Fairytale of New York

Summary: Kirsten and Sandy go to New York, guess who Kirsten bumps into? Kandy and sort of Carsten-ish but don't be put off! Please read and review.

Disclaimer: I don't own anything to do with the O.C. I'm just pretending Josh has let me borrow them as a Christmukkah present

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Not quite sure what happened here – was writing a Carsten-ish fic for my twisted girls, not pure Carsten, just them talking and how they felt and stuff and then a Kandy ending but it ran away with itself, the characters wouldn't behave and this is the result! This is the infamous 18,681 word "one-shot"…in multiple chapters! Enjoy

Thanks a ton to Em who's been there every step of the way for deep Carsten analysis, random bits of information, and encouragement at 3am! I've snagged some of your thoughts, sorry I almost killed you with the suspense. And thanks to Carlie for her early reading and suggestions, particularly the idea of a Sandy-The Nana bit.

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Fairytale of New York – New York…Carter?

'Kirsten?'

She knew that voice. She'd heard it often; serious, teasing, drunk, loving. She'd imagined it many times; affectionate, lustful, mocking her, egging her on when she debated having another glass. She'd heard it in her dreams, she'd heard it during the long summer in rehab. But it had faded to murmurs, whispers until it was barely there any longer. But she recognised it, oh she certainly did that. The tone, the intonation was different to the last time she'd heard it; a question, the hint of surprise, rather than a sorrowful, wistful sigh, but the word was the same. Her name, the last thing she'd heard him say and here she was, seven months later hearing it again. This time however, it wasn't early summer and they weren't alone in her kitchen. It was early December on a busy New York street packed with Christmas shoppers.

'Carter,' she breathed, wondering if it was her mind playing tricks and knowing it wasn't.

Kirsten debated whether to hurry on, lose herself amidst the crowds on 5th Avenue. She could pretend she hadn't heard, pretend it wasn't her. But she'd paused too long, she'd reacted to the name he'd called and part of her didn't want to walk away, try to forget him again. Part of her wanted to know how he was, and that was innocent enough she told herself.

She turned round; three feet away was a man she hadn't thought she'd see again.

A man who had almost, unintentionally broken her marriage.

A man she'd contemplated having an affair with.

A man she…well. There had been something there, whatever it was.

Carter.

Carter Buckley.

He hadn't changed. Tall, dark and handsome. Check. His shoulders still broad beneath a long coat, some of the scattered snowflakes that were floating down caught in his dark hair. His strange green-hazel eyes no different; still piercing as they searched her face.

'Carter, how are you?' she asked, putting on her best Newpsie act complete with fake smile.

'Kirsten,' was all he said as he took in the sight before him, 'Kirsten Cohen.'

She looked radiant. God he missed her. Missed those smiles she gave him, special smiles, not the false one he saw ghosting her face now, not reaching her eyes. Despite that she looked happy, looked well. Her golden hair was lightly curled; he remembered how soft it felt beneath his fingers. As always, she was immaculately dressed; pointed boots, fitted trousers, petite body enveloped in a stylish coat and matching gloves and scarf. Her California tan looked out of place in the snowy city but it gave her a healthy glow; he certainly missed that weather. The cold had made her angelic face rosy, the button nose red-tinged, her eyes pure cerulean blue against the grey, snow-laden sky. Her eyes he hesitated at. He was staring but couldn't help it; something had changed. Still blue, brighter if anything, especially in comparison to the tearful, alcohol-clouded orbs he'd left in Newport, but they were flatter somehow, they didn't go right to her soul anymore, or at least not at the moment. He couldn't tell what she was thinking. The word guarded came to mind and he wondered what she was hiding, what was wrong.

They were both oblivious to the people around them for a moment as they looked at each other. She wouldn't lie, the thought of seeing him here had crossed her mind when they'd planned to come to New York but she'd never expected it to actually happen. That was too much like fate.

