Nope, not dead. I'm not going to make any excuses, either. Second season of the OC sucked, hands down, and not only did I not have the desire to watch it, I certainly didn't have the desire to write about it while Marissa was wreaking havoc on my psyche. I essentially gave up temporarily. And God DAMN IT, I'd written her into my fic. There was no non-stupid way I could get her out of it.

I started this chapter somewhere along the lines of five months ago or so, and never finished it. Today I actually had the desire to add onto it, so I did. When the desire was gone, I stopped. But, I decided I'd better post it so I'm not a comepletely terrible person.

Beachtree (and everyone else), I'm sorry I've gone MIA. There's no excuse, like I say. Someday soon I'll try to start posting and e-mailing again.

FADING – Chapter Twenty Two

Thursday Night

Finding Ryan's room hadn't been hard. It was the actually going into it that was the difficult part. It was one of the observation rooms off the main hallway that was large, had no windows, and was semi-private. Sandy had been worried at first that Kirsten would fly off the handle at the thought of Ryan having to share a room with other patients, but by some miracle there was only one other bed, and so far it had yet to be occupied.

It wasn't like any of the other rooms Ryan had stayed in since he had gotten sick, and Sandy felt the rushing feeling of discomfort and unease come slamming back into his system as soon as they stepped in past the doorway. It had that overbearing hospital smell of antiseptic and generic laundry detergent. There were counters against one wall with sinks, cupboards, and surfaces littered with various medical equipment in an alarmingly disorganized manner. He felt like he was on a bad episode of ER.

If the feel to the room itself wasn't bad enough, Sandy dreaded seeing Ryan that much more. He and Kirsten had wandered timidly in at around ten thirty. They'd left Seth somewhere around the admittance desk after he had explained in an unnecessary amount of words that he was supposed to wait for Summer, who had promised to meet him.

The lights to the room were on, and very, very bright. Usually, whenever Ryan had been in a private room at night, they had always turned off the lights to let him sleep. For some reason keeping them on seemed unbelievably cruel to Sandy.

Even though there was no one in the bed adjacent, the light blue screen had been drawn across the room as a divider so Sandy and Kirsten had to take several steps before they could even make out a figure on the other bed. But once they were at the foot rest, Sandy felt reality hit like a blow to the stomach. Back in the hall he'd allowed himself to float away on a nice, happy cloud of relief because Ryan was going to be alright. But Ryan didn't look alright.

Lying flat on his back, his head turned away from them, Ryan looked anything but alright. Piled under stacks of dingy, off-white knit hospital blankets he looked so hopelessly worn out that Sandy felt like giving up…on what, he didn't know. Ryan's skin was pale, as usual, but in the unforgiving light he looked ghostly, his eyes sunken and his cheekbones prominent. Sandy hoped that his eyes were playing tricks on him, but the boy's lips were still tinged slightly blue, although a massive improvement from the alarming color they had been back when he'd been lying on the floors of Julie Cooper's patio. A white tube attached to a noisy, hissing machine trailed up to Ryan's face, wrapped securely behind his ears and under his nose, giving him extra oxygen, Sandy decided.

Kirsten seemed to deflate into a rickety chair at the bedside, her dazed eyes glued to Ryan's face. Sandy stood beside her and tried not to look as nervous as he suddenly felt. Looking at Ryan like this felt so, so wrong. He'd looked weak before; they'd all seen Ryan nearly defeated, looking like a shell of his former self, but right there in that moment, after that terrifying night and in that depressing room, it felt very wrong, and very scary.

"Ryan? Sweetie?" Kirsten's tearful voice spoke, barely above a whisper, as if she were afraid to break the silence that had hung between them for what seemed like forever. She brushed the backs of her fingers across a pale cheek.

Ryan stirred slightly, moaning softly in his sleep and involuntarily leaning in to her touch. Sandy pressed his lips together hard and reached for one of the teenager's cold, slack hands. "Hey, kiddo." He said, because he didn't want Ryan to think that he wasn't there, too.

