Title: Seventeen

Author: ChaseII

Story Rating: T (overall content / language)

Disclaimer: The OC Universe, with all its assorted characters, belongs to Josh Schwartz, et. al. No copyright or trademark infringement is intended, nor is any money being made.

A/N: Unbeta'd -- all mistakes are mine!

XXXXXXXXXXX

Epilogue

November 2006

XXXXXXXXXXX

I'm sipping tea as Sandy and I sit around the breakfast counter. It's all I can do not to go out to the pool house, just so I can watch Ryan as he sleeps.

Even here, he occupies my thoughts.

After all these months he's lived away from home, I can hardly believe he's back with us. At least in body, if not entirely in soul.

It's been so hard for him – holding her as she grew cold and lifeless in his arms. Surviving while she died.

And we didn't help. We'd made so many mistakes earlier – letting him drift too far away. His pain and anger only highlighted the distance that had come between us.

His moving out, his reckless bent on revenge, his dark and disturbing self-punishment, his refusal to let us comfort him – all evidence of just how wide the chasm between us had become.

We've fought so hard to bring him back. To earn his trust again. To mold us all once more into a family.

It's been slow, and painful, and sometimes just plain frightening, but it's worth every battle we've been waging just to know he's finally home.

The telephone rings, startling me out of my reflections.

Sandy's quicker than me, swallowing his coffee before he speaks.

"Hello, this is Sandy Cohen."

I watch him, as his eyebrows wrinkle.

"Who?" He sounds a little wary.

"Yes, that's right. Ryan Atwood, from Chino." Sandy's wariness is unabated.

When I move closer, he shakes his head, holding up a finger. His eyes widen as he listens to whoever's on the phone.

"He's never mentioned you," he says carefully when he speaks again.

He listens a bit more, and then I see him smile a little before he says, "He has a way of doing that, that's for sure."

"Sandy!" I grumble, wanting information.

He's shaking his head, "If you read about that, then you know he's been through a lot in the last few months."

After another minute, he frowns a little as he says firmly, "Not without me or my wife on the line."

The frown is replaced by a tiny smile, one dimple making a brief appearance as he seems satisfied by whatever he's hearing. His voice is much warmer when he speaks again, "I assure you, that's what we care about, too."

He listens for another few seconds, and picks up a pencil, writing down a name and telephone number.

"I'll give it to him," he promises, "If he doesn't – we don't – call you back, I will."

After another minute, he says goodbye and hangs up the telephone.

"What was that?" I demand.

Sandy's expression is thoughtful, "Someone from Ryan's past, apparently."

That makes me nervous. Ryan's past is rarely good.

"Who?" I ask, reminding myself firmly that not facing that past is not an option. Blessed with the miracle of his survival, we're not going to repeat our prior mistakes.

Sandy looks quizzically at the notepad, "She says her name is Megan Hart."