♪♫ ♪ (i_stalk_piccolo) wrote in morphz,
♪♫ ♪
i_stalk_piccolo
morphz

I enter bearing a fic.

TITLE: Weightless
SUMMARY: Mertil helps Gafinilan during his last days.
RATING: PG
WARNINGS: MertilxGafinilan slash and character death.
OTHER NOTES: I'd like to dedicate this fic to anyone who has ever taken care of somebody with a terminal illness.


.o
.o
.o

Weightless


.o
.o
.o

Sunlight shone into the greenhouse. I stretched my arms and drank in the warmth. The air had a lingering chill that told me Earth's seasons were changing. Summer to fall.

Children would be attending school again. I did not look forward to that. It meant I was once again restricted to avoiding the windows and walking quietly in the greenhouse.

Why, you ask?

I don't exactly resemble the average human. Some might liken me to a furry blue centaur--a creature of myth on this planet--and my hooves make a racket on the cement patio.

My name is Mertil. I am an Andalite, I have my dignity and that is all one needs to know.

I found what I sought and reached into the southern greenhouse corner for the cluster of mature illsipar plants. Their leafy greenish-purple stalks were easy for an Andalite to spot, but a human would hardly notice them amidst the ordinary scallions.

I pulled a handful of healthy plants and carried them inside. My lack of a tailblade--my state as a vecol--stung the most during this task. I used an ordinary kitchen knife to cut away the leafy part of the illsipar, leaving just the pink bulb. Then I plugged a blender into a wall socket. The blender pulverized the illsipar bulbs into a juicy paste. Its tangy scent filled the kitchen.

Learning to use the blender took practice. The first time, I neglected to replace the lid and illsipar splattered everywhere. I did not repeat that mistake.

I poured the illsipar paste onto a flat pan. I believe the human named Marco called it a cookie sheet. With the cookie sheet in hand, I used my stub of a tail to tap the password into the keypad on the wall. The buttons blinked and the hidden door slid aside.

Gafinilan looked terrible. He was settled on a king sized mattress set on the floor. King sized because nothing else would fit his massive frame. His legs were tucked underneath him. His upper body stayed rigidly straight. Spasms made his bulging muscles move like worms beneath his skin. I noticed all four of his eyes were half closed and glazed in pain. They did not track my movements.

He only had enough sight to see things close up. Anything further than three inches from his face was light, dark and color. I took it upon myself to mark the edges of tables, doorways and steps with bright orange tape I found in the garage. This helped--he did not disgrace himself just trying to walk through the house.

It hurt, seeing him have to lean closer and closer to his plants. I hated watching him suffer in the last stages of Soola's disease. The pain left him nearly immobile. He only rose to check his plants, graze or eliminate biological wastes.

{Gafinilan,} I spoke gently. {I have your illsipar.}

Gafinilan closed all four eyes. He leaned sideways and laboriously worked his left foreleg out from underneath his lower body. I could tell each movement was agony. His giant hoof found the cookie sheet and pressed down. Crushing the root took the strain out of consuming it. When he finished, I scooped what was left into my hand and rubbed it on his hoof. He needed every ounce.

{Is it helping?} I asked.

{A little.} Gafinilan replied. He turned his head away. {I am becoming more of a vecol than you.}

I sighed. We went through this every morning now. At first, we fought. Now, I understood his reasoning. He felt insecure. He needed my reassurance. He needed me.

{You spent a great deal of time and resources caring for me. You didn't leave me. I owe you. Consider this payment.}

He lowered his head.

He smiled.

Gafinilan has a wonderful eye-smile...it appears slowly like a blooming rose and lights a room. His true smile is shy and almost doesn't fit his rugged features. I'm the only person who ever sees it.

I must admit, when we grew up together, his smile affected me. Made me feel things I wasn't supposed to feel for anyone other than a female. I never would have confessed had I not noticed him looking at me exactly the same way I stared at him.

To the general population we were shorms. But we were--we are--so much more. We had a bond beyond words, beyond anything I can describe. We could sense each others' awareness. Sometimes, our thoughtspeak reached across an entire planet.

{Mertil, are you feeding me or massaging me?} Gafinilan asked. A mild joke.

I still had his hoof in my hands. He'd finished absorbing the last of the illsipar root.

{I am checking your pulse.} I teased.

He chuckled and, with effort, pushed himself upright. The illsipar seemed to be working.

I walked with Gafinilan while we grazed on the grass around the mattress. We didn't talk because words weren't always necessary.

A while later, I slipped into the greenhouse to water Gafinilan's plants. We both love gardening. I liked to grow grass. He enjoyed growing exotic Earth plants.

And Gafinilan was neurotic about how his plants were tended. By some internal radar in his brain, he could tell if I watered the potted plants first. He preferred the grounded plants first, potted plants last.

It made no difference to me--the plants got their water either way. But I watered his way to avoid conflict. His time was short, and I didn't want to spend it arguing.

Gafinilan emerged into the greenhouse. He was a slightly darker shade of blue than myself. His eyes matched Earth's grass. They were beautiful even when they didn't focus. He still had enough sight to distinguish me from the greenery.

I could probably hide from him in a forget me not cluster. The blue blossoms match my fur exactly, but we weren't planting those until spring.

