Author: Regency

Title: Vows (The Buildup)

Summary: 2014 is only twelve months long, but they'll change Katie's life for the better—Ridge will see to it. What he doesn't see is that Katie will change his life, too.

Setting: Begins just after Ridge & Katie's talk on NYE 2013.

Author's Note: This story features Ridge as portrayed by Thorsten Kaye, the recast, not the original by Ronn Moss. Inspired by Kimbra's album Vows.

Disclaimer: I don't own any characters, setting, or quotes recognizable as being from The Bold & the Beautiful. They are the property of their actors, producers, writers, and studios, not me. The poems quoted in this story are also the owners of their respective poets. No copyright infringement was intended and no money was made in the writing or distribution of this story. It was good, clean fun.

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When Ridge said he'd make sure her new year was happier than the one before, Katie hadn't known what to expect. Maybe nothing. Like Brooke, Ridge was prone to making a promise one day and breaking it the next. She shouldn't have expected anything. Only something made her believe him. Despite the broken promises she'd endured these last couple of years, she believed him without hesitation. She set her heart on it.

Because in the almost thirty years they'd known one another, she didn't think Ridge had ever looked at her the way he had on New Year's Eve. In every visit since, the look had been the same. She was growing accustomed to that, too, and the warmth that settled over her like an embrace when he said hello and lingered once he'd gone.

Something in the air had changed. The New Year smelled so much sweeter than the treachery of yesterday.

January

That first month, Ridge stopped by her office three times a week to talk to her. He'd come between meetings and loiter until her assistant gently shooed him away. When they were still finding their feet together, they spoke about Brooke and Bill and everything—oh, god, everything—until Katie found herself crying a fourth time and he vowed not to ask her any more about the year before. After that, he asked about everyone else. About Eric and Donna and Stephanie's final days, about Pam and her secret somebody, about the neverending saga of Liam, Hope, and Steffy with its brand new twist named Wyatt. He asked after her health every time. He asked about Will and he listened. He sat and listened to her speak so quietly sometimes she thought she was alone. But she wasn't, not with him. She said things she never expected to be able to say, safe in the knowledge that they'd go no further. She didn't know why she trusted him after this long, but she trusted him.

Every visit, no matter how brief, ended in a strong-armed embrace. Like he couldn't help himself, he always hugged her goodbye before he departed, back to Forrester and Eric's, back to Brooke's insistence and his own uncertainty. He always hugged her, and she got used to it. A good day just wasn't as good without a hug from Ridge Forrester. It was a small thing he added to her life, and it was the best thing. Little by little, Katie began to feel strong enough to start giving that wonderful thing back.

A sighing Ridge dropped into the chair across from Katie. She glanced away from the memo she was drafting to see her former brother-in-law scrub a hand down his face. He looks exhausted and fed up. Katie was sensing a pattern.

"Don't tell me, Brooke's at it again."

"When isn't she?"

Katie saved her document and shut her laptop, clasping her hands together on the lid. She was trying not to enjoy how much Ridge confided in her, but she was only human.

"I'm not much of a therapist, but if you're going to make these Brooke-related visits a habit, I'll have to start charging by the hour."

Ridge huffed a chuckle. "I probably need my head examined anyway. I don't know what I'm doing."

"You're trying to put your family back together. You're doing what you think is right." Katie came around to sit on the edge of her desk.

"Am I? Is this the right thing to do? Because it doesn't feel like it, not anymore." Ridge slumped in his chair, glaring at the ceiling like its name was Brooke. "I shouldn't have come back. I thought I needed the closure. I needed to be sure."

Katie noted how disheveled he looked compared to his customary grace and felt the first stirrings of real concern. "What did you need to be sure about?"

"Myself. Brooke. This town. I don't think I belong here anymore. How weird is that? My own home and after a year away, I don't know where the hell I am."

"It must be a shock to hear so much has changed."

"It's a shock to hear what hasn't." Ridge pulled himself upright. "I compare what I hear to my memories and it's all the same, it's all business as usual. Just none of it is business as usual for me. I'm the one that's changed."

Katie pulled a chair over to sit next to him. "Why'd you change?"

"I woke up and realized how old I am. I'm too old for scandal and too tired for mayhem. I'm not ready to die, but I can't live like that anymore. Only that's all Brooke wants. She thrives on the forbidden." Ridge lowered his head to rub his eyes. "I'm just too old."

Katie took his hand. "You're not too old, Ridge. You're not too anything. You're just the way you're supposed to be."

