Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters of The OC. They all belong to Josh Schwartz.

A/N: This story is AU and takes place six months after "A Deal With the Devil" ended.

My goal is to tie this story with "To Be Seventeen" and "A Deal With the Devil" and bring everything to a "hopefully" satisfying conclusion. :-)

Seth wasn't my favorite character but I always liked him and Ryan together. They were complete opposites and had a unique dynamic. In this chapter, Seth continues to mature, something that took him forever to do on the show.

Also, I'm bringing up a few things in this chapter that were covered way back in chapter one of this story. Things that Ryan discussed with Dr. Evans during his therapy session. I'm bringing this up in case readers have forgotten about some of the smaller details. It's easy to do when a story is this long. ;-)

A quick note to matthewsbj: Kirsten and Ryan will definitely have their moment but it won't be until the next chapter. I needed to address a few things first in this chapter. Thanks for being so patient. :-)

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story and giving me your feedback. I appreciate it! :-)

Chapter Twenty-five

Sandy, Kirsten and Seth step out of the elevator and onto the second floor.

"New area... new faces," Seth states, observing his surroundings. "Although, not all new."

Seth makes a beeline over to Judy as she makes her way out of Ryan's room.

"Hi, you might not remember me... I'm Seth," Seth says with a big smile as he introduces himself to the pretty nurse.

"Ah, yes... Seth. Of course, I remember you," Judy replies with an obligatory smile. "How could I forget?"

You're the boy who never stops talking...

"You do? Really?" Seth says, trying not to act surprised, but failing miserably. "You remember me?"

"Mr. and Mrs. Cohen... welcome back," Anne states with a beaming smile as she and Dr. Evans make their way over to Sandy and Kirsten. "I hope you had a nice meal and were able to get some rest."

"Yes, we did," Sandy and Kirsten reply in unison.

"We stayed away as long as we could," Seth adds, looking at his watch and noting it's close to three in the afternoon.

"How's Ryan doing?" Kirsten asks. "Can we see him?"

"I'm afraid Ryan is sleeping right now," Anne replies. "But you certainly can see him."

"Actually, Mrs. Cohen, may I speak with you for a moment?" Gabriel asks Kirsten. "Before you see Ryan."

"Of course," Kirsten replies, following the psychologist down the hall to a more private area to talk.

"Dr. Morrison... Mr. Cohen! Just the two people we've been looking for," Jack announces as he and his partner, Kathryn Strauss, approach Anne and Sandy.

"I'm just going to pay a little visit to Ryan," Seth says, carefully stepping away from the adults. "I have his stuff I want to give him."

"That's fine, Seth," Anne states, letting the boy know he's allowed to visit now. "Just don't wake him. He's exhausted from the move and therapy. He needs rest."

"You needn't worry," Seth assures. "I'm as stealthy as they get."

Seth quietly steps inside Ryan's room and tiptoes over to a chair next to the bed. He sets the overnight bag down on the floor and sits down, folding his hands neatly upon his lap. Seth begins to fidget as he glances nervously around the room, taking in his surroundings; the IV bag, an array of tangled up tubing, the constant beeping from the monitor. He then focuses his attention on Ryan... his friend...

My soon-to-be brother...

Seth feels tears begin to well up in his eyes as he looks his friend over, noting the bruising on his face and around his neck; the bandage around his right hand, worn and frayed as if it's been repeatedly rubbed or pulled on; his wrists red and chafed from being bound with thick, rough cords.

"God, this is all my fault," Seth whispers softly, wiping away an errant tear. "If only I went out with you Friday night, this would've never happened... I'm so stupid... Why did I lie..."

I just hope you'll be able to forgive me...


"What did you need to talk to me about?" Kirsten asks as she finds a secluded corner in the hallway to talk privately with Dr. Evans.

"I would like to know how you're doing... how you're holding up," Gabriel replies.

"I'm doing as well as can be expected," Kirsten answers, appreciating the psychologist's concern.

"The reason I ask is... well, I know your father's trial is starting this week," Gabriel says, hoping he's approaching the subject delicately. "During my session with Ryan last Thursday, he mentioned it and he is worried about you."

"Oh my, with everything that has happened... well, Ryan doesn't know."

"Doesn't know what?" Gabriel inquires.

"There isn't going to be a trial," Kirsten explains. "My father... he's going to prison. He admitted paying Frank to take Ryan away from us."

"Oh, Mrs. Cohen, I am so sorry," Gabriel says earnestly. "I didn't know..."

