Oh my God - I can't believe it's going on 6 years since I started writing this thing. I am so very sorry to all you lovely readers. I hope this final chapter can give some closure to those of you who might still be waiting. I've been amazed by the loyalty of some readers, and finally sat down and finished this because it's the least y'all deserve.
Previously - Sam made an impromptu visit to L.A. to see her father
Removing a hand from her pocket, Kim placed it imploringly on the blonde's arm. "If you're going to take anything away from what your father did, let it be that you can't get a do-over, however much you may want one."
Oh, Sam had already 'taken away' far more from what he'd done than she cared to… But even if she could set aside her doubts and 'take the chance,' what if it turned out she'd been right to have them? Chilled despite the unrelenting heat, she whispered a hoarse, "I'm not sure I wouldn't rather regret it than risk ending up like my mother."
Kim swallowed hard at the reminder of the mess her husband had left in his wake, and of the fate to which he'd abandoned his daughters. "Sam, just because you have her DNA doesn't mean you'll become her; not everyone deals with adversity the same." Some could hack it and some just couldn't. Some were unfortunate enough to be doomed to suffer the sins of their parents… "You've been dealt more than your fair share and you've survived it, Sam. I think you've already proven you're stronger than her."
Refraining from telling the woman she didn't know the first thing about her – or even half of what she'd 'survived' – Sam hid her uncertainty behind a forced smile. "What doesn't kill you, right?"
"Exactly," Kim agreed.
That would have been more comforting if Sam weren't afraid it would be what finally did kill her…
Freddie read and reread the equation on the handout in front of him, finding it near impossible to focus on his homework while Sam was still MIA. She'd missed school that day (though undoubtedly hadn't actually missed it), and as much as he wanted to think it meant nothing, his overactive brain kept (un)helpfully reminding him of her answer when he'd asked if she would be coming back to Seattle. Not long ago he wouldn't even have thought to question her sarcastic 'No, Freddie' – loosely translated to 'you're an idiot for even asking' – but now, knowing what he did about how her mind worked, he couldn't help but suspect she'd said it that way specifically to shut him up. He was examining the wisdom of calling her again (the possibility of incurring her wrath and/or having his suspicions confirmed giving him pause), when his internal debate was interrupted by a knocking on the apartment door. Already resigned to the fact that it wasn't her – when did she ever knock? – he couldn't hide his surprise when he opened it to find her shuffling her feet impatiently. "You came back…"
Thank you, Captain Obvious… "I said I would," she shrugged, a little annoyed that he'd doubted her.
"And you're here." She hadn't even been home yet, judging by the bulging backpack slung over her shoulder, and he couldn't decide if that was a good sign or a bad sign.
Sam adjusted her bag self-consciously. "Well, I've been told it's rude to do these kinds of things by text."
So, not a good sign, then… Ignoring the sinking feeling in his stomach, Freddie forced a light tone. "Since when do you care about what's rude?"
"I don't, really." But she'd been accused of being unfair enough, lately.
They stared at each other in awkward silence until he thought to usher her inside. "So, how was your trip?"
"I spent as much time traveling as I did in L.A." If her father hadn't sprung for a plane ticket back it would have been twice as long. She would've missed Tuesday's classes, too, but that was secondary to the inconvenience and discomfort of another twenty-hour ride. "The bus was so janky it didn't even have a bathroom."
As fascinating as all that was… "I meant, 'How was your visit with your family?'" Either she'd misunderstood his meaning or she just didn't want to talk about it. Too bad, though. Dreading her reason for this visit, right now it was the only thing Freddie thought it was safe to talk about.
Sam shrugged again, noncommittal. "My dad's wife is nauseatingly nice. And I don't even think it was an act; he has a deadline so she took the morning off to show me around Hollywood before my flight."
Freddie's brow furrowed. "We've seen Hollywood." Multiple times…
"They know we've gone for the show," she explained with a dismissive wave of the hand. "If I told him I'd had time to go sight-seeing he would have wanted to know why I didn't drop by."
