A.N. Last chapter – I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all my reviewers, with special mention to the wonderfully detailed and insightful Zenkindoflove and Ultrawoman. I hope this conclusion meets with your approval.
It is a universal truth that most things you look forward to do not turn out exactly as you plan. For instance, a few days ago Eric Forman had been thrilled at the prospect of escorting Jackie Burkhart to the Junior prom. He had imagined that moment when he would escort her into the wondrous basketball-court-turned-ballroom, how the spotlight would follow the golden couple as they danced gracefully together while Hyde stood in the shadows scowling in envy. Yet as he sat in the basement, fingering the corsage he had purchased for his date, he could not help feeling a little… flat. Perhaps it was because an older prom dream kept interfering with the current one; a dream where his partner in that mythic dance was a tall beauty with fiery hair.
Eric was pulled from his thoughts when Hyde stepped out of his bedroom dressed in a fashion to leave Eric drop-jawed.
"What in the wide world of sports are you got up as, Hyde?" Eric finally spluttered.
"What? Haven't you ever seen a guy wearing a tux before?" Hyde self-consciously straightened his lavender bow tie.
"Man, Fez looked more natural wearing that dress at our last beer binge than you do in a monkey suit."
"Yeah, will that says more about Fez than it does about me."
"So what – are you going to the prom now?" Hyde gave a brief nod. "Who are you going with?"
"Donna," Hyde answered. Eric tried his best to keep his face impassive in spite of the fact that the bottom fell out of his stomach at that news. Hyde must have seen something there, however, because he added "We're just going as friends."
"Oh, well, that's fine. I mean, it's not like I care or anything, because I don't. I mean you could get back together with her or kiss her or dance inappropriately with her and it wouldn't phase me at all. No, sir! No skin off my nose." Eric's babbling finally petered out under Hyde's piercing stare.
"Relax, Forman, it's not like I want to go to this stupid prom," Hyde growled. "Donna came over today and begged me to go with her so she wouldn't have to go alone. She even cried, Forman! What was I supposed to do?"
"Donna cried to get her way?" Eric was amazed. "That sounds more like something Jackie would do than Donna."
"Yeah, maybe she's taking lessons. So, are you heading over to their place now?"
"Yeah. And you?"
"Nah, I'm meeting Donna at the squares' dance in half an hour." Hyde flopped onto the couch and flicked the remote control at the screen. "Until then, it's just me, Janet and Chrissy."
"And what about Jack?" Eric asked as he grabbed his coat.
"Damn it, Forman, will you stop going on about that! What do I have to do to prove to you that I am completely over Jackie!" Hyde exploded.
"Er… I meant Jack like the other cast member of Three's Company."
Hyde's face froze for a beat before he lounged back and said "Oh, I just block out John Ritter and enjoy the jiggle."
Eric gave Hyde a doubtful look before taking his leave. It was only once he had gone Hyde dropped both his act and his curly head into his two hands as he let go of a sigh on which all of his own hazy prom dreams floated away.
As Jackie walked down the Pnciotti bedroom stairs, Eric could not help staring in wonder.
"Jackie, you look… like, wow! I can't believe it!"
Jackie smiled with pleasure as she twirled around in a cloud of purple chiffon. "Oh Eric, you really think so?"
"All I can say is it's a good thing I've got my inhaler with me because you take my breath away." Jackie laughed and Eric presented the corsage. "For you my lady."
"Oh Eric, it's beautiful."
"I'm sorry it's not purple," Eric said as he tied the blue ribbons around her wrist. "I thought you told me to match to blue. Guess I messed things up like usual."
"Oh Eric," Jackie said softly as she straightened his powder blue tie. "You didn't mess anything up." She looked gravely into his green eyes. "You know you'll always be my hero, don't you?"
"Jackie…" Eric said, a sense of unworthiness sweeping over him. He didn't deserve that, not after the feelings he had hidden from her while they were dating, the feelings that just would not go away.
