Title: Lotus Leaves

Author: Heath07

Rating: PG-13 -language, slash

Summary: Slash, Seth/Ryan. Futurefic. Ryan goes away and Seth follows. Ugh, bad summary.

Feedback: Yes, please.

Disclaimer: Unfortunately, I don't own anything. Josh Schwartz is one lucky, genius bastard. I lurve him. :)

Notes: This was written a while ago, but I didn't have access to the internet so it couldn't be posted. Parts of this are rather fluffy and some mildly angsty so you have been warned. :)

March 12, 2004


Seth was not one for organization. No one could blame him, all his life there had been someone ready with a mop and scrub brush trailing after him to clean up his messes. He wished there had been someone there to clean up the mess of his life. To stop him from trashing the best thing he had. But there hadn't been. And everything that had happened with Ryan had been his fault in some way or another. He'd been too much of an idiot to clean it up. If he had just dealt with things differently...

One might think that becoming an adult and holding down a steady job might make Seth more responsible, more equipped to organize, but that was just wrong. If possible, over the years, what little organizational skills Seth had easily had gone down the tubes.

So now, here he was, late for a book signing and forced to listen to some bitter disc jockey. Well, not for long. Grasping for a CD on the passenger seat, he took his eyes away from the road for less than five seconds, but they were precious seconds, because when he looked back up a truck had skipped lanes, the driver struggling for control, and crashed right into him. Wind went sailing through the cavern of the car. Incensed howling and loud, obnoxious screeches came from his tires as he slammed on the brakes.

The impact sent the car spiralling, flipping like a domino on the highway. The vehicle came to a sliding halt, the bumper tittered over the edge, braced by mangled guardrail. He opened his eyes, surprised he still could and then, seeing the shadows of sirens as they careened down the road and toward his vehicle, let them close again, his strength drained.

---

He kicks the door shut with the heel of his foot, his lace getting caught and he stammers and nearly spills the books in his arms all over the floor, but manages to pull his foot loose and keep his balance. He hears laugher and when he looks up, his eyes connect with Ryan's. Even though he feels foolish he smiles and takes a bow.


"I'm glad I could entertain you," Seth murmurs, setting his books down on the closest flat surface and dashing over the arm of the couch, pinning Ryan into the cushions. "I've had the worst day," he mumbles against Ryan's throat.

Ryan's hand strokes the back of Seth's neck, twisting a curl in his calloused fingers. Seth's stomach groans and Ryan lets out a little chuckle. It was still amazing to Seth every time he saw Ryan in his unguarded moments; every time he let out a smile or a laugh without thinking about it Seth considered himself lucky, because not everyone got to see Ryan in a non-brooding way and never this relaxed.

"Hungry?" Ryan asks, his voice thick like he's just woken up from a nap and from the way his clothes are crumbled, Seth guesses that was the case.

Seth pushes himself a little so he can look at Ryan. "Did you cook?"

Ryan nods and blushes just a little and it makes Seth want to skip right to dessert. Looking over his shoulder, Seth notices for the first time their little second-hand table is set for two and a covered dish sits on the stove probably long cold. "You waited?"

Ryan shrugs, still playing with the soft curls at the base of Seth's neck. If he keeps it up, Seth won't be able to think about his growling stomach for much longer. Ryan has a way of making food seem like an option rather than a necessity. Perhaps they could bottle Ryan's secret up and ship him off to Third World countries, thus solving world hunger--though, he'd rather keep the secret to himself.

Reluctantly, Seth stands but not before stealing a kiss. He watches Ryan put the casserole dish into the microwave to heat it up and smiles to himself. Life is good.

Noise, constant and annoying, buzzed around him and made his ears ring. When he opened his eyes, it was only in hopes of finding whoever or whatever it was that was ruining his peaceful slumber. He didn't expect the stark white walls or the legion of machines timely beeping. The room was dark and cold and smelled a little like eleventh grade science lab. Sensations began to filter through his brain. He moved, tentatively, only to cause blinding pain to shoot up his arm and through his shoulder. Flexing his fingers, he looked down at his arm, confused and troubled by the heavy cast he found there.

Seth heard the door open and squinted against the sudden ray of light. He quickly shut his eyes as a nurse leaned over his bed and checked his vitals. Seth meant to open his eyes as soon as she left, but she was taking a long time or at least it felt like a long time and the next thing he knew he was drifting into sleep.


Ryan comes through the door, looking drained. He nearly trips over a pile of Seth's comics that are stacked, in no order, all over the floor. Wading through the pile, he sets down his bag and looks at Seth, his mouth etched in a hard line. "When are you going to clean up this mess?"

Seth barely looks up from his video game, his arm comes over his head and he makes a grand motion that he expects Ryan to understand. "I'll clean it later"

Ryan sighs. "You have a desk in your room. Why do you have to leave your stuff everywhere?" He begins clearing away a spot on the table where Seth has left a few video games and DVD's long overdue. Seth turns, his eyes wide, his lips puckered. Ryan meets his eye and shakes his head. "Just... forget it, I'll clean it."

Seth stands, crosses the small space and crowds Ryan. "Dude, what is your problem?" His hands come to Ryan's shoulders, squeeze just a little. "You've been on edge for, like, the last week."

Ryan's head bows, tension slowly easing. "It's nothing. I still haven't heard from any schools yet." Seth nods in understanding; he knows how important getting into medical school is to Ryan. His hands continue their massage until Ryan looks up again and has a lopsided smile on his face.

"You'll get in; don't stress out. And hey, I know a good stress reliever... " Ryan's eyes darken and Seth knows he's gotten through.

"Did he wake up yet?" The voice he heard was muffled, but familiar. It took too much energy to think, to open his eyes, to do anything, really, so he gave up trying to figure it out.

Another voice, distinctly female and sweet sounding. "Not yet. Are you staying?"

"Yeah." Seth's eyes snapped open then closed with the onslaught of pain that followed. He now knew the voice. How he hadn't recognized it in the first place stumped him.

"You should try to sleep." There was a soft edge to the female's voice, followed by a sigh and the shuffle of paperwork.

"I'd rather be here." Ryan sounded tired and distant.

"If you're sure..."

"I am, but thanks, April; I appreciate it." Seth cringed, even though he knew he had no right to be jealous.

"I know it's none of my business, but what's so special about this patient?" Uh oh, wrong thing to ask. Ryan was not going to give anything up to some stranger. It took Seth years to chip through Ryan's armour and this nurse, April what's-her-face, thought that she could just ask him something so personal and actually get an " See? Ha! Take that Miss my-name-is-also-a-month-of-the-year!

"Okay. If you need anything, I'll be at the front desk."

"Thanks."

Seth heard the scrape of metal on the tiled floored and figured Ryan was pulling up the chair he'd spotted in the corner. The warmth of Ryan's palm on Seth's cheek made him relax and sleep threatened to overtake him again.

