Author's Note: Yay, time for chapter two! Don't worry, Paulie and Tori haven't gone anywhere. Hope everyone's ready, because this one's going to cover some ground.

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.

Chapter 2: Only Love

Only love can set us free

Only love can bear the truth

Only love can bring us peace

Only love can save me and you

Only love can purify

Only love can conquer fear

Only love can testify

Only love can make a miracle (of life)

--Sophie B. Hawkins, "Only Love"

Tori wasn't sure what woke her up. Her back was hurting; apparently she had fallen asleep at her desk, leaning forward with her head resting on the flat surface. Except whatever was under her head wasn't hard. It was soft, and it was warm. She groaned slightly as she lifted her head up, only to feel a warm hand on the back of her head gently run fingers through her long auburn hair. "Paulie?" she mumbled sleepily, blinking her eyes open. Too much white in here, she thought. Where are we? Then she saw the large cast on Paulie's right leg, raised up off the bed and plainly in sight. Oh. The hospital.

She had hoped it had been a bad dream, but apparently not. As she carefully removed Paulie's hand from her hair, Tori sat up, straightening her back with a soft pop as she did so. This morning the bruising on Paulie's face wasn't quite as pronounced, which she took as a good sign. She cautiously looked around the room. No one else was in there with them. Once satisfied, she stood and leaned over Paulie, very gently placing a kiss on her girlfriend's lips. They were a bit dry, but once Tori licked them they moistened up nicely. She smiled and kissed Paulie again, this time feeling her lover start to kiss back.

"Mmmm, I like waking up that way," said Paulie in a whisper.

"Be careful when you start moving around," Tori said. "You've got your right leg in some kind of brace, or cast, or something. And your left arm is in a cast too, so don't knock yourself out with it."

"What, like if I want to scratch my head or something?" asked Paulie, a touch of sass in her voice.

Another good sign. "Yeah, something like that."

Paulie grinned as she opened her eyes and finally saw the girl she was completely in love with looking down at her, smiling. "That's what I've got you for, Tor. To scratch my head for me."

Tori ran her fingers through Paulie's hair. "I'll wash your hair for you today, P. That might feel good to you."

Paulie looked around the room. "No, what would feel good is getting the fuck out here and back to our room. Back to our lives before everything got kicked all to hell."

"P, you aren't going to be able to get up those steps to our room. Not for a while." The expression on Paulie's face made Tori think that she might have chosen the wrong words.

"The hell I can't," Paulie said defiantly. "If I have to pull myself up those steps I'm sleeping in my bed tonight." She looked at Tori and grinned a wicked grin. "Or in yours."

Tori gave Paulie a disapproving look. "I have a better idea," she said. "How about when you're ready to get out of here, we move our beds together? That way we'll have a bit more room for you to stretch your leg out for now."

Paulie tried to sit straight up in the bed, but her head swam maddeningly as she did so. She blinked the vertigo away, focusing on Tori's surprised face. "You serious?" she asked excitedly.

Tori looked at the joyous look of her girlfriend's face, and she wondered again how she ever could have been stupid enough to hurt this radiant young woman in front of her. Yes, Paulie was fiery and unpredictable, but she was also fiercely loyal and incredibly romantic. They had made plans for the future over their years at Perkins, had already talked about their lives together after graduation, and then Tori had shallowly thrown that all away simply because she was afraid her little sister Allison was going to run and tell Mummy and Daddy that Tori was sleeping with her roommate. Tori cleared her throat and pushed her fears back down inside her. "Yes," she said, smiling at Paulie. "I'm done hiding, P. And I'm done lying."

"To others, or to yourself?" Paulie asked, holding Tori's gaze.

The question stung, but Tori knew she deserved to hear it. Paulie was brutally honest, but Tori knew she wasn't saying that as retaliation. "To both," Tori answered. Just saying it felt good, like it gave her new resolve. But that resolve was still new and fragile, and Tori hoped she could stand fast in the face of the inevitable criticism and attacks that would come. "But I'm still scared, P."

