A/N: Well, here it is, the final chapter to this story. This post is shorter than most I write, but it is a connection piece that bridges the gap between the last chapter and the sequel that will eventually follow this story. Although it is left very ambiguous, you will get resolution in the next arc of this tale. However, that said, I will not be writing it immediately. Replacing this story will be a continuation of the one shot, "A Deceitful Web of Seduction," because you deserve some fluff and fun. This is probably not what most of you wanted to see happen in this story, but it's a gradual process. Always remember, at the end of the day, I am a Ryan and Marissa supporter. Thanks for sticking with this story, reading it, and, for those of you who leave comments, they're definitely appreciated! Enjoy!


Chapter Ten

"Caity," Marissa Cooper called out to her younger sister as she knocked on her back, screen door.

"Come in," a warm voice called from inside, "but don't expect me to get up to answer the door for you. Oh, and if you want something to eat or drink," she added, laughing self-deprecatingly at herself, "you know where the fridge is. I've decided that until this whale is out of me, I'm not moving off of this couch."

Walking into the living room of her sister's house, Marissa attempted to hold back her giggles, but it was impossible. There, lounging on the couch as she had stated, sat Caitlyn, in nothing but a large pair of her husband's boxers and a tank top stretched tightly over her round, swollen abdomen. There were about half a dozen fans placed around the room, all of them pointed in her direction, and just by the cool chill in the air, Marissa knew the air conditioning was cranked as high as it would go.

"Well that will be fun for Jackson," she finally responded after getting control of her mirth, which Caitlyn just merely rolled her eyes at as Marissa sat down opposite her on a large armchair and pulled a blanket down to keep herself warm in the frigid temperatures of the room. "I guess it will be training for him when you're potty training and Jr., there," she motioned towards her sister's pregnant belly, "wets the bed."

"You're the only family I have, and I'm miserable and look terrible. You're supposed to be nice to me."

"But this is much more fun." When Caitlyn pouted, Marissa threw up her hands to signify she'd give in. "Alright, you big baby, is there anything you want me to get you while I'm here? I can't stay long, but I wanted to come and check in on you. I know that Jackson is gone for a couple of days on business." Caitlyn's husband of four years, a client she had met at the Vet's office she worked at, was a pilot who flew international flights for the Atlanta airport. "Where's he traveling to this time?"

"Berlin," Caitlyn answered, "and he's under strict orders to bring me home some of their good booze for when I celebrate popping this little one out."

"Classy," Marissa teased.

"Enjoy your kicks now, because we'll see who has the last laugh when Aunt Marissa is babysitting and Mommy Caitlyn is knocking back some good, authentic German beer."

Ignoring her sister's comment, Marissa changed the subject. "So, have we gotten any further along on the name front?"

"Well, it would help if Jackson wasn't such a pain in the ass demanding we don't find out the sex," Caitlyn complained, "but, besides that, I think we have it narrowed down to about twenty different options."

"Wow, very decisive of you." Before Caitlyn could retort, Marissa kept talking. "If you ever need help, I'm very opinionated."

"Something I'm well aware of already."

Standing up, Marissa folded the blanket she was using. "Despite this little conversation of ours being just the icing to my already stellar day, I have places to be and people to see that, frankly, are more entertaining than you."

"Oooohhh," Caitlyn exclaimed, taunting her, "what are you and Bailey up to tonight?"

"Just the usual," Marissa explained, rooting through her large, almost duffle sized, purse. "He's going to hang out with me at work during my classes, we'll have dinner, and we'll probably finish the night just watching television together. If you would have been nice to me today, I would have invited you along."

"Thanks but no thanks," Caitlyn dismissed, reaching for the basket of chocolates sitting out on her coffee table. Instead of grabbing it herself though, Marissa picked the basket up and handed it to her. "I don't want to be the third wheel."

"Suit yourself, but I really do have to get going. Last chance though to ask me for a favor." When her sister didn't say anything, Marissa turned her back to leave, but, not even two steps towards the door to the living room, Caitlyn's voice rang out behind her.

"Wait, now that you mention it…."

"Uh huh," Marissa agreed, smirking, "just as I thought. What do you need me to get you?"

"Well," Caitlyn began, flashing her older sister a dazzling smile in hopes of pacifying her, "I'm actually really thirst."

"You don't say! That wouldn't be because you're inhaling those chocolates as if you haven't eaten in a month?"

Waving off her comment, Caitlyn pressed on. "But there's nothing to drink in the fridge except water and pop. Pop makes my feet swell, and water sounds boring. However, I do have some iced tea mix in the cupboard, so if you wanted to be a really nice sister, you'd make it for me." Just as Marissa started moving towards the hallway that would take her towards the kitchen, Caitlyn's voice stopped her again. "Oh, and if it's not too much to ask, could you bring me the take out menus in the top drawer of my desk. I'm not sure where I'm ordering from or what I'm getting, so I need to do a little studying. Also, I don't want to have to get up when the delivery boy gets here, so, if you would, could you leave him a note asking him to just bring the food in to me. Plus, if you're not in too much of a hurry to leave, I'm dying in here, it's so hot, so it'd be great if you'd turn the thermostat just a little bit lower and bring down the box fan that's up in my bedroom. That's all….I think." Marissa merely watched her for a moment waiting to see if she would think of anything else, and, when it appeared Caitlyn was satisfied with the list, she went to move, once again, towards the kitchen. "Oh, and one more thing," Caitlyn spoke up making Marissa sigh in exasperation, "if I made you a tiny, easy shopping list for the grocery store, would you pick the supplies up for me tonight and drop them off in the morning when you come to check on me? Please?"

"I'll make you a deal," Marissa bargained, "I'll do your grocery shopping for you if….and only if….you DILIGENTLY work on a list of possible baby names. I want it narrowed down to five by the time I get here tomorrow."

"Hard nosed, demanding, drill sergeant," Caitlyn complained under her breath as she shook her head to show agreement.

"All I have to say," Marissa concluded their conversation as she walked out of the living room, "is that it better be a long time before you have another kid, and, eventually, one of them better be named after me."

The last thing she heard was her sister's laughter echoing through the large, high ceiling house. It was a beautiful sound.

Six years. Six years of silence, sex, and sports. That had been Ryan Atwood's life, and, for some men, that would have been enough. Hell, at one point in his life, it would have been enough for him, too, but after her…after Marissa, that basic, unsatisfying existence no longer sustained him, and he knew that, one way or another, today would be his breaking point.

Just as Marissa had told him to do the night she had kicked him out of her apartment, her life, he had gone back to Theresa. He knew she wouldn't believe any declarations of love or promises of devotion, so he had approached her with a business deal when she finally answered the door to him early that Monday morning, swearing to her that if she took him back, if she forgot the idea of divorce, he would do anything and everything in his power to give her the one thing she wanted more than his love: a child. It had worked.

From that moment on, his life became a monthly cycle. Twenty five of the thirty days in most months, he would be on the road, working, giving Theresa her peace and privacy to live her life on her own. They didn't speak; they didn't communicate. While she ran her bakery and lived alone in their large, family home, he stayed in hotels, living out of suitcases; his only distraction from his regrets was the endless line of sporting events he had to cover. To make matters worse, those games that had been so important to him for much of his life suddenly meant nothing to him. They were just a living, just a paycheck, a means to an end. While he was gone from their house, Theresa only demanded one thing of him. He could have his affairs, physical or emotional, she really didn't care, just as long as he never conceived a child with another woman. She wouldn't share her baby's father.

Not many men were told by their wives to sleep with as many women as they wanted, but Ryan never once took her up on her offer. The only woman he wanted had turned him away. Six months after he had reunited with Theresa, he had made a trip back to Seattle to try and find Marissa. Even if he couldn't be with her, he still wanted to make sure she was happy, that she was safe, that she was better off without him. However, there was no trace of her. He had asked her neighbors in the apartment complex, checked with every realtor in the city, gone and looked for her at her favorite stores and restaurants, and he had even gone back to the strip club to inquire if any of her former co-workers had heard from her. No one knew anything. It was like she had disappeared completely. Although he could have easily searched for her online, that felt wrong. If she wanted to get away from him so badly she broke all ties with the city she had lived in for eleven years, then he needed to respect her decision.

Sitting in a doctor's office, his chair as far away from Theresa's as possible, Ryan wondered what Marissa was doing at that same exact moment. Was she seeing anyone, perhaps she was married? Did she have children? Were she and Caitlyn still as close? Was Caitlyn still a little spitfire? Where was she living? Did she have her dance studio she dreamed of? There were so many questions, all of which he would never learn an answer to.

He knew he should be listening to what the specialist said, that he should care about the details and the test results, but all he needed was a yes or no answer. They had already tested him; he was perfectly capable of having children. But, sixteen months had gone past since his results had come back positive, and still there was no baby. Drawing the line, he had demanded Theresa be tested for there was no sense in prolonging the inevitable if she couldn't conceive. It had been six years since they had started honestly trying for a child, and, in those six years, his suspicions about their marriage had turned into almost certainties. At this point, he just wanted the proof to back up his beliefs. So, as he tuned out the conversation his wife was having with their fertility specialist, he waited for his chance to ask. Could she have a baby? If yes, then he would stand by his word and keep trying with her, but, if not, well then two things would be certain. One, she had scammed him into their marriage, and, two, there would be no reason for him to stay with her any longer.

Finally, there was a lull in the discussion, so he cleared his throat and spoke up. "I don't understand all these medical terms," he stated decisively, "so let's just cut to the chase, shall we? Without an explanation, without unnecessary banter, in a yes or no answer, tell me, can Theresa have a baby?"

Looking Ryan straight in the eye, the doctor's answer was crisp and clear. "No."

"Thank you," Ryan responded, standing up and moving towards the door, "that's all I needed to know."

"What," Theresa questioned him, jumping up and running after his retreating figure. "Why are you leaving? That's not the end of it; we do have options."

Correcting her, Ryan stated, "No, you're wrong. It is the end of it. I don't want to talk about adoption or fertility treatments. I have tried to give you a baby for six years; SIX YEARS of my life has been wasted for nothing! I don't know if you were in denial or if you just wanted to pay me back for falling in love with another woman, but I refuse to give you even one more day of my life." Stopping suddenly, he turned back to look at her, unable to control his laughter. "This is just….perfect," he declared sarcastically. "The only reason I married you in the first place seventeen years ago was because you told me you were pregnant, and, now, look at my life. I ruined the only good thing that ever happened to me, because I never really grew up and learned to take responsibility for my own decisions. Well, that stops now."

Just as he pulled the door open, Theresa's voice made him turn around to look at her. "Where are you going? What are you going to do?"

"Well, if you really want to know," Ryan revealed, shrugging his shoulders in a carefree, easy mood, "I'm going back to the house to clean out the gutters." When she went to ask a question, he continued to explain. "I want a divorce, and it makes no sense for you to buy out my share of the house. The place is simply too big, and, I imagine, you'd want something smaller closer to the bakery. So, that means we need to get it ready to sell. I'm going to start this afternoon by cleaning out the gutters, I'll work on it for the next week or so doing odd jobs, and, when I'm done, I'll pack up my stuff and be gone."

"But….you hate cleaning the gutters," Theresa questioned him. "You always complain about it every single time I ask you to do it. Aren't you scared of heights?"

"I was," Ryan admitted, nodding his head in agreement, "but I've realized my fear of falling is gone, that it made no sense in the first place. You see, falling….well, it was the best thing that ever happened to me, and, suddenly, I'm not afraid of it anymore."

"I don't," Theresa stuttered, confused, "I don't understand. What are you talking about, Ryan?"

"It's not important," he dismissed, offering her a sympathetic smile. "There's only one person who would appreciate that statement, and my fear stole her away from me." He walked into the hallway, actually whistling he felt so content, but, before he made it to the elevators, he turned around and went back to the doctor's still open doorway to see two very stunned and speechless people staring at the empty space he had been occupying before. "Oh, and just in case I don't see you later," he addressed his soon-to-be ex-wife, "have a good life, Theresa. Maybe now you'll finally be able to find someone who will love you the way you deserve to be loved." And, with that, Ryan Atwood left his wife of seventeen years, knowing it was the first, important decision he had ever made on his own.

Pulling up along side the tall, brick building, Marissa couldn't keep the smile she felt forming on her face from lighting up her whole countenance. It had only been a few hours since she had seen him last, but they were inseparable. Not only was Bailey her best friend, but he was the love of her life, the missing piece she had been searching for years to complete her, and, she knew, she, too, meant everything in the world to him.

She was right on time, so it didn't take long before she saw him walking out with a friend at his side, the two of them lost in discussion. Unbuckling her seat belt, she climbed out of her car and started walking towards him. Suddenly, for some reason, she couldn't wait just a few more seconds to see him. As soon as he saw her, he took off running, ignoring the oblivious, rambling boy he had been talking to, jumping into her arms and giving her the tightest hug possible for his little arms.

"Mommy," he exclaimed excitedly, "I missed you today!"

"I missed you, too, baby," she cooed, breaking their embrace to give him an Eskimo kiss. Luckily, he was only five, so it was still acceptable for his Mom to show affection towards him in public. "How was school?"

"It was alright," he answered, shrugging his shoulders noncommittally, "but I have homework." Putting him down, she took his tiny hand in hers as they made their way towards the car. "I have to look through this magazine Miss Patty gave me and cut out EVERY letter of the alphabet."

"Well, you can work on it while Mommy teaches her class this evening, okay?" In response, her young son shook his head in agreement. "But first," she revealed, "we have to stop at the grocery store and pick up some things for Aunt Caitlyn.

"And the baby," he offered helpfully.

"And the baby," Marissa concurred, smiling at her son. He was delighted by the idea of having a cousin, especially since he would be older, just like his Mommy was older than his Aunt, and he would be able to be the boss when they played games. "Is there anything special you want for dinner," she changed the subject as they pulled into the small-town, family run store. Although they were within a comfortable drive into Atlanta, they lived in a rural area, perfect for Caitlyn's vet business. Marissa loved it and couldn't imagine ever living someplace else. While they were close enough to a large metropolis that provided them with shopping, entertainment, and every modern convenience, she adored the idea that she knew all her neighbors, that her son would know every student in his class, and that their was a large yard behind her studio and their apartment for Bailey to play in. In fact, she even had a small garden…with a pumpkin patch.

"Ummm…," her son's audible contemplation broke her away from her thoughts, "I want pizza and ice cream for dinner." Obviously, Marissa laughed, he has his mother's taste in food.

Their late afternoon passed by uneventfully as the mother and son pair ran their errands and hung out at home. Laughing and talking through the grocery store, Bailey rode in the cart while Marissa pushed him, detailing to his carefully listening and interested mother exactly how he had won the soccer game during recess that afternoon. Once they got home, she had cooked them dinner, pizza just as her junk food crazed son had requested, they had eaten together while she told him about her visit with Aunt Caitlyn. Afterwards, she had given him his bath, dressing him in his pajamas so that he was ready to do his homework while she taught her class that evening. It was a simple, pleasant way to spend the final hours of daylight, exactly how they shared every night.

"Mommy, Mommy," he called to her eagerly, waving his hands to distract her from her conversation with the first student to arrive, "come here, please!"

After excusing herself, she quickly made her way to her son's side. "What is it, honey? Do you not understand your assignment?"

"No, it's easy," he dismissed her concerns. "Look." As her eyes glanced down to the page he was pointing to, her heart immediately started racing, her breathing quickened, and her palms became clammy. "It's my name," he showed her excitedly, "Ryan Atwood….just like Bailey Ryan Atwood-Cooper. Isn't that cool, Mom?"

He was there, staring right back up at her from a page in a sports magazine, his picture displayed by the title of his article. It had been six years since Marissa had seen that face in reality. It haunted her dreams every night; it confronted her daily in the similarities her son shared with it, but, seeing him there, slightly older, his eyes slightly emptier, made her realize she still hadn't let go. Deep down inside of her heart, she was still very much in love with the man who had changed her entire world with just one flight, and, she knew, she probably always would be.

"Mommy," Bailey's annoyed and demanding tone brought her back to her present and away from her past, "you didn't answer me. It's cool right, that we have the same name?"

"It's very cool, baby," she smiled down at her son, searching his cobalt blue eyes, eyes so much like his father's, for several moments before leaning down and placing a tender kiss on his forehead. "Maybe someday, you'll get to meet him."

But first though, she would have to tell Ryan the truth, tell him he had a son….her son….their son….together.