DISCLAIMER: I don't own anything except for some creative freedom and a little too much time and this fucking laptop which owns my soul and is my true lord and master.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Credit goes to Britt for inspiring me to write this and giving me my prompts; thunder, beach and fear. I know most of you are diehard Spashley fans, but please give this a chance. Thanks also go out to Cog for being the music that I listen to when I write and, often times, my inspiration for a theme or piece of writing. And I also stole a line from The River Song by them for the end so I owe gratitude for that too.
SPOILERS: Say It Ain't So, Spencer and What Just Happened are spoiled in this story, so you might want to wait until you know how the Spashley arc ends in the show, unless you already know.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Omniscient Dawn
By Badger


Part One

It was nearing the break of dawn. The sky was a constant blue in the twilight hours and slowly getting lighter, one shade at a time. Dark clouds were drawing nearer to the shore. She could hear them on the wind, caressing her face with cold, ethereal touches. She could hear them on the waves as white horses galloped and stormed along the beach and retreated back into the abyss, their battle to take the land lost yet again, but forever they waged a war without a point or a memory of why it started.

She had her eyes closed, profoundly entranced by the majesty manifesting through her senses at this purest hour and enlightened to a higher consciousness by the exalting visions of heaven and paradise so masterfully painted at the apex of her head. Inspiration rapidly emerged from the shadows and evanesced into the background in wisps of spiritual flame, dissolving as the scenes unfolded in moving pictures and morphed from tales of brilliant fantasy ingrained into her soul to the fields of Elysium, unearthing eternity out of the mist and carving it into shape. Her passion drifted out into the rip of euphoria, the tide rushing over her head and pulling her under, where the depths were boundless and where concepts beyond comprehension thrived in frightening numbers, starved for a feast and salivating at the scent of her wounded faith.

Unable to let these revelations pass her by, which would defeat the sole purpose of her divine quest to this isolated location, which lay impaled somewhere on the edge of reality's mountainous spire, Ashley surrendered to her overwhelming compulsion to express them, emptying her vessel of all the precious cargo it contained, freeing it onto the blank paper resting on top of her thigh, two hundred and forty odd pages of endless possibility. There were no restrictions. No errors. Just the pinnacle of creation versus a language.

Nothing held the pen back from its absolute domination of everything that ever graced her realm with the good fortune of existence or would ever miraculously come to be in the future. With a single word, she could alter the basic foundations of life, forever taint the holiest teachings of religion and disassemble universal truth into no more than fragments of nonsensical fiction. She understood these potential consequences but defied them without relinquishing a thread from what wonder had woven in her core. Her heart couldn't be confined to any limitations on the honesty it confided to the forgiving ears of solitude, irrespective of how bountiful and permissive they may be. This was a glimpse of poetry and she tried to snatch it into a still frame before it vanished into oblivion and left her for good, and left her for death.

A boulder, a rock protruding from the shadowed sands was her regal throne. She ruled an empire of one, and her legitimacy in that position was perpetually disputed. Her region was a nomad, banished out of her homelands into lifelong exile – a finality which brought relief in comparison to the hell of repulsively rational fear and constant speculation of when the day would eventually arise over the horizon with a smoky sunrise that summoned the beginning of the finale out of the celestial reverie, closing the curtains on her melodramatic tragedy. But, despite her liberation, she professed little desire for the conquest of greater territory. In all sincerity and scarred by the callous claws of irony, her confinement was tenfold worse now in freedom than it had ever been while previously chained to the dungeon walls and ruthlessly tortured, and that was an optimistic assessment.

In her dreams, she cast her monarchy into the fire and stormed out of her cavernous, imperial halls of dirt and left her dismal cycle of relentless monotony and miserable imitation of the motions which used to bare a significant meaning in favour of pursuing her true nature, her calling and perhaps stumbling upon a state near enough to content to keep her satisfied or, at a minimum, alive. However, she quickly discovered that concocting elaborate yet conceivable plots and vowing on her honour to act them out was an idea stranded at the bottom of an oceanic trench when compared to the steep cliffs of Everest that was following them through. The instant she set her foot down on that acceleration pedal, her ultimate primal phobia – the monster lurking around the corner in her poignant, tormenting nightmares of most dire peril and horrific suffering – would consume her, only waking up in a cold sweat with layers of ice melting off of her spine was by no means an option when her darkness was real.

Ashley feared (living, breathing, growing, sleeping, choking, feeling, going, fighting, acting, changing, walking, staying, becoming, leaving, crying, failing, trying, existing, laughing, hurting, suffering, bleeding, singing, playing, waking, screaming, praying, sitting, working, ageing, dying) being alone.

The thought of ending up on her own, with nobody but the silence, scared her to the point where she lay awake at night and she screamed and she cried about it but was too afraid to risk sleep, knowing her subconscious never let her forget the cruel demons that haunted her. This phobia was not irrational, though. Her loneliness was inevitable. She jinxed herself with the prophetic assumptions of it since her date of birth. It was destiny. Her only hope – a false hope – lay inside delaying it, just a little longer, until the courage to move responded to that raincheck and carried her elsewhere.

Until then, if there was indeed an actual time when that might take place, her only outlet remained her arts and imagination. Although continuing the charade brought her a little closer to death every day, quite literally, and lying in order to sustain companionship or love made her feel more abandoned and desolate in their company than she ever did while in actual solitude, like she was on the beach in those incredible hours securing a safe path through the chaotic world for the pure morning which trailed after them. And so her pens served a short lifespan, her books of blank pages were full of her darkest secrets, her floor was strewn with torn out mistakes or words too painful to admit, her frets were stained with dried blood and sweat, her fingers were blistered and cut on both hands, her ears rang from the blaring volume of overdriven feedback from her amp through headphones, her sheets intermingled with the flavour of tears, her head overflowed with a maelstrom of practiced speeches for telling the truth, her mind balanced precariously on an edge that threatened to shift, and all that separated her current situation from the above was that her car was now her sanctuary and residence instead of her room.

Still, it was safer than ensuring her lonely demise. It was familiar. It gave her all she ever wanted. It promised her a source of love and affection, didn't it? Even if that was the rope tying her to her labours of agony and passion, taking the pain away for a few minutes but slowly killing her nevertheless. She didn't know what would come first; her death from poverty or suicide, or the exhaustion of all her ideas and poetry, which was equally lethal.

The rolling downbeat of thunder rumbled towards the shore, sending the waves into a panicked frenzy as they struggled to escape the wrath of the tyrant's impending approach. Ashley glanced up from her furiously scribbled translation of everything and nothing and anything and something – generally satisfied with their meaning and the pictures they described – the chill winds tossing her hair about and lathering a coat of frost upon her cheeks. A blue darker even than the massive ocean below marred the distant swirls and lumps of cloud that sailed across the liquid sky many miles away, standing out against surrounding greys and lighter shades of dawn. There was still time; she could stay if she wanted to, and she did.

Clicking her ball-point pen shut with her thumb, sliding the valuable treasure into her pocket where she felt it against her body and, therefore, knew it was safe, she reached down past ragged, harsh rock to the case that served as a bed for her true language and delicately eased the lid open, lavishing the item with the utmost respect. Inside the hard case, her acoustic guitar lay dormant, soundless and dead. Her fingers glided back and forth over the nylon strings, her sigh absorbed by the howling gale, picking up sand as well as force, warning of the tempest due to arrive soon. Taking the warning in stride but essentially letting it in one ear and out the other, her hand grasped the familiar neck of frets and gently lifted it from the case, her meditated state guiding her to yet another spectacular conclusion she never considered previously. Why did she trust her art? Because without her, its medium was nothing, and only through her did they serve a purpose, have meaning.

Relaxing into a comfortable position against the rock, her guitar melding to her body like it knew her on a level only soul mates might surpass, she played each string in sequence, bringing her instrument to life. Immediately, her ear knew the language was off, although many would be unable to tell, and she tightened the third peg and loosened the fifth and sixth accordingly, a miniscule amount of degrees obtained between them in total. And, when she strummed again, it was perfect.

Her palm slapped down against the strings and thin wooden sheet covering the hollowness within, pacifying the default chorus into lifeless serenity with almighty authority in one sudden movement. Reluctant to give herself blisters anytime soon, and having learned this lesson the hard way an embarrassing number of times in the past, including an unexpected refresher course on the subject as recently as a few weeks ago, Ashley fumbled around in her pocket for her pick, circumnavigating the pen and searching a little deeper until flat plastic touched her fingers. The requirements were all met. At last, she could play.

The fingers on her left hand fell into position on the fret board with a velvet expertise that often made people feel intimidated or bitter, dancing over the various intervals and flickering additional ornaments into a song she wrote roughly a month ago, warming up and awakening her musical mindset with the somewhat difficult piece. She was born a musical prodigy, or at least the impression she got that she was supposed to be was pretty distinctive and universally believed by everyone she met as a kid. But the talent didn't come naturally. She spent her whole life learning how to become good at something that might impress her father, picking up the vocabulary and the accent ever since she was three and given her first real, though tiny, guitar as a birthday present. Apparently, reaching that level was an impossible feat. It didn't matter how proficient she became or what she did to please him; her dad was never proud of her. Not even proud enough to listen to her play. He probably didn't know she could.

Again, the medium channelling her every experience and dream, positive, negative and optimistic, fell silent. She sighed, holding the familiar shape close to her chest like a pet, and listened and felt and focused, hoping for enlightenment to return in full, glorious bliss and lead her to the plateau that stood between mortality and something revered closer to a god with the simple but reliable method, the likes of which alchemists had struggled in vain to decipher for thousands of years of wasted opportunities. The sounds had scarcely changed since first entering her hypnotic state an unknown number of minutes prior. Waves were still ascending the beach, perhaps gaining a few more inches of ground, which was key to their military strategy. Wind still battered the rocks, whipping sand up into plumes and clouds that stung her exposed arms with their onslaught. The day was a fraction closer to breaking; she sensed it and she knew.

