Why does Chimney sound so far away? Why does her chest hurt so much? Why is her head pounding so hard?
“Maddie, open your eyes for me, baby, please.” He sounds scared, she can hear the panic in his voice and then it feels as though there’s a hand on her thigh. He’s crying, she can tell without even looking at him because now, after six years of loving him and seven years of knowing him, she has everything about him memorised.
She groans as a way of letting him know that she can hear him but she’s not sure she can process any words right now. Until she slowly opens her eyes, a wave of nausea overcoming her when she remembers where they are. Chimney is awake and he’s talking, so he must be okay but she still finds herself too scared to look. There’s blood dripping down her head, blinking a few times before her hand drops to her stomach. That’s when the panic truly starts to set in; the memory of being asleep in the car and waking up to the feeling of the car swerving overtakes her. And then the sound of the metal against metal echoes in her mind and she’s not sure she’ll ever forget.
The sound of sirens can be heard in the distance, getting closer which means help is on the way and it’s enough to give her the courage to turn her head to look at her husband. They were on their way home after a rare long weekend away, the two of them in Big Bear, their phones turned off, just taking four days for just the two of them, knowing it could be their last chance before it becomes the three of them. Maddie isn’t far along, not enough to feel comfort right now by the feeling of their child kicking as a reminder that they are still fighting, she was only nine weeks along, they had only known for a week and it had happily coincided with their first wedding anniversary.
She’s an ER Nurse and he’s a Paramedic, so moments where they can get away and not have to worry about the things they are leaving behind, are rare. She wouldn’t have it any other way, she absolutely adores the life they have together and separately. And sometimes she thinks about how it all started and how much she had tried to deny herself of the wonderful man who was now her husband and the father of the little life growing inside of her. If someone had told her that this would be her life and she would be quite this happy when she was a teenager or even when she was twenty-one years old, she’d have laughed. The road they have taken hasn’t always been easy but there hasn’t been a single moment when she’s had to take that road without him.
But now, right now, all she can see is the piece of metal through his head and it feels as though her entire world is falling apart. She has loved him for six years, lived with him for five, been married to him for a year, she had just spent four days in his loving arms as they celebrated this amazing life they share together. They were so excited about being parents, though the nerves were still there; Maddie has amazing parents, two people she loves so much but she hadn’t known them her whole life. She had done thirteen years without them and Chimney had a wonderful mother, who loved him more than life itself but who had been stolen from him when he was only fourteen years old. The nerves were there, the uncertainty that either of them knew how to be good parents remained but it had been a long time since Maddie had felt as though the world was against her. She hadn’t had to do a single moment of the last six years without Chimney’s hand in her own, getting her through the toughest moments.
The first patient she had lost, he was there. The first time her brother had gotten injured on the job, Chimney was the one to wrap his arms around her and promise her that it would be okay. And then when her dad had relapsed two years ago, it had been Chimney who held her as she cried and worried that she would follow the same path eventually and he’d be left feeling like her mom did. She can’t imagine life without him, she doesn’t want to but there’s a piece of rebar through his skull and somehow he’s still awake and he’s still talking and she doesn’t know how but maybe there’s an ounce of luck on their side. Maybe she doesn’t have to be angry at the universe for stealing away her happiness, maybe she can still be happy and come out of this with her husband and their child.
She’s been silent for too long, his chest is rising and falling rapidly as his own panic starts to set in. He can’t move and he doesn’t know why and she doesn’t want to be the person to tell him why because there is no way he can make it out of this alive. Maddie has never seen an injury like his before because even after the past three years of working in the ER exclusively, these injuries don’t make it to her.
“Help is coming,” She finally finds herself whispering, the tears falling before she can stop them, “they’ll be here soon and everything will be okay.” She doesn’t believe the words she’s saying, how could she? Her entire body is shaking and she reaches for him, ignoring her own pain as she rests a hand on his leg, brushing her thumb over the fabric of his jeans in an attempt to comfort him. He can’t die, she had never really imagined living life without him. Six years isn’t long enough, sixty years would never be long enough because it’s Chimney, he’s her wonderful, patient, kind and sweet Chimney. He deserves better than this, he’s only thirty-two years old and it really feels as though their lives are just beginning with this new chapter they had both been so excited to take.
She knows for certain she can survive her own injuries, it’s the life of their daughter or their son and him that is in question right now. And if their baby survives and he doesn’t, the fear of not being a good parent is increased tenfold because this isn’t something she wants to do without him. What if it turns out she’s more like her biological mother than she is her actual mother? What if she allows her grief for her husband to overtake her and she rejects their child in the same way her parents had done to her and Evan when Daniel died? What if both of them die and she finds herself seeking solace in the bottom of a bottle or a line of white powder that always used to make her feel better for all of a few hours?
The sirens are really close now and she doesn’t know why it’s taking so long, they must know this is an emergency. “I-I can’t move, why can’t I move, Maddie? Nothing hurts…” Nothing hurts , that’s perhaps the most terrifying two words she has ever heard falling from his lips. And she finds herself quickly shaking her head, the movement dizzying as she lifts her hand to gently rest on his cheek instead, trying to stay strong for him.
