Written for the O.C. Sentence Fic Challenge
for Nikki Greenleaf

Sentence: After the finale, Ryan starts cutting
Discl.: I don't own anything related to the o.c. or the actors
Beta: Thanks to ctoanfor the fabulous beta job


Relief

It hurt. More than Ryan would ever admit to anyone or even himself. The despair, pain and helplessness he felt when Marissa faded away in his arms was more than he could bear. Knowing that she still trusted him completely - believed with all her heart that he would make everything right.

But he couldn't.

All those times he had saved her. Had risked his future for her.

A waste of time.

He should've known that in the end, nobody would be able to save Marissa.

The numbness settled into his system like a nasty virus. It spread through his mind and heart once the funeral was over and Ryan had time to start thinking.

Time to breathe and relive what had happened the night of graduation.

Time to contemplate his options, his actions. Every night. Every minute he was awake.

He wanted to feel anger. Rage. Loneliness. Pain. Loss. Just… feel.

But it was as if his heart had decided to lock away all emotions, leaving only numbness behind. His life had been reduced to eating, sleeping and thinking. His existence had grown meaningless.

Until he found a way to force his mind to react.

The first time had been an accident.

Kirsten had asked him to chop the carrots for dinner. Her voice had been soft and gentle, rather questioning than ordering, giving him the option to say no, to let him chose whether he wanted to be in the kitchen with everyone around or would prefer to return to the pool house and to his own thoughts.

Kirsten didn't seem aware that he didn't have the energy to say no. He felt like a lifeless robot, working mechanically. He had no passion or determination in anything he did or said these days; he couldn't make himself care about what he wanted or needed; he didn't know if he'd ever want or need anything again.

He nodded his acceptance, no words leaving his lips. He wasn't talking much, anyway, since that night. Nobody seemed to expect him to.

The pain that floated through his body when the knife sliced through his skin took him by surprise. He stared at the cut, fascinated by the blood pouring out of the wound, absorbing the pulsating pain and enjoying the waves of nausea circulating through his body.

And he felt.

He finally felt what he thought he deserved. Shock. Pain. He needed to be punished for letting her die, for not being able to save her - one last time.

Kirsten quickly bandaged his bleeding finger. She made him lie down on the couch in the den, in case the flowing blood had brought back the memories of the accident.

Nobody noticed the dangerous glow in Ryan's eyes, the way his face relaxed when he felt the pain, when he received the punishment he'd been waiting for.

At first he only did it a few times a week. Nothing spectacular. Just a small, clean cut on his upper thigh where nobody would be able to see the scar, even in his swim trunks.

The relief he felt every time the razor blade touched his skin, every time it cut through the dermis of his leg and sent pain waves through his system, was indescribable. Mesmerized, Ryan would watch the small trail of blood trickle down his thigh, dropping onto the bathroom floor, forming a small puddle.

When the urge to cut himself grew deeper and stronger, he started to use the razor blade more often, once, sometimes twice, a day.

Soon the scars were too many and too fresh to cut at the same spot again and Ryan realized he was running out of skin on his legs. He hesitated only a split second before moving the razor blade up to his arm, cutting the skin on the inside only so slightly, sighing with relief at the welcoming feeling of nausea and with the sheer joy brought about by the all-too-brief ache.

Inspecting the few cuts when the bleeding had stopped, he nodded his head slightly. Nobody would notice. After all, everyone knew his body was scarred from his childhood and he was almost certain that neither Sandy nor Kirsten would be able to tell the new ones from the old ones, once the red marks had subsided.

The long sleeved shirts didn't raise any questions. He hadn't expected otherwise.

The week before college started had been supposed to be family week. Spending as much time together as they could, talking, just having fun as a family before the two boys would leave for their new lives, had been the initial idea.

No one seemed to notice that Ryan's laughter was hollow and forced, that his eyes never sparkled at the rambling of Seth, the dry jokes told by Sandy, the soft chuckling of Kirsten.

He missed his razor blade. He wasn't allowed any time by himself, unable to force himself to feel what he was now accustomed to feel. Gripping his armrest, he smiled through gritted teeth, desperate not to raise any suspicion.

His alarm went off at 2 am, pulling him out of a restless, nightmarish sleep.

Half awake, he shuffled over to the bathroom, reaching for the razor blade with one well-trained motion. Tiredly, he watched the sharp object cut through his flesh, bringing the sought after relief and pain and a contented sigh escaped his lips.

Feeling the blood drain out of his system was familiar by now and the weakening effect was something Ryan had grown to ignore. Finally being alone and able to punish himself, to feel the pain float through his entire being, felt right.

Fearing that he wouldn't be able to perform his little ritual again during the following day, he didn't stop on the left arm, but continued to damage the skin on his right arm as well. He started to feel shaky and nervous but it felt too intense to stop.

Sliding down the wall onto the floor, he closed his eyes when the fatigue grew too strong to be ignored and he slowly faded into unconsciousness.

x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-

Ryan would never forget the expression on Seth's face when he woke up to his foster brother's gentle shaking. His friend's eyes shone even darker than usual, pain, sorrow and deep helplessness speaking louder than Seth's actual voice.

"Don't move, Ryan - paramedics are on their way."

Confused, Ryan blinked, before he hoarsely asked, "Para… what? What's wrong?"

Seth narrowed his eyes slightly. "You've lost a lot of blood."

Closing his eyes for a second Ryan suddenly felt it. The pounding headache in the back of his skull. The dull pain all over his body. The throbbing wounds covering his arms. The weakness overshadowing his system.

When he opened his eyes again, Kirsten and Sandy were standing in the doorway, holding each other, watching him intensely.

The combined sorrow in the eyes of his foster family cut deeper into his heart than the cuts he had inflicted on himself ever could.

Swallowing hard, Ryan wondered for a brief second how Marissa could still have such a massive impact on his life, even now that she was dead for 2 months.

"I'm sorry." Ryan winced when the words left his lips, realizing that even to his own ears, the apology sounded shallow and false.

"You have nothing to be sorry for, Ryan." Sandy spoke softly, sorrow layering over his voice. "We are here to grieve with you. You are not alone."

The sincerity in Sandy's words and voice found its way to Ryan's heart. Cracking the solid fortress built to protect his heart against any kind of emotions just enough to have one familiar feeling return for a split second. Grief.

And finally, Ryan was able to let go. Able to let himself feel what the loss of Marissa meant to him.

Concentrating on the three people in front of him while tears were clouding his vision, the relief entering his mind upon their promise, their caring, their sympathy was much more powerful than any self indulged pain his razor blade had ever been able to create.

And he knew it was going to be all right.

FIN