If her emotions and outlook on recent events had a melody, how would it go? What was their rhythm? Which scales and key signatures did they submit their will to? And as the dependant friend in her arms judged most importantly, what chords summarised her soul to the point where they implanted the image of her face into the minds of all those who listened closely enough to the levels?

She didn't hear the answer in her head, in contrast to her initial hopes, but she began to blindly deduce and estimate her path out of the mental block to the best of her ability, developing a feel for her auditory surroundings, guided solely by her skilled and masterly hands. Her quest for release began with a swing-beat arpeggio of an open major chord, her pick gently striking each string as the notes climbed higher, peaked, and floated down through the atmosphere like a weightless flake of snow to the root beneath her feet. The pulse, the beat, the rhythm; it held her captive and fixed her concentration with mesmerising powers, every vital process in her body altering in syncopated synchronisation and bending to fit the will of the always omnipotent meter.

The chord changed and it spoke of hopelessness and surrender and of throwing down her weapons in the struggle to ward off invading forces of depression and apathy, allowing them to rule her, the transition setting the tone and mood for the rest of her song. Her brow twinged; she was onto something with this progression. She experimented with a brief flourish and harmonic segue between triads. It felt close to correct, but the structure of the bar went somewhat awry when compared against the shape of the lyrics as she pictured them in her head. She didn't stop playing, making note of the falter without breaking stride and shifting her attention to the next upcoming bars. Exchanging arpeggios for a heavy, nylon crash on the key-change, the notes descending in true alternative-metal style after six strong down-strokes from the pick and returning to the root position after six more.

She believed it was hers now and hers alone. The music was already written, long since composed by fate. Her duty rested solely in permitting her body to move when it was urged to by the spirit of the piece. She too was an instrument, conducted by nirvana. She was in the zone.

Her eyes opened, staring vacantly into the oncoming front of dark clouds and thunder. Lyrics born from the parts of her heart muted and treated as dumb since creation crawled through the obscurity into light and existence. And she serenaded the morning.

"I've never been such a stranger," she sang, shrouded in her own personal realm, and there was nobody to make light of her situation or make her stop to reconsider the repercussions of her honest confession because, ironically, she found solace in her darkest fear; in solitude, "But it's the only me that you know. We're slipping away to nowhere. I have no control." Her eyes fell down to the black ink, the letters forming pictures with the spaces in between each character, reading the poetry in its uncensored and untainted purity, the lines blurring and merging together beneath the wash of blue. "I can't become what you've seen; I can't become what you've dreamed and what I swore I'd try to be." She swallowed upon tasting the flavour of all things tearful, her heart aching when the key change swayed within the air of her cold atmosphere. "If I could then I'd probably love you."

Quiet, muted notes vibrated through the empty interior of her guitar and echoed in her mind like a shrill cry. Her fingers began a great voyage over the scope of the frets, the likes of which were heard about only in tales of legend, moving under a will of their own. Ashley listened to their wondrous story. Proportion and time faded into nothing greater than afterthoughts, their importance even less than matters of utter irrelevance to her for this supernatural moment stolen from the gluttonous clutches of infinity, salvaging it from a fate of certain doom.

A portrait of blonde hair and blue eyes and an innocent, clueless smile surfaced in front of her inner-gaze, though none aside from the artist knew why it felt the need to manifest upon the cue of those words and thoughts. Emotional blankness chased the image, cascades of something akin to confusion and yet a thousand times its complexity reflecting her face on crystalline curtains, shining with torturous light. Her responses and feelings surpassing verbal description competed for dominance, breaking every rule and discarding every shred of conscience in favour of a more agile and convenient load, but she determined no clear victor from within the fray. She was pretending to be in love with her because conforming to the definite ultimatum, sacrificing her dignity and compromising her values and feigning sincerity in something she'd never felt was still better than winding up alone. The ultimatum that night in the club offered two options, and yet she actually had no choice.

Ashley once held faith that her feelings towards Spencer stretched as far as love, but it was quickly confirmed to be a blatant hoax. Uncertainty distorted her vulnerable heart to the point where she confused her numerous other relatively strong emotions for true love, because that's what it had to be, right? Even though she'd had a vast amount of time in which to contemplate and ponder the extent of her passion, need and, now, aversion for the blonde, she still couldn't say exactly how she felt, but it wasn't enough to satisfy her. That much she knew. As hard as she tried to learn and push herself towards completion and replace the devoid, dank holes where the fundamental aspects of amour should be, they simply refused to fit.

Spencer knew, or so her intuition suspected, but played into the façade for undisclosed reasons. Or, perhaps, she honestly didn't know and threw denial in the face of all adversaries to their affair whenever it loomed overhead and left the bitter taste of amiss on her tongue. Guilt and blame duelled from dusk 'til dawn and through to the next sunset, an incessant cycle for which her only solution was to ignore it. She regretted lying to her obviously enamoured friend and wished she could give her something beautiful and legitimate instead of the act, but she was also hurt and enraged by her audacity to force her into this relationship when all she wanted and needed, in order to survive, was friendship. She did like her and she was perhaps a little clingy, but that was all.

However, due to the explicit lack of it during her life, Ashley knew of but one way to express and receive affection of any sort; physically, through sex. That certainly wasn't anything new and getting it from one source and one alone was unquestionably safer than her previous self-destructive lifestyle, but it was wrong. Feigning the act of making love left her feeling dirty, in turmoil and confused in the worst kind of way. Most of the time, her thought processes were too busy running on overdrive, analysing optimal reactions and deciding what to do next to quell her lover's doubts and, hopefully, trick herself into enjoying it to be mentally present enough to really experience the sensations.

A warm body slicked with sweat sliding against and inside of her had never felt so cold and mechanical.

"You can't give me what I require." Another rumble of thunder played the ambient accompaniment to her morose ballad, louder on this occasion than the earlier clash. Humidity warmed the steady lashes of violent air, thickening every particle to an almost tangible state, moist against her cold skin and defrosting her attire. "You're not the one but I think you're aware. And I don't think that you care." Her melody went quiet, fading to the size of a whisper, her pitch choked and struggled to get out, and for a second she accused her voice of treachery and treason, but it kept on singing, no pause for rest. "I should have been more careful. We're heading down to nowhere; you're going to fall into despair. I'm already there." The volume built up and her arm slashed through the air up and down, furiously beating the strings with every gram of the toxic delirium fucking up her system and, as the dam disintegrated, she screamed, crying out to the heavens, damn sure the cosmos was listening. "You're inside me but can't you see my eyes are distant?! Why can't you see my pain?! Are you in love with me or is this just in vain?!"

The wind went silent, staring at her oddly, stunned by her sudden outburst, and slowly it backed away, wary of provoking her, like a prey animal creeping out of harm's way of a fierce predator. But she didn't notice, consumed by her relentless, mauling attack on nylon strands and the sound of sharp flurrying chord progressions and the rhythmic patter of muted notes in the middle. Quick and deliberate in her multitude of harsh strokes, the groups of notes descended at the start of each new bar, first by two frets, then one, and one again, before starting over at the beginning of the pattern, which spoke of an unprecedented plummet from grace into the hopeless abyss of a lonely soul, fast approaching the bottom and imminent demise. Her foot tapped and bounced under the influence of the six-eight pulse, her head rocking forwards to mark every group of three.

Lulled into weightlessness by the sweet diffusion of all the confined pressure inside, she felt no desire to search for a superior phrase to articulate her vehement intensity. It summed it all up perfectly. The words left her mouth like an obsession chanted, incoherent beneath a whisper, through the illogical hurricane of insanity. "I'm on my own! I'm on my own! When I'm with you I'm so fucking far from me and alone! On my own! I'm on my own! And I want you to leave me but I'm so afraid of being alone!" and then it was quiet again, the tender arpeggio reminding her of lullabies which calmed her timid, childhood psyche whenever the monsters under her bed threatened to pounce and drag her away.

Her breath mimicked the ambient waves, every deep, slow inhale and exhale pressing tightly against her senses, surrounding her in the transparent aura. The rush blocked her hearing, musical poems and warring weather drowned by the soothing tide. Salty liquid stung the corners of her eyes, submerging her entire being though shedding no more than a droplet of water-based agony. A rift in space and time and life and the universe had her within range of its gravity and it was dragging her in while she possessed no will to fight it. Strumming…

Plink. An unseen spectator tossed a handful of change into her open guitar case. The rift collapsed. The void shattered into dust all around her, too fragile for two. Her language fell silent and she immediately shot a glance over to the intruder, already more than startled by the interruption and she only furthered her dumbstruck state upon learning their identity. Veiled by twilight and obscured by an elegant combination of shadows and beams of sunshine emerging over gaps and dents in the city skyline but too familiar not to recognise instantaneously, the face of Madison Duarte stared down at her, uncharacteristically pensive and tranquil, particularly in her eyes. They were motionless, locked in suspended animation for god knows how long. Surely this was some great universal error. Of all the people in the world, strangers and kin alike, why were these two fated to encounter? It was inconceivable.

Neither broke the silence immediately, waiting for some sign of permission or an olive branch to assuage their initial expectations. The wall of calm before the storm had hit, settling the harsh gusts into a solemn breeze, pacing the costal waters and observing from the side. Eventually, the tension and anticipation became too great to handle, and the quiet disquiet had to come to an end before the courage to stick around turned to cowardice. "You know, I was actually paying you to keep singing, but whatever works for you." She raised the corners of her mouth in a vague, unreadable smile, shrugging her shoulders in her attempt to make light and appear free from hidden agendas.

Ashley just kept her narrow gaze firmly fixed in that direction drawing nearer to dawn, looking her up and down and appraising her to the utmost detail as they saw fit, checking for the almost certain signs of threat. She was sufficiently well-versed in her adversary's behaviours to feel cautious and reserved in her presence, and her mind forever bore the scars which marked the consequences of believing otherwise was acceptable or safe. Their history was complicated, thick, corrosive, sometimes repressed, passionate, a satellite in the orbit of betrayal, and it frequently involved conflicts so cruel and personal that the defamation, humiliation or insults exchanged therein were still responsible for sores lining the exterior of their hearts to that day. Every word or action fuelled more hate in their victim, and with every new drop of hatred there came more words and actions, repeating in a chaotic cycle until the initial triggers of all this animosity were no longer relevant or necessary to remember, which helped because those reasons were painful and led into naught but destruction when they were seriously analysed and brooded over and were best forgotten.

