DISCLAIMER: Popular and its characters are the property of Ryan Murphy. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: MAJOR props go to faechick for the awesome beta.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Just a Little Insight
By Misty Flores


Part 16. Break With the Ones You've Followed

"Well, Ms. McQueen. I don't think I need to tell you that you're a very lucky young lady."

Her head was ringing, and the egg shaped lump on the side of her forehead felt unnatural and strange. She felt dizzy, and nauseous, and intensely irritated. She also most certainly didn't feel LUCKY.

Cotton-mouthed, Brooke shivered unexpectedly. She managed a polite, stale smile.

"I realize that, Dr. Morgenstern."

On a normal day Dr. Morgenstern, her primary care doctor, was a pleasantly chubby woman with a self-admitted soft spot for Brooke, which stemmed from avid care of her both during the coma and since she had woken up from it.

Tonight was not normal, and Dr. Morgenstern was acting anything but pleasant.

Lowering her chart, her doctor's expression was a mixture of disappointment and anger. Brooke found herself shuddering in response.

"Brooke, honestly, what were you thinking? You've survived so much. Do you realize how LUCKY you are to come out of the physical trauma of long coma with minor complications?"

She sucked in her breath, and felt like crying. "I know…"

"To be so irresponsible as to get into a car with an intoxicated driver-"

"Dr. Morgenstern, I KNOW!" Brooke snapped, breaking into the monologue. A particularly focused shot of pain flashed to her head, and she winced, head lowering. "I know that it was dumb, and I realize I wasn't thinking, and yes, I know I'm very lucky to be alive."

For a moment, her doctor simply stared at her. "You're also very lucky your Breathalyzer results revealed you to be under the limit. Half of your friends didn't fair so well." Depositing her pen into her coat pocket, the good doctor concentrated on her scribbles for a second, before looking up again. "Brooke, you're a smart girl. Think about the actions you take and the consequences they might have for you. While you were in this hospital, in that coma, you were rarely alone. People love you. Respect that." With that, the doctor snapped shut her file and smiled as warmly as she could, considering how pissed she seemed to be at Brooke. "Your parents are on their way."

Immediately, her stomach dropped. Head falling into her hands, Brooke felt the subtle pressure of Dr. Morgenstern's hands on her shoulder before the slip of the white coat brushed her cheek and her doctor went on her way.

Brooke deflated as soon as the door closed. Trying to process the events of the evening seemed damned impossible, and all that really came with it was the panicked, fluttery feeling that wouldn't go away. The headlights, the screeching, the tires- it was all so unsettling and she was HERE again, in a damned hospital room.

"It could have been worse," she wheezed to herself, trying to calm down, as her fingers gripped the sheets. "I'm okay."

So consumed with trying to stave off the momentary freak-out, Brooke didn't register the fact that she was no longer alone, not until a hand descended on her shoulder blade. The pressure startled her, forcing her to jump, whirl, heart thrust into her throat.

"It's me!" Dusty's eyes were wide, concerned. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to scare you…"

Brooke's eyes closed, forcing herself to breathe. "God," she whispered, fingers against her mouth.

"Are you okay?"

She blinked, trying to focus past her raging headache. "I'm fine," she whispered, throaty and tired. "Just… It's been a long night." Exhaling, she straightened up, tried to get a good look at her girlfriend.

Dusty's features were marred with a bruise on her chin, quickly moving from yellow to purple. Her left arm was plastered in a cast, held to her body in a sling.

"Are you okay?" she managed.

Dusty's mouth trembled. "Just a fracture," she managed, and screwed her eyes shut. "At least it'll heal in time for school again..."

Reaching over, she offered a comforting squeeze on her shoulder, as gently as she could. "You're going to be fine."

Mouth a thin line, Dusty tried to smile. It didn't reach her eyes. "You know, you scared the shit out of me when you said they were taking you in the ambulance too."

An uncomfortable feeling settled in her stomach. "I was in a coma for a long time, Dusty. There are… concerns…" Dusty's eyes went to the floor. "But I'm okay. They just wanted to make sure nothing was kicked out of place."

It was an awkward conversation between strangers, and Brooke selfishly didn't feel like having it. Inhaling deeply, she endeavored to change the subject. "How is everyone?"

Mouth twitching into a phantom, angry smile, Dusty closed her eyes. "Okay, I guess. Maria got a scratch on her head and her neck hurts, but she's fine. Fucking Caleb got arrested for a DUI."

"He deserved it," Brooke said, meaner than she intended. Dusty stared at her, dark-eyed and vulnerable. "Dusty, we're lucky no one was KILLED."

"I know. Fuck, I know…" Fingers buried into a sweaty dark hair. "Fuck, Brooke I'm so sorry-"

"Stop," she managed, shoving off the bed. "It wasn't your fault. You were with me. You didn't know how much he had been drinking."

"Your dad's going to hate me," Dusty breathed, as she rubbed fiercely at her eyes, uncaring of her already smeared mascara.

"No, he's not. I won't let him."

"I let you get into a car- If anything had happened to you-"

"It would have been my fault."

"How can you say that?"

Miserably, she felt her chest tighten. "Because… Sam told me." Her eyes closed, full of self-loathing. "She told me she had seen him drinking and I didn't want to believe she meant it."

"What do you mean?"

Her head throbbed, and Brooke rubbed at her bump, grimacing at the tenderness. Shaken, she sucked in a ragged breath. There was no energy for lies. Chin rising, she looked at Dusty. "I wanted to believe she was jealous."

There was a terrible, awkward silence, as she looked into Dusty's unreadable expression.

The door burst open, interrupting whatever response Dusty had been on the verge of giving.


The sight of her father, trailed by Jane and little Mac, brought such a rush of relieved emotion in her she nearly burst into tears. Like a baby, she opened her arms and when her father flew into them, wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him close.

"Honey," he whispered, out-of-breath and terrified. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," she managed, holding onto him as tightly she could. "I'm okay. Daddy, I'm sorry-"

"Well, you should be!" Blinking, Brooke looked through watery eyes at Jane. Her step-mother was bouncing Mac on her hip, looking nearly hysterical. "Brooke, what on earth were you thinking!"

"I didn't… I didn't-"

"It was my fault," Dusty managed, and Brooke remembered she was there, looking small and frail, her big cast plastered against her chest. Her voice was huskier than Brooke had ever heard it. "The guy who was driving was my band mate, and I should have checked with him-"

Already, she could feel her father stiffen in her arms, rigid, righteous anger. "Dad, no. It wasn't Dusty's fault. She had no idea-"

"Do your bandmates drink on a regular basis?" Mike's voice was flat, sharp.

"Dad!" Straightening, she grabbed her father's shirt. "No. This isn't her fault." Sucking in her breath, she turned to her girlfriend, knuckles white as she grabbed hold of the bedpost with her good hand. "Dusty, maybe you should wait outside."

A small twitch of anguished bitterness slipped across her lips, and without another word, Dusty just shook her head, pivoting on her heel.

"Brooke, what were you thinking?!" Jane exploded, as soon as the other girl was gone. "Do you understand what could have happened to you?"

"YES!" Brooke snapped, unnerved. "I do, Jane!"

"I had reservations about that girl," Mike said, hands on his hips. "From the first day."

"Dusty wasn't the problem!" Brooke snapped. "She didn't know how drunk Caleb was!"

"And you did?" Jane came forward, one hand palming the side of her face, inspecting the bruise even as she glared at her, obviously disappointed. "Sam told me she tried to warn you, Brooke."

"Sam what?"

"Don't worry," Jane said, handing the baby to Mike to better tilt Brooke's head. "She didn't squeal, if that's what you're thinking. She was nearly hysterical when we called her to tell her you were in the hospital. I had to drag it out of her."

Brooke's heart stopped cold. "Where is she?"

"Outside," Mike said, fingers on the bridge of his nose, in an obvious struggle to maintain control of his emotions. "I tell you, Brooke, I can't believe you could get into a car WILLINGLY-"

"I know," Brooke said, suddenly focused on the door. "I know, Dad, and you can punish me for it, but I'm SORRY. I know it was dumb and I know it was idiotic and you're right, someone could have been seriously hurt-"

"Fine!" Mike's arms flew up, palms in the air, face red from emotion. "Brooke, you get it. You understand it. It doesn't change the fact that your mother and I both were frightened out of our wits when we got the call. You were VERY lucky. Understand that."

Brooke felt her eyes close in regret. "I'm sorry," she managed again. Her head was throbbing. She felt idiotic and depressed and oddly alone. Straightening, she reached for Little Mac, running her palm along the small back. "Why didn't Sam come in?"

Mike looked frustrated, unable to get past the torrent of emotions that erupted at the idea of his little girl in trouble. "She didn't want to, Brooke. Okay?"

It wasn't okay. The very idea caused such a level of hurt in her she actually gasped.

And then she heard her. Loud. Biting. Drifting in from outside her door. Angry words that forced her to turn, walk as quickly as she could to reach the hallway.


Chest tightening, Brooke felt her throat close up as she began to comprehend what she was seeing.

Sam, eyes wild with what had to be rage, didn't seem to care that there were nurses glaring at her, and large men in scrubs were headed her way. Her step-sister only saw one target, and that was Dusty.

A large lump of emotion welled up into her throat, and with it, came sudden panic.

Without thinking, Brooke moved fast, pushing out of her hospital room door toward the fighting pair.

Dusty, it appeared, had run out of patience.

"If you knew so God-damned much, why the hell didn't you try to stop her?!"

Brooke didn't wait to register Sam's reaction. Without a word, she reached forward and grabbed Sam's wrist, jerking her into her side. She didn't speak, she didn't even look at Sam, she simply began to move.


Fingers tightening around Sam's wrist, Brooke continued to move, jerking Sam around the corner roughly, away from Dusty, away from their parents, away from the sick, dark smell of intensive care.

"Brooke, STOP!" With a vicious tug, Sam broke free of her grip. Whirling, Brooke took in the angry girl, as she rubbed at her wrists, eyes moist and completely overwhelmed with emotion.

"What were you doing?" Brooke asked, as quietly as she could, despite the intense raging in her heart. "This is a hospital, Sam!"

"Oh, God," Sam breathed, head falling back to raise eyes toward the ceiling. "Great. You lecture ME, Brooke. That's not at all hypocritical."

A shudder of emotion went up her spine, and Brooke, in the midst of a white corridor, felt the walls closing in on her.

"Okay," she managed, eyes shutting tight. "I deserved that."

"You deserve a lot fucking WORSE, Brooke!" The words exploded from Sam, and Brooke opened her eyes, unable to speak. "What the hell is wrong with you!? Why didn't you listen to me!"

She swallowed, palms pressed against her thighs, overtaken.

"You could have died," Sam enunciated, coming forward. "Do you understand that? You COULD HAVE DIED."

It was then she realized that Sam was openly crying. Shoulders shaking, her beloved brunette looked completely defeated. Eyes shining with surrendered emotion, Sam's head was shaking, furious and frightened and it was all directed at her.

Her mouth opened and yet she could find no words. Her feet were firmly planted on the ground and they seemed glued there.

"FUCK, Brooke. I can't do this…" Sam's sleeve wiped desperate at her eyes, voice clogged and broken. "I can't keep coming here …"

Oh, God. Sammy was scared.

Brooke didn't remember the accident. She remembered lights bearing down on her and she remembered the screams. She remembered waking up months later and being told every ugly thing that had happened to her body.

Sam had seen it happen.

"Sam." Her voice was thick, pleading. "Sam, I'm okay-"

"No," Sam stepped away, away from her when Brooke tried to reach for her. "Don't touch me-"

"I'm sorry." Her eyes were stinging and her heart was broken, but she had to touch Sam. She moved - so fast - fingers grabbing hold of strong shoulders, trembling underneath her touch.

Shuddering, Sam jerked away. "Fucking leave me alone-"

"No," Brooke snapped, fueled by emotion. "I'm not leaving you-" Arms wrapping around Sammy, she brought the struggling body against her. "I'm not leaving you, Sam."

"God DAMN you, Brooke!" But the head fell and suddenly limbs were wrapping around her shoulders and a wet face was buried into her neck.

"I'm sorry," Brooke repeated, an eternal mantra. "I'm so sorry." A thin body plastered against hers, and Brooke's heart beat into her throat, but her hold only tightened. Cheek brushing against silky hair, Brooke's eyes stung with moisture and she couldn't help herself from threading fingers through Sam's scalp, rubbing rhythmically.

Sam shivered, tangled in her arms.

"I love you." Brooke heard the words, and her heart stopped, nearly choking her, as Sam's head lifted away from her collarbone, and brown eyes seared into her soul. "I love you, Brooke. I don't know what I would ever do if I lost you."

