Thanks: I'm a broken record. Thank you lyra_sena, you're still amazing.
The bed in the pool house was warm, soft, and big, but Ryan was lying on the edge, curled on his side, pillow bunched beneath his head. He watched the flickering lights from the television chase themselves across the white walls.
He listened to the low sounds of the infomercial, letting the noise soothe him. It was something different, something other than the steady fall of the guard’s footsteps, or the rough snoring of his cellmate, or the sound of flesh smacking against flesh as somebody next door got beat up or worse.
Ryan shuddered, and flipped over onto his back. He was safe, really, he just needed to get his feet under himself, and a place to stay of his own. It would be all right.
A knock on the glass pane of the door surprised him, and Ryan flinched. Seth’s breath fogged the window, and he wrote ‘Seth RAWKS’ in the condensation. He waved as Ryan sat up, and then let himself in, wrinkling his nose at the television. “Those Cutco knives totally don’t cut through everything. They tell vicious, vicious lies. Trust me, man, I’ve tried.”
“Hey,” Ryan said, scooting over, as Seth plopped down on the bed. “What’s up?”
“Oh, you know, couldn’t sleep, so I decided to raid the super secret stash of junk food that Dad keeps. The one I’m not supposed to know about,” Seth grinned, holding up a bag of Oreos triumphantly. “Total score.”
“Nice,” Ryan agreed, nodding.
Seth’s made a face, resting his arms on the lizard print of his pajama pants. “Nice? Dude, popcorn is nice. Oreos are like, sublime.”
“If you say so.”
“I totally say so,” Seth told him. “Let it be written henceforth that Oreos are sublime, divine, food of the gods, ambrosia, et cetera et cetera et cetera. Anyway, I was in the kitchen doing my black-ops food hunt, and I saw the TV on. Thought I’d come out here and see if you were okay.”
“I’m fine,” Ryan responded automatically, shrugging. “Just trying to make plans.”
“Plans to do what?” Seth asked, confused. “Tomorrow we’re going to the beach, and I’m gonna watch you fall flat on your ass while you try to surf. I mean, I’m going to teach you how to surf.”
Ryan eyed him, and Seth grinned, so unrepentant that Ryan found himself laughing quietly. “So tell me about these plans of yours,” Seth prompted, poking Ryan’s leg. “What are they? Where are we going?”
“*We’re* not going anywhere,” Ryan corrected, looking up at the ceiling again. “I’m trying to figure out where *I’m* going to go.”
Seth blew out a long sigh, and bumped his shoulder into Ryan’s. “Hey, dude, let’s not be hasty or anything. I’m trying to convince my parents and –”
“It’s not going to work, Seth. And, you know, maybe it shouldn’t.” Ryan shrugged again, looking back at Seth. “It’ll work out for the best, okay?”
“You’re right, it will,” Seth agreed instantaneously, nodding so hard his curls flopped into his eyes. “And that’s how I know you’re going to end up here, because that’s the best. The glass,” he told Ryan pointedly, “is totally half full, dude.”
“Sure,” Ryan said, agreeably, turning his attention back to the television.
Seth fidgeted, frowning, and very obviously trying to wrestle with something he wanted to say. Ryan let it continue for a full minute, watching from the corner of his eye as emotions flitted across Seth’s features. It fascinated him, how open Seth was, how honest – how he just put everything out there. There was something about it Ryan envied, but mostly he just found it charming.
But then, he found most things about Seth charming. From the way Seth talked about the Sandman as the pinnacle of fantasy writing to the way his lips twitched up in the corner, as though he was always laughing at some private joke. And if maybe Ryan found Seth *more* than charming, Ryan was okay with that because it was…Seth. And that was just the way it was.
When Seth’s bouncing knee bumped Ryan’s hard enough to hurt, Ryan took pity on him, and asked, “What?”
“I was just wondering,” Seth started, drawing a deep breath, “I was wondering how you were.”
Ryan shook his head, turning to look at Seth. “How I am?”
Seth shifted, frowning. “It’s your first night out, and I was just…you know. The whole prison thing. How are you? You know, with that?”
“Oh.” Ryan frowned, too, looking down at his hands, outlined against the sheets. “Uh, I guess I’m okay.”
