DISCLAIMER: South of Nowhere and its characters are the property of The N network, no infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This started as a 'get-well' one shot for Clomle and well, took on a life of its own.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Aeryn Sun


Part Four

They enjoyed a nice, calm breakfast, the conversation flowing easily without many hitches other than when Kyla put her foot in her mouth and Ashley accused her of having an acute case of 'verbal diarrhea' which Spencer found hilarious. They then decided that since it was nice out with a bit of wind that they'd try to fly kites out on the beach near the house. That led to many uproarious laughs as Kyla couldn't get her kite up off the ground while Ashley got her own and Spencer's high up in the air without much effort.

Kyla sat in the sand and pouted, calling her kite a 'fucktard' for getting itself buried in the sand since it was obviously not her fault that the thing was defective. Ashley eventually took pity on her little sister and got her kite airborne. Unfortunately, Kyla got over excited, tangled her line with Spencer's and sent both kites into the frigid water.

"Sometimes, Kyla," Ashley sighed, smiling at her embarrassed sister. "You are more like my kid than my sister." She waded off into the water, despite Spencer's protests that it was too cold and retrieved the kites which had been weighed down by the water and were too tangled to pull in. She'd insisted that this way was faster.

Spencer seriously didn't mind the image of a sopping wet Ashley emerging from the ocean in her track pants and tan shirt clinging to her toned, slender body. She found herself shifting slightly from where she sat in the sand, seeking to ease the almost always present ache between her thighs.

Hello, my name is Spencer Carlin and I have become an incurable horndog, she thought to herself, mildly annoyed with the fact that she drooled so easily over the brunette. Not that she didn't find Ashley attractive but she'd never had such a physical reaction to just looking at someone before. It was new to her.

There was a fear that Spencer harbored that Ashley would think she was only interested in her for two reasons, her money and her body. She knew that her comment to Lucy and Madison about being friends with Ashley for her money was a ticking time bomb at this point, growing each day that she didn't mention it. A simple word from Madison would set off the fuse and it was bound to be ugly when it blew up. But for the most part, Spencer tried not to worry. Her fear of Ashley thinking she only wanted her for her body was more pressing.

Her body's instinctive reactions to Ashley couldn't have all gone unnoticed by the older girl at this point. A simple touch made Spencer's heart race, her breath to catch and occasionally, her nipples to harden under her shirt. No male that she'd ever dated had gotten such a physical reaction from her, even if their touches were designed specifically to do so. The simple caste kiss she'd gotten the night before from Ashley had made her wetter than any foreplay from her ex-boyfriend Russell ever managed to.

I hope she understands that I truly like her, and not her bank account or those scrumptious abs and luscious ass. She mentally kicked herself for making Ashley sound like some baked good. God, I've got it bad for her.

After Ashley returned to the house and changed into clean, dry clothes, they shared a nice picnic on the sand with leftovers from their dinner the night before. The three just sat around and talked, enjoying the ease that seemed to be marking their relationships. There were no big details of their lives revealed in the hours spent on the beach, just three friends enjoying the lazy day.

They walked down the shore until they came to an outcropping of rocks where tide pools had gathered with the retreating tide. Kyla wandered off on her own while Spencer and Ashley searched through the seawater puddles for crabs, starfish and the like.

"I found one!" Spencer said, excited. She'd only been to the beach rarely as a child, since Ohio was essentially landlocked. There were some lakes that she'd been to growing up but nothing like the ocean. She felt like a child again, searching the pools and completely carefree.

"Really? What?" Ashley asked, rushing up, looking as excited as Spencer felt. The blonde held up a tiny starfish. "Awesome!"

"Peaches!" Spencer announced, remembering the starfish from 'Finding Nemo'. Ashley laughed.

"'I'm a piranha. We live in the Am-a-zon'," she mimicked the girl from the movie. They both burst out laughing and then returned the vulnerable sea creature to its spot before continuing their search.

"Fuck," Ashley swore when they returned to the house later and looked at the clock which read close to 5. "I didn't realize it was so late. I gotta grab a quick shower and..." she trailed off and looked at Kyla. "I have a meeting to get to." Kyla nodded.

"No problem," she chirped. "I'm sure that I can keep Spence entertained for a bit." Spencer looked at Ashley, confused.

"Meeting?" she wondered. She didn't want to pry but she was naturally curious. Ashley gave her a small smile.

"Yeah, one that I can't miss," she explained. "I shouldn't be much more than maybe two hours max. After I get back we can watch a movie or something." She stopped and thought for a moment. "Are you bored? I mean, I don't go out that much and if you're bored then you don't have to stay here..."

"I'm not bored," Spencer interrupted her, hoping to cut off a side trip into Ashley's self-doubt which had been absent most of the day. She'd been open, laughing and having a good time without any of the usual shadows that Spencer saw haunting her and the blonde wanted to keep it that way. "I don't mind staying in, honest, Ash. I'm not much for the party scene either." Ashley smiled, relieved.

"OK, as long as you don't mind," she added. Spencer shook her head.

"Not at all," she confirmed.

"Great," Ashley grinned. "But I gotta get a move on or I'll be late so, I'll catch you when I get back." She turned and looked pointedly at her sister. "Behave, Shakespeare," she warned. "No wild parties, strippers or setting fire to the place while I'm gone, got it?" She winked at Spencer before heading towards her bathroom.

"Oh that was one time, d'Artangan!" Kyla called at her sister's back. She looked sheepishly at Spencer. "I set the carpet on fire once, trying to put some candles out but, uhm, I wasn't entirely sober at the time. She never lets me live anything down, I swear."

"Strippers?" Spencer teased with a raised brow. Kyla blushed.

"I wanted the stripper pole installed in my room, not the living room!" she protested. "God, make an honest mistake on an order and all hell breaks loose. Geesh..."

Ashley entered her house and dropped her keys into the dish beside the door before she stripped off her jacket and hung it up on the hook by the door. The beach front home was surprisingly quiet since she knew that Kyla was there. Usually Kyla had at least the stereo or television going, if not both when she was around. Frowning at the lingering silence and the fact that neither Spencer nor Kyla had greeted her yet, she reset the alarm and then went looking for her sister and their beautiful guest.

I hope Spencer didn't get bored and leave, she fretted, walking uninterrupted through the living room. I had to go to that meeting, I couldn't miss it. Crap, I hope that Kyla didn't drive her insane and cause her to run screaming from my life. Yeah, that'd be fucking perfect.

It was odd having Spencer there; not odd in a bad way, it was just new and Ashley was trying to adjust the best she could. She wanted Spencer there, enjoyed having her there, no doubt about it. The blonde, somehow, reached Ashley on a level that the reclusive girl had a long thought destroyed or missing inside of herself. She liked the younger girl, so much so that it frightened her.

For so long her heart had been closed off, untouchable that it shocked her how easily she seemed to be giving it to Spencer; she wanted to give it to the taller girl. Without really knowing her very well, Ashley trusted her which was just not something that the broken and shattered girl ever dared to do. She barely trusted anyone and those that she did took years of painstaking effort to get to that point, even Kyla. They both nearly had to die to even begin establishing anything close to the relationship they now both enjoyed. Even Kyla had been unlike Spencer who just strolled into her life and had her trust without any effort. It helped that Kyla seemed to like Spencer and was encouraging her sister to take a chance on the Ohio native. Still, the whole thing was leaving Ashley feeling vulnerable and scared, both things she despised.

All right, where the hell did those two get to? She rechecked the driveway and groaned when she noticed the distinct lack of Kyla's car.

Maybe they ran out to get something, she hoped. Cuz there is no way my sister would do what I think, I fear that she might have. I'll kill her.

Not wanting to call her sister's cell phone and look needy or something. Ashley grabbed the key to the locked room, her private music studio and put herself to work, hoping to distract herself from worrying about the two girls and what sort of trouble her sister could have possibly dragged Spencer into. She knew the kind of mischief her little sister could get into and hoped that she hadn't dragged the blonde on some hair-brained adventure of some sort.

After another ninety minutes without a sign of the girls, Ashley left the studio without managing to accomplish anything which only added to her annoyed mood. Usually she spent most of her spare time in the studio, working on tracks and lyrics but the different thoughts about Spencer and where Kyla could have dragged her made it difficult to concentrate. Rather than write something she knew was sub-par and she'd end up hating later, she threw in the towel.

The shrill sound of her cell phone drew her from her contemplation of a snack. Looking at the caller id, she let out an angry hiss through her teeth as she flipped the phone open.

"Davies," she said flatly. She could hear the music and voices of the location calling her and twitched slightly. A part of her still missed the nightlife, the things and people she'd left behind but the larger part of her knew that she couldn't go back to that.

"Hey, kiddo," the familiar tones of her friend Kat greeted her. "It's Kat."

"Yeah, I figured," Ashley sighed. Kat was the bartender at the local gay club she used to frequent, Grey. Both Ashley and Kyla had spent a lot of time there as teens, although for different reasons; Ashley to get wrecked and Kyla to catch her, take her home and try to dry her out. Kyla was well known even after Ashley stopped going there, for her own hearty constitution and her rampant straightness. Still, the younger girl was well liked in the club by patron and staff alike. "Not that it isn't nice to hear from you, but let me guess..."

"She's dancing on my tabletops again, Ash," Kat chuckled. "Granted she's kept her top on this time but it's time for the floor show to end, and I can't keep watching her...or her cute little blonde friend."

"Oh God," Ashley groaned. "She dragged Spencer in there? Great..."

"Oh don't worry," Kat laughed. "Spencer's having a great time. I don't think she's much of a drinker though. And as much as I love ya, kid, I'm getting kinda tired of listening to her moon over you, you little swashbuckler, you." Ashley let out another groan.

Way to go, Kyla! I finally find someone that I like and feel that I can trust, maybe build something deeper with and you drag her out and get her trashed. Spencer didn't strike me as a drinker...I hope she's not. That would be...hard...

"She's right though," Kat went on, loving the ability to torture the younger girl. She loved Ashley like a daughter and while she was glad that she'd gotten her act together, she missed having her around. "Your eyes really do remind me of a melted milk chocolate bar with little green sparkles."

"Oh god," Ashley whimpered, mortified. She wanted to crawl into the corner and die. "I'm on my way."

"All right," Kat agreed. "I supposed I can listen to Spencer tell me how beautifully bronzed your skin is, how hot your abs are and how cute that dimple near your belly button is for a bit longer...although if I have to listen to how she wants to run her tongue..."

"KAT!" Ashley interrupted in a squeak as she blushed despite the fact that no one could see her or hear what Kat was saying. The older blonde on the other end laughed heartily.

"OK, see you soon, Ash...damn it Kyla! Put your shirt back on!" The line clicked, signaling that the bartender had hung up. Ashley grabbed her coat and keys before heading out the door, telling herself that murdering her sister was illegal.

Ashley got to Grey and found Kyla being kept occupied by Wes, the cute bouncer at the club. Seeing her sister fully clothed, albeit a bit rumpled, she scanned the crowded dance floor and bar for the familiar blonde head. She caught Kat's eye who nodded to her left. Ashley approached and as she got closer, spotted Spencer giggling on a bar stool, a glass of what looked to be water in her hand. The blonde's face immediately lit up upon seeing Ashley.

"Assssssssshhhhhhh!" she slurred happily. "You came to da parrrrrrtyyyyyyyyy!" Rolling her eyes at the blonde's inebriated state she nodded.

"I came to get you two," she said simply. Spencer leaned in real close, close enough for the stench of alcohol on her breath to make Ashley's stomach roll unpleasantly and stared at the brunette. Her normally clear blue eyes were cloudy and glassy, something Ashley found to be very unpleasant.

"You mad at me?" Spencer asked suddenly, sticking her lower lip out in a pout and looking, although drunk, sincerely remorseful.

"No, Spencer, I'm not mad at you," Ashley responded honestly. She was more upset with Kyla than she was with Spencer. The blonde had simply, Ashley was almost sure, been dragged along behind her impish sister without much say in the matter. It wasn't fair of her to expect a twenty-two year old beautiful girl not to drink while at a club. Especially at a place like Grey where she had, no doubt, been bought more than a few.

"She's had quite a few mojitos," Kat told her as she poured a beer and handed it off to the right somewhere. Ashley swallowed dryly and nodded her head. "And a few shots. As for your sister, well, she's got a constitution like you and your father so she's a little further along. Needless to say, blondie here won't be all that friendly to Kyla come morning."

"Didju know," Spencer broke in, leaning her head on Ashley's chest and making the smaller girl gasp. "Tha' beer 'fore liquor, never sicker?"

"Yes, Spencer," Ashley humored her. "I've heard that." Spencer frowned.

"I haven' had a beer yet," she announced and then scrunched up her nose. "I don' wan' a beer. Ick."

"I've got her drinking water since I didn't want her yakking on the bar," Kat explained.

"All right," Ashley responded. "I'll grab the brat and get her and Spencer out of here. Thanks for the call, Kat." Kat shrugged off handedly at her.

"Not a problem, Ash," she said warmly. "I figured you'd be looking for them, especially since Spencer kept telling me how she couldn't wait for you to get back from your meeting." The older woman's grey eyes pierced right through Ashley. "Union Street?" she wondered. Ashley's response was a curt nod. "I figured as much. Your sister's a tad twisted."

"Tell me about it," Ashley grumbled. "Thanks again." Kat smiled at her and then turned to wait on another patron.

"Ash! Yesh! Yer here!" Kyla squealed happily, throwing herself into her sister's lap where she sat on a stool beside Spencer. "Yer just in time," she announced. "Brett wants ta do body shots! Woot! Body shots on me!" she pointed to herself and then frowned. "Well, no, Brett's payin'...you cin just drink 'em offa me." She looked pointedly at her sister. "Uhm, not you though cuz ew...'m not gay an' yer my sister an' tha's kinda gross."

"No, Kyla, we're going back to the house," Ashley said sternly, grasping Spencer's hand and standing up. Spencer remained quiet, staring at their joined hands in a state of wonder. Kyla scowled at her sister.

"Why you gotta be like that?" the younger girl huffed. "We's jus' havin' some fun, s'all. We're not hurtin' nobody and we don't haf a problem." Ashley felt the last of her patience with her sister sizzle and burn.

"Kyla Elizabeth, car now!" she demanded. Kyla jumped and frowned.

"OK, OK, no need ta get all huffy," she grumbled. She kissed the person Ashley assumed to be Brett goodbye and let herself be guided to the door. "Ashley Davies is a party poop, party poop, party poop!"