Suspicion was unavoidable, really, and their understanding of this fact was undoubtedly mutual.

As valiantly as they each struggled to conjure a mask impervious to the tension, unshaken by intimidation – whether intentionally created as an enemy tactic or emerging from untapped sources of discomfort within – the silence wore away at every tightened nerve, feasting on both the metaphorical and literal meanings of the term like an acid. The waves on the beach, which were supposedly meant to be a soothing and serene sound for healing and meditation, pushed both girls within a dangerous proximity of the edge of their tolerance, teetering over the chasm. "What are you doing here?" asked Ashley with an accusatory stare, prepared for whatever ensuing row would soon ruin her pure morning and already locked up behind her fortress of defensive mechanisms as an involuntary but often useful reflex.

Madison glanced down at the sand, one eyebrow raised awkwardly as she searched for some peaceful middle-ground in her tone and expression that minimised her chances of being misunderstood and thereby accidentally triggering the implosion of this situation into something she really didn't need to deal with on top of a menagerie of other more pressing matters, because her intentions really weren't malicious, for once. "I, uh, I live just over there," she replied, indicating the buildings not far off the beach with her thumb, something resembling hope or perhaps simple apology glimmering through her not-quite-smile, "Remember?"

The sky was a mixture of yellow and blue. It wasn't green or teal, just yellow and blue; both of them at once and yet neither of them fit as descriptions. She swallowed the undercurrents of embarrassment and mild frustration at being made to look like a fool in front of the other girl, reacting the same as if it were an intentional jibe, but she resisted the urge to let her powerful gaze drop in case it came across as an indication of weakness or gave her enemy the opportunity to attack. "Right; of course." Ashley muttered quietly, her features as blank as the sheets of paper inside her new workbook, unsure of how to adjust to this surreal development, but smart enough to hide that fact from Madison. Fighting with her and hating her to the most excessive degree was the only way she knew how to be – the reasons banished to Tartarus long ago, never permitted to surface, because forgetting was painless – so the self-taught habit made her see a dehumanised villain where, in reality, there stood a complex being.

It had taken all of her courage to approach her one time friend, assisted only by the call of her beautiful music, which implied she may have found a kindred spirit on that fateful morning, or at least another person with too much to contemplate on their own. They both needed someone to talk to. Walking along the peaceful sands in the hours classified as neither night nor day, philosophy swirling inside her head, stuck on a continuous loop, leaving her with nothing but questions, even where there used to be confidence, she did the one thing she spent her entire life thus far trying to avoid; she embraced her flaws rather than throttling them and asked for help. Madison was lost and she relied on faith to show her the way out. That was when she heard the song. The instant she prayed for God to send her an angel, she saw the girl frequently thought of as her own personal demon, or the point her inner ones usually focused on, a little ways ahead.

At that moment, every aspect of her life, including antagonism and prior accumulation of bad blood, seemed futile, so turning to Ashley wasn't the repulsive idea it might have been at any other time, especially not when it might have been a sign from above. In order to ascertain the truth, she'd gained a new perspective on her world as a whole – although she was only half way through sorting it out – which meant letting go of the lies and denial and cleansing her mind of the many personalities intertwining and merging for dominance, all so she could take the colossal risk of learning who she really was. Whether because by understanding her mind she could control it and change it with greater ease or because she thought it would help her figure out what to do, she didn't know. She didn't know why she was searching.

In truth, the search was just a formality. She already knew most of the answers. She was just scared to admit them and scared to let go, because her heart said she wasn't strong enough. Her reality was weakness. Ashley wasn't weak like that, though. Not only did she know who she was, she was proud of it too.

Aware of all the disdain directed towards her through the glare of dark brown eyes, and maturely agreeing that the majority of it was deserved, she tried to start the meaningful conversation off, although uncomfortable and unfamiliar with the concepts of the massive leap of faith she was about to take. "Did you write that song yourself?" she asked, raising her line of sight from the ground in order to make eye-contact, which was the polite thing to do, yes, but she also thought it might help to establish a connection or set the tone for some kind of trust, if that was even possible between them in the wake of so much havoc. Ashley nodded, still holding the guitar in her lap and fixing her with that same stare, patiently waiting for the flicker of scheme to cross her face and give her evil motive away. She'd learned the hard way to watch out for it. "Cool." A clap of thunder raged towards them from the distance, moving closer with the almost pitch-black clouds carrying its heavy weight. "…You sound sad."

The seated girl's expression broke into a bitter chuckle paired with an incredulous smirk and she averted her eyes, rolling them in the direction of the approaching storm. She was fucking with her head. She knew that pretending to be nice to her only to betray her and use it against her was a far more efficient and devastating means of causing harm to her than names or slaps could ever be. "Why are you even trying this?" she asked, narrowing her eyes and shaking her head, facing her again. "You know I don't buy into that crap." Ashley stood up on the rock in a huff and jumped down onto the sand, holding her instrument by the neck. The other girl watched as she bent down on one knee and put the guitar into its case with jagged movements, already regretting this decision. Where in hell did she get the ridiculous idea that they were meant to talk or communicate when, clearly, it was a big mistake? It wasn't a sign because God didn't care about her. Hiding her flaws from The Lord was impossible, and he rejected her for them. "I mean, do you think I'm going to forget everything and let you straight back into my life, knowing the kind of person that you are, because tossing me some coins makes it all okay?! Come on! Wh—"

"No." Said Madison, catching the rambling girl while she was in the process of getting back to her feet, making her freeze somewhere in the middle at the interruption. Eye-contact was restored and, suddenly, it wasn't so hard to see through the persistently lifting twilight. It was clearer. She sighed and brushed some of her hair back, feeling defeated and useless and regretting the impact of her cruelty now that it wasn't due and an obstruction to mutual progress. "I just wanted to talk." Ashley stood up, grasping tightly to the pick still in her hand, tracing her thumb along the plastic edge, expelling some of the energy she'd been planning to use in her rant and the argument almost a given to follow. "I guess I should have known better. I'm sorry." With nothing more to say, she turned around and began to walk away.

Ashley was stunned into motionless, watching the figure leave step by step. The battle was over; her defences had been breached, not by an attack but by their retreat. Suddenly, Madison was human again. "Fuck." Her shoulders slumped, memories of the previous year setting blazes in her mind, infernos scorching with an agony the likes of which was indescribable and yet distinctive. The sensation and former mindset relapsed because she was so much like the best friend she had mourned as though dead, although perhaps a great deal wiser and more profound with a slight increase of age. It made no difference, ultimately. This could only lead to pain. But some surviving fragment from a time before the repression – that or her altruistic side acting up – compelled her to give chase. "Wait up! Don't go, I--!"

She stopped upon her request and looked back over her shoulder, Ashley coming to a sudden halt a few yards behind her as she entered the field of vision, folding her arms and warming the cold skin exposed by her wife-beater with a gentle rubbing motion. The breeze spun a silken tapestry around the two similar opposites, everything else irrelevant and left out of the loop, causing many a whisper to circulate with regard to this secret. She couldn't be entirely sure of the other girl's emotions, nor did she previously possess the inherent ability to feel them, because she was unique and a challenge to read – although, Madison was better at it than anyone else she knew; she had to be – however, she made a fair guess, not based on vibes or subtle facial expressions, but on their past. Something told her they would be visiting the past a few times too many that day. If they weren't at that station yet then it was coming up next stop and, hopefully, that wouldn't turn out to be the end of the line. Unnecessary problems they'd left far in their dust. Apparently, still not far enough. Was she ready to go there?

"Yeah?" she prompted her to continue shortly after deducing that Ashley didn't know how to complete her sentence. Or maybe she knew exactly what she wanted to say but couldn't utter a word of it for fear she'd be crossing a line too rashly. Facing her side on, she could see the erratic rush of words fighting to make sense in her vulnerable mind, overlapping and no doubt contradicting as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. A thick mixture of grey clouds spread further across the blue, blanketing the life-cycle of the sky from view. When she still didn't speak, Madison began to wonder if she'd ever wanted her to stay at all. Perhaps her hearing had gone selective or just plain crazy. "Are you okay?"

It was such a simple question, frequently asked with an insignificant meaning and even by people who couldn't even identify her with a vague description of her outfit and style and assessments of her physical appearance, but, in this context, it set the tone for her future. If she meant the query then maybe they could spit out the courage to resolve issues of the past and attempt to salvage a shred of possibility for tomorrow. But they would fall and history would repeat itself word for word, leaving her in a transcendent state of agony. If she was lying then her stab in the dark was coming quickly and with a precise aim, cutting the rope which raised her hopes higher than she should have dared to climb so that the fall was exceptionally crippling. Either way, her destiny was awash with pain.

"I'm fine, it's just that…" Ashley paused and shook her head, unable to grasp the outrageous concept that she was actually talking to her in a non-confrontational setting and giving her a chance, however slim, instead of choosing the far wiser alternative of withdrawing deep inside herself and maintaining an advantaged stance of agitation and cruelty, as she often did under circumstances a great deal less deserving of mistrust than the present. Maybe she was lonelier than she first assumed, or, worse – and she prayed this wasn't the case – perhaps her valiant efforts to crush that naïve waste of emotion were not as successful as she'd hoped. "It's just that after everything you put me through," she half sighed and half growled, wishing that her earlier inspiration would tweak her vocabulary into a sudden wealth of words to tell her, straight from the heart, if she were that brave, "How am I supposed to expect anything different?"

