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Summer turns around, slowly, one eyebrow raised. Seth thinks for a second that she just might not make a big deal out of this, of Taylor and the horse and everything, even as Taylor walks away. She hits Seth's right arm and he cringes, looking down.

"You let her borrow Captain Oats?"

"I didn't let her borrow anything," Seth answers hurriedly, "she must've taken it from me when she was in my room."

Oh, fuck.

She frowns, and Seth can see in her face that he's so very fucked, it's not humanly possible. "When was she in your room?"

Seth doesn't answer, only swallows and tries to figure out where the exits are in this place.

"Wait, that was her when I was on the phone the--?" Summer glares at Seth. "Something happened at the lock in." Seth shakes his head, in rapid succession, and wishes she was the type to fall for expensive jewelry, and that he was the type to be able to get her some. "You are such a jerk."

She hits him one last time before turning on her heel and walking away.

"Summer!"

She raises her hand over her shoulder, not once turning around to look at him. "Stay away from me, Cohen!" Seth grabs Captain Oats and follows her, and she raises her voice even more. "I mean it, Cohen!"

He sighs, pausing, and then hangs his head down. "Oh, crap." He runs a hand through his hair. "Oh, just freaking great."

*****

Ryan looks over his shoulder at the bar. Seth went looking for drinks and then Summer went looking for Seth and now, well, if he has to go looking for Summer looking for Seth, he'll hit him. Seeing Seth making his way back, Captain Oats in his hands -- Ryan doesn't really want to know how the horse made it to the club -- he turns around and notices one of Volchok's friends on the other end of the bar. Oh, fuck.

"Tell Johnny you need some air," Ryan tells Marissa in her ear. She frowns and he waves it off. "Just do it. Meet me in the parking lot. Use the emergency exit."

She hesitates for a moment before pulling Johnny back. Johnny turns around, looking at Ryan, and Ryan shrugs. Johnny doesn't seem to understand what's going on before following Marissa to the back and toward the exit.

Ryan sighs, watching Seth make his way toward him, and meets him halfway.

"What's wrong?" Seth asks, frowning, looking around. "Where are--?"

"We need to go."

Seth nods, knowing better than to question Ryan when he gets like this, in that taking charge mode of his, and follows him toward the front entrance. He gives one final glance at the group on the stage. God, he really wanted to see The Subways.

"You leaving already?"

Seth turns to look at one very big guy standing before the two of them and one very slutty chick next to him. He swallows, clutching Captain Oats closer to his chest.

Volchok turns around to look at him. "You brought that," he jerks his head in the direction of the horse, "to keep you company?"

Seth presses his lips into a line, something he picked up from Ryan, and tries not to look afraid.

"Just get out of the way, man." Ryan holds his ground, looking right at Volchok. Volchok's trying to provoke him, and he knows this, but right now, he very much doesn't care.

"Or what? Your not gonna fight me, I know that."

Heather smirks. "Oh, but he might let his boyfriend do his fighting for him. I hear they are close."

Seth snorts, shaking his head. Right. The everlasting old joke about queers. Don't they get tired of it? Can't they get new material?

"Oh, is that true, bro?" Volchok cocks his head to the side. "You take it up at ass?"

Seth notices the way Ryan glares at the idiot, his jaw tight and his back tensed. Ryan's so freaking close to throwing a punch, that Seth recognizes the moment to cut his losses and make a break for it.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Seth says, getting in between them and trying to move to the door, "whatever."

"Hold up, queer."

Seth feels a hand on his forearm, clutching tightly, and closes his eyes. Right. Great.

Ryan feels his chest tight and his throat closing, and he can only blink before moving forward, grabbing Volchok by the shoulders and showing him against the bar, face close the asshole. He can feel his jaw hurting from clenching his teeth so tight, and he wants to shove him again, and again, and hit him a few times so the asshole gets the fucking message. "Don't you fucking touch him," Ryan hisses, lips in a sneer.

Volchok smirks. "So that's what gets you going."

Ryan narrows his eyes, biting the inside of his cheek to keep himself from punching the smirk right from the fucker's face. He wants to do some serious damage on that face, but an arm around his chest pulls him off of Volchok and he breathes hard, his eyes meeting Seth's wide ones.

It's okay, he wants to say, to mutter, to let Seth know, but he doesn't say anything.

Seth lets out a soft breath he didn't even know he was holding before giving Ryan a small smile. It's okay, I'm fine, don't worry, the smile says and Ryan nods.

"You," the bouncer says to Volchok's face, "out."

Watching the bouncer steer Volchok and Heather to the exit, Ryan closes the distance to Seth and places a hand on his shoulder. "You okay?"

Seth looks over his shoulder at the exit on the second floor and nods, swallowing thickly. "Hmm. Yeah. I think. I mean, I'm whole, right? That's gotta count." He nods once again. "Yeah, dude. I'm fine."

Ryan narrows his eyes, not for one second believing that Seth didn't just get the shit scared out of him, but he squeezes his shoulder and leans forward, saying into Seth's ear, "Let's get out of here."

