1Title: When God Closes A Door
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Well, I did get these fabulous pair of shoes on vacation but that doesn't relate to the O.C.
Summary: Season1AU.. What if Dawn showed up with A.J. in the episode "The Gamble. For the purposes of this story, it has been two weeks since Kirsten got Ryan out of juvie.

When God Closes A Door

"There are some great historical homes in the area and we can always go on an architectural tour," Mrs. Cohen told Ryan as they walked into the Cohens' home.

"Yeah, I'd like that," Ryan replied with a shy smile.

He was finally beginning to feel somewhat at ease around Mrs. Cohen, and since their newfound common interest in architecture, she seemed to be feeling the same. He knew that she still didn't want him around on a permanent basis, but maybe now after finding his mom, he could still keep in touch with Sandy and Seth. It had only been two weeks since Mrs. Cohen had bailed him out of juvie, but he knew if he never saw them again he would miss them.

His first night here, the Cohens had told him they had hired a private investigator to find his mother. Ryan didn't exactly know how to feel about that. He had told Mr. Cohen in juvie that he didn't want to find her. That wasn't exactly true. She was his mom and he loved her. He guessed he even missed her. However, it was exhausting acting as her parent while having to avoid her latest abusive boyfriend-of-the-month. Unfortunately, the hard fact of his life was it was either his mom or a group home. Ryan figured if given the choice he would choose his mother.

"Hey, Ry." The sound of his mother's voice jolted him back to reality.

"Mom, what are you doing here?"

It was an incredibly stupid question. Ryan knew that. It wasn't as if his mom had so many reasons to come to Newport. The truth was, he hadn't expected that anyone would be able to find her this soon, and seeing her had affected him more than he thought it would. He now knew that he wasn't ready to face her or the choices her return presented him.

"I came," Dawn said, pausing, "I came for you."

Warily, they looked at each other. Neither mother nor son seemed to know what to do next. Finally, Dawn made the first move. She crossed the room and gave Ryan a quick, awkward hug.

"I missed you, kiddo."

"Yeah, well, whose fault is that?" Ryan did not even bother hiding the bitterness from his voice.
"Watch your mouth, boy." Ryan flinched at the sound of a man's rough voice. He had been so focused on the return of his mother, he had not even noticed A.J.

"Mom, you brought him here? Why?" Ryan couldn't believe his mom had actually brought him into the Cohens' home. A.J. stood there unshaven and unwashed. He wore a black shirt with the sleeves torn off and grease-stained jeans that were embellished with chains. Looking at him, Ryan was surprised the security at the gates had even let someone like A.J. in this neighborhood unless they were driving a delivery truck.

"Because we, the three of us, we all need to work this out as a family." The uncertainty in Dawn's voice was obvious as she glanced from Ryan to A.J. and back.

"Family?" Ryan echoed. "Since when do we consider him part of the family?" Ryan was quite sure his mom didn't actually mean to refer to A.J. as family. Ryan had called A.J. a lot of things, at least in his mind, but family was never one them.

"Since me and your mom got hitched in Vegas last week, junior." A.J. stood next to Dawn. He gave Ryan a self-satisfied smirk and placed a possessive arm around her shoulder.

"So what do you think, honey?" Dawn questioned as she looked at him with what she hoped was a smile.

"Yeah," A.J. said, sneering. "What do you think, son?" He emphasized the last word. It was a challenge. He was daring Ryan to object to the marriage.

A countless number of questions and emotions ran through Ryan's mind. He didn't know exactly what to think anymore. What could his mom possibly have been thinking? Could you actually even drink that much to do something that stupid? Sadly, the answer to that question was a small cheap gold band on his mom's left hand. He sighed and wondered if either one of them could even remember the ceremony.

Ryan wanted to tell his mom to forget it. He didn't need her and he sure as hell didn't need A.J. He would rather go to a group home than live in that particular private hell. Then, for the first time, he looked at the Cohens. They had been uncharacteristically quiet during all of this. He glanced at Seth, full of nervous energy, jumping on the balls of his feet with his hands in his pockets. He looked slightly confused and completely out of his element. Sandy looked on with knowing, sad eyes. His eyebrows furrowed with worry. Then Ryan saw Mrs. Cohen. There he saw concern but also hope. Hope that this would work out. That Ryan would leave and go back to his own family. That way she could be sure she had done what was best and that did not involve sending him to some type of home. Ryan knew what was expected of him.