Paulie used her right hand to take Tori's left and held it tightly. "It's okay to be scared, Tor. What's not okay is letting being scared stop you from following your heart."

Tori felt tears starting to form at the edges of her eyes as she looked into Paulie's amazingly expressive dark eyes. "That's what I've got you for, P. You're my courage."

Paulie smiled. "Damn right I am."

A knock at the door was quickly followed by the entrance of one of the nurses. "Oh good, you're awake, Pauline," she said.

Paulie laughed. "It's Paulie, please," she said with just a touch of sarcasm. "I hate Pauline."

The nurse efficiently checked Paulie's casts, then the pulses in her right foot and left hand. That was followed by taking her temperature with an ear thermometer, then measuring her blood pressure in her right arm. "You have some visitors today," she said pleasantly.

"Sounds good," Paulie said, her carefree attitude starting to return now that the most important part of her world was back beside her. "Hey, when can I get out of this place?" she asked. "I mean, you get me a wheelchair and some crutches and I'll get myself out the door."

"Paulie," Tori said warily. "You're going to take the time to heal first."

Not missing a beat, Paulie said, "Well, I'll heal a lot faster in my own bed." She gave Tori a naughty look and added, "Or in someone else's."

"How are you planning on getting up the stairs, Paulie, seriously? We live on the third floor!"

"I'll let you and Mary Brave help me up and down the first few days, then I should be able to do it myself. I'll just stay on the ground floor the whole school day, then go back up to the room when classes are done." Seeing the nurse easing toward the door, Paulie quickly said in a loud voice, "Hey, can you find out what we have to do to get me out of here today? I mean it, I want to go home. I can keep my leg propped up there just like I can here."

"Well, I'll have the doctor come by and look at your chest tube. But it doesn't look like it's drained anymore overnight."

"Does that mean it can come out?" asked Paulie expectantly. "Because I feel okay."

"You feel okay because they've been giving you something for pain," said Tori.

Paulie gave her girlfriend a look. "And why can't they give me something to take home for a few days in case I need it?"

"God, you are stubborn!" said Tori, throwing up her hands in light frustration.

Paulie grinned as she said, "You still love me, though, right?"

Tori knew this was a test, whether Paulie intended it as one or not—and she didn't think Paulie would do that to her. But it was still a test, if only a self-imposed one. She could feel the heat rush to her face, but she managed to quietly say, "Yes, I love you, P. Now shut up until the doctor gets here, or they'll keep you for another week."

Paulie laughed, and the simple sound of her happy laugh made Tori's heart jump with glee, despite the terrible events of the past weeks. "I knew you still loved me," she said as she looked into Tori's eyes, and now her own eyes grew serious. "Even if I am pretty fucked up."

"Why would you say that, Paulie?" Tori asked politely, even though both of them were quite aware of yesterday's events even now. Would she do it again if we ever broke up in the future? Tori was ashamed of even thinking such a thing, but it was a valid concern; Paulie's actions yesterday had made quite clear just how real a possibility that was.

Paulie's voice was haunted as she said, "Because when I realized that without you I had nothing to live for, I tried to kill myself. I tried to tell myself that it wouldn't hurt you, that it would make it easier for you to go on with your live with that asshole Jake, but I still knew that it would hurt you deeply. Maybe permanently. And I still did it, because I couldn't even think of living without you by my side." Tears were forming in her eyes, a very rare occurrence for Pauline Oster. "If that's not fucked up, trying to kill myself knowing that it would emotionally scar the one person I loved more than anything else, then what the hell is?"

Tori shook her head. "Paulie, I was the one who was fucked up. I wasn't thinking, because I was so scared about what my parents would do when they found out about us. You tried everything, baby, and I mean everything, to get my mind straight. I was in denial so bad that it took seeing you nearly die for me to realize that having you in my life is..." She wiped her eyes and nose before she finished by saying, "Having you in my life is more important than having my parents, or my sister, or my brother in it. None of them fucking know me, P, not like you do! You do things for me because you love me, not because you think I need to be fixed or improved." The way she spat out "fixed" and "improved" left no doubt as to how she felt about her parents trying to micromanage her life.