With a ragged sigh, Brooke couldn't help but spread her palm against Sam's soft, wet cheek. She brushed at the tears as lovingly as she could, but she couldn't speak. There were no words.

When Sam kissed her, Brooke's mouth opened immediately, brushing against soft lips with such tenderness, it was almost sacred.

Lips clung to hers so sweetly, salty with tears. Pressed together intimately, Brooke pulled back just enough to stare into brown eyes liquid with emotion. Thumb tracing the jawline of her beloved, Brooke didn't let her go.

Movement caught her eye, and it was then she discovered Dusty, turning the corner, stopping just short of them both.

She stiffened just slightly, a terrible sinking feeling in her stomach, as her eyes met Dusty's. She knew what it looked like, standing so close to Sam, palms spread against her cheek so intimately.

It looked exactly like what it was.

And still, she only exhaled, offered no explanation, as she watched Dusty's face close, expression fade away.

Heel twisting on the linoleum, Dusty walked away from her.


Questioning brown eyes and a voice tainted with tears changed her focus, and she rediscovered her beautiful Sammy.

Bewildered, Sam glanced back to stare at an empty hallway.

With a sad smile, Brooke's thumb traced full lips, and once again followed a strong jawbone, to curl around the nape of Sam's neck.

"Do you ever think that maybe you have it all figured out and then the rug gets pulled out from under you, and you feel like a complete idiot?"

Maria wasn't a chain smoker. Whenever she did pull out the pack, it was because she was deeply stressed. The habit was picked up thanks to long hours on sets which she PA'd during her summers.

Leaning against the wall outside the ER, she looked truly shaken. There were no eccentricities, just an exhausted frown and the focused motion of bringing the cigarette to her lips and sucking in the lungful of smoke.

Brooke stayed downwind, in an over sized Medic's jacket, staring at the flashing light of the ambulance that stood in the loading dock.

"All the time," she said, shaking her head no when Maria offered her a drag.

Her close embrace with Sam had been interrupted when Mike and Jane had turned the corner, and Brooke, awkward all over again, was forced to release Sam in favor of another lecture from her father on drinking do's and don'ts.

Sam had since disappeared with Mac, and while Jane and Mike went over her release papers, Brooke had been forced to wait outside. She considered it a stay-of-execution.

Arching an eyebrow, Maria rubbed at her neck, wincing. "You know, I knew they were drinking. I had a couple shots with them. I thought we were okay."

Her friend sounded listless, lost in her own thoughts. Shivering in her coat, Brooke didn't respond.

"God, it's just all so stupid, right? Half the time I don't even LIKE Johnny. The sex was amazing and he's in a rock band and what the hell does it matter now? We could have killed someone, Brooke."

"I know."

Tilting her fingers, Maria dropped ashes on the curb, and smiled morbidly. "It's just stupid. Like smoking outside of a fucking hospital. It's dumb."

"Yeah, it is."

"God, I'm so bummed I'm not sure I even want to go to Stephanie's beach party tomorrow. Are you going?"

"I don't know. I think I'm probably grounded."

"Right. Your dad looked really pissed."

"Yeah," she said and then continued matter-of-factly, "I think Dusty and I just broke up."

Visibly thrown, Maria sat down beside her. "It wasn't her fault, Brooke-"

"I know." Brooke rubbed at her forehead, wincing as she felt the bump under her fingertips. "It's not that. I just don't think I'm ready to be with anyone right now."

"Is it 'cause you're frigid?"

She closed her eyes, and smiled bitterly. "I wish."

It came as no surprise when Brooke was unable to sleep.

She was tired, she was sore, her headache hadn't completely gone away, and the drugs she had been given made her thirsty and hot.

She was also in a supreme state of self loathing.

With the drive home came a certain sense of disaffected relief. Sam was in the car, but they were separated by a car seat, and the other girl had been completely silent.

Not that it seemed to matter to her father or Jane. They seemed perfectly content to yell at her the entire ride home. Brooke had yet to be punished, but she suspected that the only reason was because they had been so busy screaming, they forgot.

There had come with the events of the evening a certain state of understanding.

She knew that somewhere in the middle of all of this, Dusty had fallen for her and Brooke had also summarily broken her heart.

She also understood that the coma was a completely traumatic event, not just for her, but for Sam. If anything, it was quite possibly more traumatic for Sam, and still affected her deeply.

She understood that her action of getting into the car with the drunk driver was a severe lapse of judgment that had been spurred by jealousy. Not trusting Sam at that moment was probably one of the most unforgivable things she had ever done.

It was a mistake that could have cost her her life.

Why was it that whenever she felt she was growing, moving on, she only fell further?

"Because you're avoiding the truth," she told herself, speaking out loud, into the darkness of her room.

The truth was that she loved Sam. There was no getting around it. No getting over it. It would continue to surface until she stopped being a coward and dealt with it, because Sam wasn't going anywhere.

Brooke owed it to her to do it single, uninhibited, and without judgment.

The sweet kiss that Sam had given to her in the heat of an intensely intimate moment still tingled on her lips and, breathing unsteadily, Brooke couldn't help but relive it.

When the bathroom light clicked on at 3AM, Brooke swallowed in anticipation. Her pulse began to quicken, and afraid and exhilarated, she waited for that inevitable knock, for Sam's soft voice to ask permission to enter.

Instead she only heard movements, opening and closing of drawers, and then she heard the door open and close again. The line of light underneath her door faded away immediately.

She was on her feet in an instant, padding barefoot to the bathroom door, opening it and entering quickly.

Sam's light was on.

Feet cold on the linoleum, she tried to hear above the pounding of blood in her ears, as she knocked on Sam's door.

There was a brief, tortuous pause, and then she heard Sam's voice, telling her to come in.

Feeling awkward, she grasped the doorknob and twisted, pulling and discovering Sam wide awake, an open luggage bag on her bed.

The sight caused a sudden surge of fear. "What are you doing?"

Glancing up, Sam looked apologetic and fragile.

"Hey." Her dark brown hair fell into her face, and she brushed it back; slow, methodical. "I… uh… I'm going back to Northwestern. Tomorrow."

The information was impossible to process, and Brooke couldn't let it sink in. She sucked in a painful breath, arms crossing each other defensively. "What?"

"I didn't go to that party last night to play nice, Brooke." Sam's eyes were on the luggage, and her voice was clogged with emotion. "I… I wanted to see if you really liked her. I wanted to see if there was a chance I could fight for you. Break you guys up."

She hissed, an inhalation of deep air when she felt suddenly lightheaded.


"I was jealous." Sad brown eyes rose to meet her own, scorching her. "And I hate that it was true. It wasn't the reason I told you about Caleb. That was sincere. But you looked so proud and… happy that I was trying to move on…" She paused and suddenly began to wipe at her eyes, straightening against her emotion. "I'm not a quitter, Brooke. But it's not fair. Not to you and not to me. I know I'm hurting you guys. I know that the reason you didn't believe me was because you thought I was jealous and it almost got you killed."

"Sammy, that was MY fault," Brooke broke in, suddenly deeply afraid. "Not yours-"

"Yeah, okay," Sam said, like she didn't believe her. "But you were getting over me, right? I mean… You said you wanted to, and you had found Dusty and then I come back and I ruin everything-"

"No, Sam." Her voice was hard, emotional, almost desperate. "You didn't ruin anything. I wasn't… I wasn't ready for Dusty. Okay? I'm not over you, Sam."

"But you want to be, right?"

Brooke blinked, lost.

"Look, Brooke." Sam's hand covered her mouth, as she struggled with her words. "I don't want you to love me because you can't stop doing it. Okay? That's… That's where all this comes from, you know? All this… Anger and resentment and this inability to make anything work…"

She swallowed "I wanted you, Sammy."

"And I wanted nothing to do with you. I know. I know, Brooke." Sam's eyes closed, as if she was having a mental war with herself. "But how much of that was because you wanted me or because you couldn't NOT want me?" Brooke swallowed hard. "You're the one who told me to go back to Rebecca, remember? You said this wasn't going to work out unless we both gave in, but where does that put us?" Sam struggled with her luggage. "You asked me to let you go. And I couldn't do it. But if I love you, I have to. I have to let you go and I have to be away from you because if not I'm not going to stop wanting you."

She got angry. She couldn't help it. "Bull shit, Sam," she breathed, stepping back from her. "This isn't about me. This is about you. You're scared. You've always been scared."

Wide eyes stared at her.

"Yes, we have a problem," Brooke whispered fiercely. "But you leaving isn't going to solve anything. It's just going to make it worse. I'm not going to stop loving you just because you go AWAY, Sam. If it were that easy, it wouldn't be this hard. You love me." The words were accusing, hurt.

Sam looked up. "Yeah," she admitted. "I'm not gonna stop, Brooke."

"Then don't LEAVE," Brooke snapped, coming forward. "Don't go! Just stay here and stop being afraid and help me learn HOW to love you without hurting you."

Sam was unusually quiet. She wasn't angry, like Brooke. She was resigned. Locked away in some part of her that was unfazed by Brooke's anger.

She had made up her mind to do this. "You said I saved your life, remember?"

Of course she remembered. She meant every word.

"Well… Not trusting me almost got you killed, and I'm not going to let that happen again." Frozen, unable to believe this was happening, Brooke stood still as Sam came forward. Brown eyes were shining brilliantly with tears, and Brooke didn't realize she was also crying until soft fingers came to her and began to wipe them gently away. "I love you, Brooke. I'll love you forever."

When Sam kissed her, it was different than the desperately tender kiss she had been given at the hospital. Stained with tears, delicate and chaste, this one spoke of good-bye.

"Sam, no," she managed, but Sam easily captured her struggling arms, bringing them back to her.

"I need you to let me finish packing," she whispered.

Just like that, Sam was leaving her. Again. Breaking her heart. Again.

Brooke decided she had enough.

"Fine," she managed, ignoring her hot, angry tears. "Fine. Go. Love me and leave me and good riddance, Sam. You are SO full of shit, you know that? All this ... BULLSHIT may sound prettier than telling me that loving me made you a bad person, but you know what it is? It's an excuse. Just like everything else. And I'm done with excuses."

"Brooke, don't make this harder-"

"I'm not. I just made it easier. Good luck." With that, she turned, and walked away from her.


Part 17. She'll Admit to Everything

"Well you couldn't, and even if you did it wouldn't make any difference because you'd just be giving in to me, and a thing like this can't be one sided, we'd have to both give in, both of us together."

"And where would that put us?"

"No place in this world, because it can't be done."

~John Hodiac and Judy Garland, the Harvey Girls


In her anger, Brooke decided she had had enough with crying.

Wordlessly wiping the tears from her face, Brooke shut off her lights, and locked her door. She grabbed hold of her iPod from her drawer beside the table and settled back on the bed, determined to drown herself in music.

It almost worked. The angry music was so loud she was sure that she had burst an eardrum during a particularly ear-splitting solo, but it was what she needed.

She didn't want to consider Sam, packing less than twenty feet away, full of fear and apologies and pessimistic fatalistic thoughts.

She wanted to believe that if Sam came knocking on her door, full of whispers and apologies, she could tell her to go away, because she was THAT angry and Sam was right, she wanted to be over her. She wanted to forget her, forget this extreme of heaven and hell she had endured since the moment Sam had stepped into her life.

Her head ached and her heart pounded and there was a suffocating knot of tension buried in her stomach like a snake coiled inside of her.

And still... The music ended and the light in the bathroom clicked off and left in darkness, a sleepless Brooke's eyes opened.

It was quiet, and silent, and in that moment, Brooke understood just what it was she was beginning to face.

It had been six months, six months since she had lain on this bed in this exact same position, making ten thousand promises to herself and keeping exactly none of them.

Everything since then, every action since even the moment she had gotten up from the table in the fancy restaurant at junior prom had been an attempt to regain control of her own runaway emotions.

Loving Sam had never felt like a choice she had consciously made. It had been worked up inside her, until it flared and burst into a flame and Brooke had tried to quench it - and then control it - and it was all to no avail.

She understood what it was to fear.

Brooke had never been able to control Sam. She understood her, more than she wanted to at times, but she had never been able to reason with her. Everything she said, everything she did, always touched some sort of hot button, evoking the worst possible reaction, that only heightened in the aftermath of their intimacy.

"I'm not over you, Sam."

"But you want to be, right?"

Exhausted, she closed her eyes, unnerved and haunted.

She left the house early, too early to hear any arguments or punishments. Her head still ached, and her back was now sore, but she shouldered her bag and she stepped into her car with only a wince.

Sticking the keys in the ignition, Brooke paused a moment, swiveled her head and looked up at a window.

