Title: A Fool's Zen
Author: Princess Twilite (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rating: PG-13 (see? I can write something other than smut)
Summary: "He had always thought grand gestures of romanticism were for fools."
Spoilers: Celebration Day / Season Five Finale
Disclaimer: Not mine
Distribution: List archives, yes. Otherwise, just ask first.
Dedication: Man, I have to thank Misty Flores here for getting me into That '70s show. She's a no-fail fanfiction writer. I should have known if I read her Jackie/Hyde fic, I'd get all wrapped up in the fandom... but I went and read it anyway, because I couldn't resist, and here we are.
Beta Reader: Thanks muchly to Anni and Ambs (who didn't have to be abused after all). Couldn't do it without ya.
* * * *
A Fool's Zen 1/1
by Princess Twilite
He had always thought grand gestures of romanticism were for fools. The florists, the candy makers, the greeting card companies, and yes, the government too, were all huddled together on one rainy day, rubbing their hands together, laughing at all the idiots who bought into their scheme to monopolize the market of relationships. Yeah, grand gestures were for the saps and weak-minded individuals of the population, like Kelso (of the weak-minded) and Eric (of the saps). But hey, he wasn't going to hold it against his buds. Women made men stupid. It was a fact of life.
Only a year ago, he could have said he'd never (never as in even if hell froze over) get caught in that same trap. There was no way that was going to happen. He was too laid back, too unresponsive, he gave too little a damn for anyone to even mean enough to make him come close to wanting to make one of those grand gestures. Women weren't his weakness. There hadn't been a single one that had made him want to do something stupid like buy a room full of roses or get down on his knees and beg for forgiveness.
Of course, that was before Jackie, and now things were about as screwed up as they could get. He was an idiot. She was gone. And those grand gestures of romanticism were beginning to look pretty appealing, conspiracy and penny-pinching be damned.
Hyde leaned against the chain link fence, squinting his eyes against the bright heat of the sun. The jeans he wore weren't helping with the heat; in fact, they sucked heat in like a vacuum, but he wasn't about to strip down into shorts. Hell, he'd failed a Gym class just to avoid such a thing. Instead, he just withstood the heat and continued to lean casually, with artfully mastered dispassion, against the fence.
Jackie, just as casual and dispassionate with her eyes hidden behind black-tinted sunglasses, continued baking herself in the sun about ten feet away from the shore of the beach. More importantly, only ten feet away from him.
A part of him was proud of her for remaining so cool and collected in the face of his obvious presence because it was clear that he had taught her his ways well. But from a wholly different angle, he was ruefully aware that her casual disregard of him was playing hell on his ego... and damn it, yes, his heart as well not that he would admit it; he would in fact take it to his grave with him.
He figured if she loved him, and he knew she did, well, he'd just have to wear her down. A few more weeks of him hanging around, quietly waiting for her to come to the same conclusion that he had, that it was kind of creepy but they belonged together, and she'd melt like butter on a frying pan.
Of course, he had said the same thing more than a week ago, and she still showed no signs of caving in to his particular brand of charm.
Hyde wiped a streak of sweat from the curve of his nostril, feeling strangely like that butter himself, melting in the sun. But he stayed, silent and watchful, as Jackie changed her position on her tanning-chair, rolling onto her back and showing off that nice, well-oiled stomach he'd so recently been able to touch for himself.
And this wasn't the part where he admitted to missing the feel of her skin.
It just *wasn't*.
Even if it really was.
Flicking a disdainful glance at the brainless beach bum of a guy that passed by him from behind his sunglasses, Hyde sighed heavily and adjusted himself against the fence, seriously considering ditching the sight of 10-feet-away-Jackie-in-a-swimsuit for 30-feet-away-Jackie-in-a-swimsuit so that he could get something to drink at the snack bar. He'd still be wearing down her wall of 'I choose me'; he just wouldn't be feeling like his throat was dry and he'd just had enough weed to get a horse high.
Dehydration was the pits, man.
