Title: Half Alive
Pairing: Jasper/Paul
Word Count: 6,014
Rating: M/NC-17
When the person you thought loved you most in the world disappears, how do you go on? Can you rebuild or will you go on forever half alive?

The title comes from the lyrics from Christina Perri's song, "Jar of Hearts."
ive learned to live, half alive
and now you want me one more time

It begins to rain just as I leave the parking garage. Grumbling under my breath and clutching my environmentally friendly, reusable grocery bag to my chest, I dash the half of a block from the garage to our apartment building.

Sometimes it really doesn't seem worth it to live in a downtown metropolitan area with no real public transportation.

I stand under the awning, fumbling with my laptop case and grocery bag until I free a hand enough to be able to punch in the security code to the door. Lightning flashes and thunder rumbles, almost drowning out the buzzer as the door unlocks.

I slip inside gratefully, setting my burdens down long enough to pull out my keys and open up our mail slot. Nothing but bills and a postcard from Rosie, now on her honeymoon with Emmett in Jamaica.

I stuff the envelopes into my pocket and run a hand through my hair, trying to shake out some of the excess water. My feet squelch unpleasantly in my boots, but there is no helping that until I get upstairs.

Just as I re-shoulder my laptop case and gather my grocery bag, the door buzzes and opens behind me. I turn, smiling, to see Mrs. Jenkins, our elderly neighbor from just down the hall. I rush to hold the door open for her and she shakes her umbrella out as she steps into the foyer.

She leans in close to me and pats my cheek, a look of sympathy on her face. "How are you, dear?"

I let the door close behind us and smile at her again. "I'm fine, ma'am. Just wet after getting caught in the rain on the way in from work. How are you?"

To my surprise, her eyes widen and she pales. Her gaze flickers momentarily towards the building elevators before resting back on mine. "Just in from work? Oh, then I guess you haven't….well…of course not."

Once again, her eyes glance momentarily up toward the ceiling before she pastes on a fake smile and pats my arm.

"Gotta run. You take care now."

And before I can stop her, she flings the building door open and sets out into the rain again, barely getting her umbrella open before she makes it out from under the awning.

Shrugging off her odd behavior, I cross the lobby and hit the button for the elevator. Impatiently waiting for the ancient thing, I let myself think of what awaits me upstairs.

Since it is Friday night, I know that Paul will have beaten me home. I hope that there is something wonderfully Italian simmering on the stove, warming the apartment with its comforting aroma.

There will be Etta James crooning on the stereo system. My man is old school and romantic like that.

He will have changed after work, I am sure. His worn-in jeans and battered Yankees t-shirt are my favorites. Luckily for me they are also his favorite casual wear.

There will be dinner, then dancing, and then making out on the sofa before we head to the bedroom. We will love each other slowly before falling asleep and once more in the morning before getting up to enjoy our Saturday.

I shiver, partially from the direction my thoughts have flown and partially from my cold, wet clothes. Finally the elevator dings at me, and the doors slide open.

It seems to take forever before they open again on the third floor. I get off and head down the hall and around the corner to our place.

Almost bouncing with anticipation, it takes me several tries to get my key to slide into the lock, but finally I'm able to unlock the door and fling it open.

"Honey, I'm…" My joyful call stops abruptly as I look around, puzzled.

The apartment is absolutely silent. There is no Etta singing her songs from the speakers, no pasta bubbling joyfully on a back burner, and definitely no Paul coming to the door to greet me with a kiss.

Disgruntled at this rather unexpected turn of events, I kick the door shut with my foot. I let the bags fall and don't bother to pick them up. Icy waves that have nothing to do with my damp clothes are racing up and down my spine; my every sense trying to tell me that something is horribly, horribly wrong.

"Paul?" I call out uncertainly. Silence rings in my ears and my heart starts to pound.

Suddenly frightened, my limbs quivering like a rabbit that has suddenly scented a predator, I walk slowly down the dark hall towards our partially closed bedroom door. It creaks open, sounding like something out of a second rate horror movie and I fight down a sudden hysterical urge to laugh.

"Paul?" This time his name comes out in a whisper. Our bedroom is revealed in small slivers as the door opens. My closet, my bedside table, and our bed that I'd made neatly that morning. It is still made, only now the duvet lies wrinkled and mussed.

I push the door open further to reveal Paul's bedside table, his closet doors, and then finally the open door to our bathroom.

