Author's note:

I will be forever grateful to crashcmb for helping me with Best. No words.

Sappy Warning:

I've had this chapter done for more than two years. From time to time I've wondered why I don't just post the damn thing, but this story was one of my first real attempts at writing fanfiction, and I know in retrospect I was worried that everyone who had spent so much time reading this story and Thursday Afternoon would ultimately be let down by the ending.

This story was never meant to be anything but my own selfish desire to fill-in the gaps of how and why Ryan became comfortable living with the Cohens. It always seemed to me that the show glossed over so much of that…of everything a child would go through when suddenly abandoned by a parent and thrust into a new home.

There's no Earth shattering climax to this story. It just ends quietly but hopefully full circle.

I'm not sure why I suddenly decided to post. I think maybe, oddly, Southland reminded me how important it was to be responsible and finish this story. And in a very cowardly way, so much time has passed that I am no longer worried about people being disappointed with the ending. Hell….I'll just be surprised if anyone is still reading! lol

This should go without saying, but thank you to everyone who has been a part of my life in this fandom. It's the gift that keeps on giving.

Since I haven't updated in um……well….I'm too ashamed to mention the year…I'll just remind everyone that Ryan has finally ended up back with the Cohens in the hospital. Seth is no longer dying. Ryan has a broken hand from hitting Ed, and Brad the youngest son, witnessed Ryan and Ed fighting.

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Best of Intentions

Chapter Thirty-One

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Carol's been following Brad around most of the late afternoon and into the night, trying to get a read on what's going through the little boy's head.

Now he's sitting next to her in the booth of the restaurant that Ed has taken them all to in an effort to restore some normalcy to their day.

Brad's mouth is clamped tighter than a clam's. He wouldn't hold Carol's hand as they walked to dinner. He won't talk to her.

He won't smile.

"Tomorrow's your birthday," she gently reminds him, "Are you excited?"

"No," he mutters.

"Brad, are you gonna eat your fries?" Josh asks loudly from across the table.

Brad shoves his plate towards his older brother.

"You should at least eat your cheeseburger, honey," Carol tells the boy, scooping the untouched sandwich off the plate before Josh can claim ownership of it.

"I'm not hungry," Brad grumbles.

Carol looks over at Ed and sighs.

"Hey," Ed smiles with a grin way too wide for the current mood, "What do you mean you're not excited about your birthday, huh? You've been talking about it for months. Have you decided where you want to go tomorrow to celebrate?"

Brad remains silent.

"The beach?" Josh offers through a mouth full of fries.

"Legoland?" Ed contributes.

"Disneyland?" Carol suggests. "We'll get the ticket hopper and go to both parks."

"Don't forget you promised me a ride on the roller coaster, Aunt Carol," Josh says, finally swallowing his fries and reaching for his drink. "Have you chickened out?"

"Hardly," Carol answers, playfully stealing a fry from him.

The moment of levity is over just as quickly as it started and the silence that has dominated the night settles in again.

Ed clears his throat.

"So, son, which is it? Tomorrow's all yours Brad."

"I can pick anywhere to?" Brad asks, but his voice isn't exactly filled with excitement and Carol is suspicious of where the conversation is headed.

"Sure," Ed says, "Of course. Just name it."

"Then I want to go home," Brad says briskly. "I miss Grandpa and Grandma."

Ed clears his throat again, this time initiating a wary glance in Carol's direction.

"Don't be silly son. You've been talking about visiting California since you were four years old. You can't possibly want to go home. I know today was…a difficult day, but we're still here as a family, and part of our plans were to celebrate your birthday. If you're not up to making a decision tonight, we can talk more about it in the morning, ok?"

"So you lied," Brad says softly, pushing his spoon around in a circle, his eyes fixed on the table. "You said I could pick anywhere and I pick home. I don't like it here. I want to go home."

Josh stops shoving fries in his mouth, instead looking up and concentrating on watching the tense interaction between his brother and father.

"Is that really what you want?" Ed asks. "That's a pretty drastic decision, Brad. Once you make it, you can't take it back. Let's wait until the morning. You'll feel better, be excited about your birthday."

