A/N: Here it is! I'm so sorry I made y'all wait so long for it andI appreciate all the comments about this story and others. I'll reply more fully to comments in the next chapter; I just wanted to hurry and get this up since I know y'all waited a long time for it. This brings us to right before the attempted rape.

Chapter Twenty

"Trey came back."

The words dropped like a bomb in the room. It took everything Marissa had not to pull away from Ryan and curl up in a protective little ball; she had to forcefully remind herself that no one could hurt her here.

Ryan could feel her tense. It tore him up inside. He'd sworn to himself that no matter what went down in their relationship, she'd never have that reaction to him. Logically, he knew she wasn't having that reaction to HIM, knew that it wasn't his fault. He was having a hard time convincing his gut and his heart of that.

"Maybe we should do what we did with Oliver?" Marissa suggested tentatively, not really believing she could put anything about Trey to the side but irrationally desperate to keep this from coming to a head for as long as possible. "Not talk about the…until the time when it actually happened?"

"Marissa…" Ryan sighed, pulling his arm away from her and harshly rubbing his hands over his face. "How will that even work? Are we supposed to laugh and talk about all the good times we had when we were getting back together, and totally forget what was building that we got blindsided by? I can't do that. I doubt you can, either."

Marissa shook her head, tears filling her eyes. "I can't," she confessed, her voice barely above a painful whisper. "I can't talk about it and can't NOT talk about it all at once."

"Marissa, if this is going to be too hard for you…" Ryan said gently, aching to reach out and touch her, knowing that probably wasn't what she needed. "I mean, I don't know if it's going to be bad for you to dredge all this up…I don't know if you should be talking to someone who's going to be better at helping you than I am…"

Marissa shrugged wearily. "I've gone to therapy; my mom wanted me there and I knew she probably had a point. It's helped, it has. But we need to talk about this in terms of US. As hard as it is, as much as it hurts, I think it might help." She shook her head tiredly, not even noticing the tears at this point. "We are so not over this. We're not even close to over this. Of all the things that could hold us back, of all the things that could end up tearing us apart if we don't deal with it, this is the worst. I know that. I think you know that."

Ryan closed his eyes. "I do know that," he admitted huskily. "As much as even going there in my mind makes me…" he trailed off; he didn't know if there were words to describe how he felt when he pictured that night in his mind. "I know that it'll break us apart if we let it," he said instead. "So…let's talk." He took a deep breath. "I guess the first time you, Trey, and I were all together was at the clothing store." Even as he said it, his mind had already traveled back to that day. He'd been incredibly wary of Trey, it was true. He'd been worried Trey would do what he always did to his life. But he'd honestly never even contemplated that Trey would hurt Marissa. His memories of this were still painfully crystal clear; he could remember every detail about asking Seth to call Marissa, about Marissa showing up at the clothing store. He went over it in his head again and again and again. "I wish I could remember the good things about that day," he admitted painfully. "I mean, I CAN remember them. I remember us messing with the hat and stuff. I know that we were really getting to a place where we could trust each other and be friends AND were starting to feel like something more could really work out between us. It was awkward; it usually is if we're not together, but it was a good awkward. But…I just can't focus on it." His voice cracked and he lowered his head. "I go back to that day, or to when I took you back to Chino, and I can't focus on any of those things. I re-play them over and over in my head…wondering if there were signs that Trey was going to hurt you that I didn't see." He rubbed his hand harshly over his face. "I mean, was he watching you? Did he say something that should have made me wake up? I could tell that he liked you; should that have been enough? He's always wanted anything good that I have."

"Ryan…" Marissa said softly, helplessly. "No one saw what Trey did coming. I don't even know if anyone COULD have. I've never felt like you should have protected me and failed."

"But he was my brother!" Ryan burst out. Marissa jumped at the sudden violence in his voice and he immediately softened. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry," he apologized. "I didn't mean to yell, not about this. I just…it doesn't matter to me that no one else saw it. No matter what anyone says, I don't know if that will ever matter. He was my brother. I knew him better than anyone here in Newport. I feel like…he dropped his head again. "I feel like there had to be signs, and I should have seen them, and because I didn't you paid the price."

