And hopefully one of the next posts will have some of my Harry Potter stuff...or Firefly. I'm in the mood for horribly angsty-ness, so I'm thinking that post will be soon.
Fandom: That 70s Show
Disclaimer: Not mine
Summary: There are some things no one else knows. And there are things that neither one of them can forget.
Note: This is set in Season 8 – post break-up and probably during the Sam debacle. It’s born of my belief that these two are meant for each other and won’t ever be happy with anyone else, but don’t expect resolution.
Also, “Secrets” by Van Halen and the “Diver Down” album didn’t come out till 1982, but forgive me for that. It’s a great song.
There are some things they never told each other, things that went unsaid. There are some things they didn’t have to tell each other, things that they just knew, or saw, or felt, that no one else in the whole world knows. There are things they can’t forget.
She knows that he secretly likes The Sound of Music. She walked in on him once, down in the basement when the Formans had gone to Madison and the rest of the gang was scattered for the night. He sat alone in the dark in his chair, bathed in the blue light of the television, staring numbly at it while Julie Andrews sang about how much she loved raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.
She opened her mouth to make fun of him—they were good at that, both of them, mocking each other—but she stopped when she saw the way he was clenching and unclenching his fists—not in annoyance at the insanely cheerful and cheesy singing going on on the screen, but in that way that told her he was hurting and didn’t want it to show, even if he thought he was alone.
So she just stood in the doorway and said, “Hey.” He started, moving as though to change the channel and deny that he was actually watching something as sentimental and stupid as a musical. But then he saw that it was her, that she’d been standing there for some time, and that there was no way to hide it now. So he sank back into the chair, the plastic creaking just a little as he sat there and looked at her, his eyes, for once not masked by his sunglasses, daring her to mock him.
She didn’t. Jackie Burkhart might not be the most intelligent person in Point Place, but she wasn’t stupid—or blind. She knew when he was vulnerable, even if he never planned to be. So she just walked over to him, dropped her purse on the couch, and sat down in his lap, laying her head on his shoulder. After a moment, all the tension seeped out of him, and he wrapped his arms around her where they fit perfectly. And they watched the movie through, all the way to the end.
And he never told her, but somehow she knows that this is the movie his mom used to turn on when his dad was gone and she came home drunk and for once without a man. He would sit in his cowboy pajamas on the sticky floor and eat stale cheese puffs and watch the von Trapps dance around while his mom laid passed-out drunk on the couch behind him. And she knows that, somehow, watching that movie convinces him, for just a moment, that he’s a little boy and his mom cares enough to stick around, even if that was never true. And she knows that every time it is on TV, he will watch it, every minute of it.
She knows that he’s not as cynical as he wants people to think.
He knows that she still talks to her stuffed animals. He knows that when she gets fed up with Donna’s ungirly ways, she will line up all of her toy bears and dogs and unicorns and ask their advice on what color to paint her toenails (he likes it when they’re red; it’s sexy) or what outfit to wear today (he likes that cream thing that leaves her shoulders bare—makes it easier to kiss them—though he thinks she looks damn hot in anything) or whether her mom still loves her (he hates Pam more than just about anybody, because he more than suspects that she doesn’t). After all, her mom ran off without a thought of her daughter, and so Jackie doesn’t have anyone to ask about these things anymore. She chatters on and on to the toys as she moves through her room, blaring out Donnie Osmond records and hanging up rainbow posters, and he knows that, in her head, she’s really talking to her mom.
He kind of wishes that she had talked to him about those things. Maybe they would have lasted longer if he’d let her talk to him more—if he’d talked to her more. Not that he actually wanted to talk about them, or even that he’d actually have given her an answer. He probably would have zoned out, not really hearing what she said. But it would have been kind of nice to know that she trusted him that much, even if he didn’t deserve and broke that trust more than once. But she didn’t, and he did, and that’s that.
He did make fun of her, though. There was no real bite in his words, not even that little bit of an edge that he has always let creep into his words when he mocks Kelso or Foreman or Fez. If anyone really, really knew him (and she’s the only one who ever really has), they would know that, for him, the way he teased her about the stuffed animals was almost affectionate. He would never admit it, and she never brought it up, and now it’s over, anyway, and she hears that in his voice when he teases.
And somehow he knows that she talks to them even now, probably more than ever, because everyone’s life is a mess, and she and Donna aren’t as close as they used to be, and now she doesn’t even have an inconsiderate Zen master to ramble on to.