If it were her, she’d want to know and she knows Chimney better than she knows herself sometimes and she knows with certainty that he would want to know. But she’s wary of him panicking or of him seeing the extent of his injury and deciding not to fight because both of them know his chances. But she needs for him to fight for himself, for her, for their unborn child and the life they had promised each other.
They were in this car when he had proposed to her, she remembers it as though it were yesterday. The sun was shining, she had her hand out of the window, letting the breeze pass her by as she sang along to the radio and he had looked over at her with the biggest smile on his face. It wasn’t the way he had planned, he had told her that much but he carried the ring around with him wherever he went - mostly because she was nosey and would have found it if he tried to hide it in the apartment they shared. Marry me. Just two words that had sent her heart soaring and had stopped her singing. They had spoken of it before, more than once and her mind and body had always felt settled in the knowledge that whatever path they were taking, it would be together. They wanted the same things from life and from each other and that had always been enough. That day, they had almost crashed the car with the intensity of which she had wrapped her arms tightly around him whilst he was driving and now here they were, three years later.
She’s had three surnames in her lifetime and as much as she loves her parents and as much as she had learnt from being a Grant-Nash, Han is her favourite. She loves who she is when she is with Chimney, she loves how settled she feels, how proud it makes her feel when someone calls her Nurse Han or Mrs Han. Of all the chapters in her life, the last six years have been her favourite because she has found out who she is and what she wants, she allowed herself to love and be loved by a man who she would never truly feel as though she was good enough for but would try every single day and she had a big, wonderful family that had given her so much. And now they were meant to be adding to it and they were meant to be a family of three, not a family of one or two. This wasn’t how their weekend away together was meant to end.
It takes her a moment, taking a deep breath, though it burns her chest as she does and she gently brushes her fingers along the stubble on his jawline, “I know you’re scared and I am, too but you are Howard Han and you have to stay calm and fight, okay?” It’s easier said than done, she knows this but if he panics, he could shift the rebar and whatever miracle is keeping him alive right now will disappear and she needs to make sure he gets to the hospital. If he can get to the hospital, he has a chance, more of a chance than he does out here, anyway. “A piece of rebar is lodged in your skull right now,” She tries to keep the words as robotic as she can, so not to let him feel her own terror, knowing he has enough of his own, “it’s gone through the back a-and…”
“All the way through?”
She doesn’t know how he’s managing to keep his voice so calm, dropping her hand quickly to grab onto his, holding it as tightly as she possibly can whilst she nods her head, “But you’re gonna be okay because you’ve made it this far, so you’re gonna be just fine.” She doesn’t believe it, and she knows he doesn’t either whilst his hand trembles in her own but neither of them say anything because there’s a knock on the window and then his door is opening. 136, that’s the station that has responded and she knows the 118 are on duty at the moment because Chimney had to book it off. She can see the shock on the man’s face, the confusion and the fear because her husband’s eyes are still open and he’s still breathing. “My name is Maddie Han and this is Chimney, he’s a Paramedic with the 118 and my dad is the Captain there, you need to radio him to come here now. I don’t want anyone else touching him.”
It won’t take long, she knows her dad will come as soon as he knows that she needs him and she knows that he will know what to do. Because the 118, they think outside of the box, they are a family in more ways than one and they can bounce off each other to come up with the best plan of action. She knows right now that these people aren’t invested in his life, that they won’t try hard enough to make sure he makes it to the station alive, she can already see in their eyes that they have given up on her Chimney and she’s not letting it happen. Her dad will know what to do and she has to cling to that because if he can’t save him, then nobody can.
The man who had barely had a chance to introduce himself to her before she’d demanded what she needed from him, is quick to leave and she can hear his voice a few feet away, talking to his Captain. “My dad will know what to do.” She whispers out loud, trying to force herself to believe it. He’s a part of their family and they don’t leave anybody behind, and they will not leave him to die in this car, they are his best chance at survival and she needs to cling to that knowledge as she takes a deep, trembling breath and leans forward enough to press her lips to his cheek.
“I love you. I love you so much, Maddie, I love you more than I ever thought possible and I would have been a good dad, you know? Because I would have had you and we would have… we would have done it together and… it would have been amazing. I-I would have been a good dad,” He’s saying goodbye and the words are enough to force her to drop his hand as she stares at him. He can’t be giving up, she won’t let him because he’s not going to die tonight. It’s not his time, they still have so much to do, and so much more to see, they have so many plans, “you’ll tell them about me, right? T-that I didn’t wanna leave them, I didn’t wanna leave you. I-I don’t wanna die, I’m not ready but…”
“You’re not dying, Howard.” The words are spat out, an intense look on her face as she grits her teeth together and glares at him. She shouldn’t be angry at him, she knows she’d be scared, too and she doesn’t want his last memory of her to be this but it won’t be his last memory because her dad will know how to help him and he’ll wake up in the hospital and everything will be okay. It has to be okay.
