Harlequin's Slash Fic

Die Hard: 02 The One Where He Tells Lucy…

Title: Die Hard: 02 The One Where He Tells Lucy…
Author: Harlequin
Universe: Die Hard 4.0
Characters featured: John McClane/Matt Farrell
Category, Word count: Short story; 8001 words
Rating: R
Summary, Notes: A sequel set a few months afer That Guy. The first story kind of begged the question of how McClane’s daughter Lucy would react when she found out her Dad was now having an affair with someone she herself had dated. That makes it sound a bit dire, I guess, but hopefully you’ll find it both fun and moving.
First published: 16 June 2008 on Harlequin’s Slash Site

 

The One Where He Tells Lucy…

 

John McClane climbed the stairs to his apartment, weary after the day’s work and yet eager, his heart beating faster from the exertion and the anticipation; his body felt the weight of his fifty years, yet his spirit was soaring like he was twenty-one again. He shifted the grocery bag to his left hand, and fumbled with the keys. Smiled whimsically as he unlocked the door, and called, ‘Honey, I’m home!’ just because he could. It had been such a very long time since he’d last done that.

‘Hey, Dad,’ came Lucy’s voice from the front room.

That was unexpected, but it only stalled him for a moment. ‘Oh, hey, honey,’ he said genially as he closed the door again behind him, and shot the deadbolt home.

‘Hey, uh, John…’ came Matt’s voice, with a rather strained attempt at his normal tone.

OK, that was expected, but it stopped John in his tracks. ‘Hey, Matt,’ he managed. And then he made himself walk through there, to find them sitting in armchairs at opposite ends of the room. Matt was looking distinctly worried, and Lucy looked a bit on edge. Well, John supposed she would, finding her ex-boyfriend hanging round her father’s place. God only knew what Matt had offered as explanation…

Lucy got up and approached him, pointedly turning her back to Matt. ‘Dad, I thought we’d cook dinner tonight instead of tomorrow. Jane – you remember Jane Sung Lee? – she wants to go see a movie tomorrow.’

‘Sure, honey, that’s fine.’

‘I tried calling you, I left messages; did you get them?’

‘No, but don’t worry about it.’

Matt was just staring at the two of them with his beautiful big dark eyes. Confused. The kid was sharp as a tack when it came to math and computers and gadgets and whatnot, but right now he seemed completely at sea.

John said to Lucy, ‘Matt’s staying, too, all right?’

Lucy stepped closer still, and demanded under her breath, ‘Why?’

John wasn’t quite sure how to answer that, so for now he just walked over to the table, put his gear down, shrugged off his jacket.

‘Why the hell would he come all the way from Camden to see you?’ Lucy added, somewhat louder.

‘Newark,’ Matt corrected her. ‘I transferred to Newark this year.’

Lucy ignored him. ‘What’s he even doing here?’ Then, shrilly: ‘And why does he have his own key?!’

She was way out of order. ‘He’s my friend,’ John asserted, in his brook-no-arguments tone.

Matt chipped in again: ‘I told you, I’m doing an assignment on using statistical analysis in crime detection, and I thought your Dad could –’

It was obvious he was lying; his voice shook, for a start. Lucy snorted. ‘Oh come on. Like my father knows anything about applied math… You’ve been taking Numbers a bit too seriously.’

Now Matt was starting to get mad. ‘OK. OK, then. I was gonna ask for his help. There’s this case on campus I want his help with.’

Lucy observed witheringly, ‘They have campus security for that.’

‘They’re not interested; I already tried.’

This second story wasn’t a lie. John was intrigued, though it may not amount to anything serious – but why couldn’t Matt get security on board?

‘Oh, for god’s sake,’ Lucy was complaining. ‘Why don’t you just –’

‘Lucy,’ John cut in. ‘Both of you. Stop it.’

They shut up, and stared at him, waiting on him. John took a long moment to consider. He wanted to tell the truth here, but not the whole truth just yet. ‘That was one hell of an Independence Day weekend we had,’ he finally said. ‘The three of us. Without Matt we wouldn’t have made it.’

‘He helped start it!’ she protested.

‘He helped finish it, that’s what’s important.’ And John looked at her levelly, looked at her hard. ‘He killed a man to save your life, Lucy. He’s staying for dinner.’

‘Oh god,’ she said gracelessly. ‘OK, all right…’ And she grabbed up the grocery bag John had brought home, and another she must have brought herself, and stalked through into the kitchen.

John waited until the door had swung shut, and then headed for Matt, who rose nervously to his feet. ‘Matt…’

‘Look, I’ll go. This isn’t what you want.’ The kid ran his hands down his jeans, wiping the sweat off them, but that only served to focus John on his narrow hips and thighs. Suddenly he very much wanted to make those hands tremble for rather different reasons. But Matt said, ‘I’ll get out of your way,’ and he reached for the canvas bag in which he carried his computer gear.

John considered him, took in that beautiful, nervous face. The kid was too good-hearted to even think about making himself John’s priority. He’d understand if John said something about putting family first. Matt had come here via train and subway, but he’d turn around without argument and go back to Newark for the sake of John, and for John’s precarious relationship with his daughter.

