To all those that read and reviewed the last chapter, thank you very much! I can only hope most haven't given up on this story yet, because if this chapter and it's length is any indication, I'm pretty much over my case of writer's block!

So this is dedicated to any and all that can still actually remember this story! lol

The Prodigal Daughter

Chapter 7: Against all odds.

"Now how did I know I would find you here?"

Spencer looked away from her monitor, eyes coming to rest on the casual form of Raife Davies leaning against her office doorway. She leaned back in her chair and cocked her head to the side, giving him a thoughtful look.

"Because you pay me to be here?"

Raife smiled, straightened up and ran a hand through his hair as he walked over to her desk and dropped down in the chair across from her.

"Never would have taken you for a smartass, Spence."

Spencer grinned at that, her eyebrows shooting to the heavens.

"Really? I thought that was why you hired me."

She expected another smile, maybe even a small grunt of laughter, but all she got was a soft sigh. Raife looked his age as he sat there, eyes a darker shade of blue than she was used to and a tired slope to his shoulders. She didn't like seeing him in this state, was too used to the carefree man she'd come to know so well in the last few months and as wrong as she knew it was, she blamed this on Ashley.

"So breakfast was interesting, don't you think?"

It was a loaded question, one that Spencer found herself hesitant to answer. Breakfast had been somewhat enlightening, she couldn't argue that, but she was still processing everything. She was still trying to come to terms with the fact that the clear black and white picture she had of the events from nine years ago now seemed a bit fuzzy around the edges and sported some gray areas. As a lawyer, she hated gray areas. A gray area was something unknown, something that could come out of left field and knock you on your ass.

As a lawyer she dealt in facts. She dealt in certainties and had rules and laws to keep her world in order. Ashley was coming along and throwing everything into chaos and she had no structured approach to handling this, didn't have a set of rules and guidelines to follow here, and it left her feeling more than a little uneasy.

"Breakfast was..." She trailed off, remembering Ashley's face and voice, remembering the way the woman had seemed to crumble under whatever burden she was carrying. "Breakfast wasn't what I was expecting."

Raife seemed to take a moment to think that over, all the while settling his gaze on her firmly. She knew he was probably just lost in thought, but his intense stare still seemed to unsettle her somewhat.

"What did you expect, Spencer? Did you expect her to live up to every low expectation any of us ever set for her? Did you expect her to be the monster that Aiden described? Was whatever she did to you that horrible that you find her taking responsibility for her actions and trying to make amends unexpected?"

Spencer found herself shrinking back in her chair, Raife's sudden loud voice and harsh words catching her completely off guard. The man was practically shaking with anger, his ire flowing into the room and making the hair at the back of Spencer's neck rise.

"She was never as bad as any of us made her out to be, but her whole life she's had it hammered into her head that she was just like me, so she just gave up, didn't she? She gave up and made all my old mistakes, fought all my old demons, but she wasn't me! You saw her, Spencer, you were one of the few people I know saw her for who she was and yet here you are, doubting her like all the rest of us did. Don't do that, please, I can't bare the thought of the only person who's opinion ever mattered to my daughter doubting her now. I don't think she could bare it either and I'm so afraid she'll..."

He trailed off there, his voice lost and desperate and all it did was fuel the sudden fire inside of Spencer. It was Raife this time that shrunk back in his chair as Spencer stood up, her own chair being flung back violently.

"You do not get to make this my responsibility! I'm doubting her? Me?! You're the one doing her a disservice right now, you're the one thinking she's going to bolt or screw up again, you're the one that's doubting her. I might still be so angry at her that I can't look at her without it hurting, but even I realize she's different now. If you can't see that, if all you can see is your own shortcomings as a parent back then when you look at her now, then this is going to play out exactly like you fear it will."

Raife sat with his head bowed, his hands buried deeply in his hair. Spencer could see he was trying to keep his shoulders from shaking, suspected that for the second time in her life she was about to see Raife Davies cry.

"I just...I..." He shook his head once and looked up, eyes damp and mouth thin with tension. "I just don't want to lose her again. I made so many mistakes when it came to her and I've got so much to make up for, but I don't know how..."

Spencer sighed and sat back down, her headache making it's pounding presence known again.

"Mr Davies..." Spencer paused, hating how professional and detached she sounded. "Raife, get to know her. Get to know who she is today and go from there. You can't change the past, but she's here now and as much as I hate to admit it, she's not that girl anymore. So have some faith in her and let her show you who she's become. I think that's all she's really asking from you, to forgive her for what she's done and see that she's a different person now. A better person."

Somehow she didn't choke on those words, even though her throat closed up as she spoke them. For a split second she wondered if she was talking to Raife or to herself, hating how torn she was between hating Ashley Davies and...well, feeling something completely opposite to that emotion.

