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Ain't No Sunshine

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April Showers.

 

Matt can hear the water again. The sharp, staccato tapping of the drops hitting the hardwood like rain.

 

He sighs and sets his palms to the edge of his desk, shoving himself back and away from the solitary cup of ramen, and the episode of Death Note playing out silently on his screen.

 

“Car one-fourteen, please call Central,” the scanner rig to his right crackles, and Matt reaches out to flick its power button to the ‘off’ position before he gets up.

 

He could turn his speakers back on too, but he’s seen this one – where Light orchestrates the bus-jacking – a million times now, and he closes the window instead of hitting pause. It’s been twelve minutes into the shift change and he hasn’t heard McClane sign on, so Matt figures he’s good to shut down for a couple hours.

 

His ramen’s cold anyway. Plus, it’s shrimp. God only knows what he was thinking buying any flavour other than Original. Whatever ‘original’ is supposed to taste like.

 

Matt chucks the unappealing mass of rubbery, over-saturated noodles on his way to retrieve the bucket from the cupboard under the sink. It’s gotten dark at some point, and the muscles in his neck and shoulders feel bunched up, with a rusty sort of cold burn, like twisted bundles of circuit wire; overloaded and smoking even though it’s cool, even chilly, in the apartment.

 

It used to bother him but it’s funny how he’s gotten used to sort of ignoring his surroundings again. It took a while though. Even now, it takes a deliberate effort not to look around himself and take stock. He’s well aware this apartment is even more shitty and forlorn than his last. He has a mattress and a three-seater couch a buddy of one of his guildmates was getting rid of, and a kickass new setup – a decent gaming rig, that actually cost nearly twice what he paid for the Lenovo and the old Linux box he ripped apart to make his main dev, which he’s relatively happy with, and three brand new LCD displays – and that’s about it.

 

He thought about getting a TV, but he watches everything online anyway. Although he isn’t entirely sure why he has a couch without one, and nobody ever around to sit on it. Just because the place looks like even more of a Siberian gulag without it, is reason enough maybe – nothing on the walls except the anonymous grayish primer that seems to come standard in places like this.

 

He hasn’t bothered unpacking what the fire sale left of his collectibles either. For a while it was almost hard to get motivated to build again at all, knowing now the way things can get torn down – or blown up – so quickly. It took a couple months for him to even want anything more than the mattress and the laptop he moved in with.

 

Just material possessions anyway, Matt figured, until he finally looked around one night and made a Note to Self:  Stop being so pathetic.

 

This place is a bachelor, fittingly, but with more square footage so technically an upgrade. There’s always the usual platitude that at least it’s warm and dry, except for where it’s actually cold and currently leaking.

 

But it’s his, with easy access to the breaker panel, and it’s private. And as Matt would have learned this year, if he hadn’t already been an arguably rabid proponent – privacy is a highly underrated commodity. Whether you’re talking about guarding your 401k from the Thomas Gabriels of the world, or just recently survived sharing living quarters with a dude as space-consuming and as territorial as the world’s one and only John McClane.

 

Matt puts his ear to his shoulder, in an attempt to stretch some of the tension out of his neck, and makes his way back over to the window. It’s getting easier every day to spot the leak and set the bucket right under it; the water damage on the ceiling is starting to leave an ugly brownish stain in the plaster.

 

“Nice,” he mutters down at the moisture seeping into his sock, reminding him of the puddle that’s already formed on the floor. It feels too warm to be from the frigid April rain outside, trickling down the window pane and washing the fire escape. He’d be annoyed he’s forgotten to grab paper towels, but then he remembers he hasn’t been to the grocery store in weeks and he doesn’t have any anyway.

 

Matt strips his t-shirt off and tosses it down beside the bucket, shoves it around with the toe of his already-damp foot. He needs to do laundry soon, too.

 

The guy upstairs has an illegal washer/dryer combo he’s somehow hiding from the landlord, and it screws up the pressure in the pipes somehow, Matt’s pretty sure of that now. There’s no way the trap on his sink leaks this bad, this often, and leaves no fucking evidence of a problem every time the plumber shows up – after days of Matt’s persistent emails, and phone calls, and late-night knocking on the Super’s door.

 

The Superintendant’s name is Salvio, and he’s kind of hot, if Matt thinks about it. Which he never would have, before— well just before. The guy isn’t gorgeous or anything, but pretty solidly good looking and his teeth stand out, white, against the teak of his smooth, dark complexion when he smiles. Which he does a lot, even when Matt wakes him up in the middle of the night. Which is maybe why he keeps doing it.

 

Matt stretches again, before dropping his sweatpants too, stepping out of them and kicking them off in the general direction of his ‘bed’. A hot shower would be of the good right about now.

 

***

 

Matt turns the shower on, and then goes for his toothbrush, giving the shitty water pressure some time to coax the hot water from the boiler room all the way up to the second floor. He thinks about Salvio again, and as tempted as he is, he knows the visit won’t help him with his amphibious living situation any more than the last three times.

 

Today’s Note to Self: Try being a grownup for a change.

 

He spits in the sink and rinses it out, and with minty fresh breath, addresses himself with his new self-sufficiency mantra. WWJD.

 

“What would John do?” Matt asks his reflection.

 

Stomp upstairs and toss the big biker dude who lives there around a while, until he gives up the washer/dryer, probably, Matt thinks, as he eyes himself in the mirror.

 

He looks skeptically over his own slight, wiry physique, resisting the urge to flex anything. He fails and ends up examining his triceps and thinking about that gym four blocks over he had planned to join when he got settled. Then he ponders the appropriate parameters to define “settled” while he prods at the dark spots under his eyes. He can’t be completely sure they aren’t deeper than they were yesterday.

 

Steam is starting to rise and curl in the shower now. Matt reaches in to adjust the temperature, just a little. Hot showers are awesome, no matter what McClane says, and there’s nobody here to complain about the water bill when the mirror fogs up and the wallpaper starts to peel.

 

He takes a last look and rubs appraisingly at the stubble on his jaw before he drops his boxers and steps in. He could go another day or so without a shave, probably. It’s not like he has anybody to worry about impressing. 

 

Matt sighs and ducks his head under the spray, letting it soak his hair and flow down his back, the heat soothing the ropes of tight tension corded through his neck and shoulders.

 

This leak thing is stressing him out more than it probably should, but it really is a bit of a problem. And doing whatever John would do, just might not be the right course of action this time. Sure it works for killing helicopters with cars, and blowing up power plants, but Matt fails to see how shooting himself in the shoulder would be an effective neighbourhood relationship management strategy.  

 

He can just picture it. McClane showing up at the door with that semi-aggressive way he has, shoving a badge in the guy’s face, calling him things like ‘pal’ and ‘dickhead’. Matt laughs a little to himself as he starts to lather up, the image of big bad Mr 304 scowling defensively out of his doorway with the chain on irresistibly dredging up memories of the first moment he’d ever laid eyes on John.


Sure he’d acted like a bit of a wad, but he might have reined it in a little if he had’ve been completely convinced McClane was a cop in the first place. He didn’t look like any cop Matt had ever seen, all leather and a tough-guy Bic job with an obvious ‘screw the rules’ attitude. None of that bitchy, officious, by-the-book tone Matt was used to, the one that said you don’t screw the rules, the rules screw you.

 

McClane didn’t need The Tone. Just that steady, lack of time for any bullshit, his self assured ease that whatever shit motherfuckers could throw down, said shit would be handled. Just the solid breadth of him, and that steely, x-ray bit he could do with his eyes.

 

God he was an intimidating son of a bitch when you didn’t know him. And sometimes even more so, when you did.

 

Which is a weird thought to have, Matt thinks, as his hand finds its way inevitably to his dick. It’s probably counterproductive to tease himself to half mast, running lazy fingers down his slowly growing length.

 

He should be thinking about something else, probably about the leak, or maybe even about his Superintendant, who always smiles at him. Who is tall and well built, and has soft-looking black hair that’s long enough to frame his face in waves, falling nearly to his shoulders, instead of being bald and bulky and 100% off limits. So it’s a bad idea when Matt twists his wrist, and gets his second hand in on the act, tugging on his balls and feeling himself harden and rise, cataloguing the change in weight and lift as his shaft swells in his hand.

 

There’s a reason he doesn’t think about McClane when he does this. McClane is straight. And not just straight the way Matt is. Or was. And was perfectly happy with, right up until the best worst-ever summer of his life, thanks.

 

But the picture is in his head already; McClane, all aggressive and pushy with the hulking, heavy-set guy one floor above Matt’s head right this minute. Never one to back down, getting in the face of the taller man, maybe shoving him around a little.  He’s hard enough to fill his palm now, stroking under the spray at a leisurely pace.

 

It’s just stupid, because McClane isn’t just straight, he’s the straightest man in America. He’s a paragon of macho-manly heterosexual testosterone…ity …ness. Whatever. He’s straight. Arrow straight. Ram-rod straight – and DAMN if the word ram-rod isn’t dirty, Matt just doesn’t know what is. His cock kicks a little against his thumb at the thought, and Matt squeezes, bites his lip hard enough for the stab of pain to slow this down, draw it out.

 

He tries not to think about anything in particular. Tries just to focus on the disembodied free-floating sense of need, the slow, fluid energy starting to build everywhere; concentrates on the feel of it bubbling and flowing where it’s needed, clearing all the tension out of his stiff, aching body.

 

But the McClane in his head has the overbearing biker dude backed against the wall, maybe even with a blunt-fingered hand at the thick throat, and the first spike of pleasure surprises him, lancing up through his body and leaving warmth trickling slowly down his spine in its wake.

 

He should really stop doing this. It’s not doing anyone any good. Matt needs this – these age-inappropriate, entirely unattainable, hero-worshippy fantasies – like a hole in his head. And McClane doesn’t need anyone period. He especially doesn’t need anyone listening to police scanners or checking up on him, or stalking him, if Matt is being real about this. McClane can take care of himself.

 

…And Matt can bet he doesn’t fantasize about scrawny messed up hacker kids when he does it.

 

The uninvited flash that thought brings him of McClane doing this is the final nail in the coffin. The image of John, one hand braced against the wall with water running a smooth path over the curve of his skull to the back of his neck and down over the wide, brawned shoulder. The muscles in his upper arm shifting slowly under gleaming wet skin as he jacks himself off, slow and deliberate just like Matt is now.

 

The next ripple of feeling up his spine is deeper, with a smoother edge. Matt tips his head back and lets the waves of it spread and push through him, gives over to the goosebumps erupting everywhere, the slow, shuddery shiver rolling over him, and over again.

 

His knees threaten to buckle and he nearly chokes when he comes. He has to turn the water off to keep from drowning; crumpling against the treacherous support of the slippery tile and fumbling at the faucet with a shaking hand.


This, is absolutely not What McClane Would Do.

 

After a few gasping coughs, Matt twists the faucet back open again, just to drown out the heaving sound of his ragged, recovering breaths; the tip-tapping of water dripping from his hair and elbows too much like the sound that – between the relentless April rain and the current state of his accommodations – seems to haunt his dreams and his waking hours everywhere he goes these days.

 

He lowers his head under the water again, breathing slow and careful, and letting it pound down over him until it starts to run cold. It’s no wonder the rent in this place is what it is.

 

Matt washes everything again, including the tile, but even as he scrubs he knows he won’t be able to wash off the invisible stain of something vague and inexplicably like failure.

 

He has really got to stop doing this. All of it. He should stop tracking police frequencies and staying up all night listening for the words ‘officer down’ or badge number 7479. He should stop obsessively waiting, strung tight with equal parts hope and dread, to hear the gritty, laid back silk-and-gravel tones of that voice. Because if he does hear McClane, he’ll spend the next eight hours krazy-glued to the radio, listening to him flirt with Doreen on dispatch all night.

 

Doreen is even older than John. It’s disgusting. And somehow so damn good Matt can never bring himself to shut it off. There’s something about the way he talks to her—  or maybe it’s the way John talks, period. The man has got a mouth on him, and Matt can only imagine but he can bet John likes to talk dirty in bed.

 

Unbelievably, his spent, wilting cock gives a weak twitch of renewed interest. God, something is deeply wrong with him.

 

“No,” he says out loud, like this time his body will obey him, and let him keep the promise to himself that what just happened has happened for the last time. He doesn’t bother making any such vow, though.  He knows the words would be just as worthless and empty as they were the time before, and the time before that.

 

Just like he knows he has a little over seven hours to get some fucking sleep if he wants to be up in time to catch the shift change in the morning.

 

Note to self: Get the fuck over John McClane.

  

***

 

He wakes up panting and sweating, and he’s not sure but he thinks he may have been shouting. As he waits for the flames behind his eyelids to fade into the ugly stucco patterns of his own ceiling, the sound of automatic gunfire is replaced by the rapidfire tapping of water again.

 

By this point Matt is just sort of fed up with the nightmares. They’d bother him less if they didn’t fucking wake him up. He’s lost track of the last time he actually slept six or seven hours in a solid block. The last time he remembers doing what could be classified as sleeping ‘well’ was back when he was bunking in with McClane, and more or less legit mainlining codeine.

 

He’s tried Ambien a couple of times, and yes, it got old pretty fast waking up to find he’d gotten up at some point and taken a piss with the toilet lid closed. But then there was the night he woke up buck naked at the kitchen counter with an old optical mouse in his hand, apparently trying to plug it into the toaster. And then the Heath Ledger thing happened. And Matt was officially done.

 

The dreams aren’t even the real issue, he thinks, as he picks the sheets carefully away from the damp stickiness of his skin and rolls to his feet on the hardwood. It’s one thing for nightmares to be waking him up. But it’s completely another for the incessant drip-drip-drip from over by the window to be keeping him that way.

 

Matt is halfway to the sink before he remembers he already left the bucket under the leak. The sound of water is coming from somewhere else. His apartment is officially porous. Fuck.

 

He’s all-the-way awake now, pacing the floor in his bare feet and trying not to have a complete system meltdown.

