DISCLAIMER: Oops, knew I was forgetting something on my other stories. Not mine, never were. If they were I would not be working in the jewelry section at your local Wal-Mart, bored to tears and I would have found another station to sell it to, even if it meant starting my own. Can you see it now? I'd get Melissa Etheridge and her friends to provide financial backing (if they would) and start a whole new network to save the good shows that WB and the other idiot networks throw out. Leftover TV, a division of Lifetime. :::snicker::::
AUTHOR'S NOTE: OK, I started this one on 7/25 with no idea what I was doing. I still have no idea what I'm doing, but anyway. It's different than Kimber's snippet that I finished and Just an Observation because Sam and Brooke don't argue as much in this one. Also, since presently I change watch batteries and bands for a living (snore, snooze) I have no background in anything medical other than the sticky side of a Band-Aid goes down so, I probably got some stuff wrong, sorry. I bent the rules of reality to fit my story, it's not like the writer's of Popular never did the same. ;)
Although I did draw on a little personal experience involving a stroke victim I knew. Anyhow, to make a long story short, I'm sorry if some of my facts are wrong, if any of them are glaringly physically wrong or impossible, let me know and I'll fix them and repost with a huge apology. Other than that, I think I've babbled long enough and teased you with this monstrosity for long enough as well. Enjoy.
P.S.: Oh, look, I humanized Nicole, somewhat. Sorry, must be head trauma I am unaware of. Forgive me. (VBEG)
P.P.S.:(God, do I ever shut up?) I have nothing against cheerleaders, I had several in friends in high school who were and I happen to be a Melissa Etheridge fan so no one take any comments the wrong way.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Strange Road to Salvation
By Aeryn Sun


Part One


It is said that in times of violent accidents time slows down for those witnessing it. It is also said that these events happen with an acutely crystal sense of clarity. That became painfully clear to Sam as she followed Brooke out through the lobby of the building. Things had just gone downhill so quickly that she'd been unable to stop it. It was like a snowball rolling down a hill gathering speed and more snow about to collide with a brickwall and destroy them all. As much as she and Brooke fought most of the time, this was too much. She couldn't just let Brooke rush out upset like that. They'd come too far in their relationship and she truly cared for her soon-to-be stepsister. Very deeply, in fact.

Sam was upset with herself for hurting Brooke with this stupid game she was playing with Harrison. And if she was truthful, that's what it was too, a game. Something to compete with Brooke for; something to beat Brooke at. They may have come far in their relationship and gotten beyond their outright hatred but they both still enjoyed a good verbal fracas with the other from time to time. And Sam couldn't resist the chance to one-up Brooke any chance she got. In that respect, Sam was still a nine-year-old on the school playground involved in a twisted game of tag. And Sam hated to lose.

But this time she'd gone too far and she knew it. The look on Brooke's face when Harrison gave them his decision was enough to destroy that little kick Sam got from winning. She saw the hurt and the betrayal splashed across Brooke's face and realized that maybe it wasn't a game. Maybe Brooke really wanted Harrison as more than a friend and Sam had just taken him away. (Way to go Sam!) She berated herself as she chased after Brooke. Her little exchange with Brooke as they exited the building left her confused and bewildered. But as she hit the night air, time slowed down and everything snapped into painful focus.

She saw Brooke run into the street. She saw the headlights of the car bearing down on Brooke as the girl just stood there frozen with fear and shock. If you had asked her and she had the time to answer you, Sam could have told you the make and model and color of the car. She could have told you how the headlights gleamed off of the jewelry Brooke wore and how wide Brooke's eyes had become. She also, somewhat belatedly, could see who was driving although her brain didn't make the immediate connection. All she could see was that the car was bearing down on Brooke with frightening speed and the other girl seemed unable to move. She noticed all of this even as adrenaline pumped through her veins and her legs propelled her forward as a cry born of fear escaped her lips.

"Brooke! No!" Sam's cry seemed to free Brooke from the frozen stupor she was momentarily stuck in and she screamed as she threw her hands up in defense. She turned to see Sam barreling towards her just as the speeding car came upon her. She felt the full-on body check Sam gave her and felt herself falling painfully onto the asphalt a few feet away. She watched in utter horror as the car struck Sam, who was not able to get out of the way in time. Now it was Brooke's turn to watch events unfold in aching clarity.

The sights and sounds of this night were going to haunt Brooke for the rest of her life. She knew that somewhere in the back of her mind, as she could do nothing but sit and watch events now. Time seemed to stop for one heart wrenching second and her eyes met Sam's. She could see the apology written in Sam's deep brown eyes as the car hit her but Brooke didn't have time to understand what it meant as time returned to normal.

Brooke watched as the car struck Sam on her side and sent her flying heavily into the hood. Her head impacted with the windshield with a sickening crack, shattering the glass. She slid off the hood and fell to the roadway before rolling limply to a stop a few feet away. Brooke barely noticed that the car had skidded into a lamppost further down the road as she scrambled to Sam's side.

Blood was pouring freely from numerous visible wounds and Brooke shuddered to think about the internal damage that common sense told her Sam had suffered. Reaching out a shaking hand, she checked Sam's neck for a pulse and found one faintly pulsing beneath her fingers. Releasing the breath she'd unconsciously been holding, she tore off a piece of her dress and used it to put pressure on a nasty gash across Sam's forehead. She repeated the process a few times on Sam's arms and legs to stem the bleeding, all the while talking gently to the unconscious girl.

"That was pretty stupid, Sam, jumping in front of that car like that. Not that I don't appreciate it, because I do, believe me, I do. But, oh God, Sam, risking your life for mine? That was kind of stupid."

"Brooke? Oh, God Sam! Brooke, what happened?" Harrison asked after coming out a few minutes later when he heard the commotion outside. Brooke never looked up from her administrations.

"Car came at me, Sam pushed me out of the way. Have you called 911?" she asked calmly as she brushed some hair away from Sam's still face. Harrison was surprised at how calm Brooke was as she continued to take care of Sam. The sight of Sam lying there so still and obviously gravely injured nearly made him physically sick.

"Yeah, I called as soon as I saw someone was hit. They'll be here any minute, Brooke. How is she?" Brooke shook her head and sighed.

"Bad, Harrison. But she's holding on. Can I have your jacket?" He silently took off his jacket and she draped it over Sam who was starting to stir.

"Uugg…Br…Brooke?" she gasped as her eyes opened fractionally and tried to focus as she struggled to move.

"Right here, Sammy, easy, don't move," Brooke answered with a wide but sad smile. Sam's eyes fluttered before settling on Brooke for a moment and then closing again. She seemed to relax when she saw Brooke was there.

"You…OK?" Sam asked between shuttering gasps. Brooke looked at her worriedly. There was a trickle of blood coming from Sam's mouth that was steadily getting worse. Evidence of those internal injuries Brooke had been worried about.

"I'm fine, Sam, thanks to you. You saved my life. How do you feel? Ambulance in on the way so don't worry," she rambled, trying to reassure her stepsister. Sam frowned in pain.

"Hurts…cold…" Sam shuddered. Brooke tucked the jacket in tighter around Sam's shoulders and brushed her cheek. There was barely a spot on Sam's face that wasn't either covered in blood or dirt but Brooke didn't care. She just wanted Sam to keep breathing. (Please, God let her hold on)

"It's OK, Sam. We'll get you to a hospital and you'll be fine," Brooke wished she felt half as sure as she sounded. But she wasn't. Sam was starting to shake and Brooke didn't know if it was from shock or blood loss or both. She could hear the sirens in the distance. "Hear that, Sam? They're almost here so hang on a bit longer. Hey, Harrison?" Harrison walked closer again.

"Yeah, Brooke?" he asked quietly. His stomach was turning as he watched one of his childhood and best friends lie on the pavement possibly dying. He was powerless to do anything and it was twisting him inside.

"The car is over there. Find the driver. I want to know who did this," Brooke said in a voice so full of anger and rage that it frightened Harrison. He had never, EVER heard her speak in such a voice. It sounded alien coming from her.

"Brooke, I…"

"Do it, Harrison!" Brooke commanded with such venom that Harrison jumped and walked briskly over to the oddly familiar car. As he got closer to the vehicle, he realized why he recognized it.

"Jesus, it's Nicole's car," he swore to himself. Not wanting to believe his eyes, Harrison looked into the car and saw Nicole's unconscious form slumped over the deflated airbag. He reached in and checked for a pulse and found it going strong.

"I don't know if that's a good thing for you given the way Brooke just acted, Nic," Harrison told her rather angrily. He sniffed the air and his anger rose. "Christ, are you drunk?" Unable to keep speaking to a sleeping figure, he slapped her, not too lightly. Nicole's head snapped up and her eyes fluttered open.

"Huh? Wha…?" Nicole slurred drunkenly as she reached up to wipe at the blood from a small cut on her forehead. She looked at the blood on her fingers in confusion and then at Harrison. "What're you doin' here, loser?" she spat.

"Damn you, Nicole. Damn you to Hell! Do you have ANY idea what you have done?" he screamed at her. Nicole blinked owlishly at him for a second. Then images of running Brooke down with her car ran through her alcohol-fogged mind and she couldn't surpress a giggle.

"Playing `Frogger' with Brookie? It's just a dream, Harrison. Why are you here anyway? Go away," Harrison opened the car door and roughly pulled Nicole out, not caring if she was actually hurt. "What are you doing, you psycho? Let go of me!" Nicole protested as Harrison dragged her over to the scene of her carnage.

"It wasn't a dream, Nicole. Look. Look at what you've done!" he screamed at her when they reached where Brooke still sat cradling Sam who was semi-conscious. Nicole looked at the bloodied form of her most hated enemy and her best-friend (former) sitting next to her.

"Aw, I missed Brookie and hit Spam instead. Not bad for a consolation prize," Nicole snickered. "Heh heh, Spam went splat!" Brooke looked up in shock and then stared speechless.

"It was Nicole, Brooke," Harrison said needlessly. "She's drunk and thinks this is a dream." Brooke nodded and carefully laid Sam back on the ground before she stood up to face her would-be-killer. She looked the still giggling girl up and down in distaste as if seeing her for the first time. Before Harrison or Nicole knew what was happening, Brooke pulled back and punched Nicole so hard in the jaw that Nic went flying to the ground in pain.

"OW! Jesus!" Nicole exclaimed in pain as she held her throbbing jaw. All thought that this was an alcohol-induced hallucination vanished with Brooke's action and the realization that this was real chilled Nicole to her core. She looked up at the person who was once the best friend she ever had and saw only hate and rage staring back at her.

"Not so funny now, is it, Nic?" Brooke growled. Nicole shook her head mutely. She'd never seen Brooke so angry or known her to hit anyone, aside from the story of the once she slapped Spam. Sobriety sped up behind Nicole and slammed into her as she realized exactly what she had done. She scrambled to her feet and looked back at Sam as Brooke sat back down and the ambulance pulled up.

"Oh, my God, what have I done?" Nicole whispered in utter horror. The paramedics began to treat Sam and Brooke turned her attention back to Nicole.

"Let me tell you a few things, Nicole," she started, her voice startingly calm. It reminded Nicole of those few minutes right before a massive thunderstorm when the wind stops, there are no birds or anything else disturbing the air and everything is just still. It was scary to hear the sound coming from the usually vibrant Brooke but she listened intently. "First off, let me tell you that no matter what happens, I will never forgive you for this. I know you were aiming for me and if it weren't for Sam, I'd probably be dead now. But that's besides the point." She took a step closer to Nicole who unconsciously took a step back.

"I think you should know that I am going to dedicate every moment I have that I don't spend helping Sam recover making sure that you get EXACTLY what you deserve. And if, God forbid, Sam doesn't make it, there won't be anywhere you can go or anything you can do that is going to stop me from making you pay." Finished, she walked back over to the paramedics, leaving Nicole with Harrison. Nicole wasn't sure what scared her more; the threat itself or the fact that Brooke's voice never changed the entire time she spoke.

