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Ashes to Ashes

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Ini's barely hanging by a thread when Mimi pulls her body from the wreckage. She can barely see for all the fire and smoke and blood in her eyes but she feels the faint pulse against her fingers; with a shaking hand she dials for an ambulance, praying one arrives while her sister still has a fighting chance.

"The hospital's full," the driver says, "we're taking you girls to the Hotti Clinic."

Mimi mumbles her thanks before passing out by her sister's side, clinging to her hand.

 

She wakes up sometime later, she can't tell whether it's been hours or days. Her face feels stiff, like it's wrapped in something, and she can hear muffled voices and footsteps.

"-fix her whole face" she manages to make out. "...other one...skin grafts...walk, see out of..." Her heart races and she feels the nurses rushing over to check her vitals. "...bit of shock, she doesn't know yet."

Ini, Ini, where's my sister, where's Ini, she wants to scream, but her mouth is muffled by what she's guessed are bandages. She feels a needle being pulled from her arm and another being inserted, a blanket being tugged up under her arms and over her chest.

"...rest now. ...bandages off soon, then she can...sister..."

She's alive, Mimi thinks, and tries to go to sleep. But at night, visions of fire and the sound of screams and squealing breaks haunt her dreams.

 

It's a week before the bandages finally come off, Mimi's face looking more or less the same aside from a bit of scar tissue they couldn't get rid of. She's not allowed to see Ini yet, though.

"You still need time to recover emotionally, and your sister does, too," the nurse says as she gently guides Mimi back to her bed. It's three more days before she's finally allowed to see her sister.

Ini's attempt at a smile is painful for both of them, Ini crying out against the effort it takes not to rip her stitches and Mimi holding back tears at the sight of her cheerful, carefree sister pale and helpless. She's still on the IV, much of her face is still covered in bandages and Mimi can see splotches of crimson still peeking through the ones on her arms and legs.

"I'm sorry," she manages to get out. "I'm sorry."

"Like...wasn't your fault," Ini murmurs. It hurts her to talk, so Mimi forces herself not to say anymore. It works, and Ini is quiet. Mimi sits in the chair beside the bed, resting her hand over her sister's bandaged one.

I'm sorry.

 

It's another seven months before both sisters are discharged from the clinic, Ini in a wheelchair and both with a regimen of pills to take and creams to use for the next six months. Ini's stitches are gone, but she still hasn't tried to smile since that day.

The car's gone, of course. Too much damage and it would have cost a bundle to fix it, especially now that Mimi's quit her job. Her love of expensive cars will have to wait and it's just as well. She can't even think about them without feeling sick.

"I'm like, so going to have to repeat the semester," Ini groans. "And like, I was totally loving those classes, too."

"I'm sure you won't," Mimi says. She still thinks Ini's love of the paranormal is silly, but petty concerns like that don't mean anything anymore. I almost lost her, she almost died because of me.

That night, she'd been so sure Dr. Grey had drugged her. Sleeping pills, that's why she was so tired. But during those few weeks in the clinic, she'd had time to realize that even if he had drugged her she was the idiot who'd gotten behind the wheel that night anyway. I should have called a cab, should have taken the bus.

"Hey! Like, cheer up, sis! What's with the frowny face? We're like, home now!" Mimi tries to smile a little. Home. Alive. That's what matters, right?

She keeps dinner simple that night, grilled cheese sandwiches with chicken soup from a can and sliced peaches for dessert. But for Ini, who's had nothing but hospital food since she was first allowed to eat, it might as well be the finest French or Italian cuisine. She's practically moaning and Mimi can't help but laugh. You never did have the best table manners.

She tries to savor her own dinner, but the flavors are tinged with guilt.

 

Being home doesn't mean it's over, not by a long shot. The pain's just beginning as Ini struggles to get used to her wheelchair, gets mad if people try to help her too much. Mimi stays home most of the time to search the want ads, only running errands when she has to and only when the stores are mostly empty.

Ini's taken to covering her scars with makeup, but Mimi never got the hang of foundation. Ini tries to help her put it on but the jagged marks stick out anyway. The cream, she's realized, is just to prevent infection. They only performed enough plastic surgery to fix the real damage, her insurance wouldn't cover anything cosmetic.

Not that it matters now. She's quit the clinic, she's as far away from Turner Grey as possible and all she can hope for is that her next job will offer better insurance. So far she's applied for a cashier position at a hardware store, customer service at an electronics boutique and produce clerk at a supermarket. None are ideal, but right now all she wants is to be as far away from the medical profession as she can.