"It's alright... it's over and I'm through... through with him," Kirsten says, not even trying to mask the bitterness in her voice. She immediately sweeps the image of her father from her mind and looks at Dr. Evans. "Ryan... he really said he was worried about me?"

"Yes, he did," Gabriel replies.

Kirsten smiles warmly and feels touched at the notion that Ryan was concerned for her.

"Ryan is making great strides with therapy, but he still has a long way to go," Gabriel continues. "If he asks about your father when you do see him, be open and honest with him. It's the only way to help him cope with everything that has happened."

"But I don't want to upset him..."

"I know you don't. None of us do," Gabriel acknowledges. "For most of his life, Ryan has been surrounded by toxic people. He's had to fend for himself. The boy is a survivor."

Kirsten listens intently as she and Dr. Evans begin walking back towards Ryan's room.

"Now, he's surrounded by people who love and care about him," Gabriel continues. "Ryan knows this and he's accepting our help. Finally, he's learned he can place his trust in others and he won't be let down."

Gabriel stops and takes Kirsten's hands into his. He waits a moment as she makes eye contact with him, then squeezes her hands gently.

"Ryan doesn't just need me and Dr. Morrison. And he doesn't need just your husband and your son," Gabriel states intently. "Ryan also needs you, Mrs. Cohen."

Ryan needs me...

"And I need him," Kirsten says with a heartfelt smile as she blinks away an errant tear. "Thank you, Dr. Evans."


Ryan hears a light tapping sound, out of sync with the sounds from the monitor. Keeping his eyes closed, he struggles to pinpoint the source.

Am I dreaming? Ryan thinks to himself as he hovers on the threshold of consciousness, not quite sure if he's still sleeping or on the verge of waking up.

Ryan slowly opens his eyes and blinks a few times, waiting for them to adjust to the daylight. He then turns his head towards the source of the tapping and sees Seth sitting in the chair, his leg bouncing rapidly up and down in a state of nervous, frenetic energy.

"Seth?"

"Hey, Ryan... you're awake," Seth says as he stops bouncing his leg and sits up straight in the chair, happy to hear his friend's voice.

"What time is it?" Ryan asks, wondering how long he's been asleep as he rubs his eye with his fist. The last thing he remembers is being with Dr. Evans and Dr. Morrison.

"It's around three thirty," Seth replies as he opens up the overnight bag he packed for Ryan. "I brought you some things from home."

Ryan watches as Seth removes the items from the bag; a cd player and headphones, the book he started reading last week and some of his music.

"Dr. Morrison also wanted me to bring you some clothes," Seth says as he takes some underwear and sleep pants out of the bag and folds them neatly on the side table. "You'll be much more comfortable in your own clothes."

Ryan looks at his friend and smiles, appreciating the thoughtfulness. Suddenly, his smile fades and his brow slightly furrows with confusion.

"I thought you were sick."

"I am... I was..." Seth begins bouncing his leg up and down again as he musters up the courage to confess. "I'm not."

"You're not sick anymore?" Ryan asks. "That's great. Must have been just a twenty-four hour bug."

Seth jumps up out of the chair and begins pacing around the room. He could just let his friend think he's miraculously recovered from a bad cold or...

"I was never really sick," Seth blurts out.

Ryan stares at his friend in confusion. "I don't understand. Why would you fake being sick? I thought you wanted to go out..."

"I did," Seth interrupts as he abruptly stops pacing around the room and sits back down in the chair. "I still do."

Ryan continues to look at Seth, willing him to continue with his explanation.

"See, this is what happened. You were in the shower and Trey called. I told him you would call him back but he actually wanted to talk to me."

Seth hops back up and begins pacing around the room again as his nervous energy demands its release.

"Trey said he was hooking you up with someone. Mindy... Candie... I forget. Anyways, he was going to be with his girlfriend and you were going to be with Miss Hookup and I was..."

"Going to be the fifth wheel," Ryan says, finishing his friend's sentence.

"Yeah, didn't sound like a whole lot of fun," Seth admits, his shoulders slumping slightly. "I'm sorry, Ryan. I should've never lied."

"You're right, you shouldn't have lied," Ryan says in agreement. "Besides, I've never needed Trey's help hooking me up with someone."

"You know, I should've known that... I'm so stupid."

"You're not stupid."

"I guess Trey just didn't want me to come along," Seth says as he sits back down, feeling somewhat dejected, but at the same time feeling much better getting everything off his chest. "But if it's any consolation, the parents have grounded me until the end of the year. Possibly longer."

"You just need to stop lying, Seth," Ryan says. "It never solves anything..."

