As always, this is for my amazing friend, Jenny. I love ya, T'hy'la!
Here is the long-ago-promised "The Phobia: Part 2". There will be a chapter 3, and possibly a chapter 4, but I make no promises as to when they will arrive.
Warnings: This story (more so in part one, than in part two) makes references to child abuse. There is also quite a bit of swearing (the "f-word"), also more so in part one than in part two. I am sorry if that offends.
Disclaimer: I own nothing related to "The OC". Please don't sue. I have nothing to give. Well, I do have a rather large student loan debt that you can take on, if you would like. Please. Feel free.
"The Phobia: Part 2"
When he woke up, Ryan felt worse than he had, before. He opened his eyes, only to find that he was still in the dark. But it felt like he was in a bed. Why was it so dark? But it wasn't pitch-black. It was just dark. There was a faint hint of light. It didn't make sense.
Where was he?
He was having trouble remembering which asshole-of-the-week was around, this time, and if said asshole was the reason for his pain.
After a few moments, he remembered.
The gardening shed.
It was an accident.
He was still hurting, and there were so many voices, and he still couldn't see, and it was still so dark, and who were all these people? Mike and his friends? Again? No, there were female voices. That meant…Lance.
Lance had lots of girlfriends, something that his mom didn't seem to mind, and Lance liked to use Ryan to entertain his ladies.
Lance liked to toy with Ryan, teasing him about being let out. If he wasn't in already, he would be, soon, unless he could apologize quickly enough. Sometimes, if he sounded pathetic enough, it would amuse Lance and his girls, and Lance would only beat him.
Which was better than being locked in.
So, unable to see, unsure of where he was, but certain of what he wanted to avoid, Ryan spoke.
"Lance," he rasped out, through his extremely sore throat, "Lance?"
The voices were interrupting him, but he knew he had to tune them out. They didn't matter. Only Lance mattered.
"Lance, please. Please don't put me back in. Please. I-I…" Unable to say more, too tired and defeated, Ryan merely slumped his shoulders, waiting for Lance's verdict.
But it wasn't Lance's voice that responded.
"Aw, Kid, there's no Lance here. It's just me. It's just Sandy."
Sandy. Oh. Yeah. The gardening shed.
"Where am I?" Ryan asked tentatively, afraid, but unable to say exactly what he was afraid of. Because he couldn't be afraid of Sandy.
"Ryan, you're still in the hospital. You're delirious, Kid. You're dehydrated and your blood pressure's too high, and your blood sugar's way too low. They've got you on all kinds of IVs, and you're getting better. Want some water, Kid?"
Water. No. Definitely not. That was a trick. Just like last time. Ryan had been offered water, he'd needed the water, and then Sandy had yelled at him, taken it away, knocked it away, and Ryan wasn't about to anger Sandy again.
He shook his head, pressing his lips into a thin line.
Sandy leaned in closer, saying, "Come on, Kid, you need to drink some water. You're really dehydrated. You'll feel better if you drink a little water." He nudged Ryan's hand with a water bottle, but Ryan recoiled from it, certain it was another trick.
"No, thank you," he replied quietly, hoping that Sandy would be satisfied and just leave.
Because he was defying his foster father. And what would happen now?
But Sandy just sighed, and Ryan felt the man shift away a bit.
Encouraged, Ryan asked, "Why's it still so dark? Why can't I see?"
Ryan flinched as he felt a hand touch his shoulder, calming when he remembered it was only Sandy.
When Sandy spoke, it was with a hitch in his voice, which Ryan couldn't understand.
"Kid, your eyes need some time to adjust to the light. You were in the dark for…for too long. Your eyes can't handle too much light, right now. So, they're bandaged up."
Ryan realized, now, that something was covering his eyes. Why hadn't he noticed that before? But they had to go. Because he had to be able to open his eyes, he had to be able to see.
