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 Five

Roughly ninety minutes after she'd finally drifted off to sleep, Ashley's enormous amount of body heat making it difficult for Spencer to fall asleep, a strange gagging sound woke her up. Spencer blinked, looking quickly to her right to see Ashley, on her back out cold, choking as her body tried to purge itself of the water and crackers the ill brunette had ingested. She was having trouble breathing and it woke Spencer fully, terrified.

"Holy fuck," Spencer swore, moving quickly to roll Ashley onto her side and grab the bucket at the same time. She got the plastic bucket beneath Ashley's face and firmly pounded on the girl's back. Semi-awake at that point, Ashley coughed and gagged into the bucket, tears dripping into the container as well. After a few last strikes to Ashley's back to make sure she'd cleared everything from her lungs, Spencer let her sit back against her.

"Sssh, honey, it's OK," she soothed, kissing Ashley's temple as the girl cried and shook. The formerly clean pajamas that Spencer had changed her into were now soaked, clinging to the trembling form as she rocked in Spencer's arms. She could tell the girl was still feverish, her complexion flushed and her eyes glassy.

"Sick," Ashley hiccuped pitifully. Spencer nodded, relieved that Ashley seemed aware that she was there.

"Yeah, sweetheart, you are," she agreed with a sigh. "Do you feel like a nice bath? We'll get you all cleaned up and put new pajamas on afterwards." Ashley coughed again, her lungs still protesting a bit and shook her head.

"Might get sick," she muttered. Spencer kissed her again on the cheek.

"I'll be right there the whole time," she promised. "I'll help get you all cleaned up and we'll have the bucket nearby, just in case you get sick, OK? Honest, baby, you'll feel so much better if we clean you up and change your clothes." She felt Ashley nod slightly and carefully, and with a bit of difficulty, got Ashley out of the bed, grabbed a pair of clean pajamas and guided her girlfriend into the bathroom. She persuaded her to use the facilities while she ran a lukewarm bath. Another check of the brunette's temperature showed that it had fallen but only slightly.

"Whatever you've got, honey," Spencer sighed as she stripped Ashley's sodden top off. "You've got it really bad. Don't worry, though, I'm right here and I'm not gonna leave ya." She helped Ashley into the tub, dismayed that the older girl was still so out of sorts.

Kyla wasn't lying when she said Ashley got really sick, she thought sadly, sponging Ashley clean while the small girl just sat there, staring blankly at the wall when she managed to keep her eyes open for longer than a moment.

"Ash, do you know I'm here?" Spencer wondered, rubbing soothing circles with the sponge on Ashley's back. The girl made a murmuring sound but Spencer couldn't really decipher an answer from it. A few moments later, the curly head nodded slowly.

"'pen-cer," she said slowly. She sighed and turned her head, her eyes open and trying to focus on the blonde. "Sorry..."

"You don't need to keep apologizing, baby," Spencer smiled, seeing, at least for the moment, that Ashley was lucid. Ashley let out another long breath.

"Thank you," she said softly. Spencer smiled, she knew that those small words meant a lot to Ashley, probably more than they meant to Spencer. There was someone there to take care of her and that was undoubtedly new to Ashley. Spencer ran the cloth over the red face, watching Ashley close her eyes and lean into the touch.

"You are very welcome, Ash," the younger girl said gently. "Can I try to wash your hair, hon? I won't get soap in your eyes, I promise. And then I'll put it up and out of the way."

"M'kay," Ashley muttered. Carefully, Spencer washed and after moving the sick girl a bit, rinsed out Ashley's hair. She then helped Ashley out of the tub and toweled her dry. Her skin felt cooler to Spencer, which was part of the reason she wanted to wash her. She hoped that her temperature was indeed going down. Running a high temperature for too long, Spencer knew, was bad and she hoped it wouldn't come to a quick visit to a medi-clinic. She knew Ashley would hate that.

"There, clean pj's and your hair is all combed out and the ponytail will keep it from getting in your way, OK, baby?" she said as she lead Ashley back to the bed. She sat her in the armchair Ashley had off to the side for now and went about changing the sheets again.

"I'm gonna have to do a load of wash sometime later tomorrow," she said out loud, mostly to herself since Ashley was in and out still. But she wanted to keep talking so that her voice would reach Ashley somewhere within her fevered haze.

"All right, all done," she declared. "Back to bed and then we'll check your temp." Ashley watched through hooded eyes as Spencer put her back into the bed and gave her water after checking her body temperature.

"You are down to 101.3," Spencer told her. Ashley blinked at her blankly. "That's better than you were but still not good. Here's more Tylenol to help." Before she could get the pills to Ashley, the brunette lurched to the side and vomited, violently. Despite the grossness of the situation and the fact that her girlfriend was so sick, Spencer laughed slightly since Ashley had nailed the bucket, perfectly.

"Well, I do thank you for that," she said jokingly when Ashley lay down on her stomach, partially hanging over the side of the bed. "That's not a good place to nap, honey," she said, moving Ashley who was out again. "Shit...all right, Ash, wake up for a second."

"Throat hurts..." Ashley whined. Spencer's heart went out to the poor thing.

"I know," she said lovingly. "Here, try and swallow these pills and some more water."

"Noooo," Ashley whimpered. "Throw up..."

"Try, Ashley," Spencer pleaded. "You need to at least try, OK? For me?" With another whimper of protest, Ashley did as Spencer asked and then fell back onto the pillows, exhausted. She was asleep before Spencer could say anything.

"I really hope all that's wrong with you is the flu, Ash," Spencer sighed. She cleaned up and then crawled back into the bed with Ashley who whimpered her name softly and then cuddled into her. She kissed the girl's hot forehead and closed her eyes to sleep.

Thank God I was here for that choking spell, Spencer realized, letting herself think about what she'd awoken to. She could have choked to death. She shivered. Jesus, that's kinda scary. I never would have forgiven myself if something like that had happened to her. I know it's not what she had planned for this weekend but I am staying with her until she's recovered, even if we end up missing classes.

She's never had anyone she could count on other than Kyla before, she remembered. Ash was reluctant to tell me she was this sick. That kinda hurt but I can't really blame her. She's still learning to trust me. I'm going to prove to her that she can rely on me, starting with right now, while she's sick. I'm not going anywhere, now while she's sick or later, when she tells me the things she's keeping to herself about her past. She's so afraid she's gonna chase me away and I'm not like that...

I really think that this is love; I love Ashley so fucking much. But I gotta be careful that I don't spook her. Ha! She's as afraid of driving me away as I am her. Shit, we're a pair.

She yawned and pulled the blanket up and closed her eyes, hoping that Ashley was able to sleep somewhat peacefully through the night.

Thankfully, Ashley made it through the night virtually trouble free, her fever keeping her knocked out and curled into Spencer who really didn't mind the closeness, despite Ashley's high body temperature which made her want to throw the covers off a few times. She herself slept lightly, afraid of sleeping through a repeat performance of the earlier gagging episode. Any time Ashley moved or murmured, Spencer snapped awake. It made her kind of tired when she decided to get out of bed that morning but to her, it was a small price to pay for Ashley's safety.

"Hey," Kyla called softly from the doorway to Ashley's room as Spencer sat up and had swung her feet over the side. She jumped, not realizing that the younger girl was there. She gave her a tired smile and stretched, earning her a smirk and a cat call from the tiny brunette.

"Damn, well, with abs like that, Spence, I see why Ashley likes you so much," she teased, making Spencer blush. She looked down and saw her shirt had ridden up when she stretched, showing a strip of stomach.

"Taken," Spencer announced, wagging a finger at the teasing girl. Kyla put her hands up in defense.

"Oh trust me, I know," she laughed. "Every time I talked to Ashley this week it became a 'Spencer did this' or 'Spencer said that'. Even when she called about the win, she was gushing cuz you took the time to answer her texts when you were at that party. And I swear she was practically glowing through the phone over the fact that you were proud of her."

"Really?" Spencer grinned, looking over at the sweet but sick girl still sleeping, and snoring, she noted, in the bed. Kyla nodded.

"It's cute, really, in a kinda 'rub it in your face, you single loser' sorta way," she decided. "Or in a 'thank God she's finally happy' sorta way. I can't decide."

"Probably the second one," Spencer said with a laugh. Kyla walked closer and looked at her sister, red faced and soaked with sweat, out cold and she frowned.

"How is she?" she asked, all trace of teasing gone. She was genuinely concerned for her sister and had decided to help Spencer take care of her since she knew how stubborn the girl could be.

"Pretty damn sick, actually," Spencer admitted with a sigh. She ran a tired hand through her hair. "She wasn't very coherent yesterday. We talked about ducks, and how she was not Peter Pan and definitely could not fly." Kyla shot her a look.

"Peter Pan?" she questioned. "That's new."

"Yeah, she was pretty convinced that I was Tinkerbell for a while there," Spencer added as an afterthought. "Oh and a monkey took her pants at some point, I dunno. I was in the bathroom when that happened." Kyla burst out laughing at that point which was Spencer's intention; the look on the younger sister's face had been distant, as if she was looking at Ashley at a different place in time. It disturbed Spencer and made the hair on the back of her neck stand up.

"I don't get it," Kyla sighed. "She just doesn't get sick; hasn't gotten sick in years. Not even the sniffles which I hated her for last summer when I had a heinous summer cold. No matter how many times I sneezed on her, she was like, germ-proof."

"Well, that was...kind of you," Spencer stated dryly. For a moment, Kyla reminded her of Glen.

"Maybe she just let herself get run down or something," Kyla decided, talking more to herself than Spencer. She sat on the side of the bed next to Spencer and leaned over to her sister, checking her forehead. "Shit, man, that's hot." She looked at Spencer who already had the thermometer in hand. Kyla took her sister's temperature and sighed.

"Still high," Spencer realized. Kyla nodded.

"Wait! She went off into the water last week..." Kyla remembered. Spencer frowned as she recalled Ashley's rescue mission into the ocean to get the tangled kites.

"Think she got a chill or something?" she wondered. Kyla shrugged.

"It is November and even here the water gets cold," she pointed out. "And she ran around here like a toddler on meth getting things ready for the holiday. She probably caught a bug and it got away from her." She looked up at Spencer. "You look like roadkill; did you get any sleep?"

"Gosh thanks," Spencer snorted, secretly loving the banter that flowed so easily between herself and Ashley's little sister. "I tried but she had this weird choking incident..."

"Fuck!" Kyla swore softly. At Spencer's confused look, she blushed. "Sorry. It's just...Spence, I thought the days of worrying she'd drown in her own vomit were behind me. It's fucking terrifying. Thank you so much for being here..."

"There's nothing to thank me for, Kyla," Spencer interrupted her, shaking her head. "She's my girlfriend and also my friend. No one should be alone and that sick. Look, I hate to pry but...there's more to her...issues than alcohol, isn't there?" For a moment, Kyla looked like a deer caught in the headlights. She then let out a long breath and brushed some hair away from her sister's face.

"A lot more," she conceded. "But, Spencer..."

"It's Ashley's story to tell me, I know," she agreed. "I just...you look so sad and yeah she's real sick but she's not going to die, Kyla." She reached out and put her hand on Kyla's shoulder in comfort.

"You two aren't alone anymore. I'm here. I'm not going anywhere." Kyla turned and gave the blonde a huge hug.

"I am so fucking glad she chose to take the chance on you, Spencer," she breathed softly, still hugging. She pulled away with an embarrassed smile and wiped at her wet eyes. "Sorry, I'm a mush when it comes to Ashley. Personal flaw."

"Nah," Spencer told her with a gentle smile. "You love her. Nothing wrong with that." She yawned widely.

"Look, why don't you lie down with her for a little while longer," Kyla suggested. "I'll deal with her if she wakes and do that pile of laundry on the chair while you get some sleep." Spencer nodded even as she yawned again.

"Thanks," she said sleepily. Knowing someone else was there to help watch Ashley made her relax marginally.

"Not a problem," Kyla said honestly. "You sleep and when I get the laundry done I'll grab you some food and sit in here and watch the tv." She pointed at the large television that was across from the foot of Ashley's bed. "She's got those special headphones where the sound only comes through them and not the television speakers. It won't even wake you."

"Sounds like a plan," Spencer said softly, already letting herself drift off. A fleeting thought made one eye pop open. "No cooking," she said firmly. Kyla rolled her eyes.

'Fine," she huffed. "I'll stick to sandwiches and chips so there." She stuck out her tongue and flipped her hair before heading from the room. Spencer chuckled and closed her eye, snuggling back into Ashley and falling quickly asleep.

Spencer woke later to an empty bed and immediately a sense of panic rippled through her. She didn't understand how she could have slept through Ashley waking up and Kyla getting her up. She knew that she had been incredibly tired but she normally didn't sleep that soundly. She hoped she wasn't coming down with the same thing. She did a mental stock of how she felt; no sore throat, no headache, no runny nose. She felt fine, good actually. Better rested than she had in a few days. She realized then that she had been overtired and Kyla had probably worked hard at not disturbing her.

She stretched and threw off the covers, determined to go find her girlfriend and her sister. She didn't have to go far since Kyla was expertly guiding a still clearly out of it Ashley back into the room just as she reached the door. Spencer could tell from the way Kyla was able to so easily move the bigger girl that she'd had more than her fair share of experience in doing so. It bred new questions as well as old but the one person she wanted to hear the story from was incoherent at best. She noted that Ashley was again freshly bathed and in new clean pajamas.

Wow, I musta really been out of it if I slept long enough for her to bathe Ashley, Spencer thought. She was again thankful that Kyla was there to help.

"She woke up earlier, talking about well, nothing really," Kyla explained as Spencer helped her put Ashley back into the bed, Mr. Bucket nearby. Ashley grumbled something and rolled over, out again. Kyla looked at Spencer and ran her hand through her hair. "She did say, very clearly, 'gotta pee' so I got her up. But she then barfed on herself so I had to wash and change her. Kinda like having a really overgrown and sometimes angry feverish baby."

Spencer smiled and stretched again, loving the way her back popped.

Damn, Ashley's bed is comfy, she thought. She then grinned remembering how comfy it had been last week. She knew she was blushing and hoped Kyla didn't remark on it.

"What's her temperature?" she asked the smaller brunette. Kyla shot her a serious look.

"Still high," she said flatly. "Just below 102. I'm hoping she's burning the worst of this out of her system." Ashley let out a wet burp that had both girls looking over cautiously to make sure she wasn't vomiting again. The sick brunette was hugging a pillow tightly and apparently still asleep.

"I got her to eat some oatmeal after her bath," Kyla said, apparently rethinking that idea at the moment. "She's not holding much down, even water but, I figured I should try. It was something she used to be able to stomach, occasionally, way back in the day. She actually hates the stuff but I think it's a psychological thing that she even keeps a box in the cupboard."

Spencer knelt on the bed and kissed Ashley on the hot cheek, watching the girl smile in her sleep. Ashley hugged the pillow to her chest tighter, burrowing down into it. Spencer stroked her hair for a moment, pulled back in a ponytail as it dried.

"I'm worried about you, baby," she sighed. "You're not supposed to get sick."

Kyla sat in the nearby chair while Spencer kept petting Ashley's hair and stroking her sweaty face. She smiled at the blonde's back, beyond happy that her sister, the emotional recluse that she was, managed, on a whim, to even find Spencer. She knew the story behind the Zorro costume and Ashley's strange urge to attend that Halloween party; Ashley had talked about it almost non-stop before it even happened. Then, when she managed to talk to the sweet blonde and do...other things with this girl who had only ever been nice to her despite over a year of listening to slurs and insults thrown her way by Madison, it was the happiest she'd seen or heard Ashley in literally years, if ever.

"She's a tough one, Spence," Kyla said softly, still smiling slightly. "You'll learn that over time." Spencer shook her head.

"Nah, I already know it," she answered. She looked fondly, yet sadly at Ashley. "She shouldn't have to be though. She's been through so much...I mean, I know I don't know the whole story but you can see it, you know? Sometimes, in her eyes..."

