Disclaimer: I don't own anything OC related. The lyrics belong to Everclear.

AN: This is a seriously HARD R. It's not porn but there are seriously disturbing images to follow. If you're squeamish, don't read any further. Don't read any further if you're not old enough to watch R movies. Don't flame me if it's too disturbing for you. I'm warning you here.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Strawberry

"Never been here, never coming back
Never want to think about the things
That happened today
Want to lay down on the warm ground
I think I'm going to need a little time to myself…"

I hope I have the right house. The private detective wanted to come with me, but it's just Ryan. Ryan won't hurt me, he's not dangerous, the p.i. is just wrong.

I've been searching for the kid for two months. He'd left with Teresa to help her through her pregnancy and Kirsten and I had assumed that it'd be a temporary thing. He'd work for the summer and come back to us. Seth had disappeared the same day, only to turn up a couple of days later in Catalina with a sunburn and a broken dream of sailing to Tahiti. He'd been devastated by what he'd interpreted as Ryan's abandonment. Ryan had stopped calling two weeks after we found Seth.

Teresa's mother has kicked out both kids. I couldn't believe that the woman would put her own religious beliefs over her own child and grandchild. The woman had told me that if Ryan wasn't planning on marrying Teresa that she couldn't support them.

And Ryan is just gone. He hasn't called me, he hasn't called Seth or Marissa.

And I just can't let him disappear, live on the streets. So I'd hired a team of private detectives to find him. I didn't want the cops to find him, I know how he feels about cops. I want to find him. I have to find him first.

And after two months, they've given me this address. On the outskirts of Chino, in a reasonably good neighborhood, the house is registered to a man that has been dead for three years. The PI says that Ryan is dangerous, that he has a reputation. Not my Ryan.

The lawn is well mown and there is an expensive motorcycle parked beside the front porch. I leave my BMW on the street and walk up the sidewalk to the door.

I ring the doorbell. There isn't an immediate response but I can hear movement inside. The door opens slightly, still locked with a chain. I recognize Teresa's face through the slice of opening.

"Mr. Cohen?" She gasps.

"Teresa. Is Ryan here?"

She looks healthy. She's gained weight, her cheeks were rosy with pregnancy and she's cut her hair and streaked it with blonde. She doesn't open the door.

"I'll get him for you…" She closes the door.

She doesn't let me in. What the hell had happened that I'm not even worthy of an invitation?

"I don't know, Ryan, but he's outside and you have to talk to him…" I can hear Teresa inside talking quickly.

"Okay, Teresa. Don't worry."

It has been so long since I've heard his voice. But it is definitely Ryan. I hear the chain slide free and the door opens.

"Ryan."

"Hey, Mr. Cohen," The boy says.

He's become a man since I saw him last. His hair is different, he's clearly dyed it and the sandy blond I am used to is almost platinum. It is shaggy and curtained his eyes. He has a bruise on his face and a new scar stretching across his neck. His clothes are nicer than he wore in Newport but subdued in all black. I try to ignore the bulge in his waistline. It can't be a gun. Not my Ryan.

I pull him into a hug before he can respond. He is stiff but after a moment, I feel him pat my back.

"What the hell happened?" I ask. I won't cry. I have to find out what had happened to the kid that I had come to love as my own.

Ryan glances behind me, up and down the street before gently pulling me inside.

The house is furnished and decorated in a style that would make Julie Cooper proud. Expensive for a kid that had gotten kicked out on the street a couple of months before.

"Hey, Ryan…" A gruff voice calls. I recognize Eddie walking out of one of the side rooms with a fistful of cash.

"Eddie, I'm going to be off the radar a few minutes," Ryan turns to the man.

"Oh. My bad. Sorry…" Eddie quickly puts the money behind his back and backs out of the room.

"What's he doing here?"

"Come upstairs, Sandy. I'll try to explain," Ryan says curtly. I follow him up the stairs and into a small office.

"Ryan…"

"Things have changed, Sandy," He says quietly. I'm chilled by the tone of his voice. He turns to face me and I can see that he doesn't care. He lights a cigarette.

"I talked to Teresa's mother. Why didn't you call me?"

"We took care of it," Ryan replies.

"You took care of it? How the hell did you get this house?"

"It's mine. Mine and Teresa's. Close enough to Chino to be close to family and just far enough that the kid won't have to go to the same shitty school we did," Ryan replies. I hadn't noticed the piercing in his eyebrow or the stud in his tongue.

"Where are you getting the money?"

He lowers his voice. "It's taken care of."

God, what has happened to him? "Ryan…"

"I don't need a lecture. I'm taking care of my family."

"You're a criminal…"

"You don't know anything about this…"

"Why didn't you call us, Ryan? I can help you…"

"I don't need help. I'm taking care of it," Ryan states again.

"How? By being a criminal just like your father?"

I shouldn't have said that but at least I get a reaction out of him. His blue eyes flash with the first real emotion since I'd arrived.

"I had to rely on what I knew, Sandy and this is what I know. I scam cards, I scam pool, I get by. I support my girl and her baby. I'm not ashamed…"

"Then why the lack of contact?"

He lowers his gaze. "I'm not proud either."

"What about Seth?"

"You want him to come and visit me here? Hell no. I have a life here. I can't go back. Ever. This is my life now."

"What the hell is Eddie doing here?"

"He needed some help. He works for me, now," Ryan replies.

"He works for you?"

"Yeah. Sandy, what are you doing here?"

"I told you when you left, that I wasn't letting you go…"

"Too late," Ryan mutters. "It's not your decision. I'm gone."

"I won't let you ruin your life…"

"I'm careful. I can take care of myself…"

"This isn't the way…"

"There is no other way. Not for me," Ryan states flatly.

He is not the boy that I knew. He's changed. Something inside him has died. Kirsten would never forgive herself if she could see him now.

"Ryan…what happened?"

He meets my gaze with a cold stare. "I lost everything, Sandy. Everything. When I came to stay with you, I was in a weird place. I really believed you, that I could belong there, that I could become something…but it was bullshit. You tried, you really did and I'll never forget everything that you did for me…but this is who I am. I was running from myself there, I was trying to be something that I'm not. But it all comes out in the wash. I still ended up getting some girl knocked up and having to come home. Chino's my home…"

"Ryan, that's not true, this isn't you...what about Seth and Marissa?"

"What about them? Marissa, she was just slumming, getting a taste of the wild side, she didn't care about me. And Seth…" Ryan just shakes his head.

"What about Seth?"

"Seth…I always had his back, Sandy…I treated him like he was my own brother…I listened to him, I put his welfare first. Always. And he was the one thing I was sure of, that he'd be there, that he'd stand by me…but he left. He never cared about me, Sandy, it was all about him. I needed him. I needed a friend more than anything and he just left because he was unhappy with my decision. For once, I had to put myself first and he shut me down."

"He's back, Ryan…"

"He was back when I was still calling you. It doesn't matter. This is my life now. I can't care about Seth. I can't care about you or Kirsten. Teresa is my only concern now. I'm sorry."

He's fucking serious. His eyes are dead but serious.

"Ryan…what happened to you?"

"I grew up. Let me walk you out." He stands up and I'm too stunned to argue. I follow him down the stairs.

