AN: Okay, here's an epilogue of sorts. Hope it brings some closure. Been busy at work, that's why there hasn't been a lot of updates from me later, but there are updates brewing for Laying Flowers, Family Ties and Circling. Patience, grasshoppers. I haven't abandoned those yet. For those of you that enjoyed A Flat, there might even be a sequel brewing.

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

Sandy had been plagued with nightmares while Ryan was gone.

He'd be in Oliver Trask's hotel room all over again. But when the gun went off, it was Ryan's head that splintered into blood.

Kirsten had finally made him go to the doctor but he hadn't taken the prescriptions. The only cure was getting Ryan back.

Now, Ryan was coming home.

But as he drove, all he could see was Ryan's slumped body crammed in that dark closet.

"Sandy. Slow down…" Kirsten put her hand on his free hand.

"Sorry…" Sandy lifted his foot off the gas.

"Should I drive? You look a little shaky…Sandy?" Kirsten asked. She'd been so focused on Ryan and Seth in the backseat that she hadn't noticed Sandy's pallor and clenched jaw until now.

Sandy glanced at her and took a breath. "Maybe…" He turned quickly into a convenience store. They were only about 10 minutes from home but now that Kirsten had mentioned it, he didn't think he could finish the drive. He needed a minute.

"Dad?" Seth called from the back seat.

"Your mom's going to drive…" He replied, getting out of the car.

Seth glanced over at Ryan, concerned.

Ryan wasn't asleep but his eyes were half closed. He had a headache and despite the fogged haze he was in from the drugs, his hand was throbbing with pain.

"Ryan, you cool?" Seth asked.

"Yeah," Ryan said, forcing himself to sit up.

Kirsten was standing outside the car with Sandy. "What's wrong?"

"I…he was in a closet, Kirsten…what…that's like torture…" Sandy whispered, shaken. "I can't wrap my head around it."

She embraced him. "We've got him back…"

"I…I need to… I have to talk to him…" Sandy turned and pulled open the back door. Ryan looked at him in surprise. "Ryan."

"Yeah? You all right, Sandy?" Ryan asked, sensing Sandy's mood.

"How many times did he put you in there?"

"What?" Ryan blinked at him.

"Sandy, don't…" Kirsten whispered.

"Sandy. It's…it's over now, right?" Ryan evaded.

"I need to know."

Ryan lowered his gaze. "A few times…"

"You've been gone six weeks…how many times?"

"A few times. He didn't like me much," Ryan said. "He never hit me, he never hurt me…"

"Dude, he broke your fingers…" Seth said, stunned.

"That was today…" Ryan replied.

"Your hands were bound, Ryan…" Sandy whispered.

"Don't you think I would've gotten out if he hadn't tied my hands?" Ryan murmured.

"Did they put other kids in there?" Kirsten asked.

"He didn't make the little ones stay in overnight…" Ryan replied.

"Overnight…you slept there?" Sandy realized.

"Can we just…go home?" Ryan asked. He turned and looked at Seth for help.

"Mom, let's go. Talking time over. Driving time start," Seth reached over and closed Ryan's door from the inside. "You still cool?"

Ryan was quiet for a moment. "My hand…it fucking hurts…like, I can't even think about anything else…"

"Well, we're almost home as soon as Mom can get Dad to chill out, we'll be rolling again…" Seth said.

Sandy climbed in the passenger seat and Kirsten got behind the wheel.

"Ryan, are you okay, honey?" Kirsten asked.

"Fine," Ryan replied.

"I'm sorry for…" Sandy started, turning around.

"No, it's cool…just later?" Ryan asked.

"Sure," Sandy said, calmer.

"Dad, his hand hurts," Seth said quietly.

Sandy nodded and turned around to face the front, searching through Ryan's prescriptions.

"We're almost home, Ryan," Kirsten said.

The car was silent and Kirsten finally pulled into the driveway.

"Will you stay inside tonight? Close?" Kirsten asked, turning around.

"I'll go wherever you tell me…" Ryan said. "I'm…it's really good to see this place again."

"Come on, man…" Seth smiled, getting out.

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

Kirsten wouldn't leave Ryan. He was sitting silently on the bed and she was dictating instructions to Rosa, Seth and Summer. Tea, blankets, extra pillows, ice, she gave them all instructions before turning to Ryan.

"Uh oh," Ryan smiled nervously.

"What?"

"You're about to give me an executive order…did you see how they all rushed off?" Ryan replied. He smiled. "I fear 'The Kirsten'."

She relaxed, smiling. "Sorry. I do think you should change clothes."

"I don't really have any," Ryan admitted.

"Oh…I'll get you some things from the poolhouse, you left…I'll get them…" she hesitated. She didn't want to leave him, even for a minute.

Sandy entered with a bottle of water and a prescription bottle. "Here's your pill, kid, it should help."