"She'll tell you when she's ready," Kyla assured her. "And I'd bet money that it'll be soon. Oh! I know what I can tell you and probably live long enough to get to my next birthday!"

"It's OK, Ky, you don't have to," Spencer went to stop her. She didn't want Kyla to tell her anything that would make Ashley angry or feel betrayed. She hadn't been fishing for information so much as remarking on how as she got to know Ashley better, more and more the older girl's tough exterior fell away.

"No, it's not anything from when we were younger or in high school," Kyla told her, leaning forward excitedly. "And I know it's something she'd be too embarrassed to tell you...at least until your 50th anniversary."

"Think we're really gonna last that long, huh?" Spencer laughed, internally hoping that indeed they were. Kyla nodded emphatically.

"Fuck yeah," she agreed. "Of course I do. And you wanna know why?" Spencer nodded. "Because I can tell you, in almost excruciating detail, when Ashley first noticed you..."

"Ug, Ky, I really should have asked around and seen what college Duarte was going to," Ashley sighed as she walked across campus with her younger sister. Kyla looked at her sister, thin and still not fully recovered from the past few months but looking so much better than she had in almost a year. It'd been a tough road for them both, with the shooting and Ashley's addictions but they pushed through it, learned to lean on each other and had become stronger, together because of it.

"Ash, you can't go through life avoiding people or your past," she said patiently. She ignored Ashley's grunt of disagreement and continued. "This was the only school with the music program you wanted, the degree you want. You can't let the small minded assholes of the world dictate how you live your life. I thought you decided that college was a fresh start, no worrying about what people said about you or caring what they thought."

"It is," Ashley groaned, pausing in her walk to stop next to a stone wall in the middle of the quad. She wasn't going to live on campus so all she had to to was drive in, go to class and go home to the brand new, mostly redecorated beach house a few miles away. It was the college's 'welcome week' for freshmen so they were the only ones on campus. Like Ashley, there were other new students running around with various family members, getting lost and looking overwhelmed. She sighed, glad not for the first time that Kyla agreed to tour the campus with her. Actually, Kyla had threatened bodily harm if she wasn't allowed to go. It was the last week of her summer break before her senior year in high school and she was going to miss her sister.

"Then fuck Madison Duarte and her big whorish mouth," Kyla declared, ruffling her sister's short hair. They were both glad it was growing back after she cut it while overseas for the summer. "She's a phony bitch and she'll probably fail out two semesters in when she runs out of professors to blow."

She hated Madison, a former friend, with a passion. After the prom shooting, Kyla had had enough problems with her own injuries and Ashley's problems that listening to Madison run her mouth all that next year at school had been difficult for her. Madison had made it her life's mission to ruin that year of school for Ashley. Although, in retrospect it really hadn't mattered; Ashley barely went to school. However, it was hard for Kyla to listen to the rumors and lies and after the events of that February, it only got worse.

She looked at her sister, her skin finally starting to regain its tan thanks to her summer abroad and looking less stretched over bone as Ashley regained weight and built her system back up. She felt a familiar pang of sadness and yet pride. She hated that Ashley had suffered so much, been so sick and almost had to die before she got a handle on her life. But the Ashley beside her was 180 degrees different than the Ashley she'd found that scary day; this one was interested in her life, in living. And it was a daily struggle for her, Kyla knew, but it was one that Ashley fought at, hard.

"I'm just glad I'm not interested in making friends," Ashley said disgustedly readjusting her sunglasses. Glasses of some sort were a new necessity that Ashley surprisingly adapted to really well. She preferred her reflective sunglass that blocked light on the sides but Kyla hated them. They hid a good portion of her face, which, Kyla knew, was Ashley's motivation for wearing them.

"Madison would fuck that all up." Kyla tilted her head and leaned on the wall beside her sister.

"Ash, you hafta make friends," she urged. She didn't want to see Ashley become a recluse, solitary person; she had so much to offer but was so closed off and afraid of being hurt that she'd closed herself off from almost everyone but Kyla. Kyla saw this as Ashley's chance to meet new people and expand her circle of friends. Obviously, Ashley didn't share that idea.

"Ky, I just wanna get my degree and move on from there," she declared, pushing off from the wall and turning to look at her sister. She didn't see the lost blonde approaching and she stepped right into her path. "I don't need to...ooomph..." Both girls pitched forward with Ashley landing on the bottom. Kyla winced thinking that had to hurt in some way but it was the blonde who spoke first.

"Oh my goodness, I am so so sorry," she gushed, standing up and trying to help Ashley back up. She was brushing the disheveled brunette off almost frantically and muttering to herself. "Nice job, you dork. Start knocking people over, that'll make a great first impression. Can't even walk across campus without making a scene, you ignorant backwoods hick..."

"Talking to yourself makes you seem a little odd too," Kyla said as Ashley just shifted on her feet. Kyla smiled to herself, knowing that even though she was trying not to, her older sister was checking out the lithe blonde and liking what she saw.

The blonde was a bit taller than Ashley and had the bluest eyes Kyla could ever really remember seeing. They were wide and embarrassed at her actions. They sparkled with a bit of mischief but were also very shy. Just looking at the girl's pretty pale face, Kyla could see she was incredibly innocent and not native to California.

"It...it's OK," Ashley finally managed. The blonde smiled widely and held out her hand.

"I'm Spencer Carlin; I'm a freshman," she blushed again as Ashley shook her hand. "Goodness, of course I'm a freshman, we all are. It's freshman week. You must think I am such a dork. I'm sorry."

"No...I don't...I..." Ashley stammered, making her sister roll her eyes. Ashley used to be so suave and never got flustered and yet here, this little blonde in overalls and baseball cap had apparently stolen her ability to speak coherently. Kyla thought it was kind of cute. Spencer was still smiling which, Kyla realized, wasn't helping.

"Did you find the...oh hell fucking no," a familiar voice started swearing in Spanish. "Spencer, do not even fucking bother with that asesinar a puta." Madison emerged from around the corner with a large paper bag in hand. Spencer frowned at her friend and then looked at Ashley.

"We're doing a scavenger hunt for one of the sororities," she explained, holding up the paper she'd dropped when she collided with Ashley. "Are you two pledging?" Madison grabbed Spencer harshly at the elbow and pulled.

"Stay away from her, Spencer," Madison growled at her new friend. "I know her; or rather, I knew her. She's dangerous and bad news. Just leave her alone." Spencer tried to stop Madison from pulling her away.

"But Maddy..." she protested, looking sadly at Ashley and Kyla.

"Now, Spencer," Madison demanded. Spencer frowned and let herself be led away, glancing back once at the two brunettes and earning a slap upside her head from Madison. Kyla stepped forward to put her hand on Ashley's shoulder, knowing that the incident had hurt her. Madison had just cheated her out of a chance to make a friend and it was likely that Ashley wouldn't bother to try again.

"Ash..." she started.

"Don't Kyla, all right," Ashley snarled, pulling away and making sure her sunglasses were in place. "Madison just proved my point. She'll make sure no one'll talk to me, especially someone like that girl."

"Spencer," Kyla provided, trying to be helpful. Ashley turned to walk away.

"Yeah, Spencer," she huffed. She was so angry she was red but Kyla knew that it was just a cover to prevent herself from crying. "Who, thanks to Madison, will never speak to me again. I'm not going to have the chance to meet anyone let alone make friends. So I might as well just concentrate on my studies, get off academic probation, get my degree and get the fuck out." She stomped off towards the parking lot, the days tour abandoned.

"Oh Ashley," Kyla sighed softly before hurrying to catch up.

"Oh my God," Spencer gasped, smiling and covering her mouth in shock. "I remember that! I asked Madison who you guys were and she wouldn't tell me for the longest time. I felt like such shit that she was so rude to you two. That wasn't the sort of impression that I wanted to make, you know? I'm naturally friendly and when Madison wouldn't tell me who you were or why I was supposed to hate you, it just rubbed me wrong." She frowned. "I honestly didn't realize that that was this Ashley. Her hair was wicked short and those glasses..."

"Looked like the blinders you put on horses, I know," Kyla laughed. "I hid those ugly fuckers right after that New Years. Told Ashley I hadn't seen them. Hmm, they might actually still be somewhere in my room."

"I'm such a dork for not putting two and two together and realizing that it was you guys," Spencer sighed. Kyla shrugged not at all bothered by the oversight and she knew that Ashley hadn't been either.

"You talked to Ash for what, like, two minutes?" she reminded the blonde. "You barely noticed me and Ashley looked like a blind beggar...with really really short hair. God, I hated that haircut. I called it her 'lawn mower to the head' hair. Her hair is so fucking thick that I'm jealous..."

"I love her hair," Spencer said softly, playing with the mentioned object. She could see streaks of blonde and red in the ponytail and worked at separating them absently. "Why would she cut it anyway? It's so wavy and pretty..."

"She...wanted a change, I guess," Kyla hedged, her mouth opening to speak a little faster than her brain could catch. She breathed a sigh of relief that she hadn't said what her first impulse was. "It was the whole 'I'm starting a new chapter in my life/starting college' fresh look; plus she was going overseas and I think to some extent, wanted to be someone else, at least for that period of time."

"Well, it's only hair, it grows back," Spencer said, still not looking away from her sleeping girlfriend. "It's funny that we met that long ago and only became friends recently. She's such an isolated person that I really feel lucky to have gotten to know how great she is. Wow, I can't believe that she remembered me from that short a meeting; we didn't even really talk."

"Ashley only remembered you, I think, cuz you were the first person in a long time that looked at her with a friendly expression," Kyla told her sadly. "I mean, people were nice to her in Europe, I know. She told me stories. But you were just plain nice, sweet. And how even after Madison started running her mouth, you still smiled at her? It really stayed with her." Tears burned at Spencer's eyes. While she was beyond touched that Ashley remembered her she felt sad that something as simple as a smile had meant so much to her. But she was glad it was her smile Ashley remembered.

"After that incident," Kyla went on, seeing how this was touching Spencer and wanting her to understand the depth of the roots of Ashley's affections went. "She would talk about class and stuff and then there was this whole other side of her that would tell me if she saw you. And you two never really spoke again because of Madison but it meant so much to her that even after you got into the sorority, roomed with Madison, you still took the time to smile at her if you passed her or something. She knew Madison had probably said some awful shit; hell, she overheard her a lot. But still, you never gave her a dirty look or ignored her; you smiled each and every time."

"Well, yeah," Spencer muttered, a bit overwhelmed. She was by nature a friendly person and had undoubtedly smiled at a lot of people. It hurt her to think of Ashley as so yearning and desiring kindness that something Spencer did often without thinking, smiling, made such an impression. Knowing that Ashley was so sad and lonely broke her heart. "I smile a lot."

"You're so sweet," Kyla said with a shake of her head. "But kinda thick sometimes. Yes, I know you smile a lot and are just kinda like that. You don't see what it means to Ashley. Madison was telling you lies, at best half-truths and yet, you never judged Ashley for the things that fucking twat said about her."

"Like I told Ashley and Madison both; I have a mind of my own and my own opinions," Spencer said, lying down on the bed to trace Ashley's beautiful features as she slept. She knew that there was no worry of waking the feverish girl. She was out for the time being. "I like to make up my own mind about people so, yeah, Madison ran her mouth and stuff but...I knew that her side was only one side. All I wanted all along, all I still want is to hear Ashley's. I'd never form an entire opinion of someone based solely on gossip, rumors and stuff like that. My mother did that all the time when I was growing up and I swore I wasn't going to be the same way."

"Which is one thing that makes you so special to Ashley," Kyla said evenly. "The fact that you are still open and trusting of people enough to even give her the time of day means so much to her. And to me. You're genuine, Spence, and that's rare these days, especially for Ashley. She needs a little more light and trust and less distrust and jadedness in her life."

"I'm glad that I can do that much for her," Spencer admitted. "I just wish things hadn't been that way for her, or you." Kyla nodded and got up to get the plate of food she'd left on the dresser when she had reentered the room and found Ashley awake earlier. She put the plate out towards Spencer.

"Me too. Here, eat something," she ordered gently. "I don't need you both sick. I can only handle so much vomit." She shuddered and took her snack back to the chair while Spencer munched on a salami and cheese sandwich. "But if she hadn't been through everything she's been through, she wouldn't be Ashley, you know? She might have ended up more like Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, or Lindsey Lohan; too rich, too young and kinda stupid."

"Yeah," Spencer agreed. "Still, the more I learn about her, the more I want to hit people like Madison upside the head with something heavy. Ashley is so sweet, so caring and loving that I don't understand how people can hurt her the way they do. She's not a bad person..."

"Madison, the mindless twit, thinks otherwise," Kyla snorted. "And she can't let go of what happened. It's actually kinda sad; Madison is stuck in that awful night, letting it rule and control everything else she does and as hard as Ashley works to get through all that shit, as long as she's anywhere near Madison, she gets caught up in the crap too."

"But as much as Madison's holding onto that night," Spencer offered. "She doesn't explain it. I mean, I practically had to pull teeth to get her to talk about it."

"She's an expert at playing the victim," Kyla growled. "And yet, out of all of us, she got away without a scratch. Ug! I hate her for it and that she makes Ashley suffer for something that wasn't even her fucking fault."

They both sat quietly for a few moments, mulling over the subject. Spencer continued to pet the side of Ashley's flushed face, hoping to will her better faster. Kyla was watching the gentle interaction and relaxing more in the knowledge that Spencer was indeed different, special.

"It's about time Ash fucking lucked out," Kyla whispered, more to herself than Spencer. The blonde heard her and lifted her head slightly. Kyla gave her a half-smile. "Do you see, Spencer? Like, understand? After everything she's done and been through, it's about time something worked out in her favor. Do you see how important you are to her?" Spencer looked down at the sleeping girl.

"I think I'm starting to."

"Spence?" a weak and scratchy voice broke through to the napping blonde, startling her awake. She opened her eyes and saw dull, glassy brown staring back at her. However, as fever bright as they were, they were also, clearly for the moment lucid.

"Hey," Spencer whispered, stretching as she awoke again. After she talked a while longer with Kyla, she'd taken a shower and changed her pajamas while the younger sister sat and watched television on the bed next to Ashley. Spencer had left the door open in case the smaller girl had needed anything, either of them. She didn't want Kyla stuck alone with a sick Ashley in case the ill girl started to hallucinate. Kyla had reluctantly told her during their talk that it scared her when Ashley hallucinated and that she wasn't always sure what to do. So, she kept one ear on the bathroom door for any signs that she was needed.

When she returned, she and Kyla watched the new Transformer dvd that the younger girl had brought with her as a 'get well' gift for Ashley. In typical Kyla fashion, she was too impatient to wait for Ashley to be awake enough to watch it. But both girls agreed that it was definitely a good enough flick to re-watch when the older brunette was better. Kyla figured her sister would flip over Megan Fox, who Spencer agreed was fairly attractive. She must have looked a bit insecure when she said that because Kyla had winked at her and promised that 'blue eyed blondes with kind smiles and nice abs' were more Ashley's speed.

They shared a light dinner, again with nothing more than cold sandwiches and the like and they got Ashley to eat some more oatmeal and water since she'd thus far, held down the bowl Kyla had fed her earlier. After a bathroom trip, clean pajamas and tense moment of gagging, they put her back to bed where she curled right up, out cold again. Kyla decided that she wanted a shower as well and Spencer decided that Ashley had the right idea so she laid down and napped lightly again. It felt really nice to get the rest that she'd missed throughout the week, or going back further. She was getting run down herself and this was providing a good break even if she was worried about Ashley's health.

"How are you feeling?" she asked. Ashley blinked slowly and then frowned.

"Like someone hit me between the eyes with a lead pipe," she decided. She arched an eyebrow weakly. "How long you been here?" Spencer reached over and brushed still sweat soaked bangs away from the girl's face and let her fingertips float across flushed skin. Ashley let out a happy sigh at the touch.

