A/N: Tremendous apologies to those reading my other stories. I've had a string of events contribute to my lengthy absence. I had loaned my sister my computer for a while and then shortly after I got it back my house got broken into resulting in the theft of my laptop among other things. We then had to shell out money to replace doors and I put off buying a new computer because the husband's work situation is iffy thanks to the financial meltdown. So I was reluctant to spend the money. The computer has now been replaced and I'm trying to get back into the swing of things but I lost all of my notes on where I wanted to go with the stories and I need to take the time to reread them from the start so I can jumpstart my muses again. In the meantime, I started this story. lol. Yes, I know. Just what you all need. Another story that might leave you hanging annoyingly at some point. Alas, I must do what I must do to get my muses cooperating enough to finish the other two stories. I've started on the next chapter of "Long Way..." but haven't been able to get into the right frame of mind for "Deception" yet. At any rate, I thought I'd go ahead and upload this current story if for nothing else than to give you all this little update on the state of affairs regarding my other two stories.

A/N 2: AU story about how Ryan comes to Newport. Rated M for language, mature themes and mention of rape. Nothing graphic.


Chapter One

Sandy Cohen stepped out of the jail, having met with a client who had been picked up on a parole violation. He spots a boy sitting on the sidewalk, leaning against the building smoking a cigarette. He glances at his watch. The sun was going down and it would be dark soon. This wasn't an area that one would want to be out in after dark.

"Everything ok, kid?", he asks. The kid is facing away from him, his eyes on the entrance to the facility. He doesn't acknowledge having been spoken to. Sandy steps closer.

The boy starts as he spots him in his peripheral vision. He looks up at Sandy warily and stands, but says nothing.

Sandy asks again, "Is everything all right?"

The boy frowns and nods, taking another drag of his cigarette.

Sandy waits for some type of communication but when none comes, he sighs. He takes another stab at it. "You need a ride or can I call someone for you?"

The boy is looking away again and, as before, offers no reply.

Sandy frowns and taps him on his shoulder. His suspicions confirmed as the boy jumps at the contact. He can't hear. Just then a car comes screeching to a halt where they stand. The boy steps back as a woman exits the car and stalks up to them.

"What the hell, Ryan?", she yells. "What the hell did you boys do now?"

Ryan looks down and the woman none too gently grabs a hold of his face and forces him to look up and meet her eyes. "Uh-uh. I'm talking to you. What kind of family I got, huh? I've only had this job for a week and I get a call that my good for nothin' son has been arrested. Again!", she rants as she briefly catches Sandy's eye and then turns her attention back to Ryan. "...and you. What the hell am I supposed to do with you? Huh? You're more trouble than you're worth. Get in the car."

Sandy steps up. "Ma'am? I..uh, I'm a lawyer. I might be able to help....", he offers, not liking the way she's speaking to her son.

She turns to Ryan. "You didn't get arrested, right?" At the shake of Ryan's head she turns back to Sandy. "I don't need you. I'm done with Trey. He can rot in there like his father for all I care", she spits out. She grabs Ryan's face again and says, "I said get in the car. Now, Ryan!"

She releases him and immediately his head hangs low. He briefly looks up and gives an embarrassed look toward Sandy and does as he's told. The woman gets into the car and speeds away.

All Sandy can think is, "poor kid" as he stands on the sidewalk and watches the car disappear from view. He shakes it off and heads home to Newport.

The boy crosses his mind over the course of the next couple of weeks but he soon fades from his thoughts as his busy life takes hold.


Seth Cohen sits alone at a table in the corner of the Crab Shack, doodling in a sketch book. He eyes the room and sees everyone else in pairs or groups of friends and sighs. God he hates Newport. He had friends in Berkeley. He wished they'd move back. His eyes land on a busboy clearing tables. He's never seen him before and deduces that he's new. As the boy starts to clear the table next to his he clears his throat and says, "Hey. How's it going?". The boy doesn't respond. Great. Even the help thinks they're too good to talk to me. He slumps in his chair and resumes his drawing.

Caleb Nichol enters and his eyes sweep the tables searching out his grandson. He's never quite adjusted to life in Newport and Caleb feels guilty. He was the one that talked Kirsten and Sandy into staying once his wife died. Seth is a unique boy and uniqueness doesn't go over well in cookie cutter Newport, full of spoiled trust fund kids. He spots the boy and frowns at his dejected posture. "Seth", he says with a smile as he approaches the table.

Seth starts and looks up. "Grandpa? What are you doing here?", he asks as he sits up straighter.

"I was in the area and I know you like to come here. I thought I'd see if I caught you and grab a bite to eat. Are you hungry? Would you like to join me?", Caleb asks as he takes a seat.

Seth sighs, looking around the room. How sad is this? Nothing but kids hang out here pretty much and here he is with his grandpa. Not that he doesn't appreciate the effort. His grandpa has been trying to get him interested in all kinds of things. He taught him to sail and tried to get him interested in his business, The Newport Group. His mom works there and he knew that his grandpa would love it if he went into the family biz but he was bored out of his skull whenever he was there. "Sure, grandpa", he says with all of the enthusiasm he can muster. They order and make idle chit chat about school and possibly going for a sail the coming weekend.

