Pairing: Ryan/Seth (friends)
Setting: Shortly after season 1, episode 21 The Goodbye Girl.
Summary: An innocent trip to visit Dawn in Chino quickly spirals out of control when Ryan and Seth meet one of Dawn's old friends.
Author's Note: I started this in May 2004 and finally have it at a point where I can post. Many thanks to silverweave, sdlucly, and joey51 for the beta. Also, this is otherwise known as "Holes" which I called it initially for some reason, or "The Story That Maud Wants" which I don't need to explain further.
The funny thing with hope was, it never died. Not even when it was beaten down, stepped on, slapped in the face and called worthless; stubborn hope just kept smiling—defiant.
And it was pissing Ryan off.
He shifted in the impossibly uncomfortable chair he'd been waiting in for hours and wondered whether this time, finally, he'd done enough damage to kill all traces of hope. He'd tried hard before, let the fists and boots beat him until he was bruised and bloodied, but every time he'd wake up and see his mother standing over him, and for that one brief second, he'd hope that she was there to protect him.
And every time, when she'd smile or laugh or ask him why he had to be so much trouble, the hope would fade, never dying, just flitting in the background like a butterfly trapped behind glass.
Until the next time, and the next beating, when it would surge forth again. Stupid hope.
He glanced around the room, sterile and empty. For the fifth time that hour he wondered whether they'd put him here and forgotten about him. Which, as he thought about it, was kind of fitting, or at the very least, what he deserved after the day he'd had.
It had started as such a normal day, mundane even, and he vividly recalled the first feeling he'd had when he opened his eyes—hope that this day was free of drama.
His purpose was simple, really—just no drama. No crying, no arguing, just a laid back day to relax. As Seth had so matter-of-factly put it the night before, after the hissy-fit that was Oliver, the pity-party that was Marissa, and the hot-naked love with Teresa, life had finally settled into a relatively angst-free period. And Ryan thought he kind of liked it.
Until Seth started that annoying tapping.
Seth was leaning against the kitchen sink, coffee cup raised to his lips. Only instead of drinking, he was tapping. His teeth. Against the mug.
Ryan stared up from his cereal, spoon halfway to his mouth, and shot Seth the evilest glare he could manage. There was nothing worse than repetitive sounds in the morning.
"You know," Seth mused, the tapping ceasing as he replaced it with chatter. "I think I should dye my hair blond."
Ryan shook his head and went back to his cereal. He took it back, chatter was worse.
"I think it would be a good look for me, you know? Very Justin Timberlake before the Britney catastrophe." His teeth snapped down on the ceramic thoughtfully. "What do you think? Blond? Maybe light brown with highlights?"
Ryan chewed his cereal slowly, waiting for Seth to jump to his next subject and eat up the silence.
Seth just stared at him.
Taking a slow sip of his coffee, Ryan placed his mug carefully back on the counter.
Still, Seth stared at him.
Ryan swallowed and picked up his spoon. "You're serious?"
"What do you think?"
"Blond or brown?"
Seth threw his arm up in the air and sighed dramatically. "Nooo," he drawled. "What do you think about me being serious?"
It was too early for Seth. Ryan shook his head and stared at his friend patiently. Sometimes it was better to just give in and wait for Seth to explain.
"Ryan. Ryan, Ryan, Ryan." Seth placed his mug on the island and stretched over the top towards him. "Correct me if I'm wrong here, but two months ago if I would have told you I was considering a makeover, you would have slapped me in the head…hard."
He really was indecipherable sometimes.
"And I would have accepted this slap, because let's face it, me, blond…gives nightmares to babies." Seth shook his head repulsively. "But me, you…you knew when I was joking, or being crazy, and you called me on it. This…" He gestured at Ryan slumped against the counter. "This is not the Ryan I fell in love with, well you know, the Ryan I fell in love with having here. That Ryan, not the Ryan I love…"
He gave up; maybe it really was better to just ask for an explanation. "What are you talking about?"
"Me, you, us! The destruction of the relationship I have so lovingly crafted since the day you moved in!" Seth placed his hand over his heart, shaking his head sadly. "Really, it pains me to see what we've come to."
