Hi. waves timidly

Yeah. If any of you are still waiting for "Back in the Hole," I do promise that it's not dead. It just became very…big. And important to me. Too important to rush. So I stopped posting what I was writing. It'll come to you when it's all done. Until then, I just ask for your continued patience.

Now, as for this fic…

So happy! I wrote something new!

Did it occur to anyone, during "The Countdown," that Ryan seemed more claustrophobic than Seth? Probably not. But it did to me. So this has been in my head, since then, only just now fighting its way out.

There's more. But not yet.


Oh, yeah, I don't own anything related to "The O.C."

And, like I said in "Back in the Hole," I don't swear, but I believe Ryan does. So there's swearing. Lots. The F-word. Sorry if that offends. blushes

The Phobia

Ryan knew that everyone--if they thought about it at all--figured that his fear of heights came from some trauma at the hands of the asshole-of-the-week, while he was back in Chino.

When no one was around, that actually made him chuckle.

Not in the hey-that's-funny way, but more in the if-they-only-really-knew way.

'Cause the fear of heights? So not caused by an asshole-of-the-week.

No, that had simply been a fear that he'd always had. There was no bad experience to connect it to.

It was just a thing he was born with.

Now, his fear of tight spaces…

That was started by an asshole. And continued by another. And cemented by a third. Then perpetuated by a string of them.

Seriously--did those guys have some sort of How-to-Fuck-with-Ryan chatroom? A network, or something?

'Cause how did they all know?!

And the worst part is that he'd never told anyone. Not even Trey. Not after the first time, and not after any other times.

It didn't matter that he'd been young, seven years old, actually, since it had been his birthday. He'd still known that saying anything would only make it worse.

So he never told anyone.

Until Sandy.


Sandy had locked him in the gardening shed. Not on purpose. Ryan knew it wasn't on purpose. It can't have been.

But that didn't change the fact.

That he was still locked up. In a dark, hot space. A small, dark, hot space. Alone. In the dark. In a small space.


He'd been looking for Sandy, and Kirsten had told him that Sandy was in the backyard, looking for an old surfboard. So Ryan headed out to find the man. When he saw the open door to the gardening shed, he called out for Sandy, but there was no answer.

Taking a peek through the door, Ryan saw that the gardening shed had really become a storage space for the Cohens. It was filled with boxes, an old tea set, what looked to be an antique sewing machine, and some old furniture. Not that Ryan could find a single gardening tool, inside this gardening shed. Which made sense, since the Cohens didn't need to store any gardening equipment. They had landscapers for that, and the landscapers had their own equipment.

Curious about what might be in some of those boxes, Ryan considered going in. He hated small spaces, especially small spaces with no windows and only one door. But it was a big door, and it was wedged open with a pretty sturdy-looking rock, so…

Ryan tested the rock's hold on the door with one foot.

Sandy would be heading back out here, to shut the shed's door. So he would have a reason to wait. He needed to ask Sandy to sign a permission slip for the field trip to the nuclear power plant.

Ryan waited. He tested the rock's hold with a slightly firmer nudge. It still held.

Ryan looked around, took a deep breath, and reminded himself that he wasn't in Chino any longer. No one would lock him in.

He decided to confront one of his fears, in this controlled situation. He stepped into the shed.

He instantly felt a surge of panic, a feeling that iron bands had just been secured around his chest and were slowly squeezing the air out of his lungs. But this was ridiculous. He was okay. He turned to look out the door. He was only one step into the shed. The door was wide open. Even if the door were to swing shut, it would not lock on its own. Someone had to use the key to lock it. It would have to be deliberate. And no one would do that, deliberately, with Ryan inside.

So Ryan took another deep breath, forcing the steel bands to expand a bit, and turned back to the shed's interior. There was no light fixture and no windows, but the day outside was sunny, and it provided enough light, once Ryan's eyes had adjusted to the dimness. He began to wander, gazing at the labels on the boxes nearest to him, returning his gaze, every few moments, to the still-open door.

As time passed, and Ryan found more and more things to interest him, his worries eased. He would be okay. No one would lock him in.

He stepped deeper into the shed, and he saw a box with Seth's name on it. It was back behind an old wardrobe, and it was under a big desk lamp. Ryan walked over to it, removed the lamp, and opened the box. He found Seth's ceramic handprint from kindergarten. A picture Seth had drawn of his best friend (Captain Oats, of course). Seth's fourth grade report card.

Ryan was suddenly thrust into unforgiving, pitch blackness.

Ryan froze.



The door had been shut. He heard it lock. He heard Sandy whistling, as he walked away.

