Title: Born to Die
Rating
: PG-13
Disclaimer
: I own neither the characters presented in this story nor the show from which they originate.
Pairing: Ryan and Marissa
Genre: Angst, Action, Drama
Summary: Jess was going to return to Trey's apartment at 8:00 to pick him up on her way to Vegas. What if Ryan would have arrived just a few minutes later? By tweaking the clock a little bit, the entire show – not just the second season's finale – could have been drastically different.
A/N: No, your eyes aren't deceiving you. This really is a one shot for The O.C.. Despite the fact that I just a few weeks ago proclaimed my intentions not to start any new pieces, I also intend to finish all my incomplete works, and that includes Class Distinctions. To prepare myself, I have been rereading some old Ryan and Marissa fanfiction favorites and even watching an episode here or there. After watching Season Two's finale, the idea for this one shot entered my mind, and I thought it would be a good exercise to reacquaint myself with these characters. I have no idea if anyone even still reads O.C. fanfiction. If so, that's great; if not, I'm still going to finish what I have started. Yes, Class Distinctions, I'm talking about you. To anyone out there who is interested, enjoy!

~Charlynn~

Born to Die

It seemed... inevitable – that he would go out like this. Atwoods, they weren't meant to live long, happy lives. No, their lots in life consisted of pain, and unhappiness, and want – always wanting but never quite reaching the prize. Instead, just like both his mother and his father, he had been born to die; he just never thought it'd be at the hands of his own brother.

Every time Ryan's fist collided with his face, Trey smirked a little bit more. For a brief moment, he had glimpsed the golden life. There – in Newport with Ryan, the Cohens, and most especially Marissa, he had been this close to getting everything he had always wanted, but then Ryan panicked. Apparently, his little brother couldn't handle the idea of Trey living the good life, too. Ryan had wanted it all to himself, but Trey took pleasure in the thought that, if he wasn't going to make anything of himself, then Ryan was going to fall victim to the Atwood curse as well. Killing him would make his brother no better than the family Ryan had so quickly and so easily left behind, forgotten. So, yeah, maybe he was going to die that night, but Ryan would spend the rest of his life in prison – no poolhouse, no fancy cars, no rich adoptive parents, no dweeby replacement brother, and most importantly no Newport Princess of a girlfriend.

Just the thought of Marissa, of taking her away from Ryan one way or another, made Trey fight just that much harder. The fact that his own baby brother would be willing to kill him over some girl made him sick. Oh, he could admit that Marissa was unlike any other girl he had ever known back in Chino. They just didn't make them like her there, but, still, special or not, her legs spread the same way as any other chick's... well, at least they did for Ryan. Apparently he, Trey, wasn't good enough for the Princess who lived in the castle high above the rest of the other little rich girls, but he would show her as well. Either way, her perfect little world would come crashing down around her when the night was said and done. Whether he killed Ryan or Ryan killed him, Marissa would lose her Prince Charming, and the thought of finally being in control of something, of finally getting the upper hand over his little brother and his bitch of a stuck-up girlfriend made the fight he was in just that much sweeter.

"Oh, hell no!"

He heard the voice, recognized the voice, but, still, Trey didn't pay it any mind. The words floated around him, some of them penetrating his mind, others not. Between his pain and rage, nothing else really mattered. He only had so much awareness to go around, and it took all of his concentration to focus on Ryan – on hating Ryan, on beating Ryan, on killing Ryan.

"I have invested way too much time, energy, and money into you, Trey Atwood, to allow Baby Brother to take you away from me now. No," Jess ranted to herself... or maybe it was to him, he couldn't really tell, "if you're going down, it's because I took you with me."

And then everything stopped, the crack of a bullet exploding from the barrel of a gun, Jess' gun, his gun ending... everything. Ryan's stunned, bruised, and bleeding face hovered above him, but, oddly, Trey felt nothing but detachment. Everything in his world had been reduced to those few moments of fighting his brother, of finally one upping his bother, but now that was gone, and he felt... empty. Shoving Ryan aside, he stumbled in an attempt to stand up, finally succeeding only to limp and wince as he shuffled towards the pissed off blonde standing in his open doorway.

Levelly and without emotion, he uttered, "you shot Ryan."

