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Title: Beyond the Sea
Author: Scrunchy
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: These folks ain't mine. I just can't seem to stop fiddlin' with 'em.
Notes: For The OC Flash Ficathon

I.

"Cohen!" Summer swerved around people in the hallway, pinballing towards him in flashes of shiny hair and white teeth.

Seth settled his bag across his chest and closed his locker.

"Summer?" He smiled as she came to a stop a scant few inches between them, oblivious that the concept of personal space existed at all.

"What are you doing this weekend?"

Seth's smile was the tentative grin of a man who knew the conversation to come was just as likely to end with him getting lucky as it was to end with him getting kicked in the shin.

"Ah. Um, I was ... well, there's this--" and how unfair was it that the fall of her smile smote the last of his anti-Summer tactics? "Nothing. I have no plans for this weekend."

"Great! I figured you wouldn't."

A lesser man would have taken offense. Seth half rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest.

"So, I was thinking -- you should take me sailing."

"You were? I should?" Get it together, Cohen. "I mean you were, that's awesome. I should. Let's ... let us do that then."

"Saturday?" Summer rested her hand on his arm, on his elbow where the sleeve of his T-shirt gave way to skin. He'd seen the girl nearly naked, clad only in the super-heroine garb of a million nerdy wet dreams, and the contact of her small hand against his elbow still made him stand up a little straighter, still made him wonder for a second how it came to pass that Summer Roberts not only was touching him, but how the hell his world had mutated to become a place where she even knew his name. Spoke to him. Knew his name!

"-- o'clock because before that I'll be out. Okay?" She was no longer touching him. This is what Seth noticed before that whole part where he'd evidently tapped out of reality to spend a few cerebral minutes in Summerville. She was scratching something down in pencil on the "Saturday" page of her leather planner.

"Yeah. What time?" she had probably just told him, and despite his best efforts, Seth could not read upside down.

"Ten."

No sneer, no eye roll, no "we just said ten, you idiot" -- a serious, even answer.

Seth suddenly wondered if this trip was, in fact, not a good idea after all, and instead was a complicated plan concocted by Summer and Anna to kill him for his--

Anna. Crap. Clearing this with her was going to be fun. Seth couldn't even be sure she'd spoken to Summer alone for more than ten minutes since the New Year's Eve incident led to his ad hoc choice of Anna over her. They definitely hadn't been plotting his demise together. At night, by candlelight, with blueprints and stealthy black berets. He leaned his head against his locker.

Mmm. Plotting. Together. Seth blinked and cursed his brain's hormonal treachery.

"I'll see you then." She backed away a few steps, smiling. Then she turned on one stylish heel and walked down the hall.

It was a credit to his good optical genes that Seth could watch her walk away for so long without blinking. It certainly had nothing to do with the fact that he'd just been blitz-attacked by his white whale. His slim, tanned, gorgeous white whale. He made a mental note to never, ever make that allusion in front of Summer. He had the suspicion that the literary value would probably be lost in her rush to pummel him.

***

Back at the house he dialed the first three digits of Anna's cell phone number. Then he hung up and sighed. When he heard the beep of the microwave, he jumped up and quickly ran downstairs. In the kitchen, Ryan was shaking popcorn out of the bag and into a bowl. Seth grabbed a handful and leaned against the counter.

"Got a problem, man."

"What else is new?" Ryan leaned on the counter across from Seth.

"Funny. And if you liked that, you're going to like the part where I tell you it's about Summer. And Anna."

Ryan cocked an eyebrow and held his hands up in front of him. He made a move to leave.

"No, see, it's funny." Seth grabbed the popcorn from the countertop and followed Ryan into the den.

"I'm willing to bet it's really not." Ryan sat heavily on the couch, slouching down low with his legs spread.

Seth set the bowl in front of him on the coffee table and sat near Ryan, one leg crossed under him.

"Okay, so -- me and Anna, not going so hot, right? The whole -- oh, hey, I'm dating me with boobs thing, that kind of threw me."

Ryan tossed a piece of popcorn into the air and caught it on his tongue.

"So there's that, my taciturn friend, but then there's the part where today Summer comes up to me and basically tells me we're going sailing this weekend."

"Wow."

"See? Now you're into it. How do I broach this with Anna?"

"You're going to go?"

"I don't have a choice, man! Listen -- can I just call Anna? Can I be all ... Casual Guy, and like, 'Hey, have fun in Pittsburgh this week; oh and just FYI, I'm going sailing with Summer'? She'll be cool with that."

"Sure. It's not like you have a history of duplicity when it comes to you three."

"Sarcasm. Nice look on you. Not helpful, though."

