"I'd already lost him once."
"Because if you die, I die too. If I'm tied to you, then without you here I have no reason to be here either."
It's a sobering thought, knowing that you are the reason someone exists, that their life is in your hands. And if this was the case with anyone but Jesse, I could see myself running for the hills this very moment. But with Jesse, I could see myself loving him forever. Till the day I die.
It doesn't make the situation any less daunting though.
The worst part was that I couldn't help him.
I was just stood, both out of sight and mind, as Father Dominic spoke in Latin riddles, lit candles and incense. He chanted words I didn't understand; talking to a higher power I wasn't sure I even believed in. Not that my focus was on him.
In front of me, Jesse lay thrashing, pain convulsing his body as an eerie scarlet glow filtered down from the big red dome looming above our heads. Tears stabbed at my eyes – Jesse was suffering, for me, and I couldn't help him. I couldn't make the pain go away.
And it was all a result of my selfish desire to have him with me everyday for the rest of my life.
I didn't even know if the ritual was working – Father Dominic had said it was a risk. Jesse had already undergone all of this once, and survived. Twice may be pushing his natural body to the limit and leaving him suspended between this world and the next permanently – with no body, and no means of carrying on to the next stage.
The chanting had stopped, but the flames grew brighter and Jesse continued wrestling with the air. His ghostly glow was dimming and I didn't know if that was a good thing.
"Father Dominic?" I whispered, scared to interrupt what could possibly be an integral part of the ritual – heck if I knew, I'd never done this before. "Is everything … ok?"
His silence spoke volumes and I felt the tears escape my eyes as I shook my head in denial.
Jesse was dying. Again. As I stood back and watched, helpless.
My eyes were riveted to the sight of Jesse's body, twitching less and less as he faded into nothingness.
I wasn't let him go so easily this time. I'd already lost him once.
Without a thought, I pushed past Father Dominic and ran forward, throwing myself over Jesse. My left hand interlinked with his as my kisses intermingled with my tears over his face.
"No, Jesse," I sobbed into his chest. "Don't do this to me, not again." More kisses. His nose, his eyelids, his lips. "Don't leave me." His cheeks felt warm beneath my clammy hands. "I love you, Jesse."
Faintly, I head someone, probably Father Dominic, shout my name in horror and I started upright to see the thin, flickering candle flames grow to a roaring fire and trap me in the circle with Jesse.
It happened so quickly: the flames, the blinding light, the white noise. And I couldn't find it in myself to care. As long as I was with Jesse, and I could feel him beneath me – as palpable as a ghost can be to a mediator – it meant he hadn't disappeared, and with Jesse in the world, nothing could be wrong.
My head killed. Short stabbing pains behind my eyes, a low throbbing at my temples. I groaned. It felt like the world's worst hangover – not, I hasten to add, that I've ever been hungover. Because that would be illegal.
Something nudged at my lips, something cool and made of glass.
I did as I was ushered – I was in no condition to argue. Besides, a nice glass of water was exactly what I needed.
"Is she okay?" A different voice spoke now, as lips pressed to my forehead.
Confusion made my already-painful head hurt. Open your eyes, Suze. Open them.
"She's fine." I grumbled, eyes blinking open before squinting through the sun gleaming through my window. "How'd I get here? Last I remember, I was …" instantly, I sobered. "Jesse? Where is he? Is he alright? Did it work?"
"Suze…" Paul's voice began. Wait a minute. Paul. He was angry at me. Why was he here?
"Paul? Is that you?" I mentally kicked myself. Stop with all the questions. "What are you doing here?"
Okay, fine, one more won't hurt.
"Shh, Suze," I blinked up at him. He blurred for a moment, a tanned blur with darker hair and streaks of highlights. But he was stood over by the door. Which means someone else was in my room. "You've been out of it for a while. You're such an idiot I could wring your neck, but you're okay. And that's all that matters."
I grumbled again. Seriously, what was up with this headache from hell? All I did was throw myself in the middle of a risky ritual. Pain wasn't in the equation. For me, anyway. Jesse suffered a lot.
I tried again. "Where's Jesse?"
Paul didn't say anything and my heartbeat raced, pounding against my chest. It didn't work. Jesse was gone.
Unbelievably, I started crying again.
The other presence in the room was instantly at my side, strong hands brushing away the tears from my cheek.
"Susannah," a man whispered. "Calm down. I'm fine. It worked."
I recognised the voice, I could hear the smile in it, the relief. His voice was shaking from suppressed tears of his own. I didn't believe it though. Not until I heard one particular word leave his lips.
"Querida, it's me."
Frozen, I finally looked him in the eye and saw his warm hazel ones smiling back at me, a sheet of tears pooling under his eyelids. It was Jesse – really, truly Jesse. Without the ghostly glow I'd become accustomed too. I could see the pink in his cheeks again; see the vein on his neck pulsing. I could see his chest taking in breaths -all little, inconsequential things that told me that Jesse was here, in front of me, and alive.
His name fell from my lips in a whisper as I threw my arms around his neck and pulled him closer, kissing him in a way I'd forgotten how much I loved. And he really was an amazing kisser.
"Oh, don't mind me." Paul interrupted. "I'm happy here watching, really continue."
I broke away from Jesse's lips to roll my eyes at Paul – ignoring any and all pain that still panged behind my skull. "Oh, ew, Paul." I smiled at him, and saw his eyes narrowed in restrained anger. So, I'm guessing I'm not entirely out of the woods.
Jesse pulled me back, ignoring Paul's scoff and teasing me into a deeper kiss, only breaking apart when his need to breathe overtook him.
"I'm sorry, Susannah," he whispered. "We were so worried. I'm so glad you're alright."
"You're glad I'm alright?" I countered. "Jesse, last time I saw you, you were fading away into ghostly nothingness. What on earth happened back there?"
They exchanged looks, Jesse and Paul, before they began talking simultaneously.
"You saved him."
"You almost killed yourself, you idiot!"
Paul shook his head. "Honestly, Suze, what were you thinking, running into that circle like that?"
Jesse smiled a watery smile at me. "You're the reason I'm still here."
Colour me confused. "Okay, this Tweedle Dee/Tweedle Dum routine is hurting my head." I looked up at both of them, standing there with similar expressions of concern etched into their features. It really is funny how guys can go from hating each other to fraternal solidarity in the blink of an eye. Or over a period of a few days and a long, painful sleep. "Explain it to me slowly, please?"
"I was dying, Susannah," Jesse began, taking my hand and staring resolutely down at his finger tracing circles in my palm. "More so then just lingering here in my ghostly form."
"What changed?" My voice was quiet, scared.
"You went barrelling across a magic boundary and sacrificed yourself is what happened!" Paul's outburst was coupled with the tightening of Jesse's fingers around my own.
"Remember what Father Dominic put us through? Making sure we truly loved one another –" Paul made gagging noises. "- before he'd go through with the ritual?" I nodded mutely. "It wasn't enough. The ritual wanted proof."
"So when I broke through the boundary, I proved my love for you?"
It didn't seem like it to me. Then again, I'm likely to have a concussion.
Jesse smiled and kissed the tip of my nose. "You were willing to die to be with me." His lips met mine. "That's proof enough for me."
I returned his kiss. "So, it's over?" I was the queen of questioning today. "We can finally be together?"
"Yes, querida. We can."