Ryan reached up to his face, ready to remove the bandages, when Sandy stopped him, gently holding Ryan's forearms in his firm, unyielding grip, carefully avoiding the injured left wrist.
Sandy spoke, softly but strongly, his voice so near Ryan's ear that Ryan attempted to shift away a little, only to be held in place by the older man's hold.
"Ryan, no, Kid, you can't take those bandages off, yet. You need to--Ryan!" he cut himself off, struggling with Ryan who was now outright fighting to get his hands out of Sandy's grip and remove those bandages from his eyes.
Sandy didn't let go, stopping Ryan from removing those bandages, and he heard a flurry of activity from around the bed, and that made him more nervous, because who were these other people? And what did they want?
Other hands were helping Sandy to keep Ryan's hands from his face, and Ryan struggled harder, needing to see, to protect himself.
Sandy was talking the whole time, telling Ryan to stop, but Ryan couldn't stop, because he needed to be able to see.
"Get the restraints!" he heard an angry woman shout, and that sent Ryan into a panic.
He instantly stopped reaching for his bandaged eyes, instead curling up into a tight ball. His forearms were still held in Sandy's firm grip, but Ryan was no longer attempting to break free. Instead, he was huddled into himself.
Desperate, pleading now, Ryan prayed that Sandy would help him, that whatever he'd done to make Sandy lock him in the shed hadn't been enough to make Sandy leave him at the mercy of these people with restraints. Ryan gasped out, "Please…Sandy, please don't let them tie me down. Please."
Sandy's grip on Ryan's forearms loosened, and the man's hands became soothing, instead of restraining. One hand began to brush through Ryan's hair, and the other remained on Ryan's chest, not exactly restraining, but still not releasing its hold on Ryan. "Ryan, okay, calm down, it's okay," Sandy was saying.
Then Sandy's voice grew harsh, and Ryan flinched, afraid of the anger, but he soon realized that the words weren't meant for him.
"Get away from him! No one is restraining my son! He's fine, now; there's no need to strap him down."
Another male voice responded, "Mr. Cohen, this boy is combative. We need to restrain him for his own safety."
Before Ryan could say anything, could try to prove that he was no longer a problem, he was surprised to hear Sandy's defiant voice, defending him. "He is not combative, not anymore. If you would just take a moment to look, you would see that he is fine, now. He had a moment of panic, when he realized that his eyes were bandaged, but he is not fighting the bandages now. I can promise you that he will not remove the bandages, right, Ryan?"
This last was obviously directed at Ryan, and Ryan instantly responded, "Yes, I swear," grateful for Sandy's help, but still afraid of the anger in his tone.
"See?" demanded Sandy, still running a hand through Ryan's hair. "He's calm. There's no need for restraints."
"All right," the other voice responded, rather grudgingly. "But if he acts up again, we won't have any choice."
And that voice went away.
Leaving Ryan with Sandy.
Who had not let them strap him down.
Which was good.
Sandy was still talking to Ryan, but Ryan couldn't really understand the words. He was so tired.
But he needed to know.
"Why, what, Kid?" Sandy asked, still touching Ryan, still soothing him.
Ryan was struggling to stay awake. He had to know.
"Why did you stop them? I screwed up…"
If Ryan hadn't known better, he would've been sure that Sandy's voice held tears in it, as he answered. "Aw, Ryan, no. You didn't do anything wrong. Everything's okay, Kid. You're fine. Everything will make sense in the morning. Sleep, now. Just sleep."
"'Kay…" Ryan said, drifting off to sleep.
The next time Ryan woke, it didn't take him long to remember where he was, and why he was there. By the time he'd realized that he couldn't open his eyes, the memories all came flooding back.
The heat exhaustion.
The bandaged eyes.
The near-miss with the restraints.
The panic. Fuck. He couldn't remember much of the panic. But he knew that he'd panicked with Sandy. And that Sandy had to know, now. He had to realize that Ryan was screwed up, damaged goods. And who'd want to keep someone so damaged?
