A/N: I'm sorry it has been so very long since I've done anything with this story. I'm making an attempt to get back into the swing of things. I hope and pray that there are still some readers who are interested in forgiving a very careless and inconsiderate author.

I love you all. Onward!

Keep It Together

Chapter Five

The first flight back to California was anything but bearable, and the hangovers were no help. After a juvenile argument over who would get the window seat, David was resigned to a very uncomfortable position between a snoring, drooling Brandon to his right and a very sweaty heavyset man to his left. Elbowroom had always been somewhat of a luxury that he had never quite appreciated before.

The layover in Portland was no better, for several flights had been delayed due to severe thunderstorm conditions. For much of the four-hour pause, David had not even had a proper place to sit. Brandon had been so exhausted that he practically begged David to help him rent a cheap set of hotel rooms, and take the first connecting flight in the morning. David had, of course, declined. And this victory had cost him the only remaining seat, for Brandon was a sore loser.

Once the plane at last landed in LAX, Brandon had all but fallen to the ground to kiss the earth beneath his feet. David knew how much he hated to fly; and if he hadn't before this trip, he certainly did now.

"You're late," Kelly quipped irritably as she met them at baggage claim.

"Sorry, Kel," Brandon sighed wearily, "lots of delays in Oregon."

"Well, I'm glad to see you," Kelly said with a smile of surrender, wrapping her arms around Brandon in a welcoming embrace. She then turned to greet David in the same fashion.

"It's nice to see you too, sis," David agreed. He could feel the creeping sensation of jetlag settling upon him, but fought to ignore it. "What's the plan?"

"Plan?" Kelly questioned.

"About Donna," David said impatiently, lifting his suitcase from the belt and locking the pull handle in place. "C'mon, Kel, I just talked to you yesterday."

Kelly scoffed, bemused. "No, no, no. You see, I already told you I will have no involvement in whatever brilliant scheme you two have come up with."

"I assure you, there was positively no brilliance involved," Brandon declared, rubbing his face tiredly. "There was far too much alcohol to call it 'brilliant'."

"If I remember correctly, we spent about an hour trying to perfect some kind of idea involving circus performers," David agreed, wincing.

"And elephants," Brandon added. "Doesn't make a damn bit of sense today, of course. Hence why I don't ordinarily drink."

Kelly stared at them, bemused. If she had some kind of snide remark up her sleeve, she was biting her tongue quite well.

"I spoke with Valerie earlier," Brandon began as they headed for the exit. David was hurriedly weaving in and out of the numerous passengers to keep up. "Casa Walsh is a go."

"Valerie has been living there?" Kelly demanded vapidly. She released an involuntary shudder. "I'd like to say at least you're keeping it in the family, but…"

Brandon chuckled. "Really, Kel? After all this time? Isn't it time to move on?"

Kelly pressed her tongue to the inside of her cheek, evidently displeased at Brandon's commentary. "Let the record show that I think this is a terrible idea."

"So you've said," David said dismissively as they stepped out into the sunlight. He had a brief wave of nostalgia as he admired the busy streets of the place he had, for so long, called home. "Lead the way."

Kelly refused to come inside. Not that it surprised David much. It was somewhat amusing to see that old habits died hard, and imagined that Valerie would react no differently.

The Walsh house was an exact mirror image of what it had always been. Floods of memories were washing in rapidly as he made his way up the porch. Christmases and Thanksgivings and teenage hangouts. He remembered kissing Donna under the mistletoe and wishing, in that very moment, that he could do nothing else for the rest of his life.

Brandon did not even blink as he threw the door open. This behavior surprised David a bit, who had expected him to ring the doorbell. Then again – old habits and all. It was becoming something of a theme for the day.

"Honey, I'm home!" Brandon called jokingly as they stepped into the foyer, dropping their luggage carelessly at their feet. Within seconds, Valerie bounded around the corner with a grin on her face, throwing her arms around Brandon.

"It's so good to see you!" she cried. As she pulled back, she clutched at Brandon's cheeks, as if ensuring that he actually existed. "I missed you so much."

He affectionately rubbed her back. "I missed you too, Val."

Just as David was moving in to greet her, himself, a familiar face came wandering in from around the corner. It took him a moment to regain his bearings as a barrage of unpleasant memories began to overtake the ones he held so dear. The boat. The club. Donna leaving him the first time…

"Noah," he said quietly. He had not intended for the name to sound so caustic leaving his mouth, but found himself unable to help it.

Noah offered what appeared to be a half-ass smile. "David."

There was a pregnant pause in which nobody spoke. At last, Valerie cleared her throat as she reached out to put her palms on Noah's chest. "Baby, why don't you go ahead and take Brandon's bags upstairs? My old room is fine."

He nodded curtly, pecking her on the cheek. There was a moment where he looked at David, as though daring him to say anything crass about the scene unfolding before him. But to be honest, David was too flabbergasted to even begin thinking of a sarcastic remark. Then, without another word, Noah collected Brandon's things and made his way up the stairs.

There was an undeniably awkward silence that settled in the room as he exited. Brandon, looking as though he'd rather run with the bulls in Pamplona than bear witness to the conversation that would follow, cleared his throat abruptly.

