Matt hadn't done any sort of survey, but he had always suspected that he had a fair amount of company among geeks when he said that his sexual preference was "yes" rather than male or female. Not that he had any practical experience worth mentioning with men. What it all that boiled down to was this: when presented with one John McClane aggressively invading his personal space, and in the absence of actual life-threatening events, Matt hadn't been as surprised as one might have expected that it turned him on.
It had been a season of firsts. As the end of summer approached, Matt had found himself doing all sorts of things that he couldn't have predicted when it had started. Working for the government. Going to physical therapy appointments to recover from being shot in the knee. Living in New York. He also hadn't expected to spend the summer defending the object of his mostly-platonic man-crush on the internet.
When he was discharged at the end of July, they'd set him up in some sort of halfway house a few miles from the hospital for a couple weeks of outpatient care and the FBI's final attempts to rattle details loose from his brain. Thanks to War10ck, Matt knew as much about the fire sale as pretty much anyone still alive. Maybe more. He'd lost track of the number of times he'd told the story, and the number of feds he'd told it to. He was really looking forward to never thinking about it again.
That said, the escape from the hospital felt a little like freedom, and Matt had wanted to get back in touch with people. He'd needed to find out what the consequences of the fire sale looked like to folks without security clearance. His keepers had loaned him a laptop, barely a step up from the novelty computers that they sold in toy stores, but it was enough to check his email. That was more than he'd done in weeks in the hospital, so he wasn't going to complain too much.
A quick scan of the first page of his inbox had proven that at least some of the reports had mentioned his name, unless there was some other explanation for the "OMG was that you?!?" e-mails from people he hadn't talked to since high school or college. Matt had figured out that he'd been filed as a "person of interest" in the no-man's land between prosecution and commendation, but Google News confirmed that Matt had already dropped off the media's radar. McClane, on the other hand, was everywhere, despite, or maybe because of, not having granted any interviews beyond one pained appearance at a press conference when he was released from the hospital.
As happy as Matt had been to not be the new face of terrorism, he had been curious enough to poke around in the backlog of posts on forums he'd been active in. He hadn't made the cut for instant celebrity there either, probably because he didn't look as dangerous covered in ash and blood in the few stills from security feeds that had surfaced.
By the middle of August, when Matt made the move up to New York, John McClane had become part urban legend, part super hero, part black ops veteran, but he was mostly perceived to be a manufactured front for a government conspiracy. What should have added to his ass-kicking resume was taken as proof that it was a hoax, because no one person could be that capable. There was an extensive, if poorly referenced, Wikipedia entry. An early attempt to fashion him into the new lolcat had thankfully failed due to the scarcity of photos, but there were a few forums where he was still giving Chuck Norris a run for his money.
Whatever the reason for the public's fascination with McClane, the fact that Matt got to continue to enjoy living his life in relative anonymity, when he was the one that'd dragged McClane back to the headlines, made it even worse. Matt's very specific orders not to talk about Thomas Gabriel, his crew, or anything else having to do with the week of the 4th made it even more like watching a train wreck because he couldn't join in the conversation.
He'd been given permission to talk to McClane about it, but it hadn't seemed like the type of thing to mention over the phone. Saying "Hey, how's the weather up in New York, and by the way, did you know you're an internet meme?" lacked something, so it had to wait until after Matt got settled into his apartment before he had a chance to bring it up. By that time, he could have put together a freaking PowerPoint presentation, with graphs, on the growth of the John McClane phenomenon, so he was a little nonplussed when McClane waved him off a couple sentences in, before he even had a chance to pull up the first website.
John had barely glanced away from the television. "Whatever," he said. "Good for them. Everyone needs a hobby."
Clearly McClane had failed to comprehend the enormity of the situation, so Matt pushed on. "Jesus, McClane, how can you not be upset about this?" That got him a little more attention, and John turned to look at him.
"Kid. Hey. Just stop, okay? What part of 'I don't care' would you like me to explain? It's not like they're really talking about me – you said it yourself, it's like I'm a ghost story."
Matt sputters for a second before picking up the thread of his argument. "But it's not just you," he cried. "It's everything about the fire sale. And they're wrong! They're getting everything wrong, and I can't say anything about it." Matt makes a gesture at his laptop that indicates the entirety of the internet. "This all depends on the free exchange of information, verifiable information, and the fact that I am under a gag order about the greatest catastrophe to hit this country while these… these assholes continue to spout off and muddy everything up is not cool, man.