Without thinking, I step towards the end of the bed and smooth the covers down neatly. My mind flashes to Mrs. Jenkins in the lobby, her eyes glancing towards the elevator and then towards the ceiling and I have to swallow hard around the lump in my throat.

I move around the corner of the bed to stand in front of Paul's closet. I lose track of how much time I stand in front of the white doors before I finally reach out a trembling hand and slide the door open.

It takes my brain several long minutes to understand what I am seeing in front of me. White plastic hangars click together as I absentmindedly run my hand over them. I had once teased Paul about the number of black dress shoes he owned, but now the floor of the closet is bare.

Shock siphons off any excess energy contained in my body, leaving me to shuffle slowly to the bathroom. I flick the switch to turn on the light. The medicine cabinet has been left cracked open and both of his shelves are empty except for a lone bottle of Claritin, which is probably mine anyway.

Something moves out of the corner of my eye and I turn quickly, only to spy myself in the mirror. My appearance jolts me.

My normally tan skin is now sallow and my blue eyes are glazed over in stupefaction. My hair clings damply to my face. I shake my head fiercely, causing water to splatter over my reflection in the mirror and run in tiny rivers down the glass.

"Keep it together, Jasper," I whisper to my reflection and slam my fist down on the bathroom vanity.

The sound snaps something inside of me and I whirl around, now a blur of motion. I run through the office and the spare bedroom, throwing open doors and pulling out drawers.

Gasping for breath, I end up back in the living room, where my laptop and the groceries sit forgotten on the floor in front of the door. I pause, my gaze finally seeing what I'd missed the first time. The empty spots in the CD towers, the full shelf of DVDs that are missing, and the picture frames laying face down on the bookshelves.

A sob rises up in my chest, but comes out as a whimper. I round the corner, noting the painting missing over the dining room table, before entering the kitchen.

And here…here is where he has left the most damage. Here in this room that contained everything that he loved. This room that I considered the heart of our home - simply because he loved it and used it to nourish and love me. Here is where the evidence of his departure becomes irrefutable.

Every single cabinet door stands wide open and drawers remain fully extended. The white china plate ware that we'd received as a house-warming gift is gone, along with the thousand-dollar pot and pan set I'd given him for Christmas.

The counters themselves are missing the blender, the food processor, the toaster, and the fancy cappuccino machine that I never figured out how to use. All of his gadgets that he ordered from Williams-Sonoma, most of which I couldn't even name much less use, have disappeared.

My smiling face looks down on me mockingly from the pictures stuck to the refrigerator. Even here, he has removed himself, taking down any pictures that contained his image.

And then I see it and I sway on the spot, my knees threatening to give out underneath me.

We used a white dry erase board beside the refrigerator to write notes to each other. Silly notes of love and affection, reminders of dental appointments, or notices that one or the other would be late at work. But now it is wiped clean except for two words, written in stark black, stilted handwriting. I'm sorry.

A low moaning wail rips from my chest and out through my mouth. I slide down the wall opposite the fridge, covering my face with my hands. I try futilely to stem the tide of tears, to push away the pain and the betrayal and the sudden, stifling loneliness.

He is gone.

o - o - o - o - o - o

Four months later

"Jasper, I've barely seen you since Emmett and I got back from Jamaica! Please say you'll come!"

I tuck my phone under my ear as I walk, barely able to keep the laughter out of my voice at my sister's pleading.

"Rosie, I've been over to your house at least once a week since you guys came home. You've got to be getting tired of me by now. Besides you know I hate I-40 on Friday nights, the traffic is a nightmare getting out of downtown."

I enter the security code into the front door and step inside the cool lobby. The Tennessee humidity is a killer by June.

"Listen to me, Jay. It's been nearly two weeks since we've seen you. Hairy Potter misses his Uncle Jay!" Rosalie's voice breaks, and I know she is trying to stifle a giggle at our ridiculous conversation. Hairy Potter is their golden retriever and the dog absolutely hates me.

"Fine, fine, I'll come over tonight so Emmett can turn large portions of meat into inedible chunks of charcoal." This causes my sister to laugh outright, which in turn makes me smile.

I step off the elevator and turn the corner; Rosie's voice is a cheerful hum in my ear.

This is often the worst part of my day since Paul left, which is why I am so grateful for my sister's daily phone calls. Part of me always expects things to be normal; that I will somehow open my door and he will come in from the kitchen to greet me as usual.

