Just an FYI - this is part of the Try Again Tomorrow Universe, where two things never occurred - they Hollywood Arts gang never met the iCarly people at the party - and Sam & Cat never happened (Cat has been living with Jade since she turned 18). So, no, Freddie does not recognize any of them from that - he knows them from their being famous in general - and from being parents at the school where he teaches.

Thank you for all of the lovely reviews. I have to ask - I work very hard to add humor in with the angst - and it amuses me. If you have time, tell me if there is a line or so that makes you laugh. I like to know if it translates into that for the reader.

Chapter 17 – Love One Another

"Love one another and you will be happy.

It's as simple and as difficult as that."

~Michael Leunig

Later that week, Tori looked at herself in the mirror and sighed – she had no idea if she was doing the right thing. She told him it was not a date – just coffee. And she would drive herself. And pay for herself. Just coffee. So why was it taking her two hours to get dressed? Again, her unforgiving eyes took in her ensemble – she'd finally settled on a pair of black jeans, her favorite black boots, and a top made of layers of soft, tiered silk in the perfect shade of red. She shrugged into a tailored black jacket. She was tugging at her necklace and then her favorite red bracelets when Jade appeared in her doorway. The woman had come over to take Lily to her house for the afternoon.

"You look great. Story worrying and go. Have fun." Tori ran into Trina as she was leaving the house and her older sister playfully whistled.

"You look amazing, Tor. Have a fun. Go and get 'em." She kissed Tori's cheek and then shooed her out the door.

Tori was impressed with herself; she made it to the coffee shop. She wasn't even late. Freddie smiled and waved as she walked in. He stood from the chair he'd been sitting in and crossed the room to stand next to her. "I know this isn't a date, but can I still tell you how nice you look?" She blushed; and immediately hated herself for it. "You look amazing."

"Thank you," she answered. "Now stop that."

"Alright. Now, I know what you said – but my mom raised me to be a gentleman, so what can I get you to drink?" Tori thought of arguing, but decided against it. There was a line forming behind them at the counter.

"Raspberry green tea, thank you," she said.

The talked easily for half an hour – and Tori found herself laughing – truly laughing. He was charming, but in a very safe and cute kind of way. He had stories about his mother and a small group of friends that he told with humor and flair. It was interesting – she could picture his friends because of their web show, but it was his descriptions that brought them alive.

"Tell me about yourself – you're letting me do all the talking," he said, smiling.

"I really don't mind," she responded. "It's nice to talk to someone new. I love my friends – but we all have the same stories from high school – it's not nearly as fun as hearing stories like yours."

"The real people are funnier," Freddie promised. "But really – tell me about you."

Tori nodded. "I went to high school at a performing arts school – have you heard of Hollywood Arts?"

"I've heard incredibly impressive things about Hollywood Arts," he answered. "I know it's difficult to get in – and very competitive to stay in."

"It was more fun than anything, honestly," Tori told him with a smile. "It's where I met Jade and Beck – and all of my other friends – Cat Valentine, Andre Harris. He raised his eyebrow – impressed. All of her friends had recognizable names. My sister Trina went there as well – she was only a year ahead of me and so we spent more time together than I would have liked at the time."

"Bossy older sister?"

"Embarrassing older sister," Tori answered.

"What did you do after high school?" He asked. She froze and he immediately saw that he'd hit upon something. "I'm sorry – you don't have to – "

"It's okay," she answered with a tight smile. "It was going to come up sooner or later – its better sooner, I think." She sighed and looked out the window for a few minutes, gathering her words. How did you tell a stranger – a cute, funny, interesting, loveable stranger the things that she'd been through?

In the end, she simply went for the quick and dirty truth. "There's something I need to tell you. And it could mean that we never go on a date. Or it could mean that we go on two dates or four dates – but I just don't know what I can handle."

He looked concerned. "We don't have to go that far ahead – it's nice just spending time getting to know you."

She shook her head. "You should know this before you get involved. My life has been messy. And it's not fair to bring someone into that mess without a warning."

"You don't have to do this – " He could see that she was extremely nervous – and he hated seeing that in her. When she had been laughing, she had seemed to free and light – now she looked terrified. He hated being the one to have changed the conversation to a point that had caused that transformation.

"I think I want to," she said bravely. "And if you want to not get together after I tell you what happened – I understand. I won't hold it against you."

