DISCLAIMER: South of Nowhere and its characters are the property of The N network, no infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: 'Say it isn't so' & 'What Just Happened'

Circle Dream
By LN James


She was drowning, maybe in water, maybe in space. All she knew was that it was vast and dark with little specks of light. She couldn't tell if they were close by or far away, not that it mattered. Her limbs were heavy, sinking into nothingness. As her mind vaguely wondered whether anyone would ever find her, wherever she was, she felt a nudge against her arm. In what seemed like slow-motion, she turned towards a dim light dancing besider her. She could feel it and hear it more than she could see it. It felt warm.

Spencer awoke abruptly to a struggle next to her, Ashley twisting away in the bed, her arms violently pushing off the covers. Blinking away the dream, Spencer cautiously leaned over, trying to hear Ashley as she mumbled incoherently. But she couldn't make out the words. Reaching across, she gently pressed her hand against Ashley's shoulder, trying to still her movements. "Shhhh, relax…just relax."

With a jerk, Ashley cringed away, her voice desperate and low, "No, no...stop..stop, don't..."

Concerned, Spencer shifted up in bed and reached again towards Ashley. She was clearly still dreaming and distraught. This time, Ashley leaned up a little and grabbed Spencer's arm to push it away, her eyes wild and unfocused, "Paige?"

Spencer's brow creased and she backed away a little. Her soft voice carried in the space between them, "No, it's me -- Spencer..it's me."

It took a few seconds, but Ashley blinked, now awake, and let out a shaky breath before falling back down to bed, throwing her arm across her eyes. "Oh God..."

Leaning over again, Spencer tentatively brushed the sweat-soaked hair off of Ashley's face, dark strands of curls falling messily across pillow-white. When she had walked into the room earlier that night, she tried not to think about what Ashley and that girl – Paige, it seemed -- were doing before she arrived. She was not that naïve. She knew it would hurt Ashley, going out with Aiden, but in her mixed up state of mind, she had tried to justify it as one last ditch attempt at "normalcy". She failed, miserably, yes. But she tried and now two people – Ashley and Aiden – were caught in the middle of her own personal struggles. She was learning that other people were just as fragile as she was and she would need to minimize the casualties and damage she inflicted. Spencer's compassion was a constant.

But something was off. Call it intuition, the way a niggling thought surfaced and her mind put together pieces of a puzzle she was just now sorting out. She looked over at Ashley, awake, rapid breaths slowing down. And then she looked more closely. A bottle of vodka on the nightstand. Other stuff nearby. A light bruise just barely visible on her upper arm. And there, a red scratch. The half-coherent struggle she just witnessed. Ashley's words -- desperate, scared? Closing her eyes, Spencer took a deep breath.

With a whisper, she gently pulled Ashley's arm from her face, "What did she do to you, Ash?"

And there, she saw it. The look on Ashley's face was all the answer she needed. It was wounded, vulnerable, and held the truth of what happened. It spoke of struggle and helplessness, pleading and regret.

It was a rare glimpse of the girl who never showed weakness, who was stronger than anyone she had ever met. Spencer had just assumed that Ashley could handle it all, could take care of herself. Probably most times she could, but tonight, with her defenses down, someone else took advantage. And Spencer couldn't help but feel like she was partly responsible. She was like Ashley's kryptonite, weakening her and leaving her vulnerable to the villains that circled, waiting.

Ashley closed her eyes and rolled towards Spencer, her hands reaching out to touch and find her. "Don't leave me."

The whisper and plea was so soft, Spencer almost didn't hear it. But there was no mistaking the tone. She wasn't about to let go now so she pulled Ashley against her, letting the dark haired girl rest her head on her shoulder, holding her tight. There would be time enough to talk through this another day. Right now, she focused on timing her breaths to Ashley's, praying for the peace of dreamless sleep to come.

The next morning, she woke to the sun in her eyes and she blinked. Next to her, Ashley's sleeping form was solid and real, her face in gentle repose. In that moment, Spencer vowed never to let anyone, including herself, hurt Ashley again if she could help it. She could be strong too. Reaching out, she couldn't help but let her fingers gently stroke across Ashley's brow.

Maybe falling in love felt a little like this night: Conflicted, intense, scary...but so so worth it.

With a little start, Ashley's eyes opened and Spencer pulled her hand back, hesitant, suspended in air. Ashley's voice was sleep-worn and tired, "Are you ok?"

Spencer gave her a slight smile, tucking her hand under her chin, "Yeah, are you?"

In those few seconds, as she watched Ashley shift to sit up in bed, she knew that no matter the answer, they were now in this together. She could no longer disentangle or deny. It wasn't going to be easy, but Spencer decided in that very moment that she'd rather drown in the unpredictable sea that was Ashley than drift alone in the dark. It all clicked into place, everything, in those very few unremarkable miliseconds. Funny how that happens.

The End

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