How much had Sandy heard? Did he know all of it? How out of it had Ryan been?
Ryan knew that he'd been afraid of Sandy, but he knew, now, that that fear was unfounded. He knew--he absolutely knew--with every fiber of his being that Sandy had not purposely locked him in the shed.
But he had been so scared. It's that stupid claustrophobia. It messed everything up. It made everything more confusing.
Ryan was so tempted to reach up and remove the bandages from his eyes, but he didn't want to risk restraints, again. It was bad enough to be unable to see, but being strapped down and unable to see? Would be so much worse.
So he took a deep breath and slowly stretched his body, testing for soreness and injuries. Every muscle hurt, ached and burned, like he'd run a marathon. Or suffered a beating. So, nothing new there. His left wrist throbbed, and he remembered that he'd probably sprained it, when he fell in the shed. His head was pounding, and he couldn't tell if that was from the dehydration or the bumps he'd received.
All in all, he could be a lot worse off.
Ryan started, when he heard the sound of a toilet flushing, and realized that someone must be in his hospital room's bathroom. Sandy, maybe?
As the visitor used the sink, Ryan prepared himself for the questions he knew would come. He straightened out his body and began to fumble blindly for the bed's controls. He'd feel better if he were sitting up. He still hadn't found the controls when the door to the bathroom opened, and someone began to near the bed.
Ryan froze, old habits making him wary, until he knew for sure who was in the room with him. While he was lying down in a hospital bed. Unable to see. Unable to defend himself.
The footsteps also froze, for just a moment, and then they quickened, heading towards the bed at the same time as Sandy's voice, so full of emotion, softly called out his name.
Sandy. Ryan relaxed. Sandy would help him out.
"Hey," Ryan said, quietly, surprised at how hoarse his voice was.
Sandy's cool hand lightly gripped Ryan's right forearm, squeezing gently, and Ryan was impressed that he refrained from flinching. He wasn't afraid of Sandy. He just…didn't like not knowing where touches were coming from. But he didn't flinch.
Sandy lightly rubbed his thumb up and down Ryan's forearm, as he spoke. "Kid, hey, how are you feeling? Any better? Do you know where you are?"
Knowing that Sandy had to be referring to Ryan's previous confused state, Ryan blushed a bit, mumbling, "Yeah. Hospital. Stuck in the gardening shed. How long?" With that, he turned his face to Sandy's, even though he couldn't see the man's face.
Sandy's thumb never paused its gentle rubbing, and Ryan appreciated the gesture.
"Three days, Kid. Three horrible, horrible days. Ryan, I'm so sorry…" Sandy's voice broke, and Ryan was shocked to realize that Sandy was crying. He was in tears. Because of what had happened to Ryan.
"Sandy, hey, it's okay. I'm fine. Please…" Ryan began, but Sandy cut him off.
"No, kid, it's not okay. I was so stupid. So stupid! I can't believe I did that! I almost…I could've…Ryan, if Seth hadn't figured it out…I'll never forgive myself." Sandy's grief was genuine, and it moved Ryan more than he had thought it could.
Ryan found himself wanting to comfort his foster father. He felt around until he had both of Sandy's hands in his, and he whispered, "Hey. I'm fine. It's okay."
Sandy surprised Ryan by choking back a sob and suddenly enveloping Ryan in a hug. He had leaned down and wrapped himself around Ryan, pulling him up, slightly, so he could get his arms around the boy. Ryan just held Sandy as Sandy's shoulders shook slightly, barely containing his sobs.
When the older man pulled away and gently lowered Ryan back down to the bed, they both had a moment of awkward silence, until Ryan said, "Hey, can you help me find the controls to the bed? I'd kind of like to sit up."
Instantly, Sandy started searching, crying out in triumph when he found the controls. "They fell off the bed." He handed them to Ryan, gently guiding Ryan's fingers over the controls, telling him which ones raised and lowered the bed.
