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Getting to Know You

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Bored.

Bored, bored, bored.

Probably anything would have seemed sort of boring after the sheer horror of the fire sale, but Matt was pretty sure that a week and counting in a hospital bed would be boring even by his usual standards. Nobody had come to visit him, except Warlock, and he obviously wasn’t going to come back again. He had a terrible fear of hospitals, and had stayed only long enough to fling a bag full of electronics at Matt—"Goody bag," he'd muttered—before flapping away in his stupid trenchcoat like a huge cowardly bat.

“You suck, Warlock!” Matt had yelled after him.

So that had been a mixed success. But the bag turned out to contain a veritable cornucopia of electronic bits: a soldering iron, cables, processors, batteries, power supplies, a keyboard, a small monitor, various boards, a couple of junked smartphones, a cheap home robotics kit, and a screwdriver set that even had those new fucked up pentalobe bits for iPhones.

Matt almost smiled. Warlock knew him too well.

 

He had the contents of Warlock’s gift-bag spread out around him on the bed and was busily soldering an antenna onto his new home-made walking tarantula/mp3 player/taser when Lucy McClane walked in.

Matt hadn’t forgotten about Lucy. He hadn’t forgotten about John McClane, either, or Gabriel, or the fire sale, or his own complicity in it, or being so frightened he couldn’t even cry, or being so angry he killed a man. But he sure as shit had been trying to forget.

“Jesus, you look awful, Matt,” Lucy said. She plopped down into the chair and looked hard at him. Matt forced himself to smile.

“Hi, Lucy McClane,” he said. She looked good: scrapes and bruises still visible, but she looked like she’d been sleeping, eating normal food, like she was a functioning human being. Matt sort of wondered what that felt like.

“Nice spider,” she said. She held out a finger to it the way you would offer your hand to a dog to sniff. Matt typed a few commands into the shell window he had open on the jury-rigged Blackberry and the tarantula proffered its front leg for a handshake.

“What’s its name?” Lucy asked. As it happened, its name was Tasey the TaserBot, but Matt didn’t want to explain about the massive electrical charge part. He shrugged.

“I need a favor,” Lucy said.

“Dunno how much good I’ll be to you,” Matt said, gesturing at his leg, which was in suspension and encased in a terrifying scaffolding of tubular metal braces, some of which steadied the bones directly through tidy surgical wounds in the meat of his leg. Matt refused to look too closely. It made him want to puke.

“Oh, no,” Lucy said, smiling. It wasn’t a particularly nice smile. She patted his good knee. “You’re just perfect.”

Five minutes later, she was wheeling a surly-looking John McClane into Matt’s room. Matt’s heart sank. It wasn’t like he wasn’t grateful to McClane, but he didn’t really want to be in the same room as him.

It was just… his only context for the man was the worst thing that had ever happened to him.

“You boys have fun, now,” Lucy said. “Daddy, call me on my cell when you’re ready to go back to your room.” She swanned out smugly. Matt considered yelling that she sucked, too, but her dad was right there. Her scary SOB dad. Who was currently sitting in a wheelchair and fidgeting sullenly with his bathrobe tie.

“Is this…” Matt started. McClane glared at him. He didn’t seem much happier about the whole situation than Matt was. Matt plunged ahead. “Is this a play date?”

McClane had the good grace to look embarrassed. “Sorry, kid,” he said. “You know how it is.”

Matt really didn’t, but he’d seen enough of Lucy in action to guess that even the mighty John McClane could be bested by her in a match of wills. The shit-ton of damage, self-inflicted and otherwise, that he’d sustained in the fire sale had probably given Lucy an edge, too. Nobody’s really at their best a week after being multiply exploded.

“I didn’t even know we were in the same hospital,” Matt offered. Might as well try to make conversation. Now that the initial panic had died down a bit, it was mostly just weird, seeing McClane. He looked...not harmless, but banked. Like the parts of him that were incomprehensibly badass and downright insane had been tucked away until the next apocalypse, leaving him appearing deceptively like a fifty-year-old man in a striped plush bathrobe who was recovering from a bunch of serious injuries.

“Me neither,” John said. “Lucy ran into your friend Warlord—”

“Warlock.”

“Jesus. Warlock. In the hallway. She’s been keeping me company. I guess she got tired of hanging out with a cranky old fart, and now it’s your turn.”

“So…this is a play date.”

“Seems to be. You got any apple juice?”

“Actually, yes. They won’t give me anything with caffeine in it.” Matt started dividing his untouched apple juice into two plastic cups. It gave him something to do with his hands. This was the most awkward play date ever.

“I’d kill for a cigarette.”

“I’d kill for a decent 802-11 signal.”

“I’d kill for an Italian sausage with peppers. From Tommy’s.”

“I used to love that place,” Matt said wistfully. He winced as John peered at him.

“Used to?”

“I’m, uh. I’m banned for life. It’s a long story.”

“Wait,” John said. Matt could practically see the gears turning. “You’re the one who gave his poodle a cheese steak laced with Klonopin?”

“She had it coming,” Matt muttered. He handed John a cup of apple juice.

“I’ll drink to that,” John said.

They toasted each other. The apple juice was less revolting, Matt found, with company.

“First thing I do when I’m outta here,” John said, “is get me some sausage at Tommy’s.”

“I’m going to eat an entire pizza,” Matt said. “A vegan one. From that place where they make everything out of hemp.”

God, he couldn’t wait to get back to normal life. He wasn’t going to take anything for granted ever again.

“I’m going to a Mets game.”

“I’m going to re-watch every single even-numbered Star Trek movie.”

“Cigars.”

“Porn.”

“Scotch.”

“Red Bull.”

“A proper shave.”

“A real shower.”

“I fucking hate this place,” John concluded peaceably. Matt could only nod.

All told, it turned out not to be the worst play date Matt had ever had. He showed John how to make Tasey play “Back in Black” on its shitty speakers and dance a jaunty little jig, and John showed him how to sweet-talk the nurses into letting them have an entire decadent bottle of apple juice.

(“Go crazy, gentlemen.”

“Thank you, Marcus. We already have.”)

When Lucy showed up a couple of hours later to collect John, they were back at list-making: all the awesome, normal, every-day, non-exploding stuff they were going to do when they got out of the hospital.

They’d both gotten a little punchy. Matt blamed it on all that apple juice.