"So you lied," Brad repeats. "I can't go wherever I want."

"No," Ed answers briskly, standing up, a trace of frustrated anger in his voice. "If you want to go home, then you can go home. I'll call and make arrangements as soon as we get back to the hotel."

"Ed," Carol says quietly.

"What?" he asks coldly.

"He's just confused about everything that's happened today. Please, let's remain calm and talk about this before anyone makes a rash decision."

"Well I'm confused too," Ed counters, not quite as abrupt as he was with Brad, but not necessarily granting Carol's requested calm. "And you know as well as I do that Brad's far from being a helpless, passive child. It's his birthday. If he wants to leave and go home, then home he goes."

Carol rolls her eyes.

Jesus Christ.

How much more drama can one family fit into a day?

"Hey," Josh interrupts indignantly, "I wanted to go home days ago and no one listened to me."

"It wasn't your birthday," Ed snaps back.

"Here we go again," Josh murmurs under his breath, retreating into his plate of fries.

Frustrated with yet another of Ed's mood swings, Carol hides a smile in response to Josh's comments.

From the mouth of babes.

"Let's go," Ed says. "I think we're done here."

As they walk home the short distance to the hotel, the boys lagging behind, Carol tells her brother, "I'm leaving for Illinois tomorrow morning."

"To take Brad home?" Ed asks, seemingly relieved. "Thanks, Carol. I know I shouldn't have lost my cool in the restaurant but it seems like if it's not Josh testing me, then it's Brad. I just got things semi worked out with Josh today and now Brad is starting in on me. Enough is enough."

"He watched Ryan hit you today, Ed," Carol reminds her brother, amazed that he's not making the connection himself. "Brad's not trying to start in on you, he's trying to figure out what in the hell happened. One minute Ryan is an exciting new person in Brad's life and the next minute he's someone to be scared of."

Ed blows out a deep breath.

Rubs his temples, unconsciously massages his sore and bruised jaw.

"What am I supposed to do?" he asks his sister. "This situation isn't exactly something I can call dad for advice on. Hell, I'm not even sure what happened today. I thought I could save Ryan. I figured he would just accept me, because Dawn has fucked up everything so badly. But this kid, he wants nothing to do with me. I didn't think it would be this hard. I need your help to solve this."

"There's a reason I only have a dog," Carol retorts. "I don't know what to tell you. I'm not a parent. I suppose you could start by asking Brad what he's thinking about, how he feels about Ryan hitting you. And by the way, I'm flying out alone tomorrow. If you want to avoid the problem with Brad by sending him away, you'll have to do it without any help from me."

"Excuse me?" Ed says, sounding confused. "You're just going to abandon me with this mess?"

"Did I stutter?" Carol asks.

Head stiffly forward and determined, she continues to walk straight ahead.

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Kirsten listens to Seth's soft, quick inhalations.

In and out.

She's pulled a chair up close to his hospital bed in the ICU and all she can think about is how when she and Sandy first brought Seth home from the hospital a day after he was born, they spent the first twenty four hours simply making sure he was still breathing. It was insane paranoia and even that first chaotic day home, as they were doing it, they both knew it was irrational, constantly checking to make sure their baby was still alive. But it was as if they couldn't believe that this small human being was actually theirs and maybe if they didn't keep their eyes on him, he might cease to exist.

Seth draws his mother's attention to the present, waking up in a haze, his head moving groggily in the direction of where Kirsten is leaning towards him.

"Hi," she whispers, smiling, trying not to break down again in tears tinged with both relief and lingering anxiety.

"Hi," he whispers back, his throat cracking with a combination of mono related irritation and post anesthesia dryness. "I'm sorry for leaving the house today."

"I don't care about that," Kirsten answers, her crystal blue eyes locked with Seth's brown ones.

"Excellent," he says, rolling his head in the opposite direction. "If figured I was screwed."

As he falls back asleep, Kirsten counts his breaths…in…out…in…out, all the while her eyes keeping a constant vigil on her son.

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"Well, this isn't so bad," Sandy comments. "I've slept in worst places."

