A/N: I'm writing again! This is a fic that I've been sitting on for the longest time, for various reasons, but mostly because I couldn't work up the courage to post it. This one deals with content and themes that I am not familiar with, so I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to do it justice, or that what I'd written would be considered disrespectful or offensive.
But eventually I decided to post it anyway. It's just a work of fiction, and my intention is not to cause offense.
With that said, this short does deal with themes that some readers may find distressing: serious injury/combat injury, disability, depression, and attempted suicide. If these are severely triggering topics to you, give this one a miss.
The first thing Tunny feels when he gets shot is simple frustration. Lying there, face down in the dust, all he can think is you motherfuckers! He doesn't yet feel the pain from the bullet in the back of his leg, no, all he feels is anger at the fact that they got him before he could get them. This is the point in the video game where he'd throw his hands up in frustration and restart the level, knowing there was no way he could redeem himself after such a fuck-up.
Instead, he lays there, screaming every cuss word that comes to mind, except he can't hear over the roar of gunfire. His vision is blurred because of the dust in his face, and there's warmth spreading under his legs that he sincerely hopes is blood because it's bad enough to have been shot out in the open, he doesn't know if he'd be able to cope with the embarrassment of having pissed himself in battle as well.
And then there are hands on him, and voices in his ear that he can't make out, they're saying something like hang in there, man and we're gonna get you out of here, and the sand crunches between his teeth as he clenches his jaw, but it doesn't matter because then he's screaming anyway. He's screaming because he's mad, and scared, and because now he can feel the pain and it hurts like hell –
And then someone gives him what he hopes is a morphine shot.
The voices stop.
The gunfire ebbs into silence.
The light dims.
But the pain lingers.
When he wakes up, he's in agony. Sleep is not an escape; he just dreams of being shot, and wakes up howling, begging please please please for more drugs, anything.
He's lost track of how long he's been here. He can't tell day from night, and so far he hasn't been with it enough to even think of asking the nurses, in their endless parade of crisp white tunics and calm blank faces and sympathetic eyes. He tries to mark time by their appearance at his bedside, and he's only gotten as far as realising that everything comes in a cycle: blood pressure, temperature, meds, water, food, repeat as necessary. Always in that order. He could be eating chicken noodle soup for breakfast and Jell-o for dinner for all he knows.
He does know how badly he was hurt. Right now, they've removed the bullet and stopped the bleeding but the damage is so severe that it'll be a miracle if he ever uses that leg again. They tell him this, calmly, their identical eyes all glittering with the same pity, and then leave it to sink in with the help of some pills.
He'll survive, they've crossed that bridge.
He might walk on crutches, if he commits himself to physio once he's recovered some more.
But his leg, man, his fucking leg is a write-off. Just dead weight.
Every day, they come and they touch his foot and jab at his toes and ask him what he can feel. Every time, he tells them he can feel it, because he can. He can feel their cool, clinical fingertips against his arch. He can wiggle his fucking toes. He is determined. Those fuckers may have shot him, but he'll be damned if he's gonna let this keep him down. He'll prove them all wrong. He'll walk out of here. Just you watch. Just you fucking watch.
And then the pills he swallowed kick in and he's gone.
Tunny now knows he's been in the hospital for a week. Oh, and he's in love.
He has somehow managed to single one nurse out from the flock. She has glossy dark hair and warm brown eyes, and a voice as warm and soft and gentle as her hands. She somehow manages to make his daily routine not embarrassing; he can just about tolerate being spoon-fed and sponge-bathed as long as she's there, filling the clinical quiet with her voice. They talk about anything and everything, their lives back home (she takes the lead with this one because as far as Tunny is concerned, he didn't have a life back home) music, hobbies, even going so far as to swap favourite colours and foods (hers are purple and pad thai, his are green and anything but fucking Jell-o).
They do not talk about the war.
