It seems late when John hears the clatter of the locks on the front door, the city outside quieted to its usual evening rumble. Matt should be able to tell from the smell of Chinese takeout that he's not alone, but John doesn't hear his customary greeting. After a minute, he realizes that's because Matt's on the phone, and from his infrequent responses, it sounds like whoever he's talking to is using enough words for the both of them; one of Matt's friends must be on a rant again. Some of those kids use more words in a day than John does in a month.
John's been standing in front of the closet for he doesn't know how long, staring at his dress uniform. He only wears it for medals and funerals, and whenever he has to show up so they can drape something on him, it's always at the tip of his tongue to quip that he'd rather be at a funeral. He really hopes he didn't say that at the thing after the fire sale. He knows he's not the most sensitive guy, and he does really hate being trotted out for special ceremonies like that, but he regrets even having thought it now. He hopes he went with the line about whether he's ever "intelligently performed" any of his heroic deeds. It's a better one, even if it's a chestnut.
"Yeah. Yeah, man, I know." John hears Matt's still slightly uneven steps coming towards the bedroom, and he squats down to pick up the shoes he was going to buff. "Sure, man. Whatever. Boot him, don't boot him, I don't care. Just post something on the boards about it, okay? I gotta go." He hears Matt's phone snap shut, and when he turns, Matt's leaning against the door frame.
"You picked up dinner?" There's nothing hiding in Matt's tone, just a confirmation of facts, and John is thankful for it. He's been worn down by a couple rough days, press camped out at the precinct and talk everywhere about the investigation, on top of all the cases for regular citizens that don't become any less important when something big like this happens.
John pushes back up and scans the shelf for the cloth that should have been in the bag with the shoes. He thinks he must really be getting old if he can't find stuff that's been in the same spot for the past ten years. "Yeah. That okay?"
"Sure," Matt says. John doesn't move from in front of the closet, and Matt crosses the floor to stand behind him. "Rough day?"
His attempt at a reply comes out in a quiet moan as Matt's fingers settle on his arms to knead for few seconds before Matt steps closer and hooks his chin over John's shoulder. Matt's hands skim down John's arms to settle around his waist as they lean into each other. "God, that's nice," John thinks, but the words don't make it past his lips. He just pushes the shit day and his fucking mopey thoughts far away enough to appreciate the warmth at his back.
They still haven't really talked about this thing, but John's getting more used to it every day, just like he'd gotten used to having Matt's noise in an apartment that had been too quiet for too long. It's still weird when he stops to think about it – not bad, but certainly different – but there's no denying that parts of it feel as right as what he'd had with Holly or any other woman. He could maybe stumble into a description if he had the kid's tendency to use eighty words where five would do, but he's content to just live it, and the switch from soft curves to trim muscle isn't as jarring as he would've thought. It's good to know that the old dog must still have a few new tricks left.
He's still enjoying the silence when Matt speaks up again. "I heard, you know. About the shooting. Friend of yours?"
John doesn't know where Matt gets his information, since his hatred of mass media appears to be genuine and inclusive of all the New York papers. He had been hoping, since it hadn't come up immediately, that they could somehow avoid this conversation, but a cop dying on the job is the type of big news that sticks around. "We weren't real close, but he's from my precinct, yeah."
He feels Matt's arms tighten a little around him and John drops his shoes back to the floor since he is clearly not going to get to them anytime soon. "I don't suppose you want to talk about it." It's clear from his tone that Matt's not expecting John to open up, but Matt also wouldn't have brought it up if he hadn't felt like it needed talking about.
The fact that Matt had brought it up is part of what's making this whole thing they have not so weird after all. Matt likes to talk things through, words spilling from him until he organizes his thoughts into a point, regardless of the subject. 'Talking about his feelings' is just one more piece of the endless commentary. Maybe that's a generational thing, or a geek thing. It's good for them, he supposes, that Matt's the way he is; John doesn't know how any couple could work with two carbon copies of grunting and cursing at sports teams, unless it's just sex, and this sure isn't. Even though they're both men, John can still see a 'dynamic' that's good for them. All those years of marriage counseling had at least taught him how relationships were supposed to work, even if his hadn't.
"Good guess," John says, and doesn't volunteer anything else. The last fuckin' thing John needs is more wasted time thinking about dumb luck and another kid in the city stuck growing up without a father.
He just nods his confirmation when Matt asks, "The funeral's Thursday?" Matt's voice is softer and even closer to John's ear when he adds, "Would…would you like me to go?" so when John turns sharply at that, involuntarily, he nearly clips Matt, who's forced to take a step back. "I mean, not, like, with you, but I could just be there. If you want."
"I don't think that's such a good idea," John says. "That's a terrible fucking idea, is what that is." he thinks.
Matt summons his self-deprecating smile, and shoves his hands in his pockets, but he meets John's eyes again to speak. "No, I guess not. I just thought… Would Holly have gone with you?"