"Nobody thinks that but you."

"Nobody thinks I'm—what was it? I think it was 'filled with strength and courage.' Nobody thinks that about me except you. Between the two of us, somebody has to be right some of the time."

He squeezed her hand. "My money's on you."

She squeezed back. "Mine's on you."

"I guess that means we can't lose."

"Not this year. This is our year."

Ridge cracked a slip of a smile. "I'm holding you to that."

"You can count on me."

He inhaled deeply and let it out, grasping her hand that little bit tighter. Underneath his natural tan, he was paler than he should have been. So pale she wanted to take his pulse and count the beats of his heart, because hers was the one that was supposed to be unreliable. She was counting on his to keep the time.

"Brooke really did a number on you today."

"Brooke…is Brooke and I should stop expecting another woman's sense of morality to dictate what she does."

"She did something unforgivable and you're trying to justify it so that you can justify forgiving her."

"I'm trying to remember why I always have."

She warned herself to be fair. "Because love is blind."

"And deaf and dumb. Love is headless. I can't live or love with my eyes closed. Only it feels like that's the only way that's left. Where did I go wrong?" He turned to her like she might have the answer. She had an answer, she supposed.

"You didn't go wrong, you grew up. Everybody has to sometime." Katie backtracked. "I say 'everybody'; I obviously don't include Brooke in that." Charitable wasn't on Katie's list of virtues today. The spark of humor in Ridge's eyes hushed the voice inside her forever preaching, forgive and forgive again.

"I don't think I do either."

Katie felt validated by the knowledge that she wasn't the only who couldn't go back. She knew Ridge wouldn't tell. That molasses comfort extended up past their linked hands to her heavy shoulders—she could have rested on his. Leave it to him to comfort me without a word. This camaraderie livened the hours Will didn't fill. Katie cautioned herself on relying on it when it could disappear at any moment. Gently disengaging their hands, Katie went to pour each of them a glass of mineral water.

"Bill's sniffing around your time in Paris, looking for dirt on you. If you've got any secrets you don't want Brooke to find out in the worst way possible, you may want to tell her yourself."

Ridge massaged the bridge of his nose. "It might be easier to let him dig up everything. That'd save me the trouble of telling people."

Katie was curious. "Can't be any worse than what Bill and Brooke pulled last year."

"I don't know about that. They don't seem to have much sympathy for the sick and infirmed." Katie hid her reaction as best she could. She found the thought of Ridge being sick shocking. He was strong and resilient. But what if he couldn't be?

"Empathy hasn't ever been Brooke's strong suit and Bill's been worse than ever since they got together. Is that what made you change? Looking your mortality in the face will—allegedly—make you a better man."

Ridge grunted. "So I've heard. When you can count the days of your life, it's hard to justify being a jerk."

Katie drank her water to conceal her nerves. She wouldn't know where to begin asking questions.

"You and Bill had very different near-death experiences."

"So it would appear."

Ridge pulled the wrinkles from his rumpled sleeves and Katie could only watch in wonder as he put himself to rights. The man who'd collapsed into her chair was receding and with him her friend. This was the heir apparent of Eric Forrester appearing, this was Stephanie's son, put together and well-made. The tiredness that downed his posture was slipped into the inside pocket of his Armani suit like a phone number on a napkin he'd dial later on. He was becoming the man he allowed other people to see and shelving the man he'd shown her. The parts that are wounded are put away, not fit for public consumption.

He stood and stretched like it as a new day.

"Are you going to be okay?"

He smiled, putting his hands in his pockets. "I'm always okay."

Katie wanted to believe that the way she'd believed the vow he'd made her only weeks ago. But for all of Katie's newfound faith, she couldn't make it stretch quite that far.

"Would you tell me if you weren't?"

"If you'd tell me."

"Deal."

They shook on it, and Ridge drew her into one of his leaving hugs that always seemed to say more than goodbye. She held on tight, thinking of all the ways she'd come to rely on his presence. Don't ever disappear on us again. She couldn't say that to him yet, maybe one day…

"Take the corporate world by storm, Katie Logan," he murmured in her ear.

"I'll try."

He tucked his face into her neck and she might have held on for years had she a modicum less self-control.

"You will. I believe in you."

"I believe in you, too."

Then she let go and Ridge departed with his subtle smile and world-weariness to leave Katie to hers. Ridge had brought shades light and dark into Katie's life just by sharing it, and she found she didn't mind the contradiction, because she was sure Ridge wouldn't abandon her to face the darkness alone.