Fandom: The O.C

Title: The Silence

Author: RangerGirl PG

Summary: Alternative ending for 'The Rainy Day Women'. Someone else finds Ryan on the pier.

Notes: This was a little plot bunny that struck me during the end montage. Poor, poor angsty Ryan was just screaming out for some H/C - and let's face it, he deserved better than Marissa. And much as I liked the S/S ending, this would be my preferred version.

This fic was written while listening to Oasis' Champagne Supernova on a constant loop. For maximum reading pleasure, stick it on – it gets better with every listen.

Disclaimer: Not mine. Just my temporary playthings.

The Silence

Though he'll never admit it, Seth has always secretly liked the rain.

He figures that if he lived somewhere like Seattle where it's an everyday occurrence, the novelty value would wear off pretty quickly, but after seventeen years of life in the OC anything that shakes up the Newport Beach bubble is more than welcome as far as he's concerned. In most places, rain means picking up an umbrella before you leave the house. In Orange County, it's a natural disaster.

So his decision to take a walk in the rain is, on balance, not as bizarre as it might first appear. After days upon days of sitting in the house drowning his sorrows in comic books and sci-fi movies (why he'd ever thought watching the Matrix sequels might actually improve his mood is entirely beyond his comprehension) he figures it might just be what he needs to clear his head. The first five minutes are admittedly uncomfortable, but after a while he gets used to the feeling of being soaking wet, and becomes kind of pleasantly numb to it.

On any other day, walking down towards the pier dressed as he was would attract at least a degree of attention from passers by. Today, there's almost nobody around, and those that are out rush past, heads bowed and eyes scrunched against the downpour. They're too consumed with concern for their designer trench coats and Ugg boots to give a second thought to the boy in the Spider-man mask. And that suits Seth well, because he can see just fine through his tinted plastic eyepieces, and the sight of windswept Newpsie is one that never fails to amuse.

It's not that he's especially vindictive by nature. It's no secret that there's no love lost between Seth Cohen and the majority of the Newport pod people, and he's hardly about to pass up an opportunity to laugh at their inability to function in the real world. Sunshine is like oxygen to these people, and he has to admit that it's kind of satisfying to see the community lose its breath once in a while.

Okay, now, did that metaphor even make sense? Yep; he's definitely losing his mind.

He would like to be able to say that he has no idea what the hell's come over him in the past weeks. But even that wouldn't be entirely true – he's not so far gone yet that he's not well aware of what, or more accurately who, lies at the core of his freakish behaviour. Here's a clue: it rhymes with bummer.

Heh. Bummer. Okay, that's entirely more amusing to him that it should be. Blame the sleep deprivation. Anyway, at least it's an accurate synopsis of his feelings in that area. Somehow, even when he'd been with Alex, and Summer and Zach were celebrating their six-month anniversary, he'd never entirely allowed himself to give up hope. He'd always maintained, in some tiny, senseless corner of his mind, hope for the idea that Summer would come to her senses and realise that she still loved him, that she'd never really stopped even though he'd left her here for two months with nothing but a letter and a few empty phone calls. It's only now, with her most likely on a plane to Italy for a romantic getaway with Zach right at this moment, that he's slowly coming to realise what he did just might not be fixable.

The weirdest part, the part that he's really still struggling with even now, is that he doesn't regret the choice he made. And he's pretty certain that that fact alone qualifies him for a shiny medal of some description in the Selfish Ass Olympics. It's not that he doesn't regret the consequences of what he did – though she never knew it, it tore him apart a little each time his mom had called and asked, practically begged him to come home. He'd hated himself that summer for what he'd done to his parents, because it wasn't as if he hadn't noticed. He sensed the underlying tension between them that had never really dispersed, even after his and Ryan's return. It made him uncomfortable and it made him guilty beyond belief, because he knew for a fact that it hadn't been there before he'd done his Houdini act. He'd done that to them, and sometimes he wishes for nothing more than to take it back.

But still, despite all that, he can't in all honesty say that he made the wrong decision in leaving. If he could go back; if that rend in the space-time continuum ever transpired and he had the chance to change what he'd done, he wouldn't. He knows that he'd do the same thing all over again in a heartbeat, because for him there had never even been a choice. Life in Newport without Ryan had never been an option. Life in Newport before Ryan had been hell. But it was a familiar hell, and it was all he'd ever known, and somehow that made it bearable because there'd been nothing else to hope for. But then there had been Ryan, and suddenly life didn't seem to suck as much as it usually did. In fact, the levels of suckage had begun to rapidly decrease from the very first day Ryan set foot in the poolhouse, and had eventually levelled out at what Seth considered to be a fairly reasonable human average.

