I do understand that this is an unconventional pairing, but that's what makes fanfiction so much fun!

While constructive comments and reviews are welcome, comments intended to flame will only be deleted and ignored...

Rated M (for later chapters)


Part 1

Ryan sat alone, staring out the pool house window, drowning in his thoughts. He wanted so badly to calm his head, but there was always so much to think about. He wished sometimes that he could escape, just for a minute or two. Whether it was here or Chino, it didn't matter. There was always drama waiting around every corner. It was so tiring.

He glanced back at the main house, immediately captivated by a glimpse of Kirsten through the blinds. The past few months had been so hard on her, on all of them really. It had been almost six months since the accident, and still it seemed that Kirsten would never smile again.

He had been spending a lot of time sleeping on the couch lately, at Kirsten's request. She said she couldn't bear to sleep in that house alone. Ryan guessed that since Sandy couldn't be here to make her feel safe, he was the next best thing. Seth was spending most of his time with Summer these days. He just couldn't deal with the reality of being at home.

At night, Ryan lay awake, unable to find the sleep he so desperately craved. Sometimes when he did nod off, he would wake suddenly, covered in sweat, his heart racing. From the master suite he could hear her crying softly into her pillow. It was such a faint sound, but he knew it, as well as he knew the beating of his own heart. He wanted so badly to go to her, to hold her until she stopped crying. He wanted to tell her it would be okay, that everything would be better soon. But he really didn't know that. And he didn't know how Kirsten would react to such a personal intrusion. As far as that, he didn't know how he would react. He had always managed to keep a comfortable distance from her, for his own heart's sake.

Kirsten's anxiety seemed to be getting worse instead of better. She was still taking the medication the doctors gave her, and most of the time it dulled her emotions to the point that she was almost unrecognizable. She wasn't the Kirsten that Ryan remembered from a couple of years ago. Smiling, and fun, and full of surprises. Now she was so sad, so lost. He wondered if she would ever be the same again.

Kirsten had always meant something very special to him. Although he couldn't quite explain it with words, he really didn't have to when it came to her. From the very beginning, they had shared a connection that was more than skin deep. A look was worth volumes. When she smiled, when she laughed, it warmed him from the inside out. And then there were the special looks. The looks she reserved only for him. Like she was flirting with him, almost.

Ryan smiled when he thought about her staring at him from across the table, or the time they collided in the kitchen and he could almost literally see the fire that lit up between them. He knew that she was attracted to him, just a little bit. And he had always been to her, but he never dreamed of acting on it. He respected Sandy too much to dishonor him that way. When Sandy crossed his mind, his heart ached. It was still so hard to believe that he was gone. Sandy had saved his life when he brought him to Newport. He delivered him from an abusive home. He gave him the chance to have a future, a normal life. And he also brought him to the most wonderful person he had ever known. It broke Ryan's heart to know that she was hurting, just out of reach, on the other side of that wall.

Kirsten lay in bed, much longer than she needed to. She folded her arms behind her head, trying to find a reason to get up. It was really hard to do that these days. Her life had took such a nasty turn. Rebecca and Carter, all the fights with Sandy, then the drinking. She remembered how she had yelled at him that night, the horrible things she said. After that he had driven away, and that was the last time she ever spoke to him. She would never get the chance to make it right. She hadn't meant the venomous words she had spat at him; it was the vodka talking through her, like a demon possessing her every breath. Kirsten closed her eyes and tried to rid herself of the guilt. Sometimes she wanted to drink so badly. But she couldn't. She couldn't put Seth and Ryan through that again. She thought about the three months she spent away from them, and she knew that she never wanted that to happen again.

Seth had been so distant since Sandy's death. On top of that, he had to deal with her alcoholism. She felt guilty that she ever had to leave, especially at such a crucial time. She thought back on the conversation she had with Ryan the night before she checked herself in.

Kirsten, you know you have to do this. This family will fall apart without you. If for no other reason, do it for me. I can't go through losing another family.

That night, even through the veil of alcohol, she noticed and was amazed by the eloquence he found when he spoke to her. Usually he was so soft-spoken, struggling to find just the right words. But with her, it was different. He opened up to her in a way that she loved, but was also terrified by at the same time. Her relationship with him had always been, well, different. Although technically he was in her care, she never really saw him as a son. She cared for him, of course, but it just wasn't the same way she cared for Seth. There was a depth to their connection. Something that was so much more than a parental obligation. He understood her; he knew what she was thinking without having to utter a sound. She had never had that with anyone else, ever. Not even Sandy.

"Oh, Sandy," she sighed, so quietly that she wasn't sure if she'd thought it or said it aloud. She knew she would always love him, for all of the wonderful things he brought to her life. He gave her a son, gave her twenty wonderful years. At least most of it was wonderful. Sandy also brought Ryan into their home, into her life. And for that she would be eternally grateful. It was Ryan who had been her strength through it all. Through her drunken haze, through the funeral. Through rehab, when she thought she would never see the light at the end of the tunnel. He came to visit her often. Sometimes Seth would come along, but most of the time, it was only Ryan. His visits were the fuel that got her through it all. She knew that when she finally got to come home, there would be someone waiting there, welcoming her back into her life. Only now she felt like she was wasting it, moping around, staying medicated to the point where she couldn't feel anything.

