A/N: Ryan and Marissa would be a happy and functioning couple as adults, who have had time and perspective to figure out their emotional headspace. Fight me on this.
He finds her outside in the smoking area. She's leaning against a wall, no cigarette in sight and mind deep in thought.
He thinks she will run again, but when she sees him, she stays rooted. It gives him the confidence to approach her.
Her eyes are transfixed on him, watching him watch her. He stands across her, less than an arm's length away.
There's silence, an impasse of uncertainty.
"You kissed me," she finally says.
"I did," he nods. "You kissed me back though."
She smiles back at him, so fucking flirtatious that he nearly kisses her again.
"I'll always kiss you back," she replies.
"Until you change your mind."
"Who said anything about changed minds."
"You left," he points out. Literally fucking ran out, he thinks.
At that she sighs, averts her eyes away from him.
"You weren't thinking. I wasn't thinking."
"Marissa," Ryan says, leaning closer in. "Do you remember the night we first met?"
"I'll never forget it," she replies without missing a beat.
"Me neither," he states. "I had never felt more connected to someone than you and we had barely spoken for five minutes. And all these years later, after everything we've been through, the good and the bad, I still feel so connected. If anything, I feel more. Tell me you don't feel the same way."
He's so close to her now, his right hand pressed against the wall by her head, his forehead only inches apart. And what he's just said, she feels like her whole body is on fire.
"I'll always want you. You know that," she tries to explain.
"Actually, I don't," he says and she wonders if he's thinking about their senior year. She files it away for a later conversation.
"Well, I do," she says forcefully. "I feel so much for you that I don't know what to do with that. But I can't kiss you, I can't be with you, fall in love with you, only for it all to end the same way. I can't go through that again."
"I promise you, it will be different," he insists. "At least, we have to try. I want to try. Don't you?"
Her heart's beating so fast. And he's looking at her like she's the most important thing in his life. Fuck. There's not a world where she could really say no to him.
She gives him a smile, that same flirtatious smile. And then her hands are on his collar, pulling him into a kiss. His hands go to cradle her face, fingers getting lost in her hair.
"You aren't going to leave this time, are you?" he says, breathless between kisses.
"No," she laughs. "You are going to take me back to yours and fuck me."
"I'll do it right here if you want," he says with a grin.
"Save that for next time."
. . .
When he picks her up for dinner, his eyes catch on the crystal hanging around her neck.
"Like the dress I take it," Marissa jokes, noticing how he hasn't stopped staring at her chest.
"What?" Ryan blushes deeply when he realises what she must be thinking. "Oh, I'm not-"
"It's fine," she says when seeing his embarrassment.
He clears his throat, hopes it clears his mind. It's just any old necklace.
"You look great," he compliments.
"So do you," she returns, giving him a kiss on the cheek.
She takes his hand and leads them outside.
"So tell me about your day," she asks, as they walk to the subway.
When they get to the restaurant, his gaze drifts to her neckline again. He can't get the necklace out of his head. It's eerily familiar but surely it's just a coincidence.
It takes until their starters arrive for her to say something.
"Ryan, what's going on?" she says.
"What do you mean?"
"You look distracted. You keep, well, you keep staring at my chest," she tells him in a hushed tone. Subconsciously, her hand moves to touch her necklace.
"It's so stupid. It's just that your necklace looks familiar," he replies, letting out an embarrassed groan. He's never paid this close attention to her jewelry.
"Oh," Marissa says in understanding. "That's because it is. You gave it to me."
"The one from Valentine's Day?" he checks just to be sure. He can't believe it.
Marissa nods in response. She wonders suddenly if it was a mistake to have worn it. That Valentine's Day was hardly one they wanted to remember.
"I thought," he stops for a moment, trying to figure out what he wants to say. "I don't know actually. I thought you didn't like it. Not enough to still wear it."
"I was just angry at the time, at everyone and everything."
"So you really liked it?"
"It's my style," she tells him.
"I checked with Summer before buying it," Ryan admits shyly. She grins, holding back a teasing retort.
"It's always been special to me."
Ryan meets her gaze with faint skepticism. He associated that necklace with the fight which came after it. He knows she hadn't meant what she'd said. Knows that he really shouldn't have pressed the matter in the first place, and then mishandled it afterwards.
