Things Which Seth Cohen is Abundantly Familiar With:
1. Screwing up his personal relationships in new and inventive ways.
2. Being in a romantic relationship, and then losing it.
3. Walking away from people he's not ready to walk away from.
Things Which Seth Cohen Is Not So Familiar With:
1. Being the one to do the breaking up with someone.
2. Screwing up this much in the space of one year. It's like a record.
3. Ryan's hand on his shoulder. Not like Ryan never touches him (does that sound wrong, or is it just Seth? Just him then, okay.), but they're almost to the car. Alex has closed the door, and Ryan's hand is still on his shoulder, squeezing a little. Clutching, kind of, like he's the one that needs comforting, not Seth. This is possible. Okay.
"Dude, I'll drive," Seth says. He knows something is wrong when Ryan just hands over the keys. Not that things would be not wrong, that is, because tonight's been kind of a long night, but Ryan's in the car now, leaning back against the seat, his eyes closed. He doesn't even say anything when Seth switches Journey out of the CD player and puts on The Postal Service.
So Ryan has Lindsey, and Seth has no one, which is cool. Seth is really good at having no one; he's had a lot of practice, after all. Seth has Ben Gibbard, he doesn't need a girlfriend. Which, okay, that totally came out wrong in Seth's head. Maybe the next step was hooking up with a guy.
Seth looked over at Ryan. Oh yeah, good plan. If there was ever a time to think about Ryan that way, this was clearly the ideal time. Shut up, let's pretend he's never thought about Ryan that way before. For the sake of argument. The argument that Seth is having with himself. Again.
He pulls into the driveway, and they both head inside to the kitchen. Ryan gets the leftovers from the fridge, passing the dumplings to Seth and cracking open the leftover pad thai. They sit and eat in silence. It lasts approximately a minute and a half.
"Okay, I'm going to say something."
"Nice to have a warning," Ryan says. He doesn't stop eating. His hair is still a little damp and salt-tangled from the sea. Seth wants to reach over and drag the strands through his fingers. Seriously, excellent timing, man.
"You could have told me about Alex before. I can handle these things, you know." Seth grabs another dumpling, to keep his hands occupied.
"I could tell by the way you freaked out and ran over there."
"Yeah well, that's what I do. I freak out. It doesn't mean I don't deserve the truth."
"I just didn't want you getting hurt, okay?" Ryan sets his fork down with a clatter.
"Hey, you know, a guy gets used to it. I've had practice."
"So I'm out another girlfriend. It's no big deal." Seth, you're a liar. You're a liar, and you suck at it.
"You've still got Zack."
"That's very funny," Seth says, then, as an afterthought, "Zack's got Summer."
"You've still got me."
"No, Lindsey has you."
"What, am I public property now?"
"Technically that would make you private property."
"No you don't. You banter as a self-defense mechanism, it's automatic."
"Thank you, Dr. Atwood. Banter is the only language I speak, please don't try and make me learn another one. Sincerity doesn't work for me, I get the accents all wrong."
"I'm going to bed." Ryan stands up and takes his pad thai back to the refrigerator.
"I thought you wanted to talk."
"Hey, look, come on-" Seth says as he follows him out to the pool house. He grabs Ryan's shoulder, but maybe only Ryan can do that because he's suddenly backed up against the door in the cold January air. Ryan's got a fistful of Seth's shirt and he's close, closer than he usually stands. (Things Which Seth Cohen Is Not So Familiar With, #4: Having an actual, tangible moment with Ryan, one that he can freeze frame and go, Yes, this is different than how things usually are with us.)
"I thought Lindsey had drowned out there," Ryan says, his voice low. For Seth, only, and he's so close. Seth can feel his heart pounding against Ryan's knuckles. "I just want her to be safe. And you. You don't need to be with people that are going to hurt you."
"That's what people do, Ryan." Seth's mouth is dry. He wonders how he's managing to speak at all.
"Well they shouldn't do it to you."
"I agree," Seth says, nodding, and it's really awesome how he has any measure of self-control right now, how he's not leaning into Ryan and doing what he's been wanting to do since they first met.
"I don't want to hurt you. Or Lindsey. Or anybody."
"That's very noble," Seth says, and then he stops speaking because Ryan's mouth is pressed against his, warm and tasting a little like saltwater, and. Oh. This is what Ryan meant, obviously, because it hurts. It's so good it's like Ryan has reached inside Seth's chest and taken out his heart, and when he gives it back, Seth's pretty sure it'll be different. Bruised. If he ever gives it back at all. If Seth would even take it, if he did.
Ryan's hand is warm against Seth's jaw. He's a really good kisser, which is either a value judgment on his technique or a symptom of the fact that Seth has never been kissed by someone he's wanted this much. Not even Summer. Summer, who used to be his girlfriend, like Lindsey is Ryan's girlfriend, and Seth should stop. He's not going to stop. He doesn't care. Or he does, but just. Not enough to ever stop this.
"I'm sorry," Ryan says. He breaks away, releasing Seth and pushing him away a little. "I'm sorry," Ryan says again, and he walks away, into the pool house. Shuts the door, and leaves Seth staring.
It's cold outside, and Seth is burning. It's all beneath his skin, and his head hurts, and his lips taste of salt and there's an ache in his lungs like he hasn't been breathing. He's forgotten Alex, he's forgotten Summer, but he can't forget Lindsey, and he sure as hell won't forget Ryan. Ryan, who said he didn't want to hurt Seth, and did. Seth walks back inside the house.
Ryan always has the best of intentions. It's in the execution where he tends to go wrong.