Staring into the hauntingly beautiful eyes several metres away, she waited to see if she could provide a convincing answer that might calm her other worries – which were exhausting enough already without the need for any more to dwell on. The breeze carried a smell of salt and sea spray, heightening the senses and leading them closer to tranquillity, or a substitute that sufficed. "I don't know." Apparently, neither of them did. They didn't know anything and they were on a mutual journey of discovery, if one that took them nowhere new or better. Madison raised her hand and swept it gracefully up and away from her body, towards the ocean, before it fell again to her side. "Maybe we shouldn't expect anything, for once, and try to be happy with what we take with us."

Her resolve to suspect ulterior motives was unsure whether to strengthen or waver in belief, so instead of swearing by either, she expelled a breath of confusion and glowered in a manner expressing her pent-up frustration and bitterness, although at the same time it was obvious she wanted her to stick around. "Give me a little credit." Her voice carried along an icy gust, weak in volume but determined and firm. Her half-hearted scoff failed and choked away, unable to survive the internal conflict, and she started back towards the rock, mostly just because the short walk might give her enough space and time to pull herself together that tiny but critical bit. "I mean, what makes it okay to trust you now and why not--?" she wasn't really talking to anyone in particular anymore, just thinking out loud, but she knew the other girl was still paying undivided attention to her and could hear her clearly, so she stopped when a taboo grew eerily nearer.

Madison went after her, jogging the first few paces to catch up and then slowing into a leisurely stroll, the kind that seemed to make the hardest deliberations and musing come naturally. "It's too early in the morning to lie." She whispered thoughtfully, gazing ahead at a sight which must have radiated a glow of utter awe incarnate, although it stayed imperceptible to the rest of the world. "It's so far away and so distant to everything we've been. Or – who knows? – maybe we are who we say and…this is just a break from ourselves." Ashley listened, the sagely speech communicating with her on a level nobody else knew existed and providing her with some much needed insight, but decided that she wasn't valiant enough to keep looking at her and, thus, fixed her dark eyes on the crashing, rolling waves and sat down on the small rock formation, caressing the plastic pick in her palm subconsciously. "It just…it isn't the time for fighting and I'm not out here to start one."

The rising tide burst against a stack of jagged boulders a little further out, flying into a spectacular formation, catching the sunlight, and raining down again in a shower of liquid sparks onto the shore, which the water level was slowly climbing, gaining ground and causing the line to recede. Madison sat next to her, relaxing onto the dry, cold sand in front of the guitar case and sighing as the impossible cycle of philosophy resumed, every theory contradicted and beyond the scope of what her mind could rationalise, even in this advanced intellectual state. A formless heat pressed against Ashley's right side, warm energy stroking up and down around her shin, the material of her jeans practically stuck to her skin and burning up as if alight. They were too close for comfort or a sense of security. "Then why are you out here?" she asked, genuinely curious as to what sick cosmic game was being played with her heart and head this time.

She laughed in spite of herself and turned her head towards the other girl, suddenly stumbling into silence and faltering her wistful smile upon receiving the stunning vision. Her stare was so intense it could have parted the oncoming storm clouds at the focus of her sight in two, if she so willed it. Lightning flashed in the distance behind her flawlessly sculpted face, and it was only the ensuing thunder that snapped her from the daze. Ordinarily, she would have fallen back into her habit of denial and aggression after an incident like that, regardless of whether anyone was around to observe it or not, but the future didn't matter any longer.

Swallowing and flattening out her hair displaced by the wind, she continued as though the moment never happened, summoning the discipline to let it go and concentrate on the horizon, rising and swelling in whitecaps and drowning beneath waves of higher purpose. "Probably the same reason that you're out here." Madison hugged her knee a bit tighter, leaning back on her other hand and digging her nails into the sand. "We should be asleep and preparing to get on with our lives as per usual, but instead we're trying to figure out the answers to something so significant that it's like…" The profound and insightful sentence trailed off and she sighed at her verbal inadequacy, folding her arms behind her head and reclining onto the beach. Above her, the sky was cloudless and a bright collage of blue and yellow and rose and the spectrum, a stark contrast to the face of yonder tempest. "It's like we don't know whether we'll ever see the sun rise again."

A shot of pain struck Ashley along the edge of her heart when she registered that metaphor, assuming it was one, and related to its literal accuracy far too well for a girl her age. Living on the streets in the back of her car, like she was, with her money running low and her will to live dwindling, she couldn't say how many dawns awaited her or if she'd survive the many hours until dusk. Tears welled in the corners of her eyes – though she made no attempt to acknowledge them or grant them notice from her companion – and they begged to be wept for the nourishment of her sanity. "Will the sun rise tomorrow? I thought that was a rhetorical question." She smirked and bit her lip, unsure which upset her more; the prospect of an untimely death or the fear that none would be touched by her absence. Did anyone care?

The other girl laughed and shone her brilliant smile to the heavens, closing her eyes and allowing her senses the freedom to revel in the chilled scent of mist and salty, stagnant moisture. A flash of light and an echoing boom, seeming to come from all around, created the impression that nature did not appreciate the wit. "It's meant to be, I guess, but how can a question be rhetorical if somebody thought up the need to ask it?" she countered, somewhat relieved that at least one thread in her philosophical ball of string had been pulled out and discarded into verbal communication, thereby removed from the plethora of internalised debates. "There are plenty of explanations for why the sun is there and why it moves forever between night and day – religious, scientific, theoretical and such, although most are wrong and outdated. Anyway, my point is why would we have so many answers if no one ever seriously asked the question?"

Madison rolled her head to the side, watching the fast succession of moods and reactions flash across her gorgeous features, despite her hair getting in the way at that angle and blocking most of it from sight. A short, sharp sigh of bewilderment and amusement indicated that she'd reached a conclusion. Eventually, the musician turned and looked down at her, tracing her vision out from the base of the rock until it hit the point where their eyes met, for once without undiluted animosity sizzling and sparking in the space between. In fact, there was a long sought-after glimmer of peace and, dare it be said, hope. "When did you become such a fucking genius?"

They both snickered but neither was really certain how sincerely they meant it beyond the shallow. Too much resided within; too many memories of their past resurfaced and more than enough uncertainty lingered in the darkness ahead, stalking their future. If this conversation continued, it changed everything. When they returned to their horrible, dilapidated lives and went back to telling only lies and shamefully hid from persecution, they would look at each other and see more than a faceless enemy. Who knew the result that could bring? And what of dreams?

"I've always been intelligent. I just don't actually know anything." As she spoke, she didn't believe a word. Never could she consider herself bright or strong or capable of handling the minutest of difficulties. If she was, then perhaps she would have stopped denying everything when tremors disturbed her carefully constructed stability or found a better way of dealing than lashing out and trying to force the easier reaction to rule her mindset or, maybe, she could have pieced together the bravery to do something about all of this and risk of becoming someone less than perfect and of allowing herself to feel vulnerable. Even then, she was hiding and ignoring the issues of the past which flew over her head, too scared to admit them, never mind resolve them. So she focused on making Ashley talk. "When did you," she paused, searching for an obvious distortion of her appearance or expression from the norm to mention, "Get all messed up and dirty?"

She sneered and looked down, wincing in pain. The wind screamed past in a tense, hard gust. Madison sat up in a hurry and tried to keep a certain level of eye-contact, bending her neck so as to see and read her features for a hint of her unguarded honesty before she missed it completely, accustomed to catching out people's intentions visually, because verbally lying was easy. She'd touched on something bad without meaning to. "Damn it!" she cursed, kicking the sand into a particle cloud and standing up, storming a few paces away from the rock before coming to a stop and brushing a hand through her hair with no shortage of frustration, the other in her pocket, releasing the pick. "How do you do that?! Am I that fucking obvious to you?! I can't hide anything when you're there!"

"Ashley!" She rushed over to the other girl, launching onto her feet and bridging the gap, reaching out to place a hand on her exposed shoulder. Immediately, she flinched out of her touch, yanking out her own arm from her pocket to knock hers away. "Ashley," Madison pleaded again, scared by how desperately she wanted to help and the mounting level of her guilt, "I didn't—" suddenly, her eyes were shocked wide open in a silent exclamation. She heard the unmistakable sniffing and heavy, uneven breathing that always comes before a person cries as they try to fight off the emotional surge before tears consume them. The sky continued to darken, blackness, like the night, looming. "What's wrong? …What happened?"

"You noticed." She whispered, spinning around and facing her, her eyes rimmed red, swallowing her sobs as she stared into that heavenly face, which she'd long since memorised and learned every intricate detail of, reciting them in her dreams when times were happier, and yet it was almost unrecognisable before her. "You really noticed!" Behind Madison, dawn was approaching a most spectacular peak and it framed her and the skyline with a radiant halo. In her haze, she paid it lesser attention than she might have. "How is it that you can see everything when my own parents and…my own girlfriend can't even tell I'm not okay?! Why does the girl who hates me care more than the girl who's supposed to love me?!" she all but screamed, wiping furiously across her eyes and glaring ahead, although it wasn't really directed at the other girl so much as at life in general.

Her fingers gently stroked Ashley's forehead, brushing her fringe out of her eyes. There was a quiet gasp and then silence, the girls simultaneously freezing up at the contact but one doing so a little more than the other and for a reason they were mutually well aware of. "I do care." She thought she felt a drop of water hit her on the nose, but she ignored it. "If you can't trust me as a friend then trust that I care as your enemy. Tell me." It was almost a demand, but sympathy and concern let her feel free to choose and make the decision on her own – even if her heart didn't – in contrast to an ultimatum. "I'm the one who's here right now; I'm the one who noticed so tell me and I promise you that nothing leaves this beach." The hand strayed from her face and drifted, lonely, into the air, punctuated by another low rumble and a shadow spreading over the beach.

