This one has bits of language and some violence...but...I've seen and heard worse at the local skate park! So...I'm leaving it as a PG-13. It's been a while since I wrote a story with this sort of flavor! I've been living it up in "fluff heaven"! My inner circle liked it so I thought I would put it out there for y'all to see. Hope ya's enjoy it! There is a second part in the works. Please drop me a review – they make my day! :D ENJOY! : D

When Darkness Falls

Pale light sifted in from the kitchen. Ryan had no idea what time it was. He had been on the couch for hours. He figured it must be the middle of the night by now. Staring at the ceiling, his mind was cluttered. He hated relenting to sleep. That was when his subconscious liked to remind him of all the things he wanted to forget. In the dark, during rest, his mind was an open palette, a playground where shadows of his past came to play against his will. Exhausted as he was, he fought against his body's quest for slumber. Feeling his head slip to the right, he jolted himself awake. "I can do this. I can beat this," he rationalized with himself. Frowning at the ceiling again, he realized he was losing his negotiating power with the Sandman...and the darkness came.

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Stopping at the curb, Ryan dismounted his bike and walked up the path to the house. Dropping his bike in the grass, he sighed, disgusted to find the lights still on at this hour. That meant someone was still up. Someone would see him walk in the door. He was kicking himself for getting caught sneaking out a week ago. Since then AJ had nailed boards up over his bedroom window. Ryan wasn't sure what the point of that was. AJ liked him out of the way. By blocking his window, now he had to parade in and out of the house right past AJ. Something that wasn't good for either of them. It was especially bad for Ryan.

Yelling and screaming could be heard inside the house. Looking back down at his bike, he considered picking it up and leaving again. Not even walking in the house. He could sleep in one of the cars at the rail yards. No one would bother him there and he wouldn't have to deal with AJ. He could hear his mother begging to AJ. She was crying. As much as he wanted nothing to do with this, he just couldn't walk away.

Opening the door revealed a scene Ryan had come across many times. The house was in disarray. Clearly, there had been a fight. His Mom looked worn down and disheveled. Her eyes were red from crying with make-up running down her cheeks, and one eye appeared to have the beginning stages of a bruise. She'd been smacked around, no doubt. Her voice was strained and hoarse from yelling. Obviously she had done something AJ didn't appreciate.

"Ryan...honey." Dawn wasn't an award-winning mom by far, but once in a blue moon, she did the right thing. "Honey, go to your room. It's late."

"What happened?" Ryan asked. Scanning the room, his eyes locked with AJ's. On some nights, that's all it took. Switching his eyes back to his Mom, Ryan could feel the anger building inside of him. Anger that his Mom always chose these men that treated them this way. Anger that his life was a mess because of his mom's poor decisions. Anger because it was the same crap over and over and over again.

"Why don't you ever just do as your told?" The voice was deep, slurred, and equally as angry. Raising an almost empty bottle of Jack Daniels to his lips, AJ drained the bottle and stared daggers at Ryan. "It would save me a lot of trouble."

"AJ don't!" Dawn's raspy voice pleaded. "He has nothing to do with this."

"Shut up! You're in enough trouble of your own!"

"Why don't you just leave her alone?" Ryan's mouth opened and the words poured out before he even realized it. He stood in stunned silence at his own actions. He knew better. There was no talking to AJ when he was drunk. Hell, there was no talking to AJ when he was sober. Ryan just knocked on the devil's door, and the devil was about to answer.

"What did you say to me?" Staggering, AJ turned his attention completely onto Ryan.

Ryan, in the mean time, forced himself to break from his eye lock with AJ. "Look anywhere but at him," Ryan told himself. While this concept was good in theory, Ryan's eyes snapped right back to AJ when he realized he was moving.

"What did you say to me you little punk?"

"I said, leave her alone." He had already crossed the line. Might as well see it through. Whether he kept talking or kept his mouth shut, the outcome would be the same, and he knew that.

At that comment, Dawn dropped to a sitting position on the floor and covered her face with her hands. She was crying.

"Yeah I'd cry too if I were your mother...because you're so fucking stupid!"

Without warning, AJ launched the whiskey bottle at Ryan. Considering he was drunk, his aim was dead on accurate and the bottle shattered against Ryan's temple. Stumbling backwards, the blow made Ryan's head spin. He was seeing stars and he felt himself fall to the floor. He watched drops of blood sink into the carpeting. His eyes were crossing so he wasn't sure just how bad his head was bleeding. The pain however was excruciating. He could hear moaning. Someone was moaning in pain. It took him a moment to realize it was himself.