Jackie put a finger to his lips and gave a small, rather sad, smile. "Don't speak. Just come with me. I have a surprise for you." She pulled him by the hand out the front door where a sleek black limousine was parked in front, a uniformed chauffeur holding the door open. "I thought we could arrive at the prom in style."
"Alright!" Eric cheered, dropping Jackie's hand to race over to investigate the plush interior. "Hey, there's a mini bar in here! And a TV! That's it, I've found my new home!"
"Don't start nesting yet, Eric, I've only hired it for the night," Jackie warned as the chauffeur closed the car door behind her. As Eric explored all of the electric buttons on the console and watched in amazement as the windows whirred down without even turning a handle, Jackie tried to subtly catch his eye. In the end, concluding subtlety was wasted on a man surrounded by gadgetry, she finally yelled, "Eric!"
"Huh? Sorry, Jackie, did you say something?"
"Yes, I did. Rather loudly, in fact. Eric, I think you and I need to talk."
"Well now, those words have an ominous ring," Eric turned his full attention to his girlfriend and finally noticed that the smile she had shown to him tonight had a certain bittersweetness around the edges.
"Eric, are you happy with me?"
"What? Am I happy? What kind of question is that?"
"A yes or no kind of question. Are you?"
"Of course I've been happy! You and I, we've had some really great times this last year."
"No, Eric, I didn't ask if you were happy with me in the past. I meant are you happy now?"
"Well… I mean, on the whole, averaged out over the course of time, I think my answer would lean more to the "yes" than the "no", taking into account – "
"Eric, stop it!" Jackie said, cutting through his prevarication.
"I'm not! How can you say that?"
"Eric, you have been pretending with me from the start," Jackie said, her lambent eyes arresting his guilty gaze. "You had feelings for Donna for years before I came along and you never told me about them."
"I just didn't want to make you jealous," Eric excused.
"Oh Eric, the only reason I would be jealous is if those feelings were not a passing boy's crush. And the only reason you would never mention them was because you still had them."
"Hey, I thought we weren't going to bring up our past mistakes," Eric cried defensively. "If we're going to start comparing skeletons, how about you and Hyde? As soon as we broke up, you ran into his arms so quickly it was like you'd been shot from a cannon. Maybe I'm not the only one with secret feelings!"
"No, you're not," Jackie said. Eric double-taked at her calm admission.
"You're right. I've been having feelings for Steven for a long time now. Just like you, I felt guilty about them so I stuffed them down deep and called them friendship, but then as soon as you and I broke up they came busting out."
Eric stared at Jackie in dismay. "But I thought Hyde took advantage of you – that it was just a lapse."
"No, Eric, it went a lot deeper than that. In fact, it is so much a part of me that I can't uproot it and I can't be in a relationship with you when I have another man in my heart. Just like I shouldn't be your girlfriend when you know that Donna is the only girl who will ever fit that mould for you."
Eric opened his mouth to argue but honesty kept back the words. He knew she was right, the relief stealing over him pointed towards the truth of her statement. Yet he could not hold back the regret as he said sincerely, "But Jackie – I really do care for you."
"I know, Eric," Jackie replied, a tear racing down her cheek. "Damn, stop looking at me like that, you're making me ruin my make-up." They laughed a little together. "It's OK to care for me, Eric. I think it is the most natural thing in the world that you and I would like each other enormously. We just go together so nicely and it is so easy to be with you. But the good news is that we can still have all that – as friends. Somehow I get this feeling that friends is how we were supposed to be all along."
"Friends, huh?" Eric pretended to consider this. "I guess that could work. Just so long as you don't start calling me a lumberjack – I draw the line there." Jackie giggled as she sunk into Eric's warm hug.
"No, I promise I'll give you your very own insult. How do you like 'string bean'"
"Not very much."
"Watch it, kid, or I'll start calling you the devil!"
As they drew back from each other, eyes misty and mouths grinning, Eric asked the inevitable question. "So what happens now?" With impeccable timing, the limo slowed to a halt.
"Now, we find our prom dates," Jackie replied, eyes twinkling.
