DISCLAIMER: Characters of Popular are not mine. They belong to whomever. Title taken from Dar Williams' song of the same name.
SERIES: Second story in the 'An Ever Fixed Mark' series, following Here's Where I Stand.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

The Mercy of the Fallen
By Green Quarter


Part 4

Brooke was approaching her apartment when she saw Sam exit her building and begin walking towards her, hands thrust in her pockets and her head bowed. Brooke's heart leapt into her throat. All day she'd had the nagging suspicion that she would come home to an apartment emptied of Sam's presence and possessions. She honestly wouldn't have blamed Sam after their argument. She was grateful to have the chance to make things right between them. She would grovel on her knees until they bled if need be. Now that she thought she could explain, but never excuse, the horrible things she had said the previous night, she had to at least make Sam listen to her. When she got close she called Sam's name

Sam looked up, startled. She barely met Brooke's eyes before she looked down again.

"Sam, I didn't want to do this here on the street, but I desperately need to apologize to you for the hateful things I said," Brooke said urgently.

"Hey, you're entitled to your opinion," Sam replied with a lack of emotion.

Brooke sighed. She had waited all day to apologize; she could wait a little longer. "Where are you going," she asked, "work?"

"No," Sam looked away, "I'm off tonight. I have an errand to run."

Brooke irrationally felt that if she let Sam walk away now, she would lose her forever. "Do you think I could come with you?"

Sam looked as if she was about to say no.

"Please, Sam?"

Sam hesitated before saying, "Suit yourself," then continued walking and didn't wait for Brooke.

Brooke hurried to catch up and asked, "Where are you going?"

"The Toys R' Us on 42nd," Sam stopped and turned to Brooke, "Unless you know a better one that's not in Time Square."

"There's one in Union Square," Brooke suggested after a moment, confused, but just going with it. And she didn't blame Sam for wanting to avoid the pedestrian sinkhole of Times Square on a Friday night.

"That's closer, right?" At Brooke's nod Sam said, "Let's go."

They started walking east as the sun was sinking behind them. Brooke was silent for several blocks, but then had to burst out, "Why are we going toy shopping again?"

"I want to get something for Mac."

Brooke nodded even though she didn't understand. Mac's birthday was in May and Christmas was still two months away. She stayed quiet the rest of the way.

They ascended the escalator into the main part of the store and were assaulted by a riot of color and sound, and masses of children wild-eyed and over-stimulated by the activity while their parents tried to maintain some semblance of control. Brooke stopped for a moment, overwhelmed. When she turned to Sam, she was gone. Then Brooke caught sight of her heading towards the plush toys. She saw something that might be good for Mac, grabbed it, and then followed.

Sam was looking at stuffed penguins when Brooke caught up to her. "Sam, look," she said, holding up a pink Barbie calculator. "You know, to help her with her math."

Sam looked at the calculator and then at Brooke, begrudgingly amused. "Nothing educational, McQueen. Figures this is what the financial whiz of the family would suggest."

Brooke thought she could almost see Sam's somber mood lifting.

"Tell me," Sam continued, taking the calculator from Brooke and looking at it with disparagement, "is this something you would appreciate at nine years old?" She pretended to throw it over her shoulder. "Next."

Brooke snatched it back from her. "Maybe I'll get it for myself." She tried to think back, wondering what she did play with when she was nine. Before she could ask Sam what she played with as a kid, Sam made an about-face, and walked away from her.

Resolving to find something better, Brooke walked in the opposite direction. She looked through the Barbie stuff, amazed at the sheer breadth of accessories available. And here her nine-year-old self had thought the sun rose and set on Barbie's Dream House. Not anymore, apparently. Barbie seemed to have a lot more friends these days, too, Brooke thought as she looked at the selection of dolls lining the walls. Bratz? The hell? Creepy. She wondered if they still made the Barbie styling head. She remembered loving that toy, until she ran out of makeup for it and used crayons, and then gave Barbie a buzz cut. Barbie hadn't looked her best that day.

She meandered through the Playskool area, through the mechanical toys, and marveled at the enormous Lego models of the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building that heralded the Lego display. She rounded a huge stack of Lego boxes to see a long, low table piled high with thousands of Lego building bricks for kids to play with, and there, among all the kids and parents, knelt Sam, industriously building something with a look of concentration on her face.

Brooke stood and watched Sam build what looked like a two-legged, long-necked giraffe type creature about six inches high. Sam looked at it for a moment, then looked at the child standing next to her. He was a dark haired boy about five years old, and he was coveting her Lego giraffe. Sam walked her giraffe across the table and pecked at his hand with its Lego beak.