He knows that she wishes, most of the time, that she was still a little girl.
She knows why he believes that everything is a government conspiracy, and it isn’t because he’s watched too many late night movies. It’s almost a joke by now, a byword with their group, and most of the time, he even says it lightly. But it started out very serious, and still is, underneath it all.
One night, she had dragged him to the mall so she could buy a new pair of shoes (he sat in a chair in the corner, making sarcastic comments about passersby and grunting when she asked his opinion about the shoes as she tried them on). When she finally decided on a pair (they were red and would look fabulous with the new black and red dress with the peasant sleeves that she’d just bought) and bought them, he insisted they stop by the Hub for fries. She immediately attacked the jukebox, feeding it quarters and setting it to pump out ABBA songs. He rolled his eyes and pulled her into his lap—she couldn’t really see him behind his sunglasses, but she knew him well enough to know that he was rolling them.
“You know,” he said, shoving fries into his mouth and pulling her closer to him, “that ABBA is a secret weapon developed by the government to subvert the populace. There’s subliminal messages in that crap that keep you brainwashed, and you aren’t even aware of it.”
She rolled her own eyes; she’d really been spending too much time with him. “Ste-ven, ABBA is Swedish. Or Swiss. Or Swahili?” She dismissed it with a shake of her curls. “Anyways, the government doesn’t have anything to do with it. Do you really think some old boring guys in suits could really come up with something as wonderful as ‘Take a Chance on Me’?”
He ignored her question. “Well, the Swedish government came up with it, then. All governments are the same, Jacks.”
It was kind of cute, how paranoid he was, but only because it was Steven, and everything about him was cute, in a scruffy kind of way. But still, she’d been hearing this as long as she’d known him, and for no good reason that she could see. After all, what had the government ever done to him?
“Really, Steven, why is everything the government’s fault?”
He swallowed a fry and looked at her, really looked at her, so intently that she could feel his gaze through his glasses. He raised an eyebrow. “You really wanna know?”
Jackie Burkhart was rarely intrigued by anything deeper than a Cosmo article or planning a party, but Steven was the exception. And right now, she was decidedly intrigued. “ Of course, Steven.”
He shrugged to take the sincerity out of comment. “When I was little, my mom told me that the government took my dad away. Guess it stuck in my head.”
He was avoiding her gaze, but she couldn’t tear her eyes away from him now. “What, you mean like to jail or the draft or something?” She knew all about that.
“No.” She could tell that he was uncomfortable talking about something this personal, so she decided not to push him. “She just said that the government was against everyday people and when somebody disappeared, the feds had taken them away.” Then he added, “I think she was drunk. And had just watched The Manchurian Candidate or something.”
“Oh.” She didn’t say anything else or ever bring it up again, instead starting a conversation about what color she should paint her nails next, but she thought about it a lot, whenever he said something about conspiracies. She knows that the whole situation with his parents affected him—still affects him—as much as hers did her, maybe even deeper.
She knows that he still has nightmares about his parents leaving.
He knows that she really hated being a cheerleader, even if no one else would ever really believe it. Well, that isn’t entirely true. She really did love the cheers and the outfits and the jumping around (heck, he loved the jumping around, the one thing that made pep rallies endurable), but she didn’t like everything that went along with it. Before she started dating Kelso, she was the queen of her class, well on her way to reigning supreme over the school. Everyone knew her name, even when she was a lowly freshman, and the senior football players talked about her in the locker room. He knows that she thought that all of that was sort of nice; he always thought she loved attention.
Later he realized that it wasn’t attention she wanted, at least not attention in general. She wanted her parents’ attention, and she thought that being the most popular, well-liked girl in the school, who could also do the most back handsprings in a row, would get it. Her parents were actually proud of her when they would occasionally come to the games, or so they said, though her dad kept slipping out to make phone calls the whole time, and her mom would freshen up her nail polish. For a while, she really believed that it worked. So she kept on shaking her pompoms and practicing her flips.