She's got a sense of humour, managing to giggle at even his crappiest jokes. She doesn't seem to mind his mouth, either: she agrees with him that sometimes a healthy string of profanity can deaden the pain that not even morphine will touch.
Ordinarily he'd ask for her number, or offer to buy her a drink. But both of those things are off the table in this place, so he settles for pressing the call button just before the pain starts to come back, just so he'll have an excuse to sit and talk to her some more.
He even dreams of her now, instead of dreaming of being shot. Honestly, it's a welcome change, though it brings with it a new kind of pain. Instead of waking up screaming, he wakes up breathless and hot and desperately trying not to draw attention to the fact that he has a raging hard-on. She's there, she's always there now, and if she notices, she's kind enough not to mention it.
He doesn't know her name.
All he knows is that she's extraordinary.
She's there the morning he wakes up and his toes are turning numb and black. He's glad it's her, not the others who'd just tell him something he didn't want to hear and then leave. At the sight of his pale, probably terrified face, she immediately asks him what's wrong, is he in any pain? He doesn't respond at first. He doesn't really know how to put it into words. Right now he's too busy grappling with the notion that the one thing he has feared since arriving here with a bullet lodged in the back of his leg is happening to him. He just points stiffly at the foot of the bed and leaves her to draw her own conclusions. She pulls back the thin white sheets and the blanket, her quizzical expression quickly morphing into… sadness? She replaces the sheets, smoothing them tenderly over him. Her touch is, as always, a blessing, but he can't relax into it the way he usually does. He's too busy trying to puzzle out the look on her face.
And then she leaves. She tells him that she'll be right back, but it doesn't make the sudden shock of her departure sting any less.
Tunny is about to have his leg amputated.
This is it, this is what he's been dreading all along, ever since the threat of death receded. They're gonna cut off his leg, they're gonna cut off his leg –
And then he isn't sure if he's afraid, angry, depressed or in pain, but he starts to cry. He's been trying not to ever since he arrived here, and doing a damn good job of it, but this is just too fucking much. It's unfair. He tried to fight well, he really did. He's only young, and he never really wanted a part in the damn war, he just wanted to feel as though he was doing something meaningful with his life, something other than drinking beer and smoking pot and jerking off and moving to the city just to do more of the same. He tried to make something of himself, and got punished for it.
That, he thinks bitterly, that is just fucking bullshit.
It turns out he's right. They do have to amputate his leg. They can't do it right away, he has to suffer through a couple of days of tests, and then a whole day of fasting, not that he has much appetite. He's so fucking sick of soup and Jell-o. They explain why they have to do this to him, but he doesn't bother to listen. Bone shards and severe tissue damage and necrosis and blah-fucking-blah. He doesn't care why. It all amounts to the same thing.
The only positive thing he can think of about this whole situation is that he gets a change of scenery. He's been staring at the same white walls and ceiling for god-only-knows how long now, so even the sight of this awful place is welcome.
She comes back to see him during his prep, while he's waiting to be knocked unconscious. His extraordinary girl. She still has that odd, sad look in her beautiful eyes, but she's smiling. He gets the feeling that's for his benefit.
"Are you ready?" she asks, resting her hand on his good knee. He kind of shrugs and mumbles to start off with, not wanting to tell the truth and start crying again, but it comes out anyway.
"Fuck no," he blurts, and instead of crying, he chuckles. It's weird, because the last thing he wants to do is laugh, but here he is. She starts laughing too, eventually.
"You're gonna be okay," she says when they've both calmed down. "You're practically the toughest guy I've ever met." And she squeezes his hand.
"Thanks," he murmurs, suddenly finding it impossibly hard to speak. "For everything, I mean." The words slip out without his consent, and he blushes. How fucking lame did that sound? She laughs.
