For Some, A Long Way
"For some, there is still a long way before the happily ever after."
-Allison Perkins, One Life to Live, January 13, 2012
It was the best day of Jessica's life.
She knew that she was supposed to think that the best days of her life were the days that her children had been born. Sometimes she even claimed that that was the case out loud, just to be polite and civil and move the conversation along.
Better not to explain that she hadn't even been herself she'd given birth to Bree; she'd been relegated to the sidelines of her own mind, coaxing her alter Tess through the motions from afar.
Ryder's birth had been almost as bad between the circumstances surrounding his conception and the complications arising from a gunshot-scarred uterus.
Her children were the most important thing in her life, though. That she could say with honesty.
And because of today, her children would never have to believe that Mitch Laurence had been their grandfather. Ryder would never worry that he had a genetic predisposition for megalomania. Bree's dreams wouldn't be haunted by the thought of Mitch coming back from the dead to make his own granddaughter his child bride.
Instead, they would always know that they had Clint's blood in their veins, helping them love unconditionally. They had Asa's blood in their veins, making them tenacious.
Over and over, Clint and the rest of her family had told her that their feelings for her had nothing to do with her DNA. It doesn't matter, they said.
It mattered to Jessica.
It had mattered ever since Natalie had sauntered into Llanfair to claim her rightful place as Clint and Viki's only shared biological child. As much as Jessica loved Natalie—and she fiercely loved Natalie with every fiber of her being except when she wanted to punch her repeatedly—there had never been a way to separate Natalie's appearance in her life with the loss of her own identity. There hadn't been enough to go around. There was not enough love in the world to fill the hole that had been left by the claim that Mitch Laurence had been Jessica's biological father.
Now, there was nothing but love in the world. Love for Bree and Ryder and Clint and Viki and Natalie. Jessica wanted to fly to London and hug the stuffing out of Kevin and Joey and Cord. Maybe she would stop in Spain to hug Cristian, too, and give him the good news. She could even swing by New York and tell Antonio and Jamie one more time that she was sorry she had messed up so badly and that she would always love them. But first she would have to visit Nash's grave, and Asa's, and tell them everything. They couldn't be left out.
The doorbell rang, a tiny bit of normalcy creeping into the best day ever. Jessica excused herself to answer it. Maybe it would be Uncle Bo and he would join the celebration. Or Uncle Todd—he would be happy for her, and she'd make sure to tell him to stop calling Natalie an interloper like she should have done years ago. Even if it was the mailman, she might fling her arms around him and offer him a bag of the cookies Lois had baked that morning so that his day could be a little brighter, too.
She opened the door.
It wasn't the mailman.
"What are you doing here?" she demanded, more harshly than she'd meant to. Of all the people she'd imagined sharing her joy with, Brody Lovett hadn't been on the list. She hadn't let him be. Their breakup was too new to for her to look back on him with fondness. She'd asked him to put the pieces back together and he'd told her that it was too late, that her mental illness was too much, that he'd rather be with her sister.
"Don't worry, I was released yesterday," he told her. She refused to feel bad for making him think that she'd thought he would break out of Saint Ann's. It wasn't as if he couldn't. He'd even admitted to her in the past that he'd given their security the slip any time he'd wanted to get some fresh air.
"I'm glad you're better," she told him, because she couldn't be a bitch to him. She couldn't be a bitch to anyone today, not on the happiest day of her life. She shouldn't be a bitch to Brody ever, really. She couldn't punish him for failing to love her. She'd been on the other side of unrequited love, and that sucked, too.
"Me too." Brody squared up, and she knew before he said anything that the officer and gentleman was going to one-up her in the politeness department. "I wanted to tell you, I'm sorry about Ford."
She knew perfectly well that he wasn't. Ford's mother and brothers were devastated about his death, and Jessica, who had just started to get to know him, was sad. Everyone else in Llanview seemed to think he'd gotten what was coming to him. She'd overheard her father laughing about it as if death by chandelier was the funniest joke ever. She'd overheard John telling Natalie that Ford should have stayed out of the way and his death had been completely meaningless, hardly heroic.
"Thanks. Thank you. I appreciate that," she said, because thanking him three times made it seem less like she knew he was lying and that made her angry for reasons she couldn't quite express. "What's next for you?" she asked.
"I talked to some buddies of mine in the Navy. There might be some work for me back in the Forces."
