Disclaimer: Unfortunately, I do not own the characters, not even the adorable Ryan Atwood/Ben McKenzie. The OC universe and all of its characters were created by Josh Schwartz and owned by him as well. Don't sue me Josh! I mean it! No copyright infringement intended!

A/N: This story is set sometime during S1 in the spring time. Assume that the whole Oliver thing never happened, and Ryan is not dating anyone, but rather is just focusing on school. He's still not adjusted to living with the Cohens and is scared of getting kicked out. Also assume that Luke never leaves for Portland. There will be about 3 or 4 chapters to this probably (EDIT: Scratch that! This fic will be over 12 chapters more than likely!) The fic will eventually cover some darker aspects of Ryan's past. :) He also has a mysterious illness that you'll find out about as the story goes on...

~*~*~*~CHAPTER ONE~*~*~*~

"Hey, fag, why don't you go change with your boyfriend over there? I'm sure he'd love to see you naked," Evan Sanders asked Luke mockingly, pointing to Ryan who was pulling on his practice jersey on the opposite side of the locker room.

Evan was the soccer team's lead center forward or as Luke liked to call him the cockiest bastard and biggest asshole on the team. He'd been picking on Luke for months ever since the day everyone found out that Luke's dad had come out to his mom about being gay. Now, in the midst of Harbor's spring soccer season, Evan's bullying had become constant and unbearable.

Ryan overheard Evan's jeering remarks, and turned in Luke's direction, making eye contact with him and throwing him a sympathetic glance. He noticed how his friend aggressively widened his stance, clenching both fists and tightening his jaw. Now fully dressed in his practice gear, Ryan began walking towards Luke's locker. He hoped that his presence would calm him down and prevent him from doing something stupid.

"Hey, man," Ryan greeted his friend, bumping fists with him before furtively patting him on the back and adding, "He's not worth it. Let's get to practice."

Luke nodded slightly, eyeing Ryan gratefully, but the tension remained visible in his body language. By now, he knew that Ryan was probably his only friend on the team and one of his only friends at Harbor.

"Why don't you two fruitcakes make out now?" Evan continued his taunting as the other two boys headed towards the door, hoping to make their way out to the field before the rest of their teammates finished changing.

"Shut the fuck up, Evan," Luke countered, turning around. He was now visibly shaking with anger as he took large steps towards Evan, noticeably closing the space between them.

"Luke, you don't wanna do this," Ryan reached for Luke's arm in an effort to stop him, but it was no use. Luke had already made his decision.

"And what if I won't? What are you gonna do about it, bitch? Run to your boyfriend over there? Or better yet… run to your daddy, crying? I'm sure he'd like that, wouldn't he, Luke?" Evan sneered, sizing Luke up.

The two teammates were now standing about two inches from each other.

"You're such a fag," Evan provoked further in a quiet yet derisive tone. He lunged forward, shoving Luke hard and causing him to stumble backwards.

Suddenly, all the memories of the hell he'd endured at Harbor the past few months caught up to him. He recalled getting assaulted by jerks in the hallway frequently in between classes, getting his tires slashed, and the look on the faces of people he once called friends who now ridiculed him and debased his reputation. A surge of anger overwhelmed every fiber in his body, and in a matter of seconds, he completely lost it, giving in to his pent up rage and embarrassment.

"You're dead!" Luke yelled as he slammed his body into Evan's full force, knocking him to the floor.

Now everyone's attention was on the developing fight.

Ryan froze.

He wasn't sure what to do. More than anything, he wanted to jump into the fight and help out his friend, but he knew he was still on probation, and he feared that if he got into a fight or got suspended, the Cohens would kick him out and he'd be homeless again—on his way back to foster care, a group home, or worse.

He watched as Luke's fists connected hard with Evan's jaw several times before Evan managed to pull him into a half nelson. Evan was clearly the more trained fighter, having wrestled for years, but Luke was fueled by adrenaline and raw emotions. Maneuvering around Evan's grip, Luke let his neck free and began slamming his elbow hard into Evan's face—all thoughts of reason leaving the teenager.

Ryan couldn't hold back any longer as he feared Luke was seriously injuring Evan, and he dived onto the floor behind Luke, trying to pull him off of the other boy and break up the fight.

"Hey! What the hell are you doing? Come on!" Ryan yelled, jostling Luke as hard as he could.

