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It's been three years since the fire sale - three years, four months, and twelve days, technically, if Matt were the type to count, which he totally is. Forty months of recovering from losing his home, his possessions, his easy mobility; forty months of learning to sleep through the night without waking with a shout, convinced terrorists were breaking into the room.

It's been just enough time for him to find the kind of job which requires him to make occasional appearances in tailored slacks and ironed shirts, even if he spends the rest of his time working without sleep in his apartment. He still isn't used to it, and sometimes he's convinced that the ties arrest his ability to be creative, but it's a small part of who he is.

That small part doesn't mind that when McClane first saw him in a suit, he stopped calling him 'kid' on the spot, and never started up again.

Matt has marked time in other ways as well. Twenty months of paying penance to the feds by working on fire sale clean-up, followed by twenty more months of indentured servitude to corporate America as a glorified code monkey, working on projects his younger self would have ripped him a new one for considering. It's a tough world out there.

His younger self - he'd been all of 29, then. The distance between then and now was like the Grand Canyon; he'd lived thirty years in three.

He likes the fact that he works for a small start-up, providing security at a nice salary. It's respectable work, even if he does it under an assumed name, just to be sure no one bothers him. His face was never out there in the media, thanks to Bowman and to John, but his name - well, there was the world at large, and then there was the community he called his own, and his name was now infamous in the wrong ways.

That's why, when he's busy flirting with a co-worker at Parker Communications (aka the day job), the sound of his name makes the hair rise on his arms.

"Matthew Farrell," the man says again. Matt turns his head only slightly, enough to see the speaker standing at the reception desk and four other men standing near him. Not feds; wrong kind of suits. Wrong kind of hair styling; Matt has noticed that feds have some kind of magic gel to hold every strand in place. These guys look a little rough. Like McClane on casual Friday.

He doesn't wait for the receptionist to tell the man politely that no Matthew Farrell works there. Instead, he winks at Carl, abandons his flirting, and walks down the hall to the first empty office he finds. He ducks inside, closes the door and pulls out his phone. Eyes on the door, he texts:

five guys here asking for me by real name

He clicks the phone over to silent.

It takes about 30 seconds for the reply to come, by which time Matt has pressed himself against the interior wall and crouched down to the floor, so he can't be seen through the office window.

on my way

Matt tucks his phone under the edge of the heavy built-in bookcase just as the door opens. Two of the men enter the room; over the second man's shoulder, Matt sees his co-workers sitting in a huddle, hands in the air.

"There you are," says the man who had asked for him. He backs out the door, shouts, "In here!" Matt doesn't know him; he doesn't know any of the others, either, as they crowd into the small office.

But they know him.


Three years, four months, and twelve days since the last time he'd been taken prisoner, but a lot has changed.

After the fire sale, Matt had moved into a tiny but neat studio apartment in Brooklyn - enough room for a queen-sized bed and two desks, which was all he really needed. There wasn't much left for him in Camden, and most of his friends had decided he was too dangerous to know - the ones who were still alive, anyway. So he'd packed up his melted hard drives and his bullet-riddled collectibles and thrown them in Lucy McClane's car, and she'd done him the favor of driving him out to suburbia, or what passed for it in New York.

The weird thing was, the more responsible he became, the less weird it seemed. He still has moments where every instinct is to resist, to rebel, to hack until his fingers bleed, but he pictures John McClane's disappointed face when those instincts rise, and that squashes them back down again.

Even his hair is short these days. Without that cushion, the gun barrel pressed to his temple is heavy and cold, making a mark. His knee is aching; this is the first time he's knelt on it for more than a few minutes, and without something to distract him from the ache.

"Stop fucking moving around," hisses the man holding it. "I'm not telling you again."

"Just - tell me what the hell you want, okay?" Matt says. His office is fifteen minutes from John's precinct by car, not counting traffic delays, which McClane will somehow get around, he knows. He figures he can hold out that long. Besides, he knows what they want. He supplied some of the code that rebuilt the country's cyberstructure, and most of the code which had secured its vital networks as they were being cobbled back together. It was just a matter of time before some hacker figured that out, and realized how much of that patched-together code was still holding things together like the shimmering strings of a spiderweb, delicate and easy to identify.