But Jess just smiled serenely. "Did I really, though, Trey," she questioned him confidently. For a moment, he had to shake his head in an attempt to clear away the cobwebs and the clutter. "Your fingerprints are all over the gun. It was fired in your apartment. You're the one with a history of violence, with a record; I'm just an innocent, rich, private school girl who spent the whole evening at home with her step-father... or, at least, that's what he'll say to protect me if you claim otherwise." To emphasize her words, she fluttered her lashes at him, grinning mischievously. "And, besides, for what possible reason would I ever want to shoot your brother?" Narrowing her gaze, she pressed him, "do you see where I'm going with this, Trey?"

"What do you want?"

"I want you," she informed him, further slithering into his apartment. Trailing a single finger down his chest, she coquettishly flirted, "you know, I saved your life tonight, so, technically, you owe me, and I definitely plan on collecting." Stepping away from him, Jess then ordered, "now, get your stuff. We need to get out of here."

"But... Ryan...?"

"... Will be fine," she finished for him. "This is Newport, not the hood where you grew up. Gunshots aren't mere background noise, and no one around here owns cars that actually backfire. The cops will be here soon. They'll handle your brother, and, if not, I'm sure his little geek-squad isn't far behind him. Now, like I said, grab your things and let's go. We can be in Vegas in four hours."

As he did what he was told, Trey screwed up his face. "We're still going to Vegas?"

"Of course we are. I already booked the hotel, and I'm not losing the reservation."

With that, Jess sauntered out of his apartment, and he followed her, pausing only for a moment in the doorway to turn back around and look at his brother. Ryan was lying face down. From far away, it would look like he was just sleeping peacefully, and, for a second, it reminded Trey of when they were kids growing up, sharing a room, and Ryan would burrow into his blankets like, if he hid himself deep up within their confines, come morning, no one would ever be able to find him.

Now, it was his turn to hide.

! ! !

As Marissa's car came to a skidding stop in the alley outside of Trey's apartment, she watched as a black, BMW sedan peeled away, literally burning rubber. For a brief moment, she allowed herself to hope that the car was Sandy's, that, for some reason, Ryan didn't have the Range Rover that evening as was his family's habit – the kids drove the SUV while Sandy and Kirsten shared the car. But she knew better, especially since she was parked behind the very Range Rover she was hoping was on its way to the Suriak Rehabilitation Center. Taking a deep, bracing breath, she climbed out of her car, rushing towards the apartment's open doorway. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the Mustang's dashboard clock.

It read 8:07.

The night was still around her, quiet, but, whereas Marissa should have found that reassuring, she, instead, was set further on edge. Her breathing came heavily, and her palms grew sweaty. It was as if the world around her was holding its breath, for, when it finally exhaled, nothing would ever be the same again.

It took her a moment to realize what was going on when she finally made it inside after what felt like running through jello. The place was a mess – clothes strewn about, the remnants of some of Trey's broken belongings scattered across the dirty, brown rug. For several seconds, Marissa just stared at the destruction, confused as to why the place was such a mess. Sure, Trey had been involved in the shooting the night before at the Bait Shop, but the police had no leads, and she didn't imagine he was someone who would run away when there was little chance of getting caught. Even after what he had done to her, he had approached the situation between them confidently, unafraid that she'd turn him in. Yet, at the same time, she just... knew. The place was ransacked not because of the fight but because Trey was gone, running off with whoever it was that had been driving the Beemer, and the Cohens' Range Rover was out front, meaning...

She whimpered, barely managing to whisper Ryan's name before doubling over and throwing up. While Marissa knew that she had to hold it together, that was easier said than done, and, if she was completely honest with herself, she was afraid to look up; she was afraid to see Ryan. It was one thing to admit that he was no doubt hurt, but it was a whole different story to possibly confront the idea that he was already dead, and there was nothing she could do to help him. Briefly, flashes of Luke's gunshot wound, of Oliver threatening to shoot himself while she was standing in the room with him, of Ryan yelling for the occupants of the entire club to get down while shots rang out above them zigzagged through her mind, finally spurring her into action. If Ryan could put aside his fear and take care of her, then she had to be able to do the same thing for him.

Standing up and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, Marissa clumsily searched the small apartment until her eyes landed on the boy she loved. It didn't take long, for the place wasn't that big, and Ryan was at the edge of the living room, his body slumped over against the couch so that his back was to her. Distractedly, she could taste the salt of her own tears, but nothing else registered as she fell to her knees beside him. While she could make out the dark stain upon his even darker shirt, there was a desperate part of her mind which just hoped that her eyes were playing tricks on her, that Ryan was just... resting... or something else ridiculously naïve, and, that, when she rolled him over, he would smile up at her groggily and make her feel safe just like he always did.