Ryan glances at his foster father skeptically. Seth's ICU room is too small for any of them to set up camp so instead, Sandy has commandeered five waiting room chairs and tucked them into a corner by the soda machine.

Sure, the chairs may have padding, but they are skinny as all hell. Ryan seriously doubts that even scrawny Seth could get comfortable on the makeshift bed, no matter how many chairs Sandy strings together.

"I could just sleep on the floor," Ryan offers, willing to trade cleanliness for width.

"You don't want to do that," Sandy scoffs.

"Yes, actually, I do," Ryan deadpans.

"What you should do is go home and get a decent night's sleep in your own bed," Sandy chastises. "I promise one of us will call you if something changes with Seth's condition."

Sandy says the words as if he's casually discussing tomorrow's high and low tide predictions.

Maybe he's faking being relaxed over the fact that Seth is in the ICU, his blood pressure still low, breathing and heart rate a little too rapid, or maybe Sandy just assumes that everything will be ok…because that's just sort of a Sandy thing to do.

But Ryan isn't wired for optimism and he's not budging from this hospital tonight, no matter what.

He's staying where Seth is until his foster brother has moved to a room where nurses and doctors don't keep the door wide-open and check in on him every ten minutes. He's staying put until Seth doesn't have a big tube down his nose that runs into his stomach and more tubes under his nose supplying oxygen. Ryan ain't budging until Kirsten doesn't look like she's made of glass and Sandy isn't hopping around playing the part of the Pied Piper of Grace Under Stress.

And Ryan's keeping close to the Cohens, keeping them within immediate proximity, because the thought of going anywhere else and being with anyone else isn't anything at all that he wants to think about.

"If Seth is really ok, if he's fine, you can come home with me, right?" Ryan asks, calling Sandy's bluff.

"Touché," Sandy concedes. "We stay. But at least lay down somewhere here in the hospital, kid. You look like you're ready to drop."

I am, thinks Ryan.

So are you, Sandy.

"It's better if you stay close to Kirsten and me anyway. I don't want you in the house alone. But seriously, you need to get some sleep. Now."

Ryan nods.

He's exhausted. Plus, he's fairly sure that Sandy is feeling obligated to remain with him instead of joining Kirsten in Seth's room. If he agrees to take a rest, then Sandy can go back to his family.

"I'd like to ask you for something Ryan, but I don't want you take it the wrong way."

Ryan stares at Sandy, his head slightly cocked.

"I want you to give me your cell phone. Just for tonight."

Ryan continues to stare, wondering what he's done wrong now, that with everything else going on, Sandy would be bothered to suddenly want to take his cell away.

Maybe he's being paranoid. Maybe Sandy's battery is just dead and he needs to borrow Ryan's phone.

But that theory doesn't make sense, given Sandy's request that he not take anything, the wrong way.

"Did I do something wrong?" Ryan asks cautiously, digging into his jeans pocket for the cell.

"No," Sandy shakes his head. "I just don't want you dealing with any phone calls tonight."

Ryan has successfully retrieved his phone, but he's reluctant to give it to Sandy. His cell has always been one of the token instruments of his independence since he's come to Newport and besides, he's still not sure what's going on and he's concerned that if he just turns the phone over to Sandy, he won't find out what his guardian's actual intentions are.

"I could um, I could let Marissa know that I'm trying to get some sleep. Tell her not to call me until the morning."

"It's not Marissa I'm worried about," Sandy says, studying Ryan carefully.

Ryan doesn't feel threatened under Sandy's stare.

Just unsure.

If it's not Marrisa Sandy's worried about and with Seth out of commission, then there's not a whole lot of people left who would call him.

Except…

That Ed guy.

"I don't think he's going to try and call," Ryan says quietly, dropping his head, not even bothering to identify Carden by name, knowing that the guy must be the person that Sandy is concerned might phone. "I think he's pretty pissed at me."

Sandy's hand edges closer to Ryan's cell. "I don't think I'm willing to take the chance. Make no mistake, this isn't about me not trusting you. This is about me not trusting Ed. Let me have the phone please."

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Sandy feels a little bit guilty, confiscating Ryan's cell from him. But goddamn if he trusts Ed Carden any further than he can throw him and Ryan's been manipulated enough by the asshole.

