"The deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul arises from the feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost." - Arthur Schopenhauer
While there's life, there's hope.
His hand goes to the band on his arm, calloused fingers brushing the row of bullets.
It was an accident. Fell from his horse, rolled down the rocks. You couldn't have known.
He was eighteen when he put that first bullet there, the day he got fast with a gun, practicing until dawn. Eighteen that day he buried his friend six feet under because he hadn't been good with a gun and someone else had been much faster.
You should have looked sooner, sent out a search party that day. You shouldn't have assumed he'd stayed in town, shouldn't have thought he'd met a pretty girl or an old friend and not come home.
Three more bullets slid into place in the war, friends, good friends. He'd been standing beside one, talking when the bullet hit, cutting the word in half and sending his friend on top of him. He'd known he was dead before he even felt for a heartbeat, and somewhere in the back of his memory he recalled screaming himself hoarse before they'd dragged him off the field.
Busted ribs. Busted up inside, bleeding his life away.
Thirty when another joined them, a girl he'd loved, a girl he would have married if the fever hadn't stolen her away from him. He'd held her as she died, face buried in her hair, heart aching until he thought he would rip apart.
Two days he laid there alone, slowly dying.
One for every person he'd ever lost, a tangible reminder of the fraility of life, a bitter realization that he'd been unable to save them. A weight hung around him that drove him on to save others, to not let more die.
He'd thought he was dead.
He was afraid to touch him at first, afraid that he was too late. Mano was so still, so pale, so broken. The heartbeat when he found it was too slow, too strained. And most of all it was the silence, the void usually filled with Mano's laughter, his talking, the mixture of English and Spanish flowing together like a single language. The silence cut into his head, screaming through him.
He'd had no choice but to carry him out, to put him on a horse and take him home, even knowing he was doing more damage.
He has a chance.
The doctor had operated well into the night, finally emerging blood-stained, face etched with little hope, only a weary platitude about the strength of will giving him a chance at pulling through. He'd gone up to see him, to sit beside the bed and study the pale face, the many bandages trailing over his chest and beneath the covers. He didn't speak, mind murmuring every prayer he remembered, the weight on his arm driving him to his knees. He'd stayed that way all night, well into the dawn of the next morning.
You did everything you could but it may not be enough.
He hears a faint sound, a rustle of quilts as a hand twitches against the fabric. He crosses the room in three strides, standing over the bed, not daring to speak, to hope.
Eyelids flutter, fighting against the coma, and finally lift, dark eyes unfocused and dull, quivering in the pale sunlight streaming through the window.
"Mano?" It's barely above a whisper but the man's head moves slightly toward the sound. The eyes sharpen, finding him. He tries to speak but only a breath of air leaves his lungs.
"Don't talk now." His hand hovers over him, unsure of whether to touch and reassure, or wait until the doctor makes sure he won't injure him further. "Lie still. You're busted up."
He turns his face toward Buck, eyes communicating what he isn't strong enough to ask.
"You'll heal up, Mano. Just give it time. You'll be all right."
A faint smile dimples the younger man's face, a shadow of his usual vibrancy but the sight is enough to make him want to weep. The doctor comes over, checks his pulse, peers at the bandages. His head lifts and he gives a quick nod, followed by a weary smile.
Buck's hand goes to his arm, to the band. His fingers play over the bullets as his arm shifts slightly as a tiny bit of the weight slides away. He won't add another bullet, not today.
He crosses to the window, stares out into the dawn sweeping through the land, gold spilling as far as his eyes can see.
Someday he'll find the strength to remove the band, to let the grief and guilt fade away with the memories. But today it's enough to know that it's a new morning. A morning without sorrow.