DISCLAIMER: Not mine. Never were. Not making any $$. Don't HAVE any $$. Don't sue.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: My first SoN fic. I haven't seen all the episodes; so, bear with me while I learn the characters.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: All but mostly 'Friends with Benefits'.

Down to One
By Aeryn Sun



"Dad!" Spencer called, rushing through the door of his office. Arthur looked up from his mountain of paperwork at his daughter as she burst into the room like a small blonde whirlwind. Her hair was disheveled and there was a bright red mark on the side of her face.

"Spencer, what's wrong? Are you alright?" he rose from his desk as his daughter came around it. He was immediately alarmed by the waves of fear and uneasiness rolling from the young girl. She was kinetically frantic, which was a rarity for someone as calm as Spencer usually was.

She grabbed him by the arm, twisting the material of his shirt in her hand as she tugged.

"Please, come quick," she begged, pulling him out the door of his office and towards the parking lot. She ignored the confused looks from the rest of the staff and visitors in the office, desperate to get her father to the car.

Arthur followed his obviously upset daughter out the door and over to Ashley's car which was parked haphazardly in a handicapped spot.

"Spencer, what's wrong? Is it Ashley?" he asked, growing more and more concerned. He knew that if Ashley were truly hurt, Spencer would have taken the girl to the hospital instead. So he wasn't completely sure what she needed him for.

Spencer ripped open the back door and Arthur saw the brunette curled up on the backseat, rocking and whimpering. He immediately leaned into the car and checked on the upset girl.

"I can't get her to talk to me, Dad," Spencer explained in a rush, tears rolling down her cheeks. "I had trouble getting her to the car. Now she just keeps rocking and crying and I'm so scared…"

Arthur looked at the traumatized brunette, seeing dark bruises forming and a few scrapes on her face and exposed skin. Fearing the absolute worst in terms of an attack on the young girl, he turned back to his daughter.

"Spencer, you have to calm down," he said gently. She was of no use to him if she descended into hysteria which he could see brewing in her stormy blue eyes.

"Who did this to her? Tell me everything; she may need to go to the hospital."

"We were…" Spencer bit her lip, wondering exactly how honest she should be. But her father already knew about the relationship between her and Ashley and was supported it so she figured that the truth would best suit her.

"We were in bed…relaxing," she pointed out, feeling herself blush hot despite the actual innocence of that morning. "And her mother came in and totally flipped out. She started screaming and saying mean things…Ashley was trying to calm her down and then she called me a whore and Ashley got upset and yelled back. And then…then…"

Arthur frowned. He could guess the rest. He had had his suspicions about Ashley's home life since almost day one. A person doesn't spend as much time working in the field he did and not learn to read certain signs in people. He had just hoped for Ashley's sake as well as Spencer's that he was wrong.

"Ashley, honey, it's Arthur Carlin. Can you hear me?" he asked gently, looking over her injuries. She was in rough shape and Arthur felt his own rage at Ashley's mother rise within him. He pushed it down so that he could deal with the matter at hand.

He brushed at Ashley's forehead, seeing scrapes and bruises forming. Ashley whimpered loudly at him when he got too close and curled into a smaller ball on the seat.

"Spencer, go around to the other side and sit next to her." Spencer nodded and did as her father instructed. She climbed in and wrapped her arms around her girlfriend. Ashley's cries settled down and she relaxed marginally.

"OK, Spencer, she's withdrawn to protect herself. She obviously trusts you and will stay calm if you're there. So let me go grab my things and I'll drive around until she settles down," he said calmly. He hoped that all Ashley needed to snap out of her state was time and Spencer.

"Should we take her to the hospital?" Spencer wondered, tucking some stray hair behind Ashley's ear, feeling the girl burrow into her embrace, as if seeking to hide which Spencer really couldn't blame her for. All she herself really wanted to do was curl up in the corner and cry until she passed out. Either that or she wanted someone to hold her and tell her that everything was going to be all right. But she knew that she had to do that for Ashley right now; later there would be time for Spencer herself to break down.