The boy grabbed at the neck of the giraffe and broke it in half, he roared in Sam's face, "Rarrr," and grinned, waiting to see what her reaction would be.

Sam "rarrred" right back at him, crossing her eyes as she did so, then ran her giraffe around the table like it was a chicken without a head, while the boy laughed delightedly.

Brooke could feel herself getting a little misty at the endearing scene. She approached the table and knelt down across from Sam and the boy, then picked up a few bricks and started linking them together.

Sam glanced at Brooke as she took the broken neck and reattached it to its body. "What's your name?" she asked the boy.

"Sam," the boy replied.

"That is an awesome name. Here, Sam," she gave him the intact giraffe and leaned down and conspiratorially stage-whispered in his ear, "I can make another one."

"Okay, Sam, time to go. Thank the nice lady and give her back her toy," Sam-the-younger's mother had been standing behind him the whole time.

Sam flushed with embarrassment. She took the giraffe the boy offered and looked up at his mom. "Legos are good therapy, don't you think?"

The woman smiled and she and the boy walked away; he turned and waved as they left.

"You played with Legos as a kid, Nice Lady?" Brooke asked, as Sam waved back and watched them go.

Sam made a face at the nice lady comment, but then her expression became wistful as she remembered, "Harrison had tons of Lego. We would build these incredible towns. We loved rainy days." Then she seemed to realize how she looked, sitting at a table, playing with all the kids. "I don't know what came over me just now, I saw Legos and I just had to play," she smiled ruefully at Brooke. "What are you making over there?"

Brooke contemplated her squarish, squat creation. "It's a house."

"A house?" Sam asked skeptically. "Looks more like a multi-colored rectangle."

"Well, you made a giraffe," Brooke protested, smiling.

"This is no giraffe," Sam said mock disdainfully. "Anyone can see that this is a chicken."

"It is a house," Brooke insisted, hoping the goodwill between them might last. "Use your imagination. Look, here's the door and the windows," Brooke pointed at nothing. "And if you look really closely you can see a tiny Sam and a tiny Brooke living there. See? There they are. They're waving. They are smiling and happy, and they never argue and they love each other and never…"

Brooke looked up at Sam as she was speaking, but trailed off when she saw the look on Sam's face. She looked like she had been punched in the gut. Sam pushed away from the table and said, "I've got to go," before fleeing through the crowd of shoppers. Brooke stared after her. Go where? Then she was up, following Sam down the escalator and out into the street.

Brooke had almost caught up with her at the intersection where Sam waited for the light to turn green. When it changed Sam power-walked across the street, and into the square. She had blown by a crowd gathered around a drum circle by the time Brooke caught up with her and linked her arm with Sam's. "Wherever you're going, I'm going with you. I'm not done apologizing," she said loudly into Sam's ear.

"Fine, apology accepted, now please just leave me alone," Desperation colored Sam's voice as she had to practically shout over the music of the drums, and the cheers and clapping of the crowd.

Brooke shook her head and pointed to her ear, even though she could hear perfectly well. She took Sam's arm again and led her away from the clamor and further into the park. When she came to a quiet spot under a streetlamp, she turned to Sam and drew her into her arms for a hug. Sam grew tense and resisted, but Brooke held fast and didn't let go. When she finally felt Sam relax, she murmured, "I'm so, so sorry, Sam. Please forgive me."

Brooke held her as she felt Sam's body wrack with sobs. Brooke would've been crying too if she wasn't so petrified of what she had to do next. When Sam's tears subsided, Brooke reached into her pocket and handed her a tissue.

Sam stepped back slightly and Brooke kept her hands on her upper arms, as if she was afraid Sam might still bolt. Sam blew her nose and looked at Brooke. "I'm sorry too. I said some pretty mean things, as well. You know, I've been called worse, and in different languages." She let out a laugh as if to purge the emotion out of her. "As insults go it was pretty tame. It really was only a small part of my many and varied issues." She rolled her eyes.

"That doesn't matter. I was out of line in so many ways," Brooke said seriously. "Sam, there are some things I need to tell you, to talk to you about," she then continued haltingly, "It may take a little time for me to work up the courage. Will you come have a drink with me?"

Sam looked briefly at her watch, and then gave her assent.

"Good. I know a place not far from here."

