It happens so fast

Author's Notes: Remember how I promised that "the end's not near" was my last one?

Well, I lied. But this is really it. I finally, finally have gotten it out of my system. It only took like a billion page one-shot. All lyrics and the title are based off of Alphaville's "Forever Young". I'm sure there are hundreds of mistakes but I'm just. too. lazy to read back through this whole thing. :)

so many songs

X

So many adventures couldn't happen today,

so many songs we forgot to play.

So many dreams are swinging out of the blue.

We let them come true.

Do you really want to live forever?

Alphaville

X

It happens so fast.

Volchok drives Ryan off the road and everything is spinning turning flipping and she is screaming screaming while Ryan struggles with the wheel. Her Gucci shoes fly off of her feet and she can feel blood staining her True Religion jeans and somehow she thinks that this shouldn't matter to her but it does, it does.

She is screaming and breaking and bleeding and dying. And then she is not. Then she is asking Ryan to stay, asking him to stay with his arms around her waist and his tears on her face and she thinks: God, I need a drink.

X

Summer doesn't say anything when her father tells her the news. She gets up silently, wordlessly, and floats out of the room. There are no inner battles raging, no beasts clawing inside her skin, no repressed emotion.

She is drained, she is tired, she has given up.

Her father says, "Marissa didn't make it," and Summer says, "Okay."

She wears pink to the funeral because Marissa would have liked it. She thinks about braiding hair and sneaking shots and skipping school as she packs for Brown, she thinks about Holly's beach house and Ambien and Cohen and Summer realizes: it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter, it's all relative.

X

Julie buries her firstborn in classic black. The dress is simple and modest (that's a first, Marissa would have said). She spends thousands of Neil's money on the funeral and the wake—she hires a band and a speaker and a hundred other things that she doesn't remember.

She doesn't know the name of the drug that she's high on throughout the service. She's not sure she even cares.

There is a lot of crying, and through the haze Julie thinks it sounds like the ocean waves, just crashing crashing crashing against silky, man-made sand.

X

And somewhere between Ryan emerging from the ambulance and the words she's dead, Seth forgets how to joke.

He thinks it should be his job to convince everyone to smile, every now and then—he's fairly sure that he has always been the go-to guy for a quick laugh, even if it's just through his endless babble that rarely has meaning and usually leads nowhere.

But he can't—can't—can't make his lips form the words, even though he's trying. He tries to talk to Summer but she just gives him that blank look like she used to, like he's not even dirt on her shoe, like he's Sid or Stanley or whatever, just blow on my fucking dice.

Everyone expects him to talk to Ryan, to break through to him, to be the guy that finally beats some sense into his head. Everyone expects him to barge into his shithole apartment and declare it Seth-Ryan time and follow his brother (his brother) around until finally Ryan snaps and gives him advice just to get him the hell away.

But this is big, too big for Seth or jokes or Jesus and Moses and Allah all in a fucking row. And Ryan doesn't look at him with Summer's indifference or the world's pity, but this scared sort of skittish glance that never stays to long and it scares him.

He tries to speak and all that comes out is silence, and broken, muted breath.

X

It's not so sharp as a snap and not so quick as a break. Rather Ryan peels in half, whatever glue that had held him together melting off in slow, easy rivers. He falls apart in sluggish half gulps, sinking deeper with his hands fisted at his sides.

The fights help because it's all don't think don't talk don't feel just do just do.

He works and he fights and he loses—he loses, he's been losing since the first day he was born and he thinks bitterly that this shouldn't come as a surprise. And all day it's the same. Don't think. Don't feel. Don't think. Don't think. Don't think. Don't think.

Every time he stops for breath she comes crashing down at him, her face and her smile and her laugh, all of these bombarding his memories and bouncing around in his skull. In dreams they sit side-by-side on the beach, looking out at the ocean, toes in the sand. And it's perfect perfect perfect until he wakes up and remembers that it's all just a dream.

Just a fucking nightmare.

Sandy swings by and Kirsten sends care packages and sometimes Seth comes and they sit in silence, silence.