They finish eating and after a few moments the boy Seth attempted to strike up a conversation with appears at his table, presumably to remove their empty plates. Seth ignores him and begins to doodle again while the table is cleared. He hears his grandpa say thank you and looks up when, once again, the kid remains silent. The kid's head is cocked and he's obviously checking out Seth's art work. He catches Seth's eye and gives a shy smile. He points at the drawing and then pulls out an pad of paper and writes something on it. He holds it out to Seth.

"That's really good."

A smile breaks out on Seth's face as he realizes the boy hadn't been ignoring him earlier. He just couldn't hear him.

"Uh, thanks", he says very loudly as if that would help. Some heads turn to him and his grandpa frowns. He sheepishly looks down. He looks up again and sees the boy looking at him with eyebrows raised. "I, uh....", he starts to explain what an idiot he is but then wonders if the kid has any idea of what he's saying. "Do you, uh, read lips?", he asks carefully as he points to his mouth. The boy nods but also puts a hand up and teeters it back and forth to indicate that it's hit or miss sometimes. Seth nods and says, "cool....uh, I'm Seth". The boy writes on his pad.

"Seth?", he confirms. Seth starts to introduce his grandpa but Ryan is writing something. "Caleb Nichol. I know", Seth nods. Of course. Everyone knows who Caleb Nichol is. Ryan writes something else and shows Seth first and then Mr. Nichol. "My name is Ryan. Nice to meet you". He looks over his shoulder to see his boss watching. "I'd better get back to work", he scribbles and then shoves the pad back into his apron. He gives Seth a smile and grabs his bin and moves on to some other tables.

Caleb doesn't miss the way the short exchange between them has perked Seth up. By the time they leave he's clearly in a much better mood than when Caleb arrived.

As they go to leave, Seth stops and taps Ryan on the shoulder carefully. He nervously shifts on his feet a little as he says they're taking off and offers a tentative, "See you around."

Ryan gives a surprised smile and nods. Most of the kids just ignore him. Seth gives one final wave and a "Later, dude" and they make for the exit.

Caleb casts a final glance at Ryan, who gives an acknowledging nod and turns back to his work. He smiles. Perhaps his grandson has finally found himself a friend.


Seth enters the kitchen with a profound spring in his step that Kirsten hasn't seen a while. She glances at Sandy who is standing beside her making himself a sandwich.

"Hello, mother. Hello, father.", Seth says as he comes around and steps up between them, planting a kiss first on Kirsten's cheek and then on his father's and then bounds out of the kitchen and up the stairs to his room.

Sandy blinks and then looks at Caleb, who has now entered the kitchen. "What the hell was that about?", he asks amused. Seth's demeanor is much more subdued most of the time anymore and he sure as hell hasn't kissed him on the cheek, or given any kind of physical show of affection since he was twelve and Sandy had bought him his first skateboard. Something that Kirsten was none too happy about.

Caleb reaches down and snags one of Sandy's pickles and pulls his hand back quickly, avoiding a smack. "I took a chance that I'd find him at The Crab Shack. We had lunch and there's a new boy working there. Limited interaction as it was, they seemed to make a connection. I think he may have found someone he'd like to be friends with", Caleb explains.

Kirsten smiles and kisses him on the cheek. "That's wonderful. I hate him being alone all of the time....and thanks, dad. I appreciate the way you reach out to him."

"Well, it's the least I can do. After all, I am the reason he was ripped from his home and transplanted here in Newport", Caleb says.

"Cal. We're the ones that made the decision", Sandy offers, knowing how Caleb blames himself for Seth's isolation. Changing the subject, he asks, "So, who's this boy he met."

"We didn't speak to him much. His name is Ryan. He's a busboy....and he's deaf. So, communication was limited."

Sandy's head shot up at that. "Ryan? His name is Ryan?", he asks. Not that it would be impossible but two boys named Ryan who happen to be deaf? Not likely. "Blond hair, blue eyes and about Seth's age?"

Kirsten looks at him questioningly as Caleb acknowledges that Sandy's description is spot on. "How did you know, Sandy?", she asks.

"I met him a few weeks ago. As I was leaving the jail in Chino", he explains.

Kirsten frowns, "Jail? What was he doing at the jail?"

"From what I could gather, his brother had been arrested. He was waiting for his mother to pick him up. Let me tell you, she was a real piece of work. You should have heard the way she was talking to the poor kid", he says with a shake of his head as he remembers the rough way she handled him and the harsh words spoken.

"The way who was talking to what poor kid?", Seth asks as he re-enters the kitchen.

"Oh, uh, the kid you met today", Sandy answered.

Seth's eyebrows raise, "You know Ryan? How?"

"As I was just explaining to Cal and your mother, I met him in Chino. I met with a client and saw him sitting on the sidewalk when I came out. Apparently, his brother had been arrested. His mother was not happy and she said some very harsh things to Ryan. What do you know about him, Seth?", Sandy asked. His curiosity about the boy now peaked. Wondering how old he was and why he was working here in Newport. He'd need parental permission to get a job, and his mother didn't seem like the type that would give it.