"I know it won't," responded the younger girl with a weak and shaky smile, tentatively daring to put her heart on the line by taking the hot-blooded hand hovering by her head into her own, nervous grasp, moving through the flow of air like a feather, "Because, if you wanted to hurt me, chances are you'd already know." There was another moment of quiet, neither girl sure if they were meant to speak or react at all, afraid to bring about an end to this hesitantly established connection before the time for it was due. Ashley shivered as the dropping temperature and frosted breeze made her skin crawl and prickle unpleasantly, shoving her out of the trance with no pity. She drew strength from Madison's warm fingers laced in between her own and their hands fit together perfectly, as though joined in prayer. "My mother kicked me out last week." She clenched her teeth and muttered in a rush, staring at a broken shell embedded in the shady yellow ground at her feet. "Her new fiancé's a creepy bastard who hit on me and got all…" she groaned in disgust and shook her head, pretty satisfied that she received the basic message, leaving it open to interpretation. "She didn't believe me and said either I could grow up and stay there or leave."

A few more tiny drops of rain fell onto the earth, barely noticeable when they met with the girls' exposed flesh and completely undetectable against their clothing. Lightning plunged into the ocean many miles out, the flash sweeping over the entire dome of the sky for a split second, unable to catch it on fire. Madison blinked. In no more than a few simple words and a shrug imitating apathy, Ashley destroyed most of her faith in humanity. Not a shred of the fibres in her soul could stand the thought of such callousness and indifference. Hell, even the ruthless anger and torture she ritually poked her with was more compassionate by a large than neglect. In order to hate someone, they have to matter – and quite a great deal, at that. "Where have you been living?" she murmured, still thrown off balance by the admission and forcibly dragging herself back onto the pedestal of control and alertness.

She shrugged and glanced up into dark brown eyes, almost expecting to see a twinkle of victory or sadistic mockery in their depths, simply out of habit, but she suffered no such misfortune. The enigmatic girl standing opposite her expressed a much greater sense of hurt and loss through her facial features out of pure empathy than she'd yet allowed herself to feel in the most private corner of her heart. What did that say about their characters? "I've been sleeping in the back of my car. The rest of the time I'm at school, the Carlins' or the mall." Really though, she tried to avoid the last two as much as she could. She preferred to be alone with her muse and creative space where the choice became applicable. It also helped to be away from her. Always touching…always there but so far from her…

Before she knew what was happening, she stumbled forwards, being pulled into Madison's embrace by their joined hands and delicately bound by kind, comforting arms. A shocked noise was quickly stolen out in her exhale, cutting off as the sudden embrace stilled her. Time seemed to freeze, glued to one instant, until the gentle movement of coarse wool against the bare parts of her shoulder erased any doubt that she was still alive. This was positively mind-blowing to consider…and just a little too enjoyable to experience. "I'm sorry." She breathed the sympathetic apology into her ear, resting her chin on Ashley's shoulder and holding her closer.

"Uh." Ashley glanced around, tensing up and beginning to panic at this awkward proximity to her rival. She didn't know what to do. Her body felt feverish and red from nerves, her mind regressing into a montage of the anxiety, dismal dreaming and confusion of before. They were indeed far too close. Her cheeks were burning up – she knew it – and her arms trembled in uncertainty as she felt the tender stroking up and down her back. Ordinarily, she might have viewed this as a blessing and there had been many a time when she lay awake at night planning all the perfect things to say and do to win her over and feel her touch, however innocently, but, now that the circumstances actually arose, all of her thinking ahead and brilliant script writing amounted to nothing because, on the inside, she was still the same, shy teenager experiencing her first real crush.

"You can hug me back, you know." Madison muttered into her ear with a vaguely devious smirk, inflated by the fact she still affected her like this even after in excess of a year spent lashing out like a mistreated animal and giving her hell, forcing some level of shared disdain. She heard a strained and uncomfortable chuckle, self-deprecating in nature, leave Ashley's lips but she remained comically stiff, almost petrified under her warmth. "Believe me, I've already come a long way past the point of what I used to tolerate recently and I am so not going to get freaked out…" she paused, glancing downwards somewhat sheepishly at the memory of her overreaction long ago. "Again…" Honestly, if it weren't so damn petty and depressing, the irony would almost make her laugh. Dark humour never held much appeal to her, though.

Relinquishing her cowardice in favour of taking the gamble of going all in to check her bet and see the flop, she cautiously placed her arms around her waist and squeezed her eyes shut, afraid to witness the results of this reckless action. There was no sudden electrocution or agony knocking her to the ground. The world didn't end. Just the soothing sound of waves against the shore and a howling wind carried across the thick environment. Ashley sighed, relaxing into her chance for some minor security, although drenched in a shower of vulnerability and confused with which emotions were hers and which were memories. She was starting to crack. Her voice quietly whimpered when she tilted her head, leaning it onto a thin black sweater and white shirt-collar. "You broke my heart."

Smooth, tan fingers sifted through her raven locks, consoling her with a mix of feelings ranging from guilt to apology to compassion to plain heartfelt pity in every breath and touch. "I know." Another bestial growl of impending thunder made her body shiver slightly. Or maybe it had nothing to do with the weather at all. But it wasn't the time to overanalyse or be afraid, and so she didn't fight the sensation, waiting 'til her job was done. They stayed in that embrace for a short while longer until Ashley decided she was starting to like it too much and denied herself the pleasure, pulling back with an invisible blush and clearing her throat. "You okay?"

"Yeah, yeah; I'm fine." She responded dismissively, evading Madison's deep, penetrating stare and trying to restore her normal confidence by shaking off her lingering energy and recollections the contact brought to the forefront, pleasant or otherwise. "It's just a little crazy, you know." There was no dispute of that, not from either of them. It wasn't long before she conjured up a stronger shade of her personality and present troubles in her life from the aftermath of unexpected shock, and she wondered what this was all trying to tell her. While it definitely didn't feel fantastic to pay a quick visit back to the awkwardness and painful anxiety of her early teenage years, it was enlightening, in a strange way, that she felt it again now as opposed to, well, ever with her current girlfriend.

Something must have flashed over her features as thoughts of Spencer skimmed the topmost layers of her inner-eye, burning her image into the front of her head, or perhaps she just cringed, but either way, Madison saw it and, with pinpoint precision and reflexes, lifted her chin so as to lock their gazes together once more. No blushes or shy glimmers tinted her exquisite masquerade. It was slightly intimidating to be struck dead-on once more by her immoveable, corporeal glare, but she matched it with the clean intent to atone for her misdeeds by helping her through these harsh times while she had the means and courage to be anything other than a bully.

Obsessed with their battle of wills in the stare down, neither participant noticed the skies open up beneath a vicious crack of lightning, unleashing celestial tears as the tyrannical storm broke the clouds' backs and it could withstand no more punishment. Madison dropped her hand to her side and leant her weight onto her backmost foot, reading the scriptures of an unspoken language within. "You're living a lie, aren't you?" Ashley groaned and cursed, throwing her head back in frustration and turning away, taking only a step aside. How could she see everything so easily? What was worse was knowing that she'd never see this side of her again once they stepped back into the real world and morning had truly broken. The older girl smiled sardonically, only able to estimate how annoying she must be with the sudden psychic stunt but certain it would piss her off too. "You've got my eyes." She murmured by way of explanation, flicking her hair and averting her gaze upon the rare display of honesty.

Ashley shook her head, blinked out droplets of rain from her vision and sneered. "Spencer." Her nails were digging into her palm, her fist shaking under pressure. "She's my lie." And she was a lie that was wearing thin. By then, too much time had been spent pondering their faux relationship and she was tired of thinking about her, sick of being touched by her so intimately and distraught because, in the end, it all cemented the fact that she ruled her, making it concrete. She was her servant, complying with her every request, no matter what it entailed, because she had no choice. Obligation won out every time, aided by fear. And she thought Spencer was starting to figure that out, growing a little colder and a little rougher and a little harsher and a little more self-involved every day. Or maybe she just wanted revenge because the 'love' would never be mutual, staying out of spite and greed or who knows what.

Madison was taken aback by the bitter statement of hurt, stuttering over a response before the meaning could even set in, narrowing her stare. "Spencer?" the possibility seemed not only unlikely but damn near inconceivable. They were some kind of modern day queer love story in the eyes of the masses, as much as it killed her on the inside to see, and they were also utterly inseparable. None could locate one without finding the other right by their side; always together, always happy, always smiling. Apparently, in her jealousy, she failed to observe the emptiness in Ashley's eyes. Now that it was right in front of her and incredibly hard to miss, and subsequently confirmed by a short, sharp nod, it sparked a surge of protective fury and her nostrils flared in a quiet snarl. "What is she doing to you?"

"Well I'll tell you what she isn't doing," she laughed, brushing wet hair out of her face, "She isn't making it easy to pretend to be in love with her." A bolt of electric fire shook the heavens and then the morning was as dark as night, the half-sun eclipsed behind them. Their secret realm was invaded and cold. "I don't know why I bother," Ashley continued, facing the ocean, enraptured by its vehement fury and, for but an instant, she considered venturing into the tide, letting it drag her out and pull her under until the only waters ahead were the river Styx, "Because I'm already struggling to keep it up, and she'll figure it out and leave eventually, no matter what I do."

The older girl growled and stepped forward, spurred on by the familiar depression in her voice. For a split second, she mistook the situation for her own before instantly regaining the wit to realise otherwise and she thought that must be why she yearned to assist, but her motives ran deeper than that and she knew it. "Why do you need to pretend? You shouldn't be with someone you don't love!" Madison shouted through the distance and fluctuating volume of weather between them, crossing the gap with speed and determination until she was standing directly behind her. "At least be honest with your heart!"

Scoffing at the irony and perhaps triggered by her tone of voice, her self-defence mechanisms kicked in and made her response equally heartfelt and loud. "You're going to talk to me about love and honesty?!" Ashley spun around, glaring at her in accusation and contempt, the windows to her soul shining on a fragile surface of glazed white, all values of brown and the infinite black void. Her arms thrashed downwards, emphasising the total absurdity of her argument in the enraged gesture. "You sell yourself to people for money and the illusion of status and you're telling me that I shouldn't be in this relationship because it's not real?!" she waited, watching as her words sunk in, breathing into the atmosphere. "I'm glad to see your hypocrisy is still intact, oh wise one." She mocked her with a slight roll of her eyes.

