1. A Couple Rides
The thing with Farrell happens just like every stupid-ass catastrophe John gets himself into: a seemingly manageable ten seconds at the beginning followed by a river of crap.
“What was I supposed to do,” he remembers saying to Holly way back when, as she stood in the kitchen holding her overnight bag, fresh from the red eye: Jack in a diaper sitting in a kiddie pool in the kitchen, Lucy in one of his t-shirts, eating a popsicle on the couch, deep in her sixth hour of daytime tv, every sheet, blanket, and dishtowel in the house piled in the corner, streaked with vomit, 46 hours into a fun-for-the-whole-family 24-hour flu, running on a couple fitful hours of sleep with his pillow tucked in against the edge of the pool, jolting awake when Jack stirred.
“You could have called,” she said slowly.
“You had your presentation,” he said. Jack whimpered thoughtfully and John leaned down and lifted him, tucking him in under his armpit, brushing the matted hair back from his forehead, looked up to see Holly leaning against the cabinet, watching him bemusedly. “Hey,” he said. “Are you saying that it looks like I don’t have this under control?”
Holly had laughed back then, when it was easy to make her laugh. That is: one hell of a long time ago.
“I gotta get out of here,” Farrell says, fifth day at the hospital, still doped to the gills on painkillers. John’s heading home, with a sling and three dozen staples and a prescription for antibiotics, just stopped by to say—something, anyway. He hadn’t planned it out.
“It’s just cabin fever,” he says. “Anyway, you seem like a guy who’s pretty comfortable indoors.”
“Ha,” Farrell says dully. “I’m checking out tomorrow morning.”
“You don’t even have a place to live,” John says, actually coming into the room. Up close, Farrell’s arms, his throat, are covered in scrapes and yellowing bruises; his knee is a thick bandaged lump underneath the blankets. “Do yourself a favor and stick around until the doctors say you can leave,” John says.
“Sure, okay, that’s great advice,” Farrell says. “My insurance only covers six days of inpatient care, I need to check out by nine tomorrow or I’m gonna be on the hook for eight thousand bucks a day.” John opens his mouth and Matt says defensively, “I’m a freelancer, do you even know how much—”
“Yeah, I do,” John says, cutting him off. He knows about this; Lucy’s off his health insurance once she graduates and the cheapest private plan he could find for her was four thousand bucks a month and didn’t cover much of anything. The older guys he knows at work, their kids just go without until they find a job, cross their fingers they don’t get hit by a bus.
“You’re gonna trash your knee if you go home now,” John says slowly. “I thought—isn’t the money for what you do pretty—”
“I do fine, but I don’t have three hundred fucking thousand dollars to throw at my medical bills.” Farrell says. His mobile mouth flattens into a hard line and he says, “and I can’t exactly switch plans now that I have—” he gestures vaguely at his leg. “You know. A pre-existing condition.”
“Okay,” John says.
“So it’s not really any of your business unless you’re offering some kind of actual help,“ Matt says, and then cuts himself off. There are tight lines of tension around his mouth and forehead—pain, exhaustion. “Sorry,” he says. “I don’t—it’s not your fault.”
John shifts uncomfortably. “I could, um—you want me to call them for you, or—”
“I called,” Matt says. “It wasn’t very—“ He shrugs. “Anyway, it’s really not your problem.”
So John moves Farrell into his spare bedroom.
He looks like crap by the time John gets him home, very pale, shivering in one of John’s heavy sweatshirts even though it’s a warm summery day, John in a t-shirt. He doesn’t even protest when John takes the crutches away and helps him into bed, but he looks better after Oxycodone and a nap, eating udon noodles out of the plastic container on the couch, with his knee carefully propped up.
“Thank you, seriously,” he says. “I won’t be here for long.“ John waves it away.
“Don’t worry about it,” he says. He had the extra bedroom from way back, when the kids still were young enough to visit sometimes and he wanted them to have a room; it was rent controlled, so he’d never bothered to move. “Stay for as long as you want.”
Matt stares at him, eyes searching his face, and then seems to come to a decision and says, “Okay, then. At least let me add you to my Netflix account.”
“Fine,” John says. “What’s that?”
“Movies,” Matt says. “They mail them to you.”
“Right,” John says, who has heard about this, but usually just rents a movie every once in a while from the place three blocks over. Matt yawns and settles more deeply into the couch. What were a couple extra days in the hospital going to get him except more chances to pick up some infection, John thinks. It’ll be easy enough to keep an eye on him for a few weeks, feed him some solid meals, get him back on his feet.
“When do you start PT?” he says.
“Hm?” Matt says, yawning again. “That’s not really—covered, so.”
“Look,” Matt says harshly. He’s awake now, angry. “I know you have great insurance and all because you’re a cop and it’s fine, you deserve it, but I’m—. The only reason I even have insurance is because I know someone who got me on this shitty plan with a two thousand dollar deductible—“
“Okay,” John says. “I get it.”
“Good,” Matt mutters.
At work, John calls up Barbara in HR who forwards him along to Ellen who sends him to Judith. He’s on desk duty until his shoulder’s healed, so he has plenty of down time.
“Two items of documentation, the form with your socials, and it’s retroactive to the first of the month after it’s accepted,” she says.
“Two items,” John says. “Can I—I’m on his Netflix account?” It comes out as a question.
“Print a copy of the account page with your names and addresses,” she says, which turns out to be easy, once John sifts through his inbox to find the cheerful e-mail saying, “You’ve been added!!”
“The other item should be a bill,” she says.
“Not a problem,” John says. In the sheaf of papers the hospital sent home with them—the fine print legal crap and prescription pill warnings and the admittance paperwork where John finds Matt’s social security number and birthdate, there’s also a neatly itemized three-page bill, with John’s address right at the top.
“What do I—“ Matt had said, when he was filling out the discharge paperwork. “for the address? My place was firebombed,” he said to the nurse.
“Just put in mine,” John said, wanting to wrap it up and get the fuck out.
The form is short and not very official looking. A photocopy of a photocopy that has a few shadow lines on the edges. It takes John two days to pull the documentation together, and then only because the copier is busted for a day and also because some guy tries to rob a bank, which kills a whole afternoon. It’s not even two weeks later when he drops a health insurance card in Matt’s lap and says,
“Get yourself some physical therapy.”
“What—“ Matt says, slowly, “the hell is this?” He looks at the front of the card, then the back, then turns it over again and squints at it. “What did you do?” he says.
John shrugs. He hadn’t thought through this part, only the part where Matt’s leg was fucked for the rest of his life, because of John, specifically, because of bothering to save John’s life. “My insurance covers all that stuff,” he says.
“Okay,” Matt says.
“So I just added you.”
“Right, you just added me,” Matt says, nodding. “You just asked nicely and they said sure thing, we’ll make a fake card for you—“
“It’s not fake,” John says.
“You can’t just add me to your insurance,” Matt says impatiently.
“There’s domestic partner benefits,” John says flatly. “I added you as my, um,“ the look on Matt’s face reminds him that maybe he should have asked before jumping in with both feet. Holly always—. “You only get one fucking leg,“ John says defensively.
“Two, actually,” Matt says faintly.
“You were going to fuck up your knee, I figured out a way to—“
“Isn’t this fraud?” Matt says. He’s inspecting the card again, who knows what’s so interesting about it, just John’s name at the top next to SUBSCRIBER NAME: and then a neat row of lines at the bottom under DEPENDENTS: SPOUSE Farrell M; CHILD McLane L; CHILD McLane J.
“Oh, right, I forgot what a law-abiding citizen you were,“ John begins, “You can do whatever you want because you’re a fucking anarchist—“
“—Democrat, but okay—“
“but god forbid I should ever—“ the argument clicking along down the old familiar track—except Matt laughs.
“Fine, man, you got me. I only have one leg. What do you want for dinner?”
“It’s gonna make it pretty hard for you to date, though,” Matt says, halfway through his chicken burger.
“Fuck it,” John says. “Not a lot of action there anyway.”
“Really?” Matt says. “I would have thought—um—“
John shrugs. It’s been a while, but he doesn’t care. Matt frowns, a soft crease between his eyes. Then he ducks his head over his plate and—awkwardly, obviously—changes the subject.