But of course that didn't happen. Rolling him over meant that she just had to face how pale he was, had to confront the ever-growing pool of blood beneath him. Tightly gripping his shirt in her fists, Marissa shook him lightly. "Come on, Ryan, please," she begged, pleaded, and prayed for him to wake up. "Open your eyes. I need you to open your eyes. I need your help; I need you. I can't do this without you. Ryan...?"

When he didn't respond, she moaned, a low, keening sound which boiled low in her stomach and then bubbled up, nearly choking her. Blindly, never once taking her gaze off the boy she loved, Marissa searched her pockets for her cell phone and was grateful when she found it. As she haphazardly dialed, she never noticed the blood from her fingers transferring itself onto her jeans, onto her shirt, onto the skin of her exposed abdomen, onto her phone.

"911 Dispatch, what's your emergency?"

For several moments, despite the urgency of the situation, she didn't know how to talk, how to put her thoughts into actual words. Finally, forcing her lips to move, Marissa said the first thing that came to mind. "You need to help him."

Luckily, the operator was calm and patient, two things she was in great need of as her own panic started to spiral out of control. "Who?"

"My boyfriend, Ryan," she answered. Her eyes never left his face as the fingers of her free hand joined them, trailing lighting over his ghostly white, cool to the touch skin. "He's been shot."

"Alright, and what's your name?"

"Marissa," she replied on reflex.

"Okay, now, Marissa, this is what I want you to do: I want you to put me on speaker phone, and then you're going to help me access his wound. I'm going to tell you how to make him more comfortable and how to staunch some of the blood flow. Help is on its way already. I've dispatched an ambulance, but, first, you need to tell me where you are."

"His brother, Trey's, apartment."

"What's the address, hon?"

"I... I don't know," she stammered, any calm the operator had been able to inspire quickly disappearing. Ryan would have known the address; he would have known what to do to help her if their roles were reversed.

"That's okay," the woman on the other line reassured her. I can trace your call, but, in the meantime, can you tell me some of the landmarks around you?"

"Um... it's in the numbered streets, close to the Bait Shop. My friend Alex used to live here."

"Alright, don't worry about it. We'll figure it out. Let's just focus on your boyfriend for now. Have you put me on speaker yet?"

With shaking fingers, Marissa obeyed, switching the phone to speaker and then dropping it to the carpet below her, already turning back to Ryan. She raised her voice to make sure that the operator could hear her. "Yes."

"Good. Now, where does it appear your boyfriend was shot?"

"I'm, uh, not sure," she related. "There's a lot of blood – too much blood, but in his chest, I think."

"Right side or left?"

"Left," she answered, quickly speaking again, though. "I mean my left, his right. That's good, right? I mean, not good... but better?"

"It means he wasn't shot in the heart, and chances are the bullet missed his spinal cord, but it also means that your boyfriend is going to have trouble breathing, and we need to stop the bleeding as much as we can. The EMT's are still a few minutes out, so I need you to do two things for me, alright, Marissa?"

"O... okay."

"First, I want you to elevate your boyfriend's upper body. He can't lay flat because he can't breathe, so maybe move around so that you can rest his head against your legs."

She scooted around, doing what she was told, and, actually, the movement and getting to be closer to Ryan, despite how scared she was for him, helped to settle her anxiety somewhat. Just as it had been since the first moment she laid eyes on him, being near Ryan made her feel more centered. Safe. Home.

After several moments, the operator allowing her enough time to move, the woman spoke again. "Next, I want you to find something clean that you can use to hold against his wound, something that will soak up the blood."

While Trey's things were tossed all around the small apartment, Marissa would have had to get up in order to grab one of them. The couch was nearby, but, even if Trey did have throw pillows sitting around, she wouldn't have trusted them to be clean. So, without any other option and not caring about anything but helping Ryan, Marissa peeled off her own shirt, balling it up to press it against Ryan's chest. She blanched at how quickly the blood was soaking through the orange cotton.

