Fathers and Sons
I don't own The O.C. or anything associated with it. Darn.
The hand, work-roughened and large, held hard over his mouth, snapped Ryan out of a deep sleep. Panicked, he clawed at the hand as it pressed his head deeper into the pillow. Eyes wide, desperate to escape, Ryan tried to make out the face that loomed over him even as he struggled.
"Hush!" It was an urgent whisper and the fingers of the hand gripped his cheeks painfully as it shoved him down again for emphasis. "Quit squirming." The shadowed head came close, and Ryan recognized the shadowed features with a sinking sensation in his stomach.
Ryan went instantly, utterly still. The flash of teeth indicated approval, and slowly, the grip relaxed on the now motionless boy.
Seth flipped over again for the tenth time in the last ten minutes. He'd never admit it to anyone, but he was anxious with his parents gone for a long weekend. He didn't like being in the house by himself, and he'd done everything he could to keep Ryan occupied in the hopes of convincing him to sleep in the big house.
"I'm going to bed."
"What? Already? Dude, it's only 2:23!"
"Yeah. In the morning, Seth." Ryan put the game controller down and started to climb to his feet.
"So what? Mom and Dad are gone. We can stay up as late as we want!" Seth picked up Ryan's abandoned controller and tried to make him take it again. "Come on, one more game."
Ryan took the controller and considered giving in. Seth was looking at him with hopeful, encouraging eyes. "Just one more game. I promise."
Ryan eyed him with distrust. "You said that before the last game."
"I didn't say, 'I promise.'"
"You didn't?" Ryan couldn't remember. "Are you sure?"
"'Course I'm sure. I wouldn't lie to you, man."
Ryan jiggled the controller in his hand, clearly still suspicious.
"OK," he capitulated. "One last game. And then I'm going to bed."
"Sure. OK." Seth punched in the next game.
As he was setting it up, he said, as nonchalantly as possible, "You know, you don't have to go all the way over to the pool house. You could crash on the couch, if you're too tired."
Ryan was fiddling with the controller. "What? Why would I do that?" He looked back up at the screen as the game started. "It's like 30 feet to my own bed."
"Well, you said you were tired. I'm just sayin'."
Focused on the game, and rolling his eyes, Ryan just shook his head.
After that game, Ryan had left. Abandoned him. For the comfort of his own bed. Seth knew that he was being silly, but the house seemed awfully empty without his parents or Ryan around.
Seth turned again. Out of his window he could see the faint glow of light from the pool house. Sweet.
Seth stuck his feet in a pair of sneakers and jogged down the stairs. He'd just see why Ryan was up.
Once his father had released him, Ryan had scrambled off the bed and out of reach. Wrapping his arms around his chest, he backed away almost into the bathroom.
"What are you doing here?" he whispered.
His father stayed seated on the bed, and Ryan suddenly noticed two other men moving restlessly around the room. One of them switched on the overhead light, and Ryan blinked. "Who are they?"
The dread he felt in the pit of his stomach, rose like bile in his throat. "What are you doing here?" He repeated it, louder this time.
Dave Atwood, whose eyes had been alternately following the movement of the other men around the room and taking in the laptop, the stereo, the Gameboy, turned to his son. "I've come to get my kid."
Seth tapped lightly on the door before he opened it.
"Hey, are you still…?" He tapered off as he took in the scene before him.
"Seth…," Ryan started as a hand reached out and jerked Seth roughly into the room, slamming the door behind him.
"Hey, ow!" Seth pulled his arm free and turned startled eyes to the man next to him.
"Who's this?" The man who had been sitting on the bed stood, and turned toward the door.
Seth's head whipped to Ryan and then back to look at Dave Atwood. Dave held up a hand to his son.
"Please." Ryan took a step forward from the corner he'd retreated to. His eyes went from his father to Seth and back to his father.
It was Ryan's voice that finally got Seth's full attention. Seth looked at Ryan and realized that the other boy was terrified. The pleading voice was shaky and it seemed like Ryan's arms, wrapped tightly around his torso, were the only things keeping him from coming completely apart. What was going on?
