Disclaimer: I do not own HHGTTG. I repeat the previous warnings- this is a DARK fic.
Thank you to my reviewers: Kayu Silver, HurriCanine, Rowana S, Les Lapins Mauvais, Captain Oz, spirals, ElvenPirate41, tb884 and elfgirl. Much love and gratitude to each of you, and to anyone else who was kind enough to read this.
This is the SAD ending Just so's you know. I wrote it for those who requested it, bien sur. So, this is for you, HurriCanine, Kayu Silver and tb884.
This is not a continuation- this is the alternate ending. Just so its clear (prepares for flames)
When he awoke, the room was dark. He lay in the warm embrace of the soft bed sheets, luxuriating in the delicious guilt of staying in bed for too long. He remained burrowed for a while, then stretched and snapped his fingers, causing the lights to fade into brightness. He yawned, blinking sleepily, and dragged himself out of his miniature kingdom to grab a shower.
After being pelted for a good fifteen minutes by boiling hot water and massaged with specially installed pressure pads, Ford Prefect reluctantly exited the cubicle and dressed. He grinned, feeling Betelgeusian at last, and left the room in search of breakfast, Arthur, or both.
Breezing into the kitchen, his grin widened when he saw a plate of blue scrambled eggs laid out for him. He hurried to the table and tucked in happily, making appreciative noises at the explosion of flavour. He glanced up and gave the 'chef' a thumb's up.
The 'chef' snorted. "I'm surprised you even noticed I was here," Arthur said, snarkily, to which Ford chuckled.
"You don't have to do this," he reminded the Earthman. "I am quite capable of getting my own food."
Arthur snorted again. "You can burn salad, just by being in the same room as it. Shut up and eat."
Ford shut up and ate. It had taken weeks, arduous, agonising weeks of work, tears, shame, pain and anger, but here they were. Back to the way it had been- the gently scathing teasing, the not quite harmonious co-existence of a couple of hitchhikers, trying to see the Universe for less than thirty Alterian dollars a day. They didn't talk about it- they'd done enough of that to last a lifetime- but Ford knew he would probably be dead if not for the Earthman.
Arthur had been his rock, his support, his slave master and his comforter as he'd fought against his addiction and the depression that had rotted him from the inside like a foul cancer. The fire of his life had been re-kindled, but it hadn't been easy. There had been screaming fits, raging angry shouting matches. He'd said things he still regretted, things that he knew had bitten deep into his friend's being and lodged like the creeping fingers of Jack Frost in the delicate heart of a winter bloom. But it was over. He had his job back, he was once again a fully paid Guide researcher, and his friend had been roped in for the job that on one else wanted- restaurant critic. Something menial and dull that suited the Earthman down to the ground.
The Betelgeusian glanced up from his meal as Arthur started coughing. The human had been having throat trouble for the past few weeks, something Ford had at first not noticed, so involved was he in his own struggle. The human assured him it was nothing serious, that he'd spoken to doctors about it, but nevertheless Ford was a little worried. Arthur smiled weakly when his coughing fit ended and reached into a cupboard for a small bottle of viscous purple stuff, from which he took a spoonful, grimacing as he swallowed.
Ford watched him, his brow furrowed. "Look are you sure you're alright?" he asked, eventually. "You don't sound…"
"I'm fine!" Arthur reassured, turning his back to Ford as he replaced the medicine in the cupboard. "Aside from the decided lack of tea anywhere in this frotting galaxy!" The words were spoken with amused acceptance, but there was a rough edge to Arthur's voice that hadn't been there before. There was also a strange hesitance to his movement, the Betelgeusian realised, as if the human was judging his strength before any action.
Ford stood, carrying the plate to the cupboard that stored, organised and cleaned all items of crockery, and was also very interested in country dancing. No one had ever asked it why, since it had no legs, but it lived in hope of anyone asking, and it chirruped happily as he placed the grimy utensils in it. That done, Ford checked his watch. "I have to go see my editor," he said, suddenly remembering the mid-morning meeting. He dithered for a moment.
Arthur raised an eyebrow. "So why are you still here?"
"Are you absolutely positive that…"
The human chuckled and batted Ford's arm. "Bugger off, you idiot, or you'll be late!" he ordered, affectionately. The Betelgeusian narrowed his eyes, scanning the human's features for any sign of falsehood, and then grinned, clasped his arm briefly and dashed off, grabbing his satchel on the way out.
Arthur waited until he was sure his friend was gone before he collapsed into a chair, hacking violently as a coughing fit swept over him. The problem was much worse than he'd let on- he didn't want Ford to worry, not now that things were almost back to normal. The doctors he'd spoken to had performed tests and run scans and informed him of the severity of the situation- even when he took the daily doses of medication, there was a high risk of…
No. Don't think about it. The human wiped his hands on his clothes and got a glass of water to soothe his sore throat as he left the room- he had work to do, editing his latest reviews for the Guide. He tried to ignore the ache in his muscles and the burn of his abused lungs. It would go away, with time. It always did.
