So Mel, forgive me for the lateness and I hope this is okay. I'm not sure the quote made it in.
A big thank you to Sister Rose who was very patient, considering my refusal to put commas into this entirely too long story.
and to Josh, The WB, Fox, I don't own it. I just like to play.
PAIRING/CHARACTERS: Ryan/Seth (but not in a slashy way)
PREFERRED LENGTH: Don't mind
SCENARIO and PLOT: Set in a slightly AU season one. Ryan has arrived, been taken in by the family and although Seth is at first pleased, he quickly becomes jealous of the attention Ryan receives from the Cohen parents.
RATING: Don't mind
SMUT?: If it fits with the story, then I won't say no but not slash.
SPECIFICS?: Angsty please
QUOTE: "I just thought having a brother would be so great. Now I'm not so sure..."
Seth knew he was the impetus that made Ryan part of his family, and yet he couldn’t help but feel somewhat resentful towards the new addition. It made no sense. It defied logic, but Seth knew that sometimes emotions took over and disregarded common sense. Lately, all the attention his parents were giving Ryan, all the attention that they weren’t giving him, had Seth feeling like an older brother with a new baby in the house.
Seth was embarrassed by his feelings, and worked hard for them not to show. He knew that he had let it slip once or twice in his mother’s presence, but no matter what, Seth didn’t want Ryan to realize that Seth was sometimes iffy about the big change to their lives. He didn’t want Ryan to feel like he was unwanted, because Ryan had no place else to go. The Cohens were all Ryan had.
Truth be told, Ryan was all Seth had, besides his parents. He had no other friends. Even the other comic book geeks steered clear from him at school, afraid that the ribbing and taunting he suffered at the hands of the jocks was somehow contagious. He needed Ryan as much as Ryan needed him. He just wished that Ryan’s arrival hadn’t changed the dynamics in the house. That it hadn’t changed his relationship with his parents.
Seth hadn’t seen it happening at first. His first inkling had been shortly before Cotillion. Kirsten had been in the pool house, assessing the changes that needed to be made so that the pool house was more cozy and warm for Ryan and not just a guest room. That was when Kirsten realized Ryan barely had a change of clothes.
“We’ll need to go shopping. The mall, I guess. We’ll find everything we need there. Clothes, shoes, accessories.” She surveyed the room. “We need to order some new furniture. That’s not a mall purchase though. But the mall will have posters and other knickknacks so that you can make this room your own.” She walked to the kitchenette counter and said, “It’s your room now, Ryan. You can decorate any which way you please. If you find something you want, just let Sandy and me know. We’ll buy it for you.”
“You should definitely ask for a Jacuzzi, man,” Seth said, spread eagled across Ryan’s bed. “Or a plasma TV. Definitely a laptop or new computer system. Think big. The Kirsten doesn’t always make such generous offers.”
Kirsten put her hand on her hips and pursed her lips, though she was obviously amused. “I’m not generous? Seth Ezekiel, go to your room and count the ways your parents aren’t generous.”
“Granted, I have much.” Seth propped his body up on one elbow. “But it’s from years of hard work of cajoling and bargaining and whining. I don’t think I ever got a blatant, ‘let us know what you want and we’ll get it for you,’ in my entire life.”
“That’s probably because Dad and I don’t trust that you won’t bleed us dry.” She walked over to the bed and playfully tapped his nose. “So, Ryan.” Kirsten turned her back to Seth and focused on her new charge. “You and me and the mall? My credit cards are charged and ready.”
Ryan bowed his head and grinned. “Thanks. I appreciate everything you’re doing for me.”
“Hey, wait! Don’t I get to come along?”
“What do you need at the mall?” Kirsten swiveled around to face Seth again. “You hate the mall.”
“True.” Seth pulled himself into a sitting position. “But I wouldn’t want to drag you to the mall too often this summer. I could do my back to school shopping –“
Kirsten quirked a brow at her son, unsure of his sudden interest in shopping, but unwilling to refuse him. On one hand, she wanted the one-on-one time with Ryan so she could get to know him better. On the other hand, she was afraid to spend time alone with Ryan. She didn’t think he would easily forget how at first she had pushed him out of her house.
