Fandom: Die Hard 4
Characters: John/Matt (Slash)
Word Count: 7700 (new record!)
Summary: John McClane versus slow, suburban torture…
Author's Notes: My Sweet Charity story for scarlett_o, who suggested this scenario. I wasn't expecting so much dialogue, but that's where it wanted to go. A lot. I hope you like it, and thanks for your patience and the great prompt!
"Hey, we're not doing anything this weekend, are we?"
Those were the kind of words that set off warning bells in John McClane's head. Didn't matter whether it was twenty-some years of Holly saying them, or Matt uttering them for the first time just now. John still knew what they meant.
"Not that I'm aware of," John answered carefully. "Why, has something come up?"
Matt waved the phone at him disjointedly. "It's my mom. They're having a thing this weekend, and they want us to come."
John put the breakfast dishes in the sink and turned the water on. "A thing."
"Barbecue, potluck, whatever you want to call it. My parents host, and the family shows up."
John squinted over at him. "How much family are we talking, exactly?"
Matt shrugged. "I don't know, a fair amount? Kind of a lot? What's the big deal—you and Holly must've had a ton of relatives, with both of you coming from Catholic families."
"What? Ohhhhh… I see. So what happened?"
John rinsed off the last plate and started in on the frying pan. "Sometimes nothing, but there was always the threat of things going bad."
"Huh. Well, my family's not exactly dangerous. Or toxic. They're not big drinkers either, though they'll talk your ears off about agriculture."
"Are you sure they want both of us?" John finished wiping the counter down and hung up the dishtowel. "They probably only meant you."
"You so wish that was true, McClane, but Mom said it was time for the rest of the family to meet you."
"The guy you're renting a room from…"
"Oh, please—they know, John. It's already been a couple of months."
John hoped Holly and the kids were still buying that angle, then, because he sure as hell wasn't ready to explain things just yet. "All right, sure. We can go. No reason not to." He caught sight of the phone Matt was still holding. "God, you haven't kept her waiting on the line all this time, have you?"
"Nope." Matt crossed over to the counter and hung up the phone. "Already told her yes—figured I could call back if I had to."
John just stared at him. "Getting pretty confident there, aren't you kid?"
Matt grinned and backed John down into one of the kitchen chairs, stepping in and straddling him. "Seriously, McClane, you have no fucking idea…"
John's neck grew tight as traffic backed up through the Holland Tunnel. "I thought your family lived in New Jersey. I didn't think we were driving all the way to Vermont!"
"No, I lived in Jersey. Where it's easier to make connections and find real work. And this is why we're leaving on a Friday, by the way."
"Us and the rest of the city," John grumbled. "But why'd you move? You can do programming pretty much anywhere—hell, you've been working out of the apartment for over a month."
Matt snorted. "So you think I should've stayed at my parents', maybe wound up like Warlock? Seriously?"
John chuckled. "I see your point."
"Damn right. Plus there's this hot stud cop I'm banging, and I don't think he would've gone to Vermont to find me, no matter who was asking."
"Counting your blessings now, aren't you McClane? That's what I thought." Matt settled back into his seat, content for all of five seconds before his hand found its way to John's thigh and he started talking again. "This drive could take awhile, so I've got a list of places we can stay if we don't make it all the way to my parents' house tonight."
John looked over and saw the smile playing at the corner of Matt's lips. "Yeah?"
"And I packed the lube, because I'm awesome like that. Just saying."
John wasn't quite ready for the Bed-and-Breakfast scene, no matter how far upstate they were. It wasn't just that dating a guy was still new to him. The fact was, he'd never been the antiques-and-lace type. He'd given Holly flowers on their anniversary, because he loved her and he knew those things mattered to women, but he'd always been relieved that her idea of a romantic getaway was Atlantic City. Fancy places and fancy things made him nervous. They just didn't fit, or maybe he was the one that was out of place.
Someday, he thought, he'd make the effort if that was what Matt wanted. For now, though, thank God Matt had so many low-key selections on his list. They stayed at a Best Western across the street from an I-Hop, which all things considered was a slice of personal heaven.
"So where do you want to have breakfast?" Matt asked the next morning. They'd checked in around ten the night before, broken in the bed (and its telltale squeak) in truly athletic fashion, and then crashed for the night.
John just looked at him, stunned. In his mind, breakfast was self-defined and it was waiting in the form of pancakes, bacon and eggs—possibly with strawberries and too much whipped cream. What was the kid thinking, to even consider passing that up?
"Just kidding," Matt said quickly. "You should see your face, though, right now—it's like your car just got stolen."
"That's 'cause I've been looking forward to breakfast since we rolled in last night."
"Oh, right—sacred territory. Forgot about that. There'll be burgers and a dessert table at my parents, though, so that'll be fun, right?"
"Absolutely," John agreed, "though no hurry. Checkout isn't until noon, and I'm pretty sure we can make it back from breakfast in time to use the room again."