Sandy had locked him in.

But why? What had he done? How could this be happening, again?

Ryan's first mistake had been going into that storage shed at all. Standing frozen in shock and horror, just after the door closed--erasing all the light and severely muffling all sound from the outside--had been the second mistake.

If only he had reacted instantly, rushed to the door and pounded on it, calling after Sandy, his foster father would have heard him and come running, opening the door and apologizing profusely. Ryan knew he would have.

But Ryan hadn't reacted instantly.

Instead, he had frozen. Done what he'd always done, when surprised with a sudden, dark space.

He froze, afraid to make it worse, afraid to know that it was real. Because, all those other times, the few precious seconds that he spent frozen were a few seconds that he could pretend that the situation wasn't real. As long as he remained frozen in disbelief, he could imagine that the closet wasn't really locked, and that he was okay.

'Cause once he started with the panicking, it was only going to get worse.

So he stood, perfectly still, in the pitch-black, in the muffled silence.

Until he realized that Sandy would be walking away. From the gardening shed. Where the Cohens didn't usually go.

And he didn't know Ryan was there.

He couldn't know Ryan was there. Because he wouldn't have locked the door, if he knew. Right?

So Ryan rushed for where he thought the door was, but he hadn't really paid attention to the layout of the shed, when he'd wandered in, and he stumbled into something solid and immovable, falling over it and flailing wildly with his arms, attempting to grab onto something, to prevent a fall.

Which didn't happen.

Ryan was unable to maintain his balance in the dark, and he stumbled over countless unknown objects, crashing painfully into a sharp corner of something, twisting off to his left from the rebound, slamming his right shin into the corner of something else, banging his head onto something solid, finally falling to the ground, on top of what felt like a box, which collapsed underneath him.

Fuck some more.

As Ryan tried to sit up, using his left hand to push himself off the crushed box, he cried out at the sharp pain that shot through his wrist, falling back to the floor to avoid using the hand, and hitting his head, again, on something else as he went.

He lay there, breathing heavily, trying not to panic, cradling his injured left wrist, feeling a throbbing in his head.

Sandy was gone.

He'd sprained his wrist.

Sandy had walked away.

His head was bleeding.

Sandy'd locked him in.

The door was locked. Sandy had locked him in.

But it wasn't on purpose. Sandy just didn't know Ryan was in there. He couldn't have known. Ryan had been behind that big wardrobe, and he hadn't been making any noise, so how could Sandy have known Ryan was in there?

It wasn't on purpose.

But, if Sandy didn't know he was there…

Then Sandy didn't know he was there.

Which meant, how would he get out? If Sandy hadn't locked him in there on purpose, then how would he know to let him out?


Ryan decided to ignore that particular fear, at least for the moment, and assess his injuries. Although his head was bleeding, he figured that it wasn't too serious, since he wasn't even dizzy. It just throbbed. He'd had worse. He had a definite sprained wrist (possibly broken), and minor aches from his bumps, but it could be worse.


Now what?

Suddenly, the panic returned.

He was locked in. His dad had locked him in.

No. Not his dad. Sandy. Not his dad. Sandy wasn't his dad. Sandy was better than his dad.

Then why had he locked him in?

Stop it. He had to stop thinking of it that way. Sandy hadn't locked him in on purpose. It had to have been an accident.

He couldn't breathe. He began gasping for air, but he was desperate to keep quiet, because making noise only drew attention, and that would just be worse.

His panicked gasps turned to sobs, his vision began to gray out, and he faded into darkness.


At first, when Ryan woke, he couldn't figure out why the room was so dark. He never slept in the dark. Not totally. There was always some light. If it was just the nightlight in the bathroom, which he insisted was just so he didn't stub his toe in the middle of the night, or the light from the pool leaking in through the blinds that were never quite completely closed, there was always some light.

So why was it so dark?

And why was his bed so lumpy?


This wasn't a bed.


He wasn't in the pool house. He was locked in the gardening shed.

Sandy'd locked him in.

How long ago? Ryan couldn't even see his watch. There was no light.

Cell phone! Ryan couldn't believe he hadn't thought of that before! He could simply call, and someone would come out, apologetic and horrified, and they'd laugh it all off, even though Ryan's nightmares would be back again, full-force, but he'd be out, and he could breathe…

Ryan searched his two back pockets before he remembered.

His phone was in the pool house.



Why hadn't he charged it, overnight? Then he'd have it now, and he'd be out of here in minutes.


But he didn't have the cell phone, so he had to do something else.

Find his way out of here.

But which way was the door? How could he even find it?