An hour later, Seth followed his mother and Ryan to the Range Rover. He immediately gravitated to the passenger front seat, but Kirsten threw him a look and he suggested Ryan sit up front with Kirsten. Seth didn’t mind too much, though he wondered why Kirsten had even suggested it. He was dealing with the strange turn of events, until he realized Ryan wouldn’t object to Kirsten’s choice of music and grab control of the stereo as he usually did. So he languished in the back seat, as if suffering from severe heat stroke, the entire ride over to the mall, while his ears were assailed with the melodies of Solomon Burke.
Seth wasn’t even sure why he had insisted on joining Kirsten and Ryan on their shopping spree. He hated shopping. No self-respecting male wanted to shop. Except that he didn’t want Ryan edging him out of the time Kirsten usually reserved for him. He sensed that Kirsten wasn’t pleased with him. That he had stepped on some toes and needed to be on his best behavior.
But it was hard.
They went from store to store, sorting and pawing through the racks, piling the shirts, jeans, dress shoes, dress pants in their arms. After an hour, Seth really couldn’t tolerate the shopping anymore. Kirsten made them try on everything and model it, too. She was allowed to sit, but he and Ryan were forced to stand in the changing room and model. At first, Seth’s feet had just started to tingle, as if there were pins and needles sticking at the bottom of his shoe. He kept trying to sit while it was Ryan’s turn to model, but Kirsten kept putting another item of clothes into his arms and ordering him to try this or that. After the third hour, his feet were numb. To think he had volunteered for this trip. So he had started to complain only to receive evil looks and little jabs from his mother.
It seemed like an eon had passed by the time they were trudging back to the parking lot, laden with packages. Most of the stuff was for Ryan. And while they were both weighted down by packages, he looked like a bag lady while Ryan just looked – well like Ryan – cool and macho.
“Mom,” Seth whined, “Can we at least swing by the comic book store? Please?” he begged her again. “You always let me go to the comic store after we shop.” He pouted.
Kirsten glanced at her watch. “I’m afraid we’re out of time. I have a meeting in 40 minutes, and I need to change before I go.”
“What about dinner? Rosa doesn’t cook tonight.” He dumped the bags into the back of the car and helped Ryan arrange them so that their contents wouldn’t spill out on the trip home.
“I can make us something,” Ryan offered.
Kirsten threw Ryan an appreciative look that rivaled the irritated one at she hurled at Seth. “That’s okay, Ryan. I’ll leave some money for take out. Do you think you can handle dialing the phone?” The last sarcastic comment was meant for Seth.
“I was just asking,” he muttered under his breath.
Kirsten shook her head as if she didn’t know where Seth had come from. He didn’t know what he was doing wrong, but suddenly, it felt like nothing he did was right. He was known to annoy his mother from time to time. His father was always lecturing him about it, but this was becoming outrageous.
“I’m sorry,” Ryan said later. They were parked in front of the large-screen TV. The game controllers were at their feet, and they balanced plates of pizza on their laps. A string of cheese was hanging from Seth’s mouth down to his plate. “I tried to tell your mom that I didn’t need all that stuff. She wouldn’t listen.”
“Well, you did need the stuff.”
Ryan shrugged and gulped down a large swallow of coke. “I never had much.”
“I’m not jealous of all the things she bought you.”
“Oh. I didn’t say you were. I wasn’t implying-“
Seth cut him off. “Mom and I usually end these painful excursions with a trip to the comic book store. It’s like a tradition. I guess with the two of us shopping it took a longer than she thought it would and she ran out of time.” He took a napkin and wiped his chin from the oil that had dribbled down.
“I’m sorry,” Ryan repeated quietly.
“No need,” Seth said. “I just have to get used to things taking longer with the two of us around. You had a brother before this. I never did.” Seth picked up both controllers and tossed one into Ryan’s hand. “Ready? I’m going to wipe the floor with you.”