"I… I'm Seth."
"Seth Cohen?" Seth didn't know why he'd made it a question.
"Cohen. Is that Jewish?"
"Dad." Ryan's voice was unsteady.
Seth felt his heart start to pound. "Yes." He cut a look at Ryan. "It is."
There was no reply.
"Let's go inside." Dave Atwood got off the bed and moved toward Seth. Seth stiffened when he felt the hand settle heavily on his shoulder.
"Ryan." It was a command, and in spite of himself, Ryan leaped forward.
It was as if the simple act of moving released him from the shock that had frozen his brain and his body. He rushed after his father. He caught them as they were almost even with the BBQ pit.
"Dad, what are you doing? What do you want?" He grabbed the arm that was holding Seth and pulled.
Dave Atwood let go of Seth, and in one fluid motion turned, swinging a fist that connected with a sickening thud on Ryan's jaw. Completely unprepared, Ryan staggered back throwing up his hands to try to protect himself. Dave followed the first punch with a second blow that easily evaded Ryan's guard, dropping him to the ground. Still reeling from the surprise of his father's appearance and caught off-guard after nine months of the relative safety of Newport, Ryan was done before he started. His father was on top of him, fists pounding and pounding and pounding.
Behind the roaring in his ears and the pain and the helplessness, Ryan could hear Seth, yelling first, then cut off abruptly; the sound of male voices, his father's companions, angry, harsh. But the fists kept on and Ryan could only try to protect himself as best he could.
Finally, it was over. It took Ryan awhile to realize his father had stopped hitting him because the pounding of his heart and his head and his blood continued to echo the blows as they'd fallen.
A hand grabbed him under his arm and yanked him to his feet. Ryan tried to stifle the groan of pain as he was thrust toward the main house. Staggering into the kitchen area, he grabbed onto the island counter, trying to keep from falling to the ground.
"Ryan!" Seth's voice was close to a sob. Struggling to get free of the man who was holding him, Seth strained toward Ryan.
"Don't you touch him, boy." Dave Atwood shoved Seth and his captor back toward the television room. "Stay away from him."
Ryan's fingers lost their grip on the counter, and he fell to the floor, leaning heavily against the island, trying to catch his breath. He pressed his cheek against the smooth paint of the cabinet door. Don't pass out, he thought hazily. Seth. Don't pass out.
"Ryan!" He could hear Seth calling to him, frightened and confused. He felt a hand on his elbow, groaned as he was pulled to his feet; Seth again, desperate, "Leave him alone!" Sounds of a scuffle, and a muffled cry.
"Leave him alone!" Breathless fury now from Seth, as Dave pushed Ryan against the kitchen counter, twisting an arm behind his back until his son cried out in pain.
"Are we done?" Dave snarled, yanking Ryan's elbow higher.
"Yes," Ryan screamed, sobbing as something shifted and snapped and fire lanced up his arm.
"Good." Dave released him abruptly, stepping way. Ryan collapsed onto the counter, gasping for breath, struggling to stay standing. He paused, shuddering. Gingerly, he maneuvered his arm to a place where he could cradle it against his chest, faltering, vision going gray at the pain. Turning slowly, still using the cabinets to stay upright, he cast a quick glace at Seth who stood, pale and trembling, on the edge of the kitchen, held in a vice-like grip by one of Dave Atwood's compatriots.
"Done?" Seth's voice was incredulous. "Done with what? He didn't…."
"Seth, shut up," he gritted. Ryan was desperate for Seth to be quiet. He took a halting step toward Seth. "Don't."
But it was too late. Dave Atwood turned thoughtful eyes to Seth. He walked slowly up to the slim boy. Seth tried to take a step back, but the man holding his arm was unyielding.
"I'm sorry." Dave's voice was very soft. "What did you say?"
"Seth," Ryan whispered. God, please.
Seth looked into the face of Ryan's father and saw his friend's mouth, his nose reflected there. But the eyes were not Ryan's. They were cold and hard and full of a hate Seth had never known before.