“McClane,” Matt said, seized with a sort of impassioned fellow-feeling. He leaned towards McClane and pointed his finger at him. “It’s going to be a new era of fun. You and me, we’re going to seize the dumb little things in life that everyone else just forgets about, and we are going to drink them to the lees!

“Exactly!” McClane said. He was grinning, a big, sweet, open smile. Matt grinned right back. This was going to be awesome.

“You’re going to drink dumb little things to the lees?”

Oops. He turned, finger still extended. Lucy was standing in the doorway, holding a bag of takeout and looking altogether too amused. “How much morphine are they giving you guys, again?”

So much,” McClane said. He lolled his head to the side and smiled that sweet smile at Lucy.

Matt found himself sorry to see McClane go. There was something surprisingly easy about his company when he wasn’t sweating adrenalin and, like, throwing busses at robots.

“Sweet dreams, Matt,” Lucy said as she wheeled John out of his room. “See ya, kid,” John said, waving a lazy hand. Matt found himself waving back. He watched them disappear down the hallway.

Matt clicked at his morphine until it maxed out, and drifted off, buoyed by visions of lime popsicles and a picnic in Prospect Park with a copy of the fourth Harry Potter book and a bottle of Brooklyn Lager in a brown paper bag.

 

John McClane hated hospitals. But, if he was being honest, it was the part after the hospital he usually had more trouble with.

Going back to normal life, the long recuperation from his injuries, laboriously getting back into fighting shape—even going to bed at ten every night and eating toast in the morning had the feeling of defeat to it. Eventually John knew he would settle back into his workaday life, but he thought that Farrell kid might be onto something with this “enjoying the little things” stuff. It might help soften the blow.

“Did you have fun with your little friend, Daddy?” Lucy asked him as they wheeled along the corridor.

“When did you turn into such a smartass, Lucy?” John said.

“I’m pretty sure it’s genetic,” Lucy said. “So, did you have a nice time?”

“Sure,” John said. “He seems like a good kid, I guess.”

“Good,” Lucy said. Something in the pleased finality of her tone set off warning bells in John’s foggy brain.

“Don’t even think about it, Lucy,” he said. It was sort of hard to muster up the proper tone of parental authority when your offspring was pushing you through a hospital in a wheelchair and all you were wearing was pajamas and a ratty bathrobe.

“No, Daddy,” she said, sounding annoyed. “He’s not really my type. But I think you could probably use a friend under the age of Detective.”

“We’re not going to be friends, Lucy,” John said. He felt sort of bad putting it so starkly, but come on. “He’s nice enough, but it’s not like we’d have anything to talk about.”

“You just talked to him for two hours,” Lucy pointed out. “Look, it’s your call. I just think it would be nice if you guys kept in touch. And he could probably use a friend over the age of Dork.”

 

Matt didn’t see McClane again in the hospital. They moved Matt to a different wing, and discharged McClane a few days later. Lucy came by to say goodbye, and she gave Matt her cell phone number—and her father’s—but by the time he was in the kind of shape to consider calling up either of them, it just seemed… weird. Awkward.

What did he really have in common with John McClane, beyond some shared mayhem and an appreciation for Italian sausage?

Plus, it wasn’t like didn’t have plenty to distract him. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, finding a new place to live, replacing all his computer equipment, creating a mechanized terrarium/self-charging station for Tasey, fending off his mother’s offers to come stay with him (oh my god no), straightening out his finances, learning to walk with a cane, meeting with the FBI and NSA to give deposition after deposition…

Matt was exhausted all the time, basically. He fell into bed every night and slept like a dead man, which was excellent news because it meant no nightmares. Matt had too many doctors in his life already—he really didn’t want to add a shrink to the list. Luckily, he seemed to be coping. He wouldn’t say he was thriving, but...coping was better than he’d expected.

So, he coped. And things quieted down, gradually. He got better with his cane. His knee hurt less every week. He installed a new server rack in his new apartment. He caught up on the ongoing flamewars in the anarchist message boards—the vegans seemed to be winning this round, with assistance from the raw foodists and some superannuated Trotskyites.

Life, somehow, returned pretty much to normal.

 

John stared at his toast. How a simple slice of toast could represent everything that was kind of sad and boring and stupid in his life was sort of beyond him. He figured it wasn’t so much the toast as its place in the routine. Toast, vitamins, shower, work, gym, dinner, TV, book, bed, toast, vitamins, shower, work, gym, dinner, TV, book, bed.

The only thing more annoying than the routine was breaking the routine to give depositions. Nothing infuriated John more than the self-serving, ineffectual fumblings of bureaucrats. Today it was an assistant from the DA’s office and a couple of FBI jackoffs.

Toast, vitamins, shower, work, deposition, gym, dinner.

Toast.

Maybe he needed a hobby or something. Or, he could just get over himself.

“Stop being an asshole, John,” he said out loud, and took a huge, crunching bite out of the slice of toast.

That’d show it.

 

Almost exactly seven months following the Fire Sale, Matt was on his way out of the FBI’s New York City headquarters, having delivered yet another pointless deposition, when an elevator opened and John McClane walked out of it.

It was even more surreal to see John in a sports jacket and slacks, his permanent-press shirt neatly buttoned, than it had been to see him in the hospital, in a dressing gown.

McClane’s face brightened into a genuine smile when he saw Matt, and Matt felt an unexpected flutter in his stomach. Even in his white-collar drag, McClane had a sort of banked electricity about him. Matt wondered if everyone else could see it, or if it was just something you noticed after seeing him in action.

“Let me guess,” McClane said, slapping Matt on the shoulder, “You’re here getting deposed, too?”

“Again,” Matt said. “I’ve been deposed more often than the military dictator of a banana republic.”

“Hang out for a bit. Lemme buy you a beer or something,” McClane said. He looked at his watch. “I’ll be out of here in half an hour, tops.”

He wasn’t kidding. Twenty five minutes later, the door across from where Matt had parked himself swung open and John McClane strode out, with a sort of blithe expression on his face. Matt looked around nervously. He had learned to associate that deceptively mild look with impending chaos.

“McClane, we’re not finished here!” called a frustrated voice from inside the room.

“Sure we are,” McClane said peacefully, not even turning around. He saw Matt and smiled again, and again—butterflies. Matt felt a little embarrassed on his own behalf. What was he, twelve?

They ended up at a dive bar in Chinatown, a few blocks from the FBI building. McClane knew the effusively friendly owner somehow—he sort of mumbled an explanation at Matt, but all Matt caught was “hostage,” and “hovercraft.” Matt could fill in the rest—the broad strokes, anyway. This was McClane, after all. Matt figured they were talking about two or three sizable explosions and at least fifty million in property damage. And, it seemed, a high-speed hovercraft chase.