Blowing out a long exasperated breath, Seth ran a hand through his hair. "Man, I don't know how to...did they...are you okay? Do you need to see a doctor or anything? Or talk about it? Or not talk about it? Is there something that needs talking about here? Because if there is, I'm here. You know, to talk, or not talk about it as you see fit. I mean, you can tell me man. No, you really can, because I'm...shit, Ryan. I'm here, okay? I'm here no matter what. And you have to know that if they did then it wasn't your fault because --"
"I'm okay," Ryan said, trying on a smile to reassure Seth. "Really. I don't need to see a doctor."
Seth nodded once, eyes big and dark and serious. "So you're fine physically. That's good. And...uhm...otherwise? I mean, I'm just going off "Shawshank Redemption" and "OZ" here, but I'm guessing prison's probably the type of place that ends up sending people to Summer's dad. And, you know, I'm not, like, a doctor or anything. But. I'm here, so...."
Ryan looked out the glass doors, at the smooth, still pool, thinking.
"Or you could go all strong silent type on me," Seth said, crossing his arms. "You know, whichever."
Ryan shot him a look, and his smile became more natural. "I'm trying to figure out how to say it."
"Oh." Seth grinned slightly, abashed, and let his hand rest on the small of Ryan's back, comfortingly. "That's cool. That's totally cool. That's uber cool. I'll just be over here in the corner, trying to remember how *not* to be a huge asshole."
"I like you the way you are just fine," Ryan told him, looking back out the pool house doors. "It was...pretty scary, I guess. You hear stories, you know? So even when you're going in, you're terrified, but you try hard not to show it. It's dark, and it's cold, I guess, without really being cold. An architecture thing, I think, I don't know. Ask your mom. But you don't...it's like you lose the ability to make any kind of choices. I think another couple of days and I would have gotten used to that -- not thinking. That really freaked me out."
Seth nodded, his hand still a warm, solid presence on Ryan's t-shirt. "You've got choices here, man, you know that, right? And, dude, you've totally got the right to make them. It's over now, okay? You're not going back there, like, even if you smash Luke's face in with a hammer. Which, by the way, feel free. Really. But, I won't let you go through that again, okay? Seriously, Tahiti first. I mean it."
Ryan laughed. "Thanks."
"You're not getting how much I mean that, are you?" Seth asked, scooting off the bed to crouch in front of Ryan and hold his gaze. "Because I do. I know I'm kind of a flakey-rich-kid-dork-boy-type, but underneath my mild mannered exterior there's a wily con man just ready to get out. And that wily con man is like, thinking up contingency plans for possible Ryan-rescue schemes." Seth reached out and squeezed Ryan's knee. "I mean this, dude. I really do."
And it was clear that he did, which made...absolutely no sense. "Why?" Ryan asked. "I mean, you barely know me. Why would you be willing to --"
"Dude, I know you, okay?" Seth interrupted him, rolling his eyes. "You're the guy who hates Lucky Charms on the basis of the Leprechaun, and sucks ass at Grand Theft Auto, and gets in fights to make sure that a guy he's like, never even *met* before doesn't get his ass handed to him by the entire smooth-chested water polo team. You're my friend, Ryan, and that's kind of all I need to know, okay?" Seth looked down, shrugging, voice dropping so much Ryan could barely hear him when he continued. "I don't have much experience with friends, but enough to know that friends don't let friends wear that color orange, okay?"
"I don't get that," Ryan admitted, and Seth's head snapped up, eyebrows drawn tight together.
"Oh, please, dude. That orange like, totally washed you out. Really bad with your complexion."
Ryan laughed out loud. "It did, huh?"
Seth nodded, vehemently. "Completely. Why do you think mom was so gung-ho about getting you out of there? Cruel and unusual, dude."
"I'll keep that in mind," Ryan replied, wryly. "What I meant was that I don't get that thing about you not having many friends."
Seth pressed his lips tightly together and sat cross-legged in front of Ryan. He shrugged a little, and plucked at the fibers of the carpet. "Yeah, see here's the thing about OC. If you're maybe a millimeter different from the cookie-cutter-Abercrombie-prep school thing that most of the kids have going, you're kinda screwed. And I'm not really one with the prep, so...you know. I don't fit. Whatever. I'm okay with it. I don't really even want to anymore. It doesn't matter."