It was weird to think that once, he would have been on the other side of that illegal invasion.

The tallest of the men, broad-shouldered, short brown hair, crouches down in front of him. "Mr. Farrell. I'm going to set a laptop in front of you, and you're going to replicate the code sequences necessary to backdoor the encryption you set on the NSA systems."

"No, I'm really not," Matt says. He's ready for it, but the first blow catches him by surprise, because the man uses a closed fist. Nothing like getting right to the point. He follows that with a second blow to the left cheek, and a third low on his right jaw.

Matt has been hit before. No smart kid gets through life without taking a few beatings, and that was before the fire sale.

Then they start working on his body. Chest, abdomen.

He thinks, this is nothing, I survived being shot.

He thinks, this would just be an ordinary day for McClane.

He tries not to think of John, because he's pretty sure the cries he's making when they're hitting him would really disappoint a stoic like John.

Then he just tries not to think at all.


All things considered, there was no universe in which Matt Farrell and John McClane should have become friends. For one thing, McClane's first impression of him had not been favorable. Even after he helped to save Lucy, a cop could not help but be wary of a suspect who'd done the things which put her in that position to begin with. For another, there was a generation and a world of experiences between them.

It had taken some time for Matt to see that McClane was a hell of a lot smarter than he let on - the playing dumb thing was a well-honed act, designed to trap other people into giving everything away and expecting nothing back - and that his survival wasn't just attributable to his muscle. Around the same time, John started inviting him out for a beer every now and then, and Matt accepted. It was nice having a friend who wasn't embroiled in the same activities which had led Matt down the wrong road.

It had been easy from there, small talk, sports, beers, and a meal once in a while. Meals in the city led to meals at John's house - he had some sort of a phobia about going to Matt's place, and Matt couldn't blame him, seeing as how the last time, John had almost had his head blown off there. It was a real friendship, the kind where they relied on each other, knew each other well. Matt hadn't had many. He sort of figured John hadn't, either, but for different reasons.

He took note of the way John looked away when others would light a cigarette, and how John never had more than three beers in an evening. Sometimes it struck him that John had a whole life before Matt knew him, a thousand things Matt would never suspect, but it was fun finding them out.

It had been a good friendship until the Sunday Matt went to John's for barbecue and football. He'd handed John a bottle of beer, and their fingers touched, and suddenly Matt could picture John spreading him out right there on the deck, steaks burning on the grill while those hands moved over every inch of Matt's bare skin.

He'd been attracted to John since somewhere in the middle of John saving his life, but that was no big deal. It was easy to compartmentalize that stuff, and it was the least important thing about their relationship. Except, John had stared at him like he knew what Matt was thinking, and then he'd taken a long swallow from the bottle, and Matt had looked away before he lost what little was left of his mind.

After that, he made excuses, found reasons not to be at John's house, and they met less often in the city, too. Matt knew he was being foolish, but he would rather have John as a part-time friend than not at all, and he couldn't afford to give himself away.


Matt's hearing is the first thing to return, once he drifts out of unconsciousness. He can hear them talking about him, so he plays dead for a little while longer. They're speaking French, he thinks, or something that sounds like French. He can't tell how long he's been out, but he knows quite a while went by between that first punch to the head, and that last blow with the handgun - a Glock 17. Matt couldn't help but notice the make, just as he couldn't help the tiny burst of pride whenever he thought about the delay he'd caused. All John needs is a little time.

They've never talked about it. Never made contingency plans, though both of them knew this might happen. But Matt has always known that if danger threatens, John won't stop until Matt is safe.

"Up," the short man with the receding hairline says, wrenching Matt's arm as he throws him to his knees. Matt looks down at the blood spattered over the rough gray carpet, and gathers that it's all his, but it seems surreal --

"Let's start again," Tall Man says.

