1Title: A Twist of Fate

Ratings/Warnings: This chapter is rated R. There is a lot of Art with his foul-mouth and violent ways.

Beta: loracj2. I completely rewrote the first scene and tinkered quite a bit with the rest of the chapter. I should have sent it back to her, but I didn't. The errors are mine, all mine. She's innocent. I swear.

Disclaimers: I own nothing in relation to The O.C. All mistakes are mine.

Summary: Beginning of Season 1, AU, In The Pilot, Kirsten asks Sandy "What if this is all a scam? What if he's just using you to case the house?" In this story it is the truth, but not by Ryan's choice. For the purposes of this story Dawn is dead and there never was a Trey.

Special Thanks: I owe a HUGE debt of gratitude to Themusrevenge. She took a look at this for me as well. And bless her heart, she is doing her darnedest to make me a better writer. I trying, sweetie, I really am. I hope she finds my changes to be improvements.

Twist of Fate: Chapter Eighteen

Ryan listened to the footsteps grow louder with a heavy heart. Sighing, he dropped his head in resignation and reached out to grab hold of the nearby windowsill. He then began the slow agonizing process of pulling himself upward.

His body was a mass of painful bruises, and the effort to rise caused beads of sweat to form on his forehead. He could taste their saltiness as began to drip down his face and over his lips.

Hurting more than he could ever remember, he paused for a moment trying to catch his breath. He stood there hunched over, lungs burning with every heave of his chest. It took everything he had just to remain standing.

He wished it was more than it was . . . this simple yet monumental task of standing.

He wished he could fool himself into believing that all of the work, all of the effort it took to do this one small feat was a showing of strength.

But it wasn't.

Ryan new that when Art walked through the door he would be ready to go. He also knew that Art was not a patient man.

So that's all it was.

It was not an act of defiance.

It was not a display of toughness.

It was one less reason to cause Art's anger to surface.

It was one less reason to get hit.

That's it.

That's all.

Nothing more.

No matter how much he wished otherwise.

He waited just a second longer before forcing himself to stand as straight as his aching joints and muscles would allow. He tried to make out the door amidst the darkness. It wasn't easy. His left eye was still badly swollen, but slowly the door came into focus.

He stared at it . . . waiting for the inevitable.

Waiting.

Waiting.

The door remained closed.

He listened carefully, not moving, holding his breath, trying to hear every minute sound.

Nothing.

Maybe he'd been wrong.

Maybe he hadn't actually heard footsteps.

Maybe somewhere between the misty haze of sleep and almost-delirium he had imagined them.

He looked over his shoulder, back to the corner that had been his whole world for days. He could return to it. Lie down, rest, try and gain what little strength he could muster and wait until Art really did come for him.

That would be the easy thing to do.

It was what his body was telling him. That he needed rest. That he was sick. That he was weak.

Weak.

He grimaced at the word. He hated it and everything that it meant.

He hated it because he was weak.

He had let himself be pushed around and bullied his entire life. His father. His mom's countless boyfriends. Art. He'd never stood up to any of them. That is until five days ago. For a brief moment, he felt a smallest bit of pride, before shame and humiliation took over.

He had held out for four days. He had endured it all . . . the cold, the hunger, the pain. But in the end it hadn't mattered. He had broken down and had given Art everything he wanted and then some.

Ryan cringed, remembering the gleam in Art's eyes as he stood over Ryan, holding the small alarm to the Cohens' home in his fat sweaty palm. If only he could have held onto that one little thing. It wouldn't have been much, but it would have been something.

He sighed again.

It didn't matter now.

Nothing did.

In a few short hours, he would be robbing the only decent people he had ever known. And there was nothing he could do about it.

Slowly, he began to turn his body to go back to his corner, but the sight of the door caught his eye and he stopped.

Or was there?

His eyes fixed on the door once again. His mind a jumble of thoughts and mixed emotions.

Deep in thought, he began to chew on his lower lip.

It was unlocked. He was sure of that now.

His pulse began to quicken.

Only minutes before, the idea of trying to run had seemed pointless. But now . . .

He could feel the moisture begin to form on his hands. He continued to stare at the door as he nervously wiped the sweat from his palms onto his jeans.

It was a long shot. Art could be anywhere. Down the hall. Outside the building. Was it worth it?

No . . . maybe . . . yes.

His legs felt heavy as he took that first unsteady step closer to the door.

He could do this.

He willed his legs to take another step.

He would have to do more than just escape. Art would still rob the Cohens without him. He would call them. Warn them.

His heart began to pound.