The only way was to try.

So Ryan got up, careful not to use his injured hand, and slowly began to shuffle his way in…whatever direction he was facing. He figured that was as good a way to start as any.

He'd simply head in one direction until he couldn't go any further, then try to move in another direction. Eventually, he'd have to run into the empty space that was right in front of the door.

Unless all the stuff that had fallen in his earlier flailing masked the presence of the door.


He'd have to try.


After what felt like an hour of searching, Ryan finally found an open space. He took cautious steps forward, arms in front of him, hoping that he was even walking straight, until he hit the wall of the shed. Choosing to head to the left, he kept one hand on the wall, and began to move. Within a few steps, he hit some more boxes, and turned back to head in the other direction. Before long, his hand came to rest on the handle.

He was holding onto the door handle.

But he couldn't turn it. He couldn't bring himself to try the handle.

It was against the rules. When Lucas locked him in, he wasn't supposed to try to come out. He had to wait until he was let out, not come out on his own. He didn't want to make Lucas any madder.

Wait. Lucas? Where the hell had that come from? He hadn't thought about Lucas in years. Well, okay, so he'd thought of some issues that came from his time with Lucas, but he hadn't actually thought of the man, himself.

Ryan shook his head.

Lucas wasn't here. This was Sandy's home. And Sandy hadn't locked him in on purpose.

So Ryan tried the door.

Which, of course, didn't open.

Because Sandy had locked him in.

Stop it.

It wasn't on purpose.

Now what?

It was so hot in there. Ryan had been trying to ignore how hot he was, but there was little else to think about, especially with the sweat dripping down his face. He was so thirsty.

How long had he been here?


When Ryan woke up, his first thoughts were of water and a bathroom. He had to go, so badly.

Stupidly afraid to leave the area near the door, he'd put off relieving himself until he couldn't stand it any longer. He got up and started walking away from the door, paying careful attention to how many steps he took in which direction, hoping he'd easily find his way back to the door.

The useless door.

He bumped against a box, or something, and stopped, there. He did what he could to move things away from the wall, hoping that he wouldn't damage anything important.

He did what he had to do, then headed back in the direction of the door, again, relieved when he found the comforting handle. The useless handle. But comforting, nonetheless.

He sank down, against the door, wishing for water.

How long until they let him out?


When Hailey had locked him and Seth in the pool house, he'd been so afraid. He had started to shake, and his breathing was harsh. Seth, with his stupid overreactions and ridiculous comments, had not made it better.

Seth, pretending that he was claustrophobic.

Ryan said all the right things, all the things he always told himself, but it never helped. Like Seth knew what it was like to be locked up, unable to breathe, afraid…

He'd been thankful that Seth assumed his attitude was merely frustration at not being able to be with Marissa to ring in the New Year. That was a convenient excuse.

But it was a lot more than that.

He was so afraid.

Not of Hailey.

But what was next?

Once, his mom had trapped him in a closet, shoving a big table in front of it. Not because she wanted to beat him. But because she wanted Steve to beat him, when he got home. She knew it'd piss Steve off if he'd given her any attitude during the day, because then she gave Steve attitude, and Steve didn't like attitude.

Ryan could never remember what he'd done to piss off his mom. But she wasn't the one he was afraid of. Steve was coming home, later, and he was locked in.

So, now, Sandy would come home, there was a rager, there were drugs and drinking and naked guys in the pool, and what if Sandy was mad?

Which was stupid. Because, being locked in the pool house, it would be obvious that Ryan hadn't been part of all that.

But he still hated being locked in, and he didn't want Sandy to come home until they were let out.

And they were let out, and Ryan had again avoided anyone's realization that Ryan was claustrophobic.

But that had been a close one.

Ryan didn't think that, this time, he'd be able to avoid showing anyone how afraid he was. When they found him.

When they let him out.


What Ryan had hated to admit to himself was that he spent much of his time, sitting in the dark, leaning against the door, holding onto the useless handle above his head, crying.

He was crying.

Not sobbing or anything. But the tears were steadily streaming down his face.

He couldn't stand being locked up.


Ryan wasn't feeling well. He didn't know how long he'd been in the shed, but it had to have been at least 24 hours. He knew, because he knew the symptoms of dehydration. And he had them. He didn't ever have to pee, anymore.


Shane was pounding on him. Pounding on his head. Ryan tried to roll away, out of his reach, and rolled right into a wall. He opened his eyes, trying to see, to get away, and realized that he was locked in.

But why was Shane pounding on him while he was in? The only semi-good thing about being in was that there were no beatings. The beatings happened while he was out, not in.