Seth forgot about the odd trip to the mall as soon as the drama of Cotillion happened. Jimmie Cooper was a thief. Sandy had been decked. Ryan had jumped into the fray but had been given a pass for this one fight. It also looked like he had Marissa’s attention and would be spending much of his free time with the pretty neighbor girl. But a few days later, Ryan announced at dinner that he had gotten a job. He spread the working papers his boss had told him he needed to have signed on the table.
“A job?” Sandy had asked, raising one of his big bushy eyebrows, and pulling the paperwork toward him.
“Well, I’m used to working for my own cash,” Ryan said quietly. “And it’s not like I have anything else to do during the day, except hang out and get into trouble.”
Seth watched his parents exchange looks over the table.
“You’re right,” Sandy chimed in. “There’s no reason for you not to work during the summer.” He pulled out a pen from his jacket pocket and scribbled his signature along the bottom. “But we’ll need to revisit this when school starts. Harbor’s academic are quite rigorous, and you shouldn’t be distracted by a job.”
“Harbor?” Ryan asked, his voice barely above a whisper. “What do you mean by Harbor? I can’t afford private school.”
“You don’t have to afford private school,” Kirsten broke in. “Remember we took all legal responsibility for you.”
“What about public school? It’s still probably way better than anything I had in Chino.”
Seth swallowed hard. He didn’t want Ryan to go to public school. He wanted Ryan by his side at Harbor. He studied the expression on his parents’ faces. He could tell they were seriously considering Ryan’s words. He wanted to jump in and say something, but his mother spoke first.
“I know Newport Union has a fine program, but Sandy and I want the best education for you and Seth. In our opinion, that’s the Harbor school. I know you’re concerned about the cost. You don’t have to be. I know it’ll be an adjustment. I know it’ll be different than anything you knew, but the payoff will be well worth it in the end.”
Kirsten took a gulp of air, not used to speaking so many words at one time. She could sense Sandy’s surprise and Seth’s ambivalence. It didn’t matter. Once she set her mind to something, she went all the way. She wasn’t going to treat Ryan like a foster child. He would be treated exactly as she treated Seth.
Seth’s shoulders sagged, and he sank back into his chair. For a brief moment he had thought his mom might agree to Ryan going to public school. His mind had already been racing on how to convince them to transfer him to Newport Union, and the resentment had started to build, as he realized that Kirsten would never let her baby in the wild jungle also known as public school.
“Harbor’s a great school.” Sandy tried to ease the tension. “Right, Seth?”
“It’s a school, Dad.” He rolled his eyes.
“But one with great opportunities. Like I said before, Ryan. You can work this summer. When school starts, you’ll focus on homework and tests and extra curricular activities if you’re so inclined.” Sandy leaned across the table and reached for the salad bowl. “Hey, Seth, why don’t you get a job for the rest of the summer?”
“Me? A job? I don’t do manual labor, Dad.” He bit his lip.
“I’m sure I can find you a non-manual job at the Newport Group.”
Seth bowed his head, concentrating on the plate of food before him. They’d talked about jobs in the beginning of the summer as finals had wrapped up. His mom had been against the idea then. Why did Ryan getting a job change that decision?
He shook his head. “No. I’m good with the sailing lessons and hanging around.”
Kirsten sighed but didn’t push the conversation.
When Ryan started working at the Crab Shack it became clear to Seth that Ryan had one of those magnetic personalities. It took Seth ages to build a friendship. He still didn’t have any friends at Harbor, not that he wanted any friends at Harbor, but that wasn’t the point. But Ryan breezes into town, and he befriends Seth right away, captures Marissa and Summer’s attention. And as soon as he started his new job, Ryan had made a new friend.
Donny was okay, but Seth hated that Ryan didn’t include him in his plans and thought he had to protect him from people like Donny. Seth knew he had lived a protected and sheltered life and that people like Donny and Ryan pre-Newport lived a fast and furious life. But Seth could handle it. Just because he never experimented with drugs or alcohol didn’t mean he was clueless. He hated that Ryan assumed he was some sort of innocent.