Ryan smirked as he took the last bite of his cereal and then stood with his bowl. Pausing by the sink, he clapped one hand on Seth's back securely. "Relax, I never really got you, I was just faking."
"Oh, oh! Now that hurts." Seth shook his head as he turned and leaned against the island. "Dude, you lie. You got me, you so got me, whether you wanted to or not, you got me. And now you're going to get me again."
"Yes, you are. And you know why?"
"Not a clue."
"Because I am putting my foot down. See, see it there?" Seth gestured to his bare foot resting flat against the floor. "It's down."
"Yes it is."
"And do you know why it's down?"
"Because I don't get you?" Ryan asked in defeat.
"Exactly. I've had it; I'm at the end of my rope. And you know I don't usually reach the end of my rope until I've had at least four cups of coffee and it's already after midnight on a school night, but now, today, I stand before you with my foot down and say enough."
Ryan waited for more, then rolled his hand in a gesture for Seth to explain.
"Have you been listening? Why have I been standing here spewing words for the past five minutes when you aren't even paying attention?"
"I'd guess about three words right now would cover exactly what you want to say."
Seth stared at him incredulously.
"Go on, try it."
"Okay, okay, I will…"
"Fine! Three, just three. You, me, alone…time. Okay, that's still four, but come on! We've been planning the guy bonding thing for weeks and now that Luke finally realized that PlayStation also exists in his world, and Marissa is cooling her jets 'independently'." Seth made air quotes and rolled his eyes as he explained Marissa. "Whatever. She's not here, and neither is Teresa, which dude, I know, kinda sucks, because she was cool, but still, I think we should put all our troubles aside and just have a we day."
"A we day."
"Yes. A Seth and Ryan bondage session."
Ryan's eyes widened at Seth's slip. Listening to Seth was better than cable.
"Oh no, I did not just say bondage. I did not."
Ryan laughed as he walked back around the island and picked up his coffee mug. He enjoyed the easiness between them, but he knew Seth was right. Lately, his mind had been so occupied with other people's problems that he'd barely acknowledged Seth. Not to mention failing to provide the overdose of attention Seth normally required. A day of just the two of them hanging out together would be nice. "Okay, we'll have our day, but if Summer shows up here…"
"Not gonna happen, she had a nail crisis this morning but apparently she was able to get an emergency appointment this afternoon. Thank God, because you just know the world would have stopped turning, and when the world stops turning, Summer is not a happy person. I try to make Summer a happy person at all times."
"Mostly…and hey!" Seth followed behind Ryan into the den. "You just made a complete sentence out of two words. How'd you do that?"
"And he gets it down to one." Seth flopped onto the couch. "You must teach me."
Ryan laughed as he set down his coffee and lowered himself to the cushions. The phone rang just as he sat and he sighed before standing again.
"If that's Summer tell her I had a hair crisis. Let her know I can empathize," Seth called after him as he reentered the kitchen.
Ryan shook his head as he grabbed the ringing phone. It was innocent—a phone ringing. But it held such promise, such weight. The caller could be anyone really, and as Ryan stepped into the kitchen, he wasn't even aware of the list of possible people scrolling through his head. Then he said 'Hello' and heard the one voice he never expected.
Later he would say that her tone had been cold, but that was probably due to the filter his brain placed on the whole day. In the moment, it sounded like a forced cheerful, slurring lightly as she made her request. The actual words were lost to him, but he was willing to bet they included 'Please' and 'I still love you'. They always included those particular phrases, like he was programmed to react specifically to them. She'd always known exactly what buttons to push to get what she wanted.
It should have been so easy to say no and just hang up the phone, but that stubborn hope reared its ugly head as soon as he heard her voice. With his heart pounding and hope egging him on, he found it impossible to deny her simple request.
Just come down to visit. Just for an hour.
What could it hurt, really? He hadn't seen her in months, so maybe she really had cleaned up her act.
Even as he hung up the phone and walked back to Seth, he knew he was going to regret going. But that stupid hope kept his mouth and legs moving.
"Everything okay?" Seth asked as he looked up from his game controller.
"Yeah, no, I don't know." Ryan pushed a hand through his hair. "That was my mom."
"Your Mom mom?"