"Stop that shit, we have fucking company," Ryan snaps. I glance over and see Teresa and Eddie wrapped in each other's arms.

"Sorry, Ryan…" Teresa says.

What was going on in this house? I open my mouth to speak but Ryan's cold gaze stops me.

"Ryan…" Eddie starts.

"Don't you have somewhere to be? Both of you?" Ryan asks coldly.

"Sorry…I'll be back later," Eddie says, backing out of the room.

Ryan turns to me. "You shouldn't come here again."

"I'm not giving up on you…"

"We have a nice place here. Don't make us run. Just leave me the hell alone," Ryan says evenly as he holds open the door.

"Ryan…"

"Just go. Go home to your family."

"You're a part of my family, too…"

"Not anymore." Ryan puts his arm around Teresa. The girl nuzzles her face into his neck as she winds her arms around him. "This is my family now."

I step out of the house and the door closes behind me. I've lost him.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Something is very wrong with my husband. He'd left at lunch, optimistic about a lead from one of his private investigators and he'd come back looking like he'd lost his best friend. He won't talk to me, he's locked himself in the study and I don't know what to do.

Surely if he'd found Ryan, he'd tell me. We'd both been beside ourselves, we couldn't find him, it was like he just disappeared into thin air but…but I wouldn't give up. We'd gotten Seth back, we'd get Ryan, too.

I knock again.

"Honey, please. Let me in. You have to talk to me…" Something is wrong. Sandy always talks to me, it's what makes me love him so much, he's my rock. And if something has happened to make him lock himself up, it must be bad. It must be catastrophic.

I hear the lock click. The door swings open and I can tell that he'd been crying.

"Sandy, what is it?" I embrace him. "Did you…"

He pulls me inside and locks the door. "You can't tell Seth."

"Okay…" I start.

"And you have to promise me that you won't try and go see him…"

"Sandy, what happened, is he okay?"

"He's not okay, he's…he's not fucking okay, Kirsten…" Sandy's voice is tight with unspoken emotion.

"Tell me. Tell me, Sandy…" I pull him to a seat beside me on his desk. I try to get him to make sense.

"He's…he's changed, Kirsten…I can't even say it…"

"What? Did you talk to him? Is he okay?"

"He has a gun. He's a criminal, Kirsten. He's living in a house with Teresa and Eddie…and they were making out right in front of him and he…he didn't even care…"

What is he talking about? Guns and Ryan…

"He's…it's like he's just gone, Kirsten…he's just…dead…"

"Sandy…"

"You didn't see him…you didn't see his eyes…"

"Sandy, I'm sure…"

"You didn't see him…he didn't even care that I was there…and the way he talked…like…oh God, Kirsten…what am I going to do?"

"We're going to get him back…"

"No. we're not. He's gone…he's just gone…" Sandy is crying.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Where's my fucking money?" I slam my fist into his face again. He knows that the money was due today, shit, he's lucky I gave him an extension the last time. This time, he has to pay, one way or the other.

"I'm sorry, man, I have it, I swear…" He gurgles. Maybe I hit him too hard. Nah, there's no such thing.

I hold him by his throat against the wall. "Where is it?"

"Tomorrow…" He chokes.

"Oh, you'll get it 'Western Unioned' to the hospital? Not. Good. Enough." My rings cut his face each time I punch him. My hands have his blood on them. I release him. He falls to the sidewalk in a broken heap.

"Tomorrow, man, I swear…" He chokes.

He's only a couple of years older than me but now he knows. You don't fuck with Ryan Atwood. Not at all.

"I'll be back. You better be ready."

I turn away and leave him on the street. I wipe my hands on the rag I keep tucked in my pocket and climb on my bike.

My bike. It's the one thing left in my life that I actually care about. It takes care of me. It's all I need. I bought it with the first money that I made after bringing Eddie on board. I drive like the wind across town.

Damn, seeing Sandy today fucked my head all up.

I'd walked away from that. From all of it. I had to take care of Teresa. That's my only focus. I have to focus on taking care of my baby. And it was mine. I'd heard from Teresa and Eddie both. Eddie was officially sterile. He'd known for a few years. The kid was mine.

I had looked for a legitimate job but in the end, I had no marketable skills. I could have been a waiter but that's no way to support a kid. So I turned back to the skills I learned from my brother, from my father. I have skills, I've always had them, I just hadn't wanted to use them.

Now I am.

I'm good at what I do. I can get people what they want at a price they can afford. If they don't pay, they pay with bruised and broken bones. I take care of my girl and my baby. I win. I'm a winner.

I don't need a family, I'm self-sufficient.

And I don't care what anyone thinks.

It seems like today is the day for harsh encounters. First fucking Sandy shows up and gets me all twisted up and now I have to make this fucking house call.

She should have paid two weeks ago.

She knows better than to fuck with me but she thinks she's special.

I park the bike outside her shack and walk up. I'd knock but the door looks like it'll fall off it's hinges.

But she heard me pull up. I know she did. I see her nappy blonde hair through the window. I step inside.

She's sitting on a ratty couch with a bottle of vodka in her hand. Her arms were bruised with track marks. But I'm not here to sell her drugs, I'm here to collect. She owes me.

"Ryan…"

"Shut up. Do you have it?" I don't have time to listen to her excuses, I'm on a schedule. I'm hard, I'm cold, I won't let her get to me. I'm ice.

"I swear, I had it…"

"Where is it?"

"Baby, please, I just need a little more time…"

"Dawn, you don't have any more time. I told you that yesterday. So where's my money?" She shrinks away from my voice. She's scared of me. Serves the bitch right. I used to cower from her fists and here she is about to cry because she's scared of me. Karmic.

"Here's all I have…" She shoves a handful of money at me. Its not enough, but it's something. A sign of good faith.

"That's it?" I snap. "You owe me a grand and you give me two hundred dollars?"

"It's all I have…I swear…I'm not lying…" She cries.

I sigh. "All right. But I want the rest."

"I'll get it to you, Ryan..." She whispers.

I know she will. I turn and walk out.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Don't fall down now
You will never get up
Don't fall down now"

I unlock the door to the house and step inside.

"Stop it, Eddie, damn…" Teresa is saying.

I sigh. Every day it's the same damn thing. They're in the living room. Teresa's counting money and Eddie is up to his elbows in our latest delivery of coke. He's in charge of weighing out the bags and cutting the stuff so we can make a profit.

"Hey, Ryan…" Eddie pulls away from Teresa immediately. Teresa straightens her blouse as she stands up and comes over to me.

I know they're still fucking, no matter how much she denies it. She sleeps with me every night, she kisses me every morning but she knows that I don't love her. He does. I can't blame her for turning to him. I don't care. He knows better than to upset her when I'm around. I'm not fucking her, I won't touch her as long as she's still fucking Eddie. I have a little respect left. Not much, but enough.

I can taste him in her mouth when she kisses me. She knows that it doesn't change anything. She wants me to feel guilty for getting laid, for pushing her to Eddie. She's taunting me.

"Hey, baby. How'd everything go?"

I drop the wad of cash onto the table amongst the other bills. "Fine."

"How's your mom?" She whispers in my ear as she nuzzles my neck.

"Fine. I'll be upstairs."

