The only thing better than cake on one's birthday was presents.

"Open mine Troy! Open mine!" His girlfriend's excited sister pranced around him in his toasty family room, causing rounds of chuckles to echo in his stomach.

"Okay… okay… Ari I'll open yours next!" Troy teased before taking the small sized box from Ari's tiny hand and giving his girlfriend who was sitting across from him on the comfortable floor a knowing smile, even if her gorgeous olive cheeks were rosy in an adorable flush. A pitter patter of his loving heart as his cerulean orbs stared at her like she was the world. Which she was. He felt so perfectly at home with his family surrounding him.

It was hard to believe that only a month ago, Troy had been depressed. He would fully admit it now, he was at one point basically an empty shell. Four months ago it was as though he woke up each morning just to be able to back to bed the next night. That all was, until the fateful day he walked into music production and gazed upon the black haired beauty with irritable brown eyes he couldn't remove his from. The woman who threw him the life jacket even when she was drowning beneath the water herself. She was the reason he had air in his lungs, a beat in his newfound heart, and color in his elder eyes. Gabriella was his life, his love, his everything.

His recovering mother was on his immediate left, the flesh on her bones beginning to grow again so she didn't resemble an old lady anymore, but still looked sickly. Sydney beside her, beaming happily at all the people Troy actually let into his house. Her boyfriend to her right, with strong and in love Chad and Taylor beside them. Troy figured about two weeks ago that Taylor deserved to enter the house also, though he still refused to have anyone but his closest friends in. No way was he going to be taken advantage of. He couldn't be happier for his two best friends, and as Chad gently wrapped a protective arm around her shoulder that fit just for him, he couldn't help but be reminded of his own heart that was smiling perfectly beside Taylor, her eyes never leaving his sparkling blues, which he never wanted them to either.

Ari jumped happily beside her sister, after almost a week of begging Gabriella Troy eagerly let her come to his birthday party Sydney was throwing for him, though the older Montez was not thrilled, but was grateful of him. Alex, one of his best friends for so long who seemed to bring humor to his angst life, smirked lazily next to Ari, a smug look on his face that Troy let him in after all these years.

"Shi…shoot Ari! This is great!" He grinned like a four year old as Ari rushed over to attack Troy in a tight squeeze, cutting off his air pipe. In his hand was held a beautiful black and white framed photograph of Troy, Gabriella, and Ari, playing happily in the snow about a week ago. Gabriella's ecstatic smile cut through Ari's back, Troy knowing full well that she couldn't be any more thrilled at how he and Ari practically became brother and sister in such a short time. "Thank you."

"Ella said you'd like it!" Ari chimed as she let go of him, a rush of blood to his head almost caused him to become dizzy in the bright glow of the lights above him.

"Well, she was wrong. I love it!" An amused smirk on Troy's face as he flashed another look to the perfect girl. He was content to be with all these people, but couldn't help to selfishly crave time alone with his girlfriend.

"Wow, Ari… did you print this yourself?" Lucille's fragile hands carefully picked up the photograph with admiration in her eyes.

"Uh huh!" The eight-year old responded proudly, her round face that resembled her beautiful sister's jetting out cockily.

"That's fantastic." Sydney's perfectly manicured fingers tenderly traced the outline of the picture frame.

"Thank you!" Ari sung before leaping back to her seat on the soft floor.

After finally getting through all the generous presents, Troy heard a distant beeping in the distance of his kitchen. "Oh! That's dinner!" Lucille practically bounced from her seat as though she was the same age as Ari and sprinted towards the wood draped kitchen, proud of herself for making something after not cooking for almost three years. Troy smiled distantly at her, satisfied with the amount she had accomplished in such a short time. She knew now he had made the right decision by forcing her to choose. It was so incredible that the Frisco Rehabilitation center finally set a date for her release, feeling that she would be stable enough to go to psychology sessions, but be able to live with Troy before he left for college. The date was two weeks before graduation.

"I better make sure everything um… is editable." Sydney joked lightly before pulling her kind boyfriend to his feet and leading him to the kitchen. The sparkling diamond on her smooth hand glinted in the light, Troy knowing that in less than a year, she would be married and starting a family of her own. Though Troy would always be in her heart and she would continue to be as a big sister to him as he went away to UCLA in the fall.

Troy was suddenly faced with an overenthusiastic Chad. "Ari! I know Sadie is dying to play with you!" He suggested with a mischievous look on his face. Troy's eyes shot to Gabriella curiously, but she just raised her perfectly formed shoulders in confusion. She had no idea either. What was this about?

"Sadie!" Ari's magenta dress billowed behind her as she mimicked Troy's mother just moments before, skipping out of the room. As soon as everyone in not in high school was gone, Chad pulled a medium sized box wrapped in florescent orange from beside the fireplace; Troy hadn't even noticed it before.

