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Happy leap year.

Despite the extra day, though, the end of this month snuck up on me. This part (oh, so close to the end, but still not there) wasn't done; it was written in chunks with a gap missing. Since I couldn't bridge the gap in time, I'm just posting what I have up to what can pass as a stopping point. But at this time, really, who cares?

And after that long disclaimer, here's the real one: AU season 1; only Lucy and the other clinic employees belong to me. With that, on to . . .

Best Forgotten, Part (sigh) 35

Lucy’s hand was already cupped to beckon the Cohens back inside when she opened the door to Ryan’s room. Instead she stopped, startled. Her smile, bright with welcome, dimmed at the edges and her arm fell to her side. Seth was blocking the entrance. His back was to her, and he stood with his feet planted firmly apart, his arms spread as if daring anyone to pass. Even the set of his shoulders screamed defiance. Lucy peered past him. Behind Seth, she could see Sandy, one arm wrapped around a mute Kirsten, the other hand raking through his hair, and further down the hall, Felix leading the way for Dr. Baldrich. Everyone except Kirsten was talking excitedly. Lucy heard Felix say her name, a fragment of labored English as Dr. Baldrich introduced himself, and Sandy’s exasperated, “If you would just listen, son--” but Seth’s voice cut through everything else.

“Yeah, I don’t care,” he was growling. “I want to see some ID. Real ID, with a photograph, not just a stupid plastic nametag. Tell him, Dad. I mean, this guy could be wearing somebody else’s jacket. How do we know he isn’t really Dr. Keller? Or somebody working for--”

“He is not,” Lucy said. Slipping outside, she touched Seth’s shoulder, gently silencing him. Her smile, calm and reassuring, sought Kirsten first, before it enveloped all of the Cohens. “This is Dr. Baldrich, Seth. I sent for him to examine Ryan. We must be sure when it is medically safe for him to travel, and that is not something I can determine.”

Seth shuffled, blinking in surprise. He relaxed his defensive stance but he didn’t move out of the way. “Oh, um. Hey, Lucy. Yeah. So you can vouch for this guy?”

Lucy’s forehead puckered at the word “vouch” but she nodded her agreement. “You want to take Ryan home as soon as possible, yes?” she prompted.

“Yes, we do,” Sandy answered emphatically. “Son--?” He inclined his head, his brows lifting to complete the message, and Seth bobbed his head. Half-hopping sideways, he cleared the entrance.

It gave the Cohens a glimpse of Ryan, waiting inside. Propped up by the raised bed, he leaned against his pillow, his head tipped down, one hand gripping the other, knuckles straining white on top of the white sheets. His face was faintly flushed, with the preternatural alertness of a wild animal, and he watched them all through hooded eyes.

Sandy recognized the expression; it was the same shuttered gaze, the same wary, fragile mask, he had seen across a table in the cold juvenile detention center the first time he met Ryan. The sight chilled him.

We’ve come so far, kid, he thought helplessly. How did we get back to this again?

He clasped Kirsten closer, remembering.

That first day, Sandy recalled, Ryan had been handcuffed when the guard brought him into the visitor’s room. He had stared at the floor, stoic, while the man released him, trying his best to look hardened, immune to punishment, immune to hope. It didn’t work. Ryan could not stop his cheeks from staining with shame and once he sat down, Sandy had seen him surreptitiously rub his chafed wrists under the table.

Now in his hospital bed, Ryan did the same thing again. Darting furtive glances sideways, he repeated the gesture, compulsively circling one hand with the other, pressing down hard. Holding on to himself.

The gesture seared Sandy’s heart.

Still, he mustered a grin and waved. His hearty tone betrayed nothing except paternal warmth, playful indulgence. “Hey there, kid! Good to see you sitting up.” Without glancing away from Ryan, Sandy lowered his voice and gestured backwards to Dr. Baldrich. “Go ahead, Doctor. But make it quick, all right?”

