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 begins after Luke carries Ryan out of the burning building.

I started writing this "one-shot" over a year and a half ago. I've had this ending outlined since June 2017. Back then, I thought I could stretch this story out to three chapters. I think I've accomplished that. ;-)

I know many readers would like this story to continue and I take that as the highest compliment. :-) I've added a note at the end of this story. Please let me know your thoughts.

Thank you for all the feedback and support. I really appreciate it!

Chapter Seventeen

Ryan opens his eyes and blinks a few times. He turns his head and looks at the pale sunlight shining through a crack in the bedroom curtains. He gingerly sits up in bed then wipes the sleep from his eyes.

How long have I been asleep? Ryan asks himself as he glances over at the alarm clock and sees it's 7am.

Ryan slowly swings his legs over the edge of the bed and runs his hands through his hair. The last thing he remembers was talking to Sandy.

That was 11pm... I fell asleep. I've been asleep for eight hours.

Ryan doesn't recall the last time he got a straight eight hours of sleep. No dreams or nightmares... just pure, uninterrupted sleep. He can't believe how rested he feels.

Ryan makes his way over to the dresser and takes out some clothes. He sheds his sleep pants and puts on a pair of blue jeans. He then carefully puts on his gray hoodie, threading his arms through the armholes and easing his bandaged hand through the cuff. Ryan sits back down on the bed and puts on his shoes, noting it's still a chore to tie them, but no longer painful.

I'm healing...

Ryan stands back up and walks over to the bedroom door. He slowly opens the door, trying to be as quiet as possible. He figures he's the first one up. He doesn't want to wake anyone.

Ryan quietly creeps down the spiral staircase. He makes his way through the house using the pale, morning sunlight to guide his way. He begins to open the patio door, then abruptly stops when he senses someone watching him.

"Where are you going?"

Ryan turns around and sees Seth clad in his gray and white checkered pajamas and a powder blue robe.

"For a walk?" Ryan replies, using his thumb to point towards the outside.

"A walk? Where? I mean, you're not trying to run away again... are you?"

Ryan notices the panicked look on his friend's face and sighs. "No Seth, I'm not running away. I'm just going for a walk."

"But why?" Seth asks, taking a step closer to Ryan.

"I've been sitting around the house all week," Ryan explains. "The doctor said I could take walks, just not do anything strenuous."

"Walking can be strenuous," Seth points out.

"Maybe... if we were living in the mountains," Ryan replies dryly.

"Okay, good point," Seth states, pointing his finger at nothing in particular as he acknowledges the fact. "But, I can't come with you. I'm grounded, remember? I can't leave the house."

"I'm just going to walk down to the beach..."

"Why don't you just walk around the house fifty times. Then I could join you," Seth offers, trying his hand at being a salesman, although he's not sure Ryan is buying it. "Or maybe wait until Mom and Dad are up. They might make an exception and let me go with you. We could go after lunch maybe."

Ryan sighs. He understands his friend's frustration but he really just wants this time to be alone and think.

"I want to take a walk so I can clear my mind. It's still cool outside. If I wait until this afternoon, it'll be too hot," Ryan says, hoping Seth will understand. "I won't be that long, maybe an hour or two. I'll be back in time for breakfast."

"Okay, but what should I tell Mom and Dad if they get up and you're not here?" Seth asks.

Ryan looks at Seth, slightly confused. "Tell them I went for a walk," Ryan replies, not quite understanding the dilemma.

"A walk."

"Yes, a walk," Ryan reiterates as he steps out onto the patio. "I'll be back in a couple of hours."

Ryan closes the patio door. He looks through the glass and sees Seth standing still, looking dejected... probably feeling like he's being abandoned.

I'm not abandoning him, Ryan tells himself as he walks around the side of the house and down the driveway. Ryan breathes in the fresh morning air and remembers what Sandy told him just last night.

"It's alright to put yourself first every once in awhile... and right now, you need to put yourself and your needs first."

Ryan shoves his fists into the pockets of his hoodie and continues his walk. It feels good to move around. He keeps his head lowered and watches the ground as he places one foot in front of the other; the repetition of his steps pleasantly calming. He smiles briefly as a feeling of contentment washes over him.

I'm still here... Ryan thinks to himself. And the Cohen's do seem to care about me...

Before he knows it, Ryan arrives at the beach. He looks out across the vast ocean and takes in a deep breath. He spots a flock of seagulls flying near the shore and wonders what it would be like to be able to fly like a bird.

"Hey, Atwood!"

Ryan jumps slightly then turns around. He sees Luke Ward approaching him clad in a bright orange vest, the kind highway workers wear, and carting a large garbage bag while holding a long stick with a prong on its end.

"Luke... hey," Ryan says tentatively, keeping his fists balled up inside his pockets... just in case he needs them.

"What are you doing out here?" Luke asks, trying his best to make small talk.

"Taking a walk," Ryan replies, feeling he's beginning to sound like a broken record.

"That's cool," Luke says. "Say... um... I'm glad I ran into you."

Ryan looks at Luke with skepticism. He's not quite sure where this conversation is going.

"I want to apologize..."

"You already apologized," Ryan interrupts. "I got your letter."

"Oh that... pfft," Luke says, swiping his hand through the air. "I had to write that letter. It was part of my plea agreement."

"Oh, I see..."

"Not that I didn't mean what I wrote," Luke continues, wanting to clarify his remarks. "It's just that... I am really sorry. I wanted to tell you that in person. I don't ever expect you to forgive me, but I just wanted you to know." Luke lowers his head, then glances back at Ryan. "I really am sorry. I was a total jerk."