Arthur shrugged.

"If she's not badly hurt, I'd like to hold off and bring her back out ourselves, hon. I don't think Ashley would enjoy a stay in a psych ward and that's a possibility if we take her in unresponsive like this." Spencer hugged Ashley tighter and shook her head.

"No, I don't want that for her either," she agreed. She clung tightly to Ashley who whimpered and hiccupped.

"I'll be right back," Arthur promised. He shut the door and hurried into the building to get his things. Spencer rocked along with Ashley in the backseat, softly talking and cooing in her girlfriend's ear.

"Oh baby, why didn't you ever say anything?" she wondered sadly. "I would have taken you away from all that, I swear I would have. I just want to take care of you and be there for you. I know that no one ever has been before. I want to change that. I'm here for you, Ashy. Please calm down and come back to me."

Arthur returned and climbed into the car.

"I'm just going to drive around for a while and see if you can get her to respond, Spencer, OK?" he saw his daughter nod in the backseat. He started the car and began driving aimlessly around town, asking Spencer questions and praying that he was right and Ashley would snap out of her present state soon.

"Her mother did this, honey?" Again, Spencer nodded. "I think we should call the police…"

"I think so too but I don't wanna do anything without talking to Ashley first," Spencer explained.

"All right," Arthur sighed, his instincts telling him that it was the wrong decision but not wanting to argue the point and add to the already heavy load on the teen's shoulders. "Tell me exactly what Ashley did when her mother hit her." He wanted to get a clearer picture of the situation. Spencer sighed and hugged the trembling and quiet girl closer.

"She curled up into a little ball, started crying and begging her to stop," Spencer explained, her voice tired and stressed. "It was so horrible, Dad, listening to her cry and scream like that, begging her 'mommy' not to beat her." Spencer was nearly sobbing as told her father the whole gruesome story.

"But that only seemed to piss Mrs. Davies off more. Then I tried to stop her and she went to hit me and Ashley screeched. It made her mother stop…" Arthur nodded.

"She was protecting you in her own way. Spencer, you do understand that this has no doubt been going on for years?" he asked gently. Spencer nodded as tears streamed down her face unchecked.

"Yeah. But Dad, how can someone do something like this? How can a parent do this to their child?" Arthur shrugged.

"I can't even begin to fathom it, Spencer. And I see it everyday at work. It still boggles my mind each and every time I come face to face with it. I'm just so sorry that Ashley's been going through this…" he sighed. He mentally berated himself for not acting on his suspicions.

"I should have talked to her, Spencer," he said sadly. "I was afraid that there was something in her home life like this. If I had maybe taken her aside and talked to her…"

"She would have denied it and possibly pulled away from me, Dad," Spencer said quietly. "You know how she is about her parents." Arthur looked at Spencer in the rear view mirror and nodded.

"I know. But I should have warned you at least, on what to look out for with Ashley, maybe…"

"Dad," Spencer said, a small chuckle coloring her voice despite the gravity of the situation. "It's my job as the girlfriend to be consumed with guilt. Not yours."

"Well, as the father of the girlfriend," Arthur retorted in the same tone. "I hereby stake my claim to a fair amount of blame and guilt."

"Hear that, Ashley? Dad and I are arguing over the stupidest thing but, we care so much about you," she whispered in Ashley's ear as the brunette lay in her arms, still hiccupping and grasping Spencer's shirt. "Do you see? We love you and want to help you. You're safe."

"That's it, Spence," Arthur nodded. "Keep talking to her like that; she'll come around."



"I'm sorry," a weak voice broke through the silence of the car much later after a quick stop for gas and coffee. Spencer looked down at the girl in her arms to see Ashley's eyes shut and quiet tears slipping past the closed lids. She hugged Ashley, happy to hear her voice.

"You have nothing to apologize for, Ash," she whispered back. Ashley's eyes fluttered open, her watery chocolate gaze settling on calm blue. Ashley reached out a shaking hand and stroked the side of Spencer's face, tracing lightly over the bright red mark there.