It took a little bit of effort but Ashley managed to get both girls in the car and then back to her house in under an hour. Granted while Kyla was talking non-stop and Spencer was giggling at her antics for the entire ride, neither were all that difficult to handle. Still, Ashley was still exhausted by the time she unlocked her front door.

"I can't believe you fucking did this, Kyla," she snarled after she got the two inebriated girls safely into the house. Spencer was being unusually cuddly, refusing to release Ashley's hand if she could help it and grinning goofily at the older girl.

"Sshh," she hissed, tracing Ashley's eyebrows which were furrowed. "Don' be mad. We jus' had a lil' and Ky said we'd (hiccup) we'd get home 'fore you so...shhh. Don't tell."

"I'm not mad at you, Spencer," Ashley sighed. The blonde looked so cute smirking at her the way that she was that there was no way that she could stay cross with her. "I'm disgusted with my sister."

"Oh, lighten up," Kyla grumbled. "We ain't hurtin' nobody." Ashley felt her rage, usually very well contained, flare up and cause her to flush hot. There were certain things, attitudes and such that she didn't cope with well and Kyla was hitting every one of those buttons right now.

"You knew where I went," Ashley snapped angrily. Spencer watched her intently, having never seen the smaller girl angry before. "And even knowing that you took my...you took Spencer out and got fucking trashed. That's messed up, Kyla. That's just fucking disrespectful as hell."

"Oh, for God's sake," Kyla sneered, infinitely more sober than Spencer whose fingers had drifted to Ashley's lips where she traced them softly with the pads of her fingers, muttering about how soft they were. It was distracting to Ashley but she remained focused on Kyla and her drunken swaying at the door.

"I took her out," the younger girl said simply. "We were bored sitting around here. And since you don't drink anymore, I thought I'd show her Grey."

"I don't drink anymore for a reason, Kyla," Ashley growled. Kyla made a raspberry sound.

"Duh!" she blurted. "Fuck, Ash, no one died so just calm the fuck down."

"You are such as ass when you drink," Ashley pointed out. "Whether or not anyone got hurt is beside the point. What you did is just wrong."

"We're not you, Ash," Kyla countered darkly. "I don't have a problem, that was all you." Ashley ground her teeth together harshly.

"I know that, Kyla," she spat. "It's just...here I am trying to build something with Spencer, tell her things about myself at my own pace and you run around blurting out my secrets and then flaunting my flaws in front of her." She was almost entirely holding Spencer up by this point.

"She needs to know, Ash," Kyla argued. Ashley glared at her.

"It isn't your fucking place to tell her so back off!" she almost screamed.

"Cuz you are bootifuuuuul!" Spencer began singing, badly and off key as she leaned into Ashley. "In ev'rthin' yoooooouuu dooooo!" The smaller girl arched a dark brow and looked at her.

"Well that was random," she declared playfully, her anger immediately forgotten in the face of the blonde's effortless cuteness. Spencer grinned at her, her smile almost splitting her face in two.

"Yay! You not mad anymore!" she pointed out. She then frowned. "I can't feel my nose, is that bad?" She started tapping hard at her nose and teeth. "Can't feel my mouth neither. Is it still there?"

"Yes," Ashley laughed grasping Spencer's hand and pulling it gently away from her face. "Come on, let's put you to bed." She looked over at her little sister, her demeanor turning stony again. "We'll finish this later." Kyla rolled her eyes and headed to the kitchen.

"Whatev," she replied flatly. "Oh, is there pie left?"

"OK, let's get you in your pajamas," Ashley said as they entered Spencer's room. The blonde laughed and pushed Ashley away playfully.

"Nope, don' wanna!" she declared, trying to strip off her pants and teetering precariously. Ashley rushed over to catch her and set her on the edge of the bed.

"Yes, you do," Ashley countered. She thought Spencer was adorable, watching her as she pulled the tight jeans the rest of the way down. She then grabbed the pajama bottoms the blonde had left on the bed and put them onto the younger girl. "There, halfway done."

"I gotta pee!" Spencer giggled. A small current of apprehension raced through Ashley. While Spencer didn't have anything she hadn't seen before, she felt that it was a slippery slope to maneuver since Spencer was less than coherent.

"OK, I'll walk you to the door and wait for you," Ashley offered. Spencer grinned happily at her and put her arms up to be lifted. The brunette bent down and put Spencer's arm over her shoulder, lifting her up and walked to the bathroom. She let Spencer walk in and hoped that the drunken girl could pull down her pants on her own.

A slow banging sound drew her attention and she took a deep breath before looking in on the girl. Spencer was seated on the toilet, her pants and underwear around her ankles, slowly and painfully ramming her forehead into the wall beside her.

"What are you doing?" Ashley asked, concerned. Spencer blinked blearily and then smiled at her.

"I can' feel m' face!" she chirped, ramming her head again.

"Don't do that!" Ashley said, moving forward to stop her. The smile was still firmly planted on Spencer's face.

"Why not?" she asked. "It don' hurt!" Ashley tried not to smile as she shook her head.

"It will in the morning, hon," she said softly. "You've already made a red mark on your forehead." Spencer made a 'phht' sound and giggled. She started unrolling toilet paper and wrapping it around her hand. "OK, Spence, leave some for the Charmin bears." Spencer stood up and leaned on Ashley, still giggling at something only she found amusing and tried to clean herself off. She was mostly successful until her numbed fingers dropped the paper onto the floor.

"Oh no!" she said dramatically. "I dropped it." Ashley let out a long suffering sigh and bent over.

"I'll get it," she said, not wanting to see what kind of disaster would occur if the inebriated girl attempted to bend over to pick it up herself.

"Ew! Don't touch it!" Spencer argued. "It's got my pee on it! It's dirty." Ashley let herself laugh out loud at the girl's antics.

"It's OK, babe, I'll wash my hands," she told her. "Now, pull up your pants and let's flush." Spencer did as she was told and then Ashley helped her wash her own as she washed hers. Together they looked in the mirror; Spencer made faces at herself as she leaned on Ashley who looked carefully at Spencer.

The blonde's face was pale with red streaks on her cheeks and an almost Goth-like pattern around her eyes. Despite her cheerful smile and happy attitude, Ashley could see trouble brewing.

"Let's put you to bed and I'll go get a bucket," she decided. Spencer made a raspberry face at her in the mirror.

"I don' need a bucket," she argued, still happy. "I feel fine...I don' feel nothin'." She slapped herself in the face again, making Ashley sigh. She hoped that she could prevent the poor girl from actually hurting herself by accident.

"I know you don't," Ashley said calmly, leading Spencer to the bed. She set her down and made sure that she wouldn't fall over before returning to the bathroom for the bucket which she put right beside Spencer's feet.

"I really like you and Kyla," Spencer told her, her voice a loud stage whisper as if telling a secret, badly. Ashley smiled.

"I'm really glad to hear that, Spence," she said honestly. She knew that one of the things alcohol did was make your filters turn off so that you were far more honest then you usually were. Things that you thought but kept yourself from saying snuck out with the help of a generous dose of the drink.

"But I don't like Kyla the way that I like you," Spencer added, her face taking on a somewhat serious expression. "I mean, I like her but I don't like her like I like you. I like you a lot." Her words, however convoluted, only made Ashley smiled that much wider. Her heart felt light and for the first time in a long time, she felt truly happy.

"I like you too, Spence," she admitted. Soft lips pressed into her own, a definite hunger behind the touch. Ashley let herself fall into the caress, loving the feel of Spencer's lips against her own. The blonde pulled her down on top of her with a moan.

"Mmmm," Spencer hummed when they broke away from air. "See? I like you." Ashley laughed.

"Yes, Spencer, I see," she agreed. Spencer kissed her again, traveling from her lips to her jaw, making Ashley gasp.

"Am I a good kisser?" Spencer wondered, her lips next to Ashley's sensitive ear and making her shiver. She nodded. "I need to practice. Come here." She kissed Ashley again, the movement slightly messy. Ashley adored kissing Spencer, even though the taller girl was somewhat sloppily kissing her, making her mouth slightly wet. Automatically, her hand drifted south, pressing against the heat she could feel coming through Spencer's pants.

Spencer let out a low moan, making the hairs on the back of the brunette's neck stand up.

"I like that," Spencer husked as Ashley pressed down. "But since I'm drunk would this be like taking advantage of me?" Although Spencer was giggling as she said it, it was like a bucket of ice cold water was dumped over Ashley's head and she felt like a piece of shit. She sighed and moved away from Spencer who sat up with her.

She put her head on Ashley's shoulder while the older girl mentally whipped herself for almost going too far with the incapacitated girl and that was something only the 'old' Ashley would do. She looked at Spencer, noting that the red streaks and marks had become darker, making Spencer look even more Goth-like.

"How you feeling?" she asked, already knowing what the outcome was and leaning over to grab the bucket. Spencer smiled.

"I feel great!" she announced. "I don't need the bucket. I..." She coughed and it went directly into a heave, spilling the contents of her stomach. Ashley noted rather dryly, that Spencer had apparently enjoyed the cheese fries at Grey as they filled the bottom of the bucket.

"Oh god," Spencer groaned, grasping the bucket in a death grip hug. She vomited a few more times while Ashley held back her hair and rubbed soothing circles on her back.

"That's it, Spence," she coaxed. "Get it all out of your system and then we can go to bed."

"Oh make it stop," Spencer whined as she caught her breath. She looked at Ashley with glassy eyes. "Sorry." Ashley leaned over and kissed her forehead.

"It's OK, hon, I'm not mad," she soothed. Spencer looked at her sadly.

"I really like you," she confessed shyly. Ashley ruffled her hair.

"I know," she acknowledged. She saw Spencer pale again and grasped the bucket. Spencer turned her head and the cycle began again.

"I love you Mr. Bucket," Spencer declared the next time she stopped being sick. "You're always there for me. I love you. You're a nice bucket." Ashley waited until she was sure that this cycle was over before she got up and emptied the bucket and cleaned it. She then brought a cup of lukewarm water and a damp towel to Spencer who was lying on her back in the bed.

"Drink," Ashley said gently. Spencer sat up enough to drink some of the water and then slumped back down. The musician then put the towel on Spencer's forehead and crawled into the bed with her.

"You stay?" Spencer asked, her voice vulnerable. Ashley allowed herself a small smile.

"Of course."

Ashley stayed awake most of the night, keeping an eye on the passed out blonde. For the most part, Spencer was out cold, sleeping deeply in her drunken state. However, having had the extensive experience with alcohol that she did, Ashley knew that while Spencer was sleeping peacefully for the moment, that could all change very quickly. The last thing that she wanted was for Spencer to experience something like she herself had in the past and wake up heaving with no one there to help or comfort her.

As long as she doesn't make a habit of this sorta thing, she told herself as she held the incredibly sleep warm girl tightly in her arms. I mean, I don't think that she will; this is more Kyla's doing than her own. But still, once is cute, twice is too much.

She'd long ago made the decision that the party scene wasn't something she wanted to return to and that anyone who was part of that atmosphere wasn't someone she was interested in being with. It was still too hard for her at this point to even be around alcohol. Even the smell of the girl beside her, rich with mint, tequila and vodka was enough to make her nauseas as well as make her mouth water for a drink.

At least I don't need much sleep, she sighed. Although since I started hanging out with Spencer, I sleep a lot more soundly. That's weird.

She finally drifted off to sleep around five and was awoken around ten by Kyla bouncing into the room.

"So, how's the hangover, Spence?" she all but screamed as she entered the room without warning. Ashley jumped, having been sound asleep and Spencer let out a painful groan.

"Uhhh, oh God," she moaned, trying to bury herself in Ashley's side and curling up slightly. Ashley gently brushed her hands through the blonde's hair.

"Sssh, Spence, go back to sleep," she encouraged, sending her sister a dirty look. She was still upset with the younger brunette for the antics night before. Kyla stared back at her, showing no symptoms of a hangover herself although Ashley knew that she had undoubtedly imbibed far more alcohol than Spencer.

Curse of the Davies bloodline; the ability to drink most normal people under the table and show no signs of it the next day. Ashley used to think that it was a blessing; no matter how trashed she got the night before, by morning she felt fresh as a daisy. She later came to realize that without the normalcy of a hangover to remind her moderation, she didn't learn her lesson until it was nearly too late.

"Sleep?" Kyla echoed. "It's after ten on a beautiful Saturday morning. There is soooo much to do..."

"Then go do it and leave poor Spencer alone with her hangover," Ashley snapped. "Go watch cartoons or chase the mailman or hey, make yourself useful and get her a bottle of water." Kyla scowled at her.

"God, take the barbed pole outta your ass, Ashley," she sneered. "We went out and had a little fun, so what? Ash, she likes you; your past, your alcoholism and such isn't going to drive her away."

"That's not why I'm upset," Ashley sighed. She hoped that Spencer was asleep again and not listening. "Ky, it's hard for me to let people close, you know that. And I'm trying so hard to with Spencer. But I think it was pretty fucking rotten of you to take her out when you knew that I was at an AA/NA meeting. I'm standing at the podium, talking about this wonderful girl that I was finally able to get to know, beginning to trust and saying how I'm almost ready to tell her about my addictions and she's out getting trashed with my sister who was there for the whole mess. It was wrong, Kyla." Kyla sat at the end of the bed and looked sadly at her sister.

"But you need to remember that Spencer and I aren't you," she said gently. "We brought no alcohol into your house; we went out. We went somewhere I thought she'd like, I knew Kat would be there in case we had a little too much. Ashley, you can't pigeonhole everyone as an addict because you have a problem. We're young and it's something people our age do." Ashley shook her head.

"You don't get it, Ky," she sighed. "I really wish that you did."

"I get that you're upset that you weren't there, Ashley," Kyla said darkly. "You're upset because you weren't there to drink with us. OK, I get it, taking Spencer out and getting her drunk when I knew you were at a meeting was pretty low but I didn't see it that way. I saw it as two young, pretty girls going out and having a good time. I hadn't planned on drinking as much as I did and I know that Spencer didn't. It just happened."

"Just...just don't do it again, Kyla," Ashley asked, defeated. "Please?" Kyla looked at her for a moment before she nodded.

"OK, I'll limit my own partying to when I'm away at school," she agreed reluctantly. "You can't expect the rest of us to stop drinking because you have a problem. I would never, ever drink in front of you , Ash. But I'm not going to simply stop because you're an alcoholic."

"You shouldn't have taken me out," Spencer grumbled from where she had her face pressed into Ashley's shoulder. "Was rude." Ashley smirked at her sister.

"See? She agrees with me," she pointed out. Kyla let out an annoyed huff.

"She would, she's fucking you..." she started. Ashley glared at her.

