shallowness: Margaret Hale of North and South adaptation sitting at desk writing (Margaret North and South writing)
[personal profile] shallowness
Title: On the outside, moving in.
Fandom: The O.C.
Pairings: Ryan/Anna, Seth/Summer.
Rated: PG-13 (about what you’d get on the show)
Word count: 3,322.
First posted: March 2006
Summary: It’s not the first time that both Ryan and Anna have been outsiders, so they know how to deal with it differently.

Notes: Futurefic (written having seen season 2 only). This was largely the result of my watching season 1 on DVD. With thanks to lusmeitli and FridayAngel for the beta, all errors and idiocies are mine. [Edited in April 2017.]



On the outside, moving in: shallowness


The training of all the Newport parties he's attended couldn't prepare him for this. Weird music filling linked function rooms in a better-than-respectable hotel; white rappers yelling over industrial rock in a way that’s long over in the outside world; guy after guy with a snarky caption on a t-shirt under a jacket, each trying to out-talk the other about the Golden Surf Age whatever. Whenever Ryan tries to duck out, he can't. There are no quiet corners, the geeks—no, the very important comic book industry people, have colonized them. Nobody stands in the middle of any of the rooms, whatever their size. Just in the way.

"Sorry," Ryan mutters again, trying to get back to the table of drinks. He's out of Summer's eyeline, figuring she can keep her attention on Seth, fêted author, established star, danger to his own livelihood. Ryan, on the other hand, is fine on that count, he doesn't know anyone, has gleaned enough from Seth over the years to know that he'd be out of his depth in most discussions. But he doesn't need babysitting. His latest break-up, which he knows Summer is worrying about, was more of a relief than anything, and it's going to be good to spend the weekend with the Cohens, at some point. Ryan just has to get through this night of—

"Hell, in my opinion, they never knew what a good thing they had going with the Birds of Prey adaptation."

"Right." Ryan frowns at the word. First of all, it's spoke by a woman, which is kinda shocking here. Second, he recognizes that voice, breathy but steely. "That's very sweet, but I think you have me mixed up with someone else."

Ryan doesn't, and he revolves slowly to see her, Anna Stern, excusing herself and smiling a definite goodbye in someone else’s direction. Her hair's longer and a different shade of blonde. Her clothes are still kooky, but the look suits her, as do the extra years since he saw her last. She's backing off from the intense guy who was talking to her, who looks like literally frothing at the mouth wouldn't be a stretch for him, and Ryan can't blame her for it.

He gives her a chance to get some distance away, just using a glower to clear his path to follow her.

"Hey, Anna!" he calls, and her head snaps in his direction. Her reaction is instant – her jaw drops, then her mouth comes back up to form a smile. A genuine smile with no strain to it and they move towards each other— there's plenty of space as they’re in the middle of the room.

"I didn't know you were going to be here—" they both say, stop and laugh, and she hugs him, clinging a little longer than the ussual hug between old friends, but it's just to the degree of old friends who are glad to see each other. He waits until she moves to release his hold of her.

"I let Summer know that I might be coming—"

“You guys still in touch?" Ryan asks.

"Sure," Anna nods. "We're both pretty bad at it, but every so often there'll be a Golden Girls rerun and we'll think to call each other."

"It was just—the wedding," Ryan says.

She smiles and shakes her head, brown eyes pretty and mischievous.

"I genuinely couldn't make it. You?"

"Best man," he said, and she laughs, making him grin that she got it.

"I meant what are you doing here," she replies in an 'and you know it' voice. It's almost flirty, he realizes. Perhaps it is flirty. She isn’t a teenager and she isn’t Seth’s Anna any more.

"'You'll love the hotel, you need the break, Seth wants witnesses for signing the new contract and getting the check',“ he quotes, and then explains. “Basically, Summer wants me here to keep between him and all the struggling artists who want to hit him up. Ah."

A shadow has passed over her face, and he notices because he's been watching her pretty intently, tracing the changes of the past few years. Plus, there's nothing else he wants to look at for too long in this room.

She smiles again, the brilliant covering-it-up smile that she was plying back when they were teens and Seth was stomping over her heart.

