Chapter 3 – Capitol Meltdown Part 2

Freddie had never been to a restaurant as nice as the one in which he was sitting. He was suddenly thankful for the Mommy and Me 'Miss Manners' etiquette class his mother had forced him to take. At least he knew what fork he was supposed to use.

He looked around the room. The tables, covered in the softest linen he'd ever felt, all held lighted candles at their center that filled the room with a warm glow. Live music came from a grand piano that sat at the center of the room. The menus that their waiter set in front of them had the restaurant name, KOMI, emblazoned on the front. According to Melanie, this was a hot spot in D.C. Everyone from celebrities to politicians was known to make appearances. She said that she'd seen the Clintons here once when she'd been out with the Feilding family. Freddie tried to look inconspicuous as he scanned the room, trying to see if he recognized any faces.

He wished Sam was here. That thought made him smile as he imagined her here, surrounded by the elite of Washington, D.C. She wouldn't have let that change her one bit. She'd have carried on, chewing with her mouth open, not caring if she knew the right fork to use. She'd have him laughing and his mother cringing. She'd have been 100% Sam. She'd have made him feel comfortable. She'd have made him feel like he belonged.

"So, Fredward," Dr. Feilding cleared his throat, tucking his napkin away on his lap. Freddie looked across the table. Dr. Feilding looked exactly the way he would have expected. His small wire frame glasses were perched on his nose. His hair, cut short, was salt and peppered at the temples and he wore a suit that looked like it had cost three times as much as the one Freddie wore. But it wasn't his looks that made an impression. It was something about the way he carried himself. He seemed to be entirely comfortable in his own skin, never fidgeting, always maintaining eye contact. Since they'd arrived people had greeted him, sometimes stopping by the table to say hello. And every time he smiled graciously, shaking hands and holding himself in a way that gave the impression of power and authority. Freddie wanted to be like that – one day.

"Yes, Dr. Feilding?" he tried to keep his voice even.

"Melanie here tells me that you're something of a celebrity back in Seattle."

"Oh, I don't know about that…" he said, embarrassed. Compared to Dr. Feilding he hardly registered a title, let alone the title of celebrity.

"He's being modest," Melanie gushed, patting Freddie's shoulder. "He runs a webshow that has over a million viewers every week."

"Is that so?" Dr. Feilding said, seeming genuinely impressed. "A webshow you say?"

"Yes, well, I don't run it exactly. I do it with two of my friends – well, my best friend and my girlfriend – Sam. I'm the technical producer though."

"And what exactly does that entail?"
Freddie felt himself relax as he discussed the details of his job on iCarly –people so rarely asked him about it. It had the feeling of stepping into a comfortable pair of shoes, this was the world he understood, this was the part of himself he was proud of. Dr. Feilding smiled and nodded, leaning forward as Freddie talked.

"And you do all of that yourself?"

"Well, yes. The girls – Sam and Carly, they don't really know about anything technical" he laughed, 'at all. They usually leave it all to me."

"And who trained you?"

"I've taken some classes, online. A lot of things I've just figured out on my own."

"And how do you think this will relate to your future, here at N.I.T.?"

A future at N.I.T. – Freddie liked the sound of that.

"Well, I want to get a degree in engineering – focus on Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Eventually, after graduate school, I want to get into software development. I have some ideas on new applications and platform creation that could be used to change the face of media and webcasting."

"See, told you he was a genius!" Melanie said. Freddie looked at her and for a second it physically hurt to see Sam's face and know it wasn't really Sam.

"That is indeed a noble aspiration. As I'm sure you know, our Engineering department at N.I.T. is among the very best in the country. If you're focused and determined- as it seems that you are, N.I.T. could provide you with the foundation you need to make those dreams a reality."

"Fredward has been talking about N.I.T since he was a young boy." his mother said, beaming as she looked at him. "As wonderful as your school is, Dr. Feilding, as lucky as he'd be to attend, I think the school would be just as lucky to have him."

"Mom!" Freddie said, mortified. "Dr. Feilding…"

Dr. Feilding laughed, "No, no Fredward. Your mother is right. At N.I.T. we pride ourselves on being able to find, recruit and admit the best and brightest young minds in this country. If you've been offered provisional acceptance to the Young Scholars Program then you are, indeed, part of that group. Your mother has every right to be proud."

The waiter arrived at their table to take their order and Freddie was all too happy to accept Dr. Feidlings suggestions for a meal choice.

"So, Fredward," Dr. Feilding set his wine glass down, "How did your interview go?"

Freddie shook his head. He'd been hoping that this didn't come up.

"Um, not so great actually."

"Freddie, it wasn't that bad." Melanie said. She turned to Dr. Feilding, "He interviewed with Professor Hazlette."