Harrison watched in silence as Brooke handed down her sentence to Nicole and was just as scared as Nicole was. He had also never seen such rage and hatred come from the normally kind and gentle cheerleader. Brooke was known for her understanding and ability to forgive. And while he understood why Brooke would be upset, Nicole had just tried to run her down and nearly killed Sam by the look of it, the depth of the emotions seemed somehow out of place.

Sure, Sam was going to be Brooke's stepsister and the two were growing closer but, Brooke was acting, odd, and Harrison just couldn't put his finger in it. There was a long-standing history between Brooke and Sam and most of it wasn't good. And then there was this whole thing between them involving him. That was bound to cause even more friction between the two girls. But while he knew Brooke would never want to see harm come to anyone, even Sam, he couldn't wrap his mind around her overly hostile reaction to Nicole. Anger and outrage he would have expected, outright blinding rage and wrath was a little over the top. He was then distracted when he saw a police officer approaching.


"Excuse me, I'm Officer Bennett. Can either of you tell me what happened here tonight?" Nicole heard the cop and looked at Harrison who looked back at her expectantly. She knew he was waiting for her to say something. The greedy, self-preservist side of herself was screaming at her to walk away but the other half was yelling to do the right thing and it had been a while since she'd last heard from that other half. She heard Brooke's words echoing over and over inside her mind and realized that for once, the great Nicole Julian didn't have a way out of a mess of her own creation. She couldn't shift the blame to anyone else like Mary Cherry or Sugar Daddy. She couldn't say she did it out of anger at Sam or…(Oh, God, Sam! What have I done? ) She repeated her earlier question.

True she never really liked the would-be-journalist and the girl's unique brand of vitriol but Nicole had to admit the girl was something unique herself. No matter how many doors were slammed in her face or how many times she was put upon or pushed down, Sam never seemed to get anything more than a ding or a scratch in her paint. If a door shut, Sam opened a window or made her own door and even Nicole had to admire that. And she did, not that she would admit it if you ever asked. Sam was brave and had a sort of courage most people only read about. She just kept plugging along, going after the things she believed in and not backing down or compromising her convictions. And now Nicole had gone and probably killed her. (Oh, God, what do I do now?) Nicole took a deep breath and grew up.

"I was upset and got drunk. Took my car out. Then I saw Brooke McQueen and tried to run her down. Sam McPherson pushed her out of the way so I hit her instead," she confessed softly to Officer Bennett. Harrison gaped at her in shock. Officer Bennett shook his head.

"Did I hear you correctly Miss…?"

"Julian. Nicole Julian and yes, I'd like to make a total and complete confession. I want a blood alcohol test done now, be checked out because I crashed my car over there," she pointed at the wreckage of her car, "and then I'll go with you to the station."

"Nicole," Harrison started. He couldn't believe his ears. Nicole Julian, who always blamed everyone else for her mistakes, was taking full responsibilty for the worst one of her young life. She turned and looked at him with a small smile.

"Yeah, I know. Who'd have thought, right? Me, doing the Spike Lee `Do the right thing' crap. I'm obviously drunk and not in my right mind. I must have hit my head pretty hard," she paused and became serious. "Harrison, look, I know I have no right to ask but, would you do one thing for me?" Still in shock, Harrison nodded.

"Thanks, keep an eye on Brooke for me, would you? I know I can never fix this, God help me, but I can at least do this. I can admit that I did this. But Brooke is going to need someone to help her through it. God help us all if Sam doesn't make it." Harrison stared at her for a second like she'd grown a second head and she sighed.

"Look, hate me if you want to, that's nothing new. Now I've really given you a reason to, but please, just be there for the both of them. That's all I'm asking."

"Sure, Nicole. You know, you almost seem human," he told her humorlessly. She smiled with just as much humor.

"Thanks, Harrison. And please let everyone know how truly sorry I am for what I've done," She turned back to the police officer and held out her hands. "Book me, Danno."

Brooke stood by as the paramedics placed Sam in a c-collar and on a backboard as they treated what injuries they needed to before moving her. She was still semi-conscious, trying to answer questions when asked and calling for Brooke when the other girl lost her grip on her hand. Brooke felt it was a special kind of torture to see the kind of pain Sam was in and not be able to do anything about it.

"Brooke…" Sam called weakly as a sudden fit of coughing overcame her. Brooke watched in horror as blood poured more freely from Sam's mouth. She grasped Sam's hand tightly.

"Right here, Sammy, I haven't gone anywhere. Hang on, OK?" her calm from earlier was beginning to give way to bubbling panic. Sam visibly relaxed.

"Tell Mom I'm sorry," Sam whispered. Brooke fought down the rising panic that those words stirred within her.

"Sam, don't. You're going to be fine," she watched as Sam gave her a weak wry smile.

"Liar. You…suck…at lying," Sam managed to tease as she weakened further.

"Excuse us, miss, but we have to be going," a paramedic told Brooke gently. Sam gripped Brooke's hand as tightly as she could.

"Please…please don't leave me…" she begged. "I'm scared." Brooke felt the tears finally being to course down her cheeks at the fraility in Sam's voice.

"I'm not going anywhere, Sweetie," Brooke reassured her. She looked around for Harrison and found him standing awkwardly a few feet away.

"Harrison, please call our parents and have them meet us there. Then call the gang. We're going to need all the support we can get, OK?" Harrison nodded.

"Anything, Brooke, we'll meet you there," he told her confidently, somewhat sorry that he couldn't go with them but honored and humbled that she was trusting him with the important job of calling everyone. He knew it wouldn't be easy and he immediately decided that he would go straight over to the McQueen's house to tell them. There was no way he could tell them this over the phone. Brooke spared him a small smile.

"Thanks," she said as he watched the doors close and the bus pull away. Left alone in the street for a few minutes, Harrison took in the scene around him. There were spectators on the street with him, oggling the carnage like vultures and it pissed him off. There were scraps of clothes and bandages soaked in blood left on the ground and it took the remainder of his composure not to retch as the reality of the situation came home. He shook off his anger and disgust and the last thing he saw as he turned to leave was Nicole in handcuffs, being read her rights at a nearby squad car. Idly he wondered exactly how many lives had just been destroyed in one single instant.


Sam lost consciousness on the way to the hospital and Brooke was scared. She had no illusions about how bad Sam's injuries were, she knew enough from both her and Harrison's time in the hospital to know bad when she saw it. There was just so much blood. (How can so much blood come from such a small person) she wondered to herself. (And how could she lose that much and still live?) The very thought of losing Sam was nearly enough to destroy the small measure of control Brooke still had over her turbulant emotions.

Growing up, she and Sam were never friends. Enemies would be too soft a word. Archenemies, nemesis, whatever you called it, they never traveled in the same circles and never got along. She never understood what it was that kept them at arm's length but there was always a wall between them, either of their own creation or something elses. They both let whatever it was run their lives when there was a pretty good chance that they could have gotten along. But it was easier to hate each other than to undo years of history. And then to Brooke it was like her world collapsed in on itself when her father announced he was involved with Sam's mother Jane. That was it, her life was over because now she was going to have to put up with and, (Jesus Christ, are you kidding?), live with her worst enemy. Sam had always been out to destroy or hurt her, in Brooke's opinion. How was she supposed to live with that?

But little by little, as time wore on and they both realized that the thing between their parents wasn't going to go away, they got to know each other, albeit reluctantly at first. Brooke discovered that Sam wasn't just a cold-hearted, out-for-a-story reporter, and that there was genuine warmth and feeling underneath the kind of detacted and aloof front that Sam presented. And Brooke discovered that the death of Sam's father was one of the reasons the girl held herself a bit apart from those around her. Sam was hurt very deeply by the loss and never fully recovered from it. Brooke was beginning to see past the defenses Sam had built to prevent people from getting too close and she liked what she saw, probably more than she should.

Lately Brooke was finding more and more of her time being consumed by thoughts of her soon-to-be stepsister, and they weren't entirely sisterly thoughts either. No, most of her thoughts lately would definitely qualify her for a special episode of Jerry Springer before they'd qualify for her for anything else. `Formerly Straight Cheerleaders Now in Love with Their Straight Journalist Stepsisters-How Does Their Family Deal with It? How Do the Girls Deal with It? And Can She Still Be a Cheerleader? Next on Jerry Springer.'

(Now there's an episode Mary Cherry'd watch) Brooke scoffed to herself as she clutched Sam's frighteningly cold hand in her own. She stroked the back of Sam's hand with her thumb as she prayed to any God that would listen to help Sam through this. Not for her own selfish reasons, although they did factor in, but for the rest of the family too.

"Hang in there, Sammy," Brooke whispered, unconsciously still using an affectionate form of Sam's name. "Think about Mom and Dad, OK, Mike to you. He doesn't mind that, really. He understands. Think about little MacKenzie. I need you to help me be a big sister to her. I don't know what I'm doing. We helped bring her into this world, Sam, you can't check out on me now, OK?" The paramedic sitting nearby put his hand on her shoulder in support as she started to sob. Brooke looked up into his sympathetic green eyes and he smiled.

"She's holding her own, miss. Don't count her out. She's your sister?" Brooke nodded and smiled fondly at the unconscious girl.

"Soon to be step sister, yeah. We have a new baby sister at home and I need Sam to help me with her," Brooke explained in between tears. The paramedic nodded in understanding.

"Look, I won't lie to you. Your sister's in rough shape but the fact that she was conscious for as long as she was and is holding on now tells me that she's a fighter. Hold on to that. I know it's a cliché, and a bad one at that but it really does mean something when someone fights this hard. I've been around long enough to know." Brooke reached up and wiped away her tears with her free hand.

"Thanks," she said simply, somehow feeling a little better. She turned her attention back to the unconscious brunette lying in front of her. More and more often of late, Brooke found herself lost in thought about Sam and everything about her from her hair and eyes to her voice, laugh, and personality. It was becoming increasingly clear to Brooke that her feelings for Sam were getting very complicated. Not just because of their familial situation, which was bound to make things awkward for her to say the least if Sam ever found out, but also because she was pretty darn sure Sam was straight.

(Why can't anything in my life be easy?) Brooke thought to herself as the ambulance hit a bump. (Of all the people in the world to fall head over heels for, it had to be Sam. I should have picked someone more attainable like Cindy Crawford or Gwynth herself) she laughed silently. (I'd have a better chance with either of them than I ever will with sweet, straight Sam)

Her relationship with Josh had been nice but it had always lacked something vital, something she could never seem to put into words. With Josh, Brooke always felt like she was there because it was her obligation as head cheerleader to date him. He was a nice, sweet guy and all and she really had cared for him but he didn't make her feel the way she felt she should have if she was truly in love. But the way she felt whenever Sam was near; her legs turned to jelly, her stomach did flip-flops and she got light headed all in a positive way. That was how she thought she should have felt with Josh. There was a passion involved with Sam that she lacked with Josh. It was evident in their fights. And it was like nothing she ever experienced before.

It had confused her at first, when she realized that her former rival and her father's fiancee's daughter were causing the feelings. What was it about the girl that wound her up like a brand new Christmas toy? Maybe it was the unflinching way Sam approached everything in her life or the way she refused to be unswayed or detered in her journey for the truth, even her own slightly sckewered version of it.

Maybe it was the quiet vulnerablity hidden underneath the strong front the girl presented. Brooke had spent her entire life trying to live up to the ideals others had set out in front of her while Sam did her own thing and Brooke envied that. Maybe it was the big brown eyes that exuded warmth and mischief or the long brown hair that hung around Sam's shoulders like a soft security blanket just waiting for Brooke to wrap herself in, but whatever it was Brooke had fallen and fallen hard. And she really wasn't sure she minded anymore.