Another step.

He didn't have a plan or even a thought of what he would do after that. He would still have to run. Art would come for him, make him pay for his betrayal.

He stopped. His nerve faltering. Doubt and uncertainty taking over. Wondering once more . . . Is it worth it? To finally do what is right?

His thoughts drifted back to the previous weekend and to the people he shared it with.

His confidence rose.

Another step.

His mouth had gone dry.

It was now or never.

Another step.

Inches from the door, arm outstretched, hand shaking, eyes never wavering, almost there, just . . . one . . . more . . . step . . .

BAM!

Art kicked the door open with such vicious force that it sent tremors rippling throughout the room.

Startled, Ryan stumbled, fell to the floor and landed with a thump. Fear gripped him and before he could stop himself, without even thinking, he found himself scurrying backwards into his corner. Looking up he could see the dark shadowy figure of Art looming in the doorway, his large bulking frame illuminated by the light from the other room.

"I'm baaack," Art called out in a singsong voice. "Ya' miss me, boy?"

All pretense of humor was gone as Art strode purposefully across the room and hauled him up by the front of his shirt. Unfortunately for Ryan, his body took that moment to give in to a spasm of coughing.

Art grabbed him by the throat and pinned him against the wall. "Stop that shit now," he ordered.

Ryan did his best as thick meaty fingers dug into his neck cutting off his airway. Art continued his hold until Ryan was sure he could no longer breathe. Reaching up he clutched at the fingers, desperately trying to pry them from his throat.

When Art finally released him, Ryan fell to the floor on his knees. He held his throat and tried to catch his breath through the wheezing and coughing. Art stood looking down at him for just a minute before crouching to the floor and grabbing a fistful of Ryan's hair. He jerked his head up.

"I'm going to tell you this one time and one time only. This is a very important job and I will not put up with any of your crap tonight. Do you understand me?"

Still struggling to breathe, Ryan was unable to answer.

Art clutched his hair tighter and shook his head up and down making Ryan nod yes. "Yes, you do understand. Don't you?" He continued bobbing Ryan's head. "Good. I'm glad." He held Ryan's head so that he was forced to look right at him. "I'd hate to have to have this conversation again. Now let's get moving."

He didn't give Ryan a chance to stand on his own. He immediately pulled the boy up and shoved him in the direction of the door. Ryan lurched forward, stumbling over his own feet and fell to the floor once more.

This time he knew the sound of the heavy footsteps was not imagined.

Frantically, Ryan tried to make it to his feet, but it was too late. Art was beside him, kicking his feet out from underneath him. With little effort he rolled Ryan to his back and placed a heavy steel-toed boot in the center of Ryan's chest, pinning him to the ground.

Ryan stared at the boot, holding his breath, desperately hoping that he would not start coughing again. Art leaned over, applying more pressure to Ryan's chest until he thought he would explode.

"You." Art shook his finger in Ryan's face. "Are damn lucky we're on such a tight schedule tonight." He grabbed Ryan by the arm and pulled him up until they were face to face. Ryan swallowed nervously.

"But don't think I won't remember this later, boy." He spun Ryan around. "Now move your ass." Without letting go of Ryan's arm, he dragged the boy out the door, down the steps to the street below.

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Outside, the dimly lit street was all but deserted except for an old black utility van that Ryan had never seen before.

"Get in."

He hesitated, his eyes darting to Art for confirmation. His answer was a sharp blow to the back of the head.

"Yeah, I mean the van. Fuck, but you're dumb as shit. What the hell you think we'd use for this heist, the truck? That'd be real smart, wouldn't it? I'm sure on the way out the guard wouldn't notice the back being loaded down with loot?"

"I'm sorry." His voice sounded rough from coughing and lack of use. "I wasn't thinking."

"You never do. Now move your ass." Art pushed him and this time the curb was the culprit for Ryan's clumsiness. He lurched forward almost falling into the door.

Art grabbed him by the collar and hauled him back onto the sidewalk. He sighed in exaggerated frustration as he opened the door and roughly shoved Ryan inside the van.

He stood there for a moment, staring at Ryan with his hand resting on the open door, and once again, Ryan found himself waiting.

He expected a smack, or at the very least, an insult. But Art did neither. Instead he just stood there and continued to stare, his face blank as if Ryan's existence didn't even merit the effort of an expression.

Ryan shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He could feel Art's eyes boring into him. He ducked his head, not daring to look up, hoping that the silent scrutiny would soon come to an end.