Then Donny got shot, and Seth’s parents had been furious. Once Seth was aware of the anger, he had assumed they were mad at Ryan. After all, it was Ryan who first befriended Donny and had introduced him to Seth. To his surprise, the fury was all aimed at him.
“Seth Ezekiel, are you out of your mind?” Kirsten shouted.
He and Ryan stood at one end of the kitchen island; their parents sat at the other end. Ryan’s ducked his head so that his ash blonde hair tumbled into his eyes. Seth leveled his gaze, not ready for his parents’ discontent, unaware that he should look contrite and damn sorry.
“I didn’t know he had a gun.”
“But why on earth would you call Ryan when you realized he did have a gun?” Sandy’s voice was low and unwavering. Deceptively calm, thought Seth.
“I couldn’t call the cops, could I? I’d be labeled a narc. Who else should I have called?”
“Ryan is still on probation. This could have set him back months! It could have meant they took Ryan away from us. You didn’t think, Seth.”
He swallowed hard. “I’m sorry. I – I didn’t know things would get so out of hand.” Seth brought a knuckle to his mouth and bit down on it. He hated being a screw-up. He wasn’t used to this. It had never been like this before Ryan had become his dad’s client.
“You need to think, Seth. You’re too old to afford these sort of thoughtless mistakes. And Ryan,” Sandy turned to his foster son. “You can’t afford to make mistakes like the one you made tonight. I know your intentions were in the right place, but sometimes you’ve got to look out for number one.”
“Yes, sir,” Ryan mumbled.
“You’re both grounded,” Kirsten stated emphatically.
“Ryan, you’re grounded for one week,” Sandy continued, “And Seth for two.”
Seth’s jaw dropped at the injustice.
“You can’t drag Ryan into these situations,” Kirsten explained. “Ryan shouldn’t have gone, but he started the evening at home, entertaining a friend, until you called,” Kirsten accused. “This was your fault Seth. Take the punishment like a man.”
Seth didn’t answer. He didn’t know what to say. His mother had never, ever, ever talked to him like that. She sounded worse than angry and disappointed. She sounded accusatory. Like he was the foster son – second best. Seth wondered when that had happened. As soon as his parents gave the signal that it was okay to leave the kitchen, Seth immediately went to his room. He wanted to be alone.
He hadn’t heard Ryan following him. He had just assumed Ryan would return to the pool house to brood alone. It was the first time his parents had punished their new charge. From everything that Seth had gleaned from his father and from what Ryan would share, he knew that this sort of punishment was probably entirely new to Ryan.
“Seth, I’m sorry.”
“For what?” Seth turned around just as he was about to enter his room, recovering quickly from his surprise. “You heard my mom. This is my fault.”
“It’s not and I don’t think it is. I’m sorry your parents came down so hard on you.”
“Whatever, Ryan. Don’t brood over it.”
Seth walked into his room and quietly closed the door behind him, firmly shutting Ryan out.
There was a decided shift in their relationship after that incident. Suddenly, Seth didn’t think having Ryan join their family was such a wonderful idea. He was cooler toward Ryan, not rushing out to the pool house each morning and not waiting for Ryan to return from work like an eager puppy dog. Considering they were both grounded and bored, Seth imagined that they should have entertained each other, but instead he stayed up in his room catching up on his summer reading list and listening to music on his ipod, only coming out for meals and forced family time.
He didn’t think his parents noticed. He was certain Sandy or Kirsten would say something if they had. So for now, Seth was in the clear. He could go back to his life as it had been before Ryan tried to steal a car with his brother. Sad. Lonely. And utterly miserable.
“Seth.” His mom knocked on his bedroom door. She poked her head in the room, but didn’t come in all the way, trying to respect his privacy. “Seth, dinner is in fifteen minutes. Can you come set the table?”
“Isn’t it Ryan’s turn?” He crawled out from under his bed, where he had been looking for a lost comic book.
“I asked you, Seth. Before Ryan came to live with us, it was your turn every night.”
