A/N: Written May 30, 2012. I may do some editing later, so if you have any suggestions for improvement please let me know.
He refused to leave her side.
She smiled gently. "Being here won't keep me from dying," she said.
"I know," he replied. But he stayed.
And that was all that needed to be said. Everything else left unspoken was simply understood.
Their way of communicating was uncommon for such a young couple. But if you asked them, they would tell you that it felt as though they had been together forever.
Forever. It was a word that got caught in the throat and was hastily swallowed, only to be brought back up again. The word was always on the tip of the tongue, a second away from spilling across the lips and drowning them in its forbidden possibilities. It was a reminder of all the things that would go unsaid, the shouts and laughter of children that would never echo through the halls of their home, the years that had been stolen away. It was the word they had said during the vows at their wedding, both trying desperately to forget that forever was nothing more than an unattainable dream.
There was no pretending now. They both knew that their time together was drawing to a close.
So they had gone home.
They had left the cold, metallic emptiness of the hospital room with its buttons and tubes and machinery that had impersonally tried to drip some life back into her. They had left the charts and white coats and solemn faces of doctors who only brought bad news. And they had gone home to the little house in the country full of color and vitality.
Secretly she was relieved. The constant presence of doctors and nurses and machinery had made her feel as though perhaps she should try to speed things up a bit. She had almost felt a sense of disappointment coming from them every time they saw she was still alive. Now that she was at home she could die in peace.
She looked over at her husband who sat at her side, gazing out the window by the bed.
"What do you see?" she asked.
He smiled and squeezed her hand. "There's a flock of geese heading north."
"Mmm," she murmured, closing her eyes. "Maybe I could just fly away with them."
"Maybe," he replied, his voice sounding far away.
He was trying to stay strong, but it was difficult. He knew that she had already resigned herself to dying. He had not. He still held onto some fragment of hope that told him everything would turn out all right in the end. And her quiet acceptance of death only filled his stomach with uneasiness and his heart with dread.
This morning she had told him quite calmly that she was sure today was the day. He had said nothing, but set about getting her ready. He gave her a bath and dressed her in a long, flowing white nightgown. She ate a breakfast of a handful of wild strawberries he had picked for her. Then he wrapped her up in an old patchwork quilt and took her out to the field to pick wildflowers. She didn't say a word, but he knew she was exhausted. He knew it just as he knew when he picked her up that she had almost reached the end. She felt as light as air when he carried her out to the field, and he had to keep looking down at his arms to make sure she was still there. He would not have been surprised to see her flying away with the geese.
They were silent for a long time. He was staring out the window, praying for a miracle, and she was laying in the bed with her eyes closed, feeling herself fade away.
"I love you," she said suddenly.
He looked down at her, startled. She looked so serene with her eyes closed. He still thought she was beautiful even though she was now nothing more than skin and bones. Even though it had become thin and ashen, he loved her skin and the feeling he had of being connected every time he touched her. He loved the way the darkened hollows of her eyes made the blue-gray of her irises stand out even more. He loved to trace the lines along her face and neck with the very tips of his fingers. He loved the softness of the short, wispy patches of white hair that were growing in on her head. And he loved the spots that were still bald. He loved her even as he saw the pretty, young woman of twenty-six that he had married age fifty years in a matter of months. He loved her even as he knew that they would never truly grow old together.
He wanted to tell her all this, but merely replied, "I love you, too."
Perhaps she could sense everything he had left unsaid because she opened her eyes and smiled at him. Then she looked towards the doorway and frowned.
"Who is that?" she asked.
He turned and saw no one. "There's no one there." As he said it though, he knew.
He was about to lose her.
"Oh." She was confused for a second, but then she too realized. He covered his face with his hands, but she didn't see. She was concentrating on the figure heading towards her. The figure was a man draped in white with an ethereal glow about him.
"I suppose you've come for me," she said.
The figure in white nodded.
"Are you an angel?"
"I thought so." She paused. At this point her husband had pressed his face to the blankets that covered her so that he could hide his tears, but she no longer was aware that he was in the room. "I'm worried about my husband. I don't think he's ready yet."
The angel continued forward silently.
She had not intended to beg, but the words burst out of her before she could stop them. "Could I have just a little more time?" Silence met her request. "Time is relative," she whispered, the faint memory of a long-ago school lesson coming back to her.
The angel smiled sadly.
"You don't get to make that decision, do you?"
The angel shook his head. He had reached her side. He leaned down and kissed her gently on the forehead. She smiled and whispered a good-bye that reached her husband's ears. He raised his head and looked at her, but she was gone. He stood, walked out of the room, through the hallway, down the stairs, and out the front door.
With her whispered good-bye had come a strange feeling. She had felt an odd weightlessness as her soul left her body. She floated a while through darkness; every now and then there was a flash of white that let her know the angel was still with her.
It isn't so bad, she thought, to be only a soul.
Soon she began to see tiny points of light appear out of the darkness. At first it was just a few, but then there were billions, more than all the stars in the sky. Unlike the stars they moved perceptibly, almost as though she were surrounded by fireflies.
There was one light though that stayed in place. She seemed to be heading toward it because it kept getting bigger. The angel appeared by her side, smiling and leading her towards it. She smiled back as they were nearly there, and then suddenly everything went dark.
Everything around her was a blur as though she had been spinning in circles and suddenly stopped. She felt breathless and heavy like all her weight was returning and then came the feeling of blankets, and she was drowning in the blankets.
No, she wasn't. She opened her eyes and saw that she was back in her room. She threw the blankets off of herself, but she still couldn't breathe. She half fell out of bed, stumbled to the window, and pushed at it with all her strength. It opened and a gust of wind rushed in, blowing her gown against her skin. She breathed in deeply, noticing for the first time that there was something against her face. She put her hand to her head and felt hair. It wasn't the thin, short hair that had started growing in; it was thick and strong. She pulled her hand away and saw that the hair flowed down in long, white waves. She was astonished and then she saw her hand. It was an old, wrinkled, veiny hand, the skin loose and the knuckles knotted with arthritis. She stared in disbelief.
Then, remembering, she turned to see her husband. He wasn't in the room so she made her way into the hallway and down the stairs, the wooden floors cool beneath her bare, ancient feet. At the bottom of the stairs, she saw him standing in the doorway with the front door open and his back towards her. She felt inexplicably afraid, but walked up behind him and placed a gnarled hand on his shoulder. He turned and smiled, his old eyes shining behind a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles. He was still her husband, but considerably older. She smiled back, relieved to see him.
They were not alone. Dozens of people were coming up towards the house. Some were old, some young, some middle-aged, some teenaged, some children, some babies. Nearly all of them looked like her and her husband. Several had her nose.
"Grandma!" a young boy cried, running towards her.
She felt tears welling up in her eyes and rolling down her face. Her husband was crying too, and as he looked at her they both knew: They had forever.
And so it was that they sailed on together through time.