Ryan accepted a pill and swallowed it dry.

"Sandy, I'll be right back," Kirsten said, hurrying out. Sandy sat down beside him on the bed.

"Sandy." Ryan spoke quietly. "I know you're upset…but I've never seen you like this…if you really want to do this whole…conversation now…I'll tell you whatever you want." Ryan was cradling his hurt hand against him, holding it in his good hand. Sandy saw that his forefinger and thumb were curled up in pain.

"It can wait until you're better," Sandy said.

"You couldn't wait earlier. I'd rather you get this out of your system…like, before I talk to the police and stuff. I'd rather you be…normal when I have to go down there."

Sandy nodded. "I'm sorry…it shook me up. Seeing you like that."

"I'm sorry…I didn't think Jen would call you, I didn't think…"

"Why didn't you call us?"

"We couldn't use phones in there, Sandy…"

"When you called Seth…did you know about the…the closet?" Sandy asked.

Ryan didn't reply but Sandy read his face and knew the truth.

"You…you didn't tell him…"

"I didn't want him to worry. Sandy, it…it sucked a lot…but I needed to settle in there, I didn't know when or if I was ever going to get to see you guys again…and it…"

"It was wrong. You didn't deserve that…no one deserves that…I…"

"What do you want to know, Sandy? It was harsh and…it sucked but…he didn't hit me. He never touched me until tonight…"

"Why tonight?" Sandy asked. Kirsten stepped in with clothes and immediately gave Sandy a scolding glare. Ryan took the clothes with his good hand and gave her a nod. She stepped out of the room and closed the door behind her.

"I got into this fight after school, this kid was hassling Jen and I…intervened. Then all these other kids jumped in and I took a beating. Jen and the girls were all there, they saw that it wasn't my fault and they tried to get me back to the house before the nurse left for the day. But Trotter…he didn't listen, he just…he took me downstairs and…" Ryan glanced up at Sandy and stopped talking, seeing Sandy's face darken. "Sandy."

"Sorry…go on, Ryan…" Sandy urged.

"I…I don't know if I should…"

"Why did he…hurt you this time?"

"He broke my fingers. Said I couldn't hit anyone like that…something. He'd teach me not to fight," Ryan said.

"God…" Sandy whispered.

"I don't know how Jen knew about that, I don't even know how she got your number…" Ryan sighed.

Sandy reached into his pocket and pulled out the business card. "Les gave me this."

"Oh…oh." Ryan clearly recognized it and was surprised.

"You kept it?"

"Yeah…I…it sort of…it's helped me out before," Ryan murmured, taking it.

"I am so sorry, Ryan. For not being able to come for you sooner, for not being able to keep you here, I promised that I would take care of you and I let you down…"

"It was my fault. The whole Oliver thing…" Ryan started.

"No, Ryan, it wasn't your fault. None of this was your fault…" Sandy replied.

"It wasn't your fault either…" They looked at each other for a long moment before Ryan lowered his gaze.

"So…Trotter never hurt you before…but he did…lock you up. He put you in the closet…"

"I didn't want you guys to worry…it wasn't that bad, they fed me, I was in school…"

Sandy nodded, still pale but more composed. "We sent you money. And clothes and books…"

Ryan shook his head.

"You didn't get it…"

"Nothing. Once a month, letters are passed out, but I didn't get anything," Ryan answered quietly. "Jen heard Mr. and Mrs. Trotter talking, so I knew…I knew you guys hadn't forgotten about me. I think he had it out for me because…because you guys are rich. He didn't think I deserved it…"

"Ryan…you know that we love you…" Sandy started. "And yes, I'm upset, but I'm not upset at you. I…I've worked with kids for years and I know that the system isn't perfect…but I can't believe that you went through what you did…I am so sorry…"

"Can I ask you something?"

"Of course…"

"Kirsten said something back at the Trotters…about adoption?" Ryan asked.

"Oh. We haven't told you anything, have we?" Sandy smiled. "We're legally adopting you…"

"Um…doesn't that take a long time?" Ryan whispered.

"We called in some favors…got things pushed along. We're still not sure who filed the report with child services, but Dr. Kim, your coach, all your teachers…they agree that you should be here with us. You're part of our family, that's never going to change," Sandy said.

"Are you sure? I mean…are you sure you want to…adopt me?" Ryan asked.

"Absolutely…"

"But all that stuff with Oliver…my temper and…" Ryan spoke softly.

"Ryan," Sandy interrupted. "Families stick together. We'll work through it all together. You had your reasons for acting the way that you did…and we had our reasons for responding the way that we did. You have to find your place in our family and we have to try and learn to understand each other. You have to talk to us…and I have to learn to listen to all the things you don't say. Like now, I can tell that you're about ready to pass out," Sandy said.

