And done. Thanks to all who read this & commented. It is appreciated.

/ /

"Hey yourself."

And the sun is not up yet but morning is getting closer. The sky has that perfect sort of color going on - the dark blue and the endless black, with a thin white line at the horizon, a smooth and blank sliver of a slate on which the new day will be written.

Spencer's voice is soft and it sounds a lot like the secrets a child would keep; the good kind of secret, though... Not the bad kind, not the kind of thing that kids must keep hidden in order to survive... Only good whispers these days, that's what Spencer's voice sounds like in this hour where night is releasing its hold and dawn slowly approaches.

They are awake but Ashley shuts her eyes once more and relishes the feeling of Spencer's skin against her fingertips - the tender brush of flesh against flesh, a running touch along the top edge of Spencer's underwear and so it is a caress to Spencer's lower back.

Ashley can almost hear Spencer's sleepy smile, can almost taste that expression on her tongue, and that knowledge causes Ashley to smile in return.

They have not said it. They have not said the words. They have not spoken about the feelings between them, even as they grow and even as they become apparent.

But it is there, oh it is there all the time these days, just another good secret to cherish for a while longer.

/ /

"Ashley... I'd like to talk with you..."

But his voice just doesn't register anymore, does it? Not after the day you've had, not after the friend you have lost, not after all the years you have spent with these lies, not after all the hours you have spent on your own.

He'd like to talk with you and that's the best joke you've heard in a long time.

So, you walk past him and up the stairs and your room is so close - the only place you can shut away the world and lock the door on the mistakes, the only refuge you have besides... well, besides a girl you think you are falling in love with...

And how safe is that? How sure is Spencer of you? How sure are you of Spencer?

It's not like you've seen any relationship ever last.
It's not like you've seen any good come of love.

But you still called her up in your time of need and she came to you and for tonight... for tonight, you will see how far this ship will take you.

"Ashley, please... please talk to me..."

The conversation the two of you are not having is deafening, isn't it?

It clogs up your ears and it haunts your dreams; it drowns out everything. And all the days where you would have begged on your knees for him to just tell you the truth, to just let you in on the punch-line, to remind you of what you used to be worth... and to tell you that you are worth that much still... All the days where he could have said something and you waited.

You waited and he never fucking showed.

And now, now he wants to talk.

You turn around at the top of the stairs and his eyes are on you, steady but scared, and you don't know if you want him to flee or if you want him to plead some more.

You don't know what you want from him, especially now that you might get it.

"What good will talking do?" You ask aloud; you ask this to him and to yourself. You flex your hands and can almost feel Spencer return the hold. You blink your eyes and can almost see Aiden in front of you.

You feel the heat of tears that just won't leave and can almost hear your heart breaking again.

"I... I don't know, Ashley, but I want to try and... I don't know, to try and explain some things... things about your mother and I-"
"Which mother is that, hmm? The biological or the stand-in?"

The words hit him square in the face and you take pleasure in this - at least, a part of you enjoys it - while the rest of you aches to turn away and close that door and weep until you can no longer feel a thing where family is concerned.

Of course, it is never that easy.
Nothing is ever that easy.

"Both, I guess. Anything you want to know... I should have told you, I know that, and I thought by not telling you... I thought that would fix things, fix Christine and I and keep us safe, keep us whole... I was wrong, I was so wrong."

You want to shout at him. You want to confirm his fears because he is not wrong where his failings count. You want to take a knife and cut him out of your body - cut away the memories, cut away the times where you once loved him and he once adored you and when all the coldness you could sense around the corners of this house were just odd mysteries that you could ignore.

You want all of this to be a nightmare and to finally wake up.

Of course, it is never that easy, is it?

Nothing is ever that easy.

"You telling me the truth now is kind of anti-climatic, don't you think? I know about the woman who didn't want me and I know why Christine hates me... I know all about your lies so what is there left to say? Do you need to apologize and be forgiven? Am I supposed to help you wipe away some sort of guilt you are feeling?"

Oh, you sound so bitter and so hard and so uncaring. You sound cold and you sound defeated, too. You sound like a girl with a lot of rage, with a lot of sorrow, and you talk like you've got it all figured out...

...but those tears are still forming in your eyes and they continue to traitorously roll down your face and all these masks that you wear are threatening to crack and crumble and reveal you.

You, Ashley Davies, a child who still longs for what used to be.

"I'd settle for a chance to ask for your forgiveness, that's all, Ashley. Just a chance to make things right. That's all I want."

Nothing is ever that easy, though.

And, yet, as much as you want to say 'no', you don't.

But you don't say 'yes' either.

You don't answer him at all. You just walk away.

/ /

There are moments when Spencer cannot take any of this in and it seems like too much to handle, too much for her reborn heart to feel and it would be simple to disappear again.

Then she looks over at Ashley's sleeping face, barely outlined in the purple light of the early hours and she feels the warm weight of Ashley's arm over her waist and Spencer knows that fading from view won't work this time.

Without realizing it, all this weaving has created a web that Spencer has no real desire to abandon. And Spencer's reborn heart beats so wildly in her chest, loud enough to sound like a call to arms - only Spencer responds to that thump-thump-thump, only Spencer hears those walls tumbling down, though.

