Author's Note: This story is my labor of love for the stunning movie "Lost and Delirious." I've been surprised at the number of people who describe the movie as a sad movie, simply because of what they assume happens after the end of the film. The movie itself is one of the rare films that I think accurately captures what love is about, in all its glory, confusion, pain, anger, and joy. But how we view the ending depends mainly on what we want to see in it. I choose to see more of a happy ending. It's not a neat, tidy happy ending, because that's not what the movie is about. But it's also not necessarily a tragedy, either. If you want to see my interpretation of the ending and what happens afterward, please continue. Oh, but you should be aware that this story is rated M for a reason. Well, a few reasons. Blame Paulie and her dirty mouth. She's using to being blamed for fun stuff.

Here are my standard disclaimers: I make no claims on any "Lost and Delirious" trademarks or copyrights and no claims upon the characters of that movie; no infringement is intended. Be forewarned that this story most certainly will contain femslash. If that surprises you, you obviously haven't seen the movie. If love and affection between two consenting young adults of the same sex bothers you, I suggest you turn right around and find something else to read. Keep any flames to yourself and remember that what our world needs now is more love and acceptance, not more hate. Reviews are always welcomed and appreciated!

Broken Wings

by Jo P.

Maybe I was stupid for telling you goodbye

Maybe I was wrong for trying to pick a fight

I know that I've got issues, but you're pretty messed up too

Either way I found out I'm nothing without you

'Cause we belong together now (yeah)

Forever united here somehow (yeah)

You got a piece of me, and honestly

My life would suck without you

--Kelly Clarkson; "My Life Would Suck Without You"

"PAULIE!!!"

The scream echoed across the grounds of Perkins School, reverberating between the stone buildings that comprised the dormitories and classrooms for the girls' boarding school. As scores of students and faculty members watched from the ground below, a senior named Pauline Oster closed her eyes, lifted her face to the sky and fell forward off the roof of one of the buildings.

Paulie had taken the title of "Paulie the Raptor," and it was no ostentatious claim. Like the fierce hunting bird that perched on her arm as she stood atop the building, she was wild, beautiful and dangerous, wounded but still possessed of a spirit so powerful that nothing could entirely suppress it. However, only one of them had healed enough to fly.

As the horrified audience watched the falcon Paulie had nursed back to health take to the sky and soar away, young Paulie Oster, proud and defiant to the last, plummeted over three stories to what she knew would be her death. Victoria Moller, Paulie's secret lover and roommate, found herself rooted to the ground, unable to run, unable to watch the girl she still loved fall to her death, unable to do anything but think the same phrase over and over in her mind: This is my fault. This is my fault. This is MY FAULT!

As the sound of impact broke the grim spell of the falcon's flight upon the crowd, a lone figure raced forward to the spot where Paulie had fallen. Mary Bedford, a freshman who was Paulie's and Tori's roommate and friend, pumped her legs as hard as she could in an attempt to reach her grief-stricken friend's body. Over the last few days, Mary had seen Paulie in tremendous anguish as she tried to regain Tori's love every way she knew how. But what Mary Bedford saw now made her heart skip a beat as she pushed her way through the hedges and shrubs along the building's walls. Placed between the hedges and the stone walls of the building was a gardening cart, loaded with dirt and mulch, and sprawled in the middle of the cart's now-scattered cargo was Paulie.

Mary B. stared at her friend's body, taking in the surreal sight. Is she dead? Her arm shouldn't bend that way. Oh my God, her leg... Oh, Paulie, you didn't deserve this, not all this pain and suffering, this hell that you've been through these last few days. Mary Brave gathered her courage and stepped forward, moving her friend's hair out of her face in a gesture that she knew was too little, too late. But as her fingers touched Paulie's face, a soft groan came from beneath that hair, sparking a glimmer of hope inside Mary's heart.