“What’re you drinking?” John asked.

“Brooklyn Lager,” Matt said to the bartender. The bartender stared at him blankly, and then turned to McClane.

“Tsingtao,” McClane said. He held up two fingers.

“So,” Matt said. The bartender handed him a bottle of beer and he started picking at the label nervously. It was covered in Chinese characters.

“Yeah,” McClane said, his mind obviously a million miles away. He took a deep slug of his beer, then set it down on the bar top with a sharp clunk. “Fuck ‘em,” he muttered. “Buttheads.”

Matt could sympathize. His own depositions had been an exercise in frustration. Nobody was asking him the right questions, and nobody wanted to hear him volunteering opinions unasked. The fire sale could have led to real reform—to smarter threat modeling and enlightened law enforcement. But instead, as far as Matt could tell, the whole thing was turning into an exercise in ass-covering and budget-inflating. It wasn’t just depressing; it was kind of scary.

“How’s Lucy?” Matt asked, suddenly eager to think about something else.

McClane grinned. “She’s got a new boyfriend she thinks I don’t know about,” he said. Then his smile faded a bit. “I dunno. I guess she’s okay. She’s back in school. We have dinner every couple of weeks.”

He looked sharply at Matt. “She says she never hears from you. You know you’re allowed to get in touch, don’t you? You’re just not allowed to date her.”

Matt could feel himself blushing. Dammit. “Her virtue is safe with me, McClane,” he said.

“You doing okay, in general?” McClane said. He was still focusing that intent look at Matt, making him want to squirm and preen at the same time. It was unnerving, and wonderful. Matt wondered when exactly he had had time to develop a crush on John McClane.

“I guess?” Matt said. McClane frowned. “Yeah,” he said more decidedly. “Things are fine. I’m living in Brooklyn, now. I found a place in Carroll Gardens.”

“Not too far from me,” McClane said. He looked pleased.

Matt took a swig of his beer to cover the pleasure on his own face. It hadn’t been the first thing on his mind when he chose that neighborhood, but it had occurred to him. Not that he had been planning on ever seeing McClane; just… somehow the idea of being near him made Matt feel a little safer.

The conversation rambled along, and Matt found himself falling into the same unexpected ease as he had during their conversation in the hospital. For all that he had apparently developed a humiliating adolescent infatuation with McClane, Matt still found him surprisingly relaxing company. One beer became two, then three. Things were getting pleasantly hazy. Matt’s eyes kept drifting to McClane’s hands. Big hands, meaty and strong, and surprisingly expressive. Everything about McClane was surprising.

“So life’s back to normal for you?” McClane said. “You keeping your nose clean?”

“Head down,” Matt confirmed. “Nose clean. It’s actually kind of boring.”

It was actually really boring.

“I hear that,” McClane said. “I’m not saying I’d rather be fighting bank-robbing terrorist masterminds, but…”

“Did you ever get down to Tommy’s for sausage?” Matt asked. He’d been considering trying it himself, but Tommy wasn’t the forgiving sort. He really loved that poodle.

“Nah. I keep thinking I should, but I just haven’t gotten it together.”

“Man,” Matt was a little tipsy. Maybe more than a little. “What happened to our new era of fun, McClane? We were going to seize life by the garters! Or something?”

“I take it you never got that gluten-free hashish pizza?” McClane said.

“Vegan and hemp-based. But no,” Matt said mournfully. “No, I did not. My life is so lame.”

“Ditto,” McClane said. He sloshed his bottle in Matt’s direction.

“Hey,” Matt said. He was sort of offended on McClane’s behalf. “You’re, like, a cop. You get to investigate shit and solve crimes and chase people and kiss babies.”

“That’s politicians,” McClane said. “And my job is boring, ninety-nine percent of the time. The running-around part is fun except when someone gets killed, and then it’s a fucking nightmare.”

He lapsed into a morose silence. Matt thought about his life; about his apartment, quiet except for the hum of his servers and the occasional scritching as Tasey moved around his terrarium. He thought about McClane’s life—he probably lived alone, too. No pet, that Matt knew of. Dinner with Lucy every couple of weeks; maybe a beer with the other cops here and there; mostly eating alone, watching television… Matt was starting to feel kind of depressed.

They’d saved the country, dammit. They deserved some fucking fun, and they were too lame to have any.

“That’s it,” Matt said, making a decision. “We’re going to do this, McClane. No excuses. We are too awesome to be so boring.”

“Do what, exactly?” McClane said. He tilted his head, amused, and (Matt hoped he wasn’t imagining this) interested.

“Every Sunday,” Matt said. “We start at noon, and we go until we’re done. We’re going to do something fun, every week. You and me. No excuses, no flaking out. We’re making a commitment to sucking less.”

“Eloquent as always, Matt,” McClane said. Matt flipped him the bird. “Okay, you’ve got yourself a deal.”

 

John figured the first week of their experiment of fun was a success, if maybe a qualified one. It’d come up in their conversation at Feng’s bar that John hadn’t ever seen some movie called The Matrix, so Matt decided they’d start their Sunday thing with that. Except it turned out to be three movies, not one, and the second two were godawful.

“That was godawful.” John glared accusingly at Matt.

“Well, yes.” Matt looked sort of embarrassed.

“Yes? Yes? This is how you start off this whole scheme to have more fun? With two movies that you admit are terrible?”

“It’s, I mean, see,” Matt was waving his hands energetically. He looked excited but also sort of confused. It was almost cute. “See, it’s just that you need to get the whole picture, even though the execution of the second two is admittedly execrable. These guys had a vision, and the second two place the first movie, which I think we can both agree is awesome?”

He looked to John for confirmation.

John nodded obligingly.

“They put the first movie in the context of the larger vision. Okay?”

“No,” John said. He grinned at the expression on Matt’s face as he wound himself up for round two.

“No,” John said again. “So here’s what we’re going to do. Next Sunday we’re going to my house, and watching some movies that I choose.”

“I—” Matt opened and shut his mouth a couple of times. “Okay, that’s fair.”

“Good,” John said. He grabbed his jacket. “I hope you like the Stooges.”

 

As it happened, Matt did not like the Stooges. But he felt a little bad about having inflicted the third Matrix movie on McClane for their first day-of-fun thing. So he showed up with the intention to keep an open mind and give it an honest shot. He also brought “Sherlock Junior” and “The General” with him in case it turned out McClane also liked Buster Keaton.

