Author's Note: I've come to realize that I like to write my more serious stories in the present tense rather than the usual past tense. To me it helps give the story a more somber and meaningful tone. I really hope you enjoy this story. It's personally one of my favorites.

Disclaimer: Victorious © Dan Schneider


Tori Vega wants to be a pop star.

.

"A pop star?" mocks Jade, the closest thing Tori has to a rival. Jade's pale face darkens with a vicious and downright mean smile as she crosses her arms over her chest and spits, "Yeah, okay. Keep dreaming like the idiot that you are, Vega."

.

"Well, of course you can become a pop star, Tori," says Trina, Tori's very, very delusional older sister, "but not until I become a world famous actress and marry the Prince of England and travel with him all over Europe! Then we'll see who's the more famous one in the family!"

.

"Isn't being a pop star a lot of hard work?" asks Cat, Tori's sweet, yet much too naive friend. "I know how much you love to sing, Tori, but I don't know if you'd wanna work so much. You should do something more fun like…like become a model! Ooh, yay! And I could design your outfits!"

.

"I don't know, Tori," says Robbie, Tori's extremely awkward, yet sincerely trustworthy friend. "I mean, you're a really good singer and all, but do you even realize how hard it is to make it big in Hollywood? Theoretically, you'll need an agent, a manager, a publicist, all before you can get a record deal, and even if that does happens, it still doesn't even guarantee the fact you'll become successf—"

"Oh my God, would you just shut your nerdy little mouth already?" interrupts Rex, Robbie's puppet and sidekick that says all the stuff that Robbie's secretly thinking but isn't brave enough to say himself. "Let the girl dream if she wants to. Dang, Rob."

.

"Don't get me wrong, Tori, you're a very talented girl," says Beck, Tori's close friend, not to mention Jade's ex-boyfriend and Tori's kinda-sorta high school crush (but, shh…that's supposed to be a secret), "but it's nearly impossible to become a truly successful pop star. It takes a long time and a lot of hard work and rejection along the way. It's the same thing for me with acting. I don't know, I guess, what I'm trying to say is, definitely don't give up, but…definitely don't get your hopes up, either."

.

Then there's Andre, who's basically been her best friend since her first day at Hollywood Arts. He's her confidant, not to mention her go-to singing partner. He thinks she's special.

When he tells her that, however, Tori doesn't even believe him, especially after all the negativity she's heard from everyone else. She just rolls her eyes and shakes her head and lets out a little snort, telling him that he's got it all wrong, that, no, as a matter of fact, according to everyone else, she's not special. She's just Tori. Just an aspiring singer, never to be a star.

"No," Andre says firmly, taking a step towards her in the hallway. "I'm serious, Tori. You're special. You're gonna be huge one day. I can feel it. There's just something about you that screams super star."

Super star. Something about that phrase alone completely excites Tori. She suddenly finds herself envisioning all the flashing lights of the paparazzi snapping pictures of her and thrusting microphones in front of her, asking her questions about what she's wearing or who's she dating.

The thought of all of this, the pumped up crowds and people calling her name and wanting to get her autograph, makes her feel giddy inside, and she finds herself grinning then, unable to hide that excitement.

"You really think so?" she asks, a little softly, a little unsurely, because as far as she's concerned, her dream of becoming a world famous pop star will be nothing more than just that: a dream.

But Andre shakes his head and looks at her like she's crazy, but it's only for a second or two, before he just grins a very genuine, very sweet and kindhearted grin.

"I know so," he says, and finally, Tori lets herself start to believe him.

.

So, as a matter of fact, it turns out that Andre is the only person who believes in her.

Tori decides, then, that she's going to prove the rest of them wrong, and she doesn't waste any time at all as she turns to seek out the help of her trusty acting teacher, Sikowitz, who's just crazy and wacky enough that she knows he must be the key that opens the door to something for her.

"Well, Tori, if you're really serious about being a singer, I do happen to know a person, who knows a person, who knows another person, who—"

"Just cut to the chase, please!" Tori says impatiently.

"Uh, right, well, if you're interested, I do believe I could get you an audition as early as next week for you to sing in front of a top-selling record producer," Sikowitz says with a grin on his face, and all Tori hears is top-selling record producer, and her eyes light up with the stars that she's striving so hard to become one of.

"Let's do it," she says.

.

She knows that this is her moment. Her golden opportunity. She goes home later that night and starts rehearsing until her lungs are burning and her throat is soar from singing so much, but she doesn't care; she's willing to put in all the work it's going to take. She's not going to screw this up, because really, all she needs is just this once chance to get her name out there and show Hollywood what she's got.

.

"When I make it shiiiiine!"