 

He’s got this, he tells himself. He is mature, and self-sufficient. Okay maybe not mature but the second part, totally. Has been since forever. He’s lived alone and done a perfectly fine job of it right up until he went out and got shot and had his apartment blown up by French parkour super-mercenaries and had to end up sharing – or trying to share – living space with John McClane. He will handle this in an independent, adult-type manner.

 

So. …What would McClane do?

 

Probably go upstairs, elbow Mr All-night Laundromat out of the way and gruffly announce he can’t take any more of this shit and he’s here to save the fucking day and fix it. But since Matt doesn’t have the requisite tools – attitude being one of them – or anything like the requisite know how, he scratches the idea. 

 

It’s nearly 2 am. He finds a t-shirt and a pair of flipflops and heads downstairs anyway.

 

***

 

It takes a few minutes for Salvio to answer the door, but he always does – sort of a rare thing for a Jersey Super – so Matt waits. He runs his fingers through his hair and tries to keep from attempting to look into the peep hole.

 

When Salvio does come to the door, his eyes look kind of tired, but that hair of his is perfect. Matt resists the urge to paw self-consciously at the disaster on his own head again, and wonders absently if the guy actually combed it before answering the door.

 

“Matt. Hey.”

 

Salvio’s gaze travels over him, and it takes a little effort from Matt not to follow it. He’s not sure this t-shirt is clean. In fact, if this is the one he was wearing when he spilled Code Red all over himself while playing Bust-a-Move 4 on an old PS2 emulator, he really doesn’t need to know it right now.

 

“Hey, man. Hi. Sorry to— God, what time is it anyway?”

 

Salvio just flashes his Colgate smile. “To what do I owe the pleasure?"

 

 “Not a hundred percent sure,” Matt answers, truthfully. “You’d have to ask 304.”

 

“That leak back again?”

 

“‘Back’ would imply that it at some point left, which it did not. But it— yeah, it’s definitely making its presence known. And now it’s adding plus ones to the evite.”

 

The perfect smile falters for a split second but it’s enough of a clue. Matt can almost hear McClane’s voice in his head: Translation, Professor? Not everyone speaks Egghead.

 

“Yeah,” Matt amends, “there’s a whole new leak.”

 

“Oh.” Salvio’s dark eyes flick over him again, lingering briefly on the scar under his knee. Matt realizes belatedly that the ‘shorts’ he’s wearing are actually just his boxers. “Shit.”

 

“Agreed.”

 

Salvio is laughing at him, now. He has a good laugh, Matt notes. Some people have weird, braying laughs or do shrieky high-pitched things that make Matt want to puncture his own ear drums with a spork.

 

“That’s what I like about you, Matt, you never seem to lose your sense of humour.”

 

Humour. Right. That’s what this is. Hey, punchline! It’s Matthew The Spaz Farrell, at your door at 0dark:30. The hilarity.


“I have my moments I guess. I…suspect this isn’t one of them though. But if you liked this one, you know, stay tuned for more wacky hijinks.”

 

Matt waves a hand through the air for wacky emphasis and then, he can’t help it, he fidgets with his damn hair.

 

“Did you want me to come up to your place, and take a look?”

 

Oh.

 

“Oh!” What did he want, anyway? “That’s. Probably a really bad idea.”

 

Shit.

 

“Oh God, no,” Matt tries again. “Don’t— I didn’t mean, like, I wouldn’t totally want you in my…”

 

Shit and fuck.

 

“You know what, I’m stopping. Talking, now. I’ve been…not sleeping and it just really screws up my verbal spam filter or something.”

 

It doesn’t seem like he is actually stopping though.

 

“Um! You could come up. Yeah you could, sure. But probably— I mean, right now? You’re in your— I mean you’re not dressed, and I’m…” Matt makes a vague self-aimed gesture at what he’s now reasonably sure is a rather spectacularly disastrous mixture of dirty, mismatched laundry and wicked bedhead. “…this.”

 

And now the McClane-voice in his head is telling him to plainly shut the fuck up.

 

“And… would you need to get into 304 anyway?” he says slowly. If he can’t seem to manage the shut the fuck up thing, he can at least check his pace a little. “To check it out? I mean…it’s probably not the best time to disturb Big Bubbah.”

 

“I could come up tomorrow.”


“Yeah, that. Would be better. Because I could put away the laundry, which is all over my floor right now, and I can’t believe I just told you that.”

 

That smile. Either it was starting to kind of piss him off or he was really starting to like it.

 

“And there’s— you know, I have coffee and things like that, so I could make that happen. Tomorrow. If you want.”

 

“Coffee tomorrow,” Salvio confirms.

 

“Sure. That and going up to 304 to put our lives in mortal danger over the matter of a few little drops of water.”

 

“And that,” Salvio laughs, again.

 

“Okay. So tomorrow. Afternoon, or after afternoon is good too. I’m not big on mornings. Unless, you know, you count whatever time of day right now is.”

 

“Tomorrow after-afternoon,” Salvio says, nodding patiently.

 

Matt just nods once in reply and then flees the scene, before he can get any lamer. A feat which might seem impossible but he knows firsthand he’s more than capable of.

 

Note to Self: You might want to try not failing at life.

  

***

 

It’s the first Sunday of the month, which means McClane has it off, if he hasn’t taken an extra shift. He does that sometimes, but he wouldn’t, not today, not with the Knicks playing Orlando this late in the season. So Matt figures he has a day off from the scanner to get some sleep.

 

Which is why it naturally turns out to be the first day since he moved out back in January, that John actually calls him out of the blue, and asks him if he’s got plans.

 

McClane has his new PVR all hooked up and running already, which is no great surprise really, he’s a pretty mechanically-minded kind of dude. It’s the touchy-feely GUI software kind of stuff he can never seem to get.

 

“What the hell’s wrong with the thing, it got a virus or something? It just keeps asking me a million questions, and then I just get twenty copies of the same episode of Regis and Kelly.”

 

“Yeah. That’s okay,” Matt says, leaving the ‘virus’ thing alone and watching the screen as he flips through the settings menu. “Well except for the whole Philbin factor, but that’s just the time shifting… it’s doing its job.”  If there’s one thing Matt has learned about providing any sort of tech help to McClane, it’s to keep the job time short, and the explanations even shorter.

 

“Time shift…isn’t that the doo-hickey for pausing shit that’s supposedly live?”

 

“It is live. That’s the time delay.”

 

Matt looks away from the television and over at McClane, and maybe even that was too much explaining, because McClane shoots him a detective-glare, and then folds his arms across his chest, tucking one hand under his arm like he misses his shoulder holster.

 

Leave it to McClane to want to solve his tech problems with his gun.

 

It’s funny how different some things can start to look to you over time, filtered through the lens of familiarity. Matt had seen John perform that little gesture more times than he could count. In the days he was first staying here, it used to prickle the hair on the back of Matt’s neck when John reached for his weapon like that. It seemed like an obvious sign McClane was going on alert, and given the circumstances that had thrown the two of them together, the effect was kind of contagious. But when Matt thought about it, McClane’s little tell was actually a comfort-gesture in a way. And then he had learned to let that effect become contagious too.

 

Because the more time he’d spent here, the more Matt had gotten sort of acclimatized to the fact that McClane was pretty much always on alert. The little habit was just a symptom of routine – checking everything is in place and under control. It was just a preparedness thing, a part of McClane’s natural, seemingly in-born readiness to neutralize any and every threat that might possibly rear its ugly head. When he thought of it that way, it was sort of perversely…nice. Stabilizing.

 

Of course, only McClane would slot the technological challenge posed by what was basically today’s equivalent of programming a VCR into the ‘threat’ category. 

 

“Almost done,” Matt reassures him, just as John is unfolding his arms to check his watch.

 

McClane missing the tipoff? Now that could get threatening. Matt bites down on the fond smile starting to tug at the corners of his mouth. The expression actually feels weird on his face, and he tries not to think too hard about the hardcore emo implications of that.

 

“What did you want a TiVo for anyway?” he asks, as a distraction from the inevitably latening hour.

 

“I didn’t,” John gruffs.  “I wanted a VCR.”

 

Of course he did.

 

“Oh, dude.” Matt couldn’t help himself. It had been too long and this was just too good. “Please tell me you walked in and asked for Betamax.”

 

It had been weird, at first, walking back in here. He felt strange and self-conscious hanging his jacket on one of the pegs in the hallway, instead of bringing it in and tossing it down on a chair in McClane’s little home office, or onto the bed. But it’s easy now, standing side by side in front of John’s battered old entertainment console to slip back into it, this casual trolling banter. So Matt gets exactly what he’s after; John tosses him another heavy dose of the McClane-eyes, and just keeps right on talking.

 

“Rebecca told me she’d be ripping me off if she sold me one, though. Couldn’t live with the guilt.”

 

“Rebecca, huh? Was she cute?”

 

“She was a very…talented salesperson, yeah.” McClane gives a sly, teasing smirk. “And probably about half my age.”

 

This sentiment hangs silently in the air for a moment. Matt keeps his eyes carefully on the screen and continues flipping through the setup. He hears McClane shift his weight next to him before he speaks again.

 

“I just needed something to record the game once in a while. Been taking some extra shifts lately, not always around to watch.”

 

It’s not a lie per se, pretending that this is news to him, so theoretically Matt should have nothing to fear from McClane’s famous human lie-detector act, but he looks down at the remote in his hand instead of at John none the less.

 

“What’s with all the extra work, New York’s finest?”

 

“Too quiet around here.” 

 

Matt can’t tell from the voice alone whether that‘s a dig at his tendency to be just slightly overtalkative, especially around McClane. When he sneaks a look over at him, though, McClane seems serious enough; gaze pointed casually at the things Matt is doing with the buttons on the remote.

 

“Some of the others have families,“ McClane goes on, like it needs further explanation, “people they oughta spend time with.”

 

The wistful, faraway tone is familiar. It calls up strains of conversation about last names and eating alone, from a day indelibly etched, partially for better but definitely a little for worse, into Matt’s memory. He’s just about to ask after Lucy –  how she’s been, whether McClane’s seen a lot of her lately – and preparing for the usual over-protective dad backlash, when McClane anxiously checks his watch again.

 

“That should do it,” Matt says instead, exiting the options menu and bringing up the main screen. “It was your season’s pass. That only works on a regular schedule. I deleted your settings, and put ESPN in your favourites. Or you can just go in through the wish list and search NBA.”

 

McClane is predictably, but calmly, regarding him as blankly as if he were speaking Klingon.

 

“…Want me to write it down?”

 

“Just make it put the game on, smartass. If we haven’t missed half of it already.”

 

“Nope. See?” Matt says, helpfully clicking through to the right place. “We can watch it from the beginning, while it’s recording. Time shifting.”

 

McClane’s lip curls, like he’s reluctantly impressed. Matt shakes off the completely inexplicable little swell of pride somewhere between his chest and his gut, before it can crawl up his neck, into his cheeks and turn into anything like a ridiculous schoolboy blush.

 

“You want another beer, Einstein?”

 

Apparently he’s staying a while.

 

“Sure.” Matt looks down at the floor where his first bottle is sitting nearly empty. He hadn’t realized he’d pounded that first one back so quickly.

 

***

 

Another two beers in, the Knicks are up by six points and McClane is looking quietly pleased with himself, like he’s personally responsible or something. Slouched down into the couch, with an arm stretched languidly along the back toward Matt, fingers of the other hand curled loosely around the bottle resting on the arm of the couch.

 

Matt realizes he’s watching McClane and not the game and moves his gaze away, takes another sip of beer he probably doesn’t need.

 

The room hasn’t changed since he left. It’s…comforting somehow. Or maybe just comfortable.  And McClane is there next to him, looking generally large and content, and maybe even a little drowsy himself…

 

Matt wakes up to John standing over him.

 

The game appears to be over and something that looks like it might be the Blues Brothers movie is unfolding on the television behind him. God only knows what time it is. McClane is holding another round of bottles it looks like he’s now having second thoughts about offering him.  

 

“Oh no, I can’t.” Matt says, and then clears his throat when it comes out rusty and slurred. “I should slow down, I’m driving.”

 

“You sure about that?” John asks, as Matt sits up straight and rubs a hand over his face. “Lookin’ kinda beat, kid.”

 

“No no, I’m good,” he says, standing up.

 

And just because he said that, or because it’s the most sleep he’s gotten in days, or because it turns out insomnia and Budweiser don’t mix; the room suddenly swoops dramatically to the right, and Matt’s vision sizzles into flame-green, complete with little dancing sparks of white, in what is one hell of a killer headrush.

 

When his vision clears he’s clinging to McClane’s arm, which is thrust into his chest seemingly on simple reflex. John isn’t clutching at him, he’s just there, sturdy and solid and trusting to Matt’s considerable survival instincts to do the rest of the work for them.

 

“Whoa, easy,” McClane says. “Just slow it down.” The unexpected gentleness of his tone makes Matt’s stomach do something he really hopes isn’t a flutter. He seriously needs to get a handle on this crush thing, or obsession, or whatever it is he’s dealing with, here. Shit like this is the reason he moved out in the first place.

 

McClane aims a nod down at Matt’s left leg. “That still happening?”

 

“Apparently,” he says, since explaining that he just hasn’t slept in days might require explaining what he’s been doing instead.

 

McClane just nods wryly.

 

Matt puts up a hand to push his hair out of his eyes. He’s still sort of half asleep, but he’s lucid enough to process the novelty of that. He remembers waking up this way –  slow, and natural. Relaxed. This is what it feels like to wake up not sticky with sweat and with your throat raw from your breath coming in harsh panicked gasps; chest tight and constricted with the strain of holding in what might be screams – or possibly even sobs. This was what it felt like to feel safe.

 

“Where you running off to anyway?” McClane asks him, sounding maybe just a little too casual, and Matt realizes he’s still holding onto him tight with his other hand. “You got a hot date or something?”

 

He’s less successful at suppressing the schoolboy blush thing this time, but Matt rights himself and unclenches the iron grip of death he’s currently got on McClane’s forearm. He thinks about what McClane said about working too much, about it being too quiet around here.

 

“Huh? Date? No.”

 

It’s probably actually accurate. In fact by the cold light of morning – or technically just later morning – Matt hadn’t even been sure what he had qualified as an appointment. He isn’t sure he has anything to head back for at all, besides an empty primer-grey apartment with multiple water entry points.