Dr. Feilding nodded, seeming to understand something neither Freddie nor his mother did. "Oh, I see. Professor Hazlette, while a brilliant teacher, is a bit less – social, than some."

Freddie turned to Melanie, confused.

"She's not a people person." Melanie said, "She's the hardest professor on campus – and the hardest one to interview with."

"Oh, well, she wasn't very impressed with me I don't think." Freddie said. "It was a disaster actually."

Freddie's mother patted his hand. "Freddie's been worried all afternoon that the interview with this Ms. Hazlette was going to keep him out of the program."

"Hmmm," Dr. Feidling ran a hand across his jaw. "I can understand your worry, Fredward."

"You can call me Freddie."

"Freddie, of course" Dr. Feilding said, "Professor Hazlette is the head of the Young Scholars Program admission committee. Her opinion is important – carries quite a bit of weight." Freddie bowed his head. He'd suspected, and feared, as much. He felt his dreams of attending turning to ash right in front of him. "But," Dr. Feilding leaned across the table, whispering conspiratorially. "I might just know of an opinion that matters a little more." He winked at Freddie and sat back in his seat.

They spent the rest of the evening talking and laughing. Freddie was shocked at just how down to earth Dr. Feilding was, at one point he'd had them all laughing as he discussed the time he'd had Hiroshi Nakasi, a brilliant physicist from Japan who'd come as a guest lecturer to campus the year Dr. Feilding took over his position as Dean. He'd worked for weeks perfecting his Japanese, determined to be able to speak with Hiroshi in his native tongue. However, after a few too many bottles of wine at dinner he'd tried to ask Hiroshi how when his flight departed and, instead, asked him when his last bowel movement was.

"Needless to say," Dr. Feilding laughed, "that was the last time Mr. Nakasi visited our campus – and the last time I've tried to speak Japanese."

Freddie wiped at his eyes. This felt so good, sitting here in such a nice place having a regular conversation with someone like Dr. Feilding – who'd insisted that of campus he be called Micheal. He felt, for the first time since arriving, like he belonged.

Dr. Feilding looked at his watch. "Oh my, I hadn't realized how late it was." he waved his hand toward the waiter to have the check brought to them. "Now, Freddie. I need to ask you a serious question."

"Sure Dr. Field…I mean, Micheal. Anything."

He propped his elbows up on the table and looked directly into Freddie's eyes. "I've been very impressed with you this weekend. You're polite, well-spoken and intelligent. I think you'd make a wonderful addition to our student body at N.I.T., but I need to know. Are you ready for this?"

"I'm sorry, I don't know if I get your meaning."

"We admit the best and we expect them to maintain a consistent standard of excellence. N.I.T. is rigorous. The rewards are many, but the work is hard. This isn't the school people come to for partying or, as you young people say, 'hooking up'. This is the school you come to when you're ready to put the work in to make your dreams a reality. Are you ready to dedicate yourself completely to this way of life, and prioritize your work above everything else?"

Freddie paused. This was what he'd wanted for as long as he could remember. He still wanted it, but in the past few months being with Sam he'd realized that there were other things in the world – friendship, acceptance…love. He wanted those things too.

"Yes. I'm ready," he said, hoping that he sounded more confident than he felt.

"Well then," Dr. Feilding said, standing. He reached his hand across the table. "I think it's fairly safe to say welcome to N.I.T."

Freddie shook Dr. Feilding's hand and smiled, throwing his misgivings to the side for the moment. Next to him, his mother and Melanie were smiling at him. It was nice to share this moment with people who cared about him, even if the one person he really wanted to share it with wasn't here.

Gathering up their things they all headed for the exit door. On the street outside the restaurant Dr. Feilding made Freddie promise to keep in touch, assuring Freddie that in the morning he'd be giving Professor Hazelette a call to smooth things over. He told Melanie she could have the evening off, encouraging her to show Freddie around D.C. Melanie agreed and walked back to the Metro station with Freddie and his mother, chatting all the way about how great the dinner had gone and how lucky Freddie was to have a man like Dr. Feilding in his corner.

They took the train back to Freddie's hotel so that he could change, Mel waiting in the lobby while Freddie followed his mother upstairs. Coming out of the bathroom, his suit tossed over his arm, finally dressed in his broken in Chucks, a pair of jeans and an N.I.T hoodie, he yawned as he put his clothes in his suitcase.

"Freddie, are you sure it's a good idea to go out with that girl? We have an early flight tomorrow."

"I can sleep on the flight, Mom," he said, closing his suitcase and setting it back on the ground beside his bed. "Besides, Sam's sister went to a lot of trouble to get me a meeting with Dr. Feilding. I think it would be rude to say no to her now. And, you know, she's part of Sam's family. I want them to know and trust me,"

"Hmmm…well, just be careful."

