Set in season 4, but it goes AU after The College Try (322 I think)
Summary: If Marissa hadn't died, would Ryan have still gotten together with Taylor? At the end of The College Try, Marissa never went to see Volchok, so she wound up going to Berkeley, as did Ryan (and Luke...just for fun).
Rating: T

Author's Note: I was bored the last couple days so I wrote something. This is just kind of experimental, so let me know what you think. Despite what this first chapter indicates, this is not and will never be an RM fic, but they will be friends to some extent and it will deal with their history a little bit. Also, I don't know what I'm going to do with Luke in this story, but just so I have more options, let's just pretend that he didn't sleep with Julie. He left with his dad because he wanted to start fresh, not because of Marissa and/or Julie. Okay, on with the story...

Ryan flopped down on the bed in his dorm room, anxious now that he was alone. It was too early to go to bed, but he didn't have anything to do. The Cohens had just left after Kirsten was assured that yes, he had everything he needed, and no, he wouldn't hesitate to call them if he got homesick. He'd promised Seth that he could come and visit him sometime in the next few weeks, and that he would make sure to make time for Seth/Ryan time at least once a day. Sandy had told Ryan to have fun, but not too much fun, not to mix drinking and driving, and then there had been an awkward exchange about avoiding drunken one night stands. They had been driving him crazy, and he was glad when they finally left.

But only fifteen minutes later, he began to miss them.

Everything was changing and it was all happening so fast. Summer had left for Brown a couple weeks ago, and since then Seth had talked Ryan's ear off about the new friends she was meeting, and what if he was losing her, and lots of other things that Ryan hadn't been able to pay attention to. All he'd been able to think about was leaving Newport and his family and friends behind to go to a town where he didn't know anyone except for Marissa and coincidentally, Luke. He and Ryan had decided to room together and Luke had promised the Cohens that he wouldn't let Ryan sit around a brood all the time.

Seth was stuck working in the comic book store, which he enjoyed, but the comic book club just couldn't provide the same companionship that Ryan could. He was clinging to the past and Ryan could tell that he was dreading him leaving. Seth hadn't actually said anything about it, but there had been a few awkward sentimental conversations that ended with knuckle taps, and occasionally, a manly hug. Seth had even volunteered to assist in the manual labor of helping Ryan and Marissa move into their dorms at Berkeley. And he'd only complained once about how much stuff Marissa had brought.

Ryan looked around his dorm room, which was still half empty because Luke would not be arriving until tomorrow. Ryan's side of the room had a navy comforter, an Atomic County poster that Seth had insisted on putting up, a shelf of books above his computer, and a few picture frames on various surfaces. There was one picture of him and Dawn that had been taken at graduation (the one she'd given him on his birthday was tucked away in a drawer), two of the Cohen family, one of which was taken at graduation, the other their last Chrismukkah card picture, and one of the 'Fab 6' that Taylor had insisted on taking when Luke visited shortly after graduation. Before she left, she'd given all of them a framed copy of it.

Taylor had left for France at the end of July, and to everyone's surprise, they actually missed her. She'd sent them an e-mail about once a week, but it was in French, so Ryan had asked Marissa to tell him what it said.

Marissa. They had managed to stay friends with only a couple erotically charged moments of glances that had almost turned into more. Now, she was only three floors away from him, and he thought about going to see her. Just to see if she's settling in okay.

He jogged down the stairs and found her room, checking the name on the door. He knocked softly and a girl with short blond hair and a twinkling smile opened the door. "Is Marissa-" he began to ask.

"Hey, come in!" he heard her call from inside. "I was hoping you'd stop by." She hugged him tightly for a brief moment, happy to see a familiar face.

He followed Marissa into the room, seeing several boxes out. "Still unpacking?"

"Yeah. Can you believe how small these closets are?"

Ryan smiled and rolled his eyes as her roommate quipped, "I know! We may have to wear outfits more than once this semester!" Ryan laughed good-naturedly and Marissa playfully glared at him and her roommate. "So Ryan, are you Marissa's boyfr-"

"Friend," they interrupted her simultaneously, exchanging an awkward glance.

