John McClane had a problem. Again.
...This old heart of mine, been broke a thousand times...
True, there was a piece of metal in his chest, but for once it wasn’t a bullet. In fact, it was supposed to be there. And yeah, the phone was ringing off the hook with the all the guys in his division and their wives calling to wish him a speedy recovery every ten seconds. But he was sitting on his pulled-out couch at home, trying to find a magazine to read that wasn’t running an idiotic and wildly exaggerated article about him and a certain 125 lbs of hacker – who currently happened to be driving him right out of his goddamn mind.
Heart attacks were one thing. Nobody warned him that this bed rest shit would be like being in fucking jail.
It was like John’s couch had turned into something out of a damn Eagles song. He could check out any time he liked, but he could sure as hell never leave. He slept here. He ate here. He answered the phone and folded Matt’s laundry and cut his toenails here. If Matt would let him, he’d drink here.
He tried to read and watch TV and stuff like that too, but most of the time Matt wouldn’t let him do that either. He was too busy hovering. Bringing him things. Taking things away. Cleaning up and straightening the sheets and fluffing his pillows and other shit John pointed out repeatedly he was completely capable of doing himself.
It wasn’t even like he couldn’t get out of the bed. He just wasn’t allowed to. He got up and went to the bathroom every hour or so, for chrissakes. And of course, every time he did, Matt appeared and asked what he was doing like he really wanted the details.
…Each time you break away I think you're gone to stay…
The only sure-fire way to get rid of Matt was to ask him to stay.
“Kid, you’re hovering. Why don’t you sit down, huh?”
“Hmm? Oh. No. No, I should get some work done. You sure you’re okay here?”
“Yes McClane, I have a job. I’m NSA certified, I...what do you think I do all day when you’re not here?”
“Most of the evidence points to ‘play video games and eat Kraft Dinner’.”
“Leaving evidence isn’t really part of the job description.”
Matt mock-punched him awkwardly on his good shoulder, like a homophobic frat boy, and left.
He’d be back. It had been like this for days.
… These old arms of mine miss having you around…
John noticed it the first night they came home from the hospital.
A month or so back, they’d taken a trip to Camden to clean out what was left of Matt’s old place, as soon as he was able to stand without the crutches. Not a lot survived, mostly clothes and whatever else couldn’t be melted or twisted.
One thing Matt had, was movies. The discs were in a little book-thing instead of their proper cases, and half of them were scribbled on with a Sharpie marker instead of a label. John didn’t know how Matt had copied them and he didn’t ask. But the titles were something else. There were lots of times John felt like he had no idea who Matt was at all. Sometimes he wondered if Matt had any idea, either. It was a total mish-mash.
Matt had The Empire Strikes Back, but none of the other Star Wars stuff. He had The Blind Fist of Bruce Lee, The Seven Samurai, 2001, Fight Club, Good Will Hunting and for some reason, Gone with the Wind. He had all the stupid shit John would have expected like The Matrix, The NET with a young Sandra Bullock which John could appreciate, Swordfish, Sneakers, and something he’d never heard of entitled Hackers, like the kid didn’t even know what irony was. He even had TRON.
There was even more stupid shit John wouldn’t have expected, but he was starting to get that about Matt by now. Ghostbusters, Back to the Future trilogy, Flight of the Navigator, Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween and True Lies, Superman III and IV. And that was just the stuff John recognized. A lot of it appeared to be in Japanese.
But there were a few things in there John might be convinced to watch. Rocky, Apocalypse Now, Wall Street, Full Metal Jacket, Dirty Harry. Kid even had A Fist Full of Dollars.
“What d’ya say kid, you want to maybe watch one of these?” John asked Matt, when he came through the living room to collect the basket of laundry John had finished with. He had to do something, here.
“Sure, maybe after dinner.”
Which meant making dinner, serving it to John, putting away the leftovers, stacking the dishwasher, and cleaning up the kitchen. He didn’t even see Matt eat, but he must have done that, too. And by the time he’d done it all, the nightly news was on and John was already starting to yawn and nod – ironically, sitting in bed all day makes a guy tired – and Matt was nowhere to be seen. Granted, Matt hated the news, but his usual response was to sprawl all over John’s couch and bitch about it, not to abruptly make himself scarcer than a nun in a nudie bar.
