To stay. To fight. To hide. To flee.
It's a mantra, a lightning fast hymn on your lips that conjures with it impossible possibilities – life and death; to live, to die. Its razor-sharp finality slices through your mind, eradicating all comprehensive thoughts but for one.
It was never meant to be like this. Not quite like this, with the paradox of the coward and the hero flitting through your mind, bringing with it connotations of the tree of knowledge. You know which one is the sin, the apple, but even as you contemplate the possibility it is inevitable which one you choose. It is predetermined, really, you think, with the sort of perverse certainty that makes you realise just how long ago you lost your battle.
You stayed, once.
You were young and naive and believed that your presence – your eager loyalty – could change the hand that had already been dealt. You still believed in miracles, in self-determination, and back then you had known with all your heart that everything was going to turn out like those fairy tales you had read as a child. He was dying, they said, as they shook their heads ruefully and gave you a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. Happens all the time. But it hadn't. Not to you. Because you were young and you were invincible and believed so strongly in the infallibility of the human race that you were prepared to cast everything on the outcome. You gambled, and you lost. No matter how much you begged, or ignored the identical salty trails on your cheeks, it was all gone. That was the first lesson you learnt, back then. There was no point staying because everything was only going to disappear anyway; your innocence, your beliefs, your life as you'd known it.
You fought, too.
Over and over again until the taking of human life no longer felt like sacrilege; like a personal crime against every other sentient being in existence. Instead it became automatic, routine, and once you even found it monotonous. It was this feeling of utter tediousness that woke you up – that and the dreadful result of your actions. It was indiscriminate in those days, irrelevant of sex, age, status. Your orders were set in stone and those were the ones you obeyed; not the long-since silenced alarm deep inside your heart. Blood was on your head – your head and your shoulders and your fingertips. It was everywhere, staining you with its morbidly beautiful crimson brown. It wasn't until you saw the consequences – tangible, physical, as more than just guilty figments of your imagination – that you realised. Realised the unimaginable enormity of what you'd done. That the little girl in the field wasn't screaming because she was filled with a terror so great that all she could do was vocalise it in a desperate plea for help. Realised the translation of the single word that erupted from her mouth was father. Realised what you'd destroyed. It was the last time you ever took aim, but it wasn't the only time you recalled that girl's pigtails flapping in the breeze of a sorrow so great that it encompassed all who were on the field that day.
You hid, sometimes.
When it looked like the utter desperation of the situation before you would consume you all. When it looked like despite everything, you would inevitably succumb. Those were the times that you longed for a reprieve, for a break in the never-ending horror around you. It was these times that you wished for the same fate as so many others before you. And so you hid. Like the coward you felt you'd become – knew you'd become – you listened to the cries and terrified screams of victims as you sheltered; safe beneath the branches of a tree or a bush or an empty shell of a house. It was these times that you ignored the stench of rotting garbage, the gruesome image of villagers too late to leave their homes; of your own hysterical breathing. It was these times that you could almost believe you were gone, too. And when the burning and pillaging and sickening thuds went on around you, you hid. Because despite it all – even a desperately longed-for reprieve was not something you had the courage to attain.
You fled, frequently.
When it all got too much and you knew – you just knew – what was going to happen; the sheer inevitability of the next minute, hour, day; you fled. You were jaded and sick and maybe even depressed, but there was no way you were going to give it up. It was barely recognisable and it was broken but it was yours and they weren't going to take it. Because you had earned it, had survived to this point, had protected it. You weren't going to give it up. So you fled.
To stay. To fight. To hide. To flee.
It's a familiar phrase, now, one that echoes in your mind even as you consciously attempt to pick another option – to find another way. But there is no other way – you've resigned yourself to it, and now all that is left to do is to acknowledge just who you are. Because despite attempting to convince yourself otherwise, there is no escaping this fact. This choice is a representation; a personification of yourself. You've known for a long time, now, just who you are.
A friend. A hero. A coward. Alive.
A/N: I wrote this for one of my final SACs - you have about four a year and then they add them all up together to duduce a final score. Sort of like quarterly tests, only they generally help to decide your whole future... which is particularly nice when you get herded into a room, given a pencil with a prompt and told to write for the next hour... so I did. :D