"Don't worry, mom. I'll be fine." he said. "And it's not like I'll be alone. I'm with Mel." He leaned down and kissed her cheek, then headed out the door.

Marissa stared after her son, "That's exactly what I'm afraid of."


"You talk to Freddie yet?" Carly asked as they stood in line at Burger Barn, waiting for their food.

"Not since this morning," Sam said, "But Mel just texted me."

"What'd she say?"

Sam used her most annoying girly voice in an imitation of Melanie as she read the message. "OMG Sam! Dinner was awesome! Dr. Feilding loved Freddie! And I had the cutest tiny cheesecake for dessert!"

"She told you about her dessert?" Carly asked, "What is with you Pucketts and food?"

"Mel feels about sweets the way that I feel about meat. Now shush…there's more." She resumed her high pitched Melanie imitation. "And his mom is so sweet – she totally loves me I think. I'm getting ready to take him out to do some nighttime sightseeing! TTYL!" Sam rolled her eyes as she put her phone back in her pocket. "And I swear to you, every sentence had an exclamation point – and a smiley face! We've got the same mother, what in the hell does she have to be that freaking happy about!" Sam frowned, "It's only a matter of time before all that cheesecake catches up to her and she becomes an 800 pound cat lady."

"This from the girl who just ordered two double barn breaker burgers." Carly laughed.

"Meh…" Sam said irritably, grabbing their tray and heading toward a corner at the back of the restaurant. "Whatever."

"I still don't get why you hate your sister so much."

"I don't hate her…exactly." she looked at Carly's disbelieving face, "Seriously. It's just that Melanie…I don't know." Sam took a bite of her burger and up toward the register, as if the words she was trying to think of might magically appear on the Burger Barn menu. "We were close when we were kids, but now…it's not even like she's my sister. Just this random girl I talk to sometimes who happens to look just like me."

"But she did you a big favor with Freddie."

"Yeah, she did." She reached over to grab some of Carly's fries since hers were already gone. "I thought Freddie was gonna pee himself when I told him."

"He's really excited about this, huh? N.I.T. I mean."

Sam shrugged. "I guess."

Carly cleared her throat. She'd been wanting to talk to Sam about something for a long time and had yet to find a time when she thought Sam would be open to it. College was a touchy subject and one that Sam appeared completely uninterested in discussing.

"So, now that Freddie's pretty set on N.I.T., what are you going to do?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, it's almost senior year. We've got S.A.T.'s and college applications. Do you know where you're going to go?"

"For college?"

"No Sam, for dinner," she said sarcastically. "Of course for college!"

"Who said I'm going?"

"Why wouldn't you?"

"Why would I?" Sam said, sitting back in her seat, sucking on the straw to her strawberry milkshake.

"Why? Because you want a good life and a good job – and not to live in a box on the street like a hobo!" Her voice rose as she leaned across the table toward Sam.

"Carly, college isn't for everyone. Lots of people don't go to college and they do just fine. And anyway, I'm not saying I'm definitely not going. I just don't see what all the fuss is about."

"But if you don't go and Freddie and I do go…"

"Are you going to quit being my friend because you go to college?" Sam asked

"No."

"And do you think that Freddie and I will quit dating because he's going to college?"

"Well…not exactly."

Sam sat up. "What the hell is that supposed to mean? You think Freddie's gonna dump me if I don't decide to go?"

"No Sam, that's not what I'm saying."

"Then what are you saying Carly? And can you say it quick? I'm not getting any younger."

"It's just that college is different than high school."

"Thank you Catherine Obvious."

"It's Captain…"

"I know what it is Carls, just keep talkin'."

"When Freddie goes away to school, he'll be around all these people who, you know, get how hard it is to be in college and, I don't know…don't you worry that you guys won't have as much in common anymore?"

She wanted to tell Carly no. She wanted to laugh and say Carly was worrying over nothing. But she couldn't, because at the very center of her heart she knew that Carly had just given a voice to what Sam had been dreading since the letter for Freddie came from N.I.T.

Sam sat quietly for a moment, then looked up at Carly. "Do you know what I love the most about Freddie, what's the very best thing about us?" Carly shook her head. "That he accepts me just like I am. I love you but sometimes you can be a little pushy when you think I need to do something differently. And we all know how much his mom still loves to tell me all the ways I can be a 'proper young lady.' All day long, there's a list of people who want to tell me what to do, how to feel, how to be. But Freddie…he doesn't do that. He just – loves me."

"Awww…" Carly said, closing her mouth at the warning glare Sam gave her.

"I like that I don't have to be a certain way for him to love me. I don't have to do a certain thing for him to be there for me. And he doesn't either. He's an anal, picky, nerdy nub – but I love him anyway and I wouldn't expect him to change." She pulled at a blond curl falling over her shoulder.