Matt hooked his fingers in John's waistband and pulled him in close. "I like the way you think," he muttered against John's mouth, kissing him long and deep.
John suddenly decided that he just might survive the day after all.
"So, tell me about your family," John said.
They were closing in on Fair Haven, about T-minus twenty minutes from the house where Matt grew up. John figured he'd better be prepared.
"Not much to tell, really," Matt shrugged. "My parents are Betty and Ron. My brother Jason and sister Kathleen are both older than me—"
"I heard that, McClane, and don't think I've forgotten about your authority issues, so let's not go there. Moving on…Mom has two sisters, June and Miriam—you'll probably meet them both. I never know how many of the cousins might show up, so that'll have to wait. Dad's brothers usually come, but his sister Margaret became a Jehovah's Witness about ten years ago, so we don’t see her much anymore. Grandma Rose brings spice cake to everything, which doesn't do much for me personally, but maybe you'll like it. Aunt Miriam usually brings something chocolate, though. And sherry—god knows why."
"Wait," John interjected, "should we bring something? It sounds like a potluck. I don't want to show up empty-handed..."
"Yeah—let's pull in at that grocery store up ahead, pick something up there."
Fifteen minutes later, they were on their way again. "We're bringing fruit," John said. "Are we trying to make some kind of point?"
"We're bringing high-class, exotic fruit, please. Mom loves pineapple, she'll be thrilled. And mass-produced potato salad or store-baked stuff doesn't go over all that well when everything else is homemade. Nothing screams 'incompetent bachelors' like buying the kind of food that's easy to make yourself."
"Easy for you, maybe. You're telling me that your brother and whichever random cousins show up are going to cook stuff for this event?"
"Basically, yeah. Jason's big on making the right impression, and very competitive—God knows what he's whipped up this year. Probably something complicated. Kath's kind of going through a rebellious phase, though. I'm guessing tabouleh or hummus, something Middle-Eastern that nobody else will touch. Five bucks says it's vegetarian."
John's eyelid twitched. "Please tell me your family believes in potato chips and beer."
"Of course," Matt said, looking at him oddly. "Most of the food will be typical cookout stuff. I mean, it's not like my family's weird or anything, if that's what you're thinking."
"Okay…" John decided to back away from that topic. "How much farther? I don't want to miss the turnoff."
"Left on Bolger at the end of town, and follow it down."
"You're sure I’m dressed okay for this?"
"You're kidding, right? This is perfect—and that t-shirt fits you like a glove."
John laughed. "Just checking. And thanks for wearing that particular pair of jeans, by the way. Nice and tight, just the way I like 'em."
"Um, about that. You're not thinking of—"
"I promise to behave myself at your parents'," John finished for him. "This isn't my first time through this kind of gig, you know."
"Yeah, okay. Guess I should've remembered. Plus, it's not like we're in high school or anything. We're more mature, more—"
"Hey, I'm running out of road, kid. I sure hope that's it up ahead."
"Oops, yeah. Sorry!" Matt said. "I'm so used to making this trip that I forget you haven't been here before. It's the white house with the green trim, behind the apple trees."
The one with all the cars… John straightened his shoulders and made the turn. What the hell—you could only die once.
After they parked, Matt immediately headed over toward the white-haired guy setting up card tables. "Dad!"
John probably should have recognized Matt's father from the family photo at Matt's desk, but from the back the guy could be anybody, and didn't the hair used to be darker? Maybe he'd have better luck identifying the rest of them.
"Dad, this is John McClane," Matt said.
No relationship label, no evasion, and no pretending. John kind of liked it.
"Mr. Farrell." John shook his hand, trying to stay relaxed and not give off anything resembling 'cradle robber' vibes. The whole thing was so familiar it was almost eerie.
"Ronald," the man said. "You're that cop."
"Yes sir, I am."
Matt's father looked him up and down, his face expressionless. "Well all right, then. Go see if the missus needs any help in the house."
It was definitely a reprieve. John walked while Matt bounced along beside him, making it halfway across the yard before being waylaid by a woman with a face full of piercings and an extravagantly artificial shade of red hair.
"Kath!" Matt hugged her, and introduced her to John.
"Only it's Karma now," she corrected him.
John blinked, thinking of Lucy away at college surrounded by god knew what kinds of people. "John McClane," he said. "Pleased to meet you." He held out his hand.
"Oh, I don't really go in for those patriarchal rituals," she said, waving him off, "and I'm an artist, so I'm careful with my hands."
"What kind of art?" John asked politely.
"Mainly sculptures—clay, or sometimes metal."
"Kath made that fountain below the kitchen window."
John looked where Matt was pointing. The cascading layers of copper glinted in the sun, flowing gracefully from one level to the next. "Nice," he said truthfully. "How do you piece it all together?"
"Blowtorch," she smiled.
Huh. Yeah, that sounded safe. "Good deal," John nodded.
