Title: Through Sophie's Eyes
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: This is in response to a Plotbunny mini-challenge:
"Little Sophie asks Ryan, why he doesn't call their parents "Mom" and "Dad" like she and Seth do, but "Kirsten" and "Sandy". Ryan tries to explain.
(Maybe Sandy and/or Kirsten eavesdrop?)"
Summary: Ryan sees through Sophie's eyes
Through Sophie's Eyes
It took Ryan less than four seconds to realize he was under siege.
Sophie was clearly in one of her 'I-need-to-know-now' modes, with him as her target. Nothing new there – every trip home meant being bombarded with questions. It didn't matter that he came home at least one evening every week, or that he usually stayed over a couple of weekends a month – the five-year-old kept coming up with questions.
He'd barely been able to set his backpack down in the den before she launched today's attack, scampering full-speed across the room to intercept him.
She fired as she ran, "Are you my brother?"
Ryan froze as her words registered, even though he'd always known it'd be only a matter of time before her curiosity and her intelligence conspired to breed that question.
Her insistent tug on his hand startled him from his reflection, and he looked down to see her curling blonde hair thrown back across her shoulders while she tilted her face up at him. Her eyelashes flickered, kissing pink cheeks two… three… four times before settling long and thick over top her wide blue eyes.
It was like having a miniature Kirsten staring up at him, impossibly bright and equally impossible to ignore.
But he wasn't above trying to distract her – at least while he collected and pieced together scrambled thoughts.
"Sunshine!" he tried, giving her his best big-brother smile as he reached down to place his hands under her arms, scooping her off the ground and spinning her in a wide circle.
He knew he'd bought at least a little time when she broke down into giggles.
He kinda' wished Sophie could always be about the giggling and the safe, easy questions, but he knew there was zero chance of that. Sophie was Sandy's daughter, intensely curious and thoroughly in love with words. With Kirsten's steely determination, no less – a lethal combination.
Even more challenging, Sophie was noticing all kinds of things these days… Chrismukkuh dinner had driven that point home with exclamation marks.
"Daddy?" Sophie growled, climbing up into her booster seat and sitting with her arms crossed in front of her, a deep scowl etched across her face.
Sandy's hand covered his mouth in what Ryan was sure was an attempt to stop a smile. "Yes, Sophie?" he managed to respond without a snicker.
"Ryan locked his door last night, an' I didn't 'preciate it! I woke up an' wanted him to tell me a story 'cause he tells the bestest stories, an' I walked in the dark all the way to his room but I couldn't turn the handle 'cause he locked me out! An I know Ryan an' Taylor were just playing 'cause I could hear, an' they didn't even ask me to play!" she huffed, turning her scowl full force on the offenders.
Taylor choked on the tea she'd been sipping, setting the glass back on the table clumsily.
Ryan edged back in his chair as every eye at the dinner table focused on him, feeling color rising all the way to his ears.
Sophie pouted, "Tonight I wanna' play, too!"
His greatest – maybe his only – solace was that during the course of that same dinner, Seth had come under their sister's sights as well.
While Seth rambled on and on about Hollywood's latest bastardization of graphic novels, Sophie stopped eating, staring at her more-related brother with the intensity of a feline sizing up its prey.
"Why does Seffy always keep talking and talking and talking and talking and talking?" she demanded, pouncing on a rare pause in Seth's monologue. She turned wide, round eyes to Kirsten, "Is it 'cause he's got something wrong with him?"
Seth's head drew back and his jaw dropped open, but before anyone could respond, Sophie spoke again.
"I guess maybe he's got a brain disease," she announced gravely, her eyebrows knit together.
Seth's stunned silence had been priceless, worth every recrimination he'd suffered since.
Just recalling Seth's total inability to speak earned Sophie another spin, sending her reeling with laughter once more. When Ryan finally set her down, he half-heartedly hoped she'd forgotten her original course, and would steer on to something far less sensitive.
Like that was about to happen…
"Are you, Ryan? Are you my brother?" Sophie refocused as soon as her giggles subsided.
Yeah, this was Kirsten, Jr. all right – another 'she-who-won't-be-deterred' in the making.
"Of course I am," he answered smoothly, swooping her up again and swinging her effortlessly onto one shoulder where he held her securely in place.
"Unless you're an imposter, just pretending to be my sister? Maybe you're not Sophie Rose…" he teased.
"I am Sophie Rose!" she squealed, laughing. "Don't be silly, Ryan!"
"Me? I'm never silly – you must be thinking about Seth," he teased again, somersaulting her easily from his shoulder to the floor while she erupted into more giggles
Still laughing, she grabbed his hand and swung backwards, "Yeah, Seffy's pretty silly, huh? An' he really talks too much." She sighed dramatically, reminding Ryan so much of Seth he snorted.
She tugged him toward the kitchen, "The Mean Man said you're not really my brother."
