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

A/N: In "The Model Home" episode, I remember the fire was ruled as accidental so no arson charges were filed. But I don't remember the assault committed against Ryan ever being addressed. It was three against one, if I remember correctly. Luke and his cohorts ganging up on Ryan with Ryan fighting back in self defense. I always felt everyone was more concerned with the model home being destroyed, and not much concern for a kid being beaten. I've decided to rewrite the aftermath of the fire and address the assault to hold Luke and his friends accountable.

This story is AU and begins after Luke carries Ryan out of the burning building. And, as usual, I'm writing Kirsten a little differently than how she was portrayed in the first few episodes on the show. :-)

Chapter One

"Who's idea was it to go running at friggin' eleven at night?"

"It's the only time I have free!"

"Hey Josh, slow down man..."

"What, you can't keep up, little brother? The marathon is only a couple of months away..."

"No, look. Over there!" the winded jogger huffs out, pointing over towards smoke billowing up into the night sky. "C'mon! Let's take a look!"

Running over to the burning building, Josh and his younger brother, Evan, see a man drop a body down onto the ground.

"Hey you!" Josh shouts, but the man immediately begins running away. "Hey, wait up! What the hell happened?"

Josh makes chase and gets a good look at the man. More like a young man... possibly a teen; tall, blond, athletic build. He watches as the young man ignores his plea and get into his truck to drive away, leaving a cloud of choking dust in the already smoke-filled air.

"Hey, Josh! Get over here, man!" Evan cries out. "There's a kid! He's hurt... he's hurt bad! I think he's unconscious!"

Josh races back over to his brother and kneels down next to the injured boy.

"Did you bring your phone?" Josh asks as he places his index and middle fingers against the boy's neck, searching for a pulse.

"Yeah," Evan replies, gazing down at the bruised and bloodied body.

"Call 911. We need the fire department and an ambulance," Josh instructs his brother.

What in the hell happened here?

"Any word on Ryan? Kirsten asks, glancing up at her ragged-looking husband when he slowly walks into the kitchen. Neither one of them slept much worrying about the boy. Where could he have gone? Why did he run away? So many questions without any answers.

"Nothing yet," Sandy replies, trying to mask the disappointment in his voice but failing miserably as he makes his way over to the coffee maker. Sandy pours himself a cup of coffee and sighs. "I just don't understand... why would he run away?"

"Oh, my God..." Kirsten gasps.

"What?" Sandy asks.

Kirsten runs her index finger down the front page story in the newspaper, quickly scanning the article.

"This group home for teenage boys... we were going to send Ryan there..."

"Honey, what is it?" Sandy again asks, his voice now deep with concern.

"This group home... it's under criminal investigation," Kirsten says as she meticulously scans the article. "A fifteen-year-old boy committed suicide two days ago. He was found hanging in his room. He kept a journal."

Sandy sits down beside his wife and places his arm around her tense shoulder, needing to comfort her but also wanting to look at the article more closely himself.

"Now other boys are coming forward... sharing their stories." Kirsten's voice hitches slightly when she reads some of the personal accounts. "The group home is being investigated on abuse charges and the malicious punishment of a child..."

"This is the group home Ryan was at about nine months ago after Dawn was arrested for drunk driving and was sent to rehab," Sandy says as he scans the article. "The boy was there for about a month, if I remember correctly from the information in his file."

"The journal reveals that the boys were punished with beatings... whippings." Kirsten swallows in an attempt to alleviate the trembling in her voice. An unnerving chill creeps over her shoulders as she continues to read the article. "But in some cases, punishment came in the form of solitary confinement."

"Solitary confinement?" Sandy asks, knowing the barbaric disciplinary procedure is still used in state penitentiaries, but in a group home for troubled teens?

"The boy describes it in his journal... an old storm shelter with creaky wooden stairs leading down... now just a dark hole... a cold empty pit with a wooden hatch locked shut for days at a time." Kirsten swallows the lump in her throat as she wills herself to continue reading. "The boy was chained to the wall with no food or water. If it rained, it was a blessing..."

Sandy runs his hands over his tired, beleaguered face as he listens to his wife read further.

"Here's a quote from the boy's journal:"

"June 16, 2003: I had been in the pit for over two days and was beginning to think they forgot about me. I remembered drops of rain seeping through the open slats of wood, falling onto my face. Was God watching out for me? Rain in southern California... in June? I didn't argue. I just opened my parched mouth and welcomed the relief."

Kirsten quickly blinks away an errant tear from her eye, thinking about what the boy endured... wondering if he had a mother or father who even cared.

Sandy senses his wife's despair. "It's not a perfect system," Sandy says, having his own knowledge of the horrific things people seem to be able to do to others. "They do background checks on people who want to foster children, but if someone doesn't have an arrest record they can easily slip through the cracks."

"Do you think Ryan experienced anything like this?" Kirsten asks.

"I don't know, honey," Sandy replies solemnly. "I honestly don't know."

And I don't blame you kid... for running away.

"How could something like this happen, Sandy?" Kirsten asks. "They're just kids."

Suddenly the phone rings, jostling both parents from their troubling thoughts.

"Hello?" Sandy answers tentatively, praying it's not another nosy Newpsie wondering if their precious child is safe with a juvenile delinquent living in their midst.

"Mr. Cohen, it's Sheriff Hicks. I just wanted to let you know we've found Ryan Atwood."

"Ryan... you found him? Is he alright? Where is he?" Sandy blurts out all at once.

"He's been brought to HOAG. There was a fire. It appears the boy has been beaten..."

"Beaten?" Sandy inquires with deep concern.

"Sandy? What is it? Is it Ryan?" Kirsten asks, somewhat surprised by her concern for the boy's welfare.

"Ryan's in the hospital," Sandy says as he snatches up his cell phone and grabs his jacket.

"He's in the hospital?" Kirsten asks as she frantically grabs her purse and makes her way into the foyer.

"Seth! Ryan's been found!" Sandy yells up the stairs.

Seth comes hurtling down the stairs, almost crashing into his father. "Ryan's been found, huh?" Seth asks, wondering how his friend could have been discovered in such a great, ingenious hideout as his grandfather's temporarily sidelined construction project.

"Yes, he has," Sandy states, holding the front door open for his wife and son.

And I just pray to God he's going to be alright...