A/N: This one shot request comes from spidergirl91. She wanted to see what could have happened if Ryan had gone with Marissa to the lifeguard stand after Jimmy's disasterous going away party during season two instead of DJ. Also, in case it has been a while since you've seen this episode (as it had been for me before I skimmed through it this afternoon to refresh my memory), if Ryan had gone after Marissa, the coughdisgustingcough ksis he shared with Lindsay in the poolhouse would not have happened, and he would have been left still questioning if it would be weird to be with Kirsten's sister. Anyway, enough of my rambling. Enjoy!

Charlynn

The Power of Hot Chocolate – A One Shot

Here I am again, Marissa mused as she waited at the end of the Cohen driveway for something to happen. She knew DJ was standing beside her, but he seemed less than thrilled to be there, and, if she was honest with herself, he was definitely not the person she would wish to be by her side when her life was seemingly falling apart. Actually, falling apart was putting it mildly. I'm drunk, scared, fighting with my parents…yet again, running away, and, worst of all, alone. I'm always alone. Waiting for her…what, what was DJ to her exactly? She didn't really consider him her boyfriend; she would have to know something about him other than the fact that he looked good without a shirt and that spending time with him annoyed her Mom to no end for him to really matter to her. Really, that was the purpose he served: he was an amusement, a diversion, and the fact that she had slipped to such a low, Newport standard did nothing to engender feelings of fondness in her heart towards him. So, as he approached her, his steps timid with uncertainty and a lack of interest, she sighed, knowing that what he was about to say and do was completely wrong, that the only person who would know what to do to make her feel better was sitting back at the party probably thanking his lucky stars their relationship was over.

"So, I thought I'd take you home," DJ offered. Marissa had to bite back a laugh as she looked up at him and realized how far away he was standing from her. Perfect idea, she said to herself silently in her head while visibly nodding to him that she accepted his offer. Why wouldn't I want to go back to the house where my Mother lives, the person who, once again, selfishly pushed away someone I love and need in my life?

Just as she went to turn her back towards the house, waiting for DJ's truck to arrive from the valet, her mind slipped back in time, and, suddenly, she saw herself standing in that exact location slightly over a year before with the boy she'd never be able to forget.

"Marissa, wait," she heard his voice call out from behind her. This time she couldn't hold back her self-deprecating mirth. Imagining Ryan coming after you now, are we? How desperate can you get?

But she wasn't imagining him; he was really there.

"Hey man," Ryan greeted DJ stepping between her and her date. "Why don't you go on home? I'll make sure Marissa's safe."

At the sound of his words, at the presence of his body beside hers, Marissa couldn't help but let a wave of warmth pulsate through her heart, and she knew it had nothing to do with the alcohol she had consumed so quickly just a short time before. This was a genuine warmth, one caused by real human tenderness and compassion. After everything that had happened between them, Ryan still cared enough to chase after her when she ran. He was the only person who ever came to find her when she was lost. Plus, he was standing so close to her, possessively close…as if he was her date and not DJ. He was so close she could smell the lingering scent of his cologne, feel the stirrings of his dress shirt sleeve brushing up against her bare shoulder. Suddenly, her senses were alive, and they were all focused upon him.

So lost in the blonde haired, blue eyed boy standing beside her, she never noticed DJ's truck pull up or him getting inside of it and driving away leaving her alone with Ryan. The only thing Marissa was aware of was Ryan's hand reaching for her own and leading her down the Cohen's cul-de-sac, a dead end road she used to consider her own as well, to where the Range Rover was parked, opening her door for her and helping her in before running in front of the vehicle and jumping in the driver's seat.

He didn't ask her where she wanted to go; she didn't worry that he would insist she let him take her someplace she didn't want to be. They would end up somewhere they both felt safe, both felt secure, both felt protected, and, wherever that place was, it was going to serve as a benchmark in their life. It was in the air, tangible and real, that something was going to change that night, forever altering both of their lives, and the thought that she was about to take such a big step with Ryan made Marissa comfortable enough to relax in her seat, sit back and just watch the rolling scenery pass by, and occasionally steal glances at the boy beside her.