His mother was always irritated with him lately.
He wasn’t going to whine.
He wasn’t going to complain.
He’d do what his mother asked, even though he had set last night and they never asked Ryan to do it, unless he volunteered.
“I’ll come down. Do you mind giving me a minute? I’m looking for something.”
Kirsten sighed. “Five minutes.”
He stood and wiped the dust off his slacks. He paused for a moment, considering his posters as if they would spill the room’s secrets and tell him where his comic was. Where was it? He remembered reading it at breakfast the other day and he hadn’t seen it since. He was pretty sure he brought it up to his room. He chewed on the inside of his cheek and headed for the closet. He’d take one more look there and then go to do what his mother asked.
Scowling, Seth was in the kitchen five minutes later, setting the table.
“If you’re going to have an attitude,” Kirsten’s voice trailed off.
“It’s not that. I lost something and don’t know where else to look.”
“Oh.” Kirsten looked up from the counter where she was scooping out Sesame Chicken into a serving plate. “What did you lose?”
“One of my comics.”
“Maybe Ryan borrowed it.”
Ryan. He hadn’t thought of Ryan. Seth finished putting out the napkins and glasses, made sure that his mother couldn’t find fault in the way he had done his job, and sprinted out to the pool house.
“Supper’s ready?” Ryan asked when he saw Seth at his door. It was strange for Seth to knock and actually wait for an answer. But ever since the Donny incident, as he had now dubbed the shooting, things weren’t the same between him and Seth. Ryan blamed Sandy and Kirsten. It hadn’t been Seth’s fault and yet they’d heaped all the blame on him. He had tried to talk to them, but they had patted him on the head like he was a cute puppy and told him not to worry.
“Soon. I’m looking for my comic. Do you have it?”
Which one? Seth thought. How many did Ryan have?
“House of M? Issue 5.” He tapped his foot, waiting for Ryan to answer.
“Yeah. I have it.” Ryan walked back into the pool house to the night table where he kept his reading material. “Sorry. I forgot to return it.”
“I don’t remember lending it to you.”
Ryan shrugged. “I was bored the other day and you were giving Chester his sailing lesson. I went into your room. Sorry.”
“Well don’t do that.”
Ryan stopped in his tracks.
“I don’t have to share everything with you. I deserve my space and my privacy.”
Ryan’s head snapped up as if he’d been slapped.
“You can’t just come into my room and take things without my permission,” Seth continued yelling, not paying attention to Ryan’s reactions or noticing that Ryan wasn’t responding. “I’m sick of this brother thing. Stay in your corner and I’ll stay in mine.”
Seth spun around and raced out of the pool house, letting the door noisily clatter closed. He dashed passed his mother, who called out after him, and went straight up to his room.
He panted hard when he got there, leaning heavily against the door.
He thought it would be his mother or his father. But it wasn’t. It was Ryan.
“Seth,” he called again.
“Leave me alone, Ryan.”
“I will. I just wanted to say good bye.”
Seth stepped aside and opened the door to his bedroom. Ryan was standing there wearing his heavy black leather jacket and grey hoodie. An overstuffed black knapsack was slung over his shoulder.
“I’ll go. I’ll go to a group home, like your mom wanted in the first place.”
Seth just stared for a minute. “That was quick.” He jutted out his chin, pointing to the knapsack.
Ryan followed Seth’s chin with his eyes. “Oh. Yeah. I always keep it packed.” He looked down and scratched the carpet with the toe of his boot. “Just in case any of you change your minds.”
“So just like that you’re willing to leave?”
“I know I’ve made it harder for you here. Your parents are being tough on you and it’s all my fault. It’ll be just easier if I’m gone.”
“Seth. Ryan. Di—“ Sandy stopped at the top of the stairs. “You going somewhere, Ryan?”
Seth found a spot on the carpet that needed his attention. He knew his dad wouldn’t like Ryan’s idea. He wasn’t so sure how he felt about it. He thought how nice it might be for things to go back to normal, to a time where his parents didn’t yell at him all the time. Then he thought about going back to a life where he was totally friendless and he wondered how things would be for Ryan in a group home.