Ryan nodded. "Pretty much."

"Why don't you get changed and get some rest?" Sandy asked.

Ryan's gaze flickered to the door. "You know Kirsten's outside, right?"

Sandy gave him a smile and stood up, opening the door. Sure enough, Kirsten was standing outside in the hallway with blankets and an icepack.

"He needs to rest, Sandy," Kirsten said, rushing in immediately.

"I'll get changed," Ryan said, disappearing into the bathroom.

"Is he okay? Why did you have to talk to him tonight, he's exhausted and he's hurt and…" Kirsten accused him.

"He's fine. He's going to be fine," Sandy said. "He's such a tough kid…he was just trying to stay out of trouble…"

"You think he's hungry?" Kirsten asked.

Seth walked in with tea. "Mom, here's your last request. Where's Ryan?"

"Changing. He'll be out in a minute. You can see him in the morning, Seth."

"I'd like to talk to him first. It's…it's been a while," Seth admitted.

Kirsten was spreading the blanket over the bed when Ryan stepped out in a set of sweatpants and a wifebeater.

"Hey, man," Seth said. "That hand looks awful…"

"Yeah. Feels worse," Ryan confessed. "What's up?"

"Just wanted to see you before I went up. You going to be all right in the big house?"

"Yeah, Seth. Thanks. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?" Ryan said, holding out his good hand so they could tap fists.

"Yeah, man. I'll be down first thing to check on you," Seth smiled. He hesitated before pulling Ryan into an impromptu hug. "I missed you, man…"

"Yeah, same here…'night, Seth," Ryan said as he left.

"Ryan, you should put some ice on your hand…it'll help with the swelling…" Kirsten said. She pulled back the covers and waited until he sat down.

"Can it wait until morning? I think…it'll get the bed all wet and it's really cold…" Ryan said quietly.

"I think it'll help, honey, okay?" Kirsten said. Ryan nodded finally. He stretched out and let her cover him with the blanket. He put his damaged hand on a pillow beside him and she gently placed the icepack on top of his hand. He hissed in pain and immediately pulled it off with his other hand.

"I'll have to get used to it…" Ryan said, adjusting it and placing it on top of his hand again with a wince.

"Try and get some rest, honey. We'll check on you in a few hours, we'll be right down the hall," Kirsten said, clearly not wanting to leave him. Sandy finally put his arm around her and led her from the room.

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

Ryan woke up after a few hours of restless sleep. The door to the guest room was cracked and he slowly sat up, wincing from the pain in his hand. The icepack had long melted and his fingers were swollen to a huge size. They were black and blue and his fingers hurt more than they had the night before.

He got up and tentatively stepped into the hallway. He heard someone in the kitchen and followed the sound and found Rosa in the kitchen putting away groceries.

"Ryan. It's good to see you. Hungry?"

"Not yet…can I get some ice?" Ryan asked politely, accepting her gentle hug.

"Sit down. I'll make you something. Everyone's still asleep…what happened to your hand?"

"Lost another battle," Ryan muttered. She tsked at him and pulled out a Ziploc bag full of crushed ice.

"Well, you're home now. You won't have to fight anymore. Kirsten and Sandy won't let anyone else hurt you; you just have to trust them," Rosa smiled, holding out the ice.

"Thanks."

"So. What do you want to eat? Something you can handle with your good hand? How about oatmeal?" She teased, knowing that he hated oatmeal.

"Rosa…" Ryan acted offended, relaxing for the first time since he got back. "Why would you even ask me that?"

She laughed and turned on the oven. "How about bacon? And eggs and maybe some pancakes, they haven't had pancakes since you left," She suggested.

Ryan realized that he was hungry. Starving almost. His last meal had been at lunch the day before so he gave Rosa a nod.

"They refused to eat my pancakes, said I couldn't make them the same way you did," Rosa said.

"Brown sugar. Makes them all nutty," Ryan smiled.

"Ah. Now I know," Rosa said.

Ryan relaxed as Rosa filled him in on what he'd missed while he was gone. The poolhouse was exactly how he left it and Kirsten had continued to buy things for him. Seth had been 'abnormally quiet' according to her and didn't go out much, even with his girlfriend. Sandy had taken time off from work to handle his adoption.

She set a plate of food in front of him. He clumsily used his left hand to stab the bacon with his fork.

"Morning. Hey, Ryan…you're up early," Kirsten said, walking in wearing her robe.

"Couldn't sleep."

"I'll get your pain medication. How's your hand?" She winced when he lifted the icepack to show her. "We should go ahead and take you in for those x-rays."

"Probably a good idea," Ryan nodded. He replaced the icepack.

"I'll make an appointment with your pediatrician this afternoon," Kirsten said. She sat down beside him at the counter. "Did you get any rest?"

"Yeah." He paused. "Being home made a lot of difference."

