As Matt walked a step behind McClane, following him to the door, he thought You can do this. You've done it before, you can do it again.
“And here's your cabin,” the owner – Dusty – told them as she opened the door. “As you can see, we have it all ready for you.”
Matt was surprised by the blast of warmth that greeted him when he crossed the threshold, but then the fireplace at the far end of the great room was huge. The place was literally a one-room log cabin, but it was also new and upscale, with a humongous, decadent bed and overstuffed furniture that invited you to flake out on it and watch TV all day – that is, if the cabin had had a TV. Or electricity.
It had taken them longer than expected to get up to Vermont, and Dusty had already lit the kerosene lamps and a few candles against the setting sun. They lent the cabin a warm glow that even Matt could appreciate. Hey, he got the whole rustic appeal, even if he'd never been a Boy Scout.
“It's really nice,” Matt said, nodding as he set down his bag. He meant it: in fact, he felt a little silly now that he thought he might have flashbacks to the Fire Sale or something. This was about as far from that experience as you could get.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see McClane glance at him, then return his attention to their host. “Yeah, thanks, Dusty,” John said, plastering a smile on his face that looked completely fake.
“Well, I'll just leave you to it. We'll see you at six in the main house for supper.” And then she was gone, and Matt was left with the smell of kerosene and wood smoke, which was weird, and a John McClane who looked nervous, which was even weirder.
“Excellent,” Matt said, mouth curving in a smile, “that gives us a little under two hours for you to teach me how to whittle.” He ambled over to John and pushed his coat off his shoulders. “Or – hey, I know! – you could shoot a varmint and show me how to skin it.”
“You're a riot,” McClane grumbled, but his hands went to Matt's waist anyway.
“What? I've always wanted a hobby.” Matt kissed him, slow the way he knew John liked it. After a couple of seconds, McClane got with the program, and by the time they parted, Matt wasn't just feeling hot from the fire. “Or we could fuck,” he panted.
John didn't answer in words, just planted a hand in the middle of Matt's chest and started backing him toward the bed. Matt grinned and tore at his buttons, shucking clothes as he went.
The only problem with late afternoon sex after a long drive when they were both already exhausted was that Matt woke up disoriented, his stomach growling. “Shit, shit, shit,” he muttered, as he took in McClane lying sprawled across the mattress, and twisted himself around so he could see the watch on John's wrist.
“Shit,” Matt said again, because it was past eight o'clock, and the baked beans covered in maple syrup or whatever the hell they ate in rural Vermont were probably long gone. He bounded off the bed and into some jeans, and with McClane still dead to the world, Matt wriggled into his clothes and headed out the door and down the hill.
He breathed a sigh of relief when he poked his head in and saw a group sitting and talking in the dining hall. Catching sight of Dusty, he weaved between the tables to reach her. “Sorry, sorry,” he murmured, “we, uh, lost track of time.”
Dusty smiled at him and patted his arm in a way that was close enough to maternal to be a little freaky considering what he and John had been up to earlier. “Don't worry, dear,” she said, “I thought you might not be up for company, so I set aside some dinners for you. You can take them back up to the cabin.”
“You're a lifesaver, thank you,” Matt breathed, relieved.
“Hardly,” she said, “but you're welcome. I hope you like roast beef.”
“Love it,” Matt assured her, already regretting his uncharitable thoughts about Vermont cuisine.
When he let himself back into the cabin, John was awake and mostly into his clothes. “There you are,” he said, and while he tried to make it sound casual, Matt knew damn well it wasn't.
“Thought I'd lit out for civilization?” Matt held up the bag holding the covered dishes and the bottle of wine. “I was out slaying dinner. We almost missed it.”
John checked his watch. “Oh, shit.”
“My words exactly.” He beckoned McClane over to the table. “Come on, bring one of those candles and we'll make it romantic, like they did in the old days.”
“Dick,” John muttered, ignoring Matt's request, though he helped set the table and poured the wine. Matt counted that as a win.
McClane kept shooting him glances all through dinner, like Matt might cut and run at any moment. And okay, fine, maybe he had cause to be worried, though Matt was tempted to remind him it wasn't like this was a surprise. Matt had known going in that the place had no electricity, and that the only way he'd be able to get cell phone reception would be to stand at the top of the mountain with his finger jammed up his ass. When McClane had first mentioned the idea, Matt had insisted on running water – no way was he freezing his balls off running to an outhouse in January. Nevertheless, he had agreed of his own free will to a getaway in the middle of Nowhere, New England so that McClane could teach him the 'beauties of nature'. Matt wasn't sure why a five-star mountain resort wouldn't have done just as well, but it seemed to be important to John that they experience the pioneer lifestyle, so he'd agreed.
