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The Dying of the Light

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It's a warm summer's midday. Giles hears Ethan in the bathroom, furiously scrubbing the tiles. Ethan is often angry these days. Giles knows by his endless cleaning and his exaggerated gentleness, both so unlike him. Without a word of complaint Ethan gives Giles his medicines, helps him bathe and use the toilet, feeds him the disgusting liquid meals, sponges away the mess whenever Giles vomits them back up again. Sometimes, when the pain is bad and Giles can't sleep, he hears Ethan mopping the floors in the middle of the night. Other times he hears him crying, faintly, from the farthest corner of the house.

Patterns. Somehow their lives seem to spiral and repeat and return. Back to Oxford, and back, finally, to the sickbed. Years ago, after the Initiative prison, Ethan had been sick and helpless, and Giles had tended him. Now it's Giles who needs morphine, who's mostly too weak to get out of bed. Ethan won't hear of a hospital. He shouted at the doctor when she suggested it. He wears himself down to bones and nerves and anger, tending Giles.

Giles lies in the hospital-style bed in what had been their bedroom. The bed they shared had to be moved out to make space. It's now in a corner of the study. Ethan doesn't sleep in it. He sleeps in a chair next to Giles' bed, or on the living room sofa.

With the head of the bed raised, Giles can look out the window at their little garden, neglected and gone all to weeds. He rather likes to see the wildflowers blooming among the roses.

When he's feeling stronger, he reads. Mostly poetry, which is short and doesn't need long stretches of concentration. His days are Shakespeare and Auden and wildflowers, and the clawing pain in his stomach, where the cancer is.

Sometimes Ethan squeezes his thin body into the narrow bed beside him and reads to him. If Giles doesn't ask for anything in particular, he'll open the book at random and read what he finds. One day, doing that, he caught his breath, set the book face down, and left the room. When Giles looked at the page, he saw Dylan Thomas's poem for his dying father:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Ethan wants him to rage, to fight, to win, to live. But there's no winning, and Giles has no rage left.

After a while the sound of Ethan's scrubbing stops, and a few minutes later he comes in with a glass of that awful nutrient drink, which has the texture of clay and the taste of a cheap strawberry lolly. Giles waits until he sets it down, then catches his hand. "Ethan, love. It's time."

Ethan goes very still, face blank with denial. "No. No, it's not. No. It's too soon."

"Ethan-"

"It's too soon. Not yet. I want us to have another Christmas together." Christmas is almost six months away. An eternity, an impossibility. "I want more time. We've only had sixteen years. It's not enough."

Giles reaches up and brushes a strand of gray hair off Ethan's lined forehead. He remembers pink hair and a boy's face. "No, it isn't enough. A thousand years wouldn't be."

Ethan's eyes are shiny with tears, but he blinks them back. "The pain's got worse, hasn't it?"

"It never really goes away now, even with the morphine."

Ethan sighs, and Giles hears acceptance. They've known this was coming. They've talked about it, and planned. A few months ago they started hoarding morphine, but without the drug Giles couldn't bear the pain. Ethan made it tolerable with magic, for a while, until Giles figured out that he was taking the pain into himself. Finally, Ethan lied to the doctor. He told her it was difficult to get to the chemist's very often to fill the morphine prescription. She'd listened in sympathetic silence, and arranged for Ethan to be able to buy more at one time.

She knows, of course. Giles wishes he could thank her.

Ethan kisses him, a long, soft kiss. "This evening," he says at last, and Giles nods. Ethan puts on a CD of Bach's cello suites, one of Giles' favorites, and lies down with him. When the CD is over they talk, remembering, and finally fall silent as late-afternoon sunlight gilds the room.

When evening comes, Ethan rises and takes two bottles of morphine from the cupboard. Giles recalls the small, careful doses he gave Ethan, long ago.

"Will you be able to keep this down, Rupe?" Ethan asks quietly as he opens the bottle.

"Well, if I can't, there's always the second bottle."

Ethan looks into his eyes and shakes his head. "The second bottle's for me."

Giles has known this, known it since Ethan first agreed, months ago, to help him die. He's tried not to know it.

Ethan seems to take his silence for refusal. "If you tell me no, love, I'll do it anyway once you're gone. I'd rather we were together."

"But you're healthy," Giles says. He has to say something. "You could live another twenty years."

Ethan shakes his head again. "It wouldn't be living. It would be dying very slowly." Then he adds, "You're not leaving me alone again."

To that, Giles can find no answer. Ethan hands him the morphine, and he drinks it as quickly as he can. His stomach rumbles and stabs and threatens, then subsides.

"You'd better have some of this one, too," Ethan says, giving him the second bottle. "You've got a tolerance. I haven't."

Giles takes a few more swallows and hands it back. Ethan drinks the nasty stuff down like it's water on a hot day.

Ethan climbs in beside him again, and they hold each other. Nothing needs to be said, and they lie in silence.

Giles doesn't believe in heaven, or only for Slayers and heroes. For those like Ethan and him, there's only this life. He wishes they hadn't wasted so much of it. But they didn't waste it all. They had sense enough, in the end, not to waste it all.

The pain has gone away, and he feels euphoric and very sleepy. Ethan's body has gone slack against him. Soon his breathing will slow, and stop. Giles presses his face against Ethan's chest, and waits for the light to fade.