Breaking Family Ties

By Negative Cation

Chapter Five: Where Trouble Lies

He didn't answer the first time I said his name, just dropped his head and stared rigidly at the floor. So I tried again.

"Ryan? What are you doing here?"

This time he did look up at me, and smiled sheepishly. "I…I wanted to talk to someone." I raised an eyebrow. "Your dad."

"You want to talk to my dad?" That I had trouble believing. He was a mess, and I was pretty sure that my dear father had had something to do with that.

"Yeah. And Dave." Which made more sense, given that Dave had kind of been on Ryan's side in his argument with our father. Ryan was studying my face now, and I took a long, careful look at his. He looked nervous, anxious even. "I need to sort things out."

"You're going to turn yourself in?" The words were out of my mouth before I'd had time to think.

Ryan smiled. Actually smiled. "Gee, Jack, you make it sound like I'm a fugitive."

"You look like a fugitive, Ry." I pointed out, moving aside and letting him into the house.

He was looking around anxiously, glancing up the stairs and towards the kitchen.

"I'm the only one home. Mum's out somewhere, Dad's still at work and I have no clue where Dave's gone."

"Ah. Maybe I should – come back later?" He was looking at me nervously. It was weird. Ryan had never been the nervous type. The lazy, can't-be-bothered-to-get-of-my-arse, what-do-you-mean-work? type, maybe, but never nervous. I only just managed to suppress a shudder. What exactly had the Family done to him?

Instead, I shrugged. "You don't have to. You look like you don't have anywhere to go anyway. Why don't you just stay here and wait?"

A quick smile flashed across his face. "Thanks Jackie, I will." I tilted my head and gave him an unamused glare. "Ah, right. Sorry. Jack." He laughed.

I rolled my eyes and my gaze wandered to the staircase. I bit my lip, thinking for a moment, then looked back at him.

"Look, I have some homework to do, and you look like you haven't had a good wash in weeks. Why don't you have a shower before my parents return." He nodded.

"Sounds good."

"Right. Well, you know where everything is, right?" Another nod. "I'll fetch you some of Dave's old clothes, and you can dump yours outside the door and I'll stick them in the wash." Again, a nod.

"Thanks Jack."

I shrugged. Well, I could always hope someone would be as forgiving when I took the plunge into the deep end.

When I walked down the stairs an hour or so later, Ryan was slumped in front of the television, his hair wet and dripping all over the cushions. Mum would have a fit. Speaking of Mum –

"What is he doing here?" She asked quietly, pulling me towards the kitchen. "He said you let him in."

"He wants to talk to Dad and Dave." I replied.

Mum frowned. "You really think that's a good idea? You know what your father's like."

I sighed. Did she really think I hadn't considered that? "No, mum, I don't really think it's a good idea. But Ryan wants to. Maybe he thinks he can make things better." She was still frowning, unconvinced, so I pressed on. "Mum, you should have seen him when he turned up. He looked terrible. And you can't have missed the bruise on his cheek. He needs to sort things out with the Family."

A look of horror flitted across her face. "You think – you think they had something to do with that?"

I bit my lip. Why did she have to ask? Of course I did, she knew that. And she knew the Family as well as I did. "I…I think he needs to talk to Dad." I gave her a pleading look and she nodded.

"Alright. Will he stay for dinner?" True to herself – hiding behind the domestic side of life. I wondered briefly if my mother had always been like that – a meek, domesticated woman – or if it was something brought on by being a Forrest wife for so many years.

I didn't voice my thoughts, of course. "I don't know. Dad'll probably decide."

She nodded. "Well then, I'll make something that can be kept if there are leftovers. How does lasagne sound?" I smiled.

"It sounds good." I glanced out of the kitchen towards the living room. "I'm going to go talk to him."

Mum reached out and patted my arm. "I'm sure everything will be fine, Jackie." Then she turned and began bustling around the kitchen as I left the room.