In the distance a sharp squealing of tires followed by the honking of horns could be heard. The noise seemed to shake Art from his trance. Quickly, he turned his head in the direction of the commotion. Then without a word or another glance at Ryan, he slammed the door shut and stomped over to the driver's side of the van.

Habit and instinct made Ryan scoot closer to the door as Art climbed into the truck. The movement did not go unnoticed. Art grabbed him by the front of his shirt and yanked him closer to him so that their faces were only separated by a few inches.

"You're not thinking of pulling that little stunt again are you?" he asked, his breath thick with the smell of fast food and cheap beer.

Ryan blinked stupidly. "No . . . I . . . uhhh . . . " He was sputtering desperately trying to remember what Art was talking about.

"Because I meant what I said on Monday. You try and bail out on me by jumping out the door, and I swear to you I will not hesitate to run your sorry ass down." His eyes narrowed so that they were little more than slits on his face and he pulled Ryan closer. "And I got to tell you boy, with the shape you're in it wouldn't even be much sport. You get my meaning?"

Ryan swallowed nervously. He suddenly found it much more difficult to breathe.

"Yes."

"Yes, what?"

"Yes, I understand. I won't try and run. I swear."

"You best not," Art said releasing him, then poking him hard in his chest. "Cause I'm going to be watching you." With one last glare Art shifted the van into gear and pulled out into the road.

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It's just a job.

The people . . . they don't matter.

You don't have a choice.

Three years ago, after his mother died and Art had first started making him steal, Ryan had repeated those words over and over to himself. He had hoped they would help him justify the crimes he committed every day. They hadn't worked at all at first, but slowly over time they began to ease his guilt.

What he really hoped for was to feel nothing. He didn't want to think about what he was doing. He just wanted to get the job done and move onto the next mark. No feelings, no emotions. He wanted to be dead inside.

But just like everything else he had ever wanted in his life, he didn't get that either.

Somewhere along the way he had stopped saying the words. He stopped needing them. But now, sitting besides Art, minutes away from this job he found himself repeating them once again.

It's just a job.

Only it wasn't. It was so much more than that.

The people . . . they don't matter.

Lies. They mattered. They mattered more than anything else in his life.

You don't have a choice.

Fearfully, he glanced over at Art. With each bounce of the van he could feel every bruise Art had given him over the past few days. Yes, he would let himself believe those words. So he concentrated on them, saying them over and over again.

Engrossed in his thoughts, Ryan didn't notice Art pulling off to the side of the road until the van ground to a sudden halt. Confused, he looked around. He wasn't sure, but he thought that they were still a few miles from the Cohens' home.

He watched wordlessly, as Art crawled into the back of the van.

"Okay," Art said peering at Ryan through the opening between the two front seats. "It's your turn to drive. Get behind the wheel . . . without getting out of the van."

Ryan maneuvered himself over the gear shift and into the driver's seat. No sooner than he had sat down when Art thumped him the left shoulder. "Don't forget the seat belt. We can't risk you getting pulled over for something stupid like that."

To Ryan the click of the seatbelt was the final nail in his coffin. He knew exactly why he was driving and Art was hidden in the darkness of the backseat. For all practical purposes, it would appear that he was acting alone.

The Cohens would hate him.

He hated himself.

After Ryan had safely returned to the road, Art scooted forward in his seat again.

"Listen, brat." Ryan could feel Art's breath on the back of his neck and his skinned crawled. "Here's the deal. This should be a clean job. No screw-ups. No trouble. I want us in and out of there in less than forty-five minutes. I'm shooting for thirty. You will not do anything, and I mean anything, to mess that up or slow us down."

Ryan watched in the rearview mirror as Art leaned down and grabbed something from the floor of the backseat. He sat up straighter, trying to see what it was. Art caught his eyes in the mirror and smirked.

"Never you mind what I've got back here. You'll see what it is in a second. Just keep your eyes on the road."

Ryan quickly looked away, gripping the steering wheel tight. He might not know what Art was hiding in the backseat, but he knew whatever it was, it meant trouble for him. He swallowed nervously trying to forget about the knot in his stomach that was growing bigger with each passing mile.

"Now," Art continued, "if by some slim chance something goes wrong and you get your stupid ass caught, you know better than to point your finger at me. Don't you, boy?"

Ryan nodded, not daring to look back.

"Good. Same goes for the guard at the gate. If I think for one minute that you're trying to tip him off . . . "

It was then Art decided to reveal what he had been hiding. He slowly slid the baseball bat he had used to threaten Ryan with the previous day between the two front seats. Ryan's eyes grew wide. His entire body tensed, and he dug his fingers even deeper into the wheel.