Tori finishes off the song in front of the record producer with a large, hearty smile on her face, and when she's done, she breathes out heavily, her hair a little tangled up from flinging it around so much throughout her performance. As she stands there, waiting, she suddenly thinks back to when she first stepped onto that Hollywood Arts stage two years ago, back when she was a scared little sixteen-year-old. She remembers how, after the performance, she'd felt this driving and exhilarating rush of adrenaline pulsing through her body as everyone clapped for her and cheered her on.

In this particular moment, though, she feels nothing but absolute fear over any other emotion. There's no clapping or wild cheers. There's no lights shining down on her or people running up to hug her. There's just this one very serious looking man, dark glasses over his eyes and his hand over his mouth, making it impossible for her to read his expression.

Slowly, the man stands from his chair, his dark gray hair falling over his eyes, and he walks up to her, extending his hand out towards her.

"When would you like to sign?"

Tori's eyes bulge and her heart stops, and she nearly drops the microphone she's holding. She wants to scream out in joy and fling her arms around him, but she doesn't, and instead takes the man's huge hand and shakes it in her own.

"Don't disappoint me, Tori Vega," he later says after she's finished signing the contract in big, swirling letters and clicking the ball-point in her hand.

"I won't, sir! I promise!" Tori says, grinning ear-to-ear, her heart pounding with excitement and her head filling with all of those flashing camera lights and record deals and chart-topping albums.

(And the thoughts of blood, sweat and tears get pushed all the way into the back of her mind.)

.

"You got the record deal?" Andre asks over the phone. Of course Tori just had to tell him first; after all, he was the only one who believed in her, remember?

She nods, rather stupidly, forgetting for a moment that he's on the phone and he can't see her.

"I got the record deal!" she finally shouts, and she has to hold the phone away from her ear as Andre lets out a loud, "Whoooooooo!"

"I knew it! What'd I tell you? Oh my God, I knew it, Tori!" Andre says, and Tori can't help but let out a small chuckle. "Congrats, girl!"

"Thanks!" Tori says through her laugh, and it's what Andre asks next that causes her lighthearted mood to suddenly dissipate into unexpected sadness.

"So what happens next?" he asks, still sounding excited, but Tori's smile drops off her face as she swallows and clears her throat.

"Oh, uh," she says, "I'm moving to Hollywood."

There's a beat of silence.

"What?"

"Yeah," Tori says, her tone entirely serious now, but then it picks up again as she tries to rationalize it to him. "It'll only be for a few months, though. And it's not like it's even that far from school or anything. I'll still come visit you guys all the time, and you guys can come visit me. It'll be totally fine."

"Yeah," Andre says slowly. "Totally fine."

Tori's struck with a sudden feeling of disheartening guilt, and she even feels the inexplicable urge to apologize to him for some reason, but she holds her tongue, because after all, this is her dream that's finally coming true. It's a good thing. So, she won't be able to see her friends as often. That's really the only downside.

(At least, as far as she knows, anyway.)

.

Tori breaks the news to the rest of her friends the following day at school.

"Wow," Robbie mumbles, a stunned look on his face. Even Rex is speechless.

"Does this mean you're not gonna be friends with us anymore?" Cat asks, a frown on her face, looking like she wants to cry, that same crestfallen look that allows manages to break Tori's heart.

"No, of course not," she says, reaching out to soothingly rub Cat's back. "It just means that I'm not gonna be around as much. We'll still be friends."

She looks up at Jade then, who's glowering intensely at her, as usual, her arms crossed over her chest.

"We were never friends," Jade reminds her, and then she just turns away and walks off, and while Tori's not exactly surprised, she is admittedly hurt by it. She even feels a strange sinking feeling in her chest, but she tries her best to ignore it as Cat leans into her, resting her head on her shoulder.

"Don't listen to Jade," Beck says then, and instantly Tori feels a hopeful spring in her mood as she looks up at him. "She's just jealous that you actually got the record deal."

"And that you're gonna be a star," Andre adds.

Tori smiles softly at her friends' reassuring words. There's the silver lining, she reminds herself. She's going to be a star.

.

It's later that day, after they've all eaten lunch and the bell rings for their next class, that Beck suddenly walks up to Tori. He calls her name and touches her lightly on the shoulder, and she freezes for a moment, feeling her heart skip a beat, before she turns around to meet his eyes.

"Tori, I…I just wanted to say…"

He grins a shy grin then as he reaches up and runs a hand through his hair, momentarily diverting his gaze from her to look at the ground. Tori feels a smile tug at her lips, and finally she just lets herself get caught up in the moment, and she takes a step forward and embraces him. Her arms wind around his back, and she rests her head against his chest, where she can hear his heartbeat pounding soothingly. She feels his arms wrap around her small frame, hugging her close, making her heart flutter inside her chest. She breathes in his scent; it's crisp and kind of smells like cinnamon.

"Good luck," he says, finally. "I know you're gonna be great."

She opens her eyes then, but she still doesn't move away from him. Her fingers subconsciously squeeze against his back. She finally begins to pull away, a saddened smile on her face.

