The Love Of A Dog [Trade]

Story by

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

something quite a bit different that what I normally do. My part of a trade with the nice MrWoofles, who wanted a story about a guide dog in love with her owner. I hope you enjoy.

Rhea was still a puppy when she had her first experience with a human. She couldn't remember exactly when she'd met him, but had rather known him for all the time that she could remember: he was tall, especially so considering her smallness; he had short brown hair and a soft, gentle voice; and sometimes late at night, he'd lift her up into his bed, lie down next to her, and just watch her face with his sky-blue eyes until she fell asleep, feeling warm and safe.

She was one in a litter with five other puppies, the only female among a horde of brothers. Her mother was a husky and her father a mutt, so each one of her siblings looked almost unrelated to the next. They were raised together for the most part, though about the time Rhea started having insatiable urges to chew on anything she could get her mouth around, she started seeing her siblings less and less, eventually to the point where she saw them maybe twice or once a week at the squarish building in which she spent most of her time.

That squarish building wasn't the home of the man with the soft voice and the blue eyes - Sean, she'd learned his name to be, based on what everyone else called him when he brought her to the squarish building and especially one time when he threw a little yellow ball for her to fetch, but ended up pitching it through a window. Rhea gradually came to think about things other than her siblings, since their absence had become something constantly on the back of her mind rather than a thing to always worry about; Sean had started to fit her into a snug vest or harness of sorts before taking her to the squarish building, and once they got there he kept on speaking to her in his soft voice and asking her to do things, some of which she could understand but most of which she couldn't. That made her sad, because she loved it above everything else when she did something right and Sean grinned and patted her head and hugged her and let her nuzzle into his neck. He smelled like berries and mint during the day, a more muted version of what he smelled like whenever he came out of the shower at his home, which Rhea waited for every other day.

Sean started taking her on walks to different places, too, sometimes into the big city that she could see from the window of his bedroom. The first few times he did this she didn't like it, because lots of people would come up and try to pet her, and she wanted to feel their hands on her head and back, but Sean always tugged on her leash and stopped them, always pointed to the brightly-colored vest of hers and told them something with the word training in it.

Rhea had heard that word several times at the squarish building where she and Sean spent most of their time - training. That's what they called the games they played, where he threw the ball and she fetched it, where he hid a treat for her at the end of a maze and she had to find it, where if she pressed the correct button out of a group of several she would get treats and pets, or where she was given directions and had to follow those directions. She couldn't run for too long at one time, though, which she and Sean had learned after one warm spring day; Rhea had trouble breathing and her legs wouldn't move, and she fell over and almost blacked out.

Heart problem,she had heard the vet say the next day when she was brought in. She couldn't understand the words, but she could, however, the change in Sean's expression. Inherited from her mother. Anything that puts a strain on her will be dangerous; she can't be a service dog for someone with an active lifestyle. Even at that, it'll reduce her life by a good amount...

She wanted to please Sean more than those people on the streets of the big city, though, so after a week or so, she stopped really noticing them, only receiving the pets whenever he allowed it. At some point in time with more of her training, her vest changed color - or so she thought; she couldn't really tell - and then, one night, Sean forgot to set her food out for her. So, she picked up her bowl in her mouth, climbed up the stairs, nosed open the door to his bedroom, and sat down in front of him; he was sitting on the edge of the bed talking into the phone, in the tone of voice he used that one time he caught her underneath one of the other dogs at the squarish building, a big male who somehow knew how to satisfy the urge she had started feeling under her tail a little bit before she turned two - the same tone of voice he'd used when he'd had a fight with a woman that Rhea remembered from when she was a puppy. That woman sometimes took Rhea's spot in the bed, and she wouldn't treat her very well, and Sean would say things to her in that tone of voice... and then one night they had a fight, she threw something at him and left, and Rhea never saw her again. Whatever he was talking about, that tone of voice meant Something Bad.

Once he got off the phone that night, Sean sat there with his head in his hands, and Rhea bumped her empty food bowl against his leg to get his attention. He looked down at her, sighed, slid down to the floor in front of her, took her bowl from her mouth - she wagged her tail; whenever he got this close she could smell his scent, berries and mint - and then threw his arms around her and held her tight, like he did the night that mean woman left.

