It was Deputy Director Bowman who approached John about taking in Matt, three days into their stay at the hospital. The sense of urgency lacing his words left John feeling more than a little annoyed; he could tell there was a lot he wasn’t being told, and he felt that at the very least Bowman could be upfront with his motives. It only took one glance through the window to where Matt was lying on the bed, looking a little worried and a lot lost, to make up his mind.
“He’ll be under house arrest either way, but at least if he’s with you...”
Bowman joined John at the window, his knuckles going white as he gripped the ledge. John wondered what he wasn’t saying, but knew there was little point in asking. If the Feds were good at anything, it was withholding pertinent information. John opened his mouth to say as much, but Matt chose that moment to look up, a shy smile curving up one corner of his mouth when he spotted them. He gave a little wave and John nodded back at him.
“If not with me?” he asked as they made their way back to his room. Bowman remained silent as he watched John ease himself back down on the bed. John winced a little when he jarred his shoulder, something Bowman politely overlooked as he took a seat.
“He’d still be under house arrest, but in a much worse situation. I can’t say anything more than that. Look, I wouldn’t even ask if it was anyone other than you, but the kid likes you. Trusts you, even. And yeah, he chose to freelance for the wrong people, but he’s not a bad kid. He’s always kept his head down, only got into a little trouble.”
“Then why is his file classified?”
“For reasons I am not at liberty to divulge. How is Lucy? Is she holding up all right?”
John stared at him for a long moment, but Bowman refused to meet his eyes. After two minutes of silence, he finally caved. “She’s okay. Holly flew out to spend some time with her. And to remind me of just what a shitty father I am.”
“I thought you two were getting along again.”
“We are, when I’m not almost getting our daughter killed. She’s coming by later to give me an earful and then read the nurses here the riot act on what will happen if they succumb to the McClane charm.”
“Ha.” Another agent appeared at the door and Bowman nodded to him before returning his attention to John. “I’ll let the front desk know that Mr. Farrell is to be discharged into your care. And McClane? Try to keep an open mind where the kid is concerned. Yes, he was considered a black-hat hacker, but that was more because of what he was capable of doing rather than anything he had actually done.”
“And suddenly you’re the kid’s champion? What the hell changed your mind?”
Bowman sighed. “Let’s just say I had things put into perspective. Listen, I’ve got to get back to headquarters. If you run into any trouble, call me.”
He left before John could form a reply, the door shutting with a soft click. John sank back into the pillows with a groan, already regretting his moment of goodwill. His head hurt, his shoulder fucking ached from being shot—twice—and all he really wanted to do was go home and sleep for a fucking week. Instead, he was forced to remain at the hospital for another two days for “observation.”
His internal rant was interrupted by the appearance of a fresh-faced nurse with ginger hair and squeaky shoes. At least, John told himself, she wasn’t chewing gum.
“Hey, Mr.—I mean Detective McClane. My name’s Janet. I’m just here to check your vitals and see if you need anything.”
“I’m fine. I was fine twenty minutes ago. And guess what? I’ll be fine twenty minutes from now. Jesus, what is it with you people?”
She laughed, and he glared at her, trying to communicate the seriousness of his words. “Your friend down the hall was asking about you,” she said after she’d calmed down a bit.
“Who...? Oh, the kid? What’s he need?”
“Just someone to talk to, I suspect.” She cast a cautious glance over her shoulder, then leaned in close. John took a moment to notice she wasn’t wearing any of the cloying perfume some of the other nurses had taken to wearing around him, then focused on her words. “No one’s been by to see him since you two were admitted, and he doesn’t have anyone listed as next-of-kin.”
It was news to John. He had assumed the kid had family somewhere out there, parents or siblings or something. It gave him pause, which was apparently just the opening the nurse was looking for.
“Anyway, beginning tomorrow, they’re going to have him start moving around. With crutches,” she added when she noticed John’s skeptical look. “The bullet missed his kneecap by about two inches, so the damage was pretty minimal. He should be fine in a few days.”
John raised his eyebrows at that. “Days?”
The nurse looked almost scared for a minute, and she clarified hastily. “I just mean, he’ll be mobile. Obviously he’s got a few weeks of recovery before he’s completely better. I mean, if it had shattered his kneecap, he’d require reconstructive surgery and he’d probably never have—you know what? Ignore me.” She laughed awkwardly as she checked over John’s chart, and after a few more seconds, she seemed to regain her composure. Just before she left, she touched the back of his hand. “If it’s okay, he asked if maybe someone could wheel him down to your room later...?”
“Nah, I’ll go to him. Keep him off that leg for now. When’s dinner?”
“Not until five o’clock. You’ve got a few hours if you want to take a nap.”
“I’m not tired,” John snapped, and it was true. All he had done for the first day, after making sure that Lucy really was okay, was sleep. Now he was restless. “What about the kid? Is he awake still?”
“Yep. Want me to walk you down there?”
John turned his glare on her, but she just arched an eyebrow. “Is that a no?”
“That’s a no. We done here?”
“Yep. I’ve got to go see if Matt’s ready for another dose of morphine and then you’re both good to go for a while. My shift ends at seven-thirty, so how about this: if I come to check on you and you’re not here, I’ll assume you’re in Matt’s room and let the next shift know.”
“Sounds good to me.” John waited until she was gone before heaving himself up, groaning at the pull in his shoulder. There wasn’t a single part of him that didn’t hurt, but his shoulder was the worst. “Definitely too old for this shit, McClane,” John grumbled. He swung his legs over the side of bed and stood, wincing a little. He reached up to adjust the straps pinning his arm to his chest, then rolled his good shoulder.
It wasn’t, he reflected, nearly as bad as that first time, when he had had to walk across broken glass barefoot because he had left his goddamn shoes in Holly’s office. Once the adrenaline had worn off, John had nearly thrown up at the pain radiating through his feet. He had required a whole two months just for his feet to heal enough for him to shuffle around the house in thickly padded house slippers, and an additional three weeks before he could return to his job for desk duty. Just thinking about it gave him phantom pains, and he grimaced as he hunted down his boots.
The trek down the hall was slow, though not overly painful. John peered through windows, sliding his gaze away from those who looked back inquiringly, pausing every now and then when someone would pass by. He reached Matt’s room just as Janet was leaving.
“Looks like you have company,” she called out, winking at John before slipping past him.
Matt glanced up, and John wondered who the kid was expecting, wearing such a grim expression. The moment Matt saw him though, the expression melted away and a smile appeared, this one just as tentative as the one he had given John in the ambulance.
“Hey, what’s up? Everything okay?”
“Everything’s fine, kid. How ‘bout you? Hangin’ in there?”
Matt laughed hollowly. “Oh, yeah, sure. I’m great. Just peachy. Nothing like inadvertently assisting in Armageddon to really make a guy feel like he’s on top of the world.”
“Look, you didn’t know what your...thing, your whatever it is you called it.”
“My mutating algorithm.”
“Yeah, that. You didn’t know the bad guys were gonna use it to destroy the country. I’m not blaming you, kid.”
“Maybe you aren’t, but there are plenty of other people who are.” He swallowed, and as impossible as it seemed, in that moment he managed to look even younger than before.
“Bowman came to see me. Said they were putting you under house arrest.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I—” Matt stared down at his hands looking lost and horribly alone. He reminded John of the puppy he had found when he was kid. The one his mother had refused to let into the house right up until the puppy had looked at her much the same way as Matt. Then she had caved like a sand castle under a wave. John knew he was just as doomed.
“I told him you could stay with me. That I’d keep you out of trouble.”
“Wait, really?” Matt’s face lit up and John wondered just when he’d become the kind of sap who noticed things like that. Probably around the same time he pulled himself out of the whiskey bottle and started trying to be more of a father and less of an asshole. Not that that had done him much good.
“Yes, really. Did he say anything to you?”
“Just that I’m on probation for the next six months. I can’t own a personal computer, cell phone, VCR, television, radio...basically anything having to do with technology. Not until after I’ve been evaluated at the end of my probationary period. Oh, and that the literal house arrest is only for thirty days, anklet and everything.” He winced, like he couldn’t imagine anything worse. John could, and he considered the kid lucky to get off that lightly, especially where the feds were concerned.
“Given everything that just went down? I’m not all that surprised. A break from all that shit’ll do you good, though, right? You can go outside, get some color in your skin. I got a huge backyard. Maybe when they take the anklet off, you can go meet some people and do the face-to-face thing?” When Matt just continued to stare at him blankly, John rolled his eyes. “Kid, you’re young.”
“Not as young as you think,” Matt muttered.
John laughed. “Oh ho! You’re what, twenty? Twenty-two tops? Sure you ain’t a teenager, but—”
Matt shook his head. “I’m twenty-nine. I know, I know. I don’t look it. Curse of the baby face.” He made a face that was at least seventy percent eyebrow contortions. “So I can stay with you? I heard they’re discharging you the day after tomorrow because you won’t stop flirting with the nurses. I get released the day after that. I think they don’t believe I can figure out how to work crutches on my own.”
He got a grin in answer. “Probably not. You may not have noticed, but I’m kind of a spazz when it comes to things that aren’t computers.”
“I don’t know. You saved my daughter’s life. And mine. You can’t be all that useless.”
Matt let out a startled laugh, like he hadn’t thought of that. It occurred to John that he probably hadn’t. “Yeah, I guess I did. Sure.” He still looked uncertain, but John left it alone for the time being.
“I’ve got a spare room at my house, and you—”
“House? Really?” Matt’s skeptical tone was almost insulting. “I kinda figured you’d live in an apartment. You don’t seem like the house type to me. Although, that makes sense, given the whole mortgage payments thing that Gabriel mentioned.”
The kid was like a goddamn sponge.
“I’m not. My ma passed away four years ago, my father two years before that, and I inherited the house—and its mortgage payments—from her. Three bedrooms, big back yard. It needs some work, but it’s a roof over my head and it’s rent-free.” He paused, waiting for Matt to meet his gaze once more. “So the question stands: is that where you want to spend your probation?”
“Yeah. Yes. Thank you?”
“No problem. Now get some rest, kid. You look worse than Droopy Dog.”
For half a second, Matt looked almost uneasy. Then the moment passed and he laughed. “You’re not a walk in the park yourself, McClane. Jeez.”
John let himself out of the room with a final shake of his head, and as he made the suddenly long trek back to his room, he made a mental note to have Bowman send some men to salvage what they could from Matt’s apartment.
. . .
It was strange living with someone else after living alone for almost ten years.
That was the first thing Matt noticed after he moved into McClane’s house. Before everything had gone to shit, Matt’s days had consisted of pizza, energy drinks, coding, jerking off in the shower and the infrequent trek down to the nearest video or comic store. On rare occasions, he would visit the library and lose himself in the monotony of a world outside cyberspace. But extended trips out meant exposing himself to Handlers, something he would rather avoid even on the best of days. Handlers asked questions, nosed into his business, and left Matt feeling like a bottom-feeder.
Living with McClane was an adventure, though. And more than a little entertaining. During the first two days, while Matt was restricted to distracting himself with movies—McClane had suggested that Matt simply not tell anyone who was operating the DVD player—, it was fun to listen in on the one-sided conversations that seemed to accompany the man wherever he was. In just the first forty-eight hours of sharing space with McClane, Matt had come to discover a handful of things: McClane was unashamedly terrible with technology; no matter how real the plants looked they were all fake; and mentioning Lucy’s name in the same sentence as words like ‘hot,’ or even ‘attractive,’ was on par with starting World War III.
But after two days of fighting his body’s natural instincts, Matt realized that sooner than he would have liked, he needed to sleep. In the hospital it had been easy. He would click the button to max out his morphine dosage, and then let the meds carrying him off into a dreamless sleep. Here, though, he had only Codeine to ease his pain, and while it did what it was supposed to pain-wise, it wasn’t strong enough to beat his metabolism completely. That meant the moment Matt closed his eyes, he was assaulted with visions of the fire sale events.
McClane in the S.U.V., so close to dying Matt’s heart had nearly stopped.
Gabriel’s agent falling to his death in the elevator shaft after Matt struck him with the bar.
The genuine fear on Lucy’s face when Gabriel had shoved his gun into her cheek.
McClane’s gun in Matt’s hand firing and firing and firing, seemingly without conscious thought on Matt’s part, and the Italian agent collapsing backwards.
Up until that day, the only deaths Matt had been responsible for had been of digitally created men and women on a computer screen. He had never had to smell someone else’s blood on his skin, had never had to watch a man throw himself out of a speeding car, all because he was trying to save Matt’s life. John McClane, Senior Detective for the N.Y.P.D., and three-time—now four—hero.
Matt had lived in a bubble of ignorance where McClane’s past heroic deeds were concerned until Lucy had shown up at the hospital to help bring Matt to McClane’s home. She had promptly filled his head with stories of heroics during the drive to the house, much to her father’s obvious annoyance. There had been some awe in her tone, but most of it was a sort of distanced resignation, like she wasn’t sure she if she was proud of McClane or disappointed in him, but that there was no denying the kind of man he was.
The house was silent as Matt lay in bed, eyes locked on the ceiling, and an overwhelming sense of dread filling him. He was no stranger to nightmares, sure, but he knew that this would be nothing like the others. He wanted to get up, to find some distraction that would keep him from falling asleep, but his limbs felt heavy and his head congested. Matt let out a deep breath and stopped fighting the inevitable.
It was just as bad as he anticipated, and somehow also worse. Matt knew he was dreaming, but telling himself to wake up had no effect.
Glancing around, he took stock of where he was and moved accordingly, not particularly surprised that his leg caused him no trouble. McClane was somewhere in the building, probably killing Gabriel’s men. Matt just needed to find the computer and alter his encryption code. Then Gabriel would be locked out of database.
He tiptoed down a hallway, then followed echoing steps up to another level. Bingo. His fingers flew as he plugged in and began to work his brand of magic. He knew the moment he was no longer alone, could smell Gabriel’s man long before he entered the room, and hit the final key before the man behind him could tell him to stop.
“I got ‘im,” the man said, and Matt flinched. That part was new.
“Did you hear that, McClane? I have your daughter, and now...now I have your hacker, too. Whatever will you do?” Gabriel stepped out of the shadows, Lucy at his side, walkie-talkie in his hand.
The walkie-talkie cackled and John’s voice came over the line. “Look, my daughter—she ain’t got nothing to do with this. Just let her go, Gabriel. Let her go and you can have the kid. She and I, we’ll walk away. I don’t care about your vendetta. I don’t care about the money. I just want my daughter back.”
When Gabriel smiled, it was slow and cold, his grip on Lucy’s arm loosening. “Sounds like a pretty good deal to me, McClane. I knew you could be reasoned with.”
Gabriel shoved Lucy away and she stumbled past Matt, not even glancing at him. He watched as she disappeared around a corner, and then he was staring down the barrel of a gun.
“Say goodnight, Matthew,” Gabriel whispered, and Matt cried out.
“Kid. Hey, kid. Wake up. Jesus, it’s just a dream, dammit. Wake up.”
Matt woke with a jerk, sitting up fast enough to send a spike of pain down his leg. He was glad for the darkness when he felt his cheeks begin to heat, and he hoped McClane couldn’t see him. The dream was already fading, but his heart was still racing and his palms were clammy. He gripped the sheet and fought to calm his breathing, aware of McClane’s gaze on him the whole time.
A tight, shrill laugh forced its way out of Matt, and he cringed a little at the sound. “Yeah, I—I kind of knew they’d be bad, but I just—I didn’t think they’d be like that.”
“Wanna talk about it?” There was something in his voice, something that implied that maybe McClane already knew, and it was relieving to know that Matt wasn’t the only one.
“Not really, no. I just want to close my eyes and not—see that.” He sighed, reaching up to fist one hand in his hair.
“Don’t worry, I know just the thing.”
McClane slipped out of the room on near-silent feet, but Matt could hear him easily, and he tried to figure out what was going on just by the faint sounds coming from the kitchen. He had his answer a few minutes later when McClane reappeared, a mug in hand. Matt could smell the rich chocolate and the bite of chili powder from across the room, and he took the offering readily.
“None for you?”
“Nah.” McClane dragged the desk chair over and sank down in it, his gaze steady and calm, but unreadable all the same. His expression didn’t change until after Matt had taken his first hesitant sip. He hummed in appreciation and only then did McClane crack a smile. “Lucy was the one who introduced me to the stuff. Promised it would work better than whiskey. Wasn’t wrong, either.” He paused, and Matt could sense the sudden seriousness in the air. “There’s a lady you can talk to, about the nightmares. Not too bad. Not like the department shrinks. Remind me tomorrow and I’ll give you her number.”
“Sure you do, kid.” McClane stood, one large hand coming down to ruffle Matt’s hair. It stayed there a moment longer than necessary, and it was a struggle for Matt not push up into it. He was both relieved and disappointed when McClane finally withdrew it from his head. “I still see her from time to time. Tomorrow you’ll call her and make an appointment.”
“I don’t have a car,” Matt pointed out.
“I’ll drive you.”
“I can’t leave the house.” Matt waved towards the anklet on his right leg.
“I have clearance to take you out as I see fit. I’ll make sure Bowman knows. You won’t get into trouble. Think you’re okay enough to move around?”
“Yep. Doctor said I was healing nicely.”
“Good. Now go to sleep, and no more nightmares.” The order was firm, and Matt found his eyes drifting shut of their accord. The mug in his hand was removed and set aside on the nightstand with a soft thunk. It was easy to drift off after that, and surprisingly, Matt’s sleep was as dreamless as it had been at the hospital.
. . .
The next time Matt woke, it was just after seven o’clock in the morning. He could hear the sounds of McClane puttering about in the kitchen, and second later, the smell of bacon hit his nose. Normally Matt avoided the stuff, if only because meat tended to be too expensive to purchase on a regular basis—it also tended to upset his stomach—but at that moment, nothing could have smelled better. He stumbled out of bed and ran a hand through his hair, no doubt upsetting it further and sending it into disarray. He needed a shower, and definitely some coffee.
After a pit stop in the bathroom to splash some water on his face and brush his teeth, Matt crutch-walked his way into the kitchen, and sat down heavily on a chair. The crutches were a pain in the ass, but Matt was a slow healer, something that was almost unheard of in one of his kind, and most likely a side effect of his improper eating habits. He had it under good authority that he needed more iron in his diet. McClane seemed to think so as well, because the plate of scrambled eggs that was placed in front of Matt had more yolk than whites, as well as some spinach mixed in.
“Doctors wouldn’t give me the whole lowdown, but they said you have a ‘variation of anemia countered by an inability to properly digest red meat,’ whatever the fuck that means.”
“I end up getting sick when I eat it, if it’s not prepared a certain way,” Matt supplied with a shrug. It had caused him not small amount of grief growing up, being the only wolf in residence who had to be put on a special diet. He was also the only werewolf on record to suffer from asthma, so there you had it. He was a complete aberration, or, as one of his former Handlers had liked to say, an abomination.
McClane snorted, like the idea of someone being ‘allergic’ to red meat was absurd. “Whatever, kid. Eat up. I found that lady’s number. Her name is Elizabeth Waters, and you’re meeting with her in two hours.”
“Wait, what? Man, you can’t just do that.”
The look McClane sent him made it clear exactly what he thought of that. “Two birds, one stone. I have to meet with her as soon as I’m physically able after incidents that required me to fire my weapon. It was part of the deal when I rejoined the force after my suspension a few years ago. Now eat.”
Matt wanted to refuse just on principle, but he felt almost compelled, especially when McClane followed the order up with a hand to the back of Matt’s head, pushing him forward, toward his food. It was easier just to obey, so he did, taking a small bite. The food was good, better than he had anticipated, and he marveled at the idea of McClane knowing how to cook. It seemed very at odds with who he was.
“This is amazing. No, like, seriously. I haven’t had anything this good in, like...” He paused, trying to calculate just how long it had been, and the truth was not since he was a child. At McClane’s inquiring look, he shook his head. “Not in a long time. I was more of a take-out person before. Pizza, Chinese, Vietnamese. You know. And the energy drinks. I’m pretty sure I spent my rent each month in food alone, and that’s—”
“Kid. Matt, shut up and eat.”
Matt’s mouth snapped shut and he returned to shoveling food into his mouth, a small part of him worried that if he paused for too long, McClane would snatch the plate back. That had happened a lot during his time at the facility, the Handlers taking away food they thought wasn’t deserved, or fellow wolves stealing from his plate in shows of dominance. He grimaced at the thought and started to eat faster, his fingers shredding his toast before shoving some in.
“Whoa, whoa, kid. Slow the fuck down. Jesus. You eat like a fucking animal. It’s still gonna be there if you stop to take a breath.”
The words struck too close to home and Matt couldn’t keep himself from flinching. He wondered if McClane knew what he was. For the most part, only those in the agency knew. Handlers, the medical team and advisors. Well, and the other wolves, but that was another one of Matt’s failings: not being able to discern wolf from human. Unless someone told him, it usually took Matt a while to figure it out on his own. It was almost like Fight Club, in a way. You never talked about what you were, not with anyone outside your pack, and Matt had no pack. It was possible Bowman had figured it out.
Matt’s parents had both carried the gene, but it had been dormant for so long in their families that they had forgotten it was even a possibility. They had had four completely “normal” children, but when it had become apparent that it was active in Matt, his mother had abandoned him at a fire station four counties over. The agency had found him after he had been moved through five different foster homes, and Matt had spent the next seven years living at the facility where they kept all the wolves who weren’t up to standard. Weaker wolves. Submissive wolves.
Some, like Matt, had exhibited potential in other areas, and they were given decent-paying jobs based on what they could do. Matt had done security coding for banks and other high profile companies without much censor until he “accidentally” hacked a government branch. After that, the metaphorical leash had been tightened, his pay going straight into an account he could only access through his Handler with restrictions on what he could purchase. If he wanted something that wasn’t a necessity, he had to clear the purchase through the Handler first, then submit his receipts as proof.
“You awake in there?”
Matt jerked back when a hand appeared in front of his face, and he realized he had zoned out. “Yeah, sorry. Just tired still, I guess. Hey, so do I have time to grab a shower? Oh, shit. I’ll need clothes. Um, can I make a call?”
“Yeah, sure. Phone’s in the living room and you know where the bathroom is.”
Matt nodded and stood, swaying a little as he got his crutches into position. Then he bent to grab his plate, intending to clean up the mess from breakfast.
“Kid, just go already. I’ll take care of this.” McClane waved him away, and Matt went, stopping off first in the living room. He knew the number by heart, and he made the call, keeping his voice as low as possible when one of the agency’s receptionists came on the line.
“Handler Ericson, please,” he whispered
“I’ll connect you now.” There was a pause, then a click as someone else came onto the line.
“Uh...” He wondered how they knew it was him, then decided not to dwell on it. “I’m going to need to get some clothes today.”
“As of right now, Mr. Farrell, you do not have the funds for such an expenditure.”
“What? No, I do. I should have at least four grand in my savings.” He hissed the words, panic edging its way into his voice.
“You did, until you decided to assist in an act of national terrorism. Unless you return to the facility, all of your assets are forfeit to the agency.”
Matt’s fingers clenched around the arm of the couch, and he bit back a growl. Without bothering to reply, he hung up the phone and shuffle-hopped his way down the hall to the bathroom. Already his day was off to a crappy start. He wouldn’t have been surprised if he had fallen over in the shower, but apparently the higher powers had chosen to take pity on him. He showered quickly, then towel-dried and hobbled back to his room. Only a few of his clothes had survived the explosion, and he had been surprised to find them washed and folded on his bed in McClane’s house upon his arrival. He pulled on a pair of boxers and was just reaching for his jeans when McClane knocked on the door.
“Kid, makes yourself decent. I’m coming in.”
Matt hurriedly tugged on a t-shirt. “Yeah, I’m good.”
McClane wandered in, a small box tucked under his good arm. “Doc said to keep your dressings dry, so take a seat and I’ll fix you up.”
“Oh, you don’t—” He stopped when McClane stared coolly at him, and sank down onto the edge of the bed gingerly.
It was odd, watching McClane strip away the wet bandages with one hand, his thick, blunt fingers moving carefully over Matt’s leg. He cleaned the wound with hydrogen peroxide, then dried the area before layering on fresh bandages. When he was done, he stood, rolling his good shoulder with a groan.
“Thanks,” Matt said after a moment, the word feeling inadequate even before it left his mouth.
“Get dressed so we can go.”
McClane let himself out of the room, the soft pad of his feet leading away toward his bedroom. Matt closed his eyes and listened, the sounds of McClane changing somehow comforting even in their newness. The full moon was still two weeks away, yet Matt could feel the wolf prowling just beneath the surface and he nearly gave in to the temptation to shift. It threw him off, confused him in a way he hadn’t been in years. He wanted to slip into the skin of a creature he could barely stand to think of without feeling sick, just so he could offer up his belly to a man he hardly knew.
“Kid, hurry up!”
At the chastising shout, Matt flew into action, yanking on his jeans and grabbing a second shirt to go over his t-shirt. His wallet and inhaler—the prescription newly filled and supplied by a stern-faced Deputy Director Bowman—were on the bedside table and he shoved them into his pocket before reaching for his crutches.
By the time he made it to the front room, McClane already had the door open, his eyes narrowed with impatience. Matt headed for the car, leaving McClane to lock up, and managed to stuff his crutches into the back and angle himself into the front seat, causing his leg to twinge only a little. He drummed his fingers on his thigh, suddenly feeling restless, and by the time McClane was in the car and had it running, Matt was twitching.
Focus, Matt told himself. Normally, Matt had his coding to distract him from the need to get up and run. Venturing outside had been one of those things Matt did as infrequently as possible, the risk of exposure to others too great. McClane had a decent sized backyard though, so Matt decided maybe he’d spend some time out there. If nothing else, he could offer to lay the bricks for the driveway that were piled up under tarps along the side of the house. That would ease the itch. Then again, he’s need his leg to be healed before he could attempt manual labor, so really, he was back at square one.
“What the hell is going on inside that head of yours, kid?”
“What? Oh, nothing,” Matt replied, then winced. McClane could spot a lie a mile away, so he offered a half-truth. “I just—I don’t want to be a bother, right? But I, uh. I only have, like, two pairs of jeans, including the ones I’m wearing, four t-shirts and three pairs of boxers. At some point I’m going to need to get clothes, but I don’t, uh. I don’t have an money.” He felt his face heat and he turned to stare out the window. “I’ll pay you back, once I find a job.” It was embarrassing to be almost thirty years old and yet so incapable of taking care of himself.
McClane’s hand was warm and solid as it settled over the back of his neck, and Matt responded without thought, leaning back into the pressure with a sigh. He closed his eyes and felt some of the tension ease in his shoulders.
“Deputy Detective Bowman said something about you not having a savings account. He said there was some worry that having one in your name would be a bad idea. The government issued you a small reward for helping avert Armageddon. Bowman had the money deposited into a new savings under my name, until things are settled. Remind me when we get home and I’ll show you the deposit slip.”
“Really?” Matt’s eyes snapped open. Even a few hundred would make a difference.
“Yes, really. Despite the great risk to your person, you not only went with me to stop Gabriel, but you also saved the lives of both myself and my daughter. It’s not a lot, but after taxes, you were left with a decent five grand you’d be an idiot to turn your nose up at.”
The corner of McClane’s mouth slid up in a sly smile when Matt sucked in a sharp breath, and immediately proceeded to choke. He ruffled Matt’s hair as he withdrew his hand, and they pulled away from the curb, leaving the quiet little street behind as they headed into traffic. It was a forty-five minute drive, and Matt leaned his head back against the seat, closing his eyes against the dull grey morning. He half expected McClane to turn on more of his old rock crap, or maybe the news, but he left the radio off and drove in silence.
By the time they reached the building where the shrink worked, some of the restless energy that had been building up inside Matt had faded, and he felt almost calm as they parked and headed for the elevator. His appointment was first, something that relieved him to no end. Waiting would have meant over-analyzing, leading to the inevitable freak-out, something Matt could be exceptionally good at without having to put his mind to it.
Twice he opened his mouth to say something, but each time, McClane would just shake his head. He wouldn’t say anything, just let out a huff and shake his head, and that was all it took to have Matt lapsing back into silence as they followed the signs to the woman’s office. There was no receptionist to sign them in, but the waiting room was open and airy, huge windows backing three armchairs and a sofa that were far more comfortable than he would have guessed.
Just as Matt took a seat, a woman walked into the room, glasses perched atop her head, a wry smile twisting her lips. “Detective McClane, you’re right on time. I had kind of hoped we wouldn’t have to meet under these circumstances again.”
McClane shrugged. “What can I say?”
“And you must be Matthew Farrell. I’m Doctor Elizabeth Waters.” She offered Matt her hand and he shook it, surprised at the firm grip. “Detective McClane told me quite a bit about you already. Let’s go into my office and you can fill in the gaps.” She waved him toward a second door, but at the threshold he hesitated and glanced back at McClane.
“Go on, kid. I’ll be out here the whole time.”
Matt let out a quiet breath of relief and followed Dr. Waters into her office.
. . .
If there was one thing John hated more than threats against his country that forced him to be that guy, it was the mall. Just as they had been leaving Dr. Waters’ office, Lucy had called, asking them to meet her for a late lunch. Lunch had, of course, turned into a shopping spree at Jersey Gardens. His shoulder throbbed every time some idiot pushed past him, and John’s hand had twitched to where he normally kept his gun on several occasions.
At the moment, though, he was standing in the middle of Abercrombie and Fitch, much to Matt’s horror, listening to his daughter bully Matt into trying on a random assortment of clothes the kid obviously didn’t like. She ignored his complaints with her amazing Gennero-McClane grace, carefully shoving him into a changing room. The saleswoman standing a few feet away hid a grin behind her hand.
“Just the girl. Other one is a stray.” He caught sight of Matt watching him and winked. “If he’s lucky, my daughter will decide he’s too boring to bother with and he’ll survive the rest of the day intact.” He could see Matt shudder from across the room, and over-looked the rude hand gesture his daughter aimed in his direction.
They stopped off at four more shops, the bags gathering at John’s feet as he waited growing progressively both in number and in bulk, more than half of which belonged to his daughter. He was glad for the reprieve when she decided a visit to Victoria’s Secret was in order and dismissed the two of them. He even allowed Matt to drag him to a Starbucks and waited while he ordered a triple-shot of something horrifically sweet.