Freddie wanted to ask if there was anyone she was completely honest with, but wasn't looking to start a fight. Besides, he was pretty sure the answer would be a resounding 'no.' Tired of standing as though they were facing off, he sat down and motioned for her to do the same. "Did you get along with your sister?" The girl had seemed sweet enough on the phone, but that didn't automatically translate to 'getting along' where Sam was concerned…
"The kid's okay." Dropping her bag on the floor Sam followed his lead, pulling her bent legs up onto the couch. "Before doing the touristy thing we dropped her off at school to prove she wasn't lying about being my sister." A good deed she would immediately come to regret… "Getting mauled by awestruck grade-schoolers? Not an experience I'd want to repeat."
Freddie sighed inwardly, both at her description of the event and the physical barrier she'd put up between them. "Please tell me we're not going to get a bunch of hate-mail…"
"I played nice," she assured him. "Even signed autographs and did the whole 'free publicity' thing." Honestly, it hadn't been so bad, except that being faced with super young fans had made her feel super old. And also realize that maybe he and Carly had been right about the website content after all. Not that she'd ever admit that to them…
Knowing she wasn't going to volunteer the information, Freddie decided to cut to the chase: "How'd it go with your dad?"
Sam's shoulders tensed. "He's good. Happy." It didn't bother her at all, she kept telling herself… Taking the opportunity he'd presented, she segued, "He's working on a script for a sitcom, actually."
It hadn't escaped Freddie's attention that she'd avoided the actual question, but he was more curious about the answer he had gotten. "Your dad's a writer?"
"You didn't think I got it from my mom, did you?" The only stories Pam could come up with were the ones to get the bill collectors off her back. Though some of those were pretty ingenious…
Freddie hadn't put all that much thought into it, really; he preferred to think of her talents as all her own… "Does your dad draw, too?"
"No. That one's self-taught." Many, many hours spent listening to music and pretending the world didn't exist.
Her voice had turned wistful, and he tried to lighten the mood with an admittedly lame, "Well, you had a good teacher, then."
"Anyway," Sam continued with a slight roll of her eyes, "He wants me to get into acting."
Freddie blinked. "Like, on T.V. shows?"
Her eyes rolled more violently. "No, Freddie; on advertisements for adult diapers."
She couldn't seriously blame him for being shocked. "Your dad does know you can't take direction to save your life, right?"
Sam had to laugh because she'd said the same thing herself. "I told him. He thinks it wouldn't be much different from what we're doing here and that I'd be good at it."
What we're doing here… "He wants you to move to L.A.."
"Well, that's where his contacts and the jobs are." It wasn't like she could do it from Seattle…
Freddie's heart seemed to skip a beat. "We're talking next year, right? After grad?" He had to ask, even though he suspected the answer was the reason she was sitting in his living room.
Sam shook her head. "He's making the pitch Thursday. If his script gets the green light they have to start production on the pilot ASAP."
The lump in Freddie's throat put up a valiant fight before he managed to swallow it. "What did you tell him?"
What could she tell him? "I told him I'd think about it."
The plea in that one word made her insides roil. "I'm not going, okay?" Just because she'd agreed to think about it didn't mean she'd change the mind she'd already made up.
Freddie was able to breathe normally again. "Why not?"
Sam lifted an eyebrow. "Anxious to get rid of me?"
"What? No." Hoped that she'd say it was (at least partly) because of him? Maybe.
Resting her head on the back of the couch, she stared up at the ceiling and began reciting the 'speech' she'd prepared on her way home. "Every time my dad wanted to come here or send me a plane ticket to go there, I told him I was too busy with iCarly or school or whatever. I told myself it was because I was afraid if I saw him I wouldn't be able to let him go."
"So you lied to him." It wasn't condemnation, just a statement of fact.
Sam shrugged. "He lied to me." And it wasn't like he hadn't at least suspected she was lying… "But yesterday I realized I'd been lying to myself, too. What I was really afraid of was that it… we… would never be the same. And I was right." He was still her dad – and she still loved him – but they were never going to have the relationship they'd had. Too much water could erode even the strongest bridge, given time.