Ryan didn't need the help, since he'd been in enough hospital beds to have the thing memorized by feel, but he wasn't going to tell Sandy that. Besides, the older man's touch felt nice. It was soothing and comforting. And Ryan reluctantly admitted to himself that he appreciated it.
Once Ryan had himself sitting up, Sandy seemed to remember something.
"Oh!" he cried out, instantly reaching for the controls again. Ryan relinquished them, wondering what Sandy was doing.
A moment later, a female voice came through the speaker. "Yes?"
"We were told to let you know when my son woke up. He's awake!" Sandy cried out, jubilantly.
Ryan couldn't help but grin a little, at that. Sandy sounded like a kid on Christmas.
The same female voice responded. "Okay. We'll be in, in just a moment."
"Thank you," Sandy replied, replacing the controls in Ryan's hand.
They sat in silence, again, until Ryan said, "Three days, huh? How'd you find me?"
Sandy sounded pained, again, but much more controlled. "Seth figured it out. Or, he finally remembered telling you that I was in the shed, and it was the only place left that we hadn't searched. It felt like a shot in the dark, but we were so hopeful, because we'd tried everything else, and we were desperate. Kid, when I opened that door and found you…It was like a miracle. I'm just so glad you're okay."
"Yeah, me too," Ryan replied, quietly.
"So what happened, Kid?" Sandy questioned.
Ryan was still tired, and his throat hurt, and he really wanted water, but there was this part of him that was reluctant to ask, and he didn't feel like examining that part, right now, so he turned it around on Sandy. "I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours," he said, with a little grin.
Sandy chuckled, and said, "Sounds fair to me." He took a deep breath. "We wondered where you were, when you were late for dinner, but we just figured you were running late. Which you never do, and we should've known something was wrong, but…" he trailed off, shame filling his voice.
Ryan again reached for his foster father's arm, gently squeezing it, then dropping his hand. "It's okay, Sandy; I don't blame you. Please, just tell me what else happened."
Sandy took hold of Ryan's forearm, again, lightly rubbing with his thumb. "When dinner was over, and you still hadn't showed up, we couldn't deny our worries, anymore. When we questioned Seth, and he said he hadn't seen or heard from you since earlier in the afternoon, and you hadn't told him of any plans. We called Marissa, and she hadn't spoken with you all day. She's really worried about you, by the way, but Julie took her home after the first day, and she won't let her wait here. I'll call her and tell her you're awake. She'll be really relieved."
Ryan was selfishly glad to hear that Marissa had been worried for him. It was nice to know that the girl he had a crush on was concerned. "Thanks," he said, softly. His silence seemed to encourage Sandy to continue his tale.
"So, when we ran out of people to contact, and no one had heard from you, we decided to check out your room, more carefully. We all three went out to the pool house, and searched it for any clues. By the way, you are way to clean and organized for a sixteen-year-old boy," he chuckled. "Make a mess, sometime, will ya?"
Ryan chuckled, too, then waited for Sandy to continue.
"Seth found your cell phone, and we all just stared at it, because we knew you wouldn't leave the house without it, and something had to be wrong. Kirsten was the one who finally broke the silence and called the police."
Here, Sandy's tone changed, and Ryan tensed at the anger he heard, but Sandy's thumb kept lightly rubbing Ryan's forearm, and Ryan focused on that, listening to Sandy's story.
"The cops were useless, insisting that you were a runaway, that you'd met up with some of your 'delinquent friends,' and that we were better off without you."
At this, Ryan ducked his head, pulled his arm from Sandy's grasp, and curled up a little.
Sandy must have realized what Ryan was thinking, because he was suddenly sitting on the bed, reaching for Ryan, gripping both upper arms and speaking firmly. "Ryan. We never thought that. Never. It never once occurred to any of us, even for a single second. We know you wouldn't do that, and we told the cops that. Okay, Ryan? Do you understand? We never thought you'd run away. Not for a single second."
