"Help me get her into the pool house." Ryan's voice was clipped, and he avoided Seth's eyes as they got out of the Range Rover. Seth looked towards his dad in an instinctive plea for guidance.
Dad always new what to do. "Here Ryan, let me get her . . ." He pulled Dawn out of the back seat where she had lain since leaving Vegas Night. Seth watched the two of them carry Dawn away.
He knew he talked too much, let his thoughts spill out of his mouth without any intervening stop for judgment. Now, he had no words.
The walls in his room were painted blue to mimic the sea, always his refuge. Tonight he felt like slamming his body into them. The posters mocked him, bored musician faces staring out into nothingness. Slick glossy images with no connection to the reality of his new friend's misery. The computer on the desk, shiny Macintosh toy, no longer held his interest. Only a few weeks ago, his father had knocked on the door while Seth was engrossed in playing Anarchy Online. He'd been impatient at the intrusion, because Shtylez was about to try for the Edge of Tarrasque for the umpteenth time in an Omni-Tek raid. Every eighteen hours for a year he'd been after the sword. Seth admired that kind of perseverance; it reminded him of his own hopeless quest for Summer's attention.
"Seth, we need to talk."
"Dad, can it wait? This is really important."
"No, it can't wait. You need to know that I brought one of my clients home."
Seth had been shocked, "What? Mom let you?"
His dad wouldn't meet his eyes. "Your mother understands that Ryan doesn't have anywhere to go right now. His mother kicked him out and juvenile services are closed until Monday. He's staying in the pool house."
"What did he do?"
"He was with his older brother when he stole a car."
"Wow. That's impressive."
"Seth, I want you to be nice to him, okay? He's trying to act tough, but he's scared, I can tell."
His father had left him that night, and he'd gone back to exploring a virtual world where his friends were words on a screen. They lived in Australia and Italy and Atlanta, gathering over high speed internet connections to play with other gamers. The people online didn't mock his clothes or his taste in music or the way he tripped over his feet. They hadn't known him when he was eight and cried in class while reading Old Yeller. They knew him as an Agent of some skill, who was fluent in l33t and made snarky jokes about the other characters and about how much fun Baron Harkonnen would have had quelling the clans (because Anarchy Online was such a Dune rip-off, they might as well have called notum "Spice" and been done with it).
Ryan was real. Seth had looked up from his Playstation the next morning, still sleepy, and had seen Ryan's solid body coming through the French doors. He'd looked rumpled and wary, but had agreed to play Final Fantasy X even after Seth's Grand Theft Auto gaffe.
Seth still couldn't quite believe that this reserved boy from Chino liked him. Three days with Ryan and he felt like they'd known each other forever. Having Ryan locked away in juvie had been agony, like losing his hearing after he'd just discovered The Ramones playing "California Sun" with such frantic energy that he had to move, move, move. He groped around, trying to find his way, but without Ryan he always stumbled.
The "no video games" edict hadn't even been a real punishment after the model home fire. His parents didn't know that three days of Ryan's friendship made beating the latest Tony Hawk or exploring Rubi-Ka online seem boring. Seth had been lonely for a long time. Having Ryan at his side for those three days, full of ups and downs and bonding, had made Ryan's subsequent absence into a huge thing. Seth had been full of bitter words towards his parents because he was dying at the thought of Ryan rotting in juvie.
And then when his mother had realized (after two weeks!) that Ryan was in danger behind bars, had brought him home, Seth had learned that Ryan's life had never been safe.
Seth stared out his window, trying to see movement in the pool house. He was stuck in purgatory again, locked into the agony of Not Knowing. He heard his parents getting ready for bed downstairs, and wondered what Dawn's meltdown meant for Ryan. If his mom couldn't leave Ryan to be beaten up in juvie, how would she feel witnessing Dawn's drunken antics? Would she let Dawn take Ryan away tomorrow? Seth really didn't want that. He knew in his bones that Ryan should stay with them, protected and secure in the pool house.
Seth thought about going to find out what was happening with Anarchy Online. He could gain some experience points, map out the terrain a little more … He didn't move from his post at the window. There! A shadow moving around: maybe Ryan was still awake. He slipped out of his room, exercising all of his stealthy ninja skills to sneak down to the kitchen doors.
He held his breath as he got near the pool house, craning his neck to see what was happening. Ryan was pacing around, still wearing his dress pants. He'd taken off the shirt and tie at some point, leaving him in a wifebeater, just like the first time Seth saw him.
Seth sidled back and forth, trying to decide if he should knock. Ryan's head came around and he walked to the door, opening it with quiet care.
His voice whispered, "What? Are you trying semaphore?"
Seth shook his head, watching as Ryan's eyes crept back towards the still figure of his mother, laying in the bed. "No. I just … I wanted to know how you were."
Ryan's head jerked back towards Seth, eyes filled with viciousness for an instant. "How I am? How do you think I am?"
"Dude. I don't know, thus the asking part." Seth tried to exude innocence and concern. Maybe it would work on Ryan, unlike all the school bullies through the years.
Ryan shook his head. He looked even worse than when he had been led away in handcuffs. "I need a cigarette. Wait here." He went back into the pool house and rummaged in his back pack for a minute. He walked out of the door, casting a wary glance at Seth's parents' bedroom windows. "Let's go to the beach path."
"Will your mom be okay?" Seth felt compelled to ask.
"She always has been before." The bitterness in his tone hit Seth like the smack of pavement after falling from his skateboard.
