“Nuh-nuh-nuh no! Don’t, don’t,” Matt exclaims, before John can even put what he’s planning into words.
“We gotta,” John says over his shoulder, making a few quick strides away from the edge. He’s never really liked heights all that much.
The kid is right on his heels, trotting to keep up despite limping pretty badly on his left, and he stops John with a surprisingly firm grip on the elbow.
“The building is on fire,” John reminds him needlessly, when he turns to face him. He can feel the tarring on the roof starting to warm and melt already; the gravel under their soles shifts and sinks with every step. “Take it from a guy who knows, kid, it’s coming down.”
Matt shakes his head, coughs again.
“Don’t.” The smoke is already burning their throats, and it must be doing a number on that asthma thing Matt used to claim he had, every time he had to run anywhere. “Just. Trust me. How heavy are you?”
“How…tell me just approximately what do you weigh – what, about 210?”
“Holy shit. Okay okay, don’t look at me like that.” The white of Matt’s grin flashes across the dark of his soot-blackened face like lightning, and disappears just as fast. “It doesn’t matter anyway, see that? That gap between the buildings, it’s about what, 20 feet?”
“Yeah maybe. We’ll take a run at it.” John turns to stride away again, but Matt circles around him, moving quicker than John remembers him being in their early days.
“No. No. PHYSICS. Okay McClane? You physically can’t. I don’t care how high you can jump, gravity is going to pull you down at an acceleration of 9.8 metres per second squared. You would have to be traveling at a speed of about 40 feet per second, that’s…27.3 miles an hour. Usain Bolt still hasn’t broken 24. Okay? We need height. We need…”
John followed the direction of Matt’s gaze. The maintenance tower on the southeast corner of the building is about one and a half storeys tall.
“You’ll break your legs, kid, you can’t.”
“Maybe.” Matt nods, matter-of-fact.
“Your knee can’t take it.”
“We will die, McClane,” Matt says, with nothing less than absolute certainty. “I guarantee you. We can’t get enough of an arc to clear that jump if we do not do this.”
“…Do you trust me?”
John looks into Matt’s eyes and tries not to think it could be the last time. He brings up a hand anyway and pats the kid’s cheek, rubs a little at some of the soot with his thumb, only to leave a darker smudge in its wake.
Matt’s mouth opens like he wants to say something else, but he shuts it fast when John lets his hand drop, and gives him a single nod.
This is a very bad idea.
They give him a room with a window. John feels like it’s probably the kind of thing Matt would call poetic irony or something like that but by the second day of manila walls and even blander rice pudding he’s so damn thankful for it he forgets to be surly about it.
…There’s an old lady feeding the pigeons in the parking lot down there. Just sittin’ in her wheelchair, with a blanket over her knees, throwing breadcrumbs like she’s at the park or some shit, like she didn’t just see the little bastards pecking around the dumpster, not 30 feet away.
Bowman’s here. The voice is concerned, sort of tentative. John forgets sometimes when no one else is here, that he’s talking out loud.
“How’s he doing?”
The machine next to the bed beeps again. He wishes he knew what the hell it meant, but Matt keeps breathing smoothly, and no nurses come running in with adrenaline shots or defibrillators so John figures it’s a good sound.
“Good.” John’s not sure if it comes out sounding hopelessly optimistic or just sarcastic. He’s too exhausted to give a shit anymore anyhow. “It’s a stable coma.” Whatever the fuck that means.
Bowman just nods, takes the few steps into the tiny private room.
“They give you a prognosis?”
“It’s early.” John reaches up with the arm that isn’t in a sling to gratefully accept the coffee cup Bowman offers him from the tray in his hand, and gives him a nod of thanks. “That’s all they keep telling me. Patients come out of a coma in their own time, sir,” he mimics. “The brain is healing itself, Detective, it needs time.”
“If anyone has enough extra brain cells to pull out of this, it’ll be him,” Bowman intones, voice still low and funeral-soft. It’s probably meant to be reassuring.
John digs for a smile, sighs, and hauls himself out of the chair. He can feel his spine pop and unkink in several places as he gets awkwardly to his feet.
“Gonna take a walk,” he announces, to excuse himself, but he turns to Bowman once more before limping the few painstaking steps to the door. “…Doc says he can hear it if you talk to him.”
This was the part of the job that was always the toughest. But it was worse when you couldn’t help but think some of the blame rested with you.
It was a pretty safe bet that Matt Farrell probably never truly passed his field training. No, no, Agent. He really had to start thinking of him as Special Agent Farrell, not ‘Matt’. And this was why, he thought, setting down the coffee cup in his hand.
You get attached.