"Since yesterday afternoon," Spencer told her. When Ashley frowned in confusion, she went on. "It's Saturday night, baby. Kyla called me during school and told me you were real sick. She asked me to come check on you even though she didn't really have to ask; I would have come anyway. I found you on the floor, not really aware or anything and I took care of you. Kyla got here this morning to help." Ashley's frown deepened.

"Wow, anything past Thursday night at some point is kinda fuzzy. I'm...sorry she called you and you had to leave school," she said softly, still weak and feverish. She shivered under the blankets and curled more into herself. Spencer placed a light kiss to her warm forehead.

"Don't be, Ashley," the blonde whispered. "You were sick; you still are. There's no where else I want or need to be than right here with you." Ashley smiled slightly and burrowed closer to the larger body, her face pressed into the cotton of Spencer's shirt.

"Thanks," she said, muffled slightly by the material but still audible to the younger girl who flushed with happy warmth. "I'm sorry I ruined our weekend, though. I wanted to take you to see Berkley where Kyla goes to school. She was gonna show us around and stuff. And you're probably gonna get sick now and miss more school..." Spencer laughed slightly, tilting Ashley's face up to meet her own.

"We'll get to go visit Kyla and get the grand tour another time," she promised. "And as for getting sick? I, unlike someone else I know, got my flu shot before Halloween."

"No likey needles," Ashley muttered, already exhausted from the exertion of only a few minutes. "Bad mem'ries..." Spencer wrapped her arms around the small frame and held her close, whispering soothingly to her.

"Just go back to sleep, hon," she advised, her breath barely above a whisper. "I'll still be here when you wake up. It was nice to see you for a minute though. Sleep and get better, OK?" Ashley's warm breaths brushed over Spencer's collarbone as the brunette fell asleep again. She laid there and held the smaller body for a little while, totally content until Kyla returned to the room.

"How's she doing?" Kyla wondered, keeping her voice soft. Spencer gave her a small smile.

"She woke up for a few minutes, coherent," she reported, watching the relief fill the aspiring actress's face. "She felt the need to apologize for being sick." Kyla rolled her eyes.

"Typical," she chuckled. "It figures she'd feel like a burden. She has always had trouble accepting help. It's...kinda why I called you." Spencer tilted her head and waited patiently for the explanation, wondering why Kyla was blushing.

"Well, see, I really did have rehearsal and everything," Kyla admitted shyly. "But usually if something happens and I can't get here, which is rare, I admit, I call Ian to check on Ash. But I thought you were who should be here, who she'd want here if she were honest about it. She kinda needs to learn to rely on you, right? So, I...called."

"Sneaky thing," Spencer chastised jokingly. "But I don't mind any. You're right; I should be here. I hate that she has such trouble reaching out but I understand, kinda, why she doesn't."

"She ask you to leave?" Kyla wondered. "Or say anything like 'I'm fine, you can go home'?" Spencer shook her head.

"No, she just thanked me for being here and worried about me getting sick," she replied. "I don't think I will though. Why?" Kyla grinned widely.

"She didn't tell you to go ahead and go home? Progress!"

Ashley woke back up in mid-afternoon the next day, Sunday, weak and tired but Spencer was glad to see her fever down to around 100. She was sluggish and groggy but coherent and no longer vomiting, which both Kyla and Spencer were thankful for. Ashley expressed that her throat was grateful as well as her strained stomach muscles. She curled up on the couch with Spencer for the afternoon, enjoying the strong and calming presence of the blonde who was so dutifully taking care of her.

"So, wanna watch Transformers, Fantastic Four 2, Evan Almighty, Planet Terror, Meet the Robinsons," Kyla read off the titles on the stack of DVDs she had gotten that morning. Ashley was a movie buff and usually bought anything she wanted but since she was sick, Kyla had gone out and gotten the ones she'd missed. "Spider-Man 3, Ratatouille, Shrek the Third, Hairspray..."

"Jeeze, Ky, did you leave anything for someone else to buy?" Spencer wondered, laughing. The sheer amount of money she knew the younger girl had spent that morning alone boggled Spencer's mind. There had to be close to fifty DVDs, a few CDs and other things in bags around the living room. Spencer would barely have the cash to buy a .99 song from iTunes if she wasn't still working on the gift card Ashley had given her so she couldn't comprehend just being able to purchase whatever caught her eye.

"Remember Christmas is coming, runt," Ashley pointed out softly, sitting up sipping a cup of tea with lemon that Spencer made her. She was leaning slightly on the larger girl as support. "Leave me something to buy you." The reminder of Christmas' approach made Spencer's stomach roll. Not only did she not know what to get Ashley or Kyla for that matter, it was five days out of state away from Ashley that she had to endure.

Kyla scoffed at Ashley and rolled her eyes.

"I didn't buy that much. Besides, you needed to catch up on your collection," she said simply. She held up 'Planet Terror' in one hand and 'Shrek' in the other. "So?"

"'Death Proof' sucked ass, even with Rosario and Tracy in it," Ashley grumbled. "So put in 'Shrek'." Kyla grunted her agreement and put the DVD in, sitting in the chair to the side. As the movie played, she watched Spencer take care of Ashley, making sure the blanket was covering her, seeing if she needed anything, letting her use her legs as a pillow. The blonde was so gentle, warm and loving that Kyla was convinced, absolutely, that Spencer was the right girl for Ashley. She never really had any doubts but seeing the gentle and loving way Spencer treated the sick musician assured her worries that if anyone could handle the truth of Ashley's past, it was Spencer Carlin.

"Spence," Ashley whispered about two thirds of the way through. "I'm feeling kinda nauseas..." Instantly both Kyla and Spencer were on alert. Mr. Bucket had been placed on the floor beside the couch and Kyla gave it a nudge towards her sister while Spencer slowly and carefully sat Ashley back up.

"All right," Spencer soothed as Ashley paled and wrapped her arms over her stomach. "It's OK, baby, you're gonna be OK. I'm right here."

"Cramps," Ashley whimpered. Spencer touched her forehead and then looked over to Kyla.

"Ky, can you get me more Tylenol? Her fever's going up," she explained. The other girl nodded and went towards the bathroom for the medication. Spencer helped Ashley hold the bucket as the gag tremors began.

"Ug," Ashley grunted in pain. "I hate being sick." Spencer rubbed her back in slow circles and made sure her hair was out of the way. Ashley coughed and gagged, a little tea coming back but that was it for which she was thankful.

"Here," Spencer said, handing her a cup of water and some Tylenol that Kyla came back with. Ashley nodded and took the offered items without argument. Kyla ruffled her hair and then took Mr. Bucket to clean him out, leaving the two girls to a quiet moment. Ashley let Spencer lay her back down using her legs as a cushion again. "Wanna go back to bed?" Ashley shook her head and regretted it when it made the room tilt slightly.

"No, 'm OK," she replied, making sure she was cuddled up to Spencer. The scent and feel of the blonde beside her was doing wonders for how she felt, despite the flu. She felt incredibly safe and well taken care of. "I'm still sorry about this weekend."

"Hush, honey," Spencer told her with a smile. "I still got to spend the weekend with you." Ashley smiled up at her.

"Yeah but I had a much more...fun weekend planned," she husked, somehow managing to sound seductive with a scratchy throat. "A tour of Berkley and a hotel room..." Spencer shivered with the memory of their last stay at a hotel. "And I so would have still been there in the morning. I really am sorry."

"That would have been...lovely," Spencer admitted, letting her voice drop an octave. "I love that side of our relationship..."

"Me too!" Ashley chirped. She looked up at Spencer with fever bright eyes and the blonde knew she might lose her to a fevered sleep again soon but she was obviously getting better if she was up to flirting.

"But I like these moments too, Ash," Spencer whispered, brushing her bangs from her face and letting her fingers trace over a dark brow. "Just you and me, being comfortable and quiet together, you know?" Ashley smiled again, her nose crinkling in delight.

"Me too," she agreed softly. The older girl then yawned widely and moved impossibly closer to her girlfriend. "I'm glad you came over...I'm glad you stayed. Thank you."

"Fuck me, I may faint," Kyla announced as she reentered the room with Mr. Bucket in one hand and a jumble of cookies and fudge on a plate in the other. She put the bucket down beside the couch and then flopped back into her chair. "Did my sister, the emotionally disabled and jaded girl that she is, really just thank you for being here? Did she really just admit...weakness?"

"Kyla," Spencer hissed although she was smiling somewhat, especially when her girlfriend raised one weak hand and pointedly flipped the bird in Kyla's direction. "Girls, play nice."

"I was," Ashley grumbled, burying her face in Spencer's thigh. "Then she brought in food. Ug, I can smell the sugar." Spencer shot Kyla a reproachful look to which the smaller girl shrugged, cookie crumbs on her chin.

"What?" she asked innocently. "I'm hungry."

"You're always hungry," Ashley muttered. "Got a frikkin tapeworm..." Kyla stuck her tongue out at her sister although Ashley's face was hidden which Spencer was grateful for since the full mouth of 'see food cookie' she'd just gotten to witness made her perfectly fine stomach roll.

"You're just jealous..." Kyla complained, snacking on fudge and pouting.

"You wait," Ashley warned. "You wait til you're sick and then I'm gonna make the biggest, smelliest omelet...EVER...oh God, my stomach..." Spencer jolted, going for the bucket but she felt Ashley shaking her head.

"I'm fine, Spence," she said softly, growing tired again. "It's just crampy, not vomity."

"I'm not sure those are real words, Ash," Spencer giggled. Ashley looked up and smiled, her flushed face still gorgeous to the blonde.

"I'm sick so I'm allowed artistic license," she explained.

"Ahh," Spencer nodded. "I see."

"OK, enough with the pathetic and cavity inducing sweetness," Kyla announced. "Let's watch something with teeth!...Ooooo Spider-Man! Tobey, James and Topher! Yum-mey!"

"Ha, who's jealous now, bitch?" Ashley whispered so only Spencer could hear her. Spencer giggled and ran her fingers through her girlfriends lush hair, promptly putting her to sleep.

Ashley was still out of it later when Spencer and Kyla helped her to bed but she was obviously on the mend so Kyla decided to head back to her own campus and left her sister in Spencer's obviously capable hands. Spencer thanked her for calling her in the first place and for being there to help as she left before she herself crawled into bed along with her ill girlfriend. She was able to sleep much better now that Ashley was holding down food and not as feverish as she had been Friday night.

Monday morning, Spencer let Ashley sleep in and made her breakfast, arriving back in the room just as Ashley came to a little disoriented and, she noticed, hungry.

"I've got chicken noodle soup, toast, tea with lemon and apple juice for you," Spencer announced as she set the tray, that had a single daisy in a thin vase in the middle, down on the bed beside the yawning girl. Ashley looked up at the blonde with a shy smile.

"Thanks," she said softly, her throat still sore and making her raspier than usual. Still, Spencer thought it was a beautiful sound and she had missed it in the week apart. While she loved talking through text messaging and feeling connected to the girl she loved, hearing her voice was better.

"How ya feeling?" Spencer asked, checking the girl's forehead and happy to notice that it was warm but not hot, marking the fact that her fever had finally broken. Ashley shrugged one shoulder as she munched on a piece of toast.

"Like crap," she admitted. "But coherent." Spencer nodded as she ate her own peanut butter coated waffle.

"Coherent is an improvement," she said with a chuckle. She noticed Ashley eying her breakfast food hungrily and shook her head. "Sorry, hon, but until you're able to hold down simple things, like soup and toast, I can't let you have anything else." Ashley pouted and sighed, taking a spoonful of warm soup. "Aw, don't pout, baby. You'll be as good as new in a few days." Ashley nodded and ate the food Spencer brought her and then reached for the vase.

"You got me a flower," she pointed out softly, her cheeks rosy with blush instead of fever. Spencer thought she was adorable.

"Yeah. I asked Ian to run an errand for me yesterday, I hope you don't mind. One of the things he picked up was some flowers," she explained. "The whole bouquet is on your dining room table."

What Spencer didn't tell Ashley was how that small bundle of flowers had pretty much tapped out her budget for the next week. She was making herself sick trying to think of a way to buy Ashley and Kyla Christmas presents. She'd already put aside the money for the things she wanted to get her family but she had never factored in a significant other and their family in her financial planning. She was beginning to think that a humble phone call to her father for a loan was on the horizon.

She knew that her father, Arthur would send her some extra cash without asking any questions other than the expected 'are you in trouble?' that any parent would ask. But Spencer felt horrible asking in the first place and it was bound to get back to her mother that she even asked and that would result in yet another 'you're not making it on your own, come home' lectures that Spencer already knew the woman was probably practicing in front of the mirror.

"You're so sweet," Ashley told her, her voice barely above a whisper. She then looked sadly down at her blanket. "I'm really sorry..."

"Stop right there," Spencer cut her off, putting her finger under the tan girl's chin to lift her beautiful face back up. She wiped at the lone tear that fell from dark lashes to fall down Ashley's cheek. "Ashley, being sick wasn't your fault. And wanting someone here with you, wanting me here with you isn't something you need to apologize for. It doesn't make you weak or anything like it. Honey, you're human; no one likes to be all alone when they don't feel well. Shit, no one likes to be totally alone at any time, even if they say otherwise."

"There's no reason to feel guilty for needing someone's help, especially mine," she went on, loving the way Ashley shifted to be closer and let the blonde envelop her in her arms for a hug. "I'm your girlfriend and I...please don't be scared baby, but I think I love you." She felt Ashley stiffen in her arms slightly and prayed to God she hadn't just fucked everything up.

Ashley pulled away to look into worried blue eyes. Spencer saw the fear deep inside the whiskey colored orbs along with a spark of something she thought might be hope.

"Do you really mean that?" Ashley asked, her voice rough with unshed tears. Spencer nodded, her throat tight with anxiety.

"Of course I do," she said gently. "Why would I lie about something like that?" Ashley looked away only to find her face turned back to Spencer's again. "Please don't look away from me, baby. You need to understand this..."

"You don't know me, Spencer," Ashley argued, growing agitated. "You don't know the things I've done..."

"I don't care who you were, Ashley," Spencer said firmly. "I mean, I do care about your past and when you're ready I will listen. But I won't judge. I'd never judge you for the things that have happened. All I know is the girl I met; the one that I know. And the girl I know is so fucking special and she doesn't even realize..."

"I don't deserve..." Ashley started.

"That's a fucking cop out, Ashley!" Spencer spat before she took a deep breath to calm herself. She reminded herself that Ashley was still sick and vulnerable in more than one way. "Look, Ash, I know your past is dark and scary; I understand why you're not ready to tell me and I'm trying to be patient about it. It's not always easy but I'll wait." Ashley looked at her with such a lost expression that it broke Spencer's heart all over again.

"People died," Ashley whimpered, tears flowing freely and faster than Spencer could wipe them away. "I'm awful..."

"You are the girl that saved me from an overly horny and touchy-feely frat boy," Spencer began slowly, not breaking eye contact or letting Ashley look away. "You are the girl who helped me realize that I was lying to myself about who I really was. You're the girl who helped me get an 'A' on a music paper..." Ashley gave her a watery smile. "You make me my favorite muffins and cookies; you always have my favorite soda in the fridge without me ever telling you what it was; you send me funny emails to help me start my day; you give me the best, most awesome loving kisses that make me float and feel things I didn't think were really real."

"The girl who holds my hand during scary movies and forgives me when I say and do stupid things like invade her privacy, break into her house or scream out the wrong name during mind-blowing orgasms..."

"Really though, it was the right name," Ashley chuckled, sniffling. Spencer brushed the last of the tears from the brunette's cheeks, her hands resting on the sides of Ashley's face.

"Even so, you weren't ready but you forgave me," she reminded her. "You introduced me to your family and invited me to share in your very private and important holiday traditions. That is the girl I know; not the one who apparently went through hell and back. But you came out of all of that a better person and THAT is the person that I know. Whom I love."