"Yeah," Marissa assures, her hand reaching out to cover his. "You know I took it with me to Greece. It sounds corny but I figured it would be something to remember you by. Something familiar when I'm out there on my own. This one time, I almost lost it. My dad thought I'd dropped it into the ocean but we looked all over the ship. I was so relieved when I found it."
He's a little overwhelmed at the confession. He could have never imagined that the necklace would have mattered so much to her.
"I, I'm glad I guess. That you liked it," he tells her.
When they're lying in bed together, his fingers play with the cool metallic chain.
"I'm sorry I wasn't there for you when Johnny died," he admits to her, his voice soft and delicate.
He can feel the faint shrug of her shoulder.
"You tried. I pushed you away," she replies plainly.
"I didn't try very hard."
"You were fed up. I don't blame you."
"Did you blame me then?"
His eyes peer into hers, deep and intent.
"Maybe a little," she replies truthfully. "Mostly I was just sad."
She hears his pained sigh, filled with the weight of regret.
"I think sometimes that maybe if I hadn't given up on us then, we wouldn't have wasted all this time."
"Ryan," Marissa places a calming hand on his chest. "Sometimes, things happen for a reason. If we had been together, I would have never left Newport. And I think I needed to, and we needed the space and time apart. We're better for it."
"You think so?"
"Yeah. When I think back to those years, there are things which I wish we could have avoided. But it is what it is. We can't keep litigating the past."
He looks at her with awestruck fondness. So much so that she can't help but blush.
"What?" she questions at his probing gaze.
"I'm just thinking about how much you've changed since high school," he admits.
"It's called growing up," she lightheartedly remarks. "And having a good therapist helps."
He smiles back, mind drifting to the last time they had this conversation.
"I tried," he says weakly. He knows that she wants him to try harder.
"Once," Marissa points out, though not unkindly. She places her hand on his, stilling it as it toys with her necklace. "I know it's hard, the first time especially. It feels awkward and uncomfortable. But then, eventually, you realise that it's helping."
She can sense his quiet frustration as she speaks. She wants him to try, for himself as much as for their relationship. It's always been their fatal flaw: their failure to communicate. But she doesn't want to ruin tonight with a fight.
So she tells him gently, "Think about it."
He smiles sheepishly and kisses her in a move to close the conversation. She's a little disappointed he won't give this more thought. But then his lips are on her chest, tracing the outline of her necklace with such reverence. And she remembers how his face had lit up at the realisation she had kept it all these years. Well, fuck, she really just wants to enjoy this moment right now.
In the morning, as she's pouring him a cup of coffee, he eyes her self-consciously.
"Can I ask you something?"
"Do you ever think about Johnny?" he asks and hopes that he doesn't sound as anxious as he suddenly feels.
A glimmer of curiosity flashes across her face before she recovers to an even expression.
"Sometimes, yeah" she answers honestly. He nods in understanding. It makes sense, he thinks. She wouldn't just forget, he reasons, even as the knot in his stomach grows.
"I mostly feel guilty," she explains. His eyes shoot up in surprise.
"It wasn't your fault," he says immediately.
"I know, I'm getting better at seeing that. I'm a lot better at not letting it overwhelm me. But sometimes, I can't help it. Whatever way you cut it, I kind of ruined his life," she confesses.
"Marissa," he consoles warmly. He thinks maybe he should have never brought this up. "You are not responsible for his actions."
"I am responsible for my own. I let that whole situation be confused for longer than it needed to be. I hurt him, I hurt you."
He gives her an apologetic look. He wants her to know he isn't mad. Even back then it had really been anger masking a deeper sadness and heartbreak.
"You were confused, I get it," he tries to reassure her.
"No, actually. I was never really confused about how I felt. Or at least-" She stops for a moment, makes sure to give him a severe look so that he truly understands. And she hopes that this isn't news to him but it's worth repeating. "It was never a choice. It was always you, always going to be you. I just thought I could have you, and have him as a friend. And that was stupid and, most of all, unfair to you both."
He gets up from his seat and moves to stand behind her, his arms encircling her into a hug. It's understanding and forgiveness and gratitude.