 

“So, why doncha stay then, unless you got somewhere to be early tomorrow. We can order in from the Japanese place.”

 

McClane had never eaten sushi before Matt introduced him to it. He liked teriyaki and tempura well enough, but it had taken Matt several tries and several more Sapporo just to get John to try a spicy salmon roll. He still wouldn’t bend on sashimi though, no matter how many times Matt pointed out it was the same damn stuff.

 

He’s almost sure he’s done blushing, so he pushes his hair off his face again and looks at McClane, trying to get a read on him. McClane looks back at him, and gives him absolutely nothing to go on, as per usual. But he’s already thinking about last names again, about single servings of ramen in the wrong flavour and how the hero of the piece eats alone.

 

The next thing he knows, he’s holding another beer and nodding, and hoping this wasn’t an epic failure of an idea.

 

***

 

This was an epic failure of an idea.

 

“Just like old times, huh?” John says, trying to pretend it’s not awkward as they peel back the sheets and get ready to climb into McClane’s bed.

 

Sure, old times, Matt thinks, studying a stripe in the wallpaper and keeping his back turned as he strips down to his boxers. Except for how in the old times, they were both heavily strung out on painkillers and he couldn’t spring raging wood like he is right now.

 

He sits carefully on the edge of the mattress, figuring it’s not suspicious at all to keep his back to John as he yanks his socks off and tosses them on top of his discarded jeans. Thankfully, John flips off the light and he manages to get himself under the sheets without incident.

 

Matt rolls onto his side, and tries to ignore the tight heat in his shorts. He stares at the wall and tries to focus on something else, anything.

 

He listens to the smooth, heavy rhythm of McClane’s breathing, remembering the days when it used to put him to sleep faster than the Vicodin. Few things are more calming when you wake up in a cold sweat – palms tingling from the recoil of a weapon fired months before, and tears pricking the backs of your eyelids – than the steady, sure sound of a man who could take out four heavily armed gunmen with a police-issue nine millimeter and a semi-antique status refrigerator sleeping next to you. But now, he only succeeds in imagining he can feel John’s breath on the back of his neck, and in minutes he’s so hard he can feel it throb.

 

He can’t help it. He’s not doing anything, he just needs…something. Anything except the hot, almost itchy, stretch and swell curving up toward his stomach. He bites his lip, holds his breath to keep from making any sound as he moves his hand under the sheets as silently as possible to just unobtrusively press the heel of his palm against the stiff ridge of his dick. 

 

He‘s positive he’s quiet because he’s holding his breath, but he knows even the pause in his breathing could give him away, and he still jumps when McClane’s voice, slurred with sleep and beer, comes curling familiarly over his shoulder.

 

“Hey kid?”

 

“Yeah?” Matt replies, and of course, of course, his voice cracks. He’s rigid all over now, frozen. This just may be what dying feels like.

 

“The old times were pretty good. Miss ‘em.”

 

It’s a breathless minute or so before Matt can get over the prospect that John nearly/might have already/was half-passed-out and probably totally nowhere close to catching him playing with himself, enough so that he can assimilate the words he just heard.

 

Matt finally rolls over, trusting to the thick layers of blankets McClane keeps on his bed to shield his shame from detection, and looks at John. But he has his eyes closed, and minutes later he’s snoring, and Matt shifts onto his back, so totally not watching McClane sleep.

 

John misses the old times. Misses him.

 

The thudding of his heart and the blood pounding in his ears is rapidly and mercifully distracting him from the receding ache in his shorts, as something warm and stupid and sweet and utterly fucking terrifying slots into place in his brain with a click that feels like it should be audible.

 

This – what’s happening right now – it isn’t a crush; not just hero worship, not just harmless, random fantasies. Fantasies make your dick get hard and your cheeks go red. But they don’t do this. They don’t put your heart in your throat and make your mouth go dry and rage the blood in your ears so hard you can’t believe the person sleeping next to you isn’t woken up by hearing this shit. This isn’t a crush. Crushes don’t do that. Love might though.

 

Matt stares at the ceiling and gets the worst night’s sleep he’s ever had.

 

***

 

Waking up alone in McClane’s bed is weird on a series of levels. First he forgot where he was, and then he forgot when he was, because he momentarily forgot he’d been waking up somewhere else for the last three months. And then that pissed him off. It wasn’t supposed to feel right, damn it.  It was supposed to be weird and alien to wake up in a strange bed.

 

Only this bed wasn’t strange. All of this – the cracks in the ceiling, the ugly blue comforter, McClane’s smell on the sheets – the fact that it’s more of a home than his shitty, low-rent apartment isn’t a surprise. The fact that it’s more of a home than anywhere else he can come up with, hits him just a little harder.

 

The heavy scent of frying bacon hits him right about the same time, and Matt gets up, staggers the few steps to McClane’s bathroom, and sticks his head in the toilet.

 

***

 

The blast of déjà-vu Matt gets from seeing McClane multitasking frying pans at the stove would be enough to make his head swim, if it wasn’t doing it already. It had always struck Matt as sort of hilarious, the way the man could still look dangerous like this – the meticulous shave and the steely glower at odds with the well-worn plaid bathrobe wrapped snugly around the broad barrel chest, the large feet tucked into those ridiculous old man slippers.

 

But this morning Matt’s not much in the mood for mocking him. He feels awkward suddenly, not sure where to stand in the kitchen he ate in, and washed dishes in, and cooked probably eighty percent of both of their admittedly rare home-cooked meals in, mere months ago. He’s not sure what he’s supposed to be doing, either. Is he a ‘guest’ now? Do guests set the table?

 

He resolves the issue by making a beeline for the coffee pot.

 

“You’re doing better.” There’s one of those McClane smirks playing hide-and-go-fuck-yourself around the area of John’s mouth, which generally means Matt’s about to walk blithely right into some detective Jedi mind trick.

 

Better than what? Than five minutes ago, when he’d thought he’d been quiet about dry heaving over the porcelain until he thought he would crack a rib? Definitely.

 

Better than before last night when he had clearly been living quite happily in denial about just exactly what the hell had been going on in his own crazy over-active brain? Maybe not so much. ‘Better’ is such a relative term.

 

“Huh?” Matt wraps his hands tightly around the mug of coffee he just poured himself. He wonders if it would be ‘better’ if it’s the hangover, or his seeming case of sudden and inexplicable nerves making his palms feel cold and slightly damp.

 

“You used to dream about different stuff. Nightmares and shit.”

 

Oh, this. Matt remembers this game. Although true, he sometimes wishes he could just go the more manly, stoic route of snoring like a chainsaw the way McClane does, he’s long been aware of his tendency to talk in his sleep. It’s one of the symptoms of insomniacs. It had also been the source of many hours’ amusement for his roommates back in school.

 

“You’re dreaming about girls now. ‘S good.”

 

Matt can’t be sure of much right now, but it almost doesn’t seem like it is good. The little smile is still there, but that’s wrong somehow. Static. Too stiff, like it’s painted on. McClane’s usually pretty quick to slap his poker face back on when he’s playing you.

 

“I dreamed about a girl?” Not remembering your dreams is another symptom. “Curse my shitty memory. Was it any good?”

 

“You tell me,” McClane says, airily. He could be avoiding Matt’s eye, but then he could also be focusing on carefully doling out two portions of scrambled eggs onto waiting plates. “Who’s Sylvia?”

 

“Who?”

 

“That’s the lucky lady. Sylvia. You said her name when you gave her some porno line about working on your plumbing.”

 

Matt is suddenly tempted to look down at his feet, because he half expects to see his stomach sitting on them. He seems to have managed not to choke on his coffee. So that’s one in the Farrell column. McClane doesn’t seem to have noticed. He’s still talking.

 

“I told you to tell me if you had a hot date, kiddo. I coulda given you some pointers. Hate to break it to ya but lines like ‘laying pipe’ don’t exactly make the ladies swoon.”

 

Oh God, what else had McClane heard?

 

“Maybe not,” Matt says, after swallowing carefully. “But it works well enough on my Super. Gets him up to my apartment every time. The name’s Salvio by the way, and I’m not sure he’d appreciate your insinuation that he isn’t a lady.”

 

“You got a problem with your pipes?” McClane asks, making a platter of bacon magically appear from under a layer of paper towel, and changing topics way too quickly for Matt’s current state of mind.

 

“Well actually the guy upstairs does. But I’m the one who has to deal with the semi-aquatic living room.”

  

“Salvio,” McClane says, picking up the bacon platter and one of the breakfast plates. “Huh.”

 

Then he heads for the table, leaving Matt staring at a daunting-looking portion of eggs, toast and fried tomato, and wondering just exactly what McClane had overheard.

 

 

II

As Good as a Rest.

 

Three on, three off, that’s how McClane’s schedule works. Which is why, three days later, Matt is back here again, curled on his side and just waiting for McClane to drift off, so he can turn over and just give over completely to his desire to stare while the man sleeps, like the crazy obsessive stalking pervert he obviously is.

 

There’s no real prospect of sleep. There hasn’t been for days. Not since the last time Matt was here. He’s half afraid he will come to some kind of similar life-altering realization, when he turns over and looks at John again tonight. Even if he’s not sure how there could feasibly be anything more disruptive than discovering you’re ass over teakettle in totally unrequited gay love with the biggest, most relationship-inept, emotionally unavailable stone-cold badass the century has seen.

 

He had to be crazy accepting John’s invitation to watch the Knicks play the Bobcats in the third game of what McClane is now calling a ‘streak’. In his defense, he hadn’t planned to stay over again, but apparently his body had picked McClane’s couch as its new favourite place to traitorously fucking fall asleep.

 

***

 

Being back here again was even weirder this time. Matt found himself second-guessing everything he said and did – and everything he didn’t do or say. He seemed to keep looking around them, carefully taking in how everything was exactly the way it had looked last week, as if trying to reassure himself that really, nothing had changed.

 

“Your TV is still in the corner,” Matt noted, once he was sitting stiffly on the couch. Hopefully it sounded like a casual observation and not the desperate bid it was to break up the strange awkwardness he hoped he was the only one experiencing.

 

It hadn’t always been there, was the thing. That placement was left over from the days when it was the best angle for them both to watch from. Back when Matt still had the cast on his leg, he’d always had to sit sideways across the couch with his back to the armrest and his leg stretched across the length of the cushions, stopping just short of where McClane would squeeze himself into whatever space was left at the far end.

 

It had become such a habit that the first day he came home without the cast, he did it just the same way anyway. It wasn’t until McClane came in and squished in next to him like he always did, that he realized he was acting like he owned the place.

 

“You’re fine,” McClane had told him, when he tried to move.

 

Of course, given that McClane had always been such an openly territorial bastard, Matt had continued to try to get out of his way anyway. It took some doing however, because of the way he’d had to practically drag his leg around with his hands like so much dead weight those first weeks of rehab. McClane predictably lost all patience with Matt’s stubborn struggling within seconds.

 

“Kid,” McClane had interrupted him, taking a gentle but restraining hold on Matt’s ankle. “You’re fine,” he repeated, looking him straight the eyes until Matt nodded and went still.

 

The next night when McClane had come into the room to sit down, all it had taken was that same repressive look, and Matt knew better than to bother trying to move. McClane had settled down with his hand sitting warmly over the peak of Matt’s ankle, and the habit became a firmly established routine from there on in.

 

But that had been months ago, and Matt didn’t even live here anymore. McClane should be able to put his TV wherever he wanted it.

 

“Want help moving it back, or anything?” he asked.

 

Shootaround was still on, and Matt knew if he was going to be self-consciously chatty, the time to do it was now, before McClane got engrossed in the game and started casting him dirty looks every time he opened his mouth.

 

“Last time you ‘helped’ me move that thing, I had one arm in a sling, and a shoulder full of gauze packing,”  was McClane’s reply, as if pointing out how little he required Matt’s presence in any way these days was some sort of answer to the question.

 

“Is that McClane for ‘I like it where it is’?”

 

“Got used to it,” he grunted. Which, while they were in the business of not answering Matt’s perfectly simple questions, was probably McClane for ‘yes’.

 

“Okay, just as long as you like it there,” Matt said anyway, “because you know, if you did want to move it, now that you’ve joined the 21st century you can actually put this on pause, so...”

 

“I’m not moving it right now, I’m watching it,” McClane said, with a tone that said this discussion was over. Which was probably for the best. It hadn’t gone quite the way Matt had intended. Not that he’d had any idea where he was going with it in the first place.

 

“What is it, bothering you?” McClane was asking him now. “It still bug your knee to sit like that?”

 

“Bothering me, no, I’m just saying, if you don’t like it where it is, I can show you how to—”

 

“Kid,” McClane interrupted, with that same suppressing tone he’d used on him months ago. “You’re fine to stretch out the way you like to.”

 

“Huh? Oh.” Matt shook his head. “Nah, I’m okay.”

 

“Now you’re making me uncomfortable. Come on.”

 

The last thing he should probably do is make a big deal out of this just because they might end up touching each other a little. He had done this a million times before. It was no different now. Just because his feelings for McClane had changed, stuff like this didn’t mean a thing to McClane. Obviously.

 

So Matt made a show of giving an artfully casual shrug, setting down his beer bottle, and shifting around and drawing his legs up onto the couch with his knees bent enough that he could lean forward and wrap his arms around them.

 

McClane shot him another classic look and slid an arm under Matt’s ankles. He shifted his posture a little so that he was slouched down further into the couch and his knees splayed apart a little wider, and then dumped Matt’s feet unceremoniously over his thigh.

 

That was new. And somehow not the end of the world.

 

McClane took another sip of his beer and covered the top of Matt’s shin with one broad, proprietary palm.
 
“You know the first day you moved out of here I sat down and didn’t know where the hell to put my hand?”
 
Matt felt suddenly like he knew the feeling. He reached out and picked a little at the corner of a throw pillow sitting next to his knee.
 
“Made my shoulder ache,” McClane went on. “Had to go out and buy that pillow you’re feeling up, there.”
 