"You're right, but than that's why I hired you: you're always right, Spencer."

Spencer found herself smiling sadly at that.

"If you say so..."

They were quiet for a moment, both seemingly lost in their own thoughts before Raife seemed to rouse himself.

"Just promise me one thing, Spencer."

Spencer tensed, her stomach turning in anticipation of what she somehow knew he was about to ask.

"What's that?"

He smiled somewhat, like they were playing a game of chess without her realizing it and she just left her king unguarded.

"Promise me you'll do the same? Promise you'll get to know who she is today without being blinded by the past?"

Checkmate.

"Do I have any choice after that little speech I made?"

Raife grinned and shook his head, strolling out of her office without a further word. Sometimes Spencer forgot that Raife Davies singlehandedly built himself an empire with nothing but his own strong will and a cunningly sharp mind. Today she was thoroughly reminded of that fact.

- - - - - - - - - - -

Spencer was exhausted. She'd had a difficult meeting with an union rep from one of their subsidiary companies that was in construction, having gone in somewhat unprepared as the problem had been thrust onto her without warning, and then had to go over some lease agreements with regards to the Waterman Tower. All in all it had been a spectacularly crappy day and the fact that she hadn't had a bite to eat in more than eight hours was just the cherry on top.

When she pulled up in front of her house she amended that statement. The cherry on top was seeing Ashley Davies sitting on her front steps in the beam of her headlights.

For a few seconds she just sat in her car, letting her exhaustion flow through her and turn her arms and legs to lead as she watched the woman sitting patiently in wait for her. Then with a sigh she grabbed her briefcase and shoved open her door.

"What are you doing here?"

Ashley got up gingerly, her back popping as she stretched her arms out wide and shook the limbs around a bit.

"All my stuff is still here."

Spencer nodded her head and then stood there staring at Ashley, feeling awkward and unsure of what to do next.

"Oh, right. Have you been waiting long?"

She asked out of politeness, falling back on small talk to fill in the awkward quiet.

"Uhm, since just after seven actually."

Automatically Spencer looked at her watch, her eyebrows drawing together as she took in the time.

"You've been sitting on my steps for an hour and a half? Why didn't you just call me?"

Ashley shrugged, not meeting Spencer's eyes as she looked out towards where the sound of the surf breaking could be heard.

"Besides the fact that you didn't give me your number, I actually found it really peaceful out here. I took a walk and just...relaxed a bit. I didn't mind waiting."

Once again an awkward silence crept in, Spencer watching Ashley look anywhere but at her. The growling of her own stomach broke the constrained tension between them.

"Here, let me take your briefcase, you look about ready to fall over."

Before she could say anything, Ashley had reached over and deftly taken a hold of her briefcase, a hand on her lower back gently shoving her towards the steps.

"Yeah, I had a long day."

Then she was gamely letting herself be lead up to her front door, ignoring the snickering little voice in her head that was telling her that Ashley carrying her briefcase was the equivalent of letting some boy carry her books back in high school.

Once inside she kicked off her heels and let her hair loose, sighing with satisfaction as some of the tension in her shoulders eased. Lights flooded the house and Spencer made her way to the kitchen, intent on finding anything she could eat at this point. When she found a yogurt that was still edible in her fridge, she almost cried with relief. She was halfway through the small container when she heard Ashley's sigh behind her. When she turned around it was to face an unhappy looking Ashley.

"What?"

Ashley shook her head at that and pointed to the half eaten yogurt.

"That's what you're having for dinner?"

Something about Ashley's tone of voice made Spencer straighten up guiltily, like when she was a child and her dad caught her doing something she shouldn't have. He'd sound almost exactly as Ashley had just sounded.

"Uhm...I was probably going to make some toast once I finished it?"

Somehow it came out as a question rather than a statement, earning her an eye roll of epic proportions from Ashley.

"Or maybe you were going to sit down at the kitchen table and let me make us some...what do you have that I could make? I mean is there actually something edible in here that isn't yogurt?"

Spencer wanted to object, because she knew that somewhere in there was an insult, but Ashley didn't give her time. She was pushed down into a chair and then watched as Ashley started flinging open cupboard doors. A pack of raw pasta appeared from somewhere and Spencer wondered if it was still edible, knowing she'd bought it back when she'd moved in. And that was a long time ago...

"You're going to cook?"

Ashley pulled her head out of the freezer long enough to give Spencer a quick look, answering as she pulled what appeared to be frozen chicken out.

"Yes, I'm going to cook and don't worry, I do actually know how. I mean I'm not going to be winning any prizes, but I can do the basics without giving anyone food poisoning."

Spencer didn't question her further, just sat quietly and watched her bring water to a boil, watched as she used the microwave to defrost the chicken and whip up a sauce from God knew what. There was a practiced ease to Ashley's movements despite the fact that it took her a few moments to find all the pots and utensils she needed.