"Spencer..." Ashley started, staring at the flower her girlfriend had brought her. The small item secretly meant more to Ashley than the most expensive jewelry or clothing ever could; a simple white and yellow bloom. There were other times when she'd received flowers; her father's death, her and Kyla's injuries, sometimes when she was dating Aiden he'd bring her red roses when she preferred pink but to him red was more romantic. But somehow, to her wounded and fragile heart, the small wildflower meant the world.

"I know you're not ready to say it," Spencer said softly. "If you even feel the same and it's OK if you don't. I know that I have a long road ahead of me to earn your trust so that you can get to the point where you could love me..."

"I...uhm do?" Ashley tried, cringing when she heard how scared and confused she sounded. That wasn't how she wanted to say what she'd been thinking, what she was afraid would frighten Spencer.

Spencer was sure that her heart stopped for a brief moment before restarting at triple time. She knew that Ashley had murmured the word more than once at her during the worst of her fever but she hadn't dared really to hope and hold onto the chance that that was how Ashley really felt. In a way, Spencer knew there was a good chance that Ashley did love her but she also realized that there were a lot of issues that they both had to work through before the girl would probably be able to say it.

"Ash, don't worry about it," Spencer tried, giving the spooked and sick girl an easy out to take and to change the subject. "It's no big deal, really."

"But it is a big deal," Ashley countered, sitting forward slightly, getting closer to Spencer again, trying to make her see her sincerity. This time, she wasn't having trouble keeping eye contact and it was Spencer trying to look anywhere but at those soulful brown eyes. "Spencer, love is a big deal; it's not something that you should just throw around indiscriminately..."

"I'm not," Spencer shot back, insulted and hurt. She scowled and glared at the tray of food, hating herself for saying what Ashley appeared to be ill-prepared to handle.

"Jesus Christ, Spencer, I know you're not," Ashley said quickly but not angrily like the blonde expected. Instead she sounded almost awed. "Spencer, I know you're not like that; you just aren't saying it to get something from me. Baby, I know that it must be how you feel or else you wouldn't have said it. Please...I know you wouldn't hurt me like that."

"I don't wanna hurt you..." Spencer whispered, a tear making its way down her face. They'd suddenly switched roles and now Ashley found herself brushing away the out of place moisture with her thumb and then stroking the upset girl's cheek with her fingertips.

"You didn't," she soothed her girlfriend. "You haven't. You've done nothing but be there for me, however I needed you. Spencer, honey, you mean the world to me. What I'm trying to say is that it's hard for me to think that someone could love me. Especially someone like you; you're smart, pretty, sweet as hell and so fucking innocent sometimes that I get jealous. I wish that I could look at the world the same way that you do and not just see the dark or the ways that I can be hurt. I envy that about you, your openness."

"I'm so...scared that I'm going to ruin that about you," Ashley confessed bitterly. "I'm so scared that my insecurities, my fears and the things I've done in the past will effect you and change you in some bad way. You say you love me now, right in this instant and as much as I want that, and I so do, I'm petrified that once I'm...comfortable enough to go over the things I've done, not just to myself but to good, loving people like yourself...done to Kyla..." She trailed off, her face burning and throat tight with shame.

"I'm scared you won't look at me the same," she finished in a harsh whisper, finally looking away from bright and loving azure eyes. "I'm scared you'll take away your love and I'll be left with nothing. It won't be like before when everyone turned on me; it'll hurt more. It would destroy me if the person I loved most in the world suddenly hated me for what I've done."

Spencer stayed silent, stunned by the sudden show of vulnerability and openness that Ashley had just displayed. Although the fact that Ashley had just confessed that she loved her in return didn't go unnoticed, at that moment, what meant more was the fact that Ashley had just let down every single wall and defense she had and laid herself emotionally bare for Spencer to see. She was humbled and touched.

Leaning over a little, she wrapped her arms around the smaller form and just held her for a while in complete silence. There was nothing Spencer could really say to ease Ashley's fears so she let her touch do it for her.

"I do, you know," Ashley said after she'd sat quietly in Spencer's arms, tired by her uncharacteristic outpouring of honesty. She pulled away and looked into her girlfriends face. "Love you, I mean." Spencer then gifted her with a beautiful bright smile.

"Yeah, baby, I do know."

Ashley decided she wanted a shower so after helping her to set it up and get in, Spencer went back into the living room where she could hear her phone chiming to tell her of a missed call. She sighed when she saw that Madison had called her three times since noon and it wasn't even three in the afternoon yet. Obviously, the Latina had noticed her absence from the house and from class for the day, added on top of the classes she missed Friday. Spencer knew that if she called the girl back, she was undoubtedly going to get one hell of an earful.

At the moment, she was happy, content. Beyond happy really; Ashley had just, with some difficulty but complete honesty, confessed that she was in love with Spencer. The blonde felt like someone had put wings on her shoes and she could simply float wherever she wanted to go, no matter how cheesy that sounded. The girl she loved loved her back; it was perfect. In reality she knew that it was far from perfect given Ashley's past and her own family who had yet to be told that Spencer was even gay but in Spencer's opinion, love was love. She would deal with everything else as it came along.

She'd meant everything she'd said to Ashley about loving her for her now, despite and because of the things she'd been through. She was slightly frightened about hearing the things Ashley had been through just because it was undoubtedly going to bring back hurt and pain to her girlfriend to recall it. Telling her family that she was gay was so terrifying a concept that she knew she was no where near ready to face so she shoved that idea and its possibly nasty outcome to the back of her mind.

Shit, if I call Maddy back she's just going to ruin my mood, Spencer thought with an eye roll. But if I don't call her and at least tell her I'm alive, she's likely to call my mother or the police. Or both. Ug, she's such a nosy little nelly.

Hitting the 'go' key, her phone called back the last number that called her and she waited for the smaller girl to answer, part of her hoping that Madison was busy or in class.

"Where the fuck have you been?" Madison asked when she picked up the phone. "No one's fucking seen you since you left for class Friday. Did you get lost or something?"

"Hello to you too, Maddy," Spencer retorted with a tired sigh. Already she felt like her friend was sucking all the light out of her life. "I'm fine, thanks, and you?"

"Oh cut out the cute act, perra," Madison snarled. "You don't just disappear for three days and not expect people to want to know where you are. Where the fuck are you? And don't say home cuz I called your mom and she says she hasn't heard from you. Dude, she's pissed you never called for Thanksgiving too."

Shit! Spencer swore to herself. She had hoped to pawn not calling for the holiday on her phone service or something else that she could say was beyond her control. Plus she had already seen the angry emails from her mother sitting in her mailbox so she knew that the woman was upset with her.

"What are you, my girlfriend?" Spencer spat angrily. "You had no right to call my mother. You're not my fucking keeper."

"Maybe I wouldn't have called if you told me where you were going!" Madison shot back. "And don't say that you're with your mysterious boy toy, either. Your mom had no idea that you were even dating someone so I'm starting to think he's a figment of your imagination."

"Madison," Spencer growled. "I am not your sister, your girlfriend, your child or anything like it. I do NOT have to pass each and every little idea I have or the things I wanna do by you for your fucking permission first, do you understand me? I don't need your fucking approval if I want to take a break or something. We're friends, that's it and you don't have any right butting your incredibly expensive reconstructed nose into my business so back the fuck off."

"What?" Madison gasped, shocked at the tone, language, and venom Spencer was using with her. "Spencer, I was concerned. No one knew where you were...and that whore was missing from school Friday and today. I wanted to make sure she hadn't kidnapped you or something for her perverted use."

"Her name is Ashley Davies, not whore, slut, cunt or any of the Spanish variations on them," Spencer snarled. She was sick and tired of Madison's attitude towards Ashley; even if she were only friends with the reclusive musician, she was at the point where enough was enough with Madison's hate for Ashley. "If you can't call her by her name, then don't fucking mention her, all right? I'm tired of your childish and stupid grudge against her for the past. Let it go or don't mention it to me again, got it?"

"And so fucking what if she wasn't in class?" she went on before Madison could get a word in edgewise. "Did you know that she is capable of acting independently of me or vice versa? Maybe someone in her family was sick. Maybe she was sick and not at school. I don't know; could have been anything. And not to say I wasn't with her, because it's none of your fucking business who I chose to spend my time with, but maybe I just wanted to get away from school for a few days before finals started? Maybe I wanted out of that stupid sorority house for a weekend. Why does everything always become an 'Ashley' thing with you. You accuse me of being corrupted by her because I'm friends with her but you seem to be the one who's obsessed with all things Ashley."

"I'm trying to be your friend, Spencer," Madison said angrily. "Friends look out for each other, right? I just want to make sure that that slu...that Ashley hasn't hurt you or that you haven't gotten close enough to her for her to hurt you. Spencer, I used to be friends with her; I know how charming and sweet and vulnerable she can act; but that's it. It's all an act."

"Madison, I spent the night somewhere else, somewhere safe, all right?" Spencer broke in, not in the state of mind to weather a rant about the evils of her girlfriend. "Why do you automatically assume because I'm out and Ashley's out that we're out...together?"

"Because I know what she's capable of, Spencer," Madison told her somberly. The aforementioned girl was exiting the hallway from her room in clean pajamas and toweling her hair as she walked by towards the kitchen, a sad expression on her face. Spencer felt her heart drop, knowing that Ashley had overheard her conversation.

Crap, she moaned internally. Her eyes...she heard me talking about her. I didn't say anything bad but I didn't jump at the chance to tell Madison I was with her. Does she see that as me being ashamed, cuz I'm not. I'm terrified of the reaction and not sure I'm ready yet. I will be, though. Soon.

"OK, fine, I'll drop the Ashley thing," Madison conceded, regaining Spencer's wandering attention. The blonde watched Ashley's back as the brunette retreated into her bedroom with a bottle of water and closed the door, the sound of it closing causing a physical pain in Spencer's heart. She knew that Ashley had just shut her out again. "But seriously, where are you? Your mom is worried..."

"And stop calling my fucking mother every time I do something you don't like," Spencer barked, irked to no end that her 'friend' had called her mother in the first place. "You're not a friend of hers, you're my friend, or so you say. So don't go telling her every little thing that I do. It's fucking rude."

"You were missing..." Madison tried.

"What about those four days last semester when you ran off with what's-his-name to Las Vegas? Garth?" Spencer huffed. "I didn't call your mother or your cousin or anyone else! I saw you leave in the morning, get into some strange car and you came back four days later, laughing about how you almost married some fisherman or something."

"Fine," Madison sighed. "I won't call your mother again..."

"Don't email her either," Spencer added as an afterthought. "I know you told her all about Ashley, your version and frankly I see that as a betrayal of our friendship. So from this point on, unless I'm lying in the hospital dying or something, don't contact my family, period." She heard the line click, signifying that her so-called friend had hung up on her and sighed, flipping the phone shut.

Now to see how much damage I just did with Ashley, she thought sadly. She reached for the door handle, terrified that it was locked. To her complete relief, it was unlocked. She opened it slowly, peeking in around it to see where Ashley was. Her heart broke to see the still sick girl curled up under the covers, hair tied back in a loose ponytail and her back to the door. It was Ashley's non-verbal way of telling Spencer she was hurt.

Approaching the bed silently, Spencer decided not to talk, at least not right now. So she slid under the covers behind her girlfriend and then, taking a chance, moved up behind her to spoon. She let out a breath in relief as a few moments later, Ashley relaxed into her and settled in to sleep, allowing Spencer to stay there. A few minutes later, a soft voice broke the comfortable silence.

"Arm," Ashley said softly, patting her hip. Spencer put her hand on Ashley's and almost cried when the brunette grasped it and pulled her arm forward, wrapping it around her own chest until Spencer was effectively holding her. Long thin fingers laced with Spencer's adding to the blonde's ease. She knew that with that small gesture, Ashley had forgiven her inability to tell Madison the truth of where she was.

She drifted off to sleep hoping that it was the first step towards building a true and solid relationship with the older girl.

"You should go to school today," Ashley said softly from across the table. They were eating a light breakfast together the next morning; Ashley had walked Spencer through making pancakes without burning them along with bacon. The blonde was still a little unsure how much food her girlfriend could eat without getting sick but Ashley complained she was sick of oatmeal and toast or soup and wanted solid, real food. Or at least as real as pancakes and bacon. Spencer told her no coffee and she was, begrudgingly complying with that one request.

"Nah, I can afford to miss another day," Spencer tossed back. She smiled around a mouthful of bacon as Ashley speared a piece of flapjack with her fork.

"Finals are soon, Spence," Ashley tried again. "I want you to do well and I don't wanna be the reason you don't." Spencer tilted her head, looking at the girl across from her carefully. They hadn't really talked about the phone call she had had with Madison the day before, instead spending their time sleeping and cuddling without much dialog. Ashley was still sick and her throat hurt so Spencer didn't really press the issue with her. They had simply enjoyed each others presence.

So the fact that Ashley seemed so unable to make eye contact with her and her still pale face bore such an expression of sorrow, broke Spencer's heart for the millionth time. Ashley was obviously hurt by what she had overheard and as much as she loved Spencer, she was trying to push away. Whether it was for her own benefit or Ashley's, Spencer wasn't sure.

"I'm staying here until at least tomorrow to make sure you're all right," Spencer said flatly. "I'm not leaving you like everyone else always seems to, and I'm not letting you push me away because you're scared. I'm terrified too you know and I hope that you can be patient with me while I try to come to terms with the whole 'gay' thing and get up the courage to tell my family...and Madison."

"Spencer, I am...crap," Ashley sighed and pushed her plate away before she put her arms on the table and leaned her head on them, hiding herself from Spencer's view. "I don't want Madison to...say stuff that makes you hate me..."

"Baby," Spencer whispered, making Ashley jump since she hadn't heard the younger girl get up or move closer. "I don't care what Madison says, it's not going to change how I feel. She told me her version of prom before I got here last week and it didn't stop me from showing up. If anything, it made me want to get to know you even more because you are so different from what she says. And she can tell me until she's blue in the face that you're evil or acting sweet and going to betray me; I'm not going to believe her. I'm the one who looks right at you, in your eyes when you talk to me; I see the real person you are there, no matter how much you try to hide."

"Spence...people really did die," Ashley sighed. "Including someone that I loved, that Madison loved." Spencer brushed some curly locks away from the forlorn girl.

"That was years ago and I'm not saying that it's OK or right or whatever," she said when Ashley opened her mouth to speak. "And someday, I hope soon, you'll tell me all about it. But when you're ready and not because Madison scares you into it. And then I'll help you see that you are not still that person even if Madison is. That poor girl is stuck in that horrible moment and she lets it rule everything she does. She can't see you for who you've become and that makes me sad cuz you are so great."

"Glad you think so," Ashley muttered. Spencer kissed her on the forehead, happy to see that her temperature was normal.

"I know so," she countered honestly. "I see how great you are, and so does Kyla. And we'll make you see it too." Ashley pouted a minute before she lifted her gaze and locked eyes with her loving girlfriend.

"Can I have a kiss?" she asked shyly, effectively ending the intense conversation. "I've been sick so it's OK if you'd rather not." Spencer grinned at her.

"I would love to kiss you," she said huskily. She pressed her lips to Ashley's gently, not wanting to push her since she was still feeling, in Ashley's words, 'icky'. It only lasted a moment but Spencer could still feel the way Ashley's tense body language relaxed at the touch.

"There, much better," Spencer said happily. "And for the record, I would never turn down a kiss from you." Ashley smirked at her.

"Even all feverish and pukey?" she teased. Spencer laughed.

"Even then," she confirmed. "Although, after a mouth rinse, I admit. But I like it better when you can kiss back."

"Me too," Ashley agreed. "Thanks, by the way, for taking care of me over the weekend. It...uhm...means a lot that you were here and I'm sorry if I said or did anything weird. I don't really remember much." Spencer got up and returned to her seat, going back to her cooling breakfast.

