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Missed Flight

Chapter Text

“Where’s Eric?”

“The genius missed his flight.”

Eric Forman didn’t miss his flight, it had been forcibly cancelled when the Chadian-Libyan conflict spilled over into the village he had been sent to teach in. The American consulate had cancelled all flights out of Johannesburg returning to America due to fears of aerial assaults from the ground. They said lives mattered more than comforts back home but they didn’t see what happened the first few months of the 80s, they didn’t see the bloodshed or the horrors the men inflicted on the innocent villagers they came across.

Eric never saw himself as a strong person, in fact he knew he was physically weak but strong in his mind, even if he had begrudgingly admitted many months ago that he really was a dumbass for having some of the ideals he carried. The experience of war had forced him to change that. The rumors of the French getting involved forced him to see the horrors he saw first hand.

Prior to the conflict reaching his village, he had still been the happy go lucky moron he was when he first got there, if not just a bit more cynical...but as 1980 faded and gave way to 1981 and eventually 1982, that boyish optimism faded. He couldn’t sit by and watch the children he was teaching die in wars that should be handled by adults and when they moved him to a village in the Congo, his world changed, he changed.

He had been warned that the Congo was nothing like his prior village, the entire region was in the middle of a civil war between those who wanted to stay free from outside influences and those who thought the Belgian royalty trying establish control was a good thing. It was the first place that war truly came into his backyard.

When he returned back to the United States in 1983, Eric was not who he used to be. Being thrust into war and having to participate had hardened him and taken away his innocence. He had seen things no one should ever have to see, consoled mothers while they cradled their mutilated children’s corpses and screamed to their deities to make it not true. He had fired a gun in anger and hatred and not for a hunting trip with his father and watched good men die at his left and right who had never lifted a gun before and died for things they didn’t understand or want any part of. He had seen the innocent veneer of the ignorant and coddled ripped viciously away without mercy and watched grown men crumble under the strain. He became strong and understood part of his father for the very first time: the world was not a nice place and there’s rarely room for the youthful ideas of children.

As he hailed a cab and one pulled over, he pulled the green duffel bag from his shoulder and slipped inside, his eyes drifting to a plane taking off into the early morning air, hoping his replacement in the program knew what they were getting into and hoping they weren’t as ignorant as he had once been.

-

Eric watched as the houses of Point Place rushed by him as the sun slowly peaked over the horizon, bathing the small town in a pale pink light made everything look like it was just a dream from days long passed...in a way it was. It had been four long years since he walked these streets with his friends, getting high in his basement or kissing a red headed neighbor girl in his driveway, his father yelling at him or his mother doting on him.

Everything was so much the same but so very different. Some of the houses now sat without anyone living in it, some had new families and people leaving for work at the crack of dawn and some had those familiar faces he had drove by countless times without paying much attention. Point Place...such a wonderful change to the smell of gunpowder. The air was crisp and fresh, the sky was unburdened by war and even the soft green grass of every house seemed to be like something he had always wished to see: peaceful.

As the cab slowed to a roll in front of 416 Marie Drive, Eric let his eyes travel over the faded yellow paint of the house and part of him wished that he had called home at the least to make sure his parents still lived there. He remembered at one point in his early time in Africa that his mother revealed that her and Red were thinking of moving away, but he wasn’t sure what became of that since he hadn’t heard from anyone in years; the mail delivery service had all but shut down before he was moved to some no-name village in the Congo.

Pulling a twenty out of his wallet, Eric handed it to the driver and clambered out of the back seat and slung his seabag, a nickname that he learned from a Navy sailer when he was waiting for his flight home, over his shoulder. As the taxi pulled away, Eric reached into his pocket and pulled his keys out. Hoping the locks hadn’t been changed, Eric smiled and pushed the door open and looked around the sitting room of his parent’s house for the first time in almost half a decade. Some of the scenery had changed, the pea colored chair had been replaced by a nice, cushy looking leather chair, the yellow couch had been replaced with something similar but the pictures of the family remained, at least, he figured, he wouldn’t have to worry about opening the door to some random family’s house. Tossing the seabag into the couch, Eric walked quietly into the kitchen and pulled the fridge open and pulled a cold Budweiser out of the six pack and opened it with a hiss as he sat down.

He missed alcohol, it was a rarity to find any when the trade routes had shut down and any of the previous stuff he had found had been when the missionaries had made trips through the villages; their chauffeurs had always carried a decent stock of alcohol brewed by their people and though it always had an earthy taste, it was worth the five bucks he would trade for the bottles they were willing to part with. A cold Budweiser on a humid summer morning was a long call and infinitely better in his opinion. Looking around the kitchen, he had to marvel at the changes from the late sixties decor to the more modern.

The old table had been replaced with something a bit sturdier and made of some kind of dark or stained wood Eric couldn’t figure out, the chairs were soft and no longer the hard seats they had once been. A microwave had been added and most of the appliances had been updated, even the oddly patterned wallpaper had been removed and replaced with wood paneling.

He didn’t hate the new look of the house, it just felt...foreign to him, it was a shock to his system to think his dad would allow such expensive changes or any changes at all.

Taking a sip from the can, Eric heard the stairs still creaked in the most familiar of ways.

“Who in the hell is leaving a bag like this in my damn living room?” He heard the deep grumble of a barely awake Red and he had to smile. He was still a crotchety old man. “I swear to god, whoever is leaving crap like this...is that a seabag? What in the hell? Laurie probably brought home some-some low rank Seaman.”

The words turned to dark mutters as Red pushed open the kitchen door and froze, a snarl coming across his face as he looked toward the dark figure sitting at his kitchen table with a can in front of him.

“Look, my daughter probably snuck you into my house, but that doesn’t mean I won’t stick my foot in your ass so far you’ll have to open your mouth for me to tie my shoes.” Eric smirked slightly and felt his heart pounding a tattoo against his ribs in excitement. Red didn’t recognize him. It was expected but it still would make the reveal a lot funnier for him. “Well aren’t you going to say something?”

“Turn on the light.” He watched a series of emotions flicker across Red’s face but it settled in burgeoning understanding. The lights clicked on and Red stood there in wide-eyed shock when he saw Eric, his mouth hanging open slightly as something flashed in his eyes.

“Eric?”

He smiled and stood from the soft chair, his hands slipping into his pockets. “Hey dad.”

-

“Finally back, huh? What, whatever backwater village you were in finally kicked you out and you just finally decided to come home?”

“Something like that. The Army and the Marines came through and started to evacuate us when rumors of aerial attacks started circulating.” Red went white but nodded as the two walked out to the driveway. The Vista Cruiser still sat in the garage but the Corvette had taken up full residence and center stage. “So, how have things been back here at home? I saw all of that leather in the living room.”

“Good, things have been good. Sold the muffler shop. It really started to make some good business when you left and someone made me an offer and I took it. It’s out of business now but your mother and me made enough off of it to be comfortable for the rest of our lives.” Eric smiled and took a drink from the beer in his hand. “So what happened to you out there? I doubt being a squirrelly teacher in Africa made you decide to stop looking like an anorexic.”

“No, no the teaching didn’t. The war did.” Red froze mid drink and looked to his son. “They never brought that up on the news or in the paper back here?”

“No, no they didn’t.”

“Well, war had apparently started between Libya and Chad in 79. The village I was originally at was in trouble so they moved me to the Congo...and then pockets of civil wars broke out there when the Belgians wanted it under their banner. I wanted to get sent home but...they refused. I would have been back years ago but they kept extending the program time for my group since they couldn’t send us home. I still have college paid for but they started paying us too once the first year was up.”

“So at least you have some money to show for it.” Eric nodded and drank from his own slowly emptying can. “Must have been some good pay.”

“Not really, but three years of being paid and not having the time or responsibilities to spend anything on leads to a decent amount of savings. We started getting paid by the military as contractors too when we were in the Congo if we were able to translate for them and they backdated it a bit.”

“What language do they speak? I find it hard to believe you learned another language.”

“French, for a good portion of it. Lay over from the colony days, but there’s four other languages out there, Swahili was one of the easier ones to understand for me, so I became a translator for them when they started evacuating people. From other countries.” Red nodded and drank again. “Dad, what was Korea like?”

Reginald Forman had expected some things to come out of his son: sarcasm, some smart ass comment, something about Star Wars and Luke Skywalker...but he never expected that question. Swallowing hard and looking to the can in his hand, Red sighed.

“Why are you asking about that?”

“I’m just curious...because I think I understand you a bit better now.” Red looked to his son to find him looking at him already and he saw something that horrified him: his son had changed. He might have bulked up considerably and filled out like Kitty had always said he would, but there was just something else different about him, something he recognized in himself.

“It was bad, Eric.” Red finished his can and set it on the hood of the Corvette, a far away look in his eye. “Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima was bad, but Korea...don’t get me wrong, son, I love my country and I served with dignity...but some of the things I saw and did in Korea...they changed me. I saw a lot in Guadalcanal, saw ground combat for the first time and earned my awards and accolades and at the time, I was proud but Korea...you never forget the faces of the innocent...even if you were just following an order.”

Eric nodded and finished off his own can and collected his father’s, a grim look on his face. He darted into the kitchen and grabbed the rest of the six pack and brought it back out with him, handing his father a freshly popped can as he accepted it while staring off into the distance, reliving memories he would rather have stayed buried and remembering faces he would never forget no matter how hard he tried.

“So-ahem-what brought that on?” Red asked as he shook away the demons.

“I saw some stuff while I was in Africa and...did some things I’m not proud of and it wasn’t even for my country, it was for theirs.” Red nodded and looked down to the fresh beer in his hands. “Does it ever get easier, dad?”

Red sighed and took a sip of the beer, cringing at the answer he knew his son would never want to hear but needed to. “No, son. It never gets any easier. You won’t forget, the memories won’t let themselves be forgotten...but in time, you might be able to make peace with it.”

Eric nodded and drank from his own can as Red put an understanding hand on his shoulder. Eric didn’t jump or freak out at the minute show of affection from his father, he just nodded gratefully and did what he had always dreamed of doing, sharing a beer with his dad, as an equal.

-

“Kitty, it’s time to wake up.” The feather haired woman moaned and rolled back over in bed, clutching at the comforter like a child would and it made Red smile. “C’mon, there’s someone downstairs that you might like to see.”

“Red, the kids are always around, I can see them any time I want, all I have to do is pop my head in the basement and ignore those incense they’re always burning.” Red rolled his eyes and stood straight, knowing damn well it wasn’t incense but he had decided to ignore that in favor of a peaceful household.

“Kitty, someone you haven’t seen in years is here and you might really want to see them.” She grunted and finally got out of bed, casting a sleepy glance towards her husband as she got dressed for the day, despite it already being noon.

“So who is this mystery person that I’m supposed to know.”

“You’ll have to come down and see. We’ll be in the den...just don’t freak out too much.” Red left his wife to finish getting dressed and walked down the stairs and turned to his son who had dropped the bulky jacket to show just how much he really changed. Red didn’t look too close, but even he could tell his son put on a lot of weight and a lot of muscle. Clapping his son on the back, Red took his seat by the old heater and smiled. “Your mother should be down soon. I can’t wait to see her reaction to you being home, son.”

“I just hope she doesn’t try to baby me. Too much has happened for that.” Red nodded understandingly and crossed one leg over the other and rested an ankle against a knee. The two stayed quiet, even as the top stair creaked loudly but the house was rife with shouts and noise once Eric turned to face his mother.

Kitty had run forward and leapt into the much more filled out frame of her son, tears rolling down her face as she cried and laughed, ecstatic to finally have her son home. When she finally let go she held him at arms length and looked over him, a smile on her face.

“Oh Eric...you’ve gone and grown up on me!” She laughed her familiar laugh and Eric couldn’t help but smile. “See Red, I always said he would fill out! Even his wrists aren’t tiny anymore and oh look at your hands! So many callouses!”

“Hard work will do that to you.”

“Oh, I can’t even jokingly say you’d be a great pharmacist anymore!” Kitty laughed again and wrapped her son in a hug once more, her happiness fading into delirious joy as she held her baby boy. “He’s home, Red! Our baby is finally home!”

“That he is, Kitty.” Eric shared a sad smile with his father, both hoping she never saw just how different he was.

-

“Okay, now I have pancakes, sausage, bacon and a few other things cooking, Eric, is there anything special you want to drink?”

“Oh, water is fine mom.” Kitty looked like she wanted to argue it, but a look from Red silenced her. Nodding in understanding, she poured Eric a tall glass of water and sat it in front of him. “Thanks, it’s been a while since I’ve drank much beside water so I’ve kinda gotten into a habit of it.”

“Oh well I’d imagine so! I hear it’s very hot in Africa, so it makes sense that you’d be used to it.” Kitty laughed and patted the table with both hands. “I’m just so happy you’re home, Eric. What took so long?”

“Uhm-“

“Program issues. Right son?” Red cut him off with a warning from his eyes and Eric didn’t miss a beat.

“Yeah, the program kept changing things on us when funding got wonky, so it wasn’t really a big deal. I’m home now, so it’s not an issue anymore.”

“So are you going to start college right away or finding a teaching job? Oh! They have an open position at Point Place High! The history teacher got arrested for something.” Kitty supplied as she laughed nervously, hurrying over to the stove when the meats inside started to sizzle a little too loud.

“So...secret then?” Red nodded at him and grabbed the paper from the new side table he hadn’t noticed in the dark last night. The kitchen fell into a routine of Kitty asking questions and Eric answering them as carefully as possible, not wanting to lead on exactly what he had experienced.

When breakfast was finished, Eric got to his feet and gathered up the dishes and carrying them to the sink without a word. When he turned on the tap and started washing them, Kitty stared at him oddly but Red just looked on with a tiny hint of pride.

“Oh, well thank you Eric, but we have a dish a washer now.”

“It’s alright mom, you made me breakfast so it’s the least I can do.” Kitty laughed but continued to stare at her son; he never would have done that before and she could sense something different about her son. He carried himself with a smooth grace and gentle movement. A bit of the boy he had once been was still there but the way he moved now seemed measured, deliberate and like there was meaning behind every step. She also couldn’t shake the feeling her son was giving off, something else had happened in Africa that had changed him in more than appearances and from the looks Red thought she didn’t see, she knew it wasn’t good.

“So son, what are you doing today?”

“I have an appointment with that apartment place that Fez and Kelso moved into. The rent isn’t that bad, it’s only a couple hundred a month and it’s not too far away so I can still come over a lot.”

“But Eric, you just got back! Why don’t you stay a little while?”

“I don’t want to be a burden to you guys.” Red had waved his concern away, surprising both Kitty and Eric.

“Nonsense, you can stay for a while. No point in you being home after four years if you can’t take advantage of it for a while.” Eric nodded and finished off the dishes in silence. Maybe life wouldn’t be horrible here with his parents for a while, at least until he started school and working, by then he would convince his mother that he would be better off on his own, since he knew he had a habit of doing things in the morning now; working out being one of them.

-

The next few days after Eric returned home had moved as smoothly as they could. He moved back into his old room and had spent a few hours going through boxes of his old stuff, deciding what to toss and what not to. His father had offered to help him but had bowed out of it when asked to and only made an appearance to bring him more boxes once he was finished with the others.

One of the boxes had all of his Star Wars stuff and the posters that once hung in his walls, another had all of his action figures, he still refused to call them dolls, and the other trinkets he usually kept around. The box that had been easiest to decide what to do with had been full of things from his and Donna’s failed relationship; it all got binned. In the end, he kept a single GI Joe he had made spottily out of wood when Red has refused to get him one for his thirteenth birthday. Most of the rest of the boxes had been tossed since they were clothes that he knew wouldn’t fit his body anymore; putting on seventy pounds would do that to you.

Once he had cleaned up his past and tossed most of the stuff his parents had saved, he offered to drop it all off at the Good Will. Red nodded and his mother tried to argue with him that he was too young to be trying to grow up so fast and had tried, unsuccessfully, to convince him to keep a few things. The only glimpses of his past that Eric ran into were the town theater playing movies from his childhood, but he happily drove by them without a backwards glance.

-

“So whatever happened to everyone? I haven’t seen anyone and I’ve been back almost a week now.”

“Oh well Steven still lives in the basement but he spends a lot of time his father or at Grooves. Donna still lives next door but Bob left her the house and moved down to Florida with Joanne. Jackie is working at a new record store that W.B. owns but we rarely see her anymore. Fez is...around but not as often, I think he got married to that heavy set girl he used to date.”

“Big Rhonda?”

“Yeah, but she’s not so big anymore. I’m just glad Tonto and Laurie got divorced finally.” Red offered, taking a bite of a strip of bacon. “Even I’ll admit, that little foreign kid has grown on me.”

“That’s new.”

“Yeah. And Eric, I don’t want to upset you, but Donna is still dating Randy. Apparently they broke up when they thought you were coming home but they got back together when she started college.” Eric shrugged in a way that confused his mother, even Red was concerned for the lack of caring.

“Son, are you alright with Donna dating someone else?”

“Why wouldn’t I be, we broke up four years ago. It’s not like she was going to sit around and wait for me, she made that abundantly clear.” Eric said with a snort, ignoring the concern from his parents. “Besides, thinking she would have stuck around would have made me a dumbass.”

“Son-“

“Dad, I’m alright.” Red heard the finality in Eric’s tone and just nodded, a silent understanding between them that he didn’t want to talk about his old flame. “Well, I have a meeting today with the Wisconsin State recruiter to start next year since all of the spots have filled up and I have an interview down at the police station.”

“You’re going to be a cop?”

“No, mom, I’m interviewing for a job as a shooting instructor.” He didn’t elaborate further as he stood and gave Kitty a kiss to the cheek and thanked his mother for breakfast. He was out of the door and walking down Marie Drive before she recovered.

-

“Leo man, what the hell is your cousin doing in my office?” Hyde asked as he stalked from the back room, his shades perched on his forehead and a grimace on his face.

“Oh, he’s just hanging around for a while man. Aliens got him and he’s been real weird for a while.” Leo explained in his usually airy way, not looking up from the milk crate full of records. “Whoa, I didn’t know we had David Bowie!”

“We don’t.” Hyde rubbed his face and sat down on the obvious copy of the Forman basement, his hands pressing firmly into his eyes.

“So whatever happened to that chick you married man?”

“Leo, that was four years ago. She left with her actual husband.”

“Whoa, she had two husbands? I didn’t know the Mormons allowed that man.”

“What? I’m not a Mormon.”

“Isn’t that the name of the people you live with? The Mormons?” Hyde laughed for a minute like he would have if he was still in high school...or just high. “I like Mrs. Mormon, man. She gave me stitches once.”

“Yeah, I remember. Hey, watch the store for a bit, I need a smoke.” Leo nodded and walked over to the register, his head bobbing to the Skynard that came on as Hyde pushed the door open and walked out into the Wisconsin summer air, a pack of Marlboros being dragged out of his pocket as he went. Once he had lit up, Hyde took a long drag and leaned against the side of the building opposite the setting sun so he could relax in the shadows. W.B. had asked him to check in on Jackie earlier that day and he did, but seeing her brought back feelings he had squashed when he forced himself to turn back into the cold-hearted person he was in high school after his failed ‘marriage’ and it never got any easier seeing her.

Jackie Burkhart was always and would always be breathtakingly beautiful, Hyde knew that, but knowing that he could have had her if he didn’t fear commitment made it so much harder to see her. If it had been through some fault of his own, like cheating again, then he could understand her cold indifference towards him...but because it was for something he didn’t really do, it was just a painful reminder of what being a screwup could do.

They had tried to give it another shot, right after her and Fez broke up because he believed she was just using him for a place to stay and had cheated on her, but it had ended badly, just as it had before but with more slaps thrown and more shins being kicked. She didn’t swear at him, didn’t try to pressure him into marriage or anything like that, but when he felt himself falling into a comfortable routine with the beautiful girl, he panicked and bailed for two whole months out to Madison to stay with W.B. at the office. When he worked up the courage to come back, she had told him in a calm voice that she hated him.

It cut deep when she did that. If she was yelling or crying, he knew he had a shot to fix things, but the calm to her demeanor and the soft drawl of the word ‘hate’ told him it was over.

Taking another drag from the cigarette, Hyde groaned when someone got out of 1969 Camero, he reluctantly flicked it away, wishing he didn’t have to deal with customers while he was smoking, W.B. was adamant that to maintain a look of professionalism, he didn’t smoke when they were around.

“Welcome to Grooves, hope you enjoy your stay. The new Police record is...hey, you look familiar, man.” Hyde trailed off as the muscular man approached him, the son hiding half of his face as he approached. “You used to go to school around here?”

“Yeah, I did you lovable burnout.” Hyde raised his eyebrows when he caught a full view of the man’s face but it still wasn’t coming to him. “Here’s a hint: ‘Just let me love you orphan boy!’”

“Forman?” Eric snickered as reality hit his token smoking friend and welcomed the rare hug from the man as a smile cracked both of their faces. “Holy shit, look at you man! You’re bigger than Kelso!”

“I hope that’s an allusion to him being in shape and not the possibility of him being fat now.” Hyde grinned and shrugged and hurried over to salvage his smoke. “How’ve you been man?”

“Good, good. Making lots of money now that we have cassettes in the store and I took Leo off of the daytime shifts. He’s more lucid at night.” Eric nodded and reached into his own pocket to produce a pack of cigarettes of his own, lighting one and taking the first puff to a surprised Hyde. “Since when do you smoke regular cigarettes man? I only remember you being a fan of the greener stuff.”

“You make due with what you have in Africa.” Hyde chuckled and took a drag.

“They must have some primo stuff out there though. I mean, the whole country is a giant farm man.”

“I think you missed a lot of geography stuff in high school or burned out all of those brain cells. Africa is a continent filled with countries.” Hyde shrugged and scratched at his beard. “Any way, how’s life besides work? Dating again?”

“Nah man. I tried it again with Jackie but that was just a nightmare. I still see Sam every now and then.”

“The stripper? Wasn’t she married to someone else?”

“Yeah but she still knows how to jump out of a cake like a pro. Hired her for WB’s birthday.” Eric gave a short laugh and took a deep drag from his cigarette. “When did you get back?”

“Bout a week ago. I’ve mostly been sorting through old stuff and throwing most of it out, it just all didn’t seem important anymore.” Hyde nodded and looked to the unaffected, confident aura around his friend; the changes from before he went to Africa and now were startling.

“What about dating? You gonna try to get Donna back?”

“No, she’s part of a something that I’m not anymore. I moved on years ago.” Eric finished his cigarette and flicked the butt a considerable distance from the two of them and held the smoke in his lungs. “What about you and Jackie.”

“As dead as Donna’s cat after you ran it over.” Hyde grinned stupidly while Eric rolled his eyes as a memory of his worry about Mr. Bonkers flashed in his mind. “Wanna come and check out the store, man? We had to change some things, like getting shelves since the milk crates were cracking.”

“We’ll they’re pretty old and were a little moldy when we first stole them.” Hyde shrugged. “Nah, maybe another day, I’m visiting everyone I can track down tonight and tomorrow. Donna’s an easy find since she lives across the driveway, Kelso is in Chicago and at least answered the phone when I called. After seeing you, it’s just Fez and Jackie.”

“Well good luck with that man. But hey, since you’re back, I can finally put my ‘welcome back from Africa’ stash to good use. Once you’ve gotten reacquainted with everyone, let’s smoke away some brain cells.” Eric snorted and offered Hyde a hand to shake. With a smile, his friend took it and gripped it as tightly as he did.

“I look forward to it.”

Chapter Text

Eric pulled the roaring black Camero into the driveway of 416 and got out with a grin. Donna had been playing basketball in his driveway before he pulled in and had, unknowingly, saved him the trip of trying to figure out where she would be. Stepping out of the car, Eric tugged on the hem of his shirt that had rode up a bit and set back in its place. With a smirk, Eric watched her face as she realized it was him.

There was first confusion, then wonder, then lust and finally, understanding.

The confusion came from the car not being the Corvette or the Vista Cruiser; for so many years it was the only car that pulled in and out of this drive way with the rare addition to Bob’s Toyota, Casey’s Trans Am when she had dated him, Hyde’s El Camino or Kelso’s various cars and vans over the years. Seeing something as expensive as a four thousand dollar car was jarring.

The wonder had been seeing and comprehending what she had seen with the car and that had passed on to Eric himself. He had changed from a scrawny Star Wars obsessed nerd with spindly arms and tiny wrists, he had become a man and the tight flat black t-shirt and jeans over a pair of black boots had proved that much to her, but it was the muscles that he now spotted that had her in wonder; she always knew him to have chicken bone arms with less definition than a canned ham and now...he was the polar opposite of that.

The lust was obvious to Eric. Her cheeks had pinked, her eyes lidded and her breathing took a slight up turn. She had seen him at his very worst, when his ribs were pressed so firmly against his skin that she could play each one like a xylophone if she wanted, but the slight bit of hair she could see when his shirt had rode up and the definition of muscles under his shirt had sent her mind on a spiral in the wildest dreams she had thought long forgotten. She had once lusted after this imaginary image of Eric being a rockstar in a hair band, but with his new physique and short, closely cropped hair at the sides of his head and the barest bit of length on top, what was going on in her mind was obvious.

The understanding was simple too, she couldn’t believe it was him. He had been gone for nearly half a decade and out of the blue he turns up looking like a fitness model that had mistakenly stopped in a rinky-dink town like Point Place. When the reality of it set in on her, she couldn’t really figure out what she was supposed to think.

“Eric Forman.”

“Donna Pinch-my-butti.” Donna burst out laughing, the awkward air punctuated and flying away like an errant balloon. “You look good.”

“Thanks. You look...you look amazing. I guess Africa really agreed with you.” She didn’t notice the shadow pass behind Eric’s eyes or the way the muscle in his jaw twitched just a fraction. “Now I could almost believe you being able to defend yourself.”

“I didn’t think I needed to believe it.” Donna smirked and swung a fist towards his stomach but when it connected, she flinched when it encountered a rock hard surface. “Probably not a great idea to do that.”

“The hell is under that shirt, Eric? A damn frying pan or something?” He just shrugged and lifted the hem of his shirt, exposing the muscle underneath that looked as if it had been carved from granite. “Uh...wow.”

“About the reaction I expected.” He smirked and stole the ball from her, deftly dribbling it between hands. “So, how have you been? I haven’t heard from you since we broke up but I heard you got back together with Randy?”

“Oh-oh yeah, he and I, uh...”

“Are dating?”

“Yeah, we’re doing that.” Donna blushed and looked to his stomach again, thankfully covered by his shirt. “I can’t get over how great you look.”

“I had a lot of motivation to grow up, this was just part of it.” Eric explained, his hands now holding the ball loosely and spinning it against one of his palms. “I see you went back to red.”

“Yeah, Randy said he liked my natural color better than the blonde, so I went back.” Donna shifted on her feet in discomfort at the silence. “So, this is a nice car. Where did you rent it from?”

“I didn’t, I bought it. I have almost a hundred grand in savings and this is just a dent in that. I figured I couldn’t be driving around in the corvette because Red would skin me alive for even asking and the Vista Cruiser is a tottery piece of junk.” Eric looked over his shoulder and put the basketball on the ground, sending it flying into the garage with a single kick. “So what’s the deal with school? Are you still ‘Hot Donna’ on the radio?”

“Uh, School is on hold...for at least the next ten months.” Donna brought a hand to her stomach and smiled wistfully. “And Hot Donna is still going strong on the radio, even more after I agreed to a lingerie photo shoot for some calendar. Now I have people all over listening to my show.”

“Lingerie calendar? I never figured you would go for something like that.”

“I wouldn’t normally, but I was single when I agreed and my boobs just got huge because my hormones were out of whack, so I figured why not.” Eric nodded, seemingly not bothered by the news at all. “Randy is doing good.”

“I would figure so since he’s sitting there on the phone and smiling.” Donna whirled around to look into her living room from the drive way with rapidly reddening cheeks.

“Dammit...I gotta go, it was nice to see you Eric.” He watched her go with a bit of a frown, sensing a history behind him being on the phone like that, but they were just neighbors now and even seeing her in person hadn’t brought even an ounce of those feelings he once had back. Inside, it hurt him a little to know that those memories would stay only that and that those nights of walking Donna to her door and kissing her goodbye were just moments lost in time. With a shrug, Eric walked into the house and headed for an early bit of sleep.

-

*TRIGGER WARNING*

“Do we really need to be doing this? I mean, aren’t they just as innocent as everyone back in the village?” Eric asked, a bead of nervous sweat rolling into his eyes as he stared at the peacefully quiet village just over the ridge. They had been there since early in the morning, watching and taking notes of how the villagers moved and comparing those notes with the previous guard’s own. Everything seemed to be a pattern.

“Ni wasaliti, wanastahili chochote chini ya hii.” Amare, his forced partner responded, venom dripping from every word. He only spoke Swahili when he was angry, something he had been told by the tribe leader. Truth be told, he didn’t want to do this, revenge only begat revenge and the cycle would continue. If anyone down there was really hurt, they would retaliate in kind. The last attack on the village had been in retaliation and that had left most of the warriors in the village dead or severely injured. “You white men have no spine to do what is needed. Today we see if Africa has given you some spine to not be coward.”

Eric sighed and watched the last hut in the village go dark. In any other circumstance, he would have longed for those safer nights in South Africa to be just like them, sleeping in their beds...but not tonight. He knew what was to happen tonight and he really wanted no part of it, but when threatened with a death for cowards, he agreed to it and now he was wishing he was back at the camp, whatever punishment he would receive be damned.

“We go now. Harden your heart, white man. Or you too will suffer as the traitors will.” Amare didn’t spare him a second glance as he began to trudge down the cliff, rifle in hand with extra magazines and an old pistol strapped to his upper leg and a bag on his back.

Reluctantly, Eric followed behind him a good distance until they were at the edge of the village...and then hell came to earth.

The first few huts that caught fire were seemingly empty, but then the gunshots cut through the otherwise silent night. The screaming started soon after. Eric stumbled after Amare, his hands trembling as held the rifle he had been given and bumped into him when they stopped outside of the largest hut in the village. All around him, he heard the cries of desperate people, the screams of men and women before their lives were cut short and then screams that sickened him, the screams of children. He had come to Africa to be a teacher, to mold young minds and help them find their greatness...not listen to them be slaughtered like animals.

“We go. You prove yourself useful tonight or there won’t be another.”

“The Chief won’t let anything happen to me-“

“The Chief cannot protect you while you sleep.” Amare grinned evilly and kicked the door to the hut open and raised his rifle at the skin and bones man on the floor. He opened his mouth but it had served as nothing but a pathway for a bullet as a pink mist erupted out of the back of his head, spraying all over the wall of the hut.

Eric bent over and vomited, his body and mind unable to process what had just happened and knew the image would haunt him for the rest of his days. He didn’t know these people, he knew they had attacked his own village in retaliation for another attack, but seeing the gruesome murder of someone so close, so intimately, shook him to his core. Amare didn’t give him a moment to compose himself and simply dragged his shaking body back out of the hut and into the town square.

The attack lasted hours and by the end of it, only a few children had been left alive and dragged into the square with him. They had been forced onto their knees and each died with a single pistol shot to the back of their heads, all but one girl around five or six years old. That was when Amare looked at him.

“You will kill her.” Eric looked up at him in horror, his blood turning to ice in his veins.

“N-No way! I’m not going to kill a kid!”

“You will do it, or I will make someone else do it...after turning her into a woman.” Eric felt his skin crawl at the insinuation, sickened that he was around people who could do that to someone.