I can't take being around them, not today. Sandy brought back too many fucking memories for me to be able to deal with this dysfunction today.

I can live like this, I don't have a problem with it but I remember what it's like to live in Sandy's world. Where what I'm doing is a crime. Where living like this is sick. I used to have morality, like Sandy, I believed in his world. Fuck him for making me doubt myself. I am what I am. I just got tired of trying to be something I'm not. I'm not a part of Sandy Cohen's world anymore.

I walk into my office and lock the door.

I have become my father. I am living in his world. He'd be fucking proud of me, too. I shake out a small mound of coke and flip open my case. Teresa got it for me. A fucking cigarette case with a mirror hidden inside. Perfect for chopping up lines.

I might not like what I've become, but I can't change it.

I inhale the white powder. Pure and fresh. It's amazing how much better I feel after such a simple act.

I feel better.

I can do this. I'm strong. I'm in total fucking control of my life for the first time.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

My parents are lying to me. They've been lying to me for a week. Something's changed. My dad won't even answer me anymore when I ask him about Ryan. My mom's been crying for days. I don't know what I'm supposed to do, but I have to do something.

Summer is with me. She's still really pissed off about me running off but she's forgiven me, at least. She wants to help me. The only way to help me is to find Ryan.

But I'm getting closer. I raided my Dad's study yesterday. I know he's in Chino. I know he's alive and that's more than I knew yesterday.

Summer and I are in her car on the way to Chino. She wouldn't let me go alone. But I have to see for myself.

I have to see why my parents would keep this a secret. They've been looking for Ryan for months and if they've found him…they should've told me.

"Seth?" Summer calls. The car has stopped, she's pulled over into a fast food restaurant.

"Yeah?"

"Look." She's pointing out the window. We're a few blocks from the address in my Dad's book.

"Is that…"

"It's Chino. Oh my god…it's Ryan…" She's stunned. I see why.

His hair is almost white and he's standing over a crumpled body holding…a gun. Ryan has a gun. Summer cracks the window to see if we can hear anything.

"I told you last week, bitch, that you'd be hearing from me…"

It's Ryan. It's really him. I recognize his voice, but…I don't. he's cold. He's different. He's fucking holding a gun on some kid. I start to get out but Summer grabs my arm.

"Don't. Don't, Seth, please. Just wait."

"I'm sorry, Ryan…here, it's all here…" The kid shoves his wallet at Ryan.

Ryan slides the gun back into his pants, glancing around. He doesn't recognize us. Has it been that long? He doesn't even know us? I don't know him anymore, it seems.

Ryan pulls out several bills and drops the wallet back at the kid's feet. He kicks him and the kid cries out in pain.

"Nice doing business with you," Ryan mutters. He turns his back on us and we watch him take a few steps before climbing onto a motorcycle.

"Oh my god, Seth…" Summer whispers. She's shaking me. "Seth?"

"No. It's not true…"

"Seth…"

"It's not true. Not Ryan. He'd never…he doesn't…he'd never do that…it wasn't him."

"You think that's why your folks didn't tell you?" Summer asks.

My hands are shaking. I pull out my phone. I dial my mother.

"Kirsten Cohen."

"Mom?"

"Seth? Honey, what is it? Where are you?"

"Where's Ryan, Mom? Tell me the truth."

She hesitates.

"Mom. I'm in Chino."

"What? What the hell are you doing there? You have to come home right now…does your father know you're there?"

"No. I…I ransacked his office. I found Ryan's address…"

"Honey, come home right now…things…they aren't as simple as they were, you can't be there, it's not safe…"

"You mean, Ryan's not safe, right?" I knew that she knew. They knew what had happened to Ryan. They hadn't told me.

"I'm taking you home, Seth. I don't want to stay here anymore…" Summer says quietly. She starts the car as I flip my phone closed. I don't need to hear Mom anymore. Ryan's gone.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I flip open my phone as I walk into the house. The lights are off but I can hear movement upstairs. Teresa and Eddie again. Goddamn it. Sometimes I hate this shit. Listening to her moan through the floor. I can't blame her, though. It's not like I can satisfy her, I won't. I can't even touch her. I won't touch her.

Three new messages. People needing a fix.

I need a fix.

I need to be fixed.

This fucking job has finally got me. I walk up the stairs and past the noisy room. I slam the door to my office and switch on the stereo. Something loud and pounding. I chop up a couple of lines on the desk.

Fucking punks. I bruised my hand on that little punk. He really didn't want to give up the money.

What do I care if he's got kids to feed? He shouldn't have bought that eight ball if he couldn't feed his kids.

I snort the lines and ignore the tentative knock on the door. Teresa can wait. She knows that I'm busy if the door is closed.

"Ryan. It's Eddie."

Fuck. What the hell does he want? I swing the door open.

"Hey, man." He's hesitant. He should be.

"What?"

"Uh, your brother called for you today. He was asking about your ma…"

Fuck.

"Yeah?"

"He was pretty pissed…I promised him I'd tell you."

"Yeah? Well, you told me…"

"There's something else."

"What?" I don't have the patience for him today.

"I went over to Sammy's today and he didn't have what you wanted…" Eddie says quietly.

"Why didn't you call me?"

"I figured that I'd see you…" He starts. I shove him against the wall in the hallway, holding my arm against his throat.

"You didn't want to miss out on fucking Teresa before I got home so you didn't call…" I hiss in his ear.

Eddie couldn't talk, I was pressing too hard. The fear in his eyes gives me a little twinge of joy. I could hurt this punk.

"Ryan…I'm sorry…"

"Ryan?" Teresa's voice lilts from the bedroom.

"She better change those fucking sheets, Eddie. And you better let Sammy know that this is his one free pass," I say as I release him. He gasps for breath.

"Sure thing, Ryan…" He recovers himself as Teresa walks out.

"What's going on?"

Eddie's face is still red and he knows better than to answer her with the truth.

"Nothing." I close the door to my office and lock it behind me. My phone buzzes in my pocket.

"Yeah?"

"Ryan?"

"Who the fuck is this?" I don't have time for name games. Whoever this is should know that. My cell phone is not for public usage.

"It's Sandy, Ryan."

How'd he get this number? I should've known that he wouldn't give up. I'll have to move, we'll have to get out of here. Damn, and I'd finally got things up and running around here…

"Ryan?"

"Yeah. What's up?"

"I want to meet with you."

"I can't. We've said all that needs to be said…"

"No, Ryan. I'm not giving up on you. You need help…"

I hung up the phone and hit the button to block the number. I don't have time for Sandy. Roxie's coming over. I like Roxie. I've missed her. She's just what I need right now.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"I ask you for a slow ride
Going nowhere
You look like Satan
You ask me if I want to get high
Couple of bags down in old town
You tie your arm and
Ask me if I wanted to drive…"

Roxie is a stripper. She doesn't consider herself an exotic dancer, she's just a stripper who likes to get high. And she likes Ryan. She might fall in love with the bastard one day, if she actually let herself care. Not like he cares, but it's something for her to think about.

He's not cute, he's sexy. He oozes danger and sensuality and he touches her in ways that she's only heard about. He's damn good.

