YOUR LAST TOAST

You awake in the very early morning and get out of the tent with great care in order not to wake the others up. It surprises you that you succeed: four adults in a tent made for anorexic pigmeys (you can't help but smile fondly at the memory of that night) means lots of juxtaposed and even superposed limbs as obstacles on the way out, you bet. Well, they ARE tired, huh. And you know you're the one who's completely drained them, not only physically, but emotionally. You're sorry; you had never intended for last night to be THAT hard for them - having to witness your suffering and not being able to help for so long... You're grateful though for Fate playing with your meds bag: there hadn't been any need for another round at persuading them afterwards; you've been spared the begging. You're peaceful. You know that they'll let you go as you wish. There had been no words, but you know. You've heard Davy crying before falling asleep; and in thirteen months, Davy had never cried around you.

You have been wondering whether to tell them or not, while planning it all. It has seemed so much simpler to do it secretly: get out of the tent in the middle of the night and swim - wouldn't have been that hard to accomplish; look at you right now, alone on the shore… But it had felt too much like betraying them. Either they'd see as an accident (you've doubted it though) and would have blamed themselves for not having been alert enough, or (more likely; they knew you, right) they would have realised that it wasn't an accident, and would have blamed themselves for not having seen through your plan when they had agreed on making that trip. They shouldn't have to go through that, right. Your last gift to your true friends really couldn't be guilt. And so, there had been no choice.

So you've planned to ask them to let you take a one-way swim on the last night of the trip, giving them time to think it over before morning and hopefully come back on what you've expected to be (and what has been indeed) their first, instinctive decision – refusal. You would have let them bring you back home if they hadn't been able to grant you your way out. But you've believed (rightly) that they wouldn't deny you your last request, fucked-up as it might seem to be: they loved you, for sure. Miles wouldn't need much convincing: you were so much alike, intrinsically, he'd understand; he'd already seen cancer turning his father in a shell of the man he had used to be. Bill would try to argue you out of it; but you've had more than time enough to prepare your arguments, so it would only end making your cause stronger. Davy would be resisting the most, for sure; but Davy's love was limitless, and selfless: he was bound to accept it in the end. Turned out you've been pretty spot on on predicting their reactions – well, of course: you know them.

You look at the sky, at the stars. You're glad that it's not too cloudy for them to be completely hidden. You take some morphine. Not much, you don't want anything to be dulled away; but enough to be able to get through the next hours without being unable to hide the physical pain. They shouldn't see you suffer, not anymore, not after last night, not this morning, right. Time goes by, slowly, quickly, it doesn't matter anymore. It's a bit cold, but it's all right. You absorb everything: the sounds of the wind, of the waves, of the birds; the texture of the sand in your hands; the fresh smells of the coming morning around you; the awakening of colours in the sky, as the sun starts to rise, and everywhere, as the day slowly sets in. You fill yourself up with the world that surrounds you, and savour each and every tiny precious detail of it. You feel lucky, somehow: it is a beautiful morning, truly. A glorious morning, even, and you're grateful for it. It's Barafundle Bay as you remembered it, as you've wished for, and how it will always be now, for you.

You say goodbye to your family; you pass them one by one, like a slide show playing in your head. You relive their last hugs, right before you climbed in the car, and mentally hold on to them now too. You silently tell them that you're sorry. And they forgive you.

You look at the sea. Soon, you'll take that swim. You're afraid, of course. But you're much more afraid of the consequences of NOT doing it. It's your best move with the cards you've be given, and you intend to play it.

You're so withdrawn in yourself that you don't notice it until it's a fact. Bill, judging by the trousers, needs a moment with you while he still can. He leans against your back but doesn't hug you: he knows what you're doing, and he doesn't want to intrude. But he's here, and it feels good; even though it's impossible to tell whose presence is in fact comforting whom the most…

You realise you've been sitting for too long. You shift and lay down, half in the sand, half in Bill's arms. The readjustment doesn't disturb the silence. Bill starts rocking you, probably without noticing he's doing it. He'll be a wonderful father. Neither of you talk, it's not necessary; there's solace in each other's presence, and that's enough.