This family had been so good to him. They had done more for him than anyone else had ever done. More than he deserved. The least he could do was give them some peace of mind.

He owed them this.
Decision made.

Ryan let out a breath he hadn't realized he had been holding.

"That's great, Mom." He forced a smile and this time, he was the one to embrace her. Then, he turned to A.J. and swallowed every ounce of pride he ever had. Holding out his hand he said, "Congratulations, A.J. Welcome to the family."

A.J. hesitated a moment and then took Ryan's hand. He then began to squeeze harder and harder, not letting go. Ryan felt like his hand was being crushed, but he was not going to flinch or acknowledge the pain in any way. Later, at home, Ryan knew that he would pay for this display of strength and defiance but right now he was not going to give A.J. the satisfaction.

The prolonged handshake only increased the growing anxiety Sandy felt for Ryan's well-being and safety. Dawn had told him about her new marriage while waiting for A.J. at the laundromat. Sandy knew that the news would be upsetting to Ryan. However, it wasn't his feelings he was worried about when A.J. stepped out of the old, battered pick-up and demanded to know why they were getting stuck with the little bastard again.

Sandy felt the need to do something but was unsure of exactly what he could do. His hands were tied. Kirsten had been adamant about finding Ryan's mother. He looked at his wife and was relieved to see the same concern mirrored in her face. Maybe she was beginning to understand why he was so concerned about the boy.

"Why don't the three of you stay for dinner?" Sandy asked with a forced smile. He hoped that some sort of answer would come to him during the course of the meal.

"Yes, please do." Added Kirsten. "I am sure Rosa is almost finished and we would love to have you."

The two of them ushered everyone into the dining room and exchanged worried glances.

The silence at the Cohens' dinner table that night was almost deafening. Even Seth had not uttered a word. He was worried about his new, his only friend. He glanced across the table at Ryan, who sat head bowed not even pretending to eat. Seth could tell that Ryan was upset by his mom's latest announcement. "How could he not be?" Seth thought. The guy she married looked like he belonged as a villain in one of his comic books. Seth mentally began to draw him as such. Five minutes and one cartoon bad-ass later, the everyone at the table still sat in silence.

Until Ryan came, Seth spent the majority of his time alone. But the outward appearance of solitude was in stark contrast to the three-ring circus that constantly went on in his mind. Perhaps that was why the silence was really beginning to get on his nerves. Seth like he had to do or say something if not for Ryan's sake than for his own.
"So Dawn," Seth began.

All eyes turned towards him expectantly. He really hadn't thought past those first couple of words. Now he was supposed to actually say something else . He wracked his brain. Nothing. Then Seth did what he always did. What had caused him to get his shoes peed in by large, angry jocks so many times in his life. He said the first thing that came to his mind.

"So Dawn." He began again. "Where did my dad finally track you down at? Since it wasn't, you know, really easy to find you when you forgot to leave Ryan a forwarding address after you skipped town."

"Seth!" Kirsten and Sandy both exclaimed at once.

"No, it's all right," Dawn said. " I kind of deserve that."

She had the decency to look ashamed. "He found me at work. I got a job at a laundromat just a few days ago."

Dawn studied Kirsten's reaction to that statement. She wondered if rich people like these even knew such places existed. Her hands were beginning to shake. It had been hours since her last drink and her body was beginning to show its need. A drink would help take the edge off.

"What happened to the restaurant?" Ryan asked interrupting Dawn's thoughts.

"Ummmm, they were making cutbacks," Dawn answered, hoping it sounded like the truth.

It didn't.

"You mean you got fired."

A.J. was seated beside Ryan. Under the table he gripped Ryan's arm tightly. A silent warning.

"So A.J.," Sandy began, wanting to shift the attention from Dawn's employment or lack thereof. "What do you do for a living?"

"Me, I am what you might call self-employed." A.J. looked at Sandy smugly.

"Really," replied Kirsten. "What exactly is it that you do?"

A.J. ran a rough hand across the two-day growth on his jaw. "I guess you might say there are certain people in this world who have certain needs, and I help fulfill those needs."

Kirsten didn't know what to say. It was impossible to miss what he had been implying. She had been so sure that finding Ryan's mother was the right thing to do. But now, daring another look at A.J., she didn't know what to think. How could a woman marry a man like that? Didn't she know it was a mother's job to protect her children?