She isn't sure what goes on in that house of his, she's never stayed the whole night. He comes to her show, talks to her manager and she gets the night off. He takes her home and fucks her stupid. They snort coke and fuck until they can't form sentences. He doesn't talk much, that's one of the things she likes about him. He doesn't lie to her, he's always made it clear that he just wants the sex. She doesn't mind, she wants it, too.

He's got a girlfriend, a hot brunette, that stares at her in disgust when she comes out of his room but the bitch is too scared of Ryan, she thinks, to challenge her. And if she could keep Ryan happy, then Roxie wouldn't have to come around so much anyway, right?

So Roxie fucks Ryan a few nights a week. She knows that he's serious business, her fucking manager's afraid of the kid but she's not. She likes him. She likes him more every time she sees him. He's angry and violent but he respects her. Everyone respects her when she's on his arm. He won't hurt her. She's seen him get so mad at his girlfriend that he punched a hole in the wall but she knows that he won't hit a woman. That's not his style.

She hasn't figured him out yet. She knows that he's young, but no one will say how young and it doesn't matter in his line of work. He gets things done. He's reliable and trustworthy and vindictive as hell. Nobody knows how old she is, either.

He's waiting for her at the door.

The brunette is in the corner, her lover staring at her with jealously from beside her. It's so fucked up, the girl is obviously smitten with Ryan, her eyes burn for him, but she's always with the other guy that lives here. Ryan doesn't acknowledge either of them when she comes by, he just looks at her. Roxie appreciates it. She doesn't wait for a hello when she steps in, she takes his face in her hands and kisses him deeply. Their tongue piercings clash and she can taste blood as she gets a little overexcited. He smiles at her when she comes up for air.

"Hey, Rox."

"Hey, yourself."

Ryan puts his arm around her bare waist. She dressed up for him today. Black miniskirt, fishnet stockings and dominatrix boots, she's wearing a black bikini top to finish it off. She isn't sure what he's into, but she can tell by his lazy grin that he likes it.

She has her kit with her tonight. She likes piercings and tattoos and has years of experience and he trusts her, for some reason, and lets her decorate him. He's her canvas, she thinks. His flesh is scarred and damaged in places, but she wants to make it beautiful again. She wants his years of pain to disappear under her permanent ink.

She drops the box as they walk into the bedroom. He pushes her against the wall and starts to undress her roughly. She doesn't mind that he hurts her, they hurt each other. She covers the bruises when she dances. Her boss doesn't mind and the makeup keeps the men in the dark.

He takes her fast and hard against the wall but she's satisfied. He always makes her come and he's always safe.

Something's different about him tonight, but she doesn't push him. Once he's sated, she takes him to the bathroom and they wash each other. They return to the bedroom and they both do generous lines of the coke he supplies.

"Lie down," she orders as she wipes the excess powder off her nostril.

He obeys, lying on his back. She gets her kit and crawls on top of him. He starts to sit up and kiss her but she pushes him down again.

"Be still."

"What are you doing?" He asks as he watches her pull out her tools. Alcohol. Clamps. Needle.

"I'm making you beautiful," She replies. He doesn't speak again. She cleans his chest with the alcohol, making sure his nipples are clean. She clamps them but he doesn't complain. He closes his eyes.

"Embrace it, baby…embrace the pain…" She shakes him until he meets her gaze. She sees the pain in his eyes as she slides the needle through his nipple. He doesn't cry out. She removes the syringe and slips in the silver hoop.

"Taste it," He whispers. She smiles at him. She licks the drop of blood off his chest and kisses him with the same motion. He's ready again, now, but she's not finished and she pulls away. She gives him a smile and pierces his other nipple.

"That's sexy, baby…you're sexy…" She says, adjusting her position across him. She remembers the condom, knowing that he would if she forgot. She likes to put it on him, she likes the way he watches her silently. He sits up and they have sex again, slower this time, but just as urgently. She feels his fingers bruising her ass.

"God, Rox…you're killing me…" He moans as he finishes.

"Aw, I wouldn't do that to you…who would play with me, then?" She purrs, digging her nails into his back. He moans as the blood oozes out of his flesh.

She's been hurt, she's been abused and she knows that there's no way around the pain. So she embraces it. Ryan's like her, he knows what life's about and he knows that he's going to get hurt. She's teaching him. He's learning to embrace the pain. He's her kindred spirit.

"I want to give you a tattoo, baby…"

"You want to brand me," He moans, lifting her off him and placing her on the bed.

"I want to make you beautiful," She grins. "Can I make you beautiful?"

He gets off the bed and does another line. He leaves the coke out in case she wants more. His back is smeared with blood from her nails.

"Ryan?"

"You don't think I'm beautiful enough already?" He asks, turning to face her.

"There's no such thing as too much beauty," She grins. He pounces on her, kissing her bare skin. She struggles with him, laughing as she flips him over complacently on his stomach.

"Roxie…"

"Can I, Ryan? Please?" She licks his neck.

"I can't say no to you…" He murmurs.

She grins, settling onto his bare ass. She pulls out her kit. "I've got just the thing for you, baby…"

"What? Since its permanent, do I even get a say?"

She leans over and whispers in his ear. "It's a symbol, boy. Life is pain. But you're smarter than that. You know that life isn't for you anymore. It's all about death now. You're dead inside…and it still hurts, doesn't it?"

He doesn't respond.

"Death is pain, too. Existence is pain, Ryan…you know that, right?"

"I know, Rox…I know…"

He doesn't ask again. It takes her three hours to get it the way she likes it. They take a couple of breaks, to get high and get the sexual tension back to a manageable level. Red ink dripping from the black thorns of a dead rose on his back. Small, simple and painful, she savors the tension in his muscles as the tiny needle stabs him with color.

"Ryan?"

"Are you done?"

"I want you, Ryan…I want you now…"

And they don't need to talk anymore. They're both beautiful now.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Seth. Seth, calm down…" I've never seen my son this upset. Never.

"I will not calm down, Goddammit, you didn't see him…"

"I've seen him, Seth." I had managed to avoid him for the past two days. I've been trying to find a way to bring Ryan back to us. Back to me.

"You…you've talked to him? In person? Dad…"

"Sit down, Seth."

He's devastated. I don't blame him, I know how he feels. "Dad…he's…what the hell happened?"

"Ryan's…he's misguided…he thinks he's doing what's best for his family…"

"We're his family…"

"Teresa is his family…or so he thinks…"

"Tell me everything. I mean it, Dad. I need to know."

I don't want to tell him. I don't want him to know that Ryan's a gun-wielding criminal that won't even talk to me. It took me three days to get his fucking number and he just hung up on me. I can't believe that he doesn't care. I won't believe it.

"Dad?"

"He's living in Chino. He's…he's making money…"

"Summer and I saw him beating this kid up…Dad, it was like…he had a gun and he just didn't care…he didn't even see us, Dad…" Seth's clearly been thinking about this for days.

"Seth, he's…he's changed…" I don't know how to explain this to him, not when I don't understand myself.

"It's only been two months, it's not…it's not right, it's not Ryan…I…there has to be something…" Seth whispers, distraught.