"Kyla!"she reprimanded in a tone strong enough to make the brunette in question cringe. That was Ashley's really angry voice and she hated hearing it.

"Ow, stop, loud, hurts," Spencer whimpered. Ashley started running her fingers through Spencer's hair again to soothe her.

"Sshh, baby, we're sorry," she cooed. "We'll be quiet, I promise. Go back to sleep." It wasn't long before she felt the younger girl relax back into her, asleep.

"Sorry," Kyla whispered. She looked remorsefully at her sister. "I really am sorry, Ash. I didn't think it was that big a deal but I see why it was. Bad judgment on my part and I'm really sorry." Ashley nodded, accepting the apology in its sincerity.

"Thanks," she said softly. "But could you make yourself useful and get her some water and aspirin? Just because you and I don't suffer from hangovers doesn't mean everyone else is so lucky." Kyla smirked and nodded.

"I'll make some toast..." Ashley jumped slightly.

"Oh please no," she begged. "I just changed the batteries in the smoke detectors. Let's not wake the neighbors with your version of cooking."

Spencer woke up a little bit later, closer to noon, surprised to find herself in Ashley's arms. She shifted slightly to look at the older girl, pleased to see her sound asleep below her.

Damn my head hurts, she realized. She closed her eyes again and the memory of earlier that morning, the fight between Ashley and Kyla returned to her.

I was right; Ashley's an alcoholic, she thought, every word in her mind seeming to have physical form that was pounding on the inside of her tender skull. Oh no! What if she's mad that I went out and got drunk? What was Kyla thinking, taking me to a bar while Ashley was at a meeting? I'm all for irony and whatnot but that was just wrong.

Of course, I didn't have to drink, she reprimanded herself. But I didn't wanna be rude to the people who kept buying me stuff. Well, now I know, thanks to the full size college drum line in my poor head that I am not a drinker.

The revelation that Ashley had a problem with alcohol wasn't surprising; Spencer had seen all the signs and was waiting, in her own way, for Ashley to admit it. It was obvious that she didn't drink anymore, with her avoidance of the liquid at the costume party a month earlier and the absence of it in her own home. A lot of the little things that she'd noticed about Ashley were finally making sense in the big picture. She had another puzzle piece to the beautiful brunette and part of her was thrilled.

She also wanted to find a way to let Ashley know that she was OK with the older girl being a recovering addict. She wasn't there for the addiction itself but she had no intention of letting the past issues affect their present or the future she was hoping that they could cultivate and enjoy together. That wouldn't be fair to Ashley plus it would only reinforce her insecurities and anxieties about telling people the things that she'd been through.

"Rise and shine, Spencer," Ashley's soft voice drew her attention from her thoughts and over to the fact that the other girl was awake as well, drawing comforting circles on her lower back. "Come on and sit up with me; Kyla brought you some aspirin and some water." She helped the groggy blonde sit up and fed her the medication and water carefully so that Spencer didn't gag or choke.

"Oh God, kill me," she moaned when the actions of moving and swallowing made her head swim and stomach flop unpleasantly. Ashley chuckled slightly.

"I can imagine how you must feel," she said kindly. "But I'm not going to kill you. I kinda like having you around." The comment made Spencer smile even though her face was throbbing in time with her heartbeat.

That's an odd sensation, she decided. I feel like my skin is on too tight and my hair, oh God my hair hurts. Who put little socks on my teeth too? Ew, little green hairy socks like when I drink Red Bull. Ew.

"I am never drinking again," she declared pitifully after drinking some more water hoping to get rid of the cottonmouth. Ashley nodded.

"That's what we all say the morning after," she agreed. "And we mean it too; right up until the next time." Spencer shook her head and instantly regretted it when the beautifully colored walls shimmered in her view.

"Trust me," she whined. "There won't be a next time. Once is enough." Ashley arched an eyebrow in question.

"You've never been drunk before?" she wondered, shocked. Spencer settled herself back in the bed. Ashley was sitting up against the headboard so she took advantage of the difference in positions and put her head on Ashley's thighs.

"Nope," she confessed. "I grew up a good Catholic girl. The closest I came to alcohol was church wine. And that tastes like crap."

"You'd think that Jesus, with all that power, could have at least made a decent chardonnay," Ashley chuckled. "Or a Merlot. Something palatable." Spencer laughed and then regretted it when the drum line started a new song in her head.

"No, I think it was the boxed shit," she muttered, burying her head in Ashley's lap as the older girl stroked her hair.

"Nothing says 'get out of my house' faster than a party with boxed wine," Ashley commented dryly.

"Mom loved that stuff," Spencer realized. "Oh, point taken."

"Normally this is the part where I tell you that you need to get out more," Ashley joked although Spencer could hear a slight tone of sadness coloring her words. "But in my case, I think I'd rather say, 'good for you'. There are better things in life to be doing other than drinking to excess." Spencer lifted her head slightly, catching the pensive look on Ashley's face.

"I'm not saying that you shouldn't enjoy a beer with a good steak once in a while," she went on, her mouth again watering at the thought while Spencer watched her intently. "You should be able to enjoy a drink or two once in a while but you shouldn't need to get trashed every time that you do. If it's something like that, where you drink to get drunk and only drunk, maybe there's another issue in there somewhere."

"Was that..." Spencer started carefully, not wanting to push. "Was that what you did?" Ashley's eyes, until then, held a distant and glassy appearance but at Spencer's words, cleared and focused on her. The blonde shivered slightly, afraid that she'd offended or angered Ashley either with her question or her behavior the night before and she was about to end it, call off whatever was going on between them and send her home.

"No, that wasn't me," she finally said with such sadness and finality that Spencer's heart shattered. Ashley let out a humorless chuckle that made Spencer's insides twist with more than her hangover. It was a clear sign that she was about to tell the younger girl something and that she wasn't going to paint a pretty picture.

"No, Spencer, I drank just to drink," she explained, sounding disgusted with herself which Spencer figured she was. "I drank to hide, to suffocate my pain, to basically kill myself in the slowest way possible. I mean, it's not the worst thing I've ever done but I certainly wasn't being careful. I wanted the escape that alcohol gave me. And I didn't care what time of day it was; I woke up whenever, whatever time of day it was and my breakfast was vodka. My lunch and snacks were things like Wild Turkey and SoCo with maybe a sandwich or a hot dog from the convenience store. Dinner was usually liquid too."

"When did you eat?" Spencer wondered, picturing the brunette as she was in the photo in the living room, nothing more than a walking skeleton. Ashley shifted slightly away from Spencer but the taller girl grasped her suddenly, holding her firmly in place.

"Don't, Ashley," she half pleaded, half commanded. Her headache was instantly forgotten as she felt Ashley tense beside her. "Don't pull away from me now. Talk to me, tell me. I'm not going to run away from you, I swear it. Just tell my your side; Madison told me hers. I need to hear yours." Ashley let out a long, loud sigh.

"I can't, Spence," she whispered. "I can tell you about the drinking and tell you that it was bad. And I can promise you that I do my best not to go there again. That's where I was last night. I went to a holiday AA/NA meeting because even though I had a good holiday and I was feeling happy, I still need to go to them and talk, listen, be supported by others who've been down the same road. I just thought it was kinda shitty of my sister, knowing where I went, to take you out drinking when she knew that I was going to have to come get you both."

"I'm sorry," Spencer confessed, her voice catching in her throat with guilt. Ashley relaxed into her embrace and hugged her back.

"You have nothing to be sorry for," she said calmly. "I hadn't told you where I was going; I was vague when I should have just said that I needed to go to an AA meeting. You're young and Kyla's right; it is something that people our age do. I'm not even all that mad at Kyla for it. It was just..."

"Inconsiderate," Spencer supplied. Ashley nodded. "Again I'm sorry. I didn't mean to ruin your holiday." Ashley placed a gentle kiss to Spencer's forehead which she noticed was bruised in the center where she had been hitting it.

"You did not ruin my holiday," she soothed. Spencer frowned.

"But you said that you were feeling happy," she argued. "Are you not anymore?" Spencer sighed happily when Ashley pressed her lips against her own, the contact firm but more reassuring than passionate.

"You're still here," Ashley husked when they separated. "I am beyond happy." They sat in comfortable silence for a little while, Ashley gently stroking Spencer's hair and back as they cuddled.

"You bruised your forehead, silly," she finally said, breaking the silence. Spencer scowled and reached up to gingerly press on the sore area.

"When the heck did I do that?" she wondered. She felt Ashley's slight frame shake as she chuckled.

"I'm guessing it was at some point in the bathroom after you announced that you had to pee and while you were banging your numb face into the wall," she teased. "And before you dropped the toilet paper you were using." Spencer flushed hot with embarrassment.

"Oh God," she whimpered, horrified. "I didn't."

"Oh you so did," Ashley countered playfully. "Don't worry, I thought it was adorable."

"Thank God," the blonde sighed. Ashley nodded.

"Yup, thank God and thank Mr. Bucket. He loves you too."

Around one o'clock, Ashley managed to get Spencer out of the bed and into the kitchen for something to eat. Not surprisingly, Kyla was already digging through the refrigerator in search of a snack. She greeted her sister and the blonde with a bright smile which Spencer glared back at.

"Why are you not hungover?" she demanded to know, somewhat indignant. The way Spencer saw it, she shouldn't be the only one suffering. But there was Kyla, chipper as ever and it just served to make the nauseas girl crankier than she already felt.

"Party like a rock star!" Kyla announced, complete with the hand sign and dramatic pose. Spencer winced at the volume level and sulked into the pieces of chopped turkey and toast with water Ashley had gotten her.

"Dad's metabolism," Ashley explained as she made herself a sandwich and grabbed a soda. "We can drink until the well runs dry and be fine by morning." Spencer picked at her food until she caught the stern look from Ashley and attempted to actually eat it.

"I don't wanna puke this back up," she whined. Ashley sat down beside her and gave her hand a small pat.

"I think you're past the puking phase, hon," she smirked. "But you do need to try and eat so, come on." She gestured towards the plate in front of Spencer, expectantly. Reluctantly, Spencer chewed on a cube of turkey.

"So what are we three hotties gonna do today?" Kyla asked, hopping up onto the counter to sit and eat. Ashley gave her an unamused look.

"Get your ass off my black marble, Shakespeare," she warned. Kyla stuck her tongue out but hopped down. Spencer figured that she didn't want to risk making her sister angry again so soon.

"My bad, d'Artagnan. Don't worry, I won't let my ass scratch your precious marble. So?" she prompted, wanting an answer.

Spencer groaned out loud at the thought of doing anything other than crawling back into her soft bed and sleeping away the pain both inside and outside her head. She'd been mortified by the egg shaped bruise that had formed on her forehead between her eyes. She had no memory of causing it; she had very little memory aside from flashes after a certain point at the bar. She remembered being ecstatic to see Ashley at the bar, then she remembers being at the house and Ashley putting her in her pajamas. After that she could recall only a searing pain in her chest at some point and vomiting, repeatedly. That was it until she woke up this morning.

"I think Spencer's just going to be taking it easy today," Ashley declared softly, looking to the girl in question for confirmation. "Maybe watch 'Finding Nemo' and just relax." Spencer grimaced in agreement.

"Yeah, sorry," she rasped, her throat somewhat sore from vomiting the previous night. "I think if no one minds, I'm gonna just veg all day."

"Awww," Kyla pouted. "I wanted to go to the amusement park..."

"Uggg," Spencer moaned as her stomach constricted painfully at the very thought. She lurched up from the chair and bolted down the hallway to empty her stomach of what she managed to eat.

Ashley glared at her sister who was trying hard to stifle her giggles.

"Guess you were wrong about being over the puking part," she said cheerfully. She did feel bad that Spencer was sick but it was still kind of entertaining from an outside view. It wasn't something that she'd experienced but she didn't envy the taller girl in any way.

"That was mean," she sighed, standing up to go help the ill blonde. "You're the one who made her sick, I think you should be a little more...understanding." Kyla hung her head in remorse.

"Yeah, I know," she said sadly, feeling contrite. She scratched at the back of her neck for a moment, feeling her sister's hot glare at her. "Look, I'm gonna go hit the mall or something and leave you two to yourselves for a while. Cool?" Ashley nodded.

"That'd be great, thanks Ky," she agreed, wanting alone time with Spencer, mostly to talk and cuddle. She knew that the younger girl wasn't up for anything more. Truth was, neither was she. She felt comfortable with Spencer, enjoyed being with her and wanted their relationship to be more but she was terrified to talk to her about it.

What if she just wants sex and nothing else? She wondered, her stomach burning with worry. She headed down the hallway towards where she knew Spencer was, her mind in a whirlwind.

I really like her but I don't think that I can do the whole 'friends with benefits' thing, she decided. I'm too attached even now and if we did that, it'd destroy me. But how do I talk to her about it without totally panicking.

Fuck! If I were a superhero, I'd be Insecure Girl! she decided, the opening notes of Stephen Lynch's 'Superhero' playing, unbidden in her mind.

"Hey Ash!" Kyla called out from the end of the hallway. Ashley paused to look at her little sister.

"Yeah?" she answered warily. Kyla smirked at her.

"I forgot to tell you that if you and Spence end up getting' freaky, put a scrunchy on the door or something cuz I so don't need to be scarred for life!"

Kyla went out, as promised, and after Spencer took a short nap to rest after purging the contents of her stomach, she settled on the couch with Ashley, cuddled up under a beautiful, soft blanket together. Spencer couldn't be happier, surrounded by the warmth and scent of the other girl, feeling her arms around her waist.

I could get used to this, she decided. OK, maybe not the hangover still pounding behind my eyes but this, being in Ashley's arms, just being comfortable. I really like it.

She tilted her head up slightly to look at the older girl's profile. Ashley saw the movement and looked down at her, smiling affectionately before placing a feather light kiss to the top of her head.

"Ash?" she ventured. Ashley hummed her response. "I hate to ruin the quiet and all but I need to ask you something." She felt Ashley's body tense fractionally and kicked herself for being pushy.

Oh well, may as well get it over with. I hate not knowing where we stand, Spencer told herself.

"Yeah?" Ashley asked, her voice sounding tight and stressed even in the simple four letter response. Spencer shifted again to be able to look at her better.

"What is this?" she whispered, burrowing into the older girl just in case she tried to get away or said that it was nothing. She wanted to remember this moment, being cradled in Ashley's embrace on the off chance that it were to suddenly end.

"What is what, Spencer?" Ashley echoed her softly. "What are we? I dunno. What do you want it to be?" Despite her best efforts to hide it, Spencer could hear the undercurrent of fear and nervousness in the brunette's voice. It made her feel a little more confident in the situation.