"Seth. You like Summer, you get Anna to help Summer like you. Anna likes you. Turns out you like Anna, too, but by the time everyone's on the same page, you realize you have to make a choice. And you don't. And that's why Summer got hurt, and why Anna's going to get hurt." Seth scowled. When Ryan spoke that much at a time, it wasn't without good reason.

"Seth, does Summer like you or is she just out to make sure you and Anna aren't together?"

He'd never thought of it that way.

"I didn't think so. Now I'm not sure. Thanks, buddy." He stood and shot Ryan a thumbs up as he backed away.

Back upstairs he spun the phone on his desk, mentally rehearsing what he could possibly say to Anna.

The phone rang under his hand and he cursed under his breath when the caller ID displayed Anna's home phone number.

"Hello?" He was timid, almost hoping it was Anna's mom -- just calling to say hi. Which she'd never done before, but wouldn't this be a great time to start?

"Hey!" Anna. Damn.

"Anna, it's ... Anna, hey."

"What's up? I wanted to know if you wanted to drive me to the airport later. This way I don't have to spring for cab money and I've always wanted to have a cute 'couple saying goodbye at the security checkpoint' moment."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah, well, it used to be saying goodbye at the gate, during boarding, but times being what they are--"

"What are they?"

"Indifferent."

"Bad?"

"Wicked."

Seth couldn't believe that, on the horizon, a breakup loomed for him and the only girl he knew who could go line for line with him in a Tom Stoppard dork-off.

"So," He cleared his throat, "any plans for while you're in the Pitt?"

"Well, I won't be calling it 'the Pitt', for sure. But not really -- I'll see some old friends, and hang with the fam. What about you? Are you going to sit around and brood with Ryan, or ... oooh, you could play some Grand Theft Auto with Luke! You know how he likes to kill those pedestrians."

"He sure does," deep breath, and do it quick -- that whole Band-Aid theory, "Hey, but I'm going to go sailing this weekend."

"Cool, have fun. It'll be good; things have been so crazy, you know? Alone time ... it'll be good."

"Yeah. About that. Summer is actually going to be coming with me."

"Ahhh."

"Okay, now -- don't be mad."

"Seth. I'm not mad. Chill."

"Okay, but ... you know she's trying to break us up."

"I do know that. But I also know you want to be her friend, and unless you give me a reason to believe that you're going to let her get between us -- there's no reason for me to be mad."

"Right. Except you're mad. I can hear it. The you being madness in your voice-"

"I'm not mad!" She really was a bad liar. Especially when shouting.

Seth's eyes were closed in the ensuing silence; he heard his mom come in the front door, heard her talking to Ryan. People never talk about the fact that Band-Aids pulled off fast take all sorts of skin and hair with them, and cause a considerable amount of pain.

"Maybe you shouldn't drive me to the airport."

"Anna. You know how messed up I am with you two."

"And that gives you a pass to jerk us both around?"

"There's a reason I couldn't choose between you, Anna."

"This isn't just about you."

"I know."

Glaciers moved in the time before she spoke again.

"I'm going to go now, Seth. I will ... we can talk more when I get back."

"Are we done, Anna?"

"Yeah, I have a plane to catch."

"No. Are we done?"

Seth could hear her sigh. He hated this.

"Yeah."

"Okay."

"Bye Seth."

Anna hung up. Seth let his head hit the desk hard.

II.

Saturday morning rose breezy and warm outside, and Seth cursed the whole of Southern California as he dressed slowly in his dark room. At a quarter to ten he walked downstairs and waved at his dad.

Sandy was leaning on his elbows on the island in the middle of the kitchen. He had the front section of the paper in one hand, and half a bagel in the other.

"Morning, son."

Seth pulled an apple from the fridge and nodded at Sandy.

"You all ready for your big day?"

"My 'big day' dad? I'm going sailing, not getting married."

Sandy shrugged and popped the last bite of bagel into his mouth. He brushed his hands off over the sink and patted Seth's shoulder as he walked past him.

Seth trailed behind him, thinking about how tired he was of the other men in the house being cryptic. He couldn't imagine mom would be more helpful, but this was the second time in two days he chased down a Cohen man (or an Atwood, but Ryan was only not part of the family nominally) for guidance.

Outside Sandy sat on the top step, looking out at the Pacific over the rim of his coffee mug. Seth stood behind him, leaning on the column and threading his fingers through the leaves on the nearby tree.

"I think I need some help here."

"No one's contesting that, definitely not."

"Dad."

"Do you have a plan, here?"

"No! I mean ... no. I think Anna and I broke up last night, though."

"Seth." Sandy craned his head around to look at him. "What's going on?"