Sam was sitting in a scarred mahogany booth across from Brooke, and each had a pint of amber liquid before them. Brooke had taken her to the Old Town Bar. One of the older taverns in the city, Sam had felt instantly at home in the slightly down-at-heels but still popular establishment, with its dark wood paneling, beautiful tin ceiling and battered mosaic tile floor. They had arrived in the lull between chaotic happy hour and the influx of late night revelers, and the place was only mildly busy.

"This doesn't seem like your kind of place, Brooke," Sam commented, thinking Brooke would have preferred one of the sleek, stylish boites of Soho instead.

"I love it here. It's unpretentious and cheap," Brooke said. "I can get an overpriced cosmo anywhere, but a good burger and a beer is rarer than you think."

Sometimes Sam had to remind herself that Brooke was not the same person she knew in high school. It was funny, because she felt that she herself hadn't changed that much since those days. She still felt like the lonely outsider most of the time. Brooke, on the other hand, had not only evolved and changed; she had truly made something of herself, as well. "You know, Brooke, you should be really proud of yourself. Only a few years out of grad school and you're this successful sophisticated woman on the go. Future's so bright you gotta wear shades and all that."

"Are you making fun of me?" Brooke asked warily, puzzled by the segue.

"I'm serious. I admire you for it. You are going to have a very enjoyable life. You deserve it." Sam noticed something. "Hey, speaking of corporate success, where are your upwardly mobile duds today?" She took in Brooke's gray trousers and simple black shirt, and her cute little denim jacket.

"Casual Friday," Brooke said briefly, before getting back to the point. "You say that like you won't have an enjoyable life," Brooke said. "Anyone would want to be like you, gallivanting off to all points around the globe."

Sam shrugged.

They were treating each other with a gentleness and cordiality heretofore unseen in their relationship. Sam was feeling very fragile, and Brooke still seemed to be working up her nerve for something. Sam had a couple of hours before her bus left, and she was curious to know what Brooke wanted to say. Although when the time came to go, she didn't know how she was going to make her escape from Brooke. Sam didn't want to tell her she was leaving, because she suspected that Brooke would try to convince her to stay. And she was so weak that she would not have a defense against that.

That scene in the toy store had nearly broken her completely. To sit there and hear Brooke blithely joking about what Sam had pictured as all her hopes for happiness had been too much to bear, hence the breakdown in the square. Weeping for the loss of a dearly held fantasy in the arms of one of its main participants was an irony that hadn't escaped Sam's notice. But it didn't matter; it would all be over soon. Then Sam belatedly remembered that she hadn't managed to get a gift for Mac, she'd have to take care of it en route.

"Tell me a story," Brooke asked, trying to keep the conversation going, "about somewhere you've been."

Sam shook her head. "People think they want to hear about my trips, but they don't. Two sentences in and their eyes glaze over and they are thinking of a way to run for the hills. I've seen it happen."

"My eyes will be glaze-free, go ahead," Brooke promised, waiting. When no response came she said, "Tell me anything, then."

Sam thought for a moment, trying to come up with a witty story from life on the road, but her mind was a blank. "I'm so tired," she said instead, softly.

Brooke drew her eyebrows together and was about to speak, when Sam continued.

"I'm tired of picking up and leaving every six months. I'm tired of starting over. I'm tired of living out of a moldy backpack, of never having a dry towel, and sharing rooms with strangers. I'm tired of fighting for permission to work, or worrying that I'll be thrown out because I don't have permission, and the stress of finding work all the time. I don't think there is a menial job I haven't worked at yet. And I really hate being judged for political situations that the president didn't consult me on." She paused. "The next place I go," Sam vowed, "I'll stay there for awhile."

Sam saw Brooke frown and look away, but couldn't stop talking.

"I make it sound like I have it so rough. I don't. My life is easy. It's easy to pick up when you get bored or just get on a plane and leave your stupid messes and anything unpleasant behind. Staying is hard. Staying and facing the choices you've made, the mistakes that you've made. I don't know if I would be able to do that." Sam laughed humorlessly at herself. "Oh God, whatever, even I can't stand to hear myself whine.

"But there are good things, too." Sam continued after a moment. "Like practicing my Spanish with a little Guatemalan girl, and having her laugh at my stupidity," Sam smiled at the memory. "Or sea kayaking this close to a humpback whale," she held her arms out wide to demonstrate distance. "Walking through a deserted Florence at sunrise, wondering what it had been like when Michelangelo was alive," she paused. "And then all that cliché stuff like sunsets and rainbows," Sam finished wryly, somewhat embarrassed by her ramblings.

