Frankly it's a wonder he's been holding on this long. They gave him another hour, and they said that's only if he fought hard. It's been two hours and I'd be lying if I said my paw didn't feel like it's been crushed half to ruin by now. No way in any hell I could complain about that though. Oh no.
"What do you think is out there after this?" He asks somewhere between a wheeze and a croak, his emerald eyes locked on to mine like a missile.
It's an odd question. I thought we had always agreed on that before: nothing, or at the very least, nothing we can currently comprehend. It all seems so unlikely that all of life's great mysteries have been solved by an ancient book. I've always been truthful, he knows that.
I look down my grey snout and search the eternities of his irises for a few moments that feel more important than many of the years I have lived, before telling him what I always have. "Nothing, or at the very least, nothing we can comprehend."
Somehow this makes him smile. I smile too, my paw crushed between his, my heart beating like a jackhammer, my whole sense of existence pushed to the edge of reality. Matthew you have never been any less than all of me. I will make sure that even past tonight that won't change.
His tail swipes lazily across the bedding and he blinks at me, slowly, deliberately, saying more in that half second of silence than any one of the marches or protests we used to attend so zealously had ever meant to anybody.
We both new this was coming. The intermittent beeps telling me my fox is still alive have been flat lining in my dreams for weeks now. Nightmares really.
"If there's something there that my new self understands, come visit me there when you can, okay?" He knows that's not really how this works, but I suppose when you're staring out of the abyss at the one face that means more to you than anything in this world ever truly has then you have the right to get a little sentimental.
So for once I don't contradict him. I just smile my mousey smile and say: "You know I will."
Over this many years the point comes where you have said just about everything you need to say to another person. All the emotion between you is so far understood that it takes nothing more than a glance to get across your meaning perfectly. Nothing more than a kiss to write novels. Nothing more than sex to recreate the entire renaissance in one's own home. But these ageing bones find the recreation of the renaissance by only two people to be rather tiring in honesty, if also utterly exhilarating. So we sit here in a wordless understanding of one another, the blaring pain of my paw barely registering.
Even when I take another quarter of a moment to think about it I know that neither of us will let go for as long as we have the choice. That damned phrase pops into my head like a virus, trying to take over, to make me do something I know I shouldn't: the only time we will let go is over his dead body.
My eyes have remained as dry as desert summers until now, and I can't let that change no matter how much those words are bothering me. Matt always told me that he hated to see me cry, it makes him feel like he has failed. He always said that a lover's job is to bring light and happiness into another person's life. Whenever I cried he hated himself, no matter how irrational it was of him.
There is no way I can let that happen now of all times. He is going to die. And I will not let him die that way. I will not cry and I will not let go.
"You look as gorgeous now as the day I met you," he tells me, his eyelids drooping, his voice slowing and his words slurring to the point where it sounds like he is half asleep.
"And you look even better, my love." Every fiber of my being is used in those few words, forcing my body and my vocal chords to comply. I will not let my voice falter for a millisecond. He twitches his left ear, his subspeech method of telling me that he needs to kiss me this instant.
I comply and it's the moment our tongues touch that I know for certain it's our last. It's not reasoning that gets me there but pure and primal instinct. His tongue is sluggish but explorative, he wants to taste me properly one last time. When our mouths are set free and we pull away panting like innocent teens he has the grin to match. I know he would be laughing right now if he could manage it.
"I know you'll do well without me old rat." He says in barely more than a whisper, but I hear it in the boisterous jesting tone he could still manage a few years ago.
I want to shout at him: don't leave me, I need you, I don't understand what the words 'without you' mean. But none of that would help, so all I do is nod and say those three words we have both said a million times before. "I love you."
His eyes are universes of utter majesty, opened wide like he has just found the key to life itself. His smile is warmer than every sun any person has ever found and I'm the graced one he shares it with. "I love you too."
Then my nightmares come true. The machine flats out, a doctor and his assistant enter the room, he mutters something about a time of death, messes about with a few things until the terrible droning stops and apologizes to me, tells me I can stay as long as I want.
I don't let go of his paw, and in the stiffening of his dead body I can almost believe he, and not some inanimate thing, is still clutching mine back.
It's only now in the silence and the nothing that steadily fills the room that I start to cry.