"Thanks, Beck," she says, then adds, before she can lose her nerve, "That means a lot coming from you."

The broken smile on his face widens into a much more genuine one, and Tori can't help but notice how drop-dead handsome he is; her own smile widens as a result, and she feels a rush of heat spreading to her cheeks. Her eyes suddenly begin to close, and it's like her body is moving all on its own as she sweeps in towards him, kissing him full on the lips.

She moans softly against his mouth, feeling him kiss her back with a great amount of passion. It's very natural and fluid, like they're meant to be doing this all along, and as Tori feels his hands come up to cup against her cheeks, while hers delicately touch his arms, she can't help but think that this is definitely the closest thing she's ever had to a perfect kiss.

They pull apart slowly, and as they look at each other, Tori can feel a lovesick grin forming on her lips, and she doesn't even care; she's too wrapped up in a momentary state of bliss.

"Don't forget about us, okay?" Beck says.

"I won't," Tori whispers, shaking her head a little. "I promise."

.

A gleaming black limo is already waiting for Tori by the time she walks out of school later that day. There's a handsome man standing in front of it with a suave haircut and dimples in his cheeks. He flashes her a perfectly white smile, opening the car door, waiting for her to get inside.

She grins eagerly as she begins to walk up to him, clutching the one small suitcase she packed with her (everything else she needs is going to be shipped to her, according to her new manager, that big gray-haired guy).

Her stomach flutters with nervous butterflies as she walks up to the limo, when suddenly, she stops, and turns around to look at Hollywood Arts one last time. The smile on her face momentarily fades to a serious frown, and there's a glint in her eyes as she looks at her beloved school.

The memories flash in her mind all in a matter of seconds. She thinks about Sikowitz and everything he's taught her over these past couple of years. She thinks about Trina and all her craziness. She thinks about her friends, all the laughs and memories they've shared, how everything is going to change now that she's heading to Hollywood while they all stay here.

(She also thinks about Beck specifically, how she doesn't know where she stands with him, if they'll ever become something more, but she tries to focus less on him and more on all her friends as a whole.)

Her chest slowly rises and falls as a wistful sigh escapes her lips. She finally turns her back to Hollywood Arts and offers a smile to the driver who's still patiently waiting for her to step inside the limo. She does, scooting against the window, not even bothering to take in her new luxurious surroundings, instead immediately looking out the window, where she can see the giant Hollywood sign, shining, waiting for her.

.

The next day, she steps into the booth to record her very first single.

"Okay, now sing loudly into the mic," a man standing behind the glass instructs Tori as she fiddles nervously with the giant headphones pressing against her ears. "If you mess up, just keep going, and we'll touch it up in editing."

"Got it," Tori says with a nod. She waits until she starts to hear the upbeat music playing in her headphones, and the man behind the glass points to her, before she closes her eyes and opens her mouth and starts singing with all she's got.

.

A few weeks later, production on the music video for her single, Make It Shine begins. Tori stands there, amazed at the scenery before her, all the lights and cameras and people walking around with clipboards and headphones, each of them with their separate jobs, knowing exactly what to do.

And there she is, dressed in a yellow shirt and purple jacket, tight jeans and long leather boots. She clutches her hands tensely at her waist, standing perfectly still as a woman behind her fixes up her hair, while another woman in front of her feathers a pink brush over each of her cheeks. She swallows; she can't believe how fast this is all happening.

Then, she's called to the set, and she walks over to everyone and climbs herself into a studio paid red convertible, set up in front of a huge green screen. She settles into the front seat as another person adjusts her jacket before mumbling something into his hand-held mic and going off set.

"Okay, let's do one," the director says. "And, ACTION!"

Her song begins to play through the speakers, and it sounds a bit faster than she remembers recording it, complete with a different sounding melody and added auto tunes, but Tori just throws her hands up and starts singing, again, with all she's got.

.

"My music video premieres tomorrow," Tori tells Cat over the phone a couple weeks later.

She's lying on her back on her plush hotel bed, her hair dangling over the edge of the mattress. "It was so cool, Cat. It took us three days to shoot. I got to wear all these fun outfits and dance with these really cute backup dancers."

"That's awesome, Tori," Cat says, but there's a strange indifference in her tone that Tori has never really heard from her before.

"Anyway, what's going on with you?" Tori asks, changing her tone to a more concerned one without even realizing it. "Anything exciting?"

"Not really," Cat answers simply, then, after a pause, adds sort of quietly, "We all miss you."

Tori's face drops.

"I miss you guys, too," she admits.

"So, you'll come back to Hollywood Arts?" Cat asks with a new found hopeful tone.

Tori bites her lip.

"Well, soon," she says. "I gotta stay here a few more weeks to record the rest of my album."

"Oh," Cat says, returning to that emotionless tone. "Okay. Bye, Tori."