Marissa opened her mouth and found she didn't know what to say to make this better. Hesitantly, she reached out and stroked the back of his neck; he didn't exactly lean into it but he didn't pushed her away, either. "You've got to stop feeling like every problem everyone ever has is your responsibility at some point," she said softly. "Had Trey ever raped or tried to rape anyone that you knew of before this?"

Ryan sighed. "No," he admitted.

Marissa knew that would be the answer. "And was he violent to women that you knew of?" she asked, knowing the answer to that, too.

"No," Ryan repeated tiredly.

"Did he ever give you any indication he was even attracted to me? Did he say something?"

"Okay, okay," Ryan said, holding up his hands in defeat. "No, he did not and I get your point. It wasn't obvious, and it wasn't something I had to suspect from some history of his. I just feel like such a goddamn idiot when I think about that time because I…" he chuckled with no humor whatsoever. "I thought we were all getting to be friends. I liked that Trey liked you, and you seemed to like him. It was…it was nice, you know? Or I thought it was."

"So did I," Marissa admitted quietly. "I felt like I was starting to fit back in your life, and it was cool that your brother seemed to consider me a friend." She shook her head bitterly, feeling an overwhelming sense of anger at Trey for everything he'd ruined, for every bond of trust he'd shattered. "So then I moved in," she said aloud, trying to keep her mind from going too far down that path.

Ryan smiled faintly in spite of himself. "Man, that HAS to be considered a form of torture somewhere in the world," he sighed. "You don't even know how badly I wanted you at that time. I barely thought of anything else."

"Oh, I think I know," Marissa laughed a little. "I was thinking of the same thing you were."

"Man, I was SO bad with you when that happened," Ryan groaned. "I felt like such a loser; I don't think I was that tongue-tied when we were first getting to know each other."

"You weren't," Marissa said lightly, smiling as Ryan shot her a playful glare. "It was kind of cute, though. At first I was totally thrown off guard and I didn't know what was going on. I even thought you didn't want me anywhere around-"

"NOT true," Ryan interrupted.

"But THEN…" Marissa went on. "If I could finish a sentence…then you walked in on me in the pool house and I knew different."

Ryan shook his head. "I swear you enjoy the power you have over me. 'Nothing you haven't seen before,'" he mocked. "I was about to pass out as it was and you had to go and make it harder. And then in the kitchen, talking about how the only time you'd slept in that bed you were with me…" his smile faded all too quickly as he remembered why they had been interrupted that night.

Marissa closed her eyes. She knew from this point on, there would be no momentary distractions, no hidden smiles. She knew that had been the night, or at least what she'd offered to do that night, had likely been what really put her on Trey's radar. "The truth is, I wonder about it too," she admitted dully, staring lifelessly into space. Ryan gave her a questioning glance, but before he could ask she continued her line of thought. "I wonder if I should have seen it, if I should have known going so far out of my way to help Trey would only lead him to think the wrong things about me."

Ryan felt like someone had hit him over the head with a brick. How could he not have seen this? It was the oldest story in the world, and he hadn't even considered it. Of course she blamed herself. The victim always blamed herself. "Oh Marissa, please don't…"

"No, I have to say this," she insisted, even as her voice cracked. "Look at how far I went out of my way for him. I helped him get an apartment. I auctioned off things to pay for his deposit and I went to ridiculous lengths to stall that auction so he wouldn't get caught. And then, even worse, after everything went down and you didn't want anything to do with him, I tried to strong arm you into mending fences." Once again, the tears started to slide down her face and she made no effort to stop them. "I went over to his apartment, I planned a birthday party for him, I went so far that you got angry at me. I should have just left it alone, and maybe…"

"You did all that for me." Marissa looked up in surprise but Ryan was already lost in his own pain. "I mean, can you tell me differently? Because I think you did all that because you didn't want me to lose my brother, nothing else."

"I-" Marissa haltingly tried to answer. "I did, but I don't want to take that in a way that means…"

"It means what it means," Ryan said tiredly. "The truth is, no matter how pissed off I got at you about Trey's birthday, I wanted to be pushed into making things right with Trey. When the opportunity came to change my thinking, I jumped on it and even though you'd backed off when I asked you to that time, I came to you and asked you for help because that's what I WANTED deep down. And you knew me well enough to know that." He shook his head, the tears stinging his own eyes now. "I don't care what Trey thought. I'm not going to let you beat yourself up over something you were doing for me."