Seth shrugged. "Not much. Just that he talked to me. Well, not talked. Wrote. Communicated. With me. In written form. On his own initiative. Which is more than I can say for anyone else I've met in this town. At least in a way other than to insult me. Figures he's from out of town", Seth says with a frown. "So, his brother's a criminal and his mom's a bitch?"

"Seth", Kirsten admonishes. "Don't say bitch."

"Sorry", Seth mumbles. "So the plot thickens. He's from Chino, cleaning up after the Newport elite......can I invite him over sometime? He seemed nice and now I'm really curious to see what his story is. Maybe I could turn it into a comic", Seth ponders aloud. "Deaf kid from the wrong side of the tracks meets up with a social outcast from the right side of the tracks. Together they team up to strike a blow to the Newport bubble and bring a new balance to the world."

Caleb shakes his head at chatterbox Seth being friends with a deaf boy. In its way it is a perfect match. He chuckles.

"And just what, pray tell, is so funny, grandfather?", Seth asks as he squints his eyes accusingly.

"Just musing to myself what an interesting pair the two of you would make", Caleb answers.

Kirsten and Sandy both smile in agreement.

"Well, honey, if you'd like to invite him over that's fine with me. I'd like to meet him, seeing as all of you have", Kirsten says. She's a little worried about his family background but it wouldn't be fair to judge this boy by their deeds. Seth needs a friend and from the sound of it so does this boy.

Sandy agrees. "I think that would be a great idea, son", he states, hoping the boy agrees. He'd hate to see Seth reach out only to be rebuffed for some reason.


Over the next couple of weeks Seth continues his usual routine of stopping at The Crab Shack a few times a week. Ryan often joins him for lunch when he takes his break and Seth is able to learn scant bits of information about him. He lives in Chino. It's just him and his mother, and her boyfriend AJ, now that his brother Trey got arrested. He's trying to work and save money so he can get a place of his own as soon as he's old enough. He wasn't born deaf. He lost his hearing after an accident when he was six. He doesn't know sign language because his mother didn't want to learn and didn't see the sense in his learning. He can talk but he doesn't like to. The only one he feels comfortable talking around is his brother.

Today, Seth decides that they've gotten to know each other well enough to invite him over to his house after work. He's a little nervous but it seems that Ryan likes hanging out with him. He skids his skateboard to a stop in front of The Crab Shack and looks inside. He smiles as he spots Ryan working. The smile turns into a frown, however, as he sees Luke Ward talking to him and Ryan seems to be smiling at whatever he's saying. His shoulders slump at the idea of Ryan being friends with a Neanderthal like Luke. He contemplates turning around and going back home for a moment before squaring his shoulders and going inside.

"Hey", he says to Ryan as he approaches. Ryan had seen him come in the door and waved.

"You know this queer?", Luke sneers.

Ryan frowns and writes, "WTF? Not cool, dude."

Luke says, "He's a geek, man".

"I think he's cool", Ryan writes.

Luke scoffs. "He likes comics and he dresses funny."

"Says the guy who shaves his chest", Seth mumbles.

Ryan misses Seth's words but sees Luke's face flush with anger as he starts to stand. He puts a hand on his chest and gives a look that asks, "what's going on?".

"He just made a crack about me shaving my chest!", Luke states to Ryan before tossing a glare at Seth.

He turns back when he hears a snort escape Ryan.

"Well, you do...and you said he dressed funny", Ryan writes.

Luke frowns and grumbles, "well he does....and he talks funny, too."

Ryan shrugs and, with a smirk, scribbles, "I can't hear him anyway."

Luke rolls his eyes and smiles. "Lucky you." He's quiet for a second before turning to Seth and offering a less than enthusiastic apology. He's never liked Seth. He doesn't really know why. The kid has just always annoyed him, but if he's friends with Ryan then he'll just have to deal.

Seth can tell that there's not a whole lot of feeling behind it but he accepts the apology. He's disappointed that Ryan is friends with the guy but he did defend him to Luke. So maybe he'd just have to deal. "So, uh, how'd you guys meet? Here at The Crab Shack?", he asks.

Ryan shakes his head and motions for Luke to tell the tale.

Luke smirks and says, "I saved his ass".

Ryan rolls his eyes but then nods in agreement.

"He almost got hit by a car. I pulled him out of the way", Luke says anti-climatically.

Seth raises his eyebrows and says, "wow. A very suspenseful, action packed story. It could be a movie. Really dude, I was on the edge of my seat."

Luke frowns and Ryan smacks him. "Lighten up, man", he writes to him. Then writes, "you're a funny guy, Seth."

Seth smiles and Luke settles into what could only be called a pout as Ryan writes out the rest of the story.

"I was here looking for a job and was looking at the classifieds. No one would give me the time of day and I was getting pissed. Wasn't watching where I was going. One minute I'm stepping off the curb and the next I'm getting yanked back and fall on my ass. I look up and see Luke's ugly mug ", he writes with a smile, then shows it to Seth and Luke.

