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. :-)

I'm a little bummed at how many readers didn't remember that Dr. Morrison is from Chattanooga. When Anne and Ryan were being held captive in Ramon's basement, they had a conversation where they told a secret about themselves. Anne told Ryan her first name is Charity and that she's from Chattanooga, Tennessee. She described how the city is surrounded by mountains and Ryan revealed to her that he's afraid of heights. Sorry for the confusion. Hope it makes more sense now. I thought it would be sweet if Ryan wanted to go visit Anne's hometown. :-)

Whenever I start to write a story, I have it outlined from beginning to end. I've been writing this trilogy for four years now. That's a long time. I cannot think of anything else I could write that wouldn't become repetitive. In my story, Ryan has evolved. He now trusts the Cohen's, feels safe with them and accepts his new family. Of course, Ryan is not 100%. I don't think he ever will be 100% with all I've put him through. But my goal was to link this story back up to the beginning of "To Be Seventeen" (specifically, a conversation that occurred in chapter 3 of that story between Ryan and the Cohens) and get Ryan on the road to recovery with a family who loves and cares about him.

Just a quick reminder for those who may have forgotten or for those readers who never read "To Be Seventeen", Kirsten and Ryan were very close in that story. She was very maternal towards him and only drifted apart due to her father's betrayal in "A Deal With the Devil". Ryan has never faulted Kirsten for what Caleb did, but has repeatedly been concerned for her. Tragedy and heartache can bring people closer together.

I'm very proud of my story and I hope you enjoy the ending. :-)

Chapter Twenty-six

Springtime. A time of renewal. The days are longer. The air is warmer. The welcome rain makes everything greener. Ryan sits in bed and looks out the window. He watches a bird perched on the windowsill with dried leaves and grass tucked in its beak.

"Making a nest, Mrs. Robin?" Ryan asks the fidgety bird. "I'm sure you'll be a great mom."


Ryan turns his head away from the robin and sees Dr. Morrison standing in the doorway, clad in her white lab coat with her long hair neatly tied back in a ponytail.

"How are you doing today?" Anne asks, putting on her glasses as she walks to Ryan's bedside.

"Pretty good."

"Pain level?"

"Um... a two."

"Just a two?"

"Two and a half?"

Anne smiles at her young patient. Knowing he's never one to complain, she decides to round up his assessment to a three.

"Let me take a look at you." Anne carefully pulls Ryan's hospital gown up to his rib cage and his sleep pants down below his hip. She gently presses the tips of her fingers into the side of his waist, methodically moving them around his belly using a circular motion.

"Any pain?"

"Not much... just a little uncomfortable," Ryan replies, not really enjoying being poked and prodded, but grateful the doctor has warm hands.

"I mean any sharp, stabbing pain..."

Anne cringes at her choice of the word "stabbing" and looks at Ryan. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay," Ryan reassures with a small smile. "No sharp pain."

"Excellent," Anne states as she covers her patient back up. "That's music to my ears."

Ryan sighs with contentment remembering last night, how he fell asleep listening to Sandy's charming little melody.

"Where's Sandy?" Anne asks, knowing the man stayed at the hospital overnight again.

"He went to the bathroom to freshen up," Ryan replies, watching as the doctor unwraps the gauze from around his injured hand.

"You should be able to get the stitches out next week, but for right now, I'd like you to make a fist. It doesn't have to be tight," Anne says, gently holding Ryan's right arm so his hand is upright. "I just want to see if you can bend your fingers."

Ryan does as he's told and makes a fist, relieved it isn't painful.

"When we took an x-ray of your hand, there wasn't any damage to the ligaments. But, I'm still going to send you to a hand specialist after your stitches are removed. You'll be given exercises to get your dexterity and strength back," Anne continues. "Now, I'd like you to uncurl one finger at a time starting with your thumb. Just move your thumb out and then back in again."

Ryan again does as he's told, happy he can easily move his thumb.

"Now your index finger..."

"Hello... may we come in?" Sandy asks. "I bumped into Kirsten and Seth out in the hall..."

"Ryan, are you trying to give Dr. Morrison the finger?"

"Seth!" Kirsten scolds, glaring at her son in disapproval.

Anne laughs. "Ryan's only doing as I've asked."

Seth furrows his brow in confusion, then scurries past his parents to stand by Ryan's bedside.

"How's his hand?" Sandy asks.

"Doing quite well," Anne replies as she wraps Ryan's hand with fresh gauze. "Another week and the stitches can be removed."

