Title: Unravel
Fandom: The O.C
Word Count: 1,970
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Seth. Ryan. Post-The Graduates.


He's been sitting in the poolhouse now for what feels like forever, though he figures logically it can't have been much more than an hour since he picked up his cellphone and felt a coldness creeping somewhere in his stomach as he heard words he'd thought (prayed) he'd never have to hear again. Words that didn't quite fit, somehow, didn't quite make sense and bounced numbly from one side of his mind to the other, their echo a resounding inevitability.

"There's been an accident. Ryan's still at the hospital. He'll be able to come home soon."

His stomach knotted with dread, with something beyond dread because he knew, from the tone in his father's voice and the numbing gaps in his words that this was something else, something more. Swallowing, his mouth dry, he croaked out the only response that came.

"What about Marissa?"

Silence. Too long, too quiet, filled by an intake of breath Seth heard only because he was holding his own, suddenly unable to draw air. And in that moment he'd known, somehow, that she was gone.

The phone clutched sweatily in his palm, he'd mumbled something comprehending and nodded silently at his father's instructions to stay put, stay at home, we'll be back by dawn. It wasn't until he'd hung up, fumbling clumsily at the keypad that was suddenly much too small that it struck him: dawn was fucking hours away, and he was here and Ryan was there and Marissa was...nowhere, otherwhere, her body lying cold on a table somewhere.

He can't seem to collect his thoughts. Normally he's pretty good at that; there's always a few too many things going on in his head nowadays and he's become adept at prioritising, categorising, putting one thought aside to make room for another, endlessly filing and filtering himself like the most expansive of psychological comic book collections. But something's gone askew in his internal filing system tonight, and all he can do is sit numbly on the edge of Ryan's too-neat bed and let the thoughts come.

He thinks of pancakes. Of printed sundresses and magic flasks and graduation photos that will never be seen, of freckled porcelain features and a smile that was never quite deep enough. That's all she is, now, all she'll ever be; fractured shards of a jigsaw that never really fit together, broken memories he can't put back together. She had never been his friend.

He thinks of her through filters, through lenses. Only two make any sense to him; she had never been his friend, but through Summer and through Ryan she is essential, she is beloved. She has to live. He tries to think of either one of them, these two people he loves more than he could ever hope to say trying to get by without Marissa Cooper, and his chest aches with something deep and pure and final. His thoughts turn to Summer and the ache intensifies as he wonders if she knows. She'd left less than an hour ago; she could be driving still, stuck in traffic, maybe, singing along to whatever hip-hop was playing on KIIS, oblivious. Innocent for the last time in her life.

The phone is still clutched in his hand, warm, and he thinks of calling her. But no; the words wouldn't come right and he'd screw up and somehow make the whole thing about a million times worse, although by all rights that should be impossible because how can you make your best friend is dead any worse than it inherently is?

He doesn't call her.

He thinks of some random article he'd skim-read outlining the stages of clinical death, and wonders suddenly, horribly, how long it's been, whether algor mortis has set in yet and Marissa's body is already cooling, stiffening, decaying by imperceptible inches, and then he's hunching over the side of the bed, retching dryly and vowing never to go near another medical journal again no matter how much extra credit it earns him.

He thinks of Ryan, and his stomach flips lazily over again as another wave of nausea bends him double. The worst part is that unlike Summer, he knows exactly where Ryan is and exactly how he is looking, how he's sitting, how his eyes are like bruises and his hands are clenched just a little too tightly in his lap, his pain a coiled spring just waiting to unravel. He's seen it too many times before now, the coil winding just a little bit tighter as Ryan watches his mom walk out of his life, lifts the girl he loves from a sweaty Tijuana sidewalk, stares unseeingly at hands soaked in his brother's blood. This is too much, this is the end. Something will unravel tonight, here in this poolhouse, and all Seth can think is that somehow he wants to see it, needs to see it, needs to be here to catch the pieces as they shatter messily on the plush carpet because one day, sometime, Ryan will need them again, will need to be whole again.

The ache in his chest is almost suffocating now, and his head is too full of thoughts and his eyes are heavy and he finds himself sinking down into a lying position, hunched on this bed that smells of Ryan (although that makes no sense because now he thinks of it Ryan doesn't smell of anything). He lies there, semi-foetal, and tries to think of anything but goodbyes and hopeful eyes and a brand new SUV stained with blood and totalled in a ditch somewhere.