That first shock of opening the door to a quiet apartment can be brutal.

"Look Rosie, I'm just getting in. I'll call you when I leave, okay?" She agrees and I disconnect, fumbling with my laptop bag, keys, and phone. Finally I get the door unlocked and swing it open.

For a moment, it's like the past four months never happened. The lights are on and candles glow warmly from the end tables on either side of the couch and from the center of the coffee table. Soft jazz whispers delicately from the stereo system and there is the unmistakable smell of garlic and tomato sauce wafting through the air.

I stand and stare dumbly.

"Jasper! You're home!"

I look to my left and my jaw drops as Paul comes through the kitchen doorway, a kitchen towel tucked into the waist of his jeans. He is barefoot and smiling.

Paul slides my laptop bag from my shoulder and sets it in its usual place beside the door. He leans in and kisses me quickly on the cheek and my eyes close at the familiar smell of his shampoo and skin lotion.

My brain races to catch up with what's happening. In my stunned state, I allow Paul to lead me to the dining room table that has been set with our best china.

I sink into the chair, stunned and absolutely silent. Paul chatters on about nothing, trivial, meaningless banter.

Without hesitation, he spoons pasta and sauce on to the plate in front of me. I look down at it dully and then back to him, but I don't touch my fork or begin to eat. For the first time his chatter falters and he blushes bright red as I continue to gaze at him, my brow furrowed.

Out of the corner of my eye, I notice that the painting that once hung in this room is still missing. It is this, more than anything, which makes me realize that the past few months were not a nightmare; that they were indeed a harsh reality. My stomach begins to churn and my heart begins to pound as fury races through me.

I stand up so quickly that the chair tips over behind me and crashes to the floor with a loud clatter. I see Paul flinch and for a moment, a furious red haze blinds me.

Fearing the tenuous control I have over my anger, I turn quickly and walk back into the living room.

I stand and look around, noticing that the CD and DVD shelves are full again.

And all I can think is, "How dare he."

Paul clears his throat behind me and I have to close my eyes to control my rage. "Jasper – "

I cut him off, the sound of his voice like pouring gasoline on a fire.

"What the fuck are you doing here?"

I turn to face him, shaking with the effort of repressing my fight or flight response.

He is pale under his cinnamon hued skin. It makes him look green, sick.

"Look, Jay – "

"No! You do NOT get to call me that anymore."

Paul blinks at me and his eyes shine with unshed tears. I want to rage. I want to throw things and break glass and make him hurt.

"I know you're angry – "

I scoff, once again cutting him off before he can finish his thought.

"Guess what, Paul? You don't KNOW me anymore. You are the one that walked away without a word!"

A single tear slips down his cheek, but he wipes it away impatiently.

"Can I please finish?"

I turn away and walk to the window where I grip the sill tightly. There is silence for mere seconds before he begins.

"I went home," he says simply, as if that explains it all. "My father had been sick for weeks and my sister, Leah, called the day before I….left….to tell me that they didn't think he would make it." His voice breaks and I turn to face him.

For the first time I'm past my shock enough to really look at him. He has lost a significant amount of weight; his high cheekbones now sharp under his skin. His eyes are dull behind the tears and his forehead has a new permanent crease. It looks like he's been spending a significant amount of time frowning.

When he continues, his voice is thick with emotion.

"I had to choose. My dad is…was…the chief. If something happened to him, I was next in line. I thought it would be easier for both of us if I made a clean break and left without any long goodbyes or tearful scenes."

Now he is crying, cheeks shining with the wetness as the tears slide unnoticed down his face. I yearn for him, longing to pull him to me and cradle his body in order to comfort him.

"It's been drilled into me my whole life, Jasper. I would take over for my father when his time as chief was done. I was brought up to be that person; the provider for the family and loyal to the tribe above all. So when Leah called, I had to go."

"But you couldn't tell me? You couldn't take me with you or at least let me know where you were or how you were doing?" This time it's my voice that breaks as I remember the night he left and the weeks afterward. I'd spent so much time crying for him, scared for him, wondering where he was and why I wasn't enough to keep him here.

"I couldn't risk anyone finding out about you. About me. You know I never came out to my family. I would have lost everything."

Paul steps in front of me and rests his hands on either side of my neck. "And I know that in my attempt not to lose everything, I lost the one thing that truly matters….you."

