Rae’s eyes fluttered, unable to focus. All she saw was a washed-out grey that her brain refused to interpret as either light or dark. Her body felt light and airy, as her head had felt at times when she went too long without eating. She had the feeling that, if she just let go, she might float away.
The voice sounded familiar, somehow, but she couldn’t place it. “Hello?”
The source of the voice swam into her view, still blurred, all color washed from it by whatever it was that affected her vision. Rae blinked, trying to clear her eyes, but nothing happened. Still, she recognized the figure, despite its smeared borders. “Alphi?”
“It’s me,” Alphi said. She felt him press close, his fur against her skin. He was so very warm. His warmth made her realize just how cold she had been before.
“You… you can talk?”
“Not really,” Alphi said. “For these few liminal moments, your mind is filling in words that I might have spoken.”
“What?” Rae felt dizzy. The lightness made it hard for her to think and focus. Even her toes and fingertips felt dizzy.
“Yes,” Alphi said. “I can talk, for a bit, before you have to go.”
“Where am I going?”
“Away.” Alphi pushed closer, hard, pressing as much of his body as he could against her. Rae felt his hot tongue against her cheek.
“I don’t want to go away,” Rae said. “I want to stay with you.”
“I know.” Alphi leaned in, settling down against the curve of her body, as he had done every night for years as they fell asleep. “I don’t want you to go, either, but everyone goes eventually.”
“I’m sorry.” The tingling feeling of sadness, of tears that she couldn’t quite unleash, welled up in her chest.
“No,” Alphi said, rubbing his head against her. “No no. No need to be sorry. I love you.”
“I love you, too.” Rae tried to reach out and pet him, but she couldn’t seem to find his body, or her arms to move them in the first place. “I’m sorry for… I don’t know. For all the times I wasn’t with you.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Alphi said. “When you left to go somewhere, it only meant I got to be even happier to see you when you came back.”
“I’m sorry for all the times I didn’t play with you, or take you for a walk when I should have.”
“Shh,” Alphi said. He turned to kiss her face again. “I love you. There’s no need for that. You know I loved you anyway. Now’s not the time for sorrys or sorrows. Now is just the time for being together one last time.”
“I won’t get to see you again?”
“You won’t be coming back,” Alphi said. “Not this time. It’s okay, though. Please don’t be sorry anymore.”
“Okay.” Rae wanted to wrap her arms around him and hold him tight, but the lightness consumed her. Her arms felt effervescent. She still couldn’t quite find them. What a silly thing to misplace. Her arms. Her legs. She wasn’t sure where those were, either.
“Maybe I’ll come to you, someday,” Alphi said.
“I would like that,” Rae said. “Will you come find me?”
“I can try,” Alphi said. “I know I’ll have to leave, too, someday.”
“Please try,” Rae said. “I’m going to miss you.”
“I’ll miss you, too,” Alphi said. “If I can, I’ll find you. I just don’t know where you’re going.”
“Oh. I thought you knew.” It had been comforting to think that someone knew, because Rae did not. She had no idea where she was headed or why she was leaving. She wanted to stay with Alphi forever. His soft warmth against her felt so very, very good.
“I think nobody really knows,” Alphi said. “I just know it’s away from here, and that way you go there, I say goodbye.”
“Is it time?” Alphi said.
Rae thought it might be. She felt drifty, like smoke being blown away by the wind.
“I love you,” Alphi said. “You told me once you could never say that enough. I can’t, either. I love you. I love you. I love you.”
“I love you, Alphi.”