After he had quenched his thirst, flirted a little with the woman running the snack bar, and constructed a plan to steal a kiss from Jackie by the end of the night (because it had been a while and a guy had to have something to see him through), he wandered back over to the fence, expecting boredom or sanity to finally catch up with him. What he didn't expect was that Jackie would be sitting up in her tanning-chair, hands daintily resting on her knees, flirting with a pumped-up piece of beef with looks like Robert Redford. Jock Strap, as Hyde immediately took to calling the guy Jackie was giggling at, was holding a volleyball at his side, grinning down at the brunette.
*His* brunette, Hyde thought dangerously, trying to keep his cool.
He was a master of Zen.
Jock Strap reached down and tugged on a strand of Jackie's hair. She smiled coquettishly up at him, pouting her lips as she put up the pretense of being interested (and it was a pretense, because he knew Jackie well enough by now to know that most of what she showed the world was exactly that: pretense). And then, while Hyde fumed near the fence, Jock Strap stroked his finger along the side of her face.
Oh... Goddamn it!
This master of Zen was going to kick Jock Strap's blonde ass.
Hyde strolled across the beach (it was too damn hot to run), feeling out of place in his jeans and t-shirt, but not really caring. Jackie jerked her chin up when his shadow fell over her, prepared to lambast him for stepping in the way of her sun, but when she saw who it was, her jaw snapped up and she didn't say a word. Jackie's eyes, however, shot daggers at him.
'Don't do it,' they warned. 'I'll hurt you. Badly.'
Shit, he loved it when she was angry.
"Hey," Hyde said, tapping Jock Strap on the shoulder. The blonde turned and looked at him slowly, like any movement that was too sharp would pop a vein.
"Yeah, you with your meaty paws on my girlfriend. Run."
Jock Strap looked him up and down, and then raised a single, well-defined eyebrow. Jeez, even his eyelids had bulging muscles in them. "Why? You couldn't beat down a fly."
Hyde sighed. Okay, so this guy wasn't going to take a subtle hint when he heard one. He moved to turn away, not missing the triumphant look in Jackie's eyes, before hauling back and slamming his fist into Jock Strap's jaw. The Blonde Adonis went down like someone had turned the lights off inside his head. His face flattened against the said, ass sticking up in the air.
Man, what was with those shorts? Did girls actually LIKE them?
"Oh my god!" Jackie hopped up off her chair and shoved at his shoulders, surprising him and causing him to stumble back a few steps. Sand crept inside his shoes, insidious, conspiring to piss him off. "Are you crazy? Because I'm starting to wonder if I have this big... big... big *crazy* guy for an ex-boyfriend!"
Hyde shrugged, placid in the face of her yelling. It was like coming home. If there was one thing Jackie was good at, besides the hair and make up thing, it was yelling. "He had his hands on you."
"I wanted his hands on me!" Jackie growled, shoving him again. Hyde smirked at her, grabbing onto her fingers, holding them between his own. Her nose curled up in a snarl as she tried to disengage herself from him.
"You big stupid oaf!"
People on the beach turned to look at them, shielding their eyes from the sun, lifting their glistening limbs lazily and rolling around onto their sides to watch them fight.
"You only call me names because you love me. C'mon, Jackie, it was funny, admit it. He went down like a redwood." He scanned her face for any sign of amusement, finding her lips twitching up at the corner as she finally freed her hands from between his. Behind her dark sunglasses, he caught the sight of her eyes glittering at him, as they often had when she'd realized he really cared for her.
Not that he noticed those things, because he didn't.
"You can't just go around beating people up," Jackie said sternly, after a moment where she obviously struggled not to smile. "Especially my prospective dates. It doesn't solve anything but keeping me dateless."
Hyde nodded slowly, speaking deliberately. "That was kind of the point, Jackie."
She raised an imperious eyebrow. "Oh yeah? Well, I already have a date for tonight, Steven. So you're a little late." Jackie smiled, sticky-sweet. "But you have fun here on the beach. I know how much you love to work on your tan."
