The new father’s lounge at Mount Sinai Medical is less a ‘lounge’ than a tiny fishbowl with two rows of rigid, uncomfortable chairs and a wall made almost entirely of thick safety glass windows.
It feels like it’s mostly intended as a way to contain the pacing you always see expectant fathers doing in old-fashioned cartoons, and probably so that the nurses can make sure nobody starts showing any signs of anything like a complete nervous breakdown, or maybe a heart attack.
It’s his first time being here but if he’s honest, Dan could completely understand something like that happening. He’s not sure about the other two guys in here but Dan feels almost like there’s not enough room in his head to finish getting worried about something before he moves on to the next thing. He’s worried about Carol’s labour, he’s worried about the baby, and he can’t even seem to wrap his head around what is going to happen afterward.
Dan has never changed a baby. He’s never fed or bathed one, hell, he’s never even held one. He has no idea if it’s going to be a boy or a girl – Carol wanted it to be a surprise – all he does know is he wants his kid to have the best of everything, but then everybody just keeps telling him how much everything costs.
That and the sleep. Everyone he talks to keeps telling him he’ll never get another full night’s sleep until the kid is 13.
Carol’s had an epidural, so she’s sleeping right now, thank God, which is why he’s out here instead of in the room, in the first place. He should be trying to do the same thing, probably, but the anesthesiologist comes around with a cart full of the stuff for everybody at once or something, and now he’s got company in the dads-to-be fishbowl.
They’ve made introductions, and a little small talk, but it seems like all three of them are either too tired, or too stressed out, to chat much and the conversation has sort of hit a lull.
The guy next to him is named Jerry. Dan can remember that because he actually has a Jerry-curl. His bushy, curly hair and his round barrel chest kind of make him look like an overgrown teddy-bear. Jerry actually seems pretty calm, which frankly blows Dan’s mind a bit.
And then, sitting across from him and Jerry – when he ever actually sits down – is Matt.
Matt is…well, Dan isn’t sure there’s a way to describe Matt without using the word ‘weird’. Nervous doesn’t quite seem to cover it. Dan can’t make up his mind whether it’s making him feel better or worse about his own mood, but he is pretty sure that he has never seen another human being look quite as nervous as Matt does. In fact, something like ‘frenetic’ is probably a better word.
Matt has a lot of shaggy, dark hair that he can’t seem to keep out of his face, and for some reason he’s always getting up out of his chair and walking around pulling on it, like he thinks this time it’ll stay put when he lets go. He almost looks too young to be here, in jeans and skateboard sneakers, and a t-shirt with a robot on the front. Then again, Jerry doesn’t look much older than Dan is, and he says it’s his third time being here.
But the weirdest thing about Matt is, Dan can’t seem to shake the feeling that he knows him from somewhere. He tries not to keep staring at the guy, trying to figure it out, but then it’s hard not to look up every time Matt jumps up out of his seat, only to walk around behind it and lean over it with both hands anxiously gripping the back, or to go and just stand around in the doorway, like he’s waiting for someone.
Well, alright, maybe all three of them are waiting for someone. Of course, in Matt’s case it might be more than the prospect of imminent fatherhood making him this jittery. He must have spent a fortune in quarters running back and forth to the vending machines in the last couple of hours; Dan has yet to catch a glimpse of him without a coffee cup or a Coke at hand.
And in his other hand – when it isn’t fidgeting with his cup or in his hair – Matt always has his phone.
Matt’s phone is this weird high-tech thing that slides open to reveal two screens and a tiny keyboard. Dan’s seen one of those before. Apparently they’re all the rage, and they probably cost a mint. Thank God his kid won’t be old enough to pester him for one for a good ten years…okay well at least five. His cousin Phil has a phone like that, and he’s just as addicted to it as Matt seems to be, too – constantly texting on it. But then Phil can probably afford it, it’s not like he’ll never have a kid to worry about.
Dan’s aunt told the family Phil ‘came out’ to her as a homosexual about three months ago, and Dan actually hasn’t spoken to him since. The whole family got pretty upset, his uncle won’t even talk about it. Sure, Dan feels a little sad about the whole thing, they were kids together after all, but it’s probably for the best anyway.
