Title: Blue in the Sky
Rating: PG, tiptoeing toward PG-13 (but not really)
Warnings: angst, some language, character death.
Characters/Pairings: Antonio/Sheridan, Fancy/Luis, Marty, mentions of Pilar, Ethan, Julian, Eve, Sheridan/Luis
Summary: prompt: loved. He knows it's true; he's theirs. But those stolen years aside, he's always felt he was more hers. His father may have searched for him, but it was his mother who trusted the truth of her heart in the face of everyone else's doubts.
Disclaimer: the characters of Passions do not belong to me; I'm just borrowing them to exorcise this particularly angst-y plot bunny and returning them post-haste. Definitely not making a profit here; this is purely for my enjoyment. The intro and closing lines of the story also don't belong to me. They are the sole property of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and from her well-known sonnet, How Do I Love Thee (Sonnet 43).

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…"

Love is a lie.

Marty grows up knowing this, believing it wholeheartedly.

His mother marries Antonio, pretends she's happy, pretends she's found love again, pretends her life is every wish she's ever had come true.

But Marty knows better, sees through the half-hearted hugs, turns away from the resigned kisses, can't bear the sad smiles.

Contentment is a cancer that eats away at the soul.

His father and Fancy make a life, make a baby, make their careers out of pursuing justice while the greatest injustice is the one staring them both in the face each and every time they look into a mirror.

Marty misses the father that's right in front of him, feels sympathy for the young brother predestined to exist always in the shadows of a fractured fairy tale, waits for an end that never comes.

Loss is the poisonous truth.

It is the only reality Marty knows, his only honest friend.

Because all the broken pieces? The cruel hand of Fate put them back together all wrong, and it's too late to make it all right again, too late to realign the stars, because Dr. Russell just walked in, and the look in her eyes says it all.

Marty's mother is dying.

"I don't understand. It was just a dizzy spell. My wife fell and hit her head, but she's okay. You already told us the scans checked out. How can you stand there and tell me…she doesn't…she can't have a brain tumor. She can't."

Antonio lashes out, attacks Dr. Russell's earlier spoken words, paces around the small emergency room cubicle until Marty feels dizzy, feels the first screams bubbling up his steel throat.

He clamps down on them tight, though, when his mother speaks, soft and low and somehow knowing.

"The headaches weren't migraines."

Dr. Russell is grim as she agrees. "The headaches weren't migraines."

His mother swallows, once, and her skin pales, goes porcelain. Her hand shakes as she holds it out, but her voice remains steady. "May I see the scan?"

"Sheridan, you're not a doctor."

His mother's voice splinters on Dr. Russell's name, and Marty sees the first tears brighten her eyes (they will be the last, while she's still her, while she's still the mother he's loved for too short a time). "Eve. The scan," she pleads.

"This is ridiculous!" Antonio spits out, yanks the privacy curtain aside. "You're not a neurologist. Sheridan's not even a doctor. I'm going to find someone that knows what they're doing."

"I've already called in a consult," Dr. Russell informs them when he's gone, as his mother holds the scans up to the light, stares at her own uncertain future. "He'll need to run some further tests, but Sheridan…" She hesitates, meeting Marty's hollow gaze for the first time, and Marty easily reads the bleakness in her eyes, feels the livewire tension grip his gut.

"Eve, please?"

"I'm afraid it doesn't look good."

Just a ball of cells, a ring that looks like an angel's halo around them. Gliobastoma.

Marty spends every free hour on the computer, arming himself with knowledge, with how's and when's and where's. He never finds the answers to the why's. He isn't sure he's supposed to.

His mother makes them swear not to tell anyone, pretends there's nothing wrong, and the delicate bindings of her marriage to his uncle start to fray, unravel strand by strand.

Marty can't say he's surprised when Antonio moves his things into the room at the end of the hall, can't honestly say he's disappointed. It's somehow a relief to see that particular burden lifted from his mother's shoulders; there's a kind of peace in her acceptance of the futility of falseness, a welcome peace. He only wishes it hadn't been driven by such cruel circumstances.

"It's not that I want to leave you, Marty. I don't. I don't want to lose myself. I don't want to forget the parts that made me me."

Hurt like glass cuts at Marty's vocal cords as he reminds her, spells out the awful truth, "You'll lose yourself anyway. At least with the surgery, you'll be doing something about it. You'll be fighting. Why won't you fight, Mom? Why? Some things aren't worth remembering."

His mother's blue eyes dim then, shutter and grow sad, and, for a moment, she lets her heart bleed out before him. "All things are worth remembering, Marty. All things."

His mother teaches him to dance.

"For your wedding," she tells him. "You should know how to dance the tango."

"I don't want to learn the tango," Marty grumbles, but he lets her pull him to his feet, lets her press her palm tightly against his own. "Who says I even want to get married? Doesn't look like much fun to me." He's being childish, he knows. But he can't help it, can't stop the words from tumbling out. His mother hasn't danced the tango in years, rarely dances at all anymore, and now she wants to teach him a dance that used to be special to her and his father before his father sold himself out to the easier choice.