They make their way out of the Bait Shop and toward the parking lot, where Marissa and Johnny are waiting for them, standing next to the Rover. Marissa hurries to Ryan's side, her voice low and fearful. "Did something happen? We saw Volchok and Heather--"

Ryan shrugs, letting the hand that was on Seth's shoulder fall to his side. "We're fine." He steals a glance at Seth, who stands with Captain Oats clenched in his hands, pressed tightly against his stomach. Seth's trying to look cool and controlled, and failing miserably. "Hmm," Ryan says, looking over at Johnny. "You think you could take Marissa home? Seth came with Summer and--"

Seth shrugs self-deprecating. "She kinda left."

Johnny gives him a small smile. "Yeah, sure. No problem."

"Are you sure--?"

Ryan nods, leaning forward and silencing Marissa with a kiss to her lips. "Everything's fine, don't worry."

She hesitates for a moment but she nods reluctantly and gets into Johnny's car, parked two slots from the Rover. Ryan watches her go and then turns around to look at Seth, who's slumped against the passenger door, like his legs couldn't keep him standing. Maybe they can't.

"Come on," Ryan says, nudging Seth with his shoulder, getting the keys from his pocket. "It's late."

Seth nods silently and crawls into the passenger seat, where he sits slumped back, head tilted to the side, looking out the window. Ryan keeps glancing at him from the corner of his eye all the way home. He doesn't even ask what happened with Summer and why he's carrying Captain Oats.

It doesn't take them long to reach the house. Ryan parks the car in the garage, the door lowering slowly, and Seth nods, kinda awkwardly, before sliding out of the car and making his way into the house. Ryan sighs, shaking his head slightly, closing the door after himself. He goes into the kitchen, leaving the car keys in the small bowl next to the phone, and walks to the pool house.

He takes off the dark shirt, throwing it onto the bed, thinking that he'll take it to the hamper the moment he walks into the bathroom, and his gaze falls onto the punching bag. It's stupid, to still feel the anger around him, inside him, breathing and sizzling like energy contained too long. He's breathing hard again, and there's that tightness in his chest and he remembers Volchok's face, the way he looked back at him, blue against blue, and how Seth had looked, scared, so fucking scared, afterwards.

He can't take it, he can barely breathe, and without even thinking about it, he picks up the white rags lying on top of the TV and wraps it around his right hand and starts punching. His left hand is raised almost to his chin, and his right elbow is bent and he punches into it, once, twice. His lips are pressed into a thin line and his jaw is set and he fucking wants Volchok to hurt, to groan in pain and know not to fucking touch Seth ever again.

"Dude?"

He turns around, surprised, breathing ragged, and blinks. Seth's standing by the door wide opened behind him, hand on the frame, head tilted to the side. "Ryan--?"

"I'm fine," Ryan says, and he has no idea what made him say that. He glances over his shoulder, the bag swinging from side to side, and then back to Seth. "What are you--?"

"You're not fine," Seth says, walking in, frown on his face. "What happened?"

"I told you, Seth." Ryan snorts, removing the cloth from his hands, "I'm fine." He walks into the bathroom, remembering that he was supposed to bring the shirt for the hamper. He groans in the back of throat and, well, fuck, the sweats and t-shirt are still outside. He walks back out, giving Seth a sideways glance.

"You forgot your sweats, right?"

Ryan glares at him, picking up the white t-shirt and putting it on. Seth doesn't say anything and it's that what surprises Ryan. Seth's used to talking; whatever it is that's bothering him, Seth tends to say it, loud and clear, and silence really doesn't suit him. He looks at Seth for a second, thinking about asking him about it, hesitating and taking off his pants, reaching for the sweats. He watches from the corner of his eyes Seth walking toward the punching bag, touching it with his index finger, even as it keeps swaying.

"You really think this is wise?"

Turning around, he picks up the pants and underwear, along with the black shirt, moving to the bathroom. "It's therapeutic," he says over his shoulder, walking back out once again.

"Right, coz there's nothing more productive to keeping your temper than wanting to kill a punching bag."

Ryan sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose.

"I'm fine," Seth says, his tone low.

He looks up, seeing Seth, standing next to the bag, brown eyes incredibly warm, and something akin to sadness in the smile Seth gives him. Ryan blinks, nodding and lowering his head. "I know."

"Are you sure?" Seth whispers, closing the distance, standing on the perimeter of Ryan's personal space. "I don't know if you know."

Ryan blinks, looking up, nodding once again. He reaches out, hesitantly, fingers touching Seth's wrist, and Seth smiles, nothing but kindness in the smile this time.

After a minute of nothing but silence and breathing and hearts pounding, Seth swallows, shifting his weight, and Ryan's hand falls to his side.

"I'm gonna go now," Seth says, and Ryan nods, and while breathing is still difficult for Ryan, he watches Seth walk out of the pool house.

Ryan lets out a soft breath, cold in his lips, and reaches for the light to turn it off.

*****

Sunday morning, Seth stands in the middle of his room and he can't quite shake the memory of Ryan's blue eyes, searing with pent up anger and the almost visible desire to punch Volchok's lights out, taking it out on the poor punching bag instead. He remembers Ryan with his fists wrapped in white, one fist extended, the other raised to his chin, so very much like Rocky it was freaking scary.