'Didn't think I'd be seeing you today,' he observed. 'What brings you from sunny California?'

'Oh, Christmukkah shopping,' she replied with a laugh, forgetting how odd that sounded.

'Christmukkah?' Carter asked frowning, 'Seth?'

'Yeah.'

'Are um…he and Ryan…?'

'They're good.' God this was awkward. 'So… how's the new job?'

'It's a job. Beats working for Julie Cooper-Nichol but it doesn't beat working with you.' 'Well,' she said, refusing to let herself think about his comment, 'it was…good to see you Carter, but I should be getting on.'

'Kirsten.'

Why did his voice have the ability to make her feel embarrassed about her politeness?

'Drop the act Kirsten, you're not a Newpsie.'

He could see right through her, she gasped, wondering why she was surprised. 'Sorry Carter, I just…this is…'

'Strange? It doesn't have to be. We worked together, we were colleagues…friends. How about we grab a coffee? Catch-up?'

Catch-up? She'd rather forget. There wasn't much she wanted to recall since he'd left. She wanted to say no. Say no and walk away. Walk away and forget she'd met him. Forget the confusion in her head and the indescribable feelings in her chest. But she couldn't and it would be petulant to refuse; he was right; they had been colleagues but friends? He'd been friends with Sandy, with her it was something more complicated.

'Sure.'

'There's a great little vendor this side of Central Park; about a minute away,' he urged and she nodded. Kirsten followed Carter, glad he was so tall; it meant she could see him easily even when she fell behind in the masses of people. She'd never thought of herself as particularly small before; true Sandy could pick her up, Seth too actually, and that was saying something, but fighting her way along the swarming pavement made her feel tiny and very vulnerable.

Carter glanced back and realising Kirsten wasn't within a few yards of him, stopped and glanced worriedly along the street. She saw his anxious eyes and didn't quite know what to feel. 'I'm here,' she said, appearing beside him.

'Thought I'd lost you,' he declared, obviously relieved. There was a pregnant pause, both reflecting on an alternative meaning for the words, before Carter attempted a joke, 'The crowds can get really murderous around Christmas. Wonder what it is about this time of year that brings out the violence in people!'

Kirsten laughed, more as a way to release the tension she felt than because the comment was particularly funny. It was wasted effort because at that moment Carter extended a protective arm around her, so they could walk on without Kirsten being forced backwards by the tide of people, and it made her breath catch in her chest.

'So…um…do you go for coffee here often?' she asked.

Carter looked at her, a wry smile spreading across his features. 'Small talk Kirsten? That's not our style.'

'No,' she agreed, 'but usually I'm half a bottle in before we start really talking.'

'Sounds about right; we talked and drank for hours that night in the restaurant, when Julie disappeared…did you ever find out what that was about? ...' Carter's reminiscence was cut short by his cell phone. He pressed the end call button and began to continue before it rang demandingly again. 'Damn, I'm gonna have to take it,' he said apologetically. Kirsten nodded, thinking about 'that night in the restaurant'. She'd only just met him and yet she'd let him in. Admitted, inadvertently though it was, to taking off her rings. And he'd seen right through her. Known exactly what was going on. God forbid he still had that power. She didn't think she could cope with someone looking inside her head right now. She was having enough trouble keeping Sandy out.

Meanwhile Carter had put the phone to his ear, grimacing at the voice issuing from it. 'Makayla? How are you? Oh sorry, no, not Makayla! Jessica, Jessica, sorry, sorry. Hey do you know you sound so much like my…uh…cousin…Makayla…ye-ah. My cousin…honest. … What about Kate? No Jess, she just lives on the floor below. Come on, it's just Kate. That's it. … Fine, perhaps we have but not recently…yes she did pick up the phone last night but… Jessica, come on. …Bye then!'

Kirsten looked at him as he glared at the phone, obviously having been hung up on. 'Girl trouble?' she asked nonchalantly.

He didn't answer, greeting one of the stall vendors with a hearty, 'Hey Billy!'