"He was a little stunned for a second and then he's looking at me like I'm talking in a foreign language and I notice him trying to focus on my lips. I figured he was either deaf or wanted a kiss. Judging from the look on his face, I settled on the former", Luke deadpans. "I pulled him up and we started talking. I told him there was an opening here", he finishes explaining.

Seth nods. "Cool", is all he says. So, they've known each other for a few weeks. He guesses he can understand a friendship being born of that.

They lapse into a bit of an awkward silence until Ryan writes that he has to get back to work. Seth and Luke study each other and then slowly nod. Ryan eyes them both bemusedly as they seem to have a standoff to see who will leave first. Luke finally says that he has to go and meet his dad. He asks Ryan if they're still on for his brothers' game on Saturday, with him and his dad. He had asked Ryan if he wanted to go and Ryan had shrugged an agreement. He and Ryan slap hands and then bump fists as Luke says he'll catch him later. Once he's gone Seth shakes off the jealous feeling he'd gotten at finding out they were hanging out outside of his work and gets to the point of his coming to The Crab Shack. "So, uh, I was wondering what time you get off?"

"In about an hour. Why?", Ryan asks.

"Just wondered if you wanted to maybe hang out at my house for a while before you go back to Chino", Seth says.

Ryan frowns and scribbles, "I don't know, dude.....", he hedges. He likes Seth but he's not too sure about meeting his parents. His grandfather seemed cool but he hasn't had the best luck with parents. They get all weird around him when they realize he's deaf. He looks at Seth and sees sheer disappointment on his face. He scrambles to try to explain. He writes, "I don't know if I'm ready to do the parent thing."

Seth frowns, "You're going to a game with Luke and his dad".

"I met him when I met Luke and he kinda helped convince Jake to hire me here", Ryan explains.

Seth nods. "Oh, well, actually, you already met my dad, too. Sort of. In Chino.", Seth says. "Rumpled suit. Dark hair. Bushy eyebrows? In front of the jail?"

Ryan searches his memory and nods in recognition. He's frowning warily.

"Small world, huh?", Seth says as he chews his lip. "My grandpa mentioned you when we went home that first day I met you here and dad recognized your description from when he was meeting with a client."

Knowing by "description" that Seth means the fact that he was deaf, he takes a breath and writes, "Oh. Ok. Are you sure it's ok with your folks?"

Seth frowns, "Sure. Why wouldn't it be?"

"Your dad met me at a jail. Is he ok with you inviting me over?"

Seth nods emphatically. "Oh, yeah. It's cool. I think he and my mom are just happy I'm asking someone over. I don't really do that much. Or, like, ever. Ever since I've lived here I've been treated like I had the plague....by Luke and his buddies, and everyone else practically. I just thought we could hang out. Play some video games", he asks, eyebrows raised hopefully, mimicking the motions of having a PlayStation controller in his hands.

Ryan studies him a moment then chews his lip for a second before agreeing. "Ok. Yeah. That'd be cool". He doesn't really have anything that he's eager to get back to in Chino. Although, underneath, he's a little uneasy. Luke's dad is pretty cool. His mom, too, although she hasn't really been around much when he's hanging out with Luke. He doesn't want to push his luck, though. Over the course of his life many people had felt sorry for him and tried to "help" but instead making things much worse. Most people would only go so far and then wash their hands of the situation having done their good deed for the "poor unfortunate boy" by reporting their concerns about his home life to the department of child and family services. Once that happened, no one could seem to decide what or who was best for him and no one was ever willing to go that extra mile and take him in permanently and he'd eventually end up back with his mother after a stint in foster care or a group home.

"Cool", Seth says with a smile. "I'll just hang out until your shift is over", he states as he motions to a table.


Ryan is nervous. His stomach doing flip flops as they approach Seth's house. He vaguely remembers the man with the bushy eyebrows but now he was about to enter his house. Meet his wife. He takes a breath and readies himself for the pitying looks and fleeting eye contact as he follows Seth in. He stops as he steps into the foyer. His eyes taking in the immaculate setting before him, much like Luke's house. He's startled as Seth grabs his arm. He reads Seth's lips as he shrugs an apology before pulling him along. They enter the kitchen and all eyes turn toward them. A stunningly beautiful blonde rises from the table with a polite smile to him. Her smile brightens as she greets Seth. Ryan can't control the pang he feels in his stomach as he tries to remember if his mother has ever looked at him like that. Ryan doesn't catch the words exchanged, as he can only see the back of Seth's head. His mother seems to ask him about his day but that's all he catches as she starts to flit around the kitchen, nervously avoiding looking at him. He's used to that reaction. He looks from her to Seth, trying to catch something that would allow him an understanding of the conversation but they're both moving too much and talking too quickly. She turns to Ryan with a questioning look. Puzzled, Ryan looks to Seth. Seth says something to her and her face flushes and suddenly she's in front of him offering apologies as she uncomfortably fingers her necklace. She then carefully asks him if he would like something to drink. Ryan smiles and nods, attempting to put her at ease. Seth steps to the refrigerator and holds up a bottle of water in one hand and a bottle of juice in another and asks him which he'd like. Ryan takes the water, glad to have something to do with his hands. He hates meeting new people. They never know how to act around him. It's usually either them trying too hard to communicate and making him feel like they're talking to a two year old or they talk to everyone but him making him feel like he's invisible. He turns back to the table and his eyebrows rise as he realizes someone else is here. He recognizes Caleb, relaxing slightly at seeing a familiar face. He only met Caleb that one day and only for a few seconds but he seemed nice enough and didn't look at him like he was something you'd scrape off the bottom of your shoe.

