It wasn’t the first time, and probably not the last, but Matt had to consider that John McClane might be a seriously bad influence on him.
Not that he had much of a choice, really. It was hard enough finding a livable apartment in Jersey before the firesale, but now people had a few more trust issues and it wasn’t like Matt would be getting a reference from his last landlord any time soon.
Not to mention the limping around the house, and the always needing a ride to the hospital for rehab, and hey, McClane was driving there all the time anyway, for his shoulder. Matt was even learning how to cook without a microwave, so that was good.
And McClane had started back at the cop shop a couple hours a day. Nothing big like saving the world yet, just something they called ‘modified duties’ – which Matt figured was probably mostly paper work and might even require McClane to use a computer. It usually put him in a pretty bad mood, but with Matt here he could eat something when he got home that wasn’t frozen pizza. Which, by the way, the PT said would be good for their recovery.
So. Okay. Staying with McClane wasn’t a bad option. It was his only option if he was being realistic. But the thing was…Matt was developing bad habits.
See, McClane had this thing, where he went around talking to himself when he was agitated. And it wasn’t like quiet detached muttering either. It was more like full-on ranting.
What’s this John? It’s a toaster. I know you’re not big with the technology, but dafter 54 years you’d think you could make a piece of toast. Right!? Maybe without burning your – goddamn MOTHER F…
And the ranting almost always ended in a string of curses that suggested McClane was actually kind of creative. Maybe he missed his calling. Should’ve been on the stage or something. Something other than that guy. That badass, larger than life, somewhat frightening but still undeniably heroic guy, without whom Matt would not be standing here right now. In John’s kitchen. Trying to learn how to cook a lamb chop.
Except for how he wasn’t trying so hard, right this minute. This minute he had his back pressed to the wall near the entrance to McClane’s kitchen, struggling not to even breathe too loud because of the bad, bad habit he was starting to develop.
The habit of listening at doors. Eavesdropping on McClane’s bizarre self-aimed rants.
And if Matt could be deluded and defensive, for just one second, then maybe, maybe he wasn’t totally to blame. Seriously, McClane could always stop thinking out loud if he didn’t want to be heard – Matt thought so at least. And sure, John had taken to closing himself behind doors lately when he really got going but…maybe Matt wouldn’t be so interested in it if he wasn’t slowly becoming convinced that, more and more often, the topic of McClane’s rants was…
Maybe it is complicated, yeah, like you’d know. But it’s a piece of meat, John. Not a marriage proposal. This has gotta stop. You gotta calm down, control yourself, and let the kid cook you dinner if that’s what he wants to be doing and forget about it, dammit, or this is just isn’t gonna work.
…it was Matt.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
The weirdness had all started a week or so ago.
And okay, so this new spying thing wasn’t Matt’s only bad habit, he knew it. Matt had a tendency to ramble. A little. Sometimes. Especially if he was tired, or just had a Red Bull, or if McClane insisted on religiously watching the news every night before bed like a big, bald lemming, no matter how many times Matt told him it was orchestrated, or… if, like, people were shooting at him.
But really, there had been no need for John to grab Matt’s head and shove his big, rough hand over his mouth. And it was pretty unnecessary for McClane to lean in way close and grit out “Kid. Do you ever. Shut. Up?” And John’s hand was really big, and too warm, and Matt’s asthma was kicking in or something, because suddenly he felt like he couldn’t breathe.
So Matt did what anyone would do. He narrowed his eyes and bit down. Pretty hard.
John had whipped his hands away, cursing as expected.
He brought the injured flesh up to his mouth – the middle finger and some of his palm it looked like – and sucked angrily.
Matt couldn’t help it. Come on, it was funny. He felt his lips twitch.
“Oh shit. Sorry. I’m sorry, McClane. Are you…did I actually…you’re bleeding a little bit, huh?”
McClane just gave him a look that Matt was pretty sure could make bigger men than him piss their pants. But this was Matt, and they were sitting together on the couch like they did every night, and when John moved his hand away, his lips were already starting to curl in a wry sort of disbelieving smile.
Matt was all-the-way grinning now, and he got a bit cocky maybe. He grabbed at John’s wrist and pulled it back toward him so he could see the damage.
He’d definitely broken the skin. The palm was swollen, and Matt could see where his pointy canine had sunk right through the callused ridge of flesh. Where he’d caught the thinner skin of John’s finger, it was bleeding all right, seeping out into the crease of the knuckle.
“I really got you,” Matt murmured, guiltily.
“S’alright.” McClane’s voice was predictably gruff and dismissive.
Matt ran his tongue over his teeth. Yeah, okay, sharp. Oops. For an idiotic second he actually thought he could taste John’s blood, but it was probably just salt from, you know, having another person’s skin in his mouth. Fuck.
He brushed his fingers over the wound lightly, and McClane flinched.