"Don't talk like you're about to die," she scolds. "If you were dying they wouldn't bother…" Her voice starts off teasing and sardonic, but quickly fades and then she breaks off, biting her lip. She can't bring herself to say it either. His hand is still in hers, now slightly clammy from the contact. He flexes his fingers, trying to return just a fraction of the comfort she's given him. God, she is so beautiful. His eyes linger on every detail of her; her glossy hair with those little strands that hang down and frame her face, her gorgeous dark eyes, her shapely lips. He's lain awake many a night imagining what those lips would feel like against his. And other, less wholesome things.
He's still drinking in every last aspect of her when he's wheeled into theatre.
It's not as brutal as Tunny pictured it in his head. The procedure. It's not nightmarishly violent. Compared to being shot in the first place, it's practically child's play. They just put him out, and when he wakes up his left leg is gone. Everything from the knee down, just gone. He has to take a look for himself to prove that it really happened, because it doesn't feel different, at first. Again, it doesn't look as bad as he imagined it. Just a neat, rounded stump, tightly bandaged. It looks utterly benign.
But when he sees it, he goes cold. Because then it hits him. He's seen it, so he can feel it. Or rather, he's suddenly aware of what he can't feel. And the loss, the absence, it hurts almost as badly as the bullet wound did.
In fact, he preferred the bullet wound.
He doesn't speak to anyone after the operation. Not the nurses who keep asking him how he's feeling, not his girl, though she comes most often. He nods or shakes his head to answer questions, but other than that he just lies there, staring at that maddeningly white ceiling. Thinking It's over. Thinking I'm going home. Feeling shitty about it. He doesn't want to leave. Not like this. He doesn't want to be shipped off home, short a limb and branded a failure. He wanted to return to the city a hero, feeling like he'd done his part. Feeling like he'd accomplished something for once in his shallow pathetic life.
Instead, all he's managed to accomplish is crippling himself. He knows, he knows the score. He's killed himself in the eyes of his friends and family. They'll mourn, not his death but the life he had before. And worse, in the eyes of everyone else he's worse than dead. He's become the thing that moms turn their kids' heads away from when they stare. He's become the thing that people won't make eye contact with because they can't bear to.
Worse than dead.
They send him home after an age of physio, of learning how to rely on his upper body for movement, how to hoist himself out of bed and into a wheelchair, and out of the wheelchair and onto the couch, the toilet, and back into the fucking wheelchair. He's only owned the thing for a handful of days, and he hates it already.
The doctors suggest, at first, that he move back in with his parents in Jingletown. The answer to that is a resounding fuck no. He didn't even bother telling them he was enlisting, so how the fuck will they react when he rolls onto the doorstep with a leg missing?
Moving back in with Johnny is not an option either. Fourth-floor apartment, and half the time the elevator doesn't work. Besides, why should he assume that Johnny would be willing to put him up? He can't work in the shape he's in. He'd be dead weight.
So he rents a scummy ground-floor apartment on the outskirts of the city. Isolated. After spending so long stuck being cared for by others, the solitude is bliss.
He gets by, just about. He doesn't need, or want, a carer, so he makes sure he can get by on his own.
On his own.
It's not like before he joined the Army, where he lay on a mattress all day wondering why he wasn't more impressed with the city, waiting for great things to happen. He makes himself leave the apartment every day, even if he just wheels to the end of the road and back again, until one day he gets stuck trying to mount the kerb on his way back from a grocery run. He's stuck there like an idiot, bumping his wheels fruitlessly against the kerb before a passing stranger sets down their own bags to give him a hand. He's thankful, but he resents them for it. He's never been able to tolerate pity. Receiving it from strangers is somehow worse.
After that, his shopping bags start to contain less food and more booze, and the only reason he goes out at all is because the only thing worse than going out is sitting at home sober. His nights consist of whiskey shots and beer, just like they used to. He sleeps less, because his dreams are awful. Without her to dream about, he's back to dreaming about the war, about his five minutes of glory, only this time it's worse. Sometimes it's not him who gets shot, but one of the other soldiers, and, it being a dream, he's paralysed, unable to help or even move as they die in front of him.