The abrupt click and immediate silence almost startles Tori; she even flinches the moment she hears it. She holds out her phone and stares at the screen, and instead of making the rounds and calling each of her friends as she originally planned to do, she simply drops the phone onto the bed and swallows, staring up at the intricate designs on the gold tiled ceiling.

.

Weeks blend into months.

And during those months, Tori works every single day; if it's not recording a song for her album, it's doing a photo shoot for the cover; if it's not doing a photo shoot, it's doing interviews with magazine people about her blossoming singing career, if it's not doing interviews, it's rehearsing the choreography for her next music video.

The reviews about her start pouring in all over, on the internet, on the radio, on TV. Everyone thinks she's beautiful and a fresh face to the music biz. She's considered a role model to girls of all ages, and because of this, she starts getting recognized all over.

She's flattered, of course, but then, eventually, the paparazzi starts coming out of nowhere from every corner to snap pictures of her, and it starts to become overwhelming.

Still, Tori is grateful for her rapid success and growing fan base; she smiles and waves at the crowd and blows kisses and signs autographs, yet in the back of her mind, she starts to wonder if she'll be able to keep this up.

.

It's as if she becomes an even bigger star-studded teenage singing sensation overnight, because the next thing she knows, she's scheduled to perform in her very first live concert. Her manager tells her that it'll only be a small venue, no more than several hundred people or so, but if it's successful, she could be given an opportunity to go on a worldwide tour.

"That's so great, sweetie!" her mother says over the phone.

"We'll be there in the front row cheering you on, baby," her father adds.

Tori grins widely, happy that her parents are proud of her. That's all that matters, she reminds herself. That is, aside from her friends.

Her smile immediately fades when she thinks about them. She's just been working so hard lately that she can't even remember the last time she talked to any of them. She has no idea what they're up to, if they miss her as much as she misses them.

But she pushes these thoughts out of her mind as she steps onto the stage to begin her grueling concert rehearsal.

.

A month later, Tori feels herself shaking in her black stiletto heels as the stage crew helps her adjust her tiny mic near her mouth. She inhales and exhales slowly, feeling constricted in the tight sequin black dress they put her in.

"This is your moment, Tori," she whispers to herself, ignoring all the people frantically moving around backstage, and her manager calling out her name, and the fact that she's about to step out in front of hundreds of people in a matter of seconds. It's nerve-racking, because this isn't just some performance she's doing in front of her classmates at Hollywood Arts. No, this is much, much bigger.

.

The lights are blinding.

.

"You might be crazy, but have I told you lately, that I love you…you're the only reason that I'm not afraid to fly…"

She's singing heartily, passionately, a picture-perfect smile on her face, yet as she does, her smile gradually begins to slip the slightest bit, and the upbeat tune of the song starts to sound a little sad to her, because the words are becoming cheap and meaningless.

(Not to mention, the person who this song is dedicated to isn't even here.)

.

"My best friend's brother is the one for me…"

She feels like this song no longer applies to her, because she's left her best friend behind.

.

"We'll sleep when we're dead 'cause…halfway kinda sucks. We're heading for the sky, and we'll get lost in it 'cause all I want is everything…"

She still can't help but wonder that, once you have everything, what happens next?

.

When the concert ends, Tori is exhausted and sweaty, but the pumping crowd cheering her on makes everything worthwhile. As she takes her final bow before disappearing off the stage, she looks out at the crowd one last time, at all the young and excited faces, with all the waving bright signs.

But she doesn't recognize any of them.

.

"Great job," her manager says backstage, but it doesn't really mean anything to Tori coming from him.

"Thanks," she still says in a heavy breath as people begin to flock around her, all nameless, all unknown. She's eventually whisked away in a limo, to a huge after-party, where, again, she doesn't recognize anyone, but apparently, her manager says, they're all important music producers and such.

"Drink?" some random guy asks, holding out a martini glass to her.

"Oh," Tori says, waving him off. "No thanks. I'm underage."

The guy holding the glass simply chuckles.

"So?" he asks, and thrusts the glass at her.

And, at this point, her head is swimming because she's so exhausted, and this pounding music and the lights at this club and all the crowds aren't helping at all, so she closes her eyes and brings the glass to her lips, taking a long sip. She immediately coughs harshly and gasps, feeling the liquid burning her throat.

She looks around for a moment. No one notices her; they're all too busy chatting and drinking and talking professionally and doing whatever it is that people in the 'music biz' do.

So she closes her eyes, downs the rest of the drink, coughs hard, and finally, walks off to get another one.

.

"I miss my friendsss!" Tori slurs loudly, completely loose and carefree after downing one too many alcoholic drinks.

"So call 'em," says a woman with curly blonde hair and heavy eyeshadow, and Tori, in her drunken state, snorts and lets out a loud laugh, her chest heaving as she limply flings out her arm, clutching the woman's shoulder.

"Okay," Tori says, nodding emphatically. "I will!"