"She hit you," she said remorsefully, her voice scratchy and hoarse. "She shouldn't have done that. I'm the one who was wrong, not you." Spencer felt rage at the fact that Mrs. Davies had twisted Ashley's perceptions so badly.

"She had no right to hit either of us, Ash. But especially you." Ashley shrugged and curled back up into Spencer's arms.

"It's ok," the brunette mumbled. "It's not a big deal." Spencer caught her father's eyes in the rearview mirror, his expression sad and knowing. He'd seen too many children like Ashley in his line of work, knew that Ashley's mother had undoubtedly trained Ashley to feel that her mother's violence was somehow justified. It sickened him.

Day after day from behind his desk, Arthur dealt with children, families like Ashley's, always thanking God that his children had the good lives that they had and no knowledge of the darker side of humanity. His children were never beaten out of spite, despite Paula's recent actions. The Carlin children had grown up surrounded only by love and kindness, not hate and anger.

As he drove, Arthur silently mourned for the childhood that Ashley obviously was never allowed to have, lost because of her mother's selfishness and rage and her father's apparent ignorance. He didn't believe that a musician as famous as Danger Davies would have left his child in the care of someone who beat her if he was aware of the situation. He also mourned for the piece of innocence Spencer had lost that day, having to face the truth of her girlfriend's abusive home life.

Until then, it had simply been an abstract concept, something that happened on TV movies or to someone else; a friend of a friend's cousin or that sort of thing. But here it was, big as life, right in Spencer's lap in the form of a huddled, shaking and weeping brown-eyed girl whom Spencer loved and adored. It was no longer an illusion but instead a frightening, stark reality and Arthur knew that the ripple effect of that day was going to affect a lot more people than Spencer realized.

But still, that was somewhat in the future and for now he had an injured and frightened teenage girl to take care of. Never one to turn away someone in need of help, Arthur quickly knew what he was going to do to help Ashley in the situation.

"We're going to take you back to our house, Ashley," he informed her. Ashley picked her head up and looked at him, eyes wide. "Paula's not there." Arthur knew what that last frightened look was about and it turned his stomach to think that his own wife also instilled a deep rooted fear in the abused teen.

"She won't be happy," the bruised girl pointed out.

"That's my problem, Ashley. Let me worry about her," Arthur said gently. Ashley shook her head. "You can stay with us, with Spencer until we figure out what to do next."

"No, no, you can just take me home," she argued softly, sipping the water Spencer had gotten for her earlier. "My Mom should be out with whatever boy toy she's reeled in this week or passed out by now. She won't even realize I'm there. Hell she probably won't even remember…earlier."

"Ashley, please let us take care of you, protect you," Spencer implored.

"I don't wanna be a bother or cause trouble in your house," Ashley complained. She knew that Paula would hit the roof, bounce a few times and then turn on Spencer and her father. She didn't want to be the source of anymore strife in Spencer's family. Honestly she just wanted to fade away and never bother anyone again.

Arthur shook his head.

"You are neither of those things, Ashley. And I am not taking you back to that house. What I should do is call the police…" Ashley bolted upright in Spencer's arms.

"No! Don't! You can't, she'll kill me!" The abject terror in Ashley's voice made Spencer nauseas. She wrapped her arms around Ashley's waist and hugged her.

"Ashley, please calm down," she pleaded as Ashley twisted and thrashed in her arms.

"No! You can't tell anyone, please," Ashley begged, tears rolling down her face. "You don't know what she's like, what she'll do if you get the police. You can't tell. Please!"

"All right, Ashley," Arthur agreed reluctantly. He wanted to do something to stop Ashley from feeling the horrible terror that he could see on her face in the mirror. Her words frightened him and filled him with a creeping sense of dread.

"I suppose it's your decision to make. But you are coming home with us, end of story." Ashley nodded and let Spencer pull her back down. She turned and burrowed her face in Spencer's neck, thick hot tears still dripping from red rimmed eyes. Spencer ran her hand through soft brown hair, seeking to soothe.

