Chapter 9


"Clark, honey, I wish you'd change your mind. I wish you'd come stay with us for a couple of days, just until you're sure you're all right." His mom spoke her words into his chest as she hugged him.

He pressed her away from him, but gently, and kept his hands on her shoulders as he met her gaze. "No, Mom, I'm fine. If I weren't all right, they wouldn't have released me from the hospital after just one night, would they?"

"There are different kinds of recovery, son, and hospitals don't help with all of them," his father chimed in. "This thing is going to hit you hard soon... a lot harder than it already has."

"I know, but guys...I really need to be alone. That's how I process these things, you know that. Alone, preferably with my piano and my cello..." he turned and gestured toward the instruments which had moved into his apartment back when he did. "I'll be okay, and I'll come by when I need to, I promise."

His father nodded, clearly willing to let him make up his own mind. But his mother didn't seem so sure.

Fortunately, his dad took his mom in hand and gently steered her toward the door. "Honey, he's a big boy, he can take care of himself now."

She grimaced, but didn't argue. "Just one more hug, okay, baby?"

He hugged her, and then accepted an embrace from his father, too.

I love you guys, but if you don't leave now, I might explode...

He made no attempt to even figure out how he was feeling. He only believed those feelings, without questioning them.

Leave me alone, everybody. Please. Nothing personal. Please.

He went and stood by his window and watched his parents walk hand-in-hand toward their car. His stomach knotted a little more when he saw his mom start to cry again, and his dad comforting her.

I can't handle their pain right now. But for some reason, he couldn't look away, either.

And then, when they drove away, he suddenly felt his solitude as a dreadful thing. He needed it, but he needed to run from it, too.

He retreated to his bedroom, turned on his favorite playlist of soft-classical songs to sleep by, and sank into oblivion for several hours.


"Are you sure you guys don't mind me hanging out here?" Dean asked, though he knew the answer already.

"It's your bedroom, Dean. It always will be, whenever you want it. That's why I had you leave a pair of pajamas and some clothes here, just for times like this." His dad grimaced. "Well, not that I ever expected times like this..."

Dean shook his head with a small smile.

Dad put his hands on Dean's shoulders, then brought up a hand to cup his face. "Besides, Dean, I can't think of a better birthday present than having you here." He pulled Dean in for a hug, the umpteenth today, and probably the third just since he and Clark had been discharged from the hospital an hour ago.

Dean didn't mind a bit. "Happy birthday, Dad."

Their hug was interrupted by Dean's phone, which buzzed in his pocket. He fished it out. "Hi, Mom." It was the umpteenth call from Texas, today, too.

He didn't mind that, either, though he was starting to feel a little harried.

"Dean, your dad and I have managed to get last-minute plane tickets. We'll be up there tonight."

Dean had long-since ceased to feel any cognitive dissonance from having two men called "Dad" in his life. "Tonight? Are you serious? How did you manage that?"

"Don't worry about that, the important thing is that we'll be arriving at 6:30 p.m., barring delays. Shelby is expecting us."

"That's great, Mom. It will be so good to see you."

"Oh baby...I almost lost you! I have to see you! Your dad feels the same way, too."

"Okay, that's great. But listen, today's Dad's...Greg's...birthday. Are you remembering that?"

A slight pause. "I had forgotten. I don't celebrate it, of course, son."

"Of course. But I'm giving him something special tonight...something I had made just for him." He flicked a glance over at his father. "Most of the team is coming over to his place, except the Lanes, because they needed to keep their lives low-key right now."

"I would think you would want 'low-key' now too, dear!"

He shrugged. "We're not going to make a big deal out of it, and it won't last long. But most of team will be here. And it starts at 7:00." He frowned a little, imagining the usual tension his mother exuded when she felt upstaged by his father. "It's just that I've been looking forward to presenting this to him for a long time, now, and I don't want anything to delay it. But trust me, we'll keep the gathering very mellow."

"They'd be more than welcome to join us here," his father offered quietly.

Dean's jaw dropped for a moment. "Um...Greg says you'd be more than welcome to join us here. Shelby knows where he lives."


"Well...I'll discuss it with your father, and we'll think about it on our way up. We have to pack now. I love you, son."

"I love you too, Mom."

He hung up and looked at his father.

His dad shrugged. "It was worth a try."

"But Dad...would you really want her to come?"

His father looked at nothing, thinking hard. "I have to believe that, if she were willing to come, she would also make up her mind to behave herself. She felt really bad about what happened at the tribute, and she wouldn't be likely to repeat it. Besides, you said that her whole attitude toward me has softened since then."