It usually just makes things worse, Ryan thinks to himself, knowing now what his mother has kept from him all these years.

"But, sometimes it's good to lie," Seth says. "Don't you think?"

"No."

"All right, hypothetical situation here. Let's say... and this will probably never happen but, let's just say I'm going on a date with Summer," Seth says sitting up in his chair, ready to lay out his improbable scenario. "I pick her up at her place and she asks me if her pants make her look fat. Well, they're not the greatest pants. In fact, they fit her gorgeous figure all wrong." Seth holds his hands up in front of him and outlines his true love's perfection in the air. "What am I supposed to say?"

"Uh, yeah... those pants do make you look a little chubby."

"Just be honest," Ryan reiterates. "Tell her you think she looks beautiful."

Seth drops his hands down on his lap and ponders his friend's advice.

"You wouldn't be lying, Seth. Plus, it's probably what she needs to hear."

"You're right! You are so right!" Seth proclaims as a huge smile emerges upon his face. "Summer is beautiful! Why, she'd be beautiful dressed in a brown paper bag!"

Ryan smiles and finds himself relaxing. He's missed this. His conversations with his friend. It's a good diversion... to have something else to think about. Anything to take his mind off of everything that has happened."

"Do you forgive me?" Seth asks. "Because I'll understand if you don't..."

"Seth, there's nothing to forgive. My brother manipulated you..."

"Please, Ryan... I just need to know you're not mad at me."

"I'm not mad at you, Seth," Ryan says as he tries to stifle a yawn.

"You need to go back to sleep," Seth says, watching his groggy friend try to stay awake.

"The nurse gave me some more pain meds because my leg was bothering me," Ryan says, yawning again. "They make me so drowsy..."

"The nurse, as in Judy?" Seth asks with a mischievous grin. "You lucky dog... well, not so lucky because you're here and what happened to you and all, but lucky because you get the nicest nurses... Faith, Hope and now Judy... I wonder if Melanie still works in the ER. She was also really nice. Maybe if things don't go as I have meticulously planned out for me and Summer I could ask Mel..." Seth stops rambling when he glances over at his friend. "You fell asleep."

Seth quietly stands up and tiptoes to the door, then turns and looks at Ryan.

"You need your sleep," Seth whispers. "The sooner you get better, the sooner you can come home."


"So detectives, what brings you here?" Sandy asks, slightly concerned with the impromptu visit. "Is everything okay?"

"Everything's fine," Jack replies. "How's the lad doing?"

"Ryan is doing much better today," Anne says.

"Oh, that's good to hear," Jack says, relieved with the good news.

"Dr. Morrison, we need you to take a look at this picture," Kathryn says, opening a manila folder to reveal a mugshot of a young Latino man.

Anne's eyes widen as she takes a look at the picture. "That's him! That's the other man who was at Ramon's house."

"Are you sure?" Jack asks.

"Yes, I'm positive. That's the man... Alfonzo... Al something..."

"Alonzo," Kathryn states. "Alonzo Lopez. He has known ties to Ramon Cruz."

"He was arrested during a sting operation. A drug bust," Jack explains. "Now that he's off the streets, you should be safe now."

Anne let's out a sigh of relief. It never occurred to her that Alonzo may have come after her or possibly Ryan again. After all, they're witnesses.

"He's going to prison," Kathryn says. "And, you and Ryan will both be notified whenever he has the possibility of being paroled. You'll be given the opportunity to make a victim impact statement at that time."

"But that won't be for quite awhile," Jack adds.

Sandy finds his mind wander off as he imagines the prison scenario:

A loud buzzer rings as the steel prison doors slide open in unison. Caleb Nichol steps out, clad in the State of California, Department of Corrections orange jumpsuit. He runs his hands meticulously down the front of the jumpsuit, smoothing out any wrinkles. He has a plan. A plan on how he'll survive. Prisons have rules that cannot be broken. There are leaders and there are followers. He has never been a follower... ever. He will learn how the system works and use it to his advantage. He will become the leader and have many followers. He will be in charge. He will make the rules...

"Well, well, well... who do we have here?"

Caleb turns his head to the right and sees a familiar looking young man step out of the cell adjacent to his.

"You don't remember me, old man? I'm Trey. Trey Atwood. Ya know... Ryan's brother. And I know what you did. I know everything. That sorta thing won't sit well with folks around here. Hurtin' a kid. Not smart... not smart at all. You better watch your back, old man. Maybe I'll sucker punch you in the face again. Spend a few days in solitary... it'd be worth it..."