Thankfully, he did. And a good time, as Matt’s dad was fond of saying, was had by all. McClane’s apartment was nice—a second-floor place in Sunset Park with a pretty tree outside the front windows just starting to show its spring growth. The couch was comfortable, and there were some funny pictures of Lucy and her brother from when they were kids.

It was interesting, seeing McClane in this domestic environment. There were definitely traces of his life as a deranged action hero here and there—a box of clips for a semiautomatic handgun in the silverware drawer; various medals and official recognitions of valorous (and insane) behavior; a photo of McClane giving Michael Bloomberg bunny ears at an official photo op. The last one had been framed sort of hilariously in a huge and ornate golden frame more suited to a Rembrandt than a clipping from the New York Post. Matt thoroughly approved.

But there was also a lot of, well, domesticity. For some reason Matt kept finding himself staring at the placemats on the kitchen table. It was like going to Mr. T’s house and discovering he had monogrammed hand-towels in the bathroom.

(What would the initials be? Just “T,” Matt decided, and started giggling. John gave him an amused look, and didn’t ask.)

Matt found himself feeling sort of reassured by McClane’s tidy, lived-in little apartment. He’d been on the verge of developing a tragic idea of McClane’s life—something out of a Frank Miller comic, where the protagonist lives in a roach-infested flophouse and eats his dinner in a shitty Chinese place on the corner with flickering fluorescent lights, and the only bright spot in his day is when he gets to kill someone or save a hooker or something.

This was a lot easier to deal with, frankly.

 

They decided to switch off who chose the activity for every Sunday. So the week after their Stooges/Keaton double-feature, John found himself back at Matt’s aggressively minimalistic apartment.

Matt let him in, then pointed at the couch. “Just a sec,” he said. He leaned his cane by the door and disappeared into he back of the apartment. John started flipping through something called the ULINE catalog and was deeply immersed in the zip-strip section when Matt reappeared.

“Why are you wearing a wig?” John asked in the most neutral voice he could manage.

“I’m in costume,” Matt said. He was practically dancing with glee. “I’m working incognito.”

He put on a pair of ridiculous sunglasses and rummaged around in the coat closet, pulling out an old sheepskin coat.

“You look like one of those assholes from Vice,” John said. “You planning on entrapping a fifteen year old with trumped-up prostitution charges and then stealing his lunch money?”

“Wow, McClane, tell us what you really think,” Matt said. “So, no fake mustache, then?”

“What is this about, Matt?”

“We’re going to Tommy’s,” Matt said. “And I don’t want him reaching for that sawed-off shotgun he keeps in the breadbox the second he sees me.”

“You want a sandwich that bad?” John said. He kind of saw where Matt was coming from, but come on. This was a little extreme.

Matt looked exasperated. “It was on your list, McClane.”

“So?”

“It was the first thing on your list!” Matt’s wig slipped a little. “It’s symbolic. It’s the principle of the thing!”

“Oh, now it’s about principles, is it?” John was kind of enjoying himself. Riling up Matt was turning out to be one of the better parts of this whole arrangement.

“It’s about justice, McClane! It’s about not letting the assholes win! You are going to get your sausage and peppers, dammit—or we might as well give up and die.”

“Okay, okay,” John said. He’d had his fun; time to let Matt have his. “I’m on board.”

John had figured they’d have to go back to his place to get his car, since he knew for a fact Matt didn’t have one. (“This city has the best public transportation system in the country, McClane, in an age when we are choking the life out of our planet with unnecessary exhaust from cars. Why exactly would I want to contribute to this death-march again?”) But it turned out Matt had gotten them a “zip car,” whatever that meant, and forty minutes later they were parked across the street from Tommy’s, in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

It was a warm April day and the sun was shining; John figured they could get eat their sandwiches on a park bench. It wasn’t like Tommy’s had actual seating, anyway. That would have required that Tommy maintain human contact with people for longer than ten minutes, which seemed to be about his limit before he started getting squirrely. Making Italian sausage day after day seemed to be kind of hard on the guy’s mental health.

“You’d better stay in the car,” he said to Matt. “That’s a very nice costume you have and all, but Tommy’s not a moron.”

“But—” Matt started, looking crestfallen.

“But nothing,” John said as gently as he could. The day had actually been sort of fun so far, and he wasn’t going to let it get ruined with an arrest for aggravated assault. Tommy had been really mad about his dog and he wasn’t all that stable under the best of conditions. And Matt couldn’t run all that fast with his knee still fucked up.

Ten minutes of smooth sailing later, they were sitting on a bench in the sad little triangle of brown grass that Tommy referred to as a “park,” eating the best Italian sausage sandwiches in the world, bar none. Tommy split and fried the sausages on his griddle, then packed them into a pizza-crust roll with onions and peppers and finished the whole thing, miraculously, with thin slices of fried potatoes. It was a sandwich that could move a grown man to tears.

John and Matt ate in reverent silence.

“So,” John said when Matt dropped him off at his apartment a couple of hours later, “Has justice been served?”

Matt pulled off the wig and took off the sunglasses. There was something kind of sweet about his face; John was glad to see it again without the dumb disguise covering it up.

“I dunno,” Matt said. He smiled. “You tell me.”

“Yeah,” John said. He did feel a sort of weird triumph. “I’d say it has.”

 

John chose next Sunday, and they went to the NYC Transit Museum. He bought Matt an F-train tie-pin. “Just in case you ever wear a tie, ever.”

“Death first, McClane.”

Matt chose the week after that, and they went to see some crazy modern art at the Guggenheim Museum. John wasn’t sure what he thought about it, but it was nice to see Matt out and about, limping less with every week. Matt loved the show. He stood for a long while in front of one sculpture that looked to John like a Webber grill giving birth to a mangled tank. Leaning on his cane, staring at the metal heap with his face serious and intent—John could practically see the cogs turning inside Matt’s head. He found himself wanting to know what exactly Matt was seeing in the sculpture. What had him so captivated.

“I dunno,” Matt said helplessly when John finally caved and asked. It was the first time John had seen him at a loss for words. “It… it just looks strong. Or something? It’s all busted up but it’s still standing, you know? It actually reminds me—”

He cut off, and John could have sworn he blushed. John thought about giving him a hard time about it, but he looked genuinely flustered.