Ryan crossed his arms, and watched the set lines of Seth's face as he kept plucking stray threads. "That's crap," he said simply.
Seth looked up, shooting him a quick, bright grin. "That obvious?"
"Only to a friend," Ryan told him, returning the grin.
"So, okay, yeah, it does still matter," Seth admitted. "But the thing is...I fit with you. You know, look at us, here, right now," Seth gestured between the two of them, "fitting. Which is, I guess, weird given the whole wrong side of the tracks deal or whatever, but yeah. You are my friend. And I fit with you. And you have a choice with me. So, I guess it works out, right?"
Seth tried to sound nonchalant, but Ryan could see the tension in his shoulders, hear the slight hint of uncertainty in his tone. He cleared his throat, and nudged Seth's knee with a toe. "It’ll work out just fine if you hand me one of those cookies," he said, giving the Oreos a meaningful look.
"Dude, get your own chocolaty snack," Seth protested, grabbing them and clutching them to his chest. "I *need* these. You know, like, for survival, or whatever."
"Hey!" Ryan protested, frowning. "I thought I had a choice. My choice is to eat those."
“I lied," Seth told him, scooting backward, and holding the Oreos closer. "You don't get a choice. This friendship is like, a dictatorship. And I'm the dictator. And I say only dictators get Oreos."
"Oh yeah?" Ryan asked, grinning, and braced his hands on either side of himself. "Well, the people are staging a revolt."
He lunged at Seth, wrestling him to the ground, Oreos tossed off to one side. Seth wasn't as strong as Ryan, but he was surprisingly flexible and so *fast* that it was harder than Ryan had expected. In fact, Seth managed to wriggle out from underneath him, and pin one of his wrists, holding him down, and suddenly, Ryan wasn't laughing anymore. Dread rose in him quickly, rushing over him, and he stilled, gulping in air, unsteady.
"Let go of me," Ryan ordered, voice harsh. "Let go." Without thinking, he pushed Seth off, hard, and Seth fell backward with a thud, astonished.
Seth stared at him, face creased with concern and puzzlement. "Whoa, whoa, dude, what's up here? Are you okay? I didn't hurt you or anything, did I? I mean, Ryan? Talk to me, okay? What's going on?"
Ryan sat up, rubbing his wrists, breathing hard. He leaned against the bed and closed his eyes.
"Don't hold me down, okay? Not ever...just. Don't."
"Sure thing, no problem, I'll just file that under things not to do. Don't drink milk from the carton, don't hold Ryan down, got it. Consider it on the not-to-do-list," Seth agreed, still frowning. "Shit, Ryan, what was that? I...you told me you were okay. You said nothing happened."
"I told you I wasn't raped, Seth, I didn't say nothing happened," Ryan responded, swallowing hard. He forced himself to open his eyes, and saw Seth flinch at his tone. "Look. I just...bad memories, okay? Nobody likes getting the shit kicked out of them."
"The marks on your neck," Seth whispered, shaking his head. "Man, you've got to *tell* me these things, okay? Who did that to you? It's...it's a fork mark, isn't it?" Seth reached out and before Ryan could even think to move away, Seth ran his fingers lightly over the scabs there. "Some son of a bitch stabbed you with a fucking fork, dude."
Ryan looked up, and met Seth's eyes. The fingers stayed on his neck, smooth, and warm, and Seth's expression was just as comforting. Concerned, open, worried, and pissed off. More than pissed off -- Seth's version of Kirsten's determination with Sandy's righteous anger, like he was ready to go to battle. For *Ryan*, and it made him almost breathless all over again. "Yeah," he told Seth, voice quavering.
Seth nodded once, the motion curt, jerky. "Tell me his name," he demanded.
“Don’t know it,” Ryan admitted, shrugging a little. “Not a big deal.”
“There are four little round holes in the side of your neck that argue differently, dude,” Seth said, tightly. “Not to mention an automatic reflex that sent me flying halfway across the room.”
