I know I suck. But this is the last substantial chapter. Hopefully it answers some questions and gives Hyde and Jackie an adequate ending.
Two weeks after the reunion, Jackie finally decided to stop stalling and sat down with Eric one night after Veronica had fallen asleep.
"I have to go see Hyde," she said. "When he comes back into town." Eric's face was blank, and the nervousness in Jackie's stomach increased. "Not for the reasons you think, or for the reasons that I think you think. Just...for closure."
"Closure," he repeated. "Uh huh."
"This doesn't change anything about you or us, or our life here with Veronica. But you know how it's been driving me crazy whenever he comes, and I need to put that part of myself to rest before I can move on completely."
He nodded, his face giving nothing away. "Okay, I get it. Really, Jackie."
She didn't believe him, of course she didn't--but it was clear that he was making an effort, which she appreciated. She climbed into his lap and buried his face in his neck, feeling his arms come around her, looser than usual. She breathed in deeply, inhaling his cologne, and tried to ignore the nagging feeling of worry.
The next few weeks were torture, for both of them. Jackie was a nervous wreck, the combination of worry over what Eric thought about her need to talk with Hyde and the fact that she didn't know when he and Sam would come back making her so jumpy that even her employees at the club noticed. It didn't help that Eric was completely stoic, even slightly cold, to her, ever since the conversation about Hyde.
To his credit, Eric had become self-aware enough over the years to realize what he was doing, and saw the effect it had on Jackie. It broke his heart to see the hurt on her face at times, but his biggest flaw had always been his pride, and he couldn't bring himself to stop. At night, he'd lay stiffly in bed, listening to her breathing, lamenting the fact that something so unexpectedly amazing had been twisted into something awkward, that where there was genuine intimacy before, there was now only silence thick with unsaid words.
He'd never said 'I love you' to her, he realized, on one of those nights. And neither had she said it to him. It seemed so strange, that six years had passed, six years in which she'd given him full disclosure to her life, that they'd never voiced it. He knew practically everything about her--how her mind worked, her fantasies, her dreams of one day moving into one of those Franklin Lloyd Wright houses in the suburbs, her secret desire to one day have more children. He'd memorized every inch of her body, listened to every complaint, compliment, rant, rave and lecture for the past decade. For God's sake, her daughter was practically his daughter too, if not by blood than by right--how was it that they'd made it this far without saying it? It was slightly mind boggling.
But more importantly, how had he never noticed?
The entire situation seemed so complicated, so heartbreakingly tangled that he felt suffocated at times. He knew that he loved her, both her and Veronica, he wouldn't have stuck around for this long if he didn't--but was it real love? Was it the kind of love that drove his parents down the aisle? That made Kelso give up pot and Brooke give up a collegiate future, in favor of meeting in the middle? Or were he and Jackie just using each other as a buffer to keep the lonesomeness away? Were they mistaking friendship for love because they were too scared to be alone?
The problem was, he couldn't tell. He'd only been in love once before, the kind of love that he'd thought was the real kind. He still wasn't sure if his breakup with Donna had happened because it wasn't meant to be or just because life got in the way, just like he wasn't sure about the same thing with Jackie and Hyde. At one time, he'd been the greatest supporter against that particular relationship (not that he still wasn't now), but after spending almost four years watching those two break and hook up as if on-again-off-again relationships were going out of style, he'd grudgingly admitted that they did love each other, if nothing else. Eric had seen Jackie give up her dreams for Hyde countless times, and he'd always been slightly awed at how quickly she sacrificed her own happiness for him. Awed and repulsed at the same time.
It hadn't been very healthy, whatever it was. But it was intense. Strong and all-consuming, the kind of thing that still dogs your heels, even after ten years. Eric remembered the absolute sorrow in Jackie's voice the morning after Hyde had slept with her and discarded her just as easily, and even after all this time, it still didn't sit right with him. He knew Jackie. She became a different person whenever Hyde was involved. Her opinions didn't count. Her feelings didn't matter. Whenever Steven Hyde was in the picture, he overshadowed Jackie Burkhardt until she was just a ghost of herself, a pitiable doll who seemed only to exist to pander to his needs. Just like she'd been with Kelso, too, on a smaller scale.
