"I'm the reason why she's dead. I killed her."
His words seemed to echo and bounce off the breaking waves. I felt my heart give a painful squeeze as I looked deep into his eyes, he was so broken.
I made an involuntary gasp as his words sunk in and silence surrounded us, smothering us. Everything felt like it was in a fragile state, that at any moment the smallest sound or movement would shatter our world and take us crumbling down with it.
Minutes passed and still neither of us said a word. I didn't- couldn't come up with something to respond to his confession. What do you say to that? But my non response was response enough for Fang, as he lowered his head, ashamed and turned away from me, as if I had struck him with my hand.
But what was I to do? What was I to say to console him? I couldn't reassure him because I couldn't comprehend what he was saying to me.
How could Fang, the most caring, protective and amazing guy I know, have killed his little sister?
Nothing made sense. I had to have heard him wrong.
It took me a moment to break out of my rumination before I turned to him and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, my voice low.
"Fang? I don't understand. What do you mean you killed her?"
My voice was so low, I wasn't even sure he had heard me until he took in a shuttering breath and turned to me, a small tear falling from the corner of his eye and rolling slowly down to his lips, but he made no move to wipe them away.
His gaze slowly lifted to meet my own, and when our eyes met, something inside of me snapped, because never had I ever expect to see Fang so broken, so vulnerable.
Slowly, I brought my hands to his face, and held him, wiping away the tears with the soft pad of my thumb, only seeming to trigger the release of more.
He took a moment to compose himself, drawling my hands away from his face before he began to speak.
"Max," he started quietly, his voice just above an inaudible whisper. I had to strain to hear him, but I nodded to acknowledge him, "Do you remember the story I told you guys when I took you all to Mako Island, about the little girl?"
I furled my eyebrows at his question, trying to remember the story and why he would be bringing it up now.
"The little girl who drowned?" I questioned. I noticed Fang paused for a moment, struggling to swallow as he gave a short nod to me.
I eyed him curiously as he closed his eyes and attempted to slow his breathing down, wondering why he mention this at all when it hit me.
An involuntary gasp escaped my lips as I stared at him with wide eyes, struggling to voice my realization out loud.
"The little girl from the story," I started, my voice barely above a whisper, "was your little sister wasn't she? Emily?"
Fang bit his lip, hard enough to draw blood, squeezing his eyes shut tightly before opening his eyes and facing me. He didn't answer at first, but the look in his eyes gave me the answer I was dreading to hear.
I felt my chest tighten painfully as I watched another tear roll down his face and hit his shirt.
"Fang I," I started, but I stopped short, not knowing what to say, "Fang, what happened? I don't see why you think her death was at all your fault."
After another shuttering breath, he turned to face me, reaching out for my hands and holding them tight. I gave him a reassuring squeeze before he opened his eyes, and began to retell the story.
"Almost three years ago, my father's company was having one of their biannual company family weekends on the island. Emily was so excited because it was one of her favorite times of the year. She loved having the family all together and that island was her favorite place to go. She had been bugging me for weeks to teach her how to swim without her floaties, some of the kids at school I suspect had been teasing her about being one of the only ones left who still had to swim with them on, and she was never one to back down from a challenge," he paused for a moment before looking almost longingly at me before continuing, the next part coming out just above a whisper, " It's one of the reasons I think she would have adored you."
I returned his sad smile with one of my own before he continued.
"Anyway, she would not leave me alone about it. If anything, the girl was persistent. I tried to tell her that there was nothing to be ashamed about with still needing to use floaties but she wouldn't hear it. I'd never deny her of anything and she damn well knew it. She always knew just the sad, puppy dog look to give me to get me to crack."
"It was our second day on the island when I finally agreed to take her swimming and give her lessons. She was so excited she was nearly bursting at the seams. I had packed a bag for us for the day and promised our parents we'd be back in time for dinner, but our mother was reluctant to let us go."
"After a good ten minutes of my father reassuring her we'd be fine and me explaining to her that I had found a safe shallow place for her to practice she reluctantly let us leave, warning us to be back on time or we'd get no dessert."