She was being uncharacteristically forthcoming, and Freddie sensed the writing on the wall. "Why do I get the feeling you're relating this to us, somehow?"
'Cause he was smarter than the average bear? "I can't go back, Freddie." She briefly met his gaze. "With him or with you."
Go back? "Sam, it's been days, not years." Not to throw her dad under the bus or anything, but it wasn't the same thing at all.
It had been years. For her, at least… "Last week was just a means to an end, Freddie. I gave up hope on us a long time ago."
Freddie jerked his head from side to side forcefully. "That's not fair, Sam; until last week I didn't even know there could be an 'us.'"
Sam kept her eyes on the ceiling for fear of what she'd see in his. And what it would do to her. "It doesn't matter." Fair or not, it was what it was.
"Don't say that." How could it not matter? "It only took me a week to fall in love with you because it was the first time you were real with me. Chiz, Sam, I was probably halfway…"
"That wasn't part of the plan," she hastily interrupted. She couldn't hear this. Not if she wanted to keep her resolve.
"Enough with the stupid plan!" Frustrated that she wouldn't listen, much less look at him, Freddie jumped up and stood in front of her. "You wouldn't have needed it if you'd just let me in instead of wasting years pushing me away!" Why couldn't she just see that?
Sam watched him, breath hitched. "I didn't come here to argue with you." She was starting to regret coming at all…
Then why had she come? If nothing had changed then what was the point, except to torture him? "Ever since we met you've been calling all the shots. I woke up every morning not knowing whether we were going to be friends or enemies that day. I just followed your lead. When to get close and when to back off. With the kiss and with this crazy-ass deal."
Refusing to show how uncomfortable she was, Sam stayed sitting and gave him an unimpressed eyebrow instead. "What's your point?"
"That I'm done just going along with it." Maybe deep down she wanted him to fight her; give her a reason to change her mind. That she was there maybe meant Franklin was right and there was still a chance… "I'm not going to let you ruin this for us, Sam."
It was cute that he thought he had a choice. "You can't force me to be with you, Freddie. And you can't make my reasons for not wanting to go away." As much as she might wish he could.
Freddie's patience snapped. "You are amazingly self-involved, do you know that?" Not to mention stubborn, inconsiderate, and infuriating. "Do you think this is easy for me? Believing you love me after all the hell you put me through?"
Sam quickly channeled her shock at his outburst into indignation. "You're the one pushing this, not me."
"You want issues?" he continued over her, starting to pace. "Forget second-best – try a distant third. iCarly wouldn't even exist if I hadn't posted that first video, but no one was mauling me for autographs or interviews. I was just the tech stooge. Not funny enough or creative enough to be an important part of the show. And no one made me feel that way more than you did."
Not caring for the unfortunate truths falling from his lips, Sam tried to shift focus with a deadpanned, "If I'd known this was going to be a competition on who's more fucked up I would've brought character witnesses."
Freddie came to an abrupt halt in front of her; huffed, "I'm not competing, Sam; I just want you to see this from my side, too!" Taking a calming breath, he crouched so that they were level and put his hands on her knees. "If I'm not going to let the stuff that hurt me back then stop me from being happy now…"
"You think that's what I'm doing?" she interjected, eyes narrowed.
Wasn't it? She hadn't rejected his touch but the warning in her tone was unmistakable. "I think you've bottled it all up for so long and now it's so big you can't see your way around it," he answered carefully, parroting what Franklin had told him earlier. "And I think if you just gave us a chance you wouldn't have to hurt about it anymore."
Sam felt her resolve waver at his quiet theory and the rosy future it presented; covered up her momentary lapse with a flip, "You sure have a high opinion of yourself." Thinking being with him could just erase all her fears about him…
"Well, one of us probably should," he joked, encouraged by the lack of scorn, then forged ahead before he lost his momentum. "Look – you want to move to L.A. after grad to work on your relationship with your dad? Then we'll do that. You can get into TV or adult diaper advertisements or whatever, and I'll go to USC or something."