A significant proportion of her mind expected this hostility to unleash the typical Madison she encountered on a regular basis and start their momentum rolling towards their routine of childish insults and increasingly ineffectual jabs, which served mostly to cover up their own insecurities and prove to themselves – the younger of the two, especially – that they still meant something to their opponent, even if it was monumentally negative in nature. However, in her noetic and insightful temperament, the inclination to agree claimed victory over inner-voices foolishly rejecting what she knew to be true. So her calm and mature demeanour didn't falter. "But that's different; you're not like me." She tried again, pressing forwards and stepping closer.

"You're right! I'm not like you!" she screamed beneath a ripping, tearing clash and the rising fury of the rain's marching army; an artillery of liquid bullets attacking the earth, corroding. It was cold and her arms were freezing near to the point of numbness, but she refused to acknowledge it, listening solely to the miserable truth of her heart. "I don't have an array of people to choose from when one relationship gets old or doesn't work out! I don't have friends or people lining up around the block for a chance to talk to me because my acceptance validates their existence! I'm not fucking perfect like you are and right now the only thing that I have left to lose is my life so excuse me for trying to hold onto something reliable!" Ashley trailed off when she felt her voice begin to tremble and choke dangerously and she straightened up her posture, folding her arms over her chest, her body tensed and ready to endure the inevitable fallout when it hit.

She sniffed and averted her eyes towards the stack of jagged rocks protruding out of the uneasy water, explosions of tainted white caving in over the platform, unable to escape into orbit. "This isn't you." Madison breathed her words out rather than spoke them, somehow faithful that she was audible and coherent despite the all-consuming storm, which she was. "You were always braver than me. You knew what you wanted and you actually went for it." She laughed in a way resembling mourning, shaking her head sadly. "You weren't afraid to let yourself find happiness, even in places you didn't expect it or want it to be." Her wet clothes were clinging to her body, tight against her form like a second skin and sheltering into her curves from the merciless storm, as was the younger girl's attire. "I respected that about you…What changed?"

Their eyes met again, a little obscured and hazed by the veil of raindrops in between them, the crystal grey tone suspended in the air, but their non-verbal communication direct and unscathed. "I'm scared, Madison." She said, despite many an impulse in her body protesting the revelation of her weakness and phobia to a girl almost assured of using it against her later on. But they'd come this far already, so what choice did she have? "I am so fucking scared of being alone. But you wouldn't know what that's like." Her last line left her in a somewhat condescending growl. She gently rubbed her arms, trying to instil some warmth and heat throughout her chilled and frozen body, and suppressed a timid shiver, though she doubted it was caused by the temperature.

No one could relate to her fear, she thought, because when everybody had what they wanted or had an idea of it in mind, along with some frail hope that achieving it was possible, then there was nothing to be afraid of. Solitude was the only thing to fear in her world. Apparently, she was more wrong than she could have ever imagined because, as she wallowed in the torrential aftermath of sharing her distress, Madison raised her hand and slapped Ashley square in the face. It wasn't a hard shot but it was strong enough to get her attention, for sure. "Stop it!" the demand was yelled and definite, grabbing onto both of her bare, soaking shoulders and forcing the impact of her objection to be felt, if not entirely understood. "You are not alone! You do not have to lie to live! And you are not the only person in the world with something to be afraid of!"

"How would you know?!" she shouted in reply, glaring at the eyes so close to her own, unsure of how to feel about receiving the physical blow. Honestly, she was vaguely impressed, both by her courage to hit her with no one there to break apart a potential brawl and the fact it wasn't triggered by an unforgivable insult, which meant that she had to care just a bit. "You've got everything going for you! You fucking win at life!" Ashley's hands grabbed onto Madison's waist, a predominantly subconscious action, and her fingers dug into the wet fabric before either of them registered the movement. "You're perfection." She couldn't make sense of this argumentative turn in her logical processes because, in her mind, perfection was fearless as well as flawless.

"No I'm not," the older girl shook her head, although it didn't dispel the contrary belief in the eyes of the other, "And if anyone saw how truly imperfect I am, I would lose everything in a split second." She snapped her fingers for emphasis and sighed. "I can't be honest or real, like you are, because I couldn't handle being anything other than what I'm supposed to be, and, honestly, my truth could not be further from that." She was pleading for empathy and understanding from the one person whom she believed capable of relating to her confusion, even if she masqueraded it as a selfless offer for solace. Her stability was starting to slip, the weight of emotions and changes and desires causing it all to give way. "And it's terrifying; wondering if people know, shutting out every thought or dream because it might leave a trace, having to push away and be the most brilliant liar anyone has ever seen so that no one ever suspects it because it's everything that I can't tolerate. Don't tell me what I don't know!"

For a moment, her guard was down and her soul was bared without a filter to isolate and capture the tiny fragments that kept her awake at night with worry, allowing them all to see the break of dawn, and Ashley knew that Madison was waiting for a little nudge to send her over the edge, committed to setting herself free. There was no blessing higher than witnessing her pure beauty, flawed to perfection, and so she filled the role of the catalyst, providing her with an opening to whatever hid within. "What are you scared of?" she asked with a gentle voice that promised to catch her should she stumble over the precipice in her leap of faith. Whatever it was, she was sure that it would lessen her restored endearment by no amount. Her hands lightly rubbed the older girl's back for encouragement.

Madison bit her lip softly, restraining the urge to glance down at the wet sand at her feet and maintaining strict focus on the vicinity of her eyes, counting the drops of rain on her forehead in order to stay distracted from the agonising conflict of instincts and habits tearing her to shreds on the inside. "I'm scared of how you're always in my head; how every day my thoughts revolve around you, how I have to know about absolutely everything that you do and make sure that I'm always in your head, fulfilled by having a central place in your life, and how I see your face in my dreams and can't chase it away, no matter how hard I try. And I try so damn hard." She sucked in another breath, trying desperately to hold the panic in and stifle the tears threatening to dominate her, slowly lifting her right hand and tenderly cupping Ashley's quaking jaw with it. Would she fly or would she fall? The edge was at her feet; one more step. "It's so much easier to pretend that it's because I hate you…and it's safe there…" the thunder faded into the background and the beach became just a state of mind, like fantasy. "But I know why you're there, and I'm not afraid anymore." And it didn't matter; she didn't have enough time for fears. "This may be my last chance."

The rain pattered against her tense, hypersensitive skin in a flurried, heavy rhythm, a methodical hiss, and she could have sworn that her heart had ceased beating inside her hopeful chest as the implications sent her into a sudden stupor. She couldn't feel it and she couldn't hear it. An instant loitered for just a little too long in which she was caught between life, death, rebirth and paradise. The corners tore her in all four directions with their gravity until it plummeted back into place and shock crashed down around her into the time that separated her present from her future. "What are you trying t—" long before any semblance of a thought could begin to scrape itself into a form, she was cut off in the most wonderful of ways.

A tug on her shoulder, a simultaneous short step forward, a doubtful thought followed by the determination swiftly discarding their reservations in favour of surrendering to the irresistible temptation, and then their lips were together, underscored by the natural, percussive ambience. Blissful gasps erupted from one or the other or both and they stood motionless, not daring to move in case it disturbed the serenity, the peace, the splendour of their chaste and true union, so simple yet so spectacular and mind-blowing that it redefined the essence of who they were forever. Where one body began and the next soul finished became a mystery, blurred sensory overload and magnetic intoxication, but it didn't matter anymore. The fine line keeping them apart, letting them be known as an entity and the second, needed to be abolished until there was but a single ethereal light consuming both into just one being. Everything and nothing and the hidden passion of their hearts collided into one, stillborn kiss, and life blossomed in the dark abyss once more.

They were puppets, devoid of the capability to control themselves, waiting until some force tugged on their strings and guided them into taking action, with all sense of identity stolen. But they were also slaves to desire and need, their bodies aching to know more and to be closer; to feel. In a beat of the celestial pulse, the symphony, they moved together, dancing on the spot. Lips carefully brushed over smooth, tender skin, as if testing whether this was reality, with hopes so very frail, and shocked them into breathing again. A climax tightened every nerve but, slowly, it floated to the ground, relaxation following in its wake.

Soft caresses wandered into the kiss, tasting more of the electric current that sent ecstatic shivers of heat out to every fibre of their being, sparks setting their skin alight. It was as if the rain never existed and every particle of liquid soaking their clothes evaporated, boiled by the flames of amour, because it was so very warm, like the hearth of a warm wood fire on a cold Christmas evening, watching the pure snowfall from the roaring blaze inside. The energy raced over their flesh, never quite touching but teasing it, taking pleasure in watching them arch towards promises of contact and release, refusing to grant it until they grabbed it through the approaching haze.

Ashley pulled her closer into the embrace, holding onto her like a cherished treasure, for she feared that her body would collapse without some support to keep her standing, all the while silently confessing her long-shunned desire and listening as other legendary tales were cooed in reciprocation. The secrets couldn't pass their lips in speech or find accurate descriptions to summarise them in a way that did their meaning or importance justice, but in a breathtaking whisper, they shared the epic verses painstakingly written on the foundations of their souls, etched tirelessly upon the core day in, day out, like an obsession, and said more in a touch than they ever could have in a thousand words. And had the world indeed stopped around them as one could only infer, neither would have noticed nor cared. Time held no meaning and life was but a fleeting concern; it was just the two of them and forever.

Seduced by an enchantment she could not resist, Madison's arm snaked around her neck and drew her in deeper, caution and hesitation scattered into the void beyond. Naïve kisses migrated across sweet skin, nurturing each heavenly inch with adoration and affection, savouring the delightful blend of flavours and seeking out an oasis where more thrived. Cheeks stroked each other with absolute sincerity and the purest of emotions, hitched breaths echoing so near to rapture while blazing lips sought to lavish their devotion elsewhere and everywhere. Ashley's explored the vast and luscious expanse of her jaw, her hands sliding down curvaceous hips to thread her forefingers through the belt loops of her jeans, eliminating any and all space between them.

