A/N: Something different, certainly not one for the traditionalist fans…

Read and review as ever please.

At 24, Seth's life suddenly falls apart. Just as he has finally turned Atomic County into a success, Zach comes out of nowhere and sues him for partial credit. Seth argues that it was his creativity that contributed to any success. Zach was just, he doesn't even know what, the business brain perhaps. But that doesn't stop him from being caught up in a long and drawn-out lawsuit, that leaves him tired and defeated.

And then there is Summer. Summer, the love of his life, the girl of his dreams, who agreed to marry him after graduating from college. They got engaged but something always kept them from setting a date. Atomic County, her burgeoning career as an environmentalist that meant she was always travelling from one convention to another. When the lawsuit hits him, it absorbs all his time. He is constantly unhappy and Summer is never there. Their phone calls are frequent but lacking depth. One month when she is back, he realises that they might even be becoming strangers.

He is about to put it right. He decides to talk to her about setting a date. But Summer laments his efforts, talking about how they are so busy right now. He insists that they will always be busy. She says she doesn't want it to be rushed and gives him so many different explanations that he wonders if she even wants to get married.

His worst fears are confirmed when she tells him amidst tears that maybe they should put a pause on the wedding. He stares at her, eyes wide open, mouth gaping, thinking what the fuck is happening. He asks her if she is breaking up with him. She shakes his head, tears falling harder, insisting no, no but he knows deep down that this is the path where they are heading, either now or later.

He demands to know if she still loves him, she says, yes, of course, she will always love him. He is disbelieving but he lets it go. He decides to give it time, hoping for a change of heart. He devotes himself to her, forgetting momentarily about the lawsuit. He thinks that if she asks him to, he would give it all up for her.

He tries talking to her again about the wedding. She brushes him aside. He is angry and upset and more than anything, desparate. One night he surprises her. They drive down to Newport from LA and he takes her to the old diner. He hopes it will remind her of old times, fond memories of being so madly in love.

She appears happy and he thinks that maybe his plan is working. He is excited and optimistic when he sneaks them inside Harbor. Summer gushes, oh my god, Cohen! He doesn't tell her that he had got permission from the new Principal to sign off on the night's escapades.

He leads them down the halls and eventually to the old coffee shop. A coffee cart stands decorated, balloons floating everywhere. Summer doesn't grasp his intentions at first, thinks it is just a romantic gesture. But Seth has let her go and is moving to stand on the coffee cart. He looks down at her with so much hope when he says, "Summer Roberts, I love you. I always have, I always will. So please, marry me now or lose me forever."

In his mind, he had imagined that Summer would weep with joy and affirm her love for him. That she would say, yes, lets get married. Lets do it, lets set a date.

Summer is weeping now but these are not tears of joy. She weeps that it means so much to her that he would do this. That she loves him but she really, really can't. Now he is crying too, questioning what all of this means. What even are they anymore.

Summer talks about how maybe they have both grown up to become different kinds of people. That maybe they need to take some pressure of their relationship and slow things down. Seth feels like he is suffocating under her words. He repeats again, entirely serious, "Marry me now or lose me forever."

They break-up, Summer moves out and Seth loses a quarter of his share of Atomic County to Zach. His life is a mess.

The Cohens offer support. Ryan offers special Seth-Ryan time. Seth talks to them because Seth has always been a talker. It doesn't stop him from feeling any less horrible. His heart is broken and his mind is tired.

At Thanksgiving, when Julie and Kaitlin are over, he discovers he likes Kaitlin's company and her acerbic wit. He is tired of the constant coddling in the aftermath of his break-up. Kaitlin's resolution to treat him the same as before makes him feel less pathetic. It reminds him of Marissa's lack of sympathy with whatever complaint of the day he had.

Kaitlin mentions that she is going to Hawaii in December to visit Jimmy and Marissa. He is surprised when she asks him if he wants to join her. He is both bemused and confused at the offer. Kaitlin merely shrugs, explaining that he might want a change of scenery. Plus, he could use a tan.

Seth thinks it over and eventually accepts. He can't wait to escape his miserable reality.

He has no clue what to expect from Marissa. They used to exchange lengthy emails when she first left town. They eventually dwindled in length and apart from the odd birthday or Christmas card, he mostly heard about her through others.

Ryan never mentioned her much but he hadn't expected any different. He knew that Summer had still kept in touch and even visited once or twice. The truth was that Seth was never wholly sure about where he stood with Marissa. He was either Summer's boyfriend or Ryan's best friend. Both aspects defined his relationship with Marissa.

He questions Kaitlin for some information. She says Marissa had been living in New York. She was modelling for a bit, then doing some photography, then interning at a fashion house and now she is writing. Apparently, she is in Hawaii to find creative inspiration. Seth thinks in amusement that it's also what he's hoping to find.