"Paulie?" Mary whispered. "Paulie?" she asked again, her voice a bit louder this time. When she saw her friend's chest rise in a shallow breath, she lifted her hands to her face, covering her mouth as she nearly laughed for the first time in days. "She's alive!" Mary screamed as loud as her voice would go. "But she needs an ambulance!"

As the school's headmistress Fay Vaughn came forward, Mary turned and said, "She landed on a cart full of dirt and mulch. It must have given her enough of a soft landing to save her life. But she's got—" Mary felt her voice fail her as she took another look at her roommate, one of two girls who had taken her in and accepted her not for the timid girl others thought she was, but for the brave young woman she could become. "She's got a really badly broken leg, and maybe a broken arm too," Mary said, as much to herself as to anyone else.

The sound of someone breaking into tears beside her drew Mary's attention away from Paulie's unconscious form. Tori began to climb up onto the cart, only to be stopped by a surprisingly strong grip on her left arm. "Let me go, Mary!" she sobbed, jerking against Mary's grip as she stared into the hard eyes facing her.

Mary continued to hold Tori back until she said, "Are you going to hurt her again, Tori? Because even as strong as she is, her heart can't take any more bullshit from you."

Tears ran down Tori's face and ran into the corners of her mouth. She turned to look at the body of the young woman she loved, the young woman she would always love, and her heart finally shattered like delicate glass hurled against a stone wall. "No," she said through her tears as she shook her head fiercely. "I won't hurt her again, I swear to God."

"Good." Mary released her grip on Tori's arm, and the tall auburn-haired girl clambered into the cart. She knelt in the dirt beside the still figure of her lover and carefully placed her left hand on Paulie's chest, directly over her heart.

"Please, Paulie, please forgive me," Tori whispered, over and over. She was repeating those words when the ambulance arrived, and she continued to whisper them as the paramedics worked on Paulie. She only stopped when Mary had to move her so that Paulie could be secured to a backboard and moved to the ambulance.

"I'm going with her," Tori said as Paulie was gently placed in the back of the ambulance.

"No," said Mary, making Tori turn to look at her. "What makes you think you deserve to ride in that ambulance with her?" she asked, and the venom in her normally quiet voice made Tori instinctively draw back. All this anger had pooled in Mary for days, and now it began to pour forth, growing from a trickle to a rushing current. "She loved you, Tori, and you broke her heart," Mary continued. "You broke her FUCKING HEART!" she said, jabbing Tori in the chest with her index finger, "when all she wanted was for you to love her back like you used to."

Tori nodded as the tears continued to fall. "I know, and that's why I have to be there with her. In case she wakes up. So I can tell her how stupid and childish I was. So I can tell her I was wrong."

Mary held Tori's gaze for long seconds. "Fine," she finally said. "But I don't know if you can ever make it up to her, Tori."

"I have to try," Tori said as she stepped up into the ambulance. "Even if it takes the rest of my life."

On the unnerving ride to St. Joseph Hospital, Tori felt like she was being swept away by her cascading thoughts, surging through her mind like angry river rapids. How can I go back there now? They're all going to know. The whole school will know by the next day. And my parents, oh God!

"Tori..." The voice was surprisingly weak, almost pleading in its tone. It was so unlike Paulie's normal voice that hearing it instantly made the thoughts churning inside Tori's head unimportant.

"I'm here, Paulie," Tori said, leaning forward to place a kiss on the cheek of the woman she loved.

At the sound of Tori's voice, Paulie's eyes hesitantly blinked open. It took a few seconds for them to focus on the tall girl with auburn hair, but finally they did. A smile drew across Paulie's face. "I won you..." she whispered before her eyes closed again and unconsciousness claimed her once more.

"What are you talking about?" asked Tori, but no answers were forthcoming. She looked at the paramedic riding with them and frantically asked, "Is she okay?"

The paramedic looked up from the heart monitor she was watching and nodded her head. "She's just sleeping right now. I gave her some morphine for the pain."