Caleb watches as Seth finally makes proper introductions. Ryan offers a shy smile with a blush creeping into his cheeks as Kirsten smiles and says how happy she is to meet him. When Ryan turns to him he says, "Good to see you again, Ryan". Ryan steps to the table and shakes his hand firmly. Seth moves beside him, drawing his attention and motions to the family room so they can play a few rounds of PlayStation. Ryan ducks his head and follows Seth out of the room.

Kirsten plops down in a chair at the table and puts her face in her hands for a second. She casts a quick glance toward the family room and then turns back to Caleb. "Well, I handled that well", she says sarcastically.

"It was fine, Kiki", Caleb tries to reassure.

"No, dad. I was completely disrespectful and rude turning my back on him as I was talking. I just.....I wasn't thinking", Kirsten sighs. "I don't know why I was so nervous. I probably made him so uncomfortable."

"He's a teenage boy. They all feel awkward when meeting friends' parents for the first time. Besides, I'm sure he's used to people needing a little time to figure out how to speak to him. Seth drew the attention of the whole restaurant at The Crab Shack, he was speaking so loudly when he first realized that Ryan couldn't hear. He's fine, Kiki", Caleb says as he looks at the boys who are already entrenched in some video game battle. Seth is making just as much noise as usual, animatedly immersing himself in the game. Ryan casts amused glances at Seth as he also tries to focus on the game.

Kirsten and Caleb continue to work at the kitchen table, with Kirsten stopping once to bring the boys a plate of cookies and a couple of glasses of milk. Otherwise leaving the boys in peace. Their attention is occasionally drawn to the family room at Seth's exclamations and apparent frustration. Ryan, it seems, is pretty good that the video games and is giving Seth more than a run for his money.

Sandy enters the house to the sounds of video games and Seth being louder than usual. He stops as he stands in the entry to the family room, taking in Ryan intently focusing on the game and Seth shaking his head saying, "no no no. No way! No way you just did that!". Which wouldn't be so odd if it weren't for the fact that Seth now has two tissues hanging out of his ears, having been twisted and stuffed into them to block out sound.

"He wanted to try it Ryan's way, to figure out why Ryan is beating him so handily", Kirsten's soft voice comes from behind.

He whispers, "Why didn't he just turn the sound down?"

Kirsten shrugs and whispers back, "He said it's a zen thing. He needed the whole experience, with no outside disturbances from me and dad"

"Why are we whispering?", Sandy asks with a smile as he turns to Kirsten and kisses her.

"OH, EW! WE HAVE COMPANY!", Seth suddenly yells.

They turn to see Seth and Ryan watching them. Ryan quickly ducks his head and averts his eyes, studying the controller as if it were the first time he'd laid eyes on it.

Sandy walks into the room, setting his briefcase on the floor. Ryan looks back up and Sandy says that it's good to see him again. Ryan simply smiles and nods and starts chewing his lip. Sandy asks who's winning and Seth frowns while Ryan smirks. That answers that question.

"BEGINNER'S LUCK.....", Seth starts to say.

Sandy reaches up and pulls the tissue out of his ears. "Take it down a notch, son", he says with a smile.

"Oh. Right. Uh, anyway, yeah, it's just beginner's luck. On this system. In this house. Next time, I'm so kicking your ass", Seth declares as he turns back to Ryan.

"Seth...", Kirsten starts.

"I know. Don't say ass", Seth waves off.

Sandy catches Ryan's eye, "You joining us for dinner?"

Ryan frowns and appears to think about it.

"Yeah, come on, dude. After that battle we need some nourishment", Seth states. "Mom sucks at cooking but there's a lot of great take out we can order".

Ryan's eyes shoot to Kirsten's to gage her reaction to what Seth said about her cooking. That would have earned him a smack in the mouth. She doesn't look angry, though. She gives an embarrassed smile and shrugs. "It's true. I'm a horrible cook. Those cookies? Our housekeeper baked them", Kirsten admits.

Seth smacks him on the arm to get his attention. "You are so totally coming over again because Rosa never bakes me cookies anymore. She only baked them because she heard me telling mom I was going to ask you to come over today", he says in a flurry of words.

Ryan frowns and grabs his pad of paper and writes, "I didn't quite catch all of that. You were talking a little too fast. You want me to come over again?"

Seth frowns, "Oh, uh, sorry dude. Even people who can hear say I talk too fast. I'll work on that but, yeah, it'd be cool if you could hang out again."

"I'd like that. I had fun kicking your ass", Ryan writes.

