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Five Ways Out

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His mom cried.  A lot.

She cried so much, in between saying how much she loved him and how she never wanted him to think any different, that Dean asked his aunt Shelby about it later.  Because she cried when they talked and she held his hand so tightly it hurt.  She cried the next day.  She cried a week later when she was folding his laundry.  She spent most of the time looking totally happy and okay, but every once in a while her face would just kind of crumple, and…

"We're not gonna tell Dad," he said to his aunt.  Aunt Shelby was cool; she'd help him plan the thing.  She got it.  "I mean, she's okay with it?  She's pretty sure too that he just couldn't deal.  Right now.  But it's still like she's so afraid."

"That's tough," Shelby said.  Dean sat down in his desk chair and took a deep breath, holding the clunky handset against his ear.

"Was my dad gay?  I mean," he corrected, "Is my dad gay?  I mean, Greg.  My other dad.  Was he, like…"  He couldn't believe the question was out of his mouth, and he felt five different kinds of embarrassed.  "Is that what went wrong, kind of?  He just said he couldn't be the right kind of husband.  And then when I told mom, she was like, 'Oh, of course now, I've been thinking about it ever since we got back from Toronto.'  Like she knew it was coming.  And…"

Aunt Shelby said slowly, "Your mom has never talked about that with me."

"Oh."  He felt stupid.  "Do you… know?"

"Sorry, kid," she told him.

"No, it's okay," he said.  "I just, you know…"

Hoped.

###

Clark got time alone with his sister two days after she was born, when his parents went off to doctors' appointments in different parts of the hospital.  He stayed in his mom's room with a paperback and the bassinet.

When a nurse checked in and everything was okay, and he was pretty sure he was on his own, he got up and closed the door until it was only a finger-width open, then went back to look down at Isabelle.  She was kind of mashed-looking, with huge eyes and red skin and kind of the opposite of a chin, like, this dimple in her face where a chin should be.  They'd tried to make her look cute with a pink bow on her head and a little baggy suit with a giraffe on it, but she totally looked like an alien baby who could have killed somebody.

He reached out and poked her hand with a finger until she curled her fist around it.  Girl was tiny-tiny, big enough to hold in his hand, and he still thought his parents were crazy for doing the whole kid thing again.  He'd be in university before she went to kindergarten.  And he honestly, seriously, hadn't realized just how dangerous it was, until a nurse was in his face talking about next-of-kin and lifesaving measures and he was trying to tell her that he was just a kid, he didn't know, and wondering where his father was—

"I am never doing this myself," he said, waving her little fist.  "I just want you to know, that for the next several years, all the responsibility for grandchildren is on you, okay?  I'll pay you back for it."

Because that was the one thing his friends had definitely said: coming out when you had a little sister sucked way less than when you were an only kid.  An only grandkid.  And maybe this way his parents would be too up to their ears in baby crap to even really care that he wasn't gonna do this.

"Maybe if you get old enough to come out too, and they freak out on you, you can come live with me."  He shook her hand again.  "Okay?  Yeah.  That's what big brothers are for."

###

"Dude, keep the door open," Clark said when Dean came back from the kitchen.

Dean squinted at him, then carefully repositioned the door before coming back to flop next to Clark on the floor.  "Okay, why?"

"My mom says we don't have closed-door privileges while she's here." Clark rolled his eyes, then took one of the bags of beef jerky Dean was carrying.  "She bitched me out for it."

Dean stretched his legs out, positioning food and drink around him in careful preparation for another hour of gaming.  "Seriously?  That's ridiculous."

"I mean, yeah."  Clark devoted himself to opening the beef jerky packet.  "She says if I can't shut my bedroom door with a girl, I don't get to with guys either."

Dean shook his head.  "She does know that she lets us babysit together when they're gone, right?  We've got the whole house to ourselves."

"And I still gotta keep my door open with a girl."  Clark set the bag down on the floor, then picked up his controller and started scrolling through his inventory.  "So it makes no sense.  But rules are rules."  He singsonged, the way he usually made fun of his dad.

Looking at him, Dean had no idea what was going through Clark's head right now.  He was always grumpy at his parents, but was it just his parents?  Did he actually mind not having the door closed?

Was he going to freak out if Dean tried something he'd want the door closed for?             

Clark glanced over for just a minute and caught him looking.  He smiled, just happy and teasing.  "Oh, c'mon.  It's not a big deal.  Let's play."

###

"No, with me and your mom, it was really more the alcohol," Greg said.  He looked at his son thoughtfully, then took another sip of coffee from his styrafoam cup.  "Any relationship with a cop, or anything that takes that much time and passion, that takes work.  And you can't manage it if everything that's supposed to be going to the people that you love is going to dealing with your own problems instead."