More importantly, they were here to get away from New York for a while, because nearly two and a half months after the hurricane, they were still barely keeping their heads above water. John had put in so many double shifts Matt barely remembered what he looked like, and if Matt didn't take a break from swinging a sledgehammer for Occupy Sandy, his arms were probably going to fall off. Last week, McClane's captain had ordered him to get the hell out of town for a few days, and John had said 'sir, yes sir' like a good little soldier and dragged Matt along with him. A quiet cabin in the woods, John argued, would be relaxing, a change of pace from the city.
They were also here, Matt fervently hoped, to fuck like bunnies in that hugeass bed; really, nature was only so appealing when you had a hot guy at your disposal. All jokes about whittling aside, Matt hoped that McClane didn't actually have any wilderness activities planned, because Matt had had entirely too little opportunity the last couple of months to get his hands on McClane, and he was looking forward to making the most of this one.
“Something wrong with that?”
Matt blinked, then realized he'd been daydreaming with a forkful of mashed potatoes still in his hand. “Uh, no, no, it's great,” he said, hastily shoveling the food into his mouth. “Delicious. How's yours?”
John scowled down at his plate. “It's fine,” he said, the words almost a growl. Matt frowned at the odd reaction, then shrugged and returned his attention to his meal.
“So I thought tomorrow we could go on a hike,” John said. “There are a couple of good trails on the property. Dusty said she could pack us a lunch.”
Matt opened his mouth to tell McClane exactly what he thought of that idea, then closed it again when he caught John's expression. It was that weird mixture of indifference and apprehension Matt saw every now and then, and he only got to see it when something was really important to John. Of course, since it would have killed McClane to admit that out loud, Matt had become adept at watching for it.
While they hadn't talked about it much, either, Matt knew that John had seen some pretty awful shit after the hurricane. Maybe all this back-to-nature crap was what John needed to purge some of those memories.
“Sure,” Matt said, smiling. “Sounds like fun.”
John's eyes widened slightly, and then he nodded. There was still a slight crease between his brows, though, as though Matt had done something unexpected. Matt tried not to get offended at that, but it bugged him the rest of the way through dinner. And when they went to bed and McClane pleaded exhaustion, Matt didn't argue. Well, much.
“I can't believe you didn't pack a pair of warm socks,” McClane grumbled. He'd been grumbling since they woke up, when it was still dark, and don't think Matt would be forgetting that anytime soon.
“I wasn't counting on going dashing through the snow,” Matt grumbled back. Jesus, it wasn't like he was incapable of dressing himself; he'd been working in buildings with no power or heat at least four days a week since November, and he hadn't frozen off any fingers or toes yet. He was about to point this out to McClane, but John, having dug out a pair of his own thick wool socks, was now kneeling in front of Matt, and Matt might have stopped thinking about anything at that point.
McClane took Matt's right foot in his hands, and Matt let him maneuver it into a sock. Looking down at the top of his head, Matt could see the grey hairs starting to sprout – lately McClane hadn't been shaving as diligently as he usually did – and a wave of fondness nearly overwhelmed him. They'd been together for about eight months, and he couldn't wrap his head around this feeling he got sometimes – it was huge, and it always made him want to do something stupid and sentimental. Like now, when he wanted to kiss John right on the bald spot. What the fuck was that?
He managed to stop himself every time, because they didn't do that, and John would have rolled his eyes and grunted, or whatever. But Matt was starting to wonder why they didn't, and why he cared about John's macho noises; after all, McClane grunted half the time anyway. It's not like he was going to start bringing home flowers and lighting candles, but maybe they could, you know –
His hand made it halfway to John's head, then settled on his shoulder. John looked up at him, and their gazes locked for a breathless second.
“Other foot, kid,” McClane grunted, and Matt rolled his eyes and complied.
By the time they'd spent an hour trudging up the mountain, Matt was ready to admit he wasn't as in shape as he wanted to believe he was. All the demolition and construction work he'd done was physically demanding, sure, but not in the same way. When McClane finally started to slow down, Matt was nearly ready to drop to his knees.
“Oh, thank you, Christ, thank you,” Matt panted, propping himself up with a tree. “Just give me five minutes, okay? Five minutes and about a gallon of water –”
John passed him the water, and Matt took a long drink. “You don't need five minutes,” he said, and before Matt could argue that yes, yes he did need five minutes, fuck you very much, John added, “because we're here.”
“We are?” Matt had been mostly staring at his feet and the short stretch of trail directly in front of him, considering he'd tripped twice on tree branches when they first started and he didn't want to give McClane any more to laugh about. Now he raised his head, and oh.
