Chapter 2: Freedoms

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     Dawood felt a ringing in his ears as something exploded nearby. "Dave!" He barely heard someone scream. He hid behind the gnarled remains of what was left of their jeep and took a deep breath as gunfire rained down on him. He looked to his left and noticed the scorched remains of the jeep that was in front of them. There were bodies there, all burned from the blast, all people Dawood knew personally. As another shot rang out from the distance Dawood tried keeping his emotions in check and closed his eyes, having a quick flashback of his mother. He was taught a prayer by his mother when he was in high school from the Qur'an by her. "When things seem impossible, my son, recite this verse and God will be on your side," Amina had explained to him as she showed him the Qur'an. He opened his eyes and bared his teeth before whispering the verse to himself, "Allah alone is sufficient for me, and he is the best disposer of affairs." He then began laying down suppressive fire and inched along the twisted metal frame of their vehicle towards his fellow soldiers. "Emily," Dawood whispered as he spotted one of his fellow soldiers, pinned underneath rubble that had catapulted on top of her once she was thrown out of the vehicle. She was shivering, she was panting, and she was hysterical. He tried his best to approach her but a burning tire lay between him and her, not to mention the barrage of bullets being shot at them from what seemed like everywhere. "Stay still!" Dawood yelled, "I'll be right there!" "D-Dave," she shivered, "we're gonna die." "We're not going to die," Dave whispered fiercely. He spotted Elliott cradling his shoulder only a few feet away.

     "Van Horn!" Dawood yelled out before laying out some more suppressing fire. Elliott looked around in a daze towards Dawood, "Khan?" "You coherent?" Dawood yelled again. Elliot shook his head to clear his thoughts and tried moving around, only to find that his shoulder was in terrible pain, "I think I got shot." "Can you move though?" Dawood asked as he began changing his gun's magazine. "I'm almost out of ammo. Can you move, Van Horn?" "Barely," Elliot whispered and tried crawling over to Dawood, "We're gonna die, man." "No we're not. Not today. God's with us," Dawood said as he placed his combat boots against the burning tire to move it out of the way. The heat had melted the tire against the ground, making it stick to the surface of both the ground and Dawood's boots. Dawood tried readjusting himself to move the tire without being shot, but heard a metal clink against the ground not too far from him. "Oh shit," was Dawood's last thought as the shiny grenade detonated.

******

     Dawood woke up with a start and tried catching his breath. "It was a dream. It was a dream," he reassured himself as he tried calming down. He was drenched with sweat and looked around wildly before he realized that he was in his room at home. "Oh God. Oh God," Dawood mouthed while he stood up. He headed to the bathroom and quickly splashed water on his face. As he calmed down, he looked at himself and let out a ragged breath. He was called a hero, but that day was one of his worst memories ever. He did manage to save Elliot, Emily, and Dan, but what about the ones that were in the jeep ahead of them? "They didn't even have a chance," Dave sighed and shook his head. They had been on a mission to find and retrieve and AWOL soldier. Nothing had gone right that day. He finally took a minute to look at himself and realized that he had fallen asleep without changing out of his uniform. "I need a shower," he whispered to himself as he rubbed his eyes. Dawood headed out of the bathroom and back into his room to find a change of clothes, but stopped as he spotted Ahmed hanging sideways off the spare bed. He smiled at his friend's inability to sleep normally and shifted Ahmed properly on the bed. "No. Five more minutes, Rana," Ahmed mumbled sleepily and made Dawood smile slightly. Even in Ahmed's sleep his big sister was bossing him around.

     Once Dawood found a pair of pants and a t-shirt, he headed back into the bathroom and began taking off his uniform. As he took off his shirt, he stood in front of the mirror and looked at himself. There were a multitude of scars running in every direction on his upper torso, remnants of the day he was supposedly a hero for. He remembered the grenade exploding, loading him with shrapnel that a field surgeon later removed meticulously in a five-hour procedure. He remembered being told he was lucky for surviving the blast, let alone being cleared to return to combat only after a few weeks off. Dawood frowned as he ran his finger over a thick scar that ran from his clavicle diagonally towards his sternum. That was the worst injury he sustained in the blast. It was the injury that still hurt him when he overexerted himself. He'd never admit that he was still occasionally in pain, especially now that he was home. He smiled at himself in the mirror at the thought of how his mom would panic if she ever saw his scars, let alone the fact that he still experienced pain. "Nope. This is my little secret," Dawood said to himself before fully undressing and heading into the shower.

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