Another knock at the door sounded. "Come in," said both Tori and Paulie at the same time. Fay Vaughn slowly walked around the corner, her ever-present smile still in place.

"Good morning, girls," said the headmistress of Perkins School. "Do you feel like answering a few questions for someone, Paulie?"

Paulie shrugged her shoulders, being careful not to move her left arm too much. "Not like I can get up and walk out," she said noncommittally.

Ms. Vaughn motioned for someone to enter the room. A tall man came around the corner, in his early fifties by appearance. Ms. Vaughn said, "This is Assistant District Attorney George Burkholt, ladies. Mr. Burkholt, this is Victoria Moller," she said as she held out her open hand to indicate Tori, "and Pauline Oster, the young lady you came to speak with."

Tori politely said, "Hi," but Paulie simply glared at the man.

"Let me guess," Paulie said sharply, "you're here to arrest me. Great." She lifted her left arm, the nauseatingly bright pink cast in stark contrast to the black-and-white look of the hospital room. "Good luck getting the cuffs on over this damn thing."

Tori looked at her girlfriend, startled. "Why would he be here to arrest you?" she asked. "What did you do?"

Before Paulie could answer, the man spoke with a voice kinder than either girl was expecting. "Ms. Oster, you've been accused of assaulting one Jake Hollander with a deadly weapon. Would you like to explain what happened yesterday between the two of you?"

Tori felt tears come to her eyes as she looked again at Paulie. Please don't say you killed him. Not now, not since I've pushed the fears aside to be with you. "What happened, P?" she said softly, dreading the forthcoming answer.

"I didn't kill him," Paulie said defiantly to the Assistant District Attorney. "Which I had the right to do, too. It was a duel to the death." She looked at Tori. "I won you, Tori," she said proudly. "I challenged that dick to a fair fight, and I won."

"Duels to the death are looked down on in this state, Ms. Oster," said Burkholt.

"Which is why I didn't kill him, Mr. Burkholt," Paulie said firmly. "I decided to stop after drawing first blood."

Burkholt looked at a notebook he had opened. "Which you did by stabbing him in the right leg, correct?"

"I picked a spot without any major blood vessels," Paulie said, "and I made sure to just go deep enough for it to bleed. I do have control over my blade." Paulie sat up straighter in her bed as best as she could with her right leg pinned down. "It was a fair challenge!" she added hotly. "Nobody made him show up! And I put that it was a duel to the death on the note I sent to him. He knew what he was getting into the entire time, and he showed up with his buddies, took the sword, and fought me in a fair fight. So if you want to call that assault, then you sure as hell better charge him with the same fucking thing!"

"Watch your language, young lady," said Burkholt, and Tori silently chastised her girlfriend by giving her a reprimanding glare.

"It was a fair fight," Paulie repeated, this time with a more restrained voice.

"And what was this fight over?" asked Burkholt.

Paulie reached over and took Tori's hand. She felt her girlfriend tremble, but Tori didn't try to pull her hand away like she would have just a day ago. "It was over Victoria here," Paulie said proudly. "I challenged him for the right to court her, like a gentleman would have done." She closed her eyes as the proud memory gave way to a shameful one. "Then I panicked," she said quietly. "I thought that once Tori found out, that there was no way she'd forgive me. I was afraid that it would only make her run to Jake even more."

For the second time today and only the third time ever, Tori saw Paulie start to cry. For Fay Vaughn, she had never seen the tough, rebellious young woman cry, so it was even more shocking.

"I decided that if I really loved Tori, that I needed to let her go," Paulie said, ignoring the tears slowly running down her cheeks.

"Like the bird," Tori whispered, slowly understanding the symbolism. "Oh, P..."