He sighs, opening the first drawer of his dresser. His cufflinks and tie clips are on a small box in the right side of the drawer, along with two dress watches and his wallet of savings. Cufflinks and tie clips aren't worth much, and his leather wallet doesn't have more than a couple of hundred, and he's pretty sure Volchok will only be dissuaded with a couple grand. He tilts his head, eyeing his favorite dress watch.

Seth remembers the case, leather and a touch of velvet, and the authenticity letter from Omega with the named printed in big calligraphy black letters, Men's Omega Constellation Double Eagle Chronograph 1514.51. Seth Googled it last year when he got it for Chrismukkah. It was four thousand seven hundred. Ryan got another one, just like this. It has a very nice inscription in the back and he'll hate to part with it, but this is for Ryan's safety. Seth doesn't think Ryan will be able to put up with much more from Volchok and not kick the jerk's ass.

He pockets it, sighing as he does so, walking out of the bedroom. He runs into Ryan in the hallway, dressed in his long sleeve brown shirt.

"Hey, dude." Seth grins, thinking, Play it cool.

"Your dad says to go over to the yacht club. Your mom is already there."

Seth frowns. "He isn't going?"

"I think he has something to do at the office," Ryan says, shrugging. "He said to get going without him."

Seth nods, keeping his voice normal and controlled. And then Ryan raises on eyebrow, tilts his head and Seth can feel himself starting to sweat and either he says this now and gets out of here or Ryan will see him and know and he's so freaking screwed. "Hmm. Oh. Okay. I just wanna see if I can catch Summer at her place, ask her to forgive me."

Ryan nods, and Seth remembers that he never got to tell him exactly what had happened. "She left last night."

"Hmm. Yeah. I kinda got into this thing with Taylor." Ryan grins, lifting one eyebrow and Seth sighs. "Dude. It was awful. She's insane."

"So you've told me."

"Really. She kidnapped Captain Oats."

Ryan chuckles. "That's why you had him with you last night, huh? I was certain you wouldn't take him to the Bait Shop unless you had a good reason."

"I didn't take him!" Seth groans, shaking his head. "She took him from my room and then handed it back, in front of Summer, and she--"

"She thought you and Taylor had a thing?"

Seth sighs and Ryan chuckles. "Dude!"

"Well, can you blame her?"

No, of course Seth couldn't blame her, but that didn't mean he was going to agree with her.

"Sure, don't worry," Ryan says with a smile. "You better go. You wanna take the Rover?"

"No, it's okay. You take it. I'll take a cab and..." Probably another one to the yacht club afterwards, considering he's not going to Summer's house.

Ryan nods. "See you then." He says, turning around and making his way down the stairs.

Seth sighs, long and slow, and thinks, Well, at least I got this far and Ryan didn't suspect. It could have been worse. He pats his right pocket, the watch inside it, and he makes his way down the stairs.

*****

It's Sunday, Seth thinks, and Volchok is a surfer and the only thing a surfer would do on a Sunday is go to the beach. His dad usually goes, very early in the morning, and Volchok is way more passionate about the waves than his dad.

It's not that difficult to find Volchok, standing behind his van along with the other dude. Seth takes in a deep breath before paying the cabbie and walking the few feet toward the van. They are just about to leave, the way they are putting their surfboards back inside.

"Volchok," Seth says, because he really has no idea what else to say to the idiot.

"Hey, look who's here." Volchok smirks. "I have a girl, you know?"

Seth snorts. He pulls the watch from his pocket, and offers it to Volchok. "I want you to leave Ryan alone."

"Oh, protecting your boyfriend, huh?"

Seth rolls his eyes. Really, how freaking difficult is it to get new material? Even Luke eventually got tired of the same joke.

"Well, I've got a watch." He holds up his wrist, showing the watch to Seth. "K-Mart, fifteen ninety nine."

"Yeah, well, good for you." Seth offers his watch again. "This is Omega. It's over forty-seven hundred. I'm sure you can get yourself another board with that."

This time, Volchok takes the watch. "Damn, you must really think I'm going to hurt your boy."

Actually, I'm certain he's going to fucking kill you and I'd like to go to college with him. Seth smiles sarcastically and doesn't say a word. "Whatever. Point is, we have a deal?"

Volchok looks at the watch then back at Seth. "This thing original?"

Seth snorts. "If you knew my mom, you wouldn't ask that. Yes, it's original."

"Okay. Sure. I'll leave your little boy alone."

"Good," Seth says, turning around and walking away. "If you don't, I'll say you stole that."

"You do that."

Seth bites the inside of his cheek and thinks that it'd be really counterproductive to flip him the bird.

*****

Summer still hasn't forgiven him. Even now, Seth has the finger marks on his cheek to prove it. Apologizing didn't work, obviously, and he doesn't have the money for diamonds. He has his mother's diamonds, but he's pretty certain she won't appreciate him giving Summer her jewelry. He's thinking about how else to reach her, asking for a large Coke at the bar as he does so.