Tori wiped her eyes with the back of her hands. "Okay, thanks," she said, sparing a polite smile for the paramedic. "But don't give her any penicillin, because she's really allergic. She almost died when she was five from a reaction to it."

The paramedic wrote that information down on a chart attached to a clipboard. "Does she have any other allergies or medical conditions that you know about?"

Tori looked back down at Paulie and shuddered at how fragile her best friend looked, lying there strapped to a bright orange backboard, her left arm immobilized in an inflatable cast and lashed down at her side. The right leg of her pants had been cut away, revealing a bloody wound in her lower leg from which the jagged end of a bone could be seen, jutting forth just enough to make Tori's stomach turn. You have to keep it together, Tori. For Paulie.

She reached out and gently ran her fingers over Paulie's face, tracing the delicate lines she knew so well. "She doesn't have any other allergies. She sometimes smokes, but it's more like an occasional thing than a habit. She goes a week or two without any and never has any problems. We smoke some pot sometimes, too, but nothing for the last three weeks." She felt a tear trickle down her right cheek as she spoke. "She sometimes has bad dreams, and they won't stop until she gets..." Tori couldn't look at the paramedic, but she forced herself to continue. "Until she gets into bed with me. Then they stop. She sometimes gets stuff in her mind, and nobody can get her to stop until she's done what she wanted."

The voice of the older woman was carefully nuanced as she softly asked, "Did she try to kill herself today?"

Tears poured forth as Tori turned those words over and over in her head. Her mouth wouldn't open, and it was all she could do to breathe as she fumbled for Paulie's hand. Finally she grasped it, being careful not to move or twist her arm, and from that contact she drew enough strength to whisper, "Yes." She suddenly jerked her head up to look into the paramedic's eyes, yelling, "It's all my fault! All of it! She loved me, and I loved her, but I still treated her like trash because I was afraid! I was AFRAID! About what the girls at school would say, about what my bratty little sister would do, about my parents going nuts if they found out!"

She leaned her head down onto the cold steel railing of the stretcher, sobbing as the words spilled forth. "She tried to tell me how much she loved me, she really did. She tried to win me back, she recited poetry for me, she declared her love for me in the library in the most insane way, but it was just her. It was so her. And you know, she told me she loved me more with just a look than Jake did by fucking me!"

Sobs overcame her for a moment, and it took all her willpower to regain control from her grief. "Paulie wasn't afraid. She was never afraid. Not until I made her face a future without me beside her. Even then she didn't give up. She tried everything to win me back, and I just threw it back in her face. I had been her friend, her support for the last four years, and I just threw her out. I was the one who nearly killed her!" Tori looked up at Paulie's pale face, still and unmoving save for shallow breaths. "It should have been me up on that roof," she said grimly. "Whether it would have been making out with her or jumping with her, I should have been there."

"Hey," said the older woman as she gently laid a hand on Tori's back. "This is not the time for you to tear yourself to pieces. Right now she needs you to be here with her, I think. What's important is that both of you are still alive, and you have another chance."

Tori looked at the woman. She hadn't even registered what she looked like, but now Tori could see that she had kind eyes. "Thank you," she said in a voice just above a whisper. "Thank you for taking care of her. She's the most important thing in my life. I see that now."

"Then remember that when she wakes up," the older woman said.

"I will. I swear." I hope.

The next few hours were a blur, filled with faces and images that Tori couldn't keep straight. The whole day had seemingly vanished in her mind, as every attempt to trace back a memory led to the same gut-wrenching sight, a slight figure, face held defiantly to the heavens as she tried to leave behind the sty that her world had become. Finally sleep took her, granting her a rest that was still haunted by the sound of Paulie reciting her favorite verse of poetry, followed by the sound of her small body impacting on the dirt and mulch that cushioned her fall just enough to preserve her life.

"Victoria."

The frail-sounding voice cut through Tori's anguished dreams, bringing her back to alertness. "Uh... Ms. Vaughn?" she asked numbly, looking up at the school's headmistress.