At that moment, Matt hears a smattering of distant gunfire, echoing up from the stairwell. The three men in the room turn sharply, listening for more.

"Watch Farrell," the man near the door says tersely, and the two of them head out toward what Matt hopes will be their immediate demise. Matt is pretty sure the men keeping watch in the stairwell are already dead, or incapacitated in gratifying ways. He really hopes the one with the steel-toed boots went first. Seems fair.

His captor rams the barrel of the weapon into his temple, provoking a wince from Matt as the tender bruise there compresses. "Who the fuck is out there, huh?"

Matt seizes the opportunity. One hand on the gun, shoving it down, the other fist coming up to drive a punch into the man's Adam's apple. The gun goes off, once, twice, but Matt's grip is strong and practiced, and he hangs on tight as he drives a knee directly into the man's nuts. He twists the gun away, then scrambles back, and doesn't hesitate: three shots - two to the chest, one to the head. The man falls backwards without a sound, crashing into a desk and knocking it askew as he drops to the ground.

Matt stares for a second, willing his heart to stop crashing around in the cage of his chest. Then he pops the magazine on the gun and counts the remaining rounds - 12 in all - before reinserting the magazine. Slowly, he sits down on the edge of the crooked desk. His co-workers are still vulnerable, even though Matt knows John is eliminating threats on his way up the stairs.

He takes a deep breath and throws open the door, gun steady and level as he moves out into the open space.


Right after he'd been released from the hospital, Matt had stayed with John for five nights so he could wean himself off the pain meds and get back into a normal sleep pattern. It had been amusing, hobbling around John's place and watching John hobble in the other direction.

Less amusing was the way he woke up screaming, throat raw from it, and his clothes plastered to his body with sweat.

"Matt. Hey." John never actually came into the guest bedroom, but stood in the doorway, waiting until Matt stopped screaming and began to breathe again, ragged like he'd run forty miles in his sleep. Then he'd fade back into the shadows, and Matt was never sure whether to be grateful for his discretion, or angry because he didn't stay. That was a stupid train of thought, because McClane's responsibility to him was over and done, and he didn't need protecting anymore.

But the nightmares didn't seem to know that.

It happened again and again, until the night that Matt crouched beside the bed, terrified and trying to contain the tears spilling out of his eyes. That night, John sat down beside him on the floor, gun in hand, and pressed his shoulder to Matt's.

"After the thing in LA, I didn't have a peaceful night for a month," John said softly. "That's when I started with the booze. Then it was booze and pills, and then booze again. Anything to dull it down."

Matt tried to speak, but his breath hitched in his throat, so he stopped. John leaned into him ever so slightly, and fresh tears sprung into Matt's eyes, of gratitude and relief.

Finally, he found words, and rasped, "When does it ever end?"

John's eyes were kind, but Matt knew the answer even before he spoke by the depth of the shadows there. "It never ends, kid. The best you can do is ride it out."

"You're really comforting, McClane. I'll bet you're great with traumatized kids and old people." Matt struggled through two deep breaths until he had enough air in his lungs again.

"Are you kidding me? I'm a fucking teddy bear."

"With guns." Matt lifted his chin at the one resting on John's knee. "I want you to teach me."

"You seemed to do okay for yourself in a pinch."

"Seriously," Matt said.

John looked him over, and after a long moment, gave a short nod. "Just so you know, it probably won't help with the nightmares."

Matt shivered. "It'll help when I'm awake."


There's just one of them left on the main floor - one of them, and six of Matt's co-workers, those who hadn't left for lunch. When the mercenary turns around, Matt says, "Drop the gun!"

Of course, he doesn't; he smiles, and makes a face Matt has seen his entire life, the one that doubts Matt's ability to do the thing he's about to do. His gun comes level toward Matt; Matt fires, and the guy drops like a stone, his own firearm falling from his hand. Matt moves toward him, one finger over his lips as he looks at his co-workers. He pulls the dropped gun toward him with the toe of his shoe, then picks it up and stuffs it in his waistband.