Later, lying in bed, his shoulder aching enough that he should get up and get some ibuprofen, but too tired to actually get up and do it, it occurs to John that maybe what Matt meant was that it would make it hard for him to date. Tough shit, John thinks sleepily. He’ll have plenty of time to look shy and have girls fall all over him once he gets his knee straightened out.
The physical therapy place is a forty dollar cab ride and a pain in the ass to get to by subway. Matt’s in no shape to be going up and down stairs anyway, so John drives him. It’s no problem, he’s still half time at work, and it’s something to do.
“Why do you even have a car anyway?” Matt asks.
“So I can drive your ass around,” John says. He parks as close as he can to the clinic and gets Matt’s crutches for him, half lifts him out of the car seat, taking his weight easily. John kills a comfortable hour in the waiting room, drinking a cup of tea out of a Styrofoam cup, reading a golf magazine to find out if he cares about golf yet (still no), watching a big dark grey fish sail back and forth in the aquarium.
The PT walks Matt out at the end; she’s tall, with a short, iron-grey haircut and a warm smile.
“This is, um, my, um, this is John,” Matt says. “McClane.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” she says. “I’m Martha. Will you remind him to ice his knee tonight? For at least ten minutes.”
“Yeah, sure,” John says. She has a folder full of pamphlets, a foam wedge pillow, and a bag with a few ice packs, a fridge magnet, a stress ball, all of which she gives to John. Matt lurches forward and tries to take it; he doesn’t even have a free hand, with the crutches. John ignores him takes all of it, tucking the wedge pillow under his arm.
Matt’s unusually silent in the car on the way home, staring dully out the window.
“Pretty tough in there?” John says eventually.
“Huh?” Matt says. “Oh. Yeah, it was hard. I guess it’s gonna—it made me realize how long it’s going to be before I’m ever—if I’m ever—“
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” John says.
“Huh?” Matt says. “Oh, yeah. I should—sure. Just my leg.”
“Like you were doing anything important with it,” John says, and actually startles a soft laugh out of Matt.
“Yeah, just standing,” Matt says. “Standing’s for jerks.”
“That’s the spirit,” John says.
“Anyway, I’d really be fucked without—“ Matt makes a gesture that encompasses John, the car, crawling slowly through late afternoon traffic, the glossy folder and the wedge pillow and ice packs, his heavily therapy-taped knee. “So thanks. Really. Undying gratitude, and stuff—“
“It’s just a couple rides,” John says.
Matt falls asleep on the couch, mouth open; he falls asleep in the car coming home from PT, falls asleep with his computer on his lap. It’s a spectator sport: his eyes growing slowly unfocused, his head starting to fall forward before he catches himself and jerks awake, maybe a few times before he finally succumbs, his head falling slowly back against the couch, the lines of his face softening.
John, when he isn’t drinking too much, has often struggled to fall asleep, lying in bed fighting with the tangle of his thoughts, unwelcome memories, the phantom aches of old injuries. Living alone never helped much either, after the noise of the house with the kids. He’s used to feeling tired, a gritty film of exhaustion clinging to him for half the day, but he almost never feels sleepy. He just gets up and brushes his teeth and lies in his bed, waiting, and the next thing he knows his alarm’s beeping.
Watching Matt sleep, tucked into the corner of the couch, John is surprised to find that he feels almost pleasantly drowsy; he falls asleep himself a time or two, in the armchair, just listening to Matt’s quiet breaths. It’s peaceful, uncomplicated; both previously in short supply in John’s life.
He’s sitting in the waiting room watching the fish again when Martha comes out of the back, smiling when she sees him.
“Could you come back?” she says. “I’d like to show you how to tape up Mr. Farrell’s knee.”
“Sure,” John says. In the room, Matt’s sitting on a high bench, one leg of his shorts rolled to mid-thigh.
Sorry, Matt mouths, wincing, while Martha is digging through her drawer for tape.
“I’m so glad you were here,” she says. “It’s quite difficult to tape up your own knee.”
“No problem,” John says, because Matt doesn’t say anything.
“So,” she says briskly, pulling off a six-inch length of tape. “The first piece goes from here—“ a spot on Matt’s thigh two inches above his knee, “to here,” inside and next to his knee.
“Okay,” John says. When he slides his thumb along the edge of the tape, Matt flinches, a whole body shiver.
“Did I hurt you?” John says.
“No,” Matt says. “No—sorry, just kind of—uh, go ahead.”
John picks it up easily enough; he’s taped himself up before, his wrist or his ankle, and Martha’s not wrong; it’s a hell of a lot easier to tape up someone else, shape the tape gently into a protective cage for Matt’s knee under her direction. She gives them two rolls of tape and a printout with all the steps to take home, with instructions to redo the tape every three days or if it comes off in the shower, no big deal, but Matt apologizes again in the car.
“I couldn’t exactly get out of it,” he says, “because she knew you were in the waiting room and she—“
“It’s fine, I told you,” John said. “It’s tape, it takes two minutes.”
“Okay, okay,” Matt says. “I’m not used to, uh, it’s weirder than I thought, to have to lie about it.”
“Just think about it like health care is a basic human right, so you’re not—“
“Whoa,“ Matt says, stiffening in surprise next to him, his head jerking sideways.
“—really even lying,” John finishes. They’re stopped at a light, and Matt’s staring at him, his mouth a little open.
“This is a lot to take in right now,” he says.
“So is it that you think I’m dumb,” John says conversationally, shifting into gear as the light turns, “or that I’m some asshole in a suit who thinks if a guy’s kid gets cancer, he should just lose his house?”
“No—I don’t think, uh, neither of those,” Matt says. “Holy shit, is that what you think?”
“What am I supposed to think?”
“You’re supposed to think it’s just a little weird for me when people call you my partner,” Matt says. “That’s all.”
“Partner,” John says. Yeesh.
“The alternative is boyfriend,” Matt says evenly.
“Yeah, okay,” John says. They lapse into a comfortable silent until John is circling the block, looking for parking.
“I never had anyone that was actually,” Matt says. “Who’d show up and tape my leg for me, that’s all. You’re a good person. I wish I could, I don’t know, pay you back or—“
“You can owe me one,” John says, finding a spot and backing in.
The worst part has always been trying to be normal again, after. Usually John: drinks too much; works too much; stares dead-eyed at the tv. This time, there’s no time for any of that shit. Matt has doctor’s appointments and physical therapy and he makes up dumbass answers on Jeopardy—
“I’m not making them up,” Matt insists, “I thought that was the answer.”
“You thought Mark Twain was a U.S. Senator,” John says.
“Wasn’t he? That seems like something that happened,” Matt says.
“It didn’t,” John says. He puts the pot of rice on the table, and then ladles the chili into two bowls. He cooked a lot when he was out in LA with Holly and the kids; it never felt worth it when it was just him, but Matt eats what he makes with enthusiasm and washes the dishes after, balanced on one foot, drying the bowls and stacking them up, water running, the pleasant click of dishes, Matt humming to himself, low and quiet.
John goes back to work full time and Matt sets up wifi in the apartment and takes a couple (“totally legal, promise, I checked—“) jobs and John gets back into working out because Matt has three dozen tedious exercises he’s supposed to do every day so it’s easier to just crank out a few sets of push ups and sit-ups and pull-ups on the door frame and a few other sadistic body weight exercises he’s picked up here and there,
“show-off,“ Matt says glumly. They moved him up to the green stretchy band for his resistance exercises and he’s sweating with the effort of it, face tight with concentration. John does a couple one-handed pushups just to hear Matt sigh in exasperation.
“You know you can buy some stuff,” John says leaning against the counter, eating cereal, watching Matt put his laptop in his bag, then go back into his room and come out with a paperback. It’s bare in there, just the bed with the single pillow, a bedside table John picked up at a stoop sale.
“Yes,” Matt says patiently. “I bought this book. I bought pants.”
“Yeah, I know, I meant—stuff,” John says.
“Oh, you mean, because I used to have a lot of stuff and then it all—“ Matt sketches a mushroom cloud with his fingers. “Fwoosh.”
“I’m still figuring it out,” Matt says. “If I really liked that stuff, or if it was just—a habit. You ever realize you’re just going along and doing something a certain way just because that’s how you’ve always done it?”
John looks: at Matt’s jacket and sneakers and the cane he still uses in a jumble by the door, the dish on the coffee table with a half dozen fiddly little screwdrivers and green and black computer parts, two extra laptops (“Who needs three laptops?” he said, but Matt had just laughed like it was a fuckin’ rhetorical question.) stacked on top of each other, the Muesli in his bowl, because Matt shopped that week.