An intense shot of pain knifed its way into her chest, and with a choked breath, Brooke fumbled for her keys, jerking. The car roared to life, and Brooke was ashamed as she breathed a sigh of relief, pulling away.

It would be a long drive to campus, but at least she had a destination in mind.

True to form, Brooke threw herself into her work. Checking into the photography lab this early had thrown the student yawning at the front desk, but she secured use of the lab without having to wait.

She had neglected her work lately, and if Brooke was going to move on, this time for good, she needed to work.

Pulling the pack down from her shoulders, Brooke immediately began to sort the rolls of film that had been gathering in the small compartment. Two for school projects, one for the paper, one of Dusty's band...

With nimble fingers she began to inspect the cardboard boxes, each etched clearly with the date and subject, because Brooke was organized in everything but matters of the heart.

With a deep, methodical breath, she began to set them up.

She was still new at color, but the paper preferred black and white anyway. It would do to at least develop those, get them done.

She had spent long hours in a dark room the weeks after spring break. It became her cave, and in a way Brooke was almost glad of it. Learning the intricacies involved in mixing powders and choosing developer fluid and controlling the exact measure of light required focus and discipline, and in her photos Brooke found a safer way of viewing the world.

She worked quickly, moving from the developer to the stop bath, working the film until she had three rolls drying above her, weighted by butterfly clips.

That was the time she hated the most.

She stayed in the darkroom, sinking down in a chair and closing her eyes.

She didn't know what time it was; she refused to look at her phone.

When it rang, she turned it off.

Anxious, Brooke began to fiddle with her camera, fiddling with the buttons until she realized there was still a roll locked inside of it, one frame away from complete rotation.

The Getty.

Brooke knew better than to think it was morbid curiosity that forced her to reach up, turned the camera on herself, and snap the frame.

With nimble fingers, she opened the casing and extracted the film.

Her fingers were trembling, but she was careful.

It was infinitely precious.

"Hi, you've reached Brooke's voicemail. I'm either in class or in a dark room or screening, so leave me a message and I'll give you a call at my earliest convenience."

"Brooke, it's Stephanie. Are you okay? I can't believe that guy was drunk! That's just so crazy! You're still coming tonight, right? Because Maria told me you and Dusty broke up and I'm sorry but you HAVE to tell me the whole story. Like. NOW. Or if not? Tonight. I hope you don't mind. I invited Harrison. He's cute."

"Hi, you've reached Brooke's voicemail. I'm either in class or in a dark room or screening, so leave me a message and I'll give you a call at my earliest convenience."

Brooke, honestly? I know we haven't actually provided an actual punishment for last night... but there are still things we need to discuss! Leaving a message saying you're going to be in a dark room all day is not good enough! You're sister's leaving for Northwestern tonight. Did you know anything about this? Come home soon, Brooke.

"Hi, you've reached Brooke's voicemail. I'm either in class or in a dark room or screening, so leave me a message and I'll give you a call at my earliest convenience."

Hey. It's Dusty. I think we need to talk. Call me.

In a dark room, there was quiet. No sound but the swishing of fluid, the acrid scent of chemicals, and stained fingers soaking sheets. Colored eyes watched intensely as pictures emerged from a blank canvas.

The back of a child, with chubby legs and chubby feet and short dark hair, staring over the sloping plain of a garden, preparing herself for the courage to roll down it full force.

The profile of a rock star dripping with sweat, mouth open and eyes brilliantly clear, guitar hanging from straps on her arms as she stood on a stage. For the moment overwhelmed, exhausted, and sated.

A brunette, with dark glasses and dark lips, lying back on grey grass, looking into the camera in a perfect, unknowing pose.

Brooke lifted the wet picture from the fluid, and stared into it.

Her chest began to swell and Brooke sucked in her breath, suddenly overcome.

In the tray, forming a picture of quiet devastation and resolve, was a blonde woman in a dark room. Alone. Tired. And scared.

Finding a parking spot in Hollywood Hills had always been hard, but Brooke found a yellow loading area that was free.

She wouldn't be staying long.

Unloading from the car, Brooke grabbed hold of the packet of prints and removed her sunglasses.

The quiet experience in the dark room had left her numb and still.

She moved up the stairs and when her shoulder contracted - a sudden muscle spasm - she ignored it.

Rapping on the door with her knuckles, Brooke bit her lip and waited until Dusty appeared in a wife beater and a tight pair of jeans. Her girlfriend's expression was tight and guarded as she stared at her from the other side of the screen door.

"Hi," Brooke managed, voice suddenly tight.

Dusty seemed at war with herself, and then without a word she flipped the latch and with a creak, the screen door opened.

Brooke thought Dusty was generous, given the circumstances.

"Thanks," she managed, and gingerly stepped into Dusty's apartment, not nearly as freely as she had the evening before.

Dusty's hand crossed over her injured arm, and she shifted on her feet nervously, glancing away from her.

"How's your shoulder?" Brooke asked, when the silence became nearly unbearable.

Still averting her eyes, Dusty managed a dry smile. "Great," she answered, and then her head rose. "Just fucking peachy, Brooke."

Brooke expected anger. "I'm sorry."

Dusty swallowed, eyes blinking, suddenly moist. "That day, I saw you in the quad. And you were crying." Brooke's throat closed up, her heart froze in her chest. "You were crying over Sam, weren't you?"

Uncomfortable, Brooke took a deep breath. She owed her the truth, at least. "Yes," she said, firmly, carefully. "I ... Sam and I just ... Yes," she finally just answered. "I was crying over Sam."

Dusty's mouth closed, a firm line, and she rubbed at her injured arm like it was a tick. "Do you love her?"

She swallowed hard. "Yes."

"And Sam loves you."

Her sigh was ragged. "Apparently."

"But you're not together."

Her smile was sad. "It's complicated."

"So complicated you decided to try and fuck me instead?"

The sentence was a like a punch into her stomach. It actually hurt. "It wasn't like that."

Dusty nodded mechanically. "I guess I had it coming. I mean, I knew I was something."


"But you don't exactly run into gay step-sisters in love all the time, you know?"


"I cheated on you."

The words were said breathless, panicked, and Brooke blinked, thrown by the sentence.

Dusty sank down on the couch, lost. "Last night. One of those fucking groupies came to the hospital and I had just seen you with her and..."

"And you brought her home," Brooke said, frame stiff, voice surprisingly clear.

"... Yeah."

Brooke didn't want to know who it was. She felt the pain, and for the moment, she was grateful for it. It proved she had felt something for Dusty, in the midst of all this.

It hadn't all been about using her to get past Sam.

"Okay," Brooke said, nodding and drawing in a deep breath. "I brought you these." Packet in hand, she reached forward, holding them out to her ex-girlfriend.

Uncertain, Dusty just stared at her. "You're not even going to get mad?"

"I'm not over Sam, Dusty. And I know it's not fair to you to try and be with you, even if I can't be with her. I need to learn how to deal with it instead of trying to figure out how to move on. And if that's the case, then I don't deserve to get mad." Her mouth trembled. "But if you wanted to hurt me, you did."

Settling down on her couch, Dusty reached for the guitar strewn haphazardly beside her, and twanged carelessly on it. "It helps a little."

Dusty was a beautiful girl, with shaggy hair and a great smile. But she wasn't Sam.

Reaching forward, she took the pictures from Brooke's fingers, and fumbling a bit, managed to open the envelope. Prints spilled out, 8 x 10s of rockstars and clubs and Elphaba Thropp.

Dusty looked at them silently, dark eyes taking in each and every shot, before wordlessly moving to the next.

"These are really good," she told Brooke quietly.

"Thank you," Brooke responded, and they stood awkwardly in Dusty's living room, strangers once again. "For what it's worth... I didn't know... I mean, it wasn't because of..."

"Yeah it was," Dusty interrupted, staring up at her. "And if you're going to say you didn't want to hurt me, it's a little late for that."

And there it was. The end of it.

"Okay," she said to Dusty and turned away.

"Hey, Brooke."

Pausing, Brooke glanced back, to find Dusty wavering. "I wasn't in love with you yet."

Unsure where this was going, Brooke kept quiet.

"If you need a friend. In a couple months, I could probably be that."

At that moment, Brooke really wished she could have loved Dusty.

"Thank you," she said unsteadily, grateful. "I'll take you up on that."

"Sam's flight is leaving in two hours," Jane told her, the minute she stepped into the house. "Do you have anything to do with this?"

Brooke stared silently at her step-mother, in the midst of feeding baby Mac mashed up bananas. From her toddler's chair, Mac shot her happy banana filled smile.

"Probably," Brooke admitted, pulling a packet of pictures out of her pack, dropping the rest of her stuff on a nearby kitchen chair. "But I'm going to fix it."

Jane eyed her carefully, quietly. "What's going on, Brooke?"

She paused, and looked back at her step-mother. "What do you think is going on, Jane?"

Jane's eyes were dark. Her expression was guarded. She looked nearly afraid.

Brooke was finally centered and nervous and yet somehow no longer afraid to face her own truths.

It didn't mean Jane was there with her.

Shoulders dropping, Brooke came forward and without another word, pressed a kiss to Jane's temple. "I can't make her stay," she whispered. "But I can promise you that I love her, and I will make sure she knows that."

Straightening, she didn't wait for Jane's reaction as she pressed another kiss to Mac's forehead and then headed for the stairs.

She found Sammy in her bedroom, seated at her desk, hands folded on top of her desk, staring at Lil' Bleu Too.

Breathless, Brooke paused in the doorway. For the moment, she drank in the sight.

This was her Sammy. Beautiful. Stubborn. And sometimes, when she thought no one was looking, quiet, sentimental, vulnerable.

The figure in her bed stirred, turned, and dark eyes locked on hers.

"I'm sorry," Sam said, a beat later, suddenly scrambling to her feet. "I didn't know you were home-"

"Don't apologize to me," Brooke interrupted quietly. Closing the door behind her, Brooke couldn't help her staring, mapping the dark hair and the dark eyes, beautifully intoxicating.

And poor Sammy didn't know what to say to that. She was scared and unsure and certain she was doing this for the good of Brooke, and it was idiotic, but it was what Sammy needed to do.

"I'm not going to be here when you leave," she announced, as firmly as she could. Sam's eyes went to the floor. "Because I don't think I'd be strong enough not to ask you to stay."

In the searching, startled glance that Sam gave her, Brooke found her strength.

"I'm not sure," she began, "If you ever really understood why I walked away from you, when I woke up from my coma."

Brown orbs flitted downward, to the carpet, then back up.

"I've said so many things to you in my head that I forget I haven't actually said them out loud." Brooke wrapped arms around herself. "I just kinda... expect you to step into my shoes and understand and..."


"It's okay, Sammy. I hurt you. I get that." Brooke's emotion began to bleed into her words, and it caused her to choke up. She paused, head shaking, trying to reorient herself.

"I hurt you too."

"Yes," she agreed. "You did. Many times. But you also made me very happy, Sammy. I don't think you... I always had problems in high school, Sam. I always tried so hard to make everyone else happy because I thought that if I did that, I would make myself happy." Sam kept quiet, but she heard her inhale deeply. "And for a long time, I deluded myself into thinking that I had succeeded, and then I crashed into you in a hallway and my heart did this..." With the package in her palm, she pressed against her chest. "Sam, the first time you smiled at me, when you really LOOKED at me, and SAW me and you smiled... I had never felt anything like that. Ever."

Sam was frozen. Her expressive mouth quivered, opened, then closed. Unnerved by her own naked honestly, Brooke was almost grateful for her uncharacteristic muteness.

"Maybe I fell in with love with you because you made me love myself. Or maybe because you loved me, I could finally love myself. I don't know. All I know is that as miserable as I like to say you made me, nothing ever made me happier than when I was with you." Sucking in her breath, Brooke tried to continue. "On prom night, with Harrison... I sat at that table and I realized that I was in love with you. And it scared the hell out of me. So I ran. And I ran from you and into Nicole's car."

Sam's fingers twitched, they pressed against her hips, as if Sam had nowhere else to put them.

"Brooke..." Sam began unsteadily. "You don't have to-"

"I do," Brooke replied softly, and kept her distance. Mouth curving up slightly, she sighed raggedly. "Because I owe it to you. Because I wrote you a letter that told you all of this and I was too scared to send it, and now you're leaving me again and I won't be able to live with myself if I don't tell you all the things I've never said. Because I can now."

She came forward, as close as she dared without touching Sam. "Here's the thing, Sammy. I love you. Not because I have to, or because I have no other choice, but because I just love you. Even when I can't stand you I can't help but ache to be with you, and when I hurt you all I want to do is take you in my arms and never hurt you again."

She smiled.