“It’s okay,” John said sincerely. “I know you have very complicated feelings about garbage trucks.” He patted Matt’s hand. “I’m always here if you need to talk.”

Matt poked him. “Just for that you’re buying the first round.”

 

The morning was bright and warm, June at its best. Matt had slept with his windows open and was eating breakfast on the stoop when McClane called. He fumbled for his phone and answered, “Yrsh?” around a mouthful of scone.

“Hey, kid.” McClane voice on the other side of the line was cheerful. He’d started calling Matt “kid” again lately and Matt knew he should object, but somehow he couldn’t bring himself to. McClane said it with affection in his voice, and Matt would have put up with a lot more for that affection.

“You willing to get an early start today?” McClane said. Matt shrugged, then remembered McClane couldn’t see him. “Sure, he said.” I don’t have anything planned that can’t wait."

What he had planned, as a matter of fact, was to finally set up an online dating account. Matt’s ridiculous schoolboy crush on McClane hadn’t gone away. Instead it had steadied into something patient and determined and unwavering. And that, in Matt’s experience, was even worse news than an infatuation, no matter how disabling. What Matt needed was to get laid; better, to find someone to fall in love with who wasn’t a fifty-year-old cop with a scary daughter who would probably poison his red bull if she found out he was perving on her dad.

“Great,” McClane said. “Put on a swimsuit and pack a towel. We’re going to the beach. I’ll be by to pick you up in half an hour.”

“The beach?” Matt sort of squawked. “Wow, uh, sorry, McClane. But I don’t really do the beach.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” McClane didn’t sound annoyed so much as honestly confused.

“It means I can’t swim, I burn in five minutes of direct sunlight, I can’t bring my laptop, so there’s nothing to do, sand gets up your shorts, people leave dirty hypodermic needles and cigarette butts everywhere, there’s nothing to eat—”

“Oh, come on, Matt.” McClane said. “It’s not a tour in Afghanistan. It’s a day in Long Island. We’ll bring sandwiches and sunscreen. You’ll have fun. I promise. See you in half an hour.”

He hung up before Matt could refuse again.

Matt sighed, polished off his coffee, and went back in to check on Tasey and pack a bag.

 

When John arrived, Matt was sitting on his stoop looking nervous. John thought suddenly about those ads in the backs of comic books where the skinny kid gets sand kicked in his face by the big guy. He wondered if that’s what Matt thought the beach was like. Did that make John the sand-kicker? He hoped not.

“Cheer up, kid,” John said. “It’ll be over soon enough.”

“Up yours, McClane,” Matt said. “If I get skin cancer you get to change my bedpan when I’m dying in the hospital.”

In other words, everything was fine.

John’s car was in the shop for the fifth fucking time this year, so they took the subway to Penn Station and the LIRR up to Long Beach. Something in John unkinked a little the moment they stepped off the train and that soft, ocean air hit his face.

“My mom used to bring us up here a few times a summer,” he told Matt. “I won a sandcastle contest one time.”

My mom used to take me to the library a few times a week,” Matt said, still sulky. “I won a full ride to Princeton one time.”

“You went to Princeton?” John asked, surprised. He thought he’d more or less put together a picture of Matt’s life, and Princeton definitely wasn’t in it.

“What,” Matt scoffed, “and be a tool of the Man? Please. College is for suckers.”

“I’ll be sure to tell Lucy you said so,” John said. Matt winced.

“Oh please, please do not,” he said. It was sort of adorable: Matt liked Lucy, but she also obviously terrified him. John heartily approved.

They found a clear area on the beach and laid out their towels. “I didn’t know you had siblings,” Matt said. John pulled his T-shirt over his head. “Yeah,” he said, slightly muffled by the shirt. He pulled it off. Matt looked down at his bag with sudden interest and started rooting around in it.

“My big sister is a cook,” he said. “She’s got a restaurant in Philadelphia.”

“Mm,” Matt said, still looking down at his bag. He pulled out a huge bottle of sunblock and dove back in.

“My little brother died when I was twenty,” John added, as casually as he could manage. Matt’s head jerked up.

“Oh man. I’m sorry.” His eyes were huge.

“Yeah. Thanks.” John felt suddenly awkward with Matt’s big, serious eyes fixed on him. He shimmied out of his jeans. “It was a long time ago,” he said.

 

McClane was hard to ignore under the best circumstances, but he was downright distracting wearing nothing but swimming trunks and glowering into the distance over this newly-revealed personal tragedy. Matt didn’t know whether to hug him or offer him a blow job. Then he felt like a horrible asshole for even thinking that.

So instead he took off his own shirt and jeans and started working on covering every inch of skin with sunscreen. He was awkwardly swiping at his back when McClane said, “Want some help there?”

Matt couldn’t say no. He literally couldn’t. He opened his mouth to say, “No thanks, I’ve got it,” and instead heard his own voice saying “Sure, thanks.”

John’s big, hard hands swiped sunblock onto his back. It was over in four seconds, but Matt thought it might have been the best four seconds of his year. Which, admittedly, was pathetic. But it was also true. He sat there dumbly tallying up the sensation and socking it away for later reference while McClane nabbed Matt’s sunscreen and started in on his own skin.

Matt wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or bitterly disappointed that McClane didn’t ask for reciprocation with his own back; in either respect the sight of McClane smearing his hands all over his biceps and thighs was only strengthening Matt’s resolution to get laid. He was going to lose his fucking mind otherwise.

In the end, the day wasn’t so bad. Matt managed to calm down after a while, and he even made a sandcastle, though McClane ruthlessly mocked its structural integrity and demonstrated his point by running a moat around the castle, which immediately collapsed.

Matt didn’t go in over his knees, but the water was pleasantly cool and the waves were gentle. Their sandwiches mostly stayed sand-free, as did the pack of oreos Matt had snuck into his bag in Penn Station.

Best of all, McClane had this amazing look on his face the whole time, like he was... calm. It was weird, Matt thought, how you could get to know a guy pretty well and never realize that he was… oh, holding back, or containing something, or suppressing something? Until he wasn’t. It was a wonderful feeling, being around to watch John McClane actually relax.

 

"That was fun," Matt said, still sounding surprised, on the train back. His nose was just slightly pink, and there was a little grin wiggling around his face like it couldn't decide if it wanted to be seen or not. John nodded. He felt happy, too—happy and tired in an uncomplicated way. It had been fun watching Matt thrash around in the water, all coltish long legs and shaggy hair. There was definitely something endearing about him.

