They say... that when you're staring Death in the face, time slows down. That you measure things in the space of heartbeats instead of minutes or hours, that you can see everything that's ever happened to you and what eventually... will.

I never thought I'd find out that what they were saying was true.

He could hear something dripping, faint and far away--precious time was lost before he realized that it was his own blood. Too many wounds, or too deep a one--he didn't quite know anymore. He could feel the incision--but not the pain--as he gripped the weapon by the blade--gripped it by the blade because there was no hilt left to grip it by, because somewhere in the violence the hilt had come away and left the blade still in him.

He had been breathing all this time--the air rasping against his throat and rasping against his lungs, sometimes with a faint hiss to let him know that it was still moving. Moving past the dripping inside him--the slow dripping of some sanguine fluid into the lungs, evoking the urge to cough and tear the hole wider. He didn't cough. He swallowed what blood he could and focused on the blade--the only thing he could do to keep himself sane.

He was beyond pain now--pain was so omnipresent that it didn't register as anything to devote attention to. Darkness was the same way--he concentrated on drawing the blade out, because then he could concentrate on bringing himself back into the light, and maybe even going after the rest.

Ha--that was a joke, he was sure. He spared the strength to chuckle dutifully, and something tore inside. The drip grew faster.

So, when you're about to die--you're supposed to see this light, right? So, where is it? Where is the light?

It seemed as if there was something terribly important that he had to do, but for the life of him--(ha!)--for the life of him, he couldn't remember what. It was something having to do with the rest--but by the time he could find the strength he had lost (forever) they would have found him, instead. Of course. It wasn't as if you could just sidestep these things--one way or another, someone was going to get hurt. For now, all he could concentrate on was not letting his head droop--a bowed head meant defeat, and defeat was something he could never admit--never, or at least not here not in this manner.

It was impossible to tell whether the blade was sliding into him or out of him now. The only way he could tell that there was a blade was by the coolness of blood on his fingers, and the odd pressure his heart could feel against it every time it took a (last?) determined beat. Heartbeats did measure time now--they lasted an eternity, and came too fast all the same.

Theoretically, I should have known that this was bound to happen. For Garden on missions of this type, there's a one-in-sixteen chance that a fatality will occur. This will be my eighteenth--and the first with any notable casualty. Hyne, I hate that term.

Like a calculation, it played out--like something predictable, measurable, and perfect on paper, not like the drastically imperfect reality he was drifting from. The ragged breathing and the heartbeats were too disconnected--two songs played on different tracks, not lining up as they should. The dripping was background music, and the darkness was the perfect ambiance for such an orchestra.

The blade might have come free. He thought it did, because now blood was rushing in to fill the hole, and then rushing out because there was a hole. It was impossible to stand up, so he did anyway.

It seemed as if, for this to work, he had to be able to see. That might have been the problem.

By the time they die, everyone's alone. You go to a place where no one can reach you, where you can have all the friends in the world and you'll never know. Where you don't care any more. And you don't want to care. You just want to leave it all behind--you want it so badly...

He took a step, and then another. He had left his weapon somewhere--if only he could remember where. But the enemies were gone. They knew, as he did, that there was no point in remaining to finish him off. Then the darkness tightened, and he didn't know if he was walking or not. He might have fallen.

So... this is SeeD. This is what I worked so hard for. This is the big goal, the end of the line. And it's not a happy ending at all.

There was something cold against him, and he didn't know if it was the blood or the ground. The latter dripped onto the former, silent recompense for every target killed, every wound inflicted. Dues had been counted up and debts compiled, and he way paying the price.

The ante upped, and I lost. Just like we'll all lose, sometime. You can only dance with death so often before death decides to lead.

His hands made a final, feeble motion; he fell still. The blood trickled from his mouth, exiting his lungs due to overflow. His heartbeats slowed; a longer eternity now theirs.

So much I could have done. So much I could have said. But there's no more time, even if I'm headed for forever. So much left behind. But that's part and parcel of... dying, isn't it?

His heartbeat departed without even a farewell. He took a final breath, made perfect by its terminality. And then he abandoned himself to the night.

So he went, set adrift from breath or thought, a colder expanse made his. He was not aware as he drifted, neither awake nor asleep as he dreamed his final dream.

Around him, the world was very silent and very still. But it was not of a reverence or love for his passing; its cold heart could not spare the warmth for sound.