But as soon as all that ran through John’s mind, another thought immediately followed it. Not so much a thought as a reaction from his heart and his gut. The kind of deep, instinctive reaction that could only speak the truth. Matt’s family, too, now.

‘Stay,’ said John. ‘But give us some time, would you?’ He indicated Matt’s computer, mimed him putting on his earplugs, turning up the volume. ‘I won’t be saying anything I wouldn’t want you to hear, but just let me talk to her, all right? Then we’ll have dinner.’

‘Together?’ Matt blurted, glancing fearfully at the kitchen door. ‘The three of us?’

‘Together,’ John confirmed.

‘But you’re gonna tell her first…?’

‘Yeah.’ John cupped that pretty face in one hand, then slid a caress down the curve of Matt’s neck to his shoulder. He wanted to kiss him, too, but decided he wouldn’t take the risk. It would be just his luck if Lucy chose that exact moment to walk back in. ‘Then we’ll eat dinner together,’ John repeated. ‘All right?’

Matt was staring at him, still confused, still fearful. But then he nodded, and faintly echoed, ‘All right.’

As he sat back down on the armchair, already pulling out his earplugs and settling the computer on his lap, John turned and headed for the kitchen.

 

Lucy had already started on some kind of oven-baked pasta dish. She gave him a surly look, but then pushed his grocery bag across the table towards him. ‘You make a salad,’ she said, ‘and then cut up the bread.’

‘All right,’ he agreed.

They worked together for a while, in a silence that gradually became less fraught. This was how they’d bonded since the fourth of July weekend: once a week Lucy would come up from New Brunswick, and they’d cook dinner together, and they’d talk or not, depending. It had been good, and John would give almost anything for them to continue. But he wouldn’t give up the truth. If he did, it might be easier for now, but in the long run it would only destroy the tentative understanding they’d reached.

‘Lucy,’ John eventually said, ‘I’ve got something to tell you.’

‘Yeah?’ she responded, apparently more interested in evenly spreading the grated cheese over the top of the assembled layers of pasta and stuff. It wasn’t quite traditional lasagne, but it looked good.

John waited until she’d put the dish in the oven before announcing, ‘I’m seeing someone.’

She stood there for a long moment with her back to him, before slowly turning around. He was dismayed to find she had a mutinous look on her face, when they’d hardly even started yet. ‘I see.’

‘It’s, uh… It’s getting pretty serious.’

The sullen mutiny showed signs of becoming active fury.

John tried to head her off at the pass. ‘It was going to happen sooner or later, Lucy. I tried everything I could to make it work with your mother. For years. I know you don’t believe me, but Holly and I kept trying. Even when it seemed we weren’t trying, I guess it was still the first thing on our minds. But it gets to wearing you out, honey. Eventually we just had to call it a day. The only thing I really regret is not giving you and John a proper home, a proper family life… I wouldn’t blame you if you never forgave me for that, but I was kinda hoping you’d at least understand about your mother and me.’

Lucy was just staring at him, but John made himself quit. He was in danger of babbling. After a long moment of silence, Lucy said, ‘I understand about you and Mom. That’s not the problem.’

‘Yeah?’ That threw John entirely.

‘After a while, you know, I wanted you to stop trying. It was wearing me and Johnny down, too.’

He frowned. ‘Well, if I did what you wanted, then how come you weren’t speaking to me for years?’

She rolled her eyes in frustration at his slowness. ‘Oh Dad, for god’s sake…’

OK, chalk that up as one of the mysteries of life. But they were getting off the point here. ‘I’ve missed that, Lucy. Having a, uh, partner.’ He was trying to avoid anything gender-specific here, but partner made Matt sound like they worked together. ‘Having someone in my life. It’s important to me.’

‘Of course it is,’ she said dismissively.

‘So, uh… what’s the problem?’

She glared at him. Avoided answering by starting to take stuff over to the sink, running the water to wash it up.

‘Come on, Lucy, tell me.’ God, they hadn’t even gotten to the difficult bit yet.

‘Well, uh…’ Eventually she turned to him, though she stayed over there by the sink. ‘Well, I guess I’ve just enjoyed this. Coming over here. I guess I just enjoyed…’ She finally said it in a rush, obviously feeling foolish: ‘I’ve liked being the woman in your life, you know?’

A blank moment went past in a long slow heartbeat, and then a laugh suddenly burst out of John.

She shot him a murderous glare, and turned away again. But she was too upset to actually do anything; she wrapped her hands round the edge of the sink, and just hung on.

‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry, honey,’ he said placatingly, going over there. He didn’t dare get too close, though. ‘I’m sorry, I wasn’t laughing at you. It’s just…’ He’d have to tell her the next bit now, wouldn’t he? There was no easing into it when she was this angry with him. ‘It’s just that you are the woman in my life.’

She turned enough to look at him out the corners of her eyes; confused, sceptical, wary.

‘You are the only woman in my life, Lucy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.’

‘But you said…’

‘The someone I’m seeing –’ He had to pause for a moment. He had to force the words past the constriction in his throat. He had no problems at all with Matt, or with Matt being a guy. But he hadn’t told anyone else until now. He hadn’t had to say it. And it wasn’t an easy thing to admit to, for an old Irish-American guy from Brooklyn. ‘It’s a man, Lucy. Not a woman. I’m seeing another guy.’