Gafinilan wouldn't live to see winter, let alone spring. I almost choked on my breath when I remembered that.

Harsh reminders--I hate them.

Then his low voice snapped me out of my thoughts.

{I hope you watered the roses.}

{I did.} I replied.

{The chrysanthemums?}

{Of course.}

{The daffodil bulbs?}

Exasperated, I faced him fully. {Gafinilan, I'm doing it in the correct order. Stop concerning yourself.}

{Mertil--}

{That's it!}

SSSSSSPLOOSH!

I turned the hose onto Gafinilan, soaking most of his upper body. He gave a startled huff and threw his hands up as his fur slicked down and clung to his muscles. Quite an attractive sight.

Gafinilan took a step and the water pressure died. I shook the hose and looked down the open end. My left eyestalk twisted to examine the hose itself, and I saw my mistake too late.

Gafinilan moved his hoof.

SPLOOSH!

Water sprayed my face. Gafinilan took advantage of my shock by grabbing the hose, plugging the end with his thumb and squirting me.

I was drenched in seconds. Eyestalks to hooves.

{You evil...} I dashed for the other hose we use on the potted plants closer to the entrance. This hose had a spray nozzle attached. I adjusted it, aimed at Gafinilan's hindquarters and squeezed the trigger.

Gafinilan rounded on me in one smooth motion. We ended up running about the greenhouse like children, laughing and dousing each other in freezing cold water.

I can safely say our foolish game watered the plants. If the hoses didn't do it, Gafinilan shaking off certainly did. His longer coat held more water than mine.

{I should get towels to dry us. We don't need to catch yamphut out here.} I said. More because I didn't want him to get cold than anything. Staying cold for too long aggravated his joint pain.

He nodded and I retreated inside. When I came out carrying two large beach towels, I saw Gafinilan furiously crushing more illsipar under his hooves. He was shivering.

I hurried to cover him with two towels. One around his shoulders and the other draped across his lower half. He took a step and fell over sideways. Not a slow sinking, not controlled. He just toppled. I flinched at the impact.

{Gafinilan!}

{It isn't working.} Gafinilan whispered. He wasn't shivering. He was shaking from the pain. {I can't do this anymore. I can't do this.}

He tried to rise.

He collapsed with a cry of pain.

By some miracle I helped him up. I kept him on his hooves long enough to walk indoors. In the kitchen, he crumpled onto his side again. His legs and hands curled close against his body. He breathed raggedly, his sides heaving. Water drops dribbled down his face like tears.

I covered him with my towels and rubbed vigorously. Rushing to dry him as if warmth would stop the pain. I felt his muscles all shifting in uncontrolled spasms under my palms. He'd suffer this agony for many days until the muscles responsible for breathing stopped working.

Fortunately, his agony could be averted. The humans we met months ago--one of them works with sick animals. She could help Gafinilan with his pain. He didn't have to suffer. And I wouldn't let him.

{It's time. I will call for help.}

{No, Mertil!}

{Gafinilan! We talked about this. Our human friends have worked out a way to maintain your dignity during this part of your illness. I will see to it. Do not deter me!}

He couldn't even though he wanted to. He didn't want anybody to see him this way. Sometimes, he is too stubborn for his own good!

I galloped inside our hidden grazing room. A computer sat next to a phone jack, the wire already attached. I pressed the numeral keys and waited while the line rang.

The call would go to Erek King, a Chee disguised as a teenager, and he would relay it to Cassie. Erek knew the plan, and knew what it meant when this phone call came. So did Cassie. We worked out what coded words to say to deter prying ears.

"Hello?" Cassie's voice crackled in the computer speakers.

I typed on the keyboard: Cassie, this is Walter. My sister's horse is in dire straits. Assistance requested. Relay, GA.

Erek relayed what I typed.

"Okay. I'm bringing the vet over. Give us two hours. It's a long drive."

Actually, it was fifteen minutes.

Thank you. Goodbye.

"Bye, Walt."

Cassie's line hung up.

"See you soon." Erek said before the line went dead.

I ran back to Gafinilan.

But Gafinilan had forced himself upright again. He leaned heavily on the kitchen counter. His hooves kept slipping on the wet tile floor, and I felt guilty for putting him in this situation.

{Don't do it, Mertil.} He glared at me through a stalk eye. {You're blaming yourself. Stop it. Stop it right n--}

He groaned and slumped to the floor again. Voluntarily. Pain tensed his whole body, eyestalks to hooves, and he could no longer hide the agony. He stayed lying on his side with his legs drawn up to his underbelly.

{This is the part I fear the most. This is--AAH!} Gafinilan's eyes squeezed shut. The tremors continued. {I hate this!}

I said nothing. I just toweled him off until he was dry.

Fifteen minutes went by. Someone knocked on the door.

Two knocks. A pause. Three knocks.

{I'll be right back.} I said, and rushed for the door. I used a stalk eye to check through the peep hole before I unlocked and opened it to let Cassie and Erek inside.

Both wore dirty overalls and old denim baseball caps pulled low over their faces. Cassie carried a silver pole, a blue box and a duffle bag. Erek had spare blankets and a silver tank with clear tubing attached. All items that I recognized from a human medical show called ER.

They shed their hats immediately upon entering. Cassie's had a false ponytail attached to the back.

