luxken27: (Heroes - Peter contemplation)
LuxKen27 ([personal profile] luxken27) wrote2015-05-18 09:42 pm

Sweet Valley High | Wish Upon a Star

Title: Wish Upon a Star
Fandom: Sweet Valley High
Universe: Early canon
Genre: Romance
Rating: X
Word Count: 17,922
Summary: Alternate ending to SVH #12 When Love Dies. Now that he has her back, he never wants to let her go…

Links: DW | AO3

This story is basically the fruit of a canon conspiracy theory: that Steven Wakefield and Tricia Martin were totally doing it during the final months of their relationship.

I was re-reading the early books last summer for background on the main core of characters to use in my SVH Sophomores series, and I pretty much stumbled back into Steve and Tricia’s relationship – and then something in #15 Promises caught my eye.

Mainly, this passage:
"You looked so beautiful that day." Steven bent down and kissed her forehead. "You still do." Suddenly his face wrinkled up, and he let out a choked sob. "Tricia, don't go," he cried. "Please stay with me." He dropped his head in his hands, his body racked with grief.

Tricia's fingers found Steven's body. With the final bit of energy left in her, she lifted her hand slightly and rested it on his knee. His sobs quieted.

"Steve, it's time," she said. "I can't keep going much longer. I want the pain to stop. Steve. You've got to let go know. Please. For me."

Steven lifted his head and wiped away his tears with the back of his hand. "For you, Trish. I'll do anything for you."

It's subtle, but it's there, in their body language. Yes, it was Tricia touching Steven's knee that pretty much convinced me that they had been sexually intimate at the end of her life. Considering her reputation as a fragile, porcelain doll (and her penchant for wearing neck-high long-sleeved blouses), this is quite the provocative gesture.

So, I went back and reviewed their entire romance - before and after her death, given Steven's difficulty in moving past her (and his penchant for chasing her ghost no matter the state of his current love life). That, combined with the idea of exploring this theme of blossoming sexuality in the stark inevitability of death, and the sexuality of a cancer sufferer, combined with my all-too-infrequent smutbunny to drive me into writing this fic to fulfill the last part of my 2014 Summer Mini Challenge table.

Let's take these things one at a time, shall we?

I: The Canon Conspiracy Theory
Reading between the lines of Steven's main plot through the first half of the SVH series, there is quite a bit pointing to the seriousness and closeness of his relationship with Tricia. I've outlined it all in my canon conspiracy post, but I'm going to highlight a few passages here.

First, there is the fade-to-black after their tearful reunion at the end of #12 When Love Dies. Their emotions are running high, and there is no mention of Steven leaving after making up with Tricia and sorting out their issues. He continues to spend lots of time with her, usually alone at her house, and is more or less a constant companion in her final six months. There are lots of hints dropped:

(#13 - Kidnapped!) They'd both just learned that Tricia was dying of leukemia, and nothing anyone could say or do could keep Steven from being with her as often as possible.

"How's she feeling?" Jessica asked.

"Tired," Steven answered. "We're probably just going to spend the evening at her place."

(#15 - Promises) You've got to believe these last few months of my life have been the happiest of my life." She looked at Steven and held his gaze meaningfully.

(#15 - Promises) "Promise me," Tricia insisted.

Steven looked into her china-doll blue eyes. "I can't say no to you," he said softly. "I promise."

(#23 - Say Goodbye) "I know," Steven said softly. "There's nothing worse than being conscious something is coming to an end - especially when that 'something' is very special."

(#24 - Memories) "I loved her completely," he burst out. "We were planning to spend the rest of our lives together. I'm not ready to forget about her, and I don't think I ever will be."

(#24 - Memories) Steven was scrubbing his yellow Volkswagen so hard he looked as thought he were trying to take the finish off it.

(#24 - Memories) Tricia. Just her name conjured up images in his mind. None of this would be happening if Tricia were still with him! Steven threw the sponge back into the soapy water and sat down on the front lawn. He missed her. Putting his head in his hands, Steven began to sob.

(#83 - Steven's Bride) Of course marriage meant sex. Everybody knew that. So why hadn't it occurred to her? Cara unwrapped a bundle of fluffy yellow bath towels, a gift from Sandy, but her thoughts were about her relationship with Steven. They were very much in love, and they were also great friends. There was nothing Cara liked better than romantic evenings alone with Steven, and the passionate kisses they shared. But they had never slept together. It was Cara's decision. Steven, who was not much older, understood that the time was not right yet for either of them.

(#83 - Steven's Bride) Steven glanced at her. Gripping the steering wheel with his left hand, he took her hand with his right. "We're taking a pretty big step. There are going to be a lot of changes in our lives. But one thing won't change, and that's how much I love you. So don't be nervous about...tonight. All I want is to be with you. We can take things slowly."

#83 Steven's Bride is the infamous "sex book," and Steven's reaction to having sex is so diametrically opposed to Cara's. She's freaking out about it, and he's reassuring her by telling her that he's fine with HER decision to not have done anything up to that point, and that that they can "take it slow" on their wedding night, which implies some experience in this arena instead of him feeling as awkward and nervous about it as she does.