"Jesus, Seth, you look like hell," Ryan whispered softly, grasping his hand and lacing their fingers together.

Seth felt his stomach flip-flop, thankful he kept his eyes closed; Ryan wouldn't have dared touch him if he'd known he was awake.

"Gee, thanks," Seth replied, opening his eyes slowly. Ryan started to pull his hand away but Seth grasped it and held on tightly. "Don't," he said, surprised to find his own voice raspy.

Ryan reached over to the tray beside the bed and poured a glass of water. He tilted the cup to Seth's lips and watched him drink greedily. "Hey, slow down, you'll choke," he said, his thumb unconsciously running over the back of Seth's hand.

Ryan pulled the cup away and set it down. "Thanks," Seth said, a little out of breath. Reaching to scratch his head, he felt dried blood and winced. "What happened?"


Seth wakes to the feeling of wet warmth on his chest. His eyelashes flutter open and he instantly recognizes the sandy blonde hair draped over his stomach and cherry lips working their way down his abdomen. "Mmm...nice..." he mumbles, convinced he's still asleep.

"Wake up," Ryan says and his voice is like spun silk. Seth is fully awake now and everything seems to be functioning normally except his brain.

Ryan scoots up and lays next to Seth, slinging his arm around his waist. Seth is confused to say the least. "What happened? You haven't been in this good a mood...well, I actually can't remember when the last time you were in a good mood."

"I got in," Ryan answers nipping Seth's earlobe.

A smile slowly crosses Seth's lips. "I told you."

"Yeah, you did." Ryan squints, facing Seth. "Sorry I've been so-"

"Hey, don't even worry about it. Well, congrats, man."

"Thanks."

Seth rubs his eyes to get the sleep out and to make sure one last time that he actually is awake. "We should go out and celebrate."

"Or..." Ryan smirks, lets his hand trail down Seth's stomach and come to a rest on his boxer shorts. "...we could stay in."

"Mmm-hmm, I like the way you think."


Ryan looked at Seth concerned. "You were in an accident. Do you remember anything?"

Seth let his hand fall to his side, closed his eyes briefly and nodded. "Ah, yeah, it's all coming back to me now. You know how they say your life flashes before your eyes when you have a near-death experience? Yeah, well, they're wrong. The only thing that flashed before me was my mother's voice when I was ten telling me to wear clean underwear in case I got into an accident and then I was trying to remember what kind of underwear I had on and then to come to the realization that I had on X-Men boxers and that it was the second day for those just didn't make me feel too good before I passed out."

Ryan raised his eyebrows and half-smirked. "That's...strange."

"Yeah, well, strange and me go hand-in-hand. So... this is a coincidence. I would say funny running into you here, but a) even I think it's the most cliche pick-up line ever, and b) it's actually not all that funny and rather drafty," Seth said, squirming around in bed uncomfortably shifting his paper nightgown so it rode up under the covers.

Ryan nodded, all traces of humour now gone from his soulful blue eyes. God, Seth had missed those eyes. "Your parent's are worried. I told them you were okay."

Seth tried to sit up. He looked around as if they were hiding in the closet or lounging in the bed next to him. "Are they here?"

"No. No, I told them I'd look after you until you were released and then I'd put you on a plane or drive you back or whatever. Is-is that okay?"

"Yeah, no, it's fine. It's probably for the best, mom would overreact and dad wouldn't leave my side long enough for me to take a piss. They're probably busy with Kailen anyway. "

Ryan nodded.

Kailen had been a surprise. One morning Kirsten and Sandy woke up and answered the door to a hysterical Hailey claiming she couldn't take care of her son anymore. She handed the screaming baby over to her older sister and bolted. No one had even known she was pregnant, they just thought she was off on some retreat again, touring the world. Sandy had his money on Hailey being in some Buddhist monastery in Tibet corrupting all the monks, while Kirsten thought she might have been in Switzerland shacked up with some tall blonde named Sven. Seth and Ryan had their money on Amsterdam and a fat joint. So no one was prepared for Kailen, but his big blue eyes and tufts of red hair had won them all over. That was almost five years ago, just before Seth and Ryan went off to school. Just before everything changed.

Seth had zoned out and realized Ryan had been speaking.

"...and your mom sent me a picture last month. He's getting so big; it's hard to believe he's in school already."

Seth agreed. As unexpected as Kailen had been, he was also a blessing. The kid had a wicked sense of humour Seth had helped foster and he was always a good distraction when Seth got too depressed about his life and what could have been. "I bought him his first comic the other day. It's good to start them young."

"Sandy says he's becoming more like you everyday."

Seth laughed and ignored the twinge of pain that came with it. "Yeah, at this rate, he'll be a social outcast by second grade. Yeah, no, I'm a little worried about that. I mean, I know what a hard time I had in school, I don't want him to have the same problems. If he wants to be popular, I don't think I'm a very good influence."

"Popularity is overrated. Besides, who wouldn't want you in their life?"

Seth's head jerked around so fast he felt dizzy. Was he insane? Seth wanted to scream: 'you, that's who!' but didn't. He couldn't bring himself to ask Ryan why it had been so long since they had talked, why everything between them had fallen apart and why it took an accident and hospital stay for them to act like civilized human beings. He met Ryan's eye and cleared his throat. "Man, my head feels like it's about to explode."

Ryan pulled his hand away from Seth's and Seth was astounded to find out they had been touching that entire time. "Could be that nasty bump from where you hit it on the steering wheel. Here, let me-let me take a look."

Seth mock saluted him. "Yes, sir, Doctor Atwood."

Ryan leaned forward and pulled a pen light from his lab coat.


Seth throws the slice of pizza back into the box; he doesn't feel hungry anymore, he just feels sick. "I understand you want to go to medical school, but why so far away?"

Ryan tries to comfort Seth, but he pulls away and puts the space of the room between them. "Seth."

Seth raises his hands in front of himself, as if he's pushing a large cart up a hill. "If you're going to spout off a bunch of platitudes, spare me."

Ryan shakes his head. "You're being unreasonable. It's not like we won't still be together, we'll just be taking a break and eventually when my internship is over, we can-"

Seth feels like he's hyperventilating, like someone is choking him and squeezing his heart so the blood doesn't get to his brain. That must be the problem, because Ryan can not really be saying the things he is. "Don't. Fine, go. Wear your green scrubs and latex gloves and forget all about me. It's not like I'm important, right? It's not like we've been in a committed relationship since senior year. It's not like any of this matters to you. "

"Stop being so dramatic. We'll see each other on the holidays..."

Seth knows his eyes are moist and that Ryan is glaring at him like he's a spoiled child he has to scold, but he doesn't care; when you love someone who doesn't love you back, it's the worst pain in the world and he can't control the urge to cry. "Fuck you, Ryan." His voice is quiet and far more powerful than if he had yelled.