"Well, I've got to unload the falafel from the car before Mom ties up the oven," she said. "Nice to meet you, John."
"You too." He found himself smiling. "I like her," he whispered when she was gone. "Was she serious about being called Karma?"
"Probably," Matt shrugged. "It never lasts, though. I usually forget, and then she gets all mad and keeps reminding me, and by the time I finally get the hang of it she's moved on to something else."
"Really," John said. If that wasn't Lucy on any given day, then he didn't know what was. "Should we go help your mom?"
"Yeah, sure. I'll meet you inside—I see Cousin Charles pulling in with Aunt Miriam. He'll need some help."
John nodded and went in through the back door. The kitchen was off to the left, and a woman there was pulling a tray of pigs-in-blankets out of the oven. She had to be Matt's mother—she was even wearing the same dress as in Matt's photo. She glanced up and saw him.
"Hello, Mrs. Farrell."
She nodded, looking at him warily. John knew that look. He'd used it on every boyfriend of Lucy's he'd ever met.
He gave Matt's mother the kind of sideways smile that seemed to make women melt.
She let out a sudden breath. "I'm not getting any grandchildren out of this deal, am I?" she asked.
"Probably not," John admitted.
She sighed and put the tray on a cooling rack. "Fine. Just promise you'll take good care of him. Maybe his brother or sister will get their act together one of these days."
"Maybe so," John agreed politely.
"Do you have children?"
"Two. They're not at the fun ages anymore, though. One's in college, the other's sort of… drifting around and complaining, I guess."
"Hmm. Sounds like a couple of the boy's on Ron's side of the family. I'm Betty, by the way."
"John McClane. Can I help you with anything?"
"If you'll just take these kitchen chairs and put them out on the patio, I think I can manage the rest of it. And we've got Matt's room set up for the two of you tonight, if you're staying."
"Thank you, that's very kind of you." Funny, he and Matt hadn't discussed it, but this place was even more out-of-the-way than John had realized, and it was too far a drive to get much of anywhere by tonight. Though he had certainly planned to try…
Matt was coming up the back porch as John went out, and held the door open for him. "Moving furniture?"
"Hey, it's not like I have a lot to offer in the cooking department."
Matt gave him the visual once-over and grinned. "Don't kid yourself, McClane."
The kid was making him blush, out here in broad daylight with the whole family about to converge on him and eat him alive. "This is going to cost you a lot of beer, not to mention the sex."
Matt leaned forward and murmured, "I was pretty much counting on it. And if you can dish it out, I can definitely take it."
John was suddenly glad he had a piece of furniture out there in front of him. "And you were worried about me getting us in trouble."
"Hard to believe, huh?" Matt laughed. "I suppose I could help you get the chairs set up, see if Mom needs anything else. Introduce you around—a bunch more people just came."
"No hurry," John said. There were already plenty of people down at the bottom of the garden, and he was happy to let them stay strangers. Probably wasn't going to be able to get away with that, though.
Once the chairs were taken care of, Matt's mother gave them a bowl of watermelon and a plate of hot dogs to take outside, and shooed them out of the kitchen. Matt dropped the hot dogs off at the grill, and John found a spot at one of the tables for the fruit. When John looked up, Matt was talking to someone, so he figured he'd be a good sport and introduce himself for a change.
"Hi, I'm John McClane, Matt's friend."
"Ray Farrell," the man said. "Ron's brother. Run a hardware store over in Bethel. How about you?"
"Police officer," John answered. "NYPD."
"A cop? Huh," Ray grunted. "Never trusted 'em. Too much opportunity for corruption."
"Nice to meet you too," John said, as the man turned away in favor of less-tainted company.
Matt shrugged. "Sorry. Uncle Ray's kind of a character."
"Guess you must've spent a lot of time with him when you were growing up," John commented.
"No, not really…" Matt sounded puzzled. "What makes you say that?"
"Oh, nothing." Maybe the kid didn’t actually remember. "Never mind. So do we start eating whenever we want, or do we wait until everyone's here?"
"You hungry, or just looking for a distraction?"
"Little of both," John admitted. "Should we reorganize some of this stuff? That one table's practically empty."
John was lucky enough to step aside before Matt took him down like an armed suspect leaving the scene of a robbery.
"That's Cousin Rivka's," Matt said, "It's the kosher table. That's why it's first."
"You have a Cousin Rivka?"
"Well yeah, now. She used to be Becky, before she got married. She converted to regular Judaism at first, but she and her husband went Orthodox about five years ago and changed their names. She's Rivka, he's Eliahu."
"Gesundheit," John said.
"Oh my God. You totally cannot be making jokes like that, promise me you won't."
"Of course not! I'm just kidding around here, where it's just the two of us. I won't do anything like that in front of other people. If I meet Rivka and her husband, I'll just bite my cheek or something instead."
"And be subtle about it."
