For my sweet friend Carolyn...(Rose Garden Twilight) I couldn't find the right words to honor your memory when I heard you were gone. Maybe this time I can give you the tribute you deserve the best way I could think of. By honoring you and the fandom that brought us together. I love you. I miss you. Until we meet again /3

Maya Hunter stood outside the Mathew's apartment building, gazing up at the window that had changed her life. She sighed, a puff of smoke and cold escaping her lips as she bypassed the entrance and headed straight for the grating on the side. The climb was familiar. Comforting. It never even occurred to her what a grown woman in her mid twenties scaling the fire escape might look like. She didn't care. For the moment, she was six years old again, seeking refuge from a world she didn't understand or particularly like.

The blonde crawled into the bay window, careful to step over the cushion. Her blue eyes darted about the room, though she wasn't sure what exactly she was looking for. It hadn't changed much since the last time she'd com home to visit. In fact, it hadn't changed much since they were kids. Occasionally, a new coat of paint was thrown on the walls or new pictures were added to the vision board over the desk. The clothing in the closet had been exchanged a time or two throughout the years. But the essence was the same.

Her boots clunked against the wooden floor as she walked toward the board. Their entire friendship was mapped out for the world to see. Everything from six to twenty six laid out in backwards chronological order. Gently, her fingertips scanned the rims of the photos, touching the faces of their old gang. Nostalgia washed over her.

'If only there were a way to go back,' she thought.

"How long are we going to avoid this?"

Maya's lips curled into a smirk.

"Isn't that usually my line?"

She glanced over her shoulder to see the brunette in the bay window.

Riley beamed in her knowing way with a shrug. "Usually. But not always."

Her smirk fell into a sad smile.

She was supposed to be the brave one. The fearless, headstrong artist who threw herself into things with reckless abandon. Or rather that's who she had been...before she'd gotten that life altering phone call. Now she couldn't paint, couldn't sketch, couldn't find the strength or the will to move. All she could do was ask why. She wanted a reason; some kind of justification for what, in her eyes, was nothing short of the worst decision in the history of all decision making. But she knew the world didn't work that way. The universe wouldn't explain itself to her. God wouldn't ask for her forgiveness, just like he hadn't asked for her permission.

"It's going to be okay," Riley assured her with soft, glowing eyes. "I know it doesn't feel like that right now, but it will be."

The blonde shook her head, wavy curls bouncing side to side.

"No, it won't Riles."

"It will," her sister tried again, but Maya wasn't hearing it.

"How," she snapped, tears pricking the back of her eyelids. "How is anything going to be okay ever again? How are we supposed to go on with our lives and pretend like there isn't this gaping hole that nothing and no one can fill?!"

She slumped down at the window in defeat. Finally, the tears came. For days she'd fought them back but as she felt Riley's arms around her and her head in her shoulder, she broke in her best friend's embrace.

"You just will," Riley whispered softly. "You'll marry Josh, just like you always wanted, and have babies, and make beautiful masterpieces. You'll have Farkle and Smackle, Lucas and Zay..."

Her tear filled gaze turned to her shoulder.

"But it was supposed to be you and me forever," she choked out between sobs.

Riley didn't understand. She was the only person in the world who could never see how precious and special she was. If anyone had changed them all for the better, it was her. She was the glue that had held them all together; the sun around which they all revolved. What was a universe without light and warmth?

"I thought I might find you here." Maya's head shot up, the corners of her mouth turning upward involuntarily as they always did when in his presence.

She couldn't say how long she'd sat there. She'd lost all concept of time. It was like being underwater. Everything else kept moving so much faster than she wanted or was capable of doing.

Josh had been her rock throughout the entire process. He was the one making phone calls and arrangements, purchasing tickets. Hell! He'd even laid her dress, tights, and jacket out for her that morning like a little girl. She knew he was hurting too. Riley was his niece and they weren't far apart in age. She also knew he wasn't fixated on her solely out of love. He wanted the distraction, needed it even. He wasn't ready to face his own cataclysm of emotions so for now he was focused on taking care of her.

Of course when the flood came she would be there. Hopefully by then she would be strong enough to anchor him, the way he had her.

...but what about the others?

Riley wasn't there to keep them all connected anymore. Someone else would have to be the voice of reason and endless optimism. Someone would have to keep Farkle open minded, Smackle open hearted, and Lucas from destroying himself in his grief. That responsibility fell to her now.

Josh sat down on the empty bench beside her. His thumb instinctively traced her ring as he entwined their fingers. He remembered the day he'd told Riley about his plan to propose. It had felt oddly like asking for her blessing, even more nerve wracking than approaching Shawn. He hadn't needed to worry though. His niece had happily and wholeheartedly consented to the match.

Maya peered over at her fiancé, sensing the memory and the pain it now caused him to remember.

"Have I thanked you lately for being the incredible man that you are?" She nudged him tenderly, doing her best to lift the mood.

He smiled half-heartedly.

"That was the deal." He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it. "She told me I couldn't have you unless I was sure I could stand by you. Always."

She didn't have to ask who had made him promise or why.

"That sounds like her..."

His gaze shifted to the clock on the desk. It was nearly time.

"Listen, Maya, if you're not up for this we don't have to go. I'm sure everyone will understand."

The blonde shook her head. She wasn't ready, but she never would be. This was the last favor she could really do for Riley and she wasn't about to fail her. She still didn't know what she would say or how she'd make it through the service, but she had been blessed with a friendship worth remembering and no matter how much it hurt, she was going to honor that the best way she knew how.

Together, Josh and Maya stood and made their way over to the door. The young woman paused, and turned back one last time, a lifetime of memories flashing before her eyes. There weren't words for her sorrow knowing she would never see that face again, nor her gratitude that she'd ever known it to begin with. What had once been the supreme joy of her existence had turned bittersweet.

She motioned for her fiancé to go ahead, insisting she would follow. She couldn't see Riley anymore or feel her the way she had when she was alone earlier, but she knew her sunshine was there, watching over her.

"Thank you for saving me," she whispered, pressing her fingers to her lips and blowing a kiss toward the window, closing the door behind her.