You hear Miles and Davy's footsteps when they join you. Still, no one talks. Bill keeps rocking you, his hands not a gripping restraint, just a loose welcome support. Miles squeezes and pets you down now and then; once more, you can't tell if the gestures are more for your sake or for his own. Davy's hands just stay tightly clutched in his pockets. He leans down, once, but quickly stops: he has to keep his composure, and knows he'll come undone if he dares to get too close. You don't mind; on the contrary, you're really grateful for his efforts.

You're one, the four of you; absorbing each other, soaked in each other, sharing a silence which is more meaningful than any words have ever been, could ever be. Time has ceased to exist.

Then you decide you're ready. No matter how perfect the moment is, it won't last, and you all know it. No need to delay the inevitable. You sit up, Bill not moving one muscle to hold you down. The air shifts; your friends have frozen behind your back. You wait, giving them a moment to get a hold on themselves.

Miles is the first to stand up. He knows you don't want to prolong this for too long, and makes the sacrifice to start it. His eyes are shiny but clear as he lends you a hand to help you up, knowing you'll need it. You let yourself get pulled into him and hug him, fiercely. He hugs you back. You break, a bit. All right, a lot. It's Miles.

You've had a few relations, but you've never been in love, not truly. You've used to wonder how it would feel. Then you've heard you were ill, and have been grateful for that missing experience – one person (possibly more, if you've had children) less you were going to hurt, right.

So, Miles is the closest person to that 'true one' for you. In fact, he IS your soul mate, without the sexual attraction. He's different from you, of course, yet he is carved out the same stone. You've always had the same interests, the same yearnings, the same dreams. You even have the same flaws: you're both proud, stubborn, and fierce tempered (though you do recognise that you're worse than him on all those accounts). But the ever-present competition between you two has only served to lift the both of you higher and higher. You admire him and need his approbation just as much as he admires you and need yours. You've always been entirely honest to each other. You'd always tell him when you'd be jealous of his talent, and you'd always warn him when he'd write shit; and he's always done the same. And, beyond everything, you always understand him, and you know that he always understand you. You know him, through and through, and accept him just as he is. And he knows you, through and through, and accepts you just as you are.

So yeah, you've missed him this last year. Of course, you've understood why he was often avoiding you, and you've forgiven him (for lack of a better word, because there was nothing to forgive in fact) long ago. But you've missed him.

You've been so thankful when he did turn up for the trip. And you've been so grateful that he dared to be his usual assholish self. Bill and Davy in particular have thrown daggers at him a thousands time over the last days for the 'inappropriate' comments on your behalf; but really, it would have pained you so much more if he had been 'nice' - Miles wasn't 'nice', right; and that was part of why you loved him. Miles had known this, of course, and had acted his part - even though you know it can't have been easy for him to keep that façade up. But he's done it, for you. And finally, it's just so fulfilling that he's here, now.

You don't speak of your love for each other though - you both despise soap operas, right (even though you can admit that you're acting like drama queens sometimes). Anyway, there's simply no need for it; you both know your place in the other one's heart.

You tell him again. "Your book. Is. Great. Do something about it."

He squeezes you, sadly chuckling between his tears at your stubbornness. You squeeze him back.

You know that Miles has found his true one in your sister. You've always seen the way he eyed her, the lengths he would go to please her, or make her smile, even as kids. He'd used to see her as unattainable, mostly because she was older, and also because she was your sister. But you've always known. Just like you've always known how she felt about him. You'd have preferred for them to dare get together before the girls - they didn't deserve to get caught in the inevitable mess. But you don't blame them. In the end, it was bound to happen.

"I'm happy, for the both of you. Tell that to Chloe."

You feel him nod against your shoulder. You hope it's for the both of your requests, but you keep silent. The choice is his.