"I... it's not working. I'm going to need something else," she cried out to the operator. "He's bl..." Her words trailed off as she heard a noise before her, looking away from Ryan's face for the first time to see Seth and Summer come to a rapid halt just outside of the apartment's open doorway.

"Marissa, what happened? Why'd you stop talking?"

"Um... some people showed up."

"The EMT's?"

"No, my best friend and Ryan's brother... his adopted brother, not the one who did this." After absorbing her statement, Summer gasped, and Seth turned away in what she assumed was an attempt to hold it together. Marissa shook her head slightly, forgetting about the two brunettes to focus on the task before her. "But, like I was saying, my shirt's almost soaked through already. He's bleeding too much."

"Just keep it in place. The ambulance should be arriving any minute now."

Even as the words left the operator's mouth, Marissa could hear sirens blaring in the background. Summer said something about moving their vehicles out of the way so that the EMT's could get closer and would have a clear path to pull out of the alley once Ryan was loaded onto a stretcher and placed inside. Though she was grateful for her friend's common sense and ability to think rationally, to pull her attention away from Ryan was asking too much, and Marissa didn't even bother to look up or to acknowledge Summer's words. Seth just stood there, in shock.

As she heard the rescue workers running inside, she leaned down and whispered in Ryan's ear. "Help's here. You're going to be okay. Everything's going to be alright."

Because it had to be.

! ! !

"What the hell happened here," Sandy demanded to know as he rushed into the emergency room's waiting area. Seth and Summer sat side by side in two uncomfortable chairs while Marissa, dressed still in her bloody jeans and some anonymous nurse's scrub top, stood away from them, silently crying, her arms wrapped tightly around her shivering form. "I leave for a few hours to take your mother to rehab only to get a call that Ryan's been shot?"

She remained quiet, her back to the other three in the room as Seth rushed to explain the situation to his father. "Apparently, when we went to Miami, Marissa and Trey got drunk together. He came onto her, she said no, but he didn't like her answer too well. Things got a little rough. Ryan found out. This is the result."

Marissa wanted to snort and roll her eyes at Seth's version of the events, but that would have taken energy, and she needed all of her willpower to hold it together. Still, though, she couldn't prevent the slight sob from escaping her tightly clenched, dry throat.

"What, can't handle the truth," Seth taunted her, "that this is all your fault. Well, no big surprise there. You never can. Isn't this about the time when you run away? There's a liquor store down the street. Why don't you go and buy a bottle of vodka to drown your guilt in."

"Seth, that's enough," Sandy chastised his son, but it was too little, too late, and, besides, Seth did have a point.

But Marissa didn't run.

Instead, she turned around and asked the one thing that had been bothering her all night since she got the call that Ryan had gone off to confront his brother for attacking her. "How'd Ryan find out?"

"What," Sandy asked, obviously confused, his head ping-ponging back and forth between his only naturally born child and his adopted son's girlfriend.

She ignored him, focusing her attention upon Seth. "What happened with Trey happened weeks ago. I kept it a secret until today, because I knew what would happen if I told Ryan, and, no matter what Trey did to me, I never wanted Ryan to know that his brother was capable of..."

"Rape," Summer supplied for her.

"He didn't rape me," Marissa was quick to deny. Lowering her gaze and her voice, she subconsciously lifted her left hand to rub against her hidden, fading bruise. "He just... tried to."

"I told Cohen, Coop," Summer informed her. "I know you told me what happened in confidence, but I was worried about you, and I was afraid that Trey might try to attack you again or that he might hurt someone else."

"And you went directly to Ryan, didn't you, Seth," Sandy questioned his son.

"Well, what else was I supposed to do," Seth fired back in his own defense. "Trey was a loose cannon, and I couldn't have him going after Summer. Besides, Ryan deserved to know the truth."

"Maybe he did, but did it ever occur to you to come to me with this," Sandy asked him. "We could have gone to the police and then sat down with Ryan together. I know he's your brother and your best friend, Seth, and I know that he takes care of you, protects you, but at some point you're going to have to grow up, stop having Ryan fight your battles for you, and ask for help from an adult or the authorities."

"So, you're turning this around on me; you're making this my fault?"

