A light drizzle plastered the hair to Seth’s face as he shuffled down the street, hand crammed into a sweater pocket and stare resolutely fixed on the ground. He fixed his attention on the chunk of concrete he was kicking every couple of feet rather than the fury curling at the bottom of his stomach. As long as he didn’t pay attention to it, he couldn’t turn on his heel and march back to the clinic and rage against the injustice of it all. Logically, he understood why they couldn’t admit him, regardless of his previous service history. It didn’t matter that he was just as capable of killing others now as he had been when he was whole—even more so now perhaps, having fought through the pain and exhaustion of relearning everything with his unbalanced body. Then again, he had been lucky enough to have even been allowed to point out his name on the roster before he was kicked out without a second glance because of his empty sleeve. Seth couldn’t blame them for not needing a soldier with one arm—not when there was a steady stream of men joining every day, most with no other choice, just like him.
Still, logic didn’t stop him from being furious at everything including himself for not being able to do a goddamned thing anymore. He had only managed to be self reliant for four years before he was back to where he had started—ragged, worn, and pointless. But he couldn’t even bring himself to be upset about it without guilt choking him. Most of the others who were discharged had it much worse than him and the streets were proof enough of that fact. There were men who had lost much more than him hiding in the corners and shadows of alleyways, having nowhere else to go nor having the energy to seek out anything better. He had a roof over his head and a meal here and there because something about him reminded a woman about her son and she wouldn’t leave him on the streets.
Or some bullshit like that.
Seth kicked the concrete hard and it skittered down the street before it snagged on an uneven patch of ground and bounced out into the road. He watched it slow to a stop before moving on, remembering when he would have darted out into the road to corral the chunk back onto the street before continuing his game as he walked. But it wasn’t a game anymore. Just a useless distraction. Besides, there were enough ruined buildings around that he didn’t need to look very hard for another suitable piece of rubble. For a brief, blinding moment, Seth wished that the explosion that had taken his arm would have taken the rest of him as well, just like the rest of his regiment.
There was a brief moment where the breath caught in his throat, but Seth pushed the thought roughly aside, shaking his head and moving forwards again. He didn’t have a goddamn right to think that way. Not when there wasn’t anything wrong with his life, not really. The man leaning against the broken walls of what used to be an apartment building was enough proof that Seth needed.
He ducked his head, returning his eyes to the bullet-riddled ground and started to walk faster, desperate to escape. The city held too many things that just reminded him of who he should be. Of who he couldn’t be, because he was constantly angry now and couldn’t do anything remotely useful to keep his mind off things.
Seth was sure all the men and women in the streets knew better than him, but there was nothing left for them in the city. No single shred of the lives that they had left behind. Nor was there anything for them anywhere else. So they sat in the city and festered. And maybe that was why Seth was so angry, but he didn’t think so. He was angry because he was selfish and even with the evidence in front of him, he felt like he could be different—could count for something again.
And if that wasn’t disgusting, Seth didn’t know what was.
By the time Seth settled the twisting feelings of unprovoked anger and guilt down, his desperate feet had lead him to the edge of the city, where concrete seamlessly flowed into leaves and dirt, the mixed rock disappearing into dust, then soil at a certain point. Seth sucked in a sharp breath, the air clean and crisp despite the vague heat of the start of summer. He had never been this far away from the center of the city before. It had never occurred to him that there was probably something beyond the city and even if he had known, he wouldn’t have seen the point in investigating anyways. But now that he was here—
Why the fuck not?
Seth took in a deep breath as if he was preparing to dive into water and strode forwards, his old, confident walk settling awkwardly into him. He had learned to compensate for the missing weight on his left side a while ago, but it didn’t make it seem any less strange when he walked anywhere with purpose. Then again, he had probably always looked stupid trying to seem like he was old and smart enough to make his own decisions since he was fifteen.
The forest was much darker than the city but Seth pressed on anyways, only regretting his decision after barely managing to save himself from being sent sprawling onto the wet, mulch-covered ground for the fifth time in what was definitely not a reasonable amount of distance to have tripped so many times. There was no path to follow—at least not one that was visible in the dark. There could have easily been an overgrown path visible to a trained eye in daylight, but all Seth could make out of the forest floor was that there were way too many brambles and half of the forest’s entire arsenal of thorns were probably in his legs.
He was about to turn back to struggle out of the forest before the chill from the soft breeze and his wet clothes made his life foreseeably more miserable in the near future when all the vegetation stopped entirely unnaturally. Seth had never been in a forest before and he knew clearings existed, but he didn’t think they occurred exactly like this. The trees didn’t thin out near the clear circle, they just stopped. It left an oval that seemed much too artificial to have occurred naturally, but there was no evidence of human tampering, not even a single neglected stump. But Seth couldn’t even find that the strangest thing.
The clearing was illuminated by moonlight, the sky clear despite the constant rain that had troubled everyone the entire week. Seth had the eerie, inexplicable feeling that this was the only area that the rain didn’t reach. Under the white spotlight of the moon, an impressive growth of daisies filled the clearing, not a single blank patch visible. The pale flowers swayed gently in the wind, petals almost glowing in comparison to the darkness Seth had stumbled through. Seth took a tentative step forwards, worrying his bottom lip with his teeth until he could taste the sharp tang of blood on his tongue. The slight pain helped him drag his eyes away from the near hypnotizing scene, prompting him to take another step.
Closer to the flowers, he could see a shadowed figure sprawled in the middle of the flowers, darkness shrouding them despite the intense glow of the moonlight. Seth grimaced as something tugged at his gut, nausea washing over him. He wanted to sink to his knees to retch, but the same feeling yanked at his gut, giving him no choice but to stumble forwards, drawing closer and closer to the figure, vaguely thinking that what should have been soft light in any other situation felt too much like the blinding glare of fluorescent bulbs used in interrogations.
Seth was finally allowed to sink to his knees when he was an arm’s length away from the figure, struggling for a full minute to catch his breath despite only having walked less than fifty yards. He closed his eyes and steadied himself, waiting for the dizziness to fade before slowly opening them again.
He really wished he hadn’t.
The figure lying prone in the middle of the field (because what else could he call it but a small field of daisies?) was a woman, naked as the day she was born and evidently peaceful and content to be out in the open. Of course Seth didn’t believe that was true for a second—there were countless drugs in the city that could induce that state in anyone if you knew and cared enough to look. No one had to even look hard. Ducking into one or two alleyways usually produced what most people were looking for. It wasn’t impossible, but it was very unlikely that this woman was willingly naked in the clearing, although Seth didn’t know why she hadn’t been ditched in an abandoned, half rubble building like all the other ones always were.
And then there was the fact that she didn’t have a single mark on her. Seth could already feel the countless trickles of blood running down his legs from the thorns that had torn at his ankles and ripped through his jeans from his walk. The woman wasn’t small—she was well-muscled and tall, perhaps even taller than himself. If she had been brought here, she would have to have been dragged or hauled along through all those thorns.
Seth grimaced and tore his eyes away, shivering at how the woman’s well-tanned skin almost seemed silver under the moonlight. After a moment’s consideration, Seth unzipped and shrugged off his sweater before draping it over the woman, careful not to touch her. A stronger breeze pushed the hair away from his face and Seth narrowed his eyes, blinking as the moonlight suddenly seemed to dim, leaving them in the soft glow that he was accustomed to.
He could almost swear that he had felt something impossibly large exhale in relief.
Seth sank back, crossed his legs and let out a huffing breath, “What the shitting fuck?”