John has to pause to consider that. "I don't know. Maybe. She might've known the family, if she'd still been around." Yeah, maybe. Holly'd never really been a cop's wife though. She'd respected it, John thinks, but it hadn't ever been the life she had really wanted.
The pause after John's answer grows, before Matt takes a deep breath and asks, "Am I ever going to know any of the families?"
"Oh" John realizes. So that's what they're talking about. Really, the only thing surprising about that question is that it hadn't come up yet. John closes his eyes for a second, because the last god-damned thing he needs, on top of the pile of shit that has been his day, is a discussion about the 'nature of their relationship.' John tries to keep the bubble of anger he feels welling up at too much out of his voice. "Matt. This is not about us. It's not about me. It's about Joey, and Joey's wife, and his kid, and his partner."
Matt backs up a couple more steps to the dresser and leans against it, lacing his fingers together like he's reining himself in. "I know. I don't…" he pauses, and then looks up, steadier and splays his hands out. "I don't want to fight about it." He smiles then. "I don't even really want to talk about it. I just want to know. If I'm not supposed to talk about us, I need to know." Then his smile widens into a grin like he's trying to diffuse the tension. "Because I was really looking forward to using you to get Hannah to stop hitting on me, so if I need a plan B, I'd better get moving." When John doesn't respond to the joke, Matt sobers and shifts a bit on his feet, clearly uncomfortable again. "The thing is, though… that coulda been you, alright?"
At least this is a fight John knows the script for. "Yeah, like that's news? We each could have been dead to any one of a hundred bullets the day we met, so don't think the 'life is short' pep talk is going to do anything here."
"No, that's not it. I just…" Matt turns away in his fidgeting, and John nearly loses his quiet words to the city noise outside. "I just don't want to wonder if I'm going to be welcome at your funeral." John considers pretending that he hadn't heard it. This is so completely not a conversation he is ready to have.
In the end, he drops a hand onto Matt's shoulder, tugging him back towards the kitchen. "C'mon, let's eat before it gets any colder." When Matt doesn't move right away, he tugs again. "Later, okay?"
Matt stays for dinner, but they share less than a dozen words while they eat, and he leaves right after they finish. He doesn't make any excuses, just says he's going to go. He's done that before, though not often, and not recently. John is tempted to reframe the memory of those past nights, wondering if there'd been something wrong then too, and he just hadn't noticed.
Work the next day is uneventful but busy. When he gets back to his desk late in the afternoon, there's a message on his voice mail from Matt, saying not to expect him for dinner that night. John could have called it a coincidence, except there's no reason that Matt wouldn't have tried his cell phone. No reason other than he wanted to leave a message rather than talk to John directly.
When John calls on Wednesday to tell Matt that he'll be out at the wake for the family, it goes straight to voice mail. He leaves a message, and doesn't try calling again.
Going to the wake is an obligation as much as anything else. Tina won't notice that he's there, and it's not a huge place. He can tell as he walks up to the building that they're straddling the line between the show of respect Joey deserves for his sacrifice, and an uncomfortable number of people stuffed into the rooms. The guys would know anyone who doesn't show up though, and while John doesn't give a rat's ass whether any of them wants to be his friend, the last thing he wants is anyone to get the wrong idea and think that he doesn't respect.
He joins in the toasts that he's in the room for, nursing a glass of scotch long enough to make a circuit through the crowd, and says all the right things to any relatives he runs across. He really hadn't known Joey well enough to have stories to share, but he pauses a couple of times near knots of the younger patrolmen who would have known Joey better, and nods along as he listens to theirs.
Duty done, and squashing down the thought of who'll be there when it's John's turn to go, he heads home, looking forward to sleep, if not his empty apartment.
Thursday dawns bright enough through overcast skies and with the promise of clear, cold weather on the radio. John's never been comfortable with funerals on sunny days. The faded memory of pulp detective novels from when he was a kid still has him expecting the atmosphere to match the events, but traffic in the city is already going to be a nightmare, and John is not stupid. No one needs today to be worse than it already has to be, so he'll be grateful for small blessings wherever they appear.
Matt would say there's a million people at the funeral. John estimates the crowd at closer to five thousand, but that's still a damn lot of people in one place. It seems like half of Joey's neighborhood is crowded inside, so John's content to wait out on the street in the sea of blue and pay his final respects in his head. It strikes him as he stands there that Matt could've shown up, and no one would have noticed. There are people John knows in the crowd, but more acquaintances than friends, and with all the wisdom of Monday morning quarterbacking, John wishes he'd just told the kid he could come get lost on the outskirts of the crowd, and skipped the whole discussion. He's still not sure how much Matt gets the duty thing, and even though John would never have wished for this demonstration, he's proud of it. This is part of the conversation they need to have, and John would be glad of saving the thousand words for Matt having seen this first-hand.