She then blinks multiple times, trying to steady herself, as she takes out her expensive new cell phone that her recording company gave her. She taps the screen randomly until something happens, and she puts the phone to her ear.

"Hello?"

"Heeeey!" Tori screams, throwing her arm out to the side. "What's up?"

"Who the fuck is this?" a sharp female voice asks.

"Ummmm…Tori," Tori says, bringing her hand to her head and clutching at her messy hair, "Vega."

"Vega? Seriously?" the girl says in surprise. "No one's heard from you in like, a year."

"I knoooow!" Tori yells, swallowing her dry throat. "I miss you!"

The music pounds on as Tori waits for a response. She rocks back and forth on her heels as she leans up against a wall, trying to keep herself steady.

"Okay, seriously, who is this? Is this really Tori?"

"This is Tori!" she shouts. "Who's this?"

There's a pause.

"Are you drunk?"

"I don't knoooow," Tori says, shaking her head. "Maybe."

"Holy shit, this is too good to be true," the voice says. "Hey, dude, c'mere!"

"Who's here?" Tori asks, and she blinks in confusion, feeling her head sway to one side before she moves it back to the middle again.

"Tori? It's Andre."

"ANDREEEE!" Tori screams in delight, not even noticing the looks that people around her are now giving her. "How's…how's things?"

"Tori. Are you drunk?"

"Well, you're the second," she holds up two fingers, "person to say that, soooo…I guess so!"

"Oh my God," Andre mumbles. "Tori, look…I…just…just call me tomorrow when you're feeling better, okay? Be safe, girl."

"Ohh-kay," Tori says, giggling again. "Wait, where'd the girl go?"

"Uh, I think she wants to talk to you again," she hears Andre say, and there's some static again before she hears the mean girl voice once more.

"What, Tori?"

And slowly, in her completely clouded state of mind, Tori hunches over, furrowing her eyebrows together, as she gets swept up in a moment of delayed realization.

"Wait…is this…Jade?"

"That's right, toots," Jade says in a condescending tone. "Anyway, I gotta go. Andre and I are doing stuff. Enjoy your awesome sex and alcohol party or whatever the hell it is you famous people do."

Tori hears the line go dead, and she holds out the phone in front of her, blinking through her blurry vision. Finally, she just shrugs and turns to the bartender to order another drink.

.

When Tori wakes up the next morning, her head is absolutely killing her. She sucks in a sharp breath through her teeth and scrunches her eyebrows in pain. As she slowly flutters her eyes open, she sees the familiar gold-tiled ceiling and quickly realizes that she's back in her hotel room. How she got there, she has no idea, but then, she hears a noise, and she turns her head to see her manager standing over her, his arms crossed over his massive chest. Her eyes bulge.

"Oh," she says, slowly sitting up. "Hi, sir. I—"

"Look, I don't know what the hell you did last night," her manager interrupts, "and frankly, I don't care. Just don't do it again, or you'll be fired. Simple as that."

He walks out, leaving Tori in a stunned silence. After a moment, she just flops back down on the bed, pressing her palm to her forehead in an attempt to soothe her throbbing headache. She's not even sure what's on her agenda for today, if she even has an agenda after last night, and she doesn't even bother to ask, either. She simply reaches for the remote on her caramel-colored nightstand, turning on the expensive forty inch plasma screen TV that's hanging on her hotel room wall.

"Up and coming actor, Beck Oliver," says a woman in a suit on the TV, immediately catching Tori's attention. She feels her heart jump as she springs up from her pillow. The news lady continues, "who recently graduated from Hollywood Arts High School, tells us what it was like to star in his very first feature length film."

The screen then cuts to Beck himself, and Tori's eyes instantly pop when she sees him. He somehow looks older to her now; she notices he's got some stubble on his chin, and his hair looks perfect, as always. He's smiling and laughing and talking about the movie he's starring in, but Tori's too fixated on the fact that he just looks really good.

She's snapped out of her trance when the screen cuts back to the woman in the suit.

"The movie is set to premiere in Hollywood tomorrow night," she says.

And with another skip of her heartbeat, and a hopeful smile spreading over her face, Tori leans over the bed and picks up the hotel phone to make a call.

.

The following night, Tori is once again whisked away in her black limousine, squeezed in a skin-tight silky purple dress and gold pumps. She nervously drums her fingers against her shiny white clutch, and when she reaches the theater, she makes sure to take one last deep breath before the door is opened for her. As she steps out, she's met with a swarm of flashing cameras and people screaming her name. A microphone is thrust into her face.

"Tori, is it true you're here tonight as Beck Oliver's date?"

Tori blinks, momentarily startled. She attempts to re-gain her composure as she reaches up and runs a hand through her hair.

"Uhh, yes," she answers, giving a simple smile and a shrug. "As a matter of fact, I am."

And the ambush continues, but Tori just smiles politely and waves for the cameras as her bodyguard escorts her into the theater.