"Maybe, we got lucky, or we got cursed. I met the love of my life at sixteen and I wasn't ready, Sam. There was so much else clouding everything and I couldn't see it and when I did I couldn't handle it. I wasn't supposed to feel this way so soon. You meet the person you're supposed to be with when you're older. When you're past all the petty stuff and not when you don't even realize you're gay or when your parents decide to get married... The things you make me feel scared me so much Sam, but what I'm more afraid of it not feeling that way ever again. And I know I won't if I'm not with you."

Sam looked breathless, and it wasn't Brooke's intention.

Biting her lip, Brooke forced her arms across her chest, pressing the paper envelope against her.

"I know everyone always says that your first love you get over, but I'll never get over you, and I don't want to. I want to make you happy. I wanna know how to do it and I know I can because I'm so good at making you miserable, that if I worked at it, I could make you so happy. I want us to have a chance and I want us to be with each other for the rest of our lives. But I can wait, because that's how long we have. We have the rest of our lives and I'm going to love you for that long. I'm going to get this right. I'm going to be with you. But when you're ready. Just know, when you go, I'll be waiting for you. I'll be working on me. And when you decide to come back to me, I'm not ever letting you go."

It was pure, utter resolve, and it sounded so much braver than Brooke felt, but it was finally said. Out in the open. Out loud, and Brooke was unashamed.

Sam looked terrified. "Brooke," she managed, thick and broken. "I can't-"

Tears slid down perfect checks and Brooke reached forward, tenderly as she could, to gather the drops against her thumb.

"You don't have to. I have something for you." Her tone was soft and reverent, and she pressed the envelope of pictures into Sam's arms. "Look at them, Sammy, and look at how beautiful you are. Maybe, if you see yourself the way I see you, you can understand how beautiful I think you are."

Her thumb drifted against soft skin, and as her heart pounded, she forced her hand to drop, step away.

"Have a good flight," she managed, suddenly choked, and before she lost her resolve, she stepped out of her room.

Stephanie's beach party hosted a myriad of drunk frat boys and half naked sorority girls. Gorgeous, beautiful people drunk on cheap liquor, drunk on life.

The music was loud. The screams were shrill and ear-splitting.

Dressed in a bikini with a pair of cut-offs, Brooke could feel lingering glances. The token gay girl in an attractive sorority, Brooke understood her uniqueness. Like Sam, months ago, in this environment, she invited curiosity.

This time, when she stepped into the cool air, kicking off her sandals to step into the sand, trudging toward the waves, Brooke didn't have Sam's hand to hold on to.

The waves crashed into the shore, and on them Brooke focused. She wasn't sure why it was so important not to break down. Not to cry.

A spry of sand against her shorts alerted her to a warm face and a friendly smile.

Without a word, Harrison settled down beside her, depositing a bottle into her hand.

"Thanks," she managed, rubbing ruefully at her shoulder as she kept her gaze on the ocean. "I think I'm done with drinking for a while."

"It's lemonade," he corrected. "Steph says Maria brought them."

Brooke glanced down, staring at the label. "Somehow I'm not surprised," she answered, but smiled gratefully, lifting the bottle to her lips.

Harrison waited a moment, watching the rise and fall of the blue water, the frothy foam coming ever close to nipping at their toes.

"So..." As Harrison began, Brooke could only smile bitterly. "Where's Sammy?"

She swallowed, ignoring the lurch of pain inside her. "Probably on her way back to Northwestern."

"Right..." She heard an audible sigh. "I guess I'm just surprised that it came to that."

Her eyes screwed shut, fingers tightening around her bottle. "I ran from Sam for a year, Harrison. I guess I owe it to her to let her run for a while too."

"Because you're sure she'll come back."

"No," she responded. "I'm not. But I've said everything I could say. She's still going. I can't stop that."

Harrison nodded mechanically. "You never could stop Sammy when she put her mind to something."

Brooke dug her lemonade bottle into the sand. "You know, at Stephanie's last party, Sam got a little drunk. It was the night I first found out that she had wanted me. I was so scared, Harrison." She shook her head, still.

And then the tears came. So fast they took her by surprise. They were streaming down her cheeks before she even knew they were there, and Brooke began to sob, crumpling into a sodden mess against Harrison's shoulder.

Her friend drew her close, and desperate for comfort Brooke wrapped her arms around his neck, burying her nose into his collar.

"Oh, God, Harrison," she choked. "I wanted to do this. I wanted to let her go but -"

"Let who go?"

Tears caught in her throat, Brooke jerked away from Harrison's embrace to discover Maria and Stephanie staring down at her, wide-eyed and worried.

"Oh, God," she whispered, wiping furiously at her stinging eyes.

"Oh, my God, Brookie!" Plopping down beside her, Brooke found herself suddenly pressed against Stephanie's cleavage, the other girl nearly squeezing the blood out of her brain. "It's Dusty isn't it? That rocker chick broke your heart!"

"No," she managed, struggling against her friend's surprising strength. "Stephanie, you're choking me..."

"Umm..." Harrison sounded concerned. "Might want to ease up..."

"Do you want us to kick her ass? I mean, granted her groupies might get us first-"

"It's not Dusty!" Brooke snapped, jerking away. "It's Sam."

Stephanie looked dumbstruck. "Sam?" she repeated. "Your gay sister? You're hot for your sister?"

"No," Maria said, non-plussed as she took a drag off her cigarette. "They're step-sisters," she corrected. "And they didn't even grow up together. It's totally not incest. What?" she questioned, when everyone stared. "I listen!"

"You're hot for Sam? Cute Gay Sam? Oh, my GOD!" Reaching around Brooke, Stephanie smacked Harrison on the shoulder. "How could you not tell me?"

"Umm... Oww?" He responded, scuttling back. "Abuse is not an okay part of this relationship!"

"Oh, God, it makes so much sense now! You're not frigid at all! You're hot for your gay-step-sister!" Stephanie paused. "Somehow that doesn't come off as better."

Brooke closed her eyes, overwhelmed. "It doesn't matter," she sighed, wiping at her drying tears. "Sam's on a plane back to Northwestern, scared out of her mind, running away from me again and I'm stuck on this beach, hopeless, in love and... frigid, apparently," she added, when Stephanie blushed.

Reaching forward, Harrison grabbed hold of a handful of sand. "And you think it's fine. Letting her go."

"It's what she asked for, Harrison."

"Brookie, can I just say something?" Shifting, Brooke blinked, as Maria crouched down in front of her. "You're an idiot."

"Excuse me?"

"Look, I know I'm incredibly self-involved and a little bit of a tease, but I am your roommate, and that means I see things, ya know? Also, I read your emails."


"There's this movie I saw called 'The Harvey Girls'. We're supposed to do the musical in school next year so I was doing research. And in it Judy Garland is this waitress, right? And she comes to this really seedy western town where this really hot guy runs the local saloon and whorehouse-"

"Why are we getting a movie review?"

"Shut up, Harrison," Maria said sweetly. "Anyway, she's like this waitress and is all up for making the town respectable and he's like, all for you know, his whores and all. Anyway, they're hot for each other but they can't be together because they both can't be together without comprising themselves, right?"

"Uh... Ebert? Does this have a point?"

"YES!" Maria screeched. "Let me finish. God. Anyway, the guy decides to pack up and leave and Judy decides to go after him. Well, it turns out he decided the same thing so they end up both giving in, you know?"

"I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about."

Maria's eyes rolled heavenwards. "GO AFTER HER, YOU MORON. GIVE her a reason to believe in you besides your pretty pretty words and ten thousand broken promises."

For a brief moment, all Brooke could do was stare open-mouthed.

"Amazingly? That last part actually made sense." Harrison noted.

Brooke couldn't breathe.

The blood began to rush into her ears, and her heartbeat suddenly began to pound erratically. "Go after her?" she repeated. "To Northwestern?"

"Well..." Stephanie mused. "That IS a helluva gesture."

"Oh, God," Brooke breathed, suddenly hyperventilating. "She's really going, isn't she? I'm really going to - I have to go after her."

"Yes, you do," Harrison agreed.

"I have to go after her and if I have to bang on her dorm door and make her believe me- I can't- I have to go-"

"Oh this is so exciting!"

"Shut up!" Brooke said, scrambling to her feet. "I need to get to the airport."

"Brooke, wait up-"

"I can't! I need to get a flight!" Already, Brooke was stumbling in the sand, sprinting toward the beach house. "Stephanie, I'm stealing your clothes!"

She needed jeans.

She was pretty sure it was freezing in Northwestern.


Part 18A. She'll Say She's Just Not The Same

"Ladies and Gentlemen, in just a few minutes, we will begin our descent into Chicago-O'Hare airport. It's approximately 5:33 AM Central time. We'd like to thank you for flying with us here at American Airlines, and hope you've enjoyed your trip."

Her face was hot, but her fingers were ice cold. Brooke, who rarely touched her face for fear of clogging her pores with oils and microscopic dirt, found a happy medium as she pressed her palms against her cheeks, feeling the chill cool her seared skin.

The passenger beside her in the wrinkled business suit stirred briefly, eyes flickering open blearily before burying his head against the tiny blue pillow they had been given and burrowing as much as he could underneath the blue blanket.

He snored.

Brooke found herself slightly amused that she was so bothered by it.

Still, thanks to her freshman psych and being locked into a tiny coach seat for hours on end, she understood her reaction. It was late. She was twitchy. She had argued with cab drivers and ticket agents and Stephanie, when the other girl paled at the sight of Brooke shrugging on her puffy jacket filled with goose feathers. An hour of running through the airport with a dead cell phone battery and a credit card stretched to its limit had left her with a burst of adrenaline that intensified every emotion.

Brooke was obsessive to a fault. She knew that.

At this moment, every impulse was honed in on getting to Sam.

She was desperate, and scared, and… exhilarated.

A stewardess leaned across her, gently poking the man beside her and forcing his chair upright.

"Flight attendants, please prepare for descent."

Her chest tightened, her breath constricted, and head falling back against the cushion, Brooke willed herself not to imagine the scenario that awaited her. Sitting in a darkened plane with nothing but business travelers who stared at her oddly and nervous flight attendants who kept asking her if she was okay, gave her mind full permission to run wild, and Brooke was driving herself crazy.

She imagined showing up on some phantom doorstep, shivering and scared and full of apologies, and then watching, helpless as Sam slammed the door in her face. Too little. Too late.

The plane jerked into its descent, and Brooke's insides plummeted with it.

"Are you afraid of flying?"

The man beside her now had his eyes open, blinking blearily. It was then that Brooke realized her fingers were digging into the armrests on either side of her, knuckles white with exertion.

"There's nothing to be afraid of," he told her, grimacing, as he straightened out, long legs pushing out as well as they could in the cramped area.

"Thanks." Suddenly self conscious, Brooke drew her hands into her lap. "I'm not afraid of flying."

He arched an eyebrow in disbelief. "Well, you're incredibly flushed and twitchy. You're afraid of something. I'm a psychologist," he added, registering her perplexed confusion. "Forgive me. I can't turn it off." He looked almost embarrassed about it.

For some reason, that made her feel better.

Letting out a shallow breath, Brooke flashed a quick reassuring smile. "No… I … it's okay. I'm just… anxious."

"Not about flying."

"No, not about flying." Keeping quiet, he waited, hands crossed, for an explanation. "I nearly died a couple years ago. In a car accident. I was in a coma for a really long time."

If he was surprised, he had the decency not to mention it. "That's rough."

"Well, yeah," she breathed. The plane jerked, as the wheels hit the runway, and Brooke's heart lodged suddenly into her throat, making her choke a little. She gulped, trying to squeak her way around it. "I realized after that I had spent my whole life being afraid."

"Afraid of what?"

"My mother left when I was really young. I blamed myself. I thought if I had been perfect she wouldn't have left so I tried to be. Perfect."

"You have to know you're a very attractive young lady."

She grimaced at the very idea.

"Thank you," she said, managing not to be sarcastic at the sincere comment. "But I didn't think so. I thought I looked fat." His eyes widened, and Brooke's mouth twitched knowingly.

"You had an eating disorder."

"Yeah. And I was the most popular girl in school and I was gay and didn't know it. So I was ashamed of that." She was rambling, she knew that. All of this emotion had built up inside of her, and like a flooded damn, she was spilling over.

But he asked. Sort of.

He crossed his arms. "I see."

"Also, I'm in love with my step-sister."

She supposed that was the moment she tripped him. His carefully closed expression suddenly broke open, eyes widening into surprise. His mouth opened, then closed, and finally his shoulders just dropped. "I see."

