No One Else
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Author notes: This takes place post Epitaph Two, season two. A few months after.
"You need to rest," he told her, "it's been a long day."
She didn't argue with him; there was no reason to protest against him any longer or to deny the truth of his words, not anymore. Whatever she might say to contradict him, Paul knew her thoughts now, could feel the soreness of her muscles and the weariness of her mind as if it were his own, and he would have no qualms in correcting any statements to the contrary that Echo might make. Her feelings WERE his own now, as much of a part of him as he himself was a part of her, and they existed in tandem with each other, so smoothly that sometimes it seemed as if it had always been so.
As Echo slipped out of her dingy clothing, drawing back the covers of her bed, she felt Paul take control of her hands and smiled, allowing him to do so. As she lay down, he spoke softly, and she saw his faint smile, all the more intriguing to her in contrast with his intense gaze, in her mind's eye.
"Lie on your stomach."
She did as he directed, still allowing him to have possession of her hands. When a few moments later she was aware of her own slim hand running slowly up and down her spine, stroking gently, Echo smiled, turning her face to the side and closing her eyes. She could see Paul more clearly with her eyes closed, in the small empty space reserved just for him in the back of her mind. She was not aware of the awkward bending of her arm to touch her back in such a manner, nor did her hand feel the skin of her back; at the moment, her arm and hand were not hers, not a part of her body, but rather Paul's.
It was Paul who caressed her back, neck and shoulders, Paul who moved her spill of dark hair aside and fingered the area of her spine that its length stopped at. When her hand began to squeeze and press the muscles of her back and shoulders, massaging with firm but gentle pressure, though it was Echo who sighed with contentment, it was Paul's hand that was soothing her tension, Paul's hand that sent a shiver down her spine and a stirring of arousal to her core.
She always saw Paul in some way; even though he could no longer physically appear before her, he was always there, his presence strong enough that in Echo's mind, his physical form manifested itself as well. She saw his face every time he spoke to her, every time he used her body to touch her; he was always there, always whole and real and hers, in the foreground of her mind, whether or not she opened her eyes. Every time she looked in a mirror Echo could see Paul's eyes just behind hers, like a twin shadow lurking behind their surfaces.
His were not the only ones, of course. There were forty others in her mind, all fighting to maintain total control, eager to assert themselves as the dominant identity, or at least to be allowed control of a part of her body. But Echo was unbothered by them. Truthfully, unless she needed one in particular to take over for her, she hardly noticed them anymore. Not like Paul. Sometimes, when he touched her, when he spoke to her, and she focused on seeing his face, seeing his body with hers, Echo felt like it was just them, like nothing and no one existed inside of her except the two of them.
When Echo's muscles were loose and relaxed, her breathing slowed, Paul gave her control back of her hand, and she rolled onto her side slowly, curling her spine so that her arms were drawn close to her chest, her legs bent slightly, eyes still closed. In her mind's eye she faced Paul in the bed, close enough that their foreheads touched as she smiled at him with open eyes.
Her hand, guided by Paul, drifted to her face, stroking back a strand of hair, and inside her mind he smiled at her, his hand lingering by her ear.
There was something troubled, shadowy, in his gaze, and Echo addressed this, her voice soft as her eyes held his.
"What is it, Paul?"
He sighed, his eyes moving aside briefly, and Echo waited for them to return to hers, her forehead creasing slightly.
"I just wish sometimes that there was more I could do for you…that I could really be there. Not just here…" he gestured around the dimly lit space engulfing them, the in-between realm inside her mind. "But there. That I could really hold you…really touch you."
"But you do," Echo replied, her tone serious. Outside of her mind, she curled her legs to her chest, wrapping her arms around herself, and smiled when her arms quickly became Paul's, holding her tightly to him. Her eyes remained closed as within the space of her mind, she pressed her head to Paul's chest, listening to the rhythmic beating of their hearts. "I see you, Paul…I feel you. That is real. Everything we do is real, in its way."
Paul's touch lifted her hand to stroke her face, as her other arm remained wrapped around her chest. In her mind he exhaled, his breath tickling her ear. Both in her mind and in her body Echo shivered with faint pleasure at the sensation.
"You know what I mean."
"And you know what we have," she countered quietly, raising her eyes to his. "If I can't have what we could have had before…if we can't have that…then this is what I want. You and me…always with me. Always here… always understanding."
Taking control of the hand currently resting against her face, Echo continued to speak; in her mind and body both, she lightly touched each part of herself she mentioned, looking into Paul's eyes.
"You're a part of me now, Paul…inside my heart…inside my mind…inside my body."
In her mind's eye his gaze held hers, and on the bed, he used her arms to stroke back her hair, then tighten her arms around her stomach and chest in a close embrace of both him and herself.
"And that will never change," he whispered in her ear, holding her close. "I love that you let me in…that you let me touch you and hold you, that you let me see every part of who you are. But still…you deserve more."
He paused, swallowing, and the arm around Echo's chest tightened slightly before he continued.
"If you were ever to find someone, Echo…I would understand."
Her eyes remained on his intently as she replied, her tone soft.
"But I already have. I've found you."
Inside her mind she lay her head against Paul's chest, listening to his heart, as she lifted her eyes to his, continuing to speak quietly but intently.
"No one else has ever been as close to me as you are now. No one else ever will be or could be, no matter how tightly they hold me. There's no one else, Paul. No one for me but you."
Her hand drifted to her mouth as Paul's lips kissed it, then wrapped her arms around herself. In Echo's mind she closed her eyes as Paul's body wrapped around her smaller frame, spooning her with his length.
"I love you," he told her, and she replied, her voice barely above a whisper.
"I love you."
She could never say it, then, but it was so easy now. Just knowing that he already knew, already understood, made it easier, and Echo repeated the words a little louder. "I love you."
In her mind Paul held her, murmuring soft words occasionally, lulling her to sleep without urgency. Arms wrapped around herself tightly, a faint smile flickering at the corner of her lips, Echo drifted off to the sound of her lover's voice.