"Hey, subtle's my middle name. Aw, c'mon kid, where's your sense of humor? It was here an hour ago."
Matt sighed. "It's my family. Sometimes they make me a little nuts."
John put his arm around Matt's shoulder and squeezed. "I hear you. Back when Lucy was in high school, a couple of her friends were snotty little brats. They'd come to the house, and I'd get this urge to answer the door wearing a dirty undershirt and carrying a beer. Never actually did it, but God, I was tempted. Used to feel that way when Holly's parents came over too…"
Matt was quiet for a moment. "You know, I haven't brought anyone home since college, up until now."
"Feeling a little pressured?"
"Yeah, maybe. I'd forgotten how it was."
"It's okay," John said softly. "It'll just be us again tomorrow night. And if we make it out of here without someone throwing a couple of punches, we'll be ahead of the game."
Matt turned to look at him. "Holly's family was really that bad?"
John laughed. "Hell, kid, that was my family."
"Oh," Matt nodded, and then stopped. "Oh… Hey, am I going to have to—"
"Not a chance," John said. "The younger generation of McClanes got a lot smarter, stopped having the big get-togethers."
"Also, they're a bunch of homophobic assholes, so no point in showing up anyway."
The wind shifted, bringing the smell of baked beans and barbecue sauce with it. John's stomach growled. "Hey, can we dig into the food yet? Wait, never mind. Who's this guy in the plaid shirt making his way over? Boy, they really love the plaid around here."
"Dad's other brother, Ben," Matt said. "Better not let him catch us over by the food, unless you want to get dragged into a lecture. He can go on about it for hours."
John followed Matt over and waited for the introductions.
"Hi, Uncle Ben."
"Matty! You're looking well. Heard you brought a friend. This him?"
"Yes." Matt took John's arm. "Uncle Ben, this is John McClane. John, this is my Dad's brother, Ben Farrell."
"Pleased to meet you, son," Ben said. "A little older than I expected, but no harm, no harm."
What the hell was John supposed to say to that? "Long drive today?"
"No, no—the farm's about five miles from here. You ought to see it—best organic produce in half the state."
Matt's warning began to make sense. "I see. Were you always a farmer?"
"Well, no," Ben answered. "Started working for the state after college, over to Montpelier. Downtown office with a bunch of new kids like me, and then the older folks just hanging on 'til retirement. Had a break room with a coffee machine and a table, just like the movies. Fancied myself a businessman in those days, but a couple years of being a bureaucrat changed my mind right quick… Married a farmer's daughter, and decided to try my hand at something else. The rest is history."
"Did Aunt Lily come with you today?" Matt broke in, to John's relief. "How about the boys?"
"Lil's finishing up the baking, but I brought Duane and Ben Jr. They're probably down at the fence, going on about the Pruitt’s new steer or some such. That’ll never get ‘em to the altar—those two’ll still be bachelors on the day I die, so help me…"
"We should probably go say hello, then," Matt put in, "before Mom has us doing something else."
"Good to meet you," John added, as he and Matt turned to escape.
"You too, son, you too. And thanks for saving our boy, here."
John smiled and nodded. "Just glad I got to him before the terrorists did."
When they’d moved out of earshot, John asked, "Am I the knight in shining armor now, is that it? I don’t think I can live up to that on a long-term basis…"
"You always were that, McClane, so get used to it. And better than being some lech who corrupted me into the gay lifestyle, or whatever that stereotype is."
"I think it was more the other way around, not that I put up much of a fight. You must’ve roofied me at the hospital."
"Right, right. From my wheelchair, while I was on so many painkillers it made me cross-eyed," Matt said. "That’s when I made my nefarious move."
"Damn straight," John chuckled. "I knew that computer thing was all an act to make you look innocent." He stopped for a second. "Where the hell are we going, anyway?"
"We’re doing a fly-by on my cousins—if we can find them, though they’re probably right where my uncle said. Then we’ll see if Jason’s here yet, make the rounds for a bit."
"We’re getting farther away from the food."
"You’re a tough guy, you can handle it," Matt teased.
"Yeah?" They started walking again. "That was before you told me you were related to half of Canada…"
Within the next hour, John met Ben’s sons (worse than Warlock, but in a 4-H kind of way), traded awkward greetings with Rivka (whose husband wouldn’t look at him or Matt), and apparently blocked the view of the garden that Matt’s Aunt June was trying to paint. His real offense on that last one was probably that he hadn’t noticed her, or the official artist’s smock, or the big showy easel she was using to draw attention to herself. The painting was bright and crude, and John was pretty sure that both his kids had shown better drawing skills than that by the time they were ten. He said nothing, just nodded pleasantly and got away from her as fast as he could.
"What the hell?" he said out of the side of his mouth when Matt joined up with him again.
"I hear she makes decent money on those now. New York tourists come through, pay ridiculous amounts because they think she’s the next big folk artist just waiting to be discovered."