"Seth, I haven't given up…but it's not safe for you to see him, not right now…"

"I know…but Dad…I just don't understand…I mean, its Ryan, he would…he would never hurt anyone…not just out of hate or money…he's not like that…or he used to not be like that…"

"I know, Seth…"

"So what do we do? How can we help him? When you talked to him…what did he say?" Seth asks.

"He…he says that Teresa is his family now. He says that he doesn't care…" I have to be honest, he deserves to know.

"What about me? Did you tell him…"

"Seth…"

"What did he say? Tell me," Seth can tell that I'm hiding something.

I take a deep breath. "He said that he treated you like you were his own brother and that when he really needed you…you left. He said that he really needed you and you left because you were unhappy with his decision…"

Seth's face flickers between hurt and utter devastation.

"Seth…"

"He's right. I just…I couldn't handle losing him and I left…I never thought…I didn't think he needed me…"

"It doesn't change what he's doing or what he's become. I will find him, Seth…and I'll bring him home…"

"It's my fault…" Seth rushes from the room. I don't go after him. He won't be okay until Ryan is home. None of us will.

I can't give up on him. Not after all he's been through, not when I'm the one that let him go. He proved to me that he can be a better man, I won't forget that. I won't let him turn into his father. I can't.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"What the hell did you let her do to you? Oh my god…" Teresa.

"Shut the fuck up…" I mumble into my pillow. God, I'm tired. Strung out.

"There's blood all in the sheets again, Ryan…did she hurt you?"

It's weird that she pretends to care sometimes. She's got her money, she doesn't care about me. The only thing she cares about is making sure that she rubs my face in it every time she fucks Eddie. We both use our bedroom for our lovers, not the guest room, not Eddie's room but the bed that we share.

I don't know when I started to hate Teresa. I guess it's when she told me about Eddie. About how he's sterile and that she's always known.

She's using me. She's using our child.

"Ryan? Answer me!" She shrieks.

I roll over and open my eyes. She knows fucking better than to wake me up. I can't sleep, I never sleep so the fact that she is bothering me right now just pisses me off that much more.

"What the fuck do you want?"

She recoils, hurt in her eyes. Fuck her.

"What did she do to you? She…oh god, you let her pierce your nipples? You're such a freak…" She starts to pelt me with her fists and I grab her wrists.

"Get over it, Teresa…"

"Ryan…" She hisses, still struggling.

Something's different about her. She's…she's fucking high. I release her, shoving her off me with the least amount of force I can manage. I don't want to hurt her. Well, that's a lie, I do want to hurt her, what the hell is she thinking.

"You're fucking high. Teresa…" I get out of bed and turn to face her. "What the fuck…"

"Ryan…I'm not…I swear…"

"You're full of shit." I can't believe she'd jeopardize the health of our unborn child for a fucking rush…

"Ryan, just listen…"

I lean over her, trying to show her how fucking angry I am without touching her. "Teresa. Tell me. Don't fucking lie, just tell me."

She hesitates. I think I actually struck some fear into the little bitch this time. "I…I'm sorry…"

"What? What did you take?"

"I just did a little, it won't hurt…"

I pull her off the bed and to the door. "Eddie!"

He's at the door in an instant. For the first time since he's moved it, I'm really glad he's here.

"Yeah?"

"Take her to the doctor. Don't let her out of your sight."

"What's wrong?" Eddie asks immediately. His eyes darken when he sees my tight grip on her arm.

"She's fucking stoned."

"What? When? I was with you the whole time…" Eddie snaps. Eddie hates drugs, he's never touched them. That's what makes him such a good dealer, the fact that he doesn't dip into his supply, or my supply as it may be. And he cares about Teresa. Something that I can't honestly say anymore. I care about our baby…but she's not the woman I remember. Eddie's a good right hand man for me to have.

"Maybe if you weren't so busy letting that slut stick needles all in you, you'd have a fucking clue as to what the hell is going on around here!" She shrieks suddenly. Eddie takes her from me and I slam the door before she can get back in.

Damn. What the hell is happening? I give her everything, I bring her here, I give her money, I give her a house, I even give her fucking Eddie, docile and obedient and all she can do is get high? What the fuck am I doing all this for?

I cut up a line and snort it. The moment its gone, I have to do another.

Fuck. I'm a junkie. My baby's mom is trying to be a junkie.

What am I doing this for again? Why am I doing this? Is this better?

I do another line.

I have work to do. I can't think about this anymore.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Yeah."

"Hey, baby…can I see you?"

Roxie. I just saw her last night. I'm still recovering.

"I'll try and come by the club tonight…"

"I took the night off…I've got something new for us…a special treat…"

I lean over and check out a ding in the paint of my bike. Fuck. I'll have to take it to the body shop. I love this bike. I should treat it more carefully.

"What kind of treat?" I don't really have time for this.

"A special treat…it's a surprise…but I promise you'll like it…"

Damn.

"Ryan?"

"Okay, Rox. Just stop by. I'll be home later…"

"What if you're not there?"

"Eddie…"

"Your girlfriend's name is Eddie?"

She's funny today. "Tell Eddie that I told you to wait in my office…"

"I've never seen your office…"

I don't think we've ever talked this much before. If she was here, I'd be inside her already.

"Bye, Rox."

I fold the phone closed and put it back in my pocket. I have something I'm supposed to be doing but I can't remember. I'm at a dry cleaner's shop. I have to pick up Teresa's dress. She's supposed to go see her mother tomorrow for church. Try to make amends or something.

I don't think a priest could even save us now.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Don't fall down now
You will never get up
Don't fall down now…"

Roxie ties my arm. She pulls the belt taut around my arm. "You ready?"

I have nothing to lose. She won't hurt me. At least, not without my permission.

She fills the syringe. She focuses on her work. I feel the slight burn as she enriches my blood.

"Wait for me, baby…" She whispers as I close my eyes.

Beautiful. I feel beautiful. I feel good.

She's behind me now, touching me. We're both naked now and she pulls me against her, my back against her chest. We're both beautiful.

"I'm going to do something I've never done before with you…" She coos in my ear. I close my eyes. Her skin is hot against mine.

I moan my response as her nails rake across my stomach. I hope she doesn't make me bleed but…the pain's such a welcome change that…I kind of hope she does…any sensation is a welcome one these days. Her nails burn trails across my stomach.

"I'm going to ask you what's on your mind…" She whispers.

The drugs. It has to be the drugs because I feel like I'm flying. I'm on fire and I'm fucking soaring. I see sparks.

"Ryan?"

"Yeah?"

"I want you to talk to me…"

I roll over and hold myself above her. She's serious. She's on fire, too. We sparkle. I relax and she holds me, allowing me to lie on top of her.

She touches my face.

"Where do you come from, Rox?"

"Where do I come from?"

"What made you…this? Where'd you come from?" I really want to know.

"Hell…" She answers. "And I never left." She pushes me off her onto my back.

I'm not flying now. I'm floating. I'm burning slowly, not flaming anymore. I just burn. She straddles me, her eyes sparkling as she touches my face.

I look into her eyes. We come from the same place, I can feel it. "Hell, Rox. I came from hell, too…but…but I got out…for a little while…"

"Tell me…" She's got my arms pinned by her knees and I can't move.

"I had a life…not this…a good life…"

"Were you happy?" She purrs.