Though his mind won't slow down he must doze off for a while, because suddenly his eyes snap open and Ryan is there, silhouetted in the doorway. His gaze doesn't quite meet Seth's and he shuffles slowly, painfully across the room, face drowned in overly symbolic shadow. Blinking, Seth fumbles for a nearby lamp although the poolhouse is no longer pitch dark; the faint hues of early dawn sky are rippling hypnotically across the floor, reflected from the water's surface outside.

"Don't."

His hand freezes in mid-air and he feels Ryan sink onto the bed beside him, head in his hands, and the silence is more hollow and more helpless than Seth can bear. He speaks, uselessly.

"You okay?"

He watches the curve of Ryan's back silently, waiting for a response he knows won't come. Ryan's shirt is smudged with dirt, ripped in places, and Seth can see bare skin beneath, angry red grazes spelling out pain and guilt and a thousand twisted emotions he can't begin to untangle. He reaches out without thinking, his fingers brushing over raw skin, and feels Ryan flinch almost imperceptibly beneath his touch.

"What happened?" he asks quietly; not quietly enough. It feels almost irreverent to speak of this out loud, as though somehow if he's taciturn enough he can convince them both that Marissa's alive and healthy and their worlds haven't all been ripped apart at the seams and scattered in pieces around their feet tonight.

"Volchok. He tracked us down and forced us off the road." Ryan speaks in clipped tones, controlled, betrayed only by the low tremor in his voice.

The coil starts to unravel. Seth's fingers flex more firmly over Ryan's spine as his body convulses with something that could be anger or grief or something else, something without a name, and his mouth is moving but he's barely audible; the words are not meant for Seth, maybe not meant for anyone, they're just words that need to be said and it doesn't really matter who's listening. Seth gets that. He strains, listening hard, wishing he knew how to lip-read.

"What?" he asks eventually, unable to bear watching Ryan's eyes growing brighter and more glazed as he continues to mutter soundlessly under his breath.

"I'll kill him-"

"You're not gonna kill anybody." Seth cuts in, softly. "Don't even talk like that, alright?" It scares him, this rawness, this violence, and when Ryan turns towards him he finds he has to look away.

"She's dead, Seth."

He swallows, his mouth dry. "I know." The words catch in his throat. I know.

"I..." Now Ryan's choking on his words, his eyes filled with an anguish that is suffocating. "I felt her die."

And an image flashes suddenly into Seth's mind. Ryan in an alley in Tijuana, standing tall and strong with unseeing eyes; Marissa deadweight in his arms. They'd been lucky then, too lucky, and this is all making a sudden twisted sort of sense because if she had to die then of course it was like that, in his arms, her broken body pale and trembling, Ryan carrying her like he always had and never would again.

Some people are just born with tragedy in their blood.

He figures only his brain would come up with Donnie Darko quotes at a time like this.

His eyes are stinging, suddenly, and his cheeks are wet and his tears are not for Marissa, except that they are because for once she was radiant, she was shining and sober and free. There was sunshine in her eyes for the first time in maybe ever and so of course, of course she is dead, and the injustice of it is brings him to tears even though she was not his friend and now she never will be. But more than that, these are tears for the people she's left behind. For Summer, whose brown eyes he knows he'll never look into without aching because the light that belongs there is gone, extinguished cruelly and too early.

Most of all, he thinks, these are tears for the boy beside him. The boy who has at one time or another lost everything and everybody that mattered in the world, this boy who of all people does not deserve this, does not deserve to watch the girl of his dreams draw her last, painful breaths on some darkened, dusty roadside. He thinks of Summer like that, tries to imagine her fading before his eyes, and it's all he can do not to gag as nausea rises in his chest.

Beside him, he hears the coil snap as a sob cuts through the silence, and he feels Ryan break beneath him. He swallows hard, choking on tears and remains and regret, reaches out to clasp Ryan's shoulders and hugs him awkwardly, desperately, pulling him against his side and telling him he's sorry, he's sorry, he's so sorry and a thousand other things that don't matter and might just as well go unsaid.

Ryan clutches blindly at Seth, nails digging almost painfully into his back, and all Seth can think is that these pieces are too small and too sharp to pick up, too broken to fit back together. Things will never be the same, all of them will never be the same, and there's no point in trying to salvage any of what he knows. The best he can do is sit and ride out the storm and hope to God that by the summer's end whatever's left is enough for them to carry on.

Right now, he can't think beyond this moment. The present is what makes sense, what he can see and feel and know, and he can feel Ryan beside him, against him, can hear his tears and know his pain, and right now all that matters is that he knows he is not alone. He tightens his grip on Ryan's shoulders and rests their foreheads together, rocking unconsciously back and forth, closes his eyes and mumbles more meaningless things, trying to soothe wounds that are raw and aching and endless. Tries his hardest not to think of the dawn.