“Look, can’t you leave her be? If she’s alive-“

“She will inspire others. She must die. You will choose how to end her suffering. Fast. Or slow.” The last word hung in the air as the other villagers he had spent so long around looked at him expectantly. All of them wanted him to become a killer, to dirty his hands with the blood of someone innocent to show some kind of twisted solidarity.

“I’m not hurting a child.”

“Very well. Feechi, mchukue na umharibu. kisha piga koo lake na tunaweza kufanywa nayo.” The man grinned sadistically and grabbed the girl by her hair. She started to beg and scream for help that would never answer her and Eric yelled out for him to stop, tears rolling down his cheeks.

“Wait!...I’ll do it, just don’t hurt her.” He felt his soul splitting into pieces over what he knew he was about to do. He had no choice, it would save her suffering, even if it meant a lifetime of his own.

“You make the right choice.” Amare nodded to the man named Feechi and the girl was thrown at Eric’s feet, her eyes swimming with tears as she looked up at him. Kneeling down beside her, he wiped the tears from her face.

“Do you understand English?” She nodded fearfully, not daring to even cower away from his touch out of fear of being hurt. “I’m not going to let them hurt you, alright? I can make all of this go away. You just have to close your eyes for me, okay?”

She was hesitant but she understood. She clambered to her knees and hugged him around his own and Eric felt himself die inside as she thanked him for saving her. Looking to his side, he saw Amare holding a gun out to him, which he took, trying to swallow over the lump that had formed in his throat.

With tears running down his face, he slowly angled the gun right over the little girl’s head and hesitated when his finger touched the trigger.

“Do it. She will thank you for saving her, now save her from what we will do if you show you are a coward.” Eric gripped the gun tighter, his breath come out shallow and ragged as he struggled with what he was being forced to do. The moments dragged on and eventually the girl looked up to him, her eyes wide when she noticed the gun. She let go of his legs and slowly pushed away. “Do it.”

“I can’t.”

He felt the cold metal of a barrel pressed to the side of his head and the cocking of a hammer. “Then you die here so far from your home. Do it.”

“I can’t!”

“Do it!”

“I CAN’T!” He heard the trigger click and then-

*TRIGGER WARNING END*

Eric shot upright in his bed, his entire body shaking as the visions played in his mind. He knew he was crying but the cold sweat and the tremors wracking his body made him feel as sick as the memories he was forced to relive every time he went to sleep lingered in his mind.

Swinging his feet off of the bed, Eric leaned forward and leaned his elbows into his knees to bury his hands in his face as he cried.

The door to his bed room clicked shut and Kitty, with her own tears flowing freely down her cheeks, hurried back to her and Red’s room.

-

Red yawned and stretched as he headed to the bedroom door, his body aching and stinging with every step he took. He had woken up a bit earlier than he had thought he normally would have, but Kitty had been crying and he could never rest when she did.

Having been thoroughly woken up, he stood and got dressed and went about getting himself ready for the day. He brushed his teeth, washed his face and decided he could go a few days without a shave since he had retired early off of his sale of the muffler shop and his lawsuit against the auto parts factory, so he really didn’t have anyone he needed to impress.

With groggy steps down the stairs, Red stumbled through the living room, nearly stubbing his toe on the end of the couch book like always and walked into the kitchen and froze when he saw his son sitting there with a beer in his hand and hunched over the table.

“Son.”

“Dad.” Red kept his eyes on his son and grabbed a beer of his own from the fridge, popping it as he sat down across from him.

“Couldn’t sleep?”

“Couldn’t get back to sleep.” He corrected, taking a long sip from the can. Red nodded in understanding and drank from his own can, a frown on his face.

“Nightmares.” Eric nodded, his once vibrant green eyes dead and hollow. “They don’t become as frequent as they are right now with time. It’s still fresh in your mind and you’ve never made peace with it.”

“Dad...signing up for war is one thing, being drafted into it is another but...being forced into a conflict that has nothing to do with you is entirely different.”

“I know, son. Korea was that way, it wasn’t really our fight...we were just in it to stop the spread of communism and Russia’s influence but I understand what you mean. It wasn’t your fight but you fought it like a man.”

“I wasn’t a man though, I was still a kid. Sure I had seen some stuff by that point but...” Eric trailed off and Red reached over to grab his shoulder. “It wasn’t an adult.”

“What?”

“It was a kid. She was younger than seven dad and I can’t go a night without reliving that night or seeing her face.” Red’s hand didn’t move. He just sighed and offered him a sympathetic grimace.

“There was a kid when I was in Korea.” Eric looked up to his dad, his hollow eyes focused on the man. “We had been pushing into Pusan for weeks. We were running low on supplies and we couldn’t secure a drop zone for more until we had a solid drop point. We were clearing places from door to door to make sure the Koreans weren’t waiting for us in there and to make sure they didn’t have time to plan an ambush on us.”

“What happened?”

“This is, obviously, something I’ve never told your mother but the kid was about...four, maybe a little younger...he was the only one in the house and I didn’t want to hurt him, he was just a kid after all...but I was given an order and I followed through with it. I hated myself for it and that was what made me want to get out of the military. I couldn’t live with myself after what happened, hell, I didn’t want to live with myself.” Red sighed and drank long from his can. “But I came to deal with it. I learned after that, that he was begging me not to kill him in Korean. Broke my heart to do it, it’s the hardest thing I ever had to do in war.”

“I wasn’t following orders from a military leader, I had a gun to my head and they basically tricked me into doing it.” When Red looked at him questioningly, he sighed and fidgeted the can on the table. “The gun they had to my head was empty. The guy said if I didn’t do it, they’d kill me. If not right there then after we went back to the village. They said if I didn’t do it to make her suffering quick, they were going to...to...”

“It’s alright, son. You don’t have to go any further.” Eric’s body trembled as tears rolled out of his eyes and across his burning cheeks. He refused to sob in front of his father, even if he knew the man would understand. He refused to be weak in front of him, afraid he would lose his approval, unbeknownst to him that such a thing was impossible. “I understand, better than anyone what you’re going through even if it isn’t exactly the same. You know I’m not big on emotions but...I love you son. You’re not alone.”

Eric lost what little measure of control he had left and cried like he did when he was little, only now instead of distaste in his father’s eyes, there was empathy and understanding. When he gathered himself, his father wasn’t waiting impatiently for him to man up, he was waiting with another beer and a weak smile carved with respect.

-

“Kitty, you’re up early.” The woman didn’t say anything as she poured her coffee and sat down across from him. “Honey, what’s wrong?”

“Red...I think Eric saw something while he was over there in Africa.” Red stilled and Kitty shot him a glance over her coffee as she took a sip of it. “He’s so...different now...and I heard him screaming in his sleep and then crying.”

“What?”

“It woke me up and I went to check on him and when I opened the door he was crying. Red, what could happen to him to make such a strong person break like that?” Red swallowed thickly and looked into his wife’s eyes.

“Something horrible happened, Kitty.”

“He told you about it?”

“I’m the only person in this house that could even begin to understand, Kitty. I know what he’s going through because to a point, I went through the same thing. He’ll be alright...he just needs time.”

“What happened to him?”

“It’s not my place to say. Just know that it was bad, real bad and he may never decide to tell you-“

“But he can tell you?” She asked incredulously. “The man who bullied him his entire life while not telling the mother who has done nothing but love him-“

“Kitty, this isn’t a competition. Yes, I treated Eric hard because it was the best thing for him. He might have been a whiny little smart mouth when he was a teenager but he was much better than I was at his age because the discipline from me made him strong while your mothering made him a better person.” Red reached out and took his wife’s hand, hoping she wouldn’t push their son for information he would rather die than give. “You’re just going to have to trust me on this, Kitty. I haven’t always been the best father, but I’m the only one who can or will understand what he’s going through.”

Kitty just nodded, her eyes locked sadly on her coffee mug. “Where is he now? Already out for the day trying to find his friends?”

“Nope, he’s cutting the grass, trimming the hedges and then cleaning the garage.”

“Red, you can’t make him work like that! He’s just gotten home-“

“Kitty...he offered to do it.” She stared at him in shock for a moment before giving up and smiling at her husband.

-

Eric was enjoying the summer sun as it beat down on his back, his once sensitive skin aching wonderfully as he busied himself doing the yard work he once hated and was loving every second of it. His muscles didn’t get sore but pushing around the old mower was a great bit of exercise and made his body contract and stress just right. Trimming the hedges was a bit more fun than he remembered, probably because he offered to do it, and it made his arms burn from the constant, precision movements of the sheers in his hands.

The garage was the hardest part, which was why he did that first. There were parts from the Vista Cruiser sitting on workbenches and tools every where, but now everything sat in an appropriate place. Tools too large or too commonly used were hanging from spots on the wall, the less commonly used had found themselves into drawers and tools he had never seen Red pick up were left for the tool boxes he had sat on the bottom shelf of the empty workbench in the back of the tiny building. The extra tires that had been eaten away by dry rot and the random detritus around the floors and in the corners had been cleaned out, the snowblower had been cleaned and it’s oil changed and the screws that werent supposed to be loose were tightened.

He was just finishing the last of the back yard with the mower when he decided the feeling of sweat drenched shirt wasn’t his favorite feeling in the world. He had peeled it off and wrapped it around his close cropped hair to help keep the sweat out of his eyes and he was becoming acutely aware that some of the women he remembered were lonely housewives in the neighborhood had been breaking their necks for the last half hour to watch him work. Normally he hated being stared at but their husband’s reactions made it hilarious to him; a bunch of middle aged women hadn’t seen a properly fit man in their lives living in this podunk town and it was driving them wild. He knew that within a day there would be rumors about him flying around Point Place amongst the SLOPPs and the LOPPs alike, which meant he would be getting some interesting looks from then on.

-

“Did the Forman’s hire someone to do the yard work?” Jackie asked as she and Donna walked up the drive way, a muscular frame flexing and twitching gently with the cool breeze as it rolled through the neighborhood. Her eyes were glued on the toned body wiping grease and grit from his arms and shoulders, all of the way down to the grass stained jeans and black boots. “Well whoever he is, Mr. Forman better keep an eye on Mrs, Forman or she might need the lawn cut a whole lot.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Donna! Look at him! Now that is a man.” Jackie blushed slightly at the look on Donna’s face but the rest of it came to burning life when the man turned towards them with his head bowed. “Holy hell...”

“Yeah...whoa.” Both girls saw the way the veins in his chest and near his waist as they strained against his skin, the way the dense muscle glistened with sweat and grime from hours of hard, physical labor and both girls, as well as countless women in the neighborhood, were stunned with his physique, even the smattering of scars around his stomach didn’t detract from his look. He bent down to grab the two full and heavy garbage bags and slung both almost effortlessly over his shoulders, his face coming into view for the first time.

“Eric?”

“Jackie?” Eric was stunned by the girl he had hated for so long; her hair had a soft shimmer as it cascaded down her shoulders in an elegant way, her face was still perfectly symmetrical, something she often bragged about. Her figure had filled out a bit more, particularly in the hips and just so slightly in the chest, but it wasn’t so much the sexual attraction he felt when he looked at her, it was wonder of her beauty that took him firmly by surprise. She was every bit as beautiful as he remembered, more so because of the more mature air that surrounded her, like she had grown into a woman from an immature little girl and flourished. The soft curve of her calves were accentuated by the high heels that she wore that made the muscles in her leg pop out to him. She was undeniably sexy.

Blinking a few times, Eric came back to earth and smirked as he walked forward, a confident swagger returning to his step as he neared the now speechless Jackie and a blushing Donna. “How’s it been?”

Both girls made a few sounds that didn’t really translate into any language he knew but he smiled knowingly all the same. Deciding to have a bit of fun with the girls, he flexed his arms and his stomach, making the defined muscles just a bit more so and he earned twin blushes for his efforts.

Part of him felt inordinately proud of the effect he was having on the two of them. Donna had always had an appreciation for the more physically attractive men in school and from around the world, even if she would vehemently deny it and the spout something about feminism. Jackie on the other hand, he felt extremely proud turning the once haughty Queen Bee into a staring mess. Years ago if anyone had told him that he would be a muscular man that could make women practically drool, he would ask where they copped their weed because it was obviously laced with something. Now though, he was Eric Forman, fit nerd.

As the silence stretched on, he just watched the girls staring at his stomach. It was amusing in a vain kind of way, but when Jackie reached out and poked one of his abs, he had been so shocked he dropped one of the bags filled with lawn clippings and felt his mouth drop open.

“Jackie!”

“What I wanted to see if they were real.” Almost to prove her point, she poked his stomach again but her finger lingered for a second too long and dragged into the slight crevice between abdominals.

“Well?”

“Oh they’re real alright.” Jackie replied breathily, almost heatedly. She looked up and stared into Eric’s stunned face and pulled her hand back as if she had been burnt. “I, uh, I gotta get back to the record store.”

She quickly turned and hurried down the driveway, the sound of her screeching wheels filling the neighborhood a second later as she peeled out. Eric stared at the place she had stood a second before, his vision just a bit hazy.

“Eric...” He looked up to the redhead to see her looking away defiantly, as if broken from the spell of his stomach. “You have a shirt or something to put on?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah it’s drenched though and currently being used as a headband. I Uh, gotta take this stuff out to the curb though.” Donna nodded and turned to the side muttering ‘me too’ as he slipped past her, though he didn’t hear her. His thoughts were still on Jackie and what had just happened. As he hauled the two bags out to the end of his drive way, he leaned his head back and took a deep breath and wondered why he was reacting how he was to Jackie of all people...and why his heart was pounding so hard.

Chapter Text

Eric looked up to the hair salon with a shake of his head. He had no idea why Fez hadn’t moved on from the hair salon he had gotten a job at before the Forman son went to Africa, his foreign friend had a lot potential for other jobs...what those were he didn’t really know, but Eric knew it was true.

With a sigh, he turned the Camero off and leaned back against the crisp leather of his seat, his hands resting in his lap as he stared up at the building. Making a decision and rolling his eyes, Eric got out of the car and pushed the door closed as he headed to the store front door and pulled it, his eyes trailing around at the women of Point Place getting done up for some kind of event or just to look good for a change.

“Can I help you?” Eric looked to the pretty girl standing behind the counter, a smile cracked his face at the bubbly brunette greeting him, wondering why he was immediately being reminded of someone else.

“I’m looking for Fez, is he still working here?” The girl’s smile turned radiant and she hurried to the back. From the inside of the salon, his long suffering foreign friend came out looking slightly haggard with a beard fully grown in. It gave his pervy friend a bit of a distinguished air, he wore his trademark black pleather pants and a white button-up with the front nearly completely undone. “Hey Fez!”

“Eric? Is that you?” He hurried from around the back of the counter and grabbed Eric under his arms and hugged him tightly, trying to lift him from the ground and giggling stupidly as he failed to. As the two separated, some of the women around them swooned over the two old friends. “You look great, Eric.”

“And your accent is almost gone. I’m sure that helps out with some things. Like having women understand you.”

“Oh I don’t have to worry about that anymore. Apparently a beard is like a magnet for girls.” Almost as if to prove his point, he turned and winked at some of the hair dressers, making the group titter. “So, you’re back...did you see Donna yet?”

“Yeah I saw her yesterday and a little earlier while I was doing some yard work.”

“Did she tell you she’s pregnant?” Eric shrugged and slipped his hands into his pockets. “It happened pretty recently.”

“That’s her business. I’ve been over her for years so it’s not a big deal.” Fez nodded and scratched at his beard, obviously uncomfortable at the conversation. “So uh...what’s the deal with Jackie? I figured she would move out of here the first chance she had a really good chance.”

“She did leave for a while. You remember how she got that job in Chicago? It fell apart not too long after she went there and she got into a really big fight with Hyde, which is where they broke up for good.” Eric nodded and motioned for his friend to continue, well aware that he usually left something unsaid unless you really pushed for the information. “Well...me and her dated for a little bit but it ended really quickly.”

“Really? You like, used to worship the ground she walked on. What happened?” Fez shifted uncomfortably and looked towards the pretty, bubbly receptionist that greeted him with a guilty look crossing his face. “You cheated on Jackie?”

“I couldn’t help it! She wanted to take things slow and it was like half a year before she even hinted at wanting to do it...so my needs got the better of me.”

“Fez, you know her history; Kelso cheated on her with every girl with a pulse and feathered hair and the feathered hair part was optional. Even Hyde cheated on her at least once.”

“Twice.” Eric blinked. “He slept with some biker girl he apparently hooked up with years ago before one of the times they were almost broken up. He never told anyone.”

“I can’t believe that man. But for you to do it too?”

“Why do you care? I thought you hated Jackie.”

“I did...” Eric couldn’t really come up with a good rebuttal. Yes, he had hated Jackie, she was a self-involved, petty, materialistic, manipulative brat...but something about her seemed different. “Look it doesn’t really matter, I guess.”

“Ooooo-Kay...I have to get back to work, this place won’t manage itself.” Eric smiled slightly as some of Fez’s old accent slipped through. The two shook hands and Eric stood there for a few more moments, ignoring the appreciative looks he was getting from hair dressers and patrons alike, wondering just what the had changed about the vain girl after yet another failed relationship. And why he seemed so drawn to her.

-

“Hey son.”

“Hey dad. I have a question...it’s about Jackie.” Red looked up, surprised, from his paper and pinned Eric with a searching stare. “What happened with her over the last few years? She seems...I don’t know, different to how she used to be.”

Red sighed and folded his newspaper. Eric always knew his dad had a soft spot for Jackie, ever since career day when she had hung around the house with him and worked on the Vista Cruiser, but he seemed almost pained by the conversation topic.

“Jackie is...well she’s been through a lot since you left, Eric. She had shacked up with that foreign kid and the two of them dated for a while but the idiot cheated on her with that Rhonda girl he went and married. Her and Steven gave it another shot but I could see how painful it was for her to go back to him after that whole thing with the stripper he married out in Vegas. She ended up moving in here when Tonto cheated on her and that’s what got her back together with Steven but when he left for another two months to Madison, she moved into her own place and got a job from W.B. not too long after that.

“I’ve come to look at her as an adoptive daughter and she talks to me, tells me things that I never used to give a crap about and I listen and give her as much advice as I think she will listen to. She’s dated around since then but all of them end up messy and confusing for the girl because she refused to be intimate with any of them until she knew she was truly in love with them. Broke her up real bad when she thought she found the one but turned out he was already married and just trying to use her to have a mistress.” Red sighed and scratched at his neck. “She went through a bit of a phase of hating everyone and everything but she refused to sleep with anyone or get into a relationship with at all. She’s been single for almost three years now. Sure, she still has dates but because of her history with dating she never really lets anyone get too close to her. She’s a good woman who’s been burned too many times.”

“I feel bad for her, if I’m being honest.”

“Yeah, well...so did I. She was heading towards a pretty self destructive path but Kitty and I got her back on the straight and narrow when we moved her into Laurie’s room for a while...she’s doing good for herself now.” Eric nodded and looked down to his hands. In his mind for an instant, he saw them as covered in the innocent blood he had spilled but he shook the thought away, pushing the darkness at bay like he had consciously been doing since he left the continent. No woman, especially the princess Jackie Burkhart would ever want him like this. When he opened his eyes again, they were the same strong, callous covered hands he knew of during the day. “Donna’s a bit of a different story.”

“What?”

“Well when you didn’t come home for New Year before 1980, something about her snapped. She had just dumped that Randy guy, who I’ve always seen as just a mediocre replacement for you with better hair, but when you didn’t come back, she went through a time like she had been going through when she left to California.

“Once the holidays were over, she withdrew her attendance from college, went on a bit of a bender with booze. She...got around and wouldn’t listen to anything anyone had to say. Even I tried to pull a bit of a fatherly thing on her and she called me a bunch of things and stormed off like some dumbass teenager. When we finally saw her again in 81, she had went off and slept with Steven, Kettlehead and a few other people...I think she slept with Tarzan too, but she started to realize how bad of a path she was on and she owned up to it and owned her mistakes, but she did so with a fight.

“Since then, she’s been pretty mellow and tame but whenever she’s feeling trapped, she tries to break out of it by any means necessary.” Eric stared at his father for a long second and got up to grab two beers from the fridge, setting one down in front of his dad and popping open one from himself. “What brought on the question about Jackie? The way I knew it, you were never really fond of her.”

“I don’t know, I just...I saw her earlier when I was doing the yard work and she just seemed...different, like she had grown up or something.”

“Well, she definitely did. She’s a good kid, Eric and if you think there’s a possibility you might like this girl, then just be honest with yourself about why you’re asking about her.”

“Dad it’s not that I like her-it’s just...she’s not the same person she used to be. I always hated her but she seems so...grown now from what everyone is saying, but that doesn’t mean I like her.” Red laughed and toasted his beer to him.

“Whatever you say, dumbass.”

-

Jackie Burkhart had always been accused of being many things, a tease, a tart, a whore, a prude, stuck up, pampered, spoiled, materialistic and a dozen other things that at one point in her life, she would admit, were true, everything but the whore accusations. But years of disappointment, both professional and personal had made the once shallow, money-driven girl grow up and change for the better.

She had worked at this new record store for almost two years and had started turning a larger profit than Grooves thanks to the more female friendly atmosphere and the wider selection of music. The addition of band clothes and memorabilia had helped give a surge to profits when record and cassette sales dipped and it had been her idea to do. She had proposed the idea to W.B. who seemed hesitant at adding something like that to what was primarily a music store, but when the first quarter profits showed an increase of nearly ten percent over the previous quarter, even with the additional expenses, the man had happily agreed to the idea in all of his stores.

As a result, she had been made the operating owner of the store, which came with a substantial pay bump, and had taken most of the shifts. She worked long hard hours on the sales floor and then even more hours in her office tallying up the sales and balancing the books to keep her store in the black. Once the least likely to take a serious job, the woman who once dreamed of being a famous model/actress with her own perfume and clothing line had defied the odds and made something of herself under her own work ethic and against expectations when compared against the already successful Grooves.

But her world had come to a screeching halt when she saw Eric Forman for the first time in four years.

She had prided herself on still being a bit shallow when it came to men, she would never be able to get over the idea of someone being conventionally attractive or having a muscular figure or being just slightly dangerous, but when she saw the once twitchy boy had come home a man, her entire mind just stopped working and she had been reduced to a drooling, incoherent mess.

She saw his newly found physique intoxicating because it ticked all of the boxes for being conventionally attractive in her book but the tiny scars that clouded the underside of his forearms and between the creases of his abs had spoke of some kind of dangerous happenings in his time in Africa. Take in the hollowness in his eyes that seemed to take on a long dormant spark when they met once more and there was just something about him that sent her spiraling down to who she once was, but in a good way.

Pushing the sales log away from her, Jackie gently pressed her palms to her eyes, a sigh escaping her lips as the soft pressure relieved the headache that had been threatening to split her head open.

She knew that she shouldn’t see Eric like she did, he was always supposed to be this annoying, nerdy, twitchy little pervert that her best friend had dated for most of her teen years while she dated more respectable or forbidden men. Eric was safe and if she had to be honest with herself, had always been a good friend to her, possibly one of her only real friends, but he had never been date material because he had always been so horribly dull.

She had heard about how he snapped at Michael when she thought she might be pregnant, how he defended her honor in a way whenever they situation could arise and how she had called him to specifically tell him that she would miss him while she sat alone in a dirty little hotel room in Chicago before he left for Africa.

He never actively held her past against her, except for a few slips here and there but he always looked ashamed of himself for doing so...she always just chalked it up to him being too damn noble for his own good, that even if he didn’t like a girl he would still stand up for her. Knowing Mr. Forman and Mrs. Forman like she now did, after many tearful nights, she could honestly say he embodied the best of both of his parents.

But something about him was different now. There was confidence and mystique, muscles and wit and Jackie just didn’t know what to do with the information about her once ‘secret’ friend. Did she treat him the same as she once did? No, she definitely couldn’t do that because he wasn’t a twitchy loser anymore and he wasn’t dating Donna so she couldn’t make snide comments about their relationship...then there was how he seemed to enjoy her touching his stomach the other day and that put any ideas of treating him like she once had to rest.

Eric Forman was a conundrum to Jackie Burkhart and the more she thought about him, the more the walls she had spent years building around herself began to crack. She just hoped she didn’t make her already tenuous relationship with him an unbearable thing.

-

The month of Eric’s return has started to pass in a blur. In some ways, the routine returned to normal for the Forman household. Red would wake up in the morning and lounge around a bit, Kitty would force herself out of bed because her son was home and she was intent on shoveling all of the love she had for him right down his throat in the form of all of his favorite meals. Eric would usually wake early in the morning, before the sun even crested over the fields and craggy hills in the distance and would force himself to push the dreams away and would go about the house doing chores he once hated but took pride in doing now.

The yard was always cut to the perfect height, the hedges were trimmed and the bushes were kept orderly, any weeds that popped up in the yard were ripped out by the root and the spot dug out and replaced with fresh soil and grass seed. The gutters were cleaned out and the house had been freshly painted by Eric, a vibrant red to replace the faded yellow. The garage had never been as clean as it was and the Vista Cruiser had been hauled off to a junkyard when the engine brackets snapped clean off.

All the while, the rumors that began circulating about Eric and his newfound personality and his looks had run amok amongst the women of Point Place, much to his protective mother’s chagrin and his father’s hilarity. Not a day could go by where Eric wasn’t doing something either inside or seen about town where women wouldn’t stare at him. It had actually come as a bit of a reprieve when he would do work inside the house or the basement so he could escape roaming eyes.

With the help of his father and input of his mother, he had helped replace the shelves and cabinets in the kitchen and the small side pantry, had put together a shelf for the microwave where an old set of cabinets had been and for a gift for his mom’s birthday, he had carved her a drain for her dishes that he had lacquered and sanded by hand, mostly because he knew his mother didn’t really care for material gifts, it was the thought and emotion put into them that counted...even if the drain looked like crap. Reminding his father of the date had earned him a shared six pack with the man after Kitty had gone to sleep on her birthday, neither one wanting even a partial repeat from years long past.

The problem area in the house had been the basement. At first Eric had only suggested replacing the furniture but Red quickly cut in and let him know it had to be almost everything because the smell of ‘reefer’ sticking to everything pissed him off.

The two had moved all of the old furniture out and moved in new furniture that Eric sprung for, all incredibly soft fake leather seats and a couch; they wouldn’t hold smells as strongly and they wouldn’t start to stink if they got wet. The wire spool table stayed but that was mostly because it fit with the aesthetic of the basement, though they did stain it a darker color to match the faux leather seating and it fit pretty well. The old shower was gutted and fit with a huge old ice box that Eric had turned into cooler of sorts, knowing that Hyde would want to store beer in it when he was there and that his mother could use it to store whatever she wanted to. The washer and dryer had been replaced with newer models and the old TV from upstairs had been moved into the basement and they tossed the old black and white one.

It wasn’t until Eric and Red had finished their little redesign when they sat and just relaxed for a while.

-

“Hey Jackie.”

“Donna! Oh you big red headed lumberjack.” Jackie pulled her friend into a hug, holding her hips just a bit further away because of the obvious baby bump she was sporting. “Oh wow, you’re getting huge!”

“Thanks, Jackie, always what a woman wants to hear when they’re three months pregnant.” Donna rolled her eyes and sat down in one of the cushy black chairs that Jackie had sitting in front of her desk. Truth be told, she did love the little brunette midget like a sister...well, she was better than her older sister and much better than her younger sister that got pregnant and sent off to one of her dad’s more liberal sisters in Washington state.

“Oh nonsense, you were huge before.” Jackie offered a good natured wink and earned a chuckle from Donna as she put a hand on her stomach, softly massaging her baby bump. “So, how have things been with Randy? I haven’t seen you in like, a month.”

“They’re good, now they are least. Eric and I caught him on the phone from the driveway again with that stupid flirty smile he has sometimes.” Jackie’s smile took on a somewhat forced look at that. The last time that had happened, Randy had been talking to a girl he slept with after they broke up and had counted the first tally of the dalliances he had during their relationship. “But things are good again, he’s buying stuff for the baby right today.”

“But you’re not due for another six months.”

“I know, but he’s really putting himself behind being a father this time.” Jackie nodded, not really understanding her friend’s love for Randy; the guy was basically just an Eric clone with slightly better hair and a winning smile and some muscles...though comparing the two of them now, a few years down the road, Eric was definitely the catch out of the two and had all of that in spades and more. “But, enough about the baby and Randy, what have you been up to this last month?”

“Oh just working. You know how the summers are for music and releases and stuff. W.B. has me to the grind stone keeping the books balanced and with the constant orders and purchases, it’s a lot to deal with.”

“I still think you should hire someone to help you out with everything. Why don’t you hire Eric? He’s certainly strong enough now to help with all of the heavy boxes and whatnot.” Donna gave her friend a knowing look as her cheeks turned a soft rose color. “Ooooooh, the cheerleader has a thing for the neeee-eeerrrrrd.”

Donna made kissing noises and started laughing at the scandalized Jackie.

“Oh come on, when you last saw him you practically flooded the drive way.”

“Donna! That isn’t appropriate to talk about-“

“Jackie! You’ve gone on and on about how Hyde and Kelso were in bed!” Jackie had the good graces to look sheepish but she maintained her somewhat stoic countenance. “Look, all I’m saying is that it’s alright if you’re attracted to him. Hell, even I’m still attracted to him.”

“Donna, I’m not attracted to anyone and if I was, it wouldn’t be that twitchy geek.” Donna scoffed and fought back the urge to snort, not willing to sit through another lecture about how it was ‘improper’ and ‘unladylike’. “Besides, you’re my best friend and he’s your ex boyfriend, it would make me a pretty bad friend if I went after him.”

“Was I a bad friend when I slept with Hyde and Kelso?”

“You also slept with Fez.” Jackie added with a cold glare.

“C’mon Jackie, I slept with Fez after you two broke up together. I swear it was the one secret he actually kept. If you want to get to know Eric better, then go for it. He’s made it pretty clear me and him are completely done-“

“Oh please, Eric worships the ground you walk on.”

“Oh yeah?” Jackie nodded tiredly, as if mystified why anyone would bother disagreeing with her on that topic. “Then why hasn’t he said a word to me since we walked up the Forman’s driveway and saw him doing yard work? Why has he been asking everyone about you?”

“What?”

“Yeah, he talked to Hyde about you, he talked to Fez about you...I managed to weasel it out of Kitty that he asked Red about you. If he worshipped the ground I walk on, he would be asking everyone about me, not you.” Jackie smiled slightly at that but immediately squashed the spark of excitement that had flickered to life in her chest in a most violent manner. “Look, lets go to the Hub for old times sake and have lunch. We don’t have to talk about Eric.”

Jackie sighed and rubbed her face. Once upon a time, Donna would have been worried she would smudge her makeup and have to spend an hour re-applying it, but her friend had started to go natural and let her actual beauty shine without an ice cream cake of makeup on her face.

“Fine, no talking about Eric. I haven’t eaten yet today, so it might be good to have a meal where I don’t have to eat it at the register.” Jackie stood from her chair and grabbed her jacket, shrugging it on slightly as Donna stood as well.

“Great, no talking about the neighbor boy...even though you looooooove him.”

-

“It’s been forever since I’ve been able to just sit down here and eat. The food is a little less greasy than I remember-thank god. Used to be the only thing they served here that wouldn’t make me throw up was the fries.” Jackie said wistfully, taking a bite from the roast beef sandwich she had ordered. “So, how has your month been.”