"Sam, if it doesn't make you happy, why do you feel compelled to do it?" Brooke asked

Sam couldn't tell Brooke the real reason. She pulled out one of her stock answers when someone asked her why she traveled. "Because the world is out there." It was true too, just not her primary reason.

It looked like Brooke wasn't buying it.

"You are so talented. You have a great education. You don't have to work in a restaurant or any other hard labor job. "Why don't you write? Brooke asked. "You used to love it."

"I never stopped writing," Sam said. "I have enough material for a book or two saved on the hard drive of my laptop. I just haven't felt inclined lately, and my laptop is buried in the depths of my pack, where it has yet to see the light of a New York day."

"Well, that's great, Sam!" Brooke replied excitedly. "Stay here and work on your writing. You don't have to go anywhere; you can stay with me. You can quit the restaurant and I'll take care of everything. You won't have to worry about a thing."

Where was this coming from, Sam wondered. That was never going to happen. "Thanks Brooke, that's very kind," Sam said uncomfortably, "but I couldn't do that to you."

Brooke flushed crimson, seeming to realize how crazy she sounded. "Right, sorry."

Sam felt bad. "I really do appreciate it. It's just that I can't stop yet," she said apologetically. It was just as well she was leaving, Sam thought. Things between them were getting too weird, and she couldn't tell anymore what Brooke even thought of her. Sometimes it felt like Brooke really liked her, and then sometimes Brooke was mean and called her ugly names.

"Even though you just said that you're tired of it," Brooke stated, but it was meant as a question.

Sam nodded, recognizing that it didn't make sense.

"Yes, you can," Brooke said flatly. "You just don't want to."

Sam had no response to that.

Somehow, the conversation recovered. Brooke talked about her work, and how her expectations had differed from the reality of the job. Sam tried to be supportive, but Brooke was mostly negative about the whole thing, and then dropped the subject. Sam was surprised; she had thought that Brooke loved her job. They then tried to talk about politics, books and movies, of which Sam had seen practically none. Either the weather or the Mets was sure to be the next topic when Brooke excused herself to go to the restroom.

Sam was still patiently waiting for Brooke to say what was on her mind, but time was running short. She checked her watch. Ten past ten. Just enough time to get a cab back to Brooke's place, pick up her stuff and get to the bus station. If she was going, she had to go now.

Desperation, thy name is Brooke. Brooke stared at herself in the restroom mirror. What had she been thinking about, trying to get Sam to stay with that ridiculous plan for financially supporting her. Did she actually suggest that Sam be a kept woman? Her mouth had just run away before her brain could stop it. She shook her head at her reflection and laughed incredulously at the gall it took to propose it.

Brooke knew something was up. Sam had been distancing herself from the conversation while still politely listening to Brooke drone on about her problems at work. And she kept checking her watch.

Stop stalling and just do it, coward, she thought. It was probably not going to make any difference to Sam, or make her want to stick around, but she had to say it. For herself. If Sam is going to leave my life once again, she will at least go knowing everything there is to know, Brooke thought with determination.

She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. Pushing the door open, she left the comfort of the ladies room and went to greet her unknowable future in the dim bar.

A minute later Brooke stood in front of the booth she and Sam had been sharing. Two empty glasses sat on the table, and Sam was nowhere to be seen. She was gone.


Part 5

"Hey, are you going to sit down?"

Brooke turned around to see Sam standing behind her, holding two full pints in her hands.

She almost wept with relief. Brooke stood aside so Sam could put the drinks down and watched her as she slid into the booth. Brooke slid into the same side of the booth that Sam was sitting on, forcing her to scooch over towards the wall. Sam was not going anywhere if she could help it. She picked up her beer and took a big gulp.

She turned so she was facing Sam's profile and said, "Sam, I need to tell you something and you are probably not going to like hearing it."

Sam studied Brooke's face for a moment and then resumed looking straight ahead.

Brooke sighed. How did she begin to explain what had come upon her while she lay in bed after Sam left this morning, as she fruitlessly tried to get some rest. All she had been able to do was go over and over their argument, thinking about all the things she had said. This was hard. It was going to sound so stupid. Starting at the beginning was probably wisest. She finally said, "Do you remember Sugar Daddy's graduation party?"

Sam looked at her and nodded, a surprised and quizzical look on her face.

"I was trashed. I don't know if you were. We ended up playing spin the bottle and I had to kiss you," Brooke pushed out the words in a rush. "Do you remember that?"

Sam faced forward and nodded again.

"It was the best kiss of my life. I've never experienced anything like it, before or since."