“Is this punishment for getting trapped with her? Does she hate me? Your daughter is terrifying, McClane. Possibly more than you.”
“I know. Takes after her mother.” He glanced at his watch and frowned. “At this rate, we’ll be staying for dinner.” It was already close to three-thirty in the afternoon, and while John did wish his daughter would spend more time with him, he would have preferred it not be in a mall. “On the upside, kid, at least you have clothes that aren’t burnt now.”
Lucy found them forty-five minutes later, two large bags filled with God only knew what. John tried to not think about his daughter buying sexy underwear for that jerkoff boyfriend of hers—‘I decided to give Jim a chance, dad. Don’t screw it up for me.’—but failed miserably. He wondered if he could have the kid arrested on a misdemeanor just to scare him off. Probably not.
“Hey, I totally forgot I have a group study session at five o’clock. Jim is on his way over to pick me up, so you guys can just head out.”
She pressed a kiss to John’s cheek, ruffled Matt’s hair in blatantly obnoxious way, then gathered up her bags. As she walked away she pulled out her phone, and just for a moment, John regretted wishing they hadn’t come to the mall. Time with Lucy was rare, and as just evidenced, short. He sighed and pushed himself up with one arm, trying to ignore the sharp pain lancing through his right shoulder. He kept forgetting he wasn’t as young as used to be, and that his body required more time to heal. With a grimace, he grabbed the bags at his feet, rolling his eyes when Matt insisted on taking half. It slowed them down, but he understood where the kid was coming from.
“She’s really...intense,” Matt continued once they were in the car. “And scary. Did I mention that? At least you know she can handle her own, though. She’s tough.” He sounded almost fond, but when John glanced over, Matt didn’t look like a kid planning deviant behavior, so John let it slide. “So hey, thanks for the shopping trip.”
“No problem, kid. How’s the leg holdin’ up?” He wasn’t an idiot; the kid had been shot just seven days ago. A normal person would probably still be in the hospital, but the staff had insisted Matt was well enough to be discharged early. During the last hour of their outing, however, John had noticed Matt moving more carefully, and when they had gotten into the car, his face had twisted up briefly. It told John all he needed to know. The kid was in pain, and quite a bit of it.
“It hurts, but I’ll live.”
John nodded, and shifted into drive. He clicked on the radio, bypassing his usual station in favor of one he knew Matt would probably approve of. Seconds later, Matt was humming along to the Rolling Stones, and John focused his attention on not killing the idiot pedestrians darting out from between cars.
They arrived home close to six-thirty, their return trip prolonged by two car accidents and road construction. John wasn’t sure at what point the kid fell asleep, but he found it amusing and oddly endearing that Matt hadn’t woken once, not even when John had rolled down his window to shout expletives at the guy driving forty in the fast lane. He wondered what that said about them, about Matt’s comfort around him, that he could sleep through all of that.
He shook Matt awake gently, and even went so far as to help him out of the car, then carried their bags inside. When Matt hobbled into the kitchen after him, John held up a hand, stopping him at the door.
“Kid, what the hell are you doing? Go lay down. Take a goddamn nap and rest your leg.”
“I’m not tired,” Matt replied. He wasn’t even being contrary, just stating a fact.
“Then go sit in the living room. Watch a movie or something.”
“Oh.” Matt blinked at him, then turned unsteadily. “Right, sorry.”
“Wait, wait, wait. What the hell is that? What’re you sorry for?” When Matt didn’t reply, John stopped and took stock of the situation. He wasn’t smart like Matt, but you didn’t make detective—or Lieutenant Detective, not that John ever allowed anyone to call him that—without being able to prove yourself. He could read people, and at that moment, what he was getting from Matt was a reluctance to be by himself, something John could relate to.
“All right, how ‘bout this. You have a seat at the table. Prop your leg up on one of them chairs and I’ll get you some ice. Then you can help chop. Deal?”
Matt looked up at him, meeting his gaze briefly. “Yeah, that’s—that’s good.”
“Good, now sit down.” He expected some sort of hesitation, but Matt obeyed quickly, dropping down onto the nearest chair and maneuvering his leg up onto another. John rifled through the freezer, coming up with a bag of expired mixed vegetables, and he handed those over with a towel wrapped around them. “Ice that knee,” he instructed, then he turned away and began pulling out food.
They didn’t have time to defrost anything, so John went with a basic spaghetti. As he emptied two jars of pre-made sauce into a pan, he recalled Holly’s horror at seeing them on her last visit with Jack. Before things had all gone to hell, back when there had been more than one mouth to feed—two, now—John and Holly had made their sauce from scratch. He doubted Matt would judge him, though.
“So what do you want me to do?” Matt asked, dragging John out of his thoughts.
“You are going to make the salad.” John crossed the room to the fridge, digging out two bags of mixed greens, a red onion, a cucumber and shredded carrots. He’d need to remember to start buying more spinach. And maybe some iron supplements. Lucy had pointed out how pale the kid was, and John was inclined to agree.
Matt was silent for all of five minutes, then he started talking. “Lucy had a lot to say about you, the day she came to pick me up. About you, uh, stopping terrorists before. Obviously, right? Because you were there. Anyway. It’s apparently a thing for you, so. Um, and it was mentioned that you’re divorced with kids. As in plural. So who is the other one? Kid, I mean.”
John knew the kid probably knew the answer, in a vague sense, because Gabriel had mentioned their names, but clearly he wanted to hear about them from John. The sentiment was appreciated.
“Jack. John, Jr. He lives with his mother in San Francisco. He’s in school there.”
“Oh yeah? What’s he studying?”
“Fuck if I know. Kid speaks to me less than his sister does. He’s smart though. Gets it from his mother.”
They passed the rest of the time talking about Jack and Lucy, and what John remembered them being like as children. Discussions about his family usually left a bitter taste in John’s mouth, but Matt’s questions were general, nothing too prying. And when John admitted to missing one of his daughter’s school plays because he had been passed out in his house after a night of heavy drinking, there was no judgment in Matt’s gaze, nor any pity.
The conversation switched when dinner was served. John toasted pre-made garlic bread, swapped out the soggy vegetables on Matt’s knee for a fresh bag, and took the seat directly across from Matt. He smirked at the disgruntled expression on Matt’s face when he was handed a glass of milk in lieu of the Red Bull he had requested, and began his own mild interrogation.
“So the computer thing. That was more than just a thing for you, right? You’re good at it, I mean. All that shit at your apartment, you made that, didn’t you?”
“Yeah. Took a few months to piece it all together. I got a lot of it from the guy across the hall. He worked at a computer shop and he’d bring home spare parts for me in exchange for my setting up some extra security on his laptop and Playstation.”
“Why not just buy the stuff?”
“A lot of it is really expensive,” Matt replied, but John could tell he was hedging. He moved on without comment.
“And when your probation is over? What’re you gonna to do then?”
“Start from scratch? I don’t know.” Matt picked at the edge of his plate, his discomfort nearly palpable.
“All right, well what else do you like to do? You met Warlock at space camp you said. So you like stars and shit?”
Matt looked startled, like he hadn’t thought John would remember him saying that. “Uh, not really. I mean, they’re cool, sure, but camp was just a means of getting away. I mowed lawns for, like, an entire year just to save up to go to camp. Three weeks of freedom. Freddie—er, Warlock, was the one to introduce me to computers and what could be done with one, and it just sort of grew from there.”
“That’s cool. Movies. You like Star Wars. What else?”
Matt went through an impressive list of movies that ranged from The Abyss to Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo.’ He snorted when John asked if he watched sports, but he admitted to liking old westerns after a few careful prods. Once they finished eating, he helped John clean up, propping himself against the counter and rinsing plates so John could load them into the dishwasher. When they were done, John herded him into the living room, disappearing long enough to grab two bottles of coke from the fridge.
“I kinda figured you for a beer man, to be honest,” Matt said as he took a sip.
“I was. Promised myself I wouldn’t go down that path again, so it’s water or soda for me. If you want it though...”
“Me? Oh, yeah, no. I’m good. I prefer caffeine.”
John rolled his eyes and turned on the television, scrolling through the menu to see what was on. There were no games on of interest to John, so he settled on a Steve McQueen marathon.
“So, what were you like as a kid? Where’d you grow up?”
It was the wrong question to ask, that much was clear. When John glanced over at Matt, he was taken aback by how pale the kid had gotten. He opened his mouth to tell him never mind, only to have Matt cut him off.
“I spent a lot of time in foster care. After that, I was placed at a group home.”
“Ah.” John took a sip of his coke, then set it aside. He reached out with one hand and ruffled Matt’s hair, an act that had become something of a habit in a rather short amount of time. He dropped his hand to the back of Matt’s neck and squeezed gently, then pulled away. “Look, kid, you don’t have tell me anymore. The system sucks. Trust me, I know. No more questions.”
Matt didn’t look over, but he nodded, relaxing just a little. For the rest of that movie and the next, they sat in near silence. The power went out for ten minutes, a common occurrence as the companies Gabriel had nearly destroyed worked to correct all the damage that had been caused, and John used that time to put away dishes and change into a pair of sweatpants and his old academy shirt. When he returned to the couch, he discovered Matt had done the same. The power came back on, and they lost themselves in a movie about a high-stakes game of poker.
. . .
On the day leading into the full moon, Matt locked himself away in his room. It was always harder to fight the instincts of the wolf the day of and the day after, and it left him feeling shocky and exhausted. The physical ramifications—clammy skin, a low-grade fever and the pale, sickly look of someone bogged down with the flu—were enough to convince McClane to leave him alone with the exception of delivering food, and toward the end of the night, he disappeared all together, heading out to have dinner with Lucy and Jim. McClane had grumbled about Matt abandoning him, but there had been no real heat in his words, and just before he left, he set out another bowl of soup, a can of ginger ale and some crackers, banning Matt from getting his germs in the kitchen.
The bedroom door locked, something Matt usually ignored, but he didn’t want to risk John walking in and finding him, so it made sense this time. His hands shook as he fumbled with the locking mechanism, then he stripped down and waited. He could already feel it in his bones, the ache of the wolf as it rose to the surface, his body preparing itself for the change. Every time it happened, Matt’s stomach would twist and go sour, and he’d end up throwing up whatever he had eaten last.
Matt was glad he had had the forethought to bring a bucket into his room. He clutched at the rim, and his whole body shook, but amazingly enough, nothing came up. Then the call of the moon was upon him and for the next thirty minutes, Matt knew nothing but pain.
Afterward, when his bones were done shifting and his fur lay flat against his body, Matt slunk under the bed and cowered there, waiting for the time when he could change back and forget all of this had even happened. Even so, he wasn’t idle. He listened, ears perking a bit at the call of a cat in heat, a raccoon scuttling through the bushes outside the house and someone whistling to their dog. It was hard not to crawl out of his hiding spot and run, to track down all the different sounds and smells and taste. He wanted to bite, claw and chew, but then he thought of McClane, and recalled the scent of his fury as they had hunted together.
That alone kept Matt still. The word ‘alpha’ filled his mind, and he quivered from tail to nose at just the thought of McClane’s wrath, should Matt anger him. He whined at the back of his throat, trying vainly to curl into a ball, but the space beneath the bed was too tight for him to do so. Closing his eyes, he let the sounds and smells of the night fill him.
. . .
To say that Matt had looked under the weather when John had knocked on his door earlier that morning was an understatement. He had looked like death warmed over, and his limp had been more pronounced during his short hobble from the bed to where his crutches were resting against the wall. While John felt some guilt at the thought of leaving Matt home alone, he knew from personal experience that the last thing a guy wanted when he was sick was someone hovering over him. Unless that someone planned on playing nursemaid the entire time.
He checked in on Matt once more, just as he was headed out the door to meet Lucy and Jim for dinner, knocking lightly and poking his head around the edge of the door.
“Hey, kid, I’m out. I’ll be back in a coupla hours. Try not to die, okay?”
Matt’s only reply was a grunt as he burrowed further into his cocoon of blankets. With a sigh, John slipped inside long enough to offload another glass of orange juice and crackers, then slipped back out of the room on silent feet. Matt had his number, so John made there was nothing in the hallway that trip Matt up if he ventured out to use the bathroom or get something else to eat, then locked up and headed out.
When he arrived at the restaurant, it was to find Lucy already out front waiting, but no sign of Jim. John bit his tongue, but Lucy must have seen something in his expression, because she rolled her eyes.
“His professor moved up the date of a huge project, so Jim is at the library with his group.” She glanced inside and shook her head. “Can we do burgers instead.”
“Girl after her father’s heart,” John said, his relief obvious. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Italian, he just didn’t like the atmosphere of this particular place. Too snobbish, which was probably why Jim had picked it.
As they strolled down the block to the diner John had frequented quite a bit over the years, a contemplative silence settled over them. After a few moments, Lucy spoke, her words more carefully thought out than usual.
“How are things working out with Farrell?”
“The kid? Not bad. He’s pretty quiet when he’s not running his mouth.”
Lucy laughed. “Yeah? When’s that?”
“When he’s sleeping,” John grumbled. He paused, thinking back over the last two days, and frowned. “Think he’s getting sick. He looked like shit this morning, and even worse before I left.” Lucy made no reply, so he pushed on. “Without all the mayhem distracting me, I noticed the kid is kinda…different.”
John broke off from explaining when they reached the diner, waiting until they were seated and their waitress was out of earshot.
“He was passed out pretty much all morning. I snuck in long enough to take a peek at his leg, just in case it was infected and he wasn’t saying anything. It’d be just like the kid to pretend everything was fine. Anyway, from what I could see, the wound’s almost completely healed, at least on the surface.”
“That’s normal though, right?”
John shook his head. “It’s already scarred over, and he’s barely limping. I think he only uses the crutches for show.”
“You two ready?” Their waitress appeared at John’s elbow, her pen at the ready. When he turned to face her, Lucy kicked him under the table, either to keep him from glaring at the interruption, or to prevent him from flirting.
“Just a burger for me. Pepperjack cheese, rare. Luce?”
“The same, though medium-rare, with a chocolate milkshake and curly fries.” At John’s skeptical look she glared. “What?”
“Nothing,” he said, affecting an air of innocence.
Their waitress, Alice, read off the order, then sauntered off to the counter, her shoes squeaking on the linoleum floor. Alone once more, John picked up the conversation where he had left off.
“In answer to your question, no, it’s ain’t normal.”
Lucy shrugged. “So what’re you gonna do? You can’t just kick him out for being different, daddy.”
John ignored that last bit, telling himself he wasn’t insulted that Lucy had thought he’d even consider that an option. “I’m gonna keep an eye on him. Bowman was pretty tight-lipped about the kid, and his files are classified.”
“Dad.” Lucy’s tone was censored, with just a touch of warning to it.
He let the conversation drop for the time being. He’d come back to it later, when he’d gathered enough evidence to start forming real opinions. “So tell me about your classes, huh. Your mom mentioned you were thinking about changing your major.”
“Jeez, no. God, do you know how long it took me just to get this far? I’m considering adding another minor, though.”
Their food arrived and John let the focus of the conversation stay on Lucy’s college plans. She needled him once or twice about getting back into the dating game, but John deftly sidetracked her with questions of her own relationship. By the time they were done, John was feeling far more relaxed than he had in a while.
As they walked back to their respective cars, Lucy cleared her throat. “So listen,” she began. John felt himself fill with dread, but her next words set him at ease once more. “My summer classes are pretty spread out, so I was thinking that if you’re free next week, we could do this again. Maybe do lunch. You can bring Matt and, I dunno.”
“That’d be good, kiddo,” John replied. He rolled the tension out of his good shoulder, ready to be done with the contraption pinning his right arm down. He slid into his car, glancing up when Lucy came to lean over the door.
“You gonna be okay, dad?”
“Of course. What kind of question is that?”
She didn’t reply, simply leaned in to kiss his cheek, then crossed to where her own car was parked. She dutifully checked the backseat before climbing in, and John waited until she was pulling away before starting his own car.
The house was unnaturally quiet when John returned, and he found the lack of noise—or rather, the lack of chatter from Matt—unnerving. He paused outside Matt’s door, hand automatically reaching for the doorknob, only to stop. There wasn’t a peep to be heard from the room, but the kid had clearly been coming down with something. If he was sleeping, John didn’t want to wake him up.
He stepped back and headed for his bedroom, rubbing his hand over his face. John had left his curtains open that night, and as he crossed the room to his dresser, he peered out at the full moon, studying it. He wasn’t sure how long he had been standing there, but all of a sudden he yawned, and the crack of his jaw shook him out of whatever reverie had come over him.
. . .
From the next room came a muffled ‘You okay in there, kid?’ to which Matt desperately wanted to reply. His throat wasn’t work yet, though, so after two failed attempts, he focused on dragging on his pajama pants instead. A second later, he could hear McClane thumping around, probably headed for Matt’s room to check up on him. He reached the door just in time, releasing the lock and pulling it open before McClane could knock.
“So—sorry. Fell out of bed trying to stand,” Matt said, his voice ragged. He clung to the doorknob until he was certain he wouldn’t collapse again, then slowly released his death hold.
“Jesus, kid, you had me worried.” McClane’s gaze swept over him, no doubt taking in every little detail. “You look like shit. Get back in bed and I’ll make you oatmeal.”
“Um.” Matt glanced past McClane toward the bathroom, relieved when the hint was taken.
“Fine. Go do your business and then get your ass back in bed.”
He disappeared down the hall, leaving Matt to hobble the few steps to the bathroom on his own. His leg hurt like hell, but when he peeked at the wound after using the toilet, it looked closer to being healed than it had prior to the full moon. He’d still need to take care, at least for another week or so, but it was better than no progress at all.
Just as Matt was climbing back into bed, McClane arrived with the promised oatmeal, along with tall glass of orange juice and a banana. He waited for Matt to get settled, then placed the tray on Matt’s lap.
“Eat. And when you’re done, get some more sleep. I’ll check on ya at lunch time.”
He didn’t wait around for Matt to reply, letting himself out of the room and closing the door behind him. For several minutes, Matt simply sat there, staring at the food and trying to remember the last time someone else had taken care of him like this, like he wasn’t just some nuisance being tolerated. He took a bite and wrinkled his nose at the bland flavor, then dug in, suddenly famished. When he was done, he set everything aside and slipped down in the bed, eyes falling shut almost immediately.
After their third week together, it became clear to John that the kid was going more than a little stir-crazy. He allowed John to bully him into going out a couple of times, but when they were home, he had a tendency to wander from room to room, his finger twitching like he wanted to reach for something that wasn’t there. In the end, John decided that the best thing to do would be to review the list Bowman had given him, and then go from there.
Mr. Farrell is not to own, or operate, the following without direct supervision:
Cell phone, including palm pilots
Tablet—any make or version
Kindle, Nook or any other model of e-reader
iPod or other MP3 player
The list seemed to go on forever, but even after a second read-through, John knew one thing for certain: CB radios were not on the list.
Had it been anyone else, John would have suspected it to be an oversight. Bowman, however, was nothing if not thorough. If he had left CB radios off the list, he had done so deliberately. John’s thoughts went to Matt and the sort of listlessness that clung to him recently, and as easily as that, he made up his mind. Grabbing his keys, sunglasses and wallet from the hall table, he headed for the door.
“Going out. Back in an hour or so. Need anything?”
“Red Bull?” Matt peeked over the back of the couch, expression hopeful, and John called himself an idiot even as he nodded.
“That shit’ll kill you, but it’s your early death.” He let himself out, skin prickling almost immediately under the fierce heat. In the car, he rooted around in the back seat until he found a battered Yankees cap, and he tugged it on before pulling out his cell phone.
“Zeus? Yeah, it’s me, Mc—”
“I know who this is. What, you think I can’t afford caller ID? You know, you never did come over for our 4th of July barbeque.”
“Yeah, yeah. I was busy. In case you weren’t aware. I was—”
“Getting shot at? Throwing yourself out of a car? Leaping onto an F-35 and nearly getting blown up? I heard about all that shit. Good thing you didn’t have no good Samaritan to almost kill.”
“No, he was busy keeping my daughter alive. Look, asshole, I don’t have time to chat right now, all right? I need a favor.”
“Of course you do. Why else would you call a black man in the middle of the day, when he should be spending the afternoon with his children, other than to ask for a favor.”
John rolled his eyes. Zeus talked hard, but John had learned to let it just roll past him. “Listen, do you sell CB radios?”
“Sell…what the actual fuck, man? You know what? Never mind. Yeah, I have couple of CB radios at the shop, none of ‘em working. What the hell you want with one?”
“I need one for the kid.”
“What kid? Oh, that kid.” Zeus’ tone shifted at that, going thoughtful, and John groaned. “I got three broken ones, but if you buy all of ‘em, you’ll have enough parts to make one working radio. I’ll cut you a deal.”
John grunted. “Sure you will. I’ll be there in thirty.”
Because that was his luck, John managed to hit every light between his house and Zeus’ shop. By the time he pulled up, his fair-to-good mood was fraying at the edges. Zeus managed to alleviate the worst of it by handing him a bottle of cold water the moment he crossed the threshold.
“Dead white cops is bad for business. Hell, who am I kidding? ‘Round here, it’d probably raise my store’s value.” Zeus remained unruffled under the weight of John’s glare. “Here,” he continued, shoving a box of radio parts across the counter. There were a few other things in there as well, and John poked at them until Zeus slapped his hand away. “Tools. Your boy’ll need ‘em if he’s planning to build a working radio.”
“He ain’t my boy, but thanks.” John drained the last of the water and tossed the bottle into the bin.
“Course he ain’t,” Zeus agreed amicably. “That’s why you’re here sweating like a pig, instead of at home with a glass of iced tea or some shit.”
John eyed him with annoyance. “The kid is going out of his mind, and he’s driving me up the wall in the process.” He picked up the box, then met Zeus’ gaze head on. “Let me make dinner up to you. We’ll grill at my place, next Sunday.”
It was Zeus’ turn to narrow his eyes, and John could only wonder what he was thinking. He laughed when Zeus finally replied. “Far as I can tell, there’s no holiday that weekend, so sure. I’ll bring the beer.”
“Don’t drink? Yeah, I know, but I do. And I’ll need if I’m gonna be in white people town.” He laughed and slapped John on the back. “I’m bringing my nephews, too.” He said it with an air of finality that John was smart enough not to argue against.
With a quick wave, John ducked out of the shop and back into the horrendous heat. On his way home, he stopped at the store, picking up the requested Red Bull, along with two frozen pizzas, a pre-made salad and a case of Coca Cola. The store was packed with people just trying to stay cool, and after John fought his way through the lines and back to the relative safety of his car, he promised himself no more trips out for the rest of the day.
Back at the house, Matt was still sprawled out on the couch, idly flipping through a book, though he didn’t look particularly interested. John leaned over the back of the couch, dropping the box onto his stomach and eliciting a shout of surprise.
“Now maybe you’ll stop moping around all day,” he said. He stayed there, eyes sharp as Matt took stock of the contents, and he couldn’t help but smile as Matt’s whole face lit up.
“CB radio parts! But my probation…?”
John shrugged. “They wasn’t on the list of items you’re not allowed access to. I was assured you have everything needed to build at least one working radio. I figured you could put this together and chat with your friend, Warlord.”
Matt rolled his eyes but didn’t correct John. It was almost disappointing, but then Matt was pulling out the soldering kit. “Oh hey, wow. This is awesome. And look!”
He went on for a while, pulling out parts and naming them. The groceries were still sitting on the table, but John ignored them for the time being, allowing Matt to ramble on to his heart’s content. He only interrupted when he noticed the time.
“Kid, go play with your new toys. I’m gonna make dinner.”
Dinner took minimal effort, for which John was greatly appreciative. He assumed Matt would refuse to leave his room long enough to eat, and dropped off a plate of food and a can of Red Bull, careful to place them where Matt would notice but no where they’d likely get knocked over. There was a game on, and John retired himself to the living room to watch that, content.
. . .
“Are you sure this frequency isn’t being monitored?” Matt asked when he finally got through.
“Yeah, man, it’s fine. But shit, how have you been? I tried to visit you in the hospital, but the place was crawling with Feds, man. Bowman was staked out at your door all day. Where are you living now?”
Matt laughed, suddenly feeling lightheaded and relieved. “I’m good. I’m—my leg’s still fucked up, but I’m off the crutches at least. I got a cane yesterday when we went in for John’s physical therapy. It’s a bitch, but it’s better than the crutches were.”
There was silence at the other end, then Warlock’s voice came through, the static doing nothing to hide the concern in his voice.
“Man, dude. I thought—haven’t you changed since you got out? That speeds up the healing process, doesn’t it?”
“Just for the full moon,” Matt replied, dropping his voice even lower. He glanced through the crack in the door, wary. “I can’t risk doing it more often than that. I’m staying with McClane. It was—I’m on probation, man. It was either this or be sent back to the facility.”
That was the thing about Warlock. He could be a grade-A dick when he wanted to be, but he genuinely cared. The last…however long, would have been unbearable if not for him helping Matt keep his head on straight. Warlock hadn’t gotten it, not at first, how much Matt hated being what he was. When Matt had told him everything, about being abandoned to the foster care system when he was five because his werewolf side had begun to physically manifest and his mother hadn’t been able to cope, about the homes he been passed through, and then finally the facility, well. After that, Warlock had become confidant for all things wolf.
“Wait, then what did you do for the full moon? What the hell are you gonna do next time?”
Matt sighed and slumped down further against the wall. “I have no idea. It used to be that they would pick me up the day before and take me back to the facility. Now, though…” It was clear they had no intention of offering him a safe place to undergo the change, and that left Matt more unsettled than he had thought possible. “I could try just locking myself up in my room again. Tell him I’m sick. Again. It’s what I did last time and it seemed to work well enough”
“McClane won’t fall for that. He’s a cop, man. He knows things.”
It wasn’t an exaggeration. McClane’s cop sense was a thing of legend. Another thought occurred to Matt, one that had been prickling at the back of his mind for a while.
“Okay, this sounds ludicrous, but hear me out: What if McClane is a werewolf too?”
There was silence from Warlock’s side, then, “Seriously? Are you seriously going there? The dude is not a werewolf, Farrell.”
“No, wait, listen. Look, there are these, like, signs, right? Like, the fact that he can sense a lie. Or how he does that growling thing. He’s fallen off rooftops, was nearly blowup, been ejected out of an airplane right before it blew up, jumped off a moving F-35, leapt out of a speeding car which then killed a helicopter, has been shot, shot a bad guy threw himself—”
“Whoa, Farrell, how much caffeine have you had, man?”
“Uh…six Red Bulls? But that’s not important. Have you heard a word I’ve said?”
“Yeah, man, you think your hero cop is a werewolf.”
Matt’s cheeks went hot, but he blamed the close confines of the closet. “Yes!”
“The guy is scary as fuck, I’ll give you that. But he’s not a werewolf, Farrell. He’s not in the database.”
“Maybe they missed him? I mean, he’s way older, right? So maybe they hadn’t perfected their tracking methods when he was born.”
“The man is not a werewolf.”
“My wolf totally responds to him.”
That seemed to give Warlock pause. “Wait, what do you mean?”
“I mean, that I can sense his moods. It’s only been a couple of weeks, right, but I can, like, sense how he’s feeling. And the other day, I felt like I was going out of my mind, and he did the thing with his hand.”
“Uh, maybe you shouldn’t be telling me this. This sounds like unnecessary information, man.”
“Not like that, asshole. I mean, he puts his hand on the back of my neck, and it’s like, all the stress just melts away. He cooks, too. Did I tell you that? Anyway, he’s been making all these iron-rich meat-alternative foods, and when he tells me to do something…”
“You feel almost compelled to do it?”
“Sort of. It’s weird, though. It’s like I don’t even consider not listening half the time, and the few times I ignored him, he just, like, looked at me, man. And I could feel the wolf trying to, like, obey him.”
Warlock cleared his throat. “I still don’t think he’s a werewolf. Shit like that, it’d be in the database. He’s drawn a lot of attention over the past thirty years—and hello, can we talk about the age gap for a second?—, something I doubt would have escaped the notice of our fine friends at the agency.” When Matt tried to interrupt, Warlock talked over him. “That doesn’t necessarily mean you couldn’t respond to him. He’s kind of a—a dominant guy, you know? If he was a werewolf, he’d definitely be alpha material. Maybe your wolf—and you—can sense that. It’s not a bad thing. I mean, you could do a lot worse.”
Matt had been hoping that Warlock would agree with him, and he felt oddly deflated over the extremely valid argument. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I just—I thought maybe…”
“I know, man. I know. And I’m sorry.” Warlock sounded sincere, like maybe he knew just how disappointed Matt was. “Look, get some sleep. Think about the last part I said. I’ll do a search and see if I can come up with a place you can go for the change, but I think you should just tell him.”
“I can’t. Not if he’s not a werewolf. Oh god, and what if he is a werewolf? Jesus. Oh fuck, I’m totally screwed.”
“What the hell are you talking about, man?”
Something akin to fear swelled in Matt’s chest, and he swore as he struggled to calm his breathing. “When I turned sixteen, they tried to introduce me to a pack. The uh, the alpha. I guess he was known for taking in stray wolves that couldn’t go solo. Anyway, he took one look at me and refused. Said the fact that my health was subpar meant I was a liability. He couldn’t guarantee my safety. He, uh, he mentioned something about omegas.”
The sound of Warlock’s fingers flying over his keyboard filled the air between them, then he spoke. “Oh. Hey, wow. Shit.”
“Yeah. His suggestion was that I remain at the facility. The compromise was the apartment.”
“See, another reason your theory is complete shit. If McClane were a werewolf, you’d be dead, Farrell. Well, either that or spending ninety percent of your time bent over various—you know what? I’m just gonna let that one go.”
Matt opened his mouth to make a reply, but McClane chose that moment to knock on the bedroom door, pushing it open to peer inside. “Kid?”
“Shit, I gotta go,” Matt whispered. He shut off the radio without waiting for a reply, shoving it aside just as the closet door opened.
McClane didn’t say a word, but the impressive height to which his eyebrows rose spoke volumes. Matt waved his hand at the radio.