Someone grabbed his arm and wrenched him up off of the floor. In the blink of an eye, AJ had him standing, backed up against the wall.

"AJ stop! Don't hurt him!" Dawn's pleas fell on deaf ears. Her own fear of what AJ was capable of kept her steadfast in her position on the floor.

AJ leaned in close to Ryan, so close Ryan could feel him breathing on his face. "Who do you think you're talking to little man?" Huh?" Ryan could feel his body jump at the sound of AJ's voice.

The smell of whiskey on AJ's breath turned Ryan's stomach. Jerking his head away, he attempted to escape the nauseating smell. He hated giving AJ the satisfaction of showing his fear, but the pain in his head made him weak and he was not up for a fight. His chin shook and tears streamed down his cheeks.

Growling against Ryan's neck, "You're not all that mouth now are you?" Ryan scrunched his eyes closed as tight as possible. Silently he wished AJ away like a bad dream.

"You're gonna learn to respect me, if it kills you," AJ snarled.

Sensing AJ backing off, Ryan allowed himself to open his eyes. Unfortunately, the first thing he saw was AJ's fist en route to his stomach. Letting out another painful groan, the contact leveled Ryan sending him back to the floor.

Squatting down in front of him, AJ grabbed a fistful of Ryan's hair and jerked his head back. "Now, your mother told you to go to your room. Are you going or do I need to explain this to you further?"

In between gasping breaths, "I'll go...I'll go," Ryan murmured.

As unsteady as he was, somehow Ryan got to his feet and made his way to his room. Closing the bedroom door, his bed offered his only escape from the evenings events. Sitting with his back up against the wall, Ryan cried silently in the dark. He didn't deserve this. Any of it. He deserved a mom that would protect him. He deserved a home he wasn't afraid to come home to. And he certainly didn't deserve to be AJ's personal punching bag. He deserved so much more than this. One of these days, he was going to leave this all behind, with no regrets.

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The clock on the night table read 3:37am when his bedroom door opened. His heart jumped when he saw a figure enter. With the click of the latch, the closet light was flipped on. It was Trey. Ryan let out a deep sigh of relief.

"I thought you were AJ."

"Nah. I'm too quiet to be AJ. What happened here tonight?"

"I'm not entirely sure. It was like this when I came home around midnight."

Sitting on his own bed across from Ryan, Trey caught a glimpse of dried blood that had streaked down the side of Ryan's face. "I'm confident I know 'who' happened to you but, what happened to you?"

"I made the mistake of asking what happened here tonight. He threw a bottle at me."

"Jesus." Moving closer to Ryan, Trey examined his wound. "That's bad Ryan. If that thing is still weeping by morning, you might need some stitches."

Ryan shook his head and lowered his eyes to his lap. He hoped to God he didn't need stitches. That would only trigger round two with AJ because he would have to spend money on Ryan...for something he would claim was Ryan's fault to start with. God he hoped he didn't need stitches.

"Wait here, man. I'll be right back." Trey disappeared through the door again. Ryan wanted to stop him. Making noise at night was never a good idea and he didn't want to cross AJ's path any sooner than he had to.

When Trey returned, he brought a wet washcloth and a Ziploc bag filled with ice cubes. "Here little brother. Hold this up there. We gotta get that bleeding to stop. We'll clean your face up later."

"I wish you were around here more man. He doesn't do this to me when you're here." Ryan looked longingly at Trey before breaking eye contact.

Guilt washed over Trey. He knew his little brother didn't deserve this. Any of it. "I don't know why he's so mean to you man. You're the good one. Look at me. Drugs. Theft. A drop-out. I'm the one he should be mean to. He obviously feels threatened by you. Something about you little man."

Glaring at Trey, "Don't call me little man. AJ calls me that and I hate it."

"Yeah okay, I can respect that. But you're still my little brother and you're stuck with that." Smiling at Ryan, Trey tried to comfort Ryan the best he could. "You'll see Ryan. Some day you're gonna get out of here. Some day you're gonna have a wife and kids, a house and all the damn bills that go with it. And you'll be sending me Christmas cards at San Quentin telling me how fucking happy you are. It'll happen...you watch...because you deserve it. Someone like me, no. You're different man. You're gonna make it out of here. I'll see to that."