Art tapped his leg with the bat. "Well, I don't need to explain what will happen to you, do I, boy?"

"No, sir," Ryan swallowed, trying to fight back the almost uncontrollable urge to throw-up.

"You're learning, boy." Art laughed softly, leaning back. "You're learning."

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As they approached the gates, Ryan could see the flashing blue and green lights of the guard's television. His mind racing, he wondered what he would do if the guard refused to let them inside. There was no guarantee that Seth actually put his name on the list. His could feel his heart pounding in his chest. Half of him was scared that the guard wouldn't let them in and the other half was scared that he would.

Ryan slowly applied the brakes, their loud squeal piercing the silence of the otherwise peaceful night. As the van came to a shaky halt, Ryan tried his best to avoid looking suspicious. He turned to look at the man, but made sure to keep his face, especially his battered left eye, back in the shadows. He didn't need to answer any more questions than he absolutely had to.

He needn't have bothered. Without even looking at Ryan, the guard gave the van once a quick disdainful glance.

"I don't have any deliveries scheduled for this evening," the guard said curtly, not even bothering to look at the roster hanging by the window.

Ryan could feel Art pushing up against the back of the seat, giving him an unnecessary reminder that he was there.

"I'm not delivering anything."

"You're not?" He looked at Ryan for the first time, his eyes giving him the once over. "This is a gated community, son. We don't just let anyone drive in here. You have to be on the list before I let you enter."

"I'm on it."

"Oh really." The guard's voice was condescending. "Well then young man. Why don't you just tell me your name and the family you're here to visit and I'll just see if you really are on my list?"

Ryan held his breath for a moment before answering. "Ryan, Ryan Atwood. I'm a friend of Seth Cohen."

Or at least I used to be.

The man picked up a clipboard and was running a lazy finger down the topmost sheet of paper.

"Oh yes," he tapped at a line halfway down, "here you are."

The guard stared at the paper for a moment and suddenly looked up at Ryan. For a brief moment, Ryan thought he saw something flash across the guard's face. His eyes darted to the rearview mirror, to see if Art noticed as well. He couldn't see Art. The man was crouched down too far in his seat. He returned his attention to the guard, but whatever he had seen, if anything, was gone.

"Go on in." The guard waved his hand toward the now open gates.

Ryan didn't move. He could have sworn there was something different about the man's voice. The man's attitude toward him had changed and his tone and certainly become more friendly. But there was an underlying tension to his words that made them sound forced to Ryan's ears, almost as if he was trying too hard to sound casual.

Did the man know something? And if so, what should he do?

He didn't have time to think about it much longer. Art increased the pressure on the back of his seat, causing Ryan to arch his back. "What are you waiting for? Move it," Art hissed quietly.

Ryan dared to take one more quick glance at the guard, but the man was no longer paying attention to him, his eyes glued back to the tv screen. Ryan figured that in his desperation he had been grasping at straws. He hadn't actually seen or heard anything. He sighed in resignation and started up the hill leading to the Cohens' driveway. There was no one to help him. There never had been.

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They had no sooner pulled into the Cohens' driveway than Art began climbing back into the front seat. Ryan scooted over giving the man more room, but didn't see or hear what Art did after that. He was too busy staring at the front door, completely lost in his thoughts.

"Get out."

Ryan jumped, startled to see Art right outside his door and leaning in the open window.

"Maybe, maybe I should just stay in the van. You know, keep a look out for the family."

Art leaned in farther. "Do I look stupid?"

"No, no, of course not."

"Then why would I let you," Art opened the door and pulled Ryan out of the van, "stay out here where you could try to run away. Or better yet, go tell the guard what I'm up to? That would make me as dumb as you, and we all know that no one else could ever be that much of a dumb-ass." He shoved Ryan toward the front steps. "Now get moving."

They stood in front of the main door, Art's expression almost childlike in its eagerness. He pulled the small keychain- alarm from his front pocket. Ryan flinched at the sight of it, guilt and remorse flooding over him.

Art pointed it at the front door. "This had better work."

The alarm made a soft clicking noise and Art slowly opened the door. When it was obvious no alarm would sound, he flung the door open and walked boldly in.

"Holy shit!" He stood in the Cohens' entryway, his head making a wide circling arch. "I've just hit the fucking mother lode."

His eyes were wide with greed and anticipation. He turned to Ryan, who was still standing just outside the door. "Hurry up and get your ass in here. There's work to be done."