"I… " Seth swallowed hard, but pressed on. "I don't understand what he did wrong." Seth's voice felt like it had dried up completely. "Why would you hurt him like that?" he asked hoarsely. Seth didn't know where this boldness had come from; he was terrified, but he wouldn't let this man get away with hurting Ryan.
Dave put a hand on Seth's shoulder, and the boy flinched, averting his eyes, suddenly overwhelmed by the presence of the man in front of him. He cast around for Ryan, and caught his gaze across the room. Ryan was frozen, hunched over his injured arm, eyes wide.
"Ryan knows the rules, don't you, Ry?" Dave's voice was almost gentle, and Ryan was suddenly deafened by the sound of his blood pounding his ears; he couldn't breathe. Jerkily, he nodded his head, eyes trapped by his father's. "Why don't you explain them to your… friend?"
Ryan struggled to shape the words. "No talking back," he whispered.
Dave nodded. "That's right." He looked at Seth. "Do your parents let you give them lip like that? Let you question their authority?" He asked it reasonably, but the look in Dave's eyes stole Seth's voice. Seth stared helplessly, silently at Ryan's father.
Dave continued to watch Seth even as he addressed his next question to Ryan. "Son, do you remember the consequence of trying to interfere with me when I'm disciplining one of my boys?"
Seth's heart started to hammer violently in his chest and his eyes went to Ryan. He would not have thought it was possible for Ryan to get any paler, but the other boy turned so white he looked almost translucent. Seth was sure he was about to pass out.
Now, Dave looked at his son. "Well, he didn't know the rules, did he? Maybe this first time, we can go back to the original punishment. I'm betting it will go a long way with this one."
"Dad, please." Ryan stepped forward, panic in his voice. "I don't care. Please. Don't. I can take it. He…"
Dave ignored Ryan's pleas, and turned back to Seth.
"When Ryan and his brother were young, Trey always tried to get between me and Ryan when the boy needed a licking. Every time he did, I beat that kid until he couldn't stand up, but it never made a difference. He did the same damn thing every time." He looked at Ryan who had moved a couple of careful steps toward his father.
"But, you know what I finally figured out? The dumb little bastard wanted me to hit him. Trey was taking my attention off the real issue – Ryan. So you know what I did the next time?"
In a daze, Seth shook his head.
"The next time Trey got in my way, I beat Ryan until he couldn't stand up. And Trey I didn't lay a finger on. Every time Trey tried to get between us, Ryan suffered the consequences. Didn't you, Ryan?"
Ryan had come to a stop just out of his father's reach. His eyes went desperately from Seth to his father, trying to figure out how to stop what was going to happen.
"Trey learned." He looked at Seth consideringly, "By rights, the beating should be Ryan's since you tried to get in my way."
Seth was paralyzed – this couldn't be happening. This man couldn't… "I…" Seth stammered, looking at Ryan, eyes wide with shock.
"But, since you didn't know how things work, the beating will be yours."
Dave clamped a hand hard on Seth's shoulder and watched with satisfaction as the blood drained out of the boy's face.
"Dad, please." Ryan's voice was shaking from urgency and fear. "Seth doesn't…. The Cohens don't…." There were no words to describe the overwhelming sense of nightmare that Ryan was trapped in. He was beyond knowing the right thing to do, how to stop this. Seth was being hurt because of him and he couldn't fix it.
"The Cohens have been good to me. Please don't hurt him. Please." He was begging, voice broken.
Dave turned to his son, and Ryan stopped, swaying, poised to defend Seth. It would be useless, but he would do it.
"They been good to you?"
Haltingly, Ryan nodded his head.
Dave's eyes hardened almost imperceptibly and Ryan braced himself.
"They make you think you're special?" His voice was laced with contempt as he let go of Seth and shoved Ryan. Ryan gasped at the pain in his arm when Dave hit him, and he staggered back. "They make you think you're better than your old man?" Dave pushed him again, hard. Ryan fell back a couple of steps, still clutching his arm, face white with pain and fear.