Two weeks later she finally gets the customer service job. The hours are good and the boss is fair, but the work is boring and she knows her co-workers are staring at her scars. She wears her hair down to cover her cheeks and she never wears white.

Ini finally realizes she's not getting rid of her wheelchair for a while. She lets Mimi and her closest friends help her, but every time Mimi does there's a pang of guilt to go along with it. If you hadn't been driving that night, she wouldn't need it in the first place.

The doctors say Ini's making great progress, but deliberately avoid the subject when she asks when she'll be able to walk again. The day Ini figures it out, she cries and locks herself in her room and Mimi hates herself.

 

Sometimes, it takes a greater catastrophe to make another one disappear. But in this case, the other was simply waiting until things had seemingly settled down for the sisters.

Mimi is finally brought to trial for the malpractice incident. Her attorney and his oddly-dressed assistants promise they'll find a way to clear her name, but she doubts it. He could be the best attorney in the history of law and it would still be her fault.

No matter how bad a boss he was, no matter how much I hated him, I'm the one who killed those patients. I'm the one who drove tired and nearly killed my little sister. I'm guilty.

Who will take care of Ini when she's in jail? Perhaps their parents, but Father has a bad hip and mother isn't getting any younger. While her attorney presses every witness for every detail, Mimi makes a mental list of possible friends or relatives she can trust to look after Ini.

Two days later, Dr. Grey takes the witness stand and she does her best to ignore him. She didn't even bother to deliver her resignation in person, she only left a voice message and her last check was dropped in the mail three days later. When he talks about his "errant nurse", he avoids mentioning her by name until he's forced to, and Mimi tries to hide her face.

"...needed a scapegoat!" the attorney finally shouts. The courtroom lets out a collective gasp, the prosecutor sounds like she's just been slapped, and Mimi dares to look up for a moment.

"Well, I...the thing is, she..."

"A doctor is supposed to know everything about his patients, correct?" Mr. Wright continues. "So you would know which patient was supposed to receive which medication, and you would have passed that on to Miss Miney."

"Yes, that's generally how it works!"

"But that day, Dr. Grey, you were so busy ordering your staff around that you forgot! You lost the sheet with the information, were too embarrassed to admit it, and told Miss Miney what to do like you normally did!"

And the memories of that day come flooding back. Dr. Grey had seemed more rushed than usual, he'd told her the names of the patients and the medications and she'd done what she was told, just like always.

He'd blamed her. The media, the tabloids, everyone but her sister had painted her as either a brain-dead idiot or a vicious killer. The families of those patients never forgave her.

But that night, I still-

"...wouldn't have allowed his employee to drive home in her exhausted state!"

"Ah!"

No, this couldn't be happening. It was her fault, all of it was her fault, she was-

"While Miss Miney did make those mistakes herself, they were indirectly your doing! And indirect murder is still murder, Dr. Grey," Wright finished.

Everything happens so fast after that. Dr. Grey's breakdown and confession, the prosecutor screaming and chasing Mr. Wright with her whip before the oddly-dressed girl has to wrestle her for it and finally, finally...

"Not guilty."

Mimi slumps over in the defendant's chair, sobbing.

 

Dr. Grey is arrested, and Mimi is placed under probation. Whether or not she actually caused the deaths and the accident, she did play a role in them. Not that it matters, though. For the first time since the malpractice incident, she feels safe.

"Like, I told you everything was gonna be fine, sis," Ini says. It'll be totally fine, it'll be okay, we'll be totally okay! All throughout their ordeal, even through her own pain Ini kept trying to reassure her.

"You did," Mimi says quietly, "and I was too busy hating myself to listen."

She kneels and hugs her sister tightly. Her sister, alive, flesh and bone, even if she'll never walk again she's still here.

"I'm so sorry."

"Like, it was never your fault. I mean, not all of it," Ini says, patting her back. "So like, stop blaming yourself now! We can totally move on with our lives!"

The light at the end of the tunnel. She has her sister, she has her job and she has her life. All the pain she'd been forcing herself to carry around, all the guilt. Ini had never blamed her, and Mr. Wright believed in her innocence.

It was time to let it go. Time to move forward.

"Come on, you two! Nick's taking us all out to dinner!" the girl calls. She hears Mr. Wright say something before they leave the courthouse and head to one of the better restaurants in the city.

It's the first time Mimi is able to enjoy a meal in nearly a year.