She didn't know how important it was to me that this turn out fine. If the Family didn't forgive Ryan – if they really were behind his bruises and ragged appearance – what chance did I stand when they discovered my secret. Because they would, whether I got in or not. I frowned and shook my head to get the thoughts out, then made my way to the sofa and slumped down on it next to Ryan.

He glanced at me quickly, then turned his attention back to the screen. "You don't think it's a good idea? Neither of you." He said it as if it were a question, but we both knew it wasn't really. I didn't bother asking whether he had heard us in the kitchen. The walls of our house were thin.

"We're worried, Ry. Dad's…he's not the most forgiving person."

Ryan laughed bitterly. "God, don't I know it. I'm not here because I want to be, you know. I'm here because I really don't have any choice." He paused, and I didn't say anything. I didn't know what to say. "You're right, it was them."

I looked over at him quickly. "What was?" Although I knew what he was talking about already. I didn't really need to ask.

Ryan knew that too, and just shot me a dry glare. "Some of your brother's friends. Caught me outside my flat, told me that I was gonna learn exactly what it meant to betray Family trust." He shook his head sadly. "You think I'm in a state? You should see my flat."

I was staring at him in disbelief. "Dave? Dave was there? How could – he wouldn't, Ry. My brother wouldn't do that."

"Oh, Dave wasn't there." His voice was bitter, angry. "But I don't think you're entirely clear on what he's capable of. Don't underestimate the power the Family can have over its members. You'll find out soon enough." He looked at me for a moment, and I squirmed uncomfortably. "You're nearly old enough to be of use to them. Or to be a danger to them. They know that, and they're going to make sure that you don't turn out like me."

"I don't think that's possible." A hushed voice stated from the open door. We both turned around to see Dave standing there, his face blank, studying Ryan. "Jack's got a lot more sense than you ever had, Marthen."

I felt a blush creeping over my cheeks. If only he knew…

"Just thought I should warn her." Ryan shrugged, the attitude that had got him into all this trouble in the first place returning like some sort of protective barrier. "With a brother and father like hers, she's bound to need someone who can see clearly to give her a few pointers."

I could see Dave bristling, and wished there was something I could say or do to stop the tension between the two of them from breaking out into a fight.

"I think the last thing she needs is a trouble maker like you trying to help her out."

Ryan stood up slowly and advanced towards Dave until the two were standing less than two feet apart. I nearly jumped up to try and grab one of them, afraid they'd start a fight or something, but held my ground when the just stared quietly at one another.

It was Dave who broke the silence, but his voice was so different from the angry one he had used earlier that I hardly believed it. "Why'd you do it, Ry?" He sounded sad, confused even.

Ryan backed down. He took a step away from Dave, then another. He glanced around to see if I was still there, then looked back at Dave and shrugged. "Not to cause trouble. Just – I didn't want to be there anymore. I needed to get out."

I understood. It was why I was putting everything I had at stake to apply to the university I wanted to be at. I think Dave understood too. After all, he had chosen a university as far from London as he could get without leaving Britain. The look on his face told me he realised it, too.

"No one gets out, Ry. It just doesn't work like that."

Again, the bitter laugh. "Wow, Dave, thanks for the tip. I hadn't figured that out yet." He slumped back onto the sofa next to me, and Dave walked around to sit opposite us.

There was quiet again, and I shifted uncomfortably and reached for the remote. Maybe I could find a comedy program worth watching to break the tension. I found a rerun of an old Simpsons episode (I swear, TV here plays these things every day for hours on end. Not that I'm complaining, really). I watched – tried to watch – for a few minutes until Dave spoke again.

"I didn't know." He ducked his head, and I caught sight of the anger in his eyes. "I wouldn't have sent them after you. You really think I'm like that, Ryan? I don't forget when people help me out."

I wandered briefly what he meant by that, but didn't ask. I wouldn't have got an answer anyway. As it was, there was no time to ask, as my dad chose that moment to walk into the room.