You're shaking. He is too. Realising it helps you regain your composure. You breathe, in and out, and feel him doing the same. Once more. And again. There, you've both stabilised. Time to release him. You close your eyes and hold him tighter briefly. He gets the warning and squeezes you closer, just a second; and then he lets you go.

One down, two to go. You've been expecting the goodbyes to be tough, but that doesn't make any of it easier, neither for you nor for them. But it's important, for you, for them, so you inhale deeply and go on. The two little steps it takes you to get to Bill feel heavy, as though your feet are glued to the ground. It's getting harder to keep a stoic face.

Your eyes meet Bill's. You hold his gaze only for a short instant - eye contact is a bitch. You embrace him before you lose control of yourself. You hear yourself kind of sniff though. You chastise yourself to get a grip; tears are inevitable, but you've promised yourself you wouldn't turn into a sobbing mess, no matter what. This is your choice. This is what you want. There's no need to make it more difficult than it already is for them, right.

The gentle rocking rhythm the both of you still have in your system sets in again on its own, and you can't tell who started it; you just sway. It should be awkward, standing; but it only feels good.

Bill. Good old reliable Bill.

You're all of the same age, yet there's always been something paternal about him. Arbitraging Bill, always putting himself in the middle of a fight to break it off; temporizing, soothing the offended and giving out yellow cards to the offenders. Authoritative Bill - you and Miles may generally be the leaders of the group, being more extraverted and all, but Bill is the Alpha: when he barks, everyone obeys; whatever he might order, you all just know it to be truly necessary if he takes a commanding tone. Responsible Bill. Always the practical one, taking on himself the care of everything, from hotel bookings to road mapping, from shopping to cooking, from packing to cart's fixing, and so on. Ready to go to any lengths to ensure that everything goes on smoothly, and finding solutions in a heartbeat if a change of plan is needed. Modesty personified though, always including everyone in a "we" when things are good, but always taking the blame in a "I" when something fails.

You realise guiltily that the whole of you have probably never been thanking him properly enough for all he did. It's not exactly that you're taking him for granted; but it is so natural for him to be arranging everything that it mostly goes without saying…

"I can't thank you enough for the fireworks." You just know it was his idea, of course. (Left, right, left, right.) "You'll be a wonderful father." He lets you say it this time. And he knows that you mean it. "But life's too short, huh. Live it on your own terms, and not only as you feel is expected from you. You have a responsibility towards yourself too."

The swaying stills, the both of you knowing the piece of advice to signal the end of your goodbye. He taps you twice on the shoulder, a last encouragement. You take a deep breath, grip him tighter, and then let him go.

You focus on your breathing as you get to Davy. You know this one goodbye is going to be the hardest. Not only because it's the last, but because it's Davy, and you're so used by now to loosen all your restraints for him.

You're proud; always have been. But, for Davy, you've learned to show weakness. It has been his choice, to be there for you. And the only way to thank him has been to let him be there, and for you to really be there, 100% present and honest. It has used to feel awkward, not only allowing but even forcing yourself to be that openly, willingly vulnerable. But he needed you to tell him everything, to show him everything, so that he'd recognise all the signs and know exactly what helped the most when you'd need him, so that he'd feel what would be the right dosage, should you be too incapacitated to take the meds on your own. And now, it's as natural as breathing. Meds? What dose? Do you want his hands? Where? And how? Just contact? Pressure? Rubbing? Does it help if he talks? Does it work better if he shuts up? Or do you just need his eyes in yours? It's all been codified, sort of: one whole language, in the way you look at him, in the way you say his name, in the way you grip him. His presence is as necessary, as useful as the meds; maybe more, in a way. And so, when you need help in dealing with the pain, you cry out for him, you clutch at him, you hold on to him; he's your anchor, your refuge. And there is absolutely no shame in that. Total abandon - there's no better proof of complete trust than that, right. That's what he deserves, and that's what you give him.