"Mike?" That's Carl, the cute one Matt thought was worth flirting with an hour ago, the one who couldn't code his way out of a paper bag. "Mike, what the hell is happening?"

"Be quiet," Matt says, and Carl subsides, putting his arm around Linda, who is staring at Matt like she's only just noticed he exists. Matt sighs. He really was enjoying this job. It's going to suck balls to have to start over somewhere else under yet another different name.

"You need a doctor," Linda says, swallowing hard.

"Later," Matt answers, smiling at her, or trying to. "You guys need to hide until it's all clear. Go into that office next to the one where they had me, and call 911. Tell them...tell them that we need backup, that we were being held prisoner by these lunatics. Tell them there are still guys with guns in the building, and John McClane with the NYPD is here working his way up to our floor."

"Who?" Carl's brow furrows, like the instructions Matt just gave are especially difficult.

"Can you just go, Carl? Can you just do that?" Matt stares at him, and Carl seems to shake himself into action. The six of them file silently by Matt, though Linda pauses long enough to give him a brief but painful hug, and so does Martha.

The door to the stairwell bursts open with a bang. Matt throws his arm up, gun leveled at the door, and catches John in his sights. John's...a little bloody, but Matt has seen him much, much worse, and relief rushes over him as he lowers his weapon.

"Matt?" John starts to move toward him, and Matt says sharply,

"I haven't cleared this floor, I - I just got loose. I - my friends -" Matt falters.

"Where are they?"

"Hiding. I sent them...I sent them to hide."

"Go check on them. Backup's all over the lower floors. I'll take care of this." John looks him over then, head to toe and back again. "You've got...a little something," John says, reaching out toward Matt's face. He's barely an inch away when he stops, fingertips poised in mid-air near the place where Matt's eye is swelling. He can feel it pull when he blinks.

A little something. It should be funny. It would be funny, if Matt said it to John, and then John would give that crazy, fuck-all-this-shit laugh, and Matt would laugh too. But John's not smiling. He's got this look, too serious, and Matt's not smiling either, and his pulse is thumping against the thin skin of his neck, like it wants to jump right into McClane's hand where it'll be safe.

He wants to joke - sexy, right? - but he can't make a sound. He just looks at John, until John gently takes the gun from Matt's hand and sets it on the desk. There are sirens in the distance, and shouting in the stairwell; the cavalry, shaped like the NYPD, has arrived.

"Come on," John says. "Let's get you checked out, and I'll take you home."


Those first few times at the range were a disaster, with Matt talking a mile a minute and torn between devoting himself to the lesson, and conquering the shakes that came along with handling a gun again.

"Like this," John would say, correcting his stance, his grip, his posture, and the angle of his head. "Stop squinting. Keep your center of gravity."

They shot until John ran out of ammo, until Matt had developed blisters, and only then was he satisfied that he would know what to do, if it ever...when. When he needed it. Because he knew, somewhere deep in his gut, that the threat was still out there, and it was real. He was knowledgeable; he was a marketable commodity.

"You should teach me some hand to hand," Matt said a few months later, after John had finished teaching Matt how to clear and make safe every one of the handguns in his personal arsenal.

John placed a Sig P220 on the coffee table and folded his hands in front of him then, so quiet that Matt wondered if he'd stepped over an invisible boundary. Maybe it was one thing to teach a friend how to shoot every model of firearm commercially available, but something else to get into a little martial arts.

After a moment, John got up and stretched, and made his way into the kitchen. Matt listened to him open the fridge, bottles clinking as he poked through the beer selection (two kinds of domestic beer, that was the limit of John's adventurousness). Matt's face grew hot, and he looked across the room to see where he'd thrown his jacket, in case he needed to make a quick escape.

A bottle descended in front of his face, and Matt took it. Beer signaled the end of gun instruction. John would never touch a weapon if he'd been drinking. John settled back into the couch, and they drank together for a few minutes before John spoke.

"I'm a cop, and you're a computer wizard."

