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Alana Was Always Right: Like a Father

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As much as Jason wanted to hate Ash Spenser for abandoning Clay as a kid, he realized that it would be hypocritical of him. If Jason had been in Ash’s position, he honestly can’t say that he would have given up his career at that point if there had been an option of his kids living with family. Jason had been blessed with Alana who didn’t run when things got hard like Clay’s mom had. He had almost gotten on the plane with his team the night of Alana’s funeral so could he really think he was any better of a father than Ash? Would Ash have ‘withered away’ like Emma felt her dad would if he gave up the team? Could Jason really blame Ash for wanting to stay on the teams, the job he had worked his entire Navy career to attain? Jason had missed birthdays and holidays, first and last days of school, learning to walk and read, too. He had chosen not to fly home when Mikey was born. Is that when his life started to shift?
The longer Jason thought about it, though, he realized that while some of his decisions and actions may be similar to Ash’s, he was a better man than the elder Spenser. Jason didn’t come around only when it was convenient for him or when it benefited him. Jason loved his children, truly loved them. He never viewed them as inconveniences. The only time Ash took Clay anywhere was if it made him look like a good father. Ash craved the attention he got when he told women he was a single father who was protecting the country while raising a son. As much as Jason wished he could tell Clay to stay away from his father, he couldn’t. Clay was a grown man and it was his decision whether he allowed his father in his life.

Jason couldn’t identify the feeling he was having as he watched Clay shake his fathers hand before Ash left the bar. He could hear Clay thank him for trying to get Swanny a purple heart. As much as Jason despised Ash Spenser, he kept his words in check because it looked like Clay was able to get part of the weight he carried on his shoulders off by not being at direct odds with his dad right now.

That all changed when the news flashed a story about Ash Spenser writing another book, this time including a firsthand account. Clay knew his brothers wouldn’t think he was the leak and they proved him right, but that weight Jason thought the younger man had shed just a few moments before was back on and somehow, even heavier. Jason could see the deflation in his stature, the burning in his eyes and how he couldn’t keep himself still, like he was ready to hit something. Jason wanted to give the Kid a hug, but again, Clay was a grown man and they were in the middle of a bar in public with numerous other service men all around them.

“Tinkerbell, I will carry your ass across this parking lot if you keep struggling,” Sonny barked at his best friend as he realized that he wasn’t real sure he could given how much muscle Clay had put on the last two years. Dead weight Clay? Yeah, no problem. Squirming, defiant Clay? Not so sure. Luckily Clay hadn’t figured that out so he quit fighting their holds once they cleared the doors to the bar. It tore both Sonny and Jason up to see Clay so dejected, his head hung down and his shoulders slumped as he walked forward. The two older men knew they had to get Clay out of the bar before he exploded.

He began heading to his car but Jason quickly redirected him to his truck. Clay must have known he was too drunk to drive because he didn’t even say a word. Sonny helped get him in the passenger side of Jason’s truck and his seat belt on.

“Clay, we know….we know you’d never say anything….none of us think you did,” Sonny tried to reassure Clay before he shut the truck door. Clay gave him a half hearted smile and a mumbled ‘thanks.’ Sonny doubted he’d even remember the short conversation but he wanted to say it nonetheless. Sonny had offered to take Clay home but Jason insisted. While Sonny was Clay’s best friend and brother, Jason felt like he needed to be there when Clay sobered up.

As Jason helped Clay up the steps to his small apartment, Jason felt more like a dad who caught his son drinking rather than two teammates who had been out at the bar. There was that feeling again, too, that Jason still couldn’t find the right word for. Clay had been on his way to drunk before his dad even showed up at the bar.

Clay went for the couch as soon as the pair got into Clay’s apartment. Jason took the moment of inactivity to pull Clays boots off and his backwards ball cap that was taming his mess of curls. He then hauled Clay back up to standing despite protests. Once Jason got Clay to the bed, he held him with one arm and used the other to unbuckle his belt and get his pants slid down. Before he let Clay sit down, Jason pulled the sheets back. Clay managed to get his own shirt off while Jason pulled his feet out of his jeans. Clay pulled his now free legs into the bed as he laid down on his side facing Jason, eyes closed. Jason couldn’t help but pull the blankets up snuggly under his chin. He stood there for a moment looking down at Bravo 6 before realizing he should grab something for the younger man to get sick in. Jason knew Clay had been drunker than this a few times, but mixed with the news story on his dad’s new book, he wasn’t sure if Clay would be able to keep his dinner down.