Rhea enjoyed the hug at first, but then, she got scared. Sean wasn't letting go, and his body had started shaking with quiet sobs. She whimpered softly, she nuzzled the side of his face, she nosed up under his chin; he finally lifted his head, wiped his eyes in the thick fur of his shoulder, and hugged her again and gave her a kiss first between the ears, then between her eyes, and then again on the side of her muzzle, and then he stood and got her some food.

He had stopped letting her sleep in his bed after her vest changed color, but that night he picked her up and set her in bed beside him, and held her tight through the whole night.

The next morning they went somewhere else instead of the squarish building, where they had gone almost every morning for as long as Rhea could remember. At first she got excited and wagged her tail, because that meant they were going somewhere new; then she stopped wagging and settled down, because that might mean they were going to the vet; and then she started wagging again when they passed the vet; and then she stopped again when she caught Sean's eyes in the rear-view mirror and saw the look on his face. She was reminded of the part of her training where she was to balance a glass on her muzzle, one brimming with water where any slight disturbance would cause it all to spill out.

This time she was in the backseat of the car, with Sean driving and someone else she recognized from the squarish building in the other seat. This other person kept on reaching out and squeezing Sean's arm or patting his shoulder, kept on speaking softly to him, to which he'd nod and say 'I know, I know', over and over again. His voice started to sound like how it did the previous night when he was crying. Rhea could still remember the words he'd said to her even though she didn't understand all of them, muffled by the fur of her neck: I'm going to miss you. God, Rhea, I'm going to miss you so much...

They stopped outside a small house in a quiet neighborhood with lots of trees. It was pretty enough, but Rhea was just worried about Sean. 'This is it', the other person said; again Sean replied with a quiet 'I know', and then got out of the car and fetched Rhea's vest and leash from the trunk. She wagged at seeing this - maybe they were going to play more! Maybe he had some new training for her, a new and fun game. She liked the ones where she had to find something hidden or do something for him. She couldn't understand a lot of the words that the other people said, but she could understand directions and instructions, and followed almost all of them.

The one instruction she never followed, however, was go away, other than once. Sean only said that one when it seemed it was the exact opposite of what he needed: she followed it once after he'd seemed to have had a bad day and found that she'd knocked over a vase full of soft grey sand-like powder. Go away, he said, get out of here. So she did - she went to the other side of the house, she found a place to hide, she stayed there until she heard his soft footsteps on the carpet nearby, until she heard his gentle voice calling for her and apologizing. His voice sounded like how it did when he cried, and was interrupted by soft sniffles. She didn't come out until he said I need you right now; then, once she did, he buried her face in his neck like he did sometimes, held her tight, lay down with her on the couch. He hardly ever let her lick his face anymore, but that day, he let her without complaint. From then on whenever he said go awayshe just clamped her muzzle shut, plopped her rear down wherever she was, and waited for Sean to inevitably come to her and hug her again.

It wasn't instructions that he was discussing now with the other person, though. Rhea couldn't quite hear from the inside of the car, but she did hear her name a lot, and then hopped out all waggy when Sean opened the door and knelt down to fit her vest on her. She had started to recognize the word on the side, dark black amid the field of brighter color - Service. She couldn't help but wag her tail as Sean clipped the leash onto the back of the vest and then led her toward the house after a few more quiet words from the other person. Whenever Rhea was brought to a house that wasn't the squarish building or Sean's home, that usually meant she got to play with other dogs! She actually met one of her brothers one, identifiable by his scent. They spent a lot of time together and she didn't want to leave once it was time to go.

Maybe at this house she would meet another one of her siblings, or her mother or father, both of whom had been taken off somewhere else when Rhea was still a puppy, wearing a vest similar to the one she herself now did. Her tail was wagging when Sean led her up the stairs to the front door, but that slowed to a stop when she turned and looked up to him. This other person held him by the shoulders, looked into his eyes, said something in a firm tone; Sean nodded, sniffled again, wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, and then knelt down. She licked his cheek; he didn't bother wiping it off.

He looked like he had something to say, a lot of somethings, but held his silence other than his shuddering breath and occasional light sniffle. Again Sean wrapped his arms around Rhea and held her close to him; again he pressed his nose into her neck, her shoulder, her upper chest. He never did that unless something bad had happened, and nothing bad had happened today yet... Rhea adjusted her stance so she could rest her chin on Sean's shoulder. She cast her eyes up to the other person still standing by the door, but didn't get any explanation.