“Uh huh. It’s four o’clock in the morning, kid. Get to bed. Lucy’s coming over for lunch tomorrow with that guy of hers. If you know what’s good for you, you will not leave me alone in the same room with him.”
The laugh that burst out of Matt startled them both, and he flushed. “I think I can manage that,” he muttered, climbing to his feet.
. . .
“And I suppose it was too much for you to pick up a phone and call? Maybe let me know I was setting the table for three instead of four?”
“I was too busy not dying. Besides, it was a holiday. Zeus should have known not to make plans with me for a holiday.” Granted, their adventure hadn’t fallen on a holiday. Thankfully, no one pointed that out.
Isis muttered something rude as she pushed past him, which wasn’t particularly surprise. They had met on several occasions, and the only person scarier than Holly or Lucy was Isis Carver. Then she stepped past him to wrap Matt in a motherly hug and John wondered if maybe he was hallucinating. After all, he had spent the last two hours setting the brick in the driveway under the intense glare of the sun. It was possible he was dehydrated.
“And you must be Matthew,” Isis said as she pulled away. She pinched one of his cheeks and tutted, turning to glare at John. "John McClane, I know you know how to cook, so explain to me just why your poor boy looks like a waif. It’s not bad enough you dragged him all over the east coast, nearly getting this poor child killed, letting him get shot.”
She continued to besmirch John’s character, linking one arm through Matt’s and leading him into the house. As they passed by, Zeus thrust a case of Red Bull John hadn’t noticed into Matt’s arms with a wink.
“Boys are still arguing out in the car. Shanelle’s refereeing,” Zeus said with a jerk of his head, then pushed John forward into the house. They stopped off in the kitchen to deposit the beer in the fridge, then moved into the backyard. It was a perfect weekend for a barbeque; seventy-five degrees with a heat index of eighty-two.
A sharp voice found its way to John’s ears just as they were sitting down, and he was glad to know he wasn’t the only father to find himself on the receiving end of that tone. A young girl of about eleven came through the back door, Zeus’ nephews close behind. She had them both by one ear, and her expression meant business.
“You tell Zeus what you said,” she snapped, shoving the boys forward. Then she turned to face John, all smiles and cheer. “John!”
“Hey, Shanelle,” John said. He grunted when, instead of the hug she normally greeted him with, Shanelle punched him in the arm.
“You were supposed to come over for a barbecue!”
“I’m makin’ it up to you!” John defended. She nailed his shoulder again, and he winced. She hadn’t hit his bad shoulder though, so he figured that counted for something.
“Yeah, by dragging us out to your suburban hell,” she replied, one hand resting on her hip.
Zeus looked up from where he was softly reprimanding his nephews to scold his daughter. “Shanelle. Could you please, for five seconds, pretend like your mama smacked some sense into you before we came over here.”
Lucy’s arrival was like a blessing in disguise, even if meant having to play nice to her boyfriend. John swooped in on her the moment she crossed the threshold, pulling her into a rough hug as he very carefully also moved her to stand between Shanelle and himself.
“Lucy, honey, it’s great to see you. Jim,” he added with a nod.
Matt appeared right then, Isis on his heels, and he tugged Lucy away from John and into a hug of his own. Over her shoulder, he shot John a pleading look.
“Man, Luce. I have seriously missed you.”
Lucy looked between all the faces and she grinned. “Zeus, whatever it is you’re doing, keep it up. You’ve got ‘em both terrified.”
“Don’t encourage him,” John said. He waved Lucy over to one of the lawn chairs, and didn’t glare at Jim when he took a seat beside her. For Isis, he actually pulled out a chair. “Drinks. What do people want?”
“Lemonade, Daddy,” Lucy said, not looking over. “I picked some up on my way over. It’s already cold and in the fridge.”
When everyone had given their order, John herded Matt back inside. “You got all that, right?” he asked. He took pity on Matt when all he got in response was a worried look. “Nevermind, kid.”
John pulled out a stack of plastic cups, the lemonade, two beers, two cokes and a Red Bull, the last of which went straight into Matt’s hands. He drained it, then pulled out another, looking almost grim. It was enough to make John pause in what he was doing and really look at the kid.
“You hangin’ in there?”
“It’s just, uh, a lot. I, um. I don’t.” He glanced nervously at the door, and John got his meaning.
“Not used to the whole socializing thing, huh? Stick close to Lucy. She’ll protect you.” John glanced down, noticing for the first time that Matt was hands-free. “And get your goddamn cane, you idiot, before you fuck yourself up more. I heard the doctor: cane or crutches, but it’s gotta be something.”
Matt sighed, but he limped down the hall to get his cane, then returned to help take drinks out. They were in the midst of arguing on how to get it all out there in one trip when Lucy appeared. She took one look at them and rolled her eyes.
“And here I thought maybe one of you had grown past that point. Jesus, dad.” She snatched up the big container of lemonade and the cups, and headed out the door. John and Matt followed more slowly, John wondering just what he had been thinking to allow this many people into his house at once.
. . .
“I’m here! I’m here! Gimme a sec, jeez. I was in the bathroom.”
‘Where’s your cop?’
“He’s not my cop,” Matt hissed. He dragged the radio into the closet and set himself up so that he could see his bedroom door from where he was sitting. “Anyway, what’s up? I thought you weren’t gonna be around today.”
‘Yeah, well, I wasn’t, but then my ma came down to tell me I’m driving her to see Aunt Carol next weekend. Who just so happens to live in Brooklyn. I did some quick searching around and I found the perfect place.’
Matt frowned. “For what?”
‘Seriously? Are you seriously asking me that? For the full moon, Matthew. Haven’t you been paying attention?’
“Of course I have. So what do you mean, the perfect place?”
‘For your change, man. It’s an old warehouse. Not so much abandoned as disused. And I triple checked to make sure it’s not connected to any mafia types or drug lords. It’s owned by some shoe company. They used to store all their shipments there, but they ran out of space, so they bought a bigger warehouse. I think they’re getting ready to sell this one.’
“You can’t come with me,” Matt said flatly.
‘No, I totally can. The basement is secure. A steel door that’s double reinforced. There’re two doors: one opens from the inside, and the other from the outside. Which, now that I think about it, is kind of weird. Huh. Anyway, we can go there.’
“Yeah, but what do I tell McClane?”
‘Man, tell him you’re going to stay with me. Catch up on old times. Invite him to come with and tell him we can hang out and watch Boba Fett.’
Matt laughed at the censor in Warlock’s voice. Of all the offenses McClane could possibly have committed, not knowing who Boba Fett was had ranked pretty high on Warlock’s list of Unforgivables. It was amusing, how pissed off he still managed to sound six months later.
“Good idea. There’s no way he’d do something like that.”
‘So, you never answered the question. Where’s your cop?’
Matt’s face heated and he slunk down lower in the closet, eyes trained on his bedroom door. “He was on the phone with his boss the last time I checked. They’re going to let him return to work, but they’re sticking him on desk duty. McClane, of course, is arguing that he’s perfectly capable of ‘cruising the beat,’ even with his arm in a sling.”
‘Stupid bastard,’ Warlock growled, but he was trying to keep his voice low to avoid being overheard, so the effect he was aiming for—disdainful aggression—was lost on Matt. ‘Anyway, if he asks, just tell him you’re staying with me at my aunt’s. It’s half the truth. Maybe you’ll get lucky and he won’t realize you’re lying.’
“So I’ll see you Wednesday night, then?”
‘Oh, yeah. Here’s the address.’
He rattled it off, barely giving Matt time to find something to write it on, then clicked off, leaving behind only static. Just as Matt was gingerly climbing to his feet, McClane appeared.
“Hey, dinner’s ready.” He eyed the CB radio with distrust. “Talking to Warlock again?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. He’s coming up here with his mom to visit an aunt next week. I’m going to go hang out with him Wednesday night.”
At that, both of McClane’s eyebrows shifted down, and he scowled fiercely at Matt. “Get your asses arrested and you’re on your own, kid.”
“Jesus, McClane. It’s not like all we do is hack government sites. We’re planning a Star Wars marathon. You know, the movie that had Boba Fett? Warlock is still offended you didn’t know who that was.”
The look McClane sent him was suspicious, but if he doubted Matt’s words, he didn’t say so outright. He did, however, push the door all the way open and lean against the door frame, watching as Matt moved about the room, picking up discarded clothes. When his hamper was full, he hefted it up and made to edge around McClane. Matt expected McClane to move out of his way, and when he didn’t, Matt stopped and waited, his anxiety growing as the silence stretched on. Just as he was beginning to think he’d snap under the weight of McClane’s steady gaze, a hand settled around the back of his neck, fingers firm without feeling threatening.
“I ain’t the enemy, kid. Remember that.”
Then he was gone, disappearing into his own room and leaving Matt feeling overwhelmed and confused. And maybe, just maybe, a little turned on. Matt blamed the last on the proximity to the full moon and hurried off to the laundry room.
. . .
Warlock was already there when Matt arrived, dressed in a ridiculous amount of black and a knit cap pulled low over his head. He waved Matt inside, then turned on a low-wattage flashlight.
“There’s a storage room in the back, approximately fifteen feet by twelve feet. I can lock you in there, or we can go down to the basement.”
Matt ran nervous fingers through his hair. “What’s down there?”
“Seven rooms, a couple of tables bolted to the floor, and some empty crates. You’d have room to run.”
That idea was more appealing than being stuck in a single room. The facility had woods backing it, the perimeter guarded by two rows of electrical fencing, and that had been where Matt and the others spent their full moon nights. They were encouraged to change during non-moon nights as well, but Matt had always refused, afraid of what it would mean to let the wolf out like that.
“Downstairs,” Matt said.
“I thought you’d pick that. How long do you have?”
He didn’t have to check his watch to know that it was close to that time. He could feel the wolf just under the surface, could feel the ache already settling into his bones. “I have about ten minutes before it’s no longer safe to be near me.”
“Then you should go down there now.”
Matt nodded and began to strip, leaving his clothes in a heap by the door. Warlock, to his credit, didn’t so much as bat an eye. Just before he closed the door, he grinned.
“Oh, hey, I left you a couple of presents.” Then the door was shut and Matt could hear the bolts sliding into place. He wondered what could have been stored in a basement that required what looked to be an armored door. Before he could give it too much thought, however, the moon called out her welcome, and Matt doubled over, gasping in pain.
He had been told by his advisor that fighting the change made it more painful. His first full change, when he was nine, had been intense, but manageable. It had also occurred while he was locked in his bedroom at his first foster home, and as a result, he had escaped out his bedroom window and killed the neighbor’s poodle. Matt had been wracked with guilt, even though the dog had been a menace to everyone.
Normal circumstances tended to involve werewolves transforming under the light of the full moon. It was said to ease the transition for them by calling the beast out more quickly. Matt didn’t have that advantage at the moment, and not fighting the wolf wasn’t something he was capable of, not after so many years of trying to hide it from everyone, himself included. The sound of his bones breaking, his muscles popping and tearing as they realigned themselves, was drowned out only by his hoarse cries. His last conscious thought was that he hoped to hell Warlock couldn’t hear him.
. . .
There was a soft scurrying sound, and then the scent hit him. Food. Matt darted toward the crates along the back wall, then howled when his quarry took off. The chase was short, Matt throwing in a burst of speed at the last second to close the gap, and then his teeth were sinking into soft, delicate flesh.
He took his catch into the main room, devouring it quickly, and grumbled when all that was left was a bit of fluff that had been the tail. He pondered a nap, but as he laid his head down on his paws, he heard the same sound, this time from one of the rooms he had yet to visit. His stomach rumbled, and Matt climbed to his feet, stretching and yawning. The edge had been taken off his hunger with that last snack, and as he loped into the room holding his next prize, he decided that he would prolong the chase this time.
He scented out the small creature and chased it through two rooms, then wandered away, content that there was no way for the animal to truly escape. Food could wait, Matt’s desire to continue investigating could not. Nose to the ground, he tried to sort through all the different smells layered beneath all the dust. Humans had been in the room, though not for a long time. His brain held no concept of time, not like it did when he was human, so he ignored those scents. They were not important to now, and so could be cast aside.
One intriguing smell seemed to emanate from the middle of the crates. Matt circled them cautiously twice, just to make certain there was nothing hidden between them that could attack him, then he set about determining a way to get inside. There were no openings, and the spaces between the crates was far too narrow for even his quarry to squeeze through. That left going in from the top, but before he did that, he would need to eat.
Moving back to the farthest corner, Matt lifted his hind leg and let out a stream of urine, marking the crate, just in case. There was no sign that another creature like himself was in the vicinity, but it was always wise to leave evidence that Matt had been here first. That task completed, Matt trotted back into the main room, listening for the sound of his prey. Once located, he took off, darting through the rooms, and letting the chase sweep over him.
He tracked the small creature until the rapid beat of its heart began to slow and its pace became unsteady. The kill was quick and clean, and Matt carried it back to his corner. The snack reenergized him, and once he was finished and he had licked his fur clean, he stretched, then headed back to the crates.
The scents were sharper now, his attention fully on what he was inspecting and not split between the boxes and thoughts of food. He whined a little, shoving his nose into the spaces between them, then backed up to survey the crates from a distance. They were stacked unevenly, with space enough that he could sit atop one, and possibly even climb all the way up to the top.
Matt missed completely on the first try, but on the second, he managed to get his front paws onto the top. His back legs scrambled uselessly, so he let himself drop back to the ground, then tried again. He let out a triumphant yip as clamored up, and gazed over the edge. There was another ledge, this one lower than the others, and he climbed up easily. The last, however, was much taller, and though his instincts told him to stop, to just explore what he could reach now, Matt hunched down, let the tension in his muscled coil, then lunged.
He knew was in danger even before he began to fall, and Matt tried to right himself in the air. Halfway down, his injured leg caught between two of the crates and it was only his momentum that wrenched him free. Matt hit the ground with an agonized yelp, shaking from both the scare and the pain. He tried to stand twice, but his leg would not straighten. For just a moment, he considered dragging himself out of the room, but that proved to be just as painful. His stomach twisted, and the remains of Matt’s two snacks forced their way up and out of his body.
Rolling away from the foul smell, Matt closed his eyes and waited. The moon would call again, and when she did, he would change, and the hurt from his leg would be eased.
. . .
“I’m in here!” he shouted when Warlock began calling out his name. He had to repeat himself three more times before his friend appeared. Matt breathed out a sigh of relief when a heavy blanket fell across his shoulders.
“Jesus, Farrell, what the hell did you do to yourself?”
Matt nodded toward the stack of crates, grimacing at the soft tutting noise Warlock made. “Shut up. I—there was something in there. Not, like, recently, but a while ago? I dunno. It smelled interesting, and I wanted to see if I could get inside.” He glanced down at his leg, biting back a hiss as he adjusted it. “I fell before I could reach the top.”
“Can you stand on it?”
They worked together to get Matt upright, but his leg wouldn’t hold his weight. It was embarrassing, having to let Warlock help him into clean clothes, but he felt better once they were on and his body began to warm up.
“Okay, let’s get you home and, well. Let’s just get you back to McClane’s. And dude, I am so not helping you inside. He is going to kill you.”
Matt groaned at the thought. McClane would take one look at him and demand to know where Matt had been and what he had been doing. “Guess I better work on my cover story,” he said with a sigh.
It wasn’t until they were pulling away from the warehouse that another thought occurred to him.
“A rabbit!” Matt shouted, his indignation reverberating throughout the car.
Warlock winced, but he didn’t hesitate to correct him. “Two rabbits, as I’m sure you recall. Figured you could do with a hunt.”
If he was trying not to sound gleeful at the idea of Matt getting his kill on while in werewolf form, he failed miserably. Matt glared at him, but even his irritation couldn’t withstand the self-satisfaction the wolf was feeling. It bled over into Matt, and after a few more tense moments, he began to relax. Deliberately not thinking about all the Peter Cottontail books he had read as a child helped.
It had felt good, letting the wolf out, and Matt promised himself he’d do it again. Given Warlock’s smirky grin, Matt could probably count on him to help out.
When they reached the house a few minutes later, the contentment that had settled over Matt melted away. It was at least twenty feet from where Warlock was double-parked to the front door, no including stepping up onto the curb and the three front porch stairs. Gritting his teeth, Matt levered himself out of the car, bracing himself as he made to slam it shut.
“I promise not to die before I get inside the house,” Matt said, smiling tiredly. He felt ready to collapse at any second.
Matt hobbled his way up the walk and let himself inside, turning to wave at Warlock. Grumpy as his friend had been, the worry was clear on his face, and only when Matt began to close the door did he drive away. Matt sighed and limped through the darkened hallway to his room, his leg on fire. His first full moon shift had actually closed the bullet wound on the surface, but the place it had torn open inside his leg had still been a mess. He didn’t want to think about what it must look like then, just wanted to lie down on his bed and sleep for a week.
Which was exactly why McClane’s bedroom door opened just as Matt reached for his doorknob.
“What the hell happened to you?” he demanded. His voice was sleep-rough, and the words came out as little more than a growl that left Matt and his wolf wanting to drop to the ground and go belly up.
“I, uh, fell. I was trying to, um—”
McClane sighed, and the sound carried with it enough disappointment to have Matt physically ache. “Just shut up. Fuck, you’d think you’d trust me by now, you know?” He looked Matt over and shook his head. “Get in there and sit down. I’ll be back in a second.”
Matt listened to the sound of McClane padding into the kitchen, his gut a knot of anxiety. He wanted to apologize, or to explain, but other than tell the truth, there wasn’t much he could say. Feeling just as terrible mentally as he did physically only made him more prone to clumsiness than usual. Four hop-skips into his room, Matt slammed his already painful knee into the edge of his desk, and he let out a grunt of pain.
A second later, McClane was there, his arm coming up under Matt’s and wrapping around his chest. He helped Matt to the bed, and then knelt at his feet. It was awkward, watching McClane strip off his shoes. When McClane reached up and jerked open Matt’s jeans, he could feel his whole face go hot, and he let out a strangled noise of discontent.
“I can do that myself.”
“Yes, because you’ve done an amazing job so far of taking care of yourself. Shut the fuck up and lemme look at your knee.”
His fingers were too warm against the tender skin surrounding the site of the injury, and when McClane pressed along the sides, Matt hissed. Twice he almost pulled away completely, and by the time McClane was done, the only thing holding Matt back from crying were the tattered remains of his dignity. McClane must have seen something of that in Matt’s face, because in the next moment, his grip gentled.
“Hey, hey. You okay? It’s pretty messed up, and you’ll definitely need to see the doctor tomorrow. My rehab appointment is at noon, so I’ll take you with me.”
The fact that McClane needed physical therapy at all should have been Matt’s first clue that the other man was not a werewolf, but that didn’t lessen his regret at having his theory shot to hell. It would have been nice to maybe have something like a real pack.
Pulling himself out of his thoughts, Matt nodded and watched as McClane’s deft fingers wrapped his knee securely in a bandage. Two large ice packs were produced, and once Matt was tucked into bed with his knee elevated, McClane laid them over the injury.
“I’ll be back in fifteen minutes to get them. Here.” He handed Matt two of the Codeine McClane had been prescribed and a glass of water. Then he slipped out of the room, leaving Matt to feel miserable and undeserving all by himself.
Sleep was hard in coming, and while Matt and nightmares were not strangers, he hadn’t had one bad enough to wake him up in almost two weeks. Even as he closed his eyes, though, Matt knew that the worst was yet to come. He dreamed of the first time he had met McClane, but this time, as Gabriel’s men shot up his apartment and blew up his computer, he wasn’t able to fight the wolf.
Matt dropped to the ground, fear slamming through him, followed close on the heels by a rage so thick, he could taste it. This was his life they were destroying. When he felt the wolf begin to rise, Matt didn’t even try to fight it. His body twisted, but the sounds of his joints and muscles and bones shifting was masked by the noises of the men trying to kill he and McClane. Matt snarled low in his throat and stood on unsteady feet.
Beside him, McClane reloaded his gun and checked around the corner, possibly trying to count how many were left. Matt growled and made to move, only to have McClane wave him back. Then the detective was standing as well, and gun at his side, ready to fire. The wolf wanted to hunt, and it tipped back its head, on the verge of howling until McClane’s voice, laden with horror, cut through the haze of bloodlust.
McClane stumbled back, nearly taking a bullet to the head. Without looking, he shot the man standing in what remained of Matt’s kitchen, eyes still locked on the sight of Matt, his features grotesquely twisted, caught halfway between his wolf and human form.
The gun swung around, the barrel almost touching Matt’s forehead, and that was all it took to have him shifting back. Sheer terror gripped him, and he skittered away, nearly tripping over debris.
He held out his hands, palms up, begging for McClane to hear him out. “Wait, please. Please, you have—”
The bang of the gun firing startled Matt out of the dream, and he jerked upright with a cry that had to be audible throughout the house. His heart was pounding in his chest and his skin was clammy. Bile rose in his throat as he recalled the dream-memory of McClane’s expression. The horror, the disgust, written plainly across his features.
Matt was just struggling out of the blankets that had twisted themselves around his legs when his bedroom door opened. McClane peeked in, and for just a second, Matt was terrified that he already knew. The dream was still so fresh, that his immediate response was to flinch away.
“You okay, kid?”
“Yeah, just—just a nightmare.”
McClane nodded, but didn’t inquire. “Just finished up some last minute research and was heading to bed. Need anything?”
Matt glanced at the clock, stunned to discover he had slept the entire day away. It was nearly ten o’clock at night. He was even more surprised when he realized just how tired he still was. But then he recalled how he had spent the night before. The rabbit hunting last night, his fall from the crates, and the intense pain of having his body change form twice.
“No, I’m—I’m good.” Matt refused to mention that now that he was awake, his bladder was screaming at him. Instead, he waited for the sound of McClane’s bedroom door shutting, then eased himself out of bed. His leg shook, and he had to grab for the crutches he had thought himself finally free of, or risk falling. He was so intent on what he was doing, he failed to notice the sound of approaching footsteps, and the next thing Matt knew, McClane was there, swearing at him.
“Jesus, kid, I asked if you needed anything. The least you could fucking do is not lie to me. Again.”
“I wasn’t—I need to pee, that’s it. I figured a few feet wouldn’t hurt me. The whole ‘being helped to the bathroom’ thing just seemed a little awkward.”
“Less so than pissin’ your pants because you fell in the middle of the hallway.” McClane’s tone was cool, but his hands were gentle as he steadied Matt, snagging the crutches out from under Matt’s arms and setting them aside. He helped Matt to the bathroom, then stepped back. “I’ll wait for you,” he said.
Matt did his business as quickly as possible, his knee aching the whole time. When he opened the door, McClane was leaning against the opposite wall, head tipped back and eyes closed. He opened them after a moment, gaze unreadable, then pushed himself upright and reached for Matt.
“One day, kid, you’re gonna figure out I’m pretty trustworthy guy.”
The words were like a punch to the gut for Matt, and he couldn’t bring himself to look McClane in the eye. The silence between them stretched on and on, until Matt was back in bed and McClane was pulling the bedroom door closed behind him.
“I’m sorry,” Matt whispered.
McClane nodded, then shut the door.
. . .
Any satisfaction John had received from the news was obliterated at the sight of Matt on Friday morning. Despite almost twenty-four hours worth of sleep, the kid still looked ragged. His limp was back, more pronounced after he reinjured his knee, and it pissed John off that Matt was so determined to lie rather than trust John.
He watched Matt crutch-hop his way from the kitchen table to the couch, then gathered up the dishes from breakfast. He was halfway across the room, intent on hitting the shower and then seeing if Matt was up from a trip to grocery store when his phone rang. For half a second, John was tempted to let it go to the answering machine, but at the last second, changed his mind and picked up the cordless.
“John? Hey, it’s Connie.”
“Hey, hang on.” John carried the phone down the hall and into his bedroom, shutting the door against prying ears. Just to be safe, he locked himself in the bathroom and turned on the faucet. “Right, what’s up?” John could practically hear Connie arch her eyebrow at him.
“I take it you don’t want to be overheard. I looked up the address you gave me and you’re right, it’s not a residence. It’s an old warehouse owned by Raymond Alvarado. He’s a distributor for several brands of shoes and recently had to upgrade to a larger facility.”
“Is it? Because to me it’s just a disused warehouse. Wanna fill me in?”
“Nah. This one was personal. Thanks, Connie. You’re not half bad,” he added as he turned off the water.
“From you, that’s high praise, McClane,” Connie said wryly. “Anyway, I hear you’re coming back to the precinct soon. I’ve got your desk all ready for you.”
John laughed. “Fuck you, Kowalski,” he growled, but there was no heat to his words.
The conversation turned to a more benign subject after that. Connie filled John in on the latest goings-on at the precinct, including her a brief mention of her reconnection with her ex, Michael. John hedged when Matt’s name came up, but Connie didn’t press him for information. She’d long since learned when, and when not, to push. It was the reason John allowed them to be partnered on the rare occasions it was required.
They disconnected when the conversation began to lag, and John set the phone aside, leaning against the counter to stare at his reflection. The facts were all there: Matt’s fast healing; his insatiable appetite the last week; his restlessness; the fact that he was off hiding in a warehouse just a few miles away. The evidence was all there, but there was nothing solid, no irrefutable proof that John could confront Matt with, not without the kid lying even more.
With a growl of frustration, John snatched up the phone and carried back into the kitchen, depositing it on the charger with a bit more force than absolutely necessary.
“Everything okay?” Matt asked, peeking over the edge of the couch. He had the look of someone who had just been woken from a nap, and John wondered if it was all a ruse, or if Matt was just that guiltless in his deceit. John chose to believe it was the former.
“Yeah. Just spoke with Kowalski, back at the precinct. You’d like her. She’s got a teenage stepson she inherited from her asshole ex-husband, so she knows all about your computer games. She and A.J.—the kid—play one of those online games where you talk to people while you shoot at shit.”
“I’m surprise you don’t play,” Matt said.
John rounded the corner, deciding to ignore all the doubt and suspicion he was harboring toward Matt. Dropping down into his favorite recliner, he stretched out his legs and rolled his bad arm, wincing only minimally. “Nah. I got enough of that shit going on in real life. Don’t need a video game.”
Matt watched him unblinkingly, and John fought the urge to try and startle him, reminding himself that he was the adult. Technically they were both adults, but sleep-rumpled and in an oversized sweatshirt John suspected was his own, Matt looked frighteningly young.
“Why don’t you put on a movie,” John suggested.
“Um, oh. Yeah I can do that. I might fall asleep, though.”
John stared at him blankly. “Kid, pick a goddamn movie.”
They ended up watching the first four episodes of The Sopranos, Season one, though God only knew where the DVDs had come from. John was fairly certain he hadn’t purchased them, which left Matt or Lucy. John’s money was on Lucy.
When he glanced down at Matt’s end of the couch, it was to find the kid completely passed out. His head was tipped back against the arm rest, his mouth slack with sleep. In that moment, he looked so vulnerable it was hard for John to believe the kid was a werewolf of all things.
. . .
"Yeah, it's McClane. Listen, I got a favor." John explained the situation as best he could over the next thirty minutes, pausing only long enough to allow Roberts the rare question. He ended with his suspicions that Matt was sneaking out to transform in the basement of an abandoned warehouse, deliberately leaving out the part where he was about to break into the very warehouse being used for Matt's full moon changes. On a full moon.
"You need to be careful," Roberts cautioned. "As skittish as your wolf-boy may seem, he's still a highly dangerous creature. If he feels threatened, he'll either go on the attack or run. Neither would be a good outcome. And don't be indirect. That doesn't work with werewolves, no matter which form they're in.
“Not to mention, you’re an authority figure to him. You are, despite being human, very much an alpha, and it will have been ingrained in him to take his cues from you. If you don't mention something outright, neither will he, assuming that’s how you prefer it. Passive prompts will only confuse him, or worse, make him think you’re trying to trick or test him.” In the background, John could hear Roberts' nine year old daughter, Gracie, asking her father a question, the plaintive tone audible even over the crackling of their bad connection. Roberts' voice was muffled as he replied, then he returned to their conversation. "Does that make sense?"
"Sure. So what if you talk to him?"
"Wouldn't work. We're too dominant, you and I. He would be thrown off by the status quo and his instincts would get confused. On the one hand, he probably already views you as his pack and, more importantly, his alpha. Add another dominant to the mix, and one who is actually a werewolf, and Matthew will become torn on who he should be responding to. Never mind the fact that my wolf will probably try to assert its dominance upon him. That can only end in bloodshed.
"The agency that is responsible for keeping records of all the werewolves—as well as maintaining those without a pack of their own—are notorious for misleading the wolves in their care. Submissives, as explained by the agency, are the lowest in the pack. Depending on what, exactly, he's been taught about pack ranks and how packs are formed, he may very well interpret being introduced to another dominant werewolf as rejection by you."
John hadn’t realized there was a special ranking system for werewolves, and he made a note to find out more when he had the time.
"Right, so until I get him to admit that he's a werewolf, I've gotta deal with him lying and sneaking around. And what if this agency finds out he's got himself holed up at a warehouse during the full moon?"
Roberts was silent for a long moment, finally sighing. "Honestly? I don't know. If he hasn't hurt anyone, they'll probably just remove him from your care and take him back to the facility. If he does wind up hurting someone..."
"What?" John demanded when the silence had stretched on for too long.
"Chances are, the agency will declare him unmanageable and terminate him."
"For fuck's sake!"
"Which is why you need to tread carefully with him."
John cut the engine a block from the warehouse, out a pair of binoculars, prepared to wait for at least another twenty minutes.
"Yeah, yeah. Tread carefully. Right."
"McClane, where are you?"
"A block away from the warehouse waiting to see if Matt shows up. Why?"
Roberts groaned. "Of course you are. Don't do anything stupid, McClane. We're acting on the assumption that you're right, of course. For all we know, your boy is using this space to rebuild his world-dominating computer system. I've got to go. I'm cutting it close as it is. Keep me apprised, and we’ll discuss this further when you return to work."
"I'll call you to tomorrow," John snapped.
He shoved his phone into his pocket and leaned forward, tracking a pair of oncoming headlights. The car pulled up in front of the warehouse, right under a street lamp, and John clenched his jaw almost to the point of pain when the driver’s side door opened.
"Why the fuck is he here,” John growled, watching as Warlock climbed out of his mother’s car, Matt exiting from the passenger side. His irritation only grew as they slipped into the building and out of sight, leaving John blind as to what was going on.