He kisses me, the heat of his mouth and his scent surrounding me and making me light-headed. I can't help but to wrap my arms around his waist, pulling him tight against me. When we're like this, it's as if the past four months never happened. It's like I never have to doubt that he loves me or that he wants to be with me.

But the last four months did happen and I can't deny it, even to myself.

I begin to cry, the tears rolling down my cheeks and my shoulders shaking with sobs. The grief washes over me in waves and I sink to the floor. Paul sits with me and holds me as I cry. There is dampness in my hair and I realize that he is crying too.

"I'm so sorry, Jasper. So, so sorry. Please forgive me, baby, please..."

My phone starts ringing and I push away from the warmth of his body.

"Shit." I sigh and hit the 'answer' button. "Hey Rosie, I know I'm late. Something came up that I have to deal with. I love you and I'll call you later."

I don't give her a chance to say anything. I say what I need to say and hang up, switching my phone off.

Paul and I sit in silence for several minutes. I can't look at him, choosing instead to scrub my hands over my face, trying to collect my dignity.

"Forgiving you isn't the problem, Paul. Trusting you, on the other hand," I scoff. "I'd say ever trusting you again is pretty much out of the question."

He pushes himself up off the floor and then comes to stand in front of me.

"Jasper, please, come eat. I can reheat the pasta."

I look up at him, disbelieving. "This doesn't fix anything, Paul. We….I can't just go back to normal like that."

He sighs and I see a bit of temper flare across his features, but it's gone before I can get angry.

"I'm not asking you to do anything but put sustenance in your body. I promise. Will you please just eat?"

He holds out his hands and after a moment's hesitation, I let him help me up.

Of course he's right. I do feel better after I eat even though the simple task is accomplished in awkward silence.

It frightens me how easily we fall back into old rhythms. We move through the same space in the kitchen with ease, albeit quietly. He begins to rinse and stack dishes in the dishwasher as I clear the table and put away leftovers.

Finally there is nothing left to clean, nothing to put away. It is just Paul and I staring at each other across the kitchen island.

"I thought my life was over," I say quietly. "I know that sounds melodramatic and like something out of a cheesy teen romance movie, but it's the truth. Every day I woke up and I felt like I had forgotten how to breathe."

Tears sting the back of my throat again, but I push on. He isn't looking at me now, choosing instead to gaze down at his hands where they rest on the granite.

"The pain was unbearable and without my sister and Emmett, I would have broken under it. I mean, I'm just beginning to feel like I'm surfacing again, that I can survive you being gone, and instead you're back. And it's like I'm expected to just forget that you ever left."

Paul says nothing in his defense, but I can see his hands trembling.

"Can't you see, Paul? If I let you in again, there will always be a part of me that expects you to run off again. Every night when I turn my key in the lock, I'll wonder if I'll come home to you or to your empty closets."

When he speaks again, his voice is quiet and contained. I can't even be angry at his words because of the sincerity that rings through them.

"It wasn't easy for me either. And I know I don't deserve, nor do I want, any sympathy. But you should also know that I hurt myself too, when I left. I lived with them for four months and every day I ached for you. But I had to keep it a secret. Like it was dirty. Like my love for you was dirty."

He pauses and I watch as the muscle in his cheek twitches as he clenches his jaw.

"I lived with them for four months and every day was misery because they have no idea who I even am. How could they? I couldn't tell them about you and you're such a huge part of me. God, Jasper, I love you so fucking much and I hate that I did this to you and to us."

His words begin to seep into my heart, acting like a healing balm on the cuts and abrasions that his leaving caused.

I shake my head, unwilling to give in so easily. I glance quickly at the clock and am shocked by how late it's gotten. The exhaustion weighs me down and I long for the comfort of my bed.

"It's late and I need to sleep."

Paul nods once and shuffles slowly to the door. I sigh.


He pauses, but doesn't turn around.

"Do you have a place to stay tonight?"

He shrugs. "I thought I'd just go grab a hotel room for the night. Figure out what to do in the morning."

The breath whooshes out of me at the thought of him leaving again.

"You can stay here, if you want. I mean, in the guest room. Since it's so late, I mean."

He turns then to face me, the ghost of a smile on his face.

"Thank you."

o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o

Weeks pass, but Paul doesn't leave again. He reapplies for his old job and they want to welcome him back with open arms, but they have to wait until the contract runs out on the person they hired to replace him. Without a job, he can't apply for an apartment of his own, so he continues to live with me, but he stays in the guest bedroom.