Hyde's lips parted in surprise as she turned, stepping daintily into her sandals. He scrubbed an irritated hand over the nape of his neck as she began to walk away from him, hips twitching, hair lifting up in the wind.
She was going to be the death of him. Death or something like it.
Hyde decided to look at things realistically. He wasn't going to survive another week of watching Jackie bake herself in the sun while slobbering guys old enough to be her father panted after her with hard ons in their shorts, not without murdering someone. And since he wasn't eager to spend the next thirty or so years in jail, it was time for a change of plans. Jackie wasn't going to come around with him just sitting around staring at her; she was probably used to stunts like that.
"Fine," he muttered, more to himself than her departing figure, blowing out a resigned breath.
He stalked after her, kicking up sand behind him. As if she sensed he was coming, Jackie glanced over her shoulder. When she saw him walking straight toward her like a man on a mission, face intense, her eyes widened visibly behind the glasses.
"Steven," she began, only to cut herself off with a squeal as he reached her, bending down to tuck his shoulder into her torso, before wrapping an arm around the back of her thighs. When he stood upright again, he had her firmly trapped on top of his shoulder.
It was difficult; her oily skin was hot and wet beneath his grip, making it hard to concentrate and even harder to keep his hold on her.
Jackie, shocked and winded, stared down at the sand as he began walking toward the exit. Her glasses fell off, landing the ground without a sound. Hyde knew the minute her daze had passed and her breath was back because she gave a mighty cry and kneed him in the gut. He groaned and almost lost his footing, but kept a firm hold on her (and her oily skin), pushing onward.
"Do that again, Jackie, and you're gonna be on your ass," he warned, breathing hard as he used his other hand to rub the sore spot on his stomach.
"Put me down, Steven Hyde! This instant!"
He didn't listen, looking cooly at the people watching him haul her, kicking and screaming, off the beach shore.
"I will not be treated this way!" She yelled. "Help! Somebody *help* me!"
Hyde smirked as people only continued to stare at them with wide eyes and open mouths, attracted to the spectacle they were making like a group of tourists drawn to the sight of a car wreck.
When she tried to kick him a bit lower, wriggling in his arms like a well-oiled fish, Hyde gave her a firm tap on the ass that had her gasping sharply in outrage, before spitting out a series of threats that rivaled any he had ever heard directed at him (and he had heard quite a few).
'Yeah,' he thought. 'I've taught her well.'
A mother, with blonde cropped hair, covered her son's eyes as she gaped at the fighting couple. "*Really*," the mother hissed. "The way people behave these days!"
He could feel Jackie simmering in silent fury as he walked across the stretch of steaming pavement, adjusting her slightly when her position became uncomfortable and she complained about a cramp in her side. Hyde shook his head, sighing in relief when he saw his car, glinting in the hot sunshine. As much fun as it was having her in his arms again, her silence was beginning to weigh on his nerves. He told himself not to worry, but their history told him that whenever Jackie was quiet, she was thinking, planning, plotting out ways to make his life hell.
No, he wasn't nervous. And he really wasn't enjoying the feel of her breasts pressed against his shoulder blades, either. Right.
When they reached his car, he bent a little awkwardly at the knees after fishing for his keys in his endlessly deep pockets, and unlocked the car door. She gave another little squeak when he shifted her, letting her slide down his body, avoiding her eyes until her feet touched the ground.
Jackie glared at him. "Explanation," she bit out. Her hands landed on her hips, elbows out, foot tapping out a staccato rhythm against the pavement.
"You're such a fish-wife," he murmured, laughing at her.
Hyde shrugged, swallowing with a little difficulty before grabbing onto her shoulders and pushing her into the low bench seat. Her mouth opened to protest, but he covered it quickly with his palm, not wanting to argue. He hissed when she bit him smartly, eyes glittering over the top of his hand. He pulled back, holding his abused palm close to his chest. Still, he smiled a little when she grinned triumphantly, tossing her hair back behind her shoulder.
