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Situation Normal (All Fucked Up)

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I

"You ready?"

Matt looks up from where he is stuffing the last of his dirty – no, make that filthy – clothes into the backpack that John had loaned him. The thing can only be described as hideous, some oddly proportioned camo-green and brown thing from the '70's with an endless multitude of miniscule pockets, pouches and compartments. It would have been great for shit like his ipad and laptop and cell phone and all the other really important, essential stuff that he wasn't actually allowed to bring on the damn trip.

He shakes the hair out of his eyes as he wrestles with the straps, huffs out a breath. "McClane," he says, "I was ready to leave like five days ago."

John snorts. "You're the one who said you wanted to be part of the team," he points out.

"Yeah, but—"

"Wanted to make a difference, you said. Put your skills to work on the right side of the law for a change."

Matt's pretty sure he never said anything about the law, right or wrong – his somewhat dubious past is still a bit of a sore point where he and McClane are concerned – but he's not going to debate that point now. "Yes, fine, but—"

"Now I know I'm gettin' old, kid, and my memory ain't what it used to be, but I seem to recall that you actually went to the captain with that little plan. Not the other way around."

Matt gives up on fighting with the straps and gives John his full attention. "Okay, yes, McClane, you got me. I totally wanted to be part of the team. I asked to be part of the team. Which I thought would mean sitting in a nice cushy office at 1PP analyzing emails for coded messages or tracking website owners through numbered accounts or, I don't know, shutting down meth labs. I did not think it would mean traipsing through the woods for a goddamn week like some kind of modern day Grizzly Adams!"

"Cushy," John says drily. He sets his own bag – a nice streamlined utilitarian black thing that looks brand new – next to the door of the cabin and slides a look toward Lambert. "You think our office is cushy, Joe?"

"I'm not sure I'd go with cushy. I might say cosy," Joe says. "My chair only has three holes. And you know, if I lean back and squint at the ceiling just right, one of the water stains looks exactly like Paris Hilton."

"They just upgraded my system to Windows 2000," Connie puts in. "Next year I'm hoping to get a printer."

"Yeah, hah. Funny. Not only do I get to go on a 'wilderness retreat', I get to go on a wilderness retreat with The Three Stooges."

"You're Moe," John says to Lambert.

Matt throws up his hands, goes back to struggling with the straps of his pack and tries to ignore the rest of the conversation (even though Connie's right, she does always get stuck being Larry.)

"Goddamn wilderness retreat," he mutters under his breath. He's pretty sure the asshole who came up with that term, along with others like "team building exercises" and "soul awakenings", should be fed to wild dogs. His back is still sore from when he tripped over that downed log three days ago, he's pretty sure the rash on his arm is poison ivy even though John says it's not, and he would happily sell his own mother to terrorists for just a sip of red bull. Just a taste. That's all he needs. Whose stupid idea was it that they had to subsist on water and coffee that tastes like it was scraped from the side of a nuclear silo?

He swipes a hand through his hair, pauses to take a breather. Outside the cabin he can hear Cranston loading up his car, and beyond that nothing but a quartet of songbirds calling out in the trees. No car horns, no rattle of the air conditioner, no chatter in a dozen different languages, no music except the birds.

He misses the constant cacophony of the city. But he supposes this is nice, too. Peaceful, even.

And the members of the anti-terrorist task force seem to have accepted him as one of the gang. It's sort of… good, in a strange and totally unnatural kind of way. Years of being the scrawny, uncoordinated kid who was always picked last to the team in gym class tend to make a person think that he'll never actually be truly wanted for anything. And then he discovered computers, and programming isn't exactly a group event. Matt avoids people, he knows that he avoids people, and he's always been perfectly happy avoiding people. So. Yeah. Finding out that this group thinks he might actually fit in is… weird. Finding out that he actually wants to fit in is even weirder.

And then there's the John McClane factor.

Because spending an entire week with McClane? Yeah, that didn't exactly suck. Even if part of it did involve holding a 'truth stick' and talking about that time the Warlock spread the rumour that he was a hermaphrodite on six different gaming forums. And, Matt considers as he bends back to work and finally fastens the last recalcitrant buckle, even that truth session turned out to be a pretty good thing, when on the walk back to the cabin McClane had clapped him on the shoulder and then let his hand linger there, squeezing his neck and making small talk and ignoring the hint of colour that still bloomed in Matt's cheeks. Matt would swear that the heat from McClane's palm lingered on his skin for an hour afterward. And when he finally fell asleep under the scratchy blanket, listening to the chirp of the crickets outside and John's slow even breathing from the other cot, he got his first good sleep of the week.

So okay, fine, if he was forced to admit it – if, for example, he was kidnapped by a muscle-bound Russian mercenary and threatened with the removal of his eyeballs with barbeque tongs – he might say that the last week hasn't been all bad.

He's never gonna let John know that, though.

He's tugged the backpack onto his cot and is doing a last visual check of the room to make sure he hasn't left anything behind when he realizes that John is talking to him. He looks up to see that at some point Connie and Joe have left, and now it's just him and John. John had spent the last week getting scruffier by the day, but sometime this morning he'd taken the time to get cleaned up. Now, with John leaning against the door jamb with his arms folded over that impressive chest and that goddamn tattoo poking out from the sleeve of his tight white t-shirt, Matt is once again reminded why his knees sometimes get a little weak when he's left alone with John McClane. And this time it's not like when they get together in the city. There isn't a pizza to eat or a game to watch or a beer to drink. And it's not like the whole rest of this week, when there was another member of the task force to distract him or some loopy crazy hippy throwback from the '60's telling them to 'get in touch with their feelings'.

