You'll Always Have Me

Author: Tym

Fandom: The O.C.

Pairing: Seth/Ryan

Timeline: Everything up to 2:02 The Way We Were.

Summary: Caleb's arrest set off a series of events in Seth's life.

Disclaimer: The O.C. and all related characters are owned by Josh Schwartz and the people at FOX but they obviously missed the huge amount of sexual tension between the boys.


Ryan looked at the dejected face of his best friend as Caleb was taken away in handcuffs. He hadn't seen that desolate look in Seth's eyes since the day Ryan walked out of his friend's bedroom to head back to Chino in June. It was definitely something he never thought he'd see again, at least not so soon. Even finding out Summer had a boyfriend hadn't hurt Seth as much as watching the officers shove his Grandfather into the back seat of a police cruiser. He didn't know how to console him. 'I'm sorry your Grandpa got arrested' seemed so inadequate.

Seth just stood by the window until the taillights were out of sight. Sandy had gone off to console his crying wife, who fled upstairs. Ryan walked over and put his hand on Seth's slumped shoulder and silently offered what he had, his presence. They just stood there for fifteen minutes as Seth stared out into the darkness of the driveway.

Finally Sandy came back down the steps. "He's going to be fine, son." He offered, grabbing his keys to head off to the police station. "Cal's a tough old bird."

But Ryan knew no matter how tough of a bird they thought he was, prison was no cake walk and someone like Caleb Nichol would be eaten alive in there.

Sandy checked his jacket for his wallet. "You guys get to bed. You have school in the morning." He reached out and ran his hand up Seth's arm. "Everything's going to be fine."

"Okay." He nodded, looking like he was trying to have the faith that little kids have when their fathers told them something, but as soon as the door closed, Ryan could see that faith fade quickly. "Night." He just turned and headed upstairs.

As soon as he left the house took on an eerie silence as if it too was feeling the effects that were hitting everyone. Not knowing what to do to help his family, Ryan cleaned up the kitchen mess. He thought about going to see if Kirsten wanted anything, but she hadn't come back down at all. He wasn't sure how to help them. Things in Chino had been easier. Sure, life was hard there, but it wasn't as emotionally exhausting as here in Newport. However, for all the stress and emotional turmoil that went on behind the well manicured lawns, Ryan felt at home. He had hated having to go back there, even for the summer. As much as he loathed admitting it, even to himself, he was relieved that Theresa had lost the baby. He wasn't ready to be a father to a baby that probably wasn't his and he certainly wasn't ready to be sucked in to being a husband at seventeen.

Opting to take a walk around the grounds and down to the beach to clear his head, he allowed himself to think about his family. His mother hadn't even called since she had left him with the Cohens over a year ago. He knew she was trying to get her life together, but a five minute phone call or a letter wasn't asking too much. But then she did always put herself first.

It was after eleven when he returned to the house from his walk along the beach and the house was still empty and depressing. Today had been horrible. First Marissa said she didn't have a boyfriend then he caught her making out with some guy in front of her house. Seth had made an absolute fool out of himself at the kick-off carnival by humping a hot dog cart to win Summer back only to be told off by both her and her boyfriend. So much for his grand romantic gestures. Now Caleb had been arrested. He was almost afraid to ask what tomorrow would bring.

Walking into the darkened pool house, he flipped on the light to see Seth sitting on his bed, pillow clutched tightly to his chest. His face was red and blotchy and his eyes were still wet.

"Seth." He said softly.

"I didn't know where else to go." He just sat there looking like a child who'd had a nightmare and wanted to sleep with his parents.

Understanding that lost feeling all too well, Ryan walked over and turned down the blankets on the bed. The boy looked relieved at not having to ask and just crawled under the covers. "Thanks." He whispered, his voice choked.


"Do you think he'll be okay?"

Ryan had no idea. Sandy was a good lawyer, but they all were well aware of what kind of man Caleb was and his business practices reflected that. "I think Sandy will do his best to help him." He said honestly and turned to switch off the light.

They both laid there in silence. Seth rolled over, keeping his back to Ryan as the soft sounds of crying filled the room. He had no words of reassurance for him. "Seth." He whispered, reaching over.

The other boy turned and latched onto him, sobbing his heart out. "This is so messed up. I thought everything was going to be fine. You were home and things were supposed to go back to normal. Before you came I was nothing. I had nothing, no friends, no one even talked to me. I didn't exist until you got here."

He wanted to deny that, but it was a true statement. Most people didn't even know Seth's name.

"And now you're back and everything was supposed to go back to normal, but it's all messed up." Seth turned into Ryan's embrace and clutched desperately, holding on.

Ryan reached up and gently ran his hands through Seth's hair, trying to calm the heavy crying. "You still have me." He offered again the only thing he had, his presence.

"Thank God, because I don't know if I could do this without you." He cried and was holding on like he was drowning. "You're the only one who's ever protected me."

They lay in each other's arms for several minutes until Seth seemed to calm down slightly. "God, our lives are like a roller coaster. Do you think we'll get back to normal soon?"

He remembered the advice Summer gave him earlier today. "I don't know, maybe we should just move on. I know you want everything the way it was, but it wasn't all that great Seth. Marissa was always falling apart, you and Summer fought constantly. Maybe this is how it's supposed to be."

"You still have me." Seth offered back Ryan's earlier words. "I'll never leave you."

Ryan pet his dark curls and smiled at the absolute truth in that statement. He knew that in his heart like he knew the sun would come up tomorrow. He'd always have Seth. "Thanks. We'll stick together."

"The Seth/Ryan team." He sniffled a little. "United we're unstoppable."

"That's right. Now go back to bed."

Seth stiffened immediately and Ryan knew he thought he was being sent away. He pet his hair again soothingly. "Sleep." He corrected himself. "Get some sleep. Things always look brighter in the morning."

He felt the body relax, but Seth made no move to remove his head from Ryan's chest. He just laid there still and relaxed until his breathing evened out and he fell asleep. Ryan didn't move him, he just held him tighter, protectively. After all, as Seth had put it, he was the protector of Seth Cohen and he always would be. He finally fell back to sleep to the sounds of Seth breathing.

The next morning Ryan awoke to the sounds of water running. Someone was in his bathroom. Then he remembered last night. He peered out from under the blankets to see Seth standing in the bathroom fussing with his hair.

"Hey Ryan." He poked his head out. "You think I need to get it cut? Some of these curls are getting out of control. Summer always said I needed gel. Maybe if I get it cut I can get her back." He mused.

Ryan rolled over and groaned. He knew not to say anything because whatever he said would be ignored while Seth basically argued with himself in the mirror. He knew his best friend well enough to see the tactic for what it was. Seth's coping mechanism for things he couldn't fix was denial. He'd focus instead on his old stand-by—Summer and act like he was fine about everything else.

Ryan crawled out of bed and grabbed his clothes to get ready for school. "Go to your own room before your mom freaks about you being missing."

For the next week Sandy worked late every night trying to figure out a way of getting Caleb out of trouble. Bail had been posted and he was at least out of jail, which calmed a lot of Seth's fears down. He was still trying to win back the heart of Summer by proving wrong her accusation that he was a selfish brat.

Ryan really thought that was the pot calling the kettle back. Summer was one of the most selfish people he'd ever met. She had treated Seth like shit even after she discovered she liked him because she didn't want to be seen with a geek. And Ryan would say Seth was a little self-focused but when you've only had yourself for company for the last ten years it was probably a hard habit to break. But one thing Ryan knew without a doubt was that Seth wasn't selfish. He had gone out a limb since he met Ryan, risking everything for him with only the promise of gaining a friend.