{He fell in the kitchen.} I said as I closed the door and locked it. {I got him up once, but this time I just can't.}

"That's why we're here," Cassie replied. She touched my shoulder. I guess she noticed the sadness on my face. "It'll be okay, Mertil. We'll help you take care of him."

Erek was already kneeling next to Gafinilan. He spoke low and Gafinilan kept his thoughtspeak private. Then Erek wrapped both arms around Gafinilan's waist and pulled. Seeing this boy who looked human help up an Andalite two feet taller than himself was a sight to behold.

They walked together into the hidden room just off the kitchen. Gafinilan barely made it.

I looked at Cassie. {How will I know the morphine is working?}

"I'm not sure. It can depend on the problem and how close people are to dying. I know it makes humans sleepy, but it stops the pain and can make breathing a little easier." Cassie said as she assembled the infusion pump for the intravenous fluids. "You'll see a difference in his pain level if it works."

Erek emerged and told Cassie Gafinilan's exact weight. Her eyes widened.

"I'm glad I brought a lot." She muttered to herself. Then she took her collection of equipment into the other room.

Gafinilan was curled up on the mattress, his lower half covered by the blankets Erek brought. He kept his face placid. The hand gripping the mattress betrayed him.

"Hey, Gafinilan." Cassie knelt in front of him. "It's Cassie. How are you?"

My shorm's eyes narrowed. {Don't patronize me.}

"Easy, man. Cassie is just being Cassie," said Erek. He shot me a wry smile.

Gafinilan gave Erek a look that could freeze an atomic explosion. I just sighed and watched Cassie start the intravenous line. She used the large vein on the back of Gafinilan's wrist. Then she hooked the bag to the silver stand and adjusted the digital numbers on the pump.

{I am sorry he is not cordial,} I told Erek and Cassie privately.

Erek raised a hand with a shake of his head. A nonverbal cue saying not to worry. Cassie nodded without speaking and fussed over the infusion pump until it functioned properly.

I noticed she'd brought a small square of fluorescent yellow paper. A Post-It note. She tore a piece of the sticky part off and stuck it over a blue button on the pump.

"Mertil, Gafinilan, look over at the pump. I've set the dosage, but the button under the bright yellow will give a bolus dose. Use it for breakthrough pain. And if you accidentally kink the line, it'll beep at you." She turned back to Gafinilan. "Erek and I will stay out in the regular part of the house. Please, call us if you need something. We'll help you with anything you need."

Gafinilan avoided their gaze, but he nodded his head once.

{Do you have an excuse to avoid suspicion?} I asked her.

"Sure. I'm out camping with Rachel, who is legitimately going camping with her family for the weekend."

{Okay, good.}

"And if the big guy needs help getting up, call me." Erek added. He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his overalls. "Gaf, how's it feel?"

{Gafinilan,} Gafinilan growled, {and it isn't working yet.}

"It might take a bit because of your size," said Cassie. She rubbed Gafinilan's shoulder and looked into his main eyes. "You've done your job, Gafinilan. We all know you're a tough guy. That won't change because you're sick. I don't know any tough guys who haven't cried or felt bad once in awhile. It's okay to ask for help. That doesn't make you weak."

Gafinilan's expression softened--from absolute zero to a few degrees below freezing. Cassie seemed to have that effect on people.

{Thank you.} He said.

She smiled and left the room with Erek. They spoke softly outside, but low enough not to disturb us.

{I'm sorry.} Gafinilan said. He let his eyestalks droop. Any Andalite who lets his eyestalks hang is very ill, but I didn't let it alarm me.

{You have nothing to apologize for.} I replied.

He seized my hands with a strength I didn't know he had. {I made promises to you. I made vows to you.}

I remembered the day so clearly. We ran away in secret before our mission on the GalaxyTree. We journeyed to the shores of Elupera and exchanged private marriage vows beside the sparkling water. No one would hold a ceremony for us if they knew our relationship. It didn't matter--in our eyes and the eyes of whatever God exists, we are married.

Same-gendered marriage is legal in some places on Earth. Sometimes, I've been tempted...if only my appearance wouldn't incite screaming.

I clung to Gafinilan's large hands. They swallowed mine completely. And they quivered.

{Dying is not your fault!} I snapped at him. {The Soola's disease isn't your fault, either! Stop this!}

{Your tail...}

{--isn't your fault, either. You know that.}

Gafinilan squeezed my hands. He was crying the way Andalites do--in his hearts. He didn't let me hear it. But I could sense it.

I dropped into a kneel in front of him and pulled his upper body towards me. He never used to let me embrace him. This time, he did. He was trembling.

{Mertil,} he groaned. His main eyes squinted at me. The look in them bordered on panic. {I can't see your face anymore.}

Then Gafinilan rested his forehead against mine and let me hear him cry. I've never heard him cry like this...and all I could do was hold him. We cried, clung to each other and cried some more.

I felt Gafinilan relax in my arms. His head lowered to my shoulder. He was asleep in moments.

The morphine worked.

He'd fallen asleep, but I kept holding him anyway. It was my turn to be strong.

.o

Gafinilan slept for three straight days.

I spent them dipping his back hoof into a bucket of water and tending to the biological needs that followed.