“You mean besides seeing Randy talking to that girl from Green Bay on the phone? Fine I guess. It’s been pretty quiet since my hours were cut back a little at the station.” Donna popped a fry into her mouth and smirked at the tiny brunette. “What about you? I haven’t seen you since you poked Eric’s abs and ran off.”

Jackie felt her cheeks burn at the memory of the moment. She had embarrassed herself in front of Eric Forman and for the life of her, she couldn’t figure out why that bothered her so much.

“Just been working at the store. It’s getting tough since everyone is starting to switch from vinyl to cassettes. The boxes weigh a ton!”

“Then you should hire Eric. I suggested it back at the store, but seriously, he would be some major eye candy for you to enjoy while you’re working.” Jackie saw an image flash into her mind of a sweat drenched Eric bending and twisting in her shop. The images slowly turned to him doing other activities and before her brain could shut down, she pushed the images away...vowing to examine them later on.

“I don’t know. He’s been back from Africa for a while now, so he probably already has a job.” Donna shook her head and swallowed the last of her fry.

“Nope, that Camero never leaves the Drive way long enough for him to have a job.”

“Watching him, Donna? I never took you for a peeping Tom.” The redhead rolled her eyes at her friend, a soft laugh escaping her lips. She would never admit to it, but her living room was probably the cleanest in Wisconsin from spending so much time watching him do house work outside.

“Not even. I’m just saying he doesn’t really go anywhere.”

“Maybe I could give him some part time work. It would be nice to have someone around the store to make it less lonely...plus it’ll give him something to do to earn some extra money.” Jackie dropped her sandwich into the little red plastic basket and sighed. “But he probably won’t take it. He used to think I was the devil, remember? I doubt he would want to be around me...almost no one does.”

“Well, that was the old Eric. Maybe this new, more mature Eric will think differently of you. Besides you lo-ooooove him.” Jackie blushed again and managed to scoff, though it sounded half-hearted and forced.

“I don’t love him. He’s just a friend and I bet you that even if I offered him a date, he wouldn’t take the chance.” Jackie crossed her arms with a defiant smile at the look of shock on Donna’s face. “So just to prove my point, I’ll roll it into one; I’ll offer him a job and a date and he won’t take either.”

“If you say so, Jackie.”

-

“Eric honey...someone’s on the phone for you about a job.” Eric looked up from the couch beside his father and set the beer down on a coaster. Sharing a look of confusion with Red, he stood and walked into the kitchen to take the call. He was genuinely curious who was calling to offer him a job since he didn’t have the time to apply anywhere since he had spent the last month fixing the house up.

Once his mother disappeared through the swinging kitchen door, Eric took a deep breath and steadied himself, readying a confident tone as he brought the receiver to his ear.

“Eric Forman speaking.”

“Hey, uh...it’s Jackie.” That simple introduction sucked the air out of his lungs and left him standing open mouthed in the kitchen. “I don’t know if you’ve found a job yet or not, but I wanted to offer you something here at the record store a couple nights a week...”

Eric forgot how to speak for nearly a full minute. The way her voice carried over the phone had brought him back to the few tender moments they shared together over the time they knew each other and before he went to Africa, how she called him, out of everyone else, before he left from Chicago chief amongst them, one of the few times he didn’t look at her as a demon borne from the hottest of hellfires. Swallowing thickly, Eric cleared his throat when he heard the tapping of finely manicured nails over the phone.

“Eric?”

“I’m here, sorry I was just...surprised is all.”clearing his throat, Eric forced his confidence again. “Yeah, that would be...great. When do you want me to start?”

“Well let’s get some questions out of the way first. Besides Price Mart, do you have any experience dealing with a register?”

“I messed around with the one at Grooves a bit.”

“Good enough for me. Come in tomorrow night around eight and don’t be late, we close at nine and the rest of the night is going to be you learning how to sort out things where they belong...Alright?”

“Yeah, sure thing, Jackie. Hey, I just wanted to say...hello?” Eric pulled the phone away from his ear and stared down at it as the busy tone erupted from the top of it. Confused on why she would hang up on him like that. He shrugged and hung the phone up, walking back into the living room even as the phone rang loudly from the force of being hung up.

“Who was it sweetie?”

“It was Jackie, mom. She just offered me a job at her record store a few nights a week.” Eric saw the slight smile playing on his father’s face and the spark in his mother’s eyes at the mention of the once bossy girl. “I think I’m going to take it. I know that Hyde and W.B. pay their guys pretty well, so I figure it’ll help make me some pocket change while I’m not working for real yet; the Camero cut into my savings a bit as it is.”

“See, now you’re proving that you’re not the same dumbass you once were.” Eric smirked at his father and shrugged, earning a chuckle from the man even as Kitty swatted her husband in admonishment.

“Well I think it’s sweet that you’re going to be helping her out. Jackie is such a sweet girl and oh, Eric you two would just look so cute together.”

“And that’s my cue to leave. Night.”

-

Jackie stared at the phone, her hand trembling slightly even as she tried calming her nerves. She had talked to him a million times before, even seen him mostly naked after that horrible skinny dipping experience years ago and had spent days straight in his company and years in his basement around him, why did talking on the phone to him make her heart race in ways that she never thought would be possible from the scrawny nerd turned fitness junky?

She tried to shake the feeling, even dipping into the rum she kept in her bottom drawer for particularly hard days in the store didn’t help her much, if anything it brought down the walls around her imagination and she couldn’t help but wonder how her life might have turned out if she had taken a chance on Eric when he was a single, skinny loser.

They were both romantics, she knew that much alone from her endless nights listening to Donna complain about some incredibly romantic thing he had done for her, that she inevitably didn’t appreciate, they both valued loyalty and honesty even if it was brutal at times and resulted in horrid burns from their friends...but why did it almost feel, taboo, to her?

“You don’t like him. You don’t like anyone, you don’t need anyone. You’re Jackie Burkhart...you’re Jackie Burkhart...”

She repeated the words to herself over and over in the pale light filling her office from the desk lamp, a mantra of what she knew and held as doctrine to who she was. She didn’t need anyone...

But no matter how many times she repeated it, she couldn’t make herself believe it or help the tears that rolled down her perfect porcelain cheeks as the lie slowly lost meaning

Chapter Text

Eric looked up at the curly letters adorning the doorway to Jackie’s record shop: Jacqueline’s Records. Eric wanted to snort at the vanity on display, but he had to hold it in until he talked to what he hoped wasn’t the vain little girl she once was, that the mature aura that surrounded her was real and not just a facade to make her manipulations more effective.

Turning off the Camero, Eric got out and straightened his jacket and steeled himself, he was going to treat this like he did when he met all of his other friends from once upon a time, he was going to stay cool and collected and not think about the heat that erupted in his stomach when she had poked him during their first meeting together.

Pushing the door open, Eric walked inside and nodded at his surroundings. He always would have thought that any store with Jackie’s name on it would be god awful inside; pink frills, ABBA blaring over the speakers or the sound track to some chick flick or another. The place was nicely decorated though.

The cassettes had their side of the shop and were organized almost meticulously and alphabetically. The records, he discovered, were much the same way, though they were all sitting on shelves with little tags denoting what sat above it, all from A to Z with a miscellaneous set of shelves for bands or record albums with hard to categorize records. In the center of the store was a listening area, much like there was at Grooves, but there were two couches instead of a single one and four chairs, two on either side, of the couches.

The rest of the store was interesting to him, he hadn’t seen a store carry memorabilia like band shirts or other such things, but it made sense considering how many die hard fans of certain bands or genres were out there that never got to go to a show.

As he walked through the store, he slowed when he heard a sound behind him. Feeling something in the back of his mind scream out at him, Eric whirled around and grabbed the barrel of a shotgun and moved completely away from him, forcing it to point out of the large front window.

Eric snarled as he moved but when he grabbed the barrel, he pulled towards himself and came nose to nose with the person who had pointed it at him and fixed the much smaller woman with an icy glare.

“Eric?”

“Jackie?” The glare faded almost instantly as he let go, his eyes still pinned to the girl as she stumbled back against a door way he hadn’t really noticed before, a hand clutching her chest in fright. “What the hell-OW!”

Eric hopped back and sank to one knee, both of his hands coming down to rub the now aching shin that had just been hit with the toe and spike of a stiletto heel.

“Sonuvabitch!” Eric shouted, pain violently radiating up his leg.

“You should have said something! You scared me half to death you twitchy nerd!” Pain in his leg forgotten, Eric shot to his feet and towered over the girl, anger pounding in his veins as his mind blocked the damage done to his shin. He hated being talked down to, it didn’t matter who did it. He would not be insulted, if someone felt like they were safe to insult them, he would hurl insults back at them without the intent to burn someone but to make them hurt.

Jackie winced slightly when she saw the glacial look he pinned her with, but she willed herself not to tremble as he stood over her.

“Don’t. Call me. That.” The words were spoken with such an intensity that she felt her knees buckle somewhat. She knew she had a thing for guys that took charge, that had ice in their blood when the time called for it, but this was a new sensation entirely considering who it was coming from. “This was a mistake.”

He turned on his heel and headed towards the front door in a silent, repressed rage.

“Wait!” He didn’t know what made him pause. He never had a problem with leaving Jackie behind before, her shrill voice could cause saints to do unholy things just to escape her...but there was just something that forced him to stop and he hated himself for it. “Look, I’m sorry, alright. There’s been some break ins and W.B. wanted me to keep a way to stay safe.”

“So you’re hiring me as a body guard?”

“Not exactly...okay, look...you’ve obviously changed and have a bit more of a no nonsense attitude and I figured you might want a job where you get to...you know, protect a pretty girl?” Eric raised an eyebrow at her, his gaze still emotionless. “Honestly, I just...feel like I need someone to be around sometimes. I basically work here alone and the only person who really comes by is Leo and that’s only to drop off the deposit from Grooves. It gets lonely, you know?”

“Yeah. I know what you mean.”

“So...will you take the job? Please?” Eric sighed and rubbed his temples. “C’mon Eric, its only for a few nights a week. Tell you what, if you take the job I’ll sweeten the pot.”

“With pot?”

“I’m not Steven, I rarely do that anymore. No, if you take the job, I’ll allow you to take me on a date.”

Eric burst out laughing and Jackie just stared at him with her hands on her hips, he heeled feet shifting as she tapped a toe on the floor. “That’s sweetening the pot? Jackie, we’re friends but we weren’t really close and you’ve never had any kind of romantic interest in me-“

“Who’s saying it’s out of romantic interest, hmmm? Maybe it’s out of pity for you coming back and finding out that Donna replaces you with Diet Eric.”

“Careful, princess.” Eric growled as he stood over her, his eyes narrowed to near slits. Jackie felt her pulse quicken at the change in his demeanor and the low tone he said it with sent pleasant tingles radiating through her body.

“Look, I’m just saying that you finally come home and she’s moved on-“

“Jackie, I was gone for four years across the world. I was basically over her before I even left, it’s why I didn’t talk to her about going. Yes, I was doing it so she could go to college but then I found out she had basically moved on anyway. I was in the middle of a continent that I knew nothing about outside of vague geographical information. I had limited time to talk or even write letters and our relationship finally died for me...so I broke up with her so she could move on. I knew she was going to move on, so don’t try to manipulate me with what she did after I let her go, because for one, it’s a dangerous path to walk down and two, I knew it was going to happen.”

“Eric...please take the job.” He scoffed and turned away from her again, his hand on the door when she got desperate. “Eric please! Take the job for me.”

“Why?”

“I missed you while you were gone. I tried to write to you but life decided to collapse on me and you know how I react when everything I care about falls apart. You remember how I reacted to Michael and me ending and me and Steven ending and then when you were gone, Fez cheated on me after I finally gave him a chance. You have been the only constant in my life, you’ve always been a good friend and I am all but getting on my knees to beg you to help me one more time.” He turned towards her once more and saw her eyes glistening with tears, her hands hanging loosely at her sides. “So please, for me. Take the job and help me one more time, Eric.”

“Fine.” Eric relented, his shoulders sagging. The two stayed silent for a long moment before the smirk returned to his face. “So when’s our date?”

-

Red sat quietly in the kitchen with a beer on the table directly across from him, his own already opened and in his hand. He had grown accustomed to his early morning exchanges with his son. He would rarely admit he felt fond of someone, but he was definitely fond of his time with his son and was fond of the man he had become, despite how he became such.

When he heard the creak of the top step, Red reached over and popped the can top, his eyes locked on the door and he wasn’t disappointed when his haggard son walked into the kitchen looking worse wear, much worse than he normally did. Without a word, he sat across from Red and immediately put his elbows onto the table and pressed his palms into his eyes.

“Rough night.”

“Very.”

“I know.” Red and Eric drank from their respective cans at the same time. “It was a rough night for me too. Korea.”

Eric nodded to Red in acknowledgment, his grip on the can tightening enough to almost dent the can. Red watched his son and sighed, his hardened heart breaking just a bit to see Eric suffering.

“C’mon, we’re going out.”

“What? Dad it’s like, three in the morning.”

“I know. We’ll be back before your mother is up. We have four hours so get your ass in gear.”

“Do I need to get dressed?”

“Nope. Let’s go, son.”

Eric got to his feet, finishing his beer as he went and followed his dad out to the corvette. Barely looking up in time, Eric caught the keys and stared at Red as he got in and smirked at him. He hadn’t driven this thing since he wrecked it and got caught out because of the damn radio.

With a shrug, Eric slipped into the driver seat and started the, car pulling out of the driveway of 416 with a gentle purr of the engine. He didn’t know where he was going, relying solely on Red’s directions until they came to a stop in front of a small cemetery Eric had never seen before. When Red undid his buckle, Eric followed him.

The two weaved through headstones and past the two small mausoleums at the far end of the desolate area. Red slowed his strides and looked down at a pair of headstones, each emblazoned with a caricature of a bee holding an old Thompson machine gun and a hammer. Eric walked beside his father and stared down at the names in confusion, he never could remember his father talking about anyone with these names from either war he had dealt with.

“Son, there’s a lot of horrible shit in this world.” Eric turned to look at his father; the man hardly ever used profanity, he usually viewed it as undignified and immature and only for use when you’re rightly pissed off. To hear him swear when not visibly enraged was startling. “You saw some of the worst this world has to offer after growing up sheltered from most things.

“One of my goals when you were born was to harden your heart against the things that could scar you in life by being hard on you. I realized far too late that I went about it the wrong way, so I just sort of stuck with it because that was the norm for you when it came to how I act. Some times, I hate myself for what I did to you, because it was what my dad did with me to toughen me up. When you had already shown at a young age that you were sensitive and wore your heart on your sleeve, I saw so much of myself in you and wanted to make you harder than I was made, to be better than me. When I made you touch that dead rabbit, I always said it was so you wouldn’t be afraid of it, but I really did it so you could understand that death was part of the natural order of things in life and that’s there’s no reason to be scared of it. You’re born, you live your life and you die, hopefully of natural causes at an advanced age if you’re lucky enough. And some times, you see or do something so horrible that you can’t stand to live with what you’ve done or seen...”

“Dad-“

“When I was your age, the Second World War was just ending and I was coming back from the South Pacific full of ideals that couldn’t be more wrong. I had rerated while I was in the Navy, which is damn hard to pull off, and became a Seabee. When I had done that, I was assigned to a battalion and when we went to Korea...well, you know about the kid already...but there was more things that I heard and saw that still haunt me to this day. The screams of innocent women and children being burned alive in their homes, innocent young men being cut down on the off chance they could be informants for the North Koreans...it never left me.

“And then your sister was born and my heart felt less pain. She started to grow up and was about four when you came along. She was always a real girly-girl and I knew I would never have to worry about her doing something as stupid as I did. When you were born and started to grow up, little by little I saw my own childhood playing out in front of me and it-it scared the living daylights out of me.” Red paused and took a deep breath. “So I was hard on you to make you hate the idea of taking orders from people like me and to make you not be a dumbass like I was. You did that...and then Africa happened and you saw horrors anyway.”

“Dad. If it means anything to you, I forgive you.”

“I appreciate that son, more than you know...but I didn’t bring you up here for that.” Eric frowned and looked down to the headstones again, his eyes lingering on the dates. Both men were barely much older than he was, maybe eight or nine years his senior...right around the end of the Korean War. “I knew both of these men, personally. We went to high school together, joined the Navy at the same time and went to boot camp and boatswain school together, but I didn’t see them again until I rerated and became a Seabee. We went through a lot together in Korea and when we came home...all three of us were in the same situation: we all couldn’t live with ourselves, hell, didn’t want to live with ourselves. Charles killed himself just to make the demons stop. Marty...his wife left him because she couldn’t handle how different he had become. He had night terrors and flashbacks, he would wake up screaming covered in a cold sweat but he held on...for her, clung to her like a life line he desperately needed and couldn’t find in any of us that had suffered with him. When she left, he had nothing left and he took his own life.

“Now I didn’t bring you up here because I wanted to lecture you, you’re too damn old for that, I brought you up here because for every bit of me I see in you, I’m starting to see them in you as well.”

“I can deal with all of this in my own, dad.”

“No, no you can’t. I know you’re stronger than you used to be, Eric, but you’re still my son and I know you better than probably anyone else save Donna and your friends and I know you haven’t confided in any of them what you’ve been through, because you are your father’s son.” He didn’t know why that simple phrase made him feel better, but it did. “I haven’t always been the best father, Eric and I know that, but I am not going to sit by and drink a beer with you and pretend everything is sunshine and rainbows.”

“Dad.” Eric paused and threaded a hand through his hair as his eyes burned. “I’m scared.”

“I am too son. But you know that I am always there for you. And one day, maybe soon, you’ll find that something that will anchor you the way your mother does for me and you can finally make peace with what you did and saw.”

“It’s just hard...some days I wake up and I just wish I didn’t, that everything just...stopped being.”

“I know. I know exactly what you mean.” Red sighed sadly and put an arm around a startled and silently crying Eric. “Before you go to bed tonight, come talk to me...I’ll give you some pointers on how I started to deal with things when I came back that might help you too. We can still have an early morning beer, especially when you need it...but I’m going to help you through this.”

“Thanks, dad. And you know, you are a good father.” Red smiled wanly as he looked to the young man at his side.

“Better now than never, son.”

-

Days passed and Eric had gone into Jackie’s store, doing the hard labor that the girl usually did herself; loading and unloading delivery trucks filled with records, cassettes and shirts. He organized, stacked and put everything where it belonged like he had been doing it for years and even the odd customer or two that came in late at night (which had slowly grown to be every woman in Point Place within a week of him starting and seeing him at the register or on the sales floor) was helped faster than Jackie would have been able to help them.

He was a natural, she would have to admit that, and a damn convincing salesman. Since he started working there, record and cassette sales had exploded but so had secondary sales. When he came in wearing a Van Halen shirt, it would sell. Aerosmith? Sold. Even a shirt from his personal closet with Black Sabbath on it had triggered orders to be made for shirts and records for the metal band to be stocked in the store.

Jackie wasn’t stupid about why her business had picked up, ever since Eric had returned to Point Place, he was the talk of the town amongst the SLOPPs and the LOPPs alike. Even the occasional trip she would make to the Piggly Wiggly had her rolling her eyes when she heard middle aged moms lusting over her friend...that wasn’t to say that Jackie didn’t enjoy the benefits of having him around, namely, she got ogle him for five or six hours a night from the confines of a dark room with a one-way mirror blocking her wandering eyes, but it was still annoying.

The muscular young man had slowly become more defined as he spent hours lifting heavy boxes or stopping and moving things. The veins that once pushed softly against his skin had started to become more strained, more pronounced and had started drawing Jackie’s gaze more and more.

She wasn’t as shallow as she once had been, but it was like being in speaking distance of a fitness model almost every day and it was hard not to notice. She noticed his change in demeanor too. She knew he wouldn’t be the same nerd just from when he accepted the job, but it extended past that. He didn’t slow his work when he thought he wasn’t being watched, if anything he worked harder when Jackie was in her office and got more done in a few days than she normally did in two weeks. But there was something else about him, a darkness that clouded his eyes in his more serious moments and that cast only shadows in lighthearted ones, and it frightened her.

She had to wonder what had happened in Africa to cause such a drastic change in the once kind, naive boy she once called a ‘secret’ friend. Sure, she liked to burn him just as much as any one else from their basement dwelling days, but when she would say something that would genuinely hurt the boy and make him retaliate in kind, it left her feeling...sick. He was always so polite, well mannered and kind, even to her when he hated her guts. To see him changed so drastically, to have him no longer be the boy he once was but the strapping man he had become so quickly...it was worrying.

Looking down at the ledger on her desk, Jackie sighed and made a few notes on a legal pad, her eyes going back and forth and making annotations as she went when she started to frown. Looking up to Eric, she saw he had pulled off his Black Sabbath shirt and had it draped over the nape of his neck, just a thin, no-sleeved undershirt clung to his body as sweat dripped from his chin.

She watched him for several long minutes, how his body moved with intent and deliberation, no single action wasting any energy and it was so smooth and practiced. She had seen some of the military drills done when her father would take her along to show her off or her mother would drag her along to see one of the military men she was having an affair with...and it was just as, if not just slightly less, smooth than he was moving.

His movements were hypnotizing and she couldn’t help but feel her cheeks burn as a blush crept into them, it wasn’t helped when Eric pulled the thin shirt up to wipe the sweat from his face as he broke down the last box of supplies needed for the week.

Swallowing thickly, Jackie grabbed the envelope with his name on it and stood from her desk, quickly walking out onto the sales floor with it clutched one hand. Walking over to him, she tapped him twice on the shoulder and waited for him to face her.

“Yeah?”

“It’s pay day, Eric. Here you go, your first check.” Eric took the envelope and slowly ripped it open. Jackie watched his face and felt a flutter in her stomach at the look of concentration on his face as he studied the pay slip.

“Jackie, this can’t be right, this is way too much-“

“It’s completely right. The sales that you’ve brought in helped me convinced W.B. to make your pay commission based in addition to base pay, so it’s completely right.”

“Jackie, this is like three-hundred dollars.”

“I know. I tallied up your sales and figured out a commission based on what I felt you personally brought in to the store.” She tried to bring up her stoic mask that she had spent years crafting but those damned green eyes shattered it like porcelain on concrete. “You’ve been a really big help around here lately and you’ve really gone above and beyond, Eric. Plus you make it less lonely around here.”

“How? You’re always in your office.” Jackie looked out of the corner of her eye at the mirror facing inside the store and his gaze followed hers, a look of understanding on his face as he chuckled hollowly. “Ah, been spying on me then.”

“What?! Absolutely not, Jacqueline Burkhart does not spy on anyone, let alone you.” She huffed and turned her nose up at him, trying to ignore the lopsided grin on his face as he tucked the check back into the envelope.

“So, when’s our date?”

“Our what?”

“You said you would let me take you out on a date to help sweeten the pot if I took the job. It’s been like, two weeks and you still haven’t told me when you wanted me to take you out.”

“Really?” Jackie looked into his eyes, searching for deception...or maybe just a chance to shout ‘Burn’ and giggle like an idiot...but she had slowly begun to remember that Eric wasn’t Steven or Michael or Fez, he was a genuinely good guy. Her only hang up was that he was the only one of the gang she hadn’t dated...guess she shot herself in the foot on her vow to never date someone like Eric Forman. “Fine, how about tomorrow night? The store is closing early and I would rather have a nice dinner paid for by you than having to buy myself Chinese take-out.”

“Sounds great.” Eric’s smile made her knees weak and left her struggling to tell herself that she didn’t need anyone. “Oh and Jackie?”

“What, Eric?”

“Dress nice.” He was out of the door before her brain registered the huskily spoken words. When her mind finally caught up with what he said, the Black Camero in the parking lot was pulling out and into the night.

With a groan of frustration, Jackie stalked back into her office, fighting a smile the whole way

Chapter Text

Eric sighed as his eyes opened once more, his gaze stuck on a crack in the tile of the ceiling of his room. Last night had been a test on his nerves. So many times, Jackie just seemed like her old self, the Jackie that he hated and he had almost lost count of the times he felt like walking out of that record store in disgust at thinking the once bratty little Devil Incarnate had changed...until he looked into her eyes.

He had seen flashes of the times over the years he knew her when she had confided in him, most often in secret and away from the rest of the gang, how she had teary eyes that shimmered and sparkled in even the dullest of lights and how often he had seen her cry over Kelso or Hyde and whatever bone-headed or insensitive thing they had done towards her.

He knew she was spying on him, but he had told himself the mirror was just another amenity for the women who frequented the store since he started working there, but he knew a one-way mirror when he saw it. He had found it amusing almost that the once head cheerleader was spying on the Star Wars geek, that there was some kind of lust driven infatuation because he looked nothing like he once did.

For some reason, Jackie being obsessed with his new physique didn’t bother him as much as the LOPPs or the SLOPPs that usually usually came into the store to make flirty eyes at him, probably because she did a decent job of hiding how she was feeling, a left over from her relationship with Hyde he was sure. Or her lessons on being ‘zen’.

What struck him as weird was that for the first time since he had first been sent to the Congo, his dreams weren’t filled with nightmares so vivid he could swear he was tasting the gun powder in the air again, his sleep was filled with moments he and Jackie had shared over their time knowing each other; how he stood up for her when they were much younger and had been added to the gang because she was infatuated with Kelso when they were just barely in their teen years, how he had been so scared and freaked out over her possibly being pregnant with Kelso’s stupid little seed that he snapped at one of his longest held friends in favor of a girl he didn’t even like and only barely pretended to tolerate, helping her with the Cheese Guy, listening to her complain about Hyde and stomached her countless insults directed at him for not being conventionally attractive and finally, the phone call when she was in Chicago and the single letter she had sent him after he left.

The letter had been short and brisk, kind of like Jackie herself, but it had been a warm reminder that even if they weren’t really friends, that she cared about him and hoped he would be alright. It had been uncharacteristically kind of her but she was like that and he had come to accept the Devil as part of their gang, even fondly on the more cold nights in the middle of nowhere in the jungle.

Pushing the thoughts from his mind, Eric rubbed his eyes and listened as the door to his parents room opened and closed. Looking over at the bleary alarm clock, Eric almost did a double take, he had managed to sleep for longer than three hours, he had slept a full eight hours after he got home from the store last night. The wonder continued until he heard a gentle knock at his door, causing him to jump. He knew his mother wouldn’t be up this early, so it had to be his dad.

With a groan, Eric shifted in bed until his feet dangled off the edge and eventually met the warm carpet. Getting quickly dressed, Eric headed down to the kitchen, expecting to see Red but instead saw both his mother and father sitting there watching him.

“Uh...morning.”

“Morning, son.” “Morning honey.”

“Uh, we doing something special today, because I kind of have plans tonight.” Eric set about pouring himself a cup coffee, devising to forego his usual morning beer with his father since his mom was awake early.

“Oh? Does my baby boy have a date?” Red raised his eyebrows slightly and had a tiny smirk playing at his lips when Eric tried to avoid the question. “Oh my god, my baby boy does have a date! Oh, who is with? I know for sure all of the Ladies of Point Place have been talking about my handsome little man!”

Kitty laughed her trademark laugh and practically vibrated in her seat. Eric was particularly surprised her coffee didn’t go all over the kitchen. “It’s not a big deal, mom.”

“No, I think it is a big deal, Eric. Why don’t you tell us who you’re going out with tonight?” Red’s smirk widened slightly. “As long as it isn’t that girl you took out in my corvette when you were younger, I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

“Ugh...it’s Jackie.” Eric took heavy gulps of his coffee to avoid looking at his parents, but thanks to his peripheral vision he saw the two of them share a look, his mother was surprised and Red just looked like the cat that got the cream. “Like I said, it’s really not a big deal.”

“Ohhhhh...You’re going out with Jackie...”

“Who’s going out with Jackie?” The three Formans turned to look at the door to the basement, a still mostly sleeping Hyde scratching at his beard standing there. “Hey Forman, Red, Kitty.”

“Oh uh...nobody! No one is going out with Jackie, just no one at all!” Kitty laughed nervously as the three men around her all turned their stares to her. “So, who wants pancakes? I have this recipe I picked up from a cook book, I can make chocolate pancakes for breakfast!”

“Sounds great, Mrs. Forman. So, who’s going out with Jackie?” Eric looked to his long time friend and saw a small spark behind his eyes, the barest flicker of anger still lingering at the thought of someone taking out his ex girlfriend.

“No one-“

“I am.” Hyde looked sharply to Eric, his eyes widening a fraction. “She said she would let me take her out if I took the job at her record store and I kinda got trapped in it.”

“You’re taking Jackie out?” It was unmistakable this time, a spark of anger that lit a small fire in the pit of Hyde’s stomach erupted in his eyes. “Since when do you even like Jackie? You used to call her the Devil spawned from the hottest flames in the underworld man. Besides that, she’s my ex girlfriend and you’re violating the code!”

“Hyde, grow up.” Eric took a long sip from his coffee but never took his eyes off of his friend. His nerves weren’t sitting on edge and he knew Hyde would never attack him or anything stupid like that, but he wasn’t going to be a punching bag just because his friend got his underwear in a twist over a friendly date.

“Whatever man. I’m going to WBs.” Hyde turned on his heel and disappeared through the door to the basement, his heavy foot falls moving fast as he hurried back down to his room.

“Eric, why would you go and tell him? You know how he feels about Jackie?”

“Felt about Jackie. If he actually gave a-“

“Eric.” Red cut in, a warning evident in his gaze as he and his son locked eyes.

“If Hyde actually cared about Jackie, he wouldn’t have married that stripper and not questioned the validity of it. Hyde questions everything in the world, but not some chick from Vegas that just shows up and claims they got married? Either he was a massive dumbass or he was just looking for an excuse to be done with Jackie.” Eric emptied his coffee cup and quickly rinsed it out before pulling his keys from his pants pocket and moving towards the back door. “I don’t have to explain myself to anyone, even if they have been my friend most of my life...or my parent.”

Without a second word he was gone. Kitty looked between the back door and the basement, her face lined with worry when the roaring sound of an engine coming to life made her jump.

“Oh...Red...” The normally stoic man got up from the table and walked to his wife, holding her tight to his chest in a hug as she fretted over her two sons.

“It’ll be alright Kitty. Eric is an adult now, he’s a man. He’s not really mad at you, he just hates being questioned after explaining himself.”

“Do you think so?”

“I know so. He’s my son after all.”

-

Eric hated shopping. Every time you turned down an aisle in stores like this, someone was there to nag at you to see if they can find you something, usually the most expensive thing in the store to earn some money or earn some praise from their bosses...but he had a date to get ready for and friendly date or not, he intended to look his best since the closest he ever got to that in his teen years was a dinner jacket or a blazer.

That was how he found himself in a store full of tuxedos and suits. He wasn’t looking for attire to get married and he had rather handily scared off the sales associate with just a lingering glare when the effeminate man tried to lead him to the brand name suits, so he was bearing the stress of being looked at by the women that were walking around the store with their boyfriends or husbands.

‘No wonder Kelso screwed everything on two legs when we were younger. Most of these people knew me from high school as a scrawny nerd and they’re still fawning over me like a bunch of lonely farmers at a sheep stable.’ Eric thought viciously as he pulled a plain black suit from the rack. He looked over it a few times and slid it back into its spot, his eyes trailing over the garments and cursing himself internally; his tastes in clothing may have evolved from two-color shirts and plaid button-ups, but they evolved into band shirts, loose and comfortable jeans and the boots he had bought off of some US Navy sailor...he didn’t really know anything about fashion since he based his current tastes off of Hyde for the most part and had taken to it because it was relaxed and comfortable.