It’s not like he has anything against it or anything, not at all. Whatever – or whoever – Phil wants to do is his business, right? But it’s not just about him any more. Dan’s going to have a kid, he’ll have to be careful about that kind of stuff now; influences. Like the kind of TV shows he watches, and the people he has around.
Dan is just thinking about how much Carol hates guns, and how he’s really going to miss his favourite action movies, when Matt’s phone makes a funny blipping noise and the top screen flashes something that looks like the name Gramps.
“Yeah,” Matt says, instead of a greeting, hitting the call button and then continuing to tap at the keys distractedly like he can make that crazy phone do several things at once.
“Sit rep, kid,” a deep voice scratches out gruffly over speakerphone. “How’s my little girl?”
“Well she’s your little girl. So, you know. Completely fine. Don’t know if I can say the same for the nurses’ sanity though. I honestly think they were more relieved when the epidural was ready than Lucy was.”
Dan drops his gaze. Speakerphone not withstanding, he sort of feels like he’s eavesdropping, but then Matt mutters “…Lucy’s dad.” He delivers this statement of the obvious with a wave of the phone at Jerry and Dan, as if they’re a part of the conversation.
There’s a tired sounding chuckle from the phone while Matt taps a few more keys. “How you holdin’ up?”
Matt stops tapping for a second to pull on his hair again, and then make a lot of waving, flipping gestures while he talks, as if the rough-voiced man is in the room with them to see it, instead of on the phone.
“Remember how last time you asked me that, I was standing outside the fitting room in a maternity store, juggling approximately a trillion pairs of different blue jeans with stretch panels in the waist,” Matt rambles out, at top-speed, “and I said how getting Lucy pregnant is just like taking Lucy and then turning that up to eleven? Well this is Lucy in labour. So.”
Matt pauses to rub at his arm like he’s remembering some previous blow to the shoulder.
“I mean, the bruises will heal, but didn’t you ever teach your daughter that words hurt?”
“I’m on my way,” the graveled voice soothes, reassuringly. And Matt racks up a couple more weirdness points in Dan’s mental scorebook.
He must have one hell of a relationship with his father in law. The way he talks about his wife, Lucy, almost sounds like he’s a little afraid of her – Dan gets that, sure, Carol had gotten pretty crabby after a couple hours of contractions herself. But whatever else Matt might be scared of, he sure as hell wasn’t mincing words with her dad. Dan would never have the cojones to talk about Carol to her father that way, not in a million years, and if he did, he’d certainly never expect to get that kind of a response.
“I’m in the father’s lounge,” Matt is drawling ironically now. “We’ve got cigars and everything,” he lies, smoothly. “Jerry here is about to have twins. Which is good, ’cause a couple more and we’ll have enough for a hand of poker.”
“Yeah? Well gimme another twenty minutes and you can deal me in. I’ll bring the pork rinds.”
Matt smiles and clicks the call end button.
“I’d settle for just one Red Bull,” he mutters, shaking his empty coffee cup morosely just as his phone makes another little blipping noise.
“Shit. Ice chips,” he announces, clearly reading a demanding text from the infamous Lucy. Matt makes a sarcastic little salute at the tiny screen before dragging himself back up out of his chair. “Private Farrell, reporting for punching bag duty,” he sighs wryly, by way of excusing himself, and heads gamely for the door.
There it is again. That feeling that Dan knows this guy from somewhere. Farrell. Matt Farrell. He still can’t quite place the name though.
“Wow,” says Jerry, watching through the glassed-in wall as Matt jogs off down the hall – eagerly enough it seems, despite his sardonic commentary.
“Yeah,” Dan says.
“That guy seems a little bit…” Jerry breaks off and shakes his head.
“Yeah,” Dan says again. He couldn’t agree more.
All the people warning him about how much cash and sleep a baby was going to cost him, never warned Dan that labour was going to be like this. He was ready for the pain, for the screaming, and all the crazy breathing exercises they had trained for, even for some terrifying unforeseen emergency, or to just pass out completely and miss the whole thing. But he didn’t expect that it would take so damn long.