Davy. Loyal to the core, and selfless. It has nothing to do with sadomasochism, no matter what you might say when you need to lash out. It has nothing to do with pity either - which is why you've accepted his help, regardless of everything. It's just pure, unaltered, undiluted love. He wants to be with you. He needs to be with you. And he would have felt guilty, after you'd be gone, if he hadn't followed his heart.

He doesn't know that you know that he actually quit his job to be there for you. You've been suspicious when he'd told that he'd been sacked, so you've called his office, playing a client asking for him and not understanding how they could miss someone as motivated as him when they gave you the usual simple 'Davy isn't around here anymore' line. His ex-colleague has sighed and explained: "It's been his choice. One of his friends is ill. He wants to be with him as much as he can, while he still can." It has left you breathless. Still does. But it makes you really angry too. He shouldn't waste his time with you. You're a lost cause.

So, you've mentally kicked him and verbally cursed at him and abused him more often than you'd like to remember - partly because you're sick, of course, and sometimes you can't help turning into an even bigger git than the one you naturally are to start with; and partly because you simply want so much more than 'that' for him. But he's always stuck around, forgiving even when you barely apologised afterwards. If not for him, mostly, you know you might have turned by now in a grumpy, whining, bitter, insufferable bastard. You owe him, for retaining your humanity.

Davy. A true brave. Ready to go to Hell and back with those he loves. He has, actually, for you, even though he'll have to make the return journey on his own. The guys will be there for him, of course; but you've become so linked, so attuned to each other, and what you two have shared is so extreme: he'll feel amputated, literally. You know it is what he wanted, but still, you're sorry. He could have resigned; you'd have understood. He should have resigned. He hasn't. To be able to do what he has done for you, to give what he has given you, over and over, each and every day of the last nine months, be it a good day, a bad day, an unbearable day, knowing that it would only make him hurt even more in the end… To dare to love so completely… You've come to realise that he is in fact the strongest of the pack.

Yet now, Davy can't look at you. His head down, his hands still tensely fisted in his pockets. He's breathing hard and you know that he's crying.

You pass your right arm around his neck and your left arm in the open space between the crook of his right arm and his torso, and wrap yourself around him. He chokes on his tears, and suddenly he's engulfing you, hands desperately clutching at your shirt, arms pulling you so close, so tight, it leaves you breathless. You've been expecting no less. He has worked to keep you alive; now, he's allowing you to leave, which goes against everything he has done: of course it's difficult. So it's your turn to be strong for him. Your lips tremble as you soothingly whisper his name, over and over, and there are silent tears all over your face, but you hang on. You let him take what he needs, for as long as he needs, no matter how much it costs you to draw things out.

Finally, his sobbing recedes, and he calms down. His grip loosens a bit. Then, he puts his hands back in his pockets. His head stays on your shoulder, but he's telling you: he's ready to let you go.

Your hands find the back of his neck, and you bring your foreheads together. Your eyes meet and won't part. "Your love is boundless. Your special one is going to be so lucky. But please, take care of yourself, mate." You pull him closer, pressing your forehead against his. "Thank you." For having fought a battle lost in advance for you. For his care. For his love. And even more, for now setting you free.

So... Done. Time to finish it.

You take a few steps backwards, to be able to see them all. You realise that Miles has changed place, without you noticing: Davy is now the one in the middle - the one who'd be looked after. You nod at him, thanking him silently.

You clear your face and smile at them. "I've been blessed to count you as my friends." You start walking, still backwards. Your trousers are getting wet, you're entering the water. The water is colder than yesterday. It's fine. It's going to make it shorter. "It's all right. Really." You keep walking, precautiously, never breaking eye contact, until you're in to the waist. "Goodbye, guys." And then you turn, take a deep breath, and start to swim. You promise yourself you won't look back.

You focus on swimming, on how it feels to break the water, to trace a path in it. You want to enjoy feeling alive until the end.