"You know—primitives, Grandma Moses. Stuff like that."
"As in, ‘crap my kid could paint?’"
"Well, there’s more to it than that," Matt said, "or so I’m told. I tend to think of it the same way you do, though I was always better at understanding science than art, so maybe that’s the problem."
John thought for a minute. "Nah," he finally said. "Sometimes crap’s just crap."
"Well good," Matt nodded. "Nice to know I’m probably not missing anything, then."
"Not unless you really like flowers and crooked buildings."
"And chickens," Matt said. "I’ve noticed a tendency toward chickens."
"Well there you go." John bumped Matt’s shoulder with his own, hungry for contact. "That can’t possibly be good."
Matt looked at him. "You have no idea. My grandparents had chickens. They were evil."
"The chickens. My grandparents were great. I wish Grandma Rose was coming today—she's something else. You’d like her."
"Yeah? You sure she wouldn’t try to beat me up with an umbrella?"
Matt laughed. "Pretty sure. She’d probably be too distracted by the way you look in that t-shirt. Grandma Rose used to be a cigarette girl—with the hotpants and the tray—but she went to work in a factory when the war started. She met Grandpa Henry after V-Day, and they moved to Burlington to start a family."
"They kept chickens in the city?"
"No, after they retired. They moved out here to be closer to the family, and I guess chickens seemed like the thing to do. You know—vegetable garden, fruit trees, chickens. Grow-your-own food."
"Speaking of food…"
"Yeah, you’ve been really patient about that. Sorry—I didn’t think that detour around the property would take so long. Mostly, I just wanted to rescue us from Uncle Ben."
John nodded. "He does like to talk. Funny, because your other uncle hardly said anything at all, and we got maybe fifteen words out of your dad."
Matt stopped at one of the tables and picked up plates and utensils for each of them. "Dad says Ben talks enough for the three of them," he continued under his breath. "Grandma Alice used to make him go outside when he was little, and when he got older she sent him on errands all the time."
"I had a cousin like that, once. Became a cabdriver. The tips weren’t quite what he expected, though." John surveyed the spread of food, choosing potato salad and a couple of samples of pasta salad, and something that looked like rugelach. "We do the meats on order? And how many return trips back for seconds before you disown me?"
"Have at it." Matt waved him on. "Just, you know. So long as you’re not puking in the grass or groaning on the sofa afterward."
"Only at Thanksgiving." John speared a couple of strawberries and a slice of the pineapple they’d brought. "And what are we doing about afterwards? Your mom said we could stay in your room for the night, but that might be kind of weird."
"Afraid they’ll kill you in your sleep? Or wait outside the door and listen?"
"Maybe," John admitted. "They don’t seem thrilled about any of this, not that I blame them. I’m sure they hoped you’d marry some pretty girl and start a family, not get taken down in your prime by a guy who’s nearly as old as they are."
"A guy with a chest of steel who makes me happier than anyone I’ve ever met."
"Oh," John said, his ears suddenly burning. "When you put it that way…" He thought for a moment. "Nah. They probably still want to kill me."
"Then they’ll have to come through me first. I'll hang onto this fork, just in case…"
John added an ear of corn to his plate, and looked over the choices of what to barbecue. He decided on bratwurst. Matt wrinkled his nose at that and shook his head (What, people didn’t eat that anymore?), and chose a couple of traditional hot dogs instead.
"Grew up in the city, did you?" Matt's father asked, as he poked and turned the meat.
"The Bronx," John answered. "Don't think I saw a cow until a field trip in the second grade. What about you? How long has your family been in Vermont?"
"'Bout six generations. Started in Maine, but the winters were too cold."
John blinked. It was hard to think of Vermont weather as being much of an improvement over anything. "Was this the family farm, then, or part of it?"
"Ben's got that now. Bought this place when Betty and I got married." He speared a bratwurst and lifted it up. "Like this, or let it sit?"
"A little longer." John liked to see some grill marks, give the fat a chance to drain. "Matt said you were an insurance adjuster."
"Thirty-five years. Paid the bills."
John nodded, noticing a tightness gathering between his shoulders as the conversation wore on. It started to rise up the back of his neck, suddenly aborted when Matt patted his arm briskly and raised his plate in salute.
"Thanks, Dad," he said, leaning his head toward a couple of distant lawn chairs in invitation.
"Thanks," John echoed, following in Matt’s wake, relief loosening his legs.
"Dad’s not very chatty until he gets to know you," Matt commented.
"Really?" John said. "I hadn’t noticed."
"You’re such a liar, McClane." Matt nudged the chairs with his feet until they were closer together.
"So, I’m guessing you take after your—"
"Stop right there, and nobody gets hurt." Matt sat down, balancing his food on his knee. "Though you haven't made any cracks about that in awhile, so I guess you're due, right? Except I'd thought you were maybe getting used to it, or didn't mind it so much, or—"
"Matt. It's all right—really. And I always thought it was cute."