"Yes, Seth. My Mom mom," he snapped in reply. Shit. Ryan bit his lip as he watched Seth recoil slightly from his words. He shouldn't be angry at him, it wasn't Seth's fault. But it was his mother No word since Christmas and now…his mother?
"Well, that's cool." Seth looked up at Ryan expectantly. "I mean, it is cool, right?"
Ryan shrugged. Dawn's sudden reappearance wasn't what he'd call cool; it was more like fucking scary.
"I don't know man, it's just…it's weird."
"Yeah but good weird or freaky weird? 'Cause I'd put the long-lost mother calling in the good weird department, except for when it's your mother, then…" Seth stopped, staring at Ryan. "Yeah," he finished softly.
"Yeah," Ryan echoed.
"Sooo, are you, like, meeting her or something?"
Ryan shrugged again.
"You know, this non-verbal communication thing is really working for you, Ryan. I think you should keep that."
Now he scowled.
"I'm just saying, it's a simple question, is she coming here or…"
"I'm going there."
"Oh." Seth paused. "Are you sure that's a good idea?"
"I have to go." Ryan looked at Seth plaintively. "She's my Mom." The shrug of the shoulders again. "She just wants to see me. It's the least I can do."
"Yeah, no, I get it. Bonding with the maternal-being. Always good, except, mostly not. But I get it."
"Right." Ryan stood up straighter, rubbing his hands on his jeans. "So I should probably go, drive down. You don't mind?"
"No, no, it's cool. Besides, we can bond in Chino too, right?"
"Ah, no." Ryan shook his head as he took a step backwards. Going to Chino to see his mother was bad enough, he wasn't about to take Seth along for the disaster.
"Why not? Is it the laughter thing? Because dude, I'll bring the laughter."
"No, it's because you aren't coming."
"No you aren't." Ryan set his mouth firmly and glared at Seth.
"Oooh, scary." Seth rolled his eyes.
"Seth, you can't come, that's final." Ryan turned and walked back into the kitchen.
Seth jumped up to follow him. "Okay, Mom, except I'm going!"
Ryan sighed, exasperated, and turned around to face Seth. "No you aren't. It's not safe."
"But it's fine for you."
"I can take care of myself."
"Obviously, which is why if it weren't for Marissa at Thanksgiving, you'd probably be in some hospital with bars on the window and, like, Nurse Ratchet watching over you. I'm coming; you need me to protect you."
"It's not the root of all evil, it's just Chino."
"Exactly, which is why I'm coming."
Ryan crossed his arms on his chest, staring Seth down.
"Fine! Then how are you going to get there?"
"I'll drive." Ryan looked at the key rack. The keys to Sandy's BMW were the sole pair.
Seth stated the obvious. "Mom and Dad have the Rover and you aren't insured on the beamer."
"And you are?"
"I kinda tore the right fender off the Rover the day before my driving test and we had an insurance emergency. I'm sure they never took me off."
"Whatever," Ryan threw his hands up as he turned and headed for the back door. "You still aren't coming, I'll take the bus."
He was out the door and up the steps to the pool house when he heard Seth calling after him.
"You know how often a bus runs from Newport to Chino? Like, never! I'm coming."
Ryan rolled his eyes as he stepped inside to grab his jacket. As if it wasn't bad enough that he had to face his mother again after all this time, he now had to look after Seth. He clearly remembered Seth hanging upside down from the water polo team at his first Newport party. Not only could the kid get himself into more trouble than he could imagine, he had no clue how to get out of it.
Ryan grabbed his wallet and pulled the door shut behind him. He had a sinking feeling Seth and Chino were not going to hit it off.
Tugging on his jeans as he changed position again, Ryan thought about where Seth was right now. He'd known Seth was going to be hard to handle, the boy had a way of inserting his foot into his mouth at precisely the worst moment. And Dawn wasn't exactly tolerant of 'insolent little brats', in her poetic words.
But still, even for all the apprehension he'd had taking Seth into the situation, he never imagined that they might not both be coming out.
Ryan dropped his head to his hands and tried to erase the image of Seth lying on the floor, whimpering, bleeding. It was useless. Ryan was responsible for taking him into the situation, and now Ryan was the failure for not getting him out.