TITLE: Soul Deep
SUMMARY: He's always had an old soul... it was in his blue eyes. That was what attracted her to him in the first place.


She'd always known Ryan was wise beyond his years. It was his eyes; those bluer-than-blue eyes that held the wisdom of a forty-year-old. She noticed it the first time she saw him, and every time after that. He was eighteen chronologically, but emotionally and mentally, he could easily pass for late thirties or early forties. That's why it had been all-too-easy to develop an attraction to him. His chronological age mattered not, in her eyes... nor did the fact that she was technically one of his guardians. The latter fact no longer was in effect, anyway -- he was eighteen, an adult. And still wise beyond his years.

"Kirsten..."

She turned to find those world-weary blue eyes analyzing her, reading her as he had so many times before. It struck her that Sandy had never been able to read her like that. Nor had Jimmy. It was a skill that was Ryan's and Ryan's alone. It was that old soul. She had one too, she'd once been told. That was where their attraction laid -- soul-deep. Her soul craved his on levels neither Jimmy nor Sandy could understand.

"Kirsten?"

"I'm okay," she replied automatically, though even as she uttered the words she knew he read between them.

"You're not." His eyes held hers, and a dull ache began at her core as she found herself getting lost in those eyes.

"I'm not," she agreed, and turned to look out at the water, feeling him do the same.

They hovered mere inches from each other, auras mingling but bodies not quite touching. Their backs were against the lifeguard stand as their eyes watched the water, watched the waves cresting. Kirsten had a brief urge to be in his arms -- not like she'd been when he and Seth returned from Portland or even when she returned from rehab. She wanted to be in his arms like she was before he left for Chino.

It was odd to think it, but... had Sandy not been there, she might not have let go of Ryan. She had stepped toward him and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, and the second she felt his strong arms twine around her waist, she wanted to melt into him. She'd never felt that way before, and she hadn't felt that way since. Their old souls had touched in that embrace and she had wanted it to never end. Time even suspended, brief as it was, while she was in his arms.

But then the inevitable happened. She had come to her senses and realized that they were being watched closely by Sandy. So she had stepped back and given Ryan a shy smile, ducked her head as Sandy made a crack about how she wasn't a hugger.

"Wanna talk about it?" His low voice coaxed her, cajoled her, but she shook her head.

"No, I don't."

"Then what do you want, Kirsten?"

The question was posed gently, no hint of annoyance or frustration in his tone -- just a tender understanding. She turned her eyes to his and wanted to get lost in them again. She smiled and dared to inch a little closer to the old soul that was calling to her. "What I want is to just sit here with you. Maybe even..." She trailed off and ducked her head, shaking it slightly. She felt the warmth suffusing her cheeks in shame of what she'd almost suggested.

"What?" His hand squeezed hers, so gently that it melted any reserve she had left.

"Maybe even be close to you?" She quickly justified her request. "And I'm sorry if that's weird, I really am, I just... I keep thinking about before you left for Chino and--"

"That hug," Ryan finished, and slipped an arm over her shoulders without further pretense.

She felt him craning his neck slightly to look down at her before he enquired softly, lowly, "Do you think about that a lot?"

"What?"

"The hug."

"Yes." There was no sense beating around the bush -- not with Ryan, anyway. He'd have her figured out before she could even try to evade. She cast a look up at him through her lashes. "Do you?"

He nodded but kept his eyes on the water. "Yeah, I do. Sometimes I think, had it not been for Sandy..." He trailed off with a sigh.

"He really does always know how to ruin a moment."

A chuckle reverberated in Ryan's chest, and Kirsten felt it buzz against her ear. "Now I know where Seth gets it," he quipped.

"Yeah."

They both watched the water for another extended moment, until Ryan broke the silence again. "You gonna tell me why you walked out on Sandy?"

"No. It's not important."

"I think it is."

"I don't know my husband anymore."

She felt, more than saw, his eyebrows lift briefly. "Well, that's one way to jump into the discussion, I guess..."

"He's a complete stranger to me. His morals are becoming corrupted, his priorities aren't what they used to be. It's like trying to deal with my father all over again."

Ryan leaned his head on hers. "I understand."

"I just need a break. I just needed to be around somebody that I know, someone that knows me... and someone that looks out for me."

"I'll always look out for you." A smile was laced within his reply, though it didn't take away from the intensity of his words.

Kirsten shivered in response and felt Ryan pull her in tighter. "I know you will."

"Do you think it's weird that we've never spent a lot of time getting to know each other, and yet we know each other really well?"

"I used to."

"Not anymore?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"Because you have an old soul, Ryan. And I don't mean that in a bad way. I have one too. That's how we can know each other without knowing each other."

"Our souls know each other."

"Yes."

She felt his smile all the way down to her toes as he replied, "I like the sound of that."

Kirsten hummed a chuckle. "Me too."

Ryan's lips dusted across her forehead and she lifted her chin, her eyes meeting his. They visually searched each other for moments on end, eyes occasionally drifting to each other's lips as they sat silently, contemplating.

To think she hadn't wanted him in her life at first. Over the few years he'd been around, Ryan had become her touchstone. Her constant. Hell, he'd become that in the first year living with them. When he'd left for Chino with Theresa, it had very nearly broken her. Sandy never knew why. Neither did she, really -- not consciously. There had been a pesky little voice at the back of her head telling her that in the short span of a year, Ryan had become more to her than she ever imagined -- than what was acceptable, even.

Kirsten had had only two loves in her life until Ryan had come along; there was her first love, Jimmy Cooper -- her high-school-sweetheart-turned-next-door-neighbor; and then there was her longest love, Sandy Cohen -- the very man she was attempting to escape from now. Little did she know Ryan Atwood would become her truest, most complicated love.

What she felt for him was inexplicable. Many saw it as maternal love -- and she often played it off as such. Sandy and Seth, and frankly everyone else, were better off thinking of it that way. But she knew better. As did Ryan, she suspected. It was a slight protectiveness, combined with a soul-deep attachment, combined with the most basic and primal physical attraction.

"So what do we do now?" Ryan asked, his breath puffing against her lips.

Kirsten wanted to infer what she'd been previously thinking about, but knew, despite the soul-deep connection, that Ryan wasn't a mind reader. There was also a small part of her that wanted very badly for him to kiss her -- to just kiss her, until she felt nothing -- no frustration, no confusion, no foreboding. She wanted him to kiss her until all she felt were his lips.

Instead, she sighed, knowing her own breath was puffing back against his lips and hoping it was having the same effect on him that it did on her. "Now we sit here, together, and watch the water." She snuggled against him again, pillowing her head in the hollow of his shoulder. "Maybe even pretend that life isn't insanely complicated."

She felt his grin against the top of her head. "And let our souls hang out together?"

Kirsten couldn't help the giggle that bubbled up at that. "Well, when you say it like that, it just sounds silly."

"Sorry."

She smiled. "We'll just watch the water and pretend there's no such thing as a problem."

Ryan dropped another kiss against her, this one landing in her hair, as he murmured, "Anything for you, Kirsten."


FINIS
AUTHOR'S NOTES: I haven't forgotten about "The Sleepless"... fret not, my lovelies. This one has been on my hard drive for awhile, so I just figured I better post it and let you all see it. That said, thanks to everyone for your overwhelming support on "The Sleepless", and hopefully on this one as well. I figured I'd get booed straight out of the O.C. fandom for loving Ryan and Kirsten as much as I do. I had no idea SO many of you saw the sparks as well. Hope you enjoyed this.