Pairing: Claire Matthews/Ryan Hardy
Inspiration: Watching Ryan put on music for Claire in the finale. (Can we all just appreciate that that actually happened for a minute? That just wrecked me. I love you, RH.) The song was "Snare, Girl" by Sonic Youth, and while that's not quite my type of music, I can dig it for these two.
Warning: Tons of sap. Buckets of sap. All of the sap. (Because I think we all need some, right?)
Summary: Claire and Ryan decompress in a very un-Claire and Ryan sort of way.
Author’s Note: I find slow dancing to be one of the most romantic things on the planet. Hence, this.
I believe I’ve gone through the five stages of grief twice between Monday and Tuesday, and I’ve arrived back at acceptance. Maybe Claire’s dead, maybe she’s not. To me, she both is dead (in the show), and alive (in my writing). I appreciate you few who have read and commented on all my other stories. I hope you will continue to despite the finale. Thank you, and—as always—please enjoy!
.She was smiling when she came out of the bathroom later that night. “You put on music,” she observed as she stepped back into the kitchen. The words would’ve sounded like an accusation from the look in her eyes if she hadn’t laughed partway through. “Why?”
Ryan smiled back, nodding towards the stereo. “Just listen,” he instructed, putting their dishes from dinner in the sink. He glanced over his shoulder, watching as she paused where she was standing by the table, and tilted her head towards the speakers.
I’m here for you
Can’t you see what I’m doing?
I bring you news from the kingdom of disciples in ruin
Behold, a child has just been born into a life
Of secrets sworn; hold our your hands
And take these palms I’ve been given…
“You remember?” he asked, a smile turning up the edges of his mouth as he watched recognition light up her eyes.
Claire nodded, looking over to him. “‘Course I do.” She shook her head, smiling. “I’m surprised you still have this song.”
“What?” Ryan smirked. “I can’t like the song?”
“Well, after what happened…” She looked down at the floor, trailing off.
“Just because I associate the song with you, Claire,” Ryan told her softly, “doesn’t mean that it needed to disappear when I did.”
Claire nodded, embarrassed for assuming such. “Yeah, I know,” she mumbled. “Sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologize,” Ryan told her. He smiled, and stepped closer to face her. “Come on,” he encouraged, holding out his hand, palm up. “Come here.”
Claire stared at it, her eyes narrowing as they flickered between his hand and his face. “Ryan…” She almost laughed at his offer. “Ryan, you know I don’t dance.”
“You used to,” he argued. “All the time.”
“No,” Claire replied, unable to hold back the laugh this time, “not all the time. I danced once.”
Ryan grinned. “With me.”
“You tricked me into it.”
“I did no such thing,” Ryan brushed off.
“Yes, you did,” Claire pressed.
Ryan smiled at her stubbornness, surrendering: “Fine.” He waved a hand. “Fine; remind me, then, if you’re so sure.”
“Oh, you know exactly what I’m talking about.”
He tilted his head to the side, and she could see from the look on his face that he was all but begging her to play along. She sighed—half-groaning—but finally consented.
“Fine,” she muttered, attempting to spit out the word even as a smile teasing on the edges of her lips. “Fine, it was that time at my house. We were too lazy to make dinner, so we ordered take-out, and when it came, I went to the door to answer it.” She laughed softly as she shook her head. “By the time I came back, you were playing music and after dinner, we… we…” She faltered, trialing off as she looked around. She took in the empty boxes of Chinese on the table, the dishes in the sink, him standing in front of her, and the music flowing around them. “It was just like this,” she spoke up, and he could clearly hear the accusation in her voice this time.
Ryan smiled, walking over to her. “Hm…was it?” he murmured, taking her hand. “Really?”
Claire looked up at him as he tugged on her hand gently, pulling her close. “You planned this, didn’t you?” she demanded to know. Her eyes scrutinized him closely, and Ryan couldn’t help but grin.
“Oh, yeah,” he teased. “I’ve been thinking about it all night, definitely.”
Claire rolled her eyes, but didn’t attempt to get rid of the smile on her face. It had been much too long since she’d smiled, much too long since she’d felt genuinely happy like this.
It had been much too long since she’d been with him.