Ryan doesn't speak to them or look at them, just keeps his head down and works as hard as he can and gets the shit beat out of him and tries not to think or feel or acknowledge the raw pain that claws at him from the inside out, shredding his skin and piercing his bones, screaming and howling to be heard.

He doesn't think of the way her skin felt like glass, so smooth and delicate and perfect. He doesn't think of the way she said I love you and he believed her the way he'd never believed anyone else. He doesn't think of the way she wanted to come back and be healthy and be okay and love him.

Ryan locks Marissa in his heart and doesn't let her out, not even to look at her, not even to see.

X

Heaven is the model home, the way it was before Ryan and Luke burned it down. His bedroom is set up just the way she remembers—a tent and a loofah and like a billion candles. And sitting on top of the stereo is The Model Home Mix and she can hear him whispering, "And then what? Hang out here, like some sort of ghost?"

When she closes her eyes she can hear voices and the ocean, overlapping and melting into one another. Sometimes there are flashes—her mother, in all black; Ryan, his face a bloody pulp; Summer, shut down and shut off and shut up.

She lies in the green sleeping bag that smells of him and closes her eyes tightly against the tears, curling into a tiny ball as if she could contain all that is inside her.

Marissa can't tell if this is heaven or hell or something of her own invention.

X

Summer chooses environmentalism because it's growing trendy and cool which reminds her so starkly of her old self that she can't say no. She designs posters and surfs the web and its like eighth grade all over again when she needs help decorating because Marissa always had better handwriting.

Che tells her that the chickens are caged, locked in prisons too small for them to even move, and something inside Summer shudders and whimpers and sighs as he tells her, "we've got to free the coop" and when she starts to cry he thinks that she might be a saint.

And all she can say is "I tried, I tried" because the problem wasn't that Coop's cage was too small—it was always just too big.

X

Julie won't remember the three months after Marissa's death. She spends them mostly in a drug-induced stupor, hallucinating that her daughter is still alive. In her dreams Marissa sneaks into the house, drunk, smelling of cigarettes, shouting at her parents to leave her alone, what do they know, what do they know.

Her hallucinations are never sweet and quiet and loving, because that was never Marissa and that was never her. Julie has always been a realist and so are her dreams—in them they fight and scream and cry but Julie's the happiest she's ever been because this time, she knows.

She said it right before she left, Marissa said I love you and it doesn't matter how many fights Julie dreams up, because the words cannot be erased.

X

Seth can't help but think about the years before he knew Marissa, when he would spend hours in his room wondering what was going on next door, if Summer was there, if she knew he was alive, if they talked about him.

He hates that he never once wondered what sort of music Marissa listened to, what books she read, why her voice was always loudest whenever he could hear screaming.

He listens to the Clash and Stiff Little Fingers and reads On the Road when he notices that he hasn't in a while, and he realizes he's grown out of these things—grown out of the Pancake Tour of North America and music that hates itself, grown out of the dream of leaving Newport and never looking back.

And he begins to understand that Marissa will never do that because she will be seventeen for the rest of his memory, she will be young and pale and the princess of Newport even when living in a trailer.

But he won't. They won't. They will grow up and grow old and grow out of the things that she loved. And he gets, at last, that thought Summer and Ryan will deny this and try to live the way they remember her living, they can't.

And it's an odd reversal of roles that Seth has to play adult because he's used to being parented. But he picks up the phone anyway, and quietly tells Summer that he's not asking her to forgive or get better, just that she comes to dinner with him before she goes off to school because he knows that Marissa was her best friend but he's starting to remember—his whole life was peppered with her and he's not exactly sure how to move forward without her there.

But maybe they can figure it out? Together?

X

When Julie offers him Volchok he tells himself he doesn't want it, doesn't need it, doesn't care. He doesn't care about anything or anyone, he doesn't need them, he didn't need her, he's fine, he's fine. It's like he's back in Chino, if he closes his eyes he can pretend he is, and it's all just disconnect and don't think, don't feel, don't give a shit.

Theresa shows up at his door and she's soaking from the rain and says that Seth called. He doesn't let her in so she sleeps out on his porch and in the morning when he tries to walk over her she trips him and says, "You're a shit, you're a stupid little shit because you don't even know that she loved you."

