Summary: It's like every nightmare Mike Chang's ever had rolled into one terrifying night he'd give anything to change.
Warning: Lots of angst!
It happens like a thunderclap, like everything he'd ever imagine a flash of lightning would feel like penetrating his torso. He's always been an in-the-moment type of guy, while she likes to waver a little- faltering at the sublime and analyzing everything to a tee. That's how they've always been. He's not used to his thoughts gnawing their way out, tearing past his skin without so much as a pause for his emotions to seep to the surface. He's a dancer, for god's sake. He takes everything from inside and tosses it into freestyling, into his limbs and core. He works almost too hard translating the mental into the physical, imbuing each movement with an explosion of unspoken words. He's not used to thinking the way she does - did?
They used to say that the most terrifyingly groundbreaking moments of life happen in a cloak of fog. He never really believed it before, mostly because he could reel his memories in and recall every movement and word. He's never had trouble remembering before and now it's like someone had snatched away that ability as though he'd never need it again.
The only thing he can think of doing is screaming.
His voice sounds terrible and ghastly in his own ears and it's as though the vibrations from that one word is cracking the pavement beneath them, beneath his car. The ground is quaking. It has to be- why else would he feel as though he's lost all balance?
His lip is bleeding. He's not really sure how, but he has a feeling it has something to do with the way his head taken a nasty crash into his steering wheel. He can nearly taste the blood as it oozes from the cracks of lips, and he's always been a bit afraid of blood, but the sight to his right is infinitely more frightening than a thousand gallons of blood.
Her eyes are closed. That's the first thing he notices, and it's the most important thing because he's used to smiling at the sight of her eyelashes kissing her skin but now, it's horribly morbid the way they stay down no matter how many times he shouts her name. The side of her head is bleeding profusely and he wants so badly to mop it up and reassure her that everything's going to be okay- and she'd make a joke that there really is a doctor inside of him, despite his fear for blood and firm refusal to apply to medical school. He wants so badly for her to wake...
In a haze, he unbuckles his seatbelt and winces in pain as his back cracks violently at the sudden movement. His fingers reach for her neck, desperately in search for her carotid artery. He panics at first because he can't feel it, can't feel the thumping signs of life beneath her neck and it sends him into a flurry of despair. But with another moment of gentle prodding, he feels it. It's faint, but it's there.
He's already got his phone out from his jean pocket to call 911 when there's a frantic tap on his window. His eyes snap to the source of the sound to find a burly looking guy with an alarmed expression painted over his face.
He opens his door impatiently, only to find the SUV that had steamrollered his sedan. The rage within him is boiling.
"That was you?"
"Please don't call the cops," the guy's voice is weak and pleading but slurred with the stain of alcohol, "I can't get another DWI- I can't -"
Never, ever in his life had he felt this type of unbridled anger. Never had he wanted so badly to point a gun to another man's head and blow his brains out. But right now, he feels like his entire body is getting ripped into two.
"My... my girlfriend is in my car, barely holding onto her fucking pulse, in dire need of medical attention, and you're telling me not to call the police?"
"Oh... oh shit," he falters, his droopy eyes growing wide, "Is... is she o-"
He doesn't even bother listening to the rest of the drunkard's sentence. His fingers fly over the keyboard of his phone and before he knows it, he's word vomiting to the dispatcher, trying desperately not to lose his mind. He gives her the name of the intersection and hangs up, pocketing his phone before crawling back into his battered car, desperately reaching for her pulse again. Her hair is matted with blood and there's a bruise forming on her chin. Even in this catastrophe, she is somehow still beautiful in the most perverse way. Her lips are slightly parted, as though grasping onto the last words she had uttered before the crash. He wants to bottle those words- "Let's do it", in reference to his suggestion to go on a picnic the following weekend- and nestle them into the crevices of his brain so that he'll never lose them. He wants to kiss life back into her, impart his own beating heart upon her dwindling one. This time, his fingers meet nothing but warm flesh- not a single beat presses against them.