'Mr Buckley,' the old man crowed delightedly, 'how are you today? And who is this beautiful lady? You know I just can't keep up with your women, last week Abby and Serena, week before that Veronica…'

'Billy!' Carter hissed.

'I'm getting old Mr B; can't keep track. When I was a boy we had just one beau at a time…'

'Billy!'

'Now, now, don't get embarrassed. Girls like to know there's a bit of competition. Let me guess who this is…Tamsin is it? No?'

Carter glared at the man, contorting his face and cocking his head not-so-subtly towards Kirsten in an attempt to make him zip it.

'Dakota?'

'Billy!'

'Ok, last guess…Emma? I know you're sweet on her.'

'No! For God's sake man, I'm not that bad.'

'Mmmhmm.'

He narrowed his eyes, 'Two coffees, and for your information, this is Kirsten Cohen, my ex-boss from Newport, California.'

'Kirsten huh?' he repeated, his eyes flashing recognition at the name and crinkling at the edges, 'Well it's mighty nice to meet you. Mr B talks about ya an awful lot.'

She blushed and took the coffee Carter was holding out to her. 'Come on,' he said, ushering her away from his coffee-seller-cross-confidant before Billy could share anything else with Kirsten. 'Billy, you concentrate on your coffee rather than my alleged love life,' he yelled back over his shoulder.

Kirsten took a sip of her coffee and gave the man next to her a fleeting glance, 'So all those girlfriends…' she began, the lightness of her tone an effort.

'Billy loves to exaggerate…'

'So Jessica, Makayla…Kate?'

'They're not…girlfriends as such, just…girls…women, I guess I should say, to be politically correct.'

'And since when has Carter Buckley ever been politically correct.'

They were back to teasing again, slipping into it like they hadn't been apart but really the jokes were just masking the awkwardness between them. After all, they were talking about Carter's girlfriends.
Conquests, he thought. Girls to fill the time, fill the empty place inside him he'd had since leaving Newport. He'd felt it after he got divorced. He'd promised himself he wouldn't have to feel it again; he wouldn't care again. But he had.

And now here he was, going through girls like they were going out of fashion. He didn't care about them. He'd been a pig with women since he came East and he knew it but he still didn't care. Kirsten wasn't stupid, far from it, she was going to see through the multiple female companions Billy had let slip about. She was going to figure out why, why he did it.

Because he missed her.

All these women. That didn't sound like the Carter she knew. He was obviously two-timing Jessica and Makayla whoever they were. Answering the phone with the wrong name; classic mistake. She'd heard it herself.

Julie? Oh, hi Kirsten.

Rachel? Oh, hey honey.

Rebecca?…Honey? Please don't hang up…

But why was he doing it? She didn't like to think about why.

'Since when has two-timing been politically correct,' he quipped back.

'So you admit it then? You're two-timing. Carter!'

He didn't look up.

'There's more?' her voice was incredulous.

Carter gave a bitter laugh but his eyes were hooded with guilt.

'Three-timing?'

No answer.

'Four?...I don't even want to think about this.'

He tugged her towards the railing around the frozen pond on which people were skating. 'Ok, enough about me. The boys are good you said? What about Seth's Graphic Novel? How's that going?'

'Well he's got half of Orange County terrified he'll put them in the next one,' she joked. 'There was a launch party…that I missed but…uh, George Lucas was interested in making a film of it.'

'Wow, I'm impressed.' Carter commented, not missing the frown that shadowed her features. Why had she missed the launch? Something as big as that in her son's life she wouldn't forgo lightly.

'Seth's only minimally involved now…he and Zach had, er, artistic similarities that were causing friction…Summer, in other words.' Kirsten hesitated, feeling out of her depth; she only knew about this third-hand. She'd been far to inebriated to notice it all at the time and she still felt guilty. 'I think it all came to head on Prom night.'
Carter laughed at that and she continued. 'They did a deal. Zach gets the comic book, Seth gets Summer.'