"Oh, alright – wait, our what?"
"It shouldn't be too hard for you to find your Cinderella. You'll know she's the right one because she will match you perfectly," Jackie said, tweaking his tie. "And I'll just go and look for mine."
Eric gaped at Jackie in awe, suddenly remembering that the lavender accents on Hyde's suit were perfectly co-ordinated to Jackie's dress. As her masterly plan unfolded before him, he breathed reverently "You really are the devil!"
Jackie reached up to brush her lips against her first boyfriend's cheek. "And don't you forget it."
He saw her across the dance floor, a total knockout in her blue satin prom gown. She was not alone; a girl who looks like that does not last 10 seconds alone before some hopeful male is pulled into her orbit. Eric's heart sunk as he recognised the boy who was chatting her up; Jake Bradley. The most popular, athletic and well liked boy at Point Place High. What was he doing, did he think he could just walk up to her and she would ditch Jake Bradley (the name reverberated in his mind as though sung by a heavenly choir) for the chance to dance with Eric "Foreskin" Forman, especially after the way he had treated her so coldly? He wheeled away from her path, avoiding the public rejection, but did not walk more than two steps before he stopped. Damn it, what the hell am I doing? This is how I missed my chance the first time. So what if she's hot and smart and better than me at just about everything? She's not perfect. She can be bossy and controlling and manipulative and even underhanded. She makes mistakes that are just as cataclysmic as anything I can do. She's not too good for me – she is my match!
Donna was just surveying the room one more time while pretending to listen to Jake describe his last game-saving touchdown, when suddenly she saw him, striding straight towards her. His jaw was set firm and his fists clenched, obviously a man on a mission.
"Donna," he said in his deepest voice. "I believe they're playing our song."
Jake looked at the boy and girl locking eyes so intensely. "'Carwash' is your song?"
"It is now," Donna said, her eyes never leaving Eric's as he took her hand. As they swayed slowly together amongst all the discoing teenagers, Donna asked the big question. "So, where's your girlfriend?"
Eric stroked her bare arm, turning her skin to gooseflesh. "I'm currently between girlfriends at the moment."
"Oh," Donna said, her heart doing backflips. "I'm sorry to hear that."
Eric stiffened a little, suddenly unsure if they were on the same page. "You are?"
Donna saw the doubt on his face. "No!" Donna cried. "No, I'm glad you broke up with Jackie. Glad, I tell you!" At least a dozen heads turned her way in shock.
"Well, thank God for that." Eric breathed a sigh of relief. "You really need to work on that whole straighforwardness thing, Donna. I'm not a mind-reader, you know."
"No-one would ever accuse you of that, Eric," Donna said sarcastically. "But I am really sorry about… you know…"
"Yeah, I know. I forgive you, Donna."
"Really? Oh, Eric."
"After all, you can't be held responsible for your actions," Eric went on, twisting his mobile features into his James Bond expression. "These debonair good looks of mine have been the ruin of many a fair maiden."
"Shut up," Donna laughed.
"I just pray you'll be able to control yourself the next time some helpless girl is drawn to my magnetic personality."
"Eric, if there is going to be an us' there is one thing you should keep in mind at all times," Donna said solemnly. "I can still pin you down and make you eat dirt."
"Well, damn! That's just what I've been looking for in a girlfriend!" As he leaned in to kiss the girl of his dreams, Eric could have sworn there was a spotlight shining on them.
Hyde checked his watch for the tenth time as he released a sharp hiss of irritation. Where the hell was Donna? She had told him to meet her outside by the water fountain, but she was nowhere in sight. It was bad enough he had to put on this penguin suit, but now he had all the dorks at school staring at him, wondering if he had been stood up. He was starting to come to that conclusion himself. Perhaps this was her final revenge for lousing up her life. He had to admit, it would make a fine burn.
As Hyde was peering into the fountain, trying to see if there were any wishing coins to steal, a reflection shimmered in the water. A small, feminine reflection.