Huh. Maybe a couple of things were new around here after all. McClane’s thumb slid insouciantly over the prominent notch of his ankle bone. 
 
“If you fucking tickle me, I will—“
 
“Kick me with your good leg, yeah I remember,” McClane interrupted blandly, eyes already back on Stuart Scott.
 
“Nuh uh. I’ll kick you with the gimp one. It’s the one that works out.”
 
“Still doing your exercises then?”
 
“...If I say yes am I going to get the whole ‘cops can tell when you’re lying’ speech?”
 
McClane chuckled quietly. “Never did join that gym then huh?”
 
“You mean you didn’t notice I’m totally huge?” Matt flexed a bicep when McClane looked at him again, but it didn't get him another laugh.
 
“Been eating?”
 
Whatever that was supposed to mean.
 
“I eat,” Matt said, trying not to make it sound defensive.
 
“What about tonight? Got plans?”
 
Okay, so maybe neither of them was very good at eating alone.
 
“Um. Pizza?”
 
“It is Wednesday,” McClane said, leaning forward over Matt’s legs to reach for the phone.
 
Yeah. Maybe not so much had changed at all.

 

***

 

Later, when Matt inevitably drifts off, with one foot tossed daringly into McClane’s lap again, he wakes to find he’s not the only one. McClane is passed right out, head tipped back and snoring – one hand still resting on Matt’s shin, with the idly wandering thumb tucked up under the cuff of his jeans and resting carelessly against his skin.

 

No big deal at all. Clearly Matt just needed to stress less about this kind of thing.

 

But that was the couch. Now they are in bed. McClane’s bed. And sure, so it used to be their bed, but that was before Matt had gone and developed feelings that made this both thoroughly inappropriate and just plain old stupid.

 

He can still feel the nervous tension and slight nausea of the last night he’d spent here, listening to the sound of his own pounding heart warring with McClane’s slow, easy breaths. He’s pretty much been feeling it for days in fact, and he’s beginning to think what he originally thought was just a hangover is more likely an ulcer.

 

He shifts onto his back, to stare at the ceiling for a while, instead of the wall. He he must have been doing that a lot though, because John, who Matt had thought would be half asleep by now, reaches out a hand and plants it squarely on his chest.


“Sorry,” Matt murmurs automatically.

 

“Don’t be. Just go to sleep.”

 

“Okay, see, that’s the thing, is that I just really suck at doing that lately.”

 

“Yeah, I noticed.”

 

“So maybe I should just go—“

 

The palm sitting on his chest flattens and even half asleep McClane presses him easily and effectively into the mattress.

 

“You’ve had too much to drink.”

 

“It’s been a couple hours…”

 

“Matt,” John says, in that never-fail silencing tone, “sleep now.”

 

Matt huffs a frustrated half-sigh. He’s been like this on and off for as long as he can remember, and lately he’s had enough experience with it to consider himself an expert. It just doesn’t work that way. But he has no idea how to explain that.

 

John eases up a little on the pressure, but leaves his hand right where it is. “Just shut your eyes,” he says, and then follows his own advice. As if it’s just that simple.

 

Matt does like McClane says and closes his eyes anyway. At first he’s not buying for a second that this is going to work, but after a while, it’s like the warmth and weight on his chest is enough of a distraction to shut off the constant frenetic activity that usually preoccupies his brain. Just like when he’d drifted off earlier on the couch, the easy, offhanded contact is oddly grounding. It’s still and solid and reassuring and maybe, Matt thinks, just maybe, it was never the Vicodin at all.

 

***

 

This time around, the morning isn’t weird. Well maybe with the exception of the moment Matt realizes how not-weird it is, just standing barefoot and bed-muzzy in John’s kitchen like he never left. Walking in on autopilot, pouring himself a cup of coffee in the same mug he always uses; the one with a chip in the handle.

 

The only thing that seems to be different about being here is McClane’s touch; the usual casual squeeze of his shoulder as McClane makes his way past him to get at the stove becoming a softly curled hand around the back of his neck.

 

But he has to be imagining this is really a change. McClane has always been a hands-on kind of dude. Matt swallows his reaction to the indifferently intimate handling, grits his teeth against the shiver of fingers trailing down the top few notches of his spine before drifting unconcernedly out of contact.

 

 Maybe it should bother him that McClane is so clearly unaffected by him as to seemingly not even notice, pulling the makings of breakfast out of the fridge. But in the end Matt supposes he should just be glad John is so damn comfortable, that Matt isn’t sending out any weird, damaging signals. That nothing between them seems awkward or disrupted by the things that have been going through his head. 

 

Everything else about the morning follows their old, mundane routines like clockwork. Matt makes a trip to the cutlery drawer and he puts the salt and pepper on the table. He digs into the cold, leftover pizza, and garners the usual daggers from McClane, who is already cracking eggs into a bowl.

 

“What? I’ll eat,” Matt reassures him around his mouthful, like always. “You know I’ll eat.”

 

McClane never answers. He just shakes his head and silently starts scrambling.


Matt knows what to do. He snags the cream out of the fridge and pours McClane a coffee. He sets it next to the stove, getting a grunt of thanks.

 

“So,” John says, when the pans are sizzling industriously away. “What’s your friend Salvio been doing about that leak?”

 

Routine. Matt slips his thumb familiarly over the chip in his mug handle and settles himself against the counter as he prepares to tell the whole sordid story, starting with the suspicion of the illegal washing machine.

 

After all, he is the one who’s changed. There’s no reason it should affect John at all. Matt can work with this – every week if that’s the way McClane seems to want it. He’s a programmer, and he deals in logic after all. He should have no trouble staying objective and not reading anything into things.

 

And he can ignore the little voice inside his head, too – sounding inexplicably and somewhat disturbingly like Lucy’s – that says he’s being a complete moron and this is totally begging for trouble.

 

***

 

Matt’s plan actually seems to be going pretty okay.

 

It’s been weeks of him and McClane just picking up old habits where they left off. It felt almost like what Matt used to do on summer vacation, back when he used to read his comics instead of sealing them in acid-free plastic.

 

He could always remember exactly where he’d left off, picking off the top of the pile he’d gotten for Christmas, the pages faithfully marked and waiting for him to lift and smooth the dog-eared corner and start up again as if the whole semester had been nothing more than an annoying dream.

 

Hanging around with McClane again is almost like that. The odd sense of something like relief, that some weight has been lifted, is sort of the same. It’s that feeling of freedom and security, the way summer felt back when it meant you were safe for a whole three months from studying and bullying and teachers who always looked at you with a combination of bewilderment and subtle pity.

 

They’ve been out to a handful of delis, Cloverfield – which was okay but actually made him kind of seasick – and the Mets game, before Matt realizes they’ve been suddenly seeing a lot of each other for people who’d had no communication beyond a few short emails for three months.

 

It makes sense really, when Matt thinks about how McClane told him he actually missed him that first time Matt crashed at his place again. He still does occasionally have to wrestle with the conviction that it just feels different from before – with the way McClane calls him Matthew sometimes now instead of ‘kid’, or the way he will reach in and tug on his earlobe to get his attention instead of just nudging him with an elbow.

 

In his weaker moments, Matt considers that McClane must have had some kind of internal reaction to the things Matt must have said in his sleep that night, but he tries not to dwell too much in case he gets carried away. Either way, he’s eating and sleeping and actually going outside and it all feels kind of like a gift horse, so Matt’s not planning on taking up veterinary dentistry any time soon.

 

John’s even started texting him, asking for updates on not one but two plumbers hired by Salvio, to come through his place in the space of two weeks and fail to fix the problem. Only to have the third one fix it by chopping a big gaping hole in his ceiling, which is still there a week after the contractor has been called. 

 

And every time he does, Matt tries to ignore the butterflies setting up house in his gut each time his phone buzzes, but he can’t help but think to himself that they’re better than the burning feeling that was in their place a couple weeks ago. It was probably never really an ulcer, but the way he’d been eating couldn’t have been helping. Not that settling more or less right back into McClane’s takeout schedule is particularly healthy, but even the culinary offerings of Brooklyn’s rat-trap kitchens had to beat subsisting on a steady diet of ramen, Mountain Dew, and Reese’s.

 

Matt is even sleeping. Well, most nights anyway, and when he looks in the mirror the marks under his eyes are all but faded away.

 

So that’s why it’s just a jolting surprise instead of a skull-shattering shock when McClane actually shows up at his door with a sheet of drywall and a big red tool box like they’re on some kind of low-budget slum episode of While You Were Out.

 

John seems completely unperturbed by the gobsmacked way Matt seems to just hang in the doorway, sending a cursory glance right past him and into the apartment. McClane declines comment, which Matt is silently grateful for, and perfunctorily shoves the heavy metal box across the threshold with one foot. Then he thrusts the sheetrock panel at Matt with instructions to lay it flat on the floor – not up against the wall – while he makes a trip out to his car for more supplies.

 

The fact that it’s John’s day off means it’s not exactly a coincidence the scanner is sitting silently powered down over on the desk, but if Matt can call that small mercy ‘lucky’, then it’s nothing short of an outright miracle that he remembers he would probably be wise to cover the damn thing up. He spends a frantic minute or so staring at it and wondering how you effectively hide something from a freaking detective, who seems to have been supremely unfairly blessed with Superman x-ray vision and some kind of Spidey-sense when it comes to things you’d rather not share.

 

Matt ends up simply pulling the stupid thing out of the wall and shoving it in the closet under a couple of coats. It’s been a while since he listened anyway.

 

He isn’t sure how John knew he doesn’t keep much beer around the place, but the ‘supplies’ turn out to be mainly a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

 

 “No Red Bull?” McClane asks, sounding surprised, as he’s finishing up stocking the fridge with several cans Matt suspects may have been living in the trunk of McClane’s car for longer than he really wants to know about.

“It’s my equivalent of the patch. I’ve been trying to wean myself off the— yeah, I wasn’t sleeping for a while there. So I thought it was probably counter-productive. Code Red is a step down. It’s my methadone.”

 

“Still not sleeping?” McClane says, turning to look him over like he should have somehow been able to deduce it himself on sight. “Thought you were doing better, there.”

 

“I am. Mostly. That fucking leak wasn’t helping though I guess.”

 

McClane nods. He’s still looking at him sort of appraisingly.

 

“Well,” he says suddenly, clapping his hands together like he’d just gotten the idea, “let’s get that ceiling taken care of, and put the whole thing behind you.”

 

McClane apparently thinks this is done by cutting an even bigger hole. He explains how it’s better, clean edges or something like that, but Matt can’t help feeling a little anxious – and a whole lot useless – as he watches, and hands McClane tools from the big red box on demand like a heart surgeon’s assistant.

 

Note to Self: When John McClane is standing on your couch, covered in plaster and wielding a hacksaw with what looks suspiciously like simple destructive glee, that is always, always the moment when your Superintendant will knock on the door to make yet another apology for his delinquent drywalling contractor.

 

“Oh,” Salvio says, in the middle of his explanation. “I didn’t realize you had company.”


McClane, who was evidently walking up behind him, comes to stand beside Matt in the doorway, propping an elbow heavily on his shoulder like some kind of overprotective father figure checking out his kid’s prom date. He’s still holding the damn hacksaw.

 

“You must be Salvio,” McClane says. If there’s any kind of meaning in the tone John uses to pronounce the name, it’s subtle enough that Matt can ignore it without blushing like they’re thinking about making it an Olympic sport.

 

“Wow,” Salvio says. “Yes sir. Pleased to meet you.”

 

John straightens up and holds out a plaster-coated hand for a shake. “John McClane.”

 

Salvio looks at it as if he’s surprised, but doesn’t hesitate to put his own slender, neat-looking hand right into McClane’s large, dusty grip.

 

“Yes sir. It’s an honour. You’re a real American hero.”

 

“Fighting for freedom wherever there’s trouble,” Matt says. What’s happening isn’t exactly awkward, but it’s not exactly fully funny, either. “That’s McClane all over.”

 

Salvio looks at him like he’d forgotten he was there, but the line gets him a grin anyway. McClane’s hand lands on his shoulder again.

 

“Matthew and I were just working on that ceiling you were having trouble with,” McClane says, tapping the hacksaw against his bulky thigh. “Hope that’s not a problem.”

 

“Right. Well. It’s definitely not building policy that tenants do their own repairs, but Matt’s always been very responsible, and I know you’re more than capable, sir.”

 

“John.”

 

“Right,” Salvio says again, smiling self-consciously and reaching up to comb long fingers through his dark coif. “Well what I’ll do then, John, is maybe I’ll come up when it’s done and do a little inspection. If everything looks cool I’ll just cancel with the contractor since he seems to have so much better shit to do. Oh, I mean—”

 

“That’s okay.” John smiles reassuringly. “I’m sure Matt wishes I had better shit to do than come over unannounced and start getting him in trouble with the landlord, too.” Matt winces as John reaches up and gives his hair a dusty little-league ruffle.

 

Salvio laughs. “No trouble at all,” he says. “I’ll let you get back to it then.”

 

“Thanks Salvio,” Matt says, meaning it.

 

“Sure,” he says, but he doesn’t seem to be moving away from the door.

 

“Thanks Salvio,” John repeats, and reaches across Matt for the door knob.

 

***

 

“So that’s Salvio,” McClane says, when the ceiling no longer has a hole the size of a Volkswagen in it and they are settling on the couch, getting into the third or fourth beer of the afternoon – Matt seems to be losing track. “Not what I was expecting.”

 

“You had expectations?”

 

“Sure, you know. Big guy, Italian maybe. Mop and bucket.”

 

“Jeez McClane, who knew an Irish cop would be so gung-ho for stereotypes. His name is Spanish, not Italian. And he’s the Superintendant, not the Custodian.”

 

“Toolbelt then.”

 

“Or a tool box even. Maybe a red one?” Matt eyes McClane’s bright metal tool chest by the door. He’s not sure where he’s going with this, but then that’s probably the PBR talking.  “And a drywall kit.”

 

“Maybe a little older,” McClane says, waving a hand abstractly through the air.


“Probably a lot balder,” Matt concludes.

 

“He does have some pretty nice hair,” McClane says thoughtfully, bringing his beer can to his lips. “Lemme guess, he’s really an actor.”

