Disclaimer: I do not own the rights or characters of The O.C. If I did, things would certainly have gone a little differently.
This is an AU O.C. fic that begins at S02E14 - The Rainy Day Women - and splits off from there. I won't have terribly long author notes, and they will - primarily - if I can help it, be at the end of the fics. I am going to do my best to keep general character arcs, but this is probably going to be a long one, and things will be edited/changed from the television show or moved and timelines may not be as direct from this "episode" onwards.
Some lines have been taken from the aforementioned episode and I may well pick and choose throughout subsequent ones if I feel they are relevant to the story arc. I adore this couple but this plot bunny has been niggling in the back of my mind for quite some time and I feel as if it is high time I did something about it.
Updates will occur regularly, more so than I generally have before, but this is being posted on AO3, which will probably be updated first/with more regularity.
She can feel it in the air. The rain, days (or, perhaps, even weeks) away, taut in the air, like a burn on the tip of your tongue. The sinking, solid formation in the pit of her stomach, one that grows steadily, surely, with each passing second. The breeze that sways, a single, sweeping movement, concealing a lie that for a few short moments everything seems normal – bearable, in fact.
Of course, it isn't; no sooner does Kirsten swallow the bundle of nervousness, the insecurity, the unwavering doubts that wrack her body like an unshakeable fever, are they back, ten times as worse, the chills ricocheting like electricity, shooting up and down the length of her spine.
The bed is not really comfortable. It had been, once; there were mornings she had once never wished to leave, particularly with Sandy by her side – even now, twenty years on, the feelings had not changed.
Kirsten swallows, eyes closing slowly; the poison drip of tears closing around spongy eyelashes. Fingers clasp closer to covers and she knows, even from the time, the glaring blink of almost ten am screaming back at her in the early morning sun, that Sandy will be back soon, that he will find her like this and somehow find a way to blame her for it all.
(And just when did this happen, the wall? The impenetrable, bullet-proof guard of their relationship crumbling – doubt, where it had never been before, worming into the very foundations of their life, and pain, shouldering the worst of the bricks of their marriage.)
At the slightest change, the shift of stability in the air, Kirsten coddles the sheets closer; pulls them harsh, flush against her chest, and buries her face into the contours that emerge. Unwashed makeup stains the blue fabric and, this once, she does not care. It is as if her energy, once loud and ever-present, climbs and clings to the walls of her tears.
She doesn't look up as footsteps echo up the steps to their bedroom. Eyes peel open blearily as the weight shifts and a shadow covers the length of her body; they have been together for over twenty years; she knows Sandy.
(Or, she thought she did).
"Are you going to get up?"
His voice isn't harsh, isn't accusatory, but something in the softness of his tone riles the hairs on the back of her neck – drags, like sharp nails, and forces the tell-tale pinpricks to dominate the corners of her eyes once more.
"I like it here." She says, nonetheless surprised at the lack of empathy, the lack of sustenance. He shifts and she moves, watches the shadow of his hand hesitate a fraction of a second against covering her own – but Kirsten saves him the trouble, moves her hand away and closer into the folds of the sheets. The weight is back, the very sight of her husband pushing down like lead, and not only does it spur a new wave of tears she ferociously bites back (she will not cry in front of Sandy – not anymore) but it hastens the air in her lungs, forces it out faster than she can draw it in.
Sandy's tone is sadder when he speaks – adrift, almost, and Kirsten wants so badly to lose herself in the comfort of his arms but, no sooner does the thought cross her mind and the memories of years of marriage and a life soar back, does she imagine them, and her in his arms, and her in his heart and it crushes. Kirsten bites into her lip and stares blankly as he talks before she shifts and moves and turns away from her husband with a quip that isn't meant to be funny at all.
It isn't meant to be true.
Yet they are like strangers, and they scarcely speak and though it was once down to him she cannot shake the feeling of loneliness in his presence. He spent Valentines with her, not his wife, not Kirsten Cohen – and was that truly the deciding moment, the catalyst that set it all off? Sitting in a dress crying over someone who would rather be with –
Kirsten is about to open her mouth, to say something, to apologize again even though she does not quite know what she is apologizing for – when the phone rings, and her eyes close and the tears fall in black smears down her cheeks.
