A/N: Well, I wrote this a while back but was hesitant to post it 'coz I feel like it's soooo cliche! Oh well, here it is. Let me know what you think.

Slowly Caring

'Hmm, you're looking particularly hot today,' Patrick drawled and held his breath in anticipation of the sure comeback that Kat would undoubtedly have for such a derogative comment.

He raised an eyebrow in surprise when she replied, 'Thanks.'

'OK, what's wrong with you?' He nearly shouted, 'You've been acting weird all day. I mean passing up a comment like that just isn't you.'

'I'm fine.' Kat replied. She quickly gathered up her things and walked away for her next class leaving Patrick more confused and slightly worried, though he didn't want to examine why he should worry about her. None the less, he found himself conveniently standing next to Bianca's locker during lunch break.

'Hi Patrick.' It was Cameron, not exactly the person he wanted to see.

'Where's Bianca?' Patrick asked, as Cameron opened up Bianca's locker.

'She's home for the day. That's why I'm taking all her notes down so she doesn't miss a thing.' Patrick hoped Cameron didn't think this was a sure way of getting hooked up with a hot cheerleader. Well, that explained Kat's weird behaviour; she was probably coming down with whatever Bianca had.

'Careful you don't catch anything while rescuing Bianca with bio notes.' Patrick scoffed.

'Oh no. She's not sick.' Cameron folded his lanky form to lean in close to Patrick as though about to impart some deep dark secret. 'Today's the anniversary of her Mom's death so my delicate flower's not up to coming to school.' With that, Cameron locked Bianca's locker and took off before second bell.

Patrick remained leaning against the locker for a few more seconds before heading towards history. He knew Kat's schedule by heart, not that he'd ever admit it…that almost made him a stalker. As soon as his class was over, he made for the chem lab.

'Hey,' he said when he spotted her.

'Hey back,' she replied, in what was quickly becoming their official greeting. They walked towards her locker. He watched in silence as she methodically placed her unneeded books inside. He took a serious look at her and noticed that she was dressed in baggy jeans, a Beatles t-shirt and a huge sweatshirt with the hood almost obscuring most of her face. Her eyes were dull and lacking the fire that drew him to her. Patrick wished he would have pushed more when he had clearly sensed something amiss with her. He grabbed her backpack and wasn't surprised when she let him. They walked together in silence and when they reached her car, he got in the driver's side.

'What are you doing?' At last, a reaction.

'I wanna take you somewhere,' he replied.

'I can't, I have to get home,' she fidgeted with the zip of her sweatshirt.

'It won't take long. Please…' their eyes met and locked.

'OK. 30 minutes,' she conceded. That was good enough for him. She placed her keys in his open palm and he carefully pulled out of her parking spot. They drove in silence until they reached the beach…their part of the beach according to Patrick. It was deserted as always. He got out of the car and opened her door for her before taking her hand and leading her to the sandy banks. They both took of their shoes and walked hand in hand in silence for a while.

'I know what day it is.' He said it softly and quickly glanced at her. She gave a visible start and tried to pull her hand out of his but he held on firmly.

'I need to get home.' She jerked to a stop and tried again to retrieve her hand.

'I know what day it is.' He repeated. He turned his body so that he was standing directly in front of her, his eyes locked on hers.

'You already said that.' She snapped and tried to side step away from him. He blocked her path with his body.

'Today's the anniversary of your Mom's death.' Again, his voice was soft but she jerked again as if he'd shouted. She tried to snatch her hand away from his grip again and grew frustrated when she failed.

'Why won't you let me go?' She asked, trying to pry his fingers loose.

'Let me go!' It was a shout now, accompanied by a shove to his chest.

'Let me go!' The shove turned into a punch and Patrick held her other hand.

'What are you doing? Why are you doing this?' She was struggling in earnest now.

'Today's the anniversary of your Mom's death.' He repeated gently.

'I know what today is!' She shouted. 'I will always know what today is!' She kept on thrashing so much so that her hood fell off and her hair was being blown wild by the sea breeze.

'Today's the day my Mom died. Today's the day my Mom left us. Today's the day that my Mom left ME!' Her voice was getting louder, if that was even possible.

'She left me…she left me….' She was crying now, huge racking sobs that shook her frame. He let go of her hands and sat them both down on the sand so that he could hold her. She cried for a long time and he held her silently.

'It's been years, but it seems like yesterday.' She whispered. 'I should be over it, but every year at this time, my heart remembers.' She sniffed and her tears fell more gently.

'And then we moved and left her behind. Now I'll never get to go to her grave and just talk to her. I know it's stupid, I can talk to her anywhere, but we left her…' She cried silently and Patrick just held her and listened. In the end, she fell asleep. He gently scooped her into his arms and carried her to her car. She slept all the way home so he picked her up and carried her to her front porch. Her Dad must have been on the alert for her because he opened the door even before Patrick had a chance to ring the doorbell and visibly blanched at the site of Patrick carrying his daughter.

'What happened?' He asked non to gently.

'She fell asleep.' He answered softly so as not to wake her. Mr Stratford opened the door wider then led the way to Kat's bedroom (as if Patrick didn't already know it's exact location) and motioned for him to lay her on her bed which he gently did. Mr Stratford covered his daughter up with her comforter before moving her hair out of her face and placing a gentle kiss on her forehead. When they got back downstairs, he rounded in on Patrick like a trial lawyer.

'Exactly how did Katerina end up falling asleep in your grubby little arms?' He asked arms akimbo.

'She started crying when I told her I knew what today means for your family. She cried for a long time before finally falling asleep.' Mr Stratford sighed at this news looking both tired and sad at the same time.

'Today's always a rough day for everybody but Katerina refuses to miss school and mess up her perfect attendance. I should have forced her to stay home.' He shook his head gently, his eyes staring into the distance before snapping his attention back to Patrick.

'Thank you for taking care of her.' Mr Stratford begrudgingly offered Patrick his hand for a firm shake before ushering him out.

Patrick boarded a bus to take him back to school to get his bike. He leaned his head against the window and found himself staring at his reflection with a furrowed brow. Much as he wanted to deny it, he really did care for Kat and now he found himself worried that this small display of vulnerability on her part would cause her to distance herself from him. He hoped not. More than anything, he wanted Mr Stratford to know that he would be taking care of his daughter for as long as she would let him.