 

He can’t help a little laugh at that one. “Wow,” he says, running a hand through his own drywall dust-powdered mop. “You know, I was going to say green really isn’t your colour, but it turns out it kind of suits you.”

 

Matt looks away and takes a sip from his own can. He’s not exactly sure they’re talking about what it feels like they’re talking about.

 

“Just didn’t think he was your type is all.” McClane sounds suddenly serious.

 

So they are talking about it.

 

“Oh so you think because I shared a bed with a cop for a year it means I just throw myself at every big, burly blue-collar hunk that crosses my path?”

 

“Ha ha,” McClane says, drily. “No worries there. You never once threw yourself at me, kid.”

 

“Wait.” That should have been another joke. It almost doesn’t sound like one, though. “What are you, offended?”

 

“You get close to a guy, let him sleep in your bed…then you find out he’s into men, only you’re the exception to the rule?” McClane gives a wry little smile. “Yeah, maybe bruises the old ego a little bit.”

 

“Holy— wow, that is so not how it is.”

 

“Don’t even like me touchin’ ya,” McClane goes on, as if Matt hadn’t even spoken. “It’s like you’re scared of me or somethin’.”

 

“What? No. Hell no, McClane.”

 

This feels important, so Matt sets his beer down on the floor. It might actually be the first time he’s ever sat here. But still, he should probably think about getting a coffee table if he’s going to have a couch.

 

“Dude,” he says, once he’s straightened up and shifted position on the squashy old over-stuffed cushions so he can face McClane properly. “I’m sorry it came off that way, I just. I was trying to be…careful. Like I’d be crazy to try and throw myself at you. You know? You’re— fuck, you’re John McClane, man.”

 

McClane doesn’t seem to have anything to say to that, but he raises an eyebrow. Matt gives a small, incredulous chuckle.

 

“Unbelievable. Ever since this whole possibly liking guys thing started, I’ve been killing myself trying not to offend you and now it turns out…”

 

John must be getting the picture Matt thinks this is really important, too, because he leans over and sets his own drink down.

 

“Look, McClane.” Matt leans forward, hands on thighs, hoping it somehow helps to get his point across. “It’s not that I don’t like you touching me okay, it’s not like that at all.”

 

McClane is looking at him now, like he’s just waiting for what they probably both know Matt is about to say.

 

“…It’s that I like it too much.”

 

He’s not sure what kind of reaction he was expecting his little confession to get, but it certainly wasn’t the one that actually happens. McClane looks at him for another second or so, and then he leans forward just like Matt is doing, puts up one hand, and cups the side of Matt’s face.

 

Oh, man.

 

Matt’s eyes drop shut. John’s hand is big enough that the palm is warm against his jaw, while his fingertips span around to the back of Matt’s neck and settle into the edges of his hair, sending a warm wash of sensation all down his back. It’s kind of every bit as amazing as Matt would have imagined if he’d ever actually imagined something like this might possibly happen.

 

If what John was looking for was to put proof to the words Matt had just said or something, he’d definitely made his point. Matt opens his eyes, about to say something to that effect but he never gets that far, because John reaches forward with the other hand too, to take Matt’s face between both his hands and smooth his thumbs over his cheekbones.

 

He’d never considered the cheek to be a particularly erogenous zone but somehow the roughened skin slipping gently back and forth over his face sends him unexpected shivers that run all the way down to the bottoms of his feet.

 

Matt blinks a couple of times, trying to get a handle on just what his happening here. He would ask, but his mouth doesn’t seem to be working, for once.

 

“Hair’s too long. In your eyes all the time.” John says, falling into truncated sentences, like either he’s having the same trouble, or like maybe the shorter distance between them requires fewer words to get the message across.

 

“Always itching to do this,” he says quietly, lifting one of those broad hands to carefully brush Matt’s bangs off of his forehead.

 

“I could get your ’do.” Just because his mouth has started working again, doesn’t mean it always does what he tells it.

 

“Don’t you dare,” John says, shifting the position of his thumb to rub it over Matt’s lip.

 

“Wow. I’m kind of—” Matt stammers, because suddenly his mouth apparently only has two settings; dead stop and turbo. “Is this really happening? Because if it isn’t I think I might literally, actually die. Like I might seriously have some kind of— ”

 

“Never shut up, do ya?” McClane interrupts.

 

His tone is gentle, but he’s not quite smiling. He’s kind of looking all over Matt’s face, like he’s examining it. Like touching it makes it look different from the way it always has. Which…maybe it does. Matt wouldn’t be surprised at all right now to learn McClane’s touch had magic transformational properties.

 

“You might have to make me,” Matt concedes, before he can go ahead and say any of the stupid things crowding through his brain at the moment.

 

“Can do,” McClane says, and that’s all it takes.

 

They’re kissing. Or, well, Matt is being kissed. He’s being kissed quite literally like he’s never been kissed before.

 

It’s intense. McClane does this the same way he does everything else, like their lives depend on it, and there may totally feasibly be no tomorrow. Matt finds himself gripping both rolled up sleeves of McClane’s old work shirt desperately as if he feels the exact same way.

 

He’s not aware of anything except John, every little thing his mouth does to Matt’s, everywhere he’s touching him. So it doesn’t take much in the way of movement for Matt to register that John is pulling slowly away, but at the same time, drawing him forward with just a suggestion of pressure from the hands still cradling his jaw.

 

They move in tandem. Matt crawls forward without hesitation or even needing to break off the kiss, while John leans slowly back into the arm of the couch, continuing to urge him forward until Matt is climbing eagerly and unthinkingly into John’s lap, and settling there with his knees straddling John’s thighs.

 

John’s hands rove over his shoulders and down his back, holding him there. Matt can move his hands now, so he uses them to do what McClane just finished doing to him; he brushes gentle fingertips over the angles of John’s jaw, and down his neck, exploring.

 

John seems to like that, he makes an approving little grunt-sound in his throat and a couple of his fingers slip under the hem of Matt’s dusty t-shirt to skate over his skin. Again, the small of the back hasn’t ever really seemed like the most erotic region of the body but the skin is sensitive, and Matt’s entire body seems to be wired to respond to John’s slightest touch.

 

He moans a little, against John’s mouth, which is slightly embarrassing but it doesn’t seem to make John stop what he’s doing, so Matt moves his hands to John’s chest and starts working on his buttons. He gets three open in quick succession before John gives another little grunt, this time of surprise.

 

“Hey, whoa,” McClane says, catching his hands and holding them to his chest. “It’s not a race, kid.”

 

“Maybe not for you,” Matt says. His dick is already a thick, heavy line of pressure against the seam of his jeans.  “For you, this whole thing started tonight. For me it’s been weeks of foreplay.”

 

John gives this cryptic, patient sort of smile. “I wouldn’t say it started tonight.”

 

Matt is afraid to ask. He almost doesn’t want to know just how dense he’s capable of being, or how much time he’s been wasting. So he doesn’t.

 

“You’re staying right?” he asks instead.

 

“Have to,” McClane says, running his hands over Matt’s back and making him feel warm and flushed all over.  “Mud’s not dry yet and we still have sanding to do.”

 

Then McClane is chuckling at him suddenly and Matt has a sneaking suspicion his face did something without his permission that could probably be classified as a ‘pout’.

 

“I mean, are you staying later, like instead of driving— ”

 

“Yes, Matthew, I will stay here with you tonight, on your mattress on the floor and probably put my back out for a week.”

 

“I’ll make it worth your while,” Matt says, tapping at John’s bottom lip with his index finger.

 

“I’m counting on it.”

 

John’s lip is plumped, like it’s slightly swollen from all the things it was doing pressed against Matt’s mouth. He suddenly feels like he really wants to bite it, so he leans forward and he does. Softly.

 

McClane responds with a few more slow, lazy kisses before he puts a stop to it by reaching up and tugging on Matt’s earlobe.

 

“It’ll keep, Matt,” John promises, when Matt lets up. He brushes Matt’s hair off his forehead again and looks him in the eyes. “I’m not going anywhere.”

 

Matt sighs and flicks reluctantly at John’s fourth shirt button, which remains stubbornly and lamentably closed.

 

“Come on,” John says, finally. “Let’s finish that sanding so I can get you into bed, huh?”

 

Matt hops up and off his lap so fast, John is laughing at him as he hauls himself off the couch.

 

***

 

Cleaning up actually takes a lot longer than sanding. Especially since Matt keeps stopping to take advantage of his new self-awarded licence to stare blatantly whenever McClane lifts anything, or bends over.

 

When they strip down and get into bed it’s just as awkward as usual – if not worse, because of the nervous tension vibrating through him –  but then John reaches out to put his hand on Matt’s chest and it’s awesome because he can grab that hand and pull. John rolls up on his side, and Matt rolls in to meet him and settle under his arm, and they are kissing again, just like that.


But this time they’re lying down. And John suddenly has a lot more access to Matt’s skin than he had before. And if Matt had known all the things he’d been planning to do to it, they probably never would have gotten off that couch.

 

John puts kisses everywhere – his mouth and eyes and throat, even his hair. All the while, John’s hands are keeping up the sweetest sort of torture; fingers trailing up his spine, palms stroking down his ribs, thumbs rubbing maddeningly over and over the thin, sensitive skin of his nipples.

 

When John finally, finally puts one of those hands where Matt wants it, it’s like he can’t help himself. He arches into the touch, thrusts against John’s palm, pressing it to his shaft in an almost involuntary quest for friction, sensation, feeling, anything. John’s lips tighten against his own in what is probably a self-satisfied smirk, but he leans in, returning the pressure and pushing their skin together everywhere. It floods warmth and want through him – endorphins, faster than a shot of morphine, and better.

 

“Better than Red Bull?” John asks him a little later, when Matt’s brain goes as lust-drunk stupid as the rest of him and he says the morphine thing out loud. John doesn’t bother to raise his head from where his mouth is playing at Matt’s collar bone, and Matt feels the question as a rasp of razor stubble and hot, moist breath.

 

“Better than Red Bull and Reese’s,” Matt gasps, undone as much by the feel as by the sound – John’s usual smack-talk turned sweet nothings by the ardent, awed tone in that voice. “Fuck Code Red, you’re my new methadone.”

 

John gives a low, pleased chuckle against his neck that makes him shudder, and it’s the last thing Matt remembers saying that makes any sort of sense.

 

He loses track of their words, can only focus on the direct current of desire flowing back and forth between them on the indistinct baritone timbre of their breathless exchanges. The meaning seems less important than the way John’s familiar rumble sounds new and surprising in his ears, the way it pours over and into him, running whiskey-warm and honey-smooth and sending constant shivers along his spine.

 

He’s vaguely aware he’s panting, swearing, telling John things he will probably regret eventually, about how good he is, how good he feels, telling him to do things to him that he sure doesn’t regret right now, even if he might later on.

 

And John does. Everything he asks. Everything Matt cries out for, begs for, falls apart and loses all sense of himself or his preservation and starts giving terse, breathless commands for – John does it, all of it.  And all with an amused little smile like he knows exactly what Matt wants but will wait for him to break and ask anyway, smug bastard that he is. Like he saw this coming all along.

 

Like this whole night wasn’t the stupidest, craziest, best, most fucked up worst thing they could possibly do. Like it was right.

 

***

 

They’ve barely caught their breath and cleaned themselves up with Matt’s discarded pair of boxer shorts, when McClane reaches over and puts a hand on his chest.

 

“McClane?”

 

“Yeah, kid.”

 

“You’re better than Ambien too.”

 

“Sleep now,” McClane says, but Matt can hear the mild, tired smile in it.

 

Maybe it should stop surprising him by now that he does exactly as he’s told.

 

***

 

It’s a much less pleasant surprise when Matt awakes in the morning to find that – with the exception of his freshly patched ceiling – the new aches in his body and a single cup of coffee from the gas station down the street left cooling on the counter are the only evidence that McClane had ever been in the apartment at all.

 

He makes it three days without a single text and no response to his three voice mails and one painstakingly and probably transparently casual email, before he falls off the wagon like falling out of bed. It’s not until he sets down his cup of ramen and flips on the scanner that he realizes that it’s been weeks since he heard Doreen’s voice.

 

***

  

The light from the hallway feels brighter than Matt remembers; between the typical New Jersey springtime weather outside, and the encroaching evening, the dark must have been sneaking up on him again. The realization that it’s been at least two days since he even opened this door to let in the pale, fluorescent glow flits across his mind too quickly to be as disturbing as it probably should.

 

He blinks at the dark waves of hair and blinding smile that greet him on the other side.

 

“Is this a bad time?” Salvio asks, looking past him into the apartment as the sound of McClane’s voice rumbles quietly toward them from the other end of the room.

 

Probably. There’s clothes all over the furniture and candy wrappers littering the desk, and a pot still mostly full of Kraft Dinner in the sink, but then again, it’s pretty much always a bad time right now. And for some reason, suddenly the idea that someone is aware enough of his existence to come and knock on his door at a bad time, or any time, is oddly appealing. It’s almost as refreshing and welcome as the reminder there’s a whole world of people who aren’t McClane and the disembodied voice of Doreen the dispatcher out there, somewhere outside these four walls.

 

“No, no. That’s just…the radio,” Matt says, technically truthfully.

 

He should have turned it off before answering the door, but the truth is, he forgot about it. ‘On’ is pretty much its default setting, now, between the sheer – and probably unwise – number of extra shifts McClane seems to have been taking and the fact that Matt only shuts it off these days when he sleeps. Which is…pretty much never. He’s been up 60 hours and counting, now. It’s nowhere near a record, but still, he knows he can get a little wired, so it’s not a surprise that Salvio is looking at him with a kind of uncertain wariness.

 

“You sure?”

 

“Yeah I’m— I mean, it’s fine. It’s good, even.  A good time. What can I do for—can I help you with something, man?”

 

The dazzling smile returns, a little tentative, but there.

 

“Well, no offense to Officer McClane— what?”

 

“What? No, nothing, I didn’t say anything.”

 

“Did I say something bad, or what? For a second you just looked really…”

 

“I did? No, it’s nothing, it’s fine…it’s just…it’s Detective.”