Dating Kelso changed all of that. Now the doofus really was one of the best-looking guys at school, and all the girls wanted to date him, but he wasn’t exactly popular. Everybody knew his face, but no one except the slutty girls knew his name. He ran around with a scrawny Star Wars obsessed geek and a wannabe rebellious dropout and that crazy foreign kid and the tall redheaded girl—the Group was neither a popular nor unpopular clique; it was what it was, apart from everything else. And for the first time, Jackie Burkhart found a place where people would accept her, even if they didn’t always like her (or acted like they didn’t). As the years went by, she spent less and less time with her ditzy blonde friends from the popular group, and more and more time in the Formans’ basement. She belonged there in a way that she didn’t anywhere else, and by the time she finally got involved with Hyde himself, she had relinquished the running for Homecoming Queen and Most Popular in the yearbook.
But she kept cheering, even though the girls on the squad were no longer her friends and she spent every moment she was with them wishing that she was in the basement. Because, for some reason he could not get out of her head, she somehow believed that if she kept on cheering, one day she would look up and find her parents sitting in the stands on the night of the big game, beaming at her and giving their little girl their whole attention.
He knows that even girls as seemingly flighty as her can tell themselves lies if they really want to believe them
She knows when he says “Whatever,” what he really means is, “Yeah, me, too.” Actually, it can mean a lot of things. It really is amazing that he manages to make that one word so versatile (it is a lot like the way she used to say his name, actually). When Fez says something perverted or Michael makes a comment so dumb that it’s not even worth turning into a burn, it means, “I cannot believe how big of an idiot you are, dumbass.” When Eric says something ridiculously sappy about Donna, something that only Jackie knows that he finds almost endearing—but only because it’s Eric, who’s been his best friend forever—it might sound like “Whatever” means “Wuss,” but it really means, “You may be a whipped girlyman, Foreman, but you’re still my best friend.”
Really, what “Whatever” means is whatever he is too cool or tough or lazy to say. Because somewhere along the way, maybe when the man he thought was his dad first skipped town or when his mom left or some undefined point in between, he got the idea into his head that if you showed your emotions, you’d only get hurt. If people didn’t really know that you cared, then you could easily convince yourself once they abandoned or betrayed you that you weren’t hurting at all.
Because Steven believes, really believes, that anyone and everyone who cares about him will leave him. He believes that some people are born lucky, like Eric, and they can go through life taking for granted love and friendship and all that stuff that he would call crap, and others are born like him, destined to have every scrap of happiness stolen away sooner or later. She knows that he would never phrase it that way or even admit to it in his own mind, but it’s true. And that’s why he couldn’t trust even her. That’s why he always jumped to conclusions.
That made it hard. Their whole relationship was a mess, most of the time—she talked too much; he almost didn’t talk at all; they were both stubborn to a fault; she was an idealist and he was a cynic; they both had incredible tempers. But somehow it was all worth it when he would kiss her or hold her on his lap or say an almost cold, “Whatever,” when she told him she loved him, because it really meant, “I love you, too, and I’m just too scared to tell you.”
Even now, “Whatever” is almost all that he will say to her, but she still hears so much more. No one else can hear it—that whore Sam never will be able to—but she hears every nuance of every tone, can read every situation, and knows exactly what he’s feeling. She’ll always be able to, and it hurts her more than she thought possible, and it’s the only comfort she has.
She knows that what he can’t say right out loud is right there if you know how to look at him right.
He knows that she still writes to her mother once a week and all she gets back is postcards once every couple of months. When Pam first left for her “vacation,” Jackie really believed that it was just another of her mom’s frequent trips. Jackie was still so innocent then, and she thought that her mom just liked to get tan on the beach and drink strawberry daiquiris. She really had no idea that her mom went on those trips with men and cheated on her husband for weeks at a time.
But then she got a letter—really two or three sentences along the lines of: “I’m having a wonderful time. I’m hot and tan and every man wants me. I hope you’re still beautiful.” And with that letter came a few pictures—pictures of Pam in a bikini on a beach, surrounded by men who were clearly lusting at her. Pam was smirking at the camera in a way that even Jackie could read. She burst into the Formans’ basement and then into his room, and she threw the letter down on the bed and hurled herself into his arms. As he had so many times since he met her, he held her while she cried.
And when it finally sank in that her mom wasn’t coming back, at least not any time soon, at least not for good, she went very hard. Her face was expressionless—the Zen lessons had taken, apparently—and she didn’t talk about her mom again until she showed up that once, starting a whole new cycle of emotional pain for Jackie.