The dread swam through her. She hadn't even liked it when Brody had joined the local police force, and the danger in Llanview was nothing like the danger in the hot spots of the world where Navy SEALs inevitably found themselves. "Great," she forced out, because she had long ago lost the right to have an opinion about how Brody ran his life. "Make sure you take care of yourself."
"I will. I want you to know that if you ever need anything, I'll be here. I know things have been rough between us and we haven't been together for a while, but I will always care about you, Jessica. Nothing's gonna change that."
"Thank you," she repeated numbly. She knew he meant it; that was Brody. But she didn't know how to say anything else. She couldn't very well say "same goes." He'd been the one who'd dumped her.
"I should go," he said when the silence stretched.
"Thank you for stopping by." Thank you, thank you, thank you. She'd said it so many times it was meaningless. All she could do was dismiss him before she fell into old habits and started telling him everything about how she was a new person now, the person she'd always been meant to be. He wouldn't buy it and that would hurt.
"Any time. I mean that."
With that, Brody was gone. She leaned against the door and missed him.
Jessica had been crying on and off for most of the day. Most of her tears had been tears of relief and happiness. Her parents were out of the hospital and happily together. Her sister was more her sister than ever; all echoes of resentment and identity theft were gone. She wasn't Mitch Laurence's daughter and she'd never have to worry about him or his genes again.
Now, alone, she cried out of fear. She remembered how, when she'd first met him, Brody had been wrecked deep down inside under his cocky military bearing. One tour of duty after another in Afghanistan and Iraq had worn his emotional stamina down to nothing. He'd been stop-lossed more than once, and even though she knew there were real efforts underway to restrict stop-lossing, it had hardly been eliminated. How long would he be kept in hell on earth this time? More importantly, would he even live to see the end of his active duty?
She tried her eyes when she heard Ryder babbling on the baby monitor, no doubt ready for a fresh diaper and his last bottle of the day.
"I know you don't understand this," she told him, forcing herself to recapture her earlier cheer, "but something wonderful happened to you earlier today, Ryder Asa. We found out that Asa Buchanan was your great grandfather in every way. Isn't that wonderful?"
Ryder cuddled against her and sucked happily at his bottle.
Jessica marveled, and not for the first time, at how soft and blond his hair was. She'd never been able to look at Bree without seeing Nash. Ryder looked more like her. In fact, no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't see Bobby Ford in him at all. Bobby's darker coloring should have overwhelmed Jessica's own flurry of recessive genes. Perhaps Ryder's hair would darken as he got older the way Bree's had, but those bright blue eyes that blinked at her as he finished his bottle…
"You look more like Brody's son than Bobby's," she whispered aloud. A shiver ran down her spine and she tightened her grip on the baby.
She would be forever grateful to her parents for testing her DNA one last time.
She needed to be strong enough to do the same for her little son.
Jessica would have brought flowers and a casserole to visiting hours at the funeral home no matter what, but she had an additional goal in mind when the door opened under her soft knock.
She told Inez and Nate and James again and again how sorry she was for their loss. She let Inez hold Ryder and talk about how grateful she was to know that a part of her Bobby lived on. She looked at the few baby pictures Inez had of her oldest son and noted, without surprise, that Bobby's hair had always been dark.
But Bobby's eyes were light, she reminded herself. Not the brilliant blue of Brody's and Ryder's, but a pretty hazel color. The test the lab did the first time must have been right. No one had a motive to change it to say otherwise. It's not really that likely that when Vimal and Marty were changing tests results they hit the wrong button or lost track of what they'd done.
Reminding herself that Ryder had a right to know, Jessica took the first opening she got and plowed ahead. "I apologize for being insensitive," she began.
"You could never be insensitive!" Inez corrected. "I'm so grateful to you for bringing Ryder over to see us."
Jessica knew that Inez would not be so grateful if she knew what Jessica was thinking. "Bobby's body. Are you having it cremated or-"
Inez shuddered and her eyes filled with tears. "I wouldn't be able to stand the idea of my baby being burned like that."
"Of course, I understand. As I said, I know I shouldn't be asking-"
"So why are you?" asked James, glowering unhappily. Jessica's heart went out to him. He'd been closer to Bobby and had spent more years with him than anyone else.
"I'd like a lock of his hair. I mean- for Ryder."
Inez cried harder. "Of course, dear. Of course."