"You said you blacked out," Sam said, shock evident in her voice.

"I lied," Brooke confessed. "I was too freaked to deal." She paused for a minute, trying to decide how to continue. "Cut to our college years, me not seeing you very often, I sublimated it and chalked it all up to some natural sexual confusion that many people go through. An aberration. Not to be repeated. And so it went, me going through life involved in one stupid meaningless relationship after another, unwittingly trying to recreate the feeling I had with you."

Brooke looked at Sam's profile but couldn't decipher her expression.

"Everything was fine until you came for your visit and we started sleeping in the same bed." Brooke relaxed slightly after this admission, and smiled. "I had never known the peace and exhilaration I felt when you were with me. I could hardly get through the day for thinking about the time when you would come home and get into bed with me. And then I remembered that party and all those confused feelings I had back then."

Brooke looked away from Sam now, because this part was the hardest. "So when we had our argument last night, all this stuff that I hadn't allowed myself to think about came pouring out, and you were the unwilling participant in my little psychotic meltdown.

"What I said about you never having a family or a normal life? I'm pretty sure that was all about me. All the issues I have about being gay were projected onto you, and I'm sorry. I don't want to be that kind of person, but there it is. I think those are the things my subconscious has been struggling with ever since I figured out that there is no one but you. Has never been anyone but you." Brooke looked at Sam, who was now looking straight back at her. "So if the choice was mine to make, and I had to choose between a life spent with you or an endless succession of Matts… I would choose you, every single time, and no amount of internalized homophobia could change that.

"Add to that the fact that I am completely, ridiculously jealous of any female that comes within a five-foot radius of you and anyone could see I was a powder keg and you turned out to be the match," Brooke finished ruefully.

Sam swiveled on the bench to face Brooke. She had tears in her eyes but she was smiling, so Brooke thought that was a good thing.

"How in the name of all that's holy could you think I wouldn't want to hear that?" she asked, while wiping the unshed tears from her eyes with a laugh. Then Sam just sat gazing at Brooke, with an almost uncomprehending expression on her face. Brooke didn't know what to make of it. Finally, Sam made a shooing motion towards Brooke and said, "Come on, get up, get up. We have to go." She started to slide over, pushing Brooke to the edge of the bench with her hip.

"Where are we going?" Brooke asked, mystified. Sam was always getting up and going. Brooke got up from the table before Sam pushed her onto the floor.

"Home," Sam said simply. She grabbed Brooke's hand and led her out of the bar. When they burst out into the autumn night, Sam started running down the sidewalk, pulling Brooke with her, not letting go of her hand. Then just as suddenly, Sam stopped, causing Brooke's arm to jerk in its socket as she was forced to stop as well. "Ooh, sorry," Sam apologized. "It's just that it'll take too long to walk."

She walked towards the street, still not letting go of Brooke, and flagged down a cab. Sam pulled Brooke into the car and gave the driver the address. She turned to Brooke and began to massage Brooke's shoulder through her jacket. "Does it hurt?" Sam asked, concerned.

"No," Brooke breathed, closing her eyes at the feel of Sam touching her, even through layers of fabric. Something had just changed, and she was now able to let herself feel desire at Sam's touch after denying herself that pleasure night after night of lying close with her. She put her hand around Sam's neck and pulled her closer. Sam stopped her massage and looked into Brooke's eyes. Their lips met tentatively, neither woman quite believing it to be true. Then Sam pressed her lips firmly against Brooke's, deepening the kiss. They kissed long and hard. The world fell away and they could have been anywhere instead of hurtling across town in the back of a smelly cab with barely functioning shocks.

Brooke pulled away breathlessly and looked searchingly into Sam's eyes. She was aware that in the flurry of activity following her declaration, Sam, although evidently pleased, had yet to really say anything. She felt exposed and uncertain. Brooke didn't want to think that she was just going to be a fling for Sam, but she had no reassurances from her. How did she know that Sam wouldn't just pick up and leave, as she was so prone to do? She didn't think she could take losing Sam after she had just found her.

She saw Sam looking at her expectantly. "What did you say?" Brooke asked, coming out of her reverie.

"I said what about Matt?" Sam asked soberly

"Matt who?" she kidded. He was the last person she wanted to think about after sharing her first kiss with Sam. No, wait, second kiss. When Sam didn't appear to be amused, Brooke simply said, "Called him this morning. It's over." She watched the wrinkles in Sam's forehead smooth out in relief.