"She loves me too. But our parents don't know and we have a sister and it's NOT incestuous but it seems that way and well, up until a couple years ago we hated each other. So it's a switch and between the coma and the eating disorder and the being afraid of everything I think I've hurt her so much that she's run away. Back to school. To Northwestern. I mean, I was so scared that now I made HER scared. The thing is, I don't want to be scared anymore. So now I have to convince her… Not to be afraid. And I'm the most frightened person on earth." She stopped, and cast him an uneasy glance. "Is this insane?"

He studied her carefully. "You're on a red-eye flight to Chicago to go tell your step-sister you love her."

She nodded mutely.

"I can see why you'd be anxious," he conceded, wiping methodically at his glasses. "But… I'm sorry…" he gestured at her with chubby fingers.

"Oh." She flushed. "Brooke. McQueen."

He smiled gently. "Dr. Morgenstern." He extended his hand for a polite shake. "I think that this is insanely courageous for a girl who has spent her life being afraid."

It was then she realized they had not only come to a full and complete stop at their gate, but seatbelt sign had been turned off with a cheerful ding, and still the flight attendants and the passengers in her cabin were not moving.

They were all staring at her. Brooke's throat closed in on her, forcing her to nearly choke.

Dr. Morgenstern rose, and gave her a smile. "I teach at Northwestern and have a car waiting for me. You wouldn't happen to be going in that direction?"

In retrospect, Brooke understood that it wasn't the SMARTEST idea to get into a cab with a strange guy she had just met on an airplane. But the card he had given her looked pretty official and the sleepy snappy dressed guy standing at the terminal gate holding the sign with his name printed on it seemed legit.

Brooke had told herself she had to stop being afraid.

And still… Standing outside on the curb, waiting as the driver put Dr. Morgenstern's luggage in the trunk, it occurred to her that she had absolutely no idea where Sam even LIVED.

"What's the name of your sister?" he asked, as the driver opened the door.

She hesitated, suddenly nervous, shifting her weight on her feet. "Sam. McPherson."

His eyes darkened a bit thoughtfully. "I see. Coming?"

"Stop being afraid, Brooke," she heard, in her head, almost as if Sam was standing right beside her. "Not STUPID."

"Shut up," she whispered to the ghost. "I'm coming to get you, Sammy. Whether you like it or not."

Casting the man a smile, she ducked into the waiting car.

Stephanie's designer goose down jacket was a little puffier than Brooke normally liked, but at least when she shivered in the backseat next to Dr. Morgenstern, it wasn't from cold.

Dr. Morgenstern yawned, trying to blink at the sleep from his eyes as he carefully tapped at the keyboard. "Wireless is sketchy," he explained, but appeared to concentrate.

Brooke tried to contain her impatience. She knew it was rude to stare, as the good doctor tried to bring up the school directory, and he had been so insanely NICE already.

"Can I ask why you're helping me?"

He frowned at his monitor, and peered closer at it. "Because the idea of a young woman wandering the streets of Chicago trying to get to Northwestern to surprise her step-sister when she has no idea where she lives is unappealing." He shot her a glance from behind his glasses. "I'm not a big believer in fate, Ms. Brooke, but I am a believer in being in the right place at the right time. There was a reason my flight was delayed two hours and you happened to have your seat right beside mine, in an otherwise nearly empty cabin."

Biting her lower lip, Brooke huddled further into her coat, and glanced outside the window at the ever changing scenery of the strange city, growing ever brighter with the breaking of morning.

"You think this is karma, or something?"

Out of the corner of her eyes, she noticed him smiled thinly. "I think that there has been many things leading you to this moment, and before today, you simply weren't ready. Now, you are."

"And the universe wants to make sure I have that chance?" It sounded oddly romantic, coming from the older professor.

"The universe?" he repeated, and actually thought about that. "Maybe that's a little broad. Every journey has a beginning, a middle and an end. On that road there are no accidents, simply occurrences. How they shape you decides what path you take. However long it takes you to get there, you do reach your destination. You choose where you end up. In this case, you ended up in Chicago. You begin one journey and you end it, only to start another. Something tells me you're nearing the end of a journey."

Her mouth opened, then closed. "Oh," she managed, tangling her hands together, before turning to face him again, suddenly weirded out. "Just so you know, it would really suck if you turned out to be a serial killer. I mean, I appreciate all this talk about journeys and all, but I would really hate to have it end like… killed or stranded or something instead of… you know… with Sam."

Dr. Morgenstern went oddly still, and in his shock, the laptop nearly tumbled from his fingertips.

"Sorry," she said.

"No," he said, recovering, sighing as he slumped in his chair. "I get that a lot." Shaking his head morosely. "It's the glasses, right? No. The hair."

"You don't have serial killer hair. More the creepy journey talk," Brooke noted carefully, more relieved than she cared to admit. "I would recommend a good leave-in conditioner."

At 7:15AM, Brooke found herself staring up at one of Northwestern's more popular residence halls. As the sun rose, the chill of the morning began to dissipate. Brooke shrugged off Stephanie's jacket, feeling suddenly sweaty.

She didn't have much money. Stephanie and Maria, rich beyond belief, had handed her a wad of bills but Brooke told herself she wouldn't use them, and her credit card limit had enough left on it for a cab ride and that was about it. At some point she would have to call her parents and give them a bigger explanation than the hurried one she left on their answering machine. And she would probably be grounded for eternity.

She was alone and out of her element, and none of it seemed to matter. This was where Sam lived.

Maybe it was nerves or exhaustion but Brooke felt so fragile, like she was made of spun glass, as she drank in the sight.

Allison Hall had a sprawling lawn and on this early summer morning there were only a couple students up; early risers, slinging backpacks and riding bikes.

It wasn't hard to imagine Sam lounging against a gnarled tree, dark brown hair falling into her face as she crossed her Ked shod feet, a bright grin flashing across her face when a fellow student engaged her in some sort of scholarly conversation.

She never asked Sam why she had decided on Northwestern of all places. She knew it had something to do with their journalism program, but at the time Brooke had been too consumed with forgetting herself to delve much deeper into Sam's decision.

She remembered a sharp flash of devastation that night when Sam discussed the decision openly with her parents, at one of those fairly quiet and awkward dinners. She remembered covering it up perfectly with a polite smile and a nod.

Now, it devastated Brooke again because she didn't know why Sam had decided on here of all places, but she had the suspicion that in at least some small part it had to do with getting away from her.

And now, a year later, she was in a part of Sam's world that she didn't know, and couldn't understand. She didn't know what went on here, what experiences shaped Sam's ideals, her focus.

It had been her choice, her actions, she knew that.

Was she sitting out here on this lawn when she told Brooke that loving her made her a bad person?

There was a painful knot permanently lodged in her throat, and as much as she tried to swallow it away, it remained, a reminder of her fear.

"God, Brooke," she admonished herself, shaking her head angrily, bouncing up and down lightly, forcing the blood back into her legs before beginning to trudge across the lawn.

"Sam," she whispered under her breath, trying to gain her strength. "I know you're surprised to see me, but I couldn't let you go, and I know it's a little bit stalker of me, but you came after me once and I wasn't ready and this crazy old guy said something about a journey…"

No. Nothing like that. Sam would stare at her with her big brown eyes and lush full mouth and pronounce her insane, call her parents, and have her committed.

She slowed when she reached the door to the residence hall. Bundling the ski jacket tighter, she hugged it with both arms as she inspected the electronic lock that guarded the front entrance.

"Key cards," she muttered. "Of course." On campus security here was apparently no different from USC.

Brooke always worked best when she had a plan. She knew how to approach things rationally and with control. The moments when she did not have control forced her to do very stupid and morally unethical things: like cheating on a test, like breaking up Carmen and Josh, like sleeping with Abby and pushing Sam away-

What was it about Sam that pushed rationality and control completely out of her head?

Her heart beat quickened, pounding in her chest, and Brooke battled against her rising adrenaline.

She didn't know what room Sam was in. She didn't even know what floor. Hell, the only thing she DID know was this was her summer housing assignment, and that was because the scary but well-intentioned Professor that looked like a serial killer had looked it up for her.

"I could so easily freak out right now," she breathed.

What was her plan, really? To somehow con her way inside and knock on every door until she found Sam or got arrested?

Her hands balled into fists around the ski jacket. Well… If it got the job done…

Brooke stayed in front of the door, peering inside in hopes of finding anyone who could open the door for her, ask them if they had seen a gorgeous brunette with dark brown eyes and an insanely lush mouth.

Behind her, someone coughed. "Excuse me."

Startled, Brooke whirled, immediately stepping aside. "Sorry, I didn't…" The sentence died in her throat when she got a good look at the girl waiting to go in. Her hair was messy. Her jeans were tight and slung low on her hips, and the way she slouched she looked like some sort of androgynous Calvin Klein model.

The girl stepped by her, keycard in hand. Aviator glasses masked most of her face, but the features were instantly recognizable. The name burst from her lips like a bullet. "Christelle?"

Christelle, Sam's Casanova companion, immediately whirled, thin lips parting. Clearly struggling to place her, Christelle's brow furrowed, pulling her large sunglasses lower on the bridge of her nose to get a better look.

Dark eyes met crystal.

"It's Brooke," she added, words nearly running together in her excitement, smiling nervously for her benefit. "Sam's ..."

"Oh... shit..." Christelle breathed, looking relieved of all things. Pushing her lenses back into place, she fell back against the entrance. "I thought for a second that you were this girl I had... Brooke?!" The glasses were once again yanked off. "What the hell are you doing here?!"

Ah, yes. That.

Fingers squishing the jacket in her arms almost obsessively, Brooke opted for what she hoped for was a friendly, innocent smile. Considering her heart was doing a gymnastic floor routine inside her chest, it may have not been very successful.

"I'm looking for Sam."

Christelle was clearly not a morning person. She had dark circles under her eyes and looked extremely hung over. Visibly struggling to understand, she blinked at her. "But... Sam's not here."

"No, I know," Brooke said, glancing away self-consciously. "She came in last night on a plane."

Christelle scratched furiously at her ear, trying to make sense of this. "No... I mean... wait... Why are you here?" Christelle fumbled for her cellphone, digging into her pocket like she was suddenly hopped on speed.

"Umm... I honestly would rather talk to Sam about that." Sucking in a lungful of air, she tried to stand her ground. She could understand Sam's friends trying to protect her, but this wasn't the time for intimidation. Brooke didn't have room for it. "If you can just tell me where she is-"

"No... Brooke..." Dark eyes flickered up and down, darting back and forth from Brooke to her phone. Her smile pulled into a tense frown. "You don't get it. Sam ISN'T HERE."

"I know!" she snapped, losing patience. "She was coming in last night-"

"No, Brooke. You REALLY don't get it. She called me. I was supposed to pick her up. Last night she left me a message. She never got on the plane. Sam's not here."

Brooke heard the words. They didn't compute. She stared dumbly, as she literally felt the sentence work its way into her mind, take shape, sink into a focused realization.

And she nearly died.

"What?!" she managed, a hysterical squeak.

"She didn't get on the plane!" Christelle repeated, eyes rounder than before. Her fingers closed over her phone like she was clutching into a safety net. "And now you're here and she's in LA-"

"OH FUCK!" Sam didn't get on the plane. Sam was in Los Angeles, and Brooke had just flown halfway across the country to a cold, stupid FRIGID STATE and Sam was thousands of miles away-

"Oh, God," Christelle said, "Don't start crying, okay?"

"I'm not crying!" But she was, she realized, when her fingers went automatically to her stinging eyes, and they came away wet. "I just... I just can't believe I came all the way out here to tell her that... that... Oh, God-DAMMIT, SAM!"

Fingers wrapped around her forearm and suddenly Brooke was yanked back into a skinny body. "Okay, now you're waking people up," Christelle snapped. Holding her against her, trying to keep her quiet, Christelle dialed as quickly as she could with her free hand.

"What are you doing?" Brooke wheezed. "I need to... I need to get a cab-"

"What you need to do is calm the fuck down."

"I am calm-"

"I'm talking to myself," Christelle interrupted, phone to her ear, eyes rolling up to the back of her head. "It's ringing - OH thank God. It's me. I'm coming over. I don't CARE if it's not even fucking eight in the morning, we're coming over!"

Shivering, Sam's friend stuffed the phone back into her tight jeans and without a word began to drag her away from the building.

"Hey, it's Sammy. I'm not answering, so leave a message, or whatever. See ya."

Of course the phone went straight to voicemail.

After all, if the day was going to keep up the trend of having EVERYTHING go wrong, this would have been the way to do it.

Eyes fluttering closed in frustrated apathy, Brooke McQueen lowered the borrowed cell phone and pulled her knees into her chest.

She felt small and alone. Her insides were quivering with nerves, and she felt utterly nauseous, unable to properly breathe.