"They're bringing Pauline back from surgery. I thought you'd want to be in the room when she arrived." Though Ms. Vaughn looked like she was about to fall apart any second, her form held a surprising strength of will. "Mary is on her way back up from the cafeteria. She thought you might be hungry."

Tori looked down and realized she still had on her soccer uniform and cleats. "I need to get some clothes sometime tonight."

"Mary already brought you some," Ms. Vaughn said. "Both for you and for Pauline." She stopped outside a room, its cavernous door standing open, revealing its emptiness. "Victoria..." There was a pause, then the headmistress continued. "I know about you and Pauline. That much is obvious. But I have to ask you..."

"She's just a friend," Tori answered. Seeing the confusion on Ms. Vaughn's face, she clarified, "Mary Brave is just a friend to us. An honest, caring friend. But yes, Paulie and I love each other." She felt her body shiver as she spoke those words out loud. All the times she had told Paulie that she loved her, the words had spilled forth without any hesitation or awkwardness. But saying them out loud to someone else... Well, that had proved to be much, much harder.

Ms. Vaughn's face returned to its usual pleasant smile. "Yes, well, I expect there will be some people who won't be quite so happy about that development," she said.

"Understatement of the year," Tori said under her breath. Suddenly she spun to face the older woman. "My parents left, didn't they?"

"Yes," Ms. Vaughn said, her face concerned at what she knew Tori must have been feeling inside, the feeling of being torn between two worlds. She knew something about that herself, after all. She walked over next to her student and gently laid a hand on her shoulder. "Victoria..." She stopped, then said, "Tori. It's not my place to tell you what to do with your life. However, sometimes life forces us to make painful decisions. And sometimes those decisions hurt others badly."

"That's just the problem," Tori said, "No matter what I choose, someone I care about is going to get hurt badly."

There was a long pause before Ms. Vaughn quietly said, "Then in those situations, you simply have to ask yourself which decision you can live with and which one you can't."

Tori looked up and saw Mary leaning against the corner, listening quietly. "Here Tori," Mary said with her unassuming voice as she handed her roommate a box from the cafeteria. "I got you a salad and some fries. I hope that's okay."

Tori gave the freshman a smile. "Yeah, that's fine, Mary. Thanks." She opened the box and began eating the French fries. "You doing okay?" she asked her other roommate.

"That depends," said the small blonde girl. "Um, Ms. Vaughn?" she said hesitantly.

"Yes, Mary?"

"Would you mind to, um, step out please? Just for a minute, so Tori and I can talk privately?" Mary looked as if uttering those words had caused her physical pain, but the headmistress simply smiled and stood.

"I'll be outside. Hopefully Pauline will be back here soon." She walked out of the room, closing the door behind her.

"What's on your mind, Mary B?" Tori asked as she opened the bottled water that Mary had brought to her.

Mary sat down quickly in the seat vacated by Ms. Vaughn, turning it so that she was facing Tori. "Tori, I'm still... adjusting, I guess, to how you and Paulie feel about each other. Or at least I thought you felt about her like she feels about you."

"I do, Mary, I swear it, it's just—"

"No!" Mary said angrily, slashing her hand through the air in front of her. "It's not 'just' anything! She LOVES you, Tori! She loves you so much that when you pushed her away, it broke her inside! And she tried everything to win you back, and you just..." She looked directly into the taller girl's eyes and said flatly, "And you just told her that she wasn't worth it."

"That is not what I did, Mary, I swear!"

"Save it, Tori. That is exactly what you did. You did like everyone else in Paulie's life and just pushed her away, because she wasn't worth it to you."

"Mary, this are my parents we're talking about here! My sister, and my brother! I can't just let them disown me, because I love them too!"

Mary's eyes were normally curious, inquisitive, but now they were nothing short of icy. "At least you have parents," she said coldly. "And a sister, and a brother. What does Paulie have?" When Tori didn't answer, Mary asked again, louder. "What does Paulie have, Tori? WHO does she have?"

