Author's Note: I ain't gonna lie to ya folks. I haven't been able to keep up with OC fanfics lately, so I don't know if anything remotely like this has been done before. If it has, it's probably just a coincidence. As you can see below, I started this thing in March... but I set it aside for awhile.

I don't EVER post stories before I finish them (I despise unfinished stories) but I really wanted to have people read this before the new season started, so I'm going to try to post a chapter a day, and two each on the weekend days.

Assuming no unexpected delays arise, I should be able to post the entire thing before the new season starts in a week.

::Crosses fingers::

Title: The Vanished

Author: Drink Sparky Cola

Rating: PG-15 due to language and violence

Genre: Drama/Angst

Timeline: I started writing this March 11th, 2004, so it takes place before the end of last season. Though the story still includes elements of the last few episodes of the season (The opening of the Lighthouse, Marissa and Ryan getting back together briefly) all of those were intended to be in my story before I knew they were going to happen. The events of this story take place before The Proposal, which means Caleb and Julie are not an item (they're not even in the story...), Luke's still in town, but the kids know about him and Julie, which somewhat comes into play, and Theresa and Ryan had a fling, but she left town and stayed gone. Which means no baby drama, sorry. It just didn't fit. This story pretty much just deals with Ryan and the Cohens though, with little appearance by anyone else, so none of that is terribly important.

Summary: After one year of living with the Cohens, Ryan begins to slip and after making a few grand mistakes, runs away back to Chino, thinking his friends and family have abandoned him. He discovers too late that he is not alone, but before he can make the decision about the direction he wants his life to take, it takes a tragic turn. Will Ryan figure out what direction is home?

Part One

Berlin Daniels.

That was the name Ryan Atwood would not soon forget.

Berlin Daniels was the girl who ruined his life.

In retrospect, Ryan would assert that the evasive, deceptive teenager was not the actual cause of his misery, that in the end, it was just him and his intimacy issues that permeated the fragile shell he'd built up around his life with the Cohens.

But at the time she had left town, Ryan could think of nothing else but how much he hated Berlin Daniels.

She was an emotional hurricane, a torrent of loathing, sexuality, and seductiveness. She entered the lives of Ryan and his friends abruptly and left just as quickly. And, like the fiercest storms, she left a wave of devastation in her wake.

Nobody needed to explain to Ryan exactly how much effort it would take on his behalf to rebuild. He was a smart guy. He was willing to admit exactly how much he'd screwed up. The question was: how much would it take for the people he'd hurt to forgive him?

Ryan watched the teen as she removed a stack of small tank tops and tees from the motel drawer and shoved them in her suitcase, already full to the brim with jeans, a few undergarments, and various toiletries.

"So you're just leaving, then?"

Berlin slighted a glance at him with cold, amber eyes, denying him the pleasure of her full attention. "I never said I was going to stay long, Ryan."

Ryan irritably ran his hands through his sandy, blond, untidy hair, restraining himself from screaming at her, or slapping her, or slamming his fist into something at the very least. The motel manager was just down the hall and the door was ajar. It wouldn't take much effort to get him kicked out – or arrested – and that was something he just didn't need right now.

Ryan still had things to say.

"Where are you going to go?! No, wait. I take that back. I don't care where you go, but you can't just leave and expect me to clean up the mess we made here!"

"'We'? The mess we made? Excuse me, but I'm not the one who cheated on their girlfriend and lied to her about it for three weeks." Berlin replied coolly, almost casually. "As far as I'm concerned, this is your mess Ryan Atwood. What you tell those rich brats is none of my concern."

Ryan squinted at her. That calmness in her voice, that emotionless tone that lacked any and all regret or remorse... he hated her for it. At that moment, he couldn't think of one person he hated more in the world than Berlin Daniels. "Well," he quipped contemptuously, "You sure know how to make friends."

Berlin snorted, whipping around to face him, allowing reddish-brown streaked locks of hair to fall loosely around bare shoulders. "And you sure know how to lose them, don't you, Ryan?"

He faltered when the words were flung at him, but quickly regained his voice. "You don't care about anyone besides yourself, do you? I never pegged you as one who would have a lot of friends, Berlin, but I never suspected you could care less how much you hurt other people." Berlin moved to pick up some more of her belongings, tossing them in a bag, but Ryan followed her. "You came here, you ruined my life and my relationship, and now you're just gonna leave town so the people you screwed over can pick up the pieces. I feel sorry for the next guy in the next city who gets his hands on you – which you will undoubtedly allow him to do. I hope he's more used to dealing with self-indulged, egotistical bitches!"