Every minute, feathery stroke was felt completely, enhanced by hypersensitive skin. Merging and fitting into place, their bodies arched together, pulsing and rocking to an intense, hypnotic rhythm nobody would ever hear, seizing the precious moment as though the next one spelled the end of life. A blissful moan escaped Madison, her eyelids fluttering as her tongue leisurely licked around Ashley's earlobe, feeling herself devoured alive elsewhere and enjoying it but aching to feel that first connection once more. She pulled back just a little, urging the younger girl to turn her head with a gentle tug on her hair, ruled by a need to again experience lips against her own. Persuaded by her unspoken call, she moved up, searching blindly for the same gratification. Their noses slightly nudged, their heads tilted and then they were kissing as though in mania.

Hands roamed for a holy grail, lured in earnest to discover and commit to memory all the microscopic points and all the touches that provoked reactions of pleasure and sensual delight. Like lightly brushing her fingers over the skin of Madison's side beneath her ribcage, which made her tense up all over and darkened her eyes with arousal, or stroking Ashley's collarbone back and forth with the pad of her thumb, which elicited a sigh of sheer content and made her smile into the thus far tame but verily exhilarating kisses. Meanwhile, the caresses of enthused and eager lips grew more frenzied and numerous, frequently altering the angle of their inclination as they moved in for the next so that more of those beautiful features came into contact with her own and they needed more.

A series of short, sharp nips were planted on Madison's lower lip that then quickly travelled down to her jaw, requesting permission for something more. She understood the question and knew what she wanted because they were in the same place, feeling the same language chanting as it flowed through their veins. In reply, she placed her palm under her chin and lifted it – here they spent a few seconds staring through the heavy, stained white rain into each other's eyes for the first time since the initial contact and, thankfully, witnessed no regret – kissing her once chastely before leaning in and flicking her tongue out, absorbing her rich, succulent flavour. Ashley's forehead rested against her own as she zealously reciprocated the action and then went even further. No resistance was offered to this benevolent plunder, the older girl instead persisting with her own.

Whispered moans were felt in the quivering vibrations left in their wake as opposed to heard. Tight grasping hands pleaded for closer proximity, craving for more; silently they begged for them to go deeper than was ever believed possible and to never come back out again. Their tongues engaged in a deadly dance, a serene skirmish, trailing across teeth and ghosting over gums in their desire to know everything. Tingling sparks of excitement burst in the soles of their feet, shot up through the spinal pathways and exploded when it reached the top, cascading down in a magnificent shower of spirit and life, aftershocks running down their skin like an earthquake, and the epicentre was inside the heart. Ecstasy.

Everything spun at an alarming speed and they were the point around which it all revolved. All that existed to surround them was grey. Illusion of the mind, or true reality? There was nothing outside their need to touch, to kiss, to feel and to locate the divinity hidden somewhere within that vessel beneath their fingertips, locked away for only the blessed to discover. Eternity and religion and all other manner of concepts, regardless of their importance or prior prominence, fell to the wayside in mediocrity when compared to this ideal incorrectness, this flawless imperfection, this most angelic sin that was just the two of them.

It was wrong…it was oh so very wrong…sinful and bound for hellfire but, most of all, it was a fault the people in her life could never tolerate. She could never tolerate. Imperfection. Flaw. Failure. What the fuck was she doing?!

Lightning cracked loudly and, suddenly, the illusion was gone. Her eyes shot wide open as it all came flooding back at once; who she was, her concerns, her memories, her insecurities and her reasons for being out there at four in the morning in the first place were remembered and forced their way to the forefront of her focus, returning from whence they'd been cast aside. Overwhelmed and panicked, Madison made a muffled noise of protest, flailed her arms and, literally, pushed Ashley off of her, causing the younger girl to stumble back a few paces and fall onto the sand. She shook the pouring rain and wet hair out of her eyes, glancing up in sheer confusion to see what went wrong, her chest heaving up and down as she tried to regain her breath.

The storm was all-consuming and violent, and so, it seemed, was the chaotic mess of paradoxical emotions caged behind her shimmering eyes. Ashley bit her bruised bottom lip, watching an internalised debate unfold through the outward display of helpless, paranoid gestures, timidly shifting her weight back and forth between feet, straining her expression as though about to burst into tears and rapidly sending frightened looks in all directions without really seeing anything. She'd fucked up big time; she knew it. She kisses the girls and makes them cry. Getting a shot at the first and only girl she ever truly fell for? That was far too optimistic to be true. Honestly...

"I can't do this!" she shouted through the deafening volume of the storm, her words mostly blown away by the wind, and jerked her arms down to her sides, staring at the girl who she just kissed, laying back on the beach, supporting her raised upper-body on her arms. This whole thing was nearly impossible to comprehend amidst her already stretched and exhausted coping skills. It was surreal, yes, but it was more so painful than anything else. "This wasn't supposed to happen!" Madison grabbed at her head and turned away, pacing two steps to her right, pausing, and then going back the other way. Her mind had been blown.

Ashley sat up, infuriated and terrified, partially by the uncalled for personality switch but also largely because she was convinced that she should have seen it coming instead of falling for her games and hurting them both. "How do you have the nerve to be upset when you're the one who kissed me?!" She yelled back in response to the complete destruction of their earlier pleasure and bond, prepared for the fact that, within a few minutes, she would be hurt beyond repair by whatever excuse or explanation she had to offer and wanting to get some of her vengeance before it truly sunk in and chained her to higher despair. Irrationality and defence-mechanisms quickly took over and, basically, all she could do was blame Madison, which didn't seem so strange at first.

Similar habits were controlling the other girl as well because denial was always infinitely simpler than dissuading confusion or, worse, learning the truth and, when in denial, it was never her fault. Typically, it spelled the end for any potential complications long ahead of the time when damage resulted. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite as easy as she remembered it. But, with all that unforgotten drama, it gave her slim to no alternatives that she was brave enough to take. "Yeah, but I wasn't meant to fucking like it! I can't…I don't…" devoid of the energy and will to carry on, Madison sank down to her knees, crying on the sand in the middle of nowhere. "I don't know! It should be over! I should have the fucking answers but I don't!" she slammed her fists into the ground either side of her body, heading for a breakdown, so close to falling. She was running away; running back to her old life step after running step.

The sight was so powerful. She realised then that she'd never…hell, almost certainly no one had ever seen her in an honest display of emotion like this, never mind actually dissolving into tears. Her heart went out to the older girl, aching all the way, and she couldn't let her suffer alone like this, especially not after the unconditional show of warmth and kindness from her as recently as a few minutes ago. Ashley pushed off onto her feet and scrambled to her side, crouching next to her, making the silent wish she had more experience at comforting people. "Hey, I'm sorry; I shouldn't be so harsh. I mean, of course this is going to be weird for you." She smiled weakly, warily edging a little closer and blinking rain out of her vision, waiting for the cutting thunder to pass before she continued, placing a hand on her trembling arm. "It's okay."

"No; it's not okay!" she yanked her arm away, pulling back and swerving around on the sand to face her inner-demon, no longer crying or pathetic, her glare determined and hard. "It's not fucking okay!" her contradicting and conflicting personalities fought for dominance in a battle that seemed to take an eternity until, eventually, her more placid and, arguably, wiser side won out – possibly just because she was too tired to fight and too meek to be even remotely effective at manipulating or causing harm. Sliding along the almost liquid sand, she sat down next to Ashley, who had made the insightful decision of just shutting up until granted an opening, and sighed, searching for something in her pocket. When Madison slowly pulled out her hand and opened up her palm, she revealed an exquisite golden ring with a diamond at its apex. It was beautiful. It seemed to emit its own light. She didn't catch on right away, like endorphins numbing an injury for a few seconds before the agony sets in, but she felt the chill lure her into a place caught between awareness and insanity. "Aiden asked me to marry him…" the voice disrupted her trance and she saw her shadowed, tan fingers turning the ring over in her grasp, unable to raise her line of sight or move at all. "I said yes."

In those three resonant words, the temporary anaesthetic wore off and excruciating torture shot through her system, leaving her ill and stricken with an affliction she'd feared to recall for such a long time. Her heart broke into shards of glazed history and fell as dust to her feet where it melted into the sand and seeped away. The pain was physical; her soul had been ripped out and beheaded on the guillotine block, struggling to die a few seconds faster than those horrible moments it could potentially survive without her body. "You…you what?" Ashley whispered in a voice so quiet and fragile she wondered if she'd merely thought it. Her hands gripped tightly to her thighs, bunching up the drenched material in her claws, fighting the torrid agony. This couldn't be happening, but it was. The storm was cold, freezing her from the outside in.

Madison sniffed and gazed into the distance, staring at nothing and speaking to no one in particular, talking as though in a dream. "I'm getting married, just like I always wanted to." She took the ring in both hands and looked at it like it were some ancient religious artefact that, after a lifetime of searching, only disappointed her expectations, cracking up into the most depressing laughter anyone had ever seen. "I'm actually going through with it. I'm actually spending the rest of my life with a man who means nothing to me." Rain pounded on without any sympathy or restraint, thunder again shaking the ground and all that stood upon it. Quickly, her eyes narrowed and, in a fist, plunged the ring deep inside her pocket once more. "Now do you see why I can't do this?!" she yelled, fuelled once more to an enraged and despondent frame of mind, hurriedly clambering to her feet and standing up. "I've devoted every ounce of my life and almost killed myself in doing so just trying to get this far and I'm not about to let my feelings for you fuck this up!"

A bitter, strained snicker that sounded more like a sneer. "And you have the nerve to tell me to follow my heart? You're telling me not to be with someone I don't love?" she heard the younger girl get up and felt her presence approaching behind her, staying completely still in her spot even though her body protested to their close proximity, aware of the tremors in a fearful voice she knew would be screaming and weeping when her final hopes were crushed under a stiletto heel in only a few minutes' time. "What about you?" a pair of arms encircled her waist baring a mix of compassion and selfish worry, holding her back; preventing the object of her affections from walking away – although she couldn't feel mad with her for responding to her own needs and hurt because they were both being selfish by that point. "Don't you deserve to be happy too?" lips relentlessly consumed her neck, grazing every inch of skin they could find there whilst her embrace forcefully bound them together.