He sees Heather from the corner of his eyes. He curses under his breath, trotting toward her before Ryan sees her and all hell breaks loose in the first charity event his mom has organized since getting back home.

"Now, what?"

Heather smirks. "He told me to give you this, he changed his mind. He wants cash."

"I don't know if you're familiar with the concept," he says, haughtily, very much pissed off at her getting in this place, where either his mom or Ryan himself could see her. He fucking went to meet Volchok to keep stuff like this from happening, damn it. "But there's this thing called pawning."

She glares at him, not that Seth's cares. After all the glaring Ryan did to him in their first year, he's way immune over simple matters like that. "Tell him yourself, he's in the parking lot."

Seth sighs. "What part of stay away did he not get, huh?" He shakes his head, snatching the watch from her hands and pocketing it. "Whatever. Let's go."

They make their way through the back exit and to the parking lot, and yes, there's the stupid van and Volchok and friends inside.

"I thought we had a deal," Seth says, head tilted to the side.

"Pawn shop ain't open and I need cash now. I owe a guy some money."

"Yeah, well, it's not like I carry around four thousand dollars, you know."

"Well lucky for you all I need's a couple hundred."

Seth sighs, because, crap, this thing is getting out of control and the last thing he needs right now is Ryan wondering where the hell he is and coming out here and kicking Volchok's ass. And then, well, and then his dad will be mad, as will his mom, and Ryan just might get himself kicked out of Harbor once again.

"I'm sure you've got an ATM card, don't you?" Volchok smirks. "Your boyfriend's inside, right?"

Fuck, because, right now, he's so very screwed. "Yeah. Okay. Whatever. Let's go. I gotta get back."

Seth sighs, getting into the van, and Volchok's friend starts the engine. Something in the back of his mind tells him that this is a very bad idea, but he's worried about Ryan right now and that tends to push stuff to the background, like the fear that this might be a set up.

Fifteen minute later, when they are not at an ATM but over at the pier and Volchok is asking for Seth's cell phone to call his boyfriend, Seth knows he should have fucking listened to whatever it was that was telling him to get back into the party and call security.

Seth sighs, closing his eyes briefly as he does so, watching Volchok look in his phone book, looking for Ryan's cell phone number. Oh, fuck. Ryan's going to be pissed.

*****

Ryan looks around the place, frown on his face. He can see Marissa by the corner, long flutes designed for champagne filled with something equally translucent and bubbly, which he assumes is Seven Up, talking with Summer. Summer seems to be telling Marissa about her latest fight with Seth, which Ryan now knows all about. It kinda filled the way back to the house to change, and then back here for the charity.

There's also Johnny, by the bar, hopefully not asking for anything with alcohol in it, because the last thing Ryan needs right now is Kirsten finding out and worrying about either him or Seth drinking, even though he knows people in his class are doing cocaine. That doesn't mean the mother in Kirsten won't freak out if she finds them drinking. Or any of their friends.

Still, there's everyone here, except Seth. He frowns, giving the place another look around before being certain that unless Seth's in the bathroom or outside making out with Taylor, Seth's no where to be found. Even Summer asked about him a while ago, saying that just because she was mad at Seth didn't give him the right to be away from her sight. Ryan sighs, thinking about calling Seth on the cell to make sure everything's fine before reminding himself that Seth's with Summer and if anyone has a right to be worried it should be Summer, not him.

Ryan swallows his worry before making his way toward Johnny. Better make sure he's asking for a Coke and nothing alcoholic.

"Hey," he says, patting Johnny's back, "what's up, man?"

"Hey," Johnny grins, "this party’s unbelievable. Feels like I'm in a movie."

He chuckles, nodding as he does so. He jerks his head toward the bartender, and though he'd love something with some kick in it, Seven Up will have to do. "Yeah, I know the feeling." He pauses, taking a long drink of the simple and so very plain Seven Up. "You haven't seen Seth, have you?" He asks, because he really can't help himself. He has this feeling in the pit of his stomach, like something has happened and he's here, talking with Johnny instead of being out there, protecting Seth.

And it's wrong and he knows this, but he can't fucking stop it. And he remembers what feels like ages ago, Seth being held upside down, fear in his features even though Ryan knew those idiots didn't have it in them to actually hurt Seth.

"No, no, I just got here." Johnny frowns, turning to look at Ryan. "Why, what's up?"

His cell phone rings, a weird soundly ringtone which means that Seth has been playing with his cell again, changing the ringtones for Seth's own cell.

"No, nothing," he tells Johnny, as he smiles, a curl of his lips, and looks down at his cell. In the liquid screen it says, clear as day, Seth's cell. "Guess who," he says, grinning flipping it open. "Hey, I was starting to get worried," Ryan says as a way of a greeting. "What's this ringtone you've put and where are you?"

"Well, right now--"

Ryan's blood turns to ice, his jaw tensing, his lips in a thing line. And fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck--

"--I’m with your boyfriend."

Something inside Ryan cracks, and whatever it was he was thinking, whatever it was he wanted to say to Seth and make a joke about is long gone, replaced by nothing but anger and a searing desire to fucking kill Volchok before he so much as touches Seth.