"Yeah…" I'm honest tonight. For the moment. As I'm burning.

"Then what are you doing here?" She's rubbing my head now, her fingers massaging my scalp and I still can't move my arms.

I open my mouth to answer her but she puts her hand across my lips. I take her fingers in my mouth.

"I know why you're here…back in hell…you think you belong here…it's all you know…you can't be happy…you don't deserve anything else…"

I break free and pull her face to mine. I need to taste her. I need to connect. I know her. I've known her forever.

She's panting when she pulls away.

"Why? If you were happy there, then why?"

"Because…"

"Because why?"

"Because…I have responsibilities here…"

"Name one…"

"Teresa…"

"That bitch? You don't love her…" She moans in my mouth as I kiss her words away.

"She's carrying my child…" I whisper.

Roxie is still when I open my eyes. She smiles at me strangely.

"What?"

"Your child? You're here because…"

"I'm going to provide the life for it that I didn't have…"

"I never figured you for a stand-up guy…I mean…I thought…I don't get you, kid…"

"Oh, I'm a kid now?" I flip her off and she squeals as I tickle her.

I've never heard her giggle before.

She kisses me impulsively. She starts kissing me all over. She takes my face roughly and bites my lip as she kisses me harder. "I'd hate to see you happy…you're so beautiful in pain…"

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Well, I'm here. Sandy's failed. Seth's too upset to even try, it's like he's scared. But I'm not scared. I know that Ryan would never hurt me. So now it's my turn. But I'm not going to Ryan first. I knock.

There's a slight sound and finally, the door opens. Teresa looks at me, surprised.

"Teresa. You look well." And she does. She's healthy and almost round.

"Mrs. Cohen."

"I'm coming in. We have to talk."

"Ryan's not here." I know she's lying. His bike's here.

"Ryan won't talk to us. So I'm here to talk to you."

She stares at me.

"You can't have him. You know he doesn't belong here."

"I think you should go," She says.

I grab her arm before she can close the door. "You're killing him."

She knows I'm right, I can see it.

"I respect you Mrs. Cohen…"

"I love him. You have to let him go. You let him come home to us and I swear, you will never want for anything…"

Her eyes flash and I see that I've made a mistake. She doesn't want money. She loves him. She's not going to give him up, not after…

"You did this. You planned all of it, didn't you?" I can't stop myself from slapping her, the truth's all over her face.

"Bitch…" She hisses, lunging for me. I take a step back.

"Hey, hey…stop it…" Eddie pulls her away from me.

That fucking little tramp. She's ruining his life.

"Teresa, chill…Ryan will have your ass if you touch his lady…"

I can't process his words. "Do you hate him Teresa? Is that why you did this?"

"I love him!" She yells at me as Eddie struggles to hold her at bay.

"Ryan! Ryan, get down here, man!" Eddie yells.

I hear a door slam. It's him. It's Ryan.

Except he's not the Ryan I know. He's shirtless and his jeans are unbuttoned. There's a black tattoo twisting around his left arm and over his shoulder stopping at the base of his neck. His chest is splattered with dried blood from the scratches marring his skin.

As he makes it to the base of the stairs I can see that he's not himself. He's stoned. Ryan…oh god…what has she done to him?

"What are you doing here?" He asks me.

"I came for you…"

"Ryan, she attacked me," Teresa says, still in Eddie's grasp.

Ryan's blue eyes are glazed and cold. It's almost like he's inconvenienced to see me. He glances between me and Teresa before turning to Eddie.

"What happened?"

Eddie doesn't even regard the struggling woman in his arms as he answers Ryan. "I just saw Teresa go after your lady…"

His lady? Is that what I am to Ryan? Is that what he's told this boy about me?

"Get her out of here, she's a fucking bitch…" Teresa says.

"Shut the fuck up, Teresa." He's cold and serious. I don't recognize him. But Teresa shuts up, stricken dumb by his order.

"Ryan…" I start.

He glances at me but won't keep my gaze. I don't know what kind of drugs he's on but he's definitely not lucid.

"Come upstairs," He says finally.

"Ry? You've got someone up there, dude…" Eddie says.

"Fuck," Ryan says, and he holds out his hand to stop me from coming inside.

Teresa and Eddie. Ryan's scratches and a mystery guest upstairs. I won't let myself think about the dysfunction. I want my Ryan. I want to see something in his blue eyes that's my Ryan.

"Please. Just talk to me."

He glances at me. He steps outside and closes the door behind him.

"Ryan…"

"I would never hurt you, Kirsten, not intentionally," He says evenly. Emotionlessly. "I never wanted you to see this."

"You can't raise a child like this. Not here. You know that. This is not the place for a child…"

"I will love the baby, so will Teresa…"

"Like she loves you? Will you treat the baby like you treat Teresa?"

"No…"

"You can't raise a baby if the only thing you know how to feel is anger and hate. This money, it means nothing, Ryan, if the child never sees love or happiness, if the child doesn't experience love from his parents and between his parents…"

He looks like I've slapped him. But for a moment, I see something. He hears me. He's listening.

"Please tell me that you know that this is wrong…" He's cold when I put my hands on his cheek, his skin is actually colder than the air. "This is not the way. There are other ways…"

He flinches suddenly, stepping back. The flash of emotion disappears. "I can't. I can't go back…"

"Yes, you can…oh god, Ryan, yes you can…" I don't care about the drugs. I don't care about the tattoos or the guns, I just want him to come home…

"Look at me! I am not the boy you knew," He snaps. He holds out his arms, I see fresh bruises on his inner elbows. He's shooting up. "I can never come back…it's too late. It's over. Go home."

"Let me help you…"

"It's fucking over." He turns and leaves me on the porch, slamming the door in my face.

It's not over. I know he listened. I saw the comprehension in his dead eyes. There's hope. It's not over.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Ryan? Ryan, man, I have to talk to you." He knocks loudly. Everything's loud today, though. My drugs are out of balance.

"It's open, Eddie."

He steps inside. His gaze flickers across Roxie but her eyes are closed.

"What's up?"

"Man…I know you hate me…and the feeling's pretty fucking mutual right now…but you deserve to know what I just heard."

"What?"

"I heard Teresa on the phone."

"Yeah? So?" I'm too tired for this.

"So…when did you fuck her?"

"What the fuck, Eddie?"

"Because I don't think her kid is yours…I can't wrap my head around it…she's five months pregnant…she was fucking Johnny back then…"

"Johnny?"

"Yeah, she cheated on me with him before you, he's a Puerto Rican from a couple of blocks away from us…" Eddie says. He really seems upset. "She's lying to you. To both of us."

"Eddie…" I don't know what to say. I don't know how I feel. This is…damn.

"It's just…it's fucked up…because you're an ass…but I know that she made you like this, she fucked you, man…" He shakes his head and walks out.

"Ryan?" Roxie is looking at me.

"Yeah?"

"Let's get high."

"Whatever you say…"

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Last thing I recall
I was in the air
I woke up on the street
crawling with my strawberry burns
ten long years in a straight line
they fall like water…"

Roxie knows that she made a mistake. Ryan's twitching in the backseat , blood running from his nose.

She'd known something was wrong but she didn't think…she didn't think.