That feeling he had earlier he couldn’t identify changed as he thought about how Ash could help Clay with Swanny’s purple heart, but then let people believe Clay was the one giving insider information on recent missions. Jason’s blood was boiling as he clenched and unclenched his fists trying not to hit something. He left Clay’s bedroom door wide open and took a seat on Clay’s couch with a perfect view of the bed. He pulled his own shoes off then leaned back closing his eyes while taking in a deep breath. He held it for a moment then exhaled, his chest visibly falling. His hand rubbed his thigh, frustrated how this night turned out. Had the team just had beers and a fire at his house versus going to their bar, they could have avoided Ash and at least delayed Clay from seeing the news. Jason slipped his phone from his pocket. 00:15. Despite the late hour, Jason texted Blackburn to call him. Jason expected to get a call back later in the morning but within seconds, Eric was calling.

“I know he isn’t the leak,” Eric said before Jason even had a chance to greet his commander.

“What?” Jason asked, having not been prepared for Eric to know why he was calling.

Eric repeated himself and then continued.

“I was called in earlier tonight when the news was aired over dinner, no one thought he was the leak for an instant, make sure he knows that when he wakes up.” Eric had no doubt that Jason was with Clay making sure he didn’t self destruct thinking that his own brothers and commander thought he may have given mission details to his dad.

“He’s passed out now, but will make sure he knows you and the higher ups know he didn’t say anything. Trent, Sonny and I were out with him and we all made sure he knew. I think he believed us. At least I hope he did.”

“Take care of the Kid and have him call me when he’s up, want him to know from me, too so his day off isn’t ruined worrying about his career. We already have a promising lead on where the intel actually came from,” Eric assured Jason before the two hung up for the night, or rather the morning.

The rage Jason had been feeling had subsided now that he knew his Kid’s career hadn’t been tanked. He wished Clay could patch things up with Ash long term but that would likely never happen. Just as the Kid thought he and his dad were at least on decent terms, his dad always managed to screw it up. Jason hated seeing Clay hurt by his dad. He knew he wasn’t Father of the Year, but he at least didn’t do anything intentional to hurt his kids. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. Before Alana died, his kids resented the profession he chose, but when Emma wouldn’t let him quit the team, she had come to understand why he does what he does. He heard her explaining things to Mikey that night about how they needed dad to stay as Bravo 1 for all their sakes. That had hurt his heart, but he knew Emma was right.

Clay had gotten so good over the years at masking his disappointment and sadness regarding his relationship with his dad, but that night it was written all over Bravo 6’s face as he had watched the tv in the bar, mouth agape and eyes wide. When Clay restlessly rolled over, Jason was on his feet and to the bedroom door before he realized he was overreacting, Clay was still asleep.

Jason couldn’t understand how Clay had become the man he was given how his parents abandoned him. Why he has chosen to protect a country he didn’t even grow up in speaks volumes to Clay’s character. Clay had chosen the very profession that had taken Ash out of his life. Maybe it didn’t matter what Ash did, maybe he would have been a terrible father no matter what.

Jason was realistically old enough to be Clay’s father. He had already joined the Navy by the time Clay came into this world. Is that what he was feeling? Fatherly love? Had he been trying to give Clay what the younger man had never had growing up? Is this how he would feel if Mikey was fighting alongside him if Mikey was an adult? He knew from the start that his relationship with Clay had felt different. He had never had such a young teammate, not in DEVRGU, not even when he was first drafted. Clay’s more than 5 years younger than the previous youngest member on Bravo which has made the guys feel more like older brothers to Clay.

Jason stood in the open doorway, leaning his weight against the door jam. He scrubbed one hand down his face then back up over his head, raking his fingers through his hair in the process. He let out another deep exhale as his eyes stayed fixed on the sleeping figure before him. Clay’s messy curls, longer than regulation, stuck out in every direction. Thick, long lashes hid his piercing blue eyes. He hadn’t shaved for a few weeks, but neither had the rest of the team as they just got back a few days ago from a month long deployment in Afghanistan. Clay’s muscular, broad shoulders were now visible as he had shifted in bed. Clay’s legs were incredibly strong, both from the missions and time in the gym. Those legs were the fastest on the team which was a plus when he typically had to cover more ground getting to and then back from his perch as a sniper. Under the thin blanket, Jason knew several scars lurked, but one in particular still gave Jason nightmares. The long, jagged mark on Clay’s right leg was a reminder that even when the team wasn’t on the clock, they could still be in danger. That was a reality Jason did not want to believe existed, even if they were in a foreign country. If he was still having nightmares, he wondered if Clay still was, too.

