Written to the music Rock Island, 1931 (Road to Perdition) by Thomas Newman. I highly recommend reading it with the music in the background.

Leigh's heart was pounding away in his chest, threatening to leap out of its fleshy bounds. His lungs seemed to need more and more air, forcing his breathing to go faster and faster. His fists clenched and unclenched as if of their own volition. He could feel the blood dripping from his face in a steady rhythm, flowing down his temple, over his cheekbone, and off his chin onto the stone floor. He felt, with the force of a thousand suns, the heat coming off his body from his exertion and utter exhaustion, the sweat between his shoulder blades like a pounding river, and the deep groves along his back like glaciers of ice. And far in the back of his mind, the numbness that was threatening to engulf every molecule of him, waking like a slowly uncurling snake.

He struggled to separate the internal sounds from the external, the pounding heart from the pounding feet, the drip of blood from the drip of water. His knees were digging into pieces of broken glass and ice and he could feel the rawness of his palms against the snow and gravel. All around him, the snow was red, brown, and black with the spoils of war and the buildings were half destroyed. Streetlamps were bent out of shape all around him and from the corners of his eyes, which were threatening to give out, he could make out the shapes of bodies in unnatural positions. There was something important, something that had to do with him. The fog in his mind drew back slightly as he forced himself to remember but the exhaustion hit him like a ton of bricks and he lost whatever he was searching for.

Leigh remembered that he had been fighting. His sword was in one fist, the hand loosening and tightening without his say so, and his gun was in the other, hanging on a shaking finger. There had been blood, lots of it, and pain, even more of that. But there had also been fierce triumph and total loss. Then he had done something, something terrible, horrible, and yet absolutely wonderful. His opposition had fallen away beneath him until he was the only one left standing.

What had he been fighting for?

Amid all the sounds, Leigh heard life. The intake of breath, the swish of moving cloth, the cock of a gun, and the shuffle of feet over glass and ice. From the sound of it, it was more then one person. He had no energy left to take hold of his weapons. If they were enemies, then he would die. Yet something inside him told him it was imperative he not. Under no circumstances could he allow himself to leave this worldly place, so red with spilt blood under a gray sky.

"He's here, he's here. We found him!" Voices broke through the peaceful silence and the footsteps quickened and grew louder as they neared him. Friends, a small voice in Leigh whispered and he knew he would not have to fight. But he could not make himself move. His mouth was bone-dry and he knew without trying that he would not be able to speak. He let himself relax and almost instantly began to shake, his muscles quivering from being in a state of total awareness for so long.

Something warm settled on his shoulder and he flinched, not expecting it. It was too hot, too much sinew, and too much life. Life Leigh could not force into his limbs.

"Sir! Sir, can you hear me?" A voice practically shouted in his ears and others broke out all around him. Another one called out. "Medic, we need a medic over here now!"

He could sense the chaos around him but why couldn't he drag his eyes from these cobble stones beneath his palms? Lift his knees from their place on the sharp glass? Suddenly bright light appeared before him, causing a spike of pain to stab his eyes. But he could not look away. Something gripped Leigh's chin and lifted it. He was staring into a face that was eerily familiar but he couldn't place it. His mind was sluggish to respond. There was a call for a blanket and instantly one was wrapped around his shoulders.

"He's just dead exhausted, poor lad. Get him to the main camp into a bed and he'll be fine."

No, he would not be. Because there, hidden behind a building Leigh could now see, was a man leaning around the edge, the point of his gun aimed at a man who was heading a large group of people passing into the intersection of the far street. But that man could not die. It was even more important that he live then Leigh die.

Pure fire bolted through his limbs and he shot to his feet, sprinting for the assassin. He crashed head first into the man and they fell in a tangle of limbs. There was a bang. Leigh's gun had fallen from his fingers in his rush but the sword was still in his other hand. It came down once, twice, into the enemy's stomach. The squelching noise as it came out would once have been sickening but he didn't hear it. His vision was turning gray around the edges and he was having trouble breathing out as he stood there. Something was stuck firm in his side – his hand inched toward it – and something very wet was travelling down his leg.