Ryan let his brother's words roll around in his head. He didn't necessarily believe what he heard, but after the night he'd had, it was nice to pretend it could be true. Even if it was only until the sun came up.

"When was the last time you got some decent sleep Ryan?"

Shrugging his shoulders he looked at Trey. He couldn't remember. He basically resorted to napping whenever time allowed. He didn't really 'sleep' any more.

"Alright come on. Lay down."

"Trey...I'm okay. I don't..."

"Hey. I'm here man. I'm not gonna let anything happen to you on my watch. Okay? That bastard will sleep until at least ten. That's a good six hours, which I think is a record for you these days. Come on man. I know you're tired."

Nodding, Ryan agreed. "I'm tired. I'm tired of all of it."

Nodding at Ryan, "Okay man, come on. Lay down. Try to lay on that ice pack. Keep it on your face as long as you can."

"Trey...thanks," Ryan mumbled.

"It's okay man. You get some sleep little brother."

By the time Trey finished his cigarette and undressed, Ryan's hand slid off of the ice pack. He was out.

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It had only been a matter of days since AJ clobbered Ryan with the whiskey bottle. Ryan was doing everything in his power to avoid AJ and he had done a pretty good job until today. His bike lay next to AJ's toolbox where he was working on his car. In order to avoid AJ for the rest of the night, Ryan had to get his bike and scram. The farther he was from AJ, the better his chances of spending the night unscathed.

He knew walking over to get his bike would result in a fifty-fifty chance of an exchange with AJ. He would take those odds if it meant avoiding him for the rest of the night. Attempting to stay low on AJ's radar, Ryan walked across the grass in a straight path to his bike. His eyes kept track of AJ under the hood of the car. Just as his hands grasped the handlebars, that familiar condescending tone rang in his ears.

"Where do you think you're going?"

Ryan could feel the hair on the back of his neck stand up. "Just for a ride."

"Just for a ride huh? What did you do with my tools?"

"Tools?"

"Don't you dare play dumb with me you little bastard!" AJ rose from under the hood of the car and stared at Ryan. "Your bike was by my toolbox and now I'm missing tools."

This was bad. Ryan never laid one finger on AJ's stuff. Ever. Experience told Ryan AJ probably did something with them when he was drunk at some point, and now he couldn't remember what he did with them. Ryan always took the fall for these sorts of things. Unfortunately for Ryan, AJ never believed him and this situation was only going to get worse.

"AJ...I didn't touch the tools. I swear..."

"You little fucking liar! What's it gonna take to get through to you Ryan?" Throwing his work rag down on the ground in anger, AJ picked up a tire iron and started crossing the yard in Ryan's direction.

Completely stricken with fear, Ryan let his bike drop to the ground and began backing away from AJ. Pleading with AJ, his eyes welled up with tears. "AJ, please don't do this. I swear. I never touched your tools. I didn't do any work on my bike. I didn't touch them, I swear!"

Lunging at Ryan, AJ swung the tire iron. Connecting with Ryan's midsection, Ryan felt a crack and cried out in pain. Blocking a second swing with his forearm, Ryan could feel pain shoot through his arm.

Ryan screamed for his life, "Please! Please stop! No! NO! Stop!!! STOP!!!"

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"Ryan? Ryan...sweetie? Wake up Ryan. Wake up. It's okay. We're here. Open your eyes sweetie."

That voice. Ryan knew that voice but he couldn't place it. "No...no...leave me alone. Please...just stop. Please..."

"We've got to wake him up. His heart is pounding so hard it's about to jump out of his chest! Ryan it's okay. You're safe here. Open your eyes and it will all end honey. Just open your eyes."

Ryan didn't know why he obeyed the voice, but he opened his eyes. It was morning. Sitting next to him was Kirsten. Her face was full of concern and her attention was one hundred percent directed at Ryan.

"There you go. It's okay. We're all here," she soothed, stroking the side of his face.

"Don't. There's blood there," Ryan explained, pulling her hand away.

Kirsten and Sandy shared a look of apprehension. Clearly part of Ryan was still stuck between worlds, stuck between reality and dreaming.

Ryan got concerned himself when it seemed Kirsten didn't understand. "I didn't take the tools. I didn't..." He could hardly control his breathing and tears escaped from his eyes and ran down into his hair.