Dean jabbed a fry into his cup of tzatziki.  His dad's team was working ten days on, a totally gruelling schedule that meant the two of them almost never saw each other at the apartment.  If he really wanted a conversation, he had to settle for meeting his dad during his morning spare, at the donair shop a couple of blocks from school.  Greg has his headset on, but switched not to transmit.  Every once in a while his eyes went distant as he listened to something, decided it wasn't important, and looked back to Dean.

Dean understood.  That was the problem.

The thing about a dad who was desperate to keep you, Dean was discovering, was that you got to tell him pretty much anything.  It sucked not to be able to keep secrets, because his dad could tell; it kind of sucked to have to talk about what he did wrong, not as a lecture, but as a postmortem.  Sometimes he just wanted to give up and stop listening to his dad strategize so next time, he wouldn't even get a black eye.  But on the other hand, if you said I want to be a cop or I don't believe in God or I'm gay, he pretty much had to listen and love you anyway.  So sometimes living with him, and not someone stupider, sucked; and sometimes you found yourself feeling so lost and clueless that it was a genuine relief to realize that if you talked to your father about it, he'd know exactly what to say.

"I don't think Clark wants to keep going out with me."  His shoulders hunched forward.  "And I think wanting to be a cop is part of it."

"Hey."  His dad leaned in.  "You think I'm not reminded every day how much not like me and Ed you guys are?  We made our mistakes, yeah, because we were doing the best we knew how.  You guys?  Whole new world.  I screwed up with your mom because I thought you two only needed to see the best sides of me, so I took all that other crap and stuffed it away down a bottle.  You do that enough, eventually it's gonna come back at you because you didn't deal with it.  That sound like you and Clark, ever?"

Dean shrugged uncomfortably.  "If he doesn't wanna try, Dad, there's not much I can do."

"Yeah."  Greg's eyes were frank and wise, and a little sad.  "I know that.  I'll be sorry if it happens.  I think he oughta take a chance on you."

That just made him suck his breath in because that was really what he'd wanted someone to say right now.  Not that he was wonderful and perfect and there was nothing to dislike; not that he should just give up and accept the inevitable.  Someone who thought he was worth taking a chance on.

And after a moment, he ventured a smile.  "Yeah.  I think that's what I needed to hear."

"Any time," Greg promised.

###

Dean bounded up the steps, keys jingling in his hand, and took a deep breath before knocking on the door.

He was about to change his mind and just open it, the way he usually did, when the knob turned under his hand and Clark's dad was ushering him inside.  Dean nodded and stepped in, then looked at Mr. Lane for a second, tapping the keyfob against his knuckles. 

His arms were folded.

"I'll just go and—"  Dean gestured up the stairs, meaning, get Clark to come down before we're late.  He knew Clark's dad wasn't his biggest fan right now; he also knew that between his dad, Clark's dad, and Clark's mom, the majority thought the two of them going out together should be no big deal, and that Lane Senior was being weirdly hardassed about it.

"He'll be out in a sec," Mr. Lane said, then jerked his head toward the kitchen.  "Give me a minute."

Dean followed unenthusiastically.

Real police just had this way of standing—projecting—using their space—that made them seem way bigger than they were.  Officer Callaghan only came up to Dean's shoulder, but when she made the switch from a compassionate negotiator to a tactical Officer of the Law, she seemed six feet tall and all of them scary.  And Clark's dad?  Was six feet tall to begin with.

"Look," he said, and then lapsed back into tight silence.  While he looked down and collected his thoughts, Dean was cautious not to move.  He'd hear this out.  On the other hand, he knew that there was nobody standing between him and the front door right now.  Because it felt like it mattered. 

Distantly, he heard Clark's bedroom door slam.

So Mr. Lane stepped close to Dean, who stood his ground, and released one finger from a clenched fist to point at Dean's chest.  His eyes could burn a hole through your skull and back out again.  "I don't care whose son you are," he said, low, fast, and furious.  "I don't care what it costs.  But believe me that I am being very serious when I say, if you hurt my son—You.  Will.  Regret.  It."

Dean actually felt the urge to quail.  It took a lot to keep standing up and looking Clark's dad in the eyes, to swallow and nod.  But he did, and he just said, "Okay."

Clark's feet on the staircase broke them like a spell; Mr. Lane eased back and shrank two feet away from the ceiling, and Dean turned to give Clark a wave and a tight smile.

Oh my god, what weird thing has my dad done now? Clark's face asked.

In the car, Dean's said firmly.  "Ready?  Let's go."

Clark grabbed his coat out of the closet and Dean was opening the door when Mr. Lane said, "Hey."  And when they turned around it was like he hadn't just been totally scary three seconds ago; his face wasn't mad at all, and he actually smiled a wide, generous smile.  "Have fun, you two."

Clark rolled his eyes, but said, "Yeah, thanks," and headed out the door.

The moment his son's back was turned, he shot Dean a less-murderous, almost playfully stern look and made an I'm keeping my eyes on you gesture with one hand.

"Good night, Mr. Lane," Dean said, and headed out after Clark.

In the driveway, he began to laugh.