He never caught sight of Matt that night, but when John woke up, the lights and the TV were switched off and there was a glass of water standing on the little table beside the couch.
…Maybe it's my mistake to show this love I feel inside…
Today was the last day of John’s couch-sentence, so it had been nearly three days of this, now. If he asked Matt to sit, he bolted. If he tried to get him talking, just to make a little conversation for fuck’s sake, Matt suddenly had too much work to do. And once – but only once – John made the mistake of reaching out to try and touch his hand, and Matt actually flinched.
By now, John had had long enough to sit and stew, and figure out what was probably going on. He’d known this thing with Matt was a bad idea from the start. A very bad fuckin’ idea, if he remembered the exact words he’d used to try and deter himself. He’d tried to tell Matt as much too, told him he didn’t want this.
‘I don’t know, I think I might’ had been the kid’s response. Well, maybe he knew now.
John got it, he did. He was old, and male, and a cop to boot. If all that wasn’t enough shit for Matt to swallow, now John was an old male cop with a heart condition. Matt didn’t want damaged goods, nor should he. John didn’t want it for him either.
Matt could do better than this. Sure he was skinny and awkward, but clearly something about it worked for John. And he was smart and energetic, with soft brown hair, and eyes that lit up like a damn Christmas tree when he smiled, and he had an ass on him you could... Right. Matt could surely find a nice girl. Just as long as it wasn’t Lucy.
Maybe this way Matt could settle down with someone he could walk in the park with – once he stopped limping everywhere. Someone he could kiss in public, without a full color spread hitting the news stands in the morning. Someone he could take to weddings and slow dance with. Maybe he’d even have a couple of kids.
Did Matt even want kids? Did he even know? This kind of shit was important. And Matt had all the time in the world to figure it out. Obviously, John’s time was starting to run out. It was for the best.
…But the thing was, it didn’t stop him from missing the kid.
Even before they’d stumbled into this…whatever it was, on the night he’d gotten sick…even before then, John had to admit that Matt had become a friend. He realized that now.
As crazy as he made him, Matt was always there. For the little things, like their favorite Chinese takeout, and Monday Night Football. There was big stuff, obviously, like taking a stand when it meant his daughter’s life, and making that call when it came down to saving John’s. Even the stuff in between that nobody ever really thought about, like dry-cleaning and groceries and finding John’s keys.
John just tried not to think the word ‘mate’. He wasn’t sure ‘companion’ was better, either. God, sometimes John could be really blind. But it was clearly too late for that now.
He’d had his chance. Matt had given it to him. And he’d taken it. But then fate stepped in and, as seemed par for his course, things didn’t go quite according to plan for the relationships in John’s life.
…You've got me never knowin' if I'm comin' or goin'…
Matt showed up out of nowhere again, with a bowl of soup for John and the twitchy uncomfortable look that was his new usual. John couldn’t wait to get out of this bed and back to work, so that if nothing else, they could at least go back to just awkwardly dancing around each other like they had the first week or so of Matt’s stay.
Or maybe Matt would want to go, once John was up and about; find a new place of his own now that things were…the way they were.
John wasn’t sure what to hope for, any more.
Matt set the soup bowl carefully down and immediately started avoiding John’s gaze, clicking away on his little flip-open mobile phone.
“Whatcha doing with that thing all the time, plotting the next apocalypse?”
The uncertainty and the boredom made him irritable. The fact that he couldn’t have a smoke wasn’t helping matters.
“It’s Lucy,” Matt said, patiently. “She wants to know how you’re doing.”
Well, that was bullshit. Lucy had just called him, not ten minutes ago.
"Leave my daughter alone, Farrell,” John said. “You’re too old for her. I saw your DOB at the hospital, just because you’re stuck in the body of a punk teenager...no guy over 30’s touching my baby girl."
"Whoa,” Matt said. “Okay, whoa.”
He actually stopped texting and looked at John. He didn’t start clearing away all the glasses and soda bottles on the table. He didn’t make an excuse about having an imaginary job to do, or run off and start doing make-work in the kitchen. He just looked at John. Or glared, really.
“First of all.”
This oughta be good.