She stared at him, disbelieving at first. But when he simply stood there under her scrutiny, not retracting this strangeness, not laughing again or making it a joke, then she started to believe. She started to relax. ‘Really?’ she whispered.

‘Yeah, really.’

‘You’re gay now?’

‘Well…’ He knew it was stupid, but he really wanted to argue the point. Old habits die hard. ‘It’s not like I’m not still attracted to women.’

‘I thought you said it was serious,’ she accused.

‘It is!’ he blurted defensively.

‘You’re not sleeping around on him, are you?’

‘No, of course not.’

‘What’s this about women, then?’

He did laugh then, just a mirthless chuckle. ‘Lucy, you don’t even know who it is, and you’re taking his part in an argument we don’t even need to have.’

She gave him that withering look of hers; she could do it way better than John himself ever could. ‘So, you’re gay now, then,’ she flatly repeated.

Well, he’d already decided that he wanted to be with Matt for the rest of his life. And he certainly wasn’t gonna sleep around; he wasn’t that guy. So all that kinda added up to… ‘All right, I’m gay now,’ he admitted.

And she grinned, like it was the most delightfully funny thing she’d ever heard. ‘Oh Dad!’ she cried, and flung her arms around him. ‘Oh Dad…’ she murmured fondly.

They held each other there for a long moment, but then John gently put her away again. When she looked at him with a question in her eyes, he said, ‘I haven’t told you everything yet.’

‘All right,’ she said, before frowning in a quizzical kind of way. And she drifted towards the kitchen counter again, started taking out cutlery and such. Instinctively took out two sets, and then remembered to go back for a third. ‘What else, then?’ she eventually prompted.

He had to ease into this part. ‘Well, he’s younger than me.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Quite a bit younger. In fact, he’s near your age.’

She looked at him. ‘OK, so tell me why that isn’t creepy.’

The problem was, she was going to think it creepy anyway, wasn’t she? ‘We love each other, Lucy,’ John asserted in a last ditch bid for her sympathy. ‘Love isn’t always… convenient. It doesn’t always lead you to… the type of person everyone else thinks you should be with.’

‘It’s really love? Not just some mid-life crisis?’

‘No. I mean, yes, it’s love. It’s not the other thing.’

‘And him? He’s not just using you?’

‘No! Anyway, what the hell would someone like that use me for?’

She thought about it for a long moment. Then she nodded. ‘Well, that’s all right, then, isn’t it? If it’s love, Dad, that’s all right.’

‘Oh god,’ he groaned, knowing he was about to hit this precious understanding right out of bounds.

‘It’s not like I would have told Romeo to forget about Juliet, you know? And that ended up way worse than you’re ever going to.’

‘Lucy. Lucy. It’s Matt. The someone I’m seeing is Matt.’

‘What?’ But he didn’t have to repeat it. She stood there blankly trying to process this, but she’d understood him. She glanced at the door to the front room, and then something sagged within her, as if it was all falling into place now. It was all falling into place, and she didn’t like it.

‘I love him, Lucy,’ he declared again, without a shadow of doubt. He hadn’t been that explicit even with Matt himself. ‘In sickness and in health, till death do us part.’

‘Amen!’ she added sarcastically.

‘Lucy…’

‘And you think he loves you.’

‘He transferred to Newark to be closer to Brooklyn,’ John said, still hardly believing it himself. ‘Now he’s working with a different professor for his PhD, someone he doesn’t like. Someone who’s making him change his work. Not that he complains, but he did that for me.’

‘For god’s sake, Dad, he was my boyfriend, your own daughter’s boyfriend!’

Strangely enough, now that it was all out in the open, John felt quite calm. He didn’t want to lose his daughter all over again – but then he knew he couldn’t keep her, either, not unless they faced this together first. ‘I know, honey. I know this is weird…’

‘Weird doesn’t even begin to describe it!’

‘He told me you didn’t do anything. If you had, I wouldn’t have…’ Or would he? Be honest here, John told himself. If he’d known Matt had taken Lucy to that big bed of his, that would have freaked him out. But would it have stopped him for very long…? John wasn’t so sure any more. He’d long ago quit thinking of how he felt for Matt as just having a thing, a vibe. So maybe he wouldn’t have drawn a line there after all.

As he pondered this, Lucy was getting shrill again. ‘Didn’t do anything? Didn’t do anything?! You mean we didn’t have sex, don’t you? That is so like a man. We did plenty, Dad. Sex isn’t the only thing that counts! We kissed! We watched movies and cuddled! We… we went shopping!’

John had felt rather taken aback for most of that, but hearing this last point he couldn’t help but crack a smile. ‘So,’ he said, as solemnly as possible, ‘you went shopping with him. And now I’m going shopping with him.’ It was true; Matt had dragged him into some of the dullest bookshops and the flashest high-tech stores in the city, though he had never once let John get his wallet out.

Lucy shot him a devastating look.

‘Is this gonna be a problem, honey? I waited. I felt something for him right away, but I waited a month before I went to see him. And if you were still together, I would never have said anything, or done anything.’

‘A month.’ She snorted. ‘We hardly lasted two weeks.’

He nodded sympathetically. ‘If you’d made each other happy, I would’ve been happy for you, I swear. I wouldn’t have done anything to get in your way. But it wasn’t gonna work out, was it?’