So here she was, holding the alarmingly still hand of the one person she didn't have to pretend around, the one person she felt free and truly relaxed around and praying not to lose her just as she realized how deeply she cared for and needed her. (Just hang on a little longer, Sammy, please)


The ride to the hospital felt like it took a lifetime when in reality only a few minutes passed. Brooke stood to the side out of the way as Sam was wheeled into the Emergency Room and suddenly swarmed by awaiting doctors. She hated letting go of Sam's hand feeling somehow like by letting go she would lose her forever. She shifted from foot to foot and tried to get a look at what was going on around Sam but there was too much she didn't understand. As she stood there a little while later feeling lost and alone, she saw Mike and Jane come running through the Emergency Room doors towards her.

"Brooke! Good Lord, what's going on? Where's Sam?" Jane asked in a panicked rush. Mike put his hands on her shoulders to calm her. They could both see how shaken up Brooke was by the paleness of her features and the condition of her clothing. Her dress was ripped and stained in blood that was obviously not her own.

"Brooke, Harrison just came by the house and told us that you and Sam had been involved in an accident and to meet you here. What's going on?" Brooke looked at her father for a few minutes, trying to find the words to explain the horror of the nights events thus far. But she found that she was unable to speak. She opened and closed her mouth a few times before just shrugging and sitting down in a nearby chair and burying her head in her hands, her composure finally breaking down. Mike and Jane sat down next to her and let her cry for a few minutes.

"You're in shock, honey, it's OK. Harrison said something about Nicole trying to run you over and Sam getting hit instead. Is that true? Just nod or something if you can't speak," Mike said gently. Brooke nodded her head, not raising it from where it was hidden in her hands. She kept praying that this was a nightmare and someone was going to wake her up soon. She kept hoping Sam was going to walk into her room at any moment and jump on her bed and yell at her to wake up before she was late for school, anything but what was really happening.

"OK, God, I knew I should have bodily stopped Nicole when she came to the house tonight," Mike sighed painfully. Brooke looked up in confusion. "She came over to the house, obviously drunk and I thought I hid her keys from her while I called her mother. When I got back, she was gone. Oh, honey, I never thought…" Mike stopped unable to continue the thought.

"What about Sam, Brooke? Where is she?" Jane asked anxiously. Brooke looked at her fearfully, her stomach churning as she told Jane Sam's condition.

"She was hurt really bad, Mom," Brooke said quietly, finally able to speak again. She watched the remaining color drain from Jane's face. "They took her into surgery right before you got here. They said they couldn't wait for consent so I let them take her. Oh, God, I'm so sorry, Jane, it should have been me!"

"What do you mean?" Jane asked between tears as she hugged the upset teen.

"Nicole was aiming for me and I froze when I saw the car. Sam didn't and pushed me out of the way, but she couldn't get herself out of the way in time. So Nicole hit her instead and if I hadn't gotten upset and run off like that in the first place it wouldn't have happened. And I never meant for it to happen and now everything's ruined and Sam might die and…" Brooke rambled on as the doors opened again and Harrison arrived with Lily, Josh, and Carmen in tow.

"What's going on? Is what Harrison said true, Brooke? Did Nic try to kill you?" Josh asked. Brooke, spent from her little rant and at the end of her emotional reserves could only nod in response.

"I'm going to find a doctor and see if I can find out about Sam's condition," Mike said as he got up and hugged Jane and Brooke. "And this isn't your fault, Brooke. It's Nicole's. Don't blame yourself." Again, Brooke only nodded.

"He's right," Jane said with a hug, "No one is going to blame you, Brooke. I don't and neither will Sam. So don't blame yourself."

"And don't worry about Sam, either. She's a tough cookie," Carmen pipped up, desperate to be helpful. "I'm sure she'll bounce right back in no time." Brooke shook her head sadly, a pitiful sob escaping her throat before she could stop it. She took a deep breath before trying to speak again.

"You didn't…you didn't see her, Carmen," Brooke said in a voice barely audible over the quiet din of the waiting room. "There was so much blood. Sam's blood. Oh, God," Brooke buried her head in her hands again and cried in earnest while curling herself into a ball in the chair. Her entire body shook with the force of her sobs. Jane rubbed her back as she too cried. No one knew what to say so silence stretched across the room until Mike returned a few minutes later with a solemn look on his face.

"She's in surgery now, Jane. It…it doesn't look good," he said sadly. Jane started crying harder and was joined by Carmen and Lily. "She was hit pretty hard according to the doctors. I hope you don't mind but I signed the papers for them to do what they have to." Jane nodded.

"OK," she sobbed. "I can't lose her. She's all I have of left of Joe. She's my first baby," she continued to cry. Mike enveloped her in a comforting hug.

"I know, I know, dear. But you have to believe that Sam will pull through this. We all have to," he looked into the grief stricken faces of the teens around him. "You all mean so much to Sam, and I can't thank you enough for being here for us right now."

"She means a lot to us, Mr. McQueen. There's no where else we'd rather be than here for Sam and you three," Carmen said as she regained some composure.

"Yeah, she's more than our friend, Mr. McQueen. You don't know us very well because you're Brooke's dad but Sam is our glue, the one that holds us together and without her we'd be lost," Lily explained as Josh held her. Jane smiled despite her tears.

"That's very sweet, Lily. I'm sure Sam would love to hear that," Jane said. Brooke nodded.

"It's true, Dad, I've seen it. The friendships these guys have with Sam are like nothing I have with any of my friends. It's really special."

"You're our friend too, Brooke," Harrison pointed out quietly. Lily and Carmen nodded.

"You bet, Brooke. See? Part of that is because you and Sam let that silly feud between you die, or least die down," Carmen laughed.

"Thanks you guys, that means a lot," Brooke smiled genuinely for the first time since being caught in Nicole's headlights earlier.

"I'm really glad that both our daughters have such kind and caring friends who are there for them when it really counts," Mike said gently, making all the teens blush slightly at the compliment. That being said, no one else had anything else to say so they all sat back and waited for word on Sam's condition and prayed.


"Family of Samantha McPherson?" the doctor asked a few hours later. Everyone stood up as one as Mike and Jane stepped forward with Brooke.

"That's us," Mike said, indicating, not only himself, Brooke and Jane, but also the group of teens in the room with them. "All of us, Doctor. These are her friends and we don't want to keep anything from them." The doctor looked at Mike dubiously for a moment before nodding.

"If you're sure?" he asked. Mike nodded.

"Yes, absolutely."

"Alright then. I'm Dr. Parker and I treated your daughter when she was brought in."

"How is she doctor?" Jane asked nervously. Dr. Parker ran his hand through his short brown hair and sighed.

"When she arrived here she was unconscious and suffering from extreme blood loss due to internal injuries," he started. Jane sat down heavily in a nearby chair with both Mike and Brooke on each side for support. Dr. Parker sat down across from them.

"I'm sorry, I should have warned you first to sit down. Hearing news like this is never easy." Dread and fear filled Brooke's chest and choked off her air as she tried to ask the next question.

"Is she…is she dead?" she asked her voice barely above a whisper as she stared at the floor, unable to meet the doctor's gaze. Dr. Parker reached out and placed his hand on her knee to get her attention.

"No," Brooke's head shot back up and she stared at the doctor. "She's alive and will be moved to the ICU shortly. However, she's not out of the woods yet." Brooke was too relieved that Sam was still alive to ask any more questions.

"What are her injuries?" Mike asked, taking control of the situation. This girl was another daughter to him and his guilt at letting Nicole out of his sight was eating him alive.

"I'll start with the most minor and therefore the easiest to treat. She sustained several lacerations that needed numerous stitches to be closed properly. Some may scar but can probably be fixed in time with cosmetic surgery. A cosmetic surgeon was called in to stitch any area that would show like the wound on her forehead. That should heal with minimal scarring."

"Her right arm and ankle are broken but the breaks were clean and should heal with no problems. Her left knee was dislocated in the accident and has been stabilized."

"And these are the minor injuries? Jesus," Carmen whispered as Lily gave her a hug. The doctor nodded sympathetically.

"The rest of the news I have for you isn't as good," he looked at the group before him to make sure they were ready. He saw only the concerned faces of people who obviously cared for this girl very much and Dr. Parker was relieved because he knew that Sam McPherson was going to need all the help she could get.

"I'm not going to lie to you, your daughter's injuries were very severe. The car hit her in the side at such a speed that essentially it collapsed her ribcage on that side. The resulting fall from the crash caused various fragments of those bones to penetrate numerous tissues and organs, one of the worst of which was her liver. She suffered a substantial insult to her liver and blood loss due to internal hemorrhaging as a result. That alone would be enough to put her in the critical state she's in but she has other injuries to consider as well."

"Like what?" Josh voiced what everyone else was afraid to. A thick silence had fallen over all of them when the doctor had started to outline Sam's injuries. With every word he spoke, the reality of the situation became more and more solid to the assembled group. They weren't going to wake up to find this a horrible nightmare and Sam was obviously not leaving the hospital anytime soon.

Dr. Parker sighed; he really hated this part of his job. Telling anyone that their loved one was dead or dying was always hard but it was harder when the patient was as young as Sam or when the circumstances were as pointless as these were.

"As I said, her ribs were fractured and several pieces pierced her right lung causing it to collapse. We were able to repair that damage rather quickly. But that isn't what concerns me."

"Jesus, what else could there be?" Mike asked, rubbing Jane's back as she continued to cry softly. Brooke sat silently shaking and trying not to vomit as she realized Sam could still die. And that she herself almost did.

"I'm very sorry, your daughter suffered a skull fracture from when her head impacted with the car's windshield and is in a coma. I believe it's a combination of pressure on the brain caused the fracture and blood loss that resulted in lack of oxygen to the brain. We operated to relieve the pressure and all we can do now is wait and see how she does."

"Oh my God," Jane whispered not able to say anymore. Her baby, her first born and the only piece of her first husband she had left was lying in the hospital near death and she wasn't sure if she could handle it. If it wasn't for Mike's strong hand on her back and Brooke's hand in her own, Jane knew she would have fainted. As it was, Josh and Carmen were picking a lightheaded Lily up off of the floor. With a resigned sigh the doctor cleared his throat.

"Mr. and Mrs. McPherson?" Mike looked back at the doctor but didn't bother to correct him.

"Please tell me there isn't more," Mike practically begged. The doctor shook his head.

"I am truly sorry. Honestly, if that car had hit her straight on instead of in the side we wouldn't be having this conversation. I'd be directing you to our Chaplin right now. She wouldn't have survived if it had hit her at that speed at any other angle. It's a miracle she's made it this far."

"But," Mike prompted, just wanting to hear it and move on to helping Sam recover. And Mike vowed, for Jane and Brooke's sakes as well as his own, that she would recover.

"Unfortunately, even if she does wake up from the coma, and I can't give you any guarantees as to when, or even if, there's been some significant swelling around her spinal cord."

"What does that mean, Dr.?" Jane asked, already knowing and dreading the answer as time seemed to slow and the world stopped spinning.

"There may be some damage to her spinal chord. Until the swelling goes down and we can get a better look, we won't know for sure. But if there is damage, it could mean that even if she does survive, there's a good chance Samantha will never walk again."


Nightmares are never so vivid as when you're awake. At least that's what Brooke decided idly as she sat by Sam's bedside six days later. And that was what it this whole thing seemed to be to her too, a living nightmare. And she desperately wished someone would wake her the Hell up sometime soon because she felt like she was dying.

She held Sam's limp hand as she watched the ventilator pump air into Sam's collapsed lung and she listened to the somewhat reassuring beep of the heart monitor by Sam's head. Brooke both loved and loathed that damn machine. On one hand it told her Sam was still there, still holding on, however tenuously to life, but on the other hand it was a glaring reminder of the horrible, brutal reality they now lived with. It was killing her to see the normally spirited brunette lying there so pale and still.

"Come on, Sam, gotta wake up soon, everybody misses you," Brooke continued her self-appointed job of talking to Sam even though her voice had given out a few days earlier. She managed to either avoid school all together or got out early to stay at the hospital as much as possible. After the first few days, Mike and Jane realized that there was no detering Brooke from Sam's side. They barely got her to go home most of the time.