"No," Sandy sighed, collapsing into the nearest chair. He dropped his face into his hands and rubbed briskly. After several moments, he looked up, obviously disheveled and worried. "No, it's not your fault that Ryan went to confront Trey... just as it's not Marissa's fault that Trey tried to rape her." Despite having already heard that word several times that evening, she still flinched, taking yet another step away from everyone else gathered in the waiting room to support Ryan. "Trey and only Trey is to blame for his actions. I'm assuming he's the one who shot Ryan, but what I don't understand is where this gun came from in the first place. Trey's on probation. He shouldn't have been able to buy a weapon."

"Dad, I think you've been living in your Newport bubble for too long. There are other ways to get a gun than to buy one with a license. And, besides, I don't think that the gun was necessarily Trey's; I think it might have been Jess', and she left it there."

"Floater girl," Sandy asked, his heavy brows wrinkling. If the situation wasn't so serious, Marissa probably would have laughed to hear the lawyer utter those two irreverent words together.

"Yeah, Trey and Jess have a... I don't know... business relationship together. He acts are her muscle, and she supplies him with coke and whores or, more specifically, just one whore: herself," Summer filled him in on what they had managed to infer after the last several weeks.

However, still noticing Sandy's confused expression, Marissa decided to speak up for the first time in several minutes. "With everything that's been going on for you recently, I doubt you watched the news last night, but there was a shooting down at the Bait Shop."

"And I'm guessing since the four of you don't watch the news any more than the normal teenager that you were there and again didn't tell me," Sandy inferred.

She just nodded. "Anyway, Jess was making a drug deal last night, and something must have gone wrong, because she pulled a gun and started shooting. Trey was there with her." Then, remembering her cut, she pointed to her bandaged forehead. "That's where this came from."

"You were shot," Sandy asked incredulously.

"Broken glass," Seth informed his father.

Seemingly exhausting the conversation, at least for the moment, the three seated individuals leaned back in their chairs. Seth and Summer reached out to hold each other's hands, while Sandy rested his head against the wall behind him, closing his eyes. Still, she stood standing, fidgeting with her fingers, with her ill-fitting scrub top, with her bruise. Finally, unable to take the silence any longer, Marissa cleared her throat, and her small audience looked in her direction.

"I, uh... I know this doesn't make up for everything or, well, anything really, but I just wanted all of you to know that, since that night, I haven't had anything to drink." Sighing, she ran an agitated hand through her knotted, blood streaked hair, searching for a way to explain herself. "Before... drinking was always an escape, a way for me to forget yet the latest reason why my life was falling apart. I didn't realize that with every sip of vodka, or champagne, or beer that I was slowly giving away my control... at least, not until all of it was taken from me. For those few moments on the beach when Trey had me trapped below him and nothing I said or did seemed to make a difference, I had never been so scared in my life, and, trust me, I've been in some dicey situations before – Tijuana, stealing the car in Chino, Oliver." So lost in her own thoughts, Marissa didn't notice Sandy's raised brows or Seth and Summer's confused expressions towards the second tense situation she had mentioned. "Anyway, what I guess I'm trying to say is that I never want to feel that way again – like I have no power. Suddenly, even the thought of drinking scares me. So, while my drinking might have played a roll in what happened today, I can promise you that it won't happen again."

"The silver lining, huh," Sandy posed rhetorically, standing up and advancing towards her until the point where he could gently wrap her up in a hug. After several seconds, he pulled away and offered her a tense yet sincere half smile. "So, I heard you probably saved Ryan's life tonight. The cops said you were amazing with him."

"She whipped the shirt right off of her own back, Mr. C," Summer quipped, making Seth chuckle and Marissa crack a grin despite the situation.

"Well, I'm sure Ryan will be sorry he missed that," Sandy added to the levity of the moment, only his comment made her blush. In turn, he laughed at her apparent embarrassment.

"Nothing he hasn't seen before," Seth offered, earning himself a slap upside the head from his girlfriend and a glare from Marissa.

Their short moment of normalcy was broken, however, by the doctor emerging from the swinging doors which separated the emergency room patients from those who were waiting on tenterhooks to hear news about their loved ones. At the sight of him, Seth and Summer stood up, and Marissa reached blindly for Sandy's hand, gripping it tightly.

"Are you Ryan Atwood's family," the doctor asked.

Holding her breath, Marissa could only hope for the best.

! ! !