Ryan lifted Seth's eyelids and aimed the flashlight at Seth's pupils. Dizzy. Seth felt dizzy and he knew goddamn well it had nothing to do with the concussion that was making his head feel like a radio-active grapefruit. It was Ryan. It had always been Ryan. The distinct odour of cigarettes and anti-bacterial soap permeated the air. Seth smirked, making a disapproving noise. "Still smoking? You're not setting a very good example for your patients."

"Still play video games?"

Seth tilted his head to the side despite the fact that Ryan was still trying to look into his eyes. "Yeah, why?"

"That's what I thought. I'll quit smoking when you quit playing video games," Ryan said. It felt good to hear him teasing.

"Fair enough," Seth agreed and let Ryan resume his check-up. Knowing that his injuries weren't that serious if Ryan was joking, Seth decided to just go for it; to try to rekindle some of the old banter that used to make their relationship so great. "We should have stuck to our agreement to stick together. Because together we're unstoppable, but apart..."

Ryan stopped, pocketed the pen light. "You get into a car accident and break your arm and bruise your ribs and get a contusion on your head."

Seth put his hand to his ribs and tried not to jostle the bed. "Okay, dude, stop, the more you talk about it the more painful it feels."

Ryan hesitated then lifted the corner of a bandage on Seth's forehead.

Seth winced despite himself. "Will it leave a scar?"

Ryan took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "It might. It'll hurt for a while, but eventually...the pain will fade."

Seth couldn't breathe.

Ryan was talking again and Seth tuned in to catch the last sentence. "...I've got to go but I'll check in on you later."

"Okay." It was all he could say. Seth settled back under the covers and before he had a chance to let everything sink in, his eyes were closing and sleep claimed him.


Seth comes around the corner, juggling books and the apartment keys in his hands. He stops when he hears voices.

"He wants what's best for you. He'll go." Summer's voice.

"What would he do there? I can't just drag him across the country because I want him there," he says and that's Ryan.

"Who're you kidding, Chino? Seth would follow you to Mars if you wanted him to. You love him and I know he loves you because he doesn't ever shut up about you. Stop being such a jackass and ask him."

Seth leans against the wall, pressing his ear to the drywall to hear better.

Ryan sounds agitated. "I can't. I won't do that to him."

"I never knew you were such a chicken-shit, Chino. Grow some balls or stop jerking him around; Seth deserves better."

The door opens with a whoosh and slams shut behind Summer. Her heels click on the floor where the carpet has warn away. She turns to the door, looking ready for a second round. Her hand is poised over the handle when she spots him and stops. Seth shakes his head and lets his books fall to the floor.

"Sorry, Cohen," Summer says--and she does sound sorry, such a rare thing for Summer, that he knows the situation is as bad as he thinks--bending down and picking up his books. Seth rubs his eyes to clear his vision and nods, taking the books from her and breathing deeply when her hand slips inside of his.


Seth was startled awake. He blinked several times. A nurse smiled back at him.

"Sorry, hon," the woman said, picking up the tray and various medical products she'd dropped. "Butter fingers," she explained, laughing robustly.

Seth nodded, instantly regretting it. "Careful there, you're battered and bruised. You're probably feeling it a lot more now, but you look better."

Seth wondered where Ryan had gone or if he'd been there at all. Was it possible he'd dreamt it all up?

The nurse touched his forehead, brushing his curls to the side like his mother would have done. It was strangely comforting. There was nothing about this woman that reminded him of his mother though. Where his mother was slim and blonde, this nurse was thick around the middle and thighs and her hair was a soft brown with waves. There was a hint of an accent he couldn't quite place, too. She did, however, have a mother's touch. She checked his vitals and changed his IV, all with a bounce in her step and a song.

"I'd say you're going to be all right," she concluded with a warm smile. "The doctor should be in soon."

"What's my doctor's name?"

The nurse looked at him strangely, picking up his chart and scanning it.

Seth peered up at her, trying to get a glimpse of the paper. "What? What's wrong?"

"It doesn't say anything here about a head injury."

"A head injury?!"

"I'm sure it's nothing... well, it's just, I talked to April--that's the other nurse--and she said that you knew Doctor Atwood, but if you-"

"Oh, no, sorry, I just...I thought that was all a dream."

"Oh," she said, slowly nodding.

"Never mind. ," he said.

"So I've heard." She laughed. "He'll be by soon. Get some rest."


Seth grabs Ryan's arm, holds on tighter when Ryan tries to pull it away. "Ask me to come with you."

Ryan kicks a nearby box, they both watch as it falls over on its side. "I can't do that. It wouldn't be fair."

Seth's chest rises and falls from heavy breaths. "Screw fair, Ryan! You're scared. You're like...like, commitment phobic or something. I want to be with you, why can't you understand that?"

Ryan roughly yanks his arm away, grabs the suitcase by the door and turns his back on Seth. "I don't have time for this."

"Walk away, Atwood, it's what you're good at."

Ryan spins around, drops the suitcase to the ground and slams Seth into the wall. "This is hard for me, too. Just because I'm the one leaving, doesn't mean that I don't care."

"Well, you have a funny way of showing it," Seth says, rolling his eyes.

Ryan bows his head, rests it against Seth's chest and grips his arms painfully tight. When he lifts his head, his eyes are so gray and pained that Seth can't speak. "Take care of yourself," Ryan finally says and presses his lips to Seth's brutally hard, lets go and walks out the door.


Ryan did come by, not as often as Seth would have liked, but he was busy and the awkward silences were enough to be thankful when Ryan would set his chart back down and leave the room promising to return soon, they weren't quite awkward enough to ward off the hours when Seth would count the tiles above his head waiting for Ryan to actually come back. He spent his time pestering the nurses about the quality of the reading material the hospital provided and why they didn't have one decent comic in the entire place. There wasn't much to do all day laying in bed and he got the impression that some of the nurses didn't quite get his sense of humour, but as long as there wasn't a Nurse Ratched, he figured he'd survive.

Seth was sick of fucking Jell-O. Well, he wasn't sick of 'fucking' Jell-O because...was that even possible? Hmm... That was something to consider the next time he wanted to kink up his sex life. Not that he had a sex life...

Breakfast, lunch and dinner for the past two days had consisted of various shades of the wobbly gelatine and if he had to consume another bite, he was going to throw-up all over his paper hospital nightgown. And then the nurses would probably feed that to him for dessert. Ew! God, for once he wished Summer was around to bug him. At least she would appreciate the grossness of his situation. He could just hear her: 'God, Cohen, you couldn't even get a private room? There are people here with, like, diseases and stuff. Ew!' Seth shuddered. Okay, so maybe, Summer wouldn't deal well with the hospital situation, but at least she could give him some solid advice about what to do about Ryan or what not to do, because he was, inevitably, going to screw it up. Again.

