Breaking Free

By: Ereye

Summary: Along the same lines as the current popular trend of "Jackie leaves and comes back years later," only I don't want them to have to wait so long. And she won't be pregnant. But there's heartache, growing up, angst and, eventually, mushiness. What more can people want?

Disclaimer: Don't own it.

Chapter One: Closing Doors

Jackie shoved her face into the pillow, trying to stifle her sobs. She would not let Fez hear her cry. Jackie Burkhart did not cry over boys. Especially over Steven Hyde.

It wasn't just Sam. It wasn't the fact that he didn't not want to get married, he just didn't want to marry her.

It wasn't the fact that both men she dated – she was going to say loved, but truthfully what she felt for Michael was nothing compared to what she did for Steven – were hypocrites. They cheated and treated her like garbage. And she forgave and tried to move on and be somebody someone could love in return. But, no. She kisses the Cheese Guy, or is tempted to cheat - but doesn't - after Steven ends things. And suddenly it's the worst betrayal ever.

It wasn't the fact that going to the Foreman's basement no longer meant going home. It took her so long to be accepted into the group, but that group was where she belonged. Now, she felt as alien there as she did the first day Michael brought her there. And it wasn't the fact that Donna was friendly to Sam, and Michael and Fez thought she was hot.

Really, it was all of it, all combined together, that was tearing her apart.

And that, Jackie finally admitted to herself, was why she had to leave.

Jackie steeled herself, sat up, wiped away her tears and crawled off her bed. She turned on her desk lamp and pulled out her best, lavender stationery. She started to write, feeling better than she had in days.

Something was up with Jackie.

He didn't know if anybody else picked up on it, but he knew her. And something was up. She acted like the same old Jackie, but it wasn't natural. He had to bite his tongue to stop himself from asking what was wrong. He didn't get to ask anymore.

The last few weeks Hyde had to employ his Zen skills more than he ever had to before. His heart tightened every single time her names was mentioned; his pulse raced when he heard her voice; his stomach dropped when he saw her; his throat closed up when he smelled her perfume.

Why did he have to be so stubborn? Why did he jump to conclusions about Kelso? Why didn't he send Sam home when he had the chance?

Honestly, it wasn't stubbornness. It was a lack of self-esteem. He wasn't good enough for Jackie. He knew it. She didn't.

They may both hurt right now, but in the long run, she would be better off. And knowing that might make the ache dull eventually. Dull. It would never go away. He would love her forever. And, for what he did to her, he deserved to ache forever.

But, for now, for her to get better, he'd have to act like he was better.

Jackie waited until Fez was at the salon before starting to pack. She had received the job offer a week after sending out the letter, accepted it the day after, arranged for an apartment over the weekend, and worked it out for Randy to take over her part of the lease.

After swearing Randy to silence, of course.

Boy, she hoped Fez would forgive her - for Randy, and for not saying goodbye. Right now, he was the only one she wanted to say goodbye to, but she didn't want to give him the chance to talk her out of it.

The last box fit perfectly on the passenger seat of the beater car she bought yesterday. Going back into the apartment, she sat at the desk she was leaving behind with the rest of the furniture. She left one piece of her good lavender paper there. Picking up a pen, she began to write.

Dear Fez,

You have been an amazing friend the last couple of years. I know there have been plenty of times when I didn't return the favor. This is one of them, in a big way.

I can't be here anymore. It hurts too much.

I have to become the person I'm supposed to be. I've finally realized that that person isn't going to be Steven's wife. It's time for me to want more than that.

Please watch out for the others. Tell the lumberjack she's my best friend. Tell Kelso I love him and am proud of him. When Eric gets back, tell him I've enjoyed playing the Evil forces to his Luke Skywalker. Tell Steven

Tears sprung to Jackie's eyes, and she took a deep, gasping breath. It took a few minutes to steady her hand enough to write. She didn't want to say she loved him, even though she did. She didn't want to say she forgave him, because she couldn't. How could she protect herself?

it's better this way.

Even though it's really not.

I love you, Fez!


She placed the note on his pillow, took one last look around and closed the door.

Closed the door to her apartment, on her life in Wisconsin, and on any kind of a future with Steven Hyde.