"Yeah, it has...but think of her coming to your birthday party...!"

"Well," his father chuckled, "if she comes, it won't be to celebrate my birthday. It will be to see you. And that's just fine."


When Clark finally awoke, his solitude still haunted him.

He resorted to his piano instinctively.

Most of his sheet music was kept inside the piano bench, but he always had several pieces up on the piano's music rack. Typically, those would be whatever pieces he currently needed to master for college, plus one other very special one.

He pulled that one out to the front of the stack now.

He could have played "Gnossienne No. 1" by heart, since he'd played it so often. But somehow the sight of the sheet music sitting there was part of the experience.

Part of the comfort.

He'd never asked himself why this particular song was the one he always turned to for solace. Of course it could have just been the hauntingly beautiful melody, but deep inside he knew it was more than that.

He also knew that he didn't want to think about the reason. So he just played, and let the consolation wash over him.

It felt like a promise. Everything will be okay. It will.

I'm safe.

He nuanced it, eyes closed, letting his fingers draw every ounce of emotion out of the instrument and the song. And when he came to the end, he played it again.

His mind went blank. And still he played. Over and over again.

After a while he began to feel anxious, almost angry. His fingers paused over the keyboard in mid-song. It had never hit him this way before.

I need something this song can't give me.

Suddenly, violently, everything around him was ripped away, and he was back in the clearing, bound to a tree. His nostrils flared, both with panic and with the remembered smell of gasoline. A lighter jabbed toward his face, though in this flashback, it was actually lit.

No, dummy, it wasn't lit. If it had been, you would be dead. He shook his head to clear it, and forced his breathing to slow down. Then he rose abruptly to his feet and paced irritably. Stupid of me. How could I think a stupid song would help me?

He almost heard a slightly younger version of himself cry out inside his chest. Don't call that song stupid!

He froze.

He was again transported somewhere other than his apartment, but now it was no longer the clearing which met his mind's eye.

It was home. The home he grew up in. The home where that piano once lived, too.

The home where he'd learned to play Gnossienne No. 1.

He was sitting there now, as his younger self, practicing it for the performance for which he'd learned it. But he was doing more than practicing.

He was escaping.

Everything hurt so bad, then. My dad was falling apart. Our whole family seemed like it was going to explode, and it was my dad's fault. And I didn't know what to do with the pain. I didn't know what to do with the horror of what my dad had done.

May Dalton.

Eighteen years old, dead because my father killed her.

I'd never met her, but she haunted me. She haunted all of us. I hated Dad because of her, and I hated her because she made me hate Dad.

I hated hating Dad. It made me hate the whole world.

Here, in this moment, he finally faced the feeling he had been unwilling to admit to himself back then. No, I didn't really hate him. I wanted to believe that I did, but I didn't.

I missed him! I missed him so bad! All I wanted was to feel him hug me like he used to, to see him relax and smile like he used to, and I was so terrified that he never would do those things again.

And I was so lost. So confused. So scared. But it was easier to be angry and to hate him than to feel that way.

Maybe hatred is just hurt love that wants to feel strong. Because scared love feels so weak...

He began to pace.

And I was playing the piano when he came home from work that day, after he went through the whole Harold Beamer thing. After the counseling session that finally broke him. After the meeting with his team when he finally came clean.

He nodded to himself. That's right. I was playing Gnossienne when he came home, and I apologized because lately he'd hated noise, and even my music seemed like noise to him. I hadn't been able to practice much, because of the shift he was working, and the hours he was home.

But he looked at me...

Clark could see it now...the softness in his father's face...a softness he hadn't seen in so long.

He looked at me, and he said...he said... Clark's eyes filled with tears at the memory. He said, 'Don't stop. It's beautiful.'

Don't stop. It's beautiful.

And suddenly I wanted to play a whole concerto. I felt the sun come out, I felt hope.

My dad didn't look like an ugly stranger any more. It was the beginning of all that became good between us.

And I was playing this song. This song. He sat down and looked at the sheet music again, fingers poised above the keys. But once again he found himself unable to play. He felt the same sick feeling in his gut that had made him stop before.

I need something the song can't give me.

The song's about getting my dad back. About hope, and healing, and getting my dad back.

If I had died, I never would have seen him again...


The doorbell rang at 6:55, and Greg opened it to reveal Spike and Winnie smiling on his doorstep. He returned their smiles with a broad one of his own. "Hey, guys, thanks for coming! C'mon in!" He beckoned them in, standing aside to let them through.

