Tommaso Ciampa was clinically dead for seven minutes and twenty six seconds.
By its very definition, a Chicago Street Fight was a brutal match. It didn't matter though. That was how badly Tommaso wanted Johnny to pay, and that was exactly what happened. He came out, his hand raised as victor. It all seemed fine until he had a chance to sit.
That was when Tommaso began to spit up blood.
One very hectic trip to the Emergency Room later, he found himself greeted by an extremely concerned doctor, amazed that such a gravely injured man could be so alert. Three sets of x-rays later, they couldn't find the source of the bleeding so they wheeled him to Operating Room 4 for exploratory surgery.
One moment, he lied out on the table, trying to listen over the incessant beeping to an anesthesiologist giving instructions. The next thing he knew, everything had gone black. Just as he adjusted to the darkness, Tommaso found himself in a room with blinding white walls.
On the wall closest to Ciampa, a heavy mahogany door beckoned him, asking to be opened.
He reached out, grabbing the knob. As it sent a jolt of electricity through him, he turned it, opening the door and walking through.
Curiosity always got the best of him.
As he stared at the walls, he noticed the tv monitors lining the walls. His heart ached as he realized they played clips of his life with Johnny.
The Cruiserweight Classic Match. Traveling the world as DIY. Their first kiss under the lights of a warm Paris night. Their rise to the top and their fall to the bottom. The conversation where Johnny finally told him he needed to stay with Candice. The knee injury which led to Chicago.
The last monitor crackled with snow. It hummed with static. It looked like it just needed some adjusting. Reaching out, Tommaso moved to fiddle with the buttons. As his hand made contact, everything seemed to fade to black.
“Well, look who it is.”
Tommaso’s eyes fluttered open to find a pretty blonde nurse hovering over him. His entire body screamed with pain as he tried to shift. He forced himself to bite back a scream of pain.
“Easy.” The woman picked up a syringe and reached over to inject it into his IV. “ The morphine should kick in soon.”
“Morphine?” Tommaso gazed up at her with curious eyes.
“ Yep, you just had major surgery.” The woman adjusted his pillow. “ Almost lost you too.”
“What?” Tommaso could feel the medication beginning to take effect as his Body grew warm and his head grew fuzzy.
“You almost bled out. They needed to transfuse you. then, you apparently kept trying to die.” The woman began to type her notes into an iPad. “Rest.”
Tommaso couldn't believe he almost died. His will was usually much stronger. What happened?
He hadn't seen a great white light or a Heavenly Choir of angels clad in nightgowns and off-brand Birkenstocks.
No, he had gotten that weird room and it's TV monitors. Was the afterlife nothing more than one big control center?
He wanted to ponder this more but the morphine took over, sending him to the quiet respite of sleep.
He woke again to find himself back in the all white room. as he stared at the monitor we're playing their final night together, he cursed under his breath.
Please tell me I'm not dead again. he thought, watching the monitor. Despite the fact the monitor was muted, he could follow the conversation verbatim.
Need you to promise me something.
What's that, J?
Promise you won't hate me.
I've done some thinking. I need to focus on Candice.
You're ending it?
I think it's best for the both of us.
Tommaso squeezed his eyes shut, not wanting to relive their final kiss. He willed the scene to end, not wanting to relive the worst night of his life.
Then, the room faded out again.
“Mr. Ciampa, I am really going to need you to stop dying on us.”
Tommaso opened his eyes, trying to place the masculine British voice that sounded so very familiar. He had never been one for visitors. Who could it possibly be?
Then, he slowly forced his eyes open.
“Mr.Ciampa.” William pursed his lips before continuing.” I will say it again- we are going to need you to stop dying.”
“Why? Afraid you might miss me?” He let out a weak laugh.
“No. My paperwork would be atrocious.” He shrugged, moving the green vinyl chair closer. “I despise paperwork. So, the easier solution would be for you to stop dying.”
“As you should hate paperwork.” Tommaso coughed, biting back a furious howl as the movement caused pain to course through his body. He wiped his teary eyes with the back of his hand, wincing as that hurt too.
“ Bad reaction to morphine. They didn't think they would get you back but somehow they did.” Regal glanced down at his notes on the situation. “I need you to stop dying.”
“I get the message, Regal.” Tommaso decided to heed his superior’s request. For one thing, it just seemed easier. For another, Death felt like an adventure he wasn’t quite ready for. “I am willing to take that into consideration.” He cleared his throat, grateful as William held a straw to his lips. He knew he should turn away but he really needed the help. He sipped slowly, taking in the ice water. “Thank you.”
“I do it because it is my job- not because I care.” He set the cup aside. “As you were saying?”
“It was a great match.”
“If you want to call it that,” William mumbled, averting his gaze. "From a professional stance, I cannot condone any sort of match that lands one of our top talents in the hospital on the verge of death." He glanced up, his eyes connecting with Tommaso's eyes. "However, on a personal note, I can tell you it was quite the looker and apologize for your broken heart."
Tommaso didn't know what to say to that. For as much as he worked with William Regal, he didn't know anything about the other man's life in the real world. Yet, something in his voice gave Tommaso reason to think maybe they weren't so different.
"Must go check on Mr. Sullivan. Finally got him to agree to be seen." William shook his head as he rose from the seat. "Mr. Ciampa, you will survive this- just as I did."
Something told Tommaso he meant the broken heart, not the brutal match.
"Good-bye." Under normal circumstances, Tommaso would never dream of being polite. Yet, today proved to be far from normal.
"I shall see you back upon medical clearance?" William asked, opening the door.
"You will." Tommaso always kept his word. That seemed to be what set him apart from the other bad guys. "While I am in no control of my death, I feel it fine to say I am fairly confident today is not that day."
"Good." The door shut behind him as William left.
Tommaso stared at the closed door. He had a lot to consider and even more to work through.
To be honest, he thought he'd seen Death and what came next. It wasn't a place he was in a hurry to revisit.
Instead of death, Tommaso Ciampa chose life.
He needed to live to torment Johnny Gargano another day.