Somewhere between slumber and wakefulness, Marissa existed in a haze of exhaustion and worry. Despite the doctor reassuring them over and over again that Ryan would make a full recovery, she knew that she wouldn't be able to breathe comfortably again until he opened his eyes and she saw for herself that he was going to be alright. While Sandy had convinced Seth and Summer to go home, both of them heading back to the Cohens' together because they didn't want to be alone, she had refused to leave the hospital, and because she was pretty sure her cell phone was still lying in Trey's living room, she didn't have to worry about her mom calling and tracking her down. Instead, she sat at Ryan's bedside, his left hand clasped tightly between her own as her head rested on the bed to his side.

All things considered, Ryan had been lucky. Just as the operator had surmised by Marissa's description of Ryan's wound, the bullet had entered his back and punctured his right lung, missing his heart and his spinal cord. While it would take several weeks for Ryan to recover – after all, gun shot wounds tended to take quite a lot out of a person, the doctors had not been forced to intubate him, and he was breathing on his own with the help of oxygen. Because of the angle of the shot, the bullet had become lodged in one of Ryan's ribs, meaning there wasn't a messy exit wound and less internal damage to repair. She had gotten him help quickly, staunched his blood loss, and Ryan had come out of his surgery like a trooper... or so his doctor had informed them. Now, they just had to wait for the anesthesia to wear off and for Ryan to wake up naturally.

"Um, hey," he murmured, squeezing her hand, his throat obviously raw.

Quickly, Marissa sat up. "Hey," she returned. Unable to help herself, she smiled, happy and thankful that he was awake. Then, remembering where she was and what the situation was, she rapidly stood up, gesturing over his shoulder. "I should go get Sandy, and your doctors, and..."

"Water," Ryan croaked, interrupting her.

"Oh, sure." Locating the pitcher and plastic cup on his bedside table, Marissa poured a small amount of water for him, inserting a straw before moving closer and helping Ryan drink. He swallowed greedily, sighing contentedly when he was finished before lying back down and closing his eyes.

There were so many things she wanted to tell him – most of all how sorry she was, but Marissa knew that now was not the time. Ryan was just out of surgery, one his own brother made necessary after shooting him. He needed to rest and relax not reassure her. Rather, that's something that she could do for him. "Don't worry, the cops already have an APB out on Trey. They're going to find him. He won't be able to run forever, and, eventually, they'll catch him. When they do, we'll make sure that he can't hurt you... or anyone else again."

"That's good," Ryan said, speaking haltingly between pained breaths. "I don't think that Trey can handle life on the outside at this point, and, as oddly as this sounds, he'll be safer in prison, but Trey wasn't the one who shot me."

"What?"

"We were fighting. One of us probably would have killed the other eventually, but Jess showed up. She was the one who shot me. I heard her voice behind me. She said something about Vegas..."

"Oh my god," Marissa gasped, already standing up once more. "I need to tell the police."

Once again, though, Ryan's slight grip on her hands stopped her from leaving. "Wait," he told her; she listened but, this time, didn't sit back down again. "Are youokay," he asked, nodding towards her disheveled appearance. Despite trying to clean herself up some in the bathroom, Marissa knew that she still wore the signs of Ryan's injury – his blood caked underneath her fingernails, streaked through her hair.

"I'm fine," she answered quickly, offering him a small smile. "It's you who was shot, not me."

Ryan raised his brows, looking at her pointedly. "You know what I mean, Marissa."

She heavily sat back down in her chair. "I, um, well... I..." At first, she stuttered over her words, but then she shrugged, looked back up, met Ryan's gaze, and just said the first thing that came to her mind. "I love you. Right now, I can't think about anything else but the fact that you're going to be okay. Everything else... I guess it's still there, but it's also going to be there a week from now, too. And I'll deal with it – soon, I promise, but, for now, I just... need to focus on you, okay?"

He watched her for several seconds, silently. Finally, he closed his eyes, smiled, and whispered, "I love you, too."

Standing up, Marissa brushed her lips against his forehead, aware of the fact that Ryan had already fallen back asleep. Quietly, she slipped out of his hospital room, for she had things to do. Sandy and the doctors needed to be told that Ryan was awake; she knew that Seth and Summer would appreciate a status update, so she'd make that phone call and maybe one to her parents as well; and, most importantly, she had to tell the cops about Trey, Jess, and Vegas. Afterwards, she needed a shower, and there were things to buy and prepare for when Ryan would be released from the hospital in a few days' time. After all, it was her turn to finally take care of him, and she was determined she'd be the best girlfriend she could be, the girlfriend that Ryan deserved. Plus, it was the summer before their senior year of high school; they also had to fit in some fun as well.