Rhea had started to get worried very early into the ride and had even felt it a little before, through Sean's actions and words. He was speaking to her all this morning, speaking softly, softer than he usually did - mentioning things like play and training and ball, and then, a few times, love - and all of these would have made her excited, if she hadn't heard the voice in which he'd spoken them. Sean was the one thing that had always remained constant in her life, him and the squarish building, and she didn't like the prospect of something happening to change that.

She enjoyed nothing more than seeing the smile on his face after waking up every morning, nothing more than getting pets from him and hugs, nothing more than hopping up on the couch with him while he ate his dinner (and while she snuck a few bites, fully aware that he knew and let her), nothing more than being there for him to hug and hold whenever something happens. Her favorite scent was his, that scent of berries and mint, and it made her wag her tail whenever she got the slightest whiff of it - even if that was because they passed a smoothie place on a walk, or someone was wearing a similar perfume. That scent reminded her of him, of Sean, of the man with the soft voice and sky-blue eyes that she had known all her life.

Needless to say, what she felt for Sean was nothing at all like what she felt for everyone else at the squarish building. She enjoyed climbing into bed with him when she was a puppy, enjoyed feeling his arms around her, enjoyed his breath in her fur and his scent in her nose. That scent was now strong before her, though it faded a little when he released her and stood up; then he looked to the other person, swallowed, and nodded, and the other person knocked on the door.

A few moments later, a youngish man opened the door and looked at neither of them. He had a cane in one hand - not a curved cane that he leaned on like older people she'd seen on her walks, but a straight one - and his eyes were light, light blue, similar to Sean's but lighter, paler, mistier. His head flicked from side to side whenever someone spoke. Rhea was no longer excited to be here, though - she hoped - maybe that was without reason; at one point Sean handed over her leash to that of the man with the misty eyes, having to first take his hand with his other and press her leash into it.

Okay, then. This had happened before: Sean was leaving her with this man while he went out and did something. It was a rare occurrence and only happened near the end of her training, but she understood. She didn't worry about it when she was pulled through the door and turned to give Sean the standard goodbye kisses, but... he wasn't kneeling down to receive them. He had already turned and left. It was the other person who stayed, and they stayed for the whole day talking quietly to the man with the misty eyes and occasionally looking down at Rhea.

When the sun started to dip below the horizon and the sky changed color, Rhea found the window closest to the door and waited, tail wagging, ears raised. The sky became darker, the sun sank further; Sean would be back any minute now. He always came back before the sun went down all the way. Still she wagged, eager to see his face again and hear his voice, eager to give him extra hello kisses for the goodbye kisses that he'd missed. However, the man with the misty eyes called her before long, and he used the word that she'd learned in her training never to ignore, so she had to tear herself away from the window to help him. When she came back, the sky was dark, the moon was up, and someone drove by to pick up the other person that Sean had arrived with. She couldn't see who was driving, though, and they didn't get out.

Sean would come back tomorrow, then. Rhea wished he had told her that, but she tried not to worry. The man with the misty eyes didn't pull her up into his bed like Sean did, and even if he had, she would have jumped out and gone somewhere else; he smelled faintly of vinegar and cigarette smoke, not at all like she enjoyed. All she wanted was a warm neck that smelled of berries and mint to nuzzle into, a pair of firm arms around her body. The man with the misty eyes hadn't given her a hug, and she neither wanted him to nor felt that he would anytime soon.

Sean didn't come back the next morning, either. Rhea was awoken by the sound of a running shower, which excited her, but after she got her bearings and remembered that she wasn't in Sean's house, this excitement quickly faded. She waited by the door whenever she could, but never did it open; occasionally there were knocks, but the man with the misty eyes never answered those, and whenever he did go outside he brought her with him, and rarely left the neighborhood. This man didn't drive, though, so whenever he went somewhere he brought Rhea, his service dog - finally she began to understand the meaning of the word and why her training had involved so much direction-following and thing-finding - with him. That provided a little solace; she at least liked going on walks, and he seemed to know the area well enough that he didn't totally rely on her presence to get around.

He was a quiet fellow, quieter than Sean. It took Rhea almost a year to get accustomed to his voice, and she didn't like it too much. It was low, gruff, broken from the smoke that he smelled like. She especially loved when he took her to the park so that she could hear all the voices of all the other people; she'd go through each one of them, sitting beside the man with the misty eyes who held her leash (and who usually didn't notice when someone came up to pat her head, if they were quiet), trying to find one she recognized - Sean's first, and then anyone from the squarish building. All of the scents had started to mix together, and over time, over the months and eventually years of sitting there beside that same bench looking out over the same expanse of the park, she gradually began to forget Sean's face, his voice... but his scent never really faded from her memory.

As a puppy she'd spent every night with her nose buried in that scent. It was the scent that calmed her down when she got into a fight with a coyote and Sean had to bring her to the vet to stitch a gash on her leg closed - he held her head and kissed her nose, each little movement stirring the sweet-smelling air towards her; it was the scent that lulled her to sleep if she had to stay at the squarish building or when Sean had to stay at work late, either finding a shirt he had left at the building or curling up with her head on his pillow. The first few days, his scent had lingered faintly on the fabric of her vest, but... two years later, that had long since faded. His absence no longer presented a constant stinging pain, instead now being a sort of dull ache that she had learned to ignore.

Still, though, every day at dawn and dusk she sat by the window beside the door. The other person who had come with Sean that first day still returned every two or three days, sometimes with groceries for the man with the misty eyes, sometimes just to sit and read a book to him; this person noticed Rhea's habit, and had to fix the window because it had become wobbly from the near-constant pressure of her nose against it. The next day, she was brought a pillow on which to sit.

It smelled faintly of berries and mint. Rhea couldn't remember the last time her tail had wagged without her forcing it to. The man with the misty eyes didn't notice that she carried it around in her mouth while in the house, and meticulously hid it in a secret place of hers whenever they had to leave. She went to that place whenever she wasn't in front of the window or at the side of the man with the misty eyes, for him she'd gradually developed a bit of a fondness; it was a spot at the corner of a wall where a pile of blankets had once been rested and then never again picked up, into which she'd dug a little space for herself and then the pillow. The darkness and warmth reminded her of nights spent in Sean's bed, and in the mornings when she found herself curled around that pillow, awakened by the voice of the man with the misty eyes calling her, she disobeyed her master - as she had come to recognize him - and her training just so she could spend a few minutes more with her memories.

The lingering ache of something missing still kept her awake at night, though, and still prevented her from ever really sleeping soundly. Sometimes she'd get up when the man with the misty eyes had fallen asleep on the couch, and she'd go and nose the back door open and lie down in the unkempt grass of the backyard, trimmed on some visits of that other person. Another thing that had remained constant, Rhea had found, was the scent of grass: the grass here smelled just the same as it did at the squarish building she foggily remembered, which smelled just the same as the grass at Sean's house. Sometimes she'd lie down, close her eyes, and fall asleep with that scent in her nose, and she'd dream of when she was younger wearing the vest of a slightly different color, running through a maze to get a treat or following directions for kisses from Sean...

As time passed, her joints got stiff and she found that moving around for too long tired her out. No longer could she hop up onto the sill of the window by the door like she was so used to doing, though she couldn't remember exactly why. That was something else, too: she started to forget things. The man with the misty eyes seemed fairly independent, so he could usually do whatever it was he intended to without her help if she couldn't remember what to do until it was too late.

She had gotten used to the sound of the door opening followed by the voice of the other person, the person whose name she had never learned but whose face provided a strong link to some other half-forgotten memory. Once it happened later at night, which was somewhat odd, but she didn't pay it too much mind - it might have just been her imagination; lately she hadn't been able to hear as well, either. There was no voice, though, no Hello, Bill, which she had since learned to be the name of the man with the misty eyes, though he was little more than just Someone to her, nobody important, a master but not an owner, not family.

It was a night when she had gone outside to lie down in the grass and breathe the scent, one thing familiar from her puppyhood. The pillow that she used to carry around with her had been torn apart after about a year, and it had lost its scent by then anyway. She had put it somewhere and couldn't remember where. It was a warm night, so Rhea at first didn't notice the warmth of a body kneeling down beside her - until she felt a hand on her head. Then:

"Hey, you..."

She opened her eyes, lifted her head, found the source of the voice. It was a man with short brown hair and sky-blue eyes, a man who smelled of berries and mint. She licked her chops, she tried to stand up, she couldn't quite do it and instead huffed out a puff of breath - and that hand continued petting softly, scritching that one spot behind her ear that made her leg twitch. Memories she hadn't had in a long time came back, memories of pressing the right button or following directions correctly.