"Ah, amigo... looks like we are going to be neighbors."

Trey turns his head to the right and sees Alonzo with a mile-wide grin plastered across his face, looking at him like a predator looks at its prey.

"Esto es todo tu culpa... This is all your fault, amigo. If you had stole the car like Ramon asked, I wouldn't be in this hell hole. Turned out to be a sting operation... damn drugs in the trunk. The drug dealer was actually an undercover cop. Shit... just my luck. You rat out Ramon?"

"Fuck you. Ramon's dead."

"Si, I know. Folks around here, they don't like rats. Bad things happen to them. Very bad things. If I were you, I'd watch my back, amigo. You better watch your back..."

"Sandy? What's so funny?" Kirsten asks, noticing a smile on her husband's face.

"Yeah, Dad. Why the huge grin? Care to let us in on the joke?"

"Oh, it's nothing... really. I was just having a pleasant daydream," Sandy answers, quickly wiping the grin off his face. "Seth, I forgot to ask. Did you happen to check the mailbox when you went home yesterday?"

"Yeah, nothing but Saturday junk mail," Seth replies.

"Nothing from Dawn?"

"Nope. Nada."

"How was Ryan?" Kirsten asks.

"He's really tired. Fell asleep again."

"The medication makes him very drowsy," Anne explains. "He mentioned earlier that he wants to try bathing. That will take quite some time and then he'll need to eat something..."

"And then he'll be exhausted, fall back to sleep again and visiting hours will be over," Kirsten says, realizing she'll have to wait until tomorrow to see him.

"Sweetheart, I'll stay here again tonight," Sandy says as he takes his wife's hands into his. "Seth has schoolwork to keep on top of and that paper to write."

"Don't remind me," Seth grumbles.

"And I need to still talk to Faith and Hope about tomorrow," Kirsten adds, ignoring her son's lament. "Plus, I have a lot of appointments with clients to reschedule."

"All right, let's plan on meeting back here tomorrow morning." Sandy wraps his arms around his wife and gently places a kiss on top of her head. "I don't want you to worry about anything. I love you."

"I love you, too," Kirsten replies, blinking away a couple of stray tears. "I won't worry as long as I know you're here with him."

"I won't leave him alone, sweetheart," Sandy reassures.

I'll take good care of him...


"Hello?" Sandy peeks his head in the room and sees Ryan sitting up in bed watching television. "Ah, basketball... must be March."

"I think there's a game on every channel," Ryan says as he turns off the tv.

"You can watch the game," Sandy says, sitting down in the chair next to the bed. "I don't mind."

"Nah... I'm really not a big basketball fan. And, I tried watching the news, but it was too depressing."

"Looks like you were able to take a shower," Sandy says, observing the boy's damp hair.

"Yeah, I couldn't get my stitches wet, though. I never realized there are so many different sizes of waterproof patches."

Sandy glances at an empty soup bowl and plate on a tray next to the bed.

"I see you were able to eat some dinner."

"Have you eaten?" Ryan asks. "I'm sure the nurse could get you something."

"I grabbed a bite down in the cafeteria," Sandy replies. "I had some work to take care of... lots of phone calls to make. I wanted to make sure my cases were reassigned and being handled this week."

Ryan lowers his head and looks down at his lap. He hates that everyone has had their lives turned upside down... all because of him.

It's not your fault, Ryan. None of this is your fault...

"Ryan?..."

"I know, it's not my fault."

Sandy smiles, happy the boy is at least trying not to feel so guilty over everything that has happened. If he had to make a list of people to blame, he's certain the name "Ryan" would not be on it.

"How was your visit with Seth?"

"Good," Ryan replies. "Though, he did admit he was never really sick. He said he's been grounded for an eternity for lying."

"Well, maybe not an eternity. But close."

"Trey manipulated him," Ryan explains, hoping maybe he can help his friend out.

"Yes, he did. But Seth has been getting into a habit of lying," Sandy says, knowing Ryan's looking out for Seth. After all, that's what brothers are supposed to do. "I also understand that teenagers do, on occasion, lie. But it's still unacceptable behavior and he needs to take responsibility."

Ryan glances back down at his lap and finds himself wanting to smile. If only Seth knew how lucky he is, having two parents who love him; parents who care about what he does, where he goes, how he acts. Ryan thinks of all the times he would stay out all night. Nobody looked for him. Nobody wondered where he was, who he was with or what he was doing.

Nobody cared...