"Okay Chad… what's this about?" The cerulean eyes flashed to smirking Chad with Taylor now under his arm.

"I had nothing to do with this." Taylor's dark hands rose as though a gun was being pointed at her.

"I got you some uh… useful things…" Chad mused before the West High basketball captain suddenly keeled over and burst into spits of uncontrollable laughter. Tears began to stream from his shockingly emerald eyes as everyone turned to him, only Chad matching his random spit. It was good to have Chad still on this high after they had led the Wildcats to the championship, seeing state in their site in just two weeks after they creamed West High in the regional game. Though Alex wasn't thrilled about that.

"Dude… dude you got him…" Alex gasped between cries. Troy was extremely nervous as his eyes left him to turn to a perplexed Gabriella. "Damn why didn't I think of that?"

"It's actually for Gabs too." Chad grinned cheekily before both Gabriella and Troy shot fire and ice towards their friend's chuckling figure.

"YOU DIDN'T!" They both hushed at the same time as though it was a secret that couldn't be revealed.

"Dude, my mom's here! Gabriella's fucking sister is in the other room!" Troy harshly whispered before Chad couldn't control himself anymore. His girlfriend's face was boiling in crimson in embarrassment. It was obvious now that Chad had bought him X rated objects in addition to his pervious present.

"Chill okay?" Chad and Alex finally stopped their rounds of laughter. "You'll thank me later."

"I'm gonna kill you later!" Troy's eyes turned snake like, but never again would they ever graze the blinding white they had once hit when he smashed into rock bottom.

"No you won't," he smirked happily as his beady eyes glanced between the couple. "You're gonna love me."

No matter what happened, Chad had always been there for Troy, and he knew that he would always be there as well. Not only were both of them were going to college together, but both Gabriella and Taylor were going to attend USC, which was only a few miles away from they would be. The two had been through so much together, and Troy knew that without his best friend he would have never made it the three years that he did. Chad gave him strength as well, called him out on his crap, but most of all, had his back through everything. Even if he was an asshole and bought sex items for him for his birthday, Troy would forever be in debt to him.

He sudden felt a looming presence over them and fearfully glanced up to see two acorn eyes narrowed dangerously on the boys. Troy couldn't help but have a guilty throb in his stomach even if he didn't do anything. "Uhh.. hey Syd!" He tried to suck up while hiding the unopened sunburst package.

"Whatever the hell you guys did…" Sydney hissed quietly, glaring angrily at the three boys, assuming that neither Gabriella nor Taylor would be involved with anything inappropriate. "Shoved it up your asses for a few more hours. It's dinner time."

"Saved by the food…" Troy mumbled softly before reaching over to grab a still blushing Gabriella's hand. Shock waves of love were sent through his rough hand before leading her into the kitchen, where the people who mattered to him, who he kept fighting through life to see everyday. Especially the girl who's hand locked securely with his. Sure he had been to hell in back…

But if this was what heaven was like, the shit he had been through was worth fighting for.

"Hurry up! Or we're gonna be out here until like midnight!"

The brisk winter air tickled the side of her strikingly smooth cheeks as she rolled her mocha eyes beneath the tinted silver sunglasses. The painted setting colored sky cast long and illuminating shadows across the spotless snow. Her fuchsia snowboard lay motionless tauntingly as she pretended as though she would be remaining in the position for a long time. The boy dressed in a midnight color jacket that amplified the shockingly bronze skin twenty feet below glared evilly at her. "Well… if you're going to be pushy…"

Troy's black sunglasses glinted in the hazy light. "Awe, come on Gabi! It's my fucking birthday and you can't even be nice to me!"

Gabriella giggled her honey sweet laugh as she gazed down the steep slope of the mountain, knowing that she was the luckiest girl in the world. Troy's dazzling smile matched the glint of the snow beneath her board, almost causing her to race down the mountain side just to put her frozen mouth against his. "I'm being nice to you!" she rebutted teasingly. "I didn't have to come snowboarding with you, you should feel lucky!"

He wasn't the fortunate one and she knew it. It didn't seem like four months since Troy walked into the music production class, shaping her world in more ways than one. It seemed as though Troy had always been with Gabriella. Maybe in some essence they had. Gabriella knew that they were meant to be together, meant to forever have their hand in the other's. It had just taken three years and three thousand tears to get there. It was a long struggle, but they seemed to finally find their place in life. And that was with the other beside them. "Yeah, yeah, yeah whatever… just hurry up!" He chuckled lightly.

"Alright… alright I'm coming!" as she spoke the words, her slender track legs switched on the powdered snow so the gently began her descend down the ninety degree angled hill. She swiftly served back and forth, icy water spraying from the remains of her trail as she left it behind. With ease as she approached him, Gabriella slashed slush into his flawless face, causing his cerulean orbs hidden by the dark toned glasses narrow again.