“Are you okay?” Ryan asked, worried. Seth nodded, and his fingers were still there, still running over the mark on his neck, over and over, like he could erase it by touching it. “I’m really sorry.”
“Yeah,” Seth replied, “me too.”
It took Ryan a minute to understand that, and the look on Seth’s face, too, but when he did, he shook his head. “Oh, come on, Seth. It’s not your fault, okay?”
“We should have gotten you out sooner. Hell, you never should have gone. This is *not okay*. It’s *not okay* that someone hurt you, and it’s not okay that you’re like, lucky to have gotten away with only being mistaken for the Thanksgiving turkey or something. It’s just…when I think about what could have happened to you, I feel kind of sick, you know?” It was like the words were wrenched from Seth, and his fingers curved slightly around Ryan’s neck as his eyes worked their way back up to Ryan’s face. “I hate the idea of you being hurt, dude. Ever.”
Ryan’s mouth worked for a minute, but no sound came out, until he swallowed, hard, around the lump in his throat. “Yeah, I know what you mean.”
“Do you?” Seth asked, eyes shining, bright, somber.
“I think so,” Ryan responded, nodding slowly, mouth dry. “I hope so.”
Suddenly Seth’s eyes were everywhere but on Ryan’s face, and his thumb was still stroking, slowly, gently over the skin on Ryan’s neck. Ryan shivered.
“Let me break it down for you then, coz, dude, if we’re not on the same wavelength here, there could be some serious issues, and I’m not wanting to have issues with you. Not about this, or, you know, anything at all, but that’s not the point. The point is that right now,” Seth licked his lips, eyes darting up to meet Ryan’s, “right now what I mean is that I want to protect you from everything. Like, everything, ever. And I want to kiss you, too. And those two things are uh, combining into this really strong feeling that’s making it kind of hard for me to breathe, or stop talking, because if I stop talking then you’re going to *start* talking and you might say something like ‘Get the fuck away from me!’ or ‘Get out!’ and who wants to hear that?”
And Ryan didn’t want to say anything, anything at all. He couldn’t, so he just leaned forward, and kissed Seth lightly on the lips – gently, softly, chastely. A brush of soft skin, and a gasp against his mouth, and then Ryan sat back, studying Seth’s expression. He liked the pink flush that was staining Seth’s cheeks, the soft surprise that rounded his cheeks, but mostly, he liked the way Seth’s eyes were widened in shock, blinking repeatedly. Ryan grinned, and Seth just blinked again, before snapping out of it, shaking his head.
Staring over Ryan’s shoulder toward the pool, Seth cleared his throat. “So, uhm, before I, you know, faint dead away or like, crawl into your lap and rip off all your clothes or mine or both and something else like that, I just want to be sure that you’re okay with this. With, uhm, us, I guess, or if you’re doing it because you feel like you have to or –”
“If I felt like I had to, I wouldn’t do it,” Ryan interrupted flatly, eyes narrowing.
Seth nodded, once, and met Ryan’s eyes, hopeful. “So you’re doing this coz you want this, right? I want to be clear on that.”
Ryan leaned into the hand on his neck as the fingers traveled up, burying themselves in his hair, and he smiled, an open honest, happy smile. “I’m doing this coz we fit, dude. No, wait, I’m *choosing* to do this because we fit.”
And Seth melted. Ryan could feel it, through the hand on his neck, and the knee that brushed his. “Oh, man, that’s…I mean…wow…that’s…”
“For someone who said he wanted to kiss me, you’re doing an awful lot of talking,” Ryan teased, and Seth leered at him dramatically, leaning forward.
“I’m just trying to get you off guard. You know, so I can have my wicked way with you. Or something,” he breathed against Ryan’s lips. “Are you off guard yet?”
“Totally,” Ryan whispered.
“Cool,” Seth grinned, kissing him, sloppily, eagerly, their noses bumping. When they finally broke for breath, Seth was straddling Ryan’s lap, and looking happily down at him. “So can I have my wicked way with you now?”
“That depends,” Ryan replied, breathless, but smiling back at the squirming lapful of Seth.
Seth frowned. “On what?”
“Can I have an Oreo?” he asked, nibbling on Seth’s neck.
“Dude,” Seth gasped, “do that again and you can have *two*.”