He should have known.
He couldn't believe Julie drove up with the guy last weekend. She hadn't done that in a long time, usually flying up with Gordon Bullitt instead.
As hard as he'd worked to make some sort of peace with Frank Atwood, five years after reconnecting with his father the guy still made his skin crawl. He'd made quick excuses only moments after Frank walked into the Cohen home, deciding a white lie about a mid-term project and needing to stay on campus to complete it was easier to live with than the alternative.
Maybe he should have sucked it up and stuck around.
"He said it!" his sister complained, clearly unhappy that he hadn't brushed her concern aside.
"Oh yeah?" he scoffed, "Well, what does that guy know?"
She climbed onto his shoes, her arms winding around his legs as she grew serious, "He said he was your daddy."
Thanks, Frank – nice one… He was definitely gonna' have words with that man.
When had he become Sandy?
Sophie yanked at his pants legs, demanding his undivided attention.
"No one thinks I'm a big girl, but I am big, Ryan. I hear stuff you say. Like, I know you never call our Mommy and Daddy 'Mom' and 'Dad' like Seffy does. Is it 'cause the Mean Man is your daddy? Like he said? An' he won't let you?"
"Are you supposed to call Frank the 'Mean Man'?" Ryan stalled.
He'd always felt a little guilty, thinking it might be his fault she persisted with the moniker – well, his and Sandy's. Maybe they didn't hide their feelings about his father as well as they should.
The glare Sophie turned on him was a tiny replica of his own.
He had to choke back a smile as he watched her perfect imitation. No doubt about it – this golden child was very much his sister.
"Sophie?" he coaxed, matching her glare for glare.
Sophie frowned, caving reluctantly.
"Mommy says it's not nice," Sophie quoted, although her tone and her jutted lower jaw suggested she wasn't swayed.
Ryan shook his head, deciding this was Kirsten's battle. One he couldn't be too sorry she was losing, because if Sophie steered clear of Frank? She'd be safer.
"Why'd he say that, Ry-ry? Is it true?
Her eyes were fixed on his face, complete adoration and steely determination wrestling for dominance. He clearly wasn't getting out of this discussion. Unlike Seth, this Cohen was not easily veered off the course she chose to sail.
Besides, she'd called him 'Ry-ry' – a nickname Seth was originally to blame for. One Ryan had quickly helped Seth understand was permanently off-limits to anyone but their little sister.
From her, though, it had become an endearment – one that never failed to melt both his resolve and his defenses. And it was way better than 'Seffy'.
"Is it?" she asked again, her wispy eyebrows knitting together. "'Splain, Ry-ry. Okay?"
"I'll try," he answered, lifting her off her feet once more, and carrying her into the living room. He settled carefully down upon the sofa, with Sophie nestled in his lap.
She snuggled into his chest, her head resting against his shoulder. "I'm ready," she announced, her voice a little muffled from burying her face against his shirt.
How to even start? But she was 'ready', so he had some 'splaining to do.
"Well, Sunshine, you know how you grew in your mommy's tummy?"
She nodded vigorously, having asked a thousand questions about that phenomenon already.
"Well, I didn't grow there. I grew inside another mommy, named Dawn."
He shrugged thoughtfully, "Because she wanted a baby, too. She and her husband, Frank. They were my first parents, Sophie. They're called 'birthparents'."
"But why them? Why not Mommy and Daddy?"
"'Cause I might have turned out like Seth, and we wouldn't want two Seths in the family, would we?" He wrinkled up his face, causing her to giggle.
"Ewww!" she squealed, "Nuh-uh!" She reached up to touch his face, her eyes fixed on his, "But then if the Mean Man's your daddy, how can you be my brother?"
"I'm your brother because… because my birthparents didn't know how to take care of me. So I needed a different mom and dad who knew how to be parents, and who wanted to have me in their family."
"And you found Mommy and Daddy?"
"Um-hmmm. Maybe we kind of found each other. But the important thing is that when I needed new parents, they let me live with them, and I grew to love them. And you know what?"
"What?" Sophie asked, her voice barely a breath and her eyes swimming with anticipation.
Ryan gave her a half-smile, "They told me they loved me, too, and said that I could be their son. And I wanted more than anything for them to be my mom and dad. So we kinda' all became a family."
He felt Sophie's arms spread around his body as she snuggled closer, and he wrapped her tighter.
"And Seffy?" she prodded, "He was family, too, right?"
He nodded, "Um-hmm. Seth wasn't just my best friend any more – he became my brother."
Her head tilted up toward his face, her dimples showing, "And then everyone was happy, right?"
Happy? He'd been amazed, astounded, dazed, and overwhelmed. For years he'd never quite believed that the miracle would last.
Even now, when he knew without doubt that he belonged in this family, he hesitated – on some level, he still avoided holding on too tightly.