“Ryan? Are you going to answer me?”
“Things aren’t working out here.” It was hard to hear Ryan and Sandy leaned forward, cupping his ear with his hand to magnify the sound. “I thought I’d try a group home or something.”
“What? Why?” Sandy knit his eyebrows together. “I thought you were happy here. I know Kirsten and I came down kind of hard on you boys with the whole shooting debacle, but it’s only because we care.”
“It’s not that.”
“Then what is it?”
Ryan swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down. He refused to meet Sandy’s gaze and instead shifted his eyes to Seth, hoping he would answer.
“Seth? Do you know what this is about?”
But Seth didn’t want to say anything.
“Are you two fighting? Is this what’s it’s about?” Sandy walked closer to both boys, hoping their expressions would give away some answers, since neither would talk. “Would someone please talk?” The closer he got to Ryan, the more obvious it was to Sandy that the boy didn’t want to leave. The boy looked defeated not determined.
“You don’t treat me the same anymore,” Seth complained. “You and Mom suddenly have all these new expectations of me because Ryan lives here. It’s not fair. And I know it wasn’t the smartest thing to call Ryan when I realized Donny had a gun, but I don’t see why I was punished more. I didn’t change when Ryan moved here. But you’re expecting me to change.”
“What does this have to do with Ryan leaving?” Sandy shook his head as if trying to free his head from cobwebs. Sometimes it was difficult to understand his son.
But Seth just looked down hoping he didn’t have to answer.
“Seth? Ryan, what does this have to do with you leaving?”
“Seth. Explain yourself please.”
“I sort of went off on Ryan just now.”
“You told him to leave?”
“No!” Seth practically screeched this, highly insulted. “But I might as well have,” he added softly. “I just got fed up with it all. I know it’s not a good excuse. And I’m sorry, Ryan. I don’t want you to move out.”
Sandy wondered if he should push the boys into telling him the whole story or if he should let them work it out for themselves.
“Ryan, can you accept Seth’s apology for now?”
“It doesn’t change things. I still think I should go. Seth’s always been the only kid in the house and he shouldn’t have to share your attention.”
Sandy sighed. He knew it couldn’t be as easy as that.
“Listen, let’s eat dinner and talk about this when our stomachs aren’t growling. Ryan, you aren’t going to leave tonight no matter what. I think we should talk about this some more, but even if we can’t change your mind, nothing is going to happen until the morning. Okay?”
“Dinners waiting. I’d like both of you to come downstairs.”
“I’ll be down in a minute Dad.”
Sandy went back down stairs and Ryan was about to follow.
“Ryan,” Seth called. “I’m sorry. I don’t want you to go. I like having a brother.”
Ryan stopped to look at Seth and to see whether he was being sincere or not.
“So this time I was the one who took the brunt of everything. Next time it could be you, right? And I was an ass before about the comic and going through my stuff. I was just venting about my parents punishing me more than you. I – well, I don’t know how many different ways to say I’m an idiot, but even though I’m really stupid, you shouldn’t hold it against my parents. I don’t think they’re going to be very excited about losing their other tax exemption.”
Ryan tried to stay angry, but he couldn’t help smiling. Seth had a way with words.
“Well, I wouldn’t want your parents to lose out on that tax exemption.”
“They’d be heartbroken. Mom and Dad hate paying taxes. Especially Dad now that Bush in office and all.” Seth tugged at Ryan’s bag. “Maybe you could keep that up here. Until after dinner. Then you can come up here and call me all sorts of names.”
“I don’t want to, Seth. I should be used to it. Trey used to go off on me like that all the time. I should have a thick skin by now.”
“Well, if it makes you feel better, I can do it again.”
Ryan cocked his head to the side and lifted his brow.
“Yeah, I didn’t think so. I was just checking. So, are you hungry? Because I’m starving.”
Seth led the way to the kitchen, jabbering about how as soon as the evil grounding was lifted he was going to challenge Ryan to a ninja marathon.