"And once she was gone to be with Jake, then I had nothing left," Paulie continued. "I have no real family. I'll never love anyone like I love Tori, not ever. And even the whore who gave birth to me doesn't want to have anything to do with me." Paulie's eyes were red from crying, but her voice wavered only slightly. "Why the fuck should I have stayed?" she finished, burying her face in Tori's shoulder.

"Paulie, I'm so, so sorry," Tori whispered into her girlfriend's ear. "I was so stupid, and so afraid, and I hurt you so badly that I don't know if I can ever forgive myself."

"Yes you can!" said Paulie, her head jerking up so suddenly that she nearly cracked Tori's nose. "You will forgive yourself, Victoria Moller, you hear me? You didn't make me get up on that roof. I did it to show you that I was letting you go, to fly free like the raptor. And I was going to free myself from this sty of a world, this shithole that we live in, where there was nothing left worth me taking another breath for."

There was a silence that fell over the room. Even the soft sobs of Paulie and Tori seemed to be swallowed up by the large hospital room. Finally Fay spoke.

"I think that these two young ladies have been through enough, George, don't you?" she said, turning to look the man standing beside her. "And I believe that they will have more than enough to deal with in the next few months and years to come as well."

George Burkholt looked at the two young women who had turned to look directly at him. While both of them had been crying, neither of them seemed afraid. As the father of two daughters in their twenties, he felt a sense of paternal respect as he regarded the two of them, at such a trying time in their lives but filled with a new sense of purpose and determination. He closed his notebook and put it back inside his coat pocket.

"My daughters both went to Perkins," he said as he slowly walked to the window, looking outside at the trees blowing in the light breeze. "So I have some idea of what the two of you have gone through." He turned to look at both of them, holding their gaze without trying to be challenging or intimidating. He was fairly sure that Pauline Oster couldn't be intimidated anyway, even if he had tried. "Ms. Oster, your story about the duel matches what I've already heard from one Mary Bedford. The two young men with Jake Hollander also confirmed the details about him accepting the challenge, and I even have the actual note itself as evidence." He walked over to the side of the bed, stopping at Paulie's cast right leg. "While the state doesn't look favorably upon duels to the death, it is a bit more lenient regarding other fair challenges. It also works in your favor that you changed the conditions to something less permanent than killing him. Otherwise I'd be hauling your rear to jail as soon as the hospital released you." He finally allowed himself to smile. "But as it stands, I have to conclude that you issued a challenge to Mr. Hollander for a fair fight, which he freely accepted knowing the terms. Witnesses confirm that the duel was fair, if one-sided, and that upon your victory, you chose to spare his life. Because of this, the state will not be pursuing charges against you." He extended his hand, and after a slight pause, Paulie shook it carefully but firmly. "Ms. Oster, I think you're more of a gentleman than most men I've met in my life. And I mean that as a compliment."

"Thank you," Paulie said honestly, her voice raw now. "I'd do anything for her," she added, jerking her head toward Tori.

Burkholt leaned down and said with a more gentle voice, "Then stop falling off rooftops. And take care of your girlfriend."

Paulie nodded, letting a slight smile cross her lips. "I will. To both."

Burkholt released Paulie's hand and smiled at Tori. "Ms. Moller," he said as he nodded to her, then he turned around and walked over to Fay. "I'll keep this out of the papers, Fay," he said pleasantly. "I wouldn't worry about this going any further. I doubt Mr. Hollander wants his entire school to know the details of him getting beaten in a fair fight by one of your students."

Fay smiled. "I suspect you're right, George. Thank you again."

"You're welcome, Fay. Just doing my job." Burkholt turned and walked out of the room.

After a minute for everyone to regain their emotional footing, Tori stood and placed a kiss on Paulie's forehead. "I need to make a phone call," she said. "Be right back."

"Not going anywhere," Paulie said smugly, making Tori smile.

As Tori passed Fay, she reached out and gingerly touched the frail-looking older woman. "Thank you for being here. Not just today, but all the days that you've been there for her."

