What It Seems

by Speranza

Fandom: Dead Zone (tv)

Written for: Lyrstzha in the Yuletide 2006 Challenge


Walt's mind was still whirling from the doctor's latest pronouncement—cancer, metastasized, no longer operable —when he saw the guy fighting with the cafeteria's ice machine. He clocked it, instinctively registering the details in the back of his mind along with everything else going on—elderly woman, print skirt, gray cardigan, buying coffee out of the automatic machine; young mother, brown hair, ponytail, thirty-something , desperately trying to distract two children with coloring books and crayons; blond guy, twenty-something, good looking, bloody knuckles , fighting with the ice machine at the soda fountain, broken, probably; and there, his father, staring blankly down at his hands. God, poor Dad; how this had aged—bloody knuckles , and he went back to the ice machine and said, in his calmest, most authoritative voice, "Hey, there, now; take it easy."

The guy looked up sharply, and my God, he had the bluest eyes Walt had ever seen. "I need ice," he said.

"O-kay," Walt cautiously agreed, raising his palms to show that he meant no harm. "We'll get you some ice." He saw now that there was a blue rubber bucket on the counter next to the piles of paper cups and plastic lids. It was already half full; the guy'd probably emptied the machine already and it hadn't yet had time to fill up. "Just, relax for a minute, all right?" Walt said. "Punching the machine's not going to make it work any faster, and you're gonna get blood in your Slurpee."

The guy frowned, eyes moving from his knuckles to the bucket and back up again. There were dark shadows under his eyes. "It's not a..." He turned back to the ice machine distractedly, and Walt decided to get a doctor; this guy had maybe wandered off a mental ward somewhere. "It's...sometimes coma patients wake up when you dump a bucket of ice on them. It's supposed to stimulate the brain."

"Oh," Walt said, surprised and uncomfortable; shit, this guy wasn't crazy, he was just tired—really tired, from the look of him.

"I try it once a week," the guy said, eyes doggedly fixed on the dented metal front plate, the plastic spout, the bright square that said, "Press here." "Hasn't worked yet, but..." He shrugged and lifted his chin, but this challenge wasn't aimed at Walt; it was more like he was swearing something to himself, digging his heels in.

"I'll hold the bucket," Walt said in a quiet voice. The guy jerked around in surprise, eyebrows raised, and Jesus, he was good looking. "You press the button—and hey, notice I said press, not so much punch, okay?"

The guy's mouth twitched, and his eyebrow arched in a way that Walt thought could maybe be very, very dangerous in other circumstances. "Okay," he said. "Thanks."

Later, his father said, "I saw you talking to Johnny Smith."

"Oh," Walt said, and looked over at the drinks machine. Nobody was using it now. "Is that who that was?"

"Yeah, visiting his girl. I've seen him in here before. She's been in a coma a while now," and Walt managed to keep himself calmly slouched in his chair; the "coma" part of that was no surprise, but the "girl" part was a real disappointment. His father was watching him closely, which made Walt wonder exactly what he thought he'd seen. Walt didn't exactly make a secret of his sexuality, but it wasn't something he talked about; not in Cleaves Mills, where you could do anything you wanted so long as you didn't talk about it.

His father tilted his head and said, meaningfully, "That guy's got baggage, Wally."

Walt smiled, shrugged, nodded, but he couldn't help but look back at the ice machine.


For a minute he thought it was something fancy, sour cream maybe. Then he realized what it was, winced in revulsion, and looked for a place to dump the cup—and there was Johnny Smith, patiently waiting to buy coffee. Johnny showed him a sympathetic smile, and Walt felt a zing of excitement somewhere low, somewhere deep. Baggage, he reminded himself. Lots and lots of baggage.

"Careful," Walt said, awkwardly stepping away from the machine. "I just got a tomato soup with half and half."

Johnny nodded and jammed his thumb against the half-and-half button a bunch of times. "Yeah," he said. "That button sticks, so you have to clear everything first." Walt nodded, and Johnny nodded back, and Walt realized that okay, maybe this conversation was over, and maybe Johnny thought it was weird that Walt was still standing there—and right, yeah, it was weird. Walt flashed a quick, awkward smile, and was just about to head for a table when Johnny quickly said, "Don't have the soup anyway."