They sat together in silence for the rest into Penn Station, and then got on the subway. Under the East River, the lights in the train flickered and died, and by the time they came back up, Matt was asleep, snoring lightly. His head drifted down to rest on John's shoulder. John thought about waking him up, but it was sort of nice.

When they reached Matt’s stop, he shook Matt awake. As he watched Matt step out of the subway car, John was aware of a cool spot on his shoulder where Matt's head wasn't warming it any more.

 

The next week, McClane showed up at the usual time, holding a grocery bag of snacks, which Matt had instructed him to bring.

“What’s the plan?” McClane said. “Babylon Trek marathon? Buffy the X-File Hunter?”

“Do you do that just to piss me off, McClane?” Matt said. He went back to rooting around in the kitchen drawer.

“Duh,” McClane said. He sounded like a thirteen-year-old girl. God help him, but Matt found even that endearing.

“Well, that’s better than the alternative.” Matt came out of the kitchen with Old Puffy and a dime bag of his next-door neighbor’s best stuff. Here goes nothing, he thought.

“We,” Matt announced, “are going to get baked.”

“We,” McClane repeated, apparently at a loss. He stared for a few seconds, then regrouped. “Okay, first. You keep your bong in the kitchen drawer?”

“Yes,” Matt said.

“Second. You are offering me, a New York City cop, marijuana?”

“Yes,” Matt said.

McClane put his face in his hands. “Okay,” he said. “Here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to walk back out to the street. I’m going to ring the bell and you are going to let me up. Then you are going to explain how we’re going to go look at the butterfly room in the Bronx Zoo or watch eleven hours of Mythbusters or whatever. And we are never going to discuss this again.”

“Sure,” Matt said agreeably.

 

“Pass the M&Ms,” John said. Matt tossed the bag at him and went in for another hit. They had ended up on the floor at some point. It just seemed easier.

“This,” John said carefully, “is a very terrible idea and we must never ever do it again.”

“Sure,” Matt said agreeably.

John rolled over onto his stomach and started poking through the bag of M&Ms. He always liked the green ones best.

“I like the green ones best,” he said.

“I date men,” Matt said.

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Seriously? That’s it? ‘Okay’?” Matt looked almost offended. John, frankly, was too mellow to care.

“I mean,” John said, “has this all been an elaborate seduction scheme? Do you plan on ravishing me after plying me with illegal drugs?”

“No!” Matt definitely looked offended.

“Then, okay.” It kind of explained some stuff about Matt, like how he never talked about girls, and how nice his apartment was. That part might be one of those stereotypes that hurt people’s feelings, though, so he decided not to voice that opinion.

“Fine, then.” Matt still seemed sort of let down. John felt a sudden rush of affection for him. Matt was already such a weirdo. High-strung, geeky, too smart for his own good. Life wasn’t simple for him to start with, and the gay thing was probably not making it any easier for him to deal with the world.

“You think too much,” John said. “Here, have some M&Ms. But leave the green ones alone. Those are mine.”

 

Matt woke up the next morning with a weird taste in his mouth and a sinking feeling in his stomach. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time—chill McClane out a bit with some weed, and spring the news on him. (Plus, bonus fun of seeing what McClane was like high, which turned out to be almost worth the scary part of coming out.) Matt did intend to have a love life again eventually, and it would likely involve another dude. If he was going to be friends with McClane, which did seem to be the case, McClane would have to find out at some point. Better for him to find out under strictly controlled circumstances, right? Right.

And he seemed to have taken it okay. Right? Right.

Right?

 

“So, uh.” John had no idea where to start the conversation. He played with a packet of jam on the formica diner table.

“Spill the beans, McClane,” Chen said. “We both have shitloads of work to do. You didn’t ask me out for lunch to make chitchat.”

John liked that about Melanie Chen. She didn’t split hairs. They’d been working together on and off for over ten years, and they worked very well together because neither of them brooked bullshit.

Okay, he thought. No bullshit.

“How’s your nephew?” he said. Real smooth, McClane.

“My nephew? Henry? He’s fine.” Chen looked baffled. “You seriously asked me out here to find out how Henry is doing?”

“Well, I remember things were rough with him, right? A couple of years ago?”

“When he came out?” Chen still looked confused, and then she looked gobsmacked. “John Stanley Reginald McClane,” she hissed, “are you telling me…?”

“What? No. Not me. My...friend.” That didn’t exactly sound better, John realized.

“Right,” Chen said understandingly. “Your friend.”

“God. No. All right,” John said. “Here’s the deal.” And he told her all about Matt: about running around with him during the fire sale, and about Lucy’s playdate in the hospital, and their pact to have fun, and running into him downtown, and Sundays, and the beach, and (he left out the pot part, though he doubted Chen would have cared) Matt dating guys.

“So you’re freaked out,” Chen said carefully. “Maybe you don’t want to be friends with him anymore?”

“Christ.” This wasn’t working at all. “No, Chen. I don’t give a shit.”

“You obviously give a shit,” Chen pointed out, “or we would be back at the precinct, getting work done so I can leave on time and see my children at dinner for once in my life.”

“It’s just…” John stared at his coffee. “I worry about the kid. He’s already a total freak. And he’s really young. He...someone could take advantage of him. I don’t know.” He was starting to feel like sort of an asshole. Matt was a grown man. He could take care of himself. But for some reason John couldn’t let it go.

Chen waved at the waiter for the check. “You’re being ridiculous, McClane,” she said, not unkindly. “I’m sure he’s fine. But it’s sweet you’re worrying about him. Dumb and useless, but sweet.”

They paid and John slugged down the rest of his coffee.

“I want to meet this guy,” Chen said as they walked back to the office. John nearly walked into a street sign. “Bring me along on your next man date.”

 

“That’s football, right?” Matt said uncertainly when McClane called.

“No, Matt. The Mets are a baseball team. I have tickets to a baseball game.” McClane sounded resigned. At this point he probably knew not to expect any kind of organized-sports literacy from Matt.

“Baseball? Seriously?” Matt would rather have regrouted McClane’s tub.

“You owe me after last week, kid,” McClane said. He was probably right. And it was good news, Matt figured, that their weekly thing was still on, and that McClane wasn’t being all weird. Matt’s evil scheme had evidently worked.

“Fine,” Matt said. “But I’m bringing my own beer.”

Matt had just finished packing a reusable grocery bag with a six-pack of Magic Hat Number Nine and a package of vegan snickerdoodles when he heard McClane’s horn outside. He took the stairs as fast as his knee would let him, and stopped short on the curb. There was a woman in McClane’s car with him.