It usually did.
When Ford got back to their temporary shared apartment after the meeting with his editor (which had gone very well considering that aforementioned editor didn't technically exist and his non-existent personality made Ford want to chew broken glass and rusty nails) he was instantly aware that something was wrong. He knew that Arthur should have been working, and that usually meant he would be able to hear the tap of fingers on a keyboard and the occasional frustrated yell of a human unsuccessfully trying to work unfamiliar technology. But there was nothing- it was completely silent.
It didn't remain so for long. Ford was just striding through the halls when he heard it- similar to what he'd heard that morning- deep, wet, hacking coughs. He sped up and burst into Arthur's room, stopping dead in shock at the sight that met his eyes. Arthur was bent double in his chair, shuddering as those horrible, stomach-wrenching coughs assaulted him. His skin was pale and beaded with sweat and he drew in ragged gulps of air between each fit, fighting to breathe properly. Ford stared in horror at the long-fingered hands clasped in front of Arthur's mouth: they were covered with blood, rich crimson trails dripping over slender fingers, carrying with them the tiny sparks of the human's life.
"Arthur!" he shouted, rushing forwards to support the weak man. Instinctively, Ford drew his friend into his arms, holding him, soothing him, trying to ride out the storm. He clenched his stronger form around that of the human, stilling the savage convulsions.
Arthur's coughing fit eventually let up and he looked at Ford out of dull, pain-filled, devastatingly accepting eyes. "I couldn't tell you," he murmured, his voice hoarse and rasping. His breath was shallow and rapid, wheezing in his throat. He slumped in Ford's arms, unable to hold his own weight. His hands spasmed weakly as he tried to grip the material of Ford's jacket.
Ford stared aghast at the frail spectre that had replaced his friend. "Arthur…?" he whispered, tears welling in fearful eyes.
The human pushed his head against his friend's chest, his eyelids fluttering with sudden tiredness. "I'm fine," he croaked, a sick parody of a comforter. "I'm fine. I just need…rest." With that, he sank into oblivion.
In a room full of whispers, a devoted friend sits a vigil.
Ford rubbed his eyes tiredly, keeping his gaze fixed on the bed where his friend lay sleeping. The emergency medic he'd frantically called out had just injected a purple substance into Arthur's arm and was putting away his syringes and packs of chemicals.
"Well?" Ford asked, his voice sounding weak and tremulous.
The medic sighed and moved to sit in front of the Betelgeusian, careful not to block his view of the bed. "His condition is stable, for now. I've ascertained the cause of the coughing fits- Mr Prefect, your friend is very seriously ill. He is in the final stages of a virulent infection that deteriorates the condition of the lungs and attacks the entire respiratory system. I'm sorry."
"F-final stages? But…how have I not noticed it before?" Ford felt physically sick- how could he be so blind to his friend's suffering? For the first time in weeks, he felt a sudden desire for that cruel embrace that comforted and cut. He shut his eyes tight, quashing the desire for alcohol, beating back the voices of rampant ghosts.
"From an analysis of his blood, I've found traces of a chemical commonly used to relieve the symptoms of the infection- the only answer I can give you is that he was completely aware of his illness and has been treating it for some time."
"He knew? He knew and he didn't tell me?"
The doctor put a paw on his shoulder, a firm comforting grip. "There is one more thing. The pathogens that cause the disease are a specialised strand. The microbes originally bred on Sirius B- the canine creatures have a very strong constitution, which is why the infection is so vicious. And there is only one way the microbes can be spread."
Icy-cruel claws of dread began to rake at Ford's insides at what the doctor was implying. "How?" he asked, hoping he would be wrong, inwardly pleading that somehow it wouldn't be true.
The medic took a deep breath. "It is a sexually transmitted infection."
Ford felt his tremulous grip on his emotions weaken at the words. He buried his head in his hands, feeling the weight of the world descend on him once again. He didn't notice the doctor leaving, didn't hear his parting words. A sexually transmitted infection. How had it happened? Had Arthur been a willing companion or was it…?
No. It was too horrifying to contemplate. Ford took a deep, shuddering breath, trying to gather himself. He had to strong. He sat up, running nervous hands through his wiry curls, and looked again at the bed. In sleep, with none of his shields, Arthur looked weak and vulnerable. His skin was so pale it almost seemed translucent and each breath he took was quavering and painful. There were deep lines of exhaustion and suffering scarring his face. The human lay completely still, as if the life had been drained from him. He seemed to be fading before Ford's eyes. The Betelgeusian shook his head, rubbing his eyes tiredly.