He turns around and the words explode from his mouth, shattering his silence, shattering everything, shattering him. And he screams, "And look what it did to her!"

She just looks at him, her eyes sad, her lips blue, her skin pale from cold. And he did that to her, too. She'll probably get sick and it's his fault just like most things; Marissa's death and Kirsten's alcoholism and Lindsey's misery and his mother's abandonment and his father's incarceration and Trey's betrayal and Volchok. He deserves whatever he gets—the beatings as a kid, the beats in the cage, the loss and the hurt and the physical pain that burns in his skin and his eyes and everywhere that he has left to feel.

Part of him is still waiting for Sandy and Kirsten to reject him and abandon him, still waiting for Seth to turn his back, still waiting for the other fist to land.

Theresa whispers, "Oh—Ryan—" but he turns and walks away into the rain.

X

Marissa wakes in the middle of Ryan's dream, her toes in the sand and her hand in his. It's become a sort of routine, going to sleep in the model home and waking up here. They dream about her a lot, all of them; she spends most of her time fighting with her mom and braiding Summer's hair and bickering with Seth.

Ryan is always her favorite, which makes her feel both guilty and defiant.

But slowly, the others dream less frequently; Julie is the first (which doesn't come as a surprise; her mother always was a survivor) and then Seth and then, at last, Summer. They each slowly begin to dream other dreams, and it's sort of bittersweet to watch herself be replaced by nightmares about giant marshmellows and men on invisible pogo sticks.

Julie still visits her grave every day and Summer does too, when she's home; sometimes Summer talks to her, under her breath, little asides to prove she hasn't forgotten Seth loyally buys punk posters and makes comments like doesn't she know the poor-little-rich-girl look went out with Marissa Cooper?

But Ryan still dreams, every night, and he can't or won't let go.

He's happy and peaceful and free in the dreams and she hates that she has to be the one to break him, but maybe she understands that he still has a life to live and she, well, doesn't. "Ryan," she jokes sadly, squeezing his hand. "We can't keep meeting like this."

He turns to look at her, smiling, pressing a kiss to her mouth and pushing her gently back onto the sand. "Why not?" He asks, his hand traveling slowly up her leg.

And she kisses back and doesn't reply because maybe she's not the only one who can't let go.

Not yet.

X

When she finally books a whole day at the spa and let's Cohen make her keep it appointment, Summer knows that she will—eventually, some day—recover. Coop is her best friend, present tense, her sister all the way down in her soul.

But she is dead, and it hurts to say it, and it hurts to think it, but she is dead. No amount of good that Summer does in the world will change that. She can free all the chickens on the planet and still Marissa Cooper will be in the ground.

So she let's Seth tease her and distract her and try his best to be what she needs. She knows he loves her and she knows she loves him, but there are so many memories in his face, so many oh my God Coop I want to kill hims and why do you always get the good ones. Sometimes she visits the grave just to bitch, for hours, complaining about everything and nothing because that was always sort of their thing, the angry-rich-girl act that Summer could never quite pull off.

It takes her a while but inevitably it hits her, that she isn't the only one suffering, and when she bursts into Seth's room she finally, for the first time, starts to cry.

It doesn't feel like reopening the wound, more like peeling away the band aid to see only a tiny, heart-shaped scar.

X

Julie has never done anything quietly, and recovering from Marissa's death is no different. She kicks off her acceptance with a party that puts all the others to shame—she hires caterers and decorators and a band.

Well. She says "she" hired. She means that Kirsten did.

She wears a scandalous red dress and sultry lipstick and lets her hair wisp about her face and she knows she's still sexy and still beautiful and still, at the heart of thing, Julie Cooper-Nichol-Roberts.

She doesn't let herself get drunk because everyone is expecting her to, but she and Kirsten sneak out back to smoke cigars. The blonde woman touches her arm lightly and asks, "How are you holding up?"

Julie smiles, cracking her knuckles beneath the table. "Kirsten, honey, you can tell them: the bitch is back."

X

The first time Summer actually laughs at one of his jokes and comes back with a snippy comment he can't help the smile that breaks across his face. He wants to ignore the argument and just kiss her until she can't breathe but he likes the sound of her insults too much to stop them.