"Ry-ry?" A note of anxiety crept into Sophie's voice, "Were you happy?"
He smiled down at her, "I was very happy, Sophie, but not as happy as when I got this amazing little sister."
"Me?" she cried, her eyes dancing.
"My Sophie Sunshine," he confirmed, squeezing her tight and planting a noisy kiss on top of her head.
Pulling back so he could look straight into her eyes he said solemnly, "Never thought I'd have a little sister, but now that I do, I have news for you, Soph. I'm keeping you. I'll always be your brother, Sophie Rose Cohen. Nothing… nothing in this whole wide world will ever change that."
"Not even The Mean Man?"
"Especially not him."
The sound of a throat clearing startled him, and he looked up to see Kirsten leaning against the archway.
"Don't say 'Mean Man', Sophie", she admonished, although she didn't sound angry.
"But he said Ryan wasn't really my brother. He's a liar!" Sophie protested.
"He's mistaken," Kirsten countered, adding firmly, "Ryan's absolutely your brother, just like Seth."
"Then why isn't Ryan a 'Cohen' like me an' Seffy?"
Ryan blinked, surprised by that volley.
Sophie was really pulling out all the guns…
Kirsten caught his eye – they'd had the surname discussion before. He knew he could change his name anytime he wanted to, thus avoiding a lot of the questions that continually arose. Questions that would keep on plaguing both he and the Cohens.
He had another option, too. The adult adoption papers were still sitting in his desk drawer upstairs, unsigned. He could make their whole relationship legally binding any time he wanted to – the Cohens had made it clear a long time ago that they wanted… truly wanted… to take the final steps. That they were just waiting for him to want to take those steps, too.
"He is a 'Cohen', honey," Kirsten smiled, "But he's an 'Atwood', as well. But it doesn't matter which last name he uses, because he's still one of us. And he always will be."
"Totally," Ryan agreed, shaking his head for emphasis.
The little girl twisted in his lap, squirming until she was sitting up on her knees facing him, "But you shouldn't call Mommy and Daddy by their first names. That's not 'spectful. Right, Mommy?"
"The rules are different if you don't join the family until you're 15," Ryan assured her, looking to Kirsten for support.
Kirsten nodded, "Ryan's right, princess."
"Hmmpphh!" the tiny blonde snorted, "That's not fair!"
"Why? Do you want to call me Kirsten instead of Mommy?" Kirsten wore her 'pained' face as she spoke.
Sophie shook her head back and forth, her eyes wide and round and watery, "No! I want Ryan to call you Mommy!"
Kirsten tilted her head, her eyes connecting with his for a long second before she replied, "We don't always get everything we want, Sophie. In this instance, Daddy and I agreed that Ryan gets to choose what he wants to call us."
Sophie looked crestfallen, her lower lip jutting out once more as she placed her hands on either side of Ryan's face, "Pleeeeease, Ry-ry?"
He looked to Kirsten, who merely raised her eyebrows, making no effort to extract him from this particular hot seat. She'd warned him this day was coming, revealing her own heart's desire ages ago.
"Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeease?" Sophie asked again, adding a kiss on his nose for extra emphasis.
Kirsten must have decided he'd endured enough cajoling, shushing her daughter,
"That's enough, sweetheart. Your brother has his own rules, and we need to respect them."
Sophie looked up at him like her heart was breaking, her deep blue eyes searching his.
Her voice was barely audible as she asked, "Not even for me?"
"Sophie Rose Cohen!" Kirsten snapped, before turning an apologetic smile toward Ryan.
"I'm sorry, honey. Sandy and I will talk to her, I promise."
Kirsten held out her hand to Sophie in an attempt to coax her off of Ryan's lap, but the little girl was having none of it.
Instead, she buried her face into his shirt again, her tiny body quivering. Ryan wrapped his arms around her, rocking her gently as tears slowly rolled down her delicate pink cheeks.
Kirsten had been right when she'd told him how things would change with Sophie's arrival. He could hear her voice, just like she'd sounded that fretful morning he'd finally confessed qualms about how his place might change once the baby arrived…
"Ryan, you're right. Things will change, but not how you're thinking. This baby is going to pull us all closer together… your role is expanding, not diminishing. 'Cause this baby isn't just mine, or Sandy's, or Seth's. She's ours, Ryan. Yours, too. Just think, honey – she's the first member of our family who will never know us before we found each other. As she grows up, we'll see ourselves through her eyes, and what we'll see will be her mother, her father, and her two brothers. What we'll see will be a single family."
He hugged his sister tighter, smiling up at Kirsten over Sophie's golden curls, "It's okay, Mom. Maybe my sister and I should have some of the same rules after all."
Kirsten's eyes widened before she tilted her head, a stunning smile spreading across her lips.
Her voice broke a little, "That sounds… that sounds just wonderful, Ryan."