Another soft sound from the head of the bed and Sandy knew he wouldn't be leaving that dreadful room once the entire night. He'd have to page a nurse to find out who exactly one had to sleep with to get a second chair in this joint. Ryan's previous hospital rooms had not only been nicely decorated, but had comfortable sofas and recliners. Not to mention a TV. Seth was going to go nuts in this place.

When Ryan gave no other indications that he would be waking up any time soon, Sandy turned his attention to his wife and took in her drawn expression and ever-present frown. "He needs his rest." He said softly, placing a hand on her shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze through the fabric of his jacket.

Kirsten sighed. "I know." She replied softly. In her lap her hands wrung together anxiously "I just…wish I could talk to him. Just for a minute."

"About what?" Sandy asked gently.

Shaking her head, Kirsten stared back at Ryan's peaceful face. "It doesn't matter." She sighed quietly and leaned forward towards the bed, resting her elbows on the mattress and pillowing her head in her hands. "It's late." She murmured after glancing at the clock on the wall.

Sandy nodded. "You can take Seth home. Come back early in the morning." He suggested immediately. Kirsten could act as tough and together as she wanted, but Sandy had seen enough so far tonight to know that she was emotionally and physically worn out. "Ryan's probably just going to sleep through the night, anyway."

Kirsten looked at him in disbelief.

With a sigh, Sandy pulled at his already loosened tie and removed it from around his neck, draping it over the back of his wife's chair. "You know you won't get any sleep if you stay here. You'll just stay up all night and stare at him."

"Oh, and you won't?" Kirsten asked dubiously, the barest trace of amusement in her voice.

Sandy stuffed his hands in his pockets a scoffed. "No, but…" Sandy gave up because he was too drained to think up a witty response, and even though he was a Cohen, this moment felt far too traumatic to make a joke. He sighed. "It's been a long night, honey. You should go home with Seth." He finished softly, brushing back a strand of her hair.

Kirsten shook her head, and the strand fell loose again across her cheek. "I'm not going anywhere." She said evenly, and pulled herself up to sit rigid in her seat, as if proving that she was in fact not tired. "And Seth won't want to leave either. If he does he can take our car."

With a reluctant nod, Sandy relented. "Okay." Glancing around the room hopefully, Sandy spotted an equally weathered metal chair on the opposite side of the dividing screen and crossed the room to pick it up. "But when Ryan wakes up and lectures us both for staying up all night, I'm blaming you…" A daunting presence at the door made Sandy do a double take. "Honey, pinch me. I think I'm having a nightmare."

"Very funny, Sanford." Caleb growled, as he walked into the room with a scowl, his tuxedo tie askew and his jacket mysteriously absent. "I financed this wing of the damn hospital and I still couldn't find my way through this maze. What's with that ridiculous blue line? I felt like Dorothy following the yellow brick road."

Sandy smirked and had to force his brain to come up with one joke at a time. "Ruby isn't really your color. You're more of a Tin Man." He lifted the chair and carried it back across the room to place it quietly beside his wife. "Let me know if the Wizard gives you that heart you've always wanted." He joked and allowed himself to sit down.

"Sandy, enough." Kirsten pleaded with a hand on his forearm. She turned tired eyes to her father and gave him a look of defeat and desperation. "Dad, what are you doing here?" She asked earnestly

For a moment, Caleb looked insulted. "Kiki, the boy collapsed at my party. I think I have a right to know what's wrong with him." He spoke sternly, walking further into the room as his eyes rested on the bed and his features softened. "What is wrong with him?" He asked, softer.

That was it. "Why would you want to know? Where Ryan is concerned you could never have cared less in the past, what makes now any different? It's not like this is the first time he's been in the hospital in the last two months." Sandy exploded suddenly, leaning forward, the chair squeaking. "Get out, Cal."

