"Hey, look at me with the possum."

--Sam Puckett

i'M Sick of Epilogues

The school day before Christmas break really isn't a school day. Still, it's always one of my favorites. It's just that atmosphere of approved chaos, of sweaters and Christmas music and classroom parties. When teachers allow candy and cupcakes and a general lack of educational progress. When things are loud and noisy throughout the day, with the halls full of plans and paper ball fights and—

—Recently dumped girlfriends walking in the opposite direction.

Granted, this was hardly the first time I'd seen her since I'd broken up with her. But it was nothing short of terrible, in all this fun and general happiness, that she looked so miserable.

It was a little harder to catch her in the middle of second block rush, but I managed to slip through the jostling just before she got to her locker.

"Hi."

She looked up, surprised, her face going bleak when she saw who it was. "Oh … hi, Freddie."

I found myself fumbling with words I didn't have. I really wasn't sure what I wanted to say to her that I hadn't already. It just felt like there had to be something.

"Listen," I said as I looked down at the ground, "I just wanted to say thank you … again, I guess. For everything. I really am sorry that it ended up like this."

It just sounded so patronizing, and straight out of … some book. The whole still-want-to-be-friends thing, but it was the truth. It wasn't just something to say.

By this point and time I'd realized, in terms of ex girlfriends anyway, that I'd actually always come off somewhat fortunate. There had always been a clear line defining appropriate behavior following my previous breakups. Either because I had been used or—well, because they were just plain crazy.

Here, however, there were all sorts of significant considerations. Considerations that even a careless sentence or two could convey any number of wrong impressions.

"I know," she said quietly, not looking like I was making her any happier.

"And …" I struggled for a moment, "I really do think you're … really a great person, and I still want to be friends … I know how that sounds, but I'm serious. If you ever want to hang out or anything, or just talk … but if not, I understand, too."

She looked for a moment like she was going to say something, but hesitated and then nodded a little.

"I …" was running out things to say. Not that anything I was saying seemed to be coming out right. I had all these honest words, and they weren't faring so well against this barrier. "I just want you … to be okay," I managed softly.

Amelia looked over my shoulder. I briefly turned and saw that Sam was at Carly's locker, hugging her. Carly would be leaving pretty soon, I remembered.

I looked back at Amelia and found her gazing up at me.

"You don't have to worry about me," Amelia answered. She rallied together a brave smile, "It'll be okay."

And I realized that's what I wanted to show her the most. That this wouldn't last, she'd move on and find someone, someone probably better than me. And she'd be happier than I could ever make her.

But I didn't have to show her that, because she already knew.

She was the one who had shown me, after all.

I smiled. "Merry Christmas, Amelia."

"Merry Christmas, Freddie."

Then there was the dilemma of whether or not a hug would be overly awkward. But at the way she looked I realized that it would seem insincere if I didn't. So for a brief moment I held her close, and then she was smiling, almost looking better. Then she shut her locker and carefully turned and walked away.

I watched her. The longing for different circumstances was a hollow one. On a day like this, the worst thing I wish she had to worry about was how many cups of eggnog to have.

I slowly turned and headed for Carly. Sam was already gone. By now the hall was thinning as the bell approached, but I wasn't overly concerned about that, especially today.

"So you all set?" I asked as I leaned in the spot that Sam had just vacated.

"I think so," Carly answered brightly, because she hadn't been able to be anything but bright since she'd boisterously announced that she was dropping most of her heavy classes for next semester--and quite possibly for the remainder of her High School career.

She put her backpack on. "Spencer's already outside waiting."

"You guys going straight to the airport?" I asked, looking up as the bell rang.

"Yup, and then non stop to Virginia," she said, smiling, even as her responsible face was attempting to creep in, "That's the bell isn't it? Shouldn't you be getting to class?"

"Nah, Ms. Brown isn't going to care all that much today," I smiled, "I just wanted to say good bye. I hope you have a good trip."

"Yeah," she said quietly, "You have a good break too. And … it'll only be two weeks. It'll be over before we know it."

I gave a tight smile as she leaned forward and I hugged her. We stayed there for a moment, before she was beaming again as she shut her locker.

"And try not to have too much fun," she laughed, "What with your mom's party and you and Sam being all alone for two whole weeks."

"I'll try," I smiled again.

And with another round of goodbyes she was walking down the hall and away.

I stood there for a moment, where the voices echoed from other places and I was maybe a little bit too warm in the sweater I had on. But this … this was a nice place. One that struck me as worth remembering.