"You want to go to Brown," she reminded him, then reminded herself that it didn't really matter because the scenario he was describing was never ever going to happen, anyway.
Suppressing the urge to prematurely celebrate, he promised, "As long as you're doing it for a good reason, I'll go wherever you want to go." His mom probably wouldn't be too thrilled but that was a hurdle he'd welcome having to face later. "Your dad's important to you, Sam. And I think you should give him a chance, too." Before she could deride him for assuming he had a chance, he tacked on a cheeky, "Besides, I might get a hot famous girlfriend out of it."
Sam's brow formed a dangerous arch.
"Not that you're not hot and kinda famous now," he corrected, post-haste. "Like, 'Get us into all the trendiest clubs' famous."
Her ire had actually been earned by his meddling in her relationship with her father, but his flustered clarification was just too amusing to ignore. "Really? That's the best save you've got?"
Freddie gave her a shy grin, playing up his naiveté. "Um… 'might' because you haven't agreed to be my girlfriend yet?"
"Smooth," she proclaimed, with just a hint of sarcasm. "Woulda been a lot smoother if you'd gone with it first, though." Or, you know, not phrased it as a question…
"Well, we can't all be so quick with the bon mots," he shrugged in defence.
"And that's why I'm the talent and you're the less featured but equally important…" She trailed off; assumed a puzzled expression. "What is it that you do, again?"
Freddie rolled his eyes. "Ha ha. You're hilarious."
"Exactly," she agreed with a self-satisfied nod.
His legs had started to go numb from the position he was in, but he was afraid that if he moved she wouldn't let him near her again. Especially after this: "Can I just point out that if I'd retaliated by saying Carly was the real talent, you'd have shut down and probably taken off?"
Sam's instinct was to reject the assumption outright, but Franklin's admonishment that she never listened played back in her mind; shamed her into considering the possibility. "Depends. Would you be pointing out that you were going to but stopped yourself, or that I can be a bit of a hypocrite?"
Despite her even tone, Freddie didn't think either one of those was an acceptable answer. He settled on a less critical, "I'd be saying that you can't just make hurtful jokes whenever you want, but expect me to tiptoe around your issues."
That was worse, somehow. She'd never thought of it that way, mostly because until today she hadn't known he even had issues to tiptoe around. Though that wasn't true, either; the night of the Spencer thing she'd realized he did have issues, in large part because of her, and maybe she was just incredibly self-involved... "You're right."
"Wait, what?" The fact that she hadn't automatically denied it had surprised him; her unqualified admission nearly knocked him over from shock.
"I'm not saying it again, Freddie." The once had felt dirty enough.
He'd only meant to open her eyes, not make her feel guilty or sad. "Hey…" Moving to sit on the couch, he aimed his body towards her and took her left hand in his. "I'm not telling you to stop; I'm just saying that if I should be able to take it for the joke it is then you should, too. I should be able to say stuff without you thinking it's proof that I'm still in love with Carly or that I think she's better than you. Because I'm not. And I don't."
Sam had a hard time seeing their joined hands through the blur. It wasn't an unreasonable request, and yet it seemed like the most difficult thing in the world to carry through on.
Squeezing her fingers between his, he waited for her to look at him. "For the record? I don't think either of you could do iCarly without the other. You make a good team." And they'd all seen what happened the last time the team had broken up…
"For the record?" Squeezing back, she gave him a watery smile. "I think we make a pretty good team, too."
Aww… "Even though it kinda makes it seem like you're the prerequisite for a good team, I'm gonna take that as a compliment."
Sam's lips fell into an exaggerated pout. "See? I can't even say something nice without you thinking there's some hidden meaning." She was screwed either way.
"I was kidding," he assured her, bringing her hand up to brush his lips across her knuckles. "But you can't blame me for not taking everything you say at face value."
"Thanks." Once again he was making her regret ever opening up to him.
Freddie gave her his most charming smirk. "Promise if you say you'll be my girlfriend I won't question it…"
He seemed entirely too pleased with himself, and Sam's eyes narrowed. "Did you just play me?"