And that was how Jessica came to cut a curl of hair off the corpse of a man who had died trying to protect her. She cried alongside Inez. She really would save most of the hair in locket so Ryder could see it when he was older, she reminded herself. Probably Ryder really was Bobby's son. It would be too cruel to Inez if he was not- losing Bobby and Ryder so close together.
It was cruel for Brody to lose Shane and then Bree and then Ryder and then Liam, too, she reminded herself. There was no way this situation was ever going to be anything but cruel.
And so the five strands of dark hair were going to go to five different labs along with five strands of Ryder's fair hair.
Rather than take the risk that anyone in Llanview would figure out what she was doing and try to "protect" her, Jessica made good on her plan to visit her brothers in London.
While Bree and Ryder were being spoiled rotten by their uncles, Jessica found one lab after another that promised the utmost discretion. Two were in London; one outside the city; one in Paris, where she had claimed to be taking Bree on a very special shopping spree; and one in Calais.
Over the course of a week, five sets of results came back to her.
Five sets of results agreed with Jessica's rudimentary assessment of the likelihood of a man who looked like Ford fathering a child who looked like Ryder.
Jessica's Ryder looked like Brody just as Natalie's Liam looked like John. People saw what they thought they were supposed to see.
The whole mess had been for nothing.
She'd made it worse, too, by losing control and punishing Brody and Natalie every chance she'd gotten.
But Jessica was a Buchanan, and Buchanans knew how to fix messes.
Brody had served multiple tours in Afghanistan and fully expected to be sent back there if he reenlisted. Afghanistan was a hot mess—always had been, always would be. But Brody wouldn't mind going back. He'd be of more use to his country and his SEAL teammates there than anywhere else. He doubted that anyone would want him anywhere near Iraq, or hell, the whole of the Middle East.
He didn't ask, though. That wasn't the way of the military. You went where you were told to go. Sometimes you didn't even know exactly where they were going to drop you until they did. It was Brody's job to be prepared no matter what. Someone would tell him where he was going if and when he needed to know.
He was on the plane soaring toward the horn of Africa before someone decided that he needed to know.
"Time for a geography lesson, gentlemen," Commander Red said, dropping himself easily into the messy section of plane Brody and the others had appropriated for themselves. Red's real name was Jackson Neville III, but everyone just called him Red. It fit him better.
"Yes, Sir," said Collins, not bothering to break out of his slouch or swallow his mouthful of popcorn before he opened his mouth. Brody raised an eyebrow in surprise. Discipline was relaxed in times like these, but even still Collins was taking it a bit far.
Collins, it turned out, knew Commander Red well. "That," Red said, pointing out the window, "is Africa."
"Sir, yes, Sir! Thank you, Sir!" the six of them snapped in perfect sarcastic unison.
"Like that teamwork," Red said. "Was a little concerned about sending in a team that never worked together before, but you'll do fine."
That was an ongoing problem that was never far from any of their minds. The United States military had been stretched thin by two unending, unpopular, underfunded wars. Red had scraped together a group of team members who were experienced—the twenty-two year old kid, Buck, aside—but who hadn't all worked together in the past. Special Ops, with its particular emphasis on teamwork, would have preferred otherwise. But if they hadn't been desperate for manpower, Greg wouldn't have come looking for Brody or been allowed to pluck him out of a damn mental institution for this.
"Brody," Red continued casually, "What's that country on the horn of Africa?"
"Somalia," Brody answered before he had a chance to overthink it and say something stupid.
"And Buck," asked Red, "What is Somalia most known for?"
"Pirates," drawled Buck, his deep Florida accent leaving a certain ambiguity about whether he was kidding or not.
"Very good. Buck has earned his place on the team and I won't have to smack Greg around for vouching for Brody."
"The pirates steal somebody's rum again?" Collins wanted to know. "Cause that's some serious shit. We should kick their asses for that."
Suddenly Red was all business. Collins knew it right away and sat up straight; the rest of them followed suit.
"There's a Danish group that works down there. Do-gooders. Demining and stuff." They all nodded. Having spent a good part of their lives training to avoid getting blown up by a mine, they had no objection to someone who wanted to devote his life to getting rid of the things. "There's a guy named Poul Hagen Thisted who was kidnapped in a town called Galkayo in the Galmudug region." Red had produced a map and was pointing as he spoke. "Now, that's too bad, but why does that affect you? I'll tell you. Working with Thisted was an American girl. Thirty-two years old, and no, Buck, that is not ancient. The pirates took her too, and the United States does not tolerate the abduction of its citizens."
