Sitting. Sitting felt good.
The booze felt even better. For once, there was no sting. Nothing could hurt as bad as downing the serum; the whiskey practically felt soothing in comparison. Wolfwood took one shot with his partner, then another on his own. No need to worry about pacing himself anymore.
He leaned back, relishing the temporary comfort of the old couch. It was worn, its springs long since useful, though any form of respite was welcome now. But as he rested, the adrenaline steadily wore off, and with every passing moment, the consequences of the fight settled back into his limbs. Every ache came creeping back, merely sore at first before rising to a singing peak, a crescendo of agony coursing through each muscle. He had never pushed himself this far. The repercussions felt like his insides were being torn asunder.
Realistically, they probably were.
He could feel the effects of the serum combatting bravely against the damage to his body, but he knew it wouldn't stop there. The double dose radiated its own breed of pain, over-metabolising his organs from the inside out. He had the brief, horrible mental image of just melting away... but he knew that wouldn't happen. He would die, yes, but at least it would be cleaner than that.
In its reparations, his body was being aged, killed, and resuscitated again in quick succession. It could only go on for so long before a limit was reached.
Sparks were bursting behind his eyelids. He sensed the end was soon.
A cigarette, he thought. That would be great right about now.
There wasn't enough strength in his arms for him to reach into the pocket of his coat. His hands were almost too limp to keep hold of the bottle and his glass. Flexing his fingers slightly, he rolled his head over to peer at his companion.
Vash wasn't frowning, but the heaviness to his expression was so great that Wolfwood might have wept if he had had the energy. All he could manage was getting the corner of his mouth to perk up into what must have looked like a humourless grimace. "Smile, Spikey." Even speaking hurt, as though his throat was being grated by each word. "You look better when you smile."
And God, he wished he could have gone back to those moments right then - to see that grin again, in its most honest form, in simpler times when fewer people suffered, when either of them still had a reason to smile -
But it had been the wrong thing to say. Vash's face grew still more clouded. Wolfwood looked away.
"That was a bit harsh."
Silence from the other. The only sound was Wolfwood's increasingly strained breathing.
He coughed, tasting iron. "Sorry."
Vash hunched up, glancing down as if to hide his face. "Um... Wolfwood..." There was a waver to his voice that Wolfwood hated. He had heard this man cry too many times over the years, but this was a tremor unlike any he had heard before. "Please don't say anything stupid."
Wolfwood wanted to laugh, but he could only manage a heaved, half-choked noise. Too late, Spikey. He thought about pouring himself another shot, then realised the idea was just as useless as trying to fetch a cigarette. He settled for readjusting his hold on the bottle again, grasp slipping as his hand grew clammy.
Don't say anything stupid. Then what could he say? Probably lots of things... His eyes nearly drifted shut before they caught a glimpse of something falling from the sky - paper. Almost like confetti. A rain of paper shreds was showering down upon him, brushing across his face and clinging to his coat as it fell. The kids... He was trembling all over, staggered by their show of love in spite of what he had become.
They had sent their message. Why couldn't he send his?
He couldn't bring himself to look at Vash again, not with how tormented the other looked. There was nothing he could say to alleviate that pain; no amount of yelling or griping or bolstering could fix this one.
Of course, bucking Vash up wasn't what he wanted to do in that moment. He had more important things to say. But how could one summarise years’ worth of involvement and a bond that he had never been able to describe even to himself up until now? There were many, many things he wished he could admit to Vash, in another situation, with less strife and more time...
But time was up. The pain was still coursing through him, more brilliant and terrible than it had been before, the serum and the decay finally reaching their harmonic pinnacle of destruction.
His heart stuttered in his chest.
His lips weren't moving.
I love you, you know that.
Why wouldn't his mouth open?
A bolt of pain shot through his head, like someone had driven a nail between his eyes. There was another staggered heartbeat, maybe two - his vision flooded with red, black, something swirling and dark and the sparks were gone, it was all murky and muddy and pain, and why couldn't he speak - he couldn't move at all - the bottle was falling from his hand and he still couldn't talk -
Vash - Vash - I love you, okay, I -
And there was one final starburst of light in the darkness -
This was no time to be hesitating. A lifetime's worth of repressed words were caught in Vash's throat, with no good place for him to start. He knew there might only be minutes left, and so he had to choose what he wanted to say carefully, to pick the right words for these - final moments -
It felt like his heart was being squeezed, his lungs constricted by anticipation. It was impossible to believe that this was it, but he knew it, sensed it, read the grim finality in Wolfwood's demeanour. And yet, he couldn't acknowledge nor accept that the next few minutes could be his last opportunity to say what he had never been able to voice in all the years he had known his friend.
Nothing he had planned to say felt right. No words could encapsulate the depth of his feelings nor the importance of Wolfwood's presence in his life - and it all felt so tacky and hollow to think of it that way, especially in their current situation. What good were confessions on the brink of loss? Vash worried that it would only seem like a throwaway emotional parting if he didn't convey himself appropriately.
If he could summon his sincerest intentions, reach beyond the barrier he had constructed against even those he cared most about, and prove to Wolfwood that there were few, if any, else in the world that mattered in the way he did, then he would do so.
At the very least, he would have to try.
In his ruminations, he hadn't noticed the sound of a bottle clinking to the ground.
The other didn't respond. That was fair. He had been slow to answer Wolfwood as well.
Vash steadied himself with a breath. He would start with the honest, simplest truth.
"I love you."
Nothing. And while Wolfwood could have just been processing the question, Vash knew on a undeniable level what the silence indicated.
A terrible, burning fear rose within him. He looked to his partner, not wanting to see, not wanting the proof of his suspicions - but the limp form slumped against the couch was the only confirmation he needed. The awful, rattled breathing had stopped. Wolfwood's hands were limp, the shot glass cracked and the bottle leaking liquor all over the parched earth. Whatever little life had been in him in the aftermath of the fight had left, and only a corpse remained.
"Wolfwood." Vash was hardly aware he was speaking; he clambered over to his friend's dead body, clutching it to his chest. "Wolfwood - no - I love you - Wolfwood - answer me - I love you - I love you -" The last words, spoken through dry sobs, echoed in the still atmosphere, reaching no one because no one had been there to hear them.
Something was building inside of Vash, a white hot pain that paralleled his grief. If he had stopped to analyse the feeling, he may have recognised it, but in his distraction, he could do nothing to stop the swelling tide of power. Every hair on his body stood on end, skin tingling as though an electric current was passing through him; even the air crackled with the rising energy.
All Vash could feel was mourning - mourning for what he had not been able to say, for the death of yet another who was gone because of him -
Everything was fury and loss, pure anguish being spun into a projection of his own powers - light was glowing inside him and around him, and it was painful but nothing like the torment of the slack body pressed against him - and the regret and sorrow of the thousand unspoken confessions was tearing him apart, driving him and draining him all at once - and the grieving welled into a sharp apex of agony that could only be expended one way -
And there was an explosion of darkness in the light -