And then you hear them, behind you. Your heart misses a beat. They can't be coming to stop you, right. That fear leaves you the moment you turn, wondering. Miles must have been the first to follow you. He has nearly reached you – a snail might be in a better shape than you, nothing surprising here – and he nods at you. Your heart misses another beat, for a totally different reason this time. They're here to support you. They most probably just hope that you're going to change your mind, and know you'd need help to get back to shore. But they're here. You've never considered this, not even in your wildest dreams. But now that they're here, you realize that you wouldn't want it any other way.

Suddenly, Davy goes under. It's just too much. He's so drained emotionally that he's reached his limit; his body betrays him and collapses. Billy, as always, just does what needs to be done and grabs Davy to bring him back to the shore. They won't get back, no time anyway, and they know it. Davy fucking apologises as he swims away. Jeez, Davy, you're not the one who's letting everyone down, really… You give them a wave, showing them that it's fine, you understand, of course.

"You've nearly outlived Davy."

You can't help but chuckle. Miles always gets away with saying the most terrible things, really. You're grateful for his humour; it feels so good to smile, to laugh, one last time.

"You've ruined this camping trip. Can we go home now, please?"

His voice is weak; he doesn't really believe in it, it's evident. He has hoped that you'd change your mind, of course; but he just knows you too much. You can't begrudge him though for a last try. You don't want him to live in guilt for not having made sure that you were sure about this. He's the last to be with you. He is alone with you. He has to ask.

He sees the unfading resolve in your eyes though, and breaks, "James, I'm scared."

Of course he is. But he stays, huh.

And then, you know.

Miles won't let you down. Not now. He's already feeling guilty for the lost time, for not having been that much around. He would never forgive himself if he didn't stick with you 'till the end, now that he's the last support you have. He's here, willing to do anything, for you. Following you on your swim has been his idea; he's been the first to get at you. And he knows you, in and out. You realise that unconsciously, he knew what he was eventually signing for by coming after you. He has already accepted; you only have to ask.

Maybe you're just simply beyond selfish. You should hate yourself. But, after all, a clean end might be the best for them too. You know that you won't drown yourself simply out of will, right. Your body will fight your mind; how many tries is it going to take before you exhaust yourself? Seeing you pop in and out of the water, repeatedly… Messy. Grotesque. Horrible. It's definitely not a show your friends should have to witness. The shorter the better, for all of you. You do hate the fact that you need his help though.

"Sorry." For not changing your mind. For him being terrified. And, more than anything, for what you want; for what you're about to ask. You barely dare to hold his gaze. "If you can't do this, tell me."

His pain is too much to bear as what has only been an unconscious acceptance of a probability suddenly becomes undeniable reality, and you look away.

You try to offer him a way out. "I'll swim as far as I can…" You wait. For an apology; for a refusal. Nothing comes. Your hopes flare up. Your eyes find his again, and won't flinch until he relents. All right, you're just selfish then. You can't stop yourself though from stating the honest, simple truth. "I'd rather not be alone, mate."

He's now truly breaking apart in front of you, and you know it's your doing. But you know he'll do it. He's not ready yet, but his silence is the only confirmation you need. He won't leave your side.

You feel that there's not that much time left though to convince him to go through with it, and you get panicky. Your strengths are starting to fade, and you're simply terrified, no matter how resolved you are. And he's here. He's here. You push your point, both because you won't give him another chance to change his mind now and because you don't want him to feel guilty for it afterwards. That's why you've written them notes (you've posted them by the first stop of the drive, with a "please don't open if" at the back you knew they'd understand and respect); so they'd have a concrete proof to hold on to, any time they'd feel guilty about having let you go. But this is more than just having to let you go now. So much more. So you have to make sure Miles knows that finishing right her right now is truly what you want, that you're really ready to leave. You have to make sure he knows that this last wish, this monstrous, dreadful service you ask from him is truly the most beautiful and meaningful gift he could ever give to you. You turn adamant. You plead him, with your voice, with your hands, with your eyes. You beg. You've never begged him before; he can't miss what it means.

"Please... Miles. Do this. Miles! Please!"