"Hey, old woman..." The voice was soft, gentle, familiar. She kept her eyes closed and enjoyed it, enjoyed the sudden recoloring of memories that had long since faded into little more than that: events of the past. "Do you remember me? Look at you; you've gotten big... big and old and lazy, huh? What are you doing out here? You should come inside..."

He went back towards the house, clapped his hands, patted his legs - "Rhea! C'mere, Rhea..."

"...C'mon, Rhea!"

She bounded towards Sean, feeling light and happy. She loved it when he said her name.

"We're gonna go for a walk! Would you like that? Huh? Yeah? I bet you would!"

Stiffly and with difficulty, she managed to lift herself up and follow the sound of the voice, though it was muffled. Everything was muffled these days. When she lifted her head and looked up at that face, it was the same face that she remembered from when she was a puppy, though a little wrinkled, with scruffy hair over the chin. She always remembered nuzzling under a smooth chin, smooth like a silken sheet; she remembered-

-hopping up on her back legs with her paws on Sean's chest so that she could lick at his face and neck, something that always got him to laugh. The sound of his laughter made her tail wag even more.

"No, no; down, puppy! That's not part of your training! Stop- Rhea-"

-and sometimes he'd fall over backwards, she thought solely for the reason that he liked it when she climbed on her chest and continued licking at his face. Sometimes he'd purse his lips and kiss her back, and sometimes he'd pretend that he hated her displays of affection.

She followed him into the house, not sure where he was bringing her but too tired to really worry about it. He exchanged a few brief words with the man with the misty eyes, something like I'll bring her home tonight and take her to get it done tomorrow, who just waved his hand in response, and then Sean knelt down and gave Rhea one of the smiles that she still remembered. Again he looked as if he wanted to say something, but didn't, and gave her a gentle hug - so as not to hurt her weakened body. Then he reached down, picked her up in his arms like he did when she was little, and carried her outside.

There was the same car that she remembered, the same car that she rode in every morning to the squarish building and then rode him in, the same car that Sean had taken her in when he first left her here, all those years ago. Back then she enjoyed riding in the front seat because she could stand her front paws on the armrest and look out the window at all the passing trees; tonight, however, Sean rested her in the backseat, and she kept her head down and her eyes closed because the movement of the car made her dizzy, and every bump they went over painfully jolted her joints.

Sean had to carry her inside and up the stairs, had to rest her on the side of the bed that she used to sleep on. She managed to wiggle under the covers, though, and then he wiggled in beside her and hugged her again.

"...She's a real bitch, isn't she?"

Sean's voice carried a note of anger, one that made Rhea's ears lower because she felt like she had done something wrong. The mean woman, the one she didn't like, had just left. Sean had just stopped crying, and had lifted Rhea up into his bed and now idly drew circles in the fur of her lower back.

"Not, like... oh, you don't understand. I don't know. I don't need someone else. I have you, Rhea... you've been more loyal to me than anyone else. A pretty wife with a hot meal ready when I walk through the door couldn't make me happier than a husky-mutt mix with pretty eyes and a wagging tail whenever I say her name." He leaned forward, bumped her nose against hers; she licked her chops, accidentally flicking her tongue against his lips as well. He breathed a soft laugh.


She wagged her tail. She couldn't help it. She loved it when he said her name.

She was surrounded in rich scent and rich memories, berries and mint, a soft voice, Sean's warmth, the familiar shape of his bed - how it slumped in one part and then lifted firmly upwards just beside it. She tried to roll over to get off of the lump, but the sudden movement caused a stinging in her chest and she had to stop.

This was just like that night. She lay sprawled out with her head on the pillow, Sean beside her watching her muzzle with his sky-blue eyes, a mix of adoration and affection determining the look on his face. After the stinging subsided, she looked down at him, wagged her tail weakly, scooted forward a little. He was there to wrap his arms around her.

"I'll miss you."

The words she hadn't heard all that time ago, on the first day at the house of the man with the misty eyes, finally came out. She couldn't really understand them, and yet, somehow, she could.

"Your brothers are still living strong and happy and have their whole lives ahead of them... while here you are, crippled and twice your actual age, because of - of a damn congenital heart problem. I got too attached to you, Rhea-"

Her tail wagged a little.