"Hooyah!" they shouted in approval. A special mission to capture a damsel in distress? Did it get better than that?
"Her name's Jessica Buchanan," Red continued.
The fear hit Brody in the pit of the stomach before he could remember that his Jessica—his former Jessica—the Jessica who was formerly his—didn't have any ties to a Danish de-mining group. Besides, her legal name was Jessica Brennan. Besides, someone would have called him. He'd asked Natalie not to contact him, but she'd have broken her word for this. She'd have known he'd wanted her to, and she wouldn't have cared if he hadn't wanted her to.
He flicked his eyes to Greg to see if this was some kind of nasty joke. There might be a candid camera getting shoved up somebody's ass if Greg and Collins had decided that it was funny to—
Greg was concentrating on whatever Red was saying, and he looked a question at Brody when he felt Brody's eyes on him. No, this wasn't Greg's doing. This was a coincidence, and not that weird when he thought about it. Hadn't Brody gone through school with five different Jessicas in his class every year? Thirty-two years ago, all the mothers had been naming their little girls Jessica. It had been the thing to do. Buchanan wasn't such an unusual name, either.
"They're being held near a place called Gadaado," Red went on. "You'll parachute down there tomorrow. You'll have a hike to the camp. You try to take the kidnappers alive, but no one will shed a tear if you don't."
"Get some rest if you can."
Red's back was barely turned before Greg was all over Brody. "What was that?"
Brody didn't insult Greg's intelligence by pretending not to know what he meant. You couldn't do that when you were about to go into war with someone. "The girl has the same name as my ex-fiancee."
"Thought that girl's name was Natalie."
"That's her twin sister." He sighed. There was no way he could say this and have it come out right. "I was engaged to Natalie too, but—"
Collins chuckled and slapped Brody on the back. "Lieutenant Lovett, living the dream of every guy since the good lord invented twins. They identical?"
"They're both hot, though, right? Don't go telling me you liked them for their personalities."
Brody rolled his eyes and leaned back into his seat. He had missed this, the anything-goes chatter of men forced together by a dangerous mission. "Jessica came into my life when I had nothing. Less than nothing. Everything was dark, and she got that, and once she got that, it wasn't dark anymore."
"So you banged her twin sister."
"We weren't together when that happened. But then we got back together, which neither Natalie nor I ever thought was going to…"
He didn't bother to tell them the rest. They were too busy laughing and applauding. He didn't blame them; he'd have done the same, once. He should have just told them about how when he'd come back from Iraq, he'd gone to a different bar every night of the week and had a different girl every night of the week, too. Next time, he'd tell them about the time Adriana Cramer had been so afraid he'd find a girl and go missing that she'd tied him to the bed, and been so damn disappointed when he'd just untied himself once he'd realized she hadn't had anything spicy in mind. Adriana hadn't had much of a clue what being a SEAL entailed.
"What you and Jessica had was real special, huh?" asked Buck softly. It would be the kid who got it.
"If it had worked out, I wouldn't be here. I'd have stayed out, done twenty years on the local police force, adopted her daughter, loved the kid like my own." He couldn't stop the sadness from bubbling up inside him. "Her name's Bree. Her father's dead and she doesn't really remember him. She was so little and shy and sweet, and before I know it she's asking Jessica 'why can't Brody be my daddy?' That wasn't a decision Jessica could make right away. We took our time, made sure everything was right, made sure Bree wouldn't get hurt. Then, the day we finally sat her down and told her that I was going to adopt her for real…" Brody clapped his hands together to signify the implosion. "Everything went to hell."
"Maybe when this tour's up, you go see Jessica, try again?"
"I don't think she's up for that," Brody admitted. If he was going to get blown up by Somali pirates the next day, he might as well get the ugly truth out in the open. "I went to say goodbye to her, and she barely… her mind was someplace else the whole time. I told her I was coming back here, and nothing. When I joined the police force back in this little town where she's from, she about had a meltdown. Couldn't stand the thought of me being in danger. Couldn't take the idea of losing me. Now I tell her I'm leaving the country to go to the most dangerous place there is, and she barely tells me to take care of myself."
"Ouch," said Greg.