He can vaguely make out the sound of the idiotic college guy behind him, babbling nonsense about getting into so much shit and asking (as though he even cared) if she was okay, if she was breathing. In any normal situation, he would address the stream of words being shot toward him, but right now, he doesn't give a damn about the man who drowned his system with liquor and crashed into two innocent people just trying to get home from the movies. In fact, not giving a damn would be doing this man a favor. In reality, he wants to strangle him, wrap his hands around his neck and break every bone he can get a hold of. But he's not an inherently violent person so he keeps his fingers on her neck. His world is unraveling rapidly before his very eyes as he searches, searches, searches...
He can hear the sirens of an ambulance pouring into the area. They wail in aggressive intervals, and he struggles to welcome their arrival. Her pulse...
"Sir, I'm gonna have to ask you to exit the vehicle. We need full access to her body in order to get her onto a stretcher."
The paramedic's voice is coarse but understanding, laced with real concern that he has no patience to appreciate. He practically tumbles out of his car, eyes stinging in pain.
"She's- she's not..."
The paramedics don't need him to describe her medical condition. On the contrary, they hoist her out of the car and onto a long stretcher, while one of them listens for breathing and feels for a pulse. Their movements are impossibly swift and make him feel like he's seeing double, until...
They drop their hands from her body, shoulders sagging southward as they turn to face him, their eyes heavy with concern, with sympathy, with everything he never wants to see.
One of the paramedics slowly checks her watch, eyes trained on him as her lips part, "Time of death, 1:36 am."
He's never liked hospitals. It was just another sign that he wasn't cut out for becoming a doctor in his eyes, but his dad tried to convince him that there were other places a doctor could work. There was something about the unforgiving sterility between the walls of a hospital that made his insides ache uncomfortably, made him feel like he was growing increasingly claustrophobic.
Today, he hates hospitals. He hates that there are IV drips everywhere, supplying patients with elixirs of survival, he hates that there are nurses running back and forth, on missions to save lives and not one of them is stopping for her because her heart had stilled at 1:36 am.
He is numb. He can't feel his toes, his hands are colder than liquid nitrogen, and his head feels ready to roll of his shoulders.
He's waiting for the numbness to make way for the pain. But it hasn't come yet. It hasn't struck within his skull and he can't tell whether he's grateful or frightened that it hasn't quite hit him just yet.
He's sitting in the swivel chair beside her hospital bed, eyes focused immovably from her now clean face, as though she could awake from her fatal slumber at any moment. As though she plans on sitting up and gracing him with her most radiant smile- a smile that he almost can't remember, a smile that is nothing more than a ghost of an imprint in his mind, a smile that he would walk the ends of the earth to see once more.
The silence of the room is shattered when four people rush in. Two of them are her parents, their faces already drowning in tears, their eyes enormous with every ounce of pain he feels and more. Her mother screams at the sight of her, falling to her knees as she approaches the bed.
"Baby," she wails, hands grasping onto a cold arm.
Her father has transformed into complete stone. The only semblance of emotion he gives is the steady stream of tears that roll down his cheeks as he kneels down next to his wife, clasping one hand around her waist and the other in his daughter's hair. The only people who could possibly feel more broken than him right now are falling apart before their daughter, dissolving into nothingness at the sight of her still body.
The third person to walk in is a doctor, and the fourth is her killer. He doesn't give a damn that "killer" might be too harsh a term, considering the lack of conscious effort. He doesn't care because this man might as well have a pistol in his hand because all Mike can see is the blood that stains that man's hands.
The moment he walks in, Mike springs forward, throwing punches more quickly than he'd ever thought possible. The satisfyingly loud sounds of skin-on-skin contact that accompanies each punch rings in his ears, and he revels in the thought of relaying his pain and misery to this man, this man who thought it would be perfectly reasonable to soak his liver in alcohol and take on the road as though nothing was wrong at all. This man who stole the breath of his soulmate, snatched away her life as if it were nothing. He wants nothing more than to cause every last muscle in this man's body to burn with guilt. He wants nothing more than for this man to suffer and pay for what he did.
