Summary: Kirsten introspection regarding Ryan and his mother, set the morning after Ryan's graduation

Spoilers: Includes scene from Season 3 Finale

Disclaimer: The OC Universe, with all its assorted characters, belongs to Josh Schwartz, et. al. No copyright or trademark infringement is intended, nor is any money being made.

A/N: Loved this little scene, so I played a little. All mistakes are mine…

My Son, Too

No hearts will shatter this morning, although I suspect a few will crack. Mine included.

I pace a little, as I wait for Dawn to come downstairs. Her taxi will be here in a few minutes, ready to take her to the airport. Thank goodness, this departure will be far different from the last time that she left.

This time, she's not abandoning her son. This time, they might find a future that includes each other.

I'm so relieved it's turned out this way. The whole time Dawn's been here, I've been anxious about something going wrong. Concerned that she might be uncomfortable being here again, or having to face all of us, or that something unexpected would happen, causing her to lose control.

Most of all, I've been worried that Ryan might be hurt again.

Any pain he might have suffered would have been my fault – I forced Ryan to reach out to her. I insisted he invite her back into his life.

I've been searching for the truth about what's been driving me. At first, I told myself it was all for Ryan's benefit.

To that end I nearly made a huge mistake, trying to get Dawn to Newport for Ryan's eighteenth birthday. I still don't know what possessed me to think that was a good idea, because springing Dawn on an unsuspecting Ryan would have traumatized him, at the very least. Just getting her note seemed far too painful.

Still, I kept telling myself that Ryan needed some form of contact with his mother. When I watched Ryan with his mother three years ago, it was obvious to me that they loved each other. I still remember their faces… the look in their eyes…

Shouldn't they get a chance to set things right? Didn't Ryan, at least, deserve that much?

I told myself that was why I pushed him into inviting her to graduation. Because it would be good for him. Because it would be good for both of them.

It's just, if I'm being honest with myself, I also pushed him for reasons of my own. Because part of me kept thinking if it were me – if I'd been the one who walked away – I'd give the world to be a part of my son's life again.

Honestly, if anyone would have said three years ago I'd find myself identifying in any way with Dawn Atwood, I'd have been appalled at the very idea.

I remember the contempt I felt for her, that day she abandoned Ryan, leaving him with us. I heard her telling me that he deserved something more than she could give him. That she wasn't cut out to be the mother he needed her to be.

I accepted that she had real problems – that couldn't have been more obvious. But I still didn't understand how she could walk away from her child. I couldn't imagine ever abandoning my son.

I was naive.

Since then I've traveled paths I never dreamed I'd follow. I've been lost, and confused, and afraid. And having made my own life-altering mistakes, I see now that Dawn and I are not so very different.

After my fall from grace, I've learned not to judge so quickly. I have a much keener appreciation of how seductive alcohol can be. How easily it becomes an answer when problems surface or life is hard to face. Sadly, I understand the attraction of finding solace in a bottle, rather than facing truth, and asking anyone for help.

And I know more about not trusting myself than I ever wanted to know. Self-doubt drove me to turn away from the family that I love.

I still can hardly believe how my fear paralyzed me, causing me to remain at Suriak long after Dr. Woodruff said I was ready to go. Worse, when I finally did leave there, I hid away in a cabin, refusing to go home. Terrified of failing as a wife and mother.

Even after coming home, for the longest time I merely went through the motions. I cooked, and gardened, and dabbled in meaningless business ventures with Julie. Only recently have I taken steps to be the wife and mother I truly want to be.

Even now, I struggle. I've failed more than once, slipping backward before battling to my feet and inching forward once again.

The simple truth is this: I know now that Dawn and I share a weakness that humbles me, and makes me question everything I once believed about myself.

I look at how she's fighting to pick herself up, hoping that this time things will be different. I want her to succeed, mostly because it will make Ryan happy to know that she's doing well. That she's healthy, and that she cares about herself.

But I also want her to succeed because when she's broken, I see shadows of the woman I might become.

And I think somewhere deep inside, I've been waiting, hoping that that Ryan can forgive her. Thinking that If she's forgivable, then I might be worthy of forgiveness, too.