To Brooke, home was where she went to change her clothes, shower, and sometimes sleep if the hospital staff were being jerks and actually made her go home. But most of the time they didn't bother. They knew a futile battle when they saw one as well. She had a cot in Sam's room and they made sure she ate regularly. Besides, being home was too hard for Brooke because it was Sam's home too. Even though Sam and Jane had only moved in less than a year ago, Sam's influence was all over the house. Little knick-knacks, pictures from Sam's childhood, silly things would remind Brooke of something Sam said or did and it was like reliving that night all over again. So Brooke simply avoided home too.

The few times she did go home to sleep, she ended up in Sam's room, lying in her bed crying. The bed smelled of Sam and it was a comforting smell to Brooke. She decided that the hospital room was too antiseptic and brought a couple of Sam's favorite things over to make it more familiar for when Sam woke up. And Brooke had no doubt that she would. She brought in a blanket, Sam's favorite pillow, and a photo of Sam's dad, a radio and Sam's favorite CDs. Other than that Brooke couldn't think of anything else to do but talk. So she did, about everything.

She started by apologizing for the accident and promised to apologize again when Sam was conscious and vowed to somehow make it up to the comatose girl. Then she told Sam how she and Harrison had had a long talk about what happened between the three of them and how guilty the two of them felt and what Nicole had done. Brooke asked Sam if she knew that Nicole was the driver, and she figured, somehow, Sam did. She talked about their childhood, what she knew about Sam's at least and she opened up to Sam about her mother and why she like Jane so much and thanked Sam for being able to share such a wonderful mother.

She talked about Lily and Josh being married, (who smoked what and where?) Mary Cherry and B. Ho (Huh? That's a funny one, huh, Sam. Great material for the paper) and how George had had to transfer to yet another school because his parents were moving yet again. He'd been by to visit once but that was it. He apologized to Brooke but she just lit into him about everything, the way she felt he'd hurt Sam and he never came back. Brooke apologized to Sam about that (gotta watch my temper, huh, Sammy?).

"Anyway, Dad went back to work today. He wasn't happy about it but Mom and I insisted. Mom's at home taking care of Mac; she's got a little cold. Nothing to worry about though. She's fine. A little fighter; like her big sister Sam. Right, Sam?" Not really expecting an answer but kind of hoping, Brooke sighed in disappointment.

"Gotta tell you Sam, not liking this silent treatment thing you've got going on although it's nice to get a word in edgewise for a change. I never realized how much you monopolize conversations," she joked hoping for a challenge. Again she sighed disappointed. "Just kidding. I'd really love to hear your voice right now. Even if it was to yell at me for what's happened." She looked at the still figure beside her and figured she was in her own private Hell having to watch Sam like this. She wondered what she did to deserve it; maybe it was God's way of punishing her for her feelings for Sam. But she knew that she'd rather spend the rest of her days fighting with the sharp-tongued journalist than watch her wither away like this.

"Mom said she'll be by later after Carmen comes by to take care of Mac. Yup got us a regular little au pair with Carmen. Dad too, he'll be by after work I mean, not an au pair. Josh and Lily send their love but they have to go straight to work after school. Josh works at a record store and Lily got a job at Target, but I probably all ready told you that, huh? Sorry if I'm repeating myself. Anyway, Harrison will be by later, he's going to bring my schoolwork by. Can you believe we're almost senoirs? A few weeks more and summer'll be here. Although if you keep up with the Sleeping Beauty routine you'll end up a junior again. Can't let us all get ahead of you Sam, you'll never hear the end of it."

"Mary Cherry and her father, uhm, whatever, not even going to go there although I know you'd get a big laugh out of that one, are fighting Cherry Cherry for part of the Cherry-Estrada estate. Something about Sweet Honey Chile, yes that's his name, he's a drag queen Sam, you'd love it, sueing Cherry Cherry for like, half her earnings because he raised Mary Cherry's twin without child support. And, oh God, Mary Cherry's twin B. Ho. What a spaz! Although, the whole splitting of the egg and sperm thing sure explains a lot about Mary Cherry. Dip too many times in the gene pool and you're eventually going to bang your head on the shallow end." Brooke laughed but it came out as more of a sigh.

"I can almost hear you laughing but please, Sam, wake up soon so I can hear it for real. I've never seen you so still for so long, not even when you're sleeping," Brooke caught herself as she realized she just admitted to at some point in time watching Sam sleep and blushed despite the fact she was alone in the room.

"Not that I spend time watching you sleep or anything, because that would just be creepy, right? Aside from right now, that is. It's just, a few days before prom you fell asleep on the couch and I found you there all curled up and you looked so peaceful and cute and…" she caught herself again put her head in her free hand and sighed deeply.

"I'm pathetic, you know that? Well, of course you do, you've only spent you're entire life trying to point it out in some way or another. Not that I hold it against you or anything, cuz I don't. Bygones and all that. But here I am, watching you slip further and further away in your coma and I'm hitting on you, telling you how irresistiblely cute you are when you sleep. Utterly pathetic, Brooke," she chastized herself as she laid her head on the bed beside Sam.

"I'm so tired, Sam. I don't think I've had a decent night's sleep since you left. I keep reliving that awful moment. I miss you so much. I need you, Sammy. Please come back soon," Brooke asked as she drifted off to sleep.


Brooke suddenly found herself standing in the empty hospital room alone. There was an empty bed a few feet away but no machines chirping or beeping, no ventilator whirring and most importantly, no Sam. Terror lanced through her entire body, as she feared that Sam had died.

"Sam? Oh God, where are you Sam?" she called out to the empty room, unable to move as she was frozen in place by her fear.

"Sam's not here right now but I can take a message and maybe she'll get back to you. Although I wouldn't hold my breath," a soothing voice came from behind Brooke causing her to spin around. There stood a woman with long red hair and a kind face. It took a minute but after studying the person in front of her, Brooke realized who it was from Harrison's description. "You're, you're God," Brooke gasped in disbelief. God nodded.

"Yup. In the not so solid flesh, as it were. Have a seat, Brooke, we need to talk." Brooke sat down on the edge of the bed and faced God. She didn't know what to do, cry or laugh. (Harrison was right, how strange is that?)

"I called you here to talk, Brooke," God started.

"About Sam?" Brooke asked, afraid that God was going to tell her that Sam was going to die. God nodded.

"Yes, Sam. And a few other things too, but most importantly Sam. Do you know why I didn't appear to you that night Harrison tried to bring you to me?" Brooke shook her head. "Because you didn't need me. You had your guidance, your center, whether you realized it or not. You eventually swore over Harrison's frail and sick body to recover. I knew that you were going to be able to make the choice to recover on your own. Simply put, you didn't need me at that point in time."

"But I do need you now. Please don't let my Sammy die," Brooke begged near tears. Somewhere in her mind Brooke repeated the phrase `my Sammy' in confusion but ignored it for now. God held up her hand to silence the young girl.

"Believe it or not, the decision is out of my hands now," Brooke arched an eyebrow in question.

"You're God, how can it be out of your hands? You've `got the whole world in your hands'," Brooke pointed out using the lyrics to the old song. God smiled.

"Yes, I do. But I lost control of the situation the second Sam put herself in front of that car. You know what I love about humans, Brooke?" Brooke shook her head. "Free will. It is what sets you apart from everything else, the ability to make your own decisions. It's what makes you unique. It's also what makes you unpredictable and not a little uncontrollable at times. Sam chose to push you out of the way and get hit, I didn't make her do that."

"So I was supposed to die?" Brooke asked fearful. (Was God here to claim me?) God shook her head.

"Yes and no. I know the doctor said that no one would have survived being hit head on at that speed but I'm God, what does he know? This was meant to do several things. It was meant to strengthen your family and bring you together; it was to solidify your relationship with Sam only right now you have the roles reversed."

"Relationship? We're good friends now and I think we'll make great sisters," Brooke deflected the comment nonchalantly. God raised an eyebrow in the `Nice try' gesture and smiled.

"You know what I mean. You feel more for that girl than you think you should. More than the Bible says is right. Phoey. What does your heart tell you, Brooke? And don't embarrass yourself by trying to lie, I'm God, I made you. I'll know." Brooke took a deep breath, jumped off the edge and spoke her heart. She figured if she couldn't be honest with God, she had bigger problems than she thought.

"I think that love is colorblind, that's for sure. But I think it's gender blind too. I think that true love just is. It doesn't care what society or religion thinks or says is right, it only cares what your heart and soul tell you is right and what makes you feel complete."

"What I feel for Sam is different than what I've ever felt for someone before. I look forward to seeing her just to see her and how it makes me feel. I want to hear her talk to know what she thinks and what she feels. I don't care what we do when we're together just so long as she's there. I get excited just thinking about being near her and I look forward to just telling her about my day. I need to see her, hear her voice, her laugh, everything about her just fills me with this feeling I can't describe. I guess what I'm trying to say is that she makes me feel that no matter what else is wrong in my life, if she's there, everything is right. I love her with every fiber of my being and if that doesn't jive with society, tough." God smiled widely.

"Very well spoken, Brooke. I'm proud of you," Brooke blushed under the praise (this is God, after all) but then turned serious again.

"But what about Sam? Will she make it?" God sighed.

"I don't know. I know, not very reassuring to hear that from God, but what can I say? Sam holds her cards very close to her chest. She's a tricky one, that girl. Whether she pulls through this or not is entirely up to her at this point. I can't push things either way. It's kind of frustrating actually. I like Sam, I've got plans for her, and you."

"If you can't help Sam, and you want me to accept my feelings for her, OK. But why else did you do this? Why did Nicole try to kill me?"

"Redemption," God said simply.

"OK, not following," Brooke pointed out.

"Everyone deserves a chance at redemption, Brooke. Even Nicole Julian."

"She's not getting one this time, God. She had one that time she got the cat for Nurse Glass at Christmas or donated bone marrow for Harrison and saved him. She's all out of `Get out of Jail Free' cards in my opinion."

"Those were small steps, Brooke. Whether you want to believe it or not, Nicole carries a lot of emotional baggage around with her and it gets in the way of her better judgement most of the time."

"How do you find redemption when you tried to run down your best friend with your Jaguar while you were totally tanked?" Brooke asked frustrated and angry. God shrugged.

"That struggle is part of her journey and yours and Sam's. Nicole had to hit rock bottom before she could begin her true journey on the right path. Besides, sometimes you find redemption and forgiveness in the strangest places."

"This is so not making me feel better," Brooke sighed. God laughed.

"Relax Brooke, you're doing everything you can to help Sam. If it makes you feel any better I'll let you in on a little secret. She /can/ hear you. Every word you say, every one of your emotions, are a part of what is keeping her soul anchored to her body. Your voice, Brooke, your love. Keep talking to her, but don't push her. Maybe she'll come back to you."

"Maybe? You're God and the best you can give me is `maybe'?" Brooke asked incredulously, thinking somewhere in the back of her mind that maybe getting snotty with God wasn't the smartest idea but, oh well, too late now.

"Hey, even I rested on the seventh day. I may be perfect and all knowing, but Sam's somewhere she doesn't want to leave right now. Give her time, though. She might change her mind." Brooke's eyes got wide with realization.

"Do you know where she is? Can I talk to her?" God thought a minute.

"That would break a lot of rules," God said. Brooke frowned.

"You wrote the rules, didn't you?" God grinned.

"Yeah, I suppose I did. I know where she is and I will let you see her, but I have a few conditions. It's only for a few minutes and don't tell her too much of what we've said here. And you can't force her to come back if she doesn't want to."

"Deal," Brooke said happily. God motioned to the door and it opened, revealing a lush green pasture lying beyond it. "It's beautiful," Brooke breathed in awe.

"Yes, it is. Now go," God ushered Brooke though the door. "Go find her but only a couple of minutes, OK?" Brooke nodded and before she could say `Thank you', the door shut, disappeared and left her in the field.

"Sam?" she called. "Sammy you out here?"

