Disclaimer: Same old, same old.
A/N: I am thoroughly embarrassed at how long it's taken me to get this update out. I've known since I started this story a year ago exactly how it would end. I had every chapter outlined. I just couldn't get this one written. The end of the season and the horrible finale really killed my motivation to write for a while. But time and space did wonders and I was able to let these crazy kids back inside my head. So I offer you the last chapter. I'd recommend at least skimming over the previous chapters before reading this one, because it's really meant to be read as kind of a departure from the pattern set up in the first five chapters and if you forget what the first five chapters are like, well, then the whole "departure" thing is kind of lost (which is totally my fault since I let so much time pass, but anyway…).
I want to thank everyone who's continued to read this story and continued to leave me feedback, encouraging me to continue the story. Knowing that there were people out there who wanted it was really what motivated me to get it out there. You guys are awesome!
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
Chapter Six: Jackie
Hyde kept his hand on the cold receiver of the pay phone for a long while after placing it gently back on its cradle. He knew there wasn't anybody behind him waiting for it and probably wouldn't be for a while. Several people had made the mistake of asking him how much longer he'd be and were told rather gruffly to "go the Hell away". They didn't know that the wild-haired teenager was on the line to his best friend in Africa. Or that he had spent the entire day before and all of last night updating him regularly on his father's condition. They couldn't tell from looking at him that during the third call, he had had to break the news that the man might not make it. They had no way of knowing that that he thought making that call might damn near kill him, too. But just from outward appearances, the steely blue eyes, the tight jaw, the clenched fists – it wasn't hard to figure out that this was a guy who didn't want to be bothered.
So they stayed away. And Hyde was grateful, because if there was ever a time he wanted to be alone, this was it. It occurred to him that most people would want to be celebrating with loved ones at a moment like this. He knew that's what the others were doing back in the Intensive Care waiting area. They were probably all hugging each other and the girls were probably crying. Hell, Fez and Bob were probably crying right along with them. The truth was, he suspected that if he had stayed with them, he probably would be, too.
But Hyde was Zen. And Hyde wasn't in the Intensive Care waiting room. He was two floors down, in an alcove by the stairwell. He had found this pay phone early yesterday, before his second call to Eric, the one when he told him Red was going into surgery. People left him alone there, so he returned faithfully for each subsequent call: when Red started failing on the table, when they eventually stabilized him, when the surgery was finally over, and when they downgraded his condition from critical to stable.
So it only seemed right that he come back to the phone that, over the course of last twenty-four hours, he considered "his" to make the final call. When he could let Eric know that, after what was probably the most agonizing wait of his life, his dad was going to be all right.
When it came time, he could barely get the words out. His throat was raw from the strain of holding back his emotions throughout this entire ordeal. Thankfully, Eric didn't ask for too many details. It was enough for now to know that Red was going to make it. He had been up all day and night waiting for Hyde's updates and now he was exhausted. He said he was going to pass out for a couple hours and would see about getting a flight back to the States in the morning. Hyde was relieved to be let off the hook. Besides the fact that he didn't understand the intricacies of the open-heart surgery – all he knew was that a major blockage was detected during his check-up and it had to be dealt with immediately – he just didn't have it in him to talk about it right now.
He finally stepped away from the pay phone booth and turned back toward the stairwell that would take him back upstairs. He thought of everyone else waiting up there, and he stopped. He knew he should be up there, to be with Kitty if nothing else, but he couldn't make himself do it. Emotions had to be riding high, and he just couldn't deal with trying to keep everyone calm. Not when he felt anything but calm himself.
He decided he had to get himself together before he faced everyone else. He had to get his Zen back. If they saw him rattled, there's no way any of them would be able to regain any semblance of control. So he took a few steps away from the stairwell and sat down in one of the two chairs resting against the wall. It was your typical hospital chair – hard, orange plastic – not comfortable, but served its purpose.
As soon as Hyde's legs were free of his weight, he sunk into the chair and deflated, his entire body feelinglike Jello. As his feet slid forward and his legs stretched out, his head fell back until he was staring at the fluorescent light overhead. He closed his eyes against the intensity of it and, when that wasn't enough to quell the burning in them, he draped an arm across his face.