Caleb's eyes flashed and Sandy sneered at the finger that was suddenly pointed in his face. "I will go where I please, Sanford. Kirsten is my daughter and she deserves the support of her father in a time of crisis..."

Sandy got to his feet. "Then where the hell have you been all summer?"

The nails of Kirsten's left hand dug deeply into his arm, and when she spoke her voice was sharp and gravelly. "Stop it! Both of you!" She snapped, her blue eyes glaring between them furiously. Then her eyes moved to Ryan, who shifted restlessly on the bed, his expression no longer peaceful. "If you can't be quiet then leave. Sandy, you too." Her voice wavered unsteadily as she kept her gaze on their foster son, blinking back a sudden rush of tears as she fidgeted with the blankets.

Heaving a sigh, Sandy pinched the bridge of his nose and refused to look at his father-in-law, because he knew if he did he'd end up punching him in the face. And he was too tired for that. Sitting back down slowly, Sandy reached out hesitantly and placed an apologetic hand on his wife's shoulder and let his gaze rest on Ryan's peaceful face, watching as the lines if distress slowly were erased with each passing second. "Ryan is very sick, Caleb. It would be best if you left." He said evenly.

Sandy listened to the older man's silence and imagined the look of fury that would be on his face. He waited, and seconds turned into minutes, and still Caleb hadn't stomped out of the room. Moments later Sandy saw him take a few steps forward, and saw two hands rest thoughtfully on the plastic frame at the foot of the bed.

Looking up Sandy saw Caleb standing there silently, his trademark cold blue-grey eyes trained on Ryan's sleeping figure. The look there wasn't the usual resentment and utter dislike he usually wore when looking upon the teenager. Instead he looked deep in thought, his jaw set grimly as a muscle in his cheek twitched. If Sandy didn't know any better, he'd think that Caleb actually looked worried…or maybe bothered was a better word.

He seemed to look at the oxygen line under Ryan's nose and softly said, "Did he contract a lung infection?"

Sandy's head snapped up to look at the older man in surprise, and saw his wife do the same. "Yes." He answered for her, and watched Caleb nod in understanding.

"Your mother developed pneumonia near the end." Caleb said, his tone unmistakably sad as he nodded his head slightly in Kirsten's direction. "I could never understand how something that was supposed to make her better could make her so much worse." He said with a small sigh, his fingers clutching the railing tightly, then releasing. There was no denying the utter grief in his voice as he spoke.

Beside Sandy, Kirsten swallowed. "Dad…" She began softly.

"Is he on a very strong regimen of chemotherapy?" Caleb interrupted, now looking at someone other than Ryan for the first time. At Kirsten's silent nod, he made a noise of acceptance. "Is it working?" he asked next.

Still feeling derailed from this alarming change in character, Sandy's brows furrowed in confusion. "You've never asked before…"

"I'm asking now." Caleb replied evenly, locking eyes with him and holding the gaze. After several moments of silence, Sandy gave a small nod and sat back in his seat, watching as his father-in-law raised his eyebrows expectantly, reminding them of his question.

Kirsten's lips pressed together in a fine line as she drew in a deep breath before speaking. "No." She said at a near whisper, her eyes tearing up again as she stared at Ryan sadly and let her hand brush gently over short hair on his head. "It's not working yet. But the doctors have said that it's just going to take time. We have every reason to stay hopeful." She finished, and it seemed like she was talking more to Ryan than to her father or husband.

Caleb's eyes fell closed for a fleeting moment as he let out a deep sigh. Sandy watched in awe as he saw a man he'd always considered to be made of stone show an emotion that bore a strong resemblance to concern, even wariness as his eyes lost focus, staring at a spot on the bed. The room fell into silence for several surprisingly comfortable minutes, the only sounds the mechanical whir and beeps of the various medical equipment in the room. Sandy was taken by surprise when Caleb finally spoke again.