A soft husky voice interrupted his melancholy. "F-Ford?"
Ford's gaze snapped to the bed, where Arthur was wearily coming awake. The Betelgeusian jumped up and went to sit on the bed, gently but firmly helping the human sit up and re-arranging the pillows to support him. Arthur settled back and fixed the shorter man with a confused, questioning scrutiny.
"You collapsed," Ford said in what he hoped was a steady voice. "I had to call a doctor."
Arthur's eyes widened and he glanced down at the small dressing on his arm.
"Yeah, he injected you. Arthur," Ford steeled himself. "He…he said some pretty scary stuff about your…condition."
The Earthman was now staring fixedly at his hands, fidgeting with the edge of the sheets.
"Arthur?" the Betelgeusian pleaded, needing an explanation, needing to know why.
The room was silent for a couple of beats. "I suppose he told you about my illness." It was a statement, not a question.
"He did. Why didn't you?"
Arthur coughed pathetically and reached blindly for the bedside cabinet. Ford took the ever-present glass of water and lifted it to the human's lips, allowing him to take a few sips. The Earthman quirked a quick smile of thanks and then fell back into the pillows, unable to hold his own weight.
"How do you feel?" Ford asked, trying to fill the deathly quiet.
His friend chuckled bitterly. "Like I've had the words of Vogon poetry branded on to my chest with red-hot irons."
Ford winced and Arthur touched a hand to his arm. "Sorry, I didn't mean…I think I should explain."
So the human told him. He talked about the night that Ford had staggered in, drunker than he'd ever been, vomiting the poison from his stomach. He talked about soothing the pain in his friend. He talked about the approach of the intruder. He talked about the hideous, degrading pain of the merciless rape and his conviction to bring his friend out the depression that had caused all of their troubles.
When he'd finished, the human shrugged. "After a couple of weeks I started feeling ill. The coughing started and I began to get headaches. I put it down to stress and tiredness, but even when…things…got better, the symptoms continued to get worse. So I booked myself in for an appointment whilst you were at one of your sessions with the psychiatrists. You know the result."
"Me? It's because of me?" Ford looked at the hand that still rested, quivering, on his arm and covered it with his own. In his mind's eye, he saw his flesh become stained with the choked-up blood if his friend. He might as well have stabbed the human in the chest…
Arthur's brow furrowed and he tugged lightly on Ford's sleeve, catching the Betelgeusian's attention. "This was not your fault," he said, firmly, punctuating his words with a squeeze of his hand- all the action he felt capable of. "You didn't plan it, you weren't aware of it and there is nothing you could have done to stop it."
"But if I hadn't…"
"No buts. You didn't ask for this to happen, you didn't intend for it to happen and you feel regret and guilt about it now. For me, that's enough." Arthur slumped a little as his tiredness caught up with him. "Even angels fall," he joked, recalling how Ford had described his role in the Betelgeusian's recovery.
Ford's eyes were bright with tears. "You're dying."
"So were you," came the cryptic reply. "I couldn't…let you d'stroy yourself."
The Betelgeusian had to move closer to catch the by now almost inaudible words. Shocked by his friend's frailty, he instinctively wrapped an arm around the human and gently pulled him into an embrace. "Why?" he asked softly, fearing the answer.
"S'obvious, if you look," Arthur slurred, his words running into one another as his tongue refused to co-operate. It was becoming harder and harder to catch his breath and he heard Ford shushing him as his wheezing intakes of air quickened. As he was brought into a warm hug, he was aware of the world moving further and further away, all sights, sounds and smells fading to become faint and distant. He could feel the texture of Ford's jumper against his cheek and he fought to keep from falling asleep. "Ford," he whispered fearfully, his mouth feeling numb and clumsy. "Why's it so dark?"
"Sh, it's okay Arthur," the familiar voice soothed him. There was a tremulous note to it, and Arthur wondered why Ford was crying. "Go to sleep, I'm right here. Go to sleep."
Ford couldn't stop the sobs as Arthur slumped in his arms. The rasping, desperate breaths slowed and the last breath of air rattled from the human's throat. Ford felt amber tears ooze from his eyes and burn toxins down his cheeks. He heard again the intoxicating song of the Succubus, a whispering seduction that begged him to lose his fears in her embrace that cut as it pretended to comfort.
He turned his head to see the bottle on the bedside cabinet, kept there as a test of his will. In his mind, he saw glass shatter against a wall and lie in deadly, beautiful shards on the floor, drowning in the poison of the amber liquid. He licked his lips, remembering how all the agony in the world would crystallise into perfect sense thanks to the blessed demon. He felt the dead weight of the lifeless body in his arms, felt the weight of his guilt grabbing at his spirit.
He reached out.
And an angel fell.