He had even been willing to give that friend up twice. Once last summer and the summer before that when he bought Ryan a bus ticket to Austin so he wouldn't have to go into a group home. He had only known the guy less than a week. No, Seth wasn't selfish at all, but now he was working as a janitor in a club to get tickets to prove it to Summer.

Ryan had put up with the incessant bitching from Lindsay all week. The girl was incorrigible and thought she knew everything. While they had gotten off to a rocky start, she had taken one look at him and decided he was like every other "trust fund baby" in this town and dismissed him. To add insult to injury, she thought he was stupid. He had tried to bury the hatchet by setting her up with Seth to prove to her that not all of Newport is shallow, but they didn't seem to be hitting it off well.

Ryan was batting a huge zero with Seth's boss Alex who reminded him of himself. She was tough, no-nonsense and relied on no one by herself. She was exactly like the old Ryan Atwood, but he had learned that sometimes it was okay to ask for help. He looked over to see that Lindsay was bored as Seth listened to the band. She obviously wasn't a fan of this kind of music, but then Seth loved live music. The whole night was turning out to be a disaster.

Chapter One: On Your Behalf

Ryan knew Seth was right a few weeks ago when he said that their lives were a roller coaster because they couldn't even have a good Christmukkah. Caleb had finally come clean in front of the whole family, including Lindsay that she was his illegitimate daughter from an affair. Kirsten had locked herself in the bedroom after throwing a fit and a vase at her father. Lindsay had taken off and Christmukkah seemed ruined. But Summer, of all people, pulled a Christmukkah miracle and saved the holiday and everyone had a good time.

It was weird though. He was dating his kind of aunt, even if she wasn't related to him as Seth kept pointing out. It was still weird though. There was something comfortable about Lindsay, something deep and familiar. He felt like he had always known her. Like he could tell her anything and she'd understand, not that he did. Ryan was not the type of person to open up willingly. The only time he discussed himself or his feelings was when Seth pried the information out of him.

And Seth was dating Alex now. Ryan wasn't really happy about that. He could tell Alex had a hard life and she wasn't Newport born and bred. She had a hard edge to her that didn't seem to click with Seth. She was a little too harsh and brash with him, she didn't understand him. He also didn't like the fact that she drank a lot, but after Marissa he wasn't too keen on drinking. He also wasn't too keen on Seth trying to impress her with his bad boy act that he couldn't pull off.

Seth was a lot of things, a lot of good things but a bad boy wasn't even in the running. Even when he tried to steal a car to impress her all he got was in trouble with Caleb for "borrowing" his car without permission. No, Seth needed a nice girl who loved him for himself not an image.

Lindsay watched Marissa watching Ryan as they sat in the student lounge enjoying coffee and cuddling. She knew the girl was perfect and dating someone else after Ryan had to go back home for the summer. She didn't know why he went home. She never asked and he hadn't offered so she didn't push. She figured he'd tell her when he was ready but she assumed it had something to do with his other family. She had never gotten the whole story from Ryan about how he came to live with the Cohens, only bits and pieces she learned from hearing Seth talk, something about a model home burning down and a casino night.

Most of the things she learned about Ryan came from Seth, not that they discussed Ryan. She and Seth had never had a conversation, but the guy was always hanging around talking to her boyfriend. Even now he was parked on the end of the sofa next to Ryan trying to engage him into a conversation. She thought it was obnoxious the way Seth babbled endlessly about nothing, mostly about himself or Alex. But Seth was a Newport native and a trust fund baby, they were all the same; stupid, arrogant rich kids planning to slide through life living off their parent's money. They didn't have a clue about the real world.

That's what she liked best about Ryan. He wasn't one of them. He was like her. Here for the opportunity Harbor presented them with, a chance to better themselves through hard work and dedication. He understood the real world and how it worked. He hated these trust fund kids just as much as she did.

Her "nephew" was whining again about Alex not being around last night for their date. Didn't he realize she had a bar to run? She had to work for a living, but that concept seemed so lost on Seth. He probably never had to work a day in his life, pampered with his PlayStation and his sailboat. He had no idea how hard life really was. She wished he'd go away so she could talk to Ryan.

Spotting a dark haired girl walking up to Marissa, she perked up. "Hey, isn't that Summer? You should probably go say hi." She tried to steer him in a new direction, kind of like offering a shiny object to a bird.

"No, we're over and she's with Zach now." He sounded sad and resigned.

"You're still friends." She turned in her seat and looked at Ryan and smiled. "My mom wants to take us out." She began talking now, hoping Seth would take the hint, but he didn't move. She motioned to Summer with her eyes and finally he got the message that she wanted him to leave. God, he was so dense. She wondered if he was ever dropped on his head when he was little.

She relaxed as soon as he walked away, not heading in Summer and Marissa's direction though. "She wants to take us out for dinner or maybe a movie."

"Chino," Summer's voice interrupted as she walked over with a irritated looking Marissa. "We have to cheer up Coop."

"What's wrong?" He was instantly rigid with tension. She really hated that anything that made Marissa look like that made Ryan upset. He was her boyfriend, not Marissa's.

"DJ has to work again this weekend and she's totally bummed having to stay in that haunted mansion by herself. I was thinking a little get together this weekend to cheer her up. Popcorn and The Valley marathon."

"I don't know about the Valley part, but a movie night sounds good." He looked at Lindsay. "What do you think? We could all hang out."

She didn't want to hang out with his ex-girlfriend, but she wasn't about to look jealous by admitting it. "Sure, sounds fun." She snuggled a little closer to Ryan, showing Marissa who he belonged to.

Alex couldn't believe the house they were in. It was three times bigger than Seth's mansion and his den was the size of her entire apartment. This Marissa chick really had money to burn, but then she remembered that Seth had told her that Marissa's mother was married to his grandfather and that he was loaded. She felt that wave of jealousy again. Here she was scraping by to make next month's rent and he was probably sitting on a trust fund of more money than she'd make in the rest of her life.

Sometimes, like now, she wondered if dropping out of high school was the right thing to do. She couldn't stay at her parents' house and abide by their strict rules another second and they hadn't given her a choice when they threw her out. She knew it was her own fault, all the partying, the drinking and the drugs had been more than they could handle, but it was still hard to make it on her own. She envied Seth and his friend and their carefree lives. She never had a wealthy family offer to take her in.

She poured herself another drink from the fancy bar set up and noticed that she and Marissa were the only ones spiking their cokes. Seth was talking quietly to Ryan in the corner, but when wasn't he with Ryan? He spent more time talking to him than he did talking to her. But then even when he talked to her it was usually about Ryan. She knew more about what Ryan liked than she did of Seth.

"Did you finish that paper?" Ryan asked as she came around the corner.

"Dude, I have all weekend."

Ryan shook his head in confusion. "Today's Saturday. That leaves you one day and I know you. You'll wait until tomorrow night and stay up all night trying to finish it."

"No, I'll work on it tomorrow." He laughed and Ryan raised an eyebrow. "I promise."

Alex stood there wondering why Ryan was so concerned about Seth's homework. He wasn't his father. Besides, tomorrow was Sunday and she had off. Seth should be spending the day with her. Between the bar and her friends, she rarely got to see her boyfriend.

"The valentine's dance is coming up. You taking Lindsay?"