"It's bad when I do the talking thing," he says gruffly.

"No. This is great for Seth. Really, he deserves it," her smile is less forced, but she's talking really fast. "His novels have been amazing. He's talented and he's got a real respect for the history and you can tell. Seth Cohen deserves every success he gets."

"But?" Ryan insists.

She shakes her head a little, "I need a drink."

And Ryan's learned to play the gentleman, so he says, "I think I know where we can get some."

"Lead on, Atwood," she replies, laying her hand on his arm, and for a second he wonders if she's feeling up his muscles, although it could be that she doesn't want to lose him when they go back into the mix. Ryan leads the way, weaving past guys who are like alternate versions of Seth: some ranting, some shuffling awkwardly. And most of them are out of their adolescence. There's a Zach or two in their midst, but few women. Anna would stand out in this crowd even if her skirt didn't cling a little to her hips, or her earrings didn't catch the light.

The selection available isn't great, bottles of beer and some kind of punch that's a reddish hue. It smells disturbing. So. they both pick the beer. They chink the necks of their bottles together and exchange tentative smiles.

"I'm not jealous, exactly," Anna says, trusting him to follow her thread. "But I'm never going to get the chances that he got."

Ryan can't say anything, so doesn't—just looks at her to encourage her to continue.

"Don't get me wrong. I'm published, but it's not mainstream. I'm never going to get picked up by the big publishers, unless if I put up with Neanderthal crap, and even then, it won't have been purely based on my talent and work." She swigs her beer and Ryan doesn't know what to say. He makes a few starts in his head.

"You're talented, though," he settles on. "Seth always said that.”

She smiles for a second.

"He was the first person I'd finished something for. When I got back to Pittsburgh, I couldn't stop. I was unblocked. It felt like being free."

He nods, thinking about every time that he's working on a design for a house, the growing rush as the details come together and he knows for sure how he's going to turn his first sketch into reality.

"Which is why I kind of ignore my parents and my aunt and uncle when they say I should give it up and do something a little better remunerated." The acid in her voice reminds him that she was presented into Newport society. "But I guess you don't have that, Mr. and Mrs. Cohen always seemed so supportive."

"Yeah, they are." Ryan allows himself a smile. And they’re proud of him and Seth. Kirsten was only restrained from coming with them by Ryan promising to record tomorrow's check-signing for her. Seth's claim that it would be deeply humiliating hadn't been enough.

"And they're well?" Anna asks, the mischief back in her eyes.

"Great." He stares at her. "What?"

"So, it's going to be like this - I talk, a little much, and you... You don't. I forgot that about you."

He gives her his wickedest look, definitely flirting, and like all women she laughs at it, only it's more a gurgle than a giggle and he likes that.

"Okay, be strong and silent." He's not sure where's she's going next and doesn't find out.

"There you are." It's Summer, and Seth is behind her. There's exclaiming over Anna and a round of hugs, and Seth has to tell them all that everyone seems to have missed out on the satire in his work.

"The Ironist—that's my signature character, you guys, but do they pay any attention?" Summer is rolling her eyes at him, and he catches her at it. "You could try letting me explain it to them."

"Cohen, we talked about this. You don't want to talk your way out of a pay check," his wife says, and he subsides. For three seconds.

"So, Anna, your new series is doing great."

She beams, "Thanks."

"Summer sent the first issue to Lindsay—who you wouldn't know, though you may remember hearing a little something about me having a fractional aunt I never knew about, who's younger than the aunts I did have, so adjustments were—hey, Hailey—excellent Chrismukkah present. You think?"

"No," both Summer and Ryan say. Seth widens his arms in mock surrender, and Ryan hears Anna's gurgle again. He never noticed her quite this much before. But then there aren’t as many distractions tonight. Maybe she's not the one who's changed, maybe it's him.

"It worked for Lindsay because of the cool scientist chick angle. I don't think Hailey's ever taken in your ‘graphic novels, not comic books’ lectures," Summer says definitively. "No offence, Anna."

"None taken, I can't believe you gave someone a copy of Destiny Rides Again," Anna says, obviously touched.