When he woke, Cassie, Erek and I bathed him. Thoroughly. He'd been neglecting his grooming due to pain, so we took care of everything. We cleaned his ears, trimmed his hooves and brushed the mats out of his fur.

Gafinilan didn't complain, partly because he drifted in and out of sleep throughout the process. Deep down, I think he greatly appreciated the grooming. His blue fur had its shine again. He looked just like he did the day he was named a warrior.

"When you look good, you feel better," Cassie said.

And Gafinilan felt well enough to join us in the greenhouse. The pole with the intravenous bag squeaked when he wheeled it along.

Morphine is an incredible medicine. Gafinilan was drowsy, but he could smile again. He could walk with minimal pain. He even joined us when Erek introduced a card game called "poker."

I watched him hold the cards close to his face. He set them down and declared a royal flush. Erek threw his cards onto the table. Cassie and I laughed.

An hour into the game, I saw him reach over and press the button on the pump. Then he excused himself and paced around the greenhouse. Stopping by each plant he put into the earth or hung in a pot. I saw him touch them--particularly the deep red rose blossom that just opened today.

He paused, holding his left elbow. I sensed the pain he wouldn't openly verbalize.

{Mertil, stay and enjoy their company.}

Gafinilan staggered back into the house. I held my breath for his inevitable fall, but it never came. Cassie watched him with the same trepidation. Worried humans tend to fidget and chew their bottom lip.

I lost my desire to continue the poker game. The cards fell from my hands onto the table as I hung my head. {Cassie, please check on him. Don't tell him I sent you.}

She nodded and left the table.

"It's hard." Erek said after Cassie slipped indoors.

{Excuse me?}

"Watching people die. It's hard."

Being a Chee, he has seen far more death than anybody else I know. Natural and unnatural.

{He is my world.} I admitted. {I can't plan ahead after his death. I see advertisements on the television for movies coming out after he will be gone. I see flowers that won't bloom before he dies...I just see dates beyond the number of days he has left, and they don't make sense. The time I can see and plan for is the time he still has. Beyond that...} I gestured helplessly. {I can't remember a time when he wasn't in my life. I...oh, I don't know how to explain this!}

"It's like everything stops." Erek replied.

I peered at him. He looked like any teenaged boy--slightly shorter than average with messy brown hair cropped short--but his eyes showed a wisdom many centuries old. Behind that boy's face was an android resembling some sort of canine standing on its hind legs.

"But," he went on, "It's not the end of everything. Life is energy. Energy transforms...it can't be destroyed. I can't say if the consciousness stays intact or not. I just know a person doesn't simply cease to exist once they die."

{Even if he remains aware and alert, he won't be here. No matter what, dying means he'll be gone from me.}

"That's always the hard part about it, Mertil. You want their pain to stop, but you feel selfish and want them to stay. You do a lot of your crying while they're still here, and then you feel relieved when they finally pass. Kinda creates a cognitive dissonance, doesn't it?" Erek smiled wryly at me.

I folded my arms over my chest. A human gesture I see often on television. They do it when they feel defensive or don't entirely believe what they hear.

{Yes.} I grumbled. {Yes, it does.}

I was glad he didn't try to distract me from discussing how I felt. Gafinilan does that all the time--he never liked talking to me about his own demise.

I thanked Erek for listening before my mind drifted to another concern. Cassie was gone longer than expected, and I wanted to make sure Gafinilan didn't pin her to the wall with his tailblade.

So I ventured inside to investigate. I fully expected to hear agonized screams.

Instead, I heard Cassie speaking and Gafinilan's quiet thoughtspeak responses.

"...transeamus. It's Latin. It means 'a crossing over.'"

{That's interesting.} Gafinilan replied gruffly. {Who told you about this?}

"My grandma's hospice nurse. She talked my grandma through her last breaths. I was there. I saw it. It was beautiful."

{You...would do this for me?}

"I'd be glad to. That story you told me is perfect for it."

I was slightly hurt that Gafinilan talked to Cassie about this and not me. We told each other everything.

Before I could storm away, the door opened enough to let Cassie out. She startled at my presence.

"Oh!"

I moved back to let her pass. {He talked to you. I heard the end of your conversation.}

Her eyes softened. She smiled sadly. "Sometimes people think it's easier to talk to somebody not as close to them. He loves you, Mertil. His face lit up when I said your name. He told me he'll love you even after he's gone."

Sometimes, I envied the human ability to cry tears. Cassie spotted my pained expression. She embraced me and petted the back of my head while I cried into her mind.

"He's getting close to the end." She whispered. "Talk to him. Even when he looks like he's asleep, talk to him."

{Wouldn't that be pointless?} I sobbed, and immediately felt childish.

"Some say the dying are more aware of their surroundings than we might think. It's like...have you ever seen a birth before?"

{Yes. I helped a female technician who came to work in early labor, and she gave birth sooner than expected. We were far from help. I had to help her through her pain and deliver the infant.}

"Dying is the same thing." Cassie squeezed my shoulder and looked into my main eyes again. "The dying person's body does things to get ready, just like a woman's body changes to get ready for birth. I dunno how labor works with Andalites, but a human in labor has to focus and relax a lot to let her body do what it's made to do. It's a complete surrender. She might not answer if somebody talks to her, but she can hear them. Gafinilan is doing the same thing, in a way. It's just he's letting out his soul instead of a baby."

