True And Deep As The Sea
by HYPERFocused

Ryan Atwood is sixteen, and sitting on a folding chair at the county jail. First offense - grand theft auto. A joyride, really, without any joy. He rode shotgun with his older brother. A real punk, and not in the good way. Ryan would have done better without his influence.

It takes a little while for Sandy to get through to him. The kid is hostile, but there's falseness there, like he's learned the act off of NYPD Blue, or Law and Order.

Ryan had immediately set off his paternal radar. When the kid's mother had appeared, hurting and hateful, to drag the boy off, he'd handed Ryan his card. Home number, and a promise of help. He shuts up his wife's disdainful voice in his head. Ryan needs his help. He'd seen himself in the boy. Too much attitude, too little self worth. Equal parts cocky and terrified.

But Sandy can tell Ryan is a good kid. Smart. A little research proves it. He tests well, could have excellent grades if he only had the impetus, or even the encouragement. Family life leaves something to be desired. If he had the opportunities Sandy's son did, he'd be on his way to Stanford.

The kid just shrugs when Sandy asks him about his plans for the future. College, a job. He says something witty about social security, and working until he's eighty. He's obviously bright, and doesn't belong here. There are mistakes that last forever, and Sandy doesn't want him to make one.

Kids like Ryan were why he loved his job. Why he didn't regret not going the corporate route. They made up for all the drug dealers, the soulless cretins he'd had to defend. Kirsten said he was like a kid bringing home stray puppies. Birds with broken wings.

It was true. He always wanted to fix things. He never forgot where he'd come from, and how lucky he was to be living where he was. Kristen didn't forget either. But she was loathe to bring anyone into her home that reminded her of those unpleasant days.

She was scared, not uncaring. She just wanted to shield Seth from the baser elements. Nothing wrong with that, except Seth was already too closed off from the world. Orange Country was insular, almost incestuous in its relationships. It would do the boy good to meet people from other places, with other kinds of lives. Sandy thought of it like a cultural exchange program. They could have taken in some high school student from Scandinavia. Instead, they had a mixed-up kid from the proverbial 'wrong side of the tracks' living with them. Twice as foreign, really.

He couldn't blame her. Except he did.

He's driving Ryan home now, and it's almost like the day he picked him up. Ryan's resentful, pressed against the passenger side door like he wants to jump out. The bruise on his cheek and eye is glaringly red. Sandy doesn't think he'll ever hear the real story behind it. Seth won't tell him, but it's pretty obvious they both owe Ryan a note of thanks.

Seth had been devastated when Kirsten insisted Ryan had to go. Sandy wasn't too thrilled himself, but he knew better than to press when she got into that kind of mood. Ryan wouldn't be happy there, then, anyway. And she was right. He did have a home. He'd be all right. Sandy would keep an eye on him, maybe pull some strings for a scholarship. Even talk to the kid's mom.

He waits in the car while the kid goes in. Ryan insists he's fine. He can go into his own house by himself. Sandy notices the way Ryan's shoulder's clench, but doesn't say anything.

There are mattresses sprawled out on the lawn, like dissolute drunk teenagers sleeping it off at the party Seth and Ryan had gone to. The first party Seth had been to in ages. New experiences for both of them.

There are more new experiences for Seth this weekend. At least he think's they're new. The house isn't as sound proof as one would expect for such a price. Sandy hears moans coming from Seth's bedroom. Not a completely new sound, Seth's a teenager after all, but the answering gasps are. Clearly, his son and their troubled houseguest aren't in there playing videogames.

This wasn't what he expected when he brought the kid home.

When he thinks about it, Sandy isn't sure it's just Kirsten that thinks it's better for all of them that Ryan leaves. He knows it's wrong. Seth is their son, and they'll love him no matter what. It's just that it's easier to deal with him as their shy, geeky son. Easier to watch him pining after the pretty girl next door - and not going after her, than it is to see him in active pursuit of an available boy.

He really shouldn't have been that surprised. It hadn't taken them any time at all to bond. He'd found Seth and Ryan sitting side by side, thighs and shoulders touching, laughing over Seth's newest Playstation game. Sandy hadn't heard that laugh in months. Years maybe. He'd missed seeing his son happy. He missed his son.

He can't help worrying now. Ryan is a fish out of water, and it's obvious he likes Seth. Sandy catches the way he watches him, as if Seth has answers to all of his questions. It's not just a cliche to say they'll be swimming against the stream. Things would be simpler if the boy just goes back to his old life.

It's quiet as Ryan lets himself into the house. Too quiet. There should be bright sounds of a mother happy to see her son; or even yelling of a family in conflict. Instead there's a silence so profound it's palpable. Only a few moments have passed, but Sandy knows everything's changed.

He walks into the empty house, and holds out a hand to bring his new son home.


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