So why was Shane still pounding on him? How--?


Shane wasn't here. It was just his head. His head really hurt. It was throbbing with his heartbeat. It just felt like he was being pounded.

How long had he been here?

Sandy? Can I come out now?



Ryan wasn't even hot anymore. He was cold, though. He was cold, a lot. He shivered, moaning, begging for his dad to let him out. He didn't know why his dad had put him in here, and it had never happened before, but he couldn't get out. Why wasn't Trey helping him?



There were voices. Fuck. That meant that Mike and his buddies were back, and they'd start to play their games with Ryan, again. Mike was the first asshole-of-the-week that actually made Ryan prefer being locked in. What happened out was so much worse.

So Ryan tried to pull himself away from the door, but all of his muscles hurt, so much. Mike must've really done a number on him, before he threw him in here. He ached, and he felt sick. He was shaking from the cold and the fear.

The door was suddenly thrust open, and the light was so bright, piercing through his skull, that he cried out in agony, curling around himself, throwing his arms up to shield his face, both from the light and from the blows that were sure to come.

He heard voices, urgent, and cringed away from the figures that came near, whimpering.

He was tired, and he hurt, and he was scared. He didn't think he could take another of Mike's games, right now.

"Please, Mike, please…" he groaned, his voice harsh and gravelly, "No more, 'kay? Not now? Please. I'll be quiet…"

He trailed off, no longer able to speak, sobs breaking through, body shaking with fatigue and fear.

He felt hands on his back, on his arms, pulling Ryan's arms away from his face, not that it took much effort, since he was so weak. The light was still so horrible, and he was hurting everywhere, and he knew that Mike and his friends could see his tears, and it would be so much worse, for them, but he couldn't stop them.

The voices didn't make any sense, and they were dragging him out, where the light was worse, and the stretching of his muscles as they pulled him hurt so badly that he couldn't stop himself from pleading, "Please, please leave me alone."

"Ryan, Ryan, come on kid, it's me. It's Sandy."

Sandy? Who was…Sandy. Hey. Wait. Sandy?

"I'm not going to hurt you. It's okay, now. You're out of there. It's all okay, now. Help is on the way."

Sandy. Sandy was here. He'd locked him in. Was the punishment over? He was out, now?

Ryan had to apologize, make sure that Sandy knew how sorry he was, that he'd never do it again, he'd learned his lesson, except that he hadn't learned his lesson, because he didn't know what he'd done wrong, and he couldn't do this again, he had to know how to fix it, so Sandy wouldn't have to lock him in again.

"Sandy, please…" Ryan began, only to be hushed by Sandy's quiet voice and gentle hands.

"Here, Ryan, take a small sip. It's water." He held a water bottle to Ryan's mouth, holding his head up, urging him to drink.

"I can have water? It's okay?" Ryan asked, afraid to drink it, because he wanted to be sure his punishment was out of the way, first.

Sandy's voice sounded broken as he replied, "Yeah, Kid, it's okay. You can drink the water."

Unsure of the truth of this, Ryan still took a sip, groaning in pain as the water scorched its way down his sore throat. It felt like swallowing glass, but it felt so good, too, and he had to have more. He reached up and grabbed the bottle, gulping the water as fast as he could.

Until Sandy yelped and knocked the bottle from his hands.

Trembling in fear, Ryan tried to curl back up, protecting his head, unsure of what he'd done to lose the water, since Sandy had said he could drink it, sure of only one thing. Sandy was mad.

"So-sorry, sorry Sandy, I-I-I…" Ryan couldn't get any more out before Sandy interrupted, concern lacing his voice.

"Kid, I'm sorry I scared you. Ryan, please, please, look at me."

Unable to comply, Ryan at least tried to stay still.

"Ryan, I'm so sorry. I tried telling you that you could only have a little, but you weren't hearing me. I couldn't let you drink that much, especially not that fast. You've been too dehydrated for too long, and it'll only make you sicker."

Ryan knew that Sandy wasn't telling the truth. He'd just wanted to punish Ryan, and he'd succeeded. He'd been tricked. The water had been another way to punish him. He'd fallen for it.

There were more voices, more hands, and Ryan knew, now, that they weren't Mike and his buddies, but who were they, and what were they doing? He couldn't get away, and Sandy was back by his head again.

"Ryan, the paramedics are here. They're gonna take you to the hospital, now, and we'll get you fixed up. Okay? Just let them do their job, okay?" Sandy asked softly, and Ryan could hear the concern, the fear. It didn't make any sense.

Then the paramedics gave him a shot, and he didn't remember anything else.