Ed's frantic race to claim rights over Ryan have reduced the teenager to a shell of the kid who has been living in Newport.

Ryan looks almost exactly like he did when Sandy plucked him from the front of the strip mall in Chino.

He's smoking again.

A lot.

Sandy can smell it on him.

He looks depleted and drained.

His face is bruised, maybe not a direct result of Ed, but most certainly related to what Ryan is going through, his hairpin temper triggered at soccer practice this last weekend resulting in the black eye he's now sporting.

The new soft splint on the kid's right hand, a result from punching Ed, completes the miserable ensemble.

If social services did an impromptu visit, no one currently vying for permanent custody of Ryan would stand a chance in hell of gaining it.

He'd be taken away from all of them, both Sandy's family and Carden.

"You can have the phone back, whenever Kirsten or I are around but I'm not leaving it with you. If you want to call Ed yourself, I'll let you do it, I'll step away as far as you want me to. This isn't about me controlling you. This is about Ed calling you when your like this, in pain and exhausted and vulnerable to his manipulations."

Ryan cringes a little at the last few words.

"I won't bad mouth him in front of you, Ryan. I have no right to do that. But I also refuse to pretend that he has handled any of this appropriately. I'm sure, over time, if you want, you and Ed can forge a friendship or at least an open line of communication. But not right now, certainly not tonight. He's done contacting you until you've had sleep and time to relax and catch your breath and you are going to be the one that decides when and how the next interaction with him happens. And yes, I know that you are more than capable of simply not answering the phone if he calls, but do you really, honestly even want to deal with any of it right now? Just give me the phone, turn all the bullshit over to me. Get some sleep. Spend time with Seth. Take your meds. Stop the smoking. Eat a decent meal. Let me earn my title as your guardian."

Ryan nods silently, something he's been doing quite a bit recently.

He gives Sandy the cell but before releasing it he says, "I need to call Brad. I took that guy out right in front of him. He's a little kid and I hit his dad with him watching. That's something I never thought I'd do. That's something my father did, hit my mom with me watching. I never thought I would do that. I shouldn't have done that."

"Ok, fair enough," Sandy answers. "You're right. You should talk to Brad, for both your sakes. But it can wait until the morning. In the meantime, your floor is waiting."

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As she packs up her suitcase, Carol feels like she's the absolute worst human being in the world, walking out on Ed and the boys. But she's not sure what else to do. The more she sticks around, the more complicated things are getting and yes, maybe the events of the past few days would have played out almost exactly like they had even if she hadn't come to California, but if she knows one thing for sure, it's that Ed and the kids have been leaning on her more and more like she's Sara's emotional substitute and quite frankly, Carol is more than aware that she's not cut out for that job. Hell, if this trip has taught her anything, it's reminded her why she childless. She's a great aunt, she knows that. But she's not interested in being anyone's mother.

Carol loved Sara, but she can't take her place with Josh and Brad.

It's time to draw the line in the proverbial sand, something she probably should have done a lot sooner.

The boys have figured out that she's leaving and Josh is the first one to voice his discontentment, coming into her hotel room and plunking himself down on her bed.

"But you promised to ride the rollercoaster with me," he says. There's no hint of whining in his voice, but rather the boy sounds genuinely hurt. "When I was crying about mom the other day, you promised me we would ride one while we were in California, just for her."

"I'm sorry, Josh," Carol says. "When I made you that promise, things were different. I have to go home. But I'll make it up to you. We'll hit Six Flags in the summer."

"But that's not the same," Josh protests. "We've already rode all those together. This ride was supposed to be for mom."

"What I'm doing right now is for your mom, Josh. You and your dad and Brad need to be alone right now, to work things out as a family. Your mother would want the three of you to as close as you were before she died."

"But you're a part of our family," Josh continues to ply Carol with objection.

"I'm extended family," Carol corrects him. "I know it's confusing, my actually place in your life, because I've been around so much since your mother's death. But it's time I pulled back. You guys need to figure out how to depend on each other again."