"Ashley?" she called softly a few minutes later, caressing Ashley's face with her other hand. Ashley's eyes opened slowly, glassy and shaded with a hint of pain that wasn't purely physical glinting behind them. "Baby, I wish you'd told me…" Ashley sighed and closed her eyes again, putting her head back under Spencer's chin.

"Wouldn't have changed it or made it any better," Ashley mumbled darkly. Spencer opened her mouth to respond but saw her father shaking his head in the mirror.

'Not now', he mouthed into the reflection. Spencer nodded, understanding that right now wasn't the best time to discuss the incident with Ashley. It was still too raw, too fresh for an objective view.

Ashley fell into a fitful sleep shortly after that as Arthur drove them home. He took Ashley from Spencer and carried her carefully upstairs to his daughter's room, ignoring the confused looks on his son's faces. He set her on the bed and turned to Spencer.

"Get her settled while I go make a few calls."



Ashley woke up a few hours later, confused and in pain. She fought with the blankets, not knowing where she was, panic fueling her actions and building her into an extreme panic attack. Her breath started to catch as she began to hyperventilate and she cried out in fear. She continued to thrash about until a calming voice and familiar scent reached her.

"Shh, Ashley, it's ok. You're safe," Spencer's soft tones floated to her ears and she instantly calmed down, breathing in Spencer's scent. Gentle hands helped to unwrap her from the tangle of blankets and then gathered her into a careful hug.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, her throat raw from screaming and crying. She swallowed thickly, wincing at the pain. Wordlessly, a cold water bottle was pressed to her lips and she gratefully drank from it. It chased away some of the scratchy feeling as she drank.

"Not too much, you'll make yourself sick," Spencer warned lovingly. She took the bottle away and brushed Ashley's unruly brown hair from her face. She swallowed the sigh that threatened to escape her as she looked upon the bruises and scrapes now marring her girlfriend's beautiful face. She ran her fingertips over the marks.

"Is it bad?" Ashley wondered, lifting her hand to cover Spencer's. Their hands instinctually wrapped around the other, each girl drawing silent strength from the contact. Blue eyes looked at her full of love and sorrow.

"I'm afraid so, baby," Spencer admitted. "You've got a black eye for starters. A couple of scrapes on your cheek and forehead. Come on, Ash, let's get you out of those clothes and see what other damage was done." Ashley nodded reluctantly and moved to pull her shirt off. Pain raced through her body, making her freeze in place with a whimper.

"Here, let me help," Spencer offered. She lifted the shirt over Ashley's head and looked at the bruises that were forming on the normally smooth tan skin. She sighed, again running careful fingers over the angry red welts. She used the alcohol pads from her nearby first aid kit, grabbed from the closet while Ashley had slept, and wiped away some dried blood from various scrapes along the skin. She paused at a vivid odd shaped bruise on Ashley's spine.

"Did she do this?" she asked. Ashley thought for a moment, the entire incident with her mother nothing more than a jumbled blur and shook her head.

"No, I don't think so," she rasped, her voice letting her know it didn't appreciate all the screaming she'd done recently. She coughed to try and clear it before continuing. "I think I got that one when Glen pushed me into the lockers."

Ashley's voice was so flat, so devoid of emotion and matter-of-fact that Spencer felt her stomach turn. It was a side of the older girl she had never seen before and Spencer decided immediately that she didn't like it. Ashley was becoming cold and distant, leaving Spencer unsure how to reach her again. She said nothing, letting her anger at her brother's behavior simmer on a back burner until she could get to it later, and continued examining Ashley's body.

Ashley flinched and bit her lip to keep from whimpering as Spencer touched her, the areas where she was struck by her mother starting to throb painfully. It had been years since her mother last beat her like this, every inch of skin sore and painful. Her chest hurt, she figured from some of the kicks she vaguely remembered taking in the sternum, and her ribs ached on her sides. She glanced down as Spencer examined her, seeing the myriad of colored bruises that were only going to get uglier by morning combined with dried blood of scrapes that Spencer was diligently cleaning. She suddenly felt ugly, disfigured and moved her arms to hide herself.