His mother puts her hand on his shoulder, encourages him to lead. "Slow, slow," she breathes. "Quick, quick. Slow."

She stumbles slightly in his arms, and Marty has to fight the urge to wrap her up, hold her tight, plead with her to stop, stop, stop. But then she recovers her footing, smiles at him with sapphire eyes, softly stabs him through the heart with the dagger of her truth. "Love's not always fun or easy, Marty. Doesn't mean it isn't worth it." She glances down at their sluggish feet, smirks at him as she shakes her head. "Think we can move a little faster? I can handle it."

"Mom," Marty protests.

"Just do what I do," she tells him. "Just mirror me."

Marty wakes up one morning to find Antonio gone.

"I told him to leave."

"You did what?" It isn't so much that Marty cares (he wishes he did). It's just Antonio took care of his mother whenever Marty couldn't. There wasn't anyone else, and with school and everything, he just, he just can't. "Why did you do that?"

His mother doesn't answer him, merely stares at the knife in her hand like she has no idea where it came from or what she should do with it next.

"I can't be here all the time," Marty snaps, screws the lid back on the peanut butter and grabs the knife from her hand. He finishes making his lunch for the day, wraps it up, and rolls it up in a wrinkled brown paper bag that already holds an apple. "I got this," he tells her when she lifts a hand to her mouth, looks at him with worried eyes. "Why?" he asks her again, quieter this time.

His mother sighs, glances away as her shoulders curl in on themselves with self-doubt. "I needed a husband, not a nursemaid." She gaze lingers on her hands for a long moment, before she looks back up, carefully avoids his eyes. "I need a son, too."

Marty's anger ebbs, and he ropes his arm around her waist, breathes out an apology of sorts. "I'm right here, Mom. Right here."

His mother crashes her car.

It's a minor accident, a run of the mill nobody hurt fender bender in front of the grade school, but a concerned parent calls the police, and Fancy shows up to find his mother confused and behaving oddly.

When Marty meets them at the hospital, his mother has already been taken back to one of the curtained cubicles, and Fancy is talking with one of the nurses (like it's any of her business!). Marty interrupts them, flatly tells her to leave. "You can go home now."

Fancy dismisses the nurse with a thank you, gazes at him with small, questioning blue eyes. "Your mom had a seizure, Marty. Do you have any idea what caused it?"

Marty shrugs, tries to ignore her and her nosy questions, but the weight of his secrets comes crashing down on him when the curtain is pulled back and there's his mom, looking pale and tired and lifeless in her narrow hospital bed. He breaks. He breaks and he turns to his stepmother and he blurts out the truth. "She's sick, okay?"

Fancy's forehead wrinkles, and she dumbly repeats his words back to him. "She's sick?"

Marty closes his eyes and prays for his mother's forgiveness, then he nods. "Really sick."

Two days later (against his mother's doctor's wishes), his father drives them both home from the hospital.

His mother never says a word.

The disappointment in his mother's blue eyes hurts, but Marty can deal if it means they're no longer alone, and they're not. For the first time in days, weeks, forever, they're not alone.

His father camps out on the sofa, parks his overnight bag in the guest bathroom. His toothbrush resides in a little blue cup beside Marty's toothbrush, his razor and shaving cream in the medicine cabinet.

It's the first time Marty can remember sharing living space with both of his parents. It isn't what he'd always imagined it would be.

When his mother finally does speak, she tells his father to go home, back to Fancy, back to his family. "We don't need you, Luis. Not anymore."

And maybe it's true. Maybe it would hurt less to believe it. But Marty knows better. Because they need him now more than ever before.

His father whispers bedtime stories and You too's into his phone at night. He watches the late news and calls Chief Bennett and studies old paper files Marty didn't know they made anymore.

He tries. He tries, and Marty wants to believe it will be okay, but he knows it won't. Otherwise, his telltale heart tells him, his father wouldn't be here. He knows it.

His mother knows it.

Days turn into weeks, and the ice between his parents begins to thaw. The overnight bag disappears, and his father moves into the guest room. They settle in to a routine. His father stays with his mother in the mornings while Marty goes to school; Marty stays with her in the evenings while his father goes to work.

It isn't perfect, but they make it work (for her). Everything is fine. Hunky-dory. Until, one day, it isn't.

They're screaming at each other when Marty lets himself into the back door, just slips inside and eases it shut. Raw and angry and full of stinging venom, they rip into each other.

"So, that's it?! You're just giving up?"

"Why do you even f**king care, Luis? Why?! You never cared when I poured my heart out to you. When I fought to give Marty the family he deserved. You never cared then."

"You know damned well I always cared!"

"Right. You cared so much you married my niece!"

"What was I supposed to do, Sheridan? Wait for you like you waited for me?"

"Does the name Beth mean anything to you? Your deranged ex cost me years of my son's life."

"Our son's life!"

Marty shrinks back against the kitchen wall, rests his feverish forehead against the side of the fridge, tries to control his breathing, wills his heartbeat to stop thundering in his ears. He knows it's true; he's theirs. But those stolen years aside, he's always felt he was more hers. His father may have searched for him, but it was his mother who trusted the truth of her heart in the face of everyone else's doubts.