"Oh. Oh, is that how it's going to be?", Seth says with an incredulous nod. "I see. Well, revenge is sweet, my friend, and next time you will find out just how sweet it is. Er, I mean, I will find out how sweet it is. You will be feeling nothing but the agony of defeat. Mark my words."

"Big talk, Seth. Just a lot of big talk", Ryan writes with a smug matter of fact look on his face.

Seth gives him the evil eye, "We shall see, my friend. We shall see.....So, dinner?"

Ryan glances at his watch and then starts writing. "Sorry, man. It's getting late and I need to catch the bus home."

"My mom or dad could give you a ride after, right?", Seth says as he turns to his parents.

Sandy and Kirsten nod and say, "Of course". "That would be no problem".

Ryan's eyes trail across the expectant faces and, after a moment, nods in agreement. It'd be nice to have a decent meal. He was trying to save money so really only usually ate once a day.

Seth's face lights up and he says, "Cool. I'll grab the menus", and then bounds out of the room.

Kirsten nervously fidgets with her necklace for a moment and then excuses herself to gather her paperwork and clear off the kitchen table.

Sandy smiles and starts to approach Ryan, stopping as he notices the boy tense and take a slight step backwards. He tries not to frown at the action and opens his mouth to speak but cannot seem to find any words. An embarrassed flush creeps into Ryan's cheeks as he ducks his head. The awkward moment is broken as Seth returns to Ryan's side and they focus on the take out menus. Sandy slips out of the room and back into the kitchen.

Seth and Ryan remain in the family room until dinner arrives. Caleb is invited to stay and they all take a seat at the table. Things are a little awkward as they try to make conversation with Ryan in between bites. They try to make them "yes" or "no" questions and Ryan sets down his fork to write a more detailed answer on occasion, with Seth reading it aloud. Dinner finished, Ryan conveys his thanks and lets them know that he really needs to get home. He tries to shrug off a ride, though, writing that he can make the next bus but Caleb insists on at least driving him to the bus stop on his way home. Feeling that he wouldn't be making Caleb go out of his way, Ryan agrees. He smiles and writes his thanks for dinner to Kirsten and Sandy and then he and Seth tap fists and Seth happily says that he'll catch Ryan later.

The ride to the bus stop is short and bathed in silence. Caleb had reached down and turned off the radio when they entered the car, misguidedly feeling guilty about being able to hear music. He opens his mouth to speak a few times but closes it again when each time he looks over Ryan is looking away and wouldn't be able to read his lips. Caleb sighs, thinking what a shame it is that the boy can't hear. He starts to wonder if he's always been deaf or if his whole world has been devoid of sound. The short stretch of silence in the car is deafening to him even though it's not complete. He can still hear the traffic surrounding them. The soft breathing of the boy next to him.

They reach the stop and Ryan finally turns to him and smiles. He gives a nod in appreciation and starts to open the door. Caleb's hand on his arm stops him. The boy jumps slightly at the contact and Caleb can see a flicker of fear in his eyes. He fights to keep his reaction from showing and instead conjures up a smile as he removes his hand. "I just wanted to say thank you for befriending my grandson. He doesn't make friends easily and, well, you seem like a nice boy", Caleb says slightly awkwardly. The boy studies his face and, for a moment, Caleb begins to wonder if he understood what was said but Ryan slowly nods with a lopsided smile and a slight blush rises in his cheeks. He reaches for his pen and paper and writes, "Seth's cool. Tell him I'll see him around?". Caleb smiles and nods and the boy hops out of the car and jogs to the bus stop.


It's only a few minutes before the bus comes but it's dark by the time he makes it back to Chino. As he approaches his house he slows and takes a breath, hoping that his mom and AJ are in the bedroom and he can slip in without notice. He carefully opens the door and enters, releasing the breath he was holding. The living room is vacant. His eyes trail over the empty beer cans and half empty bottle of rum on the coffee table. It's kind of early for them but maybe they're already passed out for the night. He heads toward his bedroom but just as he's entering the room a door across the hall swings open. AJ steps out and grabs Ryan's arm, spinning him around.

"Where the fuck have you been?", AJ snarls. "We need cigarettes. Go get some", he orders.

Ryan takes a deep breath, trying to slow the beating of his heart. He hates when AJ comes at him out of nowhere. He can smell the booze on AJ's breath and studies his eyes. He's on something. Annoyed, AJ repeats the demand and Ryan decides it would be best to just do what he says. He nods and AJ lets go of his arm and goes back into the bedroom and slams the door shut.

Ryan hurries to the gas station a couple of blocks away. The clerk knows him and if no one else is around he sells him cigarettes despite Ryan being underage. He knows that most of the time they aren't for him anyway. Ryan smiles a thank you and hurries home. When he returns AJ and his mother are in the living room, along with a guy he's never seen before. His mother doesn't even look up when he enters. Her focus on the mirror in front of her as she drags a razor blade through a small pile of cocaine, making three neat rows to snort. The strange man's eyes trail over his body looking him up and down. Ryan quickly hands the cigarettes to AJ and goes to his room and closes the door. God, he can't wait to get out of here.