Yeah, women made men stupid. Jackie had obviously already done a pretty good job on that with him. No wonder greeting card companies made so much money off of this shit.
"Look," he began, trying to placate her. "I just don't want to argue with you right now. You always manage to spin words around on me, and do you really want me to throw you over my shoulder again? Because I can do that."
Her eyes narrowed, and she licked her bottom lip as she considered him. Hyde's heart gave an embarrassing blip inside his chest, and he felt his cheeks getting red. Ducking his face away from her view; he glad that his glasses hid his eyes.
"Fine," he heard her say, resignation in the single word. Hyde grinned as she lifted her legs, bringing them inside the car.
"Cool." He slammed the door.
Hyde walked around to the driver's side, tossing the keys up into the air and catching them, chuckling at himself sardonically when he realized that he wasn't exactly behaving as nonchalant and composed as he liked to. Well, hell, at least he wasn't whistling.
When he slid into his seat, he tossed her a glance before starting the car, waiting to see if she was going to hit him or something worse. She just tilted her chin up and looked away from him, crossing her arms over her chest. Hyde's lips shifted to the side as he turned over the engine and laid his arm across the back of her seat, staring out the rear-windshield as he pulled out of the parking space. And yeah, maybe he caught a whiff of her hair, but that was pretty much an accident.
She shifted uncomfortably beside him, her cheeks a little red. He looked at her, realizing how close they were, setting his foot carefully on the brake. She stared resolutely ahead, her chin firmed.
"Jackie," he said, his voice a little scratchy. "Look at me."
"No," she stated clearly. She looked uneasy, her eyes darting around the car.
Hyde took one hand off the wheel and placed it gently on her cheek, turning her to face him. She struggled a little, making a small noise in her throat, but eventually gave in. He tried to smile, give her one of those careless grins to let her know that everything was alright, but his stomach was in knots.
Shit, he was being a fool over her.
"I don't want to play this game anymore," he whispered, stroking a finger along the side of her mouth, remembering how sensitive she was there. "I don't like games."
"That's good," she said, eyes wide open. He was about to smile in gratitude at her understanding when she placed a small hand on his chest and shoved him away. Luckily, he kept the strength of mind to keep his foot on the brake. He looked over at her in confusion. Jackie sighed, looking strangely older than she was. "Because I'm not playing games, Steven. I just can't be with you anymore."
Hyde closed his eyes at her words and turned to face the steering wheel again, putting both his hands on it, wrapping his fingers around it tightly. "I said I was sorry," he growled.
"You probably are," she told him, and then reached for the door handle. "Now, if we're done here, I'd like to go back to my things before they get stolen. People would kill for that wrap around skirt."
"We're not," he said, before she could get out of the car. Her hand hesitated over the handle, before falling back to her lap. He eased off the break and the car moved into motion again. "Done, that is. I didn't haul you off the beach JUST to get you way from Jock Strap."
"His name was Andrew," Jackie muttered, mostly to herself.
"Jock Strap," Hyde replied dryly.
Jackie spent the rest of the ride ignoring him, even when it became obvious that she wanted to know where they were going. To be honest, he'd only thought of where to take her right about the moment he'd tossed her into his car. The exact location had been a spark of inspiration, one he was already regretting.
It was a place he hated with a passion. A place where all his nightmares resided. It was a place he had promised himself to never visit voluntarily, because of the way it peddled to the weak soft-stomached people of the middle and lower classes who thought they had to buy commercialized trash to move up the ranks on the social economic ladder.
He was taking Jackie to the mall.
* * * *
Sticky faced children. Scowling parents. Drugged up hippies dancing their way down the long hallway filled with small shops and food joints. Hyde shoved one of his hands deep into his pocket, glaring at the little kid that dared to bump into him. The little brat stared up at him wide eyed before running quickly in the other direction, grabbing onto one of the hippie's hands and glaring back at him.
Jackie stood at his side, flustered.