"Maybe she didn't think she had a right to say more since you weren't together," said Buck. The kid had spent six hours straight talking about wrestling alligators, and it turned out that he was a romantic.
Brody shrugged, and they moved along to talking about the women the other guys had waiting for them in their own hometowns.
The next night, conditions were good for jumping out of a plane into a lawless failed state while armed to the teeth. Brody lined up with eleven other frogmen, inhaling the scent of burning jet fuel and fingering the strap of his parachute. This was going to be a HALO operation- high altitude, low opening. That meant stepping out into nothingness 35,000 feet above the ground and hurtling toward earth for three solid minutes before trying to open the parachute you expected to save you. There was no room for error.
It was one of the most fun things a SEAL got to do.
The jump went perfectly, and the twelve of them came together as one to creep silently toward Gadaado.
Stealth approaches were one of the least fun things a SEAL got to do. It could take eight hours to walk a mile and a half completely undetected.
War was a game of hurry up and wait.
When the battle got hot, it got hot fast. The pirates' base was littered with explosives. Like all of his teammates, Brody was intimately familiar with the sorts of people who were happy to blow themselves up if it meant taking down their enemies, too. The risk was unacceptable.
With the skills of trained snipers, they picked off the pirates one by one.
Nine dead kidnappers; twelve unharmed frogmen; two grateful, rescued hostages; and a fleet of helicopters to take them back to the base.
It was nice to be successful, Brody reflected dreamily as he slumped into the helicopter. He hadn't felt successful in a long time.
The mission had been a high profile one; the President himself had taken time out before his State of the Union address to tell Leon Panetta hooyah, or whatever presidents said in these situations. The press was all over it; the SEALs were celebrating an all-time high in popularity since the death of Osama bin Laden. (And yes, Brody would always be a tiny bit bitter than he hadn't gotten to go along on that mission.)
Uninjured though they were, the whole team was ordered to stay in their assigned rooms with only medical personnel allowed access. The idea was to make sure they had peace and quiet to rest and recover without getting caught up in the circus. To Brody, it felt more like he was back in Saint Ann's. Unfortunately, he wouldn't be able to give his assigned minder the slip the way he could have done with the nuns, who were well-meaning but who would never have made it through basic training.
He lay awake and watched Buck sleep in the next bed. The kid's adrenaline had crashed as soon as they'd gotten off the chopper and he was dreaming sweet dreams of being a real live hero.
Collins and Greg were snoring loudly in the next room. They'd done uncountable missions together, many of them with Brody. When Brody thought about it, it made him miss Wes all over again.
On the other side of the base, the Other Jessica Buchanan was receiving treatment for some kind of illness she had acquired during her captivity. She hadn't looked well at all when Greg had lifted her into his arms and carried her to the helicopter. They had doubtless saved her life by going in when they had. She wouldn't have lasted much longer.
Outside, their minder began for at least the tenth time his usual refusal of access "sorry, medical personnel only. No media allowed."
"I'm not here as media," she argued. "He's my son's father."
Brody sat bolt upright and tried to decide whether to shake Buck awake and see if he heard it, too.
Any frogman who'd made it through Hell Week (and they all had, because if you didn't you got busted down to the regular Navy for the rest of your career) knew that sleep deprivation could make you hallucinate. But Brody wasn't that tired; Hell Week was a solid week with no sleep, and he'd barely been awake for two days.
He crept to the door, still in stealth mode.
"My orders are no one sees them. No one."
"When can I see him?"
Brody opened the door.
Either his hallucination was visible as well as auditory, or his very own Jessica was 8000 miles away from where she was supposed to be.
"Brody," she breathed.
"Let her in, please," he directed his minder.
The man smirked and held a finger to his lips. Brody nodded. Rules were being bent and no one could find out. He pulled Jessica inside and held his hand over her mouth while nodding at Buck.
"We need to be quiet," he instructed, though nothing short of nuclear war would have woken the kid.
"Of course," she whispered, her breath hot and familiar on his hand.
"What are you doing here?" he asked. "How did you even know where I was? That's classified."
"When I heard the news about that other Jessica- that other Jessica Buchanan- being saved by Navy SEALs, I knew you had to be here. It was a sign. I have a press pass from The Sun, and I bluffed my way through. But why are they only letting doctors see you? Are you hurt?" She ran her hand down his face like she'd used to do in happier times.