"...I knew from the start that, someday, I'd have to give you up. I'd done it before, several times. There was just something different about you, though. Something that... that caught my heart, something that roped me in. First duty took you from me, and now I have you back, but... tomorrow the vet will take you from me again." He breathed another low laugh, though this one seemed... regretful. "I'll buy you a rocking chair, old dog. If only I hadn't stopped you that one day - maybe you could have had puppies. Maybe they could have had puppies, too, and then you'd be a sweet old grandmother, with your little rocking chair and your little pillow. Speaking of which, I hope you liked the pillow that Mark brought for you... he got that from my house... God. I just - maybe I should skip the vet tomorrow, maybe I should take you to the city, one last time..."

"...maybe I should skip going to work today, maybe I should... get your things in the backseat and just keep on driving."

Those were the words he had spoken the day before he dropped her off at the house of the man with the misty eyes. Rhea stood at Sean's legs, pressing herself against him, feeling the tension in his body and not liking it one bit. "Maybe I should just say, 'fuck it', and run away with you - fuck Bill. He doesn't know you. You won't be happy with him. All that matters to me is that you're happy. I just - God dammit, Rhea, why do I have to love you so much?"

"I just..."

Sean buried her face in the fur of her neck, an action that aggravated a muscle in her chin but was sweet enough for her to ignore.

"...God dammit, Rhea... why do I have to love you so much? I never said goodbye back then because I felt like I wouldn't be able to let you go... now, there's nothing I can do. You know, I begged them for one last night with you, just for the memories... I'm lucky that they even let me be the one to take you in tomorrow. 'He's the one that helped deliver her,' Mark said, 'it's only right that he be there when... wh...'"

He didn't finish his sentence. He instead tightened his arms around Rhea, and soon, she felt quiet sobs racking his body. She could do nothing but lick his hair and forehead, could do nothing but lick at his ears until the feeling made him smile. Seeing this made her wag her tail.

"You're happy, aren't you, Rhea?"

She wagged a little more. He wiped his nose.

"All that matters to me-" Sean's voice cracked, and he took a moment to steady his breathing. "All that matters to me is that you're happy. 'End her suffering', pah. You're old, you're sick, you're... dying, but... at least you're happy. That's all that matters to me. That's all that's evermattered to me."

And she was happy. Sean fell asleep that night with a soft smile on his face and an old, sick dog in his arms, and Rhea nuzzled under his chin and soon fell asleep herself, feeling a warm safety that she hadn't felt in a long, long time.

She slept deeply that night, deeply and happily - and she dreamed, too. She dreamed that she was a puppy again, that Sean had just fitted her first vest onto her and knelt there grinning, endlessly saying oh, look at you, you cutie! and you are too precious, Rhea, and you're gonna make someone really happy someday with your service... all that mattered to her, though, was that Sean was happy. She couldn't care less about the man with the misty eyes, the man who seemed to often forget that she was there. Sean's face was the one that had always come into her mind when she heard the word love, something he had murmured softly into her ear in the nights leading up to when he left her. She had learned love to be the warm feeling in her chest that she felt whenever Sean wrapped his arms around her and held her close, the feeling she got when he kissed her nose, the feeling she got just from being around him.

Recently she had been very, very cold, but since she had felt that hand on her head back in the yard of the man with the misty eyes, she had started to feel warm again.

Rhea slept deeply that night, and she dreamed. Slowly, gradually, her tail stopped wagging; slowly, gradually, her breathing slowed and then stopped.

~ ~ ~

Sean had to call the vet the next morning to cancel the appointment. He had trouble keeping his voice steady when he spoke the words:

"...yes, she... she passed in her sleep last night. Yes... thank you. Goodbye."

He had brought her body down to the couch downstairs and rested her on it, in the same place where she used to fall asleep on him on the nights he watched TV after getting home. Feeling something in his throat and a pressure on his eyes, he knelt down in front of her, looking at the patterns of her fur, the drooped ears, the chest that just looked wrong without rising and falling in gentle breaths. He knew that her heart problem would eventually get the best of her, but...

He reached out, placed a hand on her head, scritched at that one spot behind her ear that always made her leg twitch or kick on every occasion other than this one. He had said most everything that he wanted to the previous night; he just wished that Rhea'd had the capability to speak, too, to give him a response to the final 'I love you' that he had breathed into the fur of her neck just before falling asleep. He felt that he knew the answer, however.

"...Get your rest, Rhea," he managed. Her tail did not stir. "You deserve it."