Ryan shrugged a shoulder. "She's been preoccupied with Caleb. It was a big shock to her finding out that she was his daughter."

Seth nodded. "Grandpa's not big with the family thing. He likes the hands-off approach."

"He loves you." Ryan whispered and she had to strain to hear now. She felt a little guilty for eavesdropping, but told herself she just didn't want to interrupt.

Seth nodded. "I know and I am totally hitting him up for another boat for my birthday."

Alex snorted to herself. That was just like Seth, thinking about his gifts. She noticed Ryan looked suddenly pained.

"I'm sorry."

"Dude, totally not your fault. I was going to sell it, remember?"

"To help Theresa. You lost all your Bar Mitzvah money to help her."

Theresa? Who the hell was Theresa? Alex didn't want to think about Seth's old girlfriends. It was bad enough he still hung out with Summer.

Seth ducked his head. "I didn't really do it for her. I mean, yeah, the money was for her, but I thought if she had the money and then she'd go to Atlanta like she said and you'd stay here…with me."

Alex's heart clenched. Something about the way he said that irked her. It was the soft tone, the whisper like it was breaking his heart to admit it.

"I'm sorry." Ryan placed his hand on Seth's shoulder. "I didn't want to go either."

Seth waved his hand. "It's over now. You're home and that's all that matters. I'd rather have you than the boat." She noticed the smile on his lips and wondered what the hell they were talking about.

Summer came into her line of sight and smirked, like she knew Alex was eavesdropping.

Marissa hated this, being the fifth wheel. Everyone was paired off. Summer had Zach and Ryan had Lindsay and even Seth had some wild girl with a butterfly tattoo. While she was hot, she wouldn't think a girl like that would give Seth Cohen a second glance. Summer had the hardest time admitting she liked him and she wasn't there for her best friend when she was trying to get over him. She'd been too heavy into the bottle trying to deal with losing Ryan to Theresa.

DJ was a nice distraction and she really did like him, but he wasn't Ryan. When she would get drunk or in one of her moods he would take off saying he had to work and not be there for her at all. Ryan put everything on hold for her and now he was with Lindsay because she couldn't make up her mind whether to dump DJ or not. Lindsay was cute in that girl next door kind of way, but Marissa was the girl next door at least she used to be and she was so much more Ryan's type. Lindsay just seemed socially unskilled at making friends and the babbling thing was annoying. She could barely stand when Seth did it. No, Lindsay wasn't right for him at all, but at least she had DJ around until he realized that.

"Okay." Summer announced. "I got the movies. What are we going to watch first? I got the Ring, the new Amityville Horror and The Wedding Planner."

"That's a weird combination." Ryan noted.

Seth just snorted. "She just wants to see Mathew McConaughey without a shirt on. Then she can snuggle up to Zack during the scary movie thinking about Mathew McConaughey without a shirt on."

"You're just jealous. You can't go out without a shirt without people mistaken your arms for wet noodles." Summer shot back.

"You didn't have a problem with my wet noodles—"

Zack cut him off. "Okay, I really don't want to listen to the Seth/Summer banter right now."

Ryan nodded. "They can go on for days."

They all agreed to start with The Ring, overriding Summer's need to see Mathew McConaughey shirtless.

Ryan parked the Rover in the driveway at ten of one after dropping Lindsay off at her house. They had sat through two horror movies. The Ring was pretty stupid, actually they both were but the imaginary was disturbing. He never had a problem with seeing scary movies. Marissa always liked them and chick flicks, anything to give her an excuse to get closer to him.

Seth was in the backseat having gallantly given up his precious shotgun position to Lindsay for the drive. He was being uncharacteristically quiet. "You okay?" He asked as they entered the dark house. Sandy and Kirsten were still out at the latest newspie event that the boys both had begged to be let out of.

Seth immediately turned the light on in the foyer, bright light assaulting both their eyes. "Yeah, just tired."

"Get some sleep. We'll play PS tomorrow." He patted his friend's back and took off for the pool house. He had made it out the door and was changing clothes when his cell went off. He immediately thought it was Lindsay calling to say good-night again. "Hello."

"Ryan." Seth's voice sounded strange.

He was instantly on alert. Had someone broke in while they were gone? "What's wrong?"

There was silence on the other end of the phone and Ryan was already looking around for anything he could use as a weapon. Finally Seth admitted in a small voice, "I'm-I'm scared."

He relaxed and took a breath. "I'll be right there." He closed the phone and sighed. He should have known Seth wouldn't be able to handle those movies. In his whole collection of DVD's Ryan had never seen one horror movie. He threw on his sweats and started back into the house.

After climbing the well lit stairway, he found Seth on his bed with his knees pressed to his chest, shaking. "Sorry." He muttered, looking ashamed.

"No big deal." He told him. "You should have said something. Summer wanted to watch the Wedding Planner."

"And let everyone know?" He shook his head. "No, thanks. Big enough of a loser as it is, besides Alex likes horror movies."

He thought if Alex liked Seth she'd understand, but didn't say that. He didn't know Alex well enough to judge her acceptance of all things Seth Cohen related. "Grab your stuff. You can crash in the pool house." He offered, knowing how hard the floor was in this room and he wasn't up to blowing up the air mattress.

Seth jumped off the bed like something would grab him from underneath it. He was actually shaking as he pulled his pajama pants from the dresser and a clean tee. "You sure?" He looked at Ryan with big, begging eyes.

He nodded, not being able to say no to those hopeful eyes. "No big deal. You've crashed in the pool house before."

"Thanks." Suddenly Seth hugged him like he'd been given the greatest gift. It always angered Ryan when he hugged him like that over something stupid. He wanted to find every person who ever made Seth feel unworthy and beat them into the ground. "Come on. It's getting late."

By time Ryan came out of the bathroom, changed into his pajama pants, Seth was already settled in bed. He slide in between the sheets and pulled the extra comforter up over them because Seth got cold at night. When he turned off the lamp he felt the other boy press a little closer to his side. "That was a scary movie." Ryan lied, trying to make him feel less self-conscious.

"You thought so too?"

"Yeah, if you weren't here I'd probably have slept with the light on."

Seth reached over and put his arms around Ryan's waist. "Well, I'm here. I'll protect you." He vowed.

Ryan smiled and held Seth close to him, knowing the fib worked. Seth was asleep in a few minutes as he lied there thinking that the next time Summer suggested a movie he was bringing the films.

Seth shifted to the left and buried his head in Ryan's chest a little deeper, his grip tightened around the sheet. "You're all right." He whispered into his hair. "I've got you. I'll never let anything hurt you. I promise."

Ryan finished making breakfast as he listened to the phone conversation going on in the background. Alex had called this morning at the ungodly hour of seven in the morning on a Sunday. They had dropped her off last night at her apartment to find a few of her friends waiting for her. She had barely spared Seth a second look when she got out of the car. She still sounded drunk to him this morning.

"I know you have the day off." Seth sounded tired. He hadn't gotten much sleep last night, still scared from the movies. "Well you should've told me you were taking the day off before yesterday so I could've—….This paper is due tomorrow…No, I can't blow it off. It's a third of my grade…Well, I think that's important…Fine." He hung up the phone with a loud slam.

Ryan looked up to see the look on Seth's face. He looked tired and resigned. "Trouble in paradise?"

"I gotta go meet Alex. She said she took off today to spend it with me. I barely get to see her."

