A/N Wow, I'm surprised to see I still have this many readers! Pleasantly surprised, mind you. I'm so glad you all stuck with me through the years. I was thinking this weekend that I've had this fanfiction account for close to 6 years now. That is absolutely crazy to think about. I hope you all enjoy this update. Expect some twists in future chapters. And as always, please review. Literally what made me stick with this story was the feedback, even all these years later. R/R, enjoy!

All this is fine

Even as it crashes down on me

I'm looking around

There's nothing that I could want

More than to tell you

There's no more than we've already got

I'll be all right

As long as it matters

As long as you're here with me now...

Forget that our time is almost up I'll be all right...

- Gin Blossoms "As Long As It Matters"

Much to Luke's dismay, Ryan and Marissa only managed to grow closer after Thanksgiving. Instead of being drawn to Luke after her loss of virginity, Marissa found herself closer to Ryan than ever before. Now that she had given away the last part of the past Ryan to Luke, she felt freer, and she wanted to spend this new-found freedom with the new Ryan in her life.

She refused to let herself believe this meant anything. Ryan merely knew what Ryan Mackenzie had meant to her before, and Luke didn't. That was all. It didn't help that finals soon came. Luke was too busy partying to study hard, so Ryan and Marissa spent most nights studying together until the early hours of morning. More often than not she fell asleep on his bed and he slept on the couch, knowing Luke was understanding, but not that understanding to find both of them asleep in the same bed.

After their last final exam, Ryan and Marissa both found themselves lounging on the couch in Marissa's apartment. Ryan had his feet up on her coffee table while Marissa lay sprawled across the couch, her feet resting in Ryan's lap. He couldn't ignore the happiness he felt, but with every ounce of love he felt for her, he couldn't help but feel guilt and heartbreak over the fact that she wasn't his to love. She was Luke's.

"Hey, Riss?" he asked softly, turning to look at her.

She directed her gaze at him and smiled lazily. "Yes?"

"Can I ask you something?" He rubbed the back of his neck nervously, knowing this was a dangerous subject, but he just had to know if there was any chance he could get over her.

"Anything. You know that." She tilted her head curiously.

"How did you finally get over Ryan?" He finally asked after gaining enough courage. He couldn't look her in the eye. It would kill him to hear how she got over him, but it would kill him more never to get over her.

She sighed and laid her head back, staring at the ceiling. "I don't know. Do you ever really get over someone? Or do you just learn to live with the fact that it's not going to happen? I think that's more of what I did. I stopped wanting it to happen, and accepted that it just wouldn't." She shrugged. "After that, I could adjust my actions accordingly."

"And it worked? Just like that?" He asked incredulously. He knew that he and Marissa would never happen. That didn't stop him from loving her.

"No, not just like that." She paused. "I will always love Ryan Mackenzie." She smiled softly, her eyes glazing over, and he had never been so jealous of himself before. It was me, I'm right here, he wanted to shout at her, but he just stared at her. "He will always hold this part of my heart. But knowing he won't ever actually be here to hold me…that's enough for me to accept he is gone. He isn't coming back. I will never talk to him again. I just have to…live without him, I guess. Over the years I've learned how. And I guess that's what moving on is." She set her gaze on him, seriously observing him. "Make sense?"

He nodded, supposing it did, concluding he was just screwed. "Yeah."

She raised her eyebrows and smiled slyly. "Why do you ask? Is Ryan Atwood secretly pining for someone?" At his nervous behavior and uncomfortable shifting, her eyes sparkled. "Oh my God, you are. Who is she?"

"It's nothing," he mumbled, not daring to even look at her.

She sat up and plopped herself down next to him, playfully poking him. "How come you never told me? Who is she? Come on, tell me…" She didn't know why she was so curious. Or why she felt sick despite the smile on her face at the thought of him being in love with anyone.

"No. Just…drop it," he said, still avoiding her eyes, heart pounding loudly at her proximity. She kept moving in closer to him, trying to taunt him, and it was working – just not the way she hoped for.

"Come on, tell me…" She whispered into his ear, giggling, thinking she was being playful. But she was close enough to smell his yummy, intoxicating cologne and natural musk. She could feel his body heat radiating next to her. She felt herself pulled to him. And he couldn't help but feel pulled to her.