This was...unexpected. Matt slid into the back seat.

“Hi Matt, I’m Melanie.” McClane’s friend turned in her seat and offered her hand. Matt shook it. “I work with McClane here. Sorry for crashing your party, but this asshole owed me a day away from the husband and kids.”

So, not a date. Matt wished fervently that his head wasn’t swimming with relief. Tonight, he vowed. Tonight he’d set up that online dating profile. This was the worst.

 

“This is the worst,” Chen moaned. The Mets were getting their sorry asses handed to them once again. They had it coming—nobody could suck this bad without kind of doing it on purpose, John figured. But he still loved them. He couldn’t help it.

“Why are you sad?” Matt said. He looked genuinely perplexed. “Don’t you like the Mets?”

“Yes, you sweet, dumb thing,” Chen said patiently. She was a little drunk. “I am sad because they are losing.” She took a deep swig of the bottle of beer she’d nabbed from Matt’s hippie bag.

“Oh,” Matt said. “Oh!” He looked at the scoreboard with sudden understanding, and then immediate horror.

“Yes.” Chen said. “Now you see why I am so sad.”

John hid a grin behind his hot dog. He really had owed Chen a favor, or else he never would have agreed to this. Somehow the idea of having someone else around, someone else hanging out with Matt… he hadn’t liked the thought of it. Not even Chen. But this was turning out pretty okay. Chen and Matt had figured out early on that they both loved some terrifying Japanese video game where you rolled a huge sticky ball around it picked up paper clips and school girls. They were practically best friends at this point, and it made John unexpectedly...happy. It made him feel like Matt had sort of been welcomed into his life in some official way.

 

When Matt got home that night the first thing he did was sit himself down and set up an account on OK Cupid.


Well, no, the first first thing he did was jerk off, desperate and defiant, thinking about John’s hands, about his bare arms at the beach, about the broad line of his back, about his smile, sharp and bright. About what it would be like to put his mouth on the muscle of John’s shoulder. About what it would be like to kiss him, to smell him up close. To wrap his fingers around John’s cock—Matt came, spilling all over his hand, sort of hating himself already.

Chen had put him in the front seat on the ride home, and it had been all he could do to ignore the heat pouring off McClane—off John; might as well admit his libido was on a first name basis with the man. Matt had been worried that John brought Chen along with him as a sort of homo-deflector; a clear signal that Matt should keep his hands to himself or something. But honestly, what it had really felt like was the opposite: like an invitation in. Like now he was actually an acknowledged part of John’s life. And somehow that just made things worse. Because it was so close to what he wanted, here. So fucking close. And no fucking cigar.

How fucking Freudian.

 

When John rang the bell for Matt’s apartment the next week, it took Matt forever to buzz him in.

“So what’s on the agenda for today?” John said, looking around. Matt’s apartment was sort of a mess, which was unusual. Matt himself was also sort of a mess, which was less unusual. But he looked more ragged than normal.

“Rough night?” John asked sympathetically, then winced. He sort of didn’t want to know, and also sort of didn’t want to think too hard about why not. Thinking about Matt going on dates made John feel weirdly jealous, like he didn’t like the idea of the kid having other friends or something. It was stupid and petty and confusing, and John preferred not to think about it.

“Nah,” Matt said, “M’fine. Would it be okay if we just watched the X-Files?”

Matt had made sort of an effort, since their first misadventure with the Matrix movies, to spare John his nerdier interests. But John was happy to indulge. He sort of liked the X-Files anyway, because it portrayed the FBI more or less accurately: a bunch of delusional assholes in overpriced suits using big words and holding their guns wrong.

Matt popped a DVD into the player and they settled down on the couch. They watched an episode about an evil psychic and were into one about an evil mummy when John looked over at Matt and noticed for the first time, how quiet he’d been. He was sitting on the couch with his knees drawn up and his cheek resting against one of them. He looked sort of gray.

John hit pause on the remote, and reached his hand out to Matt’s forehead. Matt’s eyes widened, and he went very still.

“Sorry,” John said. He touched the backs of his fingers to Matt’s face. “You’re burning up. Are you sick?”

“...No,” Matt said.

Really.”

“...Yes.” Matt scowled. “But it’s so stupid. Who gets sick in July? I’m just going to ignore it. You should, too.”

He reached for the remote. John snatched it away from him.

“You should have called,” John said. “We could have skipped a week.”

“I didn’t want to,” Matt said sullenly. “Being sick is dumb. It’s my body. It should do what I tell it to.”

“You do realize how pathetic you sound right now?” John said.

“...Yes.”

“Okay, here’s what we’re going to do,” John said. “You lie down and shut your eyes while I run out to the store to get you some juice. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

When John got back an hour later with eight bags of groceries, Matt was still sound asleep under the afghan he’d reluctantly allowed John to pull over him. John felt his forehead again, and Matt sighed softly in his sleep.

Matt slept while John rooted around in his brand-new, immaculate, and never-used kitchen. He found a cutting board and a stock-pot; that would do. Moving smoothly, and keeping an ear out for Matt in the next room, John got to work with the comfortable routine of boiling water, chopping vegetables, stripping chicken meat off the bones, skimming the fat—all the steps his mom and taught him and his sister as kids. He fell into the easy, familiar rhythm, and before he knew it a couple of hours had passed and he was wiping down the counters.

“Hey, wake up.” John nudged at Matt’s shoulder until the kid opened bleary eyes.

“Soup,” John said. He waved the bowl under Matt’s nose.

“Soup?” Matt said.

“Chicken noodle,” John said. “My mom’s recipe.”

“You made me soup?” Matt said. He looked like he might cry, or laugh. It was a weird expression, anyway. It made John feel kind of weird, too.

“I like to cook,” he said lamely. “You were asleep, so.”

The thing was, John couldn’t really figure this whole thing out. Making soup was something you did when your kid was home sick from school. John knew he was probably supposed to feel sort of fatherly—or at least uncle-y— about Matt, but looking at him propped up on the couch, slurping the soup and trying to pretend he was actually awake and functioning… what it really reminded him of was when Holly got hit by a car when they were first dating, and broke her collarbone. John had fed her pain pills and take-out lo mein and they’d holed up in her crummy apartment in the Village while it snowed and snowed outside. Years later, when things started to go south with their marriage, it was the memory of that weekend that kept him trying to make it work.

