regala_electra wrote for brandywine421
Night and a Fall
Author: Regala Electra
Pairings: Kirsten/Ryan (minor: Kirsten/Sandy, Ryan/Marissa)
Summary: She doesn't quite know why it went wrong. Set ten years later from season one of The O.C..
The Challenge: Kirsten/Ryan: Bonding after a nightmare. A panicked cry in the night brings them together.
Feedback: Helpful, happy-making, magical, and other positive adjectives.
Fifty's going to feel a lot like turning forty. She'll be horrified and start considering her options, though she detests plastic surgery and fears that botox will make her one of the "girls." She may be a part of Newport society, but she'll never *become* one of them, overly tanned, nipped and tucked, faces frozen in grins that Seth would call "Joker" faces.
She'd told Seth that was rude but that hadn't stopped her from cracking a smile. Now, as she carefully applies moisturizer to her face, the smile lines are finely drawn and no amount of skin care products will lessen that. The crinkles around her eyes aren't as sharp and she doesn't look like a woman pushing into her fifties (but not there yet) and doesn't feel it.
There's a photo of Sandy on her bed table and an empty space next to her as she settles in bed. He'd promised her that he'd be back in a week, but he'd said that to her last week. She told him that he'd better win his case, telling him how proud she was of him taking such a daunting challenge in New York. But she still misses him.
She loves him, loves that he believes and needs to help and she joked that if he wasn't a lawyer, he could have been a therapist for all his help and counseling with Ryan and Marissa during their messy breakup.
She pauses at that and gets up from her bed, tying a neat knot around her robe, and leaves her room, walking downstairs.
He's sitting at the island counter in the kitchen, scrutinizing a sandwich.
"Now I know that I didn't cook that Ryan, you don't have to look so worried." He turns around to look at her, but doesn't smile. Her lack of skill in the kitchen still continues and she knows if the day came when grandchildren visited her home that she'd offer them bakery bought cookies. They'd be the best, but still, they wouldn't be homemade.
She still thinks herself too young to think of grandchildren and thankfully Seth's far too busy traveling around the world to settle down and have a family. There's something eternally young in Seth and she can't picture him being a father, but then when she first met Sandy, opinionated, funny, and smart, but so brash and proud of it, she hadn't thought he'd be such a wonderful parent, let alone did she think she'd really be known as "Mom."
She takes out instant coffee and takes down two mugs. "Coffee, Ryan?"
"Yeah." His voice is tired and empty, she'd opened the door this morning to him and he told her he couldn't stand his apartment and she understood. She'll suggest that he should visit Seth in Spain, but she'll save that for tomorrow.
She mixes the hot water and coffee crystals and takes out the sugar, measuring out two even teaspoons for herself, leaving it black for Ryan.
He doesn't quite chuckle, but it's a low sound similar to it. "I don't even remember the last time you made me coffee."
"Mostly because you always insisted on making it yourself," she answers, sitting on the other stool. She feels almost silly in her silk robe and pajamas; Ryan's still fully dressed in his suit (he hadn't bothered to bring a overnight bag), the tie loosened slightly. He looks incredibly old, when really, he's only twenty-six.
He looks at her in that way that shows why he's become such a successful architect: he can read people. "Say it," he says after a long silence.
She takes a sip of her coffee, bitter and sharp, but she likes that taste in the evening, "It wasn't your fault, Ryan."
"No," he scoffs, "My marriage lasted only three years and Marissa won't even speak to me. Can't be my fault at all, huh Kirsten?"
She doesn't quite know why it went wrong. She remembers how happy the wedding had been and she'd looked at Jimmy bringing his daughter down the aisle and Sandy had squeezed her hand and then she looked at Ryan and she was proud. It wasn't motherly, she knew that, but she'd been proud of Ryan, he'd done it.
A year later, Ryan had moved into his own apartment and she tried to stay out of it, feeling she wouldn't be able to help. She remembered Julie declaring, six months after Ryan's move, that Marissa had finally realized she could do better. Sandy hadn't believed that and she'd been stunned at his efforts, feeling almost guilty when all she felt she could do was sit by and watch it all fall apart.