Ryan nodded, knowing that was true. She worked at the bar in the early afternoon to the middle of the night and partied the rest of the time. He really didn't see the relationship lasting much longer. Alex seemed to think Seth should make time for her whenever she could squeeze him in. "I'll help you with the paper later." He offered which earned him a warm smile.

"I really don't have much more to do."

Ryan nodded because 'not much more to do' to Seth meant he had one page and the cover sheet completed. "What time do you think you'll be back?"

"I shouldn't be long. She's still up from last night so she'll be crashing soon."

Alex looked around her apartment. The place was trashed. The party hadn't ended until after seven this morning. She stepped over a few stragglers sleeping on the floor and tried to clean up, but the alcohol was making her tired. She needed a pick me up. Remembering that Blade had brought a bag of uppers, she rummaged through his jacket and popped two of the pills. They'd get her through a few hours.

A half hour later, showered and dressed, she answered the door to see Seth standing there, looking awkward and cute. "I thought the party was over."

"A while ago. People are just sleeping it off." She immediately noticed that he looked put-off, but whether it was because of the half naked people littering the place or the enormous mess she couldn't be sure. She knew he had a maid to clean up after him and his parties.

She handed him a trash bag. "Just start over there and try not wake Matty. He's grumpy in the morning. He bit the last guy that woke him."

Seth looked at the large guy in his underwear snoring loudly and steered clear of that mess. He turned to the tiny kitchen and began tossing beer bottles and cans in the trash. He had no idea what to do with the discarded clothes. It was times like this that he knew he didn't fit in with Alex's friends. He was never invited to their after-hours parties even if he could get permission from the 'rents.

In another half hour the kitchen was livable again and counter scrubbed down. He moved into the living room and straightened that up as well, noticing that Alex was missing. Assuming she was in the bedroom cleaning, he peeked in.

"So, what are we doing?" Some girl asked Alex, who was stripped down to only her panties.

"Jodie, I told you. Things are complicated right now."

"Can't be as complicated as us. We were so good together and then you just took off. No goodbye, no see you later. I came home and your shit was gone."

"I know. It was a shitty thing to do, but I needed time to get my head together."

"So, how's your head?"


"And that new guy, the skinny kid? Looks like a beanpole and acts like a retard. What are the hell are you thinking?"

"You don't know shit about Seth. He's funny and loves music like I do. He lives in a fucking mansion and goes to private school."

Jodie's face scrunched up. "Oh, I get it. You're trading up to the big leagues now. Snag you a rich loser you can use until you get what you want and blow out on him too. Did you tell him that we're still together? That you never ended it? That we still do this dance every time we see each other?"

"He doesn't need to know that." She sighed. "It's complicated. I'm just having some fun."

Jodie wrapped her arms around Alex's naked chest. "Wanna have some fun now?"

Seth backed away from the door and put the trash bag down. He had spent the last hour cleaning up after a party he hadn't been invited to while his girlfriend made-out with her ex. He felt like a fool, but that was par for the course in his life. Summer did the same thing to him only she hid the humiliation from her friends. He grabbed his jacket and left the apartment, still smelling the stink of spilled alcohol and cigarettes that clung to his clothes. He needed a shower.

Putting the final touches on his Physics homework, Ryan pulled the book closer to him. He knew Seth would probably be gone most of the afternoon so he'd at least get some note cards together for the paper. Seth was never very organized, which he found strange given to the straight A's the guys managed to score every quarter.

The back door opened and he walked in, looking depressed. "Hey."

"Hey." He answered back like always. "You look like shit and you smell like a bar. Were you hanging out at the Bait Shop?"

"No, cleaning her apartment and trying not to get bit by Matty."

He really didn't want to know. "So, get in any quality time with Alex?"

Seth shook his head. "I think she was too busy having quality time with Jodie."

"The ex-Jodie?"

He nodded.

"You sure?"

Seth lifted sorrow-filled eyes and shrugged. "No, but they were practically naked and all over each other, talking about how things weren't over between them."

Ryan sighed. He was hoping this wouldn't happen so soon. "Maybe it's for the best. You want a girl who's totally into you, not someone that needs you to constantly impress her all the time."

He nodded. "Yeah, but you got that Chino-charm and those big guns to impress the ladies. All I have is insecurity and paralyzing self-doubt."

"You're a great guy, Seth and some girl's going to be lucky to finally land you. You just need to be patient."

"Yeah, well, World History needs my attention." He sat down.

Several hours later as the sky darkened to a soft pink from the setting sun, Seth finally finished the paper. He looked exhausted as he curled up on the floor surrounded by books and note cards. Ryan doubled checked to be sure they were all added to the footnotes. When he checked the last one, he saw Seth had fallen asleep with his head pillowed on Ryan's leg.

He was almost afraid to move him. He hadn't gotten much sleep last night and he looked exhausted. Hearing the backdoor opened to looked up expecting to see Sandy coming in, but Lindsay stood there.

"Hi." She started right in. "I heard you were doing homework and thought I would come over and help you. I noticed you were having a problem with the theories in class." She stepped forward.

"Shh." Ryan told her in a low voice. "I finished that. I was helping Seth with his history report."

She took in the scene in front of her and her eyes narrowed slightly. "He has you doing his homework while he sleeps?"

"No, we finished and he conked out. I was about to order dinner."

"Oh good. I'm in the mood for some good Chinese."

"Seth wanted Mexican tonight. Kirsten will pick it up." He shifted with Seth's head still in his lap. Gingerly, he moved it to a nearby pillow and brushed one of the curls from his forehead. "Let me get this cleaned up while he naps."

Ryan finished the equation and moved on to calculating the distance. AP Physics was kicking his ass. It didn't help that his girlfriend didn't seem to have a problem with it and was always trying to help him. She didn't seem to understand that her help was less than helpful. He just needed a little more time to figure things out than she did, but he got there eventually.

"Do you think he'll call?" She interrupted again.

He nodded; just like he had the last three times she asked the question. When she sighed heavily, he looked up. "He's your father, Lindsay. He'll call eventually. He just needs time to wrap his head around it."

"Yeah. The only reason he told everybody was to get out of going to jail because he paid my mom off. And what does that say about her? She took bribe money to keep me in the dark. To keep me away from my own father. She knew how much I wanted to met him and she kept this from me." She rambled.

"I'm sure she was only protecting you."

"No, she was protecting herself. Things haven't been the same since the truth came out. I feel like I can't trust her. I mean if she kept this from me what else is she hiding?"

He had nothing to offer her and he knew she didn't want an answer. She was trying to work everything out for herself, she was just doing it out loud. She usually argued with him when he tried to help, but Seth always asked because he wanted to talk about stuff. He didn't understand Lindsay sometimes.

"Do you think he'll call?"

"I really hope so." He muttered and looked back up. "Kirsten's been talking to him, but he's been really busy with damage control lately and Julie's running the company and this magazine is coming out. He has his hands full right now."

"You're right." She smiled. "I'm just being silly. He probably thinks I'm mad at him. I should call him." She closed her book, signally she was done with the assignment.

He still had four problems left to finish, but he'd do them at home.

"So, do you really think he'll call?"

Lindsay balanced her lunch tray and looked around for her boyfriend. She thought he'd wait until she was out of line to find a table. She finally saw him on the other side of the terrace sitting with Seth. She hated that they all had the same lunch period. She barely saw Ryan alone outside of class. Alex's schedule was hectic and she was always needed at the club and slept most of the day, which left Seth to his own devices. And his own devices insisted on being with them.