He kept hearing Eric's pained voice from just a few moments ago in his head: "He almost…Hyde, I don't know what I would have done if…"
Knowing what Eric meant, Hyde had cut him off before he could say it. "No, man. These doctors are good. They do these heart surgeries all the time. It's just another day at the office for them." He had tried his damnedest to sound confident and casual, but the concern in his voice couldn't be disguised and Eric felt strangely comforted by it.
Hyde was another story. Throughout the entire stay he had been strong for Eric and for everyone else upstairs. He didn't say much except when giving his reports to Eric or telling Kitty that he was sure Red would be okay. When things went to Hell on the operating table and the doctors weren't sure he would make it, Hyde had told Kitty he knew Red would pull through. But the truth was he wasn't sure of that at all. And he had never been so scared in his life.
Just remembering those moments brought back that sinking feeling in Hyde's stomach. He pushed his head away from the wall and allowed it to fall forward into his hands, his elbows now resting on his knees. He shook his head slowly, back and forth, trying to rid his mind of the thoughts that had invaded it over the last twenty-four hours.
What if Red didn't make it? How would he be able to tell Eric? To find the words to tell his best friend that his father was dead? What would he say to Kitty? Would Eric move back home or would Hyde have to take care of Kitty? Did they make enough between the two of them to manage the mortgage? Would Kitty even want to stay in that house? Would she want him to stay or would she want him to move out? What would happen to him?
Hyde wasn't normally a worrier. He usually just took his licks as they came. He had felt this panicked helplessness only once before and he hated it. The feeling was overwhelming. He stomped his foot on the linoleum floor in a vain attempt to rid himself of the memory of it and to stop the hot tears that were pooling in his eyes.
Thinking he was alone in the little alcove, he was surprised to hear a tiny gasp in response to his stomp. He jerked his head up quickly to find Jackie standing in the entryway, only a few feet in front of him.
Still leaning forward, elbows still resting on his knees, he took in her face. The surprise at finding him on the brink of tears had left her eyes as her face softened. He recognized her expression immediately. Some might have thought it was sympathy or even pity. But he knew her face better than anyone and he knew her eyes and knew that they held only understanding for the pain she felt too and wished she could take away.
Seeing the love in her eyes, that he hadn't seen for so many months, that he thought he'd never see again, was too much on top of everything else that had happened over the course of the day. The tears that had been building in his eyes spilled over onto his cheeks. He couldn't look at her anymore and lowered his head once again into his hands, breathing deeply to try to make the tears stop.
Jackie stood still for just a moment, stunned. She had never seen Hyde cry. There had been times when she thought she had detected some moisture in the corners of his eyes when she knew he was upset. Like that awful day in the El Camino when he told her he had cheated, and later when he told her he loved her. And there were other times, too. Those times when they'd be talking in his room at the Formans' about their parents and other sucky things in their lives and he'd get real quiet. Those times were unusual, because he didn't want to get stoned or have sex or anything like that. There was only one thing that would make him feel better.
Looking at him now, sitting alone in a plastic chair at the hospital, she didn't know what else to do. She took a step toward him and stopped, afraid she might be making a mistake. His shoulders rose and fell again as she heard him let out another deep, shaky breath and she knew that he needed her. She walked the last few remaining steps across the alcove until she was standing directly in front of him. Her hands shook just a little bit when she lifted them above his lowered head, and when she laid them gently in his hair he took in a sharp breath. She was still for a moment, wondering what he was thinking.
Hyde thought he'd never felt anything as good having Jackie's hands in his hair again. He had been so sure he would never feel it again, that he had put the memory of it out of his mind. He didn't want to remember it.