“Something like that,” he says.
Matt walks: down the hall; down the stairs; around the block. To get ice cream (“Vanilla?” John says. “It’s artisanal—“ Matt starts, “Got some Rocky Road back there?” John asks.) He takes a couple consulting jobs that mean that he commutes into midtown a several times a week and sometimes has incomprehensible conference calls at night, mostly Matt saying “yes, uh huh, no, no, no, no, right, no, yes, give me a minute,” disappearing into his bedroom for forty-five minutes and then emerging to sprawl on the couch with his eyes closed.
“Tough day at the office?” John says once, when the entire side of his face is black and blue because a guy threw a trash can lid at his head after robbing a bodega.
Matt cracks open an eye and says,
“You need to ice that again, it looks like garbage.”
“You say the sweetest things,” John says, and Matt gets up and goes and gets him the ice pack he keeps in the freezer for his knee.
“Come on, man, they’re gonna think I beat you at the clinic. You don’t want to freak out Dr. Martha.”
“Fine, fine,” John mutters, and places the ice pack carefully against his cheek, which throbs faintly, and then, slowly, begins to subside.
That’s how it goes, through a sticky July and a boiling August.
“So the whole fucking thing’s a dead end,” Janssen says, slumping, defeated, on the break room couch. “Five weeks of surveillance, a fricken mountain of paperwork to confiscate the computers down at the dock office, we know the guy’s smuggling in heroin and the DA’s telling me there’s not enough to indict because he wiped everything.”
“That blows,” John says. He pours himself a cup of boiled sludge. “They deleted it all?”
“Yeah,” Janssen says. “The tech guys are saying it’s unrecoverable, so—“
“I might—know a guy,” John says.
Matt’s there that afternoon, cheerful and warm, wearing a t-shirt with a marshmallow on it and a cardigan that John is pretty sure might belong to him, from his parent-teacher conference days, worn thin at the elbows. John half expects Janssen—a hard-bitten miserable son-of-a-bitch on a good day—to tell Matt to take a hike, but instead he sets him up in one of the nicer interview rooms—the one without the water stains on the ceiling—with the seized hardware and a set of files, and John overhears him saying,
“Ship manifests, e-mails, that kind of thing, they said it was all deleted,“ and Matt’s voice,
John finishes a report, and then does some follow up on a homicide case he’s working, just door-knocking, trying to turn something up, showing people a photograph while they shake their heads and say no, no, they didn’t see anything. He stops by a downtown precinct to pick up a file they’re holding for him on a guy they picked up the other day—less than half of what you need is digital, even though the entire records system has been just about to go paperless for five years. By the time he gets back, the sun is sinking towards the horizon and Matt is still sitting exactly where he left him.
“Did you eat?” he says to Matt, who says, “huh?” absently, fingers clattering on the keyboard, “Did he eat?” he says to Janssen, who shakes his head guiltily.
“Jesus fuckin’ wept,” John says and goes down to the Thai place across from the station and gets curry for Matt and noodles for himself, dumps half the rice into the curry, shoves a fork in it and puts it at Matt’s elbow. He sits down and forces himself to bash out a report, and sometime in the middle of that, the printer hiccups and starts spitting out page after page, manifests, addresses, shipping schedules.
Janssen, not typically an effusive person, thanks Matt again and again and then insists on buying him a beer. Matt shoots a glance sideways at John—a silent that okay?—and John shrugs and nods.
“Really, it wasn’t a big deal,” Matt’s saying for the eighth or ninth time, when Janssen says,
“So how do you know John?”
“Um,” Matt says.
“He was involved in that thing, the terrorist thing, a couple months ago,” John says.
“Yeah, the computer thing, right,” Janssen says. Matt’s eyebrows spike. John’s tried to explain this, how the knife bright memory that jerks both of them out of sleep doesn’t seem real to most people. To them it’s just another news story from a few months ago.
“Anyway, he’s staying with me for a while,” John says.
“My place got firebombed,” Matt says, reflexively. Fwoosh, John thinks but does not say.
Janssen says something to someone, he thinks, maybe, later. Something innocuous,
“Yeah, McClane’s roommate of all people—the guy from the terrorist thing. I don’t know, they live together.”
Maybe that’s what happens.
Or—maybe it’s not that, maybe just whoever HR hires to file the paperwork also watches too much cable news.
The point is, one day John gets to work and there’s a reporter there and he says, “no comment,” like always and shoves past and the next day it’s all over the papers, MCCLANE GOT GAME: HERO COP SHACKED UP WITH BOY TOY, and a grainy, unflattering picture of him hoisting Matt up out of a cab, one hand underneath his elbow, their faces close enough to kiss.
“So—“ he says when he gets home.
“Yeah,” Matt says, looking up from the laundry he’s folding, a few tilting stacks on the coffee table.
“What a fuckin’ day,“ John says, at the same time that Matt stands and scrubs his hands down his pants and says,
“No, what were you—“ John says.
“I was just going to say, it was—really nice, what you tried to do, but.“ Matt hesitates. “Look, I’m gonna crash with some friends for a while and if you need me to talk to anyone, or—you know, say I got you to do it—“
“What?” John says, and then takes it in a little more, Matt’s computers stacked neatly on the kitchen table, chargers wound up on top of them, an open backpack next to the laundry, already half full of shirts and socks. “No,” John says. “You can’t.”
“It’s fine,” Matt says. “It doesn’t matter, I’ll work it out.”
“They’ll make you pay back everything,” John says. “You could get in real trouble.” Matt shrugs. His eyes dart uncomfortably past John’s and oh. right. That. “You don’t want people to think,” John begins.
“I don’t care about that,” Matt says dismissively. “But I can’t ask you to—um—that newspaper said—“
“Then why do you think I care?” John says. Matt blinks; he looks at John—really looks, instead of looking at the floor or the laundry.
“uh,” he falters.
“Yeah,” John says. He reaches past Matt and opens the takeout menu drawer. “Tacos?”
It heats up a little after that, but it’s nothing John can’t handle. Nothing new, even; bunch of assholes with papers to sell. Most of it’s more of the same: LGBTCOP! or CLOSET CASE CLOSED, even a restrained two-column write-up buried on the fourth page of the Metro section of the New York Times: Quietly, A Barrier Broken: A New Chapter for a City Stalwart. The article notes that domestic partnership benefits have been available to city workers since 1998, but, “Mr. McClane is among the few command-level officers to access these benefits in order to cover a same-sex partner.” The picture they run is considerably better, something from just after the fire sale, both of them in suits, sitting on the marble benches outside the courtroom, John bending in towards Matt, grinning at something he’s saying, their knees nearly touching.
There are cameras, a few times.
“How does it feel to be the first openly gay—“ a guy says,
“How does it feel to be asking that dumbass question?” John says.
John gets home twenty minutes early; good connections on the train, and unlocks the door to hear,
“I don’t know, I’m just trying to decide if this is an intervention, or—“
“Hey John,” Matt says dryly. The guy on the couch shifts around quickly. He’s tall and solid, with a shaggy beard, and his eyes get big as he takes John in.
“Hey,” John says. “Don’t let me interrupt.” He gets a beer out of the fridge and knocks off the cap with one sharp strike against the counter. Matt rolls his eyes.
The guy swallows, but John has to hand it to him, he has guts. “I was just a little surprised to hear that Matt was living with a—cop, um, police officer.”
“What, a jackbooted thug can’t be a sucker for big brown eyes?” John says mildly. Matt snickers. The guy draws back, offended.
“Kev,” Matt says gently. “It’s fine. I know most cops are total fucking fascist pigs—“ he glances over his shoulder at John, who shrugs. Yeah, fine. “But John’s okay.”
Kev stares at Matt, uncertain. “Okay,” he says. “If you’re happy, then—“
“I’m happy,” Matt says. “You know, I finally met the authoritarian father figure that my damaged psyche just really—“
“You know what, never mind,” Kev says. “You two deserve each other. Probably. I don’t know you, Mr. McClane.”
“Stay for dinner, Kev,” John says, bending to pull the potatoes and onions out of the lower cabinet.
“Really?” Kev says doubtfully. “I mean—“
“It’s nice, that you look out for your friends,” John says. “He’s lucky to have you.”
“See,” Kev says, turning on Matt. “See?”