As Tori watched Fay's face, the older woman seemed to stand a bit taller, as if some hidden source of strength was flowing into her. "I told Paulie that I understood what she was going through," Fay said softly, "and I do. I too had to make a choice once, a choice that hurt two people very badly. So badly that it took both of us many years and much sorrow to move past it." She reached out and lightly patted Tori's arm. "Only rarely do we get second chances, Victoria," she said. "Make the most of yours."

As Tori looked into the headmistress's eyes, she felt a deeper understanding of the enigmatic woman that everyone at the school knew but almost no one knew well. And beyond that understanding, she felt a sense of kinship with Fay Vaughn now, and both she and Paulie would treasure that kinship for the rest of their lives. "Thank you," Tori said softly, giving Fay a smile as she stepped out of the room and into the hall.

She walked down the hall until she found a sitting room that was empty. She walked in and closed the door behind her, dialing on her cell phone as she did so. As she heard someone answer, she gritted her teeth.

"Hello?"

"Alli," Tori said, her voice controlled and neutral.

"Tori! Where are you?"

"I'm at the hospital, Alli." She braced herself and added, "With Paulie."

"Why?" her younger sister shouted into the phone. "Is she saying she's going to kill herself if you're not there? If she is, you should just let her—"

"ALLI!" Tori loudly said into the phone. When she heard her sister pause, she said, "No, Alli. I'm here because..." Don't pause. Don't hesitate. "I'm here because I love her, Allison. I've loved her for several years."

After a pause, her sister's hurt voice said, "Why, Tori? HOW? How could you do this?"

"Because she loves me, Alli. She loves me like no one else ever has, or ever will. And I love her the same way."

"It's not right, Tori. Do you have any idea what Mom and Dad will—"

"Yes," Tori said, fighting back tears. "I have a very good idea, Allison. So that's why I'm asking you to do something for me."

"I-I'm not going to lie to them about this, Tori. I'm sorry, but I won't."

"I'm not asking you to, Alli. All I'm asking is for you to let me be the one to tell them. They deserve that. I deserve that." When no reply came, Tori said, "Do you hear me, Alli?"

"...I hear you, Tori," said Allison, her voice sad, almost mournful. "When are you going to tell them?"

"Graduation," Tori said. She had thought about this all night, and it was the best plan. "If they find out about it before then, they'll freak out and try to pull me out of Perkins. All we have left is two months, Alli. If they ask you about us before then, you say that I told you to stay out of it. That way they won't get mad at you when they find out. Okay?"

After a long pause, Allison said, "Okay. I can do that for you."

"Thank you," Tori said. "And I love you, little sis."

"Goodbye, Tori."

The click of the disconnection hit Tori squarely in her heart, but this time there were no tears. Tori had nothing to cry about. If her sister ever came to accept that Tori was still the same big sister who had loved and looked out for her throughout her entire life, then maybe they could rebuild their relationship once again. But that was Alli's choice, just like it was Tori's choice to not be ashamed of who she was any more. To not be ashamed of who she loved, or how she chose to live her life.

TWO MONTHS LATER

"I don't know what I'm going to do without the two of you," said Mary as she looked around the room that she had shared with Paulie and Tori for the last year. Boxes were stacked in one corner of the room, with only the bedding and their toiletries left to pack as Tori and Paulie stuffed their graduation robes into an open box. Graduation had just finished, and now the time had come for them to leave the room that had been their home for the last four years.

"We're going to miss you, Mary," Tori said as she hugged her old roommate. "But Brown isn't that far away."

"Yeah, you can come visit us whenever things get too boring around here," Paulie added with her trademark confident grin. She looked more like herself now, since she was out of both of her casts and walking on her own without a limp. Under her doctor's orders she continued to limit herself to walking rather than running for now, but she was already chafing at the bit to resume her full activity level.

Mary looked directly into her friends' eyes as she said, "I'm just glad that you two got into the same school."

"We're a package deal," Paulie replied, putting her arm around her girlfriend. "We told that to every school we interviewed at."

"But we both liked Brown," added Tori. "And they were cool about letting us room together."