Her decision to go after Sam had been romantic and desperate. She had told herself to give herself no expectations, but a simple resolution: fight for Sam. Whatever that meant.

And still, she had never expected to end up like this, on the floor of Rebecca and Abby's apartment. Sam's ex-girlfriend Rebecca sat beside Brooke's one-night stand Abby, with longer hair. Standing nervously was Christelle, who had taken to biting her cuticles. All of them stared at her like she was some sort of orphan they didn't know what to do with.

Abby, unsure what to do, reached forward and awkwardly patted Brooke on the shoulder. She was too shocked to be completely callous. In fact, the girl seemed to be knocked completely speechless.

"What do we do?" Christelle asked, fingers in her teeth, looking twitchy and nervous.

She let out a breath of impatient irritation. "You don't need to do anything," she managed. "I just need to call a cab, because I need to get to an airport…"

"And you already said you don't have enough money left for a flight." Abby's brow arched. "So what, are we just supposed to drop you off and leave you to beg for cash?"

Brooke's throat was dry. She swallowed, trying to bring moisture back into her mouth. "I don't know," she managed. "I'll figure out something."

Abby's mouth quirked into a bitter smile. "You know I'd give you the money if you just asked."

Eyes locking with her former lover, Brooke's teeth scraped against her bottom lip in contemplation. "Somehow I don't know if that's entirely fair to you, Abby. Besides, my friends in LA did give me some money. I told myself I wouldn't use it, but..."

Rebecca, with her perfectly cascading mane of red hair, dressed in a perfectly adorable frumpy boxers and a too large t-shirt that slipped seductively and innocently off one shoulder, had kept quiet, until now.

"You hopped on a plane... to follow Sam here?" she repeated, like she couldn't quite believe it.

Brooke didn't understand how she could be so threatened by the girl when Sam wasn't even in the room to ogle her.

Sam was in Los Angeles.

And Brooke was stuck in hell.

"Yes," she answered, as steadily as she was capable. "Sam was leaving because of me. Because she... she thought ... she was leaving... and I didn't want her to go."

Rebecca's green eyes glittered with an unreadable emotion.

"Fuck," Christelle's head shook, features masked by her stringy black hair. "This is some seriously twisted Sleepless in Seattle bullshit."

"How the hell did you even find Christelle?" Abby asked, rising to her knees, running her fingers through her long hair to tie the darker strands into a ponytail, pulling them from her face.

Brooke raised her fingers, and deliberately pushed her hair behind her ears. "I got a ride from a professor I met on my plane. Um... Dr. Morgenstern."

"Creepy Morgenstern?" Christelle's expression was dubious.

"He's a nice guy," Brooke said tacitly, oddly affronted on his behalf, which was not exactly fair, since she had accused him of being a serial killer an hour before.

Oh, God. Had it already been an hour?

"You guys... I really... really need a cab." It was strange that her voice was so calm and firm when she could have panicked so easily. Still, Brooke had a plan and a focus.

Sam was in Los Angeles, and Brooke needed to go home.

It was that simple.

Rebecca's brow came together, and her former rival formed a suddenly steely expression. "Are you really worth it, Brooke?"

Brooke had never thought she was.

"Sam thinks I'm worth it," she managed gruffly.

"Then why was she running thousands of miles away from you?"

"Because it's not EASY," Brooke snapped, voice clear. "Because we're too different and we're too the same. Because you're not supposed to meet the love of your life at sixteen and you're not supposed to be step-sisters and you're sure as hell not supposed to start off hating each other." Her eyes shut, for the moment suddenly overwhelmed. Taking in a deep breath, she opened them again, faced them all. "Because what we have is so intense it's SCARY and I'm tired of being scared. I'm worth it because Sam thinks I'm worth it. I know she does. And I'm not going to stop fighting for her until I prove to her we can do this. Because I know we can. Because it's EASY to love her."

It was a sincere speech, said out of anger and honesty, but the effect it had on Rebecca was peculiar.

From the beautiful girl, came a small, tentative smile. "Yeah it is," she agreed. Those green eyes lingered on her own, and suddenly snapped away. "Get your keys," she snapped to Abby, slapping her on the shoulder.

"What? Why?"

"Because we need to get to the airport, that's why," Rebecca told her sharply. "Brooke has to go home."

Abby hesitated, as she jerked her head from Brooke to Rebecca, then back again. Grudgingly, she rose to her feet. "I swear, I will never understand what you two see in her."

Dizzily, Brooke closed her eyes. She wasn't aware she had stopped breathing until she sucked in a lungful of air.


Part 18B. She'll Say She's Just Not The Same

She missed Sam.

Brooke had spent so long repressing her feelings for her step-sister that now, even though she wanted so badly to embrace them, she felt herself trying hard to ignore the ache inside of her.

But she recognized it. The tightening in her chest that made it harder to breathe, the feeling of anxiety that made her constantly shift in her chair… the flash of phantom senses: a sweep of soft fingers against her forearm, fingers threaded through her own, the smell of Sam when Brooke buried her face into the crook of her neck…

She missed Sam.

It was recognizable. Tangible.

Brooke felt a sudden sting of moisture in her eyes, and she fought it, sucking in her breath as she shifted on the hard plastic of the uncomfortable airport chair.

"What's wrong?"

To be seated next to Rebecca, Sam's only other lover, was surreal. Brooke glanced up, took in the green eyes and the concerned, polite stare.

She understood why Sam had fallen for her.

She hated that feeling.

"I'm sorry," she said finally.

It was quite possibly the last thing Rebecca had expected her to say. The other girl's eyes narrowed for a moment, before she glanced away, shifting in her own chair and focusing on her coffee cup. "Why?" she said, her voice gravely with hidden emotion. "You didn't fuck Sam when we were together, were you?"

It was a depressing, bad joke.

"No," Brooke began, sucking in a fragile breath. "But I did go to your Spring Break-"

"Because Sam invited you."

"And I slept with your best friend-"

"Because Abby wanted you."

"I didn't mean to break you two up."

Jade orbs glanced up, locking with her own in an intense stare. "You didn't." Rebecca's mouth tightened. "Sam was the one that freaked out at Spring Break. Not you. And yes, maybe sleeping with Abby wasn't the smartest thing to do, but I've done it too."

Brooke exhaled unsteadily.

"You and I seem to have a lot in common," Rebecca finished, a thin smile floating on her face at the irony.

Brooke slouched on the chair, head falling into her hands. "God… I don't… I don't even know how I got here." She closed her eyes, tried to process her whirling thoughts, before sucking in a loud breath and straightened, turning to stare once more into Sam's ex-girlfriend's face. "You had a part of Sam I'll never touch, Rebecca. You have to know that. Despite everything, you were her first-"

"Jealous?" Rebecca eyed her suspiciously.

"Yes," she answered honestly. "But that isn't why I'm saying it."

The other girl took that in, and suddenly laughed, a tired chuckle, before turning her attention back to her coffee. "I didn't, though." When Brooke's eyes narrowed, Rebecca's brow arched in retaliation. "Come on, Brooke. I didn't know about you when we first got together, but it didn't take long to put two and two together." Rebecca hesitated, before beginning again. "I wanted to believe it was more than it was. I put a lot of pressure on Sam to have the type of relationship I thought she and I should have, because she was perfect. Except for her temper."

Brooke's mouth twitched in sudden commiseration.

"We were never friends, though," she continued. "At least not until after. She came to me, one night after Spring Break, and she wanted sex." Brooke swallowed, her pulse bursting into her eardrums, as her mind played with the time line. After she and Sam had slept together. Rebecca noted her tightened features with a slight grin. "Yeah," she responded, her voice rough. "She wanted sex from me because she was drunk and she was hurting, and she told me that she would be everything I wanted her to be if I could just make her forget."

Unable to breathe, Brooke kept absolutely still.

"And that was when I realized what I was to her. I was a prop. A tool to make her forget you. She never loved me. She used me to try and get over you, and she was more in love with you than ever before and she knew that I would take her back. In a heartbeat."

Brooke didn't know how much more she could hear. Her tears were once again clouding her vision, and she didn't bother to wipe them when a couple trickled down her cheek.

"And you know what the worst thing was?" Rebecca asked, looking defeated. "I was gonna do it. I was gonna let her to do it me because that was how badly I wanted to be with her. Because deep down I knew it all along. I knew she loved you. I knew she was using me. I didn't care. And it was Sam that stopped it. Drunk Sam who pulled away and started sobbing in my bed because she wanted you and couldn't be with you."

"God," Brooke breathed, so relieved she nearly hated herself for it, unable to mask the expression when Rebecca glanced at her. "I'm sorry," she managed, using Stephanie's sleeve to wipe her nose. "I just…"

"Don't apologize," Rebecca snapped, voice flat. "I'm just telling you… I was never her first."

Brooke's eyes lifted, connected with hers.

Rebecca's mouth pulled down. "Please don't feel sorry for me," she breathed, raising the coffee cup to her lips. "I'm over her. Sam and I are… friends, I guess. But do me a favor. If you get her, hold on to her. You've ruined her for everyone else and I don't have the heart to go through that again."

Brooke had that statement before: from Harrison. It resonated inside of her. "I'll get her," she said, voice soft and thick. "And I'm never letting her go."

Glancing at her, Rebecca looked almost relieved at the thought.

Her phone rang, cutting off the intense moment, and with an apologetic glance, Rebecca answered it.

Almost immediately, the girl stiffened. "Wait, what?!" Shooting her a hard look, Rebecca swallowed. "Yes. I mean… what are you- I don't under-" Clamping her jaw, Rebecca once again looked at her oddly. "Okay…, dammit, hold on!" Rising immediately, she offered Brooke a semi-apologetic smile. "I have to get this," she said hurriedly and then walked away.

Left sitting by herself, Brooke felt dismissed.

Wiping her palms at her jeans, she let out an insecure breath, trying once again to steady the nervous nauseous feeling in the pit of her stomach.

Christelle, now slurping on a soda, ambled her way back toward her, slumping into the seat beside her, offering her a muted smile before pulling out the Gameboy she had halphazardly stuck into her back pocket.

"Howzit going?" she asked, in that monotone, flat voice.

"Um… okay?"

The entire row of locked together plastic chairs moved when Abby flopped into Rebecca's vacated seat.

Eyes covered by dark designer sunglasses, she was expressionless. Without a word, Abby dug into her McDonald's bag and held out a McMuffin.

Brooke's stomach turned at the thought.

"I can't eat right now," she breathed, nose wrinkling at the pungent smell. "But thanks."

"When's the last time you ate something?" Abby asked sharply. The firm tone, the narrowed eyes, told Brooke Abby was worried.

Swallowing down her nausea, she rolled her eyes, grabbing the packaged breakfast sandwich.

"You don't have to take care of me," she mumbled, unwrapping it.

"Are you kidding?" Christelle didn't look up from her video game. "Sam would kick our collective asses if we didn't."

Abby only shuffled in her seat, sighing dramatically. "Screw Sam," she announced. "Where's Rebecca?"

"On the phone," Brooke answered, motioning down the corridor, where she could dimly see Rebecca waving emphatically, obviously distressed.

Abby arched a brow from behind her glasses. "She looks pissed."

Brooke took a ginger bite of her sandwich. It tasted like sand. She grimaced, ignoring her churning stomach and forcing the bite down.

Beside her, Christelle continued to play with her Gameboy.

Abby leaned her head back against the seat and sighed. "Nice to see you two didn't kill each other."

There was a large lump in Brooke's throat that made speaking difficult. Her eyes went to the flight board, noting the time with a pulsing heartbeat.

She couldn't wait anymore.

Unsteadily, Brooke balled what was left of her sandwich, and rose to her feet, gathering the jacket to her as she watched the board nervously. "I should go."

Christelle, digging her palm into her jeans, glanced up from her Gameboy, looking only slightly more alert than before. "Still got a half hour to go, Brooke."

"I know," she breathed. "But it's something to do…I can't just sit around. It's driving me insane."

Mouth pressing into a thin line, Abby looked up at her. "I still don't get it."

Brooke hesitated, fingers tightening against the puffy jacket. "I know," she answered. "But thank you for being here just the same."

Abby stared at her. Her mouth quirked impishly. "So, lover. One for the road?"

Despite herself, Brooke couldn't help but grin. Leaning down, she pressed a gentle kiss to the corner of Abby's mouth. "Thanks. I owe you one."

"Actually, you owe me a cool six hundred," Abby answered. "But who's counting."

Brooke winced. The extravagant price of the plane ticket had taken all the money she had borrowed from Maria and Stephanie, and since the only seat left was first class, it had taken some of Abby's as well.

"I'll pay you back."