Sophie's face echoed her mother's, shining brightly as she flung her arms around his neck, knocking him back into the seat cushions.
She cooed around subsiding tears, "I love you more 'n a trillion million zillion nillion pillion, Ry-ry!"
"I know, Sunshine. 'Cause that's nearly as much as I love you back."
"An' how much you love Mommy?"
"Um-humm," he answered, glancing up at a radiant Kirsten to see her swiping at her eyes.
"An' Daddy?" Sophie continued.
"Dad, too," he agreed, delighted to see her dimples appear as he said 'Dad'.
He snorted, "Hmmmm…"
Sophie's glare returned, this one a sideways version.
"Maybe…" he offered, impressed.
"He's our brother," she argued, her glare melting as her eyes began to dance. "An' we can close our ears when he talks too much."
"We can?" He raised an eyebrow, grinning when his little sister mirrored his expression.
She snickered and nodded happily, her curls bouncing. "That's what I do."
He sighed, throwing his hands up in defeat, "Okay, I give. Seth, too."
"A zillion billion nillion villion?" Sophie pressed, her eyes glued to his.
He laughed, "Absolutely, Sophie. All that much and more."
"Hey, kid!" Sandy greeted him as he tapped on Ryan's open door. "Am I interrupting?"
Ryan shoved his book aside, "Nothing that can't wait. I'm just trying to get a little ahead so I can go with you guys next weekend to see Seth's show at RISD."
Sandy slouched comfortably against the doorframe, "Kirsten tells me that our princess cornered you today. Everything okay?"
"Depends…" He let the word trail off, wondering why something that had felt right just hours before could make him feel self-conscious now.
Sandy straightened a little, his eyebrows wrinkling. "On?"
Ryan ducked his head a second before looking back at Sandy, "On how you feel about my calling you 'Dad'."
Sandy smiled deeply, his dimples pronounced, "On a scale of one to ten, I'd rate that about a twenty-five."
Ryan blinked, allowing Sandy's words to seep through pointless old defenses.
"It's gonna' feel weird actually using the words," he volunteered uneasily. "Calling you guys 'Mom' and 'Dad'."
Even if it's how he'd thought of them for years now.
"Weirder than it felt when you first started calling us 'Sandy' and 'Kirsten'?"
Sandy had him there – that had felt not just weird, but wrong, back in the day.
He shrugged, "I kinda' avoided calling you guys anything at all for a long time."
The man's eyebrows arched knowingly, "I'm sure 'Sandy' and 'Kirsten' seemed far too familiar at the time – like they didn't establish enough distance for comfort."
Biting his lip he mused, "That seems like a lifetime ago."
"You know, one day this is all gonna' seem like a lifetime ago, too," Sandy smiled.
"I guess, but in the meantime, it's gonna' take some getting used to," Ryan warned. "But I'll try… for Sophie."
"That old distance, Ryan? You…we… don't need it anymore."
"Yeah, I know."
Sandy nodded, pressing his back off the door frame and standing straight. "You know Sophie's gonna' be asking about 'adoption' someday soon."
Ryan fingered his watchband, "I've been thinking about that, too – it kinda' flows, I guess. I mean, it's one thing to know how I feel, and how you guys feel, but she's gonna' want to know that my place in this family is permanent, isn't she?"
"It is permanent, Ryan. Regardless of any document – we all know that. But why not clothe the relationship we've created in law? Make it incontrovertible?"
Ryan flicked his eyebrows, "You mean get rid of all the 'like' and 'sort of' language before we have to explain the whole thing to her?"
"It would certainly un-complicate everything," Sandy agreed easily. "Both simplify and strengthen our story."
Sandy's words, like his own, so rational…
Their eyes locking, saying so much more.
Finally, Ryan nodded and looked away, reaching to the back corner of his desk and picking up a slender file. He closed his eyes for a second, running one hand across the worn manila folder. He'd pulled it out of his desk a hundred times, staring at words that would solidify his world.
Looking up at Sandy he held out the file, "I signed these, mostly for Sophie… but partially for me. I'm not sure about actually changing last names – maybe you and Kirsten and Seth and I can talk about that? But legally I… I want to be a 'Cohen'. I want you guys to be my real parents."
Sandy took the folder, scanning through the documents with glistening eyes.
"I've been your dad for a long time, Ryan", Sandy pointed out, his voice a bit unsteady.
He took a breath and blew it out slowly before he finished, "But I gotta' say, kid, it means the world to me that you're finally gonna' let me become your father."
Ryan ducked his head, looking up at Sandy through blond eyelashes before testing the waters, "Thanks for everything…. Dad."
That felt all kinds of awkward.
But the responding light in Sandy's eyes proved a powerful reward.
Sandy smiled crookedly, waving the folder as he turned to leave.
He was part way down the hall when he called back, "That twenty-five? More like a hundred."