"I'm in my *bathing* suit. In the mall. Oh, God, tell me this is just some bad dream where I wake up and you *haven't* broken my heart and aren't trying to destroy my precarious position as the most popular girl in school," Jackie ranted, barely taking a breath as he continued to hold onto her hand,dragging her down the walkway. "Because you didn't humiliate me enough at the beach, now you want to humiliate me HERE, too?"
"I'm not trying to humiliate you," Hyde barked, annoyed at her ingratitude. Did she even REALIZE that he was standing inside the mall with her? Willingly? Or mostly, but hey, she couldn't expect him to enjoy it. "I'm trying to prove something to you."
Her mouth closed abruptly, and she stared at him oddly. He shifted under her gaze, looking around them. A guy at the juice bar was leaning back on his stool, long greasy hair flat on his cheek as he checked out Jackie from afar. Hyde's hands clenched. Jealousy, in the pit of his stomach, sat and laughed mockingly at him. Damn it, that's what had gotten him into this mess in the first place. He'd wanted to hurt her as badly as she had hurt him. And when it had turned out that she hadn't hurt him at all...
Fuck. Not thinking about that.
"I'll get you a skirt or something," he muttered, and pulled her along with him. She gave a little sigh and followed behind him, wriggling her fingers until he released them.
"I don't know why you're even here," he heard her say quietly. "You hate the mall."
He could have told her that was the point, but he figured it was obvious enough and she'd figure it out eventually. She wanted him to suffer? Well, here he was, among the perfume-dosed, commercialized robots. Suffering. He couldn't even take being around the morons long enough to show her he could be strong and tolerant and all those things she seemed to want. Frustrated with the line of his thoughts, he turned his brain off.
'Just like everyone else here,' he thought bitterly, noticing an older woman eyeballing them from her seat on a bench, fingers twitching as she bounced a baby on her knee.
Jackie laughed at the scowl on his face. "Aww," she teased. "Steven can't take the heat. The big bad mall is too much for him."
"I'm fine," he insisted, glaring at all the people milling around them. Did there have to be so goddamn many of them? You'd think these people didn't have a life beyond spending their hard earned money on shit they really didn't need. "I just don't get the fanaticism."
"Well," Jackie said thoughtfully as she tucked her arm through his. Hyde started and looked down at the small fingers resting on his forearm, then at her face, realizing she didn't even notice what she had done. Her nose wrinkled as she thought. "The mall is a relatively new and highly useful phenomenon. Of course people are going to be in awe of it. In what other place can you get your hair done, eat, shop for records, clothes, and make-up at the same time? I *love* it here."
"Of course you do," he replied softly, without rancor. She looked up at him in question, and then, realizing where her arm was, pulled carefully away. He swallowed and continued walking, tucking his hands back into his pockets. Noticing a woman's clothing shop, he touched her shoulder and headed in that direction.
"You uh... do that shopping thing and I'll wait here," Hyde said, uncomfortable, standing at the register with the young cashier staring at him down the tip of his nose. Jackie nodded vaguely and drifted toward the clothes, like she was drawn magically toward anything that glittered. He smiled gently as he waited, before carefully removing any expression from his face.
It was bad enough that he was in the mall. He didn't have to look like one of the brainless goofs too. Speaking of brainless goofs, the cashier was watching them as if they were about to steal something. Mindless, snot-nosed...
He wondered if Jackie would mind if they left quicker than he had intended.
Jackie came up to him a moment later, dancing a little as she held up four skirts for his inspection. Hyde raised an eyebrow in interest, secretly enjoying her excitement.
"This one is *so* pretty," she said, waving a red knit skirt in front of his face. And then she shifted, pulling out a yellow plaid one. "But this one is more me. It's screams: sophisticated, worldly woman about to take over the planet... don't you think?"
Hyde shrugged. Did she actually think he cared what she wore? It wasn't even about that. "They both look the same to me."
