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Orbits, Drift

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Act 1

The first few days in the hospital pass by in a drug-addled blur, brief spots of awareness stark between the bliss of finally being able to crash after a 36-hour non-caffeine-aided adrenaline overload. The first couple of times Matt shudders awake during this period, his brain coughs up a hazy: whoa, what a dream before the sonavabitch pain in his knee kicks in with a reality check.

People in uniforms (white/blue/black) wander in and out to ask and/or tell him stuff, and though Matt vaguely remembers offering answers, the actual words spoken slip and slide over each other without purchase, like his brain has gone into read-only mode right now and please, would you go back to sleep? Yes, sleep is good.

Lucidity finally kicks in around day three, post-surgery, which the doctor says is a good sign. Matt nods and is glad for any excuse to be optimistic, but when the doctor and his motley crew of friendly nurses leave, Matt’s all alone in his completely uninteresting room.

Okay, he is grateful that the clouds in his head have cleared, but the downside is that he now has all this free time and no distractions but a television he refuses to turn on and a Sudoku book that just makes him grieve all over again for his dearly departed hardware. He’d previously believed with absolute certainty that Matthew Farrell was a self-sufficient and self-reliant individual perfectly capable of fitting the Independent Man motto, but apparently being alone isn’t half as possible in Matt’s world without a shitload of peripheries.

With nothing to do but sit tight and get better, Matt’s mind wanders all over the place, parsing the then and the now and the holy shit all that actually happened stuff. At the time, it had been pretty much just do, survive, get to the finish line – so now he can sit back and review the slideshow in his head.

The sights are surreal and make Matt feel small.

Propelled by the sudden need for connection and Matt’s general inability to think more than two steps ahead, he fumbles for the call nurse button. The day nurse is more than happy to oblige Matt’s request for pen and paper, and just nods when he asks that it be delivered to McClane, J. whatever room he might be in.

Matt falls asleep after that, and when he wakes up, the paper is back on his breakfast table with a reply scratched on the other side: I’d tap dance, but I don’t have my hat and cane.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the day’s entertainment.

 

It’s pathetic how much it makes Matt laugh.


Lucy turns up the next day, armed with a smile and a deck of cards.

Matt’s kind of stunned, but it’s such a relief to finally see someone without a name tag that he doesn’t question it lest she change her mind. “Hey.”

“Hey, yourself,” Lucy says. She pulls out the chair next to his bed and repositions his wheely breakfast table to the space between them. “You do play poker, I hope.”

 

“If I say no?” Matt asks.

“I’d spend ten minutes teaching the basics, then fleece you for all you’ve got,” Lucy says.

Matt finds himself relaxing already. “I prefer Hold ’Em. You can deal, though.”

“I wasn’t going to offer,” Lucy says, cards snapping between her fingers.

Matt doesn’t expect anything other than ending up on the losing side. It isn’t that big a deal, but Lucy is smirking so much that he has to complain out loud. “Geez, Lucy, don’t you have any human decency? You’re taking advantage of an invalid, here!”

Lucy appears to think about it. “Sounds good to me. Now bet or fold, already.”

“Call,” Matt says, and takes another card. They play quietly for a while, working their way through various permutations of unnecessary small talk until Matt says, “How’s John? Uh, I mean your dad, the John, your dad John McClane, who is your dad.”

“Doing better than you,” Lucy says. “He’s down the hall.”

“Shouldn’t you be with him?” Matt asks. “I mean, don’t you have catching up to do, or whatever?”

Lucy gives him a look. “Just play, Farrell.”

“I’ve been threatened by the best, McClane,” Matt says, and he enjoys the way it sharpens her smirk. “Try harder.”

“Kinda late to grow balls, don’t you think?” Lucy says.

They keep playing for maybe an hour, and after Lucy leaves, Matt receives a note from the day nurse in an already familiar block hand: She cheats.

For a moment Matt is startled, because it’s only a note that came by, and not John himself with a baseball bat.

When he recovers, he answers: Something else she learned from you, gotcha. PS. I just had my knee stuck back together. Not getting beaten to death would be greatly appreciated.

 

He expects that to be it, so he’s further surprised when another reply drops by: I know when you’re asleep.

 

Matt doesn’t have the heart to respond that the threat’s not scary at all, so he doesn’t.


The MA who brings his breakfast tilts her head in a suspicious way when Matt asks that the message be delivered down the hall. But the important thing is that she doesn’t comment or refuse, and the message is off on its merry way.

 

I have porridge. What do you have? If it’s something good, please lie.

Matt takes so long eating that by the time another nurse comes by with the reply, he’s still at it and the stuff’s gone cold. John’s answer is: Porridge.

It’s no substitute for IM, but it’s something.

Matt’s going stone cold turkey, and if it weren’t for his lame leg, he’d totally be bouncing off the walls by now. It’s nice to know that John’s also cooped up in a room not that different from his, and this little thing of flying paper is like tapping the wall in Morse, sharing their pain of white sheets and needles.

 

Cold turkey, dude.


The next time Lucy drops by, she has a deck of lovingly-worn Uno cards, and though Matt hasn’t played the game in years, he remembers the rules clear as anything. Lucy’s pout when he points out her bullshit is to die for.

“Power cards don’t work that way,” Matt says.

“Of course they do,” Lucy insists. “Reverse, reverse, skip, so it’s my turn again and—”

“Your skip isn’t even the same color!” Matt says. “How is that even logical? If I could buy that you can lump your power cards together, there’s no way—”

“Fine, my god, I won’t use the damn skip if it’ll just stop your damn whining,” Lucy says. “There, your move.”

“I bet you didn’t bring the rule book on purpose,” Matt says, drawing new cards from the deck.

“It’s not my fault you suck,” Lucy says. After a while, she says, “Hey, did the doctor say if you can move around yet?”

“He said no, because he’s a bitch,” Matt says. “Or is it my knee that’s the bitch, I can’t remember.”

“Geez, Farrell, let me know how you really feel.”

“I mean, would it be too much to ask for a little fresh air?” Matt says. “I wouldn’t mind trying out a wheelchair. Chicks dig wheels, right?”

Lucy makes a piss poor job of trying not to laugh. “Yes. Chicks dig wheels.”

“I mean, what the hell man,” Matt says, and his cards are still awful like his life digs this pattern of suck. “John’s just down the hall and I can’t even drop by to say hey, how’re ya doing, or thank you, or whatever. Not that he’d appreciate it, he probably gets that all the time. Okay, no. That was a shitty thing to say. So don’t tell him I said it.”

It’s Lucy’s turn, and she draws a card. “You really are going stir-crazy.”

 

Shyeah!” Matt says.

Lucy’s good at this whole just being there, and Matt wonders about the lifetime of training it took to get where she is today. Her mouth is a mirror of John’s, and sometimes her eyes match his as well, but not at the moment.

These are the thoughts in Matt’s head, because he really doesn’t have anything else to think about.

“Uno,” Lucy says, grinning.

“Try again, Lucy McClane,” Matt says, and puts down a pair of Plus Fours.

Lucy huffs and draws the cards.

“It’s harder to cheat with Uno,” Matt says.

“What?” Lucy says, startled. A second later, her eyes narrow. “You ought to know better than to believe anything my father says.”

“Funny thing,” Matt says, and wins the round.


Matt isn’t ready for when John suddenly strides into his room, bold as brass and mouth wide with a grin that has nothing to do with helicopters exploding.

John starts, “How’re you—?”

“Why are you walking about?” Matt says. “How is it that you are walking around while I’m still fucking stuck in this fucking bed, it’s not even humanly possible!”

“Lucky, I guess,” John says. “Want to see my stitches?”

No,” Matt says. “I can’t even look at my own, thank you very much.”

“They still pumping you full of painkillers then?”

“For which I am eternally grateful,” Matt says. “Though they’ve started weaning me off, the bastards.”

John settles into the chair next to Matt’s bed, easy as anything. The smattering handiwork of stitches and bandages across his person look inadequate, because Matt had been there to witness the abuse sustained by this particular human body, and there’s no way that this is all that John’s got to walk away with.

John has to be, like, a secret government cyborg, or something.

 

“The splint holding?” John says.

“I have no idea,” Matt says.

Then because John has no sense of propriety, he reaches out and yanks Matt’s blanket of modesty away, revealing the hedgehog of plaster and steel around his knee. John considers the sight, eyebrows rising and falling. “It’s not that bad, kid.”

 

“Really?” Matt says, taking John’s word for it. Matt doesn’t like looking at it, as though looking makes it more real somehow. But then John is moving, and Matt frowns. “What—what are you doing?”

“I need some fresh air,” John says. He’s bringing a wheelchair out of a closet near the door (Matt didn’t even know his room had a closet). Matt stares while John parks it near the bed and turns to look at him.

“Well?” John says.

A protest is waiting on his lips, but Matt swallows it because he really, really, really wants to see something other than these four walls. “Don’t fuck up my knee, okay? Well, um, fuck it up more, is what I mean.”

“Yadda yadda promise,” John says, and opens his arms.

It’s a little bit awkward because Matt can only cling to John’s left side, hanging like a helpless little monkey to a shoulder that shouldn’t feel like steel bands but does. They grunt and wobble a little but hurray, there’s no explosion of pain in Matt’s knee, and soon enough he’s in the wheelchair, John kneeling down to prop up the splint like he’s done it a hundred times over.

“It’s probably a mistake to let you drive again,” Matt says as John starts wheeling him towards the door. 

“Probably,” John says.

“Oh well, beats being stuck in this joint. And we’re off!” Matt claps his hands, and gets a knock at the back of his head for his enthusiasm.

They manage to get to the elevator and down to the ground floor for a full lap of the premises – Matt making race car noises all the way – before the day nurse hunts them down and makes them return to their rooms. John charms her into not reporting them to the doctor while Matt rolls his eyes and picks at the plaster of paris.

Later, Matt falls asleep and dreams that a secret government cyborg project team surreptitiously installed bionic legs on him during his surgery. It’s disappointing when he wakes up and, nope, the knee is still busted. Damn.


It’s a surprise and a half when the next time Lucy drops by, she isn’t alone. At first Matt thinks that it’s another Fed coming to grill him, but he’s pretty sure Feds don’t smile like that to potential cyber terrorists.

“Hello, I’m Holly, Lucy’s mom,” she says, offering him her hand.

It’s an unexpected snap to the gut, and Matt only belatedly remembers to shake her hand and not look like a moron when he does it. It shouldn’t be a shock to meet Holly Gennero in person, not when the only thing Matt knows about her is a single passing reference in the longest speech he’s ever heard from John uninterrupted, but it is.

There’s a face to her now, and – oh yeah, Matt can see where Lucy gets those eyes.

“It’s um…” Matt says, unsure. “Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you, too, Matt,” Holly says. She sits in the chair, breathing out something that’s almost a sigh but not quite. Lucy is leaning against the door frame, fiddling with her phone and apparently not paying attention to them whatsoever.

Holly saves Matt from having to come up with anything pithy to say when she cuts right to it: “So I hear you need a place to stay.”

That sends Matt reeling a little. He has been thinking about it, but it’s weird to hear her say it aloud. “Yeah, I guess.”

 

“Ah, good.” Holly reaches into her handbag and takes out a Blackberry.

Matt’s fingers twitch as he watches her press the keys, because although he’s promised the Feds upwards and downwards and in blood that he’s going to be a good little boy, he craves.

“Do you have any preferences?” Holly asks.

Matt’s about to say that he’s a Linux whore, but he catches himself in time. “Sorry, what?”

 

“Price range, floor space, location?” Holly asks “Preferences. You know what, just sleep on it. Tell Lucy whenever you figure out what you want, and I’ll draw up some suggestions.”

Matt flushes. “There’s really no need—”

“Price range, floor space, location, other specifics, that sort of thing,” Holly says, standing up. “I’ve heard that there’s quite a compensation check waiting for when you’re out of here, so perhaps you should start thinking about what you’d like to do with it. You’ll need somewhere to go eventually.”

Matt wants to protest, but it’s true. He will have to go somewhere eventually, but he’d already figured out that the best chance he has is to crash at one of his guildmates’ places – sure, he hasn’t been in contact with them lately thanks to the internet silence thing, but he’s sure that at least one of them will be willing to put up with him for a couple of weeks. Then again, he will eventually have to start looking for his own place, and Holly, well, it’s not like she’s actually offering him money

“He’s very grateful, and says thank you,” Lucy says, pushing herself away from the doorframe. “Thanks, mom.”

“Okay hon, see you in a bit?” Holly touches her daughter’s shoulder. They’re both about the same height, with the same sharp eyes and hair tint, though Lucy definitely has her father’s smile.  

Then Holly looks at Matt, smiling a little like they’re sharing a joke. “Lunch with John. Wish me luck.” The tone is affectionate, and that’s the most surprising part of all.

Matt watches Holly leave, then turns to Lucy, who’s taking a travel Scrabble kit out of her bag.

“Was that some sort of test or something?” Matt asks.

“If it was, you probably failed,” Lucy says.

They sift through the tiles while Matt thinks about his potential new pad and all the planning and headaches that come with having to start from scratch.

“You really didn’t have to,” Matt says.

“Didn’t have to what?” Lucy says.

“Ask your mom to do that,” Matt says.

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Lucy says, and it’s like she’s laughing at him. “Also, it’s your turn.”

“Yeah yeah,” Matt says, and he arranges his tiles on the board.

He replays Holly’s words in his head, thinking of how the soft wistfulness of her tone echoes the brief car conversation interlude that was (to Matt) the first evidence of how John McClane is human (and not a cyborg). It would be the perfect ending to the story if this makes Holly realize what a fucking awesome person John McClane is, and there would be hearts and kisses and swirling music while the moving reunion of the decade repairs a family torn asunder—

Lucy’s snapping her fingers in his face. “Focus, Farrell!”

“What—what? Oh, right,” Matt looks down at his tiles. He fiddles with them for a bit, eventually finding a passable word. “Your mom’s nice.”

“Thanks,” Lucy says.

Matt’s imagining John and Lucy and Holly as a unit, and how that must’ve looked like way back when. As it sometimes happens, his mouth goes for it before getting the green light from his brain.

“Do you think your parents will get back together?” he says.

Lucy’s gaze moves slowly, like a tractorbeam warming up. “That was way inappropriate, Farrell.”

Matt flushes and looks away quickly. “I know, it’s just… After all that John’s been through, it’s just…”

“It doesn’t work that way,” Lucy says. She doesn’t seem offended, and manages to score a double points word.

Matt tells himself that that’s it, he’s not going to be a douche poking around where he has no business poking around, but after a few more words and a bit of arguing on the validity of using non-continental spellings, Lucy’s the one who brings it up.

“My dad’s kind of an asshole,” Lucy says.

“That makes you an asshole by proxy, you know,” Matt says.

Lucy’s mouth draws into a thin line. “My dad... He’s always been good at the big things. He’s awesome at the big things, like tearing across the country to save someone he loves from terrorists—kind of big, but you already know that. It’s the little things that trip him up.” She meets his gaze, and continues, “I know what you’re thinking: why sweat the small stuff, right? The thing is, even small stuff adds up in the end.”

“That sucks,” Matt says.

“It does, but at least they’re not the sort that scream at each whenever they’re within a 10 foot radius,” Lucy says. “They’re still friends, sort of.”

“Like you’re Lucy McClane, sort of,” Matt says.

“Fuck you, sort of,” Lucy says. “C O G N A C, eighteen points.”


John joins him for dinner.

It’s easy to pull off because apparently all the nurses on their floor adore John and are more than happy to accommodate him. Matt takes five minutes to get used to the novelty of eating a meal with somebody else, and because his filters are weaker around John than they are around Lucy, the word vomit comes.

“I’m going fucking nuts here, man,” Matt says. “I almost – almost – turned on the tv, that’s how bored I am, it’s insane. I’ve been in hospitals before but this, this is royally shitty, and I’m not even allowed a laptop – can you imagine how insane my inbox has to be by now?”

“Even if you were allowed, you don’t have a laptop to use,” John points out.

 

“True, true!” Matt says. “But I would be free to get one, by perfectly legitimate means. What am I, broke? No, I’ll have you know that I’m a prudent investor and one of the bad-ass survivors of the dot com bust thanks to my wily business sense and it’s so weird, your ex-wife came by and offered to look up places for me, isn’t that weird?”

John shrugs, a piece of something (potato?) in his mouth.

Matt goes on, his mouth mostly on autopilot because he has, like, weeks’ worth of grievances bottled up and waiting for an outlet. The frowny bit of John’s forehead isn’t crinkling too badly, so that has to be a sign that the red light isn’t up yet and he isn’t due for John doing something like throwing his fork at Matt’s bad knee to shut him up.

And as he talks, Matt watches John eat. Matt himself has no finesse, so it’s lucky that anything gets into his trap at all the way it’s flapping, but John moves slowly, his left hand careful and precise in its movements, like eating hospital food isn’t some sort of corporal punishment.

It’s interesting.

Matt wonders if the way John went about stopping cyber-armageddon is the way he goes about doing everything else in life, i.e. with clear goals, shitty plans and moaning all the way like he’s taking out the trash. Then Matt wonders how someone can function like that on a daily basis. Maybe he doesn’t; maybe regular John is someone completely different.

Matt’s curious.

“How long are you off sick? From work, I mean,” he asks.

“Too long, if Lou has his way,” John says. “Even when I head back, it’ll be desk time for me.”

“You’re not gonna take that lying down,” Matt says, and there’s John’s smirk, appearing like clockwork. He doesn’t mean to say it aloud, but he does: “I knew you were gonna do that. That smirky thing.”

“What can I say?” John says, shrugging with one shoulder. “I’m a predictable guy.”

“Quitting is for other people, huh.”

 

“Got it in one.”

Matt knows better to believe in truth ‘n justice, but he does believe that karma is a fearsome bitch. The way things went down, John’s got to be shitting gold one of these days. Matt hopes so, anyway.


Lucy continues to visit him even after John is discharged (the lucky bastard), though her appearances are stretched out further between. But that’s okay, because Matt has his physical therapy sessions to distract him now, and despite the frustration and inappropriate cursing, it’s a nice change to be able to fall asleep exhausted at the end of the day.

At least John isn’t around to see him be more pathetic, thank goodness for small miracles.

Lucy doesn’t count; she thinks he’s pathetic regardless.

Case in point: they’re playing Go Fish because he’s lost every single poker game so far.

“Eight,” Lucy says. “How long you got left?”

“Go Fish,” Matt says. “Two weeks at the most, that’s what they said.”

“Ah,” Lucy says. “Got any plans?”

Matt nods. “I’ve got a few options open, shouldn’t be too hard.”

Surprisingly, that makes Lucy go, “What?” She sits up ramrod straight, like he’s personally offended her.

“Wait—what?”

“My dad went back to set up his apartment for you, that’s what,” Lucy says, and she’s definitely annoyed now. “I assumed it was because it was a done deal. Dammit, John.”

Lucy reaches into her bag for her cell, and though Matt’s hands dart out to stop her, she’s fast and has use of both her legs. Soon enough she’s bent over her phone and saying, “Dad?”

Matt groans and tries to scoot backward, but there’s nowhere to go other than off the bed. Funnily enough, the floor is less inviting than the embarrassment of having to talk to John.

“You didn’t even ask him!” Lucy’s saying into the phone. “I can’t believe you. What? Yeah, he’s here.”

The phone is shoved in Matt’s face. Technically, he’s not allowed to use them yet, but whatever. “Hey, John.”

John’s voice is static-y, like he’s driving. “You okay to stay with me until you get a new place worked out?”

“Sure,” Matt says.

“Good. Now please hang up before Lucy rips me a new one.”

Matt does as he’s told, and tries not to laugh at the sound Lucy makes.

She grabs the phone from him and says, “I’ll make you pay for that, Farrell.”

“Gonna shoot my other knee?” Matt says brightly, because yes, the world is considerably less sucky right now.


On the morning that Matt gets discharged, he wakes up with his stomach in knots. Relief, excitement and dread are all jammed up in his throat, and even he knows that’s stupid. He’s been wanting to get out of here for forever, and now that he is, there’s all those difficult questions lined up, the most important being: Now what?

Lucy arrives just after breakfast, after Matt’s all dressed and ready to leave.

“My dad’s on the way,” Lucy says. She glances at her watch. “Just thought I’d say goodbye.”

“Hey, next time you want someone to pummel at Texas Hold ‘Em, you know where to look,” Matt says.

“Gotcha,” Lucy says.

 

They small talk away the minutes, Lucy going on about her classes and Matt oversharing his disdain on the topic.

Then John arrives and Matt’s thrown for a loop, because he has, like, civvies on and everything. Matt’s only ever seen John in the beat-up duds of urban heroism and the white hospital garb of urban heroism recovery, so it’s a change to see him wearing other clothes, some of which have actual colors.

Matt says: “Hey, you clean up nice.”

“Gee, thanks,” John says. “Buffed up my head for you and everything. Where’s your damn crutches?”

Matt points, and the two McClanes are puttering around, getting his things, calling the nurse, getting the wheelchair ready. The knot in Matt’s stomach twists and frays – it’s going to be horrible, they’re going to run out of things to say in two days, Matt’s going to annoy him and John’s going to beat him up in his sleep and there will be tears.

“Hey, come on,” John says.

He offers one arm, and Matt takes it. As soon as his good foot is on the floor, Matt stumbles a little in trying to get his balance, and John slides inward just so, arm going around Matt’s back to take his weight like it’s nothing.

The knot eases just a little bit with the realization that if this weren’t an option, Matt Farrell would be royally fucked.

Lucy ruffles Matt’s hair and says, “Good luck, Farrell.”

“You should be wishing me good luck,” John says, kissing Lucy on the cheek.

It’s only when they’re finally in John’s car, Matt arranged all comfortably in the back, that John says, “She calls you Farrell?”

Matt blinks. “Oh, yeah.”

John doesn’t say anything to that, and since Matt can only see the back of his head, he has no way to guess what John thinks of it.

Then John turns up the classic rock, and Matt groans as he sinks into the cushions.

 

Tears.

 



Act 2

John’s apartment is neat. At least, neater than Matt’s apartment (may it rest in peace) used to be, and that bugs Matt a little. Matt’s place was 30% essentials, 70% junk, but at first glance it’s like John’s all essentials, all the time.

It’s not exactly sparse, but everything, from the couch to the side table to the dinosaur-era television, look like they were only put in place after a thorough evaluation of their usefulness. Even the human touches – a bookshelf, framed photos, a stack of old magazines and a pair of dumbbells – have a look about them that mean anything but frivolous.

“Your room’s in here,” John says, walking past him with Matt’s bag and spare crutches.

Matt hobbles along behind John towards the spare room, swallowing a pleased huh when he sees dents in the carpeting where furniture used to be but now isn’t so that Matt has space to move around.

“Have a rest, whatever,” John says, scratching his head, a reminder that this is just as much something new for him as it is for Matt, “And I’ll get some Chinese? You okay with Chinese?”

“Dude, I’ve been living off hospital food,” Matt says. “Chinese is great.”

John laughs a little, and then he’s gone.

Matt gets over to the bed and lies down, body wired from the long drive and his mind gently drifting in and out. The door is half-open so he can hear John moving around outside like an alarm system, so if anything stupid happens, John would be there in two seconds guns a-blazing (metaphorically/literally, whichever).

He dozes off for a bit, and when he wakes up, he can hear the electronic hum of a television turned on. Matt pulls himself up to look over the room properly – door to the shared bathroom, a small dresser in the corner, and – wait.

Matt pulls himself to the edge of the bed and leans over, arms stretching to reach one of the half-dozen or so boxes on the floor. He manages to get his fingers to the lid and flips it open.

Familiar things look up at him: his khakis, the maroon hoodie that he’d only worn once, his J-League watch, and so on, and so on.

The relief is so strong it’s like being kicked in the gut.

He’d spent so many weeks resigning himself to the fact that he’d be starting from scratch, effectively a hobo on the streets whose only marks on the world exist in cyberspace where memories are fickle. Matt knows that these things aren’t Important with a capital I, but they’re physical evidence that he’s a real person with his own (though tiny and mundane) history beyond his brief brush with cyber-terrorism. Matthew Farrell is.

The desire to hug John is overwhelming and it propels Matt forward and fumbling with his crutches. He makes it out of the room and is thrown when he sees that John is asleep on the couch, remote in one hand.

Matt backs up, accidentally knocking a side table. At the noise, John stirs awake, his gaze sharpening almost immediately.

“Good, you’re up,” John says, his voice more gruff than usual from sleep. “C’mon, food’s here.”

When John stands, Matt shrinks back a little because he’d forgotten. They don’t have that much difference in height, but John carries himself so differently: he’s large organic steel made to protect innocent bystanders and beat the shit out of bad guys, moving anywhere he damn well pleases with the certainty that there’s no one alive who can stop him. All that buffed-up personal space looks pretty fucking intimidating in the face of a wiry geek hacker with a lame leg.

The desire to hug melts into embarrassment, and Matt quietly follows him to the kitchen area.

Matt arranges himself on a stool, eyes down when he says, “Thanks for rescuing my stuff. What’s left of it, anyway.”

“No problem,” John says. “I was in the area.”

“Sure you were, you big scary marshmallow you,” Matt says. It’s easier when there’s a breakfast table between them.

John pushes a box at him. “You better eat before I decide to shove it down your throat.”


It takes a few days of weird shuffling and adjusting of body clocks before they find a routine that works for them.

John’s away for most of the day, so Matt amuses himself pawing through John’s collection of stuff (with permission), and tossing about future career-type ideas in his head. His first review with the Feds went well, but he’s still under probation, i.e. no electronics more sophisticated than John’s DVD player, not that there’s any temptation in John’s apartment, anyway.

When John comes home, there’s some useless chit-chat over dinner, which gets less awkward once they figure out that tip-toeing around topics is for losers.

“Do you honestly think they’ve learned anything from the fire sale?” Matt asks one night. He doesn’t remember how it came up, only that suddenly the elephant in the room is getting a spotlight, leaving John huffing and Matt puffing. “Seriously, man. Gabriel might be a total fuckhead—”

Might be? If you’re going to say something stupid like can’t we just focus on the good side in this, let me stop you right now, because no. Not when the price to pay is that high, no,” John says.

“I get that, I do,” Matt says, sighing. “Good intentions and all –  I know, I was part of it, okay, that shit’s not ever going to leave me. I’m just saying... Sometimes it’s in the most horrifying situations that we find what we’re can do; what we’re really made of.”

John has this thing, Matt notices. When he’s in big bad-ass mode, his glare is like the spotlight of the gods, but when it’s switched off, his eyes move everywhere else, to his hands, to the floor, to the toaster in the corner, like it’s hard for him to focus.

It’s an interesting quirk, but also really irritating, so Matt reaches out and hits the table to get John’s eyes on him – yeah, just like that.

“Hey man,” Matt says. “He pushed the panic button and everyone danced to his tune exactly the way he knew they would, like puppet sheep. He was one anomaly away from getting away with it.”

 

“If it weren’t for us meddling kids?” John says.

That startles a laugh out of Matt. “Um, okay, something like that. Anyway, it’s just... It scares the shit out of me that you’re it. You’re all that stood between civilization and complete melt-down.

We, kid,” John says. “I would’ve been fuck all useless if you hadn’t been there.”

“Likewise, I would’ve been fuck all dead,” Matt says.

They both seem to realize at the same time that this is a Moment, which only stops being weird when John suggests they turn on the television, and Matt starts bitching about the stupidity of the mainstream media. John doesn’t seem to mind, and definitely doesn’t mean it when he occasionally tells Matt to shut up.

So they get a routine. It usually ends with John falling asleep on the couch, and Matt prodding at him to get off to bed. Matt doesn’t joke about John being an old man, because he’s nice that way.


Sometimes John comes back late, and a whole different set of lines are around his eyes and mouth.

The first time it happens, Matt hovers back uncertainly. The stress waves ballooning off John are worrying in a Danger-Will-Robinson sort of way, and Matt thinks it’d be detrimental to their living arrangement if John suddenly decides to throw him out the window when they’ve been doing so well.

That leaves Matt with the option to hover until John looks at him and snaps, “You good for Mexican?”

“Sure, no complaints there,” Matt says.

They call it in. Matt watches John sink into the couch, staring at the reflection in the tv screen but not reaching for the remote. Matt keeps on watching, the alarm bell in his head getting louder when the lines between John’s eyebrows thicken until he finally lolls his head back and sends a glare at Matt.

“How was your day?” John snaps.

“Oh, it was...” He wants to say the usual, but stops when he recognizes the invitation for what it is. “I figured out some things, well, not figured out, exactly, but more like setting names to some of the options I think I’ll be able to get once this gag order’s up – I figure that it’ll only take me a few weeks to catch up with all the stuff I’ve missed and...”

Matt doesn’t need to think to do this; it’s easy to put words to the thoughts and ponderings that have been rattling about his head and have had nowhere to go. It’s a relief that goes both ways, if the way the lines of John’s brow smoothen a little, and when the smirk finally makes an appearance after what seems like a dozen years of blathering, Matt decides that he might as well make himself comfortable on the couch as well.

The food is a little overcooked when it arrives. Matt points it out, so John just counters that Matt should cook if he’s going to whine so much, and Matt replies that he just might do that, thanks.

This becomes part of their routine, as well.

The second time it happens, John makes it halfway through the meal before he starts talking back, and Matt learns the shitty intricacies of being a New York cop.


When Matt was younger, he’d won some programming science challenge thing in his senior year, which had been a complete fluke because he’d forgotten that he’d joined it in the first place, so when the results came in he’d been more terrified than thrilled because it meant he had to present his project to the entire school body.

It didn’t go well.

Matt’s mostly blacked out that memory, but he remembers the essence of the incident’s glorious shame, and the few ex-schoolmates whom he’s kept in touch with since know better than to bring it up. Because it is that bad.

 

But not, apparently, as bad as falling in the shower.

There he was, minding his own business and scrubbing his face while water pelted his hair, when the stool he’d been using to balance his bad leg slid suddenly – something that hadn’t happened so far and Matt hadn’t been prepared for – and though Matt could have just as easily reached out for the rescuing purchase of the tiled walls, the frightened lizard part of his brain panicked because it was that knee that had suddenly pulled away from him. Throw in a face-full of soap to the mix, his sole remaining foot losing its balance, and a shoulder finding contact with the floor.

Lots of people fall in the shower, and Matt himself has done so on at least two previous occasions, so it shouldn’t be a big deal.

But it is, because Matt can feel the twinge of the metal screws in his knee, and this is John’s shower.

Plus, it’s the weekend, so John’s home.

 

Of course.

“Matt? Matt!” John’s doing some serious pounding on the door, which doesn’t bode well.

“I’m okay!” Matt shouts back, twisting his head so that water droplets don’t fall in his mouth.

The pounding stops. “You sure?”

Matt thinks. His knee is uncomfortable but not in pain, though he can’t say the same of his shoulder.

“I’m coming in,” John says.

“Wait, no, no, no!” Matt’s horrified now, trying to shrink into the floor but failing.

There’s the sound of the door knob turning, then John is right there, yanking the plastic curtain away and turning off the water, which is the only good that can come out of this.

Matt scrunches his eyes shut, suddenly sure that there is nothing worse in the universe than having John McClane see the absolute lowest a human being can fall to.

“Does your knee hurt?” John asks.

“Just a bit, but I don’t think anything moved,” Matt says. “I just lost my balance, my right shoulder got the worst of it, I think.”

There’s the scrape of the stool being pushed out of the way, and then the softness of a towel landing around Matt’s hips. Matt’s fingers hold on to the towel, even as John’s arms come beneath his armpits and lift him up like a helpless fucking baby. Matt wants to die, especially with the way John presses Matt’s head to rest against his shoulder and helps Matt balance on his good leg.

It’s only because Matt’s busy being humiliated that he doesn’t shove John away.

“Your clothes are gonna get wet,” Matt mumbles.

“I’ll send you the laundry bill,” John says.

They get out into the spare room and John shuffles Matt over to the bed, setting him down. John’s fingers are warm against Matt’s knee, checking that it’s okay, and from the soft huff that John makes, it probably is.

John exits quietly, shutting the door behind him, and it’s only then that Matt permits himself to open his eyes.


The shower incident shakes something loose in Matt, making him veer wildly off course in this exercise in complacency.

John doesn’t mention it; doesn’t quip or joke or make any indication that it even happened. That somehow makes it worse, and soon Matt finds himself seething quietly, his chest getting tighter every time John casts a glance his way that looks watchful (like he’s worried that Matt’s going to spontaneously fall over again), or offers the remote, or makes Matt choose where they’ll have dinner next.

One Saturday, John offers to cook dinner and Matt explodes.

“What is this? What the hell are you doing?” Matt clings on to the edge of the breakfast table, his lungs heavy and his knuckles cold.

John doesn’t look perturbed by the outburst. “I’m asking if there’s anything specific you’d like. I can’t do any fancy stuff but—”

“This, what is this?” Matt says, allowing one hand to gesture at John. “Is this some sort of pity party, is that it?”

“What?” John blinks, openly surprised, and Matt feels a surge of triumph.

“You being nice to me,” Matt says. “Why are you being so nice?”

Now John looks really confused. “I just insulted your taste in music, again, and you just spent a whole fucking hour trying to educate me in the way of getting out of the, and I quote, fucking lame shit that fucks up my ears, unquote, which is the only thing I heard throughout that entire rant, and I’m pretty sure I just messed up one of your CDs. On purpose.”

“That doesn’t count,” Matt says.

“I’m lost,” John says, shaking his head. “I can whip up a mean stir-fry if you’re up for it.”

“No, no, that’s just it!” Matt says. “You’re not supposed to be nice! You’re an asshole! Lucy said so!”

John just looks at him. “Point?”

“Are you doing this because you feel sorry for me?” Matt says. “Because if you are, I quit.”

John is startled. “What?”

“I quit!” Matt’s almost shouting now. “I want out. I’m gonna move out, that’s what!”

John just blinks. “Still lost.”

Matt takes a deep breath. Word vomit time.

“You’ve been doing all of this – letting me into your home, helping me out, whatever, and at first I was like, okay, but now I’m thinking that this goes all the way back to the hospital, man,” Matt says, because he has been thinking about it. “You were all okay with Lucy hanging out with me, and that thing with Holly, too, what the hell! Fuck it, man, if you did all that because you feel you have some sort of weird-ass obligation like you’re indebted to me for saving your daughter, then you can stop it right now.”

John just blinks.

Matt sighs, rubs his hand over his face. “I know you, remember? You don’t do things because you want to – you do it because someone’s got to do it, no matter how much you yourself feel about it one way or the other. So if this falls under that category, I don’t want any part of it. I don’t want you, like, tolerating me.”

Now John looks stunned, which is an entirely new look for him, at least as far as Matt’s concerned.

“You don’t even like me, man,” Matt says.

“Matt,” John says slowly, “If I didn’t like you, believe me, you’d know.”

That’s rather true, but Matt isn’t giving up. “Then why, man? Why am I here? Not that I don’t appreciate it, but… I don’t want you to think that you have to.”

Then John’s expression changes, and it’s almost enough to make Matt take back everything he just said.

“I like… the noise,” John says eventually. It’s an uphill struggle to get whatever’s moving inside that shiny head of his out, like he’d much rather be jumping on a moving train right about now. “I miss it… I’ve been missing it… For, ages, I guess. I’ve been coming back to an empty place for so long that I’ve forgotten what a difference it can be when it’s not.”

“Oh.” Matt hears the unspoken: John wouldn’t have let in just anybody.

John’s eyes are moving about again, restless. “But it goes the other way, kid. Don’t you feel obligated to stay if you’re only feeling sorry for this pathetic sorry ass of an old man.”

Matt barks a laugh at that, and only when John quizzically looks at him does he realize that he honestly doesn’t know.

“You’re not pathetic,” Matt says, because the alternative would be to start gushing about how John has somehow every day found a new way to be fucking awesome and make Matt feel like somebody who counts, because that would kill the mood dead.

John nods slowly.

“So, you were saying something about a stir-fry,” Matt says cheerfully. “Can I help?”

The smile John gives him then makes the blood rush to Matt’s face.

“Please, like I’ll trust you around sharp objects,” John says, and shoos him away.

Matt returns to the living room, casting a glance back at John as he starts opening drawers and moving things.

Anyone within a twenty-foot radius can see that John has an acute case of Lone Wolf Syndrome, but only those who’ve seen him around Lucy know that it’s not a situation that comes naturally to him. The certainty by which John carries himself is something that he had to cultivate over years, and that kinda sucks in a big way.

Matt doesn’t really need to move out, anyway. Tomorrow he’ll offer to pay a share of the rent, even.


John never comments on Matt’s lack of social life, because pots know when to shut their yap. But sometimes, while they’re watching ancient television re-runs over the weekend, John glances over at Matt with a little frowny look, like he has no idea why Matt’s indoors when he could be outside enjoying the sunshine.

While they’re in the middle of an Addams Family marathon, John turns to Matt on the couch and says, “You should go out.”

“I will if you will,” Matt says right back.

“I go for a beer after work sometimes,” John says.

Matt snorts.

John turns his eyes to the television, but Matt can tell that he’s not watching the black-and-white action. Matt struggles to keep his expression blank, because he can feel a plan of some sort bubbling beneath John’s skin.

“Call me old-fashioned—”

“Don’t I always?”

“—but real socializing should be face-to-face,” John says, not missing a beat. “That’s the human connection. All that whizzing about in the internet – I think it sounds really stupid. Kids hiding behind keyboards and monitors because they’re afraid to look each other in the eye, like it protects them from real life. Stunts ‘em, is what I say.”

“That what some people said about the telephone,” Matt says.

“That’s completely different—”

“You’re not the boss of me,” Matt says, relaxed and loose.

John grunts a little. “You guys just don’t know any better.”

“I’m having a conversation with you right now,” Matt says. “Human connection, et cetera. What more do I need?”

“Hell, this isn’t…” John trails off, and takes a deep breath. “What I was going to say was that I don’t agree with the inherent fucked-up-ness of your generation’s lifestyle—”

“And you’d know about fucked-up-ness.”

“—but if that’s what you’re comfortable with, then it’s better than nothing,” John says. “So we should get on it.”

Matt frowns. “Wait, get on what?”

“You’ve got your review on Monday, right?” John says.

“Yeah,” Matt says.

“Then you might as well get started,” John says. “You know… Rebuilding your ‘command centre’. You’ve been on your best behavior, so there’s no reason to think you won’t get a pass.”

“Meh,” Matt says. “I made it through the worst of the withdrawal, and look at me, fit as a fiddle. There’s no rush.”

“Jack mentioned this place downtown,” John says. “A shop, or a bunch of shops, I can’t remember. Said it was pretty good for that kind of stuff.”

 

“Yeah?” Matt says.

They watch Gomez blow up a train set, the lulling symphony of things going kaboom the only sounds in the room. Then Matt stretches, cracks his jaw and slowly scratches the back of his neck.

“Want to get some fresh air? Matt asks.

“Gee, Matt, what did you have in mind?” John asks.

Matt grins.


The first thing Matt does once his probation is over and his pretty damn cool new gear is all set up in the narrow empty space of John’s spare bedroom to enable his sweet, sweet reunion with the internet (though it goes without saying that Big Brother is watching pretty closely now), is to check his messages.

He gives up when he sees their volume, and moves on to the second item on his agenda.

 

Search term: “John McClane”.

Matt loses track of time quickly.

At every interesting turn his screen gets flooded with a new window to read and a new lead to track. The stories are the stuff of urban legends, and if Matt hadn’t seen what John’s capable of with his own eyes, he’dve just discarded the lot as overwrought hyperbole. Matt knows better than to believe all of it (some of the soundbytes are hosted in NBC’s archives, for crying out loud), but there’s a picture forming in his head, and it is epic.

But what’s really weird – more so than John’s ridiculously bad luck – is how Matt doesn’t recognize the man in the archive pictures. It isn’t just the hair, or the leaner guns, or the tattoo (!!!); from the way his eyes and mouth are set, the man in the photos is almost someone else entirely.

There’s a measure of distance in that, when Matt continues to read.

It is a fundamental truth that there are collectors for everything on the internet. So Matt finds himself signing up to a message board of dubious merit just to gain access to some painfully archaic media files.

This is the time that John gets home and knocks on his door.

“What the hell?” John says. He frowns. “Did you just scream at me?”

“No, I did not just scream at you,” Matt says, glad that at the angle his monitors are set, John can’t see a thing from the door. “Go away.”

John just shrugs, and it could be in amusement. “So it begins.” He retreats outside.

It occurs to Matt then that looking John up on the internet might not be a good idea. There’s the chance he might interpret this as prying, when it so isn’t. Matt’s just curious, because one does not run headfirst into a terrorist den without so much as batting an eyelash unless one has faced some serious shit beforehand as a warm-up. John hasn’t been inclined to elaborate whenever Matt asks, usually brushing him off with a “part of the job”, “anyone would do it”, which, no.

Matt’s known quite a few cops in his time (known, been talked down by, read about, whatever), and the simple truth is that John doesn’t fit. Matt’s actually disappointed that John was never in the marines or something similar, because that means he’s a man trained on the streets and has had the pleasure of being pushed so far as to see the limits of what he’s capable of. (Matt personally understands that last bit.)

 

But John.

Matt wants to know him. He knows that like he knows Holly sent over a list of potential new apartments ages ago but they’re languishing inside one of his boxes, like he knows that he will just laugh whenever Lucy jokes over the phone on how he’s survived this long living with John, like he knows that he enjoys one-upping Warlock over housemate bad-assery (your mom, dude).

Matt downloads the media files, leaving them untouched for now.

Then he goes outside, where John’s warming up yesterday’s leftovers in the kitchen, and watches.

John looks up mildly. “What?”

“It’s the funniest thing,” Matt says. He feels bold tonight, and maybe a little wired from the sugar shortage of missing lunch. “There I was, surfing along, and I happened to see your name in some old news articles.”

John doesn’t get angry or annoyed. He just tilts his head a little and says, “Really? What’re the odds.”

“I know, right,” Matt says, and he’s grinning now, because it’s so easy. “Now, of course, I’ve googled myself before because I’m just human, right, but it’s not like I’ve actually done anything newsworthy or whatever so my main hits are, like, stuff from high school, but that’s okay because it’s not like I use my real name most of the time anyway and Lucy may have brought it up—”

“Lucy?” John says, and it kinda makes Matt go tingly a little to know that he’s actually paying attention.

“Yeah, she warned me that you don’t do Christmas,” Matt says, “And I asked, why’s that Lucy, and she said, oh because of that thing that happened that time and another thing that happened that other time, and I said, what thing are you going on about now, and she said, Jesus Christ, Farrell, just ask my dad why don’t you. And I would’ve, but I don’t know if you’d, like, beat me, or something.”

John sighs a little. “That’s really old, kid.”

Matt bristles. “What?”

“Joking about me handing you your ass,” John says. “Quit it.”

“Then quit calling me kid,” Matt says.

“Okay,” John says, like they’re talking about the mail. “About that other thing, it’s... I guess I can give you the Cliff’s Notes version.”

“The what notes?” At John’s expression, Matt quickly adds: “Kidding! Just kidding.”

“Geez, k—Matt, you don’t have to keep reminding me that I’m pushing ancient, I get it,” John says.

“Oh,” Matt says, suddenly embarrassed. “I didn’t mean it like that, I don’t think you’re ancient, you’re quite the opposite of ancient, really, because people who are ancient don’t—”

Then John’s hand is on Matt’s head, shaking gently to shut him up.

“Heh,” Matt says, dipping his head. It would be inappropriate to blush, so he tries not to.

Then they have dinner, and John talks. Matt talks, too, because he has questions and John has the answers. Once in a while John flinches a little, a hint for Matt to not prod too deeply, so he doesn’t, but it’s still miles better than just reading about it on the internet.


Now back on the grid, Matt quickly finds some freelance work to do, and it revs him up and out of the slacker thing he’s been getting too comfortable in. It feels good to have something concrete to do again, even if it is the kind of stuff he could do in his sleep, because it’s another step towards getting some semblance of a life back together again.

Matt Farrell isn’t a waste of space, so to speak.

He’s in the middle of coding when he remembers the media files he’d downloaded on the Nakatomi thing. He spends five minutes debating whether to delete them, and then says fuck it, John’s not going to kick his ass, so he pops on his headphones.

There’s a few seconds of rubbery static, then a female voice blandly announcing the date, time and that this recording is restricted to authorized personnel only, bla bla bla. There’s a beep, and after a few more seconds of static, John’s voice comes through the headphones:

Mayday, mayday, anyone copy channel 9, terrorists have seized the Nakatomi building and are holding almost thirty people hostage—“

It’s John’s voice, clear as anything. Matt’s fingers freeze on top of the keyboard, because he’s too busy listening to do anything else. He winces when the dispatch lady blows John off, then:

No fucking shit, lady! Do I sound like I’m ordering a pizza?

There’s definitely goosebumps on Matt’s arms now.

The recording of John’s voice is only a little less growly than the current real deal that Matt listens to every day, but the tone itself is completely new. This is the man squeezed tight between a rock and a hard place, where fear and desperation are the flavors of the day. This is John, before.

The rest of the recording has John’s voice fluctuating between light banter to no-nonsense barking to profanity-laden screaming that hurts Matt to listen to. When it gets to the point where John’s voice goes soft, Sergeant Allen trying to keep his head steady, Matt turns it off entirely.

He opens the clip of KFLW-TV’s footage instead, learning that douchebaggery has a name, and it is Richard Thornburg. (Though, holy shit, Lucy was cute as a button back then, what happened?) Matt skips over most of it to the end, where there’s grainy footage of people doing the aftermath milling about under dust and debris, and there’s John, dirtied and bloodied, wrapped in a fireman’s jacket and Holly at his side.

Matt forgets to breathe.

It’s so perfect – Matt really can’t think of any other word to describe it. Then Sergeant Allen steps forward, and there’s the hug, and that’s perfect, too. John looks rather shell-shocked, with none of the self-assuredness that’s familiar to Matt. John and Holly are so young, pressed against each other like a promise of forever.

For a moment Matt hates Holly, but he gets over that quickly, and not only because she has a mean right hook ready for Thornburg.

Their limo rides off and Thornburg comes back on for more soundbytes with the Deputy Sheriff, but Matt’s mind has wandered off.

He’s thinking of John, exhausted but riding high on the exhilaration of survival, something that Matt remembers from his own close encounter with it, but he wasn’t even being heroic. He knows what’s happening in that limo, and before he can stop himself, he’s thinking about what it’s like to kiss a grime-covered John McClane, and it has to get all desperate, John trying to convince himself that he’s alive, that he survived, that life is so fucking short and he has to make the most of it as he presses down into the leather—

It takes Matt far too long to realize that he’s hard.

Five seconds after that and he’s panicking because he can’t exactly do anything about it without things becoming even more inappropriate. So he’s mostly sitting there, stunned, while the weight between his legs gets heavier.

Now that the mental images are there, he can’t unsee them. Other memories leak in and blur into the scenario in Matt’s head: John touching him to make sure he’s okay, the solid weight of his shoulder when Matt hangs on to it, heck, even the way he just looks at Matt like he can’t understand what he’s on about but John wants to figure him out anyway like Matt’s somehow interesting.

And this is Richard Thornburg, for Channel 10.”

Matt numbly closes the video clip, and stares at the screen for a few slow ticks of the clock.

He knows all the reasons, because they’ve been at the front of his mind from almost the beginning. The age thing, the beliefs thing, the social maladjustment thing, the thing where John can be a scary motherfucker and Matt his sidekick who doesn’t know when to shut up, and the thing where the middle ground between them seemed so thin at first it should’ve been a middle tightrope instead.

But then there’s the other thing, where Matt has been living with John for months now, breaking down those early perceptions like they’re nothing, so that at the end of the day John’s just another regular Joe, and Matt really likes living here (with him), which shouldn’t be possible since Matt swore off housemates since college, yet it is.

It’s like the final fragile curtain’s fallen away, and Matt’s allowed to want.

Well, his brain knows that he isn’t really allowed, but his body doesn’t give a fuck and happily sends his blood rushing south.

There’s a litany of so wrong so wrong pounding in his ears as he reaches into his pants and grips himself firmly.

Matt shuts his eyes, and it’s him in the limo, John above him, smelling like concrete and sweat. But it’s not the John in the video – the one who’s almost a stranger – but Matt’s John, broader and rougher, pressing Matt down and keeping him there like he’s afraid Matt’s going to up and disappear.

There’s no point of reference for this, Matt’s just making it up as he goes along, but he imagines that John’s lips are salty with sweat, his hands will be everywhere, and when he can’t stand it anymore he’ll just growl and—

Matt doesn’t finish that thought, what with his busy coming all over himself.

When the high evaporates, Matt’s panting heavily, feeling a little embarrassed and a lot dirty.

But the one thing he knows is that there’s no way he’s taking it back.

 


There are worse things in the world than jerking off to one’s housemate with whom one has to continue living, and that’s the thought that Matt keeps in his head when John comes home. Matt’s already showered and changed into a new set of clothes, looking very much unsuspicious when John checks up on him cooking in the kitchen.

“What’re you up to?” John says.

It takes Matt half a second to remind himself that that’s a perfectly innocent, unloaded question, and he answers by waving a spatula in a very carefree way. “Just felt like doing something with my hands.” Wait, what?

But John doesn’t seem to notice anything, and he goes off to shower – don’t think about it, don’t think about it – and when he comes back dinner’s all ready and they get down to it, ready with small talk and not-so-small talk.

By dessert, the anxiety that’s been bubbling at the edges is long gone. John’s telling a funny story about Rob and Connie at work, and Matt laughs because John’s straight face makes him a great storyteller. Matt tries to quid pro quo, and though his story falls a little flat because he can’t stop laughing before getting to the punchline, John laughs anyway.

“There’s this thing this weekend,” John says suddenly. “A friend’s kid is having a birthday. It’s just outside the city limits so I can’t say no.”

“What, you got roped in to do party tricks or something?” Matt asks.

“Hah! Guy couldn’t afford my rates if he even wanted,” John says. “You wanna come with or not?”

That’s new. “You’re totally asking me along so you won’t be stuck in a lonely corner somewhere glowering at everyone,” Matt says.

“Can’t you say you haven’t got me pegged,” John says.

“Do I need to bring a present? Because if I don’t know the host, I totally shouldn’t have to bring a present,” Matt says.

“No, you don’t need to bring a present,” John says, sighing like he’s suffering already.

“There better be some good food, though,” Matt says. “Hey, I got my priorities straight.”

“Sure you do,” John says, getting up to stack the cutlery. Matt just sits where he is, because this is part of the routine, and only jumps a little when John brushes the back of his shoulders when he walks past.


The friend in question turns out to be Zeus Carver, which Matt only learns when they’re already on the way.

“You could’ve told me!” Matt whines.

John doesn’t take his eyes off the road. “Does it matter?”

“Well, no,” Matt says, when what he really means is that he doesn’t know how to explain why it matters without sounding like a doofus.

“There you go.”

Matt settles back into the seat. He wasn’t nervous before, but he is now, because he gets the feeling that there’s going to be judging. John’s colleagues were bad enough, Matt’s pretty sure they think of him as some sort of pet (except Connie, who doesn’t, because she is kick-ass), but this is like some sort of celebrity sidekick deathmatch.

Okay, that sounds weird even in his own head.

“What’s with the bug up your ass?” John asks.

“I don’t know,” Matt mutters, and that happens to be an outright lie.

The truth is that Matt’s been using a lot of his thinking time, and he’s figured that he really likes John, and may be already more than halfway in love with John, but he’s also smart enough to know that attempting to seduce John is a twenty-mile uphill climb in the snow.

What he needs are points. Matt’s got the scoring system all worked out in his head, and it’s pretty clear that if he gets enough points, John will realize that Matt’s awesome in more than a heterosexual-lifemate sort of way, and that breasts are completely unnecessary. In the bizarre workings of Matt’s mind, pitting him up against Zeus is a recipe for a shitload of negative points.

Well, Matt’s at least thankful that they’re not going to see Allen, because then he’d be really screwed.

“Here we are,” John says, which is redundant because Matt can see that the car has stopped. John walks and Matt follows, his cane feeling heavier than usual as they approach their destination.

When they reach the front door, Matt’s all poised to flee. He can feel his shoulders stiffening and his leg muscles bunching, so of course this is when John decides to put a hand on Matt’s back, like he can see the irrational panic alarm going off in Matt’s head.

The first thing that Matt registers when he sees Zeus is that he’s as bald as John, which in Matt’s fevered mind means that they’re already, like, blood brothers. Zeus has a huge grin and claps John on the shoulder in a friendly, mano-a-mano way before finally noticing Matt.

“This is Matt,” John says.

To Matt’s surprise, Zeus just nods a little and says, “Yeah, I figured.”

Matt shakes Zeus’ hand, trying not to feel tiny. “Hi. Um, John’s told me a lot about you.”

“It’s a wonder you came, then,” Zeus says, and then he’s ushering them inside.

Matt doesn’t do well with crowds, let alone crowds of people he doesn’t actually know or share any immediately obvious thing in common with, so it quickly becomes obvious that when Matt had joked that John needed him around so not to be the loser in the corner, it’s pretty much the other way round. John seems okay (because he’s a cop, duh) and strolls up to the birthday girl, who’s dressed way above the age limit of 12.

“Oh my god!” birthday girl squeals, and flings herself at John.

Matt takes a startled step back, but it doesn’t do any good because as soon as birthday girl turns and John says, “Yeah, this is him”, Matt gets a wraparound hug that knocks the wind out of him.

“The hell you been telling people ‘bout me, John?” Matt says, not thinking when he bumps John’s shoulder with his own.

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” John says easily, and he’s somehow looser, like being surrounded by other people has a buffer effect.

 

Birthday girl, whose name is Naomi, grabs Matt’s arm and drags him to the other end of the room, where they’re setting up the PS2 for a party session. For a while Matt’s reluctant to join, but when he starts shouting instructions, one of Zeus’ nephews shoves a controller into his hands and Matt’s showing them how it’s really done.

After a while, Zeus’ wife yells that the food’s ready, and Matt snaps out of it to remember that John is still around there somewhere. The kids stampede away, and when Matt looks up, John is in a corner, but Zeus is with him, and they’re talking.

Zeus is all big gestures – he rolls his shoulders like it’s an event – while John keeps his hands in his pockets, only head and neck moving when he needs to emphasize something, and he doesn’t sway even a little when Zeus laughs and thumps him on the back. Whatever they’re talking about, it makes John do that thing where his eyes drift about and his mouth alternates between purses and lines. It doesn’t look like the subject is something particularly funny from the way John’s eyes are narrowed, but Zeus is patting John’s shoulder and doing something with his eyebrows that could either be sympathetic, or mocking.

Then John is looking at Matt, and the expression is—

The expression is fucking gone, that’s what it is.

Matt braces himself on his cane as he pulls himself off the floor, then heads over to the food table because he’s hungry and stuff smells good. He gets to the serving table, and after a few seconds, John’s there, too.

“Is this, like, the only way you know how to make friends?” Matt asks. “You know, get caught in a harrowing life-and-death situation, befriend the first innocent bystander who happens to have the bad luck of getting involved?”

“One, you’re not innocent,” John says. “And two, fuck you.”

“Hey, watch it,” Matt hisses. “Ids-kay ound-aray.”

“Yeah, yeah, keep moving,” John says, gently pushing at Matt with his side, “I’m starved.”

Matt just manages to bite back the starved for me? that’s surfaced in his brain, because that wouldn’t have been funny at all.


They get back home too full to bother with dinner, so by unspoken agreement they crash on the couch. Matt can’t even be bothered to hang his cane up properly, so he mostly slides down the cushion seat until his head is propped up on the headrest to stare at the ceiling.

“Comfy?” John asks. Matt feels rather than sees John shift on the other end of the couch.

“Oh yeah,” Matt says.

John grunts. After a while, his breathing evens out like when he’s gearing up for a power nap.

“Do you miss it?” Matt says. “Those kinds of things, like you used to do with Lucy and Jack?”

“All the time,” John says, but his voice is calm, lacking both warning and melancholy.

It just makes it easier for Matt to press on: “But you deal.”

“That’s life,” John says, and the words have a mantra-like quality to it. Matt frowns, because there’s a wrongness in there that he can’t quite put his finger on.

“It shouldn’t have to be,” Matt says. He’s all relaxed and content, so there’s really no one to blame but Zeus when his mouth goes stupid and says, “I can’t tell what you’re thinking.”

The couch shifts again from John moving his weight. “Hah.”

That prompts Matt to turn, making out through fallen bangs that John’s head is fitted into the corner of the other end of the couch, arms folded across his chest. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“Hmm? Nothing.”

“No, what did you mean by that?” Matt says, sitting up. He reaches over and pokes John in the arm.

“Hey.” John swats at him, but it’s half-hearted. He already looks half asleep, so Matt reaches over and pokes him again, just to get another smack for his effort. “Quit it, Matt.”

“Make me,” Matt says, because he can.

Then he’s mesmerized by the way John’s expression changes, a veil falling away and John is suddenly more tired that Matt feels.

“Hey,” Matt says, softer, concerned. “You okay?”

“How do you do that?” John asks. His palms are open, questioning. “How do you know so much?”

“No, I don’t,” Matt says.

But then clarity hits, and he does.

While Matt’s been pondering and observing and chipping away at the great big wall of awkwardness between them, John’s been doing the same. At a different wavelength, certainly, since he’s coming from a whole different direction, but the sentiment is there, and it’s the same. John has his own issues to deal with, plus a shitload of baggage that Matt can’t begin to fathom, so maybe he’s been just as confused about why this thing between them has been working, because it shouldn’t.

“There you go,” John says, like he knows that Matt knows.

And Matt knows that John knows Matt knows.

Yeah, it’s dizzying, and Matt’s more than a little stunned because he recognizes this brand new expression on John’s face when he’s never seen it before. This is what John looks like when he’s thinking about kissing someone, only that someone is Matt, which is equal parts strange and awesome.

Matt mutters a soft “Shit” when John sits up and puts his hands on Matt’s shoulders, but that’s where the movement stops, leaving Matt frozen and just sort of staring at John, breathing through his mouth like an idiot.

“Um...” Matt says. “You waiting for my permission or something?”

“Or something,” John says.

Then they’re both moving towards each other, and something quietly explodes at the back of Matt’s brain.

It doesn’t happen the way Matt’s fantasies said it would. John takes his time when he kisses, so he’s deliberate instead of desperate. Matt doesn’t have the patience for that, because hot damn, so he presses forward, tongue pushing into John’s mouth and fingers digging into John’s shirt to find purchase on the hard muscle beneath.

Matt hears John’s little noise of surprise, and the bastard pulls back.

“What—what?” Matt says, not caring that he sounds whiny pathetic.

“This isn’t the hundred-meter dash, Matt,” John says against his mouth. Then his arms are all around Matt in the bear hug that wasn’t, lowering Matt down against the couch cushions and keeping him there. It’s just like his limo fantasy, only better, because there’s no blood or glass involved.

They’re kissing again, and Matt’s trying to surge up and be forceful, but John’s having none of that, keeping it steady and deep like he has to prove he’s an asshole, which, duh. He can feel John against his hip, a warm pulse that answers his own, and it just isn’t fair that John can calmly slide a hand under Matt’s shirt to find skin, calloused fingers burning a trail on Matt’s nerve endings.

“Behave yourself,” John says quietly, and then he’s yanking Matt’s shirt up, exposing an expanse of pale skin. Matt doesn’t get to feel self-conscious because John’s lowering his head again and mouthing kisses against his ribcage.

It’s kinda hot (okay, it’s really hot) that John thinks this is something worth savoring, but Matt’s already going nuts, his pants are too tight and John’s too heavy and he’s going to do something really stupid if John doesn’t get his act together.

“I’m not a chick, John,” Matt says, though he hisses when John tongues a nipple.

“I know that, Matt,” John says, a free hand snapping open the buttons of Matt’s pants. “Don’t you think I know that?”

“Maybe it’d slipped your mind,” Matt says. Then he groans because John’s finally getting down to business, finding Matt’s dick and squeezing gently. Matt tries to push his hips up but there’s the whole thing where John weighs a fucking ton and that’s a no-go, so he has no choice to lie there and take it.

“Fuck,” Matt says, because that’s also really hot. He forces himself to relax, and John smiles against his stomach.

“Yeah, there we go,” John says, and he keeps on kissing.

Matt’s mostly lost, panting heavily at the ceiling while John’s working a map across his chest with tongue and teeth. The hand’s a constant pressure around Matt’s erection but it’s not really doing anything other than maybe gauging how hard Matt can get.

“John, I’m gonna...” Matt says.

“No, you’re not,” John says.

“Okay,” Matt says, his voice small. It’s hazy in Matt’s head, like he’s back on the drip, but everything snaps into sharpness when he feels the distinct wetness of a tongue on his dick.

“Holy fuck,” Matt says, and cranes his neck to look down. John’s face is the picture of concentration as he works Matt in, and the sight is – well, there’s hot, and then there’s John fucking McClane. Matt’s hands are scrambling for something, anything, and all that he can reach are John’s shoulders, the only solid anchor as the world melts away.

Matt’s trying to fight it, but John’s sucking like he has a personal vendetta against Matt’s cock, tongue doing all sorts of things that are mighty fucking distracting, and really, it’s not Matt’s fault that he can’t keep up.

The orgasm starts as a low curl in Matt’s belly, and then – there – it – is.

There are embarrassing opposite-of-suave noises in between Matt’s helpless panting, and isn’t that just the story of Matt’s life. He looks down in time to see John pulling away and spitting into a cupped palm.

Matt can only watch, his limbs mostly useless, as John scoots up into a sitting position and, using his only other free hand, unbuttons his jeans and pulls out his own dick. Then, as if his only purpose in life to blow Matt’s mind, John slides Matt’s come across his shaft and starts pumping with earnest.

“Wait, wait,” Matt says, his voice coming out soft. He’s determined not to miss this, so he forces his rubber arms to pull him up and over, sliding uncoordinatedly across John’s chest to take another kiss.

Matt holds on to those shoulders and kisses John. It’s sloppy now because neither of them are really paying attention, so Matt just bites and sucks until it occurs to him that this would be a really good opportunity to check something out. He reaches for John’s left sleeve and tugs up, finally exposing the long-hidden tattoo. Matt still a little too dazed to make out the details, so he just lowers his head and bites.

Matt, Jesus!” John grunts, and it is a sound that means business.

On the plus side, John’s orgasm is pretty damn impressive; on the minus side, Matt’s still hanging limply across John’s shoulders and ends up missing most of the show anyway.

Matt vaguely registers John cleaning himself up, and then his hands are on Matt’s back, stroking gently.

“Heh heh,” Matt says. He wraps his arms tighter around John’s neck, and shuffles a little, settling his weight into John’s lap proper. “Heh, heh heh.”

 

“Something funny, Matt?” John says.

“I don’t know, maybe,” Matt says.

“You gonna criticize my technique, now?” John asks.

Matt just kisses him, and it helps hide the quiet hysteria bubbling under his skin.

The world is awesome.

 



Act 3

The way Matt figures, having had his dick in John’s mouth means he now has a free pass to everything, and that includes John’s significantly bigger bed. This first night is only a little strange when John stands at his doorway, scratching the back of his neck and looking like he forgot the script, but Matt just yawns and strolls past into the room like he owns the damn joint.

John doesn’t complain, which is good, because Matt likes having more sex on the agenda.

Then Matt blows John for the first time. He spoils it a little when he starts giggling around John’s cock, because his brain’s short circuiting again like it can’t process that he’s actually going down on John, and mother of all miracles, John’s letting him.

“You really have some lousy bed manners, Matt,” John says. He shoves a hand into Matt’s hair and tugs, which is just his way of asking nicely not to mess about.

This time Matt doesn’t miss anything. He catalogues the way John bares his teeth, the way his thighs strain, the way the groan of release shatters loose from somewhere deep in John’s chest. Matt just barely stops himself from throwing both his fists in the air in victory, though there really should be a prize for getting big bad-ass John to look all stunned like he’s just discovered the gloriousness of blowjobs.

“Who’s awesome, huh, who’s awesome?” Matt says, scooting up the bed. He finds John’s ear and bites the lobe. “Who’s awesome?” he sing-songs.

John turns, and there’s a million-watt look in his eyes that goes straight to Matt’s dick.

Matt concedes breathlessly, “Okay, you are.”

Then John gets him off, and Matt really needs to work on his stamina because it’s getting embarrassing how little John has to actually do. It’s going to be a long time going if Matt’s going to get any headway at all on figuring out everything John has to offer.

The thought thrills a little… Or a lot, whatever – semantics are for losers who aren’t getting their dick palmed by John McClane.


Matt wakes up with a thin ray of sunlight cutting across his face, which shouldn’t be the case because he always makes sure the curtains are drawn before he heads to bed.

Then it catches up on him on whose bed he’s in, and Matt’s all the way awake without even a hint of coffee.

First thing’s first. There’s the chance that Matt is still asleep and dreaming this entire scenario; it’s happened before. So Matt carefully rolls over and confirms that yes, he’s in John’s bed, and yes, the bedsheets smell like John. (And sex with John.)

The shower’s running, so John must be done with his morning run.

Matt stays under the covers, ready and watchful for when the shower noise stops and John steps out.

 

Wrapped in a towel.

John pauses the motion of rubbing himself dry, and scowls in Matt’s general direction. “Did you just squeak?”

“No, I didn’t,” Matt says.

He watches John get dressed for work (because he’s allowed now), admiring the way his skin moves and gathering intel that will definitely come in useful later.

Matt blurts, “Did you ever jerk off thinking me?”

John freezes. Or, his body freezes, while his head does that thing where it turns slowly to trap Matt in its narrow glare. “What?”

“Jerk off? Thinking of me?” Matt asks. “I’d like to know.”

John sighs a little. “I’ve got to get to work, Matt.”

“So? I’m not asking for a quickie,” Matt says. “I’m just asking if, at any time prior to events of last night, you ever touched yourself in a somewhat sexual way to thoughts of me. Because I definitely did, of you. Just sayin’.”

Matt didn’t ask for a quickie, but because the world is awesome, he gets one anyway.


Okay, so maybe the world has something to prove, like if it’s going to finally give John to Matt on a silver platter after months of foreplay (which Matt didn’t even know was foreplay, dude), then it has to balance the stakes somehow.

Matt would’ve been content with something small and heart attack-inducing, like a surprise visit from Lucy (or Jack or Holly), but of course, things are never that simple.

It happens near lunch.

Matt’s at his computer (because where else would he be) when the phone rings. He picks up without looking, muttering a distracted, “Hello” and getting confusing static for his trouble. “Hello?”

The thing is, Matt knows his static, like he knows the tell-tale electronic hum of a lot of equipment turned on at the same time, and the faint noise he can make out through the ear speakers of John’s ancient cordless phone is of someone very deliberately not speaking.

A chill moves up Matt’s spine.

He hangs up. After almost a minute of the phone not ringing again, Matt hits *69, only to get an engaged tone.

Maybe it’s McClane-sense rubbing off on him, a remnant of the four hundred dozen stories that John’s told him over dinner about not taking things for granted and of noticing when the bits don’t align quite right. Human instinct can be a powerful thing, and Matt likes to think that he has at least some now due to being an up close survivor of Fire Sale ’06.

Matt turns off his music and stands in the doorway, ears on alert.

He’s still standing there when a shadow appears in the narrow crack under the apartment door.

It could just be a Mrs. Loh dropping by to borrow some milk, or that guy from down the hall looking to exchange some quarters for laundry day.

Or it could be something else.

Matt retreats into the spare room, grabbing his headpiece and pouch. It turns out to be a good decision, because not too long after the door slams open in an unfriendly hinge-breaking way without so much as a knock.

 

Matt’s out the fire escape and climbing.

He makes it halfway down a floor before the bullets start flying.

“Shit shit shit!” Matt shimmies down faster, paying attention to the timing of his feet and ignoring the sudden screams from passers-by below. He hears the breaking smash of the window above and has a hand bracing upwards for when the glass shards fall around him.

The fire escape moves with new weight, and a quick glance upwards confirms that he’s not alone on the side of John’s apartment building.

In the hopes that there’s anyone listening, Matt shouts: “Someone call 911!”

Another jerk of the fire escape makes Matt look down, and he sees beneath his feet that there’s someone climbing up the fire escape towards him, and the face behind those dark shades doesn’t look friendly at all. Also: that’s definitely a gun Matt sees in his hand.

 

“Stop him!” The voice comes from above, and it’s female.

Matt climbs over a railing into a narrow balcony and – hoping that this apartment belongs to one of the friendlier folk in John’s building – climbs through the half-open window and shuts it quickly behind him.

Ah, it’s the Gonzales family.

“Call 911!” Matt says as he rushes past poor Mrs. Gonzales, who looks halfway ready to kill him. The people chasing would be more creative about it, so Matt runs.

Once in the hallway, Matt ignores the lift (dead end) and heads for the stairwell. There’s no way he’s going back up (hell, he’s seen enough horror movies), so he starts a frantic hop-slide downwards, keeping as much pressure off his left leg as possible.

He’s still hop-sliding as he reaches a hand into his pocket for his phone.

“John!”

Matt?

There are other footsteps in the stairwell, and moving fast.

“John, you gotta get—”

A hand that is not Matt’s grabs the phone and throws it at the wall, where it splinters.

Some stuff happens after that, but it goes by all fast and whooshy like the world’s sped up while Matt’s stuck in slow-mo. Matt doesn’t have the brainpower to process until he’s down on the concrete floor with his arms locked behind his back and the sole of a leather boot pressed against his neck.

“Matthew Farrell.”

Matt blinks through the unruly curtain of his bangs. “Mai. Oh my god, Mai.”


There is impossible, and then there is the past year of Matt’s life.

If anyone had told him a year ago that he would be worth any sort of anything to anyone beyond his ability to manipulate the zeroes and ones that make the world go round, he would’ve… Well, he would’ve not really understood the question, truth be told.

This is Matt, after, and there’s something new burning beneath his skin alongside the lizard brain’s desire to live.

It’s likely that Mai doesn’t know.

She’s dragging him along down the stairs, and Matt’s not putting up any sort of resistance, because that would be an exercise in futility. Mai is obviously a super ninja master, and if the burn scars along the side of her face and neck are any indicator, she’s a super pissed-off-like-Jaws-4 ninja master with a fucking vengeance the size of Manhattan.

So Matt lets her drag him all the way down, past the security desk (oh shit, Matt hopes that Paul’s just unconscious) to the maintenance part of the basement, which is filled with dust, shelves and pipes that go plink-plink.

“Stay your location,” Mai says into her headpiece, and then she tosses Matt to the floor.

Matt stays curled up right where he’s dropped, looking helpless just the way Mai remembers him. But that’s just the outside, ‘cause inside, Matt’s thinking that Mai doesn’t know that under his jacket is his pouch, which contains has his own headpiece and communicator set. He’s also thinking that Mai hasn’t tied up his hands yet, so if he looks even more helpless, she might not bother at all.

So he fakes an asthma attack.

“Don’t move, asshole,” Mai says, kicking his shin.

“I’m trying,” Matt gasps. “I need – my inhaler – I need…”

Mai leans down and grabs Matt’s chin, making him look at her.

Yeah, that’s some crazy shit going on in her eyes.

“You will die only when I say you die,” Mai says.

Matt swallows, and he doesn’t need to fake it.

She throws him down again and Matt just whimpers softly, clutching his chest like it hurts.

Matt is

terrified, because he’s only human, but there are bands wound deep into his bones that stop him from shaking to pieces, and they are born from faith that matches the big fucking grudge chip Mai has on her shoulder.

 

John’s gonna be pissed.


The original plan, as far as Matt can make out, was this:

Blow up the building, make John watch, make John dead.

It’s simple and to the point, befitting of a straightforward-thinking person like Mai who apparently doesn’t believing in beating about the bush. In that original plan, Matt was to be the leverage, and Mai had planned to snag, bag ‘n drag him out of the building to some safety point for her use in case John did something funny. But Matt fucked things up by making a ruckus, so John’s going to arrive ahead of schedule.

So the new plan, as far as Matt can tell is:

Blow up the building with John in it, make them all dead.

It’s obvious that the three muscle-bound mercenary brutes that Mai has working for her have no idea that they’re not getting any bonuses for this job. It’s doubly obvious that they’re paid not to believe anything Matt says, so he doesn’t try, and just not-so-subtly continues his faux asthma attack in a corner of the maintenance room.

Matt really doesn’t want to die, but if there’s anything he’s learnt from the last cycle of things blowing up, it’s that he has to keep focused.

Mai has a headpiece around her short brown wig and two laptops open on a table before her. She’s not really paying attention to Matt, but Brute #1 is. Brute #2 and Brute #3 are elsewhere in the building, presumable terrorizing the inhabitants or getting the place all spruced up for John.

Then Mai touches her headpiece, and for the first time since their reunion so far, smiles. “McClane, how nice of you to join us.”

Matt is watchful.

“My terms are simple,” Mai says. “You walk in, everyone else walks out. Just like that.”

She touches the keyboard, and Matt can just make out the CCTV-quality images on the screen.

 

“Guarantees?” Mai says. “Why don’t you just prove that you have some fucking balls, McClane!”

Ah, so John’s taunting her now.

Mai’s breathing heavily, because the thing about making things personal is that it’s really difficult to balance ‘personal’ and ‘logical’. She’s listening to whatever John says, her face like she’s just now learning that John has some piss-poor manners. Suddenly she stands, and barks an order to Brute #1 (who’s also wearing a headpiece) to watch the cameras.

She doesn’t even glance back at Matt when she walks out the door, presumably on the way to help John find his balls.

Brute #1 is not even watching Matt.

Matt takes a deep breath, and hopes that whatever gods have been smiling on John deign to bless Matt with a little of their attention.

He rolls, and then kicks.

The shelves tilt, and bless them, the ones that count drop on top of Brute #1 and Mai’s collection of electronics. But Brute #1 is still a big brutish guy, so Matt keeps moving, using his size to squeeze between planks and rusted metal.

He manages a fair distance until Brute #1 starts shooting at the walls to get Matt’s attention.

“She needs me alive!” Matt shouts, tongue heavy with sawdust. “Alive, alive, alive! She does!”

That seems to at least make Brute #1 pause. Then, yea verily, the gods are smiling because Brute #1 says, “Copy that” and, after making some noises that sound electronic, leaves the room.

Matt pushes himself through the debris and realizes that the gods may be smiling with sharpened teeth, because hello, there’s a silver briefcase open on the floor and there are some pretty fucking huge red numbers doing a countdown.

Matt’s fingers are numb, but he manages to reach into his pouch and get his communicator and headpiece. “Connie?”

Matt? Where the hell—”

“Basement, there’s a bomb, someone better get down here, quick!”

The main’s entrance sealed,” Connie says. “But John’s got Mai distracted for now. Can you get the maintenance door open from where you are?

“Yeah, yeah, I think I can,” Matt says, and he’s on his feet.


The building doesn’t blow up, which is good.

Matt doesn’t have a heart attack, which is also good.

Rick Sol, resident NY bomb expert, wipes his sweaty hands and turns to grin at Matt. “See? Told you I’m good.”

“Yeah,” Matt says. He lies down, because the world is starting to feel a little wobbly right about now. He’s never had seasickness before – let alone on land – but, hey, there’s a first time for everything, like surviving countdowns in digital red.

Connie’s somewhere nearby and talking.

Matt remembers this part. There was a lot of talking after the first time, too; of people trying to figure out what happened and letting everyone else know what they thought happened and correcting what those other people thought happened, like it’s some sort of competition to catch all the facts.

Five minutes or five hours later, John’s sitting down on the floor next to Matt.

“Hey,” John says.

Matt exhales, turns his head a little. “She beat the crap out of you?”

John picks at his shirt, which does look a tad worse for the wear from when Matt watched him put it on earlier that morning. “Nothing I couldn’t handle.”

“Yeah,” Matt says softly. “I gotta get up. Hey, help me get up.”

“Is it your knee?” John says, doing as Matt asks.

Actually, no, the knee’s in pretty good shape, but Matt’s mouth isn’t working right. He’s still shaking, the world’s still wobbly, and John’s the only sure, solid thing in the whole universe.

So Matt reaches, and holds on.


There’s no hospital stay this time, because Matt’s only got some superficial scratches and John’s pretty vocal on how he won’t tolerate anything longer than a couple of minutes in the back of one of the few ambulances currently parked around the apartment building.

So Matt’s sitting in the ambulance with John, watching him get some brand new stitches along his left arm.

“You’re pretty quiet,” John says.

“What? Yeah,” Matt says. It’s an accurate observation. “Just – just thinking, I guess.”

“Yeah,” John says. He sighs, and the softness of it roars a klaxon in Matt’s ears. “You know, kid—”

“Aww, man, I just set up my hardware,” Matt says. “Will it be taken away for, like, police evidence or something? Because that would be really lame, it’s private property, you know, completely legal and you’d know, right? You’d vouch for me, right? And shit, shit, shit, I was just in the middle of debugging, that’s a whole morning’s work, gone! Just like that! Are you hungry? Because I’m hungry.”

It’s a different sigh John makes this time. “You’re always hungry.”

“You should get the rest of the day off,” Matt says.

“Paperwork, Matt,” John says. “There’s always paperwork.”

The medic is still there patching John up, so the most Matt can do is smile weakly. Then John does a one-up and reaches over to squeeze Matt’s hand.


While the basement is cordoned off, John’s apartment is good to go. After enduring the normal spate of post-event interviews, Matt starts a makeshift repair the broken window. The super is understandably too busy to help, but Matt’s nothing if not resourceful.

After that, Matt crashes.

He’s not tired; in fact, he’s quite the opposite. Matt’s tense inside and out, and there’s a live-wire humming between his veins with no friendly outlet to ground him. The adrenaline aftershocks are steady and strange like the heavy pulses of Matt’s heartbeat, and they’re waiting for John.

Matt’s half-asleep when he hears the front door open, the familiar noises of routine as John sets his things down, shrugs off his jacket, and then shuffles through the apartment. Matt moves a little under the covers, figuring that John’s going to appreciate having his sheets pre-warmed.

John doesn’t turn on the light, just undresses quietly and slides under the covers to spoon up behind Matt.

Fingertips touch Matt’s forehead, brushing his hair. “You’re awake.”

“Yeah,” Matt breathes. “Some day, huh?”

John is still, and it’s easy to tell that he’s just as tense as Matt – maybe more so, because of the two of them, John’s the one who had to deal with the uncertainty of not knowing. The way John’s touching him now is part of that assurance, the fingertips digging in just a little too hard as they drag across Matt’s sides.

It’s going to be different from last night, and Matt wants it.

They’re not even touching properly, but Matt’s heart is already pounding because he can feel the soft tremors in John’s touch. It’s no surprise that John’s macho stoicism is only skin deep. Then John’s hand comes around, solid against Matt’s heartbeat and pulling him until his back is against the warm wall that is John’s chest. John huffs against Matt’s shoulder, and starts mouthing the skin there.

It’s funny – they both want the same thing, but they’re still not on the same page.

They’re getting there, though. They’ve been spending months getting there.

Matt brings John’s hand up to his mouth, sucking the digits into his mouth.

“Shit,” John mutters. He shifts, rolling Matt beneath him to get some serious kissing done. Matt parts his legs, fitting himself to the breadth of John’s thighs, and hallelujah, they’re in business. John’s all advance planning and not wearing underwear, but Matt’s skivvies may as well not be there at all for the way that John’s erection is pressing against his own.

Matt doesn’t mind when John pulls away, because that means that he’s getting down to business, removing the only piece of clothing between them. John is obviously a man with a plan, and that plan involves lubrication and a condom (and hello, when did John buy those?). He heaves Matt’s legs up, knees on to his stonewall shoulders, and then his hands are working.

This part, Matt’s happy to let John take charge. It’s been a while, so he needs this moment to adjust, eyes shut, head tilted back and body relaxing to the intrusion of John’s fingers. Matt lets himself fly on the feeling, and his dick can afford to be ignored for a while.

Then John’s cock is there, poised and tentative.

Matt exhales at the new intrusion, hands holding on to the bedsheets.

John is careful. He’s always careful, because he’s the big bad-ass who knows the strength of his fists like he knows where every piece of his life stands. Matt’s the other guy, the one who makes things up as he goes along and somewhere along the line decided that it would be a good idea to make a cocoon for himself within John’s boundaries.

They still have a lot to learn about each other, so they might as well start with this.

“John, wait,” Matt says.

“What?” John says, his voice strained, and who can blame him, he’s balls deep inside Matt. “It’s a bit late to—”

“Just – just, please,” Matt says.

John sounds agonized but hey, he can be a nice guy when it suits his purposes, so he pulls out. Matt’s stunned at how stretched he looks, because he really is hard muscle everywhere.

John’s breathing heavily. “Well?”

The electricity sparks away along Matt’s skin. John’s almost undone, and now Matt wants nothing more than to finish the job. He sits up and shoves both hands at John’s chest.

It works because John doesn’t see it coming. He falls on his back, wind unexpectedly knocked out of him, but Matt’s on the move, scrambling fast on to John’s lap and settling down.

Christ, Matt,” John hisses. There’s a whole new look in John’s eyes, and Matt wants to keep it there – to study it and dissect and break it to pieces a million times over.

“Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about,” Matt breathes, and he barely recognizes his own voice. “Take it.”

“What?” John says.

“I said take it,” Matt says, grinding in short, sharp bursts. Matt can be just as focused as John when he wants to be, and he wants to be right here, on top of John, around John, taking in all these sights and the sounds that are just for him. Matt will know everything, inside and out, if it’s the last thing he does.

“Matt – fuck – oh, dammit, Matt—”

“What?” Matt snarls. “Come on, John, you can take it.”

 

“Oh yeah?” John says. His smile is shaky but he’s thrusting up, apparently not content to take it lying down. “You gonna make me?”

Matt starts to laugh, but it turns into a gasp when John gets the angle right and he sees stars. “Shit,” Matt says, and pushes down, ignoring the way his thighs are starting to quiver. He reaches a hand back and finds the space between John’s balls, pressing against the skin.

John’s trying to reach Matt’s dick but his fingers are shaking, clawing at open air and Matt’s thighs. Yeah, he’s a goner.

 

But so’s Matt, really.

Matt’s gurgling, arching his back as John lets out a last, desperate groan that just registers past the sudden roar of blood in Matt’s ears.

It’s impossible, Matt’s body wasn’t made for this—

Except, maybe it is. After all, no one knows how far they can go until they’re pushed.

John’s first words, after, are: “You trying to kill me, Matt?”

Matt laughs. “Say it, John.”

John sighs. “You’re awesome.”

“You know it.” Matt reaches over and pats John on the arm comfortingly. “Don’t worry, next time I’ll let you fuck my brains out.”

John’s silence is thoughtful, and it makes Matt giggle a little into the pillows.


 

It’s a brave new world, and in John and Matt’s little corner of it, the routine changes.