"Good news," Ryan announced, walking into his room, looking taller somehow - it could have been the grin that lit his face from ear to ear, 'cause Seth had never seen Ryan smile that big before.

Seth shook his head trying to dislodge Summer's voice espousing how good Chino, err... Ryan looked in scrubs: 'They, like, totally make his biceps look huge and look at that ass! When did Chino get such a great ass? I wonder if he's still into those wife-beaters, I bet his abs are still rock hard...' "Shut up!" Seth muttered to imaginary Summer.

Ryan looked at him strangely, his smile faltering. "What?"

"What?" Seth echoed, his eyes widening.

"I said I had good news and you told me to shut up."

"Oh, I, uh, wasn't talking to you. Sorry, what was the good news?"

"You're being released."

"Great, but, uh, dude, I have nowhere to go."

"Course ya do; you're staying with me."

"Are you sure? 'Cause I've still got a credit card. I could just rent a room until the car is fixed or I could come back for it or-"

"You're staying with me," Ryan said again like there was no room left to argue.


They drove away from the city, away from the suburbs, past little shops as the houses began to become more scarce and turned down a winding road. It wasn't like Newport. There was no glitz or glam, no million dollar shopping centres or gated houses, no valet parking, no white-sanded beach or beautiful, enormous eternally blue-sky vistas. It was just a simple town with a small coffee shop instead of a Starbucks, a general store in place of a mini-mall and spruce and evergreen trees in place of palms.

Ryan's house was nice. Small, but nice. It made Seth a little bit jealous that Ryan actually had a house. Not because Seth couldn't afford his own house, because with Seth's trust fund, he could buy a small island or a big island or lots of tiny islands or... Anyway, the fact that Ryan had a house meant that he had roots now. He was settled down and wasn't planning on coming back to Orange County anytime soon and that meant that Ryan was full of shit and never planned on coming back for Seth at all. It only made Seth feel marginally better when he found out that Ryan was only renting the property.

The interior was a little out of order which was weird for Ryan considering how clean he'd always kept their apartment when they were in college and the pool house before that.

"Sorry," Ryan said, clearing his boots and papers still in their pink protective bags, unread, from the front hallway. "I guess I picked up some of your bad habits." He tried to laugh, but it came out forced.

Seth leaned against the doorframe to support his weight when he began to sway. He still wasn't very strong. "Unfortunately for me, I still don't like to clean up. Maybe if I did, I wouldn't have gotten into an accident."

"Maybe," Ryan said, taking Seth's arm and slinging it over his shoulder. He led Seth to the couch and propped a pillow behind his head then lifted his feet onto some cushions. "Hungry?"

Seth shook his head.

"You should try to eat," Ryan encouraged.

"Maybe just coffee."

Ryan nodded and disappeared into another room. Fifteen minutes later, Seth had just started to nod off when the smell of coffee and pancakes wafted into the room.

"Dude, you shouldn't have gone to any trouble," Seth said, from his place on the couch as Ryan handed him a mug of coffee and set a plate of pancakes in front of him. From his pocket, Ryan took out the blue bottle filled with round pain pills and handed it over to Seth. "Take two now, the other medication is probably wearing off."

Seth nodded and popped two pills into his mouth, chasing them down with coffee. "Thanks, I really appreciate it, but you don't have to do all this for me."

Ryan dismissed him and sat in a lounge chair across the room, his eyes fixed on the fire he'd neglected to build when they first walked through the door. "Try to eat, you need your strength."

Seth reluctantly picked up a fork and broke off a piece of hot pancake, putting it in his mouth. He chewed slowly. His hunger awakened. The syrup slid over his tongue and the pancake was fluffy and buttery and just plain good. He'd forgotten that Ryan could actually cook and missed the taste of fresh food, considering that most of his meals came from a box or from the telephone book.

"I read your last book," Ryan said out of nowhere.

Seth tried to sit up a little. "Yeah? That makes four people: you, my mom, my dad and Summer--and I say that loosely, because Summer's idea of reading is skimming through the pages and then skipping ahead to the end. Which is really just sad, because it's more of a novella and, like, just over a hundred-and-fifty pages, so really, that's just pathetic on her part. But, yeah, that's awesome that you read it."

"Right. I heard it did well."

"What'd you think?" Seth braced himself. Ryan had a way of not sugar-coating things, he was like Summer that way.

Ryan shrugged. "It was good," he said, igniting a match and throwing it into the fireplace.

Seth shook his head, he stared into his coffee. "You hated it, didn't you?"

"No...I just...it was a bit dark. It didn't seem like you, but the critics seemed to like it. I read the reviews in the paper."

"Critics are assholes. If it makes you feel better, my mom hated it too. She said I venerated the main character and after all the build up there was no pay off. Mom likes happy endings, she's a sap that way. "

Ryan's eyes flickered darkly against the orange flames. "She has a point. I guess I wanted a happy ending, too."

Seth took in a breath, scratched his neck and up into his hair, making his Jewfro puff and stand up in all directions. "I dunno, I guess I didn't know how to end it. It didn't feel finished." A beat. "It was...it was about us, you know."

"I know," Ryan answered lowly.

Seth nodded, finishing off the last of his coffee. They were both quiet and Seth would have hit himself if he didn't think it would have aggravated his injuries. Instead, he settled for his best line of defence. Humour.

"Hey, Ryan? I don't care if you hated the book, just don't get all Misery on me."

Ryan turned his head slowly, caught Seth's eye and looked away. "Trust me, I won't, I'm not that big a fan." Seth heard the teasing tone and knew they were past the tension that had arisen.

"Okay, but, dude, if I wake up with my legs between cinder blocks and you wielding a ginormous hammer, I'm screaming until I wake up all your neighbours."

Ryan's smile was faint. "I'll keep that in mind."

Seth barely finished an entire pancake before his eyes were dropping and he couldn't hold in his yawn any longer.

Ryan cleared his throat. "Why don't you go take a nap in my room; I'll clean up."

Seth was torn between admitting how drained he really felt and acting like he was fine. Ryan must have sensed his hesitation and was on his feet and by Seth's side, offering him a hand before Seth had a chance to protest. "Come on, don't tell me you're not tired when I know damn well you are."

Seth would have come up with a witty comeback if his head hadn't been pounding and his shoulder throbbing from the awkward position he'd taken up on the couch. Ryan's hand wrapped around his elbow and he suppressed the urge to squeal like a schoolgirl.


It was dark when he opened his eyes in a room he didn't recognize. He barely remembered stumbling into bed and Ryan covering him with blankets before he passed out cold. The door was open a crack and he could hear the drone of sports commentary and the flicker of the light from the televison coming from the living room. Seth rolled to his side. He'd never been one to sleep on his back, but these days, put a bed under him and he was content to sleep any which way. His body protested and he heard something pop. He closed his eyes and breathed in and out slowly, comforted by the scent of Ryan on the sheets and pillows.

