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Opening Doors
by shalott

He wondered sometimes what stopped her. When J. J. had gone to bed and they were sitting around the kitchen table, ten o'clock with mugs of tea, trading the minutes of the day, he wasn't sure why she didn't just open her mouth and ask. He was ready for it. There wouldn't be a fight.

She'd take care of the paperwork. And of course she'd make sure he had full visitation rights, and they'd both explain things to J. J. Things wouldn't change so much, and in a few months it would be him going to dinner instead of Johnny coming over. She'd finally be six years back in time, in the life she ought to have. After a while, he'd find someone else and be happy, have some kids of his own, and J. J. would get a sister or a brother after a while, with the same sandy blond hair instead of dark hair and brown eyes.

She wasn't staying quiet because she was making a sacrifice, trying to do the right thing. She wasn't stupid enough to be noble that way and not cruel enough to do it for fun, keeping both of them tied up in knots for her. And it wasn't because she loved both of them just as much. He knew she loved him, he'd been there for her when she needed someone like hell, and if Johnny had never woken up, they'd have been happy together for the rest of their lives. But he'd seen her with that ring in her hand, he'd seen her face when she looked at Johnny, and he knew she'd never love him that way. She'd never love anyone else that way.

Sometimes he thought she was on the edge of doing it. She'd take a deep breath, and sound a little like she was going to cry, and she wouldn't look him in the eye. Then she'd close her mouth and lift her head up and smile at him, a little too brightly, and get up to put their mugs in the sink. They'd go to bed and she'd put her head on his shoulder, her arm over his chest, holding on, and he would lie awake for a while, not sure if he'd just been given a reprieve or if his sentence had been extended.

The car had warmed up and their breath had stopped coming out in white ghosts. Walt put the car in park and shut off the lights. Johnny handed him the thermos, and he took a couple of gulps of hot coffee. He'd spent a lot of nights like this, waiting for someone to come, for something to happen; the only difference this time was he'd gotten here fifteen minutes ahead of time mostly to be sure they didn't get held up by traffic lights, and he knew he'd be putting someone in handcuffs about twenty minutes from now.

Not much of a difference at all, and maybe if he told himself that every time this happened, in fifty years or so he'd start believing it. He handed back the thermos and watched Johnny drink. Sometimes he wanted to ask if Johnny saw little things too, if he tasted Sarah when he put the thermos to his mouth, if he ever spent the night in bed with them, if he'd mind letting Walt know when he was going to take his wife and son away. He turned his face forward and wished they hadn't gotten here early. It was too quiet. If it stayed this quiet he was going to say something.

"It's not going to happen."

"He's not going to show?" He found Johnny staring into the thermos, not looking up. His eyes looked black, hollow circles around them, and then Walt understood that Johnny wasn't talking about the drug dealer. "You said it yourself, things can change." And maybe by saying something, Johnny was changing it right now.

"Not this."

Walt looked away, glad and guilty for it, and angry without really knowing why. "I don't get you at all, sometimes."

They sat in silence.

"If you were anyone else--" Johnny said, and Walt almost jumped at the sound. "Christ. If it just wasn't so obvious."

"Something about this is obvious to you?"

"Something about this isn't to you?" Johnny tilted his head back, and his eyes looked liquid in the dark. "If I had to pick someone. Someone to take care of my wife and son, someone to give them the kind of life I wanted them to have..." He laughed like he was short on breath.

Walt almost made an excuse to get out of the car -- have to cover the scene, make sure we have all the approaches covered -- but he'd asked for this, even if he hadn't actually gotten around to saying it out loud, and he figured running now would be cowardly. "Sarah's still in love with you."

"She's happy with you. She'll be happy with you."

"And not with you, is that what you're saying?" He felt sick for asking, but God, how badly he wanted to hear just that.

"What I'm saying is I don't need to be hit over the fucking head again to get the point." There was anger in Johnny's voice at last, but it wasn't aimed anywhere near Walt. "You know, if I hadn't had Sarah--" He stopped. "No. Not even that. If J. J. wasn't around-- if I wasn't responsible for him--"

"Yeah," Walt said roughly. He didn't need to hear the end of that sentence. He'd thought about it himself, what he'd have done if he was alone in that big house with the whole world banging on his door and not one of them for him.

"So this all works out just right," Johnny said. "They're as safe and happy as anyone could make them, and I've got enough of them to keep me going."

"Works out right for who?" Walt said. "Me? Sarah? You?"

Johnny looked over at him, and the headlights of the car pulling into the parking lot illuminated his face for a split second, left an afterimage on Walt's retinas of light glowing through pale hair and skin. He didn't answer the question. Walt didn't ask it again.

"He thinks... I don't know."

"Please stop this," she whispered, resting her hand on his bare chest. "Walt, I love you. I'm not going to leave."

"Yeah, well maybe that's not--" Walt propped himself up on his elbow, cupped her face in his other hand. "Look, I know you love him. So why aren't you going to leave? Because of all the crap with the visions? Because it would be hard? You're not scared of hard. We've done hard."

Her face went strange for a second, eyes looking far away. "It's past hard," she said finally, and tears spilled over his fingers.

She rolled away from him. He lay back and stared at the ceiling and didn't try to comfort her. He knew why she was crying, and it wasn't for herself. Down the hall, his son was sleeping, his wife was lying next to him and she did love him, even if he was second-best, and right now he felt like he was serving as a guard for someone who'd taken them hostage to use against a man sleeping ten minutes away in a better part of town.

He wanted to get out of bed, tell her he couldn't do this, shove her out the door and get himself the hell out of this impossible position. Johnny's voice stopped him more than anything, saying, if I had to pick someone, and how was he supposed to say no to the guy?

Sarah's breathing got quiet and even again. Half-hoping she was asleep, he said quietly, "There's got to be a better way than this."

Walt had to open the door a couple minutes after the Jeep pulled into the driveway because Johnny was just standing on the front stoop with his hand over the doorbell, barely touching it. "Hey," he said.

Johnny stared at him and didn't move. "Where's J. J.?"

"He's sleeping over with friends."

Johnny looked back at the doorbell, let his hand drop. "You sure about this?" he asked, and if Walt hadn't been, the raw edge in his voice would have convinced him.

"Come on in," he said.

= End

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