'Til It's Gone

by TeeJay

--...----...----...--

Summary:
Alternate universe to how Joan gets to know Adam cheated on her. This came to me as I watched the bookstore scene from Trial and Error once again. Talk about punishing yourself...

Author's note:
You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. So, Adam, what do you have to say for yourself?

Yes, another AU Trial-and-Error-ish story from me. I was watching episode 3x02 of The O.C. and after it was over, there was this great feeling of melancholia washing over me. Then I decided to watch some Joan of Arcadia again just to reminisce, but I knew that something fluffy wouldn't do. I needed something to feed my melancholy, so I chose the most depressing JoA episode: Trial and Error. Big mistake.

Well, anyway, I got as far as the scene in the bookstore where Adam goes to Joan to tell her he's finished with his "special project". And at the end of that scene, doesn't Adam look as if he's about to cry? That, in turn, fed my urge to write a little AU to the whole breaking up thing. One that isn't quite as agonizingly sad and fierce as the one in the actual episode, but probably not any less distressing. Sorry for the depressing atmosphere, but it was one of those nights... I know that I shouldn't make Adam this maudlin weakling, I think he deserves more credit than I give him. But I can't help it, I have a weak spot for men who aren't afraid to show their feelings.

And I'm sorry if this thing finishes in as much an open ending as can be, but where's the fun in resolving everything all neat and perfect? Make up your own ending! And make sure to tell me about it by reviewing. ;o)

Disclaimer:
These characters and settings are not mine. Nor am I claiming they are. They are property of CBS, Barbara Hall Productions, Sony or whoever else they might belong to. I'm not making any money out of this, although I wish I was.

--...----...----...--

There she is, idly turning pages of a book she's focusing on, her long, brown hair framing her beautiful face. I am standing outside the bookstore, watching her through the window. It took me over half an hour to make up my mind to go and see her tonight, and now that I'm watching her, completely unaware of my wrongdoings, my betrayal, the horrible, unexplainable thing I've done, I want to turn around again and hide in the next hellhole to rot for all eternity.

I turn around and close my eyes, breathing in and holding my breath for a second. Maybe I can still turn this thing around here and now, maybe she doesn't have to know—if Grace and Bonnie can just hold their tongues. Maybe I can put an end to it right here and show Jane that no one else is worthy of the love I have for her and that sex isn't the be all and end all. Maybe I can just forget it ever happened.

I quickly open the door to the store; the little bell atop it announces my intrusion. She looks up and her face immediately lightens up the way it always does when she sees something that she enjoys or that surprises her. "Hi," I quietly greet her, not being able to utter anything more enthusiastic.

"Hey," she replies with at least twice the fervor my voice just carried. "I thought you were special projecting." She smiles as she walks from behind the counter to where I stand.

I can still not muster pulling my face into a smile that would have been more appropriate to the situation. Well, from Jane's point of view, that is. "No. No, I'm not doing that anymore." If she only knew.

"Anything happen with Michael?" she asks innocently, already worried that something might have gone awry with my job. I could shower her with kisses for that alone, and it drives the pain even deeper.

I try not to think about what would happen if she found out. Instead I try to convince myself it never happened, that by now it is definitely over. "No. No, it's just finished," I tell her.

She must have sensed my reluctance when she says, "Oh, well, that's great, right?"

Yes, that's great. Jane, I want only you, and no one else. I want you so much, I know that now. Nobody else will ever do and I don't know how I could ever think differently. Jane, there is so much I want to say to you. But I can't. So what I say is, "Yeah, because now we can spend more time with each other."

And when I look at her smiling that warm, beautiful smile at me, I step closer and my lips meet hers almost greedily, as if the physical contact could erase all my doubts and my beguilement. I can feel that she is taken by surprise at my sudden, unexpected pertness, but it takes her only a second to kiss me back. It's her who breaks the connection between us when she leans back, closes her arms around my neck and looks at me lovingly. "Mh, wow, you should finish special projects more often."

I watch her eyebrows raise as she says it and I cannot help but smile back at her. Beloved Jane, how could I have done what almost took you away from me? I need to kiss her again, hold her close like I will never let go. My arms wrap around her back and I draw her closer into a hug, softly stroking her shoulder. She returns the gesture, her arms closing around my neck.

I draw her closer yet, as if feeling her body pressed to mine could somehow close and seal that gaping chasm I have created when I went to Bonnie. As I bury my face in her shoulder, the scent of her lemony shampoo reaching my nose, I can't help but realize what an idiot I have been, just how much of a screw-up I am. She doesn't deserve me, she never deserved me, and yet I can't imagine being without her.

I don't even realize that tears are starting to sting behind my closed eyelids, threatening to fall when I will open them. I don't want to let go of her, I don't want to lose her.

I feel her pulling away from our embrace, but I don't want her to. I want to stand here like this forever, I want to hold her in my arms until the world ends.

"What's wrong?" Her voice is laden with worry and concern. "Adam, you're shaking."

I feel her pushing me back softly so she can study my face. I don't want this to happen, because if she sees me crying here in front of her, she is gonna know something is up, and she can't. She just can't. I'm not sure what to do, I just know that I can't lose her. I try to worm myself from her grip and run—and almost succeed. But she grabs my arm at the last second and draws me back before I have even reached the doorknob.

She pulls me back to face her, but I cannot meet her eyes, so I stare at the floor, feeling how my eye lashes are becoming moist with yet unshed tears. Her voice has taken on an edge of urgency as she pleads, "Adam, what is it? Please talk to me."