Sandy waited, and Ryan tried to find a way to respond. He hadn't thought about the possibility that the Cohens would have thought he had run off, not until Sandy had told him what the cops had said. But, once he'd heard it, he realized that they would have been within their rights to assume that. And he was overwhelmed with gratitude that they had, apparently, not thought that.
"It's okay," he said, softly. "I mean, if you did. What the cops said. I'd understand. You know where I came from, what I did to wind up in Newport--"
He was interrupted by Sandy's vehement response. "No, Ryan. It's not okay. You belong here, with us, and we told the cops that. They didn't believe us. So we insisted to speak with their superiors. Who also didn't believe us. So we contacted Caleb's private investigator, and he came over, right away."
Sandy had calmed down, now, so he let go of Ryan's arms, but his hand was resting on Ryan's right knee, and Ryan was again struck by the thought of how comforting that touch was.
"When Joe got there, he listened to what we had to say, but he didn't sound too optimistic. His only assumption was that maybe you'd been kidnapped by someone who would hold you for ransom, since you were staying with Caleb Nichol's family. But he didn't think that was really a possibility since…" he trailed off, not wanting to hurt Ryan.
So Ryan finished the sentence for him. "Since I'm not really Mr. Nichol's family. It's okay. I get it."
Sandy breathed deeply, and continued with his story. "So, Joe started looking for you, right away, but he never had any leads. It was midnight by the time he started searching, and he never found a single lead.
"We spent the next three days, frantic, going over every conversation we'd had with you within the last week, desperate for some sort of clue. On the third day, we sat down together, the three of us, Kirsten, Seth, and myself, and talked out every minor detail of every interaction we'd had with you, on the day you disappeared. When Seth mentioned that he'd told you I was in the shed, it just clicked. For all of us. We all stared at each other for a second, then Kirsten yelled that she was calling 911, and Seth and I took off for the shed. Because…it had been so hot…and you'd been there for 3 days. Jeez, Kid, if we'd lost you…"
Ryan again comforted his foster father the best way he knew how. "But you didn't. You found me. I'm okay."
Just then, the nurse walked in, cheerful and competent. "Well, Sleeping Beauty's awake! How are you feeling, Honey?" she queried, gently pushing Sandy off of the bed and taking Ryan's wrist in her cool fingers.
"I'm fine," Ryan automatically replied, mildly embarrassed at Sandy's and the nurse's laughs.
"Oh, sure, Honey, you feel fine," the nurse countered, sticking a thermometer in his ear for a moment, then removing it. "You look like you feel fine. Is he always this self-effacing?" she asked Sandy, with a grin in her voice.
"Oh, yes," Sandy replied. "It's very difficult to get him to complain."
"Well, Honey, if you want out of here, any time soon, you're going to have to tell us how you really feel, get it?"
Ryan couldn't help but grin at her calm, caring tone, and he said, "All right. I'm sore. My head hurts. And I'm…" He trailed off.
Concerned, the nurse patted his shoulder. "You're what, Honey?"
Hesitantly, not sure why he was so reluctant to say it, Ryan swallowed and whispered, "I'm thirsty."
"Oh, is that all?" questioned the nurse, who instantly began working with something beside the bed. "I'll just bet you're thirsty. Three days in that hot shed, with no water. You've gotta be parched." With that, she took Ryan's right hand in her left, and guided it to the water glass in her right hand. She waited until he had a firm grip on it, and then released his hand.
Ryan slowly raised the glass to his lips, and took a small sip. It hurt, going down, but it felt good, at the same time.
The nurse went on, talking to Sandy, this time. "Why didn't you offer that boy a drink, Mr. Cohen? You had to know he'd be thirsty."
Sandy had knocked away the water. Ryan had been scared. Then, in the hospital, Sandy had tried to get Ryan to drink, and Ryan had been afraid to take it. Shit. Stupid claustrophobia. Screwed everything up.