She smiled. "I'd lock you in the house if I thought you'd let me get away with it."

"At this point, I just might," Ryan replied.

"Sandy wants to take you down to meet with Arlene today. So you can file a formal report," She said quietly.

"It needs to be done, I guess."

"We'll go with you. No more doing things on your own for a while, okay? You…you scared us. I'm really glad you're okay…"

"Thanks, Kirsten," He said, accepting her hug.

Rosa put a plate of food in front of her.

"Coffee?" Kirsten offered, getting up and moving to the counter.

"Sure," He answered.

Seth and Sandy walked in. "Hey. We smelled food…" Seth said.

"Seems like you've started without us," Sandy said.

"Rosa made me," Ryan smirked.

"So, you're ambidextrous now?" Seth smiled as he watched Ryan try to take a bite of his pancake with his left hand.

"Learning," Ryan shrugged.

"Well, from the way the 'rents are watching you, you better learn quickly before they start to spoon feed you themselves," Seth teased.

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

Arlene was sitting at the kitchen table of the Trotter's house with files stacked higher than her head when the officer escorted Ryan and the Cohens in later that morning.

"Looks like you've got your work cut out for you," Sandy said.

"Hey. Yeah, seems so. Ryan, how are you doing today?" Arlene asked immediately.

"Good. Going to the doctor's later, figured I should get this overwith first," Ryan replied.

"I'm going to talk to the Cohens for a few minutes. Jen, Les and Andy are upstairs, I know they'd like to see you," Arlene said.

Ryan glanced to Sandy for approval before moving. Sandy gave him a nod. "We'll come get you when it's time for your statement."

"Okay." Ryan disappeared up the stairs.

"You really do have a way with him," Arlene commented.

"He's our son," Kirsten replied.

"I've finalized the paperwork. It's amazing what the higher ups will do to prevent a lawsuit," Arlene said, holding up a file. "And for what it's worth, I'm sorry. Working for children services, sometimes we get caught up with what's on paper without seeing what's going on with the actual child."

"He was hurt; don't expect us to forgive you. Our child was hurt. You took him from us and you hurt him…" Kirsten said coldly.

"Kirsten," Sandy stated and she stopped talking, lowering her gaze.

Arlene seemed genuinely affected. "I'm sorry."

"Kirsten, why don't you look over the paperwork?" Sandy handed her the file and she sat down to read it.

Ryan knocked softly on the door to the room he'd called his own the day before.

"Who's there?" Andy's voice called.

"Ryan."

The door swung open almost immediately and Jen almost knocked him down with her hug.

"Hey," Ryan smiled.

"Your hand…"

"It's fine. I'm going to the doctor's next. Just wanted to tell you guys…thanks." Ryan said, stepping inside and sitting down on his cot.

"So, the Cohens, they get to keep you?" Les asked.

"Yeah. They're adopting me. I'm still sort of stunned about the whole thing, but…I'm happy, too," Ryan replied.

"We get to go back with our Grandma. We have to get jobs, but it's worth it, I called her this morning," Andy said, beaming.

"Les is coming with us. Temporarily," Jen said.

"That's great, guys," Ryan said.

"So, I guess everything worked out," Andy said.

"Seems like it. What about the rest of the kids?" Ryan asked.

"They'll get scattered around to different homes. Arlene's going to try and keep the siblings together…but this was one of the bigger group homes in our area," Jen said.

"Sorry about all this, Ryan. You're not in trouble, are you? For not calling them?" Les asked.

"No. They're…they're really great people…" Ryan said.

There was a soft knock on the door. Andy got up and opened it.

"Ryan. Arlene's ready for you downstairs," Kirsten said. She smiled at the gathered teenagers. "She told me that you guys are going to be going home tomorrow."

"Yes, ma'am," Andy nodded.

"If you'd like, you guys can come home with us for tonight. Arlene has cleared it and that way, your grandmother can pick you up from our house. We have a pool and…" Kirsten started.

"Really?" Les asked, surprised.

"Yes. If you want to start gathering your things, you can meet us downstairs," Kirsten smiled.

"Thanks, Kirsten. That's really nice," Ryan said, standing up and moving to stand beside her.

"Are you sure? You don't even know us," Jen said quietly.

"Ryan knows you. And you guys helped us out a lot last night. This is the least we can do." She turned to Ryan. "Where are your things, sweetie?"

Ryan motioned toward the bed and the small nightstand.

"I'll get them together for you, Ryan. We'll bring them down when we get our stuff, okay?" Les offered.

"Thanks, Les. I'll see you guys in a few minutes," Ryan said. Kirsten walked with him back towards the stairs. "That's really nice of you to invite them."

"If they hadn't called, we would have had to wait another week to get you back. They'll always be welcome in my home," Kirsten said, putting her arm around him.