I flinched. {Is that why he has pain?}

"Some of it, yeah." Cassie's eyes were faraway, remembering. They seemed wetter than usual; sometimes human eyes shed tears without full-on crying. She wiped at them. "Dying is personal for everybody. They let go a little at a time. I think he said goodbye to his plants tonight."

{What makes you think that?}

"Just the way he was touching them. I talked to him about the letting go part. Most people don't let go and die until they feel ready. There's a little bit of control. Sometimes they hold on until you give them permission to go. My grandma did." She rubbed my upper arms with both of her hands, another human gesture of comfort. "He might say goodbye to you pretty soon. Be ready for that."

All at once, I didn't feel so hurt by Gafinilan not talking to me about the issue. Cassie was a very smart human. I trusted her wisdom, and I'm sure Gafinilan does, too.

{Thank you, Cassie.} I found myself smiling at her and rubbing her upper arms like she did mine.

She glanced down at my hands and smiled back. "You're welcome. You should start thinking about saying goodbye to him, too."

My hearts ached at those words. How do you say goodbye forever to the love of your life?

I slipped into the hidden room. Gafinilan was stretched diagonally across the mattress. Seeing him laying on his side with all four eyes closed proved disconcerting. His lack of response to my calling his name frightened me. I told myself what Cassie said to me--that he knew I was in the room.

{I'll email the college for you.} I said. I trotted to the computer console connected to the phone line. {I'll tell your superiors that you have taken ill, and don't know when you'll return. I'll save the news of your passing for a more legitimate length of time.}

Gafinilan breathed.

I sent the email and turned off the computer.

.o

Clanks startled me. Daylight flooded through the tiny ventilation window near the ceiling. The patch of sun shone across the intravenous line entering Gafinilan's hand.

I must have fallen asleep next to the computer. How embarrassing!

Erek shuffled towards Cassie with the waste bucket in his hand.

"Barely anything." He said.

"He didn't drink at all when I put his hoof in the water pan earlier. I measured it out. He won't absorb grass, either." Cassie replied. I heard the snap of her chewing on a fingernail. "It's getting close. I upped the morphine a little."

I twisted my stalk eyes to look at them. They noticed my movement.

{How is he?}

Erek leaned over and whispered to me, "Cassie thinks he might go today."

No! This was all too fast, too sudden. Four days ago, Gafinilan and I were laughing and making fools of ourselves! How could his health plummet so fast?

I didn't wait for Cassie and Erek to leave the area. I knelt by the mattress where Gafinilan hadn't moved an inch since last night. His breathing came regularly with little gasps here and there.

He looked vulnerable.

But not weak.

Never weak.

Long ago, he used to be self conscious of his size. He was larger than most Andalites our age. People mistook him for a full warrior. Next to him I always felt like a scrawny, clumsy child.

Then we grew up. We became warriors together. We lived. We loved in secret. Our lives folded into one another like two vines sharing a trellis.

I took his hand in mine. {Can you hear me, my love?}

Gafinilan didn't answer in words. Just a faint touch between his mind and mine that told me yes, he could hear me. I was amazed--and comforted.

I stroked his face, kissing him again and again. A kiss for every smile. A kiss for every wonderful moment. A kiss for every kiss he gave me. I felt those memories sliding into a safe place between my hearts. They weren't disappearing. The future might be short, but nothing could take those memories away.

I would be okay as long as I held onto those memories.

Gafinilan opened his main eyes as I caressed his cheekbone. They were clear for the first time in days.

{Marry me again.} He said.

Cassie and Erek left us alone.

{Can you sit up?}

Gafinilan tried. He struggled. He couldn't do it.

I helped him with a strength I didn't know I had. We both scooted into the same little patch of sunlight. Gafinilan arched his tail forward and twined it around what was left of mine.

{Gafinilan-Estrif-Valad, I give all that I am to you. I vow to be faithful, strong and loving through the good and the bad, through...} I paused, staring deep into his sparkling eyes, {...through sickness and strength with no desire for any other. I pledge my life to you. I pledge my love to you even into the veil of death. In the sight of the Ellimist, I am yours.}

{Oh, my Mertil-Iscar-Elmand...I give all that I am to you. I vow to be faithful, strong and loving through the good and the bad, through sickness and strength with no desire for any other. I pledge my life to you. I pledge my love to you, even in--} His eyes shimmered, {--even beyond the veil of death. In the sight of the Ellimist, I am yours.}

We reached up, cupped each others' faces and leaned forward until our foreheads touched.

{Beyond death.} I whispered to him.

{Yes,} Gafinilan replied. {Will you be okay, Mertil?}

The question weighed more than our vows. My answer would determine whether or not he died a peaceful death.

{Yes. I think so.}

{Good. That's good.} Then his eyes glazed over. His strength melted. {The GalaxyTree is leaving soon. Better get ready.}

I didn't try to correct him.

{I know. There are a lot of people waiting for you there. Captain Nerefir and Elfangor to name a few. Oh! Don't forget that you still have two service hours left in the antigravity column. You need to work on your space walking credits.}

{Yeah, I know. Let's go...I'm ready.} Gafinilan mumbled. {I'm going to jump higher than you.}

I chuckled and rubbed his back. My usual response to that taunt leapt out on its own accord. {Keep dreaming, fool.}

{Idiot.} He said affectionately. Then he sagged against me. I helped him lay down again. He was asleep again in seconds.