On a whim, she gave in, slipping her fingers between his, folding them at the knuckle, and lifting their joined hands aloft as she wrapped the other around behind his back. She caught the smile on Ryan’s face as she moved, and pulled him close, letting her body sway from side to side in time with his and the slow beat of the music surrounding them.
I’m here for you, can’t you see what I’m sayin’?
I have palms from the ruins where the disciples are strayin’
I’m coming after you with mercy given
And your secret’s out; now you’re forgiven…
“I thought you didn’t dance,” he murmured, cradling her body close with a hand on the middle of her back as they moved to the music.
“I think I can make an exception for tonight,” Claire allowed quietly, meeting his eye.
She could see Ryan smile in the dim light of his loft, and she smiled back, and for a long time, they simply held each other close and moved slowly to the music without exchanging another word.
At some point, the music changed; it grew louder and then softer—and possibly disappeared altogether—but neither seemed to notice or care, as they continue moving, dancing and swaying, now in time with one another rather than the beat.
During a certain moment in between songs neither were listening to, Ryan bent his head, angling it to the side and covering her mouth with his. His lips were wounded—some of their cuts were open and some scabbed over—but he ignored the pain in favor of the pleasure he felt by having her so close, having her right here with him.
He never thought he’d hold her again. At least not while she was still alive.
After their kiss deteriorated, and their mouths parted, she turned her head, keeping her cheek pressed against his as they moved about the floor of his apartment to their own music. It was some time later, after they’d grown tired and begun to merely sway instead of truly dance, that she lowered her head, and ducked it against his chest.
Ryan bent down when she did so, and pressed a firm kiss to her hair. It made his lips twinge in momentary pain, but he didn’t mind. It felt so good to feel her body against his, to be able to wrap his arms around her and finally—and truthfully—be able to promise her that everything was going to be okay.
He did so now, whispering the words into her hair, as his hands held her close and secure against him.
She nodded at once, acknowledging them, but what she murmured in reply, he couldn’t hear. Her face was nestled close against his chest, and when she spoke, his body muffled the noise so he could only make out one syllable, at best. Finally, she raised her voice, and the words he couldn’t hear before sounded loud and clear in the stillness of his loft as they continued to turn to and fro, practically aimless in their dance now: “I love you, Ryan.”
He let his eyes fall shut at her declaration, and he let his troubled mind and battered body and all but broken heart soak it in, and bask in its promise for all it was worth.
After a few seconds, she leaned her head back, looking up at him nervously. “Do you have any idea how much I love you?” she asked softly, and he felt her arms draw him closer as they stopped dancing and simply stood, staring at one another in the darkness. “Do you?” she asked again, and he could hear more than a touch of worry leak into her voice now.
Before she could begin to panic—she’d been through enough recently as it was; they both had—he nodded, murmuring softly. “I do. I promise I do.” He paused, and, lifting his hand from where it had been resting on her waist, he cupped the side of her neck, brushing his thumb across the soft skin of her cheek. He stared into her eyes for a long, silent moment before asking it himself: “And you know that I love you too? That I’ve always loved you, even when I left?”
She nodded, pressing her cheek against his hand. She tilted her head, turning it to kiss his palm. “Yeah,” she whispered. “I know.” She looked over at him, staring into his eyes for a long time before finally admitting it, finally saying the words she’d wanted to scream at him for the past eight years: “You shouldn’t have left, Ryan.”
He blinked at her, surprised to hear this now, and then soon shut his eyes for a long moment before opening them again. “I just wanted what was best for you,” he explained softly, “and for Joey.”
“Yeah, well, you don’t get to decide that, Ryan,” she told him, some of her residual anger seeping into her tone. “I get to decide that.”
He nodded, ducking his head. “Yeah,” he replied guiltily. “I know, Claire.”
“He’s my son and this is my life. I get to decide what’s good for us; what’s best for us.”
Ryan nodded again, but didn’t say a word. Claire sighed, sliding her hands from his back to his face, and lifting it so he would look into her eyes.
“And I pick you, okay?” she told him, her voice softer, and more earnest now. “You’re what’s best for me. You’re who I want to be with.”
Ryan closed his eyes, sighing heavily. “I… want to be with you too,” he murmured softly. “But I’m…” He forced his eyes open, forced himself to look at her. He could see his own guilt and worry reflected in her wide eyes, and he knew he had to say it. He had to get it out now.. “I’m not the same guy I was eight years ago.”