"She has me!" Tori cried out as she broke down into tears, burying her face in her hands. "She has me..."

"She had you, until you dropped her for that stupid boy up the hill. Then she had nobody." Mary paused to look out the window. "She had nothing left. Nothing in this world keeping her here."

After long moments of painful sobs, Tori finally spoke with a cracking voice. "I made her jump, didn't I?" she asked softly.

Mary looked down at her roommate bent over in her seat, and she could only imagine the pain and guilt that Tori had to be feeling at that moment. But things could still get worse. There was no guarantee that Paulie would even survive the surgery, much less make a full recovery. "You didn't make her jump, Tori. That was Paulie's decision. But you sure carried her up to the roof."

The sound of the door opening interrupted the painful conversation. Squeaking wheels heralded Paulie's arrival. "Oh, Paulie..." said Tori sadly as she got a good look at the bruised face of her lover. Pink casts enclosed Paulie's left forearm and right lower leg; her head was swollen slightly from the contusions suffered in the fall, and two drains could be seen attached to the bed, one a soft, round bag, the other a large plastic box with bloody fluid in it. Tori turned to look at the nurses who had just brought Paulie into the room. "When will she wake up?" she asked anxiously.

"We don't know," one of the nurses, a younger woman not much older than Paulie and Tori, said gently.

"I mean, like a few hours, maybe? Or are we talking later on tonight?" asked Tori.

The nurse stepped forward and gently took Tori's hand in her own. "No, ma'am, I mean, we don't know if she's going to wake up."

As Tori grasped what the nurse was saying, she suddenly felt as if all the strength in her body had abruptly fled. Heavily she fell back into the chair she had been sitting in. Paulie could still die from this. Because I broke her heart. Because I dumped her for some boy who just wanted a quick fuck in the woods. Tears stung Tori's eyes, but these tears were different than those she had been crying for the last four hours, bitter and biting as they streamed forth now. The high point of my relationship with Jake was making a big fool of myself while he felt me up at my brother's birthday party, part of me showing off how straight I was. How goddamn normal I was. She looked over to Paulie's still face and tried unsuccessfully not to shudder. But with Paulie there was no high point or low point, because every minute we spent together was as amazing as everything else. Every second was wonderful, fun, exciting, alive. How could I have turned my back on that?

"Hey," said a weak voice, causing Tori and Mary to both jerk their heads up.

As Tori saw the haunted dark eyes of Paulie looking at her, she shot forward and hugged her one true love, a bit too forcefully.

"Ow, Tori! I think I broke my fucking chest or something, you know?" Paulie said, her typical caustic humor seemingly back in full force.

"You broke more than that," Tori said as she she kissed Paulie carefully on the lips. "You almost died, P."

Paulie glanced away from Tori's red eyes. "Yeah, about that..." She suddenly looked over to Mary. "Did he fly away?" she asked.

It took Mary a few seconds to follow Paulie's dramatic shift in thinking. "Yes," she finally said, blinking in confusion. "He flew away. It was beautiful."

"Paulie, don't try to change the subject," Tori said, her voice laced with irritation. "You tried to fucking kill yourself!"

"Not sure how I screwed up," Paulie said matter-of-factly. "That should have been plenty enough distance to do it."

"Damn it, Paulie, this is not some joke!" said Tori hotly.

Paulie lifted her head up, stopping Tori's next words before they left her mouth. "Do I look like I'm laughing, Tor?" she asked seriously. After holding Tori's gaze for long, awkward seconds she said, "Loving you was never anything but serious for me, Tor. It was the only thing in my whole life I ever took seriously."

Tori ran her fingertips across Paulie's face tenderly, smiling slightly at the look of happiness on her girlfriend's face. "Do you still love me, P?" she asked in a near-whisper, hoping that somehow she still had a chance to make things right.