With a swift, relieved smile, Dr. Baldrich nodded. He motioned to Felix and both men walked into Ryan’s room. The Cohens automatically started to follow, but Lucy held up one hand, stopping them. Then she turned around, facing Ryan but not moving back inside. “Ryan?” she called softly. “You remember that I said a doctor must check on you? This is Dr. Baldrich. I promise that you can trust him. Is it all right if he examines you? He will not take long, and Felix will stay with you.”

Felix blocked sight of the bed so none of the Cohens could see Ryan, but they could hear his hesitant “Okay,” and then the whisper-soft sound of the door starting to slide shut.

“Wait, what?” Seth blurted. He spun around, waving his hand in a futile effort to stall the door. “Felix will stay with him? What about us? Shouldn’t we be there too? I mean, think about it Lucy. You may know this doctor but Ryan doesn’t, and he might . . . I don’t know, he might need us. Or at least know we’re still here.”

Seth’s voice was equal parts pleading and insistent and Lucy glanced through the window at Ryan, her brow furrowed. Then she pressed the code into the keypad and the door glided open again.

“Of course. You are right,” she conceded. “Ryan should have family with him. Perhaps you could keep him company, Seth? Just please you must stay out of Dr. Baldrich’s way.”

Seth bounded forward. “Yeah, not to worry, I can--” He grabbed the edge of the door, abruptly skidding to a stop halfway into the room. His eyes narrowed to suspicious slits. “Wait, you mean just me? What about you guys? Aren’t you coming in too?”

Lucy hesitated. She looked past Seth, answering his question but directing her reply to Sandy and Kirsten instead. “We will wait here. I wish to speak to your mother and father—if that is all right, Kirsten?”

“What about?” Seth demanded, before either of his parents could answer. His gaze darted toward Ryan and ricocheted back to Lucy, dark with anxiety. “Why can’t you tell me too? Because we’re kind of a package deal here, aren’t we Dad? You, mom, Ryan, me—the Cohen family unit? Four for the price of one? Come on, Lucy. Whatever is going on, I have a right to know.”

“Seth--” Sandy began, but Lucy shook her head slightly. She laid a soothing hand on Seth’s arm.

“It is nothing you cannot hear, Seth, and nothing that should worry you,” she assured him. “Your parents can tell you everything later. Only I wish to discuss it with them first. And Ryan needs you with him right now, yes?”

Seth chewed one corner of his lip. He squinted again, examining Lucy’s face for any hint of deception before his head bobbed in a reluctant nod. “Yeah, okay,” he agreed. “But full disclosure later, right Dad?”

“Absolutely, Seth. Go—don’t keep Ryan waiting.”

Smiling a promise, Sandy rumpled his son’s matted curls. He chuckled as Seth mock-scowled, trying vainly to pat his hair back in place while he hurried into Ryan’s room, already launching a barrage of words.

“I’m back, dude! The ‘rents and Lucy will be in soon but for now let Seth-Ryan time—well, Seth-Ryan time with medical extras—commence--”

The door slid shut behind him, cutting off the rest of Seth’s caroled greeting. An instant of silence chilled the hallway. Then Kirsten stirred, stiffening in Sandy’s arms.

“How . . . how is he?” she asked. After Seth’s buoyant voice, her question sounded dim and flimsy, a single gray feather caught in the wind.

Lucy smiled. “Very much better, Kirsten.”

The words vibrated with surety and Sandy responded to them with instant relief.

“That’s wonderful. Did you hear that, sweetheart? Ryan’s okay. We told you he would be. You see? There was nothing to worry about.”

Exhaling a grateful sigh, Sandy leaned down to kiss the top of his wife’s head, but neither his tenderness nor Lucy’s soothing expression seemed to reassure Kirsten. She pulled away from Sandy, drawing herself in tight as if bracing herself before she spoke again. Her unseeing gaze slid past him, focusing somewhere beyond the hallway, beyond the hospital, into the glare of a blinding, invisible and unforgiving sun.

