Title: The Drive Home

Author: ChaseII

Story Rating: PG-13(?) (minor language)

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: Unbeta'd -- all mistakes are mine!

Once again, Josh and company gave us a Ryan w/ Kirsten moment I can't get out of my head. The ten seconds in the car on the way home from Ensenada in "The Avengers" is the basis of this scene.

The only dialogue in the story comes from the episode, so I didn't bother to indicate with italics or other devise that I lifted the dialogue. It's all theirs -- every single spoken word.

I also experimented with second person, which I never use. Hope it works -- it's where the muses took me... they're pesky little things sometimes.

The Drive Home

The Cohens think you're capable of murder.

You can't get the thought out of your head, turning it over and over as you keep your eyes fixed firmly on the highway. Mex-1 stretches in front of you, northward toward the border.

Your mind flashes involuntarily to your near-lethal fight with Trey, and its frightening replay with Volchok.

You admit the Cohens could be right.

But this is different, you argue with yourself.

This time you said you wouldn't kill.

That should mean something.

You honor your word.

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

Your thoughts are interrupted, as a sudden blaze of red tail lights demands your attention. You react automatically, decreasing your speed still further to compensate for the worsening weather.

The windshield wipers and the pelting rain striking the jeep's roof seem louder now. Everything seems louder, especially the silence inside the vehicle.

The silence reveals a gaping, empty space.

You worry that there are too many empty spaces now that you're no longer numb. Spaces that leave room for things to seep in. Spaces that make you vulnerable.

Without the numbing effects of fists and feet pounding into your body, and the resultant throbbing pain, you're unable to suppress your memories or your emotions.

The guilt and anger and anguish you've held at bay these past months steal over you, pitiless and unrelenting.

You're too damaged to fight them anymore – too bruised and far too broken.

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

A movement next to you reminds you that you're not alone.

Of all the pressures you can't deal with at this moment, the Cohen in your passenger seat ranks near the top of your list.

After the crash… after she died in your arms … you spent months avoiding all the Cohens.

At first, you tried to isolate yourself inside their pool house, but they hovered.

You finally had more hovering than you could handle, and you told them you were leaving. They begged you not to go, but true to form they didn't stop you when you packed and walked out their door.

They never stop you when you insist on leaving.

Seth's odd visits, Sandy's less frequent drop-ins, Kirsten's care packages – all continued ties to them that you tried your best to ignore.

You needed space.

Then two days ago, their embarrassing 'intervention' convinced you that their need was greater than your own.

In the end, you gave them what you thought they wanted.

You moved back into their pool house. For one night.

It was a colossal mistake.

You knew they were better off without you. It only took a day to prove that you were right.

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

You hear your passenger rearrange herself beside you. You can feel her watching you, but you stare stubbornly ahead.

You're not ready to deal with her.

You're not ready to deal with anyone named 'Cohen'.

Mex-1 ends, and you have to turn onto the local roads, leading the thirty-odd miles on to the border. It's tricky here, with the rain and the indifferent darkness, but there's less traffic. You're grateful for that.

You're far less grateful for the Cohens' interference.

Turns out you'd have been better off without them, too.

You might have been able to finish what you started, without their second pseudo intervention in less than forty-eight hours.

Instead, you're being forced back to Newport with your mission incomplete.

Worse, you've got Kirsten sitting in the jeep beside you.

Both developments chafe.

Still, they're not the worst of your issues with the Cohens.

First, there's Seth.

You're pissed at him for not trusting you in Ensenada. You thought it was pretty simple – either he had faith in what you told him or he didn't.

He said he believed you.

He lied.

He went behind your back to warn your enemy, and set you up to face his parents.

You trusted him, and he betrayed you.

Next there are his parents.

Their faith -- make that lack of faith -- is another huge issue with the Cohens.

You feel a little queasy when you remember Sandy and Kirsten's expressions at the bar.

They honestly thought that you were on a murder mission.

After three years, it hurts that they don't know you better than that.

In the end, you're not sure which actually hits hardest – Seth's infidelity, or the Cohens' distrust.

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

You watch the miles click over, the silence in the car uninterrupted.

It's not so silent inside your head.

People from your past, your present – both the living and the dead – taunt you. Dad, Dawn, Trey, AJ, Caleb, Oliver, Johnny, Julie, Marissa, Sandy, Seth, Kirsten…

The list goes on and on. So do the recriminations.

You're nothing.

An idiot.

Ungrateful.

Pathetic.

You know the voices aren't all wrong.

You're nothing if not an idiot.

At least this time you know where you screwed up. You know exactly what brought Sandy and Kirsten to Mexico.

Sure, they told you they were worried about you, and you honestly believed them.

But that's not why they came. They wouldn't have driven through the night just to track you down.

The fact is, you scared the shit out of them, taking Seth with you.

The Cohens showed up in Ensenada because you put their son in danger.

-----------

The voices start another round of name-calling.

You're trouble.

You're worthless.

We don't believe you.

You shake your head, but the voices continue echoing what you're sure the Cohens must be thinking.

Clearly, Sandy and Kirsten don't trust you.

They don't even trust you to drive back to Newport on your own.

You offered them your word that you'd follow them.

Your word apparently wasn't good enough.

So you've got Kirsten riding shot-gun in your jeep, jostled and cramped and uncomfortable. Probably scared of your driving, too.

Why wouldn't she be? Why shouldn't she be?

You're sure she would rather be in the Lexus with Seth and Sandy right now.

You'd rather she were there, too.

But thanks to you, no one gets what they want. Sandy's too afraid you'll renege on your promise, bolt, and go after Volchok again.

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

If you have to have one of them riding with you, you're glad it's Kirsten instead of Sandy. At least she's quiet.

She's not going to lecture, or push you like Sandy would. She's not going to keep trying to talk when it's obvious talking is the last thing you want to do.

She's not going to ramble on, talking about how you're both alike and how she understands you, because you aren't and she doesn't, and she seems to get that.

You feel her watching you again. This time you sneak a sideways glance. She's turned toward you, the concern on her face unsettling.

You know what she must be thinking. How disappointed she must be. You know you should apologize for all the ways you've let her down, but you don't know where to start, and you're pretty sure nothing you could say would make her understand why you've been acting like you have.

You don't even understand everything that drives you – you just know you have no choice.

You have to do this.

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

To your distress, she speaks.

"You okay? You hungry?"

You close your eyes, as your stomach clenches and unclenches, threatening a revolt at the mere thought of food. You can't envision ever being hungry again.

And honestly? You can't imagine a time when you'll ever be okay.

You respond, the word coming out as little more than a whisper. It costs you more effort than you'll ever admit.

"No," you breathe, barely shaking your head.

It answers both her questions.

You see her turn away, and you feel like someone's got their hand inside your chest, squeezing their gnarled fist tightly around your heart.

You focus on the road once more, trying to see the white lines as the rain continues to outpace the wipers.

You're surprised when Kirsten speaks again.

She turns toward you, "This was my worst nightmare, when you came to live with us."

You stop breathing.

She stares out through the windshield for a second before turning back to you. "That Seth would follow you somewhere and get hurt."

Your heartbeat scrambles, as your own worst fears are realized. You know she's always been unsure of you.

Now you know precisely how she feels.

You wish for a moment you could step back inside the cage, and let some rage-filled thug beat you senseless. Physical pain would be so much better than this awful ache you feel inside.

But you don't have that option, so you do the only thing you can.

You face her, accepting condemnation of your sins.

You put her son in danger, so she has every right to loathe you.

Your loving her doesn't change anything.

You turn back, staring straight ahead, trying hard to hold yourself together as you respond.

"Yeah, I know." The words hurt as they pass across your lips. "I shouldn't have taken him."

You glance quickly over at her, your heartbeat still uneven. You realize when you turn back to the road that it's no longer the rain making the lines blurry.

You offer the only other words you still have at your disposal, "I'm sorry."

Your apology sounds wholly inadequate, but there's nothing more you can say. No excuses you can make.

No justification for putting Seth in harm's way.

You steel yourself when she turns back to you.

But she doesn't address your apology.

Instead, she smiles at you, and clarifies, "I was gonna say… all that's changed is now I have two children to worry about."

You blink, completely unprepared for those words. You turn toward her, to find her eyes speaking their own intrinsic language.

To find her unmistakably claiming you as hers.

You blink, and duck your head for an instant before you stare back at the pavement in front of you. This time, you have to keep blinking, and still the lines blur.

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

You bite your lip as her words echo inside your head.

As they settle inside your heart.

I have two children…

You want to loose yourself within those words.

You want to be her son.

But you know that you're unworthy.

Your destiny isn't really Newport or the Cohens.

You're just biding time.

You're going after Volchok as soon as he resurfaces.

And who can say how that will all end?

Or how she'll feel about you when it does.

You swallow hard, knowing you can't speak. You look across at Kirsten, finding her eyes with yours, hoping she might read in them a fraction of all you'd like to say.

Her answering smile is laden with sadness and perception.

To your relief, she doesn't press you for more. She settles back into her seat, her head leaning against the passenger window.

You turn to face the road, concentrating on the sound of the wipers and the pelting rain.

Once you cross the border, you notice that Kirsten closes her eyes.

In the burgeoning silence, you replay her words.

Now I have two children…

You find yourself yearning.

Maybe, if you survive…

Maybe she'll still want you…

But then you catch yourself, and curse your own futility.

You've surely learned your lesson.

It's etched in death and fire and blood.

Any dream held dear?

Ends in bitter disappointment.

Or it simply...

Dies.

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fin

AN2/ Reviews greatly appreciated!