"You didn't do much; you were pretty out of it," she said between bites. "You complained about loud ducks..."

"Remember that," Ashley announced, sipping her orange juice.

"A monkey stole your pants," Spencer went on, loving the embarrassed blush on her girlfriends face.

"Hey, that was a scary, angry monkey," she told Spencer, waving her fork at the blonde who was giggling. "Like the one that hides in Chris' closet on 'Family Guy'."

"Mmm hmm," Spencer humored her. She loved that they had reached the point where they could be totally serious and in depth one moment and after the issue was dealt with go right back to being silly and comfortable. "You were Peter Pan..."

"Good Lord," Ashley groaned.

"And you were totally convinced I was Tinkerbell," Spencer told her, grinning. "You carefully explained that I was blonde, therefore I was Tinkerbell."

"Ug," Ashley shook her head. She then thought for a moment and looked back up at Spencer. "I vaguely remember choking and being scared but you were there so I knew I'd be OK. And you rubbing my back a few times, washing my hair...you were so great, Spencer. Really. I owe you."

"You don't owe me anything, hon," the younger girl said firmly. "You were sick and needed me. I wanted to help so, you don't owe me anything." Ashley opened her mouth to argue but Spencer shook her head.

"And if you wanna fight that much about it," she interrupted with a slight tilt of her head and a knowing grin. "Consider us even for the whole 'I love you Mr. Bucket/I dropped the toilet paper' thing last week. Deal?" Ashley let out a real laugh, the sound almost musical to Spencer as it danced over her senses. It truly was a beautiful sound and she couldn't wait until she could hear it, cause it even more.


It was Wednesday before either of them returned to school. To avoid the chance that Madison would catch on, Spencer returned to the sorority before class started and then later in the day, Ashley arrived late to English, much to the annoyance of the professor who was beginning their review for finals. She was still weak and kind of pale but she and Spencer both knew that they couldn't afford to miss any more classes, especially at the same time. There was only so much they could get past Madison's radar.

Madison wasn't all that friendly towards Spencer and sat a few seats away which let Ashley sit three rows behind Spencer without any snide comments or insults. However, because Madison had a perfect view of them both, they couldn't text each other. They knew there was no way she'd no notice and realize that most of her suspicions were true. Neither of them was ready to face that sort of situation so they concentrated on class.

That pattern continued Thursday and Friday, with Madison watching them and their non-interaction almost obsessively. It unnerved Spencer to some extent while it pissed Ashley off to another. When classes ended Friday, Madison was waiting at Spencer's car, effectively preventing her from grabbing her stuff and heading to Ashley's for the weekend.

"Are we talking now?" she sneered at the smaller girl, annoyed by her behavior all week and her obvious need to control someone else's life.

"Spence, we were never not talking," Madison said sweetly, making Spencer's teeth ache. "You were angry and I understood that so I gave you your space." The blonde's eyes narrowed.

"You are seriously reminding me of a stalker," Spencer huffed, trying to get to her car. "Madison, move!"

"Aw, come on, Spence," Madison tried again, making the younger girl flinch at the use of her nickname. She really was getting so that only Ashley and Kyla could use it without making her teeth vibrate painfully. "I thought, Friday night, two hot chicas, we could go hit the town."

"I've got plans," Spencer pointed out, rolling her eyes. "And I need to get going or I'll be late."

"But, Spence, we never hang out anymore," Madison whined. "We can get all dressed up and go hit some clubs, get us some man-candy..."

"I'm taken, Madison, remember?" Spencer interrupted, almost getting ready to push the annoying girl out of the way.

"So you claim," Madison shrugged. "And so what? No rings, no strings, no contracts, babe. You aren't married to this, 'mystery' person so there's no reason why you can't go get your freak on."

"And that right there is why you are never going to have and maintain a relationship," Spencer spat. "It's not about rings or marriage or whatever, Maddy. It's about love and I am currently very deeply in love..."

"Fuck that," Madison shook her head. "'Love' is just some stupid shit made up to sell candy and cards and flowers, mija. It's not all rainbows and flowery music and whatever the fuck you seem to think it is."

"That makes me really sad," Spencer breathed, seeing that she wasn't going to be able to get through to her 'friend'.

"Oh, don't let it, Spence," Madison chirped, grinning. "We'll find you some bronze Adonis and..."

"No, you...twit," Spencer sighed. "I meant that I feel sad for you, that you feel that way because you'll never know how great love is or can be. You're too young to be so jaded."

"Oh fuck you, Spencer," Madison snapped, any pretense of friendliness gone. "You are so fucking sad, you know that? Following this mystery man around or whatever, being friends with that whore..."

"What did I tell you?" Spencer growled back, leaning closer to get into Madison's face. "What did I tell you about calling her names? Here, let me refresh your memory and I'll even make it easier: No. Llame. Ashley. Unda. Puta. Siempre. Entienda?"

"What-the-fuck-ever, you little shit," Madison retorted, her face turning red. "Go ahead, go see your man but you need to remember that winter break starts in less than two weeks. Lucy is still waiting for Davies 'substantial donation' to the house. She's gonna toss you out on your fat white ass if you don't produce." The Latina smirked evilly. "Unless, of course, you're getting your 'donation' from Ashley Davies in a different way? Like on your back, you whore. But your mother would love that!"

"You bitch," Spencer hissed, clenching her hands into fists by her sides. She wanted to deck the girl and was pretty sure that their friendship was over.

"Two weeks, Spencer," Madison taunted. "And whatever little game you've been playing at is gonna fall apart. And I'm gonna watch and laugh. I tried to warn you; Ashley destroys people. You didn't listen and you're gonna get what you deserve." She blew an exaggerated kiss to the blonde and walked off laughing.

Spencer took a few deep breaths to calm herself, knowing that she shouldn't drive when she was that angry and then headed to the sorority house where she ran in to get her bag and then back out to head to Ashley's. Her phone had buzzed a few times with messages from the brunette wondering if she was all right since she was late. She sent back an apology and said she had gotten stuck talking to someone and was on her way.

Not taking any chances, she drove fifteen minutes in the opposite direction from Ashley's, parked her car at a mall and called a cab, using a chunk of the money her father sent her on the slightly paranoid expense. But she was terrified that Madison was sneaky enough to pull a stunt like following her. She had already gotten a few things for Ashley and Kyla, hoping that they'd understand her limited funds. She also changed Ashley's designation in her phone from 'Z' to 'd'Artagnan'. She didn't want to leave anything to chance when it seemed like Madison was out to get her any way she could.

"A cab, baby?" Ashley questioned when she opened the door and saw the yellow car backing out of her driveway. Spencer nodded and dropped her bag, wrapping her arms around Ashley in a much needed tight hug.

"Yeah," she sighed, loving the feel of Ashley in her arms. "Car trouble again." She hated lying but didn't want to mention Madison and start off their weekend with a sore spot with Ashley. The threat regarding the lie about a donation from Ashley for the sorority was eating at her but she couldn't bring herself to mention it yet. She knew that Ashley would feel betrayed and angry, two things that could effectively destroy the progress they were making.

"Bad day?" Ashley chuckled as she hugged the larger girl back. She felt Spencer nod against her and pulled back a little. "Here, let me make it better for you." She then playfully shoved Spencer against the closed front door and covered her lips with her own, giving the blonde such a hot, passionate kiss that her toes curled inside her sneakers and she moaned as it deepened.

"Ohhhh...fuck," she sighed when Ashley pulled away a short time later for air. She could tell that her girlfriend was definitely feeling a world better than she'd been earlier in the week.

"Maybe later, gorgeous," the smaller girl husked, leaning in to kiss and nibble at Spencer's delicious neck. "Right now, I made dinner. Steak, potatoes and veggies. You hungry, babe?" Spencer's eyes slowly fluttered open, her usually ocean blue eyes a deep aroused indigo.

"Very," she answered in a whisper, licking her lips as she looked up and down Ashley's tan and toned body. Ashley laughed and put her finger on the tip of Spencer's nose.

"Ah, ah, ah, Spence," she said, the nickname sounding musical to the younger girl. "That's dessert."

Ashley rolled over, coming to slightly and felt the soft feel of skin behind her. She froze for a second, confused and then relaxed, images from 'dessert' fluttering through her mind. She knew it was only Spencer; she was just so unused to sharing her bed that she was still getting used to the weekend visitor. Plus, they were both naked, having fallen asleep tangled together in a sweaty heap, exhausted and sated. As she stretched, a sleep warm arm and slightly wandering hand drifted across her abdomen, making her shiver.

"Stay," Spencer whispered, still mostly asleep but able to feel the bed and the body she was sharing it with moving.

"I'm just going to the bathroom, baby," Ashley whispered, kissing Spencer's forehead. "I'll be right back." The blonde murmured her assent and slipped back into slumber, letting Ashley get up. She grabbed her glasses from the night stand and padded across the carpet.

She winced when she turned on the bathroom light and looked at herself in the mirror. She wasn't completely at one hundred percent since her bout with the flu but she was looking better. She found the various pink and red marks left by Spencer in her passion to be erotic and somewhat amusing.

She opened the cabinet and took out what she was really after; the thing that had woken her up.

"Fucking migraine," she sighed. She hated taking pills, medication of any sort. Her past made her weary of the chemicals and she didn't enjoy putting them into her body. But for the headache she had building, nothing else would help and she didn't want to let Spencer in on them just yet. She didn't know why she was holding back on explaining it to her but she could only open up so fast.

"Shit," she grumbled, seeing that the label was blurry. "Need my eyes checked again, damn it." She swallowed the tablets with a glass of water from the sink and then headed back to the bedroom. She was greeted by the pleasant view of a pert, naked ass since Spencer was now lying face down on the bed. The urge to smack that beautiful and firm body part made Ashley's hands twitch but she knew she'd be pissed if she was disturbed that way so she stared longingly for a moment and then got into her side of the bed.

Spencer automatically moved to cuddle, draping her slightly larger form over Ashley's.

"Bed's cold," she complained sleepily, making Ashley chuckle while she pulled the blankets around them.

"That's cuz you're naked and tossed the covers off," she whispered. Spencer burrowed closer to the soft yet firm body beneath her own.

"Mmmm, like being naked with you," the blonde muttered, falling asleep as she spoke. Ashley chuckled again and closed her eyes.

Bet this is better than cuddling with the pukey me, she smiled before surrendering back to sleep.

"So, are you busy next weekend?" Ashley asked, later Saturday as they lay in yet another sweaty tangled heap on the couch. They'd originally settled there with a DVD and their textbooks to start studying for finals but inevitably when they were together but alone, teasing started, hands followed suit and they found themselves naked and writhing together, panting and moaning for each other on the leather couch. Spencer was currently laying on her back on the couch with Ashley's slight and comfortable weight against her.

"Hmmm?" she asked, the feel of Ashley's lingering arousal on her leg infinitely distracting. She could still taste her girlfriend and as tired as she was, she wanted more. But her muscles were screaming for rest and they really did have to study. It would be incredibly hard to explain to her parents that she wasn't able to study for finals and therefore failed her classes because she couldn't keep her hands or mouth off of her girlfriend.

Gee, Spencer, how did your mother die? she thought to herself, amused. Oh, she had a stroke brought on by me failing college cuz I was too busy having evil, taboo lesbian sex with my sexy girlfriend to study. Nice!

"Earth to Spencer, come in Spencer," Ashley giggled, tapping on the blonde's temple for effect. "Hey lil pervie, you still with me or should I text message you?" Spencer looked up at the amused expression on her girlfriend's face and blushed.

"Sorry," she giggled. "I was distracted." As she spoke, she let her hand trail upwards to knead a perfect, firm breast, which made Ashley moan lowly.

"Mmmm I see," the brunette husked. The tone made Spencer shiver with desire. "First though, really, do you have plans for next weekend?" Spencer arched a pale brow at the older girl.

"Uhm, I kinda, sorta assumed I'd be...here..." she said shyly, trailing off feeling embarrassed. She also feared that she'd assumed too much and reminded herself that Ashley had a life outside of her and their relationship. Ashley always made a point to mention an invitation to her house for the weekend, usually around Tuesday but it was understood between them that it was just a formality. Spencer knew that the invite was coming and Ashley knew that she knew. So, as much as Spencer waited for the invite, she also just always thought that she was expected.

"Well, of course you will be," Ashley smiled, seeing the moment of insecurity in the blonde's eyes. "I just meant did you have any things you had to do with your sorority next weekend? I ask cuz that's the weekend that Kyla and I have decided to go tree hunting. It's over two hours one way so we thought we'd do like we did last year and spend the weekend in the Christmas Village. And, uhm...I wanted you to go too."

Relief and joy flooded through Spencer at the sweet and shy invitation. She remembered that the Davies sisters had their own holiday traditions and was honored to again be invited to another one. She was leaving for home the following Thursday, which she was not looking forward to in the least but the weekend would be a great time to give the sisters their Christmas gifts.

"I'd love to," she said honestly, tilting down to kiss awaiting lips. "I'm so happy you invited me." Ashley smiled, her nose crinkling in delight for a moment before she tilted her head and bit her lip.

"There's something else, though," she said softly. "I...uhm...would you mind if I waited until you got back from Ohio to give you your present? You don't have to get me or Kyla anything; we totally understand that you're paying for school on your own and all that so don't even worry about it."

"Ash," Spencer started, sitting up some and taking the smaller body with her.

"No, really, Spence," Ashley insisted. "I understand what your finances are like; I can't relate but I can understand. Hell, if I'd known that you had to take a cab here I would have been outside to pay it for you. Hell, you could have just called me..."

"I uhm, that was more to avoid being followed by Madison than my car crapping out," Spencer explained nervously. Ashley frowned and ran a hand through her hair.

"She being that bad?" she asked, letting out a long breath and looking away. "Fuck, Spence, I'm sorry." Spencer sat all the way up and pulled the suddenly sorrowful girl to her chest, laying back on the pillows with her. She ignored the way her skin stuck to the leather.

"No, Ash, it's not your fault," she said lovingly. "So don't you dare think it is."

"She was your friend..." Ashley pointed out, hiding her face against the pale skin of the younger girl's chest.

"Who isn't going to accept me as who I am or who I love," Spencer reminded her. "That isn't your fault. And I would trade being friends with her so that I could be with you a million times if I had to, sweetie. You are so worth losing her. She's phony and petty and did I tell you she fucking called my mother? When she didn't know where I was last weekend, she called my mother! I mean, who does that?"

"Madison Duarte," Ashley chuckled, understanding Spencer's ire. "She really has no concept of boundaries. I don't like to talk bad about people really, since I've had it happen so much to me but, she's a real piece of work and someone you need to be careful around, like with your secrets or in some cases, your boyfriend." The tone of bitterness made Spencer's heart ache for the pain the older girl had so obviously endured from someone she considered a friend.

"I guess you really would know, huh, baby," Spencer soothed, brushing a lock of curly hair behind Ashley's ear. Ashley nodded and looked away, staring off into space for a few moments, lost in her memory, Spencer figured. So she decided to let the smaller girl have her time to go where she needed within herself without pushing her.

"Tell you what," Ashley said finally, her eyes refocusing on her beautiful girlfriend, in the present. She smiled slightly. "Why don't you go grab us some sodas and snacks while I go get some robes and then I'll show you a part of the house you haven't seen yet." Spencer nodded and waited for Ashley to get up. She took the hand that was offered to pull her up from the couch. Ashley held her close for a moment, kissing her neck and then moving up to whisper in her ear.

"I think it might be time for a story."

Spencer went and retrieved a few bottles of soda, Sierra Mist for herself and Code Red for Ashley and a few bags of chips and cookies. She was anxious, wondering if 'a story' from Ashley would include any of the girl's mysterious past, although even if it didn't she welcomed the time with the girl when neither of them were sick. Walking around the kitchen in nothing but her birthday suit was a new experience and it made her a bit uneasy. She'd never had the opportunity to walk around naked anywhere outside of the bathroom since she always had two brothers running around and her mother was so conservative she'd probably die on the spot if Spencer suddenly appeared sans clothing.