It’s several hours later before the next time Dan sees Matt, and now he’s the one feeding quarters into the coffee machine. He feels utterly exhausted, and he’s not even the one giving birth. Matt has his own cup in hand of course, and he’s hanging over the counter of the nurse’s station, teaching the big, matronly night nurse how to defrag her hard drive.
His phone blips.
“Where are you?” Dan hears him say, just about as abruptly as the last time he heard Matt answer his phone. Apparently he’s not big on words like ‘hello’.
“Kid,” pants the familiar-sounding deep voice, as if out of breath. “It’s not some kinda holiday today, is it?”
“What? No. Shit.” Matt’s eyes go wide and he snaps the phone shut to turn off the speaker. He puts it to his ear, looking panicked, as if the words are a private code for some kind of emergency.
“Situation?” Matt says, into the phone after a pause. “What kind of situation, a that guy kind of situation? No. Not today. You can’t be that guy today. You’re booked. Can’t somebody else take care of it?”
Dan’s cup is full now and he takes a tentative sip. It feels like eavesdropping again, but walking by the desk back toward the fishbowl would just bring him even closer, so he hangs back. The coffee tastes like ashtrays and dishwater, but at least it’s hot.
A good fifteen seconds go by, while Matt listens and pulls on his hair what looks like a good deal harder than usual.
“Jesus,” he swears, finally. “You know, Lucy says this is not gonna be like that time you missed her first dance recital to stop that diamond heist, or when you didn’t show up to her tee-ball championship because that prince guy from Saudi Arabia was staging his own kidnapping, okay? If you miss this... there may literally be blood. And I’m the only one here, so it’ll probably be mine, McClane.”
McClane. That’s it! McClane and Farrell… It explains everything, Dan remembers now. Their names had been in the headlines a lot a couple years ago. McClane is a cop, and Matt is supposed to be some kind of computer genius who helped him avert a major cyber-terrorism attack in Washington.
And apparently he ended up married to McClane’s daughter, Lucy. That’s kind of sweet, Dan supposes. It certainly explains the way Matt talks to his father in law. Saving the country together has to be a quite the bonding experience – and to believe the papers it had been one hell of an adventure.
Of course, everybody seems to talk about McClane the way he just heard Matt doing – like something straight out of one of those action movies Dan is already feeling regretful about having to move off his shelves some time soon. John McClane is like some kind of urban legend. In fact, Dan’s pretty sure that’s all the majority of the stories about him really are. …Probably.
“McClane,” Matt is saying again, and all the sharp edges and sarcasm are gone from him. His expression is soft, open. Vulnerable. He looks almost like a different person altogether. He pauses, and Dan can tell Matt is waiting for McClane to acknowledge him with a word before he finishes with a sober “be careful.”
Dan can’t help wondering what’s going on, if everything is okay. He seems to have moved a couple of steps closer without really thinking about it.
“Chantal,” Matt says, suddenly efficient, to the night nurse. He’s clicked off his phone without so much as a goodbye again, and is striding around the corner of the desk toward her. “I need this,” he says, indicating her computer. “May I?”
“Well, sure, honey,” Chantal says, barely managing to struggle out of the desk chair before Matt is sliding into it. “Is everything alright?”
“Not…really,” Matt says absently, eyes glued to the monitor. His fingers are already racing over the keys at a frankly quite impressive speed. “We have a problem.”
“Problem?” Dan says, before he can stop himself. If by ‘we’ Matt means him and John McClane…well that could mean the kind of thing that is everybody’s problem.
“McClane says there’s some lunatic junkie on the ground floor with a pre-World War I rifle,” Matt responds automatically, fingers still flying and eyes still darting all over the screen. “Probably broke into some banker’s place looking for cash and ended up with nothing but antiques, and figured ‘next best thing’. Now he’s holding the whole ER waiting room hostage and demanding the entire supply of morphine and oxycontin.”
Chantal claps a hand to her ample chest, clutching at the counter for support.
Dan feels like doing the same. What the fuck kind of world his he bringing his kid into?
“Jesus,” he blurts, “can that psycho get up here?”
“Nope,” Matt says, looking up at him like he’s just noticed he was there. “Security just put the entire building on lockdown. …Which is another problem.”
