by HYPERFocused

Ryan is walking through the halls of the OC jail, past scores of men with dead eyes, and hands that want to grab him, for violence or worse. Much worse. He looks down, tries to act inoffensive, but he knows he's young and new, and not as big as he'd like. He can hold his own against spoiled rich teenagers, but he has no assurance of safety here.

It's only his second time in jail, but this time it's completely different. He tries to put on a good face, but he's so obviously out of his element. There is no indulgence for a young man caught on a ride he hardly meant to take. This is serious. He's already considered an outsider here. The psychopath with the plastic fork makes sure he knows it.

It scares him more than the worst pummeling he's had at the hands of his mother's loser boyfriends. He shuts down inside himself and tries to count the hours until something happens to change his situation for the better. More likely, things will get worse.

He wishes his father were around, to tell him what to do. He never truly thought he'd be in this much of a mess.


When Sandy tells him it could be a month, he knows it's over. He's not even seventeen, and his future is all but assured to be ruined. He's going to be a statistic for why the system fails. It doesn't escape his attention that Luke is home and back in his A&F clothes before Ryan has even been processed.

Luke has a family who gives a shit what happens to him. Sandy tells him he'll do his best to find his mother, but Ryan knows it's pointless. She didn't want him when he was arrested the first time. She certainly won't come to his rescue now.

He wants Seth. Seth would take the edge off things, maybe say something stupid and silly, like "shivs, awesome!" and make him laugh, even in this awful place. But at the same time, Ryan is damned grateful Seth never has to set foot in here. Never has to lose that innocence. The world should still be a welcoming place to him, because Ryan has never met a person as accepting and welcoming as Seth. He's never met anyone as inherently good.

He can't sleep. The chalkboard scrape of metal doors locking behind them is the soundtrack to a horror movie. The incessant noise of the other guys is the narration.

He wants to hear the bleeps and bloops of Seth's Playstation, and the little squeaks and sighs he made in his sleep. He wants to hear the slight mechanical sounds of the automatic pool cleaner, and the soft lap of the ocean in the distance.

He wants to hear his mother playing solitaire in their old kitchen in Fresno, before his dad was arrested. He wants to hear her tell him she's sorry.


Seth's appearance at the visitor's table is a shock, but even more astounding is the way his expression changes from pain to relief when Ryan enters the room. He wants nothing more than to touch Seth, to be sure he's really there, but he doesn't. If he can express everything in a look, he's just told Seth an epic in a glance.

Kirsten is standing in the corner, looking far less angry at him than she ought to. That she consented to letting Seth visit is a miracle. When one of the thugs starts hassling her, he's sure that's the last he'll see of either of them. He doesn't give a shit who stops him when he moves to defend her. She's not his mother, or even a relative, and she put herself in danger for him.

When she takes him home with her, he's surprised. It's like he's been given a temporary reprieve. Another life in a videogame he knows he's going to lose eventually. Still, it's a wonderful feeling. He sees Seth smiling at him, and breathes freely for the first time in days.


Ryan never expected to see his mother again. Certainly not in the pristine environment of the Cohen home. Her presence there seems to taint that space much more than his delinquent self does. He knows he should be grateful that Sandy went to all the trouble of finding her, and bringing her home, but all he feels is scared.

She doesn't want him, or she wouldn't have left. The only thing keeping her there is the vision of everything this house represents. Money, and safety and a rest from working shit jobs, and fucking for scraps.

He doesn't buy her apologies for a second, and her promises to change are as thin as the Superheroes' disguises in Seth's comic books. But part of him wants to believe her. Wants to wrap his arms around her waist like he did when he was a boy, and beg her to stay, promise to be good.

He's shocked and horrified when she starts talking about leaving her asshole boyfriend. Not that this news isn't good, but she'd always told him not to talk about the things he'd done to them. It was nobody's business. They could take care of themselves.

He doesn't understand when she opens up to Kirsten like she's her long lost best friend. His mother has no friends, only people she hits up for money and booze. Seth grips his hand under the table, and squeezes harder at the mention of what that creep did to him.

Ryan is sure the gambling party is going to be a disaster, but he has to admit his mother cleaned up well, and seems to be making an effort. It's hard to concentrate on her, though, with Luke shooting him dirty looks from across the room. Ryan tries to tell him he's got nothing to worry about where Marissa is concerned, but every time she comes over to talk to him, things look worse. The guy really needs to work on his jealousy issues.

He can't help but be amused by Seth, who's working the room like he's practicing for an audition to join the Ratpack. He grins at Ryan as Summer drags him back to the table. She doesn't quite know his name yet, but he's apparently become her good luck piece. Ryan knows just how that feels. Later on, he plans to drag Seth off himself, and have him blow on more than his dice.

Just as he thought, his mother can't go a night without getting out of control, and embarrassing herself, and him. Rather than feeling ashamed of her -- the way he usually would -- he mostly feels sad. Resigned, even. He should never let himself hope. He's grateful that Seth left Summer and her dice at the first sign he was in trouble. Luke's aid is an unexpected little bonus. If he could get past his jealous asshole side, the guy might be human.


Oddly enough, he sleeps soundly for a change. Seth breathing next to him is reassuring, grounding. He's glad Seth insisted in coming out to the poolhouse. They haven't done anything tonight but hug. His mother could come out and catch them. But he really needs Seth close to him, so he'll take what he can get.

His mother seems far away in the house, all set to make another new start. This wasn't the first time she pulled a stunt like this, and it won't be the last. At least this time she didn't end up topless, in somebody's husband's lap.


When he wakes up the next morning, and sees his mother in escape mode, it's all he can do not to cry. He can't talk her out of leaving. He pulls on his jeans, and overhears Kirsten trying to talk her out of it, but knows his mom won't listen.

At breakfast, Kirsten tells him he's got a permanent home there, and he can't stop grinning. Seth beams at him like he's just gotten the all time high score, then leads him off to the other room so they can 'talk'.

There are no deep conversations, only soft words of reassurance, and warm arms around him. When it becomes clear that they won't be disturbed, Seth slowly -- joyously -- peels off his clothes. Ryan suspects that Sandy and Kirsten have some idea what's going on, but maybe they don't mind. Nothing beats the picture of Seth, and that grin.

Seth seems to know that Ryan needs him. He leans in to Seth's touch like he's one of those monkeys in that old psych experiment. Ryan's mother is nothing more than chicken wire covered with a towel, and now even the towel is gone.

And it matters. He can't say it doesn't. But not as much as he thought it would. He's found safety, and acceptance with the Cohens, and it looks like he's found love here in Seth's arms.


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