Sometimes he takes the bullet, but it gets him in the chest instead of the leg, and he feels every excruciating second of his lungs filling with blood before he wakes up, screaming into his pillow and unable to catch his fucking breath.
Some nights, he dreams of the day they took his leg, only it's not simple and painless. It looks like something out of a shitty torture porn movie, with whining buzzsaws and blood splattering everywhere. He's only ever a fly on the wall for those, he's suspended from the ceiling watching the whole grisly operation unfold beneath him. That doesn't make it any less painful.
Time passes, days, weeks, who the fuck cares. He's alone, obviously, sitting brooding in the filthy dark. The light on his phone is flashing steadily on and off. He hasn't been able to bring himself to answer the damn thing since he got home. Sometimes he considers unplugging it, but the occasional ringing is often the only thing that reminds him he still exists. and he's tired all the time, and nauseous where he hasn't eaten in days and he stinks because he hasn't had the energy to drag himself to the shower. The curtains are drawn, and the floor is strewn with beer cans.
Worse than dead.
He takes in the wreckage, the fucking mess that is his life now, and he thinks no more. No fucking more.
There's a pack of razor blades in the bathroom cabinet. They're right at the back, but he can just about snag them if he stretches. He pulls down a couple of bottles of pills too; the prescription painkillers he hasn't taken in weeks fall into his lap. It's an accident, but he thinks fuck it.
Better do this properly.
He only moves from the bathroom to grab a half-empty bottle of cheap whiskey. He doesn't want to make too much of a mess. The bathroom is tiled, everything else is carpet.
He takes a handful of pills and chases them with a swig of the whiskey. They scrape his throat like a mouthful of broken teeth. He looks down at his wrist, the razor blade captured in his other shaking hand, and wonders if he's better off doing it now, or waiting a moment for the pills to kick in.
He decides, now. To wait would be cowardly.
He raises the blade. It gleams in the flickering light, so oddly beautiful. His fist is clenched, fragile blue veins right at the surface of his skin. Goddamn he's pale. Comes from sitting indoors on your ass all day.
He catches sight of his face in the grimy mirror. His eyes are bloodshot, his hair is a mess.
And then, he hears her voice. Not in his head, because he's not fucking crazy, but right in his ear, as if she's standing right beside him.
You're gonna be okay.
Briefly, Tunny wonders just how many pain pills he managed to swallow.
I believe in you.
In the mirror, his red eyes are beginning to brim with tears.
C'mon, you've got this.
Every last encouraging, kind thing she's ever said to him rings out in his ears at once, and for a second, through the tears blinding him, he can almost see her, standing at his side in the mirror. Dressed all in white, and smiling.
He blinks and she's gone.
Tunny hurls the blade as far as he can across the room. He rolls himself closer to the sink and sticks his fingers down his throat, vomiting up the whiskey and every last dissolving pill. After that, he cries. Shame fills every part of him, and he wonders how the hell he could be so stupid?
He cries himself out, and the last thing he's aware of before he falls asleep in his wheelchair is her voice in his ear.
I'm so proud of you.
After that, he picks himself back up. He cleans the whole apartment, throwing out every last empty bottle and can. He showers and shaves, and changes his clothes. He goes out to buy food, just cheap ramen and soda because that's all he can afford, but at least it's food and not booze. And yeah, he gets stuck on that fucking kerb again, and yeah, it hurts and it's humiliating, but when someone once again puts down their bags to give him a boost (it's the same guy, he swears) he tries to laugh it off. It feels good to laugh.
He writes to his friends, because he feels like an asshole for having left them hanging for so long. Johnny and Will. He misses them. He wonders what the fuck even happened to Johnny after he left. He asks Will how Heather and the baby are doing. He even writes the beginning of a letter home to his parents, but hides it in a drawer before he can finish it. Not today, he thinks. Someday soon, but not today.