Walt stopped so fast he nearly slopped tomato all over his hand. "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah, it's terrible," Johnny said. "The coffee's okay, though. Monday, the turkey sandwiches are edible, but that's about it. Tuesday's pizza day, and it's not great, but you know what they say about pizza—"

"It's like sex," Walt said before he could stop himself, and okay, there was that zing again, hard, low—and what kind of jerk was he, anyway, to be perving on guys in the trauma ward? He shrugged, tried to make it seem casual: "Even when it's bad, it's good."

For a moment, Johnny didn't say anything: just stared at him with those gigantic blue eyes. "Yeah," he said finally. "Exactly. Anyway, Wednesday—" and today was Wednesday, "—there's nothing. I mean, tuna, but it sits out all day. The buttered rolls are okay. Usually, I just go to Nancy's. You know Nancy's?"

"No?" Walt said, though he did.

"It's just around the corner, past the newsstand," Johnny said, and then, to Walt's surprise, he took the Styrofoam cup of soup out of Walt's hand and tossed it into a nearby trashcan. "Come on," he said. "I'll show you."

So they had lunch at Nancy's, and Johnny told him about Sarah, and the carnival, and the rainstorm, and how his car had broken down and so Sarah had driven. They'd stayed out late; she'd had a run of luck at the wheel that night, cleaned out a carny. Nobody could believe it, but Sarah sometimes got lucky that way. She had dropped him off at his apartment afterwards. She had never made it home.

"It's been five months," Johnny said.

"They don't think she'll come out of it," Johnny said.

"She was having my baby," Johnny said. "He died," and Walt said, "Oh," and reached out to squeeze Johnny's hand.


When his grandmother died, a large bouquet of flowers arrived "With Deepest Condolences from The Smith Family." Walt saw his dad glance at the card and then shoot him a look. "What?" Walt demanded. "We're friendly, that's all. We have lunch sometimes. Go out for the occasional beer—the guy needs a distraction, Dad." His father arched an eyebrow at him, and Walt let the subject drop.

Luckily, Walt was loitering at the back of the funeral home with Roscoe and Mike when Johnny walked in. "Excuse me," Walt said, and quickly moved to intercept him. "Hey," he said, feeling weirdly happy inside. "You didn't have to..."

"I wanted to," Johnny said quietly. "You know, pay my respects. How are you holding up?"

"I'm all right," Walt replied. "Been hard on my dad, though," and Johnny nodded sympathetically. "To be honest with you," Walt confessed, with a guilty look over his shoulder, "I wouldn't mind getting out of here and going for a drink or something, but I can't yet. I've been kind of taking care of the elderly relatives, ferrying them around and stuff."

"Can I help?" Johnny asked.

Walt barked out a laugh. "What, you want to give my Aunt Ellen a lift?"

"Sure," Johnny said, and there was flash of something wicked in his eyes. "I'll take a couple of aunts, you take a couple, and I'll meet you in the back of McAllister's in an hour. What do you say?"

It was really hard not to smile. "You're on," Walt said in a low voice, and then, raising his chin, "Come and meet my dad."

In was dark inside McAllister's when Walt got there. Then again, McAllister's was always dark inside, though Walt wouldn't allow himself to think that Johnny's choice of bar meant anything. He headed for the back booth, and found Johnny already there, staring down at his beer, his face momentarily eerie in the glow from the orange plastic candleholder.

Johnny looked up and smiled as Walt slid into the booth. "For the record," he said, handing over a plastic-coated menu, "your Aunt Ellen said I was a very nice boy. Which I am."

"Don't I know it," Walt said in a low, lust-misted voice, and if Johnny was going to say shit like that, he could interpret Walt's answer however he damn well liked. "I hope she wasn't too nosy."

Johnny's face broke into a wide smile, and man, that made Walt's heart pound. "Are you kidding?" he said incredulously. "Man, she was totally nosy! First she wanted to know who I was, and then she wanted to know how we knew each other, and then she wanted to know about my family, and my mother, and our house—"

"Hey, man, it's a big house," Walt said, grinning. "It's like goddamned Wayne Manor, that house."