“Eric?”

‘Damn it.’ The man turned to see Donna walking towards him hand in hand with a guy with soft eyes and hair teased to hell. They were a few years into the 1980s already and this loser looked like he was stuck in the mid-70s if his bell-bottoms were anything to go by. “Oh hey, if it isn’t the red headed neighbor girl...and you must be-“

“Randy, Randy Pearson.”

“Right, Randy.” Eric smirked at the uncomfortable look crossing the guy’s face. Even if his physique was drawing an annoyingly large amount of attention, it felt hilariously great to intimidate someone. “So I hear you and Donna have a kid on the way, that’s awesome.”

“That we do. But hey, we love each other and it’s just the natural course of things. I mean, you would probably be the father if you had the guts to come back from Africa.”

“Randy!” Donna looked mortified and a push away from flying into one of the rages Eric remembered only too well.

“No, Donna it’s fine. The hardest day he’s probably ever had was making sure he looked like a perfectly teased clump of Farrah Fawcett’s pubic hair.” Eric smirked at the guy once more, disappointed that words alone would have to damage him since it was frowned upon in public to essentially execute someone but the look of seething anger in his face was just too delicious to ignore.

“I’m going to wait out in the car, it smells a lot like failed boyfriend in here.” Randy pulled away from Donna and walked out of the store, slamming the door loudly behind him as he went. Looking over to the cashier, Eric smiled but Donna looked more embarrassed than when he pulled her pants down in front of everyone.

“I’m...sorry about him. He’s been a little on edge ever since you came back. I tried to tell him there was nothing between you and me but...he has a jealous streak a mile wide.”

“You don’t say.”

“Yeah...any way, what brings you into Tux and Stuff? Got a hot date or something?” He could see that she wanted him to say no, but he wasn’t going to lie to her.

“I do actually,” Donna looked away like someone had just kicked her puppy at his words, “and unfortunately, I have no taste when it comes to formal wear, so I need some help but I don’t trust the mouth breathers in this place to actually help me find something that won’t bankrupt me.”

“Well, I can help you out. I mean, I did have some input on your prom tux.”

“Just because you wanted to take it off of me.”

“Shut up.” Donna laughed and led him towards the center of the back wall of the store and right into the second most expensive stuff in the place. Eric had gave them a passing glance as he went by, but a few of the suits cost over a hundred dollars.

After a half hour had passed, he was thankful that Donna was there to help him out. Even if they weren’t dating anymore, she knew him very well and knew what would fit his style-and his new body type. He wondered idly if all women just had that skill built in like cars had air conditioning or if it was something taught in their ‘Secret Hot Girl Club’ meetings. With a suit that fit his shoulders and arms well enough, as well as reached his waist, a tasteful long sleeved shirt and a plain black tie in hand, Eric walked out of the store with Donna in toe, a radiant smile on her face.

Seeing Randy waiting in his car, Eric smirked at him and offered him a wave with the most condescension he could put into a simple gesture without it being a crude one.

“There, hopefully your date will be happy that you didn’t show up like a bum...though your suggestion of just buying Jedi robes was good too, that way you could look like a well-to-do bum.”

“Obi-Wan didn’t look like a bum.”

“Eric, he looked like a literal bum. Leo has worn nicer clothes than he did.” Eric rolled his eyes and sling the bag over his shoulder, drawing his keys out of his pocket as he walked with Donna over to the camero, ignoring her the whole way when she pointed out that even Luke Skywalker dressed like a bum until she eventually fell silent. “I still can’t believe you own this thing. The Vista Cruiser was so you.”

“Yeah, but it was the old me. Things change, Donna.”

“Yeah, like my overly jealous boyfriend over there.” Eric snorted and opened the driver’s door, tossing the clothes nonchalantly in the back. “You know, everyone kept saying that he was like if they took you and Kelso and smashed you two together.”

“I’m guessing he was a bit of a playboy like our dear kettleheaded friend?”

“Something like that. He slept with a lot of girls apparently.”

“Then why are you even with him? I heard he cheated on you and you stuck around. I specifically remember you wanting to rip my head off because you found your mom’s panties in the Cruiser and just thought I cheated.” Donna laughed briefly at the memory but the smile vanished quickly.

“I don’t know some times. I mean, he’s a really good guy once you get past his well hidden flaws. Behind the smile, the muscles and the-“

“The Farrah hair?”

“I was going to say the charisma, but that works too.” Donna smiled and gave Randy a wave over the roof of the black muscle car. “Behind it all, he has commitment issues. He’s flaky at times too, like, worse than Hyde. Did you know he took me out to propose and then bailed right after I said yes?”

“Ouch. Talk about an ego killer.” Donna nodded unhappily despite the smile still on her face.

“So...” Donna loudly cleared her throat, looking a bit awkward as she rocked back and forth on her heels. “So, who’s your date with tonight?”

“Just some girl from high school.”

“Well she must be pretty special if you’ve ignored every other woman practically throwing themselves at you since you got back.” Eric had a brief flash in his imagination of Jackie holding a pitchfork with a bubblegum pink tail and hooved feet shoved into a pair of stilettos. Definitely special.

“Yeah, I guess you could say that.” Donna smiled and a horn honked from just a bit away, an impatient Randy glaring at the pair of them. “Guess you better go before the pretty boy gets too upset.”

“Yeah. Oh and don’t know if you know this, but you’re kind of a pretty boy now too, in a dangerous rockstar kind of way.”

“Hey, it’s just like your diary!”

“Shut up! Bye.” Donna shook her head and chuckled as she walked over to the car and got in, immediately getting into what looked like a very heated argument with her boyfriend. Eric snorted and shook his head, sliding into his seat and starting his car; he had better things to do than worry about some douche with coifed hair and a fashion sense that died when he was twelve.

-

“Okay Jackie, there’s no reason to be nervous...it’s Eric Forman, the twitchy geek that couldn’t even move a keg.” Jackie kept reminding herself of the past and what she knew of Eric to settle down the fluttering feeling in her stomach. She knew he wouldn’t look at the date as anything more than friendly, in a way, Jackie tried to justify her nervousness to herself, it wasn’t much different than going out to eat with Donna.

But she knew that wasn’t true.

Eric wasn’t a skinny dweeb obsessed with Star Wars and Jedi and whatnot...at least she didn’t think he was, she hadn’t spent any time around him outside of his shifts at the store, so for all she knew he was still obsessed with the movie. Hanging onto that to calm herself, Jackie checked her makeup in the mirror and turned to look at the dress she had to basically dig out of storage to wear for the night. It was a second prom dress her father had bought her when she had second thoughts about the one she had actually wore.

The dress itself was relatively conservative with a high neckline and a slip that met about midway at her knee; it was a soft grey-blue to accent her eyes and the heels she had chosen were of the same color. She stared at the dress and started thinking of ways she could style her hair or what accessories she should pick out...but she talked herself out of the dress entirely and had settled on a simple brown dress with small floral patterns and a pair of wide heeled shoes that she adored because they made her calves pop just right.

With a frustrated growl, Jackie scolded herself for getting so worked up over a friend date with Eric Forman of all people...but then she remembered she was Jackie Burkhart and everyone would be worked up over being on a date with her, she was sure that Eric was in the same frame of mind.

-

Eric looked down at the suit on his bed and kicked the door to his room shut. He was grateful for Donna’s help in finding a suit that would look good on him, but for the first time in his life, he was worried about what could make the ensemble look better. He had thought about asking his mom for help, but he was feeling irrationally annoyed by the early morning episode between him and his parents.

Dropping the towel from his waist, Eric snatched up his boxers and slid them on, thankful that he moved past that point in his life where tighty-whities were his norm. He wasn’t sure what he was expecting out of the date with Jackie, to be honest with himself he was hoping that she still the brat she always had been and was just a master at hiding it and faking vulnerability. With a shrug, he pulled on the thin black dress socks and hopped around as he pulled his pants on. The waist was a bit loose, he had apparently lost more weight than he had thought since he started working at Jackie’s store, but they still sat comfortably on his hips.

The rest of the suit was easy to put on and he had to admit, Donna had scored perfectly when choosing this suit. As he examined himself in the mirror, Eric couldn’t help but nod at the figure he cut; his broader shoulders got rid of the need for padded shoulders in the suit and the size of his arms made the sleeves tight while not being uncomfortable.

For an accessory, he had picked up a simple watch that didn’t stand out too much, just a simple black leather band about an inch wide with a silver face. Once his shoes were on, Eric grabbed his wallet and shoved it into his back pocket and gave himself one last look over before heading out of his room and heading down the stairs.

“Oh my, and where is my baby boy going looking so handsome?” Eric closed his eyes and took a deep breath, swallowing the smart-ass retort he had wanted to say.

“My date with Jackie?”

“In a suit?”

“Yes mom, in a suit.”

“Where are you going in a suit?”

“Wherever she wants to go. I figure if I’m being forced to take her out, I may as well make it a nice date for her.” Kitty frowned slightly but nodded. She had seen him force down the retort he had so clearly wanted to throw at her. “I should get going, the last thing I want is Rosemary’s Baby angry at me.”

“Eric Wait...” He paused and turned to face his mother, a single eyebrow raised as he grit his teeth. “I’m sorry for snapping at you this morning. You know that I’m very fond of Steven and I just hate seeing my sons fighting.”

“You’re forgiven, mom. It wasn’t much of a fight as much as it was an overreaction on his part. But after he married a stripper because of a misunderstanding, I think him overreacting is par for the course.” Eric noted her nervous laugh and uneasy smile, so he stepped away from the kitchen door and gave her a chaste hug, kissing her on the cheek. “Gotta go, I might be back late tonight since I’m not really sure how to get to her house in the first place, but if I’m going to be late, I’ll call ahead, let it ring twice and then hang up so you guys don’t get charged the rates.”

“Have fun, sweetie.”

“Don’t be a dumbass, Eric.” Red returned the smile from his son and chuckled as he walked out of the house through the kitchen, leaving Red and Kitty in the living room. “Wonder where he’s going where a suit would be the thing to wear?”

“I don’t know I just...I don’t know if I like the idea of him going anywhere with Jackie. She’s dated Fez and Steven and Michael-“

“Kitty, she’s a good kid. Sure she’s a bit of a pain in the ass sometimes and seems like she was out to piss off her father when she was in high school, but she’s come a long way.”

“But Red, he’s my baby and he spent so long in Africa that I thought maybe him and Donna-“

“Oooooooh, no. If he did try to get Donna back, I wouldn’t try to stop him, they have history but he is not the boy who went out there anymore. We have to respect his decisions but-if he does something stupid like knocking Jackie up, he’s on his own.”

Kitty suddenly looked very worried, her eyes drifting to the kitchen door like she expected Eric to come right back through the door, having come to his senses. “Is that possible?”

“Happens all the time Kitty. But I trust him to not be the same dumbass he used to be.”

-

“Well, it’s not really what I expected, but it’s kind of...quaint.” Eric murmured as he looked around the modest apartment. It wasn’t much bigger than his basement was and was definitely smaller than the apartment Fez and Kelso, and eventually her, shared. The walls had her high school diploma and her framed degree, a bachelor’s in business administration. He was pleasantly surprised to say the least as he examined the paper.

“Just got that a few months ago actually. W.B. has a program for his store owner-operators where he helps them go to college dependent on their sales, so i was able to get my degree. I get to start my master’s next year as long as we keep doing well.” Eric nodded, not looking away from the framed degree. “You look nice. I guess you clean up well enough.”

“Thanks...” Eric turned to look at Jackie for the first time since entering her apartment and he felt his heart leap into his throat. The gentle curve of her shoulders and slender neck was easily apparent in the form hugging dress and she certainly had a figure to put into it now. To steal a phrase from Kelso, she had been pretty flat in high school but the years had been kind to her form; her breasts had swelled in the time since he had seen her before he left, but he had never noticed it, probably due to the loose fitting shirts she wore at work, her hips had a bit more of a curve to them now; She didn’t have ‘child-bearing’ hips, but they complimented her otherwise slender form. Her legs were smoothly shaved and popped in all of the right places thanks to the heels she was wearing but it was the gentle application of makeup that had left him totally disarmed.

He was used to seeing her wearing stuff to make her eyes pop more and a bunch of other stuff, but the minimalist look was breathtaking. A bit of eyeliner and a deep red lipstick and she was as breathtaking as if she had worn an entire case of cosmetics.

“You uh...whoa, you look amazing, Jackie.” The girl blushed prettily and smiled shyly. “So, where do you want to go to eat?”

“You mean you haven’t picked a place?”

“Was I supposed to?”

“Well you are the guy. You have the opportunity hundreds of men in Point Place would kill for and you didn’t think of a place to eat?” Eric raised an eyebrow and slid his hands into his pockets. “Maybe this was a bad idea.”

“It’s not. I didn’t choose a place because this is like a friendly date, unless you want it to be a romantic one?”

“All dates should be romantic, Eric, even friendly ones.” Eric screwed his face up in confusion, and brought a hand to scratch the hairs at the back of his neck. “Can we go anywhere I want?”

“That’s the plan.”

“What if it’s expensive?”

“Jackie, I spent almost three hundred bucks on this suit, it’s already an expensive date.” Jackie laughed softly and reached up to fidget his lapels a bit and he felt his heart race. She had taken a step closer to him since she had to look up at him to fix whatever the hell it was she was fussing with and he found himself mesmerized by the color of her eyes. He had never noticed before and only assumed that they were brown from what a Kelso had said, but one was a hazel-green and the other brown. It certainly drew him in and left his brain feeling like mush.

“Then I know just the place.”

-

Eric nodded to the waiter as he stepped aside while the settler around the table. Pushing his way past the mustached man, he pulled a chair out and watched as Jackie slid another one out and sat in it, not paying him any mind until the waiter snorted. A glare from Eric sent the man hurrying away, but it had drawn Jackie’s attention.

“Oh, I’m sorry Eric, I’m just...not used to someone pulling a chair out for me.” Eric frowned as he sat in the chair he had pulled out. “Michael and Steven never really took me some place like this and Fez did once but some girl he slept with was our waitress, so it sort of killed the mood.”

“Where did they usually take you?”

“Well, Steven would take me to the Hub or this burger place that I think shut down a couple years ago, so we always sat in the back of his El Camino and ate or we would bring it back to the basement. Michael’s idea of a romantic evening was eating something greasy at the Hub and then doing ‘it’.” Jackie grimaced at the memories. “Fez didn’t like going out at all for the short time we dated. He always used to go on and on about how I was his goddess, remember?”

“Vividly.”

“Well, he never seemed to want to show me off. I guess he figured the shine had been taken from the apple and he always ordered food in for the night. He never treated me like a woman unless he wanted sex and since I never gave it to him, he found it elsewhere.” Eric nodded in understanding, he knew the whole story already, but the hurt in her voice as she relived it was heartbreaking, no matter how evil he thought she was. “Have you and Donna ever gone some place like this?”

“Twice, once when we first started dating and then when you guys Dine-N-Dashed on us. The first time we went some place like this, Donna got drunk on Long Island Iced Tea and then Hyde showed up to try to hit on her.”

“Really? Steven showed up while you two were on a date? He never told me that.”

“He probably also didn’t tell you that he kissed her outside of the time you blabbed about while me and her were together and tried to hit on her when we all went to that disco.” Jackie looked stricken, like everything she ever knew had been turned to dust. “I generally don’t like places like this, but I guess it’s not too bad. At least you’re not being bitchy.”

“Yet.” Jackie laughed out, earning a chuckle from Eric as the waiter approached.

“Good evening, I thank you for choosing L’Etoile. Shall we start with the first course?” Eric’s face went blank but he turned an eye to Jackie who just shrugged in response. The waiter proceeded to rattle off several things Eric had never even heard of. It all sounded delicious but he was starting to get afraid that having a little over a hundred grand in the bank wouldn’t cover the cost of the meal. When the two had ordered their meals, seven courses was apparently relatively normal in high priced places like this. Eric just stared blankly at the table, suddenly feeling an intense desire to find a burger place when Jackie whispered something to a passing waiter who nodded and walked away.

“Eric, I’m sorry...I didn’t know this place would be this way. I expected something like the place we ditched at but this is...extravagant.”

“Yeah, I’m starting to notice that.” Eric looked around them and stared at the folded napkins, his eyes zeroing in on one in particular, showing that his foolish brag when he tried to get hired at the hotel was actually possible, someone had folded a napkin into an X-Wing Fighter. “Well, to a fancy dinner worth the jacket.”

Jackie giggled as he raised his glass of water. “I told them this was our wedding anniversary, so they should be bringing us a free bottle of champagne. What? If we’re going to eat here, we may as well get something out of it.”

“Ugh, I have a bad idea about all of this.” Jackie smiled weakly but her shoulders slumped slightly. He looked closely at her and could never remember a moment in all of the years that he knew her where she acted like this, so unsure, so...vulnerable. “Maybe it won’t be so bad, I’m sure I could pretend to be married to you for the night.”

“So...what was Africa like?” She asked quickly and saw the shadow behind his eyes but kept quiet when he took a deep, steadying breath. “You don’t have to tell me about it if you don’t want to.”

“I can talk about some of it.” Eric emptied his glass of water with two large gulps. “It was...different. We landed in South Africa in a small airport near Cape Town. We had to land there so we could head to the American consulate and find out exactly where we were going and for how long. I spent a while in Johannesburg giving some speeches and teaching some elementary age kids about American customs and answering questions. All of the kids were very well spoken and had amazing questions. They where just sponges for knowledge.

“After a while we were sent out to our individual villages where we were assigned teaching English with the help of translators...math was easy to teach and writing was a bit of a chore to teach but the kids in the village I was sent to in Chad were so grateful and just loved to learn. It was the first time I was certain I should be a teacher...some things started happening and around the time I was supposed to come home, it all got pushed back, so they sent us to other villages for a while but I never stayed in one place for much longer than a week or so until I got sent to the Congo to a village with no name. My life changed there.”

Jackie was hanging on every word he said, listening to him speak was just enthralling. She wasn’t sure if it was hearing about a land so different than the only one she had ever known, but the shadow in Eric’s eyes grew as he spoke was forcing her to play closer attention to his words. Jackie wasn’t a genius and she wasn’t great in dealing with people, but even she knew something happened in Africa that had been the catalyst for the drastic changes in him.

“So that’s basically it.”

“Wow. You’ve been through a lot, huh?” Eric nodded, avoiding her gaze as the two of them fell silent, the waiter picking the perfect moment to bring them their first course.

The conversation between the two had essentially died off while they ate. The portions weren’t exactly filling on their own, but by the time they had reached dessert, Jackie and Eric were full...and that was when the waiter approached with a bottle of champagne submerged in a bucket of ice, claiming it was chosen because it complimented their dessert choices and to celebrate their union. The two thanked him and went about pouring themselves a glass.

The bubbly alcohol tickled Eric’s nose and though it was smooth and went down wonderfully with his dessert, he didn’t particularly like it and had stuck to one glass...Jackie on the other hand had more than a few, enough to bring a permanent rosy tint to her cheeks. When she had started flirting with him, he motioned for the check and when it was brought to the table, he felt momentarily dizzy when he looked at the numbers on the bottom of the bill. Handing the waiter his debit card, Eric winced when the man brought it back with a smile and thanked him for their patronage.

The champagne was definitely nice...but it wasn’t free.

-

“Jackie, I need you to hang on to my neck and not go stumbling down the hall again.” Eric groaned out as he struggled to keep the drunk girl upright. She had fallen asleep on the way back to her house, which had been a considerably longer drive since his only source of directions was passed out in the passenger seat the whole way back. He was lucky he had a generally good sense of direction or they could have easily ended up outside of Wisconsin.

Taking a deep breath, Eric reached out to grab her wrist and sighed in relief when she let him maneuver her into a more comfortable position with one of her arms over his shoulders and neck and the majority of her negligible weight leaning into him.

“You know Eric...you’re a hunk of man!” Jackie giggled drunkenly and pressed a sloppy kiss to his cheek, leaving the spot burning and outlined with her cherry red lipstick. It shouldn’t have made him smile, he was never much one for drunken kissing, but the gentle, deliberate touch she had done it with was almost innocent in nature. “Look, my home...you brought me home! Eric that was so nice of you!”

“It’s kind of how a date ends, Jackie.” Eric grunted out as he reached into her purse and eventually fished out her keys...after accidentally rummaging in half a dozen pockets until he heard a jingle to let him know where they were. Getting her door open wasn’t an easy task, it was trying because the girl kept trying to kiss him. Once he actually managed to get them inside the apartment, Jackie jumped into his arms and wrapped her own around his neck as her attempts at kissing him came to fruition.

It was a bit sloppy, but overall, he still thought that it was nice. There was an undeniable taste of champagne but there were hints of something he could only describe as Jackie, subtle hints of sweet vanilla and lilacs were there but it almost felt...refreshing, like a drink of fresh, cold water while stranded in the desert.

The kiss was deepened by Jackie as she kicked her shoes off and ended up nearly a foot shorter than him. The simple action threw his rapidly turning to mush brain balance off as the two stumbled towards her bed room. Once through the final door of the small apartment, Jackie slipped her arms through the small sleeves of her dress and let it tumble to the ground, never once breaking her lips from his. When she reached for his belt, Eric broke the kiss off and held her at arms length, breathing heavily and fighting down his arousal.

“Jackie-Wait...uh...holy crap.” Eric looked down at Jackie’s body, his body reacting violently when he saw the lacy black half-cup bra that seemed to make her spill out of the thing and a silky black thong sitting just above the nude colored stockings she had worn for the date. The sight made his mouth go dry; her body was absolutely stunning. Her gentle curves were accentuated by the slender muscle of her stomach and thighs, he supposed an after effect of so many years as a devout cheerleader.

“Eric...you should stay with me tonight. I want to show you what a real woman and not a lumberjack can do.” He considered it, heavily considered it and the husky edge to her voice hinted at an experience he could only read about in Hustler and it had tested his resolve like nothing else ever had before. For the briefest of moments, he relented but a voice in the back of his mind was screaming to him that it wasn’t okay. He had to take several deep breaths before he could make his voice work again.

“It wouldn’t be right, Jackie. You’re drunk and it would be taking advantage of you...you are...unbelievably hot and I’m going to hate myself for passing up this opportunity, but I would hate myself even more if I went through with it.” Eric swallowed thickly and felt part of him ache at the clear disappointment in her eyes. “I uh...think I’m going to go, but I’ll see you at work tonight, alright?”

“You’re turning me down?”

“I’m not turning you down, Jackie...it just wouldn’t be right to do this while you’re drunk.” Jackie tried to shove him angrily away, but there wasn’t enough heat in it, it just came up as a helpless final attempt to pull him with her. “Just...sleep it off and if you decide you want a proper date and can stay sober through it...we’ll see. I’ll see you tonight.”

Before his resolve could be tested and completely broken, Eric bent forward and gave her a chaste kiss on her lips before turning and hurrying out of her small apartment, leaving the girl swaying somewhat uneasily on her feet.

Once the front door closed, the swaying stopped and a smile crossed her lips as Jackie stretched and walked easily over to the phone in the living room.

-

“Hello?” Donna rasped out, sleep still heavy in her voice as she held the receiver up to her ear. She never got calls this late at night, especially since it was after midnight and most people knew she didn’t take calls that late and had a habit of leaving the phone off it’s base so calls couldn’t come through.

“Donna, it’s Jackie.” The redhead sat up, sleep suddenly the furthest thing from her mind. “I just got back from the date with Eric...and oh. My. God, Donna. He was the perfect gentleman all night long.”

“Well yeah, it’s Eric.”

“I know but I always thought you were making it up to make excuses for his twitchiness.” Donna rolled her eyes with a smile. “Any way, we went to L’Etoile-“

“Jackie, that place is basically one of the most expensive places in Wisconsin-“

“And he knew that and paid for it all. Now stop interrupting me, you lumberjack. Like I was saying, we went to L’Etoile after he picked me up in that sexy car of his and my god, he looked amazing in a suit...so we got there and he pulled out a chair for me, he actually pulled the chair out for me.”

“Yeah, he always did that for me.”

“Well Michael never did that for me and Steven only took me to greasy fast food places. God, Donna it was such a romantic gesture.”

“Well it’s not like he needed to, you’re a strong woman who doesn’t need to be babied.”

“Oh Donna, leave that feminist mumbo-jumbo out of this, this is my moment!” Donna rolled her eyes at her friend and laid back in bed, a hand rubbing away at her eyes. “Anyway, he told me about some of the stuff he did in Africa and how much he loved being a teacher and then he asked me about the store while we ate and how my life was while he was gone...Donna, he actually listened and participated in a conversation with me. Michael never listened to anything I said unless I yelled at him or he wanted sex and even Steven never really listened to me. Fez listened sometimes but he kept using it as a way to do it with me.

“Then, we had champagne and laughed together over memories from the basement or just telling each other stories and joking around. Then he drove me home and I tried to see if he was really as good a guy as you used to say he was.”

“What? What did you do? Test him how-“

“Who’s calling this late?” Donna looked over to a newly woken Randy, his eyes still closed with a dreamy look on his face.

“It’s Jackie.”

“Ah. I’m gonna go get some water or something while you guys talk then.” Randy swung himself out of bed and tiredly stumbled out of the room.

“Sorry, Randy woke up. Now about how you tested him...”

“I tried to seduce him, but Donna, he didn’t go for it! He was so noble and so understanding about it. I did manage to kiss him though and it was probably the best kiss I’ve ever had.”

“Really? He wasn’t that great of a kisser from what I remembered; always tongue everywhere.”

“There wasn’t even any tongue but it made my head spin for real, not like drunkenly like I was pretending to be. It just felt...warm, safe and gentle. Fez isn’t a gentle kisser, Michael just kissed everywhere and Steven was usually chaste unless we were making out but Eric, it made me want to seduce him even more.” Donna couldn’t help the small bubble of jealousy that had formed in her stomach; she had kissed Eric for years and had always found him lacking but for Jackie of all people to exclaim it was amazing hurt her deep down. “And he said he’s coming into work tonight, so I’ll see him then. I’m thinking of closing the store all day today and having a real sit down romantic date so he can see how much I’ve changed...it was a really good idea to accept a date from him even if I was joking initially.”

“You can’t just shut down the record store for a full day like that. Won’t WB be mad?”

“Why would he, we made our monthly sales goal in two days thanks to Eric drawing all of the women in the town to the store, if I ask to close the store for a personal day, I think he would go for it.”

“Thats still not the point, what if he isn’t okay with it? Jackie you’ve worked so hard to get where you are now, you’ve sworn off dating and men and you’re about to throw it all away for Eric of all people? You never even liked him!”

“Donna...listen, no matter how much I’ve changed, I still want love; real love. Not something lust driven like Michael or Fez and not something to just not be bored like with Steven. I know it doesn’t make any sense for me to even think about that after one date but I do know Eric has always been a hopeless romantic. He went to Africa just so he could go to college with you and got stuck in a country he didn’t know because of it; he didn’t follow through with your marriage because he didn’t want to trap you in Point Place and all of the other things he did for you. Donna if I had been with him and you hadn’t, I would probably be married to him right now with kids on the way.

“Think about the whole thing with the promise ring, you let him break up with you because you didn’t know what a good thing you had with a guy who wanted to spend the rest of his life with you...I want that, Donna, I want that kind of romance and commitment. I’m already done with a degree and because of WB’s program, I can probably convince him to send me for my master’s before next year-“

“You know what, Do whatever you want Jackie.” She didn’t wait for the tiny brunette to respond, instead she simply hung up and pushed the phone off of the side table to the floor as her jealousy and anger started to eat away at her. She didn’t even know what was making her feel this way, she was over Eric.

...wasn’t she?

Chapter Text

Eric slowly pulled the car into the driveway of 416 Marie Drive, his mind still on what had transpired in that tiny apartment half an hour away. It had taken him nearly three hours of driving around to clear his mind enough to focus on what he was doing and what had happened last night.

He had gone on a date with Jackie to the fanciest place he had ever seen...it was also the most expensive, but that didn’t really matter to him, he didn’t plan on taking her some place like that again, even if she did want to go on another date...some place cheaper, sure but when the bill ends up as expensive as a nice suit, it’s time to find a different place. Eric roughly shook his head and thought about what just went through his mind; he was considering taking Jackie on another date? Jackie? Jacqueline ‘The Devil Incarnate’ Burkhart?

He had to admit she didn’t exactly seem like the malicious midget she had once been when he first knew her, she had settled down considerably and had even been a decent conversationalist. She listened to what he said and even the most innocuous of romantic gestures were greeted with genuine surprise and gratefulness. He played out the look of surprise on her face when he just pulled a chair out for her and felt his heart pound when he remembered the way the light seemed to shine from her eyes over something so simple and common place.

It was a little annoying that she immediately went to Africa for the first topic of discussion but he could understand why; aside from her short stint in Chicago, she had rarely ever been outside of Point Place for an extended periods of time, so it made a kind of sense that she would be curious. He had glossed over what he had really experienced, but there was no need to go revealing so much to a woman he didn’t know if he could trust with information of any kind that could be damning, but it was easy to talk to her.

When she had gotten drunk and fallen asleep in his car, he made sure to check on her every couple of seconds. He didn’t really care if she threw up, he had rubber floor mats for a reason, but he found himself concerned for her safety. She just looked so peaceful and innocent and not like she was carved out of brimstone with a demon’s barbed hammer, she looked...angelic almost. Her shimmering dark brown hair had splayed out over her shoulders, her head rested on the edge of the window and her gorgeous legs had been tucked beneath her for comfort, he guessed.

But what had hit him the hardest was the kiss. It was more than likely a drunken mistake she would forget about by the time she slept the alcohol off, because even with how much he changed, he couldn’t even begin to imagine a world where Jackie would kiss him, drunk or not, but it had happened. Her taste still lingered on his lips alongside her cherry red lipstick as proof of the deed and he found it intoxicating the more he mentally examined it.

A knock at his window made him jump and pulled him from his musings. Looking to where the knock came from on his passenger window., he spotted a bathrobe and the barest hint of red hair. Getting out of the car with a sigh, he met the vision of Donna wrapped up in a pink and purple polka dotted bathrobe looking furious.

“Hey Donna-“

“Don’t you ‘hey Donna’ me, string bean.” Eric raised an eyebrow at her as he pushed the door to his car closed, his eyes never leaving Donna’s enraged face as he slid his hands nonchalantly into his pockets. “What the hell happened on that date-and don’t even bother trying to lie, I can see the lipstick on your face.”

Eric closed his eyes and took a deep breath to keep himself calm. He remembered another reason he broke up with Donna aside from wanting to give her the chance to move on; her overbearing nature that was just a bit too reminiscent of Red.

“I went out with Jackie, had a nice time, took her home and now I’m here. That cover everything?”

“Since when did you become such a smart ass?”

“Donna, have you not listened to Red at all? I’ve always had a smart ass comment while still, somehow, being a dumbass. Why does this even bother you, you’re with Randy and we haven’t dated in four years. You even helped me pick out the suit-“

“Well I didn’t know you were going to use it to get all kissy-face with Jackie. All you said was that it was a date with a girl from high school-“

“And we went to high school with Jackie.” Eric’s voice came out sharp and cold and completely unlike him and it shocked Donna thoroughly. He took a few steps closer to her and the snarl that twisted his face was something truly horrifying. “You have no right to speak about what I’m doing, Pinciotti. When I broke up with you, I did it to not keep you tied down when you always had dreams of wanting to be free, yet another thing I did for you that goes completely unappreciated. I gave up my chance at happiness with you to let you be happy and how did you react? By replacing me with some half-assed carbon copy of me with teased hair that you only got back together with after sleeping with all of my friends.