“Call him John, please,” Matt says.
“You don’t have to lie to your friends,” John says, after Kev leaves.
“You’re lying at work, right?” Matt says. “It’s fine. They’ll get it.”
“Will my friends understand that I had a choice between a few lies and being financially fucked for the rest of my life? Yes, absolutely.”
“Probably someone will figure it out,” John says. “It’s not so—“ he hesitates, “um, realistic, probably, you and me.”
“You think?” Matt says, with one incredulous—that’s a fucking once over, John thinks: his square clothes, his worn body, the blunt, unpretty lines of his face. Ouch.
“Okay, I’m gonna shower and hit the sack,” he says, standing. “You need anything?”
“Nah,” Matt says. He grabs the edge of the couch and starts to haul himself up, and John steadies him, one hand on his waist, warm through his thin t-shirt. John pulls his hand away quickly.
“Careful,” John says. “When it finally starts to feel better is when you fuck it up again because you’re sick of babying it.”
“Speaking from experience?” Matt says, but he accepts the cane when John hooks it up from the couch and gives it to him.
In the shower, John gives his dick a friendly, experimental squeeze, feels himself getting hard. It’s been a while, but he doesn’t go for it, just rinses up and pulls on a pair of ragged sweatpants. Matt’s in the kitchen, leaning against the counter, watching a pot on the stove.
“I’m making some tea, you want—“ he turns his head and blinks. “um. some?”
“No, thanks,” John says, filling a glass of water.
“yeah,” Matt says, turning away and starting to fiddle impatiently with the tea bag.
John drinks the water, washes the glass, puts it in the drainer.
“Nice pants,” Matt says, voice low.
“Would you mind?” Matt asks him in the morning, holding out the roll of tape, his face quiet and still and tight, grooves under his eyes. A bad night then. John takes the tape and Matt wordlessly boosts himself up on to the kitchen table, pulling the leg of his cutoff sweatpants out of the way: the best angle, they figured out over the summer, the couch too low, the countertop too high. John rips the first piece. Matt sighs and turns his face away.
“You should call in today,” John says. “If it’s hurting you this much.”
“It’s not that bad,” Matt says, lying. John places the next piece of tape carefully, pressing from Matt’s thigh to the top of his shin, past the thickly raised scars, shiny, starting to fade finally. “The weather’s changing, that’s all,” Matt says.
“I’ll drive you in,” John says. That’ll be better than the subway stairs and it’s almost on his way.
“How long are you planning to feel responsible for all this?” Matt says, watching John smooth down the last piece of tape. There’s something wry and soft in his voice.
“I don’t—I’m not,” John says.
“Okay,” Matt says, sliding off the table and heading back into his room.
“I mean, I didn’t shoot you,” John says, around a toasted bagel when Matt comes back out, wearing pants and pulling on a sweatshirt.
“yeah, I know, it’s just a ride,” Matt says.
4. Your Recent Status Change.
“Excuse me,” the guy in the elevator is standing just behind him.
“Sorry,” John says, shifting to the right.
“No, sorry, I—“ John turns around. A nervous kid, wet behind the ears. Maybe six months out of the academy? Fucking rubbernecker.
“Take a picture, it’ll last longer,” John says.
“Sorry, I—“ the kid’s blushing now. “I wanted to say that you’re really brave. And I—“
John turns away, hammering the button for his floor; he hates this part, idiots acting like an asshole holding a gun on his kid is some kind of action movie fantasy fun park.
“It’s—everyone says it doesn’t matter if you, you’re—gay, but, it still seems like it does if you really want to—to make detective or—“ the kid’s voice shakes. “Anyway, thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” John says, startled. The door opens and the kid slips out ahead of him, his eyes averted, ears red.
“So,” Lucy says, on the phone. “I feel like this is probably none of my business—“
“You’re probably right,” John tells her.
“But—it’s happening kind of fast, don’t you think?” Lucy says. “Or—have you been, um—I mean, did mom know?”
“That you were—uh, with guys.”
“I wasn’t,” John says. “When I was with your mother, she was it for me.”
“So you just woke up one day and decided—“
“Do you have a problem with this somehow?” John says. “I’m not allowed to have an opinion about your love life but it’s fine for you to—“
“Dad,” Lucy says. “no. Don’t say ‘love life’, please.”
Lucy’s silent, then she says, grudgingly. “I guess it’s hard for you to meet people, at work or whatever.”
“Yeah,” John says.
“Well, congratulations?” she says, that funny tilt to her voice kids have now that makes it sound sarcastic, but he can tell she doesn’t mean it that way.
“Thanks,” he says. “I know this must be—strange for you,“
“Are you kidding?” she says. “Dating someone basically my age is pretty much the most normal dad thing you’ve ever done.”
Matt is eight years older than Lucy, but John still has some dignity so he doesn’t say so. Eight and a half, actually.
OUT AND ABOUT , the headline says, and a photograph of them just fucking walking along the wide sidewalks at the edge of the park, both in shorts and t-shirts, John’s hand hovering protectively near Matt’s elbow. Matt’s sitting at the kitchen table staring it when he gets home.
“Don’t let it get to you,” John says, although it gets to him, the inset picture where his hand’s on the back of Matt’s neck. He doesn’t remember touching him at all.
“It’s not,” Matt says slowly. “It’s just. this is getting pretty crazy. I know this isn’t what you, uh, planned. “ He sighs. “What if I just moved out and you could tell everyone—“
“I can’t,” John says. Matt looks up, grave.
“You could,” he says, so John tells him. The kid in the elevator. It feels important not to fuck that up, although he doesn’t want to say so. “It means something to him,” John says, “so—“
“So you’re just going to pretend to be gay for the rest of your life to—help out,” Matt says flatly, and it sounds nuts when he says it that way, in a way that sets John’s teeth on edge.
“I’m just going to keep on not giving a shit because none of this crap matters,” John says, trying to explain. “You got a problem with it, you can move out. Say you were just—experimenting or whatever. The trauma made you think there was a, a, what do you call it, a connection that wasn’t there—“
“What? No, I’m not doing that,” Matt says, pushing himself to his feet. The kitchen’s too small for him to pace or whatever he has in mind, so really they just end up leaning against the counter, staring at each other.
“Then you can say I turned out to be an asshole—“
“If you think,“ Matt says, leaning back, his fingers wrapped over the edge of the counter, his shoulders tight and bunched. “If you think I’m gonna be the guy who dumped John McClane after using him for sex you’re fucking insane.”
“Then we’ll just have to keep on being a happy fucking couple,” John says.
“Fine,” Matt yells.
“Fine!” John says. They order a pizza because no one feels like cooking.
There’s a guy in a suit sniffing around his desk when he gets back from lunch.
“Can I help you?” John says.
“Mr. McClane,” the guy says brightly. “Hal Mercer, from HR. Perhaps we could talk privately.”
“No thanks,” John says.
“Ah,” Hal says. “Well. It’s regarding your recent status change.”
“Great,” John says.
“Would you call it a—new relationship?” Hal says.
“You can call it whatever you want, it’s a free country,” John says. Hal’s face hardens.
“What would you say if I said that insurance fraud with intent to commit grand larceny is a felony punishable with 15 years in prison in New York State?”
“I would say this is Robbery-Homicide, and you’re looking for White Collar on the tenth floor.”
Hal stares at him sourly, but he leaves.
They play cards, sometimes, watch HBO, cook dinner, all the little pieces of life that seemed so much more reasonable to do when another person was around. Left on his own, John would eat a bag of Fritos for dinner, stare at Letterman without taking it in, not bother, he hasn’t seen a movie in the theater in a year and a half, but Matt argues about tv on the internet like it’s his job and wants to go to weird restaurants John thinks are probably a joke, like why buy burritos and have to stake out a table in what clearly used to be the place where they stuck the dumpsters when you could go to a nice sit down restaurant with good service for the same price.
“Sorry, I know you liked it when there was a crack house across the street—“
“The people who sold crack used to like it better before they got pushed out—“
“Right, by nice white cops such as yourself.”
“It wasn’t across the street anyway,” John mutters. That was the auto body. “It was on the corner.”
Kev’s a good guy; he goes to a Knicks game with John because Matt’s busy working.
“I like you guys together,” he says ruminatively at halftime. “For a guy who unquestioningly reinforces and benefits from a racist misogynist system—”
“that’s on my business cards, actually,” John says.