“I’m like, two inches over thirty.” Matt held up his thumb and forefinger to illustrate how much an inch was. “And too old? Yeah, that’s awesome. First I’m not allowed to look at Lucy because she thinks I’m with you. Then I’m not allowed to text her – without looking at her by the way – because I’m too old. But you won’t touch me because I’m not old enough. She thinks I’m with you, you think I’m with her, everyone thinks I’m doing everyone else and between all you crazy, scary-ass McClanes I swear to god I’m never going to get laid again."
Matt said that last part in a fussy little whine. Like a pre-schooler gearing up for a tantrum, and John wasn’t having any of it.
"Don’t put that one on me, kid. You’ve been avoiding me like a bad case of the clap since I got home. I couldn’t get next to you if my life depended on it."
A tiny little voice in John’s head – one that sounded uncannily like Holly’s – told him he was being an asshole. But what was all that ‘scary, crazy-ass McClanes’ shit? And one of them was his little girl? Never get laid again was fuckin’ right. Kid was out of line.
But he wasn’t done.
"Avoiding? Seriously? Seriously. First I’m hovering and then I’m av– fuck. Fuck, John, I’ve been waiting on you like a...trying not to... and just praying th…Oh my god your life DOES depend on it, McClane!!"
Matt’s voice was raised to a level dangerously close to a shout, now. John didn’t like it one bit. Nobody shouted at him. Not his Sergeant, not his kids when they went through that horrible snotty phase, not even Holly. Nobody told John what to do and got away with it.
...And look how that turned out.
John bit down on his rising temper and tried to listen past the disrespectful tone to what Matt was actually saying.
"I kissed you and you almost fucking died. Yeah, remember that? I swear McClane, you can get shot, shoot yourself, fighter jet Mack truck blah blah blah, but kiss another guy and...I can’t. I can’t."
Turns out when you let people shout at you, they stop. Matt was shaking his head and his voice was much quieter. Flat and sad. John was pretty sure he hated this tone even more.
"I just – it’s my fault you’re...you worked way too hard and you were probably chain smoking and it’s all because I was being just a gigantic..."
"Prick tease?" He said it quiet so Matt would know he wasn’t mad.
Matt’s mouth dropped open. John was pretty sure he’d never seen him at a loss for words before. But then maybe there were just none left.
"I was gonna go with ‘dumb-ass’ or something but...hey..." Matt muttered. Okay, so John still hadn’t seen it.
"C’mere. Sit." John patted a spot next to himself on the pull-out and Matt eyed him warily. "I’m not gonna molest you, just sit."
“You and me got a real problem,” John said, when Matt did.
“The great John McClane has a problem? Or I’m your problem?”
Matt’s tone was defensive and sulky, but John wasn’t going to rise to the bait. He was done spoiling for a fight.
“I was kinda hoping you could tell me.”
Matt sighed, and looked down at his hands.
“You nearly died. Died, McClane, dead. I gotta tell you, yeah, that’s a problem for me.”
John nearly died a good twenty times the very first day they met. But he wasn’t dumb enough to ask what had changed.
It had been a few short months since that nightmare, but between being laid up on disability and rearranging his life so that Matt fit into it, it felt like ages. The thought of something happening to Matt now, well that was enough to put him on another solid week of bed rest for sure.
“If you do that, do you know what...God, look at me, John.” The use of his first name startled John into doing just that. Really looking. He noticed Matt wasn’t returning the favor. He was staring ahead, with his head ducked enough so his hair draped forward, in a dark little swath. John knew this game. Pay no attention to the guy behind the curtain.
“Seventy percent of the people I call friends, I’ve never even met face-to-face. Without you, I’m a homeless, 30-year-old ex-juvenile offender with the body of a ‘punk teenager’ and nothing to my name except half a load of laundry, a couple dozen slightly-singed DVDs, and a box full of broken toys.”
No matter how many times John did it, he never expected Matt to refer to his precious and now brutally damaged collection that way. But if the pocket protector fits… Yeah, now maybe wasn’t the best moment for John to bring up his theory of being able to find a nice girl.
“But with you...I...” Matt trailed off.
John was going to bring it up anyway. God help him.
“With me, you get a middle-aged, broken-down cop with a bad track-record for substances and an even worse one for relationships. You could have more, Matthew. Kids, picket fences, little league. Dinner with the in-laws, you know?”