“I have no problem going back to being just friends with you, Donna, but you have no standing to lecture me on anything. If I want to go out with Jackie, I will and I’ll do it again because unlike you, she’s actually decent to be around and didn’t put me down for the whole seven hours we were together...you could barely go half of that sometimes when we were dating. Now take this sanctimonious bullshit and get the hell out of my driveway.”

“I’m sorry, really, I’m sorry...I don’t even know why I’m freaking out like this, I mean, I knew about the date-“

“I know you did.” Donna looked up into the cold eyes of her ex. “You and Jackie were best friends, it would make sense that you would be the one to call and talk about having a nice date with or talk about it before it even happens; I’m not stupid, Donna, no matter what you believe and I’m not the same naive dumbass I was once upon a time...but I’m going to make this perfectly clear so there’s no misunderstandings...”

Eric trailer off and took another step towards her, a sinister air swirling around him as he stared into her eyes.

“I feel nothing for you. As it stands right now I could even stomach not staying friends with you because to be completely honest, the funniest thing that’s happened to me with you involved in the time that I’ve been home is making your idiot boyfriend piss his pants from jealousy. I could throw away almost twenty years of us being friends right now and forget your name by the time the sun comes up. Got it?”

“Y-Yeah-“

“Good. Remember that the next time you think we’re still dating. I’m not petty, like I was for the Price Mart Ball or like how I was when you started dating Kelso’s brother, not anymore. Now,I can cut you out and forget you like you never existed.” Eric looked up at the rusted basketball hoop hanging over the garage entrance out of the corner of his eye, a symbol of the games of their youth and often times their time together as a couple. “Your ball, Pinciotti.”

-

Eric slid the glass door to the kitchen shut and walked over to the fridge, pulling a couple of cans out from within and settled himself down at the kitchen table, his eyes unfocused as he thought over the night he had spent with Jackie.

He didn’t dislike it, far from it in fact, it was a relief to spend so much time around one of his friends that actually seemed to want to be around him. Hyde hadn’t been seen since he learned Eric was taking Jackie out and didn’t back down. He knew that eventually things would come to a head with his paranoid friend, he just didn’t know how he was going to react when it did. Hyde knew some pretty damning things about him from their childhood and even their earlier teen years before the basement filled up with their other friends...he just hoped their friendship survived it.

Then there was Donna’s reaction; if he hadn’t been completely sober, he would have thought he slipped into a time warp and it was him at seventeen apologizing for something that wasn’t even his fault all over again. She had taken up to scolding him like a disobedient child like she had never stopped, and like she didn’t sleep with every person he actually enjoyed being around and considered a friend.

He didn’t think his parents would mind, Red always liked Jackie, even if he wasn’t very open with his feelings it was clear he had a soft spot for the women in his life. His mom raised questions though; she was clearly easily torn between her loyalty to him as her biological son and Hyde as her adoptive son. The biggest difference between him and his burned out buddy was that Hyde had actually been here to help for the last four years and he had barely been back two months.

But it all came back to Jackie in his mind. She had been unbelievably sexy in a simple dress and shoes, and that number she had on under the dress could have turned Liberace straight. Remembering how difficult it had been to turn down the clear offer for what would have been outrageously amazing sex made him want to go down in the basement, put on the Stupid Helmet and try to break Kelso’s record for successive head slams to a brick wall...but he felt he made the right choice.

Sure, if he had stayed and slept with Jackie, he could have something to brag over, but it wouldn’t have been right. He had similar opportunities with Donna when they were younger and he still didn’t take them and he wasn’t about to start being a sleezebag just because the opportunity was afforded to him.

What troubled him was just what he was feeling inside towards the once shallow girl...okay, she was still a little shallow, but she had definitely grown up a bit. The kiss to his cheek still had a delightful tingle to it and the somewhat sloppy kiss she had pressed to his lips made his stomach clench and pulse race when he relived it. It made him feel like a stupid teenager in a good way, it made him feel...normal.

“Eric...you’re home. Good, your mother was worried sick about you when you didn’t call.” The once Jedi obsessed man looked up to his father and finally popped his beer open, a swift movement of his other hand popped the other open. Red sat down across from his son and took a tiny sip of his beer. “So what happened? You didn’t do anything a dumbass would do, did you?”

“No, dad, I didn’t. I wanted to but...it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do.” Red nodded proudly at his son, taking a longer sip this time. “Dad...I think I really like her.”

“Well of course you do, Eric. She’s a nice girl with a good head on her shoulders-“

“It helps that she’s sexy in every language on earth.” Red chuckled and shook his head.

“I’ll agree that she’s a beautiful young woman. But this does bring up some potentially volatile problems, son. Like what are you going to do? Are you two going to start dating and if you do what are you going to do about Steven?”

“Hyde slept with Donna, he doesn’t really have any room to throw stones, dad.”

“True, but he may not see it that way. You saw how he reacted towards many of the things that went on, but you didn’t see how he reacted when Jackie came back from Chicago and even how he reacted after they had been broken up for a while...this is different. This is you, someone who is basically his brother getting together with his ex girlfriend.”

“Then he can take a free shot at me. He offered the same chance to Kelso when he started hooking up with Jackie, so I’ll offer him the same courtesy...after I get my free shot at him.”

“I’d recommend letting him go first, Eric. Steven isn’t much of a fighter with his hands as much as he is with words. Let him hit you first and then you show him exactly what you’re made out of now.”

“He’s going to need an ice pack.”

“And probably a lot of that dope you idiots used to smoke in my basement.” Eric smirked and held in a laugh. “Just remember, you two are friends and just like I told the two of you once before, if you’re not mad enough to bare knuckle box, you’re not mad.”

“Wanna be the ref?”

“Of course I do, don’t be a dumbass.”

-

The night after his date was fast approaching and Eric really didn’t know where the time had gone after he woke from a few hours of sleep. His mother had wanted every little detail of course, even sharing a concerned look with Red over the choice of restaurant that Jackie had chosen but he had assured his parents it was fine.

He detailed what they had talked about, how the dinner had progressed and how he had actually felt comfortable around Jackie, something he never would have claimed to be before and that most of all had Kitty smiling like she hadn’t since before he left Point Place. It was nice to see his mother actually smiling genuinely again.

It had been prematurely interrupted by Hyde when he appeared out of the basement like phantom of days long passed, his beard completely gone and looking every bit as he did seven years ago. Eric had gotten in his face thanks to a snide comment made about him and Jackie and that just made the tension unbearable. A fight had narrowly been avoided when he left the kitchen with a smirk and disappeared back down into the basement.

Eric pushed the near fight out of his mind until he walked out into the driveway some time later to leave for the record shop and saw his friend leaning against his camero without his shades on, the only sign he ever gave that he was being serious about something.

“Forman.”

“Hyde.”

“Sure you don’t want to call me ‘Steven’ like your little girlfriend.” Eric took his hands out of his jeans and let them hang tensed at his sides. “Look man, it’s not cool that you went out with Jackie. Fez at least asked if it’s okay before he tried to make a move on her for real.”

“You’re probably right. So I’m going to make you an offer that I’m sure you won’t pass up. You get one free hit. Remember when you made this offer to Kelso?”

“What’s the catch?”

“You gotta take yours after.”

“For what, man? I never took out Donna-“

“Hyde. I know. I know everything. I know that you slept with Donna, I know that Fez and Kelso both slept with Donna too and trust me, they’re getting theirs when the time comes. I take my free shot, you take yours and we call it even. Fair?”

“Yeah. Fair-“ The words had barely left Hyde’s mouth when he swung and caught Eric right on the jaw. The much more muscular man stumbled back a step and reached up to touch his bleeding lip. Examining it for a second, he turned his gaze back at his friend.

“Ready?”

“Wait, maybe this wasn’t a good-“ The punch sounded with a crack around the short driveway of 416 and it was quickly followed by the sound of a body crumpling limply to the aged concrete. Eric looked down at his limp and groaning friend, satisfied that he at least hadn’t killed him somehow since his fist hit his temple but that punch was cathartic and it felt damn good to have his hand pulsing painfully from the contact.

Slowly, and with no small amount of struggling, Hyde got back to his feet and rubbed his jaw as he leaned against the camero, the left side of his face already swelling to the point that his eye shut.

“Holy shit, Forman...you have a hell of a hook.” Eric nodded but made no other sign that he had heard his friend, he just simply held a hand out to help steady him. “Where the hell did you learn to punch like that? Jesus man, I think you just put some of my last sober brain cells to sleep for good.”

“Yeah, well, it was deserved.” Hyde nodded shakily, a hand pressed to the eye that had already begun to swell shut. “You should get some ice on that.”

“Yeah, probably...but it kinda feels like right after you smoke some really good stuff and your whole body is just in disbelief, so it’s alright for now.” Eric smirked and slid his hands into his pockets. “We good now?”

“You alright with it if I start dating Jackie?”

“Not like I have much of a choice. After rocking me like Muhammad Ali, I’m not gonna fight with you over it. I’m not entirely cool with it-“

“I’m not entirely cool with you having sex with Donna, but here we are. You can either be cool with it and give us your blessing or we can go for round two.”

“Nnnnnnnno. I’m cool with it man. Friends?” Hyde asked, holding out his spare hand. Without a moment of hesitation, Eric took it with a smile.

“Friends. Oh and uh...when are you going to tell everyone you’re the father of Donna’s baby?”

“What? Are you high, man? I’m not the father.”

“Don’t bother denying it, I have my ways of getting information.” Hyde leaned back against the passenger door to the camero, sighing heavily as he drew out his shades and slipped them on.

“It’s not that simple, alright? She’s engaged to that Randy idiot and if she’s having my kid...it should at least have a dad and if it can’t be me, at least he’ll stick around, even if he does cheat on her all of the time.” Eric nodded, his eyes hollow as he looked into his reflection in Hyde’s shades. “I really want to know who told you.”

“You did.”

“What? No I didn’t.”

“You literally just did. For me it was a guess I threw out into the ether, you gave me the answer.” Hyde went quite and ran a hand through his hair.

“Huh. How did you get me to do that?”

“Blame it on the head trauma from getting put down for a ten count.” Hyde nodded in confusion, standing up straight and removing himself from touching the camero. “And for what it’s worth, Hyde...I think you’d be a great father. Bud was a shit parent and you know not to be like him and W.B. seems like an awesome father, so you have two direct role models of who to be and not be like. And I think you would make Donna happier than Randy would.”

“I think she still has a thing for you man. That’s not drama I want to get dragged into.”

“After a discussion I had with her this morning, I think she understands that I don’t think of her like that anymore. So who knows, shoot your shot, see if you make it.”

“Maybe I will.” Eric walked around the car after giving his friend a short nod. “Oh and Forman...thanks man. Good luck with Jackie man, if you can make her happy...I can rest easier knowing that you can give her what I never could.”

-

Jackie paced back and forth across the sales floor of the record shop, legal pad in hand filled with numbers from the long day of sales and telling women that Eric had the night off. W.B. didn’t agree to shutting the store down for an entire day, but he did agree to let her close up a bit early and have a day off tomorrow, so it wasn’t all bad and it had given her time to freshen up and put on something a bit more relaxed to contrast with the dress she has wore last night.

She was starting to get nervous as the time ticked past six; Eric was supposed to be there already and he was never late, not once in literal weeks had he been late by even a second and as she worried her nails, she stared at the clock as time ticked by. When half an hour had passed, Jackie sat down on one of the listening area chairs and started to doodle idly on the legal pad. She didn’t even bother to stop herself as she drew all kinds of little circles and shapes, she only stopped when there was a knock at the front door.

Turning around to see who had knocked, Jackie practically fell over herself to get to the door to unlock it, smiling as a Eric walked past her and shrugged his jacket off. “Sorry I’m late, had to have a little talk with Hyde.”

“Steven? About what?” Eric held up a bandaged hand that had just the barest traces of red seeping through it, a tiny cut on his lip joining the injury when he turned to face her. “What happened, did you two get into a fight?”

“Something like that.” Eric chuckled and tossed his jacket over the back of one of the chairs and walked over to lean against the register. When he had settled, Jackie put her hands on her hips and fixed him with a gaze that demanded he explain. “I offered him a free hit and I took one in return.”

“I...don’t follow.”

“He didn’t like the idea that I had taken you out on a date, so I offered him the same deal he offered Kelso when he started to date you, he got to take a free swing at me. He got one in return for sleeping with Donna.” Jackie seemed to deflate slightly at the mention of the redhead. “There’s nothing between me and Donna anymore, something I had to make abundantly clear after I got home, but he went on about me violating the rules that dealt with not dating your friend’s ex. But that’s not important...I gave Hyde a free shot and he hit me pretty hard. If I was the same size I was before Africa, I would have landed in Cheboygan somewhere.”

“How hard did you hit Steven?”

“Hard enough.” Eric replied easily with a short shrug. “He threw everything he had in his punch, so I held back just enough to not do enough damage to really hurt him.”

“How much did you hold back?”

“Enough. So, I noticed the shades were drawn and you have on some makeup, I can only assume you needed some time off to recover from your champagne induced hangover.”

“Not exactly...Eric can we, you know, talk about last night?” Eric frowned but offered her a nod as they took seats beside each other in the listening area on one of the couches. “Alright, so...first off, that was probably the best date that I ever went on. Honestly the best. No one else ever had the money to take me some place like that, I doubt even my father would have had the money when I was kid to take me some place even close to that...but it wasn’t the price of the food or even the place. Eric, you were such a perfect gentleman the whole night. You went along with my idea to get free champagne to try to make up for picking such an insanely nice place, even if it meant you had to pretend to be married to me.

“You held out a chair for me and that meant...so much to me that I can’t even rightly put it into words. You made sure I was comfortable, you talked about things I’m sure you didn’t want to talk about and you listened to me and I...I just never had that before. Michael only listened if he thought he was getting sex out of it, Steven never listened and Fez listened just enough to remember things to try to reach that finish line. You did it without expecting sex or anything like that. You’re a genuinely good guy, Eric and the fact is that I felt so awkward at first because I had heard all of these stories from Donna about what it was like dating you and you blew them out Of the water. I had expectations of how the date was going to go, since it would be our first time really interacting alone outside of work or the basement and you made it so painless for me.

“If you had been like this before you got together with Donna, and I had known how sweet you could be, I would have wanted you instead of Michael or Steven or Fez.” Eric just stared at the girl in amazement that she would be saying something like this and if the shimmering in her eyes was anything to go by, she was being sincere.

“I’ve always been that way, Jackie. Donna just never appreciated it or used it as ammo to burn me with. I mean, let’s be real, I loved Donna, enough to marry her at one point, but even I knew it wouldn’t last; I would want commitment and she would go running for the hills. When I flaked out on our wedding rehearsal, it was entirely because I didn’t want to trap her. If I knew she could have lived her life married to me and been happy, I would have been there...but I knew she couldn’t. She only said yes when I proposed because I think she was still running on that high of me bringing her back from California and was still feeling super self-conscious after Casey...but I’ve always been the hopeless romantic in the group.”

“You weren’t the only one. I wanted the same things out of Michael and Steven...remember when you got Donna the promise ring and Michael bought one for me? I was so happy he got it for me, but I wanted a real commitment from him and he ran off to California with Donna. When I wanted commitment from Steven, he broke up with me and ended up making me go to Chicago because he couldn’t commit.”

“What about Fez?”

“What about Fez? Our relationship never got past a few kisses during the day before he cheated on me.” She snapped heatedly, but Eric had leaned away from her with his hands raised. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that...I just got so used to guys cheating on me that I thought he would be different but...he wasn’t. He had shown me for years he couldn’t be trusted in a relationship. The only guy in our group that could be trusted to be faithful was you...and I wish I had seen that sooner.”

Jackie leaned in towards a shocked-still Eric, her eyes wavering between his own eyes and his lips and though he tried to fight the pull with all of his might, he was lost the second she had started to close the gap between them. Their lips met before Eric could even begin to react and the only sound that escaped him when his brain registered what was happening was a short, deep grunt from his throat as the pleasure receptors in his brain began going into overdrive.

The wondrous smell from the night before was back, but much more vivid and it filled his senses like water filled a glass; the sweetest of vanilla and the freshest of lilac, he could even make out the soft touch of hazelnut on her lips. When the kiss deepened and a Eric found himself being gently guided back onto the couch, he heard her moan gently into his lips and felt just the barest sensation of her tongue teasing his lips and begging for entry and relented.

Their tongues met and colors he had never imagined before burst behind his eyes, every nerve just beneath his skin was tingling in such an intoxicating way and he never wanted it to stop. He brought his hands to her hips and gripped them firmly, pressing down on her with his thumbs while his fingers wrapped around to her sides. He felt the taut muscle under the surface tremble under his ministrations and felt her break the kiss to moan almost imperceptibly into his mouth. When she pulled back from the kiss, he shifted beneath her and brought his lips to her neck, nibbling and teasing the inhumanly soft, porcelain skin as he laid kisses up her slender stem until he met a spot just below her ear that made her arch her back and suck in a surprised breath as she pressed herself down and ground her hips against his.

When she abruptly bent down and kissed him again, she had a playful spark in her eyes that made a shiver of pleasure and anticipation run down his spine. “I’m completely sober tonight Eric...and I want you. Do you want me?”

Eric stared up at her in wonder and saw vulnerability, something that had never been shown in Jackie Burkhart when he had known her years ago; she was opening herself to him, baring a part of her that his father said she had locked away from everyone for years and as he looked deep into her eyes, he felt something inside of himself settle, something that he had once thought long dead.

“More than you will ever know.” Jackie blushed and smiled shyly at him and leaned down onto his chest as she maneuvered her legs to comfortably straddle his waist. With their lips barely an inch apart, they connected once more. Jackie’s hands moved to cup his cheeks as his own snaked up her back to tangle in her perfect hair and to hold her perfect body to him.

All the while Jackie’s mind was struggling between screaming out in ecstasy and trying to make sense of what exactly was happening. She was kissing Eric Forman and she was in love with the sensations pulsing through her veins. There was truly never a kiss in her life, from anyone, that measured up to this and that alone was wiping her hesitations away, wiping away the nights she rocked back and forth in the quiet of her tiny apartment crying herself to sleep with empty words of assurance that she needed no one, wiping away years of distrust created by other men and years of dislike she had held for the man making her toes curl from a simple embrace and it was madness and joy rolled into a small little box with a perfect pink little bow on top.

Part of her mind could not conflate the nerdy loser she once knew with the powerful man kissing her, a thing she had thought on near constantly since the Forman prodigal son returned from Africa but even that was being wiped away into nothingness; if this was the Eric that was always there before, her words from only mere minutes before were screaming truer by the second: it should have been him.

They broke the kiss and lay nose to nose with their foreheads resting together as their breaths coming heavy and labored under the weight of their shared lust. “I want to rip that dress off of you right now.”

“I wouldn’t mind...but I want to wait. Please don’t hate me for that.” Eric pulled his head back and gave her a disbelieving look, communicating that she had to be crazy if she thought he would hate her. “I know I’m probably coming off as a horrible tease with what we just did and just how...wonderful it was, but I don’t want to ruin a relationship with sex, I want to know that I’m in love with you before we do anything more than...explore a little bit, if you’re open to a relationship with me.”

“Explore?”

“Eric, I think you know what I mean.” Jackie gave him a coy smile and moved her hips a little bit, earning an expression of slow understanding that she couldn’t help but giggle at. “If you want to be with the girl who dated all of your friends that is. If you don’t, I totally understand...I wouldn’t want you to compromise who you are for me or to become the butt of people’s jokes.”

“To be completely honest Jackie,” She closed her eyes and buried her face in his chest, waiting for heartbreak to come home once more, “I don’t give a fuck what anyone else thinks.”

She looked up at him in undisguised hope and let out a happy squeal when she saw the honesty in his face and the passion when he kissed her again. “So...are you going to ask me to be your girlfriend or am I going to have to be the one to take charge?”

“Do you want to be my girlfriend?” Jackie nodded with a sultry smile that made his body tingle. “Will you?”

The kiss that followed nearly knocked his boots off and was more than enough answer for him.

-

Eric sighed contentedly as he stared up at the ceiling of his bedroom, a wry smile on his face as he thought over how the night had gone and just how at ease he felt with things in his life. He had something going on with Jackie Burkhart, the last person he ever thought he would get romantically involved with, even if they had only just put a label on whatever it was they were doing, and she had given him a kiss that had a real spark in it, a spark he never really got with Donna when they would kiss and the mere thought Jackie’s delicious taste had sent his heart racing.

He marveled about how for nearly an hour they just held each other and shared sometimes chaste-sometimes intense kisses while soft music played in the background. The type of music wasn’t really his taste but it seemed to make her relax and if she was relaxed and kissing him, Eric Forman, then he was perfectly alright with it.

As his peaceful moments wore on, his smile began to fade and a worry began to clutch his heart when he thought of the thing that could bring his whole world tumbling down: the nightmares and the visions of his past.

The visions had left him alone during the days and for the most part the flashbacks were tame while he was sleeping for the last few weeks...but what if he and Jackie fell asleep together and they came back like before when he had just come home or was still in the Congo, where he could smell the gun powder burning and practically taste the blood and death on the air? Would she still think he was such a great guy if he confided in her what he had been forced to do? He had found that he really liked the more mature Jackie, she brought him a sense of peace that he didn’t have before but He wasn’t magically cured by the power of love or some such ridiculous nonsense, the memories were still very much there, and often, very vivid when he let his guard down mentally...but with her it all just seemed manageable.

He just needed to be careful, he didn’t want her to think he was a monster or using her as an escape from what he had done or something like that. He just couldn’t fall asleep around her...but he decided he wouldn’t lie to her if she asked, he just wouldn’t tell her everything, Red had pointed out that he didn’t tell Kitty everything and they were still happily married decades later, despite their ups and downs. Maybe he should follow his father’s example once more.

-

Jackie stood in front of her bathroom mirror, a happy smile playing at her lips as she ran a brush through her hair. It had been so many years since she had last worn such a smile and the reason for it was the person furthest from her mind concerning the possibility of putting such a smile on her face, Eric Forman.

She had known the boy since she was young, and though she was hanging onto Michael when they first met, even then he defended her and tried to console her when no one was looking as he got older and wanted to stay looking cool to his friends. She understood that now, many years after the fact but when he started to hate her had to be when they first got to high school and were so drastically different from one another.

That was all in the past however and now she stood tall as a much more mature woman and he made her feel like she was walking on cloud nine just by holding her and kissing her, even gently. She knew it was fast, but just how understanding and caring he was proved everything she had thought was impossible when she heard it from Donna as true and she couldn’t help but wonder why she had been so flaky with him during their relationship. She had listened to the redhead complain about Eric and the things he did and while she could sort of understand disliking some of his tendencies or even his pale, skinny body, she didn’t understand belittling the romantic things the boy was more than willing to do if you were in a relationship with him. Donna had gotten everything Jackie had ever wanted with Eric and all Jackie had ever gotten was burned romantically and cheated on or replaced. All three of her boyfriends had thrown her away the second things got hard and now Eric had fallen into her lap like a gift from Santa she had always asked for but never got until now.

She wouldn’t call it love though, not until she was absolutely sure. Her long bottled lust had almost ruined things in the record store, but she had much better control than she once did in her teen years and she was going to stick to her decision to stay celibate until she was certain...maybe Eric would be the one to help her find love once and for all, no matter how cruel the irony would be that the only guy she hadn’t dated from the gang would be the one to carry her off into the sunset.

She couldn’t only hope as she slipped into bed and slowly drifted off to sleep

Chapter Text

Eric Forman was happy. For the first time in years, he was able to push the thoughts and demons away and the woman he once referred to as the Devil was the reason for it and though it was confusing as hell on the surface, he just didn’t think about the insanity of such a thing.

The reactions to his new relationship had varied and it had been surprising on a few fronts. He had called Kelso in Chicago and, after a pleasant discussion with Brooke, he had let the former cop know that he was dating Jackie...and that he knew that he had slept with Donna and had a punch waiting for him when he came back to Point Place, which he had begrudgingly accepted. After a small bout of initial shock which he made very verbally known, and earned himself a very loud, painful sounding swat from Brooke, Kelso gave his blessing and hoped that Jackie could finally be happy. It was clear that Kelso did feel bad about what he put her through, even if it only took him eight years and a great deal of forced maturity to realize he had done her wrong.

Hyde just smiled and invited him to get toasted like a slice of bread in a broken oven. He had taken him up on the offer and the two had an hour long puff-pass marathon between them where Hyde bemoaned his romantic misfortune and gave his full blessing to the new couple while at the same time struggling with the fact that another man would be raising his child if he didn’t make a move on Donna soon, to which Eric gave his blessing for when he finally did. It was honestly funny watching his burnout friend get baked off an entire bag of some of the strongest stuff Eric had ever experienced. It had mellowed him out for the call for Fez.

The foreign friend’s reaction was quite a bit more...unexpected. Apparently the man was not at all happy for the two of them and said he wouldn’t give his blessing for a relationship that was destined to fail. If it hadn’t been for the weed and the fact that he could barely see straight, he would have gone to give Fez the punch he had coming but it would have carried some extra weight for the pettiness on he had displayed, so it would have to wait.

Donna’s reaction was just as accepting as Hyde had been and had the addition of being filled with apologies for how their own relationship had gone. She had even jokingly pointed out how funny it would be if the two of them were soul mates and had never found out because of their mutual dislike for each other over the years. Eric could laugh at that, but their humor had been short lived when Eric brought up Hyde being the father of her unborn child. It had been a shock at how cleanly she admitted that it could only have been Hyde; her and Randy hadn’t had sex the month she was told the baby was conceived, the only reason Randy even believed he was the father was because he had a habit of coming home drunk and initiating sex but never managing to reach the metaphorical finish line.

His parents just looked at him like they had seen it coming. Red was a bit quicker to accepting it than Kitty had been, but by the end of the conversation, and after some tearful denials, his mother was happy for him. Red had invited him out to the garage and the two of them shared a beer over something happy instead of the shared understanding of misery. It was a nice change.

The relationship with Jackie had been the best change to his life since he returned. She had started coming around the house again and spending time with Red and Kitty and often stayed for dinner with the Formans. On the nights they didn’t have to work or had designated as a date night for the two of them to be alone without the pressures of life, they would lounge around in Eric’s room or spend time with Red and Kitty in the sitting room before Eric inevitably drove her home. For weeks the two of them grew steadily closer and though Eric knew that his feelings were deepening, he couldn’t say that he loved her yet and she felt the same. She had slowly eased the two of them into slightly more adventurous things without venturing too close to actual sex but when Eric considered how he had gone four years without knowing the touch of a woman, he wasn’t complaining much.

The only argument that the two of them had was over something silly and there had been no malice in it between them, but it was a familiar one: Jackie wanted to leave a few things in his car to remind him of her, thankfully only one of which was a stuffed animal, but it was her favorite one, a stuffed unicorn. When she showed him the necklace she wanted to leave in the car and the other few sentimental things, Eric jokingly said no but she had quickly worn him down and he agreed and had even gotten into the habit of leaving the small white unicorn in the front seat whenever Jackie wasn’t with him and had hung the necklace she wanted to leave in the car from his rear view mirror.

Months had passed and with winter rapidly approaching and with Donna’s due date coming even quicker, things on Marie Drive were coming to a head, only instead of Randy staring down Eric like he thought he might one day, he found himself staring down Steven Hyde in the Forman’s driveway, but the Pearson boy never counted on one thing: Eric never forgot the pact he and Hyde had made so many years ago to stand by each other.

-

“Hey Forman. Jackie.”

“Steven.”

“Well...this isn’t awkward as shit.” Jackie looked scandalized at Eric’s flippant swearing so close to the open kitchen door, where his parents were only feet away from, but she soon found herself laughing beside the two friends, the tension slowly evaporating. “So, what was so important that you dragged us out of the living room? The Packers game is going to be on soon and Red is insistent on watching it even if they’re behind by twenty points.”

“I’m gonna tell Donna I want to be with her. She’s gonna have my kid and I can’t stand by and watch another man raise my child.” Eric hadn’t expected that, nor did he expect the reaction from Jackie if it should ever come to pass; he had expected her to be jealous and hurt, but she just looked touched as she leaned into Eric’s side.

Jackie herself was shocked at her reaction. She had unknowingly expected the same thing that Eric did, but the words didn’t hurt, they barely even phased her outside of her being genuinely happy for the two of them. She didn’t know the exact moment she had completely gotten over Hyde, but it felt nice to be happy about the changing of the guard around Point Place; the two couples might even end becoming the ‘It’ couples.

“Did you tell her that you needed to talk to her?”

“Yeah man, she said she would be out in a few minutes. Probably going to get socked by Randy...I don’t really like fighting but if I have to-“

“I have your back.” Hyde smiled in appreciation and slid his hands into his jacket pockets and started to nervously rock back and forth on his feet, his eyes locked on the space in the hedges that connected the Pinciotti front yard and the Forman driveway. The three of them stood in silence and time slowly dragged on. Eventually, Eric dragged over a pair of chairs for them to at least sit on to make their wait more bearable, Hyde in one chair and Eric in another with Jackie on his lap.

Their patience was rewarded however when Donna and Randy came from around the hedge after nearly a half hour, and a six pack, of time passing. Once the newly appeared couple wandered over to them, Hyde stood but Eric and Jackie stayed sitting.

“Hey Randy. Donna man, can I talk to you about something?”

“Uh, sure. We’ll be right back.” Donna walked with the normally stoned man into the garage and started quietly talking, though it looked like there was warmth being exchanged, it was anything but heated. As the minutes slowly stretched on, Randy sat down beside Eric and Jackie, a very stupid grin plastered to his face.

“Hey, Forman, Jackie. Listen, I just wanted to apologize for how I was acting towards you for the longest time, it’s just that I’m really protective of my relationship with Donna-and even though I’ve screwed up a lot, I’m fully committed to being a good father.”

“I have nothing to really say on that. Eric?”

“I got nothing.”

“Well you could accept my apology, to start with. I mean, it was stupid of me to think you were trying to threaten my relationship with Donna, it’s just the past you two have together and everything and how she dumped me when she thought you were coming back from Africa and stuff...I was just being a total idiot.”

“Is that why you cheat on her?” Eric smiled smugly at the look on Randy’s face as the smile faded. “Look, I have no romantic feelings for Donna anymore, but she has been my friend since I was five so I’m going to feel a bit protective over her myself and you’ve been a shitty boyfriend to her no matter what anyone else happens to think about you. You were a replacement for me that never really measured up, that’s why she dumped you, Randy, when she thought I was coming home from Africa. But you held that against her and cheated, that’s why you’re so insecure that I came back.”

“Look-“

“No, there’s no really explaining yourself with this. But it’s your relationship, not mine. If you blow it and someone that could actually make her happy comes in, then I consider the ‘Randy Experiment’ a failure. You had one job as her boyfriend, to make her happy and you cheated. The second you did that, you failed.”

“Yeah, well I’m still with her, so what does that say about your little ‘theory’?”

“That the hypothesis was correct, but the variables weren’t until they were tweaked a bit.” Eric smirked as Donna and Hyde made their way over to the small group, hand in hand. “But eventually, it all falls into place and the variables you thought would cause it initially, were wrong in the first place.”