“you’re not that bad. Honestly, I thought Matt was just in it because of your whole—“ Kev makes an indecipherable gesture that encompasses John’s face, his chest, his bottle of lime seltzer—“thing, but you’re good for him.”
“What thing,” John says warily.
“Mm,” Kev says, turning to look at the empty court. “Nothing.”
“He was fine before,” John says. He didn’t have anything to do with it, if Matt’s doing better these days, or—.
“I know,” Kev says. “But—he seems happy.”
“What did you say you did again?” John says.
“I repair bicycles and I bartend and I teach comp lit,” Kev says.
“Were there people who made him unhappy?” John says. Kev doesn’t answer. So. Yes.
It’s not his business, it’s not his right to ask, but he has to wonder about it, because Matt is the easiest guy in the world to keep happy; he likes to be left alone to work, for hours, like a particularly low-maintenance cat, lights up in genuine delight at the smallest things, toaster waffles or John throwing a couple of his shirts in with his wash, little stuff, barely worth mentioning. Maybe it was bedroom stuff that made him unhappy, and that’s—Jesus, John thinks, stop.
Cameras. “You guys, again,” John says tiredly. “Two guys living together isn’t news, last I checked.”
“Is it serious, Mr. McClane?” some guy shouts. No, John wants to say, but thinks of his buddy Hal Mercer and says,
“uh, you know, yeah. Sure.” Sensing weakness, they crowd in closer.
“Not legal, last I checked,” John says.
“Have you been checking?”
“Um,” John says.
“Are you saying you support the legalization of gay marriage?” the reporter says, pressing in in.
“why not,” John says. “Shouldn’t everyone have an opportunity to ruin years of beautiful memories with a shitty divorce?” and thankfully manages to turn the key and get inside. It runs as a headline the next day: GAY COP JOINS FIGHT FOR MARRIAGE RIGHTS.
“Oh my god,” Matt says, staring at the newsstand while they wait for the guy in the truck to finish making their breakfast.
“I didn’t—say that,” John says helplessly.
“It’s eight twenty-five,” the bagel guy says, leaning out and handing John a grease-spotted paper bag. “Hey, you’re that guy. The cop. Congratulations.”
“Thanks,” Matt says his smile bright and fake, leaning across and handing him a ten. “Keep the change.”
“It’ll all blow over,” John says, after dinner. He’s been thinking about it all day, Matt’s face, dismayed, unhappy. Matt’s working on something, biting his lip, his fingers hammering against the keys. His hands lift, momentarily, when John speaks. “There’ll be some new flavor of the month and they’ll forget about us. It’s always that way.”
“I don’t know,” Matt says, his face doubtful.
“I’m telling you,” John says. “Being famous is a hassle, but it never lasts. Sooner or later, if you lie low, everyone just—stops caring, or forgets.“
Matt looks at him thoughtfully. “No,” he says, finally. “No, I think you should definitely become more famous.”
“What?” John says. He’s not doing a talk show, or letting People interview him, none of that crap. “No.”
Matt closes his laptop and puts it on the coffee table. “If you become famous enough,” he says, “Everyone ignores you to prove how cool they are with it.”
“How do you know?” John says.
“Like Kevin Bacon,” Matt says.
“What about him?” John says.
“Like Michelle Williams,” Matt says. “She lives here.”
“Who?” John says.
“She’s an actress,” Matt begins.
“I know who she is, Lucy used to watch Dawson’s Creek,” John says, giving up, even though one of his favorite things is to see how long Matt will patiently explain something to him.
“Of course she did,” Matt says.
“And I used to tape it for her when she was at gymnastics,” John says.
“Yeah, yeah,” Matt says.
“On VHS,” John adds belligerently.
“And now Michelle Williams lives like eight blocks from here and people leave her alone,” Matt says.
“Okay, that sounds great for Hollywood people, but I’m a normal regular person—“ Matt’s shaking his head.
“No,” he says. “No, you’re not. Me, I’m normal. You—“ he’s standing up, finding his wallet and his cane and his shoes. “Put on your shoes, let’s get a drink.”
“It’s eight-thirty,” John says reluctantly. “Fine, okay.”
Matt takes him to some basement with no windows and gets him a drink with a whole stalk of rosemary in it.
“It’s a craft cocktail,” Matt says helpfully.
“It’s nine dollars,” John says, but it’s good, lemony, faintly bitter. They split a plate of fries. “Okay,” John says, after they’ve been sitting at the bar for a while, drinking in companionable silence. “What are we doing here?”
“Being ignored,” Matt says. John snorts. “This is your block,” Matt says. “Everyone knows who you are.”
“Oh yeah, who’s that?” John says, but he sees it now, the careful space around the both of them, a guy at the end of the bar glancing over and then away.
“It bothers you that much, that people think you’re a hero,” Matt says.
“It doesn’t—it’s not real.”
“Okay, you didn’t stop a terrorist attack—“
“I was just—there,” John says, “and lucky. And you were there, you did a lot of it.”
“Yeah, well, I’m a hero,” Matt says, his voice light, and John lets himself knock his glass against Matt’s and not care that a whole table of girls is carefully, breathlessly ignoring them eight feet away. No one says anything, or even gets near them. No one takes any pictures.
5. Too Much
It’s a good day, that’s the thing. He and Janssen wrap up a case and Matt’s downtown for work and swings by just as John's finishing his shift, so they go for burgers, sit outside on the little terrace in back.
“How are you holding up?” Janssen asks Matt. “With the, uh, media scrutiny?”
“It’s fine,” John says.
“No one asked you,” Janssen says. “I’m asking him.”
“It’s fine,” Matt says. “Comes with the territory, right?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Janssen says. “I guess it’s headline news that anyone can put up with your dumb ass,” he says to John.
John laughs; Matt frowns, bristles up a little. He doesn’t say anything, but it takes until their food comes for him to unbend again. Later, when Matt’s in the bathroom, Janssen leans in, says,
“He was about to get in a little fight with me, huh?”
“Better watch your back,” John says.
“Yeah,” Matt says, sliding back into his seat. “I could wipe out your 401K for you.” He smiles pleasantly enough, but there’s a raw undercurrent to his voice. John brings down his hand gently on Matt’s good knee to say, easy now, but Janssen grins.
“It’s not worth your time, trust me,” he says, and insists on buying them another round, asking Matt a half a dozen questions about encryption. Matt tries to explain, using the salt and pepper shakers, the sugar packets, gamely dumbing it down for them, lets John steal the fries off his plate. It’s cold enough that they all still have their jackets on, but the late fall light feels warm on their faces, picks up amber reflections in Matt’s eyes.
John’s feeling warm and content when they cab it home, watching the buildings flash past, familiarly, towards home, thinking only about how the evening is spooling out quietly before him; a hot shower, sweatpants, taping Matt’s knee, which had looked like it was bothering him, maybe a little television, if Matt’s not working—that he doesn’t notice Matt’s slowly souring mood. He’s quiet in the cab, but John thinks it’s just his knee. John tries to get the door for him, but Matt ignores him, limps up the stairs and rummages in the kitchen cabinet for his pills, standing at the counter for a long time with his back turned, head bent.
“Something wrong?” John says.
“No,” Matt says. “It’s nothing. Sorry.”
“Okay,” John says, backing off. He’s in the door of the kitchen when Matt says,
“It never bothers you, lying to everyone?”
“Not really,” John says. Matt turns around and his face is grim and tired.
“Not really,” he echoes, his voice flat.
“Does it bother you?” John asks.
“I’m—grateful,” Matt says. “For everything you’ve done for me, but I can’t stop feeling like you screwed up your whole life for me.”
“It was screwed up way before you showed up,” John says. He takes a few steps closer and waits for Matt to look at him. “Don’t,” he says. “I don’t want you worrying about this.”
“It’s too much,” Matt says, his voice cracking. “You shouldn’t have—“
“You don’t get to fucking decide what’s too much,” John says. “Not now. If you didn’t want to, you could have said.“
“You don’t think it’ll come out eventually that you lied about it? That we’re not—that you’re not—“
“Who says I’m not?” John says, too loudly.
“I—“ Matt blinks. “Um—“ and then his whole face flushes up, a tendon jumping in his throat. “I didn’t know,” he says finally.