He paused there for a moment, closing his eyes tightly as if he was watching the scene play out before him. A small smile found it's way on his face as he continued.
"She was bubbling at the seams, practically dragging me through the island, urging me to hurry up, even though she didn't have the faintest clue as to the direction we should be going."
"When we finally arrived to the cave with the small pool, she was ecstatic, nearly jumping right into the body of water before I could even take my shoes off."
I listened with intent interest, waiting to hear what happened next.
Fang paused again, having a flash back.
"Whoa, whoa whoa there my little angel, slow your roll, we aren't ready to jump in just yet," Fang chuckled catching her by the waist, preventing her from splashing into the cool body of water.
The little girl huffed, exasperated as she struggle to be released from her brother's tight hold.
"Fa-ang! Come o-on! You're taking forever!," Emily whined, jutting out her lower lip in just the way she knew would break her brother's resolve.
Fang chuckled as he set her down gently and helped her remove her shoes.
"Patience my little duckling," he joked, tapping her lightly on the nose, causing her to giggle.
When Fang finally finished removing his own shoes, Emily jumped to her feet in one swift motion and ran to the edge of the water.
"Okay, ready! Let's go!," she squealed, ready to jump, but again was caught by the waist just before she hit the water.
She whined in protest, her little fisting hitting Fang's chest, as she demanded to be set down.
"Wait just a minute Emily," he scolded, raising his eyebrow in a very authoritative way, "aren't you forgetting something?" He questioned, holding up her pink floaties.
She gave him a smile that was anything but innocent as she answered him, "Nope nothing I can think of."
He smirked at her faux innocence and slight defiance as he scooped her up in his arms and tickled her until she surrendered.
"Okay, OKAY, Fangy, stop, stop I'll put them on!," she insisted as he smirked at his victory, stopping only to help her put them on.
She scowled at him, narrowing her eyes as she mumbled on about her "stupid floaties" she "didn't need".
"Okay grumpy gills, now you can jump in," he chuckled as she squealed and jumped in with a small splash.
The sound of the splash sent chills down his spine, breaking him from his reverie.
He cleared his throat, attempting to move on with the story, pushing the pain away.
Always, pushing the pain away.
"We spent most of the morning swimming around the small pool of water, splashing and laughing until finally she demanded I remove her floaties."
He chuckled for a moment, with a small smile that didn't quite meet his eyes, "God she detested those things, I seriously thought she was going to sink her teeth straight into them to pop and ruin them. And to think I'm the one with the nickname Fang."
His smile quickly fell away as he cleared his throat again, attempting to regain his composure.
"I should have never let her take them off," he whispered, and I felt my heart break for him as I reached out to him, engulfing him in a tight embrace.
I felt him begin to shake in my hold, his quiet sobs wracking through his body.
"I should have never let her get into the water," his voice cracked as his tried, and failed, to hold back his sobs.
"Hey now, sh, sh, shhh," I tried to comfort him, clinging to him ever tighter than I had before, "it's not your fault Fang."
He pulled back sharply, as a bitter chuckle escaped his mouth, sending an unpleasant chill down my spine.
"You don't. get. it," he spat, his words harsh, " it was exactly my fault. It's the reason my mom can't bare the sight of me, the reason my father left us- I was responsible for the death of their precious little angel."
"Oh, Fang," I began, but Fang quickly cut me off, finish his story.
"I thought she had the hang of it, swimming without her floaties, she had been swimming around on her own for a good hour."
"I-I swam away from her, maybe six or seven feet, and encouraged her to swim towards me."
He struggled to swallow, as he screwed his eyes shut and suddenly, I myself found it hard to breathe.
"And that's when it happened," he whispered, tears openly falling from his eyes now.
"It all happened so fast, the ground began to shake and rocks from the cave ceiling began to fall."
"She called out to me, she was so scared, I could see it on her face. All I could do was try to get to her as fast as I could, but right before I could reach her a large boulder fell in between us, catching her leg and dragging her down. I struggled to push the rock off her small leg until finally it broke free and she floated to the surface."
And just like that, the tears he had been attempting to hold back broke, and his body began to shake as he sobbed uncontrollably, and all I could do was hold him tighter and whisper comforting words in his ears as I myself tried to grasp what he had just told me.