So, if Steve and Tricia are each other's firsts, how exactly might that have unfolded?

II: Sex & Death
Facing death is probably what accelerated Steven and Tricia's sexual relationship. There is already some implied heavy petting that has already happened by the time #12 When Love Dies rolls around, so the desire is already there; knowing that their time is precious and limited would just push them to fulfill those desires before it was too late.

One of the things I wanted to accomplish with this fic was to bring Tricia back down to a human level from the sainthood she acquired almost the minute she died. She was already too good to be true, but the pedestal she occupied after her passing was ratcheted up to ridiculous highs. In the midst of her tragic struggle against leukemia, the same cancer that had taken her mother less than ten years before, she is still a teenage girl, with all of those same hopes and dreams and emotions. Her love for Steve is as selfish – which she acknowledges – as it is pure.

And, of course, Steve is your typical red-blooded American teenage boy who is attractive enough to have had good luck with any and all of the romantic relationships he's pursued. His attraction to Tricia's innocence implies, somewhat, that he's been a bit of a wild child (as much as a Wakefield could be a wild child in this series) and that she inspires him to settle down a little. Still, I really liked the idea of him being awkward with sex, and that the majority of his sexual experiences have been with (and will be with) Tricia. They are exploring their teenage boundaries together, and it is sufficiently awkward yet sweet.

This story starts where #12 When Love Dies ends – in the original novel, there is a fade to black after their reunion at Tricia’s house, but it is Steven’s adamancy in not leaving Tricia again that was my springboard. She tried to push him away, but he returned to her when he learned the truth; when she invites him to stay, physically as well as emotionally, he doesn’t hesitate to heed her call.

They retreat to Tricia's threadbare bedroom and in the midst of welcomed comfort and reestablishing their feelings for each other and commitment to each other, they begin to tread uncharted territory. I wanted this scene to be passionate, yet sweet, and authentic in the way that it grows from Steven's desire to comfort her and show her that he is still attracted to her, even in her weakened state. It is their first foray into truly sexal play, and it will only grow from there.

Besides the progression of Tricia’s and Steven’s sexual intimacy, the other piece of the puzzle that was intentional was the locations in which they indulge in their various acts of lovemaking. They would feel at their most comfortable with each other in their own homes, where they already spend a lot of time together. I thought it would interesting to explore the idea of their being alone at Steven’s house, in his bedroom, as well. He is a college student, after all, and lives in a dorm during the week, but comes home over the weekends to be with her. There’s a good chance they’ve been in his room together before, though probably not in this context.

In this second chapter, I highlight another of Tricia’s very real facets – her “vanity,” or lack thereof. Her focus is, of course, on dealing with her cancer, but there’s something about being in her boyfriend’s bedroom that makes her take stock of her appearance, and she’s shocked with how much she has physically changed since beginning the grueling chemotherapy treatments. It’s one of the first, most solid ways that the inevitability of her decline hits her, and Steven reacts quite beautifully to it, in reassuring her that he loves her not only for who she is, but that he still finds her attractive, even with all of the changes to her body.

As for the smut – they advance to oral sex here, and Tricia is again the focus of pleasure and release. The act itself blossoms from quite naturally from a moment of vulnerability and comfort. She initiated the encounter in chapter one, but it is he who pushes the boundaries here, eager to add to his skillset when it comes to pleasuring her. There is a hint of fear in it for her, but in the climax of the moment, she realizes that she is ready for it, and she enjoys it accordingly. In the aftermath, there is some guilt over the fact that she has been the receiving partner thus far, but what weighs even more heavily on her mind is the fact that they are growing closer just as she’s realizing how short their time together really is. She wonders if they’ve made a mistake; he wonders how anything that feels so good could be a mistake.

Chapter three really deals what the realities of sexuality in cancer patients, which I'll come back to ;) In an effort to strike a balance with evolution of their sexual experiences, it was time to let Steven take center stage, and give Tricia the chance to explore his body and learn how to pleasure him. Because she is still in the midst of toxic chemotherapy treatments, this means she can only use her hands. She quite explicitly explores his body and learns how to pleasure him, while at the same time understanding (for the first time) how her own body reacts to that. There are some very oblique references to this in regards to Steven and his reaction to her orgasms in the previous chapters, but here it is far more overt, and gives Tricia some more food for thought.

It was quite challenging to write this chapter without so much as a kiss, since it is such a natural and immediate way to convey feeling and intimacy, but I think I managed to pull it off :) For me, writing explicitly sexual encounters requires a different thought process and a shift in vocabulary, so once the ball was rolling, so to speak, it wasn't too difficult - but it's always nice to start off a consensual encounter with a kiss.

The final chapter is, of course, the culmination of their sexual exploration and play, in which they finally consummate their relationship with penetrative sex. I think this would be a natural progression in their relationship, and that it would happen relatively close to the end of Tricia's life. She'd have to be completely off of any sort of treatment, for one. For another, they'd both need a certain amount of time to really decide that they were ready for this, because it is such a big step to take in such a short amount of time.