“I don’t care.”
“Ryan, come on.” She dropped her hands from his face, putting them on her hips and knocking his away. “You think I don’t know you’re not the same? Of course you’re not the same! Hell, I’m not the same. Things have changed, Ryan! Do you think I don’t know that? Do you really think I’d be so naïve as to ignore all that?”
“No,” Ryan interrupted patiently, “Claire, that isn’t what I meant. I know you know that; I know you’re not naïve. I know. But I just…” Deep lines appeared on his forehead as he frowned, and his eyebrows drew together in concern. “I’m not the same guy, okay?” he repeated lamely. “I’m nothing like I used to be when we were together. And I don’t…” He sucked in a breath, closing his eyes as he finally said it. “Claire, I don’t want you to be disappointed,” he admitted softly, “when you see who I’ve turned into.”
Claire sighed, her eyes filling with that all-too familiar pain as she stared into his. “Oh, god… Ryan, I…” She turned her head away, taking a moment to compose herself. “I don’t care,” she replied finally, turning back to face him. “I don’t care who you’ve turned into, if you’ve even turned into anyone else at all.” Ryan looked like he was about to protest that modification, but she silenced him with a look. “You’re sill the same person I fell in love with all those years ago,” she told him. “You’re still that guy—maybe it’s hidden beneath everything else you’ve become these last eight years, but it’s there—and you’ll always be that guy to me, okay? If you’ve changed—well, fine. We all change. And I expect you to, after how long it’s been. After everything that’s happened.” She paused, reaching out for his hands again and clasping them tightly in hers. “But Ryan… You and I might’ve changed some, but my feelings for you haven’t, okay? I still feel what I felt for you back then. I still want to be with you like I was back then.
“I know you’ve changed, and I know I’ve changed, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be together. There were a lot of reasons for why things didn’t work out the first time around, and I’m sure I have just as many regrets as you do, but Ryan… What’s important is that I still love you. I still want to be with you. I’ve always wanted to be with you, and… Ryan, I think I always will.” She stared into his eyes, keeping her lips pressed together and giving him time to back out, to walk away, to leave again.
He didn’t move an inch.
She smiled briefly, pleased that he understood, and squeezed his hands in silent thanks before letting go. They stood for a few long minutes, not touching, not saying a word, until she broke the stillness. She took a moment before doing so, nervously licking her lips and glancing away, before finally opening her mouth and asking the question that had been floating around in the back of her mind for hours: “When Joe asked you when you fell in love with me…” She bit her lip when she saw Ryan’s head snap towards hers, and tried to ignore the hurt look in his eyes when she spoke of her ex-husband. “You…you never told him,” she whispered, unable to hide her curiosity. “Why not?”
Ryan shook his head, not having an immediate answer. Nonetheless, she watched him, waiting patiently as he searched for something to say, searched for what he felt but couldn’t quite explain. “Be… Because he didn’t deserve to know,” Ryan told her after a silent minute. “He didn’t deserve to have that to lord over us too.” He paused. “Over me.”
Claire nodded, understanding. She looked down at the floor for a long moment before reaching out and taking his hands in hers again. Instead of pulling him into a dance for a second time, she folded her fingers between his, anchoring him in place with her as she wondered, “Will you tell me?”
Ryan ducked his head, sighing as he focused on the floor. He could feel her hands squeeze his, silently begging him to answer, but he had nothing to say. It wasn’t so easy to pinpoint as Joe—and apparently Claire—expected it to be. It wasn’t like she’d said or did something some day and he just knew… No, it had been different. It had grown, slowly and carefully. He’d really only been sure of his feelings after they’d seriously begun dating, regardless of when he’d begun feeling more for her. “I don’t know when it happened,” he admitted finally. “I don’t think there was a certain moment where you did or said something and I was gone, but…” He took a deep breath, exhaling it quietly as he looked up. “I don’t know when it started,” he told her honestly, “but I do know that it did, and that it hasn’t stopped since.” He squeezed her hands. “And that’s what matters. I meant what I said, okay? When I told you I loved you just now, when I told you I loved you even when I left—I meant it, Claire. I mean it.”