"Are you just gonna' leave us here alone with dad?" Josh asks, sounding both shocked and maybe a little bit scared.

"Of course," Carol answers. "He's your father, Josh. You've been with him all your life."

"But he's nuts right now," the boy says, so matter of fact that Carol has to suppress a smile. "Can Grandma at least come out here before you leave?"

"No, honey. You and your father need to relearn how to communicate with each other without anyone butting in."

Josh changes tactics. "Well, what about Brad? You should stay because of him. Brad needs you."

Carol stops packing, sits down on the bed and looks at her nephew.

"What Brad needs right now is his father and big brother. It's time for me to leave, Josh. I'm sorry. I'm not abandoning you. I'm doing this for your own good. Someday you'll understand."

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"Ryan's finally asleep," Sandy informs Kirsten as he leans down, giving her a kiss.

"Good," she answers. "He needed it so badly."

Sandy points to Seth.

"How's he doing? He looks a little better."

Kirsten tells him, "The nurse said that his blood pressure is going up. I guess the next step is to lower the medication they are using to keep it elevated, see if it can stay stable on its own."

She sounds truly hopeful for the first time in hours and Sandy assures her, "He'll be fine, honey."

Seth appears relaxed in his sleep, not at all in pain. Sandy reaches out and feels his son's forehead.

No fever.

They must really be pumping some good stuff into Seth's IV's.

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Trey is there, telling him he's leaving the house.

For good this time.

"I got to get out of here, away the fuck from…her," his brother insists. "I swear Ryan, I fucking hate her."

Ryan is thirteen and scared by his brother's words.

He doesn't want to be alone. He doesn't want to think about trying to live in this house without Trey.

He doesn't want to think about it.

"What about me?" he asks quietly, following Trey around the room, his arms wrapped around his stomach. "Are you just gonna' leave me here? Can I go with you?"

Trey isn't listening. He's too busy stuffing clothes into a bag.

"Fucking bitch whore," he says loudly.

Yells it actually, through the thin walls of their house. Ryan can hear their mother crying.

Trey rips the bedroom door open, stomps down the small hallway.

"Don't ever come back! Do you hear me, Trey!" Dawn screams at him through tears.

The front door slams shut.

Ryan stays in the bedroom, his head down.

All he can think about is the fact that now, his mom is his sole responsibility, and tomorrow he has an English test, and he's hungry and all they have is a fucking box of cereal, three bottles of beer, a bunch of whiskey, and some frozen hamburger patties.

And he's scared.

He goes into the living room.

His mom is still crying.

Ryan gets a paper towel, hands it to her, watching as she wipes her eyes.

"I'm done with him," Dawn says forcefully. "I mean it this time, Ry. Trey is never coming back into this house. Never."

She stands up and walks slowly into the kitchen, retrieving a bottle of beer out of the fridge.

Ryan silently joins her, begins defrosting the hamburger, and hopes like hell that Theresa's mom has a few spare pieces of bread.

He hates eating hamburger without bread.

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Kirsten takes a break from being at Seth's bedside.

Sandy seems to want to stay and she could use a chance to stretch her legs.

Her deep feelings of dread have eased up. Seth's still in the ICU and she should still feel panicked, but for some reason she doesn't, and that alone is all she needs to know that her son is going to be all right.

As she walks into the waiting room, she stops cold.

She doesn't see Ryan.

But Sandy said he was here, so she squelches her rising concern that the teenager has taken off.

She goes further into the waiting room and finds Ryan in a corner, behind the soda machine. Her husband has managed to make a private space for their foster son.

He's deep in sleep, facial features slack, and his injured hand sticking straight out.

Kirsten realizes that she still doesn't know how he hurt it.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Ryan feels sick to his stomach.

Something isn't right.

His mom is eating her hamburger, chewing away, and he's hungry but as he looks down at his own plate, there's worms crawling out of his burger.

He can hear his mom chewing.

A few worms make their way onto the table.

His stomach gives way.

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"Oh shit," Kirsten says, stumbling in surprise as Ryan shoots straight up and begins vomiting.

His eyes are still closed, bangs obscuring a full view of his face.