.

When she finally sees Beck face-to-face, she's somehow starstruck. It's the first time she's seen him in person in over a year. He's dressed in a nice button down white shirt with a dark blue tie and black suit jacket, and he's still got a little bit of that stubble on his chin and even above his lip.

"Beck," Tori says when she sees him, an unexpected nervous squeak in her voice.

"Tori," he replies in a suave voice. He places his hands on each of her arms and leans forward, giving her a kiss on the cheek, and by the time he pulls away and smiles at her, she's completely smitten all over again.

.

Tori and Beck walk side-by-side in an empty street, having snuck away from the premiere after-party about an hour into it. Tori's feet are killing her in those constricting gold heels of hers, not to mention she's just a little tipsy after having a few cocktails at the party.

"Oh my God, Beck, you were so good in that movie," Tori raves. She just can't get over the fact that his character in the movie is just so sweet and sensitive and, well, sexy.

Beck lets out a laugh when she says it, but then it abruptly ceases when Tori suddenly loses her balance and nearly stumbles to the ground. He catches her by the waist just before her knees collide into the pavement, and he carefully pulls her back up in one fell swoop, supporting her weight in his arms.

"You okay?" he asks, turning her to face him, his arm still wrapped around her waist, his other hand smoothing a strand of hair out of her face.

She giggles, eyes fluttering as she blinks a few times, a smile spreading over her face in spite of herself.

"I am now," she says, and as she stares at him, the look on her face slowly fades into a serious one, her eyes widening and her pupils flickering back and forth, as though searching him frantically. The next thing she knows, she's sucking in a sharp breath of air and crushing her mouth against Beck's.

He returns the kiss hungrily, rolling his tongue against her own, their teeth mashing together, their hands clinging to one another, and she can feel that stubble on his chin scratching against her cheek, but then, much too soon, he lets out a groan and pulls away from her.

"Tori," Beck says in a breathless gasp, his chest heaving against hers, "I don't know if we should be doing this. You're…I mean…are you sure you're feeling okay?"

Tori just blinks, staring at him intensely, her pupils still wildly flickering back and forth, and all she wants is to kiss him again and for his hands to be all over her, because oh my God, she misses having such close human contact with people, especially with a person she's so close to…or at least, used to be close to.

"I miss our friends," Tori suddenly confesses in a small voice. She presses her head against Beck's chest, the same way she did just before she left Hollywood Arts to start her career. She closes her eyes and squeezes him tightly, listening to his soft thudding heartbeat. She feels him place a kiss on the top of her head.

"They all miss you, too," he says, holding her close and stroking her hair. "If it makes you feel any better, I haven't seen any of them in over three months. Since graduation."

Still better than me, she thinks, but instead she just squeezes him harder, her chest quivering, a lump forming in her throat. She swallows it, trying to hold back the tears.

"I love you, Beck," she whispers out of nowhere.

They both know what she means by that.

"I love you, too, Tori," he whispers back, and his voice rumbling against her chest comforts her. Finally, she begins to pull away from him, revealing her glassy eyes and heartbroken smile.

Beck just smiles at her as he continues running his hand through her hair, eliciting a small, real smile from her.

.

"Good news, Tori," her manager says the following morning, sitting across from her at an outdoor café. He waits for her to place her cup of steaming hot coffee back onto its porcelain saucer before he at last tells her the news: "You're going on tour."

Tori blinks, her lips parting open in surprise.

"Really?" she says. "On…on tour? Like…worldwide? As in, traveling to different countries?"

"That's right," her manager says, and then suddenly, his phone rings. He stands up as he answers it, walking away, leaving Tori sitting there by herself.

And as she sits, a sudden panic sweeps through her, and her heart starts racing. She takes a deep breath, only to let it out in a much-too-short breath. She swallows and reaches for the coffee again, taking another sip of the hot liquid. She drinks it a little too fast and feels it burn her throat. She coughs, places the cup back down, and looks up to see her manager taking his seat again.

"Sir, I…I mean…I don't know if I'm ready for this," Tori admits. "What about my family?"

"Oh, I don't know, Tori," her manager says with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I suppose they can come along for a few shows or something."

"But both my parents work," Tori points out. "My dad's a police officer; he can't just take off work like that. And my sister goes to college full-time, so she can't…" She trails off when she sees her manager starting to rapidly shake his head, like he doesn't have time to hear what she has to say.

"Look, sweetheart, there's no negotiating this," he says point-blank. "You signed a contract, remember? That means you do as I tell you whether you like it or not. Rehearsals start Monday."

He turns his attention to a passing waiter then, demanding another cup of coffee, but Tori just sinks back into her seat, that panicky feeling rising through her chest once more. She swallows the tightness in her throat, suddenly realizing that she feels like she's about to cry.

She's trapped.

.

That night, she goes out and drowns all her worries in a bottle.