“Randy, can we talk for a second, in private?” Randy looked between the joined hands of the burnout and Donna and the guy described as cool and collected voided that description when he lunged out of his chair at Hyde and tackled him to the ground amidst shouts from Donna and wide-eyed surprise from Jackie Burkhart.

Jackie was surprised by the movement from beneath her when Randy jumped out to attack Hyde, Eric had effortlessly lifted her and held her up long enough to slip out from under her weight and took a stance that screamed that he was ready to pounce if need be. Donna on the other hand tried to pull them apart as the two rolled about the driveway, throwing jabs and hooks at every exposed bit of body they could, but she had no chance of doing so given just how far along and pregnant she was, so she had resorted to shouting at the pair of them to stop, drawing the attention of both Red and Kitty who appeared from the kitchen in their worry.

When Randy gained the upper hand and slammed Hyde’s head into the concrete, Eric moved into action and intervened before the curly haired man could get seriously hurt. He managed to separate the two of them, but he struggled with it; Randy was stronger than he had thought he was but with a bit of a fight, he pulled him from the ground and shoved him away. He thought the fight had been defused enough to try to help Hyde up, but when he turned his back on Randy for even a moment, he felt like a cinder block had been smashed into the side of his head.

Eric fell to the ground and rolled to his side, a hand clutching the side of his head in one hand as he steadied himself against the ground with the other. Randy definitely was stronger than Hyde was and he hit like a truck. Steadying himself, Eric got to his feet and stumbled a little as he did, his balance still off from the cheap shot Randy had landed.

“What’s the matter, Forman? You just couldn’t let me give Hyde the beating he deserves, could you?”

“No, not really my style. After all, a Jedi always fights for what’s right.” Randy scoffed and rolled his eyes as he brought his hands up into a boxing stance and inched closer to him. Eric never raised a hand in defense, he just tensed his body and waited while his eyes never wavered from the man with teased hair. Eric ducked to avoid a shot to the face but got a jab to the gut for his trouble and overconfidence, pushing him further into the garage. The one successful hit was like a flood gate as the punches started coming hard and fast, faster than Eric would have guessed possible, but dear god did they make his bones rattle. He needed an opening that he was hoping to force with dodging but Randy just seemed too fast. He guessed the saying was true, everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face.

Within seconds blood obscured his vision and he was starting to feel a bit whoozy from all of the damage inflicted on his body. His eye had started to swell shut and he could have swore a few of his teeth felt loose but as a fist slammed into his stomach and drove the air out of his lungs, he suddenly stopped thinking about the possibility of loose teeth and waited as a tired Randy pulled back and shook the sting out of his hands.

“You sure can take a beating, Forman. I can respect that-“ Eric got his chance when Randy let his guard down and he took it; slamming a fist into Randy’s thigh caused the man to buckle and drop to one knee but Eric immediately went on the attack. Years of pent up rage and aggression were being vented in the minutes that followed the tide of the fight shifting, and it was unlike anything anyone in the driveway had ever seen, aside from Red.

Eric had rushed to his feet after dropping Randy to his knees and tackled him to the ground. Randy had managed to roll to his stomach, but Eric certainly didn’t care about not fighting dirty. When the man with teased hair covered his head with his hands, Eric swung fists into his hands as a red haze descended over his vision that had nothing to do with his bleeding scalp. Again and again, punches rained down on Randy’s hands as he desperately tried to protect his head, but when a series of cracks sounded and cries of pain filled the air, Eric doubled down on his assault.

When Randy pulled his ruined hands away, Eric drove his fists into the back of his head and into the top of his spine, the muscles of his back and neck bruising and tearing under the brutal attack. When Randy went limp, Eric grabbed a fist full of his hair and slammed his head into the concrete, over and over until he sat straddled atop a bloody mess of a person.

When he pulled Randy back by his hair and raised his fist back again to shatter more of Randy’s face, he felt soft, delicate hands grabbing his wrist and almost instantly, the fight left his body. He felt himself being drawn up and away from Randy, those same wonderfully soft hands holding tight to him.

“Damn Forman, where the hell did you learn to fight like that?” Eric managed a smile at Hyde’s question, but the muscles in his face protested by screaming pain into his nerves until they listened and it fell away.

“Sometimes, even a Jedi has to fight dirty, especially if it’s for the right reasons.”

-

Eric soon found himself in the basement in one of the chairs that he and Red had used to replace the old chintz chair that had been there before, a concerned Jackie pressing a pack of frozen peas to his eye as Hyde rolled one of the biggest joints he had ever seen. The fight was over, Randy had been dragged out to his car and tossed in unceremoniously by him and Hyde after he had regained a bit more of his consciousness. Within an hour of depositing the blond in his car, he had driven off and not looked back, more than likely on his way to the hospital so he could have his injuries tended to. The rest of those at 416 just settled into their usual routine and found themselves trying to decompress over what they had seen. Kitty had taken it the hardest and had found herself halfway through a bottle of vodka upstairs.

“You really beat him up bad, Eric.” Jackie remarked as she pulled the bag of frozen vegetables away from his eye, breathing an internal sigh of relief when she noticed that the swelling had all but gone down. Getting up from the arm of the chair, Jackie walked to the freezer and grabbed another bag of frozen vegetables and hurried back, ignoring the wince of pain when the icy bag of carrots touched his face. “Stop that! If you fight the ice, the swelling will take forever to go down and you’re going to have bruises as it is.”

“Thanks, Jackie.” The girl smiled softly and gave a short nod followed by a giggle when Eric pulled her into his lap. “Hyde, how are you feeling? He hit your head against the ground hard enough to knock you out.”

“I’ll be alright man. Once we get about halfway through this, I won’t even feel it.” Hyde laughed as Jackie craned her neck to see exactly what he was doing, an eye brow raising as she saw just how big the joint was going to be.

“If we get halfway through that, no one in a five block radius is going to feel anything.” Hyde nodded smugly, a smile on his face as he finished rolling the herb and holding the half-foot long joint over his head like it was the holy grail.

“At last! My arm is complete again!” Eric snorted and wanted to smile, but Jackie pressed the thawing bag tighter against his eye. “Alright, so before we all put some brain cells into a permanent coma, I really want to know where you learned to fight like that, Forman.”

“I’m kind of curious too, Eric. Can you tell us?” Eric sighed and pulled the bag of vegetables away from his face. “For me.”

“Fine.” Jackie smiled and brought a hand to his hair and began a slow scalp massage that sent tingles down his spine. “I learned how to fight in Africa. They taught me how to fight in exchange for what I was teaching the kids in villages but a lot of their fighting depends on knives or other small stuff like knives. It works with fists but punching someone in the back of the head can make you break your hand because of the density of the bone, it’s like...punching someone on top of the head or like, right at the front is like punching a brick wall.

“They also taught me a lot of other things, but...those aren’t important.” Hyde just nodded and lit the joint but Jackie poked his cheek and gave him a questioning look when their eyes met. “Huh?”

“You’re not saying everything they taught you.” It wasn’t a question, he could easily tell from her tone, it was a statement. He had always known Jackie to cut to the heart of things, whether it was to insult someone’s greatest insecurity or, as he was discovering, to things she wasn’t being told.

“Later.” Jackie nodded and resumed the soft caress of Eric’s hair, taking her turn to puff and pass when Eric’s turn cane up. “So, I take it you and Donna decided to give it a go?”

“Yeah, man. I always wondered what it would be like to be with her and I guess I get to find out. I just hope I don’t screw it up like you used to love doing.” Eric nodded and shifted Jackie into a more comfortable position in his lap, his arms around her waist. Jackie smiled softly at the show of affection and leaned her head down to rest on his shoulder, her own arms wrapping around his neck. “Seems like you two are properly happy.”

“For the first time in a long time, I really am, Hyde. What about you, beautiful?” Jackie blushed slightly but nodded against his neck, a wide grin just barely visible on her face.

“Happier than I’ve ever been. Honestly.”

“Too bad you guys never got together in high school. If Forman did half of the things for you that he did for Donna, we’d have a bunch of scrawny armed kids running around insulting people’s sense of style and kicking them in the shins.” Eric laughed, but the friendly jab brought thoughts to Eric’s mind, visions from some unknown future of little girls with his hair color and eye color and a little boy with the soft, almost aristocratic features of Jackie with her hair and eye color. He couldn’t help but smile at the thoughts and squeeze Jackie a little tighter in the process.

“Well, I don’t think either of us were ready for each other in high school.” Eric looked down to Jackie who responded with a raised eyebrow. “Well let’s be honest about it, I was hung up on Michael pretty badly and I was probably the bossiest person in the world and Eric hated being bossed around. Everything that I’ve been through has helped me leave the old Jackie behind.”

“And I was too much of a coward back then. I wanted to believe the best of everything in the world but I think everything with Donna made me realize exactly what I wanted and didn’t want, and Africa made me a man...so it all worked out. At least we’re together now.”

“Better late than never.” Eric smiled and kissed Jackie’s forehead at her words, a smile crossing his face as they relaxed and took another round with the Franken-joint Hyde rolled. Even though he knew there was going to be an uncomfortable situation later when he told Jackie everything she wanted to know about Africa, he could at least be happy in the moment.

-

“So Forman, man, what is it you weren’t telling us?” Eric looked up to Hyde from the TV, a frown crossing his face. “C’mon man, I’ve known you since we were little. I know when you’re holding something back.”

Eric nodded sadly and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. He should have figured that Hyde would notice too. The only positive was that Jackie wasn’t in the basement at the moment, he wasn’t sure how she would take Hyde knowing before she did.

“Africa was really hard for me, Hyde. It wasn’t all just teaching and learning to fight...I was forced into doing some things that I never wanted to be a part of, but it was my life on the line if I refused. It’s different in every part of Africa, in most parts it’s relatively peaceful, they’re just not as advanced as western civilization for one reason or another and in some places, they’re just like us just in a different country.”

“Wasn’t there a war that broke out over there while you were there?”

“Yeah...Chad and Libya started getting into some conflicts while I was there and I was moved out of the village in Chad that I was in when concerns started to get too high. The consulate sent me to the Congo after that, just in time for the Belgians to try to take it over which sparked a lot of civil uprisings and put villages against villages. I changed there, my entire life got flipped into something that it shouldn’t have been.” Hyde nodded quietly, his arms crossing across his chest. “I hate war, Hyde. It brings out the worst of us but even I know that there’s nothing I can do to stop it; it’s just part of the human condition.”

“Yeah, people suck man. Do you want to talk about what happened in the jungle?”

“Not really. It’s going to be hard enough telling Jackie everything.”

“Yeah. She can be like that sometimes.”

“Not like that, Hyde. I just mean it’s going to be really hard to tell her the specifics if she asks. I’m not going to lie to her if she wants to know, but it makes me afraid that she’s going to think I’m a monster or something.”

“You’re no monster Forman.”

“I’ve done horrible things, Hyde, things that no man should have to live with but somehow, she sees the good me, I’d like to think. Probably thanks to the horrific relationships she’s had, but when I’m with her, it’s like the world just melts away and leaves the two of us in our own little reality, like nothing bad happened in our lives and we can just...be.”

“Sounds like you got it bad, man.”

“Got what bad?”

“Forman, you’re in love with her. Aren’t you?” Eric wanted to deny it, but the knowing look on Hyde’s face made it almost impossible to. He had been there before, been in love with Jackie, so he knows what it’s like. But he had been in love too, with Donna, but it didn’t feel the same, it felt somewhat close to it but it felt like there was some kind of fundamental difference.

With Donna, everything felt natural for a while but things started to feel forced after the shine came off the apple. Everything was a mini-argument, even if they both ended up laughing in the end and it felt like a constant struggle for control that Eric, at the time, didn’t realize he had been in. Everything he did sparked some kind of negative reaction from Donna, and he had often had to apologize for things that other people did that she somehow blamed him for. She wasn’t a bad woman, they were just so fundamentally opposed that it felt like a chore to be with her, but he had been blinded by infatuation and had gone along with it.

Being Jackie felt like the polar opposite, but it wouldn’t have been possible without her having grown up so much since he’d been gone. There were no real arguments, and even the few small ones they had gotten into had lasted maybe a half hour at most before they made up with a steamy make-out session and some heavy petting. They got along well, considering how different they had once been as people and still were; he doubted there was anything in the world that could make Jackie anything but a princess, but she didn’t tease him about some of his nerdy tendencies that had slowly returned after being home, probably because he stayed fit with vigorous exercise when he had the chance.

The two of them fit in another way, a way that he was surprised he had never noticed before he returned: he yearned for love and was in love with the idea of love, not in love with the idea of being in love like some people were accused of. Jackie was similar in a way, she was in love with romance and the different aspects of it, she was the kind of person who lived to have those feelings of butterflies in her stomach.

Where they met in the middle was where there was chemistry. Eric had no problem wanting to pamper Jackie like a princess, he had done it with Donna, after all, where it had been unappreciated, and Jackie loved the attention even if she didn’t exactly want to be pampered like she once did. Where Eric was nerdy, Jackie was understanding and had even told him she thought it was kind of cute on occasion. Jackie wanted romance and love and Eric wanted the same thing. They had known each other for years and when Jackie had been at her lowest, Eric had been there and stood up for her, even though he wasn’t exactly fond of her at the time, to one of his best and longest held friends. When the Cheese Guy had been overly creepy, he stood up for her again and even when he was leaving for Africa, that simple call from Jackie in a dirty hotel room in Chicago had somehow made it easier for him to accept that he was leaving and even made him look forward to coming back.

He knew they had only been together a relatively short while, but he could honestly say it and mean it when the words left his mouth.

“Yeah...I do love her.”

“I figured you would. Jackie’s a cool chick when she wants to be, you just have to be willing to commit to her because I don’t care how much she’s changed, man, she’s going to want commitment eventually.” Eric nodded in understanding, he really didn’t mind.

“So...what’s going to happen with you and Donna?”

“Well, we’re having a kid...guess I finally have to grow up. I’m not gonna be like Bud and I know Donna would never be like Edna, so I’m not super worried about it.”

“Are you guys going to start dating?”

“Yeah, we’re gonna give it a shot. It’s not the most ideal of conditions, but it’s better than nothing. I really liked her back in the day before you two got together.”

“Yeah, I remember you having kissed her and then showing up when me and her were on a fancy date.” The two friends laughed for a long few minutes at the antics of their younger selves. “You know what’s weird? I had a dream the first time me and Donna broke up, some angel showed up and showed me what it would be like if me and Donna never got together.”

“Really? That’s weird.”

“Yeah...were you waiting at her house after the Rundgren concert?”

“Yeah, I was...how did you know that?”

“I didn’t for sure, but that’s what the angel showed me. Then he showed me all of these future things where I ended up married to Rhonda and you married Donna while she was like seven months pregnant.”

“Huh.”

“Yeah, it was around this year that happened in the dream too.” The two fell silent and Eric went over the dream in his head, remembering things that happened and probably wouldn’t now, like him and Rhonda and Hyde bailing on Donna and leaving her with three kids. “Hyde, if you and Donna do get married, you wouldn’t leave her to take care of a bunch of kids on her own, would you?”

“Hell no, man. She’s having my kid and I know for a fact that Red would shove his foot up my ass if I did. He might be getting older but your dad is scary as hell.” Eric gave a short bark of laughter and scratched the back of his neck, a smile on his face. “So when are you and Jackie gonna talk?”

“Later tonight.”

“Just be honest with her, man. She appreciates honesty, even now. So if she wants to know something, tell her unless you have a really good reason not to.” Eric didn’t respond, he just offered a nod as his mother’s voice sounded from upstairs, letting them know dinner was ready. The two of them stood and made their way upstairs.

Chapter Text

The dinner had been a relatively subdued event after the episode with Randy and the fight that followed. Eric felt somewhat awkward sitting at the kitchen table with a shiner under one of his eyes and a burgeoning bruise under the other, though he was happy the swelling had gone down. Hyde was in much the same shape, bruised and eating slowly. Red had simply watched his two boys without even lifting his fork, a look of pride on his face. Kitty had been completely in shock over what she saw and was scared over what she saw when Eric had stepped in, she couldn’t connect in her mind the brutal madness that dwelled within her son with the happy little boy that used to sneak cookies and give her tight hugs and kisses when he was caught red handed.

The general air around the table was tense, even as they ate a delicious dinner, but the conversation was light and tenable. When Jackie returned from her short trip to the record store, and with a set of night clothes and a change of regular clothes in hand, the atmosphere brightened considerably with the addition of the bubbly brunette.

When dinner had finished, Eric waved off the dessert that his mother had prepared, citing being completely full for the reason why he excused Jackie and himself. The couple wished everyone a good night and headed up to Eric’s room. Once upstairs, Eric told her she could shower first and went about moving things aimlessly in the room as he waited for Jackie to return.

It had taken less time than he would have thought it would have before she was back and wrapped in a puffy white towel. Eric managed to keep his libido under control and slipped out of his room and into the bathroom. After hastily stripping down, Eric found himself under the blissfully blistering hot water.

Letting the heat wash over him, Eric winced and groaned when the water burned against a particularly sensitive spot left over from his fight with Randy. Looking down towards his stomach, he spotted the wide bruise that had formed around his ribs and the knuckle shaped ones across his chest.

He had taken his time cleaning himself, finding new injuries along the way, along with a rather awkward one right above his pelvis from a gut shot that had gone errant.

Part of him wanted to stay in this shower and run it until the heat ran out, to hide from the conversation that he knew was waiting for him just down the hall. But he knew that he couldn’t keep something from Jackie, she had suffered from that too many times from every guy she dated, he vowed that he would never be one of them. He just didn’t want to have her look at him in a different light, a bad light...he wanted to be looked at like her knight in shining armor every day, the same way that he saw her as his very own Princess Leia...but he knew he couldn’t avoid it. He would have to face the music.

Twisting the knob and turning off the water, Eric sighed and bent forward to press his throbbing head against the cool shower liner. With a grunt, Eric turned the water back on and turned the cold water off completely, earning a searing hot blast from the shower head for his efforts and grimacing as he felt his skin prickle and redden under the heat. For the longest time under the water, he thought it ironic that he would be bearing his sins to the woman he could honestly say he loved while trying to drown himself under sweltering water.

Finally turning the water off, Eric stepped out and pulled on a pair of boxers and a thin white muscle shirt. He looked up into the mirror and saw the makings of a full scale black eye. With a final once over with the towel to make sure he was completely dry, Eric stepped out of the bathroom with lead feet and took one of what felt like a thousand steps back to his bed room.

He really hoped that Jackie didn’t hate him.

-

“Hey, my Moon-Pie.” Eric shook his head at the pet name that Jackie had given him. He found it amusing and it made his heart beat just a little bit faster when she said it in private. He loved the name honestly, it was better than what Hyde or Kelso got, Puddin-pop and Sugarbear, those were just embarrassing.

Shaking his head, Eric forced the last of his shower out of his hair and bent down to steal a quick kiss from Jackie that made her bite her lip and moan just slightly. She just didn’t play fair.

“So...what do you want to know?” Eric asked as he dropped down on the bed beside her, his eyes dropping down to his hands as he fidgeted in his lap.

“Let’s just...start simple. Go from the beginning. I want to hear it all.”

“‘All’?”

“All.” Eric’s shoulders slumped at that, something Jackie noticed and tried to help by reaching out and massaging his shoulders as he turned away from her. “Why don’t you start with some of the good things. Were there any kids that you really took a liking to?”

“Not really, they moved us around so much I barely had the times to learn anyone’s names and after a while, I just stopped caring about learning names.” Eric reached up to scratch sandy-blond stubble on his chin. “There was one guy I got to know pretty well, but he was from England, so I don’t know if that really counts.”

“It doesn’t but if it was something good, then start there.” Jackie said in her usual, bubbly voice, a tint of happiness over some good stories.

“He and I were a lot alike back then. Both of us loved comic books and Star Wars and stuff like that, we even traded some back and forth before we got transferred out of South Africa; man, he really had some cool comics.” Jackie giggled as Eric remembered his fellow nerd compatriot. “When we were in South Africa, he taught English, ‘the proper way’ he’d always say, some math and gave lectures on British culture...I never listened to any of them, but the kids seemed to enjoy learning about it. While he was doing that, I taught math and gave my own lectures about American customs. Those kids didn’t care what you taught them, so long as it was something new and every time I would see their rapt attention, I always felt respected and stuff. Even at the village I was at in Chad, those kids were so bright and just absorbed knowledge like sponges.”

“That sounds amazing, Eric. What other good came out of it?”

“That was about it. The good stopped in South Africa.” Jackie nodded and continued to knead at her boyfriend’s back, her thumbs pressing pleasurably into the knots along his shoulders. When they had been silent for a long ten minutes, Jackie raised an eyebrow as her hands stopped working the taut back muscles of the man sitting in front of her.

“Did you fall asleep?”

“No, I’m still wide awake.”

“Weird, usually my massages are on point, but I haven’t given one in almost five years. So that was it? Nothing else good happened while you were there?”

“I came home.” Eric offered with a smile and chuckled when she swatted him at the nape of his neck. “What else can I say, Jackie? If I had been in one place for a year and that had been it, I might have more stories, but I don’t...not good stories anyway.”

“What about bad ones?”

“All I really have are bad ones...” Eric trailed off, unseen by Jackie, with an unseeing gaze locked on one of his dressers. “Are you sure you want to know?”

“Yes, Eric, I do. Why don’t you tell me how you learned how to fight?” Eric sighed and hung his head, wishing she had left it at not knowing everything that he did.

“Learning to fight was...unpleasant. When I got to the village in Chad, they were having some kind of ritual for the teens in the tribe to become men, but it was through combat, it wasn’t in exchange for me being a teacher like I said in the basement. When I got there, they just looked at me and forced me into the ring; they couldn’t even tell me apart from their own teenagers despite the fact that I was paler than fresh milk...I, quite literally, got my ass beat so bad I couldn’t walk for at least a couple days. One of the people a few years older than me pulled me aside and told me that if I wanted to be accepted as a man among the tribe, I would have to learn how to fight and I would have to win at least one bout in this big clay circled ring they had. He taught me in exchange for teaching his son how to use American money.

“For a long time he made me run fighting drills with a machete, made me lift logs for weight lifting and had me hunting with some of the people in the village who still honored the old ways. Over time, I toughened up enough to not have a glass jaw...and glass bones. I won a single fight and I felt like I had just beat the world champion in a twelve round bout.” Eric shook his head at the memory and how much blood he had left in that ring. “The fight was close. I would take a jab, he’d take one, then I’d punch him in the face and he would kick mine...eventually, he just got tired out and I managed the finishing hit on him. He wasn’t much bigger than I was then, but damn could that guy scrap. Then I got my ass handed to me another half-dozen times.

“Over time, I earned the respect of the people and continued on with teaching, but one day the Marines and some Army guys showed up and told us our time in Chad was at an end because of the Chad-Libyan conflict. They moved us to Ghana for a while for some rest and then to Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Malawi...eventually I ended up somewhere in the Congo but no one would tell me exactly where. The people in the village were welcoming and kind...but war was on the horizon there too.

“The Belgians wanted the Congo, and it split loyalties between the tribes towards the Belgians and to the individual areas in the Congo itself. Civil wars of sorts started to break out around the region but the village I was at just wanted to stay out of it, to be free or to be made subservient, all they cared about was their land and their people and keeping them safe...and then another village attacked. My hut in the village was actually in a cave just about a mile outside of the village itself, something about the distance being hard work to make a hardworking man appreciate the simple things...if they had just let me stay in the village, the Americans that had come in the previous day could have helped defend the village with some serious firepower instead of staying in the cave with me.

“Most of the kids I taught in the village were murdered that night, along with most of the youthful men around my age...the only people left were the old that were thought to be unable to wage a war with anyone due to their age, most of the unfit men were left too but the rest were murdered, the women...” Jackie gasped at this revelation, but she only increased the pressure in her massage as a reassurance. “A few days had passed and I didn’t really have anything to do so I either stayed in my cave or I did work around the village. For me it was all about wondering if the military was going to come to get me to take me out of the jungle after the attack, but days turned to weeks and then I got told by the village leader that they were going out for revenge and he wanted me to go with the village’s last warriors, mostly unfit or old men, to try to keep everyone from going overboard and to keep things eye for an eye...he told me that I didn’t have to participate...but the guys who went into the village had gone rogue in a way.”

“What happened?” Eric took a deep shuddering breath, his fingers twitching slightly. Jackie felt him stiffen under her touch and saw the way his shoulders began to shake. “Eric?”

“They...” Eric broke. Leaning his elbows into his knees, Eric buried his face into his palms and pulled away from Jackie’s grasp. He had forced the memories away so often and bottled up the emotions every single day, that he felt like his soul was breaking all over again as the flames from that night flickered to life in his mind. The taste and smell of gun powder made his breaths come out weak and shallow and the memory of the stench of blood and death made him feel sick as the world slowly dissolved around him, taking his mind back to the jungle.

“It’s alright, Eric...it’s alright, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t-“

“They killed everyone in the village...we spent hours waiting for night to fall and for everyone to fall asleep and then they started. I didn’t know what to do, all I could do was just watch while they destroyed everything...I watched buildings burn and listened to the screams of people burning alive and watched them boil and blister when they escaped the fires only to be shot dead...” Eric wiped the tears from his face and had started shaking violently. “...they left some of the kids alive just to execute them right in front of me...”

“Oh my god...”

“Then they handed me a gun and...” Eric swallowed thickly and felt as if he was seconds away from a full blown breakdown.

“And then what?”

“They told me to shoot this...girl...she was so young and I fought against it-told them I wouldn’t do it...then they put a gun to my head when I wouldn’t do it...the guy-he told me that he would kill me if I didn’t do it...” Jackie brought a hand to her mouth and felt the sting of tears as they rolled down her cheeks. “...when I said no to it again, he told another guy to...ruin her.”

“Eric...”

“I couldn’t let them do that, I refused to let them hurt her like that...”

“Eric, stop!” The man turned sharply to look into the tear filled eyes of Jackie. “I can’t hear anymore. It’s just...so horrible-“

“I understand if you think I’m a monster or something...or hate me for it...I hate myself for it.” Eric silently cried on his bed with Jackie sitting quietly behind him. He wished this day had never come, he wished he had turned the gun on himself after he prevented the girl’s suffering. The look in Jackie’s eyes made him want to vanish into the ether, to stop existing altogether.

Jackie was sickened by what she had heard, not at Eric, but at the brutality and cruelty he had described. She had never imagined such a world could possibly exist and she didn’t want to know that it did. She knew, on some level, that things like rape and murder happened in the United States, but it was something so alien to her that knowing it would be used as a weapon of war that it made her feel physically ill. She wanted to comfort the man sitting in front of her, tell him that she didn’t and could never hate him, but the words wouldn’t come. For the first time in a long time, Jackie Burkhart was truly speechless.

Swallowing over the painful lump in her throat, Jackie did the only thing she could think of as words failed her and threw herself forward and wrapped her arms around Eric, crushing herself to his back as her tears dropped from her nose onto his shoulder. She couldn’t say the words, but she wanted him to know that she loved him, she knew now that even in the face of death and having to choose between leaving this world and allowing a young girl be violated and then murdered, that he would rather spare her that kind of agony, even if he had to shoulder an unending amount of misery for it.

She knew that Eric was a kind, caring man, a romantic, a massive nerd...but he was not the monster he thought he was. He made an impossibly difficult choice, a choice that Jackie would never be able to make, that she would say no one could or should be expected to make.

Eric felt the soft arms wrap around his shoulders and chest, and he couldn’t help but let his grief out. His body shook and trembled as he wallowed in the horror of his memories as they spilled forth. He didn’t fight when he felt the soft pressure leading him down to lay on the bed. He turned to face Jackie, but he didn’t want to look into her eyes and see revulsion or anything of the sort...so instead he clutched her tight and held on to her the way a child would cling to a favorite blanket or toy.

Jackie just held him as he cried into her chest, a hand coming to stroke the back of his head as she whispered reassurance to him. She felt him shiver and tremble as he cried, she could even swear that she could feel and see the grief and misery rolling off of him in waves, as if the darkness clouding his heart was slowly leaving him, bit by bit.

Slowly the pair drifted to sleep well past midnight, never seeing the door close with a gentle click or hearing the sad sob into the night.

 

-

“Red, how much did you know about what Eric saw or did in Africa?” Reginald Forman had not expected that, and rolled over in the bed he shared with his wife and fixed the retired nurse with a worried gaze when he saw the tear stains on her cheeks. “I’d really like you not to lie to me either.”

“Kitty-“

“No more excuses, Red. No more saying you’re the only that could ever understand what he’s going through-I saw good people die almost every day for the last twenty years, I’ve watched children die and had to tell their parents what was going to happen to them from one disease or another and so help me god, Red, you better be honest with me.”

Red sighed and swung his legs out of the bed and motioned first Kitty to sit beside him, turning to her as she did, wincing at the look of grim determination lacing her features. “Kitty...I know it all. Eric had to do...horrible things, terrible things the likes I haven’t seen since Korea and haven’t seen since. He and I share a bond in a way that can only be born from shared experiences...it wasn’t exactly the same, but it was similar enough to be just so.”

“Red...” Kitty trailed off, leaving the room silent while Red scratched at the back of his neck.

“I’m guessing you heard him talking to Jackie or something?”

“Red, he told Jackie. He told Jackie before he told his own mother!”

“Kitty, that’s entirely different. I can see how he feels about that girl just as well as you can...he loves that girl and though he and Donna didn’t work out, he might end up with Jackie-it’s too soon to really say that, but you have to understand, Kitty...there are some things that should stay a secret.”

“But I’m his mother, he’s supposed to be able to talk to me about anything.” Red sighed and reached out to take Kitty’s hand and led her to sit beside him.

“Kitty...when we first got together and I had those horrible nightmares about the war, do you remember me telling you that I didn’t want you to think I was a monster and that I didn’t want you to hate me?” Kitty nodded slightly. “Eric is going through the same thing right now. The things he saw and was forced to do...you expect it during war, you don’t expect it during time spent on a program to become a teacher. In a lot of ways, Eric has it far worse than I ever did and he’s held it together better than I could have dreamed of doing. He’s done me proud-and the only reason he didn’t tell you what happened, I can only guess, but I’m sure it’s because he couldn’t bear the thought of his own mother hating him.”

“He’s my baby boy, Red, I could never hate him-“

“If you knew everything he did, you might. I haven’t told you everything about the war because I’m afraid it would change how you look at me, that you might think I wasn’t the man you fell in love with after drunkenly bumping into his butt at a USO event.” Kitty smiled weakly. “If and when Eric comes to you, he will leave a lot out and you can’t push him for more than he’s willing to offer...he’s not the same dumbass he used to be.”

“What can I do then, Red? I can’t pretend that I didn’t hear the horrible stuff he was telling her.”

“Just love him, Kitty. If he’s going to make peace with it, he’s going to need all of the love and support that he can get. And if that means I have to wake up at three in the morning to have a beer with my son instead of sleeping like I would like to, then so be it. If it means giving him a bit of leeway in things that I never would have normally, I’m fine with that...if it means letting him bare his soul to the woman he loves...that’s a sacrifice both of us are going to have to make.”

Kitty nodded and sniffled a bit, fresh tears rolling down her cheeks as she leaned into Red and rested her head on his shoulder. “Oh Red...when did you get so insightful?”

“You’ve been leaving your Cosmo magazines in the bathroom.”