But Jackie’s so damn idealistic—she’s never given up hope about anything, if she really believes in it or wants it. It’s always amazed him, and even way back when, when she was just Kelso’s incredibly hot but incredibly ditzy girlfriend, he always thought that that hinted at something deeper in her, that she could believe things like that. That’s the kind of determination that kept—keeps—her writing weekly to a woman who obviously couldn’t care less about her. It’s the strength that lets her walk into a room when Sam is there, even though he knows it hurts her, and seem as happy and carefree as always—to most people at least.
That determination has filled hundreds of pages of paper with little things that any mom—any real mom, like Mrs. Forman or even Midge, as dumb as she is—would care about, even if no one else would. He knows that she’s written about cheerleading practice, about nights at the water tower, about how her math test went, about the new skirt she bought.
He suspects that she writes about him, about how they ended and about his stripper wife, but he doubts that Pam reads any of the letters anyway. And he knows that Jackie probably knows that, too, but won’t give up because she’s Jackie.
He knows that she hates her parents and hates herself for it.
She knows that he likes salsa on his scrambled eggs.
She doubts that even Mrs. Forman knows that, because she would never even consider something as unorthodox as salsa in the morning. And true, she herself has never seen Steven get up during the middle of breakfast in the Forman kitchen and grab a jar of salsa out of the fridge. But one of her best memories is of breakfast and salsa.
Those first few weeks with Steven, after the whole thing was out in the air and Kelso finally knew, but before her dad got thrown in jail, were probably the best in her life. Their relationship had progressed beyond a summer fling that was really all about making out and into something…deeper. When he had first kissed her that day on the couch with Bob Barker rambling on in the background, she had thought that it was just a relief from boredom. She quickly realized, though, that there was a reason that whenever something—or someone—broke her heart, he was the one she ran to, even if he refused to actually comfort her. She felt all of that, but she wasn’t sure that there was anything going on beyond the physical for Steven. That is, until he found out that she’d been alone in the house for nearly a week.
Her dad had not yet been arrested, but, looking back, she realized that he clearly knew that it was going to happen. In the weeks before, he had been angrier than she’d ever seen him, desperate and always hurrying somewhere. Whenever he actually took notice of her, he would explode in her face, yelling and blaming things she couldn’t understand on her. Many nights he didn’t come home at all, and her mom had been gone for months. So when he went MIA for five days, she started to notice.
Steven noticed, too. Or at least he noticed that something was wrong, and with a long-suffering sigh, he gave in and asked her what was bothering her. She told him, and he didn’t say anything for a long time. Then he slid his arm around her and said, “Bastard.” Somehow that made her feel better.
The next morning, she was awakened by Windsor chimes. It took her a few minutes to realize that no one would be getting the door because her father had let all of the help go weeks back. She threw on a robe and hurried down the stairs. When she opened the door, she almost groaned. She didn’t want Steven to see her like this, in a comfortable old robe and pajamas, no makeup yet, her hair hanging loose and not yet brushed over her shoulders.
He didn’t seem to notice. He just kissed her cheek, said, “Morning,” and walked on into the house as though he belonged there. He clearly didn’t: ratty jeans and an AC/DC shirt obviously didn’t match the interior of the Burkharts’, but she was captivated, as she always was when it came to him, and she followed him.
Into the kitchen. That seemed strange to her. She’d spent almost no time there in the past months; she ate a bowl of cereal in the mornings, had lunch at school, and then had dinner at the Formans’ or the Pinciottis’ or at the Hub. Besides, she’d never been one for cooking.
Without saying anything, Steven pulled a couple of frying pans out from the cabinet and started going through the refrigerator. It was still well-stocked at that point; Dad had at least made sure of that. She pushed herself up onto the counter, and watched as Steven started frying bacon.
She finally had to ask. “What are you doing?”
He didn’t look over his shoulder at her, but his reply, gruff as it was, made her feel warm all over. “Well, somebody has to take care of you.”
Later, after she set the table and they sat down to eat, he looked at her with a strange look in his eyes. “Do you have any salsa?”
She didn’t even make a comment about that, because she knew she wasn’t going to get an answer. She just went to the pantry to look around. And there it was: a whole jar of chunky salsa. She remembered then that they always kept a jar of it around just in case her mom was to drop in; Pam liked salsa because it made her think of Mexico.
She watched him pour it all over his scrambled eggs and shovel them into his mouth. “That’s disgusting, Steven,” she said, wrinkling her nose in disgust.
“Nope. It’s good.”