‘No,’ she admitted, sounding defeated.

John let a silence grow and then fade. And then he quietly said, ‘I love him, Lucy. I love him. But you’re important to me, too, so very important. I love you, too, honey, and I hated it when you weren’t talking to me. I wouldn’t have risked us for anything less.’

And she looked at him, looked at him standing there, emotionally stripped. Trusting her with everything. I love him. And she nodded, even smiled a little. ‘All right, Dad. All right.’

He went over there, and hugged her. After a moment, she hugged him back, and they stood there holding each other, hanging on tight like they were trying to protect each other. ‘Thank you, Lucy,’ he whispered.

 

Lucy had taken over the salad-making, and rather pointedly cast a look at the cutlery, so John took the hint and went out to set the table.

He’d expected to find Matt furiously tapping away at his computer, but instead the computer was on the coffee table, and Matt was curled up in the armchair, with the earplugs in and the music so loud that John could hear the beat thumping right across the room. He dumped the cutlery, and went over to him. Matt was turned away, so John didn’t see his face until he got close; Matt was looking pale and grief-stricken, and his arms were wrapped tightly round his stomach as if he felt ill.

John touched his shoulder, and Matt started, sat up, ripping out the earplugs with trembling hands. Looking sickened as if his whole world had already crashed down around him.

‘It’s all right,’ said John. ‘Are you all right?’

‘What?’ Matt quickly asked, apparently still deafened by the music.

‘You all right, kid?’

‘Yeah. Yeah. Tell me. Tell me the worst already.’

‘No, it’s all right.’ And John smiled. Not a big smile, even he wasn’t up for that yet, but a small smile. A genuine one.

Matt gazed up at him, hope slowly dawning, his face slowly brightening. ‘It’s all right?’ he asked, as if he still didn’t quite believe it. ‘Really?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Cause I would have… I’d walk away, you know. If it had to be her or me. I thought I’d be walking away by now. I couldn’t let you lose your daughter again.’

‘I know,’ John said, still smiling, although the truth of it broke his heart. ‘That’s what makes you that guy, Matt. But I didn’t want to lose either one of you.’

‘Are you really sure…?’

‘Yeah. She’s OK with it. Come here.’ And he took Matt’s hands, roughly dragged him up into a hug. Did what he’d wanted to before, and pressed a kiss to the kid’s mouth.

Matt clung to him. ‘Oh god, oh god, I was sure I was gonna lose you…’

‘Never, kid. Never.’

‘Ahem.’ Someone rather loudly clearing her throat.

They both slowly turned their heads to see Lucy standing there in the doorway with the salad bowl in her hands. They disentangled themselves in the silence. Turned to face her a bit shamefacedly. John wondered what to say. He’d promised himself there’d be no displays of affection that evening, nothing to make Lucy feel she was having her face rubbed in it. But how to excuse himself without telling a lie?

Eventually Matt stepped forward. ‘Uh, look, Lucy, I’m sorry that –’

‘Don’t you be sorry,’ she said fiercely. ‘Don’t you be sorry about loving him.’

‘No, I, uh…’

‘Let me tell you something, Matthew Farrell. You can’t do better than being loved by John McClane. He will stick by you through thick and thin. I’ve given him more than enough reasons to walk away over the years, but he’s always kept the faith. So don’t you go telling me you’re sorry.’

‘No, I, uh…’ Matt glanced up at John with those big dark eyes. Looked back at Lucy. ‘I know. I know that about your Dad, believe me, and I… well, I love him for it. But I wanted to apologise to you for any hurt I’ve caused. I never wanted you to be hurt.’

‘Huh.’ She put her nose in the air, and went to put the salad down, sort out the place settings. ‘Well, if there was any, I suppose I’ve well and truly gotten over it by now.’

Matt looked back at John, bewildered, but John just laughed silently, shrugged this off. If that was how she wanted to play it, if she wanted to rise serenely above all the difficulties, then fine. That worked for him.

 ‘OK, honey,’ John said, heading over to the table. ‘Now, when’s dinner gonna be ready?’

 

They ate in silence for a while, until Matt said, ‘Lucy, this is great. Thank you.’

‘Oh. That’s all right.’

‘No, it really tastes terrific.’

‘It’s good, honey,’ John added.

She smiled at them both, but distractedly. Then she said, ‘It’s all starting to make sense now.’

John shifted uneasily.

‘You said you waited a month, yeah?’

‘Yeah, honey.’

‘But that whole month, that was when we started doing this. Me coming over to make dinner, I mean. We saw each other at least once a week. And, you know, I really wondered why you never once asked after Matt. If I even mentioned him, you changed the subject right away. I figured it was just because you didn’t like thinking about me having a boyfriend. Now I know exactly what it was you didn’t like thinking about!’

Matt was starting to look a bit queasy again.

John said smoothly, ‘I didn’t like thinking about you having boyfriends, that’s for sure. But, honey, I’m a bit older and wiser now. You know I’d be happy if I knew you were happy with someone, right? And if I knew you were safe.’

Lucy glanced at him, and blushed. ‘Oh,’ she said in a small voice. ‘OK.’