There were voices but they seemed distant and not unlike that of a disappearing train as it rides its tracks away from the station. The familiar face of the medic appeared in front of him and his knees buckled. The medic caught him before he hit the ground and lowered him gently down. He was shouting again but the words would not penetrate the fog over Leigh's mind. There were more people now, heads crowding the sky above him. Then some were shoved away and a new face appeared and suddenly grew closer, stopping only an arms length above him. It was the man he had saved. There was something different about him from all others. It took a moment for Leigh to place it.

His eyes. His eyes were the same as Leigh's. So was his nose.

Another face bloomed before him, this time on his other side, and if he could have, Leigh would have yelled in surprise. It was like staring into a mirror. That was his face on another person, all the way down to the freckle on the right side of his nose.

Why were these two the same as him? The answer was right before him, he could feel it, and it irked him that he knew he should know them. Know them intimately and perfectly, as if they were reflections of himself. Why did he not know then?

He felt hands run down his side and grip the thing that was stuck there. Hands pressed down on his shoulders and legs, the expressions changing on the two parts of his whole, and there was agony, utter agony, blazing, burning a hole where that thing had been.

A new sound entered his consciousness, a cry that echoed in his heart and mind. There was a sound he could understand. Even relate to. It spoke of volumes of torture of the heart and body, spoke of confusion and pain. Then he realized it was coming from him.

Something new was dripping onto his face. It was lighter then the wetness on his side and cleaner. Leigh wished he could move his head to see what it was but the fire was gone, leaving only ash in its stead. He could not move anymore and he was struggling to breath. He was coughing, every breath a rattle in his chest.

He had heard that rattle before. On men he had never seen again, men who had been buried into the ground. It was the death rattle, the sounds of a dying man.

Admist all the numbing and darkness, some small part of him struck a match. Rebelled against the thought of death. It was not a thought of some love, some family, or some greater purpose that he served but simply and utterly a will to not die. The last vestiges of an animal left inside him that growled at the thought of giving up, of succumbing to the looming darkness.

Dimly, he was aware that there was chaos around him. Something leaned over him and pushed, hard, on his chest. Pushed, pushed, pushed, then released. And again. And again. It hurt. Then air was forced into his mouth and then pushed out, over and over. It registered that it was happening to him but he viewed it as if it was someone else's body that was dying on the street in all the muck and foul on the ground. Someone else who would never see the sun, the sea, and the burning blue sky.

The pushes were getting softer now, or maybe Leigh just wasn't able to feel them anymore. There was motion above him still but he didn't know, or didn't care anymore, from what. He could make out the gray sky past the people surrounding him. The sun was illuminating it but it was a dull light. The shadows around the roofs of the buildings were halfhearted and blurred. A bird flitted by, leaving no evidence of its passage except a wafting breeze.

Was his life like that? He really couldn't remember. He was moving now – he himself, and not the people around him. Going somewhere. Where? He felt he should know the answer to that too. He had been something important, that he knew, but how important or important to what slipped away from his mental fingers like sand. The sky was changing, going from pale grey to storm cloud steel. The figures around him were blurring in and out of focus. There was the occasional sharp flicker of blue or black but otherwise the colors melded into each other like too much water with too little paint, washed out and weak. He was moving faster now and there was a faint sense of intrusion in his arm and something pushed onto his chest again but now that there was momentum, Leigh began to feel the tidal wave of exhaustion, held back only by levies of pain and determination, climbing. Began to understand just how tired he was.

He wanted to close his eyes now, to succumb to the fatigue and let go. His head lolled as he began to do as he wished but someone shook him. It didn't do much but his eyes half-opened and he was not sleeping.

The sky vanished behind a sheet of stark whiteness so clean it hurt to look at it. He felt more then saw the people take up positions around the tent, as if protecting someone. Was it him? He was the only one in the tent. Except…there were the reflections of himself. They were close to him but being overtaken by the medic and people dressed like him.

