this is where she is, pg-13
passions, gwen hotchkiss, 2671

Gwen tries to make a full break from her life in Harmony. Includes Ethan and Fox.
Note: The beginning of this fic takes place sometime after Gwen leaves Ethan in mid-2007.

Gwen believes she has prepared herself to attend a Crane charity dinner at Harmony's over-glorified country club, but she turns to leave when she sees her not yet ex-husband arm in arm with Theresa Lopez-Fitzgerald Crane Casey (and soon) Winthrop. It's not specifically the sight of them that alarms her but the woman's stomach rounding for the third time.

She thought she was ready for this. Seeing him. Seeing them. She had meticulously obsessed about her coif, nails, dress, and make-up with a personal assistant and stylist. But it was all undone by that belly. All to waste. All down the drain. All because the other woman would have two or three things that would always remain out of Gwen's grasp. The sensible thing would have been to walk out of that place and getting the first flight back to New York to look for a job while fielding her mother's frantic phone calls.

Instead, she bumps into her drunk soon to be ex-brother-in-law slash former step-brother. After babbling laments about his own adulterous Bennett spouse, they spend a good twenty minutes necking in the coat room before he excuses himself and turns away to vomit on expensive blazers and fur lined coats. She hopes one of them belonged to Theresa.

"Take an aspirin before you sleep it off," she advises Fox before she says a quick good-bye and goes on to do the sensible thing.

She never really learns the trick to getting over it all, but being in a routine where they are no longer a part of her life helps. With the aid of that routine and a three hundred dollars an hour therapist she learns to spend less of her days obsessing about them.

Things are getting better, but they aren't great. She has many friendly acquaintances, but no good friends. The only one she could call a friend would be her secretary, Zoë, if there was not a paycheck between them. She finds her apartment is too big for her so she gets a black tabby and calls her Cordelia. There is a brief and awkward flirtation with a lawyer from the nineteenth floor.

New minor things like these fill up her days, but for the most part Gwen keeps her mind consumed with the ten year trend of gross domestic product and pesky corporate lawyers.

There is new energy that fills her, a new hope. She thinks she can get past yesterday and see a tomorrow.

There is a brief blip in the midst of it when she receives a call from Ethan (with Rebecca's insistence, of course) so Gwen doesn't say much when he struggles to fill the silences. Gwen stops taking his calls after he fails to mention his fourth child in their first conversation.

Gwen's life is not in the first or second act of her love story. Her life is not a fairy tale. Two-thirds of her wasted life on this Earth has taught her this.

So when a former co-worker asks her out for drinks, Gwen tells herself that it's just to catch up. When he leans towards her, she quickly turns her head slightly and pecks his cheek. When a short look of disappointment crosses his features she, suddenly becomes interested in the stem of her glass.

When he tries to call her the next day at work, she tells her assistant to add his name to the list of people she will not be answering to.

That afternoon, there is a moment where an indescribable panic seizes her and she stands wooden, grasping the edge of her desk with both hands. It'll be okay. It'll be okay. One day it's all going to be okay...

She can't be sure what all this hurt is here for anymore.

Three months later, with no warning, Ethan walks into her office. He waits almost self-consciously in the doorway. That same feeling envelopes her as well before she hardens and speaks.

"What are you doing here?" Her voice is crisp, distant. As if she's speaking to an employee who has arrived late for a meeting. He says her name once before she remembers she doesn't ever want to see him again. "No, I don't care. Get out."

She spent months imagining this moment. He would be here and she would coldly call security. They would drag Ethan away in a sufficiently humiliating scene as he would plead with her and voice his apologies and regrets. The fantasy is too fantastic to actually happen, but she can't help but have a finger hover over the security call button.

He begins to speak again and she listens without looking up. He starts with an apology that is lacking and then tells her he didn't know where else to go. Theresa has lied to him. Feeling deliciously bitter, she mocks a gasp. "Not Theresa!"

"Little Ethan - I'm Little Ethan's father."

Gwen's jaw slackens and she can't quite get a grip on her bearings. It's too much. Like the whole world had been conspiring against her and their marriage far before it began. It makes his family all too perfect. Two - no three - children, all the biological children. Gwen, of course, was the wicked witch in their damn fairytale and she and her children had no place in this story.