"I mean, everyone knows that They do this," Matt said, and he gestured again, out the window in a way that was supposed to indicate the government, "but I've never been on this side of the mirrored glass, and let me tell you, it sucks."
By this point McClane was eyeing him like he was half crazy, and maybe he was, but this was a Big Deal and Matt was on a mission.
After staring at Matt for a beat, McClane put his hands up, placating, "Matt, Did you ever watch Westerns? Or read Wild West novels?"
Matt stopped to think for a minute and nearly drew a blank. "Old-fashioned vigilante manly-men are really not my thing, McClane," he said, before adding. "Present company excepted." After a few moments of thought while John watches him impassively, he found something. "I've, uh, seen Tombstone," he offered.
John grunted disapprovingly. "Well there's this, whaddyacallit, an archetype, the lone gunslinger, and he always gets killed by some hotshot who wants to prove he's the faster gun. I don't want to be a hero; I know I've told you that. Heroes are only good for getting killed. But if a bunch of internet-writing jerkoffs want to make me into a joke, or tell everyone that I'm a hack who can barely tie his own shoelaces? That is just fine with me." He shrugged. "Unless they're threatening me, or my family, it's just words on a page. Sticks and stones, kid," McClane concluded, and he turned back to the TV.
Matt stared what felt like a full minute, at a loss, before he mumbled, "Sure, okay, I'll give it a rest," and put his laptop aside, but he was still horrified by the idea that there was so much wrong, wrong, wrong out there.
Matt hoped that no one at the FBI is wasting their time googling John McClane, but if they were, he didn't want to do anything to give them a reason to dig. He could bounce his traffic off 8 different servers to cover his tracks, but if anyone did come looking, he didn't want to light up as someone with something worth hiding. That was how he found himself in the horrifying position of creating a sockpuppet and posting from the library, coffeehouses, City Tech, so that he could join in the conversation without people who'd recognize him holding him accountable for the stuff he can't talk about.
Once he cracked open the floodgates that have been holding his opinions back, it was all over. Matt started spending more and more hours by himself, lost in his arguing on the internet, and even though it didn't make him feel any better, he couldn't just walk away. He made notes. He created a file with every news item he can find about McClane, local and national, including a couple interviews that he couldn't believe the guy he'd been hanging out with would ever have agreed to give. He made lists detailing John's good qualities, and a table comparing the things Matt knew to the things the public knew so that he didn't say anything he shouldn't. He spentso much time talking about McClane, that it slipped past his notice that he wasn't doing much talking to him anymore.
From the moment he got out of the hospital, John had been telling himself that it was just a matter of time before Matt got bored of him and moved on to less-bald pastures. Hell, he and Holly had been married with children, not to mention sleeping together, and she hadn't stuck around.
There had been a shaky week or two while he and Matt learned how to get along without thugs and gunfire to unite them, but the sniping had settled into a casual one-upmanship. If they weren't exactly braiding friendship bracelets for each other, at least they had more in common than their first 48 hours' acquaintance would have suggested. They have an ease in each others' company that John really hadn't expected to find again this late in life.
It's the damndest thing when the cooling finally happened, because for a few weeks there, he could have sworn they had been getting along better, not worse. Then, for no reason John could identify, Matt started showing up late for dinner, he was quieter while they ate, and he was constantly checking his phone, like he had somewhere to be, where before he'd seemed happy to sit around for hours talking about his work or John's caseload, watching a movie or listening to John bitch about baseball, or marveling at Giuliani's fear-mongering. They'd left the fire sale well in the rear-view mirror, except for vague griping about the aftermath. They'd had normal conversations, done the type of things things that normal people do. It'd been nice, having someone around again, but John isn't so desperate as to hold on to this paling shadow of friendship like some loser.
He'd sat through four increasingly twitchy dinners, and before they could get to the painful awkwardness of turning the television on after the fifth, John scrubbed his hand over his face and said, "You can go, you know."
That appeared to get Matt's attention. "Wait, what? Go where?"
"Hell if I know," John snapped. "Look, you don't have to waste your time here if there's somewhere you'd rather be. I can watch the Mets lose just as well by myself."