It's almost like reconnecting them can make amends for some of the things that I've done wrong. It may even give me the courage to go further down the path I know I need to travel – to talk about all the things I've been too frightened to discuss.

There's just so much I need to say…

---------------

Dawn appears just as the taxi arrives. We hug, and exchange quick words. Sandy steps in, offering money for the taxi. Ryan's waiting as Sandy backs up, claiming his turn with his mother.

Sandy quietly pockets the money that Dawn declined to take. I'm sure I saw a little gleam of pride in Ryan's eyes when his mother turned down Sandy's offer. I can't help but think that she's given him a lot to be proud of on this visit. It's been rewarding in many unexpected ways.

I know that Dawn's proud of Ryan, too, as she has every right to be. It was lovely to see her cheer so unabashedly for him at graduation, and to watch her as she kept glancing at him during dinner, like she couldn't quite believe that he belonged to her.

Strange, when it's so obvious to me. His face literally lights up when he's beside her. It's lit right now.

Sandy and I back up, trying to give Dawn and Ryan a little space. Since Dawn's been here, we've given them as much uninterrupted time together as possible, although staying in the background has not been easy.

I see Ryan hug his mother, and hear them promise they'll see each other soon. It's more hopeful than goodbye, and yet bittersweet at the same time. They exchange soft I love you's, reaffirming what their eyes have already said.

I remind myself that Dawn has had just over a day with Ryan, and that most of that time has been taken up with the excitement of graduation, and then dinner with all the kids and parents. I'm sure she's feeling like her time with him flew all too fast.

They smile at each other with such tenderness. It's still cautious, but beautiful nonetheless. It warms my heart to see him happy.

I'm thrilled for them both. I sincerely am.

But if I'm really truthful, it hurts a little, too, to be reminded that Ryan's first another woman's child… That her ties to him, and his to her, are strong.

I find myself envying Sandy a bit, because he'll probably never have to face what I face. Given the little we know about Ryan's dad, I don't think Sandy will ever be the less-loved father.

Seth interrupts to say goodbye, causing a moment of confusion. I'm never quire sure when my dark-haired son is being serious, but this time he isn't mocking. At least, not until he learns about Ryan's graduation gift from Dawn. We leave him inside as he starts to whine about the car.

I watch as Ryan carries Dawn's luggage out to the waiting taxi. She told me he offered to drive her to the airport, but I'm secretly glad she insisted on taking a cab.

It's unfair of me, and I know it, but I worry that she might ask him to go home with her now. Now that she's trying to pull her life together again. And I worry that he'd say okay in order to please her, because he's Ryan, and that's what Ryan does.

I can see that Dawn's getting a little more emotional. She's still holding tightly onto her smile, but her eyes are sparkling with unshed tears.

Ryan sees that her things are safely stored in the trunk as she climbs into the taxi's back seat. He crosses to the steps, where Sandy is waiting for him, one hand lightly grazing across Ryan's back. I move to stand behind Ryan, placing my hands on his shoulders. I know this is hard for him – watching her leave again. I want him to know I'm here for him. That he can count on me.

Sandy stands beside Ryan, rubbing his upper arm with one hand, sending his own signal of support. When Dawn waves from inside the car, I recall her heartbreaking wave the last time that she left. As I watch Ryan bite his lip, I'm sure he's recalling that moment, too.

He doesn't say anything, but he doesn't have to. He lets us comfort him, and that's enough.

I'm certain the way I'm clasping Ryan sends Dawn a message that she needs to hear.

Don't worry – I'll take care of him. He's where he belongs, for now.

It sends another message as well, about my own place in her son's life. I'm sure she reads it, and I like to think that she approves.

Ryan's my son, too.

He's the one good thing that Dawn and I share.

I squeeze Ryan's shoulders gently, communicating silently with him.

Showing him I love him in a language that I think he'll understand.

The taxi pulls away, carrying a piece of Ryan's heart inside. It carries a reflection of me as well, as I have seen my hopes for the future echoed in Dawn's eyes.

I feel Ryan's weight shift under my hands, as he inches back toward me.

His subtle movement tells me everything I really need to know.