Seth had confessed he felt the same way one late night phone call. (Seth is so very absentminded about time zones and when he remembers to call her it's only for the basic "I'm in this country now" conversation.) He also had no idea what to do. She wasn't able to offer him any advice.
She does something foolish, not caring that it'll upset him, she says, "Ryan, you are nothing like your parents. This doesn't mean you're like them at all."
He stares at her for a long time, anger clear in his eyes. But Ryan, always so measured, too careful, merely picks up his plate and mug, disposing of the contents and placing the dish and cup into the dishwasher. His back is to her as he looks out the window. "Kirsten," and his voice is so low she has to concentrate to hear him, "I loved her. Shouldn't it work out? I mean, I look at you and Sandy and..."
He trails off and turns back to her, leaning back on the counter, finally pulling off his mangled tie. "It wasn't supposed to be like this."
She holds her mug tightly in her hands, it's cooled off and she lowers her eyes to study the remaining coffee. "Sometimes love isn't enough, Ryan. I'm sorry."
"Sorry," he repeats, cold and different. "I can't talk about this. I'm going to bed."
She nods. She should hug him, offer him condolences. But she doesn't.
He walks out and doesn't say goodnight.
She stays in the kitchen for a long time, sitting at her seat, finally leaving when the coffee grows cold.
She hears it even before she's fully awake. That strange "spider-sense" that Seth likes to ramble on about, like when she can tell which nights Sandy would be coming home late, and she'd already accepted his apology before he'd even given it.
She makes her way down the hallway; the sound had come from the guest room, a surprise. She pushes open the door; it's opened just a crack, and says, loud but not too loud, "Ryan?"
He's sitting up quickly, and flicks on his bedside lamp. "Sorry."
"No, it's just-" She comes into the room, sitting at the corner of the bed, "I thought you'd be in the pool house."
He shrugs noncommittally. "I couldn't go there."
"I was just surprised. You've never used the guest room."
"You and Sandy wanted me to have my privacy," he reminds, his eyes not looking at her.
"Yes..." she pauses, feeling that something else is wrong, but she cannot quite place it, "but even when you and Seth came back for the holidays..."
"I wasn't comfortable." Curt and brief, he runs a hand over his hair, it sticks up oddly in some places and he looks just so *old* and tired.
She frowns at that comment, not caring about how deep the lines now look on her face, "Was it really so terrible? I thought we were a family."
"No." There's something dark to his voice. "No, we're not that, Kirsten."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"I fucked it all up," he finally answers, bringing his knees up and resting his arms across his knees, keeping his eyes locked onto her face. His eyes are darker than she's ever seen before. "I didn't stop her. I loved her and she'd ask me if I did, like it was a test or something, and I didn't know what to say. And she started getting worse-"
"Pills. Fucking pills. And I didn't know what to say because I'd done everything before and it wasn't helping..." She takes his hand, not knowing what to do.
"Ryan, it isn't your fault."
He laughs. "If I wasn't for me..."
"If it wasn't for you, what?" She tries to keep her voice down, but it doesn't quite work "You can't think like that, Ryan. I didn't know what was happening, but I do know you. I saw how much you loved Marissa and I hoped when I saw you standing at the altar that Seth could grow up and be the person you are now."
He laughs at that. "Look how that turned out."
She pauses, then smiles, realizing he'd made a joke. "Seth was ready to go long before his breakup with Summer. He'd been planning on traveling since he was little. He used to collect maps and plot his course."
"Why am I not surprised?"
She brushes the side of his temple with her free hand. His eyes close and she tries to say something helpful, "You are a wonderful person, Ryan. Do you want to talk about it?"
His eyes open quickly and he takes both her hands and places them in her lap. "I couldn't sleep there. I haven't been sleeping lately."
She nods; that explains the dark circles under his eyes.
"And when I do sleep...I have dreams about her. About us. I don't know what I could have done to make it work."
She brings him into a sharp hug then, an instinct taking over that is not merely consoling; she wants to *feel* him, to convince him that he needs not be haunted by a past he cannot fix. She doesn't know how to say that to him. She's never been the real peacemaker in the family, but oh, she wanted to, she always tried to. But like Ryan, it wasn't always possible.