"Oh God, Ryan," she says, unconsciously backing away and then catching herself, she pushes forward, towards him.

"Sweetie?" she says, bending down, tentatively placing her hand on his back. "Are you ok?"

Stupid question, she chastises herself.

The child is throwing up…perhaps even while still asleep.

That's not ok.

Luckily Ryan has missed vomiting on his pants, but she doesn't want to chance him getting anything on his clothes, so she gently guides him away from the puddle next to him.

"Are you awake?" she asks him.

He nods, allowing her to scoot him sideways.

She immediate puts her hand on the back of his neck.

Days ago, Seth's stomach was the first indication that he was sick. That and the fever.

And the lethargy.

What if Ryan now has mono?

He doesn't feel warm to her touch.

In fact, he feels a little bit cold.

She makes a mental note to find him a blanket, that is, as soon as she finds a doctor to check him out.

"Does your neck hurt?" She asks him. "Do you feel achy?" She rambles off a few other early symptoms of mono that she remembers.

He shakes his head 'no' to all of them.

"I'm sorry," he mumbles. "I was dreaming about a hamburger."

That…makes no sense at all. But she goes with it, because at least he's talking to her.

"Does your stomach hurt?" she asks.

This time he says, "I'm not sure."

Kirsten slows her brain down. He's not feverish. She urges herself not to jump to such dark conclusions. Just calm down and think.

Sandy mentioned pain meds to her. The doctor prescribed them for Ryan's hand. She spots a pharmacy bag near the soda machine.

Standing, she steps around the mess of vomit and picks up the bag. There are two bottles in it. An anti-inflammatory and a pain reliever. She reads the label. Both of them advise in bright orange print to take the medication with food.

"When's the last time you ate anything?" she asks Ryan.

He looks up at her, squinting, as if he still hasn't fully woken up.

"Sandy bought me a bag of chips."

"Before or after you took your medicine?"

Ryan shrugs then seems to concentrate on the question and answers, "Before. I think."

'Men,' Kirsten thinks disgustedly to herself. Would it kill them to read directions?

"Come on," she says to him quietly, reaching under his arm to help him into a standing position. "I'm sure you don't want to hear this, but we need to get some food in your stomach. Then you can go back to sleep."

He grabs his jacket that's been doubling as a pillow.

On the way to the cafeteria, Kirsten stops by a nurse's station to see if she should give him more pills, because he may have thrown up most of the medication along with what she now knows is semi-digested Lays potato chips. The nurse tells her no more meds, wait until he's due for his next dose.

She calls Sandy, tells him what happened, where they are going, and suggests that he may want to tell someone that there is a slight mess in the waiting room.

"Poor kid," Sandy says.

Kirsten couldn't agree more.

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Ryan sits at a table in the cafeteria, his head curled into the crux of his elbow, waiting for Kirsten to return with a grilled cheese and fries.

They both decided that meat products were out of the question. Ryan's just happy that this part of the hospital is open and is willing to feed him what he wants.

Kirsten is right.

Despite having just thrown up, he's starving.

But he's also exhausted and he feels himself staring to doze off.

He thinks about his dream. Really, except for the fictional disturbing worm part, it was more of a memory. It's not the first time that his Mom and brother's last, final, blowout has echoed through his brain.

He wonders why he had the dream tonight of all nights.

"Ryan?"

Kirsten is back.

The smell of the food is sufficient enough motivation to get him to ease his head up and accept the tray from his foster mother.

"Thanks," he says softly.

"You're welcome."

Before he takes a bite, he apologizes again for almost spattering her with grossness. He probably, definitely, embarrassed her. And once again, he's keeping one of Seth's parents from him.

"Please," she says, dismissing his apology. "Sandy should have read the label to your medication. Are you feeling any better?"

He is, actually, and answers her with a nod.

Kirsten asks what happened to his hand.

Ryan stops chewing, studies his soft splint.

"I hit that guy," he tells her, lowering his head so he doesn't have to see her face. "I'm sorry. I know I shouldn't of. I promised you guys no more fighting."

"We'll talk about it more in the morning," she says casually. "After you get some sleep."