Winnie kissed his cheek on her way in. "Happy birthday, Boss." Spike hugged him and wished him the same, but then he paused and looked at Greg with obvious concern. He glanced around, and then spoke very quietly.

"Boss...are you sure Dean is feeling up to this, so soon know...?"

"This is really, really important to him, Spike. He took a long nap this afternoon, too. And we're going to keep it brief. It'll be fine." He patted his friend on the back. "Soft drinks and beer in the kitchen. Help yourself."

"Where's Dean?" Winnie asked.

"Last time I saw him, he was in the kitchen, helping Marina."

The couple headed for the kitchen. Greg smiled to hear their warm greetings all around, and the genuine concern his colleagues so clearly showed for his son.

The doorbell rang again, and this time Sam and Jules greeted him when he opened it.

"Sam!" Greg reached for a hug. They hardly saw each other these days. "I hear great things about what you're doing with Team Three, buddy!"

"Thanks." Sam nodded, looking pleased. "They're not Team One, but they're going to give them a run for their money one of these days."

"I don't doubt it." He stooped to receive the kiss that Jules was standing on tip-toe to offer, and he planted its twin on her cheek.

He reassured them when they quietly asked after Dean's well-being, and then sent them on their way to the kitchen. "Thanks for coming, and help yourselves to refreshments."

"We wouldn't have missed it for anything, Boss," Jules replied over her shoulder as they walked away.

Greg stayed by the door; greeting, reassuring, and directing each guest, until all of his SRU friends now filled his apartment.

Except for the Lanes, of course.

I hope they're doing all right!

He joined his friends in the kitchen, popped open a soft drink, and took a long, long look at his son. Half of his gaze was just to enjoy the privilege of looking at him, but the other half was to appraise how well the boy was holding up.

He looks awfully good for a kid who's been through everything he's been through. But it's partly a fa├žade. He's pushing it, putting up a front.

I'll have to strictly enforce the time limit on this thing.

He took a swallow of his pop, cleared his throat, and officially addressed his guests. "Thanks again, guys, for coming. I know you all understand why we need to keep this short and sweet tonight. How about if we move out to the living room and open the present that Dean gave me?"

He had insisted in advance that no one else bring gifts, pleading the need for brevity. To his relief, everyone had complied.

He and Marina planned to open her gift later.

So, when the group assembled in the living room, only one wrapped present awaited him. When he saw it, even though it was now nicely wrapped, he had to fight down the memory of seeing it in a bag in Dean's trunk.

For a moment, the memory threatened to wreck him. How would I have been able to bear these beautiful things if he had died?

He swallowed hard, blinked back tears, and sat down in the place of honor.

Dean seemed to want to say something formally, so Greg sat back and watched him, trying not to show how protective he felt right now.

"Ok, my dad said, this is a very special moment for me. I've been planning this for a long time."

The doorbell rang.

"I'll get it," Jules offered, since she was closest to the door. She opened it, then stepped aside to offer Greg an unobstructed view. "Hi there," she said, but then looked at Greg with eyes full of uncertainty.

Greg's mouth dropped open, and he kept staring as if the faces might change if he looked away.

"Glen, Joanne! Come in!"

They both called out Dean's name as they rushed in, and he met them halfway. Soon the three stood in a weeping huddle.

I can't believe she came!

I thought he might, but never her.

Most of the people in that room had also been at the anniversary tribute more than a year ago, and had seen the debacle that Joanne had caused afterwards. Each one looked Greg in the eyes now, and he could see that they were worried for him.

Jules, kind-hearted soul that she was, came to stand beside Greg with her arm around him.

He gave her a squeeze, then went to his favorite easy-chair and sat down. Marina was already seated in the chair beside it, and she leaned to put her head on his shoulder.

He kissed her forehead.

Even those who knew less about Greg's family clearly felt moved by the tearful reunion in the center of the room. No one spoke.

Finally, with much sniffling, tissue passing, and seat-shuffling, Glen and Joanne sat down.

Dean still stood, and he could barely talk. After a moment, Greg stood and put a hand on his back. "It's okay, son, you don't need to say anything. Should I just open it?"

Dean looked into his eyes for a few moments, and then nodded with obvious regret. Greg hugged him for a moment, and then sat back down.

Dean sat down on the coffee table, beside the gift, and gave it to his father.

He picked up the card first, and had to wipe his eyes before he could open it. He was only half-here. Half of him still stood by an open trunk, fearing that his son was already dead.