Marissa shook her head, smiling bitterly. "This is just going to go in one big circle, isn't it? You blame you. I blame me."

"Maybe we should both blame Trey," Ryan muttered.

"I do blame Trey." Marissa angrily brushed some of her tears aside. "I blame him in this case because I think he's done damage to both of us we're never going to totally get over. It shouldn't BE like this, you know? You shouldn't be crucifying yourself for wanting a relationship with your brother. I shouldn't have to constantly guess what I was doing so wrong for wanting to help the brother of the boy I love. But here we are, because of what he's done to us, and I don't know…I don't know if we'll ever STOP going in these circles."

Ryan flinched. Every word out of her mouth hurt him. Even if Marissa's trusting nature bit her in the ass sometimes, he'd never WANTED her to be like him. He'd never wanted to her go through life not trusting anyone, constantly doubting and second guessing every single little thing she did. He didn't want that for anybody, let alone the girl he loved. And now, because of his brother, she was sitting on her couch curled up in the smallest ball she possibly could as if preparing for some invisible blow, doing everything he hadn't wanted for her. It was in moments like this he truly hated Trey. He still wasn't sure he could bring himself to regret their relationship; it had brought too much into his life and she'd assured him over and over again that he'd brought too much into hers. There had been agonizing moments during all this where he'd wondered if she would have a better life if he simply wasn't in it, but whether she'd convinced him that wasn't true or he simply hadn't been able to handle the thought, he didn't let himself go there too often. Still, in the times when it hit him full on how completely Trey had shattered the last bits of innocence and trust she'd had left, he loathed his brother. Aloud, feeling somewhat like a coward but not knowing quite what to say in response to that, he simply moved on. "So then there was the whole drug bust," he said.

Marissa's brow knitted. "Do you ever wonder now if he…"

"Had more to do with that than he let on?" Ryan finished wearily. "All the time. I wonder that about a lot of things. Was he really helping out a homeless guy? I never checked that receipt he threw at me when he told me he bought the watch from that store. I don't know anything about Trey anymore. Was any of that true, or did he just know how to play me that well?

Marissa hurt for him; he sounded so beaten down. She remembered how he'd been with Trey before he found out about the attempted rape, remembering seeing the lost little boy who so desperately wanted to believe in his big brother. She had SO wanted for his sake for Trey not to let him down; it had made her look past things she maybe shouldn't have. Hesitantly, she reached out to take his hand. He started in surprise at first, then gave her a small, grateful smile and entwined their fingers. "If he was lying, he was good at it," Marissa said gently. "We all believed him. Hell, you and I went pretty ridiculously far out of our way to get him off of that charge."

"I knew we were going to get back together then," Ryan remembered. "I mean, some part of me had really known it since the bonfire, but it was on my mind all the time after I almost kissed you at Trey's birthday party. There were no more doubts or defenses that were more important than how badly I wanted to be with you, and you had been so amazing throughout the entire Trey thing. I was surprised at how much you'd grown up. I just wanted to be a part of your life again, and I wanted you to be part of mine. And after you were so brave in the drug bust…" he trailed off. In that final moment in the car with Trey, there had been a moment that had stayed more in his unconscious than anything, but it was all he had and he felt he had to voice it. "There was one time with Trey…" he mentioned softly. Marissa gave him an inquiring gaze. "It was in the car after we drove him home in the car. Something about the way he was looking at you…I totally chalked it up to gratitude at the time but later on, when I thought something happened between you, that I remembered that moment."

There had been a lot of moments for Marissa leading up to the attempted rape, but she'd get to that when they came to it. "I wasn't even thinking about Trey at that point," she admitted. "I was glad we'd helped him out, but all I could think about was that when he got out of the car, we'd be alone in it and something was going to happen."

And so something had. "It's ironic, isn't it?" Ryan said quietly, bitterly. "When we got back together at that point, I don't think we'd ever been so completely on the same page. We knew each other so well at that point, and I thought all the drama that had messed with us, or caused us to mess with each other, was over. For like a couple weeks, we were really happy." He closed his eyes and rubbed his hand over his eyes, willing back the tears and the horror he could feeling coming on like a freight train. "Then I went to Miami."