There's an idea to keep just in case I need a quick out, she giggled quietly.

But Ashley seemed totally at ease with her naked, even when she'd walked away towards the bedroom, giving the blonde a clear view of her tattoo and the scars slightly higher on her back. After her initial shyness and worry that Spencer was turned off by the marks, Ashley now seemed somehow freer and more comfortable with both Spencer and herself. The younger girl loved being able to see the difference.

"Here," Ashley appeared behind her, wearing a black silk robe and holding out a beautiful electric blue one towards Spencer. She helped the girl put it on and then bit her lip when Spencer noticed that it was embroidered with her name over the left breast.

"Ashley," Spencer smiled. Ashley shook her head.

"Gift from Kyla, actually," the brunette told her with a shy look. "She figured if you were gonna be here off and on, you'd need something to wear around the house. Cuz, in her words; 'I like Spencer and all, and I'll admit, she's hot but I don't need to see either of you wandering around with everything hanging out and scar me for life.' Give or take a word or two." It was then that Spencer noticed that Ashley's name was embroidered above her left breast too.

"A matching set, huh?" she joked, grinning when Ashley nodded.

"Actually, two complete silk pajama sets," she clarified. "There are pants and shirts in the bedroom but I figured for where I'm taking you, we didn't really need them. Come on, gorgeous, follow me." She then led Spencer down the hall to a door that the younger girl hadn't yet explored. After that first afternoon when she'd headed to the bathroom and ended up in Ashley's private office, she kept her wanderings strictly to the rooms she knew.

She opened the large oak door and smiled at Spencer, hitting the light to illuminate the room, making Spencer gasp. The room was large, and like most of the house, faced the water with large floor to ceiling windows on the side with the view. There were numerous video games lining the wooden paneled walls, pinball machines along with some vintage games and some more recent but it looked to Spencer like Glen's version of Nirvana. There were racing games complete with the seat and wheel, motorcycle games, water ski, a few shoot 'em ups, a flight simulator and Dance Dance Revolution flashing brightly in the corner.

"I think my brother would had a heart attack if you showed him this," Spencer whispered. Although there were literally dozens of video games lining the walls with flashing lights and signs, the room itself was quiet, the sound obviously turned down.

Against the far wall were a few of what Spencer knew to be 'gaming chairs'. Glen had asked, begged and pleaded for one of the surround sound, game interactive chairs for at least the last four Christmases but never received one. They sat in front of a comfy looking couch and one of the largest flat screen plasma televisions Spencer had ever seen outside of an electronics store or catalog. And on the black and chrome table below the television was everything from an '80's Atari to the Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360. There were DVD racks lining the wall beside it filled to the brim with games.

There was an air hockey game behind that set of chairs, with more than enough room to walk around and stand comfortably and after that was a pool table. Spencer then noticed the racks of cues on some spots on the walls along with chalks and other pool accessories. There was a dart board and several other things that completed the 'gaming nerds' version of Heaven. But what really had Spencer's attention was the huge, beautiful hot tub situated near the view of the ocean.

"Wow," she breathed, amazed. She had no idea why anything Ashley did or had left her awestruck; she knew that the older girl was beyond wealthy. But still, Ashley herself never seemed to behave like someone with that sort of money was expected to, or at least in Spencer's experience. The rich party girls, like Paris, Nicole or Lindsey were so different than the Ashley she knew. Maybe not the Ashley that once was, but definitely the Ashley who was now.

"OK, now this monolith seats 7 people," Ashley began to explain as she guided Spencer closer. She was clearly excited about the tub. "I love the color of it; ocean wave opal shell with a coastal grey cabinet. I didn't want that fake wood or even real wood around it. I dunno, sometimes Kyla says my sense of taste is cold, sterile cuz I like black and chrome and glass but I figured, my house, my tub, my taste in scheme, ya know?" Spencer nodded as Ashley stripped off her robe and hung it carefully on a hook on the wall before she removed her own.

"I sprung for the whole thing, all the bells and whistles," she went on as the blonde carefully stepped into the water. "We've got an integrated, top of the line sound system, with like surround sound and a CD player and a remote control." She held up the device, seeing Spencer's eyes light up. "This controls the jets, there are over 35, by the way, the waterfall, jet pumps and the LED lighting system. Not to mention the television set and DVD player over there."

"Oh! And a little mini fridge to keep those sodas cool," she pointed out as she joined Spencer in the tub and hit a button. A small refrigerator opened from the side of the tub, allowing Spencer to place the spare sodas inside while the ones they were drinking went into the built in cup holders along with edge.

"This is..." Spencer trailed off, enjoying the hot water, the feel of the jets on her tired muscles and the way Ashley's skin looked in the water. "Heaven," she decided on. Ashley laughed.

"I guess I should confess to being a bit of a technology snob, huh?" she asked with a giggle. "I'm a video game geek, I admit it. And sometimes I wonder if virtually unlimited funds is a good thing but I figure I'm not hurting anyone and it makes me happy. Oh, and it's legal."

Spencer heard the humor but also the tinge of truth in the latter part of Ashley's statement.

"Anyway, there's dehumidifiers all over the place, built into the vents and all that to keep the tub from ruining anything in here," Ashley told her, taking a sip of her soda. "So if you ever show up outside of the weekend and I don't answer the door, I'm probably in here with the volume too loud so let yourself in."

Spencer nodded and just leaned back to relax. The various water jets were massaging her muscles everywhere and putting her into a near catatonic state of relaxation. She watched through half-closed eyes as Ashley turned on the music, the soft strains of some calming jazz

filling the speakers that were placed throughout the room.

"So, I promised you a story, didn't I?" Ashley asked a little later, bringing Spencer out of her semi-doze.

"Not if you're not ready, Ash," she said softly, sincerely. "I don't wanna push you into telling me too much if you're not ready." Ashley smiled and leaned over to kiss her beautiful girlfriend, drinking in the moan that came from Spencer's throat at its intensity.

"And that is exactly why I am ready to tell you some things, baby," the brunette husked. "Because you don't push and you make me comfortable enough to go there, you know?"

"Whenever you're ready, Ash," Spencer told her lovingly. "I'll listen."

"I don't know how much Madison told you about when I met her," Ashley started, shifting so that she was sitting between Spencer's legs and the blonde's arms were around her waist, making her feel safe and loved. She tilted her head back so that it rested on Spencer's shoulder and she could just see her from the corner of her eye.

"She said you were fifth grade," Spencer supplied. Ashley nodded against her, trying to relax and calm the thundering of her heart. She hadn't really opened up to anyone other than Kyla about anything in her past and while she loved Spencer, there were certain aspects to the story she was about to tell that she decided, for her own sake, to sanitize.

"I'd spent a few years traveling with my dad, going from continent to continent so I hadn't ever really gone to a school like most kids, you know?" Ashley explained. "My parents had divorced by that point though and my mother decided that I needed structure and shit instead of the tutors I'd had most of the time. So, first she tried an all girl's Catholic school but let's just say, structure isn't for me. I ended up setting fire to the gym within the first two months so they booted me."

"You set fire to a Catholic school?" Spencer giggled. Now that was a nice visual even if she didn't see her girlfriend lasting long.

"All that fire and brimstone, I guess," Ashley joked with a shrug. "So, after that I went through like two more boarding schools and never made it more than a month before they returned my mom's money and sent me home. Finally she just decided to shove me in a public school and see if I lived."

"I met Madison that first day and we were pretty inseparable from then on for whatever reason. I think I just wanted a friend and she wanted...well, my money for starters," she said and then took a long drink from her soda. "We did your typical teenage shit, had our fights and everything but always made up. In junior high we both started dating but I never really felt like I was clicking with any of the guys I dated and I could not figure it out. And thanks to the nature of kids that age, I developed a reputation that was only about fifty percent accurate at the time."

"She said you were...'wild', I think is the term," Spencer said softly. Again, Ashley nodded.

"I'd never known restrictions, Spence," she said somewhat bitterly. "No one ever said 'no' to me and it left me without the understanding of boundaries. I didn't understand the difference of positive attention verses negative attention; to me it was all attention, which I craved. My mother was never home, never cared what I was doing and my dad was off touring somewhere and he wasn't around. So, anyone who showed me any sort of attention, I jumped at. I probably let a lot of them do more than I should and I probably did some stuff I shouldn't; a lot of it I regret. All I wanted was attention from someone."

"Aww, baby," Spencer soothed, kissing the side of Ashley's neck in comfort. She couldn't even begin to imagine being so lonely as what Ashley described.

"So, I fucked around, literally and figuratively," Ashley snorted, disgust clear in her tone. "Got involved in some bad shit, I admit. I couldn't see, for a long time, how these people were just using me to get what they wanted, whether it was my money, my belongings, or my body. All I could see was someone giving me the fucking time of day and making me feel like maybe I wasn't invisible."

"Ash, you don't have to tell me if it's going to upset you," Spencer reminded her, happy to have gotten at least a glimpse, however sad it was, at Ashley's childhood. She didn't want Ashley to divulge too much and end up closing up again.

"It's not really upsetting me," Ashley sighed. "I just...thinking about it reminds me of how stupid I can be and how I don't ever wanna be that person again." Spencer hugged her tightly.

"Trust me, honey, you're not," she reassured. She felt Ashley relax somewhat.

"Yeah, I know," she agreed. "So, some of that time is blurry, given that I wasn't exactly all that interested in much of what I was doing. I was just kinda there, going through the motions and whatnot. I had started to lose sight of myself inside all this darkness that I'd gotten myself into. And then, my sophomore year, I met Aiden." She smiled slightly at the memory.

"He was this really sweet guy, just moved to the area from Colorado and he wasn't phony like everyone else. He was genuine, earnest," she told her girlfriend. "I saw Madison, who had kinda turned on me earlier in school and had started some vicious rumors about me, talking to him and I could tell she was interested. I wasn't, really, because he was too sweet, too innocent but I wanted to fuck over Madison and hurt her the way she did me. So I went after Aiden."

"It was kinda obvious to me by that point, that I preferred girls," the brunette admitted. "Actually, to be honest, one of the reasons I went so...nuts right before high school was that I'd developed a crush on one of our maid's daughters who was my age and we'd kissed once in the pantry and it was...it was like this moment of total clarity where everything suddenly made sense and I realized why all I ever felt with any guy was camaraderie."

"What happened with her?" Spencer wondered.

"With Elsa?" Ashley chuckled. "Her mother caught us that one time and shipped her off to family out east and told my mother. That was when I dove headfirst into some stuff I should have stayed away from. My mother had been incredibly cruel about her daughter possibly being gay so to keep her off my back, I played straight again."

"I'm sorry," Spencer offered, thinking of Madison's version of things and melding the two. Now to hear Ashley's side, certain things made more sense to her.

"Not your fault, babe," Ashley said flippantly, setting her soda down in a holder and dunking herself up to the neck in the hot water for a moment before readjusting how she was sitting. "So, I chatted up Aiden and he asked me out. The funny thing was, from that first date, we both knew we were better off as friends than something more. It was like he knew what I needed was a friend, a brother and not a lover so he tried to be that person. He stayed with me, as a boyfriend because he wanted to be near me cuz I was getting into a lot of shit by then, dangerous shit and he was worried."

"He sounds like a nice guy," Spencer whispered. Ashley let out a long sigh and nodded.

"He had his moments," she said fondly. "And I really think, for a while there, that I did love him. We probably wouldn't have lasted if we'd tried something like marriage, you know, cuz of the whole 'wow I am so gay' thing." They both giggled, the tension in the room immediately dissipating somewhat. "I probably would have cheated on him with some girl at some point and made him hate me."

"Are you..." Spencer swallowed thickly. "Known for cheating?" Ashley shook her head, the wet ends splashing.

"Nope, contrary to everything that Madison liked to say," she said ruefully. "I wasn't then and I certainly wouldn't cheat on someone I love, on you."

"I'm sorry," Spencer said, ashamed that she asked. Ashley turned her head slightly to look at her blonde girlfriend.

"Don't be," she said firmly. "With some of the things I'll eventually tell you, you have every right to ask me questions, to wonder. And I will always be honest with you. If I lost interest in whoever I was with and was lusting for someone else, I broke up with my boyfriend first. Granted, I might not wait until the next day to go get someone else. I didn't sleep with everyone but I wasn't all that discriminating."

"I just don't wanna hurt your feelings," Spencer explained.

"You won't. And I realize the similarities between you and Aiden," Ashley sighed. "You both are sweet and innocent where I'm not; you started as friends with Madison..."

"OK, that's just because we were both too stupid to see her for the monster she is," Spencer joked, although mostly serious.

"She'd say that about me," Ashley retorted. "At least I'm only a monster in actions; she's one in personality."

"You aren't and weren't a monster, Ash," Spencer said with utter conviction. Ashley wished she could feel even a fraction as sure of that as Spencer sounded. "Even if you don't think so, I can't see it."

"Thanks, that...that actually means a lot. So, I ended up getting the poor guy into so much shit, without thinking," Ashley muttered. "He tried so hard to keep me from doing something incredibly stupid...When I got...fuck Spencer, I don't know how much she told you," Ashley stopped and bit her lip.

"She told me that you lost a baby," Spencer told her softly, knowing where Ashley was going with her story. Ashley sniffled, some of the emotion that came with that loss returning. It didn't matter how much time passed, she still felt grief.

"Yeah, I did," she said sadly. "My body...it wasn't strong enough to carry the baby; I'd fucked it up too much by then. After that and seeing how I'd hurt him so badly by losing it, Madison started sniffing around, turning his head and I really couldn't blame him. He deserved better, even if that was Madison so I just left him. Went out and had my first girl on girl experience and never looked back."

"I don't see how Madison would have been 'better'," Spencer giggled trying to alleviate some of Ashley's sorrow. "And if he was such a great guy, Ash, he would have helped you through all that and not gone with her." Ashley shook her head in disagreement.

"I pushed him away, Spence," she admitted. "I turned on him, tried to blame him for losing the baby and I really hurt him. What really bothers me though, is that despite all that, he was always right there when I needed him. Even that night..."

Spencer could feel the brunette trembling in her arms and she pressed soft kisses against her ear and neck, silently trying to calm and reassure her girlfriend.

"That's enough for now, Ash," she whispered. "Let's just sit and relax, OK? I'm not going anywhere so there's plenty of time for stories."

They eventually were able to keep their hands to themselves long enough to study together, quizzing each other and making sure that they'd each pass their finals. They also found time for more personal pursuits before Spencer left early Monday morning before her first class to go retrieve her car where she'd left it. Despite her objections that she was alright and didn't need it, Ashley had given her money to pay for it saying not to worry about it; money was tight for Spencer and if Madison was going to make such a problem for her, the least Ashley felt she could do was take some of the burden of money from Spencer.

"After all," Ashley had said with a wink. "If I can't spend my money on the girl I love, what's the point of having it?"

So Spencer had a pocket flush with money that made her feel a bit guilty since she still hadn't told Ashley about the 'donation' that was expected for the sorority in about a week. Finals started Wednesday and went to the following Wednesday. Then Spencer was taking a flight home to Ohio the next day. She figured that between the stress of finals and getting ready to leave, she'd better do it soon. She hoped that if she brought it up over the weekend, Ashley wouldn't be too upset with her.

Madison kept to her pattern of sitting where she had them both within sight, eliminating their ability to text one another during class which Spencer thought might actually be for the best given that their final in English was Friday. They were a little freer to act in the other classes they shared together but had agreed to be careful since Madison might have friends in those classes who she might have watching them. Ashley was annoyed, hating how much like high school Madison was making college. She was out to ruin Ashley's life once again; this time, however, the musician wasn't going to stand for it for very long.