The expression on Paulie's face was unreadable, then she said, "The fuck kinda question is that? Hell yes, I still love you!" Paulie used her good hand to grab Tori's burgundy soccer jersey and pull her face down until their noses were nearly touching. "When I realized that you really weren't coming back to me, there wasn't one fucking thing on this shithole of a world left that was worth me staying for." She let Tori go, and reflexively the auburn-haired girl sat back up slightly. Paulie turned her head, looking away from Tori and out the window. "I didn't jump to try and scare you into coming back to me, Tori. I jumped because this world that we live in had become too painful, and I couldn't go another day seeing you and knowing that you weren't coming back to me. Not after feeling what we had together, even if you won't admit it."

"You didn't put the gardening cart down there?" Tori asked.

"Is that what I fell on? And it still didn't kill me?"

Tori shook her head, but a different voice spoke up.

"The cart was full of dirt and mulch," Mary said. "It broke your fall enough to save your life."

"Mary Brave!" Paulie said happily. "Knew you'd be here, new girl."

Mary smiled as Tori said, "P, don't call her that. She's not new anymore."

Paulie regarded Mary closely, then she said, "No, she's not. She's bloodied now. She's been there and she hasn't run away screaming like a little girl," emphasizing the last two words sarcastically as she looked at the fourteen-year-old who had done a tremendous amount of growing up over the last four months. "Thanks, Bedford. For being there."

"You should know something, Paulie," Mary said, stepping closer to the bed. "Right when all this... stuff... started between the two of you, Tori asked me to do something for her."

"Mary, you don't—"

"She needs to know this, Tori," Mary said quickly. "She does." She looked down at Paulie, who was intently listening. "Tori said that the most important thing that I had to do when... when all this started, was to be there for you. To help take care you, and to help you get through this. She said that you were going to need someone and that she couldn't do it anymore, not after she had hurt you so badly."

As Mary spoke, tears began to form in Paulie's eyes. She looked up at Tori. "You really said that?" Tori nodded. "Even knowing you were going to break my heart, you still tried to have someone be there for me?" Another nod. "That's fucked up, Tor," she said with as wry a grin as she could manage give the swelling around her face.

Now Tori smiled. "That's my P," she said as she leaned down to give Paulie a kiss, only to find herself stopped by Paulie's hand in her way.

"Tor," she said, her voice suddenly different. It was fragile, hesitant, almost childish. "I love you, Victoria. I love you with everything I have. I'd fight for you, I'd lie for you, I'd kill for you... and I'd die for you." Paulie swallowed, and when she spoke again her voice had regained much of its steel. "But I can't do this if you're still going to flip out on me and run off with some asshole boy the next time your bratty little sister pops her nosy fucking head into our room, or the next time your dad looks at me like I just pissed on his shoes." She looked hard into Tori's eyes as she said, "I love you."

"And I love you, P, you know that—"

"Not good enough, Tor. I need to know that you're going to stand with me, that the next time this comes up that you're not going to lie and try to come up with some bullshit excuse to avoid admitting that you're in love with me." She paused before she asked, "Can you do that, Tori? Can you find the courage to admit you're in love with me, to anyone who asks?"

Tori's eyes danced across Paulie's face. She was terrified of what her parents would say, what they'd do, what her sister would run and tell all her friends, what would be whispered about them through the entire school, what cruel jokes would be played on them before they finally graduated and left this place... But as her mind raced through all those possible disasters, all she could focus on was how lonely Paulie had looked, standing up there on that roof, calmly accepting death over a life without the woman she loved. And she was ashamed that she was so frightened of her parents that she had rejected Paulie's honest, heartfelt love that she had freely offered to her unconditionally.

That's what this comes down to, Tori finally realized. Fear versus love. Which was the more powerful force in her life? I've spent so long hating my mummy and daddy, but I've been too afraid to say anything to them. I've been too scared to stand up for myself, and they still treat me like shit because of it.