"Can I have a shirt, Spence?" she asked quietly, hating the vulnerable and timid tone to her own voice. Spencer's beautiful blue eyes drifted up to meet her own but Ashley looked away, not able to face the pity she knew would be behind those shining orbs.

"I just wanna make sure you don't have any broken ribs or need stitches anywhere," Spencer explained kindly. Ashley found herself soothed by Spencer's voice but still felt exposed and raw.

"Please, Spencer, I don't…I don't want you seeing me like this," she whispered, the words getting stuck in her throat. A gentle but firm grasp on her chin brought her face up to look into Spencer's. She braced herself to see the 'poor pitiful Ashley' look on Spencer's face, gasping slightly when all she was faced with was fathomless love and concern.

"Baby, you are still beautiful to me," Spencer whispered, leaning forward and placing a soft, barely there kiss to Ashley's slightly split lip. Ashley felt something inside her crack and suddenly her eyes filled with tears. She looked at Spencer, seeing her salvation, her safety in the other girl and fell forward into her, sobbing.

"She beat me…" she whimpered. "My mom beat me…"

Spencer hugged her as tight as she dared, not wanting to hurt Ashley any further but understanding that she needed the strength and comfort she could offer. The smaller frame burrowed into her, clutching the shirt Spencer was wearing tightly in her hands, twisting it in her fists and pulling Spencer impossibly closer. Her hot tears burned at Spencer's chest but she ignored it and the emotional pain it caused her to know Ashley was hurting.

(I have to be strong for her) Spencer knew. She wanted to cry, scream, rage at the unfairness and inherent wrongness of the situation but couldn't afford herself the luxury; not now, not until Ashley was stronger and Spencer could have a moment to herself. She knew that if she took the time to think about the situation, her anger at Mrs. Davies would consume her and she needed to focus on Ashley instead.

"Ssssh, Ash," Spencer cooed lightly running her hands up and down the older girl's trembling back. "You're safe here, you're safe with me. I'll never hurt you. I'll take care of you. I'm never letting that evil woman hurt you again, baby. I promise."

"Spencer…am I a bad person…I don't understand…" Ashley bawled. "My moth..er…hates me…" All the years of pent up confusion suddenly spilled from Ashley in a great torrent of pain, bewilderment and tears.

"No, baby, no," Spencer whispered into Ashley's ear. "You're not a bad person. You're sweet and gentle and smart. This is all your mother's problem. She's not right, Ashley. She doesn't hate you; she just doesn't know how to be a mother. It's not you, honey. Honest."

"It must be me, Spencer," Ashley wailed. "I'm bad! BAD!" Ashley no longer made sense as she kept rambling; Spencer was only able to gleam pieces of her distress here and there but could do nothing more than rock the distraught girl and utter words of reassurance, safety and love until finally spent, Ashley fell asleep again, still clutching Spencer desperately.

Spencer lay back down on the bed, taking Ashley with her and tried to relax. Her body was wound up tight, anger and grief for Ashley warring within her. She knew she wasn't going to get much sleep that night. Instead, she settled herself down to watch over Ashley's slumbering form.



"You told your mother that you loved me," Spencer said proudly later when Ashley awoke in a calmer state. She was holding Ashley tightly in her arms, careful not to hold too tight and irritate the bruises that Ashley's mother had inflicted. Ashley nodded against the chest she was snuggled up against.

"Yeah," she agreed, silently thinking. She really was starting to think that she was almost there, almost ready to admit out loud what she and Spencer already knew in their hearts; she loved Spencer Carlin, as in was in love with. But flashes from her childhood, moments when those words were thrown at her as an afterthought as a way to soothe her pain filled her mind along with her mother's most recent incident. Love was rarely said alongside a hug or kiss on the forehead from her parents; instead her memories of the word 'love' were accompanied by tears.

"You know, you did tell me that you loved me once," Spencer pointed out as they lay together in a tangle of limbs and shared heartbeats, unaware of Ashley's mental wrestling. Tilting her head up to look at her face, Ashley frowned.