"She's over there by the river," a male voice came from behind her. Brooke turned to face a man she'd seen only in a photograph. Joe McPherson. He smiled brightly at her and gave her a huge hug. "She doesn't belong here, Brooke but she won't listen to me. Maybe she'll listen to you, you're all she talks about."

"I'm pleased to meet you," Brooke managed to say. Joe had the same warm eyes Sam did and they twinkled at her as he spoke.

"And I an honored to meet someone my daughter obviously cares enough for to risk her life," he told her. Brooke looked away, suddenly unable to meet his friendly gaze.

"You're not mad, are you?" she asked in a small voice.

"Of course not, Brooke. Sammy was doing what came naturally to her. There's no one to blame especially not you," Joe told her warmly.

"Is this Heaven?" he shook his head.

"No, because neither Sam nor you are dead. I'm here because Sam needed me. This is sort of an in-between place, I guess."

"It's beautiful," Brooke repeated.

"Yes, it is. I used to take Sam out hiking to a place very much like this when she was little, which is why, I suppose, we're here. Now come on, you're wasting time." He led her over to where Sam sat beside the stream, dangling her legs in the water and watching her reflection. Brooke sat down next to Sam who looked up for a second and smiled before looking back at the water.

"I miss you," Brooke said simply to start. Sam nodded.

"Miss you too. You OK?"

"Yup, a few scrapes and bruises. I think you missed out in a career in hockey or roller derby, although it's something to think about if the whole writing thing doesn't pan out." Sam smiled.

"I'll keep that in mind. Everyone else OK?"

"We're fine, but we miss you terribly. Life isn't the same without you. No one to fight with over the bathroom, no one mocking my choice in friends or my cheerleading outfit, no one to trick into changing Mac's diaper for me," Brooke joked. She watched as different scenes from shared experiences reflected back at them in the water.

There were scenes from the Novak, the night Mike and Jane surprised them with the news of their relationship at the party, being in Bio Glass's class together, the first argument over the bathroom, one of the spectacular food fights in the lunch room, more miscellaneous scenes and then finally, the prom all floated past them in vivid color. Brooke watched them all with interest wondering what they meant. Some were significant, she remembered them, but others weren't but they must have meaning to Sam, she figured.

"What's all this?" Brooke asked pointing to the scenes. Sam looked at her and shrugged.

"Memories, I guess. Just stuff I was thinking about," Sam explained softly.

"We've been through a lot of crap, haven't we?"

"Yeah, we have. I wouldn't trade a minute of it, though. Would you?" Sam asked as she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. Brooke shook her head.

"Not for anything," Brooke said honestly. They sat quietly for a few minutes watching scenes from their life pass by.

"I don't wanna go back," Sam said suddenly, looking for the entire world like a lost two-year-old. Brooke wrapped her arms around Sam's shoulders and pulled her close.


"Cuz my Dad's here and I miss him," Sam said as she started to cry. Brooke let Sam rest her head on her shoulder.

"I know you do Sammy, but you don't belong here, you know that. Your Dad knows that too. Nice guy, by the way, I met him. But think of your poor mom, Sam. You are all Jane has left of Joe, Sam. A small, living piece of her first true love. Proof that all the pain was worth it. You cash out now and she has nothing."

"That's not fair, she has you and Mike and Mac," Sam argued as she wiped away a few tears and sniffed.

"But we're not you. We're not Sam. As much as I know Jane loves me as a daughter, I will never `be' her daughter. And as much as Mac is her daughter, you are her first born. She needs you, Sam. We all do."

"But it's going to hurt," Sam told her pitifully. Brooke's heart broke at the realization that Sam was right and she wondered if maybe wanting Sam to come back knowing that the pain was going to be unbearable wasn't somehow wrong, selfish even. Joe appeared a few feet away and shook his head.

"Pain is temporary, Sam," he said quietly. "Love is forever." Sam raised her head and regarded him quizzically.

"When did you become a badly written Hallmark card?" This made them all laugh.

"Brooke knows what I mean. You will too, Sammy. Soon." Sam looked back and forth between her father and Brooke a few times trying to understand. They just smiled at her. Joe looked away for a second and then looked back at Brooke.

"Time's almost up," Brooke nodded and turned back to Sam.

"Look, Sam, you have to come back. I know it's going to be painful for you and while I can't even begin to fathom how bad it's going to be you're not going to go through it alone. Come back because I can't stand to watch you lie there in that bed not moving. Come back because I'm selfish and want someone to talk to, argue with, watch Mac grow with, and do all the stupid things we were supposed to do with. Come back because I can't imagine my life without you in it."

"You finally admit you're selfish and I'm in a coma, gee, thanks," Sam chided making Brooke laugh. "Remind me to get hit by a car more often."

"Wake up and I'll say it again," Brooke promised with a smile.

"Will I remember any of this?" Sam asked. Brooke looked at Joe.

"Some," he said. "You both will remember what's important, the emotions. You've really got to get going, Brooke."

"OK. Coming home soon, Sam?" she asked as she stood up. Sam watched her go and shrugged.

"Maybe. I'll think about it but I can't make any promises. Keep talking to me, though. I like hearing your voice, Brooke. It's soothing. Feels like home." Brooke bent down and hugged Sam before giving her a light kiss on the forehead.

"Come home to me, Sammy," she whispered, her voice thick with unspoken emotion. "I love you," she ventured, needing to take the chance and tell Sam now before it was too late. Just in case Sam didn't come home to her. The field and Sam started to fade away in front of Brooke but just before it disappeared completely, she heard the whispered response.

"I love you too, Brooke."

Brooke woke up with such a start that she nearly fell out of her chair. She was back in Sam's hospital room and nothing had changed. Brooke studied the motionless figure in front of her for any hint of change but could find none. She settled back into her seat for a few minutes, thinking over the dream. Then she started talking again. Sam had asked her too, after all.


A few days later, Brooke reluctantly ventured away from the hospital to the one place she really didn't want to go, juvenile hall. They were keeping Nicole here despite her families protests under worry that she was a flight risk. With all the money the Julian family had as well as their ovewhelming desire to save face, it probably wasn't far from the mark. But Brooke felt a visit to her former best friend was in order since no one else had been by to see her. It had silently been agreed upon, by some unspoken rule that Nicole was strictily off-limits.

Nicole was led into the room and Brooke almost laughed. There stripped of all her rich coverings, her makeup, Gucci and Prada clothing and airs was the real Nicole Julian. No muss, no fuss. No contact lenses either and her hair hanging down. Oddly enough, the girl was still attractive, if somewhat subdued in her homely orange jumpsuit. When she saw Brooke her face lit up for a second but quickly shut down again.

"I'm going to guess and say this isn't a social visit, B?" Nicole asked quietly. Brooke glared at her from across the table for a minute. Nicole sighed. "If there was anything I could do to change what I did…"

"Stop, Nicole, just stop it. I don't believe a word that comes out of your mouth so just shut up," Brooke hissed. Nicole looked away, hurt by the words but understanding where they were coming from. She saw the anger and rage in Brooke's eyes the same as she did the night of the accident. She took a good look at the girl in front of her and barely recognized her former friend. Brooke's eyes were dull and red instead of lively and energetic and her face was ashen. The thought that Sam had died filled Nicole with a terror and grief that she hadn't felt since her Nana had died.

"Is Sam…" she choked, unable to finish the sentence. Brooke threw a few photos on the table for her to see.

"Still alive, no thanks to you. Here, take a good look at your handiwork, Nic. She probably won't appreciate the fact that I took these pictures but I thought you would want to see the outcome of your little drunken driving spree. You should be proud. You never liked her anyway. Now she lies in a coma, dead to the world and you put her there. You did because she was trying to protect me from you."

Nicole's hands picked up the photos of their own free will and she looked at them reluctantly. There was Sam, lying deathly still wrapped in more gauze than King Tut and hooked up to more wires than Nicole guessed were attached to her VCR. Her head was swathed in bandages almost totally hiding her hair; her face was a mottled pattern of purple and black bruises and cuts. Sam's right arm was in a cast, her left knee in a brace and in traction. Her right leg was in a cast also and she had one of those hideous collars on to keep her neck straight. Nicole felt her stomach roll and she closed her eyes as a tear fell unbidden down her cheek.

"What you can't see in those pictures are the damages inside. She's paralyzed, Nic. The doctor's aren't sure if she'll walk again. Congratulations, you sure did a bang up job. Pardon the pun. Are you happy?" Brooke spat angrily. Nicole set the pictures down, opened her eyes, and faced the irate blonde across from her.

"How could you honestly think I could be happy? God, Brooke, I'm a bitch, not a psycho. I wasn't in my right mind when I did this. I never would hurt anyone, you or Spam, er, Sam intentionally. Yes, there were times that I may have wished bodily harm on her but Jesus I never actually meant it. Whether you want to believe it or not, somewhere deep inside, I do actually have a heart," Nicole said softly. It was true, she did, she just spent so long hiding it that she forgot it was there most of the time.

"You're right, Nic, I don't believe you," Brooke growled. A few more tears slipped down Nicole's face.

"That's not fair, Brooke. You were the best friend I ever had…"

"And yet you tried to kill me! Some way to pay back my friendship! Since that failed what are you going to try next? Arsenic in my diet Pepsi? Shoot me in the back, God knows you stabbed me there enough," Brooke continued her tirade. Normally Nicole would be impressed by the way Brooke was unleashing her inner bitch but right now all it was serving to do was hurt her.

"It was an accident for Christ's sake! I was drunk and upset! I was wrong and I admit that. If I didn't do you honestly think I'd be sitting here in this God-awful outfit? Without makeup? I know that you can never forgive me, I can't forgive mysef but at least know that I'm sorry, Brooke. It's all I have left to give you," Nicole finished, hanging her head down. Brooke stood up.

"It's not enough, Nicole. It'll never be enough after what you've done. So save your crocodile tears and your apologies for someone who gives a rat's ass. I came here so you could see the damage you've caused. Keep the pictures as a reminder because I live with the reality each day," Brooke's voice finally cracked. "I hope it brings you joy as you rot in this Hell." Brooke banged on the door and waited for the guard to let her out.

"One more thing, Nic," Brooke added, her voice low, menacing. "Think about this: Sam leapt in front of that car to save me because she cares about me. She's capable of thinking about someone other than herself. If it was you in my place that night, do you honestly think anyone would have done the same thing for you? Would anyone have risked their life for yours? Now tell me which hurts more; getting hit by the car or the knowledge that there isn't a living soul on this planet that gives a damn whether you live or die? Not even me?" The guard finally let her out, leaving Nicole at the table crying.

"I said I was sorry," she wept. And she really and truly was.


Brooke returned to Sam's bedside later that day and continued her normal pattern until finals passed and summer arrived. Sam's injuries were healing nicely but she was making no progress towards waking up. Everyone was getting discouraged but Brooke was unswayed. She knew Sam was in there somewhere, trying to make up her mind whether or not to come home, and Brooke was determined to be patient. She continued her daily routine, much to the minor distress to her parents who feared for her health but she seemed to be fine and the hospital staff was looking out for her.

"Guess what Sam? Mom talked to the school board and they said your grades were good enough that when you wake up, you can make up the work you've missed over the summer and if you pass your make-up finals, you could be a senoir with the rest of us in the fall. Isn't that great?" she asked as she gently brushed a knot out of Sam's hair. She listened to the blip of the heart monitor and took it as a positive response. At least Sam had been breathing on her own for a while, that was a good sign.

Brooke had finished with her administrations to Sam's hair and was packing up the brushes when she saw it. The faintest of stirrings in Sam's left hand. For a minute she thought she'd imagined it but there it was again. Sam's finger's were curling and it didn't strike Brooke as the same unconscious muscle twitches that had falsely raised her hoped is days past. It was like Sam was reaching for something. It clicked in Brooke's mind that it was the hand she usually held. Sam was reaching out for her. Brooke hastily put the brushes down and reached for the hand.