"I just, I always loved Summer, right? And then there's Anna, who I really, really like -- but she's-- One, very much exactly like me, and Two, and I hate that this Two is even in my head, she's not Summer."

Seth sat down next to Sandy, his shoulders slumped with his forehead resting on the heels of his hands.

"And then, how do I know Summer likes me because she likes me, and not because Anna's plan to get Summer to like me worked? How can I go into this thinking that Summer only wanted me because she couldn't have me, and now that she can--" Seth looked over to Sandy, suddenly very serious, "-- and she can -- will she still be interested?"

"All valid concerns."

"Right? And they were my concerns from day one of this whole catastrophe, which is why I ended up deciding that if I couldn't make a choice between them, I shouldn't make a choice between them."

"But then Anna--"

"Threw a wrench in my plan. She threw the whole monkey in there, too. And again, I like Anna, she's awesome. But she's me, Dad. She's me with a few very important biological differences."

"And she's not Summer."

"I'm a bad person."

"You're not, Seth. You're a guy who went from no girls to two girls, and got caught in the flummox that followed."

Seth twisted a piece of grass between his fingers.

"And you did the right thing when you couldn't choose between them. You didn't want to hurt either of them, though, and that's important. But now Anna chose you, and that just didn't work out. I'm pretty sure you did make a choice a few months ago, at least in your head. It's too late to worry about getting hurt. Summer's gotten hurt, and Anna's gotten hurt, so really ... it's your turn, kid."

"Thanks, dad."

Summer had parked at the foot of the driveway and was walking up.

"See what happens, Seth. You're going to have to talk this out with the people who are actually involved."

"Again. Thanks."

"Be a man, son."

"Feel free to walk away now, dad."

"Hey, Summer!" Sandy waved as he stood.

"Any time." Seth stood too.

Summer smiled when she reached the top of the drive.

"Hi, Mr. Cohen."

"You guys have a good time today," Sandy clapped Seth on the shoulder and walked back into the house. Seth smirked at him and turned back to Summer.

She had her arms crossed over her chest, and Seth took a kind of guilty relief in thinking that she seemed nervous.

"So, ahhh ... ready to go?" He gestured down towards the marina.

***

The first time Summer was on the vessel named after her, Seth always imagined, it would be perfect -- a pristine, bright and beautiful day, the boat sparkling, all dulled only by the beauty of Summer herself.

Instead, his stomach did tae-bo inside him as he ran a rag over the boat's dulled and dusty surfaces. He knew his face looked pained, but he couldn't help it.

Summer leaned against the mast as Seth undid the knot from the cleat that kept them docked. He pushed off and they started to drift away from land.

"Hey, don't stand on the mast boot? Your shoes -- heels," he walked back and began futzing with the sails.

"I'm wearing sneakers, Seth."

"Right. Still. You should sit -- somewhere. I don't want the boom to take you out."

Minutes passed, the sail unfurled and swollen with the breeze carried them out of the little cove and into the saltier ocean waters.

"You're unusually quiet today." Summer sat starboard against the edge of the boat, skimming her hand through the water with the sleeves of her red hoodie rolled up.

Seth was staring out at the horizon with his hand resting on the end of the tiller.

"Maybe the amount of times you've told me to shut up in the past have finally sunk in."

"Or maybe you just know I had ulterior motives in getting you out here today." She moved over and sat on the deck in front of him, leaning against one side of the hatch door.

"Well, I don't keep any oars on board, so I figured you weren't planning on killing me." He waved a hand out in front of him, "I'm sorry, that's a refer--"

"Yeah. Talented Mr. Ripley. I've seen it, Cohen. You know, you and Anna aren't the only people immersed in pop culture."

"I know." Seth returned his eyes to the horizon. "I'm sorry. I'm just thinking about your ulterior motives, and how badly I've messed everything up, and that if you really wanted to kill me out here, you wouldn't need an oar. It's just -- I don't know. What were your ulterior motives?"

"I'm trying to get between you and Anna."

You can sprain your eyebrow if you raise it too suddenly.

"Well. I can't say there hasn't been speculation to that end."

"I don't feel good about how I've behaved lately." She looked up at Seth under her furrowed brow and pulled a knee up to her chest. "I don't feel like a good person."

"Well, you can stop trying to get between us, if it makes you feel better. It's already done."

"Great. I broke you two up. I'm not a good person."

"Wasn't all you," Seth clipped the tiller steady and slipped down to the floor, "I mean don't get me wrong -- it was you to a very large extent. We knew you were trying to break us up, and I knew I'd let you."