He sighed a shuddering sigh, and then laughed the kind of fragile laugh that's designed to replace sobs.

Jules handed him a tissue, and he plied it, and then inwardly chided himself and opened the card.

"To My Father," it said on the cover, as he knew it would. But he hadn't opened it at the scene, so he knew nothing more until he opened it now.

The stock script said,

A great father is a hero with heart,

Bulldog devotion with a gentle soul,

A role-model, an inspiration, a mentor, a guide.

You are all these things, and more.

I love you, Dad.

The card held many more words, written in Dean's familiar hand. "Would you like me to read the card aloud, son?" he asked.

"Sure, if you want."

But no matter how much Greg blinked, or how much he wiped at his eyes, he simply could not read through his tears anymore.

Another fragile laugh. He glanced around the room, and every face was almost as broken up as his own. "I...I just can't read it, I'm sorry..."

"Here, give it to me, Boss." Sam reached for it, and Greg handed it to him gratefully.

Sam cleared his throat, and he began by reading the stock words in an official, strong tone. Even those clearly got under his skin, but he cleared his throat and continued.

"Okay, Dean wrote, 'Dear Dad, no matter how much I say, or how much I write, I will never be able to tell you all that you mean to me.'"

Greg caught Dean shooting a guilty glance at his mom and stepdad. But Glen was smiling and a little misty, and Joanne seemed teary and only a bit uncomfortable.

Right now, Greg couldn't even process the wonder of this apparent truce. Sam was still reading.

"'But I know,'" Sam continued, "'that I will probably never say it better than I did at the Tribute."

Several people nodded and smiled.

"'For months now, I've been wanting to present you with something from that day, and from the speech that I gave. So I spent a long time editing my speech down, keeping all of the best parts, until it could fit on two pages. Then I tracked down a calligrapher, and shopped for the nicest frames I could find. I wanted my gift to show how much you mean to me, but of course it can't do that. Still, I wanted to try.'"

Sam paused to flip the card over and read the back. "'You can't know how I felt about almost losing you..."'

Here Sam stopped, a little broken up, and nearly everyone gasped.

"When I wrote this," Dean choked out, "I had no idea..."

Greg squeezed his shoulder with his free hand, the one Marina wasn't holding.

Sam backed up to the beginning of the sentence and proceeded admirably, though it was clearly not easy going.

"You can't know how I felt about almost losing you, but I can tell you that it was like seeing my own heart held at gunpoint. I didn't know how I would go on without that piece of myself."

Sam stopped to collect himself.

Greg reached for Dean, who still sat on the coffee table in front of him. He pulled the boy's head down to his shoulder, and they held each other for a while. Both struggled against breaking down again, and their breathing announced their struggles to everyone around them.

The room paused; wordless, weeping. The tissue box made its rounds again. All of the old pain from the day of the bombings and its aftermath now mingled with the pain of this new ordeal.

"I know exactly how you felt, son. I do." Greg released his son and leaned back against the back of his chair. For now, he could only wipe his eyes and struggle to keep his breathing semi-controlled.

Marina snuggled as close as she could, wiping her eyes. He leaned into her comforting warmth.

Greg couldn't take his eyes off of Dean. I hope this isn't too much for him. Maybe I shouldn't have allowed this today.

Sam cleared his throat. Jules put her arm around his shoulder and squeezed him tight, as if to fortify him.

"'So, Dad,"' Sam soldiered on, '" I hope that you'll hang these on your wall, and every time you see them, I hope you'll know how much I love you."' He set the card down on his lap with the relieved air of a man who had discharged a particularly heroic duty.

Which is exactly what you did, my friend. Well done. "Thank you so much, Sam."

Sam only nodded his acknowledgment and thumbed tears from his eyes.

Greg suddenly realized that he couldn't indulge emotional exhaustion any longer. Dean needs me to wrap this up. He appraised his son's well-being even as he leaned forward to pick up the gift. Dean seemed like a man overwrought, somehow clinging to control.

Yes, we need to end this.

"Dean, if it's too much, I could open these later..."

"No, now." Dean nodded and gave him an almost desperate little smile.

Greg caught both of his meanings. "Now" meant "not later," but it also meant, "Hurry."

He can't take much more.

He started removing the wrappings, but he already knew that what they concealed would be "much more." I'm not sure this is wise.

He realized he was delaying, making it take too long. And then he realized that, no matter what his fears, he mustn't steal the joy of this from Dean. So he opened his heart to the beautiful pain again, and pulled his gift from its wrappings.

