A/N: Rated T just to play it safe, due to the fact that it does happen during a war.

Last Gift

Pain.

That was the first thing that pierced the fog in my head. It stretched from the side of my leg all the way up my side and across my chest. There was a great pressure on my entire body except my head and neck, an almost intolerable feeling that was compressing my lungs and affecting my already labored breathing. I could feel the desert sand molded against my back, as if it was waiting to swallow me up in its depths.

I opened my eyes, an impressive feat for a man in my state. All I saw was an orange haze with a dark blob in the corner of my vision. There were several white but faint blobs moving around really fast in the distance, although it hurt to stare out that far.

Head spinning, I closed my eyes. Somehow, in the fog of pain, I knew I was on the verge of joining the ranks of the dead. It was just one more life being added to the toll of the war. It was commonly said that when one died, they saw their lives flashing before their eyes. Mine was going by at a crawl.

I had been the youngest of six from my father's first marriage. He married three times. Somewhere in there, I got lost among the growing number of family members. I was just one more student to send to college, one more mouth to feed at the table.

My wife, Katie, would have slapped me silly if she knew I was thinking those things. She reminded me of my mother sometimes. One time at the park, she tossed a rock into a pond, and we just stood there, watching the ripples from the splash spread to the outer edges and lap against the banks surrounding the pond. Katie always said that the ripples would continue if given the chance, go on and affect something or someone else.

"Just like you did when we met." She had said, and made eye contact with me.

That had been an accident. We had been co-workers at a company that her first husband was running. She had been involved in an unhappy relationship for five years, with no way of getting out. I found her by accident while her guard was down, so naturally she spilled everything. A couple of lawsuits and a divorce later found her without a home, and I had only offered to help her get back onto her feet. Everything else fell into place after.

Something shifted, causing a sharp lance of pain up through my chest, bringing me back to the present. Another explosion rocked the vehicle, causing it to lean to the right a little, alleviating pressure on my left side. Just a little, but a huge difference.

Katie would have loved Rahim, a young Iraqi who had taken a shine to my squad. At first, it was an innocent and entertaining game. He would follow a few of us around and ask questions about anything, ranging from the weapons we were carrying, to American sports. Soon it became clear that we were stuck with him as long as we stayed in the village of Gundah Zhur. Staff Sergeant Williamson finally told the kid to 'beat it'. Rahim however, didn't understand that that term meant 'go away and stay away'. He always came back when Williamson had his back turned, which was often.

I swear I would never forget the look on Rahim's face when I gave him a stick of gum to chew on. Gum was something of a treat when it came in one of the care packages from home, and well, Rahim was standing there, watching me as I pulled the pack out. I don't think he had ever chewed gum before, for he chewed furiously for a few minutes, thought about it, grinned, and then left. Next day, he was back, but with reinforcements. Rahim became addicted to it – fast. I ended up writing to Katie to send an extra pack, which I handed over.

In the spirit of giving, he provided a few details on enemy troop movements. We both knew of the terrible risk he was taking. "They're gonna take the pass into Cheekha Dar. They left here two days before you came." He said in pretty good English, big black eyes boring into my brown.

There was a screaming-like sound right next to my ear, again yanking back to the here and now. The enemy was at it again; ripping the countryside apart, no doubt looking for the few troops that Williamson had placed in the forward patrol. They had gone ahead into Cheekha Dar, to clear the path of potential threats for us. We hadn't heard from them since.

I really gave death some thought. I was still relatively young, and wasn't ready to die with my life with Katie and our unborn child in front of me. But I wasn't going anywhere anytime soon either, no sir, not with a heavy vehicle slowly crushing me to death.

I am now resigned to the fact that rescue wasn't coming anytime soon. I am also just thinking of Katie and I wonder what she will name our son or daughter. Will he or she take after her or me? If anything, our child might inherit my streak for recklessness.

A smile pushes it way forward onto my face, as painful as it is to stretch the skin. I don't know why, but it comes. Katie will probably be extremely crushed and depressed and grieve when she should be happy for our child's sake.

This is my last gift for Katie, for our child, for Rahim, for the little girl down the street from my old home, for the next generation of Americans, Iraqis, and everyone around the world. Now, it may not seem as much, but in the long run, my decision to join the army may change the course of the war for the better. Because I went ahead with this, we were able to slow down the enemy on their new offensive of striking Baghdad from the northeast and buy our own men some much-needed time.

I close my eyes. There isn't much to see anymore with the sun sinking into the horizon, not that I could see well to begin with. I faintly hear my own breaths struggling to get past the liquid that was blocking the airflow.

Like a rock in the pond, the effects of the sacrifice would ripple out into the world, maybe not as pronounced in some areas as others. My wife's grief would be the riverbank, preventing her from moving on, but it would ease with time.

It always will.

"We come into this world crying while all around us are smiling. May we so live that we go out of this world smiling while everybody around us is weeping."

- Persian proverb

The End

-constructive criticism and comments welcome