 

Salvio is looking like he needs a Farrell-to-human dictionary again.

 

“It’s Detective. McClane. Not Officer. See, I told you it was nothing.”

 

“Oh.”

 

McClane’s voice makes its way toward them from the radio again, followed by a roll of thunder courtesy of the relentless weather. It’s hard to make out from the other end of the apartment at this volume but it sounds something like a possible 10-14 in progress. That’s either Unlawful Entry, or Jay-Walking, Matt can’t remember which.

 

He doesn’t hear John ask for backup so he tries to refocus on the conversation. It feels like the buzzing he knows must be the florescent hallway lights is coming from somewhere behind his eyes. 

 

“You were going to say something? Before we started…talking about McClane?”

 

Matt is a little chagrined at the way that comes out in a disgruntled little mutter. He used to love telling people about McClane. Probably a lot more than they liked hearing it.

 

“Oh, yeah,” Salvio says. “Well like I said, I don’t mean any offense to your friend…” Matt’s face must do something weird at the word ‘friend’ too, because Salvio’s smile drops off again, but at least this time he finishes his sentence. Which is good, because Matt’s in no frame of mind to be filling in the blanks right now.

 

“…But he’s not a contractor or anything, so as your friendly neighbourhood Superintendant I thought I should probably just come up and see the job he did on the ceiling. You know.”

 

“Oh! The ceiling. I completely forgot about— of course you should. You should…you should come in. Is what you should do.” Matt pushes the door wide open, and Salvio takes a tentative step across the threshold.

 

“I should apologize,” Matt says as he shuts the door behind them, like he hasn’t babbled enough already. It’s almost as if, having not heard the sound of his own voice in days, he suddenly can’t get enough of it. “I— it’s a bit of a mess right now. I mean, you should see the ceiling. Totally you should, but you should not see that,” he says, as both of their gazes move to his makeshift pallet on the floor, which is not only unmade, but is also doubling as a laundry hamper with little sense of decency. At least three pairs of his gitch are easily discernable in the pile.

 

“Or the kitchen,” Matt goes on, partially as a distraction from the bed. “Or basically any of my apartment at all right now.”

 

Salvio laughs, finally. The sound of it flows soothingly over his oddly jangled nerves, and Matt takes his courage in hand, using it to place both those hands boldly on one of Salvio’s elbows.

 

“So you can just come right over….this way,” he says, pulling him over toward the window and the shiny new ceiling patch. “And look at the ceiling. And not over there, while I make it…not look like that.”

 

Lightning flickers outside the window and the rain patters insistently on the fire escape, but it’s still blessedly dry inside the apartment.

 

“Okay,” Salvio agrees.

 

Once he’s hastily gathered up all his clothes and piled them into the closet, and pulled the comforter up over the mess of the sheets, Matt makes his way back over to where Salvio stands, now peering curiously at Matt’s desk setup with his hands carefully behind his back.

 

“How’s that ceiling look? Do I pass inspection?” Matt asks, walking up behind him and stopping at what he thinks is a respectful distance. Then he takes another step anyway. He feels giddy and strange, but that could be the lack of sleep.

 

Salvio twists around, looking up over his wide, angular shoulder at the ceiling, then back down at him. Matt watches the thick black fan of his lashes sweep downward as the dark, intent gaze moves all the way down to his toes and back up to his face.

 

“Yeah,” Salvio says, grinning wide. “I think you’re fine.”

 

Right. Matt is just thankful that he actually bothered putting on jeans today. And that Salvio doesn’t seem to be waiting for him to generate any kind of coherent response.

 

“So,” Salvio is saying, indicating the scanner, “you work with the cops now?”

 

He really should have turned that off. It’s right around the shift change so the radio is currently a near constant buzz of the bored, routine-dulled voices of cops signing on and off with the dispatcher – pretty hard to miss.

 

Matt hasn’t heard John’s distinctive timbre, so he figures McClane must have signed off while he was carrying out his guerilla clean-up mission.

 

“Me?” Matt laughs. “Nooooo. I’m definitely no cop. No, I’m a consultant. I write and test math-based— “

 

“Security software, yeah.”

 

“Sorry. Told you that already I guess.” The thing about being an insomniac, and a Chatty Cathy, is that you tend to repeat yourself from time to time.

 

“No,” Salvio admits, looking slyly at him from under those lashes. “I just watch the news.”

 

“Oh. Right.” That. It’s been nearly a year since the fucking fire sale and Matt still hasn’t gotten used to it when people remember. He drops his gaze, suddenly envying Salvio his smooth, dark complexion, as he feels the tips of his ears start to burn.

 

“Is that for an aquarium?” Salvio asks after a second, turning back to the desk and pointing at something in front of him.

 

“Hey, good eye,” Matt says, pleased not just for the distraction from the redness in his cheeks, but because it’s true. Picking that out was pretty impressive. Plus, it’s an excuse to stand right up next to Salvio in front of the desk.

 

He can only hope he doesn’t smell as funky as he probably looks. He showered before getting dressed, but when you don’t sleep for a while, the daytime hours sort of start to blur into the nighttimes and he’s really got no way of knowing how long ago it was. Salvio doesn’t step away from him or anything, so that’s a good sign.

 

“Yeah,” he says, “that’s a tank pump.”

 

“I don’t see any fish,” Salvio says, looking around them with mock curiosity. “Do you have so little faith in my plumber that you’re expecting the place to fill up with water again?”

 

This time it’s Matt who laughs, and Salvio’s grin goes blinding again. He doesn’t blink this time.

 

“No it’s for me, for work,” Matt says, turning back to the desk. “See, my dev box is overclocked pretty hard, and now I’m running just a little too hot so I figured I’d put a waterblock in. I mean, I’m…” Matt falters and breaks off his over-excited explanation. Salvio’s smile has gone kind of glazed and lost-in-translation again. “…installing a radiator. Like in a car.”

 

“Sorry,” Matt apologizes, “I know not everyone speaks Farrell.”

 

 “I wouldn’t mind learning, sometime,” Salvio says quietly, turning toward him and leaning a hip against Matt’s desk.

 

“Oh. Learning to speak— that’s funny.” Neither of them is laughing though. Matt tosses his head, to clear his bangs out of his eyes. This feels important somehow, like what comes next will be crucial. To…something.

 

“Well then, maybe we should set aside some time?” Salvio suggests. “We never did end up having that coffee, you remember?”

 

Okay, so maybe that was a date. Which meant Matt had totally stood him up.

 

This doesn’t seem like the best idea. Matt quite clearly sucks at this dating thing, and he obviously hasn’t done a real bang-up job with the getting-over-McClane plan. But then again, spending all his time the way he’s been spending it lately isn’t working out so hot either.

 

“I do,” he says quickly, “I remember. And that, by the way, was totally my fault, I can—”

 

That’s when it happens.

 

Salvio actually seems to hear it first, which is crazy because Matt has been on tenterhooks listing for this for months. Commotion from the previously bored-sounding voices over the scanner is interrupting them, as several people seem to be trying to talk at once. But there are still the inevitable words that stand out, as clear as day:

 

We have an officer down.

 

“You have to go, don’t you?” Salvio asks him, knowingly.

 

Matt feels a strange, hysterical compulsion to make some kind of Bat Signal or Boy Wonder joke, but it’s like he’s frozen. His throat won’t work. He flicks his gaze at Salvio, and then back at the scanner, which is now a blaring cacophony of efficient, commanding voices giving each other concise and practiced instructions intercut with various rushed, stricken sounding cops reporting their locations over the wail of sirens.

 

McClane’s voice is not among them. Matt realizes detachedly that his fingernails are digging into his palms and he unclenches the reflexive fists he’d been making.

 

“Go,” Salvio says. “Make sure he’s okay.”

 

Go. Where the hell to, he has no fucking clue.

 

Matt nods. It’s movement. It’s a start.

 

The first thing he does is reach out and flip the scanner off. The sudden deathly silence is strange. It surrounds them, making him feel odd and surreal. He feels like he’s watching his own actions through a haze. Like this is just another nightmare.

 

He collects his keys and his bag by the door as they move hastily through the apartment and into the hallway. Matt feels a strange urge to pack up and take everything in the apartment with him in case he’ll need it, like it’s going to be the Fourth of July all over again. Like he should be preparing for the end of the world.

 

It’s not until Matt is turning his key in the lock that either of them speaks.

 

“Matt,” Salvio says, and Matt turns to look at him. Suddenly he feels like the fact that he doesn’t know where the hell he’s going is completely inconsequential to the hurried, imperative need to be there now. “You’re a nice guy.  …I hope everything works out for you.”

 

Matt is down the stairs and out the door into what has to be the worst storm of the season so far before the meaningful, almost final, tone of those words actually sinks in.

 

 

III

It Never Rains…

  

“What in the hell…?”

 

It’s pretty much exactly the reaction Matt would have expected, if he’d been expecting to see McClane answer the frantic late-night pounding at his front door at all.  Which – although it hadn’t been exactly clear to him until just this second – he obviously hadn’t been. He hadn’t spared time for thought about what to expect in the least. Flashing lights in the driveway? Or maybe nothing at all; the house dark and uninhabited but for the solitary light on the porch, left burning in wait for the homecoming flip of the off-switch that would never come.

 

Matt had never been what he could call ‘good’ in an emergency. He spent the entire drive over here half waiting to have some sort of breakdown – to have to pull over to the side of the road when blinding tears suddenly started filling his eyes, or to lose control of the car in this endlessly stupid weather and wrap his less-than-reliable ’99 Ford Escort around a telephone pole. But he didn’t. He just drove.

 

He drove with nervous, clammy hands a deadly calm on the wheel, and a sick, cold dread sitting heavily in the pit of his stomach.

 

But this, if he’d taken the time to imagine it, is exactly the expression of indignant confusion and contained alarm he could have expected when McClane opened the door to find Matt standing drenched on his porch in the bucketing rain, breathless and panting – less with racing up the driveway and tearing up the front steps, than with simple, obsessive panic.

 

Matt reaches a hand out, gripping McClane just below the elbow – just to feel him, solid and whole and there, in front of him.

 

The only thought he’d had room for until now was his frantic need to be sure John was alive and in one piece. He was completely unprepared for the fact that that seeing John alive would mean seeing John.

 

He should say something. But seriously, he was standing in the rain, dripping and all but fucking clinging, and probably just as fuck-basket crazy as he looks.

 

“Matt?” John is looking at him now, with a half-concerned half-wary expression that is probably NYPD SOP for handling volatile situations like potentially-violent glue huffers, or feral alley-cats.  Or, apparently, this.

  

Matt lets go of John’s arm and looks down, breaking off the eye contact. There are darkened, wet patches of storm-water left on the fabric of John’s shirt where his fingers were. He stands there a moment, staring at them and hoping somebody says something brilliant. Or just says something. At this point, Matt would be stoked for a line from Jackass.

 

There was probably nothing to be said anyway. After a few seconds of nothing but the sound of the stupid rain falling all around them, Matt turns around and heads right back down the steps.

 

“Matt! Kid! …Shit.”

 

He can hear McClane cursing and calling after him, shouting over the drumming of the rain on the pavement and the roofs of cars lining the street. He doesn’t stop though, doesn’t even realize McClane is right on his heels. He’s halfway down the driveway before he feels a hand on his arm.

 

Matt spins around and John is right there, gripping his elbow and looking just as shellshocked as Matt feels. They stare dumbly at each other a moment, John’s head cocked awkwardly to the side, into the angle of the rain, and squinting against the drops hitting his face.

 

Matt is soaked through. He’s long since given up on avoiding the onslaught of the water. He just stands there, letting it sluice over him, watching the rain bounce off the top of John’s head and the smooth curve of his brow; the drops splashing and kicking up little broken spots of mist that dance like pinpoints of light in the yellow, buzzing glare of the streetlamp outside McClane’s house.

 

“What the hell you doing, kid?”

 

“Sorry. I should have called,” Matt apologizes, before he can stop himself, voice raised enough to cut through the rushing sound all around them. “…But it’s not like you take my calls is it?”

 

“You want talk to me, okay. We’ll talk. Why doncha come inside then, huh? You look like a dunked cat.”

 

“You look…the same. I hate you.”

 

“Appreciate the sentiment. Try not to be jealous, you know what they say about God only having time for a few perfect heads…” John straightened up, showing off his own example to the best advantage and joining Matt in abandoning all hope of maintaining any dry spots on his person. “The rest just get covered with this stuff you got going on.”

 

John reaches out, obviously trying to diffuse some of the insanity of the situation by tousling his soaked hair and sending drops of water flying out of it, only to be lost in the downpour.

 

And then, because Matt is sleep deprived, and adrenaline-buzzed, and frustrated and confused and apparently completely as psychotic as his night’s behavior would suggest – and fully sick of being all of the above, by the way – he entirely changes tack, and just fires away.

 

“No,” he says, pulling away from John’s touch exactly like the petulant child he’s been swearing for months he’s not.

 

Because, no, McClane doesn’t get to do this. He doesn’t get to distract Matt with his overbearing lack of personal space issues, or dismiss this with jokes about his obvious hair fetish.  They’ve both been doing enough of that, and look where it’s landed them. Here. And Matt hates here. He hates insomnia and sexual frustration and unrequited… everything, and he definitely really fucking hates soakers. And he’s massively rocking two beauties right about now. So, no.

 

“I mean, I hate you,” Matt repeats, because apparently he really is fuck-basket nuts. “I hate you for turning me into this. Into the guy who can’t even leave his shitty apartment and stays up all damn night to listen to illegal police scanners!”

 

His voice is still raised, even though they’re definitely standing close enough now to hear each other over the patter of the rain. John takes a surprised step backward, but Matt has gathered too much momentum to be tripped up over the reaction to his big confession.

 

“The guy who fucking spaz-attack panics and drives out to Brooklyn in the storm of the century like an epic lame-ass, because every time I hear a siren, or a gunshot, or the words ‘10-32 officer down’ I think it’s you! Do you have any idea what that’s like?”