‘Your Mom and I got married when we were younger than you are now. And I don’t have regrets, no matter how that turned out. I know things are a bit different for your generation, but that’s still what I hope for, for you. I’m still hoping that some young man will be worthy enough to make a vow to look after you forever, in sickness and in health.’

‘Till death do us part,’ she murmured. Then she asked, ‘Who decides he’s worthy, Dad?’

‘You do, honey.’

‘Oh.’

‘I just hope I agree,’ he added. But no one responded to the humour.

It was time to change the subject. Despite the fact that his relationship with Matt, with all its history and complications, was the first thing weighing on their minds right now, John figured they could do with spending a bit of time thinking about something else.

‘Matt, what’s this case on campus you mentioned?’

 

Matt faltered a little to start with, but he soon got into his stride. ‘There’s this dedicated server we use to run programs on; the students, I mean. It’s sitting over in IT, but the terminals are in a couple of rooms under the lecture hall. It’s called the computer lab. There’s a key code to get in; there’s no one else there; you just go in whenever you want, and you never see anyone else there.’

‘Never?’ John asked.

‘I mean, no IT guys, no tutors, no staff. It’s just something they set up for the students to use. And there’s not many of them using it now either, since PCs got more powerful. You really only need the server to run the big stuff.’

‘But you still use it.’

‘Yeah.’ Matt was looking a bit self-conscious. ‘It’s a good place to go to think. I mean, there’s nothing there, it’s just bare concrete walls, not even any windows. No distractions.’

John smiled. He knew very well that Matt usually worked with music blaring, the TV on, and five different things running on his computer at once, not to mention a constant supply of drinks and snacks. It would drive John crazy if he tried to work that way. For now he simply asked, ‘So, what’s the case?’

‘Three times now, I’ve left a program to run overnight; something big, you know? I set it up to run, and there’s been no one else in the lab, no other jobs queued up. But when I go back in the morning, it’s barely even started, cause the server’s been too busy.’

Lucy chipped in for the first time. ‘So, the server capacity is crap.’

John glanced a half-serious admonishment at her for the language, but Matt was already smoothly responding, ‘It’s this fucking enormous dinosaur of a thing. There’s heaps of capacity.’

‘It’s too old to cope, then.’

‘Nah. It was state-of-the-art not so long ago. For what it has to do, it’s fine. And there’s an automatic delete function, so it’s not like it’s getting jammed up with old programs or data or anything.’

John asked, ‘So what’s the mystery? It sounds to me like you just need a new server.’ Whatever the hell that was.

‘The mystery is… I hacked into the records of what was run on those nights. And each time, there’s been this sequence of odd programs being run, I can’t even work out what they’re doing. And not run remotely, either; run by someone who’s been working in the lab overnight.’

‘So?’ Lucy asked.

‘So…’ Matt slowly replied, looking at each of them. Here it came. ‘The log-on used to run those programs is for a student… who, last I heard, was dead.’

A flummoxed kind of silence prevailed.

Finally John asked, ‘Dead, how?’

Lucy said, ‘Someone else is using his log-on. Big deal!’

‘I don’t know,’ Matt said to John. ‘Some kind of accident, there’s different stories going around.’ And to Lucy, ‘Well, how did they get the log-on? And how did they get the password? There’s an algorithm for the passwords, you can’t just use your birthday or your dog’s name.’

‘You said you’d taken this to campus security?’ John asked.

‘Yeah, I went to IT first. They don’t care. They just provide the server and the terminals, and as long as it’s all running OK, they don’t care how we use them. Then I went to security, cause there’s cameras in the lab, and I figured there’d be video footage. But the cameras were all broken or the lenses painted over ages ago, and they never bothered fixing them. And when I told them what it was about, they didn’t see the problem.’

Lucy thought about it for another moment; then just shrugged dismissively, and helped herself to more salad.

OK, well, it was hardly earth-shattering, but John had to admit he was intrigued. ‘What d’you wanna do about it?’

‘I wanna stake out the lab. Next time you’ve got a Friday night free…’

Lucy immediately snapped, ‘Dad works hard enough as it is. Now you want him to lose a night’s sleep, watching some stupid computer room on campus? And for what?!’

Matt looked suitably chastised, but dared to explain, ‘We’d have to be in the lab. It’s tucked away, you can’t see the door or even the corridors from outside the building. And I don’t wanna do it on my own…’

‘Why the hell not? You’ve every right to be there. A place like that, they make available to you 24/7, there’s always gonna be students around. Get one of the other geeks to hang out with you, if you still haven’t grown a pair.’

‘Lucy!’ John protested.

Matt looked from one to the other of them, wanting to make a point. He obviously cared about this, and he also seemed a bit unnerved by it. ‘I want John there,’ he asserted. ‘I want serious back-up, cause… cause this guy’s dead.’

 

The two of them got ready for bed in an unusual silence. Well, of course, it was Matt who was unusually silent. John watched him: he seemed deep in thought. But when they met in the middle of the bed, Matt had already left that behind and was instead wholly focussed on John.

They slept naked when they were together, and they always left the bedside lamps on while they had sex. Matt was immediately in John’s arms, stretching and twisting and pushing, his fine length and his youthful skin against John’s stockier, older solidity; Matt’s mouth greedy on John’s mouth, on anything of John’s he could reach, as if sex was an oasis he’d finally discovered after three days – no, three years in the desert.