The cashier eyed them worriedly, taking in the sight of the nearly naked girl and the bored fuck-the-world expression on the guy's face. Hyde glanced over at him, grimacing when he saw that the cashier was still watching them, particularly Jackie. Men were just pigs, weren't they? He felt a little chastised when he realized he would have to be put into the same category he'd tossed all the other men in.
"But there IS a difference," Jackie argued, irritated. "A *big* difference. Which one do you think would look better on me?"
Hyde dragged his eyes back to his ex-girlfriend (potential lover if he had anything to do with it) and looked at the two skirts she now held up. It looked like she had discarded the others. "Uh... the red one?"
Jackie's lips pouted, before she looked back down at the two skirts in her hands. She shook her head, an expression of profound annoyance crossing her pretty face. "What do you know about clothes anyway?" she asked rhetorically, with a little bite.
Obviously, not very much.
Jackie set the red skirt back onto the rack. Hyde sighed and took his wallet out of his back pocket, paying for the skirt in silence even though the money was taunting him.
"Pushover," George Washington cried up at him.
Hyde stared at the bill. "Shut up," he muttered, trying to be discreet about it. The cashier, who's name tag revealed his name was 'Mark', glanced at him warily as he took the money and gave Hyde back his change.
"Come again," Mark stated emptily. Jackie nodded sweetly, dipping her chin and taking the paper bag from him. Hyde only turned, walking out of the store. Then a thought occurred to him, natural guy reactions something he was quite familiar with.
"If you're looking at her ass as she leaves, I'm going to kill you," he called out casually to the boy, not looking back. Jackie looked horrified, cheeks flaming.
Mark quickly jerked his eyes away, a nervous twitch jumping in his jaw.
Ah yes, Hyde thought, laughing as Jackie punched him not-quite-gently on the shoulder. Maybe there was something good about the mall after all.
Five minutes later, he retracted the thought. There was absolutely NOTHING good about the mall. In fact, it was overbearing, hot, the people were more rude than he was, and he could literally smell people wasting their money. Hyde stood outside the girls' bathroom, waiting for Jackie to finish putting her skirt on. He couldn't imagine what was taking her so long, when all she had to do was slip it up over her thighs... her pretty, smooth, tan...
Hyde cleared his throat, leaning against the opposite wall, staring hard at the door. He didn't need to be having naked-Jackie thoughts at that moment, not when he hadn't quite figured out how to get back in her good graces or even steal that kiss. As each day passed, it was looking more and more like his charms weren't wearing down her wall an inch. It was beginning to make him doubt his methods. Which blew, because he didn't exactly have a Plan B to fall back on.
Man, all this fucking work when he just wanted things back the way they were before. She'd taken Kelso back. Why not him? It wasn't fair. Although, he really shouldn't be surprised. Nothing in his life had been fair.
Fuck it. He was sick of this. Jackie was going to smarten up even if he had to do something really stupid. Something romantic. Something downright crazy. Something like buy her roses and chocolate candy. Hyde groaned and banged his head against the cement wall, feeling like an imbecile. Was this how it all started? He'd rather die than get sucked in by merchandising scoundrels...
But then there was Jackie. And that made things a lot different.
The bathroom door opened, squeaking on its hinges, and Hyde straightened. Jackie came out like she was walking on air, eyes glinting at him as she did a little spin, modeling the yellow plaid skirt. His heart gave another embarrassing hitch. Yeah, Jackie made things a lot different. Not that he was destroyed without her or anything. Nah. That was... just plain insane. This was *Jackie*.
And he remembered acutely how it had felt to have her tell him she didn't love him anymore.
"Looking fine," Hyde stated, waggling his eyebrows.
Jackie gave a little bow. "Why thank you, Steven Hyde. You don't look so bad yourself. I mean, for a burn out."
Jackie grinned at his comment. "So you really like it?"
Hyde nodded. That was the thing about Jackie. She went on and on about hair and make up and the 'pretty people', but in the end, she was so insecure that it had often surprised him. Of course, he'd ribbed her about her being a 'scared little girl' inside... but he hadn't ever expected it to be true.