"But that's the thing Sam, college, it does change things. There are new people and new experiences and no matter how much we want them to – things can't stay exactly the same. Maybe you don't want Freddie to change, and maybe he doesn't want you to either. But like it or not – change is coming."

Carly stood and Sam followed her out of the restaurant, trying to keep a smile on her face as she only half listened to what her best friend was saying. But the whole walk back to Bushwell, Carly's last words at the restaurant were playing over in her head. Carly was right.

Change was coming – and she didn't like it one bit.


The D.C. night was warm as Freddie and Melanie walked side by side through a busy D.C. neighborhood. All around him there were restaurants and cafes with small tables outside where people sat laughing, drinking and looking up at the star-filled sky. It was beautiful here. Trees in every shade imaginable lined the street. The grassy area they were approaching was filled with people, sitting on blankets, walking hand in hand, walking briskly as if they had somewhere important to be. That's what seemed so different here – there was an air of importance, everyone seemed to have something to do, somewhere to be, someone to be with. It made him feel good to be a part of this crowd and he felt himself already falling in love with this city.

"And this is where they have the drag races!" Melanie put a hand on Freddie's shoulder and pointed across the street to a grassy area in, what she'd told him was Dupont Circle.

"Drag races?" Freddie asked, "They race cars in the middle of the street?"

Melanie laughed, "Not exactly. The Drag Races happen every year. Drag queens from the area – and even other people who want to join in, put on their high heels, dress up and have a foot race through the streets. It's hilarious. I'll have to take you sometime."

Freddie shook his head. There were no small number of eccentric people in Seattle, but walking through D.C. he realized the eccentrics in this town had their own unique flavor. "I'd love to see that…they really do a race? In, like, full make up and dresses and everything?"

"Yep, you should see them…"

"Sam would love that," he said.

They kept walking, taking in the sights around them, enjoying the breeze that was finally making the stifling heat bearable.

"She really loves you," Melanie said.

"Sam?"

"Yeah. I mean, we don't talk a lot but when we do and she mentions you, I can hear it in her voice."

"Well, I love her too. She's…amazing."

Mel nodded as they continued walking. They arrived at a fountain in the grassy center of the busy area and took a seat on the edge. "You know, I've never heard her talk about a guy like that – about anyone like that really, besides…"

"Carly," they said in unison. Freddie laughed but Mel looked pensive.

"She's really lucky."

"Lucky?"

"To have you and Carly. I've never really had friends like that or…a guy that loves me like you love her."

"I don't know…I feel like the lucky one." He looked up at the darkening sky, wishing Sam could see what he was seeing. "I mean, Sam is just –unique. She doesn't care what people think – she doesn't feel like she has to be like everyone else. Before her, I don't know, I think I let what other people thought become the most important thing. I didn't know how to live life for myself – do the things I wanted to do. Now that I'm with her, she just makes me stronger somehow – braver." he turned to Mel, who was smiling softly, "So, yeah. I'm the lucky one. But, I bet she thinks you had it pretty lucky – you know, getting to go to boarding school and now you're here."

"I don't know if I'd call that luck. Living in that house with my mom, don't get me wrong, I love my mom but the constant stream of boyfriends, the fact that she's never there, the way she pretends that our dad never even existed. I just – I couldn't deal with it. Sam was always stronger than me. She could always handle Mom and not let it get her down. I just…I couldn't. So the first chance I got to get out of there, I took it."

"Worked out for you though."

"Yeah, I guess it did, in some ways. I mean I got a great education. I get to live here in Washington, which I love, but there are things I had to give up."

"Like?"

"Friends…" she laughed at the look of disbelief on Freddie's face. "I mean I have friends but not like Sam does. I remember once she got really sick and I called and our mom was out of town. I was kind of worried but she said that you and Carly came over and made her soup and sat with her. I don't have those kind of friends. And with all my school work and everything I've never really had a lot of time to date. And most of the guys around here only want to talk about grad school and internships and dissertations. It's kind of boring." She laughed.

"Sounds like it," Freddie said, laughing with her. "Sam would kick me in the shins if I talked like that on a date."

"You know," Mel said, turning her head to the side. "The last enjoyable date I went on was…when I went out with you."

Freddie cleared his throat. It had taken a long time for him to live down the humiliation of trying to beat Sam at her own game…and losing horribly. He'd spent an evening with what he now knew was her sister – even kissed her, a thought that made him slightly queasy. He had hoped that their 'date night' would never be brought up again.

Mel laughed and placed her hand over Freddie's. "Calm down Freddie, I'm not trying to get a repeat performance. You're dating my sister for goodness sakes. I'm just saying – good dates don't happen often for me. Or at all."

Freddie breathed a sigh of relief, glad for the awkwardness to have lifted.