About an hour later, Ryan gets up to go to the bathroom. Glancing out into the living room as he makes his way down the hall he notices the man is still there with Dawn and AJ. The room is filled with smoke and the man locks eyes with his and smiles a somewhat unsettling smile. Ryan looks away and hurries to take care of his business and get back to his room.

Dawn reaches out to pass Mickey the joint and draws his attention. He takes the joint and with a feral smile, his gaze falls on Ryan's closed bedroom door. Dawn follows his line of sight and says, "he can't hear. He won't even hear you coming. He doesn't talk much but he can, though."

AJ joins the conversation. "He can make a helluva lot of noise when he wants to. So take him down to the basement when you're ready." He takes a drag of the joint and then leans forward. "So, you get an hour with the kid and we're square on the coke and the weed, right?", he asks to make sure they have an understanding.

After a few more drinks, Dawn and AJ start making out, forgetting Mickey is even there. Almost giddy at the thought of not having to pay for the drugs.

The mere thought of the beautiful teenage boy down the hall already had Mickey squirming in his seat but the sight of AJ's hands running over Dawn's body and up her skirt has his dick twitching. It's time.


Seth grabs a box of cereal and sits at the island counter as he waits for the coffee to brew. Just as he's about to pour the milk the phone rings. He jumps up to answer it and doesn't recognize the number. It's awfully early on a Sunday morning for a phone call.

"Cohen? Uh, hey, it's Luke" , the unexpected voice comes through the line.

Seth frowns and replies, "yeah, uh, hey Luke. What's up?"

Luke takes a breath. "It's Ryan. Me and my dad are down here in Chino. At the hospital."

"What? Is he ok?.....shit. Of course he's not ok or you wouldn't be calling from a hospital...", Seth rambles. He gathers his thoughts and tries again. "What's going on? What happened?"

"Someone messed him up", Luke says. His voice soft. "I mean, really messed him up. Look, can you ask your dad if he can come down. I know this may not be his area but my dad wants to talk to him about this....situation", he says cryptically.

"Messed him up? Messed him up how, Luke?", Seth asks, getting frustrated at the lack of real information.

"Look, man. Just....just get your dad and come down to the hospital down here. I'll fill you in then. Ok?", Luke says tiredly.

Seth's stomach churns. He's never heard Luke like this. Never even imagined that Luke could give a shit about someone else really but his voice is shaky and Seth knows that something really bad must have gone down. "Ok. I'll wake my dad and we'll head that way."

"All right. I'll see ya then. He's in I.C.U.", Luke relays and then hangs up.

"Shit", Seth whispers to himself before running to wake his dad.


Seth and Sandy enter the ICU waiting room and see Luke slumped down in a chair in the corner. He doesn't register their presence until they're standing right in front of them. He straightens in his chair.

"How is he?", Sandy asks as he and Seth take a seat across from Luke.

Luke clears his throat and leans forward. "He was still out of it last I heard. My dad's back there talking to the doctor now."

"What happened, man?", Seth asks.

Luke breathes in deeply and exhales before speaking. He looks to Seth, "Well, you know how he was supposed to go with me and my dad to see the twins' game yesterday?" At Seth's nod, he continues, glancing back and forth between Seth and Sandy. "He didn't show. I called his house but the line was disconnected. I called The Crab Shack to see if maybe he had to go in to work but Jake said that he wasn't scheduled and was a no show for his shift on Friday. He always gets someone to call for him even if he thinks he might be late. So to not hear from him at all was off. So me and my dad decided to take a drive to Chino to see what was going on." He gets up and starts to pace then stops. "Hearing that he was a no show for us yesterday had Jake kinda worried about him, too, so he gave us his address. We pulled up to his house and I went up to the door. I knocked but there was no answer. I peeked in the window and didn't see anyone....." He takes his seat again, sitting on the edge of the chair. "By that time my dad had started to come up to the house and a neighbor, some old lady, walked over and said that she'd seen Dawn and AJ leave a few hours earlier. We asked if Ryan was with them and she said he wasn't. She'd seen him go in the house Thursday night but hadn't seen him since then. If Ryan was in there he wouldn't hear us knock so we tried the door. It was unlocked. We searched the house but he wasn't in any of the rooms. We were about to leave but then my dad caught sight of the basement door. It...it had a deadbolt on it........". He licked his lips and swallowed. "Who the fuck deadbolts their basement door, you know? If that wasn't odd enough, it didn't need a key. It...it obviously wasn't meant to keep anyone out. It was one meant to keep someone in. He...he was down there. We saw him right away. My dad ran down...I..he was...he..he wasn't moving.....he was a bloody mess....." , he ends in a whisper. He suddenly stands up, having spotted his dad walking toward them.

Sandy and Seth stand to greet him. "Carson", Sandy says as they shake hands. "Luke was just filling us in. He just told us you found Ryan in the basement", he says, trying to get a grasp of the situation. Trying to make sense of what he's hearing. Ryan. Locked in a basement, bloodied and unconscious.