"I get the feeling, from knowing you only this short amount of time, Ashley, that no one has ever really asked you what you want," she responded, her voice calm. "So, I'm asking you: what does Ashley want?"

"Spencer, I don't..." Ashley moved, trying to get out of Spencer's embrace. She was panicking, and Spencer knew it.

"Stop, Ashley," she pleaded. "Stop fighting me, stop being scared of me and tell me what you want." She placed a series of butterfly kisses to Ashley's neck, the part of her closest to her mouth. She felt the thundering of the older girl's heart below the surface, against her lips.

"You," Ashley whimpered. She struggled against the taller girl again, becoming overwhelmed with her panic and starting to hyperventilate. Spencer smiled against the skin near her mouth.

"Then relax, Ashley," she soothed. "It's OK, baby, I promise. I want you too; I want to be with you." Ashley shifted one last time and cupped the sides of Spencer's face, pulling her into an intense, fiery and scorching kiss that left the younger girl with jelly for bones.

"I want so much with you," Ashley whispered almost sounding like she was in pain. "Mornings, noons, nights, all of it, every moment. I need you to see that, understand that...please Spencer, I'm not perfect; I've done some bad, some horrible things and it would kill me if I lost you because of it..."

"Whoa, Ashley, whoa," Spencer tried to calm the other girl. "Calm down. I know your past is spotty, hon, really. I mean, I don't know all of it but I hope in time that you'll trust me so that I can learn it. You will not lose me because of something you did in the past..."

"You can't know that," Ashley pointed out desperately. Spencer shook her head.

"I know how I feel about you, Ashley," she said. "I know what I want with you and that it's the same thing you just said that you wanted with me. Mornings, noons, nights and the in between. How about we just start with today, right now and move on from there?" Slowly, she felt Ashley relax back into her.

"I'm scared, Spencer," she admitted in a tiny, childlike voice. "I'm afraid to give you the power to hurt me. I'm afraid to let you see the real me, behind the walls I've built up to protect myself."

Spencer smiled again, knowing that the confession she just heard had done just that, let her behind the walls and obstacles that had kept her from the real Ashley. This was Ashley, at her most exposed, the most emotionally vulnerable place she possessed and she was doing it for Spencer, letting Spencer see. She felt honored and privileged to be the one that Ashley trusted to let close. She still didn't understand what made her so special but she wasn't going to question it.

"I'm scared of the same things, Ash," she said, laying herself bare the same way Ashley had. She figured that it was only fair that she be as emotionally honest as the reclusive, solitary, independent girl had somehow found a way to be.

"I'm scared of letting you close enough to hurt me, too. I've never been with a woman before so I have no idea what it's like to be gay..." She heard Ashley's badly disguised gasp.

"I'm sorry," the brunette apologized. "I forgot about that." Spencer silenced her self-flagellation with a soft kiss.

"Don't," she said strongly. "Don't you ever apologize for showing me this, what it's like to be loved."

Oh crap! Did I just say that? Oh man, there's no way that I can stop her from running now! She's going to totally freak out that I said 'love' and DAMNIT I just ruined everything, Spencer worried, berating herself for the slip that somehow she managed not to make when inebriated but escaped when she was totally sober.

Maybe that should tell me something then.

She started to worry when she couldn't feel Ashley breathing and lifted her head from where she'd hidden it under the smaller girl's chin to look at startled brown eyes.

"Breathe, Ashley!" Spencer ordered, seeing a bluish tint to the girl's face. Ashley let out the breath that she'd been holding and gasped inward. "It was an accident; I shouldn't have said it."

"Do you..." Ashley whispered. "Do you regret saying it?" Spencer bit her lip as she considered her answer.

"No, not really since I meant it," she said finally, not wanting to lie to Ashley. If they were going to try and make this work, then they needed to be honest with each other. "I don't regret anything that's happened since I've met you." After a few tense moments, Ashley blinded her with an honest, bright smile that made her nose crinkle.

"So, you wanna?" she asked bashfully. Spencer tilted her head to the side slightly, smiling.

"Do I wanna what?" she questioned back just as playfully.

"Wanna be my...girlfriend?" Ashley finished, blushing slightly. Spencer thought she was absolutely adorable.

"I would love nothing more, Ashley Davies," she declared. She then stopped to think for a moment.

"Well, maybe other than a chunk of your chocolate peanut butter fudge!"

Kyla stayed out, as promised until around nine at night, checking the front door carefully for any sign of the possible 'scrunchy' warning system. She was slightly disappointed when there wasn't one there. As much as she didn't want to walk in on her sister doing something possibly x-rated because, ew, but she wanted both the older girls to talk and get things settled so that they were either officially a couple or officially friends with benefits. Either way, she wanted someone to make a decision as to what the two girls were to each other.

Kyla liked Spencer; she was a good, stable influence on Ashley and took some of the stress and worry from her. Plus she could honestly see how much her sister adored and probably loved the blonde so she wanted it to work out for them both.

"Yo, everybody decent?" she called out as she walked through the house. She could hear the closing theme to 'The Sound of Music' coming from the living room and rounded the corner, stopping at what she saw.

Ashley was dead asleep with her head in Spencer's lap, the blonde running her fingers through the tresses spilled out across her thighs. They looked cute, peaceful and very much like a couple. The awake girl looked totally at peace and happy, slowly stroking the scalp of the slumbering girl, occasionally glancing down lovingly. Kyla hated to disturb them but she was so shocked by the sight that she had to speak.

"Is she really asleep?" she whispered once she walked into Spencer's eye line. The other girl smiled and nodded.

"Ever since 'Edelwiess', she's been totally out," she confirmed sounding amused. Kyla shook her head.

"Amazing," she breathed. "For someone who usually never sleeps, around you, she's out like a light even in front of one of her favorite movies." Spencer lightly scratched at the older girl's scalp, earning herself a contented murmur that sounded like a purr. Kyla watched, bemused.

"You're good for her, Spencer," the younger sister finally said, her voice sounding both wistful and pained. Spencer looked at her and tilted her head.

"I hope so," she responded carefully. There was a clear current of pain running over the smaller girl's face that Spencer could see from a few feet away. She had no idea why her girlfriend's (it was still a new word and made her stomach flip excitedly) sister looked so sad that Ashley had found someone.

"Kyla, is everything OK?" she asked. Kyla continued to stare at her sister's sleeping form, stunned that Ashley was again sleeping through a conversation.

"I don't think she's slept well since before I met her," she said softly. "And I have never seen her smile as much as she does when you're around, or when she talks about you. Ever. She's so different..."

"It's a good different though, right?" Spencer wondered when Kyla trailed off and ran a hand through her hair, sighing. The smaller girl gave her a small smile.

"Oh yeah, Spencer, totally," she agreed. "She's different from even the beginning of the school year. She's more open, laughs more, she doesn't hide herself so much, since she met you."

"I'm glad," Spencer admitted happily. That was exactly what she wanted to hear and needed to know. She wanted to be a positive influence on Ashley, like she was being to her. If they were going to make being together work, they had to balance each other out and Spencer understood that.

"Yeah," Kyla nodded. "Anyway, let her know that I'm heading out early tomorrow morning. My friend Dana called earlier and wants me to meet up with her and hang out since I was away the whole week."

"No problem, Ky," Spencer said, stifling a yawn. Her hangover was gone, having faded away hours ago but she was still feeling tired. Kyla looked at her fondly.

"Take her to bed, Spence, I'll clean up and turn off the tv," she offered. She then smirked devilishly. "I can't believe I just told you to take my sister to bed. That sounded sooooo wrong! You two totally need to make with some hot dirty monkey sex!" Spencer blushed.

"Good night, Kyla."

Kyla was gone by the time either of them untangled themselves from the bundle of intertwined limbs and cuddled embrace in the late morning. She'd left a note, detailing that she had taken her food and would call Ashley sometime later in the week. She also promised to call Spencer sometime and for the blonde to ring her anytime, especially if it was to dish about her sister.

"She never stops, does she?" Spencer giggled as she chewed the omelet Ashley had made for her. The brunette smiled back as she shook her head.

"Kyla? Hell no. She's plotting mischief even asleep."

They spent the day walking the beach together, talking, exchanging stories and slow, wet kisses. Neither was willing to push it any further and break the calm comfort that surrounded them for now.

After they returned to the house, Ashley suggested another movie and while she chose one, Spencer went hunting for a snack. She flopped down onto the couch, happily chewing on a cookie and heard Ashley make a 'whooph' sound behind her. She turned and mock glared at the smaller girl, arching a pale brow at her.

"Yes?" she asked, watching Ashley's eyes twinkle at her.

"Damn, Spence, maybe you should lay off the cookies," Ashley teased, shifting to give the blonde more room. "I wasn't sure if that was you sitting down on here or a 8.7 on the Richter scale." Spencer jammed the rest of the cookie into her mouth and then pouted at Ashley.

"'m fat?" she asked around her mouthful. Ashley laughed and wiped at the cookie crumbs that hung from the sides of the blonde's mouth.

"I didn't say that," she pointed out, amused. She could tell from the way Spencer's blue eyes were dancing with mirth that she wasn't taking any offense to the teasing. If anything, their confessions of fear and uncertainty the day before had made things between them even more comfortable which was a new experience to Ashley. She was actually feeling less fear about being involved with Spencer than she had been before the weekend started.

"Maybe not fat but possibly paunchy, chubby, or rounded," she added. Spencer's eyes grew wide and she lunged across the couch at the smaller girl, hands out in the universal 'tickle' position.

"Take it back!" she roared, attacking Ashley's sides with a vicious onslaught of tickling. Ashley shrieked and tried to pull away without any luck. Spencer had her pinned against the side of the couch as she assaulted her in a mostly pleasant way. "Take it back, take it back, take it back!"

"Never!" Ashley laughed, trying to fight the taller girl off. Her ribs were starting to hurt from laughing and her eyes were watering. "Lemme go!"

"Not til you say that I'm not fat!" Spencer ordered, her fingers trailing up the ticklish girl's sides. She slid even closer, her leg slipping between Ashley's as they pressed closer. The mood quickly changed when Spencer realized where her move put Ashley's thigh and she gasped when the brunette pressed it against her. She countered by increasing the pressure of her own thigh against Ashley's center.

"Fuck," Ashley groaned as her hips jolted. Spencer's hands quickly found Ashley's shoulders, her fingers digging into soft flesh as the tickle fight was forgotten and they slowly moved against each other. Ashley's eyes slid shut and she tipped her head back when another moan hissed from between pink lips, exposing the slender lines of her neck to Spencer who leaned in to lavish it with attention.

"Sweet Jesus," Ashley whimpered at the feel of Spencer's perfectly straight white teeth nipping at the very sensitive skin of her neck. She wrapped her hands around Spencer's back, running her nails up and down the rapidly heating skin she felt there. Their hips started rocking faster against each other, their breaths beginning to come in short rasps and pants.

Their connection, their passion for each other had been there even before Spencer had arrived, looking shy and uncertain, on the doorstep Thursday morning but they'd both dutifully tried to ignore it, suppress it and push it to the back of their minds while they were around one another. Now that it was just the two of them without fear of Kyla barging in unannounced and they found themselves this close together in a compromising position, their desires and need overtook them completely.

Feeling Ashley's heat against her leg even through two pairs of jeans made Spencer's head swim. She wondered, for a brief moment, if they were going too fast and what had happened to the playful banter from less than ten minutes prior. When Ashley's fingers deftly undid her bra and those fingernails traveled over her sides to the front, inching upwards, she decided she didn't care. This was what she wanted and she wanted it now.

"Ash," Spencer growled lowly, nipping her way up the writhing girl's neck to her jawline, over her cheek and then finally, to slightly parted lips. She kissed Ashley roughly, almost possessively as the fire building in her lower belly turned white hot. Hands grasped her hair, pulling slightly and she buried her own hands in luscious locks, pulling Ashley impossibly closer.

Their tongues slid against each other, wrestling for dominance in a dance echoed, unconsciously by their frantically bucking hips. Ashley's arms suddenly slid around Spencer's thin waist and pulled her flush against her while they continued building friction.

"Spence..." she gasped, a low keen coming from the back of her throat. The edge was fast approaching and she didn't want something to happen that Spencer didn't want.

"Don't...stop," Spencer panted, needing, aching for release. They were the words Ashley needed to hear and she immediately attacked the younger girl's ear, licking and biting at the lobe while she ran the tip of her tongue over the cusp. Her hands came back around to knead Spencer's breasts through her thin shirt as they rode each other hard.

"Close..." Spencer whimpered, throwing her head back in bliss. Her skin was flushed pink, making her breathtaking to Ashley.

"Me too..." Ashley echoed her. She reached up, running her hand through Spencer's hair and pulling her back to meet her lips.

"Kiss me, Spencer," she begged. "Please...kiss me when you come..." A low throaty moan came from deep within the blonde and she frantically pressed her lips against Ashley's, unable to stop from crying out for the older girl. Ashley felt her world explode as she climaxed seconds later, her lips still pressed to Spencer's and their tongues pressed together.

Spencer collapsed bonelessly against the smaller frame, panting as much as Ashley was. Her head was swirling; her heart thundering. It took several minutes for either girl to regain their composure enough to move and look at the other.

"Spence?" Ashley whispered, her voice raspy. She looked at the other girl in concern, hoping that they hadn't just gotten carried away and put a dampener on their budding relationship. Sure, they'd been intimate before but this was different; there was no mask for Ashley to hide behind and she wanted to do everything right.

She gasped when dark indigo eyes opened and focused intently on her. Spencer leaned closer, cupping the sides of Ashley's face gently.

"Take me to bed, Ashley," she ordered lowly, her voice heavy with untold desire. "No masks, no secrets, just you and me. Take me to bed and make love to me."

Unable to resist the words, the desire behind them or her own need, Ashley silently stood up, making sure to wrap Spencer's legs around her waist to carry her. Despite the joking from earlier, Ashley was able to carry the blonde as if she were weightless and managed to maneuver through the house without looking while her lips stayed pressed against Spencer, randomly moving from lips to her neck in a series of nips and kisses that left the younger girl moaning quietly in her arms.

She finally made it to the bed and carefully laid Spencer down on the soft surface, immediately covering the larger body with her own. Spencer arched into the touch, loving the feel of Ashley's weight against her. She felt Ashley's hands creeping up her sides under her shirt and decided that she couldn't really wait for 'slow and steady'. She sat up just enough to get her shirt off in once swift motion, leaving herself topless except for her baby blue bra.

Ashley swallowed thickly.