There is always a bit of fantasy in my explicit sex scenes – as a writer, I don’t see the point in writing dull, realistic, possibly cringe-inducingly awkward sex. I think my characters deserve better, so that’s what they get – better than reality :) Part of that fantasy tends to be engaging in unprotected sex, which is of course a big no-no for underage teenagers in general, much less teens already on an emotional edge who were pushed there by the ensuing failure of aggressive cancer treatments.

Actually, I do think that Tricia would’ve contemplated this when deciding that she wanted to have penetrative sex, and I do think that she would’ve made the decision to forgo any sort of contraception. At the end of her life, she is at her most reckless, but also her most free, and she is willing to take the chance of getting pregnant if it means experiencing this act before she dies. The inevitability of her death releases her from the usual litany of concerns that comes with engaging thoughtfully in such an emotionally-charged act.

Steven is, of course, heartbroken when she breaks the news to him that she’s beyond treatment, and I used that emotional volatility to their advantage. There is (perhaps) a surprising amount of crying in this story, but I use it not to display how soap-opera-y dramatic these two are, but how emotionally fragile they are, and how they are caught up in their feelings for each other. That he feels comfortable enough with her to cry in her presence signals, to me, an incredibly close bond between these two. (And, well, he certainly cries enough for her after she dies that it seems likely they would’ve shared their tears with each other.)

The sex in this final chapter is fairly straightforward, with only the challenge of protecting her skin from the sunlight (and, to a lesser extent, the idea of having sex in public) to spice things up a bit. Various kinds of chemo, especially aggressive chemo, do indeed make patients very sensitive to sunlight. Here, Tricia is dressed appropriately for this, with long sleeves and an ankle-length skirt, full coverage shoes, a hat, and sunglasses. She is very deliberate in her choice of attire, not only to account for her horrible sensitivity to sunlight (previously mentioned in chapter two, where she sits under the umbrella and under a blanket at the Wakefields' pool), but also in order to plan for this sexual encounter. She is the one who initiates it, because she is the one who has planned this day down to the last detail.

The use of the lines from marriage vows at the end is also intentional, as Steven makes mention of the fact that they were planning to spend the rest of their lives together in #24 Memories. There is a hint that perhaps they consider themselves married by the end, having fully consummated their relationship, and Lord knows the depth and ferocity with which he mourned her after her death suggests they had an extraordinarily close relationship, right up until the end.

III: Sexuality & the Cancer Patient
As mentioned above, chapter three really deals what the realities of sexuality in cancer patients. A lot of the time when people come down with a serious illness, there is just this assumption that fighting said illness is the focus of all their energy and consumes their lives, and that their other drives just shut down, but of course that is not the case. It was interesting and enlightening to read up on this subject, including sexuality in teenage cancer patients, life during and after treatment, and how various treatments can interfere with sexual intimacy (references: 1 2 3 4 5). I paid special attention to those fighting blood cancers, as that’s what Tricia has, and the whole 72-hour ban on sexual contact during active chemotherapy treatment is a real thing (and probably would’ve been longer in the early-mid 1980s), as is the previously-mentioned sensitivity to sunlight.

Tricia is careful about the progression of their relationship, and Steven isn't pushy about it, because he's in uncharted territory here as well. He needs time to digest everything that is happened, and of course to practice his new-found skills :) The comfort and confidence he displays by the end of the fic shows this.

Unfortunately, the other side of intimate relationships for a cancer patient is that not everyone can be handle the emotional stress that comes with being a caregiver. Tricia and Steve grow progressively close as the fic goes on, just as pretty much everyone else in Tricia's life deserts her. Her father has already lost his wife to this horrible disease, so he falls apart when he learns of Tricia's diagnosis. Her sister Betsy turned into a truly rebellious wild child after her mother's death, and I'm not sure she actually learns of Tricia's illness until the very end because she is so consumed by her alcohol/sex/drugs life. She's so busy running from the loss of her mother that she pretty much loses her sister without even realizing it (at least that's my theory).

Tricia faces her illness with a far more realistic bent than canon gives her here - she is in a support group, she undergoes several rounds of treatments, and eventually has to face the fact that she's reached the end of the line. Her quality of life would decline fiercely once she's under palliative care. Her body becomes increasingly fragile and she has to take obnoxious amounts of medications to do even the most mundane of tasks. The fact that she's rushed to the hospital and dies in the ICU tells me that she wasn't in any sort of hospice care.

Quite frankly, the last few weeks of her life totally suck, and if she only has Steven to lean on, then they would become perhaps too close. Steven is such an emotional wreck after her death that this is quite likely. He spends quite a bit of the rest of classic SVH canon chasing her ghost, no matter who he ends up hurting in the process. While this used to annoy me, inspecting their relationship to a closer degree gives me a degree of empathy for him. Their parting was no regular run-of-the-mill breakup; he had no say in losing her.

Writing this fic was a huge challenge for me, considering my smutbunny only appears every two or three years to nip at my heels, but I walk away from it feeling pretty satisfied with it. I also managed to fall in love with this couple in the meanwhile, and am probably not finished exploring their dynamic. I really came to appreciate these two, especially Steven, during this process, and I know I’ll never look at him the same way again.