He and I step uncomfortably around each other like two magnets that are turned the wrong way. I want him so badly that it turns into actual pain, but I force myself to limit our physical contact.

I only break that embargo one time. I come home early one afternoon to find him curled in a ball on his bed. His shoulders shake with his sobs and he tells me in broken words about his father's funeral and the hole that his death has left in his life.

I can say nothing to help, but I gather him to me and let him cry into my neck. He misses his family, especially his nieces and nephews. My stomach turns to ice when I realize that he still has not come out to them and that I am still his dirty little secret.

Eventually he falls asleep and I slip away. I can't fight the dark thoughts so I give in and quietly get drunk at my dining room table.

o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o

By the middle of August, the heat is oppressive and I've lost about fifteen pounds from the worry and stress nagging at me. Every day is a battle.

I fight to let myself trust Paul again. Every time I come home and he's there, it's one more brick taken out of the wall between us.

I fight myself not to give in to the physical yearning I feel for him.

I fight Rosalie to stay out of the whole mess and let me handle things on my own.

I am sick to death of fighting a war which I'm not sure I can win.

So when I turn the corner into our hallway and hear raised voices coming from our apartment, I have to stop and lean wearily against the wall. I honestly don't know if I have the energy to deal with anything else.

I breathe deeply for several heartbeats and then continue on, sliding my key in the lock and opening the door. It is suddenly quiet inside and I walk in to see Paul staring down a tall woman who shares his coloring and the shape of his eyes.

"Jasper. This is my sister, Leah."

I nod to her and turn to set down my bag on the floor and return my keys to their spot hanging by the door.

"Paul, maybe we should go somewhere more private," Leah suggests, turning her back to me.

To my surprise, he ignores her and moves across the room to me, slipping his arm around my waist. Despite the surprise, my body automatically melts into his warmth.

"Leah, anything you have to say to me can be said in front of Jasper. Besides I'm not sure what else we have to talk about. I already told you, I'm not going back and I've already explained why."

She glares at me and him, staring pointedly at the spot where we are connected. Then her voice turns pleading.

"Paulie, you can't mean this. You don't know what you're giving up! We need you! Is he worth giving up your heritage, your life?"

I stiffen automatically at the slight, but Paul squeezes my side reassuringly.

"LeeLee, I've told you. I'm not meant to be chief; it isn't for me. I'm gay. Nothing's going to change that and nothing's going to change the tribe's views on that." He pauses, and I know that despite his outwardly calm demeanor, this is hurting him. "And Jasper has nothing to do with my decision, although if he ever trusts me enough to love me again, I will count myself as the luckiest bastard ever."

An echoing silence rings through the apartment as his words die away. He watches me, I watch Leah, and her gaze flickers back and forth between the two of us. Suddenly her lip trembles and she blinks furiously.

"I can't keep this secret for you, Paulie," she whispers.

"I understand, LeeLee. I wouldn't ask you to. I wish I could go back and face them, but I just can't leave right now."

I turn slightly in time to see pain flash across his face. And I understand that he's sending her back into the lion's den by herself in order to protect me.

Without warning, the ice around my heart that formed the day he left begins to splinter and crack. Great huge pieces of it fall away until my raw exposed heart pounds within my chest and I could weep from the joy of it.

He is choosing me.

He is choosing me over his sister, over his family, over his tribe. He has meant every word he's said since the day he came back.

And now I have a choice to make.

I turn to him, sliding my fingers through the long ebony hair at his neck.

"Paul, sweetheart, you should go with her. Don't send her to face them alone."

He gasps and panic flares across his beautifully expressive features. "Jasper, I won't. I promised you I wouldn't leave again and I meant it!"

I cup my hand around his cheek and smile, leaning forward to kiss him lightly.

"You'll be back. And I'll be here."

o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o

In the end, I am able to convince him that he should go with Leah and even drive them to the airport to catch their flight.

Part of me thinks I should have gone with them, but I know that this is a battle he needs to fight for himself.

He is gone for a week and, surprisingly, I don't worry. Somehow I know he'll be back and when he does come back, I know he'll truly be free.

Paul calls me on Saturday morning to tell me he'll be back that night. I ask if he's okay and he answers affirmatively, but doesn't share any details. I don't pry, but instead tell him I'll meet him at baggage claim so he doesn't have to worry about trying to catch a cab.