I can't tell you how much time passed between us before Fang spoke again. It could have been a minute, or ten, or an hour- but it felt like an eternity.
I struggled to hear him over the sound of the breaking waves but I heard him.
"When I got to the surface I saw her, floating face down in the water, not moving."
"I was too late."
His words we soft and undeniably broken.
"I had one job in this world, one- to protect and keep my baby sister safe and I failed."
"Fang you-," I started but he cut me off, shaking his head in shame.
"I failed her. She looked up to me and trusted me and I let her down." His voice cracked before he could finish and I just felt my heart sink farther into my stomach.
He took a deep breath and closed his eyes before lying down.
"Every night, when I close my eyes, all I can see is her terrified face as she reaches out to me, begging me to save her. She trusted me, her big brother, to rescue her and protect her and I didn't."
"I just held her in my arms until the paramedics got there, begging her to come back to me," he turned away from me as he wiped his eyes.
"I'll never forget the look on my parents' faces when they told them they couldn't revive her. I've never seen so much pain and anger wrapped up in one expression. My father tried to hold my mother up as she collapsed to the floor, sobbing and screaming as his own tears ran down his face. But the thing I'll never forget is the look they gave me as they passed by. A look of pure disgust, making me fully aware of just who they blamed, not that I could blame them." He looked down, clinching his fists so tightly, his finger nails dug into his skin, causing him to draw blood.
"Hey," I began as I pried his fingers away from his palms and intertwined my own fingers with his, "Fang, it was an accident. You couldn't have known there was going to be an earthquake. You didn't make that boulder fall. You didn't hold her under the water. You tried desperately to save her. Anyone could have switched places with you and it would have ended with the same result. It was a freak accident, not your fault."
He looked at me with such pain, his eyes mirroring the soul of an inconceivably broken man, "If that's true Max, then why don't I feel any better. Why does it hurt so much? Why am I faced with such an overwhelming sense of guilt every day? Innocent people don't fell guilt, Max."
"It was my fault. I'm the reason why my sister's life was cut off at the mere age of five. I know it. My parents know it. And I'm sure Emily does too."
"Fang, listen to me," I urged as grabbed his face between my hands, forcing him to look me in the eyes, "it wasn't your fault."
He brought his hands up slowly to cover my own, holding them there before he spoke,
"Max, I've heard that nearly a millions times, but it doesn't mean anything. It doesn't change how I feel and it most certainly doesn't bring her back. All I know is, every day I wake up and she's still gone. I'm no longer a brother and I still feel responsible. My dad still abandoned my family and my mother still can't stand to look me in the eyes let alone be around me. I just feel this whole sense of nothingness. I feel like my whole family has jumped and abandoned ship, leaving me utterly alone to drown in my own regret and guilt."
"You know sometimes when my parents would look at me, I could tell what they were really thinking, I could see it in their eyes. 'Why her', that's what they were thinking. 'Why not him? Why'd she have to die instead of him.' That was clear enough, they would have much rather have lost their son than their daughter."
"Fang, that can't be true. Your family wouldn't have wanted that," I protested, but honestly, based on my encounter with his ice queen of a mother, I couldn't quite believe it myself.
He laughed bitterly, "My parents wanted a lot of things, but I know what they didn't want- me."
My heart gave another painfully squeeze as I held his face tightly in my hands, "Fang, you can't believe that. Please don't believe that. I mean you're not- you haven't", he cut me off by giving me a quick peck on the lips, then avoiding my gaze.
"No," he reassured me quickly, "the first year was the hardest. I tried once, about six months after Emily's death. My mom had been away for a few months and my dad was long gone. I took some pills out of my mom's medicine cabinet." His voice dropped low, "Iggy found me."
I gave a quick gasp at the thought of Fang being so broken, that he'd attempt to take his own life.
"And you haven't since then?" I questioned, worried about the man I loved and angry at myself for being so clueless.