“It’s not—“ John stares at the floor, feels the words caught in his throat, the long terrible silence, Matt’s breathing. “I married a beautiful girl. Smart too. I was crazy about her, and the kids. There was nothing else I wanted. I thought—“ He hesitates. “Everyone looks at—“
Matt doesn’t say anything.
“I told myself,” John says roughly, “that everyone looked.”
“At what?” Matt says.
“At guys, Matt,” John says.
“But it turns out I’m a stupid fucking coward,” John says. “Too fucking afraid to say anything or—or—do anything.”
“You’re not—you’re not a coward,” Matt says, meeting his eyes. And John says,
“I gotta—“ and steps past Matt and into the hallway, down to the street and halfway to the end of the block, the air cool and sharp on his face, because he’s afraid of what he’ll do, if he has to keep looking at Matt’s mouth and wondering what it would be like to kiss him, because he’s afraid to ask if Matt would like: a kiss, a handjob, a fuck, afraid of fucking everything up, or the way Matt might flinch away from him, fuck no, McClane, gross. See: a coward. Q.E. fucking D.
He thinks Matt will just do the decent thing and ignore that it ever happened.
“Have you told anyone else?” Matt says, when they’re just sitting quietly after a cautiously polite dinner the next night.
“About what?” John says. Matt says nothing. “You mean, besides my boss, everyone at my job, and the entire Tri-State area?”
“Is that your way of saying it’s not really my business?” Matt says. He’s staring at his laptop, the edges of his features illuminated faintly.
“Yeah,” John says. “No. Maybe.”
Matt laughs, but his face is pensive. “Okay,” he says. “That’s fine.”
“I wasn’t trying to get you into anything that was—too much,” John says. “I just—I thought I could help.” He looks at his hands so he doesn’t have to look at Matt’s face.
“You did,” Matt says. “You do. I got kind of,“ he hesitates. “Look, are you sure I’m not cramping your style? You could really be, um, meeting a lot of people right now if you weren’t—.“
“I don’t really have any plans about that,” John says.
“You don’t?” Matt says, looking up over the edge of his laptop. Their eyes meet and Matt’s skate away. “Oh,” he says, looking back down. “Okay.”
John thinks about it, though. Matt still needs help sometimes, getting his shoes on—
“I can do it myself, “ he says, while John kneels and slips them on for him, hand steadying his long shin. John used to be a romantic guy—making out on the couch, or brushing Holly’s hair aside to kiss her neck, scratching her back as they got undressed at night, all along her bra line while she shivered and said, “ah, in the middle too—“ and leaned back against him. It was one of the parts of it he was actually good at.
He thinks about it: sliding his thumbs into the spot between Matt’s shoulder blades while Matt groans—or—sighs—or whatever he does. Brushing up against him in the kitchen, getting coffee, pressing a kiss against the back of his neck, feeling Matt shudder and lean back against him. Screwing around on the couch, Matt in his lap—or, no, too rough on his knee that way—Matt on his back with John between his legs, kissing, grinding, Matt’s tongue in his mouth, his hands working open John’s belt buckle. Maybe what would happen if he got Matt’s shoes on and stayed down on his knees, if he could get Matt hard, if Matt would let him—
He usually tries to stop thinking about it then, the part where Matt sighs and shudders and his fingers brush John’s cheek and his dick’s in John’s mouth.
John tapes Matt’s knee and doesn’t think about it, the soft spot on the inside of Matt's thigh above his knee, how sensitized the skin around old scars can get, the way Matt’s hands tighten and flex against the edge of the table when John’s hands brush too close to the worst of the scarring. He thinks about Matt saying he’s grateful, about how far that gratitude might go, if John asked. Only a fucking creep tries something with someone who won’t say no.
Anyway it’s nothing like Holly, the way he used to think about her all the time, get so revved up he’d have to go home and take a cold shower. Matt’s a good-looking guy but he’s not pretty like Holly is—except, maybe, his dark eyes, the look in them when he thinks someone’s an idiot but is trying not to say anything. That is a lot like Holly, actually. He’s not built or anything. Good shoulders, though, nice hands, and the way he sits, his whole body lax, elastic, at ease—
“John—“ Matt’s saying.
“Yeah, here,” John says, swallowing. He can feel a thin line of heat blooming down his back.
“No, fine,” John says.
“Uh huh,” Matt says slowly. “I said, I’m making nachos do you want some?”
“Yes, thanks,” John mutters.
6. Something With More Stability.
It’s not even that bad—just a few stitches and his collarbone is just a dislocation that they fix up easily and then give him Percocet, but he took a knock on the head and so they won’t let him go. He dropped his phone during the chase and he can’t remember Matt’s number and he’s pretty loopy by then, and content to let himself be propped up in bed with a can of ginger ale and a Sudoku book which he can’t figure out how to do, so the Percocet’s working, and he’s dozing when he hears Matt’s voice, loud and pissed off,
“Don’t you guys read the papers? I told you, I’m his—he’s—“
“You have to understand Mr.—“
“it’s Farrell,” Matt says angrily.
“Mr. Farrell, the press will often try to gain access to—“
“Jesus Christ,” Matt says, “he’s my—partner, he’s my—uh, boyfriend—“
“Matt?” John says, it slowly occurring to him that he should say something.
“Thanks for nothing,” Matt snaps, and then he’s pushing aside the curtain, his face haggard with worry.
“Holy fucking shit,” he says, his eyes darting from John’s shoulder to his face. “They said you’d been shot.”
“I was shot,” John says. “And I fell out a window. And I messed up this Sudoku page.”
Matt collapses into the chair next to John’s bed and leans forward, hunched in on himself, presses his hands to his face.
“I thought you were dying,” he mumbles, his voice raw.
“Nope,” John says cheerfully. Matt looks up, and then his eyes narrow analytically.
“How high are you right now, exactly?” he asks. John shows him the Sudoku.
“Yeah, you’re supposed to use numbers in those,” Matt says, after a moment. “You wanna go home?”
They have a guy in a suit down from the upper floors to apologize by the time Matt’s tying John’s shoes.
“Allow me to offer—“ he says smoothly, getting out his business card.
“Relax, guy, I’m not planning to sue you,” Matt says irritably, which probably means he’s been living with John for too long. Matt does the discharge paperwork and talks to the doctor about wound care, meds, some other stuff John doesn’t hear because he kind of blanks out for a while, and then he’s in a cab on the way home, and then he’s sitting on the edge of the bed watching Matt drag in half the couch cushions to prop up his elbow.
“Do you need anything else?” Matt says, hovering.
“Can you help me get my shirt off?” John says. He’d struggled into some gym shorts one-handed in the bathroom, gritting his teeth, but couldn’t get his shirt off. They cut his work-shirt at the hospital; the Henley underneath is sweat-stained and smudged with blood and dirt.
“Sure, of course, yeah,” Matt says, but he hesitates before he touches John, first touching the hem of the shirt and then changing his mind and pulling one sleeve tight so John can get his good arm out. John starts to shrug out of the shirt, but Matt says, “hold on, it’ll pull less if I—“ He opens the line of buttons at the neck carefully, his touch feather-light, brushing against John’s throat, his chest. John concentrates on the muffled ache of his shoulder.
“Sorry,” Matt says. He draws the shirt up slowly, bunching it up so John can get his head out, and then eases it down John’s bad arm.
“I’ll just, uh—“ he turns quickly toward the door, “the hamper,” and when he comes back he has an extra blanket in his arms.
“I’m supposed to make sure you don’t run a fever,” he says, tucking it carefully around John, staying well away from his shoulder. “Do you have a thermometer?”
“Nah,” John says. Matt’s face is near, shadowed with worry still, those pretty dark eyes. John reaches for him, rubs his knuckles across Matt’s warm, stubbled cheek, pushes gently at the downward curve of Matt’s mouth with his thumb.
“Cheer up,” he says. “I’m fine.”
“uh,” Matt says, a soft huff of breath, his mouth open, his fists closing tightly on the blanket. “okay. get some rest and I’ll—call in the—uh—prescriptions—“ John falls asleep.
In his dreams, he’s too fucking late. He’s trying to get there, on a bus that keeps stopping; he finds a car but it doesn’t matter, he’s too late and Holly’s dead, and Lucy, and Jack—he’s had those dreams for years, and now Matt’s in them too, his eyes empty and staring—
“John.“ It’s Matt, leaning over the bed.
“What,“ John says.