“But he blames me for what my father did to him,” Kirsten said flatly. There was a sense of finality in her voice, an assumption that the conversation was over. There was nothing else to be said.

“Oh. Oh no Kirsten. That is not it at all.” Lucy placed one hand on each of Kirsten’s arms. She rubbed them gently as she spoke, the warmth of her palms slowly seeping through the thin layer of silk, heating and soothing the icy skin below. “Ryan blames you for nothing,” she said quietly. “I promise you, he does not. Only . . . Kirsten, he fears very much that you blame him.”

Kirsten’s gaze snapped back from the distance. Her eyes, wide and startled, fastened on Lucy’s face. Swallowing his own instinctive shock, the dozen questions he wanted to ask, Sandy moved closer to his wife, ready to support her, silently waiting while she struggled to make sense of Lucy’s words.

“What?” Kirsten breathed. She blinked, stammering. “Me . . .? But Lucy, I don’t understand. Ryan didn’t do anything wrong. How could I—why would I blame him for anything?”

“You must remember that Ryan is still most confused.” Lucy spoke slowly, her brow knotted with concentration, explaining to herself as well as the Cohens. “But I will try to say exactly what he told me. Ryan believes that his behavior with that young woman, your father’s female companion—Grazielle?”

Sandy slipped an arm around Kirsten’s rigid shoulders. “Gabrielle,” he supplied grimy.

“Yes, Gabrielle. Ryan thinks that if he had not behaved as—thoughtlessly—as he did with her, Mr. Nichol would not have—would not have retaliated the way he did. You see, Kirsten, Ryan understands how much you have suffered in this. He knows what it has cost you to learn that your father is capable of such, such--”

Lucy paused, fumbling for a word that would not scald, but Sandy didn’t hesitate.

“Cruelty,” he said.

Kirsten’s mouth tightened. “Evil,” she amended.

She spoke in a bitter whisper, almost inaudible, but declaring the truth seemed to ignite Kirsten’s strength. Her eyes blazed. Taking a deep breath, she stood up straighter. It was as if, having found the courage to say the word out loud, she determined not let it defeat her. “Lucy,” she said, thinking through the question as she asked it. “Are you saying that just because of that business with Gabrielle—that Ryan thinks it’s his fault--? That I blame him for all the horrible things my father has done? I don’t . . . I never would . . .”

Lucy’s reply matched Kirsten’s pensive tone. “I know this, Kirsten,” she said. “And on some level, I am sure Ryan knows this too. The problem, I think, is that he holds himself responsible. He believes that if he had not been in your house, if his conduct with Gabrielle had not humiliated Mr. Nichol, none of this would have happened. Your faith in your father would not have been destroyed this way. ”

“Oh my God,” Sandy muttered. He raked his hair back roughly, leaving angry red scratch marks on his forehead. “That’s what’s going on with the kid? I should have realized . . .”

Kirsten shook her head. “But Lucy,” she said, puzzled, “I still don’t understand. The way Ryan acted in there—as if he couldn’t stand having me touch him—He couldn’t even bear to look at me.”

“That was not why Ryan turned from you, Kirsten. He did it because he felt ashamed. And guilty.”

Recalling his ragged voice, the depths of anguish in Ryan’s face as he tried to explain his reaction to her, Lucy felt her heart clench. They had managed to spare Ryan the operation, the worst of Caleb Nichol’s vengeance. Yet even now, even though he was safe, reunited with his family, that man was still causing so much pain—tentacles of it, coiling venomously around so many people.

Lucy was unsure how the Cohens and Ryan would ever free themselves entirely. She was uncertain, too, how to explain Ryan’s emotions to Kirsten when they were so embedded in the unhealed wounds of his childhood. At a loss, she said simply, “Ryan did it to spare you, Kirsten. He believes that the sight of him must cause you pain.”