Dave drove Ryan back against the French doors and grabbing a hold of Ryan's injured arm, twisted until Ryan sobbed, crumpling in his father's grasp. He put his face so close to Ryan's their noses almost touched.
"You're mine. My kid," he snarled. "And they can't have you."
He turned suddenly and barked at his partners. "We're getting out of here."
The door slammed shut behind them and Ryan heard his father wedge a chair under the knob, trapping them. Ryan sagged against the wall, sinking to the floor. Seth joined him, and they sat shoulder to shoulder in silence.
Ryan couldn't think beyond the throbbing pain in his arm, and the paralyzing fear of what his father was going to do with them when he was done ransacking the house. He held his arm close to his chest, only vaguely aware of Seth next to him. Ryan's head dropped, as he drew his knees carefully up to his chest, helping to steady his aching arm. He put his forehead on his knees and wondered distantly what he was supposed to do. He knew he should be doing something, but he didn't know what. It felt kind of like cotton had wrapped its way around his brain and his body and all he wanted to do was sink into it and be done; without realizing it, he moved closer to Seth, leaning against him, unconsciously seeking what comfort he could from Seth's presence.
Seth wrapped his arms tightly around his legs, pressing his eyes against his knees. He was shaking with an emotion he didn't recognize. He knew he was scared – he recognized that feeling. He knew he'd never been this scared, but the shaking was coming from something else.
He felt Ryan press closer to him, and the surge of fury he felt left him breathless. It was rage, he realized suddenly. An overwhelming anger at what Ryan had been forced to endure at the hands of the man on the other side of the door, at the hands of Dawn, at the hands of her boyfriends – every hurt, every humiliation, every terror.
Seth trembled with the power of it.
Until tonight, Ryan's life before he came to Newport had been mostly theoretical to Seth. The few times Ryan talked about his family – his mother's drunkenness, getting his ass kicked – Seth had always faltered, unsure. There would be a brief wrinkle in the tough guy image Ryan cultivated, a shimmer that exposed, however briefly, the truth lying underneath; but almost as soon as it came, it was gone. And Ryan would become again the cool, confident friend Seth idolized. Seth had never looked for more, never wanted it. It was easier to see only what Ryan wanted him to see – to believe the image, and not risk being disappointed in the reality.
Tonight had shattered the image forever. Seth had seen Ryan exposed – heartbreakingly fragile, so deeply wounded that it stunned Seth – and what he felt was not disappointment, but a rush of protectiveness that took him by surprise in its intensity. Seth put his chin on his knees and turned his head to look at Ryan, huddled and shivering against him. He didn't think he'd ever felt protective of anyone else in his life. Of his stuff, sure. But of another person? He didn't think so. He guessed he'd probably feel protective of his parents if they really needed it, but he didn't think they ever had. Not the way he realized now that Ryan did.
Sighing, Ryan, his mask tenuously back in place, opened his eyes and stared at Seth.
"When he finishes, he'll go," he said quietly, wanting to comfort Seth. Ryan wondered if saying it out loud would make it true.
"That's good, then. It's just stuff, Ryan. It doesn't matter. If he goes…"
"He'll take me with him." Ryan said it tonelessly, voice exhausted. The mask wavered and slipped again. He turned hopeless eyes to Seth. "He won't let me go."
Seth's throat went dry. He swallowed hard, and then, surprisingly, felt the anger rise in his chest again – misdirected this time at Ryan.
"And you think we will?" he asked fiercely. He felt Ryan flinch at his tone, and tried to steady himself. Seth drew in a deep breath, deliberately, carefully forcing himself to calm down.
He tried again. "You think if he takes you that Mom and Dad will let you go?" Seth kept his voice low, but even its gentleness thrummed with the intensity of his emotion.
Dazed with pain and shock, Ryan blinked at the question. Seth watched him struggle with the answer.
"If he takes you, we'll find you," he said softly. "We won't let you go, either." His voice was hard. It was a promise.
Ryan stared at Seth, feeling his heart clench, tears of desperation starting into his eyes. Seth's gaze was unyielding.
And haltingly Ryan nodded, believing.