"Spence..." she whispered. The younger girl could see the uncertainty in Ashley's eyes now that they'd paused enough to break the wanton spell they'd been under. This was Ashley's first time making love to Spencer without her mask, without the bravado of the 'Zorro' persona to protect herself. To do this, she was going to have to truly give herself and her trust over to Spencer and the blonde could see how nervous she was.

"Ash," Spencer responded in the same hushed tone, reaching out to stroke Ashley's cheek. "It's OK, baby. I want you; I want this, with us. Do you?" Ashley bit her lip and nodded. "Show me."

After another moment of hesitation, a look of desire and determination overtook Ashley's beautiful features and her hands began moving again, this time a little more assured and confident.

"God, I want you so much," Ashley husked, lowering herself back to Spencer, her lips ghosting over the girl's collarbone and creating goose bumps in its wake. "So much..."

"I want you too, Ashley," Spencer reassured her, running her hands over the back of Ashley's shirt and deciding that she'd rather feel hot skin. She removed Ashley's shirt quickly and without much of a protest. She sighed happily as Ashley began to kiss, nip and lick her neck and chest, reigniting the fire within her that hadn't ever really dwindled in the first place.

She was on fire as Ashley deftly removed her bra and tossed it aside, her hot mouth and talented tongue immediately capturing a tight nipple and working it to an even harder point. Spencer arched her back to get closer, groaning in pleasure deep in her throat. She scratched her nails over the brunette's scalp, encouraging her.

"Mmm baby, so good," she sighed as Ashley switched sides and mirrored the attention to her other breast. The smaller girl's hands were far from idle, having unbuckled Spencer's jeans and slipping inside to press against Spencer's wet heat through her panties. The sensation of Spencer's arousal soaking through the material made Ashley whimper as her fingers pressed in.

"You make me so hot, Ashley," Spencer moaned, knowing where Ashley's mind had gone. She knew she was soaked, she could feel it. While her sex life before Ashley had been very limited, she knew that the amount of moisture she was feeling was purely caused by the girl currently sucking on her pulse point and undoubtedly leaving her mark. Not that Spencer cared; she'd gladly bare a mark showing the world that she belonged to Ashley.

A small part of her protested the idea of being anyone's property but as Ashley moved to nip at her right nipple again, the little voice found something shiny to go look at and was silenced for the moment. The only thing that mattered was the girl above her teasing her body into a kinetic frenzy.

"God," Ashley groaned when she slipped her fingers past the flimsy elastic of the underwear and felt Spencer's arousal immediately coating her fingers in slick heat. Ashley's own experience in the bedroom was much more advanced than Spencer's although not in recent years. Still, the shear volume of of Spencer's wet arousal astounded her. It seemed to calm a little more of her rampant nerves; Spencer obviously wanted her, her body couldn't fake that. Despite her own fear of giving so much of herself to Spencer and taking that chance, she relented, pushing her anxiety down and settling in to enjoy the night.

She teased the entrance to Spencer's core, slipping her fingertip into the tight channel and wiggling it without actually giving Spencer the penetration her jerking hips were looking for. Her other fingers stroked and teased the blonde's soaked folds, gliding through the wetness and circling her throbbing clit.

"Tease," the younger girl ground out through tightly clenched teeth. Ashley looked at her face and grinned.

"No, baby, not teasing," she husked gently. "Just exploring. I love the way you feel, the way you move, the sounds you make...God...the sounds." She pushed her finger in to the first knuckle, shivering at the loud, low moan that leaked past Spencer's lips.

"More..." Spencer begged. "Oh please, Ash, more..." she pushed down wildly on the sides of her panties, trying desperately to rid herself of the restriction so that Ashley could have full access.

Using her free hand that had been kneading one of Spencer's breasts, Ashley helped the taller girl remove the offending garment and without any preamble, entered Spencer with the full length of her middle finger. Spencer's back came off the bed and she growled at the sensation.

"Fuck yeah!" she cried out, her hips moving to meet each slow and deliberate stroke of her girlfriend's finger, trying to get her deeper. She tried to speed up the thrusting by moving her hips at the pace she wanted but Ashley stubbornly kept at the same slow rate.

"Faster, Ash," Spencer all but demanded, making the brunette bit her lip as her own arousal spiked. The tone of Spencer's voice made her center flood and she had to squeeze her thighs together to ease a little of the ache.

"Soon, Spence," she promised. "Not yet though." She lowered herself more, her face level with the hand slowly thrusting deep and slow. She watched, transfixed as her finger disappeared and reappeared coated in liquid that made her mouth water to think about. Being careful not to hurt her girlfriend, she slipped a second finger in with the first and won a hiss of pleasure from the writhing girl. Smirking, she lowered her mouth to join her fingers, speeding up slightly as she flicked her tongue hard over Spencer's slick clit.

"Oh God!" Spencer whimpered at the new sensations. She was spiraling closer and closer to the edge, something Ashley knew by the way her inner muscles were twitching and compressing her fingers as she thrust deep and dragged the pads of her fingertips over the soft area she knew was Spencer's G-Spot.

"Ash, oh God, Ashley, Ashley, Ash..." Spencer chanted, getting closer to her climax. "I'm gonna...oh God, so good...ssssssssoo close...Ash...gonna...yes, oh god please..." Ashley suddenly sped up her thrusting and lightly grazed Spencer's erect clit with her teeth, sending the gasping blonde into the atmosphere.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSSSSSSSSHHHHHLEEEEEEEEEEEEYYYYYYY!!!" she cried out, coming hard around the older girl's fingers and flooding her mouth with her juices. Ashley dutifully cleaned her girl with her tongue, causing intense aftershocks to rocket through the bliss-filled girl.

"Ashley...Ash," Spencer panted, giving a determined but gentle tug on the curly locks within reach of her hands. "Please, no more...I'm too sensitive..." Ashley sat up grinning, her face shiny from Spencer's orgasm.

She moved up to hold the sweaty girl whose eyes were drooping shut and who immediately cuddled into the smaller body, wrapping her leg and arm around her possessively.

"Tired baby?" Ashley teased when Spencer let out a huge yawn.

"Mmm hmmm," Spencer hummed in response. "Lemme take a short nap and then just you wait," she warned with a smirk, her eyes closed as she already began to drift off. "I'll show you how good..."

Ashley's back arched upwards, leaving her heels digging into the mattress along with the back of her head as a white hot orgasm flushed through her system; sparks went off behind her eyes and all she could hear was a loud roar in her ears as bliss captured each and every cell on her body. All thanks to the beautiful blonde head and talented tongue currently lavishing attention to her heated center. She tried to call out for Spencer and because of Spencer but her throat seized, stopping the flow of air for a few moments until she collapsed back onto the bed, panting and trembling.

It was hardly the first orgasm Ashley had ever experienced, however, it was one of the most powerful and, she realized as the other girl's lithe body slid up to hold her, one of the most meaningful. For the first time in too long, she was experiencing the bliss and completion that sex could bring while she was sober; and with someone she genuinely cared for. All too often when she was younger, Ashley had used sex as a means to an end, a way to get what she wanted from someone, whether it was drugs, money or just attention. She'd been into the instant gratification sex offered and the feeling of being wanted by someone when it seemed like no one else did. At least with sex, for that moment, someone wanted her. Sure, it was just for her body and the limited amount of time it took to have sex, but at least, to her lonely heart, it was something.

"Sshh, baby, it's OK," Spencer soothed. It was then that Ashley realized she was crying. It wasn't just silent tears of joy or bliss, there were small keening whimpers coming from the back of her still clamped throat, trying escape. Spencer continued to try and calm her, brushing sweat soaked hair away from her face and pressing light, barely there kisses to her cheeks, nose, forehead and anywhere else she could reach, trying to reach through to Ashley and let her know she was safe.

The reaction wasn't unexpected on Spencer's part; she had a suspicion that Ashley would break somewhat after the first time they made love without the mask, without the braver persona that Ashley had been hiding behind. She'd just shared a deeply intimate experience with the older girl, been as close to the real Ashley as anyone had been in a long time and Spencer felt honored and privileged. She knew how much it had taken for Ashley to let her in, let her close when she was as emotionally scarred as she was. Although Spencer had yet to learn the whole, probably horrible story, she understood how hard it had been for the brunette.

"Sssh, Ashley, it's OK," she continued to murmur, hoping to calm the smaller girl. "You're OK; it was beautiful...you're beautiful."

"Sorry," Ashley hiccuped a little later, her head tucked under Spencer's chin as their bodies cooled down. She shivered slightly as the sweat coating her skin started to cool and the small draft coming from the slightly cracked window breezed over her. Spencer moved, careful not to dislodge Ashley and grasped a blanket, pulling it up to cover them both.

"There's nothing to be sorry for," Spencer whispered, placing a kiss to the top of Ashley's head, the unruly curls tickling her nose. "I understand..." She started running her hands up and down Ashley's back, really taking the moment to learn the contours of that soft surface and hoping that maybe, just maybe, she'd have a lifetime to memorize it.

Curiously, she let her fingers drift to where she knew, thanks to Kyla, Ashley's scars from being shot were. They were a few years old so they weren't raised high anymore but she could still feel the difference between the silken flesh and the puckered areas. She felt Ashley shiver under the light touch.

"Ky tell you about them?" she asked softly. Spencer hummed her affirmative response. "Do they bother you? Uhm...turn you off or anything?" There was such innocence and vulnerability in Ashley's tone that Spencer felt her heart swell with even more love for the girl. "Cuz if they do and you want me to I can go see a plastic surgeon..."

"No! Of course they don't bother me, Ash. I mean, I don't know the whole story and I hope someday you can tell me about it for now, I just wanted to learn your body more and they're part of it. Kyla said you'd been shot near the kidney and I hadn't seen them yet. I was curious..."

Ashley shifted slightly so that she could actually look Spencer in the eye. The raw emotion that the blonde could see in those dark pools literally took her breath away. This truly was Ashley without any of the masks she wore; no Zorro, no bravado of the silent, solitary girl from class, none of it.

"It would only take a little procedure for me to get rid of them..." she started. She saw Spencer begin to protest and shook her head. "No, let me finish." When she was convinced that the gorgeous blonde would stay quiet, she went on. "But, like that picture of me and Kyla in the other room, where I look so bad, the scars remind me of how much I've accomplished since those really dark days, of the hard work I've put into being someone different, someone better. That's why I keep them."

"I would never ask you to get rid of them, Ash," Spencer said sincerely. Another piece of the complicated but beautiful Ashley Davies puzzle had fallen into the correct slot, making her image of her girlfriend that much more clearer. "I wouldn't want to change anything about you. If I did, then you wouldn't be Ashley."

Some of the tension drained from the smaller body, Spencer felt it as it occurred and she was relieved herself. She didn't want Ashley thinking that she needed to change anything about herself. That wasn't what Spencer wanted; she wanted the real Ashley, faults and all. That included her scars and her past which she was slowly getting glimpses of.

"Thank you," Ashley said finally, settling back in and wrapping her arm around Spencer's waist. "Mmm, I like this," she sighed happily making Spencer smile.

"What? Cuddling after sex or cuddling in general?" she teased. She felt the older girl press a light kiss to her collarbone, making her shiver with rekindled desire.

"Cuddling in general," Ashley giggled in return. "Especially naked cuddling with a hot girl...God, I love the way you feel beside me, against me..." Spencer swallowed thickly, feeling herself flushing with arousal. Ashley's voice had taken on the low, gravelly quality it did when she herself was turned on. It didn't help Spencer's composure any to be able to feel Ashley's heat against her thigh with the way their legs were intertwined.

"You keep talking to me like that and we're not going to get any sleep tonight," she warned lightly. Ashley's hand moved from its resting place on Spencer's hip up to her breast where it traced and teased an already hardening nipple and made Spencer hiss with desire.

"Well, I guess I'll just have to sleep during class then."

True to Spencer's warning, the two did not get much sleep throughout the night, spending the time instead exploring each other's bodies, free from masks and walls. It was freer now, Spencer noticed while she writhed under Ashley's expert manipulations. There was nothing between the two girls anymore, no faux identities, no past, no insecurities, just two woman who loved each other even if it wasn't yet voiced. It was a fleeting thought, lost quickly as her body responded to the brunette's touch.

"Spence? Spence, baby, you gotta wake up," a soft voice broke through the girl's deep sleep and made her stir reluctantly. "Spencerrrrr, time to get up."

"Fi' more, min's, Ma," she grumbled and tried to roll over. A few aches and pains shot through her body and shook her a little more awake. She took mental stock of herself and found nothing bleeding or missing so she shrugged it off and tried to go back to sleep. The bed was so comfortable and she was so warm and felt so safe she had absolutely no desire to wake up anytime soon.

For her part, Ashley thought the blonde was adorable, curled into a tiny ball on the bed, clutching the pillow that Ashley had abandoned when she awoke and went to take a shower. The younger girl was holding onto the pillow almost the same way she cuddled Ashley when they slept. It was so cute it made Ashley grin. As it was, she had no desire to chase the beautiful girl from her bed but, the holiday weekend was over and they had to return to their own lives, like it or not.

She wanted Spencer to wake with enough time to shower, have a bite to eat with her and then head back to the sorority house before she had to leave for class. She was afraid that if they both showed up to classes within a few moments of each other that someone, Madison most likely, would add things up and Ashley wasn't ready for that. She knew it was paranoid and probably unnecessary but the fear was still there and sadly, her fears were part of what drove her to be the way she was. She hoped that Spencer understood all that and could cope with it.

"Seriously, baby," Ashley said firmer this time. "You gotta get up and shower before you go back to the sorority house. You don't wanna walk through the door smelling...well, smelling like a Bangkok brothel at high noon in August, do ya?"

Fuck, Madison would just love that, Ashley thought darkly to herself. She'd know the instant Spencer hit that door exactly what she did over the weekend and I don't want Spencer under that sort of scrutiny. I have to find a way to keep this...thing between us from ruining Spencer's life at school. I'd hate myself if being with me made Spencer miserable.

One sleepy blue eye opened to look at the older girl and tried to glare but was too tired to muster the energy.

"Call me out, not going," she muttered, pulling the blankets up over her head. Ashley laughed and then grabbed an end of the blankets to try and wrestle them off of the hiding girl.

"Come on, gorgeous," she encouraged. "It's after six on Monday morning and sadly, we have to return to our routines."

"Ashleeeeeeeey," Spencer whined pitifully once the brunette had stripped her of her protective layer. She was still nude and shivered at the temperature change. "I don't want real life to invade my little bubble, our little bubble. Can't we just stay here and sleep, or cuddle, or have more sex?" Ashley roared with laughter for a few minutes, finally earning the glare Spencer had been working on.