"Yeah, you're a real entrepreneur," Ryan muttered. The grip on his arm tightened. Ryan winced. He could feel the bruise forming.

Luckily, Rosa picked that moment to ask permission to start clearing the table.

"Of course," Sandy replied while motioning everyone into the living room.

They stood awkwardly in the doorway. No one knew quite what to do or say. Ironically, it was Ryan who broke the silence.

"I better go get my stuff. Thanks for everything." But he made no move toward the patio doors.

"Yes. Thank you for helping Ryan. I, I mean we," Dawn added, looking at A.J. "We really appreciate it."

"It was our pleasure," Sandy said.

"We all enjoyed having Ryan here." Kirsten looked directly at Ryan. His head was still bowed, staring at the carpet. She had hoped to catch his eye, so that he would understand she was including herself in that statement.

"You know," Sandy started. "The boys have become pretty good friends over the past couple of weeks and I for one would like to see that continue. Why don't we all sit down and get to know each other a bit better?"

The truth was he still wasn't ready to let Ryan go yet. His initial apprehension had only grown over the past hour. Sandy had worked in the P.D.'s office for too many years not to notice signs of abuse. With Ryan it had started with the red hand-print on his cheeks that day he had picked him up in Chino and ended with the suspicious wince during dinner. Despite Kirsten's words on that distant Sunday morning, Sandy did feel like it was his job to protect Ryan. He did not want to fail him. Sandy knew that eventually Ryan would have to leave with his mother and her new husband, but perhaps if he could forge some type of relationship, he would be able to keep a close eye on the kid he had grown so attached to.

"Oh no, we couldn't. We have imposed on you and your family too much already."

"The little woman's right," A.J. agreed. "Besides there is some, ah, stuff, I need to take care of before tomorrow."

Ryan was a quiet kid by nature and by necessity. In Ryan's world, the less you talked the less you got noticed, the less you got noticed the less you got hit. But sometimes Ryan's mouth would betray him. It would defy all reason and common sense. It would push aside every memory of every bruise Ryan had ever received. It would say something that Ryan knew he would pay for and regret. This was one of those times.

"Big day at the office?" Ryan's voice dripped with sarcasm.

In one long stride A.J. was in front of him, delivering a powerful backhand. It was a move that he had perfected with months of practice. Ryan fell backwards, his head hitting the wall as he went down.

"Dammit, boy! You will learn to respect me," A.J. growled while looming over the stunned boy.

"A.J. you promised," Dawn said, pleadingly. Then she turned to Ryan, her voice became shrill and demanding. "Why do you always have to do that? You know how mad he gets. Why for once can't you use that brain you are supposed to have and make my life a little easier?"

Ryan said nothing. Flashes of light still danced in front of his eyes. "Are you all right?" He heard Kirsten's concerned voice asking. She was kneeling down beside him.

He didn't dare look at her for fear of what he would see on her face...revulsion, loathing, disgust. He couldn't blame her for any of those feelings. Look at what he had brought into her home. This was all his fault.

"I'm sorry. I am so very sorry, Mrs. Cohen," Ryan apologized, tasting blood as he spoke. "I'll get my stuff and we'll get out of your home. I won't ever bother you again. I promise." He started to rise.

"No," Kirsten said as she offered him a steady hand. "Seth, take Ryan into the kitchen to clean up and get him some ice. I believe he hit his head rather hard."

She turned to Dawn, ignoring A.J., and said with forced politeness, "Please sit down. There are some things Sandy and I need to discuss."

Kirsten left no room for argument as she headed toward the bedroom.

All illusion of composure left Kirsten when Sandy shut the door. Not saying a word, she sat down and put her face in her hands, her long hair covering her features.

He placed a comforting hand on her shoulder and let her sit there for a moment. There was nothing for him to say just yet. She already knew how he felt about Ryan. They had been discussing and arguing it for weeks. After a few moments, she finally spoke.

"He hit him, Sandy." Despair was evident in her voice. "He hit him in front of us. What is his home life like if this is how he gets treated in public?"

It wasn't a question. She already knew the answer. Once, when Sandy had reached out to pat him on the back, she had seen Ryan flinch. There were other times too when she noticed little things about his behavior towards them. But she had pushed those times aside and reasoned them away. After all, she was too busy protecting her own family.