She thought he'd get tired of playing the third wheel in their relationship, but if it bothered him, he never showed it. She was going to have to speak with Ryan soon about telling Seth to find a hobby. Sliding into her seat next to Ryan she sighed heavily as Summer, Zack and Marissa made their way to the table. Summer sat down next to Seth and Zack next to her, which left the seat next to Ryan open for the ex. She wondered if Summer maneuvered that on purpose.

She sat there fuming as Marissa dominated the conversation by talking about how horrible life was with her mother and Caleb. The girl was so insensitive. Didn't she realize that was her father? And worst of all Ryan didn't jump in to defend him. He just let her rant.

Seth was busy arguing with Summer, and Zack was still talking about making some comic book. Finally she'd had enough of being ignored. If Ryan wanted to spend his time with the shallow toothpick then let him. "I have to study for an English test. I'm going to the library." She announced, standing up.

Ryan started to stand. "I'll go with you, I'm almost done."

Good, she thought. He knows where his priorities are. "After school I was thinking we could catch a movie."

He looked like he was about to nod, but Seth piped up. "Dude, don't forget we have that thing."

"Oh yeah. Thanks, I almost forgot." He gathered his tray. "Meet you out front after school."

As they started away, she asked. "What thing?"

A small smile played on his lips for a second. "There's a sale at the comic book store and I promised to take Seth to it."

"Seth." The word felt tight in her voice. He'd rather go to a comic book store with Seth than see a movie with his girlfriend.

He nodded as if answering her silent question. "Kirsten asked me to go because she gave Seth the credit card. He can get a little out of control."

Typical newspie. He gets everything he wants. She wanted to protest but he said Kirsten asked him and there was nothing she could say to that.

The smell of Italian food flooded the kitchen as Kirsten pulled the foil from the carry-out trays. "So, how was the sale and how bad did you hurt my card?" She asked, looking directly at Ryan for the answer.

He handed her back the credit card. "He contained himself well, though there was some whining at the end." He admitted.

"Dude, it was in mint condition." Seth told them.

Ryan raised an eyebrow. "For four thousand dollars."

The other boy said nothing, but crossed his arms and pouted.

Sandy stepped into the conversation. "Well, now that you're working, you can save up to get it."

The pout turned sad at the reminder of Alex and the Bait Shop. Ryan knew Seth was still down about Alex's ex and the fact that she'd been too busy this week to really spend any time with him. Changing the subject, he said, "Well, they're having another sale in June."

That perked Seth up a little. "Yeah, I'm still missing some of those issues of Nightwing that fell in the pool. I totally missed last year's Summer sale."

"Let's not repeat that." There was a tightness in Kirsten's voice at the reminder.

Ryan hated thinking about how his leaving caused Seth to runaway and hurt his parents. "There's no chance of that." He assured her.

"Absolutely." Seth agreed. "You were MIA on your birthday. The Kirsten makes a big deal out the birthday, man. You don't want to miss out on that again."

Kirsten again looked pained. "June is right around the corner." She seemed to be talking out loud to herself. "You've been here for a year and six months. Oh, god, how could we forget that?" She seemed to look at Sandy as if to blame it on him.

"He wasn't here." He offered back as way of hedging off the silent accusation.

Seth rubbed his hands together. "Then I guess it's time for me to come up with another fabulous combo holiday. The Ryan Atwood birthday-anniversary celebration. The birthsery."

Ryan rolled his eyes.

"We could have a dinner." Kirsten grabbed a hold of the idea.

"I love making toasts." Sandy threw in.

Seth smirked. "Where do you think I get the grand romantic gestures from?" He asked.

Ryan looked at Sandy. "Have you ever humped a hotdog cart to get a girl's attention?"

Sandy's mouth opened then closed. "I'm not even going to ask."

Kirsten smiled. "He's your son. Now, unwrap the garlic bread so we can eat."

Marissa had enough of her mother. She was in Europe researching a magazine for "Newport living" and she was still getting on her nerves. Caleb was trying to be the dutiful stepfather in her absence. She didn't need a father, she had one, but she'd been blackmailed into living here. DJ was working and Ryan spent all his free time with Lindsay at school and she was bored. Summer was with Zach and she had no one. She thought about calling Alex. They had really hit it off at her house last weekend, but DJ would be home from work in less than two hours and she wanted to see him now that Caleb had left and Julie was away, but it left her two hours to kill.

She grabbed her phone and took off for the Bait Shop to hang out.

Lindsay waited as Ryan gathered his clothes together. They were spending another night at the Bait Shop with Alex and Seth. She was getting tired of this double dating stuff. That was all they seemed to do anymore. "So, what are we doing this weekend?" She asked. "I think we should go out by ourselves. We can see a movie or have dinner."

She saw him hesitate and knew what his answer would be. He had probably already made plans for them to hang out together. She briefly wondered how to talk him out of it.

"Well,…" He said, pausing. "I have this thing."

"What thing?" She tried to keep the irritation out of her voice. Every time he had a thing it was usually with Seth.

"The birthsery." He admitted with a soft smile.

"The what?"

"It's a Seth thing, comboing holidays. We missed my birthday and anniversary last year and Kirsten wanted to do something."

"Oh." She didn't know what to say to that. She wasn't even sure when Ryan's birthday was.

"We missed it last August and Seth is making a big deal about it. So, we're going out to celebrate. Just the family."

She tried not to take offense to the last part. She was family. Why hadn't he thought of inviting her too? But she wouldn't say anything. She wasn't that kind of girlfriend, but she'd slip it to Kirsten later that if it's a family event she should be there, especially if they're celebrating anything for Ryan. "Oh, well maybe Sunday." She smiled as he turned to head off to the bathroom.

She sat on the bed as she heard the shower turn on and she pictured him in there soapy and wet. She couldn't wait until they got to that stage. The pool house door opened and Seth was suddenly there. She noticed he hadn't even knocked. "Ever heard of privacy?" She snapped.

"Ryan in the shower yet?" He ignored her question and her answer as he headed to the bathroom and pulled open the door. "Ry, Mom's ordering from the Greek place tonight. What do you want?"

She couldn't believe the nerve he had. Ryan was in the shower, naked and he thought nothing of going in there.

"Seth, you couldn't wait until I was out?"

"Dude, this is important. I'm starving here. If I get any skinnier I'll die."

"You said that last time."

Last time? Had he done this before?

"So, what do you want? I'm starved and the food at the Bait Shop sucks. I should know I have to cook it sometimes."

Lindsay waited for the explosion. Ryan was going to strangle him right there in the bathroom.

"Get me a number 4 with the Greek salad, heavy on the oil and—"

"Feta cheese. I know, dude. Do you want some of those spinach things too?"

"Yeah and I'll split some sour cream cake with you."

"Cool. Got it." He closed the door after letting a good amount of steam out. Lindsay just sat there with her mouth open. She couldn't believe they had a conversation about dinner while he was in the shower and Ryan hadn't killed him. It was like they did it all the time. Before she could protest Seth's pepping tom behavior, he said, "Menu's in the kitchen. Hurry up and order if you're staying." He turned and walked out.

Lindsay finally came out of her shock enough to stand up and go after him. If Ryan wasn't going to stand up for himself she'd do it for him. She walked into the kitchen ready to blast him when she saw Kirsten. Deciding that yelling at her son about the privacy of her other son wasn't the best impression to make on her new sister, she waited. She'd yell at him later.

"Hi Kirsten." She smiled.

"Lindsay. I didn't know you were here. We were just getting ready to order dinner." She smiled back warmly. "Are you hungry?"

