We had two days between the diagnosis and the needle. We'd been working on Rio's various aliments -- a seventeen-year-old cat can rack up quite a few -- but in the end there wasn't any helping the monster at the bottom of it all, the cancer in his stomach. He faded, fast, and this morning I saw him out.

I won't talk about his last couple of days. I don't want to write it, you don't want to read it, and while cats are essentially all seven deadly sins packed inside a furry body, their foremost is Pride. So I'll remember Rio the way he'd want to be, the tiny and mistreated shelter cat who grew into my constant companion. He was a Russian Blue, small and sleek and fast and handsome, and even in his elderly years he could jump all across the greatroom and the kitchen from furniture to furniture, never touching the floor. The carpet was for clumsier, less graceful creatures like the rest of us.

He had behavioral issues, from his kittenhood, that left him hostile to the world. It would take, on average, a year of regular visits before he'd stop seeing any new face as a threat, perhaps allowing them to come near -- but not too near. He was like that for everyone except me. He latched onto me, literally climbing my leg the day I met him at the shelter and nestling on my shoulder. Soon he'd appointed himself my protector, racing to hiss and take a swipe at anyone who came near me until I'd assured him it was all right, spending every night curled up at my side in bed and keeping careful watch.

I couldn't ask for a better protector. Who ever could?

And now I'm sitting at my desk, without Rio for the first day in seventeen years, and just trying to figure out what that feels like. I suppose I'll clean up a little and then throw myself into my art like I always do in dark hours, trying to take some of this hollow pain and turn it into a story so that it doesn't go to waste.