"Riss," he warned softly, lifting his eyes to hers. And in that moment, she knew who he was in love with. Whom he had talked about the night of her birthday when they almost kissed. Why he avoided her afterwards, even though it must have hurt him. Why he couldn't spend Thanksgiving with her, why he bought her such an amazing birthday present that she absolutely adored.

"Oh," she murmured, staring into his eyes, unable to pull herself away from him. He loved her. Loved her the way that she loved Ryan Mackenzie, loved her the way Romeo loved Juliet, loved her the way a man is supposed to love a woman. The thought was intoxicating. The feeling was liberating.

"I'm sorry," he murmured, shaking his head, his eyes never leaving hers. "I wish I could stop it. I wish I could just turn it off, but I can't, Riss. I can't."

She shook her head and softly murmured, "It's okay, Ry." She placed her hands on the sides of his face, her fingers playing with the hair on the back of his neck. "It's okay…"

She didn't know why, but she was leaning in to kiss him. Her eyes never left his, and he didn't dare move an inch, just watched her slowly come towards him. Their foreheads touched, noses grazed, he felt her breath on his lips, minty and moist and so intoxicating. He was lost in the smell of her, the feel of her so close. He was wrapped in her body heat, felt so alive and in love and amazing. He wanted to kiss her. He wanted to taste her lips after dreaming about her every night since he first started talking to her all those years ago. He wanted to kiss her and love her and be with her in every way, not just physical. He wanted to be the one for her, just like she was for him.

She wanted to taste his lips. She wanted to know what it felt like to be loved, truly loved. She wanted to wrap her arms around him, press her body against his, feel his warmth radiate through her soul. She wanted to make sense of this feeling deep in her chest, this pull to be with him all the time, this incredible need she had whenever he entered a room.

She wanted to kiss him because, quite simply, if she had to admit it to herself – she was falling deeply, unconditionally, irrevocably in love with him.

But, just before their lips finally brushed, Marissa's phone rang. She groaned and closed her eyes, just leaning her forehead against him in frustration. He smiled at her obvious dismay, and turned his lips to kiss her cheek. "You should get that," he murmured, pulling away from her.

She immediately felt cold without him. She ran a hand through her hair, trying to regain control of her breathing. She didn't even have to kiss him to feel the affects, she mused. She reached for her phone and saw the caller I.D. Mom. "Hey, what's up?"

"Marissa, there's been an accident." And suddenly, Marissa's whole world fell apart.

"What? What do you mean? What kind of accident?" she asked, her whole body icing over in fear.

Ryan stared at her, immediately concerned, wondering what was going on. "It's been raining a lot here the last few days. I told them not to go out in the rain. I told them, Marissa, but they insisted it was fine. You know he was always such a good driver…" Her mom was crying now, and Marissa still had no idea what was going on.

"Mom, who? Who did you tell not to go out?"

"Kaitlin and Brett," her mother managed to choke out.

"Oh my God," Marissa whispered, closing her eyes as the news hit her. She sank down to the couch, and Ryan immediately placed a hand on her knee, trying to comfort her even though he had no idea what was going on.

"They were driving and the rain was too hard. He must have lost control of the car. We don't know the details. They're both in surgery right now. Kaitlin just needs to get some broken bones set. Brett…" Her mom trailed off, sobbing hard once again.

"What…what's wrong with Brett?" Marissa asked, guilt washing over her. How could she have been so stupid? Here she was about to kiss Ryan while she had a boyfriend, and her old best friend, the guy who had taken a chance on her and gotten her over Ryan Mackenzie was fighting for his life. What if he didn't make it?

"There was some internal bleeding. He hit his head pretty hard. They're trying to make the swelling go down. I don't know, honey, it's not looking good."

"No," Marissa said, her eyes finally filling with tears. "No, he has to be okay, mom. It's Brett." Images of her old friend flashed in front of her eyes: his smile the first time she sat down to lunch with him, his eyes after they shared their first kiss, the feeling of his arms around her while she cried about Ryan, the love in his eyes when he told her he was in love with her younger sister.

"I know, honey. I'll keep you posted."

"Okay, bye." She hung up and immediately buried her face into Ryan's shoulder, sobbing uncontrollably. "Kaitlin and Brett got into an accident," she hiccupped, but she was crying so hard she knew he could barely understand.

He rubbed her back soothingly for a minute before standing, pulling her with him. He reached for her keys and said, "Go to your room and pack your bag."