"I have friends in the healthcare system. I can get you the best doctors in the world, Kiki. Who's the boy's oncologist? I can have him replaced within the morning if…"

Sandy shared a look with his wife and smiled at her gently. The corners of her mouth lifted into a small grin and she turned to face her father. "Thank you, dad. That means a lot to us." She said honestly. "But we like Dr. Collins a lot. He's a good doctor. And he's great with Ryan. We don't want anyone else."

After a moment of reluctance, Caleb nodded. "All right. But that doesn't mean he's getting the best treatment. I'll set up a meeting with the chief of staff and find a decent specialist. The boy has Leukemia, correct?" He asked, glancing between his Sandy and Kirsten.

"ALL, Cal. Acute Lymphoctic Leukemia." Sandy corrected quietly.

Caleb nodded again. "And I'll sniff around for this…'Dr. Collins', is it? What's his first name? You two are far too trusting. You can never be too careful with these doctors these days. What university did he graduate from? Does he do good work?"

Unable to help himself, Sandy smirked slightly and crossed his arms. "He works out of a cardboard box behind the Viper lounge in LA with a folding table and dirty knives." He deadpanned.

His father-in-law paled and stared at Sandy in shock until the tension became too intense, and Sandy began chuckling under the older man's horrified look. Caleb gave an irritated sigh and jerked his bowtie undone. "That wasn't funny, Sanford." He snapped.

"I'm sorry, Cal." Sandy said in between bouts of muted giggles, silenced by unappreciative glares from his wife. "Of course we know he's a good doctor. That's why we trust him with Ryan's life. Look, we appreciate your sudden desire to help, but please don't question our ability to be good parents. We've dealt with this thing for nearly two months now. We know what we're doing." Sandy finished seriously, looking up at Caleb defiantly.

To his surprise, Caleb backed down immediately. "Fine, fine. I'll drop it for the time being." He relented, and started glancing around the room with an expression of distaste. "But one would think that you two could spring for a better hospital room than this. Kiki, this place is positively dismal! I don't even think it's sanitary."

Sandy rolled his eyes. "It's not so bad. That is, if one doesn't mind rats and cockroaches. I hear they make excellent pets, actually." He drawled, sitting back in his chair, crossing his arms behind his head, and closing his eyes.

There was a moment of silence where Sandy pictured Caleb's bewildered face in his mind. Then Kirsten's voice hurried to reassure her father, "he's kidding again, dad."

Caleb snorted and Sandy heard him walking towards the door. "I'm going to find us some coffee and a decent chair, presuming that I don't get lost again in Munchkin Land." He paused, and Sandy cracked open an eye just in time to see Caleb pointing a finger in his direction as he left the room. "And I'll see if I can't find a brain for Scarecrow over there."

Summer found her boyfriend hunched over on a bench, his head in his hands. Wringing the strap of her purse in her hand, she bit her lip and watched him, waiting for him to sit up again, notice her, and smile. Maybe rub his eyes because he was tired. But the longer she watched him, the longer Summer had to see her boyfriend hunched over on a bench, his head in his hands.

He didn't even look up when the tapping of her heels sounded across the hideous linoleum floors and came to an abrupt halt at his resting place. For a moment Summer thought that he had fallen asleep…or maybe that was just what she was hoping for.

"Hey." She said finally, because standing there for so long was getting ridiculous.

She saw his head move a little, as if alerted by the sound of her voice. But before he even lifted up long enough to look at her, he turned his body away for a moment and rubbed his eyes across his sleeve, destroying evidence of what she had expected all along. Then he turned again and looked at her, giving a tight, close-lipped smile that made Summer's heart sink. He may have been able to wipe away his tears, but his eyes were still bloodshot and red. It was an altogether freakishly 'un-Cohen-y" moment.


