Author's Note: With quarantine limiting our choices in activity, we've started re-watching The O.C. I still love it and simultaneously still find the Oliver arc to be one of the worst things ever put to screen. Anyway, while watching 1x18 ("The Truth"), I found out I hate two specific things about this episode: first, that Sandy would tell Ryan that he "can't" ground him; and second, that Sandy would then speculate to Kirsten that maybe they should never have taken Ryan in, especially following his "you can't screw up bad enough for us to kick you out" speech one episode before. So I decided to take a crack at making it better for myself in fanfic.
Some timeline notes if you're trying to make this story fit in-universe: This begins to diverge at the start of 1x18. The dialogue up to the end of this chapter is from the conversation that Sandy and Ryan have at the start of the episode. Insert standard disclaimer here. I have some thoughts about how it might re-shape the arcs that follow, including the complicated pregnancy arc that ends out the season, but chances are this will stay short and to the point instead. Well, relatively speaking. My first real multi-chapter fic.
Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy!
The morning after his fight with Oliver, Ryan was up early. Like, way too early. Like, it was still dark outside early. But he knew from the minute he opened his eyes that he wasn't going back to sleep.
The night before had been... rough. Dr. Kim's phone call to Sandy and Kirsten had turned their gazes icy and their voices sharp, although since Dr. Kim had refrained from passing any judgment right then, so had they. They'd eaten dinner together, but silently. Even Seth had been quiet, watching Ryan with that wide-eyed, worried look that had become characteristic of him since Ryan had attempted to tell him about the letter Oliver had written Marissa.
He didn't like fighting with the Cohens. God, he didn't even get how he'd gotten in a position where he was fighting with the Cohens. Fighting with Marissa, okay, whatever. It wasn't his favorite thing in the world, but it was at least familiar. Since he'd gotten here, he'd probably been fighting with her more than not. But the shaky ground with Kirsten and Sandy was somewhere he'd hoped he'd never find himself again, and the discomfort and anxiousness from Seth, this weird strain of disbelief and incredulity in their relationship, was completely new, was threatening to unmoor him completely. (Unmoor was Seth's word: like when a boat gets loose, Ryan, have I taught you nothing about sailing?)
He hadn't even really realized how much space he'd made for Seth in his life until he'd suddenly found that space unoccupied.
But okay. He got it. Stop punching people shouldn't have been such an overwhelming request, and they'd already given him tons of leniency when it came to that rule. It was just, Oliver's smug face. Ryan knew people like Oliver, even if the people like Oliver that he knew didn't live in penthouse apartments or have private retreats or go to an expensive private school. People like Oliver hurt other people. And Marissa was completely blind to it. Marissa, who was supposed to be his girlfriend.
Ryan got out of bed and into the shower. Turned the water on scalding hot and stood underneath it for an hour straight, re-learning how to breathe around the tightness of his own chest. The water gave up before he figured it out, the temperature giving to lukewarm, and then cold. When he couldn't stand it any longer, he got out.
The sun had come up and, after getting dressed, he spent some time rolling up all the shades so he'd have a clear view of anyone on approach. He needed time to brace himself if Sandy or Kirsten or even Seth wanted to come and talk. He could see the house from the double doors that opened into the pool, could see through the kitchen windows to Kirsten already awake and fixing coffee. Any other morning, he'd go over and grab a cup, sit with her for a while. Kirsten in the morning was not the most talkative, but she was always attentive. Nice. Sometimes he made her breakfast, like he used to for his own mom, but the fact that he didn't feel like he had to when he was with her was something he still hadn't gotten over.
A lump pressed into his throat, and he retreated to the bed. He had no options today.
He looked over his textbooks for a distraction, but finally settled on The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a well-worn, well-loved Seth Cohen recommendation. Well, a recommendation if those came in the form of Ryan, you're so behind, you're literally hopeless as Seth piled various must-reads around the pool house. To Ryan's argument that he should probably catch up with school before he tried catching up on Seth's idea of literature, Seth had contended, Ryan, what's more important to you here, school or my friendship? Because you can't be my friend until you've read this. I'm serious, man.
It was funny at the time - just Seth being Seth - but now Ryan was starting to think he needed all the help he could get to stay in Seth's good graces.
He'd made it through about forty pages when Sandy showed up at the door. Rapping briefly on the glass pane, the older man stepped inside. "You're not having breakfast?"
He was calmer than he had been last night; Ryan could already tell that. No repeats today of last week's lecture, the frustration covering sympathy - pity? - when Sandy had said, you're part of this family now and you're going to feel the full weight of that before storming away. But the question still had an edge to it, and Ryan couldn't bring himself to look at him. "Not really hungry."
"Dr. Kim just called," Sandy said, as if Ryan could have ignored the buzz of the phone on his bedside table. "To let us know that you've been suspended. Indefinitely. Or until the disciplinary committee can figure out whether or not they want to expel you."
Sandy had a talent Ryan's mother had never possessed: the ability to imbue disappointment into every word. Disappointment that meant something. Ryan shoved himself up a little, fighting the tension in his stomach that begged him to just apologize and get it over with. "I know you want me to say I'm sorry, but I'm not," He said, still not able to look at Sandy. "Oliver admitted it, right to my face. He told me he wanted me gone so he could get to Marissa."
"Then why would he drop the assault charges against you?" Sandy asked.
Ryan absorbed that with some effort. "He did that?"
"Yeah," Sandy replied, finally stepping into the pool house. "I mean, it seems to me that if he had it in for you, if he wanted you gone, you'd be gone, you'd be back in juvie already, I mean, you know that, right?" He was talking like he was genuinely trying to make it make sense, but when Ryan's eyes made it up to his face, he saw what he'd expected to see: disbelief. The thing was that, in order to make it make sense from Sandy's perspective, Ryan had to be lying.
He looked away again.
Sandy stepped forward, coming to sit on the edge of the bed. "Come on, help me out here," He said. "Tell me what's going on."
Ryan sat up, pulling his legs a little closer towards himself, Seth's book clenched in his hands. He wasn't lying and, even though he knew it would be better for him to just let it go, he couldn't. "Oliver's dangerous."
Sandy's eyes narrowed briefly. "This is what I know," He said. "You attacked him, period. You're on probation, you knew the slightest infraction would probably result in you being taken from us." Ryan's breath caught at that, that uncomfortable tightness in his chest surging back in full-force, but Sandy wasn't done: "You did it anyway. I... for the life of me, I can't understand why. Come on, Ryan, talk to me."
Ryan sat up, putting more distance between them. "What's the point? You're not going to believe me anyway."
"It's not about what I believe, I wish it was," Sandy contended. "It's about what you did. The next time you feel like raising your fist, you had better open your mouth and talk. I'm here for that."
And that was the thing that killed him, because when he looked at Sandy, he seemed genuinely sincere. Like he really meant it when he implied that it would hurt the Cohens too to have him taken from them, like it was their hearts on the line along with his. But Sandy didn't believe him. Didn't even want to believe him. And what was he supposed to do with that?
Sandy, finally understanding that this conversation was a wash, leaned back. Sighed. "Ryan," He said, his voice shifting from pleading to authoritative. "Kirsten and I have talked it over, and we've decided."
Ryan's heart jumped into his throat as he tried to process the sudden turn of the conversation, tried to prepare himself for his eviction notice, tried not to look into Sandy's sympathetic eyes.
So his breath was pretty much knocked out of him when Sandy said, "You're grounded."