Kirsten finds herself staring at Ryan, unable to take her eyes off the boy. He seems better, at least physically. Although, it will take awhile for the bruises to fade, she knows it's the emotional scars underneath that will take much longer to heal.

If they ever will completely heal...

"When will he be able to come home?" Seth asks.

"Well, that's what I want to talk to all of you about," Anne says as she tucks in the end of the gauze, making sure it's secure. "The antibiotic has worked on the staph infection, but with this strain, Ryan needs the antibiotic administered through an IV."

"Is that something we can do at home?" Sandy asks, hopeful the boy won't have to spend the entire week in the hospital just because he can't take an oral antibiotic.

"Most definitely," Anne replies. "But I need your assurance that one of you will be home with him at all times. You'll all be trained and given instructions on how to administer the medicine..."

Ryan begins to open his mouth to speak...

"And no, this is not something you can do all by yourself," Anne states emphatically, looking directly at Ryan. She knows the boy. He'd try do everything himself... if he could.

"A home healthcare nurse will visit once a day to make sure the IV is working well and there are no signs of infection," Anne continues. "You'll also be given a special container to dispose of the sharps..."

"Sharps?" Seth inquires.

"Needles," Anne replies. "All the other disposable supplies like IV tubing, bags and gloves can be placed in a plastic bag and discarded in the trash."

"I work from home now so I can stay with him," Kirsten says.

"Do you feel you'll be able to administer his antibiotics?" Anne asks, knowing the woman's heart is in the right place, but not sure if she understands everything it entails.

"My mother..." Kirsten takes in a deep breath and clears her throat, recalling her mother's battle with ovarian cancer. "Shortly after Seth was born, she passed away... cancer."

"I'm so sorry, Mrs. Cohen," Anne says earnestly, never intending to dredge up painful memories. "I didn't know."

"It's alright," Kirsten assures with a heartfelt smile. "My point is, I spent many, many hours with my mother during her final days. I watched the nurses administer her morphine and other medications. I'm very confident I'll be able to learn to do it for Ryan."

Kirsten suddenly feels a fleeting pang of guilt as she silently wishes things were different.

Why couldn't my father have died of cancer and my beautiful mother... why couldn't she have lived. She would have adored Ryan. She would have loved him.

"Well then, in that case, Ryan should be able to go home by Wednesday afternoon," Anne states with confidence. She has no worries of Ryan's care being neglected at home... not with this family.

"If you need anything, Ryan, just ask the nurse," Anne says as she begins to take her leave. "I'll check on you later, alright?"

"Okay," Ryan answers, feeling better knowing he'll be going home soon.

"Seth, why don't you come with me," Sandy says. "Let your mother and Ryan have some time alone."

"But, I just got here," Seth protests.

"And you will be back," Sandy states sternly, placing his arm around his son's shoulders to escort him out of the room.

Sandy leans into Seth and whispers in his ear, "We need to talk to Faith, Hope and Judy, remember? Make sure everything is all set."

"Copy that, Dad," Seth whispers back, following his father out of the room. "Let's not keep the good nurses waiting."

Kirsten walks over to Ryan and sits down on the bed next to him. "That's good news... that you can come home Wednesday."

"Are you sure you'll be able to give me the antibiotics?" Ryan asks. "I mean... I don't want to be a..."

"I'm positive," Kirsten interrupts, knowing the boy worries he's being a bother. "It's not an inconvenience and I feel quite confident I'll be able learn how to give you the antibiotics. Plus, I've already rescheduled all my meetings for this week and your last dosage is Sunday."

"Still, you have to work..."

"I'm my own boss now," Kirsten says with a reassuring smile. "I'm on vacation this week. And, I can't think of anyone I'd rather spend my time with."


"But, what?" Kirsten asks with concern.

Ryan glances down at his lap. He unconsciously begins running his fingers over the fresh, clean gauze covering his right hand, tugging at any loose ends he encounters.

"Ryan? Talk to me," Kirsten says softly. "It's alright... you can tell me anything."

"It's just that..."

Kirsten takes Ryan's left hand and caresses it gently, willing the boy to continue.

"Caleb's trial... I know it's starting this week," Ryan says, his voice slightly shaking. "I don't want to keep you from going to the courthouse... if that's where you want... need to be."

"Ryan, with everything that has happened the last few days, I haven't had the chance to tell you."

"Tell me what?" Ryan inquires, looking up at Kirsten.

"There isn't going to be a trial," Kirsten says, remembering Dr. Evans advice to be open and honest. "My father is going to prison. He admitted..." Kirsten hesitates a moment and swallows the lump forming in her throat. She struggles to maintain her composure. She needs to stay strong... for Ryan. "He admitted he payed Frank to take you away from us."