When he gets back to his place on that evening, after making it through the funeral and the rest of his shift, John's chilled and wrung out and looking forward to putting his feet up and comfortable clothes, and maybe drinking himself to sleep. Matt is sitting on the couch with his laptop.
He stands up as John shuts the door, and gestures towards the kitchen with what must be an empty mug. "Coffee? There's whiskey to put in it. Or just whiskey?" Like they haven't just gone two days without speaking, like they aren't in the middle of what John is pretty sure is a fight. "John?" He has no idea what is going on here. He had been halfway to planning what he was going to do with the hole in his chest if Matt just disappeared. He would really like to sleep for about a week.
When he still doesn't say anything, and hasn't managed to move more than two steps from the door, Matt walks over to him, and snaps his fingers in John's face. "Hello?"
Fingers wrap around his hand, warm fingers, even though it's cool in the apartment, because what Matt considers a decent laptop would also make a decent space heater.
"I'm sorry," Matt says, leaning in to follow his apology with a kiss. John is still a little shell-shocked, trying to figure out how they got from there to here, and after a moment, Matt pulls back, unsure, at John's lack of response.
Finally, John manages to string some words together. "What've you got to be sorry for?" It has been an awfully long time since John has been right in a relationship, and he's not sure this is the end of that streak.
Matt grins, easy like he does when they slip into their normal banter. "I'm sorry I let you be an asshole and try to run me off. I just thought it'd be easier to deal with, you know, after."
When he says it like that, it seems so reasonable. It seems like something John would do.
"Something John would do" is not a good guideline for how to make a relationship work.
John must look like he's got something to say, even though he completely does not, because Matt waves him off and keeps talking. "Look, some of my best friends, and probably 80% of my coworkers, are people who I have never met. There are people who I talked to every day for 3 years, and I don't even know their real names. So if you want to tell the world that your private life is none of their goddamned business, I am totally fine with that." Matt appears to be completely earnest.
The nerves between John's brain and his mouth unfreeze enough again for him to mutter, "Yeah, well, maybe I have a fucking problem with it."
That seems to be an answer Matt was unprepared for, and it wipes the smile off his face. "Oh. Sure. I just thought… Well, I mean Lucy seemed… and it didn't. Of course, you'd want someone… No, that's cool…"
Matt moves back over to the couch as he talks, and packs up his stuff, and it's not until he's walking towards the door, bits and pieces of sentences trailing behind him, that John untangles Matt's words and realizes that this conversation is going completely in the wrong direction.
John has to reach out and grab Matt, hauling him back by the collar of his shirt before he gets too far away. "Matt. No. Shit. Shit. That's not it." He spins the kid around so they're facing, and slides Matt's bag off his shoulder to lean it against the wall, out of reach.
Matt looks confused, and sheepish, but he doesn't try to leave again, "We suck so much at this," he says, and seems reassured when John rests his hands on Matt's shoulders.
"Yeah, maybe," John agrees. "C'mere." He pulls Matt back toward the sofa and sits them both down, and Matt turns so that they're facing each other. "Just listen for a minute, okay? Look, I don't want you gone. Okay? If I want you gone, I will tell you." He settles his hands on Matt's knees "We're fine. If you're okay, we're okay. Life's too short for me to do that passive shit." Matt nods, and relaxes into the couch a bit more. "Just, you know, help me out here. Next time this happens, do you think you could let me know whether you're giving me space or leaving me?"
Matt nods and scoots closer. "I'm fine. I meant that. I just wanted to know, y'know?" His fingers settle over the buttons of John's jacket, and John sees the familiar playful gleam enter his eyes. "So, first fight, huh? That means make-up sex?"
"I'm all for getting out of this uniform, but you're sure you don't want to meet some of the guys? I bet I can scare up a poker night or something." John's actions belie his words when he unfastens his cuffs and starts to tug at the hem of Matt's t-shirt.
Matt carries on unbuttoning, pushing John's jacket open to get to his shirt. "I'm terrible at poker. I mean, I'm good at the math, but the bluffing and everything, I get nervous." He shifts on the couch until he's kneeling next to John. "And if you're just playing the odds, you're lucky to break even, and-"
John smile deepens at that, and he cuts Matt off before he can spiral too much further. "Of course you're terrible at poker." He pulls at Matt's belt loops until Matt shifts to straddle John's his lap. "We can do trivia night at the bar, maybe softball in the spring." Tugs again until they're pressed up against each other. "We'll find something." Then he pulls his head back a couple inches, settling his hand on Matt's chest until John's sure he's listening. "You should meet some of the guys. They should know you."
Matt groans theatrically and strains forward to close the distance. "Sure, fine, whatever. C'mon, it's been three days McClane. I'm about to forget how!"
As John settles in to remind him, with the feel of worn denim and warm skin under his palms, any thoughts about anyone else fade away.