TITLE: The Fall of Camelot
PART EIGHT


Kirsten found herself floored for what was likely the fourth time that day. "He said that?"

Ryan nodded, leaning against the door frame again.

She kept her eyes trained on him as he slipped his hands once more into his pockets, ducking his gaze. "And then... what? He just left?"

"Yeah. He went back down to the car, and I sat down to do some thinking."

"About what?" She asked, following him with her eyes as he made his way over to the wicker chair and sat down.

"You, mostly." He bent forward with his elbows on his thighs, looking up at her.

His blue eyes stared right through her and she felt her heart beating an odd rhythm again. Only this time, she paid attention to it rather than pushing it away as she'd done for the last three years.

"I thought about how I... failed you, in a way, leaving like I did."

Kirsten just stared, unable to move, hardly able to breathe due to the swarm of butterflies in her stomach and her heart hammering in her chest. "You didn't fail me," she whispered.

"Yeah, I did." Ryan clasped his hands in the space between his knees, rubbing his palms together slowly as he searched her eyes. "Kirsten, when you let me stay three years ago, I promised myself then that I would do everything in my power to always look out for you. To be there for you like you were for me when I needed someone the most." He shrugged. "Maybe things didn't start out great between us, but when you pulled me outta juvy... something shifted."

His hands pressed into his knees and he stood up suddenly. Kirsten hoped the slight gasp of surprise wasn't terribly audible, and she stayed rooted to the spot. Ryan didn't come any closer, nor did she; they just stood several feet apart, eyes locked on one another.

"You became almost instantly one of the most important people in my life. And that hasn't changed for three years. I don't know what happened between when you watched them haul me away in a cop car and when you brought me back, but... I'm glad it did."

She folded her arms across herself, shivering despite the warmth of the room as she closed her eyes and relived those first few days in an instant. "You got to me," she murmured.

He furrowed his brows. "How?"

"That's just the thing." She opened her eyes. "I don't know. I don't know how you did it, or if you even did anything. All I know is that as soon as I saw you swing at that guy that had been cat-calling me... you got to me." She shook her head, swallowing hard as she looked down at the floor. "It was the first time I felt this weird, knee-jerk instinct that I... needed you, somehow."

Steeling herself and pushing away the last vestiges of her shivers, she looked up again and told him, "That was the first time anybody ever protected me. When that guy started to get up, I hadn't even blinked and you were on him." Chuckling breathily, she quipped, "First time I'd ever had a knight in shining armor, ready to throw himself in harm's way for me."

Looking up, she saw Ryan's smile. Part of her was practically shaking with the need to run to him, to throw her arms around him. The other part of her was terrified of what was transpiring here, and it was that part that kept her frozen in place. "You did it without a thought, without even hesitating. And you've been doing it ever since."

Without breaking gaze, Ryan told her quietly, "And that's why I failed you today." He took a step forward and Kirsten fought not to jump at the motion. "For three years, I've been doing everything I can to be there for you. To keep you from getting hurt. But today? I dumped all of that stuff in your lap and then abandoned you." He huffed without mirth. "Some knight."

"But... if you think about it..." She allowed herself to take a step forward, and Ryan mirrored her, the two of them separated by just a few feet now. "You did that to protect me, too." She held his gaze. "You saw how Seth reacted when he overheard you and you knew things would go badly. So you removed yourself from the picture to keep me from getting hurt."

"And me, a little bit," he admitted, dipping his head with a shy smile.

"What?"

Ryan took a breath, folded his arms across his chest as if readying himself for confrontation and looked up at her. "Kirsten, you're the only person that can hurt me."

That gave her pause; she frowned, uncertain whether or not that comment was meant to sting. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that out of everyone in my life, you're the one person that has the power to really make me hurt." Off what she was certain was a confused look, he continued. "All of my mom's craziness, her issues with alcohol and her less-than-stellar boyfriends... that was always really disappointing. But it never really hurt. Even her leaving me with you guys didn't hurt, because I knew she was doing it to give me my best shot."

He shrugged. "All my stuff with Marissa? That was frustrating for sure. And when we finally broke things off it was a huge change, but it didn't hurt. Trey coming back, messing things up and then leaving again... was rough." He made a face. "Didn't hurt, though." After a beat, his voice seemed to soften. "But... with you? Things hurt."

Kirsten felt a lump in her throat but never broke gaze with Ryan as he went on. "The first time you threw me out, and wouldn't even look me in the eye when I left, it hurt. And at your intervention, when you told me not to say a word because you let me into this house... that hurt, even though I understood. Those times when you were at Suriak and we weren't allowed to see you, it hurt. And then today... that look in your eyes before you ran after Seth... that hurt too."

She swallowed hard, voice emerging as nothing but a whisper. "Ryan..."