"As much as I hate to refuse a pretty lady already lying naked in my bed," she said jokingly and yet also seriously. "We really do have to get going. I want you to shower and have breakfast with me before you leave and we both go back to school. " Spencer groaned again and shoved her face into the pillow.

"Howiegunnadthis?" was muffled out from the pillow, making Ashley frown and tilt her head slightly.

"Huh?" she asked, confused. "Howie whosie whatzit?" Spencer turned her head out of the pillow but still away from Ashley.

"How are we gonna do this?" she repeated, clearly so that there was no mistaking the question. She felt the bed dip down as Ashley sat on the edge. The finger that started tracing the line of her spine didn't do much to help her train of thought as she waited for an answer.

"Spencer," Ashley sighed before running a hand through her still damp hair. "You know that the way I am on campus is how I have to be; to get by, you know? And the whole thing with Madison...I don't want to make it harder on you and if this...if word of us as an 'us' gets out, she will be merciless on you. It won't be me she goes after to hurt; it'll be you so that she can hurt me through you. And I wouldn't be able to stand that..."

"So, you're saying..." Spencer started, rolling over so that the finger that had been teasing her back was now playing with her navel. It eased her mind somewhat to see the troubled expression on the brunette's face; she was just as upset over the situation as Spencer was. It served to reassure the blonde a little more.

"I'm saying that I meant what I said; I really wanna be your girlfriend," Ashley said honestly, her words sticking slightly in a clamped throat as a lump of fear and uncertainty lodged itself inside. "I want there to be an 'us'; I really like you, Spencer. I don't think I've felt this way before and I don't wanna ruin it. I'm so scared I'm gonna fuck up and I know that not being able to be seen with me on campus isn't what you want."

"Ashley," Spencer broke into the smaller girl's monologue. She maneuvered herself to sit up against the headboard. "I want nothing more than to walk across the quad with you, hand in hand and flip off anyone who has an issue with it." Ashley dropped her head and Spencer knew it was to hide the tears brewing there.

"Spence..." she choked out. As much as she really wanted the same thing, her past and her fears wouldn't let her be that open. Not yet and maybe not ever. She didn't want Spencer to feel restricted because she had issues.

I'm ruining this relationship before it even really gets going, Ashley fretted. Why can't I just let myself be happy for once?

"But," Spencer interrupted her quickly before she got too upset. She could see how much the situation was bothering Ashley and felt that the older girl was needlessly flogging herself over it.

"I understand where you're coming from and I would never ask you to do something that you're not ready for; same as you've never tried to force me into anything I was uncomfortable with. I knew how you were and a little of the reason why before I even agreed to be your girlfriend so, it's nothing I didn't know or expect. Honest. So, as much as I'd love to stand on the top of a building and scream out that I'm 'with' you, that I am Ashley Davies' girlfriend, I won't. I won't do that to you, thrust you out into the spotlight you don't want and try so hard to avoid. Plus, I'm not sure I wanna out myself in such a dramatic fashion." the joke won her a wane smirk that quickly fell from Ashley's beautiful face.

"You understand that I'm not in any way ashamed to be with you, right?" Ashley asked as a single tear slipped down her face. "That I wanna be with you and everything but..." she trailed off with a sniffle. Spencer smiled and reached up to brush it away with her thumb.

"Of course, baby," she whispered back. "I'm not ashamed of you either so never think it. I understand that you are the way you are for a reason and I hope that someday soon you'll feel secure enough to tell me the whole thing but for now, honey, I am more than happy to follow your lead." She leaned in and kissed her girlfriend to seal the deal, feeling Ashley relax and smile into the embrace.

"Sometimes," Ashley said softly, thickly as her emotions raged and she fought to control herself. "Sometimes, I think that you're a dream and that there's no way this is real..."

"Oh, trust me, baby, I'm the real deal," Spencer declared with a giggle. "Besides, dreams don't leave big ass hickeys like the one you're sporting on your neck."

Spencer reluctantly left Ashley, after breakfast of pancakes and leftovers that tasted better than most things Spencer had ever had in a restaurant and an intense make-out session that almost went into more before Ashley stopped it. She ushered Spencer out the door so that there was time for the blonde to make an appearance at her sorority house before class started. She walked into the main hall and could hear Madison's voice screeching loudly a room away.

"Where the fuck have you been, mija?" Madison demanded to know, storming into the hall and stopping with one hand on a hip jutted out to the side. The upperclassmen sisters ignored the exchange but Spencer noticed that they were quickly the main attraction for the returning freshmen. "Do you not know how to answer your phone or what?" Spencer rolled her eyes and shrugged, dropping her bag at her feet with a sigh.

"The battery died and I forgot my plug upstairs," she lied. In reality, she'd turned the damned thing off after the third call from Madison and fifth from her mother that she'd let go directly to her voicemail. She wasn't going to let the two narrow-minded women ruin her weekend. She'd deal with her mother's wrath later in the week when she was somewhat recovered, sleep-wise.

"I don't believe you but whatever," Madison grumbled. "You were out fucking your little butt-pirate boy while I was enduring a family crisis. Crisis de la familia! You do not understand!" Spencer took her mail from Katie as she passed by with a wink and then picked her bag back up.

Wait, butt-pirate? I thought that was slang for a gay man...What the fuck? Spencer wondered but shrugged it off. Madison's misuse of an insult was nothing new and not high on her list of problems.

"What happened, Maddy? Your mother try to set up an arranged marriage for you or something?" she asked as she yawned. She really had no idea how she was going to make it through all her classes that day without snoring. Her only comfort was the fact that Ashley would be in the same boat with her. Plus, she at least got to see the beautiful brunette and maybe smile at her a few times.

They already had plans to meet up at Ashley's Friday evening. Ashley wanted to take Spencer out of town for the weekend and there was no way the Ohio native was going to say no to something like that. She was already going through her wardrobe in her mind to figure out what to pack. Ashley wouldn't tell her where they were going so she really didn't know what to pack. Ashley had said to just pack her normal things and not worry about it but that only made the younger girl worry more. She loved Ashley's thoughtfulness but still wanted to look nice for her.

"Fuck you, puta," Madison growled. Her coarse language caused one of Spencer's pale brows to arch in insult but before she could retort, Madison plowed on. "My cousin, Jeremiah, the one who's a successful chef and makes tons of money at his job and everyone said was going to amount to something great and own his own restaurant before he was thirty? You are not going to believe this! He had the nerve, the fucking bolas grandes to bring a date! A DATE!" Spencer frowned and shook her head.

"So? It was a family gathering. What's wrong with bringing a date?" she asked although she figured she knew the answer to that already.

Ah, that's where Madison got butt-pirate from!

She wanted to see, in a perverse sense, Madison's reaction to it so that she could possibly gage what the Latina's reaction to her own surprised was going to be at some point down the line.

"His date's name was IRVING!" Madison yelled, outraged. "My cousin, whom I grew up with, played with like every frikkin day and thought I knew like a brother, is a fucking faggot!" Spencer felt her anger rise at the slur but pushed it down so that she didn't say something and inadvertently out herself. Somehow she thought, given Madison' reaction to Jeremiah's sexuality, that if she slipped and added the fact that she was pretty sure she was a lesbian, the smaller girl's head would explode. Either that or she'd snap completely and end up counting tiles in a padded cell for a while.

"Maddy, he's still your cousin, still the person you grew up with, he didn't change," she said calmly watching her friend's face turn an alarming shade of purple. "And really, I have to ask, how did you not know before?"

"?Oh mi dios no le creo! ?Primero usted comienza a colgar hacia fuera con los Davies de ese Ashley de la puta y ahora usted está actuando como mi primo que es un faggot no es ningún reparto grande! ?Usted ha ido loco!"

[Oh my god I don't believe you! First you start hanging out with that whore Ashley Davies and now you're acting like my cousin being a faggot is no big deal! You have gone crazy!]

The only thing Spencer gleamed from the Spanish rant was Ashley's name in close proximity to the word 'whore' and it only served to piss her off more.

"Look, Madison, I'm sorry your holiday sucked ass so bad," she said tiredly. "No, you know what? I'm glad your cousin finally came out as a poofer so we can all stop pretending he's not and maybe you'll finally see that being gay isn't a choice and it certainly doesn't make you a bad person. But you know what? My weekend rocked. I had good food, good company and yes, I'll say it, mind blowing sex. So if you'll excuse me from this conversation, I need to go grab some stuff from my room and go to class."

Her first class that morning wasn't one that Spencer shared with Ashley; however, she did share it with Madison. The Latina was still incredibly pissed at Spencer for the things she'd said that morning but Spencer brushed it off. She felt bad, in the way you feel bad because you know you probably should and end up feeling bad precisely because you indeed don't feel bad in the first place. Spencer shook her head on the way to English and hoped that her thoughts didn't spin in circles like that for the entire day.

She tried, and failed, to keep the million watt smile from splitting her face in two when she saw Ashley, slouched in her seat with the hood of her light blue Element jacket up over her head, hiding her hair. Only the brim of her Volcom baseball cap poked through the front and sat just barely above the rims of her reflective sunglasses. She had on her signature torn at the knees jeans and timberlands and a long sleeve, high necked black band tee under her half-zipped jacket. Spencer knew that the high neck was to cover the marks she'd inadvertently left on smooth skin at the heat of their passion. She had to work hard at not letting the images of what was under those clothes overtake her mind and cause her to go lift the girl out of her chair and kiss her until they both passed out from lack of oxygen.

She took her usual seat, now only three rows in front of Ashley, feeling very happy since she'd seen the tell-tale twitch of a suppressed smile at the edges of the brunette's lips when she saw Spencer. It warmed Spencer to know that Ashley was just as happy to see her, even from a distance, as the blonde was to see her. Just being near the musician was making Spencer giddy, and fairly aroused, but she figured she could deal with it. It was like having the best secret ever and yet no desire to spill the beans.

Madison stomped down the aisle, having left the class before with a glare at Spencer as she left. She'd made the blonde walk across campus alone as punishment when in reality Spencer didn't mind since it gave her quiet time to think about how happy Ashley made her. If Madison wasn't there when she daydreamed, there was less of a chance she'd slip and accidentally reveal something she didn't want to.

The Latina gave one look at where Ashley was in relation to Spencer and her face turned beet red. She glared at Spencer.

"So, what? Are you friends with this pedazo de mierda now? Is that it?" she growled, a few specks of spittle flying from her full lips as she gestured in Ashley's direction. Spencer turned in her seat to look at Ashley quickly, playing it as if she didn't know what Madison was talking about and then looked back at her friend with an arched eyebrow. She suppressed her smile at having seen Ashley's stone blank face and reminded herself never to play poker with her girlfriend.

"Who? Ashley?" she asked innocently, in as close to a normal tone as she could manage given that a fit of the giggles was dancing on her vocal chords. Madison's glare only narrowed at her. "Yeah, I talk to her sometimes; so what? I'm polite; I'm sorry, it's a personal fault. Maddy, I have nothing to do with where she choses to sit, OK? There's no assigned seating in this class so she's free to sit where she wants to. Maybe she can't see the overhead projector from that far back or something. Do you have to give her a hard time every time you see her? It's getting a little old."

Madison's mouth fell open, reminding Spencer somewhat of the kid from 'Home Alone' without the hands on the cheeks. She just stared at the Ohio native like she couldn't believe what she was hearing which Spencer figured, she probably couldn't. She didn't let Madison run all over her but she usually tried to keep her smart remarks to herself and let Madison say whatever crossed her snobbish little mind, but she could tell that those days were long gone.

"Oh whatever," Madison sighed, shocking Spencer and a few feet behind her, Ashley as well. Madison plopped down into her chair and took out the latest copies of Vogue and Cosmo from her bag, ignoring both girls. They all responded to roll call and Spencer tried to focus on what the professor was saying but her mind kept wandering.

Sometimes it was thoughts of Ashley, moaning under her, or panting above her and those thoughts caused her to shift uncomfortably in her chair as heat rushed directly to her core. She wasn't sure her raging libido could wait until Friday night. Then her insecurities would kick in and tell her that maybe Ashley wasn't interested in sex with her Friday, or Saturday, or Sunday; their relationship was more than that and Spencer knew it. Then she wondered if she was OK in bed, fulfilling enough for Ashley who had, admittedly more experience. Spencer didn't have any experience in the 'ins and outs' of lesbian sex.

Oh my God! What if I'm terrible in bed and she's too nice to tell me. God, I think I'd die! She worried.

Her phone buzzed in her pocket, making her jump at least a foot as she took it from her pocket and flipped it open. The message was from Z, Spencer's code name in her contacts for Ashley. God forbid her phone fell into the wrong hands, she wanted to protect herself and Ashley from prying eyes.

[It's killing me 2b this close and not touch u] it read, making Spencer's stomach to flip pleasantly and the heat at her center flare hotter. She smiled and typed back a response.

[ditto] she wrote. [i dunno if i can wait til fri] She hit send and then waited for the response she knew would be quick in coming. Sure enough, moments later, her phone buzzed again.

[me either] it said. [but waiting is half the fun]

[True] Spencer agreed. [hey, whats the deal w maddy?]

[i dunno. May b she just got tired of arguing? It won't last tho. Trust me] Ashley told her. Spencer knew she was right; there was no way Madison was going to let her vendetta with her high school nemesis go quite that easily. She was no doubt plotting something even as she scoffed at the lasted fashions from Milan and paid no attention whatsoever to the lesson. Spencer wondered, not for the first time, how Madison passed most of her classes. Then she followed that thought with the fact that she really, really didn't wanna know.

[I like tht blouse. Color compliments ur eyes] Spencer smiled, for what felt like the millionth time that class at the sweet compliment. She had on her favorite deep blue shirt, one of the few more expensive pieces of clothing she owned.

[ty] she sent back with a chuckle.

"Miss Davies, if you are still awake," the professor said dryly, startling Spencer into sitting up straight in her chair and dropping her phone into her lap. "Could you please share with the rest of the class what theme of our latest assignment was?" He was clearly expecting Ashley to have no idea what he was talking about but to his surprise, and Spencer's pride, Ashley answered him without missing a beat. The professor stammered for a moment before shooting Ashley a glare and going back to addressing the class, most of which was stifling giggles at the interaction.

Spencer's phone buzzed again and she cautiously picked it up.

[That was close. Old fart thought he had me] it said. Spencer giggled, earning herself a glare from Madison from the corner of her eye which she shrugged off.

[No one catches the magnificent Z!] Spencer sent to the girl sitting roughly ten feet behind her. She could feel the warm smile of her girlfriend behind her even if she didn't dare turn around to see it.

