Disclaimer: I don't own anything having to do with SoN or it's companies or story lines or characters, etc.
Author's Note: LAST CHAPTER! Yes, it has finally arrived. The last chapter of this fic. I hope you've enjoyed the ride as much as I have. Thank you all for your glorious reviews and comments. I love you all! And if you miss the angst, please feel free to read my oneshot story, Gracefully Falling. Yes, that is a shameless plug.
They remained still and quiet for awhile. Spencer took that time to simply listen to Ashley's heartbeat. To watch the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest. To feel the familiar soft skin clasped in her hand. It was yet another moment she never wanted to end. She wanted to be locked liked this together forever. In the silence. In the comfort. In the familiar.
But eventually Spencer recognized a shift in Ashley's breathing. She was about to speak and the moment would then be broken. Spencer was struck with a moment of panic. She was terrified of what Ashley would say. As afraid as she was of some sort of brush off, she was equally scared of the seemingly endless love Ashley seemed to be sending in her direction. It made her mind foggy. It made her emotions dance in her stomach.
"No! No, don't, please. Let's just pretend for a bit longer," she suddenly blurted out as Ashley's mouth opened.
Ashley looked back at her, her dark eyes sad and wet. "Oh, Spence…"
And with that, with just her name, Ashley made Spencer cry again. The sadness in her voice reached the deep spot in Spencer. The love that had laced the blonde's name mingled with Spencer's equal love in return. The unflinching honesty in her gaze and broken Spencer once again.
Ashley's arms tightened around Spencer as she cried into the brunette's shoulder, her body shaking with each ragged breath in. Once she was able to collect herself Spencer took the initiative again and began to speak.
"You were like Christmas."
Ashley looked back in silent question. Her hand continued to stroke Spencer's back almost unconsciously.
"When you're little you believe in Santa. You believe in this magic that's bigger than you are, more than you could ever have hoped could really exist. And then you get older. And one day you find out it's all a lie. There's no Santa. There's no magic. Suddenly Christmas doesn't mean what it did anymore. Sure you still have the giving and the kindness. And that's amazing. But it no longer keeps you up at night with breathless anticipation. You were my Christmas. Being with you, our love, was more than I had ever dreamed of love being. But then I got older and I found out it was all a lie. Yes, we loved each other. But just as easy as the magic of Santa was gone, so were you. There is no such thing as magic. Life is just people pulling the wool over your eyes and trying to pass it off as more than it actually is."
There was more bitterness in her speech then Spencer had intended. But once she had begun to explain the words just seemed to fall out of her mouth. Glancing back up at Ashley again she noticed the older girl was now the one with the wet cheeks. Resting her head back on the girl's shoulder Spencer tried to give her silent support.
"You're wrong, Spence," Ashley finally said, surprising the blonde. There was no bitterness behind the words, it was a simple and direct statement. She spoke it as the truth.
"You're wrong because Santa was never the magic behind Christmas. And you know me, I'm not referring to some theological event here either. There's still a magic because there is that kindness. There is that giving. And that's rare, isn't it? I mean hell, even my mom was nice to me on Christmas. And there's still a magic to us. Because there's still that love. I mean look at us now. Here. There still is magic, Spence. There still is magic," she repeated resolutely.
Spencer kept her face buried in Ashley's shoulder, unsure of what to respond. She felt her emotions fight for dominance inside her. She couldn't help but wonder which one would win out.
Suddenly Ashley sat up in bed knocking Spencer off of her. She brought her knees up to her chest and dropped her head onto them. Her usual defensive position.
"I know that I'm the strong one. And I know that I'm the one who left, that I'm the one who started all of this. But it's killing me too, Spence. Every second without you feels like it's being seared into my body as a memory of what I lost. I told you my life was split into two times. I meant that. And this time after, it destroys me as much as it destroys you. I guess I just hide it better. I've always hidden my emotions better."
Spencer slowly sat up next to Ashley taking in the girl's defeated posture. She wrapped her arms around the older girl and held her close. She softly began to hum, a moment reminiscent of when they were together and Ashley would awaken from horrible nightmares of being alone only to be held by a loving Spencer humming a lullaby.