Seth always felt better breathing the tang of salt air. The acrid wisps of smoke from Ryan's Marlboro mixed in with the ocean smells. Seth liked the thought that he and Ryan blended in the same way, Newport ocean and Chino tobacco combining to outreach their components.
Ryan wasn't talking, but then Seth knew that was his job. He talked; Ryan looked tough and punched people when necessary. Ryan always punched first. Seth should talk first, but he didn't know the right words to say. He fumbled around for an opener.
"What are you going to do?" he finally asked.
Ryan was trying to find the horizon out in the dark. "I don't know." He put the cigarette back up to his mouth and inhaled deeply. His exhale sounded suspiciously close to a sob. "Running away didn't work very well, did it?"
"Yeah. Not one of my better plans.
"Will you go with her? If she wants you to?"
Ryan kept looking towards the dark horizon. "She won't want me. She's never wanted me."
Seth reached up and touched Ryan's shoulder. Ryan flinched, but Seth held on. "I want you. Wait, that didn't come out right. You should stay with us, your mom can't take care of you and you shouldn't have to take care of yourself. We belong together, it'd be awesome." Seth's words ran down under Ryan's steady regard.
"And you'll convince your parents of this how? You mom didn't want me before. Now…"
"Yeah, but that was before she knew what your mom was like." Seth stuttered to a halt as Ryan turned away, walking a little closer to the beach steps. He flicked the cigarette into the sandy path.
"Oh great. 'Ryan's mom is an alcoholic mess, so we'll take him.'" Sarcasm dripped from his voice. "The world doesn't work that way."
Seth had to follow him. He couldn't let Ryan be alone right now. "Dude, we'll make it work. Do you want to go with your mother?"
Ryan laughed like a crow. "I didn't want your dad to find her in the first place." His arms came up to wrap around his chest and Seth couldn't take anymore; he pulled Ryan into a hug. "Ryan, I promise, it'll be okay, you don't have to go with her, you don't have to leave." He pulled back to look Ryan in the eyes. "I don't want you to leave, I know my parents will – "
Ryan's hands had been creeping up Seth's back while he talked, and Ryan suddenly pulled him forward, cutting off the torrent of words with his mouth. He tasted of smoke and regret as he devoured Seth's lips. Ryan tilted his head, attacking from a new angle. Seth muttered, "Ryan?" and Ryan replied,
"Shut up." Seth's jaw was slack with surprise, and Ryan's tongue slid into Seth's mouth easily.
He did obscene things inside Seth's mouth, stroked and licked and invaded. Seth clutched at Ryan's arms for balance, feeling the muscles flex. Seth was moaning low in his throat, he couldn't help it. He'd never been this turned on in his life, not even when he'd seen Summer wearing a bra by Marissa's bed.
Ryan was biting at Seth's lips now, forcing his mouth open wider and wider. Seth felt the same as when he'd had an asthma attack after running 600 meters for the Presidential fitness awards, gasping for air and feeling his hands tremble. Ryan's shoulders were tense beneath his fingers. Ryan's hands were moving his head around like a rag doll, shifting him to lick deeper. Seth moved his own hands up to feel the short fringe of Ryan's hair, and Ryan moaned and pushed his thigh between Seth's legs. He pressed his erection into Seth's, electric shocks arcing where they touched. "Oh my god." Seth pulled Ryan closer, panting as Ryan's mouth slipped over the line of his jaw to lick right below his ear. Ryan was rolling their hips together, and his hands had moved beneath Seth's t-shirt. He was having this shirt bronzed to save for all eternity.
The distant roar of the waves was taking over his hearing, but he could feel the hard throbbing of the pulse in his throat against the wet slide of Ryan's tongue. Seth's hands, greatly daring, moved to Ryan's hips and pulled him closer. Ryan's head darted down to his collarbone and bit. Seth's vision was greying out, lost in the million sparkles of feeling emanating from Ryan's mouth and hands and body.
Ryan was making low sounds in his throat and clutching Seth closer and closer as if he wanted to burrow into his thin body. His hair tickled the side of Seth's neck. Seth slid his arms to hug Ryan closer, tilting his head over top of Ryan's, trying to shelter him. Ryan was breathing fast, warm air hitting Seth's collarbone in a Sex Pistols rhythm.
Seth started talking, voice low and scratchy, knowing Ryan was about to go off the edge. "You feel so good. You feel really fucking good. I'm never letting you go. You can always find me and I'll want you. I'll never hurt you. I swear, Ryan. You'll always have me." Ryan moaned again, grinding into Seth's cock with insistent jabs. Seth mouthed Ryan's ear, nibbling on the lobe. He whispered, "I promise, Ryan. I won't let you go," and gasped as a thousand shooting stars cascaded down his spine. He felt Ryan shuddering in his arms, exactly where he should be.
He hadn't really needed words tonight, not to find his own personal nirvana. He'd just needed to listen to what Ryan wasn't saying.
Notes: Part of The O.C. Flash Fiction challenge. Written for Arielspirit – I hope you like it! Title from Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac. Thanks to Rapella for information regarding Anarchy Online; I only wish I'd been able to incorporate everything you told me. Also, thanks to Shtylez for allowing his name to be used – I really hope you get that sword soon; effort like yours should be rewarded. I'm informed that Macs don't support Anarchy Online, but given that August lasted eight weeks in Newport, I decided to let that bit of reality go. SerialKarma was the most awesome beta for this story, and helped give me inspiration to write the ending. Yay!
Disclaimer: The O.C. and its delicious boys are the creation of Josh Schwartz, not me.