue. He tried to grip his gun closer to his chest. A soldier should never be without his weapon. Russell’s hand didn’t want to cooperate.
Unable to yell or move, Russell Heinz contemplated his death, half a world away in a war he wasn’t sure he believed in anymore. Oh, he believed in his duty to his country, but he’d fought so long without rest and he wasn’t entirely sure the people he was fighting to liberate really cared about freedom.
Russell hoped his parents wouldn’t take the news too badly. The army had been a way to get out of the small town he’d been trapped in and he’d liked most of the experience, except for the killing part. He’d done his best to reconcile that so that he could function.
The noise of the battle faded, causing Russell to wonder if he was drifting into unconsciousness or if the fight had moved away from where he’d fallen. Either no one had noticed his fall or they’d assumed he was dead and had no way of retrieving him from the ledge.
Pain swamped him and he bit his lip clean through, not wanting to yell and alert the enemy. Maybe he should have, though, because they might have been merciful and killed him quickly, which would be better than the lingering death he’d condemned himself to by falling off the cliff above.
As the sun inched across the sky and all he heard around him was the wind, Russell began thinking about his life. At twenty-five, he should’ve been far more experienced than he was. While he’d seen some of the world as a soldier, he’d never really lived. He’d tended toward being quiet and introverted instead of outgoing, so he only had a few close friends.
Even those few didn’t know Russell was gay. He hadn’t wanted to involve them in the whole ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ issue. The idiotic law might have been repealed, and all the troops trained in the political correctness of accepting gays in the military, but Russell hadn’t been about to risk his career or those of his friends by blurting out his sexual preferences. Illegal or not, it would take more than a silly repeal to get people to accept the truth about him, so Russell had chosen to keep his mouth shut.
It wasn’t as if he’d had anyone special to come out for, anyway. He had hoped that after he’d left his hometown it would have become easier. Should have known it wouldn’t be that simple. He’d hooked up a couple of times when he’d been on leave and had headed toward the nearest big city to lose himself in a crowd. At least he wasn’t going to die a virgin.
Russell snorted and nearly passed out from the pain the action caused. Hell, did he have broken ribs? What else had he broken when he’d fallen? Probably his back and shit. It would suck if he lived through this day. Not that he believed he would.