Ryan glances back down at his lap. He was holding out hope for the possibility that Caleb was innocent. At least if there was a trial, there was a chance for an acquittal.

"I tried... I remember telling him... pleading with him to get to know you. If he only got to know you better, he would have realized how wrong he was about you. But he wouldn't. I don't know... maybe he just couldn't."

"I'm so sorry," Ryan says softly, hearing the sadness so deeply entrenched in Kirsten's voice.

"I'm the one who's sorry, Ryan," Kirsten says, gently squeezing the boy's hand. "You've done nothing... absolutely nothing wrong. My father will spend many years, possibly the rest of his life, in prison. He will miss out on Seth's milestones. He'll miss holidays with his family. He'll sit in his cell wallowing in his shallow spitefulness and hate..."

Kirsten carefully places her hand under Ryan's chin and lifts his head so she's able to make eye contact with the solemn boy.

"My father will miss getting to know one of the most kind, intelligent and thoughtful young man I have ever met." Kirsten smiles as she gently brushes Ryan's bangs off his forehead. "It's his loss, but it's my gain. It's our family's gain."

Ryan feels tears well up in his eyes as he returns Kirsten's smile and drinks in her comforting words. Is this what it feels like to belong? To feel wanted?

I'm wanted...

"But, enough about my father," Kirsten says, wanting desperately to change the subject. "Today, young man, is a very special day."

"It's not that special..."

"Yes it is, Ryan. Today is your birthday!"

Ryan smiles and acknowledges that it is indeed his birthday. But, he hasn't celebrated his birthday in years. He was six years old when his mother gave him his last birthday party. He recalls she had a huge fight over the phone with Frank when she found out he wasn't coming home to help with the party, but instead was going "out with the boys". It ended with her getting drunk and passing out, and the kids going wild without supervision and trashing the house. Dawn blamed Ryan and took all of his presents and threw them in the garbage. He remembers getting up in the middle of the night and sneaking out into the garage to sift through the debris, hoping to salvage something.

Ryan tries to shake off the memory as he recalls peeling sticky strands of cold, slimy spaghetti off a toy truck and painstakingly wiping tomato sauce off his new "Transformers" coloring book.

"I just wish you didn't have to spend your birthday in the hospital."

"It's okay," Ryan says, not wanting Kirsten to worry. "I've spent my birthday in worse places."

Kirsten sighs and wonders how many birthdays were a disaster for the boy or just ended up being forgotten.

"Ryan, do you remember when you first came to live with us? We were all in the kitchen talking about which school you were going to attend," Kirsten says, recalling how the boy sat quietly at the breakfast bar with his head lowered, picking toast crumbs off the counter to busy himself. She thought he was coming down with something... a cold or the flu. But, of course, he downplayed it.

You didn't want to be a bother...

"Yeah, I wanted to go to the public school but you and Sandy wanted me to go to Harbor."

"You told us you had always wanted to be an architect," Kirsten says, recalling their conversation.

"Yeah, I remember..."

"When you weren't sure you wanted to be an architect anymore, I asked you what you wanted to be," Kirsten continues, again taking the boy's hand and caressing it gently. "Do you remember what you told me?"

Ryan looks into Kirsten's eyes and smiles warmly. "I told you I wanted to be seventeen."

"Well, you made it," Kirsten says, returning the boy's smile. "You're seventeen."

Ryan looks back down at his lap, feeling strangely content and relaxed.

I'm seventeen...

"So tell me, Ryan, what do you want to be now?"

Ryan bites his lower lip as he ponders the question, then glances back up at Kirsten and replies, "Eighteen?"

Kirsten raises her eyebrows, becoming slightly confused and asks, "Why eighteen?"

"Because then I'll be old enough to ask Judy out."

Kirsten smiles as she thinks about the young nurse. She guesses the girl is in her early to mid-twenties. She's not only pretty, but she's intelligent, ambitious and compassionate. And, most important of all, she doesn't appear to be a "drama queen" like a certain neighbor girl Kirsten knows.

"I like Judy," Kirsten says. "But, you're right. You definitely need to wait until you're eighteen."

"Yes, ma'am," Ryan says, pretending to be serious as he salutes the woman in charge.

Kirsten chuckles softly at Ryan's attempt at being funny. She then leans in and wraps her arms around the boy, needing to hug him but also needing a hug herself.

"Just promise me you won't grow up too fast," Kirsten whispers as she feels the boy return her hug.

"I promise," Ryan says, smiling with contentment.

"Knock, knock!"