They spent their days in class paying attention and their nights apart texting and Iming while they studied, trying to make up for the distance between them. There had been several times when Spencer had started to tell Ashley about what she'd told Madison and Lucy but each time, she chickened out, not wanting to string of clever, innuendo laden banter between them to end. Even more than that she didn't want to make Ashley angry with her; the whole thing was becoming bigger than it needed to be and she didn't know what to do.

She was proud of herself by Friday afternoon since despite being moderately distracted worrying about what she was going to do plus having a girlfriend in the first place, she hadn't encountered many difficult questions on any of her finals. Her Music one had been the easiest but she didn't know if that had anything to do with Ashley or not. All she had left after her weekend trip was Physics and her psych finals Monday and Wednesday, respectively. She'd already studied for them so that she didn't have to worry over the weekend.

[My house @ 5? Pack warm. Leave 2moro @ 6 so bed early, no funny business ;-)]

Spencer smiled; she was already packed and ready. She'd also stripped her room and put in boxes anything she wasn't leaving over the winter break at the sorority house. Her father had wired her money for a storage unit, like he did every semester during break so her things would be safe. All she felt like leaving was her bed and desk. The rest got packed and she'd move it during the week after her classes.

She finished whatever she needed to around the room and grabbed her bag to head to Ashley's. She bounced down the stairs, extra excited and happy because her father had put some extra cash in her account and explained in an email that he felt 'something good was going on in his baby girl's life and thought she might need it'. How the man knew from a few simple phone calls and emails, Spencer had no idea but she'd been able to get the gifts for Ashley and Kyla that she had wanted to. She still hadn't spent a lot but she figured with the sisters, it really was the thought that counted.

As she reached the bottom of the stairs, she passed Madison who smirked at her in such a way that the hair on the back of her neck stood up and an uneasy feeling settled across her stomach. She tried to shrug it off as she got in her car, two bags safely put in her backseat; one held her clothes while the other, her presents for her girlfriend and Kyla. But it was still nagging at her when she got to Ashley's.

"Kyla'll be here at 7," Ashley said as she opened the door to her home, her expression blank and confusing to Spencer. She'd expected, maybe foolishly, the same greeting she always got which was a smile and a kiss, sometimes a little heavy petting but not this; not thin lips and cold tone. She hadn't heard that tone since before they became friends. The uneasy feeling in her stomach grew as Ashley wordlessly took her bags and went to put them in her SUV.

Spencer shifted uncomfortably on her feet when Ashley returned without looking at her and walked by, heading to the kitchen. Spencer took it as assumed that she should follow so she did, not knowing what to say or do. She felt like she was at the beginning of their friendship again, afraid to offend or insult.

"Food's where it always is," Ashley told her, her tone still oddly empty. "Help yourself; I'll be right back." Spencer watched her girlfriend disappear down the hall and then slumped back onto the counter. She couldn't figure out what was wrong; the text she got from Ashley less than two hours earlier hadn't said anything was wrong and she knew that that older girl was more than properly prepared for her various finals. She hoped that everything was all right with Kyla. But then it occurred to her that if Kyla was sick, having caught whatever bug Ashley had had, she doubted that Ashley would be so cold to her. She'd probably be apologetic and ask Spencer to help her care for her sister. Being completely shut out like she was being now made absolutely no sense.

Ashley returned and made herself a cup of tea, not offering Spencer anything which was another odd thing. Usually the brunette jumped at the chance to wait on Spencer or show her a new coffee or flavored tea. Right now, Spencer felt more like a visitor than Ashley's lover and girlfriend.

"So, I got an interesting phone call about an hour ago," Ashley finally said softly, turning to face the blonde but keeping her eyes on the cup in her hands. She was grinding her teeth; Spencer could tell by the way the muscle in her jaw was twitching.

"Is everything OK?" Spencer asked, concerned. Brown eyes, burning with hurt and betrayal lifted from the liquid in the cup and met with confused blue over the brim of her glasses. Spencer felt a current of fear race up her spine. She knew, with a sick sinking feeling, what the phone call was about. She scrambled in her head for the words she was going to use to soothe Ashley's hurt, hoping that she could find the right ones to explain what had happened.

"Well, it's a little disturbing to get a phone call from someone who's been trying to ruin my life for...hmm...let me think...close to eight years now," Ashley snarled. "Since my number is unlisted I don't even wanna think who Madison had to blow to get it from my records."

"Oh shit," Spencer sighed under her breath, feeling all the joy at being with Ashley leave her body along with the air in the room. This was bad, much worse judging from the growling tone to Ashley's voice than Spencer had thought it would be. She had no doubt the girl was going to be upset but she sounded like she had that day in English when Spencer first spoke to her, two days before the Halloween party that set off the chain of events that lead them to this moment; she sounded tired and defeated.

"I'm changing it after this weekend, by the way," Ashley added, her voice dark. She reached into her pocket. "Oh, here, almost forgot. Here's what you wanted." She handed Spencer a piece of paper and the younger girl noticed, with a lump in her throat, that it was a check.

"I hope fifty five thousand is enough to make you and your fellow 'sisters' happy," Ashley snarled and then walked off, leaving Spencer staring at the check in horror. The handwriting was jerky, erratic,unlike Ashley's usual script, telling Spencer that it was written hastily and while the brunette was upset. She had no doubt that she'd scrawled it out when she'd gone into her room for a moment.

How the hell do I fix this? Can I fix this? God, will she let me explain why I didn't say anything? This doesn't make sense though, she thought franticly. She put my stuff in the car so I must still be welcome this weekend. I don't get it. If she wanted me to leave, she's not shy, she'd tell me to get the fuck out. So...what do I do now?

She shoved the check in her pocket and went after Ashley, finding her in the living room looking out the sliding glass doors to the ocean, lost in thought. There were creases of worry and hurt on her beautiful face, telling Spencer how badly her lie by omission had hurt her girlfriend.

Well, I guess I can only try, she decided, taking a deep breath.

"Ash, I can explain," she started, not wanting to get too close and crowd the girl who had a death grip on her teacup. Spencer knew that that tight grip was the only thing keeping Ashley from crying; she was using it to distract herself. The blonde wrapped her arms around herself, the coldness coming from Ashley physically effecting her and waited.

"You know, Spencer," Ashley began, her voice low and shaking. "I don't give a shit about the money. All you have to do is ask and I'd give you however much you wanted for whatever you wanted. I wouldn't even ask you what it was for. Fuck, it's only money; you're more important."

"Ash, I didn't know how..." Spencer tried only to be cut off by a dirty look.

"To what? Talk to me? Fuck that, Spencer, you're the only one other than Kyla I do talk to. But you don't seem to see how hard I am trying to open up and trust you with pieces of me that no one but Kyla knows," the upset girl explained. "It's so fucking hard and I'm afraid but I'm trying and I do trust you. I told you about Aiden, what he meant to me and honestly it's one of the worst things I've gone through, hurting and then losing him. But I told you; I trusted you and I put it out there."

"I know that was hard for you, Ash..." Spencer stepped forward, again stopped by a look of such complete betrayal that her stomach rolled.

"No, no you don't, Spencer," Ashley accused. "Don't stand there with your fucking sad eyes and tell me you 'know'. If you did then you would have given me that same respect back; you would have said something about Madison and the sorority long before now."

"That's not fair, Ashley," Spencer countered. "You're not giving me a chance to explain."

"Why should I?" Ashley asked sardonically. "You tell me all these things, make promises about how you're not like Madison or the others in my past, how I can trust you and you love me; then you go and keep this from me. You should have tried to trust me with this. At least have tried when you're asking so much of me! You want so much of me, Spencer, but you're not giving me yourself in return. It's not fair!"

"Ashley," Spencer whispered, her eyes wet with shame-filled tears. She let them fall without wiping at them, hoping that it would ease her pain as well as Ashley's. "I was scared..."

"And I'm not?" Ashley sobbed, her voice raised and making Spencer shrink away. "You think I'm not just as scared? Come on, Spencer! You're the first person in...years that I've let close, that I've wanted close. I love you and you claim to love me but you didn't come to me with this. I would have listened; I would have understood! You don't give me enough credit."

"I do love you!" Spencer yelled back, her arms leaving their position around her waist and flying up in frustration. "Don't you dare doubt that! I fucking love you and I was terrified that you'd think I used you! Like everyone else, that I fucking used you to get your stupid money when I don't give a fuck how rich you are. I didn't want to do that..."

"So you kept it from me?" Ashley asked incredulously. "That doesn't exactly secure my faith in you, Spencer. It makes me wonder what else you've decided you're too 'scared' to tell me. To wonder when the next shoe will drop and fucking smack me across the face."

"I'm sorry," Spencer cried. "I am so sorry, Ashley. Please...I need you to understand. I knew how you'd been used and I used the lie about the money to get Lucy and Madison to leave me alone about hanging out with you. I should have told you that night when it happened but I got scared. It was a horrible lie and not who I am. I just..." She closed her eyes in defeat when Ashley turned away and said nothing more. "I'll just...get my bags and go."

She waited a moment for a response but only saw the silent tears streaming down Ashley's face in her reflection. It broke her heart to know that despite her promises otherwise, she'd deeply wounded the girl she loved.

She turned to leave when a hand on her shoulder pulled her back around and soft lips pressed hard against her own. She whimpered into the embrace and began to cry in earnest when Ashley's arms slid around her waist to hold her close.

"No," Ashley swallowed through her own tears. "You don't have to go. I hate that you did it and it hurts me that you did but I understand why. I just...please be honest with me, Spencer. You ask so much of me and I need you to give in return. Tell me things...everything like I'm trying to tell you. I can't promise not to get mad but I can promise to listen, baby. I learned long ago, during the whole mess that nearly killed me, that not talking, not trusting can destroy you. You had to know that Madison would use this to hurt us both. Don't let people do that, Spence. Please."

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry," Spencer sobbed into Ashley's shoulder, holding on desperately, afraid that the older girl was going to push her away and she'd lose everything. "I'm sorry...I didn't mean to hurt you! I'm sorry..."

"I know," Ashley soothed, crying quietly along with her, the burn of Spencer's unintentional betrayal making her stomach churn. "Sshh, baby, I know. Let's just not do this again, OK? Let's just move on."

"You're an idiot," Kyla said, disgusted at Spencer as she joined the blonde on the couch in front of the huge plasma screen in the game room. Ashley was trying to blow off the last of her anger and anxiety about the Madison/check incident by killing things in Halo 3 as the other two watched. She'd insisted that Spencer keep and use the check for the sorority with the stipulation that she try to take a picture of Madison's face when she handed it over.

Kyla had arrived and Spencer could clearly tell she'd been told of what happened before she got there by her attitude. She was not happy with the upset phone call she'd gotten shortly before five from her sister and found out that Spencer had promised Madison money. The thought giving that idiot any of her sister's money made her livid. Plus the fact that Spencer had kept the entire thing from Ashley for as long as she had pissed her off more and she made no secret of it.

"Die you mother fucker!" Ashley screamed, pounding on her controller angrily. "Ah! Get away from me! Ah!"

"I know," Spencer sighed, drinking a cup of coffee. She shook her head and looked down at her hands. "Trust me, I know."

"You're fucking lucky she forgave you," Kyla added darkly. "I've seen her cut people out of her life for a hell of a lot less."

"Ah! Stop terrorizing my girlfriend, Shakespeare," Ashley said absently, shooting several targets as she spoke. "We dealt with it; let it go."

"I know," Kyla said exasperated. "I just...uh! I don't want that two-faced, evil, manipulative, fugly, two-inches shy of being shipped back to Munchkin land whore to get any of your money, Ash. It's like letting her win or something." Ashley reached a save point and saved her progress before she put the controller down and approached Spencer.

She sat directly on the blonde's lap, not asking permission and automatically two thin arms wrapped around her middle, keeping her there. She felt Spencer rest her forehead against her back and knew that her action had eased some of Spencer's guilt. She wanted to make sure that the blonde got the point though and she really was very hurt by the lie. All she wanted was honesty from Spencer and by not telling her about the 'donation', Spencer had only reinforced her belief that there was no such thing and that she couldn't trust anyone other than Kyla. She hoped that the feeling would fade though; she knew, despite her hurt feelings that Spencer was better than that.

"Fuck it, it's only money," Ashley said to her sister. "Although, I do sort of agree with you about the whole 'winning thing'. But, it's not really Madison who's getting the money, the sorority is and they really do do some good things for the community and the school. The really cool thing is, though, anyone who donates ten thousand gets a plaque in their hall. So Madison's stuck looking at my name as a 'proud supporter' of her house. I'm actually thinking of being really obnoxious about it and seeing how much it'd take to get something named after me."

"Oh God!" Kyla laughed. "Madison would shit a brick and die! Oh, that would be so fucking awesome! We can go half and half and get both our names on it!" Spencer giggled from her spot pressed up against the smaller girl's back.

"She'd throw the money back at you first," the blonde said with a smile. "Is it bad that I can just hear her freaking mouth? Like every little petty and insulting thing she'd shoot at Ashley?"

"No," Kyla shook her head. "Especially since she's still using the same material as she was in high school with her little mix of Spanish and English like we can't figure out what she said or something."

"Yeah, well," Ashley started, taking a sip of Spencer's coffee and making a face. "Ew. Want some coffee with your sugar, Spence? Jeesh. Anyway, her mind is just so frikkin tiny that she can't think up any new insults. I really wish she'd just move the hell on."

"OK, fuck Madison," Kyla declared, annoyed at even talking about her enemy. "Ew, not literally cuz she's a walking petri dish of disease. That's kinda like sitting on the seat in a port-a-potty. But let's go to the living room and watch a movie or something and stop talking about the bitch. I like it in there better; closer to the kitchen."

"See? That's what my sister loves me for," Ashley mock cried to Spencer. "My fully stocked pantry! Not for me but for my groceries!" Spencer laughed at her girlfriend's goofiness, relieved that although hurt, Ashley wasn't shutting her out.

"Shut up, d'Artagnan!" Kyla huffed. She was grinning so they knew she wasn't upset. "Not my fault that the food at school sucks and anything you have here is worlds better than anything I could get in a drive thru. But seriously, let's all get in our pj's and go watch a movie while we pig out on junk food." Without waiting for an answer, she got up and darted out of the room, leaving Spencer and Ashley to just watch.

"Sometimes I wonder if she's stuck in like, fast forward or something," Ashley muttered to no one really although Spencer smiled at the comment. Reluctantly a few moments later, Ashley got up from her warm and comfortable perch and extended her hand to Spencer.

"Up ya go, babe," she said, smiling. Once she had Spencer upright, she pulled her in for a quick but hot kiss. "I put your overnight bag in the bedroom," she said when she pulled away. Spencer nodded and then bit her lip in thought as Ashley started to walk away.

When Ashley realized that the blonde wasn't with her, she turned around and frowned.

"Forget something?" she asked. Spencer sighed and shook her head.

"No, I just...I don't...never mind," she decided on and started to leave the room. A warm hand slipping into her own drew her from her thoughts as she passed Ashley.

"Your bag is in my bedroom, Spencer," Ashley said, somehow understanding the younger girl's confusion. "My bedroom, not the spare. I...uh...kinda figured if we were together, unless you didn't want to, that we'd just share the bed in there from now on. You can still have your own room cuz I understand, probably better than most, how people need their own space now and then." Spencer's face immediately brightened at the news.

"But, uhm, as for tonight, I'm not really in the mood for anything more than cuddling, Spence," Ashley added quickly so that Spencer didn't get the wrong idea. "I mean, I'm not mad at you for earlier or anything I just...I can't tonight." Spencer put her hand on the side of Ashley's face, cupping her cheek.

"Ash, baby," she started softly. "It's never about the sex with me, OK? Yeah, I love that part of us and everything but, honestly, I love just being with you, lying with you, holding you and being held. I know what I did today...hurt you and I can't apologize enough for it. I understand that you're not in the mood; neither am I. I just want to go to bed tonight and snuggle with my girlfriend, OK? No expectations."