Okay, maybe that was a little harsh. But damn it, it was frustrating. She'd come so far, had grown into a beautiful, elegant, sophisticated woman who was independent and secure in her own personality, and then Hyde comes back into town and she immediately slips back into 'high school Jackie,' simpering about how she needs closure. Whatever. He couldn't help but be angry. Angry and hurt.
So Eric Forman could be an idiot, he realized this. Another problem was that even though he knew was being an idiot, he couldn't make himself stop. The pride thing again--he got that from Red. And wasn't he grateful for that particular gene. Right.
So, even though he knew it was a bad idea, he deliberately went into work early the day that Jackie finally decided to visit Hyde. He'd been in town for a few days, and had avoided any former Point Place residents as usual, and Jackie had finally decided to just get it over with already. Eric knew that he should've given her some sort of encouragement or reassurance, maybe a hug or at least a kiss, but no. He had a test to write for his tenth graders--a test that he wouldn't give until next month, but it never hurt to work ahead. Which is why he was already gone when Jackie woke up.
Which is why she cried all the way to Hyde's hotel room, and was still crying when he opened the door.
In a futile gesture she wiped her face hastily, trying to scrape up the last of her dignity. "Hyde." Her voice was hoarse.
His face was unreadable behind his dark glasses. He stared at her for a long moment, then opened the door wider, allowing her to step through.
She went inside without a word, stepping into the apartment and looking around curiously. "Wow."
The word was justified – the apartment was gorgeous. It had wide, open windows, and the curtains were open, allowing a generous amount of sunlight to pour through to illuminate the room. Simple, stylish furniture filled the room, in stark shades of black and gray. The entire place screamed of elegance, reminding her starkly of the house she'd grown up in. She couldn't stop the shudder.
"Work," he said shortly, voice coming from behind her. She jumped, not expecting him to be standing so close and stepped back instinctively.
"Ah. And how's that going for her?" she asked neutrally.
He scowled. "She's a waitress, Jackie. She stopped dancing years ago."
"Did I say anything?" she asked.
Hyde expelled a short breath. "What do you want, Jackie?" He winced, then uncrossed his arms awkwardly.
She stopped in the middle of the room, holding her arms over her chest protectively. "To know what you want," she said. "I can't take this limbo anymore, Steven."
"What limbo?" He scoffed.
"You know exactly what I'm talking about."
Hyde shrugged, looking down at the floor. After a long pause, his voice rang out loudly in the quiet apartment. "You should've told me about her."
Jackie was momentarily speechless, then quickly regained her composure. "I was going to," she said sharply. "You skipped town practically the next morning. I didn't find out until after you were gone."
"You should've found me, then."
"Found you?" She scoffed. "What, was I supposed to show up in Las Vegas with a huge stomach and a suitcase?"
"You could have," he argued. "Damn it, I deserved to know. She's my daughter." Anger flared in his face, visible even behind his designer sunglasses, and she took a breath, taken aback.
"Steven," she said after a moment. "Think about it. You're in Vegas, living the high life with your beautiful wife, amazing job, long lost, rich family. How would you have reacted to a pregnant ex? Really?"
He shrugged. "I dunno."
"Yes you do." Jackie blinked back tears, grasping her elbows fiercely. "You would've dropped everything. You would've dumped Samantha. You would've moved back to Wisconsin to take care of me."
He looked down, silent.
"And I would've accepted it. I would've taken you back. And we would've ended up in the same exact spot as we did in high school." Her voice broke. "It would've been horrible."
"How do you know?" he demanded. "You didn't give me a chance, you just decided everything all on your own."
"Yes, I did," she replied. "But I made the right choice, I know I did."