"—and seriously, Walt, I think she was going to ask to see my bank statement. And maybe my college transcript."

"Probably trying to set you up with a girl," Walt said before his brain kicked in. Johnny paled, and Jesus, if Walt could have clawed the words out of the air, he would have. "John. John, I'm sorry, I'm an idiot, I—"

But Johnny just waved a hand at him. "Stop it, stop. It was a joke, it was funny. And besides," he added, looking away, "maybe I should take her up on it. I mean, I was going to marry Sarah, but I'm thinking the wedding's going to have to be postponed."

Walt stared at him for a long moment, watching the shadows flicker over his fair skin. "I was never much for getting married," he said finally. "It's not in the cards for me."

Johnny didn't meet his eyes. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, Walt; I know."


7:15. 7:20. Walt peered through the windshield at the hospital's automatic doors and then, again, at his watch. They weren't going to make the movie at this rate, and okay, wait, there he was, and Walt started the engine. "Hey," Walt said, as Johnny got in the car and reached for his seatbelt. "We're going to be late," he said, and pulled out into traffic. "Especially on a Friday; you know what downtown is like on a Friday," he said, and yeah, boy, it was a madhouse, cars everywhere, teenagers out on dates, crossing the street between parked cars and— "Jesus, do they want to get killed?" Walt said, waving a furious hand at them. "I swear to God, John, in a minute I'm going to get out of this car and start handing out tickets for jaywalking." Except: 7:40. Jesus. They weren't going to make it. "Just keep in mind that it's your fault if we miss this stupid movie," Walt said, craning his neck to look for a parking space. "Which I didn't even want to see in the first place, so hey, if we miss Il Postino, there's always Die Hard III. Wait, there we go," Walt said, and put his blinker on; it was a space, and not too far from the theatre, and—

He shoved the car into park and switched off the engine. "Come on," he said. "Let's—" and that was when he finally saw that Johnny was fighting to control his expression. Walt's stomach flipped over and he said, "Johnny. Jesus, Johnny," and that's when Johnny's face contorted and he hid it in his hands. Walt reached across the car and pulled him into a tight hug, half to comfort him, and half to spare him the embarrassment of being seen. He felt Johnny's face hot against his neck and heard him sob, "as good as dead," and "long term care facility," and "it should have been me. God, Walt—it should have been me," and Walt curled his arm protectively around Johnny's head and mashed his lips against Johnny's ear. "I'm glad it wasn't you," he whispered, and then he turned his head and kissed Johnny's wet, tear-salty mouth.

For a moment, Johnny didn't move, and then he was pushing at Walt's shoulder and staring at him with glistening eyes. "I," he stammered. "Walt, I—" and Walt flinched and shrank back to his side of the car.

"I'm sorry," Walt began, and Johnny quickly said, "No, I—it's okay," and Walt said, "No, it's not. It's really not."

Johnny rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands and said, "I don't know what's right anymore."

"I'm sorry," Walt said again.

Johnny dropped his hands and snapped, "Would you for God's sake stop apologizing?"

"All right," Walt said.

Johnny turned to stare out the passenger window. "Drive me home?"

Walt nodded and started the engine again, but when they got to Johnny's apartment, Johnny didn't get out of the car. "Come inside," he said finally, and when Walt jerked around to stare at him, he saw that Johnny's neck and cheeks were almost painfully flushed.

"I mean it," Johnny said, almost defiantly. "I want you to."

"All right, John," Walt said, and got out of the car.


Their first time was awkward, and gentle, and almost painfully sweet. Johnny stopped him just inside the apartment door, and cupped his neck clumsily, and kissed him, like he was daring himself to do it. Walt shivered, but held himself back, letting Johnny take it at his own pace, explore things in his own time. The kiss was tentative at first, and then grew more certain, and then their mouths were softening, melting together, opening. Their tongues touched and it was like an electric shock, and Walt found himself clutching Johnny's hips and pulling him close, sucking his tongue as suggestively as he could. Johnny moaned into his mouth and then broke away, looking a little wild-eyed. "Walt," Johnny said breathlessly, hands clutching Walt's shoulders, "I never, I don't know how to—"

"Let me," Walt said, and tugged him back toward the bed.