"What happened to not litigating the past," he jokes when he sees her eyes are a little tear-stained.
"You asked," she says lightly with a pout.
"I know. I'm sorry for bringing all of this up," he says, hugging her tighter.
"It's okay. I'm glad we had this talk," she tells him, resting her head against his chest. "I just wish it didn't end the way it did."
"I know, I wish that too," he murmurs back. Her hand grips his, squeezing it affectionately.
. . .
He walks into his room and finds her sprawled on his bed. A copy of Ulysses lies by her side, her eyes shut as her breathing falls steadily.
He takes off his jacket, and sits next to her. He's smiling fondly, when she wakes.
"Hey," he says softly, leaning forward to kiss her forehead. "How was Joyce?" he asks, referring to the forgotten book by her side.
"Thrilling," she replies sarcastically. He laughs and she curls into his side.
"How was work?"
"Fine. I'm sorry for cancelling. The deadlines got moved forward and everyone was stressed-"
"Ryan, it's okay."
"You didn't have to come all the way over here."
"I wanted to see you."
"Yeah?" he teases, brushing his nose against hers. "I'm glad you came. We still need to celebrate you getting published."
"Published in a magazine which no one reads except for hipsters in Brooklyn," she amends.
"Seth said it's the second coming of The New Yorker."
"Mmm, Seth loves to exaggerate," she reminds him.
"Still," Ryan says sweetly, "I'm proud of you."
She smiles back with equal affection, hugs him a little tighter.
"Oh, I brought this." Marissa grabs a patisserie box sitting on his bedside table. "I figured that even though we didn't manage dinner together, we could have dessert."
There's something about the moment. The two of them sitting on his bed, making idle chit chat and sharing a slice of cheesecake between them. It's a feeling of contentment that's only ever been fleeting between them. But right now it's permanent. He's so perfectly happy and he knows she's a huge reason why.
"I love you," he tells her. It's an admission which in many ways has been implicit between them for the past four months. It's also something that they haven't told each other in almost five years.
It's a relief when she grins back at him.
"I love you too," she says, reaching for another spoonful of cheesecake.
He watches her lick her spoon clean, his face struggling to contain his beaming smile.
. . .
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. She's going to kill me, he thinks, waiting outside her door.
When she opens it, he sees shock, then concern mixed with cautious fury.
"What happened?" she questions, taking in his bloodied nose and bruised face.
Before he can speak, his friend jumps in.
"It's nothing. These guys were hassling us at the bar, it got a little out of hand," he tells Marissa, an easy smile on his face. Bet that usually does wonders for him, Ryan thinks, even as the suspicion on Marissa's face hasn't diminished.
"I dropped my keys there and they wouldn't let us back in, so, yeah. I can't get home," Ryan mumbles in explanation.
Her gaze flickers between the two men, letting out a frustrated sigh as she motions for him to come inside.
When they're finally alone, the silence is suffocating. He waits for her to speak and she waits for him.
Of course, she breaks first.
"What happened?" she asks again. "Seriously this time."
"Marissa, can we not do this right now?"
"No, we're doing it."
He rubs his hand against his face. His head fucking hurts. His body fucking aches.
"I really need a break," he tells her. He sees the hesitation in her, the momentary contemplation to let things pass.
"You need to give me something."
"Look, at least can I take a shower first?"
"Fine," she agrees. "But figure out what you're going to tell me."
When he steps out of the bathroom, he sees that she's laid out the spare shirt and sweats he keeps at her place. A small smile forms involuntarily across his face.
He finds her sitting at her sofa, her hands passing an ice pack back and forth. He moves silently to sit next to her. When he does, she faces him and equally silently, applies the ice pack.
After a while, when his face feels more numb, he says a quiet thanks.
"What's going on?" she asks, more gently than before.
He leans back into the sofa, his earlier frustrations from the day resurfacing.
"Trey called me."
"Trey?" She looks disbelieving. "How did he even get your number?"
"My mom thought it was a good idea to give it to him."
"I probably shouldn't have given it to her in the first place."
"What does he want?"
Ryan shrugs. "The usual. Help. Money."
"What did you say?"
