John was familiar with nightmares. He remembered the terror and helplessness: heard the screams of agony and fear from soldiers and civilians alike; felt the scorching sun, the explosions whose fire compounded the desert heat; tasted the sand that raked his throat; smelled the smoke of burning hair and flesh; understood the pain of responsibility, knowing that for every wrong choice he made someone could die.
This nightmare was different. It was quiet and cool. The sun was replaced by fluorescent bulbs, the roar of guns by the quiet beeping of the heart monitor. The only similarity was the overwhelming sense of helplessness.
There would be no waking from this nightmare.
He looked at the face, once lively, now slack; the bright eyes that had closed forever the moment the cars collided. The chest still rose and fell; an illusion of breath provided by the respirator.
He felt a warm hand on his shoulder, a small squeeze of support, a single touch that said, I'm here. Whatever you choose to do, I'm here. Whenever you need me, I'm here.
In truth, the choice was no choice. He patted the hand on his shoulder and rose to his feet. John stepped around the bed and turned off the respirator. He resumed his seat in silence. Together they waited for the final breath.