“I don’t believe you.”
If anyone else had suggested it, she would never have done it. But this was Steven….
She took a ladylike bite, chewed for a moment. He was right. It was delicious.
“Alright, it’s good. But Steven, what made you think of that? It’s ridiculous.”
He just grinned at her, a genuine one, if small. And she sat there in her own kitchen in her pajamas, eating breakfast with a man she was quickly coming to love, and she felt safe and at home for the first time in a long time.
Looking back, it was one of the happiest moments of her life. She still thinks about it every day, and nothing hurts as much as knowing that that safety is gone.
She knows that his smile—his real one, not the “Oh, burn!” smirk—shines.
He knows that she thought she saw a unicorn when she was a little girl. She had never told anyone that before, he knows, and it probably never would have come out if they hadn’t had a particularly good argument that day.
To him, there was nothing in the world that was sexier than Jackie when she was mad. Her eyes shifted from their usual shining to a burning—smoldering, maybe—and her cheeks flushed and she shook her hair out of her face and threw herself into it. That day they were in the Formans’ kitchen, Jackie sitting on the counter and he standing by the fridge, arguing over why people should stop buying polyester. He said that it was made in poor countries by poor abused kids whose governments made them work for absolutely nothing. She believed that polyester was horrible for the skin, and besides, it was just tacky. Why buy a leisure suit in that cheap sleazy stuff when you could get a linen or silk or one hundred percent cotton one?
It was a stupid thing to argue about; most of their arguments were stupid. But the argument wasn’t really a fight; it was all about the act of debate itself. And after a few minutes of really going at it, he found that he couldn’t keep his hands off of her any longer.
Kitty walked into the room just as he grabbed Jackie to kiss her. She gave her nervous laugh and asked if they couldn’t find someplace else to…get to know each other. If anyone else had asked that, he would have told that person to get bent, but it was Kitty. So he grabbed Jackie’s hand and pulled her outside.
The basement was usually good enough to make out in—neither one of them were choosy about where they were when they got caught up in the moment—but, after all, the room was the unofficial hangout of four other people, and Fez got really annoyed if anything distracted him from Charlie’s Angels. So sometimes they went searching for other places to enjoy themselves, and after Red kicking them off the back porch a few times too often, they learned to head over to the room she was sharing with Donna at the Pinciotti’s.
This day he almost dragged her up the stairs. He still hated feeling this vulnerable to someone, and so he turned his discomfort into anger. He stalked over to the bed and shoved all of the stuffed animals off of the comforter and onto the floor. “Jackie, really. What is with all the unicorns?”
“No, they’re not. They don’t exist. And if they did, they would be all smelly and crap everywhere, just like horses.”
She rolled her eyes at him as he pulled her over to the bed. She let him kiss her for a moment, but then nearly drove him crazy when she pulled back. “No, they wouldn’t.”
“Who wouldn’t what?” His mind was already foggy, and he really didn’t want to focus on anything but her lips.
“Unicorns. They wouldn’t smell or crap. They’re magical. And you don’t know that they aren’t real.”
She was just as frustrated as he was now, he realized, if for a very different reason. He resigned himself to the fact that she wasn’t going to let him kiss her again till they’d settled whatever this was. “Jackie, what the hell are you talking about? You don’t really believe in unicorns.”
She was half-pouting, half-rolling her eyes in annoyance. “Not anymore. But when I was little, I thought I saw one.”
She didn’t seem to hear the incredulity in his voice. “Both our maids had the day off and Mom was in Mexico, but Daddy wanted to go golfing, so he had to take me. And while he was golfing, I went in the woods by the course or whatever you call it. And I feel down and my dress got all torn and dirty.” He almost smiled at the way that she frowned when she said this; it seemed to still bother her, even ten years later. “And I was crying because I was lost, but then I saw it.”
“That’s right. Oh, Steven, she was just so beautiful. White with a whole bunch of colors in her mane her horn, and she just stood there looking at me for forever, until one of the golfing people Daddy had sent after me found me.”
She lay back against the pillow, and he tightened his arm around her waist, brushing her hair away from her face with his free hand. She looked up at him, her eyes shining a little, and she looked so peaceful that he just dropped a few kisses all over her face. “So that’s why you love unicorns,” he said after a moment. “And you believed in them.”
“Because they’re worth believing in. They’re beautiful and peaceful and they never ask anything from anyone. And beside, Steven, they’re magic.”