He even writes to the field hospital, because goddamn he misses his extraordinary girl. The beautiful nurse whose face filled his morphine-addled dreams and whose name he never managed to learn. He's not expecting a reply, he just feels like he needs to get in touch with her.
Will doesn't reply. Somehow Tunny isn't surprised. The guy's probably really busy.
Johnny does, and he sounds horrified at what's happened to him. He's gonna come and see him, he says, if he can get the afternoon off of work, because yes, holy fucking shit, Johnny of all people now has an office job.
And then, surprisingly, he gets a reply from her. It turns out, after all this time, her name is Lucy. It suits her, he thinks. Simple, but somehow lovely.
It turns out she's had a little trouble of her own. Shortly after he left, somebody else came in. She's mercifully sparse with the details, but they were a burn victim. She wants some time away from nursing, she says. Her handwriting is a little shaky; the experience must have been awful for her.
He's quick to write a reply. It's garbage and he knows it, full of clichés and nonsense that barely makes sense, but it comes straight from the heart. He tells her to pay him a visit, if she can. He tells her that his apartment isn't very big, though.
Her reply a week later is short, sweet, and begins with a sentence that he can practically hear, it sounds so much like her:
I don't take up much space.
The letters continue, back and forth, for a while, and eventually they fix it. He can't quite bring himself to meet her at the airport, but he compromises and meets her at the bus stop instead. She has a rucksack on her back, and her hair is unbrushed, and she's the most beautiful thing he's ever seen.
It turns out she was right; she fits snugly in his tiny apartment with room to spare. She fits like she belongs there. They talk like they've never been apart, about the same old random shit they used to. They do not talk about the war.
She spends one night on the couch. The next night, and every night after that, she sleeps beside him. Tunny still has nightmares, vicious ones that jerk him violently awake, but Lucy doesn't mind. She has nightmares of her own, sometimes.
She's an immediate good influence on his life. He thought he did a good job of tidying the place up. She proves him wrong in a little under two hours. She can cook, which means no more shitty ramen.
It feels sort of uncomfortable, at first. Just accepting her help without anything to offer in return.
"You don't have to take care of me, you know," he murmurs in her ear once, as they sit side by side on the lumpy couch. She kisses him sharply on the cheek in response.
"I know," she says, a smile inching its way across her gorgeous face. "I want to."
This time, he smiles.
This time, he kisses her.
She even convinces him to get some therapy. To help with the nightmares, and the depression which still eats away at him some days. Initially, he hates the idea. He's spent enough time in the company of doctors (no offence, babe) and anyway isn't all that head-shrinking crap just a crock?
She's quick to allay his doubts, cutting right to the heart of the matter, the way she always does.
There's nothing to be ashamed of.
There it is. Just what he needs to hear. He didn't know at the time, but it feels so good to hear those words.
There is nothing for him to be ashamed of.
So he agrees to one session, fully prepared to hate it. But the shrink is nice, and about as understanding as anyone not in Tunny's position can be.
It doesn't work right away. But it does work. Little by little. The nightmares become less frequent, although they never go away completely.
He's still a little broken. And, he guesses, he always will be.
But it's okay.
It took me a while to find a suitable 'voice' for Tunny here. In the end, I settled for a kind of no-frills, no-bullshit sort of thing. He doesn't seem like the kind of guy who'd embellish things. So I've kept things as simple and matter-of-fact as possible here.
Also, my depiction of Tunny's descent into depression after his injury is not how the scenario would play out for everybody, if that makes sense. I'm not trying to make broad assumptions about how these things affect the mind. This is just one individual's experience (and a fictional individual at that.) I tried to be sensitive with how I wrote this, given that it is a very delicate subject. With that in mind, if you wish to leave feedback, please be kind. Thanks for reading!
(P.S: I'm still taking requests, so head on over to my profile and have a peek at my list of fandoms. If you see something that catches your eye, please shoot me a line!)