“Sorry, man. Hey.” Matt smoothed his thumb over John’s palm again, this time avoiding the sore spot. “Here,” he said, and leaned down to place soft a kiss over the hot swelling.
All Matt could think later, was that had it seemed perfectly logical at the moment. But the second right after, it was obviously stupid and insane. McClane was staring at him like he’d spontaneously sprouted a second head, like Bruce Campbell in Army of Darkness.
Matt’s mouth hung open, ready to make some lame joke, but nothing came. They just kept staring at each other. Matt thought maybe he really was having an asthma attack, but then John kind of looked like his breathing was a bit uneven, too.
He was still holding McClane’s hand.
McClane made a little sound like clearing his throat and pulled away. He turned back to the 11 o’clock news but after a couple of seconds he got up, muttered something unintelligible about first aid kits, and left Matt to sit there and try to not die of sheer panic right there on the couch.
That was the first time John had chosen to close the door before he started ranting. It wasn’t long after that Matt had started to develop his little espionage habit.
Until now, his efforts had mostly turned up babble that could be about anything at all. The problem was, whatever Matt’s gifts might be, they came with an agile imagination, and it could also, no matter how unlikely, be about him.
Get a grip on yourself, John. It was a compliment. You remember compliments? People sort of appreciate a guy who saves their life. Shit just kinda works that way…
Could’ve been anyone. McClane saved a lot of people. Nevermind that Matt had mentioned earlier that morning how he owed him his life and everything in it.
Come on, it’s not like it’s hard. It’s the 21st century. It’s the same as anything else right? Tab A goes into Slot B. Except there is no Slot B. Nooo! Just more tabs. Goddamn Tab A, everywhere! No B. They say there’s always option C, but C’s not an option, really. Not in this house. Better not be. Jesus H. Fu…
That didn’t even sound like a person, more like John was trying to do origami. John could’ve been trying to do anything, one-handed like he kept trying to, no matter how hard Matt tried to get him to just ask for help. But if it was about a person, then.... Matt took a cold shower and repeated the origami theory to himself the rest of the night.
You gotta get over this, old man. Just get over it, make it through. This is temporary, right? Matter of time. Whole thing’ll be over soon and life’ll be back to normal.
This one sounded like it was just about the rehab on John’s arm. He really, really hoped it was about his arm.
Yep, sketchy evidence at best. But now, a week later, backed against the wall in McClane’s kitchen, and distinctly hearing the words “meat” and “proposal” and “kid”, there was little doubt left in Matt’s mind as to the topic of John’s secretive diatribes.
And it was bad, because it sounded like either John wanted Matt out of his house or…
But no. Seriously. There was no way it could mean…what it sounded like it meant. There was only one way to know for sure. Research.
At first, Matt wasn’t really sure how he was going to manage it. He wasn’t a girl, and he couldn’t use the obvious tactics like push-up bras and excessive makeup. But there had to be something guys did when they were trying to…conduct this kind of experiment.
He had some t-shirts that were smaller than others. They hugged him slightly tighter across the chest, and if he wore low-hanging shorts or sweats with them, he got the added bonus of showing a little sliver of skin across his hips. Skin was good, right?
God. This was nuts.
Matt pushed his fingers into his hair and tugged a little, like tearing it out by the roots could pull out some of the crazy. Hmm. He could probably go get a haircut, too.
On day one, it was kind of hard to tell whether it was working or not. With absolutely no idea what to do, Matt just offered to bring McClane as many beers as he could get him to accept. Then he just sort of tried to make himself as helpful as possible. AKA being semi-subtle about reaching for a lot of things and bending over a lot of stuff in ways that just happened to make his sloppy, ill-fitted clothing slide around.
But by news o’clock, McClane was practically snoring on the couch next to him and Matt was pretty sure he passed out as soon as he hit the sheets. So there was no ranting to be heard period, much less anything to do with Matt’s efforts.
Day two, Matt thought, had gone really well. He went a little easier on the beer thing. They were running out and he needed one himself if he was going to go through with this. Because McClane was rocking his head on his neck and bunching up his double-wide shoulders, like it hurt more than usual. And Matt figured it was as good a time as any to offer a neck-rub. If by offering, you meant slamming down his beer so hard it foamed over, and launching himself across the couch at McClane, and declaring that his ouch-face was making Matt’s own shoulders hurt, and that this, right here, counted as performing a public service.
And yeah, McClane looked at him like “kid’s lost it”, but Matt was so over that look by now, and it only lasted a second or so before he turned his back to Matt and just let him. Matt was careful, although McClane did make a pained hissing sound a couple of times, and by the end even Matt could feel the difference. The tightly corded sinew had gone lax and warm under his hands.
