Oh, The Places You'll Go

Long Road to Walk On

Notes: Written for my It's Okay to Say 'I Love You' fest.

Seth stopped hugging Ryan after the Portland Summer Adventure of Deep And True Life Lessons (yeah, it's a long title--he's working on it). For a while there he pretended it was because of being mature and manly and all that stuff, but it wasn't, not really. He spent a lot of time with Luke's dad when Luke was out with Amanda, shooting the breeze and learning his way around the grill and the vagaries of human sexuality. Not that he and 'call me Carson' ever did anything because ewww, Luke's dad, but in between the instructions to flip the meat and wrap the corn there were conversations, things dropped here and there that showed Seth that Sandy Cohen was wrong--the world did not come in shades of grey, it came in the colors of the freaking rainbow. Okay, probably there was some gray in there, too, Seth couldn't be sure without exploring too deeply and he wasn't really up for that, not yet.

So then when Ryan showed up (in his gray t-shirt because irony had always been Seth Cohen's friend), and it was like the sun coming out in an Oregon rainstorm, Seth figured for his own sanity--and for everyone's around him--he should probably never hug Ryan again. He'd have to check with the lawyer in the family, but he was pretty sure there were probably some kind of false imprisonment laws about never letting someone out of a hug. Ever. Probably escalating to manslaughter with the breathlessness issues. Whatever. It was a problem: the potential killing of Ryan and the Surprise! You have Feelings for Your Best Friend Hallmark Moment both. Ergo, hugging was off the cards.

There were times he wanted to so badly that his hands itched and his arms ached from the lack of it. Times when Ryan's bruised face and bruised eyes made Seth want--need--to hold him close, even if only so he didn't have to see the pain any more. Times when Summer broke Seth's heart, or he hers, and he needed a space to curl up and be safe, be better. Other times when they made it through something spectacular--graduation, the earthquake, a whole Thanksgiving cooked by Kirsten with exactly no food-poisoning incidents--and a quick manly hug between manly men (well, between a manly man and Seth) would have been unremarked by anyone. All those times Seth talked himself down from, settling for a handshake, a shoulder nudge, silent support. All those times he secretly hated himself a little more.

"Shall we hug?" asks Ryan, and Seth thinks what's the harm? What's the harm? Summer is gone. Taylor is gone. They're going to be about as far apart as the continental states allow--not even Ryan can throw a punch that'll outreach the Midwest.

So they hug.

He plays it off. He has this one chance and he plays it off. It's like his Cohen genetic programming goes into full Sincerity Alert Mode complete with flashing lights and klaxons and a timer. He hits his head off the window of the taxi until the driver tells him he'll pay for the glass if he breaks it.

"Thank you for your kind concern for my health and well-being," says Seth.

"You're welcome," says the driver with a cheerful grin, and Seth can't tell if he's being oblivious or sarcastic. He decides to hate him on principle.

Seth hates going through security. The guards look at him funny and his pants almost always attempt to fall down without his belt on. Also, all those shoeless feet are not good times. So he loiters at a concession stand as long as he can--making a decision between Sourpatch Kids and Mike 'n' Ikes is a complicated process that needs time and thought. He doesn't realize that he's waiting, not until he hears, "Seth," and whirls around, nearly KO-ing some poor dreadlocked chick with his laptop bag. He drops the candy.

"Hey," he says. "You shouldn't- Is your flight-? Weren't you driving?"

Ryan pulls Seth's bag off his shoulder and puts it on the ground. "That was a crappy hug, Cohen."

"You think?"

"Not a passing grade."

"Huh. So what do you suggest?" Seth squints and tips his head to the side, trying his best to look totally cool about the fact that Ryan--Ryan--has followed him to the airport for what? Hugging practice? He's so not cool, though, insides churning like he's been spending way too long at Six Flags.

Ryan shrugs, and if you weren't looking for it, you'd miss the tiny smile that tips the corner of his lips up some angle previously undefined by mathematics. "Take it again."

"Okay," says Seth, fingertips tingling. He nods. "Okay."

Ryan full-out grins now. "Don't look so worried. There's no being held back in friend school."