"So, are you ready to go?" he said. "If I'm not back soon my mom will worry."

Melanie stood up and led the way back down the street toward Freddie's hotel. "Excited to go home?" she asked.

"Definitely. I mean this has been great but…"

"You miss Sam."

Freddie blushed, "I do. A lot."

"So what about next year?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, Dr. Feilding putting I a good word for you along with your acceptance to The Young Scholars Program makes it a pretty safe bet that you'll be here in the fall."

"You think?"

"For sure!" she said brightly, "But if you're here and Sam's in Seattle, how are you guys going to work that out?"

Freddie looked at Melanie, considering his answer. "Can I tell you something – a secret?"

"Sure you can."

"You can't say anything to Sam."

"Sam barely talks to me. I don't think that will be a problem."

"Well, I'm sort of hoping that Sam will…come here with me." He watched Melanie's face to gauge her reaction.

"Come with you…to N.I.T.? I know Sam is smart Freddie but…"
"No, not to N.I.T., just to Washington. If she got into one of the other schools in D.C. we'd be together."

"Wow, Freddie. I wasn't expecting that answer." They arrived at the front of Freddie's hotel and stopped, standing near the large glass entrance doors.

"You think it's a bad idea."

Mel was quiet as she walked, looking at her feet. "Can I be totally honest, Freddie?"

"Absolutely."

"I don't think it's necessarily a bad idea. Just…unrealistic."

"Unrealistic, why? You don't think Sam can get into school here?"

"That's not it. I might have been the one that went to boarding school, but Sam is just as smart, if not smarter than me. She just chooses not to apply herself. She could get into a school here but…"

"But what?"

"Well, this isn't really Sam's scene. She's smart but school, college, it's not what's important to her. Trust me Freddie, I get not wanting to be apart from her, and I think it's adorable. But if you come here you cannot imagine how hard the work is, and how much time and energy it takes to succeed. If you want to be the best, you have to decide what's most important. You can't be distracted from that."

They were silent and Freddie rubbed the back of his neck, wishing he'd kept his idea to himself.

"But listen Freddie," Mel said, reaching out to grab his hand, "I'm sure it'll be fine. You'll figure it out." She squeezed his hand and smiled. "I'd better let you get upstairs."

"Oh, yeah, thanks Mel. For everything. Really – I appreciate it."

"No problem Freddie. I was happy to do it." She reached out and hugged him, "Call me when you get back to Seattle, we can be texting buddies! I'll keep you up to date on all the N.I.T. gossip." She winked at him and he smiled, watching as she walked away, turned the corner by the side of the building, and was gone.

He headed upstairs, pulling out his phone. He had one missed call from Sam. Pulling up her number he waited for her to answer.

"You have reached the voicemail of Sam Puckett. If I'm not answering it's either cuz I'm busy or I don't like you – either way, you can leave a message – but I might not call you back."

He laughed at her voicemail and started to hang up…true to the message, Sam very rarely checked her voicemail and even more infrequently called people back. As he moved to end the call a new screen popped up on his phone.

Incoming Call: Sam

"Sam!"

"The one and only!" He could hear the smile in her voice. "I called you earlier."

"I saw that. I was actually out sightseeing with Melanie."

"Oh," Sam was quiet enough that he worried he'd dropped the call.

"Sam?"

"Yeah, I'm here," she said. "So did you have fun?"

"I did. Spent most of the time talking about you though."

"Oh, really? Telling her how amazing I am? How I give your life meaning?" she laughed.

"As a matter of fact, yes … so what did you do today?" he said, stepping into the hotel elevator, pressing the call button for his floor.

"Hung out with Carly. Ate. Talked about stupid stuff with Carly. Ate. Watched Girly Cow with Carly…"

"And let me guess…ate?"

"That's what I love about you, Fredalupe, you get me."

"That I do, Princess Puckett. So, will you be at Carly's when I get home tomorrow?"

"What time are you getting home?"

"I should be there around six." he smiled, walking out of the elevator, toward his room.

"I'll be here," she said. "Alright, well Carly is giving me the evil eye, something about you interrupting Girl's Night."

"Tell Carly I said sorry. I'll see you tomorrow. Oh, and my mom actually has to go to work at midnight, so…"

"No further words necessary," Sam said, "Me and my lips will see you and your lips tomorrow."

"My lips can't wait." he said, "And neither can I."


Freddie had heard the phrase 'bone tired' but he hadn't fully understood it until today. The trip to N.I.T. had started badly but ended up being a smashing success. He now had a personal connection to one of the most important people on the N.I.T staff, an all but guaranteed spot in N.I.T.'s winter Young Scholars Program, and had taken the first tentative steps toward fall admission. He couldn't have wished for a better outcome. But now, after a nearly seven hour trip back to Seattle, during which they'd been delayed after a layover in Denver, he was exhausted.