"Did you make a wish?" a familiar voice asked. Hyde froze. He deliberately kept his head turned away as he replied.
"I don't make wishes. I just steal other people's."
"Steven." Her hand touched his shoulder and brought him back to life.
"What are you doing here, Jackie," he said shortly, jumping away from her touch. "Shouldn't you be sliding down moonbeams with your boyfriend?"
"I don't have a boyfriend."
"Oh, since about 12 minutes ago. However, I am currently reviewing applications if you want to apply for the position." Jackie gave him back his own smirk along with his words.
"Oh really? So you want to trade in the fairy tale for – what did you call it – sordid lust? I don't think so, princess."
Jackie regarded the young man she had given her heart away to. She knew she would have to handle him with care. He had retreated back into his burrow, snapping at the hand that tried to pet him. She realised with relief that she could finally see through him; the riddle of the human etch-a-sketch had been solved.
"Steven, when I said that, I didn't mean it from my side," she explained gently, careful not to make any sudden moves. "I thought I was speaking for you."
"What makes you think you weren't?" Hyde was not giving anything away.
"New evidence has come to light," Jackie said. "New sparkly evidence. Why didn't you tell me that the birthday present was from you, not Eric?"
Hyde shrugged. "It was no big deal. Plus I don't rat out my friends."
"But going after their girlfriends is OK?" Jackie shook her head wryly. "You really are full of every good and bad thing at the same time."
"Hey, I tried really hard not to care about you," Hyde defended himself. "Look, just forget about that week at the cabin. I don't know what I was thinking. You and Eric belong together. I'll bet if you go and track him down he'll take you back in a heartbeat."
"That wouldn't be any good. Besides the fact that he's obviously crazy about Donna, which would put a real crimp in our relationship, I'm just not in love with him anymore." Jackie slowly approached the angry young man until she was an arm's length away. "Steven, you and I have been at cross purposes for so long. Don't you think it's time we tried some honest communication?"
Hyde took in the picture that was Jackie; to him she was perfection from her pink toenails to her midnight hair. One look into her beautiful eyes and his buried hopes were staging a speedy resurrection. But he could not forget the lesson that had been drummed into him every day of his life; the people who are supposed to love you leave. Just last week Jackie had said she would not leave him, but then she went back to Eric. He would not be taken in again.
Jackie saw the war raging in him and knew she would have to play her ace to win this hand. She reached into her lavender drawstring purse and pulled out a piece of paper.
"Do you know what this is Steven? It's the IOU I won from you – good for one special favour of my choice."
Hyde raised his eyebrows. "What, you think you can buy me as your boyfriend? I think that transaction would be worth a lot more than twenty dollars."
"No. But I think 5 minutes of honesty would be a fair deal," Jackie fixed him with her most challenging look. "So how about it, Steven. You have to give me complete honesty for the next 5 minutes without any of your "that's cool's" and "whatever's". Do you think you can handle that?"
"Fine," Hyde ground out. "But five questions, not five minutes. My truth comes at $4.00 per answer."
"Fine," Jackie agreed. "First question – did me being Eric's girlfriend have anything to do with why you were attracted to me?"
"No. It just had a lot to do with why I tried to keep my distance."
"So that's why you kept acting so hot and cold towards me!"
"Yes. That's two."
"Hey, that last one wasn't even… oh, fine. Um, how long have you had feelings for me?"
"Since that first dancing lesson you gave me."
"You're kidding me! But that was like eight months ago. And you were dating Donna."
"What can I say? You took hotness to a whole new level, wearing my Led Zeppelin T-shirt and dancing to the Stones."
"So you're taking the Michael Jackson defence and blaming it on the boogie?" Jackie joked. "Don't answer that – that wasn't a question."
"Two left," Hyde reminded her, shifting uneasily on his feet. This complete honesty thing left him feeling uncomfortably vulnerable.
"Right. What does the J in Steven J. Hyde stand for?"
"What's that got to do with anything?"
"Nothing – it's just been bugging me for a while."