"I'm fine. They just say that to keep nosy people out." He was more interested in asking questions than answering them. "You can't have gotten here from Llanview that fast."
"I was in London. I was visiting my brothers. I left Bree and Ryder with them."
"Good. They shouldn't be here. You shouldn't be here."
"I had to see you," she said simply. "I had to know you were all right."
"I'm fine," he repeated.
"In that case," she paused, "We need to talk about Ryder."
"Is he okay?"
"He's perfect. Just like always." She produced her phone and pulled up a photograph of Ryder dated just three days before.
Brody couldn't help but smile at the sight. "He's getting big."
"He has your eyes," she said, her voice even more quiet than before.
He'd heard her tell the minder that he was her son's father, but he'd assumed she was just leveraging the fact that his name was on the birth certificate to get her way. "We can't do this again, Jessica," he told her. "I'm sorry you lost Ford, but that doesn't mean that you can just revert back to saying I'm Ryder's father, and then change your mind when you fall in love with someone else."
She leaned away from him, looking hurt. "That's not what this is about."
"It's exactly what you did with Bree. For years she was asking for me to be her daddy, and we even told her it was happening. But that didn't mean much when I made a mistake and Ford started looking real good in comparison, did it?"
"Ford and I were never together in that way."
Brody rolled his eyes. He'd seen enough to know otherwise.
"Tess, yes. Me, no. Look, how many times did you and Natalie say that you knew that being together wasn't either of your first choices but that it was the only way you could salvage anything out of the mess we all made of our lives? That it pushed back the sadness and the loneliness just a little bit? That it meant that you got to parent together instead of alone?"
Brody grunted in acknowledgement that he and Natalie had said that quite a lot.
"I could have said that what Bobby Ford did to me was rape because I didn't have the ability to consent and he knew it," Jessica continued. "I could have put my family's entire fortune to work making sure he never got within a mile of Ryder. But what would that have gotten? It would have been Ryder growing up thinking his daddy was a rapist and me raising my kids all by myself while I watched Natalie and her son with the man I was supposed to marry. It wasn't my first choice, but being friends with Bobby was better than any of the other options. And the thing is, even though what Bobby did with me that night was wrong, that doesn't mean that everything he did was wrong. Spending time with Ryder helped him grow up. He had a lousy father and I think he really wanted to do better."
"He was after Ryder's trust fund," said Brody bluntly. "Have you conveniently forgotten that?"
"No. But he wasn't all bad. I'm not saying you ever would have liked him."
Brody nodded in agreement.
"But you might have learned to appreciate how well he handled the kids once he got to know them. How much he loved his brothers. How hard he worked to forgive his mother for leaving him and James with their father."
Brody didn't have anything nice to say, so he didn't say anything at all.
"And I know you can understand what it's like to grab onto anyone who's kind to you when it feels like you've lost everything. That's what I did when I watched you holding Liam and got so angry knowing that it should have been Ryder."
Brody nodded again. He had to give her that one.
"That day you came to Llanfair to say goodbye to me, I don't think I told you enough how much I appreciated everything you said and how worried I was about you going back into…" she gestured aimlessly around the room "... this."
"You told me," Brody assured her, because she had.
"I was pretty out of it when you came over because my parents had just given me some really important news." Her face lit up with a beautiful smile that took Brody's breath away. "They had just found out that I was their daughter. Both of their daughter. Biologically, I mean. We always knew it was almost impossible for twins to have different fathers, and Allison Perkins confirmed it. She changed the results because it was her job to tell Mitch what she wanted to hear. I never have to worry about being related to Mitch again, and neither do Ryder and Bree."
"Congratulations. I'm happy for you."
"Thank you. It made me think that I had to be absolutely sure about Ryder. I had to have the tests redone somewhere where no one was going to know or be able to interfere. I went to five separate labs in two countries."
"Where'd you get the sample? Ford's dead and I'm here."
"I cut a lock of hair off his corpse myself. I had to be absolutely sure where it came from."
Brody almost jumped. He hadn't expected that. That level of brutal practicality was something he would sooner have attributed to Natalie… or to Bess.