She nodded. “Yeah. I know you did. I know.” She smiled at him briefly, bending forward to press a reassuring kiss against his cut lips. She untangled one hand from his, lifting it to cup his cheek as their short kiss lengthened and evolved into something stronger, something deeper—something neither of them had done for a long time.
When their lips finally parted, both were slightly out of breath as they attempted to regain the oxygen they’d lost. Claire leaned against him, pressing her forehead against his as she wondered softly, “Do you want to know when it started for me? When I fell in love with you?”
Ryan blinked over at her, his brilliant blue eyes scrutinizing hers. “You remember the exact moment?” he questioned, sounding both surprised and dubious.
Claire smiled, pulling back to stand before him. “I mean, it’s just something that’s always stuck in my mind,” she admitted, taking his hand again. “Maybe I fell in love with you before this happened, but it’s what I’ll always remember. It made some things… really clear for me.”
Ryan nodded along, encouraging her to continue.
“It was back, back before anything had actually happened between us,” she began. Her thumb rubbed against the back of his hand as their two pressed together. “I had an appointment with my divorce attorney on that day, but I’d forgotten about it…” She shook her head at the memory, smiling faintly. “You had just stopped over, we were doing… something, I don’t know. Talking about something, when I got a call from his office, telling me I was late.” She looked over at Ryan, but he looked just as clueless as he had a minute ago before she’d began speaking. It made her smile anyway, and she continued despite his confusion. “I remember because I was holding Joey in one hand and the phone in the other… And I just stood there, not knowing what to do, because I didn’t have anywhere to put him,” she explained. “I had no one to watch him. I was already late to the meeting, and I couldn’t take him with me downtown; he would never stay quiet or still for that long, so…” She trailed off, looking to Ryan as if expecting him to finish the story.
But he just stared down at her, a puzzled look on his face. Claire ducked her head, chuckling softy.
“Hm,” she joked, looking back up at him. “Now I’m not sure if I should continue this, if you can’t even remember…”
“No, just say it,” Ryan encouraged. “Say it; I’ll remember. I’m sure I will.”
Claire smiled faintly, squeezing his hand. “Well,” she continued, “like I said, there was nothing I could do with him. It was too late to contact the daycare; I didn’t have a nanny on-call…” Her smiled widened as she remembered the moment with startling clarity. “But I didn’t even have to say any of that,” she confessed. “All I said was that my lawyer called and you offered to take him, just like that.” She grinned, correcting herself: “Actually, you didn’t even offer,” she laughed softly. “You just took him, right out of my arms, and told me to go. You said you’d take care of him while I was gone.” She shook her head, smiling as she did so. “The meeting was over two hours long. We were talking about Joe and terms and custody agreements non-stop…but all I could really think about was you. About how you took care of my son for me and I didn’t even have to ask. I didn’t even have to say a word. You were just there—for me, and for him.”
“You were going through enough then already,” Ryan excused. “You didn’t need to worry about him, too. Not on top of everything else.”
Claire nodded. “That’s true,” she agreed. Her eyes found his. “But under no circumstances was it your responsibility to take care of my son. Especially not voluntarily like you did.”
Claire shook her head, silencing him. “No, Ryan, that wasn’t your job. That was no one’s job but mine. Joey was my son, and you—you were just my friend. You were good for a ride to the airport—at most—not babysitting my infant for hours on end.” She shook her head at it all, and a smile sprouted on her face as she glanced away. “That, uh, that was one of the first times, though, that got me wondering if maybe—maybe you felt like we were something more than friends. If maybe you felt something more for me, too.”
“Too?” Ryan questioned with a smile.
Claire grinned, chuckling softly, “Oh, you think that was the first time I thought of you as something more than a friend?” She shook her head. “That’s cute, Ryan.”
“Uh-huh?” Ryan wondered, amused. “So when did that start?”
“A lady never tells,” she taunted with a smile.
He smirked. “I hope you know you’re leading me down a very slippery path here…”
She grinned, glancing at him out of the corner of her eye. “That’s the idea.”
“Tease,” he murmured, wrapping his free arm around her waist as he bent forward to kiss her.
Her smile had faded by the time he pulled back, but he could still see the remains of it in her bright eyes. She put her hand on his chest, pressing it against the wrinkled and bloodstained fabric of his shirt. “So do you remember?” she asked quietly, her animated eyes searching his. “Do you remember what I was talking about? When you watched Joey?”