He stepped closer, the two of them almost toe-to-toe now. Kirsten didn't know whether to collapse against him or run for the door. "That's how I know this is real, Kirsten," he told her strongly, softly. His eyes were a sharp blue now; they drilled into her, hammering his point home. "What I feel for you hurts like hell, so it's gotta be real. And that's part of the reason I left."

She searched his eyes back and forth, unable to move yet she felt as if she were drifting just a little closer. "Then why did you come back?"

"Because Sandy was right." He swallowed, still staring into her eyes as he reached for her hands. "I'm not gonna repeat his mistakes and walk away from the best thing to ever happen to me."

Her heart leapt up into her throat again, and she was surprised to feel the sting of tears in her eyes. Ryan gripped her hands a little tighter and took one more step in. "And I don't care how much this hurts me. It's not about me. It's about you. You may not need a king, Guinevere," he smirked, "but you need someone around that's gonna put you first for once. I don't care if you never feel an ounce of anything for me, I'm gonna keep being your knight."

Kirsten drew in a shaking breath, her eyes on his lips while his focused on her face. One of his hands left hers to move her hair from her face. "And it's not because I think you need to be looked after or because I think you can't fend for yourself-"

Her kiss cut him off.

She hadn't planned it by any means; it was instinctive and knee-jerk and she felt a need to kiss him so deep that it made her ache. The shock riddled him immediately and she felt him tense up, his lips just barely responding before he broke away.

One hand cupped her face as his surprised gaze searched her. Nothing was said out loud; they conversed with their eyes. Kirsten smiled just slightly as she watched the realization dawn on his face - she did feel something for him. He wasn't alone in feeling that bond, that reflexive need and instantaneous attraction.

Ryan exhaled a smile, a bit of relief mingled with the sigh. Then he pulled her in again and kissed her fully, and it was Kirsten's turn to feel a shock to the system.

His lips were a livewire, sending sparks traveling through her veins. She could practically feel the ultraviolet waves of static electricity within herself, gathering where his hands rested - one on her face and the other just above the curve of her waist. Her fingers clenched, grabbing at the fabric of his shirt and the short hair at the nape of his neck.

They breathed into each other as the kiss intensified; his lips bruised hers and she felt the ground tilting - they were moving. He gathered her tight against him as they moved around the room and Kirsten wrapped her arms completely around his neck. Her cry of surprise was muffled against his mouth as her back hit the wall, but that first kiss still hadn't broken.

Ryan was everywhere, in all five senses; taste, touch, scent, sound, and sight - though her eyes were closed, she still saw him. His hands were alternately on her hips and in her hair and Kirsten couldn't bring herself to care about clothing getting rumpled or hair knotting in tangles.

But soon, he had stolen all her breath. And so they broke for air, their foreheads keeping the connection.

"I didn't want you to stop," she heard herself whisper, the admission surprising her somewhat.

Ryan chuckled breathlessly against her lips, kissing her softly. "And believe me, I didn't want to stop. But... I think we should."

He pulled back and searched her eyes, and a glimmer of common sense returned. It had been a rather tumultuous day; perhaps he had a point. Though her body cried out for more, her head was still spinning with all the day's revelations. "I think you're right," she murmured. Wryly, she quipped, "It's been three years, I guess. What's one more night?"

Ryan laughed at that; a full, joyous laugh complete with a bright smile. His arms wrapped around her shoulders and he pulled her in, kissing her temple and then her hair as he held her. "You should get some sleep."

"So should you." She closed her eyes and allowed herself to cling to him; her Lancelot, her gallant knight. Then, as she glimpsed over her day without him, she asked, "Will you be here when I wake up?"

He nodded without hesitation, his hands sliding over her back. "Of course I will."

So Kirsten sighed her relief and melted against him, comforted by his stalwart presence despite the few bumps they'd traveled over during the course of their day. "You know I love you... right?"

She felt his smile without seeing it. "Yeah, I do." Pulling back, he must have seen the conflict in her eyes, for he quickly reassured her, "Everything else will fall into place, Guinevere."

She chuckled. "Thanks... Lancelot."

"Do you know how the story ends?" he asked.

Kirsten nodded; she pulled back and searched his blue eyes. Their medieval counterparts' ending was less than happy, consistently fraught with turmoil, betrayal and tragedy.

"Yes, I know how the story ends," she answered, taking Ryan's proffered hand.

He led her silently to the bed and she laid down fully clothed; he slid in beside her and wrapped her in a cocoon of comfort, familiarity and adoration. Though their ending wouldn't be quite so untimely, Kirsten also knew their chance for true happiness was slim. Their connection was bone-deep and powerful, yes, but the deck had been stacked against them.

So she clung to him and begged, "Lie to me anyway - how does the story end?"

And Ryan kissed her forehead and fibbed, "Lancelot and Guinevere lived happily ever after," as he turned out the light.


FIN