This time, there's just him and John. Alone. And a loooong drive back to New York.

John cocks one brow expectantly, and Matt remembers that he's actually supposed to talk now.

"Huh?" he says. Because he's totally awesome like that.

John shakes his head and smirks. "I said," he says, "you're just pissed because we took you away from your girlfriend for a week."

And then there's that. That… weird obsessive belief of John's – that Matt has a secret girlfriend hidden away in a bunker somewhere in the wilds of Jersey. It's strange. Lucy says it's because her dad can't imagine someone being happy and content unless he's paired up, and that this just proves that John is still stuck in a 50's mentality where women should be barefoot and pregnant, and then that usually deteriorates into a rant about the divorce and ends with her icily referring to her father as 'John' and Matt knowing that the next time John calls her she's going to be a bitch to him for no apparent reason and feeling super guilty about that. So yeah. Lucy has issues where John is concerned, and Matt's never entirely sure he can trust anything the woman says.

Now, he just sighs. "I told you, dude. Like eight billion times. I don't have a girlfriend."

"Boyfriend, then."

Matt looks up quickly, because that's totally not something one with a 50's mentality would say, but John is already pushing away from the doorjamb, leaning down to pick up his bag, and Matt can't see his eyes.

"Dude. Really?"

"Dude," John mocks. "I might be a dinosaur, but I do realize it's the 21st century. Men do have boyfriends these days."

"Men have always had boyfriends," Matt points out. "Jesus, McClane, every culture has a history of men loving men. In Greek mythology, there's a ton of stories about the gods who fell in love with men. But the truth has always been supressed by an intrinsically homophobic society that seeks to perpetuate the lie of hetero-normative—"

"Jeeeeesus," John interrupts. "Are you still talking?"

"I'm just saying that—"

"Boyfriend or girlfriend, kid? If you had to choose."

"What?" Matt's sure he hit puberty, he really is, but the squeak that comes out of his throat reminds him uncomfortably of that year that he spent hiding under the covers jerking off to photos of David Boreanaz.

"Boyfriend. Or. Girlfriend," John says slowly. "It's a pretty simple question."

"I… What? That's so completely— I don't even know what you…. What?"

And that look on John's face? Is totally the look that was on his mom's face when she caught him with those magazines. And seriously, they were talking about the task force, like, five seconds ago. Matt has no idea how they got from "wilderness retreats suck monkey ass" to "coming out" in a millisecond, and while he's never been the type to march at the front of the parade he's still perfectly proud of who he is and he's never kept it a secret, it's just—

"Fine," he huffs out. "I wouldn't be averse to a boyfriend. Happy?"

"Colour me surprised," John murmurs. He shoves his pack over one shoulder, turns toward the door. "By the way, kid," he says on his way out, "Grizzly Adams wouldn't work for you. You could never pull off the beard."

* * *

John's spent a lot of years on the force, and he's been around the merry-go-round a few times. He knows that when shit is going down and split second decisions have to be made, sometimes he's not the most subtle guy in the world. He also knows that his methods usually gets results. For the most part, his superior officers have had his back. These days, Scalvino usually sighs, rubs his forehead, and reaches for the Tums. Cobb was a little less forgiving.

John's used to thinking on his feet and going with the flow, and worrying about the fallout later.

But he has no idea what the hell just happened.

He thinks he might have just browbeat the kid into a confession. Jesus, he might as well have shone a bright light into Matt's eyes while he was at it.

John waits until the cabin door has shut behind him before he lets his shoulders slump. He didn't want it to play out that way.

There's a honk from Connie's little shitbox of a car, and he lifts a hand to Joe and Connie as they leave, first to drop off Joe and then toward Connie's parents place in Trenton for the remainder of the weekend. Cranston's already piled the rest of the team in his 4x4 and hit the road in a cloud of dust; and they saw the back of Carmichael, the rabbity little psychologist who led the retreat, over an hour ago.

Now it's just him and the kid.

Shit.

John scrubs a hand over his face, takes a deep breath. The best way to handle this, he decides, is just not to handle it at all. Simply pretend the conversation didn't happen, or that it happened in a completely different way. Sure, now he knows that Matt likes guys, but he always knew that Matt likes guys – the doe-eyed looks he occasionally shot John's way when he thought he wasn't looking were pretty fucking obvious. Granted, he thought they'd die out once the whole 'you saved my life a dozen times' high wore off, but a year later he still sometimes catches Matt throwing him those looks. And he's been dealing with it.

And it's not like the confirmation of what he already knew is going to change anything. Because he doesn't like guys. He was married for fourteen years, for fucks sake, and Holly is all woman.

And sure, he enjoys spending time with Matt – loves seeing the kid get all riled up about the latest computer doohickey that comes out on the market; loves mentioning someone like Bill O'Reilly and watching Matt splutter and flail in indignation. He likes seeing Matt's quick brain in action even more than watching that mouth that never shuts up. He likes that he can sit quietly with him, too – that just because Matt has twenty thousand things going through his head at once, he doesn't always feel the need to share every single one.

But that's just… friendship. They went through a fuckload of shit on that fourth of July weekend, and they bonded. Against all odds, the bond stuck.

It doesn't mean anything.

So on the drive home, he'll just act like nothing happened. Tease the kid about his hair, make sure to play Fogerty extra loud on the old stereo in the car. Business as usual. On Monday he'll see Matt in the office and show him the ropes. And every few weeks they'll get together for pizza and a beer and they'll chat like they always chat and everything will be fine.

The cabin door squeaks open and John gives Matt a nod when he emerges out onto the sunlit porch.

Once they get back to the city, everything will be normal again.