I'm dying.

No, there's no metaphor here. I'm really dying.

I can't feel the bottom half of my face. That's probably a good thing, since I'm sure the pain would be unbearable. I can still move my tongue a little, and when I do, it hits empty air where my cheek used to be. I can hear muffled screams, but what really echoes in my ears is that gunshot.

My foot's twitching. I want it to stop, but then my arm spasms as well. One of my eyes rolls of to the side, and to my surprise, I can easily see up Satomi's skirt. I never really thought too much about Satomi – but it's funny where your mind wanders when the life is draining out of you. My other eye trails further down the aisle of desks. I see people staring at me in horror, and I can only imagine what I must look like.

Slowly, my side eye blanks out on me, but that doesn't faze me anymore. I must be going into shock. My back arches like my body recognizes the pain I'm in, even though I can't feel any of it. My good eye finally falls on the all too familiar face. His dark brown eyes stare intensely at me.

"Shu…" I try to say his name, but it's difficult to say it with part of my tongue gone. My eye is watering over. I don't want him to remember me like this. I want to tell him to run. I want him to run as far away as he can from this place. I know that he, along with everyone else, is trapped inside this room by the soldiers with guns. But I want him to escape. I know what will happen if Shuuya stays. He's too considerate, too compassionate. He's going to die. If he can escape…

It's funny where your mind wanders when the life is draining out of you. Shuuya can't escape. None of us can. Me? I'm just the first. Does that make me lucky? It sure doesn't feel like it. I never felt like I was lucky. The lucky kids still had theirs parents to care for them, to love them. I was born unlucky. I can see the pain in Shuuya's face. He doesn't think I'm lucky either.

It's strange how different Shuuya looks when he's not smiling. Now, I can't seem to remember a time when he wasn't smirking. I'm sure that that happened at some point, especially when he was first dropped off at the orphanage. I was already there at that point, the face of my true mother already removed from my memory. But even that summer when he was cut from the baseball team, all I can remember is Shuuya standing on top of that ridiculous slide with the guitar in his hands, smiling his wide grin as he attempted to play the instrument for the first time. I want to tell him to smile for me, just one more time, but all I can manage is the first syllable of his name.

A sound finally breaks through the echoing inside my ears. It's a voice, a girl's voice. Suddenly, her face appears before mine. Noriko's eyes are wide with concern, staring down into what remains of my face. It's a relief to see her again. Noriko reminds me so much of Ms. Ryoko. And I don't mean physically, since the two females don't resemble each other in the least. Ms. Ryoko is a fully developed woman, with the curves a child can nestle into and feel completely secure. Noriko is still a girl, and her small frame leaves her looking fragile and vulnerable almost all of the time. But there's a strength she exudes from time to time, which surprises everyone who witnesses it. No, the two females are similar in a different way.

The two of them leave an impression on you before you even realize that they have done so. I don't think I can describe it any other way than that. It's more of a realization that they are truly important to you at some unspecific moment in time. Ms. Ryoko was like a mother to me, and now I recognize that it was stupid of me to hope for something other than that. I remember when I understood how important she was to me. I was lying in bed, listening to the soft snore of the other children around me, when a strange thought struck me. I realized that I would die for Ms. Ryoko. The idea was completely unprovoked. It felt more like a form of enlightenment, like understanding the truth behind everything. If Ms. Ryoko asked me to die for her, or even if she didn't ask, I would.

Noriko was different than that, but the idea was virtually the same. I sensed her absence when she caught the flu for a week. I could feel where should be sitting, could almost hear the words I knew she would say. And I recognized how much emptier our group of friends felt without her presence. The way her big eyes light up when she gets a rush of emotion. That soft giggle she'd leak out from time to time. Who knows, if I had woken up from my Ms. Ryoko fantasy, maybe I could have had something with Noriko. No, that's not realistic either. Noriko likes Shuuya, even I can see that.

I think that the gunshot has returned to echo inside my ears once again, when Noriko recoils away from me, her scream piercing the air around me. I realize it at once – she's been shot. The fury raises inside me again. The anger that has cost me my life. I can see Shuuya again, the conflict mixing in his face. He wants to jump in, but he's scared. That's good Shuuya, stay scared, I want to tell him. You may leave this classroom in one piece. And with me and Noriko gone, you won't have to worry about trying to protect us. Stick with Mimura – the two of you can figure out something.

But Noriko isn't gone. My rage subsides when I hear her voice again. It wavers with pain, but I can hear the strength behind it, the power no one knows she holds. She's asking Mr. Kamon to save me. She doesn't understand yet. No one gets saved. I know what's coming next. Kamon makes a comment, and with what I realize will be my last words, I speak to him.

"Fuck you." I try to say. It comes out all wrong, but no one misinterprets it. Everyone inside the classroom knows what's coming next. Everyone except Noriko, it seems. She's still near me, pleading with Kamon, begging him to save me. I can almost feel them desperately trying to look away, not wanting to see what happens to me. But everyone keeps their eyes on me, waiting for Kamon to make his move. And he makes it.

Is it ironic that my anger has gotten me killed? I don't get angry, because I hate how it makes me feel. The anger burns inside me and I realize that I could do something drastic with those feelings of rage and hate. Something drastic like kill someone. Or run face first into a revolver. I don't remember the definition of irony anymore, I don't know if my death is ironic.

The barrel of the gun is shoved toward my forehead.

It's funny where your mind wanders when you're dead.