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

A/N: Sequel to "A Bitter Pill": Bob Stankey, head of the group home Ryan stayed at for six months, is ready to stand trial for second-degree murder due to depraved indifference in the death of a teenage boy in his care. Ryan is set to take the stand and testify against Stankey, facing the man who abused him.

This story takes place three months after "A Bitter Pill" ends. Ryan and Luke are friends and attending the public school while Seth is attending Harbor. I'm taking some "liberties" with the time and understand that it would be more like a year or longer for any trial to begin. But, I didn't want to fast forward an entire year so, in this story, the legal justice system works at lightning speed. :-)

A heartfelt "thank you" to matthewsbj, Linneagb and the guest reviewers for reviewing. I really appreciate the positive feedback and support. :-)

Chapter 9

"Sandy, oh my God what happened?" Kirsten asks frantically when she sees her husband step into the living room. "There are police officers here. They told me Seth and I have to stay home..."

"Everything's going to be okay, honey," Sandy reassures as he wraps his arms around his distraught wife. "I saw Ryan."

"You saw Ryan?" Kirsten asks, abruptly pulling away from her husband's embrace. "Is he alright? Can he come home? I need him to come home, Sandy. I need him home now!"

"I know you do," Sandy says as he pulls his wife back in to give her a comforting hug. "Ryan was coerced into lying in court this morning. Sheriff Hicks and I need to look for something in Ryan's bedroom."

"What are you looking for?" Kirsten asks with concern.

"I can't tell you. Not right now," Sandy replies. "But it may be just the thing to help get the perjury charges dropped."

"Dad? What's going on?" Seth asks, walking warily into the living room. "Why do Mom and me have to stay inside? They said I can't even go to school tomorrow, which I'm not complaining about, but now I'll have a ton of make up work to do..."

"Son, come with me," Sandy says calmly as he places his arm around Seth's shoulders and steers him into the kitchen.

"What is it, Dad?"

"I need you to look after your Mom," Sandy instructs. "Can you do that for me?"

"Sure, Dad."

"And please, just do whatever the officers tell you to do," Sandy continues. "I really need you to step up to the plate on this one. It's important."

"You can count on me, Dad," Seth assures.

"Thank you," Sandy says as he begins to walk away and rejoin Sheriff Hicks.

"Say, Dad?"

Sandy turns around and looks at Seth, his son's eyes wide with concern.

"Is Ryan going to be coming home soon?"

"I hope so, Seth," Sandy replies earnestly. "But mark my word, I'm not going to stop until Ryan is home with us, safe and sound."

"It's okay, baby..."

Ryan feels a hand placed upon his forehead, then senses fingers threading through the strands of his dark blond hair.

"Everything's gonna be okay..."


"That's right, baby. Your mama's here..."

Ryan struggles with his feelings. Something seems wrong...

"I'm right here, baby..."

"Mom, is it really you?"

"Yeah, baby... it's really me..."

Ryan suddenly begins to feel uncomfortable as his mother runs her icy cold hand over his face.

"But... but you're in prison..."

"And so are you, baby. You're in prison just like me, your stupid pathetic brother and that good-for-nothin' father..."

"No..." Ryan feels the fingers become rough and bony with razor sharp nails. They trace down to his neck. His heart is beating rapidly... the anxiety mounts as he waits for the pain...

"Sorry, baby... you're an Atwood. And Atwood's belong in prison..."

"No, Sandy is helping me."

Ryan senses a sharp fingernails gouge into his neck... or is it a knife...

"Oh baby, wake up and face reality. Sandy Cohen doesn't give a fuckin' shit about you. And neither does that picture-perfect, Orange County bitch of a wife of his."

Ryan sees the shiv.

"You're goin' to prison, baby..."

The sharp edge of the blade flickers in the light.

"You're an Atwood..."

The knife is held up against his neck. Ryan feels the blade pierce his skin. There's a blackness... a void. The hood placed over his head begins to constrict. He tries to breathe in oxygen but there is none. He feels a gun pressed against his head. He tries to breathe again, but he can't. He can't get any air. He's suffocating...

Ryan gasps and opens his eyes as he bolts up into a sitting position. His heart is beating rapidly. Perspiration drips from his forehead. He wipes the dampness away then plants his face into the palm of his hands. How he hates prison cells. He has no perception of time. Has he been asleep for an hour? Or is it the next day. All he knows is he's exhausted. He wants to sleep. But his dreams can be more disturbing than his reality.

I don't want any more nightmares...

Ryan lays back down on the cot and lets out a plaintive sigh. All he can do is wait and hope he doesn't fall asleep again.

You're wrong, Mom, Ryan thinks to himself. Sandy does care. And so does Kirsten. They care about me. They do.

Ryan wipes an errant tear from his eye and sighs out loud, "If only you cared about me."

I wish you cared about me...

Ryan turns over on his side and gazes at the bars of his cell. He blinks away his tears and finishes his thought...

As much as I've cared about you...

"Ryan's bedroom is the first door on the right," Sandy tells the sheriff as they walk down the hallway.

Ray Hicks stops outside Ryan's bedroom, then turns to Sandy. "I'll need you to not touch anything when we're in the room," the sheriff instructs. "I understand your fingerprints are probably all over this room, but it's protocol."

"Understood," Sandy says, tucking his hands in his pants pockets as both he and the sheriff enter Ryan's bedroom.

Sandy stands in the center of the bedroom and watches as Sheriff Hicks dons a pair of latex gloves. Ray carefully opens the top drawer of the dresser. He sees underwear and undershirts neatly folded. He closes the drawer, then opens the second. He notes an array of socks neatly folded and some assorted athletic wear; jock straps, sweat bands, wrist bands...

"Ryan is organized," Ray tells Sandy as he opens the third drawer.

"Yes, he is," Sandy acknowledges. "He's quite the opposite of Seth."

"Bingo," Ray says as he removes a 4 by 6 manilla envelope from underneath a pair of pants.

Sandy walks over to the sheriff and peers down at the envelope.

"Let's see what we have here," Ray says as he carefully removes the photos.

"That's Seth and Ryan down at the pier. The boys often go there to grab a bite to eat." Sandy looks at Sheriff Hicks and adds, "I think the boys just like to go down to the pier and girl watch."

"A totally acceptable pastime for sixteen-year-old boys," Ray says, tucking the picture away to look at the second one.

Sandy gets a sick feeling in his stomach as he looks at the next picture. "Oh no, that's Kirsten," Sandy says, somewhat alarmed. "She's in the parking lot at work... at the Newport Group."

"She's getting into her vehicle. Someone knows her routine," Ray states as he takes a look at the third picture. "This is interesting."

"It's a knife," Sandy says, peering down at the photo.

"Not just a knife. It's a shiv," Ray states.

"It's a picture of an inmate holding a shiv?" Sandy asks in disbelief. "How in the world could someone take of picture of that? Cameras aren't allowed..."

"Oh, you'd be surprised the stuff that gets smuggled in," Ray says. "I suppose it would have been too much to ask to be able to see who is holding the knife."

"Well, it's definitely an inmate," Sandy says. "You can see the edge of the orange sleeve of his jumpsuit."

"Maybe we'll get lucky and find a fingerprint on these pictures, although I won't hold my breath," Ray states, disappointed the photos didn't offer more to go on.

"Wait a minute. What's that?" Sandy asks, pointing at the picture of the knife.

"What do you see?" Ray inquires.

"There seems to be something on the inmate's wrist. The sleeve is covering most of it but it looks like a point or end of a triangle."

Ray takes his reading glasses out of his shirt pocket and puts them on. He looks closely at the picture, then smiles. "That is part of a tattoo."

"Okay, but we can't see the whole thing," Sandy says.

Ray removes his reading glasses and turns to Sandy. "Whenever someone is arrested, they go through booking. Even for lesser crimes it can be a very invasive procedure. Fingerprinting, mug shots and, of course, the dreaded strip search if warranted."

"Believe me, I know," Sandy says, having heard all sorts of horror stories from past clients.

"But also, during the procedure, every identifying mark is noted and logged into the system," Ray continues. "We're talking unusual birthmarks, scars and everyone's favorite..."

"Tattoos," Sandy says, finishing the sheriff's sentence.

"The information comes in very handy when interviewing witnesses and victims of crime," Ray says. "They remember scars and tattoos much more readily than hair and eye color."

"So what's our next move?" Sandy asks.

"Well, I'm going to go back to the station and start looking into the database for wrist tattoos, specifically for inmates serving time at the Chino Men's Correctional where Trey is," Ray says. "You should stay here with your family."

"All right," Sandy says. "But you'll call me if you find out anything..."

"Of course, I'll call you immediately," Ray states as he holds his hand out to shake Sandy's hand. "You've been an enormous help and I thank you."

Sandy shakes the sheriff's hand. "I just want Stankey in prison and Ryan back home here. That kid's been through enough."

Ray nods his head in agreement and offers an encouraging smile. "Ryan will not go down for this. Not on my watch. I will get proof the boy was coerced into lying."

"Thank you," Sandy states.

"I'll see myself out," Ray says as he takes his leave. "Hang in there and stay strong. Ryan needs you."

Sandy watches as the sheriff leaves then immediately sits down on the bed. He feels exhausted and emotionally spent. He takes in a deep breath, but it doesn't help. He realizes he's never felt this way before.

"Sweetheart, are you alright?"

Sandy looks up and sees his wife standing in the doorway.

"The sheriff left. Did you find what you were looking for?"

"Yes... and no," Sandy replies.

"Sandy, talk to me," Kirsten says as she sits down on the bed next to her husband.

Sandy runs his hand over his beleaguered face. He quickly wipes away some errant tears and sighs. "I sat right here. Last night after dinner," Sandy says quietly. "I sat here with Ryan. I knew something was wrong but I..."

"But you what?"

"I just thought he was nervous about the trial. I didn't..."

"We both thought Ryan was just nervous, on edge about the trial..."

"Why didn't he tell me?"

"Tell you what?" Kirsten asks.

Sandy looks over at his wife and takes her hands into his. "Ryan was abducted, held at gunpoint..."

Kirsten gasps as she clenches her husband's hands.

"The men who did this... they not only threatened Ryan, they threatened you, Seth and Trey. Ryan felt he had no choice..."

"So he lied in court," Kirsten says, lowering her head. "Oh my god, that poor boy. Why didn't he say something?"

"Because he felt he couldn't. And I keep asking myself why."

Kirsten leans her head upon Sandy's shoulder and clutches her husband's hands.

"I know we haven't known him for very long," Sandy says.

"It's been almost four months," Kirsten states in a whisper, recalling when she first met Ryan. She, herself, had trust issues. But that is now a thing of the past. All she wants is to give the boy a stable, loving home. And she knows she and Sandy can give him that... and more.

"Ryan knows we would never hurt him. I would never hit him... or beat him," Sandy says with a hint of pain in his voice. His mind suddenly becomes flooded with everything he's read in the boy's file. The abuse by his father, his mother, his mother's boyfriends... "My god, we would never throw him out to the curb if he came home a few minutes after curfew..."

"Ryan knows these things," Kirsten says as she leans even closer into her husband. "But I'm not sure if he believes it."

Sandy wraps his arm around his wife and sighs. "You're right. Ryan knows we would never hurt him. He's safe here. He can talk to us. He can trust us..."

He just needs to believe it...