User:Feathertail/A Better Life
A Better Life
The world was a comforting mass of darkness, which was slowly becoming lighter. Sasha knew he'd been having dreams inside of it, because he was still worried that he wouldn't be able to find enough platypus eggs to make an omelet. Somewhere in his muddled head he knew that that'd been a dream, but it seemed more real to him than the strange lights and colors outside.
He could tell, just barely, that there were people moving about him. People in white uniforms moving around him, writing things down on a clipboard, crouching next to him and doing something he couldn't see. He saw one of them pull a needle out of his arm, and stick in a new one. And he couldn't feel pinching of his skin, but he felt the icy coldness, and it made him shiver.
Everything was numb. His mouth felt like it was crammed full of cotton. He couldn't feel his tongue, and he didn't think he'd be able to speak. He saw strange, colored lights in the distance, and realized that they were the picture on a TV screen, up on the wall. He made himself focus on it 'till his eyes watered, and afterwards he was finally able to see the newscaster. But there was something else in front of his eyes, something large and oblong which took up a lot of his field of vision.
Sasha looked down gingerly and tried to see what it was, but could not. Then something occurred to him, and he looked up.
There, above his hospital bed, was the mirror that'd been there before he'd been wheeled into the operating room. And in the mirror was a pale white, hairless face, with pointed ears and a long wolf's muzzle. It was swollen, and there were bandages on it.
Sasha grinned drowsily, baring his teeth, and his tongue lolled out the side.
One of the nurses took his muzzle in her hands and held it open, before placing something on his tongue and making him swallow it. He barely felt anything, and didn't put up a struggle. He just kept looking at his face in the mirror.
A few minutes later he was back asleep again.
The hospital had a separate room for people who were recovering from or preparing to undergo a trans-species procedure. It was kept dimly lit throughout the day, although Sasha could see the bright daylight outside in the cracks between the curtains. The nurses kept him on painkillers and made him take sleeping pills at odd hours, so that was the only way that he knew what time of day it was.
That, and the curtain. At night it separated him from the room's only other occupant: A sickly-looking boy with almond eyes and dark brown features, who couldn't be more than 10. His head had been shaved, just as Sasha's had been, and he got even more attention from the nurses than Sasha did. When they came to take care of him during the daytime he smiled at them and asked them questions, and they smiled back and told each other how cute he was. Because of him, they had the TV tuned to educational shows for most of the day, but whenever he got the remote he put on anime instead.
One day, Sasha was feeling coherent enough to turn his head and ask the boy a question during the commercials. "Hey ... " he tried to say, although it came out more like "Hrh ... "
The boy looked up. He was sitting up in bed, playing with toys.
Sasha moistened the inside of his dry muzzle, and tried again. This time he only slurred a little. "Whuush your name?"
"Aiden," he said. "What's yours?"
It took Sasha three tries to get his own name right. The boy giggled. "That's a girl's name!" he said.
"Yesh," Sasha said, and tried to smile.
"I saw you before you came in here," Aiden said. "How come you're an anthropomorphic wolf?" He did not trip over the word.
"Well," Sasha said, "there's two waysh to become one ... either you're born that way, or you pay the doctorsh to make you into one. Guesh which one I chose."
He grinned, and Aiden grinned back. "How come?" he asked.
"Alwaysh wanted to be one." Sasha looked up at the mirror again, one arm behind his head and the other hooked up to the IVs. The bandages were off of his head now, and he could see the scars clearly. They'd be visible until his fur grew out.
"Aren't you worried that people will look at you funny?"
"Hey." Sasha turned to look at him again. "I don' look at them funny for bein' ugly, hairless apes."
Aiden giggled again.
"So how come you're ... uh ... " Sasha's mind went blank all of a sudden, as the IV's timed painkillers were released into his system. " ... y'know?"
"Trans-species?" The boy perked up. "It was my parents' idea."
"Your mom and dad want you to ... "
"Seriously?" Sasha tried to sit up, and his stiff muscles protested.
"Uh-huh." Aiden watched.
"And you're okay with that?"
"Yup." He nodded, then looked back up at the TV. The commercials were over.
Sasha sat there a moment and thought about what it must be like to have a family that was supportive of his decision. His had disowned him when he'd told them about it; there had been a huge argument, and he hadn't heard from his parents or sister since. At least he still had his friends, he thought, as he started to become drowsy and laid back down ... at least he still had his friends.