"Gwen, are you all right?"

"Shut up." She tilts her head to stop the oncome of unreasonable tears. "Congratulations. You've now fathered five children. Do you ever even think about the two you have lost?"

He has the decency to look dumbstruck until he notices something. "Are you crying?" He sounds appalled. She hadn't realized that the moisture in her eyes had spilled over.

Security at her apartment complex and her office has a picture of Ethan in a file. He cannot come near her at home or work. Out of sight, out of mind. She hopes.

Something breaks within her, unleashing a hidden little monster. And it hits her how tired she is of being this frigid, cold, lonely figure. The first time with a man other than Ethan is nothing less than terrifying.

She tells herself it's not that different. The man is not that different, two arms, two legs, a similar taut chest and a handsome face. But his breaths come more rapidly than Ethan's against her ear and his touches lacking the intimacy that Ethan's held. For some torturous moments her hate of Ethan isn't important. What is important is only that the man with her isn't him. But she bears through it because she thinks she has to eventually. What better time than now.

More follow. Most are too insignificant to note. Except for a casual evening with Fox with surprising results and a dinner where she's drunk enough to surprise Luis with a sloppy kiss when Sheridan's head is turned.

It is an experiment in being modern she tells those who notice and ask.

Things change with Zoë because of that despised disappointed look that crosses the younger woman features when she catches a whiff of Gwen tales. They talk less of their personal lives and most of their exchanges lose the warm touch.

Her three hundred dollars an hour therapist alerts her that she's going through a difficult time.

There is a butterfly on her belly. The light flutters remind her of a brighter day when she and Ethan and she made love for the first time after she told him she was pregnant, promising he would never leave her again and then kissing her so sweetly that she had cried from a mixture of relief and hormones.

Her stomach balloons into the same form it had when she used to peer down and talk to the only child she had carried, whispering happy secrets with her mind. The skin of her belly is taut and brimming with life. It is too lovely.

Then without a warning, there is death. The absence of what was kills her and rips her as her belly flattens, freeing dark butterflies into the heavens. Gwen tries to grasp one with her hand, but it easily escapes through her fingers.

When she wakes up she decides not to leave her bed for the day which then turns into another and nearly into a week, until Zoë spins clever stories to get a key to her apartment from the manager. She drags Gwen into a cold shower and forces her to stay until there are no rooms for dreams and nightmares.

Somewhere between the hours of three and four in the morning there is a banging at the door. It is dull at first, something too far away to bother with as she tumbles out of her dreams. And then suddenly it is there, loud and unabating.

She groggily stumbles her way through her darkened apartment and shushes Cordelia mewling unhappily and Zoë shifting in her sleep on the couch at the disturbance. She closes an eye to peek through the eyehole. It's Fox.

Gwen unlocks the door but does not remove the chain. Through the small gap she can see a limited line of his odd expression. She rubs her face sleepily as she asks what he's doing here.

"Lemme in. I need a place to stay."

Gwen studies his face. He has been drinking but he's not too drunk. He doesn't seem troubled the way he normally would after some family drama with Ivy, Julian or Ethan, so she doesn't feel guilty about what she says next. "Go 'way. Find a hotel."

"I don't wanna stay at a hotel."

Gwen thinks he just needs to stomp a foot to make this image of Fox as a toddler complete. "Are you a child?" She slams the door shut in a huff. Then after a moment of thinking and staring at the door, she unchains and opens it. Gwen points the way to the unmanned couch in her bedroom and then returns to her own bed.

Sometime before brunch the next day and sometime after Zoë leaves, Fox tells Gwen he thinks he is in love with her.

Gwen and friends are out for drinks. The conversation rises and falls. Sometimes she remains silent while the other men and women chatter on and sometimes she joins in.

Gwen takes a slow drag of the cigarette between her lips and blows to the side. A woman next to Zoë makes a face and fans the air in front of her. "Ew!"

"I did make it a point to blow away from you. Don't be mean."