Berlin stuffed the last of her things into her suitcase, jammed the top shut, and turned once more to face Ryan. "You probably think your words mean something to me – that they hurt my poor feelings, maybe make me want to repent." Her voice drawled with mocking sarcasm. "I applaud you at wanting to be the hero, Ryan, but I'll tell you what: You and your words are nothing to me. You may not have realized it then, but I'm sure you know now that going into this, we still meant nothing to each other. Our relationship – if you can even call it that – was purely sexual, which means I got what I want out of it. And there's nothing left that's keeping me here. I'm not sorry for what I did, not one bit, and you shouldn't be either because you shouldn't even be here."

"What do you mean by that?" Ryan asked her.

She sighed petulantly. "Don't fuck with me. You know exactly what I mean. I may not want to be with you, but I know you all too well, Ryan Atwood. You're just like me. You don't belong in Newport any more than I do. I guess this past year has gotten you all worked up to be something better than what you are, but it's all a charming delusion. You know where you're from and you should know you can't escape who you are, no matter how much you surround yourself with expensive things and cheap people. The illusion remains just that – an illusion. You're still a fish out of water, Ryan. You should jump back in the ocean before you suffocate."

She glared at him with something akin to disgust and pity in her sneer, grabbed her bag and suitcase, and walked out the door, calling over her shoulder. "I probably won't see you again, so have a nice life here in your fantasy." Ryan watched from inside the empty room as Berlin threw her things in her Chevette, climbed in, and took off down the street.

If he had known he'd never see Berlin Daniels again, he still would have been rendered speechless.

Later that evening...

"I think I really blew it this time." Ryan's muffled voice came from beneath the two large hands smothering his face. He massaged his temples tiredly as Seth Cohen took another bite of Chinese food, lounging on the bed across the room.

"Nonsense. It's you and Marissa. You know? I mean it's you and Marissa... She'll forgive you eventually and you two jilted lovers'll be shacking it up again in no time."

"Could you please not say 'shacking it up'? And no, I don't think it'll be like that this time. I believe her exact words were: 'Don't ever talk to me again, asshole.'"

Seth winced in sympathy. "Ow, that's harsh, man."

Ryan sat up on the couch he'd been lying on. "Not really, considering what I did to her." He bemoaned. Ryan couldn't even comprehend it himself. It all seemed like it happened to someone else... Oh wait, Ryan thought, It did happen to someone else. Luke Ward cheated on Marissa Cooper too, less than a year ago. Now it was happening to him. To Ryan. And he was paying for his unfaithful transgressions through Marissa's stoic silence and persistent avoidance.

Berlin Daniels had been a new student at Orange County Public High School about a month ago. They never would have met if it hadn't been for that new night club Summer had insisted they go to. Berlin was serving drinks. She shouldn't have been legally allowed to, but luckily Berlin looked a lot older than her 18 years. That, coupled with a high-quality fake ID and her uncanny ability to get most anything she wanted, ended up putting her behind the bar... and into their lives.

Berlin had served them drinks when no one else would. Ryan had been able to pick her out right away as someone who shouldn't belong there, but somehow managed to fit right in anyway. He'd called her on it, and she'd shrugged coolly, accepting she'd been caught.

She'd slid a couple drinks over resignedly. When Ryan had given her a quizzical look, Berlin replied, "Well, I can't exactly deny drinks to the guy who knows I shouldn't even be serving them, myself." Another glass appeared before him. Berlin gestured behind him, "One for your girlfriend."

"Thanks." Ryan took the glass, glancing at Marissa. The two of them had been through Hell and high water to be 'just friends.' Ryan never thought they'd end up back together again so soon; the whole Oliver thing had been a serious blow to their relationship; the whole Theresa thing really hadn't helped... but then there had been all the drama with Luke and Julie Cooper. It was ironic to think that Luke Ward would be the reason Ryan Atwood and Marissa Cooper hooked up again, but that was exactly what happened.

One good thing had come out of the affair though: at the end of the day, Marissa had realized that Ryan was the one who was consistently there for her. Ryan had realized likewise that no girl could compare to Marissa...

So why, then, had he fucked everything up so bad?

'It was an accident,' Ryan had pleaded with Marissa. 'She didn't mean a thing to me!' And despite the cliché, it was true. The last thing Ryan had expected was for Berlin Daniels to show up at the cafe the friends frequented the day after meeting her at the club, sipping coffee in a quiet corner.

If she'd been just as surprised as Ryan, she'd hid it well. Berlin had waited until Ryan had left the table to use the rest room. She sidled up to him and reintroduced herself. Just as Ryan had done the previous night, she had called him on his belonging there.

