A/N: With this chapter, we have reached the end I had hoped wouldn't come, though I knew it would eventually. Thanks to all who've stayed around and finished this; to those who have reviewed, favorited, or alerted; and to those who merely enjoyed the read. Happy New Year's Eve!
All the way back to the hospital wing I could feel him itching to demand an explanation that I didn't know how to give.
He fidgeted in a corner of the room while the Matron made me lay back down on the bed, gave me some weird-tasting medicine and made me promise not to go running off again. As soon as the curtain closed behind her, he was at the side of my bed.
"What was that? Back in the hallway, I mean. I felt something from you," he demanded. I rolled onto my side, facing away from him.
How do you tell your boyfriend that his ex is now in your body, gave his life to save yours and is now coexisting in you? How could you not make that sound creepy?
"I don't want to talk about it." Which was perfectly true. I heard him walking around the bed and childishly rolled over again.
"Oh, come on! How old are you, six?" Yeah, I deserved that.
"Talk to me. Please?" I hated when he did that, I really did; he sounded so hurt that you automatically felt guilty. I resisted stubbornly while the bond between us vibrated with the tension; I could feel his confusion and worry at my reluctance to talk, as he no doubt could feel my silent frustration and much bigger worry.
The silence stretched until I finally rolled over to stare at the ceiling, catching glimpses of him out of the corner of my eye; he felt the capitulation before I moved and sighed in relief, dragging over the free chair to sit in it, putting his face on level with mine.
"I had help coming back after I killed myself to save Sylvia. I'd already strained myself trying to get everyone out of here, as you remember. I knew there was no coming back from what I was going to do; I'd accepted that. But my soul was still attached to yours, refusing to let go, so I was stuck in limbo of a sort."
I was trying to relate this as if it were just any other fact of life; maybe that'd make it more believable.
"Jake met me there." Flash of shock. Been there, done that, he already believed that story. Ignore it and go on.
"He didn't want to let me go on, to leave you alone. I'd promised him the first time I'd talked with him, before you knew, that I'd never leave you alone. I wouldn't have, given the choice, just so you know." Zane wisely chose not to point out that the choice I had made had been a choice, knowing I didn't see it that way.
"Jake told me my body didn't have enough energy to make it back on its own, I'd exhausted myself too much. I already knew that, had known before I did it, which is why I shut off our bond, so you wouldn't know until it couldn't be stopped."
"Put a lot of thought into dying, didn't you?" Zane said with a trace of bitterness, still hurt over what I'd done. Healing would be a long time coming for that wound I knew. Still, I set that aside for now as I wasn't sure there would be any healing in the near future, at least not from me. I steeled myself with a deep breath and pressed on.
"Jake wanted me to go back enough that he gave what was left of his life, his spirit to push me back. But it came with a cost." Falling into myself, I reached out and grabbed Jake's 'hand,' rousing him.
*I need your help.* I closed my eyes, turned my head, and opened them again.
Zane shoved his chair back in shock; I could feel that he saw both of us looking out of my eyes. The shock and pain he felt slammed into me in two different ways, through our bond and my newest power, doubling the crippling reaction Zane had. Under the onslaught, I lost the connection with Jake and struggled merely to breathe through the sudden knot in my throat.
His reaction had been everything I expected and yet still so much worse. I looked away again before he could run away, letting him try to catch his scrambled thoughts and to try to buy myself some time to get my shield back in place; I didn't close our bond, though, and felt the tiniest touch of hope when he didn't either, until it occurred to me that he was probably to distracted to even think of it.
"Both of us are in my body; that was the cost we paid," I said in a dull voice, feeling him still unable to comprehend what he'd seen.
*Like what?* I snarled back. *There is no good way to explain this, that there are two souls in one body. He's already lived through so much with me; how much more can you expect him to take?* I got the sense that Jake shrank away, walling himself off from me, and he didn't reply.
I stared woodenly at the curtain, unable to look at Zane, afraid of what I'd see there. The silence stretched so long and so heavily that even I, usually comfortable with silence, couldn't stand it anymore.
"I'm sorry. That probably wasn't the best way to get you to believe me," I said in the same dead tone, but it felt like I was pleading with him to believe me, forgive me. The shock and fear I'd seen on his face when he'd leapt backward had hurt, even though I'd expected him to do it, to feel it.