With Ryan had come a rapid chain reaction of events, and with it in turn had come new people. Some friends, some more than friends, some enemies who had inexplicably become friends; all adding up to collectively form a larger group of people than he had ever had in his life before. There'd been Anna, who he finds he still can't think of without a pang because god he misses her some days. When he looks back on it, he wishes that they'd never dated in the first place. They never did have a lot of chemistry, and maybe then they'd still be friends and she'd still be here, doling out sage advice and kicking his ass at PSX. But if there's one thing he's learnt by now it's that it does absolutely no good to muse on what could have been if only.

Luke, meanwhile, had managed to make the transformation from waterpolo-playing sociopath to loveably inept dork in what seemed to Seth to be an unnaturally short space of time. But he wasn't complaining; this Luke was infinitely preferable to the one who saw stuffing him into lockers and urinating in his shoes as reasonable alternatives to actual conversation.

Marissa...well, she was Marissa. They'd never had a lot in common, and he suspects that they never really will, and he can't say that he's too sorry. She'd certainly proven herself to be a lot more human than he'd originally taken her for; far from being the perfect Newpsie-in-training next door, she's carrying far more emotional baggage than anyone weighing approximately eighty pounds reasonably should. Her trouble, as he saw it, was that her baggage was too heavy for anybody else to shoulder for her, though God knows Ryan had tried. Then there was Summer. The girl of his dreams. The object of his undying, angst-ridden pubescent (and pre-pubescent) affections. The girl who he had always been convinced was out of his league, though he'd always nursed a secret, desperate hope to the contrary. He would never in a million years have imagined that there could ever be a situation in which he would choose to leave her; in which she wouldn't be enough to keep him in Newport. For so many years, he'd thought that if he had Summer, his life would somehow become complete. But it turned out that the thing that had made his life worth living was something he hadn't even realised he was missing until it had arrived.

Sure, he'd wanted a friend. Multiple friends, in fact, but even one was apparently too much to hope for in this town. For Seth, living in Newport could be most closely approximated to living in some really, really foreign country, somewhere where he didn't speak the language and didn't understand the culture. Though he was born and bred here, and had lived here all his life, he could never truly think of Newport as home no matter how he tried. He had always found himself feeling homesick for some other place, pretty much any other place. Always, that is, until Ryan.

Even with his overactive imagination, he could never have predicted that a juvenile delinquent kid from Chino would be the person to turn his life around. But he'd known, somehow even before they'd really talked at all, that there was more to Ryan than that. Seth had seen something in him, or maybe he'd just really wanted to see something because for the first time in his life he'd met somebody his age whose company he actually enjoyed. Either way, his dad had obviously seen it too, or he never would have brought Ryan home. It took his mom longer to see it, or maybe just longer to accept it, but thank God she had in the end.

It's something of a relief when he's distracted, because he's on the verge of some severely mushy thoughts at that point and he's had more than enough humiliation to last him a lifetime in the past week alone. For a second he's not sure what it is that makes him turn and squint through the rain towards the edge of the pier. He'd only seen it out of the corner of his eye, but whatever it was had been enough to stop him in his tracks. He's about to put it down to sunshine deprivation when he sees it. A hunched figure, barely visible throughout the torrential downpour that seems to be growing heavier by the second. He moves closer, and the nearer he gets the more convinced he becomes. What the hell is Ryan doing standing on the edge of the pier in the pouring rain?

He breaks into a jog, pulling the mask off his head as he calls Ryan's name. There's no visible response; Ryan's back remains turned to him, and after what seems an inordinately long time considering the distance, Seth reaches him.

"Ryan? Dude, what are you doing?"

He lays a hand on Ryan's shoulder in what is largely an attempt to make his presence known, because he's not at all convinced that Ryan has even heard him. Is it possible to go deaf from earfuls of rainwater?

There's still no reponse, and Seth is mildly alarmed by the fact that he can't feel any body heat whatsoever emanating from Ryan.

"How long have you been out here?"

No response. Seth is struck suddenly by the thought that if he wasn't standing upright and drawing breath, Ryan would be showing all the signs of your typical corpse. It's a horrible thought, and one that he buries (no pun) immediately, but not before he's overwhelmed by the need for some kind of response from his friend. He shakes Ryan gently and tries desperately to think of something else to say because his mind is suddenly unnervingly blank.

"So, I'm guessing there's something going on. Unless you're pulling a Gene Kelley, in which case I might recommend you trading in the wife beater for, say, a top hat. Just a thought."