--

It was a subdued sort of tizzy that the party negotiated itself in. Subdued because the guests my mom had managed to drag here were hardly thrilled about it, to say the least. But it was a tizzy nonetheless and by default because my mother was involved.

"Freddie, where are the veggie cakes? I thought I just set them right—"

"I put them back in the fridge, mom," I answered with some exasperation, "They're right in there with the rest of the cold stuff. It's okay, it's not like we're going to run out of food."

"Sweetie, we need to keep the food out," she informed me as she flew to the refrigerator, "The Mercers should be here any minute and … they said they would be—oh, would you please take out the trash, please? It's overflowing—and make sure to double wash your hands after—"

I'd almost been free of the kitchen at this point, having clung to the hope of escaping before something like this could be laid on me. Escaping to the living room where all our morose guests were gathered, where all the fun was.

It really was a miserable turnout. I felt pretty guilty about predicting that fact, and the only reaction my mom knew for situations like these—to valiantly tizzy even more—made me feel terrible. Awful actually, especially after all this time and effort and hope she'd put into this. I'd already told her that it was okay, that I was having fun—even though that was only true while I was out in the living room.

I was afraid that she was going to half break down when it was all over. I wasn't nearly as certain about that prediction, and I prayed that I was wrong. But if she did … I would be here—even beyond the guarantee that I was going to have to help clean all this up.

"Yes, mother," I said as I grabbed the bag out of the wastebasket. "Overflowing" turned out to be something of an overstatement. It was barely to the top, but it wasn't as if my mom allowed such scandalous activities as crushing the trash back down.

But as I quickly fled, even/especially as she went on about something else, I found that I didn't really mind it. That was something remarkable, actually, considering how badly I'd rather be in the living room right now.

True to cruel fate, Christmas break was already almost over, and I'm not sure exactly where it had gone. The presents were long discovered and pillaged, the checklist of holiday meals eaten, and the absence of school was rapidly coming to a close.

This was such a mind-boggling dilemma that it took up most of my available preoccupation during my trash run. I mean, I understood why it had happened; it was the how that was difficult to comprehend.

I returned to our "party" and plopped down beside the why. The why was currently slouched out in the corner of the sofa, idly browsing on my laptop. She didn't bother looking up at me as I scooted in towards her and put my arm around the corner of the couch, where some of her hair was splayed out offhandedly.

"Did you wash your hands?" she asked tonelessly, frowning at the screen. I noted that she was playing some Flash game involving fleas.

I looked at her in such a way that it was disappointing she missed it. "I didn't touch anything. When was the last time you washed your hands?"

Sam twisted a little bit and reached behind herself, pulling out a small stocking. She took out a small bottle of hand sanitizer and gave it to me. "Since your mom handed out door presents for this rocking party."

I groaned as I took it.

Staring down at her as I grudgingly sanitized my hands, I came again to the fact that I had absolutely no conception of just how deeply she was affecting everything. And how much she would. I had a pretty good conception of having no conception of it, but that was about it.

But staring, bluntly staring at her now, I found that was okay.

Sitting there, with the hushed chatter of the scant turnout, and my mom rushing around in the misguided efforts of pleasing everyone, and this girl who was sitting beside me with a frown and a tone all of her own, I once again discovered that it was okay.

"Hey, did you know that these keys could pop off?" Sam asked suddenly as her game ended.

"Yes, I—ugh, what did you do?" I asked as I yanked my laptop out of her hands.

"See, I spelled 'warts' on the top row, and—" she started, taking no pains to hide that she was immensely enjoying my reaction.

"Yes, I can see that," I ground out as I started to pull off the misplaced keys and return them to their proper place—because she'd just had to spell out a word on each row, not to mention switch the arrow keys around, and—

I discovered that I didn't really care as much as custom dictated. Giving up, I shut my laptop and tossed it off to the side of the couch.

She was still lounging, with her hair half everywhere and a lazy smile on her face as she poked at me with one finger. "I think I like seeing you all angry and nerdy," she commented idly.

"I thought you just plain liked seeing me angry," I replied as I slouched down beside her and put my right arm back over the top of the couch.

She made a face as she straightened up some, "Yeah, I guess I'm not picky."

I wasn't sure what she was doing until she leaned forward a bit and then back, half onto my chest and half onto my shoulder.

I couldn't get over how wonderful this sort of thing felt, every time. It was more than just her hair all over the place, more than her warmth and the feeling of her slowly breathing against me. It was more than that uncontrollable urge to wrap my arms all around her. More than that she cared to be here at all, with me. It was just this wonderful feeling in general, I guess.

