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Warning: Story involves a main character death.
He was floating, suspended in time and space, disconnected from physical reality but still present spiritually. The memory of his body, the crushing pain and the gasping struggle to breathe, was already fading into the distance. Now, wherever he was, his mind was clear again, and he took a moment to appreciate the sheer joy of existing in this untroubled state. Very shortly, however, he became aware of another presence near to him, close and yet separate from this realm in which he found himself. Casting about with his senses, he soon found the source of the sensation: the figure of a man, slouched in a chair beside a narrow bed, head bowed with grief. Instinctively he moved toward him, but stopped as he heard the man begin to speak in a low, hushed voice.
The room was quiet now; the frantic bustle of the doctors and nurses had ceased, the strident beeping of the alarms had been silenced. Now there was only the two of them remaining in the room, and the only sound to be heard was the steady, measured breathing of the man sitting in the chair beside the bed. Motionless save for the gentle rise and fall of his shoulders with each breath, he sat, head bowed, eyes closed, and tried to comprehend what had just happened. While he had stood by helplessly, the life force that had been his best friend, and so much more, had faded and then disappeared, despite the best efforts of the skilled medical team in the room. As they had filed out, the crusty doctor had laid a hand on the man's shoulder, advising him to take as long as he needed. Just how long did it take, he wondered morosely, to say ... goodbye...
The man forced himself to look up, to open his eyes and see the motionless form of his friend on the bed. With all the tubes disconnected, and a white sheet covering him from the neck down, his face had the appearance of one who was peacefully sleeping; only the utter stillness of his body betrayed the fact that he was not breathing. Reaching out with a hand that was not quite steady, the man gently rested it on the bed beside his friend. “I don't know where to begin,” he said, in a low voice roughened by emotion. “You're gone, and I can't believe it. I don't want to believe it! This shouldn't have happened!” He paused for a moment, breathing hard with the struggle to keep his grief and denial in check. “But it did,” he continued, more calmly. “I watched you fight, but even your great spirit could not overcome the ... damage ... that was done. And I have to spend the rest of my life trying to live with that.” He stopped again, unable to continue, as the anguish welled up again and choked off the words.
Hovering in the room, he listened to his friend's words, and felt a deep wave of regret that he was the cause of such pain. The two of them had been close for so long, and despite the inherent dangers in their chosen occupation, neither had liked to consider the possibility that one day, the unthinkable would happen, and one of them would be left to carry on without the other.. Now that it had occurred, he found himself wishing they had discussed it in more detail, so that they might be better prepared. But then again, he thought, could anybody really be ready for this? Would things be much different now, even if they had talked about it? He made to move closer to his despairing friend, but again held back, listening as the man continued to speak.
The man felt the minutes pass as his emotions fought with his control. When he finally found his voice again, it trembled slightly as he spoke. “Goodbye, my friend. I hope that wherever you are, you have found peace and the rest that you deserve after your struggle. The Squad won't be the same without you.” He stopped and swallowed hard. “We will carry on; it's what we have to do. But there will be an empty space in our midst for a long time. Know this; you will be dearly, deeply missed.”
The waves of despair emanating from the man were palpable, and the spirit found himself almost overwhelmed by their intensity. More than anything he wished he could ease his friend's suffering, and he cast about, trying to arrive at a way in which he might help. At the same time, however, there was a growing presence around him; the space he was in seemed to glow and pulse with a soft, white light, accompanied by an unshakable sensation of being summoned. The urge to succumb to the light was too strong, yet at the last second he moved and enveloped the man for a brief moment. Then he was gone, pulled away, leaving the man alone in the room.
“Farewell, my friend. Please don't grieve too much. Just remember, I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you. And in the proper time, we will be together again.”
The man sat by the bedside for a few moments longer. Finally standing, he gave the cool hand one last squeeze, placed his lips on the smooth forehead in one last gesture of love and affection. “Goodbye, my friend.” Turning to leave, he suddenly felt a deep chill pass through him, although the room itself was quite warm. Yet even in the terrible, crushing grief he felt at this moment in time, he became aware of a gentle nudging of memory, of happier times together, and the absolute comfort that their deep-rooted friendship had always brought. Infinitesimally, the weight of his sorrow lifted, and he left the room silently, not looking back, but forward instead.
In another realm, far away and yet close by, a newly-arrived soul watched, and smiled.
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