Ryan stared at her for a long moment before finally shaking his head from side to side. He watched her face fall for a fraction of a second, and he squeezed his eyes shut, not wanting—not able—to see that disappointment on her face. Not again. “Sorry,” he murmured, not having any idea what else to say. “I’m sorry, it was so long ago—”
“No, it’s okay,” she told him easily. He opened his eyes, warily searching hers as he listened to her light tone. He couldn’t tell how much of her expression was a brave face and how much she actually didn’t mind. “I didn’t expect you to remember, Ryan. I know it wasn’t really a big occasion. It just made an impression on me, that’s all, and—”
“Wait,” Ryan interrupted suddenly, remembering a detail, “you said this was in 2005?”
Claire paused, staring at him for a second before nodding. “Uh, yeah,” she replied slowly. “Yeah, it was.” She watched as he stood before her, watched the concentration on his face. “Why?”
“Was that when I stayed for dinner?” Ryan wondered. “Was that that night? Because I remember watching him before then…”
Claire thought for a moment, initially surprised by his questions, but then she gradually nodded. “Um… I think so,” she replied, surprised as she recalled the memory she’d all but forgotten. “Yeah, it was. It had to have been. I… I felt bad for making you stay so long with him, because the meeting ran late, so I tried to make it up to you with dinner…” She frowned, looking down as she struggled to remember. But there was nothing else. Nothing came to mind. She hadn’t even remembered that part of the day until Ryan had brought it up. She wondered why.
“You made chicken.”
Claire’s head snapped up at that, and her mouth opened and closed for a moment in confusion before she finally asked, “How… How do you remember that? Even I don’t remember that.”
“You made chicken,” he repeated, “and potatoes… Green beans… You wouldn’t let me help,” he added with a smile. “You told me to sit down and wait.”
Claire smiled back. “Sounds like me,” she murmured. She waited a moment, studying him, before wondering, curious, “Why do you remember that so clearly, but not the afternoon with Joey? That was just dinner. You’d had dinner at my house before.”
Claire watched, curious as Ryan’s lips flickered into a smile before he ducked his head, hiding it form her, and muttered something under his breath.
“What?” she wondered, not having been able to hear him. “What’d you say?”
“Not… Not like that,” he repeated, reluctantly lifting his head.
“Not like what?” Claire wondered.
Ryan shook his head. “Never mind. It was nothing.”
“No, tell me,” Claire requested. “Come on.” She tugged on his hand. “You can tell me, Ryan.”
“It’s nothing,” he repeated. “Just something stupid I thought at the time.”
“Oh, well now you have to tell me,” Claire teased. She grinned. “Come on, it can’t be that bad. It’s not like it was a date or anything; we were just eating. What is it? What were you thinking?”
Ryan forced a momentary smile, and scratched the back of his neck with a free hand. “I, uh, I was actually thinking that it did feel it was a date,” he admitted with an awkward smile. “I mean, I know it wasn’t,” he hurried to explain, seeing her wide eyes and that disbelieving look on her face. “I know that’s not what it was. I knew that, at the time.” He paused a moment, sighing softly. “But, you know… It kind of felt like it, for a little while. Joey had been put to bed. It was late. It was just the two of us, alone…” He glanced over at her, shrugging. “Can you blame me?”
“Uh…” Claire chuckled awkwardly. “You sure you want me to answer that?”
Ryan smirked slightly, looking away. “Okay, okay, I get it.” He waited a beat, staring down at their joined hands. “It was all in my head a lot back then, I know.” He chuckled shortly. “God, it really was. You know, I almost—” He shook his head, breaking off.
“No,” Claire replied softly. “I don’t know.” She squeezed his hand, coaxing him on. “You almost what?”
Ryan sighed heavily, tilting his head back to look at the ceiling. “I almost did something really stupid that night,” he admitted. Claire waited, silent and patient, for him to continue. It took considerably longer than she’d expected for him to do so. “I… I don’t know if you remember, but I hesitated when I left for the night,” he informed her. “You walked me to the door, and I took my time because I was—because I really wanted to—” He screwed up his face momentarily before admitting softly, “Claire, I really wanted to kiss you that night.”
She stared at him, shocked, and he could tell from the look on her face that she had absolutely no idea how to respond.