They came to visit him one day two weeks later, during his physical therapy. Sasha was happy to see them, and showed off. He'd opted to have synthetic muscles installed, to replace the mass that he'd lost during pre-op chemotherapy and retroviral infusion, and even with only a thin coat of fur he thought that he looked rather handsome. He suspected his friends thought as much, too, even though they were laughing and being sarcastic.
After they left, he found that he'd pulled every one of those muscles, since their nerve endings hadn't been formed yet and he hadn't been able to tell how far he was pushing himself. He spent the next week trying to lay still, unable to feel his aching muscles but knowing that if he moved them too far he might tear them apart, and have to have them surgically replaced. One time he reached for a cup of water on the nightstand, but his arm had simply refused to work and he'd knocked it over. Aiden had pressed the button to call for a nurse.
A week or two after that, almost his date of discharge, his friends snuck him out of the hospital. He still had trouble pronouncing some words, and they had to help him walk sometimes. But he felt alive and full of energy, and was tired of just doing exercises. The people at the front desk had looked surprised, but they waved to him and wished him good luck.
He couldn't remember what'd happened next. He remembered that there had been drinks, and pizza, and more pizza and drinks. He remembered making wild boasts to his friends, and pointedly calling a moustached man in a Stetson an "ugly, hairless ape." Sasha had been taller than him, and had been itching to start a fight. But to his surprise, the man had mumbled something and backed down, and he and his family had left the restaurant.
He remembered staggering back into the hospital, the nurses intercepting him and shooing his friends away. He remembered being helped back up the elevator, into his room next to Aiden, and collapsing into his bed. Now he was wide awake looking up at the ceiling, darkness outside the crack in the curtain, and realizing that something was wrong. What was it?
His stomach lurched. Oh yes, he thought ... that was what.
Sasha threw up, over and over again, and the noise woke Aiden up. He said something, panicked, but Sasha couldn't hear him because he was busy throwing up. Pretty soon after that the nurses came in, and by this time Sasha was glad they were there, because his stomach was twisting itself into knots but all that would come up was blood.
The nurses said lots of things to each other, and Sasha couldn't hear what they were saying because all he could do was feel pain. They pulled at his arm, but his arms were wrapped tight around himself and his hands were clutching his sides, digging in with his claws, trying to make the pain stop. But they kept pulling, and he finally lashed out, and the nurse fell and knocked something big and expensive over.
After that they forced a mask onto his muzzle, and he started to cough blood into it, too. But a few seconds later, that did not seem to matter. The world became black, and quiet.
Sasha's release was postponed by a month. He barely knew what had happened; could barely think, could barely sit up. He was pretty sure that they'd operated on him, because his midsection stung like razors every time he coughed. And for the first few days he had to cough a lot, so the pain would become unbearable.
At one point, after a violent coughing fit, he started whimpering uncontrollably, tears running down his face. And Aiden had come over and watched for a moment, before placing one of his toy cars on the sheets next to him.
Things hadn't seemed so bad after that.
Sasha began to get better, to be able to sit up again, to have the bandages on his stomach removed. He began to talk to the nurses, to ask for things to read, to use his phone to respond to messages from his friends. He began to look at the light coming from between the curtain and the windowsill, and to think what it would be like once he finally stepped outside as his now-finely furred self.
And he began to look over at the opposite bed with concern. Because while he was getting progressively better, Aiden was getting progressively worse. The boy was taking all sorts of medicines and was barely coherent anymore, only lifting his eyes when his favorite anime came on. He didn't talk to the nurses anymore, and he didn't reply to Sasha when he talked to him. He just lay there, looking up at the wolf with a glazed-over look on his face.
Sasha felt terrible for him, and decided to keep talking to Aiden anyway ... partly to try to get a response out of him, and partly because he was feeling lonely and needed someone to talk to, even if they didn't respond. He told him what it was like working for one of the country's largest banks, and how his boss had been totally against his decision but would have to hire him back, thanks to the anti-discrimination laws. He told him what it'd been like seeing a natural-born anthropomorph, and reaching out and touching his fur and realizing he was alive, and how that had affected him and had changed his whole life.
He talked about befriending the anthropomorph. About going to the conventions together and meeting his current friends, who'd been supportive of his dream to become an anthropomorph himself. And he told Aiden how much he would like life as an anthropomorph ... how he'd be able to see, and hear, and smell things that he couldn't before, and out-wrestle anyone, and how awesome his friends would think he was. And he thought Aiden smiled at him, but he couldn't be sure.