"I don't know what you're talking about." There was no way he could have predicted she'd take offense… "But seeing as you're so into deals lately, I'm gonna make you one." Putting his free hand over her mouth to forestall her argument, he continued, "You say yes, we give it until the summer and if it's not working then we end it. If we fail so spectacularly that you want to take off to L.A. and make some other producer miserable, I won't stop you."
"Yeah, right." Sam didn't buy that for a second.
It was mostly a mumble, but her disbelief was palpable. "I'm serious, Sam. But you have to be serious, too. No sabotaging us just to prove yourself right. No lying…"
Sam eased the muzzle aside to remind him, "I don't lie."
"No manipulating the truth so I don't know what's going on," he dutifully corrected with an inward roll of the eyes. "If something's bothering you, you have to tell me so we can deal with it before it becomes some big thing. No ridiculous plans. No secrets…"
"Anything else?" she interrupted, expecting he could go on for hours. "A pound of flesh maybe?"
Freddie shook his head. "Nah. I like your flesh where it is." The digits previously covering her mouth moved to glide over her face and down her neck, lending credence to his words.
Sam ignored the heat rising to her cheeks; breathlessly pointed out, "You know, starting a relationship isn't supposed to be a negotiation."
"Everything with you is a negotiation," he teased. "You just don't notice because you're usually the one setting the terms."
She couldn't really argue with that, and she was running out of arguments entirely. "You've got an awful lot of demands considering I said I don't want a relationship."
And yet she was still there, her skin warm beneath his. Her pulse banging steadily against his fingertips. "I want this to work, Sam. But it won't if you work against me instead of with me."
Sam realized that at some point she'd put her legs down and he'd moved to occupy the space they'd left; that he was now so close she could feel his breath and that she couldn't even bring herself to care. That she was fighting a losing battle…
Freddie hoped her faraway gaze wasn't her trying to figure out how to turn him down. Again. "I need you to say it, Sam," he whispered.
She broke herself from her trance. "That I'll be your girlfriend?" Were they twelve? Was she supposed to make them matching bracelets, too? Was there a piece of paper with a 'yes' box she was supposed to check?
He shook his head. "The thing you've kept secret for years."
Oh. "I did say it; you just didn't believe me."
"You didn't want me to!" he gaped.
"Not my problem." It wasn't her fault she was just that good. "And if you're thinking of making it one of your conditions, you can forget it. I don't do mushy."
How could that even be considered mushy? "Would it kill you to just let me call the shots for once?"
Sam clicked her tongue condescendingly; scrunched up her nose. "But is it really you calling the shots if I let you?"
"Can we pretend I'm calling the shots for once?" he rephrased with a roll of the eyes.
"I guess so," she gave in, heaving a put-upon sigh. "But just this once."
In the ensuing silence Freddie wondered just what it was he was calling the shots on, seeing as she'd yet to agree to be his girlfriend or tell him she loved him.
Turning her body towards him, Sam ran her free hand through his hair and gave it a gentle tug. "You might want to make a move now, Boss, before the jet lag wears off and I come to my senses." Never mind that the flight had only been three hours and she hadn't even changed time zones…
Freddie was too surprised by the invitation slash instruction to argue that she hadn't followed through. Rather than act on her suggestion, though, he simply held her gaze, promising, "I am going to do whatever I have to do to make sure you don't." Not now that he had a chance.
Sam rolled her eyes. "I said 'make a move,' Freddie, not 'make me puke.'" That's what she told herself the fluttering in her stomach was about, anyway.
"Come on," he cajoled, detecting an absence of true scorn. "I know there's still a girl in there somewhere who can appreciate a little sap. Even if she is bound, gagged, and locked in a closet…"
Resisting the urge to roll her eyes again, she wryly predicted, "Let me guess – you want to be the one who frees her?"
Freddie shook his head. "Only you can do that." Lifting her hand, he brushed his lips against the inside of her wrist. "I do want to be the reason you want to, though." More than anything.