"Wh…what?" she asked, sniffling, rubbing her eyes in confusion.

"We're going to Newport," he said softly, kissing her forehead tenderly. "I'll be back in half an hour. Be ready to go."

He turned to leave, but she reached for his hand, pulling him back. Their eyes met and that attraction was there, but he didn't even seem concerned about their almost-kissed. His blue eyes held nothing but worry, and she knew a part of her was in love with him, but she just didn't know how much yet, and now wasn't the time to think about it. "Thank you," she said, squeezing his hand thankfully.

He shook his head. "Don't thank me. It's what anyone would do." He squeezed her hand back, letting her know he was there no matter what. "Thirty minutes," he reminded her before walking away.

XXXXXXXX

Ryan got them on the first plane out to Newport. As they started ascending into the sky, Marissa reached over and grabbed his hand, needing some sort of physical comfort. "It's going to be okay," he promised softly, kissing her cheek with so much tenderness she cried even harder.

"What if it isn't? What if he dies?" she whispered, wiping her eyes quickly. Her eyes were red and puffy, her face long devoid of makeup, but she looked as beautiful as the first time he laid eyes on her.

"He's not going to die," he assured her quietly. "And if something bad does happen, we'll get through it, okay? I promise you that I'm going to be here for you no matter what."

She nodded, knowing he spoke the truth. Ryan would always be there for her. He loves you she reminded herself. But she couldn't even let herself begin to think about that right now. Right now, Brett deserved her thoughts.

Two and a half hours later and she was finally at the hospital. She ran to her mom and they hugged, both bursting into tears upon seeing each other. "How are they?" she asked, just as worried about her younger sister as Brett.

"Kaitlin is fine. She's drugged up right now, so she won't wake up for a few hours, but she is fine. She's good." Julie bit her lip, running a hand through her hair. "They just got some blood work back on her, also." Julie suddenly looked really pale.

"Mom, what is it?" Marissa asked, expecting the worst. Cancer. Liver failure. Kidney failure.

Certainly not what her mom said. "It appears your sister is… pregnant."

Marissa's eyes widened. "Oh my God," she said, unable to believe it. She glanced over her shoulder at Ryan, and he immediately got the point, walking closer to her so that she could lean on him. It was all too much for her to deal with alone. She needed Ryan to lean on.

Julie nodded. "The doctor is afraid that she will lose the baby with all this stress. He says it's a miracle she hasn't lost it already because of the actual accident. So Kaitlin is to be watched really carefully." Suddenly, Julie seemed to notice another person in the room. Her eyes scanned Ryan's body, and she knew she should smile, but with everything she felt much too tired to even try. "Hello. I'm Julie, Marissa's mom."

Ryan offered her a soft, sympathetic smile. "I'm Ryan Atwood, a friend of Marissa's."

Marissa reached for Ryan's hand, needing more of an affirmation that he was there and holding her together. "Ryan was there when you called. It was his idea to get us flights here. He took care of everything." She squeezed his hand with deep gratitude. She knew they needed to talk sooner or later, but with everything, she was just glad he could put aside all their issues and be here for her.

"Marissa's told me a lot about you," Julie said, nodding as she stared between the two. Marissa was leaning on Ryan, holding his hand as if it were her lifeline. Julie had never seen Marissa this close to anyone, not Brett or Luke, and she knew immediately that there was something going on between them, even if neither were willing to acknowledge it yet. "Where are you from?"

"Chino," Ryan said, trying to sound confident and sure. He knew how people perceived his hometown, especially in Newport. He remembered the way Marissa used to speak about her mom, how she cared more about wealth and status than actual character.

But Julie showed nothing except tiredness. "So you don't have a place to stay then." She patted his shoulder. "You can stay with Marissa and I. I don't know what your holidays looked like, but the way Marissa is hanging on to you, I can tell you're not going anywhere soon."

He merely smiled sadly. "Thank you so much…" He didn't know what to call her.

"Julie," she said quietly, rubbing her eyes. "Just call me Julie."

At that moment another woman with dark hair and puffy eyes walked into the room. Upon seeing Marissa, she burst into tears, running toward the teenager. "Oh, Marissa."

"How is he?" Marissa asked, letting go of Ryan to console Brett's mother.

"The doctors haven't said anything for hours," the older woman said, pulling back from the hug. "I have no idea. The last I heard, they said there was bleeding in his stomach area and swelling in his brain." She started crying again, and Marissa tried to soothe here, murmuring soft things to the distraught mother.