"No," Seth says grandiosely. "We bought an extra copy and gave it to them. Store's changed a lot since you were in Newport Beach."

"Tell me," Anna urges, and it's the sort of conversation that rolls over Ryan, like Sandy on surfing or his ex about shoes or anything, really, but it's okay, because watching Anna glow in nostalgia makes up for it. He drinks some beer and grins and laughs when he should, because he heard Seth the first time around when he noted all these changes.

"Okay, time's up. We have more mingling to do," Summer says insistently. "We'll catch up tomorrow, right, Anna?"

"Oh, definitely." The girls hug again, and Seth makes some kind of face at Ryan, which he stonewalls.

"Do you have to mingle?" Ryan asks Anna, as soon as they're gone, Summer issuing orders about appropriate conversation topics.

"Not really," she shakes her head, turning back to look at him. "Another drink or two and it'll be more a case of fending off passes... What?"

"I was going to suggest we go to the hotel bar," he explains the giveaway face he just made, because this is exactly that—a pass.

"Okay," she just says, and they smile at each other again, in the middle of the room, about to get out, because they don't really belong.

* * *

"They can hear that sigh of relief back in the function rooms," Anna teases as they step into the hotel bar. Ryan can't help feeling more comfortable here - there's better lighting, the conversations are less intense and more likely to be about actual life and death. Most importantly, there's a wider selection of alcohol. So, he just gives her a look and Anna grins, walking from him and up to the bar with no nonsense. It's his turn to grin, guessing she just managed to keep her own sigh of relief quieter.

There's a mirror behind the glasses and bottles on the other side of the bar. He watches himself walk up to her confidently, but she doesn't notice, as she's trying to catch the bartender's eye.

"Thirsty?" he teases her, surprised that he gets so close to her ear, pleased as he catches the perfume she's wearing. It’s different to any he’s ever bought for a girl, spicier.

"Yes," she replies, almost unfazed, but Ryan knows to look for the tell-tale pulse. "Uh, excuse me—“ and she orders a Belgian make of beer, which impresses Ryan. It's a better range than what was on offer back at the reception. He tells the bartender to make it two, and he can tell from her profile that she's proud of herself.

"So," she says, lips pursed together, "this your first time to one of Seth's industry dos?"

"For the whole weekend, yeah," he admits.

"Architects not so—"

"Freaky?" he suggests.

"Hey! On behalf of the tribe of comic book geek, I object!" But she's not serious, and raises the opened bottle of beer almost as soon as it's left in front of her. "To the old days and the ones to come."

"Let 'em be good," he finishes for her, looking into her eyes, pretending it's a tradition when you share a toast with someone.

And then they have to decide who pays.

* * *

There are no stools by the bar, but they stay there instead of moving to a table, and that means that neither of them is expecting to stay there long. Ryan pretends that he isn't thinking that far ahead, but it's hard when Anna shrugs off her jacket, and though the silver and white top underneath covers up to her neck, her arms and shoulders are bare. Now he's the one who wants to touch.

When he looks back up, she's looking at the mirror, watching him stare at her. He doesn't smile, doesn't breathe for a while.

She sounds different when she speaks next.

"I'm sorry about Marissa." It's been a while since he heard those words, so he doesn't quite have the response down pat. He just nods. They tried too hard to make things okay when they weren't, and the last time everything snapped, getting back to okay was beyond them. Mostly, life went on.

"You?" he's not sure what he's asking. The way she's been responding to him tells him already that there isn't anybody in her life right now.

"There was a guy in Pittsburgh, a guy in New York," she says. "Nothing too..." she clears her throat, "intense. Only sometimes, that doesn't seem like such a good thing."

He remembers a gunshot, sirens, way too much crying.

“Trust me, it is.” And he catches her ambivalent expression from the corner of his eyes. Before he can do more than open his lips, she’s leaning forward at the bar, waving for another beer, and that chance to convince her is gone.