“Are those the hospital blue prints?” Chantal says, weakly, looking over Matt’s shoulder at the screen. “How did you…”
“Yeah,” Matt interrupts, “this is your email right? Can I use it a second?” His fingers are still moving and Dan’s pretty sure he wasn’t waiting for the shocked, silent nod of permission she gives him. “I gotta send these to myself before they…”
As if on cue, the lights flicker and dim and everything around them goes dark for a moment until the emergency generators spring into action.
Matt is cursing, quietly, and Dan shares the sentiment. He’s damn glad Carol is asleep again because if he thought there wasn’t room for any more panic in his head tonight, he was obviously dead wrong. And he’s sure it’s the last thing she needs.
Matt’s phone blips, and he bites his lip before pressing the button.
“I don’t even want to know,” says a terse female voice that can only be Lucy’s. “Just tell me that means he’s at least in the building.”
“…We’re working on it,” Matt answers. “He promised, Luce. He’ll be here.”
“Dad promises too many things to too many people, Farrell.”
“Well now I’m promising,” he says, gently, not seeming to find his wife’s tone strange. What’s with this family calling everyone by their last names?
“You realize that means if you guys let me have this kid by myself, in the dark, that now I have the right to kill both of you, right?” Lucy says.
Matt clicks his phone off without saying a thing again – this time by mashing it against his forehead in frustration – and racks up another couple of weirdo points. But then, it’s turning into a pretty weird night.
“Where are you now?” Matt says, next time his phone blips. He’s talking right into the handset again, but it’s got to be McClane.
Matt listens, while he paces around the hallway looking up at the ceiling intently like he’s mapping out the HVAC system or something. He’s been doing that for the last few minutes, while Dan stands around watching him, feeling slightly helpless and thoroughly scared out of his mind.
“No no no, don’t,” Matt says hurriedly into the phone. “Don’t do that. That’s your solution for everything.”
It’s almost too bad Matt has stopped using speakerphone like everybody in the room needs to know what he’s up to. If McClane has a solution for what’s happening here, Dan would really like to hear it. Although from the sound of Matt’s tone, Dan has a sneaking suspicion he might not like it.
“…Yeah well there’s babies on this floor,” Matt says, confirming his suspicion, “and there’s about to be one more, and if you’re not here when it happens I’m pretty sure I won’t be around much longer either.”
“Dan, right?” Matt is suddenly looking his way. “I need to know the number on that fuse panel by the vending machine you were just at.” He seems to be busy climbing onto a chair to get a closer look at the ceiling panels.
Dan nods and ducks around the corner, just glad to be doing something and hoping Matt has found whatever it is he needs.
When he gets back, sure enough, Matt is hopping down from the chair. He slides his phone open, ready to tap in the number Dan recites and start multitasking again.
“Kid? You there?” the phone crackles in his hand while he works.
“Yeah, yeah I got you,” Matt says. “Try to stay in one place for a minute.”
“Look who’s talking,” McClane grunts, sounding slightly distressed.
Matt actually smirks while he taps his keys, but Dan can’t be sure if it’s a reaction to McClane’s pained-sounding teasing or success with whatever he’s been trying to do on his tiny little super phone.
“Ha!” Matt says. “Gotcha. I can see you. The GPS on this thing is awesome. Okay…” Matt pulls on his hair. Taps a few more keys. “There’s an emergency release switch about thirty feet to the West of you. Can you get to it?”
There are some rustling noises and grunts from the phone, before McClane says “Don’t make anything easy, do ya, kid? It’s also a good fifteen feet straight up.”
“Oh,” Matt says, sounding dejected. “Right.”
“Gimme five minutes,” McClane says, sounding determined.
“It was twenty minutes three hours ago,” Matt says.
There’s a clattering noise and a long string of curses out of the speaker phone and McClane says, “better make it ten.”
“You have five,” Matt says, flatly. But he goes on before McClane can respond. “I heard you drop your gun, I’d know the sound of that thing hitting the floor anywhere. You’re not going back for it now, you don’t need it. Mortal weapons are going to be useless against Lucy by the time you get here anyway.”
Matt waits while there’s more rustling sounds as if from a struggle in a tight space.