“Next time,” John muttered, putting his car into drive. He rolled past the warehouse, then continued on home. Spending eight hours sitting at a desk sucked only moderately less than being stuck at home bored, waiting for clearance to return to work. While John wasn’t back on the ten-hour shifts yet, a silver-lining to being on a moderated schedule due to his injury, he would have preferred being back on his beat.
At the house, John grabbed a coke from the fridge, then grimaced and exchanged it for a water bottle. He was halfway through dialing Roberts’ number again, this time to bitch about Matt's friend being in attendance, before it occurred to him just what Roberts has meant when he had said he was cutting it close. No doubt, he needed to prepare for the full moon as well. John hung up his phone with a growl, his frustration reaching a peak. He paced a bit, then snatched up his keys and headed back out.
He still planned to wait until the next full moon before he confronted the kid, but he needed to get a feel for the situation, an understanding of what was happening at the warehouse. Warlock, he knew, would rat him out the second the opportunity arose, so John would need to be quiet. He parked two blocks away, then stuck to the shadows as he moved in.
Not a sound came from the warehouse, and that was enough to have John sliding his gun out, just in case. From what Roberts had said, werewolves were known for their stalking skills, and the last thing John needed was to be caught unawares. Still, by the time he found an open window, he was confident that there was no one outside the warehouse but himself.
John slipped in as quietly as possible, freezing once he hit the ground and wincing as the thud of his boots echoed throughout the huge room. When he was certain no one was coming—and when exactly had this become some sort of covert operation he did not know—John stood and made his way through to the main room. From there, he had only to follow the sound of digitalized gunfire to track down Warlock sitting in a hallway, back against a heavy metal door that had at least five deadbolts keeping it in place.
“Take that, you fucker,” Warlock muttered, gaze locked on the screen of his laptop.
To Warlock’s right were Matt’s clothes from earlier, and to his left was a bottle of water and an energy bar. No blankets, no first aid kit, nothing of any real use. John shook his head and retreated back the way he had come. How the pair of them had managed to do this for two full moons, John didn’t know, but this was definitely going to be the last time. He could understand now, why Matt always seemed to be worse for the wear after the full moon, when Roberts was usually at his best.
When he reached the house fifteen minutes later, John headed for the shower, then fell into bed. Tomorrow, he’d have to start planning. But right then, all he wanted was to sleep, no matter how ridiculously early it was still was.
. . .
Dead tired as he was after his first day back at work, John detoured down to the Narcotics division on his way out, looking for one man in particular. He caught Grant Roberts’ eye from across the room and nodded toward the exit. Seconds later, Roberts was making his way over to John, his friendly expression belying the wariness that had his shoulders pulled back tight. He stopped at the door.
Roberts wasn’t a particularly big man, a little taller than John was, though not as muscular. He was younger by at least ten years, but he was as good at his job as McClane was at his. Better, even, but only because of his heightened senses. As long as they kept things neutral, they were good. It had taken John a few months to figure that part out, how to not antagonize Roberts with inadvertent battles of dominance.
“Roberts. Got a minute?”
John shook his head. “I’ll go with you, but I’m headed home and to bed after this.”
He let Roberts take the lead, less to appease Roberts and more because he still didn’t like the idea of having a predator behind him. When they stepped outside, John slipped on a pair of sunglasses and waited while Roberts hit up the coffee cart at the corner. They drifted toward one of the few benches outside the precinct, and sat down.
“You remember how I told you the kid I was living with might be a werewolf?” John asked without preamble. He kept his voice low despite the fact that there was no one nearby. “And I told you I followed him to that warehouse? Well, I didn’t see him, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.” When he looked over, Roberts was regarding him thoughtfully.
“Are you mentioning it because you want the boy…removed?”
“What? Oh, no. Jesus. I just can’t figure out how to get the kid to fess up.”
Roberts sipped at his coffee, his gaze going distant for a moment. “We discussed this already. It’s not in his nature to disclose what he is, not to a dominant who has not broached the subject first. You should try a direct approach. In fact, given your very nature, I’m surprised you haven’t already.” He drained his cup and tossed it into the bin beside the bench, then stood. “Or it could be that you’re wrong, and he really is off trying to take over the world with his computer. How old did you say the boy is?”
John frowned at the implication of Matt taking up his hacker ways. The firesale had really opened up Matt’s eyes to the world around him, changing a lot of his former perceptions. Ignoring the first part of Roberts’ comment, John replied, “He’s almost thirty, so not really a kid. I’m not wrong about this. Trust me. I’ll wait him out.”
“So you’ll do what in the meantime? Gather more evidence?” Roberts inquired with a wry smile. “If you have something more substantial than a gut feeling, a pile of clothes and a disused warehouse let me know.”
“I’ll do that.”
John watched as Roberts slipped back inside, then shoved his hands in his pockets and headed for his car. He had thought for sure that Roberts would have more insight, and he was irritated by the outcome of their conversation. Or rather, the lack thereof. With a groan, John slid into his car and started the engine. He was tired, hungry and cranky as hell.
By the time John arrived home, his mood had taken a complete nosedive. He let the front door slam behind him, and bypassed Matt in the hall with little more than a grunt of acknowledgement. In his bedroom, John stripped off his shoulder holster and clothes, falling into bed with a groan. He spared a thought to wonder why his pillow smelled like Matt’s soap, but before he could really put too much thought into it, he was asleep.
. . .
Case in point: McClane was currently standing outside Matt’s door, going through the list of take-out options, while Matt was splayed out on his bed, softening cock in hand. He had thought McClane’s shift didn’t end for another hour, but apparently he had remembered wrong.
Grimacing at the mess on his hand—and he very deliberately avoided thinking about how he had come not seconds after John had said name—he wiped it clean on a tissue and dragged on a clean shirt and boxers. He cracked the door open, resigned to not getting even fifteen minutes to himself. McClane’s face did something funny, and then understanding seemed to dawn upon him. Matt felt his whole face go hot when McClane smirked.
“Sorry to interrupt. I’ll just go order the Chinese. You...take your time.”
“Asshole,” Matt muttered.
He shuffled across the hall to the bathroom, showering only long enough to wash the smell of sex off himself. It was embarrassing that McClane had known what he was doing, but he figured that as long as the man didn’t know just what it was that had gotten Matt off in the end, then it was okay.
“It’s not like I’m attracted to the guy,” Matt reasoned, but he knew he was lying. Hell, his wolf knew he was lying.
It was almost humiliating. Matt had been attracted to guys before, but they were always closer to his age. His experience was limited to hastily exchanged handjobs, in the bathrooms of seedy bars, as well as two in the alley by his complex, and the odd blowjob. Unfortunately, the last time he had done that was six months ago, and it had ended with a black eye and a promise to himself to never be that stupid again. Matt had gotten his revenge later. He had lifted the man’s wallet before he could disappear, and Matt methodically hacked every account he could get his hands on, emailing the man’s wife evidence of his indiscretions. It had been a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.
When he stepped out of the bathroom, McClane was in the kitchen whistling. The baseball game was on, and Matt wrinkled his nose. He wasn’t much of a sports person, but baseball, to him, was the worst, dragging on and on until Matt was certain he’d die of old age before it was over. He tuned out the sportscaster’s voice as he opened the fridge and dug two Red Bulls out of the bottom drawer. He ignored McClane’s glare in favor of draining the first can, then popping open the second and downing half of that.
“You’re gonna be up all night, drinking so much of that shit.”
Matt shrugged his shoulders. “I’ll watch a movie.”
“Why don’t you go out for a while? It’s a Saturday night. There’s gotta be something you’d like to do.”
There wasn’t, really. Yeah, there were a couple of movies out, but Matt wasn’t particularly interested in seeing any of them. Other than that, there wasn’t much out there that held any interest. He knew of a few clubs that didn’t look like they sucked, but clubs meant drinking, which would inevitably lead to... An idea occurred to him, one Matt was surprised he hadn’t thought of before. There were a lot of different kinds of clubs in New York, and chances were high that Matt could find at least one that would suit his needs. Maybe, he thought, what he needed was a casual hook-up to help get over his weird—and inappropriate, to say the least—fixation with McClane.
His mind made up, Matt cleared his throat. “Yeah, okay. I might go to the movies. The, um...” He paused, searching his mind for the name of the small theater a few miles away. “The indy place we passed yesterday.”
John eyed him suspiciously, like he thought maybe Matt was lying, but wasn’t certain enough to call him out on it. “Do you want me to drive you over there?”
“Nah. Bus comes by pretty regularly. I can catch a cab back afterward.” He glanced at the clock. It was only just after five, but by the time dinner arrived and he changed, it would be closer to seven. He could see a movie first to kill time, then take the subway downtown. “Maybe I’ll do a double-feature? I mean, is that cool?”
“Kid, you realize, right, that you don’t have to ask my permission? You’re an adult. Probation’s over.”
Matt shrugged and dumped his empty cans in the recycle. He was debating a third Red Bull, just to piss off McClane, when the doorbell rang. The smell of Chinese hit his nose a second later, and Matt’s stomach growled loudly. He trailed down the hall after McClane, earning himself the double-eyebrow raise, but he ignored it in favor of snatching the bags of food away from McClane while the delivery boy waited for payment.
He carried the food to the kitchen, detouring long enough into the living room to turn off the television. Matt made amends by turning on the radio. The glimpse he had gotten of the game had been enough to determine the teams, and he meticulously went through the A.M. stations until he found the right one. He was just sitting down by the time McClane walked in, and Matt shoved one of the containers at him.
They ate quietly, McClane reading over a file he had brought home from work. He had only just started working the streets again, and already he seemed to have landed himself a doozy of a case. Matt watched him scowl at his notes, wondering just what it was about McClane that he was attracted to. He rarely smiled, he was bossy, stubborn and listened to shitty music. Then McClane glanced up, raising an eyebrow when he realized Matt was staring. Matt avoided his stare and went back to eating.
“So, what’s your friend up to?”
“Warlock? Not much. Definitely not world domination.”
McClane rolled his eyes. “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that. So hey, kid. Listen, Lucy told me to tell you that she’s got this friend you might like—”
Matt bit back a yelp and shook his head. “Oh, hey, I should go,” he half-shouted. He excused himself hastily, and escaped to his bedroom to change and hunt down the spare key McClane had given him.
“Wait up a sec,” McClane said when Matt made for the front door. “Lemme give you a ride. I’m gonna stop back over at the precinct to see what notes I left there. This case is pissing me off.”
Matt didn’t bother arguing. That never ended well for him, and there wasn’t much point. Besides which, a ride to the theater would only make his story more believable. Ten minutes later, they were out the door.
. . .
He picked a bar at random, then waited for the bouncer to check his ID. It wasn’t the first time someone had thought it was a fake, but though the man looked incredulous, he waved Matt in without a word. The inside of the bar was dimly lit, and the press of bodies was hard to fight his way through, but soon enough Matt was at the counter, and once again being forced to dig out his ID. The bartender shrugged, and took his order, sliding Matt a Jack and Coke and taking the $5 before stray fingers could do the favor for him.
The music sucked, but Matt tuned it out, eyes traveling over the crowd. Most of the people at the bar looked to be around his age; older and not quite as inclined toward the stupidity that being in college instilled. A cute brunette in a flattering top and skinny jeans chatted him up for a bit, but disappeared when her friends made noise about heading out. Another girl approached just as Matt was thinking of leaving, this one a few years younger than he, with dark hair and exotic eyes.
“Can I buy you a drink?” she asked, shouting to be heard over the din.
“I’m good, thanks. You?”
She held up a half-full glass, the red concoction swirling close to the edge. “Name’s Anna. And you’re the computer genius who helped save America. Wanna dance?”
Matt blinked at her in surprise. He had been banned from talking to the media, but he knew McClane had had to make a couple of public appearances. He wondered if the man had said something, then recalled that both their faces had probably been on all the tabloids. He winced at the thought.
“Thanks for the offer, but I’m just leaving. Promised a friend I’d meet him at another place.”
She nodded, and bracing one hand on his arm, leaned up to press a kiss to his cheek. “Have a good night, Matthew Farrell,” she shouted. Then she was gone, slipping back into the crowd.
It was still warm out when Matt stepped outside, and he rocked back on his heels, just taking it all in. There were a few people milling about but none of them paid him any mind as he crossed the street. He paused under the glowing sign of a rooster, shaking his head at the name, then pushed open the door.
Unlike the bar across the way, The Cockpit was only about half-full, and easily half of the men there were in drag. Matt had to force himself not to stare as he wound his way to the bar, and he pulled out his ID without prompting.
“Oooh, fresh meat!” a voice said from close by, breathless and soft.
Matt looked up, startled to find himself face-to-face with a dazzling Marilyn Monroe look-a-like. “Um, hello?”
“Aren’t you just the cutest. Tell me, darling, are you actually old enough to be in here?”
Matt felt his face heat as several patrons turned to look him over. Before he could respond, the bartender spoke up.
“He’s old enough, Mare. Let the kid be. What’s it gonna be?”
“Uh…” Matt’s brain sort of fizzled out as the Marilyn Monroe queen, Mare, looped an arm around his neck. “I don’t—just a beer?”
“Honey, you’d be perfect for our next twink night. Tell me you’ve got some hunky bear back home to bring you by and show you off.” This was said by a buxom blonde with eyelashes that looked as long as Matt’s fingers.
For just a second, Matt tried to imagine what McClane would look like in a bar like this. He could almost picture it: John McClane leaned up against the counter, cocking his eyebrow at the drag queens and drinking his beer, not the least bit interested by the goings-on around him. And then Matt added himself to the picture, sitting on the stool beside him, one large hand resting warm and proprietary on Matt’s thigh. Or the back of Matt’s neck. He shivered and realized he was hard in his jeans.
“Enough, ladies,” the bartender, George, if his nametag was to be believed, said. He shooed them off, then slid Matt’s beer in front of him. “First time?” he asked, bracing his arms against the bar.
“Er, something like that.”
George nodded and pushed away from the bar, reaching into his pocket. “Here, try this place. It’s quieter, a bit less...intense.”
He slid a card over to Matt, who glanced at the name. ‘The Underground,’ the card read, and it listed an address not far from where he currently was. It sounded like a rave, and when Matt said as much, George laughed.
“Nah, it’s just geared more towards a younger, tamer crowd. No queens. Tell the bouncer I sent you over there. These ladies’ll eat you up if let ‘em. Drinks on the house, kid. Finish up and get on outta here.”
Matt did as instructed, ducking his head at Marilyn Monroe and her friend. Outside, he hunched his shoulders, rolling his leg a little to ease the ache that was just beginning to set in. It was almost eleven-thirty, and Matt knew that McClane was probably expecting him to walk through the door any time now. He considered calling, but there was a distinct lack of pay phones in the area, and Matt was still on the technology ban. He reminded himself that he was an adult, McClane had said as much, and as such, he wasn’t required to call if he was planning to stay out late. If McClane brought it up tomorrow, Matt would simply tell him he went to a bar. Technically, it was the truth.
As he began to head to the club George had suggested he try, Matt caught sight of a trio of men standing under a street light, staring in his direction. He couldn’t hear what they were saying, not over the noise of the cars passing by, but he could tell from their stances and their narrowed eyes, that whatever it was, it wasn’t friendly. He didn’t have to look back to know what they were seeing; a man coming out of a gay bar. Matt shoved his hands into his pockets and started to walk, one eye on the men still watching him. They made no move to follow him right away, but two blocks later, he could hear their footfalls.
From where he was at, Matt could see the club, and he hastened his steps, slipping in through the door just as the guys began to speed up as well. As the door swung shut, he heard one of them shout out the word ‘fag,’ and he glanced over his shoulder, just to assure himself that they hadn’t followed him inside. He found little comfort in the heavy wooden door, but he pushed his worries aside and continued through the entryway into the main room of the club.
The Underground was just as George had described it and more. The age-range seemed to be everything from twenty-one to around mid-thirties, and there was no one single style. There were men in slick suits, the kind of cyberpunks who gave real computer geeks a bad name, college kids and everything in between. Matt let out a breath of relief and fished his ID out of his pocket, handing it over to the bouncer when he reached the check-in point.
“Uh, oh. Um, George? George from, uh, the place down the way. He said I should come here.”
The bouncer looked him over, handing him back his ID card. “Rick, and I can see why. Let me guess, you did a quick internet search and went to the first place you got a positive hit for.”
“Close. I did it the old-fashioned way. Found an ad in a magazine. Not allowed to use computers of any kind, or I would have checked the photo gallery first.”
Rick blinked at him, then laughed loudly. “I knew you looked familiar. You’re that kid, the one who helped New York’s scariest, badass detective save the day. You’re in good hands, kid. Go get a drink at the bar. First one is compliments of the house because George sent you.”
The next hour and a half passed quickly after that. Matt got his drink, another beer, and found an unoccupied table toward the back. Not five minutes after he sat down, a guy probably a few years younger than him showed up, sliding onto the stool beside Matt.
“I’m Eric,” the guy had said, and everything after that became a blur of conversation and beer.
It was easy to follow Eric into the back of the club when the offer was made, easier still to let himself be manhandled up against a wall. It was when Eric’s fingers were curling around his dick that Matt started to rethink his entire ‘get laid’ plan, and he pulled back reluctantly.
“Look, it’s—I want to, right? But the thing is, there’s someone. Not, like. I’m not with someone, but it’s just. I think he’d pissed. If he knew.”
Eric’s eyebrows rose, but he just shrugged. “Suit yourself. If you change your mind...” He pulled Matt’s arm over to him and dug a pen out of God only knew where. His grip was loose enough that Matt could have pulled away at any moment, and the pen barely seemed to whisper across his skin. A few seconds later, Eric was gone, but his phone number was scrawled along the inside of Matt’s arm.
When Matt stepped outside, he realized he had spent a large portion of the money he had needed to get home. The worst of the trek would be closer to McClane’s house, so he opted to start by walking. There was never a shortage of cabs in New York, and Matt was confident he could find one when the time came. It was stupid and careless, but Matt was feeling good from his evening out, from chatting with Eric, which meant he didn’t notice he was being followed until it was too late.
The first punch caught him off-guard and sent him slamming into the pavement, knees first. He bit back a sharp cry at the pain that radiated throughout his bad leg. When his wolf tried to rise, the instinct to protect them surging forward, Matt pushed it down, and scrambled to his feet.
“Look, whatever it is, you can have it. I’ve got, like, thirty bucks, man.”
“Fucking faggot. Who said anything about wanting your money?”
The speaker was to Matt’s left, but the one who attacked came from behind. He knocked Matt back down, and this time, when he made to stand, he was rewarded with two successive blows to the face, one splitting his lip and the second blacking his eye. Matt wheeled back, and tried to rein in the wolf, but his control was slipping. The full moon had occurred just a few days prior, but the wolf had remained close to the surface even after being given time to run free. Matt had been suppressing this part of himself for so long, he had forgotten just how strong the wolf was, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to hold it back much longer.
When the third guy stepped forward to unleash his own retribution for the insult Matt’s sexuality apparently posed, Matt’s control slipped, allowing the wolf to have just a little bit more freedom, and he watched in morbid fascination as he just barely dodged a punch that would have likely broken his jaw. The wolf whispered kill, but where his wolf instincts would have had Matt ripping out the guy’s throat, Matt only yanked on his arm, using his attacker’s momentum against him. The guy slammed into one of his friends, and they toppled to the ground, leaving Matt with only one assailant.
“Jesus, what the fuck?” The guy shouted. He tried to rush Matt, only to take a knee to the stomach, then an elbow to his face. As he crumpled to the ground, blood pouring down into his collar, Matt stumbled back, horrified. This was why he had always been so careful. Not wanting to stick around in case one of them decided to pull a weapon out, Matt turned on his heel and started to run, fear overriding everything else.
Matt was five blocks away from where the guys had jumped him—and fighting the urge to shift and travel on four legs instead of two—when he heard a car honk, and he considered making a run for cover. His hesitation cost him, though, because in the next second, a hand was wrapping around his wrist, jerking him around.
“Whoa, whoa, kid. Jesus! Matt, what—what the hell, kid?”
At the sound of McClane’s voice, the wolf’s rage died, leaving Matt swaying in a non-existent breeze, gasping for breath through over-stressed lungs. He could hear McClane talking to him, but the words made no sense, not when the adrenaline was fading, leaving behind a fire lancing up his left leg and a face that felt like it had been used as a punching bag. He didn’t struggle when McClane began shepherding him into the car, and he leaned back against the seat, eyes closing against the sharp dinging of the door alarm.
“You want to tell me what the fuck happened?” McClane asked, but Matt only shook his head. He expected an argument, but McClane only swore and said, “Of course you don’t.” They pulled away with a squeal that hurt Matt’s ears, and he covered them with his hands, shying away when McClane reached for him. “Fucking idiot. I am not letting you out of my sight ever again. Jesus, every time you go out, you come back looking like you’ve been through a goddamn war zone.”
“How—how did you find me?”
“I’m a cop, Matthew. It’s what I do. I find people. Especially people who don’t want to be found. Like punk kids who lie about where they’re going and then get the shit beat out of them. What the fuck were you doing way out here?”
Matt didn’t bother responding, and McClane stayed silent for the rest of the drive. When they pulled up outside the house, Matt intended to just go inside and lock himself in his room, but no sooner than he stepped out of the car, his leg gave way. He probably would have fallen, too, but suddenly McClane was there, strong hands catching him just in the nick of time.
“You’re a mess, kid,” McClane said as he half-carried, half-walked Matt back into the house. He tossed his keys in the bowl, then maneuvered them down the hall to Matt’s bedroom. He left Matt perched on the edge of his bed, only to return a moment later with his first aid kit in hand. “Now, you wanna tell me what the hell is going on? And don’t lie to me again. I fucking hate it when you lie.”
For a long moment, Matt said nothing. He wanted desperately to come clean. Nothing had been the same after the night he re-injured his knee, and he missed the easy camaraderie of before. Then he felt McClane’s hands on his face, tipping it to the side and into the light so that McClane could dab at the cut above his eye. In that moment, McClane looked so...concerned, that Matt couldn’t stop himself from trying to explain.
“I went to a gay club,” he blurted. His mouth snapped shut a second later, when McClane’s hands stilled, but it was too late to back down. “I just—there was one not far from my apartment. That I used to go to. It wasn’t like—it wasn’t like I went looking for trouble. Those guys, they were standing outside when I went in, and then they followed me to the second place.”
“And you didn’t think that maybe you should call me? Tell me that some assholes were looking to jump you?”
Matt sucked in a sharp breath at the sting of antiseptic on his lip. “I figured they’d leave. I was in there for two hours.”
McClane made a sound of disgust, and just for a second, Matt felt sick to his stomach. Then McClane returned to cleaning him up, his hands just as steady as before. His reply eased some of the worry knotted up in Matt’s gut.
“Guys like that? They’re itchin’ for a fight. They wanted to hurt you. Next time, call me.”
McClane pulled back enough to meet Matt’s gaze, and he nodded once, sharply. “Next time. So you’re gay. Big fucking deal, kid. I vote Republican, but that don’t mean I’m a complete asshole.”
It was like a dam broke; relief swept through Matt, leaving him shaking. If McClane noticed, he made no mention of it. Instead he tugged Matt’s shoes off, then huffed impatiently. “Lose the pants, kid. I need to see how much of a mess you’ve made out of that leg.”
Matt was certain he had already reached his lowest right up until the moment McClane’s hands wrapped around his leg, one above his knee and one below. He shivered at the touch, and was horrified when, just as McClane leaned forward to inspect the a cut Matt didn’t recall receiving, his traitorous cock stirred. A part of him wanted to cry, but another part of him simply refused to acknowledge it. McClane, however, missed nothing, and a second later, he glanced up, one eyebrow sliding up.
With a groan of humiliation, Matt covered his face with his hands. “Oh god,” he croaked. “I’m sorry. Fuck, I—”
At the sharp tone, Matt jerked his hands down, startled into meeting McClane’s eyes. “I swear, I’m not—”
“Kid, it’s all right. Jesus. Just—whatever, okay? I get it. Adrenaline, scary situation. I shouldn’t’ve teased you. I’m sorry, all right? Just calm down.”
Matt nodded. “Yeah, I just...” He reached over to snatch up a pillow and shoved it down over his lap. “Sorry,” he added one more time, because he was still terrified McClane would realize it wasn’t just a random reaction. That Matt was, in fact, attracted to the prickly bastard.
The silence was terrible, but it broke when McClane laughed, the short, scary barking laugh that set the wolf’s teeth on edge. Matt forced himself not to flinch, and a when he looked down once more, McClane was back to inspecting his knee.
“Looks okay. Not as bad as I’d’ve thought. Ice it for ten minutes, then go to sleep. Want any drugs?”
“Nah, I’m okay.” Matt picked at a corner of the pillow, watching McClane from beneath his fringe. He had thought his ‘McClane Facial Expressions’ interpretation skills were rather impressive, but he couldn’t figure out what the slight curl of his mouth meant. “What—”
“I’ll give ya a couple of Codeine and check on you in the morning, okay?” He didn’t wait for Matt to nod, and this time, when he came back, he also brought Matt’s radio. “Don’t stay up all night. I’m still taking you to see the doc in the morning, and your appointment with Dr. Waters is at one forty-five. And Matt? It’s not a big deal.”
Matt’s throat worked convulsively, but he managed to force out a soft, “yeah, all right,” before McClane left the room. He wondered if this was going to become a theme.
. . .
“Have a seat. Coffee?”
“God yes,” Matt replied, a yawn cutting him off when he went to say more. John slid him a mug, the contents cream-colored and sugared to the kid’s requirements. He received a groan of appreciation for his efforts. “What time are we leaving?”
“Not until nine-fifteen.” John glanced up at the clock to double-check the time. “You’ll have enough time to shower. Oh, and Lucy is coming by for dinner. Again.”
He should have been pleased, John knew. Any time with his daughter was precious, but lately, she’d been giving him that look. Sometimes it meant she was trying to figure out how to break bad news—Holly getting engaged to some douchebag in San Francisco—or, occasionally, she was plotting against him, like the two failed attempts at setting him up with women Lucy had found only God knew where. It was a definite cause for worry, and the only relief he got from it was when she’d turn that same look on Matt. Poor, oblivious Matt. McClane wondered how long it would be until Lucy had Matt sitting in some horribly expensive restaurant with one of her school friends.
When he turned around again, Matt’s head was down on the table, his eyes closed. “Hey, kid,” John said, nudging him lightly. “Go back to bed. I’ll reschedule with Dr. Waters and we’ll stop by the hospital tomorrow instead.”
“No, I’m up. I’m up.” He sat upright and tried to look alert, but the effect was ruined when he yawned once more.
“Just go, before I change my mind.”
The kid was clearly still exhausted, because when he stood, he forgot about his crutches and made to walk on his own. He nearly fell, catching himself on the back of a chair, and John abandoned breakfast in lieu of helping him back to bed. He had the forethought to grab a fresh ice pack on their way to Matt’s room, and he made sure to apply it where the swelling was the worst. When he chanced a peek at Matt’s face, fully expecting him to be asleep, John was surprised to see Matt’s eyes open, sleep-laden and dark with something new.
It took him a moment to comprehend what he was seeing, and when it hit him, it was all John could do not to jerk away. He knew that look, recognized it from the gazes of the women who had tried to make a place in John’s bed for themselves. With a groan, John climbed to his feet, deliberately ignoring the way Matt’s cheeks flushed and he licked his lips.
“Go back to sleep. I’m off today, so I’ll check on you later.” He started to walk away, then doubled back, reaching out to press a hand to the kid’s forehead. He swore when he felt how hot Matt was. “Now you’re gonna get sick?” It made more sense, the too-bright eyes, the color high across Matt’s cheeks. He shook his head, and reached for the aspirin he had left on Matt’s bedside table. “Take these,” John instructed. Matt’s gaze wavered, dipped down to the pills in the middle of John’s hand, but when he tried to reach for them, he fell short. “The pills, kid. Take ‘em.”
Matt blinked, then tried again, this time succeeding. He swallowed the pills dry, then allowed John to tip a sip of water into his mouth to clear away the bitter aftertaste. “Sorry,” Matt murmured.
“Not your fault, kid.” John touched his fingers to Matt’s forehead, only to yank them away when Matt let out a sound that had absolutely nothing to do with being sick, though it could probably still be blamed on the fever. “Fuck. Me,” John groaned, then he made his escape, not wanting to hear—or see—Matt’s response to that.
There wasn’t so much as a peep from the bedroom for another three hours, so after John ate a quiet breakfast alone, he spent the time taking stock of what needed repair around the house. The heater had been replaced just a year or so before his mother’s death, and the washer and dryer were his own additions to the house, but the back porch needed refinishing, the patio furniture needed replacing, the oven was at least thirty years old and so many other little things that John had a headache by the time he finished his list. Just the thought of all the money he’d be sinking into the house was enough to make him consider going back to bed.
He was just sitting down at the table to prioritize his list when he heard Matt making his way down the hall, this time without his crutches. He stopped by the bathroom, and a few minutes later, he shuffled into the kitchen, the cane the hospital had given him gripped in one hand.
“Sorry ‘bout that,” Matt said as he entered the room. His voice was rough, and his hair was in a state of total disarray. That John thought it was cute kind of pissed him off.
“Don’t worry about it. Hungry?”
Matt’s stomach growled at the same time that he said, “God, yes.” He laughed a little, his sheepish expression taking a few more years off his face. It reminded John that while Matt wasn’t actually a kid, he was still incredibly young, especially in comparison to John. Why that only furthered his irritation at the moment, John refused to think about.
While Matt inhaled the two cups of coffee he was given, John pulled breakfast out of the oven where he had left it to warm. The bacon had lost most of its crispiness, but he doubted the kid would complain. There were sausages as well, and John shoveled both, alongside the eggs, onto a plate and slid it in front of Matt.
“When you’re done eating, we need to talk.”
Matt froze with his fork suspended halfway to his mouth, a look of dread stealing over his features. John stared at him for a moment, then shook his head.
“Matt, it’s not the end of the world, you being gay. I don’t know why you didn’t just say so before, but I’m not gonna kick you out just because you happen to like dick.” And yeah, okay, as far as reassuring words went, those pretty much sucked, but John had never had to have this kind of discussion before.