When Jason didn’t hear a reply from Clay in Manila after the first explosion, his gut dropped, just like everyone else’s. Jason took off after Sonny fearing the worst. Even though he knew Clay had survived and was operating again, his dreams didn’t concur. He would see Sonny with Clay, but he could never reach them no matter how long he ran. He could see Clay lying on his back not moving. He could hear Sonny telling him it was going to be okay, but Sonny’s eyes were filled with fear. That’s when he would usually wake up in a cold sweat, heart pounding in his ears and his lungs feeling like he could hardly breath. The last time he had that dream, he didn’t wake up while he was running. He was in the back of the ambulance trying to keep Clay conscious and focused on him. The ambulance kept driving, never reaching the hospital much like Jason running and never getting to Clay’s side. Jason held Clay’s hand tightly as if his strength alone could have healed Bravo 6. Jason had woken up screaming at the paramedic to go faster. He could hide the nightmares most of the time since he lived alone, but this last one he knew Ray heard him. They had been catching sleep at an FOB waiting for the weather to clear so the team could head back stateside. Per usual, Ray let Jason tell him he was okay and then pressed him the next day.

Jason thought being separated from Clay while he recovered from his injuries and the team was still deployed was hard, but coming home and the doctors not knowing yet if Clay would be operational again was even harder. He had to see the pain and frustration in Clay’s eyes during those months of rehab and it tore him apart. He didn’t realize it at the time, but he was comparing Clay to Emma imagining if his daughter was told she could never sing again or if Mikey could never play hockey again. Jason knew Clay had other aspirations in life, but he wanted to lead his own team in DEVGRU before he did anything else. Jason could see Clay struggling mentally between his fear of being permanently sidelined and his sadness over losing Swanny, but he didn’t know how to help him other than to try to reassure him that he was going to get back to where he was before Manila, even if he wasn’t sure himself.

Jason had heard that Clay told his dad that he was going to erase the elder Spensers footprints, that he was going to be a better operator, husband and dad. Jason had no doubt that Clay would continue to surpass his fathers tarnished legacy and if Jason were truly honest with himself, he hoped Clay eclipsed his legacy as well. If he could be a part of molding the team leaders that would come after him, he would consider his career complete. Maybe that’s why he was hanging onto being Bravo 1 for so long. He knew Ray was up to the task, and had proved it more than once, but Ray had a young family that Jason couldn’t help but think about. He didn’t want Ray to become him. Jason knew he had many flaws and faults when it came to being Jason Hayes, the civilian. Alana had pointed most of them out, yet he rationalized his choices and behaviors because he felt he had to as the team leader tasked with saving the world. He didn’t want that for Ray. He didn’t want his family to turn out like his. Jason was headed for divorce when Alana died and his kids felt like even when he was home, he wasn’t really ‘there.’ It took Alana’s death for him to be more present in his kids lives and be more grounded while stateside. He would give all the insight back if it meant Alana was still alive though. He’d rather the kids be disappointed in him than be without their mother.

When Clay first joined the team, Jason would be so frustrated when he’d get home from a mission. He was always telling Alana the Kid talked back to him, questioned his calls all in his cocky, arrogant way which eventually the team came to recognize was his façade for his insecurity. That’s when Alana noticed Jason’s attitude changing towards his most recent draftee. Jason started bringing Clay home for family dinners, then to Mikey’s hockey games, to work on the car in his garage, to go for runs around the neighborhood. Alana knew about Ash and how Clay was raised which is why she warned Jason about getting too close. She told him that if he were to fill the void left by Clay’s father, then he couldn’t do the same things to Clay that Ash did. At the time, he couldn’t believe what she said to him. He denied having a different bond with Clay than his other teammates and he was angry she even thought he could be anything like Ash.
“No one has ever stayed in Clay’s life. His mom abandoned him, his dad discarded him in Liberia, his grandparents died before he was even 18, his only close friend was killed in a training accident. He may not realize he’s looking for someone to depend on, someone with stability. He probably thinks he can survive just on his own, because that’s what his life has been like, but he has to be so tired of always having to watch out for himself, to never trust anyone. If you break that trust, if you don’t protect him when you can, he may never allow anyone into his life again. If ‘Bravo 1’ can’t keep him safe, no one can. You are the epitome of who he wants to be, he will look to you.”
Since then, Clay had also lost his mentor Adam, broken up with Stella and Rebecca, lost Swanny and had been separated from his team for a month after he was blown up. The only constant in his life has been the core team, even when Clay wasn’t sure he’d ever operate again. Swanny had helped him see what Jason had been telling him the last few years, that the team is family and all SEALs past or present were his brothers. Swanny made him realize he would never be alone. Clay, for the first time since he was a kid, felt vulnerable that he was now relying on others for his safety and well being, but he learned it didn’t mean he was weak. His brothers relied on him the same way.

As Jason went back to the couch, he finally admitted to himself that he wasn’t a brother to Clay. He was more like a father. He had denied it for so long, but of course, Alana was always right. He should have learned that from the start. It would have saved his marriage. Maybe then she’d still be alive.