Seth's mouth felt thick and pasty, the rest of him felt grungy. Sponge baths just didn't cut it. The only time Seth had gone this long without showering was a week his first year of college when he had three midterms and four papers he'd left until the last minute and zero time to get anything done. Ryan had finally hosed him down in the kitchen as he ate over the sink in an attempt to bring some civility back into their lives. Seth had laughed instead of getting angry and Ryan dragged him into the shower to give him a proper washing. Seth smiled, fondly remembering. Those were good times. He'd give anything to get that lightness back in their lives. He'd give anything to get Ryan back in his life. Period.

Carefully, he untangled himself from the blankets and draped his feet over the edge of the bed.

The phone rang twice before Ryan picked it up. Seth's ears perked up as he listened.

"Hello? Oh, hi. Yeah, he's here. No... What? Look, that was a long time ago..."

Seth could tell from the hushed whisper and the prolonged silences on Ryan's end that the caller wasn't a stranger and he would make a ten dollar guess that Summer was busy chewing him out on the other line. Bracing himself with the bedpost, Seth stood, walked to the door and blinked against the harsh light as he opened it. Seth could clearly make out Ryan sitting quietly holding the phone away from his ear while Summer worked through a rage blackout.

"Is it for me?" he asked sleepily.

Ryan got up from the couch and handed him the phone, relief etched on the tired lines of his face. "Even after all this time she's still pissed at me," Ryan said wistfully and walked into the kitchen.

Seth lowered himself to a chair and held the phone to his ear. "Summer?"

"Oh, muh God! Are you okay?"

"Yeah, fine."

"You're such a liar!" she squealed. "Is he in the room with you?"

Seth looked over his shoulder, Ryan was still in the kitchen. "What? No."

Summer let out an excited giggle. "I couldn't believe it when your mom told me you were with Ryan-"

Seth's brows knitted together in confusion, the cut on his forehead stinging mildly. "Hang on a minute...this is about Ryan, not about my physical well-being?"

"Well, you're obviously okay, otherwise your mother would have called with the funeral arrangements."

Seth let out a little huff. "I could be dying as we speak."

"You're not dying, Cohen. Cracking up, going a little insane? Maybe. But definitely not dying." Seth could practically picture Summer rolling her eyes.

"You're such a bitch," he said with little power, not that she'd believe he meant it anyway.

"It's why you love me," she said proudly. "Now, enough about you, tell me what's going on. I need the gossip, Cohen. What happened when you saw him? What did he do? What did you do? Have you guys done it yet?"

"Summer," he groaned.

"I know you way too well to know that you're completely freaking out on the inside, now spill the beans or I'm getting on the next flight and beating the truth out of you."

"No. Now go back to whatever old, wealthy slob you have waiting in the wings."

"Cohen," she whined.

"Bye, Summer."

"I hate you."

"Love you too, sweets."

"Call me later."

"'kay."

Summer and Seth would always have a connection and as shallow and petty as Summer could sometimes be, she was also his best friend and had helped him through the whole Ryan break-up thing; she was always there when he needed her and vise versa, though he could do without the constant set-ups and blind dates that never went anywhere.

Seth was smiling when he hung the phone back on the receiver, but it faded quickly with the slice of pain that went through his arm and shot right to his shoulder. Seth layed his head back against the chair and closed his eyes, his arm tucked into his body. Rolling his head to the side, he peeked through his eyelashes and opened them fully when he saw Ryan leaning against the wall, arms across his chest, eyes centred on Seth's face.

"Hey."

"Hey," Ryan echoed, lazy and slow and it felt like warm sun coming from the blinds as Seth's skin began to heat.

"Sorry if she was rude."

"It's okay, I probably deserve it," he said quietly.

Seth didn't comment, he wasn't entirely sure what to say and he had gained some control over his excessive babbling over the years. It was probably an aftershock of all the writing he'd been doing; writing his thoughts down instead of spewing them at people without thinking had really improved his credibility. Besides, being an observer really had it's benefits. He sort of understood why Ryan had always been so quiet.

Seth touched his unruly hair, felt the grit and remnants of blood on his scalp. "Do you mind if I take a shower?"

"You should have a bath instead, it's easier and it'll probably make you feel better. Plus, it'll be easier to keep the cast dry."

"Okay."

"I put your clothes in the closet. Take your time; dinner won't be for another hour."

Seth nodded and headed into the bedroom. He pulled his suitcase from the closet and rummaged through his wrinkled clothes; he'd never quite gotten the packing thing down pat. He layed out a pair of jeans, boxers, socks and a t-shirt on the bed and closed it back up. Setting his things on the floor in the bathroom, he found a fresh towel and soap all ready waiting for him. Letting the water run, Seth went in search of something to protect his cast from the water. He walked into the kitchen where Ryan was stirring something on the stove. It was weird. Ryan looked so domesticated and Seth felt a little like he was living some strange fantasy life.

Ryan turned when he heard Seth behind him and held out a spoon with piping hot stew on it for Seth to taste. Seth's eyes flickered between the spoon and Ryan's eyes. He remembered a time when just looking at a spoon got him so hot he'd have Ryan's clothes off and pressed onto the nearest flat surface before he could blink and now it seemed so long ago. They exchanged a look, the same wordless communication that had always been part of their bond and Ryan had to know what he was thinking, remembering. Leaning down, he blew on it to cool the food down and took a taste. He swallowed and could barely meet Ryan's eyes.

"Does it need anything?" Ryan asked, chucking the spoon into the sink.

"No," Seth responded. "Do you have anything I can use to keep my arm dry?"

Ryan nodded and searched the drawers for a plastic bag and something to hold it together; he handed it all off to Seth.

"Can you help me with it?"

Ryan looked down at Seth's arm wrapped in a bright blue cast, his eyes hooded. He took the plastic bag and wrapped it around the cast, tying it at the end and using tape to keep it in place and prevent water from seeping in.

"Thanks," Seth barely made out, his skin tingly just above the cast where Ryan's pinky had accidentally made contact.

"No problem." Ryan got out another spoon from the drawer and stirred the pot again.


Seth liked to listen to the gurgle of water before it sloshed down the drain.

GlubGlubGlub.

Slurp.

If only life were as easy as rinsing problems away with soap and sending it down the drain to be forgotten.

Undressing had proved to be a challenge; there was no nurse there to support his weight as he stripped, but there was no way in hell he was going to ask Ryan for help with that too. Dressing wasn't any easier but he managed it just fine after a little struggle with his pants and a lecture to his uncooperative shirt.

After dinner, Ryan set the dishes in the sink and let them soak in the soapy water while he pocketed his keys and grabbed a jacket from a rack in the hallway.