But he was remembering it now. He remembered how it used to feel, just lying in bed in the middle of the night while Jackie would play with his hair. And how sometimes he'd feel so quiet and peaceful with her that he'd start talking, maybe about something that happened when he was a kid, and he'd open up, just a little…just enough…about his mom and Bud and what it was like for him every time they left. And how he liked having WB around, but was still kind of scared he'd leave one day, too. Jackie was smart enough to know that those moments were rare and precious, and she didn't want to do or say anything to ruin it. So she wouldn't. She'd just lie on the pillow, facing him, and hold his hand. Or she'd open her arms to him and, without a word, he'd move closer to her and lay his head on her chest while she played with his hair.
Jacke felt a tightening in her chest as the memories of those times came rushing back to her. She remembered what always came next: Steven exhaling deeply, finally relaxing into her, holding her firmly but gently. It was a vulnerable side to him that he never showed to anyone else, and she always felt special knowing that he trusted her enough to let her see. But it wasn't happening now. In the seconds that had passed since Jackie laid her hands on his head, Hyde hadn't moved. He hadn't sighed and he hadn't relaxed. He sat completely still in his chair, his head unmoving as it rested in his hands. In fact, Jackie wondered if maybe he had even stiffened slightly at her touch. She didn't know what to do. This had never happened before. Her hands in his hair had always, always comforted him before.
Squeezing her eyes closed tightly, Jackie took a deep breath and lifted her hands from Hyde's head. She hesitated just a second before pulling them back toward her chest and resting her arms at her side. She opened her eyes to allow herself one more look at Hyde before slowly turning to walk back toward the stairwell. Her exit was stopped short, though, as Hyde's hands suddenly reached forward and grabbed her firmly by the wrists. She was momentarily thrown off balance, but quickly regained her footing as she once again turned to face Hyde directly, staring down at him in surprise. He was looking up now, his lips pressed together in a thin line, eyes glistening, eyebrows raised in silent question. His chest rose and fell with his shallow breaths. It took only a second to register: he wanted her to stay.
The tiniest of smiles tugged at the corners of Jackie's mouth, then disappeared as she nodded almost imperceptibly. She stepped into him, closing her eyes as she felt his hands leave her wrists and slide onto her hips, leaving her hands free to return to his head. Then it was his turn to let his eyelids fall to cover his eyes, as if the few seconds he looked into her face had taken too much out of him. She buried her fingers deeper into his curls and moved even closer, allowing him to slide his hands all the way around her and rest his head gently against her abdomen. He squeezed her tightly, letting her know that yes, this was what he wanted. Feeling strong, feeling confident in Steven's need for her, Jackie bent down to press a brief kiss on the top of his head before straightening up again and returning her attention to pulling her fingers through his hair. He exhaled deeply then, relaxing, his shoulders slumping forward against her hips. Jackie raised her eyes to the ceiling in a vain attempt to keep the tears welling up in her eyes from falling. It didn't work, of course, and as soon as Jackie blinked, they skipped down her cheeks and disappeared into Steven's curls.
Hyde thought he felt wetness on his head, but he didn't say anything. His breathing had finally regained some semblance of normalcy, but he didn't think he was up to talking just yet. He wasn't sure there were words for what he was feeling right now anyway. The only one echoing through his head was This. As he sat in that cold, quiet, sterile, hospital alcove, his arms wrapped tightly around Jackie, his tears drying on his cheeks, he was struck by the realization that this was exactly where he wanted to be. Not trying to shake off the day's events by smoking up with Leo or drowning himself in beer with the guys. But here, with Jackie. Anywhere with Jackie. Nothing else mattered.
The way he felt with Jackie in his arms, her hands in his hair, her heart beating softly against his cheek…this was what he wanted. It's what he had wanted ever since the first time she kissed him on the hood of his El Camino and what he tried his damnedest to forget after she brushed it off and got back together with Kelso. What he had always been afraid to want because it was for other people, not guys like him. What he had convinced himself he didn't need after he thought he had lost it for good in that hotel room in Chicago.
He thought about the small group of pretty decent people in the waiting room two floors up, people who had shown him in many ways over the years that they cared about him. And in spite of that, he had scoured the hospital for this alcove, this private place where he could hide. Because no matter how much those people cared about him and, as long as he was admitting things tonight, he cared about them too, he didn't want to be around them right now.