"Hey!" He yelled annoyingly as his strong arm yanked up to removed this residue from his face.

Gabriella was bursting in hysterical laughter, her lack of balance almost causing her to tip over onto the sloppy snow. "That's what you get for forcing me to do something!" She proclaimed as Troy snickered at her.

"So… we gotta get down…You wanna make this interesting?" Her satin eyebrows rose suggestively at his request.

"What do you have in mind?" Gabriella brought her gloved hand up to brush loose strands of black bangs out of her frozen face.

"Looser blows last tonight." Troy offered and Gabriella's confusion was evident even against her mostly covered visage. Troy's smugness showed through as he adjusted his matching beanie covering his chestnut hair, in preparation. What was he talking about? For some reason she knew it would end up being something bad, or good however you looked at it, but she couldn't understand what he meant by this.

"What do you mean 'blow last'?" Her steady voice was fearful against the whispering wind that painted a rosy cold caused blush to Troy's cheeks. "Like your candles tonight or something when we head back to your place?"

Troy once again chuckled at her naïve behavior. He shook his head vigorously, desire in written in the curves of his smile. "No I mean like…" His head dropped down to the tundra, motioning to the, what Gabriella imagined as protruding, member in the center of his legs. "…blow last when we head back to my place."

"Oh," Gabriella mumbled softly, before realization dawned across her icy figure. "OH!" Troy laughed obnoxiously at her obviously disgusted face. Not that the act would be, but just that Troy was planning on racing her for it. "Troy! You're worse than Chad!"

"Hey, don't blame me for him buying lube and condoms, you know I was against it," he smirked like a champion. "And don't try to bullshit. You know you want to."

Gabriella's hidden eyes rolled for a second time. "Will it shut you up?"

Troy's lips curved evilly once again. "Damn Gabriella… you should know I can't keep quiet when you…"

"You know what I mean!" Gabriella's hand slapped his bulging arm punishing him for his dirtiness.

The snow dangling from the trees fell magically around them as he let out a defeated sigh. "Fine. Winner gets the last slice of cake when we get back. Is that more Disney approved for you?" Troy asked sarcastically, but his smile beamed from ear to ear just at her beauty. She knew the look that stabbed her like Cupid's arrow. It was the look that almost made her fall to her knees and ask why she was given something so perfect in the disturbing life she once lived. Never would she have to live like that again, thanks to the new eighteen year old who gave her the strength she needed stand up for what she had to.

Her mother was getting better. It wasn't perfect, and neither she nor Gabriella was friends, but they could at least talk and be in the same room together. Maria had made an effort to only go out once during the week and once on the weekends, as opposed to the four to five times a week she was previously. She also tried her hardest to go to each daughter's events. Not that she didn't still loved to party like she was a teenager, but Gabriella's fight so long ago invoked a somewhat more grown up mother.

It was all Gabriella could ask of her.

"Much better. Besides… you'd ruin the surprise of one of my presents if you kept that bet," the seductress mused before covering her mouth as though she wasn't supposed to say that. "Oh shit, I ruined it."

Troy's hungry eyes danced on Gabriella's laughing face. "You mean one of my presents is…"

Gabriella's dark orbs dropped to Troy's crotch. "Act surprised when I give it to you." She joked light heartedly.

"Fuck, surprise would be a bad word… drugged would be better," he shuttered pleasurably, no pun intended, at the thought, or maybe it was just the cold that was nipping at Gabriella's skin. Her body trembled, not going unnoticed by her boyfriend. "Okay, you ready now?"

Gabriella shivered coldly before nodding, it was no competition, they both knew Troy's elite snowboarding skills would dominate over Gabriella's mediocre ones, but it was far more amusing pretending like she stood a chance. "Ready." An evil plan already formulating in her brilliant mind. No one said she had to play fair.

"On your mark… get set…"

Before Troy could finish, Gabriella's body weight swiveled so she was now sprinting down the hill and enormous speeds. Giggling uncontrollably, she raced rapidly down the mountain, the harsh wind slapping at her cheeks in her descent. Not daring to glance backwards, she heard another "whoosh" sound and suddenly saw a midnight blur flash past her like lightning. Frowning angrily, Gabriella wouldn't slow down. It wasn't in the nature of a track star to halt after getting past. All it caused her to do was narrow her dark eyes on her boyfriend through the shady lenses and try to pick up as much speed as humanly possible.

After getting down the empty hillside, they both slowed to a stop when the bright lights of the ski lodge almost over powered them. Upon stopping almost ten seconds before Gabriella even reached the bottom, Troy spun backwards, accusation in his cerulean eyes as he ripped off his sunglasses. "You fucking cheated!"

It was lucky that they were the only two out in the snow, for he probably would have gotten glares from his language, but neither would have noticed even if there were people. "What does it matter? You won anyways!" Gabriella exclaimed as she tore of the powdery ski cap from her head.

"Who cares?" Troy announced loudly before pulling at the binds, releasing his feet from the chamber they were just in on his precious black fiberglass with red and white fire bolts running down the sides. "That just means you suck if you can't even beat me cheating!"

"Hey!" Gabriella squealed before lifting a chunk of the sloppy powder and chucking it into his perfect tan face. His cyan eyes grew to the sides of two large moons. They stood glaring at each other for at least thirty seconds before Troy's muscular legs took off in her direction. Gabriella's heart skipped four beats as she left her strong snowboard behind and sprinted off, thinking her track legs would save her until Troy grasped her hood forcefully, causing her clumsy feet to slip backwards, a stone figure catching her before she could fall brutally to the ground.

"You'll pay for that." Troy laughed in harmony with Gabriella giggle before brown met blue in an electrifying gaze. His tough knee held her back up as he took the proposal position, Gabriella's slender arms safely around his neck.

"You almost let me fall." She softly stated, Troy giving her a caring smile that almost made her heart leap out of her stomach as she gazed up at him.

"You know I'd never let anything hurt you." His passionate voice nuzzled against her icy neck. The cold was nothing compared to the inferno the two were generating with their undying looks of love. She could feel her heart violently pound against her chest as his addictive breath misted over the pours of her face.

"I know." Gabriella's sincere voice whispered softly before she felt fireworks explode through her lips as he tenderly pressed his frozen mounds of flesh against them. Once again, it was being like thrown into a pile of pleasure waves that she never wanted to escape. He gently squeezed her lip before pulling apart reluctantly. Their connection held for what seemed like eternity, until Gabriella's mouth curved to a blissful smile. Her small hand tenderly reached for his side, gently slipping her slim fingers beneath the protection of his coat to graze the silky skin. Troy's cyan eyes rolled to the back of his head, not from pleasure, but from emotion. The power of their love was overwhelming, but neither would ever get enough of it. Ever.

"I love you," Troy's husky voice exploding in love as his cool mouth grazed the edges of her temple. Gabriella fingers finally found the gold mine, the mutated scar that would forever be burned on his skin. "You save my life every time you look at me."

Troy's own calloused fingers gently slipped beneath her coat as well, still steadying her on his knee. He gingerly fingered the three burning hot slashes embedded into her skin. "I love you too." She whispered sincerely.

Each was touching the other marks that would forever carry them throughout life. Ugly, disgusting, horrendous scars that others would fear from. But to them? They were beautiful. Beautiful because that's what made them Troy Bolton and Gabriella Montez. Through everything they had been through, abusive fathers to addictive mothers, it's what shaped their lives. The mountains that loomed above them in the darkness were equal to their on trials they had to experience. But just as the lights from the ski lodge illuminated the two lovers, there would always be a sun in the darkness. A sense of hope, a remembrance of how to do the most important thing… love.

Snow waltzed from the heavens in the Colorado sky, showering happiness on the content couple as their tingling lips found each other, a perfect match as the coffee and ocean eyes both closed in bliss. They found in unbreakable strength in each other. They were happy. Happy to be alive, happy to be in each others arms.

And that was all they ever really needed.

A/N: I don't even know what to say. I hope you liked this story. It meant a lot to me, just writing it. I know it was extremely confusing at some points, maybe even so dense that it was too much to handle, but I hope you liked it even just a little bit. I started this story because I wanted it to be my best. I thought this would be the last story I would ever write, so I wanted to leave with a bang. Like I said, If I confused you so much with the plot line, I'm sorry. But as I said, this story was pretty deep, so thanks for sticking with me through every insane thing I threw at you. I was going to write out a list of people I wanted to thank, but I realized that list would be WAY too long. Seriously, thank you everyone who gave this a chance. Even through me being insane by writing this, you guys stuck by my side through every up and down. Thank you so much. From the people who left me huge reviews that were almost as long as the chapter itself (you know who you are ;)) to the people who were there when it seemed that I had lost myself like Troy had, thank you so much. I don't know what I would do without your support. So a million times over, THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for reading this story!

And thanks for checking out the banners!

Okay, now what I think everyone wants to hear. Yes, I am writing a new story right now. It's going to be a lot lighter than this and Never Let Go were. Back to where I came from kinda thing, like Can't Just Be Friends and Time Changes Everything type of drama. Writing this story took a lot out of me, so I really wanted to do something fun. But I need a slight break. Originally, I was going to take like a month off, but I realized I can't do it. I'm too much addicted. :) So my new story should be up anywhere between one and two weeks (we'll see how long THAT even lasts, I'll probably go through withdraws and cave early) . So hopefully you'll check it out and give it a chance just like you did this one! :) Thank you so much again!