“Wow,” Matt breathed. The steeply sloped valley – or maybe it was a gorge, what did he know from geography – was laid out before them like the inside of an enormous green amethyst, and okay, it was gorgeous.
“All right, this was worth it,” Matt said, finding a dry log and plunking his ass down so that he could take in the view.
“Yeah?” John said, and Matt looked up at him to catch that flash of uncertainty he'd been getting since yesterday.
“Yeah,” Matt assured him. “You want to hand over that lunch? I'm starving.”
“You ate an hour and a half ago,” John griped, but he shrugged his pack off his shoulders and sat down beside him.
“Yeah, and that was three miles and fifteen hundred calories ago. I'm wasting away.”
“Right,” John drawled, but he opened the flap of the pack and peered inside. “Smoked meat or roast chicken?”
Matt leaned in close to stare into the bag. “Is the smoked meat kosher?”
John scowled. “How the hell should I know?”
“Oh my God, only a day away from the city and already you've regressed.” Matt reached into the pack and pulled out one of the wrapped parcels, then held it up to his nose. Taking a deep sniff, he said, “Kosher.”
“You are such a pain in my ass,” McClane said.
“Only when you ask nicely.” Matt held out the sandwich. “Want it?”
“Not after you've had your nose on it.”
“Hey, my nose is –” Matt touched it experimentally “ – running from the cold. Gross.” He fished a kleenex out of his pocket and blew, then reached for another one.
John chuckled as he unwrapped the other sandwich, and Matt bumped John's arm hard in retaliation, nearly knocking him off the log.
“Why, you little – ” John said, elbowing him back. This swiftly devolved into a flurry of badly coordinated limbs and biting kisses, and in the process Matt's sandwich went tumbling down the slope, never to be seen again. Matt wondered aloud if bears liked kosher, and McClane told him to shut up but shared half his roast chicken anyway.
After that, Matt figured things were looking better, but later on that afternoon his sleep-deprived brain coughed up a hairball, and everything went to shit.
“Fuck,” Matt gusted, rushing from the shower with only half a towel on, “I totally forgot I was going to go over this coding job with Dante tonight. He has a bug he can't figure out and he wants me to try to find it. Fuck.” He snatched up his phone, but of course there was no signal, as promised.
McClane frowned at him. “I thought you didn't bring your computer.”
“I didn't. I'll have to call him and postpone it, or let him know so he can get somebody else. I can't remember what his deadline was.” Matt's mind was racing – okay, more like limping – as fast as it could. He hadn't been getting many consulting jobs lately, and Christmas had cost him more than he'd expected. Dante had been planning to cut him in for thirty percent if he could find the bug. He couldn't pass that up.
“Maybe I can – there's an internet café down in the town, right?”
John stiffened. “I think so.”
“There must be an internet café, backwaters like this always have one.” Matt shrugged into his coat. “How long have we got until dinner?”
John took a long time answering. “About an hour.”
“Oh, man,” Matt scrubbed at his face. “Look, I know this sucks, but I really have to do this. I'll try to get it done quickly, okay? You go to dinner and I'll meet you as soon as I can. Ask Dusty if she can save me a plate again.”
John didn't reply, which Matt knew was a bad sign, but he figured he could make it up with a blow job later. Or maybe one later and another one in the morning. He ran out the door, grabbing his useless phone as he went. Maybe it would work once he returned to semi-civilization.
It was another two hours before Matt made it back to the resort, and he was a little worried about the reception he was going to get. He half expected McClane to be sitting in a corner gnawing on a bone and scowling at everyone.
He certainly didn't expect to find John sitting around a big table full of people laughing uproariously at something. But John's gaze caught Matt's as he came in, and even from twenty feet away, he could see the smile wasn't reaching John's eyes.
“Hey,” Matt said as he came closer, “the party started without me, huh? Sorry.” He debated for a split second or so before putting his hand on John's shoulder and squeezing briefly. John didn't react, but he noticed a couple on the right exchange knowing glances. Nobody else seemed surprised or freaked out, so Matt guessed John had told them he was here with his boyfriend – at least there was that.
“This is Matt,” John said, in a tone of voice Matt didn't recognize, until it hit him that this was John being polite. He made the introductions, and Matt nodded and smiled and knew there was no way he was going to remember them all. Interestingly, Dusty was also there with her partner, another woman about the same age: clearly John hadn't only picked this place for its wilderness trails.