Mary smiled. "What are you going to do now that you're not going to have a new girl to shock and scandalize?" she asked teasingly.

Paulie quickly replied, "Oh, we'll just call you on the speaker phone when we're having sex. That way you'll be able to sleep."

Mary blushed furiously at that statement, but it was true. Listening to her roommates quietly make love at night was now comforting to her, like the sound of the ocean's waves would be to someone who grew up on the beach. Rather than try and pursue a teasing contest that she wouldn't win, Mary instead stepped forward and hugged Tori and Paulie, wrapping her arms around both of them. "Take care of each other, okay?" she said, blinking back tears. "I'm not going to be there to clean up your messes. And for God's sake, always, and I mean always, remember that you love each other."

"We will," Tori said softly. "We promise."

"As if I could ever forget," Paulie said as she kissed Tori on the cheek. "She's my muse, my purpose."

"And you're my protector, P," Tori added.

"Victoria?" called out a female voice from the stairwell below.

"Mom?" Tori said, surprised that her parents had gotten over here so quickly. She started to walk to the door but Paulie stopped her in her tracks by not releasing her hand.

"Remember, Tori, this is our home for a few more minutes," she said softly. "And we're never going to be made uncomfortable or belittled in our own home."

Mary stepped forward and rubbed the small of Tori's back. "I'm staying here, just in case you need backup," she said.

Paulie turned to look at her friend, and now those dark eyes had a sharp, piercing quality that Mary recognized. The raptor. "We won't need any backup," Paulie said firmly. "But we would be honored to have Mary Brave stand at our side." She reached out with her free hand and grasped Mary's left hand. "You're our friend, and this is your home too. Even after we're gone."

"How on earth do you climb those steps every day, Victoria?" said her out-of-breath mother, gasping as she stepped into the room. It looked positively cavernous to the three girls used to it being full of their personal items, with one half of the room empty except for the boxes and the two small beds fitted together to make one queen-sized bed, but to Tori's mother it looked confining.

"It makes me stay in shape, Mother," Tori said, polite but on guard. "Plus we run every day. Well, we've been walking for the last few weeks, until Paulie's doctor says she can start running again."

"What happened to your leg, Pauline?" asked Tori's father as he stepped into the room. He still didn't like his daughter's roommate, particularly after her odd behavior at the dance two months ago.

"I broke it," Paulie said flatly, not offering further details.

"I still wish you'd let us help you girls with your packing and moving," continued her father. "I think you're taking this independence concept too far." He gave Tori a smile to try and soften his tone.

"Men are there to do the heavy lifting in your life, dear," added her mother. "You should remember that. Once you find one, that is."

"That's what Paulie is for, Mother," Tori said, more than a touch of defiance in her voice. "Plus I can do my own heavy lifting when I need to."

There was no immediate reply from either parent. Tori turned to look at her mother, who was intently gazing at the queen-sized bed against the wall, covers turned down from where they hadn't made their bed this morning.

"Victoria, why are there only two beds in this room?" her mother asked carefully.

Tori squeezed Paulie's hand for support, and Paulie squeezed back. Tori turned to look at her girlfriend, who silently mouthed, I love you, to her. She turned back to her mother, who had an unreadable expression on her face. "Because Paulie and I sleep together, Mother."

"Don't you think you two are a little old for that sort of thing, Victoria?" her mother said disapprovingly. "I mean, think of the rumors that might get started!"

If the situation weren't entirely serious, Tori might have laughed. But her face was resolute as she replied, "The rumors would be true, Mother. Paulie and I are in love."

"What?" said her father harshly. "How dare you!" he said, turning to Paulie. He angrily took two steps forward, but Paulie didn't flinch as he approached. "What have you done to my daughter?" he bellowed.

Whatever reaction he had been expecting, Paulie didn't give it to him. Instead she calmly said, "I've shown her what love is." She continued to hold Tori's hand as she took a step forward, drawing herself up as tall as she could but still several inches shorter than Tori's father. "Something so powerful that I'd give my life for it. For her. To protect her from people who say they love her while tearing her apart with thinly disguised criticisms and polite insults that she doesn't deserve. People like the two of you."