There’s tears falling down his face and she reaches forward to gently wipe at his cheeks, shaking her head before he talks, “You have to say goodbye to me, just in case. I need you to know how much I love you and how much I want to be a dad, how I wanted everything with you and I’m so sorry that I can’t be there. You don’t deserve this, I-I thought… I thought we h-had more time. I thought…”
“We do have more time!” She’s shouting and she doesn’t mean to but her voice echoes around the car and her head is starting to pound so she knows for certain she has a concussion but it’s not what matters right now. He’s all that matters, their baby growing up with a father is what matters if their baby gets a chance to grow up at all. “You are not dying, I love you but I am not saying goodbye because I am not giving you permission to leave me. We are going to make it out of this, all three of us but I need you to keep your eyes open and you keep talking and you can say all the goodbye’s you want but I am not saying it back because you’re gonna be fine. I am not doing this without you, that’s not the plan.”
It’s crazy to think that the past four days had been spent in a love filled haze, the two of them talking about the future. They had just bought a house not too long after they had gotten married - a real fixer upper that was taking forever because they had jobs but every time they had a day off, it would be filled with trying to make their house a home with the help of their family. They had been trying for a baby for just a few months and then it had happened and they had been so excited to finally make their home a family home. They had spoken of savings and how much time they could afford for Maddie to take off, they had discussed baby names and how Mr and Mrs Lee would be wonderful grandparents, just as her own parents would be. It would be the first grandchild and finally, the not so subtle hints from her dad can stop because she knows he has been waiting for the day someone will call him grandpa.
“Listen to me, Howard,” She never uses his first name, but this is more than called for as she shifts herself enough so he can see her out of the corner of his eyes, “you are going to be a wonderful dad, you are going to hold our little baby girl or baby boy in seven months time and you will get to tell them one day about this amazing thing you survived because that is what you are. You are a survivor and you are going to fight because you love us, right? You love us and you promised me, you… you put this ring on my finger and you promised to love me and to always fight to come home to me. So, I love you, we love you but we are not saying goodbye, not like this. Not until we’re old and we have four kids and ten grandkids and a bunch of great grandkids and we are living our lives in some cabin in the middle of nowhere just like we planned.”
Maddie can hear the panic in her own voice because his eyes are starting to close until he blinks and widens them in an attempt to stay awake, his hand gripping onto hers as she brushes her thumb over his wedding band. “My dad will know what to do, the 118… they’ll know what to do. It’s going to be okay, you’re going to be okay.” That’s the mantra she has to keep telling herself in an attempt to keep herself sane. There’s more sirens now and she knows it must be them, it has to be them because she doesn’t know how much time Chimney has left.
Her dad has an extraordinary poker face, although she sees it falter for a second and his eyes linger on her and she knows it’s because she is his daughter and he’s worried. But the focus right now needs to be on her husband, on making sure he comes home to her because they have a house to fix up and a child to bring into the world who needs both of them. “Daddy,” He nods, knowing what she needs from him before she even has to say the words, focusing instead on the grave matter at hand. She can’t imagine he’s ever seen anything like this before - at least not for someone still living and breathing and appearing to have normal brain function. “Help him, you have to help him.”
“We have a plan.” They must have been briefed before they got here and she should have known they would try and figure something out between them. She can hear her brother shouting her name in the distance, imagining him being held back because he wears his heart on his sleeve but he’s still a fantastic firefighter and there is no one other than him and her dad, Eddie and Hen that she wants to touch her husband right now. “I need you to let go of his hand now, Maddie, I need to get you out of this car.”
“Maddie.” He must have called her mom, only looking when she hears her door opening, and looks at the woman in her uniform, “It’s gonna be okay,” Her voice is calm and Maddie wants to believe her but there’s a look in her parents eyes that she has never seen before and she knows exactly what it means. They don’t think Chimney is going to make it, they don’t think there’s a chance in hell but they’ll try, for her and for him. Because they love him like a son, he’s family and he’s her everything and she doesn’t want to learn how to breathe without him.
There’s a Paramedic she doesn’t recognise coming towards her with a neck brace and she’s quick to shake her head, “I-I can get out myself, I’m fine, I’m fine, you just need to… you need to help him. Please help him.” Her mom reaches over to unbuckle her seatbelt and she can feel eyes lingering on her but she doesn’t feel any physical pain, not right now, just the emotional reality that her life could be over just as it was truly beginning. “Mom, I-I can’t leave him.”
“Athena, get her out of here.” There’s an urgency to her dad’s voice and she whips her head back around, concussion be damned, to see Chimney’s eyes have closed and there’s a whole new panic that her dad is trying to hide from her. He sees it coming before she even reacts, “Now!” And suddenly there’s a pair of arms wrapped around her waist, dragging her from the car as she screams her husband’s name, letting out an anguished sob as she does, collapsing to the ground as her mom holds her tightly from behind, whispering words in her ear that she’s sure is meant to comfort her but she can barely understand them over her own cries for the man who had given her so much love and joy.
She hadn’t said goodbye. She should have said goodbye.