"Okay, well it's nice to meet you, Marissa's friend. I'm Sara."

Marissa put down the shirt she was trying to find a place for. "Sorry, Sara this is Ryan, Ryan this is Sara. My mind is just all over the place today." She stashed a box in the closet and turned to Ryan. "Do you want to maybe go get some dinner?"

"Sounds good," Ryan replied, leading her out of the room.

Over the next few weeks, they found themselves spending a lot of time together. Luke joined them some of the time, but he met a girl, Tamika, during his first weekend at Berkeley and he spent nearly every free moment he had with her.

When Marissa went to parties, Ryan insisted on going with her. He said it was because he had nothing better to do, but she knew that he was afraid she would fall back into alcoholism. After what had happened to Heather at Volchok's party, Marissa had vowed she would never be in that position. She usually drank soda at parties, though guys were constantly offering her drinks. A couple of times she had accepted, but only if she'd watched the drink being mixed and the guy was really cute.

Ryan had many propositions from girls who were pretty drunk, and a few times, he met a girl who seemed really cool. He would happily engage in a make out session, often accompanied by heavy petting or even a little more, and then he would awkwardly exchange phone numbers with the girl.

Still, it was always Marissa who Ryan walked back to the dorms with.

A week before fall break, they sat on the floor in Ryan's dorm room preparing for a physics exam. They had the same teacher but were in different classes. "I just don't get this," Marissa sighed, shoving the text book away. "All I can think about is going home next weekend."


She nodded, leaning her head on his shoulder. "Just a year ago I couldn't wait to get out of my mother's house. Now I actually miss her, and Kaitlin too. What about you? Do you miss the Cohens?"

"Yeah," Ryan nodded, not wanting to elaborate. "But hey, we'll be home soon enough. For now, how about a study break?"

"Good idea. I'm way too tense for this right now."

Without thinking about what he was doing, Ryan turned her so she had her back to him and rubbed her shoulders. Her head rolled forward and she groaned appreciatively. After a few minutes, he pulled back and she sat with her back to the side of the bed and stretched her arms over her head, exposing the strip of tan skin on her stomach. Like a moth to a flame, Ryan's gaze landed on her skin. "Thank you. I think your must be hands magical." She looked much more relaxed, but a little unsure, alternating between avoiding his eyes, and glancing at his lips. "Where's Luke?"

Ryan wasn't sure if it was an innocent question or not, but there was a vibe in the air. It had been way too long since he'd gotten laid. "Luke is at Tamika's for the night." Tamika had an apartment off campus so Luke stayed there frequently. Ryan appreciated having some alone time. "He won't be back until after class tomorrow." His voice dropped as he instinctively moved closer to Marissa. She smelled like vanilla, just a little too sweet. He finally managed to catch her gaze, and he looked at her with uncertainty, shyness, and interest all evident on his face.

Marissa knew that look and smiled. "So you've got the room to yourself." Something in her voice had changed and he knew where this was headed. He nodded at her, his eyes darkening and his mind beginning to race with possibilities of what was about to happen. "What did you have in mind for this 'study break'?" She leaned closer to him and his hand automatically came to rest on her side, tracing small circles on her skin.

He tilted his forehead against hers and sighed. "Are we really doing this?" He wanted her; always had, but they'd never been able to make it work in the past. Did they really want to go through the ordeal that their relationship had been again?

"Don't you want to?" she asked, her voice soft, low, and vulnerable.

He took a deep breath to steady himself and swallowed thickly. "Of course I do…but do you think it's a good idea?"

"Honestly?" she asked as she placed her lips on his neck. "I don't know." She kissed the spot that she knew drove him crazy. "But right now, I really don't care," she whispered in his ear.

Ryan felt his resolve crumbling as she gently nibbled his earlobe. His hands went under the back of her shirt, pulling her towards him.

They kissed slowly, almost chastely, for a few seconds, testing the waters, but the kiss escalated quickly. Her lips pried his open his hungrily, and together, they moved up onto the bed. Marissa positioned herself on top of Ryan, and grinded her hips into him wildly. He responded eagerly, tangling his fingers in her hair to pull her closer. He'd never seen her like this before, so wanton and he couldn't seem to find the strength to stop her. "I've wanted to do this for so long," she purred into his ear.

