There’s blood everywhere. Poison can’t remember where it came from, but there’s a far more pressing issue on his hands, in the form of Ghoul bleeding out. His shirt is plastered to his chest, clinging to the uncauterized raygun blast on his shoulder, so saturated with sticky, syrupy red that the actual color isn’t discernible. It’s splattered across Ghoul’s face in ruby speckles, pooling thickly underneath him on the ground (which is. Linoleum? No, sand. Poison doesn’t know, and doesn’t have the time to care). With every tortured, drawn-out breath, his eyelids flutter, and the mangled remains of his throat bubbles with a fresh wave of blood and tissue.
Poison doesn’t know where to put his hands. They’re soaked, too, he must have been trying to put pressure on Ghoul’s injuries, but at this point, it’s too late, it has to be too late, even though Poison can’t admit it. He clamps down on the thought as soon as it dares to surface, clenching his jaw so the bones grind and click against each other. “‘S okay,” he hears himself saying, voice shattering along audible fault lines. “You’re gonna be okay. Jus’ keep your eyes on me, tha’s it.”
Ghoul gropes for his hand, clenching weak, bloodstained fingers around Poison’s equally drenched digits. His eyes are reflecting the stars in the sky above them, or maybe they’re fluorescents (Poison can’t remember where they are, or what happened. But it must have been bad. Are they in Better Living HQ? Or...no, are they in the desert? Maybe. Maybe?). He opens his mouth, but no sound comes out, just an awful wet gurgling noise that accompanies another spurt of blood from the cavity under his jaw. He mouths the words instead, “I love you” hanging silently in air that smells strongly like heady copper and burnt flesh and fear.
Poison slams his fist against the ground, hard, uncurling his fingers to press his palm flat until the whiteness of his knuckles is visible underneath the layer of gore. “I know,” he grits, keeping his eyes on Ghoul’s face, where Ghoul is still trying to keep his own open, swallowing the pressure that’s solid in the back of his throat, pressing up from the pit of his stomach. “I love you, so much, jus’ keep your eyes open for me, okay?” There are hot, thick tears spilling down his face, blurring Ghoul into a smear of red and sheet-white. Poison clings to his hand tighter, trying to ignore the fact that Ghoul’s grip is getting weaker, his fingertips just barely hooked around Poison’s. “Jet’ll be here soon. You’re gonna be okay, jus’ stay still, honey, ‘s gonna be okay.” He’s lying. He has no idea where Jet Star is, where Kobra and the Girl are. (Where is he?)
Ghoul knows he’s lying too.
Poison ducks down, pressing a kiss to Ghoul’s forehead. There’s the taste of salt and copper against his lips. “You’re okay,” he whispers again, reaching with his other hand to tug Ghoul’s body closer. “You’re okay.” His voice is wrecked, and it’s not true, and there are fat, pink-stained droplets — there must be blood on his face, too — dripping from his chin and joining the warm wetness of Ghoul’s shirt.
Ghoul turns his head, just slightly, so Poison can feel the sticky brush of lips against his cheek. Then his hand falls slack in Poison’s, head slumping against the side of his neck, and Poison screams. Ghoul doesn’t flinch away from the noise, right in his ear, limp in the circle of Poison’s arms.
“No, c’mon, baby, you’re okay,” Poison says, voice raw to his own ears, sounding like someone took a hacksaw to the edge of it, and he gives Ghoul a slight shake even though he knows what it means, his brain just won’t process it. “You’re okay, you’re okay, take a breath for me, you’re okay.” Ghoul’s chest is still, pressed against Poison’s own thundering heartbeat, the stretch of his lungs trying to take in too much air and getting too little.
“You’re okay,” Poison says again, though it breaks in the middle and doesn’t recover. He presses his face into Ghoul’s cooling shoulder, curling into a ball around him like he could protect him; like he isn’t already dead. In the darkness of Ghoul’s shirt, stiffening with drying blood, warmth draining already, he can cry, hiccuping sobs that hook around his teeth and jam behind his tongue, before ripping free with force that leaves his ribs feeling bruised and winded.
Someone grabs his arm, and Poison jerks away from the grip. Then the person is pressed up behind him, arms wrapping around his, and Poison thrashes, trying to squirm away. It has to be whoever killed Ghoul (Korse? A drac patrol? Pissed-off killjoys?) and Poison won’t fucking let them take him alive, won’t let them have that pleasure. He writhes again, violently trying to shake them off, but the person holds firm, and someone’s talking, a gentle murmur that makes no sense with his current situation.
“Hey sweetheart, ‘s okay, I got you, ‘s alright, jus’ a dream.” Poison calms in his motions for a moment, confused, and the voice seems pleased, immediately jumping in with more gentle encouragement. “Tha’s it, ‘s okay, Pois, come back t’ me, you’re doing so good.”