She looked out the window that faced the ocean. The sun slowly setting, casting shadows across the ripples in the water. In no way did the peaceful scene mirror the veritable storm of emotions just outside the door.

"Kirsten," Sandy began. He wasn't quite sure what to say but something had to be done. There was no way in hell he was letting Ryan leave this house with those people.

Before Sandy could continue, Kirsten said with determination, "We need to talk to Dawn, alone."

Dawn sat on the couch and tried to stay calm. This was all Ryan's fault. If he would have kept his mouth shut, they could be on their way back to Chino. The Cohens had seemed nice and understanding before. But now, well, who knew? They could be planning on calling the police or at the very least social services. She had enough dealings with the both types of people to last her a lifetime. She had been right the first time she had kicked Ryan out. She couldn't do this anymore.

"Screw this shit." A.J. suddenly stood and grabbed her arm, pulling her up with him. "Let's just grab your good-for-nothing kid and get the hell out of here."

She was about to agree when Kirsten came out and asked for her to join them in the other room.

She followed Kirsten meekly into the bedroom. "I'm really sorry about that," she began to apologize. "A.J., well he's got a temper, but Ryan knows better than that. He has got to learn to keep his mouth shut. As soon as he figures that out, things will go easier for him. I learned that a long time ago."

Kirsten thought her words over carefully. She wanted to sound sympathetic and understanding. She was afraid if she didn't hide her true feelings, Dawn would take Ryan and they wouldn't see him again.

"You have a lot on your plate right now, Dawn - a new husband, a new job, plus a teen-age boy. It's a lot to handle, for anyone. We all know that. Maybe you and Ryan need some time apart."

"What exactly are you saying?" Dawn questioned. She was wringing her hands. The shaking by now was almost uncontrollable.

"Ryan got along very well in our family. We have plenty of room. He could stay here with us." Sandy joined in the conversation. "Just until things in your life settle down, of course." He added quickly. He didn't want to scare Dawn away either, but he also knew that once they had Ryan within the safety of their home they were never letting him go.

Dawn just stared at them for what seemed to be an eternity. Finally, she asked in a whisper so slight they almost could not hear, "What if I don't want him back?"
"I don't want him back, ever." This time it was a statement not a question.

"We'll take care of everything," Sandy replied simply.

"Thank you," Dawn said as she turned toward the door. She stopped for a moment and began to speak, not looking at Sandy or Kirsten. "I didn't want him. I didn't want him or his brother. I never wanted to be anyone's mom. I still don't."

She looked at Kirsten, "Sometimes, when I'm sober, I feel bad about that."

The boys had been waiting in the kitchen. Ryan sat at the counter trying to keep as much distance between himself and A.J. as possible. The bleeding had stopped, a bruise taking its place, and the pain in the back of his head had dulled to a minor ache.

Seth paced back and forth. He spoke quietly not wanting A.J., who was impatiently waiting in the foyer, to hear. "Don't worry Ryan. My folks will fix this. Everything will be all right." Seth constantly repeated this one statement as if he said it enough it would have to be true.

It wasn't that Ryan didn't want to believe Seth, but he had heard the same thing too many times in his life from well-meaning teachers and social workers. He could imagine the conversation in bedroom. Dawn would apologize. Say she was trying to quit drinking. That she was going to break up with whatever guy she was with and get her life back together. She just needed some time and the Cohens would believe her. Why wouldn't they? What mother wouldn't want the best for her son? The one thing Ryan knew for sure was that at any moment his mom would come out of that door and he would leave the only home where he had ever felt safe.

Ryan heard the door open and his mother speaking softly to A.J. He sighed and went to meet them. There was no point putting off the unavoidable no matter how much he wanted to. But when he reached the front hall, A.J. was already outside and Dawn was standing in the doorway. She looked at Ryan and with a small silent wave as her final good-bye, she closed one door and opened another for her son.

Ryan stood there in shock. She was abandoning him yet again. He didn't know what to do, say, think or even feel. So instead, he just concentrated on not crying.

Sandy and Kirsten walked out of the bedroom together.

"Mom. Dad." Seth said expectantly. He still thought his parents could fix this.

He was right.

Kirsten took Sandy's hand and smiled warmly at both boys and voiced what her heart had wanted to say for such a long time, "Ryan is going to stay with us now."

The End