Chapter 23

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"I'm going to give you a minute before we move on to the next one?"

"Is it that bad?"

"You blocked it from your memory pretty good over the years."

Ben had many memories he didn't recall unless it reemerged as a nightmare or it was triggered somehow.  There was no telling what Nelson was referring to. 

"When you said you had seen what I went through before, what did you mean?" asked Ben thinking back on what he just experienced.

"I was with you the whole time you were taking my body home."

Ben's eyes grew wide with this new information.

"You were with me?"

"Every step of the way."

Ben thought back on that journey.  He was an absolute mess.  And, Nelson witnessed all of it. All the tears, anger, sleepless nights by his coffin. All the heartache he endured escorting his body home.  Now he knew he wasn't alone after all. 

"Why?  Why did you stay behind for that?  How is that even possible?"

Nelson sighed as he thought carefully on how to answer that. 

"Gray, I knew I would have to help you.  I had to see what you went through taking my body home to be able to help you."

"I don't understand.  How did you know?"

"I was told."

Ben opened his mouth to ask more questions before Nelson interrupted him.  "I think it's time to move forward.  We are still ahead of schedule and I want to keep it that way."

The blackness started to fade.  Before the scene developed, Ben heard the screams he often heard in his flashbacks and dreams.  A man screaming in pain. 

"Give him some fucking morphine," bellowed Ben. 

Ben watched as his former self was staring down at one of his soldiers.  A medic was hastily working on him with Ben's help.  It was Hall.  His leg was almost completely gone along with part of his left hand.  Blood was everywhere in the Humvee. Ben watched the medic in desperation as he continued to apply a tourniquet on Hall's arm.  The man's screams were deafening.  Silence only came when he passed out.  Ben quickly checked his pulse and found he was still alive.  The pain was too great to handle. 

"Do you remember this?" asked Nelson next to Ben.

Ben felt his heart racing. "I forgot until now.  He almost died."

"But he didn't."

"No, but I have no clue how he is now.  I lost contact with him.  He recovered but, I failed him by not communicating enough."

"This is why you are seeing this."

Ben tore his eyes from his former self covered in blood and looked at Nelson curiously.

"Is this one of those instances where I affected someone negatively?"

"Not at all.   Can you think of why you would be shown this?"

Ben thought about this long and hard.  He couldn't put his finger on what Nelson was trying to tell him.

"You are reliving this memory and unable to grasp all the details because of guilt.  You feel guilty you lost contact with him and you feel as if you failed him as an NCO."

"Well, you described that accurately."

Nelson smiled and continued, "But you saved this man's life.  You don't have to continue to be the superhero all the time.  You did what you were suppose to do.  You helped your medic save his life.  You couldn't possibly keep contact with your recovery from your own injury.  Hall is doing just fine.  He is thanking his lucky stars for you and the medic every single day."

Ben took in this information quietly.  He was in disbelief he had forgotten all these details until now. 

"Hall has fully accepted losing his leg and arm.  He embraces life.  You have not fully accepted his loss though.  You carry it with you.  It haunts you, continued Nelson. 

Ben had never thought of this before.  But, it was true.  He felt guilty losing contact with him and that he lost limbs.  He always felt that there was more he could do.

"Your Drill Sergeant was right Gray."

Ben snapped away from his thoughts and looked at Nelson who was watching him carefully.

"You would have made a fine medic."

"I probably would be more fucked up in the process," snorted Ben.

"True.  But, you sure did amazing shit for people in your lifetime."

Ben felt his heart ease with this compliment.  He had never really considered any of this until this journey he was taking with Nelson through his past. 

"On to the next one?"

"Why not."

"Someone else will be joining us for this one."

Before Ben could ask, the scene faded in from the last one.  He felt himself grow rigid when he recognized the scene.  He was in the Humvee with his former self as an explosion erupted next to them.  The windshield shattered. Ben felt himself push back. He was stopped by Nelson who grabbed his shoulder.

"It's okay.  I'm here for you."

"Nelson, I really don't want to see this.  I have already relived it so many times."

"You already know the drill.  You have to get through this."

"This is fucked up.  I want out of here," said Ben fully turning around trying to find an escape. 

Before he could, the driver was shot in the neck.  Ben turned around quickly and went to grab him as his former self did.  He pulled himself back in shock by his motions. 

"Looks like you still have it," said Nelson behind him.

"What good does it do?  He still died."

"But he didn't die alone."

Ben closed his eyes as the gurgling continued with his former self talking calmly to him that he wasn't leaving.  He felt the burning behind his eyes as they started to water.  He looked down at the scene that was playing right at his feet.  Nelson's death relived was further away.  The driver, Specialist Hernandez, was so close.  The details were just as he remembered.  But reliving it this way was unbearable. He started to take in short shallow breaths as his heart quickened.

"Sergeant?"

Ben didn't remember this part of his memory.

"Sergeant Grayson?  It's me."

Ben turned around and felt his knees buckle almost hitting the floor from the crouched position he was in.  It was the driver at the door of the Humvee looking in directly at him.

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