 

When Matt managed to crawl out of bed the next morning, he shuffled into the kitchen and found a cup of water, half a cup of rolled oats, and a half teaspoon of salt waiting for him on the counter, along with instructions in John’s crabbed handwriting for how “not to fuck up” making himself a bowl of oatmeal.

He didn’t fuck it up. And he did feel somewhat better after eating it. Not much, but a little.

The whole day was like that. John had stocked his medicine cabinet with cold meds, and his fridge with grape juice and tupperware containers full of leftover chicken noodle soup. There was a package of crackers in the pantry and a dozen oranges in the bowl on the table.

“REMEMBER TO SLEEP,” read a note by his computer. Matt logged on, deleted his OK Cupid profile, and then made a good-faith attempt to follow John's instructions.

But he lay in his bed, staring fixedly at the ceiling instead of sleeping, twisting his fingers around each other. This was intolerable. John seemed to be on a concerted campaign to make Matt want him more. It had gotten to the point where the idea of being with anyone else felt like a sad joke.

 

John made sure to call Matt up the next weekend to make sure he was feeling up to getting together.

“I’m fine, McClane,” Matt said. “Feeling all better. Thank you for the soup and everything. That was. It was really nice.” He sounded sort of shy all of a sudden. Stupidly, John found himself blushing.

“Okay,” John said. “But just come by and we’ll play scrabble or something. You should probably still take it easy.”

They managed two games of scrabble before Matt got too frustrated to continue.

“How are you so good at this game?” he said, storming into the kitchen for snacks.

“Self-defense,” John said. “You should see the way my sister plays. When I was a kid I would study the Scrabble dictionary under the covers at night with a flashlight.”

He got up and wandered into the kitchen. Matt looked up when he came in with a strange, intent expression on his face. His color was high.

“You feeling okay?” John said. “Maybe you should—”

“Listen.” Matt interrupted him. He looked nervous but brave, like he was screwing up his courage. "I want to kiss you."

Okay, John thought, yes. But his mouth wouldn't open. He stood and stared at Matt, and the seconds ticked by in awful silence.

"Wow," Matt said after a while. He turned abruptly. "So, I'm going to, I'm going to go. And, uh, maybe we can pretend this didn't happen?"

John just stood there, frozen. Matt fumbled with the lock on the door.

"Okay," John's stupid, slow mouth finally said, "yes."

"What?"

"I said—"

"Really?" Matt said, unflatteringly skeptical. "But—"

John was starting to feel a little impatient. "Take it or leave it, kid. I'm not going to say it again."

"No," Matt said, "No, I get that." And then he was stepping into John's space. John caught the beginning of a smile before Matt tugged his head gently towards his and their mouths met.

The kiss was weirdly sweet, John thought. Like how you'd kiss a girl good night on a first date when her parents were waiting on the other side of the front door. Matt's lips were warm and soft. He was touching John only with his mouth and with his hand, light and dry, against the nape of John's neck. John's hands opened and closed uncertainly, empty. He didn't move for a moment when Matt pulled away, and when he opened his eyes he found Matt visibly restraining himself from touching John again.

"What a gentleman," John said when he could be sure his voice was working right. He started to grin. "My virtue is obviously safe with you."

Matt rolled his eyes. "Oh, ha, ha," he said. "Excuse me if I didn't want to rush you, asshole."

John put his arms up in mock surrender, and when Matt moved in again they closed around the kid's body automatically. And then Matt's mouth was back on John's and his hands were worming their way under John's shirt and his tongue was curling into John's mouth and it was still sweet but it was also kind of dirty.

“Bedroom?” Matt said after they’d been doing that for a while. John could barely think straight, but it sounded right.

“Yeah,” he panted. He went into his bedroom with Matt (Matt!) following him, and sat on the bed. He watched Matt take his shirt off. He dropped it on the floor and walked over to John, took the hem of John’s shirt, and lifted. John raised his arms obediently, and then his shirt was off, and Matt was pushing him gently down on the bed.

It was strange, John thought, how ready Matt was to take charge. It probably wasn’t a bad idea—he clearly knew what he wanted, and John could only think vaguely, passionately, about skin, and another kiss, and maybe eventually getting to watch Matt’s face as he came.

“Why are you smiling?” Matt asked, settling himself down on top of John, bare chest to bare chest. It felt so damn good to have Matt pressed against him. It occurred to John that he’d gotten used to being lonely.

John kissed him by way of answer. He raised his hands and let them roam down the smooth, soft skin of Matt’s sides.

They got their pants off eventually. Matt seemed determined to take it slow. His touches were careful, tender, a little tentative. John was desperately impatient—he was so turned on he was almost blind with it—but it was all so unfamiliar, so unexpected. He felt frozen in place.

“I don’t know what to do,” he said. Matt was chewing on his ear, driving him absolutely insane. He sort of wanted to punch something.

Matt lifted his head and looked down at John. His lips were a little swollen and his cheeks were flushed. He looked stunningly happy.

“Whatever you want, John,” he said. And it was that simple.

It was like something unfurled inside John, like a lock in a key. He was pressing his mouth to Matt’s, kissing him ravenously, running his fingers through that soft, tangled hair. His hand strayed down to Matt’s ass, and Matt moaned, low and choked, and came, his cock jerking against John’s thigh, his mouth panting, hot and open, into John’s.

Too much. It was too much after months of looking and not thinking about it and trying not to understand it. Too much to resist. John buried his face in Matt’s neck and rutted against him until he came all over Matt’s belly, like a trainwreck, like a bolt of lightening, his brain shorting out and his body singing with pleasure.

They lay there for a long while, panting, John lazily pushing himself against Matt’s firm, slick skin, riding out the last shocks of it.

“Fuck,” Matt said articulately.

“Yes, okay,” John said. “We can do that.”

Fuck,” Matt said. He sat up suddenly, panic all over his face.

“What?”

“Lucy is going to strangle me in my sleep,” Matt said, looking hunted.

“I won’t let her,” John said comfortingly. Matt didn't seem especially comforted.

“Okay,” John tried again, “Chen won’t let her. She likes you.”

Matt looked thoughtful. “Chen does seem pretty scary,” he said.

“She can kill a man with a ball point pen at ten paces,” John said. “And she’s a classically trained opera singer to boot. Now come on.” He kissed the top of Matt’s head, just because he could. Matt sighed and snuggled in, and John hooked his foot around the blanket and tugged it up over them. “Stop thinking.”