Eventually Brett's mother stopped crying, and they all sat down, just waiting. Marissa rested her head on Ryan's shoulder, letting him wrap his arms around her. She knew Luke was her boyfriend, but he wasn't here and Ryan was. Not that it was Luke's fault. He still had finals. But Marissa couldn't imagine going through this without Ryan by her side. She loved him. She did, she realized. But right now she didn't need to think about that. She needed to think about Brett. Only Brett.

A few hours later an old tired man in a white lab coat walked into the room. His eyes landed on the Brett's mother. "Mrs. McKay?" He glanced apprehensively at the others in the room.

"They're fine," she said, reaching for Marissa's hand as they waited for news.

"I have good news and bad news," he said grimly. "Bad news is, we lost him on the table. His heart stopped beating." Marissa's heart stopped. "But we were able to revive him. We were able to stop the internal bleeding, and we put him into a coma in an effort to reduce the swelling." He sighed tiredly. "As of now, we have done everything we can possibly do. It's a waiting game from here on out. Once the swelling stops, we will assess for any brain damage. Even if he does wake up, there could be memory loss."

Marissa started to reach for Ryan, but he was one step ahead of her, already grabbing her hand and squeezing it. She turned to see him staring at her, his face crumpled in worry, and she felt another surge of gratitude. What had she ever done to deserve such an amazing friend?

The doctor left, and Marissa's phone started vibrating. Luke. She sighed, exhausted from the bad news and the whole day in general. She had called Luke earlier while packing, but he was busy taking finals back to back today, and probably hadn't gotten her message until now. "I should take this." She stood and walked down the hall, just far enough to be out of earshot, but close enough that she could still see everyone. "Hey."

"Hey babe, I'm so sorry. I just got your message." He sighed, sounding really concerned, and a fresh wave of guilt washed over her as she thought of how close she and Ryan had been today. "How is he?"

"Not good," she said quietly, wiping a few stray tears from her eyes. She was so tired of crying.

"I'm so sorry, Marissa. I wish I could be there with you. I know this is really hard."

His words were meant to be consoling, but they didn't have the same effect as Ryan's simple gaze did at calming her. Stop thinking this way. Luke is your boyfriend. Ryan is your friend. "It's okay."

"No, it's not." He sighed once more. "My last final is in a few days, but I don't have any tomorrow. Do you want me to fly down there now and then come back for my final then?"

"No, no. You need to focus on school. I'll be fine." She lifted her eyes to find Ryan staring at his hands, worry wrinkling his brow. "I have Ryan here."

And she did. She knew that Ryan would protect her and take care of her, no matter what. She couldn't ask for anything else.

XXXX

A/N 2: So, no chatting this chapter. That will be a little sporadic until I can come up with some good dialogue. Any suggestions for conversations between the younger R/M would be greatly appreciated.

Also, I am on twitter, tumblr, and wordpress. Just look up dzunig1 :) If I get followers on twitter I might end up tweeting updates on my writing schedule and such. I have two stories I'm working on right now, a third one on the way (Stelena/TVD) , and I'm editing the novel I wrote. Cross your fingers that the novel thing works out :)

Individual Replies:

xoElle23: Thanks for sticking with me :) I hope I don't disappoint.

Guest: I'm glad to be back!

Lexii5297: Ooh, 100th reviewer. Very fancy. Marissa is rather blind. But hopefully she will slowly realize just what is in front of her.

Jennybunney: Hope this is soon enough :)

RMforever: Not to give anything away, but Marissa will be a bit occupied for a while to figure out exactly who Ryan is. But do expect to see some major R/M time in the future.

TVDaddict22: I'm so glad that you are also Team Stelena! I get rather passionate about it, haha. I know that my other story "A Star Beyond His Reach" is supposed to be Delena/Stelena, but sometimes I just grow frustrated. I really am trying to give Damon a chance. I guess how that turns out will depend on popular demand and how angry I am at the writers that day. I can't imagine why Elena would choose anyone other than Stefan. I mean, come on, he's Stefan. I'm actually planning on writing an AU/AH Stelena story soon where she is an up-and-coming author, he is a doctor, and they meet at book signings and stuff. But we shall see!

Tegan hounslow: Sorry for the long delay! I hope I'm not disappointing :)