As he pulled into the parking lot at the diner, she turned towards him, her curiosity and questions radiating from her open and honest eyes. "Wait here," Ryan told her, offering Marissa a reassuring smile. "I didn't get to eat dinner yet, and I would put money on it that your supper was solely liquid." Her slight blush was the only answer he needed, but he smiled at her, yet again, to put her at ease. "I'll be right back." And he was. Ten minutes later they were back on the road, and Marissa knew exactly where they were headed: to the lifeguard stand.

When they pulled into the parking space her own car often occupied, Marissa went to open her door and get out, but Ryan was quicker than she was, at her side and pulling the door open to help her out before she even had her purse in hand. Together they walked to the edge of the sand, Ryan waiting patiently as she held onto him to steady herself while she removed her shoes, and then they preceded to the faded, weathered beach haven she had, long ago, proclaimed her own. Without a word, they moved up the ramp together and slid down to sit on the wooden floor, their bodies side by side as they faced out towards the dark, inviting ocean, its waves the only sound emanating from the otherwise desolate and silent beach.

"Okay," Marissa broke through the stillness, "I've waited in suspense long enough." Motioning towards the bag of takeout food, she demanded to know, "what did you get me?"

"What this," Ryan teased her, moving it away from her grasp, "it's nothing you'd like. Besides, who said I was going to share?"

Pouting out her lip, Marissa sulked, "Ryan! You know I'm powerless against The Diner's burgers and chili fries. You have to share."

He thought for a moment before replying. "Alright, I'll make you a deal. I'll trade you exactly one thing from my bag of food for one thing from your purse."

Holding her bag out and reaching greedily for the takeout, Marissa agreed readily. "Deal," she practically shouted out as he slipped her clutch from the loose grip of her fingers. "Oh my god," she exclaimed excitedly, pulling out a steaming cup. "Did you seriously get me hot chocolate?" Before he could even answer her, she was already taking a sip, moaning out of satisfaction as soon as the warm, sweet liquid touched her lips. "That is so good. Thank you."

"Well," Ryan shrugged his shoulders slight embarrassed by how much his simple gesture meant to her, "I figured you had a bad day and deserved something special, and I know how much you like hot chocolate."

"Un uh," Marissa argued while taking another sip, "I don't like it; I love it."

"Anyway," he continued smirking at her comment, "it was worth it…to see you actually smile. It's been a while. Plus, it gave me an opportunity to get this." Pulling her flask out of her purse, he stood up and heaved it as far away from them as possible, not caring where it landed in the night as long as it was laying buried and completely forgotten in the sand.

The words that came next off of Marissa's lips were impossible to stop. She knew she shouldn't say them, that they would overstep the boundaries her relationship with Ryan now had, but she couldn't help herself, and, before she knew, he was, once again, seated by her side, and she was confessing her deepest secrets to him. With a soft, nervous tone that betrayed the sincerity of her words, she spoke her heart to Ryan while her hands fidgeted with the hem of her dress and her eyes stared blindly out at the sea.

"You know," she declared thoughtfully, "all you had to do was ask for it, and I would have given it you. Anyone but you and I would tell them to go to hell, but you…you're different, and you always have been. I care what you think of me." Shrugging self-consciously, she admitted, "I want you to be proud of me."

His answer shocked her into looking up at him. "Well, I want you to be proud of you, but you don't need the booze to give you strength." As she rolled her eyes at his comment, she was surprised when he continued to speak. She hadn't seen this degree of emotional honesty from Ryan since the night they had first talked at the model home, and she would do whatever she had to do to keep it. "You're already so strong, and you definitely can be feisty." That earned him a small, amused giggle. "Look at everything you've been through, your relationship with Luke, your dad's mess last year and your parents splitting up, that whole ordeal with Oliver, your Mom's relationship with Luke, your Mom marrying Caleb, me…."

"You were never a complication to my life," she told him candidly. "Through everything, the good and the bad, I've never regretted a moment I've spent with you."

"Yeah, well, I didn't make things easy on you sometimes, but that doesn't matter. What I'm trying to say is that through everything, you survived, and I think you're stronger because of it. Maybe you can't see it, but I can, and this thing with your parents, with your Dad leaving, you'll get past this, too, and be better because of it."

"It's just so hard," Marissa confessed, tears filling her eyes. "I spent almost all of last year hating the idea of my parents splitting up. All I wanted was my stable, dysfunctional family back, but I got used to the idea of my parents' divorce." Smirking at the memory, she added, "I even had fun torturing my Mom when she married Caleb."