"So?" Matt took a long swallow of beer. "I'm an incredible shot as well, I just want to point that out. Since apparently we're making comparisons and stuff now."

"It's not about being a great shot, Matthew. It's about..." John sighed. "Whatever's making you feel like you need to become someone different than you are, that's the real problem."

"After what we've been through, you think this is some kind of overreaction?" Matt looked at him incredulously.

"No. But it is a reaction, and you should look at that. Guns can't keep you safe. Neither can being able to knock out some dude twice your size. Shit happens no matter what."

"Well, guns give you an advantage, clearly."

"Not really. I mean, yes, I think training is good, obviously. But. Safety is an illusion." John looked at him then, and Matt met his eyes, and forced himself not to blurt out the truth, because nothing made Matt feel safe except John, but that was an illusion, too.

So they drank their beer, and Matt didn't take the P220 when John offered it on loan. He went out into the night, wiser, more ready, and prepared for nothing at all.


It takes a while to get Matt examined and cleaned up, the EMTs fussing over him in a way that feels briskly familiar. Matt refuses to go to the hospital, which John takes in stride. Matt isn't sure when they started knowing each other so well that there were no simple surprises left to find.

When the time comes, John takes his statement (shoving a precinct detective out of the way to do it despite his lack of jurisdiction, Matt notes). Matt's ribs hurt the worst, and his face is the least of it, but he aches everywhere, and he's tired. Even so, he does his best to put it all out there, and leaves nothing out. John's face darkens like a thundercloud when Matt describes the beating, and that soothes the aches and pains a bit.

His mind shies away from the understanding that he has killed two people. Self-defense, sure. Saving others, you bet. But they're still dead, and Matt is only just beginning to feel the truth of it sinking into him the same way it did after the fire sale, like lead fusing to his bones, irrevocable. It's a relief when McClane gets a hand under his elbow and says, "Time to go; you're free and clear," but doesn't send him on his way alone.

Matt has managed to stop dwelling on his safety these last couple years, once he worked through all the shit McClane was always trying to get him to face, but now it's all coming back to him - the sleepless nights, the fear of retaliation - and he wonders why he ever thought this would be over. Why he didn't believe what his gut knew to be true. Someone will always come looking for him.

McClane won't always be around to answer hurried texts for help.

There's tension all through John's body as he helps Matt into the car, and they don't talk. No jokes, no black humor to diminish the darkness, just the sounds of road traffic and city life, as John turns the car back toward his place. Matt is so tired, he doesn't even have the energy to ask why John's not taking him home like he promised.

It's when they pull up at the curb near John's brownstone that he realizes, John thinks the promise is kept, and his breath catches. It never occurred to John to take Matt to his own shitty apartment. John's place is home.

"You okay?" John pauses in the middle of reaching for the door handle, alarm in his eyes at the way Matt is breathing.

Wordless again, Matt looks at him, unable to stop whatever emotion is twisting up his face, and that gets John moving, around to Matt's side to extract him and bundle him up the steps.

When the door shuts behind them, Matt reaches out for John, gets a handful of his jacket, and pulls him close. He leans back against the door, because he doesn't trust his legs. When John puts out a hand to catch himself, it lands on the door just above Matt's right shoulder, and so Matt tilts his head and leans in, and gives John the kind of kiss that leaves no doubt about his intentions. He lets go of John's jacket and curls his hand around the nape of John's neck, and John presses in to Matt, his kiss open and hungry and full of agreement.

Matt has a second to be thankful that he didn't read John wrong, that he hasn't cost them both this friendship, before John deepens the kiss in a way that nearly stops Matt's heart. Then John slowly pulls back, kissing the corner of Matt's mouth on the way, like he can't help himself.

"What is this?" John asks him. "Is this some jacked up way of saying thank you?"

"The thank you fuck is three years overdue, so no," Matt said, working on John's belt buckle with shaking fingers.

"Hey," John says, curling his fingers around Matt's. "Matt. You're in no shape for this. You're working off the adrenaline, and you're a walking bruise."