Ryan sighs. He's really not sure how she's going to take this.
"That I would think about it."
She's quiet in return, more contemplative rather than upset. He wants to check if she's ok with this, the fact that Trey's even remotely back in his life. She speaks before he can.
"So Trey pissed you off and you took it out on some jerks at the bar," she states.
"Pretty much," he confirms. "It was a mistake, I know."
He thinks that maybe he's going to get another reprimand. But she reaches for his hand, presses his knuckles against her lips in acknowledgement.
"Let's get some sleep," she tells him.
In the morning, he decides to take a sick day. She's the one who pushes him to. You're terrible at lying and you can't go in looking like that, she had told him, sounding remarkably like her mother.
As they sit in her kitchen, sharing coffee and bagels, he wonders where to start the conversation.
"I'm not letting Trey back into my life," he announces to her.
She glances up from the arts and leisure section of the morning's New York Times, and looks at him in surprise.
"I'm not asking you to do that," she says slowly.
"I don't want him in my life," Ryan reiterates. "It's the right choice."
"So, you're not going to give him the money?"
At that, Ryan looks lost.
"It would be easier not to, to just keep him entirely out of my life. But if the money keeps him from doing something stupid, then…"
"How much does he want?"
"Around three grand."
"What do you think I should do?" he asks.
"I honestly don't know," Marissa replies apologetically. "Do you think the money's all he wants?"
"What else could there be?"
She shrugs. "Maybe he's also looking for a way to reconnect."
Ryan contemplates the possibility. He replays their phone call in his mind. It had been brief but Trey had tried for a little small talk. He had asked about his life and Ryan remembers thinking about Marissa and the anger which had almost boiled over.
"That's never going to happen," he says quietly.
She reaches for his hand, holds his fingers for a moment.
"You don't need to decide right now. But you don't owe him anything. Not after everything he has done to you. God knows, he doesn't deserve you as a brother."
They go together to collect his keys from the bar. She insists on joining him, despite his protestations. Once there, the manager very unhelpfully tells Marissa that he's lucky the guy was too coked out to consider pressing charges. He can see the concerns instantly flying in Marissa's mind.
"This cannot keep happening," she scolds him when they're back at his apartment.
"It's not a big deal. It was one night," he defends.
"What about last month? When we were out and that guy kept trying to buy me a drink."
"Ryan, you were this close to punching him. I had to drag you out of there."
"He was a fucking asshole. He should have never touched you."
"Well this city's full of fucking assholes. Are you going to punch all of them?"
"What do you want me to do, Marissa? You want me to stand there and watch while some jerk tries to feel you up."
"Honestly, yes," she bursts out. He looks at her with his mouth wide open, evidently aghast. "You need to trust that I can take care of myself. If I can't, I'll come to you."
He shakes his head, unable to comprehend. "I get that, but Marissa, I can't just stand there."
"Then you need to learn," she tells him.
"What the fuck does that mean?"
"Yes, that guy was a dick. And yeah, he shouldn't have grabbed my arm, but you can't get so…" Marissa finds herself floundering, afraid to say the wrong thing.
"Get so what?"
"Have you ever considered why you want to punch these guys so badly?" she tries instead.
"It's not about that."
"It's really not that complicated. If these guys weren't such jerks, it wouldn't be an issue."
She gives him a pained look, willing him to understand.
"I want you to give therapy a serious try," she tells him.
"Talking to a stranger about my feelings, my past, it's not going to work for me, Marissa. I'm glad it's helped you, I really am but it's not for me. I mean look at us. It took me years to open up to just you."
She reaches out an arm, her hand gently squeezing his bicep in a peace offering.
"I'm saying this because I know how much you have changed. I really think if you went in there with an open mind, you would find it helpful.
"Marissa," Ryan's about to protest.
"Please, just try one more time. For me," she pleads.
He looks down, gripped by hesitation. Every impulse says no. But she's asking him so earnestly, begging him really.
So he says yes.
. . .
"Thank you," he tells her one afternoon, three months later.
"I was wrong about therapy. It's, um, it gives a lot of perspective, you know?"
Marissa smiles at him, moving to hug him.
"I know," she tells him softly.
. . .