A blush started to rise on Matt's face as he said, "No, I don't have anywhere to be. I'm good. If I can just, er, check my e-mail, I'm set for the night."
And that's it, that's just fuckin' enough. "C'mon kid, what'd I tell you about lying to cops? Go. Go see your girlfriend. No hard feelings."
That set Matt to stammering again. "What? No, there's no girlfriend." The blank look John was trying to hold on his face must have communicated how much he was not buying that, because Matt blundered on, with all of his typical lack of coherence when he's flustered. "Seriously man, no girlfriend, no girl. So totally no girl. It's nothing. It's just embarrassing."
"Boyfriend?" John asks, bemused. That'd go a long way towards explaining why nothing ever happened between the kid and Lucy.
"No! God, no! I mean, not that that's worse, or I wouldn't, but just no. There isn't anyone else. Anyone. God. Can we just drop it?" he pleads. Matt pushes away from the table and limps to the couch, where he slumps into the cushions and puts his feet up on the coffee table before shooting an embarassed puppyish look back at John. "Seriously, can we just not talk about it?"
"There are millions of people in this city," John points out. "You don't need to spend all your time with me, you know."
Matt snorts out a laugh. "I have enough trouble getting around already. I don't need to go out to a bar and get drunk to make it worse."
They haven't been talking about much of anything lately, and it hadn't occurred to John that Matt was less than fine. "Your leg acting up?" he asks.
"It's fine," Matt claimed. "It's sore. Tingly. Fine. How's your shoulder?"
"Fine," John lied. "Doc said she won't clear me to go back to the range to qualify for another couple weeks yet, but it's coming."
John crossed over to the couch and sat down, gesturing for Matt to move his calf into massaging range.
"So another month tied to the desk? How's that going?" Matt asked. John made a rude gesture, and Matt laughed, adding, "If you don't watch out, they're going to promote you to keep you in paperwork," and just like that they're back to normal, or what passed for it.
McClane's suspicion had been enough to pull Matt back from the brink of his message-board addiction, but he still felt like he needed to come clean about at least some of it so he could face McClane with a clear conscience.
He should not have been surprised when the conversation started off like a lead balloon and managed to go downhill from there.
If John felt half as angry as he looked, Matt was in for a world of hurt. "This is what you've been spending all your free time on? God, now I really wish you'd been off getting laid," he said.
The dismissal was enough to get Matt on his feet and busying himself by stacking dishes on the pass-through to the kitchen. "Whatever, man, I thought we were friends. I'm doing this for you."
McClane looked up and waited for eye contact before replying. "No, kid, you're not. You're really not."
Matt stopped before picking up another bowl so that he was free to talk without flinging bits of salad all over. "This is important," he said. "You are important. And it kills me that these idiots - they don't see any of it. It kills me that Joe Dumbass out there doesn't get how close we came to everything falling apart and thinks that sitting in his dorm room wanking about how you ruined America's glorious dissolution into anarcho-primitivism is his god-given right. Nevermind the fact that there will be no internet message boards when the entire country goes dark and he will be the first person voted off the god-damned island!"
"Okay. Okay." McClane looked a little shell-shocked. "Kid. Matt. Just- Let me see if I can clear something up for you. I just want to do my job. I want to get up in the morning, drink some bad coffee, go talk trash at some beat cops and put some bad guys in jail. I want to come home, have a beer and a decent meal, and, God willing, have sex again sometime before I die. I just want to live. I just want to be left alone." He raised a hand to cut off Matt's rebuttal, before standing and moving over towards the counter.
"I don't know any of the people who've got you so riled up, but if they're anything like the blowhards in real life, you are never going to change their minds. They're like bullies, and nothing winds up a bully like a victim who tries to fight back. I get that you think this is important. But you're going off all Don Quixote, and that is not a good call. If really you want to help? Stop it. Just be here, with me, in the real world. Do your damn job and help some real people. Those guys can go fuck themselves."
That was probably not Matt's cue to tip up and kiss John on the lips.
"It's just, I don't really know anyone else here. I spend all my free time with you – no wait, that sounds really bad and that's not my point – I've spent all my free time for the past month with you, or thinking about you, and I am totally okay with that. You're enough. You're it. And I've never met anyone else who was enough. I didn't even really have a best friend growing up. So I really hope that I didn't just fuck this up."