"So I had lunch with Madison."

Spencer was startled by Ashley's low voice, still a bit mesmerized by the motion of the woman's hands deftly cutting the now thawed chicken into thin strips.

"And?"

The quick slicing motion halted for a second and Spencer looked up, caught Ashley's smiling eyes.

"She's fucking crazy." She waited a beat, gave a crooked smile. "And I think I mean that in the nicest way possible."

Spencer found herself smiling along, knowing exactly what Ashley meant about Madison. The woman was a bit of a contradiction most of the time, what with her ability to cut cleanly through bullshit while still somehow managing to be completely oblivious to most anything else that didn't directly involve her.

"Yeah, she takes some getting used to, but if you take the time to get to know her...She's a great person."

Ashley just smiled again, then got back to her cooking. Spencer found it surreal that they were actually in her kitchen having a pleasant, if quiet, evening together. In her current state of bone tiredness, Spencer simply couldn't muster up enough energy to be angry or accusing. She honestly just wanted to sit there and not have to fight, or have another intense conversation that left her feeling like she had been emotionally tortured.

Two days of that had been enough already, so for now she could ignore the large elephant wearing a pink tutu between them. For her own sanity she had to do that tonight.

"That smells delicious."

By this point Spencer was sprawled haphazardly over the kitchen chair, all tired legs and arms splayed every which way. Ashley gave her a look and a soft smile, surprising Spencer when she extended a hand and pushed a strand of hair away from her face. The touch didn't linger, but Spencer none the less closed her eyes and leaned just a fraction of an inch towards it.

"God, you're really out of it, aren't you?"

Spencer didn't open her eyes, just nodded her head once and sighed.

"Come on then, go crash on the couch and I'll bring you a plate out when it's ready before you end up a snoring, drooling mess on the table here."

Spencer shook her head once, realizing that she was only seconds away from falling asleep at barely past nine o'clock at night.

"No, let me rather make us some coffee or something, otherwise I'll be out like a light and then not even an earthquake could wake me." She took two steps towards the kettle before coming to an abrupt halt. "And I don't snore or drool..." She took another step and cocked her head in thought, adding softly: "...much."

Ashley gave a surprised bark of laughter at Spencer's seemingly playful answer before turning back to the pasta on the stove. Spencer for her part found herself mindlessly going through the motions of making coffee, feeling her energy levels perk up at the mere smell of the rich coffee. She wondered into the lounge, glancing at her CD case before picking something and playing it loudly, neighbors be damned.

By the time she got back to the kitchen the water was boiled and she filled two cups, generously adding heaps of sugar before plopping one down on the counter next to Ashley.

"Thanks. Mind setting the table, this is almost done."

Spencer did as asked and found herself smiling as she found forks and plates, realizing she and Ashley were both sining along to the CD and only mildly butchering Bruce Springsteen in the process. She caught Ashley's eye and then almost dropped a plate she was laughing so hard when she realized the woman was gleefully playing imaginary drums with her stirring spoon, sending pasta sauce every which way.

"Born down in a dead man's town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that's been beat too much

'Til you spend half your life just covering up"

"Born in the U.S.A!

Born in the U.S.A!

Born in the U.S.A!"

Maybe it was the fact that she was half dead with hunger and exhaustion, maybe it was the way Ashley looked years younger in that moment, but Spencer found herself heartily swinging her arm through the air, doing a mean guitar solo if she had to say so herself. Ashley threw her head back, dark curls tumbling along the column of her throat and laughed, her hips already starting to sway.

They finished the whole song off like that, both breathless and flushed, the smell of cooked pasta and warm coffee in the air. Spencer couldn't remember the last time she had done something as silly as dancing around her kitchen, but she couldn't help but admit it had been fun. When you worked mostly twelve hour weeks you sometimes forgot to have fun, or you simply didn't have the time or energy for it.

"That was..."

Spencer raised her eyebrows at Ashley, cocking her head to the side, waiting for her to finish her sentence.

"What? It was a good work-out? The stupidest thing you've done in ages? Come on, tell me."

Ashley caught the corner of her mouth between her teeth, stood and stared off into space for a few more seconds.

"It was the most fun I've had in six months, that's what. I didn't think I knew how to do that anymore."

Spencer thought it was a strange thing for her to say, because if there was one thing Ashley knew how to do it was have fun. Well, at least the girl she remembered her being knew how to have fun, which maybe proved her own point to Raife earlier of forgetting who Ashley was in the past and concentrating on who she's become.

"Well, all things aside then, I'm glad you had some fun."

Spencer knew she meant it as well, because as many things as there were that stood between them ever being the kind of friends they used to be, despite the resentment and anger on her side, there was a part of her that could never really want anything but the best for Ashley.