"Oh. Cute?" Matt's eyebrows scrunched together. "Huh. Wait—"
"Cute is good. Trust me." John reached over and stabbed one of Matt's strawberries with a fork.
"Hey!" Matt shoved John's arm. "Eat your own strawberries."
"Yours look better."
Matt looked at him sideways. "I'm getting a whole dirty kind of vibe off of that."
John grinned. "Whatever works, kid."
"So, how're you holding up here?" Matt waved his fork vaguely in the direction of the other guests. "You’re looking kind of … glazed-over or something."
John shrugged, taking a few bites of pasta salad. He felt like he'd met half the state already, forgotten every single one of their names, and a quiz was coming soon. "It's a lot of people," he admitted, and tried some of the sausage. "Hey, these brats are good."
"How do you eat those? I mean why? They're just bread and fat. I can hear your arteries crying from over here."
John just chewed and shook his head. "Two words, kid: Cheez Whiz."
"Yeah," Matt sighed defeatedly. "Wish I hated it, but I don't."
"Didn't you say your brother was coming to this? I didn't see anything on the tables over there besides regular picnic food."
"He's just pulling up now. God knows what he brought—probably mini soufflés or some kind of bacon-wrapped hors d'oeuvres."
"Yeah?" John polished off the last of the brats and the rugelach, and stood up. "I can live with that."
"Jeez, McClane, give him a chance to unload his stuff before you maul him."
"Oh. Yeah." John sat down again. "Not very tactful, huh?"
Matt looked away suddenly, the corner of his mouth rising.
"I saw that!" Okay, so maybe tactful wasn't John's thing. Didn't mean he never tried.
"We can help him carry his stuff over and get it laid out," Matt offered. "I'll introduce you."
"Is he going to like me, or will he try to hurt me for defiling his little brother?"
"Hey, you're tough, you can take him. And everyone's been pretty nice so far, or at least I thought so."
"Yeah," John agreed. "It's just—I kind of feel like I'm in a never-ending perp-walk, you know?"
"What, you've seriously never noticed the way Holly looks at me sometimes? With the daggers and the icy smile? Believe me, McClane, you're not the first guy to have to cope with being under the microscope."
"What are you talking about? Holly doesn't know about us!"
"Just keep telling yourself that, McClane. Now c'mon—I'll introduce you. I'm sure Jason's dying to meet you."
"Not unless he's gay or has a thing for cops, he isn't."
"Then I'm sure he's dying to feel superior over the fact that I'm flunking the American Dream."
"Yeah, I could buy that. Okay, let's do it. I supposed it'd be tacky to bring my plate over and let him lecture you while I sample whatever he brought?"
"Tacky or not, it could take you awhile to dig yourself out of that hole. Just saying."
"Someone's probably going to try to kill me before we make it out of this place," John said. "And it better not be you. Because you owe me huge for coming here."
Matt ran his hand down John's back as they walked over toward Jason. "I can think of so many ways to help you get over that, more than you could count."
John chuckled, already imagining half a dozen possibilities of his own. "That's the whole point, kid. I'm gonna need some serious persuading." He watched Jason separate the newly-added plates until they were all equal distances apart. "Isn't your brother an accountant or something?" he asked. "As in, one step away from practically being dead?"
"Shhhh!" Matt hissed. "He could hear you, and he really knows how to hold a grudge."
"Sounds like you, those first couple of months after you lost all your Star Wars toys and stuff."
"Collectors' items," Matt said automatically.
As if John could ever forget, what with Matt lamenting his lost inventory (in detail) night after night. "Wonder if your brother could work out a way to write them off your taxes?"
"I don't think the IRS has a check-box for the destruction of property due to terrorist acts."
"Loopholes, kid. Gotta work the system."
Matt laughed. "That would be so much more convincing from someone who didn't have "Blow stuff up" practically bookmarked as his favorite solution."
"I like to think of it as creative problem-solving." John caught Matt's eye, and smiled softly. "Worked out pretty well for the two of us..."
They reached the table, where Matt introduced John to his brother. Jason shook John's hand politely enough, but there was something off, like he was looking down his nose at John, or at both of them. It was like the first time John met Holly's family, where he'd gotten the distinct impression that if Holly's mother hadn't been Irish herself he wouldn't have had a chance in hell of getting anywhere. Old man Genero would have sent somebody around to break his arms, or whatever else it would have taken to for Holly to lose interest in him.
It didn't mean John would have stopped trying, of course. Once he found something he wanted or believed in, John McClane would go toe-to-toe with just about anyone to get it. A fourth-rate would-be gangster hadn't stopped him before, and some pencil-pusher with a superiority complex wasn't going to stop him now.
"These look impressive," John said, indicating Jason's offering with a wave of his hand. "One of your personal favorites?"
