…he didn’t die?
The shot echoed through the night. His eyes widened slightly, as if he was taken by surprise. The calm face of his wife smiled at him, which was a huge contrast with the gun she had aimed at his chest.
His right arm fell limply beside his body and his hand lost its grip of the small throwing knife. The serene smile on his wife’s face turned sadistic as she watched how he fell slowly backwards.
Memories flashed through his mind. He didn’t feel the pain anymore, he didn’t feel the wind sweeping over his face. He only felt the cold touch of death and a deep regret that he couldn’t hold his promise to his friend.
The last thing he remembered was a conversation between him and his friend from a long time ago, where he had said he would work under his friend to push him up to the top.
* * * * * * *
There hung an oppressive silence in the surgery room. Doctors and nurses had gathered around the table, where their patient awaited motionlessly for their success. The doctors had held little hope for his survive – indeed when they had brought him to the hospital, they had feared he was already dead. Still, they did their best to keep him alive and to remove the bullet that had nearly killed him.
“Temperature is dropping, doctor. Heart rate has slowed down to 40 beats per minute.”
The doctor swore silently under his breath. “Keep an eye on him. Warn me again when his heart rate drops under the 20.” He gazed at the handsome young face and prayed. Let him live. Let us make this in time. But he feared the worst.
“Have you located the bullet already?”
“Yes, doctor.” Finally some good news. “It appears to have pierced one lung. It will be hard to remove the bullet without causing further damage.”
“Show me where it is.” He might be able to come with a solution to this problem. After all, his colleague was much younger – still in his twenties – whereas he had been in the hospital for more than thirty years and he had had many soldiers as patients. Injuries caused by guns were not unusual.
He inspected the situation carefully. “We ought to be able to make that,” he said relieved.
“But the bullet-”
“Don’t worry, I’ve seen shots like these before. The only problem is the loss of blood. Pulling out the bullet might cause the blood to flow freely and we don’t want that. Keep an eye on his breathing and heart rate.” A nurse gave him the surgery tool he needed – she knew exactly what he needed – and he moved slowly into the bloody mess of organs and other things.
It was difficult, but not impossible. He had to be careful – very careful or he would loose his patient – but that was no exception. He noticed he began to tense up as he got closer to the silver object.
“Doctor, heart rate is dropping again, very fast this time. It’s almost under the 20 beats per minute.”
“Don’t die on me now,” he murmured exasperated to his unconscious client. “I’m almost there and I don’t want to find out I’ve done this for nothing.”
It was a fight against the time. The patient’s heartbeat became slower every second. His younger colleague told him urgently to stop, but he ignored it. He was almost there…
* * * * * * *
Alone, Gracia waited in the empty hall of the hospital. She felt exhausted and worn out, but her concern for her husband forced her to stay awake. She remembered how the officer came to her house to tell her the grave news. That her husband, Maes Hughes, had been shot.
At first, she had thought he was already dead and she could literary feel her whole life slip away. A life without Maes… she didn’t know if she could face such fate. But the officer had assured that Maes was still alive, although barely, and that he was taken to the hospital.
She had immediately called up a friend, to ask her if she didn’t mind to look after Alicia while she would wait in the hospital for news. She prayed that Maes would stay alive; she prayed that he would walk up from the bed and come to her to assure her everything was going to be alright.
Footsteps interrupted her silent brooding and Gracia looked up at the approaching figure of the doctor. Each step carried a solemnity in its echo and fear crept back into her heart again. He’s dead, she thought. The surgery was a failure.
Then the doctor gave her a tired, but triumphant smile. “Mrs. Hughes? I am glad to inform you that the surgery has been successful.”
It was hard to comprehend. The shock of the news that Maes had been shot and the chance that he might not survive the surgery had numbed her mind and she could only gaze up at the doctor. But as the true meaning of the words struck her, she began to smile. It seemed as if a whole burden had been lifted from her shoulders and the bleak, dark hall suddenly didn’t look that bleak or dark anymore.
“He’s still alive?”
The doctor nodded. “I must say it was a close call, but we made it. He is still asleep, but if you want, you can visit him for a few moments.” The doctor coughed and looked away. “There is something I must confess, though.” He faced her directly again, his eyes full with sympathy. “I’m afraid the removal of the bullet has damaged his right lung. Even if it heals, it will remain a weak lung. He’ll tire easily, because his right lung won’t be able to work as it should be.