"You deserve more than bitchy comments about your face, which is more beautiful than anything else I have ever seen," Paulie said softly. "You deserve more than just being molded into what your mother wishes she could have been. You deserve more than being taken for granted and just coming back for more."

"I'm scared," Tori said, screwing her eyes shut to try and hold back the tears. "I'm just so scared of what they'll say, what they'll do."

There was a pause before Paulie's voice said, "Tori?" When Tori didn't answer, she tried, "Victoria?" As Tori opened her eyes and let the tears spill forth as she looked into Paulie's loving eyes, Paulie solemnly said, "Stop being scared, Tori. And start being brave."

"But what if they disown me? What if they kick me out, and they say they never want to see me again?"

Paulie thought for a few seconds, then she said, "Well, we can spend what we would've spent on their Christmas presents on ourselves instead."

Tori tried not to laugh, but one still slipped out despite the tears. "You're crazy," she said, but now the frustration was gone from her voice.

"Well, duh," replied Paulie. "I thought you knew that about me a long time ago."

Tori carefully reached down and took Paulie's good right hand as she gathered her thoughts. "Before I ever met you, I was miserable for most of my life. All the attention growing up went to either Tom, because he was the oldest and the boy, or to Ali, because she was the baby. My mummy decided that I was going to be her little perfect society girl, because she said good manners would be the only way I could get a nice husband since I wasn't as pretty as Ali." Paulie ground her teeth at that comment, but she managed to not interrupt what was obviously a painful speech for her girlfriend. "So after I turned ten, I got sent to my first boarding school. It worked out pretty good for them; that way they only had to put up with me for a few weeks during the summer."

When Tori paused, Paulie said, "Tori, you know you're beautiful, don't you? No matter what your bitch of a mom tells you, you're one of the most beautiful people I've ever seen."

Tori looked at Paulie and said, "You're the only person who's ever told me that and made me believe it, P." As the two girls looked at each other, both pairs of eyes softened for the first time in two weeks, letting the love deep within each of them shine forth. Tori continued, "And I never knew what being happy was until I came here when I was fourteen and met you. Today I had to think about what my life would be like without you, P. Not just play around and try not to think about it like I'd been doing these last few days, but really think about you not being in my life in any way." Tori's voice became nearly a whisper as she said, "And it scared me more than my parents scare me."

Paulie reached up and cupped her hand around Tori's cheek, wiping a tear away with her thumb as Tori continued to speak. "P, I meant it when I said that I would never love anyone like I love you. You make me feel happy, you make me feel safe, you make me feel beautiful. You make me feel alive, when I was dead inside for so long. And I know now that's what I want in life, to be alive. To live, not just exist. And if that means I have to live on the street with you instead of just existing in a cold, loveless house with some man who could never replace you, who could never understand me and touch me the way you do..." Tori smiled and removed Paulie's hand from her cheek and kissed the palm. "Then I'd choose to live on the street with you." She leaned down and carefully kissed Paulie, letting the heat and love in their kiss burn away all the fears and insecurities she had held deep inside.

Standing in the hallway next to the door, Mary smiled as a single tear ran down her face. She wiped it away quickly, hoping that no one saw it. She hadn't meant—

Okay, she had meant to eavesdrop. But these were her friends, and they talked about things like that in front of her all the time. In fact, they hadn't even asked her to step outside, she had just done that on her own to give them some privacy. But now for the first time in almost two weeks, Mary felt the pangs of anguish that had grown inside her as she had watched her friends fall apart finally begin to fade away. And she silently resolved that if Tori's little sister Ali ever barged into their room again without knocking, she'd beat the little homophobic brat senseless herself.

Author's Afterword: Okay, I've decided. This will be three chapters, because it's too much to fit into a oneshot. I'll start working on the next chapter now, but give me a few days to have the next chapter done, proofed and posted. Working on two stories at once makes for not getting much sleep.

-- Jo --