“You’re aware that all of that sounds…completely horrifying, right?”
John was in trouble. Yet again.
“Come on McClane,” Matt continued. “You’ve seen me, I can barely keep myself alive, much less a kid. I had a hamster once. It didn’t end well.”
“You keep me alive,” John pointed out. He meant it in every sense of the word. And by the way Matt looked up at him, and smiled shyly, John thought he got it.
“Well, then I guess I’m just selfishly motivated.” Matt looked away again. “Seriously, don’t you think if I wanted that, I’d be doing it by now? This is what I have.” His hands fidgeted in his lap. “…And I want to keep it.”
Huh. Fancy that.
Yeah, maybe there were all kinds of reasons this might be a bad idea, but turned out Matt had reasons of his own. And when it came right down to it, John figured none of them were worth a whole hell of a lot anyhow. Because at the end of the day John knew, like he’d known the first minute Matt climbed up in his personal space and made himself at home, that John just damn well wasn’t cut out to deny the kid anything he wanted.
The trick with Matt, was sussing that part out. But once they got it nailed down, well then for John it was a done deal. And maybe it was a good thing, but it was clear that Matt had yet to realize this little gem, because he was still talking.
"As long as I can,” Matt went on. “...And it doesn’t have to be...what we did last week. I mean, I’m here, and it works and it worked before we...and okay so who knew big, bald and gruff could make me feel special in the bathing suit area, but there’s other stuff that matters. Right? And if I can’t have all of it, then...I’ll take just the parts that I need. We can go back to just being us without being...you know, us.”
On second thought, hold the fuckin’ phone.
Sometimes John didn’t know if he was just too slow to keep up, or if Matt was actually making as little sense as he seemed to be. Matt wanted this, but he didn’t. It worked, but it didn’t have to. John was getting a headache.
And he was beginning to suspect that maybe Matt actually had more than one brain crammed into that freaky head of his. And at least one of them had to belong to a woman.
“If I recall,” John said slowly, “you said I could touch you and you wouldn’t break.”
“That’s when I thought I could say the same for you.”
Oh. Mother of...why didn’t the kid just say so?
“That’s what this is about? You think this thing happened ‘cause you overwhelmed me with your amazing sexual magnetism?”
“Your words, not mine, McClane.” Matt looked at him sideways, through the fringe of his mop. God, John’s fingers just itched to brush it out of his eyes whenever he did that. “But…is it that big a stretch?”
Aw, Christ, kid.
“I’m not sayin’ you didn’t. I’m just sayin’ that’s not what pulled the trigger here.” Matt looked right at him now, with such an obvious look of fervent hope, that John was hard pressed not to reach out and stroke his thumb over the kid’s cheek. And probably get another flinch for his trouble. “Really,” he promised, instead. “Doc says so.”
Matt’s brows knitted, like he needed further convincing.
“Lemme show you somethin’. Grab that,” John said, pointing at the little portfolio full of hospital pamphlets Matt always kept nearby. “There’s one in there you should look at.”
Matt sifted through the pile of booklets, like he already knew the one to pull. Sure enough, he held it up for John.
“Resuming Sexual Intimacy?” he asked, the sarcastic tone didn’t hide the fact that he was blushing furiously. Heh, cute.
“So then you know this already,” John said. “Point is, once you’re healed up, you’re supposed to. Resume.”
“Yeah. I – John, I know. But resume means you were doing it before and it didn’t...this is for people who...it’s for men and women. Not...”
“Holy shit McClane, do you always have to...” Matt broke off and sighed. “Yeah, I guess. I don’t know if that’s my preferred term yet though.” He gave a little grimace that looked like it was trying to be a smile.
“What do you wanna hear then?” John asked. “Pansy? Fag? People are gonna say that shit, Matt. What I’m telling you is, it doesn’t matter.”
Matt was looking down at his lap again. At the aggressive kaleidoscope of warning colors and dire titles spread out over his knees like some ugly, condescending work of modern art.
“I know it doesn’t.” He didn’t sound sure. “I mean, it doesn’t, not to me. But it matters to you. Right? I heard you say it, McClane. When I made you go all coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs and start talking to yourself. It makes a difference to you that I’m...what we did...it freaked you out, overloaded your system or something.”