 

John is shaking his head, with a faraway look like he’s heard words like these before. And now Matt is that guy, and for some fittingly insane reason, the thought just makes him madder.

 

“I can’t do this anymore. I’m not even supposed to be here. I’m supposed to be in the middle of a very important conversation. Explaining to somebody why I was passed out asleep on your couch when I should have been meeting them for a date. A date with someone who doesn’t use flying bullets as an icebreaker, and doesn’t think demonstrating 101 lethal uses of fire-fighting equipment is a good first date activity!”

 

Matt doesn’t think he got his point across, so much as he just forgot what his point was, so he just stands there a moment, watching John drop his chin and lower his gaze like he’s running the pros and cons of saying whatever’s in that shiny, mysterious head of his.

 

“Then why are you here, standing in the rain, with me?”

 

Oh hell no, McClane doesn’t get to do that either. When did Matt’s life turn into some melodramatic chick flick? Still, the adrenaline must be wearing off because Matt feels just a little of the fight drain out of him.

 

“Because, apparently, I can’t not be here. I can’t be around you, I can’t be away from you— ”

 

“Look,” McClane interrupts, patiently. “Just come inside and we’ll talk about this.”

 

Matt looks up the driveway at the inviting glow from the windows of the only place he’s ever thought of as some kind of home. He knows if they go into that house, and shut that door, dripping in storm water and emotion-fuelled adrenaline, there won’t be any talking done at all. And then Matt finds himself hoping there isn’t. And then he knows his answer.

 

“I cant.”

 

“Can’t?” McClane repeats. “Or won’t?”

 

Matt sighs, pushes his dripping bangs out of his eyes, and tries to gather his shattered nerves into some kind of coherently functioning whole.

 

“Can’t. Because I have to learn how to be a fucking grownup. God, McClane, you saw it. My place, what I do there. Nothing! I don’t even sleep. So what do I do? I sit up at night and listen to Doreen flirt with you on the radio – fucking shamelessly I might add – because now I know what’s out there. The shit that can happen when you’re just sitting in your apartment and it suddenly fucking blows up on you. Because you saved my life a million times and now suddenly it’s like I can’t deal with simple every day shit unless I know you’re out there somewhere too. I thought you were going to let me have that. To hear from you, know you’re out there. So I can’t. I can’t because I swore after the last time you ripped my fucking heart out I would never set foot in there again.”

 

John blinks the rain out of his eyes, but he doesn’t say anything. Maybe it’s because there’s really nothing left to say.

 

Matt turns to head down the driveway again, but John catches and holds the edge of his jacket. He gives another sigh and turns around slowly. He’s not sure how much more of this he’s got left in him.

 

“What are you doing?” It’s all he’s got, but it’s a good question on so many levels.

 

“Stopping you,” McClane answers, with his typical amount of forthcoming candour. Matt feels like he’s running out of patience. If that didn’t already happen weeks ago.

 

Because?”

 

“Because you turn me into the guy who spazzes out and panics and runs outside in the fucking storm of the century like an epic lame-ass and stands in my own goddamn driveway, with some kid half his age.”

 

Matt looks at John and sees a look on his face he’s never seen there before. He sees himself. John looks just as lost and tumbled and confused as Matt feels, and there are worrisome dark smudges under the glasz eyes.

 

The endorphin rush is officially over. For the first time since he dashed out into this ridiculous storm, he actually feels cold. He realizes he’s shivering, just like the pathetic abandoned kitten McClane already compared him to.  

 

And on top of that, now he feels like a real shit. Perfect.

 

“Oh.”

 

“Yeah, Oh.” McClane squeegees a hand over his scalp, but the water is still coming down mercilessly from above. “You going back to him now? That why you can’t come in?”

 

So this is somehow about Salvio now?

 

“Is that what you want to hear?” Matt is actually starting to think John honestly has no fucking idea.

 

“It’s not about what I want, Matthew.”

 

“What? What is it about then?” He is just so fucking tired all of a sudden. 

 

“It’s about all that shit you just said! You don’t sleep, from the looks of it ya don’t eat, I’m— Jesus Christ. …I’m bad for you, Matt.”

 

Well no shit, Detective.

 

“I thought you meant it, John,” Matt manages. “What we did. Do you know what that did to me? How it changed everything? You said you weren’t going anywhere.”

 

“I meant it. I just…” John crosses his arms across his chest, tucks one hand under his arm.

 

“Just what?” Matt prompts. “Conveniently forgot to mention that what you meant was ‘goodbye’?”

 

John looks down at what should be his shoes, but when Matt follows his gaze, he sees John has run out into the storm after him without any. Maybe Matt isn’t the only one this whole thing is bad for.

 

When Matt turns to go for the third time, John doesn’t come after him.

 

He turns the key in the ignition and trusts that his shaking hands on the wheel, and the prickling behind his eyelids will hold out long enough to get him there safely, for the second time tonight. He’s glad Salvio always, always answers that door. Because if that offer of coffee is still on the table, Matt fully intends to take him up on it.

 

***

 

To say their third date hadn’t gone ‘well’ would be a whole lot closer to an out and out lie than an understatement. Because the date itself, in fact, had gone very well. Better than well. Just the same as their other dates.

 

When they finally got out for a coffee, Matt discovered Salvio thought comics and the whole idea of collector culture was actually ‘very cool’ which is definitely not a term Matt had ever heard anyone else use to describe any of his hobbies. It was no big surprise that he also seemed pretty interested in the Fourth and everything that happened with McClane, but Matt must have been pretty obvious about not really wanting to talk much about it, because after the first couple of times, he never brought it up again.

 

Fortunately, the thing Salvio was really into, was movies. That was something they had in common, so on their second date, that’s what they did. Although Salvio was probably not as into action as Matt was. Who’d have ever thought he’d end up hooked up with an artsy film buff?

 

“So, we’re ‘hooking up’ at some point then?” Salvio said, when Matt voiced the thought out loud while they were lining up for some nutty-sounding vampire thing from the Tribeca Film Festival. Luckily he’d kept the part about never having thought he’d end up on a date with a dude in the first place to himself.

 

“Because… I’ve been trying not to get my hopes up there,” Salvio continued, looking sideways at him impishly.

 

The things you had to discuss that you didn’t have to on a date with a girl kept surprising him. Apparently they had to establish it was a date in the first place. He’d never had these kinds of negotiations with McClane. It had just sort of happened.

 

“At some point, yeah,” Matt replied, smiling coyly back. “That sounds about right.”

 

“That was enthusiastic,” Salvio laughed. “I’m getting the feeling you’re…new to this.”

 

“Very,” Matt admitted readily. “Huge noob, right here,” he said, raising a hand in the air.

 

Salvio had looked at him sideways again, with his full lower lip between his teeth, like he was considering something.

 

“Okay,” he said, nodding.

 

“Sure about that?” Matt asked.

 

But Salvio just smiled, as usual. “As long as you are.”

 

***

 

On their third date they did the whole dinner thing; went to A Voce, Salvio tried to pay for it, the whole deal. Matt wouldn’t let him though, asking that he at least let him chip in for his half of the meal.

 

Salvio cast him a significant look and said, “we can do whatever you’re comfortable with, man.”

 

So, on their way back into the building, Matt was very aware that Salvio was waiting for him to set the pace. He was also aware that this was officially their third date, and that third dates are supposed to be the big, important ones. So he said something about their fifty-fifty success rate with the whole having coffee thing, and how he was almost afraid to say anything and try for the third time. Salvio said he was game whenever Matt was.


That’s how they ended up leaned against the counter in Salvio’s comparatively well-appointed kitchen, tentatively making out while his retro-style coffeemaker burbled merrily behind them.

 

It was…different. Not to say that it wasn’t nice. It was very, very nice. For one thing, he could definitely get why McClane seemed to be so into his hair. Salvio’s hair was thick and soft. It smelled nice too, sort of like a girl’s but spicier, and it made his grip on Matt’s hips go tight when Matt played with the ends of it.

 

So the hair was different, but the big difference was that this time around, Matt was still so very aware of everything they were doing. Mostly, he was acutely aware that he was kissing a man, and not a woman, whereas with John he’d really only been thinking about how he was kissing John.

 

Somewhere in the middle of this thought, a loud beeping sound from behind him made him jump.

 

“Coffee’s ready,” he noted unnecessarily, licking his lips self-consciously, when Salvio pulled back to look at him with slight concern.

“Do you really want coffee right now?” Salvio asked him.

 

Matt wasn’t sure there was a right answer to that question. He looked down at where Salvio was poking a slim finger through one of his belt loops.

 

“It’s okay,” Salvio said. Apparently he’d been quiet too long. “You said you’re new to this. So.”

 

“Yeah,” Matt said quietly, ducking his head a little. It didn’t feel okay. In fact, he felt kind of …terrible. Guilty almost.

 

Salvio took his finger back. “Matt?”

 

“Yeah,” he said again.

 

“How new? Have you done this before? I mean with a man.”

 

“Once,” Matt answered, truthfully.

 

Salvio nodded, like it wasn’t a surprise in the least. “Have you ever thought…that maybe you don’t really like guys after all?”

 

“It felt like I liked it.” Matt looked up at him through his bangs and offered him a tentative grin.

 

Salvio smiled back, but then he said, “I meant maybe you don’t like guys, plural. Men. That maybe…it’s just the one guy you really like.”

 

Genius. It’s a term Matt has heard tossed around a lot –  by his parents, by the fucking newspapers, even by the guy standing in front of him right now, looking at him with a mixture of disappointment and knowing patience – and he’s always hated it. Especially at times like this one, because a word like that kind of just puts the cherry on top of the whole humiliation sundae when it turns out that Matt is actually the slowest person in the room.

 

Matt did the only smart thing left to do and fled the scene again.


So now he’s back here, where he belongs; slumped at his desk, with his head buried miserably in his crossed arms, about to give himself the one definitely lame, debatably creepy, and questionably legal thing that is all he seemingly deserves. He doesn’t even lift his head to reach out and flip the on switch.

 

It’s the first time Matt has listened since what he now mentally refers to as ‘the incident’ with McClane on the night of the big storm. It’s pretty indicative of the equally awesome night he’s having now, that the first thing he hears is:

 

“10-42. This is badge 7479 McClane, signing out.”

 

“McClane?”

 

Good old Doreen.

 

It’s like she checks the schedule and deliberately takes John’s shifts. Not that Matt would be surprised. It is a surprise that she’s calling him back instead of confirming his signoff, though. Something might be happening around McClane’s location. Matt raises his head enough to prop his chin on his arm and listen properly.

 

“Yeah, Central,” comes John’s response. “I’m here. Go.” McClane sounds tired, but willing to go wherever they’re sending him.

 

“Aren’t you forgetting to say goodnight to someone? I can see you on the GPS, John. I know you’re sitting outside that apartment.”

 

John’s habit of ‘looking out for’ Lucy, especially on a Friday night, is a well known joke around the precinct. Matt feels just the beginnings of a wry smile, which is an impressive accomplishment for a night like this one.

 

“Now tell me you haven’t been stalking me, Doreen.”

 

“Look who’s talking,” Doreen practically giggles. “Come on, John.”

 

Matt can practically see John’s derisive smirk before he responds, drily.

 

“I think those days are over. Looks like there’s a new guy in the picture. Swooped in there before I could wise up.”

 

Matt is frowning now. Lucy and John have had their share of arguments about John’s ‘surveillance’ habits. She would definitely have something to say if she found out he was reporting the results of each of her dates to the entire police force over open airways.

                                               

“Oh, John.” Doreen sounds admonishing, but also somehow, sad. Matt must be missing something.

 

“Nah,” says McClane. “Probably better off this way. Looks like this new guy’s a stand-up act.”

 

“That why you’re always taking the squad car and ranging all the way out to Jersey making sure everybody’s in by curfew?” Doreen says, skeptically. “Maybe things aren’t as over as you think? …It sounds like your Daisy is really someone special.”

 

Matt is suddenly sitting bolt upright. He really has been missing something.

 

“Special,” McClane says, wryly. “You said a mouthful.”

 

“Sooo,” Doreen wheedles, “maybe you and I aren’t the only lonely stalkers out tonight. Come on. Say goodnight, John-boy. One last time. What could it hurt?”

 

When John doesn’t respond right away, other voices take the opportunity to add their two cents.

 

“Say goodnight, McClane,” urges one bored-sounding female voice Matt recognizes as Officer MacMillan. In the background he hears what he suspects is her partner, Doyle, making kissy-noises into the mic. “It’s the only excitement Doyle ever gets.”

 

“Hey McClane,” a second, deeper, voice crackles through, “if you’re not gonna go up there, why doncha give me the address? I’ll go up and say goodnight for ya.”

 

“Settle down, Rando,” McClane responds. “I don’t think this one’s your type.”

 

There is another brief pause before John’s voice is heard again.

 

“Alright, 10-42 Central, this is car three seventy six, that’s oh three seven six. McClane signing off again.”

 

Then come the words Matt has been half hoping, half fearing he was about to hear.

 

“Daisy Duke. If you can hear me up there…be good, kiddo. This is badge 7479 McClane out. …Happy?”

 

Matt never got to hear whether Doreen was happy or not. He was already out the door, keys in hand.

 

***

 

It’s easy to pick the cruiser out of the rows of parked cars from the second Matt hits the parking lot, because it’s the one turning its engine over loudly, and starting to pull out of its spot.

 

“Shit!” Matt takes off running. Not toward the car, but toward the driveway, where he can cut off McClane’s exit.

 

Matt was never much good at running even before the bullets and the surgery and the months of physiotherapy. As it is, he barely gets there in time. The nose of the car is just rounding the corner of the exit, when Matt throws himself directly in front of it. The car jolts to a stop, bumper jerking and bouncing inches from where his hands are outstretched like they could have stopped McClane from running him over, as if Matt were Iron Man or something.

 

Matt hears the aggressive set of the parking brake, and the driver’s side door cracks open, letting out a colorful litany of cursing followed by one outraged-looking Detective John McClane.

 

John climbs out of the car and makes the couple of strides to the front of the vehicle, guns blazing – fortunately only metaphorically speaking.

 

“The hell you doing!?”