"Are you there, little bitch?"

His breathing comes in short pants, and he remembers Luke and the hatred in his face when he used to taunt Seth, to shove him against the lockers, and it's nothing compare with how much he fucking wants Volchok to die.

"Yeah, I’m here." His voice is cooled and controlled, in the back of his mind planning where they could be and how he's going to explain to Sandy that he got into a fight because Seth was kidnapped and it was his fucking fault.

"He's fine," Volchok says over the line, laughing, and Ryan's fingers tighten on the cell, "but he does miss you so why don’t you come get him?" A pause, a breath, and Ryan can only see red and Seth's face contorted in pain and fear. "We're underneath the pier."

Ryan closes the phone a second after hearing nothing but the connection closing. He holds the cell with both hands, taking in a deep breath, his chest tight, and fuck, Seth's going to listen to him because the next time Ryan lets him out of his sight will be when Seth fucking graduates. He lets out another breath and pockets his cell phone inside his jacket.

Johnny looks up at him, frown on his face. "What’s up?"

Ryan swallows back the bile he can feel in his throat. "Volchok's got him."

Johnny's eyes widen, standing up, looking worried. "We should call the cops."

"Yeah, yeah, you call them," Ryan says, nodding as he does so. He turns around looking straight at Johnny. "I'm gonna finish this."

He turns and walks around the people in the club, making his way out of the ballroom as fast as he can.

"Hey, man, wait up!"

Ryan looks over his shoulder and there's Johnny, trotting to catch up with him.

"I told you," Johnny says, hurrying to keep Ryan's pace, "anything goes down, I'm here."

Ryan shakes his head. "This is Seth we're talking about. I'm not gonna let that fucker--" He sucks in air, his lungs compressed and the back of his head starting to hurt so fucking much. "I swear to God," Ryan mutters under his breath, "that motherfucker touches him and I'll--"

Johnny's hand in his shoulder makes Ryan stop for a second, looking up at Johnny's blue eyes. "He won't."

Ryan blinks for a second, a moment, and he thinks, we're fucking wasting time here! He nods, not sure what he's agreeing to, before running down the stairs of the main entrance and to the right, toward the parking lot. Opening the driver's door of the Rover, Ryan jumps in, leaning to the side to open the other door for Johnny.

"Shouldn't we tell Marissa?"

Ryan runs Johnny's words through his mind once again, barely having heard them the first time, putting the car in first and pulling out of the parking lot. "What?"

"Marissa. Shouldn't we--"

"I don't have time for her right now, okay?" Ryan snaps, angrier at himself than he is at Johnny at the moment, mostly because he hadn't thought about her ever since he heard Volchok's voice on Seth's cell phone. That, and the fact that he doesn't care about her, about what she might think, him bailing on the function like this, not compared with going after Seth.

Ryan glances at Johnny from the corner of his eye and the guy looks surprised, taken back, and seems to be trying to put two and two together and coming up with the sad truth that Ryan will always put Seth first.

They fall quiet, Ryan shifting to third, closing the distance between him and Seth as quickly as humanly possible. He can feel his neck burning, his hands gripping the wheel as tight as he can without actually hurting himself. He sighs, and at the next red light, takes off his jacket and throws it in the back seat of the car, loosening the tie as well. Because, if it comes down to that, if it does, Ryan won't hesitate in cracking the asshole's head in two.

"Dude, this is a bad idea," Johnny says, looking at Ryan before turning back to look at the road. "Last year Volchok almost killed this guy."

Yeah, well, Volchok won't fucking know what hit him, he thinks, in a second, and then he breathes in, reminding himself that he can't fight, not if he wants to stay with the Cohens, go to school with Seth. He lets out a long sigh and nods. "I know, but I also know what I'm doing."

"Hmm. Okay," Johnny says, hesitantly. "Would you mind telling me what that is?"

Seth would have come up with an almost geeky plan, like catch the flag, and Ryan would have gone with it, because it's Seth and he's the one with the imagination. But Seth's not here, because if he was, Ryan wouldn't have fear gripping his heart in an iron fist. "I'm gonna try to use my head, for once."

"With Volchok?"

"It's not like I don't wanna punch his lights out, okay?" Ryan loosens his hold on the steering wheel when he notices his fingers complaining. This is not Johnny's fault, it's Seth's, because Ryan's certain Seth did something to get himself kidnapped, and Ryan will fucking kill him for it. "Just trust me, okay?" He sighs. "Whatever happens, go with it."

Johnny doesn't look convinced, but then again, neither does Ryan. "Alright. Whatever. But if that doesn't work?"

There's only one answer to that in Ryan's book. "Get Seth and run."

After a couple of minutes, Ryan can finally see the parking lot by the pier. He presses on the gas, pulling into an empty space and screeching the car into a stop. He takes the keys from the ignition and jumps out, slamming the door. He can barely breathe as he sprints down the parking lot and under the pier, seeing the van a couple hundred feet away, running over his plan in his mind.