“What? Why would make him think that?”

“Because if Ryan had never been in your life, you would still have a father you could love and trust. And also—Ryan too had a father who hurt and betrayed him. He knows how much it hurts to lose faith in a parent. Somehow he feels that, looking at him—you would see all that—everything thing you have lost.”

Kirsten gripped Sandy’s hand tightly. She moaned a strangled, half-sobbed “No.”

“I told him--” Lucy took a deep breath, pausing an instant before she confessed, “I said you did not see him that way, that you looked at him only as a mother looks at her son. It was all I could think to say, Kirsten.”

“A mother . . .” Kirsten echoed. “Did--” She closed her eyes for a moment, the corners of her lips trembling. When she looked up again, a wistful film veiled her face. “Do you know--did Ryan believe you?”

“I am not sure,” Lucy admitted. “I think that will depend on what you believe.”

She did not ask a question, but an unspoken one echoed, insistent in the air.

Unconsciously, Kirsten began to twist her rings. She didn’t look at anyone, and when she finally spoke, her face dimmed. She seemed to forget Sandy and Lucy were listening—forget they were with her at all. Her voice floated dreamlike and drifting, lost in a cloud of thoughts.

“It’s so strange. I didn’t—even the day Ryan disappeared—I didn’t think of him as my son. I cared about him. I think every day I cared a little more. But only as . . . as Seth’s friend or Sandy’s protégé. I didn’t know what he was to me. We weren’t . . . close. Ryan always kept his distance . . . or maybe that was my fault. Maybe I kept him away. Maybe I was afraid—I don’t know. It was only after, when Ryan wasn’t there . . . it felt like there was a hole in our family. And then when my father tried to make us believe all those horrible things about him? I knew they couldn’t be true. I knew it. And I just . . . I missed him. And I was so afraid for him. I wanted him home, safe, where he belonged. But love him like a mother? I never thought--”

Kirsten stopped suddenly. She looked up, her eyes sparkling, her voice clear and firm. “Lucy, can we go back in now?” she asked. “I have to see Ryan.”



( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 1st, 2012 12:57 am (UTC)
The Saga continues! I'm so glad Kirsten and the Cohen's realize what's going through Ryan's head. Thanks for posting once again!
Mar. 4th, 2012 03:12 pm (UTC)
You're welcome once again!
Mar. 1st, 2012 04:04 am (UTC)
I actually ventured to LJ hoping to see an update and you didn't disappoint. Thanks for a much-needed positive distraction. If I have a few minutes to myself with only minor multi-tasking, then they're well spent in this 'verse within a 'verse. Apologies for being on the fly, but it's a sign of the times.

I'm not sure how warmly Lucy will be embraced at Killer's clinic of guinea pig experimentation, after all, the man obviously lost his moral compass before the trail began, makes the Grinch 1.0 look soulful, and isn't endearing herself to the establishment, so why not have her accompany Ryan for his emotional and physical well-being? Who better to care for him and help him heal in all the most essential ways? As you've more than aptly demonstrated, she's one very strong conduit to bridge questionable gaps and dodge dangerous land mines.

Kirsten is finally getting "it" to some degree. Her house. Her walls- literal and figurative. Her signals and cues. Ryan interprets and follows. He'd do that anywhere. Lucy is very wise to remind her to look within first, then gradually expand that circle. There are the lessons that one means to teach and the many that one teaches and reinforces often without being fully aware of the degree of the message or the extent of the impact.

Ryan letdown and hurt by one parent? That's just the first appetizer in his multi-course meal of disappointment and heartache when it comes to adults he's had the pleasure of spending "quality" time with so far. It's time to break that pattern once and for all, although I'm guessing that any medical type of procedure or even a mention will yield a reaction worthy of "Marathon Man" many times over.

Interesting to see the start of progress on a personal level from one corner with the light bulb flickering. It's just one of many integral issues and conditions that need addressing. The incredible journey continues! Marco Polo had nothing on it!