"Shhh...It's okay Ryan. You haven't done anything wrong. It was a dream honey. It's safe here. Do you know where you are?" Kirsten held his hand and looked at his confused face. For the first time he looked away from Kirsten and around the room. That was Sandy was sitting down by his feet. And Seth was standing on the other side of the coffee table, nervously rocking back and forth. Oh yeah, the coffee table. There sat his bottle of Snapple from the night before, next to the comic book he was reading last night, not to mention, a couple of controllers for the play station.

Ryan started swallowing quickly and repeatedly, "Kirsten I don't feel so good."

Springing into action, they pushed the coffee table closer to Ryan and quickly removed everything from the table.

"It's okay Ryan, just lean over the table. Don't fight it son." Sandy could see Ryan was still a little out of it.

Leaning over the table, Ryan began to dry heave. His body seized several times, even though nothing actually came out. When the spasm stopped, Ryan clamped his mouth shut and was breathing rapidly through his nose.

"It's okay Ryan. Take your time. We're gonna help you get through this," Kirsten encouraged.

"That's right son. Just try to relax. It'll stop just give it a minute." Trying to lighten things a bit, Sandy attempted to shift Ryan's attention elsewhere. "Look at the bright side, now you know Seth REALLY loves you because he's still here. I thought for sure he would have been gone after the first gag."

Ryan was slowly returning. A half smile flickered across his mouth at Sandy's attempt at humor. "I'm okay. I'll be okay. I just...wanna lay down again."

After he was settled back on the couch, Kirsten sat back down next to him, facing him. "That one was a doozie huh?" Kirsten had caught Ryan having nightmares before, but this one put them all to shame.

Embarrassed, Ryan nodded, disturbed by the bits of the horror still flashing through his mind.

Shaking her head, Kirsten brushed the shaggy hair out of his eyes. "I don't know what that monster did to you, and you don't have to tell me anything you don't want to...but I promise you here and now, that I will do whatever it takes to make sure he goes away...for good. He's not welcome here. Neither in person, nor in dreams."

"I second that," Sandy offered. Jokingly he added, "Naked princess bed time stories might be helpful!"

"SANDY!"

"Well they'd certainly help him go to bed with happy thoughts!"

"Hey Dad I second your second! And Ryan buddy, I can get you an X-men nightlight. Yeah it's a nightlight but it's X-men so that's still cool right? I mean whatever helps right?"

"Oh my God! Ryan, I think maybe I spoke too soon! I think we're on our own!"

"No...it's okay. Really. This is the sort of stuff that works." He thought on his words for a moment. "The shadows don't like happiness. I'm happy here. Hopefully sooner than later they'll go away for good."

"Oh Ryan, that's music to my ears," Kirsten smiled at him, giving him a hug.

"Me too, but that doesn't mean I'm giving up on those bedtime stories!"

"Oh me either! I'm not giving up on the nightlight yet either," Seth added. "So mom, can Ryan do the Playstation now?

"Seth..."

"It's okay. The sooner I start thinking about something else, the better," Ryan explained, pulling himself up on the couch and grabbing a controller from the floor.

"Are you sure you're alright?" Kirsten worried.

"Yeah it was just...from the dream. I'll be okay." Ryan hoped Kirsten wouldn't delve into a further explanation.

"Well...alright then. Ryan I'm going to get you some ginger ale." Seeing Ryan's look, she explains, "I'm a mom, you gagged...you're getting ginger ale." Smiling, Kirsten headed to the kitchen with Seth trailing behind her.

"Yeah, I'm gonna get something to drink too. Be right back buddy,"

Sandy used this opportunity to take a moment with Ryan. "You scared me son. That was a bad one."

"Sorry."

"No, no. There's no reason to be sorry. I just....if you ever need anything, and I do mean anything, please don't be afraid to come to us. We would do anything for you Ryan. Especially if we knew it would help you."

"I know. Thanks."

"But Ryan," Seth interrupted. "Be sure to tell me first, because brothers share everything before the parents find out. Am I right?"

"Right," Ryan acknowledged, sharing a smirk with Sandy.

"Alright Dude, here we go. That Chino-nightmare better not have given you an edge man."

"Prepare to have your ass handed to you."

"Damn Ryan. I can see you're gonna be just fine."