Ryan looks at the doorway and sees Faith walking in with a birthday cake, followed by Hope, Judy, Dr. Morrison, Dr. Evans, Sandy and Seth. He's rendered speechless as they all gather around his bed singing "Happy Birthday"; each person choosing their own key to sing in, creating a seven-part, earsplitting dissonance like none he's ever heard before.

Kirsten places her hands over her ears, wincing and laughing as Faith sets the small sheet cake down on the side tray in front of Ryan.

Ryan sits quietly and patiently as he listens to the ragtag choir finish their song.

"Ryan, we use an LED tealight in place of a birthday candle because we can't have an open flame in the room," Anne says. "After you make your wish, just pick up the candle and there's a switch on the bottom to turn it off."

"Why can't we have an open flame?" Seth asks.

"Seth, haven't you been paying attention in Chemistry class?" Ryan asks.

"How can I pay attention with Summer sitting a mere five rows away from me. Five rows, Ryan. Five. That's so close. It's the closest I'll probably ever get."

Ryan smiles and shakes his head. "Well, so you don't go blowing anything or anyone up, compressed oxygen and fire don't mix," Ryan explains.

"Hello? I heard there was a party goin' on."

"Wanda!" Sandy exclaims as he rushes over to his bartender friend and wraps her in a big hug. "You made it just in time for cake!"

"Did someone say cake?" Jack asks, peeking his head inside the room.

Everyone turns and looks at the door as Jack and Kathryn edge their way into the room, in search of an open spot.

"I need to at least hug the birthday boy," Wanda says, making her way over to Ryan. "Happy birthday, sweetie..."

Ryan smiles as Wanda hugs him. He had been thinking about her earlier; wondering how she was doing.

"Wanda, I'm so sor..."

"Stop," Wanda interrupts, placing her hand up to stop the boy from apologizing. "Everything's fine. The insurance company is coverin' all the damages and only a few buffoons needed stitches."

"Really? It's alright? You're okay... everyone's okay?"

"Yes, everything's alright," Wanda reassures. "Plus, I've been wantin' to replace those old bar stools for ages. Got some nice new tables and chairs, too."

Wanda smiles and winks at the boy to try to coax a smile from him.

That special smile that lights up the room...

"I hope I'm not interrupting..."

"Sam!" Sandy walks over to greet his colleague, ushering him into the crowded room. "What brings you out here?"

"This arrived for you at the office this morning," Sam says, handing Sandy an important-looking envelope. "I knew you weren't going to be into work this week so I wanted to get this to you as soon as possible."

Sam hands Sandy the envelope then makes his way over to Ryan. "Hi, I'm Sam. It's a pleasure to finally meet you," Sam says, shaking Ryan's hand gently when he sees it's covered in gauze. "I work with Sandy."

"I know. He's told me a lot about you," Ryan says, happy to finally meet Sandy's colleague; the Investigator who can find out anything about anyone at anytime.

Sandy holds the envelope in his hands and stares at it. He feels his stomach fill with butterflies as he contemplates what's inside.

"Sandy, what is it?" Kirsten asks with concern. "Is everything alright?"

"We'll soon find out," Sandy says, carefully opening the envelope.

Silence fills the room as everyone holds their breath. A huge smile emerges upon Sandy's face as he pulls the document from the envelope.

"Sandy?" Kirsten asks again.

"Come on, Dad... what is it?" Seth asks. "Inquiring minds want to know..."

"It's final," Sandy says as he holds the document up, signed and sealed, for all to see. "The adoption. It finally went through. It's official!"

Everyone in the room cheers as Sandy beams with joy. He looks at the document again and runs his finger over the official seal; the lawyer in him checking to make sure every "i" is dotted and every "t" is crossed.

Sandy clears his throat and takes in a deep breath as he prepares to read the certificate out loud.

"This is to certify that Ryan Francis Atwood has been adopted into the Cohen Family by Father, Sandford and Mother, Kirsten and is entitled to all the Rights and Privileges there to as one of their kids..."

Sandy stops reading as he begins to choke up. He quickly wipes away his tears but the smile on his face remains. He's not sure if he'll ever be able to stop smiling.

"Congratulations Sandy and Kirsten!" both Faith and Hope cry out.

"And, you too, Seth!" Anne adds, feeling overwhelmed with joy for the family.

"Let's have some cake!" Jack announces, happy the room is abuzz so no one can hear his stomach growling.

"Ooh, yes cake. But first you have to make a wish, Ryan," Seth instructs.

Ryan sits up in bed and feels all eyes looking at him. He stares at the cake, chocolate with chocolate frosting. His favorite.