.o

Morning melted into afternoon. I watered Gafinilan's plants again while Cassie ordered Chinese takeout. She gave the address to the house next door. Erek waited for it using a hologram of a curvaceous female blonde.

The food came, and it smelled foul to me. Cassie ate it using two sticks instead of traditional silverware. I withheld my complaints. Grass didn't exactly appeal to humans, so I had no room to complain about Earthly cuisine. I am a guest on this planet, after all, and I don't want to be impolite.

Erek sat with Gafinilan while I tended the house. I cleaned the countertops. I had Cassie teach me how to operate the vacuum cleaner. I hated the noise, but it worked great on the carpet. She discouraged me from using it on the grass in the grazing room.

"Your hooves do fine on the grass," she said, amused. "Here, you should let me mop the tiles. You don't want to be slipping and absorbing the soap when you walk around in here."

I yielded and laid on the mattress with Gafinilan while the kitchen floor dried. Then I puttered more. Erek relieved me so I could tend my own biological needs. I napped briefly in the greenhouse.

Erek emerged. "Where's Mertil?"

"In the greenhouse. How's Gafinilan doing?" Cassie asked.

"He's struggling, but he's pretty out of it." Erek looked from her to me. "I said my goodbyes to him. Did you?"

"Yeah." She nodded, lowering her head.

Time stretched. Seconds were hours. Minutes were eons. Gafinilan spent them gasping and panting.

I stood by the front window and watched the sunset. It was brilliant red and gold like the sky on my home planet. Gafinilan would not be here the next time the sun rose. It hurt. It hurt me beyond my hearts. I couldn't even cry.

Erek came out as the last color faded from the sky. He put his hand on my shoulder and met my main eyes. "It's time, Mertil."

I looked at Cassie with my stalk eyes. She nodded and followed me. I almost slipped on the freshly cleaned tiles in my haste to reach the concealed room.

Gafinilan had the plastic oxygen mask strapped over his nostril slits. The mask fogged and un-fogged each time he breathed. He was on his side, facing the door.

Erek left the lights on low, yet in the dimness I saw how pale Gafinilan had become since I last saw him. The delicate membranes inside his ears were sickly white. He took sharp sips of air, struggling. Struggling just to drag air into his lungs. I could see the muscles in his throat strain with every labored breath.

Yet he was awake. He turned towards me when I knelt by the mattress.

{Hey.} I said.

Gafinilan blinked slowly and pushed the oxygen mask off his face. He panted louder without it, but still had the energy to squeeze my hand. Strong even in his fragility.

{Erek, turn off the morphine. I want to stay awake.}

"Are you sure?"

{Yes.}

Erek shut down the infusion pump. Its quiet whirr had been such a part of the background that I noticed its absence.

Gafinilan took the needle out of his hand and tossed it aside. He refocused on me. {Mertil, did you water the plants for me?}

I laid myself down amidst his legs. He moved them to cradle my lower body and grant me more room. I wanted to be face to face and chest to chest with him.

{Yes, Gafinilan. I've taken care of everything.} I said. I stroked his cheek with my palm. Our faces were inches apart. I could smell the cleanliness of his fur and felt grateful that he'd been bathed so recently. His dignity was intact. No matter what happened, he had his dignity.

He touched my face. {I love you.}

I shivered, {I love you, too.}

Gafinilan blinked--more of a flutter than a true blink. He fell asleep. Then he woke up again, seconds later, gasping. {Mertil, I'm exhausted. I think...I think I'd like to...like to go now.}

{Gafinilan...} My internal organs clenched. I tried to be strong for him. {Then go.}

{It's okay with you?} His thoughtspeak sounded so far away.

{It's okay.}

{Okay.} He closed his eyes. {Okay...}

Cassie knelt behind Gafinilan's head. She petted the back of his neck. "Gafinilan? It's Cassie. We talked about this moment. This is your transeamus. Are you ready?"

Gafinilan's brow twitched. He rubbed my cheek with his thumb.

{I'm ready.} He whispered.

I glanced up at Cassie, but she stayed focused on Gafinilan. And Gafinilan's thumb kept caressing me below my left main eye. He was dying, and he thought only of me...

"You're at the space port. Mertil is there, too. Can you see everything?"

Another faint nod. He kept fighting for air. It sounded painful, but his face stayed calm.

"You're climbing into the antigravity column. The huge, clear one the warrior cadets like to play with. It's quiet in there, and Mertil is right there with you." Cassie rubbed his shoulder. "He's turning the antigravity floor on right now. Can you feel the difference?"

Gafinilan's breath rattled. A frightening sound. I wanted to flee and come back later when I felt more prepared. But I stayed right there, petting his cheek.

"You feel lighter now." Cassie went on, "Kick off the floor. The gravity is getting weaker. Every time you kick off the floor, you go higher. You're grabbing at clouds. They're so close now. So close. You're laughing and having fun..."

I could see that memory so clearly. It was the hardest I'd ever seen Gafinilan laugh--the day we jumped into that chamber and behaved like two fools. No one thought Gafinilan had any grace in him. Yet, in zero gravity...he could twist his body into the most beautiful shapes. He could dance.