"Right choice," he said flatly. "For you. You cut me out of her life because you were mad at me for dumping you."
"That's not true!"
"It is true, Jackie!" He started to pace, his muscles moving angrily. "It's the same fucking thing you always used to do, you take one hint of something and run with it, and God forbid us mortals don't like it – "
"Don't yell at me," Jackie interrupted. "I didn't come here to yell."
"What did you come here for?" he asked. "You obviously don't want me in her life."
"Do you want to be in her life, Steven?" He opened his mouth to reply, but she cut him off. "No. Think about it. Are you ready to be in her life permanently? Because I will not tolerate you floating in and out randomly. If you want to know her, than you will be there for her, no matter what. It's all or nothing."
He paused, fraught with indecision.
There was a stabbing pain in her heart, one that had lain dormant for so long, and it was making it very hard for her to speak. "Exactly," she said. "Exactly. You don't, not really. You're angry that I kept her from you, yes. You don't want to abandon her like Bud abandoned you. But those aren't reasons to be a father, Steven." She shook her head. "You didn't listen to me before. If I had told you, and we would've gotten back together…" she gave a small, bitter laugh. "It wouldn't have worked. I seem different, but I'm not. I still want the same things. I always have."
Hyde shook his head. "I don't…"
"A family, Steven. Marriage, children. Growing old with someone who adores me. That is the one thing that I want more than anything else in the world." Jackie's voice quivered with emotion, her pitch rising an octave higher than usual. "And you don't, Steven. You don't care either way."
"That's not true."
"Yes it is." She stared him down, and he looked away, silently acquiescing. "You would've done the right thing, sure. You would've supported me, tried to be a father to our daughter. But you wouldn't have cared as much I do. You wouldn't have put your whole heart into it, because it isn't what you want." She paused, the lump rising in her throat making it more and more difficult to speak. "You would've ended up resenting me and turned into this twisted, bitter man – " she threw up her hands. "You spend so much time trying to avoid turning into Bud that you forget all about Edna."
He flinched. "That's unfair."
"No, it's the truth." She clasped her hands in front of her, resolved. "I love you. A part of me will always love you. And I did what I did because it was the best thing for both of us." She paused, looking down. "Eric's an amazing father. He loves her so much. Please don't ruin it for them."
He struggled for a few moments, fists clenched. "I could've been her father," he said tightly.
Jackie sighed. "What's her name, Steven?"
He snapped his head up, opening his mouth, yet no sound came out. He stood stock still, every muscle rigid, before shaking his head, clamping his mouth shut.
"That's what I thought." She smiled sadly, the tears slipping down her cheeks. "It's Veronica," she said quietly. "Veronica Burkhardt."
He made a small sound, a groan or maybe a grunt. She wasn't sure.
"Thank you for giving her to me," she said quietly. "But please, please – " she choked, breaking off. "Just let it go, okay?"
She stood there, holding her breath, and watched him quietly. He looked down at the floor, the muscle in his jaw ticking. She could see his hands shaking from the exertion of keeping them so tightly clenched, and she felt a wave of tenderness bubble up inside her. There was a time when this man was everything – everything – to her, in a way that Michael and Eric weren't. Michael was her dream, but Steven – Steven was her fairytale, the plot stolen straight from a romance novel. The annoying, scruffy loser who did everything he could to break the rules, in love with the beautiful princess. Everything they did together, they did with passion.
Which was their problem, in the end. Passion is nothing without trust and understanding to back it up, and while they had plenty of chemistry, plenty of emotion, they had absolutely no base. Of all of Jackie's planning and dreaming, all of her crying and cursing his name after the Samantha incident, deep down she knew why he'd done it. Why he'd ran the morning after, why he'd ran to Samantha in the first place. It was the same reason that she hadn't ever let herself become vulnerable to him, why she hadn't ever explained to him the things she wanted in a way that he could understand.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "We're not…meant to be. It wasn't supposed to last."