"No. Iggy gave me quite the lecture once I came to," he chuckled, moving his hands to intertwine with mine. "I have my good and bad days, but nothing compared to how I was then. Iggy's been my biggest support, always there for me, through the good and bad. He reminded me not what my parents would have wanted, but what Emily would have wanted. He's done more for me than I will ever be able to repay him for. Now you see why I can just ditch the goon." He teased, winking, and I couldn't help but be eternally grateful for Iggy, and slightly guilty for not giving him the credit he deserved.
He had been there for Fang when no one else was.
I nodded, letting him know that I understood and that there was no judgment.
I pulled him in close, resting my forehead against his, enjoying the quiet.
"Thank you for telling me, I know that must have been difficult," I whispered as he nestled his cold nose against mine.
He smiled softly, before answering, "Thank you for listening."
I smiled back before pulling him in for a deep kiss, wanting him to know how I felt, that I supported him and loved him- and even needed him.
He gave a low groan as I traced his bottom lip with my tongue, begging him to deepen the kiss and let me in. He complied with no arguments as he pulled me closer and laid down, pulling me with him.
I don't know how much time passed as laid there kissing, and enjoying each other's presence. By the time we returned to the party, almost everyone had left, leaving only the stage, some trash and a few partygoers left.
As we approached I spotted Nudge and Iggy, snuggling close to each other by the bonfire.
"Hey guys," I greeted, holding Fang's hand tightly as Nudge popped up and came barreling to me.
'Max! Fang! There you are we were worried! I thought someone had kidnapped you or something!" she exclaimed as she hugged us both tightly as Iggy just rolled his eyes at her dramatics.
"Yeah, sorry we took so long, we just got caught up talking," I reassured her as I gave a small glance to Iggy, as he glanced calculatingly between Fang and I.
"So you two talked? About some important stuff?" Iggy questioned, still glancing between the two of us questionly.
"Yeah," Fang answered as he pulled me closer to him, "We're good."
I nodded in agreement as Iggy glance between us once more before nodding, "Good."
I pulled away from Fang's hold as I made my way over to Iggy, wrapping my arms around him tightly as he stiffened his shock before relaxing and returning my embrace.
"Thank you," I whispered, hugging him tighter, "for everything."
When I pulled away he looked at me questionably before understanding what I was thanking him for. He gave me a small smile and a nod before winking.
Nudge look around between the three of us, questioningly, "Um, am I missing something here?"
"No Nudge," I winked at her before turning to Fang, "I better get home before the watch dog awakes."
He chuckled, nodding in understanding, "Okay, I'll walk you."
We bid our friends goodbye, making sure Nudge would be escorted home safely before leaving.
We walked in a silence until we reached my house.
"Looks like this is you Juliet," Fang teased, moving to reposition the ladder to my bedroom window.
I chuckled, rolling my eyes before stepping up on the first step.
"Thanks for the adventure Romeo," I teased, winking, "And thanks for the honesty. I love you."
He smiled at me, moving closer so we were now level, " Thanks for listening. I love you more."
He moved to place a soft and sweet kiss upon my lips before pulling away.
"See? I knew I couldn't keep a bad girl down." He smirked as I moved to smack him, sticking my tongue out at him.
"Okay, leave," I huffed, smiling as I assented the ladder.
"See you later."
I couldn't erase the ghost of a smile on my face as I pushed the window open and climbed in, breathing out a sigh of relief.
That smile however, dropped straight off my face as the light switched on and staring back at me was a very angry looking Ari.
So there it is. Short and sweet.
I just wanted to share something with you I read on HONY because it was EXACTLY like something I wrote for a later chapter of this story and it pretty much mirrors the feelings of Fang and his relationship with his mother, so I'd like to share it. :)
"My brother was killed when I was 13. There had been a fight at a nightclub, and my brother was not involved, but he was shot in the head as he tried to run away. He was very popular in my town, so there were many reporters and friends outside the hospital when I got there. When I walked in my mother was sitting in a chair, crying. She wouldn't even look at wouldn't speak to only did I lose my brother that day, but I lost my mother from then on was about her suffering. She stayed home all day, she cried, she didn't pay much attention to was allowed to be more important than her suffering. Nobody else was allowed to have important problems. Her pain had to be worse than everyone else's. She preferred it that way."