[Only u, my beautiful lady]

They kept to that pattern of texting and Iming on the computer for the rest of the week, unable to find holes in their schedules to meet up any sooner than the weekend. Spencer had, to her horror, sorority duties that kept her around both Madison and Lucy most of the time. Thankfully, Katie was also there and was really good at keeping Spencer's spirits up and the other girls off her back at the same time.

It was Wednesday and Ashley had had a fencing competition against another college that Spencer was dying to go to and see her girl in action, in all her glory and watch her undoubtedly win. Unfortunately she couldn't get away from her sorority sisters and the fund raiser that was running at the same time.

She pulled herself away from the society men and women they were hosting a party for, dressed to the nines and in Spencer's opinion, a hairsbreadth away from prostituting themselves to when her phone, tucked in her purse but under close watch by Spencer, quietly chimed. Anxiously, she flipped the phone open and smiled when the screen confirmed that it was from Z.

[Babe! I no ur busy but I won! 1st prize! District champ!] it read. Spencer felt a swell of pride and adoration flow through her along with a pang of guilt and sorrow for not being able to actually witness her girlfriend's victory.

[I am so proud of you, baby!] she send back. [wish I could have seen it]

[may b when I go2 regionals] Ashley told her. [ug the lites in here r killing my i's. Headache]

[my poor baby] Spencer sighed, not liking the fact that Ashley wasn't feeling well and there was nothing she could do at the moment. She knew that Ashley's medical condition was stable but that her eyes still bothered her. She still didn't know the story behind the stroke the beautiful girl had suffered but she was confident in time that she would.

She musta been wearing her contacts instead of glasses and she's allergic to them, Spencer remembered.

[Ill let u get back2 ur party. Im gonna go home n crash. The team is going partying but im 2 tired. Not my scene n e way. Nite Spence]

[nite Z] Spencer said, careful not to revel Z's identity even in text. She rarely misplaced her phone but she also had little to no trust for most of the people in the house, Lucy and Madison especially. She was trying to leave nothing to chance. [lemme no if u need n e thing <3]

[I will <3]

Spencer sighed and put her phone back in her purse just as Lucy approached her with an angry snarl on her face.

"Carlin, get the fuck back out there," she snapped. She grasped Spencer roughly from the arm, immediately pissing the smaller blonde off. "I'm glad that you're getting a regular fucking and all, Carlin cuz it certainly got that stick out of your ass. But if you wanna stay a member of this sorority then you need to pull your weight and get some fucking donations."

"OK, first thing, take your hand offa me," Spencer growled, not liking being manhandled by the bitchy girl. Lucy glowered at her for a moment, the hand on Spencer's elbow momentarily tightening before it let go completely. She met Lucy's gaze unflinchingly, knowing that it was partially the confidence being with Ashley gave her that was letting her stand right up to the queen bitch that way. She hated conflict but she was getting very tired of being walked on.

"OK, that being said, Lucy, I've already pulled in plenty of money. I practically had Howie Mendoza, you know, the CEO of Mendoza Industries eating out of my hand and he's pledged a lot of money to us. Plus, his daughter will be a pledge next fall so he was working on making inroads for her. We both end up as winners. Now, back off of me, I'm doing what I'm supposed to."

"Fine," Lucy snapped. Her expression managed to darken some. "Don't forget, I expect a really fucking nice donation from Ashley Davies before the winter break, Carlin. Madison says you're still friendly with her so start siphoning the money, got me?" A rock suddenly settled in Spencer's stomach, twisting her insides. She'd forgotten that little fib and it just bit her on the ass.

"Yeah, I got you," she nodded. Lucy glared one more time and then stalked away, leaving Spencer alone to let out the breath that had caught when she was reminded of her little white lie.

"Crap," she swore to herself, rubbing at the bridge of her nose.

How am I gonna ask Ashley for a donation without it seeming like that was why I got close to her in the first place? She wondered. God I hope Ashley has more faith in me than that but I don't see it being a good conversation. I'd better do it though, before Madison or Lucy get to her first and make it into a bigger deal that it really was.

Taking a breath to fortify herself for what was likely to be a long and tiring night, Spencer plastered a smile on her face and walked out from behind the corner she'd hidden herself in. She tried to concentrate on happier thoughts of her girlfriend while she walked back into the throng of people.

A day and a half, she reminded herself. The thought brought a more genuine smile to her face as the party continued. It was pretty much the only thing that got her through the night. It was after one am before she got back to her room and fell down on the bed, exhausted. After a few minutes and kicking off her shoes to relieve her feet of the high heels that were killing her, she got up and into her pajamas, wishing, not for the first time, that Ashley was there to snuggle up with.

She plugged in her phone and sent one more message to Ashley, hoping the girl had gotten home safe and was asleep. She wondered, given what Kyla had told her of Ashley's sleeping habits over the years, if her girlfriend would still be awake. She was torn in half, one part wanting her to be awake to talk to but the other wanting her to be able to sleep and get rid of her headache. Finally, she went with hoping Ashley was asleep for her health, at least.

[good nite Z. hope u got home safe and c u soon] She hit 'send' on the keypad and put the phone on her nightstand beside the bed before pulling back the sheets and crawling in. She had shut off the lights and was settled in when her phone played Ashley's ring tone. Frowning, because that meant Ashley was indeed awake but at the same time, happy to hear from her, Spencer opened the phone.

[nite. Im safe. Head hurts bad but dont worry im OK. Sleep well beautiful] Her frown deepened knowing that Ashley was feeling worse.

[Z call me if u need me or ur head gets any worse] she told her girlfriend.

[u no it. Nite <3] Ashley replied.

[nite <3]

Spencer settled back into bed, a nagging thought tickling the back of her mind and making it difficult for sleep to come. She really hoped all that was wrong with Ashley was a headache caused by the lights at the competition. It was awhile before she managed to fall asleep.

Blurry eyed and still tired, Spencer walked across campus alone, Madison having blown off class since she had gotten in after Spencer and was still sleeping. Spencer didn't care; if Madison wanted to skip class and let her grades slip then that was fine. That was her money and her problem. She wasn't paying for school from her own money for the most part anyway the way Spencer was. However, nothing short of projectile vomiting or, she knew, Ashley would keep her from attending class.

She had only managed to miss a few days thus far this semester and it was usually a sticking point with her mother on visits home. Paula would ask, each time, how many days Spencer hadn't attended class and even if Spencer had only missed two or lied about it, her mother made it into a big deal. She would go on another one of her rants about how they would be able to keep a better eye on Spencer if she were closer to home or better yet, lived at home while going to school. Then it evolved into a sermon on how Spencer was wasting her money and ruining her life with the horrible and despicable choices she was making.

I'm gonna be lucky if that woman doesn't duct tape me to the car seat and drive my ass back to Ohio when she finds out I'm gay...and in love, Spencer sighed as she walked. While the weather in California was cold, it wasn't anything compared to a winter in Ohio. She had on a jacket but actually found the temperature nice, if cool. She knew Ashley hated the cold and thought about getting her a nice warm jacket. She stumbled in her walk for a moment.

Oh God, what am I going to get her for Christmas? she wondered. She's got enough money to get whatever she wants and I'm struggling to pay my cell phone bill. Shit! She yawned and sighed again, deciding to leave the fretting over that thought to when she was more awake.

The cup of black coffee in her hand wasn't doing much to jolt her awake, same as a slightly cold shower hadn't helped. Sometimes she really hated that she shared a bathroom with so many other girls. By the time she'd made it to the showers, most of the hot water was gone. So it'd been a quick, cold shower for her. She'd preferred Ashley's huge shower with dual shower heads and seemingly endless hot water. Of course, thinking that way also brought with her the thoughts of things she'd like to do with Ashley in that shower and helped to warm her on the way to class.

English class was her second of the day and she was looking forward to seeing Ashley. When she entered the room and saw her girlfriend slouched low in her seat, she smiled, her stomach flip flopping like it did each time to accompany the rush of adrenaline that always occurred when she saw Ashley. She walked past, tempted to sit with her, confident in the knowledge that Madison wasn't going to be there but erred on the side of caution. You never knew who would say something to the hate-filled Latina.

She took her seat and then turned to look at Ashley. Today was a knit cap day for her girlfriend, the brown woolen cap with brim pulled much lower than usual, dark sunglasses reflecting Spencer back at herself. A small smile pulled at the edges of Ashley's lips which, Spencer noticed, were pulled thin and pale, like the girl's face. Ashley, usually bronze with tan, was pale, almost gray skinned and obviously not feeling well. Her hair was braided in the back although there were many straggler hairs flying from the ties. Her jacket was zipped to the top, hiding the front of the turtleneck Ashley was wearing. She was shivering, Spencer could tell and her smile didn't last long.

Spencer started to open her mouth to ask Ashley if she was OK when the professor began roll call and demanded she turn around and face the front. She took out her phone and typed Ashley a quick message.

[r u OK? U look sick] She hit 'send' and waited anxiously. The phone barely vibrated before she had it wide open to read the message.

[Im fine, Spence] Ashley told her. [had a breakfast burrito didnt sit well. Dont worry] Spencer frowned, knowing it was most likely not the truth. Ashley rarely ate breakfast, or any meal anywhere but at home so she certainly wouldn't risk a McDonald's meal. She didn't understand why Ashley would tell her that but decided to let it go and focus on helping the apparently sick girl.

[u sure?] she asked. [we can ditch and u can go rest]

[Im fine, Spence. Plz dont worry so much. Ill b OK 4 our weekend. Promise] Spencer shook her head.

[its not that, Z] she wrote, trying hard not to refer to her as 'Ash' like she started to. [u look sick, hon. Dont worry about our plans if ur sick]

[ill b fine ull c] came back. Spencer sighed, knowing she was running into Ashley's stubborn streak. Unless Ashley let her, there was precious little Spencer could do.

When class ended, she grabbed her bag and started to approach Ashley when the professor called for her attention. Swallowing, she turned away from her girlfriend who had nodded slightly at her.

"Yes, professor?" she responded to the old man. He sighed at her and beckoned her forward.

"A word, please?" he asked. Sighing and watching Ashley disappear through the door, Spencer went to see her teacher. She hoped that he wasn't about to chew her out about her texting.

Fifteen minutes later, Spencer left the hall, bouncing slightly after receiving an invitation next semester to attend a small, restricted writing class open only to students who receive a professor's recommendation. She was elated, really, that he'd given her the recommendation. She loved writing and felt it was probably where her future lay, if anywhere. She wondered about journalism or fiction writing as a possibility.

Unfortunately, her happiness was tempered with the sadness that Ashley was no where in sight. Her mood became darker when after her Physics class she went to Music and Ashley wasn't there. She waited, even after class began for her dark haired girlfriend to show up but her seat by the window remained empty.

Spencer was worried; it was unlikely that Ashley would just skip a class for no reason this close to finals. As it was, most classes were warm-up and prep for winter finals. Ashley took her schoolwork seriously and rarely missed class, aside from the days before Thanksgiving that she'd been out after Spencer had called her name while having sex with her alter ego, Z. Even then, Ashley had the work emailed to her and in reality, lost no time in the assignments.

I hope she's OK, Spencer worried as class ended. She didn't text me... The thought was cut off when as if on cue, her phone buzzed.

[food poisoning] Ashley told her in text. [dont worry im fine. Im gonna rest and sleep. C u 2moro. <3]

[OK, <3 u. plz call if u get worse or just want company. I wanna b there 4u]

[thanx spence i will <3 u2]

Spencer sighed and put her phone away, disappointed that she wouldn't see Ashley at any more classes that day. She hoped the girl was feeling better by morning. It wasn't that she cared if their plans, whatever Ashley had planned, got ruined; she was worried more about Ashley's health than anything else. She knew that something had happened to the enigmatic brunette a few years earlier, caused her stroke and subsequent bad eyesight but she wasn't entirely sure what it was. She had a small idea, given certain facts she knew and a few verbal slips by Kyla but she didn't want to jump to a conclusion and form an opinion. She wanted Ashley to trust her enough, have enough faith in her to actually tell her what had happened.

She finished her day and sent a goodnight text to Ashley that evening which wasn't returned, not that Spencer was surprised. She'd figured that if Ashley managed to actually fall asleep, she'd stay that way until morning given how horrible she probably felt. She hoped that Ashley was sleeping, snug in her bed having nice dreams and not hugging the toilet, feverish and shivering on the bathroom floor, all alone. She then realized that she really needed to give her imagination a rest.

She's fine and if she's not at school tomorrow I'll call her, she decided, rolling over for the hundredth time and staring at her alarm clock. She knew she needed to get some sleep or else she was going to be too tired to do anything, either at school or with Ashley over the weekend.

OK, I need to sleep because if I fall asleep just as we start getting heated, she'll never forgive me. Hell, I'd never forgive me.

Despite her efforts, Spencer didn't sleep that well, worried like she was about Ashley. She kept having weird nightmares of Ashley sick and alone having hurt herself. It was always the same with the poor brunette calling out for Spencer and the room being empty as she stumbled and hit her head. Then it would shift to Kyla yelling at her for not helping the sick girl, calling her names and telling her she was worse than Madison ever was. She woke periodically, startled because the dream had been so real and had to remind herself that it had been a dream and that Ashley was (hopefully) fine and Kyla wasn't mad at her. She tried a few times throughout the night to contact Ashley through text but the girl didn't answer. While the idea of calling Kyla to see if she'd heard from Ashley crossed her mind, Spencer didn't want to call and worry her if there was indeed nothing wrong.

The next morning she awoke, showered and got dressed, hoping that Ashley would be back at school, fully recovered from her bout of 'food poisoning' or whatever it was. To that end, she picked up an extra muffin from the campus coffee shop for her, knowing that it was no where near as good a breakfast treat as what Ashley herself could make but she reassured herself that it was the thought that counted. She made a mental note to ask the gorgeous brunette to teach her to cook.

Her father was a spectacular cook while her mother, although she tried, wasn't. Arthur could make meatloaf into a gourmet restaurant style occasion while all of Paula's attempts at making dinner ended up Cajun, i.e. blackened. It was a running joke that the doctor was great at her job but confused the fire alarm with an egg timer. Growing up, Spencer was used to her father's presence and her mother's absences working long hours and although Arthur spent time teaching Clay the art and style of Carlin-cuisine, Spencer and Glen spent more time outdoors than indoors.

Maybe I should have paid more attention, Spencer smiled to herself. I really think Dad and Ashley will get along well. I can't wait for her to meet him...actually, I really can't wait for him to meet her! Dad's so cool and he'll be over the moon that I met someone who can cook. That should totally override the whole 'gay' thing for him.