"Coming from you that means a lot, Spence. Thank you."

They were quiet then, not a lot said as Ashley dished up the chicken pasta she made before taking a seat across from Spencer at the kitchen table. Spencer found herself strangely at ease as she sat eating, Ashley's presence in her house not needling her as much as it had the night before. She wasn't sure that much had changed in the few hours since then, resigned herself to the fact that she really was just too tired tonight to care.

"You're honestly trying to make things right, aren't you?"

Spencer knew the answer to that question already, but she needed to hear Ashley say it just one more time.

"Yes, I really am."

Ashley didn't hesitate, didn't sound anything but honest and sure. Spencer nodded and looked down onto her now empty plate, her chest suddenly constricting as she spoke.

"Okay. You can stay here as long as you need to, until you work things out with your parents or find a place of your own, I don't mind. This doesn't mean I've forgiven you for anything, or that anything is magically fine again, but I'm going to give you a chance, Ash."

Ashley seemed startled at this, her hands hovering in stilted surprise just above her own plate.

"You don't have to do this, Spencer, I'll be fine in a hotel for a few days. I don't... I've hurt you enough, taken advantage of you enough, so I won't invade your privacy like this. I know you didn't want me in your house to begin with and though I think you're a better person than most to offer it anyway, I'm not taking you up on the offer." She looked up than, something burning in her brown eyes that set the pit of Spencer's stomach alight. "No matter how much I want to."

Then Ashley got up and walked around the table, coming to a stop so close that Spencer could faintly smell her sweet perfume. She leaned down, lay her lips against Spencer's cheek and hovered there for a second before pulling back.

"Thank you though, I don't think you know how much it means to me that you'd offer in the first place."

Her footsteps echoed through the suddenly quiet kitchen and Spencer listened as they faded, were replaced with the sound of Ashley packing up the few belongings she had scattered in the guest room. When she heard her own front door open and shut, she had to bite her lip to keep from...well, she didn't know what.

All she knew was that as irrational and idiotic as it seemed, she felt once again abandoned by Ashley, much as she had waking up that morning so long ago. She sat there thinking about that for a moment, thinking about how things had been when they were younger, remembered Raife's pleas to her to help him keep his daughter. Then with a resolute nod she pushed up from the table and walked to her front door, finding Ashley on the other side with her cellphone pressed against her ear.

She unceremoniously took the phone and canceled the call that was surely to a cab company and stared the surprised Ashley down.

"You're staying, because I won't let you make the same mistakes you did back then. Don't try to spare me or protect me or whatever else it was you thought you were doing back then by not talking to me and letting me help you. You're not alone, you have people that care, no matter how angry we might be, so you don't get to do this on your own. That was the problem to begin with, wasn't it? You thought you could handle things on your own, or that you didn't need anyone or whatever the hell else, but you were wrong back then and you're wrong now. You need us, that's why you came back, and now you have us. Deal with it."

Then it was Spencer who stood surprised as Ashley flung herself into her arms, as she became the woman she was earlier that day at breakfast, the one that seemed so heartbroken and scared. She sobbed so hard that Spencer's body shook with it's force and all the blond could think to do was hold onto her as tightly as she could.

"There's so much, Spencer. So much I should tell you, so much that I don't know how to deal with, but I don't...I don't know where to begin...how to make any of this okay."

Spencer sighed and pulled away from Ashley, just far enough so that she could run her thumbs over her cheeks and try to stem her tears.

"Start by coming inside, Ash. We can tackle the rest tomorrow."

So that's what they did, they walked back into the house and closed the door behind them, locking their past and all the mistakes made in it away for the night. Spencer knew the chance she was taking, knew that come daylight she would most probably regret this decision, but she couldn't stop herself.

However hard she fought it, however much she hated it, she would always love Ashley Davies. She had loved her as a little girl, when Ashley was her best friend and the closest thing to a sister she would ever know, when they were teenagers, when that love changed and filled Spencer with excitement, with promise and hope for their future.

And she even loved her long after Ashley was gone, after she had put back together what she could of her broken heart, because loving her was a fundamental thing for Spencer and fighting that for the last nine years had taken it's toll. The last two days, faced with the woman and all the emotions she forced Spencer to acknowledge, had simply proven that to her.

So Spencer would help her despite everything, because she had always loved Ashley in some form or other and she always would.

No matter what it cost her in the end...

--------

"How can I just let you walk away
Just let you leave without a trace
When I stand here taking every breath with you (ooh..)
You're the only one who really knew me at all

How can you just walk away from me
When all I can do is watch you leave?
'Cause we shared the laughter and the pain
And even shared the tears
You're the only one who really knew me at all"

Against all odds – The postal service

So hopefully a few of you remembered this and gave it a read. As always I'd appreciate some feedback, even if it is just death threats for going off grid for so long!