“You were—dreaming, I guess,” Matt says. “it sounded—“
“Sorry,” John says. He heaves himself up, wiping at his face with his good hand. He’s still half in the dream, chest tight. “I woke you up.“
“I was awake,” Matt says. John hears him shifting on his feet. “Are you—“ he hesitates. “all right?”
“Yeah, sure. Yeah,” John says, unconvincingly. Matt stares at him and then leans in and puts one big cool hand against John’s forehead.
“You’re pretty warm,” he says.
“I’m fine,” John says “It’s nothing. Go back to sleep,” but Matt frowns stubbornly and gets him some ibuprofen and a big glass of water and another blanket, because John’s shivering suddenly, can’t get warm.
“I said,” John begins.
“Stop being a pain in the ass,” Matt says. He’s rumpled up from sleep, and his voice is warm and rough. John drinks the water.
He sleeps the next day away, with Matt appearing at intervals to check on him, give him water, change the dressing on his arm. When this is all over, John promises himself, watching Matt shoulder his way into the room with a bowl of chicken noodle and a sleeve of crackers, he’s going to find someone to really date.
No hurry, though, he thinks, back at work and off the painkillers. He can’t, anyway, while Matt’s living with him. How would he even meet anyone, he thinks. Bars, maybe: are people still doing that? Percocet made everything seem simpler.
The truth is, he admits to himself, he wants to go home and see Matt, cook him dinner, make him laugh. Pathetic, maybe: John definitely still does that. He cuts out a little early.
Matt’s up early, wearing a suit, frowning in concentration as he loops the tie around his neck. John watches him for a little while, leaning in the bathroom doorway.
“Did you want some help with that?” he says eventually.
“Yeah, fine,” Matt sighs. It’s not like John wears a tie much these days, but he did, for years, back when he was a family man, a clean-cut detective with a future, and your hands don’t forget. He flips up Matt’s collar and slides the tie around his neck. Matt draws in a quiet breath; John’s thumb brushes the skin of his throat, slides down the silk of the tie.
“What’s all this for?” John says, thinking—some big meeting or something, maybe Matt presenting, but Matt says,
“Oh, a—job interview, actually.”
“I thought you were doing your own thing,” John says.
“Yeah, well,” Matt says. John’s nearly done with the knot, is just tightening it carefully, smoothing the tie flat, “I thought—. Maybe it’s time for something with more stability.”
John stops, really takes it in, the dark suit, conservatively cut, the tie, which is some boring olive stripe, the neat haircut Matt’s somehow gotten without his noticing.
“a corporate job?” he says.
Matt says nothing, and then he says, “It’s really good money and—the benefits package is—“ John finishes the knot and turns down Matt’s collar, tugging at it gently to set it straight, “comprehensive.”
“I see,” John says, and he does. Nice corner office, yearly bonus, on-site gym, buncha computer stuff done in the most idiotic way for Matt to straighten out, Blue Cross Blue Shield, the whole thing.
“It’s a final interview, actually,” Matt says into the silence. “I should know, um, pretty soon.”
“Great,” John says. “Good luck. If that’s what you want.”
“It is,” Matt says. “Thanks for—for the tie.”
“Anytime,” John says.
It all happens fast after that. Matt gets an offer within a week and starts the week after. Inside a month he finds an apartment, one of the comfortable new-construction lofts in Williamsburg, and moves out. He has so little stuff that he doesn’t even hire a truck. John just drives him over there with his duffle bag and a couple boxes one Saturday afternoon and double parks to help him take it out.
“There’s an elevator, so.“ There’s already a doorman coming out and picking up one of the boxes.
“Okay,” John says.
“So—thanks,” Matt says.
“Yeah,” John says. Matt hovers for a second, uncertain, and then he’s in John’s arms, solid and warm, his arms tight around John’s back for the space of a breath, and then he’s—gone, through the revolving door, into the building.
That’s it, then, John thinks. He drives home and parks. He eats Matt’s leftover lo mein. He cancels all of Matt’s season pass shows on the DVR and then puts them back on. He goes to bed.
There’s Thanksgiving and then Christmas; John works a lot of extra shifts, covering for people taking leave to be with their families. Janssen brings him a covered dish after Thanksgiving: turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes.
“Thanks,” John says, peering under the foil. It looks good, and he says so.
“You would have been welcome to come,” Janssen says.
“I’m not good company lately,” John says and Janssen nods and changes the subject, asks if John can take a look at this new thing he’s working, a bunch of high profile robberies.
Hal Mercer even shows up, just after New Years when John is drinking a cold cup of coffee and hammering out reports.
“We’ve received your paperwork regarding Mr. Farrell’s change of address,” he says importantly.
“Great,” John says.
“It is interesting, don’t you think, that this change coincides with the point at which he is no longer undergoing costly medical rehabilitation on the New York City taxpayer’s dime—“
“What, you never been dumped?” John says bitterly, rounding on him. Hal’s eyes widen. He takes half a step back.
“Sometimes things don’t work out,” John says. “Just—fuck off, how about that?”
He turns back to his computer and begins working on the report again; eventually he hears Hal’s footsteps moving away.
The papers notice; there are a couple weeks of headlines here and there, first, IT’S OVER, with a stylized broken heart graphic across a lousy picture of the two of them, both looking away from each other, unsmiling. MOVING ON, and a picture of Matt walking down the sidewalk with some guy, looking up at him, a week or two later, DINNER FOR ONE and a harshly-lit picture of John with a single takeout container, shoulders hunched against the cold—but it tapers off after that. Love stories sell more papers, John figures; that’s encouraging, in an odd way.
The days settle into a pattern; John wakes in the chill, January dark. Pushups, sit-ups, weights, breakfast, the wind stinging his face as he walks to the subway, the welcome oblivion of work. He gets lunch in the corner deli; they know him there, ham and swiss, extra pickles, no mayo.
“I got that,” says the guy behind him at the checkout. “that—his, I’ll buy his, I’m, just put it all together.” It’s Hal, holding his own sandwich. He’s wearing a big puffy parka over his suit, so he almost looks like a normal guy and not a bloodsucker.
“That’s not necessary,” John says.
“No, I—uh, insist,” Hal says, handing his debit card over.
There’s a narrow counter jammed up against the window with a few stools.
“Do you want to—um,” Hal says, waving vaguely with his lunch bag.
“So is this a new services provided by HR?” John says, but he sits down. Fuck it. He’s sick of his desk.
“No,” Hal says, starting to unwrap his sandwich. “I was. I’m sorry. about. you know.”
“Forget about it,” John says.
“But—“ Hal says.
“You were just doing your job, right?” John says.
“Yeah,” Hal says. “but now I feel like an asshole, so—“
“Welcome to the fucking club,” John tells him.
He thinks about calling, or e-mailing, or texting, but he doesn’t. Matt moved out, so he must have wanted—space, right? What was it Holly used to say? John, I know your phone number, I’ll get in touch when I’m ready. Matt will, John thinks. At least to get a meal or pick up his junk mail, but winter sets in in earnest, bitterly cold, and Matt doesn’t. There seems to be less and less reason to bother him, as the weeks go.
It’s not all bad. Kev has Rangers tickets.
“I didn’t even know you guys were having problems,” he says, between periods. John almost says something: it wasn’t really—; we weren’t actually—but if Kev doesn’t know, then maybe Matt has some good reason for keeping his mouth shut.
“Don’t worry about it,” John says, and Kev says,
“okay, no sweat,” clearly itching to say more. But he doesn’t, except for,
“That penalty was BS,” and “I’m getting a hot dog, you want a hot dog?”
But they weren’t, actually, John reminds himself.
He goes back to the places he thinks of as Matt’s, makes himself do it, buys a muffin at this bakery Matt liked, yes, fine, it's good coffee. Life goes on right? He plays poker with Janssen. He goes back to that underground bar. Something to do, instead of sitting around his apartment.
“Can I get a soda or something?” he asks. He doesn’t really drink alone anymore. The bartender flips over the bar menu and points,
“The non-alcoholic stuff is here—“
John looks; lemons, rhubarb, okay—“Surprise me, I guess,” he says. The drink has cucumbers and a stalk of parsley in it. It’s kind of nice. Surprising. They make grilled cheese sandwiches on a little press grill behind the counter, so he gets one of those, too. By the time he goes with Kev and Hal (“I now know way too many cops,” Kev mutters.), the self-conscious way that people ignore him has settled into real, comfortable familiarity. No one even tries to take a picture.
