This story takes place after Carter's departure and before Kirsten's rehab. So you can get the mood; I wrote a lot of this while listening to Fix You by Coldplay and Angry Angel by Imogen Heap and Like Pain by The Grates. Great songs by fantastic musicians.

There will be some raw imagery later in this fic, but for now, it's rated general. As always, please review. Thanks, & enjoy.

She looked over the ocean, towards the orange sky. A passing jet blazed a trail of fire from the dying sun. The swimming pool looked heated, warm in the half light. Reflection of the sky concealing the coldness in the depths below. Kirsten shivered and crossed her arms. She hated this time of day, the way darkness took over, twilight bled black into the sky like a spreading tumour. The air chilled, the grass grew cold and crisp and, sometimes, husbands didn't come home as they usually did. She'd talked to him last night, briefly, as he told her he would be sleeping in the guest room again. It was like a nightmare, Sandy being so distant from her. He still looked exactly the same, still acted mostly the same when they were around the boys although there were no public displays of affection like there used to be, but everything had changed. She knew he was only still here because of Ryan and Seth, would rather be in a hotel somewhere, or sleeping in his office. As far as she could tell, the boys didn't suspect anything. Sandy had been coming home later and later, if at all, but that could be explained away by saying he was covering a tough case. Kirsten had been coming home earlier, bringing work from the office, hoping he would be there. She liked being home when the boys got there, talking about their day while keeping an eye on the door in case Sandy walked through and she had the chance to tell him, as she'd repeated to him like a mantra, that she was sorry. Sorry she hadn't believed him about Rebecca. Sorry it had gone so far with Carter. Sorry she'd taken it further in a business trip to New York. Sorry she'd ripped his heart out and handed it to him on a bloody plate.

Kirsten shivered again, wrapped her arms tighter around herself, decided to go inside. Ryan had volunteered to cook something, and Seth had decided to hang around the kitchen and offer suggestions that, while amusing, were not helpful.

"Have you got the windows shut in the poolhouse, Ryan? It feels cold out there; might be the cold snap they were talking about."

"And you believe the weatherman? Mom, seriously, anyone who thinks tweed and weather maps go together should not be trusted." Seth looked at her from his perch on the counter. Ryan was chopping something that looked vegetable-like, and he nodded. The phone rang, and Seth reached for it.

"Oh, hi Dad…. Okay… Well, Ryan's actually cooking, so you're missing out on something that we didn't use the phone to get… I'll tell Mom. 'Bye." Seth hung up, turned to Kirsten. She could already guess what it was; Sandy couldn't face her, had invented some kind of work to extricate himself from it.

"Dad's got some work thing, can't make it home." Kirsten nodded silently, moved from the room as she felt tears pooling in her eyes, threatening to clue the boys into the charade she and Sandy had so far been managing to pull off.

"Dude, did you see that?" Seth asked, after Kirsten was a safe distance down the hall. Ryan shook his head.

"I told Mom Dad wouldn't be home for dinner, and I swear she started to cry. I saw tears there, and it takes a lot to make the Kirsten cry. I might just…" Seth jumped off the counter and started after Kirsten, but Ryan stopped him with a shake of the head.

"Let her go."

"But… I wonder what's going on…" Seth slowly resettled himself back on the counter as he thought.

"Haven't you noticed?" Ryan asked, tipping everything he'd been chopping into a saucepan.

"Well, the parents have been a little quiet for a while, but I haven't seen any fights… There's been no veiled dinner table comments… There hasn't been anything, really…" Seth let his thoughts trail off as his mind caught up to his mouth.

"It's been at least a few months, but in the last two weeks it's gotten worse. Since your Mom was away on that business trip. They haven't really been talking. They're not the same as they were." Ryan stirred the vegetables in the saucepan, replaced the lid and turned to the steaks he was marinating.

"You know what this means, Ryan?" Ryan was already grimacing, as he turned to face a triumphant Seth.

"Operation Parent!" Ryan silently shook his head, turned back to the steaks.

"Who do you want, Mom or Dad? I've always thought you and Mom are more similar, so maybe you should have her… We all know Dad tells me anything if I look at him just like so…" Ryan looked over to see Seth attempting to look trustworthy.

"I don't think it's a good idea…"

"Do you want us to end up like Summer or Marissa, unloved children of divorce? Time shared holidays and alternate weekends. The double present thing would be a bonus but…" Seth mulled over his latest thought as Ryan put the steaks under the grill.

"Dude, the Sandy and the Kirsten belong together. Everyone knows that. They're too sickening not to." Ryan shook his head again as he handed Seth placemats to set the table with.

"Maybe we should just let them sort it out. We don't even know what's happened, if anything."

"Always trying to be the voice of reason, Ryan. Well, as refreshing as that sometimes is, I think this kind of situation calls for action. No way am I letting my parents go the way of the Coopers. Next thing we know, Mom will be finding someone richer and older than Grandpa to hook up with. And that would just be disturbing." Seth made a disgusted face as he lined up the cutlery on the table.

"I just don't think we can help." Ryan said. Seth put salt and pepper on the table then stood back to admire his handiwork in table setting.

"Ryan, as you are now a Cohen, it's probably time for you to realise that even if we can't help, we're going to try anyway. I mean, how did you come to live here? Did you ask for help? No, you were forced into this family through the utterly unavoidable assistance given to you by a Cohen. It's just the way we are." Seth poured water into three glasses and sat them around the table.

"This is done, if you want to call Kirsten." Ryan put the steaks on a plate in the middle of the table and drained the vegetables. Seth walked to the doorway of the kitchen.