-

Donna sat quietly in the kitchen of her father’s house, a coffee cup in hand that had more than a few creams and sugars mixed into it. She didn’t really need the boost to her nerves or energy as she was still reeling from the fight with Randy.

She had never thought the guy would react the way that he did, she had expected that he might be upset or that there would be a raising of his voice or even a shouting match, she had never assumed that a full scale riot would breakout in the driveway she had spent countless hours sitting in a car in and happily wasting away her teen years with good times spent with friends...now, there was still blood from Randy’s battered and broken form staining the concrete.

Shaking her head, Donna took a sip of the soothing beverage and stared out of the window that oversaw the backyard as she thought over the surprises of the last half year; Hyde and her had slept together while Randy had gone out cheating on her, taking a fractured relationship to the breaking point, Eric returned and turned that fracture into a full break because of jealousy on Randy’s side, the fight had almost been just an add-on to the whole issue.

Some good came out of it all though, Hyde had told her that he didn’t want some other guy raising their child, that he didn’t want to be a dead beat like the man he had thought for most of his life was his father. What had surprised her was that Hyde informed her that it was thanks to some pushing from Eric that made him take the step he had. That revelation had made Donna feel horrible for how she had approached Eric after his first date with Jackie and even worse over how their relationship had been.

A soft knock at the back door broke Donna from her thoughts. She got up to answer it and pulled the door open to reveal Hyde without his glasses and a swollen eye. “Hyde?”

“Hey Donna. I Uh, brought you flowers.” Hyde pulled a few wilting roses out from behind his back and held them out, smiling briefly as she took them. “I kinda don’t have money until payday, so I figured I would bring you something at least since we’re together now.”

“Thanks, Hyde. It was really sweet.” Donna held the door open a bit further and let him in, closing behind him with a soft click. “So...what’s up?”

“Just giving the Forman family some space. They’re talking about some pretty heavy stuff over there tonight and I figured what better way to avoid it than spending time with the mother of my child.”

“Awww, I didn’t know you cared.” Donna teased, her fingers playing with the thorns on the stems of the roses as she retook her seat across from Hyde.

“Always have, man.” Hyde reached out and grabbed Donna’s hand, a smile on his face. “Question, did you tell Forman about me waiting for you after the Rundgren concert?”

“No, I never thought it was important.”

“Weird...Forman knew I was waiting for you that night.” Donna pulled back slightly in shock, wondering how Eric could know something he wasn’t there for or hadn’t, to her knowledge, ever heard about. “He said some angel came to him in a dream and showed him what his life would have been like if you and him never kissed.”

“Really? Sounds a bit like something that would happen to Eric. Only he could have some kind of prophetic dream and have it actually be real. If anything else happened from that dream, he’d probably claim it was a Jedi dream.” Donna shared a short laugh with Hyde and looked back down to her coffee. “What else did he say?”

“Uhm...that we got married when you were like seven months pregnant and I ended up a deadbeat. But I think all of that was because I probably hadn’t ended up with the Formans or something.” Donna nodded and picked at the handle of her coffee cup. “Do you even want to get married?”

“I do...I did-at one point I mean. When Randy proposed to me I just wasn’t really with it but I said yes and then there was Eric, but I don’t see what’s wrong with being an unmarried mother as long as you’ll be there with the baby for me.”

“Of course I will. And if you don’t want to get married, that’s cool too, man. But if you decide you want to, I’ll see if I can figure something out.” Donna nodded and looked down as Hyde reached across the table and tapped her chin to make her look back up at him. “So, how about we have our first real kiss?”

“Right now?” Hyde shrugged and stood a bit from his seat and bent over the table, pressing his lips to Donna’s in a moment that he would never forget as a spark shot through his system, a similar even happening with Donna as the redhead gasped into his mouth. Their lips lingered together and after a brief second kiss, they parted, their hearts pounding and eyes wide.

“Whoa.”

“Seriously. Why didn’t it feel like that when we slept together?”

“Donna, we didn’t kiss even once that whole time. If I had known it was going to feel like that, I would have done it sooner and not just at that disco thing. At least this time, I didn’t get slapped.”

“The night is still early, Hyde.” Donna smiled in most sultry way and brought the cup of coffee to her lips, enjoying the small blush that had spread across Hyde’s cheeks

Chapter Text

Marie Drive changed very little over the proceeding weeks, the only major development had been the surprise announcement of Donna and Hyde’s engagement just less than a month after they officially started dating. Most other plans were put on hold, such as a hunting trip that Red had put together for him, Hyde and Eric, but the real excitement over it all came from Donna, Jackie and Kitty.

The three ladies spent countless hours going over ideas for venues, dresses and other accoutrements and accessories. Though it was the second wedding being planned out for Donna, the other two women took in stride and treated it like it was the very first. On the other side of the wedding, Eric handled most of the planning that he was allowed to handle, even if it wasn’t very much. Jackie had given him strict orders to make sure the tuxedo for Hyde was actually a tuxedo and not some suit better set for the late sixties.

He had been mostly successful, managing to even convince his burnout surrogate brother to ditch his trademark boots for a pair of dress shoes...well, they had been black boots that had been vigorously shined and could pass for dress shoes so long as Hyde didn’t wear them out and about and scuffed them up. The bachelor party had also been planned out. Knowing Hyde’s past and him having married a stripper at one point, Eric diverted enough attention from the idea of a strip club and put together a party in Madison with W.B., Leo and a few other people. He made sure the party would be something worth having so he had called Leo almost a week before the party and told him to bring stuff so strong that even a habitual user like Hyde would be roasted within an hour.

Donna’s bachelorette party had been planned out a bit different compared to the one she had when her and Eric had been engaged and it focused on just spending time with Jackie and Kitty. The downside was that it also doubled as a baby shower but even that was enjoyable to the three of them. Kitty had, of course, gotten drunk and started asking Jackie when her and Eric were going to get married. The brunette had waived it off with a laugh, but it did reawaken something inside of her, the long dormant desire to get married.

-

“So, Leo, you brought the stuff?”

“Yeah man. I brought it.” Leo held out a paper shopping bag to Eric, a smile on his face. Eric took it and nearly fumbled it, surprised by the weight of it. Giving Leo an incredulous look, he opened the bag and looked inside.

“Leo...what the hell is this?”

“It’s what you told me to bring.”

“Leo, this is a loaf of bread and a toaster.” Eric pulled the bag of Wonder Bread and a rusty old toaster. “Where’s the weed, Leo? Without it this whole thing is going to be boring as dirt.”

“Oh that. I got plenty of that man.”

“Where is it?”

“I got some in my car man.”

“For fucks sake...alright, give me your keys, I’ll go out and get it.”

“Oh my car isn’t here man.” Eric sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose, sighing heavily. “Oh, I do have some with me though.”

“Leo we need a shit-load...holy hell!” Leo reaches into his worn denim jacket and pulled out a brick of plastic wrapped pot. Eric didn’t exactly know a lot about the different strains but he knew the stuff Hyde had was always a leafy green color, what he held in his hands now had small tints of purple and yellow and even though it was tightly wrapped, he could smell it through the plastic. “What the hell is this stuff?”

“I don’t know.” Eric looked from the herb to Leo. “I just take a bunch of pollen from different plants and mix and match man.”

Eric shook his head in disbelief and walked over to the circle they had set up in the hotel room, around the table, Hyde had found himself sitting at the head with a wide assortment of rolling papers.

“Hey Leo.”

“Hyde man, I heard you were getting married. That’s crazy man, I never would have thought you’d be the one to settle down before me.” Hyde nodded and looked to Eric with a smile.

“Leo, you are married.”

“I am? Oh shit, I am!” Hyde couldn’t help but laugh but it trailed off when there was another knock at the door. “Whoa, did you guys hear that?”

“Yeah, it was the door Leo.” Eric replied, walking over to the door and pulling it open just a fraction, a smile crossing his face. “Hey Hyde, I have one more surprise that’s going to make this a real party.”

Eric pulled the door open and pressed against the wall as Michael Kelso burst into the room, his usual goofy smile on his face. “Kelso?”

“Hyde!” The goofy former cop bounded across the room and jumped through the air with his arms outstretched, intent on grabbing the shaggy haired man in a hug. A quick sidestep sent Kelso flat on the ground. “Ugh! Damn it Hyde, why won’t you just let me love you?”

“Kelso, the last time you dived at me like that, I threw you face first into an old record player.” Kelso got to his feet and looked much the same as a kicked puppy. Hyde sighed and looked around the room, opening his arms up and welcoming the bone crushing hug from their naive friend. “Alright, alright, enough of this mushy shit, lets do this.”

“Is that what you said to Donna to knock her up?” Eric couldn’t help but laugh as Kelso shouted ‘BURN’ loud enough to disturb their neighbors, the sharp, bone deep shoulder punch that slipped just made it funnier when Kelso threw his hands up to his face and bemoaned his accident prone eye.

“Alright, listen up-“

“Before you start, where’s Eric? Cause I remember him being a pencil necked gangly looking guy.” Kelso laughed absently and didn’t even have time to react as Eric punched the shoulder opposite of Hyde’s previous target. “AH! Damn it Eric, that was my alone time arm.”

“Gross. Anyway, like I was saying, since I’m the best man and we’re not having a real crazy wedding tomorrow, I’m going to give my version of the best man’s speech I can’t give tomorrow, right now.” Eric passed three brick of pot off to Hyde and cleared his throat. “I’ve known Hyde almost my entire life. He’s like a brother to me that is marrying my ex-fiancé and he has a kid on the way. He’s a bit of a burnout, but he’s always going to be my best friend. Hyde, from the moment I’ve met you I always knew you would aspire to do things, not great things, but still things. As we cross into the twilight years of our youth...and probably around ten times our collective body weight in weed smoked, I just want you to know that not a day goes by where I could ever say you weren’t a friend.

“When we were fighting over Donna and I won, and you tried to steal her away from me, I felt honored that you did so. I had bested you for the first time in our friendship, but you never gave up. I honestly admire you for that and here we are on the eve of your...admittedly hasty wedding, but I could not be happier for you. I know that you’re going to make Donna the happiest she’s ever been and I wouldn’t want anything but that. To my friend, my connection...to my brother, Steven Hyde.” Kelso wiped away a mocking tear as Hyde stood from his seat and wrapped his arms around Eric, embracing him in a rare showing of friendly affection that was returned in kind. “Alright, now lets get toasted.”

“Wait, why don’t I get to give a toast?”

“Because you’re not the best man, Kelso.”

“I could totally be a better best man then Eric, see, watch this!” Kelso jumped out of his seat and grabbed one of the pillows from the bed and started to sashay around the room, earning confused looks from the other three.

“Kelso, that isn’t the best man’s job, that’s the ring bearers job.” Eric said, struggling to contain his laughter, a nearly impossible feat when Kelso, in his surprise, tripped over his own feet and sent the pillow flying out of the room window. “Oooo-Kay, that was Kelso’s pillow. Let’s do this thing.”

-

“Thanks for this, you guys. I know it’s no fun planning a party for a pregnant woman, but I appreciate it, a lot.”

“Oh Donna, it was no problem. Honestly, it was kinda fun, just like the last time.” Kitty gave her awkward laugh. “Besides, you have a baby on the way, it’s the least we can do. Like look at this...there’s not enough fabric there to leave anything to the imagination! I can’t even begin to imagine this is comfortable with the-the fabric all up your lady bits!

Kitty held up a silk thong and moved the fabric around her fingers like it was a sling shot. Jackie saw it and had to nearly shove her fist into her mouth to stifle her laughter as she poured two glasses of wine and a glass of orange juice for Donna.

“Actually, Mrs. Forman, they can be pretty comfortable once you get used to them.” Jackie chimed in, taking a sip of her glass of red wine. “It just takes a little while to get used to.”

“Jackie, you’ve worn a thong before?” Donna asked, an amused smile on her face. “Why you little minx, you!”

“Oh please, Donna, I’ve only started wearing them in the last couple of weeks.” Kitty let the flimsy excuse for underwear fall from her hands as her eyes went wide in horror. “Relax, Mrs. Forman, it wasn’t because of Eric, I haven’t taken your boy’s innocence.”

“Yeah, cause I did it years ago. If he was still a virgin you would have gone on and on about how sweet and romantic it would be and then corrupted him like the lowly harlot you are.” Donna teased and earned a giggle from the brunette, though Kitty still looked mortified. “You should try one Mrs. Forman, maybe Mr. Forman would really like it.”

“Jackie, I am nearly forty years old-“

“Aren’t you a year older than Red?”

“FORTY years old...” Kitty fixed Donna with a glare that caused the redhead to take an elongated sip from her glass of orange juice. “I don’t think I would be able to wear something so...cheeky!”

Kitty laughed awkwardly at her pun, but Jackie and Donna could hear the contemplation in her voice. Usually when something like this comes up with Kitty, she gives it a shot just to say she’s tried something new. She even gave exotic dancing a shot and ended up with a new hairstyle that she loved, maybe she would end up wearing the scandalous underwear as well.

“Any way, Donna, how are you feeling about the wedding tomorrow?”

“As long as Hyde shows up, it’ll be better than the last one.” Donna gave a short laugh as Kitty poured another glass of wine, her eyes darting back and forth between between the glass and the thong. “I hope I’m making the right choice with this.”

“You’re marrying Steven, Donna. You’ve known him longer than I’ve known Eric.”

“Yeah, but you and Eric aren’t getting married. This is a huge step and it changes everything. I never thought I would be taking this step under these circumstances.” Donna fidgeted slightly with her glass, a half-smile on her face. “I never would have thought I’d be walking down the aisle in a dress that hides my baby bump.”

“As long as it draws attention from those Paul Bunion feet.” Donna gave a soft laugh, her half-smile spreading the rest of the way across the face. “Donna, it’ll be fine. Steven is a really good guy and he’s grown up a lot. He had no problem possibly getting his ass kicked for you and we all remember how much he liked you before you and Eric started dating.”

“That makes me ask a question,” Kitty cut in, pouring yet another glass of wine for herself, “when are you and Eric going to get married and start making me grandbabies to spoil?”

“Oh, uhm-“

“Mrs. Forman, Jackie and Eric haven’t even had sex yet.” Kitty’s jaw dropped open and that alone made Jackie frown, something the older woman saw.

“Oh sweetie, I didn’t mean to look surprised like that, but well-“

“I’m not some kind of whore, Mrs. Forman. Eric is only my fourth boyfriend ever and I happen to really love your son. I love him so much that I wanted to wait to have sex until I knew I wanted nothing else in the world but him. I knew weeks ago that he was the man for me and he’s the one saying to wait.”

“Well Jackie-“

“And another thing, he’s the one that’s been wanting to wait longer because he’s afraid to disappoint me in the bedroom.” Jackie finished to a basically silent room. It wasn’t true at all, not in the least, but they didn’t need to know that.

“I was going to say that you can’t trust him to keep his hands to himself, but...thank you for all of that interesting information?” Jackie crossed her arms over her chest and sat back with a huff while Kitty gave a nervous laugh and Donna just looked between the two of them with a smirk.

“This is fun.” Donna said, taking another sip from her orange juice as Kitty and Jackie stared at one another.

-

“Forman man, wake up.” Eric jerked violently from his spot on the recliner in the corner of the room, a hand immediately coming up in defense as the other wiped the drool off of his chin. As soon as his eyes were open, and fully adjusted to the pale sunlight streaming into the room, Eric groaned and rubbed his face.

“What time is it?”

“It’s just about half after ten, we got an hour to get ready and get dressed for the wedding.” Eric nodded and sleepily got to his feet and woke the others. Leo took the longest to wake up, mostly because he kept rolling back over and going back to sleep. Showering was a bit of a struggle with four men in the room, it was a small miracle they all managed to shower, especially with Kelso hogging up a lot of the time, but if they had to wait for another person, it would have taken up what little time they had left to get dressed to make it to the wedding on time.

Once dressed, Eric helped Hyde with his bow-tie, the curly haired man had never really worn one before and if he was being honest, it looked weird on him.

“Alright Hyde, you’re set. You ready to do this, man?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be.” Eric clapped Hyde on the shoulder and went about getting himself dressed, settling for the suit he had worn for his date with Jackie. Hyde had to help him with his tie, but in the end, he was prepared to be the best man.

“Hey Hyde, isn’t it weird to think about the fact that all of us have slept with your future wife in some way?” Kelso was sucking on his bottom lip like he usually did, a burn waiting in the back of his mind, but Hyde punched him in the shoulder so hard one of the rings on his finger cut into the fabric of Kelso’s suit and made a short tear along the seam. “OW! Dude!”

“You had it coming man.”

“You mean like how Donna had us coming? BURN!” Hyde grabbed Kelso by the head and put him into a headlock. Slipping one of his rings down his finger, Hyde dug the metal into Kelso’s head like a torturous noogie. “Damn Hyde, it was a joke!”

“Apologize or I use two rings.”

“AH! Fine.” Hyde shoved Kelso away with a frown and glared at him. “I’m sorry Donna said I was better than you-“

Hyde immediately shoved Kelso again, driving the man into the wall where he clutched his face and moaned in pain. “Aw-ahhhhhh, my eye!”

-

The two groups arrived at the church at about the same time to the relief of both Hyde and Donna. The girls had yet to get dressed and hurried off into a side room and went about it as the Forman’s settled themselves around the alter.

“I can’t believe you’re getting married Steven. I’m proud of you, son.” Red said as he stood beside his two boys, a genuine smile on his face. “Oh and uh, you’re allowed to stay in the basement for a bit unless you want to move in next door.”

“Well I’m marrying Donna so it would make sense to move into her house. I’ll still be by for dinner every night though, Forman gave me a heads up about how bad her cooking is.” Red gave a short bark of laughter alongside Eric who felt slightly nauseous over his memory of getting violently ill at the hands of ‘Chicken Pinciotti’. The downside was that everyone else remembered it as well. Talking about nothing in particular the three of them talked quietly as a fourth man joined them wearing a purple and blue suit that was definitely better left in the prior decade.

“Fez.”

“Hello Eric. Hyde. Mr. Red.”

“Tonto.” Red rolled his eyes at the foreigner and headed over to the seat reserved for the father of the groom, another spot reserved right beside it for W.B. who had yet to arrive.

“What are you doing here, Fez?” Eric asked in a cold voice, still remembering the way his supposed friend didn’t support his relationship with Jackie.

“I am here to see the wedding. It’s not every day the man who introduced you to the greatest plant on earth gets married.” Fez explained, his hands resting on his hips.

“Well thanks for coming man. I just have one request from you for a wedding gift.”

“As long as it isn’t for my candy, name it.”

“What country did you come from, man? Every time you’re about to tell us you get interrupted or something else ridiculous happens to interrupt things.”

“Oh, well I’m from-“

“Alright everyone, if you’ll all take your places.” Eric, Hyde and Fez all looked up to the priest that appeared seemingly bout of nowhere and in the distraction, Fez scampered off to find his seat beside a beautiful blonde woman wearing what looked like a powder blue dress with padded shoulders.

“Son of bitch, man. Every time! Every god damned time.” Hyde froze for a second and gave a nervous look to the stern looking priest. “Uh...sorry about that.”

-

Donna stood outside of the actual wedding beside Jackie and Kitty, her hands twitching nervously with the bouquet in her hands as she paced back and forth. She was nervous, it was easy to see that, it is basically a surprise wedding after all and her father and Joanne couldn’t make it on such short notice.

“Donna, if you keep pacing like that your gigantic feet are going to wear right through the floor.” Jackie watched her friend closely as the redhead smiled nervously. “What’s wrong? You’re not having second thoughts about this, are you? Because I know you had second thoughts about the wedding with Eric and once is a mistake, twice is a pattern and I’ll be damned if the first pattern you take up outside of plaid is being a runaway bride.”

“It’s not that, Jackie...it would be so much easier if it was...I just don’t know if I’m ready to be a wife. I never even thought I would ever really get married, I just always thought I would be engaged until the day I die or single so I could travel the world.” Donna sighed heavily and sat down on the wooden pew right outside of the wedding waiting behind those dark wooden doors. “How am I going to know if I’d even be a good wife, Jackie?”

“Well, Donna, I’ve known you almost your entire life. I’ve known you through ups-and downs...I’ve seen you at your worst and I’ve seen you at your best.” Kitty cut in, trying her seasoned hand at comforting the girl. “You’ve always been so independent, so reliant on only yourself that I think putting your entire life into a binding thing like marriage scares you, which is only natural. When Red and I got married, I was so scared about giving up my life but then I remembered that with someone who truly cares, you don’t have to give anything up at all.”

Kitty smiled and patted Donna on the shoulder, understanding shining from behind her eyes as the redhead nodded in understanding. It had helped her tremendously and even though she had some reservations about it, marrying hide after only being together for a month, she figured she was as ready as she could ever be. Once the organ music sounded from inside the chapel room, signaling her cue to walk down the aisle, she did so with her head held high and a smile on her face. Jackie and Kitty pulled the doors open for her and kept in step behind her.

The wedding itself was beautiful despite it being hastily thrown together; the entire chapel was lined with lillies, Donna’s secretly favorite flower, and covered with other frills that accented Donna’s chosen colors nicely. Her wedding dress was a bit less traditional than her first one had been, it was a soft cream color with a plunging neckline and a bit of a hoop to the bottom in the back where it flared out into frills; she would have worn her original one to save the money but she couldn’t fit into it anymore with being pregnant and her breasts having grown almost a cup and a half...then again, she figured she could have worn the original dress she picked out for a wedding since the wedding night would have been easier. As she walked down the aisle, Donna looked to her friends from the basement and Red and Kitty. If her own mother and father couldn’t be there with her, at least two people she considered her second family were.

As she approached the alter, Donna felt her breathing go shallow when she spotted Hyde. His hair was still a mess of curls, but they seemed better tamed now, a measure of control over the chaos. Eric was standing right beside him, his hands clasped in front of him and Donna couldn’t help but admit that he filled out the suit she had picked out for him amazingly, but her eyes immediately went back to Hyde and a radiant smile broke out over her face as she stepped onto the slightly lifted podium and faced her betrothed.

“You look beautiful, Donna.”

“Thanks Hyde. You clean up pretty well yourself.” Hyde gave her smile and took her hand as the two of them faced the priest. “Nervous?”

“You have no idea.” The two smiled at each other and turned to the priest as he cleared his throat.

“We are gathered here today to celebrate with Donna Marie Pinciotti and Steven Hyde as they proclaim their love and commitment to the world. We are gathered to rejoice, with and for them, in the new life they undertake together. Donna, Steven, the relationship you enter into today must be grounded in the strength of your love and the power of your faith in each other. To make your relationship succeed it will take unending love. It will take trust in your hearts that you want what is best for one another and to learn and grow together. It will take faith, to go forward together without knowing what the future holds. If you both come freely, and understand the responsibility and work involved to make your relationship thrive, and are committed to not only each other but your family, take each other by the hand and say ‘I do’. You may now exchange your vows.”

Donna and Hyde stared blankly at the priest for several minutes before turning awkwardly to each other. The congregation shared looks, knowing that neither of them were really the sort to think out vows ahead of time.

“I guess I’ll go first...” Hyde reached out and took both of Donna’s hands in his own. “Donna man, I’ve known you since we were little kids, ever since Eric hired me to be his body guard to keep you from beating him up...but when we got older and I started to really know who you were, I started to wonder what life would be like if we were together. Years passed and things seemed to never go in that direction and parts of us became....different. I’ve always known how to get out of everything life threw at me, but I don’t want out of this. We...created a life together. It’s a life I want to spend with you.”

Everyone gathered were touched by Hyde’s words and the genuine emotion in his voice. The basement gang however, was wondering just how sober he was to articulate like that.

“Donna, if you will.” The redhead nodded and took a sharp breath as she looked into Hyde’s eyes.

“We always got along. When we were younger, I always looked at you as this bad influence from the wrong side of town, but I think that might have been my dad for the most part.” A small ripple of laughter came from the few guests at that. “As we got older, I started to see things in you that I wanted in a relationship, but it never came to pass and for a time, we were just close friends that could talk about anything together. And then life changed for us. It might not be the most traditional way for two people to come together, but I wouldn’t have it any other way, as long as I have you in my life...in our life.”

The rest of the ceremony passed in a blur and before anyone knew what happened, Hyde had slid a ring on Donna’s hand and she had slipped a ring onto his. When the two shared a simple, almost chaste kiss, the small ceremony broke into applause as the priest declared them husband and wife.

Eric was happy for his best friend and at one time fiancé, even if he had never imagined that the two would actually go through with the marriage. He took solace in the fact that the two had found happiness, just like he had found happiness. When he looked at their faces, he could tell they weren’t in love yet but he knew that given time, and a shitload of understanding, they could easily be as in love as his parents were or as he was. When he thought back over their individual relationships, and how the two had changed so much over the years, he could just assume that this was how it was supposed to be. Maybe his dream was right and the end result for his two friends were inevitable and he was just there to make sure things changed for the better. He knew Hyde would never bail on Donna now, not after he had been made part of the Forman family and had his morals and values tweaked just enough to never be the same flake Bud and Edna had been. He was genuinely happy for his friends.

Jackie thought much along the same lines as Eric, even if her experiences were a bit skewed due to how her relationship with Steven ended the times they broke up. She had expected something to happen at the wedding, for one of them to flake or run away from their commitments and responsibilities, but she had been pleasantly surprised. Over the years she had outgrown the need for constant validation, even if it was nice, but as she stood there and saw just how far two people who weren’t in love yet were willing to go to have a life together, she made a promise to herself, that waiting for Eric all of these years, even if she didn’t know it was him, was the right decision. A simple look to her smiling boyfriend made her heart pound just slightly harder as he embraced the new Mrs. Hyde. There was no jealousy or anger, there was only joy for his two friends and she couldn’t help but feel the same thing as she briefly hugged Hyde.

When the two looked into each other’s eyes after embracing the newlyweds and they felt something, something bigger than themselves and their pasts or the nightmares they may have once lived, wash over them. Just the barest of smiles sent sparks through their minds and they both knew that one day, they would be in the same places and would walk off into the sunset hand in hand as better people than they ever were before.

-

“That was a beautiful wedding, Hyde. Less candy than me and my lady Rhonda’s but it was still nice.”

“Thanks, Fez.” Hyde smiled towards his foreign friend, finally looking away from the simple gold band on his ring finger. “Crazy stuff, man. Me and Donna are married, Fez is married for the second time to someone who isn’t Forman’s whore of a sister, Kelso has another kid on the way and ditched work to be here, Forman and Jackie are dating. It’s a weird life, man.”

“I still don’t like them together.”

“Why is that? Didn’t you cheat on Jackie with Rhonda because she wouldn’t put out?”

“Yes, but that’s not the point. He’s just not good enough for my goddess.” Hyde shook his head and took a long swig from his bottle of Old Milwaukee. “I wasn’t even good enough and if there is one thing we all know, it is that Fez is the best.”

“I dunno, seems kinda petty to me, man. I mean, I wasn’t thrilled at first either about them being together but after Forman hit me hard enough to make me remember how to speak Spanish, I’m happy for them. That and he beat the piss out of Randy.”

“So that’s why he never comes into the hair salon anymore.” Fez said with a nervous chuckle. “What exactly happened?”

“Well if you and Forman weren’t at odds over a woman you never really had a good shot with, he probably would have told you. Or you would have been there.” Fez shifted guiltily on his feet, his eyes dropping to the ground like a scolded child. Hyde sighed and scratched the shadow of stubble on his chin. “I asked Donna and Randy to come over so I could talk to her. Me and her talked about the baby and what we should do about it. She would have been fine having Randy raise the kid but I didn’t want that, I want to be the father to my own child so I told her that and said she didn’t have to settle for a guy that didn’t really know her when I would happily be there instead.

“She agreed and was happy about it and when we went to tell Randy, he assumed what was going on because me and her were holding hands, so he jumped at me and we fought for a minute or so before he knocked me unconscious. Forman jumped in and pulled him off of me and the two of them fought. I don’t know the details because I was completely out, but Forman took a bit of a beating and then just snapped on him. Took us almost three hours to scrub the blood off of the drive way.”

Fez nodded and looked over to the couple, a pang of jealousy gripping his heart when he saw how happy they looked while he was stuck in a marriage with a wife who slept with some of the guys who frequent the yoga gym that she owned. He could have had that with Jackie, a happy life with a girl he loved more than candy and air combined...but he had messed that up and possibly damaged his friendship with the both of them beyond repair in the process and with that thought, the jealousy faded to despair and disappointment in himself. If it hadn’t been for Eric and the others, Fez would be back in his home country and would never have had the chance to truly experience the American way of life, he would have been bullied mercilessly throughout high school and would probably be more awkward around girls than he was when he first came to the shores of this country.

“You know, if you apologize, he might forgive you...you’re just going to have to take a punch that might make you forget how to speak English for about an hour.”

“Why?”

“He knows that you slept with Donna, man. I took my punch, Kelso took his, although it wasn’t to the face, and it’s your turn man. Bit of advice, don’t clench your teeth, get something ice cold immediately to press to your eye and find a glass of milk to keep your teeth alive until you can get to a dentist.” Fez looked panicked for a second but eventually he took a deep breath and calmed himself down. Walking across the small gathering to where Eric and Jackie stood, his hand protectively snaking around her waist as he neared them, Fez offered the pair a smile that was not returned.

“Hello friends of Fez...how are you both-“

“What do you want?” Eric’s voice was cold, far colder than Fez could have ever imagined as he shivered from the anger the question swam in.

“I wanted to apologize for how I have acted. It was foolish of me to be so jealous over nothing and I wanted to say that I’m alright with you and Jackie dating.”

The short brunette raised an eyebrow at Fez and gave a shrug as she leaned into Eric’s side, one hand resting at the small of his back as the other came to rest against his stomach. Eric on the other hand hadn’t blinked a single time since Fez approached them and as the silence dragged on, the foreigner was starting to get nervous.

“I’m ready for that punch now.” Fez said jokingly, hoping that letting Eric hit him would make things okay.

“You get hit twice. By me at least. Jackie, do you want to hit him too?”

“No, I’m passed that. You can take a third hit if you want though.” Jackie replied in her usual bubbly manner, giving Eric a kiss before sauntering over time Donna to leave the situation behind for him to deal with. Eric slid his hands into the pockets of his trousers, his gaze never leaving Fez.

“So. Take it or leave it. Take the hits and give us your blessing or take the hits and never come near us again.” Eric’s tone carried a hint of a malice Fez had never known was possible from his once quiet friend. Staring into his cold, dark green eyes, Fez had no choice but to nod, hoping this would make amends. As the two left the reception hall and stepped into a less traveled hallway, The foreigner closed his eyes and braced himself, but no amount of bracing could prepare him for what happened.

The punch to Fez’s gut knocked the air out of his lungs and sent his body into shock as he staggered back and collapsed against the wall, his arms wrapping around himself as he tried to suck in lungfuls of air that never seemed to want to stay inside of his body. Fez looked up in shock at his friend, the fire in his eyes was unnerving, more so than the coldness there was before and it scared Fez; he could remember the tribal disputes on his side of the island, how the warriors that would return from battle would have the same look in their eyes and now, for the first time, he feared Eric Forman.

As Fez struggled to breathe, Eric reached out and grabbed him by his shirt, pulling him to stand on his feet and drove his fist into his stomach again, sending Fez sprawling to the ground where he emptied the contents of his stomach and whimpered in pain for several minutes before he regained the ability to move on his own. When he had finally made it to a sitting position, Eric tossed a fabric napkin at him.

