1Title: The Same
Rating/Warnings: mentions of child abuse, very minor swearing, Ryan angst
Disclaimers: I own nothing in relation to The O.C. All mistakes are mine
Sandy longed for the day when he would be able to treat both his boys the same.
The Cohens were an expressive family, and Sandy was no exception. He enjoyed outward expressions of affection, especially toward his family. He never missed an opportunity to give his wife a hug or kiss; unless of course they were in the midst of an argument; even then he had a hard time keeping his hands to himself. Kirsten was damn sexy when she was angry. With Seth it was a pat on the back, ruffling his hair, or a casual one-armed hug. Sometimes if the occasion would call for it, he would playfully cuff Seth upside the head, and with Seth's penchant for sarcasm, those times were quite frequent. But with, Ryan he could do none of that. It wasn't as if he didn't want to express himself with Ryan: he felt the need for caution. Ryan's past could not be easily forgotten.
Sandy thought back to the second time he had ever met him. Ryan was sitting on a decaying wall in the worst part of Chino trying to look tough; like he didn't care that his own mother had just thrown him out. Angry red blotches marred his face. He reached out to getter a better look at the marks. Ryan instantly recoiled, a look of sheer terror flashed across his face. Sandy was horrified; obviously, the kid thought he was going to hit him. When no blow came, he mumbled something about being sorry and tripping. He wondered how often Ryan had "tripped" in his young life. Sandy pressed him for answers, but Ryan only commented that it was the cold that had reddened his face. He reluctantly let the subject drop and didn't bring up the fact that it was a warm August evening. After all, it was a mute point. He was going to turn Ryan over to Social Services on Monday. The problems in his home life would be addressed by people who knew how to handle these types of situations. He didn't know at the time that it was to be he and Kirsten who would have to shoulder the responsibility of Dawn's neglect and abuse.
Ryan had only been living with them a couple of weeks when the next incident occurred. They were all seated at the dinner table. Usually, Sandy always sat at the head of the table, flanked by Kirsten and Seth, with Ryan on the other side of Seth. On that particular evening, Seth decided to sit next to his mother. The chair next to Sandy was the obvious choice for Ryan to sit in. However, he didn't sit down immediately; he stood staring at this new arrangement; surveying the two empty seats, one next to Sandy and the other across from Seth. With obvious hesitation he sat down next to Sandy. Barely touching his food, he sat with his head down, constantly glancing sideways, weighing Sandy's every move. Near the end of the meal, he reached for his glass, but in his nervousness he knocked it over. Sandy's arm shot out to catch it. Ryan leaped up from the table, knocking his chair over in his attempt to get out of Sandy's reach. His panic was obvious-arms folded across his stomach, head down, his breathing fast and unsteady. Sandy attempted to calm him, but Ryan jerked away looking even more afraid. The same look of fear that Sandy had seen in Chino had returned. Kirsten took over. In soft even tones, she soothed the frightened boy, telling him that it was only water, nothing was broken, and no one was mad at him. Once calm, he stuttered a quick, embarrassed apology, and headed out the patio doors, into the safety and seclusion of the pool house. From that evening on Seth always sat next to Sandy at the table.
All lingering doubts and questions concerning Ryan's past were unwittingly answered when they were helping Kirsten clean out the walk-in closet in the hallway. He came across an old photo album from Sandy's childhood. Ryan had never seen a picture of his dad before. He didn't look much like Sandy. He was a big man; husky, tall, and wore a particularly mean scowl in most of the photos. Sandy explained that his dad had worked in a steel mill his entire life and was strong as an ox. Ryan continued staring at the picture.
"It must have hurt like a bitch when he hit you."
Sandy knew that Ryan had not meant to say the words out loud. They had been barely audible. What bothered Sandy the most was that it was a statement. In Ryan's world, everyone hit, or at least they all hit him. Sandy attempted to reassure him that wasn't always the case, but years of avoiding questions about countless injuries had taught Ryan the art of evasion. He shut the album and made an excuse about suddenly remembering a forgotten homework assignment.
The Cohens had received a copy of Ryan's social service file when they had been granted guardianship. Neither adult had dared look at it. They told themselves it was to respect Ryan's privacy, but in reality they didn't want to know the horrors he had lived through before becoming a part of their family. They finally realized that what they didn't know could hurt Ryan. They picked a time when both boys would not be home, sat down together, braced themselves, and read the entire file. Kirsten cried for two hours.
Sandy decided it might be best to be more cautious around Ryan. He would be careful not to overdo the affection, and especially not make any sudden moves that would freak him out. After all, it had only been just over a month since he came to live with them. With his background, he needed just needed a little time and space to get use to Sandy's boisterous ways.
Over the next few weeks, Sandy noted his idea seemed to be working. Ryan was still skittish around him, but he was slowly letting his guard down. The whole family was gathered in the kitchen for breakfast. Seth was making his usual wise-cracks and Sandy put his arm around him and tousled his hair. He looked at Ryan and his heart wrenched at what he saw. There was a look of such yearning in Ryan's eyes. As far as families went, Ryan was still on the outside looking in. Sandy knew that Ryan was no longer afraid of him. However, it was as if Ryan's mind knew that Sandy would never hurt him, but he just couldn't convince his body not to protect itself.
Sandy vowed from that moment on, things would be different. Ryan was his son now, damn it. He would no longer allow Ryan's past to affect his present. At first, Ryan would jerk away, but Sandy didn't let it deter him. He simply went on with what he was doing, pretending not to notice Ryan's reaction. The first time he ever put his arm around him, he could feel Ryan trying to pull away. Sandy held on for just a bit longer, not wanting to let go of the contact. After a moment, he sensed that Ryan relaxed…just a little. Gaining his trust would be a very slow process. Sandy was a patient man, but he was beginning to wonder if Ryan would ever completely lose his look of uncertainty.
One morning, he was regaling the boys with tales of his glory days at Berkeley. He finally stopped talking long enough to look at them, and saw the two of them pretending to be fast asleep at the kitchen counter. He grabbed his newspaper and without thinking he reached across the counter to cuff the both of them. He hit Seth dead on, but Ryan ducked. It took him a moment to realize what exactly had just happened. Ryan ducked. Seth never ducked, he didn't have the reflexes. But the main point was Ryan; he didn't flinch or recoil, he simply ducked. He looked closely at Ryan; there was no fear there. In fact he was laughing. He patted Sandy on the chest, and said something about how it must be tough to be getting so slow in his old age. Sandy promptly took the paper again and this time managed to swat him. He had to; it wouldn't be right not to treat both boys the same.