"Sam, Sammy can you hear me?" she asked as she pressed the call button beside Sam's head. After a second or two, she felt a very light squeeze on her hand and nearly yelled with joy. Wanting to make sure she wasn't imagining things, Brooke asked Sam again.

"Sam, if you can hear me and understand me, squeeze me hand twice." She waited. One squeeze was followed a few seconds later by another one, this time a little stronger. Tears of relief began to stream down Brooke's face as a nurse entered the room.

"What is it, Brooke?" Nurse Carolyn Prant asked when she saw Brooke crying.

"She's coming around. She squeezed my hand," Brooke told her. Carolyn looked at her dubiously. She'd been watching Brooke take loving care of the comatose girl for the entire time now and was sure Brooke was imagining things. Brooke sighed. "I am not imagining it. Come see for yourself." Carolyn walked over to where Brooke was while Brooke spoke softly into Sam's ear again.

"Hey, Sam. I know you're in there, don't make a liar out of me. Squeeze my hand twice if you can hear me," she asked. Carolyn watched as the thin pale hand in Brooke's contracted once and then again. She nearly screamed herself when she realized Brooke was right.

"This is fantastic! I'll get the doctor and call your parents right away!" Carolyn ran out to get Sam's doctor and left Brooke with Sam.

"That's a girl, Sam. I knew you could do it. Thank you," she started to weep as Sam squeezed her hand again and this time didn't let go.

Whoever writes in movies and television that coma patients suddenly wake up and immediately recognize the people around them is full of shit. That's what Brooke would tell you if you asked. It was another three days before Sam was awake and another two before she was truly aware of her surroundings. Everyone was overjoyed to see her awake and responding but it wasn't long before they realized something was wrong.

"Doctor, why can't she speak?" Jane asked, afraid for her normally verbose daughter who was quickly becoming frustrated by her inability to communicate a few days later. Dr. Parker frowned.

"I don't think it's anything permanent. I had a neurologist go over her test results and he concurs. The skull fracture was near the area of the brain associated with speech. The brain isn't a regenerating organ, it can't heal damage but all our scans don't show any evidence of an actual injury or stroke. She suffered an injury to the brain, however minor that resulted in a prolonged state of unconsciousness and it's normal for there to be side effects from that."

"Dr. Ormanji, the neurologist, and I think it's a temporary condition, a side effect that will eventually go away once the brain has time to straighten itself out. A lot has happened to Sam, she's going to need a long time to heal. I can't give you any guarantees, of course, but I've already called in a speech pathologist to work with her and help her over the hump. The fact that her arm is still in a brace will undoubtedly make it harder for her as she can't write."

"Well, Brooke's bringing her her laptop tomorrow so she can type some, but you're saying this isn't permanent?" Jane asked hopefully as she and the doctor talked outside Sam's door. Any small bit of good news she could get she was going to grab on to.

"By all indications, no," Dr. Parker told her cheerfully. And he was more than happy to give any positive news he could. Sam was quickly becoming known as the Miracle Patient of Ward 4. "I would, however encourage her to speak as much as possible. I realize she's reluctant to given that she's uncomfortable with the stuttering and slight aphasia but the only way to get past this is through it."

"I understand, thank God for good news. What about her legs?"

"Tests results we're getting back now are cause for us to be cautiously optimistic at this point, Jane. The damage isn't as extensive as we originally thought and the swelling is already beginning to lessen. She's all ready regained some feeling, if not movement in her legs. That is a good sign. She is, however, looking at some heavy-duty physical therapy to get back to the level she once was at, especially considering the nature of the damage done. And that is, of course, best case scenario. A lot of it has to do with how hard Sam is willing to work."


"Sam, I swear to God you should see her! It looks like Jennifer Lopez and Antonio Bandarez had a love child and FuBu exploded all over her!" Carmen joked, telling Sam all about B. Ho. Lily, Harrison, Brooke and Josh all laughed as Sam smiled and nodded, not really feeling up to laughing even if the imagery was rather humorous. Truthfully, she wanted to be left alone. As much as she loved her friends, she didn't want them to see her like this. (Handicapped and silent) (Crippled and mute) (Physically disabled and voiceless) (Paralysed and dumb) (Paraplegic and aphonic) Her still active and vocabulary rich mind continued to mock her in its abitity to remind her of her condition.

Everytime she opened her mouth to speak, she sounded like a bad Elmer Fudd impersonator and she hated it. And that was when the right words came out. Despite the doctor's reassurance that it was most likely temporary, Sam was despondant. Words were her thing, her element and the thing she knew best. Now thanks to a broken arm and a head injury, they were taken away from her. She felt isolated, lost and scared.

"So then, Mary Cherry comes in with her father," Carmen continued with her retelling of how Mary Cherry had returned to school a few days after being `rescued' from the orphanage by her father Sweet Honey Chile. "And his outfit, I mean, I had no idea they made that sort of thing in that size."

Everyone, save Sam, laughed again at the memory but only Brooke noticed the lack of reaction from Sam. She knew that Sam was having trouble dealing with the extent of her injuries but didn't know how to help. She reached out and grasped Sam's good hand in her own and gave it a reassuring squeeze. Sam looked up and rewarded Brooke with a small, half-hearted smile. But the sadness and fear in Sam's eyes nearly broke Brooke's heart. There was also a pleading look there that Brooke understood having seen it all too often lately.

"Hey, guys, I think maybe Sam's had enough for today. What do you think, Sam?" Sam's eyes lit up and she shook her head as hard as she dared, given the fact she just emerged from a coma a few days earlier. Brooke smiled at her.

"Aw, gee, Sam, we're sorry. We just missed you so much," Harrison told her softly. Sam smiled in understanding. She didn't dare try and speak. "Hang in there, you," he said as he kissed her softly on the cheek.

"Yeah, Sam, we've got a lot of catching up to do," Lily added as she hugged Sam gently. Carmen and Josh said goodbye as Brooke ushered them all out the door.

"We'll talk to you guys tomorrow," Brooke winced at her choice of words as she said goodbye. Seeing that Jane had gone home for dinner, Brooke closed the door and resumed her place sitting on Sam's bed. Sam mouthed a `thank you' at her and leaned back on the bed.

"Not a problem, Sam. Anything for you," Sam quirked an eyebrow and the corner of her mouth twitched upward slightly. "Get your mind out of the gutter, Sam," Brooke scolded Sam even as she felt a slight blush rise to her cheeks. Her mind dove into the gutter too even if she had meant the comment innocently enough. (Oh, Sam, if you only knew)

Sam, for her part, was thinking along the same lines. If only Brooke knew how Sam was really feeling towards her. (But then) Sam reasoned, (why would someone as beautiful, smart, funny, and caring as Brooke be interested in someone who's handicapped when they could have anyone they wanted? Not to mention the whole `straight' thing. Yeah, there's a sticking point for you. Face facts, Sammy, with or without your legs or voice, Brooke is never going to be anything more than a good friend, if you're lucky. So just forget about anything else)

Brooke watched the shadow pass over Sam's face and it disturbed her. Since she had witnessed her wake up, Brooke had also had a front row seat for Sam's withdrawl into herself and nothing Brooke said or did seemed to slow it down. If anything, it seemed to Brooke that Sam's inabilitiy to speak was doing what Nicole and two and a half tons of metal and steel couldn't: kill Sam. For every word Sam was unable to utter and was forced to contain within herself, it seemed like a piece of her soul was ripped away. Brooke always knew that words were important to Sam, she was only now discovering exactly how much.

"They mean well, Sam. And they're really happy that you're awake," Brooke said to break the silence that was starting to stretch between them. Sam rolled her eyes and sighed before settling further into her bed. Brooke grabbed her hand again causing her to open her eyes to look at her. Brooke, realizing she'd unconsciously taken hold of Sam's hand again, started to let go, embarrassed before Sam tightened her own hold to stop her.

"Sorry," Brooke apologized with a small smile, "habit." Sam shrugged one shoulder but returned the smile, albeit marginally. Brooke sighed lightly. "Talk to me, Sammy, I need to hear your voice." Sam frowned and turned her head away.

"Don't Sam, don't shut me out, please," Brooke begged. Sam didn't turn back but stayed facing the wall. "Sam, speak to me. I went so long without hearing your voice. Please say something."

"Woof," Sam spit out bitterly, still facing the wall. Brooke closed her eyes and sighed in defeat. Sam's stubborn streak had always been a thorn in Brooke's side, nevermore so than now. All she wanted was to help Sam but she wouldn't let her. But she wasn't going to give up. Quitting was not a trait Brooke McQueen wanted to be known for.

"Fine, Sam, I'll let it go for now. But I'm not giving up on you and I'm not going anywhere so forget about that. I didn't sit here everyday with you, begging you to wake up so that you could shut me out. It doesn't work that way so get used to having me here, whether you want me here or not," Brooke explained, her voice never wavering from the gentle tone she started with. Getting angry wouldn't solve anything; it would only make things worse. Besides, she knew that eventually Sam had to come around again. Her `visit' with God told Brooke that there was something else for them both in the future, even if she was fuzzy on the details.

Brooke hadn't told Harrison or Sam about her vision of God or the visit with Sam and Joe yet, she wasn't sure if it was real or a dream caused by grief and lack of sleep. Actually, if she was honest with herself, she knew it was real and she had a lot of thinking to do about the whole thing. But right now, her only concern was Sam and getting her to open up and accept the help that was being offered. (But, given Sam's less than sunny disposition since waking up and discovering her condition that may be easier said than done)

Still, the fact that the other girl still hadn't let go of her hand told Brooke that Sam wanted the help but didn't know how to ask. Sam was a solitary creature by nature and it was hard for her to admit weakness. Brooke knew Sam was scared, who wouldn't be after all. Sam had lost three weeks time thanks to Nicole and her little drunken game of bumper tag.

"If you don't want to talk, fine, I will. I got another call from the State's Attorney today. Nicole's case goes to court soon," this got Sam's attention and she rolled over to look at Brooke. "She's being charged with possession of alcohol by a minor, driving while intoxicated, attempted vehicler manslaughter, and reckless driving. I've already given my statement as to what happened that night but I might have to testify. The prosecutor says he might cut a deal but I swear to you Sammy that Nicole will not get away with what she did." Sam blinked at her and then shrugged. Brooke frowned.

"Sam, don't you care that she get what she deserves? Jesus, she nearly killed you, and she could have killed me. You don't want her to just walk away scott-free do you?" Again Sam just shrugged like she could care less. And she couldn't. Whether or not Nicole went to juvie or paid a fine or whatnot had absolutely no baring on her life right now whatsoever. All Sam cared about was whether or not she was going to walk and talk again. (It's the little things) Sam sighed to herself.

Brooke on the other hand, wanted nothing more than to personally throw the switch on Nicole's electric chair. As a matter of fact, she'd entertained many a fantasy about the many painful ways there was to kill Nicole during her time at Sam's silent bedside. She'd shared these ideas with Sam's quiet presence as well. It was one of her new hobbies. Revenge and pain for Nicole. Brooke knew that it wasn't the healthiest of hobbies to have but it kept her happy and occupied when Sam was in her coma. And her visit with Nicole a week or so earlier had only served to deepen her anger when she was actually looking for some sort of closure. But the moment she saw Nicole, Brooke also saw Sam, the moment the car hit her and the anger overwhelmed her.

"I can't believe you, of all people, aren't for going after her with both barrels, Sam. She should get the harshest punishment possible. I'm talking drawn and quartered, the guillotine, made to wear Kathie Lee fashions, and last years at that," Brooke said frustrated. Sam looked at her incredulously. Even without being able to say a word, Brooke knew what she was saying.

"I know, I know. `But she's Nicole Julian. She'll get away with it because of who she is and her family's money.' But that's not right, Sam. It's not fair," Brooke complained. Sam nodded in agreement even as she sat in amazement at how well Brooke had been able to read her thoughts. Brooke ran a hand through her hair.