“But what if—what if I don’t just like dick?” He was staring at his plate, knuckles white as he gripped his mug in one hand and his fork in the other. “What if I like you?”
The silence that followed that question was deafening. John knew he should say something, but he was stuck in ‘stunned,’ and he wasn’t sure how to move forward. He would have remained like that, but then Matt pushed away from the table, a horrible, almost animal sound breaking out of him. Just like that, John was moving, grabbing him by the wrist and holding him still.
“I’m not—I’m not gonna beat you up, kid. I’m not that kind of asshole. So just calm the fuck down for a second while I digest what you just said. Like I said, it’s not—” He paused, knowing that saying ‘a big deal’ about something like this would probably only upset the kid. “It’s not like it’s the end of the world, kid. Matt. We’ll figure it out.”
It made sense, now that John thought about it. He didn’t release his grip on Matt’s arm until the kid was sitting down once more, and then John only moved away long enough to clear the table. When he sat down, Matt flinched, and John had to fight the urge to growl.
“Look, I’m not gonna tell ya what you’re feeling because I’m not that kinda guy, but I think if you get out more, meet some people your own age, you’ll be better off.”
Matt let out a laugh that was brittle and sharp, but he didn’t get a chance to reply. The sound of a key in the door cut off any further conversation along those lines, and John silently cursed Lucy’s terrible timing. He had called her earlier to say he had canceled their appointments for the day and to come over whenever. He regretted that now.
“Dad? Matt?” Lucy’s voice proceeded her into the room, and she paused in the doorway, eyebrows shooting up. “Hey, something wrong? Oh my god, what happened to your face Farrell?”
“Hey, honey.” John stood and crossed the room, pulling her into a hug. “There was an incident last night. It’s mostly taken care of.”
"Mostly." John gave his daughter a look and she nodded, understanding what he wasn’t saying. “Now, how are classes?”
“Classes are good. But wait, if Matt’s face isn’t the issue, then what’s going on? You look like someone died. Oh god, did someone die?”
John shook his head. “No, just having a discussion with Matt. Where’s Jim?”
Lucy wrinkled her nose. “Don’t try to change the subject, daddy. I swear, I’m not—oooh. Oh!” Her eyes went wide, and it was all John could do not to start cursing.
“Lucy, honey. Don’t. Just don’t.”
“Wow. I didn’t think he’d have the balls to do it.”
“You knew?” Matt looked stunned and maybe just a little sick.
“I guessed? It wasn’t obvious or anything. Jim doesn’t have a clue. Neither does mom, p.s.,” she added, throwing a look at John. “Which is amazing, considering that you’ve managed to work wonder-boy into every conversation since the whole fire sale thing happened” She didn’t so much as bat an eye when John glared at her, just turned to direct the last sentence at Matt. “I just see things.” Lucy grinned. “Cop’s daughter. What can I say?”
“I think I’m going to go back to bed.” Matt shoved away from the table, but John stopped him once more.
“Shower, change and come back.”
Matt nodded and slipped out of the room. Only when the sound of the shower could be heard did John sit back down at the table, Lucy taking the seat closest to him.
“Did he say anything else?” she asked lowly. “About the other thing?”
“Not a word. I know there’s a whole code of secrecy, but it’s eatin’ the kid up inside. Doesn’t take a doctor to know that. Speaking of doctors, his is worried about a stomach ulcer.”
John sighed and rubbed a hand over his head. “Lucy, I can’t just demand that he tell me. Most people don’t even know they exist. I shouldn’t know that they exist.” He eyed her wearily, the conversation already managing to exhaust him. “And neither should you. It’s not safe.”
They both looked toward the door, but the shower was still going, the sound of it almost unnaturally loud. Even then, when Lucy spoke next, it was hardly more than a whisper. “But you’re sure. That he’s—that Matt’s a werewolf?”
For the last two full moons, the kid has been gone, and the on the very first one, he had locked himself up in his room. John hadn’t realized then, but he wasn’t a Lieutenant Detective for nothing, either. There had been other signs, things John had pieced together with a little outside help. And wherever Matt had gone the first time he left the house, he had gotten himself hurt. “The next full moon is in three and a half weeks. I figure, if he doesn’t tell me this time, before or after, then next time…I’ll follow him.”
“Daddy, you know that’s dangerous. You said so yourself: werewolves don’t recognize friend from foe—or food—in their wolf form, not outside pack. What if he attacks you?”
He had thought about that, and John wondered what it said about him that none of this really bothered him. “He won’t. And if he does, I’ll be prepared.” At Lucy’s blank look, he shrugged. “Tranq gun. I talked to Roberts from Narcotics and he figured out the dosage for me. I won’t kill the kid, but I also won’t let him kill me.”
Lucy reached over to pat his hand. “I trust you. And the other thing? You know I wouldn’t judge you, right? And neither will mom, if you tell her.”
“Lucy, I am not discussing that with you.”
“I’m just saying,” she huffed. “If you decide to give it a chance, you have my blessing.”
John had nothing to say to that, so he simply let it go. There would never be a time in which having a conversation about his sex life, or lack thereof, with Lucy would be anything but uncomfortable. She did get points for effort, though.
“Just make sure you know what you’re doing, daddy. But about that other other thing, I called Warlock the other day—no, don’t ask how I got his number—and he told me to start with this.” She paused to dig through her purse, pulling out a folded slip of paper that she slid over to him. While John looked it over, she continued. “He said that this will be good enough to get him going again.” She timed her next comment just as John took a sip of his coffee. “Warlock wanted to know if you were courting Matt and if he should find out now what your intentions are.” She laughed as John wheezed, then switched topics smoothly as the shower shut off. “Jim had to fly home to see his parents. His dad was in a car accident. Nothing major, but Jim wanted to see him. He’s due back on Thursday.”
Awkward as it was, John cleared his throat and said, “I’m sorry to hear that, Lucy.” He was saved from having to say anything else by the reappearance of Matt, hair still damp, but looking slightly refreshed.
Sitting back down, Matt glanced between them. “What did I miss?” he asked after a beat.
John shook his head. “Nothing much. Jim’s out of town for a minor family emergency.”
Matt’s lips twisted down, and he turned to catch hold of Lucy’s hand, squeezing briefly. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Lucy just rolled her eyes. Ever the sympathetic one, his daughter. “So, since we have all day together, I was thinking we should go out.”
“Out?” John repeated, Matt echoing him. The kid looked mildly horrified when John glanced at him.
Lucy narrowed her eyes at them. “Yes, out. I have two papers due at the end of next week and my laptop is in the midst of a meltdown. I need a replacement and you,” she said, stabbing a finger in Matt’s direction, “are going to help me pick one out.”
“Why don’t the two of you just do that online-thing here? I’ve got a computer in the den. It could be a bonding experience.” At Lucy’s glare, John shrugged. “Honestly, Luce, Matt needs to stay off his leg, so a walk-about at the mall isn’t really a good idea. Last time nearly set him back two weeks.” A blatant lie, but John wasn’t worried about that.
“Oh.” Her gaze dropped to Matt’s leg, but he was wearing a baggy pair of jeans.
She looked so crestfallen, John wanted to say something. Matt rescued him. “Did you bring your laptop with you? I could take a look at it, see if it’s something I can fix.”
“That would be great!”
After Lucy ran to get her laptop from the front hall, John stayed in the room long enough to clean up the rest of the breakfast dishes, then wandered out to the living room. The game wasn’t on until later, and he had already tidied most of the house, so John settled down onto the couch, head tipped back against the cushions. He closed his eyes and focused on the sound of Lucy’s voice as she argued with Matt over the proper care of one’s personal computer.
After a while, their conversation became background noise, and John found himself thinking not just about what Lucy had said, but the earnest expression on her face. Like she honestly believed John would heed her advice and what? Sleep with a very male kid half his age? John laughed incredulously, then grinned when he noticed how quiet it had gotten in the kitchen.
“It’s kind of creepy when he does that,” Matt said, not bothering to lower his voice.
“Dad’s always been that way. He talks to himself, too.”
“Oh I know!”
They dropped their voices then, but John wasn’t overly concerned. If they wanted to talk about him, he didn’t care. Neither of them was likely to say anything too terrible, and it was good for Matt to have someone to talk to that was closer to his age. Someone normal, who wouldn’t let him get carried away talking about RAM and gigabytes. Lucy had low tolerance for shit like that, whereas John was content to let the kid ramble simply because of how excited he would get. John had gotten a small glimpse at what Matt was like during the fire sale, but afterwards, Matt had gotten quiet, like he was afraid to bring attention to the fact that he liked computers. It was rare for him to get worked up, and John...well, John enjoyed watching how animated Matt would get.
“Fuck,” John groaned.
It went deadly quiet in the kitchen, and then Lucy giggled. Giggled, the little traitor. John could almost picture Matt’s confused expression.
“What? What was that about? What am I missing, McClane?”
“Nothing, nothing. Sorry. It’s just. I think daddy finally realized something. He does that. Ooh, have you heard his rants? Those are the best.”
Their conversation devolved from there, but John wasn’t listening anymore. Instead, he silently cursed Lucy and her unwanted observations. Because now—now John was stuck with not so much the realization that he liked Matt, but the fact that ‘like‘ could very easily become something more. Would become something more, if John allowed it. He swore he wouldn’t, then opened his eyes just in time to see the kid peer over the back of the couch at him.
“So hey,” Matt said, his voice low and a shy smile playing at the corners of his mouth. “We were thinking we’d go out to lunch in a few hours. She’s going to need a new laptop. Dells are the worst, man. She’s got, like, eight Trojans on the stupid thing, plus her hard drive is dying. Is that okay?”
“Yeah. Yeah, that’s fine. What are you two up to now?”
Lucy appeared at the arm of the couch, smirking unattractively. “We thought we’d keep you company, dad. There’s a game on, isn’t there?”
“Not until later.” John glared at her, hard, trying to convey just how he felt about the idea of them occupying the same room as him. She ignored him, unsurprisingly.
“A movie then? We can see what’s on.”
She snatched up the remote before John could stop her, going straight to the On-Demand menu and scrolling through. John saw the title at the same time she did and he groaned aloud.
“Don’t what? Oh, look, Matt. Underworld. Kate Beckinsale looks amazing in leather, don’t you think?”
She laughed and dropped down into the armchair, leaving Matt to take a seat on the couch. “Scott Speedman’s more your type, right?” John caught the sly glint in her eye, but he wasn’t fast enough to stop her. “Oh, but wait. You like older guys, right?”
Matt’s face went red at that, and he made to stand up again, probably to flee in embarrassment. John latched onto his elbow, tugging him back, then leaned around the kid to glare at his daughter. “Lucy, that’s enough.”
Lucy had the grace to look ashamed, and she scrolled back through the list, setting on an older movie. “Sorry, Matt,” she murmured a moment later.
John didn’t let go of Matt’s arm until the kid relaxed, and they lapsed into silence as the movie began. A moment later, John laughed. “Hey, kid, did I ever tell you about the time Lucy...”
He spent the next ninety minutes making Lucy squirm and pretending that the way Matt’s eyes lit up had no effect on him at all.
He was gonna kill his daughter for popping his balloon of ignorance.
. . .
Lucy’s exuberant tone immediately put Matt and guard, and had he been in wolf form, his hackles totally would have risen.
“Absolutely not,” he replied.
Matt wasn’t sure if she was changing the topic, or just tactics, so he was still more than a little hesitant when he said, “What about it?”
Lucy made a disgruntled noise, like she was annoyed to have to spell it out for him. “What are your plans? Are you staying with my dad? Going home?”
“My apartment was blown up. In case you forgot.” Matt knew that wasn’t what she meant, and he frowned at the screen of the laptop McClane had bought for him. Or rather, purchased for himself, but then handed over to Matt, telling him not to get them both arrested. If that had been McClane’s attempt at not feeding into Matt’s crush, the man needed a serious talking-to.
“Your family, asshole. Don’t play stupid. Are you going to visit them?”
“No,” Matt said at last, closing the laptop with more force than absolutely necessary. “I’m staying here. I thought you were flying home to see your mom. What’s with the twenty questions?”
“It was one question, and yes, I am. Jim’s going with me. I just wanted to know if should buy dad a ticket out to San Francisco, or if he had plans.”
Matt sighed and shoved away from his desk. He wasn’t limping anymore, a major plus in his book, which meant no longer having to keep the ridiculous cane on hand. When Lucy only continued to make impatient throat noises at him over the static-filled line, he carried the cordless phone into the kitchen where McClane was on his back under the sink, trying to fix the garbage disposal. Matt took a moment to just enjoy the view, then he cleared his throat.
“Look, here’s your dad. Ask him what his plans are yourself.” He dropped the phone on John’s stomach and left before another word could be said, but he didn’t go far. Instead of returning to his room, he stayed just outside the door, blatantly listening in.
“Luce, what’s going on kiddo?”
“I just wanted to know what your plans are for the holiday. I asked Matt if he was going to visit his family and he got all pissy.”
There was a long pause, then John spoke again, his voice quieter. “He doesn’t have any, Luce. That’s why Deputy Director Bowman asked if he could stay with me."
“Oh. Shit, I totally suck for not realizing that. Sorry. I don’t suppose you both want to fly out to California with me, do you?”
“No, we definitely do not. We’re going to keep it low-key. And by that I mean, we are not leaving this house, not even under pain of death.”
On the other end of the line, Lucy laughed, high and breathless, like McClane had just said the funniest thing in the world. Matt thought back on what he knew about McClane and realized that yeah, it was kind of funny, in a sick horrible way that wasn’t. “And who is going to cook your meal? Actually, scratch that. I know just the place. And they deliver, so you really won’t have to leave the house. I’ll call them now. And daddy?”
“I love you.”
“I love you too, sweetheart. We’ll see you this weekend?”
“You bet. I’ll call you Friday.”
They disconnected a second later and Matt tiptoed back to his room, leaving the door open and flopping back on his bed. He turned their conversation over in his head, wondering just how much McClane knew about his home situation. Of everyone, McClane, Matt knew, would never pity him. He’d just nod, say something cutting and witty, and then change the subject.
“Lucy’s ordering us Thanksgiving dinner,” McClane said.
Matt jumped, a squeak of surprise escaping as he slipped off the side of his bed. When he stood, McClane was smirking at him, eyes dancing.
“All right there, tiger?”
“You startled me!” He sat back down in the middle of his bed and picked at the frayed knee of his jeans.
McClane laughed outright at that. “Sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt your deep thoughts. Anything you want to share?” He leaned against the doorframe, somehow managing to look both unassuming and like a predator sizing up its prey.
“I, uh. I just.” Matt blinked, gaze sliding down to the phone dangling from McClane’s fingers. “Lucy. She, um, she asked if I was going home to visit family.”
“Ah. Hey, look—”
“They dumped me at a fire station when I was five. My parents. Or rather, my mom. She, um.” He stopped to take a deep breath, because even now, twenty-four years later, the sting of rejection was so sharp it was like a physical wound to his soul. “She handed me my backpack, just like on my first day of school, and told me to go knock on their door. She said they were going to give me a private tour because I had missed the one my class had gone on.”
Matt refused to meet his gaze as he continued. “I remember getting all the way up there and ringing the doorbell, then turning around to wave to her. To show her what a big boy I was and she was—she was just. Gone. And then the door opened, and there were all these hands, and I kept calling for her, but she never came.” Matt finally looked up, and he let out a shaky breath of relief when McClane only stared back, expression unreadable, and not a trace of pity to be seen. “So yeah. No family. The Agency tried to track them down, because that was before you could just drop your kid off and leave, but it was like they disappeared.”
“Lemme guess,” McClane said, pushing away from the doorframe and moving all the way into the room. He stopped at the end of the bed. “Foster care?”
“I suppose, though ‘care’ isn’t exactly the word I’d have used.” Matt noticed the tick in McClane’s jaw, the way his hands fisted at his sides, the poor phone creaking ominously, and it occurred to him what McClane was thinking. “No. Not—nothing like that. God. There were one or two homes where I earned myself a backhand or two, but not. Not that.”
Matt had always considered himself lucky in that regard. Oh, there had been one instance, where a friend of the family he was staying with had taken a shine to Matt. He had even managed to corner Matt in the bathroom one night, but Mark, Matt’s foster father, had caught him at it and called the police. That had been one of the better homes, where Matt hadn’t been blamed for the wrongdoing of someone else. Mark had even gone so far as to teach him a couple of self-defense moves.
Some of the tension in McClane’s shoulders eased, and he dropped the phone onto the bed. He sighed and rubbed a hand over his face, looking tired and old for the space of a breath. Then the moment passed, and McClane reached out to ruffle Matt’s hair.
“Get your jacket. We’re going out to dinner.”
Matt didn’t wonder at the sudden declaration; last he knew, they were having leftovers. He scrambled off the bed and grabbed his wallet and jacket, then stopped when he realized that McClane was still standing in the same place, watching him. Matt paused beside him, searching his face, but whatever was going on inside McClane’s head, there were no outward clues.
“McClane?” When that evoked no response, Matt repeated it, then said, “John?”
McClane blinked and shook his head. “Sorry. Was just thinking about...something. And you should do that more often.”
“Do what?” Matt asked as he followed McClane out of the room and to the front hall.
McClane glanced at him slyly. “Call me by my first name.”
“Um, but you hate being called by your first name.”
“Only by my daughter. But you...you should call me John.”
Matt had no response to that, so he kept quiet and hurried outside, locking up as McClane strode toward the car. When Matt reached for the passenger door, McClane caught his eye once more.
“Besides, when you say it, I don’t mind so much.” And then the bastard winked.
There was nothing to say to that, but Matt couldn’t help turning the words over in his head as they drove. He wondered what McClane meant, wondered if there was some double meaning. Everyone called McClane ‘McClane.’ It’s what they did. The longer he dwelled on it—fifteen minutes and thirty-four seconds so far—the twitchier he got. He wasn’t really aware of it though until John’s hand came down on the back of his neck, warm and solid and sure. Grounding.
“You’re over-thinking it, kid. It’s not one of your algorithms; it’s a name. Say it with me. John.”
Absurdly enough, Matt heard himself saying it with John, his voice cracking somewhere in the middle of the name. He wanted to be embarrassed, but John’s fingers were squeezing gently at his neck, and Matt found it hard to feel anything but content in that moment.
“How does Italian sound?”
It took a few tries for Matt to get his voice to work. “Italian—Italian sounds good.”
John squeezed his neck one last time, then he returned his hand to the steering wheel, fingers drumming out an odd beat. Matt tipped his head back against the seat and closed his eyes, letting the quiet settle around him. Then John turned on the radio, tuning into a news radio station, and Matt was off. Spouting off all the reasons John was wasting him time listening to that shit, trying to cram in as much as possible before he was inevitably cut off. He was halfway through his third spiel when he spied the grin tilting up one corner of John’s mouth and he stopped, shaking his head.
“No, please continue. I would really like to hear all about how news radio is the perpetrator of subliminal messages.”
The bastard probably meant it, too, so Matt didn’t hold back.
. . .
Thanksgiving, impossibly, passed with little fanfare. No explosions, no hostage situations, no John getting shot, blown up or jumping out of moving vehicles. Matt counted it as a holiday win, glad for the calm before the storm. He even allowed John to feed him at least one-third of what was once a thirty-two pound turkey over the course of the evening. He glutted himself on mashed potatoes, black olives, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and stuffing without a single thought to the repercussions because the full moon was only two days away. And when John loaded Matt’s plate with sausages, bacon and leftover turkey the next morning, well, Matt just quietly put it all away. In his stomach.
Matt was glad for it all, because it meant he was that much better off when he arrived at the warehouse. Warlock was already there, looking just as bent out of shape as ever, though Matt didn’t feel the slightest bit guilty. Warlock’s aunt on his mother’s side lived in New York, and Mrs. Kaludis had always made a point to come up at least once a month. Warlock had simply started rescheduling their visits to coincide with the full moon, then borrowing the car to help Matt out. It was perfect, really, though there was no telling how long it would last.
Inside the building, Matt shivered as he stripped down. It was getting too cold for this, and he had a sudden thought that he should have brought a blanket. Warlock had planned for the weather, bundled up in layers. His gloves were fingerless, but the rest of him was protected against the chill, something Matt greatly envied.
“God this sucks,” Matt muttered as he opened the door to the basement.
“I know man. I didn’t even think about the fact that you’re not a fully functioning adult, or I’d’ve brought you a blanket.” He winced sympathetically. “I suggest not waiting for the moon and changing once I’ve got the last bolt done. Oh, and there’s four rabbits this time, so eat up. The fresh meat will help.”
Matt glared at him as Warlock pulled the door closed, then he headed down the stairs, his feet stinging from the cold concrete. He wove his way to the furthest room, then hunched down in a corner and called up the wolf. It came eagerly, and as Matt’s body began going through the painful transformation, his thoughts bled from completely human to base, instinctual. The wolf howled out the last of his pain, then put his nose to the ground and began the hunt.
The first rabbit gave itself away, dashing out from under a crate and zig-zagging through the room toward the exit. Matt watched it run, ears perked forward, and let it get almost to safety before leaping. He snapped the neck quickly and ate on the spot, licking the blood from his muzzle before abandoning the pile of picked-clean bones. He could smell more quarry, and now that he had eaten, he thirsted for a real hunt.
He took his time flushing them out, chasing them from room to room, herding them toward his favorite spot. One dared try to make its escape while he was chasing after another, but a quick snap of his jaws sent it flying back to the corner. Unlike other predators, Matt chose not to tease his prey, killing all three at once, then taking one off to a separate corner for slow consumption.
Just as Matt was finishing the last of his dinner, he heard the sound of the door opening. He leapt to his feet, a thrill racing through him. He knew that sound; his captor occasionally opened the door to set out water, but Matt had never been able to get him. He wanted to bite and tear, wanted to hunt the human smell down until he could feast upon it, but always, by the time he reached the door, it was shut and barred.
There was always a chance, though, that his prey had grown careless. Leaving behind the remains of his meal, Matt trotted out of the room and in the direction of the stairs. He could hear feet scuffing the floor and he slowed, dropping to his belly so that he could creep up on his kill. As he drew closer, Matt’s nose twitched, a tantalizingly familiar scent reaching him. He snarled low in his throat as he came around the last corner, and he tensed, preparing to make the killing lunge. He never had the chance.
. . .
“What the hell, man!” Warlock swore, then his eyes went wide with shock. “Oh shit.”
“Outta the way, Warlock.”
Warlock seemed frozen, but when John stepped forward, he threw up his hands, blocking the way. “No way,” he said, face pale. “You don’t know—you can’t go in there.”
“I damn well can, and I will. Now move.”
For just a second, it looked like Warlock was going to obey, but at the last second, he shook his head. “I can’t do that. You go in there—”
“And what? My throat will be ripped out by a rampaging werewolf?” John wolf-grinned and held up his gun. “Got that covered. Now get the fuck out of my way. And do not lock this door, do you hear me?”
“Fine, it’s your funeral, man,” Warlock muttered as he moved aside, his fingers hovering over the bolts. “You gotta be quick, though. He knows the sound of the door being opened and he’ll come tearing out of wherever he’s hiding, probably so he can eat me.”
“Matt ain’t eating anyone, so just shut up. Gimme a minute.” John toed off his boots, then pulled on two extra pairs of socks. He shucked his leather jacket, but kept it with him, then hefted his bag onto his shoulder once more. The gun was hidden beneath his shirt, and at first glance, he looked completely unarmed. “Go,” he ordered.
The second the door was open, John slipped through, taking the stairs two at a time to reach the bottom. He heard the door shut behind him, heard all the locks slide into place, and he sent up a prayer to whatever higher power was out there that he wasn’t making a mistake. Then he took a seat by the wall and waited. He could hear the soft scritch-scritch of claws on concrete, and he had to take a few calming breathes to steady himself.
Not a moment later, the werewolf—Matt, John reminded himself—came around the corner, eyes flashing and a warning snarling erupting out of it. Him. John waited until just before Matt lunged to narrow his eyes and bark, “Matt!”
The wolf stilled, body still coiled and ready to pounce, but alert. There was an awareness in its gaze that no truly wild creature could ever possess, and John knew it was this that set the werewolf apart from its cousins. He stared Matt down, and after a few more tense seconds, Matt’s head dipped, breaking eye contact.
John took a moment to just look, taking in and cataloging every detail. He had seen Roberts’ wolf form once, the image of it captured on Mrs. Roberts’ phone. That had been a beast, a creature closely resembling the werewolves of legend. Large, broad-shouldered, and with legs built for bursts of speed but not long-distance running. No two wolves were the same, but Roberts had said that the more dominant the male wolf, the more beastly its appearance. Matt, on the other hand, appeared more like how Roberts had described female wolves, more like real wolf. He was taller than most wolves by a few good inches, lanky and shaggy-haired. Those weren’t the only differences, though. Most werewolves had either ice blue or yellow eyes—and occasionally a reddish hue, Roberts had said, but those were the most dangerous of all and should be killed on sight—but Matt’s were their own honeyed brown. It was like seeing the human inside the beast, and it gave John a sense of double vision.
“Matt,” he said, and the werewolf tipped its head to the side, watching him warily. “Come here.”
It—he hesitated at first, but when John repeated the command firmly, Matt moved. His steps were slow, almost lethargic, and John let out a sigh of relief. It had been a gamble, to see if Matt-as-a-werewolf would truly respond to him as Matt-as-a-human did: like John was his alpha.
As Matt drew closer, he dropped to his belly and crawled, inching his way over until he was lying just beside John’s right leg, his whole body quivering. John raised a hand and the wolf flinched away, but when he made no other move, Matt dropped his head back down to his paws, not quite relaxed, but no longer poised for flight either.
“Good boy,” John murmured, finally—finally—lowering his hand to the back of Matt’s neck.
Matt’s fur was silky to the touch. That was John’s first observation. His second was that the werewolf was clearly still Matt, just...more simple-minded in his thought process. Like the ability for higher thinking beyond instinct had been stripped away. John’s fingers clenched in Matt’s scruff, and he used that to pull Matt’s head up, meeting his gaze head on.
“You’re really somethin’ else, you know that, kid?”
They stayed like that for close to an hour, Matt a taut coil of muscle and fur beneath John’s rhythmic petting. Halfway through the second hour, Matt relaxed completely, and by the third, John was able to coax him over onto his back, his fingers dragging over the soft flesh of Matt’s belly. Only when he was certain that Matt would not startle, did John unclip his gun and tuck it into the bag. He pulled out two thermal blankets, and laid the first down on the ground, shifting to get it under him without releasing his hold on Matt. The second he draped over them both, and that’s how they fell asleep, werewolf and alpha human curled up around each other.
. . .
“How do you feel?” John’s voice was rough, the words little more than puffs of air against Matt’s neck.
He thought about it for a second. Normally he was conscious for the change back, and the pain that ripped through his body was intense enough that it took him a good ten minutes to drag himself back up the stairs and pound on the door to be let out. Now, though, he felt only a dull ache, bone-deep but not unmanageable.
“Just sore. Not as bad as I usually do.” A small part of Matt was freaking out that John apparently knew he was a werewolf, but the larger part, the part busy being calmed by John’s presence, was too content to be upset. Then he recalled that he was naked and his cheeks flooded with color. “My clothes.”
“I brought ‘em in with me. In my bag.” John tipped his head back, probably nodding to something behind him, but he made no move to hand Matt his clothing. “How’s the leg,” he asked after a beat.
“Um, good? It’s fine. Shifting helps the healing process.”
“Then why are you still limping at four months in, kid?”
Matt laughed softly. “The stronger and more dominant the wolf, the faster you heal. An alpha wolf would only need a few days at most. A normal werewolf would take a few weeks. Probably just one change of the moon. I normally take three, but I reinjured it those two times, setting me back.”
John nodded, understanding clearing away the lines on his brow. “Friend of mine in the narcotics division is a werewolf. Claims he’s pretty dominant but not an alpha. He took a bullet to the gut and was back on his feet three weeks later.”
“It also helps if you don’t fight the change.”
“But you do. Why?”
There were a lot of reasons, and while Matt was willing to detail them all, he wanted to do it with clothes on. He sat up carefully, keeping the blanket tucked around his waist, and told himself he wasn’t disappointed when John’s hand slipped away from his stomach. John reached for the bag, handing Matt first his shirt, then the rest of his clothes. He even went so far as to avert his gaze, giving Matt a semblance of privacy. As he tugged on his clothes, Matt talked, trying to pretend like anything about this conversation was normal.
“When my mother—when my mother left me, it was because I had shown signs of changing. Most werewolf tendencies begin to manifest at around two years of age. I didn’t start to change until just after my fifth birthday. By then...” By then his parents had assumed he was human, like they were. Like his brothers and sister were. The last werewolf had been his great-great grandfather on his dad’s side, and his mother’s three-times great aunt. “My parents weren’t equipped to raise a werewolf. Let alone one as sick as I was.”
“Sick?” John turned to face him, eyes never straying from Matt’s face.
Matt nodded. “I was born three months early and it showed. Weak lungs, sickly body, crappy immune system. All things that are normally unheard of in werewolves, right? As I got older, I got a little better, but.” He shrugged. “When I reached the facility, I was a mess. The first foster home I had lived in, the woman there figured out what I was. Instead of turning me over to the agency, she simply locked me up in the basement every full moon. She was the one who told me to keep the wolf down, to never let it out. She wasn’t—she wasn’t like me, so I don’t think she understood what she was doing. She was trying to help.”
“So you learned to fight the change as a child.” John tugged on his boots, tucking the laces inside, and stood. “How did no one else figure it out? You said were in more than one house.”
“Five total. I was with her for two full moons, after that... After that, I learned to hide.”
John’s eyes went flat and cold at that, but somehow, Matt knew John’s anger wasn’t directed at him. It was odd, the certainty of that feeling, but Matt didn’t waste much thought on it. Not when his stomach was growling.
“Hungry?” It wasn’t much of a question, and John’s eyes were bright with amusement. “Come on, kid. Let’s get some food in you—some real food—and then we can talk about how things are gonna be a bit different from here on out.”
The words were almost ominous, but Matt didn’t feel threatened. Instead, he felt almost relieved, and he let that emotion carry him all the way out to the car before he thought to ask,
“I sent him home. Figured if I was taking over, there wasn’t much point in him hanging around.”