"I can't," is all I can offer. My voice sounds as if it's about to crack, and I know that she hears it too.

But she is relentless the way she always is. It is one of the things I love about her, but now I want to curse her for it. "What do you mean, you can't?" she asks softly but determinedly. I know she is not going to let me go until I have offered her some sort of explanation.

And I want to tell her so badly because I don't know if I can live with all the bottled up shame and guilt and anger. Except I can't. I try to wriggle free of her grip on my forearm, but she grabs it even tighter as I do. "Please let go of me," I tell her more forcefully than I had intended.

She immediately releases her grip on me and takes a step back, swallowing as she does. She looks at me almost accusingly. "This is not like you," she says, the hurt evident in her tone of voice. "What the hell happened?"

My eyes finally meet hers and I want to gather her up in my arms again, knowing that it will not be same as it was before. It will never be the same, but between the both of us, I'm the only person to know that. I know that if I leave now, she will only come running after me eventually and she will not leave it alone until she has gotten to the bottom of it. Can I fabricate a lie that will satisfy her hunger for a plausible explanation? Hadn't I sworn to myself to stop with the lies and be a more honest person?

I step closer to her and start, "Jane, I... I think I almost lost you today." No, I didn't almost lose you. I did lose you, but you cannot know that. I need to claim you back, that's why I came here tonight.

She is oblivious to what I'm implying. "What do you mean, you almost lost me?" Her forehead is wrinkled in a confused frown.

I can't stand her scrutinizing gaze on me any longer, so I turn around and lean my elbows on the wooden surface of the counter, burying my face in my hands. Words are forming in my head and I suddenly can't stop them from pouring out. "I... There are things I've done, things that made me realize how much you mean to me and I..." I sigh heavily. "I love you so much, and I can't stand the thought of losing you and I—" I am aware that if I don't shut my mouth now, the whole dirty story will get out, and that would be the end of it. So I just leave whatever I was going to say unfinished.

I can almost feel her eyes penetrating my back. "Adam, what is going on? Things you've done? What things?" she demands. I can sense that realization is slowly edging its way into her brain. It won't be long before she figures it out and I curse myself for not biting my tongue earlier.

"I was confused," I feebly try to explain. "I didn't know what to do and it seemed that we were somehow... I don't know... deadlocked."

A brief but heavy silence ensues before she repeats in a question what I just said. "You think we were deadlocked?" She sounds incredulous. "Does this have to do with the night in the camper?"

Oh God, the camper! That was probably what started all this. "No. Yes. I don't know," I stammer.

When I turn my head sideways, I can see her grabbing hold of the counter top, her knuckles going while as she does. "You're not saying what I think you're saying, are you?" she asks me.

There, that didn't take long for her to figure it out, did it? I stay silent, because—what can I say?

Her sharp voice pulls me from my reverie, makes me look at her. "Adam, tell me you didn't. Look at me and tell me to my face that you didn't do what I think you did."

I obey her command and look at her, but I can't stand to see the pain and uncertainty in her eyes. My gaze wanders down again, I'm averting my eyes from hers. I can feel her posture sagging because she knows as well as I that this was worth just as much as any verbal confession on my part. "Was it at least good?" she spits at me. "Was it worth it?" Her voice is now bitter and angry.

I swallow, my eyes brimming with tears again. In a very low voice, I admit, "No. No, it wasn't. Because it wasn't with you." My eyes need to seek out hers again, need to make eye contact because there are so many things I have to tell her. "Jane, I... I wanted you so much, and when you didn't, I thought maybe I wasn't good enough or... I don't know... I mean, I love you. So much. But maybe you..." Didn't love me as much as I did? And sex with Bonnie would make that go away? Is that what I'm saying? It can't be.

I try to salvage what I can when I pleadingly tell her, "I didn't realize how much I love you until now. And I don't wanna lose you, Jane. I don't think I could stand losing you." The last sentence I almost whisper, holding my breath for whatever is to come. Fury, wrath, quiet disappointment, acceptance, understanding, even forgiveness? I don't know what her reaction will be and I don't think I'm prepared for any one of them.

She stays quiet and the silence between us grows heavier than I can bear. She might not have registered all the implications yet. Very carefully, I urge her, "Jane, say something."

She meets my gaze. "What do you want me to say? That it's okay? That I forgive you?"

I hold back a sarcastic laugh. Wasn't this almost exactly what Grace had said when I told her I had cheated on Joan?

"No," I deny. "No, it's anything but okay, I know that. I just... I screwed up and there is nothing that I can do to make it go away, but I want you to know that I'm sorry and that there is nothing I want more than to take it back."

I can read in her expression that a million emotions and thoughts are running through her head at the same time, that there is nothing more to be accomplished here tonight. I know that it's time I left and let her sort things out for herself. I know that I will receive my verdict soon enough, and there is nothing more I want right now than to be punished for my mistakes with the worst possible sentence there is.

In a very low voice, I say, "I should go."

She just nods as an answer and I turn around. As I open the door, I turn to face her again with three final words. "Jane, I'm sorry." I'm not even sure they have registered with her because no reaction on her part is forthcoming.

I step through the open door and close it behind me, walking away without looking back. Not for lack of courage to face her, but for fear of seeing her breaking down through the window pane of the bookstore's glass door. Because I know that the pain of it would make me want to utter a primal scream that would shatter the face of the earth and my deceitful, unworthy heart right along with it.

--...----...----...--

THE END.