"I like it," he said. "Not that I know anything about clothes. All I know is that the fashion industry is designed specifically to make young women feel inadequate without this season's latest craze. It's a vicious cycle of who's hot and who's not, which color is 'in', and..." He saw her look. "And you don't want to hear this."
Hyde blew out a breath, controlling his need to rant. "Fine."
"Thanks." Jackie gave him a small nod, and turned to leave, but Hyde reached out and grabbed onto her hand, pulling her back around, close to him. She flinched a little in surprise when his fingers trailed over a chunk her hair, a wistful ghost of a touch. "What?"
He sighed, withdrawing his fingers, only holding her by the hand. Hyde couldn't think of a single smart-ass thing to say. For once in his life, words were failing him. How could he tell her that it just *hurt*? No way.
"What were you trying to prove to me by taking me here?" Jackie asked, after the long silence had stretched into an awkward silence. One of his first. All with her.
There was nothing Zen about the way he was acting.
"I guess... I just wanted to make a..." He peered up at her over the edge of his sunglasses. "A gesture? I don't know."
Idiot, he thought. IDIOT.
Jackie's lips pursed, a little line appearing between her eyebrows as she appeared to consider him. And then her face softened.
"Aww, Steven. That's so sweet." She was using THAT voice.
Blood rushed to his face. "Whatever."
"No," she said, gripping his arm when he would have turned away from her. He stopped, shocked that she'd even reached out when she hadn't in so long. Jackie smiled up at him. "I mean it. It really is sweet. You were trying to be romantic."
"I was not," he muttered, shaking her off and striding out of the dark hallway, back into the throng of people. Him romantic? No. Oh God, no. Please no.
She followed, practically bouncing. "You were! I mean, you failed a little what with being a neanderthal, but you *tried*. You were trying to sweep me off my feet."
"Shut up, Jackie," he growled, looking nervously around them. He tossed her an irritated glance and began to stride in the opposite direction, hoping to lose her in the crowd.
"I will not." She stopped walking, placing her hands on her hips. "Steven Hyde, you meant it when you said you loved me, didn't you?"
Hyde paused, looking back at her over his shoulder. He nodded, very reluctantly. "Yeah. Yeah, I did mean it. So?" Hope blossomed, annoyingly persistent, in the center of his belly. He didn't know if he could take it if this was just another game of hers.
Jackie came up to him, placing her hands on other side of his face. His eyes fell shut as she leaned up and kissed him firmly, opening his mouth and sliding her tongue inside. The muscles in his stomach clenched hard, and he slid his arms around her waist, pulling her against him. The kiss was careful, long, and what did he give a fuck if everyone was watching? It had his heart hammering inside his chest.
His eyes opened slowly, staring at her mouth when she pulled back. Her lips were wet. Jackie swiped her tongue out over them, and he nearly groaned. "Good God, woman. Are you trying to kill me?"
"Just a little," she admitted, casting her eyes down to somewhere on his chest. She drew away only slightly when he tried to kiss her again, but Hyde held onto her hips, stroking the soft material of her skirt, the firm muscles beneath it. "Before you start thinking what I know you're thinking, don't think it."
Hyde's roving fingers stilled. He raised an eyebrow. "What am I thinking that I shouldn't be thinking?"
Jackie rolled her eyes. "You *know* what you're thinking. Just because I kissed you doesn't mean we're back together."
"No?" When she shook her head, he pulled his hands away, stepping back. His fingers were shaking, so he wrapped them around his belt loops and glared at her. "So what does it mean, Jackie? Another one of your games to make me pay? Because I have to tell you, they're working. Perfectly."
One thing he remembered, out of the blue, was that grand romantic gestures only won back the girl if she wanted to be won back. If she was dead set on leaving you behind, the gesture only made you look like an ass and added to the income of some fat pig sitting on his butt in huge mansion on an island somewhere that made up for the small size of his dick.