Towards the end of Sasha's stay they let him get up sometimes, and walk around the hospital. He had an idea for where he wanted to go, and he told the nurses about it and they thought it was wonderful. That was how he got to visit the children's ward.
Sasha remembered what it'd been like to see people dressed up in costume like they were anthropomorphic animals, smiling and waving and hugging each other and little kids. He remembered hearing the people who did things like that talking about going to hospitals, and visiting children who'd come down with terminal illnesses, and putting smiles on their faces.
He wanted to do it too, as long as he was in a position to. And make them smile, and laugh, and ask weird questions he did. Some of the children could barely look up, or had to start coughing in mid-sentence, and those were the sad ones because he knew there was nothing he could do for them. But others were more cheerful, and would wave or even run up and hug him as soon as he entered the room. It made Sasha's heart melt.
Suddenly he no longer cared who was ugly and hairless and who wasn't. He was just happy to be alive, both because he'd come so close to dying and because he got to be around the greatest people ever. And he would look in the mirror and see someone else, and realize he liked being this someone else. He was acting the way that he'd wanted to act, but had never allowed himself to. And it was the most fun that he'd had in his life.
Every day before he went out to visit the kids downstairs, he would try to get a smile out of Aiden. Today, though, he was still asleep. Sasha just tiptoed around him, and went down the hall towards the elevator.
When he came back, there were nurses rushing into and out of the room. They were bringing a crash cart inside, and giving each other orders.
Sasha watched, in shock, unable to realize what'd happened. He tapped a nurse on the shoulder and asked "What's going on in there?"
"We're trying to save that boy's life." Her face was grim.
Sasha wanted to step inside and see what was going on, but there were too many people in there. All he could do was stand in the hallway and watch, and try not to get in anyone's way. Sasha had never thought of himself as religious, but he couldn't help but pray that someone would save Aiden.
Finally he heard what sounded like Aiden choking and coughing. His ears perked, and he looked up. Then he heard the boy gasp, and let out the most horrible, anguished sound that he'd ever heard, trailing off into nothing. And the activity inside stopped.
For a second, Sasha did not know what that meant. Then he saw one of the nurses hang her head, and another begin crying, and he felt like his insides had frozen up.
He didn't cry at first, because he couldn't believe what had just happened. Then he remembered the pain that he'd had, of his insides tearing apart the night that his friends took him out; and, later, after the operation, the pain like his coughing would burst himself open. And he imagined that ten-year-old feeling that pain, and that pain getting worse and worse, and Aiden begging it to go away until finally something just gave.
That did it. Sasha began to cry too. And he remembered how morose Aiden had been the night before, and wished he'd said something to the nurses about it. He should have seen! He should have said something. He should have gotten one last smile out of him. He wished that he had.
He stood there in the hallway numbly watching people file out of the room ... doctors muttering something about malpractice insurance, nurses hugging and reassuring each other. They hugged Sasha, too, and let him know that they did their best and that it was okay to cry. And he did, all over again.
Finally there was just one nurse left, when Sasha went back in the room. She was standing over Aiden, and the way the curtains were drawn Sasha could not see his face. All he could see was the lifeless lump under the covers.
"I'm sorry," Sasha said.
"We all are." She didn't look up.
"He didn't even get to find out what it's like ... "
"What what's like?"
"What it's like to ... " Sasha coughed, and tried not to cry. He couldn't talk about that. "What happened to him?"
"His body rejected the human organs." The nurse's voice was a monotone. "We tried all kinds of therapy, but nothing was working on him. And so his organs stopped working on him, and he just gave out and died."
"Wait ... " Something about that didn't sound right. "His body rejected the human organs?"
"This boy was hatched as an anthropomorphic dragon." The nurse looked up at Sasha. "His parents were bred to fight in the People's Golden Army. When they moved here, they asked their son if he wanted to become a human. And he said yes."
The nurse finished writing something down on her clipboard. And Sasha could only stare, down at the lump on the bed that had once been a dragon.
"We're going to move you to another room," the nurse said, as another one entered the room. "Almost time for your discharge anyway. Come on, come with me."
She walked out, and Sasha walked out with her, looking over his shoulder until the door was out of sight.