He can feel her father and the doctor drag him away, pulling him to the other end of the room to prevent him from causing any permanent damage. He's positively seething, eyes glassy with fury.
"Don't- stop- I wanna-"
His words are an incoherently tangled, much like the emotions consuming his mind. He's wriggling in the two men's arms, trying to escape and reinitialize his shower of punches.
"There's no use in that," her dad says gently, his voice cracking mid-sentence.
"I- I'm so sorry," the apologetic words seem empty to Mike, as though only existent to fulfill a duty, not at all heavy with remorse.
There are a thousand things Mike wants to do at this very moment, and because he might get wrapped up into a straitjacket if he starts punching the son of a bitch again, he chooses instead to thread the words that are building in his throat into a tirade of turbulent sentences.
"You don't get to be sorry," his voice shakes unstably, "You don't get to stand there and pretend like you give a damn about one of the most important women in my life. You- you still have beer or vodka or god knows what coursing through your veins and you try to bullshit your way into making amends? My girlfriend - their daughter - will never speak, never laugh, never sing again and you're just sorry? You don't know us, you don't know her and you have no right- noright to look us in the eye and just say 'sorry'."
"I'm not trying to bullshit my-"
"No. No. Don't give me that because I know, you know that you made it your job to make sure I didn't contact the police, didn't try to rush her to the hospital because you were trying to save your own selfish ass. You are full of bullshit. You are nothing but bullshit. You- you walk away tonight with another DWI under your belt but you get to go home and hug your parents, you get to live the next years of your life without feeling as though your potential went through the incinerator. You- she has- had so much promise. She was going to go on and be a revolutionary performer, she was going to become everything she ever dreamed of and you- you took that from her. From all of us."
Tina's mom's sobs crescendo from the bedside, her shoulders trembling violently. Her dad looks as though he's seriously contemplating starting what Mike didn't get to finish- pitching in with a couple of punches himself.
"Please- please try to understand... I am sorry. I shouldn't- I shouldn't have driven tonight. I- I-"
A police officer appears in the doorway, a stony expression across his visage, "Cooper Faraday? We need to ask you a couple of questions. Same goes for you, Mr. Chang- but I'll give you some time to stay here with Miss Cohen-Chang and her parents."
As the officer drags the still slightly tipsy Cooper- god, he has a name... he couldn't even connect a name with his face, couldn't even imagine such a monster being so normal and human- Mike turns back to Tina and her parents, the silence enveloping them like a quilt of anguish.
He breaks the silence with the most raw, injured apology he ever uttered.
"I'm so sorry."
And if he hadn't been able to fully come to grips with what had happened so far that night, now... now he can feel it. Now he knows.
Now he knows that the girl who's lying on the hospital bed beside her parents and boyfriend is no longer Tina, no longer the fireball of spirit and energy and passion despite her quiet, calculated demeanor. He hates himself for not funneling every sip of laughter that escaped from between her gorgeous red lips- lips he wanted to keep forever, to kiss forever, to taste forever. He hates himself for not absorbing the twinkle of her eyes, for not treasuring each moment they exploded with genuine laughter. He hates himself for every time he ever took her for granted- for choosing to go to pickup games of street football with the boys instead of hanging out with her, despite the fact that she assured him relentlessly that she didn't mind, for not answering her text right away because he was watching an episode ofDexter, for cutting their dates short due to enormous mountains of homework. He hates himself for not spending every last waking moment with her because now, he'll never be able to find those moments again. But most of all, he hates himself for not leaving the movie theater five minutes earlier or later- for not stopping to use the bathroom before departing or skipping the quick makeout session they indulged in while the credits rolled. He hates himself because time made a fool out of him tonight, and the collateral damage is horrifically permanent.
Tina's mom collects him in her arms, and he can feel her whole body heaving with each sob, "It's not your fault," she mumbles.
"It feels like my fault," Mike croaks.
"It's not," her dad says sharply, his eyes fixed on his daughter, "It's not your fault. You did nothing wrong."
The police officer is back.
"Mr. and Mrs. Cohen-Chang? Could we speak to you both for a bit? We need to fill out some paperwork."