She reached over for my left hand and took it in both of hers. She began to examine it, turn it over this way and that in hers, as if it was the most interesting thing in the world.

We talked noncommittally about school, and the depressing approach of it. And some other stuff. I kept half an eye on the time, as it slipped towards midnight. The other guests seemed to rouse themselves somewhat as it grew closer.

"So … what?" Sam asked softly, eyeing the other people, "Are they all going to leave as soon as the countdown's done?"

"Probably," I murmured. I squeezed one of her hands. "I'm sorry that I dragged you into this."

She tilted her head back far enough so that she could look up at me. "What? Do you think I'd rather be at home?"

"No," I frowned a little, "But I'm sure there's somewhere else you'd rather be."

She smiled softly, shaking her head a little, but her response took a few seconds to come.

"No."

My fingers rubbed at hers, and I looked back down into her eyes, trying and feverishly hoping to communicate even a fraction of what this was like to me. I don't think it was exactly possible, to a satisfactory degree anyway, but I tried. And she continued to look back at me in a way that made it a whole lot easier.

The countdown hit a minute, and my mom really hit on the pre-countdown preparations. People began to move and talk a little more.

Sam was suddenly looking down. "You know …" she said with a hesitant sort of voice, "It would be pretty unoriginal if you tried to kiss me at midnight … or anything like that."

I couldn't help smiling. Even at the relatively fresh and surrealistically undisputable notion that she could ever want me to kiss her.

"I agree," I said, trying for a serious tone.

She looked back up at me, her eyes so blue and surprised. I think my attempt succeeded.

The count was somewhere around half a minute.

Before she could realize what I was going to do, I lowered my head and dropped my lips to hers.

How anything could be so soft, I have no idea. Or stirring, or wonderful, or right.

And as our third kiss proceeded, the one we'd been putting off for so long, I was sort of surprised to discover how uncertain she was.

She actually ... didn't seem like she knew quite exactly what she was doing.

Wow. Could it be possible I was better than her at something—like this?

But that was okay. There was plenty of time.

Midnight hit and the rest of the party sorta caught up.

And ... I think I kind of liked it that way.

--

AN: Whew. Wow. Done. As of this moment this is the second longest iCarly story. I looked. Ugh.

I seriously could go on and on about all the behind the scenes stuff, but that probably wouldn't be a good idea. This story + other stuff really has burned me out though, and I really didn't accomplish what I wanted to with this. But then again, this would be the part where the REAL rewriting and editing would start. Plus I just can not write very well with other people's characters, so I'll plead the fifth (... if that's even applicable).

But the one thing I really think I did about as well as I had hoped was with Amelia. From the beginning I wanted a plausible alternative/threat for Freddie outside of Sam. The BIGGEST thing was I really wanted her to be a nice person, and completely get away from that whole angle of discovering later on that the boy/girlfriend is evil somehow and obviously should be dumped (which isn't exactly lazy, but it has happened in both instances of Freddie/Sam relationships). The only reason I wanted it to not work was that they just weren't for each other.

Aha! And I found my first idea note for this story: "Sam and Freddie sick w/ same thing, have to stay at his house. Sam in pajamas, cranky, at his computer, sleeps in his bed, hold hands, etc. New girl Freddie dates, perfect but not annoying."

On another character note, I discovered once again that Carly really is such an underappreciated character (at least I regularly underappreciate her). I think she's often overlooked because next to Sam, who has all the best lines plus interesting character flaws, and Cosgrove next to McCurdy (due to acting chops), it's pretty easy to do. In fact, it's so easy that I literally forgot to wrap up her subplot until literally right this second--literally. Sorry if it's a little half baked.

But ... I think the best moment of all this actually turned out to be the Carly/Freddie thing at the end of 11, especially because it just sort of happened. I did not plan it at all. It turned out better than the next chapter where Freddie gets beat up, which really was one of the earliest precursors to this whole story (along with the sick together opening). Another thing that just sorta happened was Nathan as a character. I don't know if you guys liked him or not, or even remember him by this point (and I had intended to put him in more), but I was sort of impressed, if only because he came out of nowhere, from a bit part that wasn't supposed to be anything important. Just someone to say a couple plot lines.

Lastly, I would of course like to thank everyone who reviewed this, especially as it went on. It really means a lot, and I especially thank those who were especially awesome bits of incredible: ColorsOfTheSky101, MewNacho, lilerin91, PamplemousseRose, hyperactivecheskie, and geez, there are so many. So how about I just thank everyone, again. And again. I really so deeply appreciate it.