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Matt, why aren’t you answering my calls? Don’t make me sic my dad on you. You know I will, asshole.
John McClane. Leave a message.
Hi Dad, it’s Lucy. Your daughter. I’m fine. Except for the fact that you’re apparently dodging my calls too. That’s what I called about. It’s Matt. Can you check up on him? I’m worried about him. You know he hasn’t even moved out of that hotel yet? Okay, I gotta go to class. Love you!
Matt groaned and blinked his eyes open as the pounding on the door started up again. He grimaced as he swung his left leg over the side of the bed, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes before standing up. He limped across the floor to the door and opened it a crack. “The sign says ‘do not disturb’,” he mumbled.
“Yeah, well, I don’t got any clean towels for you,” a familiar voice answered.
Matt opened the door a little wider. “McClane?” he said. “What are you doing here?”
McClane shouldered through the door and past Matt into the hotel room he had been living in for the past few months. “Lucy called me,” he said, surveying the room.
Wincing, Matt thought about the seventeen missed calls on his phone. He hadn’t even bothered to listen to his voicemail in weeks. “Oh,” he said, his voice breaking a little. “Um, you could have called.”
“Would you have answered?” McClane shot him a sceptical look.
“Yeah, okay,” Matt grumbled. He limped the few steps to the only armchair in the room and sat down, because it was closer than the bed. He avoided McClane’s eyes, picking at the orange upholstery instead. “I’m fine.”
“Sure, kid, you’re fine.” McClane’s voice was the same dryly sarcastic, half amused, half despairing tone he always ended up with in a conversation with Matt. “What the hell are you still doing in this hotel?”
“I don’t know if you remember,” Matt said, “but my apartment kinda blew up.”
McClane huffed a laugh. “I remember.” He wandered around to the other side of the bed, his eyes sharp as he took in the suitcase with clothes spilling out of it, the laptop charging on the floor next to the outlet. The rumpled bed, half the pillows on the floor and the sheet hanging off the end.
“I just,” Matt paused and rubbed a hand over his face. “I just haven’t felt like looking,” he said, knowing how flimsy that excuse sounded. He didn’t know what he wanted to do next. Sure, he’d had some offers to consult on various projects, jobs he would have jumped at before his whole life burnt to ashes in the fire sale, but all of that seemed far away now.
He couldn’t even decide what t-shirt to wear, most days, let alone what city to live in, and even more overwhelming, choosing an apartment. Camden held no appeal any more. Then again, nothing much held appeal any more. It still hurt to walk and PT was for people with better health insurance. Or any health insurance.
McClane grunted and bent down to start shoving clothes back in the suitcase.
“Hey, what are you doing?” Matt sat up straight in the chair.
“Packing,” John said, like it was obvious.
Zipping the suitcase shut, McClane hefted it with one hand. (The one attached to the shoulder he hadn’t been shot in, Matt noted.) “Come on, kid,” McClane said gruffly. “This place is fucking depressing. You’re coming to stay with me.”
The drive back to New York was awkward. Matt couldn’t help but remember the last time they had been stuck in a car together for hours. That time he had been full of nervous energy, arguing with McClane, puzzling over the code he had written, worrying. This time, he just sighed and pushed his seat back, closing his eyes when McClane glanced over.
It was the best sleep he’d had in a long while. He still jerked awake when the car door slammed. McClane appeared on the passenger side after a few seconds and opened Matt’s door.
“Up and at ‘em, sunshine,” McClane said. His voice was rough.
Matt struggled to sit up, fighting uselessly with the seatbelt until McClane put a hand on his chest, warm through Matt’s sweatshirt, leaned over and clicked the seatbelt free. “Uh,” Matt said. “Thanks.”
McClane’s lips quirked up in a half smile, but he didn’t say anything. He walked back to the trunk and popped it open, yanking Matt’s suitcase and his cane out and shoving it closed with his elbow.
His knee was stiff after so long in one position, and Matt made a face at the ache as he swung it through the open door. McClane handed him the cane on his way past, and Matt finally got a look at where they had ended up. “Seriously?” he muttered to himself. “Stairs? Seriously?”
McClane yanked the door open and propped it with the suitcase. He jogged back down the steps toward Matt. “Elevator’s out,” he said.
“Great,” Matt said, struggling upright. He leaned on the cane as McClane shut the car door and beeped the locks. “Just what I always wanted, to be stuck in a third floor walk up.”
At least McClane had the grace to look almost embarrassed as he said, “Fifth, actually. I like to be on the top floor.”
Matt sighed. “I don’t know if I can make it up one flight, let alone five,” he said.
“We’ll take it slow,” McClane said.
The first ten steps up to the door weren’t so bad, but after the first flight, Matt could feel his hands start shaking. He bit his lip, wavering on the landing and looking up at the second set of stairs. He started at a thump behind him, but it was just McClane dropping his suitcase in the corner.
“Lean on me, kid,” McClane said quietly. He wrapped his left arm around Matt’s waist, his fingers hard and warm.
Matt draped his arm over McClane’s shoulders, jerking when McClane grabbed his wrist. “Saddest three legged race ever,” Matt said, to cover his relief as they started walking again, McClane taking most of his weight when he stepped on his injured leg. He felt more than heard McClane laugh.
“Sure ain’t gonna win any medals at this pace,” McClane said.
“Whatever happened to slow and steady?” Matt shot back. They had reached the third floor landing, but McClane didn’t pause.
Matt could smell himself, a little stale as he started to sweat. McClane was sweating too. He smelled good though, leather and spice. Jesus, it was probably Old Spice. He was such a cliche.
“At this rate, I think even the tortoise is going to beat us to the finish line,” McClane said, oblivious to Matt’s little crisis over his aftershave.
“This was your idea,” Matt said. It was hardly a comeback, but he had other things on his mind. His knee was radiating pain, even though they were taking the steps one at a time. At the fourth floor landing, he stopped, gripping his cane until his knuckles were white.
“You okay?” McClane swiveled his head around to peer into Matt’s face.
“I just need a break,” Matt said.
“Want to sit down?”
“No,” Matt said, “no, if I do that I won’t get up again.”
“Okay,” McClane said. He let go of Matt’s wrist and ducked out from under his arm. “I’ll just go grab your bag.”
Matt grabbed the railing with his now free hand and tried not to shiver. McClane was really warm. “I’ll … be here,” he said.
He caught the edge of a grin as McClane clattered back down the stairs. Matt tracked his progress, trying to steady his breathing and psych himself up for the last flight. The heavy footsteps got closer, and soon enough McClane was jogging up the last steps to where Matt was standing.
“I’ll just go unlock the door,” he said, swinging around Matt and starting in on the last flight. “Hang tight.”
“Where else would I go?” Matt muttered. He tipped his head up to follow the progress of McClane’s steps, up the stairs, across the landing; the clunk of a deadbolt and creak of a heavy door, then footsteps back across the landing and down the stairs.
Matt was staring at his shoes when McClane stopped beside him. The bastard wasn’t even out of breath.
Matt sighed and lifted his arm. “Do I have a choice?” he asked.
McClane’s fingers tightened around Matt’s wrist. “I could always carry you,” he said.
“No way,” Matt said immediately. He could feel his cheeks heating up. “Leaving aside the permanent damage to my dignity, you did get shot in the shoulder. Twice.”
“Yeah, yeah,” McClane said.
They made it to the door and Matt couldn’t feel much beyond pathetic gratefulness that the building wasn’t higher than five stories. McClane let him go first, picking up Matt’s suitcase and kicking the door shut behind them.
The apartment wasn’t exactly what he had expected. He didn’t know what he had expected, actually. McClane seemed like a simple guy on the surface, but every once in a while there was a flash of something deeper.
It felt warm and worn in, Matt thought. It was an open floor plan, the kitchen separated from the living space by a high top bar, two stools pushed underneath. The couch looked so inviting he started toward it without conscious thought. There was a bookshelf with a variety of paperbacks stacked on it in one corner, and a beautiful flat screen hanging on the wall opposite the couch.
Matt tried not to fall onto the couch and only partially succeeded. He leaned his cane on the arm. “You have an area rug,” he said. “And a coffee table.”
“Yeah,” McClane said, rubbing the back of his neck. “I’m not an animal,” he added, his eyes crinkling at the edges, inviting Matt in on the joke. “Bathroom’s through there,” he said, pointing at a half open door to the left of the living room. “I’ve got two bedrooms.” He pointed past the bathroom to a dark hallway. “Spare room is on the right.”
“Okay,” Matt said. He leaned his head back on the couch and closed his eyes.
When he woke up, his shoes were off and he was covered in a blanket. “In what alternate dimension does John McClane own a throw blanket?” Matt muttered to himself. The apartment was silent, though even from five floors up he could hear faint noise from the street. He looked over at the coffee table, and there was a note in blocky handwriting:
It was such a normal, weirdly domestic thing, that McClane had thought to leave him a note. The whole apartment was weirdly domestic, and it was messing with Matt's Idea of who John McClane really was. He knew intellectually that McClane was just as human as he was, but he hadn't ever really thought about where he lived or what the guy did in his down time. Though, he admitted to himself, he had thought once or twice about who the guy did in his down time.
Matt folded the note up and put it in his pocket. Groaning, he levered himself off the couch and limped down the hallway, stopping to use the bathroom before continuing to the bedrooms. Out of curiosity, he poked his head into McClane’s bedroom first. The door wasn’t closed, so it wasn’t exactly like snooping, he reasoned.
McClane’s room was untidy in a comfortable way. His bed was unmade, blue plaid sheets rumpled on one side. A reading lamp, coffee cup, alarm clock, and another paperback crowded together on his nightstand. There was a jacket draped over the end of the bed. One of the dresser drawers hadn’t quite shut all the way, and a pair of running shoes were haphazardly tumbled on the floor in front of the open closet door. A watch, old crumpled receipts, and spare change cluttered the top of the dresser, but what caught Matt’s eye was what looked like a family photo in a simple silver frame, half obscured by a dry cleaning bill.
He could just make out what must be McClane - with hair, weird - and a woman with brown curly hair and bangs. He could just see the top of the kids’ heads over the receipt. One of them must have been Lucy, but Matt didn’t go farther into the room to see. He backed out, feeling a little melancholy, and turned right instead to go into the spare room.
It was utilitarian but functional. There was a twin bed in the corner farthest from the door, already made up. A desk was tucked against the other wall. The top of the desk was half dust smears, half not; clearly McClane had cleaned it off for Matt to stay in the room. His suitcase was sitting next to the closet, and Matt limped over to it gratefully. He unzipped the front pocket and pulled his laptop and power cord out, setting them on the desk and sitting down on the wooden chair. It creaked as he bent over to find the plug, and he grimaced.
“If I’m going to stay here, we’ve got to get a better chair,” he said to himself, and pushed the power button.
After the computer booted up, Matt sighed as he realized that he probably wouldn’t be able to get into John’s network. Well, get in legally, anyway. He clicked on the wireless connections anyway, scrolling through the various networks in the building before finding one that wasn’t secured.
It was only a couple of seconds before his chat program pinged.
WAR10CK: whats happening? haven’t seen you online in a while
F4RR3LL: yeah, I’ve been going through some stuff.
WAR10CK: you know you can always stay here, my mom won’t mind.
F4RR3LL: it’s cool. I’m actually in New York now.
WAR10CK: what? why?
F4RR3LL: John McClane showed up this morning and insisted I stay with him instead. and honestly, living out of a motel only seems cool when you’re a kid and I’m running out of money, sooooo…
WAR10CK: dude, this is the second time this cop has kidnapped you should i be worried?
F4RR3LL: I’m fine. probably.
WAR10CK: i dunno man, he seems like he could be into some weird stuff.
F4RR3LL: I think...he wants to help.
F4RR3LL: yeah, you’re telling me.
He chatted with Warlock for another fifteen minutes, dodging questions about getting back in the game, taking some coding jobs. Warlock let him dodge, but Matt could tell he was losing patience. He really should take a job or two, get back into the game. If he waited much longer, his skill set would be practically obsolete.
The thunk of the deadbolt unlocking startled him out of his gloomy thoughts. He heard the door open and shut, the rustle of bags being set down, then McClane’s footsteps in the hall.
He leaned against the door frame. “Hi.”
“Hi,” Matt said.
McClane had changed his shirt. Now he was wearing a dark green henley that clung to his broad shoulders in a way that made Matt’s mouth dry. He had a sense memory of McClane pressing close to him at Woodlawn, and the combination of adrenaline, fear, and lust that had made the bottom drop out of his stomach. He hadn’t thought about it at all at the time; things had been happening too fast and then he got shot, and McClane got shot, and, well, other things had taken precedence over his inadvisable attraction.
Matt suddenly realized he had been staring for far too long for it not to be awkward.
McClane was smirking at him, one thumb hooked into his pants pocket. “Settling in okay?” he asked.
“Uh, yeah.” Matt turned, staring at his laptop instead. “Oh hey,” he said. “What’s your network name?”
“My network,” McClane said, his voice flat.
“Yeah, you know,” Matt said, not taking his eyes off his computer screen, “for the internet.”
“I don’t have internet here,” McClane said.
Shutting his laptop, Matt turned. “Seriously?” he said.
The laugh lines around McClane’s eyes deepened, his smirk edging into something softer. “Yeah,” he said. “Why would I need the internet?”
Matt laid his head in his arms on the desk in mock despair. “You’ve kidnapped me back to the dark ages,” he said. “I bet you still have an answering machine.” He turned his head to look up at McClane.
McClane was outright grinning. “Yup,” he said. He straightened up from his lean on the doorframe. “What do you want for dinner? I’ll order in.”
“I thought you just went shopping.” Matt levered himself up out of the chair, kicking himself for leaving his cane in the living room.
McClane twitched like he wanted to come over to help, but stopped himself. “For tomorrow,” he said. “I gotta go to work. I’m still on desk duty, but I’ll be gone all day. Don’t want you to get low blood sugar.”
“Har har,” Matt said, but he could feel his cheeks heating up at the fact that McClane clearly remembered and had planned accordingly.
“Hey,” McClane said, stepping forward and grabbing Matt’s bicep. “This has got to be better than that shithole motel, right?” He gave Matt a little shake before dropping his hand.
Matt couldn’t help but smile, his stomach doing flips. Shit, he thought to himself, I’m in trouble. “Yeah,” he said out loud. “Yeah, it’s better.”
They settled into something of a routine. McClane got up at o’dark thirty, made coffee, and left before Matt emerged from his blanket cocoon. Most days Matt heard him moving around the apartment, but as he spent most of the night staring at the ceiling waiting for sleep to find him, he usually rolled over and went back to sleep until noon.
He spent the first few days laying on the couch, watching television or paging through the seemingly endless supply of books McClane had in his apartment. He had some classic spy novels like Le Carre, which Matt appreciated, but most of them were grocery store best sellers. Matt had to admit, he hadn’t really pegged McClane as a reader, especially not an indiscriminate one. Stephen King and Robert Ludlum rubbed elbows with Debbie Macomber and Nora Roberts, and behind them were John Grisham and George R.R. Martin. He didn’t quite know what to make of it, but he did appreciate having something to do besides watch daytime television.
McClane brought them takeout most nights. He didn’t use the kitchen much, beyond coffee and toast in the morning. The long hours McClane spent at work didn’t seem conducive to home cooked meals. Matt hadn’t cooked much either, when he lived on his own, but that was more out of laziness than anything else. He had the money, he figured, so why not pay someone else to cook?
Some nights they watched a movie, or a basketball game if there was one on. Matt was flipping through channels when McClane called from the kitchen, “Hey, you want a beer?”
Matt paused on an old rerun of a Mythbusters episode. “I, uh, don’t really drink,” he said.
McClane appeared, holding two bottles in one hand and a pizza box in the other. “Come on,” he said. “Have a beer with me. It’s Friday.”
“Oh,” Matt said. He honestly had no idea what day it was. “Friday, right.”
Smirking like he knew what Matt was thinking, McClane handed him one of the bottles before he sat on the couch, tossing the pizza box onto the coffee table. “The super fixed the elevator yesterday,” he said.
“Oh,” Matt said again. He sipped the beer. It was mild and not too bitter. It wasn’t terrible, anyway.
“Thought you’d be ready to get out of here,” McClane said, too casually, flicking the lid of the pizza box open. “You’ve been cooped up here all week.”
“I don’t mind,” Matt said. He put his beer down and picked up a slice of pizza, more for something to do than because he was hungry. On the screen, Adam Savage was brandishing a bow and arrow.
McClane frowned at the screen and clicked the T.V. off. “Look,” he said. “You’re not doing yourself any favors hiding away, whether it’s here or in some crap motel in Baltimore.”
Matt stared at his lap rather than meet McClane’s eyes. There was a drop of grease on his jeans, and he scratched idly at it with his thumb. “I can’t really get very far,” he mumbled, gesturing at his knee.
“There’s plenty you could do,” McClane said.
Scrubbing a hand over his face, Matt said, “I know, I need to be working. I’m so in debt right now.”
“What do you mean, debt? You have a gambling problem I don’t know about?”
He looked at McClane incredulously. “I had to have surgery on my knee,” he said. “It’s not like I have health insurance.” His bank account had been doing okay before the fire sale, but the last time he’d looked at his balance it had been worryingly low. He’d been avoiding looking since then.
“You’re kidding.” McClane’s face darkened.
Matt shook his head. “Nope,” he said. “It’s not like the government was going to say, uh, hey there suspected criminal, have some free surgery!”
McClane leaned back into the couch and hummed. Matt couldn’t tell what he was thinking, but from the frown on his face, it wasn’t anything good.
“Anyway,” Matt said, but he was at a loss for how to continue.
“Tomorrow,” McClane said, “I’ll take you around the neighborhood, give you the five cent tour.”
“Uh, okay,” Matt said. He pushed his hair out of his face. “Hey, I - I really appreciate you letting me stay.”
McClane patted him on the shoulder and then turned the T.V. back on. “Stay as long as you want, kid,” he said.
“Why?” Matt blurted out. “You didn’t even like me that much, I don’t think, and I don’t really get why you drove all the way to Baltimore just to let me crash indefinitely in your spare bedroom. Don’t get me wrong, I’m, um, grateful and everything. But. Why?”
A smile threatened the corners of McClane’s mouth as Matt talked. He kept his eyes on the screen as he said, “I told you, Lucy called me. Didn’t want her to stop talking to me again.”
“Yeah, sure,” Matt said. He turned so his back was to the arm of the couch and poked McClane’s leg with his socked foot. “But seriously, McClane.”
McClane looked at him, then away again. “Maybe I was tired of eating alone,” he said.
It was weird, Matt reflected as he stepped into the elevator with McClane the next morning. It was weird that it didn’t feel weird to be living in John McClane’s apartment. He glanced over at the man, who seemed oblivious, standing next to him with his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket. He was wearing a stocking cap in concession to the cold weather, pulled down low over his ears.
The elevator made a screeching noise and jerked as it started descending, and McClane put a hand under Matt’s elbow to steady him. He could feel the hard press of McClane’s fingers through his parka. The air in the elevator was warm and still. He gulped in a breath, feeling his cheeks heat up. He cleared his throat, nervously, but McClane didn’t let go until the elevator’s doors opened on the ground floor.
God, he should have refused to get in McClane’s car back in Baltimore. The thing was, though, he had been in a pretty dark place back there, and McClane had swept him along and right out of it. Put another one on the books for John McClane, consistent saver of Matt Farrell’s life.
Matt shaded his eyes as they stepped out the front doors. The sun was shining, almost unbearably bright as it reflected off of the wet street and the patches of snow that hadn’t melted. The air, bitingly crisp and cold, felt good against his hot cheeks. He grabbed the stair railing, knocking the snow off as he descended the front stairs carefully. Someone had swept them clean of snow, but he could see ice still clinging to the edges.
McClane rocked back and forth on his feet, waiting as Matt took the last few steps. “Come on,” he said.
What followed was a whirlwind tour of McClane’s neighborhood. He seemed to know everyone, greeting them with a handshake or a one armed hug, grinning as he asked them about their family, their dog, their fishing trip. He didn’t let Matt hang back, either, saying each time, “And this is Matt,” like that was the beginning and end of it. Matt found himself slightly tongue-tied, shy in a way he hadn’t been since grade school. He let McClane do most of the talking.
Ollie, the tiny elderly clerk at the greengrocer, kissed McClane’s cheek and patted Matt’s arm. She gave them both candy bars, winking as McClane ducked his head like a little kid. Matt mumbled a, “Thank you,” feeling a flush work up his neck.
“You’ve lived here a long time,” he said, not really a question, as they were walking back to the apartment building.
“Yeah,” McClane said. “Since I moved back from L.A. Never really saw the point of moving after that.”
“We moved around a lot,” Matt said. “I don’t think I spent more than two years at the same school the entire time I was growing up.” He brushed his hair out of his eyes. “That place in Camden was the first place I rented after my parents kicked me out. Just never wanted to move again.”
“They kicked you out, huh,” McClane said. “What did you do, hack the Pentagon?”
“That probably didn’t help,” Matt said. He gripped the head of his cane and continued before he lost his nerve. “They caught me kissing my history teacher.”
McClane raised his eyebrows.
“I was almost eighteen,” Matt said, forestalling whatever comment he was about to make. “It wasn’t like that. I thought I was in love with him.” He glanced over in time to see McClane mouth him. “My parents gave me a choice, and I chose him.”
“And your teacher?” McClane’s voice was quiet.
“He chose his job,” Matt said. They had reached McClane’s building and he started up the stairs, grimacing at the pain in his knee. He had maybe overdone it that morning, after a week and a half of moping around McClane’s apartment.
Matt paused and looked back at McClane. He couldn’t tell what the other man was thinking; he was frowning but his eyes looked sad and his mouth had a tired tilt to it.
“I’m sorry,” McClane said.
“For what?” Matt asked.
“That was a shitty thing for them to do,” McClane said. “And then you get dragged into all that shit this summer. No place to live, bills, all your stuff is gone. I’m just sorry.”
Ducking his head, Matt said, “It’s not your fault, McClane. I’m - I’m mostly over it.” He turned and started up the stairs again. It was a bald faced lie, and McClane probably knew it. He still had nightmares about being shot, being helpless to do anything but write the code that would burn down the whole country.
“Yeah?” Matt said, his traitorous stomach doing flips. He kept his eyes on his feet.
“Call me John.” McClane bounded up the stairs and held open the front door for Matt, giving him a nod as he limped past.
They waited for the elevator in silence. Matt kept sneaking glances at McClane - John - who was always looking back at him. He hadn’t shared that story with many people. Freddy knew. Lucy knew his parents had kicked him out right before he graduated high school, but not why. He had been high on morphine and his defenses had been down when she visited him at the hospital in Baltimore.
“At least your dad still wants to talk to you,” Matt had said.
Lucy had shrugged. “He’s trying,” she had said. Then Matt had fallen asleep, and when he woke up, she had left him her cell phone number and a note that said: friends?.
They had talked a lot the first few months of his recovery. Then the doctors wouldn’t let him have the good painkillers any more, and the nightmares had started. He was sleeping better in John’s spare room, Matt reflected, than he had in the last six months. Wasn’t that hilarious. Maybe it was Stockholm syndrome. Maybe it was just that McClane made him feel safe.
“No excuses, now,” John said as he opened the door to his apartment.
“What?” Matt said, startled out of his thoughts.
“No excuses,” John repeated. He shrugged out of his jacket. “You should walk around the neighborhood every day. It’ll help with that.” He pointed at Matt’s knee.
“I know,” Matt mumbled He leaned his cane against the wall and unzipped his jacket. It slid off his shoulders and he grabbed at it before it could hit the floor.
“I mean it, kid,” John said. He disappeared down the hall, shouting from his bedroom, “No excuses!”
“Kid,” Matt muttered, and lost his balance when he tried to kick off his boots.
Matt dutifully went for a walk every day, certain that John would know if he lied about it. He did some stretches the physical therapist had showed him when he was still in the hospital. He chatted with Warlock, texted Lucy. John left him notes some mornings, things like GET MORE COFFEE or ORANGE JUICE or GYM TONIGHT, BE HOME LATER. He was accumulating quite a collection on the desk next to his laptop. He couldn’t say why he was keeping them, exactly, just that he didn’t want to throw them away.
Sometimes he had to lean against the wall next to the elevator and breathe before he could get in. Sometimes he flinched when people came up behind him too fast. But he was okay. He was getting better.
Of course, the calm he felt didn’t last forever. It couldn’t, he knew that.
He had woken up thinking about Woodlawn, adrenaline and fear sour in his mouth. He had put it mostly out of his mind the rest of the day, but he felt unsettled, like a nerve just this short of raw. John had gone to work and come back, and was banging cupboards looking for something in the kitchen.
Afterwards, Matt thought that’s what set him off. But he couldn’t really remember.
All he knew was that he was back in that loading bay, his leg on fire, Lucy screaming. He watched his hand pick up the gun, fire. He watched the red bloom on the man’s chest. He felt the sick certainty in his gut as the man crumpled to the floor.
“Matt, hey! Matt!”
Matt blinked and he was back in John’s apartment. His toes were wet - he hadn’t even realized he’d dropped the glass of water he’d been holding. His hands were still shaking.
“You okay, kid?”
“I shot that guy,” Matt blurted out, then bit his tongue, his face burning.
“Ah.” John bent down and picked up his now empty glass, set it on the bookcase. “Yeah, you did,” he said. “Saved my life. Saved Lucy’s life.”
“I didn’t even think about it,” Matt said. He clenched his hands together, looked at his socked feet, curling his toes in the puddle that was slowly spreading over the floor.
“It’s never an easy thing,” John said. “You have a flashback?”
“I guess,” Matt said. “I just …” He could feel his throat tightening and his pulse sped up.
“You looked like you were a million miles away.” John put an arm around his shoulders and pulled him into a hug, pressing a warm hand on the back of Matt’s neck, grounding him.
Matt laid his head on John’s shoulder, his nose brushing his neck. Even this late in the day, he could still smell a hint of his aftershave. “It’s like I’m there again,” he whispered.
“It’s over now,” John said. “You’re safe here. Breathe.”
Matt closed his eyes and breathed in, slow and steady, John solid under his hands. It was a long time before he could bring himself to pull away, and John didn’t say a word, just squeezed his neck with one hand, rubbing soothing circles around his upper back with the other.
They didn’t talk about it, but Matt caught John looking at him a couple times that night, his eyebrows pulled into a thoughtful frown.
John was gone most of the day that Saturday, coming back with a six pack of beer, Chinese food, and his gym bag. Matt startled awake when he unlocked the door, The Bourne Betrayal thunking to the floor. He turned on his side groggily and fumbled for the book while John went into the kitchen. He came back out again with a beer, raising his eyebrows at Matt. He had changed shirts somewhere along the line, Matt noticed. Now he was wearing a blue plaid flannel, unbuttoned over a white undershirt.
“Hey,” Matt said. He rolled onto his back again and contemplated sitting up.
Before he could, John lifted up Matt’s feet with one hand, sitting down before settling them carefully in his lap and kicking his own feet up on the coffee table. “Hay is for horses,” he said. He leaned over to pluck the book out of Matt’s hands and ruffled the pages. “Any good?”
Matt blinked up at the ceiling. Maybe he was dreaming? But his dreams these days usually had more blood and explosions in them than this. “I didn’t get very far,” he admitted. “Haven’t you read it?”
John shrugged and took a long drink of his beer, throat working. “Probably.” He turned the book over and skimmed the summary on the back. “Yeah,” he said. “I read it.”
Matt was saved from having to come up with an answer when John’s cell phone rang. John tossed the book onto the coffee table and dug his phone out of his pocket, glancing at the screen before flipping it open to answer it. “Hey baby girl,” he said. “Yeah.” He listened for a moment, then said, “Pretty good. He’s here, if you wanna just ask him yourself.” He didn’t seem to wait for an answer, just passed the phone to Matt.
Matt fumbled with the phone a bit before pressing it to his ear. “Hey, Lucy,” he said. He used his good leg and free arm to push himself up so that his head was propped up on the arm rest of the couch. John put a hand on his other leg, sliding it down his shin and gripping the ankle lightly before Matt could move it. Matt opened his mouth and then closed it again.
“So you let my dad bully you into sleeping on his couch, huh?” Lucy said. “How’s that going?”
“He has a spare room,” Matt said, and then, “Also, uh, it was your idea, Luce.”
“Yeah, I figured you two idiots could maybe help each other,” Lucy said. “How’s he doing?”
“What?” John’s hand was warm on his ankle. He wasn’t doing anything else, except drinking his beer and pretending not to listen to Matt’s side of the conversation. It was incredibly distracting.
“Is he okay? He hates desk duty.”
Matt swallowed. “Fine?”
“Is that a question?” She didn’t sound annoyed, more like she was laughing at him than anything else.
“I don’t know!” Matt said. “Fine, I guess.”
Lucy sighed. “Get it together, Farrell,” she demanded. “Don’t fuck it up.”
“Okay,” Matt said, a little bewildered by the conversation. To be fair, he felt like that every time he had a conversation with Lucy “today it’s McClane” Gennero. They were friends, he was pretty sure. But then again, sometimes he wasn’t sure why she talked to him at all.
“Put Dad back on.”
Matt passed the phone back over. “I don’t understand her at all,” he said.
John huffed out a laugh. “Join the club, kid,” he said, and pressed the phone back to his ear. “Sweetheart? How’s school going?” He listened for a long time, occasionally interjecting with a “uh huh” or “yeah”. After a few minutes, his thumb idly started rubbing back and forth over Matt’s ankle bone.
Matt felt it like an all over chill, and he let out a long breath and closed his eyes. To be fair to Lucy, he didn’t understand John McClane either. He felt like maybe he didn’t want to think about it too hard. He had almost drifted off again when John snapped his phone closed and squeezed Matt’s calf.
“I could eat,” Matt said, and opened his eyes.
Later that night, Matt booted up his laptop and logged into his chat program.
F4RR3LL: you there?
WAR10CK: whats up?
F4RR3LL: I think he’s flirting with me.
F4RR3LL: I don’t know what to do.
WAR10CK: and youre asking me?
F4RR3LL: you’re basically my only friend.
F4RR3LL: except for Lucy, and I definitely can't talk to her about this.
WAR10CK: i have never regretted being your friend so much as in this moment.
WAR10CK: not even when you brought a cop to my house, dude.
WAR10CK: wait, do you want him to be flirting with you?
WAR10CK: hey, if you want to get it on with old man annoying cop asshole, please do not give me any details
F4RR3LL: fine. but I’m going to blame you when this inevitably goes sideways.
Matt swung his basket up on the counter. “Hey, Ollie,” he said, nodding to the clerk.
The old woman slid off her stool and started emptying Matt’s basket into a plastic sack, poking at the cash register before dropping each item in. “Hello there, dear,” she said. “Making dinner tonight?” She hefted the can of tomatoes, eyeing the label.
Matt nodded. “Takeout gets old after a while,” he said. John was going out drinking with his cop buddies after work, so Matt was left to his own devices.
“You know,” Ollie leaned forward conspiratorially, “John’s never dated much in all these years. We’ve all been so worried he’d never meet his special someone. Such a nice man.”
“Nice, yeah, sure,” Matt said, barely suppressing a laugh. Inside, it felt like his brain had blue-screened. Did everyone in the neighborhood think he was John’s boyfriend? Wait, did everyone in the neighborhood think that John was less than straight? She had said special someone.
“Have you ever met any of the, um, people he’s dated?” Matt asked, going for casual and probably missing by a mile. He could feel his pulse kick up in his throat.
“Oh no, dear,” Ollie said. She didn’t elaborate, placing the parmesan cheese carefully in the sack before pressing a button on the register. “Twenty-six fifty is your total.” She took the cash he handed her, then said, “He told me you’re very good with computers. That’s how you met, isn’t it? You helped him with a computer problem?”
Matt’s brain promptly went offline again. He could feel the blush working up from his neck to his cheeks. “He did?” he squeaked, then cleared his throat. “Computer problem, yeah. You could say that.”
Ollie smiled at him and handed him his change and his bag of groceries. “Enjoy your evening, dear,” she said. “Please do tell John I said hello.”
“Sure,” Matt said. “You too. Uh, I mean, I’ll tell him. Bye!” He shoved the change in his pocket and walked out of the greengrocer as fast as he could, considering he was still using a cane. He had regained a lot of mobility over the last month, but his knee still ached if he walked too much, and he still needed the cane for the stairs.
He thought back over the conversation, trying to figure out if he had read it wrong. It really seemed like Ollie had implied both that John didn’t only date women, but also that everyone assumed he was dating Matt. “Keep it together, Farrell,” he muttered to himself. It was just wishful thinking. But John talked about him. To other people. It was a lot to process.
A vague feeling of unreality lingered in the back of his mind all afternoon. He was sitting at the counter, blankly contemplating his empty plate, when John came home. He heard the double thunk of John kicking off his shoes and a softer thump as he threw his jacket onto the couch before he came into the kitchen.
John surveyed the pots and pans in the sink, the splatter of tomato sauce on the stove Matt had missed, the giant bowl of spaghetti bolognese on the counter. “You cook?” he said slowly. He had gone out for drinks with some guys at the station after work and his shoulders were loose and easy.
“Don’t be too impressed,” Matt said. “It’s one of, like, three things I know how to make.”
“Knew I kept you around for a reason,” John said, grabbing a plate out of the cupboard and forking noodles out of the bowl and onto the plate. “You’re gonna make some lucky guy a great housewife one day.”
“Gee, thanks,” Matt said. He put his chin in his hands, leaning his elbows on the counter where he sat on one of the high stools. “I’ll make sure to put that on my resume.”
John sat next to him on the other stool. “Could be a viable career option.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Matt said. “It’s not like I’ve got anything else going on.”
“I don’t wanna sound like an old lady or anything,” John said, “but you should get out more, talk to other people every once in a while. Maybe people your own age, even.”
“I’m fine,” Matt said. “I talk to Freddy all the time. I texted Lucy the other day. I had a whole conversation with Ollie just this morning.” He remembered again what Ollie had said, and his stomach flipped over.
“Freddy as in Warlock? That guy barely counts as a person.”
“Hey,” Matt protested. “He’s not that bad.”
John just shoved noodles into his mouth, raising an eyebrow at Matt sceptically.
“Okay, he is pretty anti-social,” Matt said. “And cops make him itchy.”
“I noticed,” John said. “You could have come with us you know. To Moe’s.”
“Of course your local bar is called Moe’s,” Matt muttered. “No thanks,” he said. “Cops make me itchy too.”
“Matt,” John said. He picked up his plate and stood up. “I’m a cop.”
“Yeah, but it’s different, with you,” Matt said, then mentally kicked himself. He just couldn’t help remembering John’s hand on his elbow in the elevator, the easy way their shoulders brushed as they walked to the coffee shop on the corner on the weekends, John’s thumb swiping across his ankle. It was driving him a little nuts, wondering if reading anything at all into it was reading too much. John was casually affectionate with people he knew and liked. Which meant that John actually liked him, and even that was hard to wrap his mind around. It probably didn’t mean anything more than that.
God help him, he wanted it to mean something more.
John, oblivious to Matt’s internal dilemma, rinsed his plate and left it precariously balanced in the sink. He didn’t acknowledge Matt’s comment, but his eyes were crinkling at the edges like they did when he thought something was funny and didn’t want to show it. Instead, he returned to Warlock. “Freddy still trying to get you to take a contract again?” he asked, leaning against the counter and hooking his thumbs in his pockets.
“He’s emailed me like twenty different gigs.” Matt sighed. “I just - I don’t know. Nothing feels right. I don’t know who these people are or what they’re going to do with my code.”
“You afraid another Thomas Gabriel is going to come along?”
Matt bit his lip. “I guess? I - I - look, I didn’t even do any research before I took that job. The money was too good and I wanted to prove how much better I was than everyone else. I was arrogant and look where it got me. Where it got the whole country. I was too caught up in how smart I was to see how my code could fit into the big picture.”
John took two steps so he could reach across the counter and put his hands on Matt’s shoulders, shaking him a little. “Matt,” he said in a low voice, “you didn’t know what they were going to do with it. You couldn’t have known.”
Their eyes caught and held. “I should have,” Matt said. “Maybe I just didn’t want to know.”
Giving him one last shake, John dropped his hands on the counter and leaned forward. “You couldn’t have known,” he said again. “Anyway, forget about that. Now you’ll be looking out for it. Trust your instincts.”
“Yeah, I’m clearly an awesome judge of character,” Matt said, rubbing a hand over his face.
John shrugged. “You can’t be right all the time,” he said.
“True,” Matt said. “But …” he trailed off.
They were quiet for a few minutes as John dug around in his cupboards for a container to put the leftovers in, pressing the lid shut and sticking them in the fridge. He shut the refrigerator door with his hip. “Thanks for dinner,” he said.
“I’m, um - I’m glad it was you that showed up at my door that night,” Matt said. “I don’t know if I ever told you that. But I’m glad it was you.”
John looked at him for a long moment, his expression unreadable. He abruptly turned and opened the cabinet above the stove, taking out a whisky bottle and two glasses. He set the glasses down on the counter with a clunk and poured out a measure into each, sliding one over to Matt.
“You saved my life like ten times that weekend,” Matt said. “You could have just given up and gone home and let someone else deal with Thomas Gabriel, but you didn’t. You basically saved the whole country, man. You knew what had to be done and you did it.”
“That’s me,” John said, raising his glass. “Always in the wrong place at the right time. Too bad I could never get it together to be there for my family when it counted.”
“Well, you were there for me when it counted.” Matt took a sip of the whisky and tried not to cough too noticeably. He was unsuccessful, judging by the reluctant smile on John’s face.
“Kid, I dragged you all over half the eastern seaboard. People were chasing us, people with lots of guns. You got shot!” John drank the whisky in one swallow and slammed the glass back on the counter.
Matt tapped John’s hand, still on his glass, and waited until John raised his head before he said, “If it weren’t for you, I’d have been dead in my apartment. It’s because of you I was alive to get shot at, okay? Because for better or worse, you’re that guy.”
“Yeah,” John said heavily. “I’m that guy. I’m going to bed.” He didn’t look back as he left the room, and Matt winced as the bedroom door closed with a muffled bang.
Matt swirled the rest of the whisky around in his glass. “To ‘that guy’,” he said, and lifted the glass in a sardonic salute to the empty doorway.
Matt came awake with a gasp, flailing his arms at whoever was holding him down.
Instantly the hands on his shoulders disappeared. “Hey, Matt, it’s okay. It’s just me.”
Matt blinked and John’s face swam into view in the semi dark of his room. He had a wrinkle between his eyebrows and was holding his hands up in the universal ‘I’m not a threat’ gesture. Matt brushed sweaty hair off his forehead and stared up at the ceiling. “Just a dream,” he said to himself.
“Nightmares, huh,” John said. He sat on the edge of the bed, almost tentatively. Matt could feel the heat from his thigh through the blankets.
“Sorry,” Matt said. “Did I wake you up?”
The only light in the room came in through the window, ambient light from the city outside. Matt hadn’t bothered to close the blinds before he went to bed. He blinked again, willing his heart to stop crashing around in his chest.
John shook his head. “I was already up,” he said. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Matt closed his prickling eyes. The muzzle of the gun flashed, blood everywhere, on his face, all over McClane. He shivered, partially from the adrenaline and partially from the cool air of the apartment on his sweaty skin. “Does it get better?” he asked, his voice hoarse.
“Sometimes,” John said. “Come on, budge over.” He pushed at Matt’s shoulder.
“What?” Matt looked at John, whose face was completely serious in the half light.
“Scoot,” John said. He picked up the sheets and slid under them as Matt turned on his side, tucking himself up close behind Matt and slinging an arm around his waist. His t-shirt was soft against the bare skin of Matt’s back.
Matt was too tired to resist, though in the back of the mind, his brain was insisting that he was totally still dreaming, because he could not possibly actually be spooning with John McClane.
“Talking helps,” John said softly. “Whether that’s with someone who gets it or a therapist or whatever, it helps.”
“Okay,” Matt said. He was half asleep already. “You keep talking then.”
John laughed, his arm briefly tightening. But he kept talking. “Let me tell you about my friend Al,” he said.
Matt fell asleep to the rumble of John’s voice against his back.
John had left for work hours before Matt woke up. He rolled over, groaning. He still felt brittle from his nightmare the night before, like his skin would crack if anyone looked at him too closely. After a shower, he collapsed on the couch with a cup of cold coffee and decided he was going to take the day off. He just didn’t feel up to polite society, such as it was in Brooklyn.
He didn’t even end up drinking the coffee, instead dozing through old reruns of Star Trek on SciFi, studiously avoiding thinking about anything in his life. He was just thinking he really should get up and eat something when the lock clicked and John came through the front door.
“Oh,” Matt said, sitting up. “You’re home early.”
“I brought deli,” John said, holding up a paper bag. He was in what Matt thought of as his work uniform - long sleeve henley, leather jacket, and dark grey Carhartts. He set the bag on the floor and tugged at the laces of his boots, toeing them off before shrugging out of his jacket and shoulder holster. He hung up the jacket and stashed his gun in the safe in the hall closet.
“Thanks,” Matt said. “I didn’t eat breakfast.”
John looked at the coffee cup on the table and then at Matt, a wry expression on his face. “How are you feeling?” he asked, setting the bag on the table.
Shrugging, Matt said, “Okay, I guess.”
“Hm,” John said. He disappeared into the kitchen and reappeared a minute later with two plates and a glass of water, which he handed to Matt. “Drink up,” he said.
Matt dutifully took a drink from the glass as John sat down next to him on the couch, then another when he realized how thirsty he was. “Slow day at the office?” he asked.
“Nah,” John said. “Just felt like playing hooky. Pastrami or roast beef?” He extracted two enormous wax paper bundles from the bag.
“Which one doesn’t have onions?” Matt asked.
John raised his eyebrow. “Neither,” he said.
“But you - you like onions,” Matt said. He was still feeling wrong-footed after last night. He would have thought he had dreamt the whole thing, if his pillow didn’t still smell a little like John.
“Yeah, I like onions,” John said. “Time’s up, you get roast beef.” He tossed the package in his right hand to Matt.
“Thanks,” Matt said again.
John shrugged. He unwrapped his sandwich and took a bite before dropping it onto the plate on his knees. “What are you watching? Star Wars or something?” he asked, balling up the paper and sticking it back in the bag.
“Star Trek,” Matt said absently. “Why are you being so nice to me?” he demanded. “It’s weirding me out.”
Picking up his sandwich with one hand and the remote with the other, John said, “I’m a nice guy.”
“No,” Matt said. “You’re not nice. I distinctly remember you not being nice. In fact, Ollie told me you were “a nice man” the other day and I almost laughed in her face.”
“Eat your fucking sandwich,” John said, smirking. He changed the channel to ESPN and took another bite of his own sandwich.
Obediently, Matt started unwrapping his sandwich. “All those people in your neighborhood think they know you,” he said quietly. “Does anyone? Really know you?”
John muted the television, his face suddenly blank. He put his plate on the coffee table and turned to face Matt.
“Shit, I didn’t mean it,” Matt said. “It’s the low blood sugar. I have no idea what I’m saying. Ignore me. I don’t know what I’m talking about. You’re definitely a nice guy. Yup, super nice. The nicest.” He took a bite of sandwich just so he would stop talking.
John stared at him for a second more, his face serious, but then his expression softened. “What do you want to know, kid?” he asked.
Matt froze. “Uh,” he said. Questions crowded in his mind. “How long were you married? Is that why you moved to L.A.? Were you a cop in L.A. too? Did you always know you wanted to be a cop? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve arrested someone for? You said in the car that had happened before, you know, with the guys and the guns and the shooting. What happened? Do - do you still dream about it, because I do. How - how -” he stumbled to a halt, pressing his lips closed against the question he really wanted to ask, which was: did you know half the neighborhood thinks we’re sleeping together? Followed by: do you want to sleep with me?
John was definitely laughing at him, his eyes crinkling up at the corners in a way that made Matt want to kiss him. “How about one question at a time,” he said. “Better yet, one question a day.”
“Only one?” Matt asked, and then took another bite. “That one doesn’t count,” he said, his mouth full.
“Choose wisely, padawan,” John said. He flicked through the channels until he found an old John Wayne movie. “And yeah,” he said, picking up his plate again, “I dream about it.”
It took Matt the rest of the day to decide whether John was serious about the question thing. John had left after a few hours to go to the gym, and he didn’t mention it again. Matt was skimming a Janet Evanovich book after John had gone to bed when he remembered their conversation.
In the end, he used the notepad John kept next to his phone in the kitchen and left the note next to the coffeemaker.
What do you want for dinner?
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU COOK?
Matt could cook four things: spaghetti bolognese, beef stroganoff, chili, and tacos. He made chili next. John ate two bowls.
Why are you afraid of flying?
JUST AM. FALLING OFF A MOVING PLANE DIDN’T HELP.
“Falling off a moving plane?” Matt asked. “Not falling out of a plane?”
John huffed a laugh. “Yeah,” he said. “It hadn’t taken off yet. Long story.”
Matt made a show of glancing at the non-existent watch on his wrist. “I’ve got nowhere to be,” he said.
Did you always want to be a cop?
WHEN I WAS A KID I WANTED TO BE A COWBOY.
“So,” Matt said. “Did you have a pony?”
John laughed. “Not a real one. We lived in an apartment in Bed Stuy.”
“I bet you had a cowboy hat, though,” Matt said.
“A big white one, just like Roy Rogers.”
“Roy Rogers, the singing cowboy?” At Matt’s shrug, John picked up the remote and settled back into the couch. “Well, now I know what we’re watching tonight,” he said.
Matt closed his chat program and shut down his computer. The pile of notes on the desk had grown steadily over the past week. He picked them up and shuffled through them, not bothering to stop the dopey smile from spreading over his face. He was seventy percent certain the notes were John flirting with him. John was being both subtle and patient, two traits Matt would have said he didn’t possess if you had asked him last summer.
It was, god help him, kind of cute.
The door slammed, and he heard John come down the hall, throwing his gym bag into his bedroom before coming to lean against Matt’s door. His cheeks were a little ruddy from the cold, and he looked so good it hit Matt like an almost physical blow. He blew out a breath, hoping his face wasn’t giving all of his thoughts away as he leaned back in the chair and dropped the notes back on the desk.
“Welcome back,” Matt said. “Good day?”
“Not bad,” John said. “I’ve got some good news.”
“Oh yeah?” Matt asked.
John put a hand in his pocket. “I talked to Bowman today. He said not to worry about the hospital. They’ll take care of it.”
Kicking his chair back, Matt stood up. His knee twinged but he ignored it in favor of saying, “Wait. You talked to who?”
“Deputy Director Bowman,” John said.
“I can’t believe you called the fucking FBI about me. Seriously?” Matt folded his arms across his chest. He mentally took back all the nice things he’d thought about McClane. Of all the condescending, presumptuous moves … he hated feeling like he couldn’t take care of himself, like people thought he was incompetent.
“Hey, I did you a favor.” John mirrored his stance, taking his hand out of his pocket and crossing his arms.
Matt took a step forward, but John didn’t move, mouth twisting sardonically. “You didn’t have to do that. You shouldn’t have done it.”
“Calm down, kid. I’m just trying to look after you.”
“Stop calling me kid!” Matt exploded. “I don’t need looking after. I’m not a kid. I’m five years older than your daughter!”
“Five whole years, huh?” John raised an eyebrow.
They were still standing too close, so close Matt could feel the heat radiating off the other man. “It makes a difference,” he said, his cheeks burning.
“Not from where I’m standing,” John said. His eyes were intense. “I’m still old enough to be your dad, Matt.”
“I don’t want you to be my dad.” Matt couldn’t help clenching his fists. His jaw felt tight. “One was enough, thanks.”
“What do you want, then?”
Matt closed his eyes, pressing his lips together. When he opened them again, John was still standing there, too close, too much. “Just,” he started, then gave up and brought his hand up, telegraphing his movements as he laid his palm against the side of John’s neck.
John’s eyes dropped to Matt’s mouth and then back up. His lips parted.
Leaning forward, Matt pressed their lips together. Both their eyes were still open and he couldn’t help tightening his grip on John’s neck. It should have felt awkward, but it somehow wasn’t, just a frozen moment in time before John’s lips softened and his eyes fluttered shut. He pressed forward, his hands gripping Matt’s hips as he deepened the kiss.
Matt buried his face in John’s shoulder when the kiss ended. “That,” he said quietly. “That’s what I want.”
John’s hands were warm against the small of his back. He pressed his lips to the side of Matt’s neck. “Okay, Matt,” he said. “Okay. I want that too.”
“Are you sure?” Matt asked. He squeezed his eyes shut. “You’re kind of … aggressively heterosexual.” He felt more than heard John’s laugh at that.
“Old habits, I guess,” John said. “I’m not, though. Heterosexual,” he clarified as Matt started to pull away.
Matt squinted at him, but John didn’t look like he was laughing at him, or joking.
“Now,” John said, tightening his grip and pressing their bodies together from chest to hip. “Can we stop talking about our feelings like little girls?”
“Jesus,” Matt said, half laughing, half despairing. “Why am I even attracted to you?”
John shrugged, but he was smiling. Then he kissed Matt, and he couldn’t remember what his question had been in the first place.
John’s stubble was sharp against the edges of Matt’s mouth. He kissed with single minded intensity, like he couldn’t help himself. He broke the kiss and pressed his hand into between Matt’s shoulder blades. “God,” he said. He kissed the side of Matt’s neck, sliding his mouth up and nipping Matt’s earlobe.
Matt shuddered against him, tightening his arms around John’s shoulders and tipping his head to the side.
“This is really okay?” John asked, his lips brushing the shell of Matt’s ear.
“More than okay,” Matt said. He leaned back until he could look John in the eye. “Kiss me again.”
John did, walking backward and bringing Matt along until they were through his bedroom doorway. He gave a Matt a little push toward the bed, and Matt sat down on the edge, bouncing on the mattress as John shrugged out of his long sleeved shirt.
“Hand me that pillow, would ya?” John asked. He clicked on the reading lamp on his nightstand so the room was lit by more than the light spilling in from the hallway.
Matt blinked and handed John one of the pillows from the head of the bed. John dropped it onto the floor between Matt’s legs and knelt down.
“Shit,” Matt said.
John rubbed his thumb over Matt’s lips and murmured, “Much easier on the knees,” before kissing him again. His hands gripped the waistband of Matt’s sweatpants and tugged. Matt obligingly braced his hands on the bed and lifted his hips, breaking the kiss and struggling to control his breathing as John maneuvered the elastic around his erection and down his thighs.
“No underwear?” John grinned up at him.
“Uh,” Matt said intelligently. He kicked his sweatpants off his right foot and spread his legs as John leaned forward and kissed him.
Running his hands up Matt’s calves, John paused at his left knee. He bent his head down to press his lips to the scar, then his kneecap.
“I don’t regret it,” Matt said. He brushed his hand over the top of John’s head.
“Good,” John said hoarsely.
Matt clutched at John’s shoulders as he bent his head and took Matt in his mouth. Time stretched. Matt couldn’t quite believe that John McClane was on his knees, giving him a blow job. He didn’t know what to do with his hands, alternately gripping the undershirt John was still wearing and smoothing away the wrinkles. John’s tongue caressed the sensitive underside of his cock, and Matt gasped.
John pulled off, keeping Matt in one warm hand, his thumb rubbing slowly over the tip. He looked up at Matt, licking his lips. “Can I fuck you?” His voice was even rougher than usual.
He was going to spontaneously combust right there. “Oh god,” he said. “I mean, yes. I mean yes, but it’s been a while, but yes -”
John cut off his half coherent babbling with a hard kiss, hand gripping the back of his head. “Okay,” he said. He tugged on the hem of Matt’s t-shirt. “Off.”
Matt bit back a comment about taking orders as John stood up and started stripping off his own clothes. He pulled the shirt over his head, dropping it on the bed and kicking his pants off the rest of the way before carefully scooting back so he was leaning on the headboard. He pushed the rumpled sheets to the side and eyed John appreciatively. He was solidly built, barrel chested with salt and pepper chest hair chasing a trail to the waistband of his underwear. The scar on his shoulder where he had been shot was still raised and pink against his skin.
“Here,” John said, pushing Matt’s shoulder, “lay on your side.”
Matt rolled so his back was to John, curling his left arm under the pillow. John opened and closed a drawer, dropping something on the bed before he slid close behind him, a warm presence along his back. He pressed a kiss to the side of Matt’s neck and he felt a shiver work its way down his spine.
Gently, John slid his hand down Matt’s flank and smoothed over his thigh. He curled his fingers under Matt’s knee and lifted, bending his leg forward so that he was laying at a slight angle but not putting any pressure on his injured knee.
Matt tried to get his breathing under control. He could feel his cheeks burning as John’s hand pressed into his skin, just touching him, learning the curve of his rib cage, the dip of his navel. He’d never been manhandled so carefully before. John had put him exactly where he wanted him, but in a way that made Matt’s breath hitch.
“I’ve got you,” John murmured into Matt’s hair, rubbing over Matt’s nipple and then again when it made Matt’s hips jerk.
“John,” Matt said, and he shut his eyes at the need in his voice. He flailed his right hand back and grabbed John’s hip, hard.
“Shhh,” John said. His fingers turned Matt’s head with a touch on his chin and then they were kissing again. Matt could feel John’s erection, hot against the skin of his back.
John leaned back and Matt heard the click of a cap opening. He closed his eyes and turned his face into the pillow as he felt one of John’s fingers, cool and slick, press against his entrance. His hips jerked back. John kissed his shoulder, crooking his finger and sliding slowly out until he found Matt’s prostate and his hips jerked again.
“Yeah,” John said. He grazed his teeth against the back of Matt’s neck and pressed another finger inside. He took his time, fingering Matt open until he was gasping open-mouthed against the pillow, his hips pushing back into John’s hand.
“Ready?” John asked.
“Please,” Matt said, moaning as John twisted his fingers.
John dropped a kiss to Matt’s shoulder and rolled on to his back. Matt heard the crinkle of a condom wrapper and shivered in anticipation. The sheets smelled like John, the sharp tang of bar soap and under that, leather and spice and sweat. John rolled back over, nudging his knee in between Matt’s thighs. The blunt head of his cock pressed against Matt’s entrance.
Pressed together like they were, John couldn’t go as deep, but the angle meant the fat head of his cock rubbed over Matt’s prostate with every roll of his hips. His left arm was tight around Matt’s chest, his right hand sliding over Matt’s cock in the same slow rhythm. John’s breath was hot on the back of his neck, his tongue darting out to taste his sweat.
It didn’t take long before Matt could feel his orgasm tingling at the base of his spine. It felt like he’d been hard for a year at least. “I’m gonna come,” he gasped, tangling his fingers with John’s around his erection.
“Do it,” John whispered in his ear, and then they were kissing, wildly, as Matt spilled hotly over both their hands. John stroked him through it until he was shuddering.
John unwound his arm from Matt’s chest and propped himself up on his elbow. He wiped most of the mess off his other hand on Matt’s discarded t-shirt before gripping Matt’s hip again. Their hips were still snug together and John thrust once, looking down at Matt’s face.
“Oh wow,” Matt said stupidly. John was still hard inside him. He felt dazed, a little out of control. His cock, still half hard, twitched.
“I’m not done with you yet,” John said.
Matt opened his mouth, but John kissed whatever he was going to say right out of his head as he started fucking Matt again at the same maddening pace as before. He pinched Matt’s nipple, rolling it a little between his thumb and forefinger, which sent electric pleasure straight to Matt’s dick. Matt broke the kiss, panting for air.
John bent his head so his lips were brushing Matt’s ear. “You feel so good, babe,” he said. He ran his hand lightly down Matt’s belly, up his cock teasingly, then back up to pull at his other nipple. “Tight and hot and slick for me.”
“Fuck,” Matt said. He’d never been hard again so fast in his goddamn life. “John, you -”
“What?” John asked, darkly amused. His teeth grazed Matt’s neck. “What, Matt? You normally have so much to say. If I knew all it took to get you to shut up was a good deep dicking I would have done this a lot sooner.”
Matt moaned and fisted his cock. He was leaking all over himself, every brush of John’s lips against the shell of his ear like a tiny pleasurable shock down his spine. “I tend to babble when I get nervous,” he managed.
“I remember,” John said. He gripped Matt’s hip hard enough to bruise. “Talk to me, Matt.”
He wanted John to mark him up, to fuck him so hard he could still feel it the next day, the day after that. He didn’t want John to ever stop. “Fuck me,” he started, and then it was like the words just kept tumbling out of his mouth. “Fuck me and don’t ever stop. I want to see your fingerprints on my skin tomorrow. Fuck me until I can’t even remember my own name. I want you so bad, want to still feel your cock in me next week you fucked me so hard. Jesus, John.”
John’s hand spasmed on Matt’s hip and his fingers dug in almost painfully. “Yeah,” he said tightly. He was pulling Matt back onto his cock now, their hips meeting with a slap that just served to wind Matt up farther. “What else,” John growled.
“I want you to make me come on your cock so many times I lose count,” Matt gasped. “Until I can’t get it up any more, until I can’t even stand your hands on me and then I want you to hold me down and come inside me. Fuck, I’m so close.” He tightened his fist around his cock, rubbing his thumb over the sensitive tip.
“Shit,” John said. “Me too. Keep talking.”
Matt didn’t even know what was coming out of his mouth. He squeezed his eyes shut, tears pricking at the corners, and kept talking. This time, his orgasm rolled over him like a tidal wave, inexorable. He could feel it as it swept over John too, his cock pulsing deep as he growled and bit Matt’s neck where it met his shoulder. The sharpness of the pain was a welcome underscore to the tingling pleasure still rushing through him.
They panted together for a moment before John carefully pulled out, sitting up to deal with the condom and dropping it over the side of the bed. Matt wiped off most of the mess with a corner of his t-shirt and rolled over onto his back, feeling boneless and a little embarrassed at the shit that had come out of his mouth.
“Are you okay?” John asked. He swiped one thumb softly over Matt’s cheek. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
“Oh, uh,” Matt said, blinking rapidly. He could feel the dampness that wasn’t sweat sliding down his face. “Um, yeah. That happens sometimes.”
He expected John to tease him, make some comment about little girls and crying, but he just said, “Okay,” and swept his eyes down Matt’s body, clearly checking to make sure Matt wasn’t lying.
“Really,” Matt said. “I mean to say, it really only happens when I’m feeling a little overwhelmed and the sex was really good. And it was. Good. Like, maybe it was the best sex I’ve ever had? Oh my god, please just kiss me so I'll stop talking.”
John kissed him, laughing into his mouth. His hand was gentle in Matt’s hair as he swirled their tongues lazily together. “Okay,” he said again, then pressed a kiss under one of Matt’s eyes, then the other, licking the salt off his lips. “I’ll be right back.”
He rolled off the side of the bed and picked up the condom, sauntering out of the bedroom and into the hall toward the bathroom. Matt turned his head so he could admire the view, but otherwise didn’t move.
After a while, John climbed back into the bed, laying on his back with his hands behind his head. Matt rolled over, settling with his head on John’s good shoulder, draping an arm across his stomach. John hummed and kissed the top of Matt’s head.
“Your bed is so much more comfortable,” Matt said.
“Yeah, well, I’m not twenty seven any more,” John said. He stretched out a hand, jostling them around until he could reach the sheet and pull it over both of them.
“I’m sorry I flipped out on you earlier,” Matt said, tracing idle patterns over John’s side. “But you have to ask me before you do shit like call the FBI.”
“Don’t worry about it,” John said. “I can,” he hesitated, “I can call Bowman back if you want.”
“No, don’t,” Matt said. “They might as well pay my hospital bill. I sure as hell can’t.”
“You can ask me for help, you know,” John said. “I want to help.”
His voice was a low rumble under Matt’s ear. “I know,” he said. They were quiet, just breathing together for a minute. “What time is it?” Matt asked. He knew it was earlier than he usually went to bed, but he was tired, his body a pleasant ache, his mind quiet for once.
John turned his head to look at the clock on his nightstand. “Nine thirty,” he said.
“Normally right now I’m figuring out what I want to ask you,” Matt said. He yawned, propping himself up on his elbow so he could see John’s face.
“Just ask me now,” John said, brushing the hair off Matt’s forehead.
Matt tipped his head down to meet John for a kiss, less urgent than it had been before but no less intense.
John dropped his head back on the pillow. He carded a hand through Matt’s hair, smiling. “That wasn’t a question,” he said.
Matt rolled away and over onto his stomach, yawning again. “Too tired,” he said, burying his face in the crook of his elbow. His entire body felt heavy, like he was sinking into the mattress, John radiating heat next to him.
The bed dipped as John twisted to turn off the light and settled again. “Don’t tell me you ran out of questions,” he said.
Matt blinked once, twice, then let his eyes fall shut. He was already half asleep when he murmured, “How many more questions are you going to let me ask?”, and he was all the way asleep before John could answer.
In the morning, he woke up alone, but the side of the bed John had slept on still held a little residual warmth. Muscles he hadn’t used in a while twinged as he stretched, burying his head under the pillow. Well, that was one question answered anyway, he thought, laughing to himself. He felt lighter; not happy, really, but like some weight had been lifted. His life was still a mess, he still couldn’t face working, he still had nightmares and sometimes couldn’t get more than a block away from the apartment building without freezing. But he finally felt like he was getting better, and that he could have this and it would be okay.
Matt rolled over and then stilled at the sound of paper crackling. He pulled a piece of paper with John’s now familiar blocky script on it, slightly crumpled, out from under his arm. He closed his eyes, afraid for a second that it was some kind of Dear John letter, before remembering the question he’d asked the night before. He opened his eyes and read the note before he could lose his nerve.
AS MANY AS YOU WANT
“Okay,” Matt said to the empty room. “Good, because -” He yelped as John appeared in the doorway, leaning against the frame and crossing his arms. He was wearing boxers and an old white t-shirt that was loose around the neck. “I thought you left for work already,” Matt said.
“Took the day off,” John said. He didn’t move from the doorway, seeming almost hesitant. “You want coffee?”
“Not yet,” Matt said. He sat up, the sheet pooling around his waist. “I have a question first.”
“Shoot,” John said, raising his eyebrows.
Matt could feel himself blushing, but he met John’s eyes anyway. “You want to come back to bed?” he asked.