"I'm not playing a game," Jackie reassured him, taking his hand and squeezing it between her own even as he tried to tug free. "I kissed you because what you've done is sweet, but it doesn't make what you did go away. I'm not gonna be bribed, Steven, not even with all the pretty clothes in the world."
"I don't want to bribe you," he replied, jerking his hand away and burrowing his fingers into her hair. She seemed startled by his outburst, like she wasn't used to so much emotion from him. Wryly, he admitted to himself that he wasn't used to it anymore than she was. "I just want you back. You don't even have to give a damn about me, okay? Look at me. Okay? That's all I'm asking for. One lousy chance."
Jackie met his eyes. "And... that's what I'm giving you. A lousy chance."
Hyde took a deep breath. "What exactly are you saying here?"
"I'm saying that I need time," she answered. Reaching up, she wrapped her hands around his, holding onto them even as he held onto her. "I'm saying that maybe we can do this if we do it *slow*. When Michael cheated on me, it never hurt as bad as when you did. And I don't want to hurt like that again. I don't."
"I'm not going to do that again."
"I'm glad." Jackie closed her eyes, and Hyde brushed his thumbs over her hair, feeling some strange weight lifting off of his shoulders.
Of course, life sucked, which was why he wasn't surprised by what happened next.
Something hit him in the back of his head. Something hard. Hyde flinched, his head moving forward from the force of the blow. He released her, spinning around and rubbing his scalp. On the floor, a single apple was rolling away from his feet and the bratty little boy from before was running away, laughing. Frustrated, Hyde hauled back and kicked it, sending it flying into a display window.
The glass cracked.
"Shit," he whispered. He searched behind him for Jackie's hand, squeezing it hard when he found it. "Let's get out of here." They jerked into motion, making it out the door just as the loud sound of glass shattering was heard.
* * * *
Back at the beach, they were both surprised to find that not all of her stuff had been stolen. The sun was going down; the sky a wistful orange. Hyde didn't even look at it, preferring instead to watch Jackie gather what was left of her things. She stuffed it all in a bag, folded up the chair, handed it to him and then began walking back toward his car.
Hyde followed close behind.
"I am sorry," he said, putting her tanning-chair onto the seat. He took hold of the bag when she handed it to him, placing it inside as well. When he closed the door and found her staring speculatively at his tires, he cocked his head to the side. "Jackie?"
She nodded, dragging her gaze back up to his. "I heard you. You need air in your tires. I kind of... let a little out the other day."
Jackie threw her hands up in the air. "I was angry! You kept following me around and being a lot like..."
"You?" Hyde suggested, pushing himself up onto the car, feet dangling down over the headlights. She closed her mouth, sighing as she copied his movements, sliding onto the hood as well. Funny how history repeated itself.
She shrugged, rubbing her arms. The air was still pretty warm, but the breeze was chilly, picking up pieces of her hair and tossing it into the air. "Okay, yeah, a lot like me. Was I that annoying?"
Hyde smirked at her. Jackie slapped his arm. "Shut up."
After a moment of silence, where they both stared off into the distance, she shivered and scooted over closer to him. He wrapped an arm around her shoulder, rubbing a palm up her arm. "Better?"
More silence. Hyde didn't remember it being so hard to keep quiet. He wanted to ask her just what was going on, but fuck that - he didn't want to hear an answer he didn't like.
"I know that you're sorry, Steven," Jackie told him abruptly. When he looked at her, she had her eyes off on some distant spot on the water. "I am too. And just so you know, if you ever cheat on me again, I'm going to put a magical curse on you that will make your penis fall off. I can do that. I've been busy this summer, thinking of all kinds of way to make put you through pain."
"I've noticed," he grumbled.
He gave her shoulder a squeeze.
So, grand romantic gestures were for fools. That was something he could never deny. And damn, it was becoming increasingly clear that when it came to Jackie, he *was* a fool.
But hey, at least he was a fool really fucking good at Zen.
The End 1/1
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