Poison opens his eyes, and it’s dark in the room, the bright lights of wherever he’d been before gone. There’s dim moonlight filtering across the walls, shining faintly on glossy squares of paper, pinned in seemingly random patterns, and Poison doesn’t know where he is for a second. Then, the grip on his arms loosens, and he flips over on the bed (he was lying down...?) to come face-to-face with Ghoul. Blood-free, dark eyes almost black in the muted light, soft like the velvet night sky over the Zones. “Hey,” he says softly, thumb stroking gently over Poison’s arm. “‘S okay, sunshine, you’re safe.”
Poison lets out a shuddering breath. Their room. He’s in their room, and Ghoul is okay, because it was just a dream. “Ghoulie,” he croaks, and Ghoul swoops forwards and folds him up in his arms. Poison makes a choking noise, tucking his legs up and curling into the solid, whole warmth of Ghoul pressed up against him. Ghoul’s heartbeat is strong and firm in his ear. Poison buries his face in Ghoul’s chest and breathes huge, deep breaths against his shirt. He almost expects a sharp, metallic tang, but Ghoul just smells like comfortable, worn sheets and oranges and sand, with a tiny hint of gasoline. Ghoul’s hand strokes over his hair.
“You’re alright,” Ghoul says again, voice a little rough from sleep. He kisses the top of Poison’s head. “I got you.” There’s a warm, wet patch on Ghoul’s shirt when Poison finally pulls away, but it’s tears this time, not blood and guts seeping out. Ghoul moves his hands up to cradle his jaw, scratching gently with his fingers where they bury in the loose hair at the nape of Poison’s neck. “D’ya wanna talk about it?”
Poison shudders, shaking his head no, hesitating, and then nodding.
“You don’ have to,” Ghoul says gently.
“...You died,” Poison manages to whisper, words sticking in his throat. “You died, an’ ‘t was like when we brought th’ Girl back from th’ City.” And in the clarity of the waking world, it’s clear that that is what it was. Poison touches tentative fingers to the silvery-pink scar on Ghoul’s neck, a few inches lower than the starburst of scar tissue on Poison’s.
Ghoul takes his hands in his, gently tugging them away from worrying at the rough, puckered skin. “Hey. ‘M here. You got us out, everyone’s okay.” He kisses Poison’s forehead. “We’re all okay.”
Poison lets out a watery sigh, slumping into Ghoul’s arms and letting him run his fingers up and down his back in soothing patterns. “Why now?” He mumbles, too tired to try to keep the wobble out of his voice. “‘T was so long ago.”
“Doesn’t have t’ make sense, sunshine. ‘S brain shit. Trauma. ‘S why ‘m here.” Ghoul brushes Poison’s hair out of his face, pressing his lips to his temple. “I’ve got you.”
Poison wraps his fingers in Ghoul’s hair, hiding his face in Ghoul’s shoulder. “Fucking love you,” he whispers. “Witch. I don’ know what I’d do without you. Don’ you dare die on me. ‘S bad enough when I can wake up.” By the time he’s finished speaking, there are tears rolling down his face again, and he swipes at them with the shoulder of his shirt.
“‘M here,” Ghoul repeats. “Fuck, sweetheart, I’ll do my best. Can y’ promise me a couple things?”
Poison nods against his chest. He presses his palm over Ghoul’s heart, feeling the steady pulse under the muscle and bone.
“Do th’ same for me. Stay alive.” Poison looks up, sees a tentative curve at the corner of Ghoul’s mouth. He sighs, gently resting their foreheads against each other, breath mingling. “Y’know I’d do anything for you. I jus’ want you t’ be safe.”
“Jesus, baby, ‘f course I will.” Poison grips his hand hard.
“An’ — an’ if I do get ghosted. ‘F I can’t help ‘t. They’re gonna need you, Pois. Girly and Kobes an’ Star. Y’ gotta live for them, ‘f that happens. Don’ come lookin’ for me.” Ghoul’s voice has dropped low and quiet, and Poison’s blood runs icy for a split second.
“Promise,” he whispers. “Don’ let that happen, though.”
Poison hears a hint of a smile in Ghoul’s voice, under the weight of the topic of conversation. He tugs slightly on the bottom of Poison’s shirt. “D’you think you could lie down? ‘M not gonna make you sleep ‘f you don’ want to, but ‘s better ‘f you get some rest ‘t least.”
Poison lets Ghoul pull him down to curl against his side, arms around his shoulders. Poison leans up to press a light kiss to the underside of his jaw, before settling back down on the pillow. “Love you, sugar.” There’s a scratchiness to his voice, from crying, but the sentiment is still there.
Ghoul strokes a gentle thumb over his cheek, briefly cupping the side of his face in one palm. “I love you, Pois. ‘M gonna be right here, ‘f you need me.”
Ghoul slips his hand into Poison’s, drifting off in a protective semicircle against Poison’s side. Poison turns his face into the pool of dark hair on the pillow, taking a deep breath. He feels safe, with Ghoul wrapped around him, guarding against the nightmares, and with Ghoul’s greasy hair in his face and an arm like an iron bar over his hips, Poison falls asleep.