Seth, who had been curled up on the couch under a blanket, lifted his head. "Where you going?"

Ryan looked guilty. "Oh, I, uh, usually meet a few friends over at The Blarney Stone on Tuesdays. Did-did you wanna come?"

Seth tossed the blanket down and sat up. "Can I?"

"We won't stay out too late if you feel sick, just tell me and we'll go, okay? You can borrow a coat from me," Ryan said and went to the hallway closet producing a big bulky jacket.

Seth took the coat and grimaced. "Do I have to wear this?" He was aware he sounded like a child, but all Ryan had on was a thin jacket over a button down checkered shirt and a wife-beater. Seth didn't want to look like a wuss, but it didn't seem fair.

"Put it on or we don't go," Ryan said firmly with one of those hard looks Seth had missed so much and it was because of that, the feeling of comfortable confrontation, that Seth slipped the coat on, aided by Ryan when he wobbled.

The pub was small and filled with people dressed like Ryan. Seth hadn't felt this out of place since highschool. He stuck close to Ryan and protected his arm from drunken patrons as they slipped through the crowd to two tables near the back where a group of strangers were involved in a loud conversation, playing pool or otherwise engaged.

One by one the group spotted Ryan and his approach, by the time they reached the table, everyone had stopped talking and were looking at Seth. Seth felt every insecurity he'd ever harboured spring to the surface.

"This is Seth. This is everyone," Ryan said and ordered a beer while everyone introduced themselves.

Most of the strangers offered him a hey or a hello, but there were one or two that shook his good hand before going back to their conversations or walking back over to the pool and foosball tables. No one seemed shocked by his appearance so Seth figured they all ready knew what had happened.

"So you're the infamous Seth," a woman, about twenty-five with electric red hair and a lip ring said.

Seth smiled, his cheeks feeling like they'd been doused with kerosene and struck with a match. "I guess I am."

Ryan shot the woman a scowl and she just laughed. "Here, come sit beside me," she said, patting the cushion.

Ryan was brooding across from them by the time Seth squeezed into the booth. A waitress placed a beer in front of him and he mumbled a thank you before he was overwhelmed by Ryan's friends asking him questions.

It didn't surprise Seth that Ryan had friends; people flocked to Ryan, there was just something about him. Unlike Seth, who could count the number of friends he had in highschool on one hand, Ryan had always made friends and things hadn't changed that much since then.

There was Eric and Gina, a married couple and obviously still newlyweds--Seth had dropped a stack of napkins and when he reached over to try to pick them up(until Ryan did it for him)he'd caught a glimpse of Gina's hand down Eric's pants under the table. Seth blinked twice and he was sure his face was beet red. When Ryan asked if he was all right, he lied and said he'd bumped his elbow, but that he was fine. Eric was quiet but cool and Seth didn't blame him for not being a chatterbox, considering. Gina was funny and sarcastic and reminded him of Summer, only her remarks weren't cutting.

Matt and Tim were a couple as far as Seth could tell. Tim had gotten up shortly after Seth had sat down to play foosball, but Matt had stayed back and took up a seat closer to them.

Matt was a skinny guy, shorter than Seth, shorter than even Ryan, but he had these bright blue eyes and bleach-blonde hair that stuck up all over the place and a tattoo of a lotus on his inner wrist. He radiated confidence. When Seth asked to take a better look at the tattoo, Matt had rolled up his sleeve with a smile and told him the story behind it without Seth having to ask. He'd said that it was a myth that whoever ate the lotus would forget about their place of birth and lose all desire to go back. When Seth asked why he wanted to forget where he was from, he'd noticed Ryan slouched down in his seat and slugged his beer back, taking three large gulps before he set it back down on a coaster. Matt had shrugged and said: 'doesn't everyone?' and Seth knew there was more to the story than that, but didn't push. Matt was an interesting guy and would definitely make a great character in his next book, but Seth was through letting art imitate life.

Beside him was Isabella, whom they all called Bella because she was, in fact, beautiful; not the classic beautiful Summer was, but a more unrefined, flawed beautiful. She had the most amazing eyes. Seth had never seen eyes that green before and he wondered if she was wearing contacts, but when someone issued her a challenge for a game of pool, she had donned glasses to see the balls better and he knew they were her own colour.

Jeremy and Jordan were both tall and good-looking and definitely not a couple. They were brothers and straight and didn't mind hitting on every waitress that passed them by. They looked like every jock he'd been afraid of in highschool. Seth expected to get beat up, to be called queer or some other form of torture, but what he got was polite conversation and a beer at their expense. They told him stories about Ryan and the first time they met him in the emergency room after Jordan had dropped a motor on Jeremy's foot. Seth found out they owned a family-run business on the edge of town and were the ones working on his car. After nearly an hour of conversation the brother's excused themselves and took over the foosball table.

"You're turn, Atwood," Bella said, sliding into the booth next to Seth again.

Ryan looked across the table at Seth. "You going to be okay?"

Isabella sighed dramatically and flung her arm around Seth. "He'll be fine. I'll take care of him. Now go, you worry too much."

"Yeah, I'll be Fine," Seth assured him. Ryan seemed reluctant to leave him there, but got up and walked over to the pool table nonetheless.

"Was he always so uptight?" Bella asked, sipping on a fruity girl drink Seth didn't know the name of but liked the look of.

"He was worse. Always brooding and angry and punching people," Seth mocked, laughing.

"Ah, so the punching thing wasn't inspired by me? I'm disappointed."

Seth took a sip of his beer and swallowed past the bitter taste. "Who'd he punch for you?"

"Some jerk who was trying to get me to go home with him. One minute I was flailing around like a sea otter and the next thing I know buddy was on the floor and some blonde God was asking me if I was okay."

Seth let his eyes drift to Ryan. "Yeah, he's got a hero complex, that one."

"You're telling me, honey! So, I got him drunk and tried to take advantage of him but he fed me this story of some boy he'd left back in Orange County. I thought you were imaginary, that maybe he was too nice to just say flat-out that there wasn't a chance for us. "

"Sorry to disappoint you," Seth said with a smile.

"I'm not disappointed," she corrected. "Jealous, maybe." She laughed. "But not disappointed. You're every bit as funny and sweet as Ryan described and you're cuter than I imagined."

Seth blushed. "Thanks."

They both sat in silence, watching as Ryan sunk the eight ball and claimed victory. "He doesn't come out and say it, but he still cares about you."

Seth nodded and they were both quiet when Ryan came back to the table. Ryan looked between them and raised his eyebrows at Bella who smiled innocently.

By the time two o'clock rolled around, the pub had cleared out and Ryan and Seth bid adieu to his friends and headed home.

Seth got into the car and leaned against his seat, watching Ryan as he drove.

Ryan helped Seth out of the car and into the house toward the bedroom. He dropped Seth onto the bed and turned to leave the room.