He works: homicide; extortion; bank robbery; narcotics; car theft ring; kidnapping; casino money laundering thing, felony assault, homicide; homicide; homicide; homicide; homicide; homicide—
“February,” Janssen says grimly, balancing another file on the already precarious stack on his desk.
"Do these guys know everyone dies eventually?” John says, sitting on the recessed windowsill in Hal's office, crunching on his third butterscotch candy from the jar on Hal's desk. “Get a hobby.”
What kind of asshole complains about a nice boring homicide, he asks himself not a week later, crouched on the thin metal grating between subway cars, icy grey water dripping down on him from god knows where. What kind of prick hijacks a fucking subway train on a Wednesday at 7:45am when people are just trying to get to their jobs?
He grits his teeth, ignores the angry throb in his ankle, and pushes himself up to peer into the window. Four guys, working efficiently, yanking bricks of C-4 out of duffle bags. Fantastic.
They’d kicked off everyone three stations ago, a This train is going Out of Service announcement and everyone groaning and cursing under their breaths. John had only ended up on the train because one of the guys getting on was a transit cop and there was something—John couldn’t put his finger on it—not quite right about his uniform, so he was standing in the next car, looking through the window, thinking that they’d probably just updated the uniform and that he was about to look like a complete idiot and be late for work when the transit cop knocked on the conductor’s door, and then stepped inside. That was definitely not quite right.
Then one of the transit guys pulled a gun out of a duffel and started sweeping the train, so John slipped out the door between the trains and used the guard rail to pull himself up onto the roof of the train long enough to stay out of sight. That was the plan anyway; in reality, the train jolted to the right and he fucked up his ankle on the guard rail, and the top of the train was slick with rainwater and oil and pigeon shit, with nothing to cling to except a few roughly corrugated air vents, and he couldn’t see or hear a god damn thing, so he had to wait, scrabbling for a hold, scraping his hands raw, on top of the train, or an interminable period of time, until he finally heard the door between the train open and close again.
Then the C-4. John sighs and pulls out his phone. Roaming. Yeah, fucking right, John thinks, but he sends a text message to Janssen anyway: 5 Terorist on Aline gong down town c^)4 4xplosib—takes more time than he has, his fingers chilled and raw, slipping on the tiny keys; he's concentrating so hard that the door opening takes him by surprise and he only has enough time to hit send before getting clocked in the jaw pretty hard and the phone falls on the tracks while he’s getting punched some more, so—
Anyhow, it’s a shitty morning, but it’s not—it’s really not—a huge news story or anything, John tries to tell anyone who’ll listen, when it’s over. Just five pissed off jackasses who wanted to blow something up and got pretty excited about having a hostage to put a bomb vest on. The detonator probably wasn’t even set up right—
“Yeah,” the bomb squad guy says, standing, “This would have taken out four city blocks.”
“But it didn’t,” John says. There are several dozen cops and firefighters swarming the subway platform, the bomb guys, a bunch of feds in windbreakers taking pictures and cataloguing equipment, and the EMT who just handed John an ice pack for his hand. John’s wiped, the way he always feels when some guy slams his face into a subway pole, and what he really wants to do is finish getting checked out for a concussion and just go—
“Mayor wants a press conference,” the Captain says, strolling up.
“But—“ John says.
“Janssen can do it,” John says hopefully. Janssen, it turned out, had gotten his text—Roaming, who knew? He’d spent the morning chasing down the train, finally slamming into the unused station under City Hall, red-faced and sweating, just in time to see John struggling with the last guy, hindered by the fact that his wrists were duct-taped together, so Janssen was the one who’d actually shot the guy in the leg and arrested everyone, so—
“Both of you,” the Captain says. “New York’s Finest, protecting the city. We’ll do it at the Precinct in an hour.”
“Fine,” John mutters, knowing when he’s beat. The EMT hands him a second ice pack.
There’s a table set up in the lobby with a couple of folding chairs and a heavy felt NYPD banner on the front. It must be a slow news day, because there’s a big turnout, reporters and news crews packed in against each other, standing halfway up the lobby steps.
The good news is, John could do it in his sleep and Janssen’s never been a hero cop before so he doesn’t know how much it sucks yet. John sets out to be as boring as possible: yes, he noticed something wrong, well, no, he was underground for most of the morning on the train, so he couldn’t really say how Detective Janssen was able to locate it. Janssen starts talking about triangulating a cell phone signal, and then the Captain starts talking about anti-terror task forces and then Janssen takes some more questions about bag-search checkpoints.
“Guy in the back,” Janssen says abruptly, cutting off the Tribune guy, who’s trying to ask about links to terrorist organizations. “You, with the grey suit.”
“Me,” the guy says uncertainly and it’s Matt, standing well to the back and leaning heavily on his cane. He looks rumpled and pale, his face creased in worry. He’s wearing a nice suit, but his shirt is untucked, and his tie shoved in his pocket. His hair is longer again, falling into his eyes. John shoves his elbow against Janssen’s chair—what the fuck, Matt’s not—but Janssen ignores him and his voice sharpens, no longer genial.
“Yes,” he says. “You came down here to ask Detective McClane a question, right?”
“Uh,” Matt says. He takes one step forward and John sees that his hair is damp, the shoulders of his suit streaked with rain. His eyes dart sideways at the reporters, and then he presses his lips together, determined, and says, “Okay, I—yeah, I have a question.”
John shifts uncomfortably in his seat. Janssen settles back, takes a sip from his coffee mug.
“I’ve been, I mean, I was, um—wondering,” Matt says. His voice starts off tentative, too quiet, but then he draws in a quick breath and his voice gets stronger. “If—did you, um, regret—. You know, was there was anything you would have done differently?”
“Yeah,” John says. His voice comes out rusty and strange. There’s an uncomfortable confused silence. The ABC News crew woman says,
“When you—uh, noticed that there were terrorists on the subway,” Matt, blurts out, interrupting, his eyes a little wild.
“I didn’t notice, not at first,” John says. “I thought it was just me—seeing something that wasn’t there. And so I waited.”
“Oh,” Matt says.
“You don’t want to make trouble for people,” John says, learning forward. “If it’s really nothing.”
“It wasn’t, though,” Matt says, his voice low, gut-punched. “It wasn’t—nothing.”
“No,” John says. “It wasn’t.”
There’s a weird little buzz starting at the edges of the room, a couple guys start to take pictures for no reason, flashes bright in John’s eyes.
“Mr. McClane,” ABC news says loudly, “You’ve put your life at risk countless times for the people of this nation—how have you found the courage to persist in the face of impossible odds?”
“Um,” John says, distracted by Matt’s face, his hand white-knuckled on his cane. “You just keep going, I guess. Things have a way of working out in the end.”
“But—” the reporter begins skeptically.
“So far so good, right?” John says, feeling a grin tugging at his mouth. There are other people talking, maybe, more flashbulbs, too many people crowded into a too small room, but John can’t tear his eyes from Matt’s face, tired and surprised and—happy, so happy.
Matt has a framed copy of the Post hung on the wall of his office.
“That was our first kiss,” he tells people, even ten years later, his grin boyish still, in spite of the grey starting at his temples. It’s not even a good picture: a bad angle, mostly John’s shoulder and Matt’s fingers clenched in his jacket, John’s bruised eye, the edge of Matt’s jaw, made blurry by the grainy newsprint.
“Not this again,” John says, but without any heat. He remembers it too, coming out the station doors into a slate grey sky, freezing rain pelting down, and finding Matt waiting for him, leaning against the wall beneath the underhang of the roof, watching Matt’s face cycle through relief and uncertainty and fear, before he said,
“I needed to see you, I—“ and how easy it had been to reach for him then, draw him clumsily into a kiss, his cold lips opening in a gasp beneath John’s.
“Cameras,” Matt murmured, leaning in hungrily against him, his fingers hot on John’s cheek, carefully skirting the edge of his eye, and John said,
“Let ‘em watch,” pulled Matt more securely in against him, and kissed him again, soft and deep, the icy sleet sliding down the back of his collar into his shirt.
“True story,” Matt says. “I didn’t even know he had a thing for me.” He told this story at their wedding reception, with Hal standing right there, wearing a boutonniere, laughing.
No one, as far as John can tell, has ever believed him, even for a moment.