Carson sighs and runs a hand down his face as he resignedly sits down in a chair. He glances down at himself and sees blood on his pants and on his shirt sleeves. Ryan's blood. "The cops found his mother at work." He looks up at Sandy. "Can you believe that? Her son was raped and beaten half to death and she just goes off to work like nothing."

Seth pales and shoots a look at Luke, trying to make sure heard right. Luke lowers his gaze and walks away. He turns to his dad and sees him suck in a breath and close his eyes.

"Shit", Carson says. "I....I'm sorry. I shouldn't have....". He pinches the bridge of his nose. "I didn't mean to blurt it out like that. I just.....I can't get my head around it, Sandy. He's a sweet kid. How could a mother.....", he trails off.

Sandy steps up to Seth and puts his hands on his shoulders. "Why don't you go find Luke, son. Let me talk to Carson alone. Okay?" Seth swallows and solemnly nods before turning away to seek out Luke.

Sandy takes a seat next to Carson. He takes a deep breath and then quietly speaks. "Carson, Seth said you wanted me down here specifically. What is it that you need from me? I...this is a horrible situation but I don't know what I can do here."

"His mother is playing dumb. Trying to say that she didn't know he was down there. That she rarely goes in the basement. She's saying she wasn't there when whatever happened....happened and that she often doesn't see Ryan for days at a time and just thought he'd been staying with friends. That's bullshit, Sandy. He can't go back to her. She cannot keep custody of him. The hospital has a file on him. He's been in foster care before. They called his social worker and they're not going to let Ryan go back home until they investigate but, obviously, they've returned him to their custody before and I'm afraid they're going to do it again." He stops and turns to Sandy. "I....I want him, Sandy. I want him to stay with us. I've talked to Meredith and the boys and they all want Ryan to stay with us. I thought, as soon as Ryan wakes up, that we could talk to him. You could represent his interests and we could prove that it's an unsafe environment. There was alcohol and drug paraphernalia all over the place. Maybe you could....persuade the state to....."

Sandy holds up a hand, "Ok...whoa. Let me just....hold on, Carson." He rubs his forehead and blows out a breath. "Is his social worker here?" At Carson's shake of the head he amends. "Do you know their name?". Carson says he can't think of her name right now. "Ok. Here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to go find out who his social worker is and see if I can track her down and get a clearer picture of Ryan's situation. Then we'll go from there. Are you sure, Carson? This...this kid's got a lot of baggage. His hearing disability and now this. He's going to need a lot of emotional support."

Carson looks Sandy in the eye. "I'm sure. I've spent a lot of time with him since Luke and I met him. The twins love him. Meredith hasn't spent a lot of time with him but she likes him. He needs someone, Sandy. His brother is in jail. He knows us. He's comfortable with us. "

Sandy sees the resolve there and agrees. "Okay, Carson. Let me see what I can find out."


"Hey", Seth says softly as he approaches Luke sitting on bench outside of the hospital. Luke slides over so Seth can sit down but he says nothing. They sit in silence for a few minutes.

"Have you ever heard Ryan talk?", Luke asks suddenly.

Seth looks over at him and says, "No. I know he can but he said he doesn't like to talk around anyone but his brother".

Luke nods. "Yeah, me neither. I mean, I've heard him kinda laugh and make a few sounds but I've never heard him say anything........" He rubs and hand down his face and leans forward, with his elbows on his knees wringing his hands in front of him. "He started to come around when the paramedics got there. He wasn't wearing anything but boxers and my dad had covered him with his jacket but when the paramedics went to touch him...to check him over...he woke up and freaked. He scrambled into the corner and...and he started whimpering. My dad kneeled in front of him and tried to calm him down but he wasn't seeing my dad. He'd just curl himself up tighter and try to push himself further into the wall." He takes a deep breath and leans back in the seat, "they finally just had to sedate him. He's been out ever since."

Seth is quiet, not knowing what to say to all of that. Finally he asks, "do they know who......"

"The cops are looking for this AJ dude that lives with them", Luke answers with disgust in his voice. After a moment of silence Luke says, "My dad wants him to live with us. That's why he wanted your dad to come down."

Seth glances over with eyebrows raised. "Wow. That's...that's really cool."

Luke nods. "Yeah, he's really torn up about this. He likes Ryan a lot. Ryan gets along great with Brad and Eric. He's been teaching them some great soccer moves. He's pretty good. I hope your dad can make it happen. He...he can't go back home. Not if his mom lets freaks like that in their house I just.....I can't wrap my head around it, man."

"If it's possible, my dad will make it happen", Seth assures. Praying to Jesus and Moses that it's true. He hasn't known Ryan long but he knows he doesn't belong in Chino. "He has to", he finally adds quietly.

Luke leans back in the seat and nods. "I have no idea what I'm going to say to him. I mean, what the hell do we say to him?", he asks as he looks out across the hospital parking lot.

"I don't know, man, but we'll figure it out. He'll be ok", Seth says with all of the confidence he can muster.

"Yeah", Luke says with a sigh.

"Yeah", Seth echoes, though neither are sure of anything right now.


to be continued......