Ryan stood there, not moving. He couldn't make himself step over that line. He was paralyzed by the thoughts of the family that lived inside. If only, he thought. If only he could stay outside. If only he didn't actually have to go in the house that would mean he didn't actually do anything to hurt them. Didn't it?

"You do not want me to have to tell you again to get your ass in here."

Ryan stared at Art and wished for the last time that he could think of something, anything that would help him find a way out of this mess.

"Boy." Art's voice was rising, his temper and patience strained to their breaking point.

Ryan dropped his head in apparent defeat and began walking through the door. But just as he lifted his foot another round of coughing caused him to lose his balance and trip over the doorstep and into Art.

"What the fuck?" He pushed Ryan off him, sending him into the doorframe. Ryan let out a small yelp of pain when his back hit the wood.

"What the hell is the matter with you, boy? This is the third time you've almost fallen on your ass tonight. You better get your act together and get it together now. I won't have you fucking this up."

"I'm sorry. I don't know what's wrong with me." His voice was soft, almost a whisper.

"Not as sorry as I am for having to put up with you."

"I'll do better. I swear. I...I could go upstairs." Meekly, he pointed toward the steps. "Start with the son's room while you get the stuff down here."

"Wow, you're really full of great ideas tonight." Sarcasm dripped from Art's voice. "I bet you want to leave your little boyfriend a note? I bet you wanna tell him how sorry you are that you stole from him?"

"No, of course not."

Art went on, not listening to Ryan.

"Or maybe while you're up there you'll just "accidentally" pick up the phone and call this lawyer guy who took such good care of you last week. That way you can tip them off and he can call the police. And then poor old Art here will get arrested. You'd like that wouldn't you? Seeing me behind bars after all I've done for you."

"No. I'd never . . . "

"Damn straight you'd never and you won't get the chance either. You're fucking crazy if you think for one damn minute I'm letting you out of my sight. Now move it."

He grabbed Ryan by the arm and dragged him into the living room.

"Sit over there where I can keep an eye on you," he said, shoving Ryan in the direction of the kitchen table. "Don't move a muscle unless I tell you it's okay. I mean it, boy. You don't even blink without me saying so."

Ryan didn't respond. He just dropped his head, staring own at the table and listened while Art began gathering up the Cohens' possessions.

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"What the fuck are you doing?"

Ryan jumped. He hadn't heard Art walk over to the kitchen table.

"I don't know what you mean," he answered, looking up at Art.

Art slapped him hard across the mouth.

"Don't lie to me boy. I've been watching you."

Ryan tried to swallow the lump that was fast forming in his throat.

"You keep checking the time." Art pointed accusingly to the clock on the wall. "Five times in ten minutes."

"I'm just nervous. I want to get out of here. That's all."

Art leaned down, placing his hands on either side of Ryan, boxing him in. His face was mere inches away from his own. "I know you're lying to me." Ryan watched as a wide trickle of sweat slowly glided down Art's face, to Ryan's lap, landing with a little plop on the clenched fist that was resting there. Ryan squeezed the hand tighter.

Art noticed the move and grabbed Ryan's wrist, pulling his arm to the top of the table.

"You got something hidden in your hand?"

"No . . . no, of course not."

"Open it."

Ryan tried to yank his hand back, but Art was too strong. He pulled his arm forward again, and slammed Ryan's fist down. His knuckles banged against the table top.

"I said, open it."

Not giving Ryan a chance to react, he pried open his hand and in Ryan's grasp he discovered the small keychain.

Art's eyes widened with surprise and he frantically patted the front of his jeans, not quite believing what he saw.

"How did you . . . " His eyes began to narrow and rage took the place of shock on his face. "Back there, by the door, you didn't fall did you? You did that on purpose."

Ryan dared a small smug smile. "You always said I learned from the best."

The humor was lost on Art. He grabbed Ryan by the front of his T-shirt, twisting it in a knot so that it choked him. He hoisted him out of the chair and held him so that he was barely standing on his own, his toes barely touching the floor.

Ryan felt like he was being hanged. He grabbed onto Art's forearm with both hands, hoping that it would relieve the choking sensation. Art let go of him, but immediately stepped closer to him so that Ryan would be trapped between him and the table.

Ryan put one hand to his throat and the other he used for support as he leaned back against the table. Even though Art was no longer holding onto to his neck, it was becoming increasingly difficult to breathe. The air felt thick and suffocating to him.

It seemed like hours before Art spoke.

"You have no idea what you have done."

The words came out slow and deliberate and completely devoid of all emotion. Ryan stood there not able to move, frozen in dread.

He would be dead by morning.

tbc