She shook her head. "I already ate before I left the house, but thanks. Ryan told me about your anniversary dinner."

Kirsten looked flustered. "I can't believe we missed Ryan's one year mark. Even though he wasn't here I should've remembered it."

Seth put his hand on her arm. "You were busy 'redecorating'." He smiled.

She returned the look and patted his hand. Some silent conversation passed between them and Lindsay felt left out. She didn't know what happened. She wanted to be in on these things. She was family now. "So, about this dinner…" She hinted.

"I was thinking, dinner at the Arches."

Lindsay approved. If you needed to celebrate that was the best place in town. "What time on Saturday?"

"Oh no." Seth spoke up. "This is just the four of us. No girlfriends allowed."

"But I'm family." She protested and Kirsten looked torn, but looked at Seth who shook his head.

"We did say it was just the four of us." She confirmed.

"And not the arches, Mom. Ryan and me will have to wear suits and that's totally not his thing. He wants something simple with just us."

Lindsay stopped listening. She was fuming. She hated how Seth got whatever he wanted. This wasn't about him. This was Ryan's big night out and he deserved to have dinner at the Arches and he deserved to have his girlfriend there. She knew Alex had probably bailed on Seth because of her job and he just didn't want to be the only one without a date. She'd call the restaurant and find out what time they were having dinner and show up there anyway and surprise Ryan.

Alex was tired of fighting about this. Sure, she only spent roughly fifteen minutes with Seth last night, but she was working. It wasn't her fault that he was still in school and had a midnight curfew. They had been fighting all week about her lack of seeing him. He had gotten pissed when she wasn't home after school Tuesday because she was out with Marissa, who skipped school to hang out with her.

Then they had fought again last night when things went wrong and she needed to take care of it. It wasn't her fault that he didn't understand.

"You said you would take last night off." He looked hurt rather than upset. "I think I deserve more than fifteen minutes. Hell, even Summer spent more than fifteen minutes with me in public."

Now he was pulling up his ex to compare to her. Well, two could play that game, especially with Jodi in town sniffing around her. "Well, my ex understands that some people have to work for a living. Not all of us have a fat trust fund to fall back on." She stabbed at him.

"Oh, so it bothers you? Like it's my fault you got kicked out at sixteen."

"No, but you need to understand that I work for a fucking living. I don't have mommy and daddy to pay for me."

"I don't care that you work! I care that you party all night and then blow me off the next day! You got your whole too-cool Jem and the Holograms thing happening and I feel like you consistently blowing me off is part of your act!"

"Now it's an act!" She shouted, raising her voice even more.

"No, I think it's a crutch. With the hair and the tattoos and the whiskey and cigarettes for breakfast. You know I've actually seen the banger sisters...well part of it on cable, and I know how the story ends."

"Oh, do you?"

"I heard you and Jodie the other day. You just left her hanging like you're dangling me. I think I deserve better than that."

"Of course, you do! You should be damn lucky I even give your skinny ass the time of day!"

"You know what…" He turned away from her.

"That's right cry like the little boy you are! Run back to your Mommy and maybe she'll buy you a nice toy to make you feel better!"

He spun around. "You really need to get over your issues. No one owes you anything Alex. I'm sorry your behavior got you thrown out, but if you didn't behave like that things would've been easier for you."

"Oh, really? Well, at least I didn't steal a car!"

"What the hell's that suppose to mean?"

She just looked smug. He knew damn well what she meant. "I was never arrested! Maybe then some wealthy family would feel sorry for me and take me in too!"

"Well, you know what? If that's how you feel then this—" He motioned between the two of them. "Is over!"

"Fine, just go. You'll be back next week begging me to come back to you."

He never turned back around. "I don't think so. I quit." He walked out the door, slamming it behind him.

Alex just stood there fuming. He wasn't supposed to leave. He definitely wasn't supposed to quit. He should be groveling to have such a hot girl interested in his scrawny ass. She knew she was wrong to go for his jugular and that's exactly what she had done with the dig about Ryan. Seth could deal with being insulted but one thing he was, was fiercely protective of what people said about his best friend.

And she knew that. But that's what people did when they fought, but she was pissed. She was jealous as hell of Ryan. Of the things he got when she had to work her ass off for everything. Jealous of the way Seth always thought of Ryan before her. She was just plain jealous and jealousy was ugly.

She had calmed down enough to realize that he hadn't come back in. She'd give him a few minutes to calm down. One thing she knew about Seth was that he was high-strung. He was probably pacing up and down the pier talking to himself.

She peeked out the door and didn't see him. Walking outside, she noticed the Rover was gone. He had left. He had actually left! Who the hell did he think he was?! She slammed the door, knowing by next week he'd give in and come crawling back to her.

Saturday night was everything Ryan had wanted. Kirsten had cancelled her reservations at the Arches and they ordered Thai food and watched movies. It was exactly the quiet family night Ryan wanted to share with them. Sandy gave a great speech about how proud he was that Ryan was with them and Kirsten cried and hugged him apologizing again for her behavior when they first met. Ryan didn't blame her at all. Now that he had gotten to know and understand what a big heart Seth had, he wanted to protect him too. He didn't blame her. He would never let anyone hurt Seth.

Kirsten had practically bought him a new wardrobe and Seth had bought him a very expensive watch with his earnings from the Club and even had the bottom engraved. United We're Unstoppable. Ryan had almost teared up when he read it. Tomorrow they were spending the day out on the boat just him and Seth and some snacks where they'd lie in the sun and just talk.

Summer was pissed. First that tattooed, skinny bitched dared to put her hands on her Cohen and now she found out she was saying shit about Chino to hurt him. One thing Summer knew is that you did not say anything about Ryan to Seth. It was one thing to insult him, but he'd get downright pissed off if you said anything about Ryan in front of him. Not that Summer ever would. She had no problem with Chino.

He was a descent guy, especially after all the shit Marissa had put him through last year and he had done the right thing by standing by Theresa even though he knew the baby probably wasn't even his. She never blamed him for Seth taking off, though she should've seen it coming.

She had a lot time to think over that summer. She knew Seth was devastated over Ryan leaving, but she thought she was enough to keep him here. She should've known after the way she treated him that he wouldn't have believed in her that much. And she had always taken Marissa's side over everything. She had even forgiving her friend for ditching her for Oliver. She stood by her after Ryan left until Marissa delved too deep into the bottle and nothing was bringing her out of it then she moved on to her own pain. Had Seth been here she would've chosen to comfort her friend more than him. It wasn't something she liked about herself, but she understood it.

She wasn't really angry at him for leaving, well not as much as she told him. She was more resigned that he would always pick Ryan over her, just like she would always choose Marissa over him. It was just the way things were and Summer wasn't the kind of person to come in second to anyone. Not even for someone that she'd put in second place herself. She still loved Seth and maybe a part of her always would, but she needed to come first and he could never do that. It was just who he was.

Now she had to find a way to get revenge on the tattooed bitch who'd hurt him. She had heard about the fight from Seth because he didn't want to tell Ryan what she had said about him and he needed a female perspective. Summer told him he had done the right thing and that she needed to apologize to him. She also knew that the girl was jealous to say those things in the first place. Obviously it bothered her that Ryan got such a sweet deal with the Cohens, while she worked her ass off at that club when they were the same age.