Dusty brought him a plate – ham and baked beans, there you go – and the conversation slowly resumed around him. Matt mostly let it wash over him, though he used the excuse of eating to stay silent and observe. There was one man, a big, middle-aged guy with a flushed face, who kept trying to monopolize the conversation. His wife smiled when his eyes were on her, but when he turned away she looked like she'd like to drop him off the nearest mountain. After about fifteen minutes, Matt could sympathize.
“So, Matt, what do you do?” the big guy, whose name was Cliff, asked. Matt didn't need to know what Cliff did. He had already made it very clear he was the owner of a chain of pool and spa stores in Pennsylvania.
“I'm a computer security consultant,” Matt said, because he figured it was something Cliff could understand.
“Oh, a nerd, huh?” Matt had heard that line often enough from his own uncle – who was also an asshole – to not really care, but beside him, he could feel McClane tense up. Not that he was exactly relaxed before.
“More or less, yeah.”
“How'd you hook up with a nerd, John?” Cliff asked, because he had no sense of self-preservation. “You don't seem like the type.”
John looked up at Cliff, and his eyes had that I'm about half a second from punching you look that Matt had seen him aim at a lot of bad guys during the Fire Sale. “He saved my life,” John said, voice gone completely flat. “And my daughter's life.”
“Yeah, well, you saved my life right back. About a hundred times, I think. I lost count.”
“Oh, wow,” Dusty's partner – shit, Matt had forgotten her name – said. “How did that happen?”
Matt sipped his coffee. “It's a long, boring story,” he said, because he'd already said too much. If there was one thing he knew John hated, it was shining a spotlight on any of the crazy shit he'd done over the course of his life. “But long story short, we met a few years ago, didn't like each other too much, and then when I moved to New York last year, I asked if I could crash at his apartment while I looked for a place, and the rest is history.”
“It's like When Harry Met Sally,” Dusty said.
“Sort of. Our soundtrack is more metal than jazz, though.”
The table erupted in laughter, and the talk moved to discussions of the country versus the city, with Matt playing the devil's advocate against a table full of nature freaks.
“Don't get me wrong, I like the country as well as the next person. But I've lived my whole life in big cities; it's what I know. I like being able to get a knish at three o'clock in the morning. And immersing myself in that chaos, the human soup – it's a lot like what I do with computers. If I didn't have the inspiration of all those bodies pressing against me, I don't think I'd be as good at it.”
“Well, that explains why you couldn't manage a day without the internet.” That was Raya, who was a zumba instructor in Connecticut, if Matt remembered correctly. He briefly considered saying something smartassed, but she could probably break him in half with one twist of her thighs, so he didn't want to get on her bad side.
He shot a glance at John, who shook his head once. He wasn't sure if that was to say that Raya had misquoted him, or something completely different. He turned back to Raya, smiling as sincerely as he could, which was not all that much.
“Hey, it's not like I was sitting around playing Halo 4. I was fulfilling a commitment I'd made to a friend, and I also made twelve hundred bucks, which is not too bad for an hour's work.” Normally, he wouldn't mention the money, but a couple of these people were beginning to piss him off. Unfortunately, John was one of them. What had he been saying to them before Matt came in?
“Twelve hundred bucks an hour?” Cliff boomed, chuckling. “Obviously, I'm in the wrong business. Must be nice having a rich young boyfriend, eh, John?”
“I'm actually not all that rich,” Matt said. “But I am great at giving head.”
The table went completely silent, except for Dusty's stifled snort. He shared a look with her, and saw her eyes nearly watering with the effort of keeping in her laughter.
“I think I'll skip dessert. Thanks for the chat, folks,” Matt said, getting up from the table and heading out without bothering to see if John was following him.
By the time John showed up, Matt had finally started slotting some of the puzzle pieces into place. He was kicking himself for taking this long to figure it out, but he attributed his lack of deductive power to being more tired lately than he had been in his entire life.
“Well, you certainly made an impression on Cliff,” McClane drawled as he shut the cabin door behind him. “I think he's scarred for life.”
“Do not try to cheer me up,” Matt snapped, and John's head jerked up at that, surprised. Good.
“Was this some kind of a – a test?” Matt demanded. “To see if I could make it through a whole weekend without my 'electronic gadgets'? I'm saying that with air quotes, by the way – which I fucking hate – because that's what you call them, not what I call them.”
“That's not what this weekend was about,” John protested. “It wasn't about testing you – not like that.”
“Then please tell me, what kind of a test was it?” Matt demanded, spreading his hands.
“I wanted to see if I was enough!” John roared. “Fuck, maybe it's a generational thing, but you seem to have your face pressed up against one of those things every other minute, and even when you're with me, you're not really with me. I know it sounds selfish. Fine, maybe I am selfish. I'm jealous of your fucking toys.”