Ryan finished his drink, and saved Sandy from the nurse's wrath by asking, "Can I get these eye bandages off?"
She took Ryan's empty glass, refilled it and handed it back to him, waiting for him to take another sip before answering him. "We'll have the ophthalmologist come in, a bit later, to do that."
Ryan voiced the fear that he'd been muffling. "Will I…is there any damage?"
"To your eyes?" the nurse asked. "No, we really don't think so. There was just no light in that shed, for so long, and you reacted so badly to the light when they pulled you out, that the doctors just wanted to be careful to avoid damaging your eyes. I'm sure it'll all be fine, when the doctor comes to take off the bandages."
Ryan breathed a sigh of relief. He'd been hoping that would be the answer. Still, he'd feel better when they took off the bandages. For many reasons. He's feel safer. And he wanted proof, for himself, that he could still see.
The nurse patted his shoulder and turned to leave, saying, "Keep drinking that water. If you need to go to the bathroom, either have your father help you, or call one of us for help. We don't want you hurting yourself, further."
Ryan merely nodded, while Sandy said, "You've got it."
There was another moment of silence, as Ryan heard a scraping across the floor of the hospital room, nearing his bed. He figured Sandy was dragging a chair to the bed, and was comforted in the knowledge that Sandy was close. He still had one more question, though. "How long have I been here?"
Sandy sighed, deeply, and answered, "Just a day and a half, kid. A day and a half. Other than the three days you were missing, this was the longest day and a half I've ever endured. Oh! Seth and Kirsten! They're gonna kill me!"
With that, Sandy instantly reached for the phone and began dialing.
Ryan grinned, listening to Sandy stammer his way through the explanation that Ryan had been awake for a good fifteen minutes, and that Sandy had not called them.
When Sandy hung up, he told Ryan that Kirsten and Seth would be there in twenty minutes. "They were here, for most of the time, Kid, but I made them go home and get some rest. I hope you know that they were so worried for you, and they wanted to stay, but there was no way I was leaving, so I figured someone should get some sleep. Please say that you understand that they wanted to be here?"
Ryan grinned, again, pleased to hear that the whole family was so concerned about him. "Yeah, Sandy, I get it. It's cool."
"Good," Sandy breathed a sigh of relief. They sat in companionable silence, again, before Sandy spoke.
"So, Kid. Who's Lance?"
Ryan jolted a bit at the unexpected shock. He'd known that Sandy would want some explanation of his panicked state, but he'd been hoping for some sort of lead-up. Plus, Lance? Fuck. So Ryan had said some names, while he was freaked out. How many names had he mentioned? What details had he let slip? What did Sandy know? What would Sandy push to find out?
How was he going to get out of this?
Sandy reached out and took Ryan's forearm in his hands, again, and this time Ryan did flinch. When Sandy maintained his grip, Ryan started to get a little nervous, and he shifted away, grateful when Sandy let him go. They were both quiet, again, until Sandy pushed.
"Kid? Please. Let me in."
Ryan breathed in a weary sigh. "I will, Sandy. I'll tell you everything. Everything you want to know. Just…"
"Just what, Kid?" Sandy asked, taking Ryan's arm in his, again lightly rubbing with his thumb.
Maybe Sandy knew this was soothing to Ryan. Maybe not. Either way, it did allow Ryan to say what he was thinking.
"Can we just…wait? I need to wait."
"Wait for what?"
"I need to be able to see."
Sandy waited for more, but Ryan wasn't forthcoming. So Sandy went over this in his head, trying to figure it out. When he realized he couldn't figure out what Ryan meant, he asked for clarification. "Need to see what, Ryan?"
"I just…if I'm going to talk about…that…stuff…I just need to see."
Sandy got it. "Oh. Sure. We'll wait until the doctors remove your eye patches, and everything is okay. But then? You'll talk?"
"Yeah." Ryan settled back into the pillows, resigned. "I'll talk."