John didn’t know what to make of Matt comparing him to a computer, so he let it go for now.
“Gimme a little credit, kid, Jesus.” John said. “That was then. Yeah, it was fuckin’ weird, at first. I didn’t know it was possible. I like women. Always have. It didn’t make sense to me, this thing with you. Still doesn’t, much. But like I keep telling you – doesn’t matter. It’s possible, and now I know it. That’s what matters.”
“So you’re over it? Good with it?” Matt flipped a hand through the air. “Like that?”
“Yeah kid,” John said. Because as always, once Matt got it nailed down, then for John it was a done deal. “Like that.”
Matt was staring at him. It was going to take him some time to discover that little gem John was still hiding. And that was probably still a good thing, for now.
“What about you?” John needed to know. “Over it? Good with it?”
“Me?” Matt smirked. “You had me at ‘that guy’.”
John’s heart didn’t feel like it was in danger of stopping at all. It felt warm, and bigger somehow; spread out, like the stretch after a being asleep too long.
“See? This? You and me? This isn’t stressful, it’s relaxing. When was the last time you felt stressed out after sex, kid?”
Matt laughed a little, just a little snicker through his nose.
“Now, you ducking me, and then wanting a fight, and giving me a hard time on everything on the other hand...” John felt he should get this part across. “Sex good. Fighting bad.”
"Alright, alright I get it, Clan of the Cave Bear." Matt laughed, a real one this time. "You know in some circles I'm actually considered to be pretty smart."
“So can you stop twitching and hovering and avoiding the hell out of me now?” Matt opened his mouth and John cut him off before any bullshit could come out of it. “What’d I tell you about lying? Just go get your laptop already if you really, truly, have any work to do. Because ...If I have to wake up without you next to me one more time I’m gonna be pissed. And that’s bad for my blood pressure.”
“Yeah.” He was smiling as he gathered up all the pamphlets and shoved them back in their little folder. “I think I can handle that.”
Then he looked at John and reached out to take a tentative hold of his index finger.
John smiled and wrapped his whole hand around Matt’s fingers instead. It got him a happy-sounding sigh. But...
“You know, the booklet thingy does say I should hold off sexual activity for two to three weeks.”
It was apparently Matt's turn to be confused.
“So...” he said, questioningly.
“So, we don’t have sex,” John said.
“For two weeks.”
“Two to three.”
“Gimme a break, you’re not gonna last that long.”
“Last? Oh, you have no idea how long I can last.”
“But you'll show me in two weeks, huh?”
“You’re damn straight. Or wait, not so much anymore, huh?”
"You got a real smart mouth you know that?" John figured it was safe now. He reached out to cup Matt’s jaw and run his thumb over the object in question. "What else can you do with it?"
Matt didn’t flinch. He closed his eyes and sighed.
"Nothing I can show you right now. Dammit!" he swore.
"See,” John said, letting his hand fall away. “You ain’t gonna last three weeks."
"Yeah, who’s the prick tease now?"
John leaned closer.
"Ohhhh kid," he let his voice rumble in Matt’s ear, running the back of his knuckles slowly up Matt's arm and watching the goose bumps break out in their wake. He slid the flat of his palm over Matt’s shoulder and curled it around the nape of his neck. "You got no idea."
John hid his smile in his Matt’s hair at the whimper and shiver he got in response. Then he pulled away and settled back with his hands behind his head, before his own heart rate could catch up with what he hoped Matt’s was clocking.
"Is it hot in here or is it just you? Go grab me a soda wouldja?"
"Uh...yeah." Matt shook his head like he was trying to clear it, before he climbed off the pull-out. "You better take advantage of this bed rest thing while you can, old man." He conspicuously adjusted his jeans. "You. Are going. To need it."
John just smiled and waited for Matt to pass through ass-slapping range on his way around the couch and into the kitchen.
The next couple of weeks might not be so bad after all.
And if you leave me a hundred times
A hundred times I'll take you back
I'm yours whenever you want me
I'm not too proud to shout it, tell the world about it
‘Cause I – I love you
This old heart, is weak for you.
– Isley Brothers
'Snick Aug 2010