Why was the medic so familiar? Leigh couldn't see his face but there was something about the shape of the hair, the length of the neck, and build of the shoulders that called to mind soft lullabies and gentle hands in times of agony and distress.

Fragments of speech were letting themselves be heard through the numbness that was inching its way from the tips of his ears to the pit of his stomach.

"Bullet wound…"

"…emergency operation…"


There was a steadily slowing beeping sound that was becoming one long beat.

"We're losing him!"

Someone pressed two pads to either side of his chest and there was a shock that went down to his very core. Two more times it happened and he wished he would loose consciousness, or even die, anything to escape all this strange things they were doing to him.

He was breathing easier now but the wetness down his side was collecting. Then it was wiped away and there was something tight wrapped around his torso. He was coming more into his body again. No longer was it half feelings and sounds but becoming clearer, more distinct and separate actions. The exhaustion still clouded his senses and mind but not so much anymore. Little details were being to crop up. But his eyelids were drooping and it was getting harder and harder to keep them open. The two facets of himself appeared above him and the one less like him placed a hand – it was clear what it was – on his cheek.

"Sleep well, my brave son," he murmured and bent to kiss his forehead. Leigh was asleep before his father straightened.

Dreams were always a place of escape, a place where reality could be turned into something more likeable, more bearable. Imagination could run rampant and everything could be perfectly normal. And there was always the option that Leigh could wake, when even dreams turned against him, and he could return to life. But this dream was no escape from reality.

The world was awash in red – everything his eye landed upon was dripping blood from every crevice of every crack, every niche of every wall. There were bodies lying on the floor, entrails spilling out around them, bellies cut open to reveal the innards. Legs and arms were splayed in unnatural directions, bits and pieces cut off. Heads were still attached to the bodies but every eye of every man on the decimated battlefield was open. Open wide and staring straight at Leigh.

He looked down to see his hands were coated with red too. At first, its stickiness made him think it was paint but then he caught the strong scent of copper and he knew it was blood. Suddenly every unseeing eye felt like it was piercing his soul. As if he had personally killed the hundreds of men all around him.

There was a jolt from somewhere beyond Leigh's consciousness and he bolted upright in his bed, leaning over the edge to vomit. He could not forget the eyes staring at him and he could feel himself shaking uncontrollably. He stopped vomiting only for a moment until he remembered the entrails strewn on the ground and he was over the edge once more. The stench of puke was hitting him in the face and the back of his throat burned.

He forced heavy eyelids open to the gentle glow of lamplight in a tent. There was a chair next to his bed, one of many, and it seemed recently occupied though there was no one in it now. He was the only one in this tent. A ruined uniform shirt was hanging over the end of his bed and he was startled see the crest of a unicorn embroidered on the collar and to realize it was his. He looked down to take stock of his injuries.

Leigh's palms were bandaged heavily and so were his ribs and stomach, which was showing bleeding on the left side. Reaching up, he felt a bandage around his head and there was an IV in his arm and a heart monitor next to it, which he realized was connected to his bare chest.

He tried to get up but a blazing pain went up his spine and he cried out, hand going to his back as he collapsed into the bed. Almost immediately, the tent flap flew open and two or three medics hurried in. He had reopened the wounds on his back along with his side and blood was quickly soaking the bandages. He had also reawakened the pain and he remembered now, saving his father, getting shot in the side, and before that, getting into a sword fight with three other enemy soldiers and receiving the gashes on his back. They were in a war, why was he away from the battlefield? Unless it had ended! He had to know.

"The war," he gasped as something pierced his inner arm. "The war. What happened?"

"Easy now, your highness," a medic murmured. His eyes were getting heavy again but he was fighting the drug. He didn't want to go to sleep. He wanted to know!

"No, the war!" He said, forcing the words out and gripping the medic's arm in a tight hold. "The war. Did we lose?"

The drug had weakened him enough so that it was easy for the medic to pry his arm loose.

"No, sir," the man replied, a smile ghosting onto his face. "We won, thanks to you, Prince Leigh."

That was all Leigh managed to hear before the morphine took effect and he was gone.

Tell me what you think, honestly.