Tori's father drew back his hand to smack Paulie across her face, but the young woman standing in front of him refused to move or break eye contact with him, instead just continuing to glare into his angry gaze.

"Daddy, no!" Tori shouted before he could strike Paulie. "If you hit her, I swear I'll never talk to either of you ever again!"

"Victoria!" said her mother. "How dare you speak to your father that way?"

"How dare you, Mother, how dare you to speak to me the way you have for my whole life?" Tori replied angrily. "To make fun of my teeth, of my face, of my hair, of my body, usually in front of those shallow bitches you call friends? You call yourself a mother? You've never acted like one to me. You just dumped me here in this school to let them raise me since I was seven, and all the time I wanted to have your love and acceptance I just got it thrown back in my face how I came up short of everything you wanted me to be!" She whirled to face her father, his hand still drawn back over his shoulder. "And you, Daddy," she said, acid dripping from her words. "You were always too busy bragging about your son or fawning over precious little Alli to ever remember me."

"Is that what this is about?" her father said, lowering his hand. "You're mad at us because we didn't give you enough attention, so you're punishing us by becoming a lesbian?"

Tori shook her head and Paulie laughed loudly. "You so don't get it," Paulie said, shaking her head as well. "Let me put it in single-syllable words for you, okay? I. Love. Her. She. Loves. Me." She turned to look at Tori, and she smiled at the love that Tori reflected back at her as they looked at each other. She turned back to look at Tori's father. "This isn't about being lesbian, or being straight or gay or bisexual. This is about being in love. Love knows no boundaries. Love knows no names. It simply IS. And that's all it has to be."

"I love you, P," Tori said tenderly, a single tear escaping from her left eye and running down her cheek. Paulie quickly caught it with her index finger, carefully wiping it away.

"I love you, Victoria," Paulie said. "And I can't think of a better time to ask you this." She reached into the pocket of her slacks as she dropped to one knee. She looked up at the woman she loved and asked, "Victoria Elizabeth Moller, will you marry me?" She offered the diamond ring up to Tori, who suddenly had tears burst forth.

"Yes!" she said as she took the ring, hand shaking as she offered her other hand to Paulie, pulling her up as she stood. Both of them were grinning as Tori threw back her head and happily shouted, "Yes, yes, yes! I'll marry you!" Paulie wrapped her arms around Tori and hugged her tightly as Tori did the same, sliding the engagement ring onto the ring finger of her left hand as they held each other in the middle of their home for the last four years of their lives. For once, Tori's parents were too stunned to say anything. Even Alli, who was standing outside the door to the room listening, was too shocked to speak.

Mary stepped forward and put her hands on Tori's and Paulie's shoulders. "I don't think I can be Mary Brave anymore," she said. "Because the two of you just took that title away from me." She smiled. "You're the brave ones, and I'm proud of you both. Be good to each other, and remember to invite me to the wedding."

"You're going to be the Maid of Honor, you dope!" Paulie said happily. "Of course you're invited!" Her face became more serious, then she said, "And you'll always be Mary Brave, even when life makes you wonder if you're really brave at all. That's when you need to remember it most."

Mary smiled kindly at the young woman who had never failed to surprise her, who had helped her find the courage in herself when everyone else had made fun of her. "I'll remember," she said solemnly.

Paulie turned to look again at the woman she loved, and in those glistening eyes she saw more than just a lover, more than just a friend or a confidant. She saw her future. And no matter what else that future would bring with it, she knew that she belonged with Tori, and that Tori belonged with her. "I will always love you, Tori," Paulie whispered against her girlfriend's lips as they leaned in closely.

"I'll always love you too, P," Tori whispered in reply as everything around them faded away, leaving only the two of them in each other's arms.

Author's Afterword: One more chapter yet to come in this story. Sorry it took so long to get an update, but I take my time until the story is right. Hope everyone enjoyed this one!

-- Jo --