He's not sure what he's hoping to achieve with the joke, other than it might just elicit some kind of response. Anything.

He's rewarded when Ryan slowly turns to look at him, and any doubts he might have had as to whether anything's wrong are dispelled at that point. He never wants to see Ryan's eyes like that again. Like they're about to brim over with anguish.

It's not the first time Seth remembers seeing them look that way; he'll never forget the evening of the day Ryan's mother left for the second and last time. Or the long hours spent in a chilly hospital waiting room in Tijuana, waiting for news of Marissa. Or, most recently, Ryan's face in Portland after Teresa's phone call. Each of those times, the same thought has gone through Seth's mind; the hope that it's the last time he has to see Ryan hurt that much. Because when Ryan's in pain, it's a feeling like no other. It's a feeling that he can't really explain, because it's messy and weird and kind of oddly violent. Like he wants to take hold of Ryan and rip the pain out of him, every last horror he's had to live through, every person that's used him and scarred him and abandoned him, every tainted memory that haunts him, and scrunch it up all into a ball until it's forgotten and Ryan can be whole again.

He doesn't know what to do when he sees Ryan's eyes like that. So he does what comes first to him in nine situations out of ten. He speaks.

"What is it?"

The words sound wrong, somehow, as though there's something else he should be saying.

"Lindsay's gone."

"Gone. As in...?"

"As in on a flight to Chicago."

Seth's chest seems to constrict momentarily, like his heart's writhing in protest at the sheer injustice of it. For a second, he feels like screaming. Preferably at Lindsay, although the nearest tree or streetlamp would probably suffice at this point. This shouldn't be happening. This is a guy who's already been abandoned far too often, by far too many people. His own mother, for crying out loud. Of all the people this could happen to, of all the people in Newport with girlfriends who could potentially leave the state, why him?

Ryan's head is bowed, and Seth's not sure if he's trying to keep the rain out off his face or if it's something else, but he thinks he knows. When he sees Ryan's eyes shining with something that definitely isn't rainwater, he averts his own eyes, knowing full well how Ryan hates anyone to see him like this. At least with Seth it won't be the first time. He touches Ryan's back again, trying to convey silently that he's here and he, for one, is not going anywhere. Though he half expects Ryan to shake him off, he's somehow unsurprised when he doesn't.

He is surprised, however, when he feels Ryan moving closer to him, all but leaning against him in the semi-darkness, and it strikes him suddenly, randomly, just how short Ryan is. Not short, like on a hobbit-like scale, but still shorter than Seth. Oddly, this might just be the first time he's ever really felt the difference; Ryan gives the impression of being both much taller and much older than he really is. He wants to say something, anything at all, but there's nothing he can say that's going to help at this moment, and he knows it. Whatever words he might have spoken get caught in his throat as he feels Ryan shaking against him, and a glance to his right confirms that the cold and the rain have little or nothing to do with it. He keeps silent, but slips his arm around Ryan's shoulders and holds him close.

He feels the sob before he hears it; with Ryan pressed this tightly against him it's easy to pinpoint the exact moment at which he breaks. His hand moves instinctively upwards to Ryan's head, his fingers tangling in the drenched hair as he gently pulls Ryan's head downwards to rest against his shoulder. It's crazy and random and makes less than no logical sense, but he feels as though in doing this, he's softening the blow - like he can make this hurt less if he can shoulder a part of Ryan's pain, somehow absorb the tears into himself.

He can hear the quiet sobs muffled against his neck now, feels the warm tears mingling with the rainwater on his skin. The dull ache in his chest grows more acute, and he has a sudden overwhelming desire to tug Ryan into his arms and hold him properly, hide him from the world that he's probably had more than enough of right now. But apart from the holy awkward factor, there's something oddly peaceful in the stillness of this moment and he thinks somehow if he disturbs it, he'll only make things worse.

So he doesn't move. He's entirely still, save for the hand which still rests on Ryan's head, fingers running absently through the drenched hair in a movement he hopes is soothing. Ryan too is all but immobile, the tremors having given way to silent, bitter tears, but he's still leaning against Seth and holding on as though his life depends on him. At that moment, maybe it does.

He isn't used to this. The silence thing. He doesn't know why, but he's always had this innate character dysfunction that renders him utterly incapable of leaving a silence unfilled. Words are like his safety net; his power source, and it's rare that he ever finds himself in a situation where he's willing and able to just shut the hell up and appreciate the silence.

Right now, he thinks he might just be learning.