.

Hours later, after hitting up all of LA's best clubs, Tori finds herself stumbling through the streets of Hollywood, alone. She has no idea how she wound up outside in this cool nighttime air, yet here she is, walking around aimlessly like a lost puppy trying to find its way back home.

She eventually turns a corner and stumbles into an alley, groping at the cold cement of a random building, before she suddenly goes tumbling down into the pavement. The world blurs around her as she falls, and it's like she's moving in slow motion as her knees break her fall. She's left hunching over, a tousle of her brown hair covering her face. She swallows her dry throat and blinks at the ground, then looks up at the inky black sky, where she's barely able to make out any stars.

She shivers suddenly, her face scrunching in pain, and she lets out a barely audible grunt as she tries to get up, only to stumble and fall again. Her arms tremble as she tries to use them for balance, still propped up on her knees, but eventually, she just gives up and slumps against the ground, the world still spinning and her head still pounding.

She can barely think straight, but all she knows is that she's just so cold, and she's shaking really hard, wearing large dark sunglasses with a cracked lens, her hair mangled up, smelling of cigarettes and hard alcohol.

And then, she remembers, when you're at your lowest, there's nothing else to do but…

"H-Here I am…once again…feeling lost, but now and then…"

Her voice sounds raspy and strained; it's making each word sound so ugly to her.

"I-I breath it in…to let it…goooo…"

She coughs and closes her eyes, unable to finish the rest. It just sounds so horrible to her, and she can't remember the rest of the words, anyway. She feels her whole body contracting, closing in tightly inside of her, just wanting to be released of this hot, sickening tension that's been building up.

She wants to cry out for help, but she can't, and so instead she lies down right there on the cold, trash-laden pavement, and she stares up at the city sky line, where, again, she can barely make out the outlines of stars or twinkling lights in her blurred, drunken vision.

It's the first moment in her life that she wishes she could just fall asleep right there and never wake up.

.

She dreams.

.

Tori sees all her friends: Cat, Robbie, Andre, even Jade, standing around outside in the warm sunshine and bright green grass.

They're all recognizable, and yet, they're all different, somehow. Cat's hair is a little longer; Robbie is without Rex, and Andre's got his arm wrapped around Jade's shoulders. Cat slips her hand into Robbie's, and then the two of them turn heads and share a kiss.

"Guys!" Tori calls. "Guys, it's me! Tori!"

They completely ignore her, though, as the four of them break out into a laughter after Jade mutters something. Tori's eyes widen; she swallows, then opens her mouth to scream again, but this time no sound comes out. Her throat starts closing up; she can't breathe.

Her friends fade away.

.

Tori meets up with Beck in his hotel room.

They kiss.

It's frantic and passionate; his hands slide all over her, tangling into her hair, running up her arms and shoulders, while hers come up to clasp around his neck and never let go, even when he starts to tug on her jeans. She moans when she feels his warm hand graze her stomach, and she lets him pull her pants down her legs, leaving them in a pool of denim at her feet. She soon feels his hot breath panting out against her neck as he breaks the kiss and works on taking off his belt.

The heated moment blurs to nothingness.

.

"B-Beck," Tori whispers, her voice straining, her eyes wide and shimmering with tears waiting to break free.

She scrunches her brow and tightens her hold on his wrist, trembling, dangling helplessly just below the giant Hollywood sign. She feels small as she stares up at him, so small and weak. She knows he's straining, too, just struggling so hard to keep holding her up. She squeezes her eyes shut and lets out a grunt, her arms shaking even harder now, her fingers beginning to slip.

"Tell…e-everyone…I'll miss them," she says in a choking breath, just as a tear slips out from the corner of her eye and falls past her cheek, rolling off and disappearing into the ash-filled air.

She takes a breath and looks down at the swarm of people beneath her. She sees the flashing camera lights and the Hollywood golden stars and the blue and red lights from the police cars. She clenches her teeth, bracing herself, exhaling harshly. She looks up at Beck one last time and just starts shaking her head, brunette tresses swaying back and forth.

And then, she lets go.

.

Her head is pounding.

She scrunches her forehead tightly as she lets out the softest moan of pain; she feels her eyelids twitch briefly before she slowly flutters them open.

She sees all white; so much white that it's almost too intense. She also hears a steady beeping noise, and she turns her head, feeling like she's moving in slow motion, her vision still a little hazy with sleep. She sees an IV monitor, and her heart freezes in a panic as she sucks in a gasp and sharply turns her head back.

And then she sees Andre, Andre Harris, slumped against a chair, sleeping soundly, his elbows loosely folded against his body. She parts her lips and lets out a nearly inaudible noise, about to speak, when…

"Well, well, well, look who's finally awake," someone says, and Tori immediately jerks her head in its direction. Her eyes widen as her mouth falls open even wider.

"Jade?"

"Hey there, sleepyhead."

"Robbie?"