"Years I'll never get back, Luis. Years we should have been a family."

"We're a family now. Maybe not the family we hoped for, maybe not the family we wanted to be, but we're still a family, Sheridan, and we love each other."

Marty hears his mother laugh, and it's a hollow, broken sound that makes his eyes sting, makes his throat grow dangerously tight.

"Don't comfort me with your pretty lies. Hurt me with the truth. It's the least I deserve."

Love is a living, breathing, hurtful thing.

His mother starts saying her goodbyes, making peace with those she has loved.

Ethan's tears stain the pages of her newly revised will, his voice breaks with the telling of old (forgotten) memories, his arm holds strong when she grows tired and stumbles as they walk through the grounds, chase the ghosts of yesteryear.

His grandmother's hands tenderly comb through the golden strands of his mother's hair when she is weak and wanting of her mother's touch.

"You used to do this for me when I was a little girl. It made me miss my mother a little less."

His uncle takes her cold hand in his, warms it with guilt-tinged kisses and regret-tainted tears. "I should have loved you better."

Through it all, his father is always near, is never more than a breath's distance away.

Sometimes, his mother forgets his name.

Those are the days Marty hates the most. Because she looks at him with kindness, always kindness, but love is too familiar, too bold and assuming for a boy she cannot remember.

The good days, her lucid days, grow few and far between, and each one is more precious than the last.

Marty makes them count, probing her memories, pushing for details of a life that was never valued as it should have been, always taken for granted by those few she counted dear. He wants to know her, really know her, so he can wrap the memory of her deep in his own breaking heart. But it's not just the fact that she used to play lacrosse in boarding school or that she used to have a black belt in karate that he wants to remember. Those things don't mean as much as the little things (she loves ice cream in the dead of winter and daisies have always, always been her favorites). Marty wants to know the core of her, wants to discover and cherish her heart. "He's hurt you so many times. Why does it always come back to him?"

His mother doesn't ask who he's talking about; she knows, because there can be no other. There never has been, not really. "I love him."

It's that simple. It's that complicated. It's that true. It's something (love) Marty will never fully understand, and he tells his mother so.

"That's because love isn't something you try to understand, Marty. It's something you feel."

Love is pain; that much Marty understands.

One day Marty wakes up, finds the guest room empty of all his father's things. His bed hasn't been slept in, his toothbrush is gone, and Marty stumbles through the hallway, betrayal, bitter and harsh, wrapping around the tip of his tongue.

Sunlight paints the day golden, when it is anything but.

Already, Marty is making up excuses, making up words to soothe the ache, but the words disintegrate like dust through his fingertips when he makes it to his mother's door.

"Luis," his mother cries, tears sparkling like diamonds slipping from her pain-filled, frightened blue eyes. "I can't. I can't…"

"Shh. I'm here. I'm not going anywhere. I'm here, Sheridan." His father holds his mother, like he's never going to let her go. He whispers love words in her ear, traces the lines of her fragile life's blood as they travel up her delicate wrist, her too slender arm, to her valiant heart. His words are rough with his own pain, his own fear, but tender with feeling that Marty realizes never completely went away.

"I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears, of all my life…"

His mother doesn't see Marty standing in the doorway; she will never see him again.

Love is loss.

The movies paint death in Technicolor tones, melodramatic tragedy, sensationalized sacrifice. Maybe, Marty allows, that's sometimes true. More often than not, though, it's as simple as taking one last breath.

It's shades of gray, the soft blue in the sky.

It's a pillow that no longer smells like her, a smile that never seems as warm in photographs.

It's that empty seat next to him on the airplane, the one where his mother should be, when he flies across an ocean, goes back across a lifetime, with only his father and a paltry handful of memories to say goodbye in one of the places she loved best, one of the places she always meant for him to see, one of the places she always wanted to share.

It's a letter he's not expecting, a dog-eared page in the book she was reading, the daisies that bloom bright and cheerful where she lays her head forevermore.

It's knowing his heart will never be the same, but it will be better for having known her, having loved her.

It's all those things and none of those things, and Marty believes that wholeheartedly, because when all is said and done, it's the only thing they truly have, the only thing that ties them together.

Love is loss.

Love is truth.

"…And, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death."



So, I don't know where that came from. Really. I was working on some of my other stories, and nothing was really hitting the right notes for me, so I set them aside and tried to write a ficlet for my long ignored Passions Alphabet story thread.

This is the end result.

Holy angst-balls, Batman!

It just, kind of, wrote itself.

It's a crazy question, asking someone if they enjoyed having their heart ripped out (lol), but I'm a fanfic author who (rather sadly and unfortunately) loves feedback, and I'm dying to read your thoughts. So...what did you think?

Feedback is love!

Thanks so much for reading!

P.S. Mistakes are all mine. If there are any particularly glaring typos, please let me know. I'll do my best to clean them up.

P.P.S. Missing one of my other (many) WIP's? Let me know which one. Drop by my profile page and vote for which fic you'd most like to be updated. I'm not promising any miracles, but knowing someone is pining for a new chapter sometimes achieves the almost miraculous with me and motivates me to plug through the writer's block.