 

“I could ask you the same thing,” Matt counters, in between trying to catch his breath. He recognizes this. John doesn’t rant like this when he’s pissed. McClane is scared.

 

“Jesus. I coulda killed you, kid!”  John puts his head down, and presses his thumb and forefinger into his eyes like he has a headache or something. Then he looks up at the sky like he just noticed the light sprinkling falling all around them. “Why is it always fucking raining?”

 

“So I can ask you what you’re doing here,” Matt pants, “standing outside my building in the rain with me, like some bad romantic comedy.”

 

McClane pins him with the usual unimpressed regard.

 

“Daisy says goodnight by the way, ” Matt adds. John lifts an eyebrow.

 

Usually this look means McClane isn’t going to give him a response. That he’s just going to cop-stare at him until Matt can’t take it anymore and starts babbling like he’s got a pull-string hidden on his back somewhere. And usually it works. But Matt isn’t letting him out of this one. He waits.

 

“I’m just checking up on this kid who lives here, that’s all,” John says, with mock nonchalance. “Because I know he likes to do stupid shit like go to the ATM after dark and stand there, counting his cash like an engraved invitation for a mugging.”

 

Bullshit.

 

“When have I ever done that?”

 

“You did it last Monday. You took out eighty bucks.”

 

“Jesus. What do you, have twenty-four hour surveillance on me?”

 

“Close,” McClane nods, deadpan. “Been taking a few extra shifts. Can’t sleep.”

 

“What, at that old Brooklyn place? Yeah,” Matt sympathizes. He’s more or less breathing evenly now. “I hear it’s too quiet.”

 

McClane gives a reluctant crooked smile, then looks up at the sky again, like there’s some other, dryer place he’d like to be.

 

“Okay,” Matt says, before McClane puts a stop to this whole thing, because he’s pretty sure he’s already had all the last-times-he’s-ever-going-to-see-McClane-ever-again that he can handle. “Well, is there anything else this ‘kid’ has been doing that you don’t approve of, while we’re on the subject?”

 

“Yeah.” Of course. Matt may end up regretting this question. “He’s always walking around all slouched over with his head down, watching his shoes instead of what’s going on, who’s around. …And he wears that stupid bag around his neck.”

 

So now McClane has a problem with his bag.

 

“It’s over my shoulder!” Matt defends, giving in to a half-laugh, and daring a step closer to McClane, between the xenon-white light of the cruiser’s headlights, beaming obstinately forward through the falling drops of the rain. “And doesn’t that stop the muggers from stealing it?”

 

“Nope. It tells them to strangle ya with the strap and then steal it while you’re unconscious,” McClane says. “…Or worse.”

 

“God,” Matt says, not liking the ominous tone of the last thing McClane just said. He’s pretty sure he doesn’t want to know what else a violent purse-snatcher would do to the body of an unconscious computer geek with only eighty dollars on him. Matt shuffles another hesitant step closer. “Does this massive loser do anything that you like, at all?”

 

McClane looks around them, checking nobody’s around to eavesdrop, or maybe securing the area for potential muggers.

 

“He’s got this new guy hanging around, that seems to be pretty good for him,” he says. “Holds the door, brings him home early.” McClane looks him squarely in the eye a moment.

 

Matt stops his creeping approach and looks right back. Even though water is starting to trickle out of his hairline toward his eyes.

 

The rain might be dampening his synapses or something, but even through the distracting patter, and the growing awareness that his shirts are starting to soak through and cling to his skin, Matt can see what’s going on here; McClane telling him to ‘be good’ over the radio, the safety tips on smart ATM use, the tacit approval of his obviously thoroughly-observed outings with Salvio…

 

Say goodnight ‘one last time’ Doreen had said. John is still trying to tell him goodbye.

 

Well: fuck that.

 

“Isn’t this where you tell me you’re supposed to be on a date?” McClane says, true to form. “You should get up there. Go on back up to him.”

 

“I can’t,” Matt says slowly, unsure what McClane’s reaction to this little tidbit will be. “Salvio dumped me.”

 

“Dumped you, what the hell for? Why?”

 

Okay. Anger-slash-annoyance. Not outside McClane’s usual repertoire. But as incomprehensible as always.

 

“Why?” Matt waves a hand back and forth between them. “Because of this! Because of the surveillance, and the possessive manhandling while brandishing drywall saws, and the …radio.” Matt gives up on trying to communicate anything with flailing gestures and uses his hand to push his now fully sodden hair off his face. “He might not know how to fix a ceiling, but he’s not an idiot, McClane.”

 

John mutters something that sounds distinctly like it includes his favourite cuss-word.

 

“Okay,” Matt says, now genuinely confused. “So maybe the rain is shorting something out in my brain, or maybe it’s your complete aversion to emotional communication, but I’m getting some mixed messages. First the guy ‘swooped in’ on you and now, sue me, but it kind of sounds like you’re pissed that he didn’t. Or maybe that was some other Detective McClane, badge number 7479 I heard on the radio, stalking me?”

 

McClane shoots him a look from under lowered brows. “You started it,” he says, probably just to avoid explaining himself.

 

“Very mature.” Matt grins. Then he waits.

 

“There you go with that maturity stuff again.” John sighs, like he’s annoyed he’s going to have to give in and actually cooperate. “That’s what I’m talkin’ about. You wanted to be a grownup, handle your shit on your own, blah blah blah. So yeah, maybe I am pissed, a little.”

 

This whole shutting up and waiting thing seems to be working. Matt will have to remember this. John moves his feet apart, settles his weight before he goes on.

 

“That night when I came to your apartment it was shit, Matt. You’ll never get a proper place, or do any of the shit you should if you’re spending all your time on the computer, listening to a bunch of old cops talk bullshit on the radio. You can’t even hang onto your new boyfriend for three weeks!”

 

McClane breaks off and shakes his head a little, checking himself. Which Matt doesn’t mind so much, because: ouch. But then, Matt had said a lot worse last time they stood in the rain, staring each other down like this.

 

“With me around you’re not going to do it, Matthew,” McClane says. “You got your whole life ahead of you, and you need to be out there, doing it. Get a place you can bring a girl home to. Get married, kids. You won’t even get the chance for all that if I can’t stop being—“

 

“What?” Matt takes over when McClane falters and seems to be giving up on this whole talking thing. “A Fag? A dirty old man? Insert miscellaneous cliché here?”

 

“Yeah maybe.” John’s laugh is a little strained, like he’s having a hard time choking some of this back. His hand goes under his jacket to his holster. Checking. “If I can’t stop being weak, alright?” McClane looks right at him when he says it, and Matt can see all over his face what it’s costing him. “That’s why I’m here, all standing in the rain like in a crappy romantic comedy with you.”

 

It’s not quite an apology but as far as Matt can tell, it’s about as close as McClane gets.

 

“…You’re my weakness, kid.”

 

Matt ducks his head, to take some of the edge off of the eye contact before he takes another step forward. He keeps his voice low when he speaks.

 

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m sort of a bit of a loner,” Matt says, when he finally looks up at McClane again. “Recluse! Is probably a more apt description lately, and okay, you’re right, after a while I did move on a little – or well, I tried. But John, after that night I seriously thought I would never see you again. Ever. And still, all that other shit, wedding dresses, kids – Jesus, McClane –  even then, my only other prospect was a Jersey Superintendant who’s thinking about maybe growing a beard. Okay? So. I’m not exactly rushing out and doing that stuff without you around either.” 

 

McClane is watching him carefully, weighing Matt’s words and still wearing that sort of wary look, but he isn’t stepping away from him. It’s encouraging, and Matt hopes he’s not jumping the gun too much, when he reaches out with one hand to grasp the strap of John’s holster, just under the lapel of his jacket. It’s warm, if a little damp, and Matt thinks briefly that he wishes he’d grabbed his own jacket, but then the thought is gone, making room for his mind to take in the way John stiffens at the encroachment of fingers tucking in between the leather and his chest – but he still doesn’t move away.

 

“Okay so I’m still getting nightmares,” Matt says, quickly. “Which isn’t the most adult thing in the world, but there are extenuating circumstances there McClane, okay? And… remember how I said how it changed everything, knowing you’re out there? Well, the more time I spent with you, the more I felt like it actually mattered to someone that I get better. I eat when you’re around – mostly crap, but still.” 

 

Matt can feel the little twitch of reaction under his knuckles when McClane gives an amused-sounding snort.

 

“I even sleep most of the time,” Matt goes on, feeling outright bold now. “Since I don’t have to stay up listening to old cops talk bullshit on the scanner because I know you haven’t been blown up or shot, or maybe dropped a burning helicopter on yourself, when I get to hear it straight from you.”

 

Matt unclenches the fist that was gripping the strap, opens his palm to lay it flat somewhere over the region of John’s heart.

 

“It’s kind of like…” Matt lets his voice go softer now that they are standing close enough. “You know how grownups have these actual real relationships, instead of going out on a lot of dates and screwing around with a lot of people they don’t really like? Yeah. It turns out I’m way better at being a grownup when you’re not avoiding me like the plague, for my theoretical own good.”

 

McClane doesn’t say anything, but he brings a hand up to Matt’s face, and rubs his thumb over the rise of his cheekbone. Matt is pretty sure that’s his cue to shut the hell up.

 

So he leans forward, tilting up to meet John’s lips. The rainwater has chilled and slicked their skin, and their lips slide coolly over each other when their mouths catch, but the hot, sharp contrast when John opens hungrily to take the kiss, makes Matt’s breath hitch. It’s a little different than their deliberate, reverent explorations from before – John’s tongue pushing assertively forward to claim Matt’s own, broad hands moving to pull him forward and press him against the solid, brawny wall of his chest.

 

The needy, possessive edge to it makes Matt suddenly feel weak himself, pretty much everywhere. He clutches steadyingly at the front of John’s coat with both hands.

 

“You’re drenched again,” John says when Matt opens his eyes, combing some of the clinging hair off his forehead with strong, careful fingers. He doesn’t liken him to a bedraggled stray this time.

 

“And you still look the same.”


“Still hate me?” His voice has gone slightly huskier than usual.

 

“A little,” Matt answers, letting loose his hold on John’s coat, and winding his arms in underneath it, and around his waist. “But I might be starting to warm to you.”

 

Warm. Gimme a break,” John says, rubbing his hands quickly over Matt’s back and creating a not-unwelcome friction. “We gotta get you inside, you’re trembling, here.”

 

“Yeah. That’s probably not the rain,” Matt admits, and gets a low chuckle he can feel against his chest.

 

“You know we got a real problem,” John says, pulling back to look straight at him. “Because you swore you’d never set foot in my place again and I’m pretty sure if you ever set foot on the property again I’m never gonna let ya leave. So what do we do, here? If I let you get in that car with me you’re not gonna make me stand in the driveway all night, are ya?”

 

“At least this time you’ll have shoes on.”

 

“First time for everything,” John says, tone significant, and this time Matt is the one to give a tired little chuckle. “Whaddya say kid, huh? Make with the happy ending and come home with me? It’s old and run down but it’s still pretty sturdy, and it’ll do everything its tired old bones can to keep you warm and safe.”

 

Matt looks at McClane, and that same enigmatic hide-and-go-fuck-yourself smirk is frolicking around on his features. This whole invitation could mean come home with me tonight, or just come home, but ‘never let you leave’ is a pretty solid indication it’s the latter. Matt feels oddly numb, and it probably really isn’t the rain.

 

“I don’t know. Does it leak?” The wetness around McClane's eyes could be rain, or laughter or something else, and Matt untangles one arm to reach up and rub at it with his thumb.

 

“Maybe just a little, lately,” John admits. “Think you can fix that, since you’re a grown up expert at it now?”

 

Matt shakes his head, he’s been smiling so hard his cheeks hurt and he’s starting to feel like his throat is oddly choked and constricted himself – less talking might be good for a while.  

 

“I don’t know about expert, but I could definitely get behind plugging a few holes.”

 

“We really need to work on your pickup lines, kid.”

 

“What lines?” Matt asks, making his eyes wide in mock surprise. “I thought we were talking about the house. Were you hitting on me, old man?”

 

John tips his head sardonically and drops his hands from where they have been rubbing slow, warming paths up and down Matt’s back. He takes a separating step backward, but Matt moves with him, folding like a cheap deck of cards.

 

“Okay okay okay!” He can’t help but laugh a little. This whole conversation has him blissed out and giddy and maybe just a little bit punchy.

 

John has effectively broken off their arms-around-hips embrace, but Matt can remedy this by twining his arms tightly around John’s neck and looking him right in the eye.

 

“I think maybe I can make an exception and break my vow and come back to your worn down, busted old house just this once. But based on your description, I don’t think I’d change a thing. It sounds like everything is exactly the way I like it as it is. …How’s that for a line?”

 

Matt can’t be sure, but it seems like it might have been a pretty good one, because McClane’s response doesn’t include any snarky smack-talk, and there are no death-message eyebrow contortions. John just throws both arms around him in a bear-like embrace that narrowly misses pulling him right off his feet.

 

The rain is still coming down as hard as ever.  Matt can feel it pelting down on their heads and trickling in little rivulets down his back. If he’s shivering though, it’s not because of the cold, not with McClane wrapped around him and kissing him they way he does everything else – like their lives depend on it and there may totally feasibly be no tomorrow.

 

But Matt really, truly hopes there is a tomorrow. Because tomorrow, Matt has plans. He plans to sleep late, and wake up at home – under an ugly blue comforter and cracks in the ceiling – to a cup of hot coffee in a mug with the chip in the handle.

 

And after that, if everything goes according to his plan, Matt has work to do. He is the guy who successfully changed John McClane’s mind about sushi after all, and now this. Matt figures if he’s creative, he can pull off the hat trick and convince the world’s most stubborn real American hero that long, hot showers really are awesome. Even if the mirror fogs up and the wallpaper starts to peel.

 

Yeah, Matt thinks, tipping his head back to look up into the inky sky and let the cold splashes of rain on his face do their worst, before he goes back for another kiss that, sure enough, warms him right down to his toes. The cold, insistently rainy weather that is springtime in New York probably won’t be bothering them much for a long time to come.

 

FIN.