Our first kiss happened in that chamber. I remember...we drifted too close together during our fooling about. Gafinilan grabbed my hands so we wouldn't be bounced apart. Our eyes met and held like magnets. We reached up at the same time and stroked each others' cheek. He told me I was the most beautiful Andalite he'd ever seen.

He told me that even after I lost my tailblade in the crash, and it meant so much.

"You're up in the clouds now, so high. You're drifting with them." Cassie closed her eyes. "It's so peaceful. There is love everywhere. All around you."

Gafinilan's inhalations and exhalations were only shallow sips. In and out. Smaller and smaller.

"Now give one more big kick and zoom right on up into that sky."

He took a big breath and let it out. I thought that was the end, but he went right back to sucking in tiny gasps. His thumb settled on my cheek and I felt his hand relax. He was unconscious.

I felt...something...

"You're so high now, Gafinilan. You can see everything from up there. It's not scary. It's wonderful." Cassie said. She smiled a shaky smile.

My awareness of him snapped to full alert. His consciousness, that part of him I could feel whenever he was wide awake--I sensed it expanding. Literally expanding like a growing bubble.

Gafinilan wasn't shrinking away. He wasn't fading. If anything, he grew brighter and stronger as his awareness slipped beyond the boundaries of his ailing body. He surrounded me. The room. The house. The city block. He was a ship ready to escape its docking clamps and streak into the stars.

His chest rose, his throat tightened and his nostrils flared, but he wasn't moving air anymore. Even that happened less and less. Smaller and smaller.

"You're weightless now." Cassie shivered. She was remarkable. "You're completely weightless. Fly away. You're free now. You're free."

Gafinilan kept gasping. His lungs wouldn't expand. I don't think he felt the lack of oxygen.

{Gafinilan, I know you can hear me.} I said privately. Hope rose within me. Hope for him. {You're nearly there. Just let go. It's okay.}

I saw his expression change. He looked relieved of a burden.

Suddenly, his attempts to breathe ceased. I felt his awareness spring away into the universe. All that struggle, and it ended in one second.

He was free.

Erek jerked his head up. He blinked. I know he felt what I did.

Cassie's fingers moved to Gafinilan's throat. Did she know? Could she feel it, too? She smoothed the fur down touched my shoulder. No, she couldn't, but I think she knew what happened.

Cassie looked up at Erek, who bowed his head again. He smiled slightly at me.

"He did great," he said.

{Yes.} I still felt euphoric for Gafinilan's sake. I thought I'd be full of sorrow, but...I was glad for him. {Please, let me be alone with him.}

Cassie and Erek both touched my arm before they left. I was grateful for their understanding.

Reality crashed into me once I was alone.

Two minutes ago, Gafinilan had a heartbeat. Two minutes ago, he was still breathing. Then he slipped away between the tick and tock of time, and the universe kept going as if nothing happened. I had expected everything to stop. I felt angry that time didn't acknowledge his passing.

But why should it stop when he didn't?

Gafinilan looked so content. I buried my face in his throat and breathed in his scent. He was utterly still.

{You did it.} I said. {Now, I need to do my part.}

When an Andalite warrior dies, his comrades or loved ones would arrange his body for viewing. His tail was shifted into its battle arch. His legs were bent as if in mid-leap and his hands clasped at his chest. A leaping battle pose, but lying down.

Eyestalks are the first part to stiffen after death, so they had to be laid in a natural position as soon as possible.

I adjusted Gafinilan's body in the dark. I knelt by his head for a long time, holding his hand. Every moment I had with him mattered.

Then I went into the greenhouse, clipped the rose he'd touched before and placed it in his clasped hands. In the dim lights, the red blossom looked black against his blue fur.

Sunrise was six hours away. Six hours that I couldn't imagine an hour ago. Now the hope of a promise kept me going.

I needed to take care of his body before the sun came up because I didn't want to see or remember him dead. A part of me feared the morning would reveal a pained expression on his face. I'd rather tell myself he looked peaceful.

And I keep my promises.

I grabbed one of the shredders on the long table by the wall.

Gafinilan knew he was going to die here on Earth. He told me what to do with his body after he died. I balked at his request, initially. Now, I understood his reasoning. Even in the end, he made choices in order to protect me from harm.

I began the funeral ritual.

{Sunrise to sunset,} I lifted my tail high, {from blossom to wither,} I let my tail touch the ground, {all life must flower and fade.} Then I dipped forward in a respectful Andalite bow, {Gafinilan-Estrif-Valad, I commend you to the universe.}

Breathing in, I dialed the shredder to its highest setting. I took aim.

TSEEEEWW!

Green light filled the room. Gafinilan's glorious body glowed and vaporized, leaving only a faint burn mark on the mattress.

Cassie and Erek rushed in. I set the shredder down where I got it and faced them.

{Gafinilan wanted his body vaporized after death. I fulfilled his wish.}

Cassie's breathing quieted. Erek put his arm around her. She relaxed against him.

"Sorry..." She said. "I thought..."

{I understand.}

I looked off to the side, remembering why I didn't turn that shredder onto myself.