"James. Now come on, give me your last question so I can get the hell out of here. Being at school when you're not legally compelled to is just wrong."
"Alright," Jackie said, holding her breath. "My last question is… did you know that I am utterly, completely, out of my mind and hopelessly devoted in love with you?"
Hyde just stared at her as though he had just been sandbagged. She held his eyes so he could see the sincerity shining in hers. Finally he said in little more than a whisper, "No."
"Because I am, Steven," Jackie said, taking that final step towards him to close the distance. "And it's so much stronger and just more… real than anything I've ever felt before. If you still want to walk away from this I can't stop you but I think it would be a real waste because I love – " Her words were cut off by Hyde's lips taking possession of hers. He cradled her head in his hands as he surrendered to that same emotion he had recently renounced. But there was no fighting love, especially when your love was returned by someone as relentlessly persistent as Jackie Burkhart.
"God, Jackie," he groaned. "You better know your own mind this time."
"I do," she assured between delicious, soul-deep kisses. "And what's more, I know yours now. You are not the callous desperado you make yourself out to be. Underneath that hard shell you are as soft and sweet as ice-cream."
"Oh, you think so?" he mocked.
"Mmm hmm. You're my own puddin' pop."
"Don't ever call me that again," he warned. Jackie just smiled and pulled on his collar until his head was brought back down to a kissing level.
"Well, look who's finally joined the party," Kelso commented loudly as Jackie and Hyde entered the prom, slightly rumpled and glowing.
"Hey, Kelso," Hyde greeted. Kelso just fixed him with a disgruntled look. "What's with you?"
"Great! First Eric and Donna, now you and Jackie! That's another ten bucks I've lost to Fez." He grumpily handed over a greenback to the dark skinned boy gloating at his side.
"You two had a pool going, didn't you?" Hyde deduced. "Damn it, Kelso, what have I told you about including me in your stupid bets?"
"That I should back you because you always win?"
"Exactly," Hyde said, pulling Jackie against him to illustrate his point.
"Oh, I wouldn't be bragging just yet, Hyde," Eric said as he and Donna joined the gang.
"Why's that?" Hyde pokered up at what sounded like a challenge from Jackie's ex.
"Because you and I don't have much say in tonight's outcome. This was all arranged by our charming ladies." Eric fingered his blue tie. "Look at what we're wearing, man! We've been bagged and tagged like light bellied Brent geese."
As Hyde noticed for the first time that his outfit matched Jackie's, he turned an outraged face towards her.
"What?" she replied. "Oh, like we should leave our romantic destinies in the hands of two boys? I don't think so! By the way, nice work with the guilt trip this afternoon, Donna. I wasn't sure if you could pull off a tear storm convincingly, but you proved me wrong."
"It was all that coaching you gave me. I couldn't have done it without you," Donna replied, meeting Jackie's hand for a celebratory high five.
"Man, you guys are in so much trouble," Kelso declared with a wide goofy grin.
"Yes, this is true," Fez agreed, just before the smug smile fell off his face. "Aii! Why can't I be in that kind of trouble?"
"Well, if you morons will excuse us, I'm taking my particular trouble out onto the dance floor." Hyde tugged Jackie along behind him, but not before he exchanged a brief nod and a smile with Eric. As he held Jackie in his arms, swaying to Elton John, he decided that there were worse things in life than being bagged, tagged and tamed.
A.N. Phew! My longest story yet. I hope you all enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I may revisit this story sometime in the future to write an epilogue, but for now I'm closing the book.
To any disappointed EJ shippers out there, I have to say that my initial plan was to have an EJ ending, which is why Hyde was such a creep at the beginning. But then the story took on a life of its own and no matter what I did Hyde and Jackie would not stay away from each other. I guess I'm just a zennie at heart no matter how hard I try for new directions, but honestly, in all the great EJ stories I've read (and there are some real beauties out there), they always lose me whenever Eric and Jackie have sex. It's like "Nope, not feeling it". Now, Hyde and Jackie, on the other hand…