And McClane actually said “thank you” and “c’mere”, all kind of slow and fluid, and he drew Matt’s leg across his lap, and started doing things he must have learned from getting shot so many times because, just. Yes.
But it turned out that beer and massages and were a potent combination, and Matt’s research was mentally exhausting. John had to help him off the couch, which was interesting for a second, and then this time Matt was the one asleep before McClane was probably even up the stairs.
On the morning of day three, John watched Matt putting a couple of steaks out on the counter to defrost, and then stiffly announced that he was going to be putting in more hours at the precinct.
“You gonna be ok, there? You’ll eat something, not just drink those Bulls’ Balls sodas?”
Matt wasn’t going to bother correcting John, he saw his opening and he went for it.
“It’s a piece of meat, McClane, not a marriage proposal. Yes. I can totally eat supper by myself.”
John flashed Matt that look he had – the one like a pissed-off pit-bull – and Matt had the first inkling that this… investigation, this game, this whatever he was doing, could be totally dangerous.
Matt hadn’t really considered it, but there was always the chance that McClane might actually beat the shit out of him. Matt had never been one of those macho types, but from what he understood they got kind of touchy about other dudes getting in their personal space and acting like…well, like they were coming on to them or something.
And – oh God. Oh my God and oh shit that’s what he was doing. Matt was flirting. With a man. And that man was John freakin’ McClane, and there was the minute yet distinct possibility that it could get him killed.
Of course, it was far more likely that McClane would just lose all of what passed for patience with him, and kick Matt out of his house. And while that would suck, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Matt had already lived through that, thanks, and as a result he didn’t have much stuff to take with him. He could find some place to crash pretty fast on craigslist, probably.
But what was equally likely, was that McClane would never, ever speak to him again. And that? Was pretty much the worst thing Matt could think of.
So by day five, Matt was starting to maybe spaz out a little. Or, sure, a lot. Because apparently it was possible for McClane to never speak to him again without even doing him the courtesy of kicking him out. And judging from the past two nights, he was pretty sure that was the plan.
Twice now, Matt had flipped the porch light on before crashing out well past midnight, only to find it switched off in the morning, but no McClane in sight.
That was it. Game over. No more research. No more eavesdropping. No more fucking flirting. He’d wait up all night if he had to, and set this straight. Pun totally not intended. Oh, fuck.
By the time Matt heard John jiggling his key in the rusty lock on the front door he’d lost all track of time, count of how many Red Bulls he’d had, and probably a year off his life.
It also would’ve helped if he could get up without practically falling down, but he’d been sitting here too long, rigid with tension most of the day. And even on a good day his leg seemed to have this uncanny sense of irony, always seeming to want to fuck with him when he most needed to do things like maintain verticality.
“You’re home.” Duh. Awesome start. Matt winced, and made his way to where John was standing in the hallway.
“Yeah.” John gingerly started peeling off his jacket. He was wearing his office clothes, a plain blue button-down was now half open over one of those old-school undershirts he constantly wore stretched tight across his broad chest.
Oh my god, focus.
“You’re up late.”
“Well I was kind of…waiting… Hey – um. McClane, can we talk?”
“Sure, kid.” Okay, progress. Cool.
Matt made it into the hallway, where John was hanging up his jacket on one of the pegs on the wall next to him. John cracked his neck. He kept a hold of the coat peg, like reaching up helped to stretch out the bulging muscles in his back and shoulder.
He looked tired, and suddenly old, and Matt wanted…well now that it came to it he wasn’t sure what. But he knew what he didn’t want and it was this. McClane all tough and distant and working way later than was good for him – or anyone – because of some stupid shit like whatever was going on here.
So Matt asked if he was hurting, and McClane said something stoic and unapproachable. And Matt had, like, zero idea how to start a conversation about this and hell, he didn’t even know what this was. So he just stood there, and blushed, and considerately gave McClane the opportunity to start making fun of him.
“C’mon, spit it out. S’a matter? You shrink all your shit in the laundry? You need me to take you somewhere to pick up some more t-shirts tomorrow?”
Matt looked down at himself and remembered he was only wearing an old pair of sweatpants he planned to sleep in. Damn, he was supposed to stop doing this.
“Ha, that’s funny. Laundry, no.”
Okay, here goes nothing.
“But that’s kind of what I wanted to talk about. Well, not that. But…so…why is this such a problem, John?” First name. John.
McClane did that thing with his eyes, where the whites stood out, making that murky green-blue colour look suddenly sharp and intense and…kinda scary.
“This.” Matt moved his hands through the air, trying to illustrate it. “Me. Not wearing a shirt.”
“Hey, it’s not my problem. You’re the homeless hacker street-urchin. People will just think I’m not takin’ care of ya.”
“So, the problem is what people will think?” Matt took a step closer, and McClane didn’t step back exactly. More like a reclining, chin-lifting, not-backing-down, cop motion.
