Now I think that it's time
That you let me know
So if you love me
Say you love me
But if you don't just let me go

Mercedes sat in the empty classroom wondering where the rest of the God Squad members were. It was Tuesday, 3:15, room 200. The right time and place for their weekly meetings. She walked over to the window to check for Quinn's car in the parking lot. She turned when she heard someone walk into the room.

"Hey Sam." she tried to keep her voice neutral. "Where is everybody?"

"Meeting's cancelled." he answered, staring at her with that unreadable expression he wears all the time now.

"Cancelled? And nobody told me? Oh well, I guess I better.." She gave him a wide berth on the way to the door.

"We need to talk." he shut the door behind him, blocking her exit.

"About what?" She stared at the door, avoiding his eyes.

"You know about what. I want to apologize." He sat down in front of the door. "Last spring, back when we were in..., last spring it was so easy to be your boyfriend. Everything was going crazy and there you were, an island of peace and serenity. The one thing I could count on. I had nothing to offer you and still you lov..., still we were happy. Well, I thought I had one thing I could give you, time, but I couldn't even manage that, could I? You were so good to me and I was so selfish."

She opened her mouth to say something but he held up his hand. "Selfish. I spent so much time telling you how beautiful you are but secretly I hoped nobody else would notice. Nobody had noticed you before, why would they now? I just assumed you'd be free when I got the chance to come back. But Shane, he noticed you right away. He couldn't believe you didn't have a boyfriend. He told me that."

"You talked to him?"

"Yes, we talked a little. He thought he was the luckiest man in town, picking a prize like you. He's still upset about what happened." And that was putting it mildly, Shane had a few choice words to say on Mercedes being willing to settle for being Sam's 'ass on the side' when she could have a 'real' boyfriend. Sam had heard Puck say cruder things about girls he was currently sleeping with so Sam let that slide. Plus, Shane had every right to be angry about the way the whole thing played out.

"Back then everything was easy, drama-free. Since I've been back it's been nothing but drama." Again she started to say something. Again he held up his hand. "Please, let me finish. I know I caused 90% of the drama. If you did still love me you would have ended things with Shane and we could have started over. I know you. You would have, eventually. But I had to push you, didn't I? I never pushed you, forced you to do things you weren't ready for, before and things were good between us. That's why things were good, we talked about everything until we both agreed. But this time I pressured you."

"Didn't I know why you didn't want people to know about us last spring, didn't want to feel like people were staring at us, wondering why we're together? If I didn't know before I knew the minute I saw Shane. It's like you kept saying, fit. You thought you would fit with Shane. But it never felt like Shane fit, did it? Because he didn't and I should have trusted you to figure that out on your own." He looked at her, his green eyes steady and dry. She knew that look, an all-cried-out look. She'd seen it in the mirror plenty of times.

"Wouldn't I know you couldn't string a guy along? But we were cheating on Shane long before that kiss in the auditorium. That first day, when I held your hand in the hallway, I made you into a cheater right then and there and we both knew it. The kiss was just a matter of time, Shane getting hurt was just a matter of time. Now you're busting out the Whitney Houston, I'm sitting in my room playing broken-hearted love songs. It's a freaking mess, you know that? Quinn hurt you so badly when she stopped talking to you because you remind her of the baby or because you didn't fit her new image or whatever her reason was. That was a shitty thing for her to do but you're doing the same thing. You're cutting me out of your life because I remind you of the stupid mistakes we both made. Mistakes we both made, Mercedes. Getting rid of me doesn't get rid of the mistakes. Getting rid of me only makes this, all of this, meaningless. We hurt each other so much and for what? For nothing?" He stood up and moved aside so she could reach the door.

"I almost destroyed the best thing about Mercedes Jones. She's a honest, decent, caring girl. She just can't help it and that's why I love her. I'm sorry for hurting you." He opened the door and stood there, blinking back the tears that threatened to fall. There was a very real chance his future happiness would walk out the door, and this time it would be final. No matter how much it was killing him, this was the last time he was doing this. He squeezed his eyes shut. He was not going to cry in front of her!

He felt her hand on his, pushing the door closed again.

"I was so lonely." She said simply. He opened his eyes to see her dark brown eyes overflowing with tears. "I was so lonely after you left. I was lonely before we had us, but I didn't know it, what that empty feeling was. I'd felt that way for so long that I thought it was normal. But once I'd felt love I wanted it again. Shane was nice, I liked Shane, but he's not you. Shane's not likely to suddenly disappear and reappear, but he's not you. Nobody wonders why I'm with Shane, but he's not you. If it's not too late, I want to be with you. Please tell me it's not too late." she pleaded. "Please tell me you forgive me for hurting you."

"I was so afraid." Sam said, the tears he tried to will back ignoring him completely. "I spent all that time trying to convince you that a curvy black girl was what I wanted, assuming I was what you wanted. That I wasn't just homeless Sam, a stray that you took pity on. When I saw Shane that's what I thought, that I was just convenient and Shane was what you really wanted the whole time."

"That's not true!" Her voice was choked by sobs.

"Shhh." He pulled her to his chest and stroked her hair. "I know, baby, I know. The second I looked into your eyes that day in the hallway I knew. But still I panicked and tried to force you into dumping Shane on my timetable, not yours. I'm so sorry."

They stood there holding each other, the silence broken by an occasional sob. After a few minutes Sam felt the oddest sensation, like he was standing in front of a campfire, only the warmth was radiating from every point where her body touched his.

"I've been so cold." Mercedes said. "Ever since the day you said you had to leave I've been freezing. Shane made it bearable, jut barely and it didn't last. I haven't felt warm until just now."

"You feel it too?" he lifted her chin and kissed her, a kiss to make up for all the ones they'd missed since June. Her lips were still cloud-soft and still tasted of cherry lip gloss. Her tongue was still as smooth as velvet against his. He shuddered, thinking how close he'd come to losing all of this. The warmth he'd felt roared into a flame. "Did you feel that?"

Her brown eyes sparkled at him. "Welcome home, Sam."


Author's note: Once I decided Sam wasn't going to deliver a public smack-down to Ms. Jones, that he wanted to dial down the drama, One More Try by George Michael popped up on the playlist. The lyrics don't really fit but the sentiment does.