"I need to go…uh…be somewhere else," he announced. He clapped David on the shoulder as he shimmied his way between them and hurried to catch up with Noah.

Valerie was purposefully avoiding eye contact, chewing on her bottom lip.

"Noah Hunter," David chuckled. "Oh, that's rich."

"What's that supposed to mean?" she demanded icily. Her hands quickly went to her hips as she assumed the defensive.

"No, nothing," David mused. He was far more entertained by the notion than he should have been. It was tragically poetic in so many ways, primarily the fact that Noah somehow embodied all of the issues David and Donna had ever had. "Just funny, is all. You ending up with the guy that stole Donna from me."

"That was almost ten years ago," Valerie stated vehemently. "It's time to move on, David."

"Oh, I'm not finished looking at all of the irony," David continued, only half-aware of the amused smile that he could not get off of his face. "He's also the guy that you always denied having feelings for when we were together. I thought you were 'just friends'. Like I said. Ironic."

"That's the pot calling the kettle black, if I ever heard it," Val snapped. "What about all the times you and Donna were so innocently hanging out behind our backs? And now look where the two of you are."

Just hearing her name was like taking a lashing across bare skin, and the annoying smile was gone in an instant. Valerie was right, of course – therein stood the irony he had referred to. However, she was apparently missing a large piece of the puzzle.

"She left me," he stated bluntly. It came out far more easily than he had expected it to. Despite the toxic nature of his relationship with Valerie, he had always been able to be honest with her about what he was thinking. In a way, she had always been more suited as his best friend than as his lover.

Her defensive wall immediately crumbled. She looked as though she was about to reach out to him, but thought better of it. "David…I – I didn't know. I haven't talked to her. I'm so sorry…"

"Don't be," David interrupted. "I'm here to change it."

She grimaced a bit, as though doubting his ability to do just this. There was worry etched in the depths of her blue eyes. She looked as though she was going to voice her reservations, but instead simply murmured, "How?"

"Haven't the slightest." David was moving past her now to make his way up the stairs to Brandon's – Steve's – Matt's? – old bedroom. She was hot on his heels, unwilling to settle for an answer such as that.

"You can't just go in guns blazing," she insisted, taking the steps two at a time to keep up with him. "You have to think this through!"

"What is there to think about?" David retaliated. "I want her back. It's as simple as that."

She paused at the doorway to the bedroom, watching sadly as he hoisted his suitcase onto the neatly-made guest bed. He flipped it open and began mindlessly rummaging through his belongings, attempting to ignore her worried gaze burning a hole in the back of his head.

"Didn't anyone ever tell you it's rude to stare?" he said after a few moments, without turning to face her.

She sighed heavily from somewhere behind him. "David…did you ever consider the fact that she might pull away more if you overwhelm her?"

He had. Of course he had. But it couldn't be any worse than it was right now.

"I mean…" Val started, hesitantly making her way to where he stood. Something in her voice had changed. A familiar 'devil may care' tone had begun to bleed into her words. "If you needed help with a scheme, you should have just asked me."

Taken aback, he whirled around to face her. She was wearing her characteristic smirk, as though already allowing the wheels to turn anxiously in her head. She was well at work devising something already.

"Scheme," he muttered. It was as though the proverbial light bulb had gone off. "Val, that's brilliant!"

She scoffed good-naturedly. "Don't get too excited. I haven't even given you any ideas yet."

"You don't have to," he decided. He had begun to pace the carpet in front of her, rubbing his chin pensively. "I already know what to do."

She cocked an eyebrow at him and crossed her arms expectantly. "I'm listening."

"Jealousy!" he declared, stopping to face her. He grabbed her by the shoulders. "We did it once before…we can do it again!"

Val's face fell rapidly. She knew immediately what he was referring to.

"Yeah, and do you remember how that turned out last time?" she questioned brashly. "Donna and Noah never even batted an eyelash!"

"It's different. It has to be. She isn't in love with anyone else this time," David reasoned distractedly. He slowly lowered himself into a sitting position on the bed, his mind quick at work.

Valerie was carefully approaching him, as though afraid that he may suddenly explode from excitement. "David…you're acting manic…"

He knew she was worried about whether his bipolar was rearing its ugly head. He was offended for only a second before he surged on.

"It's not mania, it's inspiration," he argued. He leapt to his feet once more, causing her to take a step back. "C'mon, Val! Help me out!"

"Noah will kill me!" she cried. "He will never let me do it, not in a million years."

"Oh, he owes me," David said dismissively. "He'll get over it."

She looked as though she wanted to argue, but instead sighed and ran a nervous hand through her hair. She pressed her lips together worriedly. "I just don't see how it can work…"

"It will. Trust me." He grabbed her suddenly and pulled her into a bone-crushing hug. She uncertainly returned it, awkwardly patting him on the back.

"It's great to see you," he said quickly as he released her and rushed back into the hallway.

"But David – What about Noah?!" Valerie called after him.

"I'll take care of it!" came his reply from halfway down the stairs. She groaned heavily in resignation, making her way to follow.