"I think I finally understand how you must have felt all this time, how everything just seemed so against you, the one everyone sees as `unpopular' and me, the one everyone sees as `popular'. Because Nic is one of the `rich, pretty, popular' pod people she's going to get away with a horrible and heinous crime, isn't she?" Sam nodded sadly. Brooke sighed. She hated this because she knew it was probably the truth. Regardless of the outcome, she was going to do whatever she could to see that Nicole was punished and that Sam recovered. It was the least she could do to try and alieviate the overwhelming guilt that she felt towards the entire situation and her part in it.

"Well, I don't know about you but I've had enough with talking about that psycho hose beast. What do you want to do now?" Sam rolled her eyes. "I realize that our activites are severely limited but there's got to be something." Sam closed her eyes and sighed.

"No, Sam, you can't go back to sleep. The doctors are worried that you're sleeping too much, it's a sign of depression," Brooke explained patiently. Sam opened her eyes and glared at the form sitting on her bed.

"Glare all you want to, Sam, you don't scare me. What are you going to do, beat me over the head with your cast? I think not. Live with the fact that I'm not going anywhere. Move over, I think Passions is on. Let's see what Tabitha and Timmy are up to."


"G…g…. Go…'way…" Sam stuttered a week later as she pulled the covers up over her head with her good arm. The last thing she wanted right now was to face anyone, but especially Brooke whom she knew to be on the other side of the door. She was grateful that she was stuttering less thanks to practice and her speech therapist but still hated talking to anyone.

Sam always prided herself on her independence and her ability to function through almost anything with as little help as possible. Even when her father had died, Sam did everything she could to show everyone how strong she was, even when she wasn't. Being reduced to a wheelchair was bad enough but on its own she could probably handle it. But for someone as verbose and loquacious as Sam, being barely able to speak coherently or write was like a slow torturous death. Even typing on the laptop Brooke had brought her wasn't enough. She didn't want to see anyone and didn't want anyone to see her in this state. When she was in a coma it was different; at least she was unconscious. But now that she was awake and cognizant, she hated that they would see her as weak. And she really didn't want Brooke to see her that way.

"Come on, Sam, let me in," Brooke called from behind the door. Sam sighed. (Damn persistant little twit) Sam swore to herself. Not that she really thought of Brooke as a twit, at least not anymore. She just wasn't up to facing the persistantly effervescent cheerleader right now.

Usually seeing Brooke was the highlight of Sam's day, which, given the fact that they shared a house meant that Sam's days were filled with highlights. But since the accident, Sam was filled with the irrational fear that having Brooke see her in her current state would somehow make the blonde view her through a veil of pity. And that alone was enough to make Sam wish the car was going a little faster when it hit her. She wanted no one's pity, especially Brooke's.

Her mother and Mike, as well as the hospital staff had told both Sam about Brooke's vigilance by her bedside during her coma but she didn't know what to make of it. (Probably just feels guilty) she reasoned. (Doing what she felt she had too. She has absolutely nothing to feel guilty about, though. God I hope she knows that) Somehow Sam had known Brooke was there, felt her beside her the entire time even if she couldn't let anyone know. Technically she wasn't aware of anything going on around her, but somehow, and even Sam didn't know how herself, somehow she knew Brooke was right there the entire time trying to bring her out of the coma. And it was oddly comforting. No, wait, not oddly, it was very comforting. There was no one else Sam would rather have by her side when she was sick or hurt than Brooke McQueen. Present case excluded, of course.

"N...no," Sam protested from beneath her covers, knowing however that it was in vain. Brooke opened the door and walked in.

"Tough. You've refused to see anyone else except Mom and Dad and even they say that you don't exactly `visit' with them. So come on Sam, talk to me. What's wrong?" Sam moved the blankets so that she could glare at Brooke for her choice of words. Brooke shrugged. "Don't glare at me like the I'm the Anti-Christ, Sam. The doctors said the more you spoke the easier it would get so, talk. And no using the laptop anymore," she said, undisturbed by the continued stare. The silence stretched between them for several tense minutes.

"Sam," Brooke softly started a few minutes later. She hated watching what Sam was doing to herself and to those who cared for her. But on some level, Brooke understood it. Sam was seeking to control something when everything else had been taken out of her control. If that meant shutting everyone else out and becoming a mental recluse, so be it. But Brooke wasn't going to let her get away with it.

"This has gone on long enough. The doctors are willing to let you come home in a few days because physically you're doing really well. But they might not let you because of this behavior. You're shutting everyone out and withdrawing from everything and we're all really worried about you." She looked at Sam hoping for some sort of reaction but saw only the now familiar blank stare. Swallowing a sigh of despair, she continued.

"It's not healthy, Sam. Shutting everyone out is only going to cause you more pain. You can't do this alone," she reached out to brush a stray lock of hair away from Sam's face only to have the other girl flinch and pull away. Brooke pulled her hand away and placed it, now in a fist, by her side. She wasn't mad she was hurt. (How can Sam think I'd hurt her? I love her. Huh? Did I just think that? Uh-oh…)

Sam meanwhile, was trying to figure out why she pulled away. (I can't let her get close, I just can't. She pities me, I just know it. I don't want her pity, I want more than that and I can't have any more than that and it's going to kill me) She pulled away further trying not to cry in loneliness and despair.

"Uhm…Sam, please," Brooke implored the rapidly receding girl. Watching Sam shrink into herself was strange given the fact that Sam was usually so outgoing and in-your-face. Before the accident, Brooke had the chance on occasion to see beyond the walls and barriers Sam had constructed around herself to keep from being hurt but now they were back, stronger than ever and it disturbed Brooke. Sam was obviously in a lot of pain, not just the physical sort and all Brooke wanted to do was help but she didn't know how. And Sam sure wasn't making it any easier.

"P…Pl…please what?" Sam asked somewhat angrily, startling Brooke first by speaking and then by sounding so mad. Brooke frowned.

"Please don't shut me out. Let me help you," Sam let out a short bark that Brooke assumed she was supposed to think was a laugh. It was more frightening than anything else was.

"He…help me? Don't ma…make me l…laugh," Sam shot out bitterly. (When all else fails, get angry. I'm very good at angry) Sam told herself, instantly hating herself for the hurt look on Brooke's face.

Brooke fought back the tears that immediately sprang forth at the tone of Sam's voice. Silence stretched between them again before Brooke could find her voice again and ask the question that she dreaded the answer to. She had been putting it off until Sam was able to speak better but knew she couldn't wait any longer, she had to know the answer now.

"Do you…do you blame me for what happened?" she asked very quietly. "Is that why you're so mad at me?" She hung her head low letting her blonde hair cover her face so Sam wouldn't see the tears that now fell freely down her face. She had wondered about it since that night. (Will Sam blame me for this? If I hadn't run out of there like a wounded animal it never would have happened. If I had been honest in the first place and told her that I wasn't competing with her for Harrison, I was fighting Harrison for her, this might never have happened. Now she hates me)

As Brooke fought her inner battle, Sam sat shocked at the question. (What the Hell? How could she? Why would she? I would never…I love her…uh-oh…)

"Jesus!" Sam exclaimed making Brooke snap her head up in surprise. Sam saw the tear tracks on the blonde's beautiful face and if she'd been physically capable, would have gotten up out of her bed and kicked her own butt for making Brooke cry.

"Sam?" Brooke asked quietly, confused by the outburst. Sam shook her head regretfully. She had to make Brooke understand that the blame lay elsewhere.

"D…don't…blame…you…" Sam bit off each word as she struggled not to stutter. Brooke just sighed and shook her head resigned.

"I understand if you do, Sam," Brooke told her sadly. "If I hadn't run off like that, you wouldn't have followed and…" Sam put her good hand under Brooke's chin and tilted the cheerleader's face up to meet hers.

"Don't," Sam said simply, hoping Brooke understood. She really hated not being able to talk correctly. "My…ch…ch…choice," she finally ground out frustrated beyond belief and nearly to tears. Brooke looked in Sam's brown eyes and saw no blame or condemnation in them, only love and pain. Even so, Brooke couldn't help but blame herself.

"But it's my fault, Sammy," she said as she got up off the bed and started to pace. Unseen by Brooke, Sam arched an eyebrow at the use of the name `Sammy'. If she'd been capable of coherent sentences or at least ones that didn't take three years to say she would have had a witty comment but she kept it to herself and filed it away for future reference.

"I played that stupid game with you and Harrison and when I didn't get what I wanted I ran off like a two year old throwing a tantrum. You could have been killed, Sam! Do you know what it's like to live with that?"

"Yeah," Sam interjected but Brooke ignored her and continued.

"And now because I acted like a child you nearly died and now you can't speak, and you're stuck in a wheelchair for who knows how long and it's all my fault!" Sam watched Brooke pace and rave for a few minutes until she had enough and picked up a pillow and heaved it with as much strength as she could muster at the head cheerleader. Brooke stopped in her tracks and looked at Sam.

"What?" she asked confused. Sam smiled and waved her back over to the bed. After Brooke sat back down on the edge of the bed, Sam held up one finger.

"One," Sam started trying real hard to speak clearly. Truthfully, she'd been practicing, talking to herself in her room (when no one was around, of course. Wouldn't want anyone to think there was permanent brain damage) but she didn't want to test it out until she was more sure of herself. But Brooke forced her hand.

"One, I d…don't bl…blame you," she started as Brooke listened intently. It was the most alive Sam had been since the accident. Sam held up two fingers.

"T…Two, n…not y…y…your fau…fault, Ni…Nicole's" she sighed at herself and her stuttering. Brooke reached out again to push that stubborn lock of hair out of Sam's face and was about to stop with the memory of the last time fresh in her mind, when she caught the glimmer in Sam's eyes that told her that it was all right. She pushed back the hair and was aware that her hand probably lingered too long on Sam's cheek but Sam didn't seem to mind. Sam now held up three fingers.

"Three?" Brooke asked, starting to laugh. "Maybe we should try Charades?" Sam swatted her playfully on the shoulder.

"D…don't help," she warned. She held up the three fingers again. "Three," she said clearly and took a deep breath, determined not to stutter her way through this one sentence. Brooke needed to hear her say it, even if it was a given. So Sam focused all her concentration on the next three little words.

"I forgive you," she said slowly but clearly. Brooke burst into tears at the short sentence.

"Thank you Sammy, thank you so much. You have no idea what it means to me to hear you say that." Sam just held on to the crying girl and eventually joined in with her own tears. After a while, Brooke disconnected herself from Sam's grasp and sat back on the bed and studied the injured girl in front of her. There was still so much she had to say, so she might as well say it while Sam was unable to interrupt. (Cheap I know, so sue me.)

"Sam, we still need to talk," she started and watched as Sam rolled her eyes with a groan and leaned back into her remaining pillow. Brooke retrieved the other pillow and placed it under Sam's head before continuing.

"Seriously, even if you have nothing to say, I do. I'm glad, really glad, that you don't blame me for the accident. And I believe that you don't. It's a huge weight off my chest knowing that. But I meant what I said when I first got here. You can't keep doing this. You can't shut everyone out and go through this by yourself. Not even you, the great, strong, invincible Samantha McPherson, can handle this without help."

"But you won't let anyone help you, you keep pushing everyone away. You won't let anyone visit, just Mom, Dad, and me. The gang is really hurt that you've shut them out. They know that you're going to be in a wheelchair for a while, Sam and they don't think any less of you. They don't think you're weak because you won't be walking out of here on your own just yet," Sam shot her a dirty look letting Brooke know she hit a nerve. "I know that's one of the things you're afraid of, being seen as weak, but that isn't how we see you. God, Sam, do you have any idea how wrong you are?"

"You pushed me out of the way of a speeding car and were nearly killed for your trouble. That makes you strong and brave, not weak! So you're stuck in a chair, maybe permanetly, maybe not. Who cares? That doesn't make you any less a person, any less Sam McPherson than you were the morning before the accident. You're still the same smart, witty, beautiful young woman who I'm proud to share a family with." Unable to continue listening to Brooke extolling the virtues of her character, Sam interrupted.