"Now that I remember," Ryan joined in on her laughter. "That was fun, watching you give your Mom a taste of her own medicine, scary that you were so much like Julie Cooper sometimes, but fun."

Smacking him playfully, Marissa exclaimed, "I am not like my Mother!"

In a mock serious voice, he appeased her, "of course not," before pulling her into a friendly embrace, her chilled body leaning up against his as his arm circled around her shoulder. Suddenly serious again, he asked, "so, after everything that happened last year, why is the idea of your Dad moving to get his life together so scary?"

"It's not that," she revealed, sighing. "It's the fact that just when I started feeling as if my parents were going to be the adults again in my life, I find out they're sneaking around like teenagers and having an affair."

"Wait," Ryan interrupted her, "your Mom and Dad are sleeping together behind Caleb's back?"

"Yeah, and you know if he found out, there would go another house, another life I'm trying to get used to, and I'd have to move again and adjust to yet another existence somewhere else. And then there is my Dad. After everything my Mom did to him, he just falls right back into her web. I confronted him, you know," she confided in Ryan without waiting for him to respond, "I told him he needed to grow up and become a real parent, but I meant by getting an actual job and a house instead of living on a boat, by taking Caitlyn to her riding lessons, or by helping me with my Trig homework when I don't understand it, not by moving half way across the world to gain perspective…whatever that means."

"So, your parents are a mess," he agreed with her, "but there are other people you can depend on in your life. You have your friends…."

"I do," Marissa agreed with him, "but sometimes…."

"Sometimes what?"

"Sometimes friends aren't enough. Don't get me wrong," Marissa corrected herself, "I love Seth and Summer and even Zach is cool, but they have their own lives, ones that I really don't fit into anymore, and it's just hard to talk to them about this type of stuff."

"Well, what about me," Ryan asked, his voice betraying the fact that he was slightly hurt Marissa did not include him in her list of friends. "I'm always here for you…even if I haven't shown you that very well recently."

"Oh come on, Ryan, you and me," she motioned between them, "we've never been just friends, and I know," she stopped him before he could say anything, "you have Lindsay now, and you're happy with her, away from all my craziness, and I'm supposed to be with DJ…" Her voice trailed off as she laughed at the very idea of dating him.

"What," he pushed her, curious about why she was laughing. "What's so funny?"

"It's just so unbelievably stupid how I got to this place with him," Marissa answered Ryan's question. "When you came home and wanted to get back together, it was everything I had wanted to hear for months, but then there was this really nice guy whom I had used as a distraction that I had to get rid of first, but, before I could break things off with him and become your girlfriend again, I did what I've seen people do around me my whole life, which is not an excuse, and I lied, forever ruining the chance of a relationship with you."

"Forever is a long time." Realizing the implications of his statement, Ryan let go of Marissa and reached for their bag of food, handing her a sandwich before talking again. As he turned back around to face her, Marissa could see the red tint to his ears, a sure sign that he was embarrassed. Suddenly, a million thoughts were racing through her mind. He doesn't still care, does he? I mean, sure, he cares, but I mean REALLY care, like he used to. He did come after you, her mind pointed out helpfully, and he's been really sweet all night, even getting you your favorite food. And his last statement…, but her thoughts were cut off by Ryan's voice, once again, filling the night air. "But you have DJ now…."

"Yeah, I have DJ," she agreed with him, "and he's a nice guy."

"Wow," Ryan teased her, "I'd hate to hear how you described me when we were dating."

"Shut up," she yelled, pushing him away from her before settling back into the crook of his arm. "You know what I mean. He's just…not for me, and I think we both know that."

"But you are technically dating."

"Maybe," Marissa dismissed unsure of her own answer, "but, if we are, all that's left to do is admit it's not working and end things. That's enough about me," she insisted while stealing some of his fries, "tell me about you and Lindsay. How's your romantic life going?"

"Are you serious," Ryan asked her, caught off guard, "you really want to know about that. I mean, won't it be weird?"

"No weirder than it was for you to listen to me talk about DJ, so let me return the favor."

"Well," he replied truthfully, "it's not going. "She's a nice girl, and I like her, but…" As his voice trailed off, Marissa found herself choking back a giggle, and when he looked at her skeptically, she knew she would have to explain. "What, what's so funny now," he quizzed her self-consciously.