"Thanks, Spence," Ashley said, smiling slightly. They shared another series of lingering kisses until Kyla threatened to hose them down. They got into their silk pajama sets that Kyla had gotten them and settled onto the couch to watch the third installment of the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' trilogy. Within the first half an hour, Spencer was asleep with her head on Ashley's lap.

"So you're really not gonna hold the money shit against her, huh?" Kyla asked as she chewed on a cookie thoughtfully. Ashley paused the petting of golden tresses to shake her head.

"No...why, you think I should?" she wondered. She knew even if Kyla said that she did, she wouldn't be able to. As much as it had hurt, Ashley really did understand the fear that kept Spencer from saying something about it. The situation was what it was and she wanted to let it go as quickly as possible.

"No, I just..." Kyla let out a frustrated grunt.

"Look, Ky, it was Madison's doing," Ashley said softly, gazing down at the sleeping girl lovingly. "She put Spencer in the position where she had to make the lie in the first place. You know how that girl is, all fucking nosy and holier than thou. She's a bitch, she manipulates any weaknesses she sees and Spencer reacted to that. I can't blame her for watching her ass."

"She still should have told you," Kyla pointed out. Ashley shrugged.

"Yeah, she should have," she agreed. "But now she knows that she can come to me about things like that. It's a learning curve, Ky. You'd know all about them if you could manage a relationship that lasted longer than ten minutes." She smirked at her sister and dodged the pillow thrown at her with a giggle.

They got up and on the road early the next morning, taking their time driving since none of them really cared how long it took. Kyla protested her place in the backseat but Ashley refused to let her drive the car and Spencer beat her to 'shotgun'. She pouted for about ten minutes before the dvd player installed for the backseat attracted her attention and she sat and watched a movie while Spencer and Ashley just enjoyed the ride.

They arrived and went to a small diner for an early lunch where they exchanged Christmas stories over their food and hot cups of cocoa. Ashley's Christmas stories from childhood were few and far between but Kyla's and Spencer's were plenty, filling all three girls with the holiday spirit. At first, Spencer worried that the stories of happy Christmas mornings filled with family and presents would bother Ashley but she reassured the worried blonde that she loved the stories and that her own lonely memories made the wonderful Christmases she had as an adult that much sweeter.

The entire town was decorated to look like a Christmas Village at the North Pole, with no expense spared. There were garland, ribbons and bows on almost any stationary surface along with wrapping paper and lights strung everywhere. It was a ski town in higher elevation so they were constantly making snow to blanket the town with at regular intervals. Spencer had never seen anything like it before.

The little bed and breakfast where Ashley had gotten them rooms was quaint and smelled like the spices of the season which hit Spencer's senses as soon as they entered to check in and drop off their bags. It reminded her of her father's holiday cooking and the cookies she would help him bake each year until she left for college. She missed sharing that with her father since every year when she went home, her mother would find a way to ruin the moment either with a comment or a look.

She was relieved to see that they had a separate room from Kyla if only for the privacy angle. She didn't expect any intimacy with Ashley since she'd hurt her and although Ashley was really doing well not shutting Spencer out, there was still a small degree of wariness that she could sense. But as comfortable as she was showing affection to Ashley around Kyla, it was still an odd thought to share a bed with her girlfriend and have basically her sister-in-law a few feet away in the same room.

Together, they went into almost every little shop that lined the streets. Spencer learned real fast to watch what she said as far as 'oh I like that' because every time she turned around, one of the sisters, usually Ashley, was handing it to her. She loved the attention and the way her girlfriend was doting on her but at the same time she felt guilty that she couldn't do the same.

"Spence, got a sec?" Kyla asked softly when Ashley had wandered off to look at some records in a dusty old bin inside a new/used music store. The taller brunette had almost been bouncing when they came upon it, chatting excitedly about some rare b-sides she'd found in there the previous year. Spencer nodded to Kyla and they walked a little further away from Ashley.

"Hey, I know that the whole 'money' thing has you uncomfortable," Kyla whispered. "But don't worry about it. If you see something you like, tell Ashley. She's getting frustrated because you stopped showing her things that you like..."

"I don't want her to think I want her to buy me everything," Spencer whispered back, a little annoyed. "First off, she doesn't need to buy my affections. I already love her and I don't give a shit about money. Second, money started that whole freaking mess yesterday. I just don't want it to be an issue." Kyla shook her head.

"It's not; that's my point," she insisted. "We both know she doesn't have to buy your affections, Spencer. God, that would be pointless; anyone can see you love her, princess or pauper. I just mean, the whole fact that you don't give a shit about her money is the reason she feels so free to buy you things. And I'll be honest with you; you wanna be with Ashley then you need to get used to pretty much being spoiled. Especially at the holidays." She winked and started to walk away. "Or else you're gonna be really uncomfortable with your presents." Spencer frowned.

"OK, now what did you mean by that?"

"I am so stuffed I think I need to be rolled to my room," Kyla whined, patting her tummy after dinner. They'd gone back to the bed and breakfast for the turkey dinner with all the fixings that was offered and it had been good enough to rival Ashley's cooking. The three stuffed their faces, all the shopping and walking around in the cool air had made their appetites large, not that the woman in charge minded. She continually refilled their plates and glasses until the girls begged for mercy.

"I think I just gained 10 pounds," Spencer echoed. She looked at Ashley who shrugged and then grimaced as she tried not to burp. "Lil' piggy!" Ashley glared and huffed playfully.

"Careful, there's still a couch you can warm," she threatened with a wink. They thanked the innkeeper and then staggered to the room that Ashley and Spencer were staying in. Kyla collapsed into the big puffy armchair while the other two girls both flopped backwards onto the bed.

"Ug, you think she was trying to fatten us up for like, meat pies or something?" Kyla groaned. "Cuz she gave us way more food than the other guests."

"She's not the witch from 'Hansel and Gretel', you boob," Ashley responded, half-heartedly throwing a pillow at her sister.

"Or Sweeney Todd," Spencer added, one forearm draped over her eyes as she tried to resist the urge to undo the button on her jeans. "But wow, last time I ate something that good it was Ashley's."

"Ewwwwwwwwwww," Kyla cried out. This time a pillow hit its mark when Ashley threw it.

"You knew what she meant you pervert!" she complained as Spencer giggled hysterically next to her. "God, why do you have to go there so often, Shakespeare? I mean, are you obsessed with my sex life that much? Are you that hard up?"

"Oh, calm down, Ash," Kyla retorted although she knew her sister was just as amused as the still laughing blonde. "And Spencer thought it was funny."

"Oh God," Spencer laughed, wiping at the tears on her face. "I knew...I knew the minute it left my mouth..." She wheezed as her overfull stomach pressed on her lungs while she laughed. "Oh my stomach! Oh totally worth it though. God, that was funny."

"Notice she didn't deny being hard up for some lovin'," Ashley whispered in her girlfriend's ear. Spencer shivered at the warm breath washing over her ear and started laughing again.

"I heard that!" Kyla protested. She stood up and stomped her foot. "Just for that, I'm gonna go and find me some! Then you'll see..."

"No, please!" Spencer and Ashley suddenly yelled. Spencer lost the last of whatever composure she had and pulled a pillow over her face as she laughed.

"Just make sure you're up and dressed by eight so we can get go to the fair on Main street and then get a tree before we go home," Ashley reminded her sister who was pouting. Kyla slumped back into her chair.

"Only thing I'm gonna find out there is an elf," she whined, crossing her arms over her chest.

"Just your size," Ashley smiled. Kyla glared back at her but her eyes betrayed her mirth.

"Says you, the mini musketeer," she retorted. "You're like a bite sized candy bar! A Mini-3 Musketeer!" Ashley stuck her tongue out at her sister and they began a pillow/face making contest with each other until Spencer regained her senses and sat up.

"OK, before you two children break something," she said, wiping away the last of the tears from her face. "Now, would presents calm you two down?"

"Yes!" Ashley said quickly, grinning. Spencer loved the way the older girl's eyes lit right up.

"Presents? Where? Gimme!" Kyla demanded. Spencer shook her head.

"You two really are a pair of big kids, aren't you?" she joked. "Let me get my bag."

"I think Kyla loved your choices in gifts," Ashley said softly later as they lay cuddling in the bed. The younger sister had left to her own room about an hour earlier, after unwrapping her presents, which she reminded Spencer weren't necessary and scolded Ashley for not telling her that. Despite her objections that she had told Spencer, Kyla gave her good natured grief about wanting to be spoiled by her girlfriend but at least there were perks for the family.

"I think so too," Spencer agreed, snuggling closer to the brunette and inhaling her scent. There was something so arousing and yet safe about Ashley's cinnamon and vanilla scent but no matter what candle, body wash, skin cream or perfume Spencer tried, she couldn't duplicate it. It left her without the ability to buy any such thing for her girlfriend because she didn't want to ruin the way the girl smelled.

"You totally spent way too much on that perfume though," Ashley admonished. Spencer blushed. She'd had to snoop a little in Kyla's bathroom while she was taking care of Ashley but she managed to see the 'True Star' by Tommy Hilfiger perfume on the sink counter. It had been close to fifty dollars, a large chunk of her money but the extra her dad sent and, if she was honest, what Ashley had given her, made it easier.

"Nah, it was worth it," she said as she ran her finger over Ashley's collarbone, visible where her silk shirt was unbuttoned. She liked watching the little tremors the movement caused in Ashley's body as well as the goose bumps that chased the touch.

"Thank you for my hoodie," Ashley said in reference to the black zip-up ROXY hoodie that Spencer had gotten her. She loved that the blonde had taken the time and made the effort to look and see what sort of clothes she'd like. There was a time, back in high school, when it was always the latest 'Hollywood' fashion; revealing and skimpy clothing that she felt showed off her fantastic body because that was what she did, what was expected of her.

Ashley had no false ideals of what her high school years were or who she was during that time. She knew that outside of Aiden and Kyla, no one was interested in her for anything more than her body and her money. So, she played up to those perceptions because, like she told Spencer in the hot tub, any attention was good attention. Kyla and Aiden had tried to break her of that belief but it took nearly losing everything to wake her up.

After high school and the horrible events that came with the last year and a half, Ashley reexamined who she was and who she wanted to be. She found that she didn't like the 'attention whore/look at me' behavior she was known for. True, once she was again healthy, she was very proud of her body but her time sick had taught her modesty and humility, two lessons and values she'd sorely lacked up until that time.

So, she needed a new wardrobe since she was no longer comfortable with the things she had; to her they represented her past, who she was, her mistakes and in reality, her low sense of self-worth. Kyla took it upon herself to take her to the mall and outfit her with whatever she wanted; she called it sisterly-bonding time. It was shortly before she left for Europe and Kyla had decided not to go with her so she wanted to spend as much time with her sister as she could.

They walked through the different stores, looking at different styles trying to find something that Ashley liked and was comfortable in. It wasn't until she walked into 'Pac Sun' that anything remotely interested her. Being a beach lover, she was familiar with the brands and some of the looks and thought that it fit her the best, personality wise. So, she bought anything and everything that caught her eye. Kyla had gotten excited because it was the most interested in something she'd seen Ashley in months. She never once made a comment on her sister's choice in clothes.

After that, Ashley stuck to the look and added to it from 'American Eagle', 'Banana Republic', and of all places for Ashley Davies, scion of a rock star to shop, 'Old Navy'. Diesel Jeans, Converse, Vans, and Sketchers usually rounded out her wardrobe when she wasn't wearing her Timberland boots. The clothing made her comfortable and even, happy, in the fact that now when people looked at her, they didn't just see a body, a package. She didn't stick out like she used to, which at that point would have made her uncomfortable. She'd had enough of the surface attention and felt if someone wanted to know her, they'd have to actually try.

And finally, someone did. Probably a better person than Ashley expected and could ever hope to be, Spencer Carlin.

"It's not too...girlie is it?" Spencer wondered, worriedly. Most of Ashley's jackets and hoodies were 'Hurley', 'Fox', 'DG', 'Element' and the more male line; Roxy was the female version. She'd looked at the more masculine hoodie but something about the black Roxy just screamed 'Ashley' to her so she took the chance.

"Ha, no, Spence, I love it, honest," Ashley replied, chuckling. "Why? Do I strike you as being that butch?" A gentle nip to her neck made her gasp. "Spence..." she breathed.

"I know," Spencer giggled softly. "No funny business. Couldn't help myself, sorry." She sounded anything but apologetic. "But no, not butch or anything. I was just afraid it wasn't your thing."

"It is," Ashley reassured her, trying to regain control of her racing heartbeat. It still amazed her what a simple touch from Spencer could do to her. The younger girl made her feel beautiful in a genuine and sincere way seemingly without trying.

"It's hard to buy for you and Kyla," Spencer pointed out. "You both have more money than God; you can just go get whatever you want whenever you want. I can't compete with that." Ashley reached over and tilted the beautiful girl's face upwards and kissed her nose.

"You don't need to compete, Spence, it's not a contest," she reminded her gently. "You didn't have to get us anything..."

"It's Christmas, Ash," Spencer argued back. "And yeah, I know that's not what the holiday is about but I feel just as much joy when I can get something for you that you like as you do when you get something for me. I can't just not get you a present. It's just...next year, you two are making me a list, that's it. I want detailed lists of things you like or want and you're banned from buying anything for yourself from...Halloween on."

"I'd like to see you get Kyla to stop shopping," Ashley laughed. "Sometimes I think her credit card is an extra appendage." Inside her heart leapt happily at the thought of 'next year'; while she wanted that time with Spencer, indeed she wanted to share the rest of her life with the younger girl if she'd have her. But hearing the same sentiment from her girlfriend was exciting, comforting, and terrifying all at once.

She wrapped her arms around the larger body as Spencer readjusted so that she was half-draped over the brunette, her face pressed to Ashley's neck. It wasn't helping Ashley's racing heartbeat to be able to feel Spencer's weight against her or her warm breath tickling her neck. It was making her hands itch to touch her so she held on tightly to the back of Spencer's night shirt.

"Is this OK?" Spencer whispered, feeling the change in Ashley's breathing. "Cuz I can move..." She felt Ashley's grip tighten again.

"No, you're fine," Ashley husked. "This is fine."

"I can see your heartbeat in your neck," Spencer teased. She kissed the pounding pulse point and felt Ashley moan more than she heard her as the skin under her lips vibrated. Deciding that she'd pushed far enough, she laid her head on Ashley's chest to let the girl calm down. She didn't want to push Ashley into something she'd already made clear she wasn't in the mood for.

"God, Spencer," Ashley breathed out shakily. "The things you do to me...you don't even know."

"I'm sorry, baby," Spencer apologized. "I didn't mean to tease or upset you." She felt Ashley's frame shake with as she laughed softly.

"I'm not upset, hon," she said, smiling. "Teased? Yes. Upset? No. It's OK, I'm just not...used to someone being able to get such a reaction from my body from only something as simple as a touch or kiss." Spencer bit her lip.

"Reaction? Like what?" she asked, unable to resist. She loved knowing she had such an effect on her girlfriend; it was still as new to her as it was to Ashley.

"You play all sweet and innocent but you are such a little vixen," Ashley snickered, her voice dropping a level to the honeyed tone that signified her arousal. "You...you make me wet, Spence, with even the smallest of touches. Having you this close..." Spencer whimpered, pressing her face against Ashley's neck and balling her hands into fists to keep from investigating exactly how wet the older girl was.

"Ashley..." she breathed. She moved her left hand across Ashley's chest to her abdomen, slipping around to grasp her hip. She pressed her palm down and flexed her fingers in a form of kneading the muscle and skin through the silk pants. Ashley's heart was thundering under her ear and her breathing had picked up, both of which were audible to Spencer.

"Spencer..." Ashley hissed, her hips twitching slightly. Spencer's hand stopped its actions.

"I'm sorry," the blonde swallowed, trying to regain control of her hormones. She had just about gotten a grip on her impulses when Ashley's voice, barely a whisper, jolted them awake again.

"Touch me," the brunette begged. "Please."

To Be Continued

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