Freddie didn't answer the ludicrous offer because he couldn't imagine anything she could say making him want to walk away forever. He'd spent four weeks seeing her daily -and only one hour having more than just a passing, polite conversation with her – and he was hooked.

"Just after high school ended, my parents were killed in a car accident. It was really hard – my sister wasn't the sharing type. I was lucky to have my friends – but going into our freshman year in college – it was a lot for everyone." Freddy tried to break in to offer his condolences but she shook her head; if she stopped now – she might never start again.

"I was in college for three semesters when I was abducted from a walking trail near campus. The man kept me imprisoned for over three years. I wasn't the only one – there were at least two others in the house – but I was the only one to survive. He hurt me – in so many ways. He stole so much time. But at least he wasn't able to take my life. He tried though," she said with a slightly strangled laugh.

"Jade and Beck took me in when I was found. I went through years of therapy – I could barely walk – talking was hard. I didn't do a lot of things for myself. I was broken – pretty much as broken as a person can get, I think. But I was lucky – I had people who cared about me – people who loved me enough to push me when I would have been happy to curl up and die."

"I don't know her well," Freddie said carefully. "But from what I hear from the other teachers, that doesn't sound like something Mrs. Oliver would take well."

"No," Tori said with a small smile. "It is not. Jade can be very bossy – but she is also a remarkable human being – and an unbelievable friend. I only moved out of her house in the past seven months – it's still a work in progress." She was silent for a moment. "So now you see, why this is a bad idea?"

"No," Freddie said, shaking his head with a small, empathetic smile. "I see that you are a brave, amazing woman who has survived a horrible ordeal – who deserves to have only the best in her life. I can't promise I'm the best – but I try really hard. Just ask my mom."

Tori laughed and despite her desperate attempts to fight them, tears streamed to her eyes. She dried them quickly and shook her head. "I'm sorry – you're the first person I've ever told that to – outside of my friends and family – and that is not the reaction I was expecting."

"If you wanted to send me running, that isn't going to do it. If you want me to back off because you're not ready – I can do that. I can respect that. But if you don't want to see me because you think there's something wrong with you – well, I just can't accept that."

Tori was walking on air when she arrived back home. She went to the Oliver residence first and found Jade and Beck waiting for her in the living room, attempting to look preoccupied. She had a book – he had his PearPad – and the television was on silently in the background. Their attempts at looking busy felt short; they were clearly waiting for her. "Three hours for coffee?" Jade asked, dropping her book without marking the page. "You could have texted – " She didn't sound angry – just worried.

Beck cut off his wife as he took a look at Tori's expression. "You like him," he said with a growing smile.

"I think I do," Tori answered, nodding. "It's really terrifying – but I think I do."

After two more dates, Tori knew that there was something different about dating Freddie. The good kind of different. What, she couldn't quite pinpoint. But she knew that several things needed to be discussed before they continued to see one another. The day before their fourth outing, she called and invited him for coffee. He met her at a coffee shop near her neighborhood.

She smiled when she caught sight of him – he lit up – his entire expression changed when he saw her. And it happened every time. He was genuinely happy to see her – and he could do nothing to hide it from anyone.

"Hey," she said in greeting. "How are you?"

"Good," he said. "My fourth grade class was a little possessed today – but otherwise it was a good one. How about you?"

"I'm okay," Tori told him. "I tried to record a new song – it didn't work out." Her expression grew serious as she gathered her thoughts and tried to decide how she would present them. "I've been thinking – there are some things we should talk about before we decide to continue… this."

He nodded. "I understand. You start."

"I have Lily. I can't start any serious relationship with anyone who doesn't understand that she comes first – always."

"I wouldn't have it any other way," Freddie answered. "You are a great mom – Lily is an amazing kid. I have no intention of coming between the two of you."

"I have to talk to her about this," Tori told him. "And if she's not comfortable with it – I don't think I can see you anymore. She's been through too much to make her feel the least bit insecure about her place in my life."

Freddie bit his lip. "I can't say I favor that possibility, but I do understand. Just don't jump to any rush judgments. Lily might not be comfortable having me around at first – but we can always work on that."

"She was rescued from deplorable conditions – and she has a lot of special needs – she needs my attention a lot."