He caught sight of Ryan and his face darkened. He turned to Dave. "What is he doing here?"

Dave glanced at Ryan, then looked back at Dad. "He wants to talk. I think we should listen."

Dad shifted his gaze to Ryan, who coughed quietly, then said quietly, "I made a mistake. I'm sorry."

The room was silent once more, except for Bart and Milhouse discussing a lemon tree on the television. I think it took that long for Dad to notice I was there at all, because he suddenly snapped round at me and held out his hand.

"Give me the remote. And go help your mother with dinner." Usually I would have complained, but not today. Things were too awkward already, without me putting my two cents in. So I did as I was told, and the door shut heavily behind me as I left the room.

When Dad and Dave finally turned up for dinner (a very, very dry lasagne), Ryan wasn't with them. I wanted to ask where he had gone, but Mum silenced me with a look and we ate the meal as if nothing unusual had happened.

I tried to corner Dave and ask him about it the next day, but he was still asleep when I went to school and he didn't get home until after dinner. I kept trying for the rest of the week, but had no success, and with my interview fast approaching, I worried less and less about it.

The day before the interview, Mac turned up on our doorstep hours before school started, intent on getting me to chauffeur him and Anna to school again. He won me over eventually, with the promise of a muffin and a pep talk after school. I sighed as I climbed into the car. I really shouldn't let Mac get the upper hand in every argument we had, but he was persuasive.

Anna was waiting for us outside her front door, and she waved enthusiastically when she saw my car pull up, then hurried down to join us, her long, dark braids swinging behind her.

"Morning, Jack." She greeted me with a smile, and I returned the greeting.

Mac twisted around in his seat and spent most of the drive to school chattering to Anna about various pieces of school work and other students and teachers. We were only a street away from school when he finally turned back to face the front, then looked at me.

"So, you're going to get permission to be absent from the teachers today, right?"

By now I was hunting for a parking space, but I nodded anyway. "Yeah. Mr. Grace has written a note to give them all. I talked to him about Anna and he said he didn't see why it would be a problem." I glanced over my shoulder at her (and the space I had found). "I'll need a list of the classes you'll be missing tomorrow, so I can visit the teachers and get you out of school."

Anna nodded and fished around in her bag for a moment. Eventually, she pulled out a piece of paper, a pen and her agenda. It didn't take her long to scribble down a quick list and hand it too me, then we got out of the car together and walked towards the school gates.

Drew and his sister, Emily, were standing by the gates, both looking incredibly reluctant to enter the school building. He caught sight of the three of us walking towards him and raised a hand in greeting, and Emily follow suit.

As we drew near (no pun intended), Mac murmured something about walking Anna to her locker, and I nodded and stopped by Drew. The boy in question nearly-glared after Mac as he walked past, and I felt my curiosity piqued, but didn't say anything. If there was a problem in the pack, I'd have to sort it out, but not today. Today I was too busy worrying about tomorrow.

"Turned you into a personal chauffeur, has he?" Drew asked, a hint of bitterness in his voice.

Emily looked at me a little anxiously as I shrugged and said, "No, not really. My dad threatened to take the car away if I didn't use it at least once in a while, and Mac got wind of the threat and asked for a lift."

Drew snorted but didn't say anymore. At that moment, the Fransen twins rounded the corner and let out identical greetings. I sighed and excused myself. I did not need to deal with pack stuff right now. In fact, what I really needed to do was to get to my first period chemistry class. What fun.

I had picked up the excuse notes from Mr. Grace on the way to my locker, and studied Anna's list on the way to class. I was relieved – and actually rather pleased – to find that she had Mr. Noels for chemistry. So one less teacher I would have to hunt down during the day. We had the same English and Maths teachers as well, which was even better. I was in a good mood as I walked into class, and went straight to Mr. Noels to get us both excused.