He nodded tightly and swallowed, and she watched his Adam's apple bob in his throat. "Fine," he said finally, voice hoarse. "I – I'd like to keep tabs on her, if that's okay."
She nodded silently, biting her lip. "I can send you stuff," she offered. "Book reports and things."
"That would be…okay."
"Okay." She walked towards the door, giving him a wide berth. Pausing, she turned around momentarily, focusing on his back. "Thanks," she murmured.
He said nothing, and she left the apartment in silence.
Eric and Veronica returned home that afternoon to find Jackie fast asleep on the living room couch, tear stains still evident on her cheeks. "Why's Mom asleep?" The little girl frog-hopped over to the couch. "It's like, ten hours before bedtime!"
"Ten hours, huh?" Eric chuckled. "That is a long time away. She must be extra tired. Why don't we let Mom sleep?"
"But I wanted to show her my new library book."
"You can show her later, honey. Go put your school stuff away in your room, okay?"
He left her undisturbed for the better part of the evening, fixing Veronica a quiet dinner and keeping her occupied away from the living room to let Jackie sleep. He resisted the urge to shake her awake and demand details on her meeting with Hyde, to make her end the ugly, irrational, jealous scenarios that'd been floating through his imagination all day.
It'd been an exercise in restraint to keep from rushing over to Hyde's apartment and dragging her out by her hair. All day, over and over in his head – Was he kissing her? Was she kissing him? Was he falling at her feet, begging for a second chance? Was she jumping at the chance to have him, Veronica's biological father, in her life?
The idea terrified Eric. The truth was that he loved Veronica, more than he'd ever loved anybody. It was powerful and wonderful, and the thought that for the past six years Jackie had been using him as a stand-in father for her until Hyde came around was enough to make him want to collapse in despair.
He just wanted this so badly. It was a desire coming from the purest corner of his heart, the desire to be Veronica's father. Jackie's husband. A father to future children. He wanted to see their faces every day, he wanted to take care of them, to support them and be there every single moment. He wanted to see Veronica grow up, to go to her dance recitals and her parent-teacher conferences. He wanted to be there for her graduation, for her first love, her first heartbreak. He wanted to walk her down the aisle at her wedding.
And he wanted to do it all with Jackie. He wanted her to have his name, to share his bed and be in his life in a very permanent way. He wanted to keep her from getting too worked up over things, to smooth her frowns when she got angry, to make her laugh when she was sad. He wanted to wake up to her face every morning, to – he just wanted.
Veronica conked out halfway through Sesame Street, still being young enough that a normal day exhausted her. He put her to bed quickly, turning the television off when he saw Jackie stirring from the noise.
He was caught in indecision for a moment, stock still in the middle of the room, watching her restless form. Then he leaned down to her level, tenderness winning over, and moved the hair away from her face gently. "Jackie," he whispered. "Sweetheart."
Her eyes fluttered open, immediately moving to his face. Slowly, a tentative smile spread across her face, and in that moment, all thought of Hyde fled. "Hi."
She bit her lip, looking downwards. "I'm so sorry," she murmured.
He shook his head. "Don't be. I'm sorry. I should've…" he trailed off.
She smiled, sitting up on the couch. "Eric…he's leaving. I mean, he's not gonna try and bother us anymore."
A breath he didn't know he'd been holding released, unbelievable relief washing over him. "Oh," he managed, feeling heady and light.
"Eric," she said softly. "Come up here and talk to me."
He looked up at her, moving up from his position on the floor to join her on the couch. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah." She nodded. "It's…it's gonna be okay now, I think." He nodded, sliding his arm around her shoulders quietly. She grabbed at his shirt, looking up at him. "I love you, Eric."
Some other tension in his head broke. "I love you too."
She giggled nervously. "Let's get married, okay?" Her voice was small and hopeful, and he had an overwhelming urge to hug her.
He nodded, slowly allowing himself to smile. "Okay," he finally said. "That sounds great."
And it was.
Epilogue to come, hopefully.