“John,” he says now, and for a second he’s that soft-voiced, open guy again instead of the busy, jittery wiseass. “Lucy first. That guy second.”
“Five,” McClane grunts in agreement.
Matt lets out a breath and then starts giving orders.
“In five minutes, those elevator doors are going to open,” Matt says, pointing across the hall. “Dan, we’re gonna need that big guy.”
“Right, him, can you find him?”
“He’s in room C12,” Chantal pipes up from behind the desk.
“Chantal,” Matt addresses her, “I need rope. Or something we can tie together…like bed sheets maybe.”
“Fire hose,” crackles McClane’s voice over the speaker phone.
Matt shakes his head, smiling that ironic way he keeps doing, like something about that is funny.
“That’ll work,” he says.
Dan sets off for room C12.
It’s pretty surreal-feeling and awkward, asking a near stranger to put down one of the brand new baby girls he’s only had for a matter of hours, to tell him he has to help defend the ward from a psychotic drug addict with an antique firearm, but Jerry’s willing to help as soon as Dan can get him into the hallway to deliver the news as discreetly as possible.
He’s predictably and unshakably calm about it too, and maybe some of that is starting to rub off on him, because Dan seems to keep getting distracted from thoughts of the crazed maniac fifteen floors below them, by how strikingly tiny a newborn baby is.
When they make it back to the elevators, Matt and Chantal have already opened the fire cabinet and pulled the reams of hose-length off the reel and onto the floor. They have about three more nail-biting minutes before something happens, Dan just isn’t quite sure what.
All eyes are turned hopefully on Matt – who just stares into the empty cabinet for at least a minute, seemingly in deep contemplation of the valve number, and then starts more inexplicable, hurried and complex-looking tapping of the keyboard on that phone.
Before he’s finished, all the floor numbers above the elevator doors light up at once.
“Yes!” Matt says, making a fist in the air and looking for the first time like he wasn’t completely sure that whatever his plan was, was going to work. “That’s McClane,” he tells them. “Go.”
At Matt’s command, Dan helps Jerry haul the doors open and they get their first look down into the dark, dizzying drop.
Unbelievably, there’s a man scaling the side of the elevator shaft like a rock climbing expedition, but Dan doesn’t have much time to take that in before Matt is nudging past him dragging the heavy hose, and starting to feed the makeshift lifeline down the elevator shaft. They both stand back to let Jerry help the man clamber over the edge onto the floor, and get to his feet.
He doesn’t look like John McClane though. He’s tall and sort of lanky-looking with sandy coloured hair and features far too young and panicked-looking to be McClane’s. For a minute Dan is almost afraid they have actually let in the crazy junkie, but then Jerry is sprawled on the floor, helping a second man over the brink.
He’s exactly like Dan remembers from the news; broad and bald, scratched and bleeding in places, clothing torn and smudged with what looks like soot.
“Sit rep,” McClane repeats as soon as he’s on level ground, leaning over to place both hands on his knees and catch a few winded breaths.
“You made it just in time,” Matt says, moving forward, but John stops him with a raised hand, like anywhere a concerned touch could land would hurt. “…Now we can get that poker game started.”
McClane shakes his head.
“Gotta go back,” he says, straightening up to reach out and smooth a palm over Matt’s hair in relief and greeting. “Forgot the pork rinds.”
Matt grins and gestures around at everyone. “Jerry, Dan. Chantal. This is John McClane.”
Jerry nods, as calmly as ever, while Chantal doesn’t seem to be able to do anything except clasp her hand to her chest again.
“My son in law, Jim,” McClane says, clapping a broad hand down on the shoulder of the stunned-looking young man still standing next to him.
“Son in law,” Jim repeats, sounding surprised.
“I think that’s the first time you’ve ever called him that,” Matt says, echoing the tone.
“Sure beats Jerkoff,” Jim says, flashing McClane a wide grin that gets a reluctant looking smirk in return.
“And all you had to do was face down a psychotic gunman, help him scale a fifteen storey elevator shaft, and make him a grandfather,” Matt says, brushing some of the soot from McClane’s shirt, and a few of the weirdness points start to fall into a completely different column in Dan’s scorebook.
“…As if marrying Lucy wasn’t enough.”