They arrived at Brooke's building and as Brooke got her keys out, Sam encircled her arms around Brooke's waist from behind and rested her chin on her shoulder. She began to place light kisses on Brooke's neck, and Brooke had a hard time getting the key in the lock. Once they were finally inside, the pair awkwardly stumbled up the stairs, as Sam still held onto Brooke tightly.

Once they were inside the apartment, they stood studying each other for a few long moments. Then Sam stepped toward Brooke and kissed her on her right cheek, and then the left cheek, and again on the right cheek, much as she did the day she arrived. She followed it up with a searing kiss on Brooke's lips. This time it was not hesitant but utterly confident. Brooke closed her eyes and tried to hear what Sam was trying to say in this kiss.

When Brooke opened her eyes she looked at Sam, but something caught her eye in the corner of the room. Sam's pack, which had been stored in the closet, was sitting there, and it looked packed. "Were you going to leave?" Brooke pushed Sam away from her, trying to clear her head.

Sam followed Brooke's gaze and saw the pack. She looked into Brooke's eyes and nodded.

"I knew it. I knew something was going on," Brooke cried, anguished.

"Brooke, I screwed up the order of things here. Please don't get upset. We need to talk," Sam said as she led Brooke to the sofa and sat her down, before sitting beside her. She took both of Brooke's hands in hers and held them in her lap. "First let me apologize for bum-rushing you out of the bar. My heart and lungs and veins and arteries just felt like they were about to burst and I had to move, or act, or do something before I exploded into a million pieces in front of a room full of strangers.

"Yes, I was going to leave. The bus is probably crossing the George Washington Bridge right about now. But I'm still here. I couldn't go without saying goodbye, and I found that I didn't want to say goodbye anyway. I want you in my life any way you'll have me." Sam tightened her grip on Brooke's hands. "God, can you imagine if I hadn't stayed and I didn't get to hear what you said to me? I don't even want to think about how scary that is.

"You see, what you said had an extreme effect on me. It was as if I was wandering lost in the desert and had stumbled upon the ocean, or like being on food stamps and winning the lottery, or offering a starving man a twenty-course buffet followed by ten pints of chocolate-chocolate chip ice cream, or any other lame metaphor you can think of," Sam made herself stop babbling. "Do you see what I mean?" Sam paused. "Hang on a second."

Brooke could only stare at Sam as she got up and dashed into the bedroom and returned with a postcard in her hand.

"I wrote this today, when I believed that I could never have what I wanted most. I was going to leave it for you to read before I said goodbye so that it would be absolutely clear what my feelings were. But you beat me to the punch."

Brooke took the offered postcard and read it. Tears welled in her eyes and she covered her mouth with her hand as she tried to contain her emotion at Sam's heartfelt words.

"I have always loved you, Brooke," Sam said as Brooke's eyes returned to her face. "I just never thought I could have you."

Brooke was stricken when she realized all that they had lost by being at cross-purposes with each other.

"Oh God, Sam, I'm so sorry," Brooke cried as she threw her arms around Sam's neck and wept into her chest. She felt Sam's arms close around her in comfort. "All the time we wasted, all that time you didn't have to be miserable, it's my fault.

"No, I am as much to blame as you, maybe more," Sam sighed. "I knew my heart but didn't have the courage to tell you. But maybe all this has been for a reason, and we weren't meant to be until this very moment. It's what I need to believe. We had to make our way in the world before we could find each other again."

Brooke pulled away and looked at Sam, who had a sad lopsided smile covering her features. When Sam put it this way, Brooke thought she could live with herself.

"And I know how hard it can be to get your mind around the gay thing," Sam assured Brooke. "We can take things really slowly. One step at a time."

They sat on the couch, holding hands but not touching otherwise.



"Do you think we could lie down together?" Sam asked shyly. "We don't have to do anything; I just want to be close to you."

In response Brooke stood up and pulled Sam off the couch. They walked together into the bedroom.

Sam lay behind Brooke and held her tight, lightly drawing circles with her index finger on Brooke's abdomen through her shirt. She couldn't think when she had last felt so content. Absently her hand slipped under Brooke's shirt and she continued her feather light touches on Brooke's bare skin. She started to feel Brooke's chest rising and falling more quickly.

Suddenly Brooke rolled off the bed and jumped to a standing position. She started to remove her shirt. "Sam, you're driving me crazy. I don't know how I could spend all those nights next to you and not touch you but I need to start making up for lost time. Now."

Sam watched with wide eyes as Brooke took off her bra and stepped out of her trousers, leaving her underpants on. Brooke straightened and stood before her. Sam was awestruck.

