Should, Could, Would?

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

It should have been easy to hate Johnny Smith. Okay, so it wasn't such a good thing to hate someone just for waking up from a coma, but it should been easy despite the moral fuzziness of the situation.

After all, the man knew Walt's wife as well or better than Walt did. He was the biological father of Walt's son, and Walt knew that no matter how much he argued, to a lot of people that meant that he was JJ's "real" father. Walt suspected that Sarah was one of those people, no matter how much she protested otherwise. There was something in her eyes that looked at JJ and saw Johnny and forgot about the years Walt had spent raising him.

As if that weren't bad enough, Johnny had set foot on Walt's professional territory from his first day out of the hospital, interfering in an investigation and ultimately solving a series of murders. He hadn't slowed down since then. In fact, he'd sped up, frequently being the one to alert Walt to a problem, instead of the other way around.

All of which meant, it should have been easy to hate Johnny Smith. But it wasn't. The man had to go and be one of the most truly decent people Walt had ever met.

From the moment he woke up, Johnny had done his level best to step back and leave Walt's family to Walt, despite the fact that, from his point of view, they had been his family just a few days before. He'd never approached Sarah; he'd been cautious when she approached him. He'd saved Walt's life more than once. He'd saved JJ's life.

He'd saved a lot of lives with no apparent thought for his own. As far as Walt could see, Johnny had done the right thing over and over and over again, at the cost of his family and his reputation and anything resembling a normal life. How did you hate someone like that? How did you hate someone who honestly wanted to make the world a better place?

You couldn't. At least Walt couldn't. Even sitting in the backyard of the man's mansion, watching him sitting on top of a picnic table with Sarah, laughing and smiling, Sarah leaning just a little more than Walt liked, even then he couldn't hate Johnny. The man wasn't even leaning back, as if he knew all too well how the scene might look. How it might play out, if he changed his body language just a little.

Fear, on the other hand, was another matter entirely.

Walt could almost feel Sarah slipping away from him. Johnny was her first love and a good man and the father of her child. It was no wonder she felt so drawn to him. She'd told him over and over that she and Johnny were just friends, that he was her husband, but Walt remembered how he'd been her friend before they got together.

He sat and watched them laughing and tried to eat the hamburger that was still hot from the BBQ and tried to feel the sun on his shoulders, but all the time his stomach was knotting and twisting. Walt knew he was waiting. Waiting for Johnny to have a weak moment and take Sarah and Johnny away from Walt. Waiting for Sarah to realize that it wasn't Walt she wanted, after all. Waiting for something to give, to break the uncomfortable balance that had been struck.

"Johnny!" Bruce's call broke into Walt's thoughts. His eyes went back to Johnny to find him already levering himself off the picnic table. "We need more glasses," Bruce went on. "Give me a hand, would you?"

"Sure," Johnny said agreeably, and wove his way through the people that had taken over the backyard to follow Bruce into the house.

Walt frowned. How was Johnny supposed to help carry glasses? The man had to keep one hand on his cane, after all. Setting aside his hamburger, Walt brushed his hands off on his pants and went to offer his own help.

In contrast to the group gathered outside, the house was oddly silent. Walt wove his way through the hallways towards the kitchen. A half step away from the doorway, a voice brought him up short. "You didn't think I was actually going for glasses did you?"

It was definitely Bruce, his voice low and warm like Walt had never heard it before. It was the kind of tone of voice someone didn't usually use in public. Walt felt rooted in place, his ears straining for Johnny's response.

Soft laughter. "I hoped not. Carrying things isn't exactly my strong point."

Walt couldn't resist. He eased forward silently and peered around the door jam and into the kitchen.

Johnny was leaning back against the counter, his cane set aside, his arms around Bruce's waist. Bruce himself was leaning forward, hands braced on the counter, his body resting against Johnny's. And...they were smiling. Maybe Walt should have expected that, from the teasing comment and the soft laughter, but somehow the expression still surprised him.

As Walt watched, Bruce leaned forward that last little bit and kissed Johnny. Walt blinked. He knew he should step back and leave. He was invading their privacy. He shouldn't be seeing this. But it was so...strange. And it was stranger still to realize that Johnny was kissing Bruce back. Was, in fact, tightening his arms and angling his head a little, as if to move...a little...deeper...

The thought broke his paralysis. Hurriedly, Walt turned away and found a bathroom, a handy excuse for why he'd left the barbeque if he hadn't gone to help with glasses. He was suddenly grateful for the privacy and found himself sitting heavily on the toilet.

Bruce and Johnny. Walt turned the idea over his mind a few times. Maybe it should have seemed wrong or unnatural. Maybe he should be fighting down disgust or horror or...something. But the overwhelming feeling rushing through Walt was relief. Bruce was important to Johnny. Neither of them would have started something if it wasn't serious. Bruce wasn't someone Johnny could set aside if it looked like things were going to start happening with Sarah.

Which meant things weren't going to start happening with Sarah. She would still be a part of his life, of course. And he of hers. But not such a big part that the two of them would squeeze Walt out of the picture.

For the first time since Johnny woke up, the knot in Walt's gut unwound a little.