"I can understand that. And I can accept it," Freddie agreed. He smiled. "I am also a grown mad who doesn't need a lot of attention – just a tittle." Tori smiled. "Is that all? You scared." She nodded and he smiled. "Now, onto my concerns – "

Tori could see a twinkling in his eye, so she knew she was in for something he found amusing to share. "What might those be, Mr. Benson?"

"Well, Ms. Vega, my two best friends are girls – women, I guess, now. But we've been friends since we were kids – and several of my previous girlfriends were not always happy with the fact that Carly and Sam are like my family."

"I'm not the jealous type," Tori assured him.

"My additional friends are mostly weird," Freddie warned her.

"My friends are in show business. They are probably stranger. You have seen news coverage of Cat Valentine, right?" She teased. Freddie laughed. Tori had told him plenty about the lovable, brilliant, if also unique Cat Valentine.

"Last warning – my mother is insane. Like – OCD, overbearing, completely and utterly a nut-job."

"That's not nice to say about your mom!" Tori exclaimed, trying not to laugh at his delivery of the information. He had a thing for comedic timing.

"Oh, I love her," Freddie defended himself. "But she is absolutely a pain in the ass. I thought, while we were laying our cards on the table, I would just throw that one out there. Because she is a doozie." Tori had to laugh again – his expression, his tone of voice – even though she knew he was being honest, he had a way of making it light hearted. She needed that in her life.

The next morning, Tori invited Jade to lunch. The mother of three was easy to convince – she needed time away from her beauties – no matter how much she loved them. She and Tori went to a little hole-in-the-wall Italian place that they both loved and ordered an appetizer.

"So, what's up?" Jade asked her, after the waitress had gone. It wasn't that Tori didn't ever spend time with her – they spoke daily - but they rarely went on outings together without children, doctor's appointments, or other friends involved.

"Do you think it's okay, that I'm doing this?"

"It depends on what you're doing," Jade responded, eyeing Tori suspiciously. "I need a few more details. Are you planning to start stripping for a living? To sing country songs? To move? You are not allowed to move," Jade told her firmly.

"You know what I'm talking about," Tori said in an exasperated voice. "Dating Freddie!"

"Well, other than a grown man going by the name Freddie, I don't think there are any laws, ordinances, or social norms that make you dating him a problem."

Tori rolled her eyes. "Please be serious." Jade didn't always get to exercise her sarcasm, especially when the kids were around, so when she was let loose on her own, she could get carried away.

Jade smiled lightly and picked up a piece of bread from the basket on the table. "Tori, you can date. You don't need my permission – or anyone else's. If it feels right, then do it. You know what's best for you."

Tori's expression was still doubtful. It did feel right when she spent time with Freddie, but it felt wrong when she thought about her family and friends. About one person in particular. "I feel bad. Andre – "

Jade shook her head and interrupted. "Stop right there. No. You do not get to feel guilty. Andre has had the option to move on for years. I told him to move on. You have told him to move on. The fact that he chose not to is not your problem."

"But if I'm ready to date now – "

"You weren't ready to date until you met Freddie. That's a sign, Tori. It means that you've found a reason to be ready. So, no guilt. If Andre has a problem with this new turn of events – which I don't think he will – I'll take care of him."

Two days after her lunch with Jade, Tori walked into her appointment with Dr. Isabelle Greeley with a list of questions in her hand. The older woman might have been amused, but she respected Tori and remained professional, keeping the bemused expression to herself.

Tori told her long-time therapist about her three outings with this new person and Isabelle didn't try to hide her happiness. "Good for you, Tori. That's wonderful."

"What if I'm not ready?"

"You wouldn't have gone – and you wouldn't have had fun. I take it you had a nice time?" Tori nodded. "Then you were ready."

"Why can I open up to a stranger and tell him things that I couldn't share with my best friend?"

"I would guess, it has something to do with expectations. Someone new in your life isn't going to expect you to be anyone but who you are right now. I know you've always feared that Andre expects that you will one day be returned to the person you were before you were abducted. We are speaking of Andre, correct?" Tori nodded sheepishly – she should have just used names, Isabelle knew just about everything.

"You shouldn't feel guilty about being ready to move on with someone new. If anyone expects you to be anything other than who you are right now – you don't need them. That's not the kind of stress that anyone needs."