Luke's arms were swinging like a wild animal and one of his elbows accidentally hit Ryan in the mouth, causing the smaller boy to fall backwards, knocking the wind out of him for a few seconds. Quickly regaining his composure, Ryan tackled his friend, and pinned his arms down.

The mouth of every athlete in the room remained agape in astonishment.

By the time Luke finally calmed down, Coach Nielson had entered the room, immediately spotting Evan's unconscious body lying on the floor and running towards him. Blood slowly oozed from a large, open cut on the side of Evan's head, and the deep, red liquid also leaked from his mouth and nose. Worried by the scene in front of him, Coach Nielson hysterically began feeling for a pulse.

"Somebody call 9-1-1!" he ordered, fear and disappointment evident in his tone.

Luke was still shaking and obviously disoriented. From the position he was lying in on the floor, he couldn't see how badly he'd injured Evan.

Ryan remained by his side kneeling. He had a clear view of Evan's battered, still form. Swallowing nervously, a flustered Ryan made eye contact with Coach Nielson, and the grave expression his coach returned him caused his stomach to drop and a feeling of nausea to surface.

This was bad.

"Would somebody like to explain what the hell happened in here?" Coach Nielson asked the members of his team who had witnessed the fight—his voice elevated and irritable.

"Well?" He asked again furiously, but nobody answered.

"What about you, Ward? Would you like to enlighten me on what happened?"

Luke stood up, his gaze meeting Coach Nielson's.

"Evan called me a fag and dissed my dad. I got pissed and went to confront him. He shoved me hard and I kind of lost it and started hitting him. Ryan jumped in to get me off of Evan. I don't remember anything after that," he answered, shrugging his shoulders.

At this point, he was just going through the motions. He didn't feel remorseful; in fact, if presented the same scenario with Evan, he'd do it again. He did, however, feel a tinge of regret since he knew this altercation meant he wouldn't get to play in the big game this weekend.

Still, he remembered that neither of his parents would be able to attend the game anyway.

"What difference does it make if I play or not?" he thought to himself sadly.

In his mind, he had no one.

He just wanted everything to be over, and he decided that he really didn't care how much trouble he was in anymore. Being suspended would surely be better than the hell he went through at school every day. Sure he had wanted to play in the game this weekend, but he was willing to sacrifice it if it meant not having to put up with guys like Evan.

The sound of Coach Nielsons's peevish voice quickly interrupted his dispirited thoughts.

"Is this true, Atwood?" The burly, middle aged man inquired, now facing Ryan.

When Coach Nielson looked into Ryan's piercing blue eyes, all he saw was apprehension and concern for Luke and Evan. Observing the teenager's appearance further, he also noted to himself that unlike Evan and Luke, his practice uniform was not torn. In fact, other than a small cut on his lip and a large, pink bruise that was slowly making itself visible on the left side of his chin, he had no apparent injuries and no redness on his knuckles. Putting together the pieces of the puzzle, Coach Nielson decided that Ryan was definitely not the instigator of the fight and that Luke was telling the truth.

"Yes, sir," Ryan answered softly, taking a deep breath. He was now staring down at his feet and fidgeting with his thumbs nervously—his shoulders slumped.

Coach Nielson sighed. Turning to face the other witnesses in the room, he continued his interrogation.

"Is there anyone in here who disagrees with Luke and Ryan's story?"

When nobody else spoke up, he headed towards the door where the paramedics were now making their way inside.

"Okay then," he said as he watched the paramedics begin attending to Evan. By the time they power lifted him onto a gurney, he was slowly regaining consciousness. They asked him a series of medical questions, and Luke sighed in relief at Evan's answers.

At least he didn't kill him, and from the looks of it he hadn't injured him too badly either.

"Okay. Enough of this lollygagging around! Everybody get outside and start running laps until I get out there! I hope you didn't think you'd get off practice that easily. There's a big game this weekend," Coach Nielson commanded his team before diverting his attention to Ryan, who was waiting around expectantly as if he thought he was in trouble.

"Atwood, go get some ice from the training room for that ugly bruise and go easy on the laps today… oh and I need to talk to you after practice."

"Yes, sir," Ryan answered again, relieved that he wasn't being suspended or sent to Dr. Kim's office.

"Ward, go wait outside of my office… I'll meet you there after the ambulance takes off. I'm calling Dr. Kim," Coach Nielson ordered Luke firmly.