"Are you sure about this?" she asks.
"Yeah, of course," he says, straightening his tie in the mirror. He turns to face his girlfriend, hands falling easily on her waist. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"Plus ones at office Christmas parties, it's usually meant for wives, partners, long-term girlfriends…"
"If you count high school, we have been together a long time. Longer than most," he points out. Lately, even their four year absence from each other's lives during college is starting to feel like only a momentary lapse in their relationship.
"You know what I mean. There will be important people at this party. You only want to introduce a serious girlfriend to them."
"Are you saying we aren't serious?' he teases.
"No, of course we are. But there's serious and then there's serious, you know?"
"Well, I think we're serious, don't you?" Ryan's still smiling, and his eyes are warm, but she catches the trace of vulnerability in his voice.
"Yeah, we're serious," she affirms, her heart fluttering as she does.
"You were amazing tonight," Ryan murmurs to Marissa, his mouth covering hers when they get inside the cab.
Marissa laughs at his excitement, finding it unwarranted. "It's just small talk."
"It's a skill," he points out.
"One of the few perks of being raised by Julie Cooper," Marissa jokes.
"Maybe I should thank her because they really loved you. And if you hadn't been there, I definitely wouldn't have ended up speaking to John," Ryan says, referring to one of the senior partners at his firm.
"I'm sure he would have noticed you."
"We both know I'm terrible at the whole networking thing."
"But you're a great architect."
He smiles ruefully, moving to kiss her again.
"I can't wait to make this up to you," he whispers into her ear.
. . .
"You should go," she tells him earnestly.
"It's six months in Germany."
"It will be fine."
"It's not like I could visit on weekends or even every month. It would be six months of not seeing each other."
"We will be fine," she repeats. "We're not kids anymore."
"Marissa, long distance, it's tough on couples." Ryan's voice is weary and filled with trepidation.
"We'll skype. We'll call. We'll make it work," she returns with unmatched confidence. Does he really have no faith in them? She wants to ask.
Ryan sighs, curses in frustration.
"Six months is a long time."
"It's really not in the grand scheme of things."
At the scornful look on his face, she finally reaches a breaking point.
"Seriously, what are you so worried about?"
"It's not-" How the fuck does he explain himself?
"What is it, Ryan? Do you think I'll cheat on you or something?"
"No! Jesus, fuck, you're putting words into my mouth now."
"Then tell me what you're thinking," she nearly screams.
When he's silent in answer, she walks out of the room, slamming their bedroom door shut.
The next night when she comes home from work, she finds him sitting on their balcony with a solitary beer and cigarette. She walks up wordlessly, reaches for the cigarette hanging on his fingertips and stubs it out.
"You're meant to have quit," she reminds him.
"A lot on my mind," he mumbles in return.
She kneels down next to him, takes his hands into her own.
"I hate the idea of spending six months away from you. But this opportunity will be great for your career, and it might not come again. So you need to take it. I'm always going to be here."
"I don't want to ruin what we have," he confides.
"It won't," she insists.
"What we have now, these last two and a half years, it's been amazing. My life right now, you, my job, it's pretty much everything I wanted after I came to Newport. I don't want to risk losing it."
"Ryan, you didn't bust your ass for four years at Berkeley to settle for the first job out of college. I know you want more, you just need to go for it."
There's truth in her words, even though he's reluctant to see it.
"You can't come with me, can you?" he asks, even as he knows her answer.
"I can't, not without losing my job."
"I know. I don't want you to do that. I just, I don't want to lose you."
"You have me, okay. I love you and that's not going to change. Ever."
He feels the weight of her words, and the strength of her commitment. Fucking hell, he thinks. He's truly madly irrevocably in love with this woman.
He kisses her on impulse and she knows his answer without him saying it.
He's going to Germany.
. . .
They're lying on the rooftop of their apartment building, a couple of blankets strewn around them. There's two empty wine glasses and half a bottle of Merlot left. They intertwine their fingers together and look up at the night sky.
"Did you ever imagine this being our future?" he muses out loud.
"You and me. Together." There's a huge smile on his face precisely at the word together.
She chuckles lightly and smiles softly back.
"I was counting on it," she tells him.