"You are more beautiful than the most beautiful thing I have ever seen," she said, then realized that it made no sense, "whatever that is. Are you sure, Brooke?"

"I've never been surer of anything."

Sam moved to the edge of the bed and sat facing Brooke. She took Brooke's hands and drew her closer so that Brooke stood between her legs. She opened each palm and placed a kiss there, before resting her hands on Brooke's hips. Brooke's skin became covered in goose bumps, her nipples hardening. "I won't do anything you don't want me to do. Just tell me and I'll stop," Sam looked up into Brooke's face.

Brooke nodded, her eyes hooded with desire.

Sam sat for a moment and looked upon the loveliness before her. She couldn't actually believe it was happening. She had waited so long. She moved her head forward and kissed Brooke's stomach, and felt her suck in her breath in surprise. Sam slowly licked her way to Brooke's navel, circling it with her tongue. She noticed Brooke hadn't expelled any air since she had touched her.

"Breathe, Brooke, I don't want you passing out before I finish having my way with you," Sam murmured and smiled against the girl's stomach.

"I forgot," Brooke replied hazily, and took a deep breath.

While Sam's lips and tongue teased Brooke's stomach her hands were traveling up her back and down again, her palms stopping to cup Brooke's ass, then her fingertips brushing the back of her thighs. She then moved them upwards over the smooth skin of her thighs and hips, coming to rest just beneath Brooke's breasts. Her thumbs brushed over her nipples, making them even more erect, and she heard Brooke gasp and felt the girl grab her shoulders and hold on tightly.

Sam slowly rose up, dragging her tongue upwards through the valley between Brooke's breasts. She took first one in her mouth, her tongue teasing and lashing the rosy flesh, and then gave equal time to the other. She sat back down on the bed and wrapped her arms around Brooke's waist and laid her cheek against her soft skin, smiling contentedly.

Brooke's hands still rested on Sam's shoulders, but something was bothering her. Realizing what it was, she reached down Sam's back and pulled at the layers of fabric that had been frustrating her. "Clothes, too many of them," she said incoherently.

She pulled Sam's sweater and t-shirt together as one and drew them over Sam's head. Sam reluctantly let go of Brooke and finished removing her clothes. Brooke now sat down on the bed, and then went one better and lay down properly among the pillows. She watched Sam take off every stitch she had on, and then crawl up the bed and straddle her. Sam captured her lips and kissed her hungrily. Brooke's hands now had a will of their own as they traveled all over Sam's flesh, reveling in the feel of her silky skin.

Emboldened by touching Sam, Brooke became tired of being a passive participant and sat up so she and Sam were face to face. She took Sam's face in her hands and gazed into her eyes, wondering how it could feel so natural to be with her this way. She lay Sam back into the pillows and leaned in to ravage her lips. After a few moments and leaving Sam panting, she said, "I'm kind of new at this; tell me if I'm doing anything wrong."

"You're doing everything right," Sam replied hoarsely, "trust me."

Brooke kissed Sam again, then started to lay little kisses along Sam's jaw and neck, down to the hollow of her throat. Her hands moved up to cup Sam's breasts, weighing them. She let them roam over the soft flesh, feeling the hard nipples burning an impression into her palm. Brooke felt Sam arch herself slightly off the bed to press herself harder into her hands. She bent her head over one and kissed the tip, then took it between her lips and sucked. God, she had never felt anything remotely like this, Sam's skin tasted so sweet. Brooke opened her mouth wider, trying to get more in her mouth and heard Sam moan. She felt Sam's fingers creep up into her hair and hold her head steady.

Sam could sense that she was nearing the edge, but she wanted to give everything to Brooke first. She rolled Brooke onto her back once again and positioned herself so that she was lying next to her, nearly on top of her, her body intimately pressing against Brooke's. She supported herself on one elbow and leaned over Brooke, looking in her eyes and kissing her quickly before directing her attention to her knuckles, which were lightly grazing Brooke's body as they traveled from her collarbone down to her hips. Brooke snaked her arm under Sam's elbow and began stroking and massaging the muscles of her back. Her other arm was flung outward, her hand gripping the side of the mattress. Sam's free hand lingered over the curve of Brooke's hip, then moved lower.

Brooke felt Sam tentatively finger the waistband of Brooke's panties, not wanting to push. She took Sam's hand and shoved it underneath the flimsy cotton, thinking she would die if Sam didn't touch her. Sam ran her fingers through the soft curls, feeling the moistness there. Brooke whimpered when she felt Sam remove her hand, but then quickly helped Sam pull her underwear down and off. Sam's hand returned to cup Brooke's mound, and she gave it a squeeze. Brooke's hips lifted off the bed at this and she begged, "Sam, please."