John chuckled happily, but just before it all reached the point of no return, he gently put Matt aside. ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry, kid, but…’

‘Aw man,’ Matt complained under his breath. ‘Something wrong? You all right, John?’

‘I’m fine,’ he said with a smile.

‘Don’t tell me – the honeymoon’s finally over.’

‘Nah…’ That made him chuckle again. God, he felt as if they’d hardly even started the honeymoon.

‘What is it, then?’ And Matt was starting to sound a bit anxious.

Which was probably fair enough, now John thought about it: this would be the first night they’d been together in which they wouldn’t have sex. ‘It just feels a bit… odd,’ John offered.

Matt rolled onto his back and stared up at the ceiling for a long moment. Eventually he said, ‘Lucy.’

‘Yeah,’ he agreed a bit sheepishly. He just kept thinking about that look on her face when she left. It was as if, when she realised she was going and Matt was staying, it hit her all over again. Maybe it even finally came home to her. She’d gone bright red, and couldn’t look John in the eyes. She’d been imagining, he assumed, what he and Matt would be doing together later.

‘John,’ Matt said, ‘she shook my hand. Even after she got all embarrassed at the end there, she came over and shook my hand. She’s a gentleman.’

‘A lady,’ John quibbled.

‘A gentleman; you know what I mean. She gave us her blessing. She shook my hand, and she gave you a hug, and she said she wanted us to be happy together.’

‘Matt…’

‘I tell you, man, I am hanging out here. I’m a young guy in love, and I haven’t seen you in three days, and if you’re not gonna do me, then I’ll just have to…’

‘What?’ John asked with a terrible sinking sensation in his gut.

Matt looked over at him and smiled with cheeky reassurance. ‘I’ll just have to do myself. You wanna watch?’ he added with a wink.

There was a groan, and John belatedly realised it had come from him. ‘No,’ he said, not really knowing if he meant it or not. ‘Matt, it’s not that I don’t want to.’

‘She said we should take care of each other. John, I wanna be taken care of. Right. Now.’

And John found himself blushing. God, he wanted this. But still he lay there, and he didn’t reach for the gorgeous guy at his side.

‘I know what the problem is,’ Matt finally said, quite calmly and reasonably. ‘You know she’s out there thinking about us having sex. Or trying not to think about it. And you don’t want to be in the middle of it, finding yourself thinking about your daughter thinking about us having sex. Which could be, I admit, a bit embarrassing.’

He mumbled something in agreement. That was the problem, all right.

‘Well, why don’t you come over here, lover, and fuck me senseless, and I promise you I’ll do my very best to make sure you’re not thinking about anyone or anything other than me.’

A smile slowly tugged at John’s mouth, providing the answer for him. He said, rather redundantly, ‘No man’s gonna say no to that…’

‘Good,’ Matt declared, and they turned in and reached for each other.

 

Midnight, two nights later, and they were making out on the concrete floor of the computer lab at Rutgers, Newark. ‘I’m too old for this,’ John complained, shifting to prop his back up against the wall. ‘I got old bones, kid.’

‘Sorry. It’s good cover, though, isn’t it? But I thought it’d be taking it a bit far to drag a mattress in here…’

‘Not too far at all,’ John complained. ‘It’s starting to look like a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Anyway,’ he added, ‘it’s not like we have to actually make out, is it? At least, not until the guy gets here.’

Matt looked at him pityingly. ‘Of course we do. You wanna miss an opportunity? I guess the honeymoon really is over!’

‘Huh,’ John argued cogently. Those orange, battered, hard plastic chairs at the computer desks were starting to look like the height of luxury.

‘Plus, it all adds to the verisimilitude of the situation.’

‘The very-what…?’

But then Matt found his way back into John’s arms, and they were kissing, and Matt’s hands were at his waist, and John decided he didn’t really care so very much about the unrelenting cold hardness of concrete. Not with this warm pliant body loving him.

Finally, just as he was, after all, starting to think fondly of his bed and sofas and clouds, John distinctly heard the numbers on the door’s keypad being pushed. He started to stir, wanting to get up, but Matt hushed him. ‘Don’t you wanna check it’s him?’ John whispered.

‘It will be. Let him get started first. He’s always used the other room before.’

‘OK.’

They sat there for a while, as whoever it was settled himself in. Once he was working steadily away, they waited another five minutes, and then Matt nodded. ‘Ready?’

‘Yeah.’

And Matt pushed himself away, giggling – it was shockingly loud in the deadness of the lab – and jogged towards the other room.

John clumsily forced himself upright and followed him, stiffly playing along with the chase scenario. ‘Come back here, kid!’ When he caught up, he found Matt standing there gawping at the guy who’d just risen uncertainly from his chair at a computer terminal, and who was gawping right back at him. He seemed to be in his early twenties, with a mixed heritage which included African-American. He was dressed smartly, and there was an open backpack beside him, which looked a bit too expensive for a regular student.

‘Tony!’ Matt eventually cried. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘What are you doing here, Farrell?’

‘Oh, I, uh…’ Matt glanced back. ‘My boyfriend,’ he explained, gesturing to indicate John. ‘I’ve got a new roommate, who’s not very understanding…’

Tony stared coolly at John for a long moment, and then began packing his papers and gear into the backpack. He seemed upset rather than angry at being discovered.