Marissa's waiting at the airport with a big, dorky sign saying 'Welcome to Hawaii, Kaitlin!'. When she spots Seth next to Kaitlin, her shock is wholly evident. Seth deduces that his presence must not have been expected, a suspicion that Kaitlin confirms with a sly smile.

"Cohen won't stop moping about Summer," Kaitlin explains nonchalantly. "I thought I would treat him to a holiday."

Marissa blinks and then smiles broadly at Seth. "Welcome to Hawaii, Seth."

Jimmy is married to a much younger woman, a lawyer and the daughter of a property tycoon. They live in large house near the beach and he runs a small excursion company, taking tourists out to nearby islands. For the first time in ages, he thinks he finally sees Jimmy truly content and relaxed.

Seth finds it strange seeing a 24 year old Marissa. An adult Marissa. She has always been so firmly part of his childhood and teenage years and then left at the onset of adulthood. He can see a maturity about her and a lightness that escaped her in the past. He finds it ironic how she seems so free and he feels so burdened.

Seth knows the whole point of Hawaii is to get over Summer. But he has always been self-pitying. The first night, as they sit by the pool drinking margaritas, he can't help but ask.

"Have you spoken to her?"

Marissa gives him a sad smile.

"I told her she was making a mistake," she says.

"Thanks," Seth replies with a wry laugh

"She still cares about you, Seth. An awful lot."

"I don't want her to care about me, I want to be the fucking love of her life," Seth says exasperated. "And I honestly thought I was."

He feels himself tearing up and he hates himself for being so weak. At least he knows Marissa won't judge. They are, after all, two sides of the same coin.

They lie on their backs, looking up at the stars.

"I thought you two would make it," Marissa admits.

"It's tragic how none of us could," Seth muses. He glances at Marissa, catches her wistfully staring at the night sky.

"How's Ryan doing?" she asks at last.

"Ryan's normal."

"What did he think about you coming here?"

"I think it surprised him more than anything. I also think he secretly wanted to come with me."

"Hawaii is nice," Marissa remarks. Seth laughs.

"That's not what I meant," he tells her with a smirk. Marissa blushes. "He is confused as fuck about you."

Marissa sits up suddenly and nervously looks at him.

"What?" Seth asks.

"We slept together after my graduation," Marissa confesses.

"What? How did that happen? And why don't I know about this already?" Seth questions incredulously.

"He turned up at NYU. And then we went for dinner and one thing led to another and well, yeah. Then his girlfriend called the next morning."

Seth furrows his eyebrows trying to remember a girlfriend. "Oh shit, Lucy!" he exclaims.

"We left things in quite a bad place," Marissa recalls and sighs. She raises a forlorn glass in the air.

"To relationships past," she toasts. Seth raises his glass to meet hers.

"Indeed," he says wryly.

Seth helps Jimmy out with the excursion trips. Often him, Marissa and Kaitlin take one of the yachts out. He watches them bicker and trade stories about Jimmy and Julie. Hearing about the dysfunction of the Coopers offers comfort. Life isn't made to be perfect.

He spends long drawn out evenings and nights talking to Marissa. They debate books, they discuss philosophy and inevitably pour out their deepest feelings to each other.

Marissa admits that it broke her heart that things with Ryan had not worked out better. She loved him so much and then in the end, love did not seem to be enough. They tried so hard, but did they really try hard enough? Seth assures her that they did their best, but Marissa sighs and grumbles, I don't know.

Seth did not know. She regrets much of how their senior year played out. She tells him one night that she deep down, she always knew Ryan was the one but she thinks she never really let him know. Not enough. Their relationship, at some point, became laced with doubt.

"I think the two of your are way too hard on yourself," Seth informs her. "You guys literally had to deal with a shit tonne of unbelievable drama. No one's equipped for that. Look at me and Summer. Our lives got a bit hectic, some things got complicated and we couldn't even survive that."

"I miss life being simple, like when we were kids" Marissa says and leans her head onto his shoulder.

"Me too," Seth agrees. It's odd having Marissa so close to him. Hesitantly he places an arm around her shoulder. He watches her shut her eyes and relax. In that moment, he does not feel alone anymore.

The wallowing and rehashing of the past is mixed with nostalgic reminiscence. They giggle over childhood stories, remind themselves of a friendship that was forgotten when they hit adolescence.

One day, Seth shyly admits that a ten year old Seth may have hated Luke so much because he secretly had a thing for her. Marissa squeals and giggles at the idea, teases him relentlessly.

She asks him later, "How did you fall for Summer?"

Seth shrugs. "I don't know. I think I just thought she was pretty. Then I finally got to know her and we really did have a connection. But for a while," Seth laughs, "When we first started speaking, you know when Ryan arrived, I was starting to doubt my pining. I had this idea of her as this amazingly, wonderful girl, which she was in the end, but at the beginning she just seemed shallow and a little mean, especially when you were being so nice."