'Ah the age old decision; career or girl? Tough call.'

There was a silence that lasted a few seconds too long to be comfortable

'Well they're still together so…it's all good. No depressive teenage boys in the house.'

'Refusing to shower? Listening to loud cheesy music? They don't grow out of it.'

He hadn't. Except of course he had added tequila to the mix. To be truthful most of the summer had been an alcohol-fused haze.

He'd worked. Enough.
He'd drunk. More than enough. Or perhaps not enough seeing as he still managed his thirds activity.

He'd thought about Kirsten. Too much.

The Kirsten who he'd left in Newport thinking he'd never see again and now she was here, beside him. He had to resist reaching out and touching her arm again to check she was real.

'Yeah, there hasn't been any of that. No messy break ups…yet,' she was rambling. 'Same for Ryan and Marissa so…yeah. It's all quiet on the home front recently.'

They were quickly running out of neutral topics and Carter frantically searched through his head for something else to say. 'And Ryan's brother? How's he?'

'Oh.' The change in her face was obvious and Carter knew he'd opened a can of worms.

'Sorry,' he apologised quickly, 'I didn't mean to intrude.'

'No, no, it's fine. It's just…complicated. Things got messy with him and Marissa, he and Ryan had a fight…Marissa ended up shooting him…he was, uh, in a coma for most of the summer.'

Not that I knew about it. She thought crossly. Not that I was there to help.

No. I was in rehab. Really helpful. Really motherly. Just what Ryan needed; another alcoholic mother.

Thoughts that Kirsten was constantly trying to suppress forced their way into the forefront of her head, tears welling up in her eyes. She took a deep breath before continuing. 'It's ok though. It all worked out; Trey woke up, neither Marissa nor Ryan were charged and he decided to leave.'

'Sounds like I left just before the fireworks started.'

'I thought that was the idea,' she muttered under her breath.

'What?'

'Nothing.'

Another silence.

'S-o-o where's Sandy?' Carter felt weird asking. He'd been friends with the guy but he…well, he had feelings for his wife.

'Sandy's visiting his mom.'

'You didn't feel like facing the mother-in-law?'

'I-I thought she and Sandy could spend some time together…and I, uh, needed to do some shopping,' she excused, before sighing. She still couldn't lie to him. 'The Nana hates me.'

'But you're okay? And Sandy…and you?' He didn't mean it to sound like he was asking about Sandy and Kirsten as a couple; it had just come out like that. And anyway, how Kirsten was depended on Sandy, he knew that.

'I'm fine…Sandy and I we're…better.' She glanced at Carter, wondering if it was her imagination that saw that look in his eyes. The one he'd left her with.

'We were…going through a rough time when you met us,' she excused, suddenly feeling embarrassed.

'I know that, but am I seriously supposed to believe that all you felt was lonely and pissed at your husband?'

'That was part of it.'

'And the other part?'

Kirsten rested her arms on the railing and buried her head in her hands.

'I…I…don't know.'

'Did you…feel anything? Or was it all just me? No, no Kirsten. It wasn't. There was something between us. What did I mean to you?'

'Carter, please…don't ask questions I can't answer.'

He smiled ruefully. 'I'm sorry…I just think about it. Wonder if perhaps…I've imagined something into existence that wasn't. I know I shouldn't have; you're married. But I didn't know that at first; you weren't wearing a ring remember? And by the time you told me, the disappointment couldn't stop me falling for you. Did you care Kirsten?' his voice was low and husky, those eyes penetrating.

She didn't answer for a while, watching the skaters on the ice with faraway eyes. How could she answer that? What on earth did she say? So much had happened she wasn't sure she could separate her feelings about Carter from the tangled mess inside her head.

He waited as she took a deep breath, exhaling slowly, shakily. What was wrong with Kirsten? What on earth had happened?

'I spent the summer in rehab…I think I cared, don't you?'

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