If something happened to you, Seth, I swear to God, I'll hurt you. Seth would snort at Ryan's threat. I'm not kidding this time. Getting kidnapped, Seth? Fuck. That's extreme, even for you.

After a moment, Ryan's lungs complaining by the lack of oxygen, he can see Seth standing in between Heather and one of Volchok's friends, lapels pull high against his neck. Ryan can feel the cooling breeze against his cheek, but makes no notice of it. As he closes in on them, Volchok trots to meet him hallway, and Ryan can see Seth following, hand raised, obviously trying to calm Ryan down. Ryan snorts. Too fucking late for that, Seth.

"Ahh," Ryan can hear Volchok saying, "here comes your boy."

Seth tries to run to Ryan, but Volchok puts his hand forward, forearm against Seth's chest, and Seth pauses. Ryan's breathing becomes ragged.

"Slow down, dude." Volchok smirks toward Ryan. "You're not going anywhere."

"You alright?" Ryan asks when he's close enough that he can see Seth's brown eyes, wide and so fucking scared, Ryan wants to pull Seth to his chest.

Seth nods. "Yeah, dude, I'm okay. Ryan--"

"Shut up." Ryan grits through clenched teeth, turning to look at Volchok. "What the fuck is your problem, huh? What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"I'm not doing anything, man. I said he could go, but he wanted to stay." The smirk turns into a sneer and Ryan clenches his hands into fist to stop himself from swinging. "I guess you don't do it for him any longer."

Ryan runs a hand under his nose, breathing shallow. He looks over his shoulder, and there's Johnny, standing his ground.

"Checking out your bar, Harper?" Volchok says, smirk on his lips. "You want some when I’m through with him?"

Johnny advances, saying, "Let's do it now."

Ryan puts his arm out, stopping Johnny across the chest. "No, this is mine," Ryan hisses, picking up a bottle from the beach and smashing it against one of the pier's pillars. He lifts it, threatening Volchok with it. "You wanted me," he continues, "well, here I am."

"Whoa, whoa, bro--"

"Ryan--"

Ryan steals a glance at Seth, who's looking taken back, scared and worried by Ryan, all in one second. Ryan would have smiled at Seth if he could. "Stay back, Seth."

Seth takes a step forward, toward Ryan, and Ryan lifts his left hand up, making Seth stop. "Ryan, dude, come on--"

"Stay the fuck back, Seth." Seth's eyes meet Ryan for a fleeting second, and brown eyes seem to beg, please, don't do this. Ryan hopes he's saying something back with his. "Stay back. I don't want to hurt you." Ryan lifts his head in direction of Volchok, eyes blazing blue. "You wanted me, Volchok."

"Now, now," Volchok says, and Ryan can see it in his face this is not something he was expecting from a rich kid. Then again, Ryan thinks, I'm not a rich kid. "Let's not get crazy, man."

"You started this, asshole," Ryan says, head tilted to the side. "You took Seth. I'm just answering fire with fire."

"You don’t wanna do this."

Ryan chuckles in the back of his throat, a fearful sound. "Oh, you giving me advice now?" He picks up a piece of driftwood from the sand and throws it at Volchok. "Come on. Fight back."

Volchok catches the log in a hesitant grip, then glances over his shoulder at Seth, hugging himself, looking fucking certain Ryan's going to crack the moron's face, then at Heather and at his friend.

"Fuck, don't look at them. Look at me! I'm here, Volchok." Ryan swings the bottle slightly, just enough movement to remind him that he's got it, right here, right now. "You wanna hit me? Fucking hit me, then!"

"Ryan--"

"Stay out of it, Seth!"

Volchok looks right at Ryan. Ryan keeps his face expressionless and calm, even has he feels like his whole control might crack, and all it'd need for Ryan to really mean it, to really swing at Volchok, would be for him to touch Seth.

"You scared now, huh? Come on. Hit me!"

"Dude, you don't know what your doing."

Ryan snorts, shaking his head as he does so. "Oh, really? I’ve been fighting guys like you for years. You wanna bash my face in cause your life sucks, fine," Ryan's voice starts to rise, slowly, word by word, until he's on the verge of screaming, so fucking mad he can barely see straight. And he remembers, last year, being this mad at Marissa, and the year before, at Luke, and he can see the common denominator in it, and that Seth was in between. "Yeah, yeah? But you want a fight, you're gonna have to kill me."

Volchok starts getting worried, and Ryan can't help but think, Good, fear me. You touch Seth again, I'll fucking kill you. Seth keeps glancing at Ryan and then at Volchok, and Ryan wishes he could let Seth know that everything's fine, he won't risk his life, not again, not unless Seth's seriously hurt.

From the corner of his eyes Ryan sees Johnny holding his hand out, and he hopes Seth gets the message, because that's as close as an explanation he's going to get before this whole thing is over.

"Come on, what's it gonna be?"

Volchok keeps looking around, trying to come up with a solution, apparently, a way out. Ryan narrows his eyes, his hand tightening around the head of the bottle before moving it around in his grasp.

"Come on!"

"Alright!" Volchok screams, dropping the log, backing down slowly. "Alright." He turns around, patting his friend on the shoulder. "Let's go, man. The guy's crazy."