"I'm always nice," Marissa says with a laugh. "I was never a bitch to you, was I?"

Seth senses an underlying severity in the statement. He shakes his head and smiles fondly. "No, you were not."

He thinks to himself that, if things had progressed just a bit differently, he could have fallen for Marissa Cooper.

Kaitlin goes back but he decides to stay. He says that he has the time to spare.

He receives a few worried phone calls from the Cohens and Ryan. He brushes them aside, he really doesn't see any reason for concern.

Marissa asks him one day if he is trying to avoid reality by being here. Seth smiles faintly, shrugs a denial because he cannot be bothered to truly convince her otherwise. When Marissa keeps persisting with questions, Seth asks her why the sudden interest? She nervously admits that Ryan called her, asked her to speak to him. Seth tells her to disregard the concern. He is perfectly fine.

He wonders if he is all they talked about. Probably not but then, they have never been that talkative. Ryan never admitted it but he knows that moving on from Marissa was much harder than he let on. Ryan cares, maybe even has unresolved feelings there. He knows from all the conversations with Marissa that she still feels something for him. He thinks it's inevitable that they would reconnect if they started talking. It is a thought that makes him sad.

Ryan flies in for a week. He repeats old conversations about being worried about Seth and how everyone misses him and just wants him to come home. Seth bitches that it is all bullshit. He no longer cares, he just wants to say fuck you to the world. He can't explain it but a part of him is angry that Ryan is here.

He observes Ryan and Marissa and their palpable angst when they first meet. He watches it lessen and their deep-rooted affection come to the front. They say they are friends but he notices the flirty looks and exchanges. His late night talks with Marissa become replaced with their outings as a trio. When they return home and he is too uncomfortable to sit with them, he wonders what they talk about. Do they kiss? Does he fuck her in her bedroom two doors from his?

He lies wide awake wondering.

Ryan is his best friend. He might even say that he is his only friend. But he knows that him and Marissa have been friends too. After the weeks spent in Hawaii, she is his friend regardless of Ryan or Summer. But when he watches her with Ryan now, he wonders if he will always be relegated to either standing. Ryan's best friend or Summer's almost husband. Would she ever choose him over Ryan? Not long ago, he knew he wouldn't choose her either but he thinks, he worries, now he really might. He cannot understand when or how she became so important.

On his last night in Hawaii, Ryan asks Seth if he could give him and Marissa some privacy. Seth blurts out, why?

Ryan is confused yet not suspicious. He admits that he wants to spend some time alone with her, so that maybe they can leave things in a better place this time.

"Don't hurt her, man," Seth says, his tone fighting not to be accusatory.

"I won't," Ryan replies, taken aback.

"Look, you can't keep stringing this along. She may not admit it but you still mean so much to her. She could fall in love with you and if you don't think you could love her, then don't lead her on. She's been hurt enough," Seth states bluntly.

"Where is this coming from?" Ryan asks. He has not known Seth to be so protective of Marissa. Even Summer had never been this stern.

Seth shrugs it off.

"You're both my friends. I want you both to be happy."

Ryan is unconvinced but takes note of what Seth says.

Seth wonders if his discussion will warn Ryan away. He tells himself that he is just trying to protect Marissa. They have grown so close. He cares like any friend would. He expects that Ryan will tell her it is wiser they remain friends because it is easier than trying to work out his feelings and make a commitment.

He does not anticipate seeing them the next morning, sitting outside on the patio, Ryan's arm draped around her shoulder. He announces that he's staying for another week. They're working things out, he says and kisses her cheek. Marissa smiles widely, her happiness evident. Seth congratulates them, masking the sinking feeling in his stomach.

Marissa asks him to return to California with them. She tells him that she needs someone to go to all the indie gigs in LA. He smiles her persistance away, tells her that he might travel around a bit. She does not need to worry about him, he'll be just fine. At the airport, when they say goodbye, she tears up. He teases her for being so emotional.

He is glad that Jimmy lets him stay in his house. He cannot bear to be in California, watching them fall in love all over again. He thinks it is the twisted law of the universe: all four of them could never be happy at once.

Summer visits him in Hawaii once. She's in town for a conference, drops by to visit. She apologises for everything, talks about how she never wanted to hurt him. It had just become too hard to remain in the relationship. She felt disconnected and he did not deserve that. He sits and listens, nods along at the right moments.

"Cohen, are you sure you are ok?" she asks nervously.

"Yes, I am, Summer," he replies. For the first time, he realises that when it comes to Summer, he finally is okay.

He writes some new material to appease his publisher. It is darker than his old work, more brooding and serious. The publishers aren't sure it will sell but he is stubborn and says it is all he has to offer. He doesn't care much. It is not like he needs the money. The rights to turn the comic into a cartoon have been sold, talks of a movie are in the works. Seth leaves it all to Zach and enjoys the royalties.