"I did?" She searched her memory but could only come up with small incidences before they were dating where she'd said something like 'that's why I love you'. But then it wasn't meant the way Spencer meant it. At least not that Ashley was completely aware of at the time.

She wanted to tell Spencer everything, all of her past and the truth about her childhood. But she was so ashamed, so embarrassed by it that she couldn't find the words. She was desperately afraid that Spencer would be disgusted and turn away from her.

"Spencer," she began. She wanted to say it; oh how she wanted to say it so badly. She knew now, as she lay in Spencer's arms, the blonde helping to soothe the pain, physical and mental, inflicted that morning by her mother and having seen her mother's version of love and experienced Spencer's that she loved Spencer. She knew the difference, she knew what 'love' was now, understood the true meaning of it. It was what she felt for, and received, from Spencer.

But right now, with her dark past rearing its ugly head, she wasn't sure where she stood with Spencer; especially once the gentle blonde found out the whole truth. Ashley was no fool; she knew that eventually Spencer would learn the truth. Either she would finally gather the strength to tell her herself or someone that knew, someone she had once trusted with the knowledge, someone like Madison, would tell Spencer. Then Ashley would not only have to deal with Spencer knowing, but with fixing, if she could, the repercussions of yet another withheld truth.

"Yeah, ya did," the blonde teased, watching her girlfriend's face scrunch up in concentration and dark thought. "It's ok if you don't remember. I had kinda forgotten until just now myself."

"OK," Ashley said quietly. "When was it?"

"The night I watched over you at your father's," Spencer clarified. "You were drunk and falling asleep. I'd curled up against your back and told you that I loved you as I drifted off. I hadn't expected you to hear me, let alone answer. But you did." Ashley smiled up at her.

"Yeah leave it to my inebriated mind to speak the truth," she laughed; the thought of a drink, or rather several drinks to chase away her hurt and pain was sounding better with each passing moment. She liked the thought of curling up inside the bottom of a bottle of vodka or the like, wash away everything going on and numb herself to the outside world.

"I'm not fishing for you to say it, Ash," Spencer whispered, kissing Ashley on the forehead. "I just wanted to tell you that I already know you do; the words aren't necessary." Ashley pulled away slightly, biting down on a pain-filled gasp that the motion caused.

"That's just it, Spencer, it is necessary," she protested. "You deserve to be with someone who can say those things to you, be all there with you without things like…like what you saw today hiding in the shadows. You deserve better." She pushed away again only to find Spencer's grip on her solid and unyielding.

"Don't you dare," Spencer grumbled hotly. Ashley froze in place. "Don't you dare pull away from me now, Ashley Nicole Davies. Don't you dare sell yourself and me short by running away. I deserve a hell of a lot more credit than that." Spencer's voice was hurt and somewhat angry. Ashley immediately hated herself for upsetting the gentle girl who only ever wanted to love her and help her.

"Spencer, you don't understand…" she started.

"Because you won't give me a chance to," Spencer broke in, her voice rising slightly. Ashley hunched forward into herself, ready to hear whatever Spencer was going to say and knowing that she deserved the blonde's anger.

(I'm such a fuck up) she lamented. (I can't do anything right)

"You keep running from me, hiding pieces of yourself where I can't reach them and then have the audacity to tell me that I don't understand? Ashley…" she sighed, running a hand through her hair and trying to calm down. She could tell by Ashley's body language that she was scaring her and that was something she never wanted to do. Ashley's head was hung forward and her shoulders rolled; the same position she had been in right before Mrs. Davies struck her. She looked like she was just waiting for Spencer to hit her.

(My poor baby) she thought sadly. (So defeated. Getting angry at her for trying to pull away to protect herself isn't going to help. I need to calm down)

"Ashley, you're right, I don't understand," Spencer admitted, calmer. She gathered Ashley back into her arms and pulled her close again. "I don't understand how your mother could ever raise her hand to you like that. And not just once but I guess for your entire life. I don't understand how someone so sweet and loving could come from such a cold and angry home. But you did, Ashley. You survived it and you are nothing like that woman." Ashley shook her head.