"You can leave, if you want. You don't have to stay here."
Silence. Any more of it and I was going to start screaming, although I wasn't sure what I'd be screaming about; there was too much to chose from. "Love me," maybe, or "I'm sorry." What the hell do you say to something like this?
"How-" his voice broke. Zane stopped, cleared his throat, tried again. "How are you?"
Okay, unexpected but at least it was something. "How am I what?"
"How are you?" he repeated. "How is… having him there not driving you insane?" It was hard for him to even acknowledge what he'd seen.
"He's not completely here. He's trapped in my subconscious; I'm not really sure how aware he really is. I have to reach for him to get him to talk to me, or be feeling something really strong. Otherwise, he's just existing somewhere; I can barely feel him."
"Oh." There really wasn't anything else to say, was there? The detailed explanation I'd just given him was probably just a little too much information. For that matter, I didn't know why I'd said all that; did I want to chase him away now?
The pain of that thought stole what little breathing capability I'd just regained. Nope, that definitely wasn't the reason.
"Did he… did he heal you?" He meant my heart.
"I don't know. Probably. His heart was healthy, mine wasn't, so when we merged, part of him became me and I guess that's how it got fixed. Does it matter?" All I wanted, what I was practically begging for, was to hear him say he still loved me, that we were still what we were.
"No, I guess not. Can he… hear me?"
"Not unless I wake him up. D'you want me to?" Please, say no; don't put me in the middle again. I can't be just a conduit to him for you. Please tell me I still mean something.
"No." Tentative, then more definitive. "No, don't." A tentative touch on my shoulder that nearly made me jump out of my skin. Please, please…
"Tobi… Tobi, look at me, please." Why? What do you want to see? Or who? Slowly, because I didn't want to but because he'd asked, I rolled over, lifting my gaze up his chest, his shoulders, his neck, over his face to finally meet his eyes. He was trying to smile, and doing a fairly reasonable job. Only I would've seen the strain in it.
"I'm still who I was," I said softly, begging him to understand, to accept. "Nothing about me has changed, really. Jake is here, yes, but he did all this because he loves you. Still. He didn't do this for me. He's willing to spend the rest of my life trapped in my body with no control and barely any sense of who he is because he couldn't stand to leave you alone. He sacrificed himself to save me in order to save you."
"I know," he whispered, staring at me with the same frozen look in his eyes. "I know. It's just…"
"A lot to process?" I offered, just this side of humorous; I was surprised I could manage humor at all. He laughed shakily, still staring at me.
"I wouldn't believe it either if I hadn't lived through it," I assured him. Slowly, we were crawling back onto solid ground, and I dared to hope that there might be hope after all.
"What are you going to tell the Matrons about your amazing return to life?"
"That my eternal love for you refused to let my heart cease, instead dragging me back into the world of the living so I could stay with you," I said with a perfectly straight face.
Zane laughed, a real laugh, and the weight in my chest that was keeping me from breathing crawled off me a little. "Too much?" I asked with a grin that was only partly forced.
"It sounded like a bad ballad," he replied.
"I'll keep working on it then." I drank in the sight of his smile, as tenuous as it might be, his warm eyes as he regarded me. I hadn't dared to hope that he'd be accepting of this, not so quickly; I reflected that my life was more a fairytale than anything I'd ever read in a book. I wondered if it came with a happy ending, too.
"Are we…?" I asked hesitantly, still looking into his eyes. I needed to know, and it didn't look like I was going to get my answer unless I broached the subject first. Zane sobered almost immediately, looking at me with so many emotions I couldn't tell them apart; my heart clenched as I hastily prepared to backtrack.
"Still what we were?" he finished, almost my exact words. I nodded timidly, afraid to know the answer; even Jake was silent, tense inside me, waiting for the answer that could break us all.
He watched me for so long, seemingly reading whatever he saw in me; my heart was pounding in me, my pulse throbbing in my ears.
He got up.
I stopped breathing.
Leaned over and kissed me so hard my lips bruised. Frozen in disbelief, I couldn't move until he pulled back.
"This could be interesting," he murmured to me, his breath tickling my face as he spoke.
I knew he was joking, felt how much it cost him to do it, but it was more than enough. I remembered how my arms moved, grabbed him, overjoyed and still a little desperate, and pulled him back into the kiss and he came without hesitation.
Yup, happy ending all around.