With one last final glance in his direction, Volchok turns around and walks away.

Ryan pants, dropping the bottle to the beach, and Seth can't help but let out a long sigh. He closes the distance and stands before Ryan.

"Hey," Seth says quietly, his voice broken.

Ryan blinks, his eyes small and shinning. "Hey."

Seth breathes in and pulls Ryan to his chest in an impulse, hugging him tightly. Ryan's face contorts into a grimace, hugging Seth back with as much strength, and they don't say anything, only stand and breathe. Off to the side, Seth can see Johnny looking down at the ground, shifting his weight, so very embarrassed by the manly display of affection, but right now Seth doesn't give a fuck. He was fucking scared for himself first, and then terrified for Ryan. He doesn't care about manly appearances. Seeing Johnny turning around, walking away, Seth sighs and closes his eyes, gripping Ryan tighter.

After a second, they pull away. They stand close to each other, almost hesitantly, looking at the other and then at the sand under their feet.

"Come on," Ryan says when the silence stretches, "let's go."

Seth can only nod.

*****

The ride back is quiet, not a word being said. Not even Johnny tries to make chit chat, apparently knowing that Ryan's in something of a funk and, right now, conversation would not be appreciated. They drop Johnny at the yacht club, so he can pick up his car, before heading for home.

Seth wants to talk with Ryan, asking him what the hell he was thinking, almost as much as he knows Ryan wants to ask him how the fuck he got talked out of the fundraiser and into their van. Neither of them ask anything.

Car parked in the garage, they get off and move to their respective rooms. Seth watches, standing by the base of the stairs, as Ryan paces through the living room to the kitchen. He closes his eyes for a second, not certain what he'd tell Ryan. He starts up the stairs to his room and just stands there, by his bed.

Ryan was there, standing in front of Volchok, anger in his face, and Seth knows that Ryan would have hit the guy. Had Volchok said something, done something, touched Seth in a any way, Ryan would have fucking hit him. Seth doesn't know how Ryan found it in him to stop himself, to keep his anger contained, but it must have been hard. And yes, he did it for himself, but Seth can't help but think that he did it for Seth as well, if only a little. The least thing Seth can do is be with him right now, even if Ryan might not want any company. Hell, Seth won't even say a thing. He'll just sit on Ryan's bed if Ryan needs him to.

Nodding to himself, Seth turns around and walks out of his room and down the staircase.

*****

Ryan walks into the pool house, his chest tight, his hands clenched into fists. He takes off his dress watch, letting it fall onto the bed. He'll put it away in a second, along with the tie and cufflinks that he took off not so long ago. He pauses as he stands in between the futon and the bag, breathing ragged, eyes narrowed. His face contorts in pent-up anger, his left hand speeding at its own volition into the middle of the bag.

He could have hit Volchok.

He stares at the swaying bag. He takes a step back, eyeing the white cloth over the island in the small kitchenette.

He would have hit Volchok.

He lifts his left hand chin high, and then hits the bag with his right one. The bag swings. He hits it with his left one.

Had Volchok touched Seth, Ryan would have killed him.

His neck burns and his head thumps along with his heartbeat, the back of his eyes stinging like a motherfucker and he keeps hitting the bag, over and over, until all he can hear in his ears is his breathing and his bare knuckles against the bag.

Seth was there. Seth was standing there, next to Volchok, looking so fucking scared. Ryan doesn't want to see that look on Seth's face ever again.

His face contorts in pain and he wants to scream in the back of his throat, Ryan wants to kill Volchok, for doing that to Seth.

Then there are hands on his shoulders, turning him around. There's a chest against his chest, and a hand on the nape of neck, another one on his back, clutching him tightly. But Ryan keeps on hitting, moving his hands, trying to break free.

"Stop it."

He doesn't hear the words, doesn't recognize the voice, he can only keep on moving, shifting, trying to pull away and hit the chest at the same time, but he's tired and hurt, and so fucking angry at himself, at Volchok, at Seth, at everyone. And there are tears in his eyes, tears of anger, and Ryan wants them to stop, please, just fucking stop.

"Ryan, come on. Breathe. Stop."

The arms tighten around him, around his back, and Ryan takes in a deep breath that comes shallow and he can recognize the voice. He looks up and there's Seth, staring back at him, eyes wide and surprise and just a little bit fearful.

"Seth?"

Seth nods, sighing, before loosening his hold on Ryan even as Ryan pulls back, away. "Are you okay? You were--?"

"I'm fine," Ryan says, turning around, but a hand on his shoulder stops him, and Ryan lets himself be turned to face Seth.

Seth takes Ryan's hands in his, looking at the bloody knuckles. "Ryan, what the--?"

"I'm fine." Ryan pulls away but Seth holds on tight, not letting go, and he sighs. "It's nothing. I'm--"

"You're not fine, okay?" Seth tilts his head. "I'll call mom."

"No, Seth--" This time, when Ryan pulls away, Seth lets him. "I'm fine."

"Okay, whatever, if you don't want me to call the mom, I won't." he says, turning around and walking toward the small kitchenette. "I know mom put a first aid kit here somewhere."