"You don't know that," she countered. "I'm a lot like her."

"No, no you're not," Spencer assured her. "The only similarity I see is that you both rely on alcohol too much. You are in no way the same angry, abusive, selfish, narrow-minded…"

"Wow, you really don't like her," Ashley sniffled. A small smile tugged at the corners of Spencer's lips, relief that Ashley was joking with her rushing through her.

"Of course I don't," she retorted, bitterness creeping into her tone and chasing away the fleeting smile. Flashes of what had happened only hours before were playing out behind her eyes, Ashley cringing on the floor in pain, begging the older woman to stop. The fear and horror that she had felt as a witness still fresh, leaving a sour taste in her mouth.

"I hate her for what she's done for you; what she's been doing for you," she finished in a growl. She felt Ashley shiver against her. "Ash, why…"

"Because there was nothing you could do," Ashley cut her off, pulling away and laying down on her side, her back to Spencer. "There's nothing anyone can do. Still isn't. It's how she's always been. Telling you would have only made it worse. I never meant for you to see it."

Spencer felt her heart plummet to her feet. The hollow defeated tone to Ashley's voice disgusted her and left her momentarily speechless.

(She thinks she deserves it!) Spencer realized, shocked. (God, what kind of monster is her mother to twist Ashley around like this? To think that she deserves to be beaten and abused?)

"I was gonna move out and away from her when I turned eighteen. I get part of my trust fund then and I would have had money of my own to live on and I never would have had to ask her for anything ever again. She never would have been able to do…anything ever again."

"She never will, Ashley," Spencer said firmly. "I swear to you; she will never lay a hand on you again."



Neither girl attended school the next day, Arthur calling them both out to the school's office and letting them spend the day relaxing. Ashley was more interested in sleeping than anything else so Spencer let her doze and went down to get them something to eat. She was surprised to see her father sitting at the kitchen table with some paperwork. He looked up at her when she entered and offered an understanding smile, which she returned before opening the fridge to hunt for a snack.

"I called and explained the situation to your mother," he said softly. Spencer nodded without turning around. That was a conversation that she was glad she wasn't privy to.

"She isn't happy with Ashley being in the house," he continued, remembering the fuming anger and annoyance conveyed by his wife over the connection. But even she couldn't turn the teen away given the circumstances. She did ask Arthur to put her in a separate room. He not so politely refused.

"I'm not surprised," Spencer mumbled, settling on making some eggs for herself and Ashley. "What did you tell Clay and Glen?"

"I told them that Ashley had gotten into a fight at a club and was going to be recovering here at the house," Arthur told her. "I understand that Ashley doesn't want too many people to know the truth."

"Yeah," Spencer sighed. She started cooking the eggs and turned to face her father. "What are we going to do?"

For a moment, Arthur saw the frightened and confused young woman that was truly behind his daughter's stoic façade. He knew that she was trying to be strong for her girlfriend but also that there was going to come a moment when Spencer was going to crack. He hoped that it was now, sooner rather than later, so that she could indeed focus on giving Ashley the support and understanding that she needed.

"Sit," he directed, motioning to a chair. Spencer looked back at the frying eggs. "Turn them off, they can wait." Nodding, she did as he said and then flopped down into a chair. She looked so confused and lost that his heart broke all over again for her.

"Spencer, you know that it's going to take a while for Ashley to recover," he said gently. "And I don't just mean from the injuries her mother inflicted. I mean recover from everything." Spencer nodded again, mutely sitting and listening to her father.

"And that she can not go back to that house to live," he added. Spencer shook her head.

"No, never," she whispered. "I'm not letting her go back there…not letting that evil bitch lay a hand on her ever again. God, I wanna hurt that woman…"

"Spencer…" Arthur started. Spencer shot up out of her chair, wrapping her arms around herself and beginning to pace.