Their Denver flight delay meant that his mother, who was scheduled for a late shift at the hospital, had no time to stop at home, so he'd dropped her off at the Emergency Room entrance and drove the rest of the way to Bushwell alone. He'd texted Sam, hoping to be able to see her or at least talk to her, but she hadn't responded. He figured it was for the best, as tired as he was he'd probably just fall asleep mid-conversation anyway.

Pulling his luggage from the trunk, he headed up the elevator to his apartment, stifling a yawn. School started in just under a week and for the first time since he could remember, he wasn't excited about it. The summer had been so amazing, spending all his time with Sam, getting used to being a couple. Now, with senior year starting, he knew his days would be filled with homework and college preparation, and he wouldn't be able to spend the kind of time with Sam he'd grown used to.

'And it's only going to get worse if you go to D.C.' he thought. Stepping off the elevator he shook his head to rid himself of the intrusive thought. He had a whole year before he really had to worry about that, a whole year to bring Sam around to the plan that had begun forming in his head as he flew back to Seattle. He wanted N.I.T. –and it looked like he'd get his wish-but he wanted Sam there with him. He just had to get her to see how good an idea it was.

All in good time.

He'd be patient, move slowly and, if he played his cards right, this time next year he'd be walking around the Nation's Capital holding hands with the woman he loved. He was sure of it.

Unlocking the door to his apartment, he hung his keys on the hook by the door and began the walk to his bedroom, too tired even to turn the lights on. The house smelled, even after three days away, like Pine Sol and fabric softener, but as he approached his room there was a subtle hint of – bacon? He laughed to himself, chalked it up to exhaustion and missing Sam.

In his room he set his bag by the door, stretched, and switched on the light. His room was exactly as he'd left it. His mother was a stickler for making sure their house was immaculate…even when they weren't there. She once told him that if there was a fire she wouldn't want the fire department remarking on how filthy their apartment was – as if anyplace she'd live in could ever be called anything beyond neurotically clean.

A cool breeze drifted over his face and he noticed two things at once, two things that were decidedly different than how he'd left them.

His window was open and his bed wasn't empty.

"Sam!" he screamed her name louder than he intended, shock at finding her there making him forget how much she hates to be woken up – especially by loud voices. It didn't matter though, since she obviously hadn't hear him. He called her name again, this time moving toward the bed, peering down at her. She was fully dressed, her hair wild and spread out over his pillows. Her fingers, shining with grease, were curled around a small, empty plastic bag. He smiled, the mystery of the faint bacon smell in the apartment solved. Her phone lay on the floor beside the bed, blinking to indicate that she had missed calls. No wonder she hadn't answered his texts.

He sat lightly on the side of the bed. The weight of his exhaustion and the happiness of finding her here – of finally seeing her face, making him consider for a moment just slipping in under the covers beside her and turning out the light. Before he could, her lumberjack snores stopped and she blinked rapidly, adjusting to the light. She frowned and looked up at him, her brow furrowed in annoyance. He almost apologized, then realized it was his room she was sleeping in.

"Hey Goldilocks! Still having trouble with that whole 'breaking and entering' thing?" he laughed.

"Still having trouble with that 'don't wake me up when I'm sleeping thing'?" She started to sit up, dragging a hand through her hair, "Were you watching me sleep again Benson?"

Freddie leaned in and placed a kiss to her forehead, "You're really cute when you're sleeping. Especially the drool – that's the hottest part."

She wiped at her mouth and smacked his arm when it came away dry. "I do not drool."

"Yes, you do. And snore like a merchant marine."

"Oh, shut up," She said, "Why are you talking anyway, I thought you said something about my lips…and your lips…" smiling, she pulled herself onto his lap.

"Hmmm…you might have to refresh my memory…" his words were cut off as she brought her lips to his.

He poured every ounce of himself into it, leaning into her, laying her back against his pillows until his body lay flush over hers – giving his hands access to roam the body he'd been dreaming of, missing, for three days.

Freddie felt Sam's leg snake around his own, drawing his hips down hard against hers. She bit softly at his bottom lip, tangling her fingers in the hair at the nape of his neck.

"Someone missed me." He smiled, breaking the kiss.

"Less talking, more kissing."

He had no objections to her demands and deepened the kiss, his fingers toying at the edge of the t-shirt she wore, sliding his fingers beneath it, smiling at the shiver that ran through her body as his fingers traced soft circles up her side.