"We are so lame," Marissa answered, still laughing. "Listen to us. We're both seemingly in a relationship, but neither of us really like the person we're with or want to be with them. What's wrong with us? Shallow relationships are supposed to be what teenagers go after."

"After you've had a real one," Ryan said softly, only gazing up into Marissa's eyes when all traces of her mirth had vanished, "it's kind of hard to settle for anything less."

"Yeah," she agreed breathlessly. Like this, Marissa thought to herself, when he says things like this, it's almost as if he's trying to let me know he misses me, too, that he misses us.

"Plus," he lightened the mood of their conversation, "it's kind of hard to start a relationship with a girl when the thought of being with her makes you more than slightly uncomfortable. After all, technically she is my aunt."

"You know, last year at least for a few hours after my Mom and Caleb's wedding, I was technically your step-aunt and that didn't seem to bother you."

"That was different."

"True," she conceded, "blood wasn't involved."

"No, that's not what I meant," Ryan corrected her. "You, you were different."

Marissa couldn't move. This was the moment she had known all evening would occur, the moment that would forever change not only her life but her relationship with Ryan as well, and she knew she had two options. One, she could remain there, lost for words and merely staring into his eyes, hoping, wishing, dreaming for him to simply lean in and join their lips together for the first time in months, or, two, she could alleviate the awkward tension growing between them and set Ryan at ease, make whatever it was that was happening between them less complicated and natural.

"Do you know how long it's been since we've had fun together," she asked him standing up and running down the ramp. When she got to the bottom, she waited, watching him stand up and follow after her, a puzzled and yet intrigued grin on his face. As he reached her side, she continued, "we can still have fun, can't we?"

"What, no, Marissa, we can't! Are you crazy," Ryan protested. Those words were unmistakable between them; they were words they would never forget, and they only led to one thing: playing in the water, but, that time, instead of a heated pool in August, they had the ocean in the middle of winter. "It's January; we'll freeze to death."

"Not if we keep moving," she argued with him already running towards the water. "And, when we're done, I'm going to let you build us a fire out of driftwood. I know you have to have a lighter on you somewhere. A smoker, even after they quit, always carries a lighter."

"But we don't have anything with us to wear," he continued to fight her idea, "and I know you're not going in the water with your designer dress on."

"You're right, that's why I'm not wearing it." With that, Marissa reached down to the hem of her dress and pulled it off of her body. Quickly tossing it aside, she stood there in her lingerie, laughing loudly at Ryan's stunned and captivated expression, before turning around and skipping into the chilling waves of the sea, her hands sneaking around her petite frame to unhook her bra and remove her panties, tossing them aside to dive under the water completely bare, exposed, and vulnerable to the natural elements of the night. Emerging from under the water, she called back to the still dazed boy render speechless on the beach who was lost watching her every movement. "So, what will it be, Ryan," she challenged him. "Would you rather go home, play it safe, and hold hands with your aunt who's actually more like your sister, because she's so close to your own age, or would you rather stay here, live a little, and go skinny-dipping with your step-aunt? It's a hard choice," she started only to gasp out in shock and delight when Ryan charged towards the water to join her, his clothes flying haphazardly off of his body to land on the sand.

Before she knew it, he was beside her, their bodies floating gently along with the currents of the ocean. The cold of the sea was already starting to permeate her body, but Marissa couldn't feel it. Instead, it felt as if her skin was on fire with anticipation and desire. The chemistry between her and Ryan was palpable, more addictive and alluring than anything that could come in a flask, and, in that moment, she knew that as long as she had Ryan in her life, she would be able to escape from reality into him.

"I really shouldn't let you do this," he finally broke the spell they were under by speaking, his teeth slightly chattering from the chilling temperatures of the water. "You're drunk, and obviously neither of us are thinking clearly."

"Oh please," Marissa squabbled with him, "by this point, I'm barely tipsy." Moving closer to him, she pressed the topic further, smiling at the sound of his laughter. "Besides, what's your excuse for acting crazy? I know you haven't had anything to drink tonight."