"Then you'd better be careful how you touch me," Matt says, and it's the last thing they say to each other; John lets go of his fingers and rips his own belt off, then slides his hands beneath Matt's blood-stained shirt, shaping his hands around Matt's injured ribs with a touch neither overly gentle, nor careful in the least. Matt's entire body jolts with the force of his desire, having John's hands on him, finally. John's mouth descends on Matt's, moving with careful precision, and his tongue flickers over the two splits in Matt's lower lip.

Matt moans, the sound low and needy, and he tugs at John's shirt. John steps back, his eyes dark in the half-light of the brownstone, and pulls his shirt off, tossing it to the side. Matt drinks in the familiar angles of his torso, and leans forward to press a kiss to John's chest, a hint of teeth, fresh adrenaline in his veins at the sound of John's hissed curse.

John takes his hand and leads him down the hall to the bedroom, stopping once outside the door to curve his hands around Matt's skull and kiss him, so slow and thorough there's no breathing until it's done. He gets rid of Matt's shirt there, while Matt toes off his shoes. Socks go next, then pants and briefs, and he spreads himself out on John's bed, waiting for judgment.

Soft light floods the room when John switches on the bedside lamp, and Matt lets John look. There's a lot of fresh damage; he doesn't have to see it to know. It doesn't concern him much. He's had worse. So much worse. He knows what he can take, now. What he'd really like to take at the moment is John's cock, which is rock hard and curved toward John's belly, but he doesn't think John will agree to fuck him. He can see the worry in John's eyes as his gaze moves over Matt's body. Matt shivers as it dawns on him: John doesn't want to risk hurting Matt, not even in bed.

John's marked, too. Bruises on his arms, his legs, his chest; cuts on his face. Matt touches them, reassures himself that this time, the price wasn't too high. He's not sure when he became one of those people worth the cost in John's eyes, but he's never been so certain that he doesn't want John to pay it, even though that's not his choice to make, and never will be.

"John," Matt says, his voice too loud in the room, and the word breaks in a startling way, pulling John's attention back to Matt's face. Whatever he finds there brings him to Matt's side, and after a moment of maneuvering, Matt is draped across John, and there are more kisses, and John's hands on him, everywhere, redrawing boundaries.

They kiss for a long time, and Matt loses himself in it, anxiety building and then fading in his belly at what's happening. Not that he'd thought it through, but somewhere between the door and the hallway, he'd thought maybe they'd have a quick fuck, dump some of the pent-up emotion, and then he'd apologize for what he'd needed, and somehow things would go back to normal. But this is the new normal, this state of being where crazy people hurt him periodically for the contents of his brain, and John McClane's slick fingers are in his ass, stretching him, agreeing silently to the demands in Matt's eyes.

"On your good side," John says, shifting over Matt so he's stretched out behind him. He puts one hand on Matt's hip, and Matt moves his leg forward, the old gunshot wound aching. He looks at the open drawer of the bedside table, where John probably keeps guns and bullets and extra magazines and lube and condoms, some of which are scattered on the bed where John yanked them from the drawer. And then he closes his eyes, because John is pressing into him, hard and thick.

"Matt," John says, his lips next to Matt's ear. Matt clutches John's wrist, and then John begins to move, fucking him deep and slow, holding Matt to him with an arm around his chest, and using his other hand to stroke Matt in time with his thrusts.

It takes barely any time at all before John wrings an orgasm out of Matt, and curses a blue streak into Matt's shoulder while Matt tightens around him, shuddering as he comes in John's hand. John moves his hand back to Matt's hip, holding him still for two more long, deep thrusts, and then comes inside him, which makes Matt shudder all over again.

They breathe for a while, just being, while John slips out of Matt and gets rid of the condom. Matt floats back down to earth, to the stickiness of John's hand on his hip and the smell of musk and sweat in the room, and the faint tinge of blood underlying it all. It's a scent he associates with John, as fucked up as that is.