Summer was studying her shoe, she shook her head. "God, I never meant to like you. Last year if you told me a skinny boy with Converse All Stars and an ironic haircut would make my heart beat faster, I would have said -- I don't know exactly what I would have said, but it would have involved you being crazy."

"There would have probably been an 'ew' in there too."

"Yeah." She smiled, but it faded fast. "But then -- it just happened, and something changed, and I really did like you. Not just because Anna made me jealous."

Seth's eyebrows went up again.

"A little because Anna made me jealous, but whatever. It made me realize how stupid I would be if I kept ignoring you."

"So today was going to be ... what? More of the 'Summer Behaving Badly'-marathon?"

And that was shame. Seth had gone and caused her shame. If he didn't feel quite so bad about doing it, and if the girl in front of him was the same one she'd been months before, he'd be more amazed.

"I didn't really have a plan." She traced the outline of one of the deck's planks with her fingernail. "I was just going to get you out here, and see what happened."

"Good plan. I know it well." he leaned towards her, "It almost never works."

She smiled and moved away from the hatch door. Seth was glad she did, the sea was rolling a little harder and he could all too easily imagine her tumbling backwards down the steep stairs. She resettled leaning on the port side hull near him.

"You know, whatever happens now ... can't. Nothing can happen now." Seth reached over and tapped her arm above the wrist as he spoke.

"But you tried things with Anna, and they didn't work out."

He looked her in the eyes. The sky behind him was reflected there, hazy and collecting clouds.

"Partially my fault, I know." She caught his hand as he was bringing it back, and held it in hers. "But -- there wouldn't have been a 'Seth and Anna' at all if you hadn't started out looking for a You and Me."

"It's not that easy." Seth ran his thumb over the back of her hand.

"It can be."

She ducked her head in and kissed him softly on the lips. His eyes closed in the same instantly blissed-out way they had every single time she'd kissed him before. He couldn't imagine the feeling ever becoming usual. He ran his hand down the side of her face just as she pulled back.

Seth knew his face was flushed -- he couldn't normally feel his ears, but they were hot against the rapidly cooling air.

"So, here's what I'm thinking..." Summer rose up onto her knees. "I owe this to you."

"You owe ... what? Summer, you don't owe me anything." Seth's hands were at his sides, palms down and pushing against the deck.

Summer threw a leg over Seth's lap and rested her hands on either side of his neck. He uncrossed his legs and brought his knees up behind Summer. She slid forward against him as he brought his hands up to her waist.

"It doesn't matter," she kissed him again and ran her fingers down his arms.

Seth touched her cheek and smiled, letting her bottom lip slide out from between his.

"It really, really does." He kissed her nose, her reddened cheeks, the dip between her nose and her lips that he'd never really found quite so attractive on anyone else.

The sky was going mercury, it was a leaden pink as the sun was obscured by heavy low clouds. Seth looked up over the top of Summer's hair.

"Storm's coming," he pushed some of her hair behind her ear, "we have to turn."

Summer rocked back and pushed herself up. She wobbled as the choppiness of the waves shook her, but when she lurched forward to get her footing Seth grabbed her arm and helped her stand upright.

He fiddled with a rope to get more slack in the mainsail.

"Do you need me to batten down any hatches or anything?" Summer raised her voice over the thwapping of the sail.

"No," Seth smiled and gingerly settled back down, pulling a hard left, "just head below or sit down and hold on to something."

"Can I sit by you?" She had pulled the hood of her sweatshirt up and was tying it under her chin.

He nodded and waved her over as he flipped the cover off his compass and stayed a course for shore. Seth hated that old adage about things being calm before a storm. "It's patently untrue," he'd griped at his dad the first time they trudged home wet and windblown after getting caught in a squall, "it's a nasty lie that shouldn't be spread around."

Seth was leaning against the back rail, holding the tiller fast with his feet planted in front of him. The wind had finally stopped skittering and slapping against one side of the sail and puffed out the other. Summer sat near Seth with her hands wrapped tightly on the rail to either side of her.

Hills rose up in the distance; they were about twenty minutes from land. Seth called Summer over and pushed the tiller into her hand.

"Hold it steady," he backed over and tightened the mainstay so it cut through the wind. Ducking his head down between his shoulders he returned to Summer, keeping hold of her hand when he took back the steering.

"Hey," He pulled her towards him as he leaned back on the rail.

"We should so do this again," she wrapped her arms around his waist, "maybe on a nicer day."

It was starting to rain. Summer looked down and pressed her face against Seth's chest.

"We still have to talk, you know. At some point." The wind was dying down and the rain was picking up. Seth squinted down and Summer looked up, rain splashing on her face.

She nodded and nestled her head back against his chest. He wondered if she could feel how fast his heart was beating.


scrunchy 2004