Kirsten finally got up, dragging to the bathroom and opening the medicine cabinet. She found the bottle of Paxil, studying it for a long time. I don't need this anymore, she said to herself. She opened the bottle and turned to deposit its contents in the toilet, flushing them away. She was ready to reclaim her life again. She wanted to feel something, anything. She had grieved enough over things that couldn't be helped anymore. Sandy was gone, and nothing was going to change that. She couldn't take back the things she had said, she could only make the best with the rest of the pieces of her life. She needed to be a mother to Seth. She was all he had left, and she hadn't exactly been a role model for him lately. And Ryan, sweet Ryan. He had been through so much in his life. His own mother abandoned him, leaving him to adjust to this place. She knew it had been difficult for him. Even though it hurt her to think about his pain, he was here now. And she was so glad. She wanted to be there for him, in whatever way he needed. That realization stopped her in her tracks. What exactly does that mean, she asked herself. She turned around and leaned against the counter, when her attention was drawn to the doorway. Ryan was standing there, staring at her with those eyes, those beautiful eyes. She held her breath, afraid to speak for fear of what she might say.

"I came to see if you wanted some breakfast," he asked in that soft, morning voice. His eyes never left hers. God she was beautiful in the morning, and in the afternoon, and the evening...his thoughts trailed on incessantly.

The silence was killing her. Say something, dammit, she cursed herself. "I dunno Ryan, I'm not really hungry, but some coffee would be great. I'll be out in a minute."

He nodded, turning away immediately, embarrassed that he had intruded on her. He made his way to the kitchen, and began making coffee. He scooped out the grounds, replaced the filter, each move deliberate and careful. Anything to take his mind off of her and the way she looked just now. He heard her enter the kitchen, but he didn't turn around, afraid his eyes would give him away.

He watched out of the corner of his eye as she struggled for a coffee mug. He had put them up too high when he had put the dishes away last night. He finished putting the coffee on and moved to help her, his valiance getting the best of him. He reached onto the top shelf, finding a mug for her and one for him. He hadn't realized how close she was to him, but it didn't take long. As his posture returned to normal, he could feel her hand on his back, as if she was steadying him. Her touch was like fire on his skin, and she immediately took her hand away. It was like she could see what he was thinking, even though no words were exchanged. "Thank you," she said softly, dropping her gaze to the floor. He moved away slowly, unwillingly, taking the mugs to fill them. She breezed past him and sat down at the table. They had barely spoken, at least not out loud. He walked over to her, handing her a steaming mug. He walked on, intending to go back to the pool house. But her words stopped him on a dime.

"Ryan, sit with me a while."

How could he say no? He smiled at her, and moved to join her at the table. He felt like there was something she wanted to say, but instead of asking he sat patiently, watching her sip her coffee.

After a pause, she began. "Ryan, I just want to tell you that I'm sorry for the way things have been the past few months. I know I haven't been the person I should've been. But things are going to be different now. I want to make it up to you, to Seth. I know things haven't been easy for either of you since Sandy–." She paused, and Ryan instinctively placed his hand on her arm. "Since Sandy died." Her voice was thick with emotion. "I'm doing my best to deal with all of this, and want to tell you how glad I am to have you here. I don't think I would've made it out of rehab without you. And I know Seth is having a hard time dealing with this. I just hope that it's not too late. He won't really talk to me these days, so could you please tell him that I love him and I'm sorry."

Ryan nodded, and his heart broke when he saw the tear fall from Kirsten's eye. Without a thought, he moved his hand from her arm to her face, wiping away her sadness. She sniffed, taking his hand with her own. Ryan suddenly couldn't breathe. He was amazed at what just a little contact with her could do to him. "Thank you so much for just being here. You know how to make me feel better without saying anything." She got up from her chair, moving toward him. She leaned down, and embraced him. Ryan was struggling to remember how to breathe. His heart was arrhythmic with the shock of her touch. He finally managed to put his arms around her after a few unsure moments. He let himself melt into her, breathing in the scent of her hair. Her chin rested easily on his shoulder as she continued to cling to him. His arms tightened around her, leaving no space between them. He fought the urge to kiss her. It would be so easy. But he didn't want to cross that line.

She pulled away after several minutes, placing a soft kiss on his cheek. "I don't know what I would do without you, Ryan."

He watched her as she walked out onto the patio, sunlight glinting beautifully off of her golden hair. He stayed perfectly still until he was sure he wasn't going to pass out. She doesn't even know what she's doing to me. He walked to the glass door and watched as she settled back into a patio chair, breathing deeply and closing her eyes. Then he caught the first hint of–could it really be?–a smile. His own lips curled up in response as he watched her, and his heart jumped with a feeling that he didn't even really understand. Probably never would. He felt sure that Kirsten Cohen was going to be the death of him.