"Mom." He yelled through the house, waiting a moment to see if there was a reply. He walked through to his parent's bedroom, pausing at the door, which was ajar, a slice of light from the hallway sneaking through into the darkened room.

"Mom," Seth said more quietly, gently knocking. From the moonlight that had just started filtering through the French doors, he could see his mother's outline on the bed, her back to the doorway, her legs curled up to her stomach.

Kirsten had heard Seth in the doorway, was trying to compose herself as he came in. She used the kneaded tissue in her hands to wipe her eyes a final time before sitting it on the bedside table and swinging her legs over the side of the bed.

"Coming, Seth." Kirsten said. She took a deep breath, got up, walked to Seth at the door, wondering how bad her eyes looked, how much her mascara may have run, how much she wished Sandy would be at the dinner table when she got out there.

She walked out to Ryan, sitting at the table alone. Seth had followed her out, chattering about something she wanted to listen to, but couldn't focus on. If Ryan noticed that she'd been crying, he didn't mention anything, but Kirsten noticed him avert his eyes, studiously engage in serving dinner. She loved that he'd gone to the trouble of cooking, but didn't feel that her stomach would accept any food.

"Ryan, this looks great." Kirsten accepted her plate from him, full of food. She noticed him looking at the fading bruises on her wrists and pulled her sleeves down so they were covered. She listened as the boys talked about school, spent what energy she had cutting her food into increasingly smaller portions. When Seth and Ryan had finished, Kirsten started clearing the plates.

"You guys probably have homework, right?" Seth rolled his eyes as he followed her to the sink with the glasses.

"Actually, it's already been done. Is it okay if Summer and Marissa come over later?" Kirsten, sighed, shrugged, nodded at Seth. He and Ryan exited, heading for the lounge room, and she started rinsing plates to put in the dishwasher. The kitchen felt lonely. Usually, if she and Sandy were cleaning up, she'd be rinsing plates and passing them to him to put in the dishwasher. He'd be telling her about his day, laughing, almost dropping plates. They'd finish clearing, drink tea standing at the counter, hold hands, watch lightning over the ocean. She missed him. As if on cue, the phone rang. Kirsten walked around the counter to reach for it, answered on the third ring.

"Hello?"

"It's me." Sandy's voice made her lean against the counter, gathering strength for what would either be another fight, or a conversation so distant it may as well be conveyed in Morse code.

"Sandy." She couldn't help saying his name, used it more to fill space than anything else. Where there would be easy conversation, there were now uncomfortable silences that needed to be filled.

"I won't be home tonight." He didn't offer an explanation, his sentence biting into Kirsten, scratching the surface to release the guilt beneath.

"Where are you staying?" She asked, knowing he'd think she was prying, think she was trying to check up on him even though she knew she had lost her rights to that since…

"In a motel. Alone." His voice was cold, arctic ice chilling her through the phone line.

"I didn't mean it like that… I miss you." Kirsten slid down to the floor, wondering if this time, unlike the hundreds of times before it since she'd told him about New York, it might have an impact.

"I'll be over tomorrow morning to get some things. The boys will be at school?" Kirsten leant her head back against the counter, shut her eyes.

"Is this it? Is that all there's going to be? What are we going to tell the boys?" She felt her words catching in her throat as tears clouded her eyes. Even when she told Sandy, she never thought it would come to this.

"I'll see you tomorrow. We'll talk about it then." She felt him slipping further away from her, felt him withdrawing into a place where she couldn't hurt him anymore.

"Sandy…" She waited, listening to him breathing.

"I'm sorry." Kirsten said, wanting to take back what she'd done, the reasoning behind it something she couldn't make Sandy comprehend. Wanting to undo the last two months to Before Carter. Even undoing the last year so that memories of the hurt she'd felt because of Rebecca had never been inflicted. Then there would be no Carter, no guilt dragging her down… No empty bed to crawl into alone every night. Kirsten rubbed her forehead, pushed her hair back. She pulled herself up from the floor and hung up the phone. There were still dishes in the sink to be washed, but she couldn't face doing it alone, thinking about what Sandy might want to say tomorrow, about his closet slowly emptying out. She turned and started walking towards their bedroom… Her bedroom.

Seth's eyes were wide as he turned to Ryan from his perch near the kitchen doorway. "Did you hear that?" He said. Ryan nodded, feeling that sinking feeling in his stomach when things have gone all wrong. He didn't want Sandy and Kirsten to separate, didn't want the life he'd been living in the past few years to end. He didn't know if he could be taken away if Kirsten and Sandy split up. He didn't know if either of them would still want him if they weren't together.

"I heard. It mightn't mean anything, though, Seth. He might just have to stay to work on something."

"Yeah, but what is Mom sorry about? And why did she sound like she was about to cry? What are they going to tell us?" Seth moved back over to Ryan, his eyes reflecting fear.

"Ryan, tell me they aren't getting a divorce. Tell me I haven't been so self absorbed that I never noticed it getting so bad that they've come to this." He shook his head woodenly, looked at the floor. Kirsten appeared in the doorway, dressed in jeans and a black jacket.

"I'm going out. Are you guys okay here?" She asked. Seth looked up at her for a moment before standing up to face her.

"Are you going to tell us what's going on? Why Dad isn't home, hasn't been home at the usual time in the past few weeks. Why it's been weird between you two for a while. Mom, what's happening?" Seth looked into her mother's eyes as she struggled to find the words she needed. She looked past him to Ryan, noticed the haunted look in his eyes, realised the extent of what her selfish actions had led to. Not only had it led to the break up of her own family, she was going to rip the only safe life Ryan had known away from him.

To Be Continued…

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