"Hey, hey, both of you, get out of the way, she's my little sister!"

"Trina?"

She's suddenly blinded by a curtain of crimson hair as she feels a pair of small arms gently drape across her shoulders. She simultaneously smiles and feels tears brimming in her eyes as she weakly brings up an arm to return the hug.

"Cat."

The redhead pulls away, smiling softly and taking a step back. Her friends gather around her bed, all staring at her, and she's suddenly filled with both overwhelming joy and bewildering confusion. She swallows and clears her throat.

"How…why…what's going on?"

"You're in the hospital," Robbie says gently.

"Apparently you were unconscious in an alley somewhere and somebody found you and called you an ambulance," Jade says. "Lucky for you, Vega, since you probably would've died out there if it weren't for your precious knight in shining armor."

"Yeah, and uh, by the way, girl…this hospital look ain't a good look for you at all," Rex says. "You're all pale, and your hair's all messy"

"Rex," Robbie tries to intervene.

"and don't even get me started on your cheekbones!" Rex continues. "They don't have their usual natural glow…I'm sorry, Tori, but you just look nasty."

"Rex!" Robbie scolds him, but Tori's eyes light up at the familiar sight, and she even lets out a chuckle, unable to contain herself.

"Well, I'd better go tell Mom and Dad you're awake! They've been worried sick!" Trina says, then rushes out of the room.

Tori looks out at all her friends, smiling slightly, still in a daze.

"Guys, I…" she starts. All of her friends stare at her expectantly. She bites her lip and slowly shakes her head. "I don't know what to say. I just…you have no idea how much I missed every single one of you. Honestly."

"We all missed you, too," another familiar voice says. Tori turns her head to see Andre, now fully awake, walking over to her bed to join everyone else. He wraps an arm around Cat, who cuddles against his chest.

And then something else hits Tori.

"Wow, okay, soit's been so longI…I mean…what have I missed in this past year?" she asks, then specifies, "Like, are any of you guys…dating?"

"Well," Andre starts, "Jade and I sort of had a thing going on over the summer."

"Yes," Jade says, smirking. "A thing."

"But," Andre continues, "in the end, we decided that we were better off as just friends."

"Yes," Jade says, still smirking. "Friends."

"And Rob's still too much of a wussy boy to ask Cat out," Rex says.

"Rex!" Robbie shouts in horror, his face reddening. Cat just looks at him with widened eyes, but then she grins and lets out a soft giggle.

"What about you, Tori?" Jade asks, a coy smile spreading over her face as she looks down at her, running her hand over the smooth metal railing of the hospital bed. "Or, should I say, Mrs. Beck Oliver?"

Tori feels her heart jump again.

"What?" she squeaks.

"Oh, apparently we're Hollywood's newest young 'it' couple," Beck says out of nowhere, strolling into the room with a magazine in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. He shows Tori the cover of the magazine; it's a picture of them from the night of his movie premiere. The two of them are smiling warmly at one another, and the tabloid above the picture says, in bold yellow text: Beck Oliver and Tori Vega's Steamy New Romance.

"Steamy?" Andre asks, raising an eyebrow.

"Nice," Rex comments.

"Ooh," Cat says, stealing the magazine from Beck, "Pretty dress, Tori!"

Tori smiles at that.

"Thanks, Cat," she says, watching as Cat starts flipping through the magazine, the room falling silent aside from the beeping monitor. Suddenly, though, something else dawns on Tori. "Wait, so…who's the person who found me and called the ambulance and…" She stops when she sees Beck hold up a hand, giving a small wave. Her eyebrows shoot up. "Oh." Then, her expression softens, and she smiles again. "Thanks, Beck."

"Yeah, well, you really gave us all a scare, Tori," he says. "Just promise me you'll take better care of yourself and you won't let that happen ever again. Okay?"

She looks out at all her friends standing around her bed. She just can't believe that after everything she's been through, being so busy with her singing career and getting caught up in the celebrity lifestyle, all the while her friends have all gone off to college, living their own lives, they've all still come together in this moment just for her. They're all here, her closest friends, her family out there, too, all of them having missed her as much as she's missed all of them.

Tori feels a warm, fuzzy feeling of pure and utter happiness spread through her veins; it's a feeling she hasn't genuinely felt since before she became a pop star. It's so overwhelming that her emotions just hit her all at once, and she doesn't even bother to stop the tears from escaping and rolling down her cheeks.

"I promise."


Author's Note: What can I say? I'm a sucker for sentimental happy endings. ;)

Thanks so much for reading this story! I really hope you enjoyed it. Now, I'm sure most of you will probably just favorite it without reviewing, but to those of you who will actually take the time to review, I'll be so grateful! :) I know I say this in a lot of my author's notes, but I honestly appreciate your feedback much more than you know. So please, take a few seconds to review! Let me know what your favorite line/part was; I'm always interested to know. :)