Matt stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, horror washing over him. “Jesus! What—what if I had killed you?”
“Not likely kid.” John ducked into the car, so Matt followed suit, scowling the whole time. “Ease up. I talked to Roberts about it. He said I was probably dominant enough that you’d obey even in werewolf form.”
The car started with a cough and John let it idle, waiting for it to heat up. “Probably. Highly likely. Nothing’s certain in life, kid, but this seemed like a sure bet, all things considered.”
Matt didn’t ask. He was pretty sure there was an insult buried in whatever John would say in response, and he was just as happy to not hear it. “Well, I’m glad I didn’t eat you. That would suck. And also, your daughter would probably kill me. With her bare hands. Oh god, except she’d probably torture me first. I bet she’s learned all sorts of terrible things from you. In fact—”
“Shut up.” John pulled away from the curb, tires squealing. Matt clung to the door, gritting his teeth as they took a corner faster than absolutely necessary. Or legal. When he looked over, Matt could see John smirking and he let go of the handle by his window, glaring hard.
“Just for the record,” Matt muttered, “You’re completely insane.”
John chuckled and turned on the radio, dialing over to one of the stations Matt had programmed in. It was an apology, of sorts, and Matt accepted it readily enough. He leaned back against the seat and watched the as the industrial strip slowly gave way to the weather-worn houses that defined John’s neighborhood. Not the best area, but still better than where Matt had been living prior to the fire sale. He zoned out not long after that, only really coming back to himself when the car came to a stop outside the house.
“So,” Matt said, making no move to exit the car, even after unbuckling his seat belt. “Are we going to talk about it?”
“You mean about how you had every opportunity to tell me what was going on and didn’t? Actually, I do have a question.” John twisted in his seat to face Matt. “Was the gay thing just a cover? For you being a werewolf?”
Matt laughed, the sound high and thin, reedy. He shook his head, plucking at the hem of his shirt. “I wish. It just—it seemed like the lesser evil, you know?”
The look John gave him was doubtful at best, but whatever he was thinking, he kept it to himself. When he got out of the car, Matt followed suit, taking a moment to stretch out the kinks in his back and shoulders before jogging up the path to the front door. John was already inside the house by the time Matt reached the front stairs, and judging by the noise coming from the kitchen, was preparing breakfast. Matt hesitated in the doorway, eyes tracking John’s movements, feeling nervous and tired. Just when he made to head for his room, John turned to face him.
“Sit down, kid,” he ordered, but his words ran together so that it came out more like ‘siddown, kid.’ John’s tendency to not enunciate made him sound low-class, and Matt wondered if it was purposeful. It had been more pronounced when they were fighting Gabriel, but then, Thomas Gabriel had been rather eloquent for a bad guy.
Halfway through his internal monologue, Matt realized he was being ridiculous and shook his head to clear it. He jumped a little when John thrust a mug at him, but Matt accepted it eagerly when the scent of coffee hit his nose. He drained the contents in three big gulps, only to have it refilled again. This time, Matt nursed the drink as John made them both breakfast, and a few minutes later, a plate heaped full of bacon, sausages and eggs was set in front of him.
“Eat,” John said when Matt made to argue.
He dug in with fervor, barely remembering his manners. It became a test to see just how much food he could get into his mouth, though he slowed down when he saw the look John was giving him. This time, however, he wasn’t afraid the food would suddenly disappear, merely feeling the effects of the change in full force.
Unwilling to let even a little of the food go to waste, when Matt had eaten all that he could with a fork, he snatched a piece of toast from John’s plate and used it to sop up the last of the egg yolk. John grunted in annoyance, but when Matt leaned back in his chair, John stood and refilled his plate.
“Keep eating, kid,” he ordered before turning his attention to his own breakfast.
They ate in silence, and when Matt stood to help clean up, John merely stared him down. It should have been unsettling, would have, a few weeks ago, but Matt felt nothing more than a little inquisitive. John had said they would talk, and that things were going to change, but he was clearly trying to gather his thoughts, if the furrowed brow was anything to go by, so Matt took himself off to the living room to wait.
The minutes ticked by, but before Matt could get too antsy, John appeared, two water bottles in hand. He tossed one to Matt, then took a seat in the armchair, dragging it around until they were facing one another.
“First things first, kid, you have got to change your diet. No more of them Red Bulls. Or those other energy drinks you chug down. That shit can’t be good for you. We’re going to have to work on those atrocious snacks you keep hidden in your room as well. I’m not saying give ‘em up, just balance ‘em out, ya know?”
Matt nodded. “I can do that.”
“Good.” John leaned back, gaze steady. “The warehouse will work for a while, at least until we know the extent of my control over you when you’re in your wolf form.”
“Does Lucy know?” Matt asked, because it was a valid question.
John nodded. “Yeah, I figured it out a while back, and so did she. We’ve been comparing notes.”
Matt frowned, but then John reached out, ruffling his hair, and the hurt that had been building up inside his chest eased.
“So touch helps,” John muttered. “Got it. You respond to direct commands, but more so to touch.”
“I—” Matt paused, wondering if he was supposed to be contributing to the conversation yet. At John’s nod, he continued. “I can sense your moods. Sort of. Like, if you’re angry, or frustrated.”
“And right now?” John asked, squinting at him.
“Uh.” Matt cocked his head, studying John. “Um, you’re just. You seem calm. You’re not happy, but you’re not mad, either. That’s good, right? You’re not mad at me. About the werewolf thing. Are you?”
“No, kid, I’m not.” John sighed and ran a hand over his face, but when he met Matt’s gaze once more, he was almost smiling. “It’ll be fun, seeing what you can do.”
“I can hunt. Um, rabbits. There used to be deer, at the facil—um, at this.” Matt bit his lip, but it was too late to lie now. And even if it wasn’t, he owed John the truth. “There’s a facility, where they keep wolves who aren’t able to integrate into society on their own.”
“Like hostile werewolves?”
Matt shook his head. “No, any wolf deemed too dangerous is put down before they can become an issue. People who are unable to control the change, or deliberately shift before the full moon with the intent of hurting others. Wolves who don’t pass the psychological tests, or whose moods are too unstable. A lot of alphas are destroyed because they’re too strong, and the fear is that if they gain control of a pack, they’ll start terrorizing humans.”
“So then what?”
“It’s like a holding cell for wolves like me, who are rejected from packs, have no family and are too submissive to just be left on our own. Most dominant werewolves feel have the inclination to protect the lesser wolves, but one as submissive as me, with health issues to boot, tend to be seen as a snack, not a pack member.”
“They tried to place you with a pack?” John sat up straight, his eyes narrowing.
As much as Matt hated to talk about those parts of his past normally, he found the words coming easily with John.
“The alpha’s name was Jason. He took one look at me and said it would be in my best interest to either keep me at the facility, or put me down. I was too submissive, an omega, he called me. It’s basically the same role as in a real wolf pack. They’re the scapegoats, the one everyone else takes their anger out on when things get rough.” Matt could feel John’s disgust at the very thought, and it helped, to know that John didn’t see him that way. “The agency—the branch of the government that works with, and tracks, all werewolves—decided to keep me on for a few more years, but after a while, I was allowed to move out.
“They have people called Handlers. Basically, they’re exactly what they sound like. They handle the werewolves. One Handler for every three wolves, one counselor for every five and one training leader for every ten to fifteen, depending on skill levels. The Handlers keep tabs of all the wolves living outside the facility, and oversee everything from securing our housing to managing our bank accounts.”
“Hence why Bowman wanted me to keep your money. And your Handler?”
It had been nearly four months since Matt had last talked to his Handler, something he hadn’t actually thought about until right then. “His name was Rich. After the fire sale, because I supplied Thomas Gabriel with the mutating algorithm, all of my funds were sent back into the facility, leaving me with nothing. I had almost four thousand dollars in my account.”
“And where did you get the money? So they pay you?”
“No. I wrote security codes for both private and corporate businesses. I was good, too. One of the best in my field.”
John took a swig of his water bottle, and Matt followed suit, only finally noticing how parched he was. When John indicated for him to continue, Matt told him what full moons were like at the facility, told him about the bullying, the constant struggle just to get by. He explained about hacking the computer of someone in F.B.I.’s cyber crime branch, and how that had landed him on the black hat list. And then, though he wasn’t sure why, Matt found himself telling John about the bars he used to visit, about trying to figure out his sexuality, but not being able to bring anyone home. By the time he was done, John had refilled their water bottles twice each, and he looked almost shell-shocked.
“So there you have it,” Matt ended lamely. He was back to being nervous and jittery, and his leg was bouncing hard enough that he spilled some of his water on his next sip. A hand settled over his knee, stilling the motion, and Matt breathed out a soft sigh of relief. John blinked at him, face deliberately blank.
“Right, the touching thing. That’s... going to take some getting used to, I won’t lie. I’m not really the touchy-feely type.”
Matt didn’t point out the untruth, not wanting to draw attention to how often John did, in fact touch him, for fear of it stopping. It had been so long since someone had voluntarily touched Matt that just the thought of having to go without again physically pained him.
“Okay, so. Right.” John stood,gaze skimming over the room. “I need time to digest all the information and honestly, I could do with a fucking nap right now. So you are going to go to your room and lie down, and I am going to do the same. Come find me when you wake up. And Matt?”
Matt waited, unblinking. He was rewarded with a brief flash of a smile.
“Don’t do anything stupid, like run off because you think I’m going to kick you out.”
“We’ve lived together for four months, kid. Trust me, I know how your brain works when it comes to shit like this. Now go take a nap. We’ll reconvene in three hours.”
Matt stood and followed John down the hall, leaving his bedroom door open as he stepped inside. His whole body ached from the change, but it felt different this time, less overwhelming. He didn’t doubt for a second that that was a direct result of John’s acceptance of his role as Matt’s alpha, and he wanted to spend more time thinking about that, but the moment Matt’s head hit the pillow, he could feel consciousness slipping away.
. . .
They had a sort of routine going, where John would make them breakfast, Matt would throw together an easy-but-protein-rich lunch, and then they’d make dinner together. While John was at work, Matt would do work around the house, watch television or chat with Warlock, and when John was off, they’d go out. It was good, solid, and it helped settle the wolf for Matt, something he mentioned often.
At night, though, things remained the same. More often than not, John would lie in bed, listening to Matt toss and turn—or exchange a whispered conversation with Warlock—and try to ignore the feeling that something was still missing. Christmas was rapidly approaching and Lucy, bless her heart, had opted to spend the holiday with them, rather than fly out to see her mother. The only real downside was that the full moon was the night before Christmas Eve.
Rolling to his side, John focused his gaze on the bedside clock and sighed. It was nearly one o’clock in the morning, and he felt only marginally closer to falling asleep than he had three hours before, when he had initially gone to bed. He groaned, punched his pillow, then rolled over again, silently cursing his brain’s inability to shut down.
John wasn’t actually aware of falling asleep, but the next thing he knew, the bed behind him was dipping as Matt slipped under the blanket it with him. John opened his mouth to tell him to get out, that this was far from appropriate, but before he could, he realized that what he was feeling was Matt shivering, not from the cold, but from fear. It was rolling off the kid in waves, and when John rolled over, he could see just how shaken Matt was.
“Nightmare?” he asked, his voice rough in his own ears.
Matt nodded, eyes wide in his too-pale face. “Sorry,” he whispered, but John only shook his head.
“Nah, kid. Nothin’ to apologize for.”
He reached out and tugged on Matt’s arm, encouraging him first to move closer, then to roll so that his back was to John. It took some doing, John’s shoulder less than thrilled that he was laying on it, but after a few minutes of maneuvering, John managed to get them into a position that was more or less comfortable.
“Go back to sleep, kid,” John said, keeping his voice low. Matt shivered once more, then calmed. Soon enough his breathing evened out and the tension that had kept him stiff just moments before bled out, leaving him lax in John’s grip.
It was almost impossible for John to fall back asleep after that. He hadn’t shared a bed with anyone in eleven years, and a part of him felt like a criminal, having someone half his age in his bed. He laid there, watching the minutes tick by on the clock. When he was certain Matt was sound asleep, John tried to pull away, only to have the kid let out a pitiful whine, shifting like he was going to wake up.
“You gotta be kidding me,” John groaned, but he gave in, moving back so that he was half-curled around Matt, nose pressed to the kid’s unruly hair. Still grumbling under his breath, John settled in, and moments later, was asleep.
When he woke again, it was to the first rays of light trickling in through the window. Before he even opened his eyes, John took stock of his surroundings. At some point during the night, he had rolled onto his back, and now he had sound asleep Matt sprawled out over his chest, shaggy head shoved up under John’s chin. It was ridiculously uncomfortable and too warm, but even given all that, John found himself loathe to move. He probably would have remained just like that, had his bladder not insisted on making its discontent known right then.
With a groan, he shifted Matt off of him and rolled out of bed, feet hitting the floor with a thud. He stretched before standing, then cast a glance over his shoulder, shaking his head at the fact that the kid was still sound asleep. He debated the merits of starting a pot of coffee, but it was barely past six forty-five in the morning, and John was still exhausted. They had spent all of the day before tearing up and relaying planks in the back porch, and John’s arm was throbbing.
He used the restroom, padded into the kitchen to get the coffee pot ready and set the timer, then returned to his bed where Matt was starfished out in the middle. At John’s insistent poking, he muttered in his sleep and moved over, but the moment John laid down, Matt was back, crawling half on top of him, nose pressed into the curve of John’s neck.
“Kid, you are seriously going to break me if you keep this up,” John sighed.
“M’not,” Matt mumbled. He let out a soft sound, pressed in closer, and was seemingly sound asleep once more. John stared up at his ceiling, wondering just what it was he had done to deserve this, then realized, with a jolt, that he didn’t actually not like this. He just wanted... to feel less guilty.
God, he was so fucked.
. . .
“Kid, wake the fuck up. My coffee is ready and you weigh a fuck-ton. Move it.”
Matt startled awake, his going wide first with surprise, then with mortification as he seemed to take in his state. John rolled his eyes and climbed out of bed.
“You have ten minutes to shower and get dressed before Lucy shows up to drag you off for last minute Christmas shopping.” John bared his teeth in a mock grin at the horrified sound that escaped from Matt, and rubbed a hand over his head. It was almost time to shave his head again.
As he walked out of the bedroom, he could hear Matt stumbling out of the bed, a litany of ‘Shit, shit, shit,’ and ‘Oh my god, what was I thinking,’ carrying out of the bedroom.
Matt was still in the shower when Lucy arrived, a determined expression on her face. Her gaze went to the hallway and she mouthed ‘he’s in there?’
“Yeah. As long as you keep it down, he shouldn’t be able to hear you.”
“Good.” Lucy dropped down into the chair across from John, sliding his plate of plain scrambled eggs closer to her and stealing a bite with his fork. “So I talked to Warlock again.” She rolled her eyes at John’s huff of dissatisfaction, and drained his coffee. “He gave me a list of shit that would probably help get Matt started. Is he going to continue to live here?”
It had come up previously, whether Matt would simply stay with John, or if he’d move back out. Now that John had more information on the agency, he knew the latter would be impossible. If he wasn’t living with John, the agency had made it clear that Matt would be forced to return to the facility, and John didn’t have to see the place to know that that would be a bad situation.
“Yeah. I’ll have to clean out the back room,” he conceded. It was the room where John was currently storing everything from his previous apartment, though it had originally been intended for Jack. Unsurprisingly, it had gone unused because his son refused to visit John in New York.
Lucy patted his hand. “I’ll help.”
“Just keep Matt outta my hair and we’ll be fine. I’ll do it this afternoon, while you two are off shopping.” It was only then that he noticed the distinct lack of Jim in the room. He arched an eyebrow at his daughter. “Where’s your boyfriend?”
Lucy’s lip curled. “He kept talking about settling down, getting married, blah, blah, blah. So I told him I didn’t think things were working out and that maybe we should take a break.”
For just a moment, John actually felt bad for the bastard. They were young, sure, but it was clear after Jim and Lucy started really dating that the guy cared a great deal for her. Then he thought about them being married, about the Jim being a part of John’s family, and he found himself silently congratulating Lucy on her decision. Still, it was his duty to at least pretend he wasn’t jumping for joy.
“I’m sorry to hear that, Luce.”
“No you aren’t,” she laughed. “Anyway, he kept talking about kids, plural, and yeah. No thanks. So back to what we were discussing. Warlock has been collecting everything we need, someone just has to either go pick it up, or you’ll have to wait until he’s in town again for him to bring it to us.”
“I’ll get it. I’ll tell the kid I’m working a double-shift and drive there next weekend.”
“God, would you stop calling him that? He’s not a fucking child, you realize that right?” She held up a hand when John made to retort, pointing toward the now silent hallway. Matt was out of the shower. “Whatever. Have you gotten a tree yet?” Lucy asked, changing the subject flawlessly.
Not a second later, Matt entered the room, stumbling over to the coffee pot and pouring himself a cup before slumping down into the chair closest to John. Despite being fresh from a shower, the kid still looked exhausted, and John frowned down at him. Lucy repeated her question and he shook his head, returning his attention to her.
“What? No, Jesus, Lucy. It’s barely even December.”
“It’s the 10th, daddy. Almost everyone else already has their tree. I tell you what, Matt and I will pick one out while we’re at the mall. There’s a Christmas tree lot not too far from Kings Plaza. We’ll call you when we’re ready and you can come pick it up.” She smiled prettily at him, but her eyes were flashing dangerously, so John swallowed his argument and simply nodded.
“Just try not to run up my credit card, okay?” With a sigh, John stood. “Now let me feed the kid so you two can get the hell out of my hair.”
John kept it simple: eggs, bacon and sausage, most of which went to Matt. When they were gone and the house was silent once more, John picked up the cordless phone and dialed as he wandered down to the unopened spare bedroom.
“Jesus, John, it’s barely eight o’clock.” Holly’s voice sounded tinny, but wide awake, so John refused to feel bad.
“You’ve probably already been for your run, made breakfast for Steve and done the crossword.”
She laughed. “You might be right. So to what do I owe this unexpected call? Change in holiday plans?”
John felt a twinge of guilt. Lucy was supposed to have spent this Christmas with her mother, but had changed her plans in lieu of the whole Matt-is-a-werewolf-and-has-no-family situation. John had offered to fly them all out to San Francisco, but Holly had been firm they stay in New York. ‘With your luck, we’ll find out the government has been secretly attacking aliens and they’ll choose whatever day you come out here to launch a counterattack. No, just stay there. Lucy is flying out for New Year’s on the twenty-seventh.’
“No, no change. Listen, I’m getting ready to clean out Ja—the extra bedroom. Is there anything in there you still want? I think all the trophies are at your place, in the attic, but if there’s anything you think you might want...?”
There was a long moment of silence before she spoke, and though she didn’t actually ask, it was clear she was curious as to why John was doing this now. “No, not that I can think of. If you find anything you think I’d want to keep, just stick it in the attic. Steve and I are planning to fly out there this summer. With Jack. He’s going to spend a semester studying abroad in France.”
“Is that right? Tell him I’m proud of him.”
“I’ll do that when he wakes up. Your lazy son is still currently in bed, wasting the day away. So how is Matthew doing? Lucy says he’s going to be living with you permanently.”
It was hard to tell if John was hearing censor in her tone, or if that was just the crappy connection. “Yeah, kid’s in a rough spot. Doesn’t have any family and the government’s all hard on his ass about the fire sale.”
Holly laughed again, and John realized right then, just how much he had missed the sound of her voice. Not in the I-want-us-to-try-again kind of way, he was past that now, but just... this. Holly sounding happy, carefree and not strained at the edges, like she had been all through that final year they were together.
“From what I’ve heard, he’s not actually a kid. He’s almost thirty, right?”
“Close enough. He’s half my age, kinda makes him a kid when you think about it like that.”
“Whatever it is you say to yourself to make you feel better. Although... I’m guessing that doesn’t, does it? Just makes you feel kind of guilty, doesn’t it?” She had dropped her voice, very serious all of a sudden, and John had to grit his teeth to keep from swearing. “Look, John, I’m not—I’m not saying I get it, not completely, but I am saying that—that if Lucy approves—which she does, by the way—that there’s a pretty damn good reason. She’s sounded happier the last few times we talked about you, and Matt, well. Matt seems to come up in conversation no matter which McClane I’m talking to, so he’s got to be pretty special, you know?”
“Jesus, Holly,” John wheezed. “Can we please not talk about that? That’s—it’s not whatever the two of you think it is. There’s a lot you don’t know.”
“Oh, you mean about the whole werewolf thing? Lucy explained it a few months ago. Apparently you locked yourself in the basement of a warehouse with a werewolf because you thought he would view you as his alpha. Lucy was in quite the state.” And there was the censor in his ex-wife’s tone.
“I was ninety-eight percent positive it would work.”
“Of course you were, John. Because heaven forbid you ever be wrong about something. God, what were you even thinking? You know what, forget I asked, because I know what you were thinking. I’m just glad everyone is okay.” She sighed, changing topics once more. “Anyway, like I said, just put anything that seems important up in the attic. Pictures, medals, that sort of thing. Old report cards can get tossed out. Donate the clothes and furniture, unless you have use for them.”
“I’ll donate ‘em.”
They chatted for a bit longer, Holly telling him about work, about Jack’s classes and a possible promotion for Steve that could mean them moving again. By the time they disconnected, the phone was close to dead and John had managed to clear out half the room. He loaded the boxes of clothes into his car, driving them over to the church that was just a few block away, then returned to deal with some of the other mess.
He dug his cell phone out of his jacket pocket and shot off a text to Lucy. Her reply, that they would still be at least three more hours, made him cringe in sympathy for Matt, but he was glad for the extra time. He fired off another text, this one to Roberts, and waited for his phone to beep with an incoming response.
I can be there in twenty minutes, but you owe me, McClane.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Just hurry the fuck up. I need to get this done before the kid gets back.
Fifteen minutes later, just as John was pulling down the stairs to the attic, the doorbell rang. He dusted the cobwebs off his hands and onto his jeans with a grimace, then pulled the door open. “Christ, what’d you do? Break every speeding law between your place and here?”
“Something like that,” Roberts grinned.
“So, what exactly are we doing, and how illegal is it?”
John laughed. “We’re hauling as much shit from my spare bedroom up to the attic. Nothing illegal there.”
“Hmm.” Roberts waited him out, and John sighed, rubbing a hand over his head before remembering just how filthy he was.
“I’ve got some shit I gotta pick up from a friend of Matt’s. Computer shit. Need to get it in here while he’s gone, so I’m trying to get the room ready now.”
“Yeah, a friend. Name’s Freddy, but goes by Warlock. Another hacker punk. Lives in Baltimore.”
Roberts whistled and followed John into the spare room. “That’s, what, four hours away?”
“Just about. Figure I’ll tell the kid I’m working a ten-hour and make the drive then. Should make it, if I do it overnight. No traffic.”
They started with the twin bed, breaking it down and carrying the pieces up into the attic. For the most part, John kept the conversation tame, sticking to the latest Giants and Jets scores, and the chances of either team making it to the Super Bowl. When it came time to move some of the heavier pieces, however, Roberts apparently deemed it time to cut straight to business.
“You’re sleeping with him,” he said as they lift the dresser up. John dropped his end in a fit of coughing that left Roberts rolling his eyes. “Jesus, McClane. Way to show your hand. I meant that you are bond—never mind. Just. He shared your bed, in a non-sexual way. This is good. It’ll strengthen your bond to him, help settle his wolf. I wasn’t accusing you of sexual deviance.” His tone was dry, but there was slight curl to his lips, a brightness in his eyes, that had John’s back stiffening.
“Of course you haven’t. Because you’re John McClane, the United States’ very own hero. You would never.” Roberts waited for John to reclaim his grip on the dresser, and when he spoke again, his voice was almost gentle. “It’s not considered taking advantage if you’re both adults and Matt consents. I realize that you’re stuck looking at this as a human, with a human’s morals and sensibilities, but this has nothing to do with humans. This is a werewolf thing, bonding.”
“Nah, the kid just had a nightmare. He’s been getting them a lot again, probably because the holidays are so close. His mother abandoned him just before Christmas, did you know that? Bowman forwarded me part of his file. Jesus.”
John had contemplated trying to track Matt’s family down, but now that he knew as much as he did, he hoped he never found them, even by accident. The very idea that someone could just leave their kid like that infuriated him, in a death-and-destruction kind of way.
“Perhaps, but before you revealed that you knew about him, what did he do then?”
“Nothing? I’d hear him, wake him the kid up, ply him with hot chocolate and send him back to bed.”
Roberts nodded. “Now he has nothing to hide. You discovered his biggest secret, and not only did you not reject him, you offered him something nobody else has.”
“He mentioned—he mentioned something about omegas. Another alpha said Matt would never be able to join a pack, that he was too submissive.”
At that, Roberts stopped what he was doing, dark green eyes going flat and hard. “Bullshit. There are no omegas, not in werewolf packs. That would destroy the very dynamics. A werewolf pack isn’t like that of an actual wolf pack. For one, there is no changing of alphas. An alpha remains the head of his pack unless he is defeated by another wolf, or he dies, at which point, his second in command would take his place. Beta wolves are dominant, but not dominant enough to lead a pack. They can, however, go lone wolf, as I did. Omegas...” He shook his head. “The more submissive the werewolf, the lower in the pack he is, yes, but not as Matt seems to have been taught. It’s a pack’s duty to protect everyone within a pack, especially—particularly—the submissive wolves.”
“Yeah, well, this kid ain’t a normal wolf.” John listed Matt’s health issues, watching as Roberts’ eyebrows rose. “Yeah, so like I said, not your normal wolf.”
“No, he’s not. And I can see, now, why an alpha would be disinclined to take him in. He would become a target, an unofficial omega. It’s rare, but I can see how there would be genuine concern. It would seem your Matthew is determined to redefine everything I had thought to be fact when it comes to werewolves. Like how omegas don’t exist.”
“Kid’s not an omega,” John snapped, feeling far more defensive than he knew was necessary.
“Of course he’s not, not really. And he certainly isn’t viewed as such with you. Because, once again, you’re John McClane. Anyway, the bed-sharing thing will probably happen again. He won’t push it, because he’s probably afraid you will reject him, if he seems too needy, but it’s a bonding thing. It forms a connection.”
“What about his wolf?”
Roberts shook his head. “Same thing. The wolf and the human aren’t totally separate entities, they share the same likes and dislikes, and they have different forms. Matt-as-a-wolf is still Matt; his instincts and thought process have just been stripped down. He’s at his very basest, when he’s in wolf form.
“You mentioned that Matthew has been fighting the change since his wolf first started to manifest?” At John’s nod, Roberts continued. “He’s lucky then. Most people who fight the wolf like that end up driving themselves insane. Or going on massive rampages, leaving hundreds of bodies in their wake. It’ll get better, after a few more months. Your presence gives him a sense of security. The change will still be painful, but that doesn’t mean he has to be conscious for it.”
“The last full moon, he—” John had woken up when he had heard the first of Matt’s joints popping, and it had been horrifying to watch, sure, but the look on Matt’s face afterward, when John had skimmed his hands down his back, checking to make sure everything was it should be. Whatever pain he had been in, it had passed quickly, and Matt had settled into a deep sleep again within moments.
“That’s the alpha part of you. You give that to him. You helped calm the part of his mind that usually fights what his body is doing. As a werewolf, you would be able to block the pain of his change completely, if you so willed it.”
“Right.” John was about to say more, but his cell phone cut him off and he answered with clipped, ‘McClane,’ not bothering to look at the screen.
“Dad? Hey, so we’re just getting ready to pay for the tree. I don’t suppose you know someone with a truck that could pick it up, do you?”
“Lucy—” John groaned and glanced over at Roberts. “I don’t suppose you drive a truck, do you?”
“A Silverado. Why?”
“Good, because you’re going with me to pick up the goddamn monster of a Christmas tree my daughter picked out. Luce, I’ll be there in fifteen minutes. Possibly ten, given how this asshole drives. Where’s Matt?”
“Um. So there’s a funny story. You see, as it just so happens, there’s an animal adoption clinic going on at the pet supply store. We totally were just minding our own business, but then one of the puppies—” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “One of the puppies kind of caught Matt’s scent, and then all the puppies caught his scent. He’s currently in sitting in the pen with about seven puppies climbing on him. It’s actually really, really adorable. I may have gotten about thirty pictures for later blackmail use.”
John waved Roberts out of the bedroom, shutting and locking the door against nosy kids. He double-checked to make sure nothing was still out to suggest what he had been up to, then locked up the house and followed Roberts to his car.
“Lucy, my answer is no.”
“Daddy, it would be good for him.”
“No. Absolutely not. I do not want a goddamn dog in my house. Jesus.” He ignored Roberts’ quiet laugh. “I will say it again, no. Go get the kid away from the little beasts and have that tree ready.”
He hung up before she could reply, glaring at his phone. “Jesus, that kid is gonna be the death of me.”
“No, my daughter, Lucy. She’s turned into a bleeding heart where Matt’s concerned. All determined to supply him with some sort of dysfunctional pack if it kills her.”
“She knows?” Roberts’ eyebrows rose that, but he didn’t seem particularly surprised.
“Yeah, she knows. She’ll keep her mouth shut about it, don’t worry.”
Roberts laughed at that. “Oh, I’m not worried. She has a point, though. A pack isn’t made up of only werewolves. Humans can be a part of a pack, as can a dog.”
John meant it too, right up until he tracked Matt down at the pet supply store and found him mournfully handing over a tiny, wriggling puppy to one of the shelter workers. He looked up when John approached, very carefully making his face go blank. John wasn’t fooled for a second.
“Roberts from my work is here with me, helping Luce get the tree into the back of the truck. He’s like you,” he added, because it needed to be said now rather than later, when they meeting.
“Like—oh. Oh. Wow. Um, cool?”
“Yeah, cool. What the hell is that?” John asked, nodding towards the crying puppy.
“He’s a boxer, though he’s got a little lab in him, hence the odd coloring. He’s the runt, though, so he’s been a bit of a hard sale.” The woman gazed down at him sadly, and much to John’s horror, he found himself saying,
“We’ll take ‘im.”