That had given her the perfect revenge and Summer was all about revenge. She had called the liquor board and reported that a 17 year old was running a bar and serving kids under twenty-one, which she had seen for herself. She had also seen Alex help herself to a shot or two. Plus the fact that no one under twenty-one should be handling the alcohol was enough to get them shut down. It was perfect. They'd fire her ass in a second rather than risk getting their liquor license pulled.

That would teach her to mess with Summer's guy.

Ryan pulled into the driveway. He couldn't believe that Seth had broken up with Alex because of what she said about him. He should've told him that's what they were fighting about. While he didn't think they had what it took to last, Seth shouldn't have gotten so offended.

He got out of the Rover as the VW pulled up beside him. "You didn't even wait for me." Lindsay accused. "We were supposed to study together today."

He had completely forgotten about that after talking to Summer. "I'm sorry, but I need to talk to Seth. We can study later."

She looked pissed and he knew she didn't like being blown off. "We have a test on Friday."

He nodded. He really didn't see the big deal. She was more than prepared for that test. "I know, but this is important." He started in the house. "I'll call you later."

Lindsay watched as the door closed behind him. How dare he just walk away and leave her there. They had plans! He didn't even bother telling her what was wrong. Ryan had been grouchy ever since he talked with Summer afterschool today and now he was blowing off their study date because of Seth. They hadn't seen each other all weekend and she was still angry with him, not that it was his fault. She had gotten all dressed up last weekend to go to his anniversary party at the Arches at 7pm only to find no one there and the reservations had been cancelled. Then she found out that Seth had managed to talk his mother into a quiet meal at home.

When she had mentioned it to Ryan he stated that that's what he had wanted, but she knew him well enough to know he had to be disappointed that they hadn't done something fancy with her involved. She was so mad at Seth she had cancelled all their plans this week under the pretense of school work so she didn't have to hang out with their third wheel because Ryan was too nice to tell Seth to take a hike. She knew he felt obligated to the Cohens and that's what kept him hanging out with their spoiled son. She was going to have to speak with Kirsten soon about getting Seth to make friends outside the house now.

She revved the engine and peeled out of the driveway. He had better call tonight and apologize to her!

Ryan was livid. He couldn't believe Seth would break up with Alex over some stupid comment she made about him during a fight. Alex had a bad temper and a hot head. She was the type that pushed and even though he thought she was totally wrong for Seth he needed the wrong ones to know when the right one came along. He walked up the stairs and saw him sitting on the bed with his back to him.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

He didn't bother turning around. "Tell you what?"

"Don't play stupid. I talked to Summer. It was just a fight Seth. She didn't mean it."

"Oh, she meant it." His voice was low and choked. Ryan went over and sat down next to him, nudging him slightly with his shoulder.

"It doesn't matter to me." He offered.

"It matters to me. She doesn't know what you went through to get here. It's not your fault you got us and she got no one."

"She had you."

"And she didn't care about me, if she did, she wouldn't have said that about you." He wiped his face with the back of his hand.

Ryan reached over and took his wrist and looked at him. "It doesn't matter. She doesn't know because you never told her about any of it."

"I wouldn't. It's none of her business."

Ryan nodded because Seth would never betray his confidence. He'd tell people what was common knowledge: he was from Chino, he stole a car, his mother couldn't take care of him. Nothing more. "No it's not, but it doesn't matter." Ryan explained. "She doesn't need to like me to date you. She just needs to like you."

"And if Lindsay said something not nice about me, how would you feel?"

He instantly felt angry at the thought. He was glad he was dating a sensitive, nice girl who liked the Cohens because he never liked the slights Marissa made about Caleb in front of Seth. It was part of the reason they fought so much. But now he understood what really had Seth so angry at her. She had disrespected him by insulting his best friend. "Okay, but I don't want to see you alone and hurting because of me."

"I'm not hurting, I'm angry. She never even apologized. She's just waiting for me to get over it."

"And you're not." He guessed. "But you're going to give up seeing The Thrills for this? You've been waiting over a month for their concert."

He just nodded, no hesitation at all.

Ryan bumped his shoulder again. "How bout we go together?"

"Mean it?"

"Yeah. I'll tell Lindsay, I'm sure she won't mind, she's not a fan of live music or the Bait Shop. Tomorrow night, just you, me and The Thrills."

"Okay." He sniffed. "I know it's a horrible thing to say and it makes me a bad person, but I'm glad your mom left you here."

Ryan nodded slightly. He knew what Seth meant. He was sorry that his mother dumped him, but not sorry he wound up with them. "I am too. I still miss her, but I'm pretty happy here."

"Good." He bumped shoulders back and they both smiled.

Lindsay was pissed. Ryan had blown off their Friday night date to take Seth to some concert. Not that they had a date planned because before she could even tell him what she wanted to do, he asked if she minded if he went to see some band with Seth. What was she supposed to say? Ryan saw Seth all the time and now the guy was hording in on her Friday night date time too. She really needed to speak with Kirsten about her nephew.

She had gone to the stupid concert by herself hoping to accidently run into them, but instead ran into Alex, who was still pissed that Seth wasn't talking to her. She said they left right after the last set. She seemed to be tired of the way the boys hung out together all the time too. So, she wasn't the only one to notice it.

She spotted them both coming out of the ice cream shop, sporting cones. She walked over quickly. "Surprise seeing you here." She tried for casual. "I thought you were attending a concert."

"It's over." Ryan kissed her cheek with cold lips from the ice cream. "What brings you out here?"

"I was just doing some shopping." She lied. "Nothing was on sale. The stores around here all cater to the rich and rich."

He nodded as Seth looked left out. Good. She was hoping he'd get the hint and take his double dip of purple goo and go away. She wanted a bite of Ryan's chocolate but she knew he didn't eat off of other people. He didn't even drink off her. It was kind of insulting. She was his girlfriend. Maybe it was time to change his attitude. "What did you get?"

"Double chocolate blaster." He took another lick and seeing his tongue swiped around the frozen cream did things to her.

"Should have gotten the Cherry Garcia." Seth obviously wasn't getting the hint because he just inched closer to Ryan. "I bet it's really good with a chocolate chaser." He took a swipe of his own cone and then licked Ryan's. "It's is good."

She waited for the explosion. Ryan should've gotten pissed that he licked his ice cream without permission, but Ryan would never have given him permission. She was shocked by the soft smile he gave the annoying kid and then licked Seth's cone and followed it up with another swipe of his own. "That is good. Next time we'll have double cones of both."

Seth just laughed and took another lick of Ryan's. "Like it better this way. Not as many calories." The statement made no sense.

"Oh, so mine has no calories?" Ryan laughed. And she hated hearing it. He never seemed to laugh that way with her, free and open. She couldn't believe he was sharing his ice cream with Seth, but then she had seen him share a coke with him too when he refused to drink off of her. It was annoying.

"No, eating other people's stuff is always calories free. Ask Mom."

Ryan just nodded. "We were just headed home."

"Oh." She didn't try to hide her disappointment. It was only eleven-thirty. "I thought we could walk around for a while."

He shook his head. "We told Sandy we'd be home by midnight."

She smiled. "Well, I don't think they'd have a problem if you were out with me." She snuck in shyly. After all, being family she had an in with the Cohens.

"Go 'head." Seth finished the last of his ice cream that was melting down his hand. "I'll take the Rover and let the 'rents know."

"See?" She looked triumphant.

But Ryan wavered. "You can always come with us. I really don't want Seth sticking to the steering wheel." He handed him a bunch of wet naps. "It is getting late."