“But what concerns me most is his right arm. The cut is deep and it has damaged several muscles severely. Everything might have been alright if he hadn’t moved it, since the slightest movement can cause more disruption. It’s beyond our ability to heal it now, which means he will never be able to move his arm again.
Gracia nodded mutely. She had heard only half of what he had told her, since she was too much caught up in joy about the most important news: he was still alive. “I would like to see him, doctor. Even if it’s just for a few moments.”
“Then please follow me, Mrs. Hughes.” The doctor turned around and led the concerned woman to her husband.
The news that Maes was still alive had filled Gracia’s heart again with hope and joy. But the sight of her husband in his current state crushed her hopes and joys with brutal force. The man who laid upon the bed was as white as sheet and he looked more dead than alive. Was this truly her husband, who was always energetic and cheerful? Gracia found it hard to believe it.
“Maes?” She touched his pale face gently. He’s so cold, she thought shocked. How can they be sure he’s still alive? Her Maes was warm and soft. He’d have opened his eyes and grinned at her in his own, mischevious way. He’d whisper sweet and naughty words in her ears. He’d do a lot of things, but he’d never lie on a bed like that.
“Oh, Maes…” A sob escaped her lips and she took his lifeless body tenderly in her arms. He would wake up now and laugh softly at her silly behaviour, because she was all concerned again about nothing. His healthy arm would move up and settle itself comfortably around her waist to return her embrace and he would kiss her gently on her lips.
But nothing happened. There were no comforting words or hugs returned. Gracia sighed and let him go again. She could’ve expected that. Such things only happened in stories with happy endings. Real life had no happy ending. She could only hope for the best.
Gracia enfolded her own warm hands around his cold hand and kissed his fingers. A tear trickled down over her cheek and her smile wavered. “Wake up soon, Maes,” she whispered.
* * * * * * *
“Goodmorning, Mr. Sleepyhead. I see you’ve finally decided to stay alive.”
Maes blinked against the bright white light that stabbed painfully in his eyes. It took him a full five minutes to clear his mind and realise that someone had just spoken to him. He turned his head towards the noise – extremely careful, since even the slightest movement hurt – and gazed up at the face of his dear old friend.
“R… Roy?” Damn, his throat felt like sandpaper and the sound was nothing more but a faint whisper.
Still, Roy must have heard him, since he shook his head and placed one finger on his parched lips. “Don’t talk. Or don’t until the doctor said otherwise.” The dark man glanced down on him. So far, his expression had been calm and composed. But as he removed his finger, aggravation flickered over his face and a fire began to smoulder in those black eyes of him.
“Oh, dammit, Maes, why? Why did you have to take these risks? Why didn’t you inform me about it? Why… Just tell me why.”
Maes chuckled softly – oh, how did it sound old and tired. What happened to his cheerful chuckle? – and managed to say, “You contradict yourself, Roy. First you say I’m not allowed to talk and then you want me explain things?”
Mustang calmed down a little – just a little – and his voice became hushed. The irritation in it, however, remained. “I want to know what the hell you were even thinking of by doing that. Have you lost your mind or something? Deathwish, maybe?”
Hughes smiled and closed his eyes. “Neither of them.”
“Then why the hell did you do something stupid like that? You could’ve been dead, Hughes.” There was a hint of desperation in his voice now.
“Because… I didn’t expect it to turn it out like this.”
There was a long silence from Roy’s side. Then Hughes felt how his best friend took his hand and wrapped his own slender fingers around it. “You idiot.” Hughes gazed inquiringly up at his friend. “You idiot,” Roy repeated in a strained voice. “What am I supposed to do if you die in such an accident?”
A thousand answers came up in his mind at that question, but none of them seemed to be appropriate. Finally, Hughes smiled and pointed at Roy’s face. “Is that a tear, Roy? Are you crying?”
“I’m not crying!”
“Yes, you’re crying. It’s cute, Roy.”
“I told you I am not crying.” Mustang wiped angrily the lost tear away from his cheek. “Don’t try to change the subject, Maes.”
“I’m not changing any subjects.”
“Papa?” A third voice joined the conversation. Alicia stuck her head around the corner. Behind her stood Gracia, with some flowers and presents.
“It looks like it’s time for me to leave.” Mustang glanced down on his friend. After a moment’s hesitation, he pulled Hughes in a friendly – even brotherly – embrace. “Be careful.”
Hughes nodded. “Thanks.”