You see resolve setting on his features. You're so sorry for him. And he knows it. It doesn't change anything though, for neither of you. And then he nods. He. Nods. Relief and gratitude and pure love sweep through you. It's bizarre, maybe, but in a way, suddenly, you feel peaceful. Totally peaceful. You won't go through it alone. Miles will be here with you. Miles.

You take a last look at the sky, relishing on it. You've always loved watching at the sky; it's never the same. Never the same colours, never the same shape – sun, moon, stars, clouds, birds; fascinating, and simply, plainly, truly beautiful. You silently say your goodbye to the world.

Any tension has left your mind, since you've got Mile's promise, so your body suddenly reclaims the upper hand and reminds you that you're cold, and that your strengths are nearly gone.

Right. It's time, then.

You just let go.

You don't take a last breath as you feel yourself sink - what would be the point. Better keep it short. For you. For Miles. For Davy and Bill stuck on the shore, helplessly going to watch. You exhale, emptying your lungs as quickly as you can. Your life, departing in bubbles... You've always loved bubbles as a kid.

Then, Miles is here. You feel his strong grip on your shirt. He'll keep you down. He will.

He does.

It is said that while dying you see your whole life flash before your eyes. Well; that's wrong. As you involuntary start to jerk, your body instinctively fighting for air, the only thing you see is Miles. And that's fine. In fact, that's even better. After all, you know your life, you've lived it. You don't need a bloody movie.

You clutch at him. Wanting to ensure yourself that he's here, to anchor yourself to him, to feel him until the end. Hoping he'll get the thanks in your ultimate touch. Willing yourself not to fight his hold, even though that's just impossible - you're truly grateful you're so weak by now that Miles can't really feel your body fighting him off.

You're not alone. You feel Miles. You see Miles. He's crying. Underwater. And you can see it. You wouldn't have thought that to be possible...

Water's coming in, unstoppable, and it's awful. It is. Nothing like your memories of your childhood accident (*). You can't embellish the harsh reality with grand words right now. Bill's pills weren't maybe such a bad idea after all. You don't regret your choice though. Pills: well, just not for you, huh. You're going the way you've wanted to. Even better, actually: Miles is here.

You. See. Miles.

You. Feel. Miles.

You focus on him.

And then he blurs away.

(*) cf the mention of James nearly drowning at the age of 3 in the first draft script (I love that bit, even though I understand why it had to get away – it would have been telltale)

Author's note:

All right, here we go… This movie. Damn. Just. Damn. So much beauty, you know. Saw it weeks ago for the first time (thanks to youtube; I normally don't enjoy watching movie on a little rectangle on my screen with a not that ideal sound and no subtitles, but well, I just couldn't NOT click. Needed a dose of Ben, had been wanting to see that movie for some time (I mean, so much love on Tumblr, must be good, right, tear jerker or not…), and then THUD, just got a dose of WOW. Ordered the DVD right after, you bet; I just had to). Anyway, it's the only thing in my head since. Follow you down to the red oak tree is on repeat in my head if not for real; I can't help but watch and rewatch some bits of the movie on YouTube; I'm either (most often) helplessly crying now and then for no reason, or smiling like a fool (more rarily, but still) at little things like seeing birds fly high, and all. I'm generally not the type to enjoy rewatching a sad movie, but I feel that I could watch Third Star each and every day from now on if I had the time. Because, as Davy says, it hurts, but it's amazing, right... I know the movie is just PERFECT as he is, and I agree that there should be nothing to add or change in it. But there are those few pics of 'more' which keep gnawing at me – James and Davy's last hug (judging by the clothes and the decor), Bill's selfless silent support from behind while he so evidently need to be the one to be hugged (that pic alone is a killer… Bill's face, god…); I'm sure you know the ones I mean - and writing is supposed to be cathartic, and I'm such a wreck (even though in a strange fulfilled way; I'm totally shattered to pieces, I feel like I'm not living my life as fully as I should; but I feel so grateful for being alive, for the beauty in the little things, and… Well, if you've seen the movie you get what I mean...)