"You're friends are nice," Seth said, slurring. Alcohol and pain pills were not a good combination. "Es-pecially Bella. She's, like, cool, you know? Not cool like ice, just cool like cool-cool, you know what I mean? Am I rambling? I tend to do that, remember?"

Ryan nodded, leaning over to take off Seth's shoes.

"Thanks, man," Seth said, turning over so his belly was flat against the mattress and his face was plush with the pillow. "I never did stop," Seth muttered as Ryan covered him with a blanket.

"Stop what?" Ryan asked, confused.

"Loving you," Seth answered and promptly began to snore.


Seth knocks on the door of the rundown apartment, hoping he won't contract some airborne disease. He hears hurried footsteps inside and what sounds like four locks twisting open.

Ryan looks tired and more than a little surprised to see Seth standing in his doorway carrying three suitcases and a folder with his most important comics wrapped in acid free plastic and bound between cardboard.

"Seth! What're you doing here?"

Seth brushes past Ryan and into the apartment, setting down his bags and straitening his back. He twists around dramatically, stretches so his fingers touch his toes before he looks back up and smiles. "Well, I was thinking about it and you've been here for almost a month now, so I'm sure you're a little lonely and since I knew you would never tell me that, I decided to take the pressure off of you."

Ryan's hair falls in his eyes and he runs his hand over his forehead, pushing his hair out of the way. He needs a haircut and a shave. "That's...it's nice of you to come all this way, but I'm going to be really busy. We won't have much time to hang out while you visit."

Seth's smile gets bigger, his cheeks flush a little. "I'm not here to visit, I'm here to stay."

Ryan rubs his hand down his stubbled cheek. "What? Seth, you can't."

"Why not?"

"Because...because where would you sleep for one?"

"With you of course." Seth looks around the bachelor apartment. Against one wall is a faucet that constantly drips and stains the porcelain yellow; a small stand holds a microwave where Ryan's plates, glasses and cutlery are stacked neatly; there's a small cupboard where Ryan stores his food and it looks mostly empty from where Seth is standing; a foldable chair is in the centre of the room next to a milk crate that holds a radio/alarm clock, but there isn't a bed in site. "Speaking of which, where's your bed? I have serious jet lag."

"There is no bed. See that pile of blankets in the corner? that's my bed. Have at it." Seth can see something akin to anger in Ryan's eyes and he can't figure out what he's done.

Seth notices for the first time how exhausted and worn-out Ryan looks. "Dude, why don't you ask my parents for some money to get a bed...and a better apartment while you're at it."

"Seth, don't. I've relied on them for too much all ready."

"Yeah, that's what we're supposed to do. They're parents, Ryan. It's their job to be ATM's."

"I'm not like you, Seth."

Seth feels like the wind has been knocked out of him. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Ryan bows his head, shakes it a little. "Nothing."

Seth stares at Ryan until their eyes are locked, Ryan looks away first. "I don't want to be anyone's burden," he says slowly. "You don't belong here, Seth. Maybe you should go home."

"Ryan, dude, what the hell is wrong with you? I came all this way to be with you--which I told Summer was a bad idea--but I came anyway because I missed you, don't you miss me? Don't you miss us?"

"Of course I do, but things are different now."

"Not things, you. You're different. What the hell has gotten into you? You're acting like some...like, like a..."

Seth doesn't finish because Ryan's lips are on his and his back is against the wall. The wind expels from his lungs and he feels like he can't breath. Ryan's hands are everywhere and they're rough.

"Wait," Seth says, but Ryan's tongue slips into his mouth and his teeth nip Seth's lip when he tries to speak again. "Just...wait," Seth repeats, pulling away

"What?" Ryan says angrily, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "This is what you wanted, isn't it? This is why you came here, right?"

"No!" Seth denies. "I don't understand you."

Ryan closes his eyes and turns so his face is masked. "Just go, Seth. Please, just go."

Seth stands staring at Ryan's back and when Ryan refuses to look at him, he slowly picks up his stuff and walks to the door. "I don't know what I did," he says in a small voice and then, "you can't make me stop loving you." He walks out, leaving the door open and turns back once to see Ryan's shoulders slumped in the same spot as before.


The days passed quickly and most of the time Ryan was too busy at work to notice how sombre Seth's mood was becoming. Jordan had called to say the car was ready and that Ryan could swing by and pick it up any time; Seth had erased the message, but Ryan had showed up that same night behind the wheel of Seth's Range Rover and told him they'd head out first thing Monday morning and that he'd all ready cleared the time off at work. Seth couldn't eat dinner that night and Ryan wanted to take him back to the hospital to have a check-up to make sure everything was okay. Seth refused and humoured him by forcing himself to eat a steak and potato that he couldn't taste.

It was six in the morning when Seth was startled awake by the '80s rock station spiralling to life from Ryan's alarm clock. Ryan came rushing in the room, dressed in boxers and a wife-beater to turn it off. This was vintage Ryan. This was how Seth always pictured Ryan in his fantasies.

"I forgot that it'd wake you up when I set it last night," Ryan said as an apology.

"It's cool."

Ryan grabbed what appeared to be a uniform from his closet and a set of cleats from the floor. He pulled out a whistle that hung from a string out of his dresser drawer. "I coach soccer on Saturdays. You can come if you want, but we have to leave in fifteen minutes."

"Okay," Seth said, getting out of bed as he spoke.

The field was nothing like the one at Harbor--the only soccer field Seth ever remembered being on. This one wasn't kept up with a team of gardeners. There were some patches of dirt by the goal post where the grass had worn away and no one had bothered to replace it and there were weeds tangled into the rest of the grass, but it was quaint and somehow felt bigger and better than anything Newport had fostered.

Ryan parked the car on the street and pulled out a mesh bag with soccer balls from his trunk. Even from this distance, Seth could make out a group of kids milling around coolers and slugging back Gatorade, parents chatting/gossiping with babies on their shoulders and a keen eye on their other little ones. Seth had to bite back a smile. They were in the middle of freaking suburbia. Seth turned to point that out to Ryan, but he was focussed on something else.

Ryan's attention was on the field, on a kid running full steam toward them, in particular.

The kid jumped into Ryan's arms, laughing. A woman, April, he recognized from the hospital, followed closely behind, a pleasant smile on her face and it wasn't Seth's imagination that her eyes sweep up and down Ryan's torso.

Ryan's smile was big and bold and Seth felt a little like he'd been hit really hard in the chest. "Hey, buddy. You got your game face on?"

"Yup," the kid squealed, scrunching up his face in a scowl that Ryan had probably taught him.

"Very intimidating," Ryan said, setting him down and tousling his golden hair. Seth felt his stomach lurch, standing together like that, they looked like a family. "Seth, I'd like you to meet my star player, Jake."