She spends the whole afternoon making fun of him, making up for lost times, and he spends it basking in the sassy dressing she dips her words in.

That's the day he writes Bryan Gatwood's origin story, even though it sucks to write it. His hands shakes a little when it comes to the writing but Summer is sitting close enough to smell her perfume and she's playing Stiff Little Fingers so he adds Cosmolass in the background, holding her flask and smiling.

When Summer goes to get Ryan, Seth stares down at the comic. He thinks about Anna and Captain Oats and looking up one summer day to see a boy his age standing awkwardly in the doorway.

He's never been a good Christian or a good Jew but he thanks God anyway (and afterwards Moses) because Jesus didn't save him but he sent someone who did.

X

It takes more than just time.

Time has never been a problem for Ryan—when he focuses he can eliminate the passage of it, until minutes are seconds and hours are minutes and he jumps from the first grade to the sixth in merely a blink. Time cannot get under his skin and blow softly on his wounds, cannot stick up the parted skin.

He follows Summer because even though he knows he shouldn't, he owes her this. He stole her best friend and the least he can give back is a car ride.

Seth's comic isn't enough, either—even the words that he knows should sooth him only hurt him more.

It's not the comic, it's the hand that drew it. Seth's whole face is pinched, the way it gets when he's nervous, and Ryan can see the faintest traces of a blush on his cheeks. And suddenly it's like every bonding moment they've ever had comes back to punch him in the stomach, but. He can't. Hecan'thecan'thecan't.

Seth might have been alone without him but at least he wasn't hurting, at least he wasn't in pain.

He tries to block out everything—don't think don't feel don't give a shit, he tries to disconnect but the Cohens won't let him, keep saying things he's been trying to hear for the past four years and longer (so much longer).

They want him to come home and he wants it too, but more than that he wants to wake up and not have to cut off everything, wants to cut himself and get a band aid for it without feeling guilty like he shouldn't, like he deserves it. Wants to be able to get into cars without seeing fire and hearing her voice and feeling his whole heart crack.

X

He dreams just as often, but slowly she begins to notice the changes. The ocean gets rougher, the sky darker, the sand rockier. Ryan's conscious pain starts to seep into his unconscious happiness and it kills her to see it.

She wants to hold on just as badly as she does but for once—for once she knows that it's her turn to do something good for him. He spent her whole life trying to make her happy, to keep her safe, to do right by her. Now it's time to repay him, even though it hurts, even though it's hard to breathe just thinking about losing him to the world.

Marissa isn't scared that he'll forget her. She doesn't fear that she'll lose her spot in his heart. But she's scared of the world—of the world that will shape him and know him and eventually introduce him to another woman that he'll spend his life with. She will always be seventeen and one day he will be twenty, thirty, forty, fifty. One day he will die and she doesn't know if she's the one who'll get to keep him, then, or if he'll wait for the woman who got to be with him on earth.

She doesn't know, she doesn't know, that's what scares her, she doesn't know.

But she lets go anyway.

They are sitting in silence and her throat burns as she says the words: "You have to move on, Ryan."

He shakes his head. "I don't want to."

She smiles, sadly, trying not to cry. "I don't want to either. But this isn't your life, your life is a mess and I'm the one that did it to you."

He looks up at her then, his eyes burning bright with shame, with guilt. "Well I did this to you so I guess we're even."

It hadn't even occurred to her that he blamed himself, and for the first time she realizes just what he's done to himself. She leaps at him, tackling him into the sand, holding his face between her hands. "Ryan," she breathes, finally crying, her tears wetting his cheeks. "No. No no no no no. It's not your fault, it's not. I don't blame you, I never blamed you, I love you but you have to let go."

He pulls her to him and hugs her tightly. She fists her hands in his shirt and sniffs against his chest, and she can feel something in her join with something in him and she knows, she knows this is the last time they will see each other like this. He says, "I love you, I love you, I'm so sorry," and she kisses him for the last time.

"Nothing is forever," she whispers fiercely. "This isn't the end."

X

Ryan wakes up in the pool house. It's too dark to see anything but he can hear the ocean waves, crashing against the shore like music for sad men and madmen and at least he's not both.

Not anymore.