He says Rebecca, and the wound splinters and cracks open.
"Now I'm up."
Nausea sweeps as she grabs her robe, tossing the covers blindly and walking as she puts it on. Her pace quickens down the steps, far, far out of earshot as she hears Sandy saying stay – and Kirsten wants to ask: who are you talking to, here? But she knows, knows that he doesn't mean her. It is like both a dagger and a weight on her heart, in her chest, with every breath she takes, and the faster she walks away the harsher it pushes down until it is almost impossible to breathe at all.
The kitchen is empty as she pads barefoot into the room; a shadow clouds over the doorframe, heading out towards the pool house and Kirsten is grateful – a frightening yet not otherwise disregarding feeling, that she does not have to pretend to be okay in front of her children. Autopilot guides her towards the refrigerator, then the cupboard and an empty glass pulled from a higher shelf. Alcohol did not taste good, anymore; it felt like ash in her mouth, had done so ever since the wedding, a cataclysm of events that shook foundations she never even considered.
Cool glass touches scraped, chapped lips and she stops, just as red pools against lines drawn into flesh and she hurriedly flushes it down the sink. The bottle stows away and she swills the glass, swallows back the waves of sickness, leans against the counter with flat palms and closes her eyes, grits her teeth, bites back further tears and not because she doesn't want to allow herself to feel something other than the agony that replaces the very lifeblood of her existence but – because it is not safe. Reaching out in public did nothing; Sandy saw nothing, so it is better, she thinks, easier, to keep it to herself.
"Morning, Mom." Kirsten looks up, and there is panic in her eyes and she wonders if her son can see, wonders if he notices the red around her eyes and her lips and the curve of her shoulders moving inwards.
"Hey, sweetie – are you okay?"
Seth moves around the kitchen island and nods, and she realizes that he hasn't noticed – and unlike Sandy, Kirsten is glad.
"Yeah, I'm fine – can't stop for long, I have to – uh, go and find my boat."
She nods, a frown tugging the corners of her eyebrows together. "Find your boat?"
"Find, get – it's all relative, really, but it'll be fine. I hope." Seth moves towards the archway and pauses, one hand against the wall, and he turns back to face her; in that instant Kirsten pushes her shoulders back and stands up, tugging the robe a little tighter around her frame. "Are you okay?"
He has noticed. There is something in the abject terror of Seth's tone that pricks her eyes further. A smile creases unwilling lips and Kirsten bows her head marginally to one side. "Oh, I'm fine, Seth. A little under the weather. I'll just spend the day resting."
Seth hesitates and Kirsten draws in a sharp breath; the air disappears, and the room is suddenly a lot smaller, a lot less like home.
After a few more moments Seth nods, smiles, and leaves, and Kirsten exhales; the air is like arsenic in her lungs and she turns to the now clean glass and fills it with water. Her skin is aflame without the excuse of feeling hot and without the explicit, common sense reasoning of having a fever. One glance at the basket of bagels and crumbs makes her stomach catapult like a loose firework and she swallows uncomfortably, downing the rest of the water before another familiar and yet unwelcome voice echoes through the kitchen.
"Honey – I've got to –"
"Go." She interrupts hands on the counter, breathing unsteady. Eyes course raw as they stare out the window that, though open, shows nothing of the outside. What little energy she pulls from the liquid and from the subpar night's sleep concentrates on breathing.
In. Out. In. Out.
If she can breathe, she won't be sick.
"Kirsten…" He is sad, and as his voice trails and her eyes close she wishes more than anything that hurt and humiliation did not dominate the love that once bound them together.
"You don't need to explain, Sandy. Not anymore."
Spite rolls off her tongue. As she tries to remember how to breathe without being sick, as he leaves the room with naught but a sigh, she pictures them again, her husband and Rebecca, and she resents, for the very first time, the new life that grows within her that she cannot bear to tell him about.
If he isn't going to stay with her for her, she isn't going to blackmail him into it – not even with something that once would have been a highlight in their lives.