Seth gave a little wave of his hand, unable to properly greet the tike. "Nice to meet you, Jake."

"What happened to your face and why do you have that thing on your arm?" he asked, pointing to Seth's cast. There was nothing as refreshing as a child's bluntness and honesty.

April's face flushed at her son's inquisitiveness. Seth shrugged. "I got into a car accident. This huge truck ran right into my car and spun me around; I almost fell off a cliff. I broke my arm and this is what I have to wear until it heals. You can sign the cast later if you want... If it's okay with your mom."

"Cool!"

"Yeah," Seth said, chuckling.

"The things that impress six-year olds," April commented. She took the kid's hand and pointed to the benches. "Come on, Jake. Let's get your cleats on and then you can join the other kids."

"'kay," Jake said, pulling up his socks. The pair walked away and Ryan pulled out a set of keys from his pocket, walking over to the equipment shed and unlocking it.

Seth scratched behind his ear. "Are you and her, you know...?" It hit him that he was deathly afraid of the answer.

"Me and April?" Ryan asked, laughing. "No, it's not even like that. Her husband left her when Jake was just a baby. I met her at the hospital and we got close, but never like that. She's the one that convinced a.k.a coerced me into coaching the team."

"Oh."

"He's a pretty cool little guy," Ryan said, his eyes on the boy with a fondness that reminded him of how he felt about Kailen. "April works so hard at the hospital and she's been a good friend to me, so I kinda step in whenever she needs help."

Seth nodded and watched Ryan pull out the nets and proceed to put them up.

Seth had never been good at sports, but Ryan...Ryan had the natural ability of a star athlete and the body of one too. His thickly muscled arms and broad shoulders were perfect. His body moved like a machine, like he could predict which way the ball was going to go.

Seth watched as Ryan had the kids run laps to warm up. He remembered when Ryan was the one being coached, circling the track and leaving everyone to choke on his dust and he smiled. Things had been so simple then, when neither of them were aware of the other's attraction and they still hid under the guise of best friends.


When they got home later that day, Seth went into the bedroom to take a nap, but found himself unable to fall asleep.

Ryan had a good life here and Seth wanted in. Seth wanted to go to Blarney Stone Pub on Tuesdays and watch Ryan kick the soccer ball around with twenty uncoordinated six-year-olds on Saturdays and spend Sundays curled up on the couch watching nothing in particular.

Ryan had friends and a house and responsibilities. There didn't seem to be room for Seth...maybe there never had been. Maybe Seth had deluded himself into thinking they had had a whirlwind romance when all it really had been was a way to pass the time at best. Maybe it had been easier for Ryan to sleep with Seth than to find himself something real. Seth was beginning to freak himself out, because if everything they had shared hadn't been real, then his whole life was a lie and everything he believed in was false. Shit, it was mind-blowing and far too complicated for him to dissect while he was still recovering from a car crash with serious--albeit not life-threatening--injuries.

Seth had asked Ryan once, that if he could, would he ever change any part of his life? Would he have chosen someone else's mother to raise him, some other town to grow up in, some other life? Ryan had answered almost immediately with an emphatic no and when Seth asked why, Ryan took a long time to answer and when he finally did, he simple said: 'I wouldn't be who I am, it's the hard things in life that build the most character.' Seth couldn't grasp the concept at the time. That Ryan, knowing the outcome, would choose the life he had lived. He would go through the abuse and pain and wear the damage inside like a badge. Now, Seth understood, and this time, he wasn't going to back down until Ryan let him in. He'd lost Ryan once, he wasn't willing to do it again.

Seth didn't know what he was going to say until he was in front of Ryan blocking his view of the television. The words came to him like he was possessed and he didn't really know what he was saying. "I get it now, Ryan. I've always been given everything, I've never had to fight for anything and when you left... Well, I'm here to tell you that this time I'm not backing down."

"What?"

Seth began to pace. "After you left, I couldn't write for two weeks. I just stared at a blank screen all day and after a while, I guess I realized you weren't coming back, so I started to write about us...I guess I was trying to see where I went wrong, what I did-"

"You didn't do anything."

Seth looked at Ryan incredulously. "When I visited you, you turned me away."

Ryan's eyes turned dark, the pulse point in his neck visibly pounding probably as fast as Seth's racing heart. "You know what it was like when I first got here, I lived in a one room apartment and slept on the floor and ate cereal for every meal. I couldn't ask you to come with me and live like that."

"Dude, you're so full of shit. I wouldn't have cared " Ryan raised his eyebrows and Seth conceded. "Okay, so I would have cared, but it wouldn't have been that bad. We could have gone through it together."

"There was more to it than that. I didn't tell anyone, not even your mom... My mother, Dawn, she...one night--maybe a month or two before I was supposed to come here--remember I was doing that job-shadow thing at Newport Medical to really be sure this was what I wanted to do with my life?"

Seth nodded.

"Well, I was working the graveyard shift at the hospital and this woman was brought in, drunk and high. She'd been beaten up by her boyfriend and her face was all bruised and cut up, but I'd recognized her anywhere and she knew it was me. When she'd sobered up the next day, we got caught up. I told her about you, about us and she said...she said a lot of things that I didn't want to hear, but I believed her. I thought I was doing you a favour or protecting you or some shit."

"From what?"

"From myself."

Seth crossed the room, took Ryan by the shoulders and gave him a little shake. "You would never hurt me, Ryan."

"I know, but she made me believe that I wasn't good enough...that I would never be able to give you a good life, that I'd turn out just like her. So I applied out of state and when I got accepted I went and, well, you know the rest..."

"She was wrong, Ryan. I'm rich, but... Who gives a fuck anyway, right? Money doesn't make me better." Seth had only been an observer as their life together fissured, but one thing he knew now was that cracks could be repaired, it just took a little patience, a little understanding.

"It doesn't matter, what she said stuck with me. It was like I couldn't let myself be happy, so when my residency ended I decided to stay on at a hospital nearby. I couldn't go back."

"And now?" Seth's eyes were pleading.

Ryan looked away, his eyes unreadable. "I don't know what to believe now."

"Believe me then," Seth took Ryan's hand and put in on his chest over his heart. "There is no one in this world who is more right for me than you."

"Seth..."

"Hmm?"

Ryan was silent for a long time. When he spoke Seth barely made out the word. "Stay."

Seth used to think he wanted some big dramatic reunion. A real make-up with screaming and tears and grovelling, but when he heard Ryan with his voice grainy and just a little unsure, like maybe too much time had passed, he knew a big dramatic scene just wasn't needed. "Okay."

Seth folded Ryan into his arms and rested his head in the juncture between Ryan's shoulder and neck like he'd done so many times in the past. It didn't take much prompting for Ryan to return the embrace and it wasn't as if no time had passed; Seth could feel things were different, but this time around, he was ready to clean up his own mess.


end.