"Fine." Her smile was tight. She hated that they were going back to the Cohens where Seth had free reign to hang out in the pool house so they couldn't do anything. And more likely she'd end up watching them play video games and have to listen to Seth recount the concert in vivid detail.

Seth was excited. Zach had really been serious about Seth creating his own comic book about Atomic County. They had brainstormed all afternoon until Summer threatened a rage blackout to get Zack back into boyfriend mode.

A knock came to the door a second before it was pushed the rest of the way open. "Hey Seth." Ryan peered in.


Ryan looked nervous. "Look, I know I was supposed to help you with the book tonight, but can we do it tomorrow?"

"Sure. What's up?"

"Lindsay wants me to go to dinner with her and Caleb, kinda as backup. I felt bad saying no after we had that fight about not taking her to see The Thrills with us."

He didn't know that's what they were fighting about. They just always seemed to be fighting lately. "I didn't know she wanted to go."

He shook his head. "She didn't. She just got mad that I went without her even though it was just you and me."

"Oh." He waved his hand. "No, it's cool. Go make it up to her by hanging out with Gramps."

"Yeah." He looked more nervous now. "Your grandfather hates me."

"Hate is a strong word, Ryan. He'll get over it. You're dating his daughter and living with another one." He stopped. "It's not as bad as that sounded. And you're his only grandson's best friend. He's warming up to you man." He wasn't sure who he was trying to convince. "One day you'll be running the Newport Group, man he has to accept you."

"Right." He looked doubtful. "So, we're cool?"

He grinned. "Totally. Now put on your suit and that Atwood charm and you'll have Grandpa eating out of your hand."

"I'll check my fingers after dinner." He quipped as he left.

Seth sat there hoping his grandfather would see what he did in Ryan and cut him some slack.

Dinner had been a disaster. Caleb accused Ryan of everything from wanting the Cohen's money to dating Lindsay to get his hands on Caleb's fortune. Lindsay had left in tears and he couldn't understand why she wanted a relationship with anyone like him. She had said nothing when the man had insulted him. Not that he wasn't used to it, but he was accustomed to Seth's always snarking back at his Grandfather with a witty comeback, but Lindsay just looked uncomfortable.

He knew she wanted a relationship with the man, he just couldn't figure out why. She had cried to Kirsten about it, who immediately tried to smooth things over by first inviting Caleb to another dinner with her present and two telling him what she thought of his behavior. While he didn't want her fighting with her dad, it felt good to hear her taking up for him.

Now they were about to sit down and have dinner a second time. Caleb was being just as bitchy as ever.

"I just don't understand why my daughters are so taken with this little con man." He quipped, pulling out his chair. "He stole a car, burned down one of my very expensive model homes and got a girl pregnant and yet you both seem to think he's not after my money."

Ryan really wished Seth was here. He wouldn't let him get away with saying that. "You're one to talk." He stated before thinking. "How many times has Sandy bailed you out of trouble? And at least I stuck by the girl." He threw in for extra credit.

"Why you…" He began but then clutched at his chest and grabbed the table, but only grasped the tablecloth. As he fell he pulled everything from the table down on top of him.

Kirsten looked grief stricken and Lindsay had outrage in her eyes as well as shock as they both looked at Caleb on the floor. Kirsten immediately called 911 after realizing that Caleb just had a heart attack and Ryan called Seth on his cell phone. He was over Zack's working on the comic book.

Ryan walked into the emergency room behind Seth. Kirsten and Lindsay were already there, both looking worried. Seth sat next to his mother and patted her hand, though Ryan could see that Seth's hand was shaking slightly. He looked over at Lindsay on the other side of Kirsten and had to make a decision.

Sandy was on his way and would be there for Kirsten so he sat next to Seth and ignored the anger in Lindsay's eyes. She barely knew Caleb and he had treated her badly since admitting that she was his daughter. Seth was the one hurting right now.

"I'm sorry." He whispered to both Kirsten and Seth.

"Oh, honey. This is not your fault."

"Yeah, gramps' is too stubborn to die. Dad said he'll out live us all because he won't leave his money behind." Seth quipped but his voice hitched slightly.

Ryan patted his leg. "He'll be fine." He told him and was relieved when the tight lines on Seth's face relaxed like he had absolutely faith in Ryan's word. It was scary to have someone have that much faith in him, but he was thankful that Seth had relaxed now.

Lindsay sat on the very uncomfortable chair in the waiting room with Kirsten. She couldn't believe her father had a heart attack. She had finally found him and she was about to lose him. And on top of that, Ryan had taken off as soon as the ambulance had pulled off to go get Seth. Didn't he realize that she needed the support more right now? She was his daughter!

She hated the bond he had with Seth. Ryan hated these Newpsies as much as she did, but he couldn't see that Seth was one of them too. She had thought he was only being nice to the brat, but after fighting about it a lot lately, she realized Ryan wasn't just staying by his side as an obligation. He really liked the guy. She didn't understand that. Seth was just another spoiled rich kid, just like the rest of them. Sure, he wasn't as bad as most of them and he was technically family, but they were still the outsiders and should be sticking together. Yet he was glued to Seth's side.

Even after they arrived, Ryan sat down next to Seth instead of her. It was seriously pissing her off. She needed him. They'd been here for over an hour and no one would tell them anything.

"I can't take the waiting." Seth whined. "Anyone want anything?" He stood up. She noticed Ryan stood up as well as if he was going with him. As they turned to leave, a nurse called out, "Nichol family?"

Lindsay stood up a second after Kirsten and Sandy finally burst through the door. He took his wife in his arms immediately and that was the way it should be. She was hoping Ryan was taking lessons from his guardian about proper behavior, but he still hadn't moved from Seth's side.

The nurse waited for them to release each other before stating that Caleb was fine. He had a mild heart attack but was stable and alert and that they could see him now. Kirsten went first of course with Sandy and she followed them without waiting for Ryan. He better get a clue soon.

Ryan watched Lindsay walk away and knew from the look in her eye that she was pissed at him, but she didn't seem to understand that while Caleb might be her father she knew nothing about him. She hadn't spent the last sixteen years knowing him, Seth had. Seth loved Caleb and he was terrified of losing him, not losing the thought of him. There was a difference.

"You ready?" He asked.

Seth's shoulder slumped under his hand. "Honestly? No. Not right now." He confessed. "I know Mom'll get pissed, but I just don't want to see him yet. I'm glad he's going to be okay because I was really worried there."

"Then I don't understand why you won't see him."

Seth sighed. "It's kinda hard to explain, but when you told me how he acted and the things he said, well, it's just…I love my Grampa but sometimes I don't like him. And I know if I go in there he's going to have something rude to say about you and I don't think I could be nice to him."

Ryan shook his head, unconvinced. "You sure?"

He nodded and started down the long hallway towards the elevator. "See you at home."


He turned to see Lindsay staring at him. He knew she fully expected him to go in there and make nice with Caleb, but why should he? And why should she be expecting him to? His own grandson just blew him off because of Ryan and she just didn't get it. "No." He stated. "I'm taking Seth home now."

Fire sparked in her eyes and she spun around to go back to the room. He didn't care right now. Seth had stood up for him, made a stand and the least he could do was make sure he was okay. He didn't look at it the way she did. He wasn't choosing one over the other, he was simply doing what he thought was right. Seth had chosen him over his family and this was the least he could do.

"Seth, wait up." He called and when he turned around and saw Ryan walking determinedly towards him, he looked confused. "I'll drive you home."

The smile he received was well worth the fight that was waiting in Lindsay's eyes.