Matt turns onto his back and John is waiting, to kiss him, to run a hand down his body, assessing that what they've done hasn't hurt him. It's that, more than anything else, that makes Matt shaky again. His ribs do hurt, a bone-deep ache straight through his chest. But he's not sorry they fucked, and he won't let John be sorry, either.

John rolls to his back, one arm curved over his head, and says, "I remember this feeling. What this is. You don't -- It doesn't have to mean anything."

"Speak for yourself." Matt drops his head back on the pillow and stares at the ceiling. After a moment, he looks at John, because the least he can do is be brave about it. "If you want to cut and run now, fine, but don't think it's some kind of favor to me."

John rolls over and watches him for a moment, and then he kisses Matt - a different kind of kiss this time, thoughtful, laced with desire. "Get some sleep," he says, and throws his arm over his eyes.

Matt sits up with a wince and turns off the lamp, and then burrows down into the blankets. He hasn't slept with anyone in months - for values of actually sleeping, that is - and it is both surreal and weird to feel John's body heat burning off the chill in the space between them.

He stares into the darkness, thinking about all the ways the day went right (even when it had all gone wrong), until finally his brain switches off and forces him to sleep.


Consciousness returns in the morning and with it, the smell of coffee, and intense pain in his ribs. It's harder to enjoy what would be a pleasant morning-after ache in his ass when he can't breathe without hurting. Sunlight stripes the navy blue comforter, growing longer across the fabric, while he fights back the stabbing fire enough to make rising from the dead possible.

He shuffles into the bathroom like an old man - like McClane the day after being abused by well-trained mercenaries, in fact; it's a hilarious little shuffle when it's not accompanied by his own pain - and rifles through John's medicine cabinet. The leftover Percocet is only four years old. That one will do. He pops one, slurps it down with a handful of water, and rubs some toothpaste on his teeth with a fingertip. Swish, spit, rinse; he's good to go.

The mirror shows him an average-looking guy with tousled hair, a spectacular shiner on his right eye and a strange oblong bruise beneath his left, a nose that wishes it had been broken to spare it the swelling of a bad strike, and split lips, the product of a serious beat-down. He winces. Too bad he can't put a shirt on over his face. This gives him an idea, and he shuffles back to the bedroom in search of a T-shirt.

The first thing he finds is an ancient Led Zeppelin tee, which smells like fabric softener and lingering traces of John's aftershave, and it's too big but he puts it on anyway, along with his underwear from the previous day.

Then he goes in search of the coffee.

"You look like shit," is the first observation John has for him upon his entrance to the kitchen. The second thing he has for him is a cup of coffee, loaded up with sugar. Matt takes it, swallows half of it down in a burning gulp, and then leans against the stove. He's pretty sure it'd be impossible to be seductive while wishing he was submerged in a hot bath full of Epsom salts, but he tries anyway. His eyes do a thing. His face does another thing. Matt hopes those things don't look like a seizure.

John rolls his eyes, but he's smiling.

When he kisses Matt, they're both smiling.

"Thank you for coming for me," Matt says.

"Is that some kind of geekboy double entendre, Matthew?" John says, caging him in at the stove to nose a little behind his ear.

"Did you just say double entendre?" Matt asks. "I am so impressed by all the words you know before breakfast." The grin on his face is in proportion to the boner he's sporting at hearing John's sex-roughened morning-after voice drop an octave while saying Matt's name.

Three years, four months, and thirteen days since the fire sale, when his world fell apart. One day since he rescued himself from the inevitable future his choices had bought and paid for, before he'd grown up and understood the cost. This new future is going to be complex, because John is broken in numerous ways and completely resistant to repair, and Matt isn't sure he still has a job, or a name, or a clear path to safety.

Not so long ago, Matt stepped into John's crazy life and never quite managed to step out again, but it's his life too, now. Running headlong into danger when there's no other option. Colliding with John McClane in mind-blowing, sometimes violent ways. Fighting smart. Embracing chaos.

John brushes his hand casually across the curve of Matt's ass, and Matt's eyes roll back in his head, shorting out his incessant train of thought.

Normal never was something he aspired to, anyway.