Sam's hands ran down the front of his shirt, stopping at his belt buckle. His breath hitched. He'd been happy to lay here, feeling her beneath him. As much as he'd dreamed about the day she'd finally request an encore of their night in Portland (and had dreamed of it…a lot), he hadn't pushed. Now, as he felt her small hands undoing his belt, slipping his jeans over his hips, it looked like he'd gotten the green light and he had to concentrate to avoid screaming his happiness. He wondered if sex would ever not have that effect on him – he doubted it.

Without a word he followed her lead. Standing he let his pants fall, grabbing the bottom of his shirt and pulling it over his head. He looked down at her. A slow blush was blossoming on her chest and the look she was giving him, staring up at him with one corner of her lip tucked into her mouth, made his head spin. Lying back on the bed beside her he watched as she tugged at her shirt, drawing it over her head, sending blond curls spilling all around her. He took a moment to drink in the sight of her. He wondered if she knew just how beautiful she was and thought he'd gladly spend his life making sure she knew.

Moving down on the bed he lowered his lips to the hollow of her hip, brushing his lips against her as she squirmed. He traced a line from her hip to the black lace of the boy shorts she wore. Feeling more daring than he had the first time, he looked up at her as he pulled the fabric into his mouth, tugging as he hooked his thumbs into the sides, sliding them over her hips.

"Look who learned some tricks in D.C. Remind me to ask you about that later." Sam laughed, then threw her head back against the pillows as his lips made contact with the inside of her thigh.

"Less talking." he said. Sam was silent, her breath coming out in ragged spurts as Freddie's fingers teased the sensitive skin where his lips had previously been. He pulled himself up, kissing her lips as his hands began moving higher. He knew her now, knew her body – understood what she liked and what she needed. The sound of her voice, soft moans filling the room, confirmed that he'd hit the right spot.

Sam's hands toyed at the waistband of his boxer shorts, sliding inside and when they'd found their intended target, he closed his eyes tight against the desire to end it all right there.

"Wait," he said, balancing himself on one arm as he reached across Sam to open his nightstand drawer.

"No waiting…" Sam mumbled into his neck, pushing his boxers down to his knees, using her feet to work them the rest of the way off. She pulled his face to hers, running her tongue along the inside of his lip in a way that made the whole world a haze.

"Sam…condom…"

"Freddie…" she replied, "Pill…"

He hesitated all of two seconds before shutting the nightstand drawer, doing the math in his head. A month on the pill…they were safe.

He returned is lips to hers, his hand holding her hip steady as he continued to explore her mouth. It was perfection, the moment when it became impossible to tell where one of them stopped and the other began. Holding what he loved here in his arms, knowing that he was making her happy, that for this moment being together was all that mattered.

When it was over and they lay tangled together, staring at the ceiling, Sam laughed, curling into Freddie's side.

"Welcome back!"

"That was quite a welcome." he laughed.

"I aim to please." Sam said. "So…where's your mom?"

"How do you know she's not here?"

"Because I doubt you'd have been ripping off my underwear with your teeth while your mom was in the kitchen making sugar free brownies."

"Touché."

"So," Sam said, turning to look at Freddie. "How was the trip? Was it the fulfillment of all your nerd dreams?"

Freddie couldn't help the smile the lit his face. "Absolutely amazing!"

"What was so amazing about it?"

He hesitated for a moment. Telling Sam about his weekend could easily send him into, what she dubbed, Nub Mode.

She rolled her eyes. "Go ahead, I promise not to make a peep."

They both knew that was unlikely but he still launched into his story, telling her every detail he could remember. True to her word, and much to his shock, she listened quietly to his entire story.

"And then I came home to find the world's hottest girlfriend asleep in my bed – with an empty bag of bacon."

"You took too long…I got hungry." She stretched like a cat, drawing the blanket up around her. "Speaking of which, I'm hungry again."

"Why am I not surprised." he laughed. "Wanna order a pizza?" he said, pulling on his boxers.

"Yeah. You order the pie, I'll take a shower."

"As you wish, Princess Puckett."

Twenty minutes later they were sitting on his bed, waiting for the pizza to arrive. Freddie smiled as he watched Sam run a brush through her hair, still wet from her shower. "I missed you," he said.

"Really?" she asked. "Even surrounded by all those genius N.I.T. types?" She tried to keep her voice light but he heard her real question – and the insecurity running beneath it. He took the brush from her hand and pulled her to him.

"Not a single one of those 'N.I.T. types' held a candle to being with you." She nodded against his chest but said nothing.

"And you know what?"

"What?"

"I think you'd actually like it in D.C."

"Really? What's so great about D.C.?"

"Well, for starters, they have a restaurant called 'Ben's Chili Bowl' – home of the World's Best Chili!"

"Keep talking…I like where this is going."

"And I saw a cupcakery that actually serves bacon cupcakes!"

"Do not joke about something that amazing, Benson."