“Clean yourself up, you look like shit.” Fez nodded weakly and cleaned his face as quickly as he was able to. “So now you get to have a choice, you give me and Jackie your blessing or you disappear from our lives forever. Make your choice.”

“I’m fine with it...” Eric nodded and pulled Fez to his wobbly feet, helping him stay upright.

“Oh, and this goes without saying but if I find you spying on Jackie in any capacity, I’ll send what’s left of your body right back to the island you came from.” Fez nodded quickly, a hand still resting on his pain filled stomach. “Where would that be exactly?”

“My home country?” Eric nodded, his eyes still hard and filled with fire. “Nederlandse Maagdeneilanden.”

Eric blinked a few times, knowing that he had no idea what any of that gobbledygook meant and he didn’t even know where to start to try. With a shrug, he held a hand out to Fez. Once they had shook on their understanding, and a few more minutes for Fez to compose himself, they returned to the reception, their friendship having taken the first towards repairing itself.

Chapter Text

“So what happened with Fez?” Jackie asked nonchalantly as she kicked off her high heels and leaned back into the soft cushions of one of the listening circle couches. The pair left the wedding reception almost immediately after Donna and Hyde had; normally they would have talked things through on the drive to the store, but Jackie had fallen asleep before they even left the church parking lot.

Sitting down beside her, Eric bent forward and gently grabbed her ankles, pulling her feet into his lap with a smile as he slowly began pushing and rubbing at her heel and between her toes. “Well, we walked out of the main church area thing and went off to this hallway. He took two hits to the stomach and gave us his blessing.”

“Really? Just like that, Fez just up and decided that he was okay with us being together?” Eric shrugged and ran his thumbs up the inside of her foot, pressing firmly and smiling. “I find that hard to believe.”

“It’s amazing what a punch can do.” Eric moved his hands to her other foot and repeated the massaging motions. “Oh, and I found out where he’s actually from.”

“No way! Where is he from?”

“Uh...I can’t actually pronounce it.” Jackie giggled softly and mussed with her hair as a relaxed sigh left her lips; the foot massage was slowly melting away the stress from the shoes she had chose to wear and his strong hands felt amazing. “But I think Fez is kind of scared of me now, especially since I threatened him about spying on you. We used to think it was funny because he was foreign and always seemed so innocent and endearing, but you’re with me...if anyone is going to see you naked, it’s me.”

“Getting possessive?” Jackie asked in teasing tone, a slight smile crossing her face.

“Maybe a little. Can’t really blame me though, you’ve been there for me since we really got together, you don’t belittle me, you accept me for who I am and you’ve helped me deal with some of what I’ve had to do in my life...I can’t help but be a little possessive.”

“And we haven’t even had sex yet.” Jackie smiled deviously when Eric looked up to her eyes, licking her top lip ever so slightly and pulling her bottom lip between her teeth in a tantalizing teasing moment. “I wonder if you’re going to go all gaga over me when we do.”

“Well, Whenever that happens to be, I guess we’ll find out.” Eric didn’t really mind waiting, it was frustrating sometimes and often left him going home to take a long shower with an aching downstairs, but he could only imagine just what positions the former cheerleader could bend herself into. He had gone close to five years without sex, but he did still think about it often enough with how Jackie made it a habit to tease him to the breaking point and letting him flounder.

“Maybe it’ll be sooner than you think.”

“Promises, promises.” Eric smiled and as they fell silent, worked over her feet once more with a more forceful massage, enjoying the soft mewling coming from his girlfriend. She didn’t even have to speak and it set something inside of him aflame. She was such a tease without even knowing it. “So, I have an idea.”

“Oh? What would that be, my Moon-Pie?”

“There’s some place I want to take you tonight. I think you might like the view.” Jackie perked up at that, just like she always did on their date nights, even if it was just them hanging out in the record store for a few hours after closing.

“Do I need to get changed?”

“Not really. No one there to impress, it’ll just be me and you and some place quiet. You know, something romantic.” Jackie pretended to consider it, a well manicured finger tapping on her chin in mock thought.

“Alright. Are we going now?”

“It’ll take us a little bit to get there, but it’s worth the drive.”

-

“Alright, we’re here.” Eric said happily as he put the car in park and pulled the emergency break just in case something slipped. His declaration had woken Jackie from her slumber and left her scrambling to wipe a bead of drool from her chin as Eric got out of the car. Quickly following behind him, Jackie pushed her door shut and hurried around the black muscle car to stand beside her waiting boyfriend, taking his offered arm with a smile. “I think you’re really going to like this place.”

“Where are we anyway?” Jackie asked sleepily, a hand rubbing the tiredness out of her eyes. “I doubt we’re even in Wisconsin anymore. How long was the drive anyways?”

“About four hours. I had to stop to get gas twice on the way. I already called mom and Red and told them I would be late and to not wait up for me.” Jackie nodded through blurry eyes and leaned into his side, earning a smile from Eric as the two trudged up a long dirt path. The walk had seemed like it took almost an hour in Jackie’s mind, but when they reached the top and she saw the breathtaking sight, the walk was well worth it.

Before the two of them lay a view of all of Point Place and the fields that lay beyond. Lights from houses twinkled in the distance and she could just barely make out one of the craggy hills on the horizon. The contrast of small town America and the gently glowing stars overhead was staggeringly beautiful. The sky itself was in a bit of a weird stage between night and evening, the stars had just started to peak out in the sky as the last rays of light bathed the horizon in a soft pink light.

If Jackie had to put anything on a postcard showing where she lived and why it was beautiful, even if it was a bit dead and boring, it would be the view in front of her. With all vestiges of sleep gone, Jackie hugged Eric’s arm to her as a squeal left her and she bounced on her heels.

“Eric! This is so beautiful! How did you find this place?”

“Donna and I were scoping the area out to have our wedding here, well not exactly here; the place we wanted was over another hill. Actually you can see part of Kelso’s van down there if you look really hard.” Jackie looked to where he had indicated and sure enough, she saw some of the rusted remnants of the vehicle. “When I came back and I needed a place to just be alone, I would come up here some nights, spend some quiet time by myself and just stare out over the town...this place was my happy place.”

“Was? It isn’t still?”

“No, no it isn’t.”

“What is then?”

“Wherever you are.” Jackie looked up at Eric and brought a hand to caress his jaw, her perfectly soft, unblemished fingers trailing over the rough sandy-blond stubble.

“Eric...that was...maybe the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me. And I can tell you mean it.” She pushed herself up onto her tiptoes and pressed her lips to his, an immediate haze falling over her eyes as they drifted shut and she lost herself to the mind wiping sensations that began to pulse through her body in time with her heart. If their first kiss had been the best kiss she ever had, this was the kind that women dreamed about late at night in their most perfect dreams.

Slowly, the kiss deepened and the passion along with it as Eric turned to her proper and wrapped his arms around her. While one of his hands went to her hip and grabbed her firmly, the other snaked up her back and tangled in her hair. The slightest bit of pressure at the small of her waist made her lean into the kiss even heavier and crushed her body tight to his. Eric’s only conscious thought while he set himself adrift with her, was that he loved the girl in his arms more than anything he had ever loved before and when she pushed his suit jacket from his shoulders, it opened flood gates that had been popping leaks for weeks.

Jackie broke the kiss and tried to calm her rapidly beating heart, but try as she might, the lust and love burning into her mind from within Eric’s eyes kept it racing. He loved her. He really loved her. He knew who she was, who she had been and how far she had come. He knew her lows and had seen her highs and had stood beside her and been patient and the same caring, kind man she had begun to think only existed in fairytales and he wanted and loved her, former Queen Bitch Bee of Point Place High, for who she had become. To her this wasn’t the hollow words teenagers exchanged in corridors in schools or in the hopes of getting sex...to her, this was real. Jacqueline Burkhart was off the market. She was taken, even if she ended up broken again.

“I love you, Eric Forman.” His eyes softened unbelievably at that point, the hardness that she had seen only waver in their more tender moments had vanished entirely and for the first time, she truly saw the man he was behind everything: the man that reminded her that it was okay to love, to give yourself over to someone completely and to trust them to never hurt you. She wasn’t alone, she did need someone and he had helped her to realize it was okay.

“I love you too, Jacqueline Burkhart.” Jackie bit her bottom lip and looked up to him as she peeled back the seal on her long bottled away lust, a spark coming to life in her eyes that seemed to shimmer just a bit more than usual.

Her reply was simple; “Prove it then, lover.”

(Smut begins; edit out for FF.Net)

Eric didn’t need to be told twice. Pulling her tight to him, he bent slightly and lifted Jackie into the air, smiling into their kiss when she wrapped her legs around him. Slowly lowering them to the ground on a soft patch of grass, he broke the kiss and looked into her eyes once more.

“Are you sure?” Jackie nodded, her eyes half lidded and hazy. Taking her at her word, Eric dipped passed her face and pressed his lips to her neck, right over the pulsing artery in her neck. His lips just gently brushed over her soft skin, his hot breath washing over perfect porcelain tone as he trailed kisses up her neck to just below her ear and smirking when he heard the sharp intake of breath. His hands were steadying himself in the grass but they started to shake in excitement, his muscles spasming wildly as he barely contained himself.

Moving one hand from the ground to her waist, Eric slowly undid the simple cloth belt and pulled it away, tossing it in the ether of the night. Bringing that hand down to the hem of her dress, he slowly pulled it up from the thigh, letting the softness of the fabric ignite her nerves as it moved. When he had it bunched up at her waist, his hand slipped beneath it and inched up her ribs, his finger tips just barely grazing the firm, supple form beneath.

Kissing down to her collarbone, Eric smiled as she brought her hand to his hair and curled them in his close cropped locks, almost trying to push him down further to lavish attention on her still clothed, pert breasts, but he refused to move. He wanted this moment to be special and when her body trembled and his fingers moved to gently caress her stomach and bellybutton, he knew it would be.

“How much do you like this dress?” Eric asked huskily as his teeth met the neckline of the garment, his lips still leaving a burning trail of kisses down to middle of the hem just above her slight cleavage and back up to her collarbone on the opposite side he started with.

Jackie couldn’t answer, the sensation of impending orgasmic bliss had set her too far on the edge.

“Do you care if I rip this dress off of you?” Jackie shook her head, her eyes closed as she bothered her lower lip once more. Her breathing hitched again when she felt his breath burn into her ear as he whispered a single word to her: “Good.”

Eric sat up abruptly and brought both hands to the neck of her dress and jerked them sharply apart, tearing it straight down the middle and revealing Jackie’s form to him once he divested her of it. Her stomach was just as taut as the night after their date, the soft curve of her body leading down to slightly flared hips was punctuated by a garter belt and a skimpy black lace thong that barely covered her modesty, her legs were in the same exact nude stockings she had worn that night and the bra was even the same. He really hoped she wouldn’t mind losing all of those because as delectable as she looked in that lingerie, it only made him want to rip away those barriers even more.

Jackie gasped when she felt her dress being ripped away but it sent a pulse of heat emanating from her core that made her spine shake. She had never assumed Eric would be so...animalistic, or that it would turn her own so much. When her body was bared to him, she looked up into his face and moaned when he brought a warm, calloused hand to her stomach. When it reached her chest, she was sure he could feel every inch of her heart pounding against his palm just beneath the tiny front clasp, but the simple flick of his fingers unclasped it and left her breasts naked to him.

Eric had never seen anything so beautiful in his entire life. Her breasts were nearly perfectly the same size and much bigger than he had remembered from their episode while skinny dipping. Her nipples were as pale as the rest of her body adorned with the tiniest nubs he had seen. Bending down, Eric captured one of her nipples softly between his teeth and rolled his tongue over it as he closed her lips over the nearly indistinguishable half-eraser sized button.

Jackie immediately arched her back and brought a hand to the back of his neck, encouraging him to continue his attentions as a hiss of pleasure left her mouth. When one of his hands began cupping her other breast and gently rolling her nipple with his thumb, she thought she might pass out from the sheer eroticism of what they were doing, the pleasure wasn’t making it much easier to maintain her wits.

“Eric...” Her voice cracked and died with unspoken words as he switched his oral ministrations to her other breast, delving her into a renewed world of spinning sensations. His hand didn’t switch to her other breast, he had left it for the warm night air to blow over and stiffen, it had instead trailed down her abdomen and had begun teasing the edges of the waist of her thong. His fingers were sending waves of tingles through her body when he would just barely slip one under the elastic band of her underwear and then slip out to slide his digits beneath the band of her garter belt to caress the flesh beneath.

The roughness on each of his fingers dragged over her skin forcing her to take rapid, shallow gasps of breath. She couldn’t help but compare him to her two previous lovers. Where Michael was urgent and needy and never believed in foreplay or thought about pleasure outside of his own, Steven was meticulous and almost seemed to plan out everything in his head from the initiation of the act to how it would end. Eric on the other hand seemed to take everything in stride, his hands moved with effortless grace as his featherlight touches drove her mind into a moaning mess, his attention to her sensitive nipples and the ring he was tracing around her bellybutton made her stomach clench wonderfully. It was as if he was a master maestro playing her body like a symphony.

Her attention had been pulled from her thoughts when Eric pulled back from her breast and started to kiss down her body. His lips lingered and dragged slowly across her skin, leaving blazing spots across the center of her chest and leading down to her stomach, his hands running slowly up her sides and dragging his short trimmed nails over ribs on the way to her waist again. With a glance up to Jackie, Eric smiled as he let a shaky, shuddering breath flow over her midsection. She arched her back appreciatively and moaned out his name and giggled softly when he kissed her bellybutton.

When he shifted lower and continued to drag his lips lower on her body, Jackie craned her head up to watch him progress ever lower over her core. His strong hands came her legs and parted them on either side of his head. Along the inside of her thighs, he dragged his cheek along the toned muscles, his mouth coming ever closer to what she was sure was the crotch of her ruined lingerie...but he stopped just short of touching her most sensitive of places and dragged his cheek up the opposite thigh, placing kisses along the taut, sensitive skin. The anticipation was building to an apex in the pit of her stomach with each agonizing tease towards her core and it took everything she had to not moan out in frustrated pleasure.

“Eric...”

“Yes, Jackie?” She could feel him smile against her flesh as he placed a kiss just above the waist of her thong. “Is something wrong?”

“N-No-“ Jackie gasped when she felt his arms wrap around her thighs and felt the point of his nose brush just a hair above her clit through the sticky wet fabric covering her womanhood. She had read about what she was sure he was about to do to her in Cosmo, and though they had explored, she had never bared herself to him in her entirety.

“Hmm? Are you sure nothing is wrong?” She was about to answer when she felt his tongue dart out and lick the full length of her slit, her legs jerking violently when his tongue met and flicked her clit through the fabric. With the sheer magnitude of sensations it caused, Jackie was sure she had gone momentarily cross-eyed. He licked her again, a groan leaving his throat that made Jackie want to scream out and grab his hair to force his face into her dripping sex but when she reached down to do just that, she found his powerful hands wrapping around her petit little wrists and holding them firmly down against the grass. Her needy moan of frustration was met with a soft chuckle that made her sex vibrate pleasantly.

“Anxious?” Jackie hummed her answer and earned a smile from Eric. As he let one of her wrists go, his strong fingers moved to the crotch of her thong and pulled it to the side, revealing her puffy, swollen and completely shaved pussy to him for the very first time. She had foregone the sparse hairs that sat normally atop her pubus, she was almost naturally bald down there anyway, but she had turned her razor to it to be completely clean and bare . “Now this is interesting.”

“Do you like it?” Eric looked up into her eyes and nodded, the lust heavy in his eyes as he lowered his tongue to her perfectly smooth womanhood, her lips parting just the slightest amount under his probing tongue, a soft schlick sounding from her apex as his hands wrapped around her thighs to part her most intimate place to him.

Where he learned to do what he did next she had no idea and she didn’t care because her legs had begun to tremble and shake uncontrollably and it felt like the stars above were bursting right in front of her eyes. His tongue was wide and flat and then narrow and stiff as he alternated his attention between her clit and her sensitive pink folds. Whatever he did next, she didn’t care so long as he did what he was doing again. With her hands free, she did bring one to the top of Eric’s head and pulled him tight to her sex, the other hand was busy curling into the grass beneath them, ripping the very earth beneath them free as a scream of ecstasy ripped from her throat.

With several deep breaths, and Eric still working her over with his tongue. The sensations never stopped rolling through her body. With tears in her eyes, she looked down at Eric and whimpered and hissed as he slowed his ministrations, a slick grin across his lips as he looked into her eyes.

“You taste divine, princess.” He smirked up at her and Jackie snapped. She sat up so quickly she felt a wave of dizziness wash over her, but she didn’t care. Grabbing Eric by his tie, Jackie pulled his slick lips into a kiss and growled into his mouth. Eric grunted in surprise, but he willingly opened his mouth to her probing tongue. The kiss was searing hot and left him stiffer than he had been just seconds before. The hints of lilac and vanilla flooded his senses as she rolled her tongue against his and pushed him back against the grass, straddling his waist without their lips ever parting.

Jackie ground her hips insistently against his crotch, a moan rumbling in her throat when she felt his arousal straining against the fabric of his pants. She couldn’t believe what she was feeling and it made her mind go into overdrive. Breaking the kiss, Jackie immediately brought her hands to his belt and started to fumble with the buckle, her breath labored and ragged as she struggled with the simple clasp. “Eric, take off that belt this instant!”

“Gladly.” Eric hunched slightly and expertly popped the buckle open. Once it had been undone, Jackie grabbed the belt and ripped it from his pants and threw it away from them, her hands greedily shooting to the button and zipper. Within a second she had his pants undone and was slipping her hand inside, her dainty fingers unable to wrap around the throbbing organ beneath her.

“Holy shit, Eric...”

“I’m not the most gifted, but-“

“Eric, shut the hell up and lay back.” Eric grinned and did as he was told, his hands running up and down her stocking clad thighs as she pulled him free of his pants. In the moonlight, she could tell he wasn’t the longest, probably tied for second with Kelso if not slightly shorter, but he was easily as thick as the upper part of her forearm. She marveled at the solidness in her hand, it felt like a bar of steel wrapped in velvet and it made her tingle as she rocked her hips back and forth along the length, the bulging veins pulsing under her slickness.

“No returning the favor?” Jackie paused and looked up at Eric, her eyes fluttering at his teasing gaze. She looked between his face his manhood a couple of times.

“Next time.”

“There’s going to be a next time?”

“So many next times.” Jackie slid her hips all of the way forward until his crown rested at her twitching entrance and slowly lowered herself onto his length, a short moment of hesitation gripped her when she had barely sank down and felt stretched to her limits. “I don’t know if it’s going to really fit...”

“We don’t have to-“ The thought trailed off as Jackie dropped her hips and impaled herself on his cock. The two of them gasped for two completely different reasons. Eric gasped at the velvety vice-like tightness that wrapped around him, he would have sworn she was a virgin moments before from what he was feeling. Jackie gasped because every inch of her body felt stretched to the point it was almost painful; her pussy contracted violently when she came to stop and she felt every inch of her had been filled like nothing had ever done to her before. Her legs twitched and trembled but she kept her mind together for just long enough to grab Eric by his cheeks to look into her eyes, their ragged breaths meeting in the near inch between their lips.

“Tell me you love me, Eric.”

“Tell me you love me.” Jackie nodded and pressed her hips down just a bit harder, a gasp leaving her throat as her core clenched and relaxed rapidly, her stomach tied itself into knots that burst sent her body into near convulsions as he came to just brush against her cervix.

“I love you.” The couple spoke the same words at the same time. Leaning forward, Jackie pressed her forehead against Eric’s, her hips jerking slightly as she started to grind her hips against his. Green looked into hazel and brown as Eric brought his hands to her hips to help her move, lifting her just slightly to let her drop herself onto his lap.

Impaling herself over and over on his cock, Jackie felt as if she was having one long, constant orgasm. Each tremor rolled into another and she was rapidly losing the strength in her legs to keep moving her hips. Dropping her full weight into his hips, her legs snapped tight to his body as she convulsed, a scream of pleasure leaving her and echoing off of the craggy hills around as she reached a crescendo.

Growling in her throat, Jackie looked into his eyes and brought a hand to his cheek. “Did you?”

“Not yet. But we can stop if you need to.” Jackie looked at him incredulously, her brows rising to her hair. “Do you want to stop?”

“Not until you finish.” Jackie said breathlessly. With legs made of jelly, Jackie stood and laid down on the grass beside Eric, pulling him by his tie to pull her on top of her. Reaching between them, she grasped his length with one hand and pulled her thong to the side with the other and aligned him with her entrance once more. With a deliciously agonizing slowness, Eric sheathed himself inside of her once more. Once she felt his base press against her clit, Jackie wrapped her legs around his waist and brought her arms to circle around his neck.

“Are you okay?”

“Never been better, lover. Make love to me...just be gentle.” And he was. He rocked his hips rhythmically, a long slow withdrawal followed by a slightly forceful thrust. Each movement pushed the air out of Jackie’s lungs, her inner walls stretching and contracting around his length as he carved her to fit him perfectly.

After a particularly hard thrust, Jackie’s hands fell from his neck and fell to his back. Her hands came up under his arms and gripped the muscles firmly. She dug her nails into his strong back as an orgasm ripped through her body with such force that she thought she would black out, but Eric’s thrusts kept her in the waking world.

Again and again her nails raked down his back, making him arch his back into her, driving his full length into her tight womanhood with a wet slap.

“Oh-oh fuck! Fuck Eric! F-Fuck-fuck-fuck...FUCK!” Eric’s thrusts slowed but never stopped as Jackie fell almost limply to the ground as she rode out the waves of ecstasy.

“J-Jackie-“

“Do it! Please Eric, please please please!” Her cries came out needy and desperate as his movements became erratic, his thrusts uneven as her legs pulled him to her deepest point. Eric groaned out and buried himself inside of her, his own apex finally being reached with a shout that echoed off the hills around them. As his body tensed, the veins across his chest surged against his skin and snaked up his neck. After nearly half a minute, his release ended, his member still twitching inside of her.

Collapsing on top of her, he stayed inside of her and held her close, her head immediately burying into his chest with a satisfied sigh as they rolled into a more comfortable position in the grass.

“I love you, Jackie.” Eric whispered as he pressed a kiss to the top of her head.

“I love you too, Eric.” Eric smiled at the exhausted girl and tightened his arms around her as he looked up at the stars.

(End of smut)

-

The couple was awoken as the sun peaked over the hills in the distance, their bodies aching delightfully from their activities the night prior. With a stretch, Jackie sat up and gave a short look around them. With a cool breeze rolling over her body, she suppressed a shiver and reached out beside her for the bra Eric had taken off of her with ease and pulled it back on, clasping it as her lover began to stir. With a smile, she cuddled into his side and pressed a kiss to his jaw that made him smile sleepily down at her.

“Good morning, lover.”

“Good morning, my love.” They shared a tender kiss and Eric sighed happily. After, as Jackie would put it, proving their love to each other, Eric slept soundly for the few hours he was asleep. The demons of his past stayed locked away in his mind and were beaten into silence. In that moment, as he cradled a still nearly nude Jackie to his chest, he was truly and completely happy.

“We need to wake up. And you owe me a new dress, mister.” Eric chuckled and immediately missed the contact as she pushed away from him to stand up. Her legs wobbled a bit as she searched for the remnants of her dress from the night before and Eric thought how she swayed slightly on her heels was adorable.

“I can’t believe we fell asleep up here.”

“Well, I think it’s safe to say we wore each other out. I feel like I’m going to walking bow legged for at least a couple of days.” Jackie smiled in an oh so sultry way as she walked back over to him, her torn dress clutched together in front of her. “And we need to head back to town, we have to work tonight and I’m sure your parents are worried about you.”

“Mom probably is, but I think Red trusts me to be able to take care of myself by this point.” Eric tried to get up but found himself completely out of sorts and fell back down to the grass with a grunt.

“See? Now you know how I feel right now and I had to stand up in heels.” Jackie snickered slightly at the weak glare he sent her, but she still reached out a hand to help him up, meeting him with a burning kiss once he was on his feet. He held her close in that moment and felt complete when she melted into his embrace, her cheek resting just over his heart.

“About last night...I meant what I said.”

“I can tell, my dress is completely torn in half.”

“I mean when I said that I love you. Because I really, really do.” Jackie pulled back slightly with a radiant smile on her face that made his heart skip a beat. She brought a hand to his jaw and drew him down into a kiss that made his legs feel like jelly.

“I know. I love you too, Eric.” Eric smiled and Jackie giggled as they renewed their embrace, both feeling whole for the very first time as they watched the sun rising over the horizon. “I’m super sore though so I’m going need like a week before we do it again.”

“That good?” Jackie swatted his arm playfully and nodded.

“That and it’s been a long time, for both of us. We need time to recuperate.” Eric nodded, not even tempted to disagree. “Now let’s go, the mall will be open by the time we get back into Point Place if it took four hours to get here last night and id rather not walk through my apartment building basically naked.”

“Your wish is my command.”

“Good boy.”

-

The drive back to Point Place was peaceful for both Jackie and Eric. Once the two of them had left the craggy hills, Jackie rummaged around in the glove box of the camero and managed to find a needle and thread. It took a moment for Eric to explain that it was for emergencies, though he didn’t exactly have a valid answer for what emergency could require a needle and thread.

It took a little maneuvering but Jackie managed to stitch her dress back together which had prompted Eric to say he didn’t owe her a dress now, which got him a dose of Jackie’s patented puppy dog eyes and a pouting of her slightly swollen lips. Naturally, Eric relented and headed towards the mall after filling his tank for a second time.

Inside the mall, the couple was drawing stares from every person they passed. Eric was still dressed in his suit from the night before, his short hair messy from Jackie’s death grip during their activities and the woman on his arm looking pleasantly disheveled with a hastily repaired dress. Anyone just giving them a passing look wouldn’t notice anything out of the ordinary, except maybe the stitching pattern on Jackie’s dress but the whispers still began anyway.

They had done their best to keep their relationship relatively quiet since they began dating, going to the movies or out to dinner was often just looked at as a boss and employee having a friendly relationship, but in front of every gossip in Point Place, they walked arm in arm.

They ignored the stares and the whispers as Jackie made her way into Merry-Go-Round and immediately bolted towards the nearest rack of dresses with a squeal. Eric just shook his head fondly and followed along behind her as she piled dresses into his arms for her to try on. He didn’t mind, not really anyways, it was nice to see Jackie so worked up over something and the clothing store was known for fair prices on decent clothes, so he was just relieved that she didn’t run to the most expensive clothes in the store.

The next hour and half was dedicated to Jackie trying on new outfits and seeing what would match with her stockings and the heels she was wearing. The sales associate that had noticed him walked over and sighed as he slipped his hands into his pockets.

“Rough, Huh? I see it all the time, husbands being forced to sit around while their wives pick out clothes.” Eric looked out of the corner of his eye to the spotty youth. “I can keep you busy if you’re interested?”

“How so?”

“Well...you like Star Wars?” A gleam appeared in Eric’s eye that made the teen laugh. “So you know the Episode V came out, right?”

“What? When?”

“Couple years ago. It was...really crazy. Turns out Darth Vader is Luke’s father.”

“What? No way, Obi-Wan said that Darth Vader killed his father!”

“It’s true! Right at the end of the movie, he and Luke are fighting and right after Vader cuts his hand off, boom, he drops that bombshell.” Eric just stared wide-eyed at the kid. “Yeah, and Luke kissed Leia!”

“Yes! I told my dad that Luke wasn’t a fruit!” The kid frowned at him and motioned first him to explained. “When I was about your age, the first one came out and-it changed my life. I was talking about what would Luke do if he was in my position and he called him a fruit.”

“And he’s still your father?” Eric laughed amicably with the sales associate. He gave the kid another look and felt like he saw himself in the teen, though he was mercifully spared the usual teenage bout with acne, unlike him. He wondered how similar they were.

“What’s your name, kid?”

“Oh, uh, Sean.”

“You have a special lady in your life?”

“Well, there is this one girl, but she’s so out of my league. I was dating this other girl for a while but her dad bailed on them and she kinda went crazy and dumped me.” So they weren’t similar too much.

“What about this girl you think is out of your league? Why do you think she is?”

“Well...she’s just-she’s like, the picture perfect definition of hot. She has this long black hair that always seems to shimmer in the light, she’s a cheerleader where we go to school in Kenosha and she’s dating the captain of the football team. And I’m...look at me, man. I’m a scrawny nerd with pimples all over my face. She’d never go for someone like me.” Eric snorted and shook his head as the kid hung his head. Jackie chose that exact moment to leave the changing room with a pastel blue dress that hugged her form just enough to tantalize him.

“Jackie, come here for a minute.” She smiled brightly and practically skipped to stand by his side, her arms looping around his waist and hugging herself to him. “Jackie, what were you in high school?”

“Head cheerleader...you know that though.”

“And you know you are the hottest thing this side of the galaxy, right?” Jackie rolled her eyes but smiled and nodded, catching his reference. “And in high school, what was I like?”

“You were a gangly, scrawny twitchy little nerd.” Jackie laughed but trailed off when the sales associate named Sean looked up in surprise. “Why?”

“Did I ever have a chance with you in high school?”

“Um...yes, but you know that. If I had known how romantic you could be and that everything Donna told me was true I would have dropped Michael for you in a second.” Sean just stared up at Eric in wonder, his eyes shining as if he had come face to face with Luke Skywalker himself. Eric turned to look at him with a wry smile on his face.

“Take my advice, Sean, nothing is impossible for a Jedi. Protein shakes are cheap and tree limbs make for great weights and resistance training. Give that a go for about a year and take your shot, you might be pleasantly surprised.” Sean nodded in wonder, his eyes still shining. “Oh and uh...be nice to your parents and do your homework. Trust me.”

“Th-thanks, I will. I hope you and your wife have a nice day!” Sean watched the two go, the advice burning in his mind from a man he looked at like a hero until he walked out of the store with their purchase, arm in arm with a beautiful girl and with a laugh on his lips.

-

“I wonder where they went off to, it’s not like Eric to be fine for this long.” Kitty said softly, bringing her coffee cup to her lips and sneaking a look at her husband as he quietly read the paper. “Where do you think they are, Red?”

“No idea but I trust Eric to be as mature as we know he can be.” Kitty nodded at his deadpan answer, her eyes drifting to the clock just above Red’s head. “Kitty-“

“Well it’s almost noon, Red. I can’t help but worry over my baby boy.” As if her prayers were answered, a roar in the driveway signaled Eric returning home. Kitty jumped out of her seat and immediately set about making something for lunch, something that made Red roll his eyes in amusement. Folding the paper up, Red tossed it onto the table and looked up when he son stepped inside, his suit from the day before still on and his boots hanging from his hand.

“Hey son.”

“Hey dad, mom.”

“Oh good, you’re home. I was just going to make some lunch. You are hungry aren’t you, you were out all night.” Kitty laughed and pulled open the fridge. “I can make tacos-oh I can make tacos!”

Kitty jumped a little bit in excitement that made both Red and Eric smile. The two men agreed and Kitty hurried over with a beer for the two of them, kissing on the top of the head with a skip in her step.

“Have a good night, Eric?”

“Yes sir. It was very pleasant.” Red nodded knowingly and looked up to the messy hair atop his son’s head.

“I bet. You have a twig in your hair.” Eric reached up and pulled the small bit of proof of his actions the night before away from his head and hastily put it in his pocket.