For a moment Ashley seemed to melt into her embrace but then she stiffened and pulled away.
"Say it," she said, her eyes intense, her mouth hard.
Spencer looked away as her body began to shake. Was this what she had planned? Was this what she had really come here hoping to achieve?
"I don't know what you're talking about," she lied.
She felt Ashley's hand as it gently cupped her face, lifting it back up until she was again looking into those endless eyes. "Say it," she repeated quietly.
Spencer tried to swallow the lump that had taken up residence in her throat. She cleared her throat and tried again, "I don't…I don't…" she stuttered.
By this time Ashley had once again taken Spencer's hand into her own. She had it open and was lightly running her fingertips across the palm and down the other girl's fingers.
"Have I ever told you how much I love your hands?" she asked quietly.
Spencer just shook her head, grateful for the reprieve.
"Well, I love your hands," Ashley continued, "because they remind me of your personality. On first appearance, even with just the occasional caress, they come of just delicate. Smooth, sweet, gentle. And they are. You are. But take it from someone who has spent the best times of her life holding onto this hand -- they are strong. There's this surprising strength in them. Don't belittle that strength."
With that Ashley clasped Spencer hand in both of her own. The brown eyes once again met blue. "Say it," Ashley whispered.
Spencer chases after Ashley angrily. The wind causes the sand on the beach to whip around her face and she almost loses the girl in the darkness before finally catching up with her.
"Why won't you just say it?" she asks whipping Ashley around to look at her in the dying light.
"Why do I have to?" Ashley asks just as angrily. "You already know it. It's not that I don't feel it. It's not that I haven't always felt it. I just can't say it! I just can't!"
"Because sometimes we have to do what scares us, Ash. Sometimes we need to break our own walls down. Sometimes we have to give more than what we think we can."
"They're just words, Spence. Words that are said far too often. Words that are used and abused. And I won't be like that! I won't be like everyone else in my life," Ashley cries out close to tears.
Spencer grabs her shoulders and practically shakes her. "Say it! Say it and dare to mean it. Say it and trust me to keep it sacred. To keep it safe. Say it. Say it."
"I love you."
"I love you."
Ashley grinned. "See? Now that wasn't so hard was it?"
Spencer had to admit that she felt lighter. She felt free of a burden that had been sitting on her chest for a long time. She felt the darkness that still lingered at the edge of her vision slowly clearing away.
"I love you too," Ashley said, looking as though she's about to break out into song and dance.
"It doesn't make everything better again, Ash. I'm still broken. I'm still hurting. I'm only starting to get better."
Ashley looked back at her, shocked. "I know that, Spencer. But when that happens. I'm still going to be here. I'm still going to love you. And I'm still going to want you. While I still think I'm less than you deserve I've grown up enough to realize, we need each other. We are soul mates and without you I'm just lonely jelly without any peanut butter to make the perfect sandwich."
Her analogy elicited the grin Spencer knew she was aiming for. "We'd still be lacking bread," she couldn't help but point out.
"Well now you're just getting kinky on me, Miss Carlin," Ashley responded, managing to pull off a pretty good look of innocence. Her expression then softened as she leaned in close.
"Say it again, Spence. Say it if you mean it. Say it if you want us to work this out, if you want me to always be with you, to always love you."
"I love you," Spencer whispered closing the space between them.
This time the kiss was soft and sweet. It was another first. Another new beginning. It was full of promise and love, both familiar and unknown.
Spencer leans back into Ashley's arms as they watch the fireworks explode around them. She feels safe and happy. She feels home. "Do you think it will always be like this? You and me?" she asks the girl holding her.
Ashley hums happily in her ear and gives her lobe a gentle kiss. "And all other people?"
Spencer giggles and slaps the bare leg next to her, "I'm being serious."
Ashley sighs but takes a moment to reflect. "I don't think I can say that it will always be like this. But together is how we will always end up. That I'm sure of. Because you're home to me, Spence. You are the home I never had. And wherever you are, that's where I should be."
Spencer kisses the arms that tighten around her, "So what you're saying is that no matter what happens, we'll always find our way back to each other? Destiny?"
"Yeah, Spence. That's what I'm saying."
"I like that."
"Me too, baby. Me too."