Eddie, it seems, actually gives a shit. She had screamed when Ryan went limp in her arms and he had come immediately. He'd carried Ryan to the car and shoved clothes, cash and a phone in her hands.

He parks outside the ER. She turns to look at him. He sighs.

"Don't give them an address. Don't tell them anything. Not even his name. Tell them that you don't know him or where you got the drugs."

She's recovered enough now, she knows. She's been on her own long enough to know the drill. Eddie waits until she gets Ryan in her arms and on the sidewalk before pulling away.

The doctors take him from her. She doesn't go in with him, she doesn't want to see him bleed, not like this, not like he's dying.

Not after he's told her that he was happy once.

He's tasted happiness and he gave it up for a child that isn't even his. That girl is the reason for Ryan's pain and misery.

And Roxie branded him.

She sits down on the sidewalk. She has his phone. Eddie had given it to her with the cash.

She doesn't know Ryan well enough to take care of him.

She opens the phone. She scrolls down his contact list. It's sorted into business and personal. She clicks personal.

She doesn't even know Ryan's last name. Her hands shake. She shouldn't do this. She doesn't know him like this, but he shouldn't be here alone.

She wishes she could go back to the time when he was just another fuck, just another lost soul, but she…she spent the night.

He shouldn't be here alone.

There are only four listings. Seth. Kirsten. Sandy. Boy. Girl. Either. The last one simply reads 'Home'.

Somehow she knows that it's not Teresa's number.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Hello?"

"Hello?"

"This is Sandy, can I help you?" I'm too tired to try and figure out the caller. Kirsten's enthusiasm over her recent attempt at communication with Ryan has not lifted my spirits. She's misleading herself.

"Do you know a kid named Ryan? Fuck, he might not even be a kid…" She murmurs distantly.

Oh god. "He is a kid. And I do know him, who is this?" It's a girl. I can tell that much, but her voice is slurred and I don't recognize her.

"I'm a friend…or something…are you his dad?"

"No…not biologically…but he's my son…"

"This is a bad idea…"

"Please…don't hang up…is he okay?" I can't tell if she's worried or high or angry, I can't tell.

"Do you care?"

"Yes…who is this?"

"Roxie…it doesn't matter…do you…can you help him? I mean…"

"Roxie? What's wrong? Is he all right? Did he tell you to call me?"

"Hell no, he's all fucked up…I mean…he hit the stuff a little too hard and…that Eddie kid gave me some cash and Ry's phone…"

I can't process her words. She's clearly fucked up and struggling to get her thoughts in order. Where is he?

"Mister?"

"Where are you?"

"The hospital…close to Ry's house…you know where he lives?"

"Yes, I'm coming…"

"I just…wanted someone here for him…I can't help him, I can't make him okay but…he said he was happy once…and I believe him…"

"Roxie? I'm coming. Thank you for calling…"

"I just called 'home'. But I'm not telling him that you're coming. Because you could be lying…I don't trust that somebody might actually give a shit…" The phone goes dead.

"Kirsten."

She rushes from the kitchen and comes to my side. "Sandy, what…"

"It's Ryan. Some girl, some 'Roxie', says he's at the hospital."

"Let's go. I'll drive."

I can't move.

Seth appears in front of me. "No. Both of you are about to break down. Let's go. I'm driving." He's right. I'm crying.

Ryan. Hospital. Drugs. Hospital.

"Come on, Dad…"

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I'm not floating. I'm not flying. I'm choking. I'm coughing. The air's too thin, it's not enough and I'm choking…

"Turn him, he's going to vomit…"

There's a pail or something there but I'm dizzy and sick. My body is suffocating, I'm dying and all I can do is throw up.

"Kid…Ryan? Ryan, stay with us…"

How the fuck does he know my name…

There's nothing in my stomach so I suck in as much oxygen as I can as my body is flipped again. I see people over me. They're moving fast as hell.

"Did you take some drugs, Ryan? Cocaine? Heroin?"

Voices. Fucking questions. Doesn't he know? It doesn't matter. It's over. Teresa and the baby. Newport. It's all over.

"Ryan, come on…"

It's over and I'm going back to sleep. If I don't choke first.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Roxie?"

Mom and Dad are inside yelling at nurses. I saw the girl from the car. She's beautiful but oddly out of place. Her makeup is smeared and she's barefoot in a pair of men's jeans and a wife beater. I guess Ryan hasn't changed that much fashion wise. She's sitting on the curb.

"Who the fuck is asking?"

Her piercings and attitude definitely fit Mom and Dad's more recent descriptions of Ryan.

"I'm Seth."

"So?"

"You called my dad about Ryan. You know Ryan, right?" I'm not sure how to talk to her. She's got this distant, disoriented look in her eyes. She's fucked up.

"Yeah…I was with him…before we came here…"

"Are you his girlfriend?"

"Look, kid…" She stands up and lights a cigarette. She's shaking. "I don't know Ryan like that. I know where he lives and how he fucks, that's it."

"Oh." At least she's honest. "But you…"

"I fucking stayed the night…" She mutters. I don't think she's talking to me anymore. "And we got high and fucking actually had a conversation…and goddammit…I'm attached to the fucker…"

"What happened to him?"

She meets my gaze for a second before looking away. "So he stays with this bitch, Teresa, and this guy Eddie. And Ry says to me last night, he says that he's only here because Teresa is having his baby and he wants to provide for it…anyway, a little while ago, the guy, Eddie, comes in and tells Ry that the bitch is lying and that the kid's not Ryan's…"

The girl is talking fast and it takes a second but I understand. Oh god…

"So I wanted to make him better, I wanted him to be normal again and get high but…but he just did so much…"

He's lost everything. His pride. His security. He's lost his purpose.

I have to do something. I have to give Ryan something to hold onto. I have to be his friend. He's always done it for me.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Seth? Seth, are you out here?" I call. I see him. He's sitting on the sidewalk beside someone I don't recognize. He gets up and brings the stranger with him

"Mom, this is Roxie…" Seth says quietly.

God. She's a voluptuous girl pretending to be a woman in Ryan's clothes. She's got the same dead look in her dark eyes. And she's stoned.

"Roxie. I'm Kirsten."

"Is he okay?"

"He's not okay. He's on drugs and the doctors are still working on him. Are you the one that scratched him up?"

"You don't know me…" She snaps

"Ryan's my son…" I retort.

"Then what the hell is he doing here?"

She's right. He's not my son. My son wouldn't be here, not like this…"

"I'm sorry," She says suddenly. "I'm fucked up, I'm sorry, I know why he's here…"

"Roxie says that Eddie told Ryan that the baby's not his. That's why…why he went overboard…" Seth says quietly.

"What?" I don't understand.

"The kid's not Ryan," Roxie says. "And that Eddie guy, he was pretty fucking positive."

"That bitch…" I can't believe it.

"Mom?" Seth gasps.

Teresa. If she were here, I'd strangle her. She did this. She took Ryan, she took him from us and the she took everything from him…

"Mom…" Seth has taken my arm.

"I have to go. Will you give Ry these?" Roxie shoves a cell phone and a wad of cash into my hands.

"You're not going to stay?" Seth asks her.

"I have to go, he knows how to find me…" She runs off before we can stop her.

"Mom…"

"The doctor's won't let us see him."