He crossed his fingers over his chest, "Scout's honor. I'd have brought you one but I couldn't take it on the plane." Sam moved down to lay her head in his lap. He began to absentmindedly play with one of her curls. "And the best part was actually something your sister told me about." He felt Sam tense just the smallest bit, "She took me to this place called Dupont Circle and she said that every year tons of drag queens get all dressed up and run through the streets in their high heels and dresses and make up. They call it The Drag Race!"

"Seriously?" she shook her head, "Chili, cupcakes and racing drag queens. Gotta admit, this place doesn't sound too bad. Might make it worth the visit once you're at your fancy school."

Neither of them said a word. It was the first time since he'd returned that the reality of their situation – the fact that in less than a year they might be living on separate coasts, had been brought up. He was as sure now as he had been when he'd boarded the plane for Seattle that somehow, someway he was going to have his cake and eat it too. N.I.T. and Sam, two dreams he was determined could peacefully co-exist. But now wasn't the time to tell her that. He was happy enough to be changing her mind about D.C. – helping her see what a great place it was. Eventually he'd make her see that experiencing it together was the best idea for both of them.

All in good time.

Sam sighed and snuggled into him. He leaned back against the headboard and started down at her in the silence.

"Sing for me."

She laughed and looked up at him. "Random much?"

"Why is that random?"

"Because I don't sing."

"You sang for me at prom."

"That was different…desperate times call for desperate measures."

"I think your voice is beautiful. Please?" he said, "Just one song." He made a poor attempt at a puppy dog face and Sam laughed, turning over onto her back.

"You're such a sap," she said, then drew in a breath and closed her eyes. "Twinkle, Twinkle, little…"

"Sam…"

"Okay, okay. Don't get your panties in a wad." she laughed then cleared her throat and her voice filled the room, clear and sweet.

Maybe I know somewhere deep in my soul, that love never lasts

And we've got to find other ways to make it alone, or keep a straight face.

And I've always lived like this, keeping a comfortable distance.

And up until now I've sworn to myself, that I'm content with loneliness.

Because none of it was ever worth the risk.

But darlin' you are, the only exception. You are the only exception. You are the only exception

When she was done Freddie didn't speak. He wished he'd been able to record it, to capture the entire moment. He knew that Sam loved him, even if they didn't say it all the time or show it the way some couples did. But hearing her voice as she sang to him, putting all the vulnerability she usually avoided into those words – it was worth more than a hundred spoken 'I love you's.

"That was beautiful." he said. "Thank you."

"No big."

"It is big, Sam. Do you have any idea how good you are?"

She shrugged. "You know, when I was little, I wanted to be a singer. Like a famous one – music videos, travelling around the world – the whole nine. It's sort of how I got into the whole pageant thing."

"I always wondered about that. You're not exactly the pageant girl type."

"Yeah, it was actually Melanie who wanted to do it-pageants I mean. She had Mom sign her up for one. The Little Miss Seattle pageant. My mom went all out – got the fancy dress and everything. She got all signed up, then when we got there she couldn't do it, spent an hour in the can tossing her cookies."

"So what happened?"

"Well, Mom said she wasn't gonna throw three hundred dollars down the toilet along with Mel's breakfast so since there just so happened to be someone there who looked just like Melanie…"

"She entered you instead."

"You got it."

"But you kept competing after that."

"What can I say – I was a natural. Something about competition I guess. But…it was cool. I mean, I got to take dance lessons and music lessons with Ernie. And…it felt good you know. For once I wasn't just the 'other' Puckett sister. I was good at something."

"So why'd you stop…I mean other than the whole 'you may or may not have pushed someone down the stairs' thing."

Sam laughed. "Well, when Melanie got accepted to the boarding school she got a scholarship but it didn't cover everything. So…there really wasn't any money for lessons or pageants…" Her voice tapered off.

"You should do it again."

Sam sat up and looked at him like he'd grown a third eye. "Pageants? Are you kidding?"

"Not necessarily pageants, but like, music lessons. You're really good Sam – you shouldn't give that up."

"Lessons cost money."

"I could help."

"Absolutely not."

"Why not?"

Sam rolled her eyes and started to get off the bed, "Let's just drop it."

"But Sam…"

The doorbell rang and Sam smirked at him, heading for the door. "Saved, literally, by the bell." she said. "Now grab your wallet – since you're so eager to pay for things."

He shook his head, following her out of the room. He'd drop it – for now-but in his head the wheels were already turning. It wasn't fair that Sam had been forced to give up something important to her. A lot of things about the life Sam had lived weren't fair. But this one he could fix. And he would.

All in good time.


A/N: Sorry for the delay in posting, I was in the hospital - long story but I'm okay now. We'll try to post weekly updates from here out, but if we can't just know that we will post when we can...this story won't be abandoned.

And we love to hear what you think so review, review, review...