Sam slowly moved her hand downward, pausing to give some attention to Brooke's sensitive center, and then she was inside. Brooke's hips left the bed again to meet Sam's hand, and she took in a large breath and held it. Sam established a rhythm with her fingers while trying to maintain pressure on Brooke's clit with her palm. Sam looked into Brooke's eyes and kissed her cheek, then whispered "Breathe," into her ear. Brooke expelled her breath and started gasping. Brooke's hips met her fingers with every thrust. Almost of its own volition, Sam's pelvis began to move against Brooke in syncopation with her hand. Brooke began to shake like a leaf, and she reached up and grabbed Sam's face with both her hands. Their eyes were locked on each other as Brooke's orgasm ripped through her, every nerve ending tingling with release. Sam frantically ground her hips against Brooke and moments later she reached her own climax, collapsing on top of the woman she loved and enfolding her arms around her.

Many hours later, Brooke and Sam lounged in bed, sitting up against several pillows. The remains of a tray of food sat at the foot of the bed, as the pair had finally remembered to eat, if for nothing else than to keep up their strength for the arduous labor they had done, and were about to do again. But for the moment they were content to lie in each other's arms, lazily conversing about whatever crossed their, at long last, untroubled minds.

"So you want to leave the exciting world of finance and open your own business?" Sam mused, and then asked, "What kind of business did you have in mind?"

"Well lately it's been a toss-up between running an inn somewhere or opening a dog kennel. But it changes daily."

"They're not unrelated." Sam commented. "Hotels for people or pets. I could help. I worked in a hostel in Switzerland, it's probably just like working in a kennel."

Brooke laughed. "What about you?" she asked, a tad anxiously. "Any plans?"

"Other than not leaving New York City for the foreseeable future, you mean?" Sam asked with a grin.

Brooke nodded, relieved.

"I don't know. I guess I'll continue at the restaurant and look for some kind of copy editing job or something, anything to get my foot in the door."

"What about your own writing?"

"There's plenty of time for that," Sam said, unconcerned. "The main thing is to retire my passport. I'm not going anywhere unless it's with you." She smiled at Brooke and kissed her temple, wanting to allay any fears she had. She couldn't exactly fathom how they had got to this place yet. All she knew was that she felt like a great weight had been lifted from her and she was happy, and sated.

"It's disgusting how much I love you." Brooke knew that she would endeavor to deserve the gift of Sam's love for as long as she would have her.

"Love is too tiny a word to describe how I feel," Sam declared, sitting up. "What I feel for you is that paltry, puny, miniscule word love times one hundred, no, one thousand." She was getting silly, but she was speaking from her heart. "A million times. Love to the millionth power." Sam spoke in a superhero's voice.

She gazed at Brooke with a huge grin on her face.

Brooke, astounded by the outburst, simply said, "Cue the fireworks," with a laugh. She loved seeing Sam so playfully happy and relaxed. Looking into her beaming face, Sam could be seventeen again.

"I think what we need is a new word to represent this emotion between us that is so much more than mere love. Any suggestions?"

Brooke shook her head, but couldn't wait to hear what Sam came up with.

"Or maybe what we need is a representational object. We'll use something ordinary to describe the awesome power of our love, or whatever we decide to call this emotion," she said giddily, completely carried away and feeling like a teenager again. Sam looked around for anything that might suit their purpose. She grabbed a spoon from the food tray and held it up triumphantly. "Spoon! Spoon is the word!" She looked at the spoon and then suddenly turned serious. "For me, this spoon will represent all the love in my heart, the devotion I plan on showing you throughout your entire life, and the commitment I have to our future together. Whew. That's a lot to pack into one word." She paused, looking back at Brooke, who looked dangerously close to tears. "I'm done with leaving, Brooke, you're stuck with me."

Sam looked at the spoon again for a moment and then returned her gaze to Brooke.

"Brooke, I spoon you."

Brooke smiled through her tears. "I spoon you too, Sam."

If your sister or your brother
Were stumbling on their last mile
In a self-inflicted exile
You'd wish for them a humble friend

There's the wind and the rain

And the mercy of the fallen
Who say they have no claim
to know what's right
There's the weak and the strong
And the many stars that guide us
We have some of them inside us
   - Dar Williams

The End

Sequel And So this is Christmas

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