She's not eating anything herself. Just sipping coffee that Ryan is guessing is extra strong, based on the smell that is wafting over to him. He thinks about how strangely the current situation mirrors some of his dream.

Only Kirsten isn't drinking alcohol.

And she's the one that got him food, not the other way around.

And her words are quiet and not peppered with hate.

And he isn't scared.

He hopes his mom, wherever she is, is eating. He was always the one that took care of her, who cooked for her.

Kirsten reminds him that she bought him some milk and that he needs to drink it. It'll coat his stomach.

After he takes a sip she asks quietly, "Are you going to stay living with us? With everything that's been happening, I haven't had time to really talk to Sandy about it."

Ryan keeps his head down.

"We only want what's best for you," she says. "We want you to be happy. We want this to be your decision."

She repeats her question, just as quietly, "Are you going to stay with us, Ryan?"

He takes a deep breath.

All of it can wait.

Everything.

His memories of his old family and his concerns about his new one and his self-loathing of himself about what a jackass he can be when it comes to making good decisions.

All of it can wait.

The Cohens only want the best for him.

It's taken him months to understand what this sentiment means and even longer to accept it.

But Ryan knows now, what her words mean.

He knows it's ok to believe in them.

He's going to try so hard not to second guess any of it any more, his feelings of finally having hope for his future and his doubts that someday the Cohens won't mean the promises they have made to him.

He's gonna' try so hard to just believe.

"Yes," he says, nodding, slowly raising his head, glancing at her quickly, spotting a smile on her face before dropping his eyes again. "If it's all right with you guys, I want to stay."

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Kirsten remains with Ryan in the waiting room until she hears his soft breathing take the form of patterned sleep.

Just like a few days ago, she has a motherly compulsion to reach over and put her hand on his hair.

Maybe some day, she and Ryan will feel comfortable with physical contact when he's awake.

But for now, this will have to do.

When she goes back into the ICU, Sandy flashes an immediate smile.

"They're moving Seth to a step-down unit in the morning. Doctor Manning said everything looks good. His blood pressure is holding."

"Thank God," Kirsten says, relief pouring out of her.

Just…thank God for the way everything has worked out tonight. Everything. Both for Seth and for the other child she's slowly realizing she wants for her own.

"Ryan told me he's staying with us."

"I know," Sandy answers, taking her hand, pulling her into his lap. The hospital chair isn't quite made for two, but they manage to make it work. Sandy places a kiss directly behind her ear. "Sorry. I should have told you myself. I guess with everything…"

"No" Kirsten tells him, leaning backwards so that her full weight is supported on his chest. "I think it was better hearing it from him."

"We have a hell of a time coming up," Sandy says, hugging her. "Seth's going to be a mess physically, Ryan mentally. We have to figure out a way to help them both over these latest hurdles."

"We will," she says with a smile. "We'll manage. We always do."

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Ryan used to have a mom and dad and a brother.

Then it all fell apart.

He used to believe that nothing would ever be the same.

No he knows it won't be.

He can never have his old life back.

Not any of it.

He's in a new home now, with new people.

When his mom left him with the Cohens, he felt abandoned but relieved and despite not wanting to and knowing he was better off with the Cohens…he felt trapped.

None of them had a choice, really, him living there, in the pool house.

Not him or Sandy or Kirsten or Seth.

Ryan was just sort of…all of a sudden, there, standing in the kitchen with no mother.

The Cohens had a chance this week to change everything, to have him go away, but he's still with them.

They still want him and god, he's finally, truly realized it, he wants them for as long as they'll keep him.

He hopes they never change their minds.

Ryan used to have a family once.

Then they left him one by one until all he had was a stranger's phone number.

A lawyer's business card.

Until all he had was three new people to take the place of the other three.

Things will never be the same for him.

Not ever.

He'll never be the same person he was. Everything has changed.

And for the first time in a long time, in maybe forever, Ryan has a life that he thinks maybe he can live with.

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This is the end, although, there is a half-written epilogue to wrap up things…but it's being held hostage in my old laptop. I'm working on getting it to behave and boot-up. Worse comes to worse…I'll re-write it from memory.

Thank you for reading.