"Seth--"

"Shut up, okay? You forfeited all complaining privileges the moment your knuckles started to bleed," Seth says, sounding more than just a little pissed off. He finds the kit in the cupboard and makes his way toward Ryan.

He gets out some antiseptic and band aids. He cleans Ryan's cuts, pouring a little bit of peroxide on top, to stop it from getting infected, and bandages the knuckles. Seth notices the way Ryan's hands can't stop trembling, but doesn't say anything about it. Instead, he whispers, "You were hitting the punching bag."

"That's what it's made for," Ryan snaps, looking over his shoulder, around the room. Seth shouldn't be here. Not when he's so fucking out of his mind with anger, Seth shouldn't be here.

"You're angry," Seth says, slowly, and Ryan snorts. "You are."

"I'm fine."

Seth lifts his head, scream of frustration dying on his throat, letting the band aids' wrappers fall onto the bed. "Stop saying that."

Ryan takes a step forward, eyes blazing. "He could have hit you, Seth, do you get that? He could have fucking killed you!"

And this Ryan, Seth gets. This anger and frustration and desire to kick something, someone, preferably someone who has hurt Seth in the last hour. Seth places his hands on Ryan's shoulder, squeezing, hard, trying to make his voice get through to Ryan's hazy brain.

"He wouldn't have, and you know that. He could have tried to hurt me, to hurt you, yeah, but he wouldn't have gone too far." Seth nods, smiling, and Ryan keeps shifting under his hands, shaking his head. "He's too much of a coward for that."

"You don't know that."

Seth smiles. "I do. So do you, because when push came to shove, he backed down." He chuckles. "You were too much for him to take."

Ryan grimaces, his eyes stinging, his face contorting. "No, no. He could have--"

"Oh, Ryan," Seth whispers, pulling Ryan to his chest, and hugging, tight, so fucking tight Seth wonders for a moment if he might actually hurt Ryan. "Oh, God. Ryan."

Ryan's arms go around Seth, clutching Seth's shirt with tight fists, and he leans his forehead on Seth's shoulder, breathing coming in ragged spurts. "He could have--"

"I'm here, Ryan, you know that." Seth breathes in, rubbing Ryan's back with one hand. "I'm here, dude. You know this. I'm here. I'm right here."

And Ryan nods, slowly, breathing in, nose touching Seth's throat where his collar is open, and Seth's breath catches. Ryan nuzzles the soft skin, leisurely, with ease and adoration, shifting until his lips touching Seth's neck.

Seth tenses, his hands stilling, his body going rigid, and then he lets out a shaky sigh, his hand picking up the caress at a more dutiful pace.

"I could have lost you," Ryan whispers against the skin, breath hot and warm, and Seth nods, his heart pounding in his throat and loud in his ears.

"You've got me." It's nothing but air leaving his lungs, barely even that, but Seth says it, whispers it, breathes it out.

Ryan pauses, lips moving to the sensitive skin over his collarbone, and when Ryan presses wet lips against it, Seth moans in the back of his throat. "Do I really?"

Seth's breath hitches as he inhales, his stomach tightening, and his hands move lower to Ryan's waist, resting on his hips, pulling slightly forward, closer, until they're pressed together.

Ryan's throat closes, and the movement builds a soft noise that makes Seth shudder.

"You've always had me," Seth answers back, softly, lowering his head until his lips touch Ryan's ear. He can't help it, he can barely think, and his tongue darts out to touch the earlobe. Ryan moans, low and barely audible, and Seth wants to draw that sound from Ryan once again.

"I have you," Ryan says, tongue touching where lips did a second ago.

Seth nods, fingers tightening on Ryan's hips. "You do."

When he raises his head, Ryan's looking at him, blue eyes wide, asking, confused and fearful, and Seth promises himself never to allow Ryan to doubt him, them, ever. He lowers his head and presses his lips against Ryan's, and Ryan moans again in the back of his throat. Seth hears another sound and he doesn't know if it's Ryan or him.

Ryan's hands move to Seth's neck and back, Seth's staying on his hips, pulling closer, as much as they can, and when they touch, when Seth feels pressure against his own hardness, he hisses in the back of his throat.

Ryan moves first, or Seth does, but they end up tangled in bed, the kit pushed off with a crash, ties and dress pants and shirts on the edges or on the floor, and Ryan can barely breathe when Seth lays down on top of him, and his eyes close and his brain shuts down when Seth rubs himself against Ryan.

It's not long before they come, screams bitten back by each other's mouths, and when they are sated and almost asleep, Ryan leans forward, half draped on top of Seth, and kisses him.

"I love you," he mutters, and knows that this the first time he has ever really meant it. He knows it now, that he feels it, and he knows that before it was only the ghost of this intensity and magnitude.

Seth smiles, nods, and kisses him back. "I love you too."

Ryan sighs, laying his head on Seth's chest and closes his eyes. He rubs his cheek against Seth's chest and nods to a question he asked Seth before this all started, as this all started. And Seth's right, Ryan's got Seth's, here, in his arms, and being reminded of that, Ryan sleeps.