As her hand pressed the front of his jeans, his dick grew even harder. Where did this come from? She's never been like this before. Maybe she learned a few tricks from the surf nazi. He rid himself of that thought quicker than it had come to him.

There was a battle in his mind. Part of him wondered if he wanted to be in a relationship with her again, and he forced himself to think of Oliver, Johnny, the drinking, and the secrets. He quickly realized the answer was no. He knew he had to stop, but another part of him argued that they were just two friends, helping each other out.

Somehow, through the cloud of hormones, he recognized that he and Marissa could never have a casual or friends with benefits relationship. She worked on his belt buckle, and he knew that if he didn't stop her soon, he wouldn't be able to. He grabbed her wrists, halting her movements. "Wait."

She sat back, and looked at him closely. "What's wrong?"

Ryan sat up and ran a hand through his hair, frustrated and already regretting stopping her. "We shouldn't. These last few months you've been a great friend…and we've tried this before, but we can't seem to make it work. So I think," he shut his eyes to block out the image of her big, doe eyes, swollen lips, and heaving breasts, and tried to calm himself. "We should just be friends."

Marissa winced at his words and pulled away from him, straightening her clothes. She was quiet for seconds that seemed like hours to both of them. "You're right." She tried to put her hair back into a pony tail. "Do you think we'll ever be able to do that though? Be just friends?"

"I think we've been doing it pretty well for the past few months. There's always going to be a history there, but we both need a fresh start."

She decided not to tell him that she'd been wanting to get back together since graduation. She didn't like what he was saying, but she knew he was right. "Yeah. So we're still friends?" she asked hopefully.

"If you ever need me, I'm here."

Nodding, she held back the tears and forced a smile. She picked up her text book, eager for a distraction. "Well, at the moment, I really need you to help me understand this physics jargon."

"That I can do," he replied, smiling.

Taylor called Seth for the twelfth time in the last hour. When it didn't go straight to voicemail she eagerly waited for him to answer. Finally, "Taylor, hey, how's France?"

"Well, I wouldn't know because I'm in Newport."

"You're in Newport? What? Are you on break or something, because that's a long way to fly-"

"Yes I'm in Newport, and no I'm not on break. I need a favor."

"Can it wait a few days? I'm visiting Summer for the weekend."

"Won't she be home for Thanksgiving in less than a week?"

"What can I say, she couldn't wait to see me."

"Right. Okay, so you're in Rhode Island?"

"Yeah, why, what do you need?"

"I've gotta go." She hung up before he could ask anything else. She thought about calling Marissa. She was only a few hours away. Even though they'd grown closer over the summer, Taylor still didn't feel comfortable calling Marissa or Ryan and asking if she could stay with them. She thought about going home and just telling her mom the truth. Suddenly, calling Marissa looked like a pretty good option.

Taylor arrived at Berkeley at 10 o'clock on Friday evening. She walked into the dorm she knew Marissa lived in and picked up a student directory. The front desk worker was watching the television and didn't even notice her. She looked up Marissa's room number, and Ryan's for good measure. It was unlikely that either of them would be there, but she could just wait around until they got back.

She waited anxiously for someone to answer Marissa's door. She heard voices inside, but maybe they couldn't hear her knocking. She knocked again, harder this time.

After a few moments, Marissa opened the door with her hair mused and her face flushed. "Taylor."

"Sorry for just showing up like this, but I-" She stopped, noticing a guy sitting on the futon, strategically crossing his legs.

Marissa followed Taylor's eyes. "That's my friend, Chase. So, what's up? Aren't you supposed to be in France?" She hoped this would be quick because she was really anxious to get back to Chase.

"I was just wondering…um, nevermind, you're busy. I'll just ask Ryan."

Marissa shrugged, confused but relieved she was leaving, "See ya."

Taylor paused outside of Ryan's door. There was no noise coming from it. Please be here, she silently pleaded.

The door knob turned, and Ryan's eyes widened. "Taylor? What are you doing here?"