His flight gets in late since his connecting flight in Chicago was delayed for several hours. By the time I see him coming through security, he looks exhausted and beaten. Wordlessly, I pull him into a hug and then take his bags from him to carry.

In the car he tells me about his trip. His voice is soft and wondering as he tells me about the acceptance he found within his family, first with Leah and his nieces and nephews and then with his mother.

The acceptance didn't transfer to the rest of the tribe and he was not allowed to continue as Chief, but he's okay with that, since he didn't want it anyway.

He finally begins to nod off as I drive toward downtown, but he turns to look at me one last time. "My mother wants to meet you. We had many conversations about you while I was there."

Pure pleasure courses through me at the thought of being included in that side of his life. I reach over and take his hand, stroking my thumb over his knuckles as he drifts off.

I get him home and undressed, tucking him securely into our bed.

I let him sleep while I eat dinner and then finally I curl myself around him under the thick, white duvet.

Peacefully, I slip away into a dreamless sleep.

o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o

I wake sometime later as Paul stirs restlessly beside me. I can't see the clock from where I'm laying, but the room is still cloaked in darkness with only a sliver of light shining in from the hallway, so I know it is still late.

Or early, depending on how you look at it.

I turn over to find Paul watching me, hope and love and a little bit of confusion playing over his beautiful features.

"Hi," I whisper and he smiles.

Free from the restraint I've had to show all summer, I slide my hand around to the back of his neck and pull him to me. I kiss him tenderly, letting all of my love and gratitude and want pour from me.

He moans and the kiss deepens, tongues stroking, breath hot.

I want to be tender and take my time, but the need for him is already clawing at me. I tangle my hands in his long hair and bite down gently on his collar bone. His hips move relentlessly against mine and his hardness feels so good against me that I'm grateful for the pajama pants we're both wearing. Otherwise this would be over much too quickly.

Pulling the duvet over our heads to create a cocoon, I begin to lick and suck my way over his cinnamon colored skin, worshipping him in the only way I can.

He cries out as I take him in my mouth, swirling my tongue around his length as he fills my mouth and hits the back of my throat.

I pull back enough to open the drawer in my bedside table, removing a small bottle of lube and a condom before diving back into our cocoon. He smiles and spreads his legs as I spill a few drops and spread it around my fingers. I lean in and kiss him as I press one and then two fingers inside him.

Paul sighs and I kiss my way back down until I'm sliding his cock in and out of my mouth again. In minutes he is bucking up against me and I'm mentally reciting baseball statistics in order to stay in control.

"Jasper, please!" I glance up to find that Paul has his head thrown back, the tendons in his neck straining under the skin.

He is magnificent in this moment, raven hair splashed across the ivory pillowcase, muscles and tendons straining against smooth, tawny skin. I am lost, love washes over me and through me.

"Jay?" Paul's whisper draws me out of my reverie. He reaches down and strokes my cheek. "Are you okay?"

I smile and kiss him, sheathing myself in the condom.

The first push into him is exquisite torture. He is so tight, but he wills his body to accept me again after all these months apart.

Finally I am able to pull out and push back in without hurting him. And soon his cries fill the little encasement I've made around us. I am reduced to grunting, the sensations are almost too much to bear.

Lips meet again and again as our sweat-slick bodies slide against each other.

I am able to hold on until he tenses and spills his orgasm across both of our chests. The contractions of his muscles around me are too much and I groan, finding my own release deep inside him.

We lay panting for a moment before I throw off the duvet. The rush of cool air is very welcome and, as much as I hate to leave him, I get up to dispose of the condom and wet a washcloth with warm water.

I come back to the bedroom and reverently wash him. I take only a moment to toss the cloth back into the bathroom before I slip back into bed beside him.

Paul curls his long, lean limbs around mine and I feel him yawn against my chest.

Stroking my hand over his damp hair, I whisper, "I love you."

It is the first time I've said it since he returned back in June and I feel him still and then he smiles.

"I love you too."

We drift easily back towards sleep and I can't remember the last time I felt so light and easy.

It isn't just the physical release though. It's knowing for certain that when I wake up, he'll be there. It's knowing that he loved me enough to risk losing everything for me. It's knowing that he chose me above everyone else that was important to him.

It is knowing that there will be no more living my life half alive, without him.

With that thought, I slip into unconsciousness, my arms around my beautiful boy.