She watched as he licked his lips, the salt on them only serving to dry his nervous mouth and throat even more, his body moving even closer to her own until the point where they would touch delicately when they moved to stay afloat. Knowing he was nude, the dark ocean the only thing hiding his naked form from her sight, was highly erotic. Unexpectedly, goosebumps covered her supple skin, and they were not the from the frigid waters but, instead, from the torrid feelings she had for Ryan, feelings that had never gone away while they were apart, that were finally being given an opportunity to be expressed.

"I don't know," Ryan answered her question. Marissa had to visibly shake her head to clear the lustful thoughts clouding her mind so she could listen to him. "Someone just seems to bring out this side of me."

"I don't like those implications, blaming me," she complained, a look of playful indignation on her face. "No, I don't like them at all. I think you need punished." And, with that, she reached out, pushing Ryan under the water and swimming away from him as quickly as she could so he couldn't return the favor.

Although her actions ended the intense moment they were sharing, it set the tone for the most carefree evening of fun Marissa had enjoyed in months. They played in the water, dunking and taunting one another as the night wore on until their freezing bodies couldn't take the cold any longer. Ryan got out first, not only so he could build the fire, but also so he could change and then walk a short pace off to allow Marissa her privacy when she changed back into their dress. However, once she was clothed again, her thin dress doing nothing to assuage how chilled she was, her thin body shivering, Ryan returned to her side with a blanket he had found in the Range Rover.

"So now what," he asked her. "Do you want to go back to the Cohens or do you want me to take you home?" They were wrapped up in the blanket together, Marissa resting between Ryan's legs and leaning up against his chest, his arms held tightly around her body to help keep her warm. Although they hadn't discussed what they were feeling, it was evident to the both of them that something was happening, that they were on the path to getting back together, but, before anything could happen, they needed to deal with their present in order to secure their future. Both Lindsay and DJ deserved more than to be cheated on….no matter how trivial and irrelevant their respective relationships were with them, and Ryan and Marissa owed it to themselves to give their third chance at a relationship every opportunity to succeed from the very beginning.

"If you don't mind," she answered, tilting her head back to look at him, "I'd just rather stay here. My Dad, my Mom, the Cohens, Lindsay, DJ, they'll all still be there in the morning. For now, I want to be with you. This….you and me again…this is nice."

"And it makes sense," Ryan offered, agreeing with her. "I don't over think everything when I'm with you or have to pretend that I'm happy when I'm not."

Lacing her hand with his, Marissa returned, "that's because we fit."

"So, we stay here tonight," Ryan concurred, bringing her hand up to his mouth and kissing it softly. Although it was technically wrong, it just felt so right, so natural, and she was not going to second guess it. "But, as you pointed out, everything is still going to be there in the morning, and we're going to have to deal with it."

She loved the way he said they would handle things together. "Well, I was hoping that you would come with me to say goodbye to my Dad."

"You just need a ride," he teased her.

"Oh, shut up," Marissa bluntly told him, elbowing him gently in his side and giggling at his look of mock pain, "because we both know you're just fishing for some compliments. You know I want you by my side when I do this, wish my Father good luck before he leaves me for who knows how long."

"And you know I want to be there for you."

"Then, after that," Marissa continued, snuggling back into his arms, "I was hoping we could just hang out, maybe get some breakfast at The Diner."

"We're going to need to sleep eventually," he pointed out. "Did you have that penciled in anywhere on our agenda for tomorrow?"

"Ugh, you won't stop picking on me," she laughed with him. "Fine, if you want to make fun of my plans, let's hear what you have in mind."

"Well, I was thinking after we'd see your Dad off, we'd pick up some bagels and go back to the Cohens…."

"Your house," Marissa corrected him. Someday she wanted him to feel as if he was a part of their family and not just an outsider staying there.

"Anyway, we'll go back there, appease everyone with some bagels and smear, after all, it is the password into the house, and then we can crash in the poolhouse all morning…and probably the afternoon as well."

"It is a comfortable bed," Marissa added, seeing the advantages of his proposal.

"Then, when we're well rested, we'll both handle things with DJ and Lindsay….together."

"As a couple," Marissa teased him wanting to not only make him blush but to also put a label upon what he was feeling for her.

Tightening his arms around her waist, she felt his lips brush against her hair when he whispered, "as a couple."

And, to think, it was a simple, caring gesture of a cup of cocoa that bridged the gap between them. They had come a long way in one night. Aw, the power of hot chocolate.