"No, Dad," she snapped. "Don't you just sit there and tell me that I shouldn't feel this way; that I shouldn't want to make her feel the same way Ashley does. I know that it's wrong but it's how I feel. You haven't seen the marks on Ashley's body, didn't see the panic and terror when her mother hit her, didn't hear her screaming…I don't think I'm ever going to be able to forget that sound…"

"Spencer, honey, calm down," Arthur tried. Spencer's motions became more frantic.

"Calm down? How the hell am I supposed to be calm?" Her voice started to rise in pitch as she spoke. Arthur, knowing that this was the blonde's breaking point, decided to let her go. It was what she needed.

"I can't believe that this is happening," Spencer went on. "How can her own mother hit her, kick her like that? And it's not just a one time thing. And why didn't Ashley say anything? Why did she stay there? Why didn't she ask me for help?"

"Where the hell is her father? Does he know? I mean, how can he know and let poor Ashley stay there? What kind of idiot is he?" She ran her hands through her hair, pulling slightly. "God it's not fair! I wanna make that woman hurt for this, make her pay!"

She finally looked at her father, sitting there patiently listening to her, waiting for her to get it all out of her system.

"Dad…I just don't understand…" she said, her anger quickly draining back to confusion and grief. She sat back down, the tears she had been trying not to give into for Ashley's sake, falling unchecked. Arthur got up and walked over to hug his distraught daughter.

"I don't understand it either, Spencer," he whispered. "I don't know why anyone would want to hurt their child the way Ashley's mother has. But I am willing to bet that Danger Davies has no idea; so don't blame him. Ashley didn't tell you, maybe she didn't tell him."

"If he wasn't so absent," Spencer rasped as she cried. "He would have been there to stop it. Ashley wouldn't have had to put up with this for…oh god…years…" She finally broke down all the way, burying her face in her hands and sobbing. Arthur felt powerless to do anything other than hold her.

"Sssh, honey, it's going to be all right," he soothed. "You know now…we know now and can do something to help her." Spencer sniffled and lifted her head from her father's chest.

"What? What can we do?" she asked. "We can't change it or erase it…" Arthur shook his head.

"No, Spencer, we can't," he agreed. "All we can do now is help Ashley get through this. She's going to need you."

"Yeah, but," Spencer began, wiping at the tears on her cheeks. "Where do we start?"

It was a valid question and one that Arthur had already started working on answering. It was one of the reasons why he wasn't at work, along with his desire to be there for his daughter and her girlfriend. He'd already made a few surreptitious phone calls and gotten things in motion.

"Well, first we need to get some of Ashley's things from the house," he explained. "I already called the house and talked to one of the staff, Sabrina, about that. She said to get a list together and call her back; she'd gather it up for us. She also said that Mrs. Davies took off for the East Coast earlier so she wasn't around."

"Did Sabrina know about the abuse?" Spencer wondered, angry that perhaps she did but did nothing to help.

"Not outright, no," Arthur told her. "She did say that Mrs. Davies changes staff several times a year and while there have been rumors among the revolving staff, no one knew for sure. She seemed pretty upset when I told her that something had happened. I didn't tell her exactly what but she guessed pretty accurately."

It took a few minutes for the information to sink in for Spencer. All the clues to Ashley's childhood had been there and now everything was making more and more sense. She hated that she hadn't pieced it together before now and been able to prevent this last incident. She sat there thinking, not realizing that her father had gotten up and started cooking the eggs again.

"Where is she going to stay?" she asked when she finally looked up again.

"For right now? Here. I'm not going to let her go back to that house no matter what she says about it," he said firmly. He knew that in too many cases of child abuse, the child would return to the home and something worse would end up happening. He was not going to let Ashley become another sad statistic.

"Thanks, Dad," Spencer said honestly, hugging her father again. He kissed the top of her head and went back to the food.

"I'll get Ashley to make a list of what she wants from the house after we eat and then give it to you, OK?" Arthur nodded.

"It's not going to be easy, is it?" Spencer asked after a pause.

"No, Spencer, no it's not," he agreed. "But we will get her through it. You will get through it. One step at a time."

To Be Continued

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