If I Can't Have You…

Chapter 9

Disclaimer: Not Mine.

The word 'Awkward' was currently engraved in Jackie Burkhart's mind, bolded and underlined so that with every breath, every blink, she was reminded of just how uncomfortable she was…and of the unsettling fact that she wasn't sure why.

The rest of the night at the disco had been fine, could even be qualified as good when she thought hard about it. Her and Steven had danced through a few more songs (discreetly, of course, to keep from attracting too much attention) and had just returned to their table in time to find the rest of their friends resurfacing from their own dilemmas and distractions, all ready to bid goodnight to Kenosha. Sharing a secret, subtle smile with Hyde before sliding out of the backseat, Jackie had been dropped off at her house with a genuine sense of relief and contentment. After all, she'd had a nice time, and their truce had been restored, her anger dissolved.

But sadly, the morning light revealed a different mix of emotions, one of the most notable being confusion.

Where did they go from here?

She had no idea what their new dynamic entailed, and had even less of a clue on how to act around him now. The lessons were over, but that didn't mean she could forget they'd happened. The desire to burn him, outside of playful teasing, had vanished. The fiery glare, the special one she knew he had taken great pride in extracting from her so many times before, didn't seem to exist anymore. But were they friends? Was it okay to talk and joke and smile, when everyone else was around? She feared that the answer was 'no.' And she was equally afraid of asking herself why that thought upset her so much.

She'd avoided the basement all day Sunday. Despite invites from both Michael and Donna, she'd simply said she had more homework than usual and honestly, hadn't been feeling well.

But she couldn't stay away long – the small television and lumpy couch had become too big a part of her life. And that's why she found herself there, late on Monday afternoon, seated stiffly between Donna and Fez, trying not to glance at Steven and silently praying that he'd leave the room.

Finally, the stillness was too much, pressing her discomfort even further into her skin. Searching for a conversation starter it occurred to her that her very reason for coming to the basement to begin with was significantly absent. "Has anyone seen Michael? I thought he'd be here?" Other than a small ripple in her voice at the start, she didn't believe Donna or Fez could tell that anything was amiss, and she looked around to her companions with casual curiosity.

She thought she saw Steven's body tense, but figured it was just her imagination. Why would he care that she was asking about her boyfriend? And when he offered a shrug, his eyes never leaving the screen, she relaxed a bit in thanks that he didn't take the opportunity to burn with some snide remark about her own boyfriend hiding from her.

Donna too answered in the negative, but when she turned to Fez she was surprised, and alarmed, to find him looking nervous and guilty. "Fez? Do you know where Michael is?"

"Well, uh. I don't know where he is now."

Jackie felt her eyebrows draw together in a questioning gaze.

"But last time I saw him he was walking towards the Hub." Fez's voice shook slightly, and tiny beads of sweat seemed to appear across his brow.

Jackie's eyes narrowed, and she almost felt ashamed about the suspicion she could feel spreading within her. "With who? Eric's helping Red, and everyone else is down here?"

"I think her name is Pam? Pam Macey?"

"What?!" Jackie's squeal was loud and sharp, and if she could have seen anything other than the reds of hurt and anger she'd have noticed her friends all simultaneously jump in surprise.

Quickly she pushed herself up off the couch, and stood with her slender arms crossed in front of her, effectively blocking the TV with her full skirt and stern stare. "What do you mean he was going to the Hub with Pam Macey? Like on a date? Everyone knows Pam Macey is the school's biggest slut, well since Eric's sister graduated!"

Jackie could feel her blood boiling, her pulse racing, her ears ringing. Was Michael cheating on her? He wouldn't, he couldn't.

Could he?

Of course he could, he was Michael Kelso. He could get any girl, and why would he turn down attention and affection when she had been so neglectful lately. Michael said he loved her, but did he mean it? She was so impatient with him, and she knew she made him feel bad, but he was so dumb sometimes that she couldn't always stop herself. Of course, that didn't make it okay. She was his girlfriend. And that demanded a certain amount of honesty and fidelity.

Jackie's mind raced as she waited, one eyebrow quirked up, for Fez to further divulge all that he knew. When her friend just continued to watch her, looking uneasy and helpless, she feared that there would be no magical explanation that made it alright for her boyfriend to be out God-Knows-Where doing God-Knows-What with Pam Macey.

"I think they were working on a school project."

At the sound of Steven's voice, Jackie's big eyes flew to her left, full of hope and relief. And gratitude.

As soon as the words flew from his mouth, Steven Hyde had no idea why he did it. It was a blatant lie, and one that he could in no way benefit from. In fact it almost hurt him to say it. And after all, hadn't he been spending hours agonizing over how to tell Jackie the very thing he just kept her from finding out on her own?

But there was something in the way she had reacted, a flash of remorse blending with the shock and the hurt that made him want to say whatever, do whatever, was necessary to erase it from her features. How could she feel bad, or responsible, for the fact that the moron had cheated on her, was cheating on her? She still needed to know, he truly believed that now, but it should be done delicately…in a way that made it clear that it wasn't, couldn't ever be, her fault.

Half way through this analysis of his own action, it occurred to Hyde how very much this internal process suggested he cared about the petite girl finally setting back on to the couch, a mere foot away.

And it startled him because a) it was very out of character for him to care about anything; and b) he'd spent the majority of the last twenty-four hours convincing himself that it wasn't true.

With very little success he might add.

But it'd been weird. In the two weeks he'd spent sneaking around with her, spending most of his free time with her, it wasn't as if he'd changed his mind about her. She was spoiled. And sometimes disgustingly superficial. Not to mention, she could bitch and whine better than anyone else he'd ever met. But he had learned so much more about her. She was spoiled because she had neglectful parents who tried to buy her love and forgiveness. She was superficial because she'd been taught that her worth was entirely dependent on how perfect she looked, how perfect she seemed. She bitched and whined because she was lonely, angry, miserable…and Hyde couldn't deny that he could relate to that. He hadn't really changed his mind about her, but he'd definitely changed his mind about how different he had thought they were. And apparently, that changed a few other things.

He snuck a glance back over to the couch where Jackie now sat, looking much more relaxed, as she giggled at something Donna said and playfully smacked Fez's tickling hands away.

Yes, he'd only prolonged the inevitable. But a sappy part of him, hidden so deep that he hadn't known he had it, watched her smile and thought that maybe it was worth it.

Author's Note: Please take a second to review…I'm trying to ease my way back into my fics, and am incredibly nervous. This chapter is short, and not very great, but this was like my third attempt at it and I figured I just needed to push past it. Any constructive criticism if appreciated, and just a great big thanks for reading!