She hated her body for leaning back into the ravishing kisses instead of struggling against her simple touch, but put up no resistance, moaning and tilting her head back, exposing more of her vulnerable throat to those teeth and staring up into the open, stormy sky. Her hands caressed the arms that trapped her, yearning to feel them pinning her down, exploring her everywhere and yet so sure she should be prying them off, knocking them away rather than urging them on. "I can't." Barely a whimper left her, but they were so near that it was still clear and prominent over the aggressive vehemence of tyrannic bolts of light. "I'm not strong enough."

"Yes you are." Teeth bit into her earlobe in the midst of a low, possessive growl, but Ashley wasn't as certain as she sounded or wanted to be in taking all she ever wanted while she still had the chance, and Madison knew it. Tears slid down onto her neck and collar, innocent and ineffectual drops against her skin, but she knew it couldn't just be from the weather because those few, melancholy splashes were warm whereas the rain, in contrast, felt colder than ice. "Take what you want." Maybe she was desperate to make something beautiful and right happen on that dismal morning, or perhaps she wanted to extract some retribution for all the hatred and heartbreak she was about to relive to an even worse extent than ever previously by taking control and power over her in a way that lasted forever. Irrespective of the reason, her hand wandered lower, straying beneath the barrier of fabric and daring to invade her jeans.

Her nails scratched at the arms mastering her in sightless passion, objections swirling in a dizzying spin which she was sure would tip her off-balance and make her faint if it continued. "I'm not strong enough." The older girl insisted, a little bit firmer than before, arching into the fingers splaying and stroking inside her pants, pressed so tightly against a place she thirsted for her to penetrate and feel and bestow with physical worship and ecstasy. If she weren't so weak, would they already be together or would she be more disciplined in her act and have simply avoided this encounter in the first place? Could she live with either? "I don't know what I want." Her eyes fluttered shut and her head rolled to the side, releasing a soft moan as a bruising mark was eased onto her flesh.

Through the thin material of her underwear, she brushed the sensitive tip at the apex of her thighs with her forefinger, causing Madison's breath to hitch in a sudden gasp. "You want me." Said Ashley, sneaking her other hand upwards along her stomach and underneath her shirt and jumper, invigorated as every muscle tensed in sequence when she gradually dragged her touch higher. "If you didn't, then you wouldn't have kissed me." Another clap of thunder swallowed the quietly uttered reaction as she cupped her crotch and nibbled a path back towards her jaw. If she drove her wild enough and showed her how she felt – in the only way she knew how to express it and through the only sort of affection she'd been taught – then she might stay, even for a little while. "You don't have to be strong or brave; I can do that enough for the both of us." It didn't come across as convincing as she would have liked, considering her speech was choked up with tears and anxiety, but she wanted her so much more than even her music could describe.

Apparently, the third time was indeed the charm because she finally managed to pull away and, at last, freed herself from the captivity of temptation incarnate. "What part don't you understand, freak?!" she spun around and glared at Ashley – thankful for the renewed distance between them, if also quite a notable amount colder in the absence of her warmth – and accidentally let the usual demeaning term slip before she realised it was coming, though not so modest as to retract it. "I am not fucking strong enough!" they didn't even care that the rain was starting to ease up and dwindle in volume. Despite her yelling and anger, Madison learned that she was right and, indeed, there were signs of crying in the dark brown eyes a few feet away. However, sympathy was not an applicable reaction. "Why do you think I live the way I do, huh?! For money? For popularity? Hell no!" her words were synchronised with a couple of somewhat erratic gestures, which always meant she was heading towards an impassioned argumentative point, the likes of which kept her awake at night and cut her deeply when no one understood it. "I do it because I'm too weak to handle being anything less than perfect or what I'm expected to be!"

Waves crashed against rocks further out at sea, sounding as poignant as the earlier pandemonium now that everything was clearer and lighter. Ashley shook her head slowly because she couldn't honestly reconcile the idea of weakness with Madison in any of the ways she knew her. "But you are perfect." She brushed the blurring collection of salty tears from her vision and took a cautious step forward as she began, pausing when she saw the older girl back away, keeping their separation unchanged. She sighed and involuntarily shuddered from the cold wind blowing on her wet skin. "It wouldn't matter how you lived your life or where you found your happiness or even if you were in your darkest hour," her lips trembled, teeth gently chattering, "You could never be anything other than strong or perfect."

The sheet of darkness and grey thinned out, returning colour to the world in between long, crystal particles that floated in the breeze. Madison stared without moving an inch and, steadily, seemed to calm down over the next few moments, perhaps finding it pointless to be so harsh and angry with someone whose love she was, again, rejecting and she was also betraying however much mutual trust was resurrected since they first met eyes that morning. As well as all that, pretending she didn't feel the same way or similar was fairly superfluous by that stage and it genuinely hurt to treat her with such malice, particularly when she wasn't fighting back with equal vigour. She didn't want to leave Ashley, especially not like this, but she had to. Why didn't she get that?

"You really are sweet, you know that? But it isn't true." The sand at her feet bore indentations of hard raindrops and puddles or small holes with smoothed edges where their footprints were left. Several deep breaths flowed in and out of her chest, lightning flickering in the background over the heavens at some time during her inner-monologue and rapid personality shifts that were left up for the imagination to assume that they ever existed. "People think…that…striving to be something better than what they are is a hard thing to do…maybe even impossible…" she brushed some wet hair behind her ear, only to have the wind blow it out of place again, searching for the words inside her head. "But, really, it is so much easier to be what everyone else wants and what we're supposed to be…," a humourless chuckle and a morose smile, "Than accepting who we truly are, including all the bad parts, and having to cope with the fact that a lot of people aren't going to like us…"

She trailed off into the ambience, waiting in silence as the ocean swept up whatever remained of Ashley's hope and faith that the world and gods were giving her a chance. Shivers continued to course throughout her body, running rampant like hoons on the streets at midnight, but the temperature was not their cause. "That's it?" she asked, raising her shoulders and letting them fall again pathetically, surrendering in advance to the defeat she knew awaited her around the corner, and it didn't have a trace of victory in its jaws. If she had anything more to say, her voice failed her, because not a further word was uttered to elaborate on the empty resolution.

A lone ray of sunlight emerged from the black shroud covering the sky, the two girls falling under its illuminated streak and gazing into sparks of the rainbow spectrum when it scattered on the surface of doomed liquid. Madison wanted to dart across the space cutting them down the middle onto two sides of the beach, so far away from each other, hold her tightly and tell her everything that was true – how many of her dreams and thoughts she would continue to inhabit, all the sins she was so scared to confess, that she hoped one day she might be a little bit stronger just so their romance could have a chance, why she really pushed away when she first shared her secret and, most of all, speak what summed up the vast scope of her feelings in one simple but oh so very complex word – but did nothing.

"Yeah," she nodded, keeping her expression blank and trying with little success to do the same with her mind, because she couldn't help but wonder how the forlorn song would sound when Ashley let her music suffer as the expression of all that just happened on a stage somewhere – perhaps a thousand stages ranging from secluded to infamous – with only a guitar and her voice to paint the masterpiece into minds all over the world, "That's it." Her stomach churned in nausea as she grasped the finality and impact of what she was about to do. The ring in her pocket burned like holy water on a person under demonic possession. She hated herself. It was no exaggeration; hatred, with potent and unbridled loathing. But there was another villain gnawing at the back of her mind as well and this thief was the one who was going to steal the centre of all her desires and take the girl Madison was meant to be with, maybe forever. "You shouldn't stay with Spencer," she muttered as she turned around, her back a shadow silhouetted in the faint sunlight, "Find someone better; don't become like me."

Unable to stay any longer without forfeiting her own sanity, she headed off for home. The inner-voices were kicking and screaming and crying and sitting in the corner in absolute silence, dead inside, flooding her senses and carrying her mind away to a world of depression, regret and what-ifs. Her eyes were out of focus and everything around her faded away, smearing as she wandered blindly or muffling into deafness, with her legs pumping automatically and moving beyond her awareness. "You bitch!" Madison stumbled and came to an immediate halt when Ashley's shout struck through her core like a rusted blade. But she didn't look back and swiftly resumed in exit.

She left her standing on the beach, broken hearted, collapsing onto her knees, her body racking in sobs and fitful shivers, yelling out in a grievous wail of anguish, and yet so sure nobody was around to hear it. Alone. So wrapped in solitude and alienated from humanity.

"You fucking bitch!" the rain continued to fall all around her – perhaps the sky took pity on her and cried for her sorrow – and she punched at the ground as though it mocked her, despite knowing it was futile. Soaking sand was cold against her palms, but the rest of her body was numb. She knew…She knew it was going to hurt…How could she have been so stupid? Why had she bothered to come out that morning? "I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!" One hand reached into her pocket, grabbed aimlessly at her pen and hurled it away into nowhere. She longed for something substantial to throw; an object to break and launch against a wall, but her only worldly possession was her guitar, and she could never harm her only friend, not when she needed it most. There was no one. Her realm was empty and lonely, as she'd feared for so long. It was all too hard to handle, and she didn't give a fuck how wretched she looked, spluttering and breathless as dawn gradually lifted the darkness sheltered within clouds, but the shadows refused to disengage from her draining dreams. Water dripped from her clothes and skin, catching between eternity and the speed of light in suspended animation. "I love you…"

And she wept on her hands and knees for the love of her life. Her first. Her last. Her only. Again, she had broken her heart. She didn't know whether to regret that morning or savour it and thus she chose neither. She hated it and despised it with every fibre of her being.

Alone. Forever and always. It became clear; she was destined to be by herself.

You are on your own again killing time.

Part 2

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