Ryan sighed quietly, clenching his free hand into a momentary fist. He knew he shouldn't have mentioned this. “I know it was stupid,” he muttered finally. “You weren’t divorced yet, nothing was going on between us—”
Claire shook her head. “No, I don’t think it was stupid.” She smiled, tilting her head to the side to meet his evasive eyes. “You just wanted to end the date properly.” She squeezed his hand, half-teasing as she asked, “Now where’s the harm in that?”
“Nowhere, I guess,” Ryan mumbled finally, “if you don’t think so.”
Claire looked over at him, offering him a small smile before slowly moving forward, slowly lifting her head, her mouth, to meet his.
Ryan’s eyes fell shut as their lips touched, and as they moved slowly against one another’s, he couldn’t help but remember their first kiss, remember that night in her kitchen when everything had really began.
He remembered the first time they’d met, too, remembered how she’d smiled and laughed, and how he had, too, despite all the terrible reasons he’d comes seeking her counsel. Even now, he could still picture it, could still remember how beautiful she’d looked in the spring sun, the color of her shirt and the light tan on her skin.
When you first met her, Ryan. Love at first sight. That’s the acceptable answer. It starts as an attraction, but later, we’re able to look back on it and know that we always knew.
Ryan squeezed his eyes shut harder, but it was impossible to erase Joe’s words from his memories, or his taunting sneer from his mind. He’d been right, after all, as he usually was. Ryan might not have realized it at the time—it had just been an attraction then—but now… Now he did know. Now he was sure. Sometimes these things did happen at first sight. Sometimes it just took years to realize it.
An though it had been ten years—ten long years, and too many unspeakable horrors—since that first meeting, he was still capable of looking back on it like it was yesterday.
Claire had been right, too—some things didn’t change. Some things would never change.
She had exhaustion etched into the lines on her face now, and sorrow hiding in the blue of her eyes, but she still looked as beautiful to him as she had that first day. She’d always look beautiful to him, no matter what had happened to her or what might still happen to her, or to them.
For now she was here, with him, and he couldn’t ask for anything more. He didn’t want anything more.
He could feel her breath disrupting their air between them after their lips parted, and he could feel the neutral warmth of her forehead pressed against his. His lips flickered up into a brief smile, and he squeezed her hand lightly, suddenly realizing just how late it was, and how tired he was.
He knew she must feel the same—must be just as drained—so he wondered softly, pressing one last brief kiss to her lips, “Do you want to go to sleep now?”
To his surprise, she didn’t immediately nod. She didn’t even say yes. She simply slipped her hand from his, and murmured, “In a minute,” as she wrapped her arms around his back. He smiled against her shoulder as she pulled him close and enfolded him in a loving embrace.
They stood there, enveloped in and around one another, for minutes upon minutes. Neither spoke or moved; they barely even breathed.
After a very long time, she shifted her head atop his shoulder, angling it so her lips were at his ear, and spoke. “Is this what a happy ending feels like?” she whispered quietly, her voice shaking slightly around the question.
Ryan inhaled a breath, holding it as he thought for a few seconds before finally letting go. “I don’t know,” he murmured finally, the words accompanying his subsequent sigh. “I’ve never really had one.”
He heard her chuckle over his shoulder. “And you think I have?” She paused, and he felt her arms tighten around his back as she whispered, her voice as quiet as a child at their first confession, “I’ve always wanted mine to be with you.”
Ryan shut his eyes, and pressed his face right up against the warm skin of her neck. He breathed deep, inhaling her scent—he’d missed her for so long—before whispering, just as he pressed a kiss behind her ear, “Then it will be.”
.Author’s Note: To fuel my delusions and keep my sanity intact, I’d prefer it if we didn’t talk about the finale in the comments below. I just really don’t want to think about it anymore. (If you do need to talk about it, though, I have other discussion entries for that.) And FYI, this is probably going to be the only story I post about the finale. I do have other ideas, both pre- and post-that final scene, but… I don’t know if I’m going to ever come back to them. Like I said, I don’t really want to talk about the finale anymore.
Your opinions and thoughts on this story, however, are greatly welcome and wholeheartedly appreciated! Thank you for reading. (I’m sorry it was so freakin’ sappy! I really didn’t mean for it to get that bad, but things got away from me.) Please leave me a review below! :)