‘Look, uh, Tony… There were rumours going around campus that you were dead, man. I haven’t seen you in classes for months. What’s going on?’

That same cool look was turned on Matt before Tony bent over the computer to shut it down. ‘If I could talk about it, I’d tell you, Matt. But I can’t.’ He was almost ready to leave again now. But he paused for a moment’s thought. ‘Are you gonna be here often, Matt?’

‘Well, yeah, maybe.’ Matt glanced at John again. ‘We can’t go to my place much any more.’

‘What about his place?’

Matt actually gulped. Part of the very-whatever-it-was, John figured. Matt said in a low voice, ‘I guess his wife would be even less understanding than my roommate…’

John stoically bore a flash of disgust from Tony.

But the feistiness didn’t last long. ‘I guess I won’t be coming back, then.’ And the guy was sagging a little, as if this had been a precious refuge. Then he gathered himself, swung his backpack onto one shoulder. ‘Goodbye, Matt.’

‘Tony…’ Matt pleaded, stepping towards him. ‘What’s going on?’

‘I can’t – I can’t –’ And maybe he was close to tears.

John had a sense of people, and his gut had already told him that Tony wasn’t one of the bad guys. He stepped past Matt, and showed his badge. ‘Tony, I’m Detective John McClane, NYPD. D’you need our help?’

Tony was flabbergasted, looking from one to the other. ‘Were you waiting here for me?’

‘Yes,’ said Matt.

‘The roommate…?’

‘There isn’t one.’

‘And I don’t have a wife any more,’ John added. ‘I’m divorced.’

‘You’re not boyfriends either, then?’

Matt glanced at John, then said very squarely, ‘No, that part’s true.’

‘Huh,’ said Tony, looking at John with a bit more respect now.

‘What’s going on, Tony?’ Matt asked.

Tony thought about it for a long moment, and then very slowly slid the backpack off again, let it settle on the desk. Swallowed hard. ‘I’m not meant to talk about it.’

‘You can trust us. We won’t tell anyone. And John’s sorted out a heap of difficult situations in his time. This country would’ve never survived that fire sale last July without John.’ And Matt added, in a hushed voice as if John himself wouldn’t hear it that way: ‘He’s a hero, man.’

Tony smiled, tiredly. ‘Farrell, you always were a dreamer.’

‘This time it’s true.’

Finally Tony dragged the chair out again, and sank down to sit on it. John gratefully followed suit, while Matt hopped up to sit on a desk. And Tony said, ‘I think I’m being recruited by the CIA.’

‘Huh,’ said John. ‘You’re not sure they’re recruiting you, or you’re not sure they’re actually CIA?’

Tony got a panicked look for a moment. ‘They had badges and things. Pretty elaborate fake, if they’re not the real thing.’

‘But they can do that,’ Matt observed, ‘and anyone can buy a suit and a briefcase.’

‘But for the sake of getting to me? I don’t think so…’

‘Well, you know, since July the supply of good hackers has dried right up.’

‘What did they get you to do?’ John asked.

‘Oh! Uh…’ Tony cast a glance at the computer terminal. ‘Well, I don’t know if I should say. They made me sign this Official Secrets thing. But I know what you’re getting at – it’s not like it’s a program that would help steal money or destroy anything. It’s not like it’s even a hack. I don’t think they’re criminals. At least, not the regular kind.’

John raised his eyebrows. Not the regular kind, indeed. But in his experience, criminals were pretty much always after money, no matter how they tried to dress it up as something more noble. He asked, ‘Well, even if they are CIA, d’you want out?’

Tony paused to take a breath, but it was pretty clear he already knew the answer. ‘Yeah. Yeah, I want my life back. If that’s even possible now.’

‘Yeah,’ Matt chimed in, ‘what’s with the stories about you being dead?’

But that thought just threatened to panic the guy. John smoothly offered, ‘I’ll come with you when you meet up with them. We’ll get this shut down, whoever they are.’

Tony looked at Matt for a moment, who nodded encouragement, and then he beamed. ‘Thanks, Detective.’

John indicated the computer and Tony’s backpack with a lift of his chin. ‘You need Matt’s help to finish this stuff, or you gonna quit it now?’

‘Matt…? I guess I’d better. Then they can have it. If they’re CIA,’ he added. ‘Once they have it, maybe they’ll let me go.’

‘Sure, man,’ Matt agreed, ‘let’s get it done.’ He turned solicitously to John. ‘You wanna head home now, or back to my place? Get some sleep?’

God, he’d love to. But he was uneasy at the thought of leaving Matt here, when the bad guys might be hanging around, keeping an eye on Tony. ‘I’ll just stretch out and get a snooze here… not on the concrete floor.’

‘I’ll clear the desks,’ Matt said. And moments later, he’d shifted the computers onto the floor under a row of desks, and was even folding up his sweater and putting it into his canvas bag, to serve as a makeshift pillow. ‘There you go.’

‘Thanks, honey,’ John said with a smile that was part irony and part gratitude.

As he stretched himself out, Matt ran the back of his fingers down John’s jaw-line. ‘I’ll wake you when we’re done.’