It truly was a gorgeous work of calligraphy, beautifully encased in a hinged dual-frame designed for hanging. As he skimmed through the words, he could see the effort that had gone into editing that long speech down into something that captured its essence, while feeling like a complete work in itself. He could only shake his head as he read it, once again only half-present. Half of him sat at Fletcher stadium listening to Dean's tribute for the very first time.

Marina leaned close, reading it over his shoulder.

"Guys," he said at last, "I think...I think that we shouldn't try reading this aloud today."

Everyone nodded.

"I'll put it on the dining room table," he said, standing to do just that. "Feel free to come look at it, and to have cake and ice cream. It's a wonderful gift. But I need a few moments with my son."

Everyone but Dean accompanied him to the dining room, though Joanne and Glen clearly wanted to stay with Dean.

Greg accepted hugs all around, except from Joanne (though she did offer him a small, tearful smile). Then he went back to the living room, to his son.

Dean leaned on him with what felt like utter exhaustion.

"Son," Greg whispered, "this has been a beautiful evening, but you're all in. There's no shame in admitting that."

"I know."

Greg shifted his weight, and Dean instantly pulled his own weight back. "Sorry. Did I hurt your leg?"

"No," Greg fibbed a little.

"I honestly didn't expect it to be this hard."

"You've been through so much, son...more than I can even imagine. More than you've had time to process."

Dean only nodded. But then he smiled. "Mom came!"

Greg smiled, and his smile broadened as he thought about it. "I know."

"I don't even know how long they'll be here."

"We'll find out. But no matter what, son, you can not do anything more tonight. Not tonight. Okay?"

Dean sighed with a shudder. "Yeah. I know." He sank to sit on the sofa. "Maybe you should get them now."

"Sure, son. Sure." Greg turned, intending to hurry into the kitchen. But he saw Joanne and Glen standing at a polite distance, watching.

"Oh good, I was just coming to get you. Dean's exhausted, and he wanted to see you..."

"Thank you." They both walked to Dean, sat on either side of him, and embraced him.

Greg hovered briefly, but then realized that he had to honor their privacy. So he returned to the kitchen with some reluctance.

A multitude of loving smiles greeted him, and with them came a wave of exhaustion which reminded Greg that he, too, had been through more than he'd been able to process.

Spike hurriedly pulled out a chair and gestured for him to sit down. I guess it shows...

"What can I get you, hon?" Marina asked. "There's cake and ice cream..." she shrugged, seeming to know already that he wouldn't want either of those right now. But he was glad to see that others had dug in.

"Nothing now, hon. Later." He patted the hand that she'd placed on his shoulder.

Jules shot some very significant looks at everybody, and almost instantly everyone began saying their goodbyes. Yep, she's the team leader, all right. Greg smiled despite his fatigue.

He didn't stand up. He simply lacked the strength. But everyone shook his hand, or thumped his back, or bent to hug him. Jules and Leah and Winnie each kissed his cheek.

Everyone but Greg and Marina filed out of the kitchen, but very quietly, and Greg could hear that their goodbyes were very calm and subdued for Dean's sake.

"You are going straight to bed, I trust," said Marina.

"Just try and stop me." He drew her down for a quick kiss. "I hope you won't mind if we put off your present until tomorrow..."

"I was about to suggest that myself."

He gave himself a few more minutes' rest before struggling to his feet, and he let Marina help him hobble as they walked, arm-around-waist.

Glen and Joanne were still in the living room. Greg had forgotten all about them in his eagerness to get to bed.

Dean was seated, and he looked more rested than he had before, so Greg relaxed a bit, too.

Dean turned a tired smile to Greg. "Mom and Dad...Glen...are going to stay in Toronto for the next three days. We've made plans to spend a lot of low-key time together."

Greg smiled. "That's good."

Joanne spoke up. "Dean has told us that it was you who figured out that they were in danger, and that you helped to track them down, and went tramping through the woods even with that bad leg of yours..."

"Least I could do."

She nodded, looked down, and then looked up to meet his eyes again. He still could hardly believe it possible, but she did.

"I just wanted to say that...well...thank you, for everything. And..." she paused, looked at Dean, and then at Glen, who gave her an encouraging nod.

She looked down again, seeming to gather courage.

Greg waited patiently, and was soon rewarded with her quiet gaze again. No hatred. No rage. He could hardly take it in.

"And...I wanted to say that I'm sorry for...for how angry I've been all these years. You obviously are a changed man, I realized it after the last time I saw you, and what you did for Dean then...and I...I'm ready to put the past behind us, if you are."