"Of course, it's not a problem. You are one of my best pupils, and I trust Miss Price to catch up on her work. And of course, you can always help her if she needs something explaining." I nodded and smiled at him, then turned to take my place at the front of the class. "You're not the only one who won't be here tomorrow, anyway, so I won't be doing anything new."

I looked up at him curiously as I took my books out of my bag, before remembering who he must be referring to. And then, the person himself walked through the door, went up to Mr. Noels and handed him a piece of paper, then slouched to the back of the class without even glancing at me. Fair enough, really. We hadn't talked since the argument after the lab. Not that I wanted to talk, of course. Why would I want to talk to an arrogant, cocky, son-of-a…

My train of thought was stopped in its tracks as Mr. Noels placed my corrected lab report in front of me with a smile. I hadn't even noticed him begin to hand them out.

"Maybe I need to get you to change lab partners more often." He commented before turning away to hand out the rest of the papers.

I looked down at the paper in front of me. Full marks. Wait, that couldn't be right. I was one of the best students in the class, and I had never gotten full marks on a lab report. They were so fussy about grading that you got knocked down a point for using a different number of significant figures in your uncertainties and your measurements. How could I possibly have got full marks?

Mr. Noels had returned to the front of the class, and beginning the lesson, so I turned my attention to him. "Well, I think our last experiment with lab work was very productive. We had two students who got full marks on their reports, and most of you managed to get a point or two higher than usual, so I think I may have to repeat the experience." Wait, two people? Who was the other person? "Right then. Lets get started shall we. Organic chemistry. Now, who knows what the functional groups are."

Usually, I would have raised my hand and answered that, but I was too distracted. I glanced around me surreptitiously, hoping I would notice someone grinning inanely at their sudden success in their lab report. No one of the front bench – where the best grades were likely to be, as with any class – showed any signs of having got such good marks. A quick glance confirmed that the person wasn't on the middle bench, either. Then Damien caught my eye.

He was staring into nothing (somewhere on the ceiling roughly above Mr. Noels head, if I had guessed correctly), and looked like he didn't have a care in the world. There was something near a smirk in the corner of his mouth, though. It would be him, wouldn't it, I thought with annoyance. It did annoy me that he could obviously do so well in class with so little effort or commitment. He looked down and straight at me then, as if he had felt my eyes on him, and he shot me a self-satisfied grin that made me spin around in my seat again in disgust.

The rest of the lesson I spent trying to memorise the different functional groups I would need to know for my exam, and to go over the details of tomorrow's plan one last time. Anything that didn't require thinking about the guy who was currently burning a hole in the back of my head with his eyes. At least, that was how it felt, although it was entirely possible he was just staring at the ceiling again.

I gathered my things together as quickly as I could when class was finished, and snatched my coat off the rack, hoping to get out of the room before He did. No such luck.

He passed me as I was putting on my coat, and muttered under his breath, "Makes you angry, doesn't it. Knowing you're not the only one who can get full marks and that I have to work less to manage it." I glared at him, ready to retort, but he had already left the room.

A/N: Finally, got another chapter done. Sorry for taking so long. As I said last time, my exams are fast approaching, so I have less time that I would like to write anything non-school related. I will try to update again before exams start, but I can't promise anything.

Giselle: Aw, thank you. I don't remember you saying you'd read it, actually, but I'm glad you did. Engaging huh? I guess that's a compliment. Btw, have you finished reading Val's thing yet? I really want her to post that…

Jayn: Yeah, he got worn down pretty bad. The whole Ryan thing has two purposes, one of which will be revealed later, and one of which I hope has been shown in this chapter (to show the extent to which the Family has power over it's members).

Pinkfluffyoranges: I'm really glad you like it (and hope you still have some nails left). You wouldn't consider getting kittens instead would you? I prefer kittens to puppys.

Iced-Faerie, unthinkable: glad you enjoyed. Hope this chapter is up to scratch too.