Seth shakes his head, grinning too. He takes a step forward and suddenly there's Ryan, arms a tight band around Seth's back, chest pressed up against him, chin hooked over his shoulder. This time Seth doesn't pull away, doesn't pretend it's anything less than it is. Instead he wraps his arms around Ryan and hangs on for dear life, Ryan warm and solid under his hands. His mouth is at Ryan's ear level and it's almost nothing to turn his lips so they're almost brushing Ryan's skin and to say, "I love you."

"I love you, too, man," Ryan says into Seth's neck and Seth wants to laugh because there's no way Ryan means it the same way he does, and yet it almost doesn't matter. Without Ryan Atwood and his purely platonic love (and his Fists of Fury) there'd be no Seth Cohen--at least there wouldn't be this Seth Cohen--and Seth may have his issues, but he's mostly fond of this Seth Cohen, all in all.

He thinks he should probably let go now, but Ryan seems to be doing just great, no great gasps for breath, no calls for security, so he presses his cheek against Ryan's hair and holds on. "Extra credit," he says and feels Ryan's laugh through his whole body. He isn't going to remember this, how Ryan's hair is softer than he would have thought, how his skin smells, how his body feels strong and solid enough to withstand a thousand earthquakes. Those details are going to slip away whatever he does, so for once, Seth allows himself just to be in the moment.

"Top of the class," says Ryan, and Seth takes that as an indication to loosen his grip.

They step back, and Seth can't figure out where to put his arms, so he shoves them in his pockets. He feels...empty. Lost. Maybe he should have stuck to the no-hugging plan. He looks down at Ryan's scuffed sneakers and squints up through his eyelashes.

"I mean it," he says, because Summer is gone and Taylor is gone and soon he'll be gone and you only get rainbows when you bring on a storm. "I love you, Ryan."

And he doesn't know what sells it--the name, the admittedly-adorable eyelashes, the hoping-for-the-plaintive-side-of-whiny tone--but he sees it hit Ryan like a cloudburst.

"Seth," says Ryan, backing off a step, but reaching out so his hand is almost touching Seth's arm. "I don't-"

Seth rolls his shoulders. "Hey, man, it's cool. It's not like I expected- I just thought- You taught me to be brave, okay? Sometimes. When there's no actual physical pain involved. Although, huh, come to think of it, I might be having a heart attack right now."

"You're not having a heart attack, Cohen."

"I have a family history of heart disease. You don't know. I could be having a heart attack. Medic! Medic!" Seth clutches his heart. It's not right, attack or no attack. It's not right.

Ryan turns around and waves off some Good Samaritan who's hurrying over and Seth takes the opportunity to pick up his bags.

"So, I'll see you," he says, as Ryan turns back to him.

Ryan just stares.

"I will see you, right? I haven't broken some hitherto unknown to me adopted brother code or something, have I? Because I've been very good at the not-hugging thing and if you'd just let me fail the class this would never have happened and I could be sublimating via Kid Chino and you would be Berkleying it up with nothing to besmirch your rampant heterosexuality, so really, it's all your fault."

"You'll see me," says Ryan and he's smiling in a way Seth hasn't seen before and he has no idea what it means. He should probably check.

"Just before you kill me in my sleep?"

"Yes, Seth. Just before then."

"Good to know. See you then, Ryan. Fair warning, I'm working on my ninja skills."

He turns and starts to head for the security line.


He stops, but doesn't look back. He can't.

"I'll call you. I can't- I'll call you, okay?"

Seth raises a hand to acknowledge he's heard and walks on. He can feel Ryan's eyes on him the whole way. He really hopes his pants don't fall down.

He has a window seat. They fly through clouds most of the way, as they start to land the rain lashes against the window. Seth sighs. Ryan won't call; he won't know what to say. And then they'll meet back at the house for vacations, for Sophie's first birthday, for her second and third and fourth and he still won't know what to say because Seth opened his big mouth and ruined everything. He hits his head off the window. It's the other side so at least the bruises will even up.

When he touches down he turns his cell back on. He has three messages. Geez, mom, he thinks. We were delayed a half-hour. You think you could be less paranoid? He dials voicemail as he waits for the plane to clear, peering out of the window.

"Hey, Seth," says a familiar, well-loved voice. "So, I was thinking-"

Outside, the sodden tarmac glints like gold and Seth cranes his neck to see up into the sky.

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