He kissed her again, mostly because he couldn’t handle the faith he saw in her eyes. It was in the unicorns, of course, but he knew that she placed it in him, as well. He couldn’t believe he was with a girl who had enough faith to believe in something as impossible as unicorns, a girl who lived her whole childhood believing that she had once seen one.
He knows that she still sort of believes it.
She knows that he thinks of the Formans as his family. Even now with W.B., his real dad seems more like a buddy to him, a Santa Claus kind of guy, popping in to give him the kind of job he’s always wanted and never requiring too much of him. Edna was drunk three-fourths of his childhood and acerbic the other half, and Bud hasn’t ever really counted, anyways.
But the Formans…they have been everything a family is supposed to be. He and Eric have been best friends since they were kids: they’ve gotten thrown out of summer camp together, they’ve been in every class together since elementary school, they got drunk and high for the first time together—they even took baths together as kids. Steven would never say it, but he thinks of Eric as his brother.
He and Laurie have always fought just as much as any siblings, and yeah, they pretend to hate each other, but Jackie’s always had the feeling that if the slutty blonde ever really needed to get out of trouble and no one else could take care of it, he would step in.
Kitty opened her heart to the tattered, smudged little boy from the first day she met him, and nothing could force him out of it. She’s always known what kind of trouble he gets into, and she’s done her best to get him out of it again and has forgiven him for every little thing. She’s always been concerned with whether he eats enough, with his relationship with his father, even with his love life. She cares about every detail of his life, and though Jackie knows he pretends to be annoyed, she’s also certain that he secretly loves having someone care enough about him to worry about the details.
She knows it’s strange, but she’s always suspected that Steven and Red had a lot of respect for each other. They’re both no nonsense, and they’re never afraid to threaten someone’s ass. Sure, Steven hates the Man, and Mr. Forman is about as establishment as they come, but she believes that Steven thinks that if everyone was as down-to-earth as Red Forman, no one would ever have to worry about the government again. Red rolls his eyes and complains about “all those damn kids” taking over his house, but he would never ask Steven to leave, and he treats him every bit as much like a son as he does Eric.
She knows that he’s as protective of those four people as he is even of her, and he would do anything to keep them in his life. Part of his allure is his ability to convince everyone that he always does exactly what he wants, and to hell with what other people think, but she knows that he is always inconveniencing himself and changing his mind to make life easier for the Formans or do what they think is best.
She knows that he’s not as tough as he thinks he is.
He knows that all her talk about the future is really just her attempt to redeem her past.
He knows that she pushes for commitment because she’s never had a bit of constancy in her life. She could never be sure if her dad would come home at night or where in the world her mother was. She could never be sure if her cheerleaders friends really liked her of it they only pretended to because she’s pretty and head cheerleader. She could never be sure that her boyfriend was being faithful or even if she would have a home to go to at night.
He knows that she used to run to him whenever anything went wrong because, for some reason he’ll never understand, she believed that he would always be there. Of course he let her down.
He knows that she wanted to marry him because that was the only way she could ever know that someone—he—would always be there. And she always talked about the future and children because she wanted to be the one to always be there for someone.
He knows that she wants to have kids so that she can be a better parent than her own were. Jackie never got love when she was growing up. All she ever received was presents from her distant father and an occasional postcard from her immature mother. That’s always blown his mind, because there’s never been anyone as loveable as Jackie. Annoying as hell, yeah, but loveable. And even though all the people she has ever loved have hurt her terribly, she never stopped loving. She’s always just loved and loved and never been afraid to pour herself into someone. Even now that he’s hurt her, so much worse than anyone else ever had, he knows that she won’t stop loving. He knows she would make a great mom, because she would be just like Mrs. Forman: she would always love and never be afraid of letting it show.
He knows that she’s smarter than she lets on, and she could have any future she wants. She could be the greatest newscaster in Wisconsin, and knowing her stubbornness, she probably will be. She’ll plan and plan, and though she’ll pretend to complain and be spoiled, she’ll work harder than anyone will ever know, and she’ll get it in the end, because when she knows what she wants, no one can stop her from getting it.
He knows that she isn’t as immature and shallow as she puts out.
She knows that he still loves her.