"Y…you think…I'm…be…beau…" Sam tried before giving up with a frustrated growl. Brooke blushed when she realized that she'd let that bit of information slip. (No backing out of it now, I suppose)

"Beautiful, and yes, I do. Don't you?" Brooke asked like it was the most natural thing in the world. Sam thought about it for a second before shrugging.

"N…not real..ly," she never gave it a lot of thought, actually. Sure she knew she was attractive, cute, she guessed. But Brooke was the beautiful one. Tall, blonde, fair skinned, hazel eyes, like a model straight out of Vogue magazine. Sam on the other hand was the exact opposite. Not short but not that tall either, dark hair and eyes, light skin, nothing spectacular. Maybe good enough to model for the Sears catalogue, in her opinion. The fact that Brooke thought that she was beautiful made her feel unbelievably good.

Sam had realized in the past few months that her feelings for Brooke were changing somewhat. Into what she didn't know but she knew they were definitely heading away from the aggressive I-hate-you sort they started as and then became the OK-you're-my-step-sister-I-can-deal-with-you sort into the I-get-all-mushy-inside-when-you're-around type. She'd never really entertained the idea that she wasn't heterosexual but the more time she found herself spending thinking and fantasizing about the blonde, the more she realized that maybe she wasn't. And then she discovered that she really didn't care. She was never one for conformity anyway.

It was really out of fear that she hadn't said anything yet. She had no idea how her soon-to-be-blended family would react to the `Hi everyone I'm gay!' announcement at the dinner table. That might not be so bad, actually. Her mother was usually pretty understanding about most things even if this would be a shock. Brooke would probably choke on her diet Pepsi but recover and given the fact that she wasn't the evil person Sam once thought she was she probably wouldn't blab it all over school. And Mike was a pretty nice guy, so it'd most likely be all right. But following it up with `Oh and by the way, I seriously have the hots for my stepsister so bad I can't think about anything else. Could you please pass the salt?' would undoubtedly make things very uncomfortable in the McPherson-McQueen household. Brooke and her mother would probably faint over dead and Mike would probably murder her.

But still, the accident had kind of changed her stance on staying quiet much longer. If her life or Brooke's could end in one split second like it almost had, how could she stay locked in her self-imposed box simply because she was afraid? Fear was not a concept Sam was familiar with or let control her life. And now that she knew Brooke thought she was beautiful, at least in an asthetically-pleasing sort of way, maybe it would work out all right even if Brooke were straight, which she really had no reason to doubt. Brooke might even find her crush flattering, if she wasn't totally freaked out.

"Not really? Not really?" Brooke repeated, acting horribly aghast. "Sam, you have perfect hair, perfect skin, beautiful deep eyes and those lips…" Brooke's voice trailed off as she realized that she'd probaby said waaayyyy too much. The way Sam was looking at her was kind of reaffirming her belief that she had. Sam resembled a deer caught in the headlights. (Bad pun, Brooke, been there, done that. Bad imagery. Bad memories) OK, Sam looked like she just stuck her finger in a light socket, minus the spikey hair. (Yeah, that's better)

Sam for her part couldn't believe what she'd just heard. (Perfect hair? Perfect skin? Beautiful eyes? And what about my lips? I am getting soooo confused here. Brooke is straight, right? That didn't change while I was in a coma, did it? She didn't hit her head on the asphalt when I tackled her, did she?) Shock was settling in on Sam's system again.

"Wh…what ab..bout my l…lips?" Sam teased, enjoying the interesting shade of crimson that Brooke suddenly turned.

(Sinful springs to mind) Brooke thought immediately but didn't dare say it outloud for fear of sending Sam straight back into her coma out of sheer shock. Although Sam seemed to be enjoying the turn the conversation was taking.

"They're nice and full and I know lots of girls who would pay lots of money to have lips like yours," Brooke told her casually, taking the safe way out. "Actually, I know some who already have. And I know there must be a lot of guys out there who would love to kiss them." (Not to mention me) she added silently. The former statement about the guys made Sam start to laugh until the action reminded her of her condition painfully. Brooke was beside her in an instant worried.

"Are you all right? Do you need a doctor?" Sam shook her head while holding her ribcage gingerly and waited for the pain to pass. She gave Brooke what she hoped was a reassuring smile.

"Laughing…bad…" she explained. Brooke was instantly contrite.

"I am so sorry, Sammy. I didn't mean to," Sam held up her good hand.

"D…don't…m'OK," she told the guilty blonde. Brooke let out a sigh heavy with relief and nodded.

"As long as you're sure."

"Yup," Sam breathed, as the pain became managable. To tell the truth, she couldn't tell you exactly what was so funny about Brooke's comment other than the fact that she hadn't had too much luck in the `men' department to know whether or not they liked her lips. She was actually more interested in whether or not the blonde in front of her did.

"Better?" Brooke asked anxiously when she noticed Sam's breathing had returned to mormal. Sam nodded. "Good, you scared me for a second there. I thought I broke you. Anyway, when do you start physical therapy?" Sam frowned, both at the change of subject and at the subject in question.

"T…tomor…row," she sighed, not at all looking forward to it. While she wanted to walk again, she wasn't looking forward to the pain she knew was going to be involved in the process. Brooke shifted uncomfortably on the bed for a minute before speaking.

"Do you want, I mean, if you wouldn't mind…that is if it's OK with you…" Brooke stammered making Sam have to stifle a giggle.

"I'm sup..posed to st..stutter, not you," Sam joked. Brooked sighed, but smiled.

"Shush, I was trying to ask if you wanted me to go with you to therapy. I mean, I want to go and be there with you. I promised you that you wouldn't have to go through this alone and I meant it. Mom and Dad either have to work or take care of Mac and I thought that maybe you wouldn't want to be alone," Brooke looked up into the wide brown eyes of her friend and housemate. Sam looked, well, Sam looked utterly shocked, to tell the truth. And really, really relieved.

"Yes," Sam said without a hint of a stutter. "Please."

"You want me to go with you? Really?" Sam nodded. "Great! I was hoping you'd let me go with you, Sam. This means a lot to me," Brooke told Sam as she hugged her as tightly as she dared, not wanting to inadvertantly hurt the brunette. Brooke was heartened when she felt Sam hug back just as tightly.

"Sounds…li…like fun," Sam said sarcastically. Brooke giggled.

"Don't worry, Sam. I'll be there for you every step of the way," Sam shot her a semi-dirty look.

"Ver..ry witty, Prin..cess," she growled but the smile on her face let Brooke know she wasn't truly mad.

"Sorry, poor choice of words. My bad. I once promised you that you wouldn't have to go through this alone, Sam, and I meant it." Sam tilted her head to the side as a half-remembered memory made its presence known.

"I think I rem…em…ber that," she said mildly confused. She just couldn't remember from where. Brooke shrugged.

"Well, I did, so, get used to my sparkling brand of unique company, Sam," Sam sighed and rolled her eyes.

"Oh, Lord."


Three weeks later…

Brooke watched as Sam pushed herself through her daily paces at the rehab center she'd moved to two weeks earlier. Situps, pushups, and painful leg exercises designed to rebuild strength and endurance in her legs and taylored around the various casts still adorning the girl. She did all of this without a complaint or anything. They both thought Eric, her physical therapist was cute but Brooke's eyes were focused solely on the sweating girl on the workout mat. And other things they could be doing to wind up that sweaty and out of breath. (Bad thoughts, Brooke. Illegal in 48 states. So? Move to one of the other two. Shut up you stubborn inner voice!)

Sam had make excellent progress the past few weeks according to everyone and Brooke wasn't at all surprised given the girls' usual tenacity once she set her mind to something. There is precious little that can stop Sam once she grabs on to what she wants, Brooke knows this first hand having observed Sam for as long as she had at school. Usually it has to do with something she's investigating but Brooke was relieved to see Sam applying that same focus to recovering.

"Hey, Brooke," Eric called over as her helped Sam to switch positions on the mat. Brooke walked over to the two and smiled.

"Hey, what's up?"

"I just got a page for another patient and I need to run out for a sec. I'll be right back, honest, but I don't want Sam to lose her focus. You've been here for every session so far, think you can run her through her set of reps until I get back?" Brooke looked at Sam who shrugged.

"I guess," she agreed. Eric smiled.

"Terrific, I'll be back as soon as I can. And don't let Drama Queen here freak you out, OK? She know's what she's doing," he advised as he headed towards the door. Sam stuck out her tongue.

"Drama Queen my ass," she muttered. Brooke looked up a little anxious.

"Uhm, ready?" Sam nodded.

"Yeah, relax, Brooke, like he said, you've seen me do it like, a hundred times, no prob," Sam reassured the nervous blonde, any hint of her stutter gone thanks to time, diligence, and her speech pathologist.

"Yeah, no prob," Brooke repeated as she helped Sam exercise her legs. She listened to the small pants; grunts and little pain filled gasps that escaped from Sam's lips as she worked.

"You OK?" Brooke asked concerned after a particularly loud gasp. Sam closed her eyes and nodded.

"Yeah, just my stitches pulling. And my stitches pulling stitches pulling scars. I got muscles I didn't know I had hurting and all this work and I still can't walk. It doesn't seem fair," Sam lamented.

"Aw Sam, the doctors say you'll walk again. You gotta believe them. You've got feeling in your legs, you can move them, it's all a matter of time until they're strong enough again. You just have to be patient." Sam lay back on the mat.

"Patience is suddenly not one of my virtues," Sam declared. Brooke smiled while grabbing Sam's foot again.

"Hate to break it to you, Sammy, but it never was. Now, back to work, OK? Press against my hand and lift." Sam growled.

"Slave driver," she joked as she nonetheless complied. Brooke smiled as she continued to help Sam with her exercises. Eric came back a few minutes later and watched them.

"Nice job Brooke, you look like an old pro," he commented. Sam laughed.

"Yeah, she's got the whole bossing-people-around-thing down pat," she joked. Brooke smacked her in her good knee.

"Quiet you," Brooke warned. Eric just smiled.

"It's a good thing actually. I've been telling Sam that she'll be free from rehab hell soon to go home on the weekends but she'll need someone to help her out. I get the feeling you're the person for the job, Brooke."

"Me?" Brooke asked, surprised. Eric nodded.

"Why not? You know the exercises as well as Sam and I do, your parents are setting up a workout area for Sam at home and you seem more than capable of helping her. Don't you want the job? Your parents thought you'd be perfect for it given how close the two of you have gotten."

"Of course I want to help, if Sam wants me too, that is. Do you Sam?" Sam nodded her head vigourously.

"I couldn't think of anyone else I'd want there with me, Brooke," she said honestly. Brooke beamed, happy beyond belief at the simple statement.

"Than it's settled. We'll spend the rest of today and the next few sessions going over the do's and don't of Sam's exercises, the most glaring don't being: Don't let her try and convince you to let her walk. She'll end up doing more harm than good, won't you, Sam?" Sam hung her head and grumbled a `yeah, whatever'. Brooke looked at Eric confused.

"When you went to get a bite to eat last week, she insisted I let her try and take a few steps. I knew, from previous experience, that Miss Stubborn-Pants over here wouldn't take `no' for an answer. I tried to warn her that she wasn't ready and that she needed more time for her spine and back to heal but she wouldn't listen." Comprehension dawned on Brooke's face.

"That's why you looked like you'd been crying when I got back," Brooke exclaimed, understanding the tearstreaked face that had greeted her after she'd returned from having a salad. Sam had told her it was a frustration attack but Brooke had figured it was something else.

"Did you learn your lesson?" Brooke asked in a kindergarden teacher voice. Sam nodded.

"Yeah," she answered sheepishly. "Small steps, pardon the pun."

"So, think you can handle this one?" Eric asked. Brooke narrowed her eyes.

"Oh yeah, I think I can more than handle `this one'." Suddenly Sam was very very nervous.

Part 2

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