“What? Kid, it’s late, and if you’re not gonna start making sense – ”
“I thought I was the one taking care of you?” Matt had to say something, anything, before McClane started shutting down on him. He hadn’t meant to say something that sounded like he was…like he didn’t want to…ungrateful…like he didn’t want to be here.
McClane blew air out his nose like some sort of large and intimidating farm animal. But then he let his eyes flick around a bit, so Matt wasn’t pinned so much by the whole Senior Detective glare thing.
“Yeah.” John took a breath in. “You’ve done a good job of that, with the apron, and the cooking, takin’ the garbage out when I can’t deal. And now I’m workin’ more, an’ I know you probably want to get back to Jersey soon…”
Whoah, bad. This was going all bad, all wrong. Matt gave up trying to explain and took another step forward.
“So it’s not a problem,” he interrupted. John was still holding onto the coat peg above their heads, and, oh wow, he was actually going to do this. He took another step in, and John pivoted a little on the spot, creating a little space between them, but he didn’t back away completely.
“It’s not a problem if I stand right here?” Matt moved in tight, his shoulder right under John’s outstretched arm. “It’s not a problem if I do this?”
Matt reached out with both hands and just put them on John’s hips. He hooked his thumbs through the belt loops to make himself keep them there. He felt hot, like he could feel McClane’s body heat through the worn-out layers of old-man shirt, and maybe he could. Their chests were nearly touching.
A muscle in McClane’s jaw jumped.
“Matt.” His name. His first name, and John’s voice came out rough and sort of stripped-down sounding, but not angry. “You don’t want…”
“I dunno. I think I might.” There. He said it. Two hit points.
McClane was shaking his head. He shifted his weight marginally, like he was trying to dislodge Matt’s hands without reaching for them.
“I’m old, kid. And I’m a man, for fuck’s sake.”
For some reason, Matt found it encouraging that John pointed out the age thing before the second thing, but he didn’t have time to think about why that was, because McClane was still talking his way out of this. Or he was trying.
“…and I’m not…Look, I want you to be…”
“I know,” Matt cut in, quietly. “That’s what makes you that guy.”
It was like watching a building come down. Those gigantic hotels in Vegas, that they were always imploding in televised special events. Big hero John McClane kind of crumbled the same way; all that stiff structure falling out of his frame, all the air coming out of him at once.
Matt tightened his grip on McClane’s waist a little. It wasn’t like he could hold McClane up, and he wasn’t quite pulling either because, let’s face it, there was no way he could ever make McClane go anywhere he didn’t want to. It was more just a reminder – hey, I’m here – but maybe it was also a bit of a request.
And John granted it, wrapping his arms around Matt and pressing their heads together like a hug almost, only without slapping his back or squeezing. They just stood there, and held on.
McClane was warm and solid and under the the cigarette smoke, he smelled like Irish Spring soap. And coffee and doughnuts and McClane, which were some of Matt’s favourite things, so he could have been there five seconds, or ten minutes, or hours who knew, when McClane finally said something.
“Kid? Matt. Have you done this before?” Matt could feel the sound vibrate against his chest.
“Nope. But how hard can it be? Tab A, Slot B, right?” Matt smiled even though he knew John couldn’t see it. He could feel John doing the same, with his face pressed into Matt’s hair.
“Anyone ever tell you it’s rude to listen at keyholes, kid?”
“Anyone ever tell you talking to yourself’s a bad habit?”
McClane pulled away just enough so they could talk, with their foreheads still touching.
“If I didn’t talk to myself I’d never get a word in edgewise around here.”
“Ooh. That’s a good one. That’s comedy, McClane. You know, I’ve been thinking you should do improv.”
“Is this the part where you tell me this is just like a piece of meat and not a marriage proposal?”
“No.” Pretty much the opposite. “No, I wouldn’t say that. At all.”
“Good.” McClane said, or really, whispered. “That’s good.”
McClane was maybe nodding, but it came out like rubbing their foreheads together, and God help him, Matt was just done. He tipped his head to the side and moved in the rest of the short distance between their mouths.
It wasn’t anything like he was expecting. He felt cold, and suddenly shaky, and had the unpleasant feeling of having his heart forget what its job was for a good two seconds.
Because nothing fucking happened.
And then, suddenly, John responded. Gentler than he’d thought it’d be, and Matt felt firm lips, and the scratch of stubble, and what he thought might be a bit of tongue, and there were white sparks jumping behind his eyes.
And then he opened them, looking at John if only just to be sure he could still see straight. Close enough.
“Still good?” Matt heard himself say.
“Yeah.” John was laughing this low, satisfied chuckle. “Still good. Better than good.”
Matt inhaled, slowly. He would need to get his breath back before he did that again. Because he was so, so doing that again. And again. And again after that, and…
Snick, June 2010