Johnny was only half-hard when Walt unzipped him, but a couple of quick pumps did the trick, and then Walt was bending and taking the velvet-soft head into his mouth and sucking wetly, and God—oh, yes—yeah. He closed his eyes. Impossible to explain to anyone how you could love this so much—heavy cock in your mouth, a shaft tight in your fist, the man above you moaning and gasping and sinking his fingers deep into your hair. "Walt," Johnny whispered, sounding almost weak with pleasure, and God, he had to be; how long since anyone had touched him? "Walt," Johnny whispered again, and this time, Walt thought he was maybe reminding himself that it was Walt's wet mouth on his cock, Walt's hand caressing his hairy and muscular thigh. "Oh, Walt," Johnny gasped, and then he was thrusting up —yeah; come on, Johnny; fuck me—and Walt felt weirdly gratified at the wet, sobbing noises Johnny made as he came, at the distracted, passionate way he pulled at Walt's hair while he begged for it.

"Walt," Johnny said, once he'd gotten his breath back, "tell me what to do for you," and this was it, the moment of truth, because while most guys could handle getting a blowjob, they couldn't handle touching another guy's cock. Walt licked his lower lip, still tasting Johnny's stickiness there, and wondered if he ought to play it safe, or if this might be the only chance he ever had, and God, he wanted—

Johnny surprised him by cupping his face and leaning in to kiss him. "Walt. Tell me what to—" and Walt groaned and gently gripped Johnny's wrist with one hand while he unzipped himself with the other. He shoved his underwear down and pulled Johnny's hand to his fly, gasping as he dragged the palm up his shaft. Johnny's fingers fluttered awkwardly and then turned, seeking a grip. Walt heard Johnny's soft inhalation, but he couldn't look away; Johnny's hand was closing around him, thumb gently circling his cockhead—and okay, Johnny wasn't in denial about him having a cock or anything. He began to jerk Walt off with sweet, strong strokes, and Walt panted and shuddered and cursed softly, and came when Johnny tipped his chin up and kissed him again.


Johnny was a fast learner: blowjobs by the end of the week, fucking not long after. He seemed to get into it on a deeply physical level, like it was a sport or something, or like he needed a reminder that he was really still alive. Walt lay sprawled naked on Johnny's bed and stared up at him; Christ, he was gorgeous, all flushed and sweaty and tossing his blond hair out of his eyes. Walt reached up to tweak a tiny pink nipple just to hear Johnny's soft hiss of pleasure, to see his eyebrow arch and his mouth curve into his best, most wicked smile. Walt shivered with anticipation and then did it again, and this time Johnny groaned long and low, his pale eyelashes fluttering, his smile replaced with a look of slack-jawed lust. Now it was Walt's turn to grin. "Come and get it," he said, already knowing that he'd give Johnny anything; anything at all.

He moved in with Johnny five weeks later, into the spare room / "office" that Johnny decided he no longer needed. Some folks probably suspected what was going on, but they maintained all the polite fictions; told all the right white lies. They kept separate bedrooms, which was convenient on those nights when Walt drew the graveyard shift and Johnny had 8 a.m. classes. Still, most nights Walt slept in Johnny's bed, tangled up with him under the covers and stupidly, stupidly happy.

Vera Smith knew, though Johnny swore he hadn't told her; Walt saw it on her face the first time Johnny brought him to the house for Sunday dinner. "Oh," Vera said, reaching out to clasp Walt's hand in both of hers. "You must be Johnny's friend," (and that was one of those white lies, right there) and Walt said, "Yes, ma'am. Yes, ma'am, I am."