Speaking of fun... Marissa grinned crookedly, thankful that no one else was in the hallway to see the mischievous twinkle lighting up her suddenly wide-awake eyes. Maybe she still had that candy striper uniform from sophomore year...

! ! !

They weren't even into Nevada yet and already the cops had caught up with them. As Trey pressed the car's accelerator even more, the speed rising until he was driving well over the speed limit, he looked out the rearview mirror, accessing just how quickly the police were gaining on them. Just outside of Newport, Jess had pulled over and insisted that he drive. Like always, Trey had obeyed, but it was only now that he realized why: she was holding the gun she had just hours before used to shoot Ryan, reloading it in preparation to fire it again. The highway was clear before them – the other passengers on the road seeing the lights of the cop cars and pulling over to the side to be safe, and, evidently, Jess had every intention of clearing the path behind them as well.

Before he could say anything, she used the car's automatic power system to put down her window, twisting around in her seat to aim the gun outside of the car and fire towards their nearest pursuer. He didn't want to think about why she was such a good shot as the first bullet hit its mark and took out the nearest police car's left front tire. "Just keep driving as fast as you can, and I'll handle everything else. As soon as we lose the piggy parade, we'll ditch the car, change our appearances, and you can steal us another ride. That is why you went to jail, right, why Baby Brother got the good life and you got eighteen months behind bars? Anyway," she continued before he had a chance to reply, firing another shot at another cop car. This time, she missed, the vehicle still too far away. "All I care about is that you don't pick a piece of junk and this time that you don't get caught. At least, we both know I'll be a better wingman than Ryan ever was." She punctuated her statement by laughing when her third bullet met its mark and she shattered a second pursuer's tire. Only two cars chasing them remained.

For several minutes, things progressed according to Jess' plan, and he started to wonder if maybe he would make it out of the evening alive. There was just one police cruiser remaining behind them, and the cop was keeping his distance, obviously not wanting to end up like his three coworkers. Perhaps he wasn't cursed like his parents; perhaps he had a little bit of Ryan's luck after all. If they could just make it to Vegas like Jess planned, then they'd have a chance. His mom had taught him to count cards when he was young, so they could use Jess' cash to bankroll their trip. All he needed was a few hours on the casino floor, and Trey knew he could win them enough money to really go on the run, living the good life scott free and far away from everything they had left behind in Newport. Finally, the adrenaline and the excitement of the moment kicked in, and he let out a loud whoop, punching his foot against the gas pedal and speeding up even more. Dangerously, the careened around a curve in the road, and that's when reality crashed back down around him.

Up before them, there was a roadblock. There were enough police cruisers and SUV's to stop a mack truck; there was no way they could make it through unscathed. "You said I wasn't going down unless we went down together, Jess," he taunted the teenager beside him. "Looks like you're about to get your wish."

Never letting off the accelerator, Trey simply drove straight towards the wall of vehicles waiting to prevent him from finally, after so many years, living the good life. In the back of his mind, he could hear Jess screaming for him to slow down, to turn around, to do something to get them out of their current mess, but he was sick of fighting it – his destiny. Ever since he had watched his father being taken away in cuffs, he knew that he would amount to just as much... and that sure as hell wasn't anything worthwhile at all. At least this way he'd go out with bang, a fiery vengeance; at least this way he wouldn't be forgotten. For a few minutes, Trey knew that the whole world was watching him, and he had always wanted his own share, no matter how small, of immortality.

They hit the barricade at a speed in excess of 100 miles per hour, the car immediately starting to twist and turn in the air. He wasn't aware of how many complete flips it made, but, when they landed, he knew from the sheer strength of the impact that he only had a few moments of life left, and he was going to make them count. The EMT's were at his side almost immediately – not because they were worried about his safety but because he knew they wanted to make sure he survived the high speed chase in order to be prosecuted, but that was one satisfaction the cops, Ryan, and everyone else in Newport wouldn't get.

"Tell 'em I'm sorry... I'm sorry, but I wasn't going back there; I wasn't going back to prison. And tell 'em that it's better this way."

And it was, because he had been right: just like all the other Atwoods... all of them except for Ryan, he had been born to die. It was the one promise he could keep, the one expectation he could live up to.