That was when Summer started to fear the worst. Plopping down beside him, somehow one of his slack, heavy hands ended up in both of hers. "Seth…" She began, unable to put her thoughts into words. How did you ask these sorts of questions? How did you ask when the person in question was Chino? "Ryan…is he…?"

After she had said it, Summer immediately regretted it because Seth's face twisted in horror at the mere thought before he hurried to say, "No. No, Ryan's…um, actually, supposedly, surprisingly doing well. At least that's what I've been told." He nodded, and patted her hand like some sort of reassuring grandmother. "They moved him to a room and he's resting now. My parents are with him."

Summer nodded and let him hold her hands as long as he needed to. "Do they know what's wrong with him yet? I mean, why…that…happened?" She asked slowly, cautiously.

"Yeah. Pneumonia, or some strain of some sort of lung infection. I don't know, I wasn't really listening." Seth paused there and let go of her hands, reaching them over his head in a tall stretch, taking a deep, noisy breath in his nose and expelling it slowly.

Her heart sinking in her chest, Summer chewed on her bottom lip and studied Seth's face. "That sounds serious." She said softly, waiting for more bad news.

Seth surprised her by shaking his head casually. "Actually we're being led to believe that it's not so bad." He explained with a shrug, his eyes wandering around to take in the sights of the near-empty emergency room. "Some bed rest, some penicillin, he'll be home in no time." He gave another weak, tight-lipped smile that made Summer uncomfortable.

"That's great." Summer tried to follow her boyfriend's lead. She tried to smile back at him and reclaimed his hand in her own to give it a small, reassuring squeeze. "Is he allowed visitors?" she asked next, alternating between studying his crestfallen face and trying to figure out what floor Ryan would be on. If it wasn't so bad, like Seth said, maybe he'd be upstairs near oncology, where his room used to be. But if Seth were wrong would he be in the ICU? Where was that, even? Was there some sort of mall map that would have a red 'you are here' arrow and directions to bathrooms?

Seth sucked in another loud deep breath, but this time it was shaky. "Um, I don't know. I think they're keeping it to a parental basis at this point, but it shouldn't be too long. But its night, and I remember how anal this place used to be about visiting hours so I'm not too sure…" He trailed off suddenly and looked away from her, craning his neck so that his head was turned in the complete opposite direction.

Summer had seen his shoulders droop, as if he'd suddenly lost his strength. "Seth," she began softly, shifting closer to him and wrapping one slender arm around his shoulders while trying to find his gaze. "What is it?" She tried to look at him, but he was turned too far away.

Finally he turned back towards her on his own, and Summer almost wished he hadn't. His eyes were filled with tears again that threatened to spill over. Summer's own eyes began to burn as stared back at him and tried not to break down into sobs. "Seth…" She began again.

"Did you see him, Summer?" Seth's hollow, tremulous voice interrupted her, his wet brown eyes burning their images into her memory.

She didn't ask what he meant, because she understood instantly. When a tear streaked down her cheek, Summer brought up her hand to quickly wipe it away, meeting her boyfriend's eyes again. She forced words passed her tightly closed throat. "Yeah, I did."

Summer saw Seth's Adam's apple bob sharply as he swallowed hard, averting his gaze as he tried to keep his tears from falling and his lip from trembling at the same time. "Me too." He said finally, and squeezed his eyes shut.

It happened on autopilot when Summer, not saying anything, reached out and enveloped Seth's upper body in her small embrace. She held onto him tightly and felt his arms loop around her waist, squeezing her closer. Seth didn't cry, or at least he didn't break down completely, although she was sure there would be tear stains on her dress when they pulled apart.

Summer, for her part, mostly let her tears fall unchecked onto the collar of Seth's shirt. She didn't whisper any words of condolence, because she didn't have any to offer. Instead, she just held onto her boyfriend for dear life and waited for the pain to stop.

AN: Maybe over the summer, after the memory of Marissa burned into my brain has begun to fade, I'll continue writing. Here's hoping.