McClane is still sitting on the couch, staring at the bookshelf in the far corner, and Matt's not sure he's heard anything said in the past few minutes, but he's going to keep filling the space with words until a better idea presents itself.
"It's cool, I swear. I'm sorry. That's not what this is about. I haven't been, like, doodling our names in hearts in my notebook. I just really like you, man, and I don't want to lose that because I wasn't thinking with the big head for a minute."
That brings a smirk to McClane's face that Matt can't quite place, and he finally interrupted Matt's stream of words to say, "What, you don't think I'm dreamy? You don't have a life-sized picture of me up on your wall?"
Matt figured that joking about it was a kind of progress. The kind of progress that meant he wasn't going to be violently removed from McClane's life, at least. "Does that mean that we're okay? Because I really, really want us to be okay."
"Sure. I'm adaptable. Practical. I'm good at playing the cards I'm dealt. Just because I didn't see this coming…" He gestured to the other end of the couch. "C'mon, kid. Matt. Sit down before you fall down."
Matt settles himself on the couch, folding himself uneasily into the far third. McClane looked a little closed off, shifting forward to rest elbows on knees, and Matt didn't want to presume that they were still allowed to share space.
"So we're…" he starts.
"We're fine," John finished, and repeated for emphasis. "Fine. Breathe. Just give me a minute, okay?"
Matt shifted to get back up. "I can…"
McClane's hand shot out, grabbing Matt's uninjured knee and squeezing. "Keep your ass on that cushion, and shut up, and just give me a fucking minute, okay?"
Matt gave up, leaning back into the couch and closing his eyes. He thought he could feel McClane watching him, but he kept his eyelids glued shut. It was all he could do to obey McClane's order to stay, and he didn't think he could do it if he was sure of the scrutiny.
He'd nearly given up hope of conversation when he heard McClane shift on the couch next to him. "Here's how this is going to go," he said. "I'm going to ask you a question, and you need to answer it. Honestly. Remember what I said about lying to cops." McClane warned. Matt nodded, and waited as calmly as he could under McClane's stare.
"I know you said you didn't plan for... that, but given that it happened: What do you want?"
Matt had been hoping for a fact question. He wanted to sound more like he knew what he was doing and less like a stupid kid, but clearly he wasn't going to get that wish. "I meant what I said. It's cool. We're cool. We can just…" the words trailed away when his skittering gaze landed back on John's face, and he sighed, resigned to having to put it into words. "Obviously, I'm… interested. I mean, it's you. And you're…" He couldn't make himself put that into words, so he gestured at McClane's body, and hoped his expression sold it. "I wouldn't have… it was unexpected, but not… unprecedented."
"So you've done this before?" John asked. "Kissed guys? Dated a guy?"
Matt felt a blush rising at having to admit how not in control of the situation he was. "Not really. Sort of. A couple times in college. You know, parties," he said, though he wasn't at all sure that McClane does know. He can't picture a young John, drunk or high and kissing whatever lips happened to be closest.
"So if it were up to you, you'd want to?"
Matt was about done baring his soul, but he had to trust McClane wasn't putting him through the most excrutiating conversation in the history of ever for nothing. "Yeah. I. Yeah. I'd want to."
John shifted, like he was getting ready to stand up, and Matt braced himself for expulsion. But then John said, "Okay."
"Okay, like, okay?
The smirk was back on John's face. "Yeah, like, okay."
Of course, Matt can't leave well enough alone, and he barely made it into the first inning before he needed to ask questions.
"Never? So you haven't ever…?"
"Picked up a guy to fuck? I'm a cop, Matt. That's all the high-risk behavior I've ever needed." He paused before adding, "And I thought Holly was it for me for a long time," and leaned forward to pick up the remote.
"So you're not… Are we…? Because I can…"
John leaned over, curving his hands around Matt's jaw and trapping his lips under a thumb. "Do you think we could be done talking now?" He pressed his fingers more firmly into Matt's skin when he went to open his mouth to reply. "No." John said. "Just nod your head. Like you're ever done talking," he sighed. He pulled Matt towards him and kissed him once, firmly, but with something that felt like promise. "Enough. Okay?" Matt nodded, and when John let him go to he settled back into the couch, a little closer to the dip in the cushion that delineated John's side from Matt's.
"We don't have to figure it all out today. Just shut up and watch the game."