"I never would have figured you for a Newport boy. You're not really from around here, are you?" She'd asked.

"No," Ryan admitted, grinning. "Aren't you?"

"I'm from Detroit. Berlin Daniels." She extended a hand.

"Ryan. From Chino." He took it.

"Surreal, this place. Isn't it? I've only been here for three weeks."

"You kind of get used to it after a while."

"Do you?" Berlin surveyed his attire, then said, "Perhaps I will... I'll see you around Ryan."

Ryan hadn't answered, doubting he would see her. It had been pure chance and a little bit of bad karma that Ryan had found her in that exact cafe five days later, flushed and fed up. He and Marissa had just been in a fight – he couldn't remember what it had been about anymore – when the latter had stormed out of the pool house angrily. Ryan, needing air and space, had come to the cafe to find Berlin in her same spot. Surprised, and a little flustered, he'd sat down at her table just as she was looking up from her book.

He couldn't calculate how it had happened, but one thing had led to another and the next thing he knew, they were making out in the alley behind the cafe.

"So what did you say your girlfriend and you were fighting about?" Berlin asked, breaking the contact.

"I don't remember." Ryan leaned in, desiring more contact with the elusive young woman.

Berlin had been the one to break it off. She grabbed her jacket, pulled out a pen, and scribbled her number on Ryan's hand. "Call me." She instructed, pulling on her coat. Ryan just stood there, dumbfounded, as if he'd been interrupted from sleepwalking. Berlin disappeared around the corner, calling out, "See ya around, Ryan Atwood."

Ryan didn't know it yet, but he would see Berlin Daniels again over the next few weeks. As his already unstable relationship deteriorated, Ryan continued to see Berlin. And she never asked questions. She just took him in, giving him what he wanted until it culminated in a nighttime tryst at her apartment, where she lived alone.

Ryan knew he was making a mistake he would regret. He knew it all along, but he couldn't help himself. He wanted to hold on to Marissa, but he felt he needed Berlin just as badly. She was something stable, dependable; something familiar...

It had been a mistake when Marissa had found out, too. If it hadn't, if Ryan had admitted to his unethical actions on his own, maybe he might have salvaged something with his former girlfriend, but it hadn't worked that way. Sensing something was wrong with her boyfriend when he yelled at her one night for no reason after she had asked him to attend a friend's party that weekend, she had followed him to apologize for whatever she'd said – only to discover him and Berlin in the alley.

"I knew there'd been something wrong these last few weeks, Ryan, but I didn't... I'd trusted you, Ryan. Over anyone else, I trusted you first!" Marissa was crying freely now.

Ryan didn't know what to say. There was nothing to say. He'd screwed up. Four weeks into a relationship and he'd screwed it up.

"God, why does this keep happening to me?" Marissa had asked no one in particular. Ryan had wanted to comfort her, but he didn't know where to start when he knew that he'd been the source of the problem that was plaguing the teenage girl. Her reply was an echo in his conscience: "Don't ever talk to me again, asshole."

He had believed in vain for that first week following the discovery that things could be fixed, but then Berlin had left town and everything seemed lost again.

Marissa wasn't talking to him, neither was Summer. If it hadn't been for Seth's cheerfulness and optimism, Ryan would have been more alienated than Luke had been before he left, which was unfair, Ryan thought, since Marissa had broken up with him for much the same reason.

"She feels betrayed," Luke had counseled Ryan when the two of them had met for lunch the previous week. "Marissa and me? We were never anything special to begin with. I loved her at the time, but..." Luke shrugged. "People fall out of love. What you two had was different. You could tell right from the start."

This is surreal, Ryan thought. Luke Ward is giving ME relationship advice about cheating on Marissa...

Ryan might have left just then, if not for the lack of falsehood in Luke's advice. Luke reached for his wallet to retrieve his credit card, taking responsibility of the tab for Ryan. "The truth is: she trusted that she'd always have your love and faithfulness. You let her down, Atwood."


So there Ryan was now, face embedded in a pillow while Seth ate Chinese on the bed opposite him.

"I deserved it," he bemoaned. "This is no one's fault but my own." There was no reply – what could Seth say to alleviate the guilt that Ryan would subscribe to?

"Why did you do it?" Seth spoke up, finally. "Things were going great with you two. I just don't get why it happened."

"Seth," Ryan rolled over so he was lying on his back, staring at the ceiling. "I couldn't give you one single reason why."

A few minutes passed before Ryan, restless in his thoughts, surged from the bed and pulled on a jacket. "I gotta go for a walk. I'll see you around." And he quit the room, leaving Seth absorbed in silence.