"They were speedballing," Seth says quietly. He shouldn't have to learn about this world, this stuff, he should never know. "She told me. Mixing coke and heroin. She said he'd never shot up before yesterday…he'd never done heroin before…that's…that's good, right?"

"Nothing is good about this."

"Are you okay?"

"Go find your father. I need to make a phone call."

"Mom…"

"Just go. I'll be right in."

He's confused and hurt and worried but he's not my main concern right now. I have to save Ryan. I dial the number with Ryan's phone.

Ryan is coming home.

He'll have to. I'm not giving him a choice.

"Police."

"There's a house on 421 Whitfield Street. My son says that the couple that lives there is selling drugs."

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"I have no idea how to deal with this. Are you listening? I mean, I've fucked up before but…this is the biggest mistake I've ever made…I fucking left you…"

He goes on but I tune him out. I won't open my eyes. Seth can't be here. Where the fuck is here?

My wrists are sore. I must've put up a fight. And lost.

"Dude, I just want you to be okay…I'll fix it…I'll do anything, I'll go to rehab with you, I'll give you everything I own, I'll let you beat the shit out of me, anything…I'll do anything if you'll just…"

He stops talking. I can hear him breathing.

"Please…"

He's crying.

I have to tune him out. I can't hear this. He doesn't know me…he doesn't know what I've done…

"Please, Ryan, please give me another chance, give yourself another chance, don't do this…you're not supposed to be here…this is just wrong…"

I can't just lie here, I have to see where I am so I can get out. I have to face him.

"What the fuck are you doing here?"

"Ryan…"

He looks exactly the same. Funky t-shirt, khaki shorts. I don't look in his eyes.

I'm in a fucking hospital. Strapped down. Trapped.

"Ryan?"

"What the fuck are you doing here?"

"You overdosed."

Fuck. No. I'm in control…

"Roxie said…"

"What the fuck do you know about Roxie?" I have to be harsh. He can't stay. I can't take it. He has to leave.

"Don't yell at me," He says quietly.

"Get the fuck out." I don't yell.

"You can't make me leave."

I won't look at him. He's standing up now, leaning over the bed, trying to look me in the eyes. I close my eyes.

"I've never had a brother and I'll be damned if I'll lose you…"

"Fuck you, I'm not your brother…"

"Yes, you are, Ryan, you're my only fucking brother and even if you fucking hate me, I'm still going to be your brother…"

"Fuck. You." I open my eyes and try to show him that I mean it.

"Okay, that's a start. At least you're looking at me."

"Untie me."

He shakes his head. He's sad. It's like I'm dead. I wish I was dead. I'm the cause of that look on his face. If I were dead, I wouldn't have to see it.

"I can't let you go, I won't…"

"Fuck. You."

"We've established that already," He replies quietly.

"You don't seem to be getting the point. I don't want you here."

"It's not about what you want anymore." Sandy walks in with Kirsten. God. I'm in hell.

"It's over," She says quietly.

I'd said the same words to her earlier. I have to try and get out of here. There's an IV in my hand and my wrists are already bruised and raw from the straps.

"You're going to get some help…" Sandy says. His voice is shaking.

"I don't want your help."

"It's not about what you want anymore, Ryan. It's about what you need."

What do I do, I'm fucking strapped to a bed in a hospital and there's nothing to do, nowhere to go…

"Ryan. We love you. We're going to take care of you."

No. No. No.

"You have a problem…"

"It's not your problem, I'm not your fucking problem…"

"You're not our problem, Ryan, you're a member of our family…" Kirsten says.

"You can't walk away from this family, you don't get a take back…" Sandy echoes.

"I'm not family, you don't even know me…"

"You're wrong, we do know you, you're the one's that forgotten…this isn't you," Seth whispers.

"You don't know me…" I hiss the words. I have to make him believe it.

Seth sees through me for an instant and his brown eyes flash. Oh shit, he can see through me, he can see…

No.

"You are not beyond redemptions, I know you, I know you…" He starts.

"Fuck you, you don't know me…"

"I've watched you sacrifice yourself over and over for the people you love, you've given up every shred of happiness and self-respect to help people that don't give a shit about you…I know you, Ryan…" Seth is leaning over me. He steps back in surprised. Fear. I taste blood.

"Call the nurse, Sandy…" Kirsten says as she leans over with a tissue. She brings it to my face.

I turn away instinctively but there's nowhere to go. She presses it against my nose. Blood.

"It's just a nosebleed, Seth," She says to her son.

The blood sickens me. I'm sick. I'm so fucking sick. I can't stop my stomach from emptying, I can barely move my head to try and empty my mouth. I'm heavy and the vomit is weighing me down.

I can feel them, watching, as I strain against the straps. God, I'm on display, I'm disgusting, I'm strapped down, fucking helpless, trapped in a puddle of my own vomit.

I'm so sick.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Yes, I guess I fucked up again
Don't fall down now
You will never get up
Don't fall down now"

It's not like in that movie Trainspotting. I don't see dead babies. That would be a treat. I see much worse.

I feel like I'm dying but I don't see my past flashing before my eyes, I see my future.

I see my mother bleeding from my fists. Her thin pale skin breaks into blood.

I see Kirsten crying while the handcuffs chafe my wrists as the cops take me out of the courtroom.

I see Seth and Sandy cowering in a puddle of glass in the poolhouse and it's so vivid that I can feel the cold steel of my gun in my hand.

"Ryan…Ryan…"

It's not real. I'm so tired, I'm dreaming. I've been in this hell forever. There's no escape, there's no relief.

"Ryan. Ryan, look at me…"

Kirsten's shaking me. I'm shaking, I'm nauseous, I'm sweaty and freezing and she's shaking me. Can't she see that I'm already shaking?

"Ryan…"

I manage to meet her gaze. My eyes hurt. I'm too tired to close them.

"Honey, can you get up?" I didn't realize I was down. I'm in the bathroom of this hell. I've been sick forever.

She's nice. Gentle. I don't deserve it.

"Ryan, can you get up?"

I wrap my arms around my knees.

"Honey…"

"Stop…" My throat's sore. I can't take her kindness. She's killing me.

"Ryan…"

"Leave me alone…" I can't see her, she's not here. She's pulling at my arms and I'm too weak to stop her.

"Please don't push me away…you're safe…I just want to help you…"

"I don't deserve it…" I don't mean to say it out loud but I can't stop in time and now all I see is her face. Her eyes.

And I know I'm in hell. She can see me, all my sins, all that I've done, she can see into my black soul. She's so good and I'm dirt, I'm tainted. She should hate me, she can see.

She's got her arms around me.

"You deserve so much more than this…"

She's crying. I made her cry.

I have to get away. I can't take this, I can't do this.

"No…" I try to push her away. "Why are you doing this…"

"Because I love you…I want to help you…"

I don't deserve it. Her love. Her worry. Her tears. I'm not good, I'm not worth it, I've ruined it now. I can't go back, I can't be good again, not now.

"I'm poison." I'm channeling Roxie now. "I deserve this hell, I earned it…." I won't hear anything else. I turn away from her and draw my knees up again. I bury my head and wrap my aching arms around my legs. I can't be touched. I can't be saved.