Gwen has not smoked since she turned twenty-three. During a run to the pharmacy two nights ago to pick up her antidepressants, she bought a pack on a passing whim. She had forgotten the variety they came in. (Menthol, lights, ultralights, kings, 100s.) She ended up pointing a finger at the pack she thought was prettiest. (Camels No 9: kings, menthols, a black box with pink lining.) Then on another whim she decided to use them tonight.

Zoë rolls her eyes and continues a rant on her roommate and Gwen adds in her own helpful comments when it is right. Then Zoë and another woman, Sydney, turn the conversation to Gwen's life and Fox. Gwen resists. They ask why, so Gwen explains.

It's like a game of musical beds with people she knows. Gwen had slept with Ethan who slept with Theresa who slept with Fox who slept with Gwen. And before Gwen, Fox was married to Ethan's half-sister.

("Wait, wouldn't that make them - ?"

"Believe it or not, it wouldn't.")

And before Kay, it was Theresa's best friend. Also, that same half-sister of Ethan's had a child with Theresa's brother.

Gwen presses the lit end of the cigarette into an ashtray with a satisfying crunch. The women raise their eyes, turn to look at each other and then back at Gwen who promises this is the truth, but they continue to look at her in disbelief. Gwen sticks out her tongue and goes on. "It's beginning to feel incestuous."

After a short silence Gwen chuckles at a thought. Maybe she should close the circle off and screw Miguel. Gwen knows better than to say it aloud because of the scowl that would cross Zoë's features. Gwen collects herself and lists the reasons why it wouldn't work with Fox or any other man for her right now.

"It didn't keep you from sleeping with him a few times," a third woman joining the conversation presses.

"Temporary insanity?" It's a viable excuse in Gwen's case although the men and women with her would never know that.

"It would be a change of pace though, Gwen," Zoë speaks with hope. "It might be better than you think."

Gwen holds back a remark. Moments like these remind her Zoë is too young to have been touched by a healthy dose of realism and bitterness, not to mention the ability to see how much of Fox's charm is practiced. Gwen sighs, "Maybe."

Then the worst happens. Rebecca finds out about Fox. Her mother's loose lips break hell loose and Gwen has to become more creative in avoiding old friends and enemies. It seems to work up until she spies a once again drunk Fox outside her apartment one evening.

It's unreal to be on this end. Being the one wanted instead of in a state of wanting. He seems earnest and may believe it himself, but she knows better.

"Can you leave?"

"I'm fine Gwen, thanks for asking. How are you?"

Gwen tilts her head and tries to give him a disapproving look. Fox tilts his head the same direction and smirks. And despite her own anxious fears, she can't help but remember that this is the same fool who at fifteen thought it would be funny to spike Julian's drink with tequila at a country club party and shave a clean thick line down the center of his head when he was passed out in the steam room.

"We're not having sex tonight."

"The thought never occurred to me."

Gwen turns and Fox follows.

Inside, she hands him a cup of coffee and tells him it's time to talk. She goes first.

He isn't the only person she slept with. She has been a shameless slut the past few months. She really likes his company, but she can't see anything more happening between them. Does she really need to remind him about the tabloid? And why is he always drunk when they see each other? That can't mean anything good.

Fox seems to take it all in stride when there are times in her rant when he should really leave in an indignant, sobering huff, but he remains and says lovely sweet things that would win over the heart of any girl and maybe hers too.

Gwen can't agree or disagree and when Fox presses forward wordlessly her limbs wrap around his and in the process she cries into his shoulder and leans into his chest.

Is this acquiescence?

She doesn't know, but he does.

And this is why she tells him that he has to leave.

When it's all been said and done, she's no worse, no better, no closer, no farther than from where she should be and where she shouldn't, but it's okay because this is where she is. And maybe this is how it is. You love, you lose, you leave, or maybe they do and then you do it all over again until something sticks. Until something makes sense.

Sometimes she thinks about them. She thinks about her Sarah, Ethan, Theresa, her father and others she's crossed paths with. How she once trusted them and they trusted her and how she hurt them and they hurt her. It's easy to cry when she looks back, but more and more now she sees that doesn't need to the same way she once did. This is where she is and Gwen knows for the first time that it's not so bad anymore.