He breaks away, his head is turned away from her, "I don't need that, Kirsten. Are you going to tell me that it's going be okay? It isn't."
Frowning, she answers, "I *know* it isn't, Ryan. I watched it all fall apart and I never knew what to say. How to help."
"That's because you couldn't." Ryan nearly says something else, but he shuts his mouth sharply.
"No. I'm sorry. I...I shouldn't have said that."
She shifts from her position, smoothing a crease in the front of her pajama shirt. She doesn't look at him when she says, "Some things aren't meant to last forever."
His voice nearly cracks, "You think that's true? In my dream, I see her, exactly how she looked the first time I saw her and I remember. And then it happens, I see her in our bedroom and God, she took too many pills and for a moment I was so sure...and then I remember picking her up from that alley in Tijuana and *knowing* that she'd have to get better. She'd just have to."
"How did your dream end, Ryan?"
"I was too late. I couldn't save her."
She only intends to kiss him on the cheek, a soft sign of an affection she's sure she must feel for him and then he moves his head and she touches his soft lips with her own and she knows. She knows Ryan because she wants to save people, but she can't do that, she can't do anything, and only watches as it all falls apart.
Ryan's hand smoothes over her hair and she can feel his mouth opening, his tongue hesitantly asking for entrance and she doesn't stop. She knows Ryan in this moment, knows that he is just like her.
But Ryan did save Marissa. Ryan would save her all over again. She breaks away just as quickly as she connected and sucks in a deep breath.
Ryan's eyes open and he croaks out, "Christ, I've fucked everything up."
"No, no, Ryan," she insists, getting off the bed and standing in front of him. "That was my fault. I'm sorry. I just. I understand how you feel. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have..."
"Kirsten," he breaks in, and his eyes aren't at all like when he was younger. They're bleaker and she wonders how long she's ignored the despair in his expression. "Kirsten, I knew exactly what I was doing."
And then it hits her and she groans, "Oh God...*Sandy.* Ryan, that was my mistake."
He laughs then, hard as nails, more bitter than she's ever heard. "Take it to your grave, then. It didn't matter. Nothing does."
"I know that isn't true," and her voice rises higher than she intends it to.
He gets up, standing to close to her, challenging her. "Nothing matters to *me* anymore," he intones softly. His breath smells of instant coffee.
For a moment, she wants something she cannot describe. For a moment she hesitates, not knowing why she isn't backing away.
Ryan breaks away, slumping back onto the bed. "You should leave, Kirsten."
That incites her to sit next to him, looking at him for a long time before finally saying, "I would have stopped it before it happened, Ryan. I'm not stupid."
A frown deepens on his face, but he stays silent.
"I never knew what to say when you and Marissa started having problems. I just...stood by and watched everything fall apart. I felt that if I knew what to do, then maybe, oh God, I don't know, I just knew that I was-"
"Hey," he says softly, cutting her off, "by the time everyone saw how bad it was, it was already over."
"You know, Ryan, you're the type of person I wish I could be. You're much stronger than me. I've been lucky, but I've never been able to do what you've done, Ryan, you're a good person. Don't forget that."
He takes a while to answer, the silence is almost deafening. She doesn't think he believes her and she has no idea how to make him believe, because it is the truth.
"Don't doubt yourself," Kirsten, he finally says, "you're not so bad, yourself."
She smiles and brings an arm around Ryan, the sensation of touch not uncomfortable at all. Tomorrow, she will reconcile that she has fallen, that she hesitated when she shouldn't have.
There's no easy answer. Ryan will still mourn the life he could have had with Marissa, she knows this, but she doesn't tell him, he knows this too. He will have to reconcile his tomorrows on his own.
She doesn't leave. Instead she says to Ryan, after some time has passed, "Maybe it's time for you to take a vacation."
His voice is tired, but he is far from sleeping, "Where would I go?"
Her smile is warm but he cannot see it, she thinks of the only other person who could help, and answers, "Spain's nice this time of year."
She memorizes Ryan's scent and his warm body next to her, knowing that this night is going to stay with her for a long time. Ryan doesn't answer, he only breaks away a bit, this time, kissing her temple softly.
"Thank you, Kirsten."
She only nods in response, waiting for sunrise.