{My tail is gone! Gone! I'm a cripple! A vecol! I can't live like this!}

Gafinilan used his tail as a tourniquet on mine. My ugly, mutilated tail. He gave me a look that could freeze supernovae. {Shut up, Mertil. You still have a life to live. You have a future. Live it.}

{Without you?} I gasped.

{When that time comes, yes. Elfangor said it better than I can: 'Out of respect for life, you have to endure.' Don't wimp out on me, Mertil. The day after I die, you will go outside and watch the sun come up. You will remind yourself that life goes on. I don't care if it's freezing out, I'll make it warm. It'll be me saying I love you. Promise you'll do that for me.}

I looked away. I didn't want to think of life without Gafinilan.

I couldn't.

He made me. By pinching my wounded tail.

{Ow! I promise! I promise!}

Gafinilan wiped his bloody fingers--my blood--across a wound on his muscular chest. {It is sealed.}


"Mertil? Mertil. Hey." Cassie called me back to the present. When I looked up, she asked, "Are you okay?"

I nodded my head, but I wasn't completely honest. I wasn't okay right now.

But I would be.

Eventually.

I thanked Cassie and Erek for their help, and assisted them in packing up the unused supplies they'd brought. I couldn't thank them enough for making Gafinilan's last days so wonderful.

Erek caught Cassie's attention when she disassembled the infusion pump.

"We should go before it gets light out there. Less chance of some Yeerk spotting you."

Cassie looked up at me. "Aren't we leaving a little soon after...well..."

{It's all right.}

"Mertil--"

{Call Marco.} I told her, smiling. {I made a promise to him to stay in contact.}

Her eyes brightened. She nodded to Erek and he nodded back.

"I'll do that. But are you sure you're okay here alone?"

Not really...but I had to find my own way. I wouldn't hesitate to ask for help later. Just not right now.

Erek said, "Andalites are tough, Cassie. He'll be all right."

She met Erek's eyes. Not wholly convinced.

{I am a warrior, Cassie. He was a comrade.}

"He was more than that to you."

{Yes. But life must continue. Gafinilan wanted it that way, and I will respect his wishes.} I bowed as I would for a superior officer. {Thank you for making his last days bearable. I will do anything to repay this debt.}

"Ah, Mertil." Erek patted my shoulder. "Call me up if you need a phone relay. How about that? I'm always available."

{Thanks.}

"Take care of yourself. Call us if you need anything. I mean anything." Cassie hugged me. Her cheeks were wet and she was understandably reluctant to leave me. "See you around."

I returned her embrace. It didn't seem strange anymore. I kept my thoughts to myself. If she sensed my grief, she'd insist upon staying and I needed to face my emotions on my own.

Cassie broke the hug first. "He was a great guy when he wasn't grumpy."

I chuckled. {Yes, he was.}

We parted ways. I stayed just inside the front entranceway to watch them leave.

Erek walked her to his hologram of a delivery truck. They climbed in. The hologram transformed into a simple white Volkswagon beetle--an older model, if my memory serves.

Cassie waved as the car pulled onto the road.

I waved back. Then I closed the door and locked it.

Alone, in a silent house.

Alone, I broke down.

I staggered to the mattress and cried silently until sleep found me. In my dreams, I saw Gafinilan running with no trace of illness in his body. I couldn't cry for him when he looked so happy and free.

And I slept peacefully for the rest of the night.

.o

The next morning, I rose before the sun. The greenhouse was freezing and miserable. Clouds marred the eastern sky. I stood there in the cold, and I witnessed the most beautiful sunrise I'd ever seen in my life. The horizon shone red, then pink, then yellow--and then the burning hot sun burst through the clouds like salvation.

I stopped shivering and looked around in complete awe. Dew drops sparkled on a spider's web. Flowers glistened in rainbow colors. Everything shone clean and new--even me. I smelled the sweetness of a rosebud. I tasted the tangy grass. I touched the soft ferns. I listened to the birds. I experienced the life given back to me the day Gafinilan and I crashed on this planet.

My tail healed. Not like it was, but it healed. And so would this wound.

Looking again at the sun, I smiled even as my hearts cried.

Goodbye, Gafinilan. I love you.


.oO END Oo.




For all the times I tried for this,
and every chance at you I missed...
I’ve been known to go my way, but I confess--
it made me miss you more.

I drew my line across the sand
and set my flag in no man’s land.
But here I am the one man band
with a song that's meant for two.

And there is a light, from a higher window
shining down on you tonight.
And the music floats on the breeze,
bringing an easier time...
And all of our cards are on the table.
Tell me what you want to do.
Just don't tell me that it's too late
for me to love you.

How perfect we were meant to be?
Our warm and silent symmetry...
It's times like these when all, all we need
is to be reminded...

Ohh and I have flown a thousand miles
to empty rooms and crowded aisles!
And we went from cathedral bells
to show and tell and wish you wells!
And I, I still look at you and I am blinded!
I am blinded!

Because there is a light, from a higher window
shining down on us tonight!
And the music floats on the breeze
from an easier time...

And all of our cards are on the table!
Tell me what you want to do.
Just don't tell me that it's too late.
Don't tell me that it’s too late now--
just don’t tell me that it's too late
for me to love you.


-- Josh Groban, "Higher Window"
Subscribe
  • Post a new comment

    Error

    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your IP address will be recorded 

  • 0 comments