“John, I know this may come as a shock, but I make my living off those toys. They're the tools of my trade. I know they piss you off sometimes, and I'm sorry, but it's how I make enough money to keep body and soul together. Not that I've been doing a great job of that lately.”
John frowned. “What do you mean?”
Matt rubbed at the back of his neck. “I mean, work was just okay before the hurricane, and now with all the time I've been putting in with Occupy, I'm too exhausted most of the time to do the legwork I need to do to promote myself and find new clients. My friends – like Dante – have been throwing me bones because they support what I'm doing, but other than that it's been pretty thin on the ground.”
John's face fell. “I didn't know,” he said simply. “Why didn't you tell me?”
“Because I only see you on Thursdays when the moon is full now, and I'm pretty sure you don't need to hear any more shitty news these days.”
“I told you a million times, you don't have to pay rent,” John said. “I was doing fine before you moved in, it's not like I can't afford it.”
“Oh for – your solution to not taking my work seriously is to take my work less seriously?” Matt ran a hand through his hair. “God, John.”
“That's not what I'm trying to say!”
“Then what are you trying to say?”
“What I'm saying is, if you're going through a rough patch, I want to help. Jesus Christ, that's what you're supposed to do when you love someone, isn't it? Or has that changed too?”
Matt stared at him as everything came to a screeching, grinding halt. “You – uh. You love me?”
John stared back, clearly trying to bottle his temper. “You didn't know that already?”
“Uh, no? Maybe because you've never said it before?”
John blinked. “I haven't?”
Matt shook his head slowly. “Pretty sure I'd remember that. I'm not going senile like some people in this room.”
“Ha de fucking ha,” John said, but there was no heat in it.
Matt took a step closer. “What are we arguing about again?”
John bit back a smile. “Some horseshit about the generation gap, I think.”
“Oh, yeah,” Matt said. He closed the distance between them and looped his arms around John's neck. “You were being all insecure. It was sort of charming. Maybe even adorable.”
“I was not,” John protested, hands bracketing Matt's ribs.
“I mean, I can understand why – hot young lover, bad track record with relationships, plus this was your first serious foray into the Land 'O' Gay in about thirty years...”
“Did you just say 'Land 'O' Gay'? I'm telling Dusty and Rusty that.”
Matt slapped his own forehead. “Rusty, that was her name! Wait a minute. A lesbian couple named Dusty and Rusty?”
“What's wrong with that?”
“Nothing, it's – never mind, I'm just running my mouth.” Matt held John's gaze. “I love you too, by the way.”
John pulled him closer so that their bodies were pressed together. “Oh, I knew that already.”
“What? I never said it, either!”
“Yeah, but it was obvious. You're always giving me those big puppy-dog eyes.”
Matt leaned in and brushed his lips against John's. “Shut up, McClane,” he murmured, and then there was no more talking.
“Come on, get up.”
“Mmmmphhh,” John said, burrowing himself deeper into the covers. “Sleeping.”
“Not yet you're not. C'mon,” Matt insisted, tugging on John's shoulder until he groaned and moved to comply.
“Where're we going?”
“Outside. Just put on a sweater and some pants, we're not going far.”
“A sweater, he says,” McClane grumbled, his movements sluggish. “This better be good.”
“You want back to nature, you're gonna get back to nature.”
“Geez,” John bitched, but he did as he was told. Pulling the blanket off the bed, Matt led him outside and closed the door behind them, then wrapped the blanket around both of them as he tugged John down to sit on the cabin's front steps.
“You weren't kidding when you said we weren't going far. What's so special out here you had to drag me from a warm bed?”
Matt pointed up. “How about The Milky Way?” John tilted his head back, following Matt's example.
“Wow,” John breathed after a moment. “It's been a long time since I've seen that.”
“It still astounds me every time,” Matt said softly. “It's like a river made of stars.”
“One thing the country has over the city, huh?” John murmured, leaning into him.
“Hey, I like the country,” Matt insisted. “I just don't want to live in it for extended periods of time. You can't get decent sushi, and there's the whole being eaten by bears thing I could do without.”
“Jesus,” John muttered. “Your brain is a seriously messed-up place, you know that?”
“I know,” Matt said agreeably. “So do you know your constellations?”
John looked up again. “Not really. Big city boy too, remember?”
“Well, you're in luck, because I loved astronomy when I was a kid. I even read Stephen Hawking, quantum physics, shit like that.”
“Makes sense. You are a nerd, after all.”
“You want me to teach you the constellations or not, McClane?”
John settled against Matt's side, gathering the blanket more tightly around them.
“Sure, kid,” he murmured. “Show me the stars.”