Except Jackie. He chuckled slightly at the irony in the fact that Jackie, the one person whose presence he once found so irritating, was the one person he wanted to be with in this moment. Somehow over the last three years, she had become not only the girl he wanted to hang out with and party with and sleep with, but the only girl, except Donna, that he ever really talked with. And now she was the only girl he had ever cried with.
And then it hit him. This was what Red had been talking about that day in the kitchen. He smiled to himself at the simplicity of it all. It was Jackie. Jackie was the one he wanted by his side in the good times and the bad times. Jackie was the one whose face he'd want to see if he was the one recovering from surgery in a hospital bed. Jackie was the one who he wanted to be his emergency contact.
I really do love Jackie. I love her and I want to be with her. Maybe even forever. Holy Crap
He lifted his head from her stomach then, searching her face for any clue that she could sense the enormity of what he had just decided. All he found was the same caring look in her eyes that had been there since she found him just a few minutes before. She had no idea.
He couldn't wait to tell her. And he was going to tell her everything, finally, all of it.
But not right now, not in a hospital full of strangers walking by every few minutes. Not while they were re both exhausted from being up all night, waiting to hear about Red. No, he'd tell her later. He'd take her someplace that she'd like. Maybe that one restaurant – no, not a restaurant. The reservoir. He'd drive her up there and park the car and they'd sit on the hood and he'd tell her. He would look her straight in the eye, just like he was doing now, maybe even hold her face still with his hands to be sure she knew he meant what he said, and tell her.
He'll tell her that he knows without any doubt that she's the one he wants to be with and he's ready to make a real commitment to her. He'll tell her how sorry he is that he was too afraid before to hope for a future together. He'll tell her how it tore his heart out to tell her "I don't know" and how he'd thought he might die when he told her "Have a nice trip" and she walked out of the basement and he thought he might never see her again. He'll tell her why he really drove up to Chicago and how sorry he is that he didn't give her a chance to explain that nothing was going on with Kelso. And he'll tell her that even though he's sorry he married Samantha at all and didn't divorce her sooner, in a way he's glad everything happened the way it did. Because going through the motions of a relationship with the wrong person made him realize how badly he wanted the real thing with Jackie. He'd tell her how everything that freaked him out when he was with Sam, just the idea of listing her as his emergency contact, having a wedding with her, having a baby with her, didn't freak him out anymore when he pictured it with Jackie. It actually felt…right.
His heart beat faster just imagining the look on her face when he finally did it. He didn't even wonder if she'd be happy, if she'd take him back. He could tell from the way she was looking at him right now, from the way her hands were sliding softly, slowly, down the sides of his face, that she still loved him. For the first time, he let himself believe that she'd probably never stop. The idea that he could believe that about another person amazed him. He reached up to take her hands in his.
"Jackie?" He hardly recognized his own voice, it was so raw and raspy from minimal use. And it was so soft, he wondered for a split second if she'd even heard him.
But she raised her eyebrows and offered him a small, sweet smile. It was all the encouragement he needed.
"I love you."
It came out evenly, with conviction, not like when he rushed it out, practically choking on it, the only other time he said it to her out loud. It occurred to Hyde that maybe it was because the first time he said it he was motivated by the fear of losing her and a need to convince her of his feelings for her. Maybe he wasn't even sure himself at the time that what he felt for her really was love. But this time was different. He knew exactly what it was that he felt for her and he knew that she still felt the same way. It was clear from the way she had gone to him without a word, knowing what he needed even before he did. It was all over her face now.
So he wasn't surprised to see her eyes welling up with tears or to hear her squeak out, "Oh, Steven. I love you, too."
He smiled at her then as her face crumbled. The weight of the emotions from the day's events, not to mention the last three years, took its toll as Jackie sunk onto Hyde's lap. Instinctively, his arms tightened around her waist as hers fastened around her neck, her face buried in his neck. He stroked her back as she cried.
He smiled into her shoulder. Oh yeah. This is definitely it.