Happy leaping. If we get an extra day, why not a freebie? Just a thought!
Mar. 5th, 2012 01:34 pm (UTC)
You're absolutely right! Leap Year days should be freebies! We should mount a campaign. Anyway. . . Kirsten is finally finding the courage to admit her own feelings here. Now it just remains to see if Ryan trusts them, and how they both deal with the hundred issues and hurts between them. (Hmm . . .that sounds like I intend another 35 chapters in this story, and I don't, so they both better learn fast!) As for Lucy, I don't see much future for her at Killer's (hee!) clinic either, so . . .

As always, thanks for your feedback, beach! Hope all is well in your life.
Mar. 1st, 2012 07:52 pm (UTC)
Yet even now, even though he was safe, reunited with his family, that man was still causing so much pain—tentacles of it, coiling venomously around so many people. made me shudder with these words

loved lucy's advocating for RYan - go Lucy and it seems that perhaps, she did get through to Ryan

thank you for the update, that felt most complete - you should just not tell us, we'd never notice!

Mar. 5th, 2012 01:37 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad this chapter felt complete, fred. I guess because I knew where I wanted to end I felt guilty for not getting there but in the future I'll take your advice!

Thanks so much for still reading and commenting. I always look forward to hearing from you. Hope all is well with you and your family.
Mar. 12th, 2012 04:20 am (UTC)
Ahhh, lovely! Especially Kirsten's introspection, drifting in her 'cloud of thoughts' until, her questions encountered and answered, she is stopped by realization. And she is resolved! A delicious mini-cliffhanger for your next scene.

[really, if you didn't fess it wasn't going as planned, we'd be admiring your plan! *hee*]

You're a word artist: images of Cal's evil tentacles- Sandy's despair at Ryan's fragile, hyper-vigilant defensive mask, so like juvie- Seth's fierce defensiveness, which Lucy defuses as though she is the essence of calm, bottled- Sandy, stressed, heedlessly scratching his forehead as his fingers rake through his thick, dark waves- Kirsten, bracing herself for "the glare of a blinding, invisible and unforgiving sun", all she fears of Lucy's report on Ryan.

Mar. 25th, 2012 04:22 pm (UTC)
You are too, too, wonderful, ocgambit! I'm blushing as I read your comments, but so happily.
Mar. 18th, 2012 12:43 am (UTC)
Who cares? Oh chaz - you so underestimate the power of your words. Do you realize that this little bit here just put the entire story into perspective?

Somehow he feels that, looking at him—you would see all that—everything thing you have lost.”

“I said you did not see him that way, that you looked at him only as a mother looks at her son

Absolutely the right thing for Lucy to have said, to both of them. It hits the nail on the head of all their insecurities.

Only . . . Kirsten, he fears very much that you blame him.”
He knows what it has cost you to learn that your father is capable of such, such--”

“Cruelty,” he said.

Kirsten’s mouth tightened. “Evil,” she amended.

Bingo. Again - right on the head.

I suspect you're closer to finishing this than we all know - and thank God! I don't know if I can take much more of Ryan's pain! Good luck getting in the next chapter.

Mar. 25th, 2012 04:11 pm (UTC)
Good luck getting in the next chapter.

I'm so pleased that you're still reading this epic, Chic, but as my tardiness in replying to comments suggests, I may need more than luck in getting in the next chapter. So far I have only about 500 words written, and this month is just getting busier. I may miss my deadline this time, but at least you're right about one thing: I am getting closer to finishing this (that is when I have time to do it!)

P.S. And on a non-OC note, my fingers are crossed for a Southland renewal!
Aug. 13th, 2012 04:54 pm (UTC)
Finally got some free time to read this - how sad that Ryan blames himself.
Aug. 14th, 2012 10:47 pm (UTC)
You're still reading this? Brave soul--there must be something better available! But thanks for sticking with it.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )