‘It’s him.’ McClane thinks to himself. ‘That has to be him.’
For the umpteenth time he goes to grip his side arm only to remember that his gun, his holster, and all other accoutrement are stuffed in his gun safe more than 3000 miles away in New York.
God damn it.
Forcing himself to breathe evenly McClane slides his hand out from under his jacket and settles it in a fist on his knee, pointedly ignoring the little old woman in plaid across from him who shoots him another suspicious glance. A scowl etches deeper on his face and he wants to close his eyes and rest for a minute because he’s old, damnit, and he sure as hell didn’t sleep on the plane, but he can’t because, apparently, there’s the god damn Lazarus of international terrorism sitting three seats down from him and no one else gives a damn.
‘It can’t be him.’ McClane tries to convince himself - again - but his eyes stay stuck on the face of a man whom he watched fall from 30 odd stories before being buried under a heap of burning rubble.
McClane reminds himself that this guy fell from 30 odd stories before being buried under a heap of burning rubble so there is no way that Hans Gruber is not even five yards away from him on the fucking train.
McClane restrains himself from twitching. Barely.
He thumbs over the outline of his cellphone in his pocket, wishing for the first time in his life that he was better with technology and could covertly snap a picture and forward it to Matt or Lucy. It would be nice at the very least to have one of them tell him he's not finally experiencing delayed onset PTSD.
The Hans look alike scowls at his newspaper and flicks to the next page.
A festively dressed woman walks past with a snack cart, looking for a moment like she's going to pause and ask John if he wants something but he gives her his best glare and she moves along right quick, jingle bells chiming merrily with her progress.
Leaving John to his staring.
He's not even being subtle about it, sitting fixated for what’s become more than an hour. He can't stop cycling repeatedly through the yes no yes no progression of identification, his brain having shot into overdrive the moment he glanced up and caught sight of a nightmare boarding the train a couple hours outside of London.
He does not need another Christmas like this.
A few times now he’s paused to profile the rest of the train, looking for henchmen and mercenaries and goons but just as he'd observed ten minutes ago everyone else on the car seems entirely normal. Just two dozen odd passengers entirely unbothered by the un-dead terrorist in their midst.
If anything, he's the one acting like he's got something to hide, grabbing at a gun that isn't there and scowling at nice old ladies with snack carts. He drags his passport out of his pocket and spins it idly in his hand, as much to give the woman across the way something more to scowl at than to diffuse some energy.
There's no way it can be him. Just no fucking way.
Evan Prince, as he calls himself nowadays, scowls at the Muggle newspaper for which he paid an exorbitant rate before getting on the train. The world of Muggle politics holds no real interest for him, especially when it is as poorly written as this. Yet he checks the Muggle news every day-- just in case his past shows signs of catching up with him. After the war and all the chaos of years ago he’d decided to leave his past firmly behind him. He will never return. He has been content as he lives now, with no apparition. No owls. No magic. He is “off the grid,” to use a Muggle expression, and will not risk any spell that may alert the magical community of his continued existence.
He will not be dragged back into that world.
Which means that while he may never see a copy of the Daily Prophet ever again, he has no excuse to let his guard down. So he dutifully turns the page and reads on.
Eventually a bright jingling sound makes him look up. That obnoxiously jolly woman with the snack cart is hurrying through the carriage, looking nervously over her shoulder. Prince casts his own surreptitious glance along the compartment, only vaguely curious as to what is making her so uncomfortable- anything to relieve the tedium of Muggle transportation. Most of the occupants are holiday travelers, tourists, and so forth. There’s nothing suspicious, or even interesting there. He’s about to turn back to his newspaper when the man in the corner, spinning his passport restlessly in his hand, makes him do a double take.
He’s obviously an American: American-style jeans, American-style oversized leather jacket, very American-looking boots. But Prince would have known he was an American anyway. He has less hair and looks older, but he has that same cocky posture, same suspicious tilt to the head, same scowl. Every inch a “hardboiled cop,” as the expression goes.
He stops and shakes himself mentally. He’s turning into Alastor Moody, too paranoid for his own good. And yet... he narrows his eyes once more look at the man in the corner.
In that moment the man in the corner looks up too. Their eyes meet. And Prince knows. He knows, and he can see in John McClane’s eyes that he knows too.
His past has finally caught up with him.
This guy knows who he is. This guy knows who John is. John could read the spark of recognition before the man shut it down and he has to check himself because for a moment he’s relieved. At least one other person in this car knows Hans Gruber is a passenger, and even if that person has to be Hans Gruber himself John’s gotta admit it’s a relief.
Only not really, because now he’s gotta confront him. No way around it. Have to save the day.
Hans’ eyes go back to his paper but they both know he’s not reading anymore and John shoves his passport back into his pocket as he leans forward in his seat, resting his elbows on his knees.
Hans is as visibly changed by the years as John is. He’s grayer, more worn around the edges, more scarred if John’s reading the peek of mottled white flesh under Hans’ scarf correctly. McClane rolls his own shoulder unconsciously and works at the kink that sits perpetually under his latest gunshot wound.
The steady rumble to the train becomes a howl as they rush into a tunnel, and John keeps his eyes trained on his target, even as the light fade out in the car. Shadows grow on a face much more gaunt than he remembers. There’s a moment where everything is completely dark before the lights in the car flicker on.
Their warm glow illuminates an empty seat.
For a moment John’s heart stops beating.
When it starts again it’s in overdrive and John has to keep on sitting another moment just to make sure he’s not having a heart attack, and then he has to check his watch because he knows he’s due to arrive at the station at 5:35 and it’s 5:12 now. John would really like it if he could have this thing wrapped up and Hans handed off to the proper authorities by no later than 5:36 because he hasn’t seen Lucy in five months and it would be nice to spend as little of this Christmas dealing with terrorists and as much of it with his kid as possible.
With his mouth a grim line John hauls his bones out of his seat and grabs his coat from where he’d tossed it over the back of his chair.
“Ma’am.” He murmurs to the plaid lady before taking off down the aisle towards the next compartment. There are only eleven cars on this train and John’s got two minutes for each one of ‘em. Piece of cake.
Stupid, overzealous, bullheaded, gun-toting McClane. Prince only met him once before, many years ago, but McClane still stands out vividly in his memory, and it would seem that the feeling is mutual. From his hiding place behind McClane’s recently vacated seat, he wonders briefly if McClane managed to somehow get his gun into the country. Fascinating things, guns. Inelegant, messy, but effective. Nothing in magic worked quite the same way, although there were potions that could mimic that sort of thing - potions that he had made use of during his previous encounter with McClane.
He shuddered as he recalled the events which had transpired so many years ago. That whole brutal business had been tiresome and a complete waste of time. It’s ancient history now, but of course the diadem had been entirely absent from the stash of relics and artifacts in that bloody office building. It had been in the school the whole bloody time.
Prince shakes himself. He must focus. McClane has been gone for 20 minutes and, miraculously, the train is running exactly on time. Prince has two minutes, perhaps less, before those compartment doors open and McClane enters to collect his bag and sees him crouched behind the seat like a nervous child.
The train is pulling into the station, wheezing like an old man. There is only one option. He will not apparate. He must run. He must disappear. Prince flattens himself against the doors. As the train comes to a complete stop the doors to the platform slide apart just as the door to Prince’s compartment opens. For a split second, he catches a glimpse of McClane muttering obscenities under his breath, before he falls backwards onto the platform.
“Hans!” McClane yells, but it’s too late. Prince is lost in the crowd.
Nothing. McClane is up and down the train, checking every face and knocking on every bathroom door and every passenger, every disgruntled restroom user is wrong. Hans is nowhere.
McClane’s halfway back to his starting position at the end of the train when it dawns on him with growing dread that there’s only one place Hans can be. Only one possible spot. He’s cursing himself for a fool even as he races down the corridor. An attendant hollers at him and tries to block his way to the connecting door ‘Sir, I’m going to have to ask you take your seat!’, but he shoulders her out of the way and throws the door open, darting back into the eleventh car just as the train begins to slow, winding down as it pulls to a stop and McClane can’t lose him, he’ll never find him in the London crowds. There’s a franticness in him as he slams open the second door and looks around the car, taking in each familiar passenger, each unimportant face but there’s something off. There’s a man at the train doors, pressed against them tight as if he could faze right through.
Heart seizing again (and really, he can’t take much more of this) McClane watches helpless as the train stops fully and the doors slide open.
“Hans!” He shouts, already moving towards the exit but there are people in his way and he has to fight them to get there, the woman in plaid looking downright murderous as he pushes her aside in his dash towards the door.
By the time he gets there Hans is already gone, slipping through the crowds and McClane feels a spark of hopelessness at the back of his mind. Still, he’s a go-get-em sort of guy and he grits his teeth and takes a deep breath and wades once more into the fray.
There’s a terrorist on this platform and he’s going to find him.
He keeps half an eye trained on the nearest escalator, the rest of his attention is dedicated to scanning up and down the concrete ledge. It’s half-past five on a Friday however and things are packed, barely enough room to walk, let alone track down a suspect.
McClane won’t let that stop him though. He can’t. God only knows what Hans is up to this time and if McClane doesn’t get his guy people are gonna die. That sickening fist of dread closes around John’s throat and he swallows past the fear.
Lucy is here. Lucy is somewhere in this station and if McClane doesn’t track this guy down...
Calculating various exit strategies, looking for security to flag down and maintenance doors his target could sneak through, McClane refuses to let himself believe this is another fire sale. Gabriel got lucky. Gabriel was a fluke. There’s now way another terrorist is going to get his hands on his little girl.
His luck can’t be that bad.
A train blasts into the station on the far tracks and McClane’s thoughts are drowned out in the screech and whine of breaks and hiss of pneumatics.
He’s pushing his way down the platform, not really caring who he has to shove to the side and whether or not he’s doing America’s reputation any favors. He doesn’t see the irritated looks and the hollered ‘watch its!’ thrown his way. He only has eyes now for the enemy, the criminal, the quarry.
There’s a sort of carousel in front of him on which a couple information panels have been installed. McClane maneuvers his way around a bunch of tourists to grab a hold of the metal frame, hoisting himself up a bit higher so he can get a better look on the crowd, eyes searching for a lank head of hair and a guilty posture.
Just a touch desperate, McClane could swear he’s gone. That the trail has gone cold, that his target has disappeared. There’s a cold slink of terror in his gut and the creeping anxiety that he’s going to have to get out there and try and convince some London cops that no, he’s not nuts, there’s an undead terrorist on their streets.
Then something catches his eye, someone sliding out of a group of Japanese tourists. Someone with a familiar hunch and unforgettable profile and John gives a shout, even as his eyes follow Hans’s path and his blood runs cold. There in front of him, not thirty feet away, is Lucy. She’s got her cellphone to her ear and just then John feels the vibrations of his own phone in his pocket and John scrambles to dig the damn thing out, fighting with his balance and his pants as he keeps his eyes trained on Lucy and the ever encroaching figure of Hans.
With a hiss the doors to John’s train shut and the cars start to pull out of the station, picking up speed quickly as they make their way down the line past the end of the platform and towards the next leg of their journey. John wrestles his phone out and even as he’s mashing at the little green telephone button he’s watching his Lucy.
He manages somehow to receive the call and as he puts the phone to his ear and shouts “Lucy!” He has to watch in mute horror as Hans gets closer.
“Whoah, Dad! Where are you? Did you get off the train?” Lucy’s voice is nearly swallowed by the echoed din John’s hearing in real life.
“Lucy, listen carefully, you need to-” But before John can get any further he watches as a six foot something hulk of a stranger bullies his way through the crowd. He shoves his way past Lucy.
As John watches her she stumbles. Her phone flies out of her hand, arms flailing to keep balance as she falls backwards towards the gap in the platforms.
A gap which is rapidly filling with an oncoming train.
Prince allows himself to relax for a moment, surrounded by Japanese tourists who are too busy snapping pictures of a British train station at Christmas to pay him the least bit of attention. He knows better than to think that McClane will just shrug and walk away-- he never could stay out of things that simply did not concern him. McClane is a man who walks across broken glass in his bare feet, who leaps from rooftops and blows up elevator shafts; he is not a man who gives up. Perhaps, though, Prince will be able to hide in the crowds of holiday travelers just long enough to make it through the station and into a cab.
The anonymity of the London crowds is better than an invisibility cloak.
He peers over the heads of his protective tourist swarm. McClane is nowhere to be seen, so he eases himself out of the group with their flashing cameras and begins to walk casually along the platform towards the station entrance. He is so close to the end of the platform when the sound of an American accent makes him look up.
A girl with brown hair is standing close-- a little too close, foolish girl-- to the gap talking on a mobile.
“Whoah, Dad! Where are you? Did you get off the train?” she shouts into the phone over the din of people and the whistle of the 3:26 express that is about to pass through the station on its way to Liverpool.
She has a definite American accent and there is something about her nose and her chin that reminds him of McClane...
Prince closes his eyes for a moment and decides that he is never going to leave home again.
Lucy. This must be Lucy McClane, John McClane’s daughter. Which means that McClane must be nearby. Prince looks around in spite of himself. There. Perhaps four or five yards away, McClane is standing on top of one of the information kiosks, his mobile jammed against his ear, waving frantically. For a moment, their eyes meet and the look on McClane’s face is beyond description.
Prince freezes for a second, looking for an escape. McClane has seen him now, so sneaking through the station is no longer an option. He could make a run for it, but poison and curses have left him physically weak and the years have not been kind. Without his magic, he is sure that McClane, old as he is now, would swiftly catch him. There’s a moment of cold dread where the pull of apparation becomes alluring, and he knows with sickening dread that perhaps, if he must-
Suddenly, before he can make a decision, several things happen at once. The 3:26 screams onto track D; a huge, hulking oaf of a man pushes past him and runs straight into Lucy McClane, knocking her off balance. Her eyes open wide in surprise. She was standing very close to the gap...
Time seems to stand very still. The big man’s face is a mask of horror. Without thinking, Prince lurches forward, arm outstretched, and manages to grab a fistful of the young woman’s jacket. Her phone lands on the track.
He hauls her onto the platform a split second before the train races by, ruffling his hair, and grinding her mobile to dust.
It takes a moment, but Prince begins to breathe again. The Muggles on the platform have swarmed and formed a semi-circle around him and the girl and they explode into cheers.
“Are you alright, Miss McClane?” he manages to ask. She looks shaken, but she is able to stand.
“I- I’m fine, thanks. Thank you,” she replies.
“Lucy!” McClane shoves his way through the crowd of gaping Muggles and wrenches his daughter away from Prince and into a bear hug.
Now is the time for Prince to make good his escape. Adrenaline gives him focus as he turns to slip back into the crowds, but a heavy hand descends on his shoulder, and he hears McClane’s voice, tight with a dozen emotions.
“Hold it right fucking there, Hans.”
John’s fingers clamp like a vise on the now old man’s shoulder, heedless of bruising. He’s still got one arm wrapped tight around the shoulders of his Lucy and his back to the small crowd of gawkers. Expressions have turned from impressed to scandalized but he’s only got eyes for the perp and he needs handcuffs, he needs back up, he needs-
“Holy shit dad what are you doing.” Lucy grinds out between grit teeth and she tugs his arm off her shoulder.
“Luce-” He starts but she’s ignoring him, darting forward to pry his hand off of Gruber’s shoulder.
“Jesus I’m sorry, I don’t know why he’s being a brute, I think he has personality disorder, honestly-”
“Lucy-” John tries again, fingers refusing to give up their clench even as Lucy tugs at them.
“Seriously, thank you so much for grabbing me like that, I don’t even want to imagine-”
“JOHN.” Lucy levels a glare at him which is such a precise mix of all her mother’s stubbornness and his own pig-headedness that all John can do is blink stupidly and acquiesce to Lucy’s prying hands. Hans’ rough wool coat slips from his grip.
They’re locked in a staring contest for a long moment until Hans clears his throat and nods at Lucy in a curt approximation of humility.
“It’s quite alright.”
Then he’s turning on his heel to weave his way back through the crowds but John’s far too quick for that. His hand breaks from Lucy’s efforts to restrain him and he gets a fist full of Hans’ coat again, drawing the man up short and causing him to stumble backwards slightly on legs which don’t look like they work as well as they used to.
“Eh, what’s your problem?” Some stranger in the thinning gaggle steps forward as if he means to confront McClane but John’s glare is sharp enough to stab and the man halts and just shifts his weight from foot to foot.
“Move on, people” John barks. “There’s nothing to see here.”
“Oh my god, Dad.” Lucy gasps, trying to tug his hand free again.
“Come on man, that guy just saved ‘er life. What do you think you’re doing holding on to ‘im like that?” Someone else pipes up and somebody else agrees. One woman is looking pointedly around for station security and John’s grip on Hans tightens. That’s good, security is fine. All he needs is a goddamn computer and someone willing to direct him to the nearest police station and he’ll drop Hans off for a nice long stay in someone else’s hair.
“It’s alright, let us be.” John startles and jerks his glare back onto Hans as the man speaks to the crowd with a voice drawn thin. He looks exhausted but his gaze is steady as it holds onto John’s. “We’re old friends. Aren’t we Mr. McClane?”
“Detective.” John corrects automatically and Lucy’s eyes narrow even as a couple more members of the crowd peel off to make their various connections.
“You.” John barks, turning towards the Indian woman who’d been eyeing station security a moment ago. “Go get a cop.”
Her mouth thins out at his command and she crosses her arms in front of her stubbornly. “And why would I do a thing like that?”
“Because-” John starts but Hans cuts him off, stepping back just enough that John’s grip on his coat relaxes and becomes less noticeable.
“That won’t be necessary. Come, Detective, its been awhile. We should go somewhere to catch up.”
John’s half a second to snarling something particularly nasty in reply but Lucy butts in with a smile. “Sounds great Mr.-”
“Prince.” Hans adds in quickly. “Although you probably remember me as Evan.”
“Evan! Of course, Uncle Evan, it’s been too long.” Then she’s stepping forward in such a way that John has to let go of Hans’ coat or have his elbow bent at a painful angle and his eyes are narrowing even as he loosens his grip.
“Lucy-” He growls in warning but she’s already got an arm wrapped around Hans’ elbow and she shows no signs of stopping as she begins to tow him towards the escalators to the surface.
“Come on dad, we can go grab a pint.”
“No, we can’t.” John snarls but no one cares. Dread slips like a stone into the pit of his gut and John can feel the situation once again unraveling. He follows Lucy closely because he doesn’t know what else to do, knowing that making a scene when all these people are already against him won’t help much, but knowing just a surely that he’s going to be in real trouble the moment he gets onto the street. More protests and half formed arguments are boiling in his throat ready to burst but all that dies as Hans turns to cast him a look over his shoulder and John can’t help but notice again just how tired the guy looks and it feels familiar in a way he doesn’t want it to. He can feel just how the expression would fit on his own face and the weight in his gut settles deeper and twists.
Then Hans smiles in a way completely devoid of humor and mutters. “Don’t worry McClane. I’m not the man you think me to be.”
At this moment, Evan Prince is a mess of loathing and despair, quietly seething under a well-practiced façade of control. It has become obvious that there is only one way out for him, and that is to give McClane some kind of explanation. Prince has resigned himself to this, but he still hates the situation he has found himself in and he still hates himself for having taken it upon himself to fix it and he still despairs over what he is going to say to John McClane that will satisfy him. And he hates that tiny, tiny part of him-- the part that sometimes speaks in Lily’s voice-- that notices the pain and weariness in McClane’s eyes that is a faint echo of the pain and weariness that Prince feels himself and says quietly but firmly that that, if nothing else, is reason enough to give McClane an explanation; McClane might as well know at least part of the truth.
He is also remembering how much he does not like young people. He didn’t like them when he was teaching, and he does not like Lucy McClane now. She holds his arm in an iron grip (a grip that is very like her father’s) and Prince tries not to wince. He glances at McClane and is comforted to see McClane also wincing. Lucy’s grip on him is even tighter—her knuckles are almost white. She talks in a determinedly cheerful voice as she steers them both into a cafe just outside the station.
Prince takes stock. The cafe is “quite nice,” warm, but not cozy and full enough that there will definitely be witnesses if Prince tries to make an escape, but not so crowded that anyone would notice if Prince and McClane got into an argument. Lucy McClane is truly the daughter of an American police officer.
“Take a seat Uncle Evan,” Lucy says, guiding him to a table, “I’ll get us some tea- or coffee,” she adds, glancing at her father. McClane looks a little unsteady and there is a deep V between his eyes as he studies Prince. Lucy shakes her head and moves towards the counter to place their order. McClane shakes himself and, throwing a warning glance at Prince, turns to follow Lucy.
Now would be the time for Prince to suddenly realize he has an appointment and rush away, but he doesn’t. He’s not sure why, but instead he casually unrolls a thin, flesh-colored string and puts one end to his ear. The other end snakes toward McClane and his daughter who are standing in the corner by the dish tub. He has forsaken spells, but there are some objects yet that he can make use of. McClane has his hands on Lucy’s shoulders, crouched a little so he can look her right in the eye.
“Lucy, baby, you gotta listen to me.” McClane’s voice is desperately calm. “Do you remember one Christmas, when you were a little girl, and your mom and I got trapped the building where she worked?”
Lucy takes a deep breath. “Yes, dad, but what--”
“That’s the guy who held us hostage. Lucy, that’s Hans Gruber.”
“Dad.” Lucy now puts her hands on her father’s shoulders. She seems concerned for her father’s sanity. “Daddy. Hans Gruber died when he fell off a 22-story building. Go. Sit. Down.”
McClane looks like he wants to protest, but the look fades into defeat and he turns and makes his way back around the line of patrons at the counter. He steps on the extendable ear, which makes a horrible squeal in Prince’s ear and he drops it hastily. He is perfectly composed by the time McClane makes it back to their table. McClane’s shoulders are newly squared, ready for the next battle, and he drops into the seat across from Prince.
“Alright, Hans, what--” McClane starts, but Prince interrupts him smoothly.
“Mr. McClane, please. I believe I owe you an explanation.”
John agrees. Wholeheartedly. He deserves a very long explanation with all the bells and whistles attached because this had better be good. Even with all his years and all the shit he’s watched go down, John hasn’t a clue as to how he managed to get to this moment right here: sitting in a London cafe with Hans mother fucking Gruber across the table from him.
“Yeah, you do.” He acknowledges with his jaw tight. His forearms are on the table in front of him and he’s scooted his chair back enough that he can sit with his legs spread apart and his feet flat on the ground. He rolls his shoulders, and drops his chin down just a hair, just enough that he’s leveling Hans with the best glare he knows how to muster. He makes himself look big, even bigger than he actually is, and now he’s faced with the part of the law enforcement process he’s not very good at. He’s never had a knack for interrogations. He can intimidate, yeah, but he’s always been missing the finesse required for the fine picking of information. He hopes he won’t have to resort to the tactics he usually goes for. As anonymous as this cafe is, he doubts he’ll get away with subtly slamming Hans’ face into the table.
“Make it good Hans,” he adds with a growl, “or I will waste you, foreign soil or no. Don’t think I won’t do it.”
Hans holds his gaze for a long moment before nodding. He breathes deep, bringing his own hands out of his lap and resting them, folded, on the table in front of him. He’s sitting straight in his chair, posture impeccable and John knows that doesn’t feel good on a back that old but there’s no discomfort in the old man’s eyes, just that tiredness again and John can’t wait to hear this. It’s going to be fascinating.
“I am not the man you think I am.” He starts slowly, the seriousness in his dark eyes keeping John from interrupting immediately. “I never was. You believe Hans Gruber died all those years ago at Nakatomi? Well you’re right. He did.”
John’s full of smart assed comments he could make about that cryptic bullshit but he keeps his mouth shut. He casts a sideways glance at Lucy who hasn’t moved much in the long line for drinks at the same time Gruber does. Once again he gets that unnerving feeling that they’re on far too similar a wavelength because the man lets out a sigh of frustration before leaning in closer and beginning to speak more quickly.
“Hans Gruber was both more and less than what you thought him to be. Ultimately he was a role to play; a skin to borrow. As a character he was to die two deaths. The first was to be unwitnessed and unrecorded when he was still a small scale criminal nobody with information on items more powerful than he fully understood. The second was to come when his plane crashed over the pacific, his body never to be recovered, most of his ill-gotten goods returned sodden but largely undamaged to their rightful owners. Only one of those deaths played out as it was supposed to, I will let you guess which one.
“There was far more going on that night than you will ever understand, detective McClane, and I don’t have time to parse out every single detail with you before your daughter returns and we must cut this conversation short but believe me well when I say that despite all your meddling, and the truly ludicrous levels to which you managed to interfere with my plans, Hans Gruber served out his usefulness that night and has never, and will never, be heard from again.”
John’s brow is furrowed so tight it feels like it might stick there. He takes a moment to swallow and just breathe, arguing with himself as to whether or not he should believe what this man is telling him.
It sounds like a crock of shit, but there’s something sincere and hard edged in the way this old man is speaking and John for a brief and remarkable moment wishes he was back on the plane ride here, waking up from a shitty night of sleep and shaking off the remnants of what he could only call a nightmare.
It’s not the first time he wished he’d wake up from his life, but hey, at least there aren’t bullets this time around.
He grunts and shifts back in his chair. His hands drag along the table as he moves until they come to rest at the edge, fingertips just barely curled over the wooden veneer.
He wishes he could just shoot the guy and call it a day. Life is never that simple.
“Who are you then?” He goads instead, head slightly cocked and his expression loaded with incredulity. “Because if you’re telling me you were just play acting at being a terrorist then, buddy, they ought to give you an Oscar for that performance. Really had me thinking for a moment that you actually wanted to blow up my wife.”
The man sighs. “You were in the wrong place at the wrong time, McClane. You and your wife both were.”
John can’t help it as he chokes out a laugh even though it’s not funny. “You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve heard that.”
The old man raises one shoulder in something like a shrug. “I might have a better idea than most.”
In Prince’s opinion, Nakatomi had not been really evil. He hadn’t been clever enough or daring enough or passionate enough to be a great Dark Wizard. In fact, in comparison to the people he had been working with—people like Augustus Rookwood and Fenrir Greyback—Nakatomi had been a very minor player. Rather, Nakatomi had been another one of the Borgins and Burkes of the world: very enterprising, very cocky, and just secretive enough to attract attention. A dangerous combination.
“And why in Merlin’s name should I go to America, Albus?”
“A few days ago, a met a friend for a drink in the Hog’s Head. Have you been there recently, Severus?”
“I would not recommend it. The Shirley Temples are as dreadful as they ever were.”
Dumbledore sighed gently before continuing. “You see, my friend had just returned from skiing in the Balkans, which I understand are lovely this time of year. On his way back, he just happened to meet a Japanese-American man on his way to Albania on business. They had a few drinks and my friend recounted to me that this man was quite enthusiastic about what he expected would be a... very profitable business venture.” Dumbledore had brought the tips of his fingers together and gazed over the tops of his half-moon spectacles at the man on the other side of his desk.
There was a beat of bewildered silence before he had recalled the subject of some of their most recent conversations. His eyes narrowed.
“You think that the locket…?”
Albus shook his head with a wan smile. “I think the diadem is more likely.”
Severus’ frown deepened as he contemplated the possibilities. “Albus, supposing the diadem really is in Albania, what makes you think that Nakatomi is capable of finding it? He’s nothing more than a thick-headed, second-rate businessman. Knowing the Dark Lord, I would imagine finding the diadem will take more… finesse.”
Albus leaned back in his chair with a sigh. “You underestimate him, Severus. Mr. Nakatomi is a very successful businessman and a distinguished art collector. What’s more he made some rather unsavory, but well-placed and, if I may say so, clever connections during his brief employment at Borgin and Burke’s.”
“You believe Nakatomi already has the diadem.”
“That’s just it. I do not know.” Dumbledore got up and began to pace the length of his office. “He may have it. He may not. But if he does have it, someone else will get wind of this rumor soon. I would much prefer, Severus, that the diadem not fall into the wrong hands.” Dumbledore’s eyes had darkened at the prospect.
“What do you expect me to do?”
At this Dumbledore’s soft smile had returned. “Nakatomi has just returned from Albania. In a few days, a cargo ship full of illegally exported curiosities from central Europe will somehow manage to get past the Muggle customs officials in California and will move on to a well-protected vault in Nakatomi Towers, the headquarters of Mr. Nakatomi’s very successful Muggle business.” Dumbledore had sighed. “Mr. Nakatomi is nothing if not business savvy. Someone must infiltrate the building and discern whether or not the diadem—or any other artifact that ought to be protected from Voldemort’s followers—is there. If it is, that person must remove it and destroy it.”
“And how exactly do you propose I do that?”
“Well, Hans? Or Evan. Or whatever the fuck your name is supposed to be,” McClane trails off darkly, shaking Prince from his recollections. He glances towards the counter. One woman with two fussy children is all that stands between Lucy McClane and the girl behind the counter. He needs to make this quick.
“I beg your pardon, Mr. McClane.”
“You were telling me how you aren’t actually a terrorist, but just a regular old guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” John McClane’s voice drips with sarcasm. “Your wrong place almost orphaned my two kids,” he hisses venomously.
“As I was saying, that was never my intention. Any danger to you was purely accidental, but if you truly want to assign blame, it was much more your fault than mine,” Prince says smoothly.
“My f-- You’re the one who--” McClane is spluttering and Prince wonders briefly if people still have fits of apoplexy in this modern day and age.
“Listen, McClane.” He leans forward and speaks urgently. “You called me a terrorist, but in truth, I have more in common with you than with a terrorist.”
“No. Shut your mouth. I’m not buying any of this black-ops bullshit.” John snarled. “People do god awful things every day for the greater good, but I fail to see how your greed was supposed to do the world a favor.”
“I can only tell you so many times McClane. I was playing a role, nothing more. Much of my adult life has hinged on my ability to assume false identities and I can assure you that I have become very good at it.”
“So who are you now then? Just some sad, sorry old man living on borrowed time?”
“Aren’t we all?” Prince responded dryly.
John frowned. There was a dark humor to Prince’s tone that didn’t sit well with him. None of this sat well with him. He’d had actual nightmares; real, vivid, technicolour ones where Hans was back and wreaking havoc once again. The man was always greedy, cocky, smooth talking, and tense.
That wasn’t the man who sat in front of him in the cafe.
“Where’s your proof?” He barked at length. “Do you have a badge? Some kind of identification?”
The old man quirked his lips and relaxed marginally into his seat. “None that you would recognize.”
John grit his teeth and resisted the urge to drop his head into his hands. “What are you not telling me?” he muttered. Prince gave him no answer and to be honest, John wasn’t expecting one.
In the ensuing silence they managed to lock themselves into some sort of staring contest and John geared up for a real stink eye when a cardboard cup filled with presumably coffee came sailing into his line of sight and was thunked onto the table in front of him.
“Coffee?” It was a question asked in such a way that there was no right answer and John broke the deadlock between him and Prince to turn towards his daughter. He bit back on his smart-ass replies and gave her a tight smile.
“Thank you, Lucy.” He murmured in the most even tone he could manage.
“So-” she began, sliding herself into the last chair at the table, facing the window and keeping both men easily in her line of sight. “Have we sorted things out?”
John opens his mouth to reply but Prince beats him to it. “We have, Miss McClane, thank you for your concern.”
“No-” John starts to protest but Lucy has the gall to actually reach over and pinch him.
“I’m glad that’s all settled then. Let’s drink our tea-”
“Coffee.” McClane grunts.
“-like civilized people and we can all go on our merry way.”
“But Lucy-” John’s gotta stop letting her do this but she levels a look at him and he knows that if he pushes this it’s gonna ruin the whole trip.
And he’d like one decent Christmas with his child this decade, is that too much to ask?
His gaze pans to Hans. Or Prince. Whatever, and searches him for some clue, some hint to all the things he knows this man is keeping hidden.
John’s worked with FBI. He’s worked with CIA. Hell, he’s worked with people in his own damn department who have cases stamped with big red letters that spell T-O-P S-E-C-R-E-T and he knows better than to shove his nose where it doesn’t belong.
But this is Suspicious with a capital S. He should pursue it.
But another look at Lucy and he can’t. He’s in London. It’s Christmas. He’s nearly 60 now and he just wants to relax.
He turns back to Prince again and exhales sharply through his nose. “Right. So this is how we’re gonna do this.”
“Dad-” Lucy warns but John holds his hand up and for once she obeys his call for silence.
He holds Prince’s gaze, even as the man picks up his tea and takes a long drink before setting the cup down again. “I don’t know what you’re not telling me, and I don’t like it. But I’m outnumbered, I have no backup, and you seem like a pretty sorry shade of what you once were.”
The old man’s lips twitch in a wry smile and John grins back darkly in reply. “I will drop this for the moment, but I swear to you, on all that is Holy, Hans, if you ever, ever pull any kind of shit, ever, ever again, I will personally track you down and find another building to throw you out of. Forty-four stories, at least.”
Lucy opens her mouth but it’s her turn to be cut off as Prince nods sharply and holds out his hand.
“Fair.” He agrees.
For a moment John only eyes the outstretched hand begrudgingly, then with a grunt he reaches out and clasps it aggressively in his own.
Prince takes a sip of what is truly dreadful tea. He feels gloomy and very out of place in this happy, bustling English teashop at Christmas. Prince sighs. He has lived his whole life, it seems, on a tense, awkward, gloomy island, always surrounded by happier people with easier lives. Even McClane—battered and scarred—seems happier than he feels. McClane, after all, has his daughter, has someone to spend the holiday with. His daughter has clearly forgiven him; now, after a few terse responses to some nervous questions (imagine John McClane being afraid of a girl perhaps a third his size!), they are leaning towards each other, tete-a-tete, and Lucy is in the middle of an involved story of something that happened earlier this term at uni. They are mostly ignoring him now. How different it all could have been; it could have been him on the other side of the table with a daughter with laughing green eyes…
Prince shakes himself. What maudlin thoughts. And it has been a long time since he cared about Christmas.
He sets his tea down.
“I really should be going. I’ve intruded on your holiday long enough, I think.” He stands up. He feels tired.
“Are you sure? You’ve barely touched your tea.” Lucy reaches out as though she is going to tug him back into his seat. Prince swiftly pushes his chair in, effectively blocking her reach.
“Quite sure. I have some business I need to take care of before this evening. Thank you for the tea, Miss McClane.”
“Of course. Merry- er, Happy Christmas!” Lucy elbows her father. Presumably, she expects him to shake hands again, but McClane and Prince meet each other’s gaze and Prince knows that is never going to happen again. Once was apparently sufficient.
Instead, the two men nod curtly at each other. Prince turns on his heel and leaves the shop.
Outside, in the crisp winter air, he breathes deeply. So much worse. It could have been so much worse. He thrusts the thought from his mind, squares his shoulders and walks down the street.
He takes a left at the corner and runs straight into two boys who have clearly been racing each other down the block—their black hair is messy, flopping all over the place. Their parents are nowhere nearby. Prince scowls.
“Sorry sir,” says the smaller one. Prince draws his cloak around him and stalks past. Up ahead there is a man, a woman, and a young girl. Even from this distance, he can see that the man has the same unruly black hair as the two boys and he momentarily entertains the idea of stopping to tell this couple to keep their offspring under control.
“Al, James! Wait there, boys!” At the familiar sound of the man’s voice, Prince’s heart stops. He looks desperately around for an escape, a place to hide….
Never. He is never leaving home again.
When Hans leaves John worries for a long moment that Lucy is going to lay into him about what just happened. He doesn’t have the energy for that fight right now. Still, he turns to her tiredly, waiting for the tirade, but she surprises him.
She takes a long drink from her tea and then just slouches back in her chair with a sigh.
“So how are we going to get your bag back from that train?” She asks, matter-of-factly, and John could laugh if it wasn’t such a good question.
“Damned if I know.” He grunts and tosses back the rest of his coffee quickly before pushing himself to his feet. Lucy follows suit and grabs Hans’ half-full cup to throw away with their own as they make their way out the door.
John pulls his cellphone out of his pocket and squints at the display in the pale winter sunlight. Matt put some sort of long distance app on the thing and he tries to punch in the correct code of numbers which will tell it to call Matt, but he can’t remember what comes first and in what order and at his side Lucy tsks before pulling the phone from his fingers.
“I got it old man, Matt and I will have this sorted in no time.”
For a second John feels the childish urge to stick his tongue out at her, but instead he just sighs and lets her help him. Silently they agree to make tracks back towards the train station, assuming someone there will now best how to help them organize the return of his luggage.
As they cross the street his ears pick up excited chatter from the next corner down. Even over the general hustle and noise of London he can clearly make out that something of note is going down. As Lucy establishes a connection to Matt and starts explaining the situation, John glances curiously over her head to the source of the noise.
It’s too far away to make out the details, but a familiar old man in a wool coat seems to be getting smothered in a hug by another, shorter man with messy black hair. Surrounding them are what John can only assume are the younger man’s family.
John’s curiosity is almost piqued enough to convince him to cross the street, but for the second time that day Hans glances wildly around and their eyes lock.
John can’t help it. The look of dejection on his adversary’s face is too perfect. He laughs.
“What?” Lucy grunts next to him, tilting her mouth away from the phone so she can ask. John just shakes his head.
“Nothing, Luce. I’m just, happy that I’m going to have a terrorist-free Christmas.”
She gives him a narrowed look before she shakes her head and goes back to the conversation. “What was that again? John’s just being crazy.” She tells the hacker on the other end. John smiles to himself and, silently, he agrees.