"Seriously, don't worry about it," she said frankly. "Dad will just think I went a little crazy at the mall."

Squeezing her friend's shoulder, Brooke's eyes shone with gratefulness. "Despite everything," she managed.

Visibly uncomfortable, Abby shook her head, not letting her finish. Rising, she held up an arm. "Please don't get mushy on me," she said valiantly. "You're going to get SAM back. Please don't remind me."

Still, when Brooke threw her arms around her for a final squeeze, Abby hugged her back.

"Okay…" With a shared smile at Christelle, she nodded companionably. "You don't seem the hugging type."

Christelle rose grudgingly to her feet, once again sticking her Gameboy into her back pocket. "I can make exceptions," she said, and then awkwardly pulled her in to pat her back, a guyish kinda slap. Brooke resisted the urge to laugh.

"Thanks," she said sincerely, squeezing her on the shoulder, and threw a look back at Rebecca. The other girl was still twenty feet away, talking animatedly. "I'll see you. Tell Rebecca thanks."

"Sure thing."

Hesitating, Brooke took one last look at Sam's friends.

With a deep breath in, she turned, and headed for the security line, directed by an airport officer to a queuing line of people removing their shoes. Grabbing a plastic bin, she tossed Stephanie's jacket into it and reached down, untying her shoelaces.

It was orderly and sane and exactly what she needed.

She was fussing with her belt when she heard a rather shrill screech that sounded like a weird version of her name. Standing up, Brooke offered the man behind her an apologetic smile as she took a step forward, glancing over her shoulder curiously.

She stiffened when she realized Rebecca was sprinting toward her.


Immediately Rebecca plowed into the line, skidding to a stop in front of her.

"Excuse me, Ma'am," said a security officer. "There's a line-"

Focus solely on Brooke, Rebecca paid no attention. "You're not getting on this plane!" she snapped, reaching for her wrist. Her eyes looked fairly demonic.

It frightened her. Brooke yanked her hand away. "Yes I am!"

"Rebecca what the hell are you doing?!" Abby snapped jogging up beside her.

"Ma'am, step OUT of the line!" The security officer was clearly moving from annoyed to livid, and Rebecca cast her a panicked glance, before she once again grabbed hold of Brooke's arm, and with a surprisingly strong grip, yanked her out of her place in line.

"What the hell!?" Brooke snapped, trying to regain her footing and glare at Rebecca at the same time. "Rebecca?!"

"Look, I'm sorry, but you can't get on the plane!" Rebecca once again reached for her, but Brooke had the good sense to pull back just in time.

"Yes, I am!" Brooke was rapidly losing patience.

"Rebecca, I know you're jealous of her, but dear GOD get a clue!"

"Oh, FUCK you, Abby!" Rebecca screeched.

They were rapidly causing a scene, and Brooke, through the corner of her eye, saw security headed their way. "Rebecca, I really need you to let me go-"

"Okay, everyone needs to calm down," Christelle began, trying to pull on Rebecca's hand.

"You don't GET IT," Rebecca snapped, shrugging her off, and grabbing hold of Brooke's lapel.

Brooke decided very quickly that she was not into Rebecca's complete descent into insanity. The security guards were drawing weapons and missing her flight because she was stuck in Airport Jail wasn't an option.

"Rebecca!" she snapped, grabbing hold of Rebecca's elbow and pushing her away from the crowded line of airport passengers who were all staring. "What are you doing?"

"Keeping you from getting on that airplane," Rebecca answered, but she was rapidly losing her resolve. Face mottled with red, she tugged almost comically on her shirt.


"Because the crazy girl said not to!"


And that was when she heard her. Over the bull horn. An unmistakable Southern accent. Screeching.


In disbelief, Brooke whirled. A bleached blonde woman seated beside a uniformed airport worker in a white security cart, careened toward her, with wild eyes and fur flying every which way, like some demented version of the Snow Queen of Narnia.

"Oh, my GOD," Brooke breathed, frozen in shock. "Is that Mary Cherry?!"

Dropping her shirt, Rebecca crossed her arms, shoulders slumping. "I hate you all," she muttered. "Just for the record."

"What the hell is Mary Cherry doing in Chicago?!"


Head jerking back, Brooke's mouth dropped open when she recognized Harrison John, sprinting towards her, alongside Maria and Stephanie of all people, nearly plowing over a little old lady in their haste to get to her.

What the hell?!

"THERE SHE IS!" Maria looked incredibly dramatic, as she stopped in a flamboyant poise and pointed theatrically at her. "Stop her!"

"What the hell is going on!?" she heard Abby screech.

"What the fuck?" Christelle breathed.

Feeling oddly like a fox being chased down by hounds, Brooke didn't have it in her to run, as she whirled again, this time to focus on the commotion causing Mary Cherry and her cart from hell. It bore down on her at full speed, and frozen with the image of Mary Cherry, her maniacal grin, and her megaphone, Brooke thought she was going to die.

The cart screeched to a stop just inches from Abby's foot. Abby yelped, skidding out of the way, grabbing hold of Rebecca and nearly climbing on top of her.

"Brookie!" Mary Cherry's eyes were eerily wide. Megaphone once again rising to her mouth, she shouted, nearly burst Brooke's eardrums, "WE FOUND HER. OPERATION CARPET MUNCHER IS COMPLETE!"

"Operation Carpet…Harrison-OOMPH!" Brooke turned, just in time to break Harrison's winded sprint, as the slender boy nearly ran her over, arms wrapping around her to steady himself, nearly plowing them both into Mary Cherry's cart. "Harrison? Stephanie – what the hell is going on?!"

Stephanie held up a finger, trying to catch her breath first. "We… at the party… she came… you left… Where's my jacket?!" Eyes searching the security line, Stephanie noticed the downy jacket still sitting in the conveyor belt, inching for the X-Ray machine and yelped, scrambling for it.

Brooke was too blindsided to pay much attention. "Wait… Harrison? What is she talking about?"

"Oh, MAH GOD ya'll…" Mary Cherry looked immensely pleased with herself, lowering herself from the cart. "I haven't had this much fun since I convinced Mama to buy that little African Village for me so I could dress up them little kids!"

Harrison's fingers gripped her shoulders, brown eyes darkening with concerned. "Are you okay?!" he breathed. "I told you I should have come with you!"

"No, I'm fine!" she said quickly, dismissing his concern with a quick squeeze of his hands. "What's going on?! How did you get here?!"

He hesitated, and Maria threw herself against his side, a wide smile on her face. "What, you didn't think I'd let her leave us behind, did you? We're invested!"


Nothing was making sense. Heart beating furiously, Brooke couldn't even bring herself to think that-

"Sam! We found her!"

Oh, God.

It couldn't…

Jerking toward the sound of the voice, Brooke's heart jolted, and she felt dizzy, overcome with warring emotions that made her too overwhelmed to comprehend…

There was a very sweaty, very out-of-breath Carmen, hand on her hip, coming to a stop and nearly hyperventilating. "Cramp!" Carmen wheezed. "Cramp!"

And behind her, looking worried and focused and tired and sweaty and absolutely beautiful, was Sam.

Considering her determined, obsessive focus on getting back into the same state as the girl coming toward her, Brooke weakly decided it was completely in line with the events of the past day and a half to discover that she couldn't move.

What she could do, was stare, drink in the image with a hungry, shameless need, unable to speak for the furious knot of emotion that locked into her throat. She wasn't breathing, and then suddenly she was, chest rising and falling so fast she realized she was panting.

And still, she couldn't move. When brown eyes finally caught hers, she felt a burst of emotion inside of her so powerful it nearly brought her to her knees.

"Sam." It was just a whisper, but it was all she could manage.

Sam saw her, and she broke from her jog when her steps faltered, taking her in, taking it all in. And then suddenly, there came a fierce look of resolve in those deep dark features and she sprinted coming toward her so fast, until she was there, inches away from her.


There was a moment, a wonderful moment that lasted where she could feast on that face and reassure herself that this was REAL.

And then of course, Sam had to ruin it all by balling up her stupid little fist and pounding it into her shoulder.

"OW!" Her gentle wonder broke into a flood of anger, jerking back to rub at her bruised skin. "What the hell, Sam?! What was that for!?"

A shaking finger was suddenly shoved into her face.

"Where the HELL do you get off LEAVING me when I got off A FRIGGIN PLANE?!" Sam was livid. "I braved a fucking SORORITY party for you and YOU WEREN'T EVEN THERE!" The skinny finger jabbed into her collarbone. "And then I had to have Mary Cherry FLY her ass down to pick me up to FLY us to Chicago and then when we finally get here REBECCA tells me you're getting ready to get your ass ON ANOTHER PLANE! What the HELL is wrong with you?! Do you realize what I went through?!"

She blinked the words refusing to make sense, and then when they did, her eyes widened and her mouth opened.

"What you went through?! Do you have an idea what I went through!? Listen, Sam – do you think spending all morning in the company of your ex- not that she's not nice-"



Sam's eyes glittered, as stepped forward and palmed the sides of her face. "Shut up." Before Brooke could form another word, strong hands wrapped around her neck and pulled, and then a hot mouth was moving hungrily against her lips: a possessive, passionate, desperate kiss.

The polarity was too much. Her mind was splintered. She was lost and completely out of her element, and for a moment, she felt nothing but shock.

But Sam's lips were intimately exploring her own and that lithe body pressed against her, and just like that, when she moaned, Brooke was lost completely. Her eyes immediately fluttered closed, and after taking a ragged breath, she slid open palms over strong shoulders and over Sam's lithe figure, bringing her in tighter to sweep her tongue over a succulent bottom lip.

She heard a whimper, buried into her mouth. It broke her. Sucking in a sob soaked breath, she tightened her embrace, unwilling to relinquish any space.

"What are you doing here?!" she whispered against soft lips, pulling back slightly as she opened her eyes.

Sam had tears in her eyes. "Why were you leaving!?" she responded, almost hysterically, hands grasping hold of Brooke's shirt, clawing them in bunches in her fists. "I feel like I've been chasing you forever!"

"I was coming home," Brooke answered, heart full with overwhelming sincerity, hooking her arms together behind Sam's back, forehead tilting against hers. "I'll always come home to you, Sammy."

She saw a beautiful expression on a beautiful face, and there was no fear. There was nothing but acceptance and finally, FINALLY, belief.

Fingers reached up, and knuckles skimmed against her cheek lovingly. "What the hell am I going to do with you?" Sam whispered gruffly.

"I don't know," she breathed, her voice a little high pitched, shrieky. "I'm so messed up, Sammy."

"I know."

"I'm gonna keep screwing up."

"I know."

"But I'm going to try not to," she promised, suddenly scared again. "Because I love you."

And Sammy just smiled, and her thumb pressed against her mouth. "I know," she whispered. "I am so in love with you."

In the end, for all the complications, it was that easy.


Epilogue. How To Save A Life

We were drawn from the weeds
We were brave like soldiers
Falling down under the pale moonlight
You were holding me
Like someone broken
And I couldn't tell you, but I'm telling you now
Just let me hold you while you're falling apart
Just let me hold you and we'll both fall down

Fall on me
Tell me everything you want me to be
Forever with you, forever in me
Ever the same

-Ever The Same - Rob Thomas


Despite everything, Sam still has nightmares.

They're always the same, and it's what makes them worse. She knows what is coming, the second she wakes up in that dream, in that stupid red dress, nearly tripping on her awkward heels, following after Brooke with tears in her eyes.

"I didn't WANT this," Brooke always tells her, in this horribly hoarse voice, and Sam feels the brush of her soft fingers against hers, squeezing hard, before Brooke lets her go just as quickly.

She always tries to get her to stop, and she's never fast enough, and about this time, she knows what's going to happen, because it's happened hundreds of times before.

Brooke walks away, head down, getting away from her as fast as she can. Sam sees the lights, one second too late. All she can do is shout futilely.

There are no tires screeching. No, that bitch Nicole actually SPEEDS UP, and then Brooke's screams burn a hole inside her before there's the sickening squelch.

In that terrible, terrifying moment, there's only silence, before Sam trips on her dress and doesn't get to Brooke first. She's the third person to stand over the muddled, bloody mess of Brooke, and she collapses to her knees, so afraid and so scared and there's just so much blood-

She hears voices screaming and there's talk of 9-1-1 and ambulances, and Sam always has kept her head in an emergency. She delivered their baby.

She knows what to do.

She can't do it. All she can do is stare through burning eyes. She can't speak, and when Harrison falls down beside her, she suddenly comes to life. She screams at him, utters so much foul language she actually STUNS him, and blames him for all of it. She won't let him touch her, because at that moment, Sam claims Brooke, broken, bloody Brooke, as her own. She loves her more than Harrison ever could, and Sam is terrified and heartbroken and panicking, but she knows that's true.