She can tell by the edge in his voice when he burns her—that wasn’t there even in the early days when she was dating Kelso and he thought she was just an annoying little girl. She can tell by the way he won’t meet her eye; if he was really over her, if he really hated her now, he would take off his glasses and let his ice blue gaze pierce all the way through her—he’s never had a problem being cruel.
She can tell by the way he says, “Whatever,” whenever she makes any attempt to talk to him. She can tell by the fact that he isn’t gentle with Sam, not even when he thinks no one else is around. She can tell by the fact that he still has that picture of the grasshopper that she gave him taped to the wall in his room; no one else knows what that means.
She will never be able to understand why he could not give her the reassurance she needed for the future. He of all people should have been able to understand her need for security; her life had always been such a mess that she never had any bit of stability. He had the same problems, too, and she had told him all about hers, and he should have understood. But apparently he didn’t. Or worse yet, he did, and he just didn’t want to give it to her.
She doesn’t really believe that. She doesn’t believe it even though she will never be able to understand why he stayed married to the stripper. Mrs. Forman goes on and on about how divorce is bad, of course, but not even that would keep him married to her if he didn’t want to be. She suspects that it all comes down to how many times they’ve hurt each other and how scared they both are of letting anyone in. Sam is easier, she knows. She won’t demand more of him, because she’ll never see the more that he could be. You can’t love someone who just lets you float through life, following the path of least resistance. Steven may not acknowledge that, but it’s true.
The two of them—and everyone else they know—might have always said that they were wrong for each other, but she knows that all those things that made them seem so wrong are all the things that made them fit. She kept him moving and he kept her grounded. She taught him to care more and he taught her not to care quite so much. She refused to let him be lazy and he refused to let her be spoiled.
She knows that you can’t just throw out things like that. She knows that he’s hurt her, that she might never take him back even if she had the chance. But she also knows that nothing can change what they had. She knows that he still loves her.
She knows he’ll never really stop.
He knows that she still loves him. He knew it even when Kelso walked into that room in that damn towel. He could see it in her eyes, see how scared she was, and it wasn’t fear of getting caught, either. She just stood there and looked at him for a moment, and he saw it in her eyes. He saw exactly what he’d felt when he told her about the nurse—knowing that you were about to lose the person you cared most about in the world.
He knew it, and yet he still let himself believe the worst of her. He’d always known this would happen: one day he would wake up from the dream that was his life, a dream where he had a job and an adoptive family that cared about him and, most of all, a girl who loved him. That wasn’t the life he was meant for, there was no way he could ever deserve it, and he had never believed that it would last. And at that moment, he believed that it was over.
So he tried to drown out that look in her eyes and the shock of awakening with beer and then—worst of all—with Sam. But he knows that that doesn’t fool her any more than it does him. They both still know. And he carries on hurting her anyway, even when he knows that she still cares.
He can tell by the look on her face before she ran out the door. He can tell by the way she avoids the basement—she never did that all those times Kelso cheated on her. He can tell by the way she holds her head, her whole body, so stiff and straight whenever she knows he’s around. He can tell by the way she says his name, now—with a bit of a catch in it that hurts more than anything he’s ever felt—on those rare occasions when she addresses him at all. He can tell by the fact that she still has that picture of the two of them—her sitting in his lap on the chair, laughing and glowing, he with his arms wrapped around her waist and a genuine if small smile on his face—he saw it once when he went to visit Fez and found a reason to wander into her room. He can tell by the way she still watches The Price is Right, and the wistful look in her eyes when she does.
He knows that he could never ask her to take him back after all the things he’s done. He had her once, and he drove her away, and there’s no way in hell that he’d get lucky enough to get her back again. And he knows that he deserves every torturous moment he spends missing her. He knows that he will never, ever be able to deserve her. Because he could never deserve to be with a woman like that, one who he’s hurt time and again—hurt on purpose—and who still loves him.
He knows she’ll never really stop.
They sit in the basement just as they always have, except that they no longer sit together. Sometimes there are others there with them; sometimes they are alone. But they never speak, except in cruel words that once were teasing, even affectionate, and now cut deep.
Because every moment, every time they are together and even when they are apart, the secrets hang thick in the air between them. All the things they know and can never verbalize because of the chasm between them—all those secrets are nearly tangible now, and there is nothing they can do about it.
There are some things they never told each other, things that went unsaid. There are some things they didn’t have to tell each other, things that they just knew, or saw, or felt, that no one else in the whole world knows. There are things they can’t forget. There are things they’d never want to.