She talks lightly, about her editor, her housemate, and how she ended up in New York through university and now she’s in Venice, L.A. Ryan remembers when Seth believed she was a doppelganger of him, and it doesn’t seem like it could be true. Anna’s too much her own person. She made a life for herself that she’s eager and smart about; brave, too, because he can tell she’s been pushed away for who she is a lot of times. Though her life has never been in danger of being sucked down to the depths like if she were in Chino or Riverside, she’s had her own obstacles. He always admired what he saw of her, and now he finds himself liking who she’s become. More, he wants to push the earrings aside to nip at her neck, run his thumb up those bare arms and make her shiver.

But he answers her questions about Newport, laughs about the internal politics that come along with his job, how his apartment’s a refuge, the vastness of his ex’s shoe collection and throws a glance down at Anna’s feet.

“Oh, they’re not Manolos,” she laughs. “Not even close. You wear sensible shoes for events like this. Too many spills and too much standing around taught me that.”

“They look, uh, comfortable,” he says and she still laughs. He lets his eyes travel up, and he can’t help it, the view makes him say it. “I know what’d be more comfortable.” The laughter stops with a gulp. He’s raised the ante, and the rest is up to her.

* * *

The first kiss is sweet, surprising him as he’s reaching into his pocket for the key just outside his room. She’s almost a whisper on his lips, and he can smell her perfume as he almost tastes the beer. They both lean back and look surprised at each other, almost teenagers again.

“Why didn’t we ever…?” he asks.

“I was hung up on Seth,” she says wryly, “and you were a little tied up.”

“Maybe we shoulda—“ he says. She puts her hand on his wrist.

“We can now,” she then raises his hand, shaking it slightly so the keychain jangles. He likes her impatience, but he waits until the door is closed behind them to reach his arm assuredly around her, pinning her still, lips descending. This time it doesn’t stay sweet or chaste, as his tongue sweeps in, and they nibble, suck and make promises of more. He only breaks off to go lower, hearing her try to control her breathing with definite pride, as his free hand holds her earring away so that he can lavish her neck with attention.

“You taste good,” he whispers against her skin, and hears her drop the jacket and maybe her purse. All he knows now is that she’s embracing him, one hand ranging across his back, the other in his hair, and soon he is back to her lips, kissing off the gloss, being matched for intensity.

* * *

They are woken by the phone. Anna is looking at him, a glaze of sleep still in her eyes, like he’ll have his bearings. All that he knows is that this isn’t his own bed at home, but he likes it, because a naked Anna is mostly lying on top of him. He’d press her closer and explore the good morning he’s found himself in if only the phone would stop.

He kind of figures out where it is – to his right, which he decides means his left hand can go to keep Anna where she is, or maybe bring her closer. She cocks an eyebrow at him, he smiles back, and as if that’s explanation enough, she stills, digging one stabilizing elbow into the bed, on his side.

Trying to ignore all the skin on skin, Ryan picks up the phone.

“Hey.”

“Where are you, man?”

“Seth?”

“Missing out on breakfast, the meal of kings. It’s a feast. There’s twenty varieties of everything. Summer and I are just discussing what we want over a coffee and we need your guidance."

“Forgot how loud he was,” Anna whispers.

Ryan nods at her, letting his hand slip lower and lower down her back, enjoying the feel of her skin, and the reaction as she sinks closer to him. He could get lost in this staring match with her.

“Hunh? What’s that you say, Ryan? Is that a preference for pastries or cereals? Summer wants to go cooked, but—“

“I don’t care, man,” Ryan says, as Anna lowers her head to start kissing his chest. He almost grinds the words out. “I won’t be making breakfast.”

“Big night, huh?” Ryan thinks he hears Seth repeating his words. Maybe to someone else. But he can’t be sure. The sensation of Anna writhing about all over him has his whole attention, her wet mouth only teasing as she checks up that he hasn’t physically changed with the morning. His breathing must be hitching, because,

“Ryan! Do you have a girl with you? But there aren’t any girls here – what, Summer? Anna?”

Seth has got louder. Anna raises her head to stare at Ryan and his throat is dry.

“Tell Seth we’ll meet them later. Lunch, maybe, and tell him he’s really loud.”

“I heard that!”

“Good,” Ryan says, awake now, still taking Anna in with his eyes, nude in the golden morning light. The phone somehow goes back in place, before he rolls her around to make his own check that last night’s reunion was all he remembers it as being.

FIN

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