He tries his hand at nonfiction. He writes reviews for a local newspaper, starts his own blog. He realises he has a taste for it. Marissa sends him an excited email one day saying she read his work. She gives him the names of old friends in New York working in journalism, encourages him to try writing for a bigger magazine or paper. He follows up on her offer, thinking why not, and then finds himself with a job offer at Vanity Fair.

Ryan and Marissa stay together for a year and then another. He hadn't counted on it. Then out of the blue, Ryan calls him and tells him they got into a horrible fight. He sounds despairing and fatigued. He calls Marissa after, checks how she is doing. Marissa cries to him on the phone, worries about trust and letting each other in. Old demons that won't let them go. He soothes her over the phone, insists that Ryan loves her.

One month later, when he is visiting the Cohens in Newport, he hears from Ryan that they are truly over. Seth consoles him though Ryan won't betray his real emotions. The next day, he drives up to LA to visit Marissa. He finds her teary eyed and when he hugs her, she sobs softly into his chest. After, she offers him a tired smile.

They spend all day together, talking, watching films, going through their favourite new bands. When it comes to 9pm, Seth says he should go. He watches Marissa's face fall. She asks him to stay for another movie and he can't refuse. By 10pm, Marissa is falling asleep. She curls into his side and he wraps an arm around her. He considers carrying her to her bed, knowing that he ought to leave. In the end, he falls asleep holding her on the couch.

Marissa moves out to New York again. She admits that the only reason she came back to California had been for Ryan's benefit. Seth helps her get a junior position at Vogue through the contacts he has made. When she claims that she cannot accept it, he points out that she helped him get his job in the first place.

They live nearby, hang out constantly. He tells Ryan very little about any of it. He knows that he is falling for Marissa, has been for years now. In fact, he is pretty fucking gone at this point. He wonders if she has any clue or if knowing how he felt might make a difference.

On his 27th birthday, Marissa takes him to a Death Cab concert. They grab drinks afterwards and he is such a lightweight that he is drunk after 3 shots. Marissa giggles and helps him back to his apartment and then to his bedroom. He slumps on to his bed, hair dishevelled, looking boyish as ever.

"Best birthday ever," he slurs. Marissa sits on the edge of the bed and smiles warmly.

"I'm glad you enjoyed it," she says. Seth leans up on his elbow facing her.

"Do you know how much I like you?" he whispers.

Marissa purses her lips.

"I can guess," she answers. Seth shakes his head defiantly.

"I think I might love you," he tells her softly. He had imagined this moment would be angst ridden when it finally came but the air is light, lacking any tense edge. He stares up at Marissa, she looks back at him, her eyes mellow and understanding. She places her hand on his cheek and as he sits up, she leans forward.

Marissa kisses him softly, a feather touch almost. He returns it and she kisses back harder.

He wonders again and again what the kiss meant. She had kissed him when he had expected instant rejection. He could not believe it. He thinks of Ryan, of the betrayal that he is committing but he also knows that the core four is now a broken dream.

He calls Marissa and leaves multiple messages. When she does not respond, he marches over to her apartment hoping for a confrontation. Maybe she'll chalk it up to a fickle moment of misjudgment. Then it will be just a mistake, not a gross abandonment of loyalty. But Marissa opens the door and she is nervous and shy. He feels awkward, like an inexperienced fool.

"How long?" she begins. He feels embarrassed and averts his gaze from hers.

"Too long," he admits. He is done with denial.

"Why didn't you say anything before?"

"How could I?" he says. "You were with Ryan. I knew you loved him and he loved you. I couldn't do anything."

"Why now?" she asks.

"It slipped out and it just, frankly, it became too much. I needed you to know even if you didn't feel anything."

He is suddenly looking up at her, a mixture of seriousness and vulnerability.

"How do you feel?"

Marissa's expression softens.

"I kissed you, didn't I?"

"I know, but," Seth stutters, "I mean, I didn't think you were really serious."

"You're kind of easy to fall in love with," Marissa says.

Seth's mouth goes dry. His heart beats rapidly; he's a bundle of nerves.

"Are you, do you really mean that?" he asks in trepidation. Marissa laughs and nods, yeah.

"What about Ryan? Summer?" he checks.

Marissa shrugs. "Ryan and I are over, you and Summer…"

"Are very much over," Seth fills in. He is looking at Marissa now in disbelief.

"What happens now?" he asks. Marissa provides a coy smile, hinting that anything can happen. He reaches out to take her hand and pulls her closer.

"I really fucking love you," he whispers.

"Good," Marissa replies. "But you seriously have a problem with pining."

Seth laughs, smiles broadly.

"You're worth the wait," he murmurs before he kisses her.

He decides that 27 is going to be the best year of his life so far.