Again that thought brought about visions of her mother's reaction, complete with fervent prayers, condemnations and sprinklings of holy water. She decided it was much more fun to think about Ashley and hurry along to class to see her all that much faster.

So, she was more than disappointed when Ashley was not in English or Music or any of their shared classes. She sent out a few texts in class and called between as she walked the campus for an answer but all it did was make her worry more. Ashley wasn't answering and the image of the girl, sick and on the floor of her bathroom, possibly having hit her head or something, were running rampant through her mind. She was supposed to be at Ashley's around six that night but wasn't sure she could wait that long. To make matters worse, she didn't have a key or know the code to disarm the security system.

I should have asked, she berated herself. I just didn't want to push her. I want her, if she wants to give me a key at all, to do it at her own rate, when she's comfortable. Now, I can't get in the house without breaking in again and she might not find it amusing this time either.

She jumped, in the middle of her Physics class when her phone buzzed and kept going, which indicated it was more than a text message. She looked down to see 'Shakespeare' calling her.

Shit! Kyla? Why not Ashley? Oh God... Spencer worried. All her nightmare images flashed through her mind, making her short of breath and her palms sweaty.

She excused herself from class but not before the phone stopped ringing. Swearing, she saw that Kyla didn't leave a voice mail which worried Spencer all the more. She was about to call the younger sister back when her phone buzzed again, telling her that it was 'Shakespeare' calling again.

"Hello?" Spencer said after hitting the 'answer' key.

"Hey, Spencer, it's Kyla," came the strained reply. Spencer was instantly on alert, the hairs on the back of her neck prickling. She knew instantly that it was more than 'food poisoning'.

"What's wrong?" she automatically asked. There was no way that it was a coincidence that Kyla was calling her a day after Ashley got sick and on the same day that the older girl wasn't answering her texts.

"Look, Spence, I hate to bother you, especially during school," Kyla began. Spencer wanted to hit a fast forward button and just get to the problem but couldn't.

"You aren't bothering me," she said quickly. "Is Ashley OK?" A long sigh answered her, making her heart race with near panic.

"She's sick, Spencer, like, really bad, pukey, fever, kinda hallucinating sick," Kyla told her, making Spencer's heart ache for her girlfriend. "She called me last night and again this morning, which is fine. She told me last night that she wasn't feeling well and that she wasn't sure she was gonna be able to bring you up here to visit this weekend so the three of us could hang out and I could show you around." Spencer smiled, despite the situation. Ashley was going to bring her to hang out with Kyla; for some reason, that warmed her heart. It was simple yet meaningful and Spencer adored Ashley for it.

"But she called again this morning complaining that the ducks in her bathroom were too loud and that she couldn't go to school cuz she couldn't find her feet," Kyla went on, slightly frightening Spencer. "I told her to stay home and sleep and that the ducks would take a nap if she did. I haven't really heard from her since then, which was like, over two hours ago and I'm too far away to help and have rehearsals for our winter production tonight. Would you mind..."

"I'm heading to my car now, Kyla," Spencer said as she headed just that way. She didn't even care to stop by the sorority house to get anything, knowing that there was nothing of dire importance there she needed and she could probably just borrow clothes if she needed them from Ashley.

"Thanks a lot, Spencer. I'm sorry to throw my sick sister at you like this..." Kyla apologized. Spencer shook her head, forgetting for a minute that the younger girl couldn't see her.

"It's OK. I've been worried since she left school early yesterday," she said as she got into her car. "Is there anything I should know, about Ashley's health?" There was a long pause before Kyla responded.

"She doesn't really get sick a lot," the drama major explained. "Which is why I was kinda surprised she was sick at all. But I'll warn you, when she does get sick, it's usually pretty bad. What else? Um...she has a naturally low body temperature so when it gets over a hundred or so, she gets real sick. Any higher and she hallucinates, which I guess is what's happening. Just...make sure she's OK for me, Spence? I mean, Ian won't be at the house until Sunday and I just..."

"Kyla, it's no problem," Spencer laughed slightly at Kyla's babbling. "I was supposed to go over there later tonight so I'll just go over early. OK?"

"Thanks Spencer, really," Kyla said, relieved. "This is a huge worry offa me. Please let me know how she is and if she's really bad, or you need anything, I'll duck outta rehearsal and head down there."

"I will. Oh! Kyla, I need a key and the pass code to the alarm," Spencer remembered.

"Fuck!" Kyla grumbled. "Um, if she hasn't changed the code, it's Dad's birthday. Five, fourteen, sixty-two." Spencer repeated the code over and over in her head as Kyla kept talking. "If that doesn't work, call me back. The spare key is under the fourth stone from the house in the walkway...wait, she didn't give you a key? Never mind, that's Ash for you. Look, I gotta go, my class is starting. Seriously, call for any reason, Spencer, OK? Thanks again. OK, buh bye." Kyla hung up abruptly leaving Spencer to pray she was remembering the code right and that she could find the key.

Spencer arrived and to her incredible relief, the key was where Kyla said it was and the code hadn't changed. She relocked the door and armed the alarm after she got in and quickly stripped off her coat as she headed towards the bedroom to find Ashley. To her horror, Ashley was on the floor of the bedroom, sitting slightly and tangled in a sheet next to a bucket that showed her exact state. Spencer recognized the bucket as the one that had served as her own salvation only a week earlier. She was grateful that vomit didn't gross her out and that she could hear Ashley whimpering from her makeshift bed. At least the girl was semi-conscious.

"Ashley?" she called gently as she approached, not wanting to frighten the possibly hallucinating girl on the floor. "Baby, can you hear me?" Slowly, Ashley turned her head towards her, her usually sleek and beautiful hair matted by sweat and sticking to her reddened face and neck. Incredibly red and watery eyes tried to focus on her as she swayed in place.

"'Pence?" she slurred, her eyes shutting for longer than Spencer liked when she blinked. She then frowned and looked away. "No, not there...like ducks not there...Kyla said no ducks...no ducks no Spencer..." Spencer walked closer and got on the floor next to her. She watched as Ashley slipped in and out of consciousness while sitting there, her fever knocking her out.

Thank God Mom is a doctor, Spencer thought as she reached out to the older girl.

"Ash? Hon, I'm really here," she whispered, her hand going over Ashley's forehead, palm down. The small nagging thought that Ash was possibly drunk was quickly squashed at the first touch; the tiny brunette was nothing less than scorching. She felt bad for even thinking it but someone else her age, after winning a district championship would probably go out drinking to celebrate the win. And she was still learning the ins and outs of Ashley Davies.

"Shit," Spencer swore when she felt how hot the sick girl was. Awake again, Ashley turned to her.

"Hi," she breathed out, apparently somewhat aware that Spencer was really there. But, the blonde could see that physically Ashley was right there but mentally, there was nothing going on behind those dull and glassy eyes. Spencer thought about a course of action for a moment before kissing Ashley on the hot forehead and standing up. Making sure the girl was OK for the moment on the floor, she stripped the bed of its soiled sheets and after a quick adventure through the closets, put clean sheets down.

By now, Ashley was asleep again in her blanket on the floor, curled on her side. Spencer decided to try and pick her up on her own and was surprised to find that the brunette, while heavy, was within what she could lift. She thanked God again, this time that Madison had dragged her to the gym now and then. She settled Ashley into the clean, cool sheets and kissed her cheek before she went looking for the things she knew she needed.

She washed out the bucket and replaced it along with a fresh bottle of water beside the bed before she went into the bathroom to find the medicines Ashley needed. She put them on the stand beside the water and then grabbed Ashley some clean pajamas. She knew one thing that always made her feel better when she was sick was fresh pajamas. The clean and cool material on her skin always seemed to make her feel safe. So she went about doing the same for Ashley.

"Come on, hon, let's change you out of those wet, sticky clothes," she said softly, waking the girl. Ashley wasn't much help for the change, softly muttering things that Spencer didn't always understand. While Spencer had already seen Ashley naked, changing her clothes somehow felt incredibly intimate to her. She knew that part of that was undoubtedly because she was getting to see the independent and stubborn girl at a very vulnerable state. Aside from her family, Spencer doubted many people had seen Ashley that way or that she had let them.

She got the pajamas on her girlfriend and then put the weak girl back into the bed. She put the thermometer in Ashley's mouth and held it there so that the sick brunette didn't try and spit it out. Once it beeped she pulled it out and groaned; the digital readout telling her what she really didn't want to know. 102 blinked back at her in bright red numbers.

"Oh, baby, you're really sick," she sighed, looking sadly at her girlfriend. Ashley's eyes fluttered open.

"'pencer, I don' feel good," she said, her voice small and childlike. Spencer cupped her face in her palm and nodded.

"I know, sweetheart," she soothed. "But I'm here so you're gonna be OK." Ashley nodded and then made a face.

"Gunna be sick," she whined, lurching towards the side of the bed. Spencer dashed to grab the bucket and get it under the sick girl. She rubbed Ashley's back and held her hair while the brunette heaved, almost violently hard. Apparently she'd been vomiting for a while because nothing but acid and bile came up. She whimpered with each wave, tears streaming down her red face. When Spencer was sure she was finished, she wiped at Ashley's face with a cool washcloth, making sure to cool her neck as well and helped her lay back down.

"OK, baby, let's get some Tylenol into you," Spencer said softly. "And some water. You are definitely getting dehydrated." Ashley obediently, to Spencer's relief, took the pills and the water, sipping slowly as she was instructed.

"Sorry," Ashley rasped as Spencer eased her back down and pulled the covers up.

"About what?" she asked, frowning. She gently ran a cool cloth over Ashley's face, wiping the sweat from her brow and she tried to get the strands of hair unstuck from her forehead and cheeks.

"You gun get sick," Ashley sighed in response. Her eyes were slipping shut, her fever reclaiming her to slumber. "An' duck'ser loud." Spencer smiled. Although sick and miserable, she still thought Ashley was adorable. She made a mental note to herself to ask Ashley what her issue with ducks was when she was feeling better.

"Rest, Ashley," she whispered as the tiny girl let out a whimper and frowned, her eyes still shut.

"Tum-my hurts..." Ashley complained. Spencer tilted her head a bit.

"Would you feel better if I crawled into bed and rubbed it for you until you fell asleep?" she offered. She remembered that sometimes that was something her mother did for her when her stomach was upset; she'd rub it as a way to distract her from the pain or discomfort.

"Myeah," Ashley muttered. Spencer kicked off her shoes and crawled under the covers, lying on her side she so that she could put one hand on Ashley's flat stomach.

"OK, you sleep and I'll rub," Spencer promised as she started rubbing small circles on Ashley's pajama top, pressing lightly as to not cause any further discomfort. Ashley murmured happily at the touch and quickly surrendered to sleep. When Spencer was positive that she wouldn't wake Ashley by moving off the bed, she got up and washed out the bucket. She then changed into a pair of pajamas and sent a quick text to Kyla telling her Ashley was sick but she was there and not to worry. She added, as an afterthought, that her mother was doctor since she wasn't sure she told the younger girl that.

A few moments later a text from Kyla came in, telling Spencer to 'call if she needed anything and thanks again'. She put her phone on vibrate so that it didn't wake Ashley. She figured there was really no one she wanted to hear from other than that short message from Kyla since the one person she wanted to talk to was currently feverish and out cold five feet over from her. Sighing, Spencer went to get a snack for herself and something light for Ashley when she woke up again.

She wasn't at all surprised to find Ashley's refrigerator well stocked and made herself a quick sandwich since she didn't want to leave the sick girl alone too long. She grabbed herself a soda and some crackers and more water for Ashley, not wanting to try soup until she got her fever down and the girl was more aware. It wouldn't do her any good to end up aspirating the soup and make herself sicker.

She returned to Ashley's room to find she had kicked off the covers and curled up on her side, facing away from the door. Spencer smiled, shaking her head and set her things on the nightstand before she readjusted the blankets. Ashley grunted a protest but made no move to kick them off again. Satisfied that the brunette was settled again for the moment, Spencer went into her girlfriend's bathroom to wash her face and re-wet some cloths to rub over Ashley's flushed skin.

It was on this visit to Ashley's private bathroom when the blonde had an actual chance to stop and take a look at the decorations. She started laughing, seeing the 'rubber duckie' theme throughout the room.

That explains the whole 'duck' thing she has going on, she thought still giggling.

"Monkey got my pants," Ashley muttered, among other things Spencer didn't catch as she walked back into the room. Ashley had started tossing and turning on the bed, apparently upset about something. Spencer tried to calm her, spending nearly an hour talking Ashley out of a fever induced hallucination that had her convinced she was Peter Pan and could fly. She hated seeing the girl so weak and out of sorts but Spencer was glad she was there for her. The thought of Ashley in this condition, alone, frightened her.

She rechecked Ashley's temperature, dismayed when it still read above 102. She decided she needed to do something else. She definitely didn't want to call her mother so she thought for a few minutes and remembered something her mother did once when she was running a high temperature when she was around twelve.

She disappeared into the bathroom again, feeling slightly bad for rooting around in Ashley's closets but it was for the girl's own good. She found a bottle of rubbing alcohol and returned to her girlfriend who was now lying face down in the bed, whimpering. Spencer put some of the rubbing alcohol on a clean washcloth and started rubbing it on Ashley, starting with the ill girl's feet and ankles so she didn't shock her system to much with the temperature change. She then moved upwards on to her wrists, her back and back of her neck before repeating the pattern downwards all the way to her ankles and feet, the latter of which made the feverish girl twitch and wriggle on the bed.

"Tickles, stop," Ashley breathed softly. After a few more passes over those spots, Spencer put the rubbing alcohol away and settled back on the bed, chewing thoughtfully on the rest of her sandwich. Her watch said it was after seven which meant that she'd been treating Ashley's fever for about four hours. She checked her temperature again and then reluctantly woke her to take more Tylenol. Ashley refused at first, not wanting to wake or open her mouth but eventually Spencer got her to cooperate.

Once the pills and some more water were down, Spencer decided to try for some crackers. Ashley put her head on Spencer's shoulder, her face tucked under the taller girl's chin and mechanically chewed on the salty treat. One saltine at a time, along with room temperature water, Spencer fed Ashley until the brunette whimpered and turned her face into Spencer's chest.

"No more," she complained.

"All right, I guess you ate enough for now," Spencer agreed. She wanted to get Ashley into the tub for a quick bath but didn't want to push the girl's limits. "Do you feel up to a quick bath."

"Sleep," Ashley whimpered.

"OK, honey," Spencer agreed. She lay on the bed and took Ashley with her, curled up against her side. The brunette burrowed deeper into Spencer's side, softly murmuring a few broken phrases. Spencer's heart seized when she picked up just one.


Part 5

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