Greg got choked up for the umpteenth time that day. "Nothing would please me more." He glanced over at Dean and saw him watching with tearful, joyful awe.

Glen give Joanne a squeeze, and a kiss on her head. "And," Glen added, "We'd be happy to have more time together with all of us, including you and Marina, while we're here."

"Thank you," Greg and Marina replied. "We'd like that too," Greg added.

Glen and Joanne hugged and kissed Dean one last time, and headed out the door.

Dean went straight to his bedroom as soon as they left, barely managing to say "good night." Greg went and stood by his door for a while, listening for any signs of distress. But all was quiet, so eventually he headed for his own room.

He undressed and got into his pajamas, a little annoyed that even this simple activity could be so painful and fatiguing after a hard day. But he got it done, and then plugged his phone into its charger on the nightstand.

He laid down on his side and, out of habit, pulled his phone close to check it for anything he might have missed. He'd hardly looked at it for days, beyond what he'd needed to do in the search for Dean.

Marina snuggled close to his back and kissed his shoulder.

He saw a notification for a sent photo that he hadn't viewed yet. What could that be? I don't remember anyone sending me anything.

He tapped the notification, and up popped a photo. The photo. Himself, standing next to Dean and Craig Hammond. Smiling like a blind fool next to the man who would torture and try to murder his son.

He shot up as if his pillow had caught fire, and sat staring at that photo with horror and loathing.

"What is it? Honey..." Marina crawled over to sit next to him, and she looked at the picture without comment at first.

"Oh that him?"

Greg only nodded. He felt nauseated.

"Honey, delete it. Delete it right now." She took the phone out of his hands.

He felt like he should stop her; like it might be evidence. But Hammond was dead. What difference could it make?

He watched as she hurriedly made the photo permanently disappear. But he couldn't erase it from his mind. He could almost feel it filing itself away, right next to the audio file of Donna's voice in his memory, telling him about the camera with the blinking light...

The file was marked, "Things I can't forgive myself for."

"Honey, you're breathing so hard. You're really upset, sweetie. How can I help?"

He shook his head. "I don't know."

"Lie down, lie down and let me hold you, then."

He complied, but he knew it wouldn't help. He focused on his breathing, and on reminding himself that Dean would be fine.

Eventually he dozed off, but almost instantly was dreaming. He was in bed in his dream, too, but it was Joanne who lay beside him. And Dean was crying the cry of a little child awakened by a nightmare. Greg got up and went to him, and stretched out on the bed beside him, comforting him with his nearness.

He awoke and listened to see if his now-grown son were, in fact, in distress. But the house was silent. Marina slept peacefully beside him.

He couldn't go back to sleep.

Eventually he knew what he had to do, even though he knew he would regret it in the morning. He got up very quietly, took his pillow, and sneaked out of the room. He snagged an afghan off the couch on his way by, and cautiously let himself into Dean's room.

The boy breathed deeply, clearly asleep.

Greg dropped his pillow on the floor beside Dean's bed, and put the afghan down for a little padding, though he knew it wouldn't provide enough to keep him from getting very sore indeed.

Then he stretched out there beside his son's bed, comforting himself with his nearness.

And he slept.


Clark hardly knew that he stumbled out of his apartment. He locked his door by rote, trotted to his car in the dark without really seeing anything, drove to his parents' home on auto-pilot.

The house was dark with sleep, though the night was still relatively young.

He let himself in; still seeking without telling himself what he sought, still needing without telling himself what he needed.

He turned on lights and walked almost automatically to where his piano used to stand. Then he turned to look at the doorway where his father had said those wonderful words to him back then. Back when he'd found hope again.

Don't stop. It's beautiful.

But his father stood there now, too, blinking against the light; pajama-ed, shirtless, rubbing sleep out of his eyes.

"Clark? Buddy...what can I do for you?"

"I just...I just needed you, Dad..." His voice broke.

Strong arms engulfed him, and he let himself relax into them. Let himself sob for what he'd almost lost, and for the joy of what he had.

He'd shed plenty of tears over the past few, very traumatic years. But this time he found himself opening up a deeper place in his heart which he'd never opened before, and allowing both himself and his father free access.

"I'm right here, buddy. I'm right here." Dad's voice was soft, and a bit choked up.

A few moments later he felt his mother's arms encircle him and his father together. He adjusted his hug to include her, too.

Oddly enough, though there was no longer a piano in the house, he could hear the strains of "Gnossienne No. 1" playing once again.