"First-time recipe," Jason answered, and that was all it took—he went off into a discussion of his love of cooking, and of the importance of quality ingredients and presentation, and the use of certain underappreciated French cheeses.
Within minutes, John was starting to think of cooking as its own form of nerdism. It was cute when Matt got all worked up over computers and algorithms, but with Jason it seemed like the guy was going to keep droning on forever.
"Have you tried these yourself yet?" John asked, when Jason finally paused for breath.
"Yes—they're great, would you like one?" Jason held out a plate for John and another for Matt.
John took a bite of the appetizer. "Wonderful," he managed, around the bitterness of some purple lettuce-like thing on a piece of bread under melted cheese, garnished with a prickly-looking weed and little red slivers of something that might be sun-dried tomatoes. It wasn't terrible, but it definitely wasn't good. Mostly, it was weird. John looked over and checked out Matt's reaction.
"This is really something," Matt said, in a mastery of the noncommittal. "I'll bet Mom would really like to try this. She went into the house a second ago, but I'm sure she'll be back soon."
"I'll bring her a sample." Jason headed off toward the house with a plate.
"Smooth," John laughed softly. "Very smooth."
"If you thought all that excruciating detail was hard to listen to, remember that I've heard it more than once. Though I hate to ambush Mom with whatever that was. He usually makes really good stuff, but his experiments don't always work out."
"Is that what this was?" John made a face at the memory of the taste.
"Looked like it was designed purely for color and texture."
"Jesus," John said. "You could dump crinkle-cut radishes on ice cream and get that kind of effect, but you sure as hell wouldn't want to eat it."
"No kidding." Matt folded the remainder of his appetizer into a napkin and put it in the trash. Grabbing a couple of chocolate-chip cookies from the dessert table, he motioned to John. "Let's move on before he comes back."
An hour later, John found himself in the kitchen helping Matt's mother with the dishes. She didn't seem to want to let him take on the chore himself, probably thinking he was there out of duty instead of because he'd overdosed on people and conversation. On the other hand, he noticed that she'd spent so much time returning to the kitchen throughout the day that she'd managed to dodge the crowd quite a bit too. Maybe it wasn't intentional, but the result was still the same.
"Matthew enjoying New York?" she said after awhile, handing him a cutting board to scrub off.
"Sure seems to be. Probably knows more of the neighbors than I do by now, which wasn't what I expected from a computer guy."
"You thought he'd be more withdrawn, like that strange friend of his?"
"Warlock? Yeah, pretty much. Warlock fits the profile. Matt's more… he's just different."
"He's always been outgoing." Mrs. Farrell arranged pickles in a dish. "And he's never let other people intimidate him."
"I'll say," John agreed, thinking back to when they first met. Matt hadn't been impressed with John's badge or the request to leave for his own protection. It had taken someone shooting up his apartment to finally ruffle Matt's feathers. "I'd call that a point in his favor, though."
Mrs. Farrell smiled at him, her eyes twinkling. "I imagine you would…"
It was four-thirty before John and Matt both agreed they could attempt an exit without looking like they were rushing off. After another twenty minutes of making the rounds to say goodbye to everyone, they were finally in the car. John just leaned on the steering wheel and breathed for a moment. Matt looked over, his eyes appraising.
"Want me to drive?"
"Hell, yeah," John answered, realizing it was true. They got out and switched places, then Matt started down the driveway and back to the road. By the time they reached the highway, John was asleep.
The sun was going down when John woke up again, his neck stiff from being wedged into the corner between the headrest and the door.
"Where are we?" he asked hoarsely, rubbing his eyes as he sat up.
"Upstate. We're about to pick up 87-South pretty soon."
"With all this traffic? Where the hell is everyone going?"
"Same place we're going, probably. It's like Murphy's Law or some unnamed corollary: Urban travelers in remote areas will tend to cluster, experiencing perpetual crowdedness," Matt offered.
"Sure as hell looks like what's happening now." John sighed. "Want to save the rest of this for tomorrow?"
"What, you mean find a place for the night?"
"Yeah. I didn't want to drive all the way back tonight anyhow, mostly just have some part of the weekend left that was just you and me. But not in your old room, 'cause that'd feel like your whole family was in there with us." John shuddered.
"So what do you want to do, drive in to Saratoga Springs?"
"Jesus, that could take forever." John caught sight of a highway sign. "How about Glens Falls, anything there?"
"You could check the iPhone, see if there are any hotels."
John just looked at him.
"Or we could take this exit and drive through town instead," Matt added.
"Now you're talking…"
For such a small town, the accommodations tended to be pricey. Some of the places had rooms with names, which bordered on alarming in John's opinion.
"This one's only ninety dollars for the night," Matt said, "which isn't too bad, considering. The place we stayed on the way up was seventy."
"You promise we'll go to a steak house for dinner?" John asked.
"Sure thing. I would never put you through sushi after a day like today. I'd be surprised if they had a sushi bar anyway."