And on a glimpse of Tony’s embarrassed envy at this intimacy, John dropped out.

 

‘Every now and then is fine,’ Lucy said, sitting at the head of the dinner table, and laying down the law. ‘Matt, I really don’t mind if you’re here sometimes. But I wanna spend time with my Dad, too, just the two of us, and I can only get here once or twice a week.’

‘That’s fine, that’s absolutely fine,’ the kid said with utter sincerity.

‘I’ve spent years ignoring him, you know? We’ve both got a lot to make up for.’

‘The last thing I want to do is get in your way. Either of you.’

‘Good,’ Lucy declared. ‘That’s settled, then.’

The three of them tucked into the pesto fusilli for a while, and a comfortable enough silence prevailed.

‘This is great pasta, Lucy,’ Matt offered.

‘That’s good. There’s this deli near my place where you can get the best fresh basil pesto…’

‘Cool.’

And an easy, ordinary conversation seemed within reach. Yet John felt that there was a further point that needed to be made.

‘Lucy,’ he said, neither too firm nor too gentle. ‘Lucy, there’ll come a time when Matt finishes his studies, or doesn’t need to live on campus any more, and I’ll be asking him to move in with me.’

Matt was gaping at him, pasta-loaded fork suspended halfway to his mouth.

‘I’m sure he won’t mind if you and I still do stuff together as father and daughter, but this will be his home, too. And if you’re still coming over to cook dinner every week – and I hope you will be – Matt will have as much right to be here as me.’

‘Oh,’ she said, looking at John for the longest time, and then glancing at Matt, before lowering her gaze. ‘Of course. I, uh… I didn’t mean to… Uh…’

‘Thank you,’ John said, and he was gentle now.

Matt had managed to put his fork down, and was gazing at John in an awed kind of pleasure. ‘Wow,’ he murmured.

Lucy cleared her throat. ‘Sorry, Matt, I didn’t mean –’

‘No, that’s all right. Wow. I mean, I still don’t want to get in your way. I know how important you and your brother are to John.’

She nodded, and lowered her gaze again. ‘Thanks. I, uh, I know you are, too.’

‘Thanks,’ the kid whispered.

And they all had a go at starting to eat again. Neither of the youngsters could quite meet John’s eyes, and the silence now wasn’t quite comfortable, but it was warm, and it was considerate, and it was good.

 

That night, Matt wanted to fuck him, and John felt so mellow that it was no hassle for either of them. Afterwards, Matt went down on him so skilfully and so enthusiastically that John just lay there, happily sprawled, letting himself be looked after. What else could he do? Matt rocked.

John had been expecting the kid to raise the issue of them living together, and was prepared for a lot of talk and maybe even some planning as soon as Lucy left, but Matt had been enigmatically quiet instead. Or maybe the glow in those beautiful dark eyes of his said it all.

Once they were done, they turned off the lights and settled together in the middle of the bed, John wrapped around Matt the way he liked best. Within moments Matt was peacefully snuffling in his sleep. But John found himself lying awake, unable to drift off. There was still one more thing that needed saying.

‘Matt,’ he murmured, before planting a kiss near the kid’s ear.

‘Mmm…’ Matt managed as he started surfacing.

John turned his bedside lamp on. ‘Matt. Sorry, kid, give me a minute, would you?’

‘Yeah…’ Those dark eyes on him now, and slowly focussing. Then a moment of alarm: ‘John? Something wrong? You OK?’

‘I’m fine, kid. I’m fine. It’s just…’ He sat up, so he could look at Matt properly. ‘There’s something I need to tell you. I think you know it. And I almost said it a time or two. But I should say it properly.’

‘Yeah…?’ Matt was smiling contentedly now, as if he knew what was coming already. The worry had certainly gone.

‘I love you, Matt. I do. I love you.’

‘You’re right, I already knew. But I’m glad you said it.’ The kid reached a hand to cup John’s face, just as John himself had long ago dreamed of taking Matt’s pretty face in his hands. ‘I love you, John.’

He nodded in acknowledgement, turned away a little from the directness. ‘I knew that already, too. Shouldn’t have woken you, I guess, but I, uh… I learned the hard way that some things need saying, yeah?’

‘Yeah.’ Matt’s smile quirked. ‘You’re my hero.’

He felt a moment’s irritation, and hated the intrusion of such a feeling. ‘Nah… It doesn’t take a hero to love you, kid.’

‘It does the way you do it.’ Matt insisted on spelling it out for him: ‘You love me heroically. That’s what makes you that guy, right? So, you’re my hero.’

The irritation had been born of resistance, John could see that. And it was right and true that he’d resisted being made into a hero in other situations, when he was nothing more than one of the good guys who happened to be in the wrong place at the right time, and he’d just done what needed doing. But this was different, wasn’t it? This was just between him and Matt, and this was what he’d always wanted, this was why he’d kept trying to make it work with Holly even when he knew it was hopeless: he wanted an epic love in his life. How few people ever got a second chance like this?

John lay down with Matt again, took him in his arms, looked at that beautiful face turned fully towards him with complete and open trust. ‘You’re my hero, too, Matt. For the exact same reason.’

And Matt’s arms wound strong around John’s shoulders, and they kissed each other as thoroughly as they knew how.

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