The thing with Farrell was, he was smart enough to give you whiplash, but the one thing he didn’t know the first thing about was people. His brains made him cocky – smartassed and condescending and impatient. Farrell had a snarky, rebellious adolescent sort of attitude and a tongue as sharp as his intellect.
Miguel Bowman had been head of Cyber Division for six years, three months, and 24 and a half days now. He had enough experience with programmers to get Farrell’s MO. Most of his guys spent their youths being bullied. So, authority issues? You might say so. A lot of them had a real chicken/egg deal happening – they didn’t exactly fit with society, and it wasn’t really clear whether the fact that they tend to outright reject it was a cause of that, or an effect.
So Farrell didn’t take orders well, not from anyone he didn’t respect. The thing that made him such an extra special pain in the ass for half of the Team, though, was that you didn’t get that by being older than he was, or bigger, or even by out-ranking him. You had to earn it.
But then, it seemed like anyone who stuck around long enough to get past the snotty sarcasm and sharp corners fell ass over tea-cakes in love with him.
Miguel liked to think of it as The Farrell Effect.
For a while, he hadn’t even been sure they were going to get Farrell out to DC at all. They got McClane easy enough. He hadn’t been back on the streets four weeks after the fire sale when Scalvino announced his retirement.
McClane had to be the only guy in the world who would threaten – and it was probably more than just a threat – to leave the whole damn force over a promotion. Miguel had only had limited communications with McClane after they ironed everything out after the Fourth, but when they tapped McClane for Captain, John had been the one to pick up the phone first.
They’d had guys contacting Farrell, on the other hand, for months. The reports were that the first few calls hadn’t ended very politely, and even when Miguel himself called, the first conversation didn’t go nearly as well as the last. He couldn’t be sure what changed Farrell’s mind, but he had a sneaking suspicion it had more to do with the newest member of Cyber Division’s Action Teams than it did with the numbers the recruiters were throwing at him.
But eventually, get him they did. And then they got him here.
Miguel looks away from the bed, pushes his hands into his pockets.
The chair is empty now where McClane had been – head drooped and shoulders curved in like he’d been sitting in the same place for quite some time. Miguel moves to the window instead, though. Sure enough, there really is an old woman with a plaid blanket over her knees, gaily throwing crumbs for a few rough-looking pigeons.
“If you wanted some vacation time,” he says, hating the way his voice intrudes loudly into the quiet of the room, “all you had to do was say so, Slugger.”
John could swear Matt’s skin under the fluorescent lights is the wrong colour somehow – different from its usual fragile-looking, indoorsy hermit’s pallor. It’s sallow, waxen; lifeless, the way people look in caskets. He isn’t cold though, Matt’s skin is warm to the touch, but once he gets the sling off, John rubs Matt’s hands between his palms as if to warm them now and again, anyway.
He tries not to watch Matt’s unconscious features obsessively when he does it, scanning for a reaction that he knows isn’t there, tries to keep his fingers from wandering the pale, silken skin on the inside of his wrist to find the pulse that he knows is.
Sometime during the night shift one of the nurses comes in to clean him up. John gets slowly out of his chair, and leaves the kid to her cart full of wipes and washcloths and what little privacy he has left. When he gets back, Matt’s hair is combed neat and straight. It’s swept tidily out of his face – even has a part and everything.
John reaches up and brushes it forward, so it falls onto his forehead the way the kid likes it to. So that he looks like Matt and not patient 814B.
The baby-softness of it surprises him, and John pulls his hand away, curls his fingers into a fist against the temptation of it. But later, when he’s stretched out as best he can in the reclining chair the nurses found for him after the second night he spent here, he can’t seem to stop stroking his thumb over the pads of his fingers, not sure if it’s the periodic beep-sound from beside the bed, or the memory of the way it felt under them, like living satin, that’s keeping him awake.
There were days the Farrell Effect was a menace to Cyber Division’s entire operation.
There was Desiree, who ran the switchboard, and seemed to have taken it on as part of her personal duties to make sure he ate his lunch every day, and of course, there had been Farrell’s training sergeant. And his examiner. And the whole damn training department, really.
They only let you put in for field training three times before you get a permanent fail and Farrell failed twice because he couldn’t do a pull-up. His hearing and vision were good, medical fine, but it was special consideration as it was.
Miguel knew the brass weren’t about to send a professional staff member of Matt’s clearance and clout out to the academy when he put in his request, but they made up for it by hitting him with the graduate level test – without warning. Farrell prepped for the entrance exam instead the first time around, and it was the added timed sit-ups and the pull-ups that were his downfall. But even the second time around, even when he knew to expect them, Farrell still focused on that knee too much when he trained – ignored his upper body. The chances were good that he technically didn’t manage one the last time around either, but none the less, the result was he’d gotten fast, and built up good endurance.
They had probably just been impressed with his dedication – and rightly so. He was surprisingly good with his weapon too – probably had McClane to thank for that – and in the end, the examiner likely just figured half of the guys they had on the street right now couldn’t do a pull-up anymore anyway.
Hell, Miguel himself had been the one to sign Matt’s field papers. Even he couldn’t rule out that the Farrell Effect might have been starting to work its mojo on him, but truthfully, it was mostly because Miguel was coming to accept that withholding Farrell’s clearance for the field wasn’t going to keep him out of it.
Because McClane was no exception, either.
Miguel could still remember the first morning McClane walked in with that ludicrous coffee order in hand.
Matt’s eyes flew wide open when he took the first sip.
“You got it perfect!”
“I had help,” McClane assured him, but he stood up a little straighter – maybe even threw out his chest a little.
“What? Who— ”
“Desiree. …And Miranda.”
Farrell didn’t ask who the hell Miranda was, he just wrapped his hands lovingly around the cup and stared, wide-eyed, at it some more.
McClane tore his eyes off the kid and cleared his throat.
“Look, you really pulled my ass out of a fire last night with that…what the hell did you call that computer crap you showed up with?”
“I believe I called it my patented double fisted reach-around attack. But that was just a technical term for Math. …Oh my God,” Farrell moaned into his cup after another sip. “That’s you, by the way. I’ve been here since five a.m. cleaning up the code for the incident logs and submitting my report so as far as I’m concerned, this is hard evidence that you, John McClane, are nothing less than a benevolent, omnipotent, kickass God.”
“Yeah, yeah.” But the steely eyes crinkled around the edges, and Miguel could have sworn the man was inches away from preening like a peacock. “Don’t get too used to it.”
Farrell probably couldn’t help but get a little used to it though, not when McClane ended up making the boutique coffee run a weekly tradition.
Miranda had always been able to spot the virgins, but this time it was almost unfair. This guy couldn’t be more obvious. He didn’t even have to be standing in a Starbucks, looking balefully around at the tall, black, hissing machines and the hip morning crowd hand-hugging their lattes gratefully like he thought the whole trendy operation was vaguely suspicious, for you to know he’d never set foot inside one before.
“What can I get for you?”
“A regular large coffee and a…hang on,” he growled in a surly-sounding baritone, arching wide shoulders and rummaging irritably in the inside pockets of his leather jacket. “I got it written down here somewhere.”
The lineup behind the bald, burly latte-virgin gained a couple more patrons while he searched.
“Christ,” he swore, when he finally came up with the little yellow Post-it. “Grand double red eye…this thing doesn’t have booze in it does it, I’m ordering it for someone on duty.”
Miranda forgot about the line, mentally tucking away her little piece of the customer puzzle. She couldn’t help but wonder who had this hunk of a cop fetching their java. Couldn’t be the boss, this guy was no rookie – the broad, experienced-looking hands had callouses she could see from behind the till, and there were little wisdom lines starting to show around a set of intense green eyes. Cute receptionist maybe?
“No sir,” she told the officer, managing not to crack a smile. “A Red Eye is coffee. Grande is the size.”
“Right,” he answered, eyeing both her nose ring and nametag skeptically before glancing back down at his note. “Well it’s a Grande Red Eye coffee then, with a – this makes no sense to me, I hope it makes some to you – half pump caramel, half vanilla, hit of cinnamon. …Jesus, you are shitting me.”
He ran a big hand over the silver scruff stubbling his scalp and looked up from his scribbled Post-it to turn those eyes and a smile on her that she knew was calculated to charm.
“I feel like someone is fucking with me, Miranda,” he admitted.
Miranda couldn’t help but smile back.
“That’s okay. It’s like learning a whole new language, I know. You did great for your first time.”
One graying eyebrow quirked upward at that, but the roguish smile stayed put. Whoever was getting this punchy, picky little coffee order was a lucky bum.
“Jeanette will get that for you at the counter, and then Bobby over there can show you where to find the cinnamon.”
It stopped surprising anyone ages ago.
At first, no one expected him to take on a partner. Not ever. McClane worked alone, and everyone knew it. There were so many jokes that flew around at every single one of the Action Team’s pow-wows about his infamous ‘curse’, Miguel was starting to suspect he was actually a superstitious son of a bitch.
But now…it still wasn’t a partnership on paper, and it didn’t matter how many official ‘reminder’ memos McClane got on his desk, in his email, voicemail, or face to face in the Director’s office, that professional staff did not go out into the field – any time one of McClane’s cases got a little hot to handle, you could count on finding the chair at Farrell’s desk empty.
He had even gotten in the habit of keeping a field-ready emergency kit under his desk packed with mobile gear – sat com linkups, backup batteries, solar chargers, a tablet with 3G and wi-fi.
“Dude, hey, hi. Yes it’s me. Um, what’s good, man?”
Something about the tone that day had made Miguel stop on his way past the row of cubicles. There was only one person Farrell dropped the snark and picked up a nervous, obsequious phone voice for.
Kaludis. This wasn’t headed anywhere good.
“So listen, I had McClane on the line a minute ago,” Matt speed-talked into his headset, fingers still simultaneously flying over his keys. “There was an attack on…yes, right, that. Well, he asked me to hack the security hub to let him into the… no, no I got in fine, that’s not the problem.”
Better and better. It wasn’t bad enough they were up to their ass in cyber-terrorists, but somewhere they were leaking information fast enough that that digital playboy already had his chubby paws on it.
“Listen. I was tracking the signal but I lost the cams, and McClane just went 404 on me. So I have to…go.” Matt put a surreptitious sideways glance over his shoulder that said he knew Miguel was there, but didn’t make eye contact. “And um… I just need you to finish telling Harry here how to build a double tailed hydra so we can put in our own back door and I can find him when I’m mobile, alright?”
In the neighbouring cubicle, Harry Carvey was tapping away at his own keyboard and studiously avoiding Miguel’s eye.
“He’s not.” Matt actually stopped typing to argue into his headset. He turned his back to his cube door and cupped his hands around the mic as if that would stop the rest of them from hearing what he said into it. “He’s not a cop okay, he’s a professional staff member of the federal anti-terror forc– come on, you hate terrorists just as much as cops anyway.”
Matt put his hands up in the air while Frederick responded, and flexed his fingers like he was seconds away from ripping off his headset and tearing out his hair.
“Well then I’m a ‘simulated bacon product’ now too then, and you taught it to me.”
Matt sighed with the air of a man playing his final trump card.
“Warlock. If you thought the lag times after the Fire Sale was bad, if these guys accomplish what they are trying to do this could mean eight to nine days of total and complete inaccess to– thank you.”
Matt stood up to hand Carvey his headset over the cube wall.
“You’re good to go,” he told him.
“You’re not good to go.” Bowman asserted, as Matt reached under the counter for his bag.
This whole process was illegal, and so was involving unauthorized consultants without a background check and a contract.
Farrell shoved his chair back on its little plastic wheels hard enough Miguel had to jump out of its path.
“Oops! ’Scuse me, Boss.” Matt exclaimed, clapping him on the shoulder as he slid sideways out of his cube. “Just, um…emergency coffee run. You want anything?”
“I don’t suppose there’s any use in telling you if you leave this office you’re fired?” Miguel called after him, as Matt started off down the aisle of cubicles, pulling the strap of his field bag over his head as he went.
“Not usually,” Matt agreed, turning around and continuing to move backward toward the door. “I guess that would mean you’re not responsible for what I do then, right? I’m just a citizen. Free to go wherever I happen to choose in this fair country I call a home! …I’ll bring you back a Bear Claw, how’s that?”
But it was the same every time, Matt was already gone before Miguel could remind him there were proper protocols – some of them put in place by Farrell himself – for handing situations exactly like this.
“No,” John groaned.
At first he thought it was just a little wishful thinking of a doomed man; that he was seeing things maybe – what with the knock he’d taken on the head – but there was Farrell. John could see him clear as day now, through the grid of the reinforced safety glass window, and it was him alright – muttering away to himself non-stop while he dug around in his bag and did something hacker-y to the electronic key panel beside the metal security door.
“No no no, dammit.” John yanked hard against his bonds again, but the bastards had taped him up good.
The thing with Gabriel was the usual deal – in the end it had been about the money. But it turned out he’d had more guys working under him than they could have counted on. The kind some people might call ‘disciples’ – who had fallen for his bullshit and actually gave a shit about ‘the cause’. The kind prepared to die for it.
Maybe somewhere out there these expendable whack-jobs had found another messiah who was calling the shots. John couldn’t be sure of that, but the one thing he did get out of their psychotic bad-guy monologues while they held his own gun to his head and duct taped his wrists and ankles to this shitty, uncomfortable old metal chair – was that these guys were crazy enough to mean it. These guys didn’t plan on leaving this building alive.
“Thank everything that is good and digital in the world!” Matt swore, when he got the door open, reaching back to pull a Buck knife off of his belt and making a beeline for John.
On any other day John would have agreed – even if he might have picked a different, more colourful, oath to celebrate the kid’s timely arrival – but today it just meant one more task on his Honey-Do List of the impossible. They needed something now he hadn’t worried about going in.
Now John needed an exit strategy.
“Epic pwnage, bee-otch!” Matt crowed, pointing the muzzle of his weapon skyward and flicking the safety just like John told him.
“What?” John asked, yanking the ear muffs off to let them dangle from his neck.
“Uhm…” Matt laughed, doing likewise and shaking his hair back. “It’s leet for yippee kai yay? Never mind,” he concluded, off of John’s blank look.
John shook his head and stabbed the button for the target-advance. He was sure he’d seen the kid get off at least a couple of good clean hits.
When the paper cutout finally slid close enough to read, John couldn’t hide his surprise. He gave a low whistle.
Matt had burned a whole clip and from John’s count there was one miss, two in the head, and the rest of the bullet holes were in the chest, most of them in the kill zone.
It turned out there wasn’t a lot more John could teach him – stance, to remember to count his rounds, and of course safety. The kid already knew the proper hold, and when to breathe.
It cut their day at the range a little short, and that was a shame, because John found he sort of liked seeing Matt like this. Happy and confident, not a trace of snippy sarcasm or impatience in the way he listened and nodded intently. No reluctant lethargy in the way he bounced eagerly on his toes before taking his stance. Eyes fairly glowing with pride, and a bright grin John couldn’t seem to look away from, making him look like he was lit up from the inside.
“Where’d you learn to shoot like that, kid?” John asked him when they were packing away their gear in the locker room.
“Back to the Future?” Matt identified the quote incredulously, as he zipped up his duffel bag. “Come on McClane, where were you in the 80’s?”
Matt reached up a hand to comb nervous fingers through the hair at his nape.
“…Guess that means it would probably be a bad idea to ask if you wanted to grab a beer or something after this, huh?”
He was still thrumming with it, John could tell; pupils wide, and movements still buzzing with a sort of electricity – high on the success of what John had to admit was a spectacular first day handling a real firearm.
“Probably,” John nodded. Then he smiled. Today was special, a celebration. “We’ll hop in a cab, I know a place.”
“Listen kid…Matthew. I want you to listen when I say this, and listen good okay because I know you can hear me in there.” John lowers the bed rail, so he can lean in close. He clears his throat a little before going on.
“There’s something you should know about me, kiddo. A McClane doesn’t apologize. We’re no good at it. We’re pretty good at ‘I toldja so’s, and when it comes to being right all of the damn time…” He knows the kid would make some kind of wise-ass remark here, so John does it for him,“yeah, we’re practically as famous for it as we are for our extraordinary good luck. But one thing I can tell you for sure is – this thing, this coma shit you’re in now…this whole thing is my fault, kid.”
“Bull…shit, McClane,” Matt would have said, with that funny, sassy cadence he had. John shakes his head.
“…I gotta stop calling on you all the time just because I…Look, I’ve seen a lot of shit that people can do to each other over the years; some of it pretty damn scary, most of it just violent and stupid. I’ve been through hijackings, and terror attacks and murder. I’ve killed. I’ve broken my family’s hearts time and again and I’ve had my own heart kicked through a meat grinder a time or a few.”
“I know you have,” John can just hear the soft, conciliatory tone. “That doesn’t mean–“
“Lemme finish. The day you met me, I was a different guy than I used to be, hell, different than I am now. I was rude to ya, you were just another mug shot to me, a perp with his name on an FBI shit list, and I woulda likely slapped cuffs on ya – probably should have, if I was going by the book.”
“Suddenly John McClane is aware that there’s a ‘book’?” Matt scoffs. John ignores the gentle gibe, keeps talking.
“But you were so jumpy and nervous,” John chuckles, “staring at me with those big wide puppy dog eyes you got and shooting your mouth off like you couldn’t stop your gums flappin’. Harmless. But you were so goddamn smart…and I was just a cop to you. A cop trying to bring you in. You shoulda been trying to ditch me every chance you got, and you had it. I gave it to ya, back at the Warlock’s place, I toldja I wouldn’t bet on me, kid, I told you and you stuck by me anyway. You stuck by me and you stuck by Lucy.”
“McClane…” Matt’s interruption is firmer this time. John just shakes his head again.
“I’m a 55 year old divorced cop, whose kids don’t call and never had a partner in my 33 years on the force – wouldn’t wish it on anybody anyhow. The guy you met that day didn’t have a lot of faith left in people, Matthew. Loyalty isn’t a thing they teach you in school and it’s not a thing you see every day anymore. But that day I learned that people could still surprise me; people with their names on a watch list, people that looked small or weak or helpless. People with big, powerful, killer-smart brains and nasty, bitchy little attitudes could have hearts as big as the Washington Monument, and balls enough to tear it down if they have to.”
“Giuliani says vandalism leads to increases in violent crime,” is Matt’s predictably smart-assed response. John smiles a little.
“I see the way you look at me— look up to me I guess, and maybe it goes to my head a little. But you’re just as good as one of your plastic superhero dolls, kid. You’ve turned into one hell of an Agent – you’re fast, and smarter than me and who the hell knew you’d be a dead crack-shot with that little Beretta of yours…but I’m the one who got you here. In this bed. I took a risk every time I called you. I never once asked you to come out there when shit went south on me, but I knew you would. I knew you would because you’re That Guy. And that’s why it ain’t right.”
Matt isn’t saying anything to him now, and John wouldn’t have listened if he did. This thing he’s trying to get off his chest feels too damn important.
“I can’t lose you, Matt,” John says, his voice starting to wear. “The FBI – hell, the world can’t afford to lose potential like you, so that’s why it stops. You’re gonna wake up and come outta this just the same sharp-witted, snarky, smart, wise-ass little pisser you’ve always been and then…”
John sighs and gives into it, stretches out his fingers to smooth and stroke over the warm silk of that dark chestnut hair. “I promise you, kid. I put you in danger for the last time. You didn’t sign up for this. You’re not my partner. I know it.”
“Sure about that?” The voice is nothing like Matt’s.
Bowman. He’s holding another round of coffee which means it’s probably morning. John is starting to lose track of the days.
And still there’s no change, just Matt’s closed eyes, and blank, unconscious features. His breath keeps on coming, slow and even, and the machine next to him beeps indifferently.
John looks away, rubs his hand over his face before accepting the coffee cup.
He feels like he’s starting to lose track of other things, too. Sometimes he can’t help but wonder if he didn’t get a little head trauma with the force of the impact himself.
“What are you doing here kid, how the hell’d you even find me?”
“Downloaded the Avert Armageddon app,” Matt quipped drily, getting down on a knee to slice through the duct tape on John’s left ankle first.
“There’s an app for that?” Pitch and hit.
John had heard Matt say it enough times now, but the kid still looked up at him in surprise.
“They can learn new tricks,” Matt grinned, tucking a stray chunk of his hair behind his ear before moving on to the right ankle. It was so damn good just to lay eyes on him, John grinned back in spite of himself.
“Move over Cesar Millan…oh shit.”
John looked where Matt was looking, and sure enough, beyond the security door window, Expendable Thug #1 was on the approach.
John tested his bonds again, but except for the left ankle, he was still stuck fast.
At his feet, Matt was moving like a pro – staying low while he quickly and smoothly stowed the knife and pulled his weapon. By the time the tall, scruffy-looking guy reached the door he was ready. Matt wasted no time in popping up and aiming a kill-shot right at his chest.
“Don’t move! FBI, as in Fucking – Believe – It, I will end you. Don’t think I won’t. I was raised on House of the Dead and fucking weaned on Duck Hunt, dude.”
And that was when Thug # 2 made his appearance, AK-47 at the ready. These guys might be crazy, but they weren’t stupid.
“Kid,” John said softly, and Matt moved slow, raising his hand in the air and laying his gun down on the floor. Right at John’s feet – for all the good it did them at the moment.
“Well if it isn’t the Boy Who Lived,” Scruffy sneered, as soon as his backup had moved fully into the room.
“That’s right, we know you, Matty-boy. Betting it was you who punched a fuckload of holes in our network and let in McClane, here, in the first place. We thought you might go for the control room first, but couldn’t resist the bait, huh?” The disciple gave a sneering glance in John’s direction as he strode toward them.
To his credit, Matt stood his ground, didn’t step backward even when the jerkoff marched right up to him, pulled a handgun out of the back of his belt, and grabbed him roughly by the arm.
“Got all your gear on you, I see. That’s good because you’re gonna sit right down here,” Scruffy grated, frog-marching Matt across the tiny utility room and shoving him down into another rickety old metal chair, “and undo every last scrap of damage you did to our brilliant, perfect plans. Now!”
His limping tour of the hallway is neither the slowest nor the most painful hospital lap John’s ever made – in fact it goes better than it did just days ago. But when he gets back to the room, Bowman seems to be long gone. It’s just the two of them again; just the slow, ponderous sound of Matt’s rhythmic breathing, the quiet beep of the mysterious machine by his bed.
There’s yet another coffee cup left on the ugly metal and Formica box of a bedside table. The nurses usually clear up when they’re bustling around changing Matt’s IV bag and paging through sets of incomprehensible numbers on the beeping machine, so it’s not until John goes to pick this one up and toss it in the trash that he realizes why it’s there. It’s still full, even still a little warm, and it’s no surprise what John finds when he lifts the lid and takes a careful whiff. By now John would know that smell anywhere.
Grande Double Red Eye with a half pump caramel, half vanilla, hit of cinnamon.
“Whaddya know, kid.” John smiled for the first time in days, as he carefully replaced the lid and set the cup down where he got it from. “When you wake up, I got your coffee ready and waitin’.”
John was busy keeping an eye on beefy-looking Thug #2 as he put the Kalashnikov down – all the better to collect Matt’s abandoned Beretta and set about taping John’s ankle firmly back to the chair – so he didn’t see how it happened. One second, Matt was sitting hunched at the keyboard, typing and muttering lippy, vaguely insulting shit most guys with a .45 pressed to the back of their head wouldn’t have the balls for, and the next he was standing with the computer in his hands and bringing it down on the scruffy thug’s hand, knocking the gun to the floor with a clatter.
Without hesitating, Matt swung the laptop back upward, making a solid connection with his jaw and bringing him crumpling to the floor. Hearing the second disciple moving fast behind him, Matt spun around, his laptop flying in an arc that caught him on the temple and brought him down before he could even get a hand on him.
“That was pretty good kid,” John said, genuinely impressed, when Matt made his way back over and knelt in front of him. “Who knew you had a black belt in geek-fu.”
Matt glanced up at him, Buck knife clamped between his teeth so he could shove Scruffy’s .45 down the back of his own jeans.
“I ran out of bullets,” he said finally, taking hold of the knife and starting with John’s wrists first this time. The kid was getting good at this.
“I think your computer might be toast,” John said, when he was done chuckling.
“Yeah yeah,” Matt grinned, finishing up on the left wrist and starting on the right, “sacrificing your brand new netbook is the new shooting yourself in the shoulder. All the cool kids are doing it.”
John flexed his wrist gratefully and reached for the stuff on his ankle.
“There,” Matt said, stowing his knife after freeing the other arm as well. “Hey, don’t fuck up that tape, peel it off carefully.”
“What the hell for?”
“I want all we can get,” Matt answered darkly, as he straightened up. “We’ve got less than ten minutes before these assholes wake up.” The kid really was getting good at this.
…Maybe a little too good. “Remind me to start packing zip ties,” he grunted offhandedly, striding over to the big guy and rolling him onto his back with a firm shove of his foot.
“Don’t need ‘em,” John insisted, tearing the tape away and leaving it dangling from the chair leg in a sticky tangle. “We got less time than that to get outta here.”
As if on cue, a series of loud explosions several floors above them shook the foundations of the building, and Matt threw an arm over his head against a shower of dust and plaster.
“Too late,” John grunted needlessly, taking Matt by the elbow, and moving him toward the door. “C’mon.”
“Shit,” Matt gasped, but he was moving quickly enough. “Where?”
“Roof,” John answered, and with a final deafening boom, the elevator doors bulged and blew wide open, sending a cloud of smoke and flame out into the basement corridor ahead of them.
“Looks like we’re taking the stairs.”
“Okay kid, here’s the deal. I know how much you hate mornings, but you gotta wake up. Doc says a week is the limit. Seven days and you might not wake up again, not for a long time.”
John looks down and away, stopping his traitorous imagination showing him the flutter under closed eyelids that isn’t there, curses his lying ears for insisting there’s a pause of reaction in Matt’s steady sleep-breathing.
The damn monitor beeps at them quietly.
“I need you to wake up now, Matt. I need ya to. Forget the job, and the FBI and hell the whole world. I need you.”
The stupid thing beeps again and John shuts his eyes, even though they’re not doing anything but staring at the terrazzo tiles on the floor.
“Because we’re partners. …Because I don’t want to do it without ya, anymore,” he admits.
John huffs a mirthless little laugh. Do what? Mornings. Or hell, the midnight shift. The whole damn job. Drink the expensive prissy coffees John would never admit he was starting to like just a little too much.
“McClane...” Matt asks, like he can read John’s mind, “are we dead?” And his voice is all wrong, parched with the days of disuse; dry and cracking like earth too many days without rain.
Which means it’s probably not wrong at all. It’s probably...
It takes a few seconds because John is actually, literally afraid to look. But when he does, Matt is honest-to-God looking back; pupils looking slack and unfocused, hair brushing forward into his eyes just like it should – the strange, waxen look gone in favour of Matt’s usual pale alabaster.
“No, kid.” A wave of something that could be relief, but feels like a shot of pure adrenaline, hits him hard enough to make his vision swim. “We didn’t die. You were right: Physics.”
John’s throat is tight, choking on the words and making his voice sound as strained as Matt’s does. He’s not sure how his hand ended up wrapped around Matt’s fingers the way it is, but he presses them to his cheek anyway as if to check they’re not cold.
“Sweet,” Matt says emphatically. And he must be leaning over the kid far too close, because all Matt has to do is raise his head a few inches off the pillow and tip it to the side, and then he’s pressing his mouth firmly and squarely against John’s.
“Because I promised myself if we didn’t die, I’d do that,” he concludes, letting his head fall back on the pillow again. “…So. If you could…try not to kill me now I’d appreciate it.”
John isn’t sure what his face is doing, because the ridiculous beep-machine is having some kind of conniption, and for a moment Matt’s eyes look huge and genuinely scared. But then he can hear himself laughing – he can see what his hands are doing, brushing over Matt’s face and his jawline, smoothing his hair off his forehead again, because now that those eyes are open and staring right at him, John wants to be able to look into them.
But then suddenly he doesn’t. Suddenly he’s closing his eyes and pressing his lips over Matt’s again. And again…and over his eyelids and into his hair and onto his cheeks.
“Wow, McClane. If that’s what it takes to get you to kiss me…I’ll have to make you save my life all the time. Maybe I’ll take up base jumping. Or gator wrestling. I hear snake handling is popular. …Jeez,” he says, when John finally lets out another choked-up laugh at that. He reaches up to rub a thumb at something wet in the corner of John’s eye. “How long was I out?”
“Six and a half days.”
Bowman is here again. Leaning on the door, with a tray of coffee in his hand, and looking smugger than a cat with a bellyful of canary.
“I think McClane here can probably brief you on what you missed. He’s been here every minute. I’ve only been around for some of it, but from what I’ve seen, I’m pretty sure you just saved his.”
Bowman pushes off from the door frame to saunter far enough into the room to set down his delivery.
“Think I’ll go let the nurses know you’re awake. Maybe take the long way. I’d say you’ve got about five minutes, but for now you might want to hold off on a full…debriefing.”
“Was that…” Matt stammers, staring incredulously out the doorway after Bowman’s retreating form. “I know I have serious head trauma and everything…but did Deputy Director Miguel Bowman actually just make a joke?”
Six days in a coma, and the first thing to recover is the kid’s mouth. Go figure.
It’s the eyes though, that John can’t seem to stop watching. Every time they drop closed, even for a blink, John wrestles with the urge to squeeze Matt’s hand, to keep those eyes open and focused on him.
He doesn’t have to do that though.
“…Hey.” Matt smiles softly at him, seemingly content to let John continue with his fascinated staring.
“Hi,” John answers quietly. He appreciates it.
When the nurse does get there, she doesn’t do a lot more than check Matt’s pupils with a little flashlight before smiling elatedly at them and promising to call the doctor right away to tell him Matt’s awake - even though he’s likely not going to make it onto the ward for another hour.
It suits John just fine. And it’s probably just as well she only seemed to need to get at the hand with the IV in it.
John’s probably not going to be letting go of the other one for a good little while.
“ – And a ‘regular large coffee without any donut sprinkles or whipped cream or anything cute in it’,” the girl at the counter interrupts, before Matt can even finish his coffee order.
He looks up in surprise, to see her staring at him, eyes wide behind her funky, thick-rimmed glasses.
“Ah. You must be Miranda.”
“I’m Miranda. Hi!” A shorter girl with a broad smile and a bob-cut ducks out from behind the bank of espresso machines.
“This is Jeanette,” she says, gesturing to the tall, bespectacled girl now grinning beside her, “and Bobby,” she concludes, as a skinny guy in an apron appears suddenly, carrying several plastic-wrapped stacks of paper cups.
“Bobby,” Miranda murmurs, looking oddly star-struck. “This is John’s Red Eye.”
“Heh. Nice to meet you.” Matt’s never gotten a full set of staff introductions with his coffee before. He runs a hand through his hair and looks self-consciously over his shoulder to see if he’s holding up the line, but there’s nobody in the shop at this hour.
“Not as nice as it is to meet you, honey,” Bobby replies, leaning over the counter a little in order to give him a very thorough once-over. “…Looks like Jeanette owes Bobby five dollars,” he sing-songs in Jeanette’s ear, before hip-bumping her and sashaying happily off to start bussing the counters.
“How’s John?” Miranda asks him, in a rush, punching in his order as Jeanette moves to the machines. “Is he alright? We haven’t seen him in weeks. Would it be a really mean trick to make his a decaf? It’s getting a little late for the silver fox crowd – he’ll be up all night!”
“That’s okay,” Matt says. “I’m kinda counting on it.”
“Oh pay up, babydoll!” Bobby cheers, for the benefit of Jeanette, who narrowly misses spilling the perfect coffee she’s been building.
Matt can feel himself blushing. That isn’t quite what he’d meant. It’s just still new to him, that’s all, and it’s sort of a nice feeling, because for once in his life…Matt feels like he’s had all the sleep he can handle for a while.
Instead of trying to explain, Matt just gives Miranda a smile and collects his coffees with a polite ‘thank you’ to Jeanette. What does it matter if they get the wrong idea? It isn’t exactly the wrong idea anyway.
In fact, Matt thinks, throwing Bobby a wink on his way out the door, it’s a pretty darn good one.