Jim points a mock-threatening finger at Matt, looking like somebody’s finally about to say something about the cracks Matt is always making about Lucy, when McClane puts a stop to all their carrying on.
“Alright, we made it,” McClane says to Jim. “You’re up. Take good care of my little girl, now.” Jim nods solemnly, and McClane turns to Matt.
“Looks like you’re with me, kid. We got a madman with a thing for the Antiques Road Show to deal with downstairs, and – unless you got some kind of brainiac way of getting my gun out of the bottom of a refrigeration compressor unit – no weapons to do it with.”
“Beg to differ,” Matt argues, waving his beloved phone. “It’s already taken care of. Next time somebody wants to fuck with my family they better take out the infrastructure first. Gabriel really was brilliant.”
“…Sorry.” Matt adds, after a sharp look from McClane.
“Whatcha talking about, kid?” McClane prompts, and Dan’s glad he does because he’s pretty sure there was a sizeable chunk of key information missing somewhere there.
“What?” Matt asks, sounding defensive. “Oh come on. I can’t be the only one thinking it. Mai was obviously into it. You have to admit, the man did have a certain…”
“Matthew.” McClane says, bringing Matt up short and repeating himself with what sounds like rapidly thinning patience. “What are you talking about when you say it’s ‘taken care of’?”
“You said he was holding the place up with a relic, so I looked it up,” Matt says simply, holding up his phone again. “Anything that muzzle-loads won’t fire if the powder gets wet. I turned the sprinklers on him,” he concludes, with a jerky little Matt-shrug.
McClane looks incredulously at him for a second, then lets out a bark of surprised laughter.
“You mean you’ve got him down there, soaking wet and completely defenseless?”
“Nope,” Matt says, shaking his head so that his hair shags into his eyes and he has to shove and pull at it again. “I mean it’s already taken care of. They already picked him up. I texted Connie to tell her the situation, and it turns out she was downstairs with the extraction team. They’re already tending to the hostages, and getting triage back up and running. Building security should be lifting the lockdown within the hour.”
Dan is still damn glad Carol slept through this whole thing, but he sure will have a hell of a story to tell at his kid’s birthday parties for years to come.
McClane doesn’t pump Matt for any further information this time, he’s just standing there, slowly shaking his head while the rest of them look equally disbelieving – but whoever Connie is, Dan feels like he could kiss her. Or maybe Matt, for that matter.
But then what happens next makes Dan think that’s already taken care of, too.
McClane seems to have recovered enough to reach out and give Matt’s hair an appreciative ruffling, but now he’s following that up with slinging a big arm around his neck, in order to yank him close and press his nose into the disarrayed mop for what Dan is pretty sure includes a firm kiss on the top of the head.
Turns out maybe this relationship isn’t weird at all. From this angle, it looks like maybe the whole thing makes perfect sense.
“You done good kid,” Dan hears him say.
“What can I say, I made a promise to a— is Lucy a lady?”
“That’s two,” Jim threatens again, “you’re lucky you just pulled my ass out of a goddamn elevator shaft.” Matt combs his fingers through his hair where McClane disturbed it, looking decidedly smug.
“Ready to go become a grandfather?” he asks McClane.
“I really am getting too old for this.” But there’s a telltale smirk of pride on John’s face as Chantal steps forward to lead the way and the three of them turn down the hall to follow.
“Not old.” Matt seems to have an argument for everything. “Just old…er.”
“Tell it to my spine, wouldja?” McClane rolls his broad shoulders and Matt puts up a hand to rub at them sympathetically as they retreat down the hallway.
“Well, when we get home, I promise to fix that too.”
The world Dan is bringing his very new, very tiny, child into can be a scary place, sure…but as long as there are guys like this in it, there will always be people willing to help her, or lessons for him to learn.
Dan pulls his own mediocre-looking cell phone out of his pocket, glad his cousin’s number is still in there. There’s no news to pass on to the family yet, but as soon as there is he can bet Phil would appreciate a text message on that fancy phone of his. And if he decides to come pay their newest family member a visit, well, Dan doesn’t think that would be such a bad influence at all.
“Wow,” Jerry says, next to him. “That was really…”
“Yeah,” Dan says. He couldn’t agree more.