Matt’s whole face lit up. “Seriously?”
John just groaned and nodded, closing his eyes against the reality of the situation. “Yes, really. Figure out what we need and stock up now. And for god’s sake, do not let Lucy name him, do you hear me?”
His words were lost as Matt all but snatched the puppy back from the woman. They wandered off toward the dog section, Matt listing aloud all the things they would need, and John stared after him, resigned to the destruction of his house.
“If it helps, they’re a very intelligent and loyal breed. Highly trainable. He’s small, but he’s already house-broken. And your son—”
“He’s not my son,” John said, cutting her off with a grimace. “Has the dog had his shots?”
“Yep, and he’s been dewormed, though he’ll need to come back for his rabies shot. Son-in-law, then? He came in here with a young woman.”
“That would be Lucy, my daughter, but no, they’re not together. He’s... living with me,” he added lamely, and he had to force himself not to dissect the woman’s expression. He was relieved when Lucy appeared, smiling smugly. “Luce, go track down Matthew and make sure he gets only the necessities. And you are not to name the damn thing, do you hear me?” She sniffed disdainfully at him and stalked off. “Right, let’s get this paid for so I go home and say goodbye to the peace and quiet that was my house,” he said to the woman.
The woman plied him with more pamphlets than he thought necessary, and he tried not to make a face at the total. He sent Matt out to the car with Lucy and the dog, then followed with the cart of food, bedding, and other crap that would no doubt take over his life in the coming weeks. As he walked out the door, he heard the woman whisper his name to one of her coworkers, and he tried not to cringe at what the headlines would be saying in the morning.
When he reached the truck, it was to find Roberts leaning against the side, sunglasses perched atop his head and his steely gaze on Matt. Matt, who looked awkward and maybe a little nervous, but not fearful. Lucy was holding the puppy, staring between them, but everyone looked up when John approached.
“Lucy, Matt, this is Grant Roberts. He’s from the narcotics division.” He fixed Lucy with a hard stare. “He’s been helping me out with that issue.” He nodded at Matt, relaxing when understanding dawned.
“Oh, got it.” She shoved the puppy into Matt’s arms, then offered her hand to Roberts. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Anyone who can stand being around my father without wanting to rip out his throat is a special kind of person indeed.”
“Get the fuck in the car, Lucy McClane, so we can go home. Matthew, I swear to god, if the dog pees on my couch, you are both sleeping outside.”
“Kingston wouldn't dare.”
“Kings—Jesus, I told you not to let my daughter name the damn thing.”
“I didn’t. Matt picked that name out himself,” Lucy retorted.
John could only sigh at that. “Of course he did, because if you had named it—him, the poor thing would die of shame. Great. Awesome. Go get in the damn car before I change my mind.”
Matt hesitated for just a second, concern darkening his eyes. John shook his head once, palmed the back of his head, then shoved him in the direction of Lucy’s car.
“Go on. And if you beat us back, make sure you lock him in the bathroom for the time being. I want to make sure there’s nothing of mine out that he might chew on.” He watched as they drove off, Matt glancing back one last time to grin at him, then heaved himself up into the truck with a grunt.
“Interesting,” Roberts said, but he made no further comment, something for which John was extremely grateful.
When Roberts turned on news radio, it was on the tip of John’s tongue to make a ‘Matt’ comment, and he barked out a laugh, closing his eyes. How his life had come to this, John had no idea. As the truck pulled up outside his house and he saw Matt standing on the porch, clearly waiting for him, he realized, he didn’t really care either. He was content enough to not question it.
. . .
Matt stood in front of the eight-foot Christmas tree, Kingston in his arms, just staring at all the lights Lucy had managed to wrap around it. He was sort of in awe, because they had purchased five 300-strand lights and she had used all of them. All of them. Just on the tree. Matt was fairly certain it constituted as a fire hazard, but it was an amazing fire hazard, so he didn’t complain too loudly.
“Hey, kid, put the damn dog down and come eat.”
The sound of John’s voice startled Matt out of his thoughts, and he turned to where Lucy and John were just sitting down at the table. He made it two steps in their direction before he realized he was still clutching a sleeping Kingston, and he detoured to the little crate, slipping the puppy inside.
“So, Christmas.” Matt dropped down into his chair, then eyed the food on his plate suspiciously. “Who cooked this?” he asked after a moment.
“My dad did. God. I know how to cook you know. I won’t actually poison you.”
Matt stared at her dubiously. “Really? Because last time you cooked dinner, John’s oven caught on fire. It. Caught. On. Fire.”
“Oh screw you.”
They bickered a bit more, John suspiciously quiet, then moved on to talking about other things. Like their upcoming Christmas plans.
“I’m coming over on Christmas Eve, first thing in the morning. Dad said you guys should be back just after dawn, but yeah.” She wrinkled her nose. “I’ll be here closer to eight o’clock. I figure we’ll do a pork roast for Christmas Eve and lamb for Christmas Day dinner.” At the look of shock on Matt’s face, Lucy gazed at him almost pityingly. “Yes, Matt, I know all about your full moon inclinations and I will be making all the dog jokes I possibly can.”
“No, she won’t,” John cut in. “Lucy, that’s enough.”
“When’d you—when did you tell her?”
“I didn’t. She figured it out around the same time I did. Finish eating your dinner. Apparently my ex-wife knows as well.”
“She won’t tell anyone. God, dad.”
“No, she won’t, but it wasn’t your business to tell.”
Lucy looked ready to argue, but then John did the squinting thing and she fell silent. Matt breathed out a sigh of relief, not really wanting to discuss the whole werewolf thing at the dinner table. Or at all.
“Anyway, the tree looks great, kiddo. You too, Matthew. The last time there was a tree in this house...” The sentence died and Matt looked up, watching the half-smile slip off John’s face.
Clearing his throat, Matt took a bite of his food, then said, “So I’m going to keep Kingston in my bedroom.”
“In the crate,” John said.
Matt deliberately avoided his gaze, winking at Lucy. “Yeah, sure. In the crate. Totally, Mc—John.”
John sighed, but he didn’t argue the matter, so Matt counted it as a win. As long as he put a blue sheet out, Kingston would be okay. He had already used it twice that day with no accidents. As though sensing the conversation was about him, Kingston yipped from his crate.
“So I know we’re not talking about the werewolf thing, but I’m curious about the werewolf-dog thing. I would have thought they’d be afraid of Matt.”
Matt laughed at the same time that John said, “Afraid of Matt? Ha.”
There was a definite insult in there, but Matt let it slide. Instead he polished off the last of his food and stood. “I’ll clean up,” he offered.
John eyed him, surprised, but shook his head. “I’ll clean up. You go see to your dog.”
“Want help, dad?” Lucy inquired, but even Matt could tell she was only asking to be polite. He didn’t bother to hide his evil grin when John replied.
Matt also wasn’t the least bit surprised when, five minutes after she trailed after her father into the kitchen, Lucy appeared in the living room, a rueful smile on her face. She plopped down on the ground and held out her fingers for Kingston to sniff. He allowed her a brief scratch behind his ears before he returned to Matt’s lap, curling up there and, to all appearances, falling right back asleep.
“So that’s what I get for being a brat, I suppose.” In the very next breath, she asked, “So what are you doing about that other thing?”
“Uh...” Matt stared at her, an entire list of things going through his head. “Which other thing?”
“The thing we’re definitely talking about. Your big gay for my dad.”
“Whoa,” Matt hissed. “I am not gay for your dad! Jesus, McClane. I just—I happen to be gay, okay. And your dad, wow. No. We are so not talking about this.”
“Suit yourself. But just in case, you might try getting him drunk the first time. My dad can be pretty badass in the face of a threat against the nation, but he’s got these weird morals. Like, never hit a woman who doesn’t have the ability to put you down where you stand. And even then, never throw the first punch. He can be weird about shit, and you being a lot younger and male might make him a bit more... hesitant.”
“Pretty sure the word you were looking for was ‘uninterested.’ Matt rolled Kingston onto his back and rubbed the soft skin of his belly.
“Keep telling yourself that, Farrell,” Lucy murmured, and when he looked up, it was to see her smiling slyly at him.
They sat like that, contemplatively quiet, even when John came in and took a seat on the couch. Lucy showed no sign of noticing just how close to Matt her dad sat, or the fact that his hand immediately settled over the back of Matt’s neck, but then, it was Lucy. Matt wasn’t fooled for a second, but he was glad she didn’t draw attention to what John was doing. It would have only made it awkward, and Matt thrived on these moments, on having someone willingly touching him, and not to hurt or punish.
“Huh, it’s late,” Lucy said.
Matt glanced at the clock, taken aback by just how late it was. “Oh, wow. Hey, you should probably stay here. I can make up my bed for you, and sleep out here on the couch.” He tipped his head back and to the side just enough to see John nod.
“Don’t be an idiot, I can sleep on the couch.”
“You just want to keep the tree lights on,” Matt scrambled up, passing Kingston over to Lucy in the process. “No way, man. You’ll fall asleep like that and then we’ll all burn to death in the middle of the night.”
Lucy sniffed at the slight on her character, but didn’t deny the claim. Halfway to his room, he heard Kingston start to cry, and he turned back, figuring he could bring the puppy with him, but he froze in the doorway at the sound of John’s voice.
“Jesus, Lucy, stop jiggling the damn dog like he’s a baby and give him to me. Christ, you’re as bad as your mother, and you don’t even like kids.”
“I do too! When they’re not, you know, near me.” Lucy handed the puppy over, and Matt watched as John cradled Kingston in his large hands. He held Kingston up, looked him right in the eye and said,
“That’s enough out of you, mutt.”
Kingston barked once, but quieted after that. Matt couldn’t see what John did next, but since the crying had stopped, he tiptoed back down the hall and proceeded to make the bed up as planned. He dug out a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt and left them on the end of the bed for Lucy. When he returned to living room, he reclaimed his seat at John’s feet, holding his hands out for Kingston.
“I left pajama stuff out for you. We can throw your clothes in the wash if you want, and then they’re clean for tomorrow.”
“Good plan. I’ll go change now.”
Lucy disappeared, and in her absence, John clicked on the television, scrolling through the menu. He paused over ‘Werewolf in London,’ and Matt let out a disgruntled noise.
“Ooh, good choice, daddy. We can practice howling, so Matt doesn’t have to feel all alone.”
Matt rolled his eyes, and leaned back against the couch. And when, three hours later, he woke to the John’s fingers in his hair and Lucy’s head on his shoulder, he didn’t mind one bit that John had put on yet another crappy werewolf movie. He shifted a little, let his head rest fully against John’s thigh, and closed his eyes once more.
. . .
The first nightmare of the week had involved watching John get gunned down by Gabriel’s men the moment he entered the hangar. Matt had woken to a scream dying in his throat and Kingston pressed against his hip, shivering. The second was of Lucy, Gabriel’s hand slowly crushing her windpipe as she tried to beg for her life. Matt had actually thrown up after that one, not even able to make it out of his bed first. They had gotten progressively worse each time, and in all of them, Matt had been helpless, unable to break free of whatever was holding him back. Waking up to a house devoid of John had only made Matt’s anxiety worse.
When Matt had stumbled into John’s room that morning, he had been almost numb with fear. With Kingston curled up in his arms, Matt had crawled beneath the blankets, settling down right in the middle of the bed and pressing his face into John’s pillow. There had been no comforting words, nothing to help calm the pounding of his heart or the lingering grief, just the silence of an otherwise empty room.
Beside him, Kingston whined and pushed his nose into Matt’s neck. It was cool and wet, but helped, and Matt reached back to scratch behind Kingston’s ears. He had half a mind to close his eyes and try to go back to sleep, but like every night before, the moment Matt closed his eyes, he was bombarded with grisly image after grisly image. He would remain unable to sleep until the sun was just rising, and then he would drag himself out of John’s bed and back into his own, not knowing if his presence would be welcome when John returned from work.
The mp3 player Matt had brought with him was on the list of prohibited items, but John had allowed it with the understanding that if Matt used it for any purpose other than to listen to music, he would lose everything, including the CB radio. Matt turned it on then, popping the tiny earbuds in and turning the music up as loud as his sensitive ears could stand it. Through half-closed eyes, he watched the minutes tick by, slowly counting down to the time at which he would vacate John’s bed for his own once more.
Half an hour had passed when Kingston perked up, his ears curling forward a bit. Matt ignored him; Kingston’s attention was easily roused by the neighbor’s cat prowling around in the yard, and Matt was too tired to indulge the little puppy. He didn’t give it much thought after that, until the light suddenly came on, and he gave a startled yelp, eyes stinging.
“Jesus, kid, what the hell are you doing in—”
Matt rolled over and the demand died in John’s throat as they stared at one another. John looked exhausted, the lines of his face deeper than usual.
“Oh. Oh, crap, sorry,” Matt apologized, struggling out from beneath the blanket. “I didn’t—I thought you’d be back at seven, so I figured… Sorry, I’ll just.” Matt stood, swaying a little, and reached for Kingston, only to have John grab hold of his arm and turn him around. Strong fingers forced his chin up, tilting his face back and into the light, and Matt squinted up at John.
“Christ, you look like shit. You look worse than me. Have you slept at all?”
Matt started to shake his head, but John’s grip was unrelenting. “No. I, uh. The nightmares. Are back. Like, ‘every night,’ back. Don’t tend to fall asleep after I have one, so yeah, no. I usually get about an hour or two before they wake me up, and sometimes I can sleep for an hour during the day.”
John swore softly and let go, stepping away from Matt to strip off his jacket. He tossed it over the back of his chair, laying his gun holsters on top of that. Matt remained where John had left him, watching as boots were kicked off and jeans shucked, only looking away when he realized John was stripping down completely. His gaze went to the clock, and he yawned hard enough that his jaw popped.
“Kid, get the fuck back to bed.”
When Matt made to move past him once more, John huffed and turned him back around, shoving hard enough to send Matt sprawling into his bed. Then he turned off the light before following suit.
“Next time, Matthew, tell me if you’re having trouble sleeping,” John said into the dark.
Matt tried to a mumble a response to that, but everything felt heavy and thick. Instead, he gave up his fight to stay awake, tucking himself into John’s side with his head half under one of John’s arms. He was barely aware of being hauled in closer, of John resettling them so that Matt’s back was flush against his own chest, his arm curled around Matt’s stomach. Matt fell asleep like, John’s breath warm and steady against the back of his neck, Kingston’s nose pressed to his own.
As impossible as it seemed, Matt’s sleep was completely dreamless. He woke just after noon the next day to the warm, comfortable weight of John at his back, and Kingston on the pillow. At the same moment that Matt realized the puppy should have been taken out to use the bathroom hours ago, John mumbled,
“Goddamn mutt was up at seven-fifteen. Fed ‘im before coming back to bed, so he should be good for a bit longer. Sleep, Matthew.”
Matt’s eyes slipped closed, and he hummed in agreement as he rolled to his other side, pushing his head up under John’s chin, his nose squashed against John’s bare chest. The next time he opened his eyes, the bed was empty and it was almost dark. The panic struck then, leaving him breathless for a second, afraid that John had already left for work again. It didn’t even occur to him to stop and listen, he simply rolled out of bed and stumbled down the hall, freezing in the doorway to the kitchen.
John was at the counter, back to the door and the cordless caught between his ear and shoulder. He turned at the sound of Matt entering the room, holding up a hand for silence.
“Just tonight and tomorrow night. No, that’s good. I’ll check in on Monday.”
He hung up, tossing the phone onto the counter, then poured Matt a cup of coffee. “Time off,” he said by way of explanation. “I’ll have to work a few more night shifts, but I’ve got the two days encompassing the full moon off, as well as Christmas day, and then I’m back on day shifts for a while. Next time,” he said, tone chastising, “tell me if you’re not sleeping. Nights were my usual beat, but days work just as well for me.”
“Oh, it’s not—sorry. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.”
“How come you didn’t tell me you were still having nightmares? There’s no shame in it.”
“They’re not consistent.” Matt took a seat at the table, manfully ignoring Kingston’s plaintive whining. John was firm on the not picking him up or feeding him at the table rule. “I can go an entire week without a single bad dream and then suddenly they’ll start up again. I just—I feel like you spend at least eighty percent of your time trying to make things easier for me, and you’re not getting anything in return.”
“I don’t eat alone,” John corrected. From anyone else, Matt might have thought he was being mocked, but he remembered their conversation in the car, recalled the worn, resigned look in John’s eyes as he talked.
“No, you don’t. And Lucy has been coming around almost every weekend.”
“And Jack called yesterday. I was on shift, but he called to tell me about the program he’ll be in this summer.”
Matt smiled, genuinely pleased for John. When he finished off the cup of decaf coffee John had handed him, he waved away a refill and grabbed a water bottle instead. He wasn’t about to say it out loud, but he had noticed that the wolf didn’t seem quite as anxious all the time, now that he had cut back on the energy drinks. He saw John’s smirk, and bared his teeth before ducking away to pick up Kingston.
“What’s the plan for...” He glanced out the window at the fading sunlight. “For the rest of the day? Or I guess just tomorrow?” Matt asked when he returned from locking Kingston up in his crate. He felt bad, but it was easier on everyone if the puppy wasn’t loose during mealtimes. Matt washed his hands at the sink, then joined John at the counter, slicing the tomatoes he was handed.
“Organizing the attic. Should be safe enough for the pup as long as we cover the stairway. We’ll start first thing in the morning, see how much we can get done, and then do the rest next weekend.”
Matt eyed the huge pack of bacon John pulled out of the fridge, and he couldn’t help but wonder just how much John spent every week, buying as much bacon and sausage as he did. Add to that the new expense of a dog, and Matt suddenly felt more than a little guilty.
“So I was thinking,” he began, only to swallow back the rest of his sentence at the look John sent him. “Um, what?”
“No, please continue. What were you thinking.” John swapped out the tomatoes for mushrooms, then turned on the back skillets for the meat.
“Uh, I was thinking that after my probation, I’d get a job.”
“What kind of job?”
“Well...” And that was the thing. Matt wasn’t really sure what kind of job he could get. He had no references, no real work history. Yeah, he had done private security, but Matt was pretty sure that accidentally assisting Thomas Gabriel had lost him at least seventy percent of his contacts. “Probably something basic? I could work at a video store? Or, um, maybe—”
“Kid, let’s focus on getting your werewolf situation settled. Transforming more often and shit. Leave the ‘getting a job’ crap until after the New Year. Besides, and you didn’t hear this from me, kid, but I may have been told that Deputy Director Bowman was planning to put in a good word for you. Now finish slicing those mushrooms. I’m starving.”
Matt tried, but he couldn’t quite keep the smile from his face. “Breakfast for dinner? I haven’t done that in a while.”
“They say it’s the most important meal of the day.”
With all of the prep done, Matt washed his hands once more, then returned to the living room, where Kingston was quietly waiting to be let out of his crate. The moment Matt opened the door, he found himself with a lapful of puppy, and laughed, letting Kingston shove a wet nose into his ear.
They chased one another around the living room for a bit, then sprawled out on the floor in front of the television. When Matt glanced out the window, he was surprised to see that it was snowing. It had been cold lately, but there hadn’t been any mention of snow in the weather forecasts. Matt crossed to the window, pressing his nose to the glass as he stared out. Not only was it snowing, it was sticking.
“Unforeseen storm, they said. Just heard it on the radio.” John set the plates on the coffee table, then scooped up Kingston before he could get too close. “Come and eat. We’ll go for a walk afterward, and you can let out your inner child by making snow angels.”
“It hasn’t snowed that much. They used to—” He paused, unsure of why he was even bringing it up, but at John’s inquiring look, he continued. “Back at the facility, during the winter, they would have, uh, training sessions out in the snow.” At John’s wince, Matt hurried to clarify. “Not—nothing like that. Jeez. They didn’t torture us or anything, they just weren’t particularly caring. But when it snowed, they’d hold hunts during the full moon. Snowshoe hares, a couple of sheep. Nothing too dangerous, and nothing we wouldn’t normally eat. I never really took part, but it seemed cool, you know?”
“Why not what? Oh, the not hunting? It was a—I hated what I was. I refused to have any part in anything that promoted my being a werewolf. They tried to correct the behavior, tried everything they could think of to make me change out of cycle, but I refused.”
John pushed his plate back on the table, and studied him silently for a moment, his gaze unreadable and steady. When he finally spoke, his words took Matt by surprise.
“The way I see it, being able to contain your wolf like that would make you less submissive. Not quite as weak as they would have you think. Roberts said omegas don’t exist in werewolf hierarchies. Seemed real surprised when I mentioned you were called that. Now I’m thinking, maybe you just confuse people. They don’t know what to make of you.”
Matt glanced away, unable to hold John’s gaze. “I’m definitely not dominant, which is all that really matters, in the long run.”
As if sensing the downward turn of Matt’s mood, John moved back to their earlier topic. “So hunts in the snow, eh? I bet we could come up with something similar. Probably not right away, but I know a guy who has a place in the woods. We can stay there for a bit, when the snow really starts to come down. Take you out and see what you can do.”
“I’m not a—a circus dog, who does tricks on command,” Matt snapped.
“No,” John agreed slowly, “but you’re a werewolf. Means you’ve got a good a nose. We’ll see if you’re any good at tracking me in the snow. He’s got acres of land of an high fences to keep out trespassers. We’ll be safe and who knows, maybe you’ll have fun.” He reached out, ruffling Matt’s hair, and then stood, collecting their plates. “Get your shoes on, kid. We’ll take your mutt for a walk.”
“His feet’ll get cold,” Matt protested.
John waved his hand dismissively. “He’ll be fine. If it’s too cold for him to walk, you can carry him. Fresh air’ll do you both some good.”
Matt would have argued further, but John was already in the other room. With a shrug, he headed for his bedroom to get dressed, then dragged out the warmest coat he could find. He contemplated putting socks on Kingston’s paws, but he knew he’d never hear the end of it if he did. Instead, he fetched the leash and a blanket, then scooped up the puppy and headed for the front door. John was already there, and as Matt slipped past him, he laid a gloved hand over the back of Matt’s neck.
“Trust me, kid,” he said, voice low. “I know what I’m doing. It’ll be good for ya.”
Matt knew he wasn’t talking about the walk, and he nodded. That was the thing, he did trust John. He trusted John like he hadn’t trusted anyone in a long time, if ever. The last time he had trusted someone... Matt shook the unpleasant thoughts away.
“Yeah, no. It’s good. It’s. Thanks.” The words felt inadequate, but they were the best Matt could come up with.
John huffed a laugh and followed Matt out, locking up behind him. Matt led Kingston down the steps, a cautious eye out for ice patches. When he heard John chuckling, he turned to look at the puppy and couldn’t keep from laughing as well.
Kingston was attempt to follow in Matt’s footprints in the snow, lifting his little paws high to keep them out of the cold slush. He yelped when he tipped nose-first into a large pile, but before Matt could rescue him, John scooped him up.
“Keep walking. Up three blocks and then we’ll double back.” John tucked the puppy into his coat, securing it only God knew how. When Matt remained silent in the face of this odd domestic picture, John looked up at him and arched an eyebrow. “Something on your mind?”
“Uh... no?” Matt shoved his hands into his pockets, then thought better of it when his foot slipped on a patch of ice.
He considered saying something more, but after a few moments, he gave up and let the quiet of the evening wash over them. It followed them down the street, the snow falling soft against his cheeks, the stars nearly drowned out by the lights of the city. The only noise between them was Kingston’s disgruntled bark as he was set down to do his business, but he quieted down the moment John had him tucked away again. It lingered even after they were home again.. John handed over a dozing Kingston before he shrugged out of his coat and toed off his boots, then reclaimed the puppy, leaving Matt to do the same. The silence stretched on, right up until Matt realized where John was headed.
“Oh, uh. Should I…?” He reached for Kingston, only to have John stare at him, blank-faced, like he had no clue where Matt was going with his half-formed sentence.
“Yeah, yeah. Right. I’ll just go change.”
He nearly tripped over his own feet as he hastened to his room, and he stripped in record time, tossing his clothes into the hamper because it would be just like John to send him back to clean up the right way. As he dug through his drawers, he found one of John’s shirts, one from his academy days. It had probably ended up mixed in with Matt’s clothes during the last laundry run, and while he knew the smart thing to do would be to return it, he pulled it on instead. It was soft against his skin, and Matt shivered a little, wondering what John would say. He tugged on a pair of sleep pants, then padded down the hall to the bathroom to brush his teeth and use the toilet. When he arrived in John’s room, it was to find it empty, Kingston curled up in the middle of the bed.
The bathroom door was closed, and Matt could hear him moving around. He took advantage of John’s absence to climb onto the bed and slip beneath the covers, pulling them up to his chin. Kingston roused himself long enough to move closer, but he was asleep once more by the time John came out.
“Nice shirt,” John said wryly as he rounded the bed.
Matt fingered the hem. “It was in my drawer.”
John’s expression had Matt revising his assumption on how the shirt had gotten in his dresser in the first place. There was a certain look in his eyes, something almost possessive, but it was gone before Matt could read too much into it. John slid into the bed, a book in hand, and settled back against the pillows. Matt glanced at the bedside clock, surprised to find that it was just barely past nine, and he contemplated hunting down something to read himself, but when he made to sit up, John pulled him back.
“Look, kid, you haven’t been sleeping, right? So go to bed.”
“It’s still early,” Matt argued, but he ruined it with a yawn wide enough to make his jaw pop.
John ruffled his hair, then slid his hand down to cup the base of Matt’s skull. “Yeah, it is, but you’re exhausted. Sleep. I ain’t goin’ anywhere.”
He said it firmly, his grip on the back of Matt’s neck tightening just a little. It sent a shiver down Matt’s spine, and he leaned back into John’s hand for just a moment before sliding back down in the bed. Kingston grumbled in his sleep as Matt squirmed to get comfortable, but it was hard to lie still when all he wanted was to curl into John’s warmth, press his whole body against John’s and just breathe in his scent.
Just as Matt made to roll over again, John reached out and yanked him in, tugging on Matt’s arm until he was splayed half across John’s chest, nose half-smashed in his armpit. Clenching his fist in the side of John’s shirt, Matt breathed in deeply, and let the muted, musky scent of John pull him into sleep.
. . .
Once Matt’s transformation had been complete, he had shaken out his fur, then loped over to where John was sitting on the stairs, dropping his head onto one of John’s knees. The rest of the night had been spent testing Matt’s senses in his wolf form, and eventually led to the examination of the crates that Matt had discovered on his first visit. All in all, it had been interesting.
John had thought Matt’s ease during the full moon meant he was prepared to try something new, but clearly, John had been wrong.
“No, seriously, explain to me how this is at all a smart idea? I am a werewolf. Werewolves kill humans all the time.”
John sighed and rubbed a hand over his head. “They used to. Kid, there hasn’t been a werewolf mauling in years. I checked with the goddamn agency. And look.” He placed two tranquilizer guns on the kitchen table, tapping one with his finger. “I have one for Lucy and one for me. One shot will knock you out cold long enough for Lucy to get out of here. Matt, I will not let you harm my daughter. I would not be doing this if I thought you were an actual risk to her safety.”
“Ha!” Matt stared at the guns bleakly, but John could tell by the way his lips straightened out that he was going to cave to John’s request. “Fine. Fine, I’ll do this, but Jesus, Mc—John, if I do hurt her, they’ll have me put down.”
That hadn’t even occurred to John, and he cursed himself for forgetting there were outside forces he had to answer to. “It won’t come to that, Matt. Look, we’ll start—I’ll have Lucy stay in the bedroom. If there’s any sign of you wanting to rip her throat out, I’ll tranq you and we’ll never speak of it again.” Or at least, not for a while. John was determined to have Matt’s wolf acknowledge Lucy—and eventually Jack, and possibly Holly—as pack, though, so ‘never’ wasn’t actually an option.
“Right, so when are we doing this?”
John glanced at the clock. It was only just after nine o’clock, breakfast having only just been eaten minutes prior. Lucy had promised to be there at noon so they could start cooking. “After dinner sounds like our best bet. We’ll put Kingston in your room and Lucy in mine. If things go okay with her, we’ll let your pup out.”
“After we eat. Good plan. I’ll probably be too full to eat anyone,” Matt said miserably. John was almost inclined to feel bad for him, but the truth was, doing this would be good for Matt. He just had to trust John.
“I tell you what, kid. Have a little faith in me, and after this, I’ll let you have your Christmas present early. It’s the only one you’re gettin’ from me, though.” Which wasn’t true. In fact, Lucy had made a pest of herself while helping him shop for Matt, but the less said on that, the happier John was. He felt redeemed only in the fact that he had spent just as much on Lucy and Jack each.
A sharp bark from the living room dragged Matt’s attention away from whatever worrying thoughts he was harboring, and John fully intended to dismiss him and clean up, only to have Matt shake his head.
“He’s being impatient. I’ll clean up breakfast.”
“I won’t argue that plan,” John replied, pushing away from the table.
He meandered out to the living room, stopping in front of Kingston’s crate to stare the puppy down into submission. It was still a little strange, having that sort of power over a creature with no human thought, but it was also extremely useful. He only moved away when he was certain Kingston had been sufficiently cowed, and then he only went as far as the window. It was gray outside, but no sign of the forecasted snow; a rare white Christmas prediction. When he heard Matt enter the room, John turned to watch him.
Matt interacting with Kingston was a bit like watching two toddlers play, or even two puppies. There was a lot of rolling around, playful nipping and sometimes even an impromptu nap on the floor. They wrestled around the small area, Matt always careful not to hurt either Kingston or the furniture. Twice they rolled right into John. After the third time, he retreated to the relative safety of the couch, flicking on the television until he found something benign he could lose himself in.
At some point, Matt crawled onto the couch, breathless and flushed from at least an hour of chasing Kingston around in the cold backyard. He settled in next to John, and for a few minutes, made a nuisance of himself by asking ridiculous questions and pointing out all the plot holes. Kingston joined them after a few minutes of rooting around in his crate for a chewed up Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed animal, and sprawled out over John’s lap. John wasn’t sure when it happened, but his fingers ended up tangled in Matt’s hair, scratching steadily over his skull, and when he finally looked down, both Kingston and Matt were sound asleep.
It seemed only natural that John do the same.