"Yeah, you were," Ryan states.

Luke squints his eyes and flashes Ryan a mild glare then chuckles softly. "Yep, I deserved that."

An uncomfortable silence fills the air as the two boys struggle for something to say. Ryan finally decides to break the silence.

"I accept your apology," Ryan says earnestly. "Both of them."

Luke flashes Ryan a look of confusion. That was the last thing he expected to hear.

"Ward! This isn't a vacation! Get back to work!"

"Yeah, yeah I'm workin'!" Luke yells back at the man who's in charge of his community service.

Ryan winces slightly. The last thing he wants is to get Luke into trouble.

"That asshole's a frickin' slave driver," Luke says as he stabs a gum wrapper and places it into his garbage bag.

"I should probably let you get back..."

"I fucked up," Luke interrupts. "Fucked up my life..."

"No you didn't," Ryan says.

"I got kicked out of Harbor, my girlfriend broke up with me..." Luke lets out a long sigh. "And the two guys I thought were my friends turned out not to be my friends at all."

"It's not the end of the world," Ryan says, wincing at how cliched he sounds, but it's all he can think of to say at the moment.

"Plus, I'm on probation. One more screw up and I'm looking at doing some serious time." Luke looks directly at Ryan and lets out a short chuckle. "Guess we have something in common now, huh? Both on probation..."

"Just stay out of trouble and you'll be fine," Ryan offers earnestly.

"I get to pick up garbage for my community service. You wouldn't believe the shit people litter the beach with," Luke says as he stabs an empty condom wrapper and puts it in the trash bag. He immediately scans the area, wondering where the contents of said wrapper could be. Most likely lurking somewhere beneath the sand.

"I'll be going to the public school this fall," Luke continues as he strolls along the beach with Ryan, picking up stray pieces of litter. "Do you think they have a water polo team?"

"Umm... I'm not sure..."

"What am I thinking," Luke says, shaking his head. "They don't even have a pool."

"What about soccer?"


"Yeah, soccer," Ryan says. "You've played soccer before, haven't you?"

"Yeah, I did in middle school and my freshman year at Harbor," Luke says, recalling how much he enjoyed the sport.

"I bet they could use someone like you," Ryan says, offering encouragement. "And with your experience, maybe you could even become the team captain."

"Yeah... maybe I could," Luke says, his eyes brightening at the prospect. "Say, do you know if you'll be going to Harbor this fall?"

"I don't know," Ryan replies, finding himself relaxing his fists still jammed inside his pockets. He realizes now he's not going to need them. "I haven't really given school much thought."

"Well, you're living with the Cohen's now, aren't you?"

"Umm... yeah... I guess I am," Ryan says, his spoken words helping him realize it's actually true.

"I'm sure they'll want you to go to Harbor," Luke states.

"Well, I am on probation," Ryan points out as he continues to stroll along the beach with Luke. "I may not get accepted."

"True, they do have a strict policy on that but you seem to be smart," Luke says as he and Ryan turn around and start heading back to where they started. "I bet they'll make an exception in your case."

Ryan smiles and shakes his head at the thought. He won't expect miracles. Besides, he would be totally fine going to the public school.

"But, in the off chance you don't get accepted into Harbor this fall... I don't know... maybe... oh, forget it..."

"No, what?" Ryan asks, urging Luke to finish what he wants to say.

"I was just thinking... well... if you do end up having to go to the public school, maybe we could try out for the soccer team together."

Ryan smiles. "I'd like that."

"Ward, this is your last warning! If you don't get your ass back to work, I'm tacking on another twenty hours!"

"Well, the slave driver has spoken," Luke says. "I should get back."

"And I should probably start heading back to the Cohen's," Ryan says, nodding his head in the direction he needs to go. "I don't want them to start worrying about me."

Ryan shakes his head and smiles. Never in a million years did he ever think anyone would worry about him. It's something he thinks he can get used to.

"They're good people... the Cohen's," Luke says.

"Yeah, they are," Ryan acknowledges with a heartfelt smile.

"You know, I really had you pegged all wrong," Luke states earnestly. "You're alright, Atwood."

"You just didn't know me," Ryan says, realizing he's also a bit guilty, having prejudged people just because they're rich. He knows now that not all rich kids are jerks. He also believes in giving people a second chance, just as the Cohen's are doing for him.

"Maybe... well... I thought..." Luke stutters, struggling to find the right words. "Maybe we could... I don't know... hang out sometime?"

"I'd like that," Ryan replies.

"Really?" Luke asks, surprised by Ryan's answer.

"Really," Ryan reiterates. "And maybe also Seth..."

"Seth Cohen? Really? Wow. Okay. I suppose I'm up for the challenge," Luke says before flashing a heartfelt smile. "See you around At... I mean, Ryan."

Ryan watches Luke walk back to his group of orange-vested probationers and smiles. He's happy to give Luke a second chance. In fact, he thinks they may even be able to someday be friends.

Ryan looks out across the vast ocean and takes in another deep breath then begins heading back.

I should really get back to the Cohen's, Ryan thinks to himself.

Keeping his head lowered, Ryan watches the ground as he places one foot in front of the other; the repetition of his steps pleasantly calming. Ryan smiles as a feeling of contentment washes over him.

It's time for me to go home.

-The end-

I'm toying with the idea of writing a sequel to this story. It would involve Bob Stankey's trial and its impact on Ryan and also explore Ryan's budding friendship with Luke. Of course, as with the majority of my stories, things would not go smoothly for Ryan. If I can come up with a viable story outline, I'll definitely write it and share. :-)