"Ryan, I know we talked about going to Atlanta to visit your Mom and Uncle Lenny over Spring break, but that's just two weeks away," Sandy says. "I know there's no way Dr. Morrison will allow you to travel that far so soon."

Ryan lets out a soft sigh, recalling how, just last week, he was so excited to visit his mother.

"But, that doesn't mean we still can't visit them. We could arrange a trip in the summer..."

"No."

"No?" Sandy questions.

Ryan glances back up at Sandy and sighs again. "I don't want to see my mom... at least, not right now."

Sandy places his hand over Ryan's hand and squeezes gently. "I understand, Ryan. And it's perfectly understandable if you don't want to visit your mom. She doesn't know what has happened to you. And, she doesn't know that Trey confessed her secret. But if she does find out, I will handle it. Okay? You needn't worry about anything."

Ryan slowly begins to relax, just knowing he won't need to deal with his mother or, if he does, he won't have to do it alone.

"But, it doesn't mean we still can't go somewhere this summer," Sandy says. "Is there any place you'd like to visit? Maybe the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone or Washington D.C. We could check out Chicago. Take in the museums and try out their deep dish pizza..."

"Chattanooga."

"Chatta... Chattanooga?" Sandy inquires, slightly perplexed. "As in Chattanooga, Tennessee?"

"Yeah, I'd really like to visit Chattanooga."

Sandy sits in silence for a moment, somewhat taken aback by Ryan's vacation choice. But he knows Ryan doesn't just say things on a whim. Chattanooga must mean something to the boy. And if it means something to Ryan, then it means something to him.

"I've read that Chattanooga is a beautiful city... located on the Tennessee River and surrounded by mountains... lush, green mountains."

"You read that?"

"I was traveling on business and read about the city from the in-flight, airline magazine," Sandy explains. "There are a lot of things to see and do. There's Rock City, Ruby Falls and the Incline Railway. Oh, and there's also Lookout Mountain."

"Look... Lookout Mountain?"

"Yeah, and that's not all," Sandy says, getting somewhat excited at the prospect of visiting the city. "Get this. You can go ziplining down the..."

Sandy immediately stops talking when he notices a look of terror emerge upon Ryan's face.

"Ryan, are you..." Sandy pauses a moment, then continues with his question. "Are you afraid of heights?"

Ryan casts his eyes downward, feeling somewhat embarrassed.

"Hey, it's alright," Sandy says, not wanting the boy to feel self-conscious. "You know, we're all afraid of something."

Ryan glances up at Sandy with wary eyes, hoping the man will elaborate.

"Take Kirsten and Seth, for example," Sandy says. "They're both deathly afraid of spiders... I think Seth more than Kirsten."

Ryan smiles, recalling all the times he's had to come to their rescue. "Definitely Seth is more afraid of spiders, although Kirsten has a louder scream."

"And me? Oh, my Lord! You saw me over the holidays. Hanukkah? The nana's visit?" Sandy says, not proud of the person he becomes when his mother visits. "I turn into a pathetic, neurotic bundle of nerves whenever my mother comes into town."

"The nana is great," Ryan says, remembering how much he enjoyed her visit.

"Yes, she is. And, she thinks you're pretty great, too," Sandy acknowledges, recalling how his mother wanted to take Ryan home with her in the off chance he and Kirsten didn't want him around anymore.

"I'd be willing to see Lookout Mountain, but maybe we could skip the ziplining?"

"Deal," Sandy says with a smile. "And, I know that Chattanooga is only about a two hour drive from Atlanta. If you decide you would like to see your Uncle Lenny, I'll arrange it. We can meet him somewhere for lunch."

"That would be great," Ryan says. He would love to see his uncle, just not his mother.

"Then, it's set. We'll go to Chattanooga in the summer."

"Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo..."

"There's a song?" Ryan asks as Sandy croons out a tune.

"Oh yes, a great jazz song by Glenn Miller. But it's way before your time," Sandy replies. "In fact, it's a bit before my time too."

"Can you sing it for me?"

"I'm not sure of all the lyrics, but I could hum it," Sandy says, thrilled Ryan wants him to sing. Sandy always wants to sing but finds it difficult when Seth cries foul and protests, claiming severe emotional distress.

"Hmm... hmm... hmm..."

Ryan sinks the back of his head into the pillows and closes his eyes. He feels his entire body begin to relax as he listens to the smooth baritone voice humming softly...

"Hmm... hmm... hmm..."

Lulling him to sleep...

"Sweet dreams, Ryan," Sandy whispers as he gently brushes a damp strand of hair off the boy's forehead. "Tomorrow is a brand new day."