"It's New York, even if it's upstate New York. Never assume. I went out on an investigation with Szabo once, and the guy found a Hungarian restaurant in the middle of Chinatown."
Matt shuddered, probably in sympathy. "I don't know why anyone would eat Hungarian food on purpose, even if their grandparents came from Budapest. Except for goulash—goulash is good."
"Ever tried corned beef and cabbage?"
"Once. Do your people drink so much that they don't know how bad that stuff is?"
"Watch the stereotypes, kid," John said mildly. "Though I agree, it's pretty bad. What do the Farrells eat?"
"Casseroles and pork chops, sometimes Jello. Though my parents have a weakness for Chinese food from time-to-time."
John nodded thoughtfully. "College must have really broadened your horizons..."
"In more ways than one," Matt answered, his gaze traveling down John's body and back up again. He smiled teasingly, leaning in close enough that John could feel the heat of him on his skin. "So what do you think?" he asked, his voice intimate and deep.
"Let's book the fucking room, already," John said, suddenly breathless.
Upstairs, they dumped their suitcases on the floor and locked the door. After a day of careful manners with too much company and conversation, the only restraint worth hanging onto was keeping the noise down enough not to get themselves kicked out of the hotel.
Afterward, John braced his hand on Matt's hip as he mapped every inch of Matt's neck with his lips.
"Better?" Matt asked.
"Oh, yeah. Worth every handshake and awkward conversation. Feels good to be out of there, though."
Matt laughed. "Forget international terrorists—all it takes is a pack of nosy relatives to wear you down."
"Hey, you could always move back home to your parents', if you like it so much," John pointed out.
Matt just grinned and stroked John's shoulder lazily. "Not a chance."
They had dinner at the Appaloosa Room, a meal of thick steaks and baked potatoes and salads with Thousand Island dressing. John took the time to enjoy it, letting it help dull the memories of crowds and questions and the pitfalls of experimental cooking.
"My parents really liked you," Matt said after awhile.
John chuckled. "I thought your Mom did, at least. Kind of hard to tell about your Dad."
"I didn't see his teeth clench even once, and he gave me a big hug at the end."
"Oh," John said. Where he grew up, people always told you exactly what they thought—even if you didn't want to hear it. You didn't decipher their viewpoint out of some secret set of clues.
He looked over to where Matt had stopped eating and was stirring the inside of his potato with a fork. "Are you going to want dessert?"
Matt shook his head and put the fork down. "I think I'm already regretting about half of that steak. Just based on square footage."
John's own steak was nearly gone, along with the potato, and he decided to quit while he was ahead. "Let's pay up and get out of here."
Back at the motel, they got ready for bed and settled in. The four-poster bed was comfortable enough to almost make up for the lack of a television set.
"I didn't even bring a book," John lamented.
"Like it matters. You always fall asleep mid-chapter anyway…"
Matt punched his pillow into a good-sized mound, and rolled onto his side to look at John. "You made it through," he said. "The whole day. No new scars or anything, unless you're keeping something from me."
"I think your Aunt Miriam might've proposed," John said mildly.
Matt sat up immediately. "She what?" he sputtered. "That sneaky old sherry-sipping—Jesus, I swear to God, I'm going to beat her over the head with her own cane!"
"It's all right. I said I was spoken for," John commented.
"Oh." Matt quieted down. "And did she back off?
"She kind of had to. Her son wheeled her off before she could make good on anything. What's the story with him, anyway?"
"Cousin Charles? He's an only child, probably likes it that way. I think it's his life's ambition to live in that house until he dies. So far, he's still on track."
John shuddered. "That's kind of disturbing."
Matt stroked John's arm and grinned. "Maybe Aunt Miriam was hoping you'd take her up on her offer, and Charles would move out in disgust."
"Glad that plan would have worked out for one of us," John said.
"So what are you thinking about tomorrow?"
John lay back against the headboard. "I'm definitely looking forward to breakfast—someplace with waffles—and then getting on the road before the rest of New York decides to head back to the city." He brushed his fingers along Matt's thigh. "If we get back early enough, we can catch the Yankees game on TV."
"You're a wild man, McClane. Civilization doesn't stand a chance."
"Hey, right now my idea of civilization is the opportunity to hide in our apartment drinking beer with the air-conditioner running." He looked over to where Matt was smiling at him. "What, you wanted to go to the Guggenheim? Or stop at a tractor show?"
"No." Matt clasped John's hand warmly. "After today, a quiet afternoon alone with just the two of us would pretty much hit the spot completely."
John nearly sighed in relief, reaching over to pull Matt on top of him. He ran his hands up Matt's neck, rubbed his thumbs over Matt's cheekbones, over the curve of his lips.
A laugh started to work its way up out of him, the kind of giddiness he usually only felt when faced with a terrorist against impossible odds.
"Kid," he finally managed through gasping breaths, "you have no fucking idea just how much."
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