Tori spent the rest of the hour asking Isabelle about the progression of the relationship and how in the world she was supposed to explain any of this to her daughter. Apparently, Isabelle was intelligent – but no magician. Tori was still without some of her answers when she headed home.

That night, after Lily had her bath and was ready for bed, Tori curled under the covers with her and asked about her day. It was a routine – one that was followed usually by a book. Lily told her about her favorite parts of the day – and her least favorite parts. She did not appreciate the lima beans Jade had paired with dinner that evening, apparently. Tori smiled and agreed with her that they were not the most delicious vegetable.

"Lily, I need to talk to you about something." The little girl looked at her curiously; this was not a normal beginning to any conversation she usually had with her mother. "How would you feel if I dated someone?" Lily looked at her in confusion.

"A boy?"

Tori nodded. "Someone very nice – someone you know already. It wouldn't take away the time I have to spend with you. And maybe you might like to spend time with this person too."

"Maybe," Lily said tentatively. "Do you have to?"

"I don't have to," Tori answered. "And if you don't like him, I won't. But I'd like to try – because I think you will like him. I really like him."

"Who is it?"

"Mr. Benson." Lily smiled and then giggled.

"You like Mr. Benson?" It was a very typical second-grade type of answered.

"I do," Tori told her with a bright smile.

"Okay," Lily agreed. "We can try."

"We can try?"

"Yep." Tori smiled brighter. The child was picking up little bits of slang and vocabulary from her classmates and her cousin – she was certain 'yep' wasn't a word any of the speech therapists had introduced. Lily was coming into her own, in little steps that made her mother realize just how quickly time flew.

The followed Saturday, Tori asked Freddie if he wanted to go to the zoo – with her and Lily. He was happy to accept the invitation. Lily was also excited about the outing – she was more talkative than usual as she dressed and they ate breakfast together. The doorbell rang at ten o'clock and Lily ran for the door – but Tori stopped her.

"Look and see who it is first." The little girl, unable to fathom reaching the peephole, pushed back the curtain that covered the window beside the door, and saw that it was Mr. Benson.

"It's him – can I open it?" Tori nodded, smiling at her excitement, and Lily threw open the door.

"Hi," she said cheerfully.

"'Morning, Lily," he said with a smile. He knelt to her level and handed her a small bouquet of yellow and pink flowers. "These are for you and your mom – do you think you can give those to her?" Lily nodded and took the flowers, dashing the few feet to where Tori was standing.

"Thank you," Tori said, smiling at him over Lily's head. "Come on in, we'll put these in water and then we can go." He followed them to the kitchen and watched Lily find a glass vase and hand it to Tori, who filled it with water and quickly trimmed the flowers to fit. "Very pretty," Tori murmured.

The zoo was one of Lily's favorite places. Tori wasn't completely sure the roots of that favoritism – but she thought it had to do with the fact that the child spent a lot of time with Miss Violet Oliver – who also adored the zoo. Lily informed them, each step of the way, which were her favorite animals, and which were Violet's.

Freddie knew ridiculously random facts about the animals, which he used to amuse and entertain Lily. He even got her to pet a giraffe. Tori knew she had wanted to do it for a long time – but she was too afraid. With Freddie holding her up to the large animal, she somehow found the courage. Tori, of course, was on hand to take many pictures.

Jade, at home with her brood, was receiving running commentary and pictures from the outing. Unfortunately for her, Cat saw her phone – and was livid that she had been left out of a zoo trip. Jade had to promise her a trip the following weekend to get her to shut up before Violet overheard and joined in on the outrage.

Lily had an amazing time at the zoo. To Tori's horror – she even wandered away once or twice – something she never did. She always found her quickly, but she had to lay down the law after the second time – she held Tori's hand – or Freddie's hand – or they went home. Lily looked slightly taken aback at being scolded, but she agreed.

By the end of the afternoon, the eight year old was sleeping in Tori's arms. And she was growing heavier as they walked toward the entrance. "Let me take her for you."

Tori looked at Lily, then back at Freddie, before agreeing and handing her over. Lily woke up for a few seconds, yawned, and snuggled closer to him. "Clearly she'd not worried," Tori said as she tried to hide her smile.

Too fast? Just fast enough? Favorite parts? Least favorite parts? Anything that made you smile or laugh? Please review :-)