How did they know?

"Come on, Ryan... make a wish!" Seth pleads again.

"Now, Seth, aren't you a little old to believe in birthday wishes coming true?" Kirsten says, wanting Seth to stop pressuring Ryan.

"But they do come true, Mom," Seth says. "Last year at my birthday, I wished I had a brother. And voila!" Seth points both of his hands towards Ryan as if he's just performed a magic trick.

"Well, in that case, I stand corrected," Kirsten says, smiling at her overly enthusiastic son.

Ryan looks around the room. All the people here with him... for him... because of him. He looks at the detectives who never gave up trying to find him whenever he went missing.

Kathryn Strauss and Jack O'Brien... I punched that man in the face and yet... he's here.

He glances over at Wanda Everly, his friend. A woman who never asked questions but was always there to help when he needed someplace safe to stay.

You were my rock...

His psychologist, Dr. Gabriel Evans. A man he's grown to trust with all his most personal thoughts and feelings.

I know I can tell you anything and it stays between us...

The nurses who cared for him around the clock, never complaining; always so kind and compassionate.

You never lost faith in me. You always showed me there was hope...

Charity Anne Morrison, the doctor who not only saved his life but risked her own life...

For me...

Ryan looks at Seth, his friend; his brother.

I know we'll have each other's back...

He smiles over at Kirsten. Even after everything that has happened...

You still want to be my mom.

Lastly, Ryan looks at Sandy. A man who took a chance, opened his heart and home and never gave up on him...

And, you kept your word. You didn't leave me...

"Go ahead, Ryan," Kirsten coaxes. "Make a wish."

"But, I don't have anything to wish for," Ryan says quietly. "I have everything I could possibly want."

"There's gotta be something you want," Seth chimes in. "Maybe a million dollars or a cool sports car?"

Ryan closes his eyes. He tries to think of something, but can't.

I have a loving family now...

Suddenly, a thought pops into Ryan's head and he proceeds to make a wish.

I wish that Seth and Summer will someday fall in love, get married and live happily ever after.

Ryan opens his eyes and takes the small tealight off the cake. He turns the candle off and places it on the side table.

"Kirsten, could you do the honors and cut the cake for everyone?" Ryan asks, showing his bandaged right hand. "I'm lousy using my left hand."

"It would be my pleasure," Kirsten replies as she takes the plastic knife and proceeds to cut squares of chocolate cake and place them on paper plates. "If there's one thing I'm good at, it's serving food."

"So, what did you wish for?" Seth asks, curious to find out. "You can tell me. We're brothers now. Brothers don't keep secrets from each other."

"Seth, if I told you what I wished for, it won't come true," Ryan explains.

"Oh, come on Ryan... please tell me... pretty please?"

Ryan looks at Seth and sees his brother's eyes wide with anticipation and hope.

"All right, you really want me to tell you?" Ryan asks, double-checking to make sure Seth knows what's at stake.

"Yes, I'm sure... absolutely, positively, one-hundred percent sure."

"Very well, I wished that you would stop talking for two minutes," Ryan replies, deciding to make an exception to his "never tell a lie" rule just this one time. Besides, it's not as if he's never wished Seth would stop talking.

Seth stands dumbfounded as everyone in the room stops eating and conversing to see if the teenager will rise to the challenge.

Seth begins to fidget nervously as the silence begins to overwhelm him. He starts tapping his foot as he struggles to hold his lips together and keep his mouth shut. He knows that two minutes should surely be up by now. It seems like an eternity has passed. Seth glances over at the clock and frowns when he sees only twenty seconds have elapsed.

"Sorry, no can do," Seth blurts out, finally breaking the silence. "You know that since you told me what you wished for, it wasn't going to come true."

Ryan smiles and nods his head, "Uh huh..."

Everyone laughs and goes back to enjoying their cake and conversation. Sandy stands off to the side and takes it all in; the smile on his face still as bright as ever.

"That's one heck of a beautiful family you've got there, Sandy," Sam says while enjoying a bite of his cake.

"I've been truly blessed, Sam," Sandy says, watching Ryan sit in bed enjoying his birthday celebration. He notices the boy blush as the women continually come up to him, offering their birthday hugs.

I'm the luckiest man in the world...

Sandy walks over to Ryan's bedside and waits a few moments for everyone to finish their hugs. He then leans down, places his arm around Ryan's shoulders and whispers in the boy's ear...

"Happy Birthday, son."

-The End-

I want to sincerely thank everyone for reading my story and also those who have taken time out from their busy schedules to write reviews. The support I've received has been amazing and I've truly appreciated it. :-)