John woke to discover he had somehow gone from sitting upright to lying stretched out on the couch. Matt was a heavy weight along his side, his head tucked up under John’s chin. Kingston had managed to reclaim his place on John’s lap, and all of that would have been fine, had John not opened his eyes to find Lucy leaning over the back of the couch, an evil, gleeful grin on her face.
“Don’t start,” John growled quietly.
Lucy’s gaze dropped to Matt, and John could see it was on the tip of her tongue to say something witty and sarcastic, but she bit the words back with a sigh. She dropped down in the armchair instead, chin propped in her hand, finger tapping against her lip. It was her I’m-thinking-serious-thoughts pose, and while John wasn’t sure he wanted her doing that, either, he refrained from saying so aloud.
“You’re early,” he said finally, when the silence had stretched on long enough.
“Only by about thirty minutes. Less traffic than I expected. How’s he doing?”
“Nervous. Did you bring earplugs?” It had been a last-minute realization, that Lucy would need some way to drown out the sounds of Matt’s transformation.
She waved a small iPod. “Brought music instead. Just text me when you’re ready for me to come out.”
They kept their voices low, but John could tell from the way Matt’s fingers twitched that he could hear them. It was probably only a matter of moments before he woke up completely, and John felt oddly reluctant to have that happen. Lucy was watching him, eyes narrowed, but John ignored her in favor of nudging Kingston awake as well.
“Up, you two,” John said.
Matt yawned as he sat up, but the second he noticed Lucy, the last traces of sleep vanished. He arched an eyebrow at her.
“Farrell. It’s been a long time since I saw my dad play pillow to anyone.”
“Shut up.” Matt stretched, paying no mind to John, then climbed over him, taking Kingston with him as he stood. “I need food,” he declared, and he wandered away, leaving John alone with his daughter.
“Don’t even.” John cut her off before she could do so much as open her mouth. “He can still hear you,” he added, dropping his voice to a whisper.
“Have you given any more thought to what we talked about?” Lucy asked. It was clear she had no intention of letting this particular topic go, despite the glare John aimed at her.
Growling, John shoved himself up off the couch. “Jesus, Lucy. Not right now. I have enough shit to deal with at the moment without having to add my match-making daughter to the list.” He took a deep breath, trying to dispel the tension building up in his chest. “Right, we should get started on some of the food, and then we can take a walk down to the park.”
“Is Kingston old enough to interact with other dogs?”
“Nah, but we can carry him if it’s an issue. Just don’t go letting him sniff dog shit.”
They found Matt in the kitchen, a decent sandwich spread laid out on the table and plates for everyone. As they ate, Lucy went over the menu for that night and the following, and once lunch was finished, they cleared the table and got to work.
. . .
While they ate, John let Lucy dominate the conversation, instead focusing his energy on keeping Matt calm. Normally just a hand to the back of the neck worked, but his agitation level was higher than normal, and after a few minutes, John sighed and gave up, turning his attention to Lucy. Unfortunately, that meant when Matt reached out to grasp John’s leg, it caught him off guard enough that he jumped.
Lucy paused in the middle of a rant against her professors to smirk at John. “Problems?”
“No. Now back up. Who the hell is Taylor? I thought you were done doing the dating thing.”
“Daddy.” There was nothing friendly in her tone just then, just censor, and John winced.
“Not completely, just for a while.” He conceded. “I figured, after the thing with Jim...”
“Taylor is in my Critical Theories class. And Taylor is a girl.”
John squinted at his daughter, not the least bit fooled by her cool tone. “A girl you’re dating,” he clarified at last, and beside him, Matt went completely still.
“Ha. No, John, not a girl I’m dating. We have a couple of classes together. Occasionally we waste a Friday night by drinking and discussing feminist works such as The Female Man.”
“Uh huh.” John wasn’t convinced, and it wasn’t like this was the only girl his daughter had ever ‘brought home,’ so to speak. Lucy’s teenage years had been turbulent to say the least, and she had spent a great deal of time trying to rebel against her parents. Dating both genders had only been the tip of the iceberg.
The hand clutching at John’s thigh relaxed, and when he glanced over, Matt had a new glint to his eye. John fell silent, letting them take over the conversation, and when he stood to clear the table, no one seemed to notice. It wasn’t until John was sliding back into his seat that Lucy broke off mid-rant to glance at the clock.
“Right, so I should go get Kingston and head for the back of the house.” She glanced over at Matt, who had gone tense again. “Listen, loser. Try not to pee on my leg, okay? Because these jeans are new and I’m pretty sure werewolf piss stains.”
She left them both gaping, disappearing first into the living room where Kingston was barking excitedly, then down the hall to the bedroom. John shook his head and sighed, before herding Matt into the living room. No sooner were they settled into the room than Matt began to strip, his hands shaking as he removed his shirt. Their eyes met briefly, and John could read the fear there, but he could also see the trust that Matt was putting in him. At some point, John knew, he would need to address the other things, the ones he wasn’t even letting himself acknowledge so far, but for now, their focus had to stay on getting Matt through his transformation.
Matt dropped into a crouch, and for several minutes, nothing happened. John could see the struggle in the tense line of his shoulders and he knew it wasn’t for lack of trying, but all of Matt’s prior transformations had been called by the moon. He didn’t have that tonight, which meant John needed to help him. He toed off his boots, and stepped in close, dropping his hand to the back of Matt’s neck. John dragged Matt toward him, until Matt’s forehead was pressed to his thigh.
“All right, kid, let’s do this,” John said, pushing all his confidence into the words.
At his feet, Matt trembled, then quaked. It was horrifying, the feeling of bone and muscle and flesh shifting beneath John’s hand, but he kept his grip loose and steady, not wavering for even a second until the Matt crouched on the floor was wolf, not human, breath still coming in hard pants.
“Good boy,” John murmured.
John only released his grip on Matt’s fur when he was certain there would be no rage-filled outburst. For the first few minutes, Matt remained pressed up against John’s leg, his body still shaking with the aftershocks of his change. Once he calmed down, however, he began to take notice of their surroundings. More importantly, he began to listen.
The first real indication that Matt knew they weren’t alone was the way his ears pricked forward. He went from relaxed to ‘hunter-mode,’ and for the first time, John was forced to realize, to really acknowledge, that this wasn’t just some canine cousin he was dealing with, but something far more deadly.
Matt’s hackles rose and he seemed to grow right before John’s eyes. He managed a full three steps toward the hallway before John shook himself out of his daze.
“Matthew.” He didn’t raise his voice, but he kept his tone firm and even, and he was rewarded by Matt stopping in his tracks, the large head swinging around to face John. “Come. Here.” John had to repeat the order twice, and even as Matt moved in his direction, his attention was still on the hallway and the room at the end.
Dropping down into a crouch, John grabbed a fistful of fur and literally yanked Matt’s face toward his, gripping his muzzle to keep him from looking away.
“Stay,” John ordered. He reached up blindly, searching for, and finding, Lucy’s jacket. He shoved it under Matt’s nose. “Lucy,” John said. “Do you understand? This is Lucy’s scent. Hurt her, and I will kill you.”
The threat was probably unnecessary, but John meant it, and he could see the way Matt’s eyes darkened, like he was actually thinking about John’s words and what they meant. When he was certain that Matt wasn’t going to do anything that would get them all into trouble, John pulled out his phone and tapped out a quick text to Lucy. Half a breath later, he could hear the bedroom door open and shut.
“I’m coming out,” Lucy called out, her voice steady, but strained.
“Do you have the tranq gun with you?”
Lucy snorted as she appeared in the doorway. “I’m not an idiot, Jo—oh shit.” Lucy froze at the sight of Matthew sitting beside her father, her gaze roving over the both of them. John didn’t have to ask what she was thinking; Matt was much larger than any real wolf, long-limbed and lean, but no less dangerous looking, and the growl emanating from him was chilling to say the least.
“What do I do?” She whispered the words, her eyes never leaving Matt.
Matt lurched forward a step, and when Lucy scrambled back, he tipped back his head and let out a howl. Then he crouched down and gathered himself, like he was going to leap in for the kill. John had a split second to think I’ve really fucked this up as he reached for his gun, but before Matt could so much as twitch again, Lucy was drawing herself up.
There was enough authority in her voice to give Matt pause, and John sent up a quick, silent prayer of thanks to whoever was looking out for them that Lucy had just enough dominance in her to buy them a few desperately needed seconds.
“Matthew, down.” It was like giving instructions to a dog, and it helped that Matt responded like one. He didn’t lie down, but he did drop his hindquarters to the floor. “All right,” John said, grabbing hold of Matt’s scruff once more. “Keep your hands out, palms up and move slowly.”
A few times, Matt began to growl lowly, and Lucy had to stop where she was and wait him out. The first time, John had jerked his head back, giving him a hard shake, but after that, his touch gentled. Matt was, John knew, acting on instinct. This was what made werewolves so dangerous: they had no concept of friend or foe in this form, only of pack and prey. Matt needed to recognize Lucy as pack in both forms if this was going to work.
Neither of them so much as breathed when Lucy finally reached Matt, and it wasn’t until the growling began to escalate that it occurred to John they were going about this the wrong way. He swore quietly and reached up with his other hand, covering Matt’s eyes. He had to move slowly, but after a few tense moments of John inching his way around and past Matt, he released his hold.
Matt snarled, but the moment he moved, John stepped in front of Lucy, making himself appear as imposing as possible. It was the most terrifying standoff he had been in for quite some time, but after what felt like hours, Matt’s fur flattened out, and his body began to relax.
“Atta boy,” John praised. He took Lucy’s hand within his own and offered it to Matt. “You smell that, kid. That’s Lucy. I repeat, hurt her and I will kill you.”
“John, don’t—don’t threaten him.”
“Lucy, shut up.”
“No, no look at him. He understands you. Or he’s trying to. Just—just don’t threaten him, okay.”
Matt’s head tipped to the side, his tongue lolling out, and in that moment, he looked much more like a normal wolf. John released his death hold on Lucy and shifted over to give her more room. Her fingers were tentative as she touched first Matt’s muzzle, then the soft tips of his ears. Matt glanced between them, eyes narrowed, but when he lifted his lip to growl, Lucy swatted him sharply over the nose and he pulled back, looking thoroughly chastised. Then he dropped to the floor completely and rolled to his back, stretching out to bare his belly and throat.
Lucy’s fingers were firm but gentle as she scratched through his fur. And when Matt’s tail thumped the ground twice in quick succession, John knew they were in the clear.
“You poor bastard,” John said fondly. “She will never let you live this down.”
“Hell no, I won’t,” Lucy confirmed, smug and confident once more. “You are totally my bitch, Farrell.”
They stayed like that for another fifteen minutes, then John left them alone as he went to fetch Kingston. He had had this plan, where he would scoop the puppy up and introduce them slowly and carefully, but that was shot to hell when the puppy barreled past him the moment he opened the door. It seemed John needn’t have worried, though. He arrived in the living room seconds later to find Kingston and Matt nose-to-nose, Lucy watching them with a self-satisfied smile.
Later, after Matt had changed back into his human form in the bedroom, John with him the whole time, he curled up on the couch in a pair of John’s sweats, his skin probably still stinging from the transformation, and pressed himself against John’s side unashamedly. John wasn’t sure what was going through his head, but he could guess that Matt recalled at least some of what had happened and was feeling guilty. Lucy, however, was too busy taunting him to care about his sensitive state.
“On the upside, Farrell, at least you weren’t top-dogged by a puppy.”
Matt sniffed haughtily, but didn’t argue, and they lapsed back into a comfortable silence. John shook his head and stood. “Lucy, Matt made up his bed for you. Do not wake me up before nine tomorrow morning or there will be hell to pay, do you understand me?”
“Of course, daddy,” Lucy said, all insincere innocence. John sighed and tugged Matt up. Kingston made to follow them, but John shook his head. He was saved from having to tell the puppy no by Lucy, who gathered the dog up into her arms. “I’ll just keep Kingston with me tonight,” she offered.
“That would be great, sweetheart. Matt, kid, let’s get you to bed.”
Matt nodded, leaning into John heavily. “Sorry. I know s’early, but’m juss—Just tired.”
“Yeah, I bet you are.”
Matt laid down gingerly, eyes falling to half-mast as he watched John strip for bed. He made no move to climb under the covers, so John manhandled him into place, ignoring the way Matt winced. Then he rolled Matt onto his side and curled around him, flattening his palm over Matt’s chest to hold him in place. He could feel the rapid thump-thump of Matt’s heartbeat, but after another few minutes, it slowed until Matt’s breathing had completely evened out.
A few minutes after that, John fell asleep as well.
. . .
“Bedroom at the end of the hall,” John grunted, pressing the key into Matt’s hand.
Matt stared down at it speculatively before climbing out of the bed. He tiptoed out of the room on silent feet, and John let out a sigh of relief, closing his eyes once more. A second later, Matt was back, nearly shaking with happiness as he crowded back up onto the bed.
“Oh, Jesus. Christ, how did you—when? When did you—? And how did you know? Seriously.”
He pushed his way into John’s arms, too giddy to stop and think, and John wondered why he wasn’t more surprised, or appalled, when Matt’s lips found his. It was the sort of kiss that was all excitement and no grace, and when Matt pulled back, John could see the panic creeping in at the edges. In for a penny—, he thought, and he dragged Matt back down for a real kiss, because it was Christmas fucking Day. Because John was sick and tired of over-analyzing this thing he had been so carefully ignoring. But mostly because he wanted to.
He kept it tame long enough to feel Matt relax against him, then he nipped at Matt’s lips, demanding entrance. When he slid his tongue in, Matt let out a sound that was half sigh, half moan, and all but melted into him. Their breath was still stale from sleep, but that didn’t stop John from trying to taste every corner of Matt’s mouth, and he caught hold of Matt’s hair, using his grip to tilt Matt’s head to the side, allowing better access.
The second time Matt pulled back, his face was flushed and his eyes were wide and dark. He licked his bruised-looking lips, and John groaned, hauling him in for one more kiss before shoving Matt away.
“Go play with your computer shit,” John said, closing his eyes. “I need at least another hour of sleep.”
Matt nodded, his brows knit together worriedly, like he thought maybe was beginning to John regret it already. John reached up, pressed his thumb to the center of Matt’s forehead and smoothed out the lines there.
“Seriously, if you stay here, I won’t be held accountable for what I do, and Lucy is just down the hall. She would kill us both.”
That earned him a soft, breathless laugh. Matt leaned in, pressed his lips to John’s once more, then slipped off the bed. At the door, he paused and glanced over back at John. “Thank you,” he said, the words hardly more than a whisper.
When the door clicked shut, John dropped his head back down to the pillow and groaned. Then he rolled over, shoved his head under the pillow, and went back to sleep.
. . .
He knew it was inevitable, given the allowance he had made that morning, but John was still a little surprised when Matt went from being on the brink of sleep to wide awake and staring down at John with intent clear in his expression. John waited him out, letting Matt be the one to close the distance between them.
The first kiss was tentative, as though Matt still wasn’t certain this was real. John had to admit, he wasn’t sure it was either. What he felt for Matt wasn’t as clear-cut as what he had felt for Holly. There had been a slower burn, a gentler passage from simply being comfortable with Matt’s presence in his life to a degree of fondness that had caught him off guard. When John made no move to pull away, Matt grew more confident, and his next kiss was bolder, his tongue darting out to touch at John’s lips.
John rumbled his approval, and when Matt ducked in for a third time, he reached up, wrapped one hand around the back of Matt’s head to keep him there longer. He drew the kiss out, taking over when Matt went liquid in his arms. A nip at Matt’s lip had him trembling, and he grinned into the next bruising kissing before pulling away.
“Enough, kid. It’s close to midnight and someone woke me up at before the sun because he couldn’t contain his inner child.”
“Yeah, well.” Matt shrugged, his gaze a bit unfocused. “I’m pretty sure that’s the first Christmas I’ve gotten to celebrate since I was thirteen, so yeah. I was probably a bit over-excited.”
“Jesus, kid,” John groaned, feeling guilty. When he glanced down at Matt, some of that eased.
Matt shook his head. “It wasn’t as terrible as whatever you’re imagining. I usually spent it hanging out in my room, or, after I met Warlock, cruising the internet.” He laid down, loosely sprawled across John’s chest. “It really wasn’t that bad, but even when it was good, it was never like today. That’s—no one’s done something like that for me. Ever.”
John had nothing to say to that, so he settled for ruffling Matt’s hair affectionately, and leaving his hand there. He tried to think about the last time he had had someone in his bed like this, then stopped, because it had been years ago, and John was content not to rehash that part of his past. He tugged gently on Matt’s hair, tipping his head back so their eyes could meet.
“Go to sleep, kid. I gotta work tomorrow night and the next, so if you’re gonna spend all your time on your new gadgets, that’s the time to do it. Do not do anything to give the F.B.I. reason to come knocking on my door. Got it?”
“Yeah, I got it,” Matt replied.
He sounded half-asleep already, but just as John’s eyes began to close, Matt was there again, nosing at the underside of his jaw, breath damp and hot against John’s neck. John had half a mind to put a stop to the kid’s antics, but Matt was warm in his arms, and there was a quiet need in movements. Like maybe Matt was acting on instinct, rather than out of some conscious decision to try and seduce John.
When John settled a hand over the back of Matt’s neck, he was rewarded with a soft whine and the not-so-subtle thrust of hips against his thigh. A small part of him was still railing against the morality of engaging with someone half his age and male, but a bigger part of John knew that this was inevitable, and not just because of whatever bond had formed between them when John accepted his role as Matt’s alpha.
Matt’s hands clenched in John’s shirt, and he tugged until John relented, rolling over on top of him. He allowed Matt a moment of control, which resulted in the loss of both their shirts, then he wrested Matt’s arms up, pinning them by the wrists to the mattress. When Matt let his legs fall open, John shifted until he was lying between them, almost his full weight holding Matt down. Matt’s pupils were wide, his breath coming in ragged pants, and when he tipped his head back, baring his throat, a jolt of want went through John, so sharp it startled him.
Instinct had John leaning forward, his teeth sinking into the smooth, pale expanse of skin that Matt was offering up, and he rolled his hips down into Matt’s, groaning at the feel. In that moment, John wanted nothing more than to flip Matt over and take him, hard and fast until they were too exhausted to move. Unfortunately, the knowledge that his daughter was right down the hall dampened his desire. That and the fact that he knew doing so would only scare the kid off, if not traumatize him completely.
It wouldn’t kill him to ignore the fact that he was half-hard in his flannel pajama pants, but Matt was another issue. Matt was halfway to gone just from having John hold him down, and the temptation, the desire to see what Matt looked like when John was getting him off proved too strong. Sliding one hand down, John slipped it into Matt’s pajama bottoms, his fingers closing around Matt’s dick.
They both jolted a little at the initial touch, then Matt moaned, the sound terrifyingly loud in the otherwise silent room.
“Matt. Kid, ya gotta be quiet.” John shifted his hand and Matt sighed, the sound nearly a rumble.
“J—John, please,” Matt whined, pushing up into John’s hand.
“Keep your hands here, dammit,” John ordered.
When he released Matt’s wrists and they stayed put, he slid his hand over Matt’s mouth, muffling all the sounds he was making. The position was awkward, and he would pay for it tomorrow when his bad shoulder was screaming at him, but right then all that mattered was the expression on Matt’s face, the way his hips jerked up helplessly as John’s fingers tightened around his dick, stroking him once, firmly.
John pulled his hand away long enough to coat it with the lotion from his bedside table, then he was sliding it back down, taking hold of Matt once again. He could hear the way Matt keened at the touch, and he rubbed his thumb over the head, a wave of triumph slamming through him when Matt choked on a sob. He wondered if he should be more concerned by the fact that, just a few months ago, John would have never even considered sleeping with another man, and now here he was, desperate to watch Matt fall apart by his hands alone.
Matt’s hands flexed, fingers clenching into fists, then slowly uncurling, but they remained where John had put them. Even when he leaned down to nip at the lobe of Matt’s ear. John tugged on it gently, then moved on, sucking a kiss high on Matt’s neck, were it would be nearly invisible beneath his hair. He did it again, a little lower, aware that anyone would be able to see this one, then once more, in the curve of Matt’s shoulder where the skin felt stretched tight and thin.
All the while, John continued his long, firm strokes, dragging his fingers along the underside of Matt’s cock, over the fat vein. He had to change his position a little, straddling one of Matt’s legs and letting his weight hold him in place. His shoulder twinged, and John reached for his discarded shirt, shoving it into Matt’s mouth to quiet his noises, then switched hands so could brace himself on his good arm while he used his other hand to continue jerking Matt off.
He could tell that Matt was close by the way his hips began to jerk more erratically, and when he yanked the shirt away once more, it was to hear Matt chanting,
“Please, please, please. John—God, please, I need—need you to—oh God.”
Matt sounded strung out as John closed the gap between their mouths, taking in each whimpered word. He licked his way past Matt’s lips, sucked his tongue into his mouth and finally—finally—whispered,
“Yeah. Yeah, Matty, come on. You can hold onto me now, kid. Just like this. Come just like this, and next time—next time I’ll fuck you.”
At those words, Matt let out a high, startled sound that John was probably just a few seconds too slow to quiet completely. Then he was coming. His whole body tensed, rising up off the bed despite John’s weight bearing him down, and his fingers bit into John’s shoulders as he grabbed on. John ducked his head down, sliding his tongue along the hard line of Matt’s jaw, then moving to claim his lips once more, milking Matt’s release from him as he kissed him through the last waves of his orgasm.
Afterward, while Matt was slowly coming back to himself, John slipped from the bed and crossed the room to the bathroom where he washed his hands and studiously ignored his reflection. There was a smear of come on his belly, and he wiped it away with a grimace, then soaked a washcloth for Matt. When he returned to the bedroom, it was to find Matt still shaking, his eyes half-closed.
John sat on the bed beside him, laying one hand flat against Matt’s body to keep him still while John cleaned up the mess. When he was done, he tossed the wet cloth in the direction of the laundry hamper, and slid under the covers once more, pulling Matt flush against him. It was obvious the kid was still half-gone, so John rolled them to their sides, Matt’s back to his chest, and rubbed gentle circles over his chest and belly.
It was a long time before Matt finally came down, during which time, John talked. He kept the conversation easy and one-sided, recalling past cases he had worked, his brief stint with a K-9 companion, and some of the things he had gotten up to when he was a boy. Eventually, they both fell asleep.
. . .
“I’m not the least bit surprised that Matt’s noisy in bed.” Her eyes were bright as she watched John splutter and Matt turn an unfortunate shade of red. She polished off the last of her coffee and set the mug in the sink. “Just remember, dad, always wear a condom. You wouldn’t want to get poor Matt in the family way.”
She winked as she walked out the door, relishing in the outraged shouts that followed her. The last clear sentence she heard was Matt’s concerned voice inquiring as to whether that was actually possible. She smirked as she climbed into her car.
. . .
He called Lucy.
“Look, I know you forbade me from discussing my sex life if it involved your dad—”
“Oh my god, Farrell. You’re not even supposed to imply that it exists!” There was a loud bang, as Lucy presumably slammed her bedroom door shut. The was a soft rustle, then she came back on the line, this time clearer. “Look, I will only say this once. My dad can be really old-fashioned. And not just about the ‘gay’ thing. He’s been sweating that one out for a while now, so he’s more or less worked himself past that hump. I’m talking about the age difference. Regardless of the fact that you’re an adult—and have been for a while, now—he still worries about shit like ‘taking advantage.’ So if you want something done, you gotta grow a set and make the first move.
“Now that that’s out of the way,” she rushed on, “I’m taking this computer science class and I think I need your help.”
They chatted for another fifteen minutes, and when Matt finally disconnected, he felt calmer than he had previously. Talking with Lucy did that, though. Matt was sure it had something to do with pack dynamics, but he gave up trying to figure it out and flopped back onto his bed, Kingston immediately hopping up to stretch out beside him. He had spent the last three days working on a security coding assignment for Deputy Director Bowman, and he was running low on energy.
Matt was just pondering a nap when John walked into the bedroom, looking every bit as tired as Matt was feeling. Propping himself up on his elbows, Matt watched as John stripped off his jacket, holsters and badge, dumping them on the chair. He ran a hand over his head, staring off into space for a few seconds before shrugging his bad shoulder.
“I’m gonna hit the shower. Why don’t you order dinner,” John said.
Matt listened to the shower start, counting down in his head until he was sure that John was stripped and under the spray before moving. Lucy had said to make the first move, and Matt figured there was no time like the present. Pulling off his clothes as quickly as possible, he slipped into the bathroom and rapped on the shower door to warn John of his presence. Then he ducked inside, pressing himself to John’s side.
“What the—?” John broke off with a groan as Matt’s fingers dug into the knotted muscles of his shoulders. “Jesus,” he muttered a moment later, leaning into the tiled wall.
Matt hummed and continued to work out the kinks. John’s bad shoulder, mostly healed but still particular about being overextended, was the worst, and he took great care to make sure he found every knot. When he was done, he turned John around, pushing until John’s back was flat against the wall. He met John’s gaze, holding it as he dropped to his knees, and he braced his hands on John’s solid thighs, fingers flexing.
“I want—I want to,” Matt whispered.
He was sure his words were lost in the noise of the shower, but even so, John seemed to hear him. Matt could see the conflict in his eyes, the desire to give in at war with John’s cockblocking morals. Not waiting for permission, Matt leaned in, pressing his face into the crease between John’s leg and groin, breathing in the heavy, musky scent there. He could feel the wolf rippling through him, surfacing not enough to change him, but just enough to bolster his resolve. The way John’s cock went from soft to half-hard didn’t hurt his confidence any, either.
Tightening his grip on John’s thighs, Matt mouthed his way along the underside of John’s cock until he could suck the head into his mouth. When he pressed his tongue to the crown, flattening it over the slit there, John’s whole body quaked.
“Jesus Christ, kid,” he groaned, sliding one hand into Matt’s hair.
Matt shivered and sucked him in a little deeper, hollowing his cheeks. He could feel the tension in John’s thighs, the way his fingers were deliberately loose in Matt’s hair, his control iron-tight even now. Matt wanted nothing more than to ruin that, to be the one to make John lose it completely, and he used his limited experience to do so. Taking a deep breath, Matt worked his way further down John’s cock until it hit the back of his throat, and the hand in this hair flexed, shaking minutely.
It was when Matt dug his fingers in and swallowed that John finally got with program. He brought his other hand up, gripping the back of Matt’s head, guiding his actions. He allowed Matt to pull back long enough to catch his breath, then John was pushing him back down, his hips thrusting up and forcing his dick deeper. Matt groaned around it, and John growled at the sensation, his grip tightening just to the point of pain.
Matt closed his eyes and gave himself over, allowing John to take control of their movements, of the depth of his cock in Matt’s throat. Matt’s fingers scrabbled at his thighs, slipping under the spray of water, but he wasn’t worried about losing his grip. John had him, and that was all that mattered. It was what Matt had wanted, what he had been aching for, and John was giving it to him. The steady strength in the hands holding onto him was reassuring, and Matt let them guide him, focusing on working his throat and tongue, on pushing John over the edge.
He could feel the moment John began to tense, and Matt pulled back, sucked in a deep breath, and allowed himself to be pushed back down. John’s cock hit the back of his throat, and his nose was buried in the coarse hair at the base. Matt could feel each pulse of John’s dick as he spent himself, and he swallowed instinctively, tears prickling at the back of his eyes the longer he held that position. When he was done, John yanked Matt off and up, shoving him against the wall. His mouth was hot and demanding, and he reached down with one hand only to find Matt soft beneath his questing fingers.
“Oh Jesus,” John said. He pulled back, looking mildly horrified, and it took Matt a second to figure out why. When realization struck, he laughed breathlessly and tipped his head onto John’s shoulder.
“Nah, man. It’s—I already, uh. I already came. When you were, um. Coming. Water’s getting cold,” he added.
“You,” John began, but then he just shook his head.
John reached for the soap and washed them both up quickly, turning off the shower just as the water really began to lose its heat. Matt was ushered out of the shower and wrapped in a towel, and stayed there, blinking up at John through the wet curtain of his fringe. He made no move to dry off or get dressed, just stayed there watching as John toweled off and pulled on a pair of faded sweats. When he was done, he crossed to stand in front of Matt, gaze searching.
Matt nodded and finally let the towel drop, shivering as he allowed a t-shirt to be pulled over his head. It was one of John’s, faded and soft and smelling of him. Then John’s hands were on Matt’s shoulders, his fingers digging in sharply before dropping away again.
“Christ, Matthew. You don’t—you didn’t have to—”
“I wanted to,” Matt assured him.
When John only continued to stare at him, Matt stepped closer. He was leaning in for a kiss when John brought his hand up, and Matt flinched just a little. He knew—he knew—John wouldn’t hit him, but that didn’t stop him from reacting, and he could see the grim understanding in John’s eyes. Matt sighed in defeat, turning away before John could say something to worsen the situation, and slipped out of the room. He bypassed John’s bed and headed for his own disused room, only to be stopped by a hand on his wrist.
“Look, kid. Matt. Matthew. I’m still figuring this shit out. You can’t run away every time I hesitate for longer than you’d like.” He sighed and rubbed a hand down his face. “Go pick out a movie while I order dinner. I’m too fucking tired to have a serious conversation right now, but Matthew?” He crowded Matt back against the wall, hands braced on either side of Matt’s head. “Thanks, kid,” John murmured, and then he leaned in, kissing Matt long and slow.
When John stepped back, Matt could only stare at him for several long seconds, heart thumping loudly in his chest. John smirked because he was clearly a bastard like that, and left Matt standing in the hallway while he went in search of take-out menus. A couple of deep breaths later, Matt had gotten control of himself. He could feel his wolf’s contentment, and he basked in it as he wandered into the living room. Kingston was already sprawled across the couch cushion, but he made a space for Matt, shoving his wet nose under Matt’s hand to encourage petting.
By the time the food arrived, Matt was half-asleep. He roused himself long enough to eat, then he stretched out on the couch, head resting on John’s thigh, eyes slipping shut against the flickering of the television. John’s hand came down to rest on his head, his fingers combing through Matt’s hair, nails dragging along his skull. The sensation was soothing, and after another five minutes of decent struggle, Matt succumbed, falling into a deep sleep.
It was the best sleep he had gotten in a while.