Tina's parents nod solemnly. Her mom plants a gentle kiss on Mike's cheek and her dad grips his shoulder briefly before they follow the officer out the room, leaving Mike alone with her.
He slowly inches back toward the bed, unable to tear his eyes away from Tina's paling cheeks and her closed eyes. He can feel his insides burning in a way he's never experienced before- it feels as though his entire body is being pounded against an iron-cast wall, being tossed at full-speed in a violently spinning dryer, being torn into a million pieces and then stitched back together with a blunt needle. He takes a slow, painful breath before gently tugging the blanket that's wrapped around her away. He gently lifts her and places her at the side of her bed and crawls into the bed beside her, his long legs cramping instantly due to the lack of room. She is facing the ceiling but he is on his side, his nose inches away from her hair- which still smells like coconut.
He's managed to avoid crying for over an hour now, managed to stifle the tears and act like a man. But now he can feel the floodgates open, and suddenly, his trachea seizes up and the tears are tumbling down his cheeks and soaking the sheets beneath them.
"Tina..." Mike whispers softly, his voice breaking as her name leaves his lips, "You'd tell me not to cry, wouldn't you? You'd tell me to lock away the tears because nothing is worth crying over."
The silence of the room is deafening- of course he didn't expect a response, but he wants desperately to hear her voice, and some irrational part of his brain is telling him that if he talks, her voice will come to him in the depths of his mind.
"Well that's not fair because this is worth crying over. You never knew I'd be lying next to you and your heart would stop beating before your time- before you ever got to do all the things you wanted to do in life. That's not fair because you deserved to go to Tisch. You deserved to perform on Broadway, T. I would have been there, too," his voice is wobbly now, falling apart in the middle of each sentence, "I would have sat in the very first row and listened to you sing your heart out, watched as you shared your gift with thousands of people. I would have been the first one to jump to my feet and applaud until my hands went numb. And T, I know I'm still in high school and we told ourselves we wouldn't jump the gun with our relationship, wouldn't let it affect our futures, but I would have dated you for as long as you'd let me and one day, I would have- I would have raked every jewelry store in town for the perfect ring for you. I would have gotten down on one knee and given you a corny speech about why you're my soulmate, my better half, and you would have rolled your eyes a little because you hate that kind of cheesiness, but I would have done it anyway because that's what you deserved."
Mike feels like his entire life is flashing uncontrollably before his eyes, and he gulps for air in an attempt to regain control of his voice. He reaches under the blanket for her hand, and it's soft and familiar but cold and foreign at the same time. He breaks.
"Why did you have to go?" Mike's voice is pleading, as though trying to reel her back in, bring her back to him, "Why did you have to leave me, your parents, everyone? Why did you have to be the one to get the worst of that crash? Why didn't you at least take me with you, T? Because when I ever had to imagine a situation where I'd be lying next to you, unable to hear the sounds of your breaths, I'd imagine us after a lifetime of experiences under our belts. I'd imagine that we had successfully grown old together and I had fulfilled my promise to love you unconditionally, to cherish you as long as we both lived."
The words slip from him subconsciously. The chick flick they watched tonight at the theater involved a wedding, and the words from their vows are still imprinted in his brain, and it strikes him as morbidly depressing that after watching a movie that made him want to daydream about their wedding day someday, Tina would disappear from his life in a matter of minutes.
"Because I do love you unconditionally," he lifts his hand to stroke her hair, a gesture that gets lost in the midst of the moment because she is not there to smile serenely in response the way she usually does, "I was ready to cherish you as long as we both lived, but now- now that you're gone," his resolve shatters once more and it takes him a good thirty seconds to recollect himself, "Now that you're gone, I have to promise to cherish you for as long as I live... Because I will."
He wants to lie there with her forever, to somehow hold onto Tina Cohen-Chang for the rest of his life because he honestly believes that if he lets go of her, he'll wither away into nothingness.
"I love you," he breathes into her hair, his voice a shadow of what it should be. He leans over and kisses her, gently pressing his lips against hers for what could only be the last time.She tastes like heartache.