"I can see you're surprised," Jessica continued. "You're thinking that that sounds like Bess, and that maybe I really am integrated after all. Or, worse, you're thinking that that sounds like Natalie because you always knew her as the one who got the Buchanan common sense. Even I let myself start thinking that. Natalie's strong, and she's my other half, so I must be weak. But now that I know the truth about who I am, it's different." She shrugged gracefully. "Everyone thinks it shouldn't matter because my family loved me just the same. If anything, they chose me over Natalie every chance they got. I needed that. I'm not proud of it. But I don't need it anymore, and I don't need the alters anymore."
"I've heard that before," Brody pointed out as kindly as he could.
"I get that. And I get that it will take time for you to trust me and that maybe you'll never be able to get past the things Tess did."
"It's not so much what she did," Brody said slowly. "It's what she felt. She hates me, Jess. She hates me and she's a part of you. If you really are integrated, then a part of you hates me and I don't think that we could ever work going forward. The reason you and Nash worked so well together- the reason maybe you and Ford could have worked- was that Tess picked them. They worked for all of you."
Jessica shook her head vehemently. "Tess hated Ford at first. Hated him. Thought that what he did to me that night after the prom was disgusting. She started hanging on to him because she wanted him to help her stay out. I wanted him to help her stay out, because I didn't want to face my own life. But you, do you remember the first time Tess saw you? She started hitting on you. She got angry because you one-upped her, because you wouldn't let her run around doing whatever she wanted. That has nothing to do with us being compatible or not. If you decide that you and I are never going to have another chance, it shouldn't be because of Tess or Bess."
Brody's jaw hardened as he took note of what she'd delicately left out. "How about Wes? I've read the literature on D.I.D., Jessica. The alters are created when the first split happens. You don't necessarily meet them for years, especially the ones like Bess, but they're there from the beginning. You didn't know Wes when you were a kid. That wasn't an alter. That was you, thinking it was funny to use my dead best friend to hurt me."
"Dr. Levin agrees with you," she said quietly. "So do I, now that I have all of my memories. Wes isn't a real alter. Wes was Tess playing a game. All I can do is tell you from the bottom of my heart how sorry I am. I know how much you loved Wes and how much you miss him."
Brody looked again at Buck, snoring away where Wes should have been. Jessica followed his gaze.
"He's so young," Jessica said after a moment. "He can't be as young as he looks, can he?"
"You don't see many old Navy SEALs," Brody told her. "It's a young man's job."
She ran her hand along his arm and he had to admit to himself that he still craved her touch. "It makes me feel old. Like I wasted this whole decade of my life worrying about something that was never even true."
Instinctively, he pulled her closer to him. Startled, she turned her head so that their lips were inches apart. The temptation to close the gap was very real. "I wouldn't call it a waste," he told her.
"No?" She lowered her eyes.
"Come on, it gave you Ryder and Bree."
"Oh." She looked at him again. "It gave us Ryder. And if you still want, it gave us Bree as well."
Brody pulled away. He was starting a new tour of duty. This was not a conversation that he could have right now.
Jessica persisted. "I came here to make you three offers. The first is joint custody of Ryder and a promise to keep you completely updated while you're out here, or wherever you go next. You're never going to open your email and not have new pictures. If you're that desperate for a clean break, I won't do it. It's not like I need the financial support, and I have a father and brothers who can show Ryder how to be a good man. But I don't think it's in you to say no."
Brody nodded. Ryder was his son.
"The second thing I'm going to offer you is adoption papers for Bree. You're right. We never should have told her that you were going to adopt her and not followed through. Whether or not we ended up together, she should have known that you were her daddy no matter what. Her life has been unstable enough without that. We probably can't formalize that now, because you'll need to go before a judge with her. But if that's how it's going to be one day, I will tell Bree and I will keep my word."
Brody nodded again. He couldn't betray Bree by saying no, no matter how agonizing it would be if Jessica changed her mind.
"Regardless of what happens between us, I'm going to stay in London for a while. That way we'll be close enough to meet you when you have some time in between getting dropped into Afghanistan or the Middle East. I'm guessing that with your background that's where they're more likely to use you."
"Probably." Brody had to be impressed by how well she'd thought this out. "That's what I'm guessing, too."
"The third thing I'm going to tell you is that my feelings for you are what they were before. I love you and I want a life with you and our children. I couldn't bring myself to tell you that again, not after you said that it would never happen and you wanted to be with Natalie. But I'm going to tell you now, and I'm going to tell you that if you ever change your mind, you need to come find me and tell me. What you did with Natalie was the worst thing you could have done after I spent ten years feeling like she stole something from me, but I'm over it and I understand that you both thought I was never coming back. But if we got together again, it could never happen again. Not ever."