It was weird to see Johnny walking around that mansion like he owned the place, grinning and shoving caviar on little rounds of toast into his mouth, washing it down with white wine in fancy glasses. Walt sometimes forgot that the goofy high-school science teacher he lived with also happened to be the scion of the oldest family in town. That creepy Reverend Purdy clearly hadn't forgotten, though, and Walt slouched back on the sofa with the fancy imported beer that Vera Smith had brought him and watched Purdy kiss up to the Smiths. Vera seemed entranced by him, though Johnny was smiling and nodding with a familiar glint of irony. Still, both Vera and the Reverend found moments to pull Walt aside, Vera to say, with meaningful understatement, "I'm so glad Johnny has someone he can rely on," and the Reverend to say, "The Bible tells us that a faithful friend is a strong defense; he that hath found one hath found a treasure. I can see that you are a very great comfort to him." Later that night, Johnny batted his eyelashes at Walt and said, in a strangely thrumming voice, while unzipping his fly, "You're such a comfort to me, Walt," and Walt burst out laughing and said, "Oh yeah? Comfort this," before wrestling Johnny into a headlock. Walt rolled him off the sofa and onto the floor, and after they tussled for a while, laughing and breathless and having nearly broken the coffee table, Walt flipped Johnny onto his stomach and licked and kissed the warm back of his neck as he fucked his tight, sweet ass.

"Oh, yes," Johnny mumbled into the rug. "Very comforting," and then they were both groaning and coming all over everything.


The years pass like this: Walt goes with Johnny to those terrible, highbrow movies that he likes, but Johnny also likes watching hockey and making out on the sofa between periods, trading kisses that taste of beer. They decide they need a huge, new flatscreen TV, but have long, drawn-out arguments over whether or not to buy a house. Walt's sick of the apartment ("Too urban") and wants land and privacy and a giant Viking gas grill. Johnny's not that big on country living: he likes walking to work; he likes having old Miss Capshaw living upstairs; he likes running into his students on the street; and "They told me raking leaves builds character, Walt, but you know, it really didn't." "Gas grill," Walt insists. "Giant barbeque," and "I'll rake the goddamn leaves, I swear," and so eventually Johnny gives in and they buy a fixer-upper just outside of town and start renovating it themselves. Johnny loves it because there's an honest to God creek on the property, and twice a year he brings his biology class over and they sample the soil and the water and study invertebrates under the microscope. Walt loves it because he can hang out on the weekends and drink beer in the backyard and build shit with Johnny, and Jesus, he never even dreamed of wanting more than this.

Some days, Walt can't imagine how he ever managed to get a life this good. Some days, Walt wonders whether his good fortune was the direct result of Sarah Bracknell's bad luck on that rainy night all those years ago. Johnny doesn't talk about Sarah much anymore, except sometimes, late at night when they're in bed, lying close together, he turns his head and whispers, "Sarah's the only woman I've ever loved." And Walt knows what that means, and smiles against Johnny's arm, and says, "Yeah, Johnny. I know."


And then it all comes crashing down in a single, too-bright moment on a day that's like any other day. Walt comes home from work and finds Johnny sitting at the kitchen table with the cordless phone in front of him. He looks up, and Walt knows what's happened the minute he sees Johnny's face, because maybe it's been six years, but Walt remembers that look of pain like it was yesterday. His whole world blurs before his eyes.

"Walt," Johnny says in a tight, anguished voice. "Sarah woke up."

Walt steadies himself against the chair back, then tugs the chair out and sits down, hard. For a moment he can't think of anything to say. "Is she okay?" he asks finally. "I mean, functioning? Does she remember...?"

"Yeah." Johnny briefly squeezes his eyes shut. "Like it was yesterday."

"Oh," Walt says.

"Yeah," Johnny says, and then, voice breaking: "God, how can I face her? What am I going to do?"

They stare at each other helplessly. Walt thinks about saying, It's okay, Johnny; go to her, and I won't stand in your way, and I'm just grateful for the time we—except he won't say that; not any of it. He can't, and maybe that makes him a bad person, even a thief, but he doesn't care. Walt won't stand aside even if that's maybe the right thing to do, even if maybe deep down he always knew he was living on borrowed time, stolen time, feeding off what was left of Sarah Bracknell's life. Maybe the life he's got wasn't supposed to be his, but it is now and he wants it—because fuck it all, fuck everything, he loves Johnny Smith.

"We'll work something out," Walt says finally, and then he's reaching across the table for Johnny's hand. "We'll find a way to make it work. All—all three of us," and when Johnny nods and squeezes back, Walt is suddenly sure that this life they've built has room in it for Sarah. "Come on," Walt says, getting up and yanking Johnny with him. "Let's go see her," and really, it's just another day in the Smith-Bannerman house, where every day brings a miracle.


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