He was a typical soldier, he supposed. Well, anyone would suppose such a thing, really. He went in right out of school, with his mother tutting nervously while his father sat back proudly. He went to training and he learned everything he was meant to, and perhaps a bit more than he’d thought he would. He was, for the first time in a long time, exhausted to the point where happiness didn’t even matter.
He did everything a training soldier was meant to do, and he did it well. He learned so much, so quickly. He and his newfound brothers learned to shoot guns, clean guns, maintain guns. They learned how to kill.
It wasn’t until his unit was deployed that anyone learned how to die.
It was sand and heat and far too much sun sparkling on the sand and rippling in the heat. So much, always, all the time. It was constant and horrible and eventually, it was so, so red. Seeping into sand and boots and cracks in hands. It was everywhere. The coppery hotness under his tongue was everything.
Sprays of red stars and grey matter and shattered hearts shone in the sun like nebulas spinning together and screaming apart. The soft rush of air before a hot bullet slipped through the air was so quiet, but hideously, viciously loud in the hush before someone fell.
It was the most heinously unfair thing, he thought, that he had been taught so many things and that he hadn’t ever properly known what death was until he saw it in the blazing deserts and sand and red red red glitter of life forcibly expelled.
His finger was always on the trigger, as any good soldier’s would be, but he was something strange and wonderful and terrible.
He was the soldier who would not kill.
Never did a bullet explode from the muzzle of his gun. Never did he drive existence out of the body of, God, anyone, friend or foe.
Heat and pain and his accidental brothers yelling and he was being lifted off the ground on which he had collapsed. It felt like the end. It felt like the last few words of the novel of his life.
It felt like void.
He woke up two days later, and went home a month after that. He’d just been shot in the leg, and was, ultimately, fine. He limped for a while, but eventually, he was able to go back to work. He was never put on the front lines again, but he was still that strange and wonderful and terrible thing.
Over thirty years at that job, and he was still, always and forever, the soldier who did not kill.