"It wouldn't," Brody confirmed. "It was a mistake and we were sorry. We never meant to hurt you. It wouldn't have happened if we hadn't missed you so much. I wanted to tell you how sorry I was, but you couldn't hear it."
"I hear you now."
"Okay." Jessica stood up. "That about covers it. Ryder's yours by blood, Bree is yours by adoption, and I will always love you. And if you think that I'm going to shatter under stress again, think about how humiliating this would be for me if you said that you were still into Natalie and how much I really do not like those camel spiders that were running around outside."
"It's fun to put one in a bucket and watch it fight with a scorpion," Brody said lamely.
"Okay," she repeated. "Glad you're all right." She turned to leave, the way he had turned to leave Llanfair short weeks before.
Before her hand touched the door, he had pushed her against the wall and covered her mouth with his own. He had never put so much into one kiss- the understanding of their time in Saint Ann's, the dizzying attraction he had always felt to her beauty, the wonder that she had come so far to find him, the admiration for her initiative and bravery, the joy that Ryder was their son.
"Ryder," he said, finally allowing himself to process what she'd told him. "He's really my son?"
She smiled widely against him. "Really."
He grabbed her tightly and spun her in a small circle, keeping himself from shouting only with the utmost effort.
"Thank you," he told her.
"It was the right thing to do," she said. "I wanted you to know as soon as possible. I know that being told you have a kid is not the easiest thing for you and I know that part of you is waiting for the bottom to drop out. But I couldn't not tell you. You deserved to hear it in person."
"I want to see him."
"Tell me when and where and we'll be on the next flight. Every chance you get, let us know."
"I will. Believe me, I will." He kissed her again, this time on the cheek. "About that other thing you mentioned."
"You don't have to decide now."
Brody ran his hand over the sketch of the SEAL trident that someone had tacked to the wall. "In SEAL training, every class loses more than half of its candidates by the end. In some classes, no one graduates. But the ones who drop out, they aren't the ones that you'd think. A lot of the times it's the biggest guys and the strongest guys, the best swimmers and the best fighters who don't make it. The whole thing isn't about what a great athlete you are. It's about how tenacious you are, how far you're willing to push yourself. They did this thing where they made us sit down in the Pacific Ocean, the whole class, with our arms linked. We had to stay there until someone quit. And you know, someone always quit. But not me."
"Did you just compare having a relationship with me to getting hypothermia just to prove a point?"
"I guess so."
"That's probably fair."
"The point is," he whispered, "When I really want something, I don't give up on it just because getting there got a little hard in the middle." He kissed her again. "It's still going to be a long way. We won't be together much for a couple of years."
"I came 8000 miles for you," she told him. "I can go a little longer."
She slipped a paper photograph of herself, Bree, and Ryder into his hand and was gone.
For almost two years, Jessica brought Bree and Ryder to meet Brody whenever she had a chance. Sometimes they got to spend a whole month together exploring some part of Europe none of them knew. Sometimes she went a heart stopping month without so much as an email.
As she had promised, she stayed in London. Life in the Buchanan compound with her brothers was happy and satisfying. She called Llanview almost every day, and she knew that one day she would return to her childhood home, but for now her life was as it needed to be. Bree was thriving and they were closer than they had ever been now that Tess wasn't in the way. Ryder grew another inch every time she looked at him.
One day, she was on the phone with Natalie- Natalie thought that Clint wasn't well and Jessica was seriously considering going home to see for herself- when she heard Bree running screaming down the stairs and out the front door.
"Call you back. Sorry," she hastily told Natalie. "Bree!" she shouted. "Where are you going?"
"Daddy!" Bree shrieked.
By the time Jessica got to the front door, Brody had Bree in one arm and Ryder in the other. She knew before he said anything that he was out of the Navy again, and this time for good.
She flung her arms around all three of them.
It was the new best day of her life.
Disclaimer/Note:All One Life to Live characters and settings are the property of ABC and Prospect Park. The real life circumstances surrounding the rescue of the real Jessica Buchanan by real Navy SEALs in January 2012 are used fictitiously here, with no disrespect intended. Even though I did say "see, I KNEW Jessica and Brody were getting back together!" when that story hit the news a few weeks after OLTL went off the air.