There are moments when Spencer still wants to scream, still wants to grit her teeth in frustration and rage, still wants to let loose the comments that can wound Paula Carlin - or at least maim the woman - but then Glen steps in and cools the fire... or Ashley's voice carries over the phone or murmurs by her shoulder... and Spencer isn't immune to the disease in this house but she has learned to keep the sickness at bay.

Spencer has learned how to live instead of dying a slow death.

And she looks over at Ashley, so near and so perfect, and Spencer wants to hold off the day, hold off the waking, hold off the entire universe for a while longer. She wants to wants to place her palm against Ashley's chest and count the seconds between the beats. She wants to deliver a different kind of kiss to the different parts of Ashley's body - a sweet one to Ashley's stomach, a rough one to Ashley's hip.

There are moments when Spencer wishes she could erase how they met and do things over; Spencer wishes that her self-hatred had not been so deep when Ashley first touched her and that they did not have to meet in the middle of something so calculated. There are moments where Spencer isn't sure this is the right thing to do, not for herself and not for Ashley, too.

Because Spencer cannot erase the past.

Spencer cannot erase what has been done in the name of anger, in the name of sadness.

But then she looks over at Ashley and the brunette girl is awake and staring right back, a brown-eyed gaze still heavy with slumber, and Spencer couldn't move even if she tried.

"Hey yourself."

And Spencer just cannot erase how Ashley makes her feel, even at that first moment - at a party and in a room and oh so wrong and oh so right...

...Spencer doesn't want to erase these feelings at all.

/ /

"Sorry about tonight."

And you mean it. You are too tired to fight this time around and it shows, so Paula takes a well-aimed stab and you bleed.

Glen cannot fight all your battles. Hell, even you cannot fight all of your battles - sometimes the better part of valor is stepping back.

Even when it feels as horrible as tonight.

Then again, you are still living here. They didn't kick you out because that would have meant losing Glen, too. And you don't want to feel the bitterness that comes from knowing that you mean nothing to them, so you choke it back - you choke it all down and save the pain for the days when you can afford therapy.

Or you let Glen distract you. Or you let Ashley console you. Or you try and bottle it up and punch the walls.

Your left hand still hurts from the last time.

Glen catches you staring at your bruised fist and he sits beside you on your bed, flinging an arm around your shoulders.

"Come with me to the gym, Spence. You can totally picture Mom's face on a bag, it'll make you feel better."

You don't laugh but you do grin. That's all you've got for him tonight.

"Yea, maybe."

Glen turns your face towards him, sure hand on your chin, and you don't try to hide the weariness in your gaze. You don't try to hide just how torn apart you are anymore.
Not from your brother. Not in the hallways of school. Not with Ashley or around those parents you cannot deal with.

You used to be good at hiding. You used to be good at fighting.
You used to be good at covering all of this up. You used to be good at being invisible.

Now, the dam has burst and you are everywhere and it is scary and it is exhilarating and you never know what will happen next. Just that you are here, alive and breathing, and you didn't manage to kill yourself after all.

You didn't disappear.

And you have found affection where you least expected it. You have found a piece of land to stand on and it isn't falling away from your feet.

"I know this isn't easy, okay? I know but you've got me... Don't shut me out again, Spence. Don't do it, okay?"

And you want to say that you won't close off from him but you are never fully sure of yourself - even now. This is all so new, this world of you being real and no longer the fairy-tale girl who forgot how to fly.

The window is open and you can take flight. If you want to, that is.

You don't have to be Wendy anymore, trapped in between Never-Never Land and the cold, hard truth. You don't have to be alone anymore...

...if you don't want to be, that is.

You've got Glen. You've got Ashley.

And she may not be strong enough to speed around the world yet, but you have yourself, too.

"I'm... I'm doing my best, Glen. Every day, I'm doing the best that I can."

His arms wrap you up and you are swimming in this embrace and you take comfort from this, you take confidence from your brother, and you step out into the sky.

You step out into the unknown and you don't crash to the ground.

/ /

Ashley does not know if this is a forever kind of thing. She does not know if Spencer will be the only face she'll ever want to see at the beginning of the day or at the start of the night. The emotions attached to right here and right now could change as they go on - they could grow apart, they could dissolve, they could find that this is all temporary and transient.

Spencer could wake up one day and no longer need Ashley in her life. Or Ashley could wake up one day and no longer need Spencer around, no longer want to softly laugh into the curve of Spencer's neck. Sure, they might have saved one another, but that does not fill up every crevice of existence. And once someone is rescued, where does that leave the heroine?

There isn't a guarantee between the two of them. They signed no contract and they made no pact; they didn't swear any oath nor have they pledged any vow.
Neither one of them look in the mirror and see the reflection of what makes a 'good' girlfriend - they see the meaningless hook-ups; they see the night that they met one another and sometimes that night outweighs all the other nights that have followed.

Neither one of them know if this will last.

And Ashley hates uncertainty. And Spencer hates insecurity.

But it is finally morning and light starts to conquer the heavens and Ashley can see Spencer and Spencer can see Ashley and suddenly forever doesn't seem to matter much at all.

They have right here. They have right now.

And fathers will continue to struggle. And mothers will continue to pine and pummel. And siblings will stick around or fade away. And friends will come and go and come back again.

Right here and right now, they have each other.

And so the future can just burn.

/ / / / / / /