Sirens bleed into her senses, and then she hears the words "She's not breathing", just as she sees bloody fingers twitch, and then stop.

She always wakes up with a strangled scream clogged in her throat.

It's the middle of the night, and it's too quiet.

Sam's plastered with sweat. She's clammy, cold.

Breathing hard, she comes to her senses. She's in her bed. In her house. It's not junior prom, but Christmas break, and Brooke is breathing, just not in her room.

Heart pounding, Sam swallows, trying to calm herself.

It's not enough.

The sweat is drying quickly, and it's making her shiver, so she's quick as she throws off her covers and heads barefooted to the bathroom door.

Sam had promised her mother that she wouldn't do this. Her mother insisted they at least maintain decency, and ordered the bathroom door locked during sleeping hours.

Sam is nineteen years old, and suffering the effects of a very traumatic nightmare.

She unlocks the door.

By now, Brooke is unphased. She's waiting for her, slender arm holding the covers up, muted loving expression on her sleepy face.

Just seeing her makes Sam feel better.

Finally able to breathe, she slides between crisp sheets. Brooke smells like Listerine and strawberries, an interesting, if minty combination, and Sam likes it. Nuzzling her nose against Brooke's collarbone, she breathes it in.

"You're shaking." Brooke's voice is low and rough in its sleepiness. Sam thinks it sounds like velvet would sound, if you could actually HEAR velvet.

"You died," she tells her frankly, whispering against her skin. "Again."

There's a beat, and then arms pull her even closer.

"Jane is going to kill us if she finds us like this," Brooke says, a beat later, and then presses a soft kiss against Sam's crown, like a mother kissing a child goodnight.

It feels a little too chaste for Sam's liking.

Brooke is always tense around Jane, now. When Sam told her about having to tell Jane the reality of what they were when Jane found out she was on a private jet bound for Chicago, Brooke had nearly fainted.

Sam won't ever tell Brooke, but she thinks it's because of Brooke's abandonment issues. She's afraid that Jane won't love her anymore, and privately, Sam's spoken to her mother about it.

Jane has assured her that she won't ever stop loving Brooke, and will eventually come to terms with the idea that her two daughters don't have quite the sisterly attitude that she initially wanted. Jane is apparently terrified that now that they are getting along entirely too well, they're only going to be making the eventual fighting worse, and heaven forbid what will happen if they ever break up.

Sam thinks they've given each other too much shit to ever really even try to break up now, and while no one is talking civil partnerships or an elopement to Canada, she doesn't think she'll ever be free of Brooke. She doesn't want to be.

"You wanted us to be a team," Sam reminded her. Jane blanched at the thought.

"I need to be more careful what I wish for," she grumbled, but has since made a point of being more affectionate than ever to Brooke, reminding her that she loves her to the point of stifling her girlfriend.

Sam feels slightly ignored but still finds the whole thing a little amusing, despite the fact that she was subjected to 'the talk' with Mike. It's weird with Mike, because the shift in her relationship with Brooke has now resulted in Mike taking a more active interest in one on one time with her. On her breaks at home she's been subjected to golfing with him, a really weird fishing trip, and fixing the car, and Sam openly wonders why on earth Mike thinks being Brooke's girlfriend equals being his son.

Still, Sam has garnered enough affection for Mike to be secretly happy with the arrangement. He'll never be her father, but she will grudgingly admit that he's a great father to Brooke and Mac. He's also the one that convinced Jane that allowing Brooke and Sam to share a room in Italy would not result in some sort of devastating meltdown.

Sam has decided she loves Mike.

Pulling away from her thoughts, she takes in the angular face of Brooke, and the colored eyes glittering like jewels in the moonlight.

Without a word she reaches up and presses her mouth against Brooke's. Her kiss isn't chaste at all.

She hears and feels Brooke's audible sigh against her mouth, and her stomach drops inside of her, making her warm inside.

After a semester apart, it's still new, to be able to reach up and slide her knuckles across Brooke's cheek, tilt her head just so, until she can shift and plunge a warm tongue inside Brooke's mouth. To do so illicits a kind of thrill, and in the aftermath of her recurring nightmare, she needs it.

Fingers cup her chin, and Sam's knee presses in between Brooke's thighs, until their hips are pressed together.

Brooke's kisses slow, and after a lingering peck, Brooke leans back against the pillows, studying her intently.

"I wish I knew how to make them stop," she whispers, fingers threading through Sam's dark brown strands.

She says it so lovingly that it causes another twist inside of her, and suddenly vulnerable, Sam opts for a cheerful, distant tone. "Try not to get run over again."

A flash of a frown twitches on Brooke's lips. She's not amused.

Sam closes her eyes in mutual frustration, and falls onto her back, staring up at the ceiling.

She feels a shift of weight, and now sees Brooke leaning over her.

"You know why I ran away from you that night." Brooke's stare is unrelenting, and Sam immediately regrets her new position, because now there's nowhere else to look. "I told you why."

Her smile is weak. "Because the thought of falling in love with me was so horrific you couldn't stand it?"

Brooke's brow rises. Immediately she lifts her hand and flicks Sam's nose. Hard.

"OW!" she yelps and is immediately shushed with the same offending hand over her mouth. Palms over her injured nostril, Sam manages a good glare. "That hurt," she manages to mumble.

"Good," Brooke tells her, taking the opportunity to straddle her, looking entirely too triumphant as she crosses her arms. "You deserved it."

"No one deserves to get flicked, Brooke." Still, she doesn't argue the position they're in, and ignoring her stung nose, she places palms on Brooke's bare thighs. Brooke's skin is criminally soft, and Sam thinks it's a little unfair, despite the fact that Brooke spends more time moisturizing than Sam spends in the shower.

Hands cover her roaming fingers before they ascend too high, and mildly annoyed, Sam obediently gives her girlfriend's face her attention.

The weight of Brooke on her hips is comforting, but the look on Brooke's face indicates she has something in mind other than one last romp in the sack before getting on an airplane.

"What?" she says, suspicious.

"It wasn't you," Brooke says finally, reaching up to draw her bangs away from her forehead, sliding them behind her ear. Sam is oddly distracted by the movement. It's so achingly Brooke. "It was me. I wasn't ready for it. I was severely messed up, and with everything, it was just too hard to handle-"

"It was like you got run over by a truck," Sam finishes, and her head falls back in contemplation. "Wow. The irony."

Brooke sighs dramatically. "You ARE the writer."

Sam shrugs, but squeezes Brooke's thighs meaningfully. "I get it." There's a tense feeling inside of her that tells her she still has trouble with how it made her feel. "Really. I do, Brooke. It doesn't change the fact that I saw it literally happen. I used to think it was bad watching you starve yourself to death, but to see you literally plowed over in the suckiest example of tragic irony-"

A palm landed squarely on her mouth, mushing her words together.

"I think we're in general agreement that that night sucked ass." Brooke says matter-of-factly, when Sam glares at her from behind her gag. "And in the months that followed I remained determined to utterly fuck everything up with my behavior and pushing you away." Sam's brow arches. Brooke is cursing. This is serious. "I hate that I wasn't there for you when you needed me and I hate that I kept making promises to you and kept breaking them because I was an emotional recluse, but it doesn't change what happened."

When Sam doesn't respond, Brooke finally lifts her hand off her face. There is a moment of charged silence, and Sam finally exhales, bringing her hands to rest behind her head. "I'll bite. What happened?"

"You saved my life." There it is again. That phrase, that Brooke likes to say over and over again.

In retaliation, she pinches Brooke's thigh.

There is a small hiss of pain, and she receives a light slap on the shoulder.

"I'm serious!" Brooke says, and she is serious. Sam can tell.

"Brooke, how the hell did I save your life?" Sam says, because even though Brooke has tried to explain it to her, she's never quite gotten it. Something about forcing Brooke outside her comfort zone and making her not be happy with who she is, and Sam supposes that's all true because it's the same for her. And Sam will gladly take any credit for keeping Brooke alive and well, but she would really like to find out HOW the hell she did it, because then maybe she can keep on doing it.

Brooke seems to attract unlucky conditions. Sam figures it's best to be prepared.

"It's the little things," Brooke tells her, shifting on top of her, slouching a little. "Like when you got me Lil' Bleu."

"You mean when you stared at me like I was insane?"

"I loved that fish, Sam. It gave me something to take care of. Something that I was responsible for. I was lost and feeling sorry for myself in that stupid hospital room and when I was alone I had that fish. And in a weird way, it made me feel like I had you."

She's touched. She laughs, somehow uncomfortable. "Well, I'm glad I didn't get you the big ole' Toblerone bar like I was originally thinking."

Brooke refuses to be dissuaded. "And when you came after me on Spring Break."

After she had slept with Abby. Sam is absolutely thrilled to be reminded of that. "Peachy."

"You were really really pissed at me, Sam. And I understood why. But I was alone and miserable and though you clearly hated me, you came after me anyway. I mean, you drove me crazy with how insane you were being, but… you came."

Sam's slightly pervy intentions skews the memory, and she fights the urge to agree that yes, she did come that week. Several times.

"You make me want to be better than I am. You make me feel complete. And though I've got a lot of growing up to do and a lot of issues to work out in therapy, which, by the way, doesn't KILL you," Brooke adds pointedly, and Sam makes a show of rolling her eyes. "I'm not scared anymore." Brooke's hands smooth up her arms, until she's tented over Sam, and her colored eyes look into hers with a heated gaze that makes Sam suddenly breathless. "Which means," she enunciates. "I'm not running from anything anymore."

Sam's palms slide gently up the arms on either side of her, curling around her shoulders. "So no more getting run over?"

"Not if I can help it, anyway," Brooke agrees, and there are no guarantees, but the long-winded saccharine filled speech does make Sam feel better.

She's such a sap.

It's not going to stop the nightmares, but Sam figures that's because she's got some growing up to do as well.

Still, despite the fact that they bring out the worst in each other, the fact remains they also bring out the best in each other.

Sam considers that a fair trade.

Curling her fingers into the nape of Brooke's dirty blonde hair, she muses, "I don't know how the hell I fell for a girl who takes her romantic cues from a Tom Cruise movie."

"Oh, shut up, Sam," Brooke tells her, and then she does, because Brooke's elbows bend, and suddenly a lush mouth is settling on top of hers hungrily. The kiss Brooke gives her is wet and lewd, and its less than innocent intentions are clear.

Sighing raggedly when Brooke's mouth tears from her own to spread hotly from her jaw to her ear, Sam's fingers impulsively clench into a tangle of blonde strands.

"I want you," Brooke whispers; heavy, hot, and the sound of those words, coupled with the hot breath against her ear makes her shiver with sudden arousal and need. "I want to be inside you."

Groaning, Sam is only too happy to oblige.

Plastered against the hot, naked, sweaty body of Brooke, Sam decides there's nothing in the world like this feeling. She's tired, and though she's sated, her blood is still drumming inside of her, rendering her unable to sleep.

Brooke, on the other hand, appeared to be completely relaxed, and her eyelids flutter as she snuggles into Sam's arms, tightening her grip and shifting her position, clearly ready for sleep.

Sam knows that she should probably get up. Jane has taken to checking their rooms religiously in the morning, though Sam thinks the entire idea is just twisted and fruitless. What would be worse? Not knowing if they had done it all night or coming in and surprising the shit out of them and traumatizing the whole family with the resulting nakedness?

She stays put.

Reaching forward, she trails her fingertip across Brooke's brow. "Can you believe this time tomorrow we'll be in the air, headed for Italy?"

Brooke mumbles something, trying and failing to be clear in her response.

"I want to see that fountain," Sam decides. "You know? That big one full of tourists that everyone goes to? It's supposed to be romantic and all that? I know it's cheesy but I want to go. I read in a guidebook that if you throw a coin in it you're guaranteed to come back to Rome."

Brooke's eyes stay shut. Sam smiles warmly.

"It's a deal," she tells her lover, taking advantage of the fact that Brooke is in obviously no condition to argue. "I also want to ride one of those crazy scooters that Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck ride in 'Roman Holiday'."

Lucid, Brooke would have never agreed to that.

Sam raises her head and rests it on her elbow, and looks down at her sleeping beauty.

In that moment, she's overcome.

"Hey Brooke?" she asks and gets a sleepy moan in response. "You saved my life too."

She's right. It's true. And she finally gets it. It doesn't solve anything, but just that knowledge is enough to give Sam hope. No matter what happens, she'll keep trying.

Staring down at the completely messed up girl in her arms, Sam knows she's going to be trying for the rest of her life.

She's very okay with that.

The End

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