Sam blinked at him, then dropped her hand to his chin to move his head from side to side. At his questioning look, she explained, "I'm looking for the ear wig. No way you're coming up with these lines all on your own…"
"You think I have my own personal Cyrano?" he chuckled, then pointed out, "I didn't even know you were coming over."
"Maybe you were tracking my phone…" He could do that, right?
Freddie shrugged. "Or maybe I just have the right inspiration."
"Okay, stop," Sam told him, half order, half plea. "You're freaking me out."
The rapid hammering beneath the fingers of his right hand told Freddie she wasn't lying. "It's freaking you out because you don't know how to respond. Here's a hint…"
Sam cut him off by closing the distance and hastily mashing her mouth to his in a bruising kiss, arms trapped between bodies. She pulled away at his pained moan.
Ignoring the burning cut his teeth had made on impact, Freddie smiled as he snaked his freed arm around her waist. "Not what I was going for but I'll take it." Even though it seemed suspiciously like those other times she'd dodged an emotional 'attack' by parrying with a physical…
Resting her forehead against his to avoiding his piercing stare, she mumbled, "Je t'aime."
Freddie swallowed hard. "I love you, too," he whispered back. "Or did you think I wouldn't understand?"
Sam retreated to give him a devious smile. "It could just mean 'I like you.'" The French were confusing – and helpful – that way.
"Plausible deniability?" he asked, amused despite himself.
"Baby steps," she corrected softly.
Baby steps? "This coming from the girl who propositioned me not too long ago?" It seemed kinda silly, didn't it?
Sam shrugged. "That was a means to an end. This is…"
"Just the beginning?" he supplied when she faltered, brushing errant strands of hair back behind her ear.
"Sure," she hand-waved as she leaned into his touch. "We'll go with that." If she'd known what it was she would've finished the sentence herself…
Freddie laughed. "Don't get too excited there, Sam – you might pop a blood vessel."
She sighed, disappointed in herself and at the same time grateful he didn't seem offended. "How 'bout we compromise on 'cautiously optimistic?'" Even that was a stretch for her…
"I thought this wasn't supposed to be a negotiation?" he teasingly wondered, apparently having failed to keep up with the ever-changing rules.
Hiding her embarrassment at being called out, Sam offered, "Just trying to live up to your expectations, Fredward."
The smile left Freddie's features as he shook his head. "No more expectations, Sam; I got everything I wanted."
The breath caught in Sam's throat at how deadly earnest he seemed. Recovering quickly, she lifted a suggestive eyebrow. "Are you sure you got everything you wanted?" She shifted so that she was kneeling on the couch, hovering above him.
He'd be lying if he said he didn't want that, especially when her hands had found his chest and his, her hips, but: "Anything else would just be a bonus."
Sam stared at him in awe and disbelief.
"What?" he demanded self-consciously.
"I'm just trying to figure out if there's a real guy in there somewhere." She caressed his skin to take the sting out of the insult. "I think you've been watching too many chick flicks, Frederlily." That would also explain the whole Romeo act…
Clearly it didn't bother her too much, because the same lips that had just questioned his masculinity had since descended to meet his own. Opening his mouth to her, Freddie massaged her tongue with his as their hands began to wander. Suddenly, he broke the contact. "Sam, wait."
She let out a frustrated groan. "Seriously?" It was like déjà vu.
Freddie searched her face. "This isn't just some elaborate ploy to get me to give in, is it? You get to finish your wicked plan and I get dumped?"
It hurt that he couldn't trust her. Even more that he had reason not to… Sam kissed him again, this time putting everything in it that she couldn't bring herself to put into words. Not yet, anyway… Finding his eyes sufficiently glazed when they parted, she took one of his hands and stood up to lead him to his bedroom. "Only one way to find out, right?"
And that's all folks. Hope you weren't too disappointed by the lack of consummation. I just can't bring myself to write teenagers having sex. Sorry.
Because of guilt for the wait and for not having sex in a story arguably centered around it, I am thinking of doing an epilogue. If you have an idea or there's something you'd like to see leave it in the comments. Hopefully inspiration will strike :)
Until next time!