"Whatever," Luke replied, his voice indifferent as he began the short trip to the office.

"All right, we're going to run through another short scrimmage… same teams as yesterday. When you're done, I want you guys to run three laps around the field and then you can go home for the day," Coach Nielson explained. "Atwood, I want you defending Childress intensely. Childress, remember. Keep your eyes on the goal. We'll end scrimmage after someone scores."

Ryan lethargically made his way back onto the grassy field and wiped a bit of sweat off of his forehead with his right hand. He was exhausted from the day's events and the intense California sun was tiring him even more—the humidity and pollen causing his allergies to flare up. Spring had just begun, and a heat wave had spread across the region, causing unusually warm temperatures.

Moreover, Ryan just couldn't get Luke out of his mind. He was worried about his friend, and he feared that there was nothing he could do to help him at this point.

The whistle blew, snapping Ryan out of his light brooding session.

It was time to play again.

He had to focus.

Chip Daniels passed the ball to Michael Satton who in turn head bunted the ball to Stephen Childress. Ryan tried to keep up as much as he could on his tired legs. He had been battling allergy-induced sinusitis for the past couple of weeks, and he hadn't yet gotten all of his strength back.

Childress passed the ball back to Satton, and reaching strenuously with his right leg, Ryan managed to intercept the ball and began maneuvering it as fast as he could in the opposite direction across the field towards the goal. He ran so fast that none of his other teammates could keep up with him before finally kicking the ball hard, aiming it at the goal.

"Score!" A few of his teammates exclaimed, relieved that for the most part, practice was finally over. Today had been a grueling two and a half hour session.

A fatigued Ryan collapsed into the grass, wheezing. Slightly worried, Coach Nielson ran over to check on him. The last thing he wanted was to call another ambulance.

"Atwood, you alright?" the coach asked, concerned.

Fighting to catch his breath, Ryan groaned, "Mmm… fine."

"I don't want you running any more laps today. You're still not back to 100%, are you?"

Ryan merely shook his head.

Coach Nielson patted the teen's shoulder and helped him sit upright on the soiled grass hoping that the change in posture would open up Ryan's airway better.

He hated to admit it, but he'd grown a soft spot for Ryan. Despite his aggressive behavior towards Luke during try-outs much earlier in the season where he'd been suspended, there was something about the quiet boy that he admired. He wasn't sure exactly what it was, but he knew it had a lot to do with his incredible work ethic and teachable attitude despite playing striker—a position that most kids used for self-gratification. He also appreciated how supportive Ryan had been of Luke throughout much of the season. He knew that most of the kids on the team had been giving Luke a hard time ever since Carson Ward's homosexuality became public knowledge, and he appreciated Ryan's loyalty to his friend. However, regardless of his fondness for Ryan and the sympathy he felt for Luke much of the season as his other teammates picked on him, the fight between Luke and Evan was completely unacceptable.

Finally composed and breathing normally, Ryan spoke up, "Any news on Evan?"

"Not yet, but I'll keep in mind that you asked when his parents give me an update," Coach Nielson informed him.

"Hope he'll be okay," Ryan said sincerely.

"We all do," Coach Nielson added. He paused momentarily before changing the subject. "I needed to talk to you about the game Saturday. I need you to start as lead striker. You think you can do that?"

Ryan hesitated before answering.

He knew that Luke was the lead striker for the team, so if Coach wanted him to take Luke's spot in one of the biggest games of the season that meant Luke had to have been suspended for at least a week.

He exhaled deeply, disappointed by the possible length of Luke's suspension. He knew that Luke had been looking forward to playing in this weekend's game. It was the county championship and soccer had been the only thing keeping Luke sane and sober the past few weeks.

Ryan frowned at the thought of Luke drowning away his sorrows in alcohol. He'd caught him drunk several times over the course of the semester, and the only reason Luke had cut down on his drinking in recent weeks was because he wanted to play in this game and he hadn't been performing well in practice while hung over.

Ryan decided that the least he could do was play hard for Luke this weekend and perhaps dedicate the game ball to him.

"Sure…yeah," he finally responded, wrapping his arms around both legs and resting the side of his head on his knees.

He closed his eyes.

If the fatigue he was already feeling was any indication, this was going to be a long week. Normally he'd be excited about the opportunity to play as a starter in such an important game, but right now he just wanted to get back to the pool house and sleep.

"Alright, well go home and rest up. I need you in tip top shape this weekend, and by the way… good goal a few minutes ago," Coach Nielson complimented Ryan, and the athletic teen rewarded him with a tiny half-smile.

"Thanks," he said, before standing up and brushing the grass off of his shorts, and with that he ventured over to the locker room to retrieve his backpack.

He wondered how long Luke would be suspended. Would his friend be okay?

When he'd finally grabbed all of his belongings, he made his way over to the bicycle rack behind the locker room, unlocked his bike, and began the five mile ride home.

"The velocity is 3500 meters per second so if I plug in Planck's constant, the energy is…," Ryan mumbled to himself quietly as he continued to finish his chemistry homework before the approaching sound of Deathcab for Cutie caused him to lose his train of thought.

Noticing for the first time that Seth was standing next to his study desk listening to his iPod and carrying a shopping bag, Ryan glared at the dark, curly-haired boy hoping his foster brother would get the picture.

For once he wished someone would actually knock before entering the pool house. He had a lot on his mind, and wasn't quite in the mood to talk. Perhaps he should have locked the door. However, suddenly remembering that it was a privilege just to live there, he questioned his right to lock the door. The pool house belonged to the Cohens after all, and Seth certainly had more right to the large, heavily windowed room than he did.

Accordingly, Ryan softened his glare. Meanwhile, Seth finally took his headphones off and began his diurnal afterschool chatter.

"Ryan, my man… Long time, no talk."

"We had lunch together less than five hours ago," Ryan pointed out—a hint of sarcasm in his tone.

"Sometimes I prefer you when you didn't think you had a sense of humor. Anyway, what are you doing right now? Because I've got an awesome surprise… awesome is not even a good word to describe how great it is...try… epic… wait… here it is," Seth began pulling out a disc from the shopping bag he was carrying. "Waaait for it… waaaait for it…"

"It's just Battlestar Gallactica," Ryan shrugged when he finally saw what Seth had bought.

"Yes, Ryan. But not just any Battlestar Gallactica! It's the NEW Battlestar Gallactica and it's ready for us to play over a nice conversation about my day… or our days, not that you ever tell me anything about it anyway… while we eat loads of junk food before dinner! Plus I've got a lot to tell you about Summer and our little talk during homeroom…"

"I appreciate the offer, Seth, but I think I'm gonna have to pass tonight. I've got a lot of homework, and there's something important I've gotta do after."

"Something that's more important than Seth-Ryan time?"

Ryan sighed, but wasn't sure how to answer. He really cared about his foster brother and didn't want to risk hurting his feelings, especially since he felt he owed Seth for talking his parents into letting him live with them in the first place. He decided he'd just tell him the truth. He owed him that much at least.

"I've gotta check on Luke."

"Luke? You mean shaves his chest, water polo playing, gay dad Luke? You're passing up me and Battlescar Gallactica for him?" Seth asked—a hurt expression visible on the lanky boy's face.

"He had a really rough day. He's all alone."

"What about me? I'm all alone! Why do you even care so much about him? Doesn't it mean anything to you that he used to make my life hell? That he'd pee in my shoes and mock me and jerk me around?"

"Those things were wrong Seth, but he's apologized to you- many times. I think it's about time you forgive him. Besides, he's going through some tough issues and needs a friend."

"What happened today that is so bad you have to hang out with him tonight?"

"A kid at soccer practice wouldn't stop picking on him. They got in a fight. Both got suspended."

"Does that have anything to do with that big shiner on your chin?"

"Um… well… yeah," Ryan answered, ducking his head, slightly embarrassed that it probably seemed to Seth that he was living up to his reputation as 'Kid Chino' or 'fists of fury.' Then, suddenly he remembered that Sandy and Kirsten would also see the bruise on his chin when they came home—the very thought of that twisting his stomach into knots.

His shoulders tightened, and he scratched his head nervously. He couldn't afford to get in trouble, and he'd promised them he wouldn't get into anymore fights. Seth's response broke his distressed train of thought.

"Damn it. That sucks for Luke. Okay fine, you're right about him needing a friend, but when you get back, you owe me five hours of Seth-Ryan time."

"I'll give you six." Ryan agreed as he began putting his books away hastily. "And… Seth…could you do me a favor, please?"

"Anything for you, my man…what's up?"

"Could you tell Kirsten and Sandy where I am when they get back? I would call them, but I know they're both at that conference and I don't want to bother them," he explained as he arrived at his closet, reaching for a blue button up shirt to wear over his wife beater.

"Sure thing bro…"

"Thanks, Seth. I really appreciate it. We'll play Battlescar Gallactica tomorrow. I promise."

Seth smiled brightly at Ryan's last comment and Ryan headed for the door. He stepped outside, unlocking his bike and taking off to Luke's.

By the time Ryan finally arrived at Luke's house, the sun had already begun setting. He rang the doorbell and waited on the front porch for someone to answer but got no response. Anxious, he began pounding on the door, but as the minutes passed by, still nobody came to answer.

He knew that Luke's mom, Meredith, was probably out working late again, but where could Luke be? When he didn't see Luke's truck in the driveway, he became worried—the worst possible scenarios began running through his mind due to his knowledge of Luke's drinking problem.

Drinking? Driving? Accident?

Ryan swallowed hard and inhaled deeply trying to calm himself down. He knew he needed to stay positive as that was the only way he'd be able to help his friend. Finally, thinking rationally, he decided to walk around to the backyard to see if perhaps he'd find Luke there instead.

To his relief, he found him sitting on the patio deck, which he noticed was littered with a few empty bottles of beer and vodka.

"Hey Luke," Ryan greeted him, walking over to where the other boy was seated.

Luke looked up and nodded in recognition of his only friend.

"Hey," he slurred.

"Getting drunk again?" Ryan asked, sadly—recalling all of the nights he'd found Luke in some state of drunkenness this semester. Still he was relieved that Luke was at least sitting down as opposed to driving a vehicle.

"You've got that right," Luke answered sluggishly.

Ryan had seen it so many times before—first with his dad who used to beat him, Trey, and his mom in an alcoholic rage, then with his mom who always chose alcohol and her abusive boyfriends over him, and also in other painful memories he wasn't in the mood to think about. Now alcoholism seemed to be overtaking the friend he'd grown to trust the most in Newport.

"It's 7:30 on a weekday, man. Why are you doing this?" He inquired, concerned for his friend—although sadly he already knew the answer.

"What does it matter anyway? It's not like I'll be back in school tomorrow."

Ryan determined it wouldn't be an appropriate time to bring up what happened before soccer practice, so instead he changed the subject.

"Have you eaten anything?" he asked, beginning to stand up.

"Not hungry," Luke shrugged his shoulders, indifferent.

"Come on. You've gotta eat something, right?" Ryan implored, offering Luke a hand up, which he reluctantly accepted. "I…uh… can get us a discount at the Crab Shack since I work there. Sound good?"

"Cool," Luke answered with a faint smile, revealing that his disinterested, tough guy act was merely a façade.

"I only brought my bike, but it's just a mile walk from here. Where's your truck by the way?" Ryan remembered.

"At the shop. Someone thought it'd be fun to bust the windshield and key mark the word 'faggot' on the bumper. Probably one of Evan's asshole friends…"

"Damn, man. I'm so sorry."

"It's cool. I probably need the fresh air anyways… "

The two boys began the mile walk to the Crab Shack. Ryan guided an unsteady Luke for much of the walk by placing his right arm behind Luke's back—the heavier teenager being too intoxicated to walk in a straight line on his own. Ryan felt the urge to stop and draw in a deep breath to alleviate a nagging, tight feeling that was building in his chest. However, he decided to ignore it and continue walking. It wasn't until they had nearly reached the restaurant that either boy spoke again.

"Hey, Chino?"


"Thanks. This means a lot."

"No worries," Ryan answered, playfully imitating the frequent vernacular of his friend. The corners of his mouth twitched upwards into a small, but sincere smile and he held Luke's gaze steadily—his eyes and demeanor expressing how much he cared for his friend. "I just wanted to make sure you're alright," he finished.

